Monthly Archives: August 2017

Three HOT Summer Races – Running and Racing in the Heat


At the end of the day my shirt laid heavy on my chest, my shorts clinged to my thighs and my shoes which were soaked through had been making a sloshing sound over the last few miles of the race.  As much as I hated running in the cold.  As often as I complained about being outside in the non-summer temperatures from November until late April, this day had my number.  At the end of this race, on a day when the temperatures soared and dew point made the trails of North Carolina feel like the swamps of the Bayou I would have welcomed a below 30 degree day.

13921101_1298344093510077_856199800322259064_n(The face of heat, despair, and defeat at
Medoc Mountain Meltdown 2016)

The heat and humidity of the south can be stifling.  The heavy woven blanket of high humidity and relentless heat can suck the very life out of you.  It’s hard just walking to your car at the end of a long work day.  It’s doubly hard to want to do anything outside.  As much as I enjoy running, at times, the summer conditions make me want to hide under a comforting blanket of air conditioning.  During the dog days of summer my running lacks any spunk.  Distances feel overwhelming, a five miler wears on my body like 10, 15 or 20.  My long runs have me feeling weak, slow, and wondering if I am truly an ultra-runner at all.  The reported “feel” like heat index cause my training days to suffer.  Normally I tend to scale back my racing and I fall into survival mode awaiting the return of fall.  But this year I decided to try a different tactic I decided to embrace the summer heat and run three monster races.

19149362_10213592637035839_4729837343095678056_n(At the finish of the Eastern Divide 50k)

JUNE:  Eastern Divide 50k, what can I say about a race that starts off with a 2,000 foot climb in the first five miles.  Looking back, I can say, “I was not ready.” During the opening salvo, I took body blows to the lungs and legs.  The jabs left me staggering, I was lost for words and oxygen.  As I reached the summit my heaving chest and clouded mind would only allow me to formulate a few words, “that sure was a butt kicker.”  My legs were spent, my shirt was soaked and I had 26 more miles to go.  The ED50k was a well organized race…one that will truly test your vigor from the very beginning to the wild end.  This race is a “Butt Kicker”.

I run 90% of my miles on flat to mild rolling hills.  Honestly I hate to call them hills at all, more like slight changes along the road.  I wasn’t really ready for what the ED50k had to offer, even though I thought I was.  What elevation I do get to run over is limited to 1,000 feet spread over 12.5 miles.  The near straight up climb to open this race got my attention in a hurry and set the tone of the day.  I enjoyed the challenge even though my quads were exploding as my heart raced to feed my muscles.  After the initial climb, the course is a collection of elevation changes on mountain trails among some picture-perfect backdrops of green forests and never-ending fire roads without much flat terrain.

2017 Eastern Divide 50k map and elevation(Course map of ED50k)

Although the 30 miles still had us squarely in Virginia the final mile off the day felt more like a run through a Amazon jungle.  This dash to the finish is best described as a narrow trail navigated over exposed roots, under low hanging branches perfectly positioned to impact your head, between boulders that restricted the path, and around moss covered trees.  Breaking into a clearing the inflatable finish line on the grounds of the country club made famous by Baby of Dirty Dancing fame never looked more inviting.  I was spent after finishing the ED50k and felt like I earned every second of my 6:55 minute finishing time, a good amount over previous 50k times run over more welcoming terrain. Check out the Eastern Divide 50k website.

JULY:  Grandfather Mountain Marathon,  It was a cool summer day in comparison to the feels like temperatures of 110+ just days prior.  Standing on the track surrounding the Appalachian State football field I could feel a drop of sweat run down my back as the race director welcomed everyone.

2017 Grandfather Mountain marathon Map(Course map of Grandfather Mountain Marathon)

The asphalt course runs 26.2 miles from the Appalachian State University on the track at the Kidd Brewer Stadium in the center of Boone, NC to the top of Grandfather Mountain.  What feels like a downhill start quickly turned into a hair raising roller coaster ride with steep climbs and rapid decents while gaining elevation with every combination.  Some of the downhill sections are so steep that a miss placed step I felt would leave me a tumbling heap of road rash and broken bones.  The final challenge, a 2+ mile climb to reach the summit begins around the 24th mile marker and seemingly goes on forever.  Highlighted by a number of false summits the endless black ribbon stretches out in front of you seemingly going on forever as bagpipes can be heard off in the distance.  A final right turn appears out of now where delivering you to a gravel path leading to the make shift stadium and the large collection of Scottish Clans and the opening of the Highland Games.

