American 4-miler (Charlotte, NC)

This race has become a staple of my holiday morning and I loved kicking off the day by celebrating with all the new people I’ve met through the Run For Your Life (RFYL) run club. Leading up to this race, I had been feverishly packing up my house, so while I knew I had an American flag themed tank top, it was hidden in storage somewhere, so I made a quick stop at Target the weekend before to see if anything jumped out at me. One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re looking for a themed outfit, the men’s / boys section is always the way to go – there are just so many more options than what is offered in the women’s section (and there’s no way I’m fitting into anything in the girls section!). I was not disappointed! I ended up finding a red, white and blue Storm Trooper shirt and some crazy shorts. It’s certainly not an outfit to wear for long distances (way too much cotton), but it was really fun for this 4 mile race.

Last year I met up with Beth before the race and we ran from the RFYL store, so this year I had to do a little more planning to figure out where to park and then just met up with everyone near the start line. After our obligatory pre-race photo, we headed onto the course.

I don’t think anyone had big goals for this race, so we mostly stuck together and chatted while we ran. Since it was July in the south, it warmed up quite quickly, so I was very appreciative that it was a short race with lots of shade. After just under 40 minutes (39:21), I finished the race and joined up with the speedier kids to hang out at the finish line and cheer on the rest of the people we knew.

This is a fun holiday event and I’ve come back because of the other people I run the race with, but he medals and shirts the past two years have been pretty nice too – festive enough to continue to wear the rest of the day, but not too extreme that they can’t be worn the rest of the year too.

Tourist Time: Mount Monadnock

After finishing the Drummer Hill race, I headed about 30 minutes southeast to Mount Monadnock to do a summit hike. I had read about the hike in my planning to head up to New England and knew it was going to be a tough hike, but since i stopped the race at 20k, I figured I would be okay.

When I got to the entrance, the gate attendants told me that they were expecting an afternoon storm, so I made sure I was keeping an eye on the sky as I as I was hiking. Based on the information I had read online, I was planing to do a loop, taking one route up and a separate one down which would theoretically be easier – after hiking both, I definitely agree on the suggestion and was very happy not to have to go back down some of the rock climbs I did on the way up!

From the beginning of the hike I knew it was going to be a tough hike. Even on the relatively flat portions at the start were strewn with rocks which made for slow hiking to make sure I wouldn’t turn an ankle.

The trails were well marked with white circles and though it was a tough climb up, scrambling over lots of rocks and boulders.

I took my time and made sure to take lots of pictures as I was climbing and then even more once I got above the tree line.

following the cairns to get to the top 

you can just see the very top in this picture, still a long way to go!
Unfortunately my phone died before I made it to the very top of the mountain, but I found some good samaritans who were willing to take a picture of me with their phone and send it to me so that I could have a memento of the climb.

I figured my phone just needed to be charged as I’d had this happen before where it said it wad dead, but actually just needed a kickstart of electricity before it would jump back up to 50% again. So I stowed my phone and just worked my way back down the mountain. Eventually I made it to where the trail split and headed down the new trail. There were a lot more steps built into this side of the trail, so while it was still rough my knees and quads, it felt a lot safer than the scrambling I had to do to get up the other side!

On the way down there were fewer people around, but as I was climbing down some bigger rocks with a guy following close behind me, I saw a snake sunning himself on the rocks and the guy behind me stopped to Snapchat with the snake.

After getting back to my car, I tried charging my phone with my portable charger, but it wasn’t turning back on, so I asked the woman working at the gift shop if I could borrow an outlet and tried that for about 15 minutes, but my phone still wasn’t working, so I went to the next plan – written directions back to Boston! I wasn’t actually heading to Boston, but I knew I needed to go south to get to Providence, RI, so I figured I could follow the directions until I found a gas station and hope they still sold maps. After about an hour of driving, I recognized one of the cities from my snooping around prior to the trip trying to decide on a hotel location, so I took the exit and was officially on my own to navigate the rest of the way. Luckily it wasn’t too long before I came into a more populated area and pulled off to find a gas station. At this point beyond finding a map, I also needed to find a Verizon store since my phone still hadn’t turned on. Amazingly enough, when I stopped at the first gas station I saw, I was only a few blocks away from a Verizon store and of course, when I told the ugly what happened and how my phone wouldn’t turn on, he got it on within seconds! But, at least now I know the trick of how to fix the issue for when it happens again (spoiler: it’s happened multiple times since then).

After the almost half marathon in the morning, hiking in the afternoon and then driving a few hours, I was ready for an early night in Rhode Island, but of course, I had another race the following morning to check off state #28, Massachusetts!

Funky Monkey Half Marathon – Seekonk, MA (2017)

After finishing the Drummer Hill race, I headed south to get ready for my second race of the weekend and check off state #28, Massachusetts. After spending the afternoon driving, hiking and wandering around Rhode Island, I made it to my hotel. I actually stayed in Warwick, RI since it was a little cheaper than staying across the border in Massachusetts and I only had about a 15 minute drive to get to the race in the morning.

