Conquer the Cove Marathon (May 29, 2022)

We found out the day before the race that we wouldn’t be allowed to swim in the lake this year. I was more than a little disappointed. Jumping in the lake after crossing the finish line is one of the reasons this is my all-time favorite race.

Luckily there are other reasons as well. I love love love the course. The mountain laurels are always blooming, the elevation is challenging (I love hills!) and the trails are mostly not too technical. Although this year there was a lot more mud and many more river crossings than usual. It was the first year I remember having to get my feet wet. They also always have the best post-race food!

The Blue Ridge Double Marathon was my big spring race. It was the race I had focused on and trained specifically for. I knew I wanted to run Conquer the Cove. I always want to run Conquer the Cove, but it wasn’t my “A” race. Which meant I didn’t have a time goal and I didn’t put any pressure on myself. My plan was just to see what I could do. I did want to take advantage of all the training I’d done for Blue Ridge and planned to start out a little less conservatively than I usually do, though.

The course begins with about a mile and a quarter of pavement and then abruptly starts climbing as soon as you hit singletrack. I’m a strong climber and always get stuck behind people walking much slower than I want to be going on this stretch.

My plan worked well. I was surprised that the group I was following kept running almost all the way to the top of the first climb.

And then it was time for the first big descent.

Conquer the Cove marathon elevation profile

I’d been working on my downhill running since the Blue Ridge Double and was concentrating on “flowing like water” instead of “bouncing like a ping-pong ball.” Still, a handful of people came barreling past me. And a lady who stayed close on my heels for a while told me that I looked like a ninja. I took that to mean I was doing a fair amount of flailing about.

The lady who told me I looked like a ninja running down the hill stayed close behind me for the next few miles. I think it was one of her first trail races, if not her very first. She kept saying she felt like a forest sprite or fairy and seemed delighted when we splashed through our first river crossing. She reminded me of myself on one of my best days. I enjoyed her company but worried I was pushing the pace a little too much on these roller-coaster miles. We chatted for a while and I found out she had recently moved to Richmond from Washington state and that her husband (boyfriend?) had thru-hiked the PCT and CDT and was getting ready to start the AT. She was reluctant to pass but eventually did. We then played leapfrog until the aid station at mile 8 where I left before her and didn’t see her again until after the race.

My legs were pretty tired by the time I made it to that aid station and I worried that maybe I had been going too fast. Mile 8 was early in the race for tired legs! Uncharacteristically, I decided to just go with it and see what happened. After all, my plan had been to see what I could do. Now I would just see what I could do with tired legs.

A few miles of more forgiving terrain later and I was surprised to find that I was feeling really strong again. This was fun!

It was starting to get really hot, though. When I hit the last aid station before the second big climb, I filled my hydration bladder and asked for a cold washcloth. I was ecstatic when a volunteer handed me one. It felt so good to wipe the salt from my face! I held onto it for the climb.

Near the top, I caught up to a guy who told me we should be able to finish in under 5 hours. That didn’t seem right to me, but it did motivate me to keep powering on.

I passed the next aid station without even stopping.

This last big descent is called the gauntlet and I hate it. My quads were tired, but I did my best to “flow like water.” I caught up to another guy and stayed behind him for a while. He didn’t offer to let me pass. I thought about staying behind him, but then remembered what the other guy had said about finishing under 5 hours. I knew it would be really close if it was possible at all. And why shouldn’t I run faster, if I felt like I could? I asked to get around him the next time there was room. He let me, asking, “Still feeling good, huh?” I told him I was really close to beating my own course record, which was true. The fastest I had finished this race was 5:13 back in 2017.

After the descent, there are a couple of miles of gradual climbing, which at this point in the race feels like torture. I was no longer feeling good. The heat and miles were getting to me and running was a struggle, but I kept pushing. I wanted to beat my PR.

By the time I hit the last aid station I was seriously craving a cup of Skratch. I was disappointed when I got there and remembered it was water only. Meagan (turkeyrunnerhttp://turkeyrunner.com) was volunteering though and it’s always nice to see a familiar face. Especially at that point in the race!

I had a sip of cold water and pushed on.

I crossed the finish line in 4:56:43. A course PR and sub 5!! And almost a full hour faster than I’d finished last year.

Gina had me wait at the finish line because she thought I might have won first place masters. I did not. I missed it by two minutes.

I did win a cowbell for placing first in my age group, though.

My feeling of accomplishment was slightly diminished when I later checked the results and realized there were only two people in my age group (and there would have been three, but the female winner was 45, which took her out of the age group category).

I still ran a great race, though! I thought the days of beating my PRs were behind me.

I placed 7th out of 23 women and 31st out of 77 overall.

Plus I got to run my favorite race and there’s talk of us being allowed to swim in the lake again next year.

Blue Ridge Double Marathon (April 16, 2022)

The Blue Ridge Double Marathon has intrigued me for years.

I registered for it in 2018, but wasn’t able to train much that winter and ended up dropping down to the marathon. I registered again in 2020, but Covid happened and it was canceled. I deferred my entry to 2021. The race was held in 2021, but I still didn’t feel ready to attend such a large event in person, so I deferred again to 2022.

