I am training for the Yeti 100 Miler at the end of this month. As part of training, I thought finding a race to get in a longer, supported run around the end of August/early September would be good and my coach agreed. Enter: the One Mile With A Smile 12 Hour Endurance Run in Chesapeake.
I made the 6-ish hour drive to Chesapeake the day before the race and stayed in a hotel. I was up entirely too early the next morning to pick up ice and make the short drive over to Oak Grove Lake Park, where the race would take place. I couldn’t believe how humid it was and how warm it already felt outside (upper 70’s) as I left my hotel around 5:45 AM. I knew it was going to be a day.
I arrived at the park about an hour before the race start and was able to make just one trip from my car down to the staging area with my rolling cooler, toolbox, and chair. The race was on a 1.5 mile gravel loop around the lake, and you had 12 hours to run as many complete loops as you could. I got my stuff set up, hit the porta johns, and prepared to race.
This was a smaller race, with around 60 runners. Per usual, people were really friendly and I chatted with those set up around me until it was time to start. A few minutes before 7 AM, we lined up to start the run. And without much fanfare we were off and running!
I was feeling insanely nervous before the start of the race, like to the point that I had to fight a strong urge to pack up and go home. I don’t know why I felt that way, as I was just there to get in some miles and time on feet. I didn’t feel like I was feeling any pressure. I guess chalk it up to mounting nerves as Yeti draws closer. As it turns out, it would take hours until I finally settled into the race. Right from the start, I used a 4 minute run / 1.5 minute walk interval.
I knew it was going to be a really hot day, so I took little sips of water or liquid iv on each walk break and also made sure to keep eating every 30 minutes. At the start of the race, it seemed like it was just us runners at the park. But it didn’t take long until I started seeing lots of other walkers, runners, and exercise groups at the park. It never felt crowded to me, and I enjoyed seeing all of the different people.
I chatted on and off with other runners as I made my way around the course. Occasionally, I stopped at my stuff to swap out flasks and pick up extra fuel. There was one group set up right behind me that always checked in with me and asked if I needed anything, and offered for me to use the shade of their canopy if I needed it. It was so kind of them and I love how supportive the trail and ultra community is.
By 11 AM, the temperature had crept up into the 90’s and the relative humidity was over 100. It was tough to manage. I started feeling really hot and nauseous, and I ended up flip flopping my run/walk intervals for two laps (about 3 miles) to cool off some during the hottest part of the day. After that, I used a 2 minute run / 1.5 minute walk interval. I also started putting ice in my bra and in my ice bandana, and switched to a sun hat. That all seemed to help me manage the heat alright.
At this point, I had been running for about 6 hours and I still really hadn’t settled down. But the park was really nice and per usual at every timed race I’ve done so far, I never got bored on the loops. I don’t know why I don’t, but I guess this race format is just a good fit for me.
During the day, I saw so many people with dogs! There was a lady walking a red bloodhound which made me smile and think of Hank and Scout. I also saw a guy walking three big, gray dogs. Their three leashes were tethered to one that he held, and it made me think of Hagrid’s three headed dog, Fluffy, from Harry Potter.
I hit 30 miles around 3 PM (8 hours into the race), right as a thunderstorm rolled in. It rained, and sometimes poured, on and off for the next two hours. The temperature dropped quickly during that time and the wind picked up, which felt so nice while running. But I found that when I stopped at my stuff to swap out flasks, I got chilled pretty quickly. So I did my best to just keep moving. And guess what? I had FINALLY settled into this race. After eight freaking hours, mentally I felt ready to go.
During the rain, I started chaffing pretty bad on my thighs and on the inside of my upper arms. I tried to reapply chaffing stuff, but it didn’t help. It had turned into liquid from sitting in the heat in a black toolbox in the sun and seemed to be ineffective.
At this point, I was still doing my 2/1.5 interval. I probably could have switched back to my usual 4/1.5 but this felt like it was working fine and I was moving well so I just stuck with it. I ran and chatted with a lady for a little bit and her voice sounded so familiar. Finally, I said “Were you the lady in the inflatable unicorn costume at the Alvarado aid station during Dam Yeti this year?” And she said “YES!” How funny! She had such a positive impact on my race that day, and it was fun to get to know her more and run with her on and off during these later miles.
