It seems like it’s been awhile since I wrote one of these. To be honest, I had my doubts that this race would even happen since we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. And I can’t believe I just wrote that… how is this real life? Anyway, major kudos to Josh and Gina of Mountain Junkies for managing to pull this one off. They had some added precautions both pre- and post-race, at the aid station, and for the runners. But it was nice to sneak in a little normalcy and find some peace in the woods at a race event before further tightening of the belt occurred.
Kim and I carpooled up to Montvale early on Friday morning. I was excited to be headed up to run my favorite Mountain Junkies race, but also a bit apprehensive. Due to some other circumstances going on, I hadn’t gotten a long run on trails in three weeks.
We arrived at the park and picked up our shirts and bibs. Then we hit the bathrooms, grabbed a few photos with our Trail Sisters group, and listened to the pre-race announcement. From there we had about a quarter mile walk to the race start. I was happy to find large rocks in the creek this year – as I think I’m still cold from wading through the creek before the race start last year!
The 10 mile and 5 mile races have a staggered start, so the 10 milers gathered for our start while the 5 mile runners waited to cross the creek. It was a great day for running! It was partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid-40’s. Before I knew it, we were off and running!
The race starts off flat for about the first half mile before starting to climb. Then it’s primarily uphill until the first water stop around mile 1.8ish. Overall, the course has about 1,000 feet of gain, but it truly feels like rolling hills. The trails are also very twisty turny singletrack, which makes it fun because everywhere you look there are runners in the woods. They might be right in front of you, or they could be a mile ahead or behind you.
Pretty early into the race, I settled in with a group of three: Lauren, Lacy, and myself. As it turned out, we ended up running the whole race together. I enjoyed the company and the camaraderie kept me moving.
About two miles in, we started getting passed by the front runners of the 5 mile race which had started 10 minutes after us. The trails are pretty narrow, and it was hard to constantly step to the side of the trail to let them pass. I was so glad when we finally hit the split around mile 4 where the 5 milers headed for the finish and the 10 milers started on our second loop.
We hit the halfway point and I started voicing out loud how I was just not feeling it. I’m usually pretty good about not being negative during a race and not giving a voice to those negative feelings. But I just felt so sluggish. I’m so glad I had my little group to keep me moving! Before I knew it, we were making our second pass by the water stop at mile 7ish (??). I’m not sure exactly what mileage we were at by then. But from there we got to enjoy another downhill.
We hit the split again and this time we got to go left towards the finish! Around this time is actually when I started settling into the run – nearly two hours in! Go figure. I actually felt good and really enjoyed the final two miles.
We rolled along the last two miles and it wasn’t long before we were back down at the creek. Lauren went through the water, but I opted for the large rocks. Then we ran down the grassy area and the paved path to the finish. This stretch always feels a little longer than it actually is. We crossed the line in 2:13 and change.
Almost immediately after crossing the finish line, I was called for third in my age group. Talk about quick turnaround service! Hah! Then I met back up with Kim, who totally crushed it out there. So far this year, she has run two races and both of them were trail races. I think I’ve almost got her converted.
We enjoyed some post-race food and then hit the road to head home. Overall, it was a fun day. I’m so thankful we were still able to participate in this event, as I think it’s going to be awhile before any other races can be held. Time will tell.
The Frozen Toe 10K trail race in Roanoke was the first race of the year for me, and an excellent way to kick off the new year if I do say so myself.
My friend Kim decided to sign up for Frozen Toe as her second trail race ever (her first one was a 12 hour trail race, because she’s all in like that!), so we carpooled up to Roanoke together on race morning. We arrived about an hour before the start time, with plenty of time to pick up our race packets and attend the pre-race meeting. I also met up with my Trail Sisters. Our group had a great turnout for the race!
Just before 9 AM, we lined up to start the race. I think this was one of the warmest Frozen Toe’s on record, with temperatures in the mid-50’s. I chose to run in capris, but I definitely would have been comfortable with shorts.
At 9 AM we were off and running. We did a short section on the road before heading onto the singletrack trails of the Chestnut Ridge Loop. Things spread out a bit, but Kim and I still encountered a bit of a bottleneck when we got onto the trails. Neither of us minded, though. We were out there to have fun and kick off the new year.
