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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Capon Valley 50K Race Report

The Capon Valley 50K takes place the second weekend of May every year in WV.  A fairly low key and low fee event, it draws about 200 runners to run through some rugged trail systems and on some gravel and fire roads that weave up and down the Capon Valley. Since it is only 2 hours outside of Arlington, I figured it would be a good early season fitness test, and would force a 50K training run on trails before my upcoming Mohican 50M in mid June.
By the time I arrived at the start and checked in, I was giddy to be back running my first ultra since last year's Western States even though the weather did not look promising. With the rain all week preceding the event, the streams were sure to be swollen, and the grey sky looming overhead was not going to disappoint.  Even still, I gathered with a crowd of anxious runners just before 7:00 and took off on what would be a very soggy and mud-filled adventure.
The first section of the course was fairly runnable with only two steep climbs.  This section proved to be a good introduction of what was to come.  About 1.5 miles in we started crossing back and forth across the stream on what seemed to be more of a game trail then an actual hiking trail.  Perhaps this was due to all the rain washing out the trail this past week, or perhaps it was the two deer that came crashing through the woods and across the stream  on the course that gave me this impression.  Either way, I was feeling pretty good despite the soggy feet and was enjoying some of the beautiful country views.  What was even better was that although I didn't feel like I was running above my ability, I was the 4th female going through the first aid station!
The next section was a mix of not so smooth footing on trails and gravel roads with several hills until we ran all the way down to the river only to make a turn and start hiking back up a much steeper part of the hill.  This part was a lot of work!  But at the top we were rewarded with some better footing, and easier to follow trails.  All in all I felt pretty good on this section, I was running smoothly and hiking quickly.  Guys weren't passing me, and it seemed like I made very good steady progress.  In fact, at the top of the steep climb another guy and I gapped the pack of 5 that was fairly together hiking up the hill, and by the next aid station it was evident that I was unlikely to see any of those runners again.
The 2nd aid station marked 10.4 miles, and I was in and out before 1:45 - which meant I was clicking off, on average, 10 minute miles despite the hiking and the wet feet.  Knowing this, plus knowing that I still felt really good was an excellent morale booster a third of the way into a very wet race!
The next section was fun!  It was only about 4 miles and was mostly flat except for 1 longer nasty hill.  The trail itself was mostly an old rail-bed path (with the railway pulled up).  The only thing that made it technical was all of the water made it hard to find the path of least resistance, and the several creek crossings ensured that your shoes didn't dry off.  About a mile into this section, I got a glimpse of a runner up ahead by about 1-quarter mile.  I couldn't tell for sure given the distance and the rain and fog, but it looked like they were wearing a tank top - which made it pretty likely that this runner was probably a chick.  Excited that my race was going well and that the 3rd place female was losing ground, I made sure to make steady effort on this section.  I ended up dropping the guy that I was running with, and started gaining ground.  By the time I made it up the long hill, I could tell for sure that the runner up ahead was a girl, and I also discovered that my effort was going to reward me with 2 people to chase instead of just one.  With under half a mile to go to the aid station, I caught and passed both the third place girl, and the guy she had caught and was running with.
At aid station 3, I was feeling confident.  I was still clicking off 10-minute miles, and needed to stop to refuel a little.  I grabbed some water and some potato chips while the 2 people I caught barely re-passed me by not stopping for aid, and then I headed off down the path.
Catching the girl again proved easier than I thought it would. I knew she was getting tired, since otherwise I wouldn't have caught her 5 minutes before. And I was able to use her fatigue to my advantage.  Less than 1/2-mile from the aid station we crossed the creek and started making our way down a section of trail that was practically a swamp.  While she seemed to be having a hard time with the footing, I was able to dance through the mud a bit more easily and at least mentally was trying to exude confidence and a lack of fatigue.  Within a couple minutes, I couldn't hear her behind me anymore and I was making up ground on the guy that she had been running with as well.  (I later found out that she dropped at some point, which was a bit disappointing, as I like to see everyone finish!)  After a few minutes of swamp land, we turned to the left and started hiking. And hiking, and hiking.  This would be the biggest climb of the race.  But the climb allowed me to catch the guy who had re-passed me at the aid station.  I caught him and ran with him to the next aid station, which marked 18.9 miles.
At aid station 4, I was starting to slow a little bit.  Partially from all the hiking, and partially because I am almost never on trails as washed out or muddy as these!  Either way, I was still feeling reasonably well and was enjoying the day.  The guy I was running with must have felt a little bit better, as he pulled ahead upon leaving the aid station, and I figured I'd be moseying down the path on my own for awhile.  And so I did.  This section was a joy, and was probably my favorite section of the race.  The footing was good, there was some honest single track, and the trail just winded along in a way that just felt right.  Apparently I got a little too lost in the joy of running on this section though, because somewhere along mile 21 I caught my toe on a root that was buried in a puddle and went flying.  This landed me both back in reality, and squarely in the mud.  But never mind, I got up, and was more focused than ever for the next three miles.  Focused enough that I caught the guy ahead of me again, and ran with him for a minute or two before leaving him behind about half a mile out from the aid station.  I was happy to see the aid station - my stomach was starting to turn, and I was out of water.
At this aid station, I needed to get some serious water both in me and in my pack, which was just about dry. So I rehydrated as they refilled my pack and then I was on my way again.  From here there were only 6.6 miles to go.  Now I just had to keep my gut in check for a little over an hour.  As soon as I left the aid station, I could tell that something was funny with the bladder in my hydration pack. It felt like water was gushing out of it and down my legs.  Hoping that they just spilled some water as they filled it up, I soon forgot it and headed up the next hill, and the guy that was now behind me was nowhere to be seen.  After what should have only been a few minutes of climbing but seemed like an eternity, the trail leveled off and the rest of the section was actually mostly downhill with a few short climbs thrown in to keep your on your toes.  Even still, this "short" 3.2 mile section was for me the hardest part of the race.  I was having stomach issues that eventually necessitated a pit stop, and I was starting to just get tired.  Somehow during this portion, I managed to catch 2 more guys, and eventually made it to the last aid station.
At aid station 6, nothing looked appealing. I grabbed some chips, and went down the trail.  In my tired state, I didn't grab any water. I was thinking that my pack certainly had enough water in it to get me home.  About 800 meters down the road, I realized my error and that my pack was actually empty with maybe 2 swigs of water left in it.  Well crap.  Another 400 meters and my body realized that I was pushing beyond any of my recent training runs and started shutting down. Double crap. For 8 minutes or so I did a run/walk until I wizened up and realized I still had Gu with Caffeine, and that was likely all I needed.  Once I got the Gu in me at the expense of the last of my water, I started to feel better and was able to start running steadily again. At this point the course just wound back down the hill the creek on the same trail we that we started on, and after zigzaggin 5 times across the creek there was 1 decent climb and 1 short climb and then a mile of downhill and flat to the finish. I was golden.  Somewhere in the middle of the zigzagging, a guy caught up with me and ran with me until about mile 30 at which point he ran about 10-15 seconds ahead of me and would finish 13 seconds in front of me.  But I was okay with that. I was going to hit a HUGE PR and according to him the next female runner was a LONG WAY back.  I just had to keep moving, and I was going to both massively PR and land on the podium for my first time ever in an ultra!!
Finally at 5:26:56, I crossed the line and very very happily learned that I wasn't 3rd.  I was SECOND! And I had managed a top 20 overall! I couldn't have had a better day on such soggy trails!  I am still elated, and am anxious to see how my 50 Miler in a little over a month is going to go.
2nd Place Female! 16th overall!

Happy Trails Everyone!


  1. Nice race and awesome podium finish. It was definitely muddy and hilly. The rain was actually enjoyable. I think there was a total of 47+ streams crossing.

  2. Thanks Hai! It was definitely the wettest race I've run! I lost count of the stream crossings after about 2-dozen, I just know my feet were not dry at all! I hope you had a good day too!