This time I finally made it to the start.

The logistics for the double are weird. You are essentially running two separate marathons and you need to make sure you finish the first one in time to start the second one at 7:35 sharp. You have the option of starting the first marathon at either 1:00 a.m. or 2:30 a.m. They recommend the 1:00 start for runners who plan to finish in about 6 hours and the 2:30 start for runners who plan to finish in less than 5 hours. I figured I would be somewhere in between. I had run the marathon three times before with finishing times of 4:15, 4:40, and 4:53. I was anticipating 5:00 to 5:30 would feel like an easy, sustainable pace for the first lap. I’m in much better shape than I was the last time I ran the marathon, so I was actually thinking a 5 hour pace would feel pretty easy. I definitely didn’t want to be stressed out about not finishing in time to make it to the start of the second marathon though, so I signed up to start at 1. It’s a good thing that I did. I wouldn’t have made it back in time if I had started at 2:30.

One o’clock in the morning is an odd time to start a race. I decided to treat it like a normal morning start and wake up two hours beforehand for coffee and cereal, and to (hopefully) use the bathroom. From reading other race reports, that’s not the way most people did it. Some stayed up all night, others slept for a few hours, but didn’t wake up early for coffee and breakfast.

I got into bed at 7 p.m., probably fell asleep around 8 and our alarms went off at 11. I didn’t feel as horrible as I thought I would. Our Airbnb was on the top floor of an old three-story house less than a half-mile from Elmwood park (where the race start/finish was). It had a cool little window nook that overlooked the city, which was a great place to sit and drink my coffee.

Starting in the wee-est hour of the morning meant there was no line for the port-a-johns and they were sparkly clean. I’m pretty sure I was the first one to use mine. I know I was the first to use the toilet paper.

Getting ready for marathon #1

The first lap is self-supported (meaning you have to carry all the food and water you will need.) There were a few people along the course checking bib numbers to make sure everyone completed the entire course, but there wasn’t anyone giving directions and the roads weren’t closed. Even though we were told it was completely self-supported, they ended up having a few places where we could fill up on water and grab a banana. I was carrying two liters of watered-down Nuun, two Clif bars, 1 Clif nut butter bar, a Health Warrier chia bar, and a Lara Bar.

I had downloaded the RunGo app that was supposed to give us turn-by-turn directions along the course. I’ve run the first 15 miles of the course many times over the years as training runs and know it well, but 2018 was the last time I’d run the entire course and I had zero confidence I would know where to go. I had looked at the map, but the course is confusing and I hadn’t come close to memorizing it. I was actually pretty worried that I would get lost.

I met up with George (and Marie) who I had spoken with briefly about the race via social media but had never met in person. It was their first time doing the double, too.

First lap:

It was a humid but comfortable 58 degrees as we headed out for our first marathon. During training runs, and every time I’ve run the Blue Ridge Marathon, I have run almost all of the way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but this time I started taking walking breaks much earlier. I wanted to be very conservative for this first marathon.

George and Marie were running nearby and we kept passing each other. Generally, I would pass them on the inclines and they would pass me back on the downhills.

It was so nice and peaceful up past Mill Mountain. I had been really excited about being up on the Parkway and seeing the stars. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the mountains at night to see the stars. But it was cloudy, so that was not to be. There was a bright orange glow in the clouds from the nearly-full moon, though. And the cloud cover was high enough that the view of the city was pretty spectacular.

View from the top of Roanoke Mountain

I was fully enjoying the sound of the wind in the trees, the heady smell of flowering trees, and how good it felt to finally be doing this thing that I’ve been thinking about doing for years.

I was having trouble with my RunGo app, though. I thought that I had started it at the beginning but apparently, I had not. I eventually got it turned on and calibrated, but it kept telling me I had gone off course. I knew I was not off course. I was with a bunch of other runners on the part of the course that I knew well. When it didn’t tell me to turn left to go up to Mill Mountain, I pulled out my phone and realized that the app had turned off. Maybe from being jostled in my pack? Maybe it had given up on me because it thought I’d been off-course the entire time? I turned it back on. From that point on, it told me my pace every mile but never once told me when to turn. I had to rely on the course markings, which were smallish arrows painted on the road.

This stressed me out because I was heading into, the second half of the course which was the part I wasn’t sure about. There were a couple of places where I wasn’t sure where to go, but I always guessed right. For the most part, the course was pretty easy to follow as long as you paid attention. It also helped that I had run the marathon three times before and had a general idea of where I should go.

I had also really been looking forward to running by the Mill Mountain star all lit up, but it was turned off when I went by. The volunteer who was up there said she’d been disappointed when she realized it wasn’t on, too. I later learned that the lights shut off at 11 p.m. every night.

Brian found me a few miles before the finish line.

I could usually see at least another runner or two, but there were a few miles where I was completely on my own. I kept my pace slow and energy-wise I felt great the whole time. About 4 miles from the finish line, the inside of my left knee started hurting, though. The pain wasn’t terrible. I could still run, but it worried me.

