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The Big Schloss: My Favorite Trail Race

The Name
Let's start with the name: The Big Schloss. It even sounds bad-ass. You know right off this ain't gonna be some namby-pamby run with a bunch of pavement or flats you have to run.

Courtesy of Pete McLaughlin with whom I shared a killer hill from miles 19-21  
The Race Directors.
Amy and Steve Platt mark the course, recruit and retain the volunteers, arrange for the pavilion, provide delicious food and drink, inspire the runners, record the results and a few thousand other details I won't include in the interest of brevity. Amy even drove me the half-mile to the showers and back so I didn't have to walk in the rain. I love you Amy! Did I mention the very reasonable entry fee? Two gallons of drinking water. Yeah.

The Volunteers
There are the volunteers I know and love who show up at every race to cheer us on and fill our Camelbaks. They are near and dear to my heart. At this race there are also a gaggle of fun, friendly hashers. Most are once a year volunteers, yet seem unfazed by rain. They bring fresh ideas, like setting out aid station offerings like bacon. BACON!!!

The Course
First, it's gorgeous. A flat, sepia light filtered through the cloud cover and mist obscured a carpet of Autumn leaves of crimson, green and bright yellow. It was a magical scene.
Big climbs
. Some require all four limbs to scramble up.
Long, gradual, technical downhills
meant to be run forever. *sighs contentedly*
Rocks, rocks and more rocks
. If you haven't logged miles in the Massanutten recently your dogs will be barking by Aid Station #3. They might even try to bite.
Views that should not be missed
(barring this year's wall of fog) provided you're up to a little death-defying rock scrambling.

The Weather
Moving on . . . No, seriously, the weather was pretty good for running. In past years there have been a few sections where I overheated a bit. Not this year! Cool temperatures and early mist became drizzle a couple of hours into the race. Early afternoon brought dark skies and full-fledged rain with some pretty stiff wind on the ridges. While I was thankful for my thin, albeit fully-drenched shell (which still amazes me with its ability to warm), it was chilly enough to keep me moving at a brisk pace. That is a key factor in finishing more quickly, which often results in a PR!

The Post-Run Cookout
Brats. Burgers. Chips. Guacamole. Mac and Cheese. Homemade pasta salad with sun dried tomatoes. Broccoli salad. Cookies and Brownies. Variety enough to please everyone. This year Steve and Amy went above and beyond and had a cooler full of hot chocolate to warm the rain-soaked runners.

Time on the trail running with the usual suspects and catching up on their lives never gets old. Ultra runners are an incredible group of humans. Driven, encouraging, adventurous, friendly, inspiring, positive, amusing, and tales of trail hi jinks at the ready. An added bonus was sharing laughs with Laurie, whom I cajoled into volunteering in the rain. She's still speaking to me.


I must be getting better at this running thing. This was my fourth PR this year!
  1. Bull Run Run 50 Miler 
  2. Lehigh Valley Half Marathon 
  3. VHTRC Women's Trail Half Marathon 
  4. Big Schloss 50K -- 27 minutes faster than in 2007!
I trimmed 20 minutes from AS #2 to AS #3. Less time in aid stations made a few minutes difference. More importantly, scroll back up to the elevation chart above (thank you Pete McLaughlin!). That section features a steep two-mile climb, and I'm taking this as indisputable evidence that I've improved my uphill skills.

The Camping
I rarely camp anymore. I miss it. Add that to the list of simple pleasures somehow stolen by Adulthood. The dirty little secret about ultra runners is that we'll run all day in the mountains regardless of the conditions but after socializing a bit, most of us leave the glorious outdoors behind and head back to our cozy little homes. Boo! Have we forgotten that the best conversations take place around a campfire? Have our taste buds become so accustomed to gels we can't appreciate S'mores any longer?

Photo by Nina Hale
Has sleeping in the night air to the lullabies of crickets lost its allure? Is there anything more satisfying than waking with the sunrise to coffee and breakfast in the cool of morning? I hereby issue a call to ultra runners far and wide: Let's go camping!

Goal: PR at The Women's Half Marathon

A section of the Women's Half Marathon trail

Before this becomes a food blog and I have to rename it 'ultraeatergirl'
(though that's certainly catchy and even sounds kinda bad-ass) I'd better write about my running.

My next race is, um, tomorrow! It's the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon Trail Run. I've run it every year since 2003. I don't have any other "streaks" so I feel compelled to keep this one alive. It's also one of the few trail races that is shorter than 50k. Believe it or not, sometimes I don't feel like running all day.

I set my PR here in 2006 and my goal tomorrow is to beat it. I've got a very good shot at it, because several years this race has marked my return to running after an injury and I've been under-trained. [Disclosure: To my knowledge, I have never over-trained for a race.] Below are my times on this course over the years:
Women's Half Marathon
Course Distances
SectionDistCumAid Station
Park Road1.01.0
Do Loop*
HT to S/F*
BRT to Turn0.510.5
BRT to WRS*0.511.01.0
BRT to S/F2.113.1
A/S Dist = Distance between aid stations
HT = Horse Trail
S/F = Start/Finish
BRT = Bull Run Trail
WRS = Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station
Turn = Upstream Turnaround
* = Aid Station at end of section

2003 3:02:47
2004 2:49:26

2005 2:37:56
2006 2:31:58 <~~ OLD PR, must go!
2007 2:40:10 (post-sesmoid fracture)
2008 2:38:57

Three weeks before the race, I ran the course (second half first, then the first half) and matched my PR. I was certainly keeping a good pace, but I wasn't running my hardest. Based on that effort, I'm optimistic.

On the other hand, my taper has bee
n a bit long, about three weeks. Since then I haven't run more than 4 miles and I haven't run more than twice a week. I've biked short distances, run short distances, sprinted around the bases playing softball, but in general I've been lazy. Two nights ago was our softball league championship game and I did a lot of hard base running. My quads are pretty sore. What will they feel like tomorrow? Now is when the mental game begins. Has my taper been too easy and too long? Did I run too hard three days before my race? My piriformis is making its presence known. I haven't slept well the past few nights so I'm not as well-rested as I should be.

All these worries will plague me
until I toe the line tomorrow. They'll taunt me when gravity makes itself known on the climbs. There will be an ugly gash in my confidence as I stagger into the Fountainhead aid station after the punishing Do Loop, leaking self-doubt and fatigue. I'll be dreading the last 5.2 miles and wondering (as I do every year) why I signed up for this Anaerobic Suffer Fest.

Wish me luck. That PR h
as got to go!

Finishing the 2008 Women's Half Marathon