Riverrock/Filthy 5k Mud Run Race Report

This was our third time running this race, which is part of the Dominion Riverrock festival.

The festival had expanded beyond Brown’s Island this year.  Packet pick-up had  been moved to the American Civil War Center, across the street from Brown’s Island. The race start was in the Belle Isle parking lot. There were  several vendor booths and demos set up around the Civil War Center.

We picked up our packets, and then did a quick spin around the booths.

The first thing we saw were a bunch of people doing crazy tricks on what appeared to be a tightrope. Upon closer inspection, we learned that they were “slacklining“, which is similar to tightrope walking, except it is done on a nylon/elastic band that is slack instead of taught. This allows the participant to perform tricks similar to those performed on a trampoline, while also requiring the balance and coordination needed for tightrope walking. It is a sport I have never heard of, but apparently dates back to the late seventies.

They had some slacklines set up over some mats for people to try.

It’s much harder than it looks!

It took me a dozen tries before I made it all the way across, which made all the jumps and flips the athletes were doing seem that much more impressive.

Slacklining has been around long enough for it to have developed smaller subsets such as yoga slacklining, and aqua slacklining. There was a guy aqua slacklining across the river.

There was a bouldering wall.

The entire thing was beyond vertical. I didn’t like that some poor kid had to stand under me the entire time, or that I was the only person on the wall and felt like everybody was watching me. I would have had fun trying if nobody was watching, but with all eyes on me, I gave up pretty quickly.

Over on Brown’s Island, you could try your hand at stand up paddle boarding, or even SUP yoga. Yoga on the river, anybody?

One of our favorite parts of Dominion Riverrock is always the Ultimate Air Dogs competition.

We watched people practicing for the Freestyle Bike competition.

All too soon, it was time for us to make our way back over to the race start.

This race has a wave start. When you register, you are asked to submit your most recent 5k time. Not counting Montalto Challenge, my most recent 5k time is quite a bit faster than my current 5k ability. I didn’t take that into consideration when I was registering, though.

The past two years we’ve run this race, we’ve signed up for the second wave, based on pace, and for the past two years I’ve been a little frustrated to get stuck behind slower runners. Even though it’s just a fun mud run, I still want to do it as fast as I can!

This was the first year we were in the first wave, with the fastest runners. Based on the way I’ve been running lately, I was pretty sure this was a mistake.

We lined up near the back of our wave. Pretty much the only ones behind us were a couple dressed like Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. There were so many runners, that each wave was divided into smaller waves, with 100 runners leaving every 2 minutes after the gun went off.

The race started with a nice long climb up to the bridge, and across the river onto Belle Isle. Once we were over the bridge, we were faced with our first obstacle, which was a stone wall we had to hop over. It was slightly lower than chest height, and not too difficult.

Then there was a trail run. The pace slowed, but this time I was relieved instead of frustrated. I had time to catch my breath. Usually there is a rock hop across the river, but this year the course took us back across on a  foot bridge. Then there was another long trail run that was all up hill. I was really struggling here, and told Kurt he could pass. He said he didn’t want to. As we crested the hill, we approached the second obstacle, which was a run through the James River. The turn around was MUCH closer to the shore than it had been in previous years, though. We only had to go knee-deep. Previously, the turnaround had been about waist deep.

In previous years, there was a jump onto a hay bale and a mud pit to crawl through before we crossed the final bridge, but this year it was just more trail running. I was tired and out of breath. Peter Pan and Tinker Bell were now ahead of me. Kurt was still with me, which was nice of him, but made me feel kind of bad because I knew he could have run faster.

We passed the start and were surprised to see that the last wave was just starting. I picked up the pace, hoping I could at least catch Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, but they also picked up the pace, so I crawled through the mud pit after them.

The salty sweat and mud was running into my eyes and stinging pretty bad, so we headed straight to the hoses to wash off. After we were cleaned up I wished that we had thought to get a picture of ourselves all muddy.

We made our way back over the finish line, to watch for a while.

The dogs were especially fun to watch, although the mud didn’t faze them a bit.

Overall, the actual race was a little disappointing this year. With most of the obstacles missing, and the lack of the rock-hop across the river, it pretty much just felt like a combo trail/road run with a mud pit at the finish. We were wondering if the changes to the race were because of the 2010 participant who was suing the race organizers, or because they added the dog division this year and needed the course to be dog-friendly. Regardless, the Riverrock Festival is such a cool event and  we still had a really great evening. We’ll probably do it again next year.

