On October 23, Barry and I ran the 15th annual Into the Darkness Night Trail Run. This run is a 4 mile race held at Explore Park in Roanoke, and as the name indicates it is a nighttime trail race. I’m not a big fan of running in the woods at night, but I love this race.
The race started at 7 PM and we hit some traffic on the interstate on our way to the race. Luckily, we still got there in plenty of time to pick up our race packets and attend the pre-race meeting at 6:40.
The race start was split into two waves and Barry and I were in wave 2, starting at 7:05. After the first wave was off and running we lined up in the starting area. I was excited to be running a no pressure, short and fun race.
At 7:05 we were off and running! The race started down at Jourey’s End, like it did in 2018. We ran up towards the road and immediately made our way up “vomit hill.” I alternated running and walking to make my way up the steep hill. At the top, we were all excited to see that the Illuminights Christmas lights display at the park had been turned on for the race.
We turned into the parking lot at the top of the hill, ran by the tavern, and the onto the Christmas lights gravel walking trail. From there, we got to run through a portion of the Illuminights, which was really fun!
After winding our way through the Christmas lights, we turned onto single track trail. This first part is downhill, but I am never able to go very fast because it’s very rooty and I have a hard time with depth perception at night. After the downhill, we hit some more uphill before getting to mile 1.
There were lots of Halloween decorations throughout the woods, including sparkly spider webs, strings of purple and orange lights, motion-activated noise makers that sounded like werewolves, and multi-colored flashing skulls. I had so much fun running through the trails and seeing all of the different decorations and noise makers.
Barry and I continued winding our way through the twisty-turny singletrack trails until we hit another big downhill at mile 2. This took us down to the flatter part alongside the river. This section is mostly grass and gravel, and I was able to pick up my pace a lot. I knew we were headed for another big hill going up to the farmstead loop.
A little after mile 3, we turned left at the mill and made our way up another big hill. I was breathing hard while we hiked up this hill. It was in the upper 50’s/low 60’s, and per tradition for this race, I had overdressed and was getting hot. We finally made it up the hill and hit the farmstead loop. It’s mostly flat and downhill from here to the finish and I started to pick up the pace again. There were also a bunch of blow up decorations and lights through here.
Barry and I cruised through the finish line in 53 minutes and change. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that ended up being a 3 minute course PR for me, which is nice! Neither of us placed in our age group, but I wanted to show the age group medals for this year – the gargoyles were such a neat design!
From there, we wandered over to the food area. I wasn’t expecting them to have post-race food, but they did! It was the typical yummy, post-Mountain Junkies race fare: crackers, veggies, hummus, and homemade cookies and pumpkin bread. They also had rice krispies treats and candy corn. Barry and I each got a plate and enjoyed the treats – I especially loved the pumpkin bread (a Mountain Junkies staple) and the peanut butter rice krispie treat. And with that, another fun year at the Into the Darkness night trail race was in the books.
This year was the inaugural year for the Lake Ridge Endurance Run, which takes place at Claytor Lake State Park in Dublin, Virginia. The race was slated to take place last year, but could not do so officially due to Covid. Lake Ridge is a timed race with 6, 12, and 24 hour options and I opted for 24 hours of fun!
The race had a 1 PM start, so Barry and I arrived at Claytor Lake around 11 AM to start setting up. In addition to crewing me, he was also volunteering at the race during set up and for an overnight shift. We had a large, grassy area to set up in and with only 20 of us running between the three time options, there was plenty of room.
I finally invested in a rolling, stackable toolbox to use for ultras and Lake Ridge was it’s maiden voyage. I had fuel (Honey Stinger chews, Huma gels, Tailwind powder, salt tabs, and liquid IV) in the top compartment; first aid, light sources, and personal care items in the second compartment; and spare shoes and clothes in the bottom compartment. It worked really well during the race and I was able to find everything I needed!
Kim was running the 12 hour, and she arrived about an hour before the race start. I continued making my final preparations for the race – loaded my pack, ate a snack, applied sunscreen, and got my shoes on. I was debating on whether or not to wear my gaiters to help keep rocks, etc. out but then I realized I never put velcro on the back of my newer shoes so I wouldn’t be able to attach them anyway. Before I knew it, it was time to line up for the start of the race.
