September 20, 2012 by trailcats
About 3 months ago I got an itch to run my first ultra. I looked high and low on the WWW for a 50k or even a trail marathon that I could train for in late summer to early fall. I came across Terri Hayes’ Buncombe Trail 55k. Granted I have never even run an actual road marathon. The most mileage I would end up doing before this race was 22 miles. That only happened once and I had a rough go of it the last couple of miles. But I trained hard and fast for this sucker. Up to 75ish miles one week. Always trail. I felt as prepared as could be expected – even with some recurring IT band pain (that I know I shouldn’t be running with).
The race was on Sunday. On Friday I asked Harley if he would want to run it with me. “I’ve been thinking the same thing,” he said. Hmmmm. So that was as solid an affirmative as any. He was in. He had seen Terri’s super informal email that she sent out to the runners and was relieved at how casual the race sounded. More like a long run and less like an actual race. Training-wise, he hadn’t been running as much as me, but maybe it’s all heart like Terri said in her email. It wouldn’t be the first time I heard that.
We pulled into the Brick House Campground at Sumter National Forest around 5:30 on Saturday. We quickly identified Terri’s spot and stopped to introduce ourselves. We then unloaded our gear at campsite #10. Within seconds of setting up the tent
Harley noticed a flea. I hesitated unloading more stuff and thought about finding a different spot. Screw it. It was just one. As were unpacking we saw our neighbors…a couple of well known southeast ultrarunners – whose blogs I just happen to follow.
Jason Sullivan writes some great race reports and has a great personal story of triumph. His first ultra was Buncombe in 2009 and this year he ran Western States. He was donning his fancy, hard-earned buckle this weekend! And I am disappointed that I didn’t get a picture with him showing it off! We ended up hanging out around his campfire with Psyche and Charles. I was getting major pumped for the next day’s run as Harley and I listened to these seasoned runners share their tales from the trail.
Harley and I went to bed early. I woke up around 2ish to pee and saw a flea. It was only my second one to spot but just the thought of it kept me up tossing and turning and itching and scratching for the next 2 hours.
Honking horns awoke me from my sweaty slumber at 6am. Yawn, yawn, stretch, stretch and we were up. Packed up the tent, ate some brekkie, got all dressed for the big day, and headed on over to the race check in (3 campsites down). As Joe put it the night before, this was a pretty organized race considering how unorganized it is. Terri recruited some volunteers, but most of them were her friends and family. The check-in process went smoothly and we even got some fun little goodie bags with some anti-chaffing cream (which Harley should have used, more later) and some HEED recovery powder. At 7:15 Terri launched into the trail briefing which we were cautioned to zone out a
little. I printed out her directions to keep with us. God bless her, she does give a lot of directions on what NOT to do. Like do NOT GO LEFT. Instead of GO RIGHT. So by the time you get to that trail junction all you can remember is GO LEFT. So I zoned out a bit and instead checked out all the runners. Apparently there were about 70ish that signed up and 25% backed out about a week before. Runners of all ages and shapes and sizes were there. I loved it. Anyone can do this, I thought. Even me!
The whole lot of us made our way to the Buncombe Trailhead at campsite #16. On your marks, get set, go….and we were off at 7:37.
Start to Aid Station Two – Mile 14
All along I had been thinking that this would be a fairly easy trail. It was touted as having gentle, rolling hills and it was a horse trail. I quickly learned that horses can really bang up a trail, leaving muddy, deep, pot marks in much of the red clay. What this course lacked in rocks and tree roots, it made up for in these pot marks in several spots and even worse – bushwacking areas. More later.
I was a little ahead of Harley for the first 4 miles as the group was thinning out on the initial single track. He soon came up behind me and we stuck together for the duration.
It was a motley crew out there. Like I said – runners of all ages and experience. As we thinned out, I pictured us in the bottom 25%. Which was AOK.
I was feeling really groovy all the way to AS#1 at mile 9. The Adams were mighty impressed by the array of food and drinks at the AS. We had no idea it would be this
nice. Overall the AS’s had every salty snack you could want for (pretzels, Pringles), sweets (M&Ms, cookie cake, brownies), potatoes, PB&J, Endurolyte tabs, ibuprofen, pimento cheese, and on and on. Coke, Pepsi, Powerade, HEED, H2O. We grabbed a little and powered on. I’m not gonna lie – I had doubts about whether I could do this starting around mile 12.
