Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (several reports in one):
Going into the race I had a naive goal of finishing under 10 hours and I knew
I could make top 10 women if I could get down to around 9:30. About 22 miles in
I realized how unrealistic that was, and actually pretty disrespectful to the
amazing women that do run those times.
The day began at 3:45am and we loaded the buses at 4:45am. It is a point to
point race so you get bused to the mountains (about an hour trip) and then get a
bus ride back to the host hotel (another hour trip after the race). I felt
really nervous but ready. It felt really cold at the start, probably around 30
degrees. I opted to wear all my warm weather gear, and I actually kept it on the
whole day due to so many microclimates on the mountain. I started the race with
my toes completely numb and it took 3 miles to get feeling back.
Miles 0-6: The race began promptly at 6:30am, on the Blue Ridge parkway and
then SR 501. Tried to keep it really slow, because I knew I would need every
ounce of muscle later in the race. Hovered around 9 min miles, which given the
upcoming terrain was probably a bit fast. Ran with a guy for the first 6 miles
who had been accepted into Badwater (if you don’t know about this race look it
up) which is pretty much the ultimate ultra marathon. He was a badass. The time
flew as we chatted.
Miles 6-16: We entered the old Appalachian Trail at mile 6, and from here on
our we would be on trails, until the last mile of the race. Met a great girl Jen
around mile 7 and we ended up staying together till around mile 32 or so. This
amazing chic had just run Marine Corps 6 days prior and qualified for Boston!
The time FLEW by during this section. We walked the steep uphills and kept a
great pace on the flats. There were several creek crossings so by mile 10 our
feet were completely soaked. We were feeling really great and happy to have
found each other.
Miles 14-22: Most of the time during the stretch we were running sub 8:30s,
there were a lot of gradual downhills and flats, with a few climbs mixed in.
Jen’s initial goal was also to run sub 10 hours with the hope of top 10, so our
little egos were feeling really good during these miles, we were passing men
left and right and were feeling really strong. We even passed Andy Thompson who
held the fastest completion of the Appalachian Trail until this past summer,
with a record of 47 days. We should have realized that passing him meant we were
running a wee bit fast!
Miles 22-27: The reality of the race set in. There is a 3,000 foot climb that
starts around mile 21 and lasts till about mile 30. It was a beast. We walked a
lot, everyone was doing the same. We tried running the climbs that weren’t too
challenging but we were afraid to tax the legs too hard because we had no idea
what lie ahead, and we weren’t even halfway. Around mile 25 I knew our goal was
ridiculous and at that point I was worried that we would be able to finish
within the 12 hour cutoff.
SIDENOTE, AID STATIONS: There were aid stations every 2-5 miles and were
always a welcomed site. They were stocked with the standard ultra fare,
pb&j, chips, pretzels, cookies, m&ms, soda, water, nuun, etc. and my
menu choice of the day baked potato pieces that you could dip in salt. When you
are running all day you must continually eat. You can’t eat a lot at once so
every aid station I stopped and got a few things, filling up on fluids when I
needed them. I opted for carrying my 4 10z bottle Nathan belt which I had
stocked with Heed and Perpetuum, both Hammer products. Best decision I made, it
kept my stomach happy and the caffeine in the Perpetuum that I had on the second
half gave me the occasional burst. Jade, wife of my Daily Mile friend Jim who
ran MMTR, was at a few stations and cheered me on, this was so so helpful!
Miles 27-32: The halfway point was where the buses stopped and had our drop
bags that we could access to get restocked for the 2nd half of the race. By this
point I was really struggling mentally, the idea of having to do that distance
again over the same terrain was daunting. Little did I know that the 2nd half
was MUCH harder than the first. Had I know what lie ahead I might have dropped.
My sciatic was hurting since mile 4 but I tried not to think about it and by
this time everything hurt so bad that I didn’t even focus on that pain. As I was
collecting my things for the second half I saw Tyler taking pictures of me out
of the corner of my eye. I think I said “What the hell are you doing here”. He
had dropped out of the race at the 1/2 way point. He was experiencing severe leg
and back cramps and decided it wasn’t worth it to try and walk the whole second
half, given that he was unable to run at this point. Seeing him made me so
tempted to quit and take the bus back with him to the finish, it would have been
so easy. But, I didn’t travel 14 hours to quit just cause I was tired. I wasn’t
injured, there was no option, I had to press on. I came to the 1/2 way point
around 5:15, if you would have told me that I would run an exact even split for
the second half I would have laughed in your face. Jen and I left the aid
station together and continued up the 3,000 ft climb. It was brutal. I got a
surge around the 50k mark and took it, you never know when they will come. It
lasted a mile or so but it felt good run run somewhat normal again.
