Mill Mountain Mayhem 10K – Race Report

This past Saturday I ran the Mill Mountain Mayhem 10K, which was my fifth and final race of the RNUTS series (of a possible seven). I will be at the anchor event, Conquer the Cove 25K and Marathon, at the end of May manning the final water stop. But this one wrapped up my RNUTS series racing for 2022. And we finally had some gorgeous weather, with sunshine and temperatures in the 40’s!

Barry and I arrived at the race about 45 minutes before the start, got our packets and prepared to run. I also met up with Lauren, and I laughed when I saw we had dressed the same.

At this race, the staging area is about half a mile from the actual start. After a couple of trips to the porta johns, Lauren, Barry, and I decided to make our way up to Fishburn Parkway for the 9 AM start.

The race started just after 9 AM and we were off and running, making our way up Fishburn Parkway. This is also the road that you climb Mill Mountain on during the Blue Ridge Marathon races. For this race, we spent the first mile going up Fishburn, with a little over 300 feet of gain. I ran the first three tenths of the race and then alternated 50 steps walking, 100 steps running until I got through the first mile.

At mile 1, we turned onto the Monument Trail. This trail is more runnable in terms of elevation, but I always forget about the really rocky sections. Overall, I’d estimate that this race is about 75% trail and most of that trail is pretty rocky.

Mile 2 clicked by and around mile 2.5 we turned onto the old road up Mill Mountain. This road climb is shorter than the first, but it is steeper. I again alternated running and walking, generally sticking to 30 steps walking and 50 steps running.

Through the old toll booth
Pretty view on the way up

Around mile 3, we got off of the road and onto Big Sunny Trail. A little while later, we passed by the one water stop on the course. I drank some scratch before continuing on my way up the Ridgeline Trail. From here, we continued climbing past the Mill Mountain Zoo and up to the Mill Mountain Star at the top.

Lots of up in this one
Headed towards the downhill. Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

After the Star, it’s essentially all downhill on the Star Trail. But the trick with this race is that most of Star Trail is super rocky on the way down, so you don’t get to bomb down the trail (unless you’re the 10 year old that blew past me – but Lauren pointed out that kids have a lower center of gravity).

Rocks on rocks

My quads felt tired from having to brake to control my speed and navigate the rocks while running a sharp downhill. Just before mile 6, we went down some steps, crossed back over Fishburn Parkway, and then got back onto the trail towards the finish. From here, the trail is smoother and I was able to pick it up a bit.

Headed to the finish. Photo credit: Barry

I finished the race in 1:31 and change. This was the third time I have run the race. My first time, I finished in 1:44 and in 2019 when I was in good trail shape I finished in 1:24. So I was really happy with landing right in the middle of those two times on Saturday.

My next race on the schedule is the Dam Yeti 55K in early June. Between now and then I’m looking forward to lots of training, a few Trail Sisters events with our local Blue Ridge group, and some race volunteering.

Montvale 8.4 Miler – Race Report

The crazy weather continued at the Montvale trail races, the fourth race in the RNUTS series. For the first time ever, there was snow at this race. My running buddy, Kim, and I traveled to the race together and when we arrived it was a “balmy” 30 degrees with 20 mph winds and snow.

A beautiful day in Montvale

We picked up our race bibs and shirts and prepared to run. Before we knew it, it was time to head over for the pre-race meeting. At 9 AM we were off and running. Kim and I started the race together and ended up running the whole thing with each other.

The race started out on a grassy path that wrapped around the ball fields and eventually led to the creek crossing a little before mile 1. As expected, the water was frigid and not pleasant to wade through. We walked through the “shallow” side, which was almost knee deep in some spots. At least I didn’t fall in this one.

After the creek, we hit some muddy trail that became significantly muddier as we climbed up towards the little ridge area. The mud was very slick and was similar to trying to run in peanut butter. I was glad when we got through this section and found that other parts of the course were drier.

