Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Great Eastern Endurance Run 50k



Saturday September 25th, 2010

It had been 4 years since I ran the GEER 50k hosted by the Charlottesville Running Company. I wanted to return to beautiful Sherando Lake and run some of my favorite local trails. There were some significant changes to the 50k course in 2007 so that it ran entirely different trails than the course I ran in '05 and '06. In fact, the course was very similar to the Bel Monte 50k course that is hosted by the same folks.

The race started at 6am. I was wearing a sleaveless flannel shirt and my Hawaiian boardshorts. One could say this was hardly the appropriate attire for such a race, but it reminded me not to take things too seriously. There were two races, a 50k and 100k, that had the same start and used the same trails until the 100k folks detoured at mile 22. At 6am it was still dark, so I had to use a headlamp. Myself and Sean Andrish broke away early to lead the runners down the dark road through the Sherando Lake recreation area. The lead 100k runners, Harland Peelle, and Eric Grossman were right on our heals as we made our way to the first section of single track.

Sean's pace was too fast for my comfort level and I backed off. My headlamp was also very low on battery power (I had not swapped fresh batteries since the Old Dominion 100 in June). With poor visibility I found myself stumbling over rocks and roots, as well as urging other runners to pass. It was around this time I followed Eric Grossman down what seemed like a very rocky trail. It didn't feel right, and behind us I saw headlamps continuing up the trail we missed. It turns out Eric mistook a dried out creek bed for the trail. No worries, but we did get passed by about 5 runners (a couple 50k guys, and a couple 100k).

I hit the first aid station at around sunrise(6:48am) and ditched the headlamp. I was thrilled to have full visibility of the trail, and have a beautiful sunrise to accompany it. However, I was already soaked with sweat, and it looked like it was going to be a warm day. Things were pretty mediocre early on. I ran well,felt good, wasn't getting passed, but I wasn't passing anyone either. I made sure to run well on the 2.5 mile section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and was running what felt like 6:20-6:30 miles down the steep 3 mile gravel road to the Priest Vista aid station. This out and back would be the first place I could see runners, and figure out where exactly I stood in the race.

About a half mile from the aid station the first place 50k runner comes flying UP the mountain. Basically, I knew right then that I was not going to contend for the win. I was partially suprised Sean Andrish was not leading, but more surprised how far ahead the two 100k leaders were ahead of me. When I finally arrived at the aid station I was the 5th 50k runner, and there was no sign of Sean. Was he hurt? Did he miss a turn? On my way back up the mountain I finally saw Sean, and it turned out he had run several miles off course. At the top of the climb, returning back to the Blue Ridge Parkway I was passed by two more 100k runners. I thought to myself "Am I going that slow that these guys are doing my 50k pace for their 100k?". Afterall, these runners were going twice as far as me...and they were passing me!

That self monologue was enough for me to speed up and not only pass the 100k runners, but the two 50k runners ahead of me. By the time I reached the next aid station there wasn't a runner in sight behind me. However, it was still early and the temps were rising. On the big climb up to the Slacks Overlook (mile 19) I was starting to get gassed. My muscles were getting tight, and I found myself stopping to stretch more often than I would have liked. I had only eaten two gels, and a handful of M&M's, and a bonk seemed like it was looming around the corner. I popped two gels, a few S caps, ran the moderate climb to Torry Ridge, and held on for another grunt to the highest part of the course, Bald Mountain. It was here the 1st place 50k runner passed me on the second out and back of the course. Needless to say, he had about a 3 mile lead, and there was no way anyone was catching him. In the meantime my energy levels were going south, but I had yet to see the 2nd place runner. A minute from the Bald Mountain Aid station I see second place, and then I see nobody else, which meant I was in 3rd.

Knowing I was in 3rd charged me up pretty good. I took more salt, and another couple gels to get me through the rest of the race. From here I had 7 miles of downhill trails, followed by a flat paved mile to the finish. The 4th and 5th place runners were about 10 minutes back, and I knew I could hold them off as long as I didn't do anything stupid. The return route was blazing fast, and I was able to safely pass runners coming towards me. I was feeling good, and on the road to the finish I glanced over my shoulder one last time and not a single runner was in sight. I crossed the finish in 4:55, a 1 hour and 34 minute PR for the GEER course. 3rd Overall. I was only a minute behind 2nd place, and the winner cruised in one of the fastest GEER times ever of 4:16.

The first time I ran the GEER 50k in 2005 I ran a very respectable 6:45. The following year I came back and ran a 6:29. I had always been impressed with the runners who came in under six hours, and was simply in awe of the guys who could break the five hour mark. I believe the course might be faster than some of the older GEER 50k courses. Therefor, I can't compare my 4:55 with a time from previous years where it would have been close to a winning time. However, many folks who completed GEER will no doubt consider it one of the tougher 50k's in the area and deserve a big congrats on finishing a tough trail race. After my finish, I stayed and watched the remaining 50k finishers come in. It was inspiring watching so many men and women testing their limits for 7-10 hours and still finish with smiles.

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