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Gayle Ross

Viaduct Trail Ultra 50 Miler… a year in the making.


I first heard about this race in early 2011. I was interested right away because it is held close to where I grew up, basically where I grew up. I really am not a trail runner nor am I am ultra runner but I decided I wanted to run this. Dave Decker and I went up and ran From Thompson to Lanesboro about a month before the 2011 edition. I kind of knew what to expect as far as the terrain went and wasn’t surprised to find all of the rocks still there as we used to walk the tracks as kids. The rocks are very treacherous for long stretches of the trail with a lot of ruts. I ran with regular shoes and it was rough on the feet and ankles. Surprisingly enough it was a road crossing over a bridge that almost did Decker in, he somehow found the only rock on the bridge to twist his ankle on. We made a wrong turn and ended up crossing the Viaduct to finish our run which was pretty cool. I didn’t know it at the time but the 2012 course would be changed closer to the course we took that first run minus the Viaduct crossing. The course is the old rail bed between Lanesboro and Thompson which is a gradual 1000 ft climb over 12.5 miles with 2 noticeable dips where trestles used to cross that have been ripped out.

In July 2011 I went back up to pace Matt Smythe who I had met through the Viaduct site and he happens to be a friend of Mike Ayers, a guy I grew up with who he worked with in VA. I ran his 3rd leg with him and enjoyed pacing him. I really think that with the heat I started hallucinating around my mile 17 just before dark it was even cooler to realize that’s what I was doing. The worst part of this run to me was the heat and the bugs; they really came out at dark. The footing was very treacherous I had to watch every single step I made. Matt is an incredibly strong runner and finished the 100 in  just barely over 24 hours, his father Don paced his last lap, they are awesome people, most of the Ultra community are pretty awesome (insane?). Pacing this race allowed me early entry to the 2012 event.

Sometime in December 2011 I received the email saying that early entry was open. I can’t tell you how freaking happy I was that they had re-added the 50 mile race. I was the first to register! About a week later I saw that Todd Egry had registered for the 100. I had met Todd on some other stupid trail run and messaged him, we made plans to try and meet up for a run on the trail in late spring.

 I had not been running well for the first 4 months  of 2012 I had some setbacks and wasn’t putting in the mileage I thought was required but VTU was so far away I kind of took for granted  that I could make the training up. I was also concentrating on the St. Luke’s ½ in Allentown in early May. I started feeling better towards mid April and ran a really decent

St. Luke’s. I slowed down on the training and kind of coasted until a friend of mine, Tom Vincent was doing a couple of long stupid runs and put together a long night run to get ready for an Ultra. I ran 12 miles with him and his gang and realized that I wasn’t really ready for the ultra coming up. I’ve always been a slacker when it comes to running and I need a reality check to get me going so this run was my wakeup call. I hadn’t run longer than 14 miles all year. I decided I’d take the DD approach and start running doubles 2 or 3 days a week to help me get used to running tired. I also connected with Todd in early June and we went up and ran the trail from Thompson to Lanesboro. The rocks were still there and the trail had really taken a beating from the hurriquakeapocolypse that went through the area last August. We ran the old route and could see that the damage to the creek bed was pretty severe. Because I had taken the wrong turn last year I had figured out where the detour would be and was right. This run convinced me that I would be toast if I didn’t invest in decent trail shoes. Mid June I decided on testing where I was at for this run, my friend Jennifer Repsher met me at Sand Island and she paced me to Easton I then turned around and made it back to Sand Island. What an eye opener! I was nowhere near ready for the VTU. I was really freaked out about how poorly I felt. I then started running doubles more and met up with Dave and Todd for morning runs on the Saucon trail. I also was running with Dave at night and on my own. I should also add that Dave and Todd were giving me invaluable advice over the course of this process. About a month before the race I was communicating with my family and making plans with their support to get me through this race. I honestly think they were skeptical of my sanity but were willing to play along. Many motivating messages were sent back and forth such as …”you’re gonna die you know” and “we won’t think less of you if you decide not too” or “can I have your car?” This would have ended much differently without their help. They allowed me to do the running and they took care of everything else. I couldn’t imagine how much harder it would have been if they hadn’t been there taking care of me most of the way.