It had rained in the days leading up to the race, and we hit some significant mud on the trails during the first mile. I was glad I wore my most aggressive trail shoes, as I was able to run straight through the slick mud without any problems. From there, the trail got rockier and was much drier.
Around mile 2, my feet went completely numb. I think I had my shoes tied too tight. It made running on the rocky trails really tricky, as I couldn’t feel my feet at all. I rolled my left ankle several times, but somehow managed to stay upright.
A little over halfway, we came into the water stop on the course. I drank some Skratch and also tried to loosen my shoe laces. My feet were still completely numb, and I couldn’t run the downhills as fast as I would like. I’m such a slow hiker on the uphills, so I need those downhills to make up time!
A little past mile 4, we arrived at the main climb on the course. In total, the race has about 800 feet of elevation gain. For me, the course has two hills that stick out the most, and the second one past mile 4 is the biggest one.
We switched to hiking and after about half a mile we made it to the top, with roughly 1.2 miles to go to the finish. Kim and I had stuck together during the whole race, and even though I was on the verge of destroying my left ankle I was having a blast running with her.
My feet finally started to wake up during the final mile. But instead of feeling normal, they were a mix of pins and needles and feeling like rubber. It was a really weird sensation to run on. We encountered another section of very sloppy, muddy trail. Once again, my shoes did their job and I was able to run straight down the trail through the slop.
We came out onto the road, hung a right and made our way up to the finish line. We finished in 1:19 and change, which is a 4 minute course PR for me. After the race, Kim and I enjoyed the traditional Mountain Junkies post-race food spread. Always a treat!
So that’s a wrap on my first race of the year. My next race on the schedule isn’t until April. I’m looking forward to spending the next few months running and hiking with friends and exploring some new places.
The Crooked Road ultra took place from November 23-24. Since it was a 24 hour event, it started at 8 AM Saturday and finished at 8 AM Sunday. The course was a 1.17 mile loop at Waid Park in Rocky Mount and the objective was to run as many loops as you could or cared to within the time limit. Anything goes during that time- you can stop whenever, you can take a nap in the middle, or you can go the whole time.
I arrived at Waid Park on Friday evening with plans to car camp. It was my first time ever doing so and it worked out pretty well. The only issue was the book I brought along with me. Turns out a summer camp murder mystery isn’t the best reading material when it’s dark and you’re alone and about to sleep in your car for the first time.
I slept well enough and was up the next morning around 6:30. I did my usual pre-race routine and got ready to run. The atmosphere definitely felt more casual than other races. At 8 AM we were off and running!
8:00 AM – Noon
The first four hours of the race were very pleasant. It was overcast and in the low 40’s. For some reason, I had a headache early on in the race. I got some coffee from the aid station to see if that would help, but it wouldn’t ease off. Mo’s wife, Leah, was set up next to my crew area and was crewing Mo. She also looked after me until Barry got to the race later in the day. So she gave me some ibuprofen, which took care of my headache.
You would think running the same loop over and over again would get boring. But for some reason, I have never gotten bored at the two timed races I’ve done. Maybe they’re just ‘my thing.’ We did have some entertainment at this race in the form of a few objects that kept moving around the course throughout the event.
One of the objects was a little cat statue. Throughout the race, I developed a deep hatrid and resentment of this inanimate object. He was mocking me everytime I ran by because he was all curled up and cozy and could sleep whenever he wanted. I hated that cat. And I still do.
I did have some challenges figuring out fueling early on in the race. We would run by the aid station every 1.17 miles and that was throwing me off. I’m used to having 5 to 10 miles between aid stations and using them as cues to fuel. Since I didn’t need to fuel every time I went by the aid station at this race, I tried to fuel every 3-4 laps. But I kept forgetting when I had eaten. I’m also really bad about hydrating in cold and rainy weather. Both of these would eventually catch up with me.
Noon to 4:30 PM
The forecasted rain arrived around noon and would stay for the rest of the day. At first it wasn’t too bad. I had my rain jacket on and I felt okay.
About five hours into the race, lunch arrived in the form of Papa John’s pizza. I never anticipated eating a slice of pepperoni pizza during a race, but it went down just fine. There’s a side story I have to tell you about the pizza….
