2015 by the numbers

Want to see how the last two years compare? Check out 2013 and 2014.

This year saw one less race than last year, but about 14 more miles for a total of 221.25 race miles in 18 races!

  • 1 5k
  • 1 4-miler
  • 2 8ks
  • 1 5-miler
  • 9 half marathons
  • 3 trail races
  • 1 marathon (and 1 failed attempt)
Only 1 official PR in 2015, but it was a big one, taking 41:41 off my marathon time and crushing the 5-hour mark. I also did my longest trail run to date, with the 14-mile Hardesty Hardcore. I also hiked 28.3 miles in one day and raised over $2,880 for Make-A-Wish of Western North Carolina during the Trailblaze Challenge
512.2 miles run / hiked with the Charity Miles app, raising money for ASPCA, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Stand Up to Cancer, Team Red, White and Blue, Wounded Warrior Project and the National Park Foundation. 
4,150,626 steps (or 1,903 miles) based on my steps tracker. I was aiming for 2,015 miles in 2015 and was surprised at how close I came. I beat last year’s mileage by 576 miles and 1,284,247 steps. Next year I’ll have an extra day to get in 2,016 miles.
12 states visited, including races in 6 new states: Washington, DC, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Georgia. I had two big running trips this year. My first was a 2-week trek through Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana which included two half marathons and lots of backcountry hiking. The second was a slightly shorter trip that started in New Mexico and ended up in Oregon. I’ve only got 31 more states to check off a race in every state (plus DC)!

I’m not sure what all 2016 will hold, but here’s to kicking off another great year!

Huntersville Half Marathon – Huntersville, NC (2015)

Last race of 2015 and I was all ready to wear my Santa shirt from the Santa Hustle two years ago, but as with the weather over Christmas last weekend, it did not cooperate. Instead, it was in the 60’s and I had to forego my long-sleeve shirt in favor of a t-shirt and shorts! Much different from the low 30’s the week before. I was out of town until late the night before the race, so I picked up my bib and race sweatshirt the morning of the race. It was incredibly foggy as I drove up to Huntersville and I didn’t 100% know where I was going, so I just picked a random spot in the parking lot and ended up being really close to the Fleet Feet Sports who was hosting the event. I got there about 45 minutes before the race started, so there wasn’t much of a line and I got my free sweatshirt, bib and then headed back to my car to get ready.

I met up with Beth and another one of her running friends and we decided to do the 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking plan for the duration of the race. None of us were really “racing” so we figured we would just enjoy the scenery and check out everyone’s Christmas decorations. 

The race was fairly hilly, but definitely manageable and took us through a lot of different little neighborhoods. The roads were still open to traffic and there were a few areas where people were trying to get through the hoards of runners, but overall, it felt safe enough and there were cops around to direct traffic at main intersections. 

We all came through the finish just about the same time and my last half of the year ended up being 2:25:00, averaging 11:03. I’ve done a few races this year that I didn’t put any thought into training for and just ran them to do it vs. because I really wanted to do the race. One of my goals for next year is to stop signing up for races just for the race and focus more on races that I’m actually excited to do. My first race in 2016 is coming up in just 1.5 weeks and I’ve officially started training for my first goal race which will be the Asheville Marathon Backyard to Vineyard Challenge – a half marathon on Saturday, followed by a full marathon on Sunday! 

ACC Fan 5k – Charlotte, NC (2015)

This race was only three weeks after the Thunder Road Marathon, but I wanted to actually race this one to see how fast I could go. I convinced a friend to race against me, with the hope that he could push me to PR in this race. I haven’t done any speedwork lately, probably since late summer when I was trying to get back to playing soccer, so I was really relying on my long run training instead. I went out last weekend for an 8 mile run and my plan was to do the first 3 miles at goal race pace and then just take it easy for the other 5. I struggled to stay under 10:00, with my splits going 9:18, 9:47, 9:58 – it was not a good day! I messaged my friend and let him know how terrible that run was and he said he did a 5k run that day in 26:00, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. My best is 25:51 and that was on an almost completely flat course, which uptown Charlotte is definitely not! In the days leading up to the race, there was some good-natured trash talking, with his conclusion being that there was no way I could beat him. 

