Last Saturday I headed out to the Ring for a last big training effort before Grindstone. Many years ago some overly ambitious person connected the 71 mile orange trail that circumnavigates the Massanuttens. Then some recklessly foolish people in the VHTRC decided it would be a good idea to run around it in one go. The trail is inconceivably rocky for 71 miles and offers some relentless punishment. Naturally I decided this was a brilliant idea for a casual training run.
But the camaraderie and love that VHTRC pours into this epic folly is what makes it what it is. The starting line is like a family reunion. The aid stations are amazingly well stocked at this free race and several of them are manned at all hours of the night. At each aid station you are greeted by friends who laugh at your sorrow but then put you back together and send you on your way. It is a one of a kind experience, and I was glad to be there.
Here is how it went:
Start to Camp Roosevelt: 0-25 miles (Start to 5:48)
It all started well as it always does. I ran with some friends for about 6 miles before deciding their pace was too hot and taking a step back. I powered up the first climb and then began the dance with the rocks. Temperatures were only around 70 but it was insanely humid, and I was soaked through within a few miles. I rolled into Milford Gap in 2:41 in 3rd place, right on schedule and feeling good.
Around four miles down the trail I started feeling bad. Things were going downhill, and I needed an aid station to fix it. Unfortunately I had a lot of miles left to cover, and it went from bad to worse. I had to start walking even the easy parts, and soon I had to actually sit down for a few minutes to collect myself. It was pitiful. It was all I could do not to get passed by families out were their small children on a day hike. I hadn't felt this bad in a long time.
I staggered into the aid station 5:44 into the race desperately wanting to drop. Instead I laid down on a bench for a bit and then went to work on piecing myself back together. After some Coke, ginger ale, ice, an ice pop, fruit, and almost 20 minutes I almost felt like a human being again. I was ready to get back out there.
It turned out that virtually everyone had problems in this stretch. The high humidity combined with 25 miles without aid (aside from the water hiked up to Milford, which don't get me wrong was much appreciated) threw a lot people out of wack. I was glad I was able to pick up the pieces and return to the living.
Camp Roosevelt to Edinburgh Gap: 25 - 49 miles (6:07 to 12:12)
I took an ice pop and some solid food for the road and started down the trail. There was a lot of false uphill and gentle grade climb that you could make quick work of on fresh legs but less so after 25+ tough miles. Nonetheless I moved decently well and actually continued to feel a bit better.
I put in the headphones and started cranking out a good pace and passing people. I was back! I flew through the downhill right before the monster climb up to the mile 35 aid station. This climb is feared and people say that if you get past this and through the next aid station, you'll finish the race (not true for me, but oh well ...). You climb 900 feet in .6 miles for a hefty 28% grade. But recently in Switzerland I had done about the same grade for over 4,000 feet of climbing at altitude, so I wasn't too worried. I rocked this climb and got to catch up a bit with a few people who dusted me during my sad stretch coming into Camp Roos.
I rolled into Crisman Hollow aid station at 8:16, which was a decent split. This aid station was much snappier than last time, and I was refueled and out of there in a few minutes. The next stretch was "only" 6.3 miles up and over Kearns, but people tend not to like this section. It was rocky with lots of rollers up on the ridgeline, and I will say that it was slow going. But I still felt decent, had the nutrition back under control, and was feeling like I could finish this thing. I also had a nice chat with Jen and Liam from the trail which really boosted my spirits. Thanks, family!
I hit Moreland Gap at 9:56, caught up with some friends there, and moved on quickly to Short Mountain. This would be a long stretch at over 8 miles and was also rocky, technical, and hilly. Somewhere along the way I realized that I just wasn't feeling into finishing this. I was moving very slowly at this point and was tired of the rocks. This was more of a "fun run" (I know, weird definition of fun) and not a focus race for me. If finishing this was the goal, I am absolutely confident I could have and would have done it.
However, Grindstone was the focus. It was a long day in the mountains, my feet were beat up, I was chafed, the legs were tired, and I really didn't feel like doing the damage of another 22 tough miles and running until 1am in the morning. While I would love to have finished and want to go back to do so again another day, I am good with this decision. I was a wee bit beat up on Sunday but was able to jump right back into training on Monday and felt fine. I've been able to get some good speed and climbing workouts done this week, and I think I definitely made the right call for Grindstone.
This left me wanting more, and I know that I will get all I can handle three weeks from tomorrow!