to overcome by mental or moral power
to reach the summit of a mountain by climbing
Yesterday Barry and I ran the Conquer the Cove 25K trail race, held at Carvins Cove in Roanoke. This race is the anchor event of the Roanoke Non-Ultra Trail Series and it has it all – a challenging course, awesome volunteers with great aid stations, and a relaxing atmosphere to hang out in once you’re done conquering the cove.
The race starts early at 6:30 AM to beat the heat, which means an early wake up call. We went to bed Saturday night with alarms set for 3 AM, but actually ended up getting woken up at 2:30 AM by a BAT on the curtains in our bedroom. Yes, a bat. Oh my gosh! Barry quickly went downstairs to get a leather work glove to catch it. Naturally, it chose that moment to fly around the bedroom, which had me out of there at the speed of Usain Bolt, slamming the door behind me. Luckily it landed back on the curtains and he was able to get hold of it and get it outside. Yeesh! I am going to have nightmares. I hadn’t been sleeping that well before that (typical pre-race night’s sleep) and I definitely didn’t sleep after that.
By 4 AM we were on our way to Roanoke. We arrived a little after 5 AM with plenty of parking still available (last year I got there around 5:30 and they were almost full up). It gave us lots of time to use the restroom, get our bibs and shirts, use the restroom again, and meet JoAnne! We have run many of the same races, and I cheered for her at Blue Ridge last year when Barry ran the full. But this was the first time we got to ‘officially’ meet. All of my raving about Mountain Junkies trail races convinced her to sign up for one, and I think she had a good time. Naturally, I failed to get a picture – because I never think to take pictures with people unless someone else suggests it.
At 6:15 we had the pre-race meeting and then we lined up at the start line. A few minutes after 6:30 we were off and running!
Carvins Cove is the second largest municipally owned park in the country. It has 40 miles of trails in 12,000+ acres of property. Josh and Gina (the owners of Mountain Junkies LLC) worked for years to gain the necessary permits and permissions to hold this event here, so it’s truly a treat. The race starts and finishes at Loch Haven Lake – a private lake club. The first mile of the race takes you out of the lake club and onto a paved road for about a mile before turning onto the singletrack trails of Carvins Cove.
The trail rolls for a bit, with a few switchbacks before taking a hard right turn onto our first major climb of the day – 700 feet over 1.1 miles. The last half mile of it is really steep and it had my calves and Achilles on fire.
Luckily my feet went numb towards the top of the climb, which often signals the end of the burning. It held true this time, but we had a two mile descent, and running that with numb feet was a little tricky.
I passed aid station #1 around 3 miles and like last year kept rolling past it on the downhill, shouting a “thank you” to the volunteers on my way by. Shortly after mile 4 the numbness in my feet went away and I was able to run with less caution.
It’s a 5 mile stretch from aid station #1 to AS #2 and try as I might, I could not remember what the trail was like from last year, after the long downhill. It’s mostly gentle and rolling, but the stretch can feel a bit long. Luckily, I made a friend named Justin along this stretch and we kept each other company until rolling into AS #2 around 8 miles.
I did want to mention one thing about this stretch. There are lots of burned tree stumps through this section from fires in recent years. I kind of think of them as our spectators. Up close they just look like black tree stumps, but from far away they do really good impressions of black bears!
Aid station #2 is known as the ‘party zone’ and it is always that! The 25K course comes through at mile 8, before the next major climb up Brushy Mountain, and the marathon course comes through here both at mile 8 and again at mile 18. All of the aid stations are set up similar to an ultra – with food options from PB & J to chips to orange slices, and the volunteers are awesome.
When they caught me taking a picture of the cowbell, they said “Oh no! We haven’t given you any cowbell!” and a volunteer grabbed it and started vigorously shaking it. I looked around for the taxi I had ordered to pick me up at AS #2 and take me to the top of Brushy Mountain, but he was nowhere in sight. I guess he couldn’t find the fire road. So I had no choice but to continue on by foot up the second major climb of the day – 1,000 feet over 2.3 miles.
My old friend, Justin, had forged ahead up Brushy Mountain, and as I began my climb I made a new friend. I didn’t get her name, but she told me she was about to turn 50 and had been fighting a sinus infection all week. We had both run Blue Ridge, so we discussed that a bit, and then we talked about the climb ahead. We stuck together for about 3/4th of the way up and kept each other going. Our running/hiking schedules didn’t always match, but there were a lot of times when we would end up running or hiking together. Several times she gave me a “go girl!” or “good girl” everytime I started running again or ran by her. When she would go by me, I’d give her a thumb’s up or clap (she had earbuds on at this point and couldn’t hear me without taking them out, which is why I stuck to gestures).
This climb is a long one, and the fire road just keeps twisting and turning. But finally, I did make it to the top and cruised downhill to AS #3, just after mile 11. The volunteers were so helpful. Before I even got there they were shouting out asking what I needed. I had a cup of Gatorade, wiped the back of my neck with an ice cold wet towel (Which felt amazing! It wasn’t super hot out, but it was very humid.), and ate a few potato chips. Before I knew it they had me fed and watered and were sending me back out on the course for a punishing two mile descent.
I came into AS #3 around 2:45 or so and I really wanted to finish in under 4 hours (last year I finished in 3:41). I didn’t know if I would make it, as I still had nearly 5 miles to go, but I was going to give it a shot! From AS #3 runners head down a trail called ‘The Gauntlet’. It is a two mile descent that has your quads begging for a flat section of trail. You would think it would be a relief after the climb up Brushy Mountain, but you would be wrong. 🙂
From mile 12 on, I just focused on the mile I was in. There aren’t any major hills from here, but even the little ones feel like a mountain at this point. I got to see a few of the full marathon leaders go by, which was exciting (they were on mile 22-24), and then I caught up with Justin! We pretty much stuck together the rest of the way, which really helped me keep going. I definitely felt stronger during the final miles of the race this year, so I ran more at the end this year than last. Just before mile 15 we found ourselves back on the paved road where it all started earlier that morning. It’s only about a mile from here, but boy does it feel like a long way!
Barry came back to collect me, as he often does. He had a great race day and finished in 2:30! He’s such a strong runner. After all that, he still ran Justin and me in from the pavement back onto a single track trail, and finally back to Loch Haven Lake. This is one finish line that feels especially great to cross, with a high five from Josh! I finished in 3:49:01, about 7 minutes slower than last year, but I’m happy with that. It was hotter/more humid this year and my training hasn’t been spectacular.
After chilling by the fire pit area for a bit, Barry and I headed down to the beach for a dip in the lake. The cool water felt wonderful on my sore muscles – especially my calves!
You may notice that the medal around my neck is different from the one in the picture with my shoes. That’s because Barry traded medals with me. The one I got was identical to last year’s so he traded, since his was different (neither is date specific). Who says chivalry is dead…
After my dip in the lake, it was time for some food! They had the usual scrumptious Mountain Junkies post-race food spread, and on top of that they were grilling burgers. Yum! Such a great way to cap off the last race of the series.
And with that, the series is complete! This year was my first time doing the RNUTS series. I ran five out of the six races and had a blast (and I volunteered at the other one). I ran in single digit temperatures, shin-deep snow, ankle-deep mud, the heat and humidity, with distances ranging from 5K to 25K. Quite the well-rounded series, if you ask me. Definitely one I hope to do again in the future!
Who else raced this past weekend?
Have you ever participated in a race series before?
Have you ever had a bat in your house? Ever had one wake you up in the middle of the night, because it was IN YOUR BEDROOM??