Race Report - 2012 Laurel Valley Whitewater Run 35 Miler

8/11/2012 11:47:00 PM

I always wanted to run through 5 "Georges":-)
What an epic adventure....again! Just like 2 years ago, we were lucky once again to have Richard's and Mike's aunt and uncle allow us to stay at their vacation home during our trip to the beautiful North and South Carolina mountains for this year's edition of the Laurel Valley White Water 35 Mile Run. And when you're that lucky, you try to make the most of it, which is why most of our running group arrived in Highlands, NC on Thursday evening. While Highlands is about an hour's drive from the staring line of the Laurel Valley White Water Run, it is only 25 minutes from the finish line and therefore a perfect location for our home base for the weekend.

While Richard Trice and I both were able to bring along our better halves, the remainder of our group from Huntsville, Mike Trice, James Duncan, Ed Johnson and Jay Naves, traveled solo. Bri (Richard's girlfriend) and Anya (my wife) were extremely "patient", putting up with a bunch of runners who wouldn't talk about anything but ultra running and the Olympics and who ended up waking up the entire house on Saturday morning at 3:30 AM screaming and cheering at Olympic coverage on TV while getting ready for the race. Yet, Anya and Bri still decided to do most of the work around the house, getting everyone fed before and after the race. If I hadn't said it before, Rich and I are two very lucky guys indeed!

Six of us (5 runners, 1 crew) loaded up my car and left for the race start at 4:30AM, excited to have another opportunity to run this amazing race (the smiles in the pic below are proof of that). This was Ed's first attempt and my second, while the others were going for their third finish. Initially, I just wanted to finish and treat this as the training race it was, since I had the Georgia Jewel 100 coming up just 6 weeks from now. But as always, I changed my mind and decided to challenge myself, targeting a sub 8 hour finish.

We go to extreme lengths to get all runners in the picture, even if that means making one of us ride in the trunk:-)
Ed and James decided to run with me, while Mike and Richard decide to roll up the field from the back. As we arrived at the parking lot at the race start, I saw quite a few familiar faces, Dewayne Satterfield and Mike O'Melia, both finishers of multiple LVs from Huntsville, Christian Griffith and Mark Connolly, both guys ran Fuego Y Agua 100K in Nicaragua with me earlier in the year, and a few other faces I'd seen at ultras before.

Me briefly reminiscing with fellow Fuego Y Agua runner Mark Connolly at the start of LV.
Race director extraordinaire Claude Sinclair got the race under way just after 6AM. This year, everyone started at the same time with no early start for slower runners. James, Ed and I tried to line up with the faster runners just to get a head start out of the gate. For the uninitiated, this race starts with a single file climb up some stairs and goes straight onto some very nice single track trails. It is always amazing to see the headlamps of the ultra runner train moving up and down the side of the mountain in the dark during the early part of this race, but this train can also get you moving slower than you might like. Knowing that we would be moving extremely slow during the later stages of the race due to the challenging terrain, we wanted to get out of the gate a little faster than last time and it worked. For most of the first 20 miles, we pretty much ran in our own little group, only spotting the occasional runner once or twice.

Me crossing one of the many amazing bridges during the race.
I was packing a lot lighter this year than two years ago. I relied on energy gels and chews only for food and instead of a filter pump I opted for a military grade in-line water filter from MSR. Other than that, I was obviously using one of my headlamps for the first hour of the race. Along with these essential items, there were three more essential items I did not need to bring along on previous adventures. First, I had to bring along Zyrtec and an EpiPen. As it turns out, I am "slightly" allergic to hornet, wasp and bee stings as I had found out during one of my training runs on Monte Sano mountain 4 weeks earlier. Along with the pain of the stings came a slightly time delayed swelling of my face and lips as well as itchy hives and welds all over my upper body. Tests at the doctor confirmed my allergies, but I still maintain that the severity of my reaction was a direct result of me continuing on my strenuous trail run for another 90 minutes before ever taking any antihistamine to counter the swelling or pain. In any case, better safe than sorry, so now I always have to carry an EpiPen during my more remote adventures.