With a 1 PM start, it didn’t feel like race day. I didn’t get up early and I was around the house doing chores that morning. So I didn’t have the best mindset at the start. That’s not the fault of the race at all. But I need to figure out how I can get my mindset in the right place no matter what time a race starts.
At 1 PM we were off and running. The race course is a 4 mile loop with about 400 feet of elevation gain that starts and ends at the beach area. From the start, we ran down a paved path for about a half mile before hopping on rolling singletrack trails for the next 3 miles. The final half mile to finish the loop was back on the paved path. Kim and I ran together for the first half mile, but she was moving at a faster pace than I wanted to so we split up once we hit the trails.
I didn’t have any distance goals going into the race, but I did have a goal to move for the entire 24 hours. I knew I should run my loops between 1:10 to 1:20 if I wanted to meet that goal. I wasn’t really feeling it, but I moved along at what felt like a conservative and comfortable pace. I finished loop 1 in 1:04. Barry was there and commented “that’s a little fast” and he was right.
The Hokies were playing Middle Tennessee in football at 2 PM, and I ended up listening to the game on the radio using my iPod from miles 4-15. This carried me through loops 2 through 4. I did finally settle into a better pace, running those loops in 1:08, 1:15, and 1:13 respectively. We ended up winning the game, but I still wasn’t in a good mood. I don’t know what was wrong with me. For some reason, I just did not want to be there, I didn’t know why I was there, and I didn’t know what the purpose of running this race was. My heart was just not in it.
During loop 5 (miles 17-20), my friend Michael caught up with me- he was on his sixth loop. It was nice to have company and swap stories. I fear I probably wasn’t the best company due to my mood. I kept trying to get myself out of my funk. I had good company, I was on pretty trails, and it was a really nice day for running. I tried to be grateful for the ability to be out there running, but I just couldn’t flip the switch. Loop 5 clocked in at 1:10.
Every 4 miles we arrived back at the start/finish area and got to hit up the awesome aid station. The volunteers were so helpful and encouraging. They took great care of us during the race and had all kinds of food available to us. I think it was after this loop that I ate half of a cheese quesadilla. Yum!
The sun would set during the next loop, so Michael and I grabbed light sources before heading out together. The aid station had music playing, and everytime I headed out on a loop I would have whatever song was playing stuck in my head for the next loop. We ran loop 6 (my loop 6, Michael’s loop 7) in the dark in 1:16 and loop 7 in 1:18. All I could focus on was getting through 8 loops for 32 miles, which would put me past a 50K distance. I was over 8 hours into this thing and still wasn’t feeling it at all. I had decided I could sit down after 50K to reassess my life.
Two miles into loop 8, Kim caught up with us. She was totally crushing it. She was on loop 9 and well on her way to getting her 40 mile goal. The three of us ran together to finish this loop, which was a lot of fun. Loop 8 clocked in at 1:20. It was almost 11:30 PM, I had been going for over 10 hours and finally, I could sit down! I was also pretty sure I had blisters on the outsides of my heels that needed attention.
This ended up being my longest stop during the race – taking 1 hour and 35 minutes. I used the restroom, treated and taped the blisters on my heels, and changed into a dry shirt, dry socks, and different shoes. I think I also ate a hamburger. I definitely ate a burger sometime overnight, and it was probably during this stop. During my break I also got to see Kim finish her race a little before 1 AM to complete 10 laps for 40 miles!
When I headed back out for loop 9 (miles 33-36), Barry came with me. He had gone home during the evening to take care of the dogs, but arrived back at the race after I finished loop 8. It was nice to have his company. Part way through the loop, we stopped in the woods and cut our lights off. It was scary but also incredible to look around in the total darkness and feel the stillness of the night. I finished this loop in 1:18, still solidly in my range of 1:10-1:20.
Loop 10 would take me from miles 37 to 40. I decided to head out on this one solo. I think it was important to prove to myself that I could do it. I am scared of the dark and I do not like being outside at night. It’s not any worse in the woods because it’s all bad for me. During my solo loop around 3 AM, I found that running through the woods at night was a bit exhilarating. It’s kind of like the night belongs to you and you alone, and that’s a cool feeling. Loop 10 clocked in at 1:15.
