Ragnar Trail Carolinas – part 2 – Rock Hill, SC (2016)

Miss part 1? Check it out here.

As expected, it continued to rain off and on throughout the day on Friday, though the heaviest rain definitely happened during my first leg in the morning, with it easing off into a lighter steady rain for most of the afternoon. My second leg was the Red and Green loops, starting 7:30pm.

At some point in the evening, the Ragnar SWAT added a sign around trail conditions and apparently someone didn’t quite agree that the Green loop was “fun.” 

I had packed some extra snacks for this run since it was going to be longer than my first run and I made sure my headlamp had new batteries since we definitely weren’t going to be getting any extra light from the moon. I was still wearing my visor to keep the rain off my face and this created a bit of a blind spot for me close to my feet – I kept adjusting my headlamp so that I could see far enough in front of me to run, but then I would have a halo closer to my body that was completely dark. Add that to the blue lights I had on my back that kept making me think that someone was catching up to me on the trail and I was working on some mind games for most of the Red loop.

The good news is that the slower rain throughout the day meant that some of the standing puddles that had been created during my first leg were no longer there by the time I ran my second leg. The Red loop was 7.6 miles and I really felt the length of that leg. I struggled mentally – my legs felt okay, but my head wasn’t completely in it and I couldn’t decide if I was hungry or I should stop eating. Since I had run the trails for this loop so many times in training, I just kept trying to visualize where I was on the trails if I could actually see anything in the darkness. There is a big loop around Lake Haigler and the trail is so close to the lake that you can see to the other side, so you could see the runners who were ahead of you (though I didn’t quite realize that at the time) and then the runners coming behind you as you crossed to the other side of the lake.

You can’t see the other runners in this picture, but the lights from the village let you know you’re headed back to transition!

There were sections of the Red loop that were as muddy and slippery as the Green loop which forced me to walk, but there were definitely still runnable sections as well. Once I got to the one mile to go mark and I reconnected with the other two loops, I started to feel a little better and soon I was headed up to the transition area again. As I came into the barn, I handed off my Red bracelet, filled up my water and then headed out on the Green loop. 

It was kind of nice heading back out on the Green loop – I knew what to expect, I knew it would be muddy and I was able to figure out where I was based on what I remembered from when I had run it in the daylight. After running the Red loop, it felt like the Green loop just flew by and before I knew it, I was heading back up the hill to the transition barn again. 

I was really glad I opted for my Salomon Speedcross shoes for my second leg – the tread on these helped keep me upright through the Red & Green loops 
I stayed up for a little bit to eat more food, but I was so tired after this leg that I headed to bed fairly quickly. We were expecting Matt to come in around 12:30am and I was planning to head out again around 5:30am. We knew that we would all probably slow down through the night, but we still had plenty of time to get through all of our legs before the cutoff. I woke up around 2:00am and heard that Matt still hadn’t finished his legs, so I went to wait with Sharon and to make sure everything was okay with Matt. As I made it up to the transition barn, Matt had just crossed the quarter mile to go mark, so I waited with Sharon in the barn to check on Matt when he came in. He gave an update on the trails (not getting any easier) and Sharon was on her way. With my new expected start time around 6:30am, I headed back to sleep and ended up waking up around 4:30am and didn’t see any updates from my teammates on our tracking spreadsheet, so I asked the timers to check our last runner for me. I updated the spreadsheet and headed back to sleep for a couple more hours. 
I got back up around 6:30am and headed back to the transition barn, only to find that there was a hold on for the race. Shortly after Michelle came in, there was an announcement made that there was a 1-hour hold for the race while the RD checked out the trails. Unfortunately, after an hour, with an updated forecast of sustained winds greater than 20 mph and gusts over 40, Ragnar decided to cancel the race. There were trees that had fallen on the course and the increased winds were definitely a potential hazard for everyone on the course. 
It took our team a surprising amount of time to pack up our campsite, but we had to separate everything that everyone brought and un-stake all of the tents, tarps and canopy, so it was a lot of undoing before we were ready to take our final team picture and head home to get dry!

3 y’alls and a yinz made it through 16 legs and 84.3 miles in just under 21 hours

So, I haven’t officially done an ultra yet. For Ragnar, I’m counting this as an ultra since all of us ran 4 legs (instead of the standard 3), but I only ran 19.5 miles over 2 legs, so it didn’t quite hit the ultra mark from that aspect. When I finished my second leg, I was really doubting I would be able to run another, even longer, set of loops, but I actually got a lot of sleep between my legs and I was starting to feel pretty good again, so I know my legs would have been able to handle more mileage. Now I just need to work on my mental game! 