The race start / finish was held at the Seekonk YMCA, there was plenty of parking, bib pick-up the morning of the race and real bathrooms to supplement the porta potties outside. The race had a couple of hundred people milling around the start line when the RD started his pre-race speech. The northeast was going through a record heatwave and the RD was extremely accommodating, telling people to take things slower, make sure to drink lots of water, that if it got too hot for you, you could stop at any time and give him a call (his phone number was on every directional arrow on the course) and he would come pick you up in his big van. He was driving the course throughout the morning to check on runners and make sure everyone had what they needed, even offering extra water between official water stops. He also mentioned that if anyone had to drop because of the heat, he would provide a free entry to any of his other races, which is completely unheard of!

There was a 5k, 10k and a half marathon that morning, with the half starting 15 minutes before the 10k. My goal (which was shared by a few others around me) was to not get passed by the 10k runners – that definitely didn’t happen, but not too many of them passed me, so I’m okay with that. The first 10k runner was a woman and she was several minutes ahead of anyone else, but at some point she must have missed a turn because around mile 4, I saw her running back towards me and she likely did at least an extra mile or two on her 10k course. Looking at the results, it looks like she still ended up taking second place.

The course itself wasn’t very interesting. I wasn’t able to find any previous race recaps for the race and foolishly thought since we were so close to the coast that we would be able to see water during the run (nope), so the course meandered through various neighborhoods before heading back to the YMCA. I didn’t take many pictures during the race, mostly because there wasn’t much to see besides neighborhood roads. I did have a lot of bees to contend with as the roadsides were lined with honeysuckle and other various flowers. Luckily the bees didn’t give me too much trouble, but did like buzzing around my head a bit – maybe that means I need to run faster! There were quite a few people embracing the funky monkey theme with gorilla / monkey / banana costumes or themed-prints which was fun, but it was so hot that I think most people were just ready to get back in the air conditioning! There was a lot of shade on the course which was really helpful and made it a much more pleasant morning. I struggled a bit after having not run anything consistent in a long time trying to do two races in one weekend (plus a big hike the previous afternoon), but I still finished in 2:27:13, so I was happy with that result.

I do love the race shirt and medal and Ocean State Multisport has a lot of fun race themes, and given the RDs accommodations / speech before the half marathon, I’d definitely recommend this series to anyone who wants to do a race in the Massachusetts / Rhode Island area. They even worked it out with the YMCA that we were able to go take showers after our race which was awesome since I then had a several hour drive up to Portland, ME ahead of me.

There was also a pretty good finish line spread – since we ended at the YMCA, people were milling about in the park nearby where there was pizza, yogurt and various snacks. Once I stopped running, it actually felt like a pretty nice day outside, so I spent some time chatting with some of the other runners before heading out to explore a bit more.

Drummer Hill Trail Race – Keene, NH (2017)

This race came about for a couple of reasons – I was heading to Massachusetts for the Ragnar Trail New England and I had a friend in Maine who I wanted to visit, so I figured I’d go up a bit early and do a road trip for myself before heading off to work that race, and I haven’t done races in virtually any of the New England states, so a double-race weekend sounded like a great way to check off a few more states!
I spent a lot of time perusing Running in the USA trying to figure out just which races I wanted to do. I really liked the Drummer Hill Trail Race because it was a “choose your own adventure” race – a 10k trail loop that runners had the option of doing 1 to 5 times. By the time I registered, everything was the same price, so I went ahead and said 50k (spoiler alert: that didn’t happen) and figured I was only about a month and a half from the double marathon, so a 50k shouldn’t be too unreasonable. As it sometimes does, life got in the way of any actual training in May (lack of motivation has been hard to overcome!) so I went into the race under-prepared and was very happy to have the opportunity to change my mind on race day.I flew into Boston on Friday night and made the 2 hour drive to Keene, NH. Given my late arrival, not much was open in town, but I was able to hit up the local grocery store the next morning to get some essentials before heading to Fuller Elementary School for packet pick-up which was super easy and then I followed some other runners to the start line, just a few blocks away at the Drummer Hill Conservation Area.

It was a fairly small race, with 80 finishers across the five distances, but the course elevation meant we spread out fairly quickly, having to hurdle a log within a few hundred yards of the start line and almost immediately heading uphill, which lasted about 2 miles. The terrain was promised to be rocks, roots and wildlife and they weren’t lying! I haven’t done a lot of really technical trail running and this definitely pushed me.

Nature’s obstacle course
Just follow the path… up the rocks!
There’s a bit more sun in the middle half of the course, but there were also some volunteers out there cheering people on and taking pictures, which is always a fun surprise during a race.
 All smiles, even with the bad running form
The good news about this course is that you get most of the climbing out of the way at the beginning, so the end of the course has a lot of downhill…

and some extra water and mud just for fun!

As I was finishing up my second lap, I knew that would be the end for me. I was doing a lot of walking on the first half of that lap and wasn’t looking forward to another “hike” to start lap 3. I had done a little research about some other potential hikes I could do in New Hampshire and since I already knew what this course looked like, I was ready to check out something new. So, when I made it back to the aid station, I officially checked out after 20k. I ended up finishing 9th overall in the 20k, coming in as the 2nd female in 2:46:29. The top 3 finishers in each distance got drum sticks with their place listed on them – a very cool (and very appropriately themed) prize.

