That’s the gist of how the race went for the most part, though there’s really no good way of making this a short story. I pity those attempting to read this on their phones.
Friday afternoon I drove down to Charlottesville to pick up my packet and spend the night relatively close to the race (45 minutes away, as opposed to 3 hours). I had a wonderful pasta dinner with friends from DC (Becki, Tom, and Becki’s parents) who were running the 50miler. After dinner I had some time to kill before I headed over to my hosts’ house, so I naturally found a cute little wine shop and decided to check it out. I walked in to a full-blown wine tasting event and my eyes grew large as I saw the nearly dozen bottles of wine that were open for tasting. I was offered a glass, and everyone stared at me as I realized I was somewhat out of place in my casual driving attire. I agreed with their assessment for entirely different reasons and escorted myself off the premise with nary a drop of my favorite grape juice.
My usual partner in crime, Matt, was not with me on this trip though he set me up with a friend of his to stay with for the night. Oh how I love the running community and the general willingness to help out the traveling runner. Within 10 minutes of arriving at Deborah’s place, I was sitting on the couch with a glass of Cab in hand and a happy dog on my lap. 5 star rating for this particular accommodation!
I woke up around 3:50 Saturday morning after a paranoid night of sleep. I was so worried about oversleeping that I checked the time almost every 20 minutes expecting it to say 10am. I finally gave up and got dressed quickly, hitting the road for the 45 minute drive to the start.
My first mistake of the day hit me when I realized I forgot my handheld. Son of a b*! I didn’t completely freak, but I was pretty pissed at myself. I really needed the pocket on my handheld to store my s!caps and a Clif bar. I could only fit 4 gu’s in the back of my shorts before they started to pull off, and there’s no way I could fit anything else anywhere else. After a panicked call to Becki, she agreed that I would be fine to pick up a water bottle at the gas station to use for hydration. I somehow ended up at a gas station that didn’t have any sport-top lids on any beverages of any sort, so I settled for a 20oz bottle of G2 in favor of the wide top for easy re-filling.
My second mistake of the day was noted when I parked at the start, stepped outside of my car and realized it was flipping cold. Not like, pre-race chilly-but-it-will-warm-up sort of cold, this was I-didn’t-wear-enough-clothes sort of cold. My car registered 33 degrees, and I was running in shorts, singlet, arm warmers & gloves. Oh dear. All of the trail races I did last year were insanely hot, so running on trails in the cold was new to me.
I set out to find someone with duct tape so I could potentially affix a mini Clif bar to the Gatorade, and didn’t have to go far as the van next to me was willing to help out. I’d never had G2 during a run, but decided to keep it instead of dumping it out in favor of water. I was pretty sure it was too cold for me to want to drink anything, and having the nice lemon lime flavor would help.
The RD’s (Gil & Frencesca) called a pre-race briefing before marching all of the 50k and 50 mile runners up to the top of a levy for the official start. There I found myself looking like a fool being literally the only person in shorts and a singlet and with my pathetic excuse for a handheld someone commented they felt 20 degrees colder just looking at me. A guy next to me actually had to remind me to turn on my headlamp, which added to the guise of my inexperience. In my defense, this was the first time I’d ever worn a headlamp and I have my amazing, wonderful, awesome neighbors to thank for letting me borrow theirs. Eliza should probably add “caretaker of Amy Lane” to her resume.
|Oh silly me, wearing a singlet...|
I knew a couple of things going in to this race…
1- I was not fully recovered from Napa
2- My crappy 42 mpw average was not going to help me in the least
3- Two seriously good female ultra runners were toeing the line, and they were way faster than me.
The hilarious part is that one of the “elites” is Amy Lane, a woman a few years older than me from MA, and Riva Johnson, a stellar master’s runner from PA. I’ve seen their names multiple times on results listings, always winning or in the top 3 at much bigger races. Riva beat me by well over an hour at JFK, and Amy smokes the heck out of the 50 milers she has done. I had to laugh when I saw 2 Amy Lane’s on the registration list for this race, as we would finally get to meet. I’d been confused with her multiple times and wanted to know who this other Amy was!
