I was fortunate to take part in the Rim to River 100 at the New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia of their second year race.
Monday quarterbacking – Of course I could still have done better, such as be more efficient at the aid stations. I noticed many people I was able pass on the trail, but they were able to beat me back when going through an aid station because they were able to get in and get out under 5 minutes, while it took me about 15 minutes to get through one. There were as many as 10 stations. Granted some people might have a pit crew helping them. I might able to cut an hour or two off the clock if I have been a bit more efficient.
Second – toward the end of the race, I realized many people were much better at walking up hills than me. Their walking pace is my running pace. Their gait seemed to be effortless. It was not even a fast walk for them. I saw both male and female walking much faster than me. I don’t think height is an issue here. There were shorter females who out walked me.
That said, I signed up after reading a blog post from trailrunning100 (go check out her blog, she is a race director and she runs 100 mile races everywhere), and also by word of mouth from a few West Virginia running friends. I did it mainly because of the challenge and also for the beauty of the course. I think many people also had the same idea.
As for preparation, In hindsight, I would say running a 100 mile race was a good preparation – here I mean Rocky Raccoon I did in February. It gave me a good base. Jokingly, but so true!
I orginally planned to go out to the course couple times to cover the entire portion (I had covered only 20 miles the first time I went, there were still another 35 ish miles not yet covered – the course being an out and back, and so it is not necessary to cover all 100 miles). My summer and then fall didn’t give me the chance.
Trails. The trails at Rim to River are not hard to run. I mostly walked though and it was all walking by nightfall. I am the back of the pack runners. For those who can run, this race is a cinch. I met older people who finished it in 30 hours easy.
There maybe a few sections that were iffy (meaning for pros only) – like the part climbing up from the Kaymoor mine, the Arbuckle trail, and the single trail out to Ansted. Some were just too steep to run. And I think the single trail section to Ansted also was not runable, due to the fact it being an out and back race, you are held up there for people to pass by because the trail being narrow.
There were some harder climbs especially at the end, but they didn’t bother me much. I mean those who were able to get through halfway are not doing to give up just because of couple hills. Same with me. Most of the big climbs were on roads earlier in the race, such as one to Thurmond. Some say the race had between 11,000 to 16,000 ft. I take it at their words. Some runners said 13’000 ft, the race organization said 16,000. I felt it was much less.
Expectation. For the Rim to River Race, I went in first expecting to finish around 28-29 hours (we had 32 hours total) like at my last 100 mile. However, as night progressed, I had to reset my expectation a few times.
Pacing. Walk/run ratio. I think I walked as much as 75% of time. The first half, I could maintain about 15 min per mile including rest time at aid stations. The race cutoff pace was 19 min per mile. I believe during the night, I was moving around at 24 min per mile.
Gears and equipment. I used standard stuff, hydration pack, some people didn’t. I didn’t use poles but they might have been helpful. Poles were a norm here – think 50% or more carried them. I think all did toward the end. I wore layers. I switched shoes but I don’t think others did. All boring stuff. Water is heavy that is a fact when you are tired and I carried a lot but I still ended up being dehydrated. I only peed twice during the whole race — maybe because it was cold and I did not want to drink. Peeing was painful (I know, I might damage my kidneys).
Chafing and blister control: I was good till near the end. I lubed myself at mile 60 when it became uncomfortable, though I should have done it much earlier, but after lubing I felt great, and no more chafe. I could move painfree. I have gotten lazier of not lubing before the race. A surprised story (for those in the know) at the end of a race, I overheard a female runner saying it hurt down there and it did not matter what lube she puts she said! Ah, pain only runners know. And I thought only guys have that problem, and now female too. Solution is of course to lube and lube often, but I think she is new to the long distance running. I was laughing inside when I heard her talked. I didn’t offer my 2-cent. Yes, the first time I ran long distance (26 miles) it was very painful!
I relied solely on aid stations for all my food and snacks. I drank only water and skipped the pop. I did carry a package of gel from home and I used it. I had no problem with my nutrition. No matter what, you would be under calories. I ate when available, mostly chicken broth and ramen. Nutrition was something I worry about before coming into the race – they said to test and work out what best for your stomach. I threw up before in a race. I felt nutrition was something I did not have the time to figure out. In the end it was a non-issue.
Aid stations. They were adequate. People were always enthusiastic to serve us when we came to one. They were always full of people, not like some other races at night where everyone is asleep. I am from the back of the pack too meaning the buck of the crowd already went through and I shouldn’t expect VIP treatment! But I did receive good stuffs (food and water) at every single one.
They had portable heaters at night and they were a godsend. They were so comfortable that we did not want to leave. We had three drop bag locations. I used only two.
