Capon Valley 50K OR I am an Ultrarunner!!!

Capon Valley 50K Race Report, short version:

1. I finished. My time was 5:27:41. I was 3rd female and 28th overall. Whoop!
2. It hurt, but not as much as I thought it would. I definitely hurt more 1 day later than during the race. 2 days later, I hurt even more…
3. Yes, I peed in my shorts. I couldn’t find a tree I liked.
4. I consumed 8 GUs (4 of them Roctane – my new best friend), 2 packs of Honey Stingers, 3 S-Caps, and enough electrolyte-fortified water to fill a small bathtub.
5. They weren’t kidding when they said the course was hilly. 4500′ elevation gain, 4400′ loss, according to another blogger.
6. I am happy. Also possibly delirious. I want to run another 50K even though I can hardly walk right now.

Capon Valley 50K Race Report, long version (put your feet up):

My Garmin read 28 miles as I exited the trail and turned onto a main road. I looked up and realized, to my amazement, that Yellow Spring Ruritan Park, where the Capon Valley 50K started and finished, was just up ahead, and I only had about a mile to go. (Garmins are great, but they’re not very good at measuring distance on trails, especially when they’re very hilly!) I picked up the pace and, following the markers, scooted around a gas station and through a field, crossed the final creek, and sprinted along a gravel path to the finish!

Five hours and twenty-seven minutes earlier, standing at the start of my first ultra, I had no real idea what was in store. I knew it would be long and slow. I knew I would have to walk the hills. As a novice, I knew I would make some mistakes and hoped they would be small and insignificant rather than stinking huge doozies that would make me question my decision to run an ultra in the first place.

I hate the few minutes before a race start. I am generally an anxious, restless bundle of nerves. But ultras are different. Everything about an ultra seems more casual, from the 6:30am pre-race briefing that actually happened around 6:45, to the casual hanging out and picture-taking just before the start. I didn’t even realize the race had started until someone said, “we’re off!” I don’t even know if there was a start line. I just started running and pressed Start on the Garmin.

We got to the first hill before we’d even hit a mile and immediately everyone started walking. It may seem odd to walk so early in a race, but I’ve talked with/harrassed enough ultrarunning friends to know that, in an ultra, you walk every hill. Long, short, steep, not steep, when you arrive at a hill, you walk. I took my cues from those around me. I quickly realized that good ultrarunners know how to walk uphill fast. I learned to take small, quick steps and not lean over or swing my arms wildly. It was more like a march. Most of the hills were manageable but a few were so steep I had to dig my toes into the dirt to stay upright. And of course, since what goes up must come down, some of the downhills were toes-smashed-at-the-front-of the-shoe freefalls. Yep, I’d heard this course was hilly and it wasn’t a lie!

Aid stations
I arrived at aid station #1, about 4 miles into the race, very quickly. Aid #1 (which was also the 6th and last aid station) was at a barn, and I marveled at the smorgasbord of food – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, M&Ms, Pringles, cookies, crackers – but decided it was too early to stop. I actually didn’t stop until Aid Station #4, at almost 19 miles, to refill my Camelbak. Why didn’t I stop earlier? I really didn’t feel the need. I had everything I needed in my Camelbak and felt that moving all the time was the best thing I could do. I was kinda anxious not to fill up my Camelbak too much at aid #4 because I didn’t want it to be too heavy, so I turned off the tap on the nice volunteer who was helping me fill the reservoir. Mistake. I ran out of water before I even hit aid #5. So I had to stop and refill again. This time I made sure I had enough water to get me to the end but I forgot to put an electrolyte tablet in it. Since I didn’t feel like reopening it, I just grabbed some Pringles instead.

Whaddya mean you don’t need a drop bag?
Being an ultra virgin, I had a drop bag that would be transported to Aid Stations #2 and #5 for me. The contents of my drop bag: spare pair of shoes, 2 pairs socks, 2 pairs shorts, shirt, 2 GUs, sunglasses. Before the race I was chatting with a running friend from the now-defunct (I think) Mid-Atlantic Dead Runner’s Society. Jeff and I used to run with the group in Rock Creek Park way back when. Being the experienced ultrarunner that he is, Jeff said that a 50K is too short a race to need a drop bag. I told him I was too afraid not to have a drop bag.

Within the first few miles I decided that I was a bit warm and was going to change from my capri tights into shorts at Aid Station #2, about 10 miles in. Temps were in the 40s but it was supposed to warm up to around 70. Then I changed my mind and decided I wasn’t going to bother. Then I changed it again. The problem was that the elevation changes were so great that there would be at least a 10 degree difference between the temp at the top of a mountain out in the open and the temp down in the valley in the shade of the trees. When we got to Aid #2 I ran straight through without stopping. Truth was, I really couldn’t be bothered. When I’m moving well, the last thing I want to do is stop. I knew I’d have to take off my shoes to get my capris off, and then I’d probably want to change my socks, too. I figured I was comfortable and always had Aid #5 if I changed my mind. Anyway, we were running through countless streams which were pretty chilly, so my wet feet were keeping me cool. Long story short – Jeff was right. I didn’t need the drop bag and the only thing I took from it was a GU – which I had to run back and grab after leaving Aid Station #5 – and which I certainly could have carried in my Camelbak.

