Sunday, September 23, 2007
A few years ago, when I was still racing triathlons, I did the Odyssey Half Iron Tri at Lake Anna, VA. It was a tough race but very well-organized, and it had the added bonus of being held concurrently with the Odyssey Double and Triple Iron Tris (yes, that's double and triple the usual Ironman distance). It was very cool to share the course with the uber extreme triathletes, and watch them go their distances like it was no big deal.
Odyssey Adventure Racing is the organizer of these events, as well as well-known adventure races such as Beast Of the East and The Endorphin Fix. A few years ago they started the only full Iron distance off road race (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run) and today it is the only race of this distance and terrain in the US (there are others in Europe). Last year they added a half marathon and marathon trail running race, and this year was the first for the 40 mile ultra distance race. The races are held at Douthat State Park near Covington, VA, and knowing that the trails at Douthat are revered by mountain bikers and runners, I signed up for the 40 mile, along will a few other VHTRC friends. I really love the 40-mile distance, as it is always a perfect days workout, usually taking me about 8 hours to finish.
Because we were running three loops of a 13.3 mile course on a trail marked for triathletes (they were on their bike leg while we were on the trail, and would start their runs in the evening), there were mile markers posted on trees. Thus it was interesting (and deflating) to see one's mile splits change from loop to loop as the sun came out and the temperatures jumped. The total elevation gain for the 40 mile was 9,282 feet of climb,and the first 7 miles of each loop were on rocky, technical trail that lead to 6 miles of awesome downhill on wonderful, runnable trail and dirt road.
The loop format was deceptively difficult for me...after the first loop, I felt great. But after the second loop, the heat was on (it was 12 noon and in the mid 80s), and my cooler in the transition area, filled with ice-cold drinks, was beckoning. I saw fellow VHTRC and Montrail teammate Bryon Powell there, and was surprised, as he is always a top finisher...but he was calling it a day after falling badly. I also heard that Jeff Wilbur (scroll down to see him at Hardrock climbing Grants Swamp Pass) was also stopping after two loops and it was tempting to join the party...but Helen Cacciapaglia and Bryon were adamant that I get back out there, so off I went for the final loop (thanks, guys!). Needless to say, it was brutal knowing what was ahead and running alone for the entire loop, but also a good exercise for me in having a positive attitude and eating and drinking sufficiently. I came across one runner who was having big problems with the heat, but Greg Loomis had given him some gels when he passed him earlier, and he was coming back after sitting on the trail for an hour because of nausea.
I was hoping to run around 7:30 given my first loop split (2:20), but the heat affected my next two splits (2:40 and 2:53), so I was thrilled to break 8 hours in the end, finishing in 7:53. At the finish line, I saw Rusty who had finished third overall in the 56-mile mountain bike race (there were 11 other endurance events held on the trails and roads of Douthat as part of this race weekend), and we celebrated finishing with Greg Loomis, my training buddy who was worried I would beat him when we ran together three weeks ago...Greg finished second overall and beat me by over 30 minutes! I ended up third overall and first woman (though there weren't many women racing...).
Ed Cacciapaglia finished the 40 as well, and Kirstin Walcott, Jay and Anita Finkle finished the Half-M. Hopefully next year we can get a larger group of VHTRC friends to join us...despite all the other events going on alongside the 40 miler, the entire scene was very low-key and friendly, and Susanna, the trail race RD, was eager to hear our feedback (for Coke and fruit at the AS, for example). The adventure racing mindset is very much a part of this event, as the time cut-off for the 40 miler was 24 hours (allowing for the triathletes to finish), the aid minimal but adequate, and the course very tough...but as a new event on the ultra calendar, I expect more folks will come out to experience the great trails at Douthat State Park and that the minimal kinks of a first-time event will get worked out. I particularly enjoyed doing my race while Rusty did his and having him hand me an ice cold cappuccino Ultragen at the finish line! YUM!
Click here for more photos of this great day in the woods.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
The VHTRC Women's Trail Half Marathon was my very first VHTRC event in 2002, and each year I look forward to coming back for a variety of reasons: for an anaerobic suffer fest "training run" for my longer ultras; for a great workout on the hilly BRR 50 course; for the camaraderie that only a race for women can provide; and to be able nurture dear friendships forged from this and other VHTRC events. The photo above shows me with wonderful volunteers Tom Corris, Gary Knipling, and Keith Knipling, who were just a few of the many folks who helped RD Margie Schlundt put on such a great race.