The last few hours of the race passed by fairly quickly and before I knew it, I was down to my last few laps. I thought I had time for two more laps, which would put me at 42-ish miles. But on what I thought would be my last lap, I realized I was going to have time for another one – awesome! The end of the race was kind of funny. There was a long, 0.2 mile straight stretch heading into the finish line, so the people in the finish area could see us runners coming from a distance. We knew we were going to make it in on time, but for them I think it was more suspenseful. They were all yelling and cheering for us to get there in time!
I finished my race in a total time of 11 hours and 55 minutes, with 44.2192 miles according to the official results. I collected my race medal and finisher’s mug and then headed over to pack my stuff up and head up to the car. Just like that, all casual. After the race, I was driving 3 hours to my dad’s house and I had planned to change clothes before leaving. But once I got up to my car I was ready to just get on the road and get the drive over with so I could get a shower. So I hit the road in my nasty race clothes and rolled in to my dad’s house around 10:30 PM. I ate some dinner and rehashed my race with him before grabbing a shower and finally crashing.
Overall, I think this race was a solid effort for me. I fought through some serious race nerves early on, and never really experienced any highs or lows during the event. But I did well on hydration and nutrition, especially given the heat, and stuck with my intervals to continue moving forward. There are definitely some things I will take from this race as I head into Yeti, and I’m grateful for the experience.
P.S. Someone please remind me not to sign up for a race in July or August ever again. Thanks!
This year was my third time running Dam Yeti. For this year’s race, the shorter distance was a 55K (34 miles) instead of a 50K (31 miles). An extra 5K means more miles, more smiles! As the race approached, I considered two main options for my race plan: One, I could put my hard training to work and go for it; or Two, I could use it as a dress rehearsal for Yeti 100. I talked to my coach, Janice, at the start of the week and we decided on option one: go for it! I would aim for a 50K PR, which would mean I’d have to split 50K in under 6:30. I spent the rest of the week trying to wrap my brain around this and get my mindset ready.
I also spent the week stalking the weather forecast, which was looking really good for Saturday. Cool in the morning and not too hot, as far as June goes, in the afternoon. I got to Damascus on Friday afternoon and met up with Charlotte and Christine. It felt so good to be back in a town I love and back together with good friends for another race weekend. I had my typical Subway pre-race dinner around 4:30 and then we headed over to Abingdon for packet pickup.
At packet pickup, we got our race bibs and swag, and caught up with a few friends. We also got our pre-race photos taken. After that, it was time to head back to Damascus to chill before race day.
I was up at 3:45 AM on Saturday morning and had my usual oatmeal and coffee. We left Damascus at 5 AM to catch the race shuttle in Abingdon. I was worried about getting carsick on the 50ish minute drive up to Whitetop, since the roads are really curvy. Fortunately, my Dramamine did its job and I also ended up with a front passenger seat in the shuttle. My shuttle arrived in Whitetop around 6:45 AM and I took a quick bathroom break in the woods before heading to the start. It was in the low 50’s and I was freezing, but that was perfect for race day. I met up with Charlotte and Christine, who were on a different shuttle up to Whitetop, and we exchanged hugs and some final words of encouragement. I was feeling SO nervous. This was it.
I made my way closer to the start as I listened to race director Jason Green’s funny pre-race speech: “Don’t get lost today! Trains don’t make right or left turns and neither should you. Every Saturday, 12 year old girl scouts get on bicycles and make it to Abingdon. Don’t be that person!” Immediately after his speech, at 7 AM, we were off and running. It was go time!
Usually in ultras, I struggle mentally at the start and end up starting out slow. As I settle in and get into a groove, I tend to pick it up and get stronger by the second half. But to PR, I was going to have to be aggressive from the start and take advantage of the gradual downhill for the first 18ish miles. I also don’t usually start ultras with music, but I had made a playlist for the race and started listening to it right away.
We were bunched up for the first mile and my split was slower than I wanted by about 18 seconds. I was using an 8 minute run / 2 minute walk interval and tried to focus on finding some space so I could run the run segments comfortably hard, as planned. After that first mile we did spread out some and I was able to run at the pace I wanted. I had made a pace chart for myself using a website called UltraPacer. The website uses a GPX file for the course. You can input an overall finish time, and it will give you splits that are adjusted for the incline, aid station delays, etc.