Sometimes during long races, I get weird and I lose common sense. Why this happened to me just five hours into this race, I do not know. Maybe it was all the loops. But I had just picked up my pizza and had run with it down to the crew area. Leah was under her tent and I was standing in the rain eating my pizza and talking to her. Then I started getting mad because my pizza was getting wet. Leah kindly suggested I simply step under her tent to get out of the rain, which very quickly solved the problem. I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me… but that’s a good example of how I get during races. I basically become five years old.
Around 2 PM the rain picked up and it seemed like the temperature dropped. Even though my core was warm and dry with my raincoat, my gloves got soaked and my hands started freezing. I changed to a new pair of gloves and then put latex gloves over them to keep my hands warm and dry – an excellent tip I received from Barry. It worked great and I stayed that way the rest of the race. My legs and feet also started to get SO cold, even though I was moving. I thought I would be okay as long as I kept my core dry, but I was finding out I really needed my pants dry, too. I didn’t anticipate how cold I would get from that.
Luckily, Barry would be arriving in the next two hours or so to crew me through the night. So I asked Leah to text him with a request for waterproof pants. I was so cold and wanted to change my pants. But I reasoned that anything I put on would just be soaked within minutes, so I decided to stay in the wet pants until Barry got there.
It seemed to take a long time to reach the 26.2 mile mark. But once I hit that, the next benchmark at 50K wasn’t too far away. Plus I knew Barry would be there soon. I hit 50K as he arrived, a little after 4 PM.
4:30 PM to 11:00 PM
I was so happy to see Barry. I met him at my crew area, where he showed me the Frogg Toggs he had purchased for me. They were exactly what I needed! I picked out the dry pants and socks I wanted to change into and then completed my loop and met Barry over at the bathrooms.
It took me awhile to get changed. It was the first time I had stopped for an extended period of time and I was really stiff. It was also hard putting on dry running tights over wet skin. While getting changed I suddenly felt very nauseous and dizzy. I also used the bathroom for the first time since beginning the race nine hours before and what little urine I produced looked like Coca Cola. Not a good sign during an ultra, especially with 15 hours to go.
I had a game plan going into the race of pacing myself by running no faster than 18 minutes per lap. Thus far, all of my laps had ranged between 17:00 – 20:00. But the lap where I changed clothes took 40 minutes. After that, I completed another loop and stopped back at my crew area again. I was about 34 miles in and still not feeling well at all. Barry was worried about my hydration and wanted me to drink a bottle of Powerade. The plan was for me to sit and drink. But I got really cold and started shivering like crazy sitting there. So instead, he walked a lap with me while I drank. I was mostly staying warm as long as I was moving. I also enjoyed getting to show him the course.
After taking it easy for two laps and drinking and eating, I started to feel better. But then I had to pee every single lap for 4 or 5 laps in a row. I had a lot of slower laps between miles 33-39 due to this. One good thing was that my hamstring started to feel better. It had gotten aggravated at Old Glory and it flared up during the early miles of Crooked Road. This worried me, but I kept going. Finally, sometime between 50K and 40 miles it quit bugging me. I guess sometimes if you ignore something long enough, it does go away. The sun had set during this time and we were plunged into darkness for the next 14 hours. And yea, it was still raining. But they had glow sticks set up around the course and it looked pretty cool.
After the sun went down, things suddenly got very quiet. Dinner arrived at the aid station and I ate half of a McDonald’s hamburger. A lot of people left at this point, probably because of the weather. Sometimes it sprinkled and other times it absolutely poured. There was flooding at the aid station and along the trail where most people had their crew stuff set up. We were going through ankle deep water along this part.
The rain was supposed to stop by about 10 PM, so I focused on that and used it as motivation. My feet were soaked and pruned and they were so tender on the bottom. Every step felt like I was stepping on hot coals on the balls of my feet. And that went on for hours. Barry changed my socks again sometime during this stretch and I almost cried. It wasn’t so much from the pain, but more because I was upset and frustrated that my feet were so painful.
The stretch from miles 40 to 50 was really rough. I had been on my feet for awhile and things were hurting. I was also in a weird no-man’s land where I had covered a lot of distance but my 100K goal still felt really far away. Plus I was SO sick of the rain! There was a lot of grumbling and complaining during this stretch and I was not very pleasant to be around. I think somewhere in this stretch is when my friend Dean flagged me over to the aid station because they had hot potatoes with salt. They were warm and delicious, and definitely helped turn my mood around! Finally, I hit 50 miles a little before 10:30 PM.
