Saturday, March 28, 2009

Terrapin Mountain 50K

A quick look at my race history and you'll see this wasn't my first race in Virginia. And it won't be my last. The inaugural Terrapin Mountain 50K was a blast! (Previously a marathon distance, there is also a half-marathon.) Since running Promise Land 50K in April 2007 - another in the BEAST series of races in the mountains north of Lynchburg directed by either David Horton or Clark Zealand - I've made sure to get at least one trip down here every year. It is a beautiful place to run and a wonderful group of runners, many of whom are current or former students of Dr. Horton's at Liberty University.

Today's event promised to be just as much fun, and criss-crosses part of the Promise Land course so I expected similar terrain. I spent a bit of time looking at the course map earlier this week to get my bearings though with so many loops in different directions and a few out and back sections I was pretty mixed up for most of the day! Add to that no watch and forgetting to look at the mile markers at the aid stations and I spent most of the run not quite sure where I was at. But it sort of went along with my plan of just enjoying the course - and the chance to run in shorts!

Having not really tapered and wanting to be in good shape for Chippewa in a month's time, I made a half-hearted attempt to not race this... I actually lasted all the way to mile 10! I ran with my friend Dorothy for the first few miles - we first met at Masochist in Nov 07 and have met up at the races down here since. I am hoping to see her again at Hellgate if I stay healthy this year - though in the meantime I am trying to convince her to come up and do Voyageur :)

After a few hundred yards on the flat, the race started out uphill so there was plenty of walking for the first hour. Then some rolling hills and after our first visit to Camping Ground AS at mile 4.1 things started to get interesting - I was glad I'd been warned - a quad-trashing 5 mile descent on gravel road to Goff Mtn AS at mile 9.4, via Hunting Creek AS at mile 7.2 where I'd filled my water. There was actually quite a bit of road on the course - probably 10 miles or so. I managed to hold back pretty well on the downhill knowing it was way too early - and still debating whether or not I was going to push it. Climbing out of the AS at a good pace, I decided I'd just let my legs do the thinking. If they felt good I'd go with it. I'd also decided to keep with my more recent 50K strategy of just eating gels and clif blocks and not spending time picking at the AS food. Not that it doesn't always look damn tempting but my stomach seems to do better without it.

We looped back around to Hunting Creek AS at mile 13.3 and continued back along the same trail to Camping Ground AS, now at mile 16.4. Though by now I was forgetting to check the mileage so when I thought about it along the next section I wasn't sure if we'd yet hit halfway. Nevertheless I was now fully in race mode and was really enjoying myself. Along here I met the lead guys on their way back - this section of the course followed the trail ~ 1.5 miles out with a 3 mile loop and then back the same trail to Camping Ground AS for the final time. I could vaguely recollect the course map but didn't remember how long the loop was so I was trying to time it in my head as I hadn't met any women on the out and back section but knew that several of the ladies I'd seen on the registration list would be well up there. I figured it was about a 30 minute loop. I was feeling good but worried I'd pushed it too hard on that last section - I knew I'd passed a lot of people in that section and looking at the stats from the webcast I went from #49 to #32. Nice. But still early... and the climb to Terrapin Mountain awaited me! (Live tracking at a trail race - how cool is that? Although, I won't be saying that if trail racing ever develops IM-style hype!)

It was actually a nice break, walking for about a mile. Keeping a pretty good hiking pace and taking deep breaths, trying to calm the heart rate. By just focusing on how my legs felt I decided to ignore my heart rate and any feelings of breathlessness - which as it turns out is not a bad way to go! Though I suspect on anything longer than a 50K it might be a bit dangerous :)

At the summit of Terrapin Mtn, which is actually not the highest point on the course - we'd reached that on one of the earlier climbs (I think both places are around 3,500ft but I am not sure) - we had to punch our bibs. Presumably to ensure we got the most for our money and enjoyed the views, the hole punch was tied to a rock outcropping off the trail... possibly worth the view if it hadn't been completely clouded over!

Did I mention the mist? It was unreal. Beautiful actually. I mean, I usually love being able to enjoy the views from the trail but the intense mist was equally serene. And it made sure you couldn't see more than 30ft up the trail so you were never quite sure if it was going to climb or descend... but you were guaranteed it wouldn't be flat for long! Overall the course had 7560ft elevation gain/loss. Amazingly enough it didn't rain all day. Driving down from Dulles yesterday afternoon the rain had started to come down pretty hard and it stayed that way through the evening and most of the night. The race started at the Sedalia campground so I had packed my tent. I was having second thoughts seeing the rain but decided to stick with it. The reservations returned after getting the tent up and seeing some moisture on the inside! But some maneuvering of the cover and it was sorted. No wind which made it easier. And somewhere in the middle of the night the rain stopped. Unlike some of the other races this one didn't start until 7am so I got a pretty decent sleep and it was nice to start in the light.

Back to the mountain... the next few miles down from the Terrapin summit were my absolute favourite part of the course. Technical singletrack and the knowledge that the worst climbing was over! Well, actually I didn't know that for sure but figured with only one AS left there wasn't more than 6-7 miles to go and I knew the final 3 miles were downhill so I felt safe enough ripping it up a bit. Along here we went through "Fat Man's Misery" - more like non-anorexic persons misery - a tight squeeze through slick rocks on each side and overhead, on very muddy footing that required wedging myself against the wall for stability. I knew rock climbing was good cross-training for trail running :)

Before long we were approaching the final AS at mile 25.6. The downside of this was that it was an out and back to the AS. Or more specifically a down and up. That half mile of steep descent was pretty cruel knowing the climb back up would be far worse! The next few miles were mostly rolling hills. With a few more creek-crossings. By now my feet had dried pretty well from the earlier ones but still there was no point in trying to avoid them. And the icy water was kind of refreshing. I had to laugh as we came upon a particularly big creek a few miles later - the 2 guys in front of me were hesitating so I went by them and straight through the middle - not such a good idea as I ended up chest-deep in water!! AND caught on camera while doing so...

Not far to go now. Still feeling really good and running every uphill as well as pounding the downhills. Passing a few girls and a lot of guys, I had moved up to 26 at the last AS and felt like I'd passed several more on the final stretch. Once we hit the rocky gravel road that we'd started out on I knew there must only be 2-2.5 miles left. It was a bit treacherous on the slick rock but I managed to keep a good pace. Had only fallen once a bit earlier, not bad! I wasn't going to win the Best Blood award though I might have won the Wettest Clothing award if there was one going.

Finally, the 1 mile to go sign... I saw a guy ahead of me so naturally that propelled me forward... I wish I had a watch on for that last mile as it felt like a 6 min one - not that I would know never having run one :)

5:34:21, 5th female and 17th overall. Well pleased with that. Delighted that my legs felt good all day despite not being completely rested. I have promised myself no running this week, except maybe in the pool. I think it will do me good, and then 10 days of solid training and a taper for Chippewa. But that's weeks away... for now I'll enjoy a few more hours of warmth in lovely green Virginia before heading home to the not very spring-like weather.