Ragnar Trail Carolinas – part 1 – Rock Hill, SC (2016)

As soon as this race was announced, I knew I wanted to do it. I had never heard of the Anne Springs Close Greenway, but I looked it up and went to check out the trails in January. I knew that I wanted to do an ultra race this fall, but I originally was thinking I would head to San Diego for the Lake Hodges Trail Fest 50k since my friend Paul is the RD, but when I got into the Marine Corps Marathon through the lottery, those plans were put on hold for another year. I’m all about crazy running, but an ultra followed by a full on opposite sides of the country seemed a bit of a stretch for me right now! 

Given that October is a huge race month for most runners, I had a hard time securing my 3 teammates for this race, but with two weeks to go before the race, I convinced one of my soccer friends that she could run the distance since it would be broken up into segments and she wouldn’t have to run all 32 miles at one time. As we got to race week, it was clear that Hurricane Matthew was going to cause some trouble for us and it would just be a matter of when and how much. 

Since I live so close, I got to the venue when it opened for camping and picked out our team spot and put up our 10′ x 10′ canopy and my 2-person tent. I picked a spot that was close to the parking area and it soon got more and more crowded, so I was glad I got there early and was able to make a claim on a spot before we had to take our gear too far. Michelle and her boyfriend Ben were coming in from Raleigh, so they got there around 9:30 and Matt got there around the same time, so we were able to get most of our site set up before we all retired for the night. 

Friday morning I was back to the venue bright and early after dropping the dogs off at doggie daycare. I watched the mandatory safety video and checked our team in while Ben graciously volunteered at the HQ tent helping all the teams who were coming in for the race. Since I was the first runner for our team, I got my gear together and even though I had gotten there 3 hours before we started, it was 10:15 before I knew it and I was heading into the barn for our 10:30 start.

The race was on the small side, with only 124 registered teams, so the starting waves that went every half hour from 10:00 – 5:00 had 5-15 people in each. I had requested that our team start earlier since we were an ultra team and the majority of us didn’t have any ultra experience. My first leg was going to be two loops – Green and Yellow. The Green loop was one that I hadn’t spent much time looking at in my previous visits to the greenway. I knew it went around Lake Crandall, but that was about it. As it turns out, most of the Green loop was created specifically for this race, so it was freshly bulldozed. Brand new trail + rain = mud, mud and more mud! Being the second group of runners on the trail, it was clear that this loop was going to be a complete mess if the rain continued (spoiler: it did). A lot of this loop was built through red clay which lead to foot-deep mud holes. I was running with another woman who was one an all-female ultra team and we stuck together through most of the loop until we got around the one mile to go mark. I ended up passing two people in the last mile of the Green loop and as I made my way back through the transition tent, I grabbed a Yellow bracelet and headed out again. 

The Yellow and Red loops stay together for about a mile and the first section is through the middle of a field – it had been raining for about 4 hours by the time I got to this point and a stream had formed through the middle of the field that was over my ankles – at least my shoes were cleaner now! The Yellow loop was on a well established trails (mostly hiking / mountain biking), so this loop was very runnable. There were still sections that were standing puddles, but it was hard-packed ground, so you could still run through it and weren’t spending your time slipping and sliding through mud. Having been to this course many times, especially over the last few months as I’ve been training on the same trails we’d run during the race, it was very clear to me how much the water was impacting the area. These two pictures were taken a week apart, but I’m sure they could have been taken less than 24 hours apart since we didn’t start getting rain until Friday.

The Yellow loop introduces you to some of the fun bridges that are on the trails at the greenway – there are quite a few suspension bridges along with smaller, flat bridges. 

As the Red and Yellow loops come back together and then meet up again with the Green loop, there were some sections that had the thick mud, but definitely not like the Green loop had for the majority. After 8.6 miles and 1:48 on the trails, I handed off to Matt to start his loops. My next runs weren’t expected to be until early evening, so I headed off to grab lunch and take a nap. 

Volunteering at Ragnar Trail Cascades

Just two weeks after volunteering at Ragnar Trail Massachusetts, I headed to the other side of the country to help with the Ragnar Trail Cascades at Loup Loup Ski Bowl. I was really excited about this race because I’ve never been out to Washington, so this was a new state for me! Unfortunately, coming from the east coast, it meant a long travel day for me on Wednesday. I left Charlotte at 9:30am and after a 5 hour flight, I met the rest of the SWAT crew at the airport and after catching lunch in downtown Seattle, we settled in for our 4.5 hour drive to Twisp, WA on the other side of the Cascades. We stopped several times on our drive to take in the beautiful scenery. 

