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.
Halfway through our vacation in Belgium, Brian and I saw a flier for a local race happening the next day. We decided to do it. We needed to run anyway.
Registration the next morning was in a school gym. The registration form was in French, but luckily it was pretty short so we didn’t have too much trouble. There was a 6.5K option and an 11.8K option. We signed up for the 11.8K (which only cost 5 euro each.) Less than $12 for both of us to run a 7+ miler! Not bad at all.
I was in awe of all of the fun-looking ladders and climbing things in the gym. I really wanted to take a gym class at that school.
There may have been more men wearing Lycra, but other than that the runners looked much like they do at any other race.
The race director talked for quite a while at the start. We had no idea what he was saying. At one point, everyone laughed.
The race was mostly on an old railway line which was now a wide, flat dirt path. There was also a decent amount of single track through the woods and a very short bit at the beginning and end on a paved bike path.
There were a couple of water stops. One of them also had Belgian waffles.
We took our time and stopped for a bunch of pictures, but by the end I was struggling to keep up. Really struggling. Brian later told me he’d never heard me breathing that hard before. Vacations wear me out. Plus it was humid.
I don’t think more than a handful of people finished after us.
Beer and all kinds of food were available for purchase afterward. The beer seemed popular with the faster crowd.
I wished I felt like drinking beer, but my stomach was feeling a little too queasy.
The strangest thing to me about the whole thing was that there was only one bathroom for men and one for women (I’m talking one stall) and there was never a line. Do people in Belgium not drink coffee in the morning? I’ve never not had to wait in line for the bathroom before a race. It was very nice, but very strange.
Two years ago, the 50 miler on day two of the West Virginia Trilogy was my first ultra. This year, in a rare moment of bravery, I registered for the whole thing (50K on Friday, 50 miles Saturday and 13.1 on Sunday.)
Then, 13 days before the race, I sprained my ankle.
I was able to run the 50k on Friday, but I’m not sure that I should have.
I did two short, easy runs on the road the week before the Trilogy, but hadn’t felt ready to test it on trails. The 50k would be my test. It didn’t go so well. The uneven trail and slippery rocks took their toll. I was feeling the ankle just enough to make me worry. So I ran timidly trying to protect it, and ended up with some compensation injuries.
By the last six miles of the 50K, I could only run a few steps at a time before my knee would start burning. I hoped that by morning, everything would have settled down and I’d be able to run. But I don’t think I believed it because I was already feeling pretty bummed.
Saturday morning I got up feeling a little better. The back of my heel hurt in my shoes, but I had tied my shoes tighter than usual the day before hoping that would give my ankle a little more stability, so I didn’t think much of it.
Unfortunately, as soon as I started running, my knee started hurting again. I spent about a mile and half running a few steps and walking a few steps, hoping it would work itself out, but it didn’t. I knew there was no way I would make it 50 miles if I could only run a few steps at a time at the beginning. I was in tears when I decided to turn around and walk back to the start.
I finished the 50K, but I’ll still get a big fat DNF (did not finish) because I registered for the full Trilogy. And it feels like a big fat DNF. Actually, it feels more like a DNS (did not start). I feel like I didn’t even get a chance to try. It’s the second year in a row that a fluke injury has kept me from doing a big race that I’d trained for.
I’m not sure how my knee is doing because my heel ended up being a bigger deal than I’d thought. There’s a bump on the back that hurts too much to wear shoes. I can only wear clogs and flip-flops. I’ve self-diagnosed it as Achilles bursitis. Whatever it is, it’s keeping me from running and I don’t like it.
Registration for next year’s Trilogy starts February 2nd. I know what I’ll be doing that day.
It’s always nice to spend some time with my cousins, especially when we get to run and hang out at Old Silver.
I’m not sure why Kristen didn’t want to swim with us.
My ankle didn’t hurt at all during the run. It did swell up a little more afterward, but it seems to be going back down now.
