The Crooked Road ultra took place from November 23-24. Since it was a 24 hour event, it started at 8 AM Saturday and finished at 8 AM Sunday. The course was a 1.17 mile loop at Waid Park in Rocky Mount and the objective was to run as many loops as you could or cared to within the time limit. Anything goes during that time- you can stop whenever, you can take a nap in the middle, or you can go the whole time.
I arrived at Waid Park on Friday evening with plans to car camp. It was my first time ever doing so and it worked out pretty well. The only issue was the book I brought along with me. Turns out a summer camp murder mystery isn’t the best reading material when it’s dark and you’re alone and about to sleep in your car for the first time.
I slept well enough and was up the next morning around 6:30. I did my usual pre-race routine and got ready to run. The atmosphere definitely felt more casual than other races. At 8 AM we were off and running!
8:00 AM – Noon
The first four hours of the race were very pleasant. It was overcast and in the low 40’s. For some reason, I had a headache early on in the race. I got some coffee from the aid station to see if that would help, but it wouldn’t ease off. Mo’s wife, Leah, was set up next to my crew area and was crewing Mo. She also looked after me until Barry got to the race later in the day. So she gave me some ibuprofen, which took care of my headache.
You would think running the same loop over and over again would get boring. But for some reason, I have never gotten bored at the two timed races I’ve done. Maybe they’re just ‘my thing.’ We did have some entertainment at this race in the form of a few objects that kept moving around the course throughout the event.
One of the objects was a little cat statue. Throughout the race, I developed a deep hatrid and resentment of this inanimate object. He was mocking me everytime I ran by because he was all curled up and cozy and could sleep whenever he wanted. I hated that cat. And I still do.
I did have some challenges figuring out fueling early on in the race. We would run by the aid station every 1.17 miles and that was throwing me off. I’m used to having 5 to 10 miles between aid stations and using them as cues to fuel. Since I didn’t need to fuel every time I went by the aid station at this race, I tried to fuel every 3-4 laps. But I kept forgetting when I had eaten. I’m also really bad about hydrating in cold and rainy weather. Both of these would eventually catch up with me.
Noon to 4:30 PM
The forecasted rain arrived around noon and would stay for the rest of the day. At first it wasn’t too bad. I had my rain jacket on and I felt okay.
About five hours into the race, lunch arrived in the form of Papa John’s pizza. I never anticipated eating a slice of pepperoni pizza during a race, but it went down just fine. There’s a side story I have to tell you about the pizza….
Sometimes during long races, I get weird and I lose common sense. Why this happened to me just five hours into this race, I do not know. Maybe it was all the loops. But I had just picked up my pizza and had run with it down to the crew area. Leah was under her tent and I was standing in the rain eating my pizza and talking to her. Then I started getting mad because my pizza was getting wet. Leah kindly suggested I simply step under her tent to get out of the rain, which very quickly solved the problem. I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me… but that’s a good example of how I get during races. I basically become five years old.
Around 2 PM the rain picked up and it seemed like the temperature dropped. Even though my core was warm and dry with my raincoat, my gloves got soaked and my hands started freezing. I changed to a new pair of gloves and then put latex gloves over them to keep my hands warm and dry – an excellent tip I received from Barry. It worked great and I stayed that way the rest of the race. My legs and feet also started to get SO cold, even though I was moving. I thought I would be okay as long as I kept my core dry, but I was finding out I really needed my pants dry, too. I didn’t anticipate how cold I would get from that.
Luckily, Barry would be arriving in the next two hours or so to crew me through the night. So I asked Leah to text him with a request for waterproof pants. I was so cold and wanted to change my pants. But I reasoned that anything I put on would just be soaked within minutes, so I decided to stay in the wet pants until Barry got there.
It seemed to take a long time to reach the 26.2 mile mark. But once I hit that, the next benchmark at 50K wasn’t too far away. Plus I knew Barry would be there soon. I hit 50K as he arrived, a little after 4 PM.
4:30 PM to 11:00 PM
I was so happy to see Barry. I met him at my crew area, where he showed me the Frogg Toggs he had purchased for me. They were exactly what I needed! I picked out the dry pants and socks I wanted to change into and then completed my loop and met Barry over at the bathrooms.
It took me awhile to get changed. It was the first time I had stopped for an extended period of time and I was really stiff. It was also hard putting on dry running tights over wet skin. While getting changed I suddenly felt very nauseous and dizzy. I also used the bathroom for the first time since beginning the race nine hours before and what little urine I produced looked like Coca Cola. Not a good sign during an ultra, especially with 15 hours to go.
I had a game plan going into the race of pacing myself by running no faster than 18 minutes per lap. Thus far, all of my laps had ranged between 17:00 – 20:00. But the lap where I changed clothes took 40 minutes. After that, I completed another loop and stopped back at my crew area again. I was about 34 miles in and still not feeling well at all. Barry was worried about my hydration and wanted me to drink a bottle of Powerade. The plan was for me to sit and drink. But I got really cold and started shivering like crazy sitting there. So instead, he walked a lap with me while I drank. I was mostly staying warm as long as I was moving. I also enjoyed getting to show him the course.
