Race Report: JFK 50 Mile

Earlier this year I thought it would be “fun” to run a 100k, 50 miler, and marathon within an 8 week period. Alyssa was on board, and I guess I was delirious, and I went ahead and registered for the JFK 50 Mile, which touts itself as the country’s oldest ultramarathon. You can read more about the history of the race here: http://www.jfk50mile.org/history/

JFK would be 5 weeks post-Cloudsplitter and in my mind that would be more than enough time to recover and get ready to go again. However, I struggled to recover from Cloudsplitter. The most unexpected part for me was that the recovery was hard not only physically, but also mentally. I definitely underestimated how much that kind of effort would take out of me. I didn’t do much in the month after the race and my quality efforts were few and far between. I can recall one solid swim and one decent outside ride and a couple of good treadmill efforts, but really that was it. 

In light of that, a week or so before the race, I emailed Alyssa saying I presumed I wasn’t doing JFK. In what comes as a shock to no one who knows her, Alyssa replied that she presumed I *WAS.* She told me to just go out and “cruise” for 50 miles. Mind you, I couldn’t even remember the last time I did a long run, between taper and recovery from Cloudsplitter. JFK has some strict time cut offs throughout the course and you have to finish in 13 hours. That seemed fairly aggressive to me, but Alyssa was convinced that so long as I kept moving, those cut offs wouldn’t be an issue. 

I was so uncertain about what I would be able to do that I told Jennifer (who would be spectating) and Megan (who would be running) not to mention anything about me running on social media. I had told a couple of friends that I wasn’t sure I would do it, but basically no one knew I was going for it except for Alyssa, my husband, my boss, and the girls.

I drove up to Hagerstown on Friday night and didn’t buy any swag because I thought the chances of me not finishing were pretty damn high (although I did buy Megan the cutest Maryland pom-pom hat).

Race Morning

If you’re thinking about doing this race, there are a couple of items to note from race morning. First, packet pick-up is a solid 20 minute drive from the race start, so if you stay by packet pick-up account for that when you’re planning your race morning schedule. Second, parking at the start is a total shit show. They really should have people there directing traffic. That is one of my few criticisms of the race. 

In any case, after I finally found parking, I met up with Megan in the school parking lot and we went inside for the athlete briefing. It was nice to be inside for this, although the bathroom lines were too long to even attempt a final pit stop before the race start. After the briefing, everyone walked together to the race start, which is maybe a quarter to half mile from the school.

Start and AT (15.5 miles)

Just like at Cloudsplitter, you start the course running uphill on the roads. Lots of people were walking this but I really didn’t want to get stuck behind a bunch of slowpokes on the trail, so I wasn’t sprinting or anything, but tried to keep moving. Megan and I stuck together, even thought it was semi-crowded.

We got on the Appalachian Trail (AT) together, and fairly early on we started talking to two woman we had been running with. This is when I met “H” who I ended up running the majority of the race with. 

The AT section was fairly uneventful. It was muddy and I did fall into the snow once (I was totally fine), but other than that, there isn’t much to report. What’s funny is that after Cloudsplitter, the AT section didn’t feel technical AT ALL until the very end. I think Cloudsplitter has forever changed my perception of what constitutes a “technical” trail.

You exit the AT and there is a big crowd waiting for you and cheering. A man said “Welcome to Waverton!” as we were descending to the road and it felt like I was in a movie. It was very cool!

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Towpath (through mile 42) 

The second part of the race is on the C&O Canal Towpath. H and I ran this entire thing together. Although calling it “running” might be generous. We “ran” 13 minute miles. We were slow and steady. We stopped at the aid stations to eat and drink, grab nutrition, refill packs, etc., but otherwise jogged the whole way.

Stopping and starting again at the aid stations was so painful (we would actually countdown “3-2-1” and then start running it was so bad getting started again) that we decided that walking was actually going to be worse than just maintaining a steady trot (lots of people were doing run/walk intervals and I honestly have no idea how their legs were handling that).

