Saturday, December 26, 2009

Seashore 50K VA, Beach - Running In a Nor'easter

My final ultra of 2009 was all setup just a week before Christmas in Beth's home town of Virginia Beach. The course sounded delightful - flat, alongside the ocean, inside a nice eco system called First Landing State Park.

I had set a huge goal for me in this race. To finish feeling strong under 6 hours. My best 50K time to date was 6:12 at Landsford Canal back in July. The time was just a minor goal. As always I'm thrilled to finish any ultra.

Three days before the event the weather is saying 44 degrees with a 50% chance of rain. Two days before the forecast is 38 degrees with a 80% chance of rain. The night before the race it is already pouring rain in Virginia Beach with 30 mph wind gust. The forecast for the race: Wind gust up to 40 mph, heavy rain, temperatures set to hover around freezing by noon. I must be mad because I remember going to sleep smiling to the sound of rain and wind hitting the bedroom window the night before. I knew to enjoy the warm bed while I could.

Saturday morning arrives and my brother in law Nick (staying with his family) drives us down to check in at the park. As we go over various bridges we can feel the SUV getting thumped around by the various wind gusts. We share running stories and laughs over hot coffee as he drives, but in the back on my mind I know this is going to be a tremendous challenge.

Nick drops me off and sees that I get to the start line and then he heads to a aid station where he will be volunteering for the race. I sent along a thermos of hot chicken noodle soup with him for me to dip into throughout the race. Very good idea!

Despite the weather over 100 runners toed the line and the race director sent us on our way. The first mile into the trail was not so bad. It was wet, but runable. After that all conditions went downhill quickly.

The course was out-n-back. 3.15 miles on wooded trail then the aid station. 2 miles on black top then aid station. Then you turn around and run it back to the start. This was to be done three times for about 31 miles. Nick was positioned perfectly with the soup and encouragement at the middle aid station.

We start the race at 7:30 AM and the wind is howling at the start line. As we ran into the woods the trees held much of the wind off for the 3.15 mile trail portion of the race. However, the trail brought its own punishment with 6-10 inch mud puddles that took my shoes off a few times. After hitting the aid station the trail turns onto a partially wooded black top road that leaves you exposed to a beautiful view of the bay. The mud is gone at this point, but the wind & rain are slamming me during this portion. I ran this first out-n-back faster than any other ultra so far. I thought it would probably be a stupid move. Time would tell.

As a arrive back to the starting line 10.5 miles into the race I already see runners dropping out. You can see the look of "its over" in their eyes. I forgot about them quickly and buried my head into some peanut M&Ms and PB sandwiches. The fun was about to begin on the second leg and I didn't even know it.

I head back out to cover the second out-n-back and the trail is trashed. I mean it looks like a stampede of Clydesdales have trampled up and down it. Some runners try to shimmy around the big mud holes, but I just trudge through the middle. Around mile 12 the temperature takes a big dip down closer to freezing and the wind & rain become relentless. For the next two miles I can barely see more than 10 feet in front of me. Thankfully, it was nearly impossible to get off course on this trail or I may have been swimming in the ocean. Wait! I almost did that too!

So I pass Nick at the aid station and he hooks me up with some of that ummmm ummmm good soup. I grab a few oranges and some cookies and head out for the 2 mile paved road portion. I could only imagine what the weather was gonna throw at me through here. This road takes you to the tip of the park and it circles at the end to send you back the other way. Just before the circle the bay had flooded about 50 yards of the road!!! WOW! So now runners are wadding through hip high water in near freezing temps with downpours of rain and ferocious winds. I loved it! At this point I knew for certain that I would finish this race. I was only concerned that the race director may end up calling it off as conditions fell apart. After crossing the bay two times I knew that I still had to come back and do it two more times around the 25 mile mark when I would be much more tired.

After crossing the water I continued running and the weather continued its punishment. I tried to get a few conversations going with other runners, but no one was really interested. So instead I took this time to enjoy the Christmas season and sing Jingle Bells and Silent Night about twenty times in a row.

