URE Marathon. Spoiler alert: I won!

I WON A RACE! First female! Woo hooooo! The end.

OK, two weeks later I am still SO! EXCITED! Because I’ve never won a race before! Not a big race, not a fast race, although it was a gnarly race. It’s on Ultrasignup, so it’s legit!

I went into the inaugural URE Marathon with curiosity rather than expectations. I signed up because I wasn’t running the Umstead Marathon and I wanted an excuse to check out the Uwharrie 100K/100Mile course, which is 3 or 5 loops that are described as “Simply Unrelenting.” Was the figure 8 loop harder than the Uwharrie Mountain Run (UMR) on the Uwharrie Trail? I had to find out.

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URE Marathon elevation profile. 4200 ft. of elevation gain. Like a T. rex with poor dental hygiene.

I haven’t followed a training plan since last spring and was surprised to run better than expected at Uwharrie 20. Then I pulled off my point-to-point marathon (aka the “No Steph, That Does Not Sound Like Fun” Marathon), running from Creedmor Rd. to the Falls Lake Dam on the MST one Saturday with my buddy John (I placed 2nd out of 2). I found myself at the starting line with a good base, though undertrained for hills (a discovery made at UMR).

Brandy and I talked Megan into signing up with us and we drove 2 hours to the start (which I now know is Mile 20 on the UMR). They had both done the Umstead Marathon the week before, so they were planning a fun and easy day in the woods, with their primary focus on a post-run brewery stop in Asheboro. Clearly I need to spend more time around these fun adventure peeps!

The race was set up as a free Fat Ass style, so everyone contributed snacks for the aid stations, which were divvied up and distributed by wonderful volunteers. After a quick race briefing, we started with a 5.7 mile out-and-back on a dirt road before jumping onto the 20.5 mi single-track loop. I ran easy, but noticed that there were only 2 women ahead of me when we started the single track. After a couple miles, I caught up with Jenna—I recognized her face and her name immediately, since we’ve done many of the same races, but had never put them together. She’s had a big early season with some ultra-distance races and had run Umstead last weekend. She’d run the course before, so she gave me some idea that the nice easy running we were doing at the moment was not going to last.

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Race Director Dan Paige gives us some last-minute instructions.

I’d never been on Dutchman’s Creek before, so I was curious about the terrain.
As many friends had promised, the first part was super-runnable, so I cruised along. There were many Scout groups out on the trail and I ran into the first one while slogging up the first big hill, with a slope far steeper than the opening mile of the Uwharrie Mountain Run. They generously allowed me to pass as they carried their heavy, external frame packs. One scout had a ginormous cookpot banging against the outside of his pack, which dwarfed his young frame.

I followed a young woman who was running strong and easy for several miles before closing the gap and introducing myself. Her name was Emily and we chatted for a few minutes. She comes from a triathlon background and had recently gotten into trail running—yeah! She trains with the RWB team near Clayton. We had a chance to talk more after the race and planned to meet up in Umstead for some training.

I was just wishing I’d paid better attention to where the aid stations were located when I came upon the one at the intersection of the two loops, mile almost-12. Clearly I did not stay there long enough, because for the rest of the race I had to listen to other runners rave about the bacon-wrapped pickles, which had vanished by the time I came back through.

I kept thinking that with each foot of elevation loss, I would pay on the return journey of potential energy gain. [Happily, I couldn’t remember the exact equation.] The URE Marathon promises a brutal 4200 ft of elevation gain. Soon I stopped at a clearing where the path was not altogether clear. Two hikers were there and called, “look up to the right.” I looked up—as in, I had to tilt my head back—and saw the yellow flagging above my head on what looked like a pile of rocks (the “confidence markers” yellow flagging were exactly as described and much appreciated—seems like I saw one every time I started thinking, “geez, I sure hope I’m still on the right track.” Thank you organizers!). A sign informed me that I had reached the famous Sasquatch Summit. It did not disappoint—a hands-on-knees slog, including a few places where I used my arms to pull myself up.

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This dead mouse on Sasquatch Summit may have been trying to tell me something.

Not long after that, I saw a sign for the Soul Crusher. It seemed pretty tame at first, until it WASN’T. It went on and on, up and up. The only reason my soul wasn’t completely crushed was knowing that I would not have to run it again.

Because here’s the thing—I was running one loop of this gnarly course today and thinking about what it would be like to run 3 (100K) or 5 (100 mi) of them in October. How in the world would you navigate the course in the dark, and how would you keep yourself moving forward on these brutal loops? There were quite a few Uwharrie 100K/100 mi veterans running, so I asked them. Allen said that the toughest mental decision is whether to stop at 100K, knowing you were finished and not have to run TWO MORE LOOPS (40+ miles) to finish the 100 miles.

I don’t know. During the race, there was not a moment when I thought, “gosh, I could totally see running this course all day and night!” But now that the race is over…maybe it’s doable. Maybe? The nighttime adventure would be something to remember!

At some point Kris from North Augusta caught up to me but declined to pass, though I offered several times. He hadn’t run Uwharrie before so we had a great time talking about trail running and racing as we trucked along.

Kris and I made the left turn onto the Uwharrie Trail. On the Uwharrie 20, that point would be around 12 miles—here, it was close to mile 17. Five miles makes a difference in Uwharrie, although this section isn’t bad. We ran out to mile 17.4 and Kelly’s Kitchen, where I knew my friend Juliet was volunteering. It was great to see her and Jeannie (both ultra-women extraordinaire!). We chatted for a few minutes about the prescribed burn that had been done recently (no, it wasn’t me) and the Uwharrie cookies I brought. Then she said, “you know you’re first female, right?” and I think I said, “Aaaah! No pressure!” I didn’t want Emily to catch me stuffing my face at an aid station, so I grabbed a pb&j and headed back down the trail.

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Perusing the PB&Js at Kelly’s Kitchen. [After seeing this photo, I cut the Wacky Professor Hair back into submission.]

The half mile out-and-back gave us a chance to high-five a few folks. Just 9 miles to go. Now it seemed like a disadvantage to know the course—miles 11-14 on the Uwharrie 20 weren’t bad, but 14-17 are brutal. I told Kris that we had a big climb coming up but the rest wasn’t too bad. He bought it.

Dennis Mountain at mile 22 (instead of 16) was not awesome. But the next section wasn’t as hard as it usually is on the UMR because we only had 1-way traffic. We reached a sign that said we had a mile to go. Before the race, I’d looked at my Uwharrie pacing and, although I didn’t know all of this course, I thought that if I had an amazing day, I might squeak in under 5 hours. My watch said 4:56. “hey Kris, if you can pull off a 4 minute mile, you can break 5 hours. You should totally go for it. I’ll be right behind you.”

“You didn’t tell me that the last part of the race is another climb,” said Kris, no longer buying my marketing. “I wanted to keep it a surprise. Where is that finish line???” There it was, and there were lots of smiles and “good jobs.” We finished in 5:09! First female! I was thrilled!

I spent the next little while hanging out in a chair, making frequent trips to the snack tables, enjoying the beautiful day, and cheering in fellow trail runners. Brandy, Megan and I then headed to the Asheboro brewery with Aline and a few others, where we ordered a large, plain pizza, got a pepperoni, shrugged and wolfed down the whole thing.

