This past Saturday, Jan. 27th, the Cape Cod Ultra Society staged its debut ultra race under the sagacious eye of race director Bob “I got it all under control” Jensen, fresh off his fearless triumph of conquering the mighty rt.66 Mother Road 100. On a day better suited for penguins, ten intrepid ice warriors showed up at the Sandy Neck starting line despite the seven degree weather. Seven opted for the full 50K, while three newbies prepped for bigger things later by doing a single traverse of the figure-eight double-loop course.
The upside of the frigid weather was that it made the beach sand slightly harder and thus easier to run on throughout the day (it had only risen to 13 degrees by noon), but recent storms made the beach side rockier than usual, and the overall times were not as quick as they might have been. Everyone was muffled up with piles of explorer-worthy garments, so recognition of friends depended more to voice recognition than eyesight. The group gathered by the Atlantic Ocean to answer Bob’s son Rob’s starting flare gun appeared incognito, the swaddling clothes lending a quaint overweight look to bony ultra types. Friends were identified vocally, despite the broad daylight.
But off we went on the leg to Scorton Creek, each picking the line we thought most runnable, be it up near the dunes out of the wind, or lower and flatter surface down near the waves, which offered a changing surface every couple hundred yards. At Scorton Creek we turn left and picked up the marsh trail, heading back to the parking lot for about a mile. About this time we experimented with the ice sheets, tentatively discovering which was runnable (this is salt tidal water, remember) and what would break and give us a quick ice footbath.
At the three and a half mile point, the trail heads back to the beach for the final mile and a half to the parking lot (and start), thus completing the first loop. The second loop of the figure eight heads about a half mile on the macadam to the ranger’s station, then due east on the marsh trail, where we run to trail #5, about 4.5 miles along a double track trail. With the marsh on your right and unrunnable thickets to your left, it was pretty difficult not to occasionally dunk your feet for a flash when the ice would give. Brrr…I found that this was a mighty depressing situation only a mile or so into this section after I had taken a couple of ice soaks. From then on, prudence, not time, ruled the day, and at times I would even kneel and crawl my way around suspect surface…after the race, I found that other runners used this same approach, and hang the minutes lost! (this is tough for an inveterate competitive fellow to choose, an exercise in patience) At trail # 5 the trail takes an abrupt left hand turn through the dunes, a winding and altogether charming winter wonderland through the woods that presents us back on the beach a half mile later. Here we are four and a half miles from home, and running this section appears as endless as a Badwater, for there are nothing but dunes and beach as far as one can see. However, the faint shape of the Cape Cod Bridge became more and more distinct, and one could measure some progress that way. I reached the parking lot with a run-a-mile, walk-five-minute routine I intend to try at the six day race in May, and was cheerfully greeted by station captain Gael Gilmore and the teen band “The Tainted Cheese” (Rob & his four friends, local rock celebs). Unfortunately, they were unused to being roused at such an early hour for wake-up, and had forgotten their instruments. Efforts acapella were disappointing and quickly abandoned.
The first lap had taken me three hours seven minutes, and I was told I was in fifth place in the 50K, with the duo of Jeff List (recent Hellgate completer) and Greg Stone running side by side in the lead. It was great to discover I had an extra pair of dry socks in my car, and even though I had trouble changing into the icy shoes again, the feeling was definitely comfy by comparison. Off I went for the second lap, and even though the temp had only moved a tad, it appeared more clement now, and my competitiveness returned. This was fun!
Coming through the forward side of the Sandwich loop, it was nice to see Jeff & Greg heading in the opposite direction, as well as women’s winner Susana Carlson, smiling all. Second loop took me 3:36, so despite being passed by Fred Merullo near trail #4, it felt good. It felt especially good to arrive at the home base after about 20 miles and see my smiling cherry-cheeked wife Jane basking in her finish of the 25K. Noble, ever-lovely Jane, to borrow my bud Fred’s line. Hooray for you! I thought — not just gorgeous but tough as nails too!! A veritable eskimo squaw at the Iditarod!
Bob’s wife Fiona had relieved Gael as the official timekeeper and aide-de-camp, and was busy helping everyone. The boys in the band (now renamed : “A Lesson Learned”) had headed home to retrive their guitars, but somehow lost their way back to the base camp. Second lap I managed to keep the feet dry (the tide had ebbed some too, of course, as our oceanographer Jeff had explained), and all went well. I was told that Greg had taken advantage of Jeff’s few walking breaks on the beach heading home to put a bit of distance between them and capture the coveted beachsand winner’s trophy. (Bob’s artistry) Also hand-made were the inscribed quahog shells for all finishers. These were historical and authentic-looking and thus a special hit. A couple of bowls of Bob’s delicious Shackleton soup revived the circulation, and stories were told. All were in awe of the natural beauty of the course in this pristine park (it looks exactly the same today as it appeared those many Saturday’s of my youth sixty years ago), and so appreciated that the cold snap had not deterred our participating. We thought few changes would be necessary for a successful return next year.