Is it just me, or did the first year races run into weather problems this year?? Babcock was very cold and drizzling, Alligator Rock was very hot, and now Valley Falls has pouring rain!!! These were some of my many thoughts as I woke from a restless night at 5:30am.
Being a first-time race director, I was soooo nervous to make everything run smoothly. Several people had been helping to clear the trails of fallen trees, trail blazes were placed with care, and my friend Tony Morris and I put up ribbons over the last 6 miles of the course in 75 degree weather just days before the race. The race bags were all stuffed, the awards were coated for the last time, the t-shirts were printed, pre-registered participants were entered into my Excel spreadsheet for easy sorting when awards time came around, and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Surely I could not make any mistakes!
My daughter, Amanda, was the main reason for this event. She has an immune deficiency that was diagnosed after she had 2/3 of her right lung removed at the age of 5. The Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF), a non-profit organization, provided our family with lots of information about her condition, and we attended two conferences in Baltimore where we were able to mingle with a variety of people ranging from doctors to representatives for the immunoglobulins (also called antibodies) Amanda was being infused with on a monthly basis. IDF also helped us fight to get Amanda subcutaneous infusions, where now Amanda now uses an insulin-type pump to push the antibody solution under her skin instead of into a blood vessel. Needless to say, the Floods have benefited from IDF’s services, and now was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about immunodeficiency disorders, raise money for an outstanding organization, and fellowship with one of my favorite group of people…..trail runners!
The rain quit about 1 hour before race time, and temps stayed in the 50’s – perfect for most people – but luckily I was not running! A passing train interrupted my comments about the course for a couple minutes, and then it was off for the 49 runners and 9 walkers participating in the inaugural Valley Falls 10 Mile Trail Run & 5K Walk. While most of the racers were from wild and wonderful WV, there was also Mark McMillan from MD; Joe Triglia, William Stroup, and Darlene Hudak from PA; Fran Davey from DE (yes, that’s Delaware!); and Bob Barr who starting driving at 5:30am to arrive from Madison, OH to win his age group!! Thanks to all of you who drove here to enjoy these WV hills with us – bring back some friends next year!
The trail conditions were nearly ideal, with lots of freshly mowed sections of the course and the trails soaking up most of the rain to leave little standing water. Besides the trail was well marked……how could anyone possibly get off course??
The early male leaders included David & Michael Bee, Jeff Jordan, Daniel McDowell, Dennis Stottlemyer, and Lew McGrath. Once the first trail was traversed, and the roller-coaster section of Deer Trail completed the Bees had a slight lead going across the road to Red Cardinal Trail. Then a strange event happened where Jeff and Daniel started down the road instead of across, a volunteer chased them down to force them back up the road, but I was driving down the hill at this point and made a decision to have them turn around again and just complete this portion of the course by going down the road to AS#1. By the time they arrived at AS#1 the Bees and Stottlemyer were out of sight. Somehow on those “Lehmann” hills Jeff and Daniel did manage to catch and pass Dennis, but could not catch the Bees. Congrats to Michael Bee who finished first with a time of 1:06:33, while David Bee came in second place at 1:07:59.
The female race was less complicated, thank goodness! The first female through AS#1 was Heather Bury-Parks comfortably in the top 10 overall racers at that point. She was followed by Charleston’s Joni Adams, Hurricane’s Sarah Sturgill, and one of Fairmont State’s finest Stephanie Zorio. They should have just stopped there and picked up their awards right then, because they maintained those same positions throughout the rest of the race that included those couple of “Lehmann” hills along Rhodendron and Wild Turkey trails. Heather Bury-Parks finished first overall female (and 8th overall) with a time of 1:19:00, while Joni Adams finished strong to take second place in 1:32:02. The women’s race report would not be complete without congratulating Fran Davey, who ran the entire course with the use of only one eye – try that one at your next trail run and see if that isn’t challenging!
The 5K walk was not without it’s complications either. Some competitors, who shall remain nameless, arrived just as the race was starting and had to use the facilities – luckily they were only 100 meters down the trail from the starting line – which put them at a slight disadvantage. As for the female 5K walkers there was the blazingly fast Bonnie Freeman winning first overall female. She was also the first overall walker to arrive at the chili and potato soup! A large cluster of female walkers arrived later en masse, as Pam Huggins, Sarah Dodson, and Melinda Huff finished in nearly a dead heat for second place. Then there was infant Tadeo Huggins fiercely fighting his father Luke Huggins for first overall male walker. Luckily he was strapped on the front and so managed to edge out dear ole dad!
As the 10 mile runners finished most of the comments went something like “great course”, “I was worried I would get lost, but the course was well marked”, “those downhills were really fast!” and “I thought you were kidding about the ‘Lehmann hills ahead’ on the sign. Boy was I wrong!” While awaiting the awards, everyone ate lots of chili and potato soup along with hot cocoa, bananas, AND those homemade cookies provided by the members of the Morgantown Revival Center! In addition, free dermatology screenings were offered by Dr. Jeff Dodson, a dermatologist on staff at Franz Dermatology and Associates – the main sponsor for this trail event!
