I don’t race that often. It’s not that I have anything against racing, it’s mostly that I’d rather be roaming the rugged and remote Appalachia under my on accord.
And honestly, racing be aspensive yo!
So I try and limit myself to 1 or 2 bigger races a year. Since Covid shut down the country and the race scene this year, my “A” race for the year was canceled. I feel it was for the best. I’m through chasing HR qualifiers and heading back to Cruel Jewel 100 for a 3rd time just seemed… preposterous and… painful.
I got my long distance fix when I linked a 78 mile route on my favorite mountain for my birthday in October, but with the year winding down, I kinda wanted to throw some of my built up stress into something hard (Blood Rock = 50 miles w/ ~ 13,000ft of gain). The last 6 months in particular have been some of the busiest and most stressful of my life. I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the master’s degree tunnel… but that light has felt more like an approaching freight train. Since the counseling program requires a 600hr internship, I had to switch jobs (again) and hop back into the retail world in order to be able to work full time and knock out my internship. I left my physical therapy family…
And joined a new family at Americas Thrift Store.
Between spending 20hrs at my school internship site counseling students, working 40hrs a week and wrapping up the Make-a-Wish Trailblaze Challenge… running has been one of the few things that’s kept me stable and sane. My typical week for the past semester has been jam packed. “Double Days” is a term Kati and I coined for days where I have to either do internship then work or work then class. A DD on Monday/Tuesday means going to my internship site to counseling 4-5hrs then strolling into work for an 8hr closing shift and a DD on Wednesday/Thursday usually means opening the store and then going to 3hr class or counseling supervision. If I’m lucky enough to score an “off from work” day during the week, I spend a full 8hrs at my internship site. If my “off from work” days land on weekends, I either marked/flagged/lead a Make-a-Wish hike or tried to slide in an adventure of my own. Despite the crazy, hectic schedule, I still managed to keep decent mileage on my legs each week and squeezed in runs when I could.
I felt like I’d had so much stress built up and kinda felt that I hadn’t been able to do anything that I wanted to do. Everything felt like a commitment or requirement out of my control and honestly… I just wanted to lay waste to something that I chose to do… so the Monday before Blood Rock weekend, I signed up for the 50 miler. The 50 miler was the only distance that fit my time frame… I had to be at work at 630am Saturday morning so that took out the 25k, 50k and 100 miler. I figured if I could bang out the 50 miler in a decent time, I’d at least get a few hours of sleep and could coffee my way through a sore and zombiefied morning of work.
Blood Rock 50
The last time I raced a Tosch race was in 2015. I was a big bearded, long haired dude running around the woods in a French Maid’a outfit…
Don’t worry… I left that sexy outfit hanging in the closet for the BR50.
I’d forgotten how enjoyable it was to go to a packet pick up and actually see people you knew. The weather was a wee bit chilly at the start, so I tried to stay in my car until 5-10 minutes before the start.
I walked up as Tosch was wrapping up the pre-race meeting and took my spot near the front of the pack at the starting line. I stood dwarfed by a tall, athletic looking dude…
I now know what Kevin Hart feels as he stands next to Dwayne Johnson…
After a 30 second count down, we headed out up the road to begin the race.
Daddy Long Legs shot out ahead of me and I followed suit. Thankfully, years of ultra experience has taught me patience and to not pursue out of my comfort zone, so it wasn’t hard settling into a rhythm and watching DLL break away.
We came through NTH 1 Aid Station (mile 2) fairly quickly and darted on the single track. I saw my buddy Matt Benefield setting up the aid station and yelled a quick “hey” to him! After a half mile we started the brutal Back Country Trail. The next 5 miles would be a series of up and downs resulting in approximately 2,000ft of techy climbing. I wanted to keep Daddy Long Legs in my eye site so he stayed a climb ahead of me. Climbing up through the fog was enchanting! The fog clutched tight in the trees and swallowed the view as we passed over King’s Chair. I finally caught up to DLLs as we started into the Back Country beyond King’s Chair.
Daddy Long Legs: “Which race are you running?”
Me: “The 50. How about you?”
Daddy Long Legs : “The 100. Good! I don’t have to worry about you as competition.”
This immediately rid the atmosphere of any tension and we settled into good conversation as we descended to the bottom dirt road.
Turns out… Daddy Long Legs was not his given name… it was Zack Jordan… and Zack absolutely crushed the 100 miler (1st overall in 23hrs42mins). We ran side by side along the bottom “sunken road” and Zack took point as we started the climb up Topless. To put Zack’s (Daddy Long Legs) stride into perspective… 2-3 of my lil hobbit ass strides compared to one of his American bred quarter horse strides. We both chose to bypass the water only Billy Goat Bridge aid station (mile 7.1) without checking up and rolled together till we got to the NTH 2 aid station (mile 12.5).
We got to NTH 2 at 1:55… coming in a little bit quicker (35mins) than I had originally anticipated. I figured the first 23 miles would be the toughest and I wanted to get as much as I could out of the way while I still had daylight. I was pleasantly surprised to see Matty Fierce at the aid station. For some reason, I had it in my mind that he’d not be there until the last time I’d come through NTH. I quickly refilled my bottle and darted back up the trail.
I was moving swiftly uphill but got a little too aggressive on the descent down Eagles Nest and took a hard fall. Between the slick, leaf covered terrain and grade off the mountain, both feet flew out from under me and I landed square on my back. The fall knocked the breath out of me, but fortunately, it only sent a shock to my system and didn’t do any damage. The jolt pumped enough adrenaline in me to power through the return trip through the Back Country riding a “high.”
