One word sums it all up - TOUGH!! This was the 4th annual Bel Monte Endurance Run and the inaugural year of the 50 mile distance. I ran the 50K last year which I appropriately dubbed the "Bel Monster". Well, this year the Bel Monster returned in all her glory and did not disappoint. This is probably the worst race I have ever had in terms of finish time yet one of the most rewarding efforts I have managed since getting into ultra running.
A group of us from Charlotte drove up early on Friday and helped out some with the pre race set-up activities. We all remarked how wonderful the weather was and how great it was to not be in a corporate office on such a fabulous day. The starting temp was expected to be in the low 30s but if it was below 40 I would be surprised. The sky was dark but clear and we started what would be a beautiful day of running in the mountains. I started out hard, probably too hard but I wanted to try and cover the first couple of sections in a quick time, which I did. Unfortunately, I did twist my ankle pretty badly on the descent down Kennedy Ridge but I still managed to get there ahead of schedule. The temps warmed up pretty quickly as I headed down the road towards the next aid station but I was still making good time and the level surface helped to stretch out my ankle a bit.
I felt great as I left to go down toward the Torrey Furnace. This was my favorite section of the course as it was entirely single track and had a fun downhill to the furnace. Unfortunately again, I rolled my ankle severely as I neared the bottom. It really hurt but I took it easy and got to the climb back up. The laws of gravity are unfortunate sometimes in that what goes down must eventually go up:-). My ankle was throbbing but I got some Advil and that really helped. I felt very good otherwise. The next section was a long out and back along the Mill Creek trail with several ankle deep water crossings. The cool water felt good and I continued to make decent time. At this point I knew running a good time was out the window so I just focused on moving forward and figured this would be an excellent training run for Massanutten (after all that was why I entered this in the first place). At the end of the trail there is a lovely series of switchbacks that just suck the life out of you. I was pretty pleased with my effort here and with the plunge back down as I managed to make it without rolling the ankle.
After finishing the Mill Creek section again we spilled out onto the road section from earlier in the day and I decided to try and push as hard as I could manage. I knew I had a beast of a climb next and the most technical section of the race in the final 13 miles so if I was to make up some time, this was my chance. I passed about 11 people in this 3 mile section. Although 4 or 5 would later re-pass me on a downhill, running the road section fast was definitely a good idea. Next up was the climb back up Kennedy Ridge. I hoped to make good time here and wanted to get to the jeep road up top it in less than an hour and I did, 56 minutes to be exact. I then ran most of the way to the final aid station and...you guessed it, rolled my ankle yet again about 50 yards from the station.
I filled up and headed out hoping to make decent time on the last section. Very soon you face a very technical ridgeline section that rolls up and down. I just did not have the confidence to run the downhills on it so I ran the flats and tried to run some of the uphills. I know this is kind of weak and whiney but I figured better safe than sorry. This kept me moving and before too long I was at the one mile plunge down to the road to the finish. I power walked/stumbled down and then ran the final road/trail section into the finish to cross the line in 12:20. I had hoped to break 11 hours but most folks ran about 60 to 90 minutes slower than expected. Considering Mike Mason, the overall winner ran close to 9 hours and fast guys like Greg Loomis barely broke 10 hours, this was definitely a beast of a course. In fact, very early on they extended the final cutoff to 12:30 from 12 hours. As slow as I was, I was pretty much mid-pack. Of the 100 or so that started, only 60 finished!
I was pretty dejected after the race and even into this week but I am over it know. My focus is Massanutten and getting prepared for it and this race went a long way to do that. In fact, I would argue that this 50 miles is harder than either half of Massanutten. Also, not to make excuses but I have not run much on technical trails yet this year so that is a likely reason for the lack of confidence and the ankle rolls.
What a beautiful day in the mountains and I had a blast seeing folks on the course. I also ran in the LaSportiva Raceblades, which worked great. I will post a brief review of the shoes shortly.
Thanks to Gill, Francesca, Marty, Sniper and all the other volunteers who put together such a fantastic race. The aid stations were well stocked and the course was very tough but also very scenic and enjoyable. Definitely a race I will return to.