Drummer Hill Trail Race – Keene, NH (2017)

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

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

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

and some extra water and mud just for fun!

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

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

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

New South Marathon – Charlotte, NC (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Trail Frosty half marathon – Indianapolis, IN (2017)

 I signed up for this race after seeing the medal in an ad on my Facebook account. Last year I did the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot half marathon in North Carolina and I loved my big red WTF 13.1 sweatshirt, so adding another WTF race this year sounded like a good plan, especially after I realized it would let me check off state #25. This weekend called for a 22 mile run, so originally I was planning to run from my hotel to the race venue and then back to the hotel, but with the drastic weather changes (and after I saw the roads I’d have to run on), I decided to forgo that plan and just head to the venue early to get some miles in before the race started at 10:00 am.

When I picked up my rental car, I laughed a little when I saw they had included an ice scraper in the back seat. Race morning came and now it wasn’t so funny… the high 60’s from Friday had turned into some nasty thunderstorms followed by an extreme temperature drop and some overnight snow / ice accumulation on the car. The roads ended up being fine, but it took me several minutes to get the car ready to go. It was snowing as I got to the venue but being there 2 hours before the race started allowed me to get an amazing parking spot near the finish line and gave me plenty of time to get out on the trails before the race actually started.

The race was held at Eagle Creek State Park which has a lot of different trails. My goal was to get 9 miles in before the race, so I headed out to take the trail on the farthest perimeter, following the Red loop to the Blue loop back to the Red loop, then back to the Blue loop, more Red loop and then a detour onto the Orange loop before finishing up on the Red loop back to the starting line. I ended up seeing mile markers 3, 2, 6 and 1, as well as the guy who was marking the trails with orange ribbon, on my way to getting 8.5 miles in before the race. I had started to run out of time, especially since I wanted to hit the porta-potties before the actual race started, so instead of getting that last .5 in before the race, I just added it onto the end (definitely not the way to go!).

Here comes the snow!

Snow caught in a spider web

The race itself was capped at 600 participants and they did sell out. This was only the second year for this race, but the turnout was impressive – the super awesome finisher medals may have something to do with that… I know I signed up after seeing the medal and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one! I got a little cold waiting around for the start, but it wasn’t too bad until I got back to the land bridge around the bird sanctuary where there was very little to break up the wind. I was glad I ran the loop the opposite way the first time, keeping the wind at my back instead of running into the wind 3 times.
Views from around the Eagle Creek Reservoir bird sanctuary

After we got to the land bridge, the race spread out quite a bit as the trail was a little wider and allowed more people to pass and get into their own running pace. I had run through most of the race course before the race actually started, but one of the sections that was new to me was around the Ornithology Center where they had a plaque where you could test your wingspan against the various birds that call Eagle Creek Park home.

As I was doing my first lap around the bird sanctuary, I actually saw a bald eagle flying across the lake. Unfortunately it was flying away from me and by the time I realized what it was it was too far away to get a picture, but it was really cool to see in person!

This was somewhere in the first lap – you can see the snow whipping through the trees!

Even though thunderstorms had come through the day before and it was snowing on and off throughout the race, most of the trails were hard packed and there were only two sections that were really muddy, like running through peanut butter muddy. For my second race lap (third lap total through that section), I just walked through it trying not to fall!

Overall, I think this was a very good race. The trails weren’t very technical, and I actually ended up with my fastest trail half time (2:28:54) which was pretty awesome considering I did an 8.5 mile “warm-up” prior to starting.

The not-so-good
Too many people starting at the same time. There are pseudo-wave starts with the announcer letting a group of people go, then stopping and waiting for 30-45 seconds before letting another group of 30-ish people go. In theory this would work, but in reality, the first half of the trail (at least the full first two miles) was really congested. Since there is a half and a quarter marathon and it seemed like most of the people were running the quarter marathon (though I did hear the announcer say there were still about 70 people left on the half course when I finished), I think it would be great to split the start times for these races to allow the half marathoners to get 2-3 miles in before letting the quarter marathoners start. There’s a lot more room to get around people from miles 2-5, so that would theoretically spread out the field a bit more.