Through this entire section, I was SO good about my fueling. I learned my lesson from Cloudsplitter: no matter how tired, cranky, hurting, etc. you are in a race, you need to EAT. 

Somewhere along the towpath, we started doing some math and figured out that we might be able to break 12 hours, which was both an unexpected surprise and a great motivator to keep on chugging along!

Pavement (to the finish at 50+ miles)

By the end of the Towpath, H was really hurting. I gave her some ibuprofen (even thought she had been anti taking pain killers earlier in the race). I waited while she used the bathroom and then held back with her on the pavement for a time, but ultimately it was pretty clear I was feeling stronger than her and she told me I could go ahead. I felt bad since we had spent the entire day together, but I didn’t want to let the sub-12:00 finish slip through my grasp.

This section had been described to me as “rollers” but I actually didn’t think it was that bad (I always think “rollers” is a euphemism for big hills). I tried to continue with my slow and steady effort and slowly count down the miles one by one.

As in any race, these last few miles started to feel *very* long. A lot of people were run walking and it was getting a little annoying for me to pass them only to have them pass me and then walk again. But, I tried to focus on my own race. I kept doing the math, and realizing I would be well-under the 12 hour mark, which was quite unexpected, particularly in light of how I felt heading into the race.

I ended up crossing the line in 11:33, surpassing my expectations by a long shot!

I saw Jennifer and Megan at the finish and it was hilarious because Jennifer was very animated and clearly annoyed at herself for not having her phone out to take a picture of me crossing the line. That image will be in my brain forever when I think about this race.

In the end, while I liked this race, I’m not sure if it is one I will do again, just because the towpath is so monotonous, but I am glad I did it.

Now, I have to rest up for the Rehoboth marathon on December 8! If nothing else, I know I should be able to “cruise” for 26 miles!

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Race Report: Cloudsplitter 100k

Last year, immediately after completing the 50k distance at Cloudsplitter 100 in Norton, VA, I decided that I wanted to attempt the 100k this year. These races always seem so far away when you sign up for them and before you know it, they’re here. After Ironman Canada, I basically had two months to focus on Cloudsplitter, and those two months really flew by. All of a sudden, race week was here and Jon and the pups and I were headed to Norton!

Stepping up to the 100k distance, there were lots of new elements included in my race planning. One of those is that I would have two friends who would “pace” me for portions of this year’s event – Kim and Jess. For me, that would mean keeping me company throughout the night, reminding me to eat and drink, and keeping me moving, although not really at any specific-pace.

Kim arrived in Norton on the Thursday night before the race, so she joined me for my shakeout run on Friday morning. During the run, who did we see but my favorite City Manager, Fred, who I met at the race last year! We chatted briefly and then went our separate ways, but I wanted to mention this because Norton is such a special place and I hope that comes across in this post. Everyone is so darn friendly and the fact that Fred remembered me from last year is emblematic of that. In any case, after the run I got my feet up because of my wonky knee, and Jon and Kim headed to Walmart to do some shopping. I needed some food for the crew stops and Jon wanted some warmer clothes because the weather was colder than we expected and would be even colder on the mountain where he would be crewing for me. When they got back, we drove to two of the three crew stations that they would be driving to during the race.

Checking out Bark Camp Lake, which I would visit twice during the race.

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Friday evening was the athlete briefing. Jess joined us for that, and I picked up my bib – number 1000! We all enjoyed the bluegrass band and a warm welcome from the City of Norton. My favorite part of the athlete briefing again this year was hearing from the biologist about what a special place High Knob is biologically for both plant and animal species.

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I did not sleep well on Friday night. I normally don’t have sleep issues before a race, but this time I did. After lots of nervous tossing and turning, the alarm went off and it was time to get moving with my usual race morning breakfast and routine.

