Sunday, June 17, 2018

Eastern Divide Ultra 50k Run

About a month ago, I felt like I had grown too comfortable running on the trails around Charlotte so I spent some time looking for a little adventure to shake up my trail running.

That's when I stumbled across the Easter Divide Ultra 50k Trail Run in Pembroke Va. A town just some 20 miles or so from where I grew up.

Over the coming weeks, I attempted to learn at much about this race as possible. I read through their race info about the course. I found several blogs of runners describing their experiences.

I wanted to know it all. No piece of information was to small not learn.

Fast forward to Friday, I arrived in Blacksburg in the evening and picked up my race packet. 

Along the way, I find it very interesting when I return to places of my youth. There were many changes but some things looked just the same as they did 30 to 40 years ago. I saw the same barbershop that my Dad took me to have my hair cut when I was a boy.

Saturday morning, I was up by 3:30 AM, by 4:30 I was headed to the finish area. The Eastern Divide Ultra starts at Cascade Falls and finishes near Mountain Lake Lodge. The drive from Blacksburg to finish is normally 30 minutes but it took me about 45 to 50 minutes. Deer lined the road on the climb up to the lodge, and the last thing that I was a collision with a deer.

Arriving safely at the parking area, I settled back in my seat to rest before grabbing the bus ride to the start. The bus ride was an adventure until itself. The bus looked like it was built while I was still in school. Stepping on it, we were greeted with the sound of country music blaring in the speakers. I don't ever remember buses having radios. Shortly after 6 AM, our bus was finally filled with runners, and we headed off to the start. The bus is huge and consume pretty much all of the lane and half road that we traveled. The decent from the lodge to the falls is steep, and I only hoped the brakes didn't give out causing us to have a white knock ride to the bottom. It was during this time that I took notice of a big sign above the driver's head which said “bucket up”. All great and good except this was a school bus – meaning “NO seat belts”. With decent over, we were making our way up to the falls when we came across the doe and her young fawn. Everyone woman on the bus let out a long “Ahhhhhhhhhh”. The fawn must have been a new born because it was all it could to walk on the road. Fortunately, the bus driver stopped and allowed the doe and fawn to safely cross the road.

Arriving at the falls trail head, we went to the check-in station. Even thou, I had picked up my bib the night before, I still had to check-in on race morning.They told us that they wanted to know who actually showed up. 

I found myself a comfortable spot and settled into wait the 45 minutes to start. Another bus arrived, and I found a familiar face in the crowd. Jonathon, he works at the Ultra Running Store and was the winner of the White Water Center 50 miler last year. We passed the time chatting about racing and this race. Neither of us had did it before.

After some last minute instructions like follow the pink ribbons with black dot which marked the course. Something that is of major importance to me unless my desire was to get lost.

We were off and running.

A bunch of people took off, and I couldn't understand why. That when I learned about the stairs. Apparently somewhere in the first 4 miles there was to be a group of stairs that we would need to climb.

The first 5 miles is pretty much all climbing with only a single small decent down to the water and just before hitting the stairs. Jonathon passed me here. He skipped through the rocks like a mountain goat. I stumbled, stepped, and grabbed a hold of anything that would keep me up right.

Then, we hit the stairs. In truth, yes, there were stairs, but not really that many, and we were soon back on the trail again. I tried running but when I saw the line of runners ahead me all walking, I followed suit. Still, I was passing people. All the while I was climbing over logs and following a narrow trail. There were a few runnable sections, but mostly we walked.

When we fill burst out the wood on to an old, jeep trail, we found the first Aid station. Among their many refreshments were water, tailwind, Burbin, and a few other a sorted drinks if I understood later reports correctly.

This jeep trail was steep and deeply rutted. I was constantly switching between walking and running while jumping from one smooth to the next smooth spot.

To let you know how much of a climb it was, my ears were popping. Even thou, I was shucking in air like crazy.

When things finally did flatten out, I gave my breathing a chance to settle down and I settle in to run rhythm for the next 18 miles on forest roads.

Looking the course map, I was lead to believe it kind of rolled easily, but in truth, there were many ups and downs. My quads took the pounding of rocky, rough trail roads going downhill, and struggled to push my body up the steep accents. Some of the roads nice and smooth but others were in rough shape. I shift track often in an attempt to find the smooth possible lane.

