This past weekend I ran in the Bel Monte 50 Miler in Sherando Lake, VA. It is known as a rather difficult course with a lot of climbing and a good mix of trail from very rocky/technical to runnable jeep roads. I decided to run this race last minute, as the timing of this race did not fit very well into my schedule, but I really wanted to get some time out in the mountains to help prepare for MMT in May. My legs were a little tired from the heavy training/racing I have been doing, but I still felt pretty good.
On race morning, Anne and the boys drove me to the start and then went back to the hotel to get some additional rest. As we waited for the race to start I found Brad, who was running and would win the 50K, at the front of the start line. I knew that one really fast runner, Mark Lundblad, would be running and also found out that another very good runner, Brian Rusiecki from Massachusetts was running. My plan was to start conservatively and if I felt good start pushing later in the race; finish in under 8 hours and hopefully compete with Mark and Brian. This plan would not pan out...
As we started out into the early morning twilight, I was running with a group of runners behind Mark and Brian that included Brad and Amy Lane, Brian's girlfriend who is also a very accomplished runner and would win the women's 50k. Within the first mile I took my first fall. It wasn't that bad and I was able to crack a joke about it and keep moving. This was my first race wearing Montrail's Rouge Racers, which provide more comfort than my normal MT 101s, they do not allow me feel the ground the same way, so I think I had not yet adapted to running in this shoe. Everything was going well through our first climb up Bald Mountain. I was still running with Brad, the sun was coming up and I was only a couple minutes behind the leaders. As we began descending Bald Mountain we hit a very rocky section of a pseudo jeep road. This is where I would fall a second time and it would not be as pleasant as the first. I hit both my knees on the rocks and then rolled several feet down the trail. I popped up and kept moving; deciding to assess things as I moved along. I had several cuts and quite a bit of knee pain. I decided to calm down, slow down and just keep moving to get through it.
I felt really bad for about the next 2+ hours. There was a very good runnable section of the course and I was able to run, but my knee was not letting me get into a good rhythm and I was moving much slower than I would like. One thing I have learned is that if you just keep moving, no matter how slow, things eventually do get better. As I was climbing Bald Mountain the second time I saw Mark and Brian coming back down and looking strong, running neck and neck. At this point I was at least 30 minutes back and knew that with my banged up knee there was no way I was going to be able to gain any ground.
Coming down Bald Mountain I started feeling better and was running along and just enjoying the beautiful course. At this point, I had quite trying to push myself and just focus on enjoying the day. As I came in to an aid station around mile 37 the volunteers told me how good I looked and I was only about 15 minutes back from the guy in 3rd. However, I had to climb Bald again and knew I would have to hike as my knee was throbbing at this point. Despite the pain the rest of the run was rather enjoyable and I was able to really take in the scenery and the views, which you don't appreciate as much when you are racing.
I made it to the finish line in a little over 8 and half hours. Slower than I had wanted to run, but still considered a good time on this course. My muscles felt pretty good after the race, but my knees, back and elbow were pretty beat up. I had multiple bruises and cuts and it took a few days for my knees to start feeling "normal" again. It was a good experience though. Last year I am not sure I could have dealt with the adversity and the extremely low points I went through in this race and I am glad that I stuck it out. I feel much better prepared from a mental standpoint for running 100 miles.
One final note - Bel Monte is a great race. The course is challenging and very scenic, and Gill and Francesca keep things well organized. Gill was on the course throughout the day and was there to shake your hand at the finish line. The aid stations were fully stocked and the volunteers were attentive and supportive. I may come back to run UROC (they are putting it on in September); it looks like it is going to be one of the most competitive races of the year.