My friend Sarah is back to share her recent trail running adventure with us! Thus far, she has completed six ultra-marathons! Her dedication and drive is an inspiration to me. She encouraged me to get out there to do my first ultra in 2016. And that was life changing for me–you really can do anything you put your mind to.
Sarah blogged with us a few years ago sharing her stories about the Rock the Ridge 50 in New York (you can read those adventures here from 2013 and 2014). Today she highlights the beautiful state of Virginia. Enjoy her story and may you be inspired to chase your dreams too!
Guest Blogger: Sarah Topping
Saturday, March 24, 2018, I found myself at the start line of a race and all I could think was “this is a really bad idea.” What did I do when faced with the belief I was going to fail spectacularly at the Terrapin Mountain half marathon? I ran it anyway. And I had the time of my life.
It was very apparent from my first steps that I did not know anything about this race when I registered for it. I couldn’t pull up the map on my phone, and it was blocked at work, so I figured I would just give it a shot. I consider that a good thing now. If I had known more about it I never would have tried it and I would have missed a wonderful, awful, painful, long, beautiful day in the woods of southwestern Virginia.
There is a 50K that runs at the same time as the half marathon. Runners have nine hours to finish, so the half also has that time limit. Turns out that was a very good thing for me.
The night before, I slept in my car in a field on a farm near the start/finish. I dearly love my Rogue but I have to say, it isn’t that much fun to sleep in. I could have pitched a tent in said field, but I was afraid I would not want to pack everything up after the run. So I did that part right!
I woke to a cold and clear morning and the mountains were calling me. At the sound of the gong (seriously!) we were off. The race starts on roads near the Sedalia Center in Big Island, Virginia. Very quickly I was plodding along by myself, the pack having already made their way up the mountain. The roads turn into trail and suddenly I was where I love to be – the middle of nowhere in the woods.
This part of the race goes pretty much uphill for the first 4.1 miles. So up I went. I walked a bit with another woman but she soon pulled ahead. Between the cold and the altitude, I was having a lot of trouble breathing. I used my inhaler more than ever before during this race.
I wasn’t alone on the trail for long before the sweeps were there. Walking behind me. I’ve had bad experiences with this before, but the couple that was sweeping this race were really nice and I quickly forgot to be embarrassed. I did keep apologizing for the walking. It’s hard not to when you know you’re keeping someone from the run.
I finally made it to the first aid station and the sweeps got to head off a different direction from me to follow the 50Ks. Courtesy of the altitude, my stomach was not happy so I had a cup of ginger ale before hitting the trail again. This portion of the race was all in snow. A mile trek to the summit of Terrapin Mountain. There were some kids at the aid station and they were playing on the trail. I had to laugh when they ran past me up the trail that I was struggling so much on. It reminded me of learning to ski as an adult and having the toddlers whiz by me without a care in the world as I was doing my best Bambi on ice impression. Two of the older ones kept stopping to give me encouragement. I don’t know who those kids are, but they are a couple of the nicest children I have ever come in contact with. Their parents should be proud.
I wish I could have enjoyed the trail more (the views were gorgeous and I LOVE snow) but the altitude was really messing with me. I made it to the top then promptly missed the turn to the summit and headed down the trail. Down, down, down…wait a minute. Where are the views? What happened to the summit? Crap. Turn around. Back up the hill. I added a mile to my race this way. I got to the top again and easily saw where I went wrong. Made my way to the summit and the first of the orienteering punches I needed to punch my bib with to officially finish the race. As I was there, the first 50K runner passed me. Do that math. Then it was back down the snowy trail. I love running in the snow. Well, except for the really slippery parts. This run was definitely an exercise in balance. I got an amazing core workout, too!
And another 50K runner passes me. This will be the theme of my day. After some more downhill I come to a turn which takes me to some giant rocks with what appears to be the trail between them. And I cursed. Loudly. I get claustrophobic just looking at the space I have to go into. I stared at it a minute, may have cursed the race director, then dropped into the space between the rocks. As I was trying to figure out how to get out of there, the next 50K runner drops down behind me. I was so worried about holding him up that I somehow managed to get through the space and under the wedged rock and out the other side. I jumped off the trail the best I could so he could get past me. What does he do? He stops to make sure I’m okay. Another reason to love trail running. Anyway, the second punch I need to punch my bib is in the space between what I’ve dubbed Rocky Horror and more rocks I need to get over before getting back to less terrifying trail.
And the trail kept going down. And down.
And down. With the relentless climbs I kept wishing for downhill, but as we all know, downhill is not really any easier. The trail dumped down into this really rocky section where I twisted my ankles a bajillion times and concentrated on not falling.
All the while, the 50Kers were passing me by. This downhill section seemed to never end. My feet were bruised from the rocks, I kept having random foot cramps, and my breathing still wasn’t much better. The trail eased out into a gravel road which I followed to the next aid station. I still felt pretty bad so all I managed to eat was three oyster crackers and a cup of cola. Then it was back up the road until the turn onto the Terrapin Mountain Trail. This trail was described to me as “rolling” and I found that must be local humor.
The trail finally hooks back up with the gravel road leading to the paved roads leading back to the Sedalia Center. I am able to (very slowly) run that entire section.
As more 50Kers pass me.
I finished in 7:35:55. Obviously, I was the last half marathoner and there were only a few 50Kers that finished after I did.
And you know what? I don’t care. I am so done caring what other people think about me or say about me or to me. I don’t run to be better than anyone. I am not competitive with anyone but myself. I had a fantastic day in the woods running new trails, meeting new people, and taking it back to what really matters:
Me. Running. In the woods.
It was a long four-hour drive home that afternoon. On Sunday, I still wasn’t feeling well, but I enjoyed a cup of coffee in my new favorite mug. That’s what I consider a win.