The course has about the same elevation change as Terrapin Mtn 50k which I did in 5 weeks earlier, but it seems to have one less big climb, meaning the climbs are longer and or steeper.It also has some extra miles compared to TM; it is generally reported to be 34 miles.In order to know what was coming next I taped a couple of things to my water bottle.One was a chart of the distances to the aid stations including arrows to indicate uphill or down.The other was the elevation profile with my own estimate of aid station locations.
It was an early race start at 5:30 am and unfortunately I only had half of my bathroom visits completed.This would nag me off and on for the first half of the race.Maybe I ate too much pizza the night before?After announcements and a prayer we were given the start signal.We were off in the dark; an uphill start with pavement soon turning to unpaved service road that grows increasingly steeper.More than half of runners wore headlamps at the start; I had a small handheld light.When I heard the nearby gps watches signaling the first mile, I checked my watch - about 12:30 pace.Before long the road was so steep that running was less effective than hiking.
At about 2.6 miles there was an aid station before the course turns off onto a horse trail.My fuel plan for the day was to eat and drink at aid stations to supplement the GU brand gel I would eat every 30 minutes.I wore a bottle belt for my 28 ounce bottle of water that I would refill at every station.I also had some fast food salt packets and took one at 2 hours, 4 hours, 5.5 and 7 hours.The trail was rocky for a while then became more and more grassy.There were some short runnable sections but it was still mainly hiking terrain, until a little beyond the 5 mile mark where the course turned downhill.For a while it seemed to me like we were an Indian tribe moving silently through the woods in single file under orders to avoid talking.Once the trail turned downhill, conversations broke out.Maybe the uphill effort had been restricting our talk?I chatted a little with Helen whose artwork became the design for the race t-shirt.And I met Gary who seemed to greet everyone and ask their name as if we were visitors to his home trails.
After about 20 more minutes the course again turned uphill. The sun rose over the mountain top ahead. This was part of the Hellgate 100k course and came out to a service road at aid station 2.The trail turned back for 100 yards or so and then branched uphill more steeply.The next couple miles were familiar to me from the Terrapin Mountain 50k last month.While hiking this section I fell in step with a fellow also doing the LUS races.We talked about what he knew of the course ahead.We passed couple of college age girls who were sharing the same hydration pack, taking turns carrying it.It turned out they are sisters.
This section crossed the high point of the course almost 3000 feet above the starting elevation. Along here I ran with another guy and chatted about how hard to understand ultrarunning is for those who are not this kind of crazy.Near the top we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and descended a service road to the Sunset Fields aid station.There was a nice view here worthy of a photo, which I snapped before heading down the steeper downhill trail.This single track section was rocky/rooty and I passed a few people through here.But the downhill was forcing the toes of my left foot into the front of my shoe, so I stopped to change the top lacing.This allowed those people to pass me.Once back on the move I was able to re-pass them.Near the end of this trail section we followed a nice tumbling stream.Eventually we had to wade through at nearly knee depth.And soon we came to the Cornelius Creek aid station – at about the halfway mark.
Along the one mile or so of paved road after this aid station another runner remarked how the course mileage didn’t match his gps watch.It showed over 18 miles while the advertised distance was 16.I mentioned the “Horton miles” concept of getting more distance than described.There were lots of nice flowering trees and a stream along the road.I was enjoying those while also looking for a suitable location for the potty stop I would have to make soon.I needed one of those bury-your-business stops for the first time in any race I’ve been in.I found a spot about 20 yards off the road and used up at least 5 minutes taking care of business.The name of the next aid station is Colon Hollow.Hmm.
Soon the course left the road to enter the Whitetail Trail which is a nice mostly rolling single track section.I was able to catch and pass a few runners along here and I also took a few photos when the springtime growth struck my fancy.This section became more steadily uphill until the aid station.Leaving this station the course followed a grassy forest road – uphill first then rather flat and then somewhat downhill to aid station 6 at Cornelius Creek.
The next section includes the toughest climb of the course and the nicest scenery.It features Apple Orchard Falls trail.The incline was not so steep to start, but soon enough was a hike-only section with some parts requiring reaching out my hand to help with climbing.I took a lot of photos of flowers, waterfalls, etc. since I was mostly walking.I also stepped off the trail twice to splash water from the stream onto my face and head.I tasted a lot of salt when rinsing my face. I passed a few people early on and then was passed by a lady who I then managed to stick with from the middle to the top of this steep, steep climb.It seems the hard work goes better with company.The consolation of climbing more than 2500 feet in less than 3 miles is the promise of nothing but downhill after the next aid station.This would be the second visit to the Sunset Fields station along the Parkway.
Once more I refueled and refilled and although feeling somewhat depleted from the climb, I was able to resume running.Several people who arrived at this station ahead of me were still there when I left.The course again crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and then followed a wide grassy road or trail downhill.And then it turned uphill for about a half mile.That was disappointing.Once the downhill resumed I heard voices behind me and eventually realized it was the sisters sharing the same hydration pack.They caught up to me just before the downhill trail became steeper.Gradually I moved away from them since downhill running seems to be my stronger point.At some point I realized there had been no course markings for a while and this concerned me even though I could remember no trail intersections.I continued for several minutes worrying that I was off course but soon saw a runner ahead of me.I quickly caught up and confirmed with him that this was the correct route. It would have been unhappy news if I needed to climb back uphill to find the course.
And soon after this I came out onto the road at the final aid station.Now only 2.7 steep downhill miles remained.An aid station worker said “only 2 miles, you’ve got this.”My answer was “it’s not for sure until you cross the finish line.”But I felt sure I could manage a sub 9 minute pace on the downhill and a finish time under 8 hours seemed safe.The steepness of the road was tough and there was loose gravel, but not much that seemed to threaten rolling an ankle.About half to the finish 3 runners passed me.I remembered each of them from different parts of the race.I considered whether I had the reserves to keep up with each one as they passed and decided it was too soon to use everything available.At the “1 mile to go” line on the road my watch showed 7:41 and some seconds.Soon I passed a man who had passed me.I consciously pushed my pace for a strong finish.The next person ahead of me was a young lady who was something like 100 yards ahead.The gap shrank to about 50 yards as I reached the pavement on the last quarter mile or so.That was as close as it got.We each took the turn into Promise Land Camp and then crossed the finish line.I heard my name announced as I approached the line and race director David Horton was there under the race banner to congratulate me as he does for each finisher.Finish time was 7:49:27.
So Heartbreak Hill is feared? Look at these hills in comparison.