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Without being over dramatic for two reasons this was the most emotional finish of the 100+ races I have run.  Circling the track during the final quarter mile of the race I crossed the finish line just as the National Anthem of the United States began to play.  With a finishers medal around my neck, with a 4:39:49 finishing time to my credit, out of breath and on aching legs I stood proud with my right hand over my chest and wondered if this is what it felt like to win a Gold Medal in the Olympics.  Second when I signed up for the race the date of the event did not register as anything of significant.  The 28th of July, this day appeared as any ordinary day, that is until race morning.  This race was held on my mother’s birthday, she passed the previous December 27th. As I ran up a mountain, I felt closer to her, as I stood listening to our National Anthem tears collected in my eyes and ran down my cheeks. Check out the Grandfather Mountain Marathon website.

AUG:  MEDOC Mountain Meltdown 50k+,  A run in the park with a bunch of friends, it’s as simple as that.  Now add in roots, rocks, stairs cases, steep climbs, and the stifling heat and humidity of early August in North Carolina and you have the makings of a meltdown.

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Four laps around MEDOC Mountain State Park, in Hollister, NC with 8.6 miles per lap and you have a 50k+ race that kicks my tail year after year.  I first ran this race in 2013 as an opportunity to hang out with some “new” ultra-running friends.  That first year, I slogged my way around the trails and finished all four laps earning my one of a kind “MEDOC” rock.  I enjoyed my time on the trails and met a bunch of running pals I still call friends to this day.  In 2016, I returned to MEDOC once again to earn another rock and to better my time from my first race.  That plan did not go well.  After three laps and while tied for first place, the scorching sun beat me down to the point that I could not answer the bell for the fourth lap.  Returning to the meltdown again, 2017, I was determined to make things right.

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I’m not really sure what makes the meltdown so hard (on me), is it the climbs?  The technical trails?  The heat index? The rocks, roots, horseflies, or is it MEDOC himself?  MEDOC is a legendary monster the lives in the park, some say a crazy doctor others a kin to Bigfoot himself.  I have no idea but the meltdown delivers a punch to the gut with each lap that eventually wears you down.  This year I felt good completing my third lap.  Making the turn, I refueled, signed in for the fourth lap, and headed out across the field where we would turn on to the trails and into the forest.  As I made my way into the woods the bottom fell out of my running mojo.  I felt at a loss for power, and motivation.  Every step was a struggle to survive with my finish in question.  With each step a DNF seemed more likely.  As I was dragging my feet along the trail I remember a saying that I had told so many other people before.  “When times get tough just keep moving forward, it will get better.”  And so with footstep after footstep a death crawl turned into a jog, a jog turned into a run, and a run transformed into a finishing time of 7:52 and my second MEDOC Mountain Meltdown 50k+ rock. Check out the MEDOC Mountain Meltdown 50k plus Facebook page.

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What will I do next summer when the heat and humidity return to south of the Mason-Dixon line?

What will I do when my shirts again weight heavy, my shorts cling, and my shoes make the familiar sloshing sound of summer?

Will I return to run these races again?  Each race is great in its own unique way.  Each race is far from the cookie cutter corporate marathon.  They test your make up, your fitness and your desire.  They offer wonderful setting, and challenging courses.  Should everyone run them once, I highly recommend them.

Will I run them again?

Can we do it in November?


Race Pacers – A Different View of the Race


During the course of a race, half-marathon, marathon or longer…there are a number of unsung heroes.  We owe many thanks to the volunteers, the race director, our families and last but not least the race pacers.  I would like to introduce my followers to Kayla.  I first met Kayla while shopping at my favorite running store in Wake Forest, NC Run-N-Tri Out Fitters, she was very helpful and well versed in our sport.  When I found out she was a race pacer, it just made sense.

Race pacers see the race from a different perspective.

