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Dahlgren 50k Race Report

Like any good competition addict would do prior to a big race, I thoroughly stalked the results for the Dahlgren 50k before trekking over to Virginia. I learned two things from being a total race creeper:

1) Last year’s female winner crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 24 minutes, my exact time from the first 50k I did.

2) She set the course record with that time.

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You can see where this is going, right?

Given how much slower my runs have been lately, I was not extremely confident that I could actually run the course in anything close to 4:24, especially given the fact that Virginia in August is slightly steamier than Philadelphia in May. Luckily, when I was setting this little goal, I had no idea the course was an extra mile longer than Dirty German, or my already low confidence would have been totally shattered.

Because I wanted to eat (and drink) familiar and favorite carbs in my neighborhood, we opted to spend Friday night in DC and wake up at an especially ungodly hour to make the 90 minute drive to the race start.

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Definitely an excellent plan.

Or at least excellent until we ended up leaving a little later than planned, launching me into a mean case of race morning panic (you may recall that I’m not a nice person when I might not get to the start line on time).

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Instead of calmly getting ready to run while pumping myself up with some Eminem, I was racing into the woods and flashing my bare bum because I didn’t have enough time for bathroom lines. But it’s fine. Obviously I made it to the start.

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When the group took off, we ran across a gigantic field cross country start style and then ducked into the woods.

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Right as we hit the wooded section, a chick flew past me and just kept running. I started off trying to match her pace, which was probably around an 8-8:10 minute mile, but I knew it was more aggressive than I should be running in my early miles. I kept hearing my more experienced ultra friends telling me “DON’T GO OUT TOO FAST. Take it SUPER easy at first. DON’T GO OUT TOO FAST. Don’t let any fools all high on adrenaline get you to go out too fast. DON’T GO OUT TOO FAST. Let them go, you can catch up later. DON’T GO OUT TOO FAST. Did I mention, DON’T GO OUT TOO FAST?”

So, I backed off and let her go. And DIDN’T GO OUT TOO FAST. Settling into a more conservative 8:15-8:20ish pace.

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While the course had very little elevation change, with only a few climbs, that I was still not very pumped to see, there were two very significant challenges:

1) The heat, and more importantly, the humidity.

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Never have I ever had such drenched clothes during a run. I gave my mom a bag with a change in clothes, and had I not been so time focused, I would have stopped and swapped shorts/shirt a good 2-3 times. It was disgusting. And coming from a girl who both loves sweat, and hates showers, you should know it was really, really bad.

2) The terrain.

The course is an old rail trail, where the actual railroad mostly never got constructed.

Instead, what remains is a trail with many sections of very big, very loose rocks. And while I’m sure the people who worked very hard to bring steam engines to King George County are perfectly lovely human beings, I cursed them more than once on Saturday morning as my feet shifted off balance and my legs were forced to work extra hard to maneuver these rocks. It was kind of like running on sand, or something equally terrible. But it wouldn’t be a real ultra without a good challenge or two, right? At least that’s what I’m told. My legs, however, were unconvinced on Saturday.

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Other than the heat and the rocks, the course was a lot of fun. The race starts out on a short out and back, which took us out to mile 9ish on the course. Because my sense of geography and space is pretty pathetic, I didn’t fully know exactly how this happened, but the course managed to weave around in a way that brought us to mile 9, while only three tenths of a mile from the start, making it super easy for friends and family to cheer us on.

While I’m always a fan of out and backs, I’m especially fond of them in these trail races that I’m growing to love a lot. The kind of people that prefer woods to roads, also seem to be fans of waving, smiling, and telling every single runner “looking good, friend!”

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Look at my totally dry clothes!

Plus, a slightly less warm and fuzzy advantage is that you can scope out the competition and gauge where you’re at compared to other runners. And I did. Obviously.

At this first turnaround, I was still in second place, but with a pretty small gap between me and the first girl. With over 20 miles of running left, I was over my initial panic, and confident that after slowly gaining on her, I could pass and take off. No rush. No big.

For the next couple of miles, I slowly closed in on the chick in front of me. In my head, if this girl is anything like me, she’s running faster than she should be to hold off any females behind her, risking more fatigue to do so. I would later learn to appreciate just how much being in this position can suck.

