Terrapin Mountain 50K Race Report

I got my most recent taste of “real” Virginia mountain running a few weeks ago when a group of us from Richmond headed up to Nelson County to run Three Ridges and the Priest.  It was to be training for the upcoming Terrapin Mountain.  I had no idea what to expect, but the training run confirmed what I already knew:  I like climbing,  I stink at running downhill – especially the technical stuff (i.e. ROCKS).

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Intrepid souls nearing the top of Three Ridges
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Done!! This is a run I’ve wanted to do for a LONG time, and can’t wait to come back during swimming hole season 🙂

Still, I was excited for Terrapin, and a new adventure.  My quads, glutes, and hips had recovered quickly from Holiday Lake…the only lingering problem was my feet.  The tendons and ligaments had loosened, and I was constantly rolling my ankles.  I was worried, especially since I have a history of issues with my left achilles.  10 days before Terrapin, my RIGHT foot decided that it was its turn to complain.  Serious bruising and weakness led me to believe I might have a navicular stress fracture.  Drawing inspiration from many stubborn seasoned trail runners before me, I buried my head in the sand.  I iced, compressed, rested, and put my fingers in my ears when anyone mentioned going to get it x-rayed.

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In part because of my cranky foot, and in part because of the serious reduction in training mileage, I was a neurotic mess going into Terrapin.  My non-running life has been CRAZY lately…we are in the middle of a home renovation, the girls’ activities are ramping up for Spring, and the never-ending-richmond-cold-rain-winter-weather has kept us from being outside most afternoons.  I’ve been short-tempered at times, and, although the girls were thrilled to be spending a River weekend with their grandparents, I couldn’t help feeling guilty as I rolled out of town Friday afternoon.

I started to settle down when I turned onto Rt. 29 outside of Charlottesville.  It is SUCH a beautiful drive, as one leaves the Piedmont and gets a glimpse of the Blue Ridge.

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Who needs medication? Go climb a mountain!

By the time I reached the Sedalia Center at 6pm, greeted friends, and set up my “tent” (really just an air mattress in the back of my minivan), I was ready to get my mind back in the game.  The Sedalia Center serves as the start and finish point of the race and provides a wonderfully terrifying view of Terrapin Mountain.

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Martha, Mark, and Me. That’s Terrapin in the background…it looked MUCH larger in person, pre-race!

There was an open pavilion where we got our race numbers, AWESOME pottery mug (love!!!), and pizza.  A band was on stage, playing laid back music (kind of a celtic-folk sound).  I chatted with the Richmond crew…almost all of the “usual suspects” were running…

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Some of us stayed for the photo op….

…then headed back to the van for a COLD night.

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The race started at a very civilized hour – 7 am!  I had plenty of time to fire up the camp stove, eat breakfast, get dressed, and check in before we lined up and the gong sounded.  I wasn’t sure how my foot would handle six hours of running, but I felt loose and good on the first 1/2 mile of asphalt and the initial 3 mile climb up the mountain.  Coming into the Camping Gap aid station (the first of three times we’d visit), I peeled off my long sleeves and handed them to Drew.  I was third female, but I knew that wasn’t likely to last.  Still, it was encouraging, and I reminded myself to just take the day as it came and not get hung up on placement (soooo much easier said than done!!).

Leaving Camping Gap, we were treated to FIVE miles of downhill on forest roads.  I tried to let gravity work and roll down the hill….making time without trashing my quads.  About halfway down, Kristen Chang passed me.  We introduced ourselves, and she stayed 15-20 seconds ahead of me through the next few miles.  Once we started heading uphill, however, she pulled ahead.  It was on this LONG uphill (Seven miles, in all, back up to Camping Gap) that another girl passed me…I think it was Emily Warner.  She was moving fast, and very quickly was out of my sight.  My foot had started to hurt, we weren’t even halfway through, and I began to worry.  Still, when we hit Camping Gap, I got a nice shout of encouragement from Horton, and I rolled through to finish the climb to the summit of White Oak mountain.

It was on this loop, about mile 18, that I really started to slow.  The downhill was steep and my foot hurt, and two more women passed me.  Coming off of the “lollipop” section, I started to see the runners behind me.  I got a moment of sympathy from Mark, then lots of smiles from Debbie, Nigel, and Hurley.  I came back into Camping Gap in a happier place, determined to get this race OVER and head home!

But first…Terrapin Mountain.  Drew warned me as I was leaving the aid station that I’d have a 3/4 mile climb, and he wasn’t kidding.  Straight up and up and up to the summit of Terrapin.  We had to climb out on some rocks to punch our bib (one of three required check-ins), and then start the trek down the mountain, squeezing through a rock gap (the aptly named “Fat Man’s Misery) in the process.  The descent was HARD and TECHNICAL and I did NOT enjoy it!  But I got it done, and came to what I thought was the final aid station.  Not so quick, Annie!  Only a sign & some volunteers letting us know we needed to go downhill another half mile to check-in, and then retrace our steps back up.  Ooof!

