Monday, September 22, 2014

Virgil Crest Ultra--50k Pure Guts, Grit and Determination

Let me tell you that I thought by signing up for the VC 50k, I would be doing my legs a favor so that I could prepare for my next two big races this Fall: Tussey Mountainback and JFK 50.  I was way wrong. This race with its slight new course design was much more of a challenge than it has been in the past and man those ski slope sections were relentless!

I managed to pull together a solid effort but still off of the type of time I was hoping for. I finished around 4:54 or so to gain another course record by a couple of minutes but was hoping for a 4:20 and under performance. What I learned was that I did not have the legs for that type of effort today considering that the Alpine (Ski Slope) section obliterated my legs.

Thank you to everyone that was out there cheering and volunteering. It was quite a adventure on Sunday. Let me begin with the logistics of the race.

This is the photo that explains it all!  2014 Virgil Crest 50k

2013 Virgil Crest 50 mile: 

I would say that this year was an improvement indeed.

From running last year's race, I was excited to run the 50k this year in preparation for the Tussey Mountainback 50 and the JFK 50. This course has sentimental value to me as it has been my home course. It is very exciting having a great ultra marathon so close (7 miles) from where I currently live. Just earlier today, I ran the first half of the 50k course as a solid Saturday training run. I get to experience the Virgil Crest through all the seasons and at the end of September each year, I get to showcase my hard training in the summertime for the Virgil Crest Ultras.  

Let me just lay this out here: the Virgil Crest Ultras are not for the faint of heart. With tons of vertical about 11k for the 50 mile and 8k for the 50k, this race not only has a lot of hills but the footing in spots is technical, rocky and rooty single-track on top of running the infamous Alpine ski slope loop which is QUAD-BUSTING, this race is hard. 

As you can see from the photos I took the day before as I walked the Alpine Loop!
This course has some steep 20-30% grade sections that really take the wind out of your sails.
A photo by Hope Lake

The slopes of Greek Peak (runners will go up and down the first two slope sections)

The Crest of Virgil (Runners run up to the summit and back down)

My pre-race gear: Boom Nutrition Raspberry Gels (4 of them), Mammut MTR 141 (good traction and protection), Craft Running Visor with Acidotic Racing Badge, 2 pairs of Fits socks, Nathan Handheld bottle, Mammut MTR 71 Zip shirt and MTR 71 shorts (blue), Pro Compression Calf Sleeves, and the Mammut MTR waist pack for all of my gels and super lightweight.

Race Director, Ian Golden once again altered the course from last year changing the course more than I expected by adding more vertical and a whole new Alpine Serpentine Loop which was brutal.

The race began like all races do, with a blowing of the ram's horn and off we went. I asserted the lead right a way and knew I wanted to crush a super fast time so I handled the first portion of the course through the wide jeep and double-track trails running a fast 7:40 per mile pace.

With the Blowing of the Rams Horn we are Off!!

Cole Crosby00:5001:2702:1903:2204:0104:54

AS#Aid StationSection MileageOverall MileageArrival TimeSection TimeOverall TimeSection PaceOverall Pace
1Hitching Post6.36.308:5000:5000:507:567:56
2Cortland 94.711.009:2700:3701:277:527:54
3Hurt Locker5.716.710:1900:5202:199:078:19
4Cortland 95.722.411:2201:0303:2211:039:01
5Hitching Post4.727.112:0100:3904:018:178:53
6Hope Lake6.333.412:5400:5304:548:248:48

I kept a very solid pace going through the first 11 miles--averaging sub 8 minute pace based on the check-points though I had my splits in the 7:40's. My Boom Raspberry gels I would take one an hour and the energy was flowing through to me with using the GU in my Nathan Handheld bottle.

I ran very hard and I could feel the early fatigue in my quads. Though running the course was interesting as Ian had the first 6.3 miles totally different from last year. I meandered around the course only missing the first turn on the seasonal access roads a mile in. I corrected the mistake quickly and then was back on track.  I must say the the land that is used in this race is just so gorgeous with so many different and unique sections. You have deep dark forest with lush pines that block out the sun, open vistas, the ski slopes, power line sections, creeks and ravines, such diversity in 15 miles. I went through both the Hitching Post and Cortland 9 aid stations ready for the Alpine Loop. As soon as I hit Carson Road, I surged a low 6 minute mile down the hill on then across Tone Road onto the beginning of the Serpentine section.  As I began to head up this section.  My legs just did not have it in them to motor-up the slopes like I have done during many of my training runs.

