Reston Area Triathletes RATS.net Logo

Race Result

Racer: Aaron Schwartzbard
Race: Bel Monte Endurance Run
Date: Saturday, March 26, 2005
Location: Sherando Lake, VA
Race Type: Run - 50 km
Age Group: Male 25 - 29
Time: 4:34:29
Overall Place: 1 / 73
Comment: Two for the price of one!

Race Report:

The venue: Sherando Lake Park. It's about 20 minutes south of Waynesboro, VA, and less than a three hour drive without traffic (or a four hour drive with traffic) from Reston, VA. There's a camping area less than a quarter mile from the finish line.

The logistics: I left Reston at 5:00pm. The weather couldn't seem to make up its mind. I decided that if it was raining when I got to Waynesboro, I'd get a hotel room. Otherwise, I'd camp. It was foggy, but not raining when I got to Waynesboro, so I continued on to Sherando Lake. I arrived at 10:00pm, and found a spot to pitch my tent. It turned out that I had picked a spot next to Annette. She somehow recognized me in the dark, and snuck up on me as I was exploring the vagaries of my headlamp. After chatting with Annette for a little bit, I set up camp, and went to bed. I woke up a little after 5:00am. Despite hearing rain during the night, it wasn't raining in the morning. I packed up camp, and wandered over to the finish line for packet pick-up. Having a camping area nearby and morning packet pick-up makes the logistics very easy for this race --- no rush to get out of town early on Friday, no worries about finding a place to stay. All I had to do on race morning was pin on my race number, and catch up with folks I only see at races.

The race: We started on an earthen dam, up a hill from the finish line. For the first hundred meters or so, I thought, "Man, these guys are taking it out FAST!" Then I remembered that for the first seven miles, the 50km runners and the 25km runners would be together. I knew that there were seven or eight people ahead of me by the time I got to the single-track trail. I wouldn't know until the third aid station --- where the 50km and 25km courses diverge --- how many of them were 50km runners. Not knowing where I stood, I just had to race smart.

As I ran through the third aid station --- Camp Marty --- I asked how many 50km runners were ahead. They told me, "You're it!" Russ, the race director, was there, and he added, "Aaron, you'll like this section. It's really nice!" I laughed to myself, remembering the last time I heard a race director telling me that. During Hellgate 100km in December of 2003, Dave Horton was at the aid station at mile 42, and told me the same thing. At that time, I learned that there is a difference between "nice" and "easy". This time around, I prepared for the worst.

But it really was nice. For about four and a half miles, the course twisted and turned to follow a generally-descending ridge line along what might have at one time been a jeep road, but had long since eroded beyond the point of serviceability. Eventually, the trail narrowed to single track, and the trail plunged off the mountain for a mile and a half. At the higher elevations, there was snow in all the shady spots --- surprising since we hadn't had snow recently. I imagine that if it had not been so foggy, the views along this section would have been beautiful. Alas, during the race, beyond the trees was only a uniform, white void. At the bottom of the mountain, the course turned right to follow a dirt road for a few miles, the another right turn that would lead back up the mountain to Camp Marty, which doubled as the third and the sixth aid stations, to complete the triangular "middle half" of the race.

A couple years ago, I ran down the trail that I would be climbing to get back to Camp Marty. I was doing some scouting for the Great Eastern 100km race. The course for that race follows the trail in the opposite direction. I remember running down the hill on that run, thinking, "I'm glad the race goes DOWN this trail and not UP it." (Unfortunately, that year, the night before the 100km, a dam broke, causing that section of the course to be flooded, so I never did run down it in a race.) Here's how it goes: after the last right turn to start the last leg of the triangle, there's about a mile of rutted, muddy road to follow to get to the fifth aid station and the trail head. From there, the trail is a gradual climb with several creek crossings for four miles. The last mile to Camp Marty is up a steep, switch-backed trail.

I trudged upward, focusing mostly on the trail, and only occasionally looking up to see if the top was in sight. Feeling sure I was nearing the end, I looked ahead and saw a big dog up the trail. Probably one of the aid stations workers was walking his dog before the runners arrive, I thought. I must be getting close to the top, I thought. I trudged more, and looked ahead again. The dog was just walking along the trails about 20 meters ahead of me, and I realized that no owner was in sight. I slowed a little to try to decide if it was a happy dog or not.
I've spent a lot of time around dogs, and watching this dog, I realized that it wasn't moving quite like a dog moves. I looked closer, then I stopped... as I realized... that it wasn't a dog. It was a cat. A very... large... cat. It I had stood next to it, it probably would have come up to my mid-thigh at the withers.

I was looking at the back of the cat from closer than I would have preferred, and I didn't think it knew I was there. I considered my options. It was a long way back down, and I was almost at the top, and I was still in the lead. I decided that my best option would be to look big. So I raised my arms, and roared a gravelly, "GGGRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAA." The cat looked back, startled, and with an unmistakable glint of fear in its eyes, it scampered off the trail and into the woods.

Having made it to the aid station in one piece, I was feeling secure in my race position. The remainder of the race would be downhill --- descending slightly along a technical ridge, then dropping off the mountain on a technical descent, ending with a few miles on roads and easy trails. Anyone who could catch me would have to be an extraordinary downhill runner who had sandbagged the first three quarter of the race --- I hadn't seen or heard any other runners since the 25km runners turned around.

The rest of the race was uneventful. Just rocks, twists, turns, hills. About a half mile from the finish line, I caught the tail end of the 25km race. I offered some encouragement to the last 25km runner, and caught one or two others before reaching the finish line. I finished in 4:34, which put me a little more than 20 minutes ahead of second place. It was just past 11:00am, which meant I had some time to kill.