Finally, I had another change to my usual plan. Instead of SCaps, I had to use Salt Stick caps since my local running shop had run out of SCaps. While I was assured that they would work just as well, I should have known better than to use a new untested product during an ultra race. Well, once again I ended up learning this lesson the hard way.

The first waterfall sighting on our run.
Ed, James and I were moving well and before I knew it, I had filled up my 100 ounce hydration bladder for the the first time at about 13 miles in. Neither James nor Ed needed to top off their water and so we continued on after a brief 2 minute stop. Once again, I was going through water much faster than my fellow runners, but I know my sweat rate and I was quite certain I needed to keep hydrating. Even though the temperatures were cooler and the humidity levels lower than back home, I knew I would continue to sweat and I wanted to make sure I took care of my bodies needs. That's why I also took my first gel and my first 2 salt stick caps just 1 hour into the race. I would stick to this hourly schedule very strictly and even increase my salt intake (via salt stick caps) in an effort to stave off any onset of cramps. I had never had any problems with cramping during ultras and I wanted to keep it that way.

22 miles in and we were all still moving well. At this point, I refilled my hydration bladder for the second time and I made sure to fill it all the way. I even drank a bottle of Nuun electrolyte drink to ensure proper hydration and electrolyte levels along with the hourly gels and caps. However, about 25 miles into our journey, I started to feel slight twitches in my left quad. As soon as I felt it, I took another couple of salt stick caps. This was new territory for me. I had never had to deal with cramps during an ultra, let alone this early in a race. James handed me a bottle of Gatorade and I guzzled that down as fast as I could. I had been hydrating, I had been taking in gels and salt via salt stick caps on a regular basis, yet here I was, starting to have leg cramps. I continued to be hopeful that they would subside eventually.

Just as I mentioned my muscle cramps to James, he started to feel nauseated. After relieving himself of some of the culprits (James called it "feeling pukey", I call it "blowing chunks on the trail"), we stopped for a little break to let him recover. While James sat down on the side of the trail, my attempt to sit down was futile. My legs seized up on me and, very frustrated, I tried to lean on a tree instead. During this time, Ed came just flying by, encouraging us to "come on". We had left him behind on a climb a couple of miles earlier and here he was, running like the race just started.

James recovered soon after we stopped once more to get some water to mix us some more Gatorade. I, on the other hand, continued to get worse. Muscle cramps became more frequent, now affecting my toes, shins, calves, hamstrings and quads. I would try to stretch one muscle only to have another seize up on me. It wasn't pretty. A sub 8 hour finish goal quickly disappeared and even a sub 9 hour finish came and went. I now had approached the final climb of the race and my quads and hamstrings started to cramp with every single step. There were a couple of embarrassing moments (e.g. questions from hikers like "can we help you" and "have you done this before") as well as some moments of petty from fellow racers. They didn't say it but it was written all over their faces. I didn't blame them. I was laying on my back, my face and body contorted in pain just 25 yards from the top of the stairs, yet I was unable to continue. I must have laid there for almost 15-20 minutes, one racer after another passing me by, offering their assistance. But what could they do? I had water, I had Salt Stick caps, but my muscles would not stop cramping. Eventually, I managed to get my butt off the ground without my legs locking up and crawled to the top and ultimately the finish line. To describe my movement as "shuffling" would be too kind.

My Huntsville Ultra Running Crew at the finish line...everyone finished...and with a PR:-)
I finally crossed the finish line in 9 hours and 24 minutes. Thanks to Claude, who once again put on a premier ultra in one of the most beautiful locations in the Southeast. Thanks to all the friendly race volunteers at the finish and to Babette (Christian's wife) for hooking me up with the perfect recovery drink;-) I can't wait to register for next year! But I'll forego the Salt Stick caps and go for my trust SCaps, instead:-)

The print on the back of the race shirt says it all!
The elevation profile below is what makes this particular 35 mile ultra marathon run like a true 50 miler. However, it is some of the most amazing single track trails you will ever run.

You gotta love the elevation profile!

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