On Saturday, June 22, Ryan Welts was one of about 50 runners courageous—or crazy—enough to take part in the inaugural Manitou’s Revenge Ultramarathon, a 56-mile point-to-point race in the Catskills. After taking the lead early, Welts was passed around mile five by Denis Mikhaylov, who built a substantial lead. By the time Welts reached mile 32, he was faced with the daunting task of cutting into Mikhaylov’s lead while covering the most difficult section of the course. That’s exactly what Welts did, as he drew even with about eight miles to go. But over the last several miles, Mikhaylov managed to rebuild his lead, crossing the finish line first in 11:51. Welts finished second, in 12:11. Ashley Moyer finished first among women, and third overall, in 13:32. The median time was 18:40 (no, that’s not a typo).
On Monday, Welts talked about how the race went and whether the course lived up to its billing as one of the toughest ultramarathons around.
How are you feeling today?
Like I ran 56 miles in the mountains. No, it’s going pretty well. Recovery is going well. I’ll be running again tomorrow.
Did you have a specific strategy going in?
I did. I knew it was going to be a really challenging course with a lot of technical features and vertical gain. So I was kind of approaching it like I would a White Mountain Hut traverse. I figured it would be comparable. My plan was to go out easy knowing that last 30 miles would be more challenging than the first 20. So I was conservative early on and then just tried to stay steady when it got harder.
How were you feeling early on? Was the course about what you expected?
Yeah, the Escarpment Trail portion of the course wasn’t as challenging as I was expecting. There were hard things, like going over Blackhead Mountain. I haven’t run the Escarpment Race, but I think Blackhead is the hardest part of that course. And that was pretty cool. There was some hands on trail sections, pulling yourself up. So it went well early on. I was in the lead from the beginning. Denis, the eventual winner, was hot on my heels. I kind of knew he had a history of going off course, so I figured I’d just let him go and maybe he’d burn himself out. Maybe he didn’t know what he was in for. But he ended up putting quite a bit of distance on me—I think close to 30 minutes by the time we got down to mile 22 or so. There was a big descent and he just opened it up, I guess. Eventually I ended up closing the gap all the way, eight miles from the finish, and we had a little duel out in the woods. He lit it up and took off and put like 20 minutes on me in the last six miles.
Judging by the elevation profile, it looks like the section from about mile 32 to mile 40 or so is pretty brutal.
Yeah, it was atrocious. I mean, I’m used to running in the Whites, doing all that gnarly stuff. And there’s nothing in the Whites to compare it to. I can compare it to going into and out of Carter Notch, basically, but a little more hands on trail than that, repeatedly, for about 7.5 miles. That 9.5-mile section took me three hours, so it was really, really tough. And the Catskill rock is quite a bit different than New Hampshire granite. There’s more sandstone and shale, and it moves a lot. So it’s quite tricky to run on.
Is there any other race it compares to?
No. There’s no race that compares to this. There’s the Wapack 50. That’s billed as really challenging. I’ve run that a couple of times. That’s a hard race, but I would say that the easiest part of Manitou compares to the hardest part of Wapack. And then from mile 31 to 40 or so is just—it just blows everything else out of the water.
So you fell behind a bit, and then you ended up catching Denis. What happened during that stretch? Did you just start pushing the pace a bit more?
He pulled ahead after mile five, and I kind of let him go. And I started questioning whether I was running too conservatively, because the Escarpment Trail was quite runnable, and I could have gone faster in sections for sure. My plan was to go conservatively over Kaaterskill [a peak around mile 28], and then I knew it was going to get hard so I was going to try to attack the Devil’s Path and get through there as quick as I could. I closed some of the gap in that section. I think I went into the Devil’s Head section maybe 23 minutes behind, and when I got to Mink Hollow, which was basically at the end of the Devil’s Path, except for one climb, he only had seven minutes on me. So I was able to move through there quicker than he did.
How did you feel at the end?
After that surge down by Warner Creek, it was on a descent and we were kind of racing down this mountain. I let Denis go because Cory DeLavalle [who was pacing Ryan at this point] and I saw that he had a two-bottle waist pack on and we noticed that his bottles were almost empty, and we didn’t think there was another aid station. So I let him go thinking that he’d run out of fluids and slow down. I didn’t try to pursue him. By the time I realized that there was another aid station, my legs were so garbage that I just had to bring it in at my own pace. There was nothing I could do at that point. The last descent down from Mount Tremper was about a 2,400 foot descent in two miles or so. It just really kind of obliterated me, so I was really happy to see the pavement mile at the end.
Would you do this race again?
Absolutely. I definitely want to go back and try to get under 12 hours. The heat was a limiting factor for me. It was pretty warm out. It was in the mid-80s at least.
So it was a good time?
Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything that compares to it as far as difficulty on the East Coast.
You’re organizing the Bear Brook Marathon later this month. After that, what do you have planned for upcoming races for yourself?
I have the Hampshire 100k in August, and then just training and some short races leading up to Grindstone 100 in October.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
For a first-year event it really went off smoothly. The volunteers were awesome, and the aid stations were great. I think everyone was really happy with the way it went, so I don’t think they’ll have any trouble getting as many people as they want next year. I was super happy with it.