About two miles from the finish line, I drank the last of my Nuun.

I didn’t feel too bad when I crossed the finish line. I was worried about my knee, but I’d kept my pace easy enough that another marathon seemed reasonable granted my knee cooperated.

Between the marathons

I had just over an hour from the time I finished the first marathon until the start of the second one. Brian was at the finish line with my bag of clothing and snacks. First, I gave him my watch to charge. Then I used a port-a-john. I had to wait in a (very short) line this time! I was a little surprised by how many people were already there for the other races an hour before the start. I decided to walk over to the conference rooms the race had reserved for the doublers.

I did a complete change of clothes: shirt, shorts, bra, socks, and shoes. I had worn my older shoes for the first marathon and saved my newer ones for the second one, thinking the extra cushioning would probably be good. I ate a banana, an orange, and part of a bagel with hazelnut butter. I also had some hot coffee, which tasted amazing. I wanted to drink so much more but knew I probably shouldn’t. Brian filled my hydration pack halfway with water and added two Nuun tablets. I had filled it up completely for the first one but figured there would be a lot of water stops for this one, so I shouldn’t need as much. I would have fared much better if I had gone ahead and filled it all the way up again, though. And I probably should have been drinking Skratch or Nuun instead of coffee.

About 15 minutes before the start of Marathon #2, Brian and I left the hotel. It felt like the temperature had dropped significantly and the wind was frigid. I decided we could go back and wait a little longer inside the hotel.

Marathon #2

I was giddy waiting for the second marathon to start. Full of nervous and excited energy. I was also freezing. It was so cold!

Starting out on the second marathon felt like doing something new and a little terrifying; like riding a roller coaster for the first time, or jumping into icy water from a really high rock.

My knee still hurt, but other than that I was feeling really good. I made it to the top of Roanoke mountain faster than I had the first time. The knee pain actually went away for a while near the end of the first climb but came back on the way down. It bothered me for the rest of the run, but never got any worse.

There were a lot of spectators along the course this time and my double marathon bib earned me extra attention. I heard lots of “Double, Double!” and “Wow! You go, doubler!” and my favorite, “You are a true badass!” I have to admit it felt good.

I was not feeling as great on this lap, though.

The temperature rose quickly and I soon realized I hadn’t been drinking enough. When I finished the Nuun in my pack, I had to rely on the aid stations and by that point, a small cup of water every couple of miles just wasn’t enough. My stomach felt a little queasy and I tried to choke down some pretzels and pickles, but wasn’t having much luck. I couldn’t even think about eating anything sweet, which is why I was also sticking to water. After the first 10 miles, I wasn’t really able to get many calories in at all and the sun had come out and was beating down on me. I finally decided to try some Skratch and was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t taste too sweet after all. I wished I had tried it earlier, but I had been afraid the sweetness would make me sick.

I usually can eat whatever I want during races and rarely have stomach trouble. It only happens in the heat.

I had really hoped to run negative splits. Besides just finishing, that was the only goal I had. If I had stayed on top of my hydration, I know I could have done it.

But I did not. I finished the first marathon in 5:26 and the second one in 5:35. I slowed down less than most people did, but there were some who managed negative splits.

I was so excited when I found out that I placed second in the female master’s category. The awards are running figures made out of recycled railroad spikes. I’ve always thought they were so awesome and never imagined that I’d ever actually have a chance of winning one!

Such a cool award! They’re welded by local high school students.

I loved this race and even with the stomach troubles and hurt knee, I was ready to register for next year before I even had a chance to shower.

Although honestly, that’s how I feel after just about every race. I think I just love running.

Running in 2021

1226.43 miles

Only two races:

Conquer the Cove Marathon (May 30, 2021)
This is still my favorite race. I really hate that finish-line photo of me, though.

Eastern Divide 50k (June 19, 2021)
I’ve been wanting to run this race for years and was thrilled we were finally able to. Brian and I ran together the entire way. Although, saying we “ran” is generous. I was having knee pain and had to walk a lot of the downhills. He crashed pretty hard towards the end and didn’t want to run any of the inclines. Together, we made quite the team. We met some great people though and had a lot of fun.

Or, I had fun anyway. I doubt Brian would say it was fun.

Memorable runs that weren’t races:

Sunrise run on the Blue Ridge Parkway


The snowy run at Monticello when we met the diligent skunk.

He was so busy doing whatever he was doing that he never acknowledged us.

Spring magic at Monticello

Easter Sunday run at Ragged mountain and that dark chocolate-dipped carrot cake.

The Riprap/Wildcat run when the Rhododendrons were in bloom.

The run with my sister that was a comedy of navigational errors and nearly twice the miles it was supposed to be but included a glorious swim and created some wonderful (in hindsight) memories.

The run at Monticello when I met my white pigeon friend and he lead the way for a while.

All of my state park wild swimming runs.

The run with my cousin Jess on the Cape Cod Canal.

