Saturday, June 23, 2012

Eastern Divide 50k

I love the mountains... In fact, I adore the mountains... but I generally don't love to run UP them. Today at the Eastern Divide 50k I conquered the mountains for the first time...
Eastern Divide 50k elevation profile (click to enlarge)

This is the first year for the race, and when I first heard about it, I knew I HAD to run it. Located just outside of Blacksburg, it was on my "home" turf and it was also in part put on by TriAdventure, the team I used to coach for! However, having been living in Virginia Beach for the past 2 months, training on hills for this race just did not happen. I knew it was going to be a challenging day.

I'm happy to say that everything went according to plan and I raced strong given the course and the warm temperatures. My nutrition plan worked out perfectly and I know it contributed to optimizing my performance. The start of the race was at the Cascades, popularly known for the amazing waterfall about 2 miles up the trail. Luckily I've hiked to this waterfall many times before as I only saw it for a mere 2 seconds today:

Me, Kenya and the Cascades waterfall (2010)
But first, I regress, let me start from the beginning:

Pre-race...On the right: TriAdventure had 5 ladies complete the 50k and Anne Thompson, coach, was also the race director!

I picked up a new TriAdventure jersey the night before the race and can say I was so proud to represent the team during the race. Many of the volunteers which are the lifeblood of any event were part of the TriAdventure community, and sharing the experience of completing this race with Kim, Teresa, Rachel and Chitra was motivating and made the race extra special! Race morning everything went smoothly getting to the race start and I was pretty relaxed. I did warm-up for about a mile prior to the start knowing my legs would need some blood flowing prior to climbing. We wished each other luck and anxiously waiting for the start.

I started out relaxed and in third place, but quickly lost track of the first two girls. I was able to make it to the waterfall (2 miles) before I walked for the first time. After that point I walked much more than I had planned or care to admit.  Then again, I was towards the front of the pack and most people around me were also walking, so I don't really feel too bad. I knew I was losing precious ground on the first two runners, but chose to conserve my energy for later in the race. By the first aid station I was the 5th place female but not by much. I didn't need anything so I kept slogging along up the hill. In all, it took me 54 minutes of climbing to summit the mountain (~ 5.5 miles).

The next section was somewhat technical but mostly downhill. I really picked up the pace, moved back up to the 3rd female position and started chasing down some guys! I struggled some with the sun shining in and out of the trees as it made it difficult to see the trail and I was afraid I was going to twist my ankle. Miles 8 though 16 featured a beautiful section of fire road along the ridge of the mountain. I am really proud of this section because I chose to focus on my strengths by pushing the pace knowing that the flat(ter) sections would make my race. I knew I would likely spend the rest of the race chasing the 2nd place girl as I could sense she was far ahead, so I kept pushing. Never, ever give up! It was still early in the race and I knew anything could happen.

The next challenge was a 1.6 mile climb up to aid station 4 (mile 18). Again, I slogged my way up the mountain. I was motivated though because I knew my dad was waiting at the top! Hooray for dad! He met me at the aid station and I was never so happy to have him by my side. Aid station 4 featured the drop bags so I refilled my bottle and grabbed more fuel. One volunteer was so nice and squeezed a wet cloth over me as I worked. Volunteers are AWESOME!

It was 4.2 miles to aid station 5, and while I thought I ran decently fast during this section, we really only averaged 10 min pace. It was one of the easier sections of the race, but I was starting to feel the mileage and my right calf started to seize up on me a bit despite my pushing the fluids and electrolytes. After aid station 5 (mile 22) we entered the forest trails surrounding Mountain Lake. I have never run these trails before so I did not know what to expect (at this point I'm glad I did not as it was the most challenging section for me). I felt good early on and left dad behind, but that did not last long. At the start of the rolling hills I began to struggle big time. I was glad dad had my back because I was feeling lightheaded and he kept me moving forward. The heat was taking its toll, so I just focused on one mile at a time. One point featured a very steep, technical climb which ended in a sunny meadow with really high grass. It reminded me of crewing Jordan at Mountain Masochist and Hellgate in the past and I finally (truly) understood how he feels during these races. After what felt like forever, I FINALLY reached aid station 6 and to be honest, was quite grumpy! This was my least favorite section for certain... 4 miles to go...

After aid station 6 was another climb through the sunny meadow. At the top we re-entered the forest and I dreaded the sight of it. Luckily, I caught a second wind and was more than ready to get the race over with! I left dad behind on a technical downhill (a strong point of mine thanks to many years of crewing Jordan at ultras) but I knew he was ok with that. He ran back to the finish while I did the final two mile loop. With a 1 mile to go I was feeling great again and a wave of emotion swept over me - I  was overjoyed yet found myself choking up a bit. These races are mentally, physically and emotionally draining! I approached the finish line strong, proud and more than happy with my performance:

"Finally this thing is over!"
My final finishing time was 5:12, 3rd place female and 18th overall in a field of 200. Hill running is not my strong point and training for this on the flatlands of Virginia Beach certainly did not help. The lung capacity to go faster was there but my legs just didn't have the strength to push the hills any harder. In the past, this sort of course would have broken me mentally pretty early, yet I focused on my strengths and persevered over the terrain - a definite sign I have matured as a runner! Better yet, I even had some fun in the process!

Special thanks to Anne Thompson- for all of her hard work in directing the race and for encouraging me to do this when I wasn't sure about it. To my dad, who has been such a huge help all weekend and pushed me through the roughest portion of my race! To my husband- though he could not be there I know he was cheering me on from afar! And finally- to the many, many volunteers that worked tirelessly through the day- thank you for all that you did!
L to R: with Heather (former VT Tri teammate and today's 1st place female); with Dad; with Anne
Finally, I leave you one final picture. Blacksburg, SW VA mountains and friends, I will miss you dearly!!!

Nutrition: Expresso hammer gels x 3, cherry shot bloks x 2pkg, beet juice, 4 hand bottles h20 +nuun, endurolytes
Weather: 60-75 degrees, 50-90% humidity


  1. Great job and fun read. Your grit and positive attitude combined with your running talent are a winning combination!! You did your homework and prepared well too. That was some tough terrain, but you are TOUGHER!

  2. Thanks Cortney! Most major goal for the year is to work on the mental component of running...I'm getting there!

  3. Great race Kristen! Loved your blog about your race experience. It helped me to understand how you felt along the way and your jubilation with such a great race and finish even though I wasn't there. Love Ya! Mom

  4. Big achievement, Kristen! Really enjoyed the race recap. Hope the recovery goes well... Congrats!

  5. Kristen, you are awesome and we were so happy to have you back out there running with us again, even if just for a little while! You have been running great, and I am so happy you have had a good year, and especially a great performance here in the EDU!

  6. Wow- awesome job!! I have never attempted a 50k, but would love to someday... that course is intense! Thanks for stopping by my blog and entering the giveaway- I'm glad to connect with you. I'm all about real food and endurance activities, too. :)

  7. @Laura- thanks for stopping by!

  8. I am so proud of you. You were fantastic on such a challenging course and a warm day. Congratulations on your performance. Thanks for inviting me to accompany you and to help crew you. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it and the experience even though I don't normally like running on such difficult and extremely challenging trails but I am glad that I did. Looking forward to your next great adventure and being there to give you whatever support you need.


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