We started to hit some more hills through here and I tried to push myself and limit my walk breaks. I really enjoyed that Kim and I ended up sticking together. Sometimes it’s easier to push yourself when someone is right there doing it with you.

The temperature dropped steadily throughout the race, but I didn’t notice it getting colder as long as we were out of the wind. The sun even came out at one point and melted a lot of the snow that was previously covering the ground. Kind of funny how we started the race in winter, but it looked more like spring by the finish. It definitely still felt like winter, though!

Looks like Narnia

As we made our way through miles 3, 4, and 5 we hit the parts of the course that have lots of twists and turns. I always describe the trails in this race as being akin to one of those “crazy mouse” roller coasters. It’s fun to see people all over the place, but have no clue if they’re in front of you or behind you.

Exhibit A: GPS map of the course

We hit a surprise creek crossing somewhere on our way through miles 6 and 7. And then around mile 7 we retraced the muddiest part of the course. Once again we were slipping and sliding and doing our best to stay upright. It was really windy through here, too, and my face felt like it was frozen.

Snow gone
Some of the mud. Not a great representation of it.

I was glad to get down to the bottom part where it was still muddy but not as slick. We crossed back through the creek and then made our way over to the finish line, finishing in 1:54 and change. I was happy to finish in under 2 hours!

Afterward, we enjoyed some delicious post-race food. I had peppers and hummus, some infamous Mountain Junkies pumpkin bread, and a couple of Dru’s lemon cookies. I also tried some granola, which I’ve always skipped in the past. It was so good! I’ve been missing out.

After that we headed back to the car and prepared to head home. It felt so good to get some dry socks and shoes on. The next race up is the Mill Mountain Mayhem 10K – a race that has been voted both the most loved and the most hated race of the RNUTS series. Is it too much to ask for the temperature to be above freezing!?

Explore Your Limits 10K – Race Report

The Explore Your Limits (EYL) 10K was the third trail race in the Mountain Junkies RNUTS series that Barry and I are both participating in this spring. Thankfully, the weather was warmer and more favorable than the first two races, Frozen Toe and Forever trail race. We had a lot of rain in the days leading up to the race, but luckily the trails at Explore Park, where the race is held, were in pretty good condition. It was partly cloudy and in the upper 30’s on race morning.

Barry and I arrived at Explore Park about 30 minutes before the start of the race. We parked, hit the porta johns, and picked up our race bibs and swag. We dropped our swag off at the car and pinned on our bibs and headed back over to the race area for the pre-race meeting. At 9 AM we were off and running!

The first half mile of the race started out along the road and down a gravel trail. It was mostly flat and downhill, which makes it easy to turn in a quick first mile. From the gravel trail, we continued downhill on a singletrack dirt trail.

We crossed a low point before climbing up and looping around a trail section. Then the trail dropped us back down onto a gravel road section next to the river. The leaders of the 5K race, which started 10 minutes after us, caught me as we turned to make the short, steep climb up to the “old mill” area around mile 2.

The gravel trail looped around and came out in the Journey’s End area of the park. After passing through the parking lot, we hit what has lovingly been nicknamed “vomit hill” about 2.5 miles in.

I hiked all the way up this hill, and then turned on the road towards the finish line. At this race, the 5K and 10K courses are identical for the first 3 miles. The 5K splits off for the finish 3 miles in, and the 10K continues straight to do a lollipop loop. It used to mess with my head to run by the finish line and only be halfway through my race, but it doesn’t bother me anymore.

As I headed downhill past mile 3, there was a lot of two way traffic as the leaders of the 10K came back up the trail towards the finish. It wasn’t too hard to navigate and I just yielded to them.

Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

After about a mile, I hit the loop part of our out and back. It got quieter through this section and there were times that I couldn’t see anyone directly in front of me or behind me. I really enjoy those moments of solitude during a race where I know others are out there doing the same thing as me, but I also feel like I have the trail to myself.