11:00 PM to 4:30 AM
This is where things start running together a lot, but I’ll do my best. I was getting a little loopy as we headed into the middle of the night. The course was very simple to follow, especially with the glow sticks. But even so, I missed the left turn onto the bridge and went off course several times. I even did this once with Barry and another time when I was doing a lap with my friend Suzy. Luckily I never went far.
Sometime around midnight, I wanted to go home so badly. I was hearing people talk about how the wind was going to pick up once the rain stopped and I’d had enough. I was too focused on the current conditions and was losing sight of my goal. Luckily, Barry is a rockstar at crewing me. He doesn’t argue with me about what I’m saying and thinking. But he has this way of steering me away from those thoughts and refocusing me on my goal. Sometimes he would simply give me a hug and that was enough. This time it was with some encouragement that it wouldn’t be raining much longer.
The rain did finally stop around midnight and I had a big sigh of relief, believing that we were in the clear. Barry and I gave it a few more laps to be sure, and then I stopped to change into dry socks, dry shoes, and dry gaiters at 1 AM. My feet were totally covered in blisters and they were hurting me a lot. I was also still having the problem where I was instantly freezing the moment I stopped moving. But Barry had a little foot warming station set up for me. Once he got my wet shoes and socks off, he wrapped my feet in a dry towel that also had hand warmers in them. It felt lovely. I think I may have also been drinking a cup of hot chicken broth at this point. I’m not sure, but that definitely happened sometime between midnight and 2 AM.
Just after getting my shoes on, we had another pop up rain shower and it almost broke me. I was so fed up with the rain and I informed Barry that I was not leaving the EZ up canopy until it stopped. Luckily the rain was short lived. I think I also used one of those waterless toothbrushes while I was sitting there, and it was so refreshing. I was worried about how I would handle getting through the night, but I never felt like I struggled with sleep deprivation.
With my dry shoes and socks on, I headed back out. I started playing a game where I grouped loops into sets of 3, while working towards my 100K goal. It made it feel more manageable. My neck also started cramping from using my headlamp so I switched over to a handheld light.
As promised, the wind started to arrive once the rain finished. It wasn’t awful, and I was so grateful to be done with the rain. The wind was just breezy at first, and it was fairly pleasant to run in. But later on we did have some gusts around 15 mph that wreaked havoc with some canopies. I had about 6 laps to go to hit 100K, and I kept playing my 3 lap game.
For the first set of three laps, Barry came with me on the first one. Then I did two more on my own. He joined me on the first lap of the second set of three, and then I had him run the third lap with me as well. I had one more partial lap, and as I made it around to the aid station I hit 100K, just a little after 4 AM.
Reaching 100 km (62 miles) was my A goal for this race. There were definitely times throughout the day where I did not think it was going to happen. Heck, there were times where I didn’t think I was going to reach 50 miles. The weather was just so miserable.
I was having increasing issues with staying warm. So once I reached this point I decided I would stop for a break to try and warm up and to rest my feet.
4:30 AM to 8:00 AM
I was freezing when I stopped at my crew area and my teeth were chattering so hard. Barry wrapped me in foil and had me lay down in a sleeping bag on a beach lounge chair. Leah also loaned us her buddy heater and he set that up in front of me. A big gust of wind came and flipped another tent nearby. Barry and Leah ran over to help get it under control. But all I could do was lay there, shivering uncontrollably, and hope another tent didn’t come flying and hit me.
Once Barry returned and saw that I was still so cold, we decided to put me in the back of my Explorer. I needed to get out of the wind. He ran my car for 5 or 10 minutes with the heat blasting and then I climbed in the back just a little before 5 AM. Barry got me this jump start/power inverter battery as an early Christmas gift and it was a total life saver during this race! He plugged an electric blanket in to it and wrapped me in the blanket and some sleeping bags. We agreed he would get me up at 6 AM. I finally warmed up and stopped shaking and dozed, but never totally fell asleep.
Six AM arrived and it was time to get going again. I wasn’t sure what I would do from there, as I really didn’t have any plans beyond 100K. I knocked out another 5 miles in the final two hours in what can only be described as a feat of pedestrianism.
