The Laurel Valley Whitewater Run was as close to ideal as it likely gets for me. The weather featured relatively low humidity and high temperatures in the 80s. My hope was that these factors combined with some course knowledge gained last year would allow for a good improvement in my time. The wild card was my running fitness. While I felt good, I had not been training very hard. However, I had been fairly consistent with tempo workouts so perhaps that would be enough. Plan was to go very light this year, taking just enough gel and shot blocks to get me through the day. I hoped to improve my time by 30 minutes to an hour.
Upon arriving in the Traveler's Rest area on Friday afternoon, John, Mo and I went to Walmart to pick up some last minute supplies. We then caught up with several folks at the Pizza Inn for our pre race dinner. Those in attendance including us were Byron Backer (who was putting us all up), Christian Griffith, Jim Musselman, Larry Lyda and Mike O'Melia. I knew of Larry and Mike from the ultralist so it was great to finally meet them in person. After dinner we headed to Byron's house to make our last minute preparations and then turn in for the night. We had less people at the house this year so I was able to sleep in a bed, which was great. We had to get up at 3:30 to drop cars and shuttle to the finish. Byron arranged to rides for us all - talk about a full service host.
We cut it close on time but made the start by about 5 minutes. One problem immediately surfaced - it was really dark and I didn't have a light! Oh well, that meant I would have to latch on to someone with a light for 30 minutes until dawn and hold back a bit. Actually, not a bad plan. I got separated from John and Mo early but we soon caught up with each other and made our way towards the first water spot. We were making great progress and I relayed my goals to John. Last year I ran a miserable 10:26 here and hoped to break 10 hours this year and maybe have an outside shot at going under 9. My plan was to be at the Horsepasture River by 12:00 so that I would have four hours to get in under 10 hours. I did not have more aggressive goals because I was unsure how my fitness was. I had only run over 15 miles once since Massanutten in May and most of my training had been on roads. John has battled Achilles problems all summer so we agreed to just run by feel and see how it goes.
We continued to make great progress and were really having fun pushing the pace on the downhills. The weather really helped us make good time as did the clearing of many blowdowns along the trail. I can only think of a few spots where we had to deal with blowdowns this year. We got to the Toxaway River bridge in great time and spirits and John remarked that we would hit Horsepasture way before 12:00. I still wasn't convinced but continued to move along. I was eating gels and shot blocks and drinking Nuun (adding it once the water purified). I did feel like I was a little behind on water some so I drank an extra bottle at Toxaway. I also noticed that I likely did not have enough gels (only had nine). I bought some pretzels at Walmart but mistakenly forgot to put them in my waist pack. Oh well, too late to worry about it now.
I lost John and Mo for a bit when I stepped off the trail to take a pit stop. The next section was awesome - all rolling hills and I ran every step trying to catch them. This was where I got three yellow jacket stings. I finally caught up only because John had fallen and was walking it off. Eventually we arrived at the Horsepasture River at 10:50! I was over an hour ahead of plan and feeling great. From here it was between 3 and 4 hours to the finish - closer to 4 for me. We planned to get in the water here but the levels were pretty low so we just filled up. John urged me to push ahead and go for a great time but I was reluctant. I figured sub-10 was in the bag so there was no hurry. I decided to start walking up the trail and said I would meet him at Thompson's where I planned to get in the water if the levels were better. Thompson's is about 4 miles from the finish but I didn't realize this at this point - I thought it was closer to 7.
I caught up to Jim Musselman, Andrew Hacket and Jason Barringer. I moved past them on one of the downhill sections but soon Andrew and Jason caught up and we ran together for a while. In fact, Jim would also catch up and pass me to finish about 5 minutes ahead. Jason commented that we had a great chance of breaking 8 hours. What!!!! I said how is that possible and he told me the finish was only 4 miles from Thompson's. He would know as this was his sixth time here. We battled the yellow jackets off and on (I got stung two more times) and soon were at Thompson's. He said he was just going to top off his bottles a push to the end and go for sub-8. I decided I would go with him and see if I could do it too. We got to Thompson's around 12:40 so to break 8 hours I needed to cover 4 miles in 1:20. Seemed doable. Only problem was I only had 1 gel left for food and I was starving. So, I ate it and took off.
Jason and Jim had left before me (and Andrew before them). Tom Gabell also passed by as we arrived into Thompson's. I continued to move forward and played leapfrog with Jason and Andrew for a bit until they finally pulled away for good. I started to really bonk and was hitting a low point big time. I decided to get in the water for a bit to see if this would help revive me some and stayed for about 10 minutes. It helped some but the bonk was still there. I just decided to keep pushing as best I could. Soon Mo and Jim caught up and passed me. I soon realized that sub-8 was not going to happen but I could probably get in under 8:15 if I could make good progress up the last beast of a climb.
I pushed and I pushed and was surprised to be at the top quicker than expected. As I came down the paved bike path I could see another runner about 50 yards ahead. I kicked up the pace to a full sprint and was getting very close when the "crowd" told him to hurry up. He picked it up as well and we ended up crossing together in 8:06. I ended up covering the stretch from Horsepasture in 3:16, which is much better than I expected. I was tired after that last hard effort but it was a good kind of tired. I drank several cups of sports drink and water and then relaxed at the finish and cheered in the other finishers for a couple of hours. Mo ran an 8:01 and John did 8:28 basically off the couch. If fully trained he would have been a good hour faster.
This race went very well for me despite two dumb mistakes - no light and not enough food. I thought about putting a small flashlight in my waist pack but decided against it. Probably didn't impact my time much but who knows. Going too light on nutrition was really dumb as the late stage bonk definitely hurt my time. Perhaps the soak in the water was unnecessary and a waste of time. I am splitting hairs here but I always try to garner some lessons from every race. I blew away even my most aggressive goal and felt terrific at the end. I used Desitin on my feet and again had no blisters or any foot problems. The Nuun worked very well and I plan to use it in all races going forward.
Thanks to Claude for putting on such a great race and to Byron for his hospitality. Also, congratulations to John Teague for getting his tenth finish at Laurel Valley. Man, what a race!