First of all, I want to wish Barry a happy 6th wedding anniversary! I feel like I say this every year, but time just flies. It seems like it was just yesterday we were saying ‘I do’.
Second of all, I’m still recovering from my race last weekend and I’m not running much at all. But I’m currently on some kind of contact runner’s high from following the Western States 100 miler on Saturday and Sunday. It was incredible and I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacular coverage from iRunFar. My dark horse prediction turned out to be right with 20-year-old Andrew Miller winning the race, although certainly not in the way I expected (see recap HERE). On the women’s side my predictions were not right, but I was super excited to see Bethany Patterson of Virginia crack the top 10!
Third of all, I’m linking up today with HoHo Runs and MissSippiPiddlin’ for their Weekly Wrap link up. Today, I’m recapping my Eastern Divide 50K ultra trail race, which took place last Saturday (June 18).
At the beginning of April this year I ran my first ultra, the North Face 50K. At the end of April I ran my second, as part of an ultra team at Ragnar Trail Relay in Richmond. And last weekend, I ran my third at the Eastern Divide 50K. The latter had the best weather, the most elevation, and presented me with my toughest race to date. The day started at the base of Butt Mountain on the edge of the Jefferson National Forest.
The race is described as being “from the falls to the lake” and that’s exactly what it is: A point to point race that winds its way through the mountains from the Cascade Falls to Mountain Lake. Racers can either park at the finish and be shuttled to the start or get dropped off at the start. Barry offered to drop me off, which meant I didn’t have to be up as early. We made the 45 minute drive to the start and then he hung out with me until go time. At 7:30 AM I was off and running, with the promise of seeing Barry at aid station 5 (~22 miles).
I was very familiar with the first two miles of the course from numerous hiking trips to the Cascades and my recent hill repeats there. And I knew we had some serious climbing ahead of us. The race kicked off with a 2,000 foot, four mile-long climb.
I was running towards the back of the pack, which was already fairly small at 175 runners, with a couple of people behind me. Just before we reached the falls, at mile 2 and halfway through the climb, they passed me. All of a sudden I found myself running alone. Little did I know, it was going to stay that way for the next five and a half hours.
From the falls, I continued my climb up to aid station 1 at the fire road. The trail was super steep at times and even while hiking my heart rate was high and my calves were screaming. About half a mile from AS1, I ran into Jordan and his friend. They cheered me on and said they’d see me at the final aid station (a little past mile 26). I happily said ‘okay’ but on the inside I already had some doubt creeping in.
I made my way into AS1 and the folks working there were super enthusiastic. I had a variety of food and drink options, including bacon! But I stuck with half a banana and continued on my way. There was a 6 hour cut off at AS5 and I was already a bit worried about making it, even this early into the race. From here we were on a fire road for the next 18 miles. I had a bit more climbing to do before reaching the tippy top of Butt Mountain.
Once I reached the top it was rolling hills along the fire road on my way to AS2. I thought it was pretty neat running along the top of the mountain.
There was a nice downhill section leading into AS2 (mile 8.75). It felt good on the legs, but not so great on my stomach. As the road dropped down a bit lower, a few sections were under water from recent heavy rain storms. They weren’t too bad to run through, but it did give me some flash backs to North Face.
As I rolled into AS2 I was feeling a little bit nauseous. But I knew I should still try to eat something. I grabbed a square of PB&J, which I had used a few times during training. I asked the volunteers if anyone had reported bear sightings (I was a little on edge running by myself after my recent bear encounter at CtC). They happily told me no, but there had been a few Sasquatch reports. That made me laugh as I headed down the fire road, continuing to enjoy more downhill. Not too much longer, I was bent over on the side of the road getting sick. This happened again two more times before AS3 (now I’m a real ultrarunner according to Logan). I sent a text message to Barry that I was struggling and didn’t expect to make the AS5 cut off. He texted back to keep my chin up and just keep moving forward.
I was expecting a long, 7.25 mile stretch from AS 2 to 3. So I was surprised when I rolled into AS3 at mile 14 instead of 16. I thought that maybe my GPS was off, but it wasn’t. I had stopped getting sick at this point, and was able to hold down small sips of water. However, I hadn’t fueled in the past 90 minutes. I thanked the volunteers on my way through, but didn’t take anything from this AS. From here, the scenery was beautiful, but the fire roads continued to wear on me. They didn’t really change, and I had been running solo for quite awhile.
As I ran along the remote fire roads, I started to see a few small cabins with outhouses. At first I was sure I was seeing a few hunting lodges, but as I continued I realized it was a little mountainside community. Some of the houses had play sets, and in general they had a more lived-in appearance than a hunting lodge would. What a place to live.
From mile 16 to 18 I encountered a long climb up to wind rock that surprised me. I knew from the elevation profile there was another significant incline, but it’s so hard to tell what to expect since the climb in the first 4 miles dwarfs everything else. It turned out to be about 800 feet over 2 miles – not terribly steep, but unrelenting. The road curved a lot, too, and it just seemed to take forever.
After that long climb I was really happy to come into AS4 at 18 miles. I’d been fighting a low for the past couple of hours. I don’t know what was going on, exactly, but it was some combination of: not running as well as I had hoped, having stomach issues, unexpectedly running on my own, being convinced I was going to get eaten by a bear, and all of the fire roads. Complain, complain, whine, whine, whine. I forgot to remember I was lucky to be out there.
