Jo and I made the 3 hour drive to Northern Virginia so I could run in the OSS/CIA nighttime trail race. This race is intended to be a 50 miler, but provides an option for a 25 mile finish.
Obviously, I had planned to run the 50 mile distance when I signed up for the race. But recently, I had been suffering from an unknown illness ever since my finish at the Old Dominion 100 three weeks ago. As time went on, I began to get seriously concerned about my physical condition. I was exhausted constantly, my body ached, and I felt like I had a prolonged flu. When I ran, it felt like I was carrying a 150 pound person on my back. I was slow and running was painful.
After a visit to the doctor, I was immediately put on medications to fight Lyme Disease. I had suspected this might be the cause of my problems because the symptoms suggested it, and I had been infested by ticks during the OD100.
As a result of the illness and the side effects of the drugs, I reluctantly agreed to drop down to the 25 mile distance...UNLESS...I was kicking ass in the race. Which I seriously doubted would happen, but I wanted to keep my options open just in case.
BIG SURPRISE!!! I'm #1 Again! This is my bib number in most my races. I would like to say it's because I'm really awesome...but it has a lot more to do with where my name falls in the alphabet.
The race was held at the Prince William Forest State Park. This is an awesome venue for a trail race and a truly beautiful park.
Race headquarters at packet pickup.
Packet pickup started at 5:30, but the race didn't start until 7:30. This gave us plenty of time to relax, rest, chat with other runners, and get ready for the evening.
Chillin before the race! A tired, diseased, ultra runner.
Jo was quite pleased to show off her ultra runner shirt. I hesitate to say that most people may have missed the writing if Jo was flat chested. But let's be honest, the words on the shirt practically smack you in the face.
"I don't do ultramarathons. I do an ultramarathon runner." Jesus guys...runner isn't pluralized!
At 7:30, we were sent off into the woods to start our adventure. It was still light out and the start time allows for about 2 hours of daylight running, depending on how thick the woods are. I was glad to be able to see the trails for a while so I could get a sense of what to expect.
I was surprised at how nice the trails were. I had heard several runners describe the trails as "technical". This is true if you're comparing them to the sidewalk in front of your house, but otherwise, they're a long ways from truly technical. However, this opinion is shaped based on the types of trails a runner usually runs or has experience with. These trails were usually wide, rocks were rare, roots were low lying, and the hills were pretty gentle. This is a very runnable course...in MY opinion.
Here are a few pictures of the trails we were on. I would consider these pictures to be a typical representation. However, there were a few areas that required careful footing, mostly near the river where large rocks and roots were exposed due to flooding.
Sweet, smooth single track!!!
When the race started, I was feeling really good. I was running up near the front for the first 5 miles and I was having a blast. I felt like I usually feel during a trail run and it was awesome!
Thoughts of doing the entire 50 miles began to creep into my head. I was convincing myself that I could do it, and I could do it well. But suddenly, the rarely seen side of my brain interjected. The mature side of me. For the first time ever, I considered how I might feel tomorrow and how pushing myself tonight might slow my healing process.
I don't particularly care for my mature side. While I am usually successful at keeping his voice muted, he occasionally creeps in and makes some good points. I reluctantly went back to focusing on a 25 mile run.
Maturity sucks and is entirely overrated!!!
The woods got dark much earlier than I expected, and I switched my lamp on at mile 7. At this point in the race, things were still going very well. All of that was about to change with a huge mental screwing that I was about to receive.
I was pushing pretty hard when I came to a road crossing. This was a well worn gravel road and I had seen several road crossings like this and, like all the others, I didn't pay much attention to it. I could see the trail markers directly across the road and I ran in that direction and continued running hard.
I never saw the markers indicating the turn!
After about a mile of running, I heard runners approaching from the rear and they were moving fast. This struck me as odd, because if they're THAT fast, they should already be ahead of me. I looked over my shoulder and recognized the race leader. Instinctively, I assumed he had gone off course and I had passed him.
I had it backwards. Shit....
As it turns out, I missed a turn that directed us to an out-and-back section where there was a water stop and a volunteer punching bibs to verify that we ran that section.
I had two choices. #1, keep running and not worry about it. #2, turn around and head back, adding 2 miles to my race.
I turned on my heels and headed back. After a half mile, I began to see the hoards of runners that had been behind me all day. I began counting the spots I was losing, which really only served to piss me off, so I stopped paying attention.
Initially, I was upset about missing the turn because I blamed it on poor course markings. I quickly fought those frustrations off and recognized it was my responsibility to know the course. But I still cursed the race management for a while and it made me feel better.
After losing so many spots and feeling dejected, I decided to settle into a nice easy pace and just enjoy the rest of the race. My body AND mind needed a solid run and this was my chance.
For the next 18 miles, I settled in and enjoyed the trail. I chatted with other runners, hung out with the aid station crew at the halfway point, and simply focused on enjoying the event.
I eventually heard the rowdiness of the finish line and knew my evening was coming to a close. I crossed much later than I had hoped but was happy with the opportunity to run these amazing trails.
Crossing the finish line and getting my time recorded.
I was tired, hot and very sweaty, but I was also very content. It turned out to be an excellent opportunity for a nice long training run.
And it should be mentioned that this race gets a huge THUMBS UP for the cool race shirt. I get a lot of race shirts, but I wear very few of them for a number of reasons. This is a race shirt I'll definitely wear. JOB WELL DONE!
VERY well stocked aid station. This is one of many tables at the halfway point. Somebody likes to grocery shop!
I would also like to commend the race management team for putting on an excellent event. This was the inaugural race and they did an amazing job. The course was fantastic, the volunteers kicked ass, the swag was very cool, and they clearly wanted everyone to have a great night in the woods. Their sincerity was utmost and their skills at race management are top notch.
I loved this race and I fully intend to return next year when I'm back to my normal self. I think I can be a contender in this race and I want to have a chance to rock these trails when I'm functioning like my normal self. This race is very well suited for my strengths as a trail runner.
I felt very good after finishing which was a huge relief. Hopefully I'm gaining ground on my infection and will be able to run like I was meant to. After finishing, we spent some time chatting with runners and race volunteers, then started our long drive home.
I was very content!
I can't give this race enough praise. These guys did it right. There were a few minor issues, but the crew was very attentive and they'll do even better next year. And I can't wait to see how awesome this race will be by them.
Jo and I are headed to Finger Lakes next weekend for the Finger Lakes 50's and I hope I feel even better by then. I'm craving a high turnover and speed...Finger Lakes is a good place for that. We'll see how it goes!
Thanks for reading. Happy Trails, friends!