In recent years, the beginning of Spring meant tuning up for the Charlottesville 10-Miler, or hitting the road on my bike in preparation for triathlon season. But with Promise Land looming on the horizon, the Terrapin Mountain 1/2 Marathon seemed like a good idea. While I felt pretty well prepared -- I had runs on the AT, Fox Mountain loops, ascents up Jarmans, and several long training slogs up the the powerlines in my training log -- this was the first trail race I'd done with larger field. I was curious how I'd measure up.
I decided to treat Terrapin as a training run, with a simple goal -- don't be stupid. Stay in control on the climb, keep fueled up, and finish with gas in the tank.So after a pleasantly sunny afternoon spent lounging in a camp chair by my tent, reading Jennifer Pharr Davis' AT thru-hikng memoir, I turned in early, gear laid out for the morning.
Morning was cool, but not unpleasantly so, with the rain in the forecast holding off. A cup of coffee, some peanut butter on a corn tortilla, a little socializing and soon it was time to line up. I seeded myself well to the back (don't be stupid), and shuffled off across the line to the sound of a gong being enthusiastically rung by race volunteers.I settled in on the paved road and gradually moved through the field to where the pace felt comfortable. That comfort didn't last long, as the road got rougher and teeper.
John's course preview came in handy here, and I treated the climb like Jarmans -- power hike the steeps, run the flatter sections. Stay on the edge, but don't red line the heart rate. After a while we leveled off a bit onto some nice single track, with growths of mountain laurel and rhododendron hinting at the higher elevation. Intersecting a forest service road we hit Camping Gap and the first aid station. I jogged over and refilled my handheld with sports drink, grabbed a couple of saltines and shoved them in my mouth as I started up the trail to the summit.
The summit trail was as advertised -- steep! My breathing felt fine (in fact I didn't seem as out of breath as some of the runners around me), but my legs were burning from the climb. Finally we reached the spur trail to the overview. Overcoming my mild acrophobia, I scrambled out onto the rocks to punch my bib and turned to head down the trail.
After squeezing through the joke of Fat Man's Misery (Really? We go through there?), the trail started descending steeply. While I'd moved up steadily in position while going up the mountain, I was out of my element here, and picked my way down trail cautiously, losing time to let faster runners scamper by me. Something to work on.... But despite my tentative pacing I enjoyed the downhill. I stayed patient, took every opportunity to keep fueling up from my handheld, and bided my time
Passing the turn onto the last leg, I headed down to the last aid station. A quick stop, a refuel, and I turned around to go back up the fire road, power hiking back up to the last leg.
John Andersen had described the last leg in dire terms, but I quickly found that I liked it. The trail was wide and relatively smooth, and the grades gradual. I started alternating runs and walks, and quickly shifted into longer running segments. I felt good -- lots of energy in the tank and I was moving smoothly. Best of all I could see runners ahead of me and I was catching up.
As the miles ticked by and the stream crossings were checked off I felt better and better. Finally I hit the last crossing, amusing the small crowd of spectators by picking the deepest possible line through the water. A small girl sitting on a rock said "If you run fast you'll get barbecue!" I didn't need any more encouragement, and gave her a high-five as I sprinted past.
Passing familiar terrain, I put the hammer down and picked up more spots. As the school came into sight I caught up to a dad running with his 8(!) year old son. The boy had no intention of letting me pass him, so I yielded to his enthusiasm and let him cross first.
My overall time for the day was 2:50, putting me somewhere around the top 1/3 of my age group, which seems OK for a first effort. Giving myself a report card for the day, I succeeded with my primary goal -- don't be stupid. I'd paced well, and while uncomfortable at times on the climbs, hadn't blown all my energy there. Fueling worked great throughout. I started with Tailwind and topped off my bottle each time I hit an aid station. Aside from a few salty snacks to keep my thirst up, I didn't need anything else.
Things to work on? More climbing of course. I often feel like my aerobic system could get me up the hills faster, but the legs aren't strong enough. And I need to be more confident in descending steep trails. Nothing wrong with playing it safe, but that's free speed if I can develop better skills.
All in all, a fun day on a great, challenging course. I can see this race becoming a regular spring time event!