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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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’tstop 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.
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.
It was an early wake-up Saturday morning to get to Douthat State park (apparently pronounced “doubt that” not “do that” as I had thought) for Brian to pick up his number before the 6:30 a.m. 40 miler race briefing and 7 a.m. start.
I still had no idea what I was going to do. I was registered for the 1/2 marathon which started at 10:00. I was thinking that maybe I’d just run around the park and do some exploring after Brian started his race and before mine started.
When Brian picked up his number, I went with him and asked (hypothetically) whether it would be possible to switch from the 1/2 to the full marathon. The volunteer didn’t know, so she called the race director over. When he heard that I had originally registered for the 40 miler, he told the volunteer to just switch me, no charge. He was so nice about it and said he just wants everyone to run and have fun. Wow! I was surprised and grateful. I hadn’t been expecting that.
The course is a 13.4 mile loop run once for the 1/2, twice for the full and three times for the ultra.
Elevation profile for each loop:
I saw Brian off on his first lap and walked up to see the lake.
It was a beautiful.
I love watching the fog lifting from the water in the morning. It always makes me think of Maine.
After that, I mostly just tried not to freeze. The temperature was in the sixties, but for some reason I was shivering. I was also worrying about rolling my ankle again and questioning my decision to switch to the full marathon.
Although, the race director was unusually easygoing. At the race briefing for the 40 miler, he had said that if anyone wanted to stop early for whatever reason that was fine. Usually, stopping early results in a DNF even if you complete the distance of a shorter race, but he said if you ran one lap, you’d get credit for finishing the 1/2 and if you ran two laps you’d get credit for running the marathon. Very generous! I also noticed (too late to take advantage myself) that he allowed people who were running shorter distances to start with the runners running longer distances. I could have started with the 40 milers instead of standing around freezing for an hour and a half.
He had also said at the race briefing that the dry weather had made the course more technical than usual. He warned us of loose rocks and told us to be especially careful on the downhill after the big climb. This was definitely not what I wanted to hear.
Eventually it was time for the marathoners to start.
I don’t know if it was the dry weather or just that I was nervous to begin with, but the technicality of the course surprised me. It was way more technical than I remembered.
I started out close to the back. There were probably less than a handful of people behind me. My plan was to treat this as a long training run. I wanted to take it very easy. Especially the first lap. I stayed behind a group of people who were walking slower than my normal walking pace for more than a mile, before finally deciding to pass them. Easy is one thing, but there was no reason to be going slower than I would on a training run. I knew they’d all come flying by me as soon as we started going downhill anyway.
As we neared the top, the trail cut along the side of the mountain. The path was narrow and crumbling off on one side. It didn’t make for easy running, but the views from this section were spectacular. I was happy it was such a nice day. Last year it was foggy and I hadn’t seen a thing.
The first aid station was also in a beautiful spot!
There was only water at this aid station and I had started with plenty of Nuun in my hydration pack, so I just snapped a picture, thanked the volunteers and was on my way.
Within a mile of the downhill, everyone who I had passed on the way up passed me back. After about two miles of downhill an older gentleman came by and asked if I was okay. Ha! I told him I was fine I just suck at downhills. He slowed his pace to chat. We commiserated about injuries for a while, but he eventually pulled ahead.
My energy was great at this point. I was just mentally exhausted from worrying about my ankle and concentrating on each and every foot placement.
I was relieved to see the second aid station. I added some water to my hydration pack and used my collapsible cup to get some Heed, grabbed a couple of cookies and headed out.
There was a short section of road and I was a little sad to waste the first “easy” section of running (9 miles in…) by walking. But nonetheless, I walked while I drank my Heed and ate my cookies. Even though we were back on trails, they were less steep and rocky. I was able to mostly run and I caught back up to the man I’d talked to earlier at the next aid station. I grabbed two more cookies and some more Heed in my cup and headed out. Walking again, while I ate and drank.