After the race, I stuck around for a bit and talked with some of the other runners who had finished, as well as some that were coming into the aid station before heading back out on their third and fourth laps. I got to meet some runners who were part of Going for Broke(N) for the Ragnar Trail New England the next weekend, as well as a a student who was running the race because his professor challenged him to it the night before. It was a fun atmosphere and I probably would have stuck around a bit more except I ran into the wildlife that was promised in the previews, in the form of swarms of mosquitos.

Since I finished at 20k, it doesn’t officially count as a half marathon for New Hampshire, but since I’m not following any specific system for checking off states, it still counts as #27 for me!

I do exist!

I’ve been pretty quiet lately, not having posted anything since my double marathon recap. That’s not to say I haven’t had a lot going on, just not a ton of time to recap everything! May was spent catching up on some of my neglected home duties (what can I say, running 5 days a week was more fun than housework) and June was spent doing a lot of traveling – Massachusetts to New Hampshire to Rhode Island to Maine and back to Massachusetts and then another full week spent in Washington, D.C.

I do have some exciting news to share for the next year – I’ve been chosen to be an ambassador for the Asheville Marathon and Half in Asheville, NC next March. I did the Backyard to Vineyard Challenge last year and am excited to take on that same challenge again. I’ll be doing the half marathon on Saturday, followed by the marathon on Sunday, but there are lots of options to choose from! You can choose one race (half either on Saturday or Sunday or full on Sunday) or you can create a combo weekend – half and half (Backyard to Backyard Challenge) or half and full (Backyard to Vineyard Challenge).

I loved this race last year because of the beautiful scenery and because it was my first foray into pushing myself to do more than I thought was possible, really the springboard for my taking on the Grandfather Mountain Marathon last July and then the Blue Ridge Double this year. I volunteered at the expo this year answering runner questions and was bummed that I hadn’t signed up, especially after we ended up getting snow! The pictures from this year were absolutely beautiful, so don’t hate me too much if I keep my fingers crossed for snow next year too 🙂

If you’re interested in one of these races, feel free to ask me any questions you have. I also have a discount code for 15% off any of the race distances until July 31. Just use invitation code AMBERHARDESTY2018AMAROCKS and then discount code 2018AMAAMBERROCKS. This is the best discount you’ll see on these races, so don’t wait too long! You can get all the details on the races on the Asheville Marathon website, including how to register and join me!

Blue Ridge Double Marathon – Roanoke, VA (2017)

It’s taken me a few days to wrap my head around this race, but as I finally got out on my first recovery run and my legs are finally feeling normal again, I figured it was a good time to reflect on last weekend. I didn’t get off to a great start, hitting major traffic on my way out of Charlotte, so a drive that should have taken just over 3 hours was close to 4 by the time I got into Roanoke which meant I was hitting the expo around 4:45 – just in time for everyone to sneak out of work early and pick up their packets. The setup for figuring out which lane to go into to make sure I got the right packet was super easy – lots of big signs and ropes took me directly to the volunteers handing out the marathon packets. They pointed me into the building next door to get my race shirt and free socks. I got inside and it was crowded! When I walked inside, I went to the first upstairs I saw and ended up in a section that was wall-to-wall people that had all of the race merchandise for sale. Luckily I asked someone in line if it was just to purchase merchandise and they were able to direct me back downstairs on the other side of the hall to get my free socks and then up a different set of stairs (you know, where the giant “race shirts” sign was) to get my race shirt. Since it was already almost 5:00, I didn’t even look at the merchandise because I knew I couldn’t afford to wait in that line if I wanted to get sleep before my first race and I was already out later than I had wanted to be. So, back down the stairs and up the other side to get my race shirt (super soft and I love the dark blue / teal color!) and bag for gear check.