My 29:31 finish was good enough for 8th place out of 261 in my age group and 34th out of 1114 women. I feel like that pace, even with the hills, should have felt much easier. I’m just not feeling at all strong these days.

Via Ferrata

Photo 142This year, for my 36th birthday, I decided I wanted to do the Via Ferrata in West Virginia.

I had been going back and forth for about a week, trying to decide if I really wanted to do it or not. On Tuesday, I went ahead and called and made reservations for my birthday on Friday.  They required payment over the phone, so there was no turning back.

All week, the forecast for Friday had looked beautiful. It was the only day with no chance of rain, but on Thursday, the forecast changed to cloudy with scattered thunderstorms. I was beginning to question how I’d decided to spend my birthday. Clinging to a rock wall studded with metal rungs in the midst of a thunderstorm didn’t sound the least bit appealing.

When we woke up Friday morning, it was cloudy in Charlottesville, but by the time we’d finished our (very yummy!) breakfast at the Bluegrass Grill, there were a few breaks in the clouds and it looked like it was going to clear. The further west we drove, however, the darker the skies became. It sprinkled a little on and off.

When we arrived at the Nelson Rock Outdoor Center, a guy came out of the building and sort of sheepishly approached our car. I could tell by the way he did it, that he had some bad news for us. He told us that they had been able to get a hold of the other couple, but we must be the ones they hadn’t been able to reach. He explained that because of the weather, they were operating on a 2 hour delay, to give the rungs a chance to dry out, because they get very slick and dangerous when they’re wet. They were also closely watching the weather, because if it rained again, they would have to cancel all the climbs for the day.  He told us there was a diner down the road, where we could get some breakfast, and a trail we could hike not too far away, but other than that, there really wasn’t too much around.

When we returned, two and a half hours later, we were immediately handed waivers to sign. There was a couple who appeared to be somewhere in their forties and looked as though they had just stepped out of an REI catalog sitting at a picnic table, and a young kid sorting through climbing gear. The couple, Cynthia and John, were from Orlando and made up the other half of our climbing group for the day. The young kid, Aaron, was our leader.

After brief introductions, Aaron handed us each a harness and a helmet. He showed us how to properly get into them and how to use the three carabiners attached to our harnesses. He then led us out the back of the building and up a short, steep hill to the base of the first rock. There was a group of 24 climbers just ahead of us. Some of them were still in sight on the rock above us. We stayed on the ground for quite a while, to give the group a chance to get further ahead. Cynthia took a picture of us before the climb.

Before we started climbing, Aaron showed us how to clip into the cables, and made it very clear that we were to always unclip and clip back in with the same hand. This way, we would always be clipped in with at least one carabiner. He also explained that all of the safety equipment was designed to keep us from dying, not to keep us from getting hurt. It would most definitely hurt very badly if we were to fall. He said to leave 3 lengths of cable between us and the person above us, to avoid a human domino-effect in the case of a fall. And to try not to fall.

Our leader then started climbing up. Then Cynthia, then John, and then it was my turn. The first little bit wasn’t too bad. There were plenty of rungs, and I wasn’t too high off the ground. But as I climbed higher, I could feel the fear creeping up. I caught glimpses of treetops out of my peripheral vision, but I knew that if I wanted to continue to climb up, I couldn’t look down. When I looked up, I could see John, but nobody beyond him. Cynthia and Aaron must have been over a ledge somewhere far above me. This was more dangerous than I thought it would be. I was on the side of the rock face, who knows how far off the ground, and my safety was completely in my own hands. I did not feel ready for that responsibility.

There were a few places where there weren’t any metal rungs to hold onto. Here, we had to find our own footing and hand holds on the rocks. In most places it wasn’t too hard to do, but then, suddenly, I was stuck. My right foot was on a very small ridge, and I had a decent hold with my left hand, but I couldn’t find a place for my right hand and I wasn’t confident enough in my foot placement on the damp, slippery rock to hoist myself up any further. I tried a few times, but I just couldn’t find a place for my left foot. I started to panic. My legs started to shake. I must have been there for quite some time, because Aaron made his way back to me, telling me where there were some good holds for my right hand, but his arms must have been longer than mine, because I couldn’t find them. He offered me his hand, but that didn’t feel like a good option, either. I really didn’t like feeling as though I was holding everybody up. I took a deep breath and hoisted myself up.

We had been told that there were two escape routes off the rock, for people who, for whatever reason, decided to not continue. On our way up, we had seen a lady hiking back down, who had opted out at the first escape. At the time, I’d been fairly confident that I wouldn’t be doing that. Now, I wasn’t so sure.

