|James and Darin before the Start|
|Darin waiting for the Start|
is usually a topic except for the few years it has been nice. This year had the potential to be nice, and it might be. However, there is a 50% chance of a passing shower during the night. The temperature is supposed to be between 38 and 44. So, if we don’t get any rain, this will be a “nice” weather year, something Horton calls sissy-gate weather. At the prerace briefing, Horton invites me up to talk about the history of the weather. The first 10 years, we only had nice weather twice. So far in the second 10 years, we have had warm weather three times, and hot weather once. My notes say we had nice weather once. So, Horton’s take away is that the race is getting easier. I think not as there is a sweet spot for the temperature. For me that would be above 20 degrees and less than 55 degrees. The years when it got above 60 degrees (twice) it was less than ideal. With the temperature about 40 degrees, I am wearing shorts, long and short sleeve shirts, a thin beanie cap, and glove shells. It doesn’t feel very cold, and the wind isn’t currently blowing and isn’t forecast to blow very hard during the night.
Mile 3.5 46:38 (13:19 avg./mile) FSR 35
After singing the National Anthem and O Holy Night, we are off! 138 runners have started this year. I know many of them. One of the rookies is my friend James, who rode up with me from Huntsville. James is much faster than me, but then he is also 18 years younger. The problem is that James ran a 50 mile race (and won it) last weekend in Alabama. Regardless, I see him briefly after the race starts as he goes out with the lead pack of 20 or so runners. Meanwhile, I am back in the middle of the pack when Bethany Patterson comes by me. We chat briefly about the Ohio State football team before I lose contact with her as well. Then it starts to rain only a mere 30 minutes into the race. Ideas of this being a passing shower are dashed quickly as it rains the rest of this section. Meanwhile, my goal today is to finish in 16.5 hours. I definitely want to finish in less than 17 hours as this would get me a Western States 100 miler qualifier for next year’s lottery. And, if all doesn’t go well, I will drag myself in before the cutoff time of 18 hours. At the prerace briefing, Horton asked me (in front of everyone) what time I would finish, and I said sub-17. I make the stream crossing at mile 3, getting my feet wet, and then get into the aid station a little slower than planned. I wanted to cover this section in 45 minutes to get me to my 16.5-hour goal, but now I am a little behind that. I grab a cup of water and start shuffling up the road.
Mile 7.5 55:57 (13:59 avg./mile) Petites Gap
The rain continues for most of this section as well, but it does end about 10 minutes before I get to the aid station. My goal on this section is to run it efficiently, which means walking quite a bit as it is all uphill. I could run the whole section, but that would likely cost me later. As it is, my left calf is already talking to me. The discomfort is low in the calf muscle near where it attaches to the Achilles tendon. I am not sure why it is hurting, but it is. About two-thirds the way up the hill, Chelsea Viar and Wade Stout join me, and I manage to stay with them into the aid station. At the aid station, my crew this year (Tim) is ready and waiting for me. Usually, I change my shoes, but since it has rained and everything is wet, I decide not to change them at this point. I drink a cup of chocolate milk and take half of a bagel with me to eat on the run.
Mile 13.1 1:35:21 (17:02 avg./mile) Camping Gap
After crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first time in this race, the course goes down a technical, rocky trail for about a mile or so. The rocks are wet and slippery, and the leaves around the rocks are slick as well. It is fun and challenging to try to keep a good pace while going downhill, but yet stay under control so that I don’t crash and injure myself. I maintain this critical balance as I make good time and don’t fall or twist anything. Now it is time to run the rolling section of technical trail that crosses a couple of streams. Since the course is very wet, the streams are full of water, but I don’t worry too much about getting a foot wet again, although I manage pretty well. There is also portion of this section where there are no leaves and the trail is all mud and very slippery. It is a challenge to keep from sliding off the side of the hill. Finally, the trail dumps me out onto the jeep trail and the climb to the aid station. It is only about three miles with a climb that is steeper than the previous big climb. Along the way, I maintain my position with the other runners, and Zach Mortensen joins me for the last mile or so into the aid station. He is from Greensboro, NC. At some point during the climb, the rain begins again, but fortunately lasts only about 10 minutes or so. At the aid station, I stay far away from the nice fire, and eat two quesadillas, which are very tasty.
