Monday, September 5, 2011

Ring Redo 2011

This past weekend I made the pilgrimage to Front Royal, Virginia to take part in The Ring. As some of you  may know, there was a bit of drama associated with my first attempt at The Ring in 2010. (That report can be read here.) After my DQ last year, I was very determined to clean the slate.

The weekend started early on Thursday evening when Jim H. and his cousin Tim K stopped by to pick me up in route to Virginia. We picked up another NEOTC hitch-hiker, Kimba, in New Stanton and arrived at Portebello at around 10:00PM. We settled in and were about to hit the hay when Q, the co-race director of the Ring, showed up. The party started back up again and we got to bed around 3:30. We got up late and Q lead us on a 20-mile run on Dickey Ridge which runs parallel to the eastern ridge of the trail where we'd be running the Ring on Saturday. It was a great run and we got to see some cool wildlife on very tame single track.

Owl we spotted on Dickey Ridge.
Wonder what kind it is?
(Thanks to Q for this picture)

After our Ring-warm-up run, we bummed around the pool and relaxed till the rest of the VHTRC folks showed up. We actually got to bed before midnight which was a bit disappointing to me. I've never gone to bed the night before a VHTRC event before: I've always gone to bed the morning of the event.

Race morning dawned very humid and the temperature was expected to break into the 90's during the day. Having run 20 miles the day before, and expecting very challenging weather, the race presented a great opportunity to better understand my body's potential in less than perfect conditions. I formed a race plan that I thought would best fit the hot weather and make finishing a realistic/eventual outcome. My plan was to run only on the downhills during the heat of the day and walk all the flat and uphill sections. When the sun got low and temperatures dropped I'd start running and see if I could make-up any ground on the competition.

I started out very conservative and at about 13 miles into the run I hooked up with Vicky K. Vicky is a club legend and so I tried to talk little and listen much as she relayed stories of the trails she'd run and places she'd been. Vicky and I worked together through several challenging sections of the trail. It was nice to have some company to take my mind off the really hot, sticky, and breeze-less atmosphere of mid-day. At the base of Waterfall mountain we met up with Steve C. who was seeing the trail for the first time. The three of us climbed the steep grade from the base at Dry Run up to the aid station at Crisman Hollow road. The climb was very difficult. It's truly a chin scraper of a climb and if you stop to take a break you have to keep one foot back to brace you so you don't fall backward down the hill.

At this point we were about halfway though the run and making the climb in the mid afternoon swelter had overheated my engine a bit. I took a few extra minutes to put some ice cold water on my neck and cool down in the aid station while Vicky and Steve moved along down the trail. Keith M was running this aid station; he was the third person who missed the turn at the Strasburg Reservoir last year. He, Jim and I are known as "The Reservoir Three" and we've all taken some good natured ribbing over the last year about it. It was good to see him and have a few laughs with him and his fellow aid station workers before taking on the rocks of Kerns Mountain.

I caught back up with Vicky and Steve on the ridge of Kerns Mountain and shared trail with them until we got to the descent to Moreland Gap aid station. When I got to the aid station there were other runners who had gone out faster and had been ahead all day. The weather was starting to exact its toll. The starting field of 34 was being thinned by the hot weather.

Gary K and his grandsons help me with my drop bag at Moreland AS.
Brennan W is on the right working on his feet. He would eventually drop with foot issues.
(Photo from Q's Flicker page)

Leaving Moreland Gap, I started into the 8 mile long Short Mountain section of the course. As the sun was setting I caught up to the third place runner, Kerry B. We covered the second half of the section together  and we discussed what the rest of the course involved. She was particularly interested in where I had gotten off track at the Reservoir last year. After the fireworks of last year, no one wanted to make the same mistake.

As we left the aid station Bur told me the next runner had a 30 minute lead, so in my mind I resolved that I'd not be able to catch any more runners before the finish. Kerry and I left the Edinburg aid station together and got separated as we made the climb up Powels Mountain. As I reached to top of the climb my flashlight flashed over a piece of reflective piping typically found on clothing and gear to add visibility to runners at night. As I got closer to the reflective spot I realized that it was a runner lying on his back on a rock. It's not uncommon for ultra runners to take naps on the trail if the sleep monster shows up. I checked to make sure he was not injured and gave him a couple Hershey-mini's (one of my trail favorites) and a trash bag to keep warm in while he napped. The runner turned out to be David P and it would end up taking him many hours to complete that trail section. He would go from second place to last place before he reached the aid station at Woodstock gap. [Edit: The official results indicate that David went from 1st to 11th overall. He still had two runners behind him when he pulled out.]

I would run the last 20 miles of the course alone and work from aid station to aid station till the finish. The rest of the race went by very uneventfully. I was very careful at the Reservoir and Lookout sections on Signal Knob where I had gotten off course last year. I finished the race in second place overall and no worse for the wear. I learned that even in hot nasty weather, a strategy consistent with the conditions can get you through easily and uneventfully. I got my asterisk removed and am officially a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, which is what official finishers of The Ring are considered.

This year we were very fortunate to have John S and Stephanie D hosting a finish line recovery station with hot food and fluids for the finishers. They threw quite a party for runners and the volunteers. After a short nap, I found a place to sit and watch a very small group of hardy souls finish. Overall this once again proves to be a great event hosted by a very generous and gracious group of people. Thanks so much to Q and Bur and all of the folks involved at the event this year for throwing a really great party on the Massanutten rocks.

The finishline recovery station. Professor Bur lecturing
winner Randi B (seated foreground right, blue chair).
Randi's wife Kerry (center rear) was the first female
 and third overall.

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