I didn’t get a picture of the run, but this is us swimming a couple of days later.

Jarmans in the Fall

Thanksgiving morning Jarmansing with the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners.

Wild Swimming at Holliday Lake State Park

I realized on the drive there that I had forgotten to bring cash. Luckily the park office was open and I was able to pay with my credit card. This was a huge relief because the park is in the middle of nowhere. I was looking at a half-hour drive EACH WAY if I had to backtrack to a town for cash.

Each state park I visit is even better than the last!

This one was beautiful, immaculate and quiet. I love quiet.

I got a late start because I wanted to give the day time to warm up for the swim. I had even considered waiting until afternoon. What I hadn’t considered was the fact that I am not at all acclimated to running in the heat. Waiting until later would have been a huge mistake. I struggled enough as it was.

A big part of that was probably the fact that I didn’t carry any water. The trail I was planning to run (Lakeshore) was only 6.5 miles. I run 6 miles all the time without water. But I generally do it around sunrise. It’s a little different by ten in the morning. I also had a little trouble following the trail and the run ended up being a little over 7 miles (another reason I really should have been carrying water!)

Lesson learned. I will carry water when I explore new trails from now on.

The trail is fairly well marked, but you have to pay attention. At one point I came out at a road crossing and the trail didn’t continue on the other side. I went down the road a little in each direction looking for the trail and didn’t see anything. Eventually I decided to go back the way I’d come to make sure I hadn’t missed a turn and soon discovered that I had.

When I got to the dam, there was a sign that said “Danger. Authorized Personnel only beyond this point.” I backtracked again (this wasn’t so bad because it was actually one of my favorite sections.) I ran about a quarter mile before I saw one of the blue blazes that I was supposed to be following. I hadn’t missed a turn, so I ran back to the dam. I then realized that the sign was referring to the area under the dam, not the dam itself.

There was very little mud and only two small creek crossings that required getting my feet wet.
Wildflowers everywhere!
My first lady’s slipper sightings of the year. I saw two.
The section of trail that I got to run four times. There were so many wild azaleas along the shore.

The deepest of the two creek crossings (deeper than it looks in the picture). It came late in the run and I was so hot by that point that I was happy to see it. I stopped and rinsed the sweat from my eyes and splashed some water on my neck.

The last couple of miles were tough. I actually stopped to walk a few times. 

Back at my car, I downed an entire (icy!) thermos of Nuun before heading to the beach. It was quite possibly the best beverage I’ve ever had.

The water felt colder than my previous two swims, but I think that’s just because I was so hot!

 

Wild swimming at Bear Creek Lake State Park

This one was also just about an hour’s drive from Charlottesville. It felt more like it was in the middle of nowhere though. Some of the roads I took to get there weren’t even paved.

It was quieter than Lake Anna State park, which I really liked.

I ran the Channel Cat Loop Trail, then took the Lakeside Trail over to the Lost Bar Loop Trail and then back again for a little over 6 miles.

The trails were well marked and great for running. I passed a few hikers and a runner on the Lakeside Trail but had the two loop trails all to myself.

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While I was running by the lake, saw a kayaker in the water and realized there were two people swimming along behind it. That made me feel happy and also a little less crazy for wanting to swim on a not exactly hot day in April.

The sun was occasionally peaking out from behind the clouds and the air temperature was 68. I had some salt stinging my eyes by the time I finished my run, but was far from overheated.

The water felt chilly when I got in, but not bad at all, even with a good wind blowing across the lake. The wind made the water a little choppy, which was kind of fun to swim through. I stayed in a lot longer than I did at Lake Anna, breast-stroking back and forth between the buoys.

The coolness of the air and water and the lack of other swimmers made this swim feel a little more “wild.” I do realize that swimming within buoys at State Park beaches is probably the most tame form of wild swimming there is, but wild swimming just sounds cool, so I’m going with it.

It was so quiet I got to enjoy the soft rippling sound of the waves I make when I’m swimming. I love that sound. I also love the smell of lake water (and ocean and river water.)

In addition to all the trails I explored, the park also provides access to the Cumberland Multi-Use Trail (14 miles) and the Willis River Trail (16 miles) so there are plenty of options for longer runs.

I would definitely go back.

Two down, four to go.

Wild swimming at Lake Anna State Park

The drive time from Charlottesville was just about an hour. I was a little surprised that there wasn’t anyone at the entrance booth, but it was a Tuesday afternoon in early April, so I guess it makes sense. I stopped and put my money in one of the provided envelopes and tore off the parking tag for my rear view mirror. The weekday fee is $7. I had a ten dollar bill and four ones. I just stuck the ten dollar bill in there and figured I was fine giving the state park an extra $3. The park office was open so I could have stopped and got change if I really wanted to.

I parked at the beach parking area. There were about a dozen other cars there, but it was a big lot so it still looked pretty empty. I was really disappointed to see that the beach was actually closed, though. The website had said it was open, but it was roped off and a bulldozer was spreading out piles of fresh sand.