The RD set us off and we charged in to the woods filing down to single track. I made a point to be near the front of the pack, as the 50 milers would be going presumably slower from the get-go. I fell in behind 2 women, and I heard someone shout out “Is that Amy Lane?” Knowing they didn’t mean me, as I’m an unknown, the woman directly in front of me shouted back a greeting. I chirped “Amy?!”, from the surprise in my voice she said “you must be the other Amy Lane!”. I laughed and we talked for quite a bit, exchanging stories about constantly having our results confused. Apparently she had been receiving emails after JFK congratulating her for my finish. How crazy is it that there are 2 Amy Lane’s running ultra marathons? Huh.
Come to find out the woman directly in front of Amy was actually Riva, and I was excited to run with them for the first couple of miles. My legs felt great and it was easy going. I wasn’t looking at my pace as it took every ounce of concentration to run over the roots and rocks in the dark without stumbling. At some point Amy and Riva switched places and I focused on watching Riva’s footing, and mimicked her running. I would’ve been much more cautious if I was running by myself, but seeing their footwork somehow gave me confidence.
2 miles went by quickly, but we soon faced some short, steep climbs. Amy pulled ahead (running up the climbs) and Riva kept a slower but steady run. I realized if I walked I wasn’t losing too much ground behind Riva, so I decided I should walk. I caught up to her on the downs and we chatted away for the first 5 or so miles. I was totally blown away by how kind and open she was. I don’t know why I had been anticipating anything else, but I figured these awesome ultra runners wouldn’t have any interest in talking to me. Riva’s gearing up for Western States this year, which will be her first 100miler. I expect she’ll be phenomenal.
|Riva going up|
By mile 5 it was light enough out to not need a headlamp, and it was suddenly driving me crazy. I didn’t notice the weight of it on my forehead when I needed it, but now that it was light out it felt like a dead weight. I was happy to realize I wasn’t freezing to death, though that would soon change. Now that it was light out I could finally allow my concentration to shift and attempt to drink a little. My hands were pretty numb, and the act of unscrewing the Gatorade top was futile. I spilled fluid all over my hands, which took another 5 miles to finally dry out. I also realized I should take a Gu, which was an even more impossible task than the formidable bottle top. I finally stopped and set all of my crap down on the ground and took my time fumbling with the safety pinned gu packets conveniently on the back of my shorts. I had my camera with me as well, but it was really hard taking pictures while holding the Gatorade bottle. With the handheld I don’t actually have to grip the bottle and can manage much better, but between frozen fingers and a bulky bottle I just wasn’t doing well. Thank God we were in a foot race. I actually fell at one point while walking uphill and it seemed that my legs were so numb I literally couldn’t control them. It was more of a controlled stumble, but still was enough to get me down and dirty. I saw mud on my knee out of the corner of my eye but later realized it was blood. Oopsie daisy.
Miles 5-8 had some pretty darn good climbs, but I don’t recall how often I walked. We got our first taste of what was to come over the last portion of the race, but had no idea to the degree of difficulty we would be facing.
Riva pulled ahead of me and I was happy to let her go. I started panicking that I shouldn’t have run with her for so long, as I had no business being on pace with her or Amy. Especially not today. After dropping off my headlamp at an aid station around mile 7.5 I was slammed by the jarring discomfort of cold air. We were cresting to the highest point of the race on top of a ledge, and my face was completely numb. I constantly had to look down at my shorts to make sure they were still on, as I literally couldn’t feel the fabric against my skin. I had this vision of the over-loaded Gu situation pulling my pants down without me noticing. My hands were miserably cold and I desperately wished for hand warmers, but there were no hand-warmer elves to be found roaming through the sparsely populated trees.
