Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2015 Weymouth Woods 100K

Without the Freedom Park New Year's Eve 24-Hour Ultra this year, I decided to return to the good folk of the Mangum Track Club and take another crack at the Weymouth Woods 100K. I have had mixed results in my two previous runnings at Weymouth. In 2009 a severe stomach virus the night before cost me any hope of finishing and in 2013 I overachieved and finished in about 10:18. When I first signed up for this year's event, I was hoping to finish without needing a headlamp, which basically meant breaking ten hours. As race date neared, I had nagging doubts that that goal would be met.

When I recently bought tires for my wife's vehicle, they were running a promotion for two free nights at select Marriott locations. I checked and the Residence Inn in Southern Pines is owned by Marriott and was participating in the promotion. The room was incredibly nice and even though the plan was to finish in time to not need the second night, it would be a welcome place to come back to after the grind of a 100K. Traveling alone, my pre-race meals usually aren't very good--often something brought from home. This year, I was right across the street from a Brixx, so I got take-out and watched Seinfeld in the room. I tried to get to sleep early, but got caught up in a documentary about Alzheimer's and then started watching The Other Woman (funnier than I expected) until I got to the point where I knew I'd better go to sleep.

I woke at 5:30, hoping to get to the Park by 6:00. I wanted to park in the circle lot near the visitor's center for convenience and knew from prior years, that space there was limited and filled up fairly quickly. Well, I made it there shortly after 6:00 and overestimated just how quickly it fills. I probably could have gotten an extra thirty minutes sleep and still gotten a good spot. But David Lee was setting up for the timing so I spoke to him for a bit and gave race director Marie Lewis some canned drinks we had left over from Table Rock Ultras. The visitor's center and the auditorium used for race headquarters are a nice warm spot to hang out while you wait for the start. They have coffee and doughnuts if you do that sort of thing before a race. There were a number of friends doing the 100K and I caught up with all of them before the 7:30 pre-race briefing which mostly took care of some club awards and went over course details. Marie does a great job bringing this event together and she's added two new capable co-race directors. As with the other years I've attended, the weather was excellent, clear and starting in the low 30s and warming to (I think) the upper 50s.

As usual, the start runs down the Park entrance road to make the mileage work and to give people time to spread out before entering the woods. The trail seemed sandier and rootier than in years past. One volunteer did tell me that they've brought in sand for the trails before, but I didn't catch whether it had been done recently for the race or just at some point in the past. Still, the roots seemed taller and the sand deeper than I remembered. I had warned some friends about the late afternoon soon coming through the trees and suggested sunglasses. I had totally forgotten that early morning sun is an issue as well.

I have looked over the lap splits and they confirm what I thought at the time. Perhaps overly enthusiastic, I went out faster than in 2013. Here's a comparison of my first three laps:

 2013      2015
37:37     35:33
37:50     35:27
38:09     37:01

So, less than 1/4 of the way in, I was already 5:35 ahead of my previous pace. I felt pretty good, but knew I'd need to back off some if I hoped to keep it together through later laps. Thanks to a bathroom stop and stopping at my chair to grab a PowerBar and gel, my fourth lap was actually slower than in 2013, 42:16 versus 40:19. Combined with the memories of prior years, I pretty much had the course memorized by now and knew what lay around each turn and roughly how far away in time, if not distance, certain "checkpoints" were.

By the start of the fifth lap, I knew something was off this day. Breathing was fine, I was handling my food, and my legs weren't tired, but I felt banged up. Some of that was probably from the loose sand and stepping on so many roots, but my gut was telling me that it wasn't looking good. I started thinking back on my training for this event and it occurred to me that I really hadn't. Since Pitchell (which was a lot of walking at the end,) I had run over twenty miles twice. Once was the 22 mile Three Peaks Challenge (Shortoff, Table Rock, and Hawksbill and back) which also had a lot of walking, and once was 21 miles on the Cone Estate, which had groomed trails with no roots or loose sand. There were some long runs we had discussed, like the Christmas Eve morning 27-mile run up Table Rock, that never happened, but intentions don't get you through ultras. I don't consider myself an alarmist, I now began to seriously question my ability to finish. The numbers show my continued drop-off in pace: 45:07 this year and 40:54 in 2013.

