Gain/Loss7560 / 7560 ft (50k)
The numbers stuck in my head but I couldn’t really understand what they meant as I had never experienced climbing like this so I shook off my trepidation and signed up for the race anyway. I have done a few 50ks before and spent some time hiking and running in the mountains so I figured I would be OK but I hadn’t counted on tearing a ligament in my foot mid-January and having to row my running miles for 6 weeks. So it was with a little nervousness that I pitched my tent the Friday before the race at the foot of the mountains near Lynchburg, VA. Me and my buddy Aaron had driven down from DC that day and had gotten more and more pumped as the scenery got better and the number of people dwindled. We picked up our bibs and really cool race mugs and listened to some Bluegrass music and ate some of the free pizza offered at the race start/campsite. As it was about 30 degrees and dark and we were in the middle of nowhere we crashed early and attempted to get some of that lovely fitful camping the night before the race sleep that is oh so restful and relaxing. Yeah right.
Actually we both slept pretty well but when it was time to wake up had the tent put away and heat blasting in the car in about 9 minutes flat. It was cold and would pretty much stay cold the whole day. Great weather to run an ultra in the mountains. The trails would be hard packed and the streams fairly low. So we got ready to race, braced ourselves for the cold and headed over to the start line. Ultra starts are fun. People are generally smiling and everyone sort of just moseys over to the start area. The race started at 7am and we headed off into the mountains. The first part of the race was about 4 miles up a fire road that became quite steep and rocky and was really just a tease of what was to come. The sunrise was a beautiful pink glow peeking through the trees and was absolutely gorgeous. After we popped out at the first aid station and sampled some of the goodies we started running down down down a long hill to about mile 8 or so of the race. Of course our intent was to try and not trash our quads but at a certain point it is hard not to do and I think everyone probably ran faster than they really wanted. Trashing your quads is a great way to start a 50k in the mountains! At the bottom of the hill was another great aid station with more delightful
treats and then we started THE CLIMB. I had intended to study the elevation profile more closely but hadn’t in the rush of finishing the week and packing and can’t really decide if it would have been better or worse to have known what we were getting ourselves into. We ended up climbing for about ELEVEN miles. Thankfully the views were gorgeous even though the wind a little cold. As we approached the summit of the climb my brain started to play tricks on me and I started to get really frustrated and whiney about the fact that I was really sick of going uphill.
When we finally reached the top we had to punch our bibs to prove we had been to the top and started to go down. This the moment where I realized that maybe going uphill wasn’t so bad after all. At least my quads didn’t hurt so badly going up. But after a bit I couldn’t feel much of anything at all in my legs and started to make up some of the time we had lost fast-hiking up the hill. We hit the main aid station again and yes, started back up a mountain. At the top were two summits where we had to punch our bibs and then squeeze through a crack in the rock called Fat Man’s Misery which was a little awkward to say the least with fried legs.
So with about 7 miles to go at this point everyone started to get a little giddy. We all knew it had to be all downhill from this point right? Well, first of all, it was downhill alright, really downhill, practically straight downhill! Six days later my quads are still sore! And, it went downhill to a low point on the course and then you had to climb back up the way you came. Pure cruelty but to be expected in a LUS race. The guy next to me was totally outraged which was really pretty funny actually. Once you made it up the hill though it was rolly and very runnable terrain. So runnable that we started to pick it up a bit too much so that I even managed to fall in a stream and wash my rear in cold stream water. I probably needed it at that point.
The last two or three miles were downhill and came back out on the road we started on. I could see that I was going to be able to come in under six hours despite all of my picture taking and screwing around eating Little Debbie snack cakes so I kicked it in for the last bit. The race director, Clark Zealand, shook my hand at the finish (which is so classy) and then I picked up my awesome Patagonia finishers shirt and went to go change to drive home.
As I limped to my car I finally understood what the following numbers mean:
Gain/Loss7560 / 7560 ft (50k).
I highly recommend experiencing them for yourself.