I was still struggling mentally, and could only make myself do two loops at a time. So after loop 10, I stopped again for a little over an hour. I think this is when I ate some delicious, hot chicken noodle soup. It was a little after 4 AM and I was so sleepy. Barry and the other volunteers encouraged me to take a 15 minute nap, but I worried I would wake up cold and feeling worse than I already did. Michael came in while I was stopped and we headed out together for loop 11 a little before 5 AM.
We were both tired and sleepy, so we walked this whole loop and the next one. I was kind of glad we did, since that soup I ate was still settling. I did start having some stomach issues during these two loops and started having to make pit stops every 2 miles. I think it was also on this loop that we heard a bobcat screeching. It sounds a lot like a baby crying, so I just told myself I was hearing a baby crying from one of the nearby campgrounds in the park.
During loop 12, as dawn was breaking, I started seeing things that I knew weren’t there. At one point, I was sure I saw a man in a hard hat ahead on the trail that was working on some trees. But when Michael and I rounded the corner, he was gone. I saw glimpses of other random stuff that disappeared as soon as my brain registered that they were there.
The sun came up towards the end of loop 12 (miles 45-48). This gave me new life. And finally, finally I was into the race and ready to run! I cannot believe it took 19 hours for my heart to be in it. That was a really long time to hang in there. After loop 12, I also took some Imodium which helped settle my stomach down. Loops 11 and 12 clocked in at 1:23 and 1:31.
I had 5 hours left in my race and I was 48 miles in. I felt like I could get in 3 more laps (12 miles) with my remaining time, which would get me 60 miles. And all of a sudden I was determined to get that. I took a cheese quesadilla to go and headed back out for loop 13. I ate half of my quesadilla and ended up putting the other half in my pocket for awhile before finishing it. During this loop, I saw a penguin along the trail. It turned out to be a log that I had already run by 12 times, but by loop 13 and after staying up all night it was a penguin. My brain didn’t even question why a penguin would be in a state park in Virginia. Loop 13 clocked in at 1:13.
Before heading out on loop 14, I grabbed my earbud so I could listen to some music. Other than listening to the football game, I hadn’t listened to anything during the race. This was my second 24 hour race and I always think I’ll want to listen to stuff throughout the race. But so far I always end up running most of the race without anything. The music was a great pick me up and I finished loop 14 (miles 53-56) in 1:12, my fourth fastest loop of the race.
When I arrived back at the start area, I saw that Kim had arrived back at the park to run a loop with me. I was thankful for the company! She had to put up with a fair amount of complaining, because I was really ready to get through this final loop and be done with this race. I was fighting off some cramps at this point and the loop seemed to take forever. For the record, I showed Kim my penguin when we ran by it and she agreed that it looked like one. But maybe she was just doing that thing where you agree with the crazy person so you don’t upset them! We finally hit the paved trail and I only had half a mile to go. I think we ran this whole stretch, and finished the loop in 1:18. It felt so good to cross that finish line and be done!
After I finished, I sat in a chair right at the finish line and took off my shoes and socks. The volunteers gave me cool, wet washcloths and it felt incredible to wrap my feet in them. In total, I ran 60 miles in 23:05. The race didn’t do awards and we only had 9 runners in the 24 hour division, but I ended up being the first woman and third overall which was pretty cool!
We had fantastic weather for this race, with sunshine and highs in the 70’s during the day and lows in the 50’s overnight. Finally a timed race without any rain! (Looking at you Allison Woods, and you Crooked Road) The trails at Claytor Lake are so nice, as was the staging area at the beach. As with all of the TrailAdventure races I have run, the race was well-organized and the volunteers were top notch. They took such great care of us. I loved that I could request a quesadilla and then go run a loop and they would have it hot and ready for me upon my return. During the race, in addition to my own fuel, I had: Coke, fig newtons, sour patch kids, two cheese quesadillas, a hamburger, and chicken noodle soup. There were so many other options that I didn’t eat, including baked potatoes on the fire, scrambled eggs and bacon in the morning, etc. Overall, Lake Ridge was such a gem of a race. I hope this race continues to grow in the future!
