So this is the first race I have ever gone into with some sort of strategy and plan. (Thanks to my friend Edge) I have been really frustrated with my last few races, starting out and positioning myself in first place, only to lose the lead with a handful of miles left and nothing left in my legs was really not working for me. I knew I wanted to run a 9:30 average pace and that the first almost 20 was flat and easy, and the last 30 was hilly and winding. There were never any hills that lasted more than a minute or two up but they were steep rollers and once they started they just kept coming and lasted almost 30 miles. At the start I decided rather than go by pace I wanted to go by effort. I started off conservatively and in the first few miles made my way up to the top 4 women and ran with them. We chatted at a comfortable pace to the first aid station at mile 7.5. I was running with one woman who had driven down from Canada to come run. She just had a huge snowstorm a few days ago, and was worried the drive would be terrible but she was happy to be in the warmth. The other two women were grad students and lived near the trails and were part of the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club the last woman didn’t say much. They were all super friendly, and since I had no real time goal that I was pushing for, I just enjoyed their company. Many of the runners were part of the club and they all knew the trails and the other racers. I felt like outsiders must feel running trails around here with TrailHeads. Weird. Anyway, I didn’t need food or water at the first aid station, so I left the other women and found a few new groups to chat with. I moved from group to group making sure I could chat and not get sucked into my usual M.O. of feeding off the adrenaline and just running too hard too soon. By mile 14 I was running with some of the different military groups …there were lots of “sirs” and lots of talk about training. It was at this mile that my water bottle basically fell apart. I panicked for a minute until one of the guys noticed and nicely offered one of his two bottles. It really saved my race because the temps cranked up to 70+ and we were in and out of the sun. I needed that water! I was so grateful that after the race I found him, thanked him and hugged him for his generosity.
After I left that group I continued to keep a steady pace, I stopped running and power walked the hills when they started to get too steep, ran hard down them keeping my heart rate up (my quads are talking to me today) From mile 35 and on I was completely by myself and starting to question where I was. Though most of the race was an out and back from the start/finish, apparently there was a little section that repeated itself (I did not realize this). I started to recognize it as mile 4 and 5 from the start of the race, and began to worry that I had the recent TrailHead curse of running the wrong way! I panicked (fuckfuckfuck) and turned around.
At this point I was getting confused. The garmin said I had 8 more miles to go, but I had just gone through the 45 mile aid station. When I saw the concrete pilings we already hopping over, I remembered Anster, the RD’s directions not to go over them again, I turned around and started running the other way looking for another runner or maybe a turn I had missed. Had I gone just a bit further around the corner, I would have seen red tape leading me a different way, but I didn’t so I ran the wrong way hoping to find someone. Fortunately I only ran a few minutes the wrong way before I met up with someone who knew the course. He told me, in fact, that the finish was only about 1.5 miles…so I turned and ran as fast as I possibly could up the hill to the finish in 8:14…finally a first place! I’m pretty sure I was beaming the rest of the day, ok I still am…
Bottom line; if you want a not so technical but still hilly 50 and scenic race, with that trail runner/family friendly feel to it, this is the race. You know its a great race when people have run it every year for decades! The volunteers all dressed up and were so on target with ice, water, salt, food, bandages and whatever else you could need. Each aid station was like a well oiled machine and every person knew their roll. Everyone seemed to know each other, and even if they didn’t they wanted to talk to you and welcome you into their group. It was an easy race to get to…with an easy drive there. It’s not the mountains, obviously, but was still scenic, and fun! And most importantly, their sign up process is fantastically laid back and stress free! (Has a running group of yours ever crashed a server trying to sign up for a race, yea that’s panic inducing!)
One note about what I wore. I bought the (above) shorts this winter and have been dying to test them out for a race ever since. They have 2 gel pockets, one back zipper pocket, and 2 other pockets, once on each thigh. I could carry all my S Caps, several gels, dates, and energy bars I make. I don’t tolerate gluten so I have to be careful what I eat at races so I usually carry lots of my calories on me. These shorts ROCKED! I thought I would have to wear a back pack or something, but I could cram everything into these shorts. They are tight, but not too tight, didn’t chafe or move a bit!
I have also raced every ultra in my hot pink CEP socks. Three years ago when I started trail running, the transition from roads to trails was too much strain for my Achilles and I ended up with tendonosis. Ever since I have been vigilant about wearing my socks, not just for the compression, but because I do feel like I recover faster. No fist sized knots in my calves whenever I wear them. I have yet to try their shorts, but am curious if that would help the quad pain I have from downhill running.
Thanks for sticking with me through my race ramblings.