I live in this funky ultrarunning community where things that may seem crazy to the outside world are totally normal. So I didn’t really think twice about following an unconventional 30 day training plan to lead up to running a 50K. What could be better than running all day with friends? Enter the Day in the Life 50K, an officially unofficial virtual race. Our race day started just before sunrise on March 6 at the Fries trailhead of the New River Trail.
Kim and I met up with Charlotte and Christine in the parking lot. I was feeling sleepy since it was so early, but I also felt good and was excited to take on the day. I was also particularly excited for Christine, who would be taking on her first ultramarathon.
A little before 7 AM we were off and running. It was in the low 30’s at the start with a windchill in the upper 20’s, which felt a bit chillier next to the river. But it would warm up a bit throughout the day and we would have lots of sunshine. Overall, fantastic weather for March!
Kim and I normally use an 8 minute run / 2 minute walk interval, but for this run we decided to modify it to a 7/3 interval. It ended up being an excellent fit for the day. Early on, the run segments felt super short and the walk segments felt long and luxurious, but we knew that would probably change later on.
We chose to do our run on the old New River Trail 50K course. The New River Trail is pretty scenic in general, but this section down in Fries and Galax is particularly gorgeous. In the early miles, we even had a few waterfalls along the trail.
About 5 miles in, we arrived at Fries Junction where we regrouped before doing a short out and back towards Pulaski. From there, we headed back through Fries Junction and towards Cliffview, where we got to cross what I believe is the longest bridge on the NRT.
We all crossed the bridge together and headed towards the tunnel, about a half mile down the trail. The tunnel is really cool to go through, but I also like that it’s not too long so it doesn’t get super dark in the middle.
After the tunnel, Kim and I got back on our 7/3 interval as we headed towards the Gambetta access to the trail. This was the first spot that we would see Lauren, who selflessly crewed the four of us all day long with her three year old in tow!
Around mile 9, Kim and I rolled in to Gambetta. I was still feeling totally fresh and I was fueling well. However, with the cold weather I wasn’t drinking as much as I should have been. I had Tailwind in one flask and water in the other and both were still pretty full after nearly two hours of running. So I knew what I needed to focus on during the next stretch. The four of us regrouped again at this first crew spot before heading down the trail. We would next see Lauren in 7 miles in Cliffview.
Kim and I continued our run/walk interval and were chatting with each other as the miles ticked by. Before I knew it, we were already past mile 13. Along the way, we ran by a really pretty waterfall that I totally forgot about from the last time I ran this course in 2018.
We ran by the Cliffview Campground and made a quick pit stop at the vault toilet there before covering the last mile to Cliffview access. We rolled in to mile 16 and met back up with Lauren. Kim and I were glad to see her! We were about 3 and a half hours into our run and were both hungry and ready for some food. I enjoyed a PB&J on a tortilla and some other snacks and refilled my flasks.
Cliffview was also our turnaround point, so we all regrouped at this spot before heading back down the trail. At this point, it was the longest I had run at one time since December and I was happy that I still felt really good. I was definitely starting to feel the fact that I had been on my feet for several hours, but I still felt strong and like I had plenty of energy left. It had warmed up a bit, so I ditched the pants I was wearing over my capris and swapped out my warm gloves for a thinner pair. With that, and a fresh pocket of snacks, we headed back down the trail.
This time, we would see Lauren at two spots – mile 20 at Chestnut Yard and then mile 23 back at Gambetta. The later you get into a run, the longer the miles can feel sometimes, so it was nice to break up that 7 mile stretch.
When we arrived at Chestnut Yard, I treated myself to some mini Starbursts which Lauren brought for us. I also decided to swap the long sleeve I had on under my quarter zip for a short sleeve. I think it had warmed up to the low 40’s and there was lots of sunshine, but it still got quite windy at times and felt chilly in the shade.
Kim and I continued on from Chestnut Yard towards Gambetta and mile 23. We talked about how we were in that part of a run where you’ve been running for awhile, but it’s still too soon to start thinking about the finish. When it gets like that, you kind of just put your head down and grind through it. We were both pretty quiet through this section as we focused on the work ahead. It wasn’t too long before we arrived back at Gambetta.
This would be our last crew spot before covering the final 8 miles to the finish. The four of us regrouped again here before heading back towards the tunnel and the long bridge. We all stuck together again to cover this section back to Fries Junction.
Once we arrived back there, we just had 5.5 miles left to go. We all made use of the restroom facility at the junction before heading down the trail to the finish. At this point, I was definitely feeling it. Each time Kim’s watch beeped to signal the end of a walk break, both of us would groan as we propelled ourselves back into a run. When things get hard in a race, I always try to remember to embrace it instead of trying to check out on it. This challenge, this thing that’s happening right now is what I came for. If I spend my time wishing for it to be over, I’m in danger of missing the whole experience.
Those last 5 miles definitely stretched out a bit. But we knew we were going to run under 7 hours, which had been our goal going in, and that kept us moving well. At long last, we made the final road crossing and had about 1.5 miles left to go. We crossed a couple of little bridges and then had the finish line in sight as we ran behind the school. Lauren was there with her son to cheer us in. We finished our run in 6 hours and 52 minutes.
Overall, I had a really fantastic day. I had times throughout the run where various body parts were bothering me, but those usually went away with time. As our run went on, the fatigue definitely increased, as expected. But for the first time ever in an ultramarathon, I didn’t hit any mental lows. The mental side of ultrarunning is an area I continue to try and improve.
We cheered Charlotte and Christine in and then we all celebrated a successful day. Kim and I realized this was the first time we have run an ultra together from start to finish, so that was pretty cool!
My next races are the Dam Yeti 50K and the Eastern Divide 50K in June. Officially, this past weekend kicked off my training for both races. There’s nothing like kicking off 50K training with a 50K, right!?