2014 Terrapin Mountain Race Report

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The verdict is still out.  To run or race an ultra?  That is the question.  For me, I have very little experience with the latter, having only "raced" my first ultra at Holiday Lake, but running Terrapin Mountain this past weekend was SO much fun that I have trouble believing turning myself inside out for 4+ hours of misery "racing" could beat it.  That being said, it took every ounce of self control I had to not race or at least run hard this weekend.

When I signed up for Terrapin Mountain, I knew that it would be my last long run before Umstead 100 two short-weeks later.  I was also very aware that I would not be running hard but instead would be out for an extended effort getting time on my feet in the gorgeous hills of Virginia.

Friday began with the "semi-simultaneous" publishing of a synchroblog with Ultra VT.  The posts were awesome and I think it helped everyone get super excited about the weekend ahead.  If there was a buzz word that stood out reading all of the posts, it was INSPIRING!  However, I decided to do a little experiment and copy and paste every post (twice) to create a Wordle and confirm:

Sure enough, Inspiring appeared although not as large as I expected.  During the car ride to Holiday Lake, Jordan Chang and I were discussing how awesome it is to have a group of friends that can just jump into a marathon or ultra for a fun weekend adventure.  I digress.  

After dropping Gillie off at Michelle's parents (Thanks again Marvin and Cindy!), I headed north toward the Sedalia Center in Big Island, VA, which served as the race start/finish and location for camping/packet pickup.  The drive is super easy, something I'll miss living in Richmond come this fall, and gorgeous to boot!  I arrived a little before 7PM and quickly spotted the Ultra VT crew who were "tailgating" the race.  

The caravan left Blacksburg around 4PM and by the time I had arrived in Big Island the group was in full team bonding mode. Somehow...the idea of a sleeping bag race came about.  What ensued could only happen when you put 10+ ultra runners together who can't run and have an excess amount of energy. Most of the other campers...who...erm...were less boisterous than our group found the event amusing and can even be seen taking photos of the event unfolding in the video below (0:59 in the right of the frame).  Yes,  I documented the entire thing and put together the four clips to make a little video, Ultra VT Shenanigans:

eVenTually all of the excitement died down and I began preparing the Outback for bed.  About half of the team camped under the stars but my 50+ deg. summer bag would've made for a cold night.  Holiday Lake was the first time I camped in the Outback and I managed to figure out a pretty good system for a decent nights sleep.  The rest of the evening was spent stargazing and identifying constellations.  Seriously.  It was pretty awesome!  I busted out the Sky Guide app that uses the accelerometer in the iPhone to determine which way the phone is being held and then shows the constellations/planets in view.  I felt I upheld my teacherly duties for the evening.  The constellations identified included: Gemini (with Jupiter!), Orion, and Ursa Major.  I headed off for bed around nine and quickly dozed off after an exhausting week of student teaching and training.

I awoke early on Saturday (after several snoozes of the alarm), emerging from my warm car around 5:30.  There was coffee available at the pavilion, which I indulged in and then quickly headed off to find the restroom to take care of business for the day.  Around 6:50, we decided it was time to head toward the start and ditched all of our warm clothes in the cars.  I debated for a good five minutes as to whether I felt like carrying a camera for the entirety of the run.  In retrospect, I suppose I could've given it to Kristen or one of the other Ultra VT folks who were not running but were cheering at aid stations if I decided it was too cumbersome.  I somewhat regret not having a camera to document all the fun that was had but without a vest the heavy camera would've been a nuisance.  

Keely, Trevor, Nelson, and I on the descent down
from Camping Gap (mile 5.5ish).
Photo courtesy of Kristen Chang
The race begins on a road and then quickly begins to climb to the first aid station (mile 4) Camping Gap, which we would see twice more before the days end.  I found Hannah and Keely, two talented freshman ladies who have awesome ultra running futures ahead of them, on the climb up to Camping Gap and spent most of the climb with them chatting it up.  We would run the first 13ish miles together before separating climbing back up to Camping Gap for the second time.  On the climb up, I was talking about teaching and another runner who I would spend a good part of the day with joined in.  Trevor, just earlier in the week was offered a position to teach at Virginia Tech in the education department.  Small world!  Awesome to welcome another Hokie to the Virginia Tech family and continue to grow the awesomeness that is Ultra VT!  We were also joined by Nelson (right in neon) who now resides in Greensboro and was a FSU Seminole, I told him we wouldn't hold it against him as long as he didn't start tomahawking!

Upon arriving at Camping Gap, I grabbed a few orange slices, gave my number to the volunteer, and began the sustained 5 mile descent down the other side of the mountain.  The miles were quick here (9:00, 8:12, 8:45, 7:53, and 8:05) but I thought running slower would've been more detrimental to my legs than letting gravity take me down the mountain.  About halfway down the mountain we hit the second aid station (which also serves as the fourth) and continued on after grabbing a few chips.  At the bottom, we hit the third aid station that marks the start of the second sustained climb on the course.  The climb begins on road before jumping onto single track and going up and over a little peak before dropping back onto the second aid station we had just run past.  This meant that we were then going to go back up the long sustained climb we had come down earlier to Camping Gap.  Confused?  I drew you an awesome map to clarify!  Red arrows are outbound and blue are inbound.