I was right with that same guy, so we ran together and talked some more. He asked if I was going to go for the second lap. He had had a couple of injuries this year and was only doing one lap. When we’d talked earlier I had told him I may only do one lap, too. And I still wasn’t sure. I had been feeling my hip for the entire loop and at one point, I had to stop and walk on a climb because I had a sharp pain in my hip flexor. Those last two miles were spent thinking about whether I would keep going or not. The closer I got to the finish, the more I wanted to keep going. I decided that I would at least start out on the second loop. I could turn around if I needed to.
I finished my first lap in 3:04. My time for the 1/2 marathon the year before was 2:40. So quite a bit slower this year, but I still had another lap to go this time.
I grabbed a Hammer gel from my drop bag (the first aid station with food was nine miles away on the other side of the mountain), filled my hydration pack about halfway with water and ate a piece of banana before I headed out.
It was getting hot. The climb wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t terrible either. I passed a handful of people, which was a bit of a relief because I hadn’t seen any other marathon runners since the long downhill on the first loop. It was good to know I wasn’t miles behind everyone. A couple of the 40 milers lapped me on the climb.
I had nearly finished my water again, so I filled up at the first aid station. I was a little less stressed about the downhill and thought I was moving quicker on this section than I had on the first lap (I later noticed that my Garmin said otherwise, though.) My hip was definitely feeling better than it had at the end of the first lap. I was actually wondering if I might be able to run negative splits.
At the second aid station I got a cup of Heed and two more cookies. I drank the Heed and ate one cookie. Heed is pretty sugary though. And I had eaten my gel on the climb. I had no desire for that second cookie. Angry with myself for being wasteful, I put the cookie into a pocket on my hydration pack.
It was starting to require concentrated effort to make myself run. The last 4.5 miles are completely runnable, but I didn’t feel like running anymore. I made myself keep going though. I was within sight of a man and woman in front of me and for a while the thought of catching them pulled me along. They got ahead of me at the last aid station though and I never saw them again.
I must have looked pretty unhappy the first time I came through because the race director said I looked much happier this time. That’s because I wasn’t worried about finishing anymore! After the first lap I wasn’t at all confident that I could make it another lap, but now I had done it!
I was elated that I was able to run the marathon and that I managed to not roll my ankle again.
Brian was there to greet me. After a stressful week of travelling for work he was exhausted and had decided to do the marathon too, instead of the 40 miler.
I didn’t come anywhere close to running negative splits. My second lap was 20 minutes slower than my first which surprised me. But I slowed down much less than most people. I ranked 30th on my first lap and 15th on my second. Not too shabby.
I was still pretty close to the back of the pack, though. I placed 23rd out of 36 finishers.
I don’t care at all. I’m just thrilled I was able to do it.
I’m going to just go ahead and call it. This is officially my favorite race.
I’ve done the 25K three times now and the marathon once.
I love the course. It’s challenging but completely runnable. The race starts and finishes on a gorgeous lake (you can jump in when you finish!). The mountain laurels are in bloom and the food is AMAZING! My plate was so colorful this year. I had a veggie burger (with that yummy cooked-on-the-grill char) topped with juicy tomato, red onion, three colors of peppers, guacamole and black bean salsa. Plus fresh fruit, veggies, chips and home baked treats on the side. It’s basically a full-blown cookout.
The shirts are always nice too, with the “Run MTNS” logo. This year they had tank tops for the women, which was awesome!
Even though I knew I wanted to run this race (I always want to run this race) we waited until the Friday before to register. Originally I didn’t know how I’d be feeling after Promise Land 50k and our trip to Finland. Then there was my knee and the fact that Molly is sick again.
My knee seemed to be doing better though. I had a physical therapy appointment on Tuesday and my PT thought I should be fine to run this weekend. My neighbor said she’d be happy to check on Molly for me.
So we set our alarms for 3am and were on the road by 3:30. We scored a prime parking spot right by the starting line thanks to Brian’s small car.
It was unseasonably cool before the race. I wished I’d thought to bring a coat.
Nobody wanted to be up near the front at the starting line. There were a few fast people at the very front and then a huge empty space, and then everyone else.
I started out feeling pretty good. The first mile on the road went by quickly. As usual, there was some congestion on the single-track climb. But I felt like I managed a pretty good balance of getting around people when the trail allowed and enjoying nice little walk breaks when it didn’t.
