Information for the Blue Ridge Marathon and other Distances

The Blue Ridge Marathon, which I have run 3 times and was my first ever marathon distance race, is a fabulous and stunning course in more than one way. The Blue Ridge Marathon (BRM) is a USAT certified course and is a Boston Qualifying event (which is usually not something people shoot for here). The course has 3,700+ feet of vertical gain and loss (7,400+ total), which traverses over three peaks throughout the course. But, it’s not always about how much elevation change occurs, but where it occurs, and this is where training strategy comes in. A course where you run steady climbs and falls is much different from a course that has fewer larger climbs and longer downhill sections, and will eventually take a toll on the hamstrings and quads later on in the event. Some people say that it’s harder going down at the end than it is ever going up! I heard it on course myself several times! The BRM has the most elevation change in any road marathon in the US, which gives it its Toughest Road Marathon title. Sure there are loads of newly forming downhill marathon courses cropping up these days, but going downhill all the time is boring. The BRM offers so much more and the locals make sure it’s special.

A little more about the course. The course is all road with the exception at the top of Mill Mountain near the City of Roanoke Star, where there is a very short section of dirt/gravel path as you make your way around the front. The course runs a large majority of its miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s most visited National Park. Something useful to note, because it does run along the Parkway, the roads are slanted usually according to the slopes of the hills they run along, meaning your hips can be unaligned tilting left or right (where one leg is shorter than the other because of the slope of the road). A lot of people are not prepared to deal with that over that many miles, and something I experienced the 2nd time I did the marathon after not being able to train on the course. I would suggest doing some hip strengthening exercises and cross training as part of your regular regime. I am an RRCA certified coach, so I know a thing or two when it comes to these things 😉 Feel free to reach out to me!

Now I’m going to walk you through the course from my perspective. This is definitely the most beautiful and scenic road marathon I’ve ever done. And if you haven’t read my blog, I’ve been to quite a few places, as that is what I love doing.

The Blue Ridge Marathon Course

BRMThe BRM starts out in downtown Roanoke, giving you a small city vibe, surrounded by tall building and full of a hype crowd. You immediately head towards Mill Mountain first (that’s the one with the Star on top!) taking a left onto Walnut. Oh Walnut. You start out getting in a bunch of gain after your one mile warmup. Walnut is no joke and my suggestion is to take it slow, take in what’s around you even though you may be surrounded by hundreds of people! One of my favorite things is being able to look up Walnut at all the people in front of me in the morning sun. Walnut takes you to the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds up the side of Mill Mountain. You are still climbing here, seeing the sun peak through the trees on your left. At almost 5k in, you reach the top of this climb where the crowd will thin out as the half marathoners head up to the peak of Mill Mountain and you get to shake out a bit as you move onto the rolling hills that lay between where you are now and the climb to Roanoke Mountain.

A few spectators make their way out here typically every year to cheer everyone on. Upon arrive at the base of the Roanoke Mountain climb around mile 5, there are usually a few spectacle surprises, I won’t spoil them here! I consider the climb up Roanoke Mountain to be the hardest of the three big climbs, maybe because it’s the longest at nearly 2.25 miles. You will likely meet a lot of fellow runners under the same struggle, doing a walk-run or walking as fast as possible! Don’t be discouraged by pace, as what goes up must come down, always a rule of thumb with the Blue Ridge Marathon that I love. There are two overlooks for Roanoke Mountain and the first ones on course you come to. More than likely if you want, you can get someone to take your picture up there, or just shoot a quick selfie. There is a great aid station up there as well! I typically lose a bit of time here taking it all in 🙂

Don’t let the first overlook fool you, there is a bit more climbing to do before the very tip top of Roanoke Mountain where another aid station awaits you and more beautiful views! Now get ready for the first real downhill section of the race!! With about 2.5 miles of screaming downhill, brace your quads and try not to burn them out too soon. It’s a hecka’ lotta fun, as it’s one of my favorite sections. Not too scenic, just trees around you, so you can really focus on what’s in front of you and go as fast as gravity will lead you. Remember, on long downhills try not to heel strike too much as this braking motion might do more harm than good. Lean forward a little and engage your core here for more control. Back at the base of Roanoke Mountain, the spectators usually return for a quick jaunt down the Blue Ridge Parkway road to return you back to those lovely rolling hills taking you back to where you left the half marathoners heading up Mill Mountain, this is almost mile 12 here, half way there almost!!

