Virgil Crest Race Report–Part 1: The prep

20 Sep

Virgil Crest first caught my imagination a few years ago, when we started working the aid stations there.  That first year, it poured all day and all night.  We stood in ankle deep puddles for over 24 hours, filling water bottles and encouraging people to get back out on the course.  I’d had no real experience with Ultra before this, but I was fascinated by the people we met and the camaraderie that seemed to abound.  Everyone was out in the same shit weather, on the same super hard course, all to get through and achieve something big.  I loved it.  It’s what has kept me going back for aid station volunteering every year since–for Virgil Crest Ultras AND Cayuga Trails 50.

So I had kicked around a plethora of 50 mile races in our area–I compared race dates, course descriptions, and price.  Ultimately, I realized that due to a very generous volunteer policy AND a lot of work volunteering, I could run Virgil for free.  “But it’s so hard,” whined a voice in my head–the same one that tells me I can’t run fast or far or up hills, so I should just sit on the couch and chill out.  And then I realized–50 miles is going to be hard no matter where you do it.  Might as well make it a race to be truly proud of, one to really test myself.

I made my training plan, spending many weeks building a solid base, then spending about 7 weeks aggressively adding miles to both my weekday AND more importantly long runs.  I spent the summer running, eating and sleeping–sleeping 8-10 hours a night AND napping during the days.  I was always tired–except when I was running.  Then I felt like I was on a mission.  Operation Virgil had began, and I was taking the training very seriously.  I’m not sure why this race was so different from other ones, but I suspect that a major reason was the HUGE bump in distance–jumping from 26.2 to 31 was not that big of a deal.  31 to 50, though?  That’s some serious business.  50 MOUNTAINOUS miles??  No room for half-assing.  I needed to be ready.

I can honestly say that I worked harder for this race than I’ve ever worked before.  I suppose I was nervous to admit that going into the race, because I was worried about what happened if I ran a “just ok” race.  I was nervous to admit it, because I didn’t want to seem cocky.  But every time I heard someone say it was going to be hard or the course was difficult, I became more determined than ever to do well.  I KNEW it would be hard.  I KNEW the course was a bitch.  That was why I trained the way I did.  Having never done a 50 before, though, I didn’t know if it was enough.  I knew what experienced ultra-runners were telling me–that I was VERY well prepared–but I couldn’t believe it, just like the first time I ran a marathon, I couldn’t believe a 20 mile long run would get me through a 26.2 mile race.  I guess for me some things need to be experienced to be believed.  All day yesterday, all I could think was “you trained your ass off for this, and it is paying off.  Every step of the way, your work is paying off.”  And I was so proud of that fact.

A few weeks ago, we got word that the course was changing.  I believe the email that was forwarded to me said something to the effect of “it’s going to have to be more difficult for the runners, but easier for me and the volunteers.”  I stopped reading that one early on.  Yikes!  I don’t want to know if this is going to be harder. Ignorance is bliss.

But last week, we got another email, and this one gave the new course descriptions/elevation profiles (after talking about potentially changing some of it, possibly making it shorter by a mile or two, or possibly eliminating some elevation).  Initially, I had decided not to look–why stress about anything, especially if it wasn’t set in stone anyway?  But then I couldn’t help myself.  I’m a planner.  I needed to feel prepared.

Toying around with the numbers, I came up with a rough estimate of what I thought I might be able to pull off for each section.  My guesses looked something like this:

Section 1: 6.3 miles +1250’/-1050′  (estimated time 1:30)

Section 2: 7.1 miles +1250’/-1590′ (estimated time 1:30)

Section 3: 6.6 miles +2900’/-2200′ (estimated time 2:00)

Section 4:  5 miles +800’/-1100′ (estimated time 1:30)

Section 5 (Reverse of 4) 5 miles +1100’/-800′ (estimated time 1:30)

Section 6 (Reverse of 3) 6.6 miles +2200’/-2900′ (estimated time 2:00)

Section 7 (Reverse of 2) 7.1 miles +1590’/-1250 (estimated time 1:30)

Section 8 (Reverse of 1) 6.3 miles +1050’/-1250′ (estimated time 1:30)

This seemed all ok to me, but then I realized that put me at a 13 hour finishing time for a super-challenging 50 miler.  I didn’t know if I was capable of that, much less of maintaining a relatively steady overall pace for each section.  So I decided that these times were just more of a pipe dream, and I’d see how long I could hit these marks, figuring that by Section 3, I’d be way off target.  I didn’t think I’d share them, but then I ended up giving them to Eric last minute, along with crew driving directions, so he had some idea of what I might be doing.

So my real goal was just to finish the race, and at one point I figured that 2 hours between each aid station would yield me a finish time of 16 hours. So I had decided that anything under 15 hours was going to wow me, and anything just over 14 hours was going to be about as good as it got.  When people asked me what I thought I’d run, my standard response became “anywhere from 13 to 16 hours.”

My only other REAL concern was having to run at the end alone in the dark–I figured if I could pull in a 14-ish hour finish, I’d cut my in-the-dark-in-the-woods time to a minimum.  I know this is ridiculous, but even as a grown adult, I hate the dark.  I hate not being able to see what’s around me, and being in the woods at night gives me the heebie jeebies.  Even camping.  So I wanted to run in the dark as little as possible.  But I knew that meant I’d have to push the pace, and I wasn’t really positive what I’d be capable of.

We packed up on Friday night after work and drove out to Virgil.  I picked up my bib, signed a waiver, let them take my picture (in case they needed to send out search and rescue…I am not even joking.  It was the most bizarre thing ever…) and we headed to the TrailsRoc aid station to camp.  I hung at the campfire for a bit, but went to bed very early (like 9 or something).  It was a rough night for Eric, and so I didn’t sleep well either.  When my alarm went off at 4 am, I was ready and anxious to go.  Not nervous really–just ready.  All week leading up to the race, I never felt SUPER nervous…just anxious to go test myself and prove myself.  I had been visualizing and dreaming of race day for weeks now, and I was ready to focus and kick off my adventure. I ate half a peanut butter bagel, got dressed, and we headed out to Hope Lake for the start!

Stay tuned for the full race report and the aftermath report. 🙂


2 Responses to “Virgil Crest Race Report–Part 1: The prep”


  1. Virgil Crest Race Report–Part 2: The Race | shmeruns - September 20, 2015

    […] For the Pre-Race Prep Report, see here. […]

  2. Virgil Crest Race Report–Part 3: The Aftermath | shmeruns - September 27, 2015

    […] For the pre-race prep report, see here. […]

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