The Terrapin Mountain Half is a trail race that runs through the mountains of the George Washington National Forest. It starts and finishes at the Sedalia Center, located about 20 minutes north of Bedford. The course was absolutely gorgeous, but it was also a tough one. With over 3,000 feet of gain, this race was definitely one of those “big, scary” races for me. It brought new experiences and a few lessons. I knew it was going to be tough, but it’s a good thing I had no clue what I was in for.
Barry and I left stupid early on race morning to make the 2 hour drive to the Sedalia Center. We checked in, picked up our race bibs and participant mugs, and attended the pre-race meeting. The race started at 7 AM, just before sunrise, with the ominous Terrapin Mountain looming in the distance. It was in the low 30’s and windy. But with a clear day, we were guaranteed some great views along the course.
We started out running down a paved road, and then began climbing up a gravel road that eventually turned to trail. I ran the first mile or so, before starting to alternate hiking and running. During the second mile, I pretty much switched to 100% hiking. I expected to do so, as most of this race’s climbing comes during the first 5 miles.
I had a few waves of nerves hit me as we began climbing. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me. Although I spend a lot of time on trails, these mountain runs are in a league of their own. I definitely felt anxious, similar to when I psyched myself out of the 311 to 220 attempt earlier this year. Each time, I took several deep breaths and told myself to chill out. I reminded myself that I was fine, to just keep hiking, and to take it at my own pace.
We went through one small stream crossing, and then arrived at a bigger creek crossing just before mile 2.5. I had walked through the first one, as I do most water crossings, not minding getting my feet wet. But at the bigger one, I hesitated for some reason. I saw footsteps off to the left at an upper part of the creek and decided to try and cross there. It was a poor choice. I slipped partway across and fell into the deep water – completely submerging my body and head.
I was absolutely soaked from my fall. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I also really banged myself up. I ended up with about 10 bruises on both of my legs, a big bruise on the back of my right thigh, and a cut on my right shin – all from that one fall. I guess I made it count. None of that hurt, though, and actually didn’t bother me until later that day. But I was immediately freezing cold after my fall.
When I fell, some runners behind me called out asking if I was okay. Per usual, I immediately answered I was fine. I popped up out of the water, and continued climbing up the trail.
Within half a mile, the folks who had asked if I was alright caught up with me. Turns out I couldn’t have fallen in front of a better group of people, as several of them were wilderness first aid trained. They again checked in with me to see how I was doing. I replied that I was cold, but I joked we had a lot of miles left and I would dry out. I realize now that they understood my situation a lot better than I did. Remember the weather? With the wind, the ‘feels like’ temperature was in the 20’s and would only get colder as we continued to climb. I was soaked to the bone and my clothes were actually already beginning to freeze.
Side note: I never told anyone about my blog or asked permission to use names, so we’re going with initials for the folks that I met and that helped me on the race course.
One of the runners, P, immediately started offering me a dry layer. She knew I needed to get some of my soaked clothes off of me. However, I was really cold and I couldn’t imagine taking anything off in that wind. Instinct was overriding common sense. As we got closer to the first aid station at Camping Gap (mile 4.1) I got even colder. I started to understand my situation better, and I started to feel scared. I was still with that group, though, and I tried to draw some comfort from that. I didn’t know it, but they were actually keeping tabs on me- watching for signs of hypothermia.
Given my situation, I considered dropping out of the race. However, we had been warned at the pre-race meeting not to drop at the first aid station. They provided support to the 50K runners through mile 22, and wouldn’t be closing up until the afternoon. If you dropped here, you’d be waiting a long time for a ride back. So although I considered it, I felt like I should continue on in the race if I could.
The climb to the first aid station seemed to take forever. I was so cold and I started to feel dizzy. When I finally saw the aid station up ahead I sighed with relief. However, the wind was absolutely gusting in the clearing where the aid station was located. I almost wanted to turn around and go back down the trail to get out of the wind.
There was a lady watching all of the runners come into the aid station. I think she may have been the medical person, because she kind of focused in on the cut on my leg. P explained to her that it was just a scrape, but that I had fallen in the creek and was soaked. She asked if we could get into someone’s car to get out of the wind so she could give me some layers. We were able to do so, and I ditched both my t-shirt and long sleeve for two of her long sleeve shirts. My hands weren’t working well and it took me several minutes to get out of my shirts and put hers on. I think this left her with just one shirt and a thin wind jacket. I asked several times if she would be alright, but she brushed off my questions. I’m pretty sure if I had tried to refuse her dry layers she would have forced me into them. Hah! We couldn’t do much about my soaked capris, but P advised me to tie my long sleeve around my waist. Even though it was frozen, she said it would help keep my core warm.
