Peak to Brew Race Report

20180811_094029Peak to Brew is a 220+ Mile point to point relay race in New York state from the top of Whiteface mountain to Utica New York (home of the extremely popular Boilermaker 15 km).  The race is similar to Ragnar but not part of the series. If you are looking for a relay race to try here’s the scoop!

Summary

  • 220+ miles
  • Point to point from the peak of Whiteface Mountain to Utica New York
  • Teams of 6 or 12 runners
  • Next runner leaves when the previous runner arrives
  • Through the Adirondacks (i.e. hilly and scenic)
  • Mostly along roads with a few trail sections
  • Total distance per runner: 11.4; 14.0; 16.7; 17.8; 18.1; 19.5; 19.8; 20.4; 21.0; 21.6; 21.9; and 24.5 miles
  • Finishes at a brewery – free beer and a great band from 3 to 8 PM
  • Mid-August
  • Prepare for the possibility of heat and rain
  • Approximately 50 teams
  • Start times range from 5 AM to 10 AM based on your predicted pace

Our running group has sent a team the past 3 years and is planning to return in 2019, so obviously we enjoyed it!

If you want more information, read on as I go into more detail on Teams; Relay Style; Is it scenic/interesting? How is the race divided up? How hard/easy is it? Honey Badger; Leg #1 The downhill monster; Terrain; Cheer and Water stations; Food; Sleeping arrangements; Post race celebrations and swag

Teams

Peak 2 Brew has two categories and provides a prize to first place in each category. First place is a growler for each runner which you can fill with the beer of your choice. Appropriate given the race finishes at a Saranac brewery.

Standard Team: Two vans with 6 runners in each van.

Ultra team: One van with 6 runners.

There are usually around 50 teams in the race.

Relay style

Because the race is point to point you must drive from exchange to exchange. Van #1 goes first. Your first runner runs to the first exchange where the next runner should be waiting. The last runner in the van will finish their leg at a major exchange where you hand off to the other van (unless you are an ultra team in which case you just keep going :))  This does require the van who is on break to keep track of how the other van is doing so they can ensure they are at the major exchange ready to go before the runner arrives. Peak 2 Brew asks teams to use the RaceJoy app to track runners progress. Be warned, some areas do not have strong cell coverage, so you need to use a combination of the app and text messages to communicate across vans.

Timing

Start times range from 5:00 AM to 10:00 AM based on the predicted pace of the team. There are no timing chips, you just hand off a snap bracelet from runner to runner.20180810_115328

These were the guidelines in 2018, actual start times are provided 2 to 3 weeks before the race and may vary slightly from the times below.

  • 5 AM start  9:30 – 10 minute/mile pace
  • 6 AM start 9:15 – 9:30 minute/mile pace
  • 7 AM start 8:45 – 9:15 minute/mile pace
  • 8:30 AM start 8:15 – 8:45 minute/mile pace
  • 10:00 AM start 7:30 – 8:15 minute/mile pace

The goal is to have all teams finish around 3 to 4 PM Saturday. If you run too fast you may be held back at an exchange to ensure you don’t arrive before the finish line is open. In the years we have completed the race, there was no time penalty for being held back, i.e. if you are held back for an hour they will not add that hour to your total race time, so think of it as a sleeping bonus. If you are much slower than predicted pace your second van might be asked to start their leg before the previous runner arrives. If you only have one van, you might be asked to have a runner start before the previous runner arrives or you might be asked to skip a leg.

Is it scenic/interesting?

IMG_3700Absolutely.  The view from the top of Whiteface is stunning. The first major exchange is at a ski jump (Tip for Van #2, why not get to there early, pick up tickets at the bottom of the hill and try the ‘”Extreme tubing” while you wait, it won’t take long). Several legs run past lakes. Leg #32 includes a trail run along the Whetstone gorge. Of course there are also long boring stretches along the road and you won’t see much except the road directly in front of you when you run at 1 in the morning.  Another exchange is at the Adirondack Experience lodge. The second major exchange is at Tupper Lake, on a hot day you can pop into the lake to cool off. The third major exchange is at the Adirondack Experience Museum. The rest of the exchanges aren’t as interesting, but let’s be honest, by then you are only interested in food and sleep. The finish is at Saranac Brewing company which is well set up for post-race celebrations.

There is always a slight chance of wildlife on the evening runs. All I have ever seen is a deer and some turkey vultures. In the past two years there have been two coyote sightings (what should you do if you meet a coyote?) and one black bear (what should you do if you meet a black bear?). Generally speaking both coyotes and black bears are probably going to be more scared of you than vice-versa. No-one was hurt and they sent out an alert using the RaceJoy app to all the teams to let everyone know where they were seen and when. The organizers do their best to ensure everyone’s safety.  We have done the race 3 years and the only times we got nervous were the occasional farm dogs (what should you do if you meet an aggressive dog?). It’s hard to design a course 220 miles long past houses and farms without passing at least one farm dog.