I was still moving smoothly and comfortably by the time I reached the NTH 3 aid station (mile 22.9). My GPS was already showing short (showing 17.5) so I had to transition to paying closer attention to actual time (3:40) rather than mileage. MF was there waiting with a warm Arby’s sandwich, a cold Coke and a new water bottle.
The Cabins aid station (25.7) was practically vacant as I rolled through. I said a quick hello to Tony as I crossed over the timing pad at the start/finish area. I made a comfortable push near the BMX area along Yellow before starting the easy ascent up Orange towards the abandoned Boy Scout Cabins. While running with Matty Fierce the week before, I had imagined I’d be running down Tranquility Camp Road in the dark. Surprisingly, I was well ahead of my expectations and pushed hard down the descent to the Yellow/White connector. I caught a beautiful and fiery sunset climbing up YW and didn’t have to flip on the headlamp until I started the descent down Green.
I saw the all too familiar red glow from the heat lamps in the owl/hawk cages before turning onto Yellow/Green connector. The moment my headlamp came into view of the Terrace Drive aid station (mile 32.8) I heard a lonely “ROAD PRONG!” being yelled from the open field. Of course… I returned MF’s “Road Prong” with a gleeful “Road Prong”’ of my own.
I rolled into Terrace aid station (mile 32.8) at 5:09. The aid wasn’t entirely set up yet, but the race strategy wasn’t to even utilize aid stations unless completely necessary. I crammed a few more gels into my waist belt, switched out water bottles, monched a lil more of my Arby’s sammich and downed a bit more Coke before heading off into the night.
I was still feeling fresh leaving Terrace so I moved quickly up Johnson’s Mountain. I slowed a bit after veering off the main trail towards the neighborhood, but once I hit the Hamptons I felt like Britany and Tiffany Wilson…
The asphalt was welcomed and made for faster running until I reached the massive climb up the power line. The power line “trail” was steep but was over quickly. I stayed composed and pushed gently up the climb. I didn’t even find in necessary to have a “BF.”
I picked up the pace once I hit Peavine Road and cruised in around 6:00 to Peavine 1 (mile 38) feeling strong!
I kept the pace up as I backtracked the way I came. After leaving the trail and hitting the asphalt again, I crossed paths with the 100 mile leader (which I presumed to be Zack “DLL”) along Peavine Road. I was surprised I didn’t see any headlamps as I made my way back to the turn off near Johnson’s. The lack of headlamps made me push a little bit harder up towards the the infamous “Blood Rock.” I never felt bad throughout the race, but I took a hard step-down descending Green/White connector that jostled my belly a lil bit that resulted in a slight throw up in my mouth…. which was swallowed involuntarily and unexpectedly for some unknown reason. The climb out of Peavine Gorge was peaceful. The sounds of rushing water paired well with the cool night air and it made for a tranquil escape from the steep climb. The Peavine aid station was bustling with crew & volunteers when I came through the second time. I reached Peavine 2 (mile 44.7) at 7:09.
I finished the last bit of my Arby’s sammich (yes… the same one I’d been steadily monchin’ on all day), took another swig of Coke and grabbed a new headlamp.
Sonia was there cheering runners on and I think I may or may not have been forced to twerk on Matty Fierce before being released from the aid station? I’m sure there’s incriminating video evidence out there somewhere…
Matty Fierce: “No other 50 mile runner has come through Peavine the first time around. It’s just you and your time now.”
I dipped down the back side of the pavilion and descended down to the creek below. I the climb out was fairly steep but I knew the climbing was over when I saw the gorge overlook. I was hoping the route was gonna take runnable Blue Trail from Peavine, but instead, it took the old Grey Trail up past Sugar Shack along the ridge. Since this isn’t a “normal” trail, it was windy and rocky. I never found good rhythm through the section. I reluctantly accepted the slower movement and tried to enjoy the chilled night until the trail dipped back down to the Blue Trail. When my feet hit familiar Blue ground, I dove right back into a smooth rhythm that lead me up and over Shackleford. Passing through Maggie’s Glenn for the final time ignited one final push to the finish.
The 50 mile distance has always alluded me. It’s one of my favorite distances to cover but one that I’ve just not figured out yet. Hell… last year at Lookout Mtn 50 miler I got passed at mile 49 that dropped me out of a podium finish.
However, Blood Rock was a critical piece to slowly figuring out that 50 mile puzzle. I came across the finish line feeling like I’d just put in a hard 5k effort. I still felt like I had life in my legs, but had expended enough to feel happily depleted and worn.
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a smoother and better executed race. I felt strong, composed and confident all day and most of the running seamed relatively effortless. I was fortunate enough to cross the line 1st in 8:38, setting a new course record (for the updated course that has been used the last 3yrs).
I learn a little more each time I cover long distances and maybe one day the “take the next day off from all lyfe activities” lesson will be learned… but for now… the 545am wake up call to be a zombie at work will have to suffice.
I’m extremely thankful to have pieced together a solid race to cap off a weird, weird year! I can’t say enough about the dedication and passion Tosch puts into his races and how selfless and incredible all the volunteers are who make these events so special… yall the real MVPs. And a huuuuuuge THANK YOU to my Champion Crew Chief (Matty Fierce) for following me around in the drizzle and cold all day and into the night. You da best… ROAD PRONG!!
I’m excited to be finally wrapping up my masters degree in May and looking forward to sliding back into a more balanced and less stressful lyfe schedule. Until May… I’ll continue to throw in adventures and training as time permits, but for now, it’s time to recover so that I can get up into the mountains for some wintry adventures.