Sunday, July 25, 2010

Catherine's Furnace 50K - Race Report

I couldn't find anyone named 'Catherine' at the pre-race gathering. This was quite disappointing since I really wanted to let her know she left her Furnace door wide open out there in the Massanutten mountains. Race day temps soared to a record 103 degrees with plenty of humidity to keep everyone looking like they were walking through a car wash all day. Of course we all knew these would be the conditions heading in, but did that dissuade us from running the super-challenging Catherine's Furnace 50K on Saturday? Nope!

 The crowd begins to gather at the start...and yes, the Sun was officially on the Entry List this year! (Bobby Gill photo)

Two lovely ladies pose for a photo that I do my best to ruin without even knowing it...That's it Dan, stick that finger in your ear... (Bobby Gill photo)

Before the race, RD Jeff Reed told us of some necessary course changes due to Aid Station road access issues, and he also relayed the good news of "there's definitely more climbing on this new course". This wasn't really bad news for me since I was there to test my climbing legs and see what work needed to be done in advance of my Vermont Long Trail run next month. With that, we were off on to the technical and challenging trails of the course.
RD Jeff Reed (blue shirt, white hat, back to camera) gives us some pre-race info...can you spot me hiding like Waldo? (Bobby Gill photo)

Early on I settled in with Keith Knipling and Brad Hinson, both excellent mountain runners with tons of experience on these trails. Their conversation included lines like "Boy, this trail looks a lot different in July than in March or November" and "Oh, I've never run this particular section of trail in the daylight before". Meanwhile I tagged along behind them having no clue where I was, just silently compiling a list of animals that could eat me for dinner should I get lost. If nothing else, I convinced myself that I should just stick with these guys as long as I could to stay on track and off any fauna menus.
 Keith leads Brad (with me hiding behind him) right from the start (Bobby Gill photo)

About half-way up the first BIG climb, we caught the sight of the two leaders at that point: Brian Schmidt and Harland Peele, two more mountain studs . By time we reached the first aid station at mile 8.1, the five of us were now in a pack as we started the second long climb of the day. With the heat really kicking in at this point, we operated under a 'leave no man behind' rule for the next few miles as we paused at an icy-cold stream crossing for a quick dousing and then again at the top of the Pitt Spring Overlook (which had a more-than-appreciated breeze).  It was great running in a pack of guys who definitely have more experience and skill in the mountains than me, and the conversations were a great distraction as the sun started shouting a little louder above our heads.

Without really noticing, Brian and I pulled away from the rest of the pack a little bit on the rest of the 2nd climb and the subsequent rocky and twisting downhill into the Aid Station at half-way point of the race. While waiting for the others to catch up, we enjoyed an extra minute or three of icing our Camelbaks and chugging more fluids than imaginable from the awesome selection the volunteers had delivered for us. Soon enough, Keith and Harland joined us and we all headed back up the rocky climb to start our return trip home.

Brad was the first casualty of our group as the heat turned his stomach and he was forced to drop. Shortly after we started the climb out of the aid station, Harland was running into some issues as well and stepped aside to let me pass. This kind of heat was nothing to play around with, and he knew he needed to slow it down a bit to be safe and healthy. After passing Harland I moved back up behind Brian and we worked together to finish the rest of the climb and then the long downhill to the mile 22 Aid Station (the last of the day). We had some good conversation to keep distracting each other from the heat, and soon enough we pulled into the aid station where we were greeted by a couple great volunteers who put ice-cold wash cloths over our heads and necks (without even asking, by the way...They just knew we needed them!).