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There were people wading and splashing about in the water on either side of the roped-off section, but the website said swimming was only allowed at the main beach. I decided to go for my run and hope that they finished with the bulldozing by the time I was done, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen.

I started out on the Fisherman’s trail, which is a short trail along the water that connects the swimming area to a fishing and picnic area. From there, I got on the Ware Creek Trail, which was by far my favorite trail of the day. There’s a nice section down by the water and then a more wooded section. It felt secluded and peaceful and I didn’t pass a single person. There are several exercise stations along the path.

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I headed back by the beach to the Railroad Ford trail and took mental notes of places I could possibly swim along the way. I passed a few groups and couples, but it was still far from crowded. I was getting hot and thirsty and starting to wonder if I’d made the hour drive and paid $10 just to run on some trails. The Railroad Ford trail connects to the Glenora trail and I had planned to take it, but there was a sign that said “Registered campers only beyond this point.” I didn’t really think that meant only campers could use the trail, but I was also really thirsty (it was almost 80 degrees and there weren’t any leaves on the trees yet, which meant I had been running for 40 minutes with the sun beating down on me) so I decided to head back to the water fountain I’d seen at the beach.IMG_20210406_142625231_HDR

I was happy to find the water fountain in working order and took a nice long, refreshing drink. Instead of heading out on the questionable Glenora trail, I decided to just do another loop of the Railroad trail, knowing that there were a few places along the way I could swim if I decided to. The park website had said that swimming was prohibited anywhere other than at the official beach, though. And I do generally try to follow the rules. So I ended up just running around the loop and back to the beach. 

I saw a couple of rangers talking to some of the people who had been swimming in the area right next to the beach and went over to see what they had to say. I figured they were telling them they weren’t allowed to swim there, but that wasn’t the case. The beach was indeed closed, but when I asked if they were telling people they weren’t allowed to swim outside of it, they said no, that it was a public lake and people could swim wherever they wanted to. I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear that.

I found a fairly secluded spot along the Fisherman’s trail and had myself a nice little swim. The water was clear near the shore, but quickly turned murky. I didn’t wade too far out before I dove in. The water was cold, but not bad at all. The swimming holes here in the mountains are colder in the middle of summer than this water felt the first week in April. Since I was alone, I didn’t swim very far out, but I did swim around a little bit. 

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I didn’t do quite as much swimming as I would have if the big sandy beach with the buoys around it had been open, but my private little swim was really nice, too.

There is no way I would go to Lake Anna State Park on a busy weekend in the summer, but I would love to go back on a weekday before the beach officially opens and explore the rest of the trails and spend a little more time swimming.

One park down. Five to go.

Yeti 100 mile Endurance Run (September 25, 2020)

My first 100 miler

Miles 0-14

Five in the morning. Dark and drizzly. I find myself in the midst of a crowd of people after half a year of barely leaving my house. This is 2020.

mistake #1: I forgot to grab my mittens when we left the Air Bnb. Brian had a pair of gloves he wasn’t going to wear so he gave them to me.

Wearing my jacket and gloves, the drizzly 58 degree morning doesn’t feel too bad. The race director had told us not to arrive early, and we didn’t. Less than five minutes after we arrived, we were sent on our way.

The trail out of town was one big mud puddle. It was slow going, which was fine. We were in no hurry. The darkness somehow seemed to make the miles go by quicker. We were climbing, but it was so gradual you could barely tell. The drizzle switched to rain. It wasn’t long before I was searching for a place to pee. And then it wasn’t long before I was doing it again. This was going to be a major theme of the day.

It took over an hour for the crowd to thin out enough that I felt comfortable taking my mask off. It was time to eat something. I reached into my pack for my Clif bar and it wasn’t there. I searched all my pockets. I found my 100 calorie chia bar and my single serve packet of cashew butter, but no Clif bar. “Brian, you know that Clif bar you found this morning and asked if it was mine and I said ‘no’? It must have fallen out of my pack.”

mistake #2: Not double checking my pack and therefor not having the fuel I’d planned on for the first 28 miles.

This would have been a bigger deal for Brian. I have no problem relying heavily on aid stations. My stomach can tolerate just about anything. I just usually have a half a Clif bar an hour in and the other half a half hour later. Not a big deal. I ate my chia bar.

Seven miles in, we hit the first aid station at Taylor Valley. I was surprised to see so many people out in the still-dark morning cheering for the runners. I was hoping for some sort of granola bar-type thing at the aid station, but I was out of luck. I grabbed a package of trail mix and we headed out.

It was truly a beautiful morning. The rain-swollen river thundered along beside us, with pine trees lining its banks. We crossed several trestle bridges and meandered through pastoral countryside.

There was a guy in an orange raincoat standing along the trail not far from the turn-around at Green Cove. We figured he must live there and had just come out to watch the runners. We smiled and said good morning.

There were pit toilets at the aid station/turnaround. Brian and I both used them. I grabbed a clementine. I wasn’t feeling particularly chilled, but it was wet and cold enough out that my fingers didn’t work. It took me so long to peel that damn thing! It tasted good, though.

