At the end of October, I ran the Into the Darkness Night Trail Run 4 mile race for the second time. Last year, I was very unsure about willingly signing up for a nighttime trail race. I really detest being in the woods at night. But I ended up having a great experience and a lot of fun, and knew I would sign up for it again this year.
This year’s race was interesting, as I was in the midst of my 4x4x24 training block. Into the Darkness would be my fourth run of the day, and I had no idea how my legs would feel or where I would be mentally – would I be totally over running by this point? I was pleasantly surprised with how things went.
Barry and I made the trip up to Roanoke’s Explore Park on Saturday afternoon. It was in the 50’s with rain in the forecast. We arrived at the park, picked up our bibs and race shirts, and prepared for the race start at 7 PM. The course was a bit different from last year, which would really come into play during the final half mile of the race.
Barry and I were both in the second wave, and we lined up behind the start line to wait for our 7:10 PM start. Finally, we were off and running! We headed down the road and about a quarter mile later, we turned onto the single track trails. Instantly, we were slowed by a conga line. But I didn’t mind. I was at this race to have a good time and enjoy all of the decorations Josh and Gina put out along the course.
The first half of the race was primarily downhill, with a few uphills sprinkled in. We finally got spread out a bit, and I was able to run at a steady pace. I was surprised at how fresh my legs felt, since I was closing in on 16 miles for the day. My only problem during the race was being too hot! I didn’t anticipate how humid it would feel in the woods, nor how hot it would be to run in a face mask!
Wearing a costume at the race is completely optional, but I think it’s a lot of fun. There were even two other robbers at the race! But I learned that I will definitely not be doing any running costumes in the future that use masks. I stayed committed to my costume during the race, though, and never took the mask off.
With about a mile to go we ran through an open area that had a bunch of blow up Halloween decorations. They were really neat to see. The cat one was even a bit creepy in the dark, because it slowly moved its head back and forth.
Remember how I mentioned this year’s new race course was particularly significant for the last half mile? Yea – that’s because it was all uphill! What a doozy. I was SO hot at this point and feeling a bit tired, and alternated between hiking and jogging to get to the top.
Barry and I finally made it to the top and the finish line was in sight. There were a bunch of plastic spiders, snakes, and other creepy crawlers on the ground right before the finish line – too funny. Barry and I crossed the line together in 56:08. Last year I finished in 56:12. I’m nothing if not consistent!
After the race, we enjoyed some Mama Mia’s pasta and a bunch of other yummy foods (veggies with ranch dip, crackers and hummus, candy, pumpkin bread, etc.). We hung out for a bit and then hit the road to head home since I had another run to do at 11 PM. It didn’t really rain during the race, aside from some sprinkles. But as we headed down the road the skies opened up and it poured. I’m glad we didn’t have a downpour during the race, although I may not have been as hot if it had!
From here I’ve got three races on back to back weekends in November. They’re all very different. Old Glory is a technical trail half marathon with lots of climbing. The Richmond Half is a road race. And the Crooked Road 24 hour is just a beast of its own. Crooked Road is my A goal, so my focus at the other two will be to stay healthy, run smart, and remember CR24 is the goal!
Hi! It’s been quiet around here since June. I unintentionally let my blog go a bit dormant since then… I guess call it another summer break?
A few summer highlights: Life has continued since the last time I checked in. In July, I celebrated another trip around the sun with a 31K “Fat Ass” for my 31st at our local state park. The course was a 4-ish mile loop, starting and finishing at a pavilion we rented for the day. I invited friends to come out and join in for all or part of it. We had a fun, but hot, day of running and hiking. My dad even surprised me and came out to hang out for the day! We followed the run with a cookout at the pavilion. All in all it was a really fun day!
Barry and I camped at the park for the weekend, and the day following my birthday run/cookout we enjoyed some time on the (lakefront) beach.
Speaking of the beach, we also took our annual camping trip to Myrtle Beach at the end of September. The weather was good, and we enjoyed a relaxing week.
In running news, I’ve been running consistently all summer. I haven’t been following any regimented training plan, and have simply enjoyed running what I feel like each week. But with several races on the horizon, it was time to add a little structure back in, which brings us to this past weekend’s “four by four by twenty-four.” The 4x4x24 translates into running 4 miles every 4 hours for a 24 hour period. I got the idea from one of my Facebook groups, where another runner talked about doing something like 4 miles every 6 hours for a 48 hour period. So clearly my version is much less crazy. Right? Right. The intent was to get in some specific training for my upcoming 24 hour race. Here’s how it went…
Run #1 – 7:00 AM
I did my first run at a nearby park where 6 laps equals 4 miles. 7 AM isn’t all that early… but it was dark and rainy for most of this run so it felt kind of early to me. Despite the clouds, I did get a little peak at the sunrise towards the end of this run. And although I was sleepy, my legs felt fresh and ready for the training that lay ahead.