FINALLY THE RACE RECAP…I left for up north Friday @noon and Met Todd and his family on the turnpike. We arrived at the Viaduct and set up his camp. We then went to Thompson trying to get an Idea of the turn around and then headed to Buck Falls where the bag drop was. We met crew for one of the 200 milers and heard about Jameelah having a rough Thursday night when the temperature had dropped drastically and she had been caught out in it. Then we headed back to Lanesboro to look at the course changes. Neither of us was happy with the hill added in or the roads but we figured out the changes and we headed out. They checked into their hotel and then we had dinner. We decided to meet @ 4:00am and head to the start line for 5:00am. I then headed to my brothers house and hung out with him and his wife Patty. I borrowed their couch and got just a couple hours of sleep before the alarm went off. I met up with Todd and his family and we headed to the Viaduct arriving around 4:25. Really pretty cool seeing the start area come to life and the head lamps directing beams everywhere. We signed in and started making our final preparations. There was a short pre race meeting and we were off right at 5:00 led by one of the RD’s who was on his mountain bike. The first mile was Main Street through Lanesboro, a group of us were all together everyone exchanging names and where they were from and what distance … we then cut up a hill to the trail. We were following runners in front of us and of course somehow we passed the turn off fortunately we were quickly pointed in the right direction and we turned around and got moving. I was running with Todd and his pacer Mark for the first few miles and also ran into Pam Hughes. She and I talked and she told me about a fall she had taken and also about trying to find one of the 200 milers Jameelah she was going to help pace. Todd and Mark were flying and I was afraid I would burn out if I tried keeping with them so I backed off. Here is an interesting non story. I couldn’t figure out why I was sweating as much as I was with only 2 or 3 miles into the race. It was hot but not that hot. It turns out I forgot to take the heat wrap off my back before starting… funny right? Dumb ass… The rocks were trouble right from the start and for the whole distance, there was no taking my eyes off of the track. It never hurt the first time you hit a rock it was always the 2nd time you hit the same rock which was often. You dislodged it with one footfall and it nailed you on the rebound. We reached the aid station at about the 7 mile mark, this is manned every year by a great lady married to one of the 100 mile racers.(so generous) I refilled my hand held water bottle  grabbed a couple of pretzels and was on my way. I was running pretty easy keeping Todd and Mark in my sights and moving too fast but it felt ok. I made it to Buck Fall (more really cool volunteers!) and had a Mountain Dew, some grapes and banana. I met up with a guy named Andrew and we ran to the turnaround together. He was from Oil City and running the 100. I was approaching the turn around and was worried about meeting my sister Becky as planned. I was running about ½ hour ahead of what I had predicted and she had quite the hike in from Thompson side to get to the turn around. It was crazy but just as I was getting there she appeared! Perfect timing! I said good luck to Andrew and waited for her then we were off. This girl was running the Boilermaker the next morning and here she was risking her ankles and neck to support me… pretty awesome. We ran through The Buck Fall stop and headed back to the aid station there are a couple of dips on the trail which allowed for walking. It was pretty hot but the sun was covered and that was a godsend. The trail as I said was a long gradual hill to Thompson so we were able to enjoy (lol) the downhill back. We got to Melrose and there Becky’s partner Laccy was waiting for us. I left Becky @ Burdick Hill Road her mile 9 and my mile 21 and headed for Lanesboro. This is also about the time I stopped being able to multitask I could run or I could think but not both at the same time. It was seriously funny to me later on. Also at about this time my feet were starting to kill me. I got back to the (mile 25) Viaduct right @ 10:00 about 1 hour faster than I planned to. Becky and Laccy were waiting for me and let me know that Matt and Sue were almost there. I can’t remember all of the activity going on around me. I saw Todd and his crew working on him he looked like he hadn’t even run yet he was so fresh. My “CREW” was working on me trying to get food and fluids into me It was hard to swallow food but I knew I needed it. I made a beeline to the outhouse when I returned Todd was headed out for lap 2. My brother in law Matt was ready to Pace me the next lap on his bike and I got him to carry my pack, my belt and Gatorade. Even though I thought I had been drinking enough I realized I wasn’t and made a real effort to force more liquids down even though it seemed like too much “smart move” for sure. I was also popping a lot of pills along the whole race, a salt tab every hour, (thanks Dave) Tylenol, and aspirin.  We headed out on the second lap I was probably about 5 minutes behind Todd at that time.  