We set off back the way we’d come. Now it was a nice, gradual downhill for the next 14 miles back to Damascus. The man in the orange raincoat was still there, so we smiled and waved again. It was daylight now. The farmland was filled with colorful wildflowers and backed up to green mountains just beginning to show a little fall color.

The crowd had thinned out at Taylor Valley. I filled my water bladder and grabbed a couple mini Snickers. I had to stop and pee two more times before we got to the aid station in Damascus.

Miles 28-46

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Photo credit: Samantha Smith Taylor

We skipped the aid station, because the crew area where my Dad was was just about a mile after that. It was cool to come around the corner and see him there cheering for us. There was another guy there, too. It turned out to be my sister’s friend, Craig. He was the one we’d seen at the top with the orange rain coat. We had never met before, but I asked him if he’d known I was Jen’s sister because we look so much alike. He said he had figured as much.

Dad had all our gear set out for us and made sure we had what we needed for the next 18 miles. We dropped our headlamps for him to recharge and we gave him our coats. It was still raining, but we’d been comfortable coming down off the mountain and we weren’t going back up there and the forecast had said it was going to get up to 70 degrees.

About a mile later I realized that I had made a huge mistake. It started pouring, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. I was soaking wet and wearing only a tank top and shorts. I was FREEZING.

Mistake #3: Not holding onto my coat.

Brian was just a little cold, but I was MISERABLE. He was starting to get bouts of nausea, so we were stopping to walk every few minutes. Eventually I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to run ahead because I needed to keep warm. I was so angry with myself for being such an idiot. I saw one guy wearing a trash bag and was so jealous. I contemplated asking at the aid station if they could spare a trash bag.

Brian started feeling better and caught up to me well before we got to the aid station. Luckily, the 3.7 miles to the turnaround and back went by really quickly.

Then we just had that same stupid 7 miles back to Damascus. I had to go ahead of Brian for a little while again on the way back. At some point, a man in a pick-up truck said “hi there!” and then something I didn’t hear. I thought he was going to ask why we were all running in the rain, so I went over to hear what he’d said, but instead he handed me a roll of paper towels and said I could dry my face. I pulled one off and tried to hand the roll back to him, but he said “No. You keep it. You need it more than I do,” gave me a big smile and drove off. It was raining pretty hard, so soon I was running with a roll of wet paper towels and thinking that I am probably the only person in the world who this could happen to. There were a couple of trash cans along the trail and I was very happy to see one probably no more than a half a mile down the trail.

The trail was a river in places and splashing through the cold rain was chilling me to the bone. My teeth were chattering by the time we got back to my Dad. I was so relieved to get my coat back on. My Dad asked if we wanted him to set up the tent so we could change clothes, but we told him we’d probably be okay once we got moving now that we had our coats. It was still raining, so it seemed pointless to put dry clothes on that were just going to be wet within a few minutes. Plus I didn’t know if it was going to get even colder later, in which case I would want to have dry clothes then. But that short stop to get our coats had made me even colder. As soon as I tried to run again, my hip flexor seized up and I doubled over, with my hands on my knees. This kept happening the entire mile to the aid station. I asked for some hot coffee and we headed back out.

Miles 46-64

It was slow going again as my hip continued to seize up. By this point, I knew that it no longer mattered what might happen later. I needed to put dry clothes on right now or I was going to get hypothermia. I was so happy to see that Dad had gone ahead and set up the tent even though we had told him he probably didn’t need to. I asked him to make me a hot Nuun and crawled into the tent. I changed my bra and shorts, put on a dry short-sleeved shirt, a dry long-sleeved shirt and my wet jacket on top of all that.

My sister and Mike had arrived. I felt bad because they rearranged their schedules to get there early and we were behind schedule. Jen was going to pace us starting at mile 64.

With my hot Nuun in hand, we headed out for our second 18 mile out and back.

About a mile later, a lady walking in the other direction saw the empty styrofoam cup in my hand and offered to take it from me. That was so nice of her! I was happy to not have to carry it until I saw a trash can.

Brian and I were trying to figure out what time it would be when we got back to the crew area in Damascus and realized it was going to be about 9 pm. Then we remembered that we hadn’t grabbed our headlamps. We would be out there for a couple of hours past sunset with no light.

Mistake #4: Not picking up our headlamps when we would need them.

The number of times that I had needed to stop to pee during this run was beyond ridiculous. I had stopped counting at #11, but it seemed to be about once an hour. I generally do pee a lot, but not during races! It’s usually 2-3 times for a 50 miler or 100k. I had no idea what was going on this time. I didn’t feel like I was drinking all that much. I’d mostly had Nuun, plus I was eating, so the liquid should have been being absorbed, but it seemed to just go right through me. Now that my legs were tired, I had a new problem: it was getting harder to stand back up when I squatted to pee.

It was dusk by the time we reached the turn-around. This would be interesting. We continued to alternate running and walking until it got too dark to see. Then we were forced to walk. The trail was crushed gravel, so it wasn’t too dangerous, but there were a lot of patches of slippery mud which were tricky. Occasionally we’d get a little light from people passing us in either direction, but mostly we were on our own in the pitch black and it was slow going.

