Posts Tagged ‘race reports’

Wild and Wonderful: Capon Valley 50k Race Report

18 May 2014

I had heard nothing but superlative things about the Capon Valley 50k, and the 2014 iteration was no exception.  Started by an equestrian club as a fundraiser, and hosted at a Ruritan park, it has turned into a mid-Atlantic staple due to the great course and the ridiculously friendly volunteers (on which, more below).  My result – 6:09:21 for 15th place – was consistent with other efforts, neither better nor worse.  Yet I was extremely pleased because my preparations in 2014 have been lacking, to say the least; I tried several new tweaks to great success; and the experience really rekindled my enthusiasm for running, which has been lackluster since Oil Creek last fall.

In the four weeks leading up to CV50k, I ran 22 miles, 14.75 miles, zero miles (impromptu business trip to Brussels), 41.1 miles, respectively, and then a handful of miles the week of as an unneeded mini-taper.  Through the end of May, I had run 218.5 miles for 2014.  For sake of comparison, that number was 352.45 (!) in 2013.  I’ve simply been in a rut, in which lack of fitness and lack of inspiration are mutually reinforcing.  Yet Laurel Highlands Ultra has been looming in my mind, and the early spring DNSes left a bitter taste in my mouth, so I’ve been slowly, but surely, regaining my legs.

I rushed out of DC Friday night and made it to Capon Valley around 10:00 pm.  From where I parked, I could see very few campers.  I made my bed in the back of my car and fell asleep.

The next morning came quickly.  I went inside to register and investigate the breakfast.  The friendliest women I had ever met sold me pancakes, a muffin, and cups and cups of coffee.  I have the tendency to compare everything I like with Wolfsville (defined in opposition to everything I don’t like as DC), but here the comparison seemed apt.  I felt at home.  I was bantering.  I might have said “wooter.”  I used an outhouse and I liked it.  I felt just like Ricky when Uncle Pen came to visit.

We walked halfway down a gravel line to the start.

At the signal, I began running.  CV50k is the epitome of an old school race – no frills, no excuses.  First we were in a field, then we were on a road, then we were in the woods – a natural and thoughtless sequence.  I had no nerves and started running naturally.  My main goal was to have a solid, consistent training run with an eye toward Laurel Highlands.  Things were going swimmingly for about a half hour, following sparse ribbons, until the gentleman in front of me – shirtless, tanned, mustachioed – announced to the collected runners that we had taken a major wrong turn and were wildly off course, or rather, we had cut a large part of the course.

Roughly fifty runners, it seemed, were standing still in the middle of the woods.  He declared that we should head back to AS1 and eat the extra distance.  Checking in there, we could continue on our way.  I considered not turning around, but even though I wasn’t “racing,” it didn’t seem sporting.  That’s ultra.  (Mind you, I bear no negative judgment toward folks who chose to kept going.)  Running the course backward, we first passed the three guys who would go on to win, having a laugh about the “Capon Valley 60k.”  The aid station folks looked confused.  I called out my number, grabbed some water, and headed back out.

The course switched back and forth between singletrack and fire roads.  I couldn’t guess the proportion, but a week later it feels like 50/50.  I loved the course overall.  There was plenty of variety; as soon as I was getting used to the terrain, it switched up.  The piste was smooth compared to a lot of what I typically run.  The hills were plentiful, but not overwhelming, and never so long that the caused any despair like that slog up Long Mountain last fall.  There were a couple of screamers that wreaked havoc on my toenails, but everything was manageable and allowed long stretches of consistent running.

Judging by the elevation chart, there was a big climb in the middle, but I passed it without realizing.  I spent a good bit of the race either immediately or shortly behind the eventual women’s winner.  She was remarkably consistent, so marking myself to her helped me be the same.  At one point, naturally, I tripped on a perfectly flat, smooth section.  Of course I would.

One of the changes I had made to my strategy was to stop riding the gel train.  I’ve tried to switch my diet toward the low carb/high fat direction and have done most of my longer training runs with minimal nutrition in an effort to force my body to burn fat better.  It paid dividends at Capon Valley: my energy levels for consistent and I was able to move forward steadily all day.  I nibbled on aid station food and drank a little Coke, but mostly stuck to water and a salt pill every hour.  I was pleased.