The climb up Mill Mountain at this point is very short, but also very steep. Keep your eye on the prize, for at the top here you will get to see the Roanoke Star and a view of the entire Star City (Roanoke) and beyond on a clear day. There is an aid station up there to keep you going (I haven’t mentioned every aid station, as they are fairly often, generally every 1-1.5 miles from my experience and well stocked, and I’ve never had to carry my own water). If you miss any of the great views, you can always see them after race day on your own, celebrate with some pictures if you’re into that 😉

And get ready for the reward again, and head down Mill Mountain, past the zoo there, and view some lovely properties along the way as you see Roanoke to your left on your way down. Somewhere in this section you may find Moomosas (and orange juice for the nonalcoholic people like me, which is really tasty). This path leads you down to the Roanoke River Greenway, a pretty flat section of the course, as you are able to look back to where you came from atop Mill Mountain from here. Usually you will find the local Fleet Feet aid station ready to welcome you with their own flair here. Now get ready  to be greeted by more locals as you head into their neighborhoods and prep the legs for the final climb: Peakwood.

Peakwood is usually considered by most to be the hardest climb, probably because of where it is located along the course, around mile 17, usually when people start hitting “the wall”, and how steep it is in sections. Be prepared for several families to have their own makeshift aid stations for you in the neighborhood and maybe even some people playing music for you as you make your way up this hard section. I remember my first year doing this is was hot, in the 80s, and there was a little girl who was giving out watermelon on sticks…it was the best moment and the tastiest watermelon I’ve had. Now, the peak of Peakwood, get ready for (usually) the Fink’s aid station! Sometimes you find sprinkler showers, champagne, fruit, sunblock, so much stuff! This is it! This is the final peak! Treat yourself, you’ve earned all of it 😉

Now the descend. The final big one. By this time, you are generally very tired of going up and down so much. You quads may be talking back right about now. But never fear, the end is near as you make it to 20, then 21! Along this path, if the sun is out, be prepared for the sun to beat down your back, take note if you think you need sunblock, remember to take the aid station up on that reapplication! The bridges you cross will radiate some heat back at you as you begin to re-enter the city, Mill Mountain passing on your right.

Hey, this looks familiar? You might hear some crowds off in the distance. You’re not going crazy, the finish line is ahead of you now, and no, you didn’t get lost, but you will come very close to the finish line area around mile 22. It’s just a teaser.

Back to the greenway. From here, things have calmed down, there are a few smaller and rolling hills left, nothing you can’t handle. You head into Wasena Park and out past Black Dog Salvage. Just a few more turns around downtown and the race is yours. You might be thinking at this point, “another hill?” But I assure you they aren’t as bad as what you just did, it’s all perspective! Be on the lookout for the sign “Jesus Saves”, and you’re almost there. Luck Ave. will have you traveling back to the finish in no time. Hit mile 26, you got this. It’s all downhill from here. Literally, the finish is downhill! The crowd is waiting for you as you make your way down into Elmwood Park off of Bullet Street, almost like a red carpet finish with the red bricks lining your way! And that’s the Blue Ridge Marathon!

Now, what are the best methods to tackle this seemingly daunting course? Hills and more Hills. I would say it is important to get in a hill workout once a week. Practice what you want to perform. If you plan on run-walking the hills, set an interval for that. If you plan on walking fast, practice walking fast and get a pace goal for that. Going up never gets easier, you only get better at it. Going down can get easier. I talked a lot about your quads, and the best practice to getting your quads in shape is to literally practice bombing downhills, meaning try and run them hard and fast putting pressure on the quads, and engaging that core. Remain upright. Posture as though you are being held up by a string attached to your head. A lot of people practice and prepare for the climbing but not the descending. And yes, it’s easier to prepare for climbing, for even if you reside somewhere flat, you can get some good quality climbing even without the stairmaster at the gym (or treadmill) by finding a tall building, like a hospital or stadium with bleachers, and do stair climbs there.

For training downhills, find the longest and steepest you can in your area to practice with and become good buddies with it. Road or trail, although road is preferred because you can more so mimic the marathon course. Sometimes trails can provide more climbing and descending than local roads or are in safer areas. For downhill specifically, you can do a lot of body weight exercises in lieu of a missing hill.

I mentioned the slope of the roads. They are a factor and nontrivial. Make sure you get in a crosstraining day for that specifically! Get those hips working! Otherwise, you probably can follow any traditional marathon plan to get you nice and ready. You have 7.5 hours for the marathon, that’s a minimum pace of 17:10 min/mi.

Blue Ridge Half Marathon Course

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And the BRM doesn’t only offer the marathon distance, no, they also have a freaking hard half marathon! Here’s the difference the half marathon course takes…

Follow the above to mile 2.5 where the marathon splits from the other distances on Mill Mountain. The half marathon continues the climb from the start up to the top of Mill Mountain where the Star is! And this is brutal, just after the 5k mark you reach the top! And right after the amazing view over the Roanoke valley, you head down your first of two descends right down to the greenway to head right on over to Peakwood. The Half course never seems to catch a break. It continues the marathon course from the top of Mill Mountain to Peakwood and back down that to Jefferson. The difference here is instead of that little teaser of the finish line the marathoners have, the half marathoners get to head straight for the finish area down Jefferson. Huzzah!! Two mountains for the half marathon, skipping Roanoke mountain and the tour through the downtown area and Wasena Park.