I was pretty proud of myself for keeping a decent pace going down the other side of the mountain. People definitely still went flying by me, but I felt like I was able to let loose at least a little. Progress.
The rolling miles after the first big climb and descent were hard because I was caught in a little group that was pushing my pace faster than I was comfortable with. But it’s probably good for me. I know I’m way too conservative these days. Anyhow, even though I was not exactly comfortable, I was still feeling waaaay better than I had at this point in the race last year. I sipped on my Nuun and ate a few pieces of black liqourice that I’d brought home from Helsinki.
The day was warming up quickly. I was trying to remember the cut-off time at the first aid station. I was thinking it was an hour and a half. It wouldn’t affect me because I was only running the 25K, but the year before I had arrived at the aid station right at the cut-off. I was hoping I would be ahead of it this year, but it was getting pretty close to an hour and thirty minutes and I still wasn’t at the aid station. And then finally I was. Presumably ahead of the cut-off (I just checked and the cut-off was 1:45, not 1:30.)
I grabbed a chocolate energy gel and walked out of the aid station with Brian. We started running again but after a few minutes he said he wanted to walk. I was feeling fine, so I just kept jogging at my very slow pace. I caught and passed maybe 10 people who were walking during that 2.5 mile stretch. I ended up walking some too, toward the end of the climb.
At the aid station at the top of the mountain I took a cup of Skratch, a caramel machiato gel (Not my favorite. Now I know) and an icy washcloth. It actually had big chunks of ice stuck to it, which felt really good.
My IT band felt fine, but my right ankle was feeling a little wonky and I felt a few twinges in my knee, so I didn’t push the pace at all on this steep, rocky descent. I’m pretty sure everyone I passed on the climb passed me back on this stretch. Including Brian. I couldn’t believe how fast some of them came barreling down the hill.
I wasn’t going fast, but I kept chugging along even after the trail flattened out and then climbed a little again. I slowly passed some of the runners who had flown past me on the descent. I felt like walking, but I knew I was close to finishing under three hours which had been my goal. In the last two miles I didn’t really think I’d be able to do it, but I was determined to keep trying.
It hurt, but I was feeling pretty happy as I pushed to the finish line in 2:57:53. Thirteen seconds away from placing third in my age group.
Then I got to jump in the lake, eat delicious food and enjoy the sunshine.
My neighbor sent me a text that Molly was doing well.
For just one morning it felt like everything was okay.
Helsinki City Running day is an impressive (and very popular!) event with something for everyone. There is a 1K mini-marathon for kids in the morning. Then a half marathon, full marathon, marathon relay, double (half and full) marathon and a 5K.
We did the half marathon which was the second event of the day (after the kid’s mini-marathon). The half was split up into 5 waves with the first wave starting at 11:30 am and the last one at 12:10. We were in the very last wave based on our projected finish time (i.e. slow).
Unlike at the race we did in Belgium, the lines for the port-o-johns were really long. We also quickly realized that it must not be taboo to wear the race shirt on race day in Finland. Maybe that’s only a U.S. thing? Anyway, I’d say at least half of the crowd was wearing the purple race shirt.
Lined up at the start
Even with so many waves, we were pretty bunched up for a while at the beginning. It didn’t bother me at all though. Brian and I were running together and he was counting on me to set the pace (he’s notorious for going out too fast). I had settled into my all-day-ultra pace (pretty much the only pace I know these days). A little exercise and a nice tour of the city was all I was looking for.
What was strange was how quiet it was. We were in the very last wave, where, especially so early in the race, just about everyone is usually chatting away. But we were the only ones talking. And we tried not to say too much because everyone could hear what we were saying (because nobody else was talking!), which was awkward. Plus we didn’t want to be the annoying loud Americans. The spectators were quiet too. A few people would say “hyvä” in a normal speaking tone as we ran by. Hyvä translates as “good” but we reasoned it must mean something like “good job” in this context. Even the music was quiet. Strangely, someone early on was playing the “Footloose” album for us as we ran by. I definitely approved!