For this race, everyone was staying together in a huge house and since we had a kitchen at our disposal (two, actually), we had a team cook for the race and all of our meals were homemade. Gina did an amazing job cooking for over 20 people for breakfast, lunch and dinner! 

This was our house – it had so many funky rooms and even a built in hot tub off of the main entrance 

After dinner on Wednesday night, I went out with the loop managers and headed out on the Green loop since with my new role at this race, I wasn’t sure if I would get a chance to head out on the trails later. This course had a short Green loop (2.7 miles) and longer Yellow (6.9 miles) and Red (7.0 miles) loops. 

Thursday was my long day at this race since my new role was Gear Drop Manager – I was in charge of a group of volunteers who would make sure that teams could bring all of their stuff up close to the village, drop it off and then move their cars down to the official parking areas. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this role. Obviously I’ve seen gear drop at other races and have been through it as a participant, but it’s a lot different being the one who is in charge of making sure it all runs smoothly! Thursday morning and afternoon were spent putting out signage (lots of no parking!), marking lines for parking and gear drop and generally coming up with a game plan to make sure that we could fit cars from all 240 teams into the designated areas. 

It looks chaotic, but the volunteers I had at this race were awesome!

Thursday and Saturday most of my volunteers were board members from Loup Loup and I had volunteers from the teams fill in throughout the day on Friday and Saturday morning. It went extremely smoothly, with only a few people parking in the gear drop area and we were usually able to find them fairly quickly and get them into the correct parking areas. One of the biggest issues that teams ran into was that there was no cell phone reception at the venue unless you went up the ski slopes, so teams that didn’t coordinate where their campsites were or who didn’t know their teammates before they got to the race were having trouble figuring out where their teammates were camping, especially if they showed up after it got dark out.

This was Thursday afternoon – by Friday morning, there weren’t any empty spaces between tents and this was only one section of where teams could camp.

Thursday I worked until about 10:30pm and then Friday we were back at the venue by about 6:45am to get ready before the first teams started at 8:00am. Gear drop closed around 4:00pm on Friday, but since we had carpooled to the venue (and there wasn’t anything to do back at the house anyway), we stuck around until 8:00pm. Since we had extra time, I took that as an opportunity to actually get out on the trails and check it out in the daylight. From what the loop managers told me, I decided to head out on the Red loop just before sunset and it was the perfect time to run! While the views weren’t anything like what we saw coming through the Cascades, it was beautiful with lots of red, yellow and green and mountains in every direction.

Saturday morning I headed back to the venue around 8-ish and some teams were already in gear drop packing up their stuff. I was impressed that the teams that had come in early (before anyone was there to direct them) had lined up their cars exactly the same way they dropped off their gear and while it wasn’t nearly as crazy on Saturday morning as it was when teams were arriving on Thursday night, it was very steady through lunchtime and then we had fewer and fewer cars coming through. It was fun being in gear drop because I got to talk to a lot of teams and people would recognize me from being in the same spot for 3 days straight, so I got a lot more interaction with the runners than being a loop manager. As a loop manager, you’re running around most of the time or trying to fill in at other positions, so while you may see the same people, it’s not as noticeable as when you’re in the same spot. I even got to talk to a guy about the Grandfather Mountain Marathon – now that’s a small world!

As gear drop slowed down Saturday afternoon, I spent time picking up trash in the village and generally helping with clean-up. I was excited to finally get to be a part of the final team traditions at this race – when the final team is coming in from their last leg, all of the Ragnar staff, SWAT and sponsors come over to the finish line to cheer in the final team. It’s a great way to finish off a hard-earned race. As a participant, my team was one of the last ones to finish in Angel Fire last year, but we weren’t the last team, so I didn’t even know this happened.

Cascades SWAT celebrating another successful race!

Volunteering at Ragnar Trail Massachusetts

Read my first experience SWATing in Atlanta here.

At the end of August, I volunteered for my second Ragnar of the year and I took on the Red loop manager position again. Since the race was up in the woods of Massachusetts, I flew into Hartford and drove 1.5 hours north to Northfield Mountain. I got in earlier than most of the other SWAT crew, so I had my own car rental and picked up some extra supplies before heading to the venue to help with setup. 

After a catered dinner at the venue, the loop managers all headed out on their loops. All three loops stuck together for awhile before Green headed off and Yellow and Red continued to climb. There were major climbs on both Red and Yellow and it was definitely a tough night run, but there were also some good sections of downhill on the back-end of the leg, so you could pick up some speed if you wanted to.