Kayla thanks for sharing some time with us, first tell us a little about your running resume.

spartanracekayla(Kayla has a big smile and she is fast)

I have been running since seventh grade, while I didn’t think it was my thing, it definitely has become a great source of joy. Throughout high school I raced the 5k in cross country, the two mile, one mile, and 4×800 in track. My 5k pb was 17:57, and my best two mile was 10:53 and my best mile was 5:14.  I ran my first half marathon in 8th grade. Since then I have ran roughly 10 half marathons, current pb is 1:23:00. I have ran 2 marathons thus far, with my first marathon being the Raleigh Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon and my second being the Boston Marathon. I have slowly been venturing into the trail race world and this past year ran the Uwharrie 20 miler.

Why or how did you get into pacing?

I first got into pacing during sophomore year of high school, my coach noticed that in practice I was very consistent with my training paces, he was hopeful that I could help stabilize a couple individuals on our team who started out too fast.

How many races have you paced in?

During my high school career, I paced roughly 15-20 5k’s (considering races and tune-ups) and two half marathons. All of my high school pacing was done on an individual basis, so I was able to adjust the speed depending on how the person I was pacing seemed to be faring. The half marathons were especially exciting to pace because the individuals often far undershot their capabilities, so by the end of the race the outcome was typically much faster than expected. Outside of high school I have paced one race with Marathon Pacing Company at Kiawah Island, and I am set up to pace that race again this December.

What is your favorite race?

My favorite race is the Raleigh Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon mainly because the course is highly challenging with many turns and hills. Additionally, the Raleigh Rock ’n’ Roll half has a very large spectator presence that can be very beneficial in the final miles of the race. My favorite race I have paced is the City of Oaks, and I personally love that race because it provides a challenge with pacing due to its wide array of fairly difficult hills.

I’ve run with a race provided pacer with both success and failure. In some cases, the pacers were spot on and got me to the end of the race with a fighting shot at my race goals. Another ran too fast and lost nearly everyone before the 20-mile mark.

Can you tell my readers your strategies while pacing?

I utilize the “pancake” approach, which is basically setting the goal pace early and merely holding on to that pace for the entire race. I developed this strategy during my high school years because I realized that often times people fail to perform to their fullest potential due to starting out too fast. From a scientific point of view, this makes sense because once the body enters into oxygen debt it is very difficult to recover and the body will begin to fatigue quickly. Through a bit of trial and error, I have found that I get the best pacing results by starting at a pace that will feel slow (its actually not, but to most people in a race their goal pace will feel quite slow during the early miles) and maintaining that pace throughout the race. From my experience, most of the individuals I am pacing will begin to think that we have actually increased our pace throughout, but that is just a side effect of the body feeling fatigued and largely why I start so “slowly”. If it doesn’t feel slow at the beginning, then in many cases it will turn into an impossible pace by the end.

How do you prepare physically and mentally for your role as a pacer?

First, I address the physical side. I determine exactly what pace I need to run for the race counting in any stops or possible crowd challenges at the start. Once I have determined the pace required, I will run pretty much all of my runs at that pace for the 2-3 months leading up to the race, though I will still include a speed-work day or two each week. By a month out I will start to run without my watch and with someone who has a watch so that I can determine if I am able to “feel” the pace in the case my watches were to break. Around this time I will also run a long run that is around 15-16 miles for a half marathon pacing event so that I can be assured I am capable of easily maintaining the desired pace for longer than the race. Finally, to complete the physical side of things I make sure that my training is performed in areas that reflect the terrain I will be encountering on race day. Moving on the mental aspect of training the largest worry with pacing for me is always making sure that I am capable of easily holding the pace required for the full length of the race so that I can focus on the people I am pacing and not on my body being pushed to the point of exhaustion. In addition to that, I also try to make sure that on race day morning I follow the same routine as I have every long run so that I do not have to worry about stomach issues during the race.

You mentioned you pace for a pacing company, can you tell us a little about the company and the services they offer?

I currently am working with Marathon Pacing, which is a company focused on providing individuals with a cheerful, dependable pacer to aid them in accomplishing their race goals. The company offers pacing for a multitude of races throughout the year all across the US.

Why should others consider being a pacer?

Anyone who enjoys running and sharing the racing experience should definitely consider being a pacer. Not only is pacing a fantastic way to travel to races you may have not considered, but more importantly it is a way to share the joys of running with others and to help others accomplish their running goals. For me, I have found that I prefer the pacing to racing myself just because I am a very social person so being able to chat with others and learn their stories is a great deal of fun for me.

I’m sure there are many gratifying moments in pacing, what is the greatest sense of accomplishment you’ve felt as a pacer?