Mile 21.9 2:32:48 (17:22 avg./mile) Headforemost Mountain
I eat my second quesadilla while walking out of Camping Gap. I want to make good time on this section and try to finish this section around 5:40am. My pace seems fine, but about halfway through the sleepy monster climbs on my back. I am managing to press through when Tony Taylor joins up with me. He is from Stafford, Virginia. Talking to Tony helps me stay focused and soon we are leaving the grassy road portion for the single track over Apple Orchard. All is going well, but then we enter a fog bank. I take the lead and take us up and over Apple Orchard. Tony remarks that I obviously know when to press and (more importantly) where to go. The course is well marked, but the fog makes it challenging. We make it down the trail beside Overstreet Falls in the fog without any falls. As we start the final climb up the mountain, Mike Hannon joins us. It is 5:50am when we pass the location of the original aid station. This is a little disappointing, but somewhat expected given the fog. I haven’t run this section this slowly since 2016. In hindsight, I probably didn’t push it hard enough on the grassy road section. I enter the aid station with several runners sitting around the heaters. I announce that it is time to get down the hill—let’s go! I grab a couple of PB&J sandwich quarters, a pickle, and a few potato chips before leaving.
Mile 27.6 1:30:10 (15:49 avg./mile) Jennings Creek
I run out of the aid station, cross the Parkway for the second time, and begin a quick, little climb before the downhill starts in earnest. I feel great, and I am ready to push the pace. I make quick work of the double track section before the muddy and wet rolling terrain. Since I haven’t changed my shoes yet, I really don’t care about the mud and wet conditions. I pass a couple of runners, and then set my sights on the next two runners in front of me. Soon I catch and pass them as well. But then, Mike Hannon catches and passes me. Where did he come from? I don’t know, but clearly he is moving great! I make it unscathed to the last mile plus of grassy road, and I pick up the pace once again. I pass a few runners, including Mike. Before I get to the aid station, I also pass Lanier Greenhaw. I roll into the aid station around 7:10am. My time is faster on this section than I have done since 2009! And, my race time matches my 2017 time when I went sub 17 hours. I catch my crew just starting to cook my eggs so I sit down and change my shoes. With the shoes changed and an egg and bacon sandwich in my hand, I leave the aid station at 7:20am.
Mile 34.5 1:49:05 (15:49 avg./mile) Little Cove Mountain
pass Lindsay Leigh initially leaving Jennings Creek. I make the first climb in good
shape, and Lindsay catches back up to me. Lanier got ahead of me again as he left the aid station before me. There are two other runners in front of me, but I don’t catch them until after the climb. For the initial descent, a runner passes me, but I am able to stay in front of two other runners. I manage to pass Chrystal Molnar, and Lindsay and I play leap frog before staying together on the last climb into the aid station. Crews are not allowed at this aid station, but Rosy cooks the food for the aid station, and it is always very good. I eat a small egg and sausage sandwich and a grilled cheese quarter. My time on this section is the quickest for me since 2017. I am only five minutes behind my goal pace for finishing in 16.5 hours.
Mile 42.5 2:23:29 (17:56 avg./mile) Bearwallow Gap
leaves the aid station just before me. I
walk a little bit while I finish eating the food I got from the aid
station. As I start running, Sophie
Speidel catches up to me. I am surprised
she was behind me. She says I am running
very well. She initially passes me, but
then I quickly pass her back. I catch up
to Marc Griffin and another runner. We
have a discussion about what pace we are maintaining. I say that we are real close to 16.5 hours,
and Marc says he was thinking/hoping we were sub-16 pace. After a little bit, the other runner presses
Marc to push on ahead. I pass Lanier
again on this part while I am chatting with Marc. Chrystal, Lindsay, and I are close together
as we exit the grassy road portion. Then
Justin Blessing passes us, moving at a smooth and steady pace. I let Chrystal and Lindsay go as we enter
some climbs in the middle of this section.
I am not entirely sure why I cannot keep pace with them, but it is what
it is. When I make the left turn onto
the devil trail, I can still see Lindsay and Chrystal up ahead of me, and
Sophie is within sight behind me. She
catches me in the rocks, while I am hurting my ankles on the rocks covered with
leaves. Sophie says this year should be
called the wet and slippery year. I have
to agree. After the devil trail, I
attempt to cross the creek by rock hopping, but then decide to just step in the
water. This is only the second time in
20 years that I have gotten my feet wet on this stream crossing. Sophie and I make it into the aid station
together. Tim is ready and waiting for
me. He has two grilled ham and cheese
half sandwiches ready for me. I drink
some chocolate milk and eat the first ham and cheese while I get my shoes and
socks changed. Tim says this is a three
shoe day with all of the mud and water.
Fortunately, it hasn’t rained anymore since early this morning. My time is slower than I wanted, and it is
11:33 when I leave the aid station. I am
now 13 minutes behind my goal pace for 16.5 hours, but still in a good position
for getting in before 17 hours. I drink
a cup of Coke before leaving the aid station to give me a little boost starting
the next section.