Dan Paige’s URE Marathon site promises, “…if you are looking for a race over some gnarly trails with some good people, this might just be what you are looking for.” Delivered. What a fantastic race, great volunteers, and top-notch organization and direction. If you think that the only thing better than Uwharrie is More Uwharrie, this race might be for you!

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Awesome Peep volunteers Juliet and Aline! Also 2 State students recognized me at the finish with the help of my shirt, though they claimed they were not in my class.

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2016 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run

12376298_10207376662188186_1881369676864077756_nTruth: there’s no way to make running 100 miles a cohesive story (I knew that while I was running it). You have been warned.

PRE-RACE

For my thoughts leading up to the race, check out this post and my Umstead marathon race report. I have more to say about what I learned, but that will have to wait until a later post (or rot in my head).

A family crisis the day after the Umstead marathon kept my mind off the 100 for the entire taper period. Andrew and I were making frequent trips to Charleston to tag-team with family members while also juggling work and family at home. I lost a few pounds in the three weeks before the race, in addition to recurring sleeplessness due to stress. Note: not recommended. I knew I would have to consciously put the stress aside so I could focus on getting through one hundred miles.

I wasn’t super-successful with sleeping or eating all week, but slept like a woman without care on Thursday night. Refreshed, I headed to Camp Lapiho to get my packet and attend the race meeting Friday afternoon, finding my Peep friends Megan and Juliet to sit with during the briefing.

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“Pee before you wet your pants.”

Back in December, I saw race director Rhonda Hampton one Saturday in Umstead. I was surprised and honored when she asked if I was willing to wear bib #100 to represent the first-time hundred mile runners. One of my duties as #100 was to recite the 3 golden rules of ultrarunning at the pre-race meeting, as well as offer encouragement to those running. I spent many training miles thinking about what I might say.

I kept it short and simple, feeling self-conscious around the ultra-running giants in the room, many of whom had generously offered their wisdom during my training. It was up to each of us, I said, to run the 100 miles before us. But what makes Umstead special is the amazing community of support. So while each of us must cover every mile on our own feet, lean on that positive energy when the going gets tough. Everyone—the race organizers, volunteers, friends, families, and other runners—would be pulling for us to achieve our goals. I also asked each runner to offer encouragement to others on the course, because helping others reach goals they didn’t think were possible brings out the best in yourself. I tossed in a joke before I recited the three rules. “My running buddy said the first one is to pee before you wet your pants. But I didn’t see that anywhere on the website.”

Lap 1

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Megan and I, lap 1, AS2.

The start. Oh boy! We’re finally running this. I sent a final text to my crew advising them I was turning off my phone, so they could feel free to start the trash talk. Megan and I ran to AS 2 together. We were both relieved to be running, after months of training. Training was hard, tapering was hard, but THIS we could do. We talked about the confidence our 2:00 am, 39 mile crazy run had given us. I felt excitement as I wondered about the day and night ahead, having put aside my family stress for a little while. “All I have to do this weekend is run? Bring it!”

We were greeted at AS 2 by my co-crew chiefs, Steve and Danny, who were volunteering (possibly to low-key AS captain Chris Squire’s chagrin), Ken, Jeff, and Cheryl. Jeff and Cheryl joined me for some miles on the back half of Lap 1. I wore my Suzie shirt, knowing that Suzie would have appreciated the level of the challenge, even as she would assuredly have grilled me about balance.

Lap 1 split: 2:33 (each lap is 12.5 miles). 8:33 am. 12.5 miles finished!

Lap 2

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Wet rats on Lap 2, AS2.

It was humid already, and I refilled my Nathan pack with ~1.5 L of water. Since I’m lousy tracking time, I had landmarks along each 12.5 mi loop: Stretch at the bridge at the bottom of the Corkscrew. Stretch on the stone bridge at the bottom of Graylin. Drink a 10 oz water with half a Nuun tablet every lap, twice that if it’s hot. Eat at every aid station, especially the two main aid stations. These tips came from Danny and Jon, both U100 finishers, and they worked great. There was an unmanned aid station at miles 4 and 10, but it was mostly stocked with sweets that didn’t appeal.

Jeff continued with me awhile, and it poured rain. We saw some Peep friends out training for Boston—Sarah, Gray and Kerry, as well as Anne and Jeff.

I enjoyed the back half of lap 2 with some other U100 runners, and spent some time admiring the creamy yellow buckeye that was in full flower all over the park, but especially Turkey Creek.

Lap 2 split: 2:38. 11:13 am. 25 miles finished!

Lap 3

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Danny and Steve bossed, teased, and looked out for me for 100 crazy miles.

I was over my wet shorts, and reasoned that even if it rained again, I had extra pairs to change into. A Trailhead friend Galoot happened to be in the lodge and he and another volunteer refilled my water pack and helped me get another bottle of Nuun ready to go while I changed. I wanted dry shoes, but word at Lapiho was that we had one remaining cell with rain, so I compromised by drying off my feet, recoating them generously with Vaseline, putting on dry socks and stepping back into my wet shoes. Worth it! I’m off!

As I came down the Corkscrew, I saw my friend Diane, who accompanied me to AS 2. Throughout the race, my #100 bib is getting me many grins, thumbs-up, high-fives, and cheers. I’m excited by all the positive energy and this time, I’m part of it as a bona fide Umstead 100 runner.

I caught back up with Megan at AS2, and she and I headed back to Camp Lapiho with Karla and Danny. Brandy and some other friends met us on Graylin for a bit. Megan was having some trouble with blisters, but she was super-efficient at the aid stations and Camp Lapiho. She posted rock-solid, consistent sub-3 hour splits all day, eventually finishing in 23 hours and change for her first! 100! Woo hooo! What a run she had.

Lap 3 split: 2:49. 2:02 pm. 37.5 miles finished!

Lap 4

My big treat to start this lap is a dry sports bra, tank top, and dry, brand-new shoes and socks. It’s the little things!

I’ve run more miles with my friend Danny than anyone else, and he’s seen me at my best and worst on many runs and races. He tells me that it is past lunchtime and I should eat something substantial. Wait, what? Lunchtime already? I balk. He talks me into some grilled chicken. Eating is one of my few strengths, so I’m a little puzzled why nothing at the huge smorgasbord seems very appealing. Umstead aid stations are legendary and besides chicken, there were hot dogs, hamburgers, and veggie burgers, plus any snack you could want. Karla and Danny head out with me after another refill of my pack. The rain has dropped the humidity and washed some of the pollen and dust out of the air, which is excellent, especially now that I’m wearing dry shoes. We see Vanita and she joins me for a few miles of her afternoon run.

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Simon joins me for a few miles as a surprise!

I get to Trinity Road and Andrew and Simon are there to surprise me! Andrew drops Simon off to run, then meets us at AS2. Simon runs by my side and checks to make sure I’m walking the hills—very serious about his pacing duties. Ann and Audrey are at AS 2 with big cheers. My other crew leader and great friend Steve jumps in for the back half of lap 3 with a long and entertaining story about nearly poisoning himself with an unknown fruit while on vacation (manchineel tree) and taking some silly photos. The sun is out and it’s hot.

Lap 4 split: 3:09. 5:13 pm. 50 miles done!

