When my trail running buddies first mentioned this race, I thought it looked like a lot of fun. I wasn’t ready to commit when registration opened and ultimately filled up back in the spring. But it had a waitlist, so I threw my name on it. I think I was number 36 or so on the list, and I definitely didn’t expect to get in. Lo and behold, September rolled around and I got an email that I had been selected from the waitlist. Alright, let’s do this!
The race takes place in mid-December at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach and it is put on by the Tidewater Striders. It had great organization, the course was well-marked, and the volunteers were awesome. Overall the race was a lot of fun and definitely one worth doing again. It would also be great for a first ultramarathon.
I traveled to Virginia Beach with Amy, Sarah, and Kim. It was fun to turn the trip into a girls weekend. We made it to the beach, got our packets, grabbed some grub, and headed to bed with visions of trail running in our heads. (I’m sorry…. it’s Christmastime and I couldn’t help it)
The race started at 8:30 AM, so we didn’t have to be up super early. On top of that, our hotel was only 5-10 minutes from the park. So it was a very low key and stress-free morning – my favorite way to kick off race day. Once we arrived, we hit the porta johns, finalized our race gear and walked over to the start.
As you can see in the below photo, it was a rainy and soggy morning. I don’t mind the rain, but I hate when it’s cold and rainy. Luckily, the temperature was in the 50’s and felt great for running. It would rain on and off throughout the race, but it wasn’t raining at the start. There was a pre-race briefing and then we were off and running!
We started out with a short out and back on the road. Not my favorite, but necessary. It went by fairly quickly and then we were off on the trails for the first of two lolli-pop style loops. I started out with my standard 30 minute run/5 minute walk interval. The trails were flat and I was probably running a bit faster than I should have out of excitement. I rolled into the first aid station around 3 miles, grabbed an orange slice, and continued on my way.
This next section was the sloppiest on the race course. I did what I could to avoid the worst of it, but tried not to waste too much energy skipping around mud puddles. We made our way down the main trail, which was flat. After a mile or so, we turned off of the main trail onto a section that had some rolling hills. This section was one of my favorite parts of the course. It was singletrack with some roots, but not super technical.
After two miles, we turned back onto the main trail and headed towards the Bald Cypress Aid Station at mile 7.2. When I arrived here, I was feeling pretty tired. It worried me that I was already feeling gassed at mile 7 of a 31.5 mile race, but I tried to just focus on running from aid station to aid station. The good thing about ultras is that when you start feeling bad, there’s a lot of time for you to feel better. So I drank some soda, refilled my water flask, and ate a PB&J square. From there, I headed onto the three mile loop.
The Osmanthus Loop was my other favorite section of the race course. It had several bridges, and some rolling, twisty singletrack. One word of caution if you ever run this race: the bridges on this section are as slick as ice when they’re wet. I walked all of these bridges and still had a few close calls along the way.
During this loop we had to punch our bibs with an orienteering punch that was hanging from a tree along the trail. This was to prove we had done the loop. After all the runners were through for the first pass, the race officials changed out the punch. This way, you ended up with two unique punches in your bib to show you had run the loop both times. I was worried about missing the punch, but It was heavily marked with flagging and was hard to miss.
I completed the loop and arrived back at the Bald Cypress Aid Station around mile 10. My stomach was feeling a bit rocky, so I didn’t eat or drink anything here. I did grab two PB&J squares and put them in an empty Ziploc bag I carry during races, for that purpose. I felt like I still had enough water in the flask I was carrying in my pack, so I didn’t bother to refill it. That would turn out to be a mistake.
It was a little over 4 miles to the next aid station and about halfway there I completely ran out of water. I was feeling tired and nauseous, so I was moving slow. It wasn’t hot out, so I didn’t necessarily need the water in that moment. But running out of water during a race is just demoralizing. Plus it made it impossible for me to eat my PB&J squares. So no fueling and very little hydration took place from miles 10-14.
I finally made it back to the 64th St. Aid Station at mile 14.5. I got my flask refilled and drank a cup of water and a cup of ginger ale. I knew I was close to arriving back at the start/finish area and my drop bag, so I focused on that. I was no longer sticking to my 30 minute run/5 min walk intervals and was walking a lot more than planned. I completed the first loop (16.5 miles) in about 3 1/2 hours.
When I arrived at the drop bag and start/finish area, Kim was there. I was happy to see her and to hear how her race was going. I also finally met my friend, Kelly, in person, who also happened to be in the drop bag area.