Changing shoes at Bearwallow Gap
Mile 49.5 1:54:50 (16:24 avg./mile) Bobblets Gap
The climb out of Bearwallow Gap is one of the toughest in the race. It isn’t as large of a climb as many others, but it is steep and somewhat technical. In the last few years, I have really struggled on this climb. This year with two Priest and Three Ridges training runs this fall, I do much better on the climb. As I am navigating the ins and outs along the ridge line, Sheryl Mawn and her daughter catch up to me. Sheryl says hi to me straightaway, but I don’t catch her name, and initially don’t realize it is her. Jennifer is pacing Sheryl, and we have a good chat. When we make the left turn, which lets me know that there is about 30 minutes until we descend off this ridge, Sheryl lets me go by, and then Justin passes me again. I try to stay with him, but I am also ensuring that I don’t burn myself out. After I make the small descent to the last mile to the aid station on a jeep trail, Lanier catches back up to me. We power hike into the aid station together. This is my quickest time on this section since 2018. I have given up another five minutes to my goal pace and am now 18 minutes behind, which means I am still ahead of a sub-17 pace. Crews cannot come to this aid station this year because of a rock slide on the parkway. This aid station sits in the underpass of the parkway. I drink a cup of ginger ale and consume two more PB&J sandwich quarters.
Mile 56.1 2:05:36 (19:02 avg./mile) Day Creek
Bobblets Gap, I take a caffeine pill. It
is time to press the pace and get this race done. I run the 2.5 mile downhill on a dirt and then
gravel road. I pass a
Coming into Day Creek Aid Station
couple of people in the process, but I am still glad when we get back onto the trail. My time for the road section is 28 minutes, which is not bad as my goal was to complete it in less than 30 minutes. I am hoping to complete this section in two hours or less, but I haven’t done that since 2008. I am power hiking the hills hard, and I am trying to reel some people in. Unfortunately, the best I seem to be able to do is keep pace with the people around me, and a couple of people are catching and passing me. About two miles from the aid station, Sophie catches back up to me. I manage to keep the pace going fast enough that Sophie follows me the rest of the way into the aid station. While my time isn’t quite as fast as I wanted, it is fast enough to keep sub-17 as a possibility for me. I meet Tim at the aid station, drink some more Coke and stuff some potato chips in my mouth. Meanwhile, Sophie walks right through the aid station without stopping. Additionally, Mike Hannon is into this aid station ahead of me. It is 15:33, so I need to run this last section in less than 1:27 to finish under 17 hours.
Mile 62.4 1:23:15 (13:13 avg./mile) FINISH
fastest time on this section was 1:04 back in 2010. I haven’t gone sub-1:30 since 2018. The uphill section to the Parkway is 2.8
miles. I start my power hiking and
quickly catch and pass Mike. Then I have
Dan Broom and Sophie ahead of me in my sights.
I make it to the first gate in 15.5 minutes. This is about one-third of the way to the
Parkway. I really need to get to the
Parkway in less than 48 minutes if I am going to have a chance on the backside
to the finish. I am not able to catch
either Dan or Sophie on our trek to the Parkway, but I make it in about 46
minutes. Now I have about 40 minutes to
make it the last 3.5 miles downhill to the finish. I try my hardest to push the pace on the
rocky road for the first couple of miles.
I catch and pass Dan about a mile down the hill. As I am looking for the gate that will
indicate 1.5 miles to go, I see Sophie up ahead. I pass Sophie just as we are getting to the
gate. When I hit the gate, my watch says
I have 15.5 minutes to make it in less than 17 hours. I run around the gate onto the smoother
gravel road and kick my pace in high gear.
When I reach the mile to go line, I click my watch, and see that I just
ran a half mile in 3:59! Now, I have
11.5 minutes to make it, but I do not back off the pace. My right hamstring is talking loudly to me,
but I cannot slow down at this point.
Finally the turn into Camp Bethel comes into view. I make the left turn and sprint to the
finish! My last mile time is 8:58—not
bad for a 53 year old who just ran 65 miles.
Crossing the Finish Line
Official Finishing Time 16:57:09
93rd out of 138 starters (116 finishers under 18 hours)
At the finish, Tim and James are cheering loudly, and when David Horton realizes it is me, he gets excited as well. I cross the line, and Horton and I embrace. It is great to be back at Camp Bethel once again! All five of the fearsome five have once again finished this special race. I am completely spent as I didn’t leave hardly anything on the course. While I didn’t achieve my primary goal of 16:30, I did get another finish under 17 hours. Not only does this provide over an hour cushion on the race’s 18 hour cutoff, but it also gives me a qualifier for the Western States 100 lottery next December. I am very satisfied with my training and effort this year. The weather and course put up a good challenge with the rain and mud, but once again I have conquered the challenge.
We pick up a pizza at Lentini’s on our way to our hotel room in Roanoke. James, Tim, and I will fly back to Huntsville on Sunday morning. My next race is unknown at this point, but I will write about it when I do it. Until then…
Never stop running,Darin