I’ve been wanting to run a Mountain Junkies race for a couple of years now. I remember reading Meagan’s (of Turkey Runner) recap of Conquer the Cove last year and thinking that I would love it. This particular race seemed absolutely perfect for me. It is held in a beautiful mountain setting, the course is challenging and there is a lake to swim in when you finish.
I’m not sure this race wasn’t designed specifically with me in mind.
The pre-race email sent out a few days before the race was pretty funny. Here are some of my favorite tidbits:
Are you ready to have fun, push your limits, and at some point smack yourself on the forehead for signing up for such a challenging course? Of course you are, because you are our kind of crazy.
Will I see any snakes?
Maybe, they are seen out there on a regular basis
Will I see any snake sticks?
Now that I’ve said the above, yep, there are thousands of sticks that resemble snakes throughout the course. Again, make sure that you are panicking about a real snake before you get carried away.
Is the trail technical?
Both of the downhill trails; Buck and Gauntlet are technical rocky descents that you will want to lift your feet extra high on. If you catch a toe, you might take flight until “that gravity thing” stops you.
See you on Sunday! Yep, Sunday, don’t forget its on Sunday.
We want you to enjoy the outdoors as much as we do. Thanks for playing with us.
The race was scheduled to start at 6:30 with packet pickup beginning at 5:30. I’ve been waking up insanely early for some unknown reason lately and was awake before my alarm was set to go off at 4:30. I ate cereal and drank iced coffee in my hotel room and then packed up all my stuff.
In the dark parking lot outside my hotel, the air was heavy but cool and scented with honeysuckle.
I stopped at a gas station and bought a Powerade to add to the water in my hydration pack. I know you’re not supposed to water it down, but I can’t drink it if it’s not diluted. It was still dark when I pulled into Loch Haven, and I wondered if I should have brought my headlamp. I picked up my packet, then took a quick walk around.
The sun was up before I knew it.
As I was walking back to my car, I heard someone say “JoAnne!” I looked up and saw Meagan getting out of her car. After following her blog for several years, it was very cool to finally meet her and her husband, Barry. After all, I might not have even been there if I hadn’t read her post about last year’s race.
Pre-race nerves and the lake:
I met back up with Meagan for the pre-race meeting where we were given some helpful (and entertaining) information. I particularly enjoyed it when the race director told us that the distance for the 25k was 15.86 miles and the distance for the marathon was 26.4 miles. Say what? Things are a little bit different at trail races. After the meeting, we all made our way back over to the starting line.
And then we were off.
The first mile and a half or so were on a paved road, which was nice because it allowed time for everyone to spread out a little. As soon as we hit the single track, though, we started climbing. It wasn’t long at all before we were walking. I didn’t want to be walking so soon, but it didn’t really seem like I had a choice. I wondered if it would be rude to try to pass people. I waited until some people passed me, then followed along behind them. We passed where we could, but were often forced to walk. I figured it was better than running too fast at the beginning.
Once we crested the hill, I had the opposite problem. Now there were people behind me who I was pretty sure wanted to get in front of me. I moved over as far as I could, and asked several times if they wanted to get by, but they stayed behind me, which made me run a little faster down the hill than I probably would have otherwise.
After the steep, rocky descent, we were treated to several miles of (mostly) gentle, rolling trail and a forest full of Mountain Laurel. At this point, I was feeling great and thoroughly enjoying just being out there.
Photo courtesy of Mountain Junkies LLC
It was very humid and I was sweating a lot, so I knew I needed to pay attention to hydration. At least once every mile, I took a few sips of my watered down Powerade. About 40 minutes into the run, I ate three margarita Clif Bloks.
At the aid station at mile 8, I wiped my face and neck off with one of the icy wash cloths (heavenly!) and grabbed a Chocolate Honey Stinger gel. About 25 yards up the trail, I remembered that the 25k and marathon courses split at the aid station and I worried that I had gone the wrong way. I tried to yell back to the volunteers to make sure I was going the right way, but they didn’t seem to hear me. I knew that the 25k course was supposed to start a long climb up a fire road right after the aid station, and that is what I appeared to be doing, so I just kept going.
I quickly caught up to a lady in front of me. I double-checked with her that I was on the right course and she assured me that I was. She told me that she had done a half Ironman a couple of weeks ago and could tell that she had not recovered. She said she was really feeling the climb.
The grade on the fire road was not too steep. It reminded me of the Monticello Trail, where I do most of my running back in Charlottesville, so I was plugging away just fine for the first mile and a half. I passed maybe a half-dozen people. The climb seemed to go on forever, though. Eventually, I started taking walk breaks. Even with the walk breaks, I passed three or four more people.
There was no view from the top, but that didn’t make reaching it any less sweet. We were rewarded with about a half mile of gentle downhill on the fire road before we hit another aid station and then turned back onto single track. I cooled off with another icy wash cloth, and headed out of the aid station with a guy who had arrived just before me. I tried to let him go first, but he insisted that I go, saying that he wouldn’t mind running with me for a while. We started talking, which was nice, because it kept me from stressing out about my knees on the steep descent. He was from Lexington, Virginia and had run the Charlottesville Marathon this year. Like me, he was hoping to run his first ultra very soon. I felt like I was holding him up, so after about a mile, I moved over and let him pass. Sure enough, he pulled ahead. After a minute or two another man came flying by me. My right knee was doing fine, but I felt a few strange twinges in my left knee. I was grateful when I finally reached the bottom of the hill.
The last two miles were the hardest of the day for me, though. By this point, I was exhausted and the running had started to hurt. I also had acquired a side stitch on the steep descent. Even so, I caught and passed both of the guys who had passed me on the downhill, and I even passed a girl who was in front of them. She pretty quickly passed me back, though, and I ended up being happy that she did because there was a turn that I’m not sure I would have seen if I had been in front. Having her right in front of me also kept me from backing off the pace for the last mile or so. It was painful, but I stayed with her until the last turn before she pulled ahead. One of the guys behind me (not the one I had talked to) also passed me within the last 100 yards.
It felt wonderful to cross the finish line knowing that I had worked so hard to make it there. The race director gave me a high-five and a volunteer handed me my medal.
My time was 2:47:57.
Race elevation profile: That little hill between mile thirteen and fourteen was brutal!
I walked around and stretched a little, went to the restroom and washed my face, then to my car to drop off my vest and grab my water bottle.
The food spread was pretty impressive. I grabbed a veggie burger and topped it with fresh peppers, pico de gallo and guacamole. The sweets appeared to be homemade and looked delicious. I took a piece of pumpkin chocolate chip bread and what looked like a zucchini and oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.
Yum. That cookie was even better than it looked!
After eating, I went back to the car for my beach towel and made my way down to the lake. The water felt spectacular! I swam around for a long time. I was still in the lake when the guy who finished third in the marathon came running through the finish line, kept running and splashed right into the lake shoes and all. Just after that, I heard a splash and looked behind me to see another guy who had just jumped off the diving board. I think he was the second-place finisher, but he had taken the time to take his shoes off before making the plunge. Interestingly, the girl who I had run the last mile with was in the water too. I listened to her and the third-place guy talk about shoes for a while. He was evidently loving his Hokas.
After changing into dry clothes, I met up with Meagan one more time before heading back to Charlottesville. I’m sure I’ll be seeing her at more Mountain Junkies races in the future!
I loved pretty much everything about this race.
63rd out of 150 total runners
17th out of 60 women
4th out of 11 in my age group