Packet pick-up was available at the midtown Run For Your Life store Thursday and Friday and was super easy to get the bib and shirt – if you signed up early enough, you even got to pick your favorite ACC team shirt as your race shirt. There are a lot of options for parking uptown near the race start / finish and everyone, including mascots from every team were congregating inside before the race started. It was great to have a lot of room inside because it was freezing – starting temps were in the low 30’s! I saw a handful of other Pitt fans, but we were definitely in the minority with all the UNC and Clemson fans in town for the ACC Championship game that night. 
My plan for the race was to run a little faster in the first half since it was mostly downhill for the first mile and a half and I knew I would end up slowing down on some of the hills at the end. It was pretty crowded when we started, so my friend and I got split up a little, but I kept him in my sights and my plan was just to stay close, but not push too hard to try to catch up. There were some major hills in the second half of the race, but most of them were short, even when they were really steep, so there was a little time to catch your breath. Once we got back onto the last straight stretch, I was trying to remember how many streets we would have to cross before we got to the finish line, but luckily since it was so straight, I was able to see the finish line from at least 5 blocks away. I started to lose some ground with about 3 blocks to go, but I was not going to let him beat me, so I made up the gap and with a block to go, I did my best sprint and beat him by 5 seconds! My Garmin tracked my last .1 as going from an 8:49 pace to a 5:22 pace. I finished the race and all he could say was that he had nothing left. I accepted his defeat and made promises of much gloating on Facebook and Instagram
  • Mile 1 – 8:01
  • Mile 2 – 8:26
  • Mile 3 – 8:19
Official time: 26:17
This was only my third slowest 5k (by 7 seconds), with the other two being on very flat courses, so I’m very happy with this race. This was not an easy race for me, and I know if I wasn’t trying to beat someone, I definitely would not have gone that fast. It was really cold at the start, so I was glad to have my neck gaiter until I could warm up a bit, but even with that, my lungs hurt for a couple hours after the race from breathing in so much cold air. Only one more race left for 2015!

Thunder Road Marathon – Charlotte, NC (2015)

I wasn’t sure how this race was going to go after the major letdown in Savannah. I signed up for the Thunder Road full on the drive back home, but I wasn’t mentally into it at all. I had a work conference that week along with general craziness and it wasn’t until I went to packet pickup on Friday afternoon that I finally got into race mentality and was actually getting excited about the race the next day.

The good news is that I had done the half marathon the year before as well as preview runs of almost the entire full course, so I mostly knew what to expect. Beth and I decided to meet up before the race at her office uptown which was great because we had a place to get ready inside, easy access to bathrooms and we got to see the sunrise!

About 20 minutes before the start of the race, we headed outside, stopped by the gear check truck and then went to the start line. There are no corrals for this race, so it’s just one big start line area, with breaks in the barricades to let people in. Beth wanted to meet up with her running group and we got separated in the corral as it was packed! I actually started behind the 5:45 pace group, but with how tight the corral was, the pacers were all mixed up for awhile. I passed the 5:45 pace group, then the 5:15 pace group and then the 5:30 pace group within the first mile (in that order). 

I planned to do 5 minutes running and 1 minute walking, but I ran through the first set as there’s a pretty good downhill portion to start the race and that helped thin out the crowd a bit. My goal was still to break 5 hours, but I didn’t use a pace band this time. I had the 4:45 band on for Savannah and I realized that it took away one of my major distraction techniques since I no longer had to do math at every mile, plus I didn’t want to get down on myself if I started to fall behind the pace I wanted to go. 
The first half of the race was pretty uneventful and I caught up to one of my friends around the 10.5 mile mark, but she was having a rough day and ended up DNF the full, but she did complete the half just two days after her team won the women’s soccer championship and she later told me she definitely would not be playing soccer that close to a marathon again. It’s hard to figure out how to prioritize your commitments when they end up back-to-back like that, so I don’t envy the position she was in at all. 
The worst part of the first half was running past Price’s Chicken Shack and having to smell them cooking the day’s food – I could have done without that! But, before I knew it, I was coming up on the dreaded split, where the marathoners come within one block of the finish line before looping around the baseball stadium and heading back out for the rest of the course. I was surprised at the lack of crowd support here – I literally saw 5 people on the backside of the stadium and 2 of them were volunteers working the timing mat – very disappointing for sure! This is where I pulled out my headphones and decided to stop paying attention to my watch for awhile. I ran a good first half and now just had to mentally get through the uptown portion again before I’d be heading out into NoDa and Plaza Midwood. 
Around the 15 mile mark, I was trying to figure out my pace and mixed up converting my hours to minutes and thought my pace had jumped up over 13:00 / mile and I had to redo the calculations like three times before I figured out what my issue was. Like I said, it’s a really good distraction technique, especially when you’re getting tired! 
I took a quick pit stop just after mile 18 and I’m not sure what happened, but I suddenly felt really nauseous and had to walk for about half a mile before I felt good enough to start shuffling along again. During my walk / shuffle, I got passed by the 4:30 pace group, which I didn’t even remember passing in the first place, but I was excited to see it wasn’t a later group passing me. 

After about 10 minutes where I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to continue, I got back into a groove and when I hit the 20 mile mark, I knew I was going to be able to break 5 hours – I had over an hour and a half to do the final 10k, so even if I had another meltdown, I was going to do it!

