Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Wow! Where did this one come from? Part of the Blue Ridge Cup Series, the Overmountain Victory Trail (OVT) 25K was in my sites as another race to gain valuable series points and sort of round out the long racing season. There was some mounting competition in the series and I was looking to secure my place on the podium. It turns out the the top two competitors in the series were also at the race so I was a good thing I made the trip.
I have biked on this course in the past. If fact I won an offroad triathlon here the previous year. This Summer, I camped here and actually ran this whole course a couple of times not knowing that I would return to race in the fall. After having one of my best race efforts ever, just two weeks earlier, I thought my season was over and really had no intention of doing anything else. But when I found out there was a race on these spectacular trails, it was a no-brainer.
The venue is located at the Kerr Scott Reservoir near North Wilkesboro, NC. There are about 40 miles of fantastic running and bike trails, well maintained by the Brushy Mountain Cyclist Club, and a spectacular lake and campground area that just welcomes a hot summer family getaway. The morning met us with low 40 deg and foggy weather and a full group of runners for this inaugeral event. As well as the 25K, there was a 10K option that raced concurantly so it was exciting to break from the start no knowing who was doing which course.
I had no game plan for this one. I knew the course so that was no mystery. I just didn't know what I wanted to do. My sole motivation was the Blue Ridge Cup Series. I just needed to stay with the points leaders. I tried to start out slow (always my first choice) but it didn't last long. There were a few guys that took off and I just didn't feel like I could let them go. This was a strange distance for me. 25K should be what pace?!?. Who knows? So, how long do you wait before you go after the lead group? For me, it was about 1 mile. I took off and pulled a few with me. We chatted a bit in my chase group but I was really trying to focus. I tried to get them to cooperate and work together to grab the two in front of us. Nobody was playing so I pushed off on my own.
A short time later, I caught up with #2 and worked with him for a couple of miles. I didn't want to take off as I was a little spent from the effort to catch up but he seemed content to hold his pace so I bolted from him as well. Now in 2nd, I was somewhat content. I kept my hard pace and soon found myself right behind #1. When I caught him, Abran Moore, I asked if he was willing to work together to build a lead on the others. Abran was a player and he was ready to move. He was looking strong and experienced so I was reluctant to pull ahead but I thought since it was my idea that I would jump around to the lead and pull for awhile. Abran was OK with that and off we went. I pulled until about 1/2 mile to the turnaround when he offered to take his turn at the pull. I was feeling the race at that moment so I let him go.
We were right on top of each other at the turn and I was struggling to hang with him after just the next mile. I took a gel and tried to recover but was now a bit sick to my stomach. Never being one to play the part of the "leach", I offered to pull a bit. I told Abran that I didn't want to slow him down but I would do what I could to work the rest of the field. He pulled over without hesitation and I grabbed the lead. To my surprise, I started to drop him. We came to a somewhat long hill and I put about 10 seconds on him. It was way too early to put on the push to the finish but I was forced into a move and I took it. If I was going to shake him, it had to be now.
The course was relentless. There was no flats. Many of the hills were 8-10 footers. Not too hard but it was very difficult to hold a pace. You were constantly accelerating and decelerating. I did my best to end the race about 5 miles out. I was feeling a bit better a short time after gapping Abran but soon hit a bad energy zone in some of the remaining hill challenges. The trail had many switchbacks that offered a view of anyone trying to sneak up from behind. On one of those sections, I caught Abran just a few seconds back. I really thought it was over at that point as I was on E.
Abran's effort to bridge back up to me must have been too much. At the top of the next hill, I put in my final kick to the end and put another 30-40 seconds on him. Very surprisingly, I finished in first place!! and secured the overall win in the Blue Ridge Cup Series. I am very proud of this race. It was my first ever trail race win and one where I went through several tough moments of doubt. In the end, the ever present motto of every distance runner came true. "Never give up, EVER"
This was a first time event and a very highly recommended. You will not find better running trails in the beautiful NC mountains.
