This was written after the 2016 edition of Peak to Brew. We had so much fun we did it again in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The race has grown since then and the course has been shortened a little. They were not able to hold the event in 2020 but if 2021 happens you should definitely add this race to your list. I have added some note in italics about the changes we made in later years.
Peak to Brew is a 238 mile (383km), 48 stage relay which starts at the top of Mount Whiteface just outside Lake Placid and ends at the Saranac Brewery in Utica, New York. Teams can enter with 12 runners and two vans which leap frog each other or they can enter as an ultra team with 6 runners. The finish line is the Boliermaker finish line and like Boilermaker there is free beer and a party at the end. All we had to do was run 238 miles and the beer would be free! We had no trouble finding a team of K2J Fitness runners willing to run for beer! The course was shortened to 220 miles in 2017
The newly formed K2J Canadians left Ottawa on Thursday with 12 runners, 2 drivers and 2 clean vans. Check in was at the Whiteface Ski Centre so we rented four Kozy Kabins at the KOA . The location was perfect but it was hot and humid so we did not get a whole bunch of sleep. After year one we moved into motel rooms in Lake Placid to get more sleep.
The race starts at the top of Whiteface and the first teams had a 4:00 am start. We were given a 7:00am start so Van 1 (Randy Cocek, Chris Steele, Anita Taylor, Chris Bright, Mike Yates, Karen Bright and driver Donna Yates) packed up and left to drive to the top at 6:00am. Van 2 was not allowed up the road so we took advantage of an extra hour’s sleep.
Leg one (The Downhill Monster) is 6.4 miles long with an elevation drop of 2824 feet and from the minute he signed up to come Randy wanted to do it. We were more than happy to let him have it! The plan from the beginning was to set realistic goals, have fun and not to push to be competitive. Randy’s projected time for the leg was a little over 51 minutes. He set the tone for the day when van 2’s leisurely breakfast at the Downtown Dinner in Lake Placid was interrupted by a text message telling us he ran it in 37.07! (10k PB is under review as we feel that running straight down a mountain may be cheating). Van 1 reported that you could smell the brakes of the other vans burning as they drove down.
Van 2 (Vincent Lavoie, Dave Morton, Trevor Hains, James Peltzer, Mike Blois, Judy Andrew Piel and driver Harold Piel) finished breakfast and headed to the first major exchange at the Olympic Ski Jump Centre in Lake Placid. At major exchange points both vans meet and the running van passes off to the resting van. I was in Van 2 so most of this is written from our point of view.
We met a few other teams waiting for their runners at the exchange point, everyone was friendly and eager to get going. We decorated our van while we were waiting with window markers and Canadian flags because we were the only Canadian team in the event. Most of the vans had the names of each runner and a check box for each leg on the windows along with a kill count. We added the names and check boxes and learned that passing another team counts as a kill. We skipped adding that until later when Harold came up with the idea of adding the kills with a note saying Sorry eh!
Chris Bright ran the last leg for van 1 and he almost knocked me over as he came flying down the final hill. We were almost 20 minutes ahead of schedule after 6 legs. My first leg was a very short 1. 6 miles so the vans did not hang around to chat. Van 2 got on the road to make sure they arrived ahead of me and van 1 went off to rest and find food.
We continued to pass other teams in legs 6-12. Mike Blois had the longest (12.5 mile) and hilliest (1467ft up and 1472 ft down) section. He passed 6 teams and is now known as “Mike the Red Barron Blois”.
Because the vans were allowed to support their runners we avoided runners carrying water by having the van stop every few km to provide it. This became much more important as the race went on because it started hot and humid and got hotter and even more humid as the race progressed. We had a large cow bell, several small cow bells, three large Canadian Flags and a Vuvuzela. We decided early on that we did not know if we were the fastest team but we were going to be the loudest. Each time we drove past a runner from any team we rolled down the windows yelled, honked the horn, blew the Vuvuzela and rang the cowbell.
We arrived at the major exchange, leg #12 at Tupper Lake Municipal Park almost an hour ahead of schedule. Van 1 took over and Van 2 went for a brief swim which was the cleanest most of us got all weekend.
We drove from Tupper Lake to Long Lake and had lunch at the Adirondack Growl & Grub which sold beer and sandwiches. The power went out twice while we were there a sign of things to come.
The next major exchange was at the Adirondack Museum and we had been scheduled to leave there at 7:30pm. We were still ahead although we were not entirely sure by how much. We were using cell phones to text message each runner’s finishing time to the opposite van but once we got away from Tupper Lake the cell coverage was pretty questionable so we did not know exactly when to expect the next runner. Chris came flying in closer to 6:30 and I took over.