Soon, though, the first escape route was behind me and I was climbing even higher. From above, I heard exclamations “Of Sh*#!” and “Wow!”.  Aaron yelled down to us that we were approaching the aptly named Scheisse Notch. I maneuvered out to the edge of the rock, and it was my turn, “Holy Sh*#!”. The entire world seemed to open up, and drop off to nothing. I looked out, at green tree tops, distant mountains and wide open sky, but I still could not look down. It was about 12 feet more of climbing to get to a ledge big enough to wedge myself into. I forced myself to calm down and dig my camera out of my backpack for the first time since we’d started climbing, to get a shot of Kurt, who was still on the wall behind me.

This was the first ledge we’d come to that was big enough to sit on. We stayed for a while, enjoying the view, and talking with the others in our group. Cynthia and John were indeed in their forties. They had spent the last decade and a half seeking adventures all over the world. They’d hiked in Patagonia, Costa Rica, and New Zealand, biked in Croatia, and skied in the Alps. Later, on the drive home, Kurt and I both agreed that Cynthia and John were exactly the kind of couple we hoped to be ten years from now.

The climbing was a little easier for a while, and we soon found ourselves at the swinging bridge.

We’d again caught up to the group ahead of us, so we had some more time to sit and enjoy the day before it was our turn to cross the bridge. I had relaxed a little, and was having a lot of fun by this point in the climb, but I still wasn’t sure how I would handle the bridge.

I ended up handling it better than I’d expected. I just focused on the board in front of me, and was careful not to look ahead at how far I still had to go.

Until Kurt made me stop and pose for a picture.

It was steep climbing again for a little while.

And then we were at the head wall, again waiting for the group ahead. The head wall is an optional climb up and then back down a rock wall. It is the only place where the rock is beyond vertical.

When it was our turn, Aaron told us that this was the most physically demanding part of the day, and that if we had been at all unsure of our climbing skills up to this point, we shouldn’t attempt it. I was torn. I can’t pass up a physical challenge. I adore physical challenge. I was having much more trouble with the mental challenge. I was very confident I could handle the physical part, and chomping at the bit to test my ability. It was the mental challenge I wasn’t sure I could handle. I wasn’t sure I could get over my fear.

While I was standing there, waiting my turn, trying to decide if I would attempt it or not, the sky was getting darker and darker. Aaron, Cynthia, and John  were on the rock when Aaron got a call on his walkie-talkie from back at the building. Rain was coming our way, and would hit within the next 5 minutes. The group ahead of us were quickly making their way down. Kurt was standing at the base, waiting for his turn to start climbing up. It started to sprinkle. My choice was made for me. Considering what I’d learned earlier, about how dangerous it is to climb when the rungs are wet, I was eager to get off the rock as soon as possible. Kurt reluctantly came to the same decision. I don’t think Aaron ever actually said we couldn’t climb, but from the top of the head wall, he said he could see a wall of rain headed our way. He and Cynthia were both hustling to get back down. John, though probably equally eager to get down, was not moving quite as fast. He appeared completely exhausted from the climb.

Kurt was pretty upset that he didn’t get to climb. I was too, a little. But I also felt like I’d had plenty of excitement for the day. We never did get more than a sprinkle of rain. In fact, about 5 minutes later, the sun came out for the first time all day. It was a little eerie how the weather had turned so seemingly bad at precisely the moment that we were to climb the head wall, and then just as quickly, once we had moved beyond it, turned so beautiful. It definitely felt like it wasn’t meant for us to climb that wall. If for no other reason, we now have definite incentive to go back.

A little while after leaving the head wall, we climbed over the second fin and onto the mountain behind it. Here, we took off our helmets and started hiking up the trail to the summit. The 360 degree view from the summit was truly amazing, and I was grateful to have such a great group to enjoy it with.

It was evening by this point, but we stayed up there on the rock talking and laughing for nearly an hour. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere.

As far as birthdays go, this one ranks pretty high.

Montalto Challenge 5k (2013)

Although I had planned my weekend out really hoping I’d be able to run Montalto, when I crawled into bed last night at 11pm, after a full day of climbing on the Via Feratta course in West Virginia, I had no intention of making it to the race in the morning.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), no matter how late I go to bed, my body just refuses to stay asleep any later than 6am. So, by 6:30 I had eaten breakfast and was sitting on the front porch drinking my coffee when I realized that I probably could make it to the race.