Lap 5

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Kellie and Gordy ready for Lap 5!

I was expecting to feel like I did when I finished Old Glory at 50 miles. That is, cooked. But my race has barely started and I’m excited to see my first official pacers and start gearing up for nighttime running. Luckily, I seem to be able to focus on the end goal, and I don’t think about my aches and pains because I’m not finished yet. My friends Kellie and Gordy are waiting, and Danny picks Steve up to grab dinner and go get his car. I try to get in too but they lock the doors. Guess I’ll run another 50 miles instead.

Gordy asked for Lap 5 because he is filling the role of paparazzi. He’s the official videographer for the 12 Things of Christmas, our Blue Ridge Relay team, and he wants to take some photos and videos while it’s still light. He does. Many. And then he gets everyone else’s photos and puts together this great video. I am especially happy about the video because there is actual proof that I was running. I remember walking a lot.

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Off to see the Wizard! Lap 5.

My friend Kim appears on Reedy Creek Road and joins us for a few miles! As we turn onto Turkey Creek and roll past the Butt Tree, I start asking myself what I want to eat. We come down the hill into AS2. “I can’t think of anything I want to eat…hey, PIZZA!” I head out with 3 small pieces. We pick up my son Stephen and I am so excited and proud that he’ll run a full lap with me. He’d come out with me for a run in the dark one Friday night and we had a great time. The flow of running and conversation works on teenagers and their parents, too, and I really love that. Steve and Danny are there again! but they won’t share their coffee.

Lap 5 split: 3:20. 8:34 pm. 62.5 miles done!

Lap 6

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Goofing off at Camp Lapiho with Stephen and Danny, between laps 5 and 6. No blisters, pinky promise.

I arrive back at Camp Lapiho and it’s now truly dark. My best friend Ann and my buddy Ken are here to pace lap 6! Whatever misgivings they may have had about keeping up were surely quelled; I’m not moving fast. I changed into my bigger shoes, re-lubing my feet. One of my toes is numb and I’m convinced there’s a blister on it. Danny tells me it’s fine and there’s no blister and I head back out with Ann, Ken, and Stephen. We’re barely out of camp when we run into Gordy who is wandering around in the dark looking for his car. He didn’t make the 9:00 gate!

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AWESOME cheering section at AS2 as I reach mile 70. The support was incredible and I later figured out it was nearly 11 pm.

As we’re descending toward AS2 I can hear people whooping it up. It’s pitch dark and I have absolutely NO idea what time it is, but am mildly surprised that AS2 volunteers have this much energy at whatever-time-it-is. I look up and realize it’s a huge crowd of my friends—out to cheer me on. I was actually speechless for a minute. Andrew is there, Jeff and the girls, Will and Margaret, Jean and Bill. I can’t believe it! And my friend Kelly is there to surprise me and jump in for pacing.

Stephen is arguing that he should be allowed to continue on with his pacing. He wants to run back to HQ and hang out with Steve and Danny. He’s been in rare form all evening, talking non-stop in the way that only a 15 year old boy can, but he’s also checking on me continually and making sure I’m walking the hills. He’s been great, but he’s running his first half marathon the following weekend and doesn’t need to be out running 18+ miles, no matter how slow. He’s also asking me about putting in for the Western States lobby, which is not a topic I want to discuss at the moment!

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Barely contained chaos between laps 6 and 7 with my lap 6, 7, and 8 crew.

We continue along in the dark. I love being out at Umstead at night—what a rare treat. I started feeling pretty tired, and got quiet, chugging along and listening to the conversation. I made a poor decision that since it wasn’t hot anymore, I didn’t really need to drink much Nuun, which was not appealing anymore. Kelly had brought me some Fritos, my favorite running treat (salt!!!) and I nibbled a small bag of those between AS2 and Camp Lapiho. Ann and Kelly slowed to encourage a solo runner on Graylin while Ken and I kept trucking. Ann helped me change and get ready for lap 7 and Jon and Carolyn were there and ready to roll for lap 7, along with Kelly. I added another layer and was ready to go.

Lap 6 split: 3:53. 12:28 am. 75 miles done!

Lap 7

Heard outside the porta-potty at Graylin/Reedy Creek at 1:30 am:

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Lap 7 pacers Jon and Carolyn are matching and ready!

“Marco.”

“Marco!”

“MARCO!!!”

“POLO! GEEZ! Go away Jon!”

“OK, she’s alive!”

I remember very little of lap 7. I was told that I demonstrated my owl calls—I know two, barred owl and great horned owl, and can render them with startling volume, especially in a dark forest. I probably needed some coffee. I remember feeling baffled when we got to AS2 and I looked at the huge buffet but couldn’t see anything that looked good. Jon filled a bag with random salty snacks and then coerced me into eating some. Carolyn and Jon told me later that I was still pretty chipper, but definitely loopy. Apparently I cheered on other runners, spectators, volunteers, a few trees and even some cars when we got back toward camp. At least I didn’t forget my own advice!

Lap 7 split: 4:31. 4:59 am. 82.5 miles done!

Lap 8

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Danny telling me I need to eat the rice between laps 6 and 7. Mercifully there are no photos between laps 7 and 8 when my face “looked like a blueberry.”

I am so happy to see my lap 8 crew of Jeff, Steve, and Danny, my runner brothers from other mothers. This is it! Although I never thought about dropping, I know now that I’m getting close to the finish. I’ve run 87.5 miles and have just 12.5 to go. And I know that these friends will get me to the finish. Camp Lapiho is bright after being in the dark woods and I’m squinting. Actually my eyes, and actually my whole face, are swollen, but I didn’t realize that. My legs still feel good, but my chest is tight and it feels like everything I try to swallow gets stuck in my throat. I’m also cold, and I’m wearing a long sleeved shirt, a wool pullover, and I’m trying to pull on a jacket, look for my gloves and hat, and think about what I can eat, not noticing worried looks from my crew.

I hold my hands up and say, “Whooaaa, look how swollen my hands are!” in a voice that probably suggested that I was drunk rather than awake for 24 hours and 87.5 miles into a run. Danny starts taking off my watch. “Hey…whatcha doing?” “Your watch is going to bust off if we don’t loosen it.” “I still think I have a blister.” “You don’t have a blister. Your feet are fine. Leave your pack here and let’s get moving.”

While I’m watching Danny fiddling with my watch, I look up and see Rhonda and two medical staff. Uh-oh. They’re all looking at me—I better get out of here fast. One medical guy says to Steve and Jeff, “She’ll be fine, but she needs salt and no more water.” Is he kidding me? It will take me hours to run the last 12.5 and I don’t get any water? Apparently I have hyponatremia. I started feeling a little sorry for myself.

There was some commotion as Rhonda tried to figure out who was actually in charge in my crew and doled out salt tablets with strict instructions that I should have one every 45 minutes. In the end, Jeff got the salt, Steve set the timer, and Danny had Gatorade to wash it down. It takes a flock!

I’d given up on eating. I was feeling lousy but I knew I could make it. After we reached Reedy Creek, I tried to run but felt like I was gasping for breath just walking. I could hear snippets from my crew talking about me in the third person—THIS IS NEVER GOOD—and I could tell I wasn’t walking straight despite trying to seem normal—later, I found out they were debating whether to take me back to HQ if my breathing did not improve. I was also really, really tired.