Thursday was spent finishing village setup, making sure our loops had enough signs and putting out some extra motivational signs. Near the water stop on the Red loop, there was a short detour that runners could take to a scenic overlook of the reservoir. I put a sign at the top to let people know about the detour (though after all that climbing, an extra 300 feet isn’t on everyone’s to-do list). I’m glad I took a few minutes to check out the reservoir, but I’ll admit that I only made the detour once! 

This venue was different than Atlanta as our hotel was about 30 minutes away, so when we left the hotel Friday morning, most of us weren’t going back until Saturday night after dinner. This meant I had to pack all my running gear, extra layers for my late night transition tent duties and my sleeping bag and anything else I would need for the next two days. Despite the trails being dusty, they were beautiful.


We did have a little bit of excitement on Thursday – as the Yellow loop manager was running her course, she saw a bear in the woods, so the loop managers carried bear spray for the rest of the event and we were happy to report that we didn’t see any more bears for the remainder of the event! Friday night, the loop managers got together and got our lights ready to keep the runners on course throughout the night.
Saturday was a pretty easy morning as we supported the other SWAT and Ragnar staff with whatever they needed help with and I even caught a nap in the REI hammock village while it was quiet Saturday morning. Saturday is always the fun time because more people are hanging out in the village, Steve hosts a bunch of contests, including the partner squat challenge (these guys were the winners), and teams are excited to finish their race. It’s definitely a party vibe in the village on Saturday!
After the last runner starts on the course at 4:00, all the loop managers head out to clean up all the course signage. Even though this Red loop was longer than the Red loop I did in Atlanta, I was more prepared for the workload this time. It took me until around 8:00 or so to finish cleaning up my loop, but I had learned how to separate all the pieces of gear while I was hiking and we didn’t have as many signs on the course as Atlanta did, so it was easier this time around. I even felt pretty good after we finished, even though I had covered almost 66 miles over the course of the 5 days of volunteering.
As I was finishing up my loop Saturday night, I got a great view of the sunset over the mountains – a great way to finish up my time in Massachusetts!

Tread Nightly – Charlotte, NC (2016)

I wasn’t planning to do this race. I really wanted to do the Tread Nightly / Tread Brightly series, but since it was only about two weeks after the Grandfather Mountain Marathon, I figured that would have been a bit too much. I offered to pace Beth in either the Tread Nightly or Tread Brightly race when she was originally planning to both half marathons. Eventually she decided that she couldn’t run both races, and wasn’t sure she was going to do either one, so I let it be and concentrated on the marathon instead. Beth sent me a text two days before the race letting me know she had registered and since I had already signed up to volunteer for the event, I didn’t put too much thought into it other than to tell her that I would see her out on the trail, but 24 hours before the race when I still hadn’t heard anything about volunteer responsibilities, I pulled the trigger and signed up for the race instead! 

We met up after work on Friday and headed out to the Whitewater Center so that we had some time to relax before the race started at 8:00. We got to run in the daylight for a little bit, but it was really nice that the sun was going down as we started – running in the summer in the south is no joke and I’ve been struggling this summer for sure!
Unfortunately we didn’t get to feel any relief from the rain in the distance, it just got more humid
We met up with some folks from Beth’s run group and made sure that all of our lights were on before we hit the starting line. The first half mile or so was fairly open as we went up to the parking lot and headed past the main buildings before jumping onto a trail. A lot of the races at the Whitewater Center use the same trails, so most of them were familiar, but I was very excited to realize that we didn’t have to run up (or down) Goat Hill. I manned the water station at the bottom of that hill for the New South Marathon & Half in March and folks were looking rough after having to do that section, especially the marathoners who had to do it twice! 
Once we got on the trail, it was tightly packed for quite awhile as there were over 190 people in the half marathon (another 230+ people did the 4-mile race that started after the half). Eventually we found some space and even stopped to take some pictures of all my lights on my pack in the woods – I certainly wasn’t going to be lost with those lights on! 
This race was definitely a tough one for me and I made Beth walk sections so that I could catch my breath and eat more food – it was my first full week of the 21 day fix, so I was still trying to figure it all out – and of course, I was only two weeks post-marathon, so it was a rough night. The elevation on the trails doesn’t look like much, but it certainly felt like we were climbing mountains all night!
It took us just over 3:43 to finish the race which meant that it was almost midnight before we finished the race and had to sneak in under the wire to order food (this was one of my cheats eating some chips and half a burger in addition to the Cheez-its and GU while I was on the course). It was in the 80’s when we started the race, and there were quite a few spots that didn’t have much cover, so I’m glad we decided to do the night race instead of the race the next morning. Another benefit of running a race on Friday night is that by Saturday night it felt like it was already Sunday, but then I realized I had a whole other day before I had to go to work! 
I like the shirt design for this race – you get a lot of grey and blues, but this one is a blue heather with a hint of purple and yellow thrown in. The race medals were similar for both Tread Nightly and Tread Brightly (featuring purple and yellow) and if you ran both half marathons, they connected to form one circular medal. This is actually the back of the shirt with the front of the shirt showing the big Whitewater Center W in the middle in the same purple color. 
Maybe next year I’ll be in for both races!

