Race Report: 2008 Terrapin Mountain Marathon

Finish of the Terrapin Mountain Marathon

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Finish of the Terrapin Mountain Marathon

The scene at the finish of the Terrapin Mountain Marathon. That’s David Horton getting friendly with a female finisher. Terrapin Mountain looms in the distance.

“You’re going to like this one a lot more than the last one.” That’s what David Horton told me at Saturday morning’s check-in of the Terrapin Mountain Marathon, “the last one” referring to his Holiday Lake 50K. While this wasn’t saying much, Horton was right — I really did like this one.

This was the inaugural year of the Terrapin Mountain Marathon, and the first time in nearly a decade that the half marathon was run. Since the race is relatively unknown, I’ll first describe the course and then describe how my race went.


Course description

Terrapin Mountain is the first race in a new series directed by Clark Zealand, an accomplished ultrarunner and “Horton disciple.” The race starts and finishes at the Sedalia Center near Sedalia, VA, which is in between Bedford and Big Island on Route 122. It’s the perfect venue for this event, with a large covered pavilion for pre- and post-run festivities and a spacious field for camping with ample parking.

GPS track and altitude profile

A perspective view of the course is shown below. See the course in Google Maps For an interactive view. To see it in 3-D, download this Google Earth file (requires Google Earth to view, a free download).

Perspective view of the Terrapin Mountain Marathon

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GPS track of the Terrapin Mountain Marathon

Perspective view of the Terrapin Mountain course looking north, near Bedford, VA. The data were recorded with a Garmin Forerunner 305 during the 2008 event.

The corresponding altitude profile of the run is shown below. The 7,500 feet of climb is what is reported on the Terrapin Mountain Marathon website.

Terrapin Mountain Marathon altitude profile

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Altitude profile of the Terrapin Mountain Marathon

The “marathon” is actually 29.7 miles long, with 7,500 feet of climb. The locations of the six aid stations are also indicated.

Course narrative

After a 0.75-mile flat road warm-up, the course turns onto a gravel road that becomes progressively steeper and more technical as it ascends into the Jefferson National Forest. The long, unrelenting climb switchbacks up a deep draw that parallels Reed Creek, a beautiful stream with numerous cascades.

The climb crests the ridge at Camping Gap, mile 3.9, and the first aid station (AS 1). The course “T’s” into the Hellgate 100K course here (Camping Gap is the third aid station of that run), and follows Hellgate over the undulating grassy fireroads for 8.5 miles to Overstreet Creek Road and AS 3.

Here the course doubles back and returns along the same route back to Camping Gap. The return stretch back to Camping Gap (AS 5) is somewhat easier, as this section is mostly downhill in this direction. Along the way is an unmanned aid station (AS 2 & 4) about 1.4 miles from Camping Gap.

The summit of Terrapin Mountain

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Summit of Terrapin Mountain

The summit of Terrapin Mountain. Photo courtesy of Clark Zealand.

While the first 20 miles of the run are quite runnable, the race changes character dramatically after Camping Gap II. From the aid station, the course ascends a steep and technical trail to the summit of Terrapin Mountain (3,506 feet), the race namesake. At the top is a short spur to a viewpoint, where a book is left for runners to tear out a page as proof of their presence on the summit. (I tore out an extra page, trying to sell it, to no avail, on the short out-and-back to runners behind me).

Fat Mans Misery

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Fat Man’s Misery

David Horton working to get his fat ass through “Fat Man’s Misery.” Photo courtesy of Clark Zealand.

Shortly after the summit, there is a tight squeeze through a rock fissure called “Fat Man’s Misery,” reminiscent of the route on the summit of Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Then the bottom drops out, to the tune of 2,200 feet in 2.5 miles, down to the last aid station at Terrapin Mountain Lane (AS 6), mile 24.3. There is a short out-and-back spur to the aid station itself, a final opportunity to size-up the competition for the last 5 miles of the race.

For the next 3.2 miles, the course follows an undulating doubletrack traverse in and out of a dozen or more ravines along the mountain’s flank. At mile 28, runners cross knee-deep Reed Creek, and then retrace their initial steps back down the fireroad to the finish at the Sedalia Center.

