In training for the upcoming Oil Creek 100 in October, I wanted to get in a good hill run & this IMTR 50 miler in Damascus, VA advertised to have about the same rate of elevation change per mile. I had only one previous race in the Appalachians, Grindstone 100 last year, and I wanted to get more experience with the same terrain. The ascents & descents at both these races go on for mile after mile at a time, but the hills in this race were not near as steep as those at Grindstone. I love new trails & this race fit my schedule just right too.
My biggest concerns coming into this event were the cutoff times & the heat. All week I watched the temps & humidity go up each day. I really hated to waste such unseasonably cool & comfortable summer weather in a taper! Fortunately, it remained dry all week & saved one more cool morning for the race start. The first 5 miles of the course was next to a creek and provided the soothing sound of rushing water -- very scenic thru here! The VA Creeper Trail:
The Creeper Trail portion was an old railway bed with at most a 1% uphill grade for the 5 miles to the 1st aid station. My plans were to take it easy & not get caught up in the pace on this flat section and shoot for no faster than 11 minutes a mile. Checking my GPS after the 1st 2 miles I saw I was running at less than 10 minutes per mile. At this point I was pretty disappointed in my lack of pace discipline even though I was almost at the very back of the pack! Looking back now, I don't feel that "quick" early pace was ultimately a negative factor -- really though, it probably gave me the slack time I had to have for the early cutoffs. Overall, I needed to average 14:24/mi to be an official finisher. As for being at the back, that's where I belonged as for the next 45 miles I didn't pass any 50 milers, other than one gal who I played leap frog with (& lost)!
Part of the course was on the old AT.
After the 1st 5 easy miles, the course went up & up & up for the next 5! I passed a half dozen 16 & 30 milers thru here.
This is the start of the Beech Grove Trail up to the 2nd aid station:
After about a mile or so out of the 2nd aid station, the trail went up on top of a ridge that ran at about 3500 to 4000 in elevation. Quite a few ups & downs thru here & probably the most technical section of the course. It was slow going until the trail dropped down a hill to Skull's Gap. Picture of Skull's Gap on 2nd pass thru:
Leaving the aid station at Skull's Gap, the course went back uphill onto the ridge via a short section of gravel road. After running along the ridgeline for a while, the course then made a big drop (about 1500 feet in about 10 miles) down to Rowlands Creek. I don't care too much for running on gravel roads and there was a long section thru here that just seemed to go on forever! After running downhill for so long though, I was feeling pretty good at the bottom at the Rowlands Creek aid station at about the 29 mile mark.
It had taken about 6 hours up to here & pace wise, I was in good shape --- EXCEPT that the next 4 miles back up to the top of the ridge again was uphill every step of the way! My Garmin 405 was giving me a low battery signal at that time & I continued up 3 of the 4 miles up the hill to the Hurricane Gap aid station -- it took over an hour to walk those 3 miles! I shut the Garmin off then as I didn't want to lose the data up to that time & I had never run the watch over 7 hours before.
The first mile or 2 up this 4 mile hill also went thru a gorge area that was full of large & very tall trees. There were several cascading waterfalls -- the highlight of the course to me. The only thing that detracted from the wonderful sights was that this was a very popular trail for horse riders. The trail was showing alot of wear & tear in areas. It was the first time I noticed any biting insects. There were several deep mudpits, a big change from the mostly rocky course, but since it had not rained for some time, there were still ways to bypass the mud. My feet never got wet this day -- with careful stepping across the streams.
By the time I reached the top of the ridge again, it was late afternoon & I got HOT. I really began to slow down & since it was taking longer to reach each aid station I was running out of drink before each refill. Fortunately, hydration was never a real problem as I learned a little from my last race. From the top of this ridge & thru the gaps in the trees, I could see hazy, "bluish" Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance -- neat!
One thing which put me on edge a couple times during this day was the course marking. With such a small 50 miler field (16 starters), once the 30 milers broke off, it was pretty sparse out there -- I did not see another runner for 4 hours! I was relying on the written course description as the website didn't have a course map posted and I was also relying heavily on the ribbons along the trails. There was always extra flagging at the turns, no problems there, and what I call "confidence" or intermediate ribbons were placed 1/4 mile (up to 1/2 mile?) or so apart -- that's where I had a little trouble as I wasn't used to that. I would be going along & suddenly think . . . it's been some time since I noticed a ribbon, am I still on course? Keeping an eye on the tricky footing while trying not to miss a single flag took a determined effort. So, when I got that "lost" feeling, I would then start looking in earnest for the next flag. Sometimes 5 minutes would pass, or 10 minutes with a little panic setting in. . . & think: I must've been daydreaming & missed a turnoff! Then I would see a most comforting flag! Whew!!!!
At the last aid station, I figured I had over 2 hours to run the last 7 miles to be an official finisher. Since most of the course was on a big downhill from here, my concern switched from finish time to remaining upright! I stumbled several times thru the day, but never fell -- if I do fall on any trail, it's almost always on a downhill. So I took care those last few miles, especially where the trail resembled a dried up or washed out creek bed. Back in Damascus, I made it under the 12 hour cutoff & was next-to-last of the 11 official finishers.
Overall, I'm happy with having reached my goal & glad to have made the trip & the effort -- it was very enjoyable! Maybe I've seen the last 80+ degree race weather this year too!
Next up is the Youngstown Ultra Trail - Classic (YUTC) 50k in Ohio. Last year at this time, I chose the 60k Hocking Hills Indian Run over YUTC mostly because the drive was 2 hours shorter. A big difference in these races is that the 60k race at Hocking Hills is an add-on to the primary races, the 5k, 10k & the 20k. Everything there was geared more to the shorter races, although I expected & prepared for that going in. Looking forward to Youngstown this year!