We hit some sloppy sections through here that made the downhill slower going. And after all of that downhill, we had to climb back up to the top of the loop. There’s always more climbing than I remember through this section. Once I got back to the top of the loop, I hit some more downhill before crossing a bridge and making the final climb to the finish.

Barry was waiting for me towards the top of the hill and he cheered me on as I hiked and ran to the top. Finally, I made it to the top of the hill and hung a sharp right to cross the finish line in 1:19 and change.

Overall, I felt pretty good during this race and had a fun time. Montvale, which is next up on my schedule in a couple of weeks, is still my favorite but I think the EYL 10K is a close second.

Forever 5 Miler – Race Report

The Forever 5 & 10 Miler is a race that joined the RNUTS series last year. It is so named because it takes place on a part of the Hellgate 100K course called the “Forever Trail.” This trail is a notoriously challenging section of Hellgate, a 66.6 mile race, and I was intimidated to participate in a 5 mile race on it. When they added the race last year, I didn’t think I would ever sign up for it. But you know how things go. I’m doing the RNUTS series this year and I needed this race to get my 5 out of 7 races for the series.

We have had some harsh and nasty weather over the past couple of weeks, with three or four snow storms and frigid temperatures. The course received about 3 inches of fresh snow the night before the race, and the temperatures plummeted to 20 degrees with a windchill in the single digits on race morning. Have I mentioned I can’t wait for January to be over?

Barry and I made it to the race safely, dealing with a few slick snow and ice-covered roads. We got parked, checked in and got our race bibs, and then hunkered down in the truck until go time. Barry was running the 10 miler and he ran in shorts (!!) while I had on two pairs of pants and three layers up top. The 10 milers started first at 9 AM and then the 5 milers were off and running at 9:10 AM.

Off to the races. Photo Credit: Jay Proffitt

I had decided to put sheet metal screws in the bottom of my shoes the day before the race. It’s something I’ve heard of for a long time, but I had never tried it until now. As we headed down the first section of snowy trail, I was pleased to find the screws did help a lot with traction. I also heard a turkey gobbling in the woods as we headed down the trail (Go Hokies!).

The first mile was primarily uphill, and I alternated running and hiking. We also hit a few creek crossings through here. They were mentioned in the pre-race email, but I didn’t consider that there would be several of them for whatever reason. I wasn’t about to have a repeat of Terrapin, when I fell completely into the water when it was 20 degrees outside, so I just walked through the water instead of trying to rock hop and risk slipping. It did not feel good to have soaking wet feet, and with the out and back format I think we crossed water about 8 times.

One of several creek crossings

After mile 1, we hit some downhill. I was cautious at first before I realized that I really did have great traction going downhill and I wasn’t slipping at all. Part of what makes the “Forever Trail” so challenging is how technical it is. I think we actually lucked out with the snow, in a way, because it was covering the rocks in most places.

Around mile 2, the trail started climbing up to the turnaround point. It was very steep at times. Since the race was an out and back course, and I was towards the back of the field, there were a lot of runners coming back down. So on my way up the trail, I kept having to step into the deep snow on the side of the trail to let oncoming runners pass by.

Once I made it up to the tippy top of the hill, I said hi to Gina and collected my rubber band (to prove I made it to the halfway point) and turned around to head back down. I was able to make quick work of the downhill and enjoyed some pretty views along the way.

As I made my way past mile 3, the lead 10 mile runners started passing me. I hit some more uphill towards mile 4 and started wondering to myself how this race could be uphill both ways! Finally, I reached the top and enjoyed cruising primarily downhill to the finish.

Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

I finished the race in 1:42:06, which was actually a bit quicker than I anticipated. I didn’t have a lot of energy that day and tackling the snowy trails was a challenge. I did manage to dress correctly for the temperatures, which was good. I went with capris and pants on the bottom and a long sleeve, quarter zip thermal, and wind breaker on top.

