Monday, May 23, 2011

Capon Valley 50K, May 7, 2011

I spend Friday afternoon touring Civil War battlefields that figured in Sheridan's Valley Campaign in the Fall of 1864 south of Winchester (Cedar Creek, Fisher's Hill and Tom's Brook).  I'm particularly interested in the first and the last, as Custer fought at them and I'll be visiting Custer's last battle, the Little Big Horn, next month.  In one of those deathbed moments so beloved in the 19th century, Custer held the hand of Confederate General Stephen Ramsuer as he died from his wounds at Cedar Creek.  A key portion of Fishers Hill has been preserved by the Civil War Trust and has a walking path with an excellent interpretive brochure.

I stop at Big Daddy's in Stephens City for some delicious barbecue, then head to Yellow Spring for packet pickup at the Ruritan Club.  They have a drawing for several door prizes and I win a small, hand-hooked mat of a sheep.

At the start
Race day conditions are about perfect with temperatures in the 50s, headed for the low 60s.  There is a chance for showers later in the day.  It's just a bit cool for me and I elect for a long sleeve shirt knowing that I'll be pushing the sleeves up before I've gone too far.

I meet Kate A. at the Ruritan Club where I down a freshly made pancake that covers the entire plate and have a glass of orange juice.  Breakfast sets me back $1.25, but as I hand the volunteers $2, someone is getting a $.75 cup of coffee, so I tell them to use my change to pay for his drink.

Unlike the three other years I have run Capon, there is no prayer or National Anthem before the start.  The approximately 150 runners walk outside to the start and someone must say 'go' as we begin to run.

Kate and I run easily near the back of the pack. I chat with a runner from the Pagoda Pacers of Reading, PA who I had also run with at Bull Run Run 50M.  Kate has a cast on her right wrist due to a bruised bone that has refused to heal since January, but says it is lighter than carrying a water bottle.

I'm familiar with the course from previous years and tell Kate what to expect as we go along.    A couple of miles into the run we come to the first stream crossing.  The water is up a bit from rain the previous week, and  knowing that this is only the first of  numerous crossings to come, I run through it rather than try to pick my way over it.

We soon arrive at Lynn G.'s horse barn, the first aid station (mile 3.4).  Someone calls my name.  It is Lynn F., someone I've known from our days working on Capitol Hill.  She has a house nearby, but her husband is a college president and normally she is away at graduation in May.  But this time she is in Yellow Spring, and we exchange greetings. I'd like to linger and chat, but the clock is running and Kate has blasted through the aid station and I need to hustle to catch up with her.

Sun-struck Kate cruising along
We cruise along easily. I feel like I can run faster, but Kate is good at pacing and I decide to go with her rather than my a all-too-often fly-and-die strategy.

Kate spots the remains of a deer carcass by the side of the trail.  All that remains are bones - the ribcage is still intact -and some hide.  She pulls out her camera and snaps a picture. "My boys will love this one," she says.

I spot a runner ahead with what look likes a Bighorn Trail shirt.  I ask for confirmation and Phil H. tells me that he has done it previously and is going out there this year as well, just as I am.  He is doing the 50K while I'm doing the 50M.  He tells me that he had previously tried the 50M and missed one of the cutoffs.  We run together for awhile and he compares the hills of Capon to those of Bighorn.  Just past the water stop (mile 6.8) the course goes up a steep incline.  "This is like 'The Wall' at Bighorn," he informs me.  "But it goes on for a couple of hours," he adds.  The climb at Capon is over in ten minutes.

As we go down the steep downhill under the powerlines about eight miles into the race, we catch up with Michelle P. and  Amanda D.  It was Michele who convinced me that I could run Capon as my first ultra in 2007, perhaps because she forgot to mention that it involved significant ascents and descents.  The descent under the powerlines is still a bit frightening to me as it involves loose rocks and an eroded path, but not as bad as it was the first time I saw it in 2007.

Field and sky on the Capon Valley course
We splash across the river to get to the next aid station (mile 10.5).  I've left a drop bag there with shoes and socks, but I know from the earlier stream crossings that there will be more to come, so I don't bother changing anything.

In the next mile or so we crisscross Back Creek while we head uphill.  The course levels out as we run through and past fields, then past the old grass airstrip before heading down the short steep paved road to the next aid station (mile 14.4).

