My husband is always right. When I was offered a spot from the waitlist last week, I wasn’t sure I should accept it, but he encouraged me, knowing I would be happy I did.
Indeed, I am happy I completed this race, although I was scared about the entire experience – from camping by myself the night before, to the idea of a 3000 elevation gain when I wasn’t well-trained for it. This would be a good chance to step outside my comfort zone, which was something I hadn’t done in quite a while.
Race registration came with tent camping next to the starting line. I was solo and would be arriving after dark, so foregoing the tent in favor of car camping seemed like the best option. This wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be – quite a few people were doing the same – and it was convenient to wake up right next to the starting line.
The race started with about a mile run through ankle high wet grass. Wet feet were no big deal since I knew there would be many creek crossings throughout the next 20 miles. Most of the first 6 miles were on a grassy forest road, the terrain comparable to Turkey Creek trail at Umstead – quite a bit of up and down, but nothing too technical.
I breezed by the first aid station feeling great, but knowing I was approaching the toughest segment of the race. As the forest road ended and runners were directed to the first creek crossing, I noticed a man dressed as a waiter, holding a tray of white wine for the runners. I didn’t see anyone actually take wine from him, and good thing, because the trail immediately became very steep and very technical. Some of it required using my arms to climb and very little of this stretch was actually run-able. There weren’t as many runners near me at this point either, so I had to pay attention to the course markings. This always has me questioning whether I missed a turn, followed by a brief moment of panic about getting lost in the woods or accidentally going miles out of the way. I’m reassured when I see the next ribbon tied to a tree, but this whole cycle repeats itself throughout the race.
I could eventually run on the terrain again, however the elevation gain required a mix of running and walking. There were a few more creek crossings – I think a total of 6 on the way up and then again on the way back. One was knee-deep. Many people loathe them, but I think creek crossings are fun! It was pretty much a steady uphill climb until mile 10.5, where there was an aid station. I stopped to grab a banana segment and some gummy bears for the road. This was the turnaround and it felt awesome to run downhill – at least for a while. With a big grin on my face, I cheered on runners that were still making the climb. The euphoria didn’t last long though, and I could feel my quads starting to get tight with the continued downhill running. I took a lot of Flow tabs to keep my sodium, potassium, and magnesium levels high and hopefully prevent cramping. It worked!!
I stopped at the last aid station around mile 16 for a refill of water and another handful of gummy bears. The last part of the race would be in the sun and I wanted to be prepared, just as another runner and I had discussed in a mile leading up to the stop. Those ups and downs at the end were tough, so I walked up the steep hills and ran the rest. Knowing there was another woman not far behind me certainly kept me motivated – I wasn’t going to let her beat me.
The finish line was back in camp, so there were a bunch of people around cheering me in and I finished the race with a smile on my face. I love this camaraderie around trail running – the vibe is so cool. I accomplished my 2 goals of finishing the race and not injuring myself. Several runners were sitting in the creek, so I took off my sweaty shirt and joined them – it felt amazing, an ice bath was just what my sore muscles needed!
My watch read 21.26 miles at the end of this race. A 30k is 18.6 miles. I love that about the trail running community – distances are always “approximate”.