“Maybe I needed some caffeine.” I swallowed half a coffee-flavored gel and immediately threw up on the side of the trail. Everything that came out besides a tablespoon of Gu was water. No food. I threw up again and was suddenly irritated with myself for getting here. I knew I’d somehow screwed up my food intake and all I had in my stomach was water. Totally preventable and here I was, retching, at mile 89. I was pissed. I handed half a Gu to Steve and tried to make a joke. “Well, I think I’ve had about enough of this.”

I straightened back up and suddenly, I felt monumentally better. I could breathe and the chest tightness was gone. But I was still frustrated. “OK. It’s time to run.” The four of us set off down Reedy Creek. Dawn broke slowly as it does in the woods, sunlight filtering through the still-bare trees, black sky lightening to blue in the east.

A jangling alarm goes off. “Time for salt!” “I think I’m good. I feel much better.” “Nope. Rhonda’s orders.” This builds into a comical routine every 45 minutes, with my feeble attempts to refuse it and the guys telling me I have to take it, somewhat gleefully. Later Stephen said “when I heard an alarm, I didn’t know what it was for, but everybody got really excited and started laughing. Except you, Mom, you looked so miserable that I kind of felt sorry for you.”

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Last lap of Turkey Creek. I’m finally waking up and feeling like my goofy self again.

I was asleep on my feet and kept wandering off to the right until my crew took turns filling the space on my right and steering me back to the road. I’m not sure how much I ran. I expected to feel excitement on this final lap and was disappointed that I wasn’t in any shape to join the banter. I do remember giving Chris a hug at AS2 and thanking him and Hope for being there for all the runners. He smiled, shook his head and said, “Steph, you have quite a crew.” I think my friend Audrey was there too (again! What a pal) to send me to the finish with some good energy.

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Last 2 miles and I’m so excited to see my family and finish this!

I honestly don’t remember seeing any other runners on that lap, though I was told there were many others out there. If you know my three crew members, you know that they kept me entertained, even if you were as tired as I was. There was Little Red Riding Hood, Bob Dylan and flubbed Robert Frost. After AS 2, I was feeling much better. The salt, plus some sips of Gatorade and a little bit of coffee, was helping. I knew where I was headed.

About 2 miles from the finish, I see Andrew and Stephen. I was so excited to have them run me in! Simon is waiting at the finish with Ann and Ken, which means they’ve stayed all night to see me finish. I am finally turning onto Camp Lapiho Road for the last time. I teared up just a little but I was so thrilled to cross that line and get a hug and my finisher’s pendant from Rhonda. Hugs all around! I could not have reached the finish without my awesome crew. I went inside the lodge and had a made-to-order cheese omelet from my friend Keri, which was the best food I’ve ever eaten. I hugged and said goodbye to my tired crew, and tottered to the car with Andrew and the boys, where I instantly fell asleep.

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Finished!

Lap 8 split: 4:15. 100 miles, DONE! Finish time 9:15 am, 27 hours and 14 minutes.

Postscript

I learned so much but that will have to wait for another post. Here’s what I posted on Facebook the day after the race:

To all, I can’t thank you enough for all the support I had last weekend for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. The race organizers, particularly Rhonda Hampton, put their hearts and souls into the event. Volunteer captains like Ben Dillon, Rebecca Sitton, Jennifer Ennis, John William, Jeannie Armagost, Joe Lugiano and Dana Mathew spend days on their feet before, during, and after the race, taking care of runners’ every need. Other friends (too many to list!) pulled a volunteer shift or three working aid stations, taking photographs, setting up, cleaning up, cooking, timing, etc.

So many friends came out to run a few miles with me during the day or to cheer me at night. Many more of you, near and far, sent words of encouragement via Facebook, email, and text message. And my fun and crazy crew of Andrew Jeffries, Kellie Davis, Gordy Blackwell, Stephen Jeffries, Ann Camden, Ken Taylor, Kelly Cook, Carolyn and Jon Armstrong, Jeff Cobb, Danny Jessup, and Steve Fallaize pulled me through the night and to the finish. Andrew Jeffries brought the boys out to pace me, took care of me before and after the race, got my car home, and did a million other small things to help me achieve my goal.

I was proud to wear the symbolic #100 race bib as a first-time 100 mile finisher. Big congrats to many friends who ran, esp. fellow Peeps Megan Sullivan and Juliet Brundige. Thanks to ALL for making my experience so joyful and memorable. Life is rich!

Dust of Snow, by Robert Frost

The way a crow
[Shook] down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

2016 Umstead Trail Marathon: Running for fun

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Megan, Heiko and I hamming it up on Mile 1 of the 2016 Umstead Trail Marathon. Photo by Shannon Johnstone.

Set the right goals and you’ll win every time.

Umstead marathon is my favorite marathon. I say that having only run 7 marathons; 4 of them Umstead. Umstead was my 1st, 3rd, 4th, and this my 7th, marathon (2nd was NYC, 5th was Richmond, 6th was Blue Ridge). However many marathons I run in my lifetime, I hope that half of them will be at Umstead.

A few reasons why I love the Umstead Trail Marathon:

  • Umstead State Park is my favorite local place to run.
  • It’s hard. People don’t sign up for that reason. My point is, marathons are hard. There are no easy marathons!
  • Top-notch organization by Carolina Godiva and awesome volunteers.
  • Each year a different mascot is chosen and it’s a secret until the day before the race.
  • $70 entry fee includes a great t-shirt, finisher’s pint glass, SmartWool socks, Honey Stinger samples, chocolate, Moe’s burrito, and a door prize. Seriously!
  • Great hometown flavor and small, friendly feel with just 200 runners.

Lots of folks who are doing the Umstead 100 run Umstead marathon as a final run before starting their taper, so that was an easy decision. In the past, I’ve had trouble racing two long races a season (Uwharrie+Umstead, Uwharrie+Blue Ridge, etc.), ending up with nagging injuries during or following the second race. So my focus for Umstead was on a last long training run. No racing!

That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have a few race goals. When you’re not trying for a PR, these are fun to play with, and you can learn a lot. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Run a personal slowest time. My previous Umstead times were 4:21, 4:14, and 4:16.
  2. Run a negative split. I tried this last time but Cedar Ridge had other ideas.
  3. Feel good after the race, as measured by my ability to eat the free Moe’s burrito post-race. I have never been able to do this.
2016 umstead marathon

Definitely the best I’ve ever felt at mile 21-something, at the top of the Corkscrew and about to head down the dreaded Cedar Ridge Trail. Photo by Arvind Balaraman.

Having fun is always one of my race goals, so I didn’t list it here. Because I run for fun!

I’ll cut to the chase with some numbers.

I made all three of my goals, finishing in 4:23 (I was planning 4:30) with a 10:03 pace–averaging a 10:08 pace for the first 14 miles, then 9:55 for the back half. I ran a 9:30 pace for the last 10K, something I did not think was possible since it includes the Corkscrew, Cedar Ridge, and Cemetery Hill (see elevation profile below). Unfortunately, I forgot to record my mile splits, which would have been fun to have. Instead I had to average out my splits for miles 4, 14, 21, and 25 to add the data to my Umstead marathon chart*.

