Last year I volunteered at this race, manning a water station at the bottom of Goat Hill. At the top of Goat Hill was mile 9, so we got to see the marathoners twice and the half marathoners once – very few people came off that hill looking fresh. It’s a steep up, runnable downhill, followed by another steep uphill and a steep downhill. After finishing up at the water stop, I headed to the finish line to meet up with some friends who had run the half marathon and listen to the award presentation. Last year there weren’t any entrants in my age group, so I told the RD I would be back to run the race this year. Now, I’ve never run a trail marathon and the trails at the Whitewater Center are really good for mountain biking, which means there is a lot of up and down and up and down and repeat again, again and again, so I knew this would be a tough first trail marathon. I was not disappointed!
The weather in Charlotte has been all over the place lately, but they were calling for a high in the low 70’s and mostly overcast, so I knew I would get hot, but I was glad it wasn’t going to be any hotter, since I knew I would be out there for hours. With only 70 or so participants in the full marathon, I started out near the back with Kim who I’ve been doing a lot of my long runs with. She had done the race last year and was hoping to do better this time around. There was a group of about 4 of us that ran the first few miles together and as they stopped at the first water station, I pulled ahead a bit since I had my hydration pack on and was taking advantage of it (and fueling) during my uphill walks. I ended up passing 10 people on my first lap and after a bathroom break (woo! real bathrooms at the halfway point!) started out just behind one of the guys I had passed which allowed me to follow him through the crowds and around the Lake Loop before we headed back into the woods.
While I’ve run a few races at the Whitewater Center, I don’t run much out there, so while Kim was able to tell me about each of the trails we would be on, I didn’t know them by name (or reputation), so I was able to take it more by what came to me vs. anticipating what was coming up next. The good part about the two-loop system of the marathon meant that I had an idea of what to expect and knew which sections were going to have tough uphills, which would really suck if the sun came out and where I could just run. There are some really steep downhill sections on the Academy trail at the beginning of the loop and the first time I went through, I braced myself, but managed to run / walk down them. For my second loop, I definitely sat down at one point and just went down the hill on my butt. The hill was almost a straight drop off, about my height and after 14+ miles, I decided it wasn’t worth trying to brace myself to go down upright. No worse for wear, I continued on.
There was a fairly long stretch on my second loop where I was pretty out of it mentally – I was paying enough attention to keep myself on the trail, but I couldn’t really focus on too much and wasn’t eating or drinking a lot. I want to say it was around mile 20-21 before I finally broke out of this “trance” and really the only reason I did was an obnoxious biker who thought everyone else should get out of her way so that she could speed past us. With all the switchbacks on the course, I had heard her coming up behind the guy who was behind me and heard him say “I heard you” but again, I didn’t think too much of it until she said “On your left” to me and I moved as far to the right on the trail as I could while continuing on my run. She then screamed at me from behind again and then into my ear as she passed me because apparently I was in her way. That certainly woke me up and I said a few nasty things as she continued to speed on her way to making more people feel like crap for existing on her trail. After the race, there were several runners who seemed to have had the pleasure of running into her on the trail as numerous people talked about a loud biker who kept yelling at them.
Soon thereafter, I got back to the bottom of Goat Hill and started my second trek up the monster. The good news was, I knew what was coming, so I took the opportunity to refill my water at the aid station at the bottom of the hill and then ate some more food as I hiked up to the top. When I got to the top of the first hill, I ran down the backside, passed another person and then started hiking up the last part of the worst hill.
By the time I finished with Goat Hill, I was feel better, keeping my run going and I was continuing to pass people. I ended up passing 8 people on the second loop, including 4 half marathoners who were going on their fifth hour on the course. As I got close to finishing the second lap and ended up on the last of the trail around the whitewater area, I kept looking at my watch and pushed myself to try to finish in under 6 hours and I ended with 27 seconds to spare! Official time: 5:59:33
After I finished, I found a few people I knew and made it a point to grab the post-race snacks and find some shade to stretch in for a bit. Once I did some stretching and ate some more food, I actually felt really good. Kim came in about 25 minutes later and we both made the podium, finishing 2nd and 3rd in our age group!
I spent another hour or so at the Whitewater Center, cheering on the other finishers, checking out their gear sale and generally people-watching as there were a ton of other people around whitewater rafting / kayaking, biking, hiking and generally just enjoying the beautiful weather.
This was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done, but I made the mistake of looking at the elevation change of that course to see how it would compare to the Blue Ridge Marathon and I definitely shouldn’t have done that! There was “only” 4,121′ of elevation change in this race, which is still 3,300′ less than what I’ll do in one of the marathons in that race. That was a little defeating mentally, but after I got home, I was still feeling pretty good after the race and while I certainly enjoyed some rest on the couch, I wasn’t completely wiped out for the rest of the weekend.
The swag for this race was pretty good, though the sticker they gave out with the race logo was bigger than the medal (bummer) and they were super sneaky at having Friday night packet pickup in a North Face store and if you showed your bib you could get $20 off of $100 purchase. I was able to contain myself and only walked out with a few stickers, my bib and the super-soft race sweatshirt (the half marathoners got a long-sleeve t-shirt with the same design). For my second-place age group finish, I won a Whitewater Center hat (Kim got a water bottle for 3rd place and 1st place got a coupon to the on-site store).
Overall I liked this race more than I thought I would. I had definitely built it up in my head that it was going to be a complete suffer-fest and it certainly was at times, but I was encouraged by how good I felt after the race.