Just as we were ready to start the final loooong climb of about 4 miles, we saw Keith pull into the aid station and head directly below the adjacent bridge to sit in the stream. "Man, he's smarter than we are...", I thought as our group was now officially whittled down to two.
Sophie Speidel enjoying the icy cold nice of the volunteers to build this feature into their Aid Station! (Bobby Gill photo)

Shortly after starting the climb, Brian showed his toughness by pulling away and quickly out-of-sight on the steadily steep terrain. I tried to keep pace for a couple hundred yards or so, but knew almost right away that he'd be opening up a big gap over the next few miles of climb. I moved the best I could while drinking lots (84 oz. in the final 7 miles!) and hitting the electrolytes hard (3300mg of sodium by the end of the race!). By time I crested the top and started the final 4 mile descent, I started feeling better and ran more than a little bit crazy on the rocky trails to try and catch back up with Brian. In the end it wasn't enough, however, as Brian earned a hard-fought and much-deserved victory. I pulled into the finish about 5 minutes behind him in something like 5:38 (if that doesn't tell you how hard this race was, consider I ran what I thought was a slow and snowy 50K back in Februrary in 4:25!).
Even though the camera couldn't keep up with me, Brian took me to school on the last climb! (Bobby Gill Photo)

After some recovery and the drive home, Elizabeth and I were off to dinner back in DC...and on the walk to the restaurant, the 7 p.m. temperature of 99 degrees felt cool and refreshing!

All in all, this race was a perfect tune-up to prove that both my heat-training and my mountain legs are coming along quite nicely. Another month of hard work before Vermont should have me ready to make a serious run at that record! Many more posts will follow to ramp up the excitement before that adventure. Stay tuned!


Amelia said...

Congratulations on such a great finish! Also, 103 degrees and you resisted the temptation to hang out in the creek? Amazing. That should be worth a special buckle for valor. I would have been swimming for sure. But maybe you thought you'd spare the tadpoles this time around?

Dan Rose said...

I know, I know...and the streams were SO COLD out there too. I would have sat in that big one for hours if it was at the finish...but with 8 miles left to go, I just wanted to get it over with!

I should also mention, I scored a new hat at the race too! I have high hopes for this guy...the VT Long Trail will be a great place to break him in!

Sophie Speidel said...

Great report and awesome run, Dan! You should have tried the stream at the furnace...the one I am sitting in the photo. It felt INCREDIBLE. I actually sat in any stream that was big enough to submerge in throughout the day and it helped me run strong, as I have huge issues with the heat.

Best of luck to you on the Long Trail! See you at Masochist.

Dan Rose said...

Three days later and I'm STILL jealous of you and everyone who hopped into the streams! Stupid me just kept running like there was something better about arriving at the 110 degree finish line parking lot earlier! I really need to get my priorities in order. Good luck at Martha Moats and the VHTRC 1/2 in the next couple months!

Jamie Donaldson said...

Looks like you are ready for Badwater 2011! There are no streams to tempt you there! CONGRATS!!!!!!!!

Ric Munoz said...

Another outstanding race report and result, Dan. Sorry you were not able to catch Brian at the end, but you'll get him next time! Thank goodness for all that sodium -- I'm curious: assuming you used the Hammer Endurolytes, do you recall how many you took per hour and at what point in the race you took the first capsule?

Dan Rose said...

No worries, Ric, I know Brian is a much faster guy than me on the short/mountain stuff like this. I was happy just to hang with him as long as I did!

I'll hit you off-line here to discuss my full electrolyte/fueling plan for a race like this. For quick reference though, under normal circumstances (90% of my races) I take the equivalent of 3 Endurolytes (or 1 S-Cap) every hour...but the extreme heat of this race called for me to double that dosage every hour since I was drinking/sweating so much.

PS - Thanks for your donation to Dana Farber! You're the man!!

Ric Munoz said...

You're welcome, Dan -- sorry I could not donate more! And thank you for the quick reference about the Endurolytes. I'm new to using SaltStick capsules (a guy in my running club created SaltStick, and thus far they've worked well for me). But I've not run in outlandishly hot weather yet -- a glimpse of how an elite (you!) responds to dosage requirements was very helpful so thanks again for that insight!