Virginia Creeper Trail Marathon
Place: 10th overall; 1st age group
Run Streak day 86
Yesterday I ran my first Virginia Creeper Trail Marathon in Abingdon, VA. I signed up for this race months ago, before the date was announce. They only allow 100 runners in this race and most register before the date is decided on. It's a $10 entry fee so knowing that, and knowing I would have a one month old in the house at this point, I knew if I had to back out, I could and wouldn't be that upset about losing an entry fee. I also knew that sleep would be a luxury so I would use this as a chance to add to my ultra training of 'running on tired legs'. More on this in a little bit.
I never really decided to "race" this event. I figured I would treat it as a long training run and go enjoy some lovely SW Virginia scenery. Easier said than done. I did, however, continue to train, albeit mostly easy runs, leading up to the race, instead of tapering. By the time race day arrived, I had already logged 35 miles in the week.
I also decided to use LTH's carb loading theory and test it for myself. This theory includes consuming 7 grams of carbs for each kilogram of body weight, the day before your race. For me, that's around 413g of carbs. So on Saturday, I piled it on. I could have eaten more, but I ended up with around 440g of carbs that day.
The night before, my assumption of running on tired legs was coming true. Gemma decided to stay up until 11, and with a 4am alarm, I was limited to five hours of sleep. I was lucky though, Summer only got four hours as Gemma decided she wanted to wake up at 1am and watch Twilight: Eclipse. When the alarm went off at 4, Summer was still awake having just put Gemma down a little before that. I felt so bad and offered to stay home but being the loving wife she is, and knowing how much I love to run, Summer told me to go ahead.
I left at 5am and made the 2 hour drive to Abingdon. With temperatures in the 40's, possibly climbing to the 50's, and rain in the forecast, it was shaping up to be a first for me. I haven't ever raced in the rain, but was looking forward to it if it happened.
7am: arrive at Watauga Elementary school and pick up my race bib, packet, and participant gift. We then jumped on the shuttle for the 1.5 mile ride to the race start. Yeah I know what you're thinking...slacker...why didn't you just run to the start line? Oh well. Once I arrived there, I put my drop bag under the tent and stood around and shivered until the race start. I met a guy from Ohio who was using this as his last long run before the Boston Marathon in three weeks. He was a nice guy. He was planning for a 3:35-3:40 time in this race and I silently said to myself that'd be nice if I could do something like that too! It'd be easier for him than me though I'm sure as he obviously has already met the qualifying time for Boston and has ran it four years in a row. Granted he was in his 50's, but still, pretty impressive.
We started a few minutes late after waiting for the last shuttle of runners to arrive. The first two miles were an out and back on the paved road that brought us to the S/F line. Then we hit the Creeper Trail and what I'll call 'section 1'. An old rail bed, the trail is made of mostly crushed hard packed rock dust, and some gravel road sections. There were also a few wooden trestles we had to cross that ended up being slicker than snot on a door knob. Ok maybe not that slick. But it was still slick. I decided to wear my waterproof Hoka Mafate's given the unknown amount of rain we'd get.
After the two mile out and back, the first trail section is a 3.5 mile out and 3.5 mile back. I finally warmed up about mile four and settled in to a 8:30ish pace. I ended up running with a guy who said he was running his first marathon. Silently, I was thinking he was nuts for running with me at this pace as I knew he'd probably pay for it in the end. Heck. I knew I'd probably pay for it in the end. But we ran together for a while and enjoyed the scenery. Once we arrived back at the S/F area, we were 9 miles in. I grabbed my handheld of Accelerade and started on the other end of the Creeper trail, which I'll call section 2.
Section 2 was a 4.5 mile out and 4.5 mile back, with the halfway point of the entire race being at the turnaround of this section. The first timer and I were still running together and I was steadily clocking off 8:00-8:15 pace miles at this point, feeling good, but still fearing that the aforementioned details (weekly mileage, lack of sleep) were going to catch up with me at some point. 13 miles in, nature called and I answered.
I hit the halfway mark in just over 1:50. I began thinking, if I can run a negative split, I could beat 3:40, which I'd be pleased with. I then made the turn and headed back to the S/F line to start the last out and back. The guy who was running his first went ahead when I took a nature break, but I soon caught him, and passed him. I was then running alone, just as I'm used to. The next five miles were done between 8:10 and 8:30, conserving what I could for the last section.
When I arrived at the S/F area, there were people there cheering me on which gave me a bit of a spark as I started this last out and back. It also started raining at this point as it had held off so far up to this point. Since I had already ran this section, I knew what to expect and knew how I could run it. I also started thinking about how I felt, and whether I could put forth a good push and actually 'race' this last section. It is in fact, a race. Training run or not, you always want to do as well as you can and be competitive. So I decided I was going to go for it. I started doing mental math, to see if I can beat 3:40. And when I saw the leader, I started counting how many people were in front of me. I was waiting for my body to start saying no. And I started playing the mental game. At this point in a race, you may start to fade, but you can always convince yourself to keep pushing. So I did.
As I reached the turnaround, I was in 13th place, with a guy in 12th right in front of me. I found out later, he was running his first marathon so he was doing great. I made the pass and kept on trucking. In these last eight miles, I would run five of them under 8 minute pace. I saw a woman up ahead who I could tell I was gaining on and eventually, made the pass on her. I was in 11th. I knew who was ahead of me, and this guy was lengthening his lead on me. I had already settled for 11th place.
The rain became heavier as I got closer to the S/F area. Soon enough, I could see it ahead. I also saw a runner who was slowing down, and stopped at the aid station for a drink of water. At this point, we were 25 miles into the race. The last bit was a 0.6 mile out and 0.6 mile back on section 2. When I passed the timing tent, I threw my handheld down and asked if they would hold this. And I took off. The guy who stopped to get a drink heard me coming, held out his hand for a high five and congratulated me on running strong. I made the pass, and was in 10th place.
My shirt was stuck to me, and visor dripping, both from the rain. I was really pushing hard. I knew I couldn't catch the guy in front of me, but I wanted to finish strong. Mile 26 I ran in 7:27. My fastest mile of the entire race. I could see the clock at the finish and I did it. I beat 3:40, ran a negative split, and came in with a time of 3:36:04. I was 10th overall and 1st place in the 29 and under age group. Satisfied...
So what did I learn from this race? I feel like the tempo run and hill repeats I have consistently done weekly since the beginning of the year have helped my performance. I really feel like the carb loading did help as well. I did have about five Clif gels during the race, and about 18 oz. of Accelerade. Call me scared of hitting the wall, but I'd rather "have it and not need it than need it and not have it". I really feel like I ran a smart race and I think my splits for the last five miles showed it as I ran four out of the five at sub-8 minute pace. Deep down I think I could have beaten my PR of 3:28:38 from November had I really treated this like a goal race. But with the 35 miles I did up to this point, and the somewhat lack of sleep the night before, I can't complain with my result.
This is a GREAT race. For the entry fee, you can't beat it. Volunteers are great and the food at the aid stations and S/F is mostly homemade goods. The course is great. I thought it was mostly flat the entire race. I could tell there were gentle ups and downs and only one major descent/ascent where a trestle was taken out last year during a tornado. Either it wasn't flat or my Garmin was crazy because it said it was over 2,100 ft. of elevation gain. Either way, I had a great time and will definitely consider going back again.
Pic of the participant paper weight everyone was given, along with my age group award and bib number. Thanks for reading!