Matt Lipsey is FIT: A Recap of April Victories
April was a great month for me (some might say it was because it started with my birthday, but I digress).
I’ve found I have a great selection of climbs on single track, jeep roads, and pavement right out my front door. The Darlington Trail, the Appalachian Trail, a mountain bike single track system, and several extended gravel and paved roads are all accessible from the front porch.
I found myself making a ton of trips up and over, up and over what is called “Tower Road” as the jeep road climbs up to a stack of Radio Towers on the ridge above the Darlington Trail. Scouted some prime turkey hunting in the saddle of the ridge while out there, too 😉
In a last minute decision, I entered Hyner View 25k. I entered for two reasons – 1. In remembrance of the legend and personal friend Carl Undercofler who died at the top of the first grueling climb last year at the age of 83. and 2. For competition. I saw Lee Berube was on the list and I wanted a chance to throw down with him.
Carl Undercofler helped build every inch of trail Hyner is run on. Typically, a vintage axe is given as a prize for winning – a nod to the area’s lumber boom. This year, however (and perhaps going forward), a maddox was awarded to the winners of the 25k. A maddox is similar to a pick-axe, except it has a blade on one end for pulling back earth/chopping roots. The maddox was Carl’s favorite trail building tool – and ironically also the tool I needed to finish my garden. If everything went well, I would use this race to tune-up for Breakneck Marathon the next weekend. If things went wrong… oh well, things go wrong sometimes ha.
Everything went perfectly. I hit the first switchback, maybe a mile in and realized the race was wrapped up. I reeled back on murder-mode and ran a wild race for the hell of it.
When I came through the line, I realized that I had bested Zach Miller’s course record by over a minute. While the course was not exactly the same due to land permission issues, it stacked up as a more difficult race than the original version. I was surprised to find this out the hard way. I expected the course to be softer – and it wasn’t. There was an additional 500ft of climbing and some seriously steep new sections of ups and near vertical descents.
I ran without issue, without any sort of strain. When I closed out mile 16 and finished the race thinking I could run another 10 at that pace or further, I knew I was sitting on a stack of fitness and I owed it to myself to jump into the Breakneck Marathon the next weekend and try for a national team spot. I had a week to make up my mind.
On Thursday the 28th and Friday the 29th, I pulled into state college with Skeeter for my monthly treatment. I’d been tossing up going to Beacon, NY to race Breakneck Point marathon along the Hudson on Saturday, April 30th. The men’s field was stacking up and there was a national spot team on the line to the overall winner.
There were a bunch of reasons I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. It was much longer than I was used to, I wasn’t sure if my body was up for it, etc. etc. lame excuses. I recognize that my body used to get tired after treatment so I was unsure how this would play into the race equation. The treatment room drew three vials of blood for labs on Friday morning, so I was worried about not having all my blood come race time. (That’s three vials of blood I’m missing – all of which carry important oxygen to muscles, correct?!!?). I tried not to think about that because I didn’t want the head games.
But then I thought about the reasons why I SHOULD go for it. On Thursday, after treatment, I ran two repeats of Spruce Gap in Rothrock state forest (2,000ft+ of climbing, 1000ft descending) and then ripped a 15:20 5k down the back of the mountain on a gravel road without pushing for it. The weekend before, I had made light work out of Zach Miller’s record at the Hyner 25k. I was sitting on a fat stack of fitness and to not throw my hat in the ring would be a disservice to myself and I knew it.
I knew plenty of the men I would be racing had pulled out of Hyner the weekend before to save their legs for Breakneck, and had been doing by very specific workouts to prepare for the race. I, on the other hand, hadn’t run longer than 9.5 miles (other than Hyner) in the last 2-3 years.
Sitting in the treatment chair with an IV drip in my arm, I wrote out a text message to Ian Golden (a real G) regarding Breakneck that said “put me in, coach.” I sat there debating for a while before sending, but in the end I smashed “send.”
I got a quick reply that I was in. I turned off social media promoting the race hype for the rest of the day to focus inwards.
Skeeter and I ran out to Mount Nittany for a shakeout run to get out legs ready and prime the engine. I wasn’t sure if my legs were still feeling the strain of Hyner, but I know that if I do a little climbing at an easy pace (in this case, 1000 vertical feet), then I know I will climb both easier and faster the next day. I believe this has something to do with muscle memory for the heart, as in, it ramps itself up to higher BPMs after a proper warmup the day before.
On Saturday, April 30 the sun came up and the Breakneck full marathon started at 6am sharp with a sounding of a goat’s horn. The race boasted 27 miles, with a staggering 9000ft of elevation gain and loss.
The showcase climb of the race is a mile long high-exposure rock scramble up breakneck point on some super grippy quartzite conglomerate. There are rock climbing elements and the race course allows you to basically on-site and navigate your own route up the nose of the enormous rock slab, facing West Point and the Hudson River.
I would like to think I could have won this race had I not gotten lost. I looked so much better than the eventual first (max king) and second place (David hedges). I ran conservative but in control and lead for the first 9 or 10 until the next climb after Breakneck ridge.
When I got to the dam, a section on the final 8 mile loop of the course, someone had pulled nearly two miles of flags. Max was ahead somewhere close, but I had lost sight of him. I tried and tried to find the path but couldn’t come up with anything in any direction that I trusted would not get me any more lost.
The winner and second place (who had come through sometime while I was out lost in other directions) had the race downloaded on their watches, which allowed them to navigate the course without the pulled flagging. This was the move of the day. Others later were able to latch onto someone if running close by and another person had downloaded the race to their watch. In the end, I couldn’t find the way and pulled from the race – running back to the start the way I had come in on the second loop.
I’m proud of the dismantling race I ran in a stacked men’s pro/elite field, I just wish the results showed something different and the coveted spot was mine.
I spent the last three days visualizing nothing but victory. My fitness is outstanding. When I got to mile 18, I felt like I had run 3. Here, I dropped a 5:30 something mile.
Sometimes, this is the way she goes.
While I was out there, I SMOKED my ankle on an off camber when I misstepped onto a baby head (big loose rock) and thought I made it take a dirt nap. I hobbled for a bit, but luckily it mended itself with blood flow and I pushed on just fine. No issues after the race, either.
I’m performing better now than I ever have been. I think it may be because while I was laid up with CIDP, my body got plenty of rest – which is wild to think about.
There’s always a lesson to learn. I learned that I need to learn to download course maps to my watch ha.
You either win, or you learn. If you refuse to learn, that’s only when you’ve truly lost.