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At Mile 11, I made my move, passed her, and started to pick up my pace, dropping to ~ 8 minute miles. The next section was an even longer out and back, ending at mile 19ish where friends and family were again waiting for us.

My mom got all excited when I came through and yelled “you’re the first chick!”

I wanted to say: “Thanks, mom. I had no idea that that was the case after passing the one girl ahead of me.”

But I was a pleasant daughter and didn’t. Instead, I rummaged through the bag of fuel she had on hand, grabbed my backup stash of nuun and more clif shot blocks and took off. I was all high on my position, and going through the second out and back, where all of the other competitors reminded me over and over and over again that I was the first female and should “go for the record” made me run what could probably be called an overly excited pace. I saw a lot of sub 8s flashing across my garmin, kept trying to zen it back, but then some well intentioned athlete would yell something like “you’re 8th overall” and I’d get all excited again and speed back up.

At Mile 23, my excitement started to fade a bit and what happens next is nothing short of ugly. It was hot. My legs were getting tired. And my mother-effing garmin decided to die, leaving me friendless and clueless in the middle of a very lonely stretch of the course.

Yes, I did just call my garmin a “friend.” We’re wicked tight.

I knew I was in the lead, but I had no idea by how much.

I also knew I’d been on pace to break the course record, but without mile markers to help me out after the Great Satellite Fail of 2012, I was unsure for the remainder of the race, whether I was still within range of it or not.

Much like I like to be right, I like knowledge and information. The unknown is an uncomfortable place for me, especially after 3 hours and 43 minutes of hot running.

Every time I came to an aid station (which, PS, were manned with incredibly friendly volunteers, I feel the need to say that before what comes next), they’d get all excited and cheer “you go, girl, first woman!”

And I very rudely wanted to yell back, “yes, I know. but first woman by how much?? GIVE ME SOMETHING I CAN WORK WITH, PEOPLE.”

Only I didn’t. Because they were also giving me water, which in Virginia in August, is very much something I cannot work without.

The bottom line during the last 9 miles: I knew I couldn’t slow down, but my legs were not exactly down with that knowledge.

At this point in the race, the athletes were very spaced out. We were done with the out and backs, and the gap between me and other runners seemed huge. I was seeing NO ONE.

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I ended up passing a couple of guys during the final miles which is pretty much the only thing that gave me a little bit of hope that my pace was not reflecting the very fatigued state of my legs. I figured if guys in the top 10 were fading more than I was, I was probably still maintaining a somewhat acceptable pace.

But other than the few men, it was just long stretches of very lonely trail running. And when you’re all by yourself, it’s very easy to think “no one will know if I slow down. Look at that log, it looks nice, I could take a 5 minute nap and then regroup.”

This is about the time in the race when I let out an audible whimper. Told ya, ugly stuff in the final miles.

The thing that really made me stay strong during the last hour of the race (other than thinking about the cash money that I could win) was thinking about how hard I worked, and how many times I kicked my own ass, to build my strength. If I could run 10 miles at goal pace the day after a 27 mile training run when my legs are deader than dead, than surely I could finish this race strong when tapered and ready to go. And if I could run the last 10k of Grandma’s Marathon at a very sub 8 pace at the end of an 82 mile week, then you’d better believe I can do the same thing when actually rested, during a race I actually care about.

Every time I started to fade, I thought about the tough times I pushed through, and man, that kept me going.

Or, at least helped, there were still plenty of dark moments. Like when I got to the last station, and asked how many miles were left. One guy said 3, one said 3.7.

I decided that neither was right and the correct distance remaining was 2.7. Because clearly the girl without the garmin who didn’t even know the correct distance of the course was totally in the know.

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FINALLY, after violating the leave-no-trace rule with a sea of F bombs through the last stretch of woods, I saw the paved road that we ran about 1,000 feet on, and knew the end was near.The guy directing traffic told me a mile. Again, I chose to question his knowledge and decided it was more like a .25 mile.

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And then I ran hard, with everything my very, very sweaty legs had left in them and crossed the finish line at 4:20.50.

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1st female, 6th overall, new course record.

Yes, I know I told you that already, but I’m really excited about it. First win ever, friends.

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Big thanks to my mom for spending a hot day in Virginia crewing and cheering for me.