Grandfather Mountain Marathon – Linville, NC (2016)

I had really been struggling to get my long runs in as I got ready for this marathon. My last really long run was on May 30, which was an 18.5 mile run, but I actually walked the last 10k of that one, so the longest training runs I did for this race were half marathons – Pittsburgh half marathon (May 1) and two training runs (May 21 & 30). Most of my runs were in the 3-5 mile range, though I typically planned for much longer than that, I ran into a lot of digestive issues in this training cycle. To say it’s been hot and humid in Charlotte over the last few months would be an understatement. So, even though I would start my training runs before 6:00 am, I was still struggling with temperatures hitting the 80’s before 8:00 am and the humidity hovering around 90% most of the time. I got a boost from the American 4-miler the Monday before the race, but I knew it was too late in the game to change anything other than my mindset going into the race. The good news was that I had done the Asheville half & full marathon back in March, along with a sprinkling of other races afterwards, so I was hopeful I could lean on that training base to carry me into this race. 

One of the great things about this race is that as a runner you can stay in one of the dorm rooms on campus at Appalachian State University on Friday night before the race, so I was really close to the race start line. Since this race is part of the Highland Games, places to stay are not cheap and sell out really quickly, so I was excited to get a dorm room for $50 and be so close to the start line. I had a roommate for the night and we found out quickly that we had “met” each other before – she had run the USNWC New South Marathon in March and I was manning one of the water stations that the runners actually hit 4 times. She remembered me for the ridiculously bright shorts I was wearing and I remembered her because she was running with in a group of people that I knew. It’s such a small world sometimes. 

Kidd Brewer Stadium – packet pickup was inside the main concourse

Packet pickup was Friday night (and Saturday morning) at Kidd Brewer Stadium and I ran into a few more people I knew from my days in grad school at App and it was clear that it was going to be a small race where a lot of people knew each other. The weather leading up to the race was calling for anything from nasty thunderstorms to bright sunny skies, which is to be expected in the mountains, and we got a little bit of everything. Luckily, the nasty storms came Friday night and cleared out before Saturday morning.

The race started at 6:30 am and it’s a very informal start, with the race director coming over a microphone and telling people to head to a specific section of the track. There’s no big start line or chip timing – the group lined up near the “Welcome to The Rock” sign and when the gun went off, we all did a lap and a half around the track and then headed out into Boone. It’s hard to believe it’s been 8 years since I graduated, but in wandering around the town on Friday night and then the beginning of the race Saturday morning, it’s easy to see how much has changed – there is new construction everywhere! 

I wasn’t able to find any official elevation maps for this course, just the generic one that is on the website, so I was expecting some downhill in the first half, including a good two-mile section to start off the race and then the second half of the race looked to be all uphill! What I wasn’t expecting was the steepness of some of the downhill sections – my quads were burning before I even got to the halfway point, so I knew it was going to be a rough race. I had originally started my watch to do an official walk / run, but after the first few miles I realized that was fairly pointless – I wanted to take advantage of the downhill and flat sections where I could and some of the hills were steep enough that I was walking all of them, even from the beginning.  

Around the 11 mile mark, you go onto the Blue Ridge- Parkway, and the views on the Parkway are always beautiful.

One of the many bridges we went under
Looking forward to the mountains

Same spot, looking backwards

The weather was a little humid and threatening to rain for awhile in the morning, but luckily that meant that the sun stayed behind the clouds for most of my race. I did the first half of the race at right around 2 hours, 45 minutes. I figured this would give me plenty of time to finish the second half within the time limit, even with the inevitable slow-down I expected to come as I hit the real hills of the race. 

