I don't know if I'm the first person dumb enough to do this but it was the first and last time for me. Once was enough. Don't get me wrong, I am glad I did it and enjoyed the weekend and the whole experience but it was tough out there. Maybe now that I've done it some others will be inspired to give it a shot.
We arrived in Boone early Friday afternoon and went straight to packet pick-up where we saw several friends and then drove up to show Jenn some of the course and stash some water and gatorade for us to refill our bottles for the trip down until Karla and Lisa would be able to get down the mountain to start crewing for us. It was pouring down rain and we were hoping that it would all blow over by morning start time.
We arrived at the ASU track about 6am and began preparing for the race. I was very excited about what was ahead and was enjoying visiting with the many friends in attendance. I lined up with Karla planning to run as much as possible with her. Lisa has been running great lately and we knew she would be going for a fast time this year so we didn't even try to go with her today. I had the video camera going to try and share a bit of the experience for those that have never had a chance to see what this race is about. I hope to get it uploaded soon.
It was a warm , muggy and overcast morning and within a mile I was sweating and worrying about overheating. It looked like we would avoid the rain but I was hoping for cloud cover for as much as possible. Karla and I settled in to an easy pace and went about enjoying ourselves out on the course, taking in the sights and talking to other runners along the way.
We were making decent time but Karla wasn't feeling too zippy today and we were walking a bit on the steeper hills earlier than last year. On one hand I was hoping she was feeling good and would have a great day but on the other hand , an easier pace would allow me to stay with her longer. Normally not an issue but today I needed to be saving energy for the return trip.
Things were still going well as we moved onto Hwy 221 for the last 9 miles along this gorgeous course. I was feeling fine and there is nothing better than to be sharing the day with The Marathon Princess. As always we were having a grand time talking , laughing and enjoying each others company. We have run thousands of training miles the past 5 years and this was the 11th marathon we have run together.
And then we finally reached the site of the Highland Games and the finish line of the first marathon. I had the camera out as we ran past the race tent to make our way onto the track. I am a bit amazed at how many of the small crowd that were there were people I have gotten to know over the past 8 years and the great cheering and support that we received as we passed by. Once on the track we were getting a lot of cheers from the grandstands due in part to the fact that Karla and I were both wearing our kilts. We crossed the line together in 4:56 and after a quick photo opportunity, I began my journey back down the mountain by running a reverse lap on the track and back down to the marathon tent.
I spent about 15 minutes here getting some food and drinks and talking to a few friends. Jenn had taken the shuttle to the top and was now ready to accompany me on my reverse marathon back down to Boone. I got a hug from The Trail Angel, said good bye to some friends and off we went. By now it was pretty warm out on the course and the sun was high overhead. There is a lot of shade on the course but during the mid afternoon there are a lot of exposed areas too.
It had been a great day so far running with Karla and now I was having the pleasure of The Ultra Angel for the rest of my adventure. Once we were out on the road for a while I was noticing just how much climbing there actually is on the return trip. With it being a mostly uphill climb to the finish its hard to judge just how much downhill there is on the course but believe me you really start to notice that when you are going backwards. By now I was in ultra mode so we were running the downhills and walking most of the uphills. I was starting to feel the effects of the warm day and was trying to stay hydrated as the temperature crept up to a high of 82F.
By now my left foot was beginning to hurt a little but otherwise the legs were ok. Jenn was great company and content to move at whatever pace I wanted to move. Normally I'm pretty talkative but now as I was getting tired and facing the reality of what I had committed myself to doing I was being a little quieter than usual. Still we were having a good time enjoying the sights and views as we went along Hwy 221 and after awhile we finally made the turn back onto the gravel road around mile 17. It was here that I finally ran all of the hill that Laura calls simply 17. It is the steepest hill on the marathon course and even in the year I was in my best shape and racing for a sub-4 I had to walk part of it. Now I was finally going to get my chance to run all of 17. The only difference was that now I would be running it downhill.
At the bottom of the hill is where we had stashed some water and gatorade. We took a short break and then continued on. I had guessed that we would reach this point in about 2 hours after leaving the top and we were right on pace. I had figured the one drop would last us until Karla and Lisa could take the shuttle back to Boone to get the car and then drive back up the course to crew for us the rest of the way.
