On October 8-10, I participated in a unique raced called the West Virginia Trilogy, a three day stage race consisting of a 50k (31 mile) on Friday, a 50 mile on Saturday and a half marathon (13.1 mile) on Sunday. Taking place deep in the hills of West Virginia, I knew the race would be hard when I signed up but I looked forward to the challenge and being in the company of others who desired the same hard test.
I was surprised when Darcy Lallathin, my crew from the Mohican 100, expressed an interest in running the race. She wanted to step up her ultra game and take on her first 50 mile race and needed one that did not require a drive straight back home on race day. The free camping was what sold her on the idea. She also wanted to experience her first time behind the aid station table and would help on the 50K race.
Our plan was to get to race head quarters at the Mountain Institute and set up her husband’s huge hunting tent by dark on Thursday. Our route was taking us past Bridgeport and I could not pass up the chance to stop in and see my long time West Virginia buddies, Ralph and Ed, at the Pratt and Whitney Engine facility. They took us through a quick tour of the overhaul shop. Ralph was very conscious of our time line and got us through in less than an hour and sent us on our way to Circleville, another 2 ½ hours away. I was glad to finally meet my friends face to face and Darcy didn’t mind the short detour.
We were making good time and beating the setting sun until we came up on a construction flagger that stopped us for about 20 minutes. That proved to be just long enough to have us hurrying to set up camp as darkness fell and we were rushed to get to the pre-race dinner and meeting.
Day one: 50K-The start was at 7am sharp so we did not need head lamps. Darcy saw me off and then headed to her assigned aid station. Running the first mile I was trying to remember all the instructions the race directors (RD’s) told us at the meeting but then I figured if I stayed with the group for the first few miles I should be ok getting through the “tricky” part they warned us about. At mile two I was following a fellow who was going a good pace for me then I noticed “the gate” to the right, hummm, they mentioned something about a gate at the meeting. It had a sign but then there’s pink flags going straight, guess this guy knows where he’s going. We get less than a quarter mile after the gate and I hear someone yell behind us. I knew it!!! Wrong way. Dang it. Ok, lesson #1, don’t follow people, and watch the flags yourself! At least it was early, no damage done.
Following the orange/pink flags through the woods I tried to control my speed down hill. It was going to be a long weekend and I didn’t need to kill my legs this early. Man there’s a lot of rocks. I trip a few times. Slowing down. Fast hike up the mountain. Wow, the scenery is awesome, but no time to gawk, my feet feel heavy, I’ve kicked some roots and a few rocks. The Nike Pegasus shoes I’m wearing proved to not be a good choice on this rough terrain. They are too heavy and don’t offer enough protection to my toes. But my thought was to save my best shoes for Day 2, the 50 mile, in case I get my feet wet. Well there was no “in case”; they did get wet eventually even with the Gore-Tex Pegasus. I managed to keep dry feet till mile 21. There were many stream crossings. Most of them I was able to use the stepping stones to cross and stay dry but we had quite a few that were well over ankle deep with no rocks above the surface. I remember thinking my finish time was going to be very slow compared to other 50k’s I’d done. But since we had a generous cut off and I had to think about the big run the next day, I figured slowing down on the 50k was a good idea. There were several folks who got WAY off course at certain points but I managed to stay on track after that mishap at mile two and ended up finishing in 8 hours 23 minutes. That is almost an hour longer than my typical trail 50k but good enough for 3rd place woman. I had fallen 5 times throughout the run. I felt so clumsy but I’m blaming my shoes since they were my heaviest pair and the next day I noticed just how big a difference a few ounces felt because I only fell twice.
