The Old Glory Trail Runs took place on November 9 at the Kairos Wilderness Resort in Glen Lyn, VA. The race name is significant, as the race is held on Veteran’s Day weekend to honor our veterans. Runners have the option of running the 10K, half marathon, or 50K distance. I opted for the half marathon, as did Barry.
I have to admit, I was nervous about this race. I’m at a point where I definitely feel like I can run a half marathon on any given day. But this wasn’t any ordinary half marathon – this was a challenging trail half marathon. The race website advertised technical trails, several stream crossings, and lots of climbing and descending.
I was kind of a mess heading into this race: I wasn’t nearly as prepared for the climbing as I would have liked; I was in the process of getting over a sinus infection; and earlier in the week, I had two ribs out of place which were now being held in place with KT tape. The irony is from a running standpoint, for once, I was feeling good… no lingering injuries, no “niggles.” So I guess you could say things were kind of up in the air. To add to that, UltraSignup had my predicted finish time at 5:28. I thought that sounded ludicrous – no way it would take me that long to run a half! It turned out to be closer to accurate than I anticipated…
Barry and I were up
bright dark and early to make the hour drive to race headquarters – “Ed’s Place” at Kairos. We picked up our bibs and prepared for the race start at 8 AM. It was in the mid-20’s, with sunshine and a light breeze. Cold, but overall a great day for a race.
About 15 minutes before the start, we had a pre-race meeting. As in the pre-race emails, the race director, Steve, reiterated the importance of keeping our eyes up to watch for signage and course markings. This is often the message for trail races, but for this particular race it would be easy to get off course if you’re running with your head down. However, I felt like the course was well-marked and as long as you were paying attention, there wasn’t any reason to end up off course.
Before the race, I met up with Chitra, whom I had last run with at the Blacksburg Classic 10 Miler in 2012 or 2013. It was awesome to reconnect with her again. We decided it would be fun to stick together during the race. We all gathered in front of Ed’s Place (about 50 runners total between the half and 50K), listened to a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, and were off and running at 8 AM on the dot. We headed down the gravel road a short way before veering onto the trails. Within the first mile, we came to our first overlook at a powerline cutout. It was gorgeous!
The first part of the race course was fairly mild, in terms of hills. Chitra and I ran and hiked along at a steady pace. We wanted to conserve our energy because we suspected it was going to get much tougher later – and we were right! Since it’s mid-November, the trails were leaf-covered and we had to be very careful not to roll an ankle from the hidden roots and rocks on the trail. We even found ourselves often hiking the downhills because the trails were so rugged.
The race course wound through the woods, and around mile 4 we ran by the field where we parked and the campground next to Ed’s Place. My fingers and toes were really cold at the start of the race, but were finally starting to warm up. We got a glimpse of the finish arch as we continued through the woods. Around mile 5.5, we arrived at Aid Station 1 (“Foxtrot”). I grabbed a PB&J square and Chitra and I kept moving. We were headed out on a large loop that would bring us back to the same aid station. On our way out, we got a peek at the hill we would have to tackle upon our return- but no need to worry about that now. In front of us lay a wide, smooth downhill where we were finally able to open up a bit and really run.
This was one of four downhills in the race where I truly got to run and make up some time. It was also another really beautiful section of the course, as we spilled out at the bottom onto a creek bed.
The race course took us back and forth between Virginia and West Virginia. This section of the course is where I started to understand the significance of running on trails that were designed for ATVs and dirt bikes. Every climb we went up was steep, and pretty much went straight up (often 12-36% grade). Fun fact: Four wheelers don’t use switch backs. It’s very different running on trails that were designed for four wheeling/dirt biking than it is to run on trails that were designed for mountain biking/hiking/running/horseback riding.
I knew there was going to be a lot of climbing in this race. It’s always hard to look at an elevation profile and truly comprehend what you’re getting into. I’ve run races with similar distance and elevation gain, however the Old Glory trails were in a class of their own. But let me tell you, the scenery was gorgeous. There were so many times that Chitra and I looked at each other and said “wow, this is beautiful!”. The course really showcased the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
As we made our way up one of the hills, Barry and several other runners were on their way down. He looked good and was running strong, and we high-fived on the way by. We continued climbing up and were rewarded with some beautiful views. I loved this part of the trail, as it ran along the ridge with the New River off to our right.