This was my longest (12.2 miles) and hilliest (1362 ft up and 1636 ft down) leg. It was also close to 29C, very humid and because I would finish after 7:00pm I had to wear a safety vest and lights. Thankfully, by this time the van had the water stations down to an art. They would drive 3km, find a spot to pull off safely and set up. First person at the front with cowbell and water to drink, next person took the first cup and provided a second for dumping on my head, next person took that cup and provided me with a bag of ice, someone played the Vuvuzela (James and I both got much better at that as the time rolled on) and I had as good a water stop as anyone could ask for. The van also cheered me and any other runners on with cowbell and Vuvuzela as they drove past. We passed 4 teams on this leg and noticed that we were starting to run out of teams to pass. It was almost dark when I finished running at little before 8:00pm.
The next few legs seemed to be very dark. As it turns out a car hit a telephone pole in an incident totally unrelated to the race and knocked out three transformers so the power was out. Leaving us with no light at all. We also had almost no cell phone service so we hoped van 1 knew we were coming and that we had picked up even more time. The final leg for van 2 (#24 in case you are keeping track) was Dave Morton’s and it ended with a trail run lit by touches at 11:15 pm! We were very relieved to see Dave and one other runner emerge from the forest at the McCauley Mountain Ski Centre. The race route has been changed a little and no longer goes through McCauley Mountain the exchange is now in Old Forge.
The half relay started at McCauley Mountain so there were lots of teams there and lots of runners for van 1 to chase. The power outage meant there was no food at the exchange and we needed food more than sleep so we asked for a recommendation and were told that Tony Harpers Pizza-Clam Shack in Old Forge would still be open. We had cell phone coverage at the time and everything we found said it closed at 10 but we were pretty hungry so we went anyway and sure enough it was open. We demolished two pizzas and a round of beer and then drove to the next major exchange point at South Lewis High School. We have eaten at Tony’s every year since and they have always had warm pizza and cold beer. It was past 2:00 am when we got there and we were very tired. We had no news at all from Van 1 but we knew running in the dark would be slower so we expected them to show up around 3:45 am. There were showers and a sleeping area available all manned by some friendly but sleepy looking high school kids. The gym was set up as a sleeping area but it was full when we got there so we all just plunked down where we could.
I was next up and we still had no news so I set my alarm for 3:20, and slept in my running clothes with my shoes by my head and my cell phone in my hand. The phone vibrating work me up at 3: 19 am with a string of messages the last of which said Chris was 2km away! I woke Harold up and put on my running shoes while he tried to locate the rest of our runners spread around the gym. I scrambled to the exchange point in time to meet Chris but I was barely awake and it was a short leg so I was not sure who would get to the end first me or the van. The exchange points all had a time range during which they were open. If you got there too late you had to skip to the next leg, if you got there too early they held you back for an hour (no penalty). We had been getting closer and closer to the cut offs. Chris arrived one minute before the exchanged officially opened and they let us go though.
I was totally disoriented and actually had to ask a volunteer which direction I was running in. Thankfully it was a leg with no turns so once I got on the right road I was Ok. I started to wake up as I ran but it was pretty lonely out on the farm roads in the middle of the night, just me and the cows. I guess farmers vent their cow barns at night because the smell was pretty powerful! It was disappointing to discover that it was still very hot and humid. I was very relieved when the van passed me. Even though there were no turns I had no phone and no particular desire to get lost in the farm fields of upstate New York. When I arrived at the next exchange point the van was there and so was the sign but there was no one else.
It did not occur to us at the time (blame it on lack of sleep) but Van 1 had passed ALL the remaining teams including the half relay teams. If we had been thinking more clearly we would have figured out that if you leave a check point 1 minute before it opens there is no one in front of you! We were all alone and there was no one left to pass.
We stopped the van at every turn for the remainder of the night. They were all clearly marked but we did not trust ourselves to see them in our somewhat bleary state. All the exchanges were where they were supposed to be but the volunteers were not there yet. We did wake-up a volunteer sleeping in his car at one point.
The next major exchange was at Flat Rock Inn. The course was shortened in 2017 and no longer goes to Flat Rock. We had planned to watch the sunrise over the wind farm but we got there before the sun did. It was here that we met the race director who was very nice and very perky considering it was 6:20am and I expect he had had less sleep than we had. There was a discussion about whether or not they would hold us back. The checkpoint opened at 6:30am and we were going to be there slightly ahead of that. We wanted to keep going and they let us do that.
