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 (turkeyrunner 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.

Conquer the Cove marathon (June 4, 2017)

I was really excited about this race, but did not feel like I was prepared for it. On a whim, I’d registered for the marathon instead of the 25K and was seriously questioning that decision. My longest run since the Zion 100K on April 7th was 14 miles.

I did the 25K two years ago and loved it. If I were to describe my ideal race, I would basically be describing Conquer the Cove. The course is beautiful and challenging, but almost completely runnable (if you’ve trained adequately…) There’s a lake at the start/finish that you can jump in after you cross the finish line and the post-race food is pretty much a full-blown cookout: grilled burgers (meat and vegetarian), salty snacks, fresh veggies and homemade sides and desserts.

The forecast was calling for another warm and sunny day which made me very happy. This is one race that I actually don’t mind running in the heat. That just makes the post-run lake plunge that much better.

Waiting for the start

Considering that 26.48 miles was almost twice as far as my longest run in the last two months, my plan was to run very conservatively for the first half. I knew from doing the 25K two years ago that the biggest climb of the day was waiting for me late in the run (actually even later in the run than this profile shows). The course was a little over 26.2 miles long.


happy and airborne (photo by Jay Proffitt)

When I got to the first aid station at mile 8-ish, my legs were a little tired from the climbing, but energy-wise I felt really good. This is where the marathon course cut off from the 25K and I was looking forward to seeing some new trail. We went through grassy areas with daisies lining the trail, pine-needle covered trails filled with tall, skinny pines, and along a lake framed by green mountains. The terrain was rolling with mostly good footing. There were only a few hills steep enough to justify walking.

Three other runners came up behind me and we talked for a while. Chatting was a nice distraction and helped the miles go by quicker. After a while, the guy directly behind me asked if I was aware that I had sped up. He said I could do what I wanted, but he was concerned that I’d gotten distracted talking and wasn’t aware of my pace (not his exact words, but the gist.) I couldn’t help but think he wouldn’t be offering this helpful advice if I was male.

He seemed like a nice enough guy, I just found the whole conversation amusing.

I was moving quickly through aid stations, so at the next one I pulled ahead of that little pack and was on my own for the first time all day. I passed mile 13 and realized that I was almost halfway finished. It occurred to me that I was feeling much better with 13 miles left to run than I had felt at Zion with more than a marathon to go. If I could run 26+ miles feeling much worse than I was feeling now, 13 shouldn’t be too bad. Ultras may not be helping my speed any, but they have made me realize just how long you can run feeling like crap!


It was starting to get hot and I could feel the salt crusting on my face. A liter of water supplemented with a cup of Skratch at each aid station wasn’t going to be enough. At the next aid station, I filled my bladder about halfway with Skratch.

By the time I started the big climb at mile 18, I was feeling pretty hot and tired. A half mile later, at the aid station, a volunteer handed me an icy wash cloth. I don’t think there’s anything that would have made me happier at that moment (well, other than being finished and jumping in the lake).

The mountain was even longer than I remembered. When I did the 25K I’d been able to run almost all the way to the top. That was not the case this time. I walked almost all of it. Speed-walking is one of my talents though, so even though I was mostly walking, I passed more than a half-dozen people by the time I made it to the top.

I grabbed another cold washcloth at the aid station just before the descent. The long stretch of downhill was a nice treat. The 2+ miles to the finish after that were a bit of a grind. At this point, I probably could’ve dug deeper and pushed a little more. But I was tired and not willing to inflict any more pain on myself than I was already feeling. Two people passed me within the last half mile. All I could think about was how good it was going to feel to jump in the lake after crossing the finish line.

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finish line in sight (photo by Jay Proffitt)

Doesn’t that lake look inviting?