Monday, October 10, 2011

New River Re-do

Yesterday I competed in the New River 50k held in the tiny town of Fries, VA just off 77N on the scenic New River. This race is almost 100% flat and winds out and back on the New River Trail. Wonderfully maintained and very friendly to first timers,  this race was my first Ultra last year. I came back this year to chase a better time and to introduce my husband to the Ultra world. My only goal was to finish with a better time than last year and to get some miles on my legs as my marathon approaches. After catching the Toby Keith concert, we drove the two hours up to Galax, Va and stayed at the Super 8 for the night. Getting up early to get everything packed, I tried to give as much advice  to John as my novice brain would allow in order to make sure he was ready for his first race. We filled our Nathan Hydration packs and tucked in our favorite snacks including the infamous PB&J Uncrustables and Honey Stingers along with the basic needs of chapstick, salt/electrolyte pills and Gu Brew. After a quick hot breakfast (always oatmeal for me) we packed the car and headed to the starting line to pick up our packets....easier said than done.

After missing the initial turn off the main road, we proceeded to scower every inch of the countryside looking for a way in. We drove around for an extra 30minutes until we finally found the trail and managed to make our way into the park with 10 minutes to spare at check in. This was not how I wanted my race morning to start and believe me and I was hoping it wasn't a bad omen for the rest of the day. After checking in we met with my good friend and running coach Tom at the starting line. We were also joined by some Gaston County Runners, Patrick and Beckie who we previously had only chatted with online. Before we knew it, the countdown was going and we were off. Taking off at a nice little clip, we settled into a little group that consisted of John, Tom, Patrick, Beckie and myself. We were soon joined by a wonderful runner named Holly who was running her first Ultra as well. We took the long stretch to the aid station to chat about injuries, races etc.and to enjoy the beautiful river that runs next to this part of the course. After the aid station, the course then crosses the river on a beautiful old fashioned trestle bridge and leads to the railroad tunnel that is dark enough to not be able to see your feet. These are my two favorite parts of the course. As we kept trucking to the turning around, I stuck to my nutrition plan of Gu Brew and Honey Stinger Gels. We stayed a pretty steady pace of 8:30-9min miles and I felt pretty good as we ducked into the aid stations along the way to refill our bottles and pick up some grub. Just before the turn, John's pack decided to break and made it impossible for him to carry. He dumped it at the aid station and proceeded with his Amphipod and pockets full of gels and Honey Stinger Waffles. This did concern me a bit, but this race is so well manned and the aid stations are done so well that I figured he would be ok. As we started back after the turn, we found that Holly and I were holding onto the 4th and 5th spots for the women and I wanted so badly to finish above my goal of top 10 women but my glutes were having none of it.

Last year my quads and IT bands were the issue, but this year it the the posterior chain that was angry. Mostly my glute medius was the tightest and from time to time, this forced me into walking. Tom and Holly had pulled out ahead by a significant stretch by then and I gave up trying to keep up. I kept pushing and urged John to go ahead of me while I fought with miles back on my own. As I struggled with those John pushed onwards and was feeling good. I was so proud of him and could catch glimpses of him from time to time in his bright orange vest. That kept me motivated. Occasionally I would feel good and pick up my pace and it was at the last aid station where I finally caught up with him. We started that 5+ miles back along the river that in the morning is so pretty, but it can be sheer torture on the return. This is where John got the first feeling of the term "when the wheels fall off." That part of the trail stretches on so long that you swear you'll never get through it. Long, flat and with meandering curves that keep the next part of the trail just out of sight, we leaped frogged each other several times in that stretch.

Montrail. I waited for John to finish and had to admit that it brought me to tears to see him finishing so strong. I could see the relief on his face and I was so proud that he ran so well. Smashing my first Ultra time by 30 minutes, he was a true warrior! After Tom snapped another photo and I discovered that I also scored a Montail running hat in the raffle they have (another bonus of this awesome race), we made our way to the car to grab a beer and sit in the river. This is one of the best parts of the post race! The New River runs about 50 yards from the finish line and offers a wonderful piece of therapy for an aching body. Sitting in the river, Tom summed it up perfectly "what more could you ask for, a beautiful day, good friends, good beer and a ice bath!" So very spot on.

My finish

After about 20 minutes and some race review, we headed to the car for a change and into the second best part of the post race...the soup lunch. There are these wonderful women who make the most delicious homemade soups, bread and cookies that is served in the Bingo hall just up from the finish line. To a tired body and a stomach so tired of synthetic tasting food, it's heaven. John and I settled in with a few runners at lunch, stuffed our tummys full and headed to the car. We were able to catch up with Patrick and Beckie who both seemed to really enjoy the experience and both of them had an awesome race!

John finishing his first Ultra!

I have to say that this race is going to become an annual trek for me. Annette Bednosky is an awesome RD not to mention a stud Ultra runner herself (check out her accomplishments at USATF's website) but she has everything perfected. The volunteers were always cheering, quick to get you anything you needed at the aid stations and sprinkled all over the course to keep motivating. The aid stations have everything you can think of to eat and drink. Last year I had the privilege of having this as my first and I have to admit it spoiled me. My hat goes off to everyone involved in this race. I am very content with my finish and John's and will be back for another shot next year. I look forward to my marathon in two weeks and have all my fingers and toes crossed that I can pull out another successful race. 

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