Saturday, November 3, 2012

Eastern Divide Ultra--50K Race Report

June 23, 2012
Start:               Cascades National Recreation Trail, Pembroke, VA
Finish:             Mountain Lake Resort, Giles County, VA

When I first saw this race advertised I knew I was going to do it.  It was minutes from my parent’s home in Wytheville, VA and “on our way” to the beach.  Additionally it met a lot of things on my favorites list for races: mostly trail, a point to point race, a small field (200 runners), 50K, and it was its first year.  I know a lot of runners do not care for first year races because there are always a few kinks to work out, but since I am still new to the sport I can find the humor in them and just enjoy the run (I am aware I will most likely join the ranks of the wildly furious at some point in my running career, but for now it’s about the adventure).

I read through the course description many times and at some point I really should have become concerned about my limited ability and some of the arduous sounding adjectives used to describe the course, but I just thought they were trying to tout the race as really challenging.  Looking at the pictures on the website you saw images of flat beautiful trails through the shady trees, rambling creeks and a peaceful waterfall, nirvana.  The description however used phrases like “two mile climb”, “if your legs are still your friend”, “this section will just rest your legs for what’s to come”, and more….I should have gotten nervous but thought, ‘oh it’s just being dramatic’, I mean you should see the really pretty waterfall picture (which they failed to mention is about ½ way to the top of a really tall MOUNTAIN).
Pretty waterfall...what a freaking climb.

Most of the runners stayed at the Mountain Lake Conservancy in Pembroke, VA where many scenes from Dirty Dancing were filmed….although this an iconic movie for my generation I was just excited to have a date night with my husband and a fun race to look forward to in the morning.  There was a complimentary spaghetti dinner the night before where we got to meet some of the runners but the food was beyond BLAH.  Plan ahead if you want something more palatable.

In the morning the busses began departing for the starting line at 6:00 a.m. for a 7:30 a.m. start time, it was about 20 + minutes away but it gave everyone a chance to adjust their equipment and get a chance to mentally prepare for the race.  We started our FIRST mountain climb which lasted over 2 ½ miles.  It was INSANE, by the time I got to the top I was certain my Achilles was going to pop (by that I really do mean both), after a ¼ mile flat we basically began climbing slate steps for another 2 ¼ miles before reaching Aide Station one. At the top I checked my Garmin (and I do not think there were any solar bursts) and I had already ascended about 4000 feet.  WOW. 

Nice little climb after the water fall...yummy on
your hamstrings.

 The race continued along fire roads and some packed gravel areas but there were also just a lot of nice trails to run along.  Everyone, especially the volunteers and many ambulance crews were so incredibly nice and the other runners seemed to be just like me, they obviously loved the sport wand were out for a great run.  My quads began to mildly forgive me during miles 6-17 where although the ascent clearly topped the descent there were some fairly flat areas and even a few down hills, WHOOP! 

Although not the longest, one of the very steepest climbs went from miles 18 to 20.  The cheering crowd at the aide station made sure to point out to me that I was the FIRST one to still be actually running at this point (I have should have probably tattooed the word “energy” across my forehead).  After a few cartwheels and a sampling (read pocketful) of my new FAVORITE electrolyte replacement, Electro Delytes (these are easier on the belly than water and I am TOTALLY going to endorse them, I even kind of credit my awesome hand carved award to them), I rolled out of Aide Station 4 with a smile on my face.

The trails look nice and flat...
turn left ahead and climb a mountain suckers.
For some reason we were STILL CLIMBING, descending occasionally but at least the climbing portions were calm compared to what we had been through thus far.  At aide station 5 they had the motherload of snacks and happy runner food.  I loaded up….and again cartwheeled out because I am that kind of energetic (in my hot pink socks and matching running skirt for those of you who have not seen my running attire…it has flair if nothing else) and continued on my merry little way…with a smile of course. 

Luckily I had found a runner about my speed and we were pacing each other on and off for about eight miles, unfortunately we paced ourselves right off the course for a solid ½ mile, which naturally took another ¾ - 1 mile to find our way back.  Back on track shortly before the last Aide Station we were officially tired!  We had ascended more than 12,220 feet during this race and only descended slightly more than 8,000 feet (the joy of the point to point race). The course description did not do the technical aspects of the final 2 ½ miles of this race justice, in fact it was the second most technical portion (outside of the slate steps after the waterfall).  It was rocky, narrow, and extremely hard to navigate.  I somehow escaped without falling, but I do believe I was one of the few…runners dripping lots of “red stuff” crossed the finish line that afternoon but few would tell you that it was not worth it.
Nothing like going off course during a race...

When finished, I was completely exhausted, invigorated, and ready to go again!  My time was 5:35:37 (including my extra 1 ½ mile detour) and I won Overall Female Master.  The four women who finished ahead of me were in their 20’s…so at least I can blame age (and navigational issues) on my slow finish….honestly, this is one of the few times where I sincerely believe that finishing on this type of terrain, in and of itself deserves a medal. 

I love my hand carved award...
totally worth it!
I highly recommend this as a destination race to all of you who enjoy a hearty challenge and a great trail run.  It was a lot of fun and hopefully you will not be taken aback by the amount of climbing like I was.  You WILL climb, but the scenery and the people are amazing.  If you like southwest Virginia it is certainly worth it!  Plus the hotel is family friendly and if your spouse and children join you there are a lot of fun games to play and family activities (Alice in Wonderland sized (when she is big) chess and checkers and even a heated pool.  Not to mention plenty of hiking and biking trails.  They even have a scene by scene walking tour of the Dirty Dancing movie scene shot areas.
Life sized chess.   Cool =)

If you’re looking for a destination race, a new challenge and a small running field this may be your happy place.  Go for it!

Are you going to run the Eastern Divide Ultra 2013?

Any questions for me?

Have you started practicing your hill (mountain work) yet? BWAHAHAHAHAHA....


  1. I read this race report a while ago, but it is fun to see it again with great photo accompaniment. Also, what cute awards.

    1. They are kids keep stealing mine to use as father time.