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.


6 thoughts on “The Never-Ending Reindeer Run (NERR) Part 1: How and Why

    • Well, there is a greenway that should connect Shelley Lake to the MST–if that’s the case, we can start the run from Starbucks on Thursday and bring in some of our non-trail running buddies!

    • Thanks Amy. Sometimes it’s hard to justify taking most of a weekend to do something that is sort of crazy like this, in lousy weather, that doesn’t seem to have a larger purpose. I’m still not sure I explained it very well!

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