We ran through a park by some marshland,
followed a paved bike/pedestrian path, skirted the water,
ran on some soft dirt (heavenly!) through beautiful green woods,
crossed several bridges,
ran through some not-so-pretty areas of the city with quite a bit of construction and finished up back at the Töölön Sports Hall.
There were several water stops along the way with Sportyfeel and water. I had some Sportyfeel at two of the stops. It tasted fine. Kind of like Gatorade. But both times I drank it, I got a side stitch. So I switched over to just water after that.
It was really hot out. I kept hoping someone along the course would have a sprinkler on so we could run through it. No such luck, but at one point there were a couple of people with spray bottles offering to spray down runners legs. Brian and I both said yes to that! It felt really good. With about four miles to go we ran back by the water. I told Brian that if the finish line was anywhere near the water I would definitely jump right in as soon as we finished. Unfortunately, it was several miles away.
The last three miles were pretty excruciating. I thought I was just dehydrated because it was so hot and I wasn’t carrying any water. Less than a mile from the finish line we turned a corner and I suddenly felt light-headed. I told Brian I needed to stop for a minute. He was carrying a couple of bottles of Carbo Pro. I always make fun of his Carbo Pro. It is supposedly flavorless but has calories and carbohydrates. So basically it’s water with calories. I prefer my calories to have flavor. I don’t understand the point of Carbo Pro. Just before the race he had asked me what it would take for me to drink some. I told him I would just have to be really, really thirsty. And now I was. I drank some stupid Carbo Pro. And it actually tasted like sugar-water as opposed to plain water but I’m not sure that’s really any better. Regardless, he felt pretty smug and I felt a little defeated, but also physically a little better.
He asked me what I’d had to eat and I told him nothing. I had a couple sips of Sportyfeel twice. Maybe 8 ounces total. But it was just a half marathon! I thought that I had read that they would have gels at the water stops, but I guess I was wrong. But I hadn’t thought that I would need anything, anyway. I really thought my problem had more to do with dehydration than lack of fuel.
But once we finished, I realized that we hadn’t started running until 12:10. I would have been fine if the race had started at 8 or 9. Probably even 10. But it had started after lunch time. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. It was close to 2:30 pm and I’d been running for more than two hours. Of course I needed fuel!
After we crossed the finish line and were handed our medals, we were led through another buffet line of goodies. I downed several cups of water and a vanilla recovery drink and started feeling much better.
Helsinki City Running Day was (mostly) pretty awesome!
Training for this race went pretty well (for me). I only got one twenty mile training run in, but I had several in the 16-18 mile range. Almost all in the mountains. Weekly mileage hovered in the high thirties for the most part. Not ideal, but pretty good for me.
My anxiety flared up as the race got closer though, and the last two weeks were rough.
But I made it to race day. Uninjured. (I think??)
We stayed in an Airbnb in Bedford the night before the race. Most people camp out the night before, but Brian doesn’t do camping if he can help it. The night turned out to be really cold and windy, so I have to admit I was very happy to have a roof over my head and a warm, comfortable bed to sleep in. It was also nice to eat breakfast and drink coffee inside in the morning.
It did mean waking up earlier, though. It was a little less than a half hour drive to the start and we needed to be there before 5am to pick up our numbers. I’ve been getting up between 3 and 4 anyway lately (insane, I know) so it wasn’t really an issue for me.
The temperature was in the high forties, but the wind was still blowing like crazy, so it felt COLD as we waited for the race to start. I stood in line for the bathroom twice. Pre-race nerves, plus it was warm in there.
I felt significantly better once we lined up at the starting line. All those bodies blocked the wind and I was ready to go run.
Start to Aid Station #1 (miles 0-3)
I was wearing a tank top and shorts with a hat and gloves (the forecast was for 70 degrees and sunny). The first three and a half miles were climbing, so I was fairly comfortable other than my hands which were freezing. I thought with lows in the upper forties I would be okay with gloves. But nope. I definitely should have worn my mittens.
