Friday, April 3, 2009

Bel Monte Endurance Run 50 Miler

“The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” Psalms 18:2

Saturday, 28 March, I ran the BMER 50 Miler in the George Washington National Forest just west of Charlottesville, VA and continued my evolution of discovery in the sport of ultra running. This was the second year for the 50 mile event and I came into it knowing that it was going to be tough with a 13 hour cutoff time and 11,000+ feet of elevation gain and loss. I don’t think there are many tougher 50 mile courses in the country and the final finishing rate proved that to be true, 42% (43 finishers out of 103 starters). As with every race I was able to gain valuable experience and discover new things about how my body and mind cope with the stresses of endurance running.

The day could not have been better for running. We were blessed with temps in the mid 50s and overcast skies for the entire day, the rain held off until about 1600 and even then it was a welcome gentle rain. The race starts and finishes at Lake Sherando Park, which is in a beautiful valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. At 0630 a little over 300 runners were poised to head up the trail and start a long day of running. Three different length races were started at the same time, 25K, 50K, and the 50 Miler. I had it in my mind to start out conservative and feel that I did a pretty good job. The first section of the trail took us up to Slacks overlook (4.6 miles) over a great trail that climbed about 1000 feet, from there it was up to Camp Marty for the first of three stops.

The trail down the mountain from Camp Marty follows a jeep trail for about 2 miles and then heads down Kennedy Ridge, this is a great running trail and it was moving very fast (fast being a very relative term) for me on Saturday right up to the point when I turned my ankle on a rock. My ankles usually do pretty well on the trails but this time it was hurting pretty bad. I hobbled for about a quarter of a mile down to the aid station (13.1 miles) and had concerns about being able to continue. Knowing that the outcome of the race was beyond my control I relied on my Faith and looked to the Lord for His direction. Coal Mountain Rd offered 3 miles of even low stress running that was just what I needed to stretch out the ankle and run through the pain. By the time I reached aid station 4 (Turkey Pen 17.4 miles) the ankle pain was gone and I was doing as good as could be expected after running for almost 3 hours. The Lord will provide.

At Turkey Pen the 50 milers broke away from the 50Kers and went on a 5 mile out and back to the Torrey Furnace. This was great little trail that had a little over 500 feet of climb each way and got us back to Turkey Pen at 22.2 miles. The next section started out in a fairly gentle and runnable climb back up to Camp Marty until we got to the last mile and that was a very hard climb up multiple switchbacks (roughly 1500 feet). Some volunteers at the time were marking the aid station by ringing a cow bell, so I knew I was getting closer as the bell got louder. The conciliation of the climb was that at the top we would reverse course and run down the trail we had just come up. I reached Camp Marty for the second time (27.2 miles 5h:45m) drank an Ensure and started back down the trail towards Turkey Pen.

As with all of the races I have competed in, there are high and low points. Sometimes they are short and sometimes they last a little longer, this time it was a fairly long low point which started just before the Turkey Pen aid station and lasted for about 9 miles. My old nemesis, the stomach, started feeling sour again and that started to sap my strength and mess with my head. The run from Turkey Pen back to the Kennedy Ridge aid station, along Coal Mountain Rd was nothing less than a death run. Although I was able to keep running at a decent pace I was not feeling good at all, I was very much looking forward to the 2000 foot climb up Kennedy Ridge (that sounds kind of sick, I know). It took about 1h:45m to cover the 6 miles from Kennedy Ridge aid station back up to Camp Marty but along the way I was able (involuntarily) to purge my stomach contents and that seemed to be the change that I needed.

I rolled into Camp Marty for the third and final time of the day (42.9 miles 9h:30m) and was met by Race Director Russ Gill. He told me that a lot runners had missed the 27 mile cut off time and was anticipating a less than 50 % finishing rate and then he sent me off with an “it’s all downhill from here” comment. After more than 9 hours of running, downhill, uphill, it just doesn’t really matter. The rain had just started and was a motivator to keep running and get finished. The section of trail after Camp Marty is not the type of trail you want to be running on after 42 miles. The Torrey Ridge trail is extremely rocky and the rain on the rocks made it even more difficult. After about 5 miles on this trail we took a sharp right turn and went straight down the mountain to the final aid station (48.5 miles). I stopped here just long enough to get a quick drink and then it was off to the finish. The final 2 miles was a combination of asphalt park roads and trail that allowed me to move quickly (again speed is relative) over the final portion, averaging under 10 minute miles, not bad after 11 hours on the trail.

This was by far the toughest 50 mile run that I have competed in and I was completely satisfied with the outcome, placing 19th overall. Thanks to all of the great volunteers and to Frannie and Gill for Directing such a great race. The Lord continues to bless my running endeavors and through this blog I hope to be able to express my gratitude for His Grace and Strength. For those that might have a hard time understanding why someone would want to struggle through 11 plus hours running up and down mountains in the rain on a Saturday all I can say is that I find complete solace and peace during these runs and cherish the time that I can truly spend with God. The struggles that I face during the runs remind me of how weak I am alone but how strong I am with the help of the Lord. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Matthew 7:7,8. Run Strong.

God Bless and Semper Fi,

Training for 23-29 Mar: Weekly Mi (70.5), Monthly Mi (201.7), Yearly Mi (557.9)

Mon: 6.6 mi / 60 mins - Crossramp
Tues: 8 mi – Potomac Heritage Trail
Wed: Off
Thurs: 5 mi / 40 mins - Crossramp
Fri: Off
Sat: 50.9 mi – Bel Monte Endurance Run 50 Miler
Sun: Off

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