Saturday I ran the Rattlesnake 50K near Charleston, WV as a training run for my 100 miler that is now less than three weeks away (gulp!). I learned first-hand that they don't call people from West Virginia mountaineers for nothing. The only level terrain in this state is man-made, everything else is either up or down. The race website promised 5000' of climbs, but the race director said during the pre-race briefing that is was closer to 10,000' and my Garmin agreed.
I got there the night before and drove out to Kanawha State Forest to get my race number and shirt, eat some pizza, and talk to ultra runners I've run into at other races and introduce myself to runners I'd just met. This is a very low-key race run by friendly and experienced people who want everyone who shows up to have a great time. I've read elsewhere that there was a 10 hour cutoff, but I was assured by other race veterans that Dennis would not pull anyone who was still having fun after the cutoff, that the aid stations might be unmanned, but you could continue running.
I showed up around 6:00 AM Saturday morning, checked in, filled my water bottles, and used the flush toilet facilities. Much better than a mega marathon where you have to spend 20 minutes waiting in line to use a stinky porta-potti. Right at 6:30, Dennis sent us on our way. We started with maybe a quarter mile on the park road, then we were on our way up the first of ten climbs. This was single track uphill and soon everyone was hiking their way up. Since I'm a back of the packer, I stayed in the back and it was kind of fun looking at the long line ahead of me. About half way up the hill, Dan from Kentucky settled into the same pace and we chatted a bit. Then, on the downhill, Rob from Tennessee caught up to us and we ran together until the second aid station. Rob is a very accomplished ultra runner with well over 500 (yes you read that right five HUNDRED) ultra finishes. I got a chance to get some great advice for Burning River since he and Susan ran it a couple of years ago. These guys even made me take the lead up the second climb. I was reluctant, thinking I would slow them down, but I didn't. At the seven mile point the course passed near the start/finish area, so I stopped and used the flush toilets and my companions kept on going.
I completed the last 24 miles on my own. I didn't get passed by anyone and the only person I passed was a gal who was taking a break at the second to last aid station. I thoroughly enjoyed being out in the woods with spectacular scenery. I did see a deer on one of the climbs. She was on the trail ahead of me, ran ahead a bit, looked back as if to say "what's taking you so long" and then scampered up and out of sight. There were also a lot of black and blue butterflies that were pretty and too many pesky flies. Fortunately all the aid stations had bug spray. I never did see Big Foot or any rattlesnakes, but I did see some bear poop.
This course is very difficult. There were ten climbs and I found myself counting down the climbs. Every time I came to an aid station, it meant that a climb was next. Also, for some reason, trail builders here don't seem to believe in switchbacks. Although there were a few, most climbs were straight up and then straight down. Some of the downhill sections were so treacherous, I found myself grabbing and hanging on to trees on the descents. Oh, and there were quite a few downed trees across the trail that we had to climb over. One tree was so large that as I was straddling it, each of my feet was at least a foot off the trail. The absolute "best" part of the trail though, was a section that required rock climbing skills. I saw where the next course marker was and actually said out loud "you have GOT to be s#$*ing me!" All in all, this race is laid back, challenging and lots of fun.
I managed to finish under the official unofficial cutoff time of 10 hours and finished in 9:42:48. I met my goals of having fun, getting in a long "training" run, finishing under 10 hours, and not finishing DFL.
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