The greatest sense of accomplishment I have felt as a pacer would definitely have to be when I helped a young man achieve a time in his half marathon that he had never dreamed of doing. I was individually pacing him at the time, and he had a goal of 1:40 for the half. Around a third of the way through the race I noticed that he definitely could push a lot harder, so at that point I suggested we pick up the pace. We ended up finishing the half in 1:29:30, and the sheer excitement on his face at achieving such a time made my week. It’s moments like that when you can see the joy on a person’s face after accomplishing a huge goal that makes pacing such a great experience.

As a pacer, I’m sure the race looks different from a different point of view. Could you share some of the biggest mistakes runners make while trying to run for a goal time?

The biggest mistake I have noticed individuals making while trying for a goal time is going out at a pace that feels uncomfortable from the start. As a general rule for me, I have always found that the best races come from starts that feel borderline “too slow”. It is definitely very easy to get caught up in the adrenaline at the beginning of the race, but unfortunately that adrenaline does not last more than a few miles and once it runs out many people find their pace slows dramatically. Another large mistake I have seen individuals make is not realizing that the race should feel harder as you go along if you are running at a pace that is pushing the limits of your running. The pace that felt so easy at the beginning should start to become more difficult, and you have to put more effort in as time goes on to ensure that you maintain your original pace.

How can the runner, help the pacer help them?

We are there to help so never feel like a question is too silly to ask. The biggest thing a runner can tell a pacer is how they are feeling and if they have any issues the pacer should watch out for (i.e. health concerns). While we are not paramedics and thus cannot provide much care, it can help us monitor how everyone is doing and determine if an individual should back off for their own safety. Additionally, I have found that in every race I have paced individuals who will begin to question the pace right around 2/3 into the race. While this is not a large issue and if I am obviously way off pace I would like to be informed, I would say that trusting your pacers is paramount for allowing them to help you. In the company I work for, there are very high standards held for being able to pace and everyone is very skilled at running their designated pace.

As I’ve mentioned I’ve run with pacers at a few races, and while in the pack, I’ve heard many inspiring stories.

IMG_20160313_074245(4 hour pacer at 2016 Tobacco Road Marathon)

What is the most inspiring story or moment you have experienced as a pacer?

The most inspiring moment I have experienced as a pacer would definitely have to be when I was granted the privilege of pacing a much older man who had been a multi-time Boston Marathon finisher. He stuck with my 1:45 pace group the entire race, and his presence was so inspiring especially after I heard about his stories of racing and dealing with all sorts of injuries. Also, it was a huge honor to be able to receive a multitude of tips from him about the Boston Marathon since he heard I was going to be racing it in April of 2017.

Thank you so much Kayla for sharing your pacer story…


Ultra Runner – Ten Thoughts On What It Takes To Be Great


Ten Thoughts on What it Takes to be a Good if not GREAT Ultra Runner.

10.  The desire, you might be able to run a marathon on talent alone, but you have got to want to be out there to run 30, 50 miles, 24 hours, or 100+ miles.

9.  The ability to block out pain, it’s going to hurt.  The pain is going to come…you have got to be able to set aside discomfort in order to run an ultra.

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 (a lap with a slice of pizza and a Slurpee)

8.  A strong stomach, sure you can run a ultra while watching what you eat, but it helps if you can eat when and what you want to.

7.  A good sense of humor, things will go wrong, and get downright ugly.  You have to enjoy the humor of it all.

6.  Stay focused for long periods of time.  You can lose time quickly if you get lost in the moment and not stay focused on your overall goals.

5.  Be able to stay flexible…goals may change, tactics may need to be adjusted, and your pace could slow during the course of an event.

4.  Have the resolve to keep moving.  Victory comes with each forward step.  You must continue to move forward when all you want to do is be still and sit down.

3.  Stay positive, with yourself and others around you.

2.  The ability to be in the moment (the next step) and not lose focus on the whole.

And lastly

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(at the finish of my 2nd Umstead 100 with an 1hr 15m PR)

1.  Believe in yourself no matter what, no matter the conditions, no matter your pace, and no matter your feelings in the moment.  Having an unshakable belief in yourself will make you a GREAT Ultra Runner.

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 (at one point I never believed I would run one 100 mile race…I’ve run three)

What do you believe it takes to be a Great Ultra Runner?