The half has almost 2000 feet of gain! The minimum pace for the half is 27:30 min/mi, that’s a 6 hour cut off time.

The Star City 10k Course

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Everyone starts the course at the same place, and finishes in the same place. Not ready to tackle the half or full? The Star 10k gives you the Roanoke Valley overlook, the same way the half and full do and comes right back down the switchbacks of Mill Mountain, fast fast fast! At the intersection at mile 5 with Walnut, oh how we all love Walnut!, you head back in the final mile to the finish the same way you came up. And Voila, you’re there!

You get 861 feet of gain on the 10k course alone. Take all the time you need, and even walkers are encouraged to join in on the fun 🙂

What else?

I am personally signed up and doing the Blue Ridge Double Marathon. It was a low key unofficial event back in the day, and is now official with finish times and everything! What is it? Do it twice. You start at 1am and do the course without much aid (aid stations are closed), a headlamp, and safety gear, to get back around by the time race starts officially for everyone else and then meet all the time cutoffs. The first cut off is 7:30 when the race starts for everyone else, and the same time cut off as everyone else for the second lap. 16:20 min/mi is the minimum pace. There are a lot more rules associated with this distance if you are interested, please see the official site for details (Double Marathon).

I highly recommend this course as challenging as it is, it brings forth great reward for your efforts, and Roanoke is a very friendly city with many things to do and see. Some of my favorite things are within driving distance are listed below:

Homestead Creamery (locally sourced food and ice cream), located at 7254 Booker T Washington Hwy, Wirtz, Virginia: Homestead Creamery

Sharp Top Hiking and Picnic area and Lodge (Peaks of Otter in Bedford, VA): 85554 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Bedford, VA 24523: Peaks of Otter Info

Grandin Roanoke area Pop’s Ice Cream Shoppe: Pop’s Ice Cream

Tanglewood and Valley View Malls, Roanoke, VA

Mill Mountain Zoo, Mill Mountain Spur, Roanoke, VA 24014: Zoo

McAfee Knob Hike, Mcafee Knob TrailHead, Catawba Valley Dr, Catawba, VA 24070: McAfee Knob

National D-Day Memorial, 3 OVERLORD CIRCLE, BEDFORD, VA 24523: D-Day Memorial

And loads of wineries and farms to look up and visit! I will update this list as I think of more. For any questions about anything in this or if I need to be more clear on certain things, please contact me! I have a discount code for any of the race distances 🙂

Table Rock Ultra 50k

Table Rock Ultra 50k – September 22nd, 2018, first day of fall!

The journey all began with a freak out, well ok, a massive one, about my upcoming 100 miler, the Cloudsplitter 100 out in Virginia, with 26,000+ feet of climbing and descending, 40 hour cut off, my 2nd attempt at 100 miles. I went out in Wisconsin for the largest hills I could think of, up at Devil’s Lake State park, and went for a run. Upon seeing the stats for the run, I started freaking out when I only managed 880 feet of gain, most of which were up super technical rock stairs (that were way too slick to consider running, I didn’t want to slip up and die). I guess during the race, the massive hills there up the east bluff weren’t all that bad in retrospect. With my mood deteriorating, I went out to Barlow Road, what is now on the “old” Ironman Wisconsin course, and the same Barlow hill I did during my IMWI in 2017…the worst hill. I was planning on doing repeats, but with the mosquito resurgence and them forming an army to carry me away with the recent flooding in Madison, I only made it up and back down once. The hill wasn’t long or steep enough for climbing practice, and it was all road, which would not necessarily help on the trails covered in rocks and roots, but the descent was what worried me. I usually could flat out bomb the downhills, any race, any hill, any day. But that day, I had trouble controlling my strength going down. I ended up crying not knowing what to do. I could get plenty of climbing, although not fun at the local gym, but I couldn’t get my legs ready enough (in my own mind where I typically get trapped inside) for those descents at Cloudsplitter which I knew were going to be steep and LONG. Heck, the last 5 miles are all steep downhill and I want to do those proudly. I know my coach, Scott, would still have me prepared if I had stayed in Wisconsin, but I had the time and means to head back home to Virginia early. Within a few days of those runs, I was packed and ready to make the long 13.5 hour drive back home…but mother nature had other plans. Slightly delaying my departure, there was hurricane Florence, or Flo for short, busting out heavy rains and wind down on the mideast coast. I started researching races in the area for the next two to three weeks within a 3 hour driving radius, cause you know, driving a little more would be so much fun.