Things were still going ok, slow but steady as we made our way back to the Blue Ridge Parkway and about 15 miles to go. Let me tell you, the BRP is not the place you want to spend too much time running on a July afternoon. Although it is beautiful there is a lot of traffic, just like a major highway and a lot cars are going too fast. There is practically no shoulder to get out of the way either and there is hardly any shade this time of day and the sun was beating down on us.
The first two miles of the Parkway are a nice gentle downhill but then there is that 2 miles climb that we enjoy so much when it's a downhill going the other way.
Well now it was a hard two mile long climb and I was beginning to wear down. And I was running low on fluids and still no sign of the crew. We walked halfway up the hill and then I spotted a place to sit on the bridge over Sims Creek so we took a short break to take a gel and stretch for a few minutes.
We started again and the climb got steeper the closer to the intersection where we would be getting off the Parkway. And then just before we finished that climb, we saw the ladies and they pulled over at the exit. It was great to see them and we re-fueled and refilled looking forward to a couple of miles of downhill running on Shulls Mill Road. From here we had about 10.5 miles to go.
At about the 10 mile mark we reached the point where I usually get a picture of Grandfather Mt off in the distance, the first place you can see it in the marathon. I have pictures of Laura and I when we ran together in 2008, Lisa, Karla and I in 2009, Karla and I from this morning so I had Jenn stop so I could get one of her there. No one around to take on of the two of us but at least with the clear skies you could see the mountain.
The crew was waiting again at the bottom of Shulls Mill Rd and then we turned onto Poplar Grove road. The marathoners always see that as a nice long quad burning downhill break but going the other way it turns into a nightmare of a climb that is as long as any going the other way and probably steeper than any hill going up the mountain. By now I was really starting to drag and I was so thankful to have Jenn along to share in my misery. She was doing a great job of keeping me moving and breathing and trying to make sure I was taking in fluid and calories. When I'm hot my stomach doesn't want anything but I was forcing myself to take in as much as I could.
It was slow but we finally made the climb and I knew there would only be one more significant climb after that. The ladies met us one more time with about 6 miles to go and then they headed to ASU to wait for us and have an ice cold Coke that I was craving waiting for me. We reached that last climb and Jenn kept prodding me along and once we reached the next downhills we actually were running a decent pace over the next couple of miles. We reached the point of two miles to go just as Winkler's Creek Rd enters town and I was feeling ok but within the next half-mile when we reached the main hwy through town leading back to the stadium , the wheels were really stating to come off. The heat humidity, dehydraion , pounding and miles were about to beat me down.
Finally we made the turn with the one short hill back up to the stadium and on to the track. The gate was open so we stepped onto the track to do the last reverse lap back to the race starting line and my calves both decided to cramp on me. I had to walk most of the lap and then we ran the last 100yds to the "finish". I had done it. Fulfilled another dream and completed my "Double" Grandfather Mountain. They handed me my Coke and I walked over to a bench in the shade and sat, too tired to drink it and when I finally took a small sip I was hit with a wave of nausea and spent the next couple of minutes throwing up everything I had put in my stomach over the past hour. first time I have ever done that in an ultra. Ok that wasn't fun but I immediately felt better.
Total time for the run was 11:33. It consisted of 8,000 feet of elevation gain and 5,000 ft of elevation loss. and as I said just because it has a net elevation loss of 900ft running back down to Boone , it is not an easy course. There are still many miles of climbing, some long climbs and some steep ones.
I did make this a little harder than I should have by running the first half, or the actual marathon as a normal marathon and then try to run back, especially considering how tough the race is anyway. It would have been much smarter to approach it for what it was, a tough 50 mile + ultramarathon and spent a lot more time walking the early climbs saving energy. But with that said I'm glad I did it the way I did even though it made it much more difficult. Otherwise I wouldn't have made the 5 hour cut-off for an official race finishers medal and even more importantly I would not have been able to share the marathon with The Marathon Princess.
Thanks so much to Karla for running yet another marathon with me and Lisa helping to crew with Karla making for a very long day after running their races. Lisa had a great run in 4:16 knocking about 30 minutes off her time last year and taking 3rd in her age-group against a tough field of women runners. And a special thanks to Jenn for making the trip, waiting around all morning for me to run the race and then keeping me moving down the mountain. Having these three ladies made it even more special than ever. And Thanks to all of the many friends, runners and non- runners for your support and encouragement.