If I can do 6.1 easy miles on pavement, I should totally be ready to run 31 miles on mountain trails by Friday, right? I mean, Scott Jurek not only ran, but won and set a course record at Hardrock (a really tough 100 mile race) four days after spraining his ankle. Surely that means that a normal (not super-human) person should be able to run 31 slow miles twelve days after spraining an ankle.
I was really excited about this race, but did not feel like I was prepared for it. On a whim, I’d registered for the marathon instead of the 25K and was seriously questioning that decision. My longest run since the Zion 100K on April 7th was 14 miles.
I did the 25K two years ago and loved it. If I were to describe my ideal race, I would basically be describing Conquer the Cove. The course is beautiful and challenging, but almost completely runnable (if you’ve trained adequately…) There’s a lake at the start/finish that you can jump in after you cross the finish line and the post-race food is pretty much a full-blown cookout: grilled burgers (meat and vegetarian), salty snacks, fresh veggies and homemade sides and desserts.
The forecast was calling for another warm and sunny day which made me very happy. This is one race that I actually don’t mind running in the heat. That just makes the post-run lake plunge that much better.
Considering that 26.48 miles was almost twice as far as my longest run in the last two months, my plan was to run very conservatively for the first half. I knew from doing the 25K two years ago that the biggest climb of the day was waiting for me late in the run (actually even later in the run than this profile shows). The course was a little over 26.2 miles long.
When I got to the first aid station at mile 8-ish, my legs were a little tired from the climbing, but energy-wise I felt really good. This is where the marathon course cut off from the 25K and I was looking forward to seeing some new trail. We went through grassy areas with daisies lining the trail, pine-needle covered trails filled with tall, skinny pines, and along a lake framed by green mountains. The terrain was rolling with mostly good footing. There were only a few hills steep enough to justify walking.
Three other runners came up behind me and we talked for a while. Chatting was a nice distraction and helped the miles go by quicker. After a while, the guy directly behind me asked if I was aware that I had sped up. He said I could do what I wanted, but he was concerned that I’d gotten distracted talking and wasn’t aware of my pace (not his exact words, but the gist.) I couldn’t help but think he wouldn’t be offering this helpful advice if I was male.
He seemed like a nice enough guy, I just found the whole conversation amusing.
I was moving quickly through aid stations, so at the next one I pulled ahead of that little pack and was on my own for the first time all day. I passed mile 13 and realized that I was almost halfway finished. It occurred to me that I was feeling much better with 13 miles left to run than I had felt at Zion with more than a marathon to go. If I could run 26+ miles feeling much worse than I was feeling now, 13 shouldn’t be too bad. Ultras may not be helping my speed any, but they have made me realize just how long you can run feeling like crap!
It was starting to get hot and I could feel the salt crusting on my face. A liter of water supplemented with a cup of Skratch at each aid station wasn’t going to be enough. At the next aid station, I filled my bladder about halfway with Skratch.
By the time I started the big climb at mile 18, I was feeling pretty hot and tired. A half mile later, at the aid station, a volunteer handed me an icy wash cloth. I don’t think there’s anything that would have made me happier at that moment (well, other than being finished and jumping in the lake).
The mountain was even longer than I remembered. When I did the 25K I’d been able to run almost all the way to the top. That was not the case this time. I walked almost all of it. Speed-walking is one of my talents though, so even though I was mostly walking, I passed more than a half-dozen people by the time I made it to the top.
I grabbed another cold washcloth at the aid station just before the descent. The long stretch of downhill was a nice treat. The 2+ miles to the finish after that were a bit of a grind. At this point, I probably could’ve dug deeper and pushed a little more. But I was tired and not willing to inflict any more pain on myself than I was already feeling. Two people passed me within the last half mile. All I could think about was how good it was going to feel to jump in the lake after crossing the finish line.
“A challenging and scenic run through the southern Utah desert adjacent to Zion National Park.”
The forecast for race day called for partially cloudy skies becoming more cloudy in the afternoon with temperatures in the high seventies.
