It’s been two and a half years since we left Vermont, and have been living, running, and racing in South Carolina. And in those two and a half years, we’ve raced all over the state, in all sorts of weather: from 90+ degree heat, to humidity so thick you could almost cut it with a knife, to running in the middle of actual hurricanes. While the weather here is as unpredictable as many other places in the country, I’ve come to expect at least one thing from race day:
It’s never snowing.
Alas, Mother Nature, the Running Gods, and the Universe as a whole that knows how painfully homesick I am decided that it’s been far too long since this now fair weathered Vermont expat had frozen her tail off, and conspired together to throw my preconceived South Carolina racing conditions for a loop (after loop after loop) this weekend at One Epic Run.
Geoff and I had raced One Epic Run 24 hour race in Spartanburg, SC, back in December of 2015. We had such a great time that we decided to run again in 2016. However, wildfires that wreaked havoc on the state of South Carolina last winter caused the air quality to be so poor, the race director had to cancel the race. Despite the normal “no refunds in the case of weather or natural disaster” clauses, R.D. Angela not only offered refunds, but also offered to defer your entry to 2017. We chose the latter.
At some point post-most-recent hernia surgery (this better not become my “thing”), I decided that I wanted to register for and make Frozen Hell Hole Hundred my next “A” race. One Epic fell exactly 6 weeks prior, making this 24 hour, 3.1 mile looped course, the perfect opportunity for One Epic Training run. Therefore, when the weather forecast for race weekend turned into an 80% chance of rain and/or snow and temperatures dipping into the 20’s overnight, I didn’t freak out. Because: not my “A” race.
(Ironically, my “A” race has the word “FROZEN” in the title, but I digress.)
Friday afternoon, Geoff, our friend Hannah from Vermont, Paul, and I headed up to Croft State Park in Spartanburg, of course in Paul’s trusty windowless
creeper ultra van. We were not an hour into the four hour drive when the “wintry mix” as the weather forecasters like to call it. Was it raining? Snowing? Sleeting? Hailing? Or a miserable mix of everything? If you guessed “miserable mix”, you would be correct. Fortunately, it’s been far too warm in the Carolinas lately for any of that nonsense to stick to the road…at least for now.
We make it to Croft State Park, find our assigned campsite, and get to work setting up.
It becomes immediately apparent that we are underprepared for this sort of weather, so our crew loads up into the trust van to head out on what I will now call the “Tour de Walmarts” in Spartanburg. Three hours, two Walmarts, a Big Lots and a Family Dollar later, our crew is now the proud owners of at least two dozen more handwarmers, two pairs of galoshes, rope, and a $15 space heater that would become, hands down, the best investment of all time.
I bet you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the race review? As soon as I tell you that we spent the rest of the evening holed up in the van, new heater cranking, eating grilled cheese Paul cooked on a propane stove in the back of the van (don’t try this at home, kids), and watching “Rocky Horror Picture Show” on an iPad hung up on a curtain rod to make our very own movie theater. I had never seen the cult musical before. It was everything I imagined it would be.
SATURDAY MORNING we awoke, mostly unfrozen, in our tent. I’ve probably mentioned it a dozen times by now, but this sleeping bag Geoff and I bought back in 2014 is freaking amazing (Amazon link to said badass sleeping bag). The race didn’t start until 9:00 am, which gave us plenty of time to get our gear ready…and stay in the warm tent. Eventually we dragged our bins down to campsite #10 and the trailhead. By this point the snow was really starting to come down, which is always better, and somehow drier, than rain. I’ll take it.
We had a brief pre-race meeting from one of the most badass race directors I know, Angela Brown. How many RD’s have you seen successfully run a 24 hour event with a 6 month old baby strapped to their chest?
The course was 3.1 miles exactly, but we would start with a 0.4 mile run around the campground loop to break up the pack before hitting the single track. And then, without much fanfare…it was time to GO. 132 runners (over 50 didn’t show because of the weather) took off.
Geoff and I started out conservatively, as we still had no idea what we were going to do on this particular day, but we were hoping it would be AT LEAST 30 miles. The course was familiar, having run in 2015. A big downhill, cross a beautiful bridge over a big stream (small river?), and then a relatively hilly (for us coastal kids) loop through the woods.
The first couple of loops went exactly as expected. The hills felt miniscule at this point, the course was still dry. The snow was coming down lightly but steadily, and it made my homesick heart skip a few beats. It really was so beautiful. We end up running a handful of loops with our friend Matthew Hammersmith, race director at Upstate Ultras. For those of you that don’t know him, he’s a FAST (2:30 ish marathon) runner, so having the opportunity to run with him (he was obviously not racing) was a rare treat. We talked about everything from AirBNB (which I refer to as “house Uber”), to the Spartan Ultra Beast (turns out he was there too) to techniques for fast beer miles.
The miles and hours FLY by. We stop every loop to check in and grab a bite from one of the most impressive aid station tables I’ve seen at an ultra. I rotate between grapes, tiny oranges (thank you Angela!), potato chips, and fun sized Twix bars.