One of the many awesome things about Cloudsplitter is that the race doesn’t start until 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, so we didn’t have to rush. We were able to walk to the start from our hotel, which made race morning super easy. It was definitely chilly, so it was nice to wait inside at the Farmer’s Market until the race started.

Nervously waiting for the start.

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The first segment of the race, just under 10 miles, went perfectly for me! I was 100% on point with my nutrition. I was running everything that was runnable and speed hiking anything that was too steep or rocky to run. I even met a super friendly woman who was doing the 50k and we chatted about races and it really helped pass the time.

Before I knew it, there was my crew at the first aid station at High Knob Recreation Area, and I was filling up on a food and on my way again.

Chatting with my new friend Shelley who was racing the 50k.

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I felt similarly strong during the second segment of the race. My nutrition was spot on and my energy was high. I had one scare with the knee around mile 15 where it really started acting up, but I was able to keep moving and get through it. I saw my crew again at Bark Camp Lake at just under 20 miles for a short stop and on I went.

The third segment of the race was extremely challenging for me. This section had something like 30 water crossings (it felt like a billion trillion, but I’m guessing 30 is more accurate…). You had no choice but to get wet at several of them. I fell twice slipping on wet rocks. I knew I was slowing down a lot and I was starting to get mentally tired. Between watching my feet, watching the trail markings, and navigating the water crossings, my brain was starting to get fried.

I got back to Bark Camp Lake at just under 30 miles and had to use the bathroom, so I handed Jon my poles, ran to the bathroom, and then tried to quickly fill up on food/drinks/gear for the next segment of the race. This was a disaster. I was mentally drained and was digging through the giant tub of food, clothes, and equipment looking for my headlamp, chews, etc. I couldn’t find anything. I was frustrated and complaining to Jon about why he didn’t have everything laid out for me to just grab and go (yes, I should have been thankful he was there doing this for me and I’m not proud of losing my temper with him). Things were spilling everywhere, including an entire bag of pretzels. I was so frustrated and upset that I left the stop without my poles and by the time I realized it, I didn’t want to back track.

This is when my mental downward spiral started. I was so mad at myself for leaving the poles and at Jon for not having my stuff laid out. I was mad that I didn’t have a pacer (I could have had a pacer for this section of the race, but lost one of my pacers a few weeks before the race). Not only was I mentally in a bad place, but also physically. I had been relying heavily on the poles to keep weight off my knee, on the steep inclines and declines, and during the water crossings, and not having them definitely slowed me down. It was starting to get cold and dark. I stopped eating. I started walking sections that were runnable. I mentally quit. I sent Jon a text saying I would be dropping out at the next stop.

In ten years of racing, I have only DNFd one race EVER and I was literally unable to walk in that one because of injury (this was during a marathon back in 2012). I am not a quitter. But I really, truly, was ready to pull the plug in this moment.

Just before I got to the next crew stop (back at High Knob Recreation Area around mile 49), I ran into Jon. He had walked on the trail in his street clothes to meet me. I told him I was stopping.

He said exactly the right thing. He said that I just needed to get to the crew stop and eat some food and there was no pressure to do anything. He didn’t say I had to finish. He didn’t say Kim and Jess came all this way and would be disappointed not to run.

Jon said I could call Alyssa (who was in Hawaii for the Ironman World Championships) if I wanted to, and that she said I just needed to eat (I immediately regretted giving him her cell phone number…).

I cried a little. Jess and Kim were asking how to help. They gave me some space which was exactly what I needed. I ate some food. And the next thing I knew, I was changing my clothes to continue. I still don’t know exactly how that happened.

Jess getting ready to run with me. She brought me back from the brink!

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Jess and I left together around 8:00 p.m. and she was amazing. I was in so much pain by that point and in such a mentally bad place, but she was playing music and telling me stories and making me laugh. She took over navigating so I just had to follow her and could give my brain a break. She navigated all of the water crossings, so I just needed to follow her lead and could completely stop thinking. She took all of the stress off of me and put it on her shoulders and there is absolutely zero chance I could have finished without her.

