by Bill Van Antwerp
On the weekend of May 11-12 I planned on completing a 100-mile trail run. The run consisted of 12 climbs over very rocky terrain with a total elevation gain of nearly 17,000 feet. The course was advertised as the toughest 100-mile trail run East of the Mississippi. If your going to do something I believe it making it something real challenging so you get your moneys worth. Besides the course was spectacular if you like scenery. The fact that the mountain laurel was in full bloom also added to the experience.
At the start the weather forecast was ominous with predicted temperatures in excess of 90 degrees on Saturday with late afternoon showers. I went into the run with a good plan and reasonable goals. Thanks to the adventure runs in rain, snow and fog I had with Russ Evans combined with a half-hearted attempt on the course last year I was well prepared mentally for the course that lay ahead.
I had three pace charts which I felt were all obtainable if the conditions cooperated. The most aggressive was for a 28-hour finish time, which I knew I could do if everything went well. The next was a 30-hour goal that I felt I could do even with the heat if things were Ok and didn't do anything stupid. The last was my fail-safe goal, which was to get my butt across the finish ahead of the 36-hour cutoff time.
At the start my plan was to go steady and quick until the heat came. Then back off until the thunderstorms could cool things off. I also felt the storms would wash the pollen out of the air and would eliminate problems with my allergies.
At mile 25 I was ahead of schedule and feeling great. Then the heat and asthma did a number on me as I climbed 1,500 feet in 1.5 miles to Habron Gap. A bunch of people including Russ Evans passed me on this climb. I stopped several times on the accent to try and lower my heart rate and breath. My inhaler did not seem to work as my system was in overload from the pollen and heat. That's OK as I planned to go slower and I knew the trail along the top was fairly runnable. Here is where I pull out the asthma card as an excuse on why I didn't do 28 hours.
Covering the distance on the ridge was hot with trouble breathing only on the up hills. The view from Kennedy Peak was great even though I just took a quick look as I turned around and headed to the 675 overlook (mile 32.5). At 675 I met Gary Knipling sitting in a chair so I joined him and got input from his years of experience. According to Gary sitting in a chair in an aid station is tactical when you do a long race like this. Maybe that's where I went wrong last year as the first time I sat down was at 59 miles and I stayed there.
Finally in Duncan Hollow a thunderstorm hit. Since you were in the hollow there was little chance of a lightning strike but the hail did pound you a bit. A cap and a folded shirt over my shoulders absorbed the impact from those little pebbles that ranged up to a half inch in size.
The sun came out again and heated things up a but the pollen was gone thank god. I really felt good all the way to Gap Creek (mile 39) and the beginning of Waterfall Mountain. In fact I ran very well and actually picked the pace up on the stretch to Waterfall Mountain. I could hear another storm coming. I was hoping to get up Waterfall before it hit. Oh well I didn't make it as when I started the accent the wind picked up and the hail and rain started. I know why they call it Waterfall Mountain. It seemed at times as if there was a dam at the top holding the water back then it would be released all at once falling straight down the middle of the trail. There are no switch backs here until you get near the top. The water falling was interesting but the trees being blown down around me was a concern. I paused for a few seconds to evaluate the situation and decided standing in one place was more dangerous then being a moving target so to the top I went.
Things seemed to go well through the Visitor Center on 211West (mile 47.8) but they changed considerable going up Bird Knob (mile 50). What is it about that climb? It kicked my butt last year, it kicked it again in training and again in this race. Gary Knipling passed me going the other way as I ascended the rocky section. I talked to him for consolation and complained again using the asthma card. He said I looked fine and I could do it, I just had to keep moving. He later said at the finish he lied and I really looked terrible. Thanks Gary, the truth can hurt if given at the wrong time in a race like this. I am still trying to figure out why I believed him.
Well finally on the downhill to 211 East (mile 54.2) things started to come around again. I got more spring in legs and there were streams to splash through cooling my feet and legs. Reston Runners John and Maria Nusbaum, and Norm Hunt were at the 211 East aid station with a lot of encouragement. They took an order for a cheeseburger and promised to have it for me at the next aid station. Now your talking. Boy do I like cheeseburgers.
The next section seemed to fly by even though it got dark and it was covered with new fallen trees from the last storm. At Scothorn Gap Aid (mile 59.5) I hugged Chris Scott grabbed my cheeseburger and talked with John, Maria and Norm as we hustled down the road to the Turkey Penn Road. I zipped through the Scothorn Aid Station as this was where I dropped out last year and didn't want it to grab me again this year. Also from this point on was I was setting a PR for distance covered in one run.
