Friday, November 21, 2008

Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 Miler (8/22-23/08)

"Cheat" was a fun, end-of-summer roadtrip for our trail Dawg contingent. The concept: drive out to West Virginia on Friday afternoon, have a nice group dinner, pick up our registration materials, and -- starting at 9 pm -- run around in the dark, climbing up onto and around a big West Virginia mountain, via trails and dirt roads, for 50 miles. The ladies: Margie, Laurie, and Brigitte (doing her first 50 miler). The guys: Angus, "Reading Dave," Greg (doing his first 50 miler, too), Hunt, Phat Phil, and Gerard. Also there were Baltimore Dawg Alberto, and Laurie's Lehigh Valley running pal Bud.

This was a first-time event organized by the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners. The race organizers had a 4-H camp arranged as the headquarters -- very convenient. After registration, and some time to chill out on the lawn, we gathered just before 9 pm for the national anthem (sung, I think, by the RD's wife, assisted by the crowd), and we were off into the night!

The beginning of the course follows roads, first paved, then dirt, climbing up onto the mountain, about 1700 ft up in the first 9 miles. It seemed to me that the crowd was going out pretty fast, so I opted to plod along at an enjoyable pace, running with fellow Dawg Phil Nissen. The roads leveled out a little after nine miles, so we were able to jog along and have a nice conversation.

After about 13 miles, the race course turns off onto some trail. At this point, we were up on a plateau, with the big climbs out of the way. But, this was not just trail. It was serious trail -- rocky, boggy, overgown, mossy, misty, hard-to-follow, and -- did I mention -- rocky? Incredibly beautiful -- at least within the narrow, 4-foot swath of our headlamp beams -- but incredibly challenging, requiring real concentration. I think our conversation slowed down a little there. When we entered the woods, there was a lone runner in front of us. We stayed behind him for a while, then caught him and chatted a bit -- as the trail became harder and harder. We figured he might want to stay with us, rather than run this tough stuff alone in the dark, but he showed no real sign of interest, so we moved on.

From what I have read, Cheat Mountain is one of those high Allegheny plateaus that occur in a few places in West Virginia that has a winter climate somewhat like northern New York or even eastern Canada. A good size river, Shavers Fork, runs along the top of the plateau, something like 2500 feet higher than the next river to the west, in the valley where we started the race. The climate and geology are apparently what gives Cheat Mountain its unique look. We were up and down small, steep, roller-coaster hills. The trails alternated between rocky and boggy, with a lot of mucky poorly drained areas. The vegetation was awesome, with the trails so overgrain by small bushy red spruce trees that it was hard to see the way ahead -- and the trail footing so overgrown with ferns that it was ofeten nearly impossible to see if you were going to step on a rock or in mud. This would be a challenge in the daylight -- at night, it was a true adventure!

Anyhow, Phil and I made our way along the Yokum, Turkey, and Crouch Trails -- and, after a short stretch downhill on an old road, were at the first backwoods aid station along Shaver's Run (Aid #3, 17.7 miles). The people there were really nice. Phil and I knew we were running a bit slow, especially with the tough trails -- and that there was a very aggressive cutoff time at the next aid station, the 23.2 milepoint by the 6 hour mark. We told our worries to the RD's buddy running the station, who assured us that we shouldn't sweat it, that they'd likely be flexible on cut-off at the checkpoint if we were close (as you might expect, this being being a first-time event, and all, so time actually required not yet firmly established).

So, off we went, downstream along Shavers Run for a bit, then up, up, up across the rocky Whitmeadow Trail. Amongst the running, there was a lot of walking here. Where the trail conditions permitted, we tried to get as good a pace going to make up a bit of time -- with the cut-off lurking ahead of us. A couple of miles before Aid #4, it dawned on us that we might not make it by cut-off time. Phil told me that I should feel free to go ahead and try to make it, if I thought I could, so I was off. The trail got better, little by little, and I got into a thythm, running faster, little by little. By the time I hit the last stretch of rad to the AS, I was flying (for me), running I'm sure at my 800 m repeat pace at Tuesday track workouts (8 min miles). As I rolled into the aid station, I knew I was just over the cut-off time, but figured I was close and running strong so would be safe. Six hours, three minutes. Three minutes, cool, right? Wrong. Race over. And, frankly, rudely handled (in contrast to the folks at AS 1, 2, and 3 who were awesome).

I stomped off across the road, full of adrenaline from my sprint to the AS, into the woods, had a (hopefully private) personal tantrum, pitching my water bottles, cursing a string of unpleasantries under my breath, as Brigitte and Margie tried to say hi as they headed off from their break at this AS (they came in just before me). After cooling off, I waited for Phil to come in, who arrived maybe 5 minutes later. He was also pulled (as were maybe a half dozen or maybe 10 people after us?). So, what to do? Wait for a ride back after only 23 miles of running? Naw, screw it -- we decided to run back to the start. So, we had a very pleasant 17 mile jog (and hike) back to the start, chatting all the way, running along the mountaintop in the moonlight, watching the woods get brighter and brighter as we ran down the same 1700 ft we had come up. A nice cool morning greeted us as we ran by small farms with cows, barking dogs, crowing roosters, mist over their ponds. We rolled back into the 4-H camp at 7:20 am, getting in 40 miles in 10 hours and 20 minutes. I have to say, I can't think of a pleasant way to spend 10 hours running than to run with Phil -- finisher's shirt or no finisher's shirt, running with him is a heck of a good time.

Would I do this race again? Probably not. It is a really cool race concept, the 9 pm start in particular, with (I think) some really pretty parts. But I just think they were pretty because I couldn't really see much! As roadtrips go, however, it was a really great time with The Dawgs.

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