Monday, March 25, 2013

Terrapin Mountain 50k

You win some and you lose some, and sometimes you take a wrong turn less than a mile from the end go an extra 1.5 miles out figure out this can't be right and turn around to add an extra 3 and really lose some.

I had never run Terrapin before, but always wanted to. This year, I was able to. I drove down on Friday afternoon and picked up my friend, Matt from JMU on the way. We were planning on going by Clark Zealand's (race director) running store, The Aid Station, then going to the start line where they had packet pickup. The Aid Station was very impressive. It's all the trail shoes and stuff for ultra and trail running you see on-line but no one carries in stores because there's not a "big enough demand for it." Well, the Aid Station is where it all is.

Matt and I arrived at the starting line around 6 o'clock to the smell of fresh pizza from a Domino's truck. That truck rules and if I ever win the lottery, I'm buying one complete with a staff to just live in the back and bake me hot fresh pizza at all hours of the day. Anyway, we spent the evening visiting with friends, eating pizza, and enjoying the cool mountain air. Oh, and Matt didn't bring a jacket or coat to camp in March. Lucky for him, I brought an extra couple layers. He probably would've died of exposure if I hadn't. I probably saved his life, no big deal.

Terrapin Mt evening before race
 The temperature probably only dipped down to the low 20s that night, I doubt much lower but it was chilly. We awoke the next morning to Clark's voice over the loud-speaker. "Good morning everyone, please check in....we have coffee for you." The man was luring us all out of our toasty sleeping bags with the promise of caffeine and warmth. The problem was, there was a bridge of chilly air between the starting and ending stages of warmth.

Fast forward, to the race: we started with the sound of a gong. A real one, made by the cymbal company Zildjian. I didn't stick around to ask them who's gong is was. We were off. The group off the front was sizable containing both the 50k race and the 1/2 marathon race. Down the road we made a left, then we made a SHARP LEFT and a SHARP RIGHT. These directions would be important later...but then again, opening my eyes would've been more helpful.

I had a goal to finish under 4:30 just based on what people I knew had done. After a mile we started to climb a little more gradually people spaced out a bit and I ran in a group with Jordan Whitlock, Neal Gorman, and a guy named Ryan Welts who was from New Hampshire. Frank, Sam, and a guy everyone just referred to as "the 2:30 marathoner" took the first climb to Camping Gap #1 a little more ambitiously than we did. The four of us traded spots a couple times up the first almost 2,000' climb but were all within about 2 minutes of each going through the top of the climb. Immediately following the aid station at the top, we descended the other side of the mountain. Neal blew us away and seemed to be making a break for the leaders as expected. Jordan, Ryan and I ran pretty conservatively down the other side blowing through the second aid station.

Toward the bottom, I pressed on and went through the third aid station without stopping. I saw Neal up ahead during the next climb and figured I was staying about a minute behind him consistently. I caught him after we entered the steeper single track on our way back to Camping Gap #2 and Ryan caught up with me again. Neal said something about not feeling great, which would explain why we caught him. Ryan and I ran all the way back through the fourth aid station and up to Camping Gap #2 together. We were running pretty conservatively I think but still not going too slowly either. On some of the switchbacks we could look behind us to see if there was anyone coming for us, and we didn't see anyone. When we reached the aid station at the top, Horton yelled to us that we were 4 minutes behind Sam and Frank who were running together. Ryan and I started the White Oak Ridge loop together but I lost him on the first part.

That loop was really my only down spot of the race. The grassy double track made it look less steep than it was and became discouraging because it was difficult to run. I knew I'd feel guilty walking it, so I just kept running and tried to keep my heart rate under control.

After close to 3,400 ft of somewhat continuous climbing, the summit is rather uneventful since it's all wooded but soon enough, I started running down. I let gravity do the work and I just focused on staying upright. Rolling back into Camping Gap #3 for the last time, Horton yelled that Frank and Sam were still 3 or 4 minutes ahead. I couldn't believe I hadn't made up any significant time after the downhill I'd just come off. From Camping Gap #3, it's largely downhill to the finish with a few short but steep climbs. The first being the steepest up Terrapin Mountain. I knew the chances of catching them on an uphill would be highly unlikely and we still had 8 or 9 miles left, so I took the climb hard but not too hard.

As soon as I punched my bib number at the top of the climb proving I was there, I charged down the mountain. The trail gets very technical in a few spots with loose rocks, loose dirt, little to no footing and the pair of rocks that make up "Fat Man's Misery." Fat Man's really is rough. It's a steep downhill alley of slanted rocks that I initially went to jump down and quickly realized that was a bad idea because I slid the whole way down it just pushing off one wall to keep my face from being scraped off. I continued to careen down the mountain now passing 1/2 marathoners but keeping an eye out for Sam and Frank.

The last aid station is at the end of a little 1/8 mile spur as I was going down to the spur, I saw the two of them coming up the trail. I looked at my watch and noted the time so I could see how long it took me to get to that same spot. Upon reaching the aid station, I snagged one gel and yelled out my number. I didn't even stop running. I reached the spot where I crossed them with a gap of 2 minutes. I was closing.

The last section I had heard was all very run-able but was also 5.5 miles long. If I pushed really hard too early they might out surge me at the very end so I made sure to never be comfortable but not go too hard. It was very exciting! I felt like I was hunting. The trail meanders in and out of the ridges of the mountain and every time I came around a corner I looked for them. I stayed calm...until I saw them. We were still too high on the mountain to give it all I had. I knew we still must have had about 2.5-3 miles left. I increased a little bit but not too much. They had a 1:15 lead on me. I saw them on the next ridge just disappear beyond sight as I came into the ridge. 1:10 lead.

Finally, came the creek crossing. As I descended to the creek, I saw one of their heads disappear around the corner. This is normally a somewhat calmer crossing from what I've heard, but this year it was flowing pretty heavily, I jumped in and crossed not even thinking of any way to keep my feet dry. I got to the same point where I saw them within 1 minute.

I turned down the wide trail and stood on the gas pedal. I knew it was just a rough gravel trail, that gave way to a smooth gravel road, which turned right onto a paved road, and then I'd be home. I saw the "1 mile to go" sign at 4 hours and 10 minutes thought, sweet, I'll probably finish by 4:16 and turned off my brain. I told myself not to think and just run as hard as I could...but I didn't realize I actually stopped thinking. I reached the road and took the right but didn't see them. I knew they had to be close, I surged harder and harder but still couldn't see them. 4:15 came and went...4:16....4:17...4:20....? Someone had to be messing with us with that one mile sign. At 4:25 I decided I had made a wrong turn. I ran back to the last intersection with streamers and sure enough, I was supposed to go LEFT and THEN RIGHT. I didn't know how many people had passed me but I went the right way and found the finish line. I crossed in 4:35 in 8th place.

Things I learned from this race:
-Run hard but not so hard you can't see a thousand streamers and chalk arrows in front of your face.
-It's probably best to just not tell Horton you got lost - even if you admit you're an idiot for it. He will make relentless fun of you.
-Don't turn your brain off.
-I actually can turn my brain off....which I think is more scary than anything.

Matt enjoying some veggie burgers after his 5:10, first mountain 50k finish

Jordan Whitlock went on to drive far away to his Spartan Race (obstacles) and win it on Sunday...pretty sick. 

Matt after his first mountain 50k

The mountain. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post and a great run! Thank you for the life saving.