From about mile 24.5-25.5 of this race is almost all uphill, so I did a lot of walking on my second trip back into uptown for the day, but once I hit the top of the hill, I let the hill pull me down towards the finish and picked up some speed before crossing the line in 4:46:42! I finished this race 41:41 faster than my first marathon and couldn’t be happier with how it went – this was definitely the race I trained for! 

At the finish line, they were handing out extras of all the food and drinks, so I got a good stash and then went to the grass beside the finish line to check on Beth. She ended up finishing in 5:10, taking almost a full hour off her first marathon time and we promptly set off to take pictures with our new medals and our (finally earned) marathon finisher’s jackets from Savannah. 
Just two more races left in 2015 and the next one is the complete opposite direction – seeing how fast I can finish a 5k! 

Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon – Savannah, GA (2015)

This is it, the race I’ve been training for, albeit for only 7 weeks, but this is the race where I will break 5:00 and get my much anticipated marathon finisher jacket! 

Spoiler alert: as most of you may have heard by now, the race was black flagged around 9:45am which diverted the marathon runners at various stages of the race due to heat and humidity. Unfortunately, I was one of those runners. But, let’s back up a little.

I was running this race with my friend Beth, and we headed out of Charlotte early Friday morning to get down to Savannah (about a 4 hour drive) early enough to hit the expo before we ran into major Friday afternoon traffic. The expo was really easy to get to, though the parking situation was a little tight, especially for a convention center, and we grabbed our bibs, made sure we were in the same corral and then wandered around the expo to check out what the vendors were offering. We found one booth where the people were calling out asking who was running the marathon, so we went over and they had us make signs that their school would be waving during the second half of the marathon the next day – an awesome way to recognize all the runners! 

We didn’t spend too much time at the expo and instead headed to the hotel to get off our feet and figure out our dinner plans. As expected, most places were already completely booked with over 20,000 runners in town for the race. Since we were south of the city, we were able to find something fairly easily, with only a 30 minute wait for a table. After dinner, we headed to Wal-Mart to pick up some last-minute supplies and we clearly were a little delirious as we tried on little kids monster slippers (Beth) and got really excited about find an 18-pack of Twix for $10 (me). It was a great distraction and once we found what we actually needed, we went back to the hotel for an early bedtime and an even earlier wakeup call. 

We got up at 4:30, grabbed our gear and headed to the parking garage we had pre-paid for. There was a lot of traffic to get into the garage, but it was definitely a lot easier than trying to find a random location to park in a city we didn’t know anything about. We had about a half mile walk to both the start and finish (this was a point to point race), so it ended up being an ideal location to park. 

It was hot and humid as we walked to the start line and we knew it was only going to get worse once the sun came up. The moss-covered trees were a great backdrop for the start of the race and we got there about half an hour before the race started. There were a ton of people in the start area, with spectators and runners mingling about. The best advice we got all morning was from another runner who told us to head to the portapotties near the last corral – the lines there were so much shorter that it was easily worth the short walk to find them. We had about 30 minutes after the official race start before our corral started and we positioned ourselves near the front of our corral. For this race, there were two full corrals with people expecting to finish at the 5:00 mark and the two others on the bookends also having 5:00 finishers too, so we were definitely in the thick of runners, though as we realized later, most of these people were doing the half, just at the pace we were going for in the marathon. 

One of Beth’s running club friends, Jennifer, joined us in the corral and as we were talking, we realized that each of us was doing our second marathon and none of us felt great about the first one. Jennifer was telling us about the hills in Savannah since she had done this race last year and I mentioned the hills in the Pittsburgh Marathon and she immediately asked me if I had done the Galloway training group last year, which I had and then she said, “You’ve been my unnamed hero! I’ve been talking about you for a year and a half and never knew your name. I couldn’t believe you were going to go run by yourself – you’re a total badass!” Last spring, since the training group was only gearing up to the half marathon distance, I would go run a few miles before meeting up with the group to do the official training runs and apparently I made an impression. That definitely made my morning! 

Since there were so many people, we opted to skip the first two walk cycles and try to get to an area that was more spread out before we walked. We ended up catching up to the corral in front of us, so unfortunately, this never really happened on the half marathon course – there were a ton of people everywhere!

  • Mile 1 – 10:20
  • Mile 2 – 10:18
  • Mile 3 – 10:47
  • Mile 4 – 10:20
  • Mile 5 – 10:41
  • Mile 6 – 10:03
  • Mile 7 – 11:32
  • Mile 8 – 10:19
  • Mile 9 – 11:50
  • Mile 10 – 11:21
  • Mile 11 – 11:44
  • Mile 12 – 11:16
  • Mile 13 – 11:09

Around the 13.5 mile marker, I was told to turn around. Beth had called me just a minute or so before that and let me know she was waiting for me next to a bunch of cops who were turning people around and there was another guy ahead of where she was who was turning people around, so I called her back and told her to come to me. While I was waiting for her, I found Jennifer and we both waited until Beth came to meet us. 