I felt a lot better with the dry layers on, but was immediately freezing again when we got out of the car. I quickly shoved my t-shirt in my pack and got ready to leave the aid station. Some of P’s group was hanging back to wait for more of their runners, but she said she was going to stay with me. We were headed into the final 0.5 – 1 mile climb to the summit of Terrapin Mountain. It had the steepest sections of trail we would see all day, and had the highest wind.
I didn’t make it too far up the trail, before I was so cold that I wanted to turn around and go back to the aid station. I couldn’t believe how hard the wind was blowing and my bare hands were cold and started to hurt a lot. I was moving really slowly and stopped a few times, but P was up ahead and encouraged me to keep moving. The trail was rocky and I did my best, but I kept stumbling over the rocks which was frustrating.
We soon caught up with T, who was part of the same group as P. I think I had gotten kind of whiny about my hands being cold, which I’m now embarrassed about. T gave me his gloves, which left him with nothing for his hands. He tucked his hands into his sleeves and told me to keep his gloves as long as I needed them. I’m incredibly grateful for their help. The trail community definitely takes care of each other, and I would not have finished this race without them. But beyond finishing or not finishing a race, I would have been in some serious trouble without their assistance. The only thing I had to help myself was my emergency space blanket.
We continued climbing until we finally made it to the top. The view at the summit of Terrapin Mountain was a highlight of the course. I had been looking forward to it, but when we finally made it there I stayed just long enough to briefly take in the incredible view and snap a photo. It was SO windy out on the point, and I started to get very cold again. So I immediately turned around and continued back along the race course. I parted ways with T and P, as they lingered to take in the view. They encouraged me to keep moving and said they’d be right behind me in a few minutes. They also told me it wouldn’t be as windy once I got on the other side of the mountain.
As I headed out on my own, my focus was on getting out of the wind. The trail was rocky, as it roller coastered along the ridgeline. Soon, I arrived at the second ‘highlight’ of the course – a section referred to as “Fat Man’s Misery.” It’s a crevice between two rocks that you have to lower yourself into and shimmy through. It was kind of cool, but honestly not my favorite.
From here the course went through some beautiful sections of mountain laurel. There was a lot of downhill, and I had expected to run all of it and make up some time here. But a lot of it was so steep and technical that I actually had to hike.
I picked my way down the mountain, running when I could, and finally rolled into the second (and last) aid station just before mile 8. On the way there, I linked up with two other runners – A and D. We were well matched, and I would stay with them from here to the finish.
As we left the aid station, we passed by P and T making their way down to the aid station. I was glad to see they were in good spirits, and I returned T’s gloves. P commented that I looked much better. I was feeling good now that I was out of the wind and my pants were nearly dry.
For the record – it took over two hours for my thinnest piece of clothing to dry during the race. My other pieces of clothing (long sleeve, gloves, etc.) were still frozen at the finish.
I was expecting the final 5 miles to be primarily downhill, but there ended up being a fair amount of uphill left to climb. A, D, and I ran when we could and hiked when we had to. There were a few more creek crossings, and this time I made it through them unscathed. In the final 1.5 miles, Barry showed up on the course to run us in.
It was funny when Barry realized half of the clothes I was wearing were not mine. I regaled him with my creek story, and he then shared with us how his race had gone. He had a great day and finished in 2:33 and change. It was nice to have his company and hear about his race. We made our way back onto the gravel road and then the paved road – retracing the course towards the finish.
Once we were on the pavement it was just a short stretch to the finish. We picked up the pace, and crossed together in 4:04. I had a goal of finishing in 4 hours going into this race. Given everything that happened out on the course, I’m happy with my time. After finishing, I got changed into some dry clothes and waited for P and T to finish. Soon they came across the finish line. I again thanked them both for their help, and returned P’s shirts (wish I could have washed them first!). Barry and I then enjoyed the delicious BBQ lunch being served at the finish line before heading home.
All in all, it was another successful race day. But on this day, my success definitely hinged on the goodwill of others. I already knew the running and trail communities were incredible. But that point was definitely driven home at the Terrapin Mountain trail race.