The Eastern Divide Ultra is a 50K race that runs point to point, from the Cascade Falls to Mountain Lake in Pembroke, Virginia. The last time I ran this race was in 2016. This year’s course was different and included two overlooks and a new finish venue. My race experience was so different from 2016, and the new course was only a small piece of that.
Since the race is point to point, runners have the option of parking at the finish and catching a shuttle to the start or getting dropped off at the start. Barry gave me a ride to the start, and we made the short 45 minute drive over to the Cascades at 6 AM for the 7:30 AM start. I dropped off my drop bag, hit the restroom, and then waited for go time.
I was feeling pretty nervous at the start. My resting heart rate was a little high and I felt a bit light-headed. I knew this would be a challenging day for me, and I was worried about making the 6 hour cutoff at aid station 5. As I mingled with the other runners in the starting area, I talked to my friends Carla and Michael. I really appreciated their calming presence. Despite my nerves, I was still really excited for the day. Just after 7:30, we were off and running!
Start to AS 1 (Miles 0 to 4.5) The race starts with a 5 mile, 2,000 foot climb to the top of Butt Mountain. I know this section of trail well, and I quietly settled into a steady hike with some running thrown in. Around mile 2, we dropped down for a view of the 77 foot Cascade waterfall before continuing our climb. No time for a swim that morning, though.
From the Cascades, we hit the steeper part of the trail which is also pretty rocky. I chatted some with the runners around me and tried to hike with a purpose and just stay relaxed. Around mile 3, we got to the intersection for the out and back section to Barney’s Wall. It was runnable down to the wall, and I briefly took in the view down here before punching my bib with the orienteering punch and climbing back up to the main trail.
I came off of the single track and onto the fire road at aid station 1 and was greeted by my friend Matt and another volunteer. Matt would be sweeping the course from AS 1 to AS 5 and I asked him not to sweep me. He assured me he wouldn’t and I’d be fine! I put some water in one of my flasks and enjoyed some bacon. They also had bourbon, but I felt like it was a bit too early for that.
AS 1 to AS 2 (Miles 4.5 to 10) From aid station 1, we still had a bit more climbing to do to get to the top of Butt Mountain. Finally, the fire road leveled out and I could see the gate marking the out and back to the Butt Mountain overlook. We were supposed to punch our bibs again here, but instead there was a volunteer writing down our bib numbers.
From here, I headed back out onto the fire road. It’s rolling through this section with lots of huge puddles to cross. It’s almost impossible not to get wet and muddy through here, but I still go around the edge of these giant puddles because I have no clue how deep they are in the middle. The road itself is also pretty rough through here.
Although this section is rolling with a fair amount of downhill, there’s always a bit more uphill than I anticipate before making it to aid station 2. It also took longer to get there than I expected, since we had the two extra out and backs (which added about 1.3 miles), and I actually ran out of water. It wasn’t hot, yet, but it was very humid and I was drinking a lot.
I leap frogged with five other runners and had snippets of conversation with them. I also ran into a girl who I had volunteered with in the past, which was cool. Finally, we hit aid station 2. I refilled Tailwind and water and also had a cup of Coke. I headed out of the aid station with two other runners.
AS 2 to AS 3 (Miles 10-16) The road transitions from dirt to gravel at this point and there’s no more big puddles to navigate, so I was able to get moving better through here. We had a ton of downhill immediately after the aid station and I was ready to take advantage of it.
I was still leap frogging with the two runners I had left aid station 2 with – Ken, I think, and Lesa. We encountered two dogs laying in brush along the side of the road watching runners go by. They were totally chill, which was good, but I was so thankful I happened to be in a group of 3 when we encountered them, just in case. Soon after that, the three of us spread out and I ran on my own for a bit.
We hit the next uphill section and I transitioned to a hike. My legs were feeling tired and my hips were starting to hurt. Lesa caught up to me during this section and her company helped pass the time during this stretch. Unlike aid station 2, I always hit aid station 3 sooner than I expect.
Lesa and I came into AS 3 together and I refilled my water and had another cup of Coke. They told us 5K to the next aid station at Wind Rock, which I knew meant 1 mile of downhill followed by a 2 mile, 800 foot climb.