Seeing the sun rise after nearly a full night of running was a spectacular experience. It’s hard to even describe what that felt like. It was a mix of relief, gratitude, and awe. The sun was up and I was still going. I found some untapped energy (or maybe it was that pancake with syrup I ate at the aid station) and truly ran the last three laps. I also got to see Lauren, who totally rocked her first 50K, and her friend out cheering me along!
As time ran down, every runner that was still on the course was given a popsicle stick with our bib number written on it. We were allowed to go right up to 8 AM and then place our popsicle stick on the ground at the sound of the final horn. They added the extra mileage on from partial laps, which allowed us to maximize our distance.
In total I ran 57 laps, plus a little extra, for a total of 67.418 miles. That’s 17 miles further than I’ve ever gone and by far the longest I’ve ever been on my feet for a race. Those extra miles I ran from 6-8 AM actually bumped me up into the top 20 and I placed 16th overall out of 170, and 6th woman. I’m pretty sure that’s the best I’ve ever done in a race.
Foods eaten during the race: honey stinger chews, oatmeal cream pies, ginger chews, Papa John’s pizza, boiled potatoes with salt, McD’s hamburger, chicken broth, a sugar wafer, half of a Cup O’ Noodles, and a pancake with syrup. Per usual, I did not eat or drink enough during the race and that’s something I need to continue to work on. I had several bouts of nausea during the race and a few times where Barry said I got super pale. But every time I ate or drank something, the nausea always went away and I always felt better.
I anticipated needing music or some sort of distraction at some point during the race, particularly during the “witching hours” from 1 to 4 AM. I had a playlist ready and several podcasts downloaded. Oddly enough, I never desired anything.
I’ve always thought it was funny how runners finishing 100 miles are often wearing such a hodgepodge of clothing. Most of it does not seem comfortable to run in. But after this weekend, I have a better understanding. Staying warm was essential to keep going, at least for me. At one point I had four different jackets on at the same time and it didn’t bother me one bit to run with all of that on. When you find a way to stay warm, you can continue to execute the plan.
The weather made this race really tough, and I’m proud of my accomplishment. But I’ve got to be honest, my curiosity is piqued. I can’t wait to do another 24 hour and see if I can go further, especially under better conditions. Don’t get too excited – nothing is on tap yet.
I actually did not chafe at all during this race, but my feet really took a beating. Running in the rain for so many hours played a big role. But I think other factors included going further than I have before and running for a lot longer than I have before. My feet and ankles were very swollen and painful after the race, and I had a lot of blisters on my toes, the balls of my feet, and my heels. I left all of the blisters alone after the race and aside from the one that ruptured during the race, they all went away.
I am getting better at recovery. I have a new rule of thumb where I take one day off of running per every 10 miles run. In this case, I’m in the midst of six days off. I will probably try for an easy run on Sunday if everything is feeling good.
Please let it be noted: It was crisp and clear on Friday night. Then we had undesirable, and sometimes downright miserable weather for much of the race. But come 8 AM Sunday morning? Crisp and clear again, naturally.
I had so much encouragement and a lot of really helpful advice from friends and family both before the race and during it. I cannot thank y’all enough and know that I could not have gotten through this race without you. Most of all, I definitely would not have finished this race without Barry. He is the best at crewing me, supporting me, and taking care of me.
——— We take on things like CR24 to challenge ourselves. But I’ve recently started to realize that the moment they actually start challenging us, we start wishing for the whole thing to end. What’s up with that? Isn’t this what we came for? To test ourselves? At CR24, I attempted to make a mental shift. I definitely still went through several lows. But instead of checking out, I tried to remember to embrace the challenge and stay with it. I reminded myself that I was lucky to have this opportunity, and to be grateful for the ability to do what I love. I reminded myself that this experience is what I came for.
Sometimes I simply asked myself: Where else would you rather be? Maybe somewhere warm, dry and comfortable… But those moments where everything hurt, where my brain was screaming at me to stop, where it’s taking all of my willpower to keep moving – that’s living. When else do I get to be in a situation like that, where I get to explore the outer reaches of my physical and mental capabilities? That was why I was there. The next time you hit a low in a race ask yourself: “Where else would I rather be?” I look forward to the next time I get to ask myself that question.
