Explore Your Limits 10K – Race Report

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.

Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

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.

Forever 5 Miler – Race Report

The Forever 5 & 10 Miler is a race that joined the RNUTS series last year. It is so named because it takes place on a part of the Hellgate 100K course called the “Forever Trail.” This trail is a notoriously challenging section of Hellgate, a 66.6 mile race, and I was intimidated to participate in a 5 mile race on it. When they added the race last year, I didn’t think I would ever sign up for it. But you know how things go. I’m doing the RNUTS series this year and I needed this race to get my 5 out of 7 races for the series.

We have had some harsh and nasty weather over the past couple of weeks, with three or four snow storms and frigid temperatures. The course received about 3 inches of fresh snow the night before the race, and the temperatures plummeted to 20 degrees with a windchill in the single digits on race morning. Have I mentioned I can’t wait for January to be over?

Barry and I made it to the race safely, dealing with a few slick snow and ice-covered roads. We got parked, checked in and got our race bibs, and then hunkered down in the truck until go time. Barry was running the 10 miler and he ran in shorts (!!) while I had on two pairs of pants and three layers up top. The 10 milers started first at 9 AM and then the 5 milers were off and running at 9:10 AM.

Off to the races. Photo Credit: Jay Proffitt

I had decided to put sheet metal screws in the bottom of my shoes the day before the race. It’s something I’ve heard of for a long time, but I had never tried it until now. As we headed down the first section of snowy trail, I was pleased to find the screws did help a lot with traction. I also heard a turkey gobbling in the woods as we headed down the trail (Go Hokies!).

The first mile was primarily uphill, and I alternated running and hiking. We also hit a few creek crossings through here. They were mentioned in the pre-race email, but I didn’t consider that there would be several of them for whatever reason. I wasn’t about to have a repeat of Terrapin, when I fell completely into the water when it was 20 degrees outside, so I just walked through the water instead of trying to rock hop and risk slipping. It did not feel good to have soaking wet feet, and with the out and back format I think we crossed water about 8 times.

One of several creek crossings

After mile 1, we hit some downhill. I was cautious at first before I realized that I really did have great traction going downhill and I wasn’t slipping at all. Part of what makes the “Forever Trail” so challenging is how technical it is. I think we actually lucked out with the snow, in a way, because it was covering the rocks in most places.

Around mile 2, the trail started climbing up to the turnaround point. It was very steep at times. Since the race was an out and back course, and I was towards the back of the field, there were a lot of runners coming back down. So on my way up the trail, I kept having to step into the deep snow on the side of the trail to let oncoming runners pass by.

Once I made it up to the tippy top of the hill, I said hi to Gina and collected my rubber band (to prove I made it to the halfway point) and turned around to head back down. I was able to make quick work of the downhill and enjoyed some pretty views along the way.

As I made my way past mile 3, the lead 10 mile runners started passing me. I hit some more uphill towards mile 4 and started wondering to myself how this race could be uphill both ways! Finally, I reached the top and enjoyed cruising primarily downhill to the finish.

Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

I finished the race in 1:42:06, which was actually a bit quicker than I anticipated. I didn’t have a lot of energy that day and tackling the snowy trails was a challenge. I did manage to dress correctly for the temperatures, which was good. I went with capris and pants on the bottom and a long sleeve, quarter zip thermal, and wind breaker on top.

After finishing, I mingled in the finish area briefly before grabbing some water and the infamous Mountain Junkies pumpkin bread. Then I headed for the truck to put on some warm clothes and get out of my wet socks and shoes. Barry finished shortly thereafter and after he enjoyed some post race food we headed for home.

I’m back to following a training schedule now and it feels good to have some structure again. It’s about a month until our next race, the Explore Your Limits 10K. I hope the weather is better! (Did I just jinx us?)

