Virgil Crest Race Report–Part 2: The Race

20 Sep

For the Pre-Race Prep Report, see here.

Race morning arrived, we got to Hope Lake very early.  I used the bathroom, then used it again and again–the nervous pees before a race are the worst.  We sat on the tailgate and just watched the pre-race “stuff” going on.  We saw Laura and Co (doing the 100 mile relay), Mike (doing the 50) and Tim (doing the 100!).  Finally it was time to line up for the start.  Eric gave me a kiss, and I immediately lost it.  I was crying and I couldn’t stop.  He walked away to get some pictures of me at the start, and I had to walk away from the other runners to try to compose myself.  This happened to me at Buffalo Marathon, too, and I don’t get it.  There were a few other times yesterday that I got choked up during the race, but I never actually cried on the course.  I composed myself just in time to hear Ian yell the start and we were off!

pre-race, pre-tears

pre-race, pre-tears

Section 1

6.3 miles  +1250′ elevation/-1050′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:17

I was nervous for this section because, according to the elevation profile, the start was about 5 miles of almost constant climb–nothing steep, but just a gradual, steady climb.  Climbing is not my strong suit.  The cut off time for this section was 1:40, and at one point, I seriously wondered if I’d get cut off at the first aid station.

All that worry was for nothing, because I was fine.  The first mile was a gradual uphill on the paved path around Hope Lake.  It was cool to see the lights winding around, and people were very chatty.  There were apple trees, and an apple rolled across the path and someone almost tripped and we all had a good laugh at the possibility of injury in the first 50 feet of a 50-mile race.  We hit the trail and started to climb more–but it was mostly the conga line walk while everyone sorted out their placement in the group.  I had started pretty far back in the pack, so I started to pass people slowly, just listening to conversations around me about people’s race plans, previous race experiences, and the trail.  By about mile 2 or 3, things had broken up enough to settle into a decent rhythm.  The miles started ticking off, I turned off my head lamp a little before 7, and popped out of the woods to find Eric and Picasso waiting for me.

The other major goal for this race was to spend minimal time in aid stations.  Having volunteered and also having watched many friends complete ultras, so much time can be lost getting aid.  When you really NEED aid, that’s a good thing.  But when you’re just hanging out or eating, it’s not.  So we had practiced during so many of my training runs for switching out drinks, food, and getting back on the road quickly.  This aid station, I cruised in, we switched out both my vest water bottles (I also kept a regular Wegman’s plastic bottle in the back of my pack, but wasn’t using that yet).  I took two big swigs of Diet Dr Pepper and I was on my way in a minute.  Boom.

feelin crazy!

feelin crazy!

Section 2

7.1 miles  +1250′ elevation/-1950′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:29

I headed out of the aid station, past a plethora of men hanging out, getting food/drinks.  They left with me, and we all made our way up the trail, hiking quickly.  There was some conversation.  Mostly I just listened.  I was dialed in, focused on hiking quickly and efficiently.  I led the way, and when we got to a section that seemed runnable (still up, but so gradual), I took off, and they all followed.  The trail began to wind, then went down.  I am a fantastic downhill runner.  I never really gave much credit to this kind of statement (Eric has been saying it almost since day 1 of our running), but I heard it over and over again from the men running around me yesterday (there were not many women out there, so it was mostly just me and a bunch of guys all day).  I took off on a downhill and lost most of the guys.

Eventually, I was on my own.  I was moving well.  I was following the pink markings without problem.  All was well.  Until I couldn’t find any ribbons to follow.  I kept running, thinking I hadn’t given it enough time.  I ran for a quarter mile without seeing a ribbon.  I went up a little farther, still couldn’t find one.  I decided to back track to find my mistake.  I backtracked to the last flags I’d seen, where a guy was making his way down the trail.  I explained that I think I’d been lost, I must’ve missed the markings.  We continued together, and if I’d have just gone another 100 feet before turning around, I’d have seen the next marker.  I was pissed.  I’d lost some time on this mistake.  At this point, the guy told me that he’d run this race before, and in this section (the FLT), you could just follow the white markings on the trees, so there wouldn’t be as many course markings.  WTF.  I started to see people ahead of me and hear people behind me, so I kept moving.  We popped out of the woods onto a road.  The road curved, then it dipped down, down, down.  It went for almost a mile–I was flying.  I ran an 8:51 mile!  I passed by Mike, we exchanged encouraging words, and I kept moving.  At the bottom of the hill, we came to Gatherings and TenKate Crossing Aid Station.  Eric and I quickly traded out water bottles again, I left my garbage and grabbed a couple more Fruit Roll Ups and I was on my way in 2 minutes.  There was only one porta-potty on the course, and it was here.  I decided to stop and use it–good choice.  I peed (gladly–that meant my hydration was ok) and was on my way.