The first three miles were uphill on a gravel road. I was surprised at how bunched up we were. I hadn’t really expected that. I didn’t really mind though, because I knew it was best to take these first few miles very easy. Everyone was mostly power hiking. Just before the aid station I caught up with a lady (Carolyn; a fellow Charlottesvillian) and we started talking. She was trying to figure out how many times she’d run this race. Nine?Maybe it was 10. The commotion of the aid station interrupted our conversation. I didn’t need anything and wanted to hold onto my headlamp just in case I still needed it as we were about to head into the woods. I checked in and continued on.
Aid station #1 to Aid station #2 (miles 3-10)
This started with a section of technical single track that continued climbing for another mile or so. My nutrition plan (I’m not very scientific about it) was to try to eat something every 45 minutes. I ate half of a Lara bar as I made my way up the rocky trail. After a short descent we were in a small green field and I was suddenly feeling incredibly happy. Then I turned a corner and the sun, so bright and low on the horizon was shining through the tender fresh green leaves and petals and grass. It all looked like it was glowing. As if someone had dabbed every green thing with white-yellow paint and then lit it from behind. It was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. We were on a soft, undulating section of single track in that beautiful forest for only a couple of minutes before we were spit out onto a fire road.
It was very runnable (mostly) downhill for a couple of miles with a view of the surrounding mountains off to our right. I was leap-frogging with several people here. There was a lot of young poison ivy mixed in with the grass. I tried to stay on the dirt path to avoid it, but at times that just wasn’t possible. I tried not to think about the urishiol that was probably all over my shoes. I made a mental note not to touch my shoes. I have a habit of forgetting my mental notes.
The easy downhill (I say I hate downhill, but I mean steep downhill. Gentle down is nice) was over all too soon and we were again climbing.
Both of my shoes felt loose and it was starting to irritate the bottoms of my feet. I stopped to tighten them, but my fingers were so cold that I could barely move them. It took me so long just to get the left one re-tied (and it didn’t even feel any tighter) that I just gave up on the right one. I would just have to deal with loose shoes and hope I didn’t end up with blisters.
At some point during this climb it was time to eat again, so I finished off my Lara bar.
Aid station #2 was an out-and-back. On my way in, I saw Emily leaving. She was just a little ahead of me. I checked in, gave my headlamp to a volunteer, and grabbed an Oreo.
Aid Station #2 to Sunset Fields Aid Station (miles 10-13)
On my way out of the Aid station, I waved to Mark and Wendy who were both heading in. This section quickly turned into a steep climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was feeling good and hiking fast. Just before the top, I caught up with Emily. We crossed the Parkway and ran on the gravel road down to Sunset Fields together. This section went by really quickly with someone to talk to. It was so cold up there though. The temperature must have been several degrees lower and the wind was again relentless.
At Sunset Fields aid station, I had to ask a volunteer to open my water bladder for me as my hands were freezing and absolutely useless. He didn’t seem too familiar with the type of bladder that I have, but he tried to help me get it closed and back into my pack. I shrugged it back on and headed down the trail, only to realize that I couldn’t clip the pack back onto me. My fingers just could not grasp those tiny clasps. I was getting desperate when I heard someone say “Joey!”. Brian was coming toward me on the trail. He wasn’t able to do the race, but had just finished a 7 mile run down to the falls. I was so happy to see him. “I need your help!” (He later told me that I sounded frantic and he thought something was really wrong). But it was just that I was so frustrated that I couldn’t do such a simple thing as fasten two stupid little clasps.
As soon as I started running, I noticed the sensation of cold water on my back. Was my bladder leaking? As water started dripping onto my shorts I tried to convince myself that the outside of the bladder had just gotten wet when the volunteer filled it. There was nothing I could do about it, though. I wouldn’t have been able to get my pack off and on again never mind pull the bladder out and try to find the problem.
This was the infamous “technical downhill” portion. Probably because I had been warned in advance, it didn’t seem that bad. Yes, it was technical and yes, I hated it. But it wasn’t any worse than most of the trails at the Trilogy races. Not long into the downhill, the outside of my knee started hurting. Sometimes things hurt for a while in a race, but then go away. I hoped this was one of those things.