I reach the turn around point again around mile 21 and more runners are dropping out. I offered to run with one guy who still looked very strong, but he said that was it for him. I quickly put those thoughts through the mental shredder and headed back out for my 3rd and final lap. At this point the trail was a complete slop pit. All that could be done was to put one foot in front of the other and keep my head down when the wind & rain came driving down.

Nick poured me my last cup of hot soup at the middle aid station and told me a few "you look strong" lies which were a tremendous lift. I ran out of the aid station to find that they flooded road had gotten longer & deeper. Several runners were opting to bush whack around it, but I just went through it again. When I reached the other side I could not feel my legs and my core temperature had dropped dramatically. I had a few cookies and a banana in my coat which I quickly devoured out of fear of hyperthermia coming on. When I arrived back at the flooded road for the forth & final time I decided to follow the other runners making their own trail around it too. I could not risk getting that cold again.

I was so scared of getting hypothermia that I ran the next two miles pretty hard back to the final aid station. Nick said that he would meet me at the finish and I left him with just over 3 miles to go through the mud marsh. I put my head down and ran as fast as I could go for a mile. I realized that I could not hold that pace for two more miles so I had to let up a bit. At this point all that I could think about was warm clothes and heat.

I came upon a guy and lady that I had been switching positions with all day. The guy started walking, but the lady was still running. I followed behind her for about a mile thinking that if I could just keep up with her that it would soon be over. About a half mile from the finish I found that little excited burst of energy which allowed me to pass her and see what I thought was the finish line in the distance. I slowed down only to find a few volunteers telling me that I still had a half mile to go on the black top road to finish.

I remember relaxing my shoulders and taking deep breaths which allowed me to run strong and get across that finish line. It seemed like that last half mile went on forever, but I finally made a turn to see the finish line and the clock read exactly 6:00:15 when I was close enough to see it. I ended up finishing in 6:00:33 which was only 34 seconds off my goal. I was fine with the time on a day like that.

Pictures courtesy of Nick Cerda:

Getting the Medal!

All wrapped up & some place to go!

Long sleeved technical Shirt
Gore-Tex Jacket
Water/Windproof Gloves
Addidas coolmax running pants
Drymax socks
Coolmax face cover & fleece toboggan

It was a tough, but fun race in a beautiful park. I hope to run there again when the weather is better.

Next up - Weymouth Woods 100K on 1/16/10 !!

For future wet winter runs here is what I wore:


  1. Amazing! Hip high water?? I cannot imagine. You are one tough dude. How many finished out of the 100? CONGRATS!!!!!

  2. OMG! True dedication to finish a race in that kind of weather and trail conditions. I cannot even complain about the rain and 40's expected for my ultra on Thursday. Nothing compared to your feat! And congrats on making your 6 hour goal!!!

  3. Beth - I think 189 runners started and 150 finished. I'm not sure how many DNF'd or just dropped. I'm thinking more probably just dropped.

    Lynne - Good luck on the ultra Thursday! You are more than prepared and you will do great. Remember to have fun!!!!

  4. Ha! Sounds like a blast! Good job in terrible conditions. I'm up at Beech Mt. this week. Right now, it's 12 degrees with 20mph wind, so -6 wind chill. A dusting of snow coming down on top of the 12" or so already here. It's been fun running! Take care & good luck at Weymouth Woods.

  5. great report! That's some hard-core running.

  6. Wow! Congratulations on not dropping out! What an amazing time :-)

  7. Good one, Jason!! Way to harden up and stay out there on a challenging day.

  8. Congrats! I love running in the rain, but cold rain can be miserable at times. I'm hoping for my 1st ultra in 2010...thanks for the posts and making me think it's possible!

  9. Thanks for the pat on the back. Have you picked out your first ultra for 2010 yet?

    If I can do it then anyone can!