I surprised myself and didn’t break out the headphones for any of this race. Part of me didn’t want to because we were on open roads and drivers aren’t necessarily the most attentive people, but I also never really felt the need to distract myself with music. I did spend a lot of time doing math to figure out what my pace was compared to the cutoff and how fast or slow I was going, but some of that came into play because I had it in my head that it was a 5 hour cutoff to go around the track at McRae Meadows, but it was actually 5.5 hours for that and then 6.5 hours for the official marathon close. 

Somewhere in the middle of the race

Who wants to drive their car under this rock?!

View of the Linville Viaduct from the race course

There weren’t too many specifics that stuck with me for this race:

  • Somewhere near mile 16, there was a woman outside her house with her dog offering to shower anyone who was interested with her garden hose – that felt amazing!
  • I got some rocks in my left shoe around mile 18 and when I stopped to take off my shoe, my left calf cramped up so bad I could barely stand up. I knew if I sat down I had a very slim chance of getting back up again, so I just tried to use the grade of the road to stretch it out and left my shoes in place until I got to the finish line
  • I drank a lot of water during the race, refilling each of my hydration bottles at least 3 times and grabbing gatorade at the stops they offered them, but my fingers had started to swell by the halfway point of the race and I didn’t have to pee at any point during the race, so I kept up my salt intake and tried to make sure it didn’t get any worse.
  • I met several people who were doing this as their first marathon ever – one guy had convinced two of his friends to do it as their first after having done it himself the year before – I told him he was a mean friend. 
  • My roommate ended up placing third in her age group and beat me by almost a full hour
  • At one point I was doing math and figured if I could keep at least a 20-minute per mile pace, I would still be able to officially finish… I was okay with this. I did a lot of walking in the last 10k+ – the hills were threatening to beat me and I was doing whatever I could to keep moving.
  • I got passed by some guys in their 60’s in the last 4 miles or so. One of them asked if it was my first time doing this race and said he had been doing this race since before I was born (yes, by a year!) – I tried to keep up with them, but their power walking was way better than mine and I stayed behind them until the very end when we were passing the entrance to Grandfather Mountain, I started jogging again and managed to catch up to them as we came up to the marathon tent. 

When I came up the finish and approached the marathon tent, they told me to keep going – I was going to be allowed to go around the track! The two guys I had been trying to keep up with apparently stopped at the tent (old hat to them, I’m sure), but I was excited to be able to go around the track. The Highland Games were about to be in full swing, so there were thousands of people around the track, at the tents and keeping an eye out for anyone coming around the track. After some confusion about where I was supposed to go and running into a woman who was trying to get out of my way (sorry!), I made it onto the track. It was really cool to be able to go around the track. I got lots of cheers and did my best to make it look like I didn’t feel like just laying down right there to take a nap. I made it about 3/4 around the track before I found the sweepers who were handing out the medals. They had left the official finish line tent and started backwards around the track to catch folks as they came around before heading down to the marathon tent where the new official finish would be. My official time was 5:41:01 and technically I beat those two guys because they stayed at the tent. After the race, I took my time grabbing some more gatorade and some food at the finish line, changed clothes and wandered around to get my obligatory post-race medal picture.

After that, I wandered around to find the bus to take me back to Caldwell College. It took awhile before a bus arrived and it filled up quickly with other runners and spectators heading back to the college. About halfway through the bus ride, all that water I was drinking caught up to me and I felt every bump and turn along those country roads. Luckily for me, there were porta potties at the college and I was able to make a quick pit stop before getting on another shuttle back to the stadium. After I got back to the stadium, I had a ton of steps to go up and yet another hill before I made it back to my dorm room and was able to take a short nap. The rest of my evening was spent eating pizza at Capone’s and resting at the KOA in Boone. I had initial thoughts of heading out to the Celtic Rock Concert in Linville Saturday night, but sleep won out and I got a solid 12 hours of sleep – the perfect way to finish up a tough weekend.

American 4-miler – Charlotte, NC (2016)

Heading into the last week before my marathon, I had one more race on the calendar. Beth and I had registered for this 4-miler months ago and we even found some nice patriotic outfits to wear for the big event. Since it was a short run, we met up at the midtown Run For Your Life store and did about 1.5 miles to the race (and then back again afterwards) to make a 7-mile training run for the day.

  • Mile 1 – 13:01 (crossing roads and figuring out the best way to get to the start line)
  • Mile 2 – 11:18
  • Mie 3 – 10:46
  • Mile 4 – 11:19
  • Mile 5 – 10:46
  • Mile 6 – 10:19
  • Mile 7 – 13:58 (crossing more roads and waiting at stop lights)

There was a good crowd for this race, with a lot of Beth’s running group doing the run, so we met up with them before the race and then ran with the group that does the run / walk plan. Virtually all of us were using this race as a fun run, so we just chatted and had a fun time waving at people and cheering on the other runners. 