The only other “complaint” is really more of just a trail hazard that can’t be avoided – there are several sets of wooden stairs on the course which turn nice and slick with snow and mud covering them, so they were a bottleneck at the beginning of the race and certainly an area where most people slowed to a walk to stay upright. I heard a few people went down on these sections and that will certainly be a hazard in future races (it is February in Indiana after all), so that’s certain something to be aware of when checking out these (and any) trails.

The stairs don’t actually look as steep from the bottom, but they were very steep and slippery!

The good
The trail was extremely well marked. It’s a two-loop course for the half marathon, coming through the finish line area around the halfway point before heading back out again and even when I was running backwards on some of the course before the race started, it was really easy to tell which was the race was going to go. I think you would have to actually try to get lost on this course.

There were several times where the course crossed the road within the park and there was always at least one volunteer flagging traffic and making sure runners had the right-of-way. I was cold while running, so I really appreciate those volunteers staying out there for several hours to keep us safe.

The awesome
Cake! They had tons of cake for runners at the end of the event, and I’m not going to lie, it was definitely a motivator for me in those last few miles. It was delicious!

Free race photos! Who doesn’t love free race photos? It’s actually kind of funny scrolling through the pictures because you can see how much the weather changes and how heavy the snow got at some points.

As I’ve mentioned a few times already, I did this race for the bling. The shirt and medal for this race were really nice. The shirt is actually a long-sleeve thermal shirt that’s more like long-john material which is really appropriate considering the likelihood of cold temperatures.


Ragnar Trail Alafia part 3 – Lithia, FL (2016)

AKA the one with all the pictures

After my second leg, I took another nap for a few hours before it started to get pretty warm in the tent and I heard my other teammates up and about in camp, so I got up and we found out that our team would have to double-up on our loops so I would end up running with our captain’s 63-year-old uncle. He had never done a race like this and typically runs on the road, but he seemed to have a lot of fun running with us.

The Red loop was the longest loop coming in at 5.9 miles and we had heard from everyone that it was pretty tough with lots of steep up and down hills and that it felt like a roller coaster. I was really excited to run this loop and would love to try it on fresh legs at full speed at some point, but I was able to get a ton of pictures from the loop and it makes me wish I could have seen the others in the daylight as well!

 Jairo running next to the water early in the loop
 So much green in the water… I kept looking for alligators, but didn’t see any
 The super heavy Red loop totem! 
One of the many bridges on the Red loop
The bridges were pretty much my only complaint about this course – the slats were made for bikes, so they were just far enough apart that you had to make sure to step on them correctly so that you didn’t stick a toe down in between them. I noticed this a lot more on the Yellow loop, probably because it was my first loop and I was running it in the dark, but while the bridges were definitely stable enough to run across, I tended to walk or at least slow way down to make sure I wouldn’t take a tumble and hurt myself.
Here comes the monster hill!
Here’s the view from the top of the hill looking down across the switchbacks
Banked curves for the bikes, flatter trail for the runners
Looking back on the beautiful single track trail
So many hills on this course means you get previews of what is coming up next
Eventually the course opens up to more expansive views
After 5.9 miles, we joined the rest of our team and donned our holiday gear to cross under the arches as a team and get our medals. Team No Moe’ Hills was officially finished!

Ragnar Trail Alafia part 2 – Lithia, FL (2016)

Let’s rewind a few hours because I realized I forgot one of the best stories from my first night at Ragnar Alafia. When I was at the Ragnar Carolinas race getting ready to start my second set of legs, there was a contest where 12 people picked an egg and all but one of them was hard boiled – the “winner” was the one who smashed the raw egg on their head. So, when I heard the announcer  lining up participants, I went over to watch, but when he only had a couple people who wanted to participate, I jumped in. This time there were going to be two winners and each person picked their egg one at a time. When the woman beside me heard what the contest was, she tried to opt out, but the crowd cheered her on to stay in the game and she switched sides with me so that I would go first. I was probably about the 6th or 7th person in line and within the first few people there was a winner, but soon it was my turn and I got to choose my egg, so I picked one and promptly smashed it on my forehead to win a Nathan Neutron Fire 115-lumen headlamp!

After my egg smashing fun, I did manage to get about 4.5 hours of sleep before I got up around 4:00am and started to get ready for my second loop in the dark. I started around 5:20am on the Green loop. In a typical Ragnar race, the Green loop is shorter than all of the other loops and “easiest,” though on trails “easy” is a very relative term. For this race, all three loops were around that 5 mile mark and the Green loop was actually longer than the Yellow loop at 5.4 miles. This was a flatter course than the Yellow loop, so I was able to keep a better pace for most of the loop with the exception of parts of mile 4 where the trail turned into a beach!