Once Van 1 was off and running we drove to Boonville which was the next and last major exchange #42. The exchange was at the high school but there was no one there when we arrived so we set off in search of breakfast. We ended up at Slim’s Restaurant because it was the only place open. The food was great, the servings were huge and everyone was very friendly. I think we were accepted because someone from another table passed us the joke of the day on a slip of paper. They thought we looked like cyclists. We told them we were runners but we did not mention that we had run there from Lake Placid. I had the Cin-a-bon pancakes $5.95 for three pancakes bigger than a dinner plate with cinnamon swirls, and icing. I passed on the offer of syrup! We now plan our race around breakfast at Slims
After breakfast we went back to the exchange point and found other people there this time. There was a gym set up for sleeping, showers and a snack bar. The race director was there and we again discussed our team being held back. The humidity must have been 100% and the temperature without the humidity has in the 30’s there were also signs of thunder storms in the area so we wanted to get it over with. Chris arrived at 10:01 and the check point officially opened at 10 so they let us go through.
This was my last leg and although it was not rated as the hardest, the combination of lack of sleep, heat and humidity made it the toughest for me. It was also trail so I had to run 6.6 miles without the van to provide water and encouragement. We have since found a spot on the road for a water stop on this leg I ran back into town, had to wait for a traffic light and then got slightly lost. I ran up to some people holding a sale. They had no idea what I was doing but they knew where the trail I was looking for was and they pointed me in the right direction.
The first half of my leg was on a canal trail of mowed grass. It was not “real” trail running but you had to run around wet slippery tree roots and through some mud. I was hot and cow bell and vuvuzela-less for the whole run! The last few km included some significant up hills so I was very happy to be done. It ended at the Potato Hill Farm where James took over to run the P2B Honey Badger Leg, the only leg rated very hard so we were all (well mostly James because he had to run it) concerned about it. 10 miles with an elevation gain of 1296 ft and a loss of 1232. We cow belled, Vuvuzela-ed and water stopped him through it and James absolutely killed it (although after he finished we were a little concerned that it might have killed him too). The race directors were there when he finished the leg to congratulate him and present him with a beer glass. James was in no condition to use it at the time… The race director’s comment was “we should have held you guys back”. We promised to try and slow it down a bit.
The next few legs involved lots of encouragement, heat and water. The thunderstorms were around but we managed to miss them all. We arrived at the last exchange point and there once again was the race director. Even we knew we were pretty far ahead of the other teams at this point. In fact the last few volunteers all knew about us before we arrived. They would all take one look at us and say so you’re the Canadians! Still not sure if that was good or bad but we will go with good! Although the finish was scheduled to open at 3:00pm and we knew we would be there after 3:00pm with the storms set-up had been delayed so there was concern that we would arrive before they were ready for us. We offered to wait and even did for about 5 minutes then he told us to go so Dave did.
The last leg was unsupported so we drove directly to the finish line which was set-up and waiting for us. Van 1 who were clean and showered met us there so we could all run in with Dave. At that point the heavens opened and all the rain we had avoided came down all at once. There was thunder, there was lightning and the streets were turning into rivers. Dave was out there somewhere. The rules stated that in extreme weather (and it was pretty extreme) we were to pick up our runner and drive to the next exchange but because the leg was unsupported we had no idea where he was. Dave is pretty tough so we were just going to leave him out there…but the race director was getting pretty concerned so Harold and I drove out to look for him. Almost as soon as we left Dave (now known as Captain Nemo) arrived at the finish.
We drove back, took pictures and waited for the beer tent to open! It soon did and we took advantage of it while we waited for the other teams. We think (we are not sure and we blame that on lack of sleep not vast quantities of free beer) that it was an hour before the next team finished. We don’t actually know if we won because there were two teams that started over 2 hours behind us and with all the storms and complications the results will not be straightforward. We ended up placing 2nd and we won the following year. After that the fast kids showed up…
We cheered other teams across the finish loudly until the tornado watch (I am not making that up) forced the whole party indoors. At that point van 1 (also known as the clean van) stayed behind and we went to the hotel. We stayed at the Ramada. I don’t say this often but I do not recommend staying there.
Was it fun? Absolutely. Would I recommend the race? 100% yes. Will we do it again? Probably –but ask me after a couple of good night’s sleep. Great event and you could not ask for a better group of people to do it with! Put it on your list! Thanks to Vincent, Chris. James and Harold for photos!
In extreme heat plastic dollar store flags melt into the paint of mini vans
Baby wipes and a lot of elbow grease get melted flag out of mini van paint (thank goodness)