 

Umstead marathon chart

2012, 2013, and 2016 Umstead Marathon splits. Wish I had all the splits for 2016. *Yes, I did this in Excel with splits from my Timex watch. I’m a dork.

The story that the numbers don’t tell is that I had a great time. The beautiful course and camaraderie among all the participants, organizers, and volunteers are what will keep me coming back!

 

A listicle race report from my first 50 miler: Old Glory Ultra

The Old Glory Ultra was my first 50 mile race. I’m still surprised that I completed it and that it went so well. I ran for hours, I had a great time, and I learned a lot of things that I want to remember. However, rather than writing an endlessly long and boringly detailed race report, I settled on a set listicles. Listicles are hot–Buzzfeed-worthy–and I teach millennials, after all. In the end, my plodding, story-telling self became annoyed by the sound-bite format, so if you want a real story, ask me on a long run sometime (by then, the story will be good, though the percentage of truth will undoubtedly decrease).

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Pre-race shenanigans in the Foxfire Country Club.

Pre-race silly shenanigans at the Foxfire Country Club. One of many reasons I love doing races with these guys.

 

8 Facts

  1. The race was the Old Glory Ultra, held at Foxfire Village outside of Southern Pines.
  2. The Southern Pines Ultra Running Club put the race on. They did a great job. Now they’re called ROAM – Runners Of Abundant Miles.
  3. This was my first 50 mile race. It was in an 8-lap format.
  4. The course had 2-3 miles on trails at a nearby park, plus grass/cart paths on the golf course.
  5. I ran 5 laps with Danny, then a lap with Karla, then a lap by myself, then a final lap with Karla.
  6. Jon also ran the 50 and Carolyn paced him for 4 laps.
  7. Karla was 2nd overall female in the 10 miler, and 4th OA!
  8. Running is a team sport. I would not have arrived at the start, much less crossed the finish, without the encouragement and support of my husband Andrew, my kids, Stephen and Simon, and the many miles logged with my Runnerpeeps crew. Y’all rock.
This is what the course looked like at 5:30, 30 minutes before we started.

The course was a bit dark at 5:30, 30 minutes before the start, but the starry sky was incredible. Glow sticks lit the way on lap 1.

8 Numbers

  1. 50 miles = 8 laps x 6.25 mi loops
  2. 10 hours, 11 minutes
  3. 12:13 min/mi pace
  4. I was 6th of 13 female finishers, 24th out of 37 total finishers.
  5. 5 friends = 177 miles total
  6. 4:47 for the first half; 5:20 for the second half (not sure where the extra 4 minutes went)
  7. 25 mi = my longest training run to prepare. 50 miles was my longest weekly mileage. I wish both of these had been better, but lost 2 weeks of training because I was sick. But you don’t need crazy mileage to run ultramarathons.
  8. 5 species of oaks: turkey (Quercus laevis), blackjack (Q. marilandica), water (Q. nigra), post (Q. stellata), and scarlet (Q. coccinea).
Lap 3 done! Danny and I are 18.75 miles in. Weather was perfect for running all day.

Lap 3 done! Danny and I are 18.75 miles in. Weather was perfect for running all day. Photo by Karla.

8 Answers to Questions You Might Ask Me

  1. Yes, 50 miles.
  2. I did it one mile at a time.
  3. Yes, Dad, you have to pay. Fifty-one other people did, too. Don’t ask how much. I got a really nice t-shirt and earned a medal.
  4. Yes, it did hurt after a while. Especially my feet.
  5. I enjoyed the course far more than expected. It was pretty, with lots of visual variety and a couple miles through the woods on dirt—OK, sand—it was in the Sandhills.
  6. The terrain was easy but the course was hilly. So, neither easy nor difficult.
  7. Sure, I’d do it again. I might even run farther.
  8. I enjoy the physical and mental challenge as well as the journey. In the midst of a very busy life, and one that has experienced some stress and sadness lately, I appreciate the luxury of spending a day focusing on a singular, relatively simple task that brings me joy, plus the time to reflect and feel grateful for all that I have.
Star Wars chicken noodle soup. Because everyone needs The Force at mile 25.

Star Wars chicken noodle soup. Because everyone needs The Force after 30 miles of running.

8 Things I Ate
1. Uwharrie cookies
2. Bananas
3. Coconut chocolate chip Clif bar
4. Fritos!!!
5. Gummi bears
6. Salted caramel Gu (2)
7. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
8. Star Wars chicken soup…and more.

8 Lessons or Items that I’ll Remember for My Next Long Run

  1. Sunglasses really helped—have had problems in the past with blurred vision and goopy eyes at the end of long runs (and for hours afterwards). I love the pair I have but they’re very dark—would love a clear pair.
  2. Thinking ahead about what I needed to do at the aid stations helped me be more efficient. I *wasn’t* efficient, but it moved me in the right direction. I might even make myself a checklist for a run with a similar format.
  3. At times I found myself enjoying the conversation and the miles but then suddenly realized I needed to drink water or eat something. The flow is wonderful (and having no concept of elapsed time is a true gift in these kinds of endeavors), but I need to remember to pay attention.
  4. Love my lucky running hat from Ann. I love that she gave it to me, and it’s really excellent. Lightweight, shades my face, reflective, hides my gray hair.
  5. Vaseline. Soooo many uses. No chafing or blisters.
  6. Gin gin ginger chews. They really helped settle a queasy stomach.
  7. Wet washcloth in a ziplock bag. Loved wiping the salt and grime off my face after many miles.
  8. I didn’t like my water options for a multi-lap format. The Fuel Belt was comfortable and I liked mixing one bottle of Nuun and also having plain water, but I grew annoyed trying to fill 3 bottles at the aid station. I switched to a single bottle belt but it was not padded and would not stay put—kept riding up and spinning around. I’m thinking about a belt that is wide and padded and holds 2, 12 oz bottles. With laps, it didn’t make sense to wear my 70 oz. hydration pack.
Packing for a long distance race. I packed 5 hats.

Packing for a long distance race. I packed 5 hats.

8 Things I Wore
1. Pearl Izumi fly shorts
2. Saucony long-sleeve shirt
3. Baleja hidden comfort socks
4. Brooks Glycerin 11s, size 10
5. Moving Comfort rebound racer sports bra
6. Dirty Girl gaiters
7. REI running hat
8. Tifosi sunglasses

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Jon and his star pacer, Carolyn, getting ready for another lap. These races are like a tailgating party. Photo by Karla.

8 Stories, 1 per Lap

  1. Jon says he’s going to run with me and Danny today, then disappears off the front. One guy sprints around everyone on the cart path near the start, yelling “Playing through!” You have to love long distance races—people are always so much fun. Danny and I get lost in the dark woods with two other guys, but we were not as lost as Jon. He appears behind us around mile 4 with some speedsters. Hilarity ensues.
  2. Drop off head lamps; eat Uwharrie cookies, split a banana. Realize that we were idiots for getting lost and bicker about whose fault it was and how much extra we ran. Nickname one woman we keep seeing “Whinypants” and feel sorry for her friends.
  3. Danny continues to introduce himself to fellow racers. “My name is Danny. I’m a Libra. I like long walks on the golf course.” I claim I found him hitchhiking on US 1 and can’t get rid of him. I can’t believe that we’ve run 20 miles already. We get back to find Karla getting ready for her 10 mi race. Carolyn is out pacing Jon. We know he’s been there because there is half a can of chicken and stars sitting on the ground.
  4. We joke around with the race photographers—the results should be good. My stomach is growling. We see hole #15 6 or 7 times. We look for Karla on the 10 mile run and figure out that some of those runners skipped the section through the woods. Eat Star Wars chicken noodle soup at the halfway mark and hope that the Force will kick in soon. I carry so much food out of the aid station that I’m dropping it on the ground.