The section I ran with Jess ended up being longer than we expected (the entire course was long to begin with (68.5 miles for a 100k), and then was longer still). We had also gotten lost a couple of times and I have to give a shout out to Hannes Gehring, the guy who came in second in the 100 miler, for helping us get back on course when we got turned around at one of the water crossings and were literally walking in circles. You should follow him on social because he is pretty amazing – uphillswagger on Insta.

We kept thinking we were close to the crew stop and it wasn’t coming. I was freezing and starving. I think I talked to Jess about soup a dozen times.

We got to the next stop – Devil’s Fork Parking Lot – around 3:00 a.m. and I put on a zillion layers of clothes. I ate some soup and a warm grilled cheese sandwich. All of the volunteers were amazing at this race, but the ladies at this station were particularly awesome. I sat by the fire a bit to try to warm up, but the minute I walked away from it, I was cold again. I wanted to leave with a towel wrapped around my legs I was so cold (which, yes, was ridiculous, but I really wanted to do it). Instead, Jon gave me his brand new Walmart sweatshirt to tie around my waist to keep my butt warm (this idea was brilliant!). This photo really says it all. I was not in a good place.

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Kim was on deck and off we went. It started raining shortly after we started. That was the last thing I needed, but luckily the course was quite easy terrain-wise in this section and we were just able to speed hike without having to worry about water crossings or tricky terrain. I was getting colder and colder and wishing I had more clothes. Moving quickly was the only thing keeping me warm, so I just tried to keep the pace up. This last part is honestly a bit of a blur because I was just so tired and cold. Have I mentioned I was cold?

Soon enough it was daylight and I knew I was hours (and hours!) behind my goal finish time. We finally got off the trail and onto the paved road which would take us to the finish line and who came along but Jon and Jess driving to check-up on us. They were shocked by how close we were to the finish. I really wanted to try to trot to the finish (it would be offensive to jogs to call it jogging) and for the most part I sort of did. We crossed the finish line in just over 25 hours.

Kim tried to give me a high five at the finish and I just gave her a big hug (even though I am sure I smelled AMAZING in this moment – sorry Kim!).

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We ended up at around 70 miles and supposedly more than 16,000 feet ascending and the same descending, although my Garmin died around 17 hours, so these are estimates.

The finisher medals were absolutely stunning. This is definitely the most beautiful racing medal I have ever received.

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I finished around 9:00 a.m. on Sunday and spent the rest of Sunday doing exactly this back at the Holiday Inn:

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The only thing making sleep difficult was the pain. Everything hurt. By Monday morning, though, the most painful thing was clearly my big toe on my right foot. I ended up having to go to Urgent Care not once, but TWICE on Monday because my foot was swelling and my toe was so painful. I debated how graphic to be with the pictures, but I decided to just include this one of the swelling. I had that heat-sensitive nail polish on, so you can see my right foot was hot.

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I ended up needing to get my nail drained and was put on antibiotics and painkillers. I was finally able to put real shoes on late this week.

I learned so many lessons during this race that I feel like I have to go back and make it right. Not next year, because I’m racing Ironman Wisconsin in September, but maybe 2020. I have unfinished business at this race and I just can’t let it go. Even writing this post has made me mad again about some of my mistakes!

On a more positive note, I continue to be amazed by the kindness and generosity of the people of Norton and if you like trail running, hiking, or mountain biking, you should most definitely plan a visit there! I told Fred that even if I don’t race next year, I will be back to volunteer!

Finally, I have to thank Alyssa, Jon, Jess, and Kim for their support at this race. I truly wouldn’t have kept going without them and I am so thankful that they put up with me during the low points. I know that wasn’t fun for any of us.