Last night on our drive home from West Virginia, Kurt and I had been talking about how we want to be more adventurous, and really just do more. So, I thought, who cares that I’m tired from yesterday’s climb, and that I know I’m not in as good shape as I was when I ran the race two years ago. It’s only a 5k. I know I can make it to the top of the mountain, and it’s all uphill, so it’s unlikely to irritate my IT band. I really like this race, and I want to run it. So, why not?

I threw on some running clothes, brushed my teeth and grabbed my Garmin, camera and checkbook and headed out to the race. There was already a steady stream of cars turning into the parking lot at Secluded Farm. I parked and walked down the path to the registration booth at the start line. I paid and got my race number, then I walked around for a while, taking pictures.


The start for the walkers was at 7:30, a half hour before the start for the runners. Mark Lorenzoni made a quick speech, thanking everybody for coming out to support the Monticello trail, and assuring them that they were in for a challenge, but that they would be well rewarded for their efforts by the views from the top of the mountain. And with that, the walkers were off.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the walkers had started, I jogged around a little, and checked out all the other runners. It was an interesting crowd. The Charlottesville Area Trail runners were well represented in their green shirts. I also saw a Mud Warrior shirt, a Park to Park Half marathon shirt, a Marathon Maniac shirt, and these two:


I lined up towards the back, but I was not the last one over the starting line, like I was at the Chocolate Chase 10k. When the gun went off, I started my Garmin and started at a comfortable pace. I still wasn’t sure how hard I wanted to run. I had started too far back, so I spent the first quarter mile just trying to get around much slower runners. By the time I was over the first bridge, the crowd had thinned out and I settled into a comfortably hard pace. I could have gone faster, but I knew that I was tired before I even started running and that the last mile was by far the steepest part, so I didn’t push the pace. Right where the race turns off the Monticello trail and onto the road up to Montalto, Kurt was there watching and cheering me on. He snapped this picture of me as I ran by.


Right around the corner is where the race really starts to get tough.

IMAG0188I stopped to walk before I even hit the third switchback. Most people did. I tried to jog the sections that were not as steep, and walk the steeper parts. But I did a LOT of walking. Two years ago, I walked maybe a hundred yards. This time, I probably walked more than half a mile. I did keep my walking pace quick, though. And I didn’t lose sight of the people I started the climb with, even the ones who kept running, but I definitely fell behind the runners.

As we neared the top of the mountain, we could hear bagpipes. The last little stretch was mostly flat, and as I came around the last corner I could see the clock. I saw that I wasn’t going to break 30 minutes, which was the only goal I sort-of had in mind.

It was hot and the sun was shining. My face was red hot and pouring sweat, but there was plenty of water and some sort of sports drink, although I just stuck with water. There were also plenty of oranges, bananas and bagels. My stomach was a little unsettled from the heat and the climb, so I just stuck with water.

I walked over to the table where they were handing out goody bags and t-shirts and asked if there would be one for me, since I had just registered this morning. The girl said that it was first-come-first-served, and asked me what size I wanted. I love the t-shirt design for this race. Whenever I wear my old one I get questions and comments. There was also some very nice schwag in the goodie bag.

montalto2Yes, that is a stainless steel water bottle! Each participant also received a coupon for Ragged Mountain Running Shop and one for the Monticello Museum shop. It was announced later, at the awards ceremony that we could also show our race numbers at Monticello any time that day for a free grounds-only admission ticket.

After I picked up my t-shirt and goody-bag, I walked around the mountain, enjoying the views.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce the last runner had reached the top, everybody assembled for the awards ceremony. Traditionally, the male and female winners of this race are deemed the “King and Queen” of the mountain and receive matching polka-dotted replicas of the shirt received by the Tour-de-France winner. This year’s winner set a course record by 50 seconds.


I was completely shocked when Mark called my name for first place in my age group. I finished more than a minute slower than I had last time I ran, and I hadn’t placed at all last time. I guess that shows it matters more who shows up (or, doesn’t show up) for a given race, than it does how fast you actually run. Regardless, I was very happy with my age-group victory. I won a hoodie sweatshirt from Ragged Mountain, and 6 free passes to Monticello. Pretty cool!

There were shuttle busses bringing people back down to their cars, but I chose to walk back down. As I walked back down, I had time to reflect on the events of the morning. It turned out to be such a great race, and a beautiful morning on the mountain that I couldn’t believe I had almost missed it all by staying home.

Time:  31:16 (mile splits: 9:15, 8:52, 12:17)