The sand was extremely hard to run through, so I walked most of that section until I was able to get onto more solid ground, but luckily it wasn’t too long of a section. The Green loop had a lot more exposed areas, so I was glad I ran this in the dark as I’m sure this loop got hot in the sun. As I finished my loop the sun was starting to come up and I wish I knew what the loops looked like to find a good place to take a sunrise picture, but the sun coming up over the Village ended up being a pretty nice view too.

Next up will be the Red loop where I finally got to run in the daylight, so of course, I took a ton of pictures!

Miss part 1? Check it out here.

Ragnar Trail Alafia part 1 – Lithia, FL (2016)

 I was headed to Orlando for a work conference and knew I had to take advantage of being in the area to try out the first year of Ragnar Trail Alafia. I was a little worried about the weather considering that last year during our conference, it was in the 80’s during the day, but this time, there was more concern about being cold and rainy! There was some rain Thursday night and early Friday morning, but we missed the majority of it and had really great weather on Friday. My team started at 9:00 am and I was our last runner so that I would be able to make it on time for my legs since I wasn’t going to leave Orlando until at least noon and then had an hour and a half drive to the park. After stopping for some extra food for our team, I finally met my teammates around 2:00 pm on Friday afternoon. I only knew one person on the team (our captain) and many of the teammates were meeting each other for the first time at the event. At least one person had never run trails before and only three of us had done a Ragnar before and knew what to expect with the three loops, but everyone came into it excited and ready to try it out.

My original starting time was somewhere around 4:00 pm, but I ended up starting at 6:00 pm, so my first leg was on the Yellow loop in the dark. After Ragnar Carolinas, I decided that even though my headlamp was definitely bright enough to use on its own, I would take my knuckle light along too for some extra visibility. I didn’t make it too far onto the loop before I took a tumble. I’m still not sure what I tripped over, but considering how clumsy I am, I’m surprised that this was my first true trail fall – I’ve stumbled before, but never fully hit the ground. After I jumped back to my feet, I kept running. I passed a few people here and there and went past two women who were on the side of the trail around 2.5 miles into the 4.5 mile loop and didn’t make it too far away from them when I heard one of them say “I guess we’ll just turn around” so I stopped and asked them if they needed a light. They said they did, so I gave them my knuckle light and my team number and just told them to turn it into the staff working at the transition tent and I would get it from them later. I was happy to help fellow runners and glad that they wouldn’t have to turn around when they were halfway done already.

I promise it wasn’t nearly as scary as it looked

I felt good running the Yellow loop and it was a lot of fun, even if I couldn’t really see much of the scenery around me. There were a lot of people on the course (with over 300 teams, you’re never really alone) and I passed 9 people on my first loop, coming in just under 52 minutes before handing off to our captain to start the rotation over again.After I finished, I hit up one of the food trucks that was serving rice, beans and steak – there was also an option for chicken, but apparently that was in high demand as there were several people in front of me waiting for chicken when they announced that there was a steak option ready, so I jumped at that and it was delicious! I really like the food truck options at the Ragnar races. They’ve used them in several races I’ve done lately and it gives so many more options that I think it’s great for runners to be able to choose what they want without having to bring a bunch of food in addition to all their other gear.

After dinner, I hung out with some of the Ragnar staff and got to watch them brand one of the leather sheaths for the medals. It’s pretty impressive in the dark with the Ragnar logo glowing in the fire, though it was harder to figure out whether the logo actually transferred correctly.

This was a fun race to do to see all of the Ragnar staff I met over the year – since they all live in Salt Lake City, everyone wanted to come to Florida for the nice weather in December. Little did they know that it would be in the 40’s overnight! Since I knew it was going to be colder at night for this race, I had to show off my new outfit to keep me warm – a fleece cat onesie. It was pretty ridiculous, but it had pockets, “paws” to go over my hands and kept me warm, so I’m counting it as a win!

I knew my next leg wouldn’t be until at least 4:00 am, so I made myself stay up for awhile so that I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night and it seemed to work pretty well. Next up was the Green loop!

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 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!