My goal was to get to the 730 Aid Station (mile 66.2) hook up with some other runners and go after Short Mountain. There ended up being about six of us heading up Short Mountain at the same time. This is where I met Patrick Stewart. Patrick and I would be together over Short Mountain and then from Powells Fort to the finish. For some reason I thought his name was Ken or Tim. He never bothered to correct me until we finished. Oh well.
Since I had been on this section for trail maintenance and a run in the snow I was in the lead. It seemed as if I knew where I was going. To everyone that followed me it was pure luck, just kidding the trail was easy to follow thanks to the marking by the race organizers. Going over Short Mountain was just slow. In the dark you could not see if the rock you were putting your foot on was flat, had a point of or were slanted. Needless to say this section in the dark makes coordinated people clumsy.
Finally we pulled into Edinburgh Aid station (mile 74.4). This aid station looked like a MASH unit with bodies everywhere. Boy did that last section kick you in the pants. It was not hard but it did wear on so much so that when you come off the mountain you began to wonder what you were doing. This was probably the lowest part of the race for most people that made it this far. The folks running this aid station really worked hard to keep you going. Joe Clapper the President of VHTRC, was so upbeat it was incredible. He scurried around talking all the time, forcing food on you and helping on the things he could help you with. The best comment he had was "you are so far ahead of the cut off you could walk it in from here". This was my que to sand bag it the rest of the way. The 28 hour goal went away yesterday and 30 hours would require an ATV.
After shivering for a while and taking a 5-10 minute nap I could not think of any good reason to stay in the lawn chair. I was reminded of a comment Anna Bradford of the Reston Runners had a few weeks ago "If nothing is broken you can still finish now get out of here". So with a mere 25 mile walk in front of me I started up the 1.5 mile climb to Waonaze Peak. This peak signified the longest and highest climb left before the finish. The rest of the course was basically down hill with two climbs of about a 1,000 feet each.
In true sand bag fashion I ran when I felt like it walked often and soaked up the scenery. The sunrise was outstanding. The section that was hit by a forest fire last week was also interesting. I couldn't figure out how they got heavy equipment on the side of such steep hills, you would think they would fall over.
As soon as I got to the Woodstock Aid Station (mile 82.5) I did not hesitate in sitting one of the chairs where I waited as Bill Sublett and the other volunteers took care of all my needs. I also thought it was interesting that Patrick was sitting next me and he looked surprised. He indicated he thought I was a goner at Edinburgh. He immediately got up and took off as I basked in the morning sun. After checking my lead over the cut-off time I determine I had not lost much on my two hour lead so I had time to kill so to speak.
I caught up with Patrick just before Powells Fort Aid station (mile 88.2) My first question was how far ahead of the cut off was I. Jeanne Christie told me I was 1:02 ahead. I wanted to insure I had enough time to enjoy the walk and not force anything so no dilly dallying here. Off we went to Elizabeth Furnace. The climb from Powells Fort was hot but I managed to keep a steady pace all the way up. The scenery was great all the way up. Unfortunately the downhill on the other side seemed to take forever.
As I pulled into Elizabeth Furnace (mile 95.6) I immediately determined I was 25 minutes ahead of cutoff. That was a good cushion since Jean Lichtenberger also told me most people can do the last section in two hours. I grabbed two cokes and headed for the last climb. Another steady climb which felt good. On the decent several people passed me but who cares this race is in the bag.
After giving up the last place finisher slot to Patrick Stewart I walked the length of the last field to the finish. When I crossed the line Gary Knipling told me the truth about our episode on Bird Knob. Anstr Davidson and Bill Sublett congratulated me and said they thought I dropped out. Russ Evans saw me at my car and tried to console me as we had trained a lot together and he was disappointed as he thought I DNF'd this course again. Thanks for the hug Russ.
It was a great feeling covering 100.9 miles and finishing in the top 47% of the race. It also makes you wonder if there is another 50 or 100 out there that will fit into your summer training schedule. Also for some of the guys I run with at work this race was more than 90% mental. The only limitation you have are the ones you self impose.
As for the recovery I took a shower and found one small blister on a little toe. That's was amazing since I did not change shoes or socks the entire distance. Then I went to McDonalds in Front Royal and bought a bunch of food. As my food cooled I took another 10-minute nap to prepare me for the hour drive home. Upon arriving at home I left everything in my car and informed everyone I would be on the couch in the family room until whenever. After sleeping for a couple of hours I got up and ate. Then slept an hour and ate again. For the next day I ate a meal every time I passed the kitchen and napped about every two hours or so. I even cut the grass, cleaned out my car, washed clothes and took my wife Linda out to lunch. Stairs were a little iffy but not very tough. On the second day I went to work. Stairs were no problem. I do have to admit though that after 1:00 I had this great urge to nap in front of my computer but I managed to fight it off and perceiver until 5:00.
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