Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Great Eastern Endurance Run 100K Report - Sept. 23, 2006

Great Eastern Endurance Run 100K
September 23, 2006

I ran in the 4th annual Great Eastern Endurance Run 100K on September 23, 2006. I am a newcomer to ultras and not only was this my first attempt at the 100K distance but it was also my first race in mountainous terrain and only my second ultra race.


I drove up from Charlotte early on Friday to help Gill, Frannie and Marty with pre-race preparations. Gill had been working with me since May as I transitioned from marathons to ultras. I mainly assisted Marty in ensuring the course was marked, which gave me an opportunity to see some of the back part of the course that I had not seen. In August, I ran about a 20 mile section centered around Sherando Lake as a training run. After finishing up, I got weighed, picked up my packet and headed to Waynesboro for the night.

Race Day

Start to Camp Marty #1 (0 to 11.1 miles)
I got to start/finish about 30 minutes early, checked in and sipped my sports drink before the start. I had planned to meet up with David Snipes to run some of the first section with. I had never met him and only knew to look for bib number 5. I did not see him so at 6:00 a.m., I was off to begin my adventure. Being a newcomer to ultras, this was definitely unchartered territory. Although I had gotten advice from various people (Gill, Frannie, Mike Mason, and Mark Long among others) on what to expect, I knew that there was a lot that I would have to “figure out” on my own. I didn’t really have a time goal …okay I really wanted to break 15 hours. Mostly I wanted to finish strong and in somewhat decent shape.

The first 8 miles of the course takes you down the Blue Ridge Parkway for 2 miles and then down a semi-paved/gravel mountain road for 6 miles to aid station 2 (Annette’s Dinette). This section was all downhill and it was hard to avoid running fast but I did my best to hold back since the real fun would soon begin. Not to mention, we get to run back up this section to finish the race. The weather was ideal – cool with a slight breeze. It was a little humid but overall it felt great. My plan was to drink only water while on course and drink sports drink at the aid stations. So I drank a cup of sports drink and ate a handful of pretzels and checked out of Annette’s Dinette. Aid Station 3 (“Camp Marty”) is only 3.1 miles away and I made my way there pretty quickly. I stopped here to shake a pebble out of my shoes. I also saw Gill for the first time who wished me luck as I left and headed into the first climb of the day.

Camp Marty #1 to Suzi’s Oasis (Mile 11.1 to 16.3)
The next section is almost entirely on trails and climbs up over a ridgeline and heads down into the Sherando Lake Recreation Area. At the next aid station, the 50K runners split from the 100K and head back home. I knew that this first climb was going to be a bit of a wake up call to me as I would see “what I had” for the day. I adopted a strategy of only running the small uphills and all the downhills and flat sections. On bigger climbs I ran the first bit and then switched to a power walk. This would prove to be a good strategy for me. During this section, the terrain got pretty rocky and I was amazed that I was still able to cover the ground at a decent clip. I stumbled a few times but never went down completely. The views looking down at the lake wee breathtaking in the early morning. I finally encountered David Snipes (aka “Sniper”) during this section, who was having a very rough race early on. I came into aid station 4 (Suzi’s Oasis) and checked my time. I was amazed that I was on a 14 hour pace but it was still very early. Sniper said he was going to stay a while to try and settle his stomach. I retrieved the contents of my drop bag, ate some food, filled my pack and I was off. I was looking forward to the next section since it was part of my training run in August.

Suzi’s Oasis to Jennifer’s Refuge # 1 (Mile 16.3 to 28.3)
After leaving Suzi’s Oasis, you have a rolling 5.5 mile run on nice trail to the Slacks Overlook aid station. The first 2.5 miles is on very good singletrack with good footing the whole way. Eventually you bear right onto the Slacks trail, which has many more roots and rocks and also has more elevation change. This section went very well for me and I ran the entire time with two women (Eva and Melissa) who were experienced trail runners. After reaching Slacks Overlook, I saw Gill again and soon made my way across the parkway onto the White Rock Falls trail. This section is very scenic and you can hear the waterfalls the whole time. In fact, Eva and I submerged our hats in the water of one of the falls before heading back up. Eventually you come out on to the parkway and head up for about 1.5 miles back to the Slacks Overlook. I munched on a bit of food and headed out for the climb up to Jennifer’s Refuge, where I would be weighed for the first time. The climb up to Jennifer’s Refuge was pretty taxing for me at times, particularly the rocky sections. I found that footing was more of an issue for me than the climbs up to this point but overall I was feeling very good. The weather was starting to get a bit warmer so I made sure to keep drinking often and taking my S! Caps. The last section to Jennifer’s Refuge is a very runable jeep road that I was able to make good time on and soon enough I was at the aid station.

Jennifer’s Refuge #1 to Bart’s Springfield (Mile 28.3 to 36.3)
Upon entering the aid station, I found that my weight had not budged – a good sign. I popped a couple of Aleve since my ankle was a little sore from rolling it several times on the climb up. I stayed at this aid station about 7 or 8 minutes and ate a good bit of food and had the volunteer make me a turkey sandwich to go. I knew I had a long descent of 6 miles down to the next aid station so I was off. The footing on this section was great at first as we were on the same jeep road that brought us to the aid station. Eventually, however, it turned very rocky and muddy in some spots. Eric Grossman, the eventual winner with a new course record passed me heading back up and said he was having a tough race. Obviously, he turned things around. I was running almost all of this section as it was all downhill but I was frustrated because it was taking so long. I soon realized that even though I was running, I was only managing a pace of less than 4 mph. At one point I lost it and began shouting and throwing rocks. Eventually, I calmed down after my temper tantrum and continued to push along. I finally saw a woman on the trail who informed that the aid station was just around the corner. I entered the aid station pretty frustrated and was told that the mileage was wrong, that it had been an 8 mile section. This made me feel much better so I filled up and headed out. The toughest climb of the day was soon to come and I needed to get going.

