I witnessed Twisted Branch from a trainer/crew perspective this year. Watching Amy work through this race to her cutoff at Italy Turnpike was impressive to say the least. The heat and humidity knocked out many a participant by that point, yet she arrived in great spirits with really only her feet holding her back. Able to walk, break down camp, and do 9 loads of laundry the next day tells me that her fueling, heat management, and pacing were right on during a day that dropped many seasoned veterans.
She says, “I had no business being on that course,” with regard to her experience and standard pace, but I would disagree, and so would Scott Magee the Race Director. His mission statement,
“It is our mission is to provide a supported, safe, and challenging ultra-marathon event which showcases the Finger Lakes Trail System, the beautiful forests of upstate NY, and communities that surround the trail. We are committed to protecting the health of the Finger Lakes Trail system, as well as our relationship with the Finger Lakes Trails Conference, the NYS DEC, surrounding communities and the private landowners who make this trail and event possible.”
says it all. He isn’t putting on a race designed to only cater to elites, to people who have a chance at finishing, he is putting on an event that is safe, challenging, and showcases something amazing.
The safety lies within the supports he has built into the event with a medical adviser, aid stations approximately 6-7 miles apart, course markings, sweepers, even paramedics at 40 miles taking people’s vitals. Challenging includes challenging terrain and cutoffs for even the elite athletes which saw Daven Oskvig (2016 champion) break down at 39 miles and almost drop out but come back to life within the hour and take 3rd place. But also the cutoff of 8 hours at mile 28 (and over 6000’ of gain) presented novices with a challenge to work through the most hilly and scenic section of the course to obtain a goal. And then the showcase… The Bristol Hills Branch of the FLT takes one through Naples, Italy Valley, Branchport, Lake David, Urbana, and finally Hammondsport, through scenic Finger Lakes forests, wine and corn country, singletrack trail and beauty that is unmatched in NYS. I would say mission accomplished!
Now most who know me understand that I’m pretty opinionated about ultras. For the most part, I think there are races that appeal to all-comers, and races that appeal to seasoned veterans. I get upset when people sign up for a 100 miler only intending to run 50 miles of it and therefore take a spot from someone who wants to attempt all 100. I believe the qualification standards for Hardrock 100, Western States, Massanutten, Crewel Jewel etc. are all appropriate, and I do not believe that ultras are for everyone. This race is different. As of yet, it has failed to sell out and so I have no qualms about all-comers and even novices running it. Scott stresses in the mission and in action, that this is a safe event. This event offers an opportunity for runners who have run their local 50ks to test their meddle against what more storied ultras are like, and give them the opportunity to discover whether or not it is “for them”. This is an ultra that I believe teaches every participant something they didn’t know about themselves whether they finish it or not. It is an event, in what I believe the true spirit of the original ultra is, that tests one’s limits. A finish is not a given in this race, and that’s the point of ultra IMHO. To me this is the best ultra in the northeast because of this aspect and because of its mission.
So back to Amy; she had no illusion that she would finish this race. She had already run to Italy Turnpike twice before in training. Her original goal was to make that cutoff and finish at Bud Valley. She had to find an hour in that course based on her two previous training runs to make that cutoff and given the conditions, 90 degrees and humid, that was unlikely. So Amy changed her goal and focused on the more important one she had set for herself – to not be miserable and enjoy the course. And, while there were miserable moments, Shay Road, the experience was a win and she was happy with her day. She did find 40 minutes on the course as well! We then went on to other aid stations and the finish to cheer on our friends. Amy decided that this race was “not her bag” but was glad she experienced it. Lessons are still being learned post race.
For me there were more joys. I got to help Amy’s parents witness what she does. I am not sure they really understand, but they were out there cheering here on because they knew it was important to her, and evidently it may have inspired them to re-up their Y membership, or at least get out walking. Two of my kids accompanied us and camped through a storm. Sky was goofy and did his thing, but probably was more bored than he let on. Julius, on the other hand, got up at 4 AM and wanted to come along with me to crew and experience the event. He thought it was really cool and should be a televised or videoed event like the Tour de France, and he was most amazed at people’s attitudes when they had known they were missing a cutoff but seemed happy regardless, and the also the spirit of the people beat down by heat exhaustion or injury. I am so glad that both of them saw people pushing their limits and the joy that can be found in doing so. I don’t think ultra-running is ultimately something any of my kids will end up doing, but I do think the example of ultra-running is one that has taught them to push their limits in any endeavor they undertake.
Finally, I want to say, between the athletes, participants, volunteers, race director, pacers, crew, spectators, communities, etc. Ultra to me, especially this one, epitomizes what is right in the world. People genuinely care about each other out there. They work their hardest while accepting aid and help along the way, and offering help as well. They unite under a common endeavor and shared experience that transcends differences. They get it done and pick those up who didn’t. Even those who didn’t get it done pick up others who didn’t as well as those who did. I love this community.
Thank you Scott for organizing the experience.