I am registered for the JFK 50 next month, but I may take a pass on that and focus on my efforts the Rehoboth Marathon in December, depending on how my recovery goes. We shall see.

 

 

Cloudsplitter 100k Training Update

I have some spare time for a change (more on that later), so I thought I’d post a quick update on Cloudsplitter training.

First, a bit about Cloudsplitter. I did the 50k version of this trail race last October and I immediately fell in love with the City of Norton. I knew I had to go back and for one year I have been planning to return to tackle the 100k (actually 68.5 miles).

A few pics from last year!



After the Ironman at the end of July, I did take a bit of down time, but then started my 100k training because the clock was ticking! I had only two months to prepare for my first 100k and third-ever ultra marathon.

As it turns out, I’ve actually really enjoyed the variety of sessions Alyssa has given to me during this training cycle. I’ve done road running, trail running, treadmill sessions, stairs, and an adventure on the Appalachian Trail. My favorite workout was an 18 mile progression run, which I shocked myself by nailing, even though the last several miles were uphill. I did one 31 mile road run, which was a huge confidence booster.

Post 31-mile training run. 

My lone Appalachian Trail adventure photo. I was so proud of getting through this section that I had to take a picture!


Everything was going great until last weekend, when I started having some knee pain during my last long run before taper. As a result, this week has been a super down week – lots of easy spins on the bike while we give the knee some time to recover. Definitely not ideal, but it could be worse. 

In any case, I want to focus on the positive, which is that after a year of waiting, the race is just a week away! My friends Jess and Kim will be pacing me for the last 30 miles or so. My husband, Jon, is crewing and in charge of making sure I get all the food I need (story of our marriage!). I’ve tried to be somewhat organized and put all of the relevant information they will need in a big binder with directions and information and times…we shall see how close I am to hitting any of those times, but that’s just going to be part of the adventure, I suppose!

I leave for Norton on Thursday, the race is on Saturday and I hope to finish early Sunday morning. Positive thoughts appreciated!

And, finally, speaking of positive things, this has nothing to do with Cloudsplitter but we got a new puppy and nothing makes me happier than Scout!

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Race Report: Cloudsplitter 50k

The stars have aligned and I find myself with a rare day off on the day after returning home from my big 50k, which means I can actually blog about my race in a timely fashion! #smallmiracles

While my Cloudsplitter 50k experience is still sinking in, I can absolutely without a doubt say that everything about this weekend was amazing and I will be back again next year!

So, let me back up and catch up on the blog from where I last left off, which was after Ragnar Trail WV in August. September was a really tough month for me with lots of travel and events. I lost a weekend of training to attend a USA Triathlon coaching certification clinic and to coach at a race in Williamsburg, VA; and another weekend to attend a family event in New York. I also ran Ragnar, Washington D.C., which was a TON of fun, but not ideal training for a trail race (and, if I’m being totally honest with myself, left me not in the best place on the sleep/taking care of myself front). Don’t get me wrong, all of those were good things, but my training definitely took a back seat.

Having fun at Ragnar Washington, D.C.

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In light of this, I wasn’t feeling super confident in the weeks leading up to the race, but as Megan said, we told too many people we were doing it to back out, so we were going to go for it and hope for the best!

Megan and I left for Norton on the Thursday before the Saturday race. Half of Megan’s car was filled with food. Truly, if we would have needed to, we could have driven cross-country and back and still had plenty of food to spare. #triathleteproblems

Traffic was nuts with the long holiday weekend and it took us something like 7 hours to get to Norton, which is the Westernmost city in Virginia, from Oakton (poor Megan tacked on an extra hour of driving before she even got to me).

Norton is a small town, with absolutely gorgeous mountainous scenery and the friendliest people you could ever meet. Megan and I joked that I need a “Norton’s #1 Fan” tee shirt for next year. More on that in a bit.

We didn’t do much on Thursday other than checking in to the Super 8 motel in Norton and going to bed.