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    Danny drags me away from the food table to start another lap–5, I think. Photo by Karla.

  5. Neither of us feels great, but Danny thinks I should go ahead. I agree but can’t run fast enough to actually lose him, though I try 3 separate times. Laugh at the ridiculousness of a looping, hilly course. Turtle trying to outrun a fellow turtle. Who cares if I finish the loop 3 minutes ahead? I sure don’t. We are finished with 50K at the end of the lap! Danny says he’s going to take a longer break at the aid station to see if he can get his energy back. He doesn’t fool me.
  6. Karla goes out with me on lap 6. She takes my mind off feeling sick by telling me about the 10 mile race and filling me on how Jon is doing. At the halfway aid station I open my bottle and realize I’d accidentally filled it with blue Gatorade and hadn’t noticed for over an hour. Water has never tasted so good. My shoes are feeling tight, but the conversation makes the lap go by quickly. We finish the lap to find Danny drinking beer. Neither Karla nor I is surprised.
  7. I start the lap feeling horrible, but suddenly, I’m euphoric. I feel great! Can’t tell if it was the bathroom stop, the Fritos, the ginger chew, or some kind of spiritual transcendence. It was my 4th fastest lap, so I’ll take it. There are fewer runners out on the course, since many of the 50K people are finished. I appreciate running solo for a bit to mentally re-charge. I think about the many special people in my life. Then, since I’m in the Sandhills, I start identifying trees. But I can only remember the five species of oaks I saw, plus longleaf pine.
  8. I return to the aid station for the last time but can’t think of anything I want to eat. I know I should eat something. Danny is asking what I need and I honestly don’t know. My feet hurt. Finally I look up at him and the aid station volunteers and say solemnly: “The. DOGS. ARE. BARKIN’.” I grab some Fritos, I think, and Karla and I head out. Just as we’re about to make the turn into the woods, we see Jon and Carolyn who’ve looped back out of the woods, about 20 minutes ahead of us. We cheer at them and head on. I started out feeling excited about finishing, but now I’m just dog-tired. We make the last turn to run by hole 15 and I know the end is near and pick up the pace a tiny bit. I see Jon, Carolyn, and Danny standing at the finish cheering me in and wonder if everyone else has left. Woo HOO! Fifty miles done! The race director hands me a medal and I thank him for a great race. We pack up our stuff and hit a Ruby Tuesday’s for dinner. Jon, Danny and I all order exactly the same thing: bacon cheeseburger with fries and a pint of Sam Adams’ Octoberfest. What a great day with great friends!

    Woo HOOO! Fifty miles and done! Photo by Danny.

    Woo HOOO! Fifty miles and done! Photo by Danny.

OVERDUE: MST 50K Race Report

The MST 50K was at the end of March, enough time lapsing that the details are becoming fuzzy—which might bring some refreshing clarity and conciseness to my overly long race reports. Here’s what I remember:

DISTANCE UPGRADE
I was originally signed for the 12 miler, which I ran last year, but after finishing Uwharrie 20 (another race report that alas, will not be written) without any significant problems, I decided it was time to cross off the DNF from 2013 and finish this 50K. My only regret was missing out on running with some of my favorite running buddies who were running the 12 miler.

TRAINING (OR NOT)
I had to make the distance switch a month before the race. February turned out to be the nastiest month here in Raleigh, with nearly 2 weeks of school out for snow and ice as well as the coldest day on record. So my training wasn’t all that great, but then again, it never is, so I’ve mostly stopped worrying about it. Perfect training will never be my top priority, so I’ll just thrash out there with the weekend warriors and have a good time. I win every time!

coldest day

Feb. 19, 2015 was the coldest day on record in NC. Overnight lows were 12 and the high that day was 23. I put sheet metal screws in an old pair of trail shoes and had a memorable 12 mile run on the MST in the deep silence of winter.

TIME GOALS
This was my second 50K. The first was Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock last fall, a more technical point-to-point trail race with a lot more climbing. I finished that race in 6:15 and felt great. Despite my lackluster training (see above) I thought I could break 6 hours on an easier course.

PACING
The Falls Lake section of the MST is deceptively difficult. It lulls you into a contented rhythm of short ups and downs as you run from Blue Jay Point County Park to the Falls Lake Dam, without any long climbs that force you to walk. This is how I ran the first half without any walking, arriving at the dam in 2:44, with a glance at my watch and an “uh-oh” in my head. Not that you could tell—I was having a great time. I dropped a layer and headed back out quickly, where I saw Jon, Will and Joanna finishing the 12, but missed Steve and Danny who must have been right behind me.

One friend said I looked like a kid on Christmas morning. I love a day on the trails so much, and it was great to see Karla and Amanda at the turnaround!

One friend said I looked like a kid on Christmas morning. I love a day on the trails so much, and it was great to see Karla and Amanda at the turnaround! Photo by Amanda.

My big brothers (from other mothers) nearly caught me at the dam, but I escaped before they arrived.

My brothers (from other mothers) nearly caught me at the dam, but I took off before they arrived. What is the Grinch wearing?! Photo by Amanda.

Complacency on the way out meant chatting and running too fast in the company of other runners. This is what makes trail races great, though. The downside was that I felt crummy after the turnaround. Fortunately Will’s brother John caught up with me and we ran together for a couple of miles, but not before being passed by several women. I take pride in running a strong back half, so I was crabby that I couldn’t run faster.

FINISH LINE EXCITEMENT
Whoever thinks that mid-pack finishers aren’t competitive, or that 50K finishes are as boring and painful to watch as jury selection, should have witnessed the end this race. I started feeling better about five miles out from the finish and picked up my pace, reeling in a few people along the way. One woman, Katie, whom I’d enjoyed running with near the beginning, was well ahead of me at the turnaround. I was surprised to see her again as she lamented that she should have reigned in her pace and was cooked. “Well, we’re only a couple of miles out—let’s get this done” I said, and she tucked in behind me, pushing me to run harder and harder as we approached the finish. I could see we were rapidly closing the gap with the two women ahead of us but wasn’t sure if we had enough distance left to catch them.

Incredibly, the 4th through 7th place women finished within 30 seconds of each other. I was disappointed to be at the back of that group, 7th female of 23. Katie sprinted by me as we headed into the final stretch, nearly catching the woman in front of her. Argh, I hated being out-sprinted! Later, I saw that a) she was in her 20s, and b) I had pulled off a great 50K PR with 5:46. So I got over it.

Exciting finish for a 50K! You can just see my orange shirt behind another woman and Katie. I wanted to catch them BAD!