Frozen Toe 10K – Race Report

Happy New Year! Let’s hope we see some return to normalcy in 2022, because I’ve got some big goals on the horizon (see upcoming races on the sidebar). Barry and I decided to participate in the Mountain Junkies Roanoke Non-Ultra Trail Series this year. The “RNUTS” series is a set of trail races ranging from 5K to marathon distance that takes place from January through June. The first race of the series kicked off yesterday, January 8, with the Frozen Toe 10K.

The Frozen Toe 10K is run on the Chestnut Ridge Loop trail in Roanoke and has about 800 ft of elevation gain. This year the race delivered on its name, as we had snow the week leading up to the race and the temperature at the start on race morning was 17 degrees. A little cold in my book!

Barry and I arrived at the race about 45 minutes before the start, picked up our race bibs and swag, and then hunkered down in the truck until it was time to run. When it was race time, we gathered in the parking lot. At 9 AM on the dot, we were off and running. The race started and finished at New Hope Christian Church. From the church, we did a short out and back on the road before hitting the single track trail.

Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

My running hasn’t been very consistent since Christmas, especially the past two weeks, so my goals for this race were to run steady and stay on my feet! I’m happy to report, I accomplished both of those goals. About 4 tenths into the race, we turned onto the trails.

The race alternates which direction we run the loop from year to year, and this year was a clockwise year. I think both directions are similar and I don’t really have a preference. The clockwise direction has rolling hills with three main climbs. I alternated running and hiking as we made our way towards mile 1 and up the first main climb.

As we ran along, we spaced out some and I found myself mostly running alone. The trails were in great condition and I enjoyed how pretty the woods were. There’s something about snow that makes things seem so peaceful and quiet.

The miles ticked by with some more downhill through mile 2 before the second of the three main climbs. After that climb we had the longest downhill of the day and I enjoyed letting go a bit and just letting it roll.

It can be tricky to dress appropriately for the cold. You don’t want to overdress, because then you’ll sweat a lot and be freezing from that. I decided to go with pants, a short sleeve, a quarter zip long sleeve, mittens, and a beanie. My back did sweat some from my pack, but otherwise I think I got it right. Before I knew it, I hit mile 4 and had just two miles left to go.

Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

A little past mile 4 we hit the biggest climb on the course. I’m very familiar with this hill. It’s long and has a switchback or two in it. I hiked all the way up and was glad to get it behind me. From there I only had a little over a mile to go.

It was funny to see how some parts of the course were snow covered and in other parts it had melted completely. The snow covered parts felt much cooler than the sunny parts – I supposed the snowy parts were on north-facing parts of the loop.

Some of the not snowy parts of the course

It’s essentially a net downhill to the finish over the last 1.2 miles, and I clocked in my fastest mile of the day. I didn’t push hard on this race, but just stayed around a threshold pace and tried to stay steady. I finished with one of my slower times on the course, in 1:26:04. But I felt alright overall, except that the cold air was hard on my lungs and made me cough.

After I crossed the finish line I met up with Barry and grabbed some post-race food (including the famous Mountain Junkies pumpkin bread!). We didn’t stay in the finish area long since it was so cold outside. I was ready to go get in the truck and put on a dry shirt.

Overall, it was a good start to what I hope is going to be a big year. I’m looking forward to getting back into some structured training, and the next race on the calendar is the Forever 5 Miler on January 29.

Into the Darkness Night Trail Run – Race Report

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.

This year they did buffs with the above design. Source: Mountain Junkies

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.

Here’s a really bad photo of the lights

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.

Photo: Jay Proffitt

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.

Lake Ridge Endurance Run 24 Hour – Race Report

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!

Accessorized with stickers, of course.

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.

Ready to run. Photo credit: Kim

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.

The start/finish area. Photo credit: TrailAdventure

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.

Finishing loop 5 – 20 miles.

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 aid station. Photo credit: TrailAdventure

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.

Here is a slug I saw on the trail.

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.

My “penguin”

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!

Finished!! Photo credit: Kim

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!

Finisher’s medal and hoodie

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!

"I've opted for fun in this lifetime." -Jerry Garcia