On Friday, since we didn’t have anything to do before the pre-race meeting at 6:00 p.m., we went for a short shake out run (ohh-ing and ahh-ing over the scenery the entire time!) and then we made the short drive to Jenkins, KY to visit the Coal and Railroad Museum. The museum is tiny, but I think for both of us, it really started sinking in that this area of the country has been hit hard by the coal industry’s decline. These are hard working people who truly built America into what it is today, and it is a shame to see the area struggling.

We spoke to two older ladies at the museum and before we had an opportunity to tell them we were in town for the race, one of them shared how the warm winter led to an abundance of Copperhead snakes this summer, especially at night.

Megan and I just looked at one another without trying to show visible distress. Not exactly something you want to hear the day before a trail race that you are anticipating finishing in the dark, but bless her heart, she didn’t know that!

After a quick stop at the grocery store for even more food, we headed back to the hotel.

We both reviewed the race guide and website one more time and were happy to discover that what we thought was going to be a 35 mile race with almost 10,000 feet of climbing was actually going to be a 31 mile race with 7,700 feet of climbing. The race moved from Kentucky to Virginia over the summer and course profiles on the website hadn’t been updated until recently. While this was still going to be a BIG challenge, the easier course profile came as a pleasant surprise to two ladies who have been in better shape in their lives!

Megan and I originally met back in the spring or summer of 2015 when we were both training with Alyssa for our first Ironmans later that year. I can’t remember exactly when we met, but we really got to know each other at Team HPB Camp East that summer. That was back in the day of two-a-days every day and 100 mile bike rides. Neither of us has seen that kind of training in awhile.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves both taking a break from Ironman in 2017 (we’re calling 2017 “the year that work won”). As I’ve talked about a bit here, I started a new job about a year ago and getting into the swing of things there really took priority this past year.

In any case, Megan had messaged me back in April saying that she was thinking about doing a spring trail race and wanted me to join her. One of the races she was considering was the “Rhododendron Run” which was scheduled for June. I read about the race and it sounded amazing, but the date wasn’t going to work for me. She said another race on the same course was happening in October – Cloudsplitter. That’s when I really got excited. Reading the messages now is funny, but we had some discussion back and forth about doing the 25k versus the 50k distance. Megan said “We aren’t doing Ironman. We might as well run for 10 hours. Or 13 hours.”

So, fast forward to the pre-race meeting in Norton on Friday evening, I was starting to get really nervous and to question why we thought doing this race was a good idea. Everyone at the meeting looked extremely fit and I was intimidated. As I said, the Cloudsplitter 50k course consists of 7,700 feet of elevation gain over 31 miles, which is by far the toughest course profile I’ve ever encountered in a running race.

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The closest thing I have to compare that to is riding about 10,000 feet of elevation gain over 105 miles on my bike on Skyline. When something feels hard on a bike, it’s going to feel *really* hard on foot!

We both checked-in, got our bibs and race shirts, and checked out the race bling. I was excited to see the medals in person, as they are absolutely stunning and very different from other race medals I’ve seen.

We took our seats and then heard from Fred Ramey, the Norton City Manager. As I said on Facebook:

In all of my years of racing I have never received such a warm welcome from local officials as I did tonight from the City of Norton, Virginia! They were clearly so excited and appreciative about this race coming to their town. This area has lost a lot of coal industry jobs and their economy has taken a hit over the past several years. They are trying to reposition themselves as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, and being here for just a short time, I can see why. If you like the outdoors, hiking, mountain biking, etc., this is a beautiful place to visit! I hope to come back again! Thank you for the warm welcome!

For the rest of the weekend, I referred to Fred as “my favorite city manager.” I have seriously never, ever, met someone so excited to have a race in his town!