Overall, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to do the race I wanted on Saturday, but I’m also glad that I didn’t have to make the decision of whether or not to continue racing. There had already been times were I would forget to eat during my walk break and while I still felt pretty good, I was definitely overheating. Around mile 6, I started grabbing a water at each stop to dump on my head / wrists / neck to try to cool myself down a little bit. That did work for awhile, but before I would get to the next water stop, it was like I had never done that. I was able to get some ice cubes from a couple of the water stops which was amazing! By the time I hit the split of the half and the full (around 12 miles), I had already gone through my 2 litre hydration pack and this was the time when I was starting to contemplate what it would really take for me to finish the race. I’m surprised my time didn’t suffer as much as I thought it had, but I knew I was going to struggle through the rest of the race. 

We ended up walking the entire way back to the finish line because we decided that we should just use this race as a long training run and not exhaust ourselves any more because we may still be able to salvage another marathon this fall, so we walked for about 3 miles and jogged into the finish line, got our mostly unearned medals and made our way through the finishers chute. 


sad faces at the finish

Rock ‘n’ Roll allowed all marathoners to pick up their finishers jacket and we joked about adding an asterisk to the jacket because no one really felt like they earned it. Affected runners have also received a coupon code good for a free Rock ‘n’ Roll race any time within the next year, so Beth and I are definitely going to find a fun one to go to next year. I understand why people are upset about this race and there are other factors that, if true, are certainly unacceptable (running out of water within the first 6 miles, volunteers giving away medals to kids / family members instead of just runners, etc.), but I’m glad that Rock ‘n’ Roll made the decision when they did and didn’t rely on runners to make the right decision based on the weather. I know I wasn’t going to quit unless I absolutely had to and that’s not a good thing when you’re talking about heat-related health issues.

Myrtle Beach Mini Marathon – Myrtle Beach, SC (2015)

This was the third year in a row I’ve done this race and this time it was supposed to be part of a 23 mile training run. Since I was at the race by myself and I had to drive back the day of the race, I knew I didn’t want to try to do the whole 23 miles on Sunday. Instead, I planned a 5-mile run on Saturday afternoon and then about 19 miles the day of the race. 

The first thing I did was head to packet pickup to grab my bib and check out the vendors. This has always been a really small expo, but last year I had bought a great pair of running sunglasses for $15 and unfortunately right before I went to New Mexico, I broke them. I was able to piece then together for that trip, but they were officially scrapped when I got home. I was definitely excited to find the same vendor there again this year and even though I didn’t find my $15 sunglasses, I did pick up a pair that have been working well for me. After the expo, I headed to a small park so that I could get my 5-mile run in. I really struggled during the this run. I think it was a combination of the warmer weather and timing – I started around 3pm, and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. I did take a GU before I ran and I had lots of water with me, but it still felt really hard. I ended up running a 10:47 pace which was actually a lot better than I expected given how I was feeling at the time.

After my run, I checked into my hotel and signed up for their pasta dinner that night before heading up to do some work. My job has been pretty crazy for a few weeks and I knew I was going to have to work on this trip, so I had brought my computer with me and worked for about 4 hours on Saturday night. The fact that the hotel had a pasta dinner at the hotel was awesome and meant I didn’t have to try to find somewhere to eat. Last year, we did find a great Italian restaurant, so I would have loved to grab food from there again, but I went for convenience instead.
Since I wanted to run more than a half on Sunday and because this is a point-to-point race with my hotel being about a mile and a half from the finish line, I decided I would run from my hotel to the start and then back to my hotel after the finish to give me 19 miles total. It actually worked out really well since I didn’t have to worry about the post-race shuttle which I would have had to have taken if I parked my car at the start line. The race started at 7:00am and I had about 4.5 miles to run, so I left about 5:45am to give myself enough time to get to the start, hit the portapotty and then start my race. When I got to the start line, it was still dark out, but the sun was starting to light up the sky. 

I ended up in a huge line for the portapotties and missed the start of the race, but since I wasn’t running for a specific time, I just jumped into the corral and started near the 12:00 pacer. Since I had already done 4.5 miles I planned to just continue my 5:1 from the start of the race instead of running a couple of cycles first. I think I only had about a minute of my run time to go, so I did skip the first walk cycle and ran for 7-8 minutes before walking, but other than that, I kept pretty close to the standard 5:1.
  • Mile 1 – 10:09
  • Mile 2 – 9:36
  • Mile 3 – 10:10
  • Mile 4 – 11:17
  • Mile 5 – 10:36
  • Mile 6 – 10:57
  • Mile 7 – 10:25
  • Mile 8 – 11:01
  • Mile 9 – 10:17
  • Mile 10 – 10:22
  • Mile 11 – 10:20
  • Mile 12 – 10:20
  • Mile 13 – 9:20
  • Mile 14 – 10:40
  • Mile 15 – 10:10
  • Mile 16 – 9:40
  • Mile 17 – 10:18
  • Mile 18 – 9:52
  • Mile 19 – 10:05
Since I do the 5:1 ratio, on my watch, I can see my current pace (within that time period) and my overall time, but I can’t see my overall pace. Instead, I spend some of my time distracting myself by trying to do the math in my head as to what my overall pace is. As I went through the race, I came upon the 11:00 pace group around mile 7 or so and realized that I must be running pretty fast to have caught up with them, so I started doing the math and realized I was keeping a less than 10:30 pace. I figured there was no way I would be able to keep that up, so I just continued to run by how I felt and I couldn’t believe it when I finished and my average pace for 19 miles was 10:21!

