This was our second trip to Peak2Brew. In 2016 we had a group of 12 runners, 2 drivers and 2 vans. We raced 236 miles in 32 hours and 11 minutes through blazing heat and a remarkable thunderstorm. This year the course was shortened to 227 miles with one van running 4 legs each and the other running 3 legs each. Eleven of the twelve runners from 2016 wanted to run and everyone wanted 4 legs so we decided to go with eleven runners so van 2 would get the mileage they were looking for. This race report is written from the perspective of Van 1.
When we took on this race the first time we all agreed that we were going there to have fun not to try and win. We also agreed that we would work as hard on being loud as we would on being fast. This year we went back with the same agreement. So we packed our vans, 2 large inflatable bears, 4 plastic horns, from the dollar store, several Canadian flags, one very large cow bell and several small ones.
The start times were staggered based on expected completion time. We had the 2nd fastest projected time at 8:10 a mile (not that we are competitive or anything) and we started with 6 other teams at 8:30 am. The first teams started at 5:00 am and there was one ultra-team with a projected time of 7:30 a mile starting 90 minutes after us. The event starts at the top of Whiteface Mountain (yes, the top) and the first runner gets to run down Whiteface. It’s called the downhill monster, an elevation loss of 2992 feet over a distance of 10.2 km! We had to put the van in low gear to save the breaks when we drove down it!
James actually wanted to do this leg and when the gun went off he took off. He and one other runner quickly left everyone else behind and when we stopped half way down to cheer James on the other runner was still right behind him. We were a little concerned because we knew that James was not going to make it easy for the guy behind him to pass him (not that we are competitive or anything) and we did not want him to die then and there because we would have been forced to run the rest of his legs! James finished in 33 minutes and 26 seconds. He said his feet were actually burning, we put ice on them and we had to track down a lighter later so he could sterilize a needle to drain the blisters on one of his feet! But he did stay ahead of the other guy (again not competitive or anything). The other guy was hobbling around too but James was hobbling more (still not competitive).
Each van ran six legs and then had the next six legs off. The first set of legs covered 22.6 miles ending at the ski jumping complex at Lake Placid where, just because it was possible, the leg ended by running up to the top of the ski jumps. I had the pleasure of doing that leg. Each time you pass a team in an ultra-relay it counts as a kill and teams make them off on their vans. We did it too but in a Canadian kind of way by adding Sorry Eh! At the end. When I started leg six there was a guy just out of sight in front of us who was probably closer in age to my son than to me. He was obviously not concerned about the old lady behind him and I almost had him until he turned around and realized I almost had him just before we started up-hill. He took off and stayed just slightly ahead of me so no kill for me but our next runner was set-up for a kill (still not competitive or anything). We ended the first 6 legs 24 minutes ahead of our projected pace.
We had some time between sections as the other van had 34.4 miles to run so we drove to the next major exchange at Tupper Lake and discovered Big Tupper Brewing whose slogan which I plan to take as my own is “If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing!”. We took our inflated bear who had many adventures and amused all the other patrons. The owner came out and took a photograph.
We then hung around the major exchange cheering on other runners and putting fridge magnets on all the other vans (this too is an ultra-relay thing) we had 200 magnets made and there were less than 100 vans so some of the magnets might have ended up on various structures in upstate New York because we had to use up as many as possible in a non-competitive kind of way.
Our second set of legs took us from Tupper Lake to the Adirondack Experience at Blue Mountain a distance of 33.5 miles. As the legs were longer we went into runner support mode. We would change runners at the exchange, drive a few miles and set-up an on the road water stop/cheering station with water, Gatorade and anything else requested. We also played the plastic horns loudly and rang the cowbell at everyone in sight. Some of the cars were confused but most of the runners appreciated the support. We offered water to everyone even if they were from another team. The legs in this event are rated from easy to moderate to hard to very hard to insane (there is only one of those). I had the last leg of this set which was rated very hard and it lived up to it’s name with a distance of 9.4 miles and a climb of 1103 ft in the last half. When we passed off to Van 2 the team was 58 minutes ahead of schedule.
