Friday, April 5, 2013

Terrapin Mountain 50k March 23, 2013 Bedford County, Virginia

This race is described as having about 7500 feet of elevation gain and loss which is significantly more than any course I have run.  I added several training runs up and down long steep trails and roads.  But my only local choices for training had about half the elevation change over the typical 3 to 4 mile climbs and descents in this race.

The race started just at daylight and I positioned myself about midpack among the participants of the 50k and half marathon races.  After about a mile and a half on paved roads the course followed what was either a washed out forest service type road or a streambed that had been filled in to be passable for 4wd vehicles.  Then it crossed a stream and followed what might be jeep trails up to the first aid station at 4.1 miles having gained about 2000 feet.  I did what most people around me were doing - walking the steeper uphills and running the rest.  I was watching other runners thinking who might be a likely person to work with for the long day ahead.  I also listended to the chatter among friends.  Someone was joking that if we had real friends they would have talked us out of doing this race.  Hmm… Later in this section I chatted with a lady who had done the race several times and she wisely spoke of pacing myself for a long effort.  Her thought was that I was presently on pace for about a 7 hour finish.  I thought that was reasonable so I kept going at that effort level.
Hiking to the aid station number 1
At the first aid station I was only hoping to refill my water bottle, but that took longer than I expected.  Only one volunteer with a water jug was serving numerous runners and that jug became empty before my turn for a refill.  Another the volunteer came over and was able to refill it from a big thermos type jug with a little water spout.  Finally I was ready to go and made the turn downhill while the half marathoners continued uphill.  I knew there were about 5 miles of downhill running ahead of me on roads and tried to keep my pace in check to not hurt my quads so early in the race.  My fueling/nutrition plan was to eat a gel every 30 minutes and refill my water bottle and take whatever my appetite wanted at the aid stations.  There was soon a section of the dirt road that was white with ice/snow.  As I approached this area a runner went down hard on her back and I was all the more careful. There were some nice sweeping overlooks to enjoy while carefully watching the footing.  The next aid station was about 3 miles down the road and as I approached, a little girl was standing in the back of a pickup truck anouncing ‘first aid station ahead!’  I think she was talking about first aid rather than aid station number one and that made me smile   I got my water refilled and this time took a few chips/cookies and continued on downhill.  The downhill road continued but not so steeply and eventually came onto paved roads.  The course also transitioned from the look of remote forest to edge of the forest developments.

Toward the bottom of the downhill I passed a Phillipina lady who resembled Anna in my small group of local running friends.  Shortly after the next aid station this lady passed me back as the road turned uphill.  My mission for the day became to keep her from going out of sight.  She was really strong on the uphills, whether powerhiking or running.  We moved past a group of men who laughingly declared this road was a ‘mandatory walking’ section.  She and I both alternated running with hiking to keep progress somewhat brisk.  My approach to this was to run at least 100 steps each time then walk until my breathing recovered.  After maybe 2 miles the course left the road for double track trail that was even steeper.  As this section leveled off and then descended, I passed this lady.  And so it went most of the race, me going ahead on downhills and she passing on uphills.  We exchanged greetings and encouragement each time.  The course came out onto gravel road again and the next aid station was set up there.  Then it was uphill on roads for 3.1 miles that seemed longer than that.   There was a nice mountain stream, a stretch of road with snow and ice and some views into the valley below.  The next aid station is also the first one on the course, but this seemed to approach from a different direction compared to the first time. 
The lady who I would try to keep up with.
Typical uphill road section.

By this point my right foot was hurting on top and I wondered how a stress fracture would feel there.  This soreness remained for the rest of the race but didn't get significantly wors.  After the race, I concluded I had laced my shoe too tightly and that caused the soreness.

