Welcome to the Bel Monte Endurance Runs, which is a 25K, 50K and 50 mile trail race run in the George Washington National forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Sherando, Virginia.
Some good things were had here and this is a wonderful series of trail races! The trails were beautiful, the climbs were what we expected and the volunteers and aid stations were great. The 50 miler has 11,000 feet of climb, it was hard, but good training!
Runners coming up the first real climb of the day
Let me get to our race...
The race started at 6:30 AM on top of a dam at Sherando lake in 24 degrees under clear, star filled skies. We lined up where we figured slower 50 milers should line up, a little forward of the back of the pack. What we didn't think of is that there are also slower 50K and 25K runners that we should have been ahead, so the first several miles were slow, as in real slow. In some places on flat trail we were at a complete standstill waiting for some "new" trail runner who didn't want to get her shoes muddy at the first creek crossing! Anyway, this cost us a lot of time and after hiking along some gorgeous trails as the sun came up, we reached Camp Marty, the first aid station at 7.3 miles in about 2:15. That's about a 19mpm pace. I wouldn't have minded, but even though there were some climbs in that section, particularly towards the end of those first 7.3 miles, most of it was flat to rolling in the beginning. The final climb I was able to crank up no problem as the field began to thin out. Here I refilled my bottles (water only for me), dropped my heavier long sleeve goat skin in my drop bag and grabbed a fresh flask of First Endurance Liquid Shot. I love this stuff and can usually down this for 30-40 miles before my stomach say no more. FE shot gives me lots of energy and electrolytes per flask, which lasts me about 3-4 hours...and this is basically all I need along with my water.
Marty and Deb goofing early in the race
Next up after Camp Marty was a great downhill section where I could make up a little time. Our friend, Bogie, didn't make the mistake we made at the start and was ahead somewhere. This section was a nice mostly jeep road and steep downhill, I passed a lot of people here as I can crank downhills pretty good after all these years of trailrunning. Many were tiptoeing their way down to avoid rocks and holes and I was able to fly by then. I was wearing my LaSportiva Crosslite trail shoes, which are their lightest and lowest shoes made. The foot turnover wearing these was great!
One of the many views we had during the day
At the bottom of the hill we came to the Kennedy Ridge aid station , mile 13.1 and because it was starting to warm up, I stripped off my 2nd layer of goat skin down to my singlet and tied it around my waist for later use. We had drop bags here, but because I was mostly running hard downhill, I never drank any of the liquid shot, just drank water, so I didn't need a replacement flask. With the next section being about 4 miles of rolling dirt road, I could catch up on my calorie consumption here, which is what I did. I really didn't like the road section, it felt hard with my light shoes, but it was a great place to try to make up some more time that I lost in those first few miles.
Next up was the Turkey Pen aid station and is where we split with the rest of the field. The 50 milers took a left on a wonderful single track, that climbed up for maybe a mile, then back down to a self serve aid station where we had to punch our number to prove we had done that section. Not far before I reached the station, I took a nasty header on a steep section of downhill and slid in the dirt. Other than some scrapes, all was fine. I also saw Bogie coming up as I went down and he told me I had 15 minutes to the turnaround, which means I am running around 30-40 minutes behind him. I lost THAT much time? So I punched my number, filled my bottle, took a hit of shot and started the climb. This is where I saw Deb coming down and she looked great, then not far behind her was Michelle Roy, our friend from Mass. Michelle was acting goofy, as usual, making a face at me, but she also looked great and I knew she and Deb would hook up and work together soon.
Deb coming down to the turnaround on the out and back section
Me coming up
Michelle coming down in her red hot pants
The climb back up was steep and it was getting warm, so I just kept drinking and taking hits from my flask of Liquid Shot and I had no trouble, as a matter of fact I felt better than I did all day. Soon I reached Turkey Pen again and made the left back towards Camp Marty to complete the out loop.
Bogie coming down from Marty's....look at the heel striking!
