2010-08-27 - Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness

~33 miles @ ~17 min/mi

At about 4:00am, on a muddy trail in a West Virginia forest, Carolyn Gernand runs past me. "I don't think we're going to make the next cutoff," I say, sadly.

"Shut up!" is Carolyn's instant reply. She stays positive. The glow of her flashlight soon vanishes and I'm left alone in the woods at night.

Madness is the watchword for an all-night run over the mountains of West Virginia. The drive to the 4-H camp near Beverly WV is ~200 miles each way, and since comrade Kate is recovering from injury I make it solo, leaving work early on Friday afternoon and arriving a couple of hours before sundown. The highway system is a patchwork of freeways, segments named after Senator Robert Byrd that abruptly end in narrow country roads. Small towns provide traffic jams. I see only one Confederate flag but plenty of phalanxes of motorcycles, cute churches, forested hills, and rocky ridges.

To avoid intestinal distress during the evening odyssey I eat cautiously during the day. At the Front Royal exit from I-66 I pause to get gas and also purchase a half-pound bag of crunchy Cheetos and a liter of Dr. Pepper. They're my dinner: I nibble and sip along the way. The salty greasy low-fiber high-caffeine diet is the perfect fuel.

The "Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness" 50 miler for me is a training run, to see how it feels to run through the night. It's an extension of the five hour experiment (cf. 2010-08-14 - Night Run - Karen's Loop) that Karen Taber and I did a fortnight ago. I arrive and park the MINI Cooper in a grassy meadow with the other runners' vehicles. Next to me is Tim Gavin, race director of the HAT Run. We chat and discuss future events. At check-in I find Karen and meet her husband Darryl. They arrive early on Friday and set up a tent at the nearby camping area, where Karen naps a bit. Comrade Carolyn Gernand arrives later, and I make introductions. At 9pm we set off, Karen and Carolyn with me at the back of the pack.

The CMMM course is two-thirds country road, mostly packed dirt, and one-third single-track trail. The roads for the first half of the event climb, often steeply, from the valley to the ridge line that forms Cheat Mountain. I manage to make ~14 min/mi for the first dozen miles and leave Carolyn and Karen behind.

But then comes the first trail segment, and that's when I discover what will prove my downfall: the ground is uneven, a narrow rutted path between ferns, frequently interrupted by roots and muddy bogs. I don't dare run, lest I fall, and so am reduced to speed-hiking. I make occasional pauses to locate blazes (blue metal diamonds) and course markers (retroreflective strips dangling from ribbons tied to branches). My pace is 20-25 min/mi—far too slow!

Half a mile into the woods after Aid Station #2, suddenly I hear a noise behind me. It's Karen! She is amazingly fast on the trail, and after a brief chat runs ahead out of sight. I continue to trek along, slip-sliding in the muck and washing my shoes off during shallow stream crossings. How can there be so much water at the top of a mountain after several days without rain?

After ~4 miles the trail emerges onto road and I can run again. Aid station volunteers are friendly and helpful. After a mile I'm back in the woods and have to revert to a crawl. Carolyn catches up and passes me. The first official cutoff, AS #4 = mile 23.2, is 6.5 hours = 3:30am. I make it with ~5 minutes to spare; Karen and Carolyn are there shortly ahead of me, just leaving as I arrive. I hasten through and pass them on the road, but in the next forest segment Karen sails by me, followed soon by Carolyn.

Continuing by myself I slip several times, bang my left shin on a log, and at mile ~29, fall on my back. A step on a wet mossy rock betrays me and my other foot lands in a hole during the recovery attempt. Fortunately there's no major damage, just a couple of small scrapes. But alas, my cutoff prediction proves right: at AS#6 = mile 33.3 Carolyn is ~10 minutes late, and I'm another ~10 minutes behind her. Karen, however, makes it here with a couple of minutes to spare—yay! Her husband Darryl gives me the good news and offers me a ride back to the start. We pick up Carolyn who is hiking along the road, and arrive back at the 4-H campground about 8am.

I feel alert and foolishly decide to drink some coffee but skip the 10am breakfast/award ceremony. During the trip home I get sleepy every hour and pull off the highway to take a 10-15 minute nap. I arrive safely by early afternoon. Later I learn the Really Good News: Karen Taber runs the last ~17 miles and makes the final 13 hour finish-line cutoff with 2.5 minutes to spare. Hooray!

Bottom line: the experiment in running all night goes well. I feel fine mentally, though my peripheral vision keeps glimpsing cabins, mailboxes, etc. in the woods where there's nothing. No drama—that's good.

^z - 2010-09-10