Run #2 – 11:00 AM
My second run of the day seemed to arrive very quickly after run number 1. I did not really have my head in the game and was not feeling very motivated to be back out there running again. I headed to a different park, where there is a paved 1/2 mile loop. Today’s training was as much about mental training as it was physical, so I chose a lot of locations that would have me running loops like I will be doing at the Crooked Road 24 Hour. Once I got out there running, I felt good. My legs still felt fresh and this run actually flew by.
Run #3 – 3:00 PM
I chose to do my third run on the treadmill. I wanted to save as much time as possible so that I could shower afterward before we needed to drive to Roanoke. This one went alright. I was definitely starting to feel some soreness in my hips and my legs were feeling a bit fatigued. But the company was good…
Run #4 – 7:00 PM
Run number 4 was interesting because it was done at the Into the Darkness nighttime trail race in Roanoke. Because why not run a race in the midst of all of this? Barry and I ran together, which was fun. This run was the most technical and had the most elevation gain, so I was surprised at how good I felt. My biggest challenge was being too hot in my costume! Full race recap coming in the near future.
Run #5 – 11:00 PM
Similar to my 11 AM run earlier in the day, the time between run #4 and this run seemed very short. I was definitely feeling a lot of overall fatigue and sleepiness. Barry joined me for this run as well, and we completed it at a nearby park. Once again, I was surprised at how good my legs felt. That’s encouraging, since I was now at a total of 20 miles for the day. Run number 5 came complete with a random watermelon on the trail, and some fun glow stick bracelets that we were given at Into the Darkness.
Run #6 – 3:00 AM
This was my final run for this training weekend. I debated on whether or not I should do a final, seventh run at 7AM. But I ultimately decided that technically the training ended at 7 AM Sunday morning, and 24 miles was plenty. The worst part about this run was waiting. I was determined to stay awake until 3 AM to help simulate running while sleep deprived. It was not easy as I was so very tired.
Three AM rolled around at last and it was time to run. For simplicity, I also did this run on the treadmill. I was so sleepy and I desperately wanted to go to bed. I really had to fight to make myself do this one. Aside from being really tired, I felt physically strong during this run. One odd thing was how thirsty I was during this run, even though I think I did a good job staying hydrated all day. I think I drank 20oz of water during this run. And just like that it was done. I grabbed a quick shower and then finally crawled into bed.
So that’s it! Overall, I feel like things went well and I think this was some good physical and mental training. I kind of felt like all I did all day was run, change clothes, eat, and then repeat. I’m glad it’s done. And for the record, running 6 separate times in one 24 hour period makes for a lot of laundry!!
The Twisted Trail 10K in Forest, VA took place on June 29. It was my first race after the Dam Yeti 50 Miler. Since the Yeti, I’ve been taking it easy and letting my body recover. So I went into this race without any expectations, other than to relax and have fun.
I met up with Charlotte on my way to the race, and we arrived about 20 minutes before the race start. We ended up parking a little over half a mile from the race start, because the closer lot was full, so it was good Charlotte had picked up our packets the day before.
We made it to the start area in time to catch most of the pre-race meeting. This was the inaugural year for the race, put on by the Blue Ridge Trail Runners, and they had a great turnout of close to 100 runners.
Just after 8 AM, we were off and running! We ran down the gravel road behind Charlotte and me in the photo above, and then turned onto the trails. I hadn’t been on these trails before and I was excited to check them out! The first mile was primarily downhill and I was in cruise mode.
Charlotte and I were running fairly close to one another, and we linked up after the first mile to run the rest of the race together. It was a lot of fun running together as we chatted and enjoyed being in the woods.
The trails were gently rolling, with a few predominant hills. They weren’t very technical, so I think this would be a great race for a first trail race. We ran by two water stops during the race, and I enjoyed some ice cold Gatorade at each one. We saw BRTR members along the course at intersections and the water stops, and they were friendly and encouraging. From race start to the post-race pizza, they really did a great job putting on this race.
Before I knew it, we were on the last mile. The race totally flew by and I was honestly a bit sad it was coming to an end. I was having a great time running on the trails with Charlotte.
We crossed the line in 1:35:31. The RD, Rhonda, was there handing out some really neat homemade finisher’s medals. They were sliced from a piece of wood and had the race logo on them.
