Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Race Report: Eastern Divide Ultra

The Land of 1000 Chipmunks

So a lot has happened since my last post. Ran the Borneo International Marathon, took two more MAF tests, and ran the Klimbambangan 15km Trail Run. Too late for retroposting those now. Movin' on.

Last Sunday I ran the Eastern Divide Ultra in southwest Virginia. It's a point-to-point course that measures slightly under 50km, with about 6500 feet of elevation gain. I knew that this would be a night-and-day different kind of race than my previous 50km. In my last one, the time limit to finish was 15 hours. In this one, you had to hit the 22-mile mark in under 6 hours. Oh my. I have to admit I was a bit intimidated by this, and hitting that goal was really my only real target for the day.

I spent the night in a cheap motel about 20 minutes away. The morning of the race I was up at 5am, ate my light breakfast and took care of that most important business. I parked at the finish (Mountain Lake Lodge) and boarded the bus that shuttled us to the start line. The crew at the start was well-organized and efficient, and in no time I had my race packet, bib number and ziploc for my drop bag.

The race briefing was short and low-key, as was the start, which occurred promptly at 7:30am. The jackrabbits took off for the summit of Butt Mountain, while some of us power-hiked it. The mild incline looked runnable, but at the start of a 50km trail race, I wasn't going to take any chances. Nice and easy, I hit the first aid station (4 miles) in about an hour. Not bad for a 2000-foot ascent. Bacon and beer were among the other offerings at AS1. I didn't want to take many chances this early, so just a half-slice of bacon for me, please. :)

I suppose you can't write a race report of Eastern Divide without mentioning the Cascade Falls at the two-mile mark. I stopped for about 15 seconds, savored the view, and moved on. I did try to make smelling the roses a big part of my race. The race course was gorgeous.

After topping Butt Mountain, we had about 5 miles of easy fire roads to AS2, which is around 9 miles. I think I was at about 2hr 15min at this point. You know, I read about the large amount of fire/forest roads on this course, and I wasn't all that excited about it, since obviously single track is better, right? Well lemme tell ya, I'd run on these roads any day. Because on either side, there was beautiful forest and ferns just right there. All around you. One of the guys I ran with for some of the run complained a lot about the roads, but seriously, if you just look up, you forget.

I loved AS3 (about 16 miles, approximately 3hr 15min) because they had music blasting. That was a nice pick-me-up because the next three or four miles to the top of Wind Rock were brutal. Just constant uphill. Constant. But I just tried to keep my focus on the beauty, enjoying the run, and it was all good. At AS4 we had access to our drop bags. I didn't know what I would need to pack for a fully-stocked run, but the Payday I had in there did the trick. I didn't touch anything else.

From AS4 it was a pretty quick descent to AS5, the dreaded cutoff point. But to be honest, once I hit AS1 in an hour, I knew that this would be no problem. And as it was, I hit the cutoff point at 5hr 20min. Easy peasy. And here we got back on the single track, and it was delicious. You're just running on a narrow chocolate strip curving this way and that through a blanket of lush green ferns. This was probably my favorite part of the course...until we started going up. Oh my, the hill, the hill, where the heck did that come from? And once we finally crested the hill, we had to run on the perimeter of Mountain Lake Lodge's frisbee golf course, where we finally saw that yes, the sun was out, and it was hot. But before we knew it, we were out of the sun and reached AS6. I kept my stops quite short at the aid stations as I just wanted to keep going. Just gimme some fluids and I'll be on my way!

From AS6 it was only about 4 miles to the finish, with one last aid station about 1.5mi from the end. We had some more lovely fern-covered trails, but still a significant amount of uphill. Lots of power-hiking at this point, although I was still able to run any time the incline wasn't too severe. I was worried that the finish would be on an uphill, which isn't too fun, but as it turned out, the course leveled off not too far before the finish. I saw the finish line arch through the trees and finished strong at 7:26:55, about a half hour earlier than I estimated. Afterward I had only very mild soreness and chafing and no injuries. I felt like I paced myself pretty well, giving just enough but not too much, while making sure that I finished with a smile on my face.

Race organization was top-notch, volunteers were great, medical assistance was there if you needed it, and the food and refreshments were abundant. Bananas and oranges, PBJs, peanut M&Ms, and plenty of Hammer gels and Heed. Good food at the finish, and a good atmosphere overall.

The thing that suprised me was how low I placed in the standings. I finished 55 out of 65 runners (not sure how many DNFs there were). But I think this course lends well to real runners, whereas I do better with climbing and technical trails. But speed is one thing I do plan to work on in the near future, which should help me all around.

If I ever find myself in the States this time of year again, I would DEFINITELY revisit this race. Glad to have another 50km under my belt! Now I have a few months off until the next one I've got in my sights.

With RD Kirby Walke after getting cleaned up. Great race shirt!