And, as any true ultrarunner knows, that title is the ultimate compliment. If I wanted easy, I'd run on the roads.
First, let me say this: You volunteers ROCK! What awesome aid stations! You guys were just the icing on a really, really good chocolate cake. With strawberries. And cool whip. A few nuts. Some coconut. Ok, you get the idea. And the christmas lights at the Gravel Pit at night...lovin' that, guys. Saw them from a mile away and knew there was sanctuary ahead.
Whoever ordered up the weather for this day--nice work.
To Ian, the RD, for that "alpine loop" (sounds pleasant, right ?): may your quads quiver and your Achilles scream for the rest of your days. I strongly advise you to NOT be at Lift House 5 when people are making their second circuit (or third or fourth, for the hundred milers) of that little jaunt. WTF dude? Nice touch.
After a windy night (=how much sleep did I get in my tent, exactly?) at Hope Lake Park, runners were treated to a beautiful, cool morning. The race went off at the stroke of 6am. My first 50 miler. What? I'm going to run 50 miles today? Just, like, yeah. Ok then. Headlamps in the pre-dawn dark. The first 5 miles to AS1 at the Gravel Pit includes some of the most runnable trail you could wish for. Groove & Flow. And all with the usual ultrarunning family suspects.
After some more sweet trail, a long road downhill (or so my recollection goes, but fair warning: this could bear no resemblance to reality). Then a left past Gatherings, the start of the Monster Marathon I did 3 weeks ago as the perfect last long run for VCU, over onto Tone Rd to AS2 at Lift House 5 (and the first time up the evil alpine loop). People taking my pack off and filling it, giving me food, finding my drop bags (hint: pink is hot).
Then, contrary to popular belief, up to hell. Start up a side trail, then follow the chair lift up. And just when you think you've reached the top, an even steeper pitch up through the woods. Did you catch that word "up"? There was another word I was saying a lot on this leg, but I won't repeat it here. And of course, what goes up, must come....
...back to Lift House 5. Fuel and go. Fuel, because I had run Monster. I knew. Virgil awaited. That's all you need to know. Except that it includes that word "up" again. And that other word. A lot.
Then, the Rockpile. Oh. The Rockpile. Party Party Party, Party! Party! And lentil soup. Wow, was that good. Changed my outlook on life. At least until I left there and fell flat on my face three minutes down the trail. Actually, that was good too. Gotta have one good fall on a trail run, right? Got it over with.
Some very runnable trail from here to the turn around at Daisy Hollow. Well, except for all those stretches with the ropes tied to trees to pull yourself up and let yourself back down later.
As for the Daisy Hollow AS, I just have three words: Chicken. Noodle. Soup. Oh, and dry socks, but the volunteers didn't cook those, they were in my drop bag. Thanks guys. 25.7 miles. Halfway. (Yes, 51.4 miles, more bang for your registration buck).
Still feeling really good at this point. Funny how knowledge of the endpoint influences you. If this was a marathon, I'd be hanging on for dear life. Instead, I was just changing my socks and eating soup. Nice weather today, isn't it?
Back to the Rockpile. This time, they had just come back from a pizza run. I love you guys.
Back down Virgil. Back to the evil alpine loop. Evil, evil alpine loop. Evil race director. But the quesadillas at Lift House 5 were great, guys--even if they did make me want to puke. Just the kinda thing that happens at mile 36, dontcha know? Yeah, you know.
The good news is, my running partners and I all agreed it would be easier running the alpine loop in reverse. The bad news is, we were wrong. Really, really, wrong. And that word came up again. Not the "up" word, the other one. At the AS, they said "it's only 3.9 miles, you'll be back in an hour." They were right. There are 90 minutes in an hour, right? And that climb after Lift House 4 when you think you're at the top and don't remember there's another hill yet? Evil, Ian. Just plain evil, man.
Now it's pushing on towards dark. Got the long road hill to climb again, then back into the woods. Headlamps? Check. Fortunately, this is now back on some of the most runnable portions of the course. The RD did arrange for some rapid glacial rebound to create a hill where I didn't remember one before, but hey, that's the RD's job, right?
Thankfully, I was running with an ultrarunning family member I never knew about until today, Tom Sperduto. Tom, who did the Brazil 135. Tom, who has been doing back to back 40+ mile training runs in preparation for a 200 miler (among other things). Tom, who pushed through dozens of miles with feet full of blisters. Thanks, Tom. Nice to have some company out there in the dark (and the day). One of my favorite parts of trail races is meeting new people who seem, right from the start, like friends you've known for years. VCU was no exception.
Three hours running with headlamps That was new to me. And it was, well...fun! But those hundred milers going back past me, out for a second trip--uh, sorry, not today guys. See, there's this evil alpine loop out there, and .... More power to ya.
And then, there it was...christmas lights floating out in the distance, either a hallucination or an aid station (sometimes there's no difference, right?). I mentioned the party at Rockpile before. It was great. It had nothing on the night crew at Gravel Pit. If I hadn't been running my first 50 miler, I might have called it a night right there. Amazing what a bunch of semi-drunken ultrarunners & friends cooking soup can do for your spirits. Although, at this point, I was a scant 5.4 miles from the finish, and there was no denying me. To the finish I would go. Just with a lot more joy in my soul. Thanks guys.
From this point on, it was just the victory lap. Success was near. As I came back to the Hope Lake Park area I could see the finish up ahead, but cleverly, the paved last stretch switchbacks seemingly forever through the dark. It was good, though. Just prolonged the feelings of success. I almost didn't want to finish. 51 miles and I didn't want to stop. What more could you ask for?
A super race. Well organized. Fantastic aid stations. Grassroots affair, just the way I like 'em. Not too big, not too small. A great course. Camping at the start/finish area. Great support by the local volunteer fire departments, including all the meals. Virgil Crest...run it if you can.