With the sun coming over the mountains it was supremely tranquil scenery and I found myself wishing I could lay down and take a nap. I hadn’t seen another runner since losing Riva, so it was very quiet with only the sound of my clobbering footsteps making my way along the ridge. Mile 10 started a nice downhill section through soft dirt with occasional mud. I relaxed my upper body and let my shoulders position slightly over my knees. Thank you, core work. I saw a man on a bike who I realized was Riva’s husband, and tossed him my camera asking if he would take it to the finish. He was so kind, and without knowing who the heck I was gladly took it off my hands. I was sad to pass it off, but I realized I just couldn’t handle taking pictures today.
I came down off whatever “hill” we were just on and was surprised to practically bump in to Riva. Apparently she wasn’t very far ahead of me in the least. We came through an aid station side-by-side though I pulled behind her as not to block her reach from the table. The next 2ish miles were a nice rolling dirt/loose gravel road and I immediately lost Riva. She bolted after the aid station and I had no desire to stay with her. My pace was starting to look more like a marathon pace than a 50k pace, so I backed off as much as my legs could handle on the downhill.
Mile 14 I started to feel exhaustion in my hip flexors and I was pretty worried about what would come next. I coasted through15 but it was starting to feel like mile 20 in a marathon…or maybe like mile 15 in a 50k 3 weeks after a marathon.
By mile 17 I was done. My legs were exhausted and they just wouldn’t cooperate. On the plus side, I wasn’t cold anymore and my hands were finally dry. I fumbled with my Clifsicle that had frozen at the top of the mountain and couldn’t get it out of the duct tape, so I had to rip open the package with my teeth and let the bar fall out. I also really had to pee. Like, really really really had to pee. I never have to stop for the bathroom in races and I suppose the cool temperatures were preventing me from being too dehydrated, hence the full bladder. Between the pain in my legs and the need for a pit stop, I was in a pretty low place mentally. I couldn’t fathom how on earth I was going to finish the race and I chided myself for being so arrogant as to run so close behind Riva for so long. I wasn’t sure if I had gone out too fast or if it was the horrible post-marathon legs, but it just sucked. I came to a creek and had to plunge in to the frigid water for a good 10 steps, which came up a few inches above my ankles. Now my legs are exhausted, I have to pee, AND I have sopping wet feet. Mommy :(
For those who are thinking “just go behind a bush already!”, know this…there were no bushes. In fact, there was nothing but super skinny trees completely naked of leaves, hardly good camouflage for me to take shelter behind. I had no idea how far the next runner was behind me, and assuming it was a guy I really didn’t want any sudden surprises. For the both of us.
I finally threw caution to the wind and just took care of business, about 8 miles after the urge had started. I’m such an idiot. I felt instantly better and no one was anywhere near me. Having one of my 3 problems solved I felt a little better, but still wanted to be done with this mess of a race. At mile 20 the uphill climbs started, and I decided then and there to walk every single climb for the rest of the race regardless of how short/steep it was (in fact, had I not made the decision mentally my legs would’ve come to those terms on their own). By mile 21 I secretly wished I could walk until mile 23, not realizing that just up ahead were some serious switchbacks that were absolutely NOT runnable for the likes of me.
I ended up walking for about 45 minutes straight, which is about the longest stretch of walking I’ve ever had to do in a race (save the Leadville marathon). 2 guys passed me going up and it made me feel better to hear them express my thoughts about how tough the climb was.
I came up to the aid station at mile 23 and grabbed some PB&J and refilled my bottle. They confirmed it was 8 miles to the finish, which I was worried about because all of the trail races I’ve done have been so far off on my Garmin I never knew if my watch would read 31 or 34. Thankfully this was going to be a 31 mile race for a change.