After finishing, I mingled in the finish area briefly before grabbing some water and the infamous Mountain Junkies pumpkin bread. Then I headed for the truck to put on some warm clothes and get out of my wet socks and shoes. Barry finished shortly thereafter and after he enjoyed some post race food we headed for home.

I’m back to following a training schedule now and it feels good to have some structure again. It’s about a month until our next race, the Explore Your Limits 10K. I hope the weather is better! (Did I just jinx us?)

Frozen Toe 10K – Race Report

Happy New Year! Let’s hope we see some return to normalcy in 2022, because I’ve got some big goals on the horizon (see upcoming races on the sidebar). Barry and I decided to participate in the Mountain Junkies Roanoke Non-Ultra Trail Series this year. The “RNUTS” series is a set of trail races ranging from 5K to marathon distance that takes place from January through June. The first race of the series kicked off yesterday, January 8, with the Frozen Toe 10K.

The Frozen Toe 10K is run on the Chestnut Ridge Loop trail in Roanoke and has about 800 ft of elevation gain. This year the race delivered on its name, as we had snow the week leading up to the race and the temperature at the start on race morning was 17 degrees. A little cold in my book!

Barry and I arrived at the race about 45 minutes before the start, picked up our race bibs and swag, and then hunkered down in the truck until it was time to run. When it was race time, we gathered in the parking lot. At 9 AM on the dot, we were off and running. The race started and finished at New Hope Christian Church. From the church, we did a short out and back on the road before hitting the single track trail.

Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

My running hasn’t been very consistent since Christmas, especially the past two weeks, so my goals for this race were to run steady and stay on my feet! I’m happy to report, I accomplished both of those goals. About 4 tenths into the race, we turned onto the trails.

The race alternates which direction we run the loop from year to year, and this year was a clockwise year. I think both directions are similar and I don’t really have a preference. The clockwise direction has rolling hills with three main climbs. I alternated running and hiking as we made our way towards mile 1 and up the first main climb.

As we ran along, we spaced out some and I found myself mostly running alone. The trails were in great condition and I enjoyed how pretty the woods were. There’s something about snow that makes things seem so peaceful and quiet.

The miles ticked by with some more downhill through mile 2 before the second of the three main climbs. After that climb we had the longest downhill of the day and I enjoyed letting go a bit and just letting it roll.

It can be tricky to dress appropriately for the cold. You don’t want to overdress, because then you’ll sweat a lot and be freezing from that. I decided to go with pants, a short sleeve, a quarter zip long sleeve, mittens, and a beanie. My back did sweat some from my pack, but otherwise I think I got it right. Before I knew it, I hit mile 4 and had just two miles left to go.

Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

A little past mile 4 we hit the biggest climb on the course. I’m very familiar with this hill. It’s long and has a switchback or two in it. I hiked all the way up and was glad to get it behind me. From there I only had a little over a mile to go.

It was funny to see how some parts of the course were snow covered and in other parts it had melted completely. The snow covered parts felt much cooler than the sunny parts – I supposed the snowy parts were on north-facing parts of the loop.

Some of the not snowy parts of the course

It’s essentially a net downhill to the finish over the last 1.2 miles, and I clocked in my fastest mile of the day. I didn’t push hard on this race, but just stayed around a threshold pace and tried to stay steady. I finished with one of my slower times on the course, in 1:26:04. But I felt alright overall, except that the cold air was hard on my lungs and made me cough.

After I crossed the finish line I met up with Barry and grabbed some post-race food (including the famous Mountain Junkies pumpkin bread!). We didn’t stay in the finish area long since it was so cold outside. I was ready to go get in the truck and put on a dry shirt.

Overall, it was a good start to what I hope is going to be a big year. I’m looking forward to getting back into some structured training, and the next race on the calendar is the Forever 5 Miler on January 29.

"I've opted for fun in this lifetime." -Jerry Garcia