Cloudsplitter was my first ultramarathon in October of 2016 and since then, the race has been a permanent fixture on my race calendar. The course is challenging with plenty of elevation change and technical terrain, but also a great balance with lots of run-able stretches of single and double track. This year, I signed up for the 50K and planned to pace my friend, Rob Gentry, to the finish of the 100-miler.
Coming into the race, I’d done my part with training and felt really great on race day. In addition, I purchased gear specifically for this race including changing shoes from the thinner-soled Brooks Cascadia to the thick, cushy Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 (a multi-month transition), and moving from my cheap trail pack to a 12L Orange Mud Adventure Pack.
I ran a really nice 50K, setting a personal best time and coming in three hours faster than my first time at this race. My body felt good after the finish, and I retreated to my hotel for a hot shower and to get busy with lots of stretching and yin yoga.
Overnight, Rob continued on course and was able to hold his pace with his wife, Lyn, providing support at aid stations. Race officials and volunteers were updating runner progress on Facebook at the various aid stations, so I was able to get a good idea of when I would meet up with Rob at High Knob Tower aid station - probably around 3:30 p.m. or so.
I got to High Knob Tower and did some stretching and light jogging to get ready to pace Rob the last 7.5 miles or so. He came into the aid station and looked remarkably fresh. We chatted a bit, and then it was go time.
I’d never paced anyone before, but I’ve run with Rob enough to know that he had plenty left in the tank - even after 92.5 miles. The last 7.5 is nearly all downhill, and only has two technical sections - one of which was a full on mud slide. We cruised the downhills, walked the ups, and were careful through the technical sections to avoid injury.
Rob finished 22nd overall in a time of 33 hours, 30 minutes, and 33 seconds, and he crushed those last miles, passing a half dozen runners along the way.
Cloudsplitter - Better Each Year
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this race is building something special, and now has a truly outstanding partner in the City of Norton, VA. Originally, Cloudsplitter was run on Pine Mountain starting in Elkhorn City, KY. After some strange events during the race in 2016, the race was moved to Norton.
Last year was a year of transition with Norton hosting its first ultramarathon. On my visit last year, it was clear that the town was fully supportive of the race and visiting runners. The city is small (the smallest independent city in America), but offers far more amenities than the previous location.
This year, the race was even better. Moving the start/finish from the local high school to the city farmer’s market was brilliant, and as city manager, Fred Ramey, tells it, the farmer’s market will have some freshly brewed beer on site for next year’s race because they’re building a brewery:-)
And let’s spend a minute on the aid stations. Hot egg and spinach burritos, freshly made grilled cheese, and Milky Ways galore! The volunteers at the aid stations were among the best I’ve ever seen at any race. Everyone is crazy friendly, and it’s just great to have such deluxe food when you’re out in the cold and rain.
I can’t wait to run this again next year!