Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Monday, October 14, 2013

2013 New River Trail 50K

After missing 2012 because it conflicted with Pitchell, I returned to the New River Trail 50K in Fries, Virginia. Unlike 2010 and 2011 where I camped and slept in a van, respectively, this year I decided to get up early and drive up on race day--a roughly two-hour trip.

We arrived about 45 minutes before the race start and noticed that each year seemingly more people camp (either in tents or vehicles) at the start. Annette Bednosky is the race director for NRT50K and does a great job with it. It has grown every year I've been there in both registrations and in features. New for last year was a certified marathon split time that can be used as a Boston Qualifier. That creates a little challenge for some as to whether to push hard for the marathon distance and then just finish the final five miles however they can, or do you try to run steady the entire race?

Packet pickup is held under a large tent beside the start/finish area. Annette does something creative with door prizes. You tear off the small square in the corner of your bib that has a copy of your number and put it in an envelope beside your choice of prize. The catch is, the more popular the prize, the more likely there will be more numbers in the envelope and your odds of winning will be lower. I thought I had a good chance when I put mine in for a size nine pair of Montrail Mountain Masochist trail shoes. Seems like I am the only person I know who wears size nine...

I knew quite a few people at the 2013 race including some local friends I run with regularly (Paul and Ray) and some I run with on occasion (Doug and Lee.) I had low expectations after below average performances at Grandfather and Last Chance for Beantown. I felt just fine, but did not have any reason to expect to match 2010's 3:51 or even 2011's 3:56. The start was a little unusual in that it seemed as if a lot of the people shied away from starting near the front. There were a few who knew they were going to be fast who didn't hesitate, but then there was a 10' gap between them and the pack where only a few people stood. I was in that gap.

3..2..1 and we were off. I was running at a comfortably quick pace, partly because the first 5-6 miles are slightly downhill. I had my EFS sports drink in my bottle and my PowerBar gels in my belt pouch and began to feel a little cautiously optimistic that they day might go better than planned. It wasn't as cool as I had hoped (mid 50s, perhaps?) but it was overcast and the threat/hope for a shower was out there. The course is basically a "V" but has a small out-and-back at the bottom of the "V" the first on the out-bound stretch. This is where you first see how close people are behind you and where the downhill ends and 10+ miles of gradual uphill begins. I think I was in about 5th place (two males and two females ahead of me) as we came to the first aid station after the out-and-back around mile 6.13. In typical ultra fashion, the aid stations are about five miles apart and had a lot of chips, etc... They also had PowerBar products, which I love, but I had already brought my own, so I didn't really need anything.

I debated pre-race whether to wear my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes or my Saucony Hurricane road shoes. I chose the Sauconys for no particular reason, but once I was on the trail, I remembered that it is not all hard packed and the knobbier treads of the Brooks probably would have served me a bit better. I pretty much held my place for the next several miles, only seeing the runners ahead of me on long straightaways. Eventually, I caught up to the second place female who seemed to have had a shoe-related problem. This put me comfortably in fourth, but a quick bathroom stop at about mile 14/15 put me back on the trail in a "battle" with Jeremy Alsop for fourth. We hit the turnaround at mile 15.94 together and stayed pretty close for the next several miles. We came through the mile 20 aid station together and shortly after that, I knew something was wrong in my stomach. A wave of nausea set in and I went from a brisk pace to a struggle very quickly. Jeremy pulled on ahead as I searched for a place to hit the woods. The 5.75 miles between these two aid stations felt like an eternity. I had severely slowed and was passed by a few more guys. I was probably moving quicker than I felt, but had to walk on occasion for pain or lightheadedness. I was so glad to finally see the infamous tunnel that meant I would soon cross the New River and reach the final aid station. I had decided to at the very least try for a decent marathon time and then just finish however I could. I got my marathon split at 3:21, which was probably better than I had expected given how the prior six miles went, and surprisingly Jeremy was "only" four minutes ahead at the split--as I learned after seeing the results. I was now in eighth place overall, but after the marathon, my race was over. I walked a bit and then tried to run, but my GI system was in full protest mode. I knew I'd be walking it in from here.

I can usually walk fairly fast, but couldn't this day. Not only had my stomach soured, but now my Achilles Tendons were tightening, so the five miles that might normally take a bit over an hour stretched out into 1:23 and I would cross the line with a 4:45. I am embarrassed to complain when I ultimately finished 32nd out of 128, despite six miles of struggle and five miles of walking, but for a while, I thought I was going to have a very good day. For comparison purposes, Jeremy finished sixth with a 3:57 and had I been able to maintain the pace I had the first twenty miles of the race, I think I would have likely fallen somewhere around my 3:51 and 3:56 from prior years. Without knowing my split times at aid stations, this is only a guess, however.

While walking and cheering on the runners who came by me, I held out hope that maybe I'd win the door prize, but it was not to be. I saw the bib number for the runner who won it--49. I looked at the results and saw that he finished immediately ahead of me... :(

On the bright side, it was a beautiful day for walking, though a bit warm for running. There were 128 people out there enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of scenic river trail and my wife and a friend were able to bike along the trail during the race. Both Paul and Ray faired worse than in 2012, but Paul still pulled out an age group win and Ray won a door prize, so the day wasn't a total loss.

As in previous years, there was soup served at the finish, but this time, it was about .4 miles away and a shuttle ran people to and from the rec center that hosted the meal. My stomach was still a bit uneasy with the thought of anything liquid, but they had probably ten different soups, bread, crackers, and water/Propel. I had an opportunity to speak to a few people I knew but didn't get to catch up with during the race.

I opted out of a race shirt as I have quite a stack of shirts in my drawers, but they are nice, technical, long-sleeved shirts. If you register early, you get a choice of a pottery tumbler or a Nathan Quick Draw water bottle. In prior years, I got the tumbler, but this year I registered too late and got the bottle. It's actually a really nice bottle and I'm certain it will find itself used on many long runs. There was someone providing post-race massages and an entrepreneurial little girl selling lemonade for $.25 near the finish area.

Annette shared with me that this was her last year handling the bulk of the race director duties and that she'd be bringing in a club to relieve her of some of the responsibilities next year. I can appreciate that, having had the same experience. She's built a great event out of nothing and it is very much worth considering if you are looking for a first (or fast) 50K. It offers beautiful scenery, great volunteers, and a very social experience.

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