Mile 32-38: This was the hell that is called The Loop. I lost Jen as we
exited the aid station entering the loop, she stopped for a bit and talked with
her fiance but I had to keep moving. I knew at that point my body needed to keep
moving. The climb heading into the loop was a beast. It was about a mile long
and SO steep. I wish I had hiking poles at this point. After the first climb it
was just an up and down battle. There was a bit of snow in the loop, just a bit,
but it made me chuckle. This was nuts! The second half of the loop was pretty
technical, I realized what our bus driver meant when he said “beware of the
leaves”. A lot of fallen leaves on the rocky ground makes it really hard to find
stable footing, because they create a false ground. There was so much walking in
the loop I began to get really worried that I would not make the cutoff.
Mile 38-47: Leaving The Loop was a great feeling, it’s a mental beating.
Coming out of the loop there was a very runnable section of gravel road. My legs
were so tired all I could do was the old lady shuffle but it was good enough to
pass a good number of folks. One of things that worked for me in this race was
forcing myself to run when it was runnable. I know that sounds obvious but you
get so depleted all you want to do is walk to give yourself a break. I knew I
would have plenty of inclines that I would have to walk, so I forced myself to
pick it up when I could. Some of these miles were a blur. One guy who I came
upon said we were just picking away at the distance at this point and that it
all would blur together. He was so right. During this stretch I passed a lot of
men. There was one section where we were on single track and I had to use tree
trunks to help me up, it was so steep and the leaf litter made it so slippery.
During this section, which was around 43, I just wanted to sit down and cry it
was so tough. We got to the top of that climb and I stopped for a second to
enjoy the view through the trees. It was truly a beautiful, clear day and some
of the scenery, if you could get out of your misery and raise your head, what
breathtaking. There was one spot early in the race where it looked fake it was
so beautiful, you could see a panoramic view of the mountains which were painted
in fall colors.
Mile 47-54: I was doing pretty well by this point. Everything hurt but
knowing you are within single digits of a 50+ race puts some pep in your step
for sure. I got to the last aid station and was told that there was 3.8 miles
left. I didn’t believe them because there is a fake race distance of 50 miles
and a real race distance of 54. The man promised me that it was a real 3.8
miles. By that time my Garmin had lost all credibility because of the woods
(tradeoff you get with a 5 year old Garmin, battery lasts forever, but the
accuracy not so great!) so I wouldn’t have been able to tell was 3.8 miles was
anyway. This aid station had hot tomato soup so I took a cup and moved on. I
came to the last station at 9:59 and finished in 10:36, 37 minutes to do 3.8
miles at the end of this journey felt fantastic. I felt like, while it was hard,
I was actually running. Normally that would have been a crawling pace in
training, but at this point I felt like a gazelle! The last section was pretty
much flat or downhill but very rocky with lots of leaves, but the downhill was
so nice for me. The road came just after the 1 mile mark and hitting the road
made me realized how much my feet hurt.
FINISH: Seeing the finish line was so amazing I’m surprised I didn’t cry. It
felt so good to run it in and get a handshake from the race director. Tyler was
there and was cheering very loudly. I was so proud of myself in that moment, it
was unbelievable that I “ran” (more like shuffled and hiked) an even 1st and
second half! I pushed myself to places I have never been and it was the most
challenging day of my life. I knew I didn’t have the option of quitting, if I
didn’t make the cutoff I had to go out trying. I made the cutoff by 1:24 and
finished 18th woman. I believe now that unless you train in the mountains you
cannot expect sub-10 hour finish, there is no way. Given that, a 10:36 was very
respectable. I ran with some amazing men towards the end, one guy who was doing
MMTR for the first time and had run a 50 miler two weeks before (does this stuff
all the time apparently) and finished in just over 7 hours! He was shocked how
difficult this race was, I ended up leaving him way behind me, which lifted my
Albert and Mary finished as well, and I am so proud of them. Mary had bad
plantar going into the race but still rocked it. Albert came through and then
headed right to the bench press where he won the Ironhorse award, he cranked out
31 reps of 135 lbs after 54 miles!!
Things I learned:
1) Nutrition is half the battle, without proper nutrition, hydration, and
supplementation you will have no chance. Hammer products are a gift from heaven.
2) Don’t stop moving, I never stopped for more than 30 seconds at an aid
3) Talk to others, companionship is priceless.
4) Run when you can and walk with purpose. The sections that were super steep
I pumped my arms like I was running the damn thing.
5) Look around. It was so easy to get into your own personal hell that you
miss the beauty around you, I was very guilty of this.