Throughout the race I averaged 11 minutes/mile. I did not let my Garmin dictate my pace but ran completely by feel, and just used the Garmin to get information…which, as it turned out, wasn’t all that accurate! I also used people around me to gauge how I was doing. I would catch a group, run with them for a while, and then pass them. Later on in the race I knew I was doing well when I was still passing people, and no-one was passing me. At this point I knew I was 3rd female but had no idea how far ahead #2 was or how far behind was #4. I tried not to focus on my placing because I wanted to run a good race without any competitive pressure, but I admit that knowing my placing did encourage me to push a little harder. I also really wanted to run under 6 hours and so the Garmin helped me work out whether I was on track. When I had (what I thought was) 5 miles left I got a bit nervous because I was at about 5 hours and 5 miles would take 55 minutes if I maintained 11 mins/mile. I realized I really wanted sub-6 and so pushed a little bit more. As it turned out, I only had 3 miles to go!

Making friends on the trail
When you know you’re going to be running for several hours, you want to talk to people around you. Ultrarunners are a friendly bunch, but the nature of the way I was running meant that I just had a few short conversations with several people. The person I ran with the longest was Erin from DC. This was also her first 50K. We ran together from about miles 10 – 15. We mostly talked about the trail – like when we found ourselves in some shoe-sucking mud – but then I must have pulled ahead and never saw her again.

Trying (very hard) not to get lost
At the pre-race briefing the RD held up a strip of surveyor’s tape to show us how the course was marked. The tape was white with orange stripes like a barber shop pole, and inside the building it was easy to spot. However, turns out that when it’s hanging from a tree where there are 500 trees and only the white part is showing, it’s very hard to spot. Early in the race I yelled at a couple of guys up ahead who missed a turn, and later in the race, when I found myself alone, which was pretty much the last 10 miles, I would quite often lose the tape trail and have to stop and look around me to find the next piece of tape. It was hard work to look ahead all the time to try to spot the tape, when you also needed to keep your eyes on the ground. In a way this was good because I was so busy looking for tape hanging from trees that any thoughts of how I felt or how long this was taking were pretty much impossible.

Eat, drink, repeat
I was also kept very busy with the constant need to eat and drink. My plan was to consume 200 calories/hour, which is basically 2 GUs. You’d think it would be easy to eat 2 GUs an hour, but it turned out to be quite challenging while trying to pay attention to the trail and the tape. Every time I looked at my Garmin I realized it was time to eat again. I was switching up regular GU with Roctane, which is specifically designed for endurance events. It worked great and I had no GI issues. I also ate some Honey Stinger chews to mix things up a bit. Not sure I want to look at another GU for a while, though. When I finished the race and took off my tights, I remembered I had shoved the tabs from the GU packets in my waistband (no littering!) and they were all stuck to my leg. Mind you, I had peed in my tights as well so the sticky GU tabs were hardly the grossest factor.

Where on Earth am I?
Because much of the race was held on private property, there was no opportunity to look at a map until the morning of the race, and even then I really didn’t know where the course went. It certainly was beautiful and varied. One minute we were running on a gravel fireroad, the next we’d be up on top of a mountain, and soon after that we’d be down below the tree canopy in a completely different ecosystem. Sometimes we’d run through people’s front/back yards. In the middle of the woods with no roads. One such “yard” had a camera mounted to a post with a sign that read, “Security Camera #1 of 2.” There was a pile of old vehicles, including a school bus, and beyond that was a shack. An old guy was sitting on the front porch so I said “hello” as I ran by, figuring it was kinda rude to run through someone’s front yard without a greeting. He responded, “they’re getting away from you.” I wasn’t quite sure what I meant so I joked, “I’d better start running, then!” I must admit I was relieved when the guy running up ahead in front of me stopped and waited for me to catch up. At another point we ran past a trailer. At first I thought it was an aid station because there was also a portapotty, which was kinda silly because there were no portapotties on the course. Then I saw a sign with an address on it, so I’m guessing it was a permanent residence and the portapotty belonged to the resident.

Yellow Spring, WV, where the race was held and Capon Springs, WV, where we stayed, had its share of trailers and dilapidated shacks that were clearly permanent residences. The proceeds from the race, including leftover food and shirts, went to local charities, which was clearly much-needed. After my initial annoyance at not getting a medal or any kind of award besides a certificate, I realized I was being incredibly selfish given the obvious poverty in this area and the fact that this race was a fundraiser for the local people in need.