The run is summarized in the table below, which lists split and cumulative mileages that I measured for the aid stations and my split times.

Measured mileages and split times for the 2008 Terrapin Mountain Marathon.
Aid station Distance (mi) Time (h:mm:ss)
  Split Cumulative Split Cumulative
Start 0 0 0 0
AS 1 (Camping Gap) 3.9 3.9 0:41:30 0:41:30
AS 2 (Unmanned) 1.4 5.3 0:12:21 0:53:51
AS 3 (Overstreet Creek Road) 7.1 12.4 0:59:29 1:53:20
AS 4 (Unmanned) 7.1 19.5 1:06:12 2:59:32
AS 5 (Camping Gap) 1.4 20.9 0:11:24 3:10:56
AS 6 (Terrapin Mountain Lane) 3.4 24.3 0:39:39 3:50:35
Finish 5.4 29.7 0:45:19 4:35:54

My run

From my head

“I just want to run easy and finish in the top 20.” That’s what I told Don Padfield, my usual “partner in crime” in going out too fast, before the start. I haven’t been running much — or particularly well — lately. Tired of suffering in these things, my goal for Terrapin was to run a controlled race and enjoy it. I was also curious to see how I would do running “easy,” rather than going redline like I usually do.

I ran the first couple of miles with the leaders who, it seemed to me, were taking it pretty easy themselves. Things shook up as the first climb got steep and I settled into the second wave of runners behind the lead pack.

I was running in 10th place or so at Camping Gap and in good company, with Harland Peelle immediately ahead and Don Padfield right behind me. A few hundred meters separated each of us. On the runnable fireroad section, my goal was to keep Harland in sight, which I was able to do for the most part. There were, however, several other runners who caught me on this 8.5-mile stretch, and there were about a half-dozen of us running together into AS 3.

We saw the leaders at the turnaround, perhaps a half mile from the aid station. Eric Grossman had a healthy lead on Jonathan Basham and the eventual winner, Drew Ponder. My training partner, Sean Andrish, was having a bad day and was in a group of three in 4th-5th-6th place. Upcoming Jeremy Ramsey, who is running really well now, was also in this trio.

Harland, Don, Jack Kurisky, and I ran the fast, grassy roads together back to Camping Gap, each of us continually switching places at the front like a cycling paceline. Somehow we left Don near the unmanned aid station (AS 4) before the gap, and Harland, Jack, and I came into Camping Gap (AS 5) together. I was the only one who stopped, grabbing a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat on the climb up Terrapin Mountain.

For the last few miles, Harland and I had been discussing the mileages (since I had them on my watch) and things didn’t seem to be adding up. The second loop of the run had to be eight or nine miles long, and we had already exceeded 20 miles before this aid station. The volunteers at the aid station notified me that this was mile 18, but my watch said 21. Horton miles.

I caught Jack and then Harland on the steep climb up Terrapin, and Harland and I ran together from the summit and down the long descent to the last aid station. During this section we passed Chris Clarke, who was having an awful day suffering from mono. Harland and I were moving well, and I knew we would have a top ten finish.

Just before reaching the last aid station, we saw Chris Reed heading out of the aid station. “We can catch him,” I said to Harland. A few orange slices, and we were out of the aid station in pursuit.

I was a little stronger than Harland on the climb out of the aid station, and gapped him by about 100 meters going into the 3.2-mile traverse along the flank of Terrapin Mountain. Throughout this section, Chris Reed regularly popped in an out view with each traverse across the dozen or so ravines in this section (these are apparent in the GPS track above). I was never able to reel him in and, if anything, he was pulling away. My intent now was to try to stay ahead of Harland, anticipating he would catch me on the last road section since he is a much stronger road runner. I wanted to finish with him.

