Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Elizabeth’s Furnace 50K

“But the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of Heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.” Deut. 11:11-12

It was good to be back in the mountains. Over the past couple of years I have had the chance to run in some pretty challenging weather conditions; 100 plus degree temps at Western States, sub zero temps at Swinging Bridge 2009, 6 inches of snow at this years Holiday Lake and on Saturday--the mix of constant rain and melting snow led to some spectacular flash flooding at Elizabeth's Furnace. First off, thanks to the VHTRC, Mike Bur, Quatro Hubbard, and the hearty volunteers that battled the weather to ensure that we had good support during the race.
The Weather Channel was forecasting 2-4 inches of rain throughout the day and looking at a raging Passage Creek as I drove to the start at Signal Knob parking lot, it looked like the Front Royal area already had their fair share of the wet stuff. We started at 0700, in a light rain, with about 50 runners. The trail quickly turned into a stream and after about a half mile my feet were soaked and would remain that way for the rest of the day. The first 4-5 miles of the course is a steep climb up to Meneka Peak, a mile across the ridgeline and a 2 mile drop into the first aid station. The gameplan for the day was to try and continue with the success I had the previous week at Seneca Creek and start out slower and try to maintain a constant pace for the entire race. I felt like I was able to pull that off.

This being a Fat Ass event, the aid stations were a little more spread out than a normal race. Runners were expected to be a little more self sufficient, especially for the "big loop" section of the course. The big loop was about 13 miles with two big climbs. Leaving the first aid station I headed down the purple trail, or should I say the purple stream, over to the Mudhole Gap trail. We were briefed about the Mudhole Gap trail in the pre-race meeting--there are 5 "stream" crossings and the stream is about knee to mid-thigh high. Normally this stream is a foot deep, gently flowing and can be forded by stepping on rocks--NOT ON SATURDAY. As I came up on the first crossing I stopped and thought to myself that this could go very bad with a wrong step. Not only was the stream deep, but it was flowing fast-real fast (refer to pictures). Long story short, the first 4 crossings were all about the same, mid thigh to waist deep 15-20 feet wide and raging, the last crossing was wider but not flowing quite as fast, all of them presented a significant challenge.

Having run this race two other times I knew that the worst of the stream crossings were behind me, now it was up to Three Top Ridge and about 3 miles of rock hopping. This section of the course is extremely tedious due to the amount of rocks and boulders on the trail, this is true Massanutten running. After coming down off of Three Top I started another climb up to Signal Knob and back to Meneka Peak and then a good 5 mile downhill run to the Elizabeth's Furnace parking lot and the 22 mile aid station. I came in there at 4h:45m and was hoping to run the small loop in about 2 hours.
The small is 9 miles and has a huge climb up the Sherman Gap trail. The first mile of the small loop runs parallel to Passage Creek, fortunately we didn't have to cross that. However, the creek was running so high that it was spilling onto the trail in multiple locations and ensured that the feet stayed plenty wet. The climb up Sherman Gap was tough but I was feeling pretty good and still taking in calories. Once on the ridge, there was another round of rock hoping to Shawl Gap and then a steep 3 mile descent back to the parking lot.
The last .9 miles of the course parallels the Fort Valley road back to the Signal Knob parking lot. I crossed the finish line at 6h:47m soaking wet and very pleased with the condition I was in. I grabbed a bowl of chili and started to hear some of the stories from the trail, there were some who got to the stream crossings on the Mudhole Gap trail and turned around and still others that got swept down the stream for a while as they were attempting to cross. There is always something that sticks in your memory from these races and those stream crossings will remain with me for a while.
It was awesome to see the power of nature at work and I found myself thinking how lucky I was to be able to see Gods wonderful creation up close and personal. I ran this course alone from about the 3 mile point to the end and during that time I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on many things. It’s good to feel secure in the grasp of a loving God and to once again realize the importance of a strong Faith and Family. Run Strong!

God Bless and Semper Fi,


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