Day two: 50M-Darcy and I lined up, ready to go. We started at 6am. It was dark and I had my headlamp and a hand held flashlight. Darcy was out of sight with the word go! Since we left the same way as the 50K I did not miss the right turn at the gate again. The course was generally the 50k course backwards with an added out and back section. The first 5 miles took us up to Spruce Knob, the WV high point. I’m not a fan of pavement but I enjoyed the long paved hill section up the mountain since there was nothing to trip on. I was able to get some momentum and maintain a nice pace for a while. I was most of the way up to Spruce Knob when I was able to put my lights away; the sun was out enough to see by then. After seeing the RD’s at the first aid station at the top we headed down a trail that looked like…like a path of rocks. It was weird to run on them. It felt like running through tires like football players do for training. It was fun in a way. I moved my feet as quick as I could from rock to rock, finding a space big enough to step solid and then located the next space in mille-seconds. Step, step, step. I was moving really good. Stopped, took a picture. People will not believe I ran on this stuff! Going again. Step, step, step. My mind was processing each step so fast. I felt I was flying over them. Whoa!!! Dang it, that rock was loose and it tilted just a little. Enough to make my right foot take the next step wrong and my knee was not aligned when my weight came down. Oh man, limping. Not good. Keep going. Can’t run. Walk. Ouch. Couple minutes later I’m passed by a runner (Melissa). Try to follow. Knee hurts. No use, let her go. Step carefully. Still stumbling over the rocks. Gosh, will they ever end! I’m passed by two more runners (Mark and Michael). They stop ahead to locate a marker. I try to keep with them. I manage to stay close till about mile 11. Finally they are gone. I’m hobbling more. Finally get to aid station 2 at mile 16.9. Great volunteers assist with water re-fills. They tell me Darcy is not too far ahead. Ha, as if I could even catch her! I head out. I notice this is the same place I saw the day before but from the other direction. We are running along the creek and there are pretty waterfalls. I take some pictures. I can’t go all that way and not bring back proof I was there, right!? I manage a slow run and notice the three runners who had passed me. They were just up ahead. I catch up and the four of us stay together for about the next 7 miles. My knee is killing me but running with this group makes me overcome the pain for a while. I want to stay with them. We get to the “out and back” section. This stretch is 6.5 miles out to an aid station and 6.5 miles back. About a mile in we see the lead guy on his way back in. Amazingly fast! Mark cheers him on and he looks up from the ground and smiles and we see him trip and fall flat. He bounces back up, still smiling, and waves at us as he runs by. He seemed to be having fun and was not even fazed by the incident. The out part was mostly down hill. I was starting to hate the fact that we’d be coming back the same way. About a mile and a half from the aid station (turn around) I saw Darcy heading back in. She warned of the acorns littering the trail ahead and had almost made her fall. It wasn’t until I got to the acorns that I realized what she meant. There were tons of them in piles and it was like stepping on marbles. Luckily the fast people had scattered them a little and they were not too bad by the time I got to them. The turn around was pretty much the half way point, mile 24.9. I rolled in at 6 hours and 33 minutes. This is where I made a major mistake. The volunteer asked to fill my camel back, and I felt it and said it’s got plenty so I only got a water bottle re-fill. I grabbed some cookies and headed back up the hill with Melissa. The two guys (Mark and Michael) were a short bit behind us at that point. I am doing great fast hiking up and up….and up. Then I started to feel fatigued so I slowed down and took it easy and let Melissa pass. I can’t keep up with her and finally she is out of sight. About two miles away from the aid station I drained my bottle and go for the camel back hose and suck in my last bit of water. Oh no! I have more than 6 miles till the next water stop. Not good. Not good at all. The sun is out but hidden by trees. Still, it’s past noon and it’s warming up. I lose motivation as I get thirsty. I feel energy leave me. Oh this feels familiar. I think about Mohican. It was much hotter then but it feels similar. I don’t want to eat because I don’t have water. It will make me feel worse the farther I go with out food or water. I open my bottle to let the last drops fall into my mouth. I’m pushing onward and upward. I have a gel. It’s liquid. I open it and drink it. Mouth is getting dry. A runner calls from behind. It’s Mark. He asks if my knee is bothering me again [because I’ve slowed down enough for him to catch-up]. I said no, I had (stupidly) run out of water. He fills my bottle a quarter of the way and moves on. I’m grateful. It was very kind of him. It is not enough but I make it last as long as possible. I finally make it out of the “out and back” section and guess that it is about 3 more miles to the next aid station. I brace myself for it and trek on. Running when I can and walking when I have to. So far I have not fallen even though I’ve tripped plenty of times. The gel I had earlier helped keep me from feeling really awful and I could tell I was more alert the closer I got to the aid station. My other motivation that was keeping me moving was the cut off. I had to get to the 33.6 mile aid station by 3:30pm. I couldn’t believe it when I would occasionally catch a glimpse of Mark. I thought he’d be long gone. I was starting to move like before when I was hoping along the “rock path” coming down Spruce Knob. Step, step, step. I wince now and then at the right knee pain and the growing pain in my left big toe. I came up fast on a runner (Joel). I had not seen him since the start. He was walking. It was weird because he struck me as a fast guy. He encouraged me to keep “rock’n and rollin’” as I passed. I wished I could stop and offer him something, but I didn’t have water and I knew the cut off was coming soon. I kept moving. Step, step, step. I saw Mark ahead. I can probably get up there with him if I try. Come on. Keep