Fifty miles is a long way. Duh, right? But even after completing the Dam Yeti 50, I still cannot wrap my head around it. I tried not to write a novel in my attempt to capture the day. Tried being the operative word. But don’t worry… there’s plenty of pictures!
Barry and I headed down to Damascus on Friday afternoon. He would be crewing me on race day, and I was so excited to have him there for my first 50 miler. We met up with Kim and Charlotte and ate some Subway for dinner. From there, we headed over to packet pick up, where we grabbed our bibs, race shirts, and a few extra goodies.
There were several reasons why I chose the Dam Yeti 50 for my first 50 miler. For one, it’s close to where we live. Two, I liked the idea of running it on a rail trail to take technical trails out of the equation (although that ended up presenting its own challenges). But most of all, I hear such great things about Yeti Trail Runners and the races put on by Jason. He has so many special touches – from writing a message on the back of each runner’s bib to standing at the finish line ALL day to greet each runner. He truly wants every runner to have a great experience, and we continued to see evidence of that throughout the weekend. I think it’s safe to say I will be a repeat offender with the ‘Yeti Trail Cult’ in the future.
We also met up with Kelly and her husband at packet pickup. Kelly was running her first 50 miler, too. It was so nice to finally meet her in person, although I felt like I already knew her from interacting through Meg’s Miles. From there, we headed back to Damascus to the house Kim, Charlotte, and I rented for the weekend to settle down for the night.
I headed to bed around 10 PM and did not sleep a wink the whole night! Okay, so I did doze off briefly at one point – just long enough to have some bizarre dream about walking to the race shuttle still in my PJ’s. I got up a little before 4:30 AM, before my alarm even went off. Race morning had finally arrived.
Despite my sleepless night, I was feeling pretty calm on race morning. I had a checklist of things to follow (braid hair, breakfast, sunscreen, etc.) and I just focused on that. At 5:45 Barry drove us over to catch the shuttle.
The shuttle ride took about 30-35 minutes, winding our way up to Whitetop. I’m glad I don’t get carsick! Once we got up there, I saw the very long line waiting to use one of the two bathrooms at the trailhead. So off to the woods I went to find a spot to pee. My pre-race bathroom spot even had a lovely view of a Christmas tree farm!
With business taken care of, I reconvened with Kim, Charlotte, and Kelly. We enjoyed a funny pre-race talk from Jason and before I knew it we were off and running! No turning back now. Dam Yeti was really happening.
I was nervous as we started out, but I was also excited. My plan was to focus on running aid station to aid station, instead of thinking about the race as a whole. I think that’s how you get these things done – one step at a time. It was cloudy, cool, and overcast. The trail meandered in and out of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, as we made our way down the mountain. Being surrounded by the dense forest helped me settle and find some inner peace about the challenge that lay ahead.
I started the race using a 30 minute run / 5 minute walk interval. My main focus was to run conservatively during the first 18 miles to Damascus, since they were all downhill. I didn’t want to have too much pounding on my joints. Before I knew it, I was rolling through Green Cove at mile 3.
I continued to follow my plan, and a little over two hours into the race I was coming through Taylor’s Valley. I arrived at the first aid station just beyond Taylor’s Valley, between miles 10 and 11. I still felt fresh and was running steady. The volunteers at the aid station were enthusiastic. They even offered me Fireball! Sadly, I turned them down. One time, I thought it would be a good idea to eat cinnamon bears while running and it made me sweat profusely. I didn’t want the same thing to happen with cinnamon whiskey, especially with 40 freaking miles still to run. So maybe next time!
From here it was another 7 miles to Damascus – the second aid station and the first time I would get to see Barry. On the way there, my right hip and right upper hamstring started to bother me a bit. It would come in waves, and I hoped it wouldn’t become a lingering issue.
My plan was to arrive in Damascus no sooner than 4 hours, and I came in around 3:57. Good enough!
Barry refilled my water for me while I dropped off my trash, put my next round of fuel in my pack, and reapplied chafing stuff and sunscreen. I think I spent about 4-5 minutes here before heading back out. I also got to see some of my Blacksburg peeps on my way out, which was cool!