I was also very conscientious about pacing.  Even when trying not to, I go out to hard and blow up poorly.  (Later, it dawned on me that I don’t go out to hard; I only blow up because I’m not fit enough to go long.)  But again, I had pop in my legs the entire day and was running the rollers that any other day I’d be walking.  I even had enough for a kick down the finisher’s chute to the surprise (it seemed) of the two folks I was running in with.

Indeed, from the last aid station to the end, I was feeling great.  It was nothing compared to my crazy Mountain Masochist finish, but I was increasing my speed and felt like I could have picked off a lot of folks if I wanted to.  This tells me (1) that my new adjustments had worked well, and (2) that I could probably function at a higher level throughout the day rather than keep a huge store of energy for the end.  But I brought home feeling very much in control, and I’m thankful for that.

Overall, I can’t say enough good things about the day.  I ran exactly how I wanted to and it rejuvenated me.  The course, accommodations, and race staff and volunteers were all top-notch.

Even the navigational snafu couldn’t ruin my mood.  When they posted the results, I had initially been DQed for failing to check in at AS1.  I emailed the RD to explain that while we had gone off-piste, I, along with many others, returned to check in, which added somewhere between a half mile to a mile to our total distance.  I didn’t care so much about the DQ, but wanted them understand what had happened.  Based on the email exchange, they nevertheless switched me to an official finish.

Mostly when I return, or intend to return, to a race, it’s because I felt I didn’t give it an honest effort and want to run my best possible time.  But I very much hope to return to Capon Valley next year for the sole reason that it was an all-around, immensely gratifying experience.


Well they gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia*

10 November 2013

I came into the 2013 Mountain Masochist Trail Run in an unusual posture.  A month prior, I had completed my goal of finishing the Oil Creek 100.  Then, my legs felt great throughout, and even after, but a severe caloric deficit I couldn’t dig out of led me to hiking the final thirty-eight miles.  Finishing in just over 30 hours, I wasn’t disappointed, but somewhat bemused at how things shook out.  For two weeks, I thought that I nailed my recovery perfectly.  But a series of unsatisfactory mid-length runs and a very stressful workweek leading up to MMTR prevented me from showing up in the condition I would have liked.

MMTR is an institution.  Its thirty-first edition, like the others, features over 9,000 feet of vertical gain.  It was thrilling to even participate in such an iconic race and take in the breathtaking autumnal scenery.  This became a mantra as I hit the peaks and valleys over the next fifty miles.


The lead-up to the run was inauspicious.  I had to stop several times on the drive south to deal with a work emergency.  My crew (CH) and I decided to camp at the start line to reduce hassle in the morning.  Yet a particularly noisy group of 19 year old girls camping nearby prevented me from falling asleep until after midnight.  Morning came quickly and I deviated from my practice by eating breakfast an hour before running, rather than earlier.  Nevertheless, nowhere on earth can buoy the spirits like a pre-dawn ultra starting line.  I was ready to roll.

The first little stretch (mile and a half?) was on pavement.  A very confused local was blasting Drake as a few hundred runners surrounded his car and quickly passed.  Soon after turning into the woods, my stomach started doing backflips.  (This is a recurring issue.)  I knew that if I gutted it out, it would calm down after about an hour – and it did!

Unfortunately, that was the point where my legs started feeling twice as heavy as usual.  I wasn’t in panic mode, but was a little concerned.  At this point, I was only about an hour in and my body was fighting me, hard.  I had almost killed my water – shouldn’t there be an aid station soon?  But I forced myself to stay positive.  The aid station was a little farther off still, but by the time I reached it and left, I was feeling pretty good.

The next few miles passed quickly.  I was hiking most hills to stay fresh for the seven mile slog up Long Mountain.  I spent a couple of miles with a really nice fellow named Billy from Lynchburg.  This was his first fifty miler (as was the case for many others I met), as part of the Lynchburg Ultra Series.  I could kind of relate – I have a special place in my heart for JFK, but what I was doing then was a different beast entirely.  In other words, I felt like this was my first honest fifty.  I ran with Billy for a large portion of that long, smooth downhill from roughly Mile 16 to Mile 20.