I quickly made my way to Carrabba’s to pick up some chicken parmesan before heading to my hotel room to get all my gear ready for my midnight wakeup call. I did one last weather check and realized it was going to be a rainy race, though it was going to be warmer than I had originally expected. Since this was my first ultra, I packed an entire extra set of clothes with the intent of changing in between races. I also added extra food and a portable charger and my watch charger for when my watch decided it was too tired to keep going on. I ended up in bed a little after 7:00 and got about an hour and a half of sleep before the music festival (which was two blocks away near the finish line) woke me up. Even with my ear plugs in, it felt like we were on top of the drum section, so I was awake until about 10:00 when the concert finished which meant I got about 2 2-hour naps before my midnight wakeup.
Since my hotel was so close to the start / finish line (maybe 2 blocks), it was an easy walk over to the start line where I found a bunch of people hanging out and waiting for our 1:00 am start time. We did an official check in and I tried to get a picture of the group, but for some reason my phone wouldn’t turn on. Soon enough, we were lined up in the street and Molly, the Race Director, did an official countdown and then we all took off. I was surprised at how many people were at the 1:00 am start – I really expected the majority of people who were crazy enough to do the double would have been much faster and start at the second double start time at 2:30 am. It was nice to have so many people to start with as it felt like a super early group run. I traded off and on with several groups of people as we climbed the first hill to Roanoke Mountain and just tried to keep a steady hike up the hills and running the flats and downhills. The top of Roanoke Mountain is right around the 7 mile mark and is the highest point on the course at 2,144′ with some 13% climbs on the way up. On the way up, I had the opportunity to talk with Kevin Green who is the brains behind the double marathon – he came up with the idea several years ago when he was coming down to run the race, but since he was training for a 100 mile race, he decided a marathon wasn’t enough and convinced some of his friends to do the course at night before the official race start and thus the Blue Ridge Double Marathon was born. This was the first year where the double was an official part of marathon weekend, so the field was limited to 60 participants and 50 people showed up in the middle of the night to take on the challenge.
After a quick check in at the top of Roanoke Mountain, we headed back down the mountain and retraced our steps heading towards Mill Mountain and the giant star that sits above Roanoke. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my phone to turn back on during this first lap, so I couldn’t get any pictures of the star at night (it was awesome). As we went through the parking lot at the top of Mill Mountain, we took a small trail around to the front of the star and for some reason I had thought we were looping back around to the “front” of the aid station, so I didn’t go off-course to fill up my water and it wasn’t until I was headed back down the hill in the opposite direction that I realized we weren’t going past that spot again and I had missed my opportunity to fill up. I still had some water left in my other bottle, so I figured I would be fine until the next stop, but it was the first mistake where I wasn’t quite thinking clearly. Heading up to Mill Mountain, we “only” hit an 8% grade and 1,733′ before heading back down which was certainly steeper, getting up to 10% grade with tree / moss covered winding roads down. The last of the mountains is Peakwood Mountain and while it’s not quite as steep as Roanoke Mountain, there’s a false top where you climb up more 10% hills to 1,484′ before going downhill a bit and then up what seems to be the steepest part (though it only registers as 11.5%) to 1,605′ for the final mountain climb just before mile 19. The last 10k winds around downtown on and off an urban greenway and this was the hardest part for me mentally in the first lap. The “hard” part was over – I had conquered 3 mountains, but there was still so many miles left before I would finish! By this point, I was on my own, having lost the others I was running near, but about half a mile before the finish, I could hear someone coming up from behind me and I could tell they had to be from the second start wave – they were running fast and strong – as he passed me, he told me good job and was quickly out of sight. I could hear how close he was getting to the finish line as the cheers got louder and I knew I was getting even closer. (He ended up finishing the course in 4:16:08 and ended up as 4th overall double finisher.) I made the last turn and made my way through the crowd (lots of cheers for the double finishers) and finished my first lap in 5:48:45, which is just barely my slowest marathon (by about 4 minutes).
After I finished, I grabbed by drop bag from our Double Marathoner tent and headed to the VIP area (I was given VIP access because I was a ambassador / blogger for the race). It was great to have a dry area and real bathrooms to change in, along with chairs to sit in and someone even had an iPhone charger for me to try to get some battery life into my phone before lap #2. I had almost 45 minutes before the next race started, so I took my time to organize my pack, reload with fuel / water and eat some more snacks before I headed off to the start line. While I was sitting in my own little world, Julie (another ambassador / blogger) came over and found me! I was on her team at Ragnar Trail WV a few years ago and we’ve kept in touch through social media over the years. She posted about this race last year which put it on my radar for this year.
After refueling, stretching and putting my bag back down at gear drop, I headed to the start line where I found the 6 hour pacer, Kristin, who ended up being one of the bloggers as well! I told her my goal for the race was just to finish the second lap, so we talked through strategy and she promised she would help keep me on track. As we headed up our first of the many hills to come, Kristin kept telling everyone around us that I was running the double and I got lots of cheers from everyone around me – it was a great boost to kick off the race. Kristin explained that she had two pace bands – one based on even splits and another based on even effort. Even though we were walking a lot of the uphills at the beginning, we were still on pace for an even split (running the same time for each mile) which meant we were a few minutes ahead should we end up slowing down on the steeper hills later in the race.

Free race picture! Always an awesome perk for runners.

Overall I was feeling pretty good as I started, though I did have some pain on the outside of my right ankle. I wasn’t sure what that was about, but it was new, so I decided to just keep an eye on it to see if it got any worse. We made our way up to Roanoke Mountain again, making friends with Chip, who was also planning to stick with us as far as he could.

Totally different view than in the middle of the night!

After a quick stop for my first pictures of the race, we all headed down the mountain. At this point, my right knee had gotten pretty grumpy and overall the downhills just hurt. Soon Chip and I were behind Kristin, but we were sticking together pretty well as we headed up Mill Mountain. At the top, I took advantage of the plethora of volunteers who were offering to take pictures and got one in front of the giant star.

Still smiling!
Course markings pointing us away from the Roanoke Star

On the way down from Mill Mountain, it was like running through the rain forest – it was pseudo-rainy / foggy but we had gotten above most of the clouds on our climbs, so as we descended, we were going back down through them.

I lost Chip around the half-way point as he was able to go down the hills faster than I was – so I just kept trucking along, making my way past the Moo Mosa table (and taking a free drink) and winding down the steep hill.

After Mill Mountain, there was a little reprieve before heading back up Peakwood Mountain. I hadn’t noticed all of the signs on the climbs as I made my way up the first time, but the second time I saw them and they gave me a chuckle, even though I knew what was coming up next. I was still passing people going up the hills and actually was feeling pretty good hiking up them – to me, the uphills were much easier than the downhills, which I guess means I did something right in training.