5.5 miles to go.  I don’t know why I thought that this section was on a fire road, but it wasn’t – just more rocky trail – a lot of it uphill.  I could see the valley below and knew we’d have a lot of decent – where was it??  I trudged along, until we hit the road with about 1 1/4 miles to go.  It felt nice to open up the pace and fly for a bit, and my final mile was 7:12.

I finished in 5:47; 8th female.  I met my goals, but wouldn’t call it a great race.  I hurt, both physically and mentally, for a big chunk of the race.  Horton came up to me afterwards and said “You died out there, didn’t you.  When I saw you earlier you were running well, but then you died”.  And he was right.  Somewhere around mile 18 my foot started to hurt and my strength ran out.  From that point on, the uphills were OK, but the downhill killed me mentally.  I knew I wasn’t running those sections well, and that was the difference between an great race and a so-so one.

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Most of the Richmond crew post race

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I gained a LOT of experience yesterday.  I know the training I need to be competitive in the mountains.  I saw how the fast girls run.  I learned that you can’t always use mileage as a nutrition guide (I did NOT eat or drink enough yesterday…I only consumed about 600 calories, or about 100 per hour.  I think 150-200 might have been better).  My foot hurt, but after mile 18 it did not get dramatically worse.

Going forward?

  1. Recover
  2. Go run some mountains (not going to be easy with our Spring Break trip to…..Delaware….)
  3. To the extent that my “real” life will allow, I need to get my mileage back…I whine less when I run more!
  4. Finally, I need to work on my nutrition – both on race day and leading up.

I can’t wait to run Terrapin again next year.  Hats off to Clark Zealand, the volunteers, and everyone who came out to make it a fun, laid back, day!

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The beauty of a Bad Run

Oy.  That Hurt.

Saturday was the winter edition of Mark Iscool’s semi-annual Really Early Morning Run (REMR).  A group of 10-12 crazies (mostly ultra-junkies) gather at 2 a.m. to run up to 25 miles.

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Upon returning to Mark’s house, runners enjoy coffee, baked goods, and lots and lots of BACON.  Its always a good time.

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The companionship and BACON did not disappoint this year, but the run…ugh.  Its been a long time since I hurt that badly.  While I am really annoyed at myself for suffering like that, there are a LOT of lessons to be had.  I realize that we need these bad runs (or bad parenting days) every so often so we don’t take the good ones for granted.  Just because one has the base mileage doesn’t mean one can ignore such important factors like recovery, nutrition, sleep, fuel and hydration.

  • Recovery.  Still healing from running hard at Holiday Lake.  Upping the strength training has left me with aching quads and glutes.  The tendons and ligaments in my feet are also still sore.
  • Sleep.  The run started at 2 am.  I did not get ANY sleep beforehand.  I went bowling instead.  Bad Annie.
  • Nutrition.  I’ve had a lot of luck with eating a big breakfast, protein-rich lunch, and carb-based early dinner the night before a big run.  A bowl of oatmeal 2 hours before the start tops off my tank and gets me through the first 2 hours feeling strong.  Friday, I had a small breakfast, a salad for lunch, and ate a late dinner – a huge mexican meal that sat like a rock in my stomach.
  • Fuel.  The undigested food in my tummy meant I had NO desire to eat anything during the run.  I forced down a gel around 90 minutes in, but it had no noticeable effect.  I ate nothing else the rest of the time, and I bonked HAR D around mile 14.
  • Hydration.  I also had no desire to drink anything.  I forced down about 20 ounces of fluid, but probably needed twice that amount.

I believe ALL of these factors contributed to the extreme nausea that plagued my run.  I knew 1/2 mile in that it was going to be rough.  By mile 6, I was questioning my ability to continue.  I wanted to throw up, but couldn’t.  I ended up slogging through 18.5 miles – almost 3 hours.  Even though it was miserable, I knew it was good training.  I’d much rather feel this was on a fun run than in a race.  As an added bonus, it was dark – so no one could see the near-death expression on my face!!!

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I have more of these “bad runs” as a mother than I’d like to admit.  When my patience frays.  When I’m not as present with the girls as I’d like to be.  When the clutter, mess, dishes, and laundry take over the house like a mutant-plant-creature in some B-grade horror movie.  If I can just step back, there are always root causes.  There are always solutions.  And, like muscles, bones, and tendons, my family grows stronger each time we’re tested.  Thank goodness for tomorrows – a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over again.