Around 23.5 there was a good decent and I had a hard time finding my running legs again. They were pretty beat up from the climbs and didn’t really cooperate any better on the downhill. About a mile later everything seemed to magically get better as I found my legs responding to my commands. They ran faster when I told them to, and didn’t stumble on the rocks and roots. My relief at this newfound sense of energy was short lived as I came to by far the most difficult terrain I’ve ever run on. To say a mountain spit up every rock imaginable and showered a 4 mile stretch with the its bile might give you a remote idea. There was absolutely no where to put your feet except on loose rocks, and hope that you didn’t lose your balance. I fumbled through the rocks like a Clydesdale in a mine field, perhaps less gracefully. I was not-so-agile on this particular course.
|:( Boo. This was taken on the way up, but we came down this same portion.|
I so desperately wanted this race to be over, and my legs were finally ready to run, but I just couldn’t figure out how to run over this crap. I stumbled in to a tree and wanted to cry with frustration, but nobody cared. After maybe 2 miles of this I was growing completely angry. “Rock” was a new 4-letter word for me, and it may be the most offensive of all. I saw the 2 guys who had passed me earlier just up ahead and realized they were struggling just as much as I was. Now it seemed my 3 previous problems were solved but this new issue just would not relent. Every turn left me praying the next piece of trail just around the corner would be r@$#-less, but it wasn’t the case. There was a super steep drop around mile 28, but it turned out to be impossible for me to run down. The combination of the grade and the technicality of the terrain left me completely hopeless.
FINALLY we popped out of the rocky hell at the last aid station where I dropped my bottle and wanted to weap openly at the sight of asphalt. Beautiful, smooth, black, luscious asphalt. Normally at the end of a trail race the feeling of road under your feet is torture, but this time there was much rejoicing. I was giddy when my legs settled in at a sub8 pace and I quickly passed the 2 guys heading up the road. I’ve never finished a 50k so strong, and didn’t understand why I suddenly felt great. I laughed at my mental battle over the last 10 miles, and went from thinking I would never run another 50k ever again to thinking about my next race in April. Oh silly mind games.
I made a wrong turn with less than a mile to go, and thankfully the 2 guys saw me turn and whistled loudly to bring me back around. It wasn’t far off course, probably a minute or so. Just enough to be annoyed with myself for missing some of the most blatant course markings imaginable. It takes a special person to go the wrong way on this course. Seriously, they did an amazing job marking the trail. A++.
Anyways, the last mile went by fast but I couldn’t quite catch the guys who had passed me when I went off course. I didn’t care, it was almost over. As I came through the finish area Riva cheered me on while her husband snapped a photo. I cried out to Riva “THAT SUCKED!” and she laughed.
Finish time: 5:24. I hung out at the finish area after changing my clothes and chatted with the other runners who had finished. What was amazing to me was how staggering the results were. It seemed like it took 30 minutes for the next runners to come through. I knew I was 3rd, but what I didn’t realize was that I was only 10 minutes behind Riva and 15 minutes behind the other Amy. Not too shabby…
|Me, Riva Johnson, Amy Lane (North)|
We huddled by the fire and I got to know Amy and Riva a little better, it made the race all worthwhile. I met so many great people it made me excited for Promise Land in April (even though I expect that course to be much harder than Bel Monte). I’m definitely still figuring all of this ultra/trail stuff out, but one thing I’ve noticed is that the highs are high and the lows are low.
I should also note that the ONE thing I did absolutely right was wear the right shoes for the occasion. I heard a lot of people complaining that their feet hurt really bad and were tenderized from pounding over the rocks, and I am so thankful I didn't have this problem. The Salomon XR Crossmax held up to the test, which is crazy because they are supposed to be a road to trail transitional shoe...not a hard-core rock hopping shoe.
I'm really excited to try out more Salomon shoes, as I still have no idea what I'm supposed to be wearing. Heck, I'm lucky I even have trail shoes (and let me be clear, Salomon is NOT paying me to say this). I just know when I find something that I like =)
|Amy (North), Riva, Me (Dirty South)|
We were presented our awards for top 3 (wooden plaques) and the other Amy was announced as “Amy Lane North”, and I took “Amy Lane South”. I kinda like it J
The really freaky coincidence is that Amy is engaged to a man named Brian. Ha. I got in my car and left before I found out if she also has 2 great danes and likes wine.
If you made it this far, kudos to you. You should probably hydrate and eat something by now.
Course profile...6,300 ft total gain
Total rocks: A bazillion