Exciting finish for a 50K! You can just see my orange shirt behind another woman and Katie, and we were hauling butt.

Whew! Glad that's done.

Whew!

PEEPS RIDE AGAIN
Once again, I was proud of our Peep team results! Our team (where they count your best-5 finishes by gender) placed 3rd behind the Carolina Godiva Track Club and the TrailHeads. Peeps rock!

THANKS
I was thrilled to see Andrew and the boys cheering me at the finish, along with my friend Steve. The finish line area was an open and grassy field, with lots of great food and a relaxed atmosphere to chill out and trade race stories. Thanks to Bull City Running for yet another stellar trail race!

Me and my best pal, who's holding my sweaty gear.

Me and my best pal, who’s nice enough to hold my sweaty gear. Great day on the trails! Photo by Steve.

Something new: Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock 50K race report

I *love* point-to-point trail races. So when a new 50K opened up that wasn’t too far away, I was excited. Some friends signed up, which only made it more enticing. Unfortunately, I’d spent most of the summer nursing what turned out to be a hip labral tear. While getting the uber-fancy fluorescent MRI, I got a cortisone shot, which seemed to settle the pain enough to finish my early fall training. Once I confirmed that it wouldn’t get worse, I signed up for the 50K distance in the inaugural Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock Ultramarathons.

The trails and course were a complete mystery to me, which was exciting. The race organizers promised some crazy tough single-track, but other sections of the website described trails that sounded like Umstead bridle trails. The elevation change wasn’t horrendous, given the mileage. Much of the race was on the Sauratown Trail, part of the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail that I’d never hiked. It couldn’t possibly be harder than Uwharrie and I figured that any easy sections would be a welcome surprise. What I discovered was that the course offered a little of everything.

There were only 2 hills on the 50K. No problem!

There were only 2 hills on the 50K. No problem!

Will, Joanna and I caravanned up to Winston-Salem, where we hit packet pickup at By Foot Sports in King, NC. It poured rain all afternoon and evening. Later, I found out that some of the 50 milers dropped down to the 50K. Then, J and I hit some local attractions (read: bakeries) before having dinner and spending the night at her mom’s house.

Carb-loading is an important part of race preparation.

Carb-loading is an important part of race preparation, and impossible to resist when the original Krispy Kreme is in Winston-Salem. Thanks Mr. Sta-Puff!

Joanna’s mom, Isabelle, was a hoot. She watched us scamper around, while having the inane stream-of-consciousness back-and-forth that passes for conversation between runners when packing and prepping for a race. When Joanna went upstairs to get something, Isabelle leaned toward me and asked, “How far is this race tomorrow?” When I told her 31 miles, she shook her head in wonder. “And why do you want to do that?” She didn’t say it in an eye-rolling, exasperated way. She genuinely wanted to know.

I fumbled a bit, as I always do trying to explain why I love running long distances on trails. “Well, I love being out in the woods—and the chance to do that for most of a day, and nothing BUT that, traveling by trail on my own two feet for a long distance, flying along and covering ground, and seeing beauty everywhere—makes me so happy,” I explained, inadequately. She nodded. I couldn’t tell if she meant “I understand,” or “ah, there are others like my daughter. Maybe she is not crazy.”

I woke up the next morning at 4:30 and wondered groggily how this was required, since the race didn’t start until 8. We had to catch the shuttle ride to the start no later than 6, though, and it was an hour drive. We hit the road at 5:00. One wrong turn and some backtracking and we were suddenly behind schedule. Then, we were lost. Part of my problem was that our plan to stop to get coffee was flubbed by the fact that not a single convenience store in Stokes County opened until 6:00. I drove on in quiet desperation. I don’t need a lot of coffee, but no coffee guarantees an all-day caffeine headache.

Fortunately, we got a tiny window of cell service just as Will called, and we found the Green Heron Club, the finish for the race. We were the last people to jump on the bus that took us to the start. On the way, I ate my oatmeal and wished for some of the black juice.

We arrived at the start in a parking lot just outside Pilot Mountain at the Grassy Ridge trailhead. There were volunteers checking people in, and one of them kindly shared some of her coffee from her own thermos. Race volunteers are the best!

We are off! Me, Joanna, and Will are all in this picture. Cross the road and hit the trail. It's going to be a great day!

We are off! Can you spot me, Joanna, and Will? Cross the road and hit the trail. It’s going to be a great day!

The race started without fanfare, and I wished my buddies good luck. Grassy Ridge Trail was a supremely runnable trail that skirts the east side of the mountains section of Pilot Mountain State Park. It was easy running and the 80 or so runners spread out to start the day. Fall color was about a week ahead of Raleigh, so the oak-hickory forest was gorgeously aflame with reds, oranges and golds. For a few miles I ran and chatted with Michelle, whose longest race before #PM2HR was a half marathon. Wow, so gutsy! Love it!

It seemed like no time at all before we reached mile 10.5, where our drop bags were. I really didn’t need anything so early! I might have changed socks if I’d packed them; we had our first stream crossings already and my feet were wet. As it turned out, that would have been pointless, as we splashed across small streams many times. I dropped off my arm warmers, stuffed some extra snacks in my pack, and motored on.

The least-fun section paralleled a road and had several crossings, and there was a 2.5 mile stretch on a road, which seemed harder than the trails. There were some jaw-dropping vistas of Hanging Rock to keep us distracted. One of the landowners along the trail wanted to enjoy the opening weekend of hunting season, which was good enough reason for me to stay on the road without fuss. Great reminder that much of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes through right-a-ways on private lands, due to the generosity of many landowners. We need to be good stewards and users of the trails.

The morning started cool and foggy but turned warm and humid. I felt really good, and I was having a great race, maybe my best ever—no one passed me after mile 10, and I caught more than a dozen people on the back half, running steadily. This was the first ultra-distance where I raced—not running as hard as I could, because that would be silly, but pushing myself to run at a steady pace, move quickly through aid stations (OMG the RD’s wife made peanut butter rice krispy treats!), and keep my walk breaks short. I had a touch of nausea but a ginger chew seemed to help.

I ran and chatted with three other guys for awhile and one said he was hoping for a 6 hour finish. That sounded crazy, not that I could do the math, but someone else said if that was the case, he’d better move. I was saying I’d be sure to get a PR since it was my first 50K. Someone commented, “that’s surprising, because you look like an ultra-runner.” I laughed—this is what an ultra-runner looks like? A 43 year old mother of two, with an average build, sturdy legs for climbing, and salt and pepper hair? But it was meant as a compliment and I accepted it with pride. Hell yeah I look like an ultra-runner! I joked that we were about to pay for all this nice runnable trail we’d had. And we did, in spades.

Once past the mile 23 aid station, I saw very few runners. We were spread out. I began the tough climb through Hanging Rock State Park. Some extremely rocky trail on the Moore’s Wall and Magnolia Springs Trail, combined with steep climbs, reduced me to a steady hike. Every once in a while the trail would pop out at an overlook with some amazing views. When the going got tough, I’d admire the forest, noticing that the extreme-loving species like Table Mountain pine were there clinging to the cliffs I was climbing.