This next section would be 5.7 miles, a lollipop type out and back.  It went out on gravel road, moved onto double track trail around a loop and then back the same road.  So to start we saw runners coming back to the aid station while we were on the way out.  And it was again uphill.  I had taped a list to my water bottle with the distance to each aid station.  However I was mixed up here and thought this was the 3.1 mile section we had just finished.  After a long time without seeing any runners coming the other way, I was more confused.  I had figured when I would see the Phillipina runner coming back, I would know I was near the turn around.  Eventually I looked again at the list of aid stations and distances and realized which section of the course I was on.  At the highest point on the loop part of the lollipop was an orienteering punch which we were to use on our bib to prove we reached that spot.  And then it would be downhill running to the aid station. 

A couple of guys were sitting along the trail in a sunny, grassy spot.  They were dressed for running but had stopped for some reason.  They said there was nothing wrong.  Along the road back to the aid station, a young lady named Bethany caught up to me and we ran together chatting about how things were going.  She was concerned about her fingers swelling; my challenge was that my climbing muscles were about used up.  In spite of these issues we had a nice cheery mile or so.  As we came to the aid station I realized I was overdue on eating a gel. 

From this point there should be 9 miles to the finish.  We left the aid station at the same time and continued chatting as we went on.  This section started with the toughest climb of the race on a steep single track trail to the summit of Terrapin Mountain.  Bethany power hiked ahead of me and I huffed and puffed to keep close enough to continue the conversation.  After about 20 minutes of tough uphill hiking we reached the top and made the turn toward Terrapin Rock.  There was another punch here and quite a view of the valley below.  Bethany enjoyed the view longer than me and I went on alone.
Terrapin Rock
The course turned back for about 100 yards then continued on to a rock formation known as Fat Man's Misery.  Here we had to drop down 3 or 4 feet into a narrow passage between two sloping rock faces and then creep along for about 20 feet to the exit.  One more bib punch was required to show we had been through there.  

Entering Fat Man's Misery, hoping the rocks don't shift

Looking back into FMM

Then the course continued as single track trail along the ridge and eventually downhill through rhododendron thickets.  Some of this was quite steep and rocky, steep enough to grab trees to help slow the descent.   I passed 4 or 5 runners on the downhill and came out onto a service road that led to the final aid station.  My aid station list indicated five and a half miles to go.  I had about an hour and 15 minutes to finish in less than 7 hours.  It seemed like I had a good chance for that since I thought it would be mainly downhill from there.


At this aid station I saw the Phillipina lady again.  She was talking about her quads cramping and was rubbing on some menthol smelling stuff.  I refilled my bottle, grabbed some cookies and chips and hiked uphill with her to the next turn.  I must have been taking the downhill too fast because my quads began cramping here too.  And so I stopped in order to get out some Bio-Freeze gel and rubbing that in.  Soon the lady was out ahead of me and then out was of sight until after I finished.  I was wrong about it being all downhill, as the trail worked its way up in rolling fashion for 2 or 3 miles before turning downhill. I mostly walked the uphills.  There were about 3 more stream crossings in this section. 

Final stream crossing
Near the higher part of this section I could see into the valley and make out Sedalia Center where the finish line was.  I guessed it might be 2 miles in a straight line, but the trail was turning away and following the hillside, so I couldn't really guess what distance remained ahead of me.  The last stream crossing was a bigger one and it seemed I should soon be out on the road we started on.  Happily that was true, but what was not so nice was the steeper downhill that aggravated my sore quads.  I felt sure the distance to the finish was less than 2 miles from here, but I decided to wait for the 'one mile to go' sign before making up my mind.  Finally I saw the sign and my watch showed 6:41:19.  I was sure that was enough time to finish under the 7 hour mark and I now could finally stop saving my energy for whatever unknowns lay ahead.  I saw two runners ahead of me and one more in front of them but didn't know if I could catch anyone.  I was able to push my pace some and gradually passed the 2 running together in the last few hundred yards.  This last mile was at about 8:30 pace.

My finish time was 6:49:53.  My finish position was 162 of 269 finishers, with 3 DNFs.  There had been 291 registered.