I had clumps of mud in my shoes under the balls of my feet, and all I could think about was the fresh pair of socks in my drop bag. So I sat down in a chair and changed my socks while I chatted some with Kim. I also had to scoop the clumps of mud out of my shoes with my hands. I put a few more packs of honey stinger chews in my pack and prepared to head out. It felt SO good to be sitting there, and I knew I needed to get moving before I got too comfortable.
As I headed back out, I saw Sarah and Amy headed in. They said they were worried about making the cut off at mile 22. I wished them well and hoped they would make it.
I still wasn’t feeling great, so I plugged in my iPod and got some tunes going. These next few miles were really tough for me. For some reason, I got it in my head that the mile 22 cut off was at 5 hours and I started getting worried I wasn’t going to make it. This fear did help get me moving better, though. I also saw my friend Gayle on her way towards the finish, totally killing it at her first ultra. That gave me a boost, too.
I arrived back at the Bald Cypress aid station (mile 22) at 5:02. I was waiting for someone to tell me I was cut, but everyone was just as encouraging as they had been on my first loop. So I refilled my flask, drank some Mountain Dew, and headed onto the loop.
My hips and lower back had started to hurt so badly after mile 16. I think it was from how flat the trail was (although the New River Trail 50K was also flat, and I didn’t have pain like this during it). It actually felt worse to walk than to run, but I was tired and making myself run was difficult. I was day dreaming about laying down flat on my back. As I left the aid station, I did something I have never done during a race: I took some ibuprofen. I usually try and stay away from NSAIDS during races, because of the concern of long distance running and kidneys, but I was really starting to feel miserable.
As I made my way through the loop, I suddenly had an epiphany – the 22 mile cut off was actually 5 1/2 hours, not 5 hours! So it turned out I actually still had 28 minutes in the bank. This realization, combined with the ibuprofen kicking in, did wonders for my attitude. There’s such a big mental aspect to running.
Suddenly, I was running again with a purpose and I felt strong and ready to tackle the final 9-ish miles of the race. It only took me 22 miles to find my groove. I need to remember in the future that I always seem to hit a low spot from mile 17-22 or so during a 50K.
On my way back, some volunteers were singing Jingle Bells. So I spent the next 3-4 miles making up my own lyrics to Jingle Bells. It took awhile, because I kept forgetting what I was doing. But here is what I ultimately came up with:
Why the hell
Did I sign up to race?
My shoes are soaked and full of mud
Hope I’m not in last place!
I rolled in to the final aid station at mile 29 and drank some more Mountain Dew. I only had 2.5 miles to go, but the Mountain Dew had been saving my race so I wanted one more little pick me up for the final miles. From here I could smell the barn. I was tired, but I tapped into an extra energy reserve (or maybe that Mountain Dew kicked in) and I ran nearly this entire section. I actually turned in my fastest mile of the day, 10:37, in the final mile. I’m not sure what that says overall about my pacing. But I will say it’s a good thing when Eminem comes on your iPod during the last mile at a race.
I crossed the finish line in 7:16 and change. Amy and Sarah, who had ultimately gotten pulled off the course at mile 22, were there to cheer me in. I was so happy to be done, but I was also bummed to hear their day had ended early. They’ll definitely get revenge at their next race, I’m sure!
Not long after I finished, Kim came rolling in. It had started getting chillier outside as sunset approached, so we immediately headed to the car and made our way back to the hotel. Kim and I briefly hit up the post-race party at Smartmouth Brewery.
The race provided each runner with three free beer tickets (awesome) and free pizza at the brewery. I enjoyed a delicious sour ale and a couple slices of pizza. As it turned out, Kim and I sat down at a table of “royalty.” We soon realized we were surrounded by 100 mile finishers, a recent Hellgate 100K finisher, and runners who had either finished on the podium at the race that day and/or who had completed their 10th Seashore 50K (meaning they had run the race every year since it started). It was great company, but I was definitely a bit awestruck.
From there, we headed back to the hotel and reunited with Sarah and Amy. We all went out to an awesome seafood restaurant together where I had the best broiled scallops and shrimp. Then on Sunday morning, after all the rain and gloom, we woke up sunny skies. Go figure.
All in all, it was a great day and a great way to cap off 2018. My year started out pretty rocky, and I didn’t really get back into running consistently until May. I’m grateful that I was able to run two ultras this fall, along with a handful of other races. I’ve got big plans for 2019 and I’m looking forward to taking on new challenges in the spring.