Signs from front to back: Keep going only one mile to the top of Peakwood!
Pain today great status update tomorrow
Don’t stop champagne at the top! Run! Run!
It will be flat in half a mile

At the top of Peakwood they had champagne (which I declined) but one of the volunteers filled up my water bottle as I made my way around the short loop at the top before heading back down what I considered the worst part of the race. By this point, I wasn’t feeling well – I don’t think I had been taking in enough calories and my legs absolutely hated me going downhill, so miles 19-20 were my lowest point. I tried going down the hills backwards, but I couldn’t handle more than a few steps before getting nauseous, so I had to turn back around. On the way down from Peakwood, I got passed by the two guys I had been leap-frogging with for most of the race (including Chip) and saw them quickly head out of sight as they took advantage of the downhills.

After the worst of the downhills were over, I knew the rest was mostly flat-ish with some small rolling hills back to the finish line. At one of the road crossings, a paramedic was directing traffic and told me that the race was being called due to bad weather in the area and that I should stop at the next water stop. Still feeling pretty terrible, I said okay and as I approached the next water stop, they tried giving me stuff and I asked them, “But I thought I was supposed to stop here?” to which I was told “No, you can keep going, they’ll come pick you up” – okay… so I kept run / walking and before long I could see a cop driving up the road towards runners, stopping to talk to each one. When he got to me, he asked if I knew the race had been cancelled and I said yes to which he said “Okay, the bus will be coming up behind you to pick you up” – okay… so I kept going. As I got into downtown, there was another race official who was stopping people and he said we all (there were a few of us around at this point) had to make a decision about whether to continue on our own with no course support or take a shuttle back to the finish line. I asked him to just tell me in a official voice that I had to stop, which he obliged and then I asked where to pick up the bus!

Where my race officially ended, 47.8 miles and 11:18:26 after I started

I ended up going to an awning beside the hospital to wait for a bus and was joined by another runner before we saw the bus come down the road a few minutes later. The bus made a few more stops, including picking up a huge group of people a few blocks later under a building overhang. The race official’s radio was buzzing as we made our way back towards the finish line and eventually got dropped off. By that point, it was raining heavily again and the temperature seemed to have dropped. Luckily the gear drop area had a tent for us to sneak under to get our bags and heat blankets to keep us semi-dry and warm. I even got one of the volunteers to help point me in the right direction back to my hotel so that I wouldn’t spend time wandering around trying to figure it out.

It’s not where I wanted my day to end, but given all of the tornado warnings that kept interrupting my afternoon hockey watching at the hotel, I’d say the race officials definitely made the right call.

A couple of final thoughts:

  • If you want a really funny analogy / race recap from a marathoner who has done over 400 races, check out this Facebook post.
  • Some runners have terrible luck – the guy who joined me to wait for the bus at the hospital has run this race 3 times and has only finished once. He ran the race the only other time they had to pull people from the race, back in the early 2000’s when they had to stop because of flooding! We joked with him on the bus that it was his fault the race was called this year.
  • The Hampton Inn was a great hotel location-wise since it is so close to the start / finish line, but noise-canceling headphones or a white noise machine would be good to bring with you if you need an early night Friday night due to the concert that is just a few blocks away.
  • A lot of the talk on our blogger page in the days leading up to the race was concern about the rain – I was actually excited about having rain / overcast weather instead of hot temperatures. This course would be absolutely brutal with full sun and a hot day – there are a lot of sections that are completely exposed. I’ll take rain over heat every single time!
  • I was 100% fine with not continuing the race at the time and wholly believe it was in my best interest – even though it only rained in Roanoke, the temperature did drop throughout the day and I wasn’t moving fast enough to generate much heat. I also didn’t have my rain jacket with me since I was so hot overnight in the rain, I certainly didn’t think I would need it during the day.
  • I was not happy when I saw the final results and saw that runners who opted to continue “on their own” were given finishing times, some over an hour after the race was officially cancelled (the race was cancelled at 4:52 from gun time and there were 28 people who had finishing times over 6 hours, some even over 7 hours). I sent an email to the race regarding this and Julia very quickly responded and said she understood where I was coming from – it was a learning experience for everyone as this was their first year having to institute their emergency management protocol. For awhile, I was upset that all of these people had official finishes even though we were told everything was cancelled and was being taken down much earlier, but the reality is, finishing would not have been a good decision for me in those conditions. Yes, I could have probably finished within those times – I had a little over 5 miles to go when I stopped – but it would have been a rough finish even without the downpour and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. It may not have been the ultra I thought I was going to do, but I finished an ultra, running 21 miles more than I have ever done before!
  • I really would have benefited from someone acting as race crew or at least a checklist for my switch between races. I did really well at: changing clothes, charging my somehow dead phone and restocking my fuel supplies, but I also made some easy mistakes: I put my portable charger in my pack, but not my watch charging cord, so it was at less than 10% battery when I stopped, I didn’t have an iPhone charger in my gear bag because I left it at the hotel and I didn’t realize the temperature was going to drop as the day went on Saturday afternoon, so I didn’t take my rain jacket with me (since I was sweating in the rain overnight).
  • This race hurt! I think my hiking background and all my long runs certainly helped with all of the uphill sections, but my legs took a beating on the downhill sections – for awhile I thought I may have actually done something to my right knee as it felt really swollen by the time I finished and it was really hard to move for the rest of the day on Saturday. Luckily after some long rest periods, it ended up being fine.
  • I need to take in more salt – I was struggling with nausea in miles 19-20, so I just slowly ate my baby goldfish which really seemed to help. I used up all 4 of my Nuun tablets during the two races, but because it was rainy and really humid, I was drinking more than I thought I would, so I should have brought more Nuun tablets with me too. I did fill up with SKRATCH at my last water stop since I was out of Nuun, but didn’t end up drinking much of it before stopping.
  • I swore when I was on the course and after the race that I would never do this again… then I said never the double… now I’ll say maybe. Enough time has passed for me to ignore how hard this race was, plus, I still haven’t technically finished 50 miles yet, so we’ll keep it as a maybe.
I was an Ambassador for this race and as part of that got a free race entry and VIP access in exchange for writing and posting pictures about my training and race experiences. You can catch up on all of my posts related to this race here

Blue Ridge Marathon – 3 days to go!

