2008-01-01 - Red Eye 50k

31+ miles @ ~15 min/mi


New Year's Day finds me jogging and walking along some beautiful terrain in Prince William Forest Park; I would run there every day if it weren't 50 miles from home. Today's race [1] is another VHTRC "Fat Ass" event, free and with no prizes. After a 1-mile circuit the course repeats a 10-mile loop three times, beginning and ending at the Turkey Run Education Center (TREC). Black blazes mark the Turkey Run Ridge Trail, which leads to the South Fork Quantico Creek where the white-blazed South Valley Trail wends its way upstream for 4-5 miles. A gravel road then climbs to the unmanned aid station near the paved Scenic Drive, which in turn takes runners to yellow-blazed Oak Ridge Trail and then the gravel Old Black Top Road back to TREC. A major start/finish aid station is thus seen at miles 1, 11, 21, and the finish.

Today is a day of sounds: wind in the treetops as the cold front comes through, half-blown-down trees creaking against their neighbors as they prepare to finish falling, water in the streams splashing as it flows over rocks, and so forth. The weather is cool, near freezing when we start at 7:30am, half an hour before the "official" time. No worries --- we can do whatever we want!

Race founder Bill Sublett leads Lou Jones and me along the 1-mile prelude in about 15 minutes. He gets us a couple of miles into the main loop before trotting on ahead. Lou and I chat as we journey. Some decades ago he worked in the field of geodesy, the science of the Earth's shape. So we have what perhaps is one of the strangest conversations to be held in the woods, concerning ellipsoidal figures of equilibrium, spherical harmonics, the Chandler wobble of the Earth's axis, etc. Neat-o! Lou has run some hundred-milers and I ask him about his experiences in training for them.

I carry two bottles of electrolyte drink, and share energy gels and electrolyte capsules with Lou. Near mile 10 we join up with a couple of other runners who tell us funny stories; one says he is famous for his recipe for inducing vomiting: wash down a gel packet with a fizzy coke. We finish our first loop together at ~16 min/mi pace (in 2:42), and after refueling and reentering the forest I trot on ahead of Lou. My second lap is uneventful until near its end when a blazingly fast runner comes up behind me and passes me. It's Howard Nippert, legendary ultramarathoner! He's 10 full miles ahead of me, and wins the race in 4:38. He's also friendly and helpful; I chat with him when I arrive at the aid station (my second loop takes 2:28). Race Director Gary Knipling takes our photo with my cellphone camera. Then it's onward for me again, into my last 10 mile loop.

Ooof! is the sound I make at my first and only major stumble, near mile 28. I trip on a rock and land flat on my chest, knocking the wind out of me and scraping arms and knees. Fortunately I fall onto a smooth patch of dirt; my face and other unimportant body parts aren't injured. The last circuit takes me 2:29 and so my total time is 7:54 — 12th place! That accomplishment is put in proper perspective, however, by the fact that there are only 13 finishers of the 50k. (Roughly 33 runners do shorter distances.) Bill Sublett is 9 minutes ahead of me, and Lou Jones comes in somewhat later. I'm lucky that there weren't more aid stations, since I spend 5-10 minutes in each one that I encounter. A few photos from the race are posted on [2]; the official results are at [3].

Overall the Red Eye 50k is a wonderful experience for me. Many thanks to all the organizers and volunteers who helped make it happen!