I didn't race this weekend, but the amount of effort I put in made it feel like I did!
Friday afternoon I met Alyssa and Carly for a 4pm rollout of Baltimore, headed for Nowheresville, VA. I was originally led to believe that this trip was 3.5 hours, and I figured we'd hit some traffic. A little bit on 70 and then some near Frederick, but for the most part, it was a smooth trip to Winchester. Where I then found out we were still 2.5 hours away. Oh my God. Part of my concern is that I'm too big for Alyssa's car, and my knee starts to swell as I drive. But I can do it, I'm a big boy. We stopped for a meal at Wendy's somewhere in VA. I go to order a #6 - Spicy Chicken Sandwich, my go-to. I ask for no mayo, as always, and the kid is confused for a second but then goes "do you mean you want a Spicy Chicken Sandwich?" Yeah, that's exactly right. "Well that's a #7 now." WHAT?! Apparently their new burger, the W, is a #6. How are you just going to change on me like that. And to top it off, they put mayo on it. Dammit Wendy's.
Our car trip was peppered with some high quality banter, including the prerequisite "What If" scenarios, like what would you do if a chimpanzee ripped off your partner's face - would you stay with that person? You know, the usual. We also got some great games of 20 Questions going. I think the girls were a little annoyed at mine, which more often than not including dead historical figures. Whatever, it took them all 20 questions to guess Miley Cyrus on the first one, so I figured they couldn't do any worse.
Finally we arrived at Camp Bethel. It looked like a great place for a cult to gather. Alyssa registered while Carly tried to guess who would be fast based on appearance. This is actually quite more challenging at ultras than it is at road races. The start time is a cruel 12:01am, and the start is about 15-20 minute drive from the camp, so we caravaned out to the start and prepared for the LONGEST DAY EVER.
It was a pretty neat sight to see all 130 or so people turn on their headlamps and start running through the woods, and as that would be the last we'd see of them for 5 hours, Carly and I headed to the first aid station we could go to, #4, about 21 miles in for the runners. We got there by 1 and tried to catch some sleep. Neither of us were prepared for just how cold it would get sleeping in the car, and my light resting was interrupted around 2am when we were asked to rearrange the cars on the road. We "slept" until 5 (I figured I probably slept for about 2, 2.5 hours) and the alarm went off. I had heard runners going by for a little while, and we expected Alyssa around 5:30. As we were preparing her stuff, a runner was approaching the car and Carly goes "that doesn't look like Alyssa," but then the runner stopped at the car and looked in. It WAS Alyssa, at 5:10am. Shit, we are NOT ready. We send her ahead to the aid station so she can eat while Carly tries to swap the batteries in her headlamp. I can't see anything, it's so dark while it's not a difficult trail, I keep tripping on rocks. We get to the aid station (maybe quarter mile from the car) and then send her on her way. This is 5 hours into the race.
During this time I wondered how long 5 hours is when you're running in the dark woods of Virginia by yourself. I also wondered how much longer I could have made it in that car, I was so cold.
We then drove to the next aid station. Driving, by the way, on those unlit mountain roads, was insane. Could not see anything. But the drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway was cool. We kept missing our turns because they would be literally "drive 9.6 miles and then make a right onto dirt road" - none of the things were labeled, and it looked like little driveways. Incredible. Got out of the car and heard what sounded like a roaring river, but couldn't see it. We could only see the lights of headlamps bobbing along a ridge high above us, and watch as they zig-zagged down the switchbacks of a long descent.
At the next aid station, we could finally start to see the sun. It was calm in the woods, and a beautiful morning. Alyssa pulled into the aid station and looked good, and was ready to do a quick change into some different clothes. Onto the next station.
This one was gross. I don't know what was going on, but it was clearly a body dump for hunters. This little kid goes "daddy a deer head" and I run over with my camera to grab some shots. It was disgusting, just a decapitated deer head. And a couple of rotting, picked apart carcasses. Some in plastic bags, presumably what the hunters used to drag their kill out of the woods. Then came the BEAR. It was a bear head, partially skinned, it looked so peaceful, but so sad. Its spinal column was still attached, with the white, fatty meat of its interior. Really gross, really sad, really disrespectful.