Official time: 42:50

This was my last run before the Grandfather Mountain Marathon, and even though it was 7 miles broken up into segments, it was really a mental boost. I struggled a lot in this training cycle, so to have a run over 5 miles where I felt good the entire time was something I was really excited about. The last time I could say I felt good the entire time through a run over 5 miles was back in mid-May.

Run! Ballantyne 5k – Charlotte, NC (2016)

Six months after I beat my friend in a 5k, I was towing the line for a rematch. I was feeling pretty good going into this race – I was two weeks out from the Pittsburgh 5k where I was 2 seconds faster than I had run in December – I was ready! I hadn’t done the 5k version of this race in several years. The past few years I ran the 8k or the 10k when they had it, so the course was different from when I had run it in 2013. 

As soon as I started the race, I knew it was going to be a rough day. The first part of the race was slightly downhill, then up a fairly significant hill before flattening out and then back down the same hill. I was moving pretty well down the hill and I wasn’t trying to run too hard, but I was having trouble catching my breath.

  • Mile 1 – 8:22
  • Mile 2 – 8:25
  • Mile 3 – 8:55
Official time: 26:56
With the exception of my last lap, my splits were pretty close to my Pittsburgh 5k (8:31, 8:28, 8:19), but that last lap included walking under some sprinklers up part of the last hill. That was the point where I had completely given up on my race. I went into it with the same strategy as the December race – keep him in my sights and kick it up at the end. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to cash in on him going out too fast at the start – I caught up to him near the water stop around 1.5 miles in, but he was able to stay ahead of me and pull away through those last few uphills. He ended up beating me by 40 seconds which I expected – I gave up around the next-to-last turn. He was almost at the top of the hill by the time I rounded the corner and I knew I didn’t have it in me to catch him. 
Looking back, it wasn’t really that bad of a race. It was in the 60’s and sunny and I was coming off of 3 other races over the previous 2 weekends along with travel all over the east coast, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised that I was a little burnt out and, I was still able to get 5th in my age group. I did swear off any more 5k races when I finished, but I may amend that to no more 5k races when it’s more than 40 degrees outside! 

Time Laps 24-hour relay – Charlotte, NC (2016)

When my friend Beth mentioned a 24-hour relay race, I told her of course I was interested. I ended up getting a spot on the team just a few weeks before the race when someone had to drop out and we weren’t too sure what to expect. This race was going to be different from the other relays I’ve done – we had 12 people on our team and 24 hours to cover as many miles and get as many points as possible. The team I joined had actually split into two teams from the previous year – a full team (12) and an ultra team (6). Not really knowing anyone before the race made finding all of our teammates a little difficult, but we had some awesome lime green team shirts that helped us stand out from the rest of the teams. 

The camp sites at the Whitewater Center weren’t formal, so I fit my 2-person tent in between our campsite and the one next to us – it was the perfect size to sneak in between the trees. 

Leg #1 – Blue Loop

The race started at 7:00pm on Friday night. Teams didn’t have to follow any specific format for runners, so since I was willing to run in the dark, I wasn’t going to start my run for a few more hours. One of the ways to get bonus points in this race was to complete all 6 legs within a 6-hour period, so I volunteered to run the longest leg in the dark. My first leg just over 6 miles and had a lot of up and down hills.

This leg was a lot harder than I expected it to be, but after traveling from Charlotte to Pittsburgh to Tampa to Pittsburgh and then back to Charlotte in the week leading up to the race, I wasn’t surprised that my legs were heavier than I was hoping they would feel. Since it was a trail run, I didn’t follow a standard walk:run ratio and just walked when I had to. 


  • Mile 1 – 11:51
  • Mile 2 – 14:40
  • Mile 3 – 15:50
  • Mile 4 – 16:57
  • Mile 5 – 15:31
  • Mile 6 – 12:02

Overall time: 1:27:23

I definitely struggled a little bit with the fact that I didn’t start this run until almost 10:00pm – I worked all day and didn’t eat a very good dinner, so I had to fuel more than I would have expected for a 6 mile run. I am glad that I did this run in the dark – there was quite a bit at the beginning and end that were unshaded, so once we got into the day on Saturday, I’m sure these areas were really hot. Instead, I got to run in the dark with temperatures in the 50’s – perfect running weather!

