Sunday, March 28, 2010

Terrapin Mountain Half Marathon and 50K: Paying It Forward

The Zealand Cousins helping me at the finish line
photos by Keith Knipling

I was really pumped for my first race of 2010, the Terrapin Mountain 50K. The weather forecast was calling for temps in the 30s at the start with a high in the fifties, bright sunshine, and I love running this course! It uses parts of my favorites trail races---Hellgate 100K and Promise Land 50K-- as well as very tough and technical sections of Terrapin Mountain. It combines sweet single track, dirt roads, old horse trails, billy goat climbs, rocky outcroppings, and slippery rocky downhills for a perfect early spring test of fitness.

But this year's race was extra special for me because my friends from Charlottesville, Hallie and Eliza, were attempting their first big trail challenges: Eliza was running the Terrapin Half-Marathon, her first mountain trail race, and Hallie was going for her first ultra finish in the 50K. We had been running off and on together all winter (weather and trail conditions permitting), planning and plotting for this event. After running a 12 miler along the AT with Eliza in November, I knew that not only would she challenge for the women's win in the Half, she would also be a contender for the overall win. She is very fast, comfortable on rocky trails and a very strong climber, three skills necessary for a podium finish in this race.

Eliza arriving at Camping Gap in first place

Hallie had her eye on Terrapin ever since finishing 27 miles of the Martha Moats Baker 50K on the trails near the White Oak Trail and Grindstone 100 courses. She, too, is an excellent climber and is a former 24-hour mountain bike racer, so she has the ultra mindset dialed in. She also had finished parts of some tough training runs---13 miles in cold rain on the SMUT course in the southern Massanuttens, 18 miles of Afton to Humpback, and 27 miles on a snowy Catawba course just three weeks before race day. Her ankle had been giving her fits leading up to race day, so she came into Terrapin with a "nothing to lose" mindset and desire to enjoy the experience and just finish.

Hallie at Martha Moats Baker last August

We arrived at the race start/finish with 30 minutes to go before the starting gun---a little stressful but enough time to hear the pre-race instructions from RD Clark Zealand, debate clothing choices (Eliza went for the boy shorts while Hallie and I sported our favorite skirts---gotta look good in the mountains!), get our nutrition ready, and pin on our numbers. Eliza was going without gels or water as she was expecting just a 2-hour-plus run, but Hallie and I were bringing handhelds of Perpetuem Cafe Latte, Clif Bloks, and gels. I greeted my VHTRC friends and high-fived David Horton, who was just two days out of meniscus surgery but in great spirits. I told him that Eliza was going to go for the overall win in the Half, and he looked doubtful. "Does she know how to run the really rocky section?" he asked, and I said, "You'll see!"

Minutes later Clark yelled "Go!" and we were off into the mountains. It was beautiful out there---the rivers and creeks were rushing and high, and views were spectacular and the trails were in excellent shape. My goal was to finish near or faster than last year's 5:43 time, but I was lacking in mountain training from the snowy weather we had all of January and February, so I had no idea how I would do---except that the weather was in my favor and I was thrilled to be racing again! I saw Eliza take off at the start and knew Hallie was behind me somewhere, so I settled in with my usual racing pals, Rick Gray and Marc Griffin, and hammered as hard as I could.

We climbed up to Camping Gap in about 52 minutes, right on last year's pace, and then took off down the other side for a 5-mile downhill on dirt road. This was a total blast and my legs felt great, and I was loving my inov-8 Flyrock 284s. They were perfect for this race with the muddy sections, technical scrambles and road sections. We ran a bit on the early parts of the Hellgate trails, climbing back up to Camping Gap AS and then headed towards a 6-mile lollipop on the Promise Land course. I was feeling a bit light-headed at this point and later realized that I was getting behind in my electrolytes and scrambled to catch up with Nuun and more salty foods. It was too little, too late because as I climbed up and down the most technical sections on Terrapin, my calves started seizing like crazy. More salt and a little self-massage later I was back in business but I had lost some time and was now just holding on for a cramp-free finish.

Coming into Camping Gap before the big climb up Terrapin, mile 22.

My finish time was 10 minutes off last year in 5:53 but I was pleased with my placing--fourth female, first master--and my rebound from the cramping episodes (at one point I was negotiating Fat Man's Misery, a tight slippery crevice that rivals Old Rag's rocky obstacle course, and I was cramping so badly I thought I would be stuck in there forever). The cool weather was deceptive--while talking later on the phone to Bill Potts as he was crewing our friend Bill Gentry at Umstead 100, he reminded me that the dry air made it feel like I wasn't sweating but in fact I was, probably more than normal given that it was the first hard effort of the year. I should have alternated Nuun and Perp bottles and taken in more salt early on---another lesson in nutrition, and a good one at that.

