The Never-Ending Reindeer Run (NERR) Part 1: How and Why

“What are you thinking about for fall?” she said.
“Well, I don’t want to miss the fun of doing Richmond with the Peeps, but I’d love to squeeze in another ultra. Trails, you know.” I said.
Joanna nodded. As in, “duh.”
“I’ve always wanted to do one of those long distance stage runs,” she said.
“What’s that? I’m game.”

Our search didn’t turn up much. There was a great-sounding one in the New River Gorge, but it was billed as a romantic getaway weekend. The Table Rock Ultras seemed too formidable to tack on at the end of a fall race season, particularly since I was more excited about the 50 mi course than the 50K.

“We should do our own.” [Can’t remember who said it first, but it was carelessly, with a touch of bravado.]
“We ought to.” [just as casually]
“It wouldn’t be that hard to organize. We could do it on the MST.”
“It wouldn’t be a travel race, or expensive. Our friends could come. We could spend the difference on burgers and beer afterward.”

A few conversations later and we knew the other was serious. It was April and we were already planning for December. There were 2 phases: the beer phase and the coffee phase. This succinct, brilliant cartoon spells out why both beer and coffee are helpful catalysts for planning projects.


Brilliant, except that you can’t see the whole thing onscreen. Infographic by Ryoko at, based on an article by Mikael Cho.

During the beer phase, we discussed the possibilities. Admittedly, many of my ideas were foolish, and like any good manager, Joanna politely but systematically shot each of them down.
“If we end up at Shinleaf, we could camp out! That way, we’d never have to leave the trail!”
“It will be December. And part of the bonus of doing this here is that we get to sleep in our own beds.”

“You know, it’s only another 10 miles to finish the whole section at Penny’s Bend for a total of 60.”
“I’m good with 50 miles.”

“We could stop at Rolling View on Saturday, rent the building and have our Peeps solstice party!”
“You’re crazy. You do not want to host a party after you’ve run 30 miles. Plus, no beer.”

The coffee phase was closer to the event and slightly less exciting as we hashed out the details on a spreadsheet, pored over maps, and decided on matching apparel (e.g., Umstead Marathon day-glo pink for the section through the state gamelands during hunting season). Then, we sent out invitations and obsessively watched the weather forecast.


This is our logo. We had fun inventing reindeer dialogue and made many versions.

Friends (even the running kind) joked that we were crazy, and asked what the run was for. It wasn’t for anything other than we wanted to do it. Fun and excitement drove our planning, but we were absolutely serious about completing it. We chose fifty miles because it would challenge us (we’d both completed a 40 mi ultra) and a stage run to see what it was like. We hoped that friends would join us along the way and catch our excitement, even if they didn’t quite understand why we were doing it.


Sometimes, I feel uneasy that what passes for adventure today is contrived luxury, essentially invented risks and hurdles to amuse the participants, distract them from the ennui of modern life, and of course, announce to their Facebook friends. Our run might be accused of all three. But I’d like to think that the spirit of our adventure echoes earlier explorers—maybe most closely the scientists, who, while operating within economic directives, retained their wonder and joy about each new discovery. Turning corners along the trail to views we’d never seen, knowing that there would be challenges but unsure of what they would be—felt authentic. We were modern explorers, yes, but with the spirit of adventure and discovery that burns inside us all.

The actual adventure will have to wait for another post, and Joanna’s excellent and way-more-concise account is here. Below is the map of our 3 day, 50 mile route on the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail.


Run at the Rock: A Tale of Two Loops

I see myself as a trail running evangelist. I want everyone to love running single-track as much as I do. The 7-mile Run at the Rock race at Cedarock Park in Burlington, NC, is a great place to do a first-ever trail race, and I recommended it to friends like Jean, who won a slot in the Uwharrie 8 and thought she’d warm up on something a little easier. Additionally, my 12 year old son Stephen signed on for the adventure. Thus, three carloads of Peeps headed west in the rain for the 7 and 14 mile race.

It was muddy.

It was muddy.

Jon predicted that the rain would stop just before we got there, and it did, though he was not so prescient to realize that insisting on driving his new car and wearing his new shoes after said rain would result in trashing both.

The past two years, I came tantalizingly close to breaking 2 hours. But when I considered how many chances I’ll have to run races with Stephen (before he starts kicking my butt), I set the 2 hour goal aside for another time. I knew I’d finish last among the Peeps, so I decided to see if I could break an hour on the second loop. It was the perfect dual goal–enjoy lap 1 with Stephen and bust a move on lap 2.

The course was slightly different, and I liked it. It seemed easier, with a longer stretch up the road at the beginning and a longer run through fields, and it skips the ugly mountain bike sections toward the end (with short, steep hills that I don’t like–does anyone enjoy these? I know, I’m a trail running evangelist and I’m supposed to love all of it. I don’t.). Because part of the course goes in the opposite direction as prior years, it’s even easier to run past the waterfall without seeing it.

We assembled and took off. I had told Stephen that we needed to start out fast so that we weren’t stuck at the trailhead, but with the new course, this was not an issue. At one point I told him he was running great and he said “I’m not running 7 miles at this pace, MOMMM!!!” I felt a little bad when I saw we were 8:30 at the first mile mark, but kept it to myself and slowed down. After our initial sprint, we settled down into a great pace, averaging a 10:51 for 7 miles, the second-longest distance he’s ever run. He needs to work on trail-running etiquette a bit (Pass. With. Authority.), but he is on his way loving trails and I’m hopeful that he’ll run cross-country in high school.


Fist bump as Stephen crosses the 7 mi finish line. Proud mom.

We had a great time–pulled up the last hill and crossed the finish line around 1:15 to cheers from our friends. Time to start lap 2–which has always been my favorite part of this race. Most choose the 7 miler so the back half of the 14 is pretty empty and the pace is dictated by how fast you can push yourself, not other racers. It was time to throw down and go. Why? Just for fun. To see what I had for 7 miles of single-track. Just because you don’t finish at the top doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun to race.

Running with scissors is awesome on muddy trails.

Running with scissors is awesome on muddy trails.

I didn’t look at my watch (can’t do math in my head), but focused on covering ground and staying upright–I did need to be careful, with Joanna’s and my stage ultra run the following weekend, so I was ever-so-slightly cautious. The trail was muddy and wet, which just added to the off-roading experience.

I pulled up the last hill and crossed the finish, panting hard. 59 minutes and change! BOOYAH! I felt like I’d won the race, even though my overall time was the slowest I’ve ever run for the 14 miler. People, if you are not fast, run trails. You will feel like you are flying. Half our Peeps were there waiting  for me to finish in rapidly dropping temperatures. Peeps rock!

Best of all was seeing Stephen’s face at the front of the chute and hearing him cheer me in. I can’t wait to be on the other side one day, watching him give it his all just for the joy of it.


I wore a special shirt today for the first time–lap 2 was for you, Suz.