Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Good Times At The Sufferfest

I ran the VHTRC Women's Trail Half Marathon for the first time in 2002. I knew absolutely no one. I drove up from Charlottesville in the dark, after having found information on the race just a few months earlier thanks to the pull-out (paper) Trail Runner Magazine race calendar. The course was actually over 13 miles and a bit harder in those days. I won my 35-39 age group in 2:12:46, and absolutely loved everything about it ---the low-key vibe (I was coming off triathlons...), the friendly shouts of support between the runners on out and back sections, the great aid stations, the fun awards ceremony, and most especially, the inflatable water wings that I was given at the last aid station to wear for a prize (a gift cert for Montrail trail shoes). I immediately went home to learn more about this crazy, fun-loving group of runners via the club website. I was hooked -- on trail running, and on the VHTRC.

Just a few of the Charlottesville and Crozet gang before the start

 Fast forward 13 years: Thanks to the support and friendships gleaned from the VHTRC, I've run a few ultras, and have a few more WHMs under my belt. I was very excited that this year, 17 women from our little running mecca of Charlottesville/Albemarle were coming up for the fun, most of whom were new to trail running. They were headed to the right race: the WHM was created by Chris Scott in 1998 with the support of the VHTRC to encourage more women to run trails. It has a welcoming atmosphere for women of all fitness levels and experiences who are eager to try a longer distance or different terrain without the intimidation factor that can come with larger, coed races. I've often been asked by some of my male friends why women-only races are necessary, and I tell them that the WHM and the Charlottesville Women's Four Miler are excellent examples of events that encourage women and girls of all fitness levels to run a race where the emphasis is on participation and support instead of hardcore racing and splits (but let's be clear, the WHM has its share of hardcore racers...I am one!). At a time when women  are still in the minority in trail and ultra races, an all-women's trail race in 2015 is still as important for encouraging new female trail runners as it was in 1998.

This year I came into the race feeling healthy, fit, and ready for the heat after a solid training block for the Bighorn 50, and more recently for the Mountain Masochist 50. In past years, the heat and humidity have had their way with me, and my times on the newer 12+ mile course have fluctuated between 1:56:45 in 2006 to 2:01:34 in 2012. I was hoping to break 2:00 this year, and was confident that the weeks of hill repeats and tempo runs, combined with long miles with the Dirty Mothers had set me up nicely for a faster time.

Crozet Running team mates and pals Michelle Andersen, Annie Stanley and Becca Weast before the start (pic by Aaron)

I even wore (ironically) the trucker hat that Gary Knipling had given me at Western States this past June. If the trucker couldn't get me swift times on this very Left Coast type of trail, then nothing would! We lined up for the start and traditional pre-race serenade of "Happy Trails to You" by the VHTRC Men's Chorus, a few tips from super RD Tracy Dahl (herself a road-to-trails convert after meeting hubby Keith Knipling), and then we were off for the "sufferfest," as I fondly call the race. Woop!

I asked photographer Aaron Schwartzbard if he thought I could break 2:00 from here. He said, "Ummm...yeah!"
 The trail is very fast and runnable, with a few short, steep climbs in the first 7 miles and longer grinding climbs in the last 4. Annie went ahead and Becca settled right behind me, and we made good time through the Do Loop with the rest of the top-10 women. I passed two women in the Do Loop ---channeling my weekly Man Maker hill repeats-- and then another in the last few miles. I came into the aid station at Fountainhead with about 1:00 elapsed and headed out for the last 4 miles on a mission. This section is where the runners can see one another on the out and back, and it also has Team Gaylord's fabulous aid station with a Mexican theme (and special Mexican Fun 'Punch"). Despite getting heckled for not stopping to taste the punch, I made good time back to the finish and hoped a sub-2:00 was in the bag by the last mile to go. It was only in the final 100 yards when I realized I would also get a PR, and when I saw the clock at the finish, I was ecstatic to see a time of 1:55:34!

It was a great day for everyone. Annie finished her first WHM on the podium with a third place 1:50, and Becca was right behind me for a PR of 1:57. Michelle ran a 20-minute PR of 2:06, and we had a blast cheering on all the other ladies as they finished. Heather Clark, a road runner and relative newcomer to the trails from Crozet, summed up the day perfectly with her Facebook post of the top-10 things she loved about the WHM (yep...laughing about #8!):

1. Packet pickup was a manner of minutes
2. Potty line - ummm none
3. Pre-race serenade
4. Shaded course with beautiful views
5. Hiking with purpose is encouraged
6. Cheers from everyone on the course
7. Sharing fuel / water with runners struggling
8. Hanging out with Elite Runners - Annie, Sophie and Michelle
9. Being with an incredible group of "Dirty" women
10. Smoothies - enough said

Are women's-only races still relevant? After reading this and talking to our friends after the race, I offer a resounding YES. Nothing beats being able to shed our other roles of wife, partner, and/or mother for a run in the woods with like-minded women and friends cheering us on from both sides of the trail, and to experience that feeling of satisfaction upon completing a goal that months ago seemed out of reach. Of course coed races offer a similar experience, but the vibe is different. And, if a women's-only race increases the numbers of women running on trails and roads, that's enough for me!

Thank you Chris Scott, the leadership of the VHTRC, and all the previous WHM race directors for your vision and for nurturing this event for the past 23 years, and especially to RD Tracy Dahl and this year's amazing volunteers for making the WHM a classic VHTRC event. Club members of all generations and genders were marking trail, manning aid stations, taking photos, recording results, making smoothies and cheering runners: the very best of what makes the VHTRC so special.

Super RD Tracy Dahl awards Michelle Andersen her age group prize: homemade granola

 Long live the VHTRC Women's Trail Half Marathon!

 2015 Results, Photos and more are here .

1 comment:

ultrarunnergirl said...

Love the newbie list. You're a rock star, Sophie!