Guest post by Jaime Peca, female winner in the 2018 70-mile SRT division, with a time of 24:27:08
About two years ago I was trolling through ultrasign up and stumbled upon a race called SRT. It had multiple distances and looked like an extremely beautiful course. I had been going through a lot of difficulties and low points in my life and I was looking for something that would really test my inner strength and determination. Looking at this event, a 70 mile fully unsupported race that was pretty close seem to fit the bill. I started working on building up my miles in the couple of years as well as continuing to deal with a lot of difficulties in my personal life.
2018 had continued to bring many highs and lows. I seemed to start the year off in my training on a high note and that continued through the spring to summer where my training seem to take a dip. The summer heat and humidity caused my miles a week to drop extremely low but I tried to counter that with extra cross training. Let’s skip ahead now to the week before the race.
The week leading up to the race was extremely busy. I had to try to juggle work, my daughter and her just starting school, maintaining some sort of training, and my stress. I decided to head out to the Catskills a couple of days before the race so I could try to get out to the course and view a little of it before the race so I would not go in completely blind. The first day I explored by myself and hit sections that I would be in during the night time, the second day I went out exploring with my friend Dick who was also so kind to let me stay with him and also keep updates going online and meeting me at later check points to try and keep my spirits up. We not only hiked for a few miles of the course but also went and checked out the in and outs of the future checkpoints and potential road crossings which proved to be an enormous help during the race.
The day of the race:
The start of the race wasn’t until 6:30 PM on Friday so I had a lot of the day to finish packing and unpacking and then repacking again. Checking all of my headlamps and flashlights multiple times, making sure I had battery packs, charging cables, extra batteries. Checking my water filter and counting how many calories that I was able to carry on me. My nerves started to go away and to be honest, I think I just started to feel numb. There was no backing out of this, I was terrified beyond belief that I would fail and have to drop out and feel as though I am not strong enough for not just the race but for all of my hard times. This race represented more than just a race and the difficult challenge of 70 miles unsupported, it was so much more than that to me. Dick brought me to the finish line where I was going to take the bus with some other runners to the start around 4 PM. I met some really amazing people before hand and was able to talk with a few more on the bus ride. Everyone I met was so wonderful and nice! The funny thing to think about though was none of us seemed or acted all too nervous. I think maybe it’s knew what will be, will be.
20 crazy people were participating in the 70, 5 of us were females. Like all great trail races the start of the race was extremely laid-back. We all hung around listened to the prerace final words make sure that we had the proper phone numbers in our phones in case we get lost or hurt, took a group picture, and off to the trailhead. Ken the RD counted down and said go. We all paused for a minute nobody seem to really want to go just yet but slowly we all turned to the blue markers on the trees and off we went. We only had about 30 or 40 minutes of daylight so we are all trying to make the most of It. I started running and a very conservative pace and made it to a long wooden Walkbridge over a Marsh. I heard somebody behind me and started chatting with him, his name was Ryan. Ryan and I maintained a good pace together and after it got dark we decided that we would try to stick together to make the nighttime more comfortable. We had a great time and the miles just seem to fly by. We made it to checkpoint 1 (mile 17) in what felt like a blink. We left the checkpoint and started down the road, we went to make a turn and saw another guy standing at the turn and seemed a little confused on where to go. We talked with him briefly and then our two person running crew turned into a three person running crew. His name was Tom and he meshed so well with us. The three of us kept moving along taking turns taking the lead and we were able to navigate extremely well. I ran into some complications with my water filter sometime between check 1 and check 2. The filter kept detaching from my hose and I kept losing a lot of water. Both Ryan and Tom would stop and wait with me as I fumbled to get it reconnected and we kept going. We made it through check 2 ( mile 27) with again little to no problems. The three of us kept moving along and to be honest the majority of the night portion was all a quick hike, there was very little running, no one wanted to risk injury so early in the race. We kept checking to make sure that we were in good standings to make the time cut off‘s for each of the checkpoints and on to check 3 and 4 we went. There is not much that I can say about the race from the start until now. It was in the middle of the night, we couldn’t really see much of anything and with all of us together it made the night less intimidating. As for creatures the worst that WE SAW was a couple of deer and a bunny that hopped by. We were all extremely relieved that that was the worst. After checkpoint 4 The real climbing started. We were in Wurtsboro and it was still dark when we went back into the trail. We were at about mile 40 at this point and the Trail was barely big enough for one person and the terrain was filled with rocks and roots and all kinds of things to trip over. Most all of the significant and difficult climbing was going to be set between miles 40 and 54. We kept going and made it up to the Rosa gap fire tower. I’m not quite sure what mile that was out but I do remember that we made it to the top at sunrise and were able to stand at the summit watching the sun come up. It was the best feeling to know that we