I’ve never attacked an ultra like this and it was scary to put it all out there from the start. But I knew I had to capitalize early. Aside from that first mile, I managed to keep my mile splits in the low to mid-11 minute pace, for the most part, for the first 10 miles. I was coming in under the projected split on every mile. I was also staying really focused on the trail so I wouldn’t trip and fall and derail everything. The Creeper Trail is a rail trail, but it’s pretty rough especially up near Whitetop.
I came into the first aid station in Taylor’s Valley a little before mile 11. Based on my plan, I needed to arrive here around 2:05 and I hit the aid station in 2:03. A little ahead of schedule, which was good since the aid station was busy and I lost a bit of time here. My friend Jason was volunteering and it was awesome to see a familiar face. He helped me get both of my flasks refilled with water. I started the race with one Tailwind and one water, and at this aid station I added more Tailwind to one flask. I also got half a cup of Coke to go as I headed out. I think I lost about 2 minutes and 30 seconds at this stop.
From the aid station, I headed down the trail still feeling strong. I could feel the effects of the Coke and I split mile 12 in 10:57, which would be my fastest mile of the day. I’ve had some issues with my right hamstring over the past couple of months and I was having a lot of sharp twinges in it during these early miles. Luckily, it never did more than that throughout the race.
I stuck to my 8/2 interval and just kept cranking down the mountain. I’m pretty sure that’s the fastest I’ve ever run down it. At mile 13.1, I passed Straight Branch and split the half marathon in 2:31:53, about 3 minutes ahead of pace. I told myself “Keep going. Four miles to Damascus.”
It was starting to feel a bit warmer in the sunny sections on the trail, but nothing bad at that point. Around mile 16, I stepped on a banked part of the trail and rolled my left ankle. It rolled to the outside, but it wasn’t serious. For some reason, it actually made the inside part of my ankle hurt for a few miles. As I came into Damascus, my quads were really feeling the effects of running downhill hard. They hurt! I hoped I hadn’t gone out too hard, but I tried to immediately push those thoughts out of my mind. I told myself that anything that happened in the earlier miles didn’t matter. All that mattered was the mile I was in and executing my plan.
My mile splits were still coming in under 11:30 pace, which was good. I got into aid station #2 in Damascus around mile 18. The aid station had a Little Debbie theme, complete with costumes, which made me smile. I needed to get there in 3:30 to stay on track, and I arrived in 3:27. Still good. At this aid station, I switched from Tailwind to Liquid IV. I refilled both flasks with water again and also got a popsicle and half a cup of Coke. The popsicle was so good with the weather heating up.
As I left this aid station, I switched to a 4 minute run / 1.5 minute walk interval. It gets hotter through this section, and mentally I felt like I would do better on this interval. My quads also felt like they were already shot. I had hammered the first 18 miles, and now it was time to hang on for dear life if I wanted that PR.
I hit mile 20 in 3:54 and started trying to remember what my marathon PR was. I was pretty sure I was going to be close to it. Crazy. It’s between 6 to 7 miles from Damascus to Alvarado. This is always a tough section, mentally, for me. Luckily, there were some little kids handing out popsicles and stickers a couple of miles down the trail from Damascus. So I got another popsicle and a rainbow sticker that I tucked into my pack for good luck.
I knew I had put in some good work early on in the race. I was still looking at my pace chart each mile, and it felt awesome to be on the third column of the mile splits. I told myself “Last third of the race to get that 50K PR.” The miles seemed to tick by a bit slower on the way to Alvarado, and my main focus was just keep the miles at 12:30 or faster and you’ve got this. I did that all the way to Alvarado, splitting each mile between 11:30 and 12:31. I was starting to believe I was really going to do this.
As I rolled into aid station #3 in Alvarado between miles 24 and 25, Etta James’ “Fire” was playing in my ear bud and I was just in a good place. I needed to get here in 5 hours and I arrived in 4:55. A wonderful lady in a unicorn costume refilled my flasks. She told me I looked really good and I said I still felt strong. I had been hydrating really well and sticking to my fuel plan, eating Huma gels or Honey Stinger chews every 30 minutes. I was hoping for another popsicle here, but they didn’t have any. So I settled for a cup of Coke and headed out. As I headed out of the aid station, I saw my friend Dan. It was nice to see another familiar face.
It was 4.7 miles to the next aid station in Watauga and I continued to work hard during my run intervals even though my quads hurt so much. I went across the “big ass bridge” around mile 26 and split the marathon in 5:12:44 – just two minutes off of my marathon PR. That’s pretty cool. I also saw Amy Hamilton, the eventual overall winner of the 50 miler, on her way back to Alvarado. We cheered for each other and she also gave me a high five on her way by. Amy is an awesome human and a super strong runner, and now I had “Amy power” for the final push to get that PR!