The bushwacking segments were getting me DOWN. By bushwacking I mean running through shoulder high weeds that barely covered a trail (a la the bee/tornado area at Pine Mountain). I felt like I was forging my own trail through a shitty overgrown field for a mile at a time. My right knee really didn’t like this part. I will say I was glad I was wearing my calf compression sleeves. They served a couple purposes that day.
I was excited to get to AS#2 but I could not help but think that AS#2 was only 1/3 of the race distance. It was pretty discouraging to think of it that way. Mentally I was already starting to waffle with the idea that I might not be able to do it and then when I starting thinking about the splits – it was getting to be a little worrisome. Meanwhile Harley is doing the right thing and thinking of short, intermediate goals.
We finally made it there and I saw Jason Sullivan who would be working AS#2 and #4 at 28 miles. I told him I was certain the next 14 miles to AS#4 would be the hardest – mentally at least. And that was no lie.
Mile 14/AS#2 to 20.5/AS#3
I was a downtrodden ultrarunner. My knee hurt – way more than I expected it to at this point. And something felt wrong GI-wise. I didn’t feel nauseous. I couldn’t tell if I was over or under hydrated. My stomach felt bloated like I had had too much but my backpack still felt very squishy. I had not been drinking enough. It was pretty humid but not very hot and I guess my body was confused as it’s used to higher temps. In any case, I was still running, but much slower and I had to take frequent walk breaks. I felt bad for Harley as he still felt pretty fresh. He was super patient and supportive. I was sooooo thankful he was running with me. We hardly saw anyone for several miles and I would have been feeling like a 1 out of 10, throwing the lamest pity party ever with only one RSVP – lil ol me.
Harley was excited to get to mile 20. The longest he’d ever run was 20 miles about 10 years ago. I was thinking the same about mile marker 22…that maybe that would rejuvenate me – breaking new PRs after mile 22. God knows I need a boost.
My knee was really hurting and I could not wait for some ibuprofen. That was my light at the end of my intermediate tunnel.
Mile 20.5 / AS#3
Boy, was this AS a site for some sore eyes. It really turned my frown upside down. I had thought about taking some ibuprofen before the race, but was weary with
possible dehydration and the toll they may take on my kidneys after miles of running. But to hell with that now. I NEEDED them. I negotiated for them with myself by saying I would just have to make sure I was staying well hydrated now. So I downed those and Harley and I took some time to stretch our legs. And eat some fun treats. I gotta say here – the people at the AS’s were soooo nice. They really had our backs and I can’t imagine running this distance without people like this to help ensure your run goes smoothly – and safe.
Whew-ie!!! I was a bouncing, tail-up, cat. Leaving the AS, I felt rejuvenated and hopeful that the Ibey would kick in soon and grant me some relief. The idea of having only 13 miles left was reassuring. That’s about the least we will consider running on the weekend.
Mile 20.5 to AS#4 / Mile 28
We were both happy little trailcats as we coasted along the next couple miles. We really were on schedule to finish the race in 7 hours if we could continue our current pace. Then I had that stuck in my head.
But every yin (me) must have a yang (Harley). Harley took a physical downturn around mile 24ish. His right knee was also giving him pain – maybe more tendonitis than IT band pain. In any case, we were back to running slowly with little bursts of power walking. This would be the trend for the rest of the run. Normally I would be kinda selfish and still be pushing for that 7 hour goal. But this run become an allegory for our marriage. We were both there for each other, encouraging one another, practicing patience. We pushed through this tough part together. Mentally our tails were up but physically our knees were, well, I wanted to say between our knees – but you get the point. We persevered.
Jubilation returned when we hit mile marker 27 – which was really like mile 26 (the course was about a mile off from the markers midway through). We had just run our first marathon!!!! People kept asking why aren’t you running a marathon before your first ultra…well we just did!!
Around mile 27 we met Richard. He’s been running ultras since January. He was a friendly guy and a much welcomed talker. I think Harley and I were at a part of this venture that called for a solid distraction. Thanks Richard for being a good running/walking mate. We reached a gravel road a struggled about a mile further to AS#4. Again, the support at the AS was muy supremo. Jason Sullivan resurfaced here. Seeing him gave me a mental boost just knowing that he started his ultra shenanigans here 3 years earlier. Harley succumbed to some vitamin Ibey here as well. We were both hoping it’s anti-inflammatory properties would fix his knee probs. Against medical advice – I took an extra Ibey for good measure.
