The Bethel Moonlight Boogie 50 Mile Race is a unique race in that it starts at 6 p.m. It’s run out in the middle of nowhere, ran in the heat of the day and in an environment that is not always runner friendly. Throw out all the other quirkiness and this is a one of a kind race.
I tried to sleep in Saturday morning, but my body clock just would not let me. I was up by 6 a.m. Like it or not my race day had started. To conserve as much energy as I could I decided to forego any “work” around the house or fishing trips to keep myself fresh before I traveled the 2.5 hours south west to Ellerbe, NC and the advertised heat and humidity of the Moonlight Boogie 50 Miler.
Arriving on site two hours early I knew instantly as I turned off the ignition, the motor stopped rotating and the AC compressor/blower stopped directing cool air into the driver’s compartment that the heat was on. As I cracked open the door a rush of hot, muggy and relentless air entered my once cool oasis causing my forehead to instantly bead with sweat. I then wondered what I had gotten myself into and was there time to leave?
Since I decide I would stay and run this inferno, I wanted to take in some of the local charm. Braving the radiating beams of heat that were pounding the area I walked around the parking lot of a stand-alone church. Scanning the area I noticed a small gravesite, a nice grassy area, some wonderfully tall trees and the blazing sun. Simply walking around had me sweating and feeling over heated. I headed back to my car and the comforts of air conditioning. While on my short walk about one of the local runners mentioned that this might be one of the “cooler” Boogie races.
Say what??? I pride myself on being a warm/hot weather runner, but what makes this place so center of the earth hot and humid?
Borrowing a line from 17 time Boogie 50 veteran Wm M Keane
“The Bethel Hill Baptist Church stands atop the Southernmost peak in the geologically ancient Uwharrie Mountain Range. This small, white framed, Civil War era church, sits atop the exact center of NC where Heat, Hills, and Humidity converge.
The Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50 Mile Run has both a historically high ‘attrition’ rate, and an equally high ‘contrition’ rate. If you do not faint or drop out, you will perform amazing acts of contrition just to finish. During the course of this race, you will cross the top of Bethel Hill 10 times. ”
I wasn’t sure if I was going to get the Boogie or if the Boogie was going to get me.
1st Lap Pearl Izumi N1 Motion Trail Shoes
2nd – 5th lap Hoka Stinson Tarmac
Injini Black Toe Socks
Race Ready Long Distance Black Shorts
1st Lap Pearl Izumi Champions Singlet
2 – 5th Lap White Colonial Relay 200 shirt
Running Buddy Pouch (car keys and cell phone)
Brainstorm Gear Red Star Trek Hat
Fenix HP30 LED Headlamp
Nathan Hand Held 20oz Water Bottle
Garmin 201 GPS Watch
Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes and GU
Leading up to this race a good friend of mine and two time finisher Paul S. warned me that this was a tough race. Scanning over all the information, race maps, elevation and posted race reports I assured Paul, I would be okay. I further told him I hoped to put up an impressive number, for me anyway. My goal was to run a sub 10 hour race. During the drive to the race site when I drove a few of the hills we would climb five times and experienced the Boogie heat I knew I would have to re-address my goals. My new goal would be a sub 11 hour finish.
I stayed in my cool car as long as I could; I remembered Paula Radcliffe’s melt down in the Athens during the 2004 Olympics and wanted to avoid such a fate. As the crowd gathered for the race briefing, I departed the safety and comfortable confines of my personal igloo to stand in the sun and humid air that would be our stage. As the race information was given out I noticed a large round thermometer at the base of a tree and in the shade. By my accounts the red blade had made its angry swoop to just slightly past 90 degrees.
Part of the race briefing was a warning that with the high temps and HIGHER humidity today would not be a good day to try to set a Personal Record. Race Director (RD) Doug also made mention about how tough the course was. He further mentioned that anyone of the hills in of itself was not hard but the accumulative effect of the near constant climbing and descending had in years past proved to be a major challenge. Doug then went on to introduce Mr. Wm M Keane to the crowd. With this race Mr. Keane would be completing his 17th Moonlight Boogie 50 Miler. After those final words it was time to make our way to the starting line. Walking into the street to find a comfortable starting sport, I noticed right away the asphalt roadway, the same roadway we would do battle on, felt 20 degrees hotter. On boy, so this is the Boogie.
Lap 1, Start to 10 miles:
The start of this race went off much like any other ultramarathon I have run. There was a lot of cheering and excitement all the way around. In the back of my mind as we ran down Bethel Hill I knew I had to conserve my body if I had any chance at a near goal finish.
The Boogie course features a six mile loop and a four mile out and back section. The six mile loop takes you away from and back to the little white church perched on top of Bethel Hill aka “Boogie Hill” (as I heard some local runners call it) then you run a two mile out and back section on the opposite side of Boogie Hill. The hills on the course are not towering mountains like at Leadville, Western States or Hardrock, that you could have some pride in conquering. Truth be told the hills are rolling climbs, the challenge is not in their heights (1,000ft elevation change per lap) but in the number of them. I did not think to count how many climbs there were, but except for the 1.5 mile section which was fairly flat you were constantly climbing or running downhill for the majority of the 10 mile course.
