Sunday, March 29, 2009

Terrapin Mountain 50K

There is nothing I love more than discovering new trails, especially sweet singletrack with gorgeous mountain views. In October I had the pleasure of running on fabulously tough new (for me) trails around the Wild Oak Trail area as part of the Grindstone 100, and yesterday I ran the awesome trail network around Terrapin Mountain, which lies west of Bedford, VA in Sedalia.

RD Clark Zealand resurrected the old Terrapin Half Marathon last year and added a "marathon" which really was more like 50K, so in 2009 he created a new course and made it an official 50K, 31.1 miles with over 7500 feet of climb and descent. The start/finish took place at the Sedalia Center at the base of Terrapin Mountain, and it was a perfect venue with lots of room for camping and the post-race party. Start time was a convenient 7:00am, which meant I could catch my son's lacrosse game Friday night and sleep in my own bed, and drive the 1.5 hours to the start in the morning.

The half-marathon attracted a number of newcomers to trail running and racing---and they sure picked a tough race! The 50K and half-m runners shared the same course, but at mile 5 the 50K ers went on a 17-mile detour away from Terrapin Mountain while the half-m runners headed back to the finish. After climbing up to Camping Gap (AS 3 of the Hellgate 100K), we descended 5 miles straight down before hooking up with the Glenwood Horse Trail and a section of the Hellgate 100K course. I enjoyed seeing this section in the daylight, as I typically run it around 2:00 am in that race! Temps were in the 50s and there was a light fog everywhere---I thought about the runners I know from Oregon and how these conditions were typical for them---perfect for running!

We climbed back up to Camping Gap and continued on the Glenwood Horse Trail before entering a lovely loop section that shares a part of the Promise Land 50K course. This was really fun---runnable climbs and rolling downs in the woods before popping out on the horse trail again and heading back to Camping Gap. In this section we could see other runners and everyone was yelling support to one another--"looking great" and "way to go", etc. Just the positive support we needed before the steep climb up to Terrapin Rocks, an outcropping with incredible views (but not today---too foggy). We punched our number to prove we were there, and then started the descent to Fat Man's Misery, a tight squeeze of rock that rivals those on Old Rag. Another number punch here, and then it was time for the fast, steep, technical downhill to the last AS.

Up to this point in the race, everything had been runnable but now we had a quad busting descent to rocky river bed trail to the AS---yuk! Thankfully this didn't last long, and after the AS we were treated to the best trail of the day: gorgeous singletrack that wound around the side of Terrapin Mountain on the right with beautiful views of farms, lakes and the valley to our left. Since it was all a net downhill, one could really crank up the pace before popping out on the last 2 miles to the finish---and I did! I felt terrific---never a bonk-y moment thanks to regular helpings of Clif Bloks and Nuun. I was very pleased with my time (5:43) given the amount of climb, and feel very ready for Bull Run 50 in three weeks!

Overall, I would give Terrapin 50K an "A" for trail beauty and toughness, great volunteers, nice schwag (Patagucci singlet for the women---a nice change from the ubiquitous T shirt), and post-run fellowship. It was a blast to visit familiar trails from other races and to discover the beauty of Terrapin Mountain in a challenging 50K.

Live webcast results are here.

Race blog is here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Catawba Run-Around 2009

Yesterday I celebrated the arrival of spring (and the first day of spring break) with the Catawba Run Around, an informal "non-event" gathering of ultrarunning friends. This was my fifth CRA; in 2004, I ventured down to this little mountain valley west of Roanoke as an ultra newbie, knowing virtually no one in the VHTRC and certainly clueless about "adventure training runs" in the mountains. 35 miles and 8,800 feet of climb later, I emerged a changed ultrarunner: I had gained more confidence and more appreciation for the incredible natural beauty that awaited me in the sport. Most importantly, I made some dear friends in the process and officially became an active member of the VHTRC.

The CRA uses some of the most scenic trails in Virginia: an older, now-retired section of the Appalachian Trail known simply to us as "North Mountain" as well as other trails that encircle the Catawba Valley. Because it's not an "event", it's not directed by "anyone", but runners somehow get excellent aid at three different locations and a Patagonia shirt at the finish! The CRA ranks right up there with many well-known ultras in terms of organization, schwag, trail beauty, toughness, and fellowship. It is the essence of the sport.

The best part of the CRA for me? Besides the gorgeous views, fantastic trail, and outstanding support, the best part of the day is always watching the others finish while eating and drinking and resting my sore legs! And did I mention the 8,800 feet of climb in 35 miles? It's a 35 miler that runs like a 50. My best time was in 2008, when I ran 9:13 in the easier, counter clockwise direction. This year, we ran it in the harder clockwise direction on the first hot day of the year (temps were in the mid-70s) and I ran 9:24. Not too shabby for an old lady in the heat.

Here are some of my favorite pics below:

The Green Team of Michele Harmon, me and Jill Quivey at the start

David Horton gets pumped for another CRA (he ran the loop the day before, so this is day 2 of his CRA double)

The group at the start

Sunrise hits North Mountain, a 12-mile stretch without aid that takes about 3 hours to complete

Front runners Aaron Schwartzbard, Mike Mason, and Clark Zealand (who set a CRA record of 6:50) pose for the camera while descending Dragon's Tooth

23 miles later, a view of where I had come from--North Mountain-- from Tinker Cliffs

Rebecca Byerly, Bobby Gill and me on top of McAfee's Knob, 10 miles from the finish

9+ hours later, I am treated to this view of the the final mile to the finish and of Dragon's Tooth, the first big climb of the day!

The icing on the CRA cake: Dinner and fellowship at the Homeplace. All you can eat fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn...mmmmmmm.

See the rest of my CRA photos here.

See Charlie Miracle's awesome CRA photos here.