Sunday, October 9, 2011

Race Report: 2011 New River Trail 50k

Saturday, October 8, was the fourth running of the New River Trail 50k.  I could not have asked for a better event for my first ever race.  Thank you to race director Annette Bednosky, as well as to the host of unnamed volunteers who made this a wonderful event.  Thanks also to my running-blogging buddies, Eric and Todd, who believed I could do it, and thank you especially to my awesome wife, Maya, for her support as I trained and who gave amazing support and encouragement at the race itself.

We drove down from Washington, DC on Friday.  Despite leaving  a little before 3 PM, the holiday weekend traffic was already stop-and-go until we cleared the Metro area.  We took a quick dinner break along the way, and finally made it to the Hampton Inn in Galax by 9:30 PM.  I set out my food and my clothes for the morning, then went straight to bed.

We woke up at 6 AM, had a quick breakfast, and were out the door by 7 AM.  The short trip from Galax to the race site in Fries (pronounced "Freez") took longer because of the fog, and by the time I got there most of the runners were checked in and lining up at the porta-potties.  I picked up my number (246) and my bag of goodies (thanks, Montrail)  and headed back to the car.  It was cold!

Before I knew it, Annette was announcing that it was five minutes to race time.  I climbed up the hill and lined up toward the back, shivering and joking with everyone else.  Then, it was "three, two, one, blastoff" and away we went.

I think there were around 120 runners registered, but around 100 actually running, so even though we were on a dirt track, the group thinned out pretty quickly.  The temperature, in the upper forties, was perfect for running, and the river to the right of us and the farms on the left were shrouded in the light fog.  I ran for the first six miles with Leaf Erickson, who has a wonderful spirit and as we swapped stories the first hour flew by.  Before we knew it, there was the first aid station.

After a quick pit stop (I had definitely over-hydrated that morning) I caught back up to Leaf and we wished each other well as I pressed along faster.  Our pace, about 10:30 had been great for warming up, but now I wanted to push forward and see what I could do.  I ran at about a 9:30 pace for the next four miles, where I saw another runner stopped by the side of the trail. I slowed up to ask if he was OK, and he said he was stretching. This was Shahin Hadian the owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Knoxville, TN.  Shahin is a triathlete and a coach, and he knows more about running equipment and about foot and leg ailments than anyone I've met.  We chatted about shoes and about compression gear and the like, and he gave me some great recommendations for dealing with a blister on middle left toe, and then I took off again.

Soon I was approaching the second aid station -- 12 miles -- and there was Maya in her blue sweatshirt waiting to give me a high five and cheer me on.  I took about ten seconds to refill my water bottle, and then I kept at it, slowing to just under a 10:00 pace.  Although this course is said to be mostly flat, there was a gradual rise in elevation during this stretch, and on top of that, the sun was out and it was getting into the 50's.  Once I reached the 13 mile point, I started to see the fastest runners on their way back from the turnaround point.  Without fail, every one of them had a wave or an encouraging word.

At the turnaround, there was Maya again, with another high five!  Several runners were stopped here, grabbing supplies from their drop bags, but I had chosen not to bring a drop bag, so after a volunteer had quickly refilled my bottle, I made the turnaround and kept going.  Going downhill, I was again running in the 9:30s, and I did my best to give encouragement to all those who were still on their way to turnaround.

Before long I was at the fourth aid station.  I was craving salt, so I grabbed some potato chips, and since my stomach was feeling a little uneasy, so I asked the volunteers for half gatorade, half water.  Maya said that I was only person she saw making this request, and she thought it was funny.

This would be the last time I would see her until the finish line because the first/fifth aid station is not accessible by car.  For the most part, there weren't other runners within my sight either.  I knew that I had been running faster than I had hoped, but I was also starting to tire.  As I ran through the dark old railway tunnel, my vision exploded in stars.  Then a little further on, the fifth aid station, only 5.33 miles to go.

