Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Great Eastern Endurance Race 100K Report

Prologue: This was the worst mentally I’ve ever come into a race. It was gloomy, cloudy and misting to raining my whole 5+ hour drive down from Pittsburgh to Waynesboro. I checked into my hotel and headed out to packet pickup, arriving at 4:30 only to learn the race briefing was at 6 and it was highly recommended for 100k runners. I left my laptop and a book sitting in my hotel room so that was a waste of time. The briefing was okay, but no great shakes. The course is very well marked and I would not have gotten lost if I hadn’t attended. I ended up getting lost looking for a supermarket and staying up later than I intended. If I’d paid better attention, I’d have shopped, etc. and arrived just in time for the briefing.

At 3:45 on race morning I was awoken by a very loud thunder clap and the sound of torrential rains outside. Ugh, I really didn’t want to face a whole day trying to run in a downpour. I got ready and then drove to the race site through more torrential rains. I was on the verge of turning around and heading home but figured I’d at least go to the start and see if I could find my friend Lorne who was also running. The rain had eased up by the time I got there so I made the decision to at least start the race. I resolved to have fun and just do 50k if I felt miserable. I hoped the weather would clear up as the day went on, which it did.

Race: I figured out who Lorne was and we started out together for the first 1/3 mile or so. I then pulled ahead, stopped to use the woods and pulled ahead again. After one mile on park road, there is a tough, rocky climb and then some rocky, rolling but mostly uphill trail into the first aid station. There were 150+ total runners (most doing the 50k) and it is very hard to pass and by going out slowly I was behind a lot of people. The weather was okay, but the whole course is very rocky and the rocks were very slippery. It took me ~1:35 to do the first 5.7 miles which was way slower than I’d anticipated. But I got in and out of the aid station and ran the next 2+ trail miles basically on my own. From there it was an out and back on the Blue Ridge Parkway and down a steep gravel road to an aid station. I really cruised here, passing a fair number of people and making up a lot of time. Despite my lack of motivation prior to the race, I was really enjoying myself. We were back on trail after this section and I was moving okay. However, I realized there was no gel at the aid stations! I had neglected to ask about this prior to the race, assuming they’d have it. You know what they say about assuming! So I was forced to eat real food at the aid stations, which was okay, but I missed the constant influx of calories every 25-30 minutes especially as some aid stations were up to 7 miles apart. Prior planning prevents poor performance! If I had been better prepared I could have carried enough gel with me and refilled at aid stations, but I didn’t. The solids also contributed to the need for several pit stops later in the race.

There is a big climb to thee 25.2 mile aid station on top of Bald Mountain, where the 50k runners turn and head for home, while the 100K idiots keep going. We’d climb up to this aid station 2 more times. I continued passing runners up to this point, but here the character of the race really changed, as I’d only rarely see other runners from here on in. We’d traverse some jeep “road” several times from here on out, and this was the poorest excuse for road I’d ever encountered. I almost couldn’t believe anyone could drive on it as it was extremely rutted and rocky. Even better, low spots were filled with water, often with no way around. Once I tried to just run through, but it turned out they were knee deep with slippery mud at the bottom. Later, there were vehicles on the road, but I wouldn’t drive anything I own on it

I got to roughly halfway at 31.2 miles in 6:40 feeling great and running well. I felt I could run 14 hours and set that as my goal. I suspect that the accuracy of the mileage from here on in was off. Put it this way, I paid for 62.2 miles and I more than got my money’s worth as it would take me nearly 10 hours to do the 2nd half of the race, despite feeling like I was still running well. Certainly the information about mileage between aid stations reported on the race web site and what the aid station volunteers told me didn’t jibe, although the 2nd half of the course was much tougher.

I ran the downhills and walked the uphills from here on in strongly. On the flats I’d run some, but then kick a rock which hurt like hell and walk a bit. I stopped the 2nd time at Bald Mountain to eat a grilled cheese sandwich (delicious!) and someone passed me in the aid station (Tom should get a kick out of this). I was feeling fine, but making only slow progress. I was enjoying it though and not too worried. As night fell, it was so foggy, my headlamp didn’t work very well, but luckily I had a small handheld with me. All day it had been overcast and sometimes foggy, but it was almost ghostly at night. The rocks were slippery all day and on the downhill from Bald Mountain to Slacks I was pretty terrified on some of the steep rocky sections. The last section seemed to take forever, but finally I was on the last road stretch and finished. 16:33 which is much slower than I wanted, but that was more the course and conditions than anything I did.

Post-race: I ate some lasagna and went back to my hotel for a much needed shower. I turned down the temperature in my room as I sleep better in the cool air. Suddenly, I started experiencing strong, whole body shivers that I couldn’t control. Very weird. I dove beneath all the covers until I warmed up, then turned the temperature back up.
I slept okay, until 5:30 when the old guy next door started yelling into his cell phone. There were 2 buses of senior citizens staying in the hotel and my room was right across from the elevator. They all wanted to get to breakfast when it opened at 6, so I had no hope of getting back to sleep. I ate a ton after the buses departed at 7, then drove out to pick up my drop bags. Unfortunately, they were already gone, so I lost a light, a pair of shoes and a shirt L. (I don’t really care, but the drop bag wasn’t there when I finished and then was gone by 8 am, so they didn’t really give you much chance to claim your stuff).

The website says there were 29 finishers out of 71 entrants and I was 16th or 17th. But before the race, they only listed 55 starters and I suspect there were some no shows.. Given the weather, it’s hard to believe 16 people signed up for the 100k the day before (I want to meet those people if they exist, talk about tough). I didn’t have a great race, but my effort was solid and I was glad I persevered to finish. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of rocky trail and so may focus on “easier” races in the future. The hills didn’t seem so bad to me as I was able to walk strongly up all of them and run down all but the patch from Bald Mountain to Slacks in the dark at the end (and maybe a few other patches). The website claims there is 16,000 feet of climb and descent but I find that hard to believe (my calculation is that would be an average 10% grade and very little of the course seemed that steep to me). With the conditions however (and I didn’t even talk about the mud and significant portions of the course where the trail was now a stream) it was by far the toughest course I’ve done, much worse than Western States. Massanutten (which I‘ve paced part of) was tougher, but this would be a good race for anyone wanting to do Massanutten. Apparently they redid the GEER course in 2007 and made it much tougher. I’d recommend this race (good aid, very well marked) but be ready for lots of rocks. To put it in perspective they had 80 people sign up to run a ½ marathon on parts of the course (mostly trail, but not to the top of Bald Mountain we did 3 times) and the winner took 2:10!


At 5:25 PM, Blogger ollie said...

My goodness Dr. A, that was one heck of a gut-wrenching run. For you to take 10 hours to cover 50K speaks volumes.

Well done!

Sorry about the loud old folks. :-)

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Tom Watson said...

It's all believable except the part about someone passing you in the aid station.

Great job. Sounds like fun to me, but I like rocks.

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