moving. Ahhhhh! I screamed! I can’t believe it; I fell hard in a stream. In my haste to keep my foot turnover fast I hit a wet rock and slid off, fell hard on the rocks on my left hip and knee. I lay crying, sitting in the water for a minute. No one heard me. With tears in my eyes I pulled myself up and limped down the trail. I wanted to make it to the aid station but I was hurting. Crying and hobbling I felt like a whiny baby. Come on, I have to be close. I looked up for the white markers. “Ok now where”, I said loudly. “Where is it?” I looked left and saw a van and a table, people. Ah, there it is. Geez!!! I made it with 7 minutes to spare. Mark was just about to leave the aid station. He tells them “I know she needs water.” He hurries off. The volunteers ask if I’m going on. Yes, I’m going on. They help me with my water. I grab some cookies and try to catch up to Mark. He’s moving too fast. I can only walk even though it is a gravel road with no obstacles. About a half mile later the white markers turn back into the woods. The trail starts up the mountain. I am not ready for another big climb. My mind is not ready for a long steep climb. Now with the camel back filled my back is complaining about the weight of the water, funny how I never noticed it being that heavy starting out this morning. I try to pull the straps to try and keep the pressure off my low back. I know I’m getting very slow but I keep thinking about the 14 hour cut off for the finish that I’m now chasing. I’ve got to get there by 8pm. It seems I am not making much progress. I look at my watch and the distance seems to not move even though I’m pushing as hard as I can. I get frustrated because I don’t know how much more I have to climb. Just when I think I see the top it turns out to be more uphill. Around mile 36 I just can’t take it anymore. I lay flat on the trail looking up through the trees. I want to be done. My legs hurt. My back hurts. Finishing was just not going to happen today. I lay there for about 4 minutes. I considered staying there the whole night but voted against that when I recalled the coyotes I had heard from the tent last night. Got to keep moving, it’s going to be dark soon. To my surprise I started to run again. Yes, that is what I need, just make some progress. I’m enjoying the “speed” for about a mile when I trip on a stick and fall flat. My fragile nerves can’t take it and I start to cry again. I just can’t win today. I thought I was doing well and moving along after my short break back there and I can’t even pick my feet up high enough to miss tripping on a stupid stick! I’m mad and I just keep walking up the stupid mountain. Finally I see the top…the real top this time. I try to let gravity help me shuffle down. Time is slipping by and I know it’s becoming more impossible to make it in time. I finally see a couple of guys ahead. They are volunteers who were coming out to look for me. One guy (Dennis) takes my camel back and carries it into the aid station for me. I’m glad to see them and finally make it to mile 40. They seem so optimistic about me finishing. They get me set to go back out. I’m stunned that they do not seem to contemplate the impossibility of 10 miles in 2 hours that my mind was having trouble processing. It was 5:56pm when I left the mile 40 aid station. I was full of motivation again. I began thinking maybe I could make it. I ran along the rocky creek trail for about 2 ½ miles before going into the woods and beginning a series of ascends. Eventually daylight began to fade and I had to strain to see the trail. I put on my head lamp and dug out my flashlight. It still seemed dark. There were a lot of muddy patches in this section. I didn’t worry too much about staying clean or dry but I did want to stay upright and not fall again so I took it slow and maneuvered around the soft mud to find more solid, stable footing. About a mile before the aid station I saw two head lamps coming my way. I thought; they’ve sent the search party out for me. It was a couple of fellows and a dog named Hank. They kept me company and lead me to the aid station. It was 7:31pm when I got to the last aid at mile 46.2. I knew the cut off at the finish was in less than a half hour. I had 3.8 miles to go. No way could I make that deadline. Even on fresh legs in day light I could not make it in time. I conceded to a ride to the finish even though I wanted to push on. I did not want the RD’s to be mad at me for keeping the volunteers out searching and worrying about me. I knew the rules and did not want to break them.
Darcy finished in a fantasic12 hours 40 minutes to place second for the women!
Day three: Half Marathon-It was funny when every one asked if I would still run the remaining 13.1 miles on Sunday. I guess since I had no chance of placing for the trilogy it might have seemed pointless to some to go back out there. But I had signed up for three races and I wanted to run all of them, if my legs would let me. I was not feeling very speedy at all when I lined up with the remaining trilogy runners, half marathoners and 5ker’s at 9am. I seemed to shuffle along the whole way. Once the majority of the racers left my sight I made my goal to just finish and not fall for the whole race. We saw a few parts of the other two race courses but for the most part the course was much easier than what I’d seen already. I got to see the 3.8 mile section I’d missed from the night before. It was quite unique because we actually jumped four fences to cross through a cow pasture. As I dodged the cow droppings I thought of how interesting that would have been in the dark. On fresh legs I might have completed the 13.1 miler in less than 3 hours but it took me 3 hours and 50 minutes to finally finish. Amazingly, I was not last! There were three runners who had only run that day that finished after me.
I completed 90 of the 94 miles in three days. It was a big accomplishment but still not a finish so I feel defeated once again.
Recovery is coming much slower from this race. My aches are probably amplified by all of my falls. My left big toe nail has a huge blister under it and will probably fall off. My knees both have bruises from falling on rocks and the right one aches more than ever. My legs and feet still generally feel fatigued and sore. I don’t recall feeling this rough after my first marathon 8 years ago. Will I try it again? I’ve got to.