Saturday, March 26, 2011

Race Report: Terrapin Mountain Half Marathon

Terrapin Mountain 50k and Half-Marathon. I ran the half. 3250 of elevation gain and loss over 13.1 miles. Check out the elevation profile here.

This all began months ago as I was planing out some runs and races I'd be interested in doing, I had originally planned for this weekend to run the inaugural Martinsville Half marathon, but soon switched plans. Thinking about the Martinsville race, it would be a new event and because it was in Martinsville it could possibly ensure limited attendance, and potentially an age group top 3 finish (possibly unrealistic goal, I'm not as fast as I used to be). But because I view the Terrapin Mountain half and 50k as a "special" event and one that intimidates me, I wanted to take on the challenge.

Going into this weekend, I was half dreading it and half excited. In end, I feel accomplished, encouraged and satisfied. Everything we want after a race. I must add that to know that many involved with this race are fellow Christians, it just makes it that much nicer to be there.

 The idea of camping out on the Sedalia Center property (Race headquarters) sounded like a good time, but knew it would have been a cold night, and thinking about how to organize that with Lydia and Pauly (17 months old) I wasnt so sure. Being in Roanoke, I was only an hour away from the event so I decided to drive. Of course I left later than I wanted, but got there at about 6:10. Thankfully I was able to get behind another driver heading in the same direction (I could tell by the stickers on the back of the Jeep FJ), and I soon joined a trail of cars headed in....

Here's the reason you show up to a race early... you dont want to have to stand in line to get your race number and packet, and then stand in line again to hit the bathroom. It was dark and it was cold, and my head is telling me all that I dont want to hear. but I'm trying to figure out what exactly to wear and what layers, and will it warm up at all? there was a 30% chance of rain in the forecast too. While waiting in line, I'm looking around for the 2 people that I knew I could recognize (but dont really know me) and to see if I knew any one else. I got back to the car and got dressed and soon the announcements began. I returned to the pavilion where everyone was collected and listened to the announcements, made final detail changes to what I was going to wear and was wondering if it was even going to be light before the race start? I diddnt bring a head lamp, and I diddnt want to run with one for 15 mins, and then have to carry it the entire race. Thankfully the 7AM start time was perfectly set so the daylight came in time. After announcements was a simple word of prayer (thank you), and we all headed to the starting line.

As we are all standing in front of the banner that said "Terrapin Mountain 50K and Half-Marathon" Dr. Clark Zealand, Race Director said over the PA something to the effect of. "Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to Terrapin! That mountain you see just beyond the sign overhead is Terrapin Mounatin" I soon felt a rush of excitement and fear all at the same time. But I was so stoked to be taking on this challenge.
Start line with Terrapin mountain on the horizon

The course began with a GONG and a cheer from the 300+ crowd. All runners for the 50k and half started together. There is a video of the race start HERE. The first mile or so was on road and a slow steady, up hill. This changed to a dirt road, that could be driven if one really desired, but the higher up we went the less drivable and steeper it seemed getting more and more narrow. There was a creek crossing or two. The first of which, I was surprised with the number of runners that just went right through the water. hoping to stay dry for the majority of the race, I hopped from rock to rock, and the guy ahead of me mis-stepped and fell in, but I made it OK.

The first stop, and Aid Station would be an area called Camping Gap. This would be 4.1miles in. honestly I was surprised how soon it came. I was having a good time. I had my headphones and iPod Nano on me, and available, but never used them during the race, except for some video I took.

One big lesson I learned - and I was really hoping to accept this... is how much walking is really embraced by the ultra racing community. I believe in my experience as a runner, and the races I've entered in the past as well as the thoughts that are in my head - I dont like walking. I admit that to not fully run a race used to feel like a defeat to me. So, I was glad to see how many runners in this group were what I'd call "smart runners" and it's OK to walk. My friend Anita has been encouraging me with those words, and I've been accepting it. Today, it was sure nice to walk up those climbs and everyone else walked them too. (this really changes my perspective on ultra running) Looking back, I think I could have run more than I did, but not ever knowing what was before me, I was unable to assess if I could push it to run on some of the climbs or not, I wanted to run smart rather than run fast.

Once the runners made it to Camping Gap we were greeted by a huge group of volunteers and what would be my first of 2 aid stations on the course for the Half-Marathon. There was Mellow Yellow and Coke, and many bowls of various food items. Mini Reese's cups, of which I grabbed one, m&m's, some small bites of like a honey bun or danish and many other items, I think this was the stop that had small cuts of sandwiches too. I stopped a moment took some Mellow Yellow and a Reese's cup, then headed in the right direction.

The 50k runners and the Half-runners split ways at this point. I was lead to believe from reading other race reports that this was the top of the hill for the moment... Well that may be true for those on the 50k course, but not for this course. I think this is where the climb REALLY began. Honestly What I had run/hiked up to this point, was hat I would say is potentially run-able by a strong runner. but what was to come, personally was not "runnable" (if that is even a word). It got steeper, but it wasnt for long.

The first of 2 "orienteering punches" was at the very top of this last portion of the climb on a small out and back portion of the trail. It was in a hard to get to place, as I had to climb over a few rocks to find something that I diddnt even know what I was looking for. Apparently an orienteering punch is a lot like a hole punch, but instead of a hole it pokes a pattern of pin holes in a small square. i punched my number, and the pull tag from my number, cause I diddnt know where I was supposed to punch.