AS 3 to AS 4 (Miles 16 to 19.1) The road was all gravel at this point and that helped us move better. Lesa and I were both worried about making the cutoff at AS 5. It was advertised as being at mile 22, but I knew since we were already at mile 16 it was going to be somewhere past mile 23. Nothing we could do about it but keep moving forward.
We ran through the little hunting cabin community and then got to the intersection and made a right turn, and it was time to climb to Wind Rock. It’s a tough climb on tired legs, and the road curves which can make it feel endless. I switched my watch over to the lap display so I could just focus on the mile I was in. I hiked the first mile of the climb. For the second mile, I alternated 20 steps of running and 40 steps of walking to help me move better. Lesa was a strong climber, so she was up ahead and I focused on keeping her in my sight.
Finally, we made it to aid station 4 at Wind Rock! This is where our drop bags were and I tried to get through this aid station quickly. I grabbed my fuel for the final miles of the race and two packets of Liquid IV. I poured one packet into one of my flasks and filled it with water.
I was already 5 hours and 20 minutes into the race and I knew it was 4 miles to the next aid station and the 6 hour cutoff. I’m not running 4 miles in 40 minutes in the middle of an ultra, especially when those miles have a fair amount of uphill. But that didn’t deter me from giving a strong effort into Mountain Lake.
AS 4 to AS 5 (Miles 19.1 to 23.3) The first mile from Wind Rock is all downhill on a gravel road. I knew I could hammer this, and that’s what I did, running it in 10:12. After that first downhill, you hit a fair amount of rolling gravel road and uphill. I alternated running and hiking and worked hard. I knew I was going to miss the cutoff, but I didn’t get down on myself. My mindset was so different from when I ran this race in 2016, and I think I’ve come a long way in the past 5 years. I never wanted to give up this time, and I ran as hard as if I was going to make the cutoff and just hoped they would let me continue.
Aid station 5 used to be at mile 22, before they added the extra mileage for Barney’s Wall and the Butt Mountain overlook, and I hit mile 22 at 5 hours, 58 minutes. I almost took a picture of my watch as proof I had hit 22 miles in under 6 hours so that I could plead my case, even though it didn’t count.
About 3/4th of a mile out, Barry was waiting for me along the road. He came out to Mountain Lake to crew me and see me finish the race. He ran and hiked with me into the aid station and told me he thought they’d let me continue. Apparently they were being lenient since it was an extra 1.3 miles to the cutoff aid station this year.
I arrived at AS 5 at 6 hours, 18 minutes, which means I made it 4.2 miles in 58 minutes and I’m pretty proud of that. I was so focused on getting there and getting a popsicle that I actually ran past the turn onto the trails where the aid station was, even though there was a guy in a chair telling me to turn.
My friends Cathy and Jason were at this aid station, along with another volunteer, and they assured me I could continue. I felt so relieved! Jason hooked me up with a delicious, refreshing blue ice pop and Barry got my flasks refilled for me. Most of the aid stations had ice cold water, which is such a luxury and much appreciated on a hot day.
I wasn’t really interested in any of the aid station food, but I ate an orange slice while I was there. In general, I did a pretty good job eating my own fuel (huma gels, honey stinger chews, and Tailwind) throughout the race.
After 19 miles of fire road and gravel road, it was time to get back on some trails!
AS 5 to AS 6 (Miles 23.3 to 27.6) The trails at Mountain Lake are very rocky and rugged and challenging. They’re narrow and often lined with tall ferns and grass that make me itchy. But I really love running on them. They’re just so pretty and peaceful.
I did plenty of tripping through here, per usual. But I did manage to stay on my feet. My calves and the front of my left shin kept trying to cramp on me. Overall, we had really great weather for a mid-June race. But by this point, it was fairly sunny and getting into the upper 80’s.
I went up a few steep climbs and then passed by Graham’s memorial. I paused here, briefly, and said a little prayer for him before continuing on.