The awards ceremony started out with me breaking up about Amanda’s battle with her immune deficiency, but I managed to regain my composure in time to give out the prizes. Lots of cool prizes were handed out including several bottles of Hammer gel with flasks, 1-year subscriptions to Trail Runner and Running Journal magazines, Road-ID tags, and a couple of heating pads for those aches and pains! Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for providing the raspberry gels on the race course and the endurolytes in the “goodie” bag.
I did make a rookie mistake by awarding Cathleen Bernett third place in her age group, when she had actually finished 4th. Luckily she forgave me enough to return the trophy so that it could be returned to it’s correct owner. I hope Cathleen will come back next year and enjoy the second annual event for free, as I plan on waiving her entire registration fee for being such a good sport!! It just reminded me, once again, why I love hanging out with trail runners so much.
A big thanks goes to our financial sponsors: Franz Dermatology and Associates and Dr. Jann Barber, DDS!!! Also, special thanks go to Valley Falls State Park superintendent Ron Fawcett for working so hard to clear and mow sections of the course, and for allowing so many people see this great park for the first time. Finally, to those of you who volunteered….you know who you are Lori & Amanda, Jody & Lara, Phil, Dave, Brett, Kelly, and numerous others…… thank you sooo much for your help with aid stations, directions, pictures, and event timing!!
As a result of all your efforts $700 will go to IDF!!!!!! See you on October 7, 2006 for the 2nd Annual Valley Falls Trail Run where we will shoot for $1,000! A 10K distance might be added, and all inaugural runners should keep an eye out for the possibility to earn free race registration next year!
Author: Mark Flood
|C||Super secret hope: Top 3 female finish||Shockingly Yes|
I did not follow any strict plan leading up to this race. I signed up on a whim at the end of October, then gradually ramped from the ~20 mpw I was averaging to a peak of 56. It looked roughly like the modified Hal Higdon plan I followed for my first 50k, but compressed by a few weeks, and my longest run was only ~23 miles. I would come to regret this. That being said, training went really well. I was logging some fast times, killing the elevation profiles, and generally feeling really good with some aches along the way, but no lasting injuries. Despite my compressed schedule, and less than stellar mileage, I felt pretty confident. At my first 50k I clocked in at 6:56, and I was really confident that I could come in well under that, despite the additional elevation, and maybe even break 6:30 this time. After scoping out previous year’s results, I even started forming some big fancy ideas about how that time could make me competitive for a third or fourth place finish. I would pay for this hubris.
Remember when I said I felt confident? That was until the weather report called for temps starting at about 5 degrees at start time, with a high of 18. not counting wind chill. yikes. I had trained in colder temps, but none of my long runs had been THAT cold. Oh well. If this is how I die, so be it. I certainly wasn’t about to drop to the 25K distance. That would just be crazy.
I spent the night before race day in a sketchy motel, didn’t sleep terribly well, but stuffed my face with everything in sight. Leftover holiday cookies are an important part of any runner’s diet. The morning of, I woke up around 5:30 am, and spent the next hour debating how many layers is too many. Grabbed a bagel and banana for breakfast and made my way to the park.
Start: So cold, but I felt reasonably cheery. The prerace meeting was quick and dirty, and I was a little surprised by how few 50kers were there. It looked like a lot of participants dropped to the 25k race. We would be running the same course, with 50kers doing two laps, except for the very first climb. Without much fanfare, we started off down a paved road until the 50k course split off into the woods for the first climb. Words don’t do this climb justice, except for the words “this is gonna suck balls on the next lap”. Bright side: being forced to walk this bit gave us time to really appreciate just how lovely the snow covered forest was. Just stunning views on some nice technical, but not overly rocky and ankle-twisty single track.
To Aid Station 1: After the climb, we met back up with the 25ers and ran on a really nice gravel service roads. I was running this bit a little too hot, but it was a great stretch to bank some time, and space ourselves out a bit. After a bit more bouncing between single track and that service road, a big ol’ pack of us made it to the first aid station, and the Sasquatch sighting! During my last race, I lost a lot of time hanging out at aid stations too long, so I was very conscientious about chugging hot fluids, stuffing my pockets with pretzels, and getting the heck out of there. Obviously I was not in too much of a hurry to give Sasquatch a big sweaty hug though!
Feeling great. Feeling good. Feeling speedy.
Snacks: Warm water, Coke, pretzels to go.