It was now just after 10am, and they were at 42ish miles. Carly was set to jump in with Alyssa, after pounding 2 Red Bulls and eating some food. Alyssa was doing pretty well, and I'm sure it was nice to have company for the remainder of the race. For me, it meant I was now the solo one, and had to find my way to the other aid stations by myself. It also allowed me to roll the windows down and enjoy the brisk air (the girls do not like the windows down). It was a beautiful drive along the BRP again, and I found the next aid station - #8 at mile 49 - and hung out there for a while. It was starting to get windy, and the temp felt like it was dropping, and it was only 11:30.
Alyssa and Carly came powering up the path, looking better than any of the racers in before them (that I saw). Most significantly, Alyssa was making up time on the woman ahead of her, a known rival. Another important note in ultras is that the stated distance is never the actual distance. If they say 7 miles to the next aid station, it's probably 8. If they say it's 100k (62.4 miles) it's actually 66.6 (hence Hellgate 100k).
The girls trotted off to enjoy some downhill running, while I packed up and had to start hauling to get to the next station. The distance for the runners may have been 7 miles, but for drivers it was much farther. I still knew I had at least 80 minutes to get there before them, so I wasn't in a supreme hurry. During this entire time I was consuming very little. I had a pop-tart and a couple small slices of pizza, and a Gatorade. I resisted the urge to drink Coke so that I wasn't going to waste the effects of caffeine early in the day. This would be critical on the drive home.
Aid station #9: the last one. Nestled in the woods, 7 miles to go for the racers. 3.5 up, 3.5 down to the finish. The 4th place lady was 5 minutes ahead of Alyssa as she exited transition, but she was walking up the hill. Alyssa and Carly came flying in like BAMFs. I gave them the time gap and they did serious work. I had a 40 minute drive to the finish and I figured it would take them 60-75 minutes to get to the end, so I just rolled. At the finish, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was counting on them getting in around 14:45, so imagine my surprise when I see the two of them coming in at 14:32 with NO ONE around them. It was like that scene in Troop Beverly Hills, I just didn't expect them. AND they were ahead of the 4th place lady, which meant Alyssa was 4th. They had covered their last 3 miles (albeit downhill) in 8:15, 8:05 and under 8. In a 100k trail race, that is insane.
It was a great race, and maybe a mildly unexpected result, for Alyssa, who has now shut her last two races down in the closing miles. Forget that lady that's married to Kevin Bacon, Alyssa should be The Closer. Mariano Rivera could learn some lessons from her. It has been a long, but prosperous season for her and hopefully now she'll chill out for a bit. Mostly because I will not be going to anymore ultras in the winter. Ha.
Then it was time to drive home, and we didn't get on the road until about 3:30, which meant 90 minutes of daylight. Carly passed out right away and Alyssa couldn't be expected to drive, so it was on me. And I was...sleepy. I had to resort to a Red Bull - something I've only had when it accompanies a clear adult beverage, and it makes my heart race. In just a few sips, I was ready to drive again. We stopped at James Madison for dinner, where I continued my great eating (chicken and waffles!) and then back on the road. It was a "quick" drive but still took us a long time to get home. We stopped for snacks at a Sonic in Winchester and made it home around 9:30pm.
Then Sunday was our annual Awards Night, which is a fun end of year party we have at the running store to celebrate the great year. This year was probably the best as we enjoyed some great food: alligator bits, turducken, pizza, desserts - it was awesome. Reminds me why our group is the best one around, because we do awesome stuff.
For my own personal week, it was a pretty quiet one. I only made it into the pool twice, and didn't ride. I did manage to run 44 miles on 5 runs, which was good. I did not feel good through Friday's run, but by Sunday I felt a little better, and even hit the trails myself for the first time in a while.