The smooth jeep roads were a nice change of pace.  In the previous months I ran Catoctin 50k and Oil Creek, both gnarly, and did a lot of my trail training on the AT in Myersville.  At MMTR, there was a short technical section in the Loop, but it was actually welcome at that point to mix it up.  The overall buffed out roads felt like a prize for making it through a long season of tweaked ankles and hopping over rocks.

Finally, I reached Long Mountain.  I began a strong power-hike and hoped to remain steady to the top.  I have very few stand-out skills in long-distance trail running, but I feel that I’m a pretty good uphill hiker.  I was imagining my legs as pistons firing, feeling good and passing folks a few at a time, when I finally got my comeuppance.  I always get my comeuppance.

It hit me halfway up Long Mountain.  I suffered a tremendous wave of nausea and came as close as I ever have while running to losing it out of either end.  Up to that point, I felt like I had been fueling and drinking pretty well; I must have been pushing too hard.  I felt really poorly for the next fifteen minutes or so and backed off the pace significantly.  I inched into the Long Mountain aid station desperate for words of encouragement.  CH didn’t disappoint.

I began to feel better as I kept climbing out of Long Mountain.  Nevertheless, at this point a familiar foe reared its head.  I simply wasn’t taking in enough calories.  I recognize that this is always a problem for me, and yet I can’t seem to fix it.  I’m always afraid that putting too much into my system will cause some sort of malfunction, but the opposite problem is just as bad.

At any rate, I finally reached the Loop where CH was set to run with me.  Like I said, the more technical trails felt like a nice change of pace on that day.  It was CH’s first exposure to trail “running,” and she saw that it often entailed a great deal of hiking.  Save for a minor fall, I think she enjoyed it.  I punched my bib at the top, took in the incredible view, and was warmed by a feeling of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the day wasn’t over yet.  I ran out of water coming out of the Loop, and the aid station could only fill me up halfway, as they were running low.  The short jaunt to the next aid station was somewhat of a low point, but I gulped down a lot of water.  This, of course, caused frequent bouts of micturition for the rest of the race.

From the Loop to Forest Valley?  The less said the better.  There was one hill in particular – not a terribly long one – that seemed to reach straight up.  By the time I reached the final aid station at Porters Ridge, however, I was feeling better, mostly due to the knowledge that the remaining four miles were nearly entirely downhill.

From there to the end, I let gravity take control.  With about two miles to go, I really opened up my stride and was running rather quickly.  Having no regard at that point with how I placed, I nevertheless passed at least ten other runners.  It was more just enthusiasm for how close I was getting to the finish line.  Yet I quickly discovered that the last three-quarters of a mile or so were paved and flat.  In any other circumstance, a flat course would be cause for celebration, but now it meant that I actually had to start working again.  I didn’t want to be that huge tool that passed a bunch of people only to slow to a crawl and have them catch back up.

The finish line was a welcome sight.  I mused before the race that if the stars were perfectly aligned, I’d probably run around ten hours flat.  Keeping in line with my poor power of prognostication, I ran a 11:20 and change.  (I actually knew early on in the day that I wouldn’t finish anywhere near ten hours.)  I think on a perfect day I could have shaved an hour off of it, but I wasn’t disappointed in myself at all.  I was blessed to run such an incredible course and really just tried to enjoy the entire experience.  Huge thanks are due to Clark Zealand, Dr. Horton, the organizers and volunteers, the friendly racers, and my crew, CH.

*Of all the renditions of Wreck of the Old 97, this is probably my favorite.


(Real men wear fanny packs. Photo courtesy of CH.)

What did I learn?

This was my final race in a long and exciting, but trying, year.  I took on some big challenges with the understanding that it was probably too much, too soon.  On a macro level, next year I plan to work on quality miles rather than racking up junk miles, and focus racing on 50Ks and 50 milers.  I simply need to become a better runner before biting off huge distances.

From MMTR, I confirmed my realization that I really need to nail down my nutrition and hydration strategies.  I also learned that I need to incorporate a lot more hill training not just in race-specific training, but as a matter of course.