I've noticed an increasing number of people running with headphones, even on trails. I usually have enough random thoughts and tunes going through my head to keep me distracted and moving. But on this day, and I think this should have been a sign, the only song I could bring to mind was Bach's Air on the G String (no, not that kind of G String, a violin.) I love the song, but it does not motivate one to push through an ultra. It brings to mind sitting by a fire, reading a good book. Mid-way through the sixth lap, I decided I would walk the seventh lap and check my time and see if I could walk it in and finish at a reasonable time. I suppose a small part of me also hoped I could walk off the banged up feeling with a long walk. My sixth lap time was 48:49 versus 42:55 last time. It was especially frustrating because it wasn't fatigue causing the slowdown. Had I just been tired, I could probably have slowed down for a bit and gathered myself. I've had this banged-up feeling before, though usually in training runs, and it wouldn't be made better with a short rest. I also need to mention that somewhere between mile 2.5 and 3.0 of this lap, I was passed by the lead runner. I mention this because in 2013, I was never passed by the winner. On this day, I wasn't even to the halfway point. Granted, he was running a great race and would ultimately finish 30-40 minutes ahead of the 2013 winner (yet not win this race,) but it was a bit of a blow and reinforced my knowledge that it was not going well.

So, as promised, I set out to walk the seventh lap. For the first half of the lap, I was surprised at how few people passed me. As the lap wore on, though, more of the pack caught me. The loop seemed so long at a walk. The thought of doing seven more of these after this lap seemed daunting. I did some rough calculations in my mind and figured at this pace, I'd probably finish at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. They were calling for rain late that evening and I brought nothing water-resistant. I started weighing making this a 50K training "run" and building on it for the upcoming Night Mare 40-miler in early February. I thought back and realized that in most Novembers,  I've had a 50-miler that I used to prepare for Weymouth or Freedom Park. That didn't happen this November and it likely cost me. 1:11:08 later, I was back at the start/finish and gave David Lee my timing chip back. Marie and her co-directors were sorry to see me drop and encouraged me to just rest up a bit, but sometimes you just know when it's not going to happen. This wasn't like my Mount Mitchell Challenge DNF, where I sat in the ranger station and knew that if I just had some dry clothes, I could get back out and finish. This was more like 2013 Pitchell, where the stars didn't align and it just wasn't my day. I wasn't even tempted to gut it out to claim the prestigious "tortoise award" for coming in last. I have actually walked 30+ miles before, at the end of my first Pitchell in 2012, when Dennis's hip flexor began to bother him too much to run. That was even on a very technical stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, but it also was point-to-point and had a symbolic destination at the end (the summit of Mount Mitchell.)

Since it was a nice day, I hung around a little longer and talked with some friends and watched the runners I knew come through. Their start/finish area has a great aid station with all sorts of foods. The one at mile 2.5 on the loop is also a good one, but since I carried a bottle and gels/bars, it was one I never even stopped at during this event. I had looked forward to the event and was disappointed in not finishing, but not as much as with Mount Mitchell and Pitchell. I told some friends that had it been a point-to-point race, I might have stuck to it and walked it in, but I just didn't see it happening on a loop course.

I do take some solace in looking at the lap splits and seeing that a few other people that started out at good paces would call it a day early. I'll conclude with one of my favorite pictures for days like this:

UPDATE: I later calculated that had I continued to walk and slowed only slightly from my 7th lap pace (which was conceivable because walking would not necessitate many stops) I would have finished in the 10:00 - 11:00 p.m. range. I still, however, don't think I was mentally up for doing seven loops.

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