Thursday, April 7, 2016

2016 Terrapin Mountain 50K Race Recap

(Badass post-race photo. Photo courtesy of Natasha Lamalle Photography)

It's been over 2 weeks since I ran this race, so I figured I better hurry up and get a race report written up.

I just ran a road marathon the week before, BQing for the first time. I treated it as a hard workout. My legs never felt sore or tired in the days between it and Terrapin, but I knew that I'd be playing with fire if I gave Terrapin 100%. I've still got the Bull Run 50 Miler on 09APR and Promise Land 50K++ 3 weeks after that, not to mention the fact that none of these spring races are my A races.  So I resigned myself to taking Terrapin easy and just enjoying the solid amount of vertical gain and trail time I'd be getting in.

I did a very light bit of planning ahead of time, mapping out the elevation and using data from my previous 2 races this year to predict my Aid Station arrival times and my finishing time, which was planned out at 4:45. That was comforting to know that a hard-but-not-quite-race-pace would likely yield a finishing time that's historically been in the Top 10 each year. So I figured I'd just jump to the front of the pack and follow along with some folks somewhere around 10th place for the first climb of the race.

(Terrapin Mountain 50K Elevation Profile ... a bit of a roller coaster)

Terrapin Mountain 50K starts and finishes at the Sedalia Center somewhere in the depths of Virginia. It's put on by Clark Zealand, who is also the Race Director for the Grindstone 100. It consists of 3 sustained climbs -- one of which isn't too long but it is rather steep -- and a few solid descents. The overall vertical profile is somewhere in the neighborhood of +7000'/-7000'.

(Start/Finish for Terrapin. The namesake mountain is in the background ... I think.)

I drove out to the Sedalia Center the afternoon before the race, partook in some pre-race pizza, and then hit the hay in the back of my SUV. Race morning was a bit chilly, with temperatures somewhere in the 40s, and a forecast that predicted cloudy skies and precipitation and temps that wouldn't rise much at all as the day went on.  So instead of a t-shirt, I opted for a lightweight Gore long sleeve shirt, and I threw my Houdini jacket in the pouch of my handheld just in case. I opted against gloves and a hat, figuring I wasn't going to be out running for very long. I had my trusty Patagonia Strider Pro 5 shorts, packed with 3 Huma gels, and my feet were decked out with some Injinji trail socks and my go-to Altra Superiors.

In the pre-dawn haze, I lined up near the front of the starting pack and waited for 7:00am to arrive. When it did, I was off! I settled nicely into an easy pace near the front. As it turned out, I ran into John Andersen, owner of Crozet Running, right after the start. His race times last year were roughly where I wanted to be this year, so I figured I'd run alongside him for awhile. We ran together for the first mile or so, until the course jumps off the paved road and onto a steeper trail up to Camping Gap. At this point, John and a few others worked their way ahead of me, but never by more than a few dozen meters. I was working somewhat hard, but well within myself ... no sense in ruining my easy-paced race plan in the first few miles.

After passing through the first AS at Camping Gap, I started my way down the long descent alongside John. We took it fairly easy, keeping up a steady conversation despite steady 6:40 miles ticking by. If I were by myself, I likely would've kicked up the pace another 20-30 seconds per mile, but this pace better suited my objective of treating Terrapin as a hard training run. And, I was enjoying the company.

A couple other runners caught up to us and we all ran and chatted together until we got into the 2nd AS at the bottom of the first Camping Gap descent. The others joked that they were in for a rough go of it if they were some how keeping pace with John Andersen 10 miles into the race, but he made it known that his objectives were similar to mine -- no hard racing today, boys! The question of our placing came up and John thought only 2 other runners were ahead of us, which I adamantly refused to believe.  But as we strolled into AS2 we saw Clark (RD) and jokingly asked what place we were in, to which he responded by slapping the first of us into the Aid Station on the back and shouting "THIRD!"  Well, that certainly makes things interesting!

The next 9-10 miles were pretty much all climbing and I stayed alongside John the whole time. We were occasionally joined by one of two other runners, but it was pretty clear that by the time the dust settled the two of us would be finishing in 3rd and 4th place today. We joked about it occasionally, but kept treating the race as a solid training run, never pushing ourselves outside of the comfort zone.