This trail section took me a little while and I rolled into aid station 6 around 7 hours 40 minutes. Barry was there again to see me one more time before the finish. I refilled just one flask, knowing I didn’t have much race left and wouldn’t drink much on the downhill. The volunteers told me it was probably about 4 miles to the finish. “Probably” and “about” are as exact as it gets at a trail race, haha. After having another popsicle and a cup of Coke, it was time to go finish this thing!
AS 6 to Finish (Miles 27.6 to 31.6) We left the trails and turned right onto the paved road at Mountain Lake. I thought we would be doing all downhill to the finish, but of course we had to go up another hill first. I hiked up it and then ran by the cabins and pool at Mountain Lake with a view of the hotel – where they filmed Dirty Dancing!
Some folks cheered me on through here, as we climbed ONE more hill and then started the downhill towards the finish.
The paved road was a steep downhill, and it was banked at times and did not feel good to run on! My quadriceps kept trying to cramp, but I pushed the pain to the back of my mind and tried to capitalize on gravity. I did mange to clock two more miles under 11 minute pace 🙂
I knew we would turn right at some point and I kept worrying if I had missed the turn. All of this was new territory since the race finished in a different spot this year. But then I’d see another pink ribbon up ahead and knew I was still on course on the road. After about 2 miles, I made it to the observation deck where we turned right onto the trail to take us down to the finish at Doe Creek Farm. The turn was heavily marked and I definitely would not have missed it.
I had heard the last 1.5 miles of trail was all downhill and I thought I would totally bomb down it to the finish. And it was downhill except for two tiny hills, but you could not bomb down it. Or I could not, at least. The trail was freshly cut to give us a route from the road to the finish line, and I know that took so much work on the race director’s part. But that dang trail was so lumpy and rocky! My ankles were not having it. It was only 1.5 miles but it seemed to go on for a long time. Finally, the trail dumped me onto a gravel road. I made a right turn and then a left turn and headed straight for the finish arch!
I finished my race in 8:36:59, high-fived Steve, the race director, and received a finisher’s cup. I grabbed a cold seltzer water and took a seat with Barry at a picnic table. Per usual, all I wanted to do was take off my shoes! Once that was accomplished, I grabbed a box lunch that had two pulled pork sliders, pasta salad, slaw, and chips. Eventually, I also got myself a delicious, ice cold pilsner to put in my finisher’s cup as well.
We hung out with old friends and new ones, all sharing our experiences from the day and catching up. It’s always awesome getting to catch up with friends I haven’t seen for awhile. Especially at a local race.
Overall, I think I had a really solid race day. I finished a bit slower than I expected, and my time was about 20 minutes slower than when I ran the race in 2016. But the new course was 2.5 miles longer and I think it was tougher than the old course. So I think 20 minutes slower than my old time is pretty good.
I don’t know what it is about this race, exactly, but I really love it. The organizers put on a fantastic event, the volunteers are so friendly and top notch, and I love the variety in the course itself. I’m so lucky to have this race in my back yard. I believe I’m already in for next year, as I have a certain friend who is ready to tackle her first ultra. So I’ll see you in 2022, EDU!
On Saturday, June 5 I ran the Dam Yeti 50K in Damascus. It was the first official event I’ve run since January and I was really looking forward to it! It’s always a fun time with the Yeti Trail Runners.
We stayed at our usual place in Damascus for the weekend. I arrived on Friday afternoon and met up with Lauren and her family and with Charlotte. Christine arrived soon after and the four of us girls headed over to Abingdon for packet pickup. We got there right as it was starting and got in and out pretty quickly.
On race morning I was up at 4:30 AM to have my coffee and breakfast (PB & J toast) and get ready to run. Charlotte and I were both running the 50K and Christine and Lauren were crewing us. This year the race started in Green Cove and Christine gave us a ride up there. It’s a curvy road and Charlotte and I both got motion sick from the ride. I was so thankful to make it out of the car without puking. Christine dropped us off “Kiss & Ride” style about 30 minutes before the race start at 7 AM. We wandered over to the long bathroom line.
It was really chilly up there! Later in the day, Christine told me her car showed 46 degrees when she dropped us off. I never made it through the bathroom line and opted to pee behind a tree before jogging over to catch the pre-race meeting.