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Table Rock Mountain

I came up with the Table Rock Ultra 50k, about 3 hour drive into North Carolina. Oh, they’re sold out. I headed to their facebook page to see when the sell out occurred since the cap on the race was 400 people (which, to me at least, was a lot of people for a trail race). They sold out within three days of opening registration. Haha, I thought to myself, and put myself on the wait list then messaged them on facebook asking what the chances were of getting off the waitlist. In the meantime, I found another 50k, which looked super cool: the Cumberland Trail 50k out in the middle of nowhere Tennessee. I would have loved to do this one, but the 5 hour drive time did not amuse me when I had just gotten to Virginia two days before the race. I began mentally preparing myself for that drive if it came to it. I could not find a shorter distance race for that weekend, and asked for a blessing from coach. I got the blessing, with conditions of course. I was facebook messaged back about the Table Rock wait list and they said my chances were not good at all, and I greatly appreciated them being honest with me. I canceled my wait list registration.

I headed out around 7:35am from Wisconsin, hitting morning traffic on the beltline (yuck), and made it out to the Milwaukee area for a short meetup with Andrea. Bless her soul for letting me borrow her hydration bladder…which I forgot…again. She also handed me some goodies for anti-chafing and our postcard for good luck. Upon receiving it, I felt like I had more luck this time around. I headed out again. Around 2-3pm, depending on which time zone I was in at the time, I was on the boarder for sure, I stopped at a Wendy’s (and let me tell you, there is NO food basically from Chicago to Ohio so I waited a long time for this particular stop), and checked my notifications on facebook and email. A friend of mine, Heather, had replied to my post about races saying that Table Rock Ultra had just opened up 10 slots for their race because of a mass dropout (I am assuming from hurricane Flo). I pulled into a parking space and went to re-register. My heart rate shot up, I was doing this without counsel or thinking much…I never do this. I was just glad to have a spot! Besides, there had to be a real good reason why this race sold out so quickly. I got back on the road and found my chicken sandwich was really a double cheeseburger tainted with pickles. UGH. I tried to eat it, but I just didn’t have it in me to eat it and I was too far down the road to go back. The rest of the long drive back was uneventful for the most part, getting a little moist in the eyes when I hit West Virginia and saw the mountains on the horizon.  I at least got to see them before the sun went down. The sunset was amazing, but because I was driving on the last highway I’d see that day, I couldn’t stop. I arrived after midnight, a little later than I had planned, oof.

throw me out

With a rock solid sleep that night, I woke up with some bad neck pain…yeah I got injured again while sleeping and turning my head hurt. I went out for a run anyway, it was too pretty and too close not to take a spin down my old training grounds. I headed out to Mill Mountain. It was hot. The humidity of the east coast gently reminded me the humidity in Wisconsin isn’t as bad. And here I thought it was bad this year. I was proven wrong a lot that day. The climb up was tough, getting about 700 feet in 1.6 miles. The descent was way worse than I imagined. I was getting a side stitch on BOTH sides, my neck twitching in protest, and my legs trying to hold back. I could almost keep a 6 min/mi down in the past, but held it back to an 8 min/mi “easy” pace, which is true don’t look at me like that, this hill was steep ok? I only ended up with 4 miles, and had planned to do another repeat, but I was hurting. This didn’t bode well for my 50k in two days. The next day I had some quad and calf soreness crop up, buuuuuh. I took it easy. I had a call with coach, and sounded unsure about the ultra, which I was only to the point that the last run I did hurt. It wasn’t because I didn’t think I could do it safely and without a whole lotta soreness. I got the restrictions on the race, and was ready to go. 65% effort and no more. He said I didn’t need the miles, but if this would help me mentally then it was fine. Fine. I did feel like I needed to kick in the butt from the race. Sorry this has been such a long lead up! Now onto the race…

I decided to stay the night in town, since the race started at 7am. So I was able to wrangle my mom and sister to going out there. Dinner the night before was fast food, not my favorite, but we were behind getting there and I wanted sleep. Hey remember that time I ate Bojangles for breakfast before my 2nd ever half marathon and it all showed up at mile 6? Me neither.

Anyway, the hotel was quite pricey, but got it with some helpful points from dear hubby, who is suffering at home being alone with also the suffering honey cat who never understands why I leave, ever. sad reacts only The beds were really great, the staff was friendly, and they had some sort of breakfast for the athletes before 6am! Props to you Hampton Inn of Morganton, NC. The town of Morganton was a lot larger than I expected based on the coordinates and general area near the Appalachians. I was glad my family would have something to do while I was out running for hours on end (they went shopping). The sleep the night before was ok, it wasn’t great, but hey, I tried.