We also heard from a wildlife expert (I believe his name was Seth), who spoke to us about some safety topics (e.g. “announce” yourself so that the bears know you’re coming), but also provided interesting information about some of the unique wildlife species in this area. For example, High Knob has something like 50 species of mussels, many of which are endangered. As an aside, you have GOT to take a few minutes and watch this video about Hellbenders, which are North Americas largest salamanders and can grow to two feet in length!

Seth was also really excited about the race being in town and you could tell was so proud to share High Knob with us.

The race director then explained the course markings. In addition to yellow dollar-sized blazes on the trees, we should also watch out for pink surveyor’s tape along the course. The surveyor’s tape also had reflective tape attached to make the marks visible in the dark.

We got back to the hotel and sorted through our clothes and food for the following day. We also packed up our shared “drop bag,” which we would be able to access around mile 9. It’s kind of like an Ironman special needs bag and I overpacked, of course!

On race morning, I made a game time decision to use my trekking poles after seeing several other racers with them at the start. It was also dark at the start, which we hadn’t expected, so I decided at the very last minute to wear my headlamp. Based on our paces from Ragnar Trail WV, especially when running at night on the more technical trail there, Megan and I estimated we needed about 12 hours to finish Cloudsplitter, so we planned to finish in the dark, but not to start in the dark. Thankfully, we were prepared. 

We took a quick photo, I took one last swig of Gatorade, the local boy scout troop fired a black powder rifle, and off we went!

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The first mile of the out and back 50k course is on pavement and mostly uphill. Less than two minutes into the race we overheard one of the runners say that she hadn’t practiced running hills because she does Crossfit. Considering the elevation gains on the Cloudsplitter course, I’m not sure that was the most advisable of training plans, but I digress.

Megan and I trotted along up the hills. Many people walked this, but we both wanted to warm-up a bit, and we most definitely weren’t setting any speed records. We got to the trailhead and proceeded to form a long train with other runners along the single-track course. We followed their lead and ran when they ran and walked when they walked.

This first section of the course (the most difficult for the 50k distance) included several steep sections that left me out of breath even hiking. We went up one particularly challenging climb only to see my favorite city manager standing at the top cheering us on, taking photographs, and directing us along the trail!

Fred Ramey took the photo below. I’m third in line here, wearing a dark colored hat. 

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I was definitely glad I chose to bring the trekking poles along this portion of the course, as getting my footing was tricky in several stretches.

At the first aid station, around 4-5 miles in, we checked in (in lieu of having timing mats along the course, runners needed to check in at every station by bib number for safety reasons and to ensure no one cut the course), and I grabbed some pretzels. The volunteers were fantastic, as they would be throughout the day!

We didn’t linger at the aid station because we wanted to be able to stay with our group. We were with a great group of runners – one 100k-er, a couple of 100 milers, another 50k runner, and I’m sure others who I couldn’t quite hear.

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One of the 100 mile runners, Aimee, has FOUR kids and this was her third attempt to finish a 100 miler. One man from West Virginia trained for an ultra running one-mile loops around his neighborhood when his wife was pregnant. So many stories. Everyone was chatting and very friendly. The experienced runners were answering questions and offering advice to us. We figured out that several of us had connections to Ohio – either living there or going to school there. It was like a party and it made the miles go so fast! Again, we followed their lead and ran when they ran and walked when they walked.

Megan and I kept reminding each other to eat and drink. She would yell to me “I’m taking a gel!” I would check-in with her “Are you drinking?” It was perfect!   

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The scenery was amazing. Unfortunately, most of my GoPro photos didn’t come out, but it was beautiful. Sometimes I would have to look up (even though it’s always advisable to look at your feet so you don’t trip) so that I could take in the views. Although this course usually has numerous water crossings, it’s been a dry summer and we had only a few tricky streams to navigate. The foliage was just starting to change and I was able to snap a few pics of the treetops.

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Soon enough we hit High Knob Tower, which we decided to visit on our way back, and then the second aid station shortly thereafter. I decided to leave my poles in my drop bag. I drank some Coke, refilled my pack with fluids, and on we went.