Somewhere through here, we went up a hill that was so steep I actually took a couple of breaks while hiking up it. Around mile 8 we arrived at the second official overlook on the course. It was gorgeous and the photo just doesn’t do it justice.
There was some more downhill that we once again tackled with a mix of hiking and running. And then we arrived at the first of two hills that have their own name on the course. Mile 9 – welcome to Asses and Elbows. Photos never do this stuff justice. But just trust me, this hill was steep. It was the kind of steep where if you leaned too far back, you were going to find yourself back at the bottom. Luckily I only climbed it once. However, this is the point in the race where both of my quads and my right hamstring started cramping. I think the cramping was primarily from being ill-prepared for the climbing. I took a salt pill at the top of the hill and hoped it would help.
This was the last part of the loop, and we were now on the downhill where I had seen Barry awhile ago. On our way up, Chitra and I totally thought we would run this downhill. But once we made it back there, we couldn’t figure out why we thought we would run down it- too steep and rocky! A pair of dirt bikers rode by us here – the only ones we would see all day. Then it was back along the creek and up the trail to get back to the Foxtrot aid station around mile 10.5ish. I refilled one of my flasks with water and also drank half a cup of Coke. Now it was time for that hill I mentioned earlier, which happened to be the second named hill in the race: Freakin’ Ditch.
Upon seeing the ‘expert only’ sign on the tree (which did not have to do with the race) I yelled to the aid station volunteers “I am not an expert, I need to come back down.” They laughed and cheered me on as I begrudgingly faced the hill. It was another hill that forced me to stop several times to take breaks, and also triggered more cramping in my quads. I would choose a tree in the distance, focus on getting there, and then take a small break before repeating the process. The trail led us up to a road. We were almost to mile 11 and feeling like we should be about done. We ran by a sign directing the 10K runners to head to the finish. A different sign directed half and ultra runners back into the woods.
Here, we ran down an awesome downhill into a sort of ravine area. The trail followed a creek as we headed into another loop section. We went up a very steep hill to the high point on the course, and then onto a section called “the donut.” From there we had another nice, long downhill.
I lost my bearings several times during this race, and it basically broke my heart when the downhill trail led us back into the ravine. We were so close to finishing the race, and now we would have to climb back up this massive hill that we had run down around mile 11. I guess it was the only way to get to the finish line. But you could see straight up the hill to the top, which crushed me. It was at this point that I decided I was going stop right there, and live the rest of my life in the woods at the bottom of the hill. That sounded like a better fate than climbing up it. So dramatic, right? It was a nice thought, but then I got back to business, using my tree to tree climbing method. My quads and hamstring cramped again really bad on the way up this hill.
For reference, the above photo was taken about halfway up the climb and the pink arrow shows where we were headed:
Here is the elevation profile for the course. That last spike on the far right is the final hill en route to the finish.
We made it back onto the gravel road and I saw my favorite sign of the day: “To The Finish!”. And off to the finish I went, down the gravel road. I veered off the road and had to run up one final hill in the grass to get to the finish line. I mean, at this point, what’s one more hill right?
Barry cheered me on, and I crossed the finish line and got a high five from Steve. I finished the race in 5:11, about an hour longer than I anticipated. But hey- I beat that UltraSignup prediction by 17 minutes! Take that! It was a tough day, but I really enjoyed Chitra’s camaraderie and I look forward to running together again soon.
The race did end up being longer than a half. We were warned it was closer to 14 miles in the pre-race email. I know that GPS isn’t the most accurate in the woods, but I measured 15.15 miles. Hard to say what the true distance is, but I think you could easily call this race a 25K.
After recovering a bit and getting some dry clothes on, I wandered back over to the finish area to enjoy some post-race food. The chili and cornbread were perfect for a cold day. There was also coffee, hot chocolate, seltzer water, plenty of beer, and s’mores fixings available for the runners. I have to say, this is why I love small races. They always feel more personal, and you get special touches like homemade chili and fire pits to hang out around at the finish.
Overall this was a strenuous, demanding race. But thats why we do these things, right? To test ourselves. We wouldn’t want it to be easy. Sometimes people refer to very tough trail races as “graduate level races.” In line with that, I would call Old Glory a “college level race.” I would not recommend this race for your first trail race. But with a little experience under your belt, this event is a great place to challenge yourself. Solidly Type 2 fun.