After taking it easy for two laps and drinking and eating, I started to feel better. But then I had to pee every single lap for 4 or 5 laps in a row. I had a lot of slower laps between miles 33-39 due to this. One good thing was that my hamstring started to feel better. It had gotten aggravated at Old Glory and it flared up during the early miles of Crooked Road. This worried me, but I kept going. Finally, sometime between 50K and 40 miles it quit bugging me. I guess sometimes if you ignore something long enough, it does go away. The sun had set during this time and we were plunged into darkness for the next 14 hours. And yea, it was still raining. But they had glow sticks set up around the course and it looked pretty cool.
After the sun went down, things suddenly got very quiet. Dinner arrived at the aid station and I ate half of a McDonald’s hamburger. A lot of people left at this point, probably because of the weather. Sometimes it sprinkled and other times it absolutely poured. There was flooding at the aid station and along the trail where most people had their crew stuff set up. We were going through ankle deep water along this part.
The rain was supposed to stop by about 10 PM, so I focused on that and used it as motivation. My feet were soaked and pruned and they were so tender on the bottom. Every step felt like I was stepping on hot coals on the balls of my feet. And that went on for hours. Barry changed my socks again sometime during this stretch and I almost cried. It wasn’t so much from the pain, but more because I was upset and frustrated that my feet were so painful.
The stretch from miles 40 to 50 was really rough. I had been on my feet for awhile and things were hurting. I was also in a weird no-man’s land where I had covered a lot of distance but my 100K goal still felt really far away. Plus I was SO sick of the rain! There was a lot of grumbling and complaining during this stretch and I was not very pleasant to be around. I think somewhere in this stretch is when my friend Dean flagged me over to the aid station because they had hot potatoes with salt. They were warm and delicious, and definitely helped turn my mood around! Finally, I hit 50 miles a little before 10:30 PM.
11:00 PM to 4:30 AM
This is where things start running together a lot, but I’ll do my best. I was getting a little loopy as we headed into the middle of the night. The course was very simple to follow, especially with the glow sticks. But even so, I missed the left turn onto the bridge and went off course several times. I even did this once with Barry and another time when I was doing a lap with my friend Suzy. Luckily I never went far.
Sometime around midnight, I wanted to go home so badly. I was hearing people talk about how the wind was going to pick up once the rain stopped and I’d had enough. I was too focused on the current conditions and was losing sight of my goal. Luckily, Barry is a rockstar at crewing me. He doesn’t argue with me about what I’m saying and thinking. But he has this way of steering me away from those thoughts and refocusing me on my goal. Sometimes he would simply give me a hug and that was enough. This time it was with some encouragement that it wouldn’t be raining much longer.
The rain did finally stop around midnight and I had a big sigh of relief, believing that we were in the clear. Barry and I gave it a few more laps to be sure, and then I stopped to change into dry socks, dry shoes, and dry gaiters at 1 AM. My feet were totally covered in blisters and they were hurting me a lot. I was also still having the problem where I was instantly freezing the moment I stopped moving. But Barry had a little foot warming station set up for me. Once he got my wet shoes and socks off, he wrapped my feet in a dry towel that also had hand warmers in them. It felt lovely. I think I may have also been drinking a cup of hot chicken broth at this point. I’m not sure, but that definitely happened sometime between midnight and 2 AM.
Just after getting my shoes on, we had another pop up rain shower and it almost broke me. I was so fed up with the rain and I informed Barry that I was not leaving the EZ up canopy until it stopped. Luckily the rain was short lived. I think I also used one of those waterless toothbrushes while I was sitting there, and it was so refreshing. I was worried about how I would handle getting through the night, but I never felt like I struggled with sleep deprivation.
With my dry shoes and socks on, I headed back out. I started playing a game where I grouped loops into sets of 3, while working towards my 100K goal. It made it feel more manageable. My neck also started cramping from using my headlamp so I switched over to a handheld light.
As promised, the wind started to arrive once the rain finished. It wasn’t awful, and I was so grateful to be done with the rain. The wind was just breezy at first, and it was fairly pleasant to run in. But later on we did have some gusts around 15 mph that wreaked havoc with some canopies. I had about 6 laps to go to hit 100K, and I kept playing my 3 lap game.
For the first set of three laps, Barry came with me on the first one. Then I did two more on my own. He joined me on the first lap of the second set of three, and then I had him run the third lap with me as well. I had one more partial lap, and as I made it around to the aid station I hit 100K, just a little after 4 AM.
Reaching 100 km (62 miles) was my A goal for this race. There were definitely times throughout the day where I did not think it was going to happen. Heck, there were times where I didn’t think I was going to reach 50 miles. The weather was just so miserable.
I was having increasing issues with staying warm. So once I reached this point I decided I would stop for a break to try and warm up and to rest my feet.
4:30 AM to 8:00 AM
I was freezing when I stopped at my crew area and my teeth were chattering so hard. Barry wrapped me in foil and had me lay down in a sleeping bag on a beach lounge chair. Leah also loaned us her buddy heater and he set that up in front of me. A big gust of wind came and flipped another tent nearby. Barry and Leah ran over to help get it under control. But all I could do was lay there, shivering uncontrollably, and hope another tent didn’t come flying and hit me.