Bart’s Springfield to Jennifer’s Refuge #2 (Mile 36.3 to 45.3)
The first 3 miles are on a paved mountain road and take you to aid station 9 (Willville). I ran this entire section (even the uphills) since I was pretty pumped from the news that my trek from Jennifer’s Refuge had not been so abhorrent. I pulled into Willville and stayed longer than I wanted. I decided to rest in a chair for about 15 minutes. After all, I had been at this for 9 hours and had not been off my feet yet. I also ate several potatoes and some gummi bears. Potatoes were kind of my staple for the day as I always had a craving for them at each aid station. Soon, I headed out and began the grueling climb back to Jennifer’s Refuge. The climb covers 6 miles and rises about 3,000 feet in elevation. In previous years, this section was run downhill but the RD switched directions this year so that runners would not have to climb the road (where I had my tantrum) in the direct sun. Either way, you are in for a tough climb. I soon realized that I was going to have to walk most of this as there were not many flat or downhill sections. If I had a low point in the race, this was it. I began to feel the fatigue and grew concerned that my fingers were swelling. I also realized that I wasn’t peeing as often so I took a couple of S! Caps and kept drinking as I continued on my death march. I was passed by a couple of runners and soon began a leapfrog game with a couple of Marines. This leapfrog would continue all the way back to aid station 12. The progress was slow but it was progress. Eventually, I came back out onto the jeep road that leads back to Jennifer’s Refuge and the footing improved. I started to run again and it felt good to stretch out my legs and soon I was at Jennifer’s Refuge #2. Interestingly, I saw a dead rattlesnake in the road about 200 yards from the aid station. This is really the only “wildlife” I noticed during the day other than the dogs and cows on the first descent.

Jennifer’s Refuge #2 to Camp Marty #2 (Mile 45.3 to 50.8
I got weighed again and my weight was still the same. I was relieved because I felt like I had gained weight. I retrieved my headlamp from my drop bag and ate a grilled cheese. Suddenly I saw a familiar face – Sniper! He had recovered and was in good spirits. He went on the finish the race about 30 minutes ahead of me. My stomach wasn’t feeling terrific and Sniper suggested I try peppermint candy and it worked like a charm. I learned a lot from him during this race (seeing him recover, etc.) even though we only ran together a short bit. Pack and bottle filled, I headed out down a steep descent towards Camp Marty about 5.5 miles away. I felt very confident since I knew I could walk the whole way if necessary and still make the cutoff. Once the terrain leveled out, it turned very rocky and I rolled my ankle several times and had to walk. This was very frustrating since it was so flat. I did my best to mix in some running as often as possible. There were several creek crossings and the water felt good on my feet. I came upon a volunteer who was hanging glow sticks as darkness was looming. Before too long, I recognized the trail and could hear music so I knew I was at Camp Marty. At this point I knew the 15 hour goal was shot but I was feeling good and could break 16 hours if I hustled. I ate a good bit at Camp Marty and Marty played the Notre Dame fight song for me to motivate me. It worked and I took off, anxious to get to the finish.

Camp Marty #2 to Finish (Mile 50.8 to 61.9)
I left Camp Marty with a full pack and bottle. I also, had plenty of gels and clif blocks so I knew I could skip the final two aid stations. This would allow me to get moving on the long 6 mile climb up the road to the parkway. Shortly after leaving Camp Marty, I saw Gill for the last time before the finish. With his words of encouragement, I picked it up and ran the next 3 miles to Annette’s Dinette #2. When I got to the highway, I turned on my headlamp and reached aid station #12 around 7:50 p.m. I yelled out my number and kept on trucking up the road. I knew I would have to walk most of this and figured if I could reach the parkway by 9:30 p.m. I would be able to break 16 hours with no problem. The climb was pretty arduous and took forever. I power walked most of it and ran even the shortest flat or downhill section. I could see headlamp lights behind me and this motivated me to keep pushing. I could see that the parkway was getting closer to me (it ran parallel and slightly “above” this road) so I knew I was getting closer to the turnoff. I came upon Chris and Darla from Bend, OR and walked with them for a while. I enjoyed hearing about the races they had run and enjoyed the company. Darla was having some knee pain so I headed on and said I would see them at the finish. Eventually, I was on the parkway and saw that it was 9:22 p.m. and that I would definitely break 16 hours. I started running and stopped for some walk breaks every now and then as my feet were starting to hurt a bit. Soon I could see the lights and kicked in for the last 100 yards. I crossed the finish line at 9:42 p.m. for a time of 15 hours and 42 minutes. I was elated. Frannie and Sniper greeted me and gave me my finisher’s shirt. Gill came over shortly and offered congratulations.

What a great race! The volunteers were terrific and the course provides spectacular views. The whole event is organized exceptionally well from check-in to food at the finish. The course is very challenging and one must be well trained to succeed at this event. Thanks to the coaching work of Gill and advice of others, I accomplished this goal without making any major mistakes. I would recommend this event to anyone, whether a newbie (like me) or an elite runner.

No comments: