I have set the Bel Monte 50 Mile Endurance Run as a major goal for 2012 (second only to Leadville). I ran it in 2010, and, not to sound overly dramatic, it changed my life. It was the first time I had ever run 50 miles and was by far the most difficult course I had ever run. I managed to get past all the cut off times (barely) and make it to the finish in 12 hours and 30 minutes, a whopping half hour before they packed everything up and stopped handing out medals. During that race, I swore at least half a dozen times that I would never run a step again. Then things would get better, and I would be on cloud nine. I basically spent 12 and a half hours running through the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia like an improperly medicated bi-polar lunatic. I loved it. When I finally finished I experienced a profound sense of accomplishment, one I have not truly felt again. While I was proud and excited to finish the Umstead 100 last year, it wasn't the same.
They have changed the course for 2012, but it still stands to be an exceptionally challenging race, as you can see by this elevation profile.
It boasts 12,141.9 feet of elevation gain and 11,767 feet of elevation loss. Over the course of the 49.7 mile course, there are 25.2 miles of climbing and 24.9 miles of descending. Do the math, boys and girls, and it is painfully clear that there isn't a single flat moment on the course.
Ever since 2010, this race has held a special place in my heart. When they opened the registration for 2012 I quickly signed up. By this point in my training, I planned that I would have been running 60-70 miles a week, with several long runs under my belt. Unfortunately, I started experiencing a lot of pain in my left hip in late January. It has been sporadic and unpredictable. There were times when it hurt so much that I felt I couldn't walk. Then there are days when it doesn't hurt at all. Stretching and rolling it seem to have little to no effect on the pain. As a result, I have dialed back my mileage to a much lower level than I had wanted. In fact, today was the first day I have run since the Umstead Trail Marathon last weekend. Things went very well at Umstead, and I had little to no hip pain, so my plan was to run a few days during the week and then hit as much single track on Sunday as I could stand/schedule. I attempted a short 45 minute run on Tuesday night but was forced to abandon 30 seconds in when my recurring hip pain loudly announced its presence. Bummer.
I was forced to step back and reevaluate my plan. A reasonable man would recognize his situation, acknowledge his pain/injury, and accept that his lack of training would be a problem. However, it has been said that "you won't find reasonable men on top of tall mountains." I believe the same can be said for ultra runners. After 30 or 40 seconds of careful consideration I decided on the following course of action: run Sunday morning, as far as I could (at least 30 miles and hopefully closer to 40), at Umstead, with as much single track as possible, rest copiously for two weeks, travel to Virginia and run 50 miles of trails in the mountains. Genius! How could this plan fail? Yes, I told Wendy I was sure this was the thing to do. She replied that it sounded like something I would do.
My motivation to get out and run was further fueled by a recent purchase. For several months now I have had my eye on a Salomon XT Advanced Skin S-Lab hydration pack. I have read several reviews, and everyone has rave things to say about it. There were a couple of things holding me back. Number 1, it's very pricey. Number 2, I couldn't find anyone who carried it locally. On Monday, I happened to find it on REI's website. I have been a member there for years and love the fact that there is no risk with anything you buy. You can always return it if you aren't completely satisfied with it. That was enough for me. I showed it to Wendy and her response was that I probably need it, and I should get it. A matter of seconds later I had submitted my credit card number, and it was on its way to my local REI. It arrived on Wednesday, but my work/family schedule didn't let me get there until Friday. I was super excited to open it and try it on and very much looking forward to putting it through its paces on the trail. Hip be damned. I plan on using it for Bel Monte and will write a thorough review of it as a part of that race report.
The alarm went off at 4:45 Sunday morning, which was really 3:45 (thank you very much daylight savings time), and I met Tim on the outskirts of the park at 5:30. He wanted to get in a short run, so we ran together for the first 3 hours. We started off nice and slow in the pre-dawn cold, giving our bodies a chance to adapt to the cold temperature and early morning activity. The night sky was crystal clear, and the moon was almost full and brilliantly bright - so bright, in fact, that we didn't even need our headlamps. As we continued to run we gained momentum and were moving along at a decent clip by the time the sun finally broke over the horizon. After covering about 18 miles of bike/bridle trail and some single track we stopped back by the cars and Tim headed home. I downed a granola bar and headed back out for another 2-3 hours. Around the fourth hour I could really feel the fatigue setting in. I had run Umstead last weekend and Black Mountain the week before that. My legs were heavy, and I was out of gas. I ended up covering right around 30 miles in just over 5 hours. I was whipped when I got back to the car. I hadn't gone as far as I wanted, but I had suffered on the trail. I am a strong believer that a run in which you suffer helps to prepare you - physically, mentally, and emotionally - for a long difficult race. It is important to remind yourself that while it may really suck right now, as long as you keep going, it will get better. It can't and won't stay that bad for the rest of the race. (This is a lesson I do my best to apply to life as well as running.)
So now I'm home, showered, and changed, with a full stomach and a little ibuprofen in my system. I am looking forward to Bel Monte in two weeks. I'm also scared of it. Really scared. I know it is a tough race, even when you are properly trained and injury free. I will get as much rest as I can for the next two weeks and go in to the race a little undertrained, but hopefully not too injured. Even if it's awful, it should be awesome.