Shortly thereafter, I ran across another really cool bridge on the trail. It was so hot through here, but there was a bit of a breeze which helped. The suffering was in full effect. The muscles in the fronts of both of my shins were threatening to cramp, and my left hamstring felt like it was locking up or about to cramp during every run interval. But I thought “Oh, hell no. I am 3 miles from my goal and I did not come this close to blow up now.” I chugged a bunch of my Liquid IV and hoped the salt would fend off the cramps. I also shortened my stride during my run segments, which seemed to help my hamstring some. But I was not willing to back off on my effort. I was so close to my goal. I was starting to realize that not only could I get under 6:30 for 50K, I would likely get under 6:20 if I kept it up!
I rolled into aid station #4 in Watauga between miles 29 and 30, which I believe had a duck theme. I needed to get there in 6:05 and I arrived in 5:59. My friend Jason was there again and he said “I hear you’re going to PR today!” At this point, I had just under two miles to go and I told Jason “yes, I’m going to do it!” Jason helped me refill my flasks quickly so I could get back out there. They didn’t have any popsicles here, either, so I got another cup of Coke and headed out.
I hit mile 30 in 6:04 and I couldn’t believe I was going to do it. The muscles in my legs were screaming, but I stayed focused on each 4 minute run interval. My watch finally hit 31 miles and at 31.06, I saw 6:17:00! Wow. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I snapped a quick picture and texted it to my husband, Barry.
After that, it felt like all of the pressure was off. I still had 5K left to go to get to the finish. When I talked to my coach about my race plan, the focus was solely on that 50K PR. She said whatever happened in the final 5K happened. But the crazy thing is, shortly after hitting 50K a switch flipped in my head. I realized I could probably finish under 7 hours if I kept it up. I hadn’t even considered that before the race.
So it was back to work, focusing on putting in a strong effort during those 4 minute run intervals and mentally resetting during the 1.5 minute walk intervals. My legs were practically in full revolt at this point and I felt so fatigued. The temperature had climbed into the high 70’s and I was feeling it for sure.
I finally made it to the trailhead in Abingdon and made a couple of turns to get onto A Street for the final push to the finish at the brewery. A Street runs parallel to the train tracks, and you have to cross the tracks to get to the finish. As I turned onto the street, a train started going by. Sub-7 really mattered to me now, but it was going to be close. If I had to wait for a long train to go by, my sub-7 might slip away. But all I could do was run hard the last half mile down the road and hope for the best.
Thankfully, it was a shorter train and it finished going by about a minute before I crossed the tracks and made the turn to the finish. I ran mile 34 in 12:06 and crossed the finish line in 6:56:30. As per Yeti Trail Runners tradition, I got a big finish line hug from Jason Green and from “Mr. Inspiration.” I felt so proud of my hard work and was grateful it had paid off with the results I was hoping for. What a day. I have never approached an ultra that way, and I feel like I’ll take a lot away from that experience.
After finishing, I recovered a bit and hung out in the finisher area while waiting for Christine and Charlotte. I met up with some friends and made some new ones, and also enjoyed a delicious sno-cone and a bratwurst. Probably the best combination of finish line food I’ve ever had.
Christine came in, and totally kicked butt at her first in person Yeti race. Charlotte had a tough day, but dug deep and hung in there to get her finish. Once we had all recovered a bit in the finish area, we piled back into the car and headed back to our place in Damascus. We all got showers and had some delicious cheeseburgers from a local joint. Is there anything better than a cheeseburger after a race? I think not.
The place we were staying at was an apartment above a garage, with a long string of steps to get up there. My quads were totally shot from the race, and the next morning I had to go down the steps sideways. Before hitting the road, I had a delicious breakfast at Damascus Diner. Yum! I actually thought I could finish this meal, but I didn’t quite manage it. So it ended up being Sunday’s breakfast and lunch.
At this point, the next race on my schedule is the Yeti 100 at the end of September. I’ve got a couple of weeks of recovery coming up, and then I’ll forge ahead with Yeti training. It’s going to be quite the summer, y’all.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!?
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.
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.
"I've opted for fun in this lifetime." -Jerry Garcia