As I made my way towards the third aid station at Alvarado / mile 25, I started seeing the 50K runners on their way back. Alvarado was their turnaround, so the further down the trail I got the more runners I saw. We were all cheering each other on, which was fun. It was starting to get warmer and the trail was more exposed through here, so I was happy for the distraction.
I held on to my 30/5 interval for one rotation on the way to Alvarado before switching to an 8 minute run / 2 minute walk interval. It kept me moving well and helped me deal with the heat and the pain that was still coming in waves in my hip and hamstring. We were also running on a gradual uphill now (for the next 16 miles!), so the shorter run segments were more manageable for me.
After mile 22, my right hip and hamstring went from protesting to outright screaming at me. I’m not sure what the deal was, but I was determined not to let it stop me from accomplishing my goal. As I got closer to the aid station, lots of bikers coming down the trail kept telling me “you’re almost to the turnaround!” because it was the turnaround for the 50K. I tried not to let it get in my head, but it wasn’t easy to hear that over and over again before I had even hit the halfway point of my race.
Just before I arrived at the aid station, I saw Kim headed back towards the finish for her first 50K. I knew I would be seeing her soon and I was so excited for her. Charlotte wasn’t far behind me, and she and Kim ended up finishing within a minute of each other. I came into the aid station and got to see Barry again. I was also surprised to see my friend, and fellow Meg’s Miles runner, Selina! She had come down, along with Kelly’s daughter, to surprise Kelly for the race. After refueling, rehydrating, and reapplying sunscreen I was on my way towards Watauga. I also put in a request to Barry to have some Biofreeze for when I next saw him around mile 33 or 34 to try and help my hip and hamstring.
This next five mile stretch of trail from Alvarado to Watauga was the most beautiful. But it was also really hot. Don’t get me wrong, we had phenomenal weather for early June in southwest Virginia. It definitely could have been much worse. But it was so sunny and hot through here and I started to drag.
My roughest section of the race was from miles 27-33. I was still running, but I was cheating on my 8/2 intervals by doing some extra walking. I rolled through Watauga aid station at mile 30ish, where I refilled water and drank a cup of Coke. From here it was just 3 miles to the turnaround in Abingdon, but it took forever!
Despite my fatigue and the heat, it was kind of exciting to hit the 50K mark on my way to Abingdon. Lo and behold, I ran my second fastest 50K time ever during the race!
About a mile from the turnaround I saw Kelly headed back down the trail. She looked strong and confident and I was happy to see her running so well! Then I finally made it to the turnaround where I got to see Barry again. There was no aid station here, but he had provisions for me – including that Biofreeze and some surprise Swedish fish (the best candy)! His parents were also there to crew and cheer me on. Kelly’s crew (her husband, her daughter, and Selina) was still there, too. They gave me some ice, which I put in my bra and against the inside of my wrist with my buff. It felt ah-mazing!!
It was also here in Abingdon that I declared my distaste for peanut butter oat balls. They’re a homemade fuel I’d been using in training (oatmeal, peanut butter, honey, raisins, and dried cranberries). Somewhere past mile 25 I just did NOT want them anymore. But it was more than that. It was like they offended me for even existing. So I threw them down at the turnaround in Abingdon and told Barry not to give me anymore of them the rest of the race. Funny how stuff like that happens during a long run!
With all of that taken care of, I was back on my way down the trail. It felt good to finally be at the turnaround and on my way back towards the finish. There were “just” 17 miles to go! I also totally forgot about having just applied the Biofreeze. I had a moment of panic when I couldn’t figure out why one leg was suddenly ice cold. But then I remembered. 🙂
I was now running on a gradual downhill, and I thought I would start cruising again at this point. However, my quads had joined the protest party and I definitely wasn’t running the way I expected. But I kept moving as best I could.
I also discovered I could charge my watch on the run with a portable charger. The stupid thing started acting up 10 days before the race. So I had this plan in place, just in case, but I had no idea if it would actually work until I tried it at mile 34.
