Race Report - 2018 Bel Monte 50K

3/10/2018 04:06:00 PM

View from above the course and the waterfalls at mile 4 & 31.
I kinda got roped into doing this one. Jerry and Paul had signed up and told me about it. So I signed up. They wanted some UTMB points and I wanted some miles, win win, except that we'd have to drive 9 hours each way. While I initially dreaded the long road trip, it was actually quite a bit of fun. Easy for me to say, I wasn't the one driving:-)

The Bel Monte 50K is part of a 3 distance race series (25K/50K/50M) in its thirteenth year in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. In fact, the race has runners running along the actual Blue Ridge Parkway for the first 2.5 and final 2.5 miles of the various distances. However, its 6AM mass race start requires all runners to start with a headlamp that runners can choose to drop in a collection box at the end of the parkway section, to be picked up at the finish line.
View from above the course and the waterfalls at mile 4 & 31.
We arrived at Wintergreen Ski Resort in Virginia just 10 minutes from the race start, where Jan, and old high school friend of Paul's had rented a condo for all of us to share during race weekend. Jan had been running ultras for a couple of years and was in the middle of getting ready for his first 100 miler at Umstead. When we arrived at the Condo, Jan had already picked up the race packets for everyone and what was even more impressive, he had cooked pasta and marinara for all of us, even considering Jerry's vegetarian diet and my vegan diet. I had barely met Jan but already knew he was a rockstar, a very considerate rockstar:-) We opened a few beers Paul and I had brought along and started digging in. After some final race planning for the next morning, we all turned in pretty early for a 4:15AM wakeup call.
View from the course on the ridge line section.
The next morning, I had my usual "cup of coffee" before we headed towards the race start. Our short drive to the race start almost went sideways. In the dark of the early morning, we missed a sharp left turn...or was it sharp right? Either way, thankfully we had left early enough to still correct course and arrive in time, even without a signal to use Google Maps. It was a balmy 26 degrees when we finally got out of the car with about 8 minutes to the race start. I normally toe the starting line of a 50K in a singlet and maybe sleeves and gloves, but I actually opted for an additional layer, my trusty old Houdini. Boy was I glad I did. Temps never reached much above the mid 30s. I kept on my mittens and was extremely thankful to Jan, who had brought extra hand warmers for everyone. Those bad boys stayed in my gloves and on my hands the entire race.
View from above the course and the waterfalls at mile 4 & 31.

After standing my a small fire near the start, we were sent on our way. We all started the race together and I tried to get a bit ahead along with some other runners to avoid any congestion once we dropped from the Parkway onto single track trail. The pace was pretty quick and I was sitting somewhere in 10th overall (across all distances, since I didn't know what anyone was running) when we completed the Parkway section. Once on the trail I settled into my own comfortable pace pretty quickly. Headlamps were no longer needed and I had dropped mine in a box at the trailhead.
View on the course on the ridge line section.
The first section of single track trail had us dropping down towards and past a beautiful waterfall before climbing back up and across the parkway. After crossing the parkway, runners were lead to even more beautiful single track trail that would slowly lead us up and across the spectacular mountain ridge line for a couple of miles. At the end of this section we would hit one of the first major aid station and one of its more famous ones. When I came through they were actually still in the process of setting up. Since it was pretty cold and very early in the race for me, I actually passed right through it without stopping. I hadn't even touch any of my two water bottles yet, that were filled with some Sword for nutrition. I also carried my usual Honey Stinger gels, which would be the only race fuel I would use along with whatever fluids were provided at the aid stations. The cold weather made it difficult to even remember to drink, but a watch alarm would notify me every 45 and 60 minutes to eat a gel and take some salt, respectively.

After the first big aid station, we would bomb down the mountain on some sweet switchbacks. They would not be so sweet later on in the morning when I'd return to climb back out. The Bel Monte 50K is actually a 55K out and back course. In fact, my watch, which is known to actually measure short, had this race clocking in at 35.2 miles. The long downhill into the valley was followed by a fairly flat but pretty technical rocky trail. The next aid station would be at around 14 miles. I had been able to drop my pace along the way and had no idea where exactly I was in the field. I would find out about 2 miles later, when the race leader and runners in second and third place were already on their way back about a mile ahead of me and another runner. Realizing that I was already a mile back just ahead of the halfway point was a bit deflating, but it also was freeing. I was actually running well and on pace to hit my A goal for the race, so everything else became meaningless.

We would run about 3 miles to the turnaround aid station before turning around at about 17.5 miles. I was looking forward to the turnaround as it would officially signal the second half of the race, the "final" stretch. This section was on a partially paved dirt road. I was chatting with another runner as we started to pass 50K and 50M runners on still their way out. This was a really welcome sight as I had been running completely along for the past 13 miles. Now I was exchanging encouraging words with fellow runners as we passed each other and it made the next few miles fly by much quicker.

While I did lose some pace on the technical section in the valley, I was still moving pretty well. I arrived at the bottom of the big climb out of the valley in good spirits and ready to tackle the final stretch. I still had my A goal in sight as long as I did not fold on this climb. I started running the left turns of the switchbacks and speed hiking the right turns, allowing me to recover some and fuel in the process. Before I knew it I arrived at the top and the last major aid station, where I chugged a cup of Coke and downed a frozen (yeah frozen) potato. Temps had never warmed up at all and both food and water at aid stations had started to freeze. I picked up my pace on the way back across the ridge line and across the parkway before dropping back down to the waterfalls. This left me with one final climb back to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway, that signaled a final "sprint" on the parkway back to he finish. This literally felt uphill nearly all the way to the finish. I kept pushing to hit my A goal and when the finish line finally came into sight, I crossed having "beaten" my goal by 5 minutes. I managed to hang on to 4th place overall and had not been passed after mile 5 of the race very early in the day.

Jerry, Paul and Jan all arrived at the finish in great spirits, having had successful races as well. Suffice it to say, we all had earned the beers that were consumed pretty soon after:-) Thanks to a great race organization and a beautiful course. The cold weather did not detract from the beauty of this challenging course. The result were 35+ miles and 5300+ feet of vertical climb in the most beautiful part of Virgina, the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Road trips are always better when done with your trail running buddies (Paul, Jerry and I:-)

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