There were slippery wet rocks and several river crossings. My knee continued to hurt. At least a dozen people passed me (including Kelsey).
It did warm up considerably though as we dropped back into the valley. And although my dripping wet back and shorts were annoying, the leak seemed to be a relatively slow one. I still had plenty of water when I reached Cornelius Creek Aid station. I grabbed two Fig Newtons and was on my way.
Cornelius Creek Aid Station to Colon Hollow Aid Station (miles 18-21)
This section was mostly downhill and on a road. I saw a girl in front of me go off into the woods and thought that I probably should, too. Miles went by and I still hadn’t found a decent spot that didn’t look over-run with poison ivy. Searching helped the time go by, though. I decided I didn’t need to go that bad.
My knee hurt a little less. I’m not sure if that’s because it actually hurt less, or if I was just feeling a little better mentally now that I was off the difficult technical trail. Either way, it was a positive. I was happy to finally see the turn back into the woods. A little climbing on smooth, soft trail perked me up quite a bit.
At Colon Hollow aid station, I needed to refill my bladder and I also wanted to figure out what was leaking. A volunteer again helped me even though my hands were working fine by this point. Somehow I still managed to spill a coke all over my pack, the jacket I’d pulled out of my pack and the table. I checked the hose. It looked normal. Maybe. I don’t know. I wiggled it around a little, hoping I was tightening it, then stuffed it and my coke-sodden coat back into my pack. I stuffed a banana quarter in my mouth and headed out.
Colon Hollow Aid Station back to Cornelius Creek Aid Station (miles 21-26)
It didn’t take long before my back and shorts were soaked again. I guess I didn’t fix the problem.
I stopped to stretch my quadriceps, thinking that might help my knee. I bent my knee and grabbed the top of my shoe. Crap! Now I have poison ivy oil all over my hand. Mental note: Don’t touch any body part with left hand.
I caught up with Emily again. We ran together for a while, but as this was a mostly uphill section, I eventually ended up ahead. I took out my headphones. I’ve never listened to music during a race before and it really helped. Energy-wise I was feeling great. The pain in my knee was just so frustrating.
The poison ivy in this section!! It was knee-high and all along both sides of the trail. There was no avoiding it. I tried not to think about it.
The uphill gave way to rolling terrain which gave way to a downhill section with several deep, shoe-sucking mud pits. My knee was really hurting now. I was wondering if I would be able to finish. If it got any worse, I didn’t think I could do those last four downhill miles to the finish. Several of the people I had passed when we were climbing passed me back as I painfully limped along.
Back at Cornelius Creek aid station, the first thing I did was ask for ibuprofen. I hate taking medicine. And I know that taking ibuprofen during ultras is pretty stupid. But I really wanted to finish this race! I needed to be able to run those last four miles.
I refilled my pack. Checked the hose again. Still looked fine. Grabbed a brownie and was on my way.
Cornelius Creek Aid Station back to Sunset Fields (miles 26-29)
I saw Emily again on the way out. She told me she was not looking forward to the climb. I know I was probably alone on this, but I was. My energy was still good and it would give my knee a much-needed break. I was dreading those last 4 downhill miles, though.
My back and shorts were already soaked. I could feel water dripping on my legs.
I had it in my head that I would be hiking exclusively for quite a while. But the guy in front of me kept running for short little bursts. My energy was good, but it wasn’t that good. Honestly, I didn’t want to be running. But I made myself keep up until the trail got really steep. Running uphill is hard, but walking uphill, that I can do! I slipped by him and passed at least a half dozen more people. Right after passing one man, I continued in a straight line, straight up until I heard him call “Miss!, Miss! the trail is over here.” Crap! I’d gone about 25 steps straight up the wrong way. I’m glad he was there to catch me. So stupid! The trail was really just a jumble of rocks in places, though. It wasn’t always easy to follow.
Eventually I made it to the falls which were impressive.
I loved the wooden bridges at the base of the falls. I didn’t even mind the stairs because the view was spectacular. Apple Orchard Falls on the left and an open expanse of spring-green mountains and blue sky off to the right.