Leg #2 – Yellow Loop
Originally I was thinking I would have to run my second leg around 5:00am, but the team decided to stick with a 6-man crew for each 6-hour section, so I wouldn’t run again until the next 6-hour segment started at 7:00am. That meant that instead of being up at 4:30, I set an alarm for 6:30 and headed back up to the start line area to meet my teammates.

  • Mile 1 – 14:12
  • Mile 2 – 15:07
  • Mile 3 – 13:30
  • Mile 4 – 15:09
  • Mile 5 – 13:22

Overall time: 1:14:06

As part of this loop I had to take our team card and find two flags that had a hole punch on it so we could collect our extra points. Since this was the third time our team was looking for these, I was able to get clear directions on what to look for, which was really helpful when I got to the Burma Bridge because I knew the hole punch was on the first side of the bridge, so I was easily able to find it. When I got to the other side of the bridge I caught up with a girl who had passed me while I was taking pictures of the lake and she asked about the hole punch and was concerned about having to go across the bridge to get to it, so I was able to tell her where to look and feel better about the time I took to stop to take pictures!
The rest of the loop was pretty straightforward and was definitely easier than the Blue loop the night before.
After I finished my run, I just hung out with the rest of the team, grabbed some lunch and cheered on other teams as they continued running until 7:00pm. As we got closer to the time limit, you could see all the teams strategizing who they were going to send out on the 1-mile loop, trying to get as many points as possible. Our team finished with 190 points and came in 7th place. There were 43 teams in the race, include 10 in the solo category and runners covered over 3,800 miles combined over the course of the 24 hours. As part of the race we all got a race medal and a nice t-shirt – the back actually has a much better design with the same logo as the medal on the back.

Pittsburgh Challenge: Half marathon – Pittsburgh, PA (2016)

With the Stanley Cup parade happening in the city of Pittsburgh today, I feel it’s only right to finish my long-overdue recap of the second half of my Runner of Steel challenge…

The second half of my Pittsburgh challenge would be the half marathon on Sunday morning (May 1). I love this race and how you get to go through a lot of different parts of the city, starting downtown, heading across the Allegheny River 3 times before spending some time on the North Shore, then heading across the Ohio River toward Mt. Washington and the South Side and then finally crossing the Monongahela River back to finish downtown. 

Since I did the 5k on Saturday, I headed to the same parking lot and hung out in my car for awhile before going to Market Square to drop of my bag and hit up the porta potties. The race starts at 7:30, but you have to be in your corral by 7:00 and some of the streets start closing several hours before that, so I got to the parking lot a little after 6:00 and had plenty of time to wander around and take a few pictures at PPG Place before I had to head to my corral.

The weather was very questionable as we headed into this race – I got updates throughout the day (and night) on Saturday as they were reviewing the forecast for potential thunderstorms Sunday morning, but it ended up being really good running weather. It was overcast and a little windy at the start, but in the 50’s, so once I started running, I was very comfortable. The beginning of the race is always a little crowded, but that’s to be expected when you have about 20,000 people running a race. Personally, the best part of this race is getting to see the best parts of Pittsburgh – going over 5 bridges and all 3 rivers in the half marathon is what keeps bringing me back to this race.

Bridge #1: 16th street bridge

Bridge #2: Andy Warhol Bridge
Looking over at Bridge #3: 7th street bridge
My favorite view of the race from bridge #4: West End Bridge
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture from bridge #5, the Birmingham Bridge… guess that just means I’ll have to run this race again! After the race, I did take an obligatory medal photo with PNC Park in the background

I’m still working on how to make Garmin give me the stats that I want – since I use the intervals on my watch, all of my stats are listed by those intervals which really isn’t helpful when trying to figure out how fast each mile was. I used to be able to manually pull out those numbers off the old Garmin website, but I haven’t figured out a workaround since the new site went live. Regardless, my official time came in at 2:25:52 which is just about the time I took to run it 3 years ago. 

I really liked doing the challenge this year and the 2016 Steel Challenge medal is the one in the middle. Participants got bibs, shirts (short-sleeve for 5k and long-sleeve for half marathon / marathon) and medals for both races, plus the challenge medal after completing Sunday’s race. It was a fairly long line to get the challenge medals, but they had two people checking off names and handing out medals to everyone, so it didn’t actually take as long as it looked like it was going to. 

This year I made the decision to stay in Oakland and make a full weekend out of this trip and I definitely think that is the way to go – it was really nice to be able to have more than just 24 hours in the city and have a place to call home base as I wandered around the different areas. After this year’s race, I’m definitely thinking about doing the full marathon again, even with the monster hill at mile 13!