This past weekend marked my third race on my calendar and my first ultra of the year, The Mt Tammany 10. Back in October a friend asked me to accompany them on a trip for the birthday weekend, and I without doing much research obliged to do so. Part of this was also keeping it “top secret”. As I ramped up my training towards the beginning of this year, I had a few hiccups and ideally less than stellar training going into this. I also stayed away from doing too much research on the race. Enough to wet my appetite but not put me at an uneasy point.
As I perused the Ultra Signup results from the past year, I was constantly intrigued by the few number of finishers this race had. Albeit there is a 30 person cap on this race, the finishers for the past 2 years resulted in a whopping 6, 7 respectively. Getting closer to the race I began a little more research:
-1200ft climb (plus equal descent)
-Steeper Ascent than Descent
-Some rock and scramble
-It ran along part of the Appalachian Trail
-Potential for Rattlesnakes in warmer weather
I could handle that.
I may have dealt with a few minor setbacks to start the year and less than ideal mileage, but my body still felt like I could whip out 40 miles.
We left Friday afternoon and got down there pretty quickly. I wanted to see what we would be climbing in the daylight, so we drove down and scouted out the start area.
We headed back to our hotel in Strousburg and then went out to dinner. After a nice chat with a VERY friendly older couple we made our way to a restaurant that used to be an old train station, had a pretty decent club sandwich then headed back to get some sleep.
I have to say I “think” I slept ok, but it flew by fast and morning was here pretty quickly. Not long before 6:30 we were at the start and ready to go. It was in the low 30’s so I overdressed with the feelign that I would unlayer as the day wore on.
The race was delayed a few minutes while we waited for someone to find the start. Word was a couple people dropped out that morning as well. So the RD Alex gathered us together and gave us some brief words and then we were ready to start.
The course ended up being pretty easy to remember. It was a loop after all, and you would do them in “sets”. From the start line (also the Aid Station) you would set off down the road and the under I-80, continue to follow the road and then make a sharp right onto the stairs that kicked off the Mt Tammany Trail. You would follow this Red Dot trail all the way to its top where it met the Blue trail then follow that unitl the blue veers off to the left and you begin your decent down to the Appalachian Trail. A left here would bring you back to the parking lot where the stairs were and begin your second loop and repeat. At the end of the set you would bypass the stairs go back under I-80 and check in at the Aid Station. You were required to check in at the end of 2,4,6,8,10 (the Finish).
The climb up would be a steep one, full of rocks, some scramble and the occasional 100 meter downhill. The amount of rock cannot be underestimated, the trail did not have many clear spots, and where it did, there was either snow or ice. The rocks made it difficult to find good footing, and then what I thought would be a flat stretch on top was made more difficult by the rocks. The descent was pretty insane. A slightly less steep pitch but it was covered with ice and snow for the majority of it, and with the rocks sticking out…was actually quite dangerous. Coming down onto the AT was a beautiful sight and also the most runnable section on the course. Treated with a creek crossing and a waterfall, this was my favorite part each loop.
Loop 1, 53:08, 3.80 miles, 13:59 min/mi
So pretty much after the first loop I realized I had gone into this under-prepared…big time. My mileage legs were there, but my climbing legs were not, and I wasn’t ready for the terrain. Regardless I pushed on. By the time I completed the first loop I had lost all my screws in the shoes. I stayed pretty close to the pack and gained time on the downhill, which I generally regard as my strength, and passed several on the downhill prior to going back up for the 2nd loop.
I also wanted to maintain getting up the climb in under a half hour each time, which would keep me around 1hr per loop
Loop 2, 58:46, 3.95 miles, 14:53 min/mi
As I began the 2nd climb I found myself in a group of 3 guys who were much stronger climbers than I was. I hung with them as long as I could but eventually let them go before we reached the top. I had to stick to my plan, and burning out before midway wasn’t my goal. Back down the downhill but this time without traction. I fell on my back once pretty hard, then decided to try and use as much snow as I could to my advantage as nearly everything ON the trail was becoming slick or ice at this point. One section I basically slid for a football field with no control, that was fun.