Finally, the gushing sound of Reed Creek was heard as I rounded the last of the ravines. I wasted no time in plowing through the knee-deep water, and turned left down the final descent. Chris was periodically visible up ahead on the straightaways and, as we descended, it became clear that I was slowly gaining on him. With one mile to go, I decided to go for it and surged to bridge up to him, hoping that such a move would discourage him and allow me to pass without much of a fight from him. I caught him with about half a mile to go, and then we ran stride-for-stride for about a quarter-mile. Chris then picked up the pace and I, having no answer, coasted in for 8th place overall. Over the last mile, my average heart rate was 167 beats per minute (bpm) and my average pace was 6:05 minutes per mile.

From my heart

The graph below displays my heart rate during the race. Superimposed on this plot are my estimated heart rate training zones: zone 1 (117–131 bpm), zone 2 (132–145 bpm), zone 3 (146–160 bpm), zone 4 (161–174 bpm), and zone 5 (175+ bpm). The majority of the race was spent in zone 3. Note the finishing kick in the last mile, where I reached my max heart rate of the day, 171 bpm. Saving the “best for last” is much different from how I’ve done it in the past.

Heart rate versus distance

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Heart rate profile

Heart rate versus distance for the 2008 Terrapin Mountain Marathon, recorded with a Garmin 305 GPS/HRM. Background colors represent heart rate zones (zone 1, zone 2, zone 3, zone 4, zone 5).

It is also interesting to to view the altitude and heart rate profiles side by side.

The distribution of the heart rate data is shown in the histogram below. The dotted curve is an ideal Gaussian distribution.

Heart rate histogram

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Heart rate histogram

Histogram of heart rate data from the 2008 Terrapin Mountain Marathon. Estimated percentages of maximum heart rate (MHR) are also shown for reference. The overall mean heart rate, μ, is 152.8 bpm and the standard deviation, σ, is 7.0 bpm.

The data are more-or-less normally distributed (i.e., with the data centered about the mean), indicating to me that I ran a well-controlled run. Folks with degrees in exercise physiology are welcome to chime in here. It is noteworthy, too, that the overall effort for this run was much less than how I’ve raced similar distances in the past, perhaps an indication that a slower start is the way to go.

Bottom line

Pros

Beautiful, “big mountain” course during a great time of the year when the leaves have yet to sprout and the views are abundant. It has all the signatures of a great race, directed by people who know what they are doing.

Cons

I personally didn’t care for the out-and-back between Camping Gap and Overstreet Creek Road, primarily because we do this same road in both Promise Land and Hellgate (it can get old). That said, when it’s clear the views of the Shenandoah Valley all along this section are spectacular. The half marathon course is, in my mind, the best “bang for the buck.” An interesting alternative would be to do it twice. Oh, and it could be three miles shorter.

Final word

Maybe it was the slower start. Perhaps it was because this was a relatively “short” race by ultra standards. Or it could’ve been that I ran with great company most of the day. Terrapin Mountain was great trail run in the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia. While I am still not in “kick ass and take names” shape (Mike Bur’s phrase), I ran a comfortable race and was pretty strong at the end (although not strong enough).

5 Responses to “Race Report: 2008 Terrapin Mountain Marathon”

  1. Jim Morrison says:

    Hi Keith,

    Great report and layout. I love it. I said hi to you at the race. I’m one of those Canadian guys. I am looking forward to running your home course at MMT in May.

    Thanks, Jim.

  2. I’m not a guy with a degree to ex phys, but I do know from experience that for me, at age 45, starting slow for the first few hours, in the 12-140 bpm range, has ALWAYS yielded a strong race. Even at WS100, where I started way, way back b/c of the heat, I was passing many women mid-race before I had other issues that slowed me. I am a true believer in the “save the best for last” attitude. When I try to race an ultra in the first 4-5 hours, it is always an error, at least for me, anyway!

    I love your reports. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sean Andrish says:

    Like Keith, my goal was to start the race slower and try to run a more consistent pace throughout the day. However, I had a much different experience. By running slower, I had to run more of the uphills to stay close to the leaders. Trying to run the entire way up the first climb trashed my legs and I was reduced to a shuffle for most of the day, not being able to run uphills and struggling to maintain a pace on the flats and downhills. The results speak for themselves….I should have taken my usual approach of starting out hard, trying to drop the competition early, and then hanging on at the end. My usual approach allows me to walk the steeper climbs to save my legs so that I can run fast on the flats and downhill sections, which works more towards my stengths.