are finally going to be able to take off our lights and also know that we were over half the way through the race. We kept moving and start to get into some very difficult terrain. The infamous Gunk rocks. We were all very excited to be able to start running again now that it was light out but the rocks made it so difficult to get a rhythm, there wasn’t much room to step around them and my feet kept on getting caught in between them and pinching at my ankles. We were all getting pretty tired. We passed by the start for the 30 milers and found open areas that were perfectly runnable, but none of us seem to have the energy or motivation to run so we just kept on hiking up. It was also around this time when all three of us started to unravel a bit. We all made it to around mile 50 and that is around the time when Tom started to have a lot of problems with his foot. He sat down and took off his shoe to try to figure out what was causing so much pain and he said to me and Ryan to keep going and he will catch up with us. Ryan and I continued on in a moderate hike for a couple of miles and in those miles we found the section of the race that I have been looking forward to! We finally were able to start going up rock scramble’s! The fun of being able to climb up and down all the rocks helped to take my mind off of everything else that was bothering me. When we made it to the top we stopped and took a look around, in every direction was the most beautiful view of the mountains and valleys! Everything was green and lush and beautiful! And then it hit me, this was Sam’s point. The area that is known to have the “million dollar view“! And they are not joking, the beauty of that area was surreal, it looks like a painting! After taking in the sights for a minute Ryan and I kept going. We decided to stop at a nearby lake to pick up some water. The sun and the humidity was beating down on us and we wanted to make sure that we had enough water seeing that we are not sure when the next water source would be. After we picked up the water Ryan needed to rearrange his pack a little bit and said to me to keep going and that he will catch up, he knew that if I stopped for too long that I would not be able to start again. I thanked him for understanding and I kept moving. I made sure to go as slower pace so he can catch up to me but I unfortunately did not see him again.
From about miles 52 and on I was by myself. I had lost my two friends that I made. This is about the time of the race when my low points started to outweigh my high points. The sun was so hot and the humidity was so heavy that I kept guzzling the water that I had. My memory of these miles ahead are very fuzzy But luckily this is also around the time that Dick was at the checkpoints. I guess looking back at things, everything happens for a reason. I was able to stay with Tom and Ryan for what would’ve been an extremely difficult and scary part of the race for me, the night portion. And then I had my friend Dick to give me encouragement so soon after I found myself alone. I should also state that every time I hit a check point I would message Dick and he would post on Facebook where I was and how I was doing. When I got to check point 5 I was at a very low point. The checkpoint was supposed to be at mile 54 and I didn’t get to it until mile 56. For 2 miles I kept on questioning every turn that I made, was i lost? Was I off course? I started to really get into my head. I stumbled into the checkpoint and ask them if I got off course or if by chance the miles for the checkpoints were off. The two men sitting there said that the check points were off and that I did not get lost and that by this one being 2 miles longer that the next checkpoint would be in 3 miles instead of 6 miles. I wasn’t quite sure if I was happy or upset. I tried my best to thank them as much as I could but I was in a lot of pain at this point. I grabbed my phone to send the message of where I was and when I turned it on I found that he had sent me a message asking where I was and how I was doing. I sent him a quick message back telling him that I was having a very difficult time and I was all alone and the pain was really setting in. Little did I know that Dick was just a mile and a half away from me. After sending the message I put my phone away and kept going I was now headed towards the last steep climb of the race. Looking on the elevation chart it looks like it was going to be difficult, but nothing prepared me For how truly difficult it was. About 800 to 900 feet of smooth rock to get up in the course of about a mile. My breathing became very bad at this point and I was having a hard time thinking. I’m not quite sure how my legs kept moving forward, I think I was on auto pilot by this point. I passed a few people going up the rocks but I’m not sure what distance they were in. I made it to the top, but what goes up must go back down. It was around this time that I saw somebody in the distance coming towards me, it was Dick! I was so happy to see him even though I may not have actually shown that to him. My throat felt like it was closing and my breathing was down to a whistle. He gave me encouragement and let me know that the next checkpoint was just about a mile and a half down the path. I think I started to cry at this point. The thought of a mile and a half to the next checkpoint, not the finish, the next checkpoint. I still had so much more race to go and I was feeling as though I was running on fumes. From now to the finish I honestly don’t remember much. I remember trying to do my best to do a run/walk pace. I remember being terrified that another female in the 70 miles was right on my tail and that I would lose first place. I remember realizing at this point that my goal time of 21 or 22 hours was completely out the window. These last 12 miles of the race ended up being the epitome me of why I first signed up for this race. I was challenged in ways that I had never before been challenged. The difficulties and pain that I felt in the past couple years seemed to mirror what I was going through and feeling now. I kept moving. Around this point I became a very audible runner, I was trying to remind myself of my