As you can see in one of the above photos, Charlotte and I were standing at the back of the group during the pre-race meeting. At the end of RD Jason Green’s speech, this crazy thing happened. He immediately went “3-2-1… GO!” and then I realized we were at the front of the stampede! As we turned and started running down the trail, I said to Charlotte “oh no, we are at the front!!” She giggled and laughed while I squealed and covered my head. I can now empathize with Simba from that scene in the Lion King when the wildebeest stampede in the gorge.
Luckily the masses left me unscathed and I was able to settle into my pace. It was dark and cool and super green along the trail. Less than a mile into the race, this deer shot across the trail and nearly hit a runner. It was crazy and there was a whole group of us there that saw it. Someone joked “well anyone who didn’t already go to the bathroom just did!” Hah!
I had decided to use a 7 minute run / 3 minute walk interval for this race. The first 17 miles of the race are on a downhill grade and I tried to keep my pace in check since I have the Eastern Divide 50K on June 19. I took in the beautiful scenery that surrounds the trail and before I knew it I was rolling into Taylor’s Valley around mile 7.5. And this is where I have some explaining to do. But first, here is the sequence of photos.
So. Before you judge me, let me explain myself. As I was running through Taylor’s Valley towards race photographer Jesse, the girl in front of me fell. The sequence of photos above literally span 3 seconds, at most. It took 1 to 2 seconds for my brain to switch from posing for the camera to recognizing that she had fallen. I did stop to see if she was okay (she was!) and if she wanted help getting up. But I stopped past her because I have no concept of long lense cameras and I thought if I stopped even with her I would be blocking the photos of the people behind me. So that’s what I have to say for myself. Moving on…
Shortly after the Taylor’s Valley incident, I arrived at aid station 1 around mile 8. This year our crew was allowed to be here so I got to see Lauren and Christine! As I ran in, I saw some other friends who also cheered for me! I was still feeling fresh and was running strong and relaxed. I refilled water and checked in with my crew.
From there, I continued on my way down the trail towards Damascus. Along the way, I stopped for a bathroom break in Straight Branch around mile 10. In addition to the runners around me, I started seeing some bikers on the trail and a few Appalachian Trail hikers.
Before long, I rolled into Damascus at mile 14 and aid station 2. This aid station had a Dolly Parton theme, complete with plaid shirts and blonde wigs! I refilled my water again and also got a popsicle (popsicle count: 1). I was still feeling strong and effortless and was maybe running a smidge faster than planned. About a half mile later, I met up with my crew at the town park to refill Tailwind and fuel.
I headed off for the stretch from Damascus to Alvarado feeling good. But within a half mile I definitely started to feel the heat, and fatigue started creeping in. The stretch from Damascus to Alvarado always feels tough to me because a lot of it is exposed and you’re running on a gradual uphill. On top of that, I tend to hit a rough patch between miles 17 to 22 during 50K runs.
On the way to Alvarado, my stomach started feeling like I had too much liquid in it and I felt like I had a side stitch. I continued with my 7/3 run/walk intervals but I slowed my run down a little. I knew I needed to stay on top of hydration as it continued to heat up outside, so I took little sips of water each walk break and ate some solid food every 40 minutes or so.
I tried to stay calm about how I was feeling and just focus on the things I could control. A little while later I was rolling into Alvarado at mile 21. At this point I had been running for over 4 hours and I was getting spacey. I met up with my crew again and they made sure I was stocked with fuel and reapplied sunscreen on me. My calves had been having those little wave-like feelings they get before they cramp, so I also picked up some salt pills from my supplies.
I walked across the parking lot to aid station 3. The aid station was certainly stocked with anything you might need during an ultramarathon, haha!
The volunteers refilled my flasks with ice water and asked if I wanted a popsicle. Why yes, I do! The volunteer helping me asked me “What color makes you happy?” which is probably the best way I’ve ever heard of someone asking what flavor I wanted. My answer was blue, of course. And yes, it did make me happy. (Popsicle count: 2)
From Alvarado I headed down the 5 mile stretch towards Watauga. This section of trail has my two favorite bridges. The first one is known as the “big ass bridge” and I crossed that around mile 23.