finding my fruit roll up stash

finding my fruit roll up stash

Section 3

6.6 miles  +2900′ elevation/-2200′

Estimated finish time: 2:00

Actual finish time: 2:10

I knew this next section was going to be murder–it’s the Alpine Loop which goes up and down the ski slopes at Greek Peak Ski Resort. I also knew I had banked some time in the previous 2 sections, AND that I had really not expected to stay on pace for a 13 hour finish past this point.  I decided to put my head down, grind it out, and just get through this section as quickly as possible.

Immediately past the aid station was a creek crossing.  I carefully picked my way across, trying to stay dry.  Right after the crossing, the trail began to climb.  Literally straight up.  I wanted to cry.  I kept going.  No time to wallow in pity.  I had shit to do.

The trail leveled for a quarter mile before it began to climb a black diamond slope.  Right away I was regretting not bringing my trekking poles–last minute I’d decided to leave ’em behind because I’d only practiced with them once and they were super annoying on the downhills.  But now, climbing, I regretted my choice.  A bunch of guys caught me, and we all commiserated about the climbing, then I jumped in line behind them.  When we got to the top, I was happy–til I saw that we were going to continue to climb.  Head down.  Grind it out.

We got to the top, then started a descent.  I managed to move a bit quicker and was feeling good–til we popped out of the woods and onto another slope.  It went up, although not terribly steep, but ridiculously long.  I passed some people, more people seemed to be passing me.  We finally came to a point where the trail curved ahead, and a guy I had been climbing with voiced what was in my head–finally this climb is done.  We turned the corner and…

Continued to climb, more steeply this time.  At the top, though, we looped around and began an access road descent.  Yay! Downhill!  By this point, on the exposed slopes, I’d gone through all the water in my front vest pockets.  At the bottom of the hill mountain, Ian had left an unmanned water stop.  I thankfully filled my bottles, realizing we were on our way to climbing the trail at our aid station from last year.  So straight up a ski slope.  At least, I reasoned, we’d go up a bump, then have the flat-ish section to recover before going up the next bump, repeat ad nauseam.  Except the course changed–so now we went up the slope NEXT to our aid station–the black diamond that literally went straight up.  It was a death march–a steady line of men (again…not many women…) and me.  Every 10-20 steps, I had to stop to catch my breath and wipe the sweat out of my face.  I cannot express the misery that this one climb induced.  There were people stopping and sitting down on the side of the mountain, it was that bad.  I didn’t sit.  I kept plugging.  Tim passed by me, looking like he was walking on flat ground.  He gave me some encouraging words, which made me feel slightly less murderous.  I finally made it to the top, and there was Ian.  We had some words.  Mine were, I think, filled with profanity.  I carried on with some guys who started talking with me.  We chatted as we ran along back downhill.  Then we climbed again.  Suddenly, as I was about to get frustrated with my perceived lack of progress, Brian and one of his kids appeared above me. Robot Brian, who just ran all 99 miles of Mighty Mosquito. We chatted briefly as I climbed quickly, knowing the TrailsRoc aid station must be just ahead.  I came in to cheers.  We traded out all of my water bottles (I’d gone through almost 46 ounces of water in this section!) and 4 minutes later, I was back out on the trail.

death marching

death marching

If hell exists, it is this Alpine Loop.  I felt slightly better when I heard from many race veterans that this new course was significantly more difficult than any previous years’ courses.  And I only had to do that section one more time, and it was more down than up going home.  I’d be fine.

