After a very depressing week, this race was exactly what I needed.
I’d never been to Fayetteville, WV before but had heard good things about it. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a cute little mountain town with a progressive, outdoorsy vibe.
Friday evening, we enjoyed some good local beer and a delicious dinner at the Secret Sandwich Society, then took a chilly, moonlit walk through town to packet pick up at Water Stone Outdoors.
Saturday morning dawned clear and cold, but the sun warmed things up to above freezing before the 9am start.
As we lined up at the start, the race director told us that the course was somewhere between 16.5 and 17 miles. He did a ten second count-down and sent us on our way.
We had about 1/3 of a mile on the road before we hit the single track. Everyone took off fast! There were only about five people behind me when I entered the woods. A couple of minutes later, my Garmin beeped. I looked down and realized it was about to shut down. I must not have hit the button hard enough, or hit the wrong one. Either way, it hadn’t started.
Since my longest run in the last eight months was 14 miles (other than Fat Dog and my 20 mile pacing run, but both of those included more hiking than actual running), I was treating this as a long run rather than a race. My only goal was to run conservatively enough at the beginning to still feel good at the end. Surprisingly, I wasn’t tempted to keep up with Brian when he pulled ahead. I was determined to run slow enough to enjoy the whole thing.
Even though I wasn’t keeping up with Brian, I still passed quite a few people in the first mile or two, then settled in with some other runners for a couple of miles.
It was a gorgeous day and I was happy to be spending it in the woods. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and although it was past peak for fall colors, many of the trees were still holding onto their red, orange and yellow leaves.
I hadn’t paid attention to where the aid stations were going to be, but it felt like I’d been running for a long time before I came to one. I grabbed a half a banana and was on my way.
After several miles of undulating hills, the trail flattened out some. The loose leaf litter hiding rocks and roots made footing a bit treacherous, but other than that most of the course was extremely runnable. I was alone in the woods for most of miles 7 through 11, passing just two other runners during that time.
At the second aid station I grabbed a handful of ginger snaps. Yum!
There was a long downhill section as we dropped into the gorge. I stopped a couple of times to try to get some pictures of the gorge, but none of my pictures came out. We had some pretty cool views of the impressive New River Gorge Bridge.
Eventually, I passed two couples and finally (once we started climbing again) caught up to a man I’d been behind since the last aid station. I kept getting close to him on the climbs, only to drop way behind again on the down hills. We talked for a while. His name was Ronnie and he’d worked in the coal mines for thirty years. He’d run a local marathon the week before and done a thirty-five mile training run the week before that. When I told him that I was from Charlottesville, he said he’d once run the Charlottesville 10 Miler in an hour and ten minutes (that’s a really fast time!). I pulled ahead, telling him he’d probably catch me on the next down hill. The secret, he said, was that you can’t be afraid to fall. So true! I’ve been working on overcoming that fear thing.
Not long after I passed him, the trail turned abruptly. It was a steep climb back out of the gorge. There were more than a few sections of stairs. I walked most of it, pressing hard on my thighs to help me up. The last aid station was at the top of the hill. I grabbed two Fig Newtons, and continued on. I was very happy to realize that I’d done a good job of conserving energy. I still felt really good!
From the last aid station, we headed back on the same trail we’d started on. I passed a couple of women, then a group of three guys, then another lady. I was never sure how far I was from the finish line since I’d started my Garmin late and didn’t know the exact length of the course anyway. I thought that I’d have the same 1/3 of a mile on the road when I got out of the woods, but was surprised to see the finish line banner in the field about 100 yards away. I had to do a double take, then check to make sure I was really supposed to run straight there. Yup! The banners pointed me straight to the finish. If I’d known I was so close, I would have sped up earlier. Oh well.
Brian had pulled ahead in the first couple of miles and I never saw him again, but I ended up finishing just two minutes behind him. Two of the three women I passed near the end were in my age group. So I moved up from fourth to second in my age group within the last three miles. The age groups are weird though. There were only 7 people in mine. I’m mostly just proud that I accomplished my one and only goal of not going out too fast. Yay me! There’s something to be said for setting attainable goals. I hope I learn from this.
There was plenty of hot pizza and phenomenal homemade desserts (that apple pie!!) at the finish line.
Canary in the Cave 25K+ wins a spot in my top five favorite races.
We lucked out with absolutely perfect weather. I LOVED the course. It’s the perfect mix of challenging and runnable, on beautiful trails with some great views of the New River Gorge. It was well-organized, the volunteers and runners were friendly, and the food was fantastic.
I highly recommend this race.