After I finished the actual race, got my huge medal, and took my obligatory post-race picture, I ran back to my hotel and quickly changed out of my shoes and headed to the beach for a quick dip in the ocean. I figured since I had walked in the Pacific this year, I might as well head into the Atlantic as well. The water itself wasn’t cold, but the air temperature was, so as soon as the waves headed back out to sea, I got cold when the wind hit me. Overall, it wasn’t a great substitute for an ice bath, but it was still fun.

This training cycle, short as it was (7 weeks total) was all over the map, so I really have no idea what to expect for the full marathon. I’d really like to break the 5:00 mark – that was my goal for my first marathon and while I wasn’t able to hit that mark, I’d definitely like to do it this time! 

Great Smoky Mountains half marathon – Townsend, TN (2015)

After returning from my second amazing road trip of the year, I had only a few days to get ready for my next half marathon. I had bought a three-pack from the Vacation Races series and decided to pick up the Great Smoky Mountains half marathon as my third race since it was only a few hours away in Townsend, TN.

I drove up late on Friday and went directly to packet pickup. I drove through Sevierville and got caught up in the car show traffic – 45 minutes to go a few miles – before getting onto a windy road to get into Townsend. Packet pickup was a little odd. There was a sign at the end of the road indicating I was at the right spot, but then there were just cars parked in a field with no other signage. Luckily, I saw a guy walking down the hill holding a race shirt and bib, so I wandered up the hill to find a few vendors set up and was able to get my bib, shirt and check in for my volunteer position for after the race. I also got to talk to a woman from the Backyard to Vineyard Challenge that I’ll be running next year (more to come soon).

After the race expo, I had to make my way back through the mess of traffic to get to my hotel in Sevierville – for anyone who runs this race, make sure you get a hotel in Townsend instead and save yourself the hassle. I drove past several hotels and I’m not sure why I chose to stay in Sevierville, but there were a lot of options that would have been closer. 

Saturday morning, it took me 45 minutes to get to the start line, even without the car show traffic at 5:45am, mostly because it’s a windy country road. As I got closer to the finish line, there was a long backup of cars trying to get into the parking lot. Since this was a point-to-point race, participants were bussed from the finish to the start. The buses were lined up along the right side of the road, so part of the time we were on the left side of them, and then we had to cross between the buses and drive on their right side before turning into the parking lot. I felt bad for the volunteers who were out there directing traffic – they had one small flashlight and a barely reflective vest – and they were having to direct the buses, cars and random participants who were walking in between everything.

Eventually I got parked and hopped onto a bus to the start line. The pre-race staging area was pretty good, there was music and giveaways every 5 minutes and we were in a huge school parking lot so there was a ton of space for everyone to spread out. It was a little chilly, so I kept my jacket on until right before the race started and then I used the free gear check to send my stuff to the finish line. 

The race itself was pretty uneventful. I didn’t go into this race with any expectations and put virtually no thought into the race itself as I had spent most of my summer planning other trips. Initially I was going to make this race part of a longer run to kick-off my marathon training, but the morning of, I just didn’t have it in me. The race was crowded at the beginning and it wasn’t a closed road, so runners were instructed to stay on our side of the road or risk being disqualified. Unfortunately, the first road we were on was small and there were so many runners that the threat quickly went in one ear and out the other for a lot of runners – there simply wasn’t space to run just in our lane. Eventually, the race thinned out a bit, but the roads continued to be a challenge – there were several miles that were on highly banked roads which meant you were running at an angle most of the time. I could definitely feel it in my knee and tried to stay as close to the level sections as I could, but sometimes it was inevitable as the whole road looked like the banked Nascar turns. The course went past a lot of really pretty houses that were right on the water.

This race had it’s very own 1 mile to go sign – a giant billboard directing people to the TalleyHo Inn which was where the race finished.

