Sunday, October 27, 2019

Cloudsplitter 100k Race Report

It has been over two weeks since the Cloudsplitter and things are just now getting back to normal. There are still some physical pains - my right Achilles and left big toe are today's main complaints -  and my mind is still playing tricks on me, but for the most part the race is behind me and I am looking forward. I learned a lot and am eager to continue to build and eventually go further.

We got to Norton, VA early on Friday, checked into the hotel and headed to the pre-race dinner and meeting before returning to the hotel to attempt to sort out my gear and make a plan for Terri to serve as my crew. This was my first experience at a 100 mile race (I was registered for the 100k, not the 100 mile) as well as my first experience at a supported Ultra of any sort and I really didn't know what to put in drop bags  but we got it figured out and I attempted to sleep before the 8am start with me finally drifting into a deep sleep just before the alarm clock went off.

The race started in downtown Norton inside the farmer's market with all distances starting at 8am. A heavy fog hung over the town and anxious energy resonated through the crowd. A musket shot signaled the start of the race and off we went. I was hoping for somewhere around a 24-hour finish and knew the key to that would be to be disciplined by walking the initial 7-mile climb and just keeping moving throughout the day and night. As we all walked and shuffled up the mountain the heavy fog remained and threatened to start spitting rain at any moment. On the way up to the first aid station at High Knob, we all fell into our own rhythms and pace and friends were made as we slowly worked our way up the mountain. The trail was very steep at times and it had me wondering what it would be like when I was finally coming back down.

The rain held off but when I got to High Knob I was pretty cold and had a really hard time refilling my water because my hands were too cold and I had to get a volunteer to help me. I had rocks in my shoes and started to try and get them out but my hands were not cooperating and I just kept moving forward instead. From High Knob, there was a long descent down to Edith Gap with the trail becoming very technical and slow at times. I led a congo line through the worst of the rocky miles and somewhere along the way it started raining lightly and I kept my mind focused on moving forward. At the Edith Gap aid they were cooking up hot breakfast burritos that were super yummy and did a great job of warming up my body and spirits.

On to Bark Camp Lake aid on some fabulous and scenic single track where Terri was waiting. I sat for a few minutes and we changed my socks and resupplied my vest and pockets and I picked up my poles for the out and back to Little Stony aid. This stretch of trail was a rocky nightmare with countless dry creek crossings across slippery rocks that were just begging for injury. I did a quick turn at the aid station and started back to Bark Camp Lake. It was somewhere in here that my knee started hurting and I went from 3-4mph down to 2mph and started to get really sleepy. It was way too early in the day and race for that so I took a caffeine gel and tried to get my mind back on track. I met a 100-mile racer named Randy who was running his 18th 100 (with 13 finishes) who stayed with me all the way to the aid station and told me about his life experiences of beating cancer, turning to a plant-based diet, and becoming a 100-mile ultra racer. He was wearing sandals and was just a great guy.

From Bark Camp Lake we had to go back up to High Knob before we would have any resupply other than the Edith Gap aid which meant it would be dark by then so Bark Camp was the time to get lights and night gear ready as there was a long way to go. The stretch back up Edith Gap took way too long with my body complaining about a variety of issues. I paused at the aid and tried to roll out my IT bands and had another amazing breakfast burrito. I have to say that all the volunteers on the course were amazing and cooked up some great food and kept spirits high.

As great as the volunteers were as I started back up and through the long rocky nightmare to High Knob my body and mind were not doing well. My right knee was refusing to run at all and my Achilles didn't even want to walk. Somewhere along the way, the clouds split for the first time of the day and the sun came out briefly before giving way to night. The full moon rose and the stars shined bright in the sky above. It was perfect and there was no place I would rather have been but I was barely moving. I had passed the 50k mark and was closing in on 40 miles but still had 30 to go. For the first half of the day, I had been beating my target times but the return trip up to High Knob shattered all that and I was hours behind schedule before I finally hobbled in.

Terri was waiting for me and I sat in a chair and covered myself with my sleeping bag as my mind kept telling me I was heading into the Devil's Bathtub where I seal my fate and DNF. The race offers the opportunity to drop down in distance at any aid station and after much thought, I informed the race officials I would be dropping down the 50k. That was not an easy decision to make but I really did not see myself going 30 more miles, and if I did it would not have been pretty. I had wanted to actually be able to run, not slog it out for 40 hours, so there at mile 41, I dropped to the 50k. I still had to run the 8 miles back down into town so I stuffed food into my pockets and told Terri I would see her back in town in three hours.

The descent back into town was bittersweet, to say the least. On one hand I was glad to be finishing the race, even if not the distance I had signed up for, as well as running my first 50 miler and beating my previous longest run by 12 miles but on the other hand I was extremely disappointed I would not be running all night and would not be finishing the 100k (which is actually 70 miles). For most of the race I had been around other racers but on that descent, I was all alone and I got a lot of thinking done in those three hours.

I hobbled back into the Farmer's Market right around 1am after 17 hours on the course and got my 50k finisher's medal. You would think that would have been good enough for DFL but another 50k racer slept on course and came in over 25 hours and another 100k racer dropped to the 50k at the Devil's Bathtub Gate and came in after 30 hours on course.

It was a great event and I really learned a lot. In hindsight, I did not train nearly enough and was not ready for such a difficult event and had seriously underestimated just how technical the course was. I also should have at least had a pacer from the second time at High Knob to the finish if not from Bark Camp Lake. But the race left me itching has left me itching to go longer and I was already browsing ultra signup on the drive home.

Where do I go from here?

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