Most stations were between 6-10 miles apart. The farthest one apart was 11 miles. I heard some runners were saying a bit too far. This was from Cunard (mile 27) to Long Point (mile 38/39?). I ran out of water on that stretch (and I carried 2 liters) but it was not a dealbreaker – because I was not thirsty.
Incident 1/Race Highlight: One main reason for a slower run in this race was — I tripped and fell and broke my glasses in the late afternoon, around 4-5pm and it became apparent running at night was out of the question. The fall did not hurt me, but my glasses was broken into several (“many” pieces in my mind at the time) pieces. It was impossible to glue it or tape it back at that point in time. Several others runners tried to help by offering tape or super glue, but deep down I knew I had to do the rest of the race without my glasses.
The true solution is I should wear goggles when running. I am just lazy to get myself a pair. My balance was super good though and saved me from falling many times. You came to rely not on sight but to trust your feet.
By nightfall, I could not see the trail any more when lighting was dim – I was blind to rocks, roots, stumps, branches, and puddles, because everything were invisible to me. I had my headlamp but they were not super bright and though the brightness could be adjusted – I had never tested how long the battery would last if I had it on the brightest setting. I am guessing, maybe 2 hours max. I didn’t bring enough battery for the 12 hour of darkness, so I did not want to set it on the brightest setting. A brighter light might have helped me in seeing better and so run better. The 12 hour night time was a huge setback for me.
I fell or stumbled many times at night. Most of the time, I was not hurt. Couple times though my wrists and hands took the blunt of it. After falling enough time, I decided to “team up” with other runners. I asked if I could just stay with them, having them kind of pace me. They could help me avoid most of the branches and other obstacles. A lady “paced” me while pacing her runner. We got through maybe 10 miles together. This was around miles 65-75. It lessened the burden of me trying to find my way without able to see much.
I know and think a few runners got annoyed with me tagging behind. I leave their names/bib unidentified/and I’ll leave out the details – not worth repeating. I somehow could not build rapport with runners in this race unlike other races, not sure if they were super competitive or super stressed out. In the past, runners, especially trail runners are like a family. When you meet up, it is like a long lost reunion. So it is easy to connect. Not so at this race. This is not indicative of all runners there, just a few who were around me throughout the race, for example, the few runners I were with in the first couple hours were kind (at least acknowledged your presence like you belong with them), but unfortunately, I don’t think any of them finish. You know if you spent 30+ hours side by side, they would at least tell you their name, at the very least after the first couple minutes! But no, not so here. Not a good bedfellow! Not even after we finished together! I was happy my friend and his group of friends were there and I had my own celebration. Enough said, I won’t bring race into the discussion. There were surprising a lot asians on the course. In the past, it is rare to see another asian running ultras. In this race, there was one with my name too! A first! He is quite amazing based on his ultrasignup page.
I appreciated one pacer especially for her help (She later introduced herself again at the end of the race as Katlyn) though with me not wearing my glasses I couldn’t able to see what she looks like or to recognize her in the future. She said she only did 15 miles leading up to the event, but that night she paced her friend for over 45 miles! The audacity. What a friend. She stopped and pulled me up when I tripped and fell.
Anyway, I strived out on my own later in the night when I believed the two ladies who I kept pace (and it was hard to find people willing to let you stay behind) with might not have a chance at finishing the race because their pace was much slower than I wanted (Spoiler: They did finish and only a few minutes behind me, right on my tail) and the chance of finishing was slipping away. I used myself as a measuring stick in many races, calling myself the course unofficial sweeper, basically those who are behind me are likely won’t able to finish. So I felt I was on a sinking boat when I was with them.
I fell once more after I left all other people. But my confident was stronger than before because daybreak would be soon (still was maybe 2-3 hours away, but mentally it was the expectation that the night was more than half over). Also by now I was back on the same trail (Kaymoore Trail) we were on earlier in the daytime and I kind of recognized all the bends etc, so I didn’t have to find my way. As long as I could stay on the same trail and I would be good till the finish. I felt I could move faster on my own.
Incident 2. Staying on the trail was an art when you are in a drunken state due to the lack of sleep. By 4 AM, sleep deprivation started to get to me. I started seeing stuff – and without glasses any shadow would become like real objects. I was avoiding fake trees and brushes and beautiful falling leaves and more so as the night wore on. I was by myself, no headlamp in front nor behind. The trail was pitblack, except my own headtorch.
I saw electrical leaves in neon color – with fluorescene glow, a beautiful sight. To me they looked so real and natural (like in the movie Avatar).
Once, I walked off the trail toward the cliff side. I slid off but luckily not too far, otherwise, I might have ended in the river down in the gorge (namesake of the race).