Another Richmond race and another Meg’s Miles weekend in the books! It’s a busy weekend from the time we arrive in Ashland on Thursday evening to the time we depart on Sunday afternoon. I’m always exhausted afterward. But I also always come away with a full heart, an invigorated soul, and a some new friends. The Meg’s Miles family is like none other.
My running buddy, Kim, and I hit the road for Richmond on Thursday evening. Friday morning was the group Memorial Run, followed by coffee.
From there, Kim and I hit the race expo to get our packets and later enjoyed the Meg’s Miles pre-race pasta dinner. Then it was off to bed in preparation for race morning.
Per usual for race morning, we were up super early. It was a cold morning, with temperatures in the 30’s, and we were expecting some windy conditions during the race. I hate being cold, but I was ready to run and looking forward to the race.
I’ve run Richmond at least five times now, so I’ve got my pre-race routine here down pat. It’s fun to go run a new race, but it’s also really nice to be familiar with a race and know exactly where to go for bag check, the porta-johns, etc. So I took care of all of that and then lined up in my wave for the start.
The race started at 7:30 AM. I was in the 7th wave, and was off and running at 7:44 AM. This race is so familiar to me and always feels like an old friend. As we started out down the road, I soaked it all in and enjoyed the camaraderie and excitement around me.
As we made our way through downtown Richmond in the early miles, the wind wasn’t a huge factor. The wind was around 10-12 mph and we would get blasted from the side by the wind at each cross street, but it wasn’t awful. My legs felt fresh and I settled into a very comfortable, conservative pace.
We headed down Broad and took a right on Boulevard. Then it was up a little hill over a bridge and towards the out and back in the neighborhood. I always like this little half mile out and back, which gets us to mile 4 in the race. But I don’t like the stretch between the out and back and Bryan Park. For some reason, I always feel a little bored. The spectators were out in force, though, so I entertained myself by looking at their funny signs: “Always give 100%, unless you’re giving blood” and “Marathon today, Netflix Marathon tomorrow,” etc. That helped pass the time so we could get to my favorite part of the course: Bryan Park.
As we headed into the park, we saw other runners headed out of the park. I like little sections of a race course like this where you get to see other runners and can cheer each other one and high five. From there we headed downhill into the park. There aren’t any spectators in the park and it gets really quiet and peaceful. That’s why it’s my favorite part of the course. We hit the 10K mark through here and then went up a couple of hills on our way out of the park.
I was using an 8 minute run/2 minute walk interval to keep my pace in check. With another big race this coming weekend, I wanted to finish Richmond between 2:30-2:35 to ensure I didn’t run too hard. As we came up out of the park, I started to feel a little fatigue. But I hit another walk break at that point and felt completely recovered after.
From here, we headed over towards the long stretch down Brook Road. This is a 1.5 mile stretch from mile 9-10.5 or so that’s just straight and always feels kind of long. But this year, since I wasn’t racing, I chose to take advantage of the various free libations being offered to those who were 21 or older. 🙂 That passed the time (and warmed me up some in the chilly, windy weather!).
Finally we were off of Brook Road and headed back towards downtown and the finish. The party starts to pick up again, and I was starting to smell the barn. I had to focus on not getting excited and keeping my pace in check the final 5K.
We made the final turn onto 5th street and hit the big downhill to the finish line. I let loose a little here and it felt good to run hard to the finish. I crossed the line in 2:34:15, right where I wanted to be. Then it was time for some pizza and dry clothes, because it was windy and freezing in the finish area!
Following the race, I hung out at the finish line with the Meg’s Miles group and cheered on other runners. We were all freezing, and after about 3 hours we walked back to the car and headed for the hotel. It felt so good to get out of the wind! We had a little downtime, where I watched the Hokies dominate against Georgia Tech, before a group dinner at the Hanover Tavern.
We ended the weekend with church on Sunday morning, followed by lunch. I’m not sure how we fit so much into one weekend, but at the same time it flies by and never seems like enough!
The Old Glory Trail Runs took place on November 9 at the Kairos Wilderness Resort in Glen Lyn, VA. The race name is significant, as the race is held on Veteran’s Day weekend to honor our veterans. Runners have the option of running the 10K, half marathon, or 50K distance. I opted for the half marathon, as did Barry.