72 hours from now I’ll be at the starting line for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon.

I’m actually feeling pretty good about the race, though I’m sure I’ll regret that statement at some point over the next few days. I did 2 marathons as part of this training cycle, New South Marathon and Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh 8 days apart, and while they both were tough races, I wasn’t completely wiped out by either of them, so I’m definitely stronger than I was for last year’s marathons. This week I’ve been focusing on the logistics for the race, including how far my hotel is from the start line (less than a quarter mile), what time I need to be at the start line (12:45 am), all the required gear for the first lap (headlamp, reflective gear, blinking light, hydration, nutrition and cell phone), and any gear I want to swap between the two races (I’m going to pack for a full outfit and shoe change).

One thing that is certainly still up in the air is the weather… currently the forecast doesn’t look too terrible. I’ve done a marathon in the rain before, so I’m sure I can make it through another one if I have to and frankly, I’d prefer to have an overcast day than the original 75 degree day they were forecasting last week. I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed that we don’t have any thunderstorms until we get through the races.
The only other thing I’m still mentally trying to wrap my head around is the elevation change – 7,430′ over the marathon, which means 14,860′ change over the entire distance I’ll be covering on Saturday. I did a training run last Saturday at one of the local trails that had 4,491′ elevation change and it kicked my butt, so that may have been the one area I’ll look back on and say I should have done more, but nothing I can do about it now!
So for now, I’ll focus on what I can control – packing all my goodies (and probably way too many extra things since I’m driving up there), hydration and good sleep leading up to the race. I’m sure Friday will bring on some anxiety, but right now, I’m just ready to run!

Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon – Raleigh, NC (2017)

I had gotten a free entry to a spring Rock ‘n’ Roll race as part of the goodies we got when the Mississippi Blues race got cancelled in January, so I decided that the Raleigh half would be my “redemption” run for not getting the chance to run in Mississippi. As I got closer to race day, the weekend mileage was calling for 24 miles, so I decided I would try to move up to the marathon at the expo. The week leading up to the race had some unexpected travel, so my biggest concern for the race was that I didn’t want to get swept. Having just done the New South Marathon the weekend before, I wasn’t sure how my legs would respond to another marathon, so I just wanted to stay ahead of that 5:30 pacer. When I got to the expo and went to change my bib, I was only the 15th person to upgrade to the marathon, which only cost me $35 (score!). I ended up being in corral 5 for the marathon. I knew this was a smaller race (at least for Rock ‘n’ Roll), but I wasn’t sure how many corrals there would be. I ended up getting into the corral with the 4 hour pacer (what??). Oh well, I figured that would give me plenty of buffer room before the sag wagon and my 5 hour pace band would help keep me on track as to where I needed to be to hit the overall cutoff.

I did the half marathon version of this race in 2015 and I knew that it was a very hilly race, but I was not expecting the nonexistence of flat sections. I think there were only a few miles of flat – everything else was up or down! The weather race morning was amazing – 50 degrees and overcast for virtually the entire run. I decided to just run by feel and not worry about my time too much. I recognized a lot of the half marathon course which we split from around mile 8 where we went off for a few miles into Meredith College before meeting back up for another mile or so and then heading off on our own for the second half of the race. I hit the halfway mark at 2:20:30 and was surprised at how good I felt. I didn’t think I would be able to keep up that pace for the remainder for the race, but that gave me a good cushion to break 5 hours again, so I kept an eye on my pace band to figure out how far below the 5 hour mark I was and see if I started to slip at all in the second half.

As we got to the halfway point, we ended up back on NC State’s campus, running through the quad of the Engineering buildings – that campus is huge! After leaving campus, we headed towards Lake Johnson and found the only flat part of the course (maybe an exaggeration, but it felt like the only flat area). As we veered onto the greenway path, the trail got more crowded, but certainly didn’t create an issue. This was definitely the most scenic part of the race and one of the few places I actually stopped to take some pictures!

After the lake, we headed back towards NC State’s campus and eventually downtown. This part of the race was more exposed with lots of running on multi-lane roads. I almost stopped to take a picture when we hit Achievement Drive, but by the time I thought about it again, I was on the wrong side of the road. By mile 23.5 we looped back onto the half marathon course and I recognized the section we were on. Just after this, I could hear a band playing Sweet Caroline from somewhere ahead of me and we were close enough to see downtown, so I was just counting down to when I would get to the finish line. As I passed the band and started heading up yet another hill, they started playing Bye, Bye, Bye by NSYNC and I just had to laugh. One last major hill to climb, but they had put out some great motivational signs to help keep runners going.