My normal m.o. is Tailwind, but Geoff and I arrived to the race only to discover that something tragic had happened to our handheld water bottles, and they both reeked of gasoline. I’m still completely clueless as to how that mystery occurred, but regardless we decided to play it safe and NOT use them. Fortunately, I’m feeling just fine fueling on the calories provided, and I have my hydration pack for water…which I end up having to share with Geoff.
And this guy.
The first few loops we note how the dry course is fine for now, but we all take turns commenting on how it’s certainly going to get sloppy soon. We say this for probably three consecutive laps before it actually happens: the course turns to a slippery, muddy mess. Now, compared to the history of this particular course, the 2017 course is not that bad. Rumor has it in 2014 the entire course was ankle deep mud, so having to avoid slipping and sliding for maybe 1.5 out of 3 mile is really not that bad…
…but it was still difficult.
Every foot strike in the mud resulted in a some sort of biomechanical adjustment to prevent falling. And let me tell you, a little slip here, a little adjustment there…it adds up overtime and begins beating up your body. In short, this course began kicking my ass.
We hit 50K, no problem, when out of nowhere my right knee began throbbing. And not in the “you just ran 31 miles” sort of way, but in the “f*ck you if you think we’re actually going to go down this steep hill without a limp” sort of way. I rarely, in fact almost never, have knee problems, so I’m surprised at this protest from my joints. I can only assume it’s a combination of sliding all over this trail, and not wearing Hokas, my normal long distance shoe. The tread on my Challenger ATR 2’s and 3’s are not what I would call even close to “aggressive”, so I had stuck with my Altra Superiors and Saucony Peregrines up until this point. Alas, the pain was enough to risk sliding even more, so I changed into the Hokas.
The sun briefly, and I mean briefly, made it’s promised appearance just before nightfall. But in the blink of an eye, day quickly became night.
And that’s when we decided it was walking time. Between my knee aching, and the difficulty of navigating the mud in the dark, it just wasn’t worth the slipping risk. When you go into a race without a specific plan, you end up making decisions on the fly. This decision just made sense…at first. But within a few miles I decided this wasn’t even worth walking anymore: this was a training run, and we were no longer running.
Regardless, we kept going, because that’s essentially what we were here to do.
3 more long, steady, walking laps. In the dark. In the cold. As we approached the end of loop 14, now 43.3 miles in, I declared to Geoff that I was done. I was limping both downhills and uphills at this point, and it seemed silly to continue. I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t mad. It simply was the end of my day, I didn’t come here to hurt myself.
We checked in at the timing table, where Geoff told them we were “going to take a nap”. I wasn’t actually tired, but I’m also incapable of actually quitting, so I wanted to leave the possibility of potentially going out for more mileage open, incase I decided to take it.
We head to the bathrooms, change, and then crawl into our tent, where sleep finds us quickly. It’s probably only 9:30 pm. At 3:30 am, I am wide awake. I need to use the bathroom, but don’t want to crawl out of my warm tent into the freezing outdoors just yet. Instead I lay there and wonder if it’s time for me to go back out on the course. After all, we still have 5.5 hours left of the race. A huge part of me knows that’s a ridiculous idea, I stopped because my body was in pain, the not so good kind of pain, and this was only ever supposed to be a training run. Another small part of me knew I could easily hit the 50 mile mark, if not even 100K before time was up. I decide to walk to the bathroom and assess my legs.
And my legs laughed and said “you’ve got to be kidding!”
Once I limped my way back to the tent, my right knee still throbbing, I crawled back into the tent and finally, officially, called it quits. Live to race another day…and that day is approaching quickly. A 43.4 mile long training run is satisfactory in my book.
Epic turned out to be a difficult course for many this year…we stopped halfway through the race and I still managed to rank 33rd out of 132 runners, 11th female out of 58. Yet the course record for distance was broken, and a female finally finished 100, earning the first ever women’s buckle in 7 years (huge congrats to Lauren Jones!). The course was beautiful and fun, as always. The volunteers friendly, the aid station stocked. But my favorite part? The awesome community. I gripe about South Carolina and whine about how homesick I am every damn day (I know, it’s getting annoying) but the ultra and trail community in South Carolina is pretty freaking incredible. I’m honored to be a part of it.
One Epic Run is a great event if you are looking for a 24 hour looped course that isn’t your standard flat trail or track, but instead offers some climbing (we had about 4,000 feet gain in our 43 miles) and a moderately challenging single track trail. It’s also a great event if you want a hoodie, which I always do.
Thank you so much to Angela Brown, race director and badass running mom extraordinaire, for another amazing event. Thanks to Hannah, Julie, and Marjorie for the pictures and smiles on trail. Thanks to Paul for the van, and Raquel and Sara for the Makers Mark. And last but not least, thanks once again to my crazy husband Geoff for following me around the forests for endless miles, all while I pursue a goal that clearly has no actual finish line.