This is a guest post by Kate Shumeyko, who won the 2019 30-mile division.
After teaching a full day of school on Friday, I raced home, changed, grabbed my gear and our overnight bags for Saturday night, dropped my kids and dogs to my parents, and then Paul and I headed to High Point. We decided to eat “car sushi” as my pre-race meal- I kept mine very bland with no raw fish and though the salt and carbs would sit well. I’ve run ultras before eating veggie sushi during the race- so I was pretty confident this would work. Not sure if this is what would mess my stomach up later on or just all of the sugar I would be consuming but it was going to be a very long, uncomfortable night ahead….21 of us started together at 6:30 PM Friday night. I was the only woman now registered and confirmed this as we got our race briefing and picture taken together. I was actually happy about this- it took the mental pressure off and let me just focus on what was ahead.
I ran a few miles with 9 of these 20 guys at different points of the night section. I laughed and talked with these guys as we got further in and became more raw. GI issues were happening with a lot of us- not sure why. I watched really strong men drop out throughout the course for different reasons- which was heartbreaking because every single one of these dudes was a badass fighter.
My husband Paul drove to some of the beginning road crossings to cheer us through. I had been leapfrogging with Mike M. for a bit – helping him with a few wrong turns. We found Chris making a navigational mistake and called him back- and the three of us were near each other for the next few miles. I started struggling early on with GI issues and at mile 7 was upset. Saw Paul at the road crossing and turned off my headlamp to go talk to him. He was worried that I was doubting myself so early on- knew it was way too early for me to be feeling off. He pushed me forward as a runner went by and said “Go stay with that guy for a bit. Go talk to him.” That guy was Chris- he had fallen back to get some snacks out and was just coming through again at the road crossing. (Paul also told me there were maybe 6 guys not too far behind us in case I had to let Chris move on.)
Chris was a sweetheart who just finished hiking the entire AT. We quickly bonded- talking about relationships and heartbreak and his AT adventure. (His trail name is Saint- give him a hug for me if you see him hiking out there!) We chatted for awhile but I needed to keep stopping to manage my GI distress so I didn’t see him again.
I joined Nick somewhere by the railroad and stuck behind him for a bit. I hate this section and was happy to have someone near me. Nick yelled out ahead of me about a porcupine but I couldn’t quite hear him… and then I saw it and whooped! He laughed and said he tried to tell me! We passed by the generator-powered cabin with the man watching us through his window and I was very grateful to have company. He started to tell me about a scary podcast he listens to but then I made him stop!
“The Boys” were a foursome who moved like a train. They came upon me after I had gone off course and then backtracked to find the right way. They reminded me of brothers who finish each other’s sentences. Mikey in the back and then Skip, other Mike, and Gabe. These guys were fun and worked well together. I enjoyed my time joining their train for a bit.
Mike B. joined us but was struggling with nausea so fell back… but then caught us again. When his headlamp died I stopped to give him light and then we stuck through the rest of the night together. Mike was struggling hard but pushing through the nausea. I felt like we were helping each other since we both were feeling so awful- we would take turns stepping off the trail to do what we needed to do but then found each other again. The night gets really dark so I was very grateful to have him for company. At checkpoint 2 we came upon 2 guys – one was going to drop because of his nausea (I can’t remember his name but he was crushing it for awhile- I remembered him for his high polka dot socks). The other- Evan- was going to continue but his headlamp died. He pushed on with us to stay in our light but when I could sense he wanted to move quicker I gave him my flashlight and told him to drop it at the next checkpoint since it would be light by then. Mike and I continued on. The fog was challenging in our headlamps but then when we climbed we were above the clouds and the views were breathtaking. We watched the harvest moon rise. We heard owls and bullfrogs. I pointed out the green spider eyes. There were different salamanders and frogs over and under rocks. I love night running so much for these magical things not everyone gets to see.
When we were headed toward checkpoint 3, Mike was falling back more and more. His nausea was better but both of his hips were bothering him. I would stop to wait and make sure he was ok, but would then start moving. He was in really rough shape and I was feeling stronger. He knew he needed to drop to not further hurt himself. I asked him how important his next race was in a month… when he said he really wanted to succeed I told him that he needed to listen to his body now and let it heal before then. I pushed forward and didn’t realize I wouldn’t see him again. (Sending you the biggest hug, Mike!)
