Sunday, October 17, 2010

Race Recap: New River Trail 50k

Near the start/finish line
A Cult Classic
Last Saturday I was joined by fellow DARTers Bobby and Jeremy for the third occasion of the New River Trail 50k in Fries, VA.  While no strangers to marathons and ultras, this was their first time for this particular race.  I've run it since its inception and quite frankly it's my favorite 50k.  Race director and ultrarunner Annette Bednosky and her fine crew of volunteers put on a solid yet low-key event and the weather's always been ideal.  This year was no exception with the starting temp around forty degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  While still a little early, leaves were beginning to change on the trees.

Philosophy in Action
It's not often that pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus gets mentioned in blogs about running, but in this case it seems appropriate.  Heraclitus is known for his summation of the universe in that the only thing that's constant is change.  Put more imaginatively, "You cannot step in the same river twice."  My plan for this year's New River Trail 50k was to disprove Heraclitus in that I pretty much wanted to duplicate 2009's results in both finish time and exertion.  Last year my time was 4:23:28 and I would have been happy to be close to that this time around.  Last year I started out conservatively and slowly upped my average pace in order to have some energy left over for the last half and that was my plan for this year.

Bobby and Jeremy are both established runners and are faster than me, so I wasn't worried about them even though Bobby was nursing a foot injury and Jeremy was coming off a flu-like virus.  They lined up near the front of the pack while I found a comfortable spot in the middle.

Paint By Numbers
The race traverses along a rails-to-trails section of the New River and Chestnut Creek between Fries and Galax, VA and was characterized by a wide, hard-packed dirt road.  There were several small trestles, one long trestle, and a short but dark train tunnel that made the scenery all the more interesting.  While the elevation change was negligible overall, there were certain advantages to be made on the latter half of the run, specifically miles 16-26, which were gently down river.

First half slightly upriver, second half down river (elev. in green)
Smack dab in the middle of the New River Trail State Park
The race was relatively uneventful for me - one foot in front of the other, left/right/repeat.  While I'm used to seeing runners of both genders stepping off the course and relieving themselves, they usually hide well enough to leave something to the imagination.  One female runner, I'll call her Fanny, apparently couldn't hold it in and treated me to a full moon about five feet off the trail in broad daylight.  She pretended I wasn't there and vice versa.  Chin up, eyes forward.

My average per mile was significantly better than last year's though I didn't feel that I was putting in any extra effort.  So my casual goal of getting under 4:20 looked reachable.

Both years trend similarly
As with most ultras the finish was anticlimactic, as there was a span of several minutes between the finishers in front and behind me.  Some nice cheering by the event staff and a high-five from Annette and my race was done.  I looked at my watch and discovered that not only had I beaten last year's time but also dipped well below 4:20, finishing in 4:12:18, which was a new 50k P.R.

Heraclitus was right after all; I didn't have the same race as last year (fortunately it was better).  What was different this time around?  After the race I sat in the New River to soak my legs in the cool waters like I did last year and gave it some thought.  I decided that the only difference was that I've become a better runner over the course of a year and thus was able to maintain a faster pace.
(l to r) Jeremy Alsop, Bobby Aswell, and me at the finish 
Annette Bednosky and me at the finish
Chad R.
Davidson Area Running Team

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