As I got past the ice it gaveway to a really rocky downhill section with lots of loose rocks. Stepping on one of these led to my second roll of the day and it was pretty hard. I limp ran it off and got myself down the trail with a few choice words. Back on to the road and back to the AS.
AS 1, 06:58
I took my time in the Aid Station, shed the windbreakers and got some fuel in me then set back out.
Loop 3, 59:17, 3.87 miles, 15:19 min/mi
By this time, there was no one visible in front of me, and one guy set off behind me. Hit the stairs alone and just started making my climb. The first thing noticeable now was the amount of people that were in the area hiking and climbing. Coming down the backside (and once again rolling the ankle) ran through a group of boy scouts who thought it was their duty to go 3-4 wide and take up the trail.
Loop 4, 01:05:12, 3.91 miles, 16:41 min/m
More people flooded the trail, little kids looking on wondering what we were doing, Asian-eque people taking photos and sight seeing, loose dogs carrying larger than self sticks. This was the first time I noticed the climb beginning to take its toll, I began walking sections I ran on the previous loop (noticeably the top stretch). Back down again, I rolled the hardest I had rolled my ankle yet. I had sufficiently injured it to the point it was susceptible to rolling more frequently. I made the decision I would change out shoes in hopes of more stability.
AS 2, 12:18
The ankle was hurting pretty bad, swapped out my shoes with the Cascadias and changed about every piece of clothing I had on. At this point it was comfortable running weather and I didn’t need to over heat. I must’ve been moving in slow motion at this point, really had no idea I was there for this long.
Loop 5, 01:08:19, 3.95 miles, 17:18 min/mi
Finishing this loop would put me past the half way point. The climb up got monotonous and even more people were on the trail. I hadn’t seen another runner in a long while. When I reached the top, I got a text from Heather saying she had dropped early and was back at the hotel. My ankle was hurting and I was pretty sure this would be my last set, but until I got back to the AS I wouldn’t make that decision final. The downhill became more sketchy and then I was passed by a guy with hiking poles. I think he was in the race.
Loop 6, 01:14:19, 3.96 miles, 18:46 min/m
Half way up, I couldn’t tell if I was moving. I was getting tired. Mentally I was all there, but the body was obviously not. I trudged on, and stopped to take some photos on this tour of the mountain. Coming down I had my worst ankle roll yet. Pretty much a full on 90 degree bend and I went down hard. After scaring the bears away with my roar, I limped my way on to the AT where I promptly fell on my back and rolled it again. I ran down to the bridge and just soaked it in the ice cold water for 5 minutes. Had I not done that I wouldn’t have made it back to the AS. Coming under the bridge Heather was there taking a photo.
I rolled back into the Aid Station and checked out. I had done enough damage to the ankle and wasn’t looking forward to what I would do to it on tired legs. My assumption was, nothing good would come from goign further. So we hung out at the finish line for a bit and enjoyed the good weather for a while.
6 loops 23.76mile 6:38
As I tapped out (despite the encouragement from RD Alex) I was given a Tammany Rock. I was told to return with it next year. The course is brutal, it is tough, and one of the hardest things I have done to date. It is a mix of some hard parts of Devils Path and the rocks from Bear Mountain. I liked the challenge. Every climb up except the last one was under 30 minutes (and I think the last one was picture related) I’m not fond of loops bc of the boringness of it all, but Tammany is a real challenge. Something that makes you look at the other people and scream:
Will I go back? I think so. I’ve liked getting challenged to the point of breaking, and this course did that. I’ll probably even go back this year just for fun. On the way home we found a Krispy Kreme
I’ve been working on putting together a chart that shows courses in relation to their Elevation Gain Per Mile to see how these rank against each other. One limiting factor is factoring in terrain.
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