"Now let's see what I can do to salvage this race!"
That was my comment to the unbelievably awesome volunteers at the mile 23 Aid Station after they miraculously found three AA batteries for my dead headlamp. Before stumbling into their oasis, I had spent the previous 10 miles fumbling, tripping, and slipping through some of the nastiest single track trail I've ever seen. Then again, since my headlamp died and my emergency light did nothing more than make the fog even tougher to see through, I can honestly say I have seen worse trail, but that's only because I didn't actually see this one at all. I can't read braille w/ my feet, but I'm pretty sure the rocks and roots of this trail were spelling out: "Hey Dan, Why don't you take up a nice safe hobby like knitting?"
In those ten miserable miles, I fell more times than I can count, had my shoes sucked off my feet in mud fields about 4 or 5 times, and, most dishearteningly, was passed by a ton of runners (w/ working lights) who all seemed to be running through this nasty terrain like it was a flat road. I should also mention it was about 1 a.m. and raining at this point as well. Needless to say, I've been happier. ...but let's rewind and get the full story.
I made the 4+ hour drive out to Beverly, West Virginia on Friday afternoon knowing the forecast for that evening's race was not looking pretty. Further reinforcing that feeling was this sight as I neared the Cheat Mountain area:
Yes indeedy, there's nothing like the sight of your race course inside a cloud. I guess that's what the weatherman meant when he said 100% humidity.
Here's one more. I'll be displaying both of these works of art in my new traveling exhibit entitled: "Mother Nature, you suck."
Just before pulling into the Beverly 4-H club which served as the race headquarters, I stopped off at the local Kroger grocery store and picked up a few supplies. The fruit salad was very good, the batteries, as it turned out, were very very very bad. I'm not sure if someone at the Kroger or at Energizer is truly the one to blame, but whoever is responsible, I hope their cat pees in their shoe.
After the supply run, I pulled into the field across from the 4-H where my fellow runners were setting up camp:While there was plenty of room for pitching a tent (as a few people did), I must say that the 4-H building was an amazing place to start/finish a race. They had plenty of room to sit at tables or stretch out, the bathrooms were clean, there were hot showers (!!) and bunks to crash on after the run...and even though I had to take off before the post-run breakfast, I know it was delicious from the sights and smells coming from the kitchen. For anyone thinking about running this race in the future, the facilities and support from the race staff will not let you down!
After checking in and chatting with the Race Director Adam Cassaday (one of the classiest and nicest guys in ultra-running), I headed back to the X-Terra Inn to relax in the back while listening to a sweet local Oldies station. I found it humorous when the Beatles' I'll Follow the Sun came on - Not in this race, guys!:
Soon enough 9 p.m. rolled around, and after a group-effort singing of the National Anthem, we were off into the darkness. The first 12 miles or so were pretty much straight up the mountain, and my only goal at the start was to run this stretch without walking a step. Everyone seemed to be running way too fast at the start, so I let just let them all blow by me on the first mile or so of road (at least 60 runners). I found my nice steady pace (9:30s) and just settled in. As the road turned to dirt and the hill got steeper, I started to catch up to some folks. As I got closer to the 5.7 mile Aid Station, I had already passed about 25 people, and since I blew through the Aid Station without stopping, I leap-frogged about 10 more at that point. Between that AS and the next one at the top of the hill (mile 12.3), the grade got a little steeper in parts, but I just kept my head down and pounded out the pace (passing about 20 more people in the process).
Interestingly enough, the long climb was easier at night (and in the fog) simply because I couldn't see more than a few feet ahead at any point. Without any negative mental hurdles to overcome like the sight of a 2000 climb in front of me, I just cruised along all the way to the top, never looking more than 10 feet ahead. I refilled my Camelback at AS 2 and headed into the first trail section of the race.
Not realizing my headlamp was slowly dying over the previous dirt road section, when I entered the even-darker and foggier trail I was shocked at how difficult it was to see. As another runner said to me a little later in the race, this trail would have been hard enough to run in the daylight, never mind in the rain/fog at night. Amen to that, brother.
My legs really wanted to run faster, but the narrow and over-grown trail would have none of it. My weak light wasn't helping my case as I strained and squinted to see through the ferns covering the track. Each footfall was like entering the worst lottery ever...what would I step on this time, a rock? A root? A 6-inch deep mud bog? Oh wait, how about wondering into an actual stream? Yup, did that a few times as well. About 10 minutes after experiencing all of the joys listed above, I saw a light coming from behind. I stepped aside and said "Wow you're moving great, keep it up!". The runner slowed for a moment and said "Do you have a light?...Do you want one of mine?". I assured him I indeed had a light and did my best not to say "Silly man, it's the big bright thing up here on my head!". Little did I know, I was wearing nothing more than a useless Three Dead Battery Holder on top my head at that point. My light had dimmed so slowly that I hadn't noticed it was now completely gone. Crap!
