Terrapin Mountain 50k is a great race put on by my friend and Liberty University professor, Clark Zealand. It is race #2 in the Beast Series and offers a beautiful yet challenging course in the George Washington National Forest, sharing some of the Promise Land 50k and Hellgate 100k courses.
If you recall, around the New Year I was having some slight issues with my peroneal tendon after I rolled my ankle pretty bad. The problem was exacerbated by a certain pair of shoes (New Balance MT100’s, I still love them) but it resolved itself after some rest. Well, having thought the problem was gone after some successful runs at Holiday Lake and R2R2R, I went for a run in these shoes about a week before race day. Lo-and-behold, the peroneal became reirritated so I was forced to lay off running up until Terrapin. I didn’t know how it would hold up, but wanting to stay in the Beast I decided to cautiously proceed with my racing plans (and with a goal to just finish, not race).
Having just experienced some beautiful 70 degree weather, the mid 20’s on race morning were an unpleasant surprise. No worries, the weather would eventually become absolutely gorgeous later in the day.
At 7:00am Clark banged the gong (really Clark?) and we headed out. The first 3/4 mile is on flat road, and with 50k and half-marathoners running together this made for some speedy pavement pounding, eerily similar to a marathon. As soon as the road ended we started the climb up to Camping Gap, an aid station that we would hit 3 times throughout the day. I wasn’t necessarily planning on running this 3-mile climb, but the peroneal felt absolutely fine so I allowed myself to get dragged along by the front pack.
After the climb came a brutal 5-mile descent. Now normally some good fast downhill cruising feels great to start out a race, but this extended descent on gravel road meant faster-than-usual paces, and consequently trashed-earlier-than-usual quads. Honestly, it was friggin fast. I apparently ran 6:02’s, and a few days later I am now paying the price and can’t walk down steps.
Much of the first half of the race was run on gravel road, and the elevation was fairly binary. Either you were climbing or you were pummeling downhill. I kept company with Jack Kurisky, Keith Knipling and Darryl Smith for a lot of this running, but as we came into Camping Gap for the second time (mile 16.4), I realized that I was giving a harder-than-planned effort and staying with these guys would mean keeping up the pace. The Beast Series is my focus of the year, and yes I’d love to do well in it, but I did not plan or train for Terrapin to be at race effort, and as I’ve learned before, an unplanned hard effort can bring negative consequences. Acknowledging this fact, I let them pull away and I started stopping to take pictures whenever the opportunity arose. It seemed to work and the second half of the run was at a much more relaxed pace.
After the second stint at Camping Gap came a nice climb up and around the White Oak Ridge. At the top we would find our first orienteering punch (to prove we did the loop). As I was approaching the punch, Justine Morrison appeared out of nowhere looking speedy as always. In a normal race I’d fight to the death if given an opportunity to prevent being chicked, but given my earlier decision to tone it down, I took a picture and let Justine pass, continuing on to chick more and more of the suckers ahead. She ended up finishing ninth overall and beating out the second place woman by more than 20 minutes. A true rockstar, to say the least.
Coming down the White Oak Ridge, I started passing runners coming in the opposite direction. This is always a good time, yelling encouragements to strangers (“Looking good, keep it up!”) and taking pictures and heckling friends (“Oh dear god what is that bright yellow thing coming towards me?”). If you don’t get that second reference, see the picture I snapped of Alisa below. She was so fast (or so bright) that she was blurry.
After the downhill meet-and-greet section we hit Camping Gap for the third and final time (mile 22.1). Leaving, we were immediately greeted by some fairly technical trail (a first for the day) and a good climb up Terrapin Mountain. Orienteering punch #2 was located on a rock ledge with a spectacular view at the top of the mountain, then we started our descent which quickly lead to punch #3. This one was located immediately after Fat Man’s Misery, an angled, narrow and slippery passageway between two giant boulders. Seriously, this thing is a sonofabitch. Don’t let the picture of Mario below fool you, he’s a small dude (no offense my man) and it is downright dangerous passing through here. Oh the things we do for running.
After the fat man we had a good gnarly technical downhill, just to be sure that if there was any strength left in your quads, there wouldn’t be at the finish. The rocks in this section were big, loose and scattered – a perfect storm for rolling ankles and eliminating Beast Series racers. Needless to say, I stayed super focused and applied the brakes liberally on this descent.
At the very bottom of the descent was Terrapin Mtn Lane aid station (mile 25.6), a brief half-mile ascent, and then a long rolling cruise on singletrack as we headed towards the finish. There were plenty of stream crossings in this section, but surprisingly they weren’t overflowing as one might expect after a record snowfall has just melted. I’m not complaining.
At this point, I came across a group of soldiers wearing full uniforms including combat boots and rucksacks. The lead soldier carried an American flag. They marched/hiked the half-marathon course and were coming into the last two miles of their long slow hike. One soldier offered me his ruck but I politely declined, mustering something about not wanting to take away from his sense of accomplishment. Either way, that was pretty cool seeing them out there carrying the flag.
With a little more than a mile to go, the course turned back on to the road we had started with. This was a very welcome sign (as was the “one mile to go” sign), and within no time I was coming across the field at the Sedalia Center, finishing in 5:03:51, good for 12th place overall and 11th male.
The post-race lounging was a great time. There was good BBQ, hanging with VHTRC and Lynchburg friends, and watching runners come in while looking out onto a mountainous backdrop on a beautiful day. You really can’t ask for anything more…