Well, I’ve knocked another adventure off the list. This past weekend I ran the longest, furthest and craziest race I’ve ever done……. the Devil Dog 100K!! The Devil Dog is an ultra trail marathon ran through Prince William Forest in Virginia. How did I come upon this race you ask……well let me tell you! 🙂
A few months back, after a group run at my local Fleet Feet store (Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg) a group of us were standing around eating smores and talking about our upcoming races. My coach/friend Fred, who helped me into my finish at Harrisburg Half Marathon (Time for the Next Goal), mentioned that he had plans to run a 100 mile race in December in Virginia. Of course, that got a lot of us talking, mostly about how crazy he was to decide to do something like that. Jokingly, Fred suggested that we sign up to run the race too. Naturally, the discussion of Fred being crazy continued, but that was when he informed us that there was also an option to run a 100K race (62 miles) instead of the 100 mile race. That seemed slightly more reasonable, still quite impossible, but much more attainable than 100 miles. As we left that evening, Fred promised that he’d keep us to our ‘promise’ and would make sure he would get us to run the race.
After a few months of emailing back and forth, talking a lot about who would/could run what distance and who would pace who, the time was getting close. Initially, I thought it was something I could do, but wavered with the idea of added training time and the difficulty I was already having with finding childcare to train for my full (that I hadn’t yet run, mind you). I thought I had settled on being a pacer/crew member for the group. Fast forward a few weeks and some thinking, there were enough pacers and crew set to come and for the first time (it seems like!) I felt pretty confident in my running abilities, I decided……what the hell!! I only live once. I had already made the plans to spend the weekend down there, I’m in shape, perhaps I haven’t trained as much as I could have, but honestly ultra running is more about your mental strength/resolve than your physical strength. I decided to go for it. I signed up with the mindset that I can do this and I will try my best, but, it is more than possible that I won’t be able to finish. If I didn’t finish, I would be okay with that, because I went out there and I tried.
Saturday morning came, it was 6am, dark, cold and there was freezing rain. Here goes nothing! I did my prep, I packed several changes of clothes for different types of weather, sealed in plastic bags to keep away the rain. I brought extra socks and shoes to keep my feet dry. I had plenty of petroleum jelly and body glide to make my own slip and slide! 😉 I also packed quite a bit of fuel and food. The aide stations would be pretty well stocked, but there were going to long distances between aide stations and it’s better to be safe than sorry. I did my research leading up to the race and knew the longer I ran the more calories, salt and electrolytes I would need to be getting back into my body. The course is a 3 loop course, consisting of a first loop of about 23 miles and two loops that were 19.5 miles. Afterwards, we all decided that the course did end up being a little long, so it more likely added up to something between 63 and 64 miles. Unfortunately, I don’t have that data because my Garmin died about 9 1/2 hours into the race.
The first loop we started in the dark and in the freezing rain. There was a layer of ice over everything. There was no way of avoiding getting soaked or falling on your butt! lol 🙂 The weather definitely threw a wrench in the plans for most runners. You don’t realize how much energy you use attempting to stabilize yourself and not fall, until you’ve done that for 23 miles! The majority of the course was single track trail, so of course, that meant our first mile went at a snail’s pace when you add in the rain, the ice, the number of runners and the size of the trail. The first aide station was about 7 miles in. The sun was out, the rain was still coming down, not quite as heavy as in the start, but still a pain. The brim of my hat had developed a layer of ice on it from the last hour or so of running in the freezing rain. I had to continue watching every step I took with the ice, especially when there were ice-covered rocks on the trail. There were a couple of times I got scared because the narrow trail was close to a drop off that went right into the freezing cold Quantico Creek below. The views of the creek were amazing, but I didn’t want to see it up close!! I finished my first loop just before noon on Saturday. The rain was beginning to die down at that point and the sun was coming out from behind the clouds. I came into our base camp (Camp Remi) where my bag of goodies was! I was so excited to get a pair of dry socks on! I changed my clothes, refilled my water, grabbed some more snacks and gels and headed back out on the trail. I was feeling really good so far. I wasn’t too tired, I had been eating at each aide station, making sure to get some extra caffeine as well as drinking my Nuun and Gatorade. One of the things Fred kept telling me leading up to the race was that even if I didn’t finish, as long as I made it past 26.3 miles I could call myself an ultra marathoner! Lol 🙂 I didn’t necessarily feel like I could or would, but I made sure to keep my eye on my Garmin for when I reached 26.3 miles, just for Fred! 😉
The second loop of the course was completely different from the first. The sun was out, the ice had melted and it felt great to be able to take ‘real’ strides and not worry about slipping and falling. One thing I found quite funny was that some parts of the trail almost seemed unrecognizable without the clouds and rain. It was almost as if I was on a different trail all together. At this point in the race, I was doing a lot of running alone or I would occasionally come upon a runner or two but then we would separate from each other. I surprised myself in how much I enjoyed the time alone in the woods. It got to a point where I felt like a machine, just focusing on placing my foot in front of the other or simply thinking of making it to the next aide station. The aide stations were helpful landmarks and things to focus on when alone in the woods.
As I neared the end of loop two, the sun began to set. I had my head lamp ready to go and began preparing the list of things I needed when I returned to Camp Remi. I had plenty of time to think about it! lol I also began to notice some pain and discomfort on my feet and toes, which left me to assume I had some nice sized blisters forming. Taking care of those was also on my to-do list a Camp Remi.
I finished lap two, at a total mileage of about 42.5 miles and a total time of 11:23:34. It was around 5:45pm on Saturday. I was still standing and still going! lol 🙂
The true test of my spirit and strength was going to be the last loop. I will share that with you tomorrow! But, for now, enjoy some pictures from the first two loops! 🙂