Right behind the first guy came 4 or 5 more, each running quickly and confidently through the rough terrain with their lights. Showoffs. I tried to hop in behind them as they passed to at least see the general direction they were heading so I didn't lose the trail, but without my own light pointing at my feet, I couldn't keep pace with anyone without falling. I did have my small emergency light on at this point, but it just has one pretty weak LED...and with the fog refracting it every which way but useful, it was little more than a shiny forehead ornament. By time I popped back out onto the short road section before the mile 23 Aid Station, I was just about as miserable as I've been in a race. My legs felt great, but they wanted to RUN...and this routine of shuffle, trip, suffle, fall, shuffle, pull shoe out of the mud and put it back on wasn't exactly a bucket of chuckles for me.
As the case usually is, just when I felt about as low as I could, the amazing guys at the Aid Station saved my race. Adam Cassaday was there too, and I felt really bad about asking if anyone had batteries since he specifically sent us an email earlier in the week saying he won't have any at the Aid Stations so we should make sure we had fresh ones in our lamps and extras in our drop bags. ...so here I come, stumbling up like an idiot begging anyone in sight for three AAs. I figured my lamp would have plenty of power with a fresh set of Energizer Lithiums, so I didn't bother packing any back-ups in my drop bag. I guess life is full of surprises, eh?
Anyway, two volunteers raided their stashes and came up with the 3 AAs I needed to fire up Ol' Bessy (which is apparently what I'm calling my headlamp now). I can't possibly thank them enough. With quite literally a new outlook on life, I filled up my Camelback and said the line that opens this Race Report: It was indeed time to salvage the race.
From that point I had about 27 miles to go, and with my legs begging to finally run again, I cranked up the iPod and took off. I was amazed at how much of the trail I could now see, and more importantly, how quickly and nimbly I was able to run it. A mile or two after the AS I started catching up with the people who passed me on the trail earlier. A nicely timed Run to the Hills by Iron Maiden cued up just as I was really kicking it up a notch and flying over the rolling terrain. By the time I popped out at the next AS 6 miles later, I had reeled in and passed all but two runners who passed me on the trail earlier (a couple running together - and fast!). I was feeling great and truly enjoying myself out there...it's amazing what a little light can do for you!
By the time I looped around and made it back to the AS manned by my Battery Angels, I thanked them again and quickly switched to some road shoes w/ more cushion than my trail shoes. The reason being is the final 12.3 miles are pretty much all downhill on hard packed dirt roads, and I wanted to give my shin a break from that kind of pounding in a harder trail shoe. This was a training/rehab race, after all!
After the switch, I was fired up and ready to end the race in style. Just a mile or so out of the AS I caught up with the couple who passed me on the trail earlier. They were still moving well, but I passed them on an uphill and pulled away quickly. Since my legs felt great, I was still running all the hills w/ my steady and strong pace.
I flew quickly but safely over the next 6 or 7 miles (always mindful of my shin AND my 71 mile race next week!) down the forest service roads to the last AS at mile 44.3. I grabbed a bit of water for the last stretch and happily made my way home. It was raining a little harder at this point, but after so many hours out there, it really didn't matter. It wasn't possible to be wetter. In fact, it reminded me of my innocent thought when I was a little kid: If my shirt is completely soaked, I would naturally win a wet T-shirt contest, right? I mean, it couldn't possibly be any wetter, right? I really thought I could have a career winning wet t-shirt contests...
Anyway, I covered the final section quickly and easily and pulled across the finish line in 8th place with a time of 9:15. Certainly the slowest 50 miler I've run, but definitely one of the most rewarding as well. Here I am with RD Adam at the finish:
...and here's a random shot of my leg, humorous to me because I changed my shoes/socks when I only had 12 miles of road left to run and they still got filthy! My trail shoes, I will mention, should probably just be thrown away. There's just as much mud on the inside as the outside since I had to fish them out from the mud bogs a few times.
Oh, and since we're looking at one, I'll mention one more time what Drymax socks did for me. Here are a few facts: I ran 50 miles, in the rain, through streams and mud and I had ZERO blisters or hot spots. Amazing. Here's the post race proof:Overall the race was quite a challenge (obviously), but it was definitely a great time. Adam Cassaday and his volunteer group of family and friends did an amazing job coordinating the logistics of such a difficult race (it's at night, it was raining, as far as I could tell the Aid Stations were in the middle of nowhere, but everyone was so cheery and helpful!). If you're looking for a challenge, I highly recommend signing up for this race next year. It has a little of everything mixed in, and as long as you bring a working light, it's a ton of fun!
I didn't see who won (mostly because it happened an hour before I finished), but congrats to all who battled the elements and finished the 50 miles. Big high-fives to Dave Nevitt and Ray Williams who came down from Canada and ran great races. I met Dave down in FL while we both volunteered at Iron Horse 100 in February, and he convinced his buddy Ray to run his first 50 miler with him at this race...way to pick an easy one to start with, Ray! Great work!!
As for me, my legs are feeling great and ready to go for a run tonight. With the 71 mile Massanutten Ring coming up on Saturday, I'll probably take it a little easy on them this week, but still get in some quality miles. The Ring will be just like the last two races I've done this month - I'll take it slow and steady the whole time while concentrating on the training aspect and not the racing. I know I'll have a great time out there...I always do in the Massanuttens!