The 2007 edition of the race was hot, humid, and dry, thanks to weeks without rain. The trail was in good shape and despite the hot temperatures, some very fast times were run by some very fast women. In fact, I was marveling at how fast the ladies in the 40-45 age group were (this is my age group, of course). I had just read this interesting article in the New York Times about women runners getting faster as they get older, and the WHM not only confirms the author's observations about speed, but also about embracing competition: when women are given opportunities to be competitive in a supportive environment like the WHM, they can shed their inhibitions about being passionate and can find physical, emotional, and spiritual energy they never knew previously.
I was very pleased with my race this year. I was just a minute off my PR for this course from 2006 despite much hotter temps than last year and some annoying GI distress. I also appreciated the great competition from fellow VHTRCer Challen Edwards, who pushed me all morning and ended up with a huge WHM PR, over 7 minutes! It was also great to see VHTRC women Bunny Runyan and Luanne Turrentine, who are awesome race crew members at many ultras, finish strong. Yay ladies!
This is the essence of the WHM, after all: bringing women of all running abilities together who are willing to take risks, try something new, and challenge themselves and one another. I hope that the many women on the trail today who were first-time trail racers will allow their WHM experience to be a stepping stone to future adventures on (and off)the trail, and that those returning to the race were able to nurture their competitive drive, with passion and spirit!
Monday, September 3, 2007
Rusty decided last spring to enter his first 100-mile mountain biking race, the Shenandoah Mountain 100 (SM100), and I jumped at the chance to support him. He was my awesome crew at the Western States 100 in 2006 and has been a steady supporter of all my ultrarunning adventures, so this was my chance to help him, and perhaps share a bit of what I had learned in my 5 years as an ultrarunner.
The weather was absolutely perfect all weekend long...highs in the low 80s and very cool at night, in the 50s. We arrived at the Stokesville Campground on Saturday afternoon and found a perfect camping spot with a view of the southern end of Massanutten Mountain (how symbolic, as the Massanutten Mountain 100 was my first 100 miler in 2005!).
This was my first taste of the ultra mountain bike scene, and it was clear that these folks are a bit younger than us (mostly in the 20s and 30s, but there were a few hardcore 40-50 year-olds too), but just as laid back and fun as the ultrarunning crowd...in fact, they really, really like to party! This event was the final race of a national ultra mountain bike series, so "everyone" who was anyone was there (save for few who opted for the national championships out in CA this same weekend, including last year's winner and local fave, Jeremiah Bishop). However, all the elite women were there, as well as 24-hour solo champ Chris Etough and Floyd Landis, who was second at the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race a few weeks ago.
The pre-race pasta dinner was delicious as was the Old Dominion Ale (OD was a race sponsor, of course!). We sat with a group of men who were a mix of newbies and old-timers to the race, and shared race plans and listened to their sage advice. The whole scene reminded me of Promise Land 50K on steroids: a huge campground that served as the race start and finish, a huge shelter where you could get food and beer all day, and friendly volunteers and family members cheering on the racers. In fact, the SM100 race director is the "other" Chris Scott, who is a sometime ultrarunner, having run a loop of The Wild Oak Trail (TWOT) a few times with the VHTRC. Chris is the voice of the race, giving helpful pre-race directions and handing out awesome awards at the post-race party with a mellow, funny attitude...it's no wonder this event was full (over 400 riders) and that it is "must-do event" for the serious ultra mountain biker. I was very impressed with the entire organization of this event.
Speaking of TWOT...in addition to crewing for Rusty, I was going to be able to get a little training run in during the race (the race organizers discouraged crews from meeting racers at each AS due to parking constraints). My VHTRC friends Bill Gentry, Ryan Henry, and Greg Loomis had agreed to meet me at the TWOT trailhead for a fun, 26 mile loop. We were able to see the top-5 racers (including Floyd Landis) during the morning, and the top-25 bikers at the end of our run while the bikers were descending (hammering) Little Bald. We had a great day out on the trail mixing it up with the bikers, while planning new adventures and sharing stories from past races. When we finished, Bill Gentry and I went back to the campground for food and drink before heading out to the mile 88 aid station. There we saw the back-of-the-packers after their brutal, bone-jarring descent from Little Bald, before their last 12 miles to the finish.
The finish line was a huge party. Race finishers received a pint glass from Old Dominion ale as their finishers award (as well as many age group and grab bag awards). The food was yummy (they cooked 500 pounds of french fries) and the beer plentiful. The best part, of course, was watching Rusty finish his first 100-mile race in great spirits amidst cheering and celebration! Who-hoo!
View all my photos from this very fun weekend here.