Surveying the course during the opening lap I had found a good running rhythm and was sizing up the course for later in the night. It was also fun linking up with a few of my running friends from past races, followers on Social Media and contacts from my blog.
I made the turn for lap two right on my goal of a two hour lap. After a quick pit stop, where I took on fuel and changed out a very soaked shirt it was time to hit the road once again.
Lap time: 1hr 59m 04s
Lap 2, miles 11 to 20:
Making the turn to head out on my second lap I noticed Wendy (the girl who passed me late at the Graveyard 100) was also heading out for her second lap. She was going out alone. I figured it would be fun to have some company so I called out to her asking if she would like to link up as we headed back down Boogie Hill.
The one thing that sets ultrarunning events apart from shorter races is that you have a lot of time to not just run but to also interact with those around you. As we made our way around lap two, Wendy and I struck up an easy and ongoing conversation about running, life, family, careers and the Boogie. It was nice to be distracted from the race and heat as miles passed by.
Finishing up the front side six mile loop and heading out for the back side four mile out and back it was around 9 p.m. and the day was turning to night. I swung by my car to pick up my lightening gear and I’m so glad I did. Being a very remote run, the streets are lined with wonderful old towering pines and oak trees. They were beautiful but also made it very dark once the sun dropped below the horizon. My Fenix HP30, with its powerful LED lamp broke thru the night and kept my path lit all night long. I am not going to say I would have been scared running in the dark, but let’s just say that headlamp kept my fear of Bigfoot at bay. Oh and the snakes…yea the snakes….why did they have to tell me there was a snake sighting.
Lap time: 2hrs 8m 00s
Lap 3, miles 21 to 30:
The front part of the run went pretty much the same as the two pervious laps. Even with the sun below the horizon it was hot and muggy. Wendy and I linked up again as we headed out. It was easy to run with her, our pace was the same and the conversations did not feel forced. Making our way back to the church and out for the shorter out and back I felt I was running well and still had my goal time in mind.
The turnaround point for the four mile out and back section was marked with a blinking disco ball type device on the side of the road. This would become a welcomed sight though out the night as we ran in the dark. The disco ball was the sign that we could make our turn and head back to the church and the end of another lap. Making the turn for the third time I thought what could go wrong? I was over half way and life was looking pretty good.
From the disco light to the beginning of the ascent up Boogie Hill to the church was about half a mile. That half a mile went really well, I believe we ran most of that section to a point on the other side of a bridge that began the 1.5 mile uphill. It hit me as Wendy begin to pull away.
Out of nowhere I felt really underpowered. Mentally I was in a good place but I just could not keep up with her as she climbed Boogie Hill. “Brian, what is up…” I asked myself as I tried to keep up the pace, power hiking and fast walking up the hill. I had no answer. Thankfully Wendy noticed I fell off her hip and took the time to glance back and offer some encouraging words to pull me along. In the middle of the battle I just could not figure out what had gone wrong, did the sun take too much out of me, was it the heat, the humidity or the hills. Later I would reckon It was all of that plus more.
The one (of many) positive things about running long distances is that if something does go wrong, there’s normally (barring a devastating injury) time to recover if you keep moving and making forward progress. I was feeling bad, I was feeling under-powered but I was going to keep moving forward at any cost. “When you’re at your weakest, no matter how bad you feel, no matter how low it looks, things will always get better”
The second best sight of the night was seeing the glowing outline of the little white church as we crested Boogie Hill. It was a short run to my car, some food, a cold Mountain Dew and most importantly surviving the third lap of the Moonlight Boogie 50 Miler. The climb up Boogie Hill kicked my butt, it beat me down, it took its toll, but I was not out of this race.
Lap time: 2hr 16m 04s
Lap 4, miles 31 to 40:
I was very happy to have survived my third lap nightmare. Wendy and I met up again after our pit stops. I told her I was thankful she pulled me along. In all honesty, it was very humbling to have a low point like that in the presence of another runner. At Umstead, I never really had that moment, at Graveyard when the wheels came off I battled alone. But tonight someone else was there to witness a point when I could not perform the way I wanted to. It was humbling and up lifting all at the same time. Wendy had every right to drop me on that hill and continue on. We had not agreed to stay together, we had no pre-race plans, we were just two runners who happened to link up out of fate. But she did what ultrarunners do…we help each other. As we made our way back out on the front section I told her I would give it my best shot and that I did not want to hold her back.
Making our way out for the 31st mile the moon hung blood red over the night time sky. Running at night is a new world. Sadly, most runners never get to experience night time running. The world we live in and especially the world you run in looks and sounds so much different when the sun goes down. When darkness surrounds you sights and sounds that you may have over looked during the day grab your attention at night. Fireflies that are lost in the brilliant haze of the city come alive and dance along the road side. The sounds of nature that are tuned out by the roar of life sing to you at night. Along the six miles of the front section we came across a “Whip-poor-will” bird who was downright upset. Was he mad that our running awoken him, did we break up his courtship with Mrs. Whip-poor-will? Somewhere just off the road this little bird let us have it, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will rang out bold and loud from the dark recesses of the towering trees that surrounded us. Then there where the bull frogs, the dogs and voices in the night.