Some were 10 miles or so, I was making this one decent when I noticed someone walking up the hill with what looked like his hand over his face. When he got closer, I could see blood all over his face, his hands, and down his legs. I asked if he was all right. He nodded “yes”, but if left me wondering what the road ahead had in store for me. I would later learn that he fallen and broken his nose.

Just remember, some these are mountain roads that are rarely used. There were places were water covered the road, and we had to make detours around the edges. In one place, I had to make a circle through the woods so I didn't have to wade through the water.

The miles were slowly ticking off. We had been warned about the heat but honestly I only noticed it during one section where we ran through a meadow. 99% of the course is covered by foliage. And often I had a cool breeze blowing in my face. At least for someone from Charlotte, the 54 degrees at the start made it feel like a cold morning.

Around 15 to 16 miles, I was told there was a 2 mile climb but it was very runnable. May be their measurements were off or my Garmin was off but it seem more like 4 miles. All I know is I kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing. Enough climbing, I felt my ears popping again. As for runnable, I don't know if I would use the term “runnable”. At least not for the average runner. It took everything I had to keep putting one leg in front of the other. I caught two guys on the climb who were switching between running and walking. I thought about doing the same but I choose to push through it. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake on my part because it took a ton out my legs.

Cresting the hill, my Garmin read roughly 19.2 miles. I was also greeted with an enthusiastic aid station which was a good thing. I suspect every runner coming over the hill looked like they were about to die.

The next few miles some gentle descents and accents. Nothing was real long or real steep but at 20 miles it doesn't have to be either to hurt. About 22 miles, I pulled up to last aid station before entering the conservatory trails around Mountain Lake. From what I had read, these trails were full of rocks and roots, along with plenty of ups and downs. I wasn't disappointed.

As I entered the trail, I thought this was not all that bad, but then it grew harder and harder. I shortened my stride and slowed down. Having hard fall at this point would not be a good thing and especially if it were me doing the falling.

Through out the race I had noticed the pink ribbons with black down lining the course, but here following them was of major importance. Some times the ribbons were the only guide to know where the trail was. I get the sense that these trails were rarely used, and 90 of the foot traffic for the year on them happens during this race. When the sections became too tough, I resorted to walking over running on the climbs.

Also it was doing this section where I had my head down while churning up a hill to hear what sounded like someone on the trail behind me. I looked over my should but I didn't see anyone. Then, I looked up the trail to see this fawn tearing down the trail right at me. We missed each other but not my much.

Just as I was about to enter the meadow two the guys that I had been going back and forth with passed me.

Up ahead was the last aid station before the end, and my water vest was nearly on empty. This was my last chance to fill, or I would be running on empty to the finish. 

I had already pulled it off and unscrewed the lid. When I entered the aid station, the guy asked me what I needed. All I could say “water”. He went on to say “with ice”. I nodded “yes”. I watched as he poured water and ice from a pitcher into my vest.

I was in and out of the water stop in less that 30 seconds. I give those guys major kudos. They are as good as a Nascar pit crew.

All three of us left the aid station together, but I struggled getting my water vest back in place. They opened a gap on me, and I was no position to make it up. They slowly pulled away from me.

Although, I did find one good thing from the water stop besides the water. The cold water and ice from the vest could be felt through the vest on my back. In this hot section, it did feel kind of nice.

This final section has some road sections, a long technical down hill trail section, and then more road sections. This took my to the finally road crossing by the lake.

From here it really gets hard, and I pretty much spent time crawling between boulders, and over and under trees. I twisted and turned on the narrow trail. I finally popped out on this little road. I knew I should be close to the finish, but I had no idea how close.

It wasn't until I crested the hill and could see the finish in the distance that I knew how close that I was. Whatever I had left in the tank, I used it up now.

I finished in 4 hours 33 minutes and 33 seconds. This placed 10 over all, and I was the first masters runner. Actually, I was ecstatic about placing 10. This race gave lots of prize money out to the overall racers, and this drew in a great group of harden ultra runners. Getting a top 10 against great competition made me like I can still run a little bit. 

When I signed up for this race, I wanted something that pushed me outside comfortable zone. This race did. I lost count of the number of trees that I climbed over and rocks that I navigated over and around. Also I don't think that I will ever complain about Goat Hill at the WWC again. It is a mere baby goat to some of the hills on this course.

Lastly, I give the race committee for this race a double thumbs up. They put on a great event from the packet pick up to the post race food buffet bar. EDU is a great summer time ultra experience. 

The Cool Down Runner

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