Paul was waiting for me at checkpoint 3. I was now the third to last runner – Mike would be second to last and there was another guy out there who we hadn’t seen at all. Checkpoint 3 is basically the pivotal part of the race for me- you leave the night and weird trail mixes and road crossings and head into Shawangunk Trail magic. I also knew I had a monster climb across that street which has haunted me over the past year. I regrouped, changed my shirt, got my watch charging, added my filtered water to my soft flask, and kissed Paul goodbye as I headed across the street. The distance between checkpoints 3 and 4 is about 15 miles and hours of work. I looked at that climb and welcomed it- I smiled and said hello to it. And it wasn’t horrible. I accepted it and knew it and worked my way up.
Moving toward Sam’s Point I saw Evan climbing ahead of me. I caught up to him and he turned and smiled and thanked me for my flashlight. I asked him how he was doing and he said he was done- his wife was picking him up at Sam’s Point. He had been so strong- just shows how relentless this course is on everyone.
Many of those next 15 miles were dark for me. I was exhausted and my heels were badly blistered and my gut was still not normal. My caloric intake was a challenge- but I was hydrating and finding plenty of water to filter. There were moments where I would talk to myself because my mind wanted my body to stop. The next checkpoint was hours away. I didn’t know if I had it in me. I called my friends. I put my music on in my pack. I sat on a rock to empty the debris from my shoes. I rearranged my thinking to the whole distance left rather than the checkpoint – and then broke that all up into bites. I was hallucinating and stopping to close my eyes while resting on my poles. After climbing the Castle Rock outcropping – which terrifies me every time- I made a mistake and followed the Blueberry Trail instead of the other blue trail for SRT. Got maybe .3 mile into it and checked my map because it didn’t feel right. Turned around but lost more time. It wasn’t until I was heading toward Rainbow Falls that I looked at the map again and saw the checkpoint 4 cutoff and what the real time was. It wasn’t on my radar because I had some cushion at checkpoint 3. I also was out of it mentally and had no concept of real time. It was 3:30 and I only had an hour left to cover 4-ish miles. I had been doing 2-3 miles an hour. I got down to the Falls and then got confused with the blazing. Finally saw it and climbed up and out. Started hustling toward Jenny Lane. Was running hard on the detour since it was so runnable. But then- the cut back into the true SRT was overgrown and technical and a short climb. Once I was on the Jenny Lane section I ran as hard as I could- I was afraid to look at the map to see how far it was to the checkpoint but knew it was farther than I had time for. I pushed as hard as I could and came across an SRT Sweeper named Jim. “He said what’s your bib? What’s your name?” (I was the only woman out there doing the 70 miler so everyone knew my name!) When I told him he said “Kate we’ve been looking for you! Everyone is looking and your husband is there worried!” Great. I got to checkpoint 4 at 4:36. 6 minutes late. Skip was also at this checkpoint waiting to be picked up- he had pulled himself out not long before I arrived. But I was feeling stronger now. I asked if I could please go through- I knew I could make checkpoint 5 in time. But the rules are the rules- and as Ken the RD explained- they have to follow the park permits. No one was to enter the next section after 4:30.
I respect this. I’m a rule follower and did not want to have the rules bent for me. But I was also devastated. I knew I could finish. This race is so hard- in so many ways. I don’t know how to wrap my brain around a possible third attempt. I can look back and see the minutes I could’ve saved, the time I could’ve gained. But I’m not going to go there. I made my choices and they took time. I made some navigational mistakes and they took time. Right now I’m going to let my body heal, my blisters heal, my heart heal. Oh, and I’m still in love with you, SRT.
Thank you to the firefighters who fought those terrible forest fires the week before and helped preserve a land that is so special to many of us. Thank you to the trail angels who left some trail magic out there for us. And thank you to the check point volunteers, the sweepers, and to Ken and Todd for making this race a reality. I will be back.