Belmonte Endurance 2019


What I loved

  • Pretty sure I say this every time but yet another opportunity to escape the DC area and explore the mountains of Virginia. I did this race last year and was eager to get back in the woods, see some familiar trails, and just free my mind. It has been a busy start to the year and we recently lost one of our dogs. I desperately needed this day to clear my mind.
  • With a 6a start, I decided to try my hand at car camping again. I was excited to use some new gear (pads, coolers, chairs, headlamps, etc) and excited to immerse myself in the spirit of Ultra running, spending as much time deep in the woods as possible. I didn’t quite sleep as much as hoped given the snow and temps and awkwardness of sleeping in a car but it was fun and will hopefully get easier over time.
  • My training this year, or really the past 6 months, is much like a lost puppy. I can’t tell where I am or if I’m improving but I wanted this race to serve as a benchmark. I signed up 10 days before the race so my expectations were modest. I had done enough running to know I’d finish but also knew the day might take longer given the lack of consistency in my training. Or best case, I would have a great day and put down a better time than last year. I ultimately experienced all the normal highs and lows of an ultra and was otherwise thankful for a productive day and the ability to assert my fitness for the months ahead.
  • Lots of snow and ice and fog. Or typical March weather in the Blue Ridge mountains which I love. Some of the descents were difficult to navigate but the conditions made for a fun day.
Hammering up the climb after the 26.2 turnaround.

What I learned

  • Pack what you might need not what you plan to need. I’ve never understood why people have such large drop bags (at various aid stations on the course) with what appears to be their entire trunk packed tight. Normally I pack the things I plan to use in my drop bags but rarely the things I might use if anything changes in the race. This time I packed extra gloves, BioFreeze, Peanut M&Ms, and even a Red Bull. The BioFreeze was a savior as my right IT Band was acting crabby. I stashed the Red Bull in my pack but never drank it even though I’m still glad I had it just in case I had to death march the last 10 miles. So the lesson that every other runner has learned and is somewhat obvious, pack lots of shit because you never know what’s going to happen in a race.
  • Strength training is paying off. I was banged up last October/November and then hurt again for most of January. I’ve focused on functional strength training at least once if not 2-3x a week for the past 4 months. My hips feel night and day better, and as a result, the rest of my body feels better. I was even doing my pre-run clamshells + bridges in my car at 5a which was a bit of a sight for anyone walking past my car. I find it difficult to hit higher weekly mileage if I’m spending more time strength training but I sense this is a good trade off. The evidence was apparent in the last 3 miles and how my body felt the days after the race. I’m getting stronger my legs back!
  • I might not be able to do a mountain 100 but I’m getting better at these 50s. There’s something powerful about knowing you can suffer through a rough patch and finish a race strong. Or knowing it never always gets worse when you hit a wall at mile 20. You just keep grinding, address what your body needs (calories, fluids, music, etc), and do everything you can to stay positive. I thought a lot about staying positive throughout this race which absolutely carried me to the finish line with a smile. I ended up finishing about 25 minutes slower than last year but it appears most of the field was slower this year (nearly half DNF’d compared to a much smaller percentage last year). I suspect the snow and ice slowed me down along with the colder temps late in the day. I wasn’t as focused with my nutrition and felt it in the last climb when I was depleted. I required a few extra minutes at the last aid station to gather myself and eat some warm soup. But I’m very pleased with my race, how I hammered out the last 3 miles, and how my body responded the days after. Time to get back after it!
Overheating on the first climb up to Camp Marty. My buddy Erick right behind me. Was nice having company for a good bit of this race, until I fell off…

Things Others Might Want to Know

Because I want to do something different with my race reports this year…

  • You don’t need a headlamp for the early miles. Unless you’re going out fast, there’s enough daylight by the time you turn off the Blue Ridge Parkway and onto the trails. You might want to carry a headlamp or have in a drop bag if you plan on finishing after 6p. We encountered dense fog for the final 10 miles but visibility was never an issue while there was still daylight.
  • The creek crossings are truly manageable. As the pictures suggest, 2019 got a bit of snow the night before and this led to higher water levels. Some creeks were knee deep while others were ankle deep. And yes, the water was cold. None of the creeks were technically difficult to cross. And given you face them on the out and back, packing a change of socks is an option if utilizing drop bags at Turkey Pen. Wet feet eventually dry so maybe not worry so much navigating the creeks!
  • There really are some runnable sections. The jeep road between two aid stations is meant to be run even though I walked some of those hills. The Blue Ridge Parkway is runnable, even when climbing, and even the last 3 miles that are rolling hills are very runnable. There’s also plenty of runnable sections between climbs or coming down the mountain. If you’re looking to PR, take advantage of these sections.
  • A minor annoyance are the small pools of water that consume the trail between miles 19 and 24. There’s a steady pattern of run, navigate around a large pool of mud/water, and then run again. It’s hard to stay in a groove when you’re doing this on the way out and then again on the return.
  • The last really big climb is no picnic. It’s longer than I remembered with switchbacks that seemingly never end. I’m a fairly strong climber but it beat me down this year. Getting there felt longer too. My only advice is to manage your nutrition well so you have the energy to get up the mountain and manage your patience as getting to the base of the climb from the previous aid station feels longer than it should. Just keep going…