I have to admit, I was nervous about this race. I’m at a point where I definitely feel like I can run a half marathon on any given day. But this wasn’t any ordinary half marathon – this was a challenging trail half marathon. The race website advertised technical trails, several stream crossings, and lots of climbing and descending.
I was kind of a mess heading into this race: I wasn’t nearly as prepared for the climbing as I would have liked; I was in the process of getting over a sinus infection; and earlier in the week, I had two ribs out of place which were now being held in place with KT tape. The irony is from a running standpoint, for once, I was feeling good… no lingering injuries, no “niggles.” So I guess you could say things were kind of up in the air. To add to that, UltraSignup had my predicted finish time at 5:28. I thought that sounded ludicrous – no way it would take me that long to run a half! It turned out to be closer to accurate than I anticipated…
Barry and I were up bright dark and early to make the hour drive to race headquarters – “Ed’s Place” at Kairos. We picked up our bibs and prepared for the race start at 8 AM. It was in the mid-20’s, with sunshine and a light breeze. Cold, but overall a great day for a race.
About 15 minutes before the start, we had a pre-race meeting. As in the pre-race emails, the race director, Steve, reiterated the importance of keeping our eyes up to watch for signage and course markings. This is often the message for trail races, but for this particular race it would be easy to get off course if you’re running with your head down. However, I felt like the course was well-marked and as long as you were paying attention, there wasn’t any reason to end up off course.
Before the race, I met up with Chitra, whom I had last run with at the Blacksburg Classic 10 Miler in 2012 or 2013. It was awesome to reconnect with her again. We decided it would be fun to stick together during the race. We all gathered in front of Ed’s Place (about 50 runners total between the half and 50K), listened to a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, and were off and running at 8 AM on the dot. We headed down the gravel road a short way before veering onto the trails. Within the first mile, we came to our first overlook at a powerline cutout. It was gorgeous!
The first part of the race course was fairly mild, in terms of hills. Chitra and I ran and hiked along at a steady pace. We wanted to conserve our energy because we suspected it was going to get much tougher later – and we were right! Since it’s mid-November, the trails were leaf-covered and we had to be very careful not to roll an ankle from the hidden roots and rocks on the trail. We even found ourselves often hiking the downhills because the trails were so rugged.
The race course wound through the woods, and around mile 4 we ran by the field where we parked and the campground next to Ed’s Place. My fingers and toes were really cold at the start of the race, but were finally starting to warm up. We got a glimpse of the finish arch as we continued through the woods. Around mile 5.5, we arrived at Aid Station 1 (“Foxtrot”). I grabbed a PB&J square and Chitra and I kept moving. We were headed out on a large loop that would bring us back to the same aid station. On our way out, we got a peek at the hill we would have to tackle upon our return- but no need to worry about that now. In front of us lay a wide, smooth downhill where we were finally able to open up a bit and really run.
This was one of four downhills in the race where I truly got to run and make up some time. It was also another really beautiful section of the course, as we spilled out at the bottom onto a creek bed.
The race course took us back and forth between Virginia and West Virginia. This section of the course is where I started to understand the significance of running on trails that were designed for ATVs and dirt bikes. Every climb we went up was steep, and pretty much went straight up (often 12-36% grade). Fun fact: Four wheelers don’t use switch backs. It’s very different running on trails that were designed for four wheeling/dirt biking than it is to run on trails that were designed for mountain biking/hiking/running/horseback riding.
I knew there was going to be a lot of climbing in this race. It’s always hard to look at an elevation profile and truly comprehend what you’re getting into. I’ve run races with similar distance and elevation gain, however the Old Glory trails were in a class of their own. But let me tell you, the scenery was gorgeous. There were so many times that Chitra and I looked at each other and said “wow, this is beautiful!”. The course really showcased the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
As we made our way up one of the hills, Barry and several other runners were on their way down. He looked good and was running strong, and we high-fived on the way by. We continued climbing up and were rewarded with some beautiful views. I loved this part of the trail, as it ran along the ridge with the New River off to our right.
Somewhere through here, we went up a hill that was so steep I actually took a couple of breaks while hiking up it. Around mile 8 we arrived at the second official overlook on the course. It was gorgeous and the photo just doesn’t do it justice.