Anybody looking for a 50K PR? I'll let you in on a little secret. Start heading toward Fries, VA in early October and look for a super pretty and ultra flat rails-to-trails path along America's oldest river, you wont go away disappointed. Annette Bednowsky's New River Trail 50K is really a super event. One of the smoothest, most layed back events I have participated in, this race can really bring out the best in experienced ultra racers or provide a non-intimidating environment for the first timer.
The venue runs along a well maintained and well traveled crushed gravel path along the a remote section of Virginia's Historic New River. This out and back course starts in the sleepy town of Fries, VA and travels a few miles down stream before crossing the river to hit a spur path along the scenic Chesnut Creek. Aid stations placed about every 5 miles allowed you to race with minimal supplies. Annette encourages "green" racing so it is important to carry your own water carrier but Johnny on the spot volunteers and fully stocked tables made for quick pit stops and added to the PR possibilities.
I traveled to the race from a job I was doing up in WV. I knew the course as I had biked on it several times. Beautiful and super flat. Living in the mountains, I have no idea what to do with flat racing. Anyone who thinks you can just switch between the two have never tried this. Running flat might be fast but the monotenous constant pounding of the same muscle group can provide disaterous for anyone not prepared. Fortunately, the place I was working was near the C&O Tow Path along the Potomac river and provided perfect training for this river path. I had a pretty good base going in but the few weeks prior, I worked specifically on running flat and constant. I felt pretty good going into race day.
The morning brough cool and foggy conditions, perfect for a fall ultra. This was the third edition of the event and it sported a crowd that was the biggest to date. Lots of good peeps coming together to support efforts to protect the New River Trail corredor. My plan was to start out very conservative and try to finally run negative splits. (Never before seen in my exploits). A quick group of 8-10 runners hit off the front and I let them go. I thought I was running a pretty slow first 5 miles and was feeling pretty good. I found a few folks to run with and had a good chat as I move between racers trying to hold my "backed off" pace. I knew about how many were ahead of me and was pretty well placed about 10 miles in when I finally couldn't stand it anymore. I had so much energy building up inside I had to break. I told my running companion "good luck" as I quickly picked up the pace. I started to reel in the various groups ahead of me and since it was an out and back, I saw that I was in 6th place at the turnaround. The lead guys felt a bit too far out of reach but there were a couple within striking distance. This felt too much for me as I really picked up the pace after the turnaround. Gold Fever is a good way to describe it. I caught three guys pretty quickly and found myself in third place and at about 20 miles.
I passed the marathon mark at 3:08 and was still feeling pretty good. I didn't think anyone was going to catch me at this pace. I was doing good with food and water and having the best run of my short running carreer. Then the wheels came off.
Its pretty amazing. I have bonked before but never like this. Usually its because of lack of water or not enough fuel or lack of training. This time I just hit the 'wall'. My legs just quit turning. I was at mile 28 or 29. It felt like I went from a 6:45 pace to a 10:00 pace in about 10 seconds. I kept telling myself to push through this. It didn't feel painful, I just couldn't get my legs to move. Quicksand. Molasses. BRICK WALL. Whatever you want to call it, I was there. I managed to hang onto 3rd place but I lost a huge amount of time in those last few miles. I had negative splits for 25 miles but I probably should have held back until the 15 mile turn around. Oh Well. This still turned out to be a huge PR for me in 3:46. I really couldn't have asked for much more. I came away very happy with the effort and would recommend it to anyone, experienced or novice.
Annette put on a super race. Great setup, beautiful course, great cause and a swag package that outdid itself. A couple of other bonus' that I appreciated: Instead of having a raffle at the end of the race, you were given a few tickets to blindly bid on all the raffle items when you picked up your race number. When you finished the race, you could just stop by the tent and see if you won any of the great booty. No waiting around until the end if you needed to get back on the road. Same went for anyone finishing on the podium. This may sound arrogant but it can be a huge amount of time to sit and wait for everyone to finish. As I had been working on the road for several weeks, I was anxious to get home and really enjoyed selecting a 3rd place prize, thanking the race staff and heading home.
If you are looking to have a good race, wanting to do a super long tempo run or needing a season sparking PR, you will not do better than the New River 50K.