Rebekah, me, and Jenny
photo by Keith Knipling

As soon as I finished, Jenny Anderson and Rebekah Trittipoe came up to me to tell me that Eliza had been in the overall lead in the Half before getting passed on the last technical section by local favorite son, Jared Hesse. The word out on the trail was that there was a freakingly fast woman in boy shorts who beat everyone to the top of Camping Gap--my fast VHTRC 50K friends Keith Knipling and Bobby Gill told me later that they were relieved when they saw she wasn't carrying a bottle, as it was the clue that she was in the Half and not a threat to their race. Hilarious! Eliza went home after finishing (she is a mother of three young daughters), but I was thrilled that she had such a great day and was the "talk of the race!"

Hallie ended up have an equally awesome run, finishing her first ultra in 6:47 feeling good and loving the trail. Her ankle held up and unlike me, she had no cramping issues at all. Awesome!

The post race party was low key with yummy BBQ and a great reunion of my VHTRC friends. It was very gratifying to see so many people come into the finish with big smiles, and I was particularly thrilled that Hallie and Eliza had such positive and fun experiences out there. I remember vividly my first ultra finish at Holiday Lake 50K back in 2002, and the excitement in David's voice when I came across the finish line. "Sophie Speidel, finishing her first ultra!" he yelled. I cried. What a feeling it was to finish the first one. And, when I looked at the smile on Hallie's face as she crossed the Terrapin finish line, I knew exactly how she felt.

Congratulations Eliza and Hallie!!

VHTRC friends at the Terrapin finish line

Half Marathon Results are here.

50K results are here.

UPDATE: Bill Gentry finished his 10th Umstead 100 in 25 hours and some. Woooo-hooo!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Training

It's finally spring here in Virginia. This past week saw cloudless days and temps in the 60s, and dry dirt trails where there was once two feet of snow. YAY! I am celebrating the beautiful weather and LIFE in the pic above!

My harbinger of spring is the annual pilgrimmage to the mountains west of the Roanoke area, where a group of trail-loving friends meet to run and re-connect with a 35+ mile kickass training run. This was my very first "mountain adventure run" back in 2004 and finishing it ranks right up there with my first 100 finish in terms of thrill and emotion. Back then, I had no idea what I was doing in terms of training, nutrition, gear...all I knew was that I had loved my first 50K (Holiday Lake in 2002) and wanted more of the same. It was also during this weekend in 2004 that I first met many of my good VHTRC friends and we have come together each year since to celebrate the arrival of spring and one another's company.

This year I brought along my gal pal Hallie, who has caught the ultra bug and was totally game for this adventure. We have been training all winter for the Terrapin Mountain 50K in a few weeks, but Hallie was more concerned about our little valley run (and, dare I say it, she should have been!). We took it easy and ran as much as the conditions would allow---the trails were generally clear and dry but we had 8+ inches of the white stuff in the higher places-- but the day was glorious and we had a wonderful time. After nine hours, 26+ miles and about 7,000 feet of climb, we called it a day and headed back with the other "losers" to the post-run and a cold beverage. Hallie was bummed she didn't finish the entire 35, but she hung right in there with some fast runners and she will be just fine at Terrapin!

One of the joys of this run--and ultras in general-- is cheering for others as they come into the finish and and sharing in their pain and joy. This run attracts a very tough group of runners. This year we had a two-time Badwater finisher, a Grand Slammer, multiple MMT and WS finishers, a Hellgate 100K winner, a Grindstone 100 winner, and a former AT and PTC record holder. Yikes! On paper that would totally intimidate me if I was a newbie. In addition, four of the runners were training for WS--including my buddy Bill Potts--a few others for MMT, and this was the first "real" training run of the spring for all of us since Snowmageddon descended in December. As a result, we were all toasted at the end given the snow and lack of training. But as always it was a great spring training boot camp and test of fitness!

This past week was my spring break, so after a day off on Monday, I took advantage of some extra free time to train and was able to put in a 60+ mile week. Despite the snow and ice, I have been able to stay in the 60+ mpw range for the month of February by running long runs with the spring marathon training group on the dirt roads west of town, running long hill repeats up O-Hill with Bill, and cranking out a few suffer-fest ladders on the track. A few more weeks of quality and then it's time to taper for Terrapin and our girl's road trip. I am looking forward to my first race since Hellgate and seeing Clark and all my ultra buddies, and hopefully by race day all the snow will be gone up on the ridge!

Happy Spring and happy spring training!