Section 4

5 mile +800′ elevation/-1100′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:23

I ended up running a huge chunk of the beginning of this section with a guy who has taught high school English for 35 years, so we passed the time talking about the disturbing state of education and bonding over our mutual love for being in the classroom and our students.  We also talked about races we’d run and our training.  There were some steady downs and steady ups.  There were really weird “speed bumps” on the jeep road we were running on, which made no sense to me.  I was getting mighty sick of the stupid jeep road when we crossed a real road and headed into some really REALLY nice single track on our way down to the turn around.  The trail was nice and I started to see people on their way back.  There were back and forths of encouragement and praise from everyone, and then I started seeing UltraRunning Magazines all over the place.  Then I heard music, and I knew the aid station was coming.  I ran in, Eric was annoyed because he’d had a hard time finding the place.  I was there for 3 minutes–long enough to switch out my drinks again, swig a little pop, grab a handful of candy corn, and be on my way.

bizarre speed bumps everywhere on this trail/road.

bizarre speed bumps everywhere on this trail/road.

beautiful single track sections

beautiful single track sections

Section 5

5 miles  +1100′ elevation/-800′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:07

At this point, I was doing math in my head and realizing how incredibly well I was running.  I was also realizing that I was approaching the marathon mark, and with over 6k of climb, I ended up running a 6:31 marathon DURING my 50 miler.  As I contemplated these things, just before the marathon point, I bit it hard.  I quickly stood up, did my best to brush all the dirt and debris off me, and continued on my way.  Despite the fall, I was gaining confidence.  This section was pretty uneventful.  At one point, I ran into Jeff and Kirsten, and we stopped to chat for a minute.  I felt bad, but I cut the conversation off because I knew I needed to keep cruising.  I came back to the TrailsRoc aid station and knew there was a hot spot forming on my heel.  I figured it was the result of shit in my shoes, so I decided to stop to change them.  Since I was changing shoes, I changed bras and shirts, too, just to feel fresher.  Eric helped me, we switched out drinks, and I was back out running in 7 minutes.  I wanted to hang out longer in the aid station, because I knew the cursed Alpine Loop was coming, but I also knew I needed to just go finish this bullshit so I could move on to the easier, more enjoyable last 2 sections.

6k of climb, trail marathon, 6:31...I'll take that!

6k of climb, trail marathon, 6:31…I’ll take that!

As I left, it started to rain.  I was nervous about how the steep ski slopes were going to be in the rain, but had learned my lesson and brought my trekking poles with me.

Section 6

6.6 miles  +2200′ elevation/-2900′

Estimated finish time: 2:00

Actual finish time: 2:21

The first major ski slope descent, which I had been kind of looking forward to because I am a good downhill runner, was actually awful.  I tried to run, but it was too steep.  I “hopped” my way down, refilled water at the unmanned water stop and started climbing.  The rain had stopped, the sun had come out, and it was HUMID.  Awesome.  Exposed ski slopes, hot sun and humidity.  I felt like I was moving through quicksand. Made it to the top, descended and stopped at the trail head to the next ascent.  I got out my inhaler, because by this point, my lungs were not happy.  A guy came up on me.  He was concerned.  I assured him I was fine, but he continued to look back at me, making sure I was alright.  We ascended, then descended, the trail was really tore up from the rain and mud and runners, and then finally I was approaching the creek, and I found Picasso and Eric there.  At the creek crossing, Eric informed me that I needed to change my shoes and socks.  I don’t know how he knew, but I definitely did.  He encouraged me to just walk through the creek.  It was so cold at first, but then it felt so sweet on my poor tired feet, which were getting tore up from the jeep roads/rocks we were running on.  I spent 6 minutes in this aid station, changing shoes and socks, switching water bottles, and using the porta potty again.  I grabbed a baggie of chips, realizing I hadn’t really been eating much and I was about to climb that massive road hill again.  Eric told me to finish the whole baggie in this stretch, and to get moving.  I had been running with a decent time cushion for the whole day, but this stretch used up almost all of that.  I knew that I needed to refocus and run hard the last 2 sections of the course.

virgil5

of course black diamonds.  of course.

of course black diamonds. of course.

the teaser view--that's the finish line...20 trail miles left to go!

the teaser view–that’s the finish line…20 trail miles left to go!

Section 7

7.1 miles  +1590′ elevation/-1250′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 2:01

Hiking up the road hill, I shoveled chips into my mouth like an animal while contemplating how well this run had been going.  I was realizing that I was coming up on 40 miles, which is way farther than I’ve ever run before.  While things weren’t feeling fresh anymore, I was surprised to be mostly pain-free.  I felt like I’ve felt in marathons and 50ks.  Manageable soreness and tiredness.  I dipped back into the trail and started to move.  On one of the downhills, I came across a 100-miler who was struggling.  We spent the next mile or two running alone, but within eye sight of each other.  He finally sat down on a tree and I passed him.  I asked if he needed anything and he just laughed and said he needed a break.  I got that.