Soon (like, 30 seconds) after finishing the race I realized I hadn’t brought a change of clothes with me. Correction, I had several changes of clothes but they were in my drop bag at aid station #5 and wouldn’t be brought back for a while. With no cell phone service I couldn’t call Stuart and ask him to bring me some clothes from the resort where we were staying. I was pondering what to do when I saw my car coming up the gravel road. By some huge stroke of luck, Stuart had decided to come and see if I was finished yet. So I got in the car and we headed back to Capon Springs and Farms (kinda like the Catskills in Dirty Dancing, check it out!) where I showered and ate lunch before heading back to Yellow Spring to get my lovely certificate and chat with some of the other runners. Later that afternoon I took an ice bath and followed that up with a 30 minute soak in one of the hydrotherapy baths at the spa at Capon Springs. On Sunday we hiked up a mountain on the resort (going up was fine, coming down hurt like hell!) and then I gave my legs a dip in the spring-fed pool, which was a cool 62 degrees. My legs are still very stiff and I am walking like an 86-year-old with severe arthritis, but hopefully I’ll be better in a couple of days.

Most of all, I’m pleased with the result from my first 50K and am so proud to finally be an ULTRARUNNER!


About racingtales

Runner, triathlete, writer
This entry was posted in Running and Triathlon and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Capon Valley 50K OR I am an Ultrarunner!!!

  1. Beth says:

    That is awesome!! Congrats, Ultramarathoner 🙂 I love the recap!

  2. Cool RR!!! Congrats on 3rd for your first ultra, amazing! Any plans for your next ultra? 50 miles next?

    Still trying to get to VA for some runs with SRRC in June, Deanna is going out for 2 weeks, my chances of coming out are looking more and more slim as June gets closer 😦

    • racingtales says:

      Thanks, Brian! I definitely plan to do another, just not sure when or what distance. Maybe another 50K. Would love to see you in June…keep us posted and good luck with your ultra training. You’ll do great!

  3. Congrats on a successful race!!!! Loved reading your race report.

  4. Karsten Brown says:

    The dirty little secret of ultrarunning is that the actual distances of the races almost never match the advertised distances. Often they are longer than advertised, but Capon Valley is indeed only about 29 miles in length. Could be worse… In its first few years of existence, Capon Valley was closer to 26 miles!

    The ultra world tends to be strange about awards too. Many races have finishers’ awards, but as for performance awards, anything beyond a few Open awards and maybe one or two Masters/Grand Masters awards is unusual. At the first ultra I ever won (I won’t name names, but it rhymes with “Schmaypon Schmalley”), I asked why the winner didn’t get one of their random prizes automatically, and I was told, “If we did that, we’d be giving them to the same people every year.” Um… but I had never won an ultra before! At least they gave me something the following year.

    Wait till you get to the world of 100 milers, where they have a bizarre and inexplicable obsession with belt buckles…

    In any event, congrats on your excellent finish, and welcome to the ultra world! 🙂

    • racingtales says:

      Hey Karsten! Thanks for the comment and the clarification about the distance. Although now I am bummed that I didn’t really run 31 miles. I guess if I had added up the distances listed between aid stations I could have worked that out. 😉 And congrats to you on a great race. Saw you leading down the gravel road at the start, and that was about it!

      I realize now how spoiled we are at road races, with all the age group awards, random prizes, and free stuff. That being said, I love the relaxed ultra world, and think I will be signing up for more. I want me one of those belt buckles!

  5. Lisa Rini says:

    What a great race report, Alison! Also, what an amazing experience and accomplishment! So proud of you. 🙂 Maybe one day I’ll get the guts to try one.. LOl..
    Congrats again!

  6. Lisa McClellan says:

    Alison, what a grand adventure, thank you for sharing the details with us. You are an amazing athlete and your drive to persevere is contagious. I am just thankful the old dude sitting in his front yard didn’t pull out a shotgun… and you hear ” click click” in the fore ground …Congratulations on an incredible achievement!

  7. GREAT REVIEW! I pretty much agree with all your thoughts you said in your article, especially at the middle of your article. Thank you, your post is very useful as always. Keep up the good work! You’ve got +1 more reader of your super blog:) Isabella S.

  8. Congrats on a great first ultra!
    As Karsten mentioned, most races don’t give out medals. 100 milers get you a belt buckle, usually. Some do give awards, from a rock at Bighorn to high-dollar schwag at sponsored events – it really runs the gamut.
    Don’t be bummed that Capon Valley is a little short. Ultras are different from marathons/road races in almost every way, other than the fact that you use your legs in both. As long as they are at least 27 miles they are an ultra. Believe me, you’ll be doing extra miles at many of these events!
    We’re gonna have to train you on how to pick a tree, though … 🙂

  9. Brian says:

    Congratulations! Sounds like a great race and an experience quite different from other distances. Good recap.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s