  • Mile 1 – 10:26
  • Mile 2 – 11:06
  • Mile 3 – 10:37
  • Mile 4 – 10:55
  • Mile 5 –  11:09
  • Mile 6 – 10:16
  • Mile 7 –  10:48
  • Mile 8 – 11:01
  • Mile 9 –  11:26
  • Mile 10 –  10:32
  • Mile 11 –  10:18
  • Mile 12 – 10:29
  • Mile 13 – 9:42
Official time: 2:20:59
Overall pace: 10:46

This ended up being my fastest half marathon so far this year which was pretty amazing since I didn’t go into the race with any plans. Overall, this race was not my favorite – it was fine for what it was, but given the races I did in Wyoming and Montana, this one doesn’t even come close. I know I’m spoiled because I can go hang out in these mountains whenever I want, so someone coming from another part of the country may have a different opinion, but I don’t think I’ll do this one again.

I’m also just not overly impressed with the organization of the Vacation Races team. As I mentioned earlier, I volunteered for this race (like I did at Yellowstone) because the week of the race, they were desperately looking for people to help. They even offered a free entry to one of their 2016 races for anyone who was willing to help clean up after the race. Since I was planning to stay in Tennessee for the night anyway, I volunteered and I was told at packet pickup that we wouldn’t be able to start clean up until the awards were given out and then the major clean up would be after the official race cut off. It was a tale of two extremes – either there was absolutely nothing the volunteers could do, so we just stood around waiting or the volunteers were the only ones moving boxes / cleaning up things and at least 3 staff members were just sitting watching us. I really do understand that it takes an amazing amount of time and effort to put on an event like this, and there were some extenuating circumstances with this particular race (the gear truck broke down on their drive to the race, so they had a rental), but they do not understand how to utilize volunteers and yet continually seem to “need” them in the days leading up to their races. Overall, I’m just really disappointed in the way this series is run – from the misleading advertisement videos (they all show people running through the national parks which none of their races actually do) to the mismanagement of volunteers to the overcrowded courses, this is not a series I would recommend you go out of your way to attend. If you need an excuse to make a vacation to a national park, this is a great way to add a run to that vacation, but it’s probably not going to be worth traveling just to go to one of these races.

Hardesty Hardcore – Oakridge, OR (2015)

I first heard about this race over a year ago and promptly put it on my bucket list. I couldn’t resist a race featuring my last name, even better that it was going to be the hardest race I’ve ever attempted. The race touts itself as “very challenging” with 3,300′ elevation gain in the first 4.5 miles, 3,300′ descent in the next 4 and then “rolling” for the last 5.5 miles. 

I knew I would be hiking a lot of the first 4.5 miles. The only thing I could think to compare this race to was the Bear which I’ve done for the last 3 years, but that is only a 5 mile race with 1,762′ of elevation gain… so almost double the height in an even shorter distance. The check-in for the race was super easy with just a few tables set up with bibs, merchandise and some flyers for other races put on by the same organization and parking was in a small lot which also doubled as the start line. 

It was a small race, but it was also a single track trail, so it worked out really well. I was in a pretty large group near the back of the pack and we sorted ourselves out pretty quickly as we hit some major uphills. I was following a guy in his 70’s who said early on to let him know if anyone wanted to pass. I told him I was happy to stay behind him and I made it my goal to keep up with him until we got to the top of the mountain. I did my best to keep up with him, but I also stopped to take some pictures along the way as well, especially as the sun was coming up over the mountain.

The fog and huge trees made this an incredible trail to run on and I was glad I decided to stick with the full 14-mile race instead of backing down to the 5.5 miler.

Before the race, several folks were talking about a section of the trail that turned from green to black and white and I couldn’t even imagine what that would mean, but once I got to that point, there was no question I had found exactly what they were talking about.

I caught back up to the guy in front of me at the aid station at the top of the mountain and we talked for a bit as we started down the other side. I learned his name was Keith and he mentioned he was glad to have someone to run with and I thanked him for pacing me up the hill! My goal was to make up some time on the downhill section, but as we started off, it was still really steep, just going downhill this time. There were sections when I had to side step down the hill because it was so steep and while my calves were killing me on the way up, it didn’t take long for my quads to start feeling the downhill. Around the 6.5 mile point, Keith stepped off the trail and let me pass him and about this time, I was finally able to actually start running the downhill sections. My fastest mile of the day came in mile 8 at a 10:48. Most of my miles before that were averaging in the 18-20 minute range. 

I passed another girl on the downhill and then passed 3 people at the aid station that was near the start line of the 5.5 miler. The “rolling” hills in the last 5.5 milers were still enough to cause me to walk some of the uphills, but I felt good running on the downhill sections, even though I knew my quads were going to be toast at the end of the day. There were several bridge crossings on the course and the scenery continued to be amazing.