How is the race divided up?

There are 7 sections of the course and 6 legs in each section. Van #1 runs 4 sections. Van #2 runs 3 sections. Not all runners complete the same distance. In 2018 the total distances from shortest to longest for each runner was 11.4; 14.0; 16.7; 17.8; 18.1; 19.5; 19.8; 20.4; 21.0; 21.6; 21.9; and 24.5 miles.   Van #1 ran 125.1 miles and van #2 ran 101.6 miles.

Is it hard or easy?

Since this race runs through the Adirondacks there are a lot of hills, so the difficulty of each leg varies based on both the mileage and the hills.  Each leg is given a rating that reflects the distance and the elevation change: Easy; Moderate; Hard; Very Hard; Insane.

Easy: There are 14 easy legs. Distances range from 2.2 to 5.0 miles. Terrain will either be mostly downhill or mostly flat.  Most of the Easy legs are spread out across runners. 10 of the 12 runners get one easy leg. As an example, here’s the hill profile for Leg #29, one of the easy legs.

P2BEasyLeg

Moderate: There are 18 moderate legs. Distances range from 2.1 to 8.5 miles. This will likely be rolling hills so expect up and downhill. As an example, here’s the hill profile for Leg #24, one of the moderate legs.

P2BModerate

Hard: There are 4 hard legs. Distances range from 3.9 to 12.3 miles. like the moderate legs these are likely to be rolling hills with the addition of one really tough hill. As an example here’s the hill profile for the hard leg I completed this year. (I took a lesson from the trail runners a couple of times on this hill, and I did not lose any ground on the runner in front of me)P2BHard

Very Hard: There are 3 Very Hard legs. Distances range from 6.4 to 10.7 miles. These are tough, usually because you have some fairly serious climbs (there is one exception I will explain shortly). Here’s an example of the hill profile for a Very Hard leg.

P2BVeryHard

Insane: There is one leg rated insane, that leg deserves it’s own special section in the race report…

Honey Badger

There is only one leg officially rated insane. It’s assigned to Van #1, Runner #2, Leg #4.  It’s 10 miles and the hill profile gives you a hint of what to expect. You have a total elevation gain of 1202 feet and a total loss of 1118 feet. That means a lot of uphill and downhill. This leg is so difficult it has been nicknamed “Honey Badger” (probably due to this viral not suitable for work video about the Honey Badger)P2BHoneyBadgerElevationCompleting this leg earns you a badge of honour. Literally! You actually get a special prize at the end of the leg. You might think it’s so tough no-one would want to do it, but chances are you have that one runner in your group who says ‘ooooh that leg is rated insane, I have to try it’. In our running group we usually have 3 or 4 runners asking to do it. I’d actually like to do it next year. Yes, it would be really hard, but I would do hills to prepare. To be able to say “I did Honey Badger” and then collapse in a heap and ask someone to carry me to a massage therapists to restore my quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Leg #1 “The Downhill Monster”

I mentioned the Very Hard legs have serious climbs with one exception. That exception is Leg #1, nicknamed “The Downhill Monster” . Leg #1 takes you from the top of Whiteface mountain to the bottom. The top is an amazing place to start the race. The views are spectacular! There is a very good chance you will set a 10 km personal best on this leg as well. But be warned this leg is tough! You have to run downhill non stop for over 10 km.

P2BLeg1

If you do a little math here, that’s a descent of 2992 feet over 6.4 miles (33 792 feet) that works out to a 8.85 % grade!

If you try to slow down too much you tire out your quads, if you go too fast you will be pounding on your shins and calves. We had one runner who did not tie one of his shoes tightly enough. as a result, his left foot was sliding in his shoe as he ran.   When he finished, the bottom of his foot was hot to the touch and he had two blisters on the bottom of his foot. He did manage to pop the blisters and completed the rest of the race.  I think this leg should be rated insane as well.

But before you completely freak out, remember every year runners of all ability levels successfully complete this leg and the entire race! You can absolutely do it, just be prepared for some tight calves or quads when you finish. I recommend you plan on a little maintenance once you finish this leg.  There is a reason the next two legs for this runner are 2.2 and 3.2 Easy legs. You can do it!

Terrain

Most of the running is on roads. You might be running on the shoulder of a major road, on the sidewalk through a small town, or along a quiet country road. 6 legs include a trail run and one leg is mostly dirt road. There are a couple of legs where you run on uneven sidewalks.

Cheer and Water stations

20180810_144139On all the longer routes we asked our runners where they wanted water stops. We were almost always able to find a suitable place to pull over within a quarter mile of the requested distance. There are a couple of stretches where it’s harder to find a place to pull over safely.

On the trail runs you need some serious navigation skills if you want to meet them as they exit the trail or find a point where you can meet them mid-trail. Keep an eye out for green water coolers which contain bottled water left on the course for the runners. There was one at the end of the trail section on Leg #12.