After the big climb on Hanging Rock, the trail connected to the Hanging Rock summit trail, below the summit. It was disconcerting to have been alone in the woods for over an hour and suddenly share the trail with oodles of hikers and families ambling toward the summit. They seemed surprised, too, to see a runner come flying (well, it felt like flying) down the mountain. “Excuse me! On your left! On your left, please!”

I climbed a short hill to the aid station in the parking lot, panting a little.
“Thanks for volunteering. Is there a bathroom here? What mile is this, anyway?”
“Bathroom is across the parking lot. You’re at mile 27. Fourth female.”
“What, are you serious? Geez, I can’t go to the bathroom now!”
“Well…3rd female is way ahead. I don’t think you’ll catch her.”
“I’m not worried about that! I’m in the old lady division and don’t want to be passed while I’m in a porta potty! I’ll have to chance it!” They laughed, but I was dead serious. I grabbed a handful of chips and headed across the parking lot.

The last section of trail descended through the crowded picnic area and past the waterfalls. Talk about painful. It was steep, rocky, and wet, and my legs were tired and starting to get shaky. It was also crowded, and I called out (politely, I hope) multiple times as I passed that I was finishing a race, hoping that they would not ask where it started. No time to explain!

After the waterfalls, the trail leveled out and it was smooth and beautiful, easy running. In the last mile, there were four creek crossings, which felt refreshing on my tired feet, though I grumbled, “really?”

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What a tired, dirty, sweaty, happy distance runner looks like.

I came out to the Green Heron Club and crossed the finish line. One of the race directors, Jeff, came over to shake my hand and congratulate me on my finish. I was indeed 4th female, 1st masters, with a finish time of 6:15! I was 19th of 72 runners overall, possibly my best overall placing ever. I was thrilled. I didn’t have any time goal, but that far exceeded what I thought was possible.

“How did you like the race? What did you think of the course?” Jeff asked. “It was totally wicked!” He glanced at my face–I elaborated, beaming. “I loved it.”

I loved this race and would do it again in a heartbeat. The course was fantastic, with plenty of challenge, but it was also very runnable. The medals were a cool horseshoe, and I received a nice zippered jacket as my award. The Green Heron Club was the perfect relaxing venue post-race, with places to change (even showers, if you’d brought a bathing suit), a barbeque meal, and draft beer. Many thanks to Trivium Racing for an excellent race!

An interview with Santa following the 2014 Blue Ridge Relay

The Blue Ridge Relay is a 200+ mile race that starts in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia and ends in Asheville, NC. The 12 Things (in various iterations) have been part of the race for four years. We usually finish in the middle of the pack, but we have more fun and team spirit than any team out there. Here’s a link to the 2014 video made by our official videographer extraordinaire, Gordy Blackwell.

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Interviewer: So, you’re a runner now.
Santa: Yep. Doc said that I needed to drop some weight. I wasn’t about to give up cookies, so I bought a pair of running shoes. Now I’m hooked.

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Ho ho ho! Leg 36, 6.8 mi into downtown Asheville. GO BIG OR GO HOME.

INT: What happened to your reindeer?
Santa: Well, PETA was on my case about the overtime, and the vet bills were through the roof, even with insurance. So I retired them and found them good homes. Now it’s me, my headlamp, and a sack of toys. Overhead is so much lower.

INT: How on earth do you run around the world in one night?
Santa: Subcontractors are the way to go these days. Ultra-running has really taken off, so there are all kinds of weirdos who are willing to run all night. They’re happy to get their long run in so they can spend Christmas Day with their families drinking egg nog and foam rolling. And most of them will work for cookies and a cheap medal, though the real cuckoos insist on a belt buckle. Ho ho ho! You can’t make this stuff up.

INT: Let’s talk about the relay.
Santa: The Blue Ridge Relay is great training as we build up my mileage for Christmas Eve. Plus, it gets everyone in the holiday spirit a few months early. The course is beautiful and the race is incredibly well-run. We have a great team—this is our fourth year—and I’d argue that we have more fun on the Relay than any other team out there. We are known for supporting the runners on every team as well as our own with our wacky brand of Christmas spirit.

11 of 12 Things of Xmas at Santa’s Sleigh, a small family-owned gift shop on Leg 4 in Ashe County. We’re now friends with the proprietor, who dresses as Santa every Christmas Eve.

INT: Word on the street is that you threatened a runner on another team during your last leg into Asheville.
Santa: That’s not true. I merely told him that he’d be on my naughty list if he passed me.

INT: Who was that guy in the yellow tights at the start?
Santa: That’s Elf—name is Jeff. Nice guy and great runner. It wasn’t such a smart idea he had, though, running a sub-7 minute pace down the mountain from Grayson Highlands. We call him “Lightning Tights” now.

Jeff start

Elf leads off the 12 Things of Xmas from Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia.

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We missed our team captain, so I put his head on a stick.

INT: What happened to the Grinch?
Santa: Our team captain and fan favorite, the Grinch, will be back in 2015. He’ll be grumpier than ever, of course. Growing up with bad weather and worse food (not to mention England’s performance in the World Cup this year), it’s no wonder he’s a Scrooge.

INT: You really stepped up the decorations on your vans this year.
Santa: Not bad for a team of 8 men and 4 women, eh? We had wreaths, stockings, tinsel, and Christmas lights this year. We also lit up our runners during the night with battery-powered Christmas lights. Adds a lot of cheer and safety, too.

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Festive vans that just got better throughout the race. Unfortunately, team attire did not improve.

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We rocked the Christmas lights in our sleds, errrr, vans, and hung the stockings with care.

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“My arm hurts.” “What?”

INT: Any tips on what NOT to bring?
Santa: I put jingle bells on my shoes for my first leg. Wow, that was an annoying 10K on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

INT: I hear you had the Gingerbread Man on your team.
Santa: Oh ho ho! Yes, he’s one of our speedy Peeps. Sometimes his head gets a little big—you know, “can’t catch me!” and all that. But he’s a great teammate, despite his addiction to scented candles, I mean Twizzlers in weird flavors.

Good help is hard to find in today's job market.

Quality workers are hard to find in today’s economic climate.

INT: There were reports of guys on your team wearing ugly, Christmas-themed shorts. Can’t you enforce a dress code or something?
Santa: Unfortunately, no. These guys work for cookies, so there’s not much I can do. I don’t think we did anything illegal, unless it’s illegal to be too white. There’s just not much sun at the North Pole.

INT: So where were you most sore after the relay?
Santa: My abs are killing me! It’s not easy sucking in your gut for 6.8 miles while people are driving by taking pictures and video.

INT: Oh, come on. Santa is supposed to have a belly like a bowl full of jelly!
Santa: Yeah, sure, and the whole world knows it. Even Santa struggles with positive body image.

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The 12 Things of Xmas finish strong in Asheville, NC!

INT: Will there be a video this year?
Santa: Yes, of course! Our official videographer Gordy is already hard at work putting it together. I’ll post the link here when it’s ready.

INT: What is your advice to folks who are thinking about doing the Blue Ridge Relay?
Santa: Pick great friends for teammates who can be flexible and roll with the unexpected. Drive safely. And don’t forget to soak in the experience, to have fun and to share the holiday spirit along the way.

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31.5 hours, 208 miles, 12 happy and exhausted teammates. 27K feet of elevation gain and an equal amount of loss. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!