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2008 Terrapin Mountain Marathon Race Report

By hagrin - Posted on 01 August 2008

The title of this post is a little misleading. The title may say marathon, but the 1st annual Terrapin Mountain Marathon was more like a 27 mile adventure race with some running mixed in. In short, I knew that the elevation changes would be difficult for this Long Islander who has trouble simulating such drastic elevation changes while running around flat Long Island, but the race was highly rewarding and finishing my first true mountain race is a highlight in my early ultrarunning career.

Yet again, for my second Horton run, transportation proved to be difficult. Having to work until 3:30pm on Friday afternoon, I headed immediately down to Big Island, Virginia and the drive was brutal. Nine hours later, I was pulling into the parking lot at the Sedalia Center at 12:30am only 6.5 hours until race start. I got out of the car and walked around some to familiarize myself with the Center's surroundings and to stretch my legs and then went to sleep in the reclined front seat of my tiny Corolla. No sooner did I close my eyes, I started to hear sounds of car doors being shut and checked my phone - 5:45am. I quickly got dressed, checked in and no sooner than I could wipe the crust out of my eyes, Race Director Clark Zealand was on his microphone giving us the pre-race speech. One tidbit during this meeting that I wasn't aware of (maybe I should have read more about the race before driving down) was that you would need to obtain a page from 2 separate books - the first one being at the "Summit" and another one later in the race. Silly New Yorker that I am, I assumed the Summit would be the top of the first large climb we finished (not the case). Before I came to the realization that I should get some more information on the course, 7am rolled around and we were off running. Notice, I haven't eaten breakfast - huge oversight and mistake.

2008 Terrapin Mountain Marathon Elevation Map

First ~5 Miles
For this inexperienced mountain runner, this section of the race, especially right at the start, was brutal and demoralizing. My goal for this race was to power walk the inclines, run the downhills that were runnable as fast as I could and blast through any flat sections. However, it seemed as if I was the weakest hill climber in the entire group and almost immediately found myself at the very back of the pack. At one point, there was a runner without a race number behind me and I asked him if he was sweeping thinking I was dead last. He laughed and stated that there were "plenty of runners behind us" which was an outright lie. My Achilles heels were both burning whenever I tried to pick up the pace and ended up settling for just trying to power through this section knowing that the course gets a little easier later on. By the time I hit the 4.9 mile aid station, I had to have been near dead last - a position I had never been in before and was quite an issue to process in my head. I ate a little something still not remembering I forgot breakfast and continued out.

Miles ~5 - ~9
I get about 1000 yards and stop dead in my tracks. Was that the Summit? Did I need to get a page from a book? I let two runners catch up to me to ask them if I needed to get a book page there and they looked at me as if I was clueless (which I was) and said no. So, back to running. The course gets much easier during this section and I really used this section to mainly recover mentally and to try and readjust my entire outlook on this race. I went in wanting to run a 6 hour race and now I just wanted to finish as far away from the bottom as possible. This section of the course is very runnable although I was still recovering from the previous section. Nothing very notable in this section to be honest.

Miles ~9 - ~13 (The Turnaround)
This is where the race got very interesting for me. There were some good flats and some downhills and I was able to pass a few runners during this section. The first part of the section is a wonderful grass wide trail that felt so perfect to run on that I really enjoyed this section. However, right around the 11.5 mile mark, you enter a very narrow single track dirt trail with a very steep incline. Here, I lost all the ground I made on the back of the pack in about a mile and everything that could go wrong went very wrong. I suddenly started to get extremely hungry and realized I hadn't eaten anything. I then had to go to the bathroom - the complicated end. Then, I realized "where did the pink trail markings go?". All in all, I lost about 10-15 minutes in stops and turnarounds and finally made it into the last aid station where the volunteers there (who doubled as the sweeps) stated "these are the runners we'll be following".

That's right - they announced me dead last. (although I think I was actually third to last and the sweep was wrong).