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And another big thanks to Tiger Tail who partnered with me to make this race happen (not to mention prevented my legs from falling off with the daily dose of recovery I get from heavy amounts of their hurts-so-good muscle massage). Keep your eyes peeled for a great Tiger Tail promo in the very near future!

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Overall, I had an absolute blast at the Dahlgren 50k. Great running, great course, great race director, great volunteers, great athletes, and great hot dogs at the finish line. Heat and all, my 31.9 miles along the rail trail, just made me fall more in love with this sport. This ultra running thing is not going anywhere for a while, I’m officially hooked.

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34 Responses to Dahlgren 50k Race Report

  1. Beyond incredible! I love how you thought of all of the times that you pushed through in past races and it got you through tough moments. Congrats on setting the new record!!

  2. Congrats on the Win and Course Record!

  3. Whoooeee way to go. That is awesome! Congrats on winning and setting a course record.

  4. Good God. You amaze me. And it isn’t just because we have the same name, love for sweat, and hatred of showers! Great miles!

  5. So what were the prizes?!? Great job!

  6. Awesome job. Congratulations!! I LOVE trail races…so much more than road races.

  7. That’s amazing. Congrats. And you were a magician by miraculously changing your clothes’ size during the race! The magic of the trails…

  8. loved reading this!! congrats!! you’re making me want to give this trail/ultra thing a try. will discuss at HTC. :)

  9. Dang girl – very impressive!

  10. So exciting to read this! What a super job and great write up. And your mom definitely deserves something special for hanging in that humidity…of course, you were a sweet daughter and overlooked some of her missteps ;-)

    Congratulations on the WIN!!!

  11. Congrats on the win and course record. I have a pair of Hokas but have never run on a trail in them. Obviously you didn’t have any problems with them.

  12. Fantastic write up and wow wow wow, how exciting. This is amazing.

  13. Fantastic! More ultras for the year? Seems like they’re your BFF now! Congrats again!

  14. Never any doubt. Congratulations on taking names and kicking asses!

  15. Congrats, Emily!! You kicked some major bootay! :D

  16. Awesome job! You are amazing!

  17. You are so hardcore! WTG Emily!

  18. DAMN GIRL! You are amazing. Congratulations on the race even and a new course record for the amount of F bombs dropped in one race.

  19. Your attitude is simly superb!!! And you make running course record times on an ultra course sound easy, which I am positive it’s not!!

    Congrats on maybe your sweatiest race yet!

  20. Congratulations, Emily! Awesome to see your how your sweatastic hard work has paid off!

  21. Emily! Girl! You are such an inspiration! I can only hope to make it to a marathon distance at some point, but wow anything past that is really an achievement!!!

    P.S. I just joined Twitter, follow me @SouthGirlRun. Thanks!!! Love your blog!

  22. AMAZING! You are just awesome, girl!!

  23. Amazing!! Course record, you are a rock star!! Maybe next year I will do this race, I live 5 minutes away from the start line :)

  24. Congratulations on your first win! I bet there will be many many more!

  25. Awesome race report and great job! You’re inspiring me to run an ultra… and I never even wanted to run a marathon a few years ago.

    PS – perfect Oiselle shirt for the end of the race. ;)

  26. congrats emily!! what a great accomplishment!!

    I always like to ask distance runners how they get through all of the miles?? Do you listen to music?? Contemplate the worlds issues??

  27. Awesome, Emily! This recap was a lot of fun to read.

    I’m excited to see what you can do on a slightly less challenging course and/or in cooler weather.

  28. Awesome race report. Your report made me realize that I need to kick my own ass during training to motivate me when the going gets hard during the race.

    Rock on Emily! Great job with your course record for women!

  29. Congrats! What an awesome race! I love that you beat so many guys. Next year go for first overall ;)

  30. You are so impressive! You inspire me to keep going too!

  31. I’m thinking of doing a 50k for the first time. Since I live 5 minutes from the Dahlgreen 50k start line, I was wondering if you would recommend this race for a first timer. Is it spectator friendly? Is the course boring? Any other trail race you would recommend more? Thanks!!

  32. […] The officially advertised distance of this race course was 10.3 miles. These trail crazies just love to defy conventional race distances.  […]

  33. […] didn’t exactly have a time goal or a pace goal, but I was rather aware of my PR in the distance (4:20) and the fact that this course is extremely easy, flat, and fast. I didn’t want to chase a PR if […]