As much as I told myself to keep awake, but the body won (The spirit is willing but the body is weak). Most of the time though the trail has wide enough shoulders, so it is impossible to fall off of the cliff. Why was I sleepwalking? I felt I could close my eyes a bit and walk and rely on my feet. It was a bad idea because I felt asleep for real. But I felt asleep too even with my eyes open (I caught myself with my mind blank out several times). I forgot to ask for coffee at the last aid station during the night. This lasted maybe an hour before I became fully awake again.
Incident 3. Other than stepping off the trail, when the course turned away from the main trail, I had another near saved/end experience. The Erkins Aid Station on the map showed it was literally on the trail, but on race day, the station was like 500 ft off to the right and on top of a hill by a road, that it couldn’t be seen from the trail. And I missed it, and passed right by the turn off.
By now it was day time and I was awake. It was probably around 8 ish (7 in post day light saving ended), and sun was up though we didn’t see it. In my mind, I thought the way should be straight ahead. I passed a running team just then and I was putting on speed. But my sixth sense got to me and turned my head around in time to see a flash of headlamp (from one of the people I passed) going uphill on my right. And so I had to backtrack. That was a lucky break, because if they had the headlamp off, I would not have seen them or if I did not turn around to check, I would have miss it too, because I was so sure the trail and the race course goes straight instead of turning (yes, I have been a few races, where runners behind don’t care if someone is off trail — I think this race is highly competitive).
I followed the tapes/flags up the side of the hill and occassionally I had to get close to the ground because I can only see about a foot in front of my eyes. My nearsightedness is that bad. I kept kneeing and bending down till I reached the hill top. A slow process yes.
Not too far away was a picnic area (in my mind someone’s backyard, remember I couldn’t see well), with a shelter. I could hear voices, music, laughter and celebration. In my mind they were having a picnic – never did it occurred to me to ask – who in their right mind would be having a picnic at 8 am on a Sunday in the cold, (actually was 7 AM with Day light saving just ended during the race at 2 AM that morning, but the race people decided to stick to old time to avoid confusion with adding an hour or substracting an hour) .
A lady came out and asked – if I lost my running partner. I said no, I was not looking for my running partner, but I am searching for flags to know which way to turn. She then led me to the Aid Station. It then dawned on me, ah all those christmas lights – of course they were showing the way to the aid station, and who needs flags when the Aid Station is obviously in front. Note, when I read about Erkins Aid station, I thought it would be on Erkins trail, but it was not. It was before the Erkins Trail.
The people there were not having a picnic but they were there for us. It was both funny and tragic of not having my glasses – I could have turned the wrong way or ignored the aid station completely, which would be ground for a DNF or DQ (Disqualified/did not finish) because everyone must check in and out at every aid stations. Mind plays funny tricks on you in the early hours even after I was fully awaken.
Main outake from all three incidents, most tailend runners have a pacer! I didn’t, otherwise all those getting lost, etc, could be avoided. I did meet several runners who did not during the morning, with one at the Erkins aid station.
I am happy I finished and did it within the cut-off without a pacer. My friend Aaron was there and so were many others. It was a warm welcome at the finish. Katlyn came over said her congratulations – she (her runner) finished just minutes after me but I didn’t realized at the time because I was just too happy. But again kudos to her for her kindness and being a good friend!
Why run this race? For the beautiful course, there were plenty of aid stations (and fun ones), the race is hosted at a resort – which is easier for support crew, and not as remote as it seems – Cunard, Fayetteville, and Ansted, are convenient locations along the course for crew access. I would add it was an out-and-back course – some might not like rerunning on the same path, but I found it reassuring on the way back to have something recognizable when you are tired. Some said it is a good first 100 mile to run – I think it is a bit tough, but for the daring, sure doable for first 100. For me, I couldn’t imagine how I would do if it was my first.
Why not to run? The time of year tends to be on the cold side with chance of snow or bad weather. We were lucky to have clear sky, but it is West Virginia. Still, it was not as remote or rugged as a true wilderness run as I first envisioned. 27 ish miles were on the Ace Adventure Resort site and many of their trails feel artificial. Artificial trails are trails you have in the city. They are made by machines and not by hands (or naturally occured paths). Not saying they were easy, but it felt as if the course were just looking miles to add up the 100 mile distance – and it can frustrating, knowing you are at the finish but not really there yet because you have to go around the same hill a few more times. We ran on mostly manicured paths, some roads, and gravel. By manicured, it feels flat (rail to trail). At this time of the year, leaves covered over rocks and trails and it is dangerous and risky and challenging. Lastly, it was an out and back, so the excitement kind of fizzled out after the turn-around, though it wasn’t exactly the same path back but majority was the same.
Final Words. There you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly. 100 mile race is a beast to tackle unlike 50 mile or marathons. I glad I signed up and ran it. The race reached and exceeded my expectation. People and staff were friendly. I had fun. It boosted my confident that I did a 100 and can do plenty more.
If I have a chance, I would run it again for sure, but then also there are plenty other races to do.