To Aid station 2 Back to single track. This time a really nice descent. Absolutely gorgeous views, and now we were sorting into smaller groups. This might have been the most pleasant stretch in the race. Once we were down in the holler, we were treated something out of Bob Ross’s dream journal. Frozen stream crossings, pretty little pine stands, and all around niceness. At the bottom, we came out on another paved road, and I ran this as hard as I dared to bank some more time. Came into the second aid station cold, but still in really good spirits. They had a fire going, which was tempting, but I didn’t trust myself to leave if I got too close.
Feeling chilly, but confident.
Snacks: water, Coke, M&Ms
To Aid Station 3: Out of the second aid station was the next nasty climb. Not as bad as the first, but pretty aggressive. This had the disadvantage of being a shadier climb, so the chill really started to set in now that I was moving slower. Still very pretty, though. At the top of the climb, it was back to the service road, were I tried to make up some more time. I think this is where I actually made the fastest mile of the entire race. Scenic and gentle downhills through here. The downside was that being at the top of a ridge left me very exposed to wind. My fingers were starting to be unhappy about that. Made it to the aid station, where they were pumping some jams, and had another roaring fire. Glorious. Warmed up as best I could and tried not to stay too long, despite how friendly and funny and welcoming the volunteers were.
Feeling cold, feeling the hills.
Snacks: Hot cocoa, HEED, more hot cocoa.
Back to start: This part was fun! All down hill single track! Wheeeee! Came through here pretty hot, all while tiny smart head voice was reminding me “you’re gonna need those quads for later”. I did not take that advice. I would regret that.
I got to the start feeling good, but reeeeeally apprehensive about having to do that whole thing over again. I felt concerned about the cold upon hearing that the temp was low enough that almost all the liquids at this aid station were frozen. they did mix me some slushy HEED on demand though, which was rad. The only thing that motivated me to actually get moving again was hearing that I had made my goal of finish loop one in about 3 hours. Spot on for time goals! I decided to reward myself by taking a few minutes to pee in the heated bathroom instead of saving it for the woods. Less efficient, but so worth it.
Loop two I was correct. The first climb sucked way harder the second time around. At this point I was also running solo, having lost sight of any other 50kers. I normally love the peace of finally running alone, but something about the possibility of freezing to death alone was really demotivating. I was feeling really rough around the edges by the time I got to the first aid station again. This was turned around with an infusion of hot cocoa and the news that I was the second female to come through. Good news! Sasquatch promised to hold up anyone else coming up behind me. I stuffed my pockets with potato chips, and fleetingly thought “why am I stuffing my pockets with chips? that was such a dumb idea”
The next decent felt shaky, but good. Happy feelings, unhappy quads. Unfortunately, this petered out by the time I made it back to the paved section. I knew I should be going hard here to make time, but the lower temps in the holler were really getting to me. Legs just refused to move quickly. My core temperature felt fine, but the muscles just felt like sludge. Dark thoughts started creeping in. Luckily, Aid station two appeared on the horizon. This time with more tater tots. I credit those tots and the chicken broth they gave me with saving my life. I also saw two runners at this station. They looked as sad as I felt, which gave me hope.
The next climb was bad. terrible. awful. I knew it would be. I was correct. It was cold. I was tired. I was praying just to make it off the godforsaken mountain with all my fingers intact. I was praying to just die on this godforsaken mountain quickly. For about 2 miles, the only coherent thoughts I had were “You have stupid fucking hobbies” and this scene on endless loop. I finally pulled into the last aid station and nearly cried tears of joy for more broth and hot cocoa. I ran into the two runners I saw at the last station, and another one caught up with us. solidarity. I plodded out with renewed hope that it would all be over soon.
Last descent was not awful, but I couldn’t go nearly as fast as the first time. I definitely needed those quads, I definitely did not save them. At one point, there were a few particularly steep meters were I had to drop my pride and my ass and butt scoot down the slope to keep from wiping out. Not my finest hour.
The last dash across the parking lot to the finish was extremely satisfying, because it was also a dash back to the heated bathrooms. I hobbled across and was met by the RD with a hug, a pair of socks, and a sweet painting for my second place win! It was definitely one of the more original trophies I’ve ever seen. Final time was 6:57, which was 1 minute over the time I was sure I could beat. I now regret taking the three minutes to pee between loops. It was disappointing, but I was so glad to be done and so surprised that I was the second female finisher that the disappointment didn’t stick.
I ate so much veggie soup, and schmoozed with other runners and volunteers. I pet a dog. It was good. I didn’t stick around too long, because I still had a 2 hour drive back home and I just wanted to be somewhere properly warm, but it was nice to get some warm food in my body.
For as much as I suffered, and was undertrained and over ambitious, this was a really well run race. The RD was great, the volunteers were incredible for sticking it out in the cold, and the swag was unusual and fun. I walked away with a homemade finishers “medal” made out of local wood and engraved with a sasquatch, a new Smartwool gaiter and a pair of socks, and of course my custom painting! It was a small, local event, and the masochist in me is already thinking of signing up next year (but maybe just the 25k!)