By the time I crested that hill, I knew I would be able to PR in this race and possibly even break 4:40, so I just kept moving. I turned one final corner just after mile 26 and could see the finish line, so I pushed myself to finish at 4:39:31 – a 7:11 PR in my second marathon in 8 days! I knew I had gotten to about 19 minutes below my 5 hour pace band around the halfway point of the race, but I didn’t believe I was going to be able to hold on to that until I hit those motivational signs at mile 25 and then I knew I could PR. This race was a huge boost for me mentally – the hills were tough (and again, not nearly as tough as they’re going to be) but I was able to keep pushing myself and only had 4 miles where my pace was over 11:00 and that included stopping to refill my water bottle twice. This was the perfect end to my last long week of training for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon and with this finish, I officially became a Marathon Maniac (#13742) and Double Agent (#2896) so I proudly posed with my signs after the race before heading to collect my new marathon jacket.


Now, after I finished, I was hurting and I knew it’s because I pushed myself, so that 3.5 hour drive back from Raleigh wasn’t too much fun, but we stopped for some Rita’s Italian Ice (quadruple chocolate for me!) and I got a short nap, so overall it was a great day. I know some people don’t like the super fluorescent shirt colors, but I like having a variety of those, especially as I’ve been doing more running at dawn / dusk this training cycle. I still wear all my actual reflective gear when road running, but you certainly won’t lose me in a crowd in this shirt!

 

New South Marathon – Charlotte, NC (2017)

Last year I volunteered at this race, manning a water station at the bottom of Goat Hill. At the top of Goat Hill was mile 9, so we got to see the marathoners twice and the half marathoners once – very few people came off that hill looking fresh. It’s a steep up, runnable downhill, followed by another steep uphill and a steep downhill. After finishing up at the water stop, I headed to the finish line to meet up with some friends who had run the half marathon and listen to the award presentation. Last year there weren’t any entrants in my age group, so I told the RD I would be back to run the race this year. Now, I’ve never run a trail marathon and the trails at the Whitewater Center are really good for mountain biking, which means there is a lot of up and down and up and down and repeat again, again and again, so I knew this would be a tough first trail marathon. I was not disappointed!

The weather in Charlotte has been all over the place lately, but they were calling for a high in the low 70’s and mostly overcast, so I knew I would get hot, but I was glad it wasn’t going to be any hotter, since I knew I would be out there for hours. With only 70 or so participants in the full marathon, I started out near the back with Kim who I’ve been doing a lot of my long runs with. She had done the race last year and was hoping to do better this time around. There was a group of about 4 of us that ran the first few miles together and as they stopped at the first water station, I pulled ahead a bit since I had my hydration pack on and was taking advantage of it (and fueling) during my uphill walks. I ended up passing 10 people on my first lap and after a bathroom break (woo! real bathrooms at the halfway point!) started out just behind one of the guys I had passed which allowed me to follow him through the crowds and around the Lake Loop before we headed back into the woods.

While I’ve run a few races at the Whitewater Center, I don’t run much out there, so while Kim was able to tell me about each of the trails we would be on, I didn’t know them by name (or reputation), so I was able to take it more by what came to me vs. anticipating what was coming up next. The good part about the two-loop system of the marathon meant that I had an idea of what to expect and knew which sections were going to have tough uphills, which would really suck if the sun came out and where I could just run. There are some really steep downhill sections on the Academy trail at the beginning of the loop and the first time I went through, I braced myself, but managed to run / walk down them. For my second loop, I definitely sat down at one point and just went down the hill on my butt. The hill was almost a straight drop off, about my height and after 14+ miles, I decided it wasn’t worth trying to brace myself to go down upright. No worse for wear, I continued on.

There was a fairly long stretch on my second loop where I was pretty out of it mentally – I was paying enough attention to keep myself on the trail, but I couldn’t really focus on too much and wasn’t eating or drinking a lot. I want to say it was around mile 20-21 before I finally broke out of this “trance” and really the only reason I did was an obnoxious biker who thought everyone else should get out of her way so that she could speed past us. With all the switchbacks on the course, I had heard her coming up behind the guy who was behind me and heard him say “I heard you” but again, I didn’t think too much of it until she said “On your left” to me and I moved as far to the right on the trail as I could while continuing on my run. She then screamed at me from behind again and then into my ear as she passed me because apparently I was in her way. That certainly woke me up and I said a few nasty things as she continued to speed on her way to making more people feel like crap for existing on her trail. After the race, there were several runners who seemed to have had the pleasure of running into her on the trail as numerous people talked about a loud biker who kept yelling at them.

Soon thereafter, I got back to the bottom of Goat Hill and started my second trek up the monster. The good news was, I knew what was coming, so I took the opportunity to refill my water at the aid station at the bottom of the hill and then ate some more food as I hiked up to the top. When I got to the top of the first hill, I ran down the backside, passed another person and then started hiking up the last part of the worst hill.

By the time I finished with Goat Hill, I was feel better, keeping my run going and I was continuing to pass people. I ended up passing 8 people on the second loop, including 4 half marathoners who were going on their fifth hour on the course. As I got close to finishing the second lap and ended up on the last of the trail around the whitewater area, I kept looking at my watch and pushed myself to try to finish in under 6 hours and I ended with 27 seconds to spare! Official time: 5:59:33

After I finished, I found a few people I knew and made it a point to grab the post-race snacks and find some shade to stretch in for a bit. Once I did some stretching and ate some more food, I actually felt really good. Kim came in about 25 minutes later and we both made the podium, finishing 2nd and 3rd in our age group!

