I first want to give a HUGE shoutout to my Fiancè, Hannah, who is always willing to join me on these long and crazy endurance events. She has always been there with constant support and is essential to my race day success.
Friday morning, we drove up to Morganton, North Carolina, and stayed at an Airbnb in town.
The race was in a tiny nearby town called Nebo at the Fonta Flora brewery nestled against Lake Jame State Park. The brewery, which also served as the starting location for the race, was where we picked up the race packet later that afternoon.
It was still reasonably light out, so Hannah and I decided to do a little course recon. Driving down the backcountry roads, Hannah noticed something off to the side of the road.
"I think this is the racecourse," said Hannah pointing to the checked blue and white ribbon that was dangling from a pine branch.
I didn't believe her at first, but then I noticed more checkered ribbon along the road.
I knew going into this race that there would be road sections, but I wasn't expecting parts to be on a curvy two-lane mountain road. Investigating the course further, we discovered several road sections, the most notable was a big hill that appeared to go along the mountain.
That night, I had the typical carb-rich pasta dinner and stored up on electrolytes with coconut water. Sleep is always challenging for me the day before a race, but I managed a decent amount considering my nerves.
I woke up at 5 am to make sure I got the necessary fuel digested before race time. I try to aim for at least 2 hours beforehand.
Leaving the Airbnb around 6:45 am, we drove out to a still completely dark morning. The sky was overcast and blocked any of the early-November light on the surrounding woods. Once we parked and arrived at the start of the race, I did a couple of dynamic drills and one last stop to the bathroom before the pre-race de-brief.
The race began with a guy playing the banjo, which was certainly a first. I made sure to get a good position right away since the 100+ runners were to funnel into a single file trail a quarter mile from the start.
I nestled into the lead group of 5 as we started navigating the muddy singletrack trails. My legs were fresh from several weeks of tapering, so I decided to take the lead around mile 2.
The lead group and I started to separate from the rest as we got into the rollercoaster ride of trails that outlined Lake James.
The first bit of concern appeared as I climbed the steep hill leading to the first aid station. The pace we were running was too aggressive for me to handle for the remainder of the race, but since I still found myself leading, I pushed those thoughts aside and carried on with the lead group.
The lead group was still together and strong, but now several of us took a little longer at the aid station to refuel, causing some separation. This gap however dissipated over the next mile.
The overly aggressive pace early on started to take its toll. The lead group started thinning out again, and I was in a group of 3 with 3rd and 4th. I inadvisedly looked at my watch, realizing that I had just reached only halfway. That was a mental weight.
We reached the road sections of the course, and the surface was a welcomed change in terrain. Luckily, there weren't too many cars barreling down the road, but the roar of engines less than 6 feet away kept you alert.
The large hill section loomed in the distance, but to my surprise, I was making progress on the 3rd and 4th place runners that started to separate from me after mile 16.
The hill was steep, and at times, I felt I could probably walk faster. However, I continued as best I could at a steady running pace, counting my steps to keep my mind off the steep terrain.
Reaching the summit, we made a welcomed turn-off back into the trails. I was with the 3rd and 4th place runner again and used the big hill to pull back all the ground I lost.
The hilly trails made my quads burn, and the precious time that I managed to retrieve on the road section started to disintegrate. I was in survival mode now, and I focused on just keeping my position in the race.
Recalling this point in the race, the best way to describe it was dream-like. I was running at a consistent pace and consistent effort, and at times it felt like I was watching myself run this course. Of course, the pain was still present, but it felt as if I was observing it.
The final aid station was the last I saw of the 3rd and 4th place runners who left as I entered it. Knowing there was another road section up ahead, I was confident I could pull back some time.
Unfortunately, the weather started to turn sour with the wind and rain starting to pick up. Nevertheless, I managed to get within 50 feet of 4th place before going back onto the muddy singletracks.
I was getting cold and began to shiver from the rain and the wind that carried over the lake. I made my best attempt to pick up the effort to increase my body temps since the freezing discomfort outweighed the pain in my legs.
The following several miles were a blur, but I remember checking my watch regularly to count down the remaining distance.
I finally got to the last section of the trail that led to the finish line. I took a couple of glances back to check if someone was making a speedy effort to catch me, but thankfully it was all clear.
I made my best attempt at a sprint finish to the line and crossed over with a time of 4:30:25. I held onto 5th place and was so excited to have finished my first ultramarathon.
The total length of the race was 32.5 miles with a cumulative change in elevation of ~5300 ft.
This race taught me a couple of lessons on training for an ultramarathon:
First, I need to do more strength training. Personally, this tends to be an after-thought, but having the leg strength for the constant climbing and descending would have helped my legs hold up better in the later portions of the race.
Second, I think I did too much training on the roads as prep for this race. It was apparent to me when we reached the road sections of the race since that was where I gained the most ground. Conversely, the twisty turns trails was where I lost a lot of time.
A huge positive for the race, however, was my nutrition and hydration. I never felt like I got behind on my fueling or fluids, which was a big concern leading up to the race.
Overall, I'm thrilled with my time and place for this race, and this gave me some confidence moving forward to the Umstead 50 next April 2022 and longer ultramarathon races down the road.
Link to Strava activity
Fuel taken during the race:
Race day breakfast:
Meal the night before:
Then consider joining the Monday Mishmash newsletter! This is a short weekly email of interesting topics, products and articles I've come across during the week. You'll also be the first to hear about new articles, resources and projects going on. Sign up to receive the next edition! Never spam, unsubscribe anytime.