It was getting really hot during this section and sometimes I cheated a little on my 7/3 intervals and would walk 30 seconds to 1 minute early. My hips started to feel really tired and sore, and both of my calves and my left shin kept trying to cramp. I was getting to the point where I was day dreaming about getting to sit down and take off my shoes. During this section, we crossed my second favorite bridge on the trail, but it was SO hot through this exposed section.
Between miles 24 and 25, I decided it was time to take some salt pills. I reached in my zipper pocket for them and found that the pocket was open and they were gone. Well, shoot! That was a major bummer, and I’m also not happy that I littered somewhere on the trail. I knew I’d have to make do without them and continued on.
I arrived at aid station 4 in Watauga at mile 26. Here, I ate some pickles and had a cup of Mountain Dew. Like in Alvarado, they had ice water at this aid station and it was such a luxury on such a hot day! All of the volunteers were so awesome taking care of us.
As I continued up the trail towards Abingdon, I started seeing more of the 50 milers headed back down the trail for their out and back section. We all cheered each other on as we passed, reveling in our mutual suffering. I gotta be honest, I was glad to be doing the 50K on that day.
During the final stretch, sometime after mile 27, I started leap frogging with another runner. We were talking about how our races were going and I mentioned my calf cramping and losing my salt pills. She said she had something to help and gave me two chewable tablets. I eagerly took them and only after eating them did I think to ask what they were….. I guess that’s kind of ultrarunning in a nutshell! And for the record, they were just chewable salt tablets. I think they helped some, but it was late in the race and I think I was already pretty messed up on salt levels. Each time I transitioned to a run, I had to keep my right knee kind of straight to prevent full on cramps in my right calf. But I was so thankful for her generosity!
I passed through mile 28 and knew I was getting close! I’m proud that I was disciplined in sticking to my 7/3 intervals even though I was very tired and feeling pretty sore. I basically lived within 7 minute chunks of time and my life was ruled by the beep of my interval timer.
About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, I glanced up and noticed a steer on the wrong side of the fence. He was eating leaves at the top of the hill along the trail. A few feet down the trail, I saw where the fence was broken. I couldn’t really do anything about it, and I heard that later on several more steers found their way onto the trail. At last, I made it to the Abingdon trailhead, with a little over 30 miles on my watch! A volunteer told me to turn right coming off of the trail, turn right again at the red phone booth, and then head down the road.
I knew we were finishing at the brewery, but I didn’t really have a concept of where that was in relation to where I was or how far away it was. But all I could do was keep moving. A little over half a mile down the road, I could hear the music and then I looked to my left and saw the finish arch. Yay!
As always at Yeti races, I was greeted with a big bear hug from race director Jason Green at the finish line.
I finished in 7:15 and change, which is my second fastest 50K. I worked hard out there, but I also tried to keep my overall race effort at a moderate level since I have two 50K races so close together. That definitely got harder the last 10 miles with the heat, but overall I think I had a solid day and ran a good race.
Christine and Lauren had some chairs set up in the shade and it felt SO freaking good to finally sit down! I also enjoyed some cold lemonade, a homemade ham sandwich, and a popsicle (popsicle count: 3!). After sitting with my shoes off for awhile, I got changed into dry clothes and we continued to hang out at the finish line and cheer in other friends. There is a certain atmosphere at Yeti races and the finish line is where it really shines. Exhibit A: Mr. Inspiration. Resident DJ and official welcoming committee for runners coming into the finish line.
We cheered Charlotte in and hung out for awhile longer, soaking in the post-race vibes and catching up with friends.
Then it was time to head back to the house. On the way back, I got super thirsty so we stopped at a gas station. I headed in with plans to get an ice cold Gatorade from the fountain drink machine. But I came out with both a Gatorade and a mango fruit slushie. All I can say is it was hot outside and I was thirsty!
Once we got home we got cleaned up, had a late dinner, and then I had another popsicle (popsicle count: 4!!!). We had a good time sitting around chatting and hanging out and stayed up entirely too late.
On Sunday, everyone got packed up and we all hit the road to head home. All in all, it was another excellent Yeti weekend with my Wild Mountain Chickens. On to Eastern Divide…. I hope there’s popsicles!!
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!?
"I've opted for fun in this lifetime." -Jerry Garcia