At the last aid station, I grabbed some type of shortbread cookie and ate it while I ran and at the time, it was the most amazing food ever! I caught up with a couple with (what I thought was) about a mile and a half left and just stayed behind them for awhile. About the time I was going to ask them to let me pass, I realized I could see the parking lot and even though my watch was still just over 13 miles, we were almost done. The three of us came in together, up yet another cruel (though short) hill and crossed the finish line, handed off our bib tickets, were greeted by the announcer and given our medals.

The announcer told everyone to thank me for having a mountain named after me and I happily accepted the applause from those who were still hanging around. There was free Mexican food and beer at the finish line and on-the-spot results printed for you if you wanted them. I grabbed a couple of tacos, a banana and more water and enjoyed the sunshine for awhile after I finished before the obligatory medal and trailhead sign.

I got to catch up with Keith after he finished (1st in his age group) and he said that after he let me pass him, he turned around and I was gone. I told him I had finally been able to start running and again thanked him for pacing me up those first 4 miles of hills. I know I would have gone slower if I didn’t have someone I was trying to keep up with. I ended up finishing in 3:35:30, 3rd in my age group, 7th woman and 34th overall. I might have to keep that on-demand results page just for those stats! 

I’m really glad I stuck with the 14 mile race. I was 3 weeks out from re-injuring my knee playing soccer and until I did the race in New Mexico, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be able to run this or if I would have to move down to the 5.5 miler. Even though I was pretty dead for the rest of the day and my legs were sore for the rest of the week, I loved it the whole time. I’m definitely interested in doing more trail running in the future – it’s so much more peaceful to be out in the woods running than running along the road with car exhaust and having to be concerned about whether or not people will see you and stop. Combined with the New Mexico race, I ran almost 30 miles of trails over two weekends and I’m ready to find my next trail!

Ragnar Trail Angel Fire – leg #3 – Angel Fire, NM (2015)

Check out part I and part II.

After finishing my second leg a little after 1:30am, I stuck around the village to talk with our third runner for a little bit before I headed back to the condo to get showered, some food and a much needed nap. One of the things I typically struggle with on these relay races is staying awake long enough after my second run to get enough food and water into my system before I crash. Last year at the Ragnar Key West race, I learned that lesson the hard way when I immediately fell asleep after my second leg and slept for a couple of hours before waking up feeling awful! I grabbed some snacks at the condo and eventually made my way to bed. I knew it was going to be at least 5-6 hours before my next run, so I set my alarm for 4 hours, turned all of my alerts off, stuck in my ear plugs and slept hard until around 7:00 or 7:30am. 

When I woke up, there was some talk among my teammates about our team having to double-up our legs because we were now behind the overall race cutoff. We still had 3 of each leg left to run, so there was some confusion about what that would mean for us. Initially we thought we could still double-up and then one person would just run by themselves, but it turned out that we would either have to triple-up or wait until we only had 6 legs left to double-up. We decided to just go ahead and double-up for our last set of legs which meant my last run on the Yellow loop would be by myself.

I had heard that the Yellow loop was actually harder than the Red loop, and after comparing the two, I think I agree.

At least with the Red loop you knew that after the first 3 miles of uphill, you got 3 miles of downhill. This one seemed to be never-ending uphill! You still end up getting to the same elevation, 9,050′ (per my Garmin), but after that, you have another hill to climb! 

I did like the Yellow loop though – it was long enough to get into a groove (even if that was walk a lot, run a little) but short enough not to feel like too much. The course also had a great totem pole welcoming you to a section of woods.

There was only one time when I wasn’t sure where the course went – we had been on a large dirt road and it kind of dead-ended into what looked like someone’s driveway. At first, I thought I was supposed to continue down the road, but then I saw the little yellow sign pointing me off-road through some high grass and onto a trail. 

The Yellow loop had some great views of the surrounding valleys and at one point, I could see some neon “grass” up ahead and I was very confused why we were so close to a golf course, until I realized that what I was looking at was actually a green water tower. That’s about the point that I realized that I could probably use some more sleep!

  • Mile 1 – 10:45
  • Mile 2 – 17:33
  • Mile 3 – 17:30
  • Mile 4 – 15:08
  • Last .42 – 9:40

My IT band and ankle were still hurting me on the last downhill section, but I knew I didn’t have to run any more after this leg, so I picked up the speed and came across the line flying!

Since I was the first runner for our team, all of the rest of our runners had to go before our team would finish. Starting with runner #3, we were allowed to double-up our runners so that runner #3 and runner #6 ran together on the Green loop, followed by runners #4 and #7 on the Yellow loop. It was during the Yellow loop where we had another lightning delay. Our runners were still on the course and since this was our next-to-last leg, we had a couple of options. No one was going to be allowed back on the course after 4:00pm, but if the lightning delay lifted before then, our final two runners could run together on the Red leg, but their time would not count for our overall team time. Instead, they were technically “skipped” and our team was finished when our runners on the Yellow loop came in. Soon enough, runners #3 and #6 came in and we got our official team photo and our medals.