Bogie wins the "most gear" award...
I cranked up the steep climb up to Marty, thinking of how much this training will help at Hardrock, which just made me crank even more. The climb was long after a rolling trail section of multiple creek and river crossings. They weren't bad, maybe ankle to knee deep in spots, but the water felt great on my feet, which were starting to ache a little from the rocks and my shoe choice. I saw Bogie again on the way up and he said I had about 12 minutes to the top (Ah, I'm gaining on him). At the top of the climb it was all business, take a couple of pictures, grab a fresh flask, fill my bottles and head down hard. Now I feel like I'm heading home. This was the 27 mile mark.
Typical creek crossing on this section
The trail at the turnaround at Marty's to head back around
As I headed down I was now seeing the hurting runners....people just standing, looking not good at all. Some were even sitting by the side of the trail and I felt great! I guess training pays off. The runners were all asking me how far to the top, so I just started rattling off 2 minutes to the top, 5 minutes to the top, occasionally I'd come upon a runner running down slow from sore quads and would step around them and continue flying. As I was rattling off times, I then came upon Deb and Michelle, who were working together, I looked at my watch and said about 15 minutes walking to the top. I know how well Deb finishes ultra races and figured she'd finish within 30 minutes of me. More on that later...Grrrrrr.
Now it's just all business, like Karl Meltzer says, another day at the office....I wasn't seeing any runners anymore along the trails. I came to the Turkey Pen aid station and told the woman there I was all set and would be running through to get this thing done, she said I looked strong, which helped my attitude. About 1 mile to the road, then back up the road to Kennedy. Along the road I passed a couple of guys walking, asked if they needed anything and continued on my walk/jog effort on this rolling dirt road. Occasionally cars would drive by yelling out cheers to me, but otherwise it was a quiet journey. Now the road did feel real hard and the bottom of both feet were sore, they felt bruised...but I knew there was no relief until I finished, so for the first time all day I popped a couple of enteric coated aspirin, which didn't seem to do anything at all.
Sign welcoming me at Kennedy, mile 37.1!
I finally reached Kennedy aid at mile 37 and totally forgot that I had a drop bag and flask there, took a picture of the volunteers and started the long grind up to Camp Marty again. I think this climb was around 3 miles long, I know it took me about an hour to reach the top. I was still trying to push the pace, thinking back to those treadmill uphill walking sessions I did over the Winter, but this was much steeper than 15% and I did get a little fuzzy in the head, slammed the rest of my flask of Liquid Shot and started munching on some Clif Shot blocks I had in my pack. This helped to keep me thinking good and soon I heard the cheers at Camp Marty. This was mile 43...
Finally reached Camp Marty for the 3rd and final time, mile 42.9!
At Camp Marty I had some soup, filled my bottles, grabbed the last flask of shot and started up the road to the final couple of trails to the finish. I left with another guy who seemed to be hurting more than I was and while I was leading, we walked right by the orange flagging marking the left turn onto the Torry Ridge Trail back to Sherando Lake. It was only for a minute though as three runners were walking back towards us and said they couldn't find the trail. I looked back and there was the flagging going off to the left. Our brains now aren't the same brains we started with!
This next trail was tough on my sore feet....it was off and on extremely rocky and steep in spots. To keep my mind off of my feet, I though about Bogie who was up ahead and would I be able to catch him if I kept pushing....and if I didn't keep pushing would Deb catch up to me, like she does in many races. I had no idea where I was in the field or in my age group. I didn't see too many gray haired men since mid day, even with the out and backs, but that doesn't always mean anything.
Typical downhill rocky section on one of the last trails...ouch!
I had left all the runners behind when I plunged down the trail, except for one younger guy who went by me, but he all of a sudden stopped and I went by never seeing him again.