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The race site was fairly easy to find, at the Steele Creek Park, and a bunch of other cars to follow in. We secured a parking spot and got checked in. I received a pair of socks, a sticker, and bib at that time. Then got a few pictures and posted it to facebook (which I found out didn’t post until I was done with the race). The race start was a giant blue inflatable arch, no chip timing, which actually was surprising considering the cost for the race. Then I discovered my mistake for the race…my watch was not charged. It was sitting at 44% battery life. If it isn’t on strava it didn’t happen right? At least this was only for training, but the downside to that was I knew I would be slow, and battery is better used when you are a little faster than the life of the dying thing. Once again, the way the race started off is a mystery. Gun? Yelling go? No idea. But I knew it wasn’t chip timed, so I didn’t bother starting my watch at the blue arch and just started it at “gun” time. The massive crowd, which I am not used to at a trail race, all went under the arch, and I even heard some guy say “well, we don’t actually have to go under the arch”, to which I replied, “yeah, but it’s tradition!” A good laugh was had.

The race headed out onto the course immediately, crossing a bridge under a stream, a surefire sign that there would be stream crossings (and as stated in the athlete guide online). I positioned myself back about 2/3 of the way, but upon the first right turn into the giant open field behind the campsite/race site, there was a lot of settled fog and mountains in the backdrop. I stopped to take pictures, which would a recurring theme that day costing me a lot of time I didn’t care much about anyway.

I ended up at the very back of the pack. I met a nice older guy chugging along and we talked a bit. My calves became super tight so fast, and I was forced to a walk. I followed the open field up into the forest. Power hiking a bit, I quickly came up to a line of completely stopped runners. Why were we stopped? We sat there for at least a hot minute, chatting, wondering what was going on. By the time we moved up the slope, we found a nicely sized and deeper mud puddle “blocking” the trail. It never ceases to amaze me in a trail race, where you typically get dirty and wet, and one with multiple stream crossings, that runners will slow way down and go out of the way to avoid said mud puddle. I get it that you want to keep your feet as dry as possible for as long as possible, but just think it’s funny. MVIMG_20180922_074212 As I traveled down the trail, I gradually passed a few people who were slower and came to a small group of ladies who were going about just the right speed. We met, conversed and shared names and stories. I loved being around a group and wanted to stick with them. If I stayed close, I knew I wouldn’t overdo it overall and not overdo it at the start. I could hear the creek babbling nearby. received_264925847689012 My calves loosened up and got to the first aid station, when I realized I hadn’t taken in any calories. One of my specific goals for this race, other than trying out new undies and anti-chafing agents and socks, was to try out new foods for my runs, something a little more solid. I had a pack full of tailwind (new flavor, berry), a few GUs (which are really not my favorite, no matter what I try, they all have that weird plastic aftertaste) and other gels, some packets of Welch’s fruit snacks, and Gushers hah! I actually ended up really liking the Gushers. The fruit snacks went down well, and way easier than gels, so I perhaps need to revisit my nutrition strats this week.

Anyway, I grabbed some oooooh Coke and Ginger Ale at the aid station. I am wary of the Ginger Ale mainly because I have an allergy to Ginger, but took some early to see if and how it would bother me. I didn’t risk any more even though I felt ok. I ate my snacks and took off after the new trail friends who had already left. Two more miles in, I was 1. suspicious (there was a LOT of runnable parts here which I had assumed it was all uphill from the elevation profile from the first aid station), and 2. met a girl who was already having digestive issues, but I didn’t know how to help. I knew the course was basically net uphill until mile 18/19, with a few steeper climbs, the main steep one being after the aid station before the summit. The runners were blessed with gravel fire roads here before heading back onto the trail. The trail before the aid station was mainly grassy, not quite prairie (as prairie in my opinion is more lumpy and in open fields), not overgrown at all, and pretty tame. After the aid station it was what I expected of the beast coast trails; granite rocks, old tree roots, and loamy dirt/mud. It was great. Very runnable for the most part, until we got to….

Well it’s not what I would consider a stream crossing. After knowing hurricane Flo had came through the area, I expected the trails to be washed out a little. And they were, a little bit, but really not too bad! But this area of flatter trail turned into a stream.

It was like a dirty creek bed, and no real way around it but to go through it. Bye bye dry shoes everyone. It was like a jungle really, humid, slightly overgrown with vines hanging down, wading through the water… Did I mention I could see my breath that morning?? It’s quite odd for temperatures to be above 60°F and you can see your breath. (I admit, I was chilly that morning checking in before sunrise, and was wearing a jacket.) Ah the first day of fall. Later it would certainly not feel like fall, I was already sweating a lot as the highs for the day were predicted to be in the upper 80s lower 90s.

Table Rock Ultras did not disappoint! Stream crossing number one (although I only remember two distinct ones, there were more than two). The race director had told us the streams were running high because of the runoff from the hurricane a few days prior, and one stream was running pretty swiftly and was probably waist deep and others about knee to thigh deep. He said something or another about how you should position yourself on the deeper one, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying (everyone was talking around me too loudly at the time). This first stream crossing was about knee deep for me.

The water was clear, crisp, and cold. The water rushed, but not too bad. We all had some selfies and had a mini party in the stream. I came up with the hashtag #streamselfie and told everyone to look on instagram later and find it. I’m glad were we able to connect over it! The trail became more technical afterwards, with some small scrambles up rock walls and boulders which was cool. Slick mud in places made it hard to get a foothold in some places. Something I did notice was there was no poison oak/ivy to be found. I was very pleased.

