Written by Ben Nephew
It looks like the FKT competition in the northeast is starting to become more active. A few weeks after my time for the Presidential Traverse was destroyed by Jan Wellford, Josh Burns beat my 2010 time for the WCS loop by about 3 minutes. I was headed back to New Paltz to visit family last weekend, so I decided to see if I could improve on my previous time enough to set another FKT. It turned into a great opportunity to meet up with Joe and Elizabeth Azze from Mountain Peak Fitness who were interested in getting some video footage of my run.
It’s funny what you remember about some runs. For this 14 mile loop that includes about 5k of climb, I mostly remembered the easier, runnable sections. In reality, this is a rugged route. While it does have 2 miles of pavement and some fast trail sections, most of it is very technical. Even on the lower descent of Slide where you can make good time, it still requires a great deal of focus due to trail being covered by rocks of all sizes and angles. There are also plenty of ledges between Wittenberg and Slide.
I met Joe at the Woodland Valley campground around 7, and after getting everything set and deciding on my Inov-8 Terrafly 313’s, we were off at around 7:30. The plan was for Elizabeth to get some footage near the top of Wittenberg after leaving ahead of me, and then Joe would drive around, run up Slide and get some downhill footage and some at the finish.
Similar to many of these FKT’s, the start is not gentle. The climbing gets steep seconds into the trail, and doesn’t let up until your legs are burning. From looking at Josh’s track, I knew he climbed much faster than I did up to Slide, so I was going to have push harder on the climb this time if I wanted to set an FKT. His time was 9 minutes faster to the summit of Slide. That’s quite a bit over 6 miles…..
My legs started to feel good on the middle section that flattens out, and continued to work well on the final pitches to the summit ledges of Wittenberg. It was fun seeing Elizabeth and Sammy hiding in the woods towards the top. Sammy was quite the enthusiastic cheerleader; not something I typically experience during a FKT attempt! I didn’t mind the several ledges that slowed the pace as it was welcome break from the uphill running grind. There were no views, but it was still a great cool fall day for a run. I was about 3 minutes faster than Josh up to the top of Wittenberg. While this was good news, I was a little concerned that I had pushed too hard too early. I still had about 2k of climbing left.
As soon as I began the descent off Wittenberg, I realized that I had definitely made the right shoe choice. I had debated going with the Roclite 243’s that had worked well at the Wapack Trail Race, but I wouldn’t have been able to be aggressive while descending the ledges in the Roclites. The Terrafly 313 can take intense impacts, and I took advantage of that on all the 3-5’ drops on the trail. Before long, I was scrambling towards the summit of Cornell. More ledges; no wonder the pace through this section is so slow. I was still 3 minutes ahead of Josh at the top of Cornell.
I was over confident with my descending after Wittenberg, and I took a hard fall off the top ledge of a series of three consecutive ledges. Luckily, I stopped myself from bouncing down the other two, partially thanks to my waistpack. I backed off a little at that point until the trail was drier lower down. My legs still felt good on the initial part of the long climb up Slide, and I pushed the upper section to make sure I wouldn’t lose my advantage from the first few miles. I ended up gaining another minute on Josh’s time by the top of Slide, but I knew his descent was about a minute faster than the descent during my old FKT. The section off the top is very runnable, and my pace dropped below 6:00 pace for the initial section. I soon saw Joe, who bolted down the trail to get some additional footage of the descent before settling into the role of chase man. I thought I was making good time off the mountain, but it was a bit depressing to know that Joe was right behind me while carrying quite a large camera. It didn’t help that he stopped a couple times to snap some photos, and then caught back up with me! The reality was that it nice running with someone, as I do about 99% of my miles solo. I was about 5:30 ahead of Josh’s split as I made my way onto the uphill section of route 47.
It wasn’t horrible to have a break from technical trails, but an uphill on the roads after a long and pounding descent is not my favorite combination. This is where things would be different. Josh actually didn’t follow the same route as I did in 2010. He skipped the carriage road I took at the top of the road climb and instead descended about 500’ to the Phoenicia East Branch Trail. I wasn’t sure if this was a longer or shorter route, but it would definitely add another 500’ of climbing to the loop. The good news was that the steep road downhill to get to the trail head was somewhat soft, so my legs were not totally destroyed after approaching 5:00 pace down to the trail.
I passed Joe and some hikers on a bridge and tried to maintain momentum on the initial section of this last major climb. I wasn’t running as much as I would have liked, but my legs still felt decent. The upper section of this climb was the toughest, and it took me a little while to recover from the effort. I was 8 minutes ahead of the FKT pace at the top of the climb and the intersection with the Giant Ledge Trail. The following downhill was quite technical, with a combination of rocks, roots, leaves, and off-camber eroded sections.
My legs were just about done on the last stone stair climb. I started to think I might be able to finish in the low 2:30’s, but the last rough downhill to the finish was longer than I had imagined. The most exciting part of the run came right at the end, as I stumbled down the final log stair and came very close to impaling myself on a large and angry looking broken tree limb. Joe got it on camera, but you can’t see the limb from his angle. By the time I stopped the Garmin I managed to lower the FKT by about 9 minutes to 2:35:26.
Fastest known time: http://fastestknowntime.proboards.com/thread/198/wittenburg-cornell-slide-loop