This past Sunday I was up bright and early to make the drive up to Roanoke for the Conquer the Cove 25K Trail Race. This race is the anchor event to the Roanoke Non Ultra Trail Series, put on by Mountain Junkies LLC. The race had an early start time of 6:30 AM, since it is often hot and humid this time of year. Luckily, we were blessed with temperatures in the mid-60’s with about 70% humidity.
I arrived at Loch Haven Lake, a private membership club that headquarters the race, at 5:30 AM. Parking was tight, but they had volunteers helping direct everything which made it go smoothly. It was a short walk down to the pavilion, where I picked up my packet (bib, shirt, etc.). One neat thing they had in the packet was a bandana that has the course map for both races, and the elevation profiles.
I headed back to the car to drop off my packet and pin on my bib. Then I walked back down to the pavilion for the pre-race meeting. My friend Jessie was also running the 25K, and we were able to meet up before the race. This time we managed to get a picture together (unlike last time)!
Right after the pre-race meeting I decided to take one last trip to the porta johns, which were right near the start. I waited in line briefly, and just as I closed the door on the porta john I heard someone yell “3, 2, 1!” and then I heard a gunshot and everyone started cheering. Crap! About 10 seconds later I was jogging up to the start, and was able to join in with the tail end of the group of runners. Just like that, I was off for my longest trail race yet! Side note: The race was 15.86 miles long.
We made our way out of Loch Haven and turned onto a paved road, which we ran down for about a mile. Then it was onto the trails! The course was rolling for the first little bit. A little before mile 2, we encountered our first major climb. It was about 1.1 miles long and it was very steep! I bet you can guess which way we turned to make that climb…
I was reduced to hiking, as were those around me, interspersed with very little running. My calves and Achilles were on fire, and at times I wanted to just stop and rest, but I kept moving.
Towards mile 3, we began a long two-ish mile descent. It felt good to just let gravity take over. My feet had gone numb (it happens sometimes when my calves get really tight) and I had to be careful and pay attention to the terrain to keep from tripping or falling.
Just before mile 3, I reached the first aid station. I was rolling on the downhill and didn’t want to lose my momentum so I didn’t stop. I had my Nathan hydration vest (we were required to carry water, the amount was up to you) so I was good to go on fluids. I said thank you to the volunteers and kept hammering away.
The next few miles were on rolling, single-track trails. It was a really pretty area and I tried to take it all in, while also keeping an eye on the terrain to avoid rolling my ankles. The area we were running in is called Carvins Cove Natural Reserve, which has 40 miles of roads and trails on approximately 12,700 acres (the second largest municipal park in the nation!). I’ve read that Josh and Gina, the founders of Mountain Junkies LLC, worked for years to gain permission to use this property for an event, so I knew it was a treat. The 5 mile stretch to aid station #2 felt long, but I finally rolled in just before mile 8.
The volunteers were super helpful, and offered me a variety of things upon my arrival (Gatorade, water, lots of food options). The aid stations were set up similar to an ultra. From what I can remember, they had peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, potato chips, bananas, and orange slices. I had a cup of Gatorade (which was ice cold, God bless them), and an orange slice.
I spent less than a minute at AS #2, and then headed back onto the course for the roughly 2.5 mile climb up the fire road. This was the second major climb of the race. It wasn’t nearly as steep as the first one, but it was nonstop. I alternated between hiking and running and just kept chipping away. About halfway up, I joined up with two other runners and we hiked and talked the rest of the way to the top. I never got their names, but they were great to talk to! I got some inside info on Marine Corps 🙂
There were some amazing views of the surrounding mountains on the way up, which helped distract from the climb. Finally, a little after 10 miles, we crested the top and began a half mile descent to aid station #3. At this point I had developed quite the headache and was hoping to find some Tylenol at the aid station. No luck, but the volunteers were really helpful and offered me other options. I stuck with a cup of Gatorade and two more orange slices. Then it was back to the race, for the 2.1 mile quad-busting descent on a trail called “The Gauntlet.”
The race website described this section of the race course as a “fast descent that will have you ready for a flat stretch of trail” and they weren’t kidding. All I wanted was a flat section to run, but there never really was anything flat the rest of the way. We were either going up or going down, although at times it was gradual and close to flat.
During the last 2 miles of the race, my legs and hips were very tired and had a deep ache. My calves were also seizing up on me and threatening to full-on cramp (they never did). All I wanted to do was stop, but I was going to keep moving forward no matter what. Finally, I passed the fourth and final aid station just before mile 15. With just one mile to go, I found myself back on the paved road we had started on.
I was so tired and this felt like a very long mile. We made a left turn onto a single-track trail and I could hear people cheering at the finish line in the distance. I could see the swimming area through the trees and knew I was close. I came out of the woods, ran across a bridge, and up to the finish line.
My official finish time was 3:41:57. It’s a lot slower than I run on the roads, but I’m proud of my finish time. I was only a few minutes slower than I was at the trail half in March (the one where it snowed), and I think that’s pretty good given that this race had more elevation and was 2+ miles longer. I feel like I’ve gotten stronger on trails in the past few months. Check out the elevation profile:
After finishing, I hobbled around a bit and looked for Jessie. Since the race was headquartered at Loch Haven, we had access to the lake and a lot of runners were taking advantage of that. I met up with Jessie at the lake and we hung out for a bit. We were both cold, so we didn’t go in the water.
After hanging out at the lake for a bit, we decided to head up to the pavilion and grab some post-race food. They had a great spread, just like they did at the trail 10K in Bedford last month. I realize this picture shows you next to nothing, but my brain was not functioning properly at that point.
This time, they even had the grill going and were making hamburgers (beef and vegetarian burgers were available). It was a great day for a cookout!
I filled up my plate and headed over to sit near the finish line area with Jessie and a group of people. We enjoyed some post-race food and cheered on runners as they came in to the finish. My burger was delicious, but my favorite was the crackers with the hummus. The crackers were so salty, which is exactly what I was craving after sweating for over 3 hours out on the trails.
Overall a great day and a great (and very tough!) race! The race organization and volunteers were wonderful, and I look forward to taking part in more of the series trail races next year.
If you made it through this very long post, you are a rock star. Thanks for hanging in there!
What is your favorite post-race food?