Then came the second stream crossing, and as the one girl state, would be near a waterfall. This was the big one. It didn’t look bad on paper (or by sight so to speak), but whew boy it was a doozy, and the largest and deepest I’ve gone through in a race. I remembered what the race director had said about going a different way, but I think I chose the wrong way. IMG_20180922_084026 I decided to head closer to the waterfall, but about 2/3 the way through, I found myself chest deep in water with no foothold to the bottom and the current in the water swept me down a bit before I grabbed onto a rock. I admit it was a little adrenaline rush there.

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I shouted back at the other runners that that was not the way to go. I got my knee into the rock and climbed out completely soaked. Next up was a nice scramble up a small cliff, and then running along a small cliff. I kept the pace easy as the trail rose up and down. I had worse cliffs in Zion, so this was nothing, besides, there were trees to break you if you fell here! Redeeming qualities of the east coast, I’m sure haha. After the next aid station, which was on a gravel fire road, I decided to leave my trail friends. My pace was horrific, probably because of the slow start, the net uphill of the course, and my incessant picture taking. With our small group, we managed to get lost somewhere.

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I am borrow this one too.

I’m sure this was not cutting the course, but adding on distance since we backtracked to the trail (e.g., headed west too far only to head back east). A bunch of people behind us followed too, though we all stuck together this was the only place I thought wasn’t well marked. We concluded we probably missed a steep switchback.

About mile 10-12, I realized it had taken me nearly 3 hours. I had a sad moment, but knew I could make up time on the back end if I needed to, which I didn’t. But looking at some of the stat screens on my watch I realized my watch had gone from 44% to 18%. I freaked. I switched the garmin to UltraTrack mode, which is a not really reliable GPS function that garmin provides that sacrifices GPS tracking for battery life. I didn’t know if my garmin would make it through the race at this point. I’m not really going to give miles in the race at this point because they become very sketch beyond when I switched the GPS mode. Wait til the end to see how off it was!

I was greatly complemented on my power hiking skills throughout the race which honestly surprised me as I thought I was not doing a great job myself. This is where I broke out the trekking poles. I’ve used them a little since I got them back before Habanero, but I honestly haven’t used them for a long time. This was a huge learning experience. I wore fingerless gloves to compensate for my lack of calloused hands, the sweat I would probably be producing, and better grip. Boom! Worked like a charm and never bothered me, not a negative experience. I had worn gloves in tennis and when I play dance games, so this just made sense. Since they were biking gloves technically, I never got too hot because of them and was able to wipe sweat off my face periodically when needed too.

The gravel road was great and unexpected. I expected mostly single track and trail. I was able to practice with the poles, focus on my form and stay upright, and get in a good pace…until I took yet another picture.

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Heading up to that peak there!

I think the foul here was where I put my phone, which was in my pack. I had the pack set up in a way that it blocked the top right-hand corner of the phone case from coming straight out so I always ended up fumbling around for it and using up more time. My poles didn’t get put away, although they could have been at times, I didn’t think they were heavy enough to warrant the time it would take to do so (I haven’t tried yet putting my poles in my pack yet). Rolling hills made me suspicious still. There just wasn’t enough gain in my gut feeling to equal out to the 5700 feet that was advertised. Then I made it, alone, so very alone, to the aid station at the base of the big climb. As estimated, the climb would start at mile 16 or so. I was feeling really good. I refilled my water pack for the climb, as I was going through a lot, about 1.75L per 6 miles. Of course I loved feeling when my pack was empty, it made it so much lighter, but I also would then try and conserve because I honestly had no idea when the aid stations would be especially after not having an accurate garmin reading on distance. I started hearing how everyone was getting stung by bees. I hadn’t even seen a single insect the whole race…not even a mosquito (bless up). I ate some gushers and had about 4 small cups of coke before making the climb.

Honestly, this was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I was tired, yeah, and I had sweat rolling off of my visor (and not in my eyes yay!) like a waterfall, literally. Ok maybe a water fountain cause it was a small stream. But still…

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Again, never take pictures of hill, it will never do justice to the steepness. This was the steepest section, and I tried to get a runner in it to show it, but NAH.

It was hard to make time, mainly because I was forced to keep stopping along the single track that became more narrow the further you went up (footing going up was fantastic) because of runners coming back down the path. The course was almost a true out and back. I would get out of the way in order to allow them to keep their momentum. I passed several others heading up, using my poles for balance. It was warm. But I was never truly in the sun under the denser forest cover. This was optimal in my honest opinion. The course gained more rocks and larger rocks as it approached the top. As for the mental piece, I knew the top was more than half way and then it would be easy coming back down (I was somewhat wrong).

