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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Frozen Sasquatch 50K Race Report

It turns out January is a great time of year to visit West Virginia for a little trail running, sightseeing, and some good eats.

Last weekend my wife, mom, sister made the 6 hour drive down to Charleston, WV to support my efforts in completing my first ultramarathon, the Frozen Sasquatch 50K.  In fact it was a weekend of quite a few firsts:
- 1st ultra
- 1st race in WV
- 1st race of the year
- 1st race with my new Christmas present: Garmin Fenix

We got into town on Friday just in time to pick up my packet at the local running shop, being certain to get some restaurant recommendations from the friendly staff.  That immediately led to lengthy, but tasty dinner at Bluegrass Kitchen.

Later that night in the hotel, I spent the better part of an hour organizing all my race stuff.  Being my first race of this distance, I wanted to be sure I had everything laid out beforehand (literally).

Gear organized in 3 sections, before, during, after.

Race morning went smoothly and we found ourselves at the pool area in Kanawha State Forest around 30 minutes before the start.

Right away, I got a glimpse of how pure and intimate a trail race like this can be.  The field was small (around 200 total) and everyone enjoyed conversation before the race, huddled in the heated luxury indoors.  Even the bathrooms were heated, which was an extremely welcome refuge on this West Virginia morning in the 20s.  After a short briefing (Blue ribbon good...yellow bad) we were off for a few hundred meter road run before we hit the trails.

We're off!
Up...slowly.  That's pretty much how the first mile went.  I should have known but I didn't realize it until we hit the trail: I'd started a little farther back than I wanted and I'd soon be caught in the never ending "conga line" up the first climb.  Being my first ultra, my strategy was to take it easy and in hindsight this slow start probably helped.  But during those first 20 minutes, all I wanted to do was run!

Conga line
The course was about half single track, and the other half forest roads, with a couple of short pavement sections sprinkled in.  The 50K was two 25K loops and only about 50 participants were signed up for the second go around.

Once we hit the forest roads around mile 2, it was time to start passing people and even surprised myself with one mile under 9 min!  By the time we got back on single track for an aggressive descent, I was in a group moving at a pace I was comfortable with on the still (mostly) frozen ground in the western portion of the state forest.

We hit the first of the well stocked and well staffed aid stations at mile 5.  I honestly couldn't believe my ears when approaching several stations hearing "What can I get for you?"  I've never encountered this type of amazing hospitality during a race before; each was such a welcoming oasis after each 4-5 mile lonely stretch in between.

At one point during a paved "rail trail" like section about half way through the course, I remember thinking..."If I feel good during the second loop around, I could really open it up here".  Yeah...that definitely didn't happen.  The way the legs feel at mile 7 is a far cry from how they feel at mile 22.

Paved section around mile 7
There was a tough 500' climb coming out of the second aid station which proved to be the emotional low point of the day during the second loop.  It was slow going, but once we hit the fire road at the top of the ridge, it literally was "all downhill from here".

The next portion was a playful section of single track known as the Middle Ridge Trail - my favorite part of the course, featuring some zigs and zags, but nothing technical or taking on much elevation change.  It was also extremely well marked and easy to follow despite having no other runners around me on either time through.  And it was during this section when I felt most comfortable, having the peace and freedom I feel in the woods (minus the AS3 dog barking every few seconds and the fellas in the valley below enjoying some high powered target practice).

The final downhill mile was the most technical of the entire 15 mile loop, surely to test our agility after 30 miles of running.

Coming through the half way I greeted my family, got a refill on water and grabbed a single Clif bar out of my drop bag and headed out for a second loop.  That's right...after all that crap that I shoved in my drop bag, I only needed a Clif bar...better safe than sorry I guess.

Coming through the half way point - feeling good!

"Crunchy" trails
The second loop was, well basically the same as the first except: lonelier, slower, muddier and much much more difficult.  I walked most of the climbs on the second half, and it was nice to not really care about my pace.  It was difficult enough already, ya know...running 31 miles and all.

After coming down the final sketchy descent unscathed, my wife ran alongside me for the final 200 meters through the parking lot, with words of encouragement like "run faster and get in under 5:53!" all while wearing her winter boots!  A short sprint meant that I made it in as she directed, with 6 seconds to spare.

A full, detailed view of my race can be found here.

Wow - I look thrilled to be done.

It was an extremely rewarding experience that couldn't have gone much better, especially given that it was my first race > 26.2.  My nasty ankle sprain from two weeks prior barely bothered me, I didn't have any stomach issues, and I left with nice handcrafted artwork as my finisher's award.  Later that night we took advantage of the other recommended restaurant: Pies and Pints, both of which were enjoyed to the fullest.  Leaving the Mountain State with full stomachs, good memories, sore muscles, and smiles all around is the best and only way to do it.

A big thanks goes to all who made the race possible, and providing the opportunity for me to really enjoy my first ultra!

I rigged up the finisher's award as a medal!


  1. Good job out there, hope you can come down and do some more ultras, I think i'll use your distance as the official distance measurement for the course 31.02 miles, cant get much closer to a 50k than that.

  2. Glad you enjoyed our trails. Be sure to come back next year. Nice report and nice run.