Let me tell you about the Serpentine section of the course. Not only did this section destroy me but I am sure it gave many of the other runners difficulty. I power hiked the majority of this loop (85%) being able to fly on the technical downhills and ever so slightly attempt to run up the slopes. I have been practicing my pace and cadence with power hiking and was doing a pretty decent job staying around 15 minutes a mile though once  I hit the sun exposed section, I started to falter. Even up the first 900ft climb, sweat was flowing off of my body. As soon as the second big climb was finished and then we hit the section in the woods, I was not happy we still had the steepest 40% grade section that takes it all out of you. By this point, my quads were ready to rupture from fatigue. I hit the Hurt Locker Aid station and was greeted by the TrailsRoc crew. They helped to lift my spirits even after I already felt spent. I was thinking man I get to the turnaround in about 2:20, I still have such a long way to go. I was  hopeful I would be able to make it to the Hurt Locker aid station around 2 hours maybe sub 2:10 but because of all of the power hiking, I lost a lot of time on this section. I was disappointed in myself that I could not power myself through the hardest part of the course but there is always next year.

I then flew down the mountain and said Hello to everyone out there and headed for the long 1.5 mile climb on Carson Road.

By this point I was hot and my quads were done. Downhill and flats I could run perfectly but anything uphill and my quads would quiver. I walked and jogged up Carson Rd praying that once I would make it into the single-track in the woods, I would feel better as I just wanted to cool-down.

Once I hit the woods, I found my balance again and began to pick up my pace. Some uphills I had to power hike, but for the most part, I was able to run around 8-8:30 pace. I hit the last aid station ready to finish as my quads were beginning to fully give out though from Cortland 9, they were already failing. I took in more calories and fluids and though it would help some, the amount of fluids I lost at the Alpine Loop had done its damage.
Picture by Steve Page:Coming from the last aid station for home!

I pushed and pushed to get to the finish and looking at my watch, I was on pace to finish maybe around 4:45 or so which was ok but not the 4:20 time I was hoping for. I willed my body for the last 4.5 miles and made it to the Hope Lake loop getting to see my father and Ashlee cheering me on. I came around to the finish having to stop 100m to pound my quad muscles out to get me to the finish line. 

Here I am Finishing the race!  Photo Credits: TrailsRoc

Photo Credits: TrailsRoc

***I crossed in 4:54 a mere 2 minutes under the 50k course record for Virgil Crest. With another win to my belt, I will take it. This course was a punisher and I have not done enough BIG Vertical days where I think that was one aspect why I struggled with the repetition of all of the steep hills. My ankle had no problems whatsoever which was the highlight of the day. I have been hampered by a beat-up ligament since the first weekend of May until now and I am so relieved that I can resume fast racing again without having to compromise my performances.  Everyone after the race was asking if I would race the 100 miler, and we all know that maybe one day but for now, I like running when it is light out and have the fear of running in the woods at night for hours on end where it would be very easy to twist an ankle, get mauled by a Fisher Cat, or get lost and end up 20 miles off course.    I would like to run the 50 miler again and see if I can run sub 7 hours. The best things about goals is that you can always make new ones even after they have been reached. And it looks like I will have quite a few more for the Virgil Crest Ultra.  Until Next Year Virgil Crest.

Boom Nutrition Raspberry---Best tasting gels! Real fruit keeps me energized for every mile

My First Place Prize--Patagonia VCU Backpack

*I love the Virgil Crest and each year it has been a pleasure to run this incredible race. I cannot thank enough Ian Golden and his crew of volunteers who make this event THE BEST -Grass-roots Ultra around. This race deserves to get more media attention as being a worthy challenge. 

I would like to thank my family for supporting my endeavors. Thank you to my supports, friends, sponsors, you name it. Without your support, I would not be here being able to reach for my dreams.

Mammut North America
Craft/Karhu North America
Acidotic Racing
Fits Socks
Boom Nutrition
Redfeather Snowshoes
USATF Niagara
OK Runner

Next up is the Tussey Mountainback 50.  Oct 19 will come soon enough and I am very excited to see how I race. I love the Fall and every year, this is when my hard summer training comes together. I will get out on those trails, run up some steep hills and prepare myself for hopefully what will be my best ultra run to date.