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Getting more technical…

The last part of the climb headed up to Table Rock Mountain summit, as the race volunteer said “what you paid for”, and my watch gave me a 48 min/mi…wat now? I knew I was sitting at like 17.8 for freaking ever. I knew I was moving. Ugh. I made it to the top. It was everything they promised and I was so happy it was a clear weather day with minimal wind. Pictures speak for themselves. I spent quite a bit of time up there before heading back down. A lot of others up there from the race were just picnicking and relaxing. The cutoff was pretty lenient. As I headed back down, I caught rumor that there would be Popsicles at the aid station up there. Popsicles? Say no more. I was off. Oooh the goal of having one of those suckers in my mind powered me through.

I headed back across the table top mountain to the other side where the aid station was and a little more up and a little more rock was the only things between me and those nice cool pops. Upon arrival I would also encounter my drop bag, my sad little flimsy drop bag of which held a pair of socks, a sprite bottle, some more fruit snacks and gels, and a missing pair of shoes. Oops.

The aid station was so cool with all their chairs set up for the runners in a nice shady spot. I got to enjoy two ice pops (not quite popsicles), and even though they were half melted, I was pleased. I opened up my sprite and it spilled everywhere since I didn’t know it was shaken up so badly on the road up there haha. My bad. I realized I hadn’t been taking enough in. Another sad moment passed by. But the word cut off hushed around as words around the camp up there, and I took off. I was super careful on the way down moving as agile and quickly as I could, I did not want to end up in a position other than vertical today. More alone time with the trail I came up. On my way up I had been told that come down was way worse and to enjoy the course going up while I could. I didn’t quite get it, but I guessed his legs were shot. I didn’t have much issue navigating down other than one butt slide rock section that was too steep to jump down from and no good footholds I could trust with the wet rock.

The ground heading back past the technical section was real good for running. I never tripped, but my arms were getting tired. I accidentally stabbed my foot with my pole on one of the flatter sections, ouchie. Not like I needed that toenail or anything (and can confirm today it’s still there though). Holding the poles though kept my arms facing forward with good form. I made it back down to the base aid station. I asked what mile it was since my watch had gone bonkers with a 48 min/mi and another 33 and 37 min/mi which were all downhill and I know I didn’t stop…

He announced it was mile 21.5, my watch wasn’t at 20 yet. Sigh. Whatever, I was glad to have something, even if it was just the time of day it was. I asked for some coke, but they were out of all soda, and I had a little pity party for myself as I munched on my fruit snacks. I refilled my pack with gatorade this round instead of water, which the really nice volunteers helped with my pack as I sat and took all the tiny rocks out of my shoes. Yeah, I will mention now a bunch of time was taken up by sitting at aid stations getting tiny stream pebble and silt sand out of my shoes. I had gaiters on, but I assume the issue was it was getting through the pores in the shoes. I need to find a solution for this because I suspect that Cloudsplitter is going to be similar. All aid stations except the first I had this sit and take stuff out session. I continued off as the volunteer said I could now just bomb the downhills, and I sadly replied back in the distance that I couldn’t do that today. (Coach’s orders)

Some of the downhills were very non-technical, or gravel roads, and some were super technical, there didn’t seem to be much in-between. I was really happy a bunch of the course was really runnable. There were some stairs and some cute tiny creeks coming from down the mountain side. Some more cliffs, and then back at the streams. It was around this point I noticed my feet were not as happy, even with the new socks. I could have put anti-chafe on them, but I decided to go without. I trotted along, choosing my uphill battles when the hills rolled and I could see the tops easily. It was a pretty fun section, but kind of lonely. I passed a few more people along this stretch, people who looked pretty tired and defeated. I only realize how much I have left when I get to the marathon point in an ultra and others start falling apart and realizing how good I look in comparison (I’m not trying to brag, just giving my perspective, it doesn’t give me like an internal boost or anything). I was hurting a bit from muscle soreness from not doing climbs/descents like this in months, but nothing that bothered me much. The course down the gravel hill felt like it lasted forever before heading back onto the trail again, where I would ask those I passed what mile we were at. It seems a bunch of others had watch issues that day in regards to theirs dying too. I kept looking down at my watch to see if it had died already every 5-10 minutes. I didn’t dare try and change screens thinking it might drain the battery completely as I had a ray of hope that it would in fact make it until the finish.

I had been texting my mom and sister ever since I reached the top of the mountain making sure they knew I wasn’t dead or injured since I was taking my sweet old time and had no other way to let them know everything was ok. I was convinced this was a good idea since I had to get out of the way of an ambulance at some point. I arrived back at the massive stream crossing, and saw a girl ahead of me who was almost done. I also saw some mountain bikers and some locals hanging out down below in a more calm area. I decided once again I should ford the river closer to the waterfall, what was I thinking?!