The 100 milers started a few minutes before the 100K runners. The first mile was a gentle uphill climb. The second was too, but with several little dips that dropped about 8 feet and were so short you could almost stand at the top and jump over them. Mile three got quite a bit steeper as the Flying Monkey Trail took us up the side of our first mesa of the day. At about the three-mile mark, the single-file line of runners came to a halt. We stood there. And stood there. We pulled out our cameras. We saw a beautiful sunrise. We started talking to each other.
About a half hour later, a shirtless guy squeezed his way around the line, to the front. At first I was a little irritated. Everyone else was just waiting patiently in line. But then I realized that he was trying to get up to the rope climb that was the cause of the traffic jam. He showed everyone a way to get around the rock without using the rope. It was on loose rock on the steep canyon wall, but it got us moving again. There were sections where the trail was crumbly, sloping and barely two inches wide. I took deep breaths and kept moving forward.
The first aid station was at the top of the climb. We then did a loop around the mesa and hit the aid station again before descending on the same trail we’d climbed up.
I was expecting there to be some flat running on the top of the mesa, but there wasn’t. Instead, it was a roller coaster of short steep hills. The trail was also a lot rockier than I had expected. Somewhere up there, we ran into Cory Reese, the author of Nowhere Near First, which Brian and I had both read and loved. The Flying Monkey Trail was scarier on the way down, but at least the traffic jam was only backed up for about 5 minutes, as opposed to the 35 minutes on the way up.
The section from the bottom of the Flying Monkey Trail to the next aid station (Dalton Wash) went by pretty quickly. We talked to the girl with the “Do epic shit” picture for a while. She was doing the hundred miler. It was her first. This was the greenest section we were to see all day and included the only river crossing. The race guide said that you usually don’t have to get your feet wet. There were people trying to hop across on the rocks, but we just sloshed through. We’re used to running with our feet wet.
This was the largest ultra that I’ve done. I’m used to volunteers coming right up to me at aid stations, asking what I need and offering to fill my hydration pack. These aid stations weren’t like that. Honestly, all the attention at most ultras makes me a little uncomfortable, but as I struggled to push the water cooler button with one hand and hold my hydration bladder open and keep the mouth piece from dragging on the ground with the other, I found myself wishing somebody was there to help.
After Dalton Wash, we had a long climb up to Guacamole aid station, where we would again run a loop around the top of the mesa and hit the same aid station before descending the same way we’d come up. The top of this mesa was a little less hilly than the first one and there were plenty of views where the trail ran along the edge of the mesa. I stayed as far from the ledge as I could on these sections. We also ran for several miles on sandstone, which was uneven, hard as rock (ha!) and sometimes required a two-handed hop up or down. In other words, not easy trail.
I ran out of water about a quarter of a mile from the aid station. When we got there, we were told they were out of water. One of the volunteers was furiously peeling oranges, telling runners to squeeze the juice out for fluid. I was dumbfounded. We were in the desert, 7.5 miles from the next aid station.
We headed down the trail. Less than a mile later, a truck pulled up and a guy hopped out, asking if we needed any water. He apologized profusely for running out, letting us know he’d sent out several texts saying they were getting low and needed water. He said the last one was; “NEED FU&*ING WATER!!!” In all caps.
I’ll say. But whatever. I was able to refill my pack before it became an issue and I hoped everyone else was, too. A couple of miles later, another truck stopped to make sure we had enough water.
The sun started peeking through the clouds on this section. By the time we reached Dalton Wash aid station for the second time, the sun was out in full force. I was hot and a little annoyed at the weather forecast. It was supposed to be cloudy, dammit!
The section leaving Dalton Wash to the bottom of Gooseberry Mesa was my least favorite. We had to cross a busy road, then we were on a long, hot dusty road that stretched on in full view in front of us. Even though I’d applied sunblock at Dalton Wash, I could feel my face burning. My lower back was hurting pretty bad.
