WTF50K Recap: The Final Exam

Have you ever reached a point where you realized all along you had been subconsciously preparing for that moment? Granted my “moment” was nearly 8 hours long, but this was exactly what happened at WTF50K.

Unbeknownst to me, my WTF50K training began in April 2018 at the Boston Marathon. I survived the 26.2 miles of wind, rain and cold to finish. In May, I ran a portion of the Appalachian Trail on Mother’s Day with Sara. At times, the trail was a river. In June, I ran (swam?) 18 miles with a group at the SU Cool Spring campus which was extremely flooded. As far as hill climbs go, in October I felt the need to tackle a mile long road climb I hadn’t run since high school. In December, I tackled a decent climb at my in-law’s house. Wind? In the past few months, I’ve run several mornings with gusty winds with both the Stephens City DD crew and the Wednesday morning group. Creek crossings? I think I got my fair share at Fire on the Mountain 50K in November. Snow? The Monday before the 50K, I hiked/ran 6 miles of trails in at least 5 inches of snow with Ryan.

At the time, all of these were just individual crazy experiences I shared with running friends. At the WTF50K, I realized all of them were lesson plans for my final exam.

Everything you are learning is preparing you for something else.” ― Marjorie Pay Hinckley.

Pack and maps ready to go!

If you read my last post, you know the expected weather forecast. Thankfully, no precipitation was going to fall. Just cold and WINDY. We arrived a little early, Emily, Laura and I gathered our gear and got ready to start. You will not believe what was announced next. The WTF50K finisher stickers had been left behind! A humorous groan traveled through the small crowd of about 4 dozen. After a few more announcements, we started trudging forward through the mud. Not too far in, we started our first climb of Waterfall. Whoa. Very steep at times and just kept going higher and higher. After a few switchbacks, we reached the top and headed towards Crisman Hollow. A couple miles later, we were rewarded with a beautiful view.

Photo credit: Emily

At this point, I shed my jacket, gloves and earband due to being extremely warm. We continued along the ridgeline for a few miles – rocky and snowy. We reached Jawbone Gap and headed up to the top. Along our ascent, we saw Matt S. and Kevin W. headed down. After a quick glance at the view, we turned around and headed down towards mile 9 (first aid station). After a couple pizza rolls, we were off again. A couple miles later, as we headed down switchbacks, I heard a few familiar voices at the bottom – Matt and Kevin (thanks for sharing the Moon Pie with us Kevin!). Emily and I joined up with them, as well as other runners Levi and Eric. Through this section we alternated a lot of hiking and running until we hit a good decline leading us to….Waterfall Climb: Round 2.

At mile 16, we tackled this tough climb once again. At this point, Matt and Emily pulled away as Kevin and I fell a little behind. I reached Crisman Hollow the 2nd time alone; however there was a runner at the top trying to make sense of his turn sheet. I informed him we were to head left on the road and we trotted off together. Since the last snowstorm, this road had not been touched by a plow. The only bare spots were created by the sun/radiation and at times, the road seemed more like an ice skating rink. We traveled about 2 miles until we crossed over Rt 211 and tried to locate the Aid Station before Mile 20. I grabbed some calories, a swig of Coke, refilled my water and was offered hand warmers. The wind was definitely picking up and I felt the coldest around this time. I pulled the hood up on my Cotopaxi jacket and took off with my new running partner Keith towards the trail. I reluctantly became navigator for our new group of two (which is one of the components of the race I was most worried about!). Soon, we hit the Bird Knob Climb. This climb had much more snow and ice than the previous climbs (which I’d take over the ones with rivers flowing down upon us). After the climb, we were rewarded with a somewhat more runnable path. We turned onto the white trail and then onto purple, following our turn sheet.

Part of the easier trail we traveled. Photo credit: Kevin

Finally, we hit the pink trail. Keith said, “And that’s about all that’s left right?” I responded yes, 4.2 miles until our final turn back onto orange for the final stretch. Around this point, I actually was a little sad the adventure was almost over. As we traversed pink, we approached a fast-flowing creek with no great way to cross. I tried one route – trying to cross on a log like we had on several earlier in the day. A few steps on the slick log and SPLASH! I was in the frigid water up mid-calf. Keith tried another route and SPLASH! Ugh, we trudged on. Soon, I felt something hard flapping on my shoes every step and realized my shoelaces had turned into icicles.

About 1 mile before the turn onto orange, Keith pulled away. For the first time of the day, I was solo for a few miles. I quickly found the sharp turn onto orange and ran into a few downed trees. I couldn’t see a way around and did not see any footsteps in the snow. Crap, where did I go wrong? I retraced my steps and my eyes darted around the forest for the orange blaze. Aha! I missed the trail bearing left. Knowing I had less than 2 miles to go, I was on a mission. All of a sudden, I was flying forward; instinctively dropped a shoulder into a tuck and roll. Thank goodness I fell where I did and not where the trail was very rocky or muddy. I popped back up unscathed and continued on with a smile on my face. Soon, I could see the cars in the parking lot above. I climbed up the ledge and headed towards the fire and food. Complete!

7 hours and 42 minutes. Nearly 7,000 foot of elevation gain. Below freezing temps. Wind. Snow and ice. Mud. Did I mention sloppy? Following a turn sheet. So many obstacles to overcome. Prior to the run, I definitely had some fear. When I was out there, I was oddly calm. Mile by mile, climb by climb, I slowly chipped away at WTF50K. 

Prelim results just came in! 48 starters; 30 finishers and I made podium for females! Read more details about the weather, the run and the results here!

I’ll leave you with my final thoughts….

Remember that question I asked – “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

The reason I signed up for the Waterfall 50K is because I actually wanted to attempt something I knew I could fail doing. I didn’t want guaranteed success; I wanted to fear failure – buckle down and give it all I could give (and then some).

I’m encouraging you to find a goal, a little out of reach and maybe a lot of crazy and go after it. If you fail, try again. And if you succeed, you better start looking for the next crazy goal..

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