Ok day before the race Amy and the kids and I blast out of Boone on our way to Asheville. I drop everyone off at our friends Dan and Laura and head to the packet pick-up/ pre-race meal. I got there a little early picked up my packet and then thought about heading out for a quick cruise up the parkway to scout the course but instead got to talking to a nice guy from Asheville who had run the race before. Turns out he grew up as a kid in Boone and Valle Crucis (he noticed my standard Friday attire VC t-shirt). Before we knew it dinner was set up and the room was full of runners. The meal was preemo. It just kept getting better the farther down the line you went and there was plenty of it. After dinner I did take the scenic detour up the parkway all the way to the finishing parking lot and then took a very windy highway back to Enka my old stomping grounds. It took forever but how funny it was to pop out back on Smokey Park Highway just across from the turn that went to the trailer Dad and I shared. From there I headed back to Dan and Laura's and had a good time hanging out before getting to bed at a decent time.
RACE DAY: Woke up to a rather chilly morning packed and repacked my camel back borrowed a few gels from Laura (these would probably save me during the race) had a light breakfast and we headed out. At the Arboretum the sun was quickly warming the chill off and by race start I was down to poly pro t-shirt and shorts. The start was pretty uneventful and despite the general nervousness about how really prepared I was I tried remembering some of the beta I had heard the night before. At the megaphone blast we ran downhill on pavement before gaining the gravel roads. Starts of races are my least favorite time of running period. Everyone is packed around you, all you can hear is their breathing, and all you want to do is establish your running rhythm which is nearly impossible with all variations of paces around you. At the same time you desperately want to get ahead of as many slow people as you can before the trail turns to single track. Within the first few miles I found the crowd beginning to thin out and the passing of runners falling off. The first hill was not bad at all and I felt very strong heading up to the parkway. As I recognized the first aid station after gaining the ridge that's when the trail began to get alot steeper. I found myself dropping into a power walk much sooner than expected but was not too worried about it as I kept track on my watch. After powering through that first hill and then following the descent I still felt great. I knew the big hump of Ferrin Knob lay ahead and after that the innevitable head wall finish. In between those first few knobs I hit some of the most beautiful trail running I have experienced. The leaves still hadn't peaked yet or were just peaking in color in Pisgah and the running was serene. I managed to choke down a few apple newtons and some water from the camelback. I tried to take water from most of the aid stations if even a few swallows. I remeber coming into the aid station right before the big Daddy Ferrin Knob and people cheering and saying now's where it really starts. I was still on a cranking pace and was beginning to feel the uphills a little more. I power walked almost the entire ascent of Ferrin, remember cresting the top and realizing that it shouldn't be any worse than that. Then running the descent into Bearverdam Gap feeling relieved at getting there in two hours and good, making it to the far side of the parking area and feeling the first calf cramps twinge in one leg and then the other. Rather conveniently during this time as I dropped to a walk I stepped over a log water bar and saw the telltale spiraling rise of hornets rising up to attack. They got me on the knee and back of the leg as I tried to hobble run past them still cramping. I made it past them and continued up the short climb trying to ascertain how bad this was going to be. I also remember immediately beginning to calculate where I was on the course and how much time had passed. I realized I had somewhere close to six mile left and was still determined to try and push through the situation.
The next few miles was spent jogging short flat or downhill stretches when I felt I could but otherwise trying to power walk to the best of my ability everything else. At one aid station I spent a few minutes trying to stretch out the cramps and eating a few banana chunks they had available. A fellow runner also offered me a salt tablet which I quickly swallowed. My new goal quickly changed to simply finishing. Secretly I still hoped to finish in under four hours but my mantra through all of this became, "I'm getting the damn t-shirt" They only give the coveted long sleeve shirts to the finishers. I was determined. For these miles I stayed pretty close to the guy who had given me the salt tablet. At this point I had eaten the gels I had been carrying. Heading across the road at the final aid station with the head wall looming above I was still powerwalking through the hills albeit at a much slower rate. Anything dead flat I was able to shuffle run for about 1-200 yds. before dropping back to a walk. As I came over the final small knob the trail dropped a little into a little wooded vail and I was actually able to muster a run as I passed the guy I had been hanging with for the past 40 minutes. I remember saying, " I don't know why I'm passing you right now but I'll see you anyway in a few minutes when you pass me back." He just chuckled.
THE HEADWALL: Yeah the guys who came up with this race were truly demented to set up a course with the kind of steep gain that the shut in holds for the last mile. It was brutal to say the least but I was able to keep moving. I began passing other casualties on the way up including one guy stetched out on his back in a small patch of grass beside the trail hands behind his back in a very relaxed pose. A little odd but oh well. In the middle of the headwall I realized that nobody was gaining on me even though there were people behind me. I began to delude myself into thinking maybe I can hold off any runners behind me. I could hear them talking and at a few switchbacks even saw them behind and below me but still managed to stay out in front of them. It was also at this time that I began realizing that a sub four hour result was probably doable. When I crested the final rise the steep descent to the finish began and my crampy and shaky legs became all the more unsteady. At this point I was hopping/ hobbling down the very stepped and rocky trail. I passed a couple of people who had finished and were coming back up the trail to cheer friends and fellow runners on. And then I could hear the crowd at the finish, the traffic on the road below and before I knew it I had popped out of the rododendrun into the short steps and finishing clock area.
I made sure I found where to get my t-shirt as I got hugs from Amy, Carter, and Dan who even snapped a few pics for us. I was wasted. Later when I picked up my camelback I noticed the salt crust on the shoulder straps and the level of salt depletion became readily apparent as a possible explanation for the cramps. But with t-shirt and 3 hour 54 minute finish under my belt I just wanted to get a shower and relax. We had a post run celebration at Barley's Taproom in downtown Asheville after a quick visit to Laura's studio.