AS#4 – Mile 28 to the FINISH / Brick House Campground
The other Terri warning we got that day was that yes, sometimes her races are a mile longer than posted – just to make sure you run the full distance. I was hoping that wasn’t the case at this point and that we really only had a mere 10k to go. Again, 6 miles is a solid distance – but it is also a distance we can knock out as short run without batting an eye. We were no longer gonna make 7 hours – but maybe 7.5 was still in the realm of possibilities. It wasn’t.
Shortly after the AS, I mentioned that I might wanna take off to try and reach the new 7.5 hr time goal. Right when I kissed Harley good-bye, Richard said that he would go the rest of the way with Harley, who was still struggling with his knee. My knee was still bothersome but I was game for ignoring it. Until he made me feel like the worst wife ever. I decided to stay put and quickly realized that was right where I belonged. Who was I kidding? Not even myself. I couldn’t run the rest of the way. The Adams were committed to run/walking the rest of the way. Mostly walking briskly and even that was done with some reluctance. The three of us banded together and occasionally tempted a ¼ mile run at a time. At least attempting to run the downhill portions.
I will say this was the longest 6 miles ever. In part because it was really 7. We came across Amy who had passed us earlier. She thought she had taken a wrong turn and was heading back towards us. Her tail was a little down too considering she had back tracked a bit. Both her and Richard’s Garmins would put the run at 35 miles by the time we finished. Harley was walking with Richard and Amy and I struggled ahead by a hair. My new goal was just under 8 hrs. 7.5 hrs had come and gone. I did my best to be encouraging, still trying to at least run the downhill parts. I was trying my damnest to hear people talking in the distance at the finish line. But the trail kept going and going. And while we were now on part of the lollipop that we had run nearly 7.5 hrs earlier in the day, it seemed so much further and a little less familiar with every step we took. Why couldn’t we hear the finish line? This was Amy’s farthest distance to date. She had run 32 miles in a timed event in March. We were in this together now. Harley was probably just a smidge behind us with Richard.
Finally Amy saw an RV that was at the starting line. It was like the dark skies had
parted and revealed the sun and the most beautiful rainbow you can imagine. Angels were singing from the heavens. “Run!!! We can do this!” I shouted. It was far from pretty but the finish line was in sight.
Now let me be clear on what the finish line was. It was campsite #6 at the Brick House Campground. It was a concrete picnic table manned by some of Terri’s family members and other runners. It was several pizzas and recovery food items splayed on said concrete picnic table. Many of the earlier finishers had come and gone. It was a stop watch. It was “come over here so I log your bib number.” No timed chips or music or deejays. But it was perfect. And I was smiling ear to shining ear. My time….7:59. Are you kidding me?!!! I just made it.
Now it was Harley’s turn. He and Richard and a couple of others rolled in at 8:01.
Team Adams had just ran their first ultramarathon!!!!
We noshed and noshed. Got some sandals on. And got our awesome, homemade ceramic medals. We took some pics and visited with some of the other finishers and cheered on some peeps coming in behind us. It was perfect.
The long, stinky and sticky 3 hour drive home
The drive home was spent reliving all of the above and moments in between. We talked about the hardships of the day and how we overcame them – together. We talked about how we’d like to shoot for a 50k-ish every other month or so. I called my mom and Mie-Ma and deeted them on the accomplishments of the day. I texted with Helene and Kati sharing my excitement.
After all was said and run (nyark, nyark)…we came away with a decent time for our first ultra and very few injuries. These injuries include things like chaffing. It looked like Harley had taken sandpaper to his legs and upper arms. I even had some flat moles that got irritated, raised up and scabbed (it’s not as gross as it sounds). But we never stiffened up like we thought we would. Granted I’m writing this on Wednesday and I still haven’t gone out for a run as my knee still hurts when I run on it – but I’m hoping to back on the trails by this weekend.
Thank you to everyone who made this race possible – Terri, all of the volunteers, and all the other runners who showed up on race day. You all made this the best first ultra a couple of trailcats could ask for!