I spent another hour or so at the Whitewater Center, cheering on the other finishers, checking out their gear sale and generally people-watching as there were a ton of other people around whitewater rafting / kayaking, biking, hiking and generally just enjoying the beautiful weather.

This was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done, but I made the mistake of looking at the elevation change of that course to see how it would compare to the Blue Ridge Marathon and I definitely shouldn’t have done that! There was “only” 4,121′ of elevation change in this race, which is still 3,300′ less than what I’ll do in one of the marathons in that race. That was a little defeating mentally, but after I got home, I was still feeling pretty good after the race and while I certainly enjoyed some rest on the couch, I wasn’t completely wiped out for the rest of the weekend.

The swag for this race was pretty good, though the sticker they gave out with the race logo was bigger than the medal (bummer) and they were super sneaky at having Friday night packet pickup in a North Face store and if you showed your bib you could get $20 off of $100 purchase. I was able to contain myself and only walked out with a few stickers, my bib and the super-soft race sweatshirt (the half marathoners got a long-sleeve t-shirt with the same design). For my second-place age group finish, I won a Whitewater Center hat (Kim got a water bottle for 3rd place and 1st place got a coupon to the on-site store).

Overall I liked this race more than I thought I would. I had definitely built it up in my head that it was going to be a complete suffer-fest and it certainly was at times, but I was encouraged by how good I felt after the race.

Little Rock Half Marathon – Little Rock, AR (2017)

We had quite a wait for dinner Saturday night at a little Italian place downtown, but we got seated around 7:30 and all had a great dinner with fresh baked bread. Since we all kept ourselves busy after our 10k Saturday morning, we were all ready for an early bedtime Saturday night and planned to leave the hotel at a similar time Sunday morning to make our way down to the start line for the half marathon. The weather on Sunday did a 180 from Saturday, a bit cooler and rainy. Luckily I had packed a lightweight jacket for the race – it’s more of a windbreaker than a rain jacket, but since it was in the 40’s I figured that would be enough to keep me warm. I actually ended up taking off my jacket for a few miles until the wind kicked up and then I kept it on the rest of the race.

There were a lot of people who were dressed up for the race, some with outfits that matched what they wore the day before, so I recognized some folks. This year’s theme for the races was candy, so there were a lot of bright colors and one guy was wearing an ice cream cone on his head (I tried to keep up with him, but he was definitely faster than me!). We took a quick pre-race selfie before heading out to the hills of Little Rock.

Me, Sarah and Jennifer

The beginning of the race followed the same course that the 10k did, so we passed by some of my favorite signs from Saturday a second time and I was able to get some pictures of them the second time around. This group also had a booth at the expo where you could pet a llama and some pigmy goats. They were certainly a very popular group!

The hills in the second half of the race were rough, though I’m sure that may have had something to do with the 24 miles I did the day before, but it was certainly tougher than the first half. I was struggling a bit in the second half, but that’s when the spectators stepped up their game!

At mile 10, I was heading up a hill and I could see a Steelers banner at the top, so when I finally reached the top of the hill, I had to ask for a selfie! We spent a few minutes talking about how crazy it is to find Steelers fans truly all over the country, but I thanked him for his support and headed back to finish up my race.

Around mile 12, as we came up a big hill, there were tons of candy decorations lining the street and volunteers were handing out Skittles which were awesome! Though I will have to caution, if you’re going to try to eat cold Skittles, be careful, they’re a little hard to chew.

At some point on the course, there was the famous lipstick booth where volunteers were handing out tubes of lipstick to all runners. I actually took this picture from the marathon course where the booth was near mile 26. As I was there, a woman who was coming up to the finish stopped to pick out a color and said “I gotta look good for my finish line pictures!” and put some on before heading to finish off her last .2 miles. It’s the little things that brighten a runner’s day!

After I finished the half marathon, I walked back to my hotel which was actually right along the marathon course, so I got to cheer on some finishers. After I rested for a bit, I headed back out to wander around downtown and there were still marathoners coming in to the finish line – with an 8 hour cutoff, this race is walker-friendly and I have a ton of respect for the people who were out on the course for that long – 26.2 miles is a really long way to go and spending 8+ hours in the rain and wind to cross that finish line absolutely deserves the same respect as those who can finish in under 3.

I won’t lie, after seeing the finisher medals for the marathon (easily as big as a dinner plate), I was really jealous of those who completed the full. The bling I got for the 10k, half and challenge were awesome and since this race changes themes every year, I may keep this one on my list to come back to. Each race had its own t-shirt color (green, blue, white and purple) and while I didn’t see the 5k medal, the 10k medal (top left medal) was as big as most half marathon medals, the half marathon medal spins (bottom right) and as I mentioned, the full medals are absolutely huge! So, if you run for the bling, this is definitely a race you should check out.

Caveat: the challenge shirts are only available for purchase, so I totally cheated and just took a picture of one at the expo (picture at the top of this post) – I liked the shirt, but I didn’t want to spend $20 for another shirt that was very similar to the other two.