the hill keeps going up after the turn...and up and up and up...

the hill keeps going up after the turn…and up and up and up…

I tried really hard to focus, but my energy was waning at this point.  I could feel myself slowing down on the uphill hikes, and I couldn’t really run a lot of the flats/downs, because they were either super technical (I started rolling ankles and stumbling around at this point and contemplating how I would finish the race if I broke an ankle, because at 40+ miles in, no one was going to pull me).  If the trails were technical, they were running near a ravine, and one wrong step or bad stumble would land me in it.  So I just tried to move as quickly and efficiently as I could.  It felt like it took forever because it did.  I started to haul the downhills, though.  It hurt at first, but then it actually felt better to open it up a bit and get moving.  I came into the aid station to find a whole crew of TrailsRoc-ers with Eric and PIcasso.  I changed my shirt one more time, drank some Dr. Pepper, had a headlamp forced on me by Eric (I was convinced I wouldn’t need it) and laughed my way out of the aid station, knowing that I would see everyone again at the finish.  THE FINISH!!!  Aid station time for this section: 1 minute.

a power line section--it was like I was at home on the 0 SPF course...

a power line section–it was like I was at home on the 0 SPF course…

Section 8

6.3 miles  +1050′ elevation/-1250′

Estimated finish time: 1:30

Actual finish time: 1:29

At this point, I was realizing that to finish sub-13 (what?! Who ever would’ve thought THAT would be playing on my mind!?!?!), I needed to run these next 6+ miles in 1:15ish.  Which would’ve been fine if there were no climbs at all.  But there were.  And it became very quickly apparent that I had nothing left in my legs when it came to climbing.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t make myself climb faster.  I tried reasoning, I tried pumping my arms, I tried keeping up with people who I started running into.  Nothing worked.  So I just settled in.  I started leap frogging guys early on in this section–I’d blow by them on a downhill, they’d comment about how impressively I was moving downhill, then they’d catch me partway up a climb.  We talked about other things as we picked our way along the course.  One of the guys was a 100 miler, and we started talking about how this was my first 50.  I told him that since I was doing such a respectable job at this course, I could theoretically decide never to do this again, and he laughed and said “never say never.”  Distance running is a real slippery slope…one minute you’re training for a half marathon, the next you’re racing a 50 miler on mountains.  As the course became more steady downhills, I lost most of them.  The day had turned overcast, and the trail was pretty dark, so I busted out the headlamp.  A guy caught me and used my headlamp.  When we hit the paved path, he took off like a rocket.  I kept rolling, moving as quickly as I could.  Partway around, I heard people start screaming for me.  I saw Tim and Ron, on their way back out for the 100.  We high fived.  I kept going.  There was a girl walking on the path.  People were screaming for me.  I laughed and told her it was my fan base.  I took off my pack.  I threw it on the ground.  I sprinted in to cheers and pictures and Eric, waiting for me under the banners and clock.  I had done it in 13:14:30.  He opened his arms, I ran into them, and lost it.  I sobbed, then I laughed, then I immediately sat down to take off my shoes, realizing that I had blistered both heels, but hadn’t even given it much thought over the last miles, intent only on finishing and finishing well.  Then we rejoined “my fan base” for hugs and high fives.

Couldn't scream...or do anything else except hold back tears of joy and pride until I was safely in Eric's arms.

Couldn’t scream…or do anything else except hold back tears of joy and pride until I was safely in Eric’s arms.

Everyone else went back to the aid station, Eric and I went on an adventure to find pizza.  We came back to the aid station, I had 2 pieces of pizza and a Mike’s Hard, and it started raining monsooning again.  Lame.  I decided to go try to lay down in the tent and slept for a couple of hours, before waking up because I was starving.  I wandered back out, ate the rest of the pizza, hung out for a bit, then went to bed for a couple of hours again. We woke up this morning, packed up camp at a leisurely pace and then drove home.  Virgil was officially over for us.

Stay tuned for the aftermath report…spoiler alert: I can hardly walk this evening.  Terrible rap lyrics that my current state makes me think of:

“If you watch how I move you’ll mistake me for a player or pimp.”

Thanks, 50.  You obviously have run a 50 miler before…

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

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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

    […] For the full race report, see here. […]

  2. 2015 in review | shmeruns - December 31, 2015

    […] my first 50 miler.  Glad I got to do Virgil before it was ended.  It was tough, but I had a great day and raced […]

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