This race has been on my radar for many years, but it never seemed to fit into my schedule.
Since I had two big overseas trips planned for spring and summer this year, I decided that I didn’t want the stress of training for a fall ultra. I registered for the half figuring that it would give me something to train for without feeling any pressure to get in really long trail runs (especially during the vacation weeks.)
I have to admit that a big draw for me for this race was that I knew there was a lake at Douthat State Park (where the race is held) and I was hoping I’d be able to jump in after I finished like I do at Conquer the Cove. I knew there was a good possibility that it would be one of those annoying swim-only-when-a-lifeguard-is-on-duty type of lakes, but that didn’t stop me from fantasizing.
Brian registered for the race too, and we made reservations at a local hotel. There are cabins at the park too, and in my earlier race-planning optimism, I pictured us spending the night convening with nature, waking up and leisurely sipping coffee on our lake-front porch before walking down the road to the start. But alas, the cabins are only available for two nights minimum on weekends.
So hotel it was.
Until it wasn’t. In the two weeks leading up to the race, Brian hurt his back and was no longer planning to run, we adopted a cat that our resident cat doesn’t like, and the weather forecast was calling for rain on race day. Driving down the night before and paying for a hotel no longer seemed worth it, so we decided to just drive down race morning. The half didn’t start until 10am and the drive was less than two hours. It just seemed to make more sense under the circumstances.
It was foggy and damp when we arrived at the park. There were tree branches and debris covering the ground. It looked like a big storm had just come through and apparently one had the night before. I was happy we weren’t tenting out (which had been another option I’d considered).
There was a relaxed, low-key feel to the event. Runners doing the marathon and 40 miler had gear arranged in a circle on the far end of the field that they had access to when they came through after each 13.4 mile loop.
When the RD described the course, he said the first mile was rolling, followed by a couple miles of climbing. To me, it felt like we were climbing from the time we turned out of the field and into the woods. I stayed in the conga line for the first mile or so as we all walked the steeper inclines and jogged the rest. I knew I didn’t want to push the pace too much early on, but after we’d been walking for a while at a much slower pace than I wanted, I mustered up the courage to ask if I could scoot by. I always hate doing that. When I hear someone behind me I always ask if they want to get by, or just move over so they can and I really appreciate when people do that for me. Many do.
Not long before I reached the top, I passed a lady who told me I was fifth woman. Seriously?! Could that be true? Was I going too fast? Was she confused about which distance I was doing?
The trail flattened out a bit as we headed to the first aid station at mile 3.5. It was overgrown in places and I tried not to freak out about all of the poison ivy that I was seeing. There were several blow-downs to hop over too.
The view from the aid station is supposed to be beautiful, but all I could see was fog. I didn’t need any water, so I just thanked the volunteers (who we were told had to hike in all that water) and was on my way. I was pleasantly surprised that the downhill wasn’t too technical. There were a few wet, rocky sections, but it was all totally runnable. Even so, I expected most of the people I’d passed on the way up to come flying by me, but only one guy did. I ran for maybe 2 or 3 miles before people started catching up, and only a few passed me.
The rain held off, but the humidity was pretty intense. Everyone was soaked. I was hot and thirsty and really glad that I had decided to start the race with my bladder about 1/3 filled with Nuun. I should have grabbed a water at the first aid station too, because I ran out of Nuun before the second aid station. When I got there, I drank a cup of Heed and a cup of water. I did the same thing at the third aid station.
As usual, the last couple of miles were the hardest. Mostly, I was hot and thirsty. I’d been looking forward to running by the lake, but by the time I got there the sun had come out and the heat was killing me. I would have gone a little faster if I’d known how close to the finish I was, though. My Garmin said I had almost a mile left to go when I crossed the finish line.
The RD gave me a high-five. As far as I could tell, he stood there all day congratulating each runner as they finished.
I ended up placing 4th female which seems pretty crazy, but I’ll take it.
The race shirts and pint glasses for finishers were really nice. I love it when races give out something useful instead of medals.
The race start/finish wasn’t on the lake and I wasn’t sure how to get to the beach. I also felt bad that Brian had gotten up early to drive me to the race and then hung around for hours in the humidity with the mosquitoes. Plus I wanted to get home to check on the kitties, so I never found out if I could have jumped in the lake. I did submerge myself in a little stream by the finish line, though. It felt good, but it wasn’t quite the same.
Maybe next year.
Brian and I have already registered for the 40 miler. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay a little longer to explore the park and maybe go for a swim. Although I think most Virginia State Parks only allow you to swim when there’s a lifeguard on duty.