The remote aid station some called “Dog-pen” was manned all night by a great bunch of folks. I did not get all their names, but Dan P, was there all night encouraging us, feeding us and opening up the much needed shots of Pepsi and Mountain dew. Thank you to all the volunteers who make these races possible.
We ran strong during this section making our way back to the little white church on top of Boogie Hill. Every time we rounded the corner and saw that church it was a wonderful site. We had only the four mile section to do until we were on our last lap. This shorter section went much better this time around, I ran some good long sections on the downhill and flats, at one point Wendy told me we were running 9 minute miles. I still struggled a bit making my way up Boogie Hill but I was able to keep pace with Wendy and other then still feeling the effects from my low on power hangover, my body was doing well. Mentally I believe I was getting stronger.
Lap time: 2hr 23m 19s
Lap 5, miles 41 to 50 and the finish!
The last lap… Whereas the fourth lap was miles we had to put in to get to the conclusion. The final lap is the money lap. We had survived the heat, the sun, the humidity and the hills.
Knowing that this lap was it, Wendy and I linked back up and ran our way down Boogie Hill and right into the first climb of the last lap. It felt good to know this was it, it felt great to run and not worry so much about surviving and it felt outstanding to have gotten to know another Ultrarunner better. Wendy is a strong runner; she has some amazing finishes to her credit and some equally impressive plans for the future. What I did not know about this last lap was that it was my turn to help out.
We made some nice long runs along this last six miles. The climbs were still tough but the finality of the race put some extra zip in our steps. At some point during this section I noticed that now as we ran I was the one pulling ahead, putting some distance between Wendy and I. On the flats and down hills I could keep up a better run pace. After my struggles from mile 20 to 30 we both had made small talk about not wanting to hold each other back. I also thanked Wendy for helping me past my low point and vowed “I will not leave you out here alone, you stuck by me.” Mile by mile we continued to make our way around the course. Seeing the little white church for the second to last time was a sure sign this race was indeed going to end. In little over 4 miles we would both be Boogie finishers. First we had to run out to the disco light and then come back up Boogie Hill one last time.
The downhill to the disco light I was making great time, my legs came alive. Either finally my nutrition plan came together or the extra zeal of knowing this was the final lap propelled me down the hill and a greater distance from Wendy. I stopped a few times to make sure she was still back there and try to repay her encouragement from earlier. We caught up together as we made the slight climb off the bridge crossing and the uphill to the disco light. Making the turn I called out we had 2.1 miles to go. “Wendy, are you ready to run?”
Over my back left shoulder I heard Wendy say she did not have it in her to run anymore…that a fast walk/hike was all she had. Wendy encouraged me to run in, she did not want to delay my finish. Understood what she was saying, I had felt the same way while trying to survive the climbs during the 2d to 3rd laps. No way was I going to leave her out there alone; I could never have lived with myself and what about Bigfoot?
We had talked about everything under the sun during the course of our race and now it was time to tell about my fear of Bigfoot and confess I had been smelling Krispy Kreme donuts for the better part of 20 miles. I would like to say that these subjects made the time go by faster, but that section was rough. The 1.5 mile climb back up Boogie Hill desperately looking for the little white church on top of the hill was torture.
At one point during our endless climb up Boogie Hill I asked Wendy if she thought they moved the church as some sort of terrible joke. I know she laughed it off as my “drunk on miles” humor, but I was serious. I was convinced they took the church apart stick by stick and moved it to some remote location in an awful attempt to prolong the race. As I explained to her my conspiracy theory she paused and said, “You know that would be like Brandon.” Her comment made me wonder if we would never see the little white church again.
Then when the night seemed at its darkest, when the smell of Krispy Kreme was the strongest and when Bigfoot was the nearest we caught glimpse of our goal. The little white church signaled the end of our night, the end of the hills, the heat, humidity, bigfoot, donuts, whip-poor-wells, bullfrogs and the threat of snakes. Wendy said, “Lets run it in.” Well alright. We ran stride for stride the last quarter of a mile finishing side by side. We had met the Boogie and he was ours!
Lap time: 2hr 34m 54s
FINISHING TIME: 11hr 21m 43s, placing 17th overall out of 90, 12th male. 50 mile DNF rate was over 45%
After the race I was upset I had not reached the goal I set for myself and later re-adjusted. I was disappointed I underestimated the course, overestimated my fitness coming off 23 days without running as my Achilles healed and I disheartened I had failed at pre-race nutrition. Yet more importantly, I was proud I fought thru a low patch. I was happy I ran a race a lot of my friends had talked about. I was thankful for the time I got to spend with my running friends. AND I’m grateful that I gained a new friend in Wendy. You can’t run 40 miles and spend nine plus hours together and not be better friends. Thank you Wendy, and thank you Moonlight Boogie 50. I will learn, I will train and I will come back even stronger because of you both. And Mr. Bigfoot, you better eat those donuts and stay out of my way, PLEASE.
You can check out Wendy’s blog here: Kool Aid Runner