Coming up to Camping Gap for the 2nd time, we started into the Lollypop, a looped out-and-back of the White Oak Ridge Trail, consisting of a 6 mile trek 1000' up and then back down a mountain. A couple sections topped out at around a 10% grade, and the way back down had a couple sections that were closer to -12%. John, myself, and another runner -- Chris Miller -- worked our way up to the top together. I punched my bib at the top first and headed back down. I took it very easy, waiting for Chris and John to rejoin me. After a mile or so, the loop ended and joined back up with the original trail (the stick of the lollypop). I looked back and John was a few seconds back but Chris was nowhere to be seen.  I kept the pace easy, and John and I linked back up before we came back into the Camping Gap AS for the third time.

The last climb of the day, to the top of Terrapin Mountain, was all that was left. The rest was pretty much all downhill. I'd heard the climb up to the peak, bouncing across the "Terrapin Rocks", and the descent were a bit hairy, so I selfishly continued to run alongside my new running buddy, seeing as how he'd ran this race before. The climb to the top of Terrapin Mountain was a bit steep, but I never felt winded. It had been raining and sleeting for a while, but by this point it was getting cold enough at the upper elevations of the course that snow was beginning to stick on the ground.

We punched our bibs at the top and began the 2.5 mile and 2000' descent -- yeah an average of 800' per mile! We squeezed our way through Fat Man's Misery -- an 18" wide crack in a rock you have to shimmy down -- and continued to hop our way down the mountainside. By this time, I was thankful I'd taken the first 20 miles of the race so easy ... my legs felt fresh as daisies.

After rolling into the final AS, there was a bit more than 5 miles to the finish. A good portion of it skirted the mountainside, jutting in and out of slight ravines. John said there would be 10, and we proceeded to count them down ... but I think there ended up being 11. I ran very much within myself at this point, comfortably hitting about 8:30 pace. It felt weird taking it that easy, weird but enjoyable. As the end came near, John and I debated racing the last bit or jokingly holding hands over the finish line -- something the winners of the TJ100K did a couple weeks prior.  We settled on the latter option ... just a couple of happy-go-lucky running bros skipping and holding hands!

As the finish approached, we picked up our pace to about 6:30/mile over the final 2 miles or so, and cruised into the finishing chute. I had to switch my handheld from my right to my left hand to prepare for the awesome hand-holding ... and to be honest, the bit of off-balance I felt from that slight shift in weight was probably the most uncomfortable part of the entire race ... a pretty good sign I accomplished my primary objective of treating Terrapin as a training run.

When we made the turn into the finishing chute, Clark could be heard over the loudspeaker shouting "There can only be ONE third place!" Sorry to disappoint, Clark! As we crossed the finish in just over 4:45, John and I held hands and jumped in the air to maximize the cheesiness.  Sadly, the race photographer missed us, but I happily recreated the scene in Microsoft Paint...

(Best Friends Forever! Yay! I'm the shorter one on the right.)

All in all, it was a really good day. I took on some pretty awesome trails, got a good workout in, developed a better understanding of just what I'm capable of now that I've stuck to a consistent training schedule, and I got to casually chit-chat for hours on end.  Now, it's onto the Bull Run Run 50Miler on 09APR!

Here's a breakdown of my Aid Station splits:

GPS Distance Race Distance Split Split Pace Duration
Camping Gap (AS1) 4.0 4.0 43:10 10:48 43:10
Goff Rd (AS3) 5.2 (9.2) 5.4 (9.4) 35:25 6:48 1:18:35
Hunting Creek (AS4) 3.9 (13.1) 3.9 (13.3) 38:43 9:55 1:57:18
Camping Gap (AS5) 2.8 (15.9) 3.1 (16.4) 29:26 10:30 2:26:44
Camping Gap (AS6) 5.8 (21.7) 5.7 (22.1) 51:56 8:57 3:18:40
Terrapin Mtn Lane (AS7) 3.5 (25.2) 3.5 (25.6) 40:32 11:35 3:59:12
Finish 5.4 (30.6) 5.5 (31.1) 46:21 8:35 4:45:33

... Oh, and I got some sweet podium schwag!

(My Terrapin Mountain 50K "Top Finisher" schwag ... cuz I'm awesome like that.)

Strava Link (all the cool kids do it):