While Kate and I are generally running together, she spends almost no time at aid stations, refueling herself with GUs.  I on the other hand, eat chocolate chip cookies, M&Ms, Pringles and Coke at the aid stations, so I have to chase after her after leaving each one.

I provide commentary and coming attractions on the course for her.  Just before entering the stretch to what I call the 'spooky house' I nearly stumble and fall over in one of the creek crossings.  But only my shorts have gotten a bit wet, and Kate derides my claim to falling in.  Apparently only getting submerged save for your left ear counts for her, based on Mark Z.'s mishap at Bull Run earlier in the year.

We head up the road past the 'video surveillance' signs.  Off to the side is a collection of rusting auto hulks, looking worse than when I saw them two years ago.  Past the house where the fellow sits and politely responds to our hello.  Once past the three slowing disintegrating Peugeot sedans the trail starts up the long climb (maybe 500-600 feet) to an old logging or fire road that runs parallel to the top of the ridge.  The level section is both muddy and rocky.

I reach down and toss a stick off the trail.  "You are still a teenager," Kate jokes to me.  I thought I was doing a good deed by grooming the trail, and Kate thinks I'm just playing! But maybe it is a bit of both.  I tell her that what she said gives me a promotion from the age that Sandy usually says I act. 

I dash ahead a bit to get to the next aid station (mile 18.7) in advance of Kate so that I can refill the borrowed Nathan pack that I'm using.  Kate catches me and we make good time down the long downhill.  The course has been slightly rerouted here, as there are logging operations taking place.

More stream crossings and mud greet us, and we take turns taking action photos of each of us running through the streams.  She'r reminding me to keep drinking, and truth be told, it is easy to forget to drink without having a bottle in my hand.  In addition, I lose track of 

As we approach the Capon Springs Road crossing  there are several boys playing with toy guns by the side of the path.  They helpfully tell us that the road crossing is just ahead.  One volunteers to escort us to the crossing, and so we have an 'armed' escort.  The boy stops at a table where his father, a volunteer member of the rescue squad is sitting, while his colleagues make sure that we get safely across the lightly traveled road for the quarter mile stretch of dirt road to the next to last aid station (mile 24.4).

The gravestone of Jemima
Kate barely stops at the aid station, but I get my usual refreshments and also remove my pack to refill it.  By the time I head up the hill, Kate is barely in sight.  Try as I may, I can't narrow the gap, and the climb up this next-to-last long hill is tough.  After a brief flat section it turns steeply downhill to the final stream crossing of the day.

I see Kate across the stream and headed up the other side for the last steep climb.  But I'm seriously running out of energy and have to stop several times to gather my strength.  By the time I reach the top of the ridge, Kate is nowhere to be seen.
And then it starts to rain.  Just a few drops and hard to feel in the woods, but definitely rain.  I'm on the lookout for the solitary tombstone of Jemima, and I spot it and take a picture.  The inscription reads: "JEMIMA/wife of/Davis Farmer./Born/Dec. 20, 182?/Died/Aug. 9, 1883/-- years 7 mos" With the climbing behind me I regain my strength and can run again.

The rain is getting heavier approaching the barn (mile 27.6) for the second time.  Leaving it and heading down the short stretch of gravel road, the rain is now being blown into my face.  It is cool and I'm glad that I didn't change to a short-sleeve shirt, as I pull down the sleeves to keep warm. In less than another five minutes the rain stops.

Capon Valley swag 
I had long given up my hope to have finished in 6:30, and now I've given up hope of finishing in seven hours.  The last mile I run with a pair of runners, Bob F., running his sixth Capon (PR 5:30) and 22nd ultra and Nicole K, running her first ultra.  We talk about our times. None of us are concerned.

We cross the bridge over the Capon River, cross the same field we crossed hours earlier, retrace our steps up Capon River Road and finish at the Ruritan Club.

I finish in 7:06:36, 106/148 overall; 72/94 males; 4/8 in my age group.  It is my second fastest Capon finish of the four times I've run it, although closer to my slowest (7:10) than my fastest (6:57).

Kate gets a plastic bag at the last aid station to protect her cast and finishes in 6:57. I enjoy the chicken dinner at the Ruritan Club and even though I don't have much on an appetite for the chicken, I do have two desserts.
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For more on my experiences at Capon Valley 50Ks, read my 2007 and  2008 Capon Valley reports.  My 2009 report is not online.