Food

Pre race

If you are staying in Lake Placid the night before the race you can find lots of restaurants on Main St for supper. There is a Starbucks as well as local coffee spots to help van #1 get their morning caffeine fix (check opening times the night before if you have one of the really early starts!). There are a few spots on Main St where you can grab a hot breakfast if you are van #2. There is a Price Chopper on highway 86 just outside of town where you can load up on bananas, Gatorade and beer.

During the race

When you hit a major exchange you usually have two things on your mind food and sleep in that order! In 2018 at Major Exchange #1 the Skin Jumping Complex they had free bananas and granola bars. At Major Exchance 2 Tupper lake, there was a BBQ where you could buy burgers from 12 – 4. At Major exchange 3, Adirondack experience, there was food for sale from 2- 9 PM or you can drive to a nearby town such as Blue Mountain to find a restaurant. At Major Exchange 4, Old Forge, there is a campfire and marshmallow roast and check your team bag for your voucher for a free large cheese pizza at Tony Harpers Pizza. If you get to Tony Harpers before the kitchen closes at 1 AM you can order additional pizzas and drinks. If you get there after 1 AM you can pick up your pizza at the back but I don’t think you can order additional pizzas. At Major Exchange 5 South Lewis High school there was breakfast for sale. At Major Exchange 6 there was lunch for sale.

Sp2bFoodorry, I can’t tell you our usual food stops because most of the restaurants in the area are not that big and I don’t want us to be turned away from our favorite little spot because I shared it in the blog post, so you’ll just have to break out your favorite <find a restaurant near me> app.  If you see a team eating at a table with a large inflatable bear at the table come over and say hi, our bear doesn’t bite 🙂

Post race

There is plenty of beer, some tasty cider, but limited food available at the post race party. There are lots of little pubs within a 5 minute walk of the finish line. So before you start sampling all the fine Saranac brews wander down the street to get a burger or sandwich because the party goes until 8 PM and the band is great! Taking an hour to find some real food will help you find the energy to enjoy the party!

Sleeping arrangements

Pre-race

Wondering where to stay the night before the race starts? Lake Placid has lots of great little motels and hotels, there’s a good chance your entire team can stay in the same hotel.  Many hotels are walking distance from Main Street where you can find all the important pre-race destinations including restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream, and beer. Lake Placid is about a 45 minute drive from the top of Whiteface, the start for van #1. Lake Placid is about a 15 minute drive to the ski jumping complex, which is the first major exchange where van #2 starts.

During the race

One of the great challenges of these relay races is getting sleep between legs.

Tp2bnaphe first four major exchanges all have open areas outside where you can lie down. By the time you reach major exchange number four (Old Forge) it may have cooled off, so an actual sleeping bag or blanket will be useful if you want to get sleep there. We did notice a little motel very nearby as well, and thought to ourselves, if it was raining that might be worth a little splurge.

Major exchanges five (South Lewis High School) and six (Adirondack Central High school) are the best spots to get some shuteye. Both of them have shower facilities with towel rentals available, coffee, breakfast available for purchase, and a gymnasium with the lights out so you can catch some real zzzzzzzs. Of course there will be a steady flow of runners walking into and out of the gym setting up or packing up their sleeping gear, so a pair of cheap foam ear plugs might be helpful.

The best place on the entire race course to sleep is the Adirondack Central High school. The overhead fan in the gym provides some white noise that helps mask the rustle of other runners and you don’t need any Thermarests or air mattresses because you can just lie on top of the gym mats.

Post race

There are several hotels in and around Utica but not as many as Lake Placid.  Most hotels are a 15-20 minute walk from the finish area.  If you are in Van #2 you might finish before check in is available (3 PM at most hotels), I recommend grabbing a shower at the last major exchange, Adirondack Central High school before you drive to Utica. If you don’t shower at the school, you arrive in Utica tired and grubby with nothing to do except hang around the finish area or in restaurants until the finish party area opens at 3 PM or until you can get into your hotel room.  Obviously you want to be at the finish to run with your last runner across the finish line, but you will have some time to spare while van #1 finishes their last 6 legs.

The after party

2018-08-14_17-33-42The post race celebrations run from 3 PM to 8 PM at the Saranac Brewery.  Make sure to stop at the banner for a team photo. In addition to your medal, finishers also get to pick up a pint glass which entitles them to free refills during the party.  Make sure you eat some food too! You are probably sleep deprived, thirsty and hungry, that beer may go down a little too easily 🙂  The band is great and the atmosphere is fun. Take time to celebrate the fact you just ran over 220 miles! You would think everyone would leave the party by 6 PM because we are so tired, but they usually have to kick us out because there are lots of people still celebrating. You earned it!

Find more of my race reports and running related posts

 

 

 

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