It seemed like an eternity, but we were so happy when we finally saw the lights from the crew area, or “tent city” as people were calling it.

The rain had pretty much let up by this point, so Brian and I both changed into dry shoes and socks. I lubed up my feet really good and put some Vaseline in my pack just in case.

We picked up Jen as our pacer for this leg and I told her that her primary job would be to help me back up whenever I needed to pee.

Miles 64-82

Brian’s bouts of nausea had become constant nausea. Jen and I were chatting and Brian was trudging along behind us. He wasn’t talking at all. He looked so miserable. I am so lucky that I don’t get nauseated during races. It is such a horrible feeling.

I felt like I was getting blisters on the balls of my feet. We stopped so I could put some Vaseline on them. That just made it worse. Stopping for a minute had made walking on them so much more painful.

Mistake #5: Changing my shoes

Brian stopped a few times to dry heave. Jen picked a great leg to join us. We were a delight.

Our pace had slowed to 20-24 minute miles. I got a text from our petsitter. She had completely dropped the ball. I called my neighbor to see if she could help. She said she could and she’d call me when she got home from work. This was a little after 9:30 pm. Cell reception was spotty and I was really worried about my cats.

Brian was feeling so sick. I asked him if he wanted to stop and he said yes.

Me: “Stop, stop, or stop and rest stop?”

Him: “Stop, stop.”

Oh.

I asked if he was sure and told him that I would stay with him if he just wanted to rest for a while and see if that helped, but he had made up his mind. He said he’d been feeling bad for so long that he didn’t think resting would help. Plus, we didn’t have much time to spare. If we continued at the pace we were going and didn’t stop at all, we would just barely make the 30 hour cutoff.

Our neighbor called back just as we got to the Alvarado aid station where Brian told the volunteers he wanted to drop. The timing could not have been worse, but I was so grateful to her for helping us out. I was talking on the phone when I kissed Brian goodbye. Jen was having stomach troubles of her own and missed the whole thing. Her stomach troubles weren’t from the running (er, walking) but from a bug she’d been dealing with for a while.

After I sorted things out with my neighbor, Jen asked if I wanted to try running again. I really wanted to, but was pretty sure it wasn’t possible. My energy and legs were doing pretty good considering I was 72 miles in, but the blisters on the bottoms of my feet were killing me. Sure enough, I only made it a couple of steps. I could walk at a decent clip (considering) but running on those blisters was excruciating. We were both disappointed, but continued on.

The turn-around is on the other side of a really long trestle bridge. The last few yards of the bridge were lit up with rainbow glow sticks. They had probably been there all day, but this was the first time I’d been there when it was dark enough to see them. They were so pretty.

Back on the other side of the trail, there was a lady peeing. She said she’d been peeing about once a mile. I wasn’t the only one! It was so crazy. Why were we peeing so much??

All day long we’d all been having to stop and empty the pebbles and dirt from our shoes. Lately, I’d been waiting as long as possible because as bad as my feet were hurting, it was exponentially worse when I stopped and had to start moving again. Plus, it still felt like there was crap in there after I emptied them, so what was the point? (Funny story: Brian has gaitors and asked me before the race if I thought he’d need them. I told him no. I figured since it was going to be rainy we wouldn’t be kicking up much dust. Boy was I wrong. Brian probably won’t ask for my opinion anymore and I can’t say I’d blame him. Gaitors would have helped so much!)

My back was starting to hurt too. On a positive note, this was by far the longest I’d ever worn my pack before it started to hurt. Ten hours is usually my limit. I’d been wearing if for more than twice that long.

I usually go to bed between 7 and 8 pm. (yes, I know that’s really weird.) I also get really sleepy and sometimes pretty crabby if I have to stay up later than that. So it was really strange to me that I didn’t feel even remotely tired (sleepy tired, I mean. I felt tired for sure, just not sleepy) until about 2:30 am. But once it hit, it hit HARD. I felt like I was sleepwalking. Or really drunk. I had trouble following conversations and felt like I was watching things happen from somewhere else.

Mike had walked back up the trail to meet us. I asked him how far we were from tent city and he said 20 minutes. Or maybe he said 40 minutes. Some amount of time that sounded unfathomably long.

I asked Jen to run ahead and find my handheld bottle and fill it with Nuun. She asked where it was and I told her I had no idea. I wasn’t sure how I was going to carry everything I needed without my pack, but I wanted that thing off me so bad. I had one pocket on my coat and none on my shorts. I needed to carry a mask and food. I knew I should probably have my phone if I was going back out by myself as tired as I was, but there was just no way I could carry it.

An eternity later, when I finally made it back to tent city, they had just found my bottle and were filling it. Can I just say that serious props need to go to our crew! Brian and I are hopelessly disorganized. We basically handed my Dad 6 bags of crap and said “Here. Find us what we need when we need it.” And they still managed to do an awesome job for us.