Afterwards, we hung out at the finish area. They had a good spread of food, water and Gatorade, and even had some pizza delivered. They also had a ton of raffle prizes! I was really impressed with the number of prizes they had, but unfortunately neither Charlotte nor I won anything. Boo.
Before wrapping everything up, we also held a moment of silence for Graham Zollman. He was a local Roanoke runner who passed away during the Eastern Divide 8 Mile trail race a couple of weeks ago. It was a shocking and sudden thing. The trail running community is a very friendly and welcoming place, and even in that Graham stood out as one of the friendliest. Happy trails to you, Graham.
Fifty miles is a long way. Duh, right? But even after completing the Dam Yeti 50, I still cannot wrap my head around it. I tried not to write a novel in my attempt to capture the day. Tried being the operative word. But don’t worry… there’s plenty of pictures!
Barry and I headed down to Damascus on Friday afternoon. He would be crewing me on race day, and I was so excited to have him there for my first 50 miler. We met up with Kim and Charlotte and ate some Subway for dinner. From there, we headed over to packet pick up, where we grabbed our bibs, race shirts, and a few extra goodies.
There were several reasons why I chose the Dam Yeti 50 for my first 50 miler. For one, it’s close to where we live. Two, I liked the idea of running it on a rail trail to take technical trails out of the equation (although that ended up presenting its own challenges). But most of all, I hear such great things about Yeti Trail Runners and the races put on by Jason. He has so many special touches – from writing a message on the back of each runner’s bib to standing at the finish line ALL day to greet each runner. He truly wants every runner to have a great experience, and we continued to see evidence of that throughout the weekend. I think it’s safe to say I will be a repeat offender with the ‘Yeti Trail Cult’ in the future.
We also met up with Kelly and her husband at packet pickup. Kelly was running her first 50 miler, too. It was so nice to finally meet her in person, although I felt like I already knew her from interacting through Meg’s Miles. From there, we headed back to Damascus to the house Kim, Charlotte, and I rented for the weekend to settle down for the night.
I headed to bed around 10 PM and did not sleep a wink the whole night! Okay, so I did doze off briefly at one point – just long enough to have some bizarre dream about walking to the race shuttle still in my PJ’s. I got up a little before 4:30 AM, before my alarm even went off. Race morning had finally arrived.
Despite my sleepless night, I was feeling pretty calm on race morning. I had a checklist of things to follow (braid hair, breakfast, sunscreen, etc.) and I just focused on that. At 5:45 Barry drove us over to catch the shuttle.
The shuttle ride took about 30-35 minutes, winding our way up to Whitetop. I’m glad I don’t get carsick! Once we got up there, I saw the very long line waiting to use one of the two bathrooms at the trailhead. So off to the woods I went to find a spot to pee. My pre-race bathroom spot even had a lovely view of a Christmas tree farm!
With business taken care of, I reconvened with Kim, Charlotte, and Kelly. We enjoyed a funny pre-race talk from Jason and before I knew it we were off and running! No turning back now. Dam Yeti was really happening.
I was nervous as we started out, but I was also excited. My plan was to focus on running aid station to aid station, instead of thinking about the race as a whole. I think that’s how you get these things done – one step at a time. It was cloudy, cool, and overcast. The trail meandered in and out of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, as we made our way down the mountain. Being surrounded by the dense forest helped me settle and find some inner peace about the challenge that lay ahead.
I started the race using a 30 minute run / 5 minute walk interval. My main focus was to run conservatively during the first 18 miles to Damascus, since they were all downhill. I didn’t want to have too much pounding on my joints. Before I knew it, I was rolling through Green Cove at mile 3.
I continued to follow my plan, and a little over two hours into the race I was coming through Taylor’s Valley. I arrived at the first aid station just beyond Taylor’s Valley, between miles 10 and 11. I still felt fresh and was running steady. The volunteers at the aid station were enthusiastic. They even offered me Fireball! Sadly, I turned them down. One time, I thought it would be a good idea to eat cinnamon bears while running and it made me sweat profusely. I didn’t want the same thing to happen with cinnamon whiskey, especially with 40 freaking miles still to run. So maybe next time!
From here it was another 7 miles to Damascus – the second aid station and the first time I would get to see Barry. On the way there, my right hip and right upper hamstring started to bother me a bit. It would come in waves, and I hoped it wouldn’t become a lingering issue.
My plan was to arrive in Damascus no sooner than 4 hours, and I came in around 3:57. Good enough!
Barry refilled my water for me while I dropped off my trash, put my next round of fuel in my pack, and reapplied chafing stuff and sunscreen. I think I spent about 4-5 minutes here before heading back out. I also got to see some of my Blacksburg peeps on my way out, which was cool!