Aid station 4 was fun, though. I got to meet Alex from Twitter, and there were more people hanging out. This aid station was also the one with our drop bags. I had put a spare shirt, spare socks, more Tailwind powder, more fuel, sunscreen, and Vaseline in my bag. Alex got my bag for me but all I did was swap out the fuel I hadn’t eaten from my pack for the fuel I had in the bag. I told Alex I didn’t think I was going to make the AS5 cutoff, but he encouraged me saying it was only 4 miles and I had an hour to do it. Plus there was a lot of downhill. I ate half a banana, had a cup of Coke, and recommitted to finishing this race. The next thing I did was knock out two miles under 11 minute pace.
Throughout the day I had gone from being worried about not making the cutoff, to accepting I probably would not make it, to being happy it was going to be over at 22 miles. But here I was at mile 20, determined to finish this race. I was still having a hard time, though. I was approaching 6 hours into this race and I had not been taking in nearly enough fuel or fluids. Around mile 21 I got some motivation in the form of Barry.
Barry and I had plans to meet at AS 5 so he could run the final 8 miles through the Mountain Lake resort with me. The race director said runners were welcome to have their friends or family join them for the final 8 miles. However, when he arrived at the aid station he asked the volunteers if he could come down the fire road to meet me, since I was having a rough day. They said sure and I was so happy to see him. He helped push me along and I squeaked into AS 5 with just 2 minutes before the cut off. I definitely would have not made it without him.
The race director, Kirby, was there and he cheered for me as I came in and reassured me that I had made the cut off. He asked what I needed and I said “water?” more as a question than a statement. He went to refill my pack for me but pointed out there was still a lot in there and he didn’t want me to have to carry too much extra weight. So I said “okay, no water then.” But he did get the excess air out of it for me before I put it back on. I drank two Dixie cups of Coke and again asked if I had made the cut off. Kirby assured me that I had, as long as I wanted to continue. I said yes, and with that Barry and I were off down the technical singletrack trails of the Mountain Lake wilderness.
The final 8 miles were no walk in the park. Due to fatigue and having not been on singletrack for awhile, I was tripping and stumbling on the rocks and roots. A lot of times, I would lunge forward to keep from falling, which would cause my muscles to cramp up completely. Once or twice I even cried out because it was so painful.
There were also a lot of steep, fairly short inclines that felt like they were straight up. The downhills weren’t much of a relief, as I often spent them trying to avoid cramps or dealing with pain from the multiple blisters I could feel forming. By the end of the race I had nine blisters on my feet, including one under my left pinkie toenail.
I was hardly eating or drinking during the final 8 miles, and Barry kept reminding me to do so. We ran through a meadow and it felt a bit warm through here. In general, the weather was awesome. It wasn’t too humid, but by mid-afternoon we were approaching the high for the day and it was very sunny.
Funny story- there was a wedding going on in this meadow later in the evening. They were setting up for it as I ran by with Barry, and the groomsmen were having their group photos taken. Because of the wedding, they moved AS 6 about half a mile down the course, just past the meadow. I was excited to get into the final aid station run by our friend Jordan. It was great to see him. I enjoyed a icee popsicle and it was seriously the best thing ever! I also had another cup of Coke and then it was time to finish this thing.
With just 4 miles to go, I finally realized I was going to finish. I continued to struggle with cramping in my calves, shins, quads, and hamstrings, but I was still moving forward. Along the way, we caught a peek of the lake before turning onto a very rocky trail that went by the lake.
I could not believe the last mile and a half of the race course. We had yet another hill to conquer, and the trail was super super rocky. There was no way I could run through here, but we saw the evidence on the rocks from those who had tried to run through it earlier in the day (and by that I mean blood).
And to cap things off, I got pooped on by a bird in the final mile. Barry and I were running along and I saw it drop right in front of me. Then I realized it had landed on my shorts!
There was one final steep, but really short hill to climb connecting the trail we were on to a double track trail. The finish line loomed ahead of me, and it was such a relief to see it! Kirby was there, and as I ran across the line he reminded me it was okay to smile. I broke into a big smile, then, as I told him I thought I was. He shook my hand and told me congratulations. I finished the race in 8:17:42, about six minutes slower than North Face. But to compare, North Face had 1,300 feet in elevation gain and this race had 5,300 feet gain.
After finishing, I grabbed some post-race food, ate, and then headed home. From there I showered and headed up to Blacksburg to meet up with my little sister, Rachael, for the Summer Solstice festival. I was tired, but it was a fun way to celebrate the day. One of the things we did was watch the start of the 5K (which I’ve run in the past), and there were some people who ran the 50K in the morning running the 5K at night (“doing the double”). I happily cheered them on from the sidelines.
There were a few others walking around with their race shirts on. I had mine on, too, and we fist bumped while passing each other but didn’t actually say anything. I thought that was kind of neat – like being in some kind of secret club.
Now I’m looking forward to recovering and backing off some over the summer. It’s time to enjoy running for the sake of running and to check out a few other things I’ve been wanting to try.
Who else has raced recently?
Have you ever been pooped on by a bird?