I ran back through Watauga, where I had some Mountain Dew and a couple of orange slices. From there it was 5 miles back through the open fields to Alvarado. I had been running for 9 to 10 hours, and I definitely started to get a little loopy at this point. I would think about eating, drinking, and taking a salt pill. And then a few minutes later I couldn’t remember if I had done any of it or not. The struggle was real.
I won’t lie, it was rough getting back to Alvarado. I was so hot and tired. But I also got to see my watch click over to 40 miles on the way there, and that was really exciting! Apparently I looked pretty rough coming in to Alvarado at mile 42ish. Enough so to worry Barry. But they had popsicles at the aid station, and that made life better. Barry also had more ice for me which helped immensely. I was feeling rough, but mentally I was very much still in the game. Things were starting to feel real. I was really doing this! I had 7-8 miles to the finish, and it was time to get it done.
I’m not sure what happened during this final stretch, but something clicked. Maybe I found another gear or a second wind. Or maybe I just found a new way to embrace the pain and fatigue. I’m not sure. But all of a sudden I was running strong again. I was truly sticking to my 8/2 interval and sometimes I was even running through it. I saw a giant turtle on the trail along the way, but ain’t nobody got time for pictures after 40+ miles of running.
I was running with a purpose in those final miles. It probably wasn’t really all that fast, but I felt like I was cruising and even saw some sub-11 paces pop up on my watch during those run segments. Even so, it felt like a long way back to Damascus. Finally, I saw Barry coming out to run the last mile with me. He was excited to see me running well, and that gave me even more of a boost. I crossed that final trestle bridge and could see the finish and hear my friends cheering me in.
Kim and Charlotte made a tunnel for me to run through, just like my old soccer days, and Jason greeted me at the finish line with a big hug. Running 50 miles was so hard. It was a long day. I was in disbelief that I had finally arrived at the finish line – 12 hours and 10 minutes after leaving Whitetop that morning!
After Jason gave me my medal and finisher’s glass, Barry and Selina had to remind me to actually cross the finish line. Then I was engulfed in a big hug from Barry.
After a few photos, it was time to go in the creek! We’d been running alongside water on and off for much of the race, and all I could think about was soaking my feet in the creek. Charlotte, God bless her, helped me get my shoes and socks off. Surprisingly, my feet fared really well. I didn’t have a single blister. However, I did have heat rash on both of my feet. That was a new one for me, but it was gone within a few days.
After sharing our war stories from the day, Kim, Charlotte, Barry, and I parted ways with Kelly and her crew. I grabbed a shower back at the house, and then we grabbed some dinner at the Damascus Old Mill Inn. We even had a lovely view of the waterfall (photo taken the next morning).
Overall, I had an incredible experience at the Dam Yeti 50 Miler. I think it was the right one for me for my first 50. Running a rail trail definitely presented it’s own mental challenge – especially since I ran on my own the entire race. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this very long race report, Jason pours his heart and soul into these events. He wants everyone to have a successful race.
Fifty miles is a long way. Even sitting here days later, I can’t comprehend it. But even though I can’t wrap my head around it, I still freaking did it. I went through low points and learned how to keep going and push through. I discovered new capabilities in how far I can go. Running 50 miles didn’t hurt more than the 50K’s I’ve run, it just hurt for longer. It was awesome, and hard, and long, and beautiful, and one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.
When you boil it down, it’s ultimately on the runner to complete the race. But it would not happen without the support of others. I’m so thankful for my friends and family who supported me throughout training and who sent me words of encouragement leading up to the race. I’m also grateful for the awesome volunteers at the race who kept me fed, hydrated, and in good spirits throughout the day.
I couldn’t have done it without the guidance and support of my coach, Janice, who got me to a 50 mile finish practically 13 months to the day after getting out of my boot from a stupid stress fracture. And most of all, I wouldn’t have the guts to take on these challenges without the unwavering support of my husband, Barry. He believes in me even when I’m doubting myself. Seeing him proud of me when I reach a new achievement is always the cherry on top of every accomplishment.