Fat Man's Misery
Next was a sign to tell us that an infamous part of the trail was coming up "Fat Man's Misery". I had heard of this area, and looked it up online, but the pics diddnt do it justice at all. It was more narrow than I had thought, and It's not only fat man's misery, but it's tall man's misery too. I had to drop down a couple rocks to get into the narrow gap between 2 rocks, and then squeezing through, then duck under a rock... wow! what fun. The rock was quite coarse and can easily remove skin, even from the palm of your hand.

Apparently the next orienteering punch was at this point, but I totally missed it (perhaps that is what the woman ahead of me said that I diddnt understand, something about "there's the other punch!" But onward I ran. Finally I felt that I could actually run for a while.

What goes up, must come down and indeed it does! Training for a race with such elevation change, takes training on the climbs, but training on the downhills too. So, a descent begins. and as it continued, it got steeper. At times it is controlled falling. I tend to concentrate on heel strike when running downhill and of course footing. Always on trails with questionable footing, I'm trying to read ahead 2 steps at all times. On the downhills I'm hyper-focused, because everything happens that much faster, as I dont take very long strides on questionable terrain, because I trust my footing much less. I'm passing a couple people and feeling good about it.

So I heard of the area they call "The Rock Garden" and I knew when I got there. Large rocks that shifted with each step. scary, but I tried to keep up a good pace. It wasnt long after this that I passed a woman who was limping along the way, she said help was on the way and she had apparently twisted an ankle. I learned later she was the current course female record holder, and managed to twist both ankles within a short time. I felt her disappointment.

After a screaming downhill was the second or two aid stations. I was now 7.6 miles in. I recall this station more clearly. It seemed like even more food that last time. I wanted to stay a while and just pig out on the brownies and sweets they had there, but I sampled some NUUN drink (I've been wanting to try that stuff), and ate some potato chips (for the salt). So much for the rule of "dont do anything new on race day" but I think my changes of food were minor and I was "only" running 13 miles.

The rest of the course, if you observe the elevation profile was able to be run most of the entire distance, and I had I studied the course more, I may have attempted to do that, but I still walked some on the steeper parts. but observing others and how they performed on this part, they ran it all. (goal for next year!) The trail was rolling and curved to allow you to see other areas of the trail ahead and behind you (and other runners if close.) There was a couple creek crossings, one of which I took the option instead of rock hopping, I balanced over a fallen tree... possibly not a good idea when your head is spinning and you're breathing hard. It was at one of these creek crossings that I ended up dipping my toe in as I ran over it. I felt the water penetrate and spread over my toes, but once it settled, I never knew it was wet.

I knew I had a good distance from the guy behind me. Until a different guy ended up on my heels which really surprised me. He was running very well. This to me is more evidence that I wasnt running as I could have for this portion. Additionally the guy ahead of me at the beginning of this area, was never seen again, so he ran it well also.

The last mile and a half or more was all downhill and then turned to the street. There were no mile markers on the whole trail. So, I'm trying to remember just how long this final stretch would be, and I'm picking up my pace, but then I see a sign that says one mile to go. I was thinking it was less than that, but I kept on. I slowed a little, but soon picked it up again when I felt it was only a half mile left. I finished strong and pleased at 2:31:39 which was an 11:34/mile pace. When I saw that the clock read close to 2:30, I was quite excited! That was a goal, but I diddnt know if that was realistic or not, not having been on the course.

Crossing the finish and getting a high-five from Dr. Clark Zealand
It was nice seeing the other runners come in. Especially seeing the first finishers of the 50k. The course record for the 50k was beat by 11 mins! One of my many goals with this event was to learn how ultra runners run. Which in the first 4 miles, I was able to assess this to an extent.  Dr. David Horton asked me after the race if I was planning to run the Promise Land 50k (scheduled for April 23). I made an excuse of not having run my first marathon yet, but he encouraged me that it wasnt necessary. Despite what many runners believe, a marathon doesnt have to be a pre-requesite for an ultra.

The meal afterward was pork barbecue, green beans and cole slaw. There was veggie burgers as well.
 The prizes were very high end including Patagonia and Nathan items, and race entries to upcoming events.
Of course my big goal for this summer is to run the Mountain Junkies' Conquer The Cove Marathon. but I'm still not sure if I'll be able to train enough for it, and I may end up doing the 25k... we'll see.

A couple hours after the race, I have no blisters, minimal chafing, but knees that are quite sore, the point of discomfort is on the outside of my kneecaps. I'm staying hydrated and eating frequently.

Thank you to all the volunteers and helpers that made this event what it was. Thank you also to those that provided good conversation and smiles and memories along the way.

Other Terrapin race reports:
Visit the eco-x blog and there's a whole list that I just diddnt want to repost all of them here, when you can just go there.


  1. Love it! Sounds exciting! I always enjoy reading race reports! It will be fun to follow your running adventures! I hope to have a few of my own! =) Peace!

  2. nice race, and nice report. Thanks.

  3. Great report James. That is the toughest race I have done yet. even tougher than my first 50k which took me 8:03. I never want to be out for 8hours over 32 miles again. You ran a fast half for that terrain. I have a felling you would be a beast in the 50k. I hope you get there and I hope to meet you at one of the races. I have a friend that lives in Roanoke. His name is Chad Scott he was the chef at 202 market for a while then on to another restaurant, not sure the name. if i am ever out to visits him i will let you know. maybe you could show me the trails.

  4. Awesome bro! You seem to be a better runner then you think & just need to accept that. If you suprise yourself with your own results, why not take the challenge of a bigger race? I'm proud of ya.

    ~~John G.