Friday, December 25, 2009
My daughter and I headed down to Virginia Beach on Friday, planning on making a stop to check out Regent University. All week, the weather forecast kept changing. First, it was supposed to be dry on Saturday, then a chance of showers, but by the end of the week a full blown winter storm was forecast. I debated the wisdom of driving down there, but with race paid for and room reservations made - away we went. By the time we checked into the hotel room, the snow was already coming down up north, and high winds, heavy rain and possible flooding were predicted for VA Beach. It was too late to change our minds and turn around, because we would have had a hard time making it back home in the midst of the storm. The race was still on with a slight modification to the course. Now instead of two loops, it would be three loops (or more correctly - 3 out and backs), with part on a paved road inside the state park. This little change made for mentally a tough day. Never-the-less, I showed up for the 7:30 start ready to go. Temperatures were rainy and in the forties at the start, but were predicted to drop during the day. I had on 2 layers on top, with my rain jacket over all that, plus running tights and rain pants on the bottom. Two pairs of socks, gloves and a hat. I wore my hydration vest, plus also carried a small bottle in my jacket pocket along with numerous gels and sport beans. We ran about half a mile and entered the trail. Already it was pretty muddy. Most people were running on the sides of the trail to avoid the puddles in the middle. I followed for a while and then because it was impossible to keep the feet dry, and I was expending extra energy dodging back and forth across the trail, I decided to run straight down the middle. This worked for at least the first loop. The paved part was a nice break from the mud and I kept a good pace. The first 10 miles were done in 1:36. Now, for the second loop. The rain comes and goes. It would taper off for a while, then begin to pour! With 160 people moving up and down the trail, the footing gets worse. My strategy of running right through the middle of the puddles gets harder because the ground is getting softer and softer. We are also running in a green tunnel. While the trail had markers every 1/2 mile, it seemed like forever before you come to the next marker and everything looks the same. As I approach the paved section for a second time, the wind and rain pick up once again. Right before the turn around point, the road is flooded! Other people are plunging in, so I follow. In the middle of this new lake, the water is over my knees and freezing cold. When I finally trudge through to the other side, my feet are numb until I get them moving again. Turn around, and then I have to go through it again. Soon, I was on the muddy trail again. By this time, I was stopping to get extra gatorade at the aid stations. I hit the 20 mile marker at 3:33. I thought I was doing pretty good and figured if I could even maintain a 12 minute mile I would finish in less than 6 hours. A lady in a red outfit ran by me, and I decided to try to keep up with her. We had been playing tag for the last 4 miles. But mentally, I didn't want to do the third loop. The mud was getting to me. As we ran down the trail, she seemed to get farther and farther ahead. Lots of people were starting to struggle - you could see the toll of the rain and mud on their faces. Plus I could feel the temperature starting to drop and was so glad this was my last loop. I waded through the "lake" one more time and then on the way back finally gave in and took the route through the woods. My legs were really starting to ache. I walked for a little bit with a guy doing his first ultra, having never run over 14 miles in training. He was also wearing Vibram 5 Finger shoes. I left him to try to run as fast as I could while still on the pavement, knowing that the 3.5 miles of trail leading to the finish were going to be tough. My time at the marathon mark was 5:00. I still had a chance to break 6 hrs, but even when I was running I felt my pace slipping closer to 14 and 15 minute miles. The trail was so muddy that I could only walk through the slipperiest and softest spots. At about mile 29, I was thinking "I quit. I'm just going to go to the next aid station and drop out." Of course the aid station was right before the finish line and I would have to walk past the finish line to get to my car. So I just laughed at myself - it was my running internal joke "I quit, I'm done," knowing that it would get me to the finish line. Weird about what works when you're tired. Finally I saw that last aid station, picked up my drop bag(which I didn't use) and ran/walked to the finish. Done in 6:10:44 - over half an hour slower than my 50k PR, but what an adventure! I went back to the hotel, took a long hot shower and jumped into the in-room jacuzzi. Nice! Va Beach got a dusting of snow that evening. The next morning on my recovery run I saw people surfing! I guess you got to catch a good wave when it comes!