Once we started the unbelievably steep climb up Gooseberry Mesa, I actually felt better. The climbing eased my back pain and the different terrain was a nice distraction. My only complaint was the damn sun beating down on me. Stupid wrong weather forecast. Most people were not as happy about the climb as I was. We passed more than a few people seated on rocks or the ground on the side of the trail, suffering from cramps or just plain exhaustion.
About halfway up, Brian slowed considerably. Eventually he asked if we could stop for a minute. He said his heart was pounding. I was a little concerned when I turned around and saw that he was visibly wet with sweat. I sweat way more than he does, but in these hot, dry conditions, I was just salt-crusted and dry. It struck me as very odd that he was wet. A little while later, he said he felt nauseated. We trudged on, stopping frequently for breaks. Near the top, he sat down on a rock. I went a little ahead to find a place where I could get off the trail to allow others to pass. We sat for a while. I looked back and saw Brian vomiting a huge amount of water onto the dry ground in front of him. I had no idea what I should do. He looked like hell, but said he’d be fine in a minute. He was ready to go sooner than I thought he would be. We were only about a quarter of a mile from Goosebump aid station. When we got there, he went and found a chair in the tent and I got him a ginger ale and some broth. The broth went down well, so I got him some more. A lady in the tent said he was dehydrated and his body had gone into shock and stopped absorbing water. He needed to rest and re-hydrate, but should be fine.
We headed out of the aid station an hour before the 6 PM cut-off. We had five hours to make it the 12 miles before the next cut-off, but only 5 miles to go to the next aid station. Brian was still feeling a little weak from getting sick and I was in no hurry. Before the race, we’d talked about whether or not we’d stay together for the whole thing. The week before, I’d pretty much decided that I wanted to. Ever since my months of intense half-iron training, I’ve lost the desire to push myself. This race was no different. We had covered more than 30 miles at this point. My back was hurting more with every step. I had zero interest in seeing how fast I could get to the finish line. I just wanted to get there before the cut-off. Doing that with Brian was much more appealing than doing that by myself. Facing 30 more miles alone was not something I had any desire to do.
The views from the top of Gooseberry Mesa were pretty incredible.
The sky got even more beautiful as the sun started to set. It hadn’t occurred to me that we’d need our headlamps on this leg, but I soon realized that we would. We caught up to Cory again on this stretch. He asked if we’d mind taking his picture. We joked that it would probably cost us the win. As Brian took his camera from him, I asked if he’d mind taking a selfie with us in return.
Just before dark, we started running again. It actually didn’t hurt any worse than walking. In fact, I think my back felt a little better running. Cory passed us again. He’d taken a cool picture of us and told us if we emailed him after the race, he’d send it to us.
When we reached Goosebump aid station for the second time, my first priority was pain medicine for my back. A volunteer kept coming into the runner’s tent with hot quesadillas. The ones with beans and cheese tasted amazing. As tired as we were, I think Brian and I were both eager to get moving again, if only to get the last 18 miles over with. Once again, we pulled out of the aid station an hour before the cut-off.
The longest miles there ever were.
The descent from Gooseberry mesa was on the same trail we’d used on the way up. If you can call it a trail. The first portion was just a steep jumble of loose rock and sand. I asked Brian if he was sure we were on the trail and he said yes, but I still had a hard time believing it. The climb down from Gooseberry was my second least favorite part of the course (for the record, my two favorite parts were the climb up the Flying Monkey Trail and the views from the top of Gooseberry mesa). I made up a song about how badly I wanted to be off the mesa and sang it a few times to Brian.
He loved it.
I’m very musical.
Once we were finally off the mesa, I started feeling much better. The pain medicine had started working, which made a huge difference. I think the back pain was from not having my hydration pack properly adjusted. It happened at Fat Dog, too. I guess I can get away with it for shorter runs, but an improperly adjusted pack starts hurting like hell after about 10 hours.