As I made my way towards the third aid station at Alvarado / mile 25, I started seeing the 50K runners on their way back. Alvarado was their turnaround, so the further down the trail I got the more runners I saw. We were all cheering each other on, which was fun. It was starting to get warmer and the trail was more exposed through here, so I was happy for the distraction.
I held on to my 30/5 interval for one rotation on the way to Alvarado before switching to an 8 minute run / 2 minute walk interval. It kept me moving well and helped me deal with the heat and the pain that was still coming in waves in my hip and hamstring. We were also running on a gradual uphill now (for the next 16 miles!), so the shorter run segments were more manageable for me.
After mile 22, my right hip and hamstring went from protesting to outright screaming at me. I’m not sure what the deal was, but I was determined not to let it stop me from accomplishing my goal. As I got closer to the aid station, lots of bikers coming down the trail kept telling me “you’re almost to the turnaround!” because it was the turnaround for the 50K. I tried not to let it get in my head, but it wasn’t easy to hear that over and over again before I had even hit the halfway point of my race.
Just before I arrived at the aid station, I saw Kim headed back towards the finish for her first 50K. I knew I would be seeing her soon and I was so excited for her. Charlotte wasn’t far behind me, and she and Kim ended up finishing within a minute of each other. I came into the aid station and got to see Barry again. I was also surprised to see my friend, and fellow Meg’s Miles runner, Selina! She had come down, along with Kelly’s daughter, to surprise Kelly for the race. After refueling, rehydrating, and reapplying sunscreen I was on my way towards Watauga. I also put in a request to Barry to have some Biofreeze for when I next saw him around mile 33 or 34 to try and help my hip and hamstring.
This next five mile stretch of trail from Alvarado to Watauga was the most beautiful. But it was also really hot. Don’t get me wrong, we had phenomenal weather for early June in southwest Virginia. It definitely could have been much worse. But it was so sunny and hot through here and I started to drag.
My roughest section of the race was from miles 27-33. I was still running, but I was cheating on my 8/2 intervals by doing some extra walking. I rolled through Watauga aid station at mile 30ish, where I refilled water and drank a cup of Coke. From here it was just 3 miles to the turnaround in Abingdon, but it took forever!
Despite my fatigue and the heat, it was kind of exciting to hit the 50K mark on my way to Abingdon. Lo and behold, I ran my second fastest 50K time ever during the race!
About a mile from the turnaround I saw Kelly headed back down the trail. She looked strong and confident and I was happy to see her running so well! Then I finally made it to the turnaround where I got to see Barry again. There was no aid station here, but he had provisions for me – including that Biofreeze and some surprise Swedish fish (the best candy)! His parents were also there to crew and cheer me on. Kelly’s crew (her husband, her daughter, and Selina) was still there, too. They gave me some ice, which I put in my bra and against the inside of my wrist with my buff. It felt ah-mazing!!
It was also here in Abingdon that I declared my distaste for peanut butter oat balls. They’re a homemade fuel I’d been using in training (oatmeal, peanut butter, honey, raisins, and dried cranberries). Somewhere past mile 25 I just did NOT want them anymore. But it was more than that. It was like they offended me for even existing. So I threw them down at the turnaround in Abingdon and told Barry not to give me anymore of them the rest of the race. Funny how stuff like that happens during a long run!
With all of that taken care of, I was back on my way down the trail. It felt good to finally be at the turnaround and on my way back towards the finish. There were “just” 17 miles to go! I also totally forgot about having just applied the Biofreeze. I had a moment of panic when I couldn’t figure out why one leg was suddenly ice cold. But then I remembered. 🙂
I was now running on a gradual downhill, and I thought I would start cruising again at this point. However, my quads had joined the protest party and I definitely wasn’t running the way I expected. But I kept moving as best I could.
I also discovered I could charge my watch on the run with a portable charger. The stupid thing started acting up 10 days before the race. So I had this plan in place, just in case, but I had no idea if it would actually work until I tried it at mile 34.
I ran back through Watauga, where I had some Mountain Dew and a couple of orange slices. From there it was 5 miles back through the open fields to Alvarado. I had been running for 9 to 10 hours, and I definitely started to get a little loopy at this point. I would think about eating, drinking, and taking a salt pill. And then a few minutes later I couldn’t remember if I had done any of it or not. The struggle was real.