There was some more downhill that we once again tackled with a mix of hiking and running. And then we arrived at the first of two hills that have their own name on the course. Mile 9 – welcome to Asses and Elbows. Photos never do this stuff justice. But just trust me, this hill was steep. It was the kind of steep where if you leaned too far back, you were going to find yourself back at the bottom. Luckily I only climbed it once. However, this is the point in the race where both of my quads and my right hamstring started cramping. I think the cramping was primarily from being ill-prepared for the climbing. I took a salt pill at the top of the hill and hoped it would help.
This was the last part of the loop, and we were now on the downhill where I had seen Barry awhile ago. On our way up, Chitra and I totally thought we would run this downhill. But once we made it back there, we couldn’t figure out why we thought we would run down it- too steep and rocky! A pair of dirt bikers rode by us here – the only ones we would see all day. Then it was back along the creek and up the trail to get back to the Foxtrot aid station around mile 10.5ish. I refilled one of my flasks with water and also drank half a cup of Coke. Now it was time for that hill I mentioned earlier, which happened to be the second named hill in the race: Freakin’ Ditch.
Upon seeing the ‘expert only’ sign on the tree (which did not have to do with the race) I yelled to the aid station volunteers “I am not an expert, I need to come back down.” They laughed and cheered me on as I begrudgingly faced the hill. It was another hill that forced me to stop several times to take breaks, and also triggered more cramping in my quads. I would choose a tree in the distance, focus on getting there, and then take a small break before repeating the process. The trail led us up to a road. We were almost to mile 11 and feeling like we should be about done. We ran by a sign directing the 10K runners to head to the finish. A different sign directed half and ultra runners back into the woods.
Here, we ran down an awesome downhill into a sort of ravine area. The trail followed a creek as we headed into another loop section. We went up a very steep hill to the high point on the course, and then onto a section called “the donut.” From there we had another nice, long downhill.
I lost my bearings several times during this race, and it basically broke my heart when the downhill trail led us back into the ravine. We were so close to finishing the race, and now we would have to climb back up this massive hill that we had run down around mile 11. I guess it was the only way to get to the finish line. But you could see straight up the hill to the top, which crushed me. It was at this point that I decided I was going stop right there, and live the rest of my life in the woods at the bottom of the hill. That sounded like a better fate than climbing up it. So dramatic, right? It was a nice thought, but then I got back to business, using my tree to tree climbing method. My quads and hamstring cramped again really bad on the way up this hill.
For reference, the above photo was taken about halfway up the climb and the pink arrow shows where we were headed:
Here is the elevation profile for the course. That last spike on the far right is the final hill en route to the finish.
We made it back onto the gravel road and I saw my favorite sign of the day: “To The Finish!”. And off to the finish I went, down the gravel road. I veered off the road and had to run up one final hill in the grass to get to the finish line. I mean, at this point, what’s one more hill right?
Barry cheered me on, and I crossed the finish line and got a high five from Steve. I finished the race in 5:11, about an hour longer than I anticipated. But hey- I beat that UltraSignup prediction by 17 minutes! Take that! It was a tough day, but I really enjoyed Chitra’s camaraderie and I look forward to running together again soon.
The race did end up being longer than a half. We were warned it was closer to 14 miles in the pre-race email. I know that GPS isn’t the most accurate in the woods, but I measured 15.15 miles. Hard to say what the true distance is, but I think you could easily call this race a 25K.
After recovering a bit and getting some dry clothes on, I wandered back over to the finish area to enjoy some post-race food. The chili and cornbread were perfect for a cold day. There was also coffee, hot chocolate, seltzer water, plenty of beer, and s’mores fixings available for the runners. I have to say, this is why I love small races. They always feel more personal, and you get special touches like homemade chili and fire pits to hang out around at the finish.
Overall this was a strenuous, demanding race. But thats why we do these things, right? To test ourselves. We wouldn’t want it to be easy. Sometimes people refer to very tough trail races as “graduate level races.” In line with that, I would call Old Glory a “college level race.” I would not recommend this race for your first trail race. But with a little experience under your belt, this event is a great place to challenge yourself. Solidly Type 2 fun.
"I've opted for fun in this lifetime" -Jerry Garcia