Our last runners still wanted to run their last leg, so while we waited for the lightning ban to be lifted, we tore down our campsite, which had started to blow away during the last bought of wind and rain.

Once the runners were off, we all headed back to the house to get warm, change and then we headed back to the village to cheer our final runners in. While we were waiting, we realized that we were one of the last teams on the course and the village was virtually deserted with the exception of one other team and all of the Ragnar employees. Someone must have liked country, because the music was all country while we were waiting and I got to serenade my teammates to “Friends in Low Places” while wearing my new Avex trucker hat with a long-sleeve shirt over my shoulders. For some reason this was apparently very funny. It’s too bad no one got a picture of that! We did, however, get some pictures of people crossing the finish line who we missed earlier due to the weather – here’s Kayla (runner #3) coming in…

We officially finished the race in 29:09:06 and came in 55th place in the regular open mixed division. Coming into this race, I was the only one who had done a relay race before and several members hadn’t run trail races before they started training for this race, so I think it was a great experience for everyone. As always when people are tired, hungry and kept in close quarters for long periods of time, we all had our moments when we needed our space, but overall, I think the team responded to all of the challenges thrown our way and I’m pretty sure I’ve convinced them to try out more relay races!

Ragnar Trail Angel Fire – leg #2 – Angel Fire, NM (2015)

Check out part 1 here.

After my first leg, I headed back to our condo to shower and grab some food while the rest of my team hung out down in the village. I was just getting ready to head back down to the village when it started to hail! Our third runner was on the course and she had specifically requested that spot so that she could run her legs from hard to easy. She was really nervous about the first leg and since this was her first Ragnar, she was nervous about the whole concept of what we were doing. I texted one of my other teammates and said that she would never want to run another race with me again! Luckily, she was a good sport and after the rain and hail she was able to see blue skies at the top of the mountain which I shared on Instagram

My next run would be that same loop in the dark. Originally, I was expecting to start that run around 8:30pm, but with our 2-hour delay and with one of our runners getting injured on his first leg, I actually started just before midnight.

After the transition tent and a short stint down the sidewalk with the other two loops, we took a right and headed up the road toward the chair lift. I did a lot of walking in the first 3 miles, mostly due to how steep the trail was, but I was also struggling a little bit in just not feeling right – I don’t think my hydration and fueling was where it needed to be throughout the day on Friday. I felt great for my first leg, but it was an easy leg, and I didn’t really eat that much before I ran. I grabbed a breakfast bar and a Clif bar, but that was about it from 8:00am – 3:00pm and then after my run, I ate some chicken and pasta, but probably not enough to get me back to where I needed to be. I’m glad I had my GU with me for this run because I could definitely feel the energy draining and even getting hungry as I ran.

We had a full moon for the night run and it was beautiful, if not a little creepy coming down through the trees. At some points I thought I was getting close to an aid station or something because it seemed like there was a light up ahead, but it was just the moon filtering through the trees.

  • Mile 1 – 15:44 
  • Mile 2 – 20:23
  • Mile 3 – 21:51
  • Mile 4 – 13:25
  • Mile 5 – 14:22
  • Mile 6 – 18:31

Overall pace: 17:22
Overall time: 1:44:15

Once I hit the aid station which marked the halfway point and signaled the end of the uphill, I was able to pick up some speed going downhill. This leg was part of a mountain bike trail, so there were some switchbacks going uphill and then for the downhill portion, there were banked turns. Unfortunately since I was doing this one in the dark, it was hard for me to judge just how fast I could go. I also started having an issue with my right ankle – I think my shoes were a little too loose when I started the run, so by the time I did about half of the downhill, I had actually bruised my ankle from my foot moving around in my shoe and hitting the front outside part of the shoe. Between my left IT band starting to act up and my right ankle hurting, I took the last section of the downhill where all of the legs come together a lot slower than I did the first time. 

I got back to the transition tent about when I expected to after just under an hour and 45 minutes, but my teammates weren’t there! I had to leave the bib in the transition tent and I ran back to our tent, but no one was there either. I texted as many people as I could think of who would probably be awake at the time and no one answered me. After about 5 minutes of waiting, the next runner showed up and had to get his gear on before he started out on the Green loop. We had one other miscommunication about timing later in the race, but luckily we only had that happen to us twice where runners were waiting for the next person to get there before starting. 

The overnight runs were cold! It got down to about 35 degrees and the one thing that most of us forgot to bring was gloves. Luckily, I had lots of hand warmers to share, but gloves definitely would have made waiting more pleasant. I think everyone took advantage of the awesome bonfire that Ragnar had going throughout the night – drying out shoes and clothes and keeping warm while waiting on teammates to come into the transition tent. There were also smores and hot chocolate, but I have yet to partake in those during one of these races – I never want to before I run and by the time I’m done, I forget again!

One more leg to go!