My Garmin at this point was still showing I had over six miles to go.  As I learned later on, runners' Garmins were all over the place regarding the number of miles covered.  After the race, one mentioned that his car's GPS also had had problems this morning.  I guess the satellites were bonkers, because the course is certified by USATF as 50k.

In any case, it sure was nice to discover that I had less distance left than I thought, because soon the wheels came off.  My legs still felt OK, but suddenly, my stomach felt violently nauseous -- it wanted no more part of this race.  I waited for it to settle with a combination of slow running and fast walking, but let's be honest, it was mostly walking.  Even in my somewhat dazed state, I couldn't help marveling at the beautiful scenery, which looked completely new in the bright afternoon sunlight.

With about two miles left to go, I was finally able to get moving again.  I jogged slowly until I could see the finish line, down at the bottom of the hill.  The clock was showing 5 hours and 19 minutes and I don't know how many seconds, and I told myself that damn, I was going to finish under 5:20, so I took off at a sprint.  If my Garmin is to be believed, I managed a 6:30 pace during that downhill sprint, finishing with a fist pump at 5:19:56.

Maya refilled my water bottle while I sat down and caught my breath, and it was the sweetest water I've tasted for a long time.  Then I made my way over to the river where I stripped off my shoes and socks and sat down in the icy water.  I soaked for a little while and chatted with other runners, then made my way back to the car so that we could start the drive back to DC.  I said good-bye to Shahin, who was chatting with some other runners from Tennessee, and we started the drive back.

My legs didn't start stiffening up until we were near DC.  They are sore as hell this morning.  I also have a strange, but not serious, pain in the back of my right knee, but other than that and the usual black toenails, I don't seem to have suffered any injuries.  :)

 Thank you again to everyone who supported me and who prepared and made this wonderful event possible!  I hope to see you all again soon!


  1. Way to go Joel!!! I'm so proud of you!!!

  2. absolutely incredible run, and what a great race recap!! love the photos, nice touch (we need more of that here).

    i'm very impressed joel, you ran a great race. and nice work maya being there to support you through the whole thing!

    it amazes me that anyone's FIRST ever race is an ultra, and you pulled it off (and it didn't kill you). sky is the limit now, joel!!

    all eyes on burlington!!

  3. Joel!
    Congrats on a smart, fabulous run and for sharing it on your blog! Enjoy your recovery time...Maya sounds like an amazing woman who brings goodness to our world!
    ...The course is sanctioned by USATF (meaning safety, distance reports, communication, etc are up to their standards). We are not yet certified..though last year I used their methods of calibrating bike tires and riding on tangents 3 different times to meet the guidelines. Our event thus far lacks the funding for certification (one day, we'll get it)..Yet I will bet all my toenails that it comes within .2 mile of 50km...if anything, it is a teeny bit longer!

    Again, thanks sooo much for a great post and I request your permission to use your photos on my blog?

  4. hanks for visiting! The runners that I talked to reported a pretty wide variety of results on their Garmins, long and short, and mine was the shortest of anyone's (though I promise I didn't take any shortcuts!) So, I definitely trust your measurements over my watch.

    Please feel free to use my photos (which again, were Maya's work!) I'll send you high resolution versions of the whole batch, including some that weren't posted.

  5. Joel, while we always knew you could do it, the fact that you still went out and ran for over five house - as your first race! - is damned impressive. I'm glad it worked out so well, despite what sounds like an extremely difficult last five miles. But to finish with a sprint? Now that's finishing with style!

  6. What a way to start racing! Wonderful job! Congrats on beginning what will be a very rewarding running adventure, ultras.

  7. Great job on your race experience Joel! I remember seeing you out there on the course and you looked like you were having a great time!

  8. I enjoyed reading your blog. I think we ran in pretty close proximity toward the finish. Congratulations!!

  9. Joel, you are a tough guy as ever! My favorite line: "only 5.33 miles to go". Amazing how the mind reframes time and space once it knows you are going the distance!

    Wishes for a speedy recovery from San Francisco! Come visit the Spartan office sometime.