    Great report, Keith!

  4. Keith says:

    Sophie,

    I agree with your approach of starting easy for longer races. Considering how I run 100-milers, and how much time is spent at very low heart rates at the end, it is pretty dumb to start at or near anaerobic threshold (like I have) in those extremely long events. (I still believe in going reasonably hard, however, since the best time is made during the first half a 100-miler. “Get while the gettin’ is good,” so to speak).

    But for shorter events (50K and shorter), it is possible to go all-out and succeed. Like Sean, I agree that it is easier to maintain a very high intensity if I go out hard and then try and hang on, rather than magically trying to pick up the pace in the second half of a race. The adrenaline of realizing a win/PR can usually carry me the last hour of a race if I start to bonk.

    I didn’t really care about Terrapin, and I just wanted to have a good time. I also wanted to experiment in running a little easier for a change. While I had a fun time, you can’t expect to run easy and finsih in the top five. At least I can’t.

  5. GReg says:

    Keith, nice write up and I lov ethe HR / effort discussions. Sorry I am late to chime in. I am wondering what your MMT HR looked like and how you consider the effor tyou put out. Went out hard? super hard? conservative, then pushed once you were leading? Did you feel like you had good legs to run the last 25miles?

    Anyway I have a masters in Ex Physio, but am really dumb about using the knowledge I once had. HR is probably one of the best ways to keep track of the most important thing (energy usage) albeit not directly. It’d be great to have real time blood sugar (glucose) readeings and real time percent of fat v. carbs v. protein. you are burning.

    By going out hard and maintaining a high HR (& breathing rate) you are forced to burn carbs…both blood glucose and its constant fast feeder—muscle and liver glycogen stores. Since the human has about 2000calories of stored glucose. If you take no calories in and run at a fast enough pace to ONLY burn carbs. you blow through these 2k of calories in…you guessed it the magical 20 mile marathon wall.

    This is what makes ultras so fun. The game is to be in good enough speed shape that you can run a FAST pace at a realatively LOW HR (which is indirectly) letting you know you are burning a bit of fat for fuel and sparing your stored glycogen.

    For example Aaron can run a 2:33 marathon. He can therfore likily run 7:00 pace in an ultra without breathing whicked hard and burning SOLEY glycogen the way you and I would at this same 7:00 pace since we can only sustain 7:00 pace in an all-out flat road marathon.

    In summary the key is to both monitor how hard you are working in terms of YOURSELF (not paying too much attention to the competition) and running at a pace that allows you to spare glycogen…..and lets enough blood still be able to flow to your stomach allowing digestion of what you do eat/drink—-and at the same time diverted away from working leg muscles. Since if you are running at 85%+ of max HR- not enough blood will be allowed to flow to the stomach to allow any digestion to occur.

    secondly…….and you have figured this one out for sure!!!!!! ( I remember when you used to be slow and I fast….now the tables have turned!) 2ndly you need to continue to do faster training runs to allow your body to become effiecient so that same 7:00 or 9:00 or 11:00 min/mile pace in a race is not so high a percent of your max that you are only able to utilize glycogen/glucose for fuel.

    Ideally you coulg eat straight sugar (drink coke,eat gels/ect) and match output with imput…but the stomach lining will only absorb 300cals an hour max so this is impossible……unless your output is only 3miles an hour 20:00 min mile. You can absorb glucose straight thru the gums and mucous membranes in your mouth…..but only certain folks have been able to do this and you need pre broken down maltodextrin or glucose. The GREATEST of all time Yannis K was able to absolutely match intact calories to his output in a 6 day 640 mile effort world record run. He supposedly had a handle feed him home made special candies every lap around a 400m track. so his intack of calories was litterally ever 2-3 minutes for 6 straight days and was totally absorbed through his mouth.

    I gotta try that!

    anyway amazing MMT 100 run…and good luck at OD and Hardrock.

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