Finger Lakes 50: Can’t Get Any Muddier!

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By Steve Shaum, Race Director

I’ve been associated with the Finger Lakes 50s Trail Races for about 10 years, either running, volunteering or directing, and I thought the 2014 race was the muddiest year ever. So muddy that I didn’t think it could get any worse. I was wrong. With above average snowfall this past winter and relentless rain in the Finger Lakes region this year, the 27th annual running of the races was the muddiest by far. It’s got to be dry(er) next year.

Just north of Ithaca, NY, the course is on beautiful trails that meander through the Finger Lakes National Forest. Runners enjoy mostly single-track that crosses several tiny streams, goes through gorgeous woods and around several ponds and traverses a few cow pastures. People from 18 states and three countries traveled to the race this year, and they had a great experience.

The 50-mile course is a 16.5-mile loop. People who register for either the 50k or the 50-mile actually have a choice on race day of which distance they want to run; after completing two loops (the 50k distance), runners can either decide to stop or go on for an additional third loop (plus a half-mile loop) to complete the 50-miler.

This year, we had 69 runners for the 50-mile and 90 for the 50k. The muddy conditions played such a role that only 22 runners completed the 50-mile course—one of the lowest finishing numbers in recent history of the race—and 111 finished the 50k. I was amazed and amused by the four or five DNFs only three hours into the race. It was to be a grueling day on the trails.

Eventual 50-mile women's champ, Laura Perry (bib# 60), getting positioned at the start. Photo: John Zachary

Eventual 50-mile women’s champ, Laura Perry (bib# 60), getting positioned at the start. Photo: John Zachary

As runners came through the 50k/50-mile loop chute, they were elated to see the finish line area with people cheering them on, BBQ aromas filling the air and kegs of beer. No wonder so many decided to call it quits after only two loops! Runners thoroughly enjoyed the pint glass and the fleece tops for finishing either the 50k or the 50-miler, but the main attraction was the coveted chain-sawed cow trophies for the overall and masters’ winners for the 50k and 50-mile distances.

It was amazing to see the runners coming back to the loop/finish line area covered in mud. Those who fell while out on the course came in looking like they just had a round of mud wrestling. Runners couldn’t believe how muddy the course was, but they were happy with how the race was going.

Scott Wehrwein from Ithaca, NY registered for the 50-mile, but decided right from the start of the race to only do the 50k. He won the 50k distance with a time of 4:35, which is a pretty strong time for the 33-mile course, and he only had a 12-minute positive split. The woman’s 50k winner was Nora McIver-Sheridan, also from Ithaca, NY, with a time of 5:20. I guess there was a home-turf advantage, as the women’s masters’ 50k winner, Nancy Kleinrock, is also from Ithaca. She also beat all the masters’ men with a time of 6:15. For a wet-vs-dry comparison, in bone-dry 2010—the most recent year she ran the 50k—she pulled off a 5:02 finish. The men’s masters’ winner was George Hollerback, from Newtown, PA, with a time of 6:32.

In the 50-mile distance, Jack Bailey stuck it out for the win with a time of 7:53, and Laura Perry from Orleans, Ontario ground it out with a smile on her face for the women’s win with a time of 9:22. Returning to the race after a hiatus, previous 50k course record holder Courtney Campbell took the men’s masters 50-mile win with a time of 9:06. Nancy Ward, from Fenwick, Ontario, took the women’s masters 50-mile win with a time of 12:12.

Serious mud for an added challenge. Photo: John Zachary

Serious mud for an added challenge. Photo: John Zachary

As the director, I received many compliments about how friendly and helpful all the volunteers were, how well-stocked the aid stations were, how well the course was marked and how much fun the race was overall. And, no runner got off course during the day—how often does that happen at a trail race?! As a director, I couldn’t be happier with what people were saying, but I wouldn’t mind a drier course next year!

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