The apres-race: I ate, I cheered for other finishers, I socialized, I organized the mess that the inside of my car had become, then I ate some more. Sometime between 2:00pm and 3:00pm, I decided to head out. I still had another run to do, which mean one thing: I had to get to a Waffle House. I drove for a half hour before deciding to stop for some eggs and toast and grits. Thus refueled, I crossed the parking lot to refill my thermos with coffee from 7-11. I got to Woodstock Tower, in the Massanutten Mountains a little after 5:00pm, and I tried to take a nap. After 20 minutes of repose quite unlike sleep, I decided that I wasn't going to have any luck in my little Volkswagen, so I drove down the road to the meeting spot for the Chocolate Bunny Run. A few people had already arrived. Everyone else was supposed to show up at 6:00pm.

The chocolate bunny: This is a training run that has become an annual event. Saturday night of Easter weekend, a bunch of folks run a 50km section of the Massanutten 100 Mile race course. Since it's a section of the course that most people will run in the dark during the Massanutten 100 Mile race, the training run starts after dark. The reward for finishing: a chocolate bunny, of course. Before 7:00pm, Tom, who was in charge of organizing the run, gathered the 40-or-so chocolate bunny runners. He briefed us on the course, and we divided ourselves into carpool groups to get to the start. (The course is point-to-point.)

At the start, I wasn't feeling too good. The effort of the morning's race was starting to catch up with me. I was feeling dazed and slightly nauseated. When Tom told us to start running, no one seemed overly eager to take the lead. Standing still wasn't feeling too good. I just wanted to get moving, so I went ahead.

Ten minutes later, Bryon and I were running together, and no one else was in sight behind us. Bryon was having trouble with his glasses; the thick fog of the evening meant that he could either run with foggy glasses or no glasses and foggy vision. Somewhere along the way, he realized that in such a state, it wouldn't be wise to attempt to run the entire course. With some seriously technical sections ahead, he would just be asking for an injury. At about the same time, I was realizing that this run would round out my weekend. I had been considering trying to squeeze a third run in on Sunday. Since Friday night, I had been cold and wet. All my clothes were cold and wet. I'd finish this run well after midnight, then I'd still have a two hour drive home, and a family dinner early Sunday afternoon. There was no way I was going to squeeze a third run into this weekend.

The bright side was that I didn't have to save anything. The Chocolate Bunny Run isn't a race, but it was a rare opportunity for me to run at night on difficult trails while fatigued. I could take advantage of the opportunity, and push myself. At the first aid stop, Bryon ended his run. I refilled my bottle and continued running.

The rest of the run is kind of a blur. Anyone who has tried to have a conversation with me the evening after a 50km race knows how spaced-out I can be. Even though I knew the trails and had a good idea where I was at all times, there was a certain other-worldly quality to the night as I ran along the ridge of Short Mountain, trying to follow the unmarked trail through the fog, hearing water drip off of the trees every time the wind blew. At the first aid stop, the had asked me how I felt. I said, "not awesome." When I got to the second aid stop, again, they asked how I felt. I said, "worse."

After that second aid station, the climb out of Edinburg Gap up to the ridge of Powells Mountain was Not Good. I was feeling deep-fried and slow-cooked and char-grilled. I was dazed and confused and more than a little sleepy to boot. Even when the trail went straight, I did my fair share of zigging and zagging. "Just get to the top," I told myself. "At the top, everything will get better." At the top of the climb, almost seven miles of trail lay between me and the next aid stop. But it was seven miles with no major climbs, so I was happy.

The next aid stop was at Woodstock Tower. Normally, the run would end several miles beyond that. This year, due to road closures, the run would end at Woodstock Tower. Being a casual training run, runners could take the "marathon option" and stop at Woodstock Tower the first time through, or the "50km option" and add an out-and-back bit to the end of the run. I was planning on doing the full distance, but I needed to take a couple minutes at the aid stop to pull myself together. I was almost at 100km for the day, and I was hurting. When I was finally ready to leave, I realized that I probably looked like I was in worse shape that I should be after only 50km. Leaving the aid stop, I felt compelled to tell the volunteers, "Just so you know, this IS my second 50km of the day."

They laughed, and waved me off. A moment later, the laughing stopped, and one of them asked, "You're kidding... Right?"

For the next couple miles, I devoted considerable effort to shining my light up the trail, and asking no one in particular, "Where is that DAMN BUNNY?" When I finally reached it --- a stuffed bunny tied to a stake planted in the middle of the trail --- I was happier than I ever though I'd be to come across a bunny tied to a stake in the woods. I walked around it once, then started to head back to Woodstock Tower.

Tom had arrived at Woodstock Tower before I got back. Upon my completion, he gave me a chocolate bunny for finishing, and then he gave me a chocolate racer bunny driving a chocolate car for being the first person to finish, and then he gave me a little stuffed bunny toy for... Well, I was pretty dazed at that point, so I didn't quite catch why I got the stuffed bunny toy.

Anyway, by the time I had run down one more hill to my car, changed into dry clothes, drove back up to Woodstock Tower, had a little bit of food, socialized a little and gotten my travel mug filled with hot coffee, it was almost 4:00am. I needed to hit the road before crashing (figuratively). I did have to stop on the side of the road for a couple of 10 minute naps, but I got home just after 6:00am. A long, hot shower was my reward, and I got to bed at 6:30am.

Suffice it to say, I did NOT get in another run on Sunday.