mantras While throwing out endless swearwords for every time I tripped and rolled my ankles because I was becoming sloppy. Like I mentioned, this is not a section of the race that showed any sort of gracefulness for me. I cringe at the thought of what other runners saw me as. I made it to checkpoint 6. How on earth did a mile and a half feel like an eternity? I have come so far and all I wanted to do was to stop. I was checked in to the checkpoint and without even thinking just kept making my way to the trail. I waved to Dick very quickly and on I went. This next section to the finish was supposed to be flagged, there were some flags but not very many. I was extremely disoriented and very confused. They were numerous times when I saw the flag markings going in a direction and the flags just stopped and it was implied to continue to follow the color that you were on. I found myself playing leapfrog with four other runners, three of them were in the 30 mile and one of them was a man in a 70 mile. They seem to keep on getting turned around also and confused on where to go and I would pull out my phone and pointing the direction to go in but it made me to keep on starting and stopping to either let them pass me or for me to pass them. I started to get very fatigued with the constant starting and stopping and having to re-look at the map. I was overly emotional at this point and found myself falling and crying. At that point one of the girls came over and asked me if I was ok. I felt broken, I felt like I was failing myself for being in this much pain and being this emotional, I was overcome in a way that I could not even put words. I stopped crying and just said no, I am not OK and I need to find the finish and I need to keep running. Enter Chris, I swear she was an angel sent to me at this point. I got up from the ground and she ran with me. She did not realize that I was running the 70 mile race and she stayed with me. I expressed to her that I was confused, according to the map it looked as though we are supposed to be out of the woods by now and into the city headed towards the final bridge to the finish. The last 2 miles seem to go by so quickly with her. We didn’t talk that much but just to have somebody with me was so nice. In a blink, we found ourselves at a road crossing. When we got to it right on the other side of the street was a bridge, not just any bridge.. the bridge to the finish!!! I was in utter disbelief and I stopped running and look to her and I said this can’t be right, this brings us to the finish line! She just smiled and we kept going. I looked up and I saw dick on the bridge running towards us and I heard him cheering And saying that the finish line is 2 minuets away. 2 minuets!!! Not 2 miles! Minutes!!! None of this seemed real anymore. How did this happen? How did I make it through those miles that felt like an eternity? As soon as we passed by him I looked at Chris and I said that I have to run now and run fast. I took off and Ran as fast as I could possibly go. After the bridge there’s only about a 1/10 of a mile, I saw a giant banner that said finish. I was practically tripping over my feet at this point and I remember asking them if this was the real finish or if I had to cross the street to the other tent. The truth is I just wanted to stop my watch and fall to the ground but I didn’t want to do that too early. They said it was the actual finished and as I got to them I had stop on my watch, limped to the other side of the tent, and just fell to ground. Chris came over to see me and I tried my best to express to her how much I appreciate it her and what she did for me by just asking if I was OK and running with me. I was given some water and I found my way back to my feet to get to the other tent.
I found my way across the street and Dick was there and had all of the drinks that I had rambled off during the race that I wanted waiting for me, lifesaving act. I was finally able to sit down and Relax. I looked up and saw a girl that I rode the bus with at the finish line and she gave me a big smile and said congratulations and she had to drop around mile 54. I asked about the other racers And was informed that at that time I was the first female to finish and to their information three of the other four females were already known to have dropped out. I was awarded a beautiful authentic Navajo tomahawk for my first place finish. I asked about the two guys that I had spent so much time with. I was informed that ryan was still out there. Dick and I waited for him to finish. A little while later Ryan crossed the finish and we congratulated each other and I thanked him for the endless hours spent together out there.
SRT proved to be the most difficult race that I could ever imagine. It brought me to epic highs and low’s that I never even knew I could get to. I am so extremely happy and proud to have participated and finished this event! I ended up being the 2nd female to ever officially finish this race and the only female this year to finish it.
To my friends and family that cheered me on, encouraged me, supported me, and talked me off ledges of pre race fear. Especially to Sarah Strossman, Jeff Marsh, Lorna, Sami, Erica, Mort, Danielle Snyder, and Dick Vincent.
Lorna Who continuously has my back and was there for me to watch over my pups while I was gone and help me out of the car when I got home and greeted me with gauze, pizza and wings, and cider.
Dick Vincent Who gave me the best hospitality and letting me stay with him before and after the race. Who took me out hiking, reviewing the map and of course, endless encouragement before, during, and after the race. Also being able to laugh with me at my unfortunate chafing.
Ryan and Tom Who spent many miles with me on the trail and without their knowledge gave me the courage to keep going.
Chris Who was my angel sent to me for my last couple of miles when I didn’t think I could get any lower, just stayed with me to the finish.
The RD Ken p, Todd, the volunteers, and everyone who helped to make this event happen. The memories and lessons I am taking from this event are priceless and will last forever with me.
Thank you all!!!
You are battle-tested tough — Dick Vincent