Monday, January 19, 2009

Swinging Bridge 50K Trail Run


“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Saturday I ran the Swinging Bridge 50K Trail Run in Bear Creek State Park, just outside of Richmond, VA. Checking the weather Friday night, I knew that it was going to be cold but did not anticipate seeing -1 degrees on the car thermometer as I stepped out to go to the starting line. I was layer-up pretty good and as you can see by the picture , had very little exposed skin. This event was sponsored by the Richmond Road Runners Club and is advertised as a low key running event. Kevin O’Connor (former Marine, thanks for your service) did an outstanding job as race director and the volunteers were first class and extremely cheerful considering the cold weather, thanks for your support.

About 100 brave souls started the journey down the Willis Creek Trail, however, in the end only 19 would complete the full 50K distance. Since I have been running Ultramarathons, I have picked a “watchword” for each of my races. A word, that I feel, captures my feelings about the event. The word for this race was “Patience”. I have an almost uncontrollable tendency to go out fast early in a race and then slow down. My goal for this race was to run a negative split (run the second half faster than the first half). The course was laid out as two “out and back” sections, the first was about 11 miles, and the second was about 5 miles, so it was difficult to determine the middle point of the race. I decided to try and run a negative split for each section.

The course was almost 100% single track trail and was marked very well, although I still managed to get pulled off track a couple of times. The cold temperatures did have a hidden blessing in that it kept the muddy areas frozen as well as most of the multiple creek crossings. As result I got to keep my feet dry all day.

We started right on time at 0800. The first section was just over 5 miles to the first aid station, it took about 3 miles for the body to start warming up to the point were I needed to uncover my mouth and nose. The trail was mostly gentle hills that were fairly short and that was a welcome relief compared with the mountains that I had faced in my last 3 races. Pulling into the first aid station, I had yet to drink even half of my 20 ounce water bottle, so I opted to grab a couple of Chips Ahoy’s and keep pressing on to the turn around at the “Swinging Bridge”. The next section had a couple of sizeable creek crossings that would have definitely resulted in wet feet had they not been frozen. I reached the turn point in 1h:54m.

I felt good at the turn around and believed that I had been conservative enough to run a negative split. As I attempted to refill my water bottle, I discovered that the top was frozen solid and I didn’t want to waste the time to thaw it out, so I took what I had and headed back down the trail. I was working the top all the way to the next aid station with no success. Luckly, one of the volunteers had a pitcher of hot water set aside that he was using to thaw water bottles. I got the top off, refilled, grabbed some cookies and headed back to the start/finish line. I hit the 22 mile point at 3h:47m, making a negative split by 1 minute…”Patience”.
Although it was warming up, it was still very cold as I started the 5 mile out and back portion of the course as indicated by the frost in the picture . I was starting to feel the effects of the distance and the cold. The second portion of the trail provided more hills than the first and as an added bonus the weather decided to become overcast and the wind picked up. This was actually the coldest section of the course for me. I reached the turn around point in 1h:04m, had sip of coke and gel pack and started toward the finish. It was at this point that I discovered I was in fourth place overall. Having never finished in the top ten in an ultra event, I was pretty fired up and kept the push on to run hard. As I started to pass the rest of the field that was headed down the trail I realized that out of the 100+ people that started there were only a hand full that attempted the full 50K distance (19 to be exact).

I came into the finish at 5h:59m:40s, fourth place overall and first in the 40-49 age group (results). I just missed a negative split on the second section by one minute, however I was very pleased that I was able to “run with patience the race that was set before me”.

As with many tasks in life, our motivation and strength is at its peak at the beginning and as things start to get tough and we grow tired, we slow down. Hebrews 12:1 reminds us to lay aside those burdens and sins that are weighing us down and have the patience to endure the hardships of this life, remembering always the sacrifice that Christ made for us. Run Strong.

Semper Fi and God Bless,

Training for 12-18 January: Weekly Mi (37.5), Yearly Mi (83.5)

Mon: Lift / Precor EFX 546 CrossRamp (5.5 mi / 50 mins)
Tues: Off (not planned to be)
Wed: Lift
Thurs / Fri: Off (not planned to be)
Sat: 32 mi, Swinging Bridge 50K (5h:59m:40s)
Sun: Recover


  1. Hi Michael, congrats on your strong and patient Swinging Bridge finish! That race was my first long trail race back in 2001---I did the 35K. It is deceptively difficult and I can only imagine how cold it was on Saturday. Great job!

    I enjoy your blog---keep up the posts, as I will be reading with interest all about your WS preparation!


  2. Sophie,
    Thanks for the comments. I have been reading your blog since this summer and enjoyed the Grindstone work-up. I have run quite a few races with you and look to forward to actually meeting you one of these days.

  3. Awesome job Huffer! What a cold day but a great patient and well run race. Thanks for sharing with us. You are a true motivator. Keep it up and I will try to spread the word for more support for the Injured Marine drive.
    Your Brother in Christ

  4. Thanks for sharing, I'm a new follower of your blog now, as I see you run some events I aspire to run. I'm looking at the Swinging Bridge 50k as s good possibility to run... wow, it might be cold..

    My blog:

    check it out.


Site Meter