I won’t lie, it was rough getting back to Alvarado. I was so hot and tired. But I also got to see my watch click over to 40 miles on the way there, and that was really exciting! Apparently I looked pretty rough coming in to Alvarado at mile 42ish. Enough so to worry Barry. But they had popsicles at the aid station, and that made life better. Barry also had more ice for me which helped immensely. I was feeling rough, but mentally I was very much still in the game. Things were starting to feel real. I was really doing this! I had 7-8 miles to the finish, and it was time to get it done.
I’m not sure what happened during this final stretch, but something clicked. Maybe I found another gear or a second wind. Or maybe I just found a new way to embrace the pain and fatigue. I’m not sure. But all of a sudden I was running strong again. I was truly sticking to my 8/2 interval and sometimes I was even running through it. I saw a giant turtle on the trail along the way, but ain’t nobody got time for pictures after 40+ miles of running.
I was running with a purpose in those final miles. It probably wasn’t really all that fast, but I felt like I was cruising and even saw some sub-11 paces pop up on my watch during those run segments. Even so, it felt like a long way back to Damascus. Finally, I saw Barry coming out to run the last mile with me. He was excited to see me running well, and that gave me even more of a boost. I crossed that final trestle bridge and could see the finish and hear my friends cheering me in.
Kim and Charlotte made a tunnel for me to run through, just like my old soccer days, and Jason greeted me at the finish line with a big hug. Running 50 miles was so hard. It was a long day. I was in disbelief that I had finally arrived at the finish line – 12 hours and 10 minutes after leaving Whitetop that morning!
After Jason gave me my medal and finisher’s glass, Barry and Selina had to remind me to actually cross the finish line. Then I was engulfed in a big hug from Barry.
After a few photos, it was time to go in the creek! We’d been running alongside water on and off for much of the race, and all I could think about was soaking my feet in the creek. Charlotte, God bless her, helped me get my shoes and socks off. Surprisingly, my feet fared really well. I didn’t have a single blister. However, I did have heat rash on both of my feet. That was a new one for me, but it was gone within a few days.
After sharing our war stories from the day, Kim, Charlotte, Barry, and I parted ways with Kelly and her crew. I grabbed a shower back at the house, and then we grabbed some dinner at the Damascus Old Mill Inn. We even had a lovely view of the waterfall (photo taken the next morning).
Overall, I had an incredible experience at the Dam Yeti 50 Miler. I think it was the right one for me for my first 50. Running a rail trail definitely presented it’s own mental challenge – especially since I ran on my own the entire race. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this very long race report, Jason pours his heart and soul into these events. He wants everyone to have a successful race.
Fifty miles is a long way. Even sitting here days later, I can’t comprehend it. But even though I can’t wrap my head around it, I still freaking did it. I went through low points and learned how to keep going and push through. I discovered new capabilities in how far I can go. Running 50 miles didn’t hurt more than the 50K’s I’ve run, it just hurt for longer. It was awesome, and hard, and long, and beautiful, and one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.
When you boil it down, it’s ultimately on the runner to complete the race. But it would not happen without the support of others. I’m so thankful for my friends and family who supported me throughout training and who sent me words of encouragement leading up to the race. I’m also grateful for the awesome volunteers at the race who kept me fed, hydrated, and in good spirits throughout the day.
I couldn’t have done it without the guidance and support of my coach, Janice, who got me to a 50 mile finish practically 13 months to the day after getting out of my boot from a stupid stress fracture. And most of all, I wouldn’t have the guts to take on these challenges without the unwavering support of my husband, Barry. He believes in me even when I’m doubting myself. Seeing him proud of me when I reach a new achievement is always the cherry on top of every accomplishment.
It’s one week until the Dam Yeti 50 Miler – the longest race I’ve ever attempted. I get a lot of questions from people who find out about my ultrarunning: How long does that take… Do you run the whole time… Do you eat during the race… etc. But the main question I get: Why?
It’s a simple question, but I’ve got a number of answers. Why do I run?
First and foremost, I run because the world is complicated and running is simple.
I like to try new distances to test my limits. I want to better my endurance, humility, mental toughness, and patience.
I run to get better at getting older.
Running allows me to escape the crowds, the noise, and the stresses of everyday life.
I run because it gives me a purpose and connects me with a community in which I thrive.
I run to explore nature, new places, and the limits of both my body and my mind.
Now specifically: Why run 50 miles?
To see how long I can hold the palm of my hand over the proverbial candle flame.
To push my limits and hopefully, in doing so, experience more joy and success than ever before.
To accomplish something that at times seems impossible.
The ultrarunning community is quirky. But it’s also wholesome and deeply meaningful. Fifty miles or bust…. Let’s do this!
"I've opted for fun in this lifetime" -Jerry Garcia