That's the guy on the Torry Ridge trail
I remembered from reading the trail description that we went by a blue marked trail and not too far from that was the other blue marked trail that we took down to the finish. Just before reaching that trail I ran into Abi Meadows, who I remember from her running Barkley last year and also from her occasional posts on the ultra list. She was very pleasant (and pretty) and mentioned to me that she had run the Terrapin 50K earlier that day and was heading out to sweep the last runner in. After that small greeting, I plunged as best I could down the rocky and steep trail to the road at the bottom, along the way passing a young guy who was having a lot of trouble getting down the trail.
At the bottom there was a small aid station and a woman told me to run up the road and the finish was in 2.4 miles. I looked at my watch and made a note of the time, which was 5:52PM. I needed to keep moving to try and break 11.5 hours! Where it was all road, even though it was all uphill, I figured it should be a piece of cake. but then I see the trail markers taking us uphill on a trail....Oh well, forget sub 11:30! I walked as best I could and at the top stopped to take a photo of Sherando Lake where we had started earlier that morning.
Sherando Lake, about a mile to go!
I now recognized where I was, it was the road where we drove in that morning, so it's not far at all. Then I hear footsteps behind me and look and see that young guy running up the road trying to catch me. Man, I didn't need this, but if it's going to force me to work harder than I felt like working, so be it. I ran everything, all the uphills and blasted the downhills. I saw Deb, asked what happened, she missed the cutoff at Marty's. What? You were right behind me!!! She joined me and we ran together to the finish, everyone yelling at me to move because someone was trying to catch me. My old road racing legs kicked into action to keep the distance.
Some post race thoughts...
I should not have worn the LaSportiva Crosslites on these trails, they are racing flats. I should have worn my LaSportiva Wildcats, which have a bit more protection.
The First Endurance Liquid shot came through for me again, other than that one moment climbing up to Marty's, I never bonked or even felt sick. I almost always get sick, but one thing I've learned is I can get away with taking in less than what we think we need. I used three flasks (400 calories each), one pack of Clif blocks (100 calories) and a small cup of soup, that might have been 100 (a guess) for a total fuel consumption of about 1400 calories. That's about 120 calories an hour, no where near the 250 that's recommended. When I train I use no fuel and I also run mostly low heart rate, which supposedly teaches your muscles to use fat for fuel more efficiently. Anyway, it works for me!
OK, now for my biggest gripe and I will write Gill (RD) about this once the dust settles...The cutoffs. Several runners that I was with were concerned about them, I said don't worry about it just run. When I saw Deb coming up to Marty's as I was going down, she said she was worried about the cutoff. I said there's nothing you can do about it, so just keep moving and you'll be fine. Well, was I ever shocked to see her at the finish line when I finished! She and Michelle were about 15 minutes behind me, so let's say 20 minutes total after having some soup and filling their bottles. Deb runs the 2nd half of ultras like I do, she cranks as best she can and sometimes catches me. When she got up there, Marty just said I can't let you go on, you missed the cutoff. Deb tried to explain, but he wouldn't listen....which is the right thing to do as an aid captain. So she and Michelle had to return the way the 50 K runners went back (the way I went back after reaching Marty's the 3rd time) and ended up winning the over 50 women's race even though she ran an additional 5 miles, which was the out and back we did near Turkey Pen. I am pretty sure Deb would have finished under 12 hours, an hour under the cutoff.
So that's it, training race #2 for Hardrock is history...we had a great weekend with friends, Bogie had a great race, possibly his best effort yet after we ridiculed him all week about "taking it easy".
LaSportiva Crosslite shoes
Drymax Trail Lite socks
Nathan Elite 2V Plus waist pack
Goat Skins: Greenlayer singlet and Longsleeve
First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, 3 flasks, 1200 calories
1 pkg of Margherita flavor Clif Shot Blocks, 180 calories
1 cup of chicken noodle soup, 100 calories
To see the results go here...
To see my photos I took go here...
Up next is the DRB 50K in Mass. on April 18th...
Until the next race and post...
Steve and Deb