Once Barry returned and saw that I was still so cold, we decided to put me in the back of my Explorer. I needed to get out of the wind. He ran my car for 5 or 10 minutes with the heat blasting and then I climbed in the back just a little before 5 AM. Barry got me this jump start/power inverter battery as an early Christmas gift and it was a total life saver during this race! He plugged an electric blanket in to it and wrapped me in the blanket and some sleeping bags. We agreed he would get me up at 6 AM. I finally warmed up and stopped shaking and dozed, but never totally fell asleep.
Six AM arrived and it was time to get going again. I wasn’t sure what I would do from there, as I really didn’t have any plans beyond 100K. I knocked out another 5 miles in the final two hours in what can only be described as a feat of pedestrianism.
Seeing the sun rise after nearly a full night of running was a spectacular experience. It’s hard to even describe what that felt like. It was a mix of relief, gratitude, and awe. The sun was up and I was still going. I found some untapped energy (or maybe it was that pancake with syrup I ate at the aid station) and truly ran the last three laps. I also got to see Lauren, who totally rocked her first 50K, and her friend out cheering me along!
As time ran down, every runner that was still on the course was given a popsicle stick with our bib number written on it. We were allowed to go right up to 8 AM and then place our popsicle stick on the ground at the sound of the final horn. They added the extra mileage on from partial laps, which allowed us to maximize our distance.
In total I ran 57 laps, plus a little extra, for a total of 67.418 miles. That’s 17 miles further than I’ve ever gone and by far the longest I’ve ever been on my feet for a race. Those extra miles I ran from 6-8 AM actually bumped me up into the top 20 and I placed 16th overall out of 170, and 6th woman. I’m pretty sure that’s the best I’ve ever done in a race.
- Foods eaten during the race: honey stinger chews, oatmeal cream pies, ginger chews, Papa John’s pizza, boiled potatoes with salt, McD’s hamburger, chicken broth, a sugar wafer, half of a Cup O’ Noodles, and a pancake with syrup. Per usual, I did not eat or drink enough during the race and that’s something I need to continue to work on. I had several bouts of nausea during the race and a few times where Barry said I got super pale. But every time I ate or drank something, the nausea always went away and I always felt better.
- I anticipated needing music or some sort of distraction at some point during the race, particularly during the “witching hours” from 1 to 4 AM. I had a playlist ready and several podcasts downloaded. Oddly enough, I never desired anything.
- I’ve always thought it was funny how runners finishing 100 miles are often wearing such a hodgepodge of clothing. Most of it does not seem comfortable to run in. But after this weekend, I have a better understanding. Staying warm was essential to keep going, at least for me. At one point I had four different jackets on at the same time and it didn’t bother me one bit to run with all of that on. When you find a way to stay warm, you can continue to execute the plan.
- The weather made this race really tough, and I’m proud of my accomplishment. But I’ve got to be honest, my curiosity is piqued. I can’t wait to do another 24 hour and see if I can go further, especially under better conditions. Don’t get too excited – nothing is on tap yet.
- I actually did not chafe at all during this race, but my feet really took a beating. Running in the rain for so many hours played a big role. But I think other factors included going further than I have before and running for a lot longer than I have before. My feet and ankles were very swollen and painful after the race, and I had a lot of blisters on my toes, the balls of my feet, and my heels. I left all of the blisters alone after the race and aside from the one that ruptured during the race, they all went away.
- I am getting better at recovery. I have a new rule of thumb where I take one day off of running per every 10 miles run. In this case, I’m in the midst of six days off. I will probably try for an easy run on Sunday if everything is feeling good.
- Please let it be noted: It was crisp and clear on Friday night. Then we had undesirable, and sometimes downright miserable weather for much of the race. But come 8 AM Sunday morning? Crisp and clear again, naturally.
- I had so much encouragement and a lot of really helpful advice from friends and family both before the race and during it. I cannot thank y’all enough and know that I could not have gotten through this race without you. Most of all, I definitely would not have finished this race without Barry. He is the best at crewing me, supporting me, and taking care of me.
We take on things like CR24 to challenge ourselves. But I’ve recently started to realize that the moment they actually start challenging us, we start wishing for the whole thing to end. What’s up with that? Isn’t this what we came for? To test ourselves? At CR24, I attempted to make a mental shift. I definitely still went through several lows. But instead of checking out, I tried to remember to embrace the challenge and stay with it. I reminded myself that I was lucky to have this opportunity, and to be grateful for the ability to do what I love. I reminded myself that this experience is what I came for.
Sometimes I simply asked myself: Where else would you rather be? Maybe somewhere warm, dry and comfortable… But those moments where everything hurt, where my brain was screaming at me to stop, where it’s taking all of my willpower to keep moving – that’s living. When else do I get to be in a situation like that, where I get to explore the outer reaches of my physical and mental capabilities? That was why I was there. The next time you hit a low in a race ask yourself: “Where else would I rather be?” I look forward to the next time I get to ask myself that question.