I hadn’t been eating or drinking much for a while. I was feeling really thirsty, but not at all hungry. Mike has done several 100 milers and said that Brian and I had not been taking advantage of caffeine nearly as much as we should be. He also asked if I’d taken any pain medicine. I told him I try not to take ibuprofen because I thought it was bad to do that when you’re running. He said Advil is fine as long as you’re well hydrated. I was pretty sure I wasn’t.

My plan was to pick up my handheld filled with Nuun at tent city and drink it on the roughly 2 miles to the turnaround and back. Then I’d take the Advil and grab a coffee Clif bar for the next leg.

Jen walked to the turnaround with me. I was crashing hard. Our pace was back in the 20 minute per mile range. At the aid station, I grabbed a cup of Coke and stared at the food for a really long time. Nothing looked remotely appetizing. Jen said I should try to eat some real food and handed me a quesadilla. I’d had some earlier and thought they were great, but now looking at it kind of turned my stomach. I stuffed two mini Snickers in my pocket and we headed out.

Miles 82-100

I took a tiny bite of the quesadilla, but just couldn’t do it. Jen threw it out for me at the first trash can we saw. I finished the Coke.

By the time we made it back to tent city, I was starting to feel better. The sugar and caffeine from the Coke were like magic. Mike handed me some Advil. Dad handed me my Clif bar. Brian found the pills in my pack that I needed to take. Mike offered to go with me for the last leg. He hadn’t planned to do this and wasn’t dressed for it, so it was really nice of him. I thought that I was going to be alone for the last 18 miles and was determined to do it. But it would be so much easier if I had someone with me. Mostly I didn’t trust myself to look both ways before I crossed streets or to not curl up on the side of the trail and go to sleep.

He asked if I wanted to be in front or back. Any other time I would have wanted to set the pace, but I told him back. I just wanted to put my head down and go. I’d rather have him just pull me along.

It wasn’t long before the Advil kicked in. It took the edge off. I still didn’t feel like I could run, but I also no longer felt like crying. It was a definite boost. We picked up the pace.

The caffeine in the Coke had another effect, though. About two miles from the aid station, I really needed to go! Mike had the same stomach bug as Jen and he was really needing to go, too. I think he even a little more urgently than me. We were pretty quiet for those two miles. I didn’t want him to feel like he had to rush at the aid station, so I told him he could wait for me there while I did the out and back to the bridge. He agreed.

So we both used the pit toilets at Alvarado. It was my seventh time at that aid station and the first time I’d used them. I prefer to go outside (especially now because of Covid) but this was also the first time I had to do something other than pee and I was really grateful for those smelly pit toilets. I feel bad for the aid station volunteers who had to smell that all day. Alvarado was a truly stinky (but wonderful) place, with awesome volunteers!

I had definitely gotten some energy back. I passed probably a dozen people in those four miles. It was so nice to get to that turnaround after the bridge for the fourth time of the day and know that I didn’t have to come back. FINALLY I was on the home stretch. 9 miles back to Damascus. It sounded really far, but that was IT. No more out and backs.

My shoes had gotten so full of crap again that I couldn’t take it anymore. I saw a bench and there was a woman sitting with her torso slumped over the back. I went and sat at the other end and asked if she was okay. Her eyes shot open and she said “Oh, I was sleeping” I apologized and she said “No. It’s good. I need to go. I’m not usually this tired. All I want to do is sleep.” and she got up and left. I decided to take my socks off this time. I swear I dumped a pound of rocks and dirt out of each sock. I guess that’s why it still felt like I had crap in my shoes even after I emptied them.

When I got back to Mike he said he’d had a nice nap which seemed strange to me because it didn’t seem like I’d been gone long enough, but it probably had been almost an hour. Time is definitely strange during a 100 miler.

We passed a few more people. We talked to most of them. Everyone seemed to be in a pretty good mood. I guess because at this point we all knew we would more than likely finish in time. We just needed to get there. And that seemed to be taking forever.

A couple of times I found myself struggling a little to keep up with Mike, which made me grateful that he was there to keep me moving.

Eventually we saw my Dad walking towards us. Yay!

Back at tent city, I gave my long sleeve shirt, coat and handheld to my sister. Dad walked the rest of the way to Damascus with us.

Finally. Finally. I was at that damned finish line. It felt like I was never going to get there, but I did.

I did.

Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail (August 30, 2020)

For a change of scenery, we did our long run on the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail in Nelson County today. The trail is just under 14 miles round-trip, so we had to add some on to get the miles we needed, but that allowed us to stop back at the car and refill our water.

The parking lot was pretty empty when we got there a little before 8 and we had the trail mostly to ourselves for the first 10 miles or so.

The river meanders alongside the trail for several miles. There are picnic tables and benches and many places to access the river. I stopped to rinse the sweat off my hands and face near the end and it felt so good.

We saw many toads (some were teeny-tiny), butterflies, flowers and bicyclists and two very sweet ponies.

The morning started out nice and cool, but it was a humid 85 degrees by the time we finished. We both have quite a bit of nasty chafing to show for it, too.