Saturday, March 31, 2012

Terrapin Mountain 50K Report

C and I drove north to Central Virginia for the Terrapin Mountain 50K under sunny blue skies, but the forecast called for rain all day Saturday. We arrived at the Sedalia School, the start and finish of the race, with plenty of time to check in, and set up the tent. We hung out in the pavilion, eating pizza and chatting with race director Clark Zealand, and ultra-patriarch David Horton.

Chatting with David Horton after the race. 
It’s always a treat to get to talk to Clark Zealand and David Horton, two people I respect very much for what they do for running. Horton’s accomplishments are vast, with long-trail records on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, and a whole pile of wins in 160 ultras. Clark is the next generation of ultra-runners; he too has a mess of wins and course records, and directs tough and very popular races, as does Horton.   
It rained all night long, and was still raining steadily when the gong sounded to start the race (I love the gong). I concentrated on staying slow and easy. I hoped to hit the aid station under last year’s time of 50 minutes. By my watch, we hit it at 51:30. Not to worry, I thought. I felt good, maybe last year’s race was just perfect, the rain will slow us down. 
I thought maybe I’d make the time up on the long road down to the next aid station at 9 1/2 miles or so. Last year I averaged under 7 minute pace; surely I was more fit this year. I hit the next aid station in 1:31, 4 minutes off last year’s time. As we started the climb back up I felt a little heavy-legged. It's okay to be slower, I told myself.
At the spot where the course turns onto tough single track to cross back over towards Terrapin Mountain, I got a little burst of energy. The trail passes through a couple of draws as it climbs and drops and traverses the ridgelines. Everything was wet, and green, and sloppy. I was having a blast. 
With Rick Gray at the finish.
Reason #2 to run ultras: great people.
We passed through the aid station where the trail hits the road again, and we started the long climb back up to Camping Gap. Last year, Rick Gray led a group of four or five of us up that climb, calling out spots to run to. This year I felt compelled to do the same for the group I was in. We’d run to the next ribbon, or the big tree, or the corner. Often we’d go beyond, but the exercise kept us moving reasonably quickly up the hill while still saving energy for the rest of the run. As luck would have it, we came across Rick Gray taking a, well, pit stop on the side of the road. He joined us, and by the time we got to the top, everyone in the group had made the call where to run at least once. I decided that my goal was to decide when to run and when to walk all day rather than succumbing to fatigue and being forced to walk.
I was starting to feel better, and was only a minute down from last year’s time at the Camping Gap aid station at about 17 miles. I started off on the White Oak Ridge loop. The climb I thought would be hard passed without notice, and I found myself back at Camping Gap, now right on my last year’s time. I ate several cantaloupe chunks that went down well, chatted with the guy in the skirt again (the third time through Camping Gap), and set off with a guy from Pennsylvania up Terrapin Mountain.
This climb is tough, winding steeply through rhododendron and rock, and the black soil was muddy and soft. Again, I loved it. I had been looking forward to it since the descent from White Oak Ridge was long and fast. I yearned to walk up steep climbs for a break. At the top you turn right to Terrapin lookout and the second punch. The views into the valley were non-existent, though, and I settled for the cool cloud we were out in. We turned around and headed back toward Fat Man’s Misery, another feature I had looked forward to.
This was Terrapin Mountain 
from the start/finish area.
The guy from Pennsylvania and I were running well together, making our way down through similar terrain as the climb up, though not as steep. Fat Man’s Misery passed with much whooping on my part. I’m guessing it’s the very claustrophobia that woke me up last year in a sweat that makes it so thrilling. I came out, punched my number (even though they never check...) and started into what I remembered as the steep and rocky downhill.
It was, and again I felt pretty nimble for having run over 23 miles by that point. At the last aid station at Terrapin Mountain Lane, I was 5 minutes up on last year’s time. According to the splits, I ran that section 6 minutes faster than last year. 
The last section went off mostly like last year, too, where I passed three people. This year there were more folks in front of me, and I was a little more deliberate about trying to pass them. I hit the last creek crossing, the deepest one, at 5:31 with a guy who introduced himself as the Angry Leprechaun and his friend Richard, who we passed just before the creek. I said we had 19 minutes to run the last 1 1/2 miles to be under my last year’s time. 
The Angry Leprechaun and I set off down the road at a pretty good clip. He looked at his wrist and said we were running 7:07 pace, so he figured I was in pretty good shape.
Seriously, I’m running 7:07 pace 30 miles into this beast of a race? I felt pretty whooped, but continued to roll to the finish, the pace no doubt slowing some as the road flattened. I still felt like I was running as fast as I could.
Nothing pleased me more the whole day than having C at the finish to watch. I had thought all day of seeing her, thinking she might surprise me at any of the aid stations. The thought kept me moving to the next one, and the next possibility of seeing her. At the finish she ran with me the last hundred yards or so. I’m the winner.
Nap time!
I crossed the line in 5:45:06, five minutes faster than last year, and my fastest 50K time on any course. lark announced my name (like he did everyone else’s) as I crossed the line. I shook hands with him and with Horton, chatted a few minutes, ate a little, drank a little. Then I went back to the tent and took a nap, again, just like last year. 

Christy and I had plans to stay Saturday night in Roanoke, which turned out to be just what I needed. I napped a little more in the room, and we walked downtown to eat dinner. I was asleep by 9. 

Chatting with my old friend 
Sean Andrish before the race started.
Red Number 11! For those of you who are squirming,
it didn't hurt at all until I got in the shower.

The Hotel Roanoke was a welcome sight.

Even in the pouring rain on a Sunday 
morning, Roanoke has a cool downtown.
An entrance to the City Market. There are
different mosaics at each entrance.
Christy took almost all of the pictures.

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