The desert in the dark is a tricky place. It feels like you can see everything for miles, but in truth, there is a lot hidden behind hills and below the valley floor. We ran and ran (and walked) for what felt like forever. When I thought we couldn’t be more than two miles from the next (last!) aid station, a man passed us going in the opposite direction wearing jeans and a t-shirt and carrying no light. A few seconds after we’d passed each other, he yelled out “an hour and a half walking time to the next aid station.” That one statement completely demoralized me. Every bit of energy I had disappeared. That couldn’t be right.
But right it was. Some time after that, a young guy we’d seen on top of Gooseberry mesa caught up to us. He asked if the next aid station actually existed. We all agreed that we should have been there by now. I was just going by feel, but they both had GPS devices that backed up what we all felt. He ran the rest of the way to the aid station with us. I thought we would see the lights long before we got there, but we just turned a corner, and there it was.
I had to use the bathroom so we took longer at this aid station than I wanted to. As we headed back out in the dark, I noticed that my headlamp was really dim. I’d never used it for more than 4 or 5 hours and hadn’t anticipated doing so this time, either. I ran my first 100K in 15 hours. Going by elevation gain alone, this race should have been easier (it was not). Taking the heat and unfamiliar terrain into consideration, I had anticipated finishing this one in 16-18 hours. I really thought we’d be finished by midnight at the absolute latest. But that hope had long since vanished.
At this point, we were both still 100% confident that we’d make the 2 AM cut-off, though.
My headlamp continued to get dimmer and dimmer until I finally had to resort to digging out one of the cheap back-up pen flashlights Brian and I each had in our packs. It was annoying to carry and wasn’t much brighter than my headlamp. The light also moved with my arms as I ran, which I wasn’t used to. But it was light. The nighttime desert was playing tricks on us again. It was getting dangerously close to the cut-off time and we were still heading away from the only light we could see for miles. We started thinking we had somehow gotten off trail. Reason told me that we had followed all of the signs and therefore must be going the right way. But my tired, sleep-deprived brain panicked, imagining that we were heading aimlessly off into the desert. Brian was convinced we had gone the wrong way. At this point, that could easily mean not making the cut-off.
We backtracked about a half mile to the last sign that we’d seen. It pointed us in the direction we had gone. We turned around and ran as fast as we could in the direction we’d just come from. I had no way of knowing the time, but Brian’s watch said we’d been running for about 19 hours and 50 minutes. We had 10 minutes to get to a finish line that was nowhere in sight. It felt pretty hopeless, but we ran blindly into the night. Finally, we could see a faint light ahead. It was definitely the finish. The trail took us right by it. I couldn’t believe we were so close and still running away from it. When we finally did turn so we were running towards it and could see the clock, It read 19:59:30. Holy crap were we cutting it close. I sped up as I heard Brian say “we’re going to be fine.” How could our reactions be so opposite? I wasn’t sure we’d make it in 30 seconds, but he was right. The clock read 19:59:47 as we crossed the finish line.
We later realized that because of chip timing and the fact that the 100 milers started a few minutes before us, we actually had a little over 5 minutes to spare. But I kind of liked the idea of making the cut-off by mere seconds. I also thought that we had achieved the DFL (dead fu#*ing last) title, but there were a few people listed in the results as finishing after us. They didn’t finish within the 20 hours though. So I’m not sure if we can claim the DFL title or not.
But I think we can.
Finishing my second 100K has got me thinking more about attempting a 100 miler.
The main reason that I’ve not really wanted to try the 100 mile distance is because I hate the idea of running through the night, but it surprised me how well I handled running from 6 Am until 2 AM. I know it would suck, but I now think I might be able to handle the whole staying awake all night part. Just a thought.
There’s something to be said for finishing at the very back of the pack (or dead fu*#ing last). Neither one of us was all that sore the next day. By Sunday we felt fine (other than the nasty blisters on both of Brian’s feet) to do some hiking in Zion National Park.