Seashore Trail 50K Race in Virginia Beach, VA

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d get a chance to try out my new trail shoes (Brooks Cascadia) on a real trail race before an important ultramarathon coming up in 2011. I’d get a chance to complete 30 races in one year (including one half marathon, with all the rest full marathons or ultras), bringing my total of lifetime marathons/ultras to 75. So, I signed up for the Seashore Trail 50K and made plans to fly into Norfolk, VA, on Friday, do the race on Saturday, and fly home on Sunday.
But as time approached, weather reports warned of snow and ice along the Atlantic coast, especially in the DC and Virginia area. I was prepared for the worst, and even packed a bigger carryon suitcase with extra supplies and warm clothes, just in case I got stuck somewhere on the trip. The Race Director kept us forewarned with several emails of possible changes to the course because of icy conditions and even of the chance, however remote, of a cancellation of the entire run. So, as Friday dawned, I was ready.
Made it to Atlanta with no problem and caught my flight into Norfolk, flying 1st class (thanks again, DELTA – it sure makes a difference when you are a gold medallion member – and I fly so frequently to races that I really do appreciate the unexpected upgrades). Snow on the ground everywhere in Norfolk, not high banks of snow, but there were definitely several inches. And it was cold! But roads were clear and local weather station said no precip expected until tomorrow evening. The race was on!
After checking into the host hotel (Virginia Beach Resort and Conference Center – very nice older hotel, accommodating staff, every room was a suite with a balcony overlooking beautiful Chesapeake Bay), I started organizing my race clothes and things I would need for the next day. At 4 pm, packet pickup at the hotel began and I got my bib number and a pullover windbreaker that was miles too big. RD said they sent the wrong size (Large) and to email him afterwards and he’d try to get correct sizes. All participants still had to arrive at the race start early to get our chips. Next question was – How to get to the race start at First Landing State Park, about 1 mile away on a highway with no sidewalk? Fortunately, the hotel had a shuttle and they were willing to drive me to the park early the next morning. That saved me a lot of worry.
Saturday dawned cold and crisp. No rain or snow, but it turns out that any water on the roads and driveways and trails had iced over. I dressed in 4 layers of clothes plus a lined windbreaker with hood, mittens, cap, and handwarmers. At the park, I picked up my chip, put it on my ankle, and carefully made my way to the starting line. A few portapotties were set up and I made use of them – no lines at this point, although about 20 minutes later, there were dozens of people waiting.
The race began promptly at 8 am and we were off! Of course, I was at the back and trying hard to keep the folks ahead of me in sight so I would not get lost. I did have with me a course map but I wanted to look at it only if necessary – I needed to keep my eyes on the trail so I wouldn’t trip on the snow, ice, and roots. I stayed close on the heels of 4 local racewalkers who had done the inaugural race last year and knew the way.
The course consisted of 2 loops of trails circling around several portions of the park, with long out and back sections for each loop –kind of difficult to explain but relatively easy to follow when looking at a map. Fortunately, for the first loop, I found the snow easy to walk on (trail shoes probably made a difference) . During the second loop, however, much of the snow had melted, leaving mud (that was okay) and exposed roots (not so great). I only tripped once, but it was a hard fall, and I bruised my nose, knee, and ribs – but my glasses did not break (my biggest fear – I would not want to navigate a race unable to see) and I continued on but more carefully, with an eye out for those treacherous roots.
The park was beautiful, very eerie and ghostly, especially with the snow, ice, and cloudy weather. There were two well-stocked aid stations that racers passed a total of 4 times each – supplies included just about everything, from 3 varieties of sandwiches (including my favorite – pb and j), salty snacks, cookies, and candy, as well as water, Gatoraide, and soda. The volunteers stayed at their posts for every turn despite the 30 degree temps (it never did warm up much beyond that) and all were cheerful to boot, even for us back-of-the-packers.
By mile 21 or so, I could feel some pain behind my right knee so I eased up on my pace a bit. I had made the only cutoff with 45 minutes to spare, so I knew I would finish, although my time would not be as good as the previous week’s result. I crossed the finish line in7:37 and received a plaque, medal, and cap. I must have looked a bit dazed because a volunteer asked me if I needed water or to sit down. I responded that all I needed at this point was a ride back to my hotel and one kind volunteer (Steve) did drive me back. I called my husband to fill him in on my experience and then was ready for a shower and a delicious seafood pasta meal at the hotel restaurant. That was all I needed before turning in for the night (I had an early flight the next morning).
Turned out to be a pretty good idea after all.

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