Good? Good.  Until this point, I had been running with Keely and Hannah but they felt like hiking and I wanted to make it up to Camping Gap so I continued on (slowly) but still jogging with a soft J. On the way up the hill, I met Kathie Colling who was having a tough go of it and was ready to quit.  I stopped and chatted about everything and anything other than running.  I was super pumped to see her come across the finish-line later in the day despite being getting physically sick multiple times in the race.  #Grit.  Further up the climb I met Shannon Howell, who was running her first ultra and was taking a photo of the gorgeous view across the valley.  She rocked her first ultra!

I came into Camping Gap aid station happy and smiling and high-rived Rachel Corrigan who had just run the half-marathon and Mike Jones who was cheering everyone on.  Horton came over and yelled at me telling me that it was a race to which I replied "I'm running Umstead in two weeks" and he said "oh.  Okay." but in true Horton fashion then added "but why would you run that race?" I grabbed some food and headed out onto toward the WOR (White Oak Rim) loop section of the course, miles 17-22, that overlaps with a portion of the Promise Land course.  Its during this section that we hit the peak elevation of 3720' feet!  Along the long climb up to the peak (just below the Blue Ridge Parkway) I ran with Shannon some more and also met Bob Clouston who knew Guy Love.  I took it pretty easy on the way up but let myself have a little fun on the way down and caught up with Trevor and Nelson from earlier in the day.  We chatted about Umstead and they both gave their input on running a 100 (much appreciated!).  We ran together back into Camping Gap aid station for the third and final time of the day and I made the stop a quick in-and-out grabbing food, thanking volunteers, and heading UP the trail toward the summit of Terrapin Mountain and Terrapin Rocks.  Clark, the RD (race director), likes to have runners use a punch to mark their bib showing they were at certain points on the course, perhaps an homage to orienteering roots.  Their were two punches on Saturday, although one was broken before even the first 50k runner arrived, darn half-marathoners!  

Terrapin Rocks - Photo courtesy of Clark Zealand
Fat Mans Misery - Photo courtesy of Clark Zealand
I caught up with the runner ahead of me on the way up to the summit of Terrapin Mountain, who offered to let me through, to which I quickly responded "you look so familiar" and then quickly placed him as Kevin Townsend, the race director of Iron Mountain ultra, which we ran back in August.  Kevin and I chatted and ran together for the next four miles and I heard all about his recent trip to Hawaii (sounds awesome!) and also picked his brain for advice on finishing a 100.  The half-marathoners really destroyed the course below Terrapin Rocks, the outcropping of rocks near the summit of Terrapin Mountain that has an outline in the shape of a turtle - hence the name of the mountain, which made the descent a little dicey.  After Terrapin Rocks, and finding a broken and useless punch at Fat Mans Misery, we descended off the mountain down toward the final AS of the day.  The last aid station is at the bottom of an out-and-back descent, which means after the aid station there is a little half mile climb or so before turning onto one final section of trail.

Red Arrows toward AS 6.  Blue are after visiting AS 6 out-and-back.
Right about the time I got to Terrapin Rocks, the temperature began to become noticeably warmer and although I wasn't pushing hard being active out in the heat takes a noticeable toll, compounded by the relentless and steep descent off Terrapin Mountain.  When I came into AS6, nothing looked appetizing but I grabbed an Oreo, some chips, filled my bottle with half-water-half-Gu/Clif?, and took my first cup of Coke.  It continues to amaze me what Coke will do.  I let Kevin run up the trail and enjoyed taking my time eating my food as I walked back up the hill to make the final turn onto the trail that would take us back to the start.  I reasoned that I had held back all day and that a few miles of fun wouldn't hurt me.  I started jogging with the only objective to catch and beat the Naval Academy runners ahead of me.  After passing them, I opened it up and just had fun cruising the downhill into the finish.  Turning back onto the road after seeing the 1-mile left sign I could see four or five runners strung out in front of me and decided I would put down a solid mile to see how the legs felt.  I passed four or five runners in this short section.  So much fun!  I rounded the turn toward the finish to cheers from Ultra VT who had staked out prime spectating location.  The best part was feeling good and knowing I had A LOT MORE in the tank.  "Used but not used up" as the Umstead 100 runners packet puts it.

Photos courtesy of Kristen Chang

The race was a total blast and I had a ton of fun.  It's awesome to reflect back on the number of awesome runners I met during the run and the camaraderie that surrounds the Horton/Eco-X events and larger ultra running community in general.  After crossing the finish line and receiving my finisher shirt, I grabbed some awesome BBQ that was brought in on-site, (wish I had grabbed a picture), and cheered on the rest of the Ultra VT crew as well as the other runners I had met out on the course (Kevin Townsend, Bob, Nelson, Trevor - our new VT professor, Kathie, and Shannon).  Of course, the vuvuzela was in full force and we made a tunnel for the later Ultra VT runners that finished.  I snagged this photo on Kristen's phone that I thought appropriately captured the atmosphere:

Daniel (bottom left) WON the half-marathon in a time of 1:55:02!  Also of note is that the Hokies had 4 in the top ten: Rudy 2nd, Darren 3rd, Jordan 5th, and Guy 7th.  One interesting thing about the result is that the top 5 finishers were all 25 or under.  Look out old guys!

Photo courtesy of Kristen Chang
George Wortley uploaded a 10 minute video with a bunch of snippets of Ultra VT runners and a neat opportunity to check out the course including Camping Gap aid station.

Finally, as always, the Strava run details are below for those curious to check out splits and stats like elevation.

As my first Eco-X race, Terrapin Mountain set the bar pretty high in regards to course and fun factor. Will I be back next year? Definitely!  Will I be racing or running?  The verdict is still out on that one!


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