This was way harder this way, and I tripped with the stronger current and fell deep again. I climbed up onto a rock outcropping, which I quickly found out was not a good way back to the trail.

Butt sliding and a helping hand from the girl I made it back onto the course. She took a quick break to dunk her whole self like self baptism into the creek below. I envied her, but I had electronics so that was a no go. I hung with her for a while as we mental math’d our way out of sub 9 hour finish and arrived back to the trail that once was (and now was a creek instead). Since I knew there was no real good way to avoid the water, I just went straight through. After hanging out with the girl, I knew I had to leave her behind as she continued to walk. The trail circled back to the last aid station where they had a little coke left, I noticed they were serving from the 20oz bottles and not the 2L ones. I took what I could and refused a water refill of my pack. I was asked if I was the girl from Wisconsin. I said yeah. I have no idea why they knew to ask or how. I think I will never know lol. I asked about the mileage again and was off pretty quickly from here with just a few miles left. This aid station was around mile 27 from what I heard. Just four miles left. I knew it would take me a little over an hour. When I start thinking about time instead of distance I get a little bit overwhelmed. I pray for an hour in a race when I can’t do the math in my head.

I continuously text my mom updates, and I do receive a few texts from her, so I assumed mine were going through. The area after the last aid station was a bit more washed out (although I think it’s the same trail I came up from??), and continued to the nice big rollers from the first part of the course, along the woods and through a bunch of grassy sections. I had heard from a guy at the last aid station that the sun was brutal and it would be sunny the rest of the way. I essentially “??????” because I couldn’t remember there being sun before. I didn’t have issues with the heat at ALL, it was pretty nice in my opinion. I never got hot. A little sun wouldn’t hurt. This was seriously the only place where there were bugs, I think gnats, and not mosquitoes because they never landed on me. I came out seriously unscathed.

I kept looking for the sun he was talking about, but it never really came. And finally, at mile 29 (on my watch, this was very wrong however), the big open field from the start appeared and I started to make my way across. It was at this point I realized how much time I had spent on course as the sun was low in the sky, but blazing above me for the first time in the whole race. I took it easy still. This was probably my least favorite part of the course cause it was pretty flat and boring and of course I dislike running in grass/field. I came back up across the first (and only) bridge back to the start/finish and a bunch of (I assume) finishers were sitting in the river with their beer hooting and hollering for the people coming in loudly. 42482918_1608127439291063_850613574278578176_n It was funny. I also envied them knowing the temperature of the creek was real nice. I saw my mom and sister, and was pleased to see them there. I had worried they would be bored to death. I finished in 9 hours and 15 minutes. Super duper slow for me especially given the course, but I held back so much as to not be sore from it. Today is two days later and I am feeling really good and have most of my mobility. Amazing considering the course was net uphill for 19 miles and downhill and steep in a lot of parts after mile 19. My arms were mildly sore from using poles, but now really nothing at all. My feet were in real good shape after drying them out. No blisters, and I got hardly any chafing (one spot under my arm and it wasn’t even that bad). The Altra Olympus were prefect for gripping the rocks everywhere. I used XOSkin socks for the first 19 miles, and although they did well, the silt sand that built up in my shoes was too much for such a thin sock and switched to thick balegas after mile 19. I used Patagonia undies and they performed perfectly (first try). Inknburn 6” shorts and an old under armour tech shirt for the run did well, but I only wore the old UA shirt because it matched lol. My garmin ended up at 6% battery by the end, woo!, and at 30 miles, whereas most people got 32 miles. I ended up with a little over 5000 feet of gain, but most others got over 6000. Wacked out man. But hey, at least it’s on strava.

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After the race, I received a tech like hoodie as a finisher. They had run out of Mediums, but I didn’t expect to get my size anyway. It was still nice. But my main complaint was at the finish, all the soda was gone and only beer remained. I am not a beer person, so I was out of luck and the water they had was very warm, and no cups at the finish. I did carry my own cup so I used that, but I was disappointed at the end for those reasons. I ended up leaving with no ceremony basically. I was really happy with the campground bathrooms however, where they had HOT water and I was able to shower quickly before making the trek home. I know it’s a trail run, but I was also disappointed not seeing one port-o on course. Yeah, I held everything in, which I’ve done before, but meh. Overall it was really well run. Would I come back? Probably not. It was a great training race though. It would have been nice for the race to be chip timed for the cost, and a medal (30k finishers got one). The town of Morganton, NC is very welcoming though, and I appreciated that.

Thanks to my new trail friends for the extra photos and my family for coming and taking a few pics as well. #streamselfie is the new hashtag for ultras!! I swear it’ll catch on.

Now I will do some more climbing and running down big things until my A game race Cloudsplitter100 on October 13/14 in Norton, VA. I am currently still seeking pacers would be experienced with mountain running. This race is no joke, but I feel like it’s going to happen. Thanks again for the read! I think this one is pretty long, so let’s call this a marathon read 😉