They ran 36 miles while we drove to Old Forge and ate Pizza at Tony Harpers Pizza & Clam Shack. We took the bear (0f course) ordered a lumberjack pizza and resisted the urge to sing the lumberjack song which seems pretty normal after 12 hours of running. One of the advantages of having done this once before was that we had a couple of eating spots picked out and we knew we needed food more than sleep. After beer and pizza we drove to the next major exchange at McCauley Mountain Ski Center which has an outdoor and an indoor sleeping area. We set our alarms for midnight and tried to get a little sleep but even after a beer there was too much going on for us to get much sleep.
Each major exchange on the course had cut off times. If you were too late you were allowed to continue but they would skip you ahead a few legs. If you were too early they would make you wait to start. This is normal for ultra relays but unlike Ragnar peak to Brew has no penalty for being held back. We knew that we were picking up time and in danger of being held back but we thought the other van would get into McCauley Mountain late enough so we would be able to go through to the next check point. When they arrived an hour and change ahead of schedule the organizers decided to hold us back until 1:30 am. Sleep was out and it was a nice night so we sat by the fire and waited.
At 1:30am we were allowed to leave and James blasted off. The one plus to being held back was we got to pass a few teams for a second time and we added a few kills to the list. Running through the night is sort of cool although you do tend to be slower. We continued van support for our runners and others. At night we actually stopped and waited at intersections where we thought there was any chance of our running taking a wrong turn. We did hold off on the cow bell and plastic horns as it was the middle of the night. Everyone was getting tired we had one guy from another team who was close to our runner so he hit out late night pop-up water stops on three consecutive occasions. Each time he turned us down and then thanked us for volunteering. I don’t think he realized we were the same people each time.
We had one truck blast by and yell at us but in general the cars were great. A few miles later the race director drove by and stopped to ask if we had had any trouble with a drunk guy. It was nice to know they were on the look out. I ran the last night leg which finished uphill yet again! I would complain about the leg assignments but I did them. We arrived a South Lewis High School 40 minutes ahead of schedule despite the 37 minute hold.
Van 2 ran their final 29.7 miles and we drove to Boonville home of Slims which is THE place for breakfast in this event. In fact the 37 minute hold worked in our favor because Slims was open when we arrived in Boonville a little after 6:00 am. We changed our clothes because we did not think slims was ready for that many smelly runners and had breakfast. I had the outstanding cinnabon pancakes $6.00 and I could not finish them but James blew us all away by having a steak for breakfast knowing he was the next runner up.
The exchange was at Adirondack Central High School which had indoor and out door sleeping. We knew from experience that the gym there is the best place to sleep and we all got a little before van 2 arrived. We were the very first team in the event to arrive having passed everyone except the ultra team that started 90 minutes behind us. We had not seen them at all but we knew they were coming for us and that they were closing in. Van 2 had seen their support van on the road.
The last 6 legs include 37 miles and the only insane leg of the race the 10 mile Honey Badger with a vertical gain of 1202ft and loss of 1118 ft. Mike took the challenge and nailed it. He even gained us some ground on the ultra team “redemption” who we were now seeing regularly on the road.
It was pretty obvious that even though they were going to win overall because they started 90 minutes behind and even after we were held back they would need to be 53 minutes behind for us to win they wanted to be first to cross the line. They caught us on the 2nd to last leg with a runner who ran it in a 6:25 mile pace. I was running the last leg against yet another runner the age of my son who looked very fit. He left and as I waited it was suggested I should catch him. That was never going to happen but it almost did when he went the wrong way. I was actually the first runner to hit the town of Utica and was greeted by a police car and a trail ambulance (I did not look that bad honest). I went the wrong way too but not as far. I actually though he might not catch me but he did.
Our team ran out so we could all finish together. The race finishes at the boilermaker finish line We crossed the finish line, collected our medals and finisher glasses and filled them with free beer which was what we had just run 227 miles for. It started to rain so we sent Dave to stand in it just for old time sake (read last year’s report).
It turned out that sending Dave out in the rain was uncalled for because when we tried to walk back to the finish line party after a shower the heavens opened. A few of us kept walking and ended up taking shelter in the front doorway of a strip club.
We ended up winning the standard division and the awards were stainless steel growlers which we could have filled with the beer of our choice! Talk about a great prize!
I can’t say enough good things about this event. The guys who run it really care. It’s obviously a labour of love for them more than a business. The event is well run and well organized and the runners come first. The course is challenging and scenic and everyone was friendly. I also have the privilege of having an outstanding group of runners and friends to do this with I could not ask for better. Don’t think about it…come and do it next year. Only 227 miles and the beer is free!