Thursday, March 29, 2018

Terrapin 50k - Another snowy run in Virginia

Brian and I returned to Terrapin 50k again this year.  It was a great early-season tune-up race, offering plenty of climbing and technical trails in a beautiful location (where the flowers are starting to bloom on race weekend).  Last year's race was a tough one for me - I ran a bit too hard in the early miles (especially the first downhill) and really suffered in the later miles.  I was determined to run smarter and not repeat that mistake this year.  However, as we neared the location, we noticed that there was still snow in the mountains - so it might be a slow day out there.  Yup, I'll repeat that - there was snow in the mountains March.  Ugghh!

The race started out fast, and I felt like I was immediately mid-pack in the first flat road mile.  Luckily, I found Sharron who I had run with  (and drank wine with) at Holiday Lakes, so we enjoyed the first few miles chatting.  As the course turned up, I was able to pass folks but found myself running basically alone.  The first 4 miles were uphill, so my goal was to run smart by not hard up this hill - which was hard because I felt strong on the uphills so I was running most of it (even as folks around me hiked).  I crested the climb to Camping Gap next to the lead female in the half marathon, and we wished each other good luck as our courses split.

(Running at last year's Terrapin Mountain 50k)

After that first aid station, the course turns down for about 6 miles of downhill dirt road.  This is where I destroyed my legs last year, so I took it easy and didn't push too hard on the downhill.  A few folks caught me but I appreciated the company to chat with.  After the course turned up, again, I was running where others were walking and once again I found myself mostly alone.  

Leaving the Camping Gap aid station for the 2nd time, we were officially in the snow for the grassy loop (well, lollypop).  Knowing that the leaders would be coming back on the course on the stick part of the lollypop, I focused on running strong and seeing how far I could make it before I saw the leaders coming back at me.  My confidence grew when I almost made the loop split before the leader was headed my way.  Upon reaching the split, I saw Brian standing at the intersection with his hands in the air - apparently he forgot which way to go leaving the lollypop.  Luckily I was there to give him direction - otherwise he might have run the loop a second time!

(Snow-covered trails felt like running in sand)

The loop had several inches of loose, dry powder, which felt like running in sand.  Even on minor uphills, I found myself forced to walk since it was too much energy to try to run.  It was frustrating, but I was also passing a few folks so I knew that everyone was struggling in this section.  Still, it felt impossibly slow as I itched to run the uphills I was forced to walk.

Upon returning to Camping Gap for the 3rd and final time, no one knew what my gap on 2nd place was - but I was hoping it was a good gap.  I remember that the climb up Terrapin Mountain, which was next, was steep and slow.  I did my best to power up the climb, but not push too hard so I would have some energy at the end of the race.  The trail was snow-covered, but at least  the half marathon runners had packed it down so the footing was pretty good.  The views from the top were amazing, and I took a moment to take it in - sometimes I marvel at the beauty that I get to run in.  We were treated with views of nothing but mountain-tops, blue tinted in the distance, headed in all directions - just beautiful sights to take in.

Anyway, after the vista on top of Terrapin Mountain, then we traversed the top and made our way through Fat Man's Revenge.  This feature is where there's a narrow gap between two rocks, and runners basically pancake themselves between the two rocks.  This year, there was significant ice on the footing, and I was grateful to have a few guys near me in case I slid through.  

(Fat Man's Revenge - yup, you've gotta make it through this narrow gap in the rocks)

The downhill after that was steep and snow covered, making footing tricky and slick.  Halfway down, the snow was gone yet the rocks still had me moving slowly and carefully - at this point, I had given in to the fact that this was a slow day - so tt was more important to finish healthy and stay upright.

At the last aid station, there was a short out-and-back that gave the opportunity to see where the 2nd female was.  I was pleased to see that it was Sheila (another female that I got to know at Holiday 
Holiday Lakes earlier this year), and she was 6 minutes back.  That didn't feel like a safe gap, and I focused on running strong over the last 5 miles to the finish.  In this section last year, I recall walking more than I should have and feeling like I lost significant time, so the goal was to run strong through this section.

It was disappointing to have a few guys catch me in the closing miles, and I used every opportunity to look back and ensure that Sheila wasn't also closing on me.  It wasn't until I hit the road and looked at my watch that I realized that I was going to finish about 10 minutes faster than my 2016 finish!  I breathed a sigh of relief and allowed the Irish music from the Celtic Festival happening next to the race to bring me home as 1st place female.  And just as exciting, I watched Sheila and Shannon both cruise to great 2nd and 3rd place finishes - love to see these women be successful!

(Beautiful views from the Terrapin Mountain vista)

All in all, it was a fun race with the unexpected element of snow along the course.  While I still have a few areas I feel I need to work on, I am pleased to have opened my 2018 race season strong.  Hopefully it all adds up to a strong race at this year's Ultra Race of Champions 100k!

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