Up, up, up. There was a lot of climbing beyond the top of the falls. It was hot. Salt was stinging my eyes. Finally, I met a volunteer who told me it was just a hundred steps up to the aid station. I didn’t count, but I think she was underestimating. It seemed like about three times that. Regardless, I made it up to Sunset Fields. I would have been a lot happier if I wasn’t so worried about my knee.
I had enough water and some Clif Bloks for the last section, so I didn’t even stop.
Sunset Fields Aid Station to the finish (miles 29-34)
Running hurt, but the knee felt better than it had going into Cornelius Creek aid station. I crossed the parkway and headed back onto a short section of gentle single track followed by a short steep up. I caught up to a man just as we reached the top. He stepped over to let me by, but I told him if he was planning to run he’d want to be in front of me. He said he was going to walk for a bit. I put my headphones in again and started running. These last four miles were going to be tough. A minute or two later, I stepped over to let the man by. I was surprised nobody else passed me. It was all downhill and just kept getting steeper and rockier. The pain in my knee had just about reached my tolerance level when I saw the road below. I was so happy to see that road!
The road was so ridiculously steep that it wasn’t much better than the rocky trail for a while, but I knew it would get less steep and easier. Well, physically easier. Mentally, it was still hard. Miles always feel so long at the end of a race. I’d been gaining on the lady in front of me for two miles. I caught her at the big squirrel mailbox (which I was thinking meant the finish was right around the corner.) She glanced over and said “you got me”. I told her that the finish was right around the corner. We turned the corner and there was a sign, but it wasn’t the camp. “Shit!” I said, “I’m sorry. I thought we were there”. But then, just beyond the sign, I saw the cars. “No. I was right! It’s RIGHT THERE!”. She took off. I tried to keep up.
I could hear cheers and then Horton’s voice calling out my name.
I finished Promise Land 50k++!
34 miles and 7400 feet of gain.
*All the photos I used are Brian’s. I didn’t take any of my own.
*I’ve got an appointment with Dr. Wilder tomorrow to see what’s going on with my knee. It is swollen and still hurts.
This race has been on my radar for many years, but it never seemed to fit into my schedule.
Since I had two big overseas trips planned for spring and summer this year, I decided that I didn’t want the stress of training for a fall ultra. I registered for the half figuring that it would give me something to train for without feeling any pressure to get in really long trail runs (especially during the vacation weeks.)
I have to admit that a big draw for me for this race was that I knew there was a lake at Douthat State Park (where the race is held) and I was hoping I’d be able to jump in after I finished like I do at Conquer the Cove. I knew there was a good possibility that it would be one of those annoying swim-only-when-a-lifeguard-is-on-duty type of lakes, but that didn’t stop me from fantasizing.
Brian registered for the race too, and we made reservations at a local hotel. There are cabins at the park too, and in my earlier race-planning optimism, I pictured us spending the night convening with nature, waking up and leisurely sipping coffee on our lake-front porch before walking down the road to the start. But alas, the cabins are only available for two nights minimum on weekends.
So hotel it was.
Until it wasn’t. In the two weeks leading up to the race, Brian hurt his back and was no longer planning to run, we adopted a cat that our resident cat doesn’t like, and the weather forecast was calling for rain on race day. Driving down the night before and paying for a hotel no longer seemed worth it, so we decided to just drive down race morning. The half didn’t start until 10am and the drive was less than two hours. It just seemed to make more sense under the circumstances.
It was foggy and damp when we arrived at the park. There were tree branches and debris covering the ground. It looked like a big storm had just come through and apparently one had the night before. I was happy we weren’t tenting out (which had been another option I’d considered).
There was a relaxed, low-key feel to the event. Runners doing the marathon and 40 miler had gear arranged in a circle on the far end of the field that they had access to when they came through after each 13.4 mile loop.
When the RD described the course, he said the first mile was rolling, followed by a couple miles of climbing. To me, it felt like we were climbing from the time we turned out of the field and into the woods. I stayed in the conga line for the first mile or so as we all walked the steeper inclines and jogged the rest. I knew I didn’t want to push the pace too much early on, but after we’d been walking for a while at a much slower pace than I wanted, I mustered up the courage to ask if I could scoot by. I always hate doing that. When I hear someone behind me I always ask if they want to get by, or just move over so they can and I really appreciate when people do that for me. Many do.