At the High Knob Observation Tower sign the first time around.

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We hit the third aid station, which was about .5 miles from the turn around for the 50k. We ran along a gravel road (it actually reminded my a bit of Ridge Road in Charlottesville) to a metal pail that housed a book. We had to rip a page out of the book and run it back to the aid station as evidence that we completed the full distance.

At this point, I was feeling fantastic and we were WAY ahead of our estimated turnaround time (about 90 minutes ahead of schedule). I had another cup of Coke, took some ibuprofen, and we started to head back the way we came.

Even though I felt great and would have loved to run more of the course on the return, we were either dealing with steep ascents/descents or lots of loose rocks on the flats.

This was one of the sections that had a lot of loose rocks. I can’t imagine what this was like for the 100k and 100 mile runners, who had to pass through this section after the rain on Saturday night.

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Unfortunately, most of our group was continuing on past the aid station, so when we turned around, it was primarily just the two of us heading back. We ran a few miles with Bobbi from Fail, Laugh, Learn, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person at Cloudsplitter (on the course, no less!) after connecting online through our blogs.

Being by ourselves, we had to pay much more attention to the course markings, as opposed to just following along with the group. There were a couple of times where I felt like I had gone a bit without seeing a marking, but we were actually always on course and just needed to go a bit farther to see a mark.

On our own on the return.

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We got back to the aid station with the drop bags, and although we didn’t think we would have access to them this time, our bag was, in fact, there. That was a pleasant surprise. I had some more Coke at this stop and I believe this is when I started eating my peanut butter-filled pretzels.

Shortly thereafter, we made it back to High Knob Tower and this time took a moment to check out the views. The photos don’t do it justice AT ALL, but you can see four additional states from the tower – NC, KY, WV, and TN. It was nice to take a bit of a break and we had been told at one of the aid stations that after the tower it was downhill, so it was a nice place to mentally regroup.

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We arrived back at the first aid station, which meant we had less than 5 miles to go. I was in a great rhythm at this point and didn’t want to stop, but one of the volunteers told me that the runner two in front of me had a bear “encounter” with three black bears. From that moment on, I kept thinking I was hearing things in the woods.

Megan and I started “announcing” ourselves, as per the wildlife expert’s recommendation. “Bears, we are announcing ourselves!” “Bears don’t like eating vegans anyway!” Megan had the best announcement of the day: “We have a dog!” I could not stop laughing about that one. All I could imagine was our Labradoodle, who is afraid of his own shadow, encountering a black bear and being scared out of his mind, but for some reason Megan thought a dog would be a *really* big deterrent to a black bear eating us for lunch!

With maybe 2-3 miles to go, Megan said I could run ahead, which I did. I felt a little stiff, and my feet were hurting, but I otherwise felt really great, and I was able to pick up the pace, especially once I hit the pavement for that last mile. 

I ended up finishing in about 8:45, which was much faster than our predicted 12:00 (but of course slower as compared with my last 50k which was around 6:30). 

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As I was waiting at the finish for Megan, none other than my favorite city manager arrived. Apparently, he saw Megan running toward the finish and gave her a high five. God, I love him! He was at the finish to take more photos and cheer the runners on. We chatted for a bit and I introduced myself. I had some water and then I saw Megan coming down the street.

Megan is a tough chick and even though she was clearly in pain, she finished strong, with a big smile!

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Back at the hotel, we assessed our blisters (NOT a good situation!), considered whether we were better off just throwing away our smelly clothes (we did not), ate all the food, drank wine, and watched the Golden Girls. It was the perfect way to end the weekend.

I can’t wait to go back to Norton for Cloudsplitter again next year!

Next up for me is the Richmond half marathon on November 11, followed by the Rehoboth full in early December. I’ll be returning to the PHUNT 50k in January and then focusing on the bike for Whistler.