Miles ~13 - ~17
Metaphorically, this was my "turnaround". I finally came to accept my dead last position and set my sights on catching as many people as possible. I started out the turnaround aid station trailing the runner in front of me by only a few steps. I kept pace with her until a slight water crossing where she stepped around and I plowed right through the water and mud - yet another metaphor which boosted my spirits. As quickly as I passed the last female, I took my first "ultra" fall tripping over a grass covered rock. Luckily, it wasn't too bad and no one was around to laugh (the only good thing about being almost last) and quickly set out to finish getting up the steep uphill single track and then hopefully to catch some runners on the flats and downhills. Once I got out to the wide grass covered trail, I was able to cruise the downhills and pass another 3 runners, but they were able to keep up pretty close through this entire section and up until the aid station. During the last part of this section, I started to cramp badly in my right leg when I tried to run the downhills hard so I knew I needed more salt which I got in the form of a salt covered potato. At the aid station they pointed up a huge hill we hadn't run before and let me know that up yonder was where I was headed.

Miles ~17 - ~21
I'm not even too sure about where in the course I was at this point mileage wise. Right out of the aid station, you run/walk up a very steep single track up to the "Summit". Here, I found myself completely alone and I basically would stay like this after I reached the Summit book location (where there were no more pages and I got a rip of the front cover) until the out and back to the last aid station 4 miles later. After the Summit, you arrive at "Fat Man's Misery" - a rock formation that requires you to carefully slide down about 6-8 feet through a narrow crevice and duck underneath a low hanging rock followed by climbing through another rock formation making this more of an adventure race than a "run". From here, the course becomes a downhill run with a nice gentle single track at first which is pretty runnable, but then turns into rock hell which was too technical for me to make any type of decent time down and I assume better trail runners would cruise through this section. Eventually, the single track opens up and you run your way down to the aid station which is a slight out and back where I finally saw a handful of runners walking up the trail after having just left the aid station. I figured I was a good 10-15 minutes behind them.

Miles ~21 - The End
As I was leaving the aid station, I was surprised to see all the runners I thought I had distanced myself from right behind me coming into the aid station as I was just leaving. This was slightly disheartening as I knew there was at least one more big climb left and I assumed all of these runners would catch and pass me. I did my best to power walk the inclines and no sooner did I finish the climbs, I was presented with a lot of gentle zig-zagging downhills which I made sure to take advantage of and I ended up running this section, again, completely by myself never seeing another runner (so the last 9 miles I only saw other runners for a few brief moments). I wanted to make sure there was no way any of the runners behind me could pass me so I took advantage of the downhills. As I finally made my way out the seemingly endless wilderness onto the roads where we started the race, I cruised into the finish line running a very slow 7:34. My only solace was that after the last aid station I was able to put 11-15 minutes between myself and the runners that I saw at the last aid station and I was able to basically keep pace with the runners who finished ahead of me. All in all, a successful race as I'll take the humility the mountains gave me and the lessons of running near dead last with me to my training.

How to Prepare for this Race
I always want to give readers of my race reports the details on how to prepare for a race so here's some things to do to successfully run the Terrapin Mountain Marathon.

* You must carry water with you on this race. Some courses are forgiving enough that you can run naked and just use the aid stations, but this is not one of them. I carried one 12oz. water bottle and was very nearly near empty by the time I rolled into each aid station.
* Shoe Choice - I wore North Face Anuva 50s which I love because I have lace issues almost every race (my big feet like to step on my own laces constantly or my feet swell and the laces get too tight). These shoes faired well on this course; however, I would suggest making sure you wear a padded/thicker shoe for the jagged rocky sections of this race. While my feet don't hurt too badly now, I was definitely slowed down by the bruising on the bottoms of my feet.
* Make sure you bring your own breakfast - there may have been food there in the morning, but I didn't see any so make sure you bring your own breakfast.
* No headlamp needed - it's bright enough around the Center that you don't need any lighting really.
* Clark mentions that you need to wear a left handed glove for Fat Man's Misery. I say there's no chance for the Best Blood award if you do.