Running with the Devil 2017

Low clouds in Vernon, NJ
Low clouds in Vernon, NJ

This morning I ran the Running with the Devil trail race in Vernon, NJ, a race I’ve referred to HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE. This race is a 3 mile course on ski slopes. The first half is uphill with 1,100 feet of elevation gain. The second half is (obviously) all downhill. It’s a timed race with 3, 6, and 12 hour options. I did 3 hours.

I completed my first loop in 47 minutes. While I may have had fanciful heroic dreams of running each loop in less than 45 minutes in order to complete 4 in 3 hours, it became apparent to me quickly on the first loop that the incline of a ski slope is no friend to an injured ankle. So, considering that my ankle was severely injured and required a long recovery, and that I returned to serious trail running just two months ago (It’s hard to build up significant strength for hills in two months after being out of commission for nine months.), I was satisfied with 47 minutes on the first loop.

Steepest part of the course (though it doesn't look like it in this photo)
Steepest part of the course (though it doesn’t look like it in this photo)

I was a bit slower on the uphill section on my second loop. But I did okay most of the way but needed a few more stops to catch my breath and rest my legs. On this second loop I met Vince, whose real name has been changed for this blog post.

Vince, a man in his early 60s, was sitting on the ground three quarters of the way up the course when I got there. I asked if he was okay. He said his heart rate was sky high (190) and wouldn’t settle down. I asked if he was dizzy or having trouble catching his breath. He said yes to both. There was no first aid out on the course. There was at the base of the slopes. But that was quite a distance away for a guy complaining of a crazy heart rate. So I decided right then to stick with Vince until he got back down to the base to see a medic.

After a few minutes, Vince got up and continued on the course. I stuck with him. We chatted as we walked. We talked about the course. We talked about other races. We talked about trail running. Vince usually carries bear spray when he’s in the woods. He has never sprayed a bear. He did spray an aggressive dog once. As he talked, I figured, as long as he talks, I can tell that he’s okay if he stays coherent.

In the Slow Zone
In the Slow Zone

Other runners blew by us now and then as Vince and I slowly made our way down the slopes. Most of these guys and gals were younger people, careening down the inclines over mud and loose stones, making it look easy. One guy, running with his shirt off, was built like a machine and ran that course like he owned the place. Another guy, also with his shirt off, appeared to be in his 60s, was lean and fast and zipped by us like the wind. Vince and I had some discussion about this.

Vince said, “I suppose, with proper training, good nutrition, good sleep at night, it would be possible for someone my age to be able to do this course in under 45 minutes.”

I said, “Yes, and if I could lose another 20 pounds I could probably move a lot faster too.”

He said, “I’d love to be 165 instead of 175 like I am right now.”

I said, “Well, I’m 218 currently.”

Vince glanced over at me. Then he said, “Yeah, you’re a big guy.”

Shut up, Vince.

Loop two took me a little more than an hour.

The view from a spot near the top
The view from a spot near the top

I delivered Vince to the base and into the loving arms of an EMT. Then I started loop three.

This loop was hard. My ankle was hurting. My legs were tired. But I had over an hour to complete the loop before my three hours were up. I pressed on, stopping much more often on the steep parts, running more slowly on the downhill section. Plus, it rained during that loop. The course was getting muddy and slippery. However, the rain felt GOOD! It wasn’t hot, only 70°. But it was humid. (My concern about acclimating to the heat proved to be unnecessary. See HERE, HERE, and HERE.) I’m not sure exactly how long that third loop took me because my phone died on the way down. Therefore I couldn’t check my Strava app.

All in all, the experience was a good one. I’m satisfied with what I accomplished, especially considering my physical limitations and my short training period. In three hours I covered nine miles and had 3,400 feet of elevation gain.

To put a cherry on the top of it all, these two darlings made a surprise appearance to see me when I finished the race. THAT made my day.



  • Christine

    June 18, 2017

    You’re an inspiration, Sam. Though you’ve credited me with getting you started with running, it’s because of you that I’ve slowly amped up to half-marathons. As I’ve said with every new challenge – that I’ll never do more than 5k, 10k, 13.1, etc. – I’ll likely never do the ski slopes. But…you never know!

  • Sam

    June 19, 2017

    If it were not for you, Christine, I may not have started running at all! 🙂

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