Not long before I reached the top, I passed a lady who told me I was fifth woman. Seriously?! Could that be true? Was I going too fast? Was she confused about which distance I was doing?
The trail flattened out a bit as we headed to the first aid station at mile 3.5. It was overgrown in places and I tried not to freak out about all of the poison ivy that I was seeing. There were several blow-downs to hop over too.
The view from the aid station is supposed to be beautiful, but all I could see was fog. I didn’t need any water, so I just thanked the volunteers (who we were told had to hike in all that water) and was on my way. I was pleasantly surprised that the downhill wasn’t too technical. There were a few wet, rocky sections, but it was all totally runnable. Even so, I expected most of the people I’d passed on the way up to come flying by me, but only one guy did. I ran for maybe 2 or 3 miles before people started catching up, and only a few passed me.
The rain held off, but the humidity was pretty intense. Everyone was soaked. I was hot and thirsty and really glad that I had decided to start the race with my bladder about 1/3 filled with Nuun. I should have grabbed a water at the first aid station too, because I ran out of Nuun before the second aid station. When I got there, I drank a cup of Heed and a cup of water. I did the same thing at the third aid station.
As usual, the last couple of miles were the hardest. Mostly, I was hot and thirsty. I’d been looking forward to running by the lake, but by the time I got there the sun had come out and the heat was killing me. I would have gone a little faster if I’d known how close to the finish I was, though. My Garmin said I had almost a mile left to go when I crossed the finish line.
The RD gave me a high-five. As far as I could tell, he stood there all day congratulating each runner as they finished.
I ended up placing 4th female which seems pretty crazy, but I’ll take it.
The race shirts and pint glasses for finishers were really nice. I love it when races give out something useful instead of medals.
The race start/finish wasn’t on the lake and I wasn’t sure how to get to the beach. I also felt bad that Brian had gotten up early to drive me to the race and then hung around for hours in the humidity with the mosquitoes. Plus I wanted to get home to check on the kitties, so I never found out if I could have jumped in the lake. I did submerge myself in a little stream by the finish line, though. It felt good, but it wasn’t quite the same.
Maybe next year.
Brian and I have already registered for the 40 miler. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay a little longer to explore the park and maybe go for a swim. Although I think most Virginia State Parks only allow you to swim when there’s a lifeguard on duty.
Halfway through our vacation in Belgium, Brian and I saw a flier for a local race happening the next day. We decided to do it. We needed to run anyway.
Registration the next morning was in a school gym. The registration form was in French, but luckily it was pretty short so we didn’t have too much trouble. There was a 6.5K option and an 11.8K option. We signed up for the 11.8K (which only cost 5 euro each.) Less than $12 for both of us to run a 7+ miler! Not bad at all.
I was in awe of all of the fun-looking ladders and climbing things in the gym. I really wanted to take a gym class at that school.
There may have been more men wearing Lycra, but other than that the runners looked much like they do at any other race.
The race director talked for quite a while at the start. We had no idea what he was saying. At one point, everyone laughed.
The race was mostly on an old railway line which was now a wide, flat dirt path. There was also a decent amount of single track through the woods and a very short bit at the beginning and end on a paved bike path.
There were a couple of water stops. One of them also had Belgian waffles.
We took our time and stopped for a bunch of pictures, but by the end I was struggling to keep up. Really struggling. Brian later told me he’d never heard me breathing that hard before. Vacations wear me out. Plus it was humid.
I don’t think more than a handful of people finished after us.
Beer and all kinds of food were available for purchase afterward. The beer seemed popular with the faster crowd.
I wished I felt like drinking beer, but my stomach was feeling a little too queasy.
The strangest thing to me about the whole thing was that there was only one bathroom for men and one for women (I’m talking one stall) and there was never a line. Do people in Belgium not drink coffee in the morning? I’ve never not had to wait in line for the bathroom before a race. It was very nice, but very strange.