I was also taking a GU every ½ hour or so. I instantly noticed my feet felt better than before the break and I was moving pretty well for the next 4 miles. I got 30 miles in and there was my CREW again which had grown Becky, Laccy, my sister Sue,  my brother Dale and his wife Patty were waiting for me. They were all business getting me cooled off, fed, hydrated and on my way. It was from here that it started to get harder. The rocks were merciless. The heat was building and the humidity. It was threatening to rain but still pretty far off. Poor Matt had it as bad as I did trying to help me while ride a bike and staying out of the way, in fact it was probably harder on him than me and he never complained. My lower back was starting to act up and I wanted to take it easier than I had. I was walking more and stopping to stretch my lower back. I was still really happy with my time and knew about where I was going to finish barring any catastrophe. We hit the aid station and then nature threw another wrench at us. It started to thunder and we could see the storm coming in. On the one hand it was great when it finally hit us as it helped cool us down on the other hand I was afraid we were going to be struck by the lightning esp. with Matt on the bike. The rain was really coming down and all I could do is watch every step I took. The rocks were getting slicker and I was kicking up more of them as I got more tired also dodging the newts that had come out with the rain….  We got to little Ireland road and there was Sue, Dale and Patty waiting for us again. I can’t remember what I had but we got moving and went on to Buck Falls I think I had some grapes and moved on I wasn’t fueling well enough but kept going headed for the turnaround Ran into Todd somewhere along here and he still looked really strong. We got there and I want to think the rain had just about stopped and was now getting hotter again. I stopped here (MILE 37 1/2) for 2 minutes to rest and wanted to give it hell the last 12 and ½ miles. Bugs were really biting by now and should have put some sun screen on but it wouldn’t have held up the way I was sweating in the heat. Talked with Dave one of the RD’s I think it was Dave anyhow. Of course this is where I started getting careless. I was power walking more than I wanted but it was actually a smart move as more walking meant less chance of the rocks hurting me. I was also not eating right at this point. I don’t remember when Matt told me but he had taken a nasty fall behind me somewhere and he must have been suffering worse than me. After the Buck Falls I started playing leap frog with one of the 200 milers named Chuck.  Man that was a huge help and what a great guy. I couldn’t get over how well he was moving after 5 laps. Sue was waiting at Little Ireland again and raced me back to the car( I won) I was really moving at that time(8 minute mile pace) I shouldn’t have stopped as that was the last time I felt that good. I got out of there and we headed to the aid station which would put me at about (Mile 43)7 miles from the finish. I got there and cooled off and had a pretzel I think. We left and it was getting hotter and more painful and then CRACK I caught this rock and twisted my ankle severely. I seriously thought I’d have to crawl or make crutches to get back to Lanesboro. It scared me but I got off with just a sprain. I was able to run but man that changed everything I couldn’t afford to get that careless or go faster again after that. Chuck and I continued to play leap frog. This guy was all business he even pee’d while walking (that’s hardcore). So anyhow a lot of pain, a lot of heat, but almost home. We made pretty good time from here although at one point I sent Matt ahead to find the damn road as the trail was getting longer as we went. Finally we found the road and Matt said good bye to me and left Chuck and I to finish the final lap. I asked Chuck if he’d mind as he’d been a big help getting me this far. So we headed down the hill and onto Main Street for my last time.  I was looking at the clock at this point and wanted to break 10:45 so I left Chuck behind as I passed under the Viaduct and entered through into the park. I was handed my railroad spike which seriously took every ounce of me to earn. Boy was I beat. We took a couple of pictures and I headed to Todd’s tent area. He was there and told me he’d beat me in by 7 minutes man he looked ready to kick butt. His next pacer was there and he was getting ready to get back out there. I asked for a coconut drink but got a coke instead from his wife and daughter. ( amazing,  great people) I was able to see him off and collapse in a chair.



A huge thanks to the RD’s Carl and Dave! They obviously love the sport very much.  They are the most genuinely fantastic people I have ever met in this sport. Met a lot of really driven runners and got a lot of help along the way. I can only imagine how it felt to be running the 100 or 200.I seriously do not consider myself an Ultra runner, I would honestly say that this was done more with more determination than talent, training or ability. It also helped that I knew the area from growing up here so I could fragment the course in my mind into smaller more manageable pieces than having to look at it as a whole. My finishing time was 50 miles in 10 hours 42 minutes.