This was my second time running this race. I also ran it last year and remember it being pretty tough due to the elevation gains — more on that later. But it worked out to be exactly three weeks prior to my spring 50k so I figured I’d give it another go as my last 26-mile training run before the taper.
It’s a great low-key race. No fussing at all. I can drive to it (a huge plus). Parking is literally right across the street from the start/finish and a 2-minute walk from race morning packet pick-up at the Fairfield Inn. Logistically, it’s a freaking gem — small field but well supported and organized. It’s mostly crushed gravel trails but there is a little pavement (in the downtown area) and some dirt trails.
Last year, it was perfect running weather — between 39 and 45 degrees for the entire race. This year, I was not so lucky — 35 degrees at the start (feels like temp was 26 degrees) and it quickly shot up to 65 degrees. Hard to dress for that kind of temperature spread with no on-course support where I can dump a layer.
The first 6 miles were on the C&O Canal Towpath. All flat, lots of puddles, pretty boring out and back … nothing of note to report.
Then we passed through the start/finish area — where a photographer captured this pic of me — and headed through downtown Cumberland and toward the Greater Allegheny Passage. And that’s where the “fun” began…
Near mile 6, The Climb begins. I’m talking 1100 feet of gradual elevation gain between miles 6 and 16. BRU-tal! It’s a loooooooooong, steady climb that just never seems to end.
The icing on the cake was the relentless headwind and all I kept thinking over that 10-mile stretch was there better be 10 miles of tailwind after I hit the turnaround at mile 16. Guess what…no such luck. Someone really needs to explain to me how that’s even physically and meteorologically possible.
I never got around to posting a race report from the race last year but one of the most notable things about the 2016 race for me (aside from the very unexpected age group award) was getting stuck in the tunnel with the old coal train. I was halfway through the tunnel when the train entered, spewing coal dust out of its smokestack. I pulled my shirt up over my face and huddled against the wall to try to avoid breathing a bunch of coal dust in — but it wasn’t good enough. I spent the rest of the race dealing with very angry and irritated lungs and went on to cough up black stuff for a week after the race.
So as I approached the train tunnel at mile 20, as you can imagine, I was on the lookout to see if the train was coming because there was just no way in hell that I was gonna get stuck in that tunnel again — especially since I knew my time was pretty close to last year. Sure enough, before I entered, I saw it coming so I started walking to let it come through the tunnel before I went in. Lesson learned and repeat crisis averted.
But as bad as 10 miles uphill sounds, the worst is actually the 10 miles of downhill at the end of the race. You might think it would be a situation where you could just throw up your hands and yell “WEEEEEEEEEE!” all the way to the finish but, in reality, it’s a serious quad shredder. Runners were pulling over left and right to stretch out their quads from the continuously pounding over that long downhill stretch. Me, I felt it mostly in my shins and not enough to be bothered by it.
But as I approached downtown Cumberland, I knew it was just a little further so I picked up the pace. Rounding the final corner at Canal Place, I still felt good. And I finished only a minute off my time from last year. Pretty damn good considering the elements I had to contend with this year.
All in all, not a bad race for me. Taper time now with my sights set on North Face 50k on April 29th.