Preface: This post is disproportionally long compared to the actual distance ran. Clearly, it’s been a while since my last race report, so I make no apologies for my need to tell stories. Further, the photos are blurry, as it was a night race and my camera is crap. I’m sure I’ve sold this blog, grabbed your attention, and you simply can’t wait to read on (said in my best sarcastic tone). So without further ado:
Last year was the inaugural running of the Revenge of Stede Bonnet trail race. It is an overnight trail race put on by one of our favorite race directors, Chad Haffa of Eagle Endurance. Named after a local pirate of Charleston area history, this race includes a 5 mile, 15 mile, or 10 hour option. They are all held on the same 5 mile gnarly, mountain bike trail loop, you choose how many times you want to tackle it.
As soon as the race was announced last year, I immediately signed up for the longest distance. I enjoy suffering, and was looking forward to running the 10 hour option. Fast forward to literally moments before the 2018 race was to start, when I received the worst possible phone call ever:
My dad had died.
It was 6:55 pm, I was a thousand miles away from home and my family, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to help. So I did the only thing my shattered soul knew how to do in that moment: I ran my freaking heart out for about 9 hours. I ran until the screaming in my lungs and aching in my legs started to match the pain in my heart. I ran my way to first place: not just for women, but overall, effectively holding the course record for the last year.
I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that 51 weeks have passed already since that day (the race was held a week earlier this year). Like it or not, this race and that night will forever be a part of my life story. (you can read more about that HERE)
This year, I came at the race from an entirely different place, physically and emotionally. After my calf injury post Hell Hole Hundred back in June, I haven’t put in much mileage. In fact, I haven’t completed a long run further than 10 miles in 124 days. Instead of a classic runner “woe is me” pity party, I actually really enjoyed taking the last 4 months off.
Blasphemy, I know.
But I won’t lie: I was starting to feel the “ultra itch”, missing these crazy, ridiculously hard adventures, and the inspiring people that accompany them. Needless to say, Stede Bonnet trail race arrived at the right time. Plus, to be 100% transparent, I needed a little emotional redemption on this course. I needed to get out there and have a good, fun night, regardless of running outcome. I’ve done a lot of healing over the last 51 weeks after losing my Dad, and this was just another piece to that healing puzzle.
Now that we have the worlds longest preface out of the way, let’s get to the race.
Early Saturday afternoon, Geoff, the kids, and I headed down to Biggins Creek mountain bike trail in Monks Corner, SC. We set up our small tent city with our Myrtle Beach crew, then hung out until the 7 pm race start.
Everyone would be racing that evening: Geoff and I planned to run the 10 hour option, and the boys would each run the 5 miler. I give them the choice to race, I never force it, I refuse to be a “little league” mom in the running world. That said, I’m grateful they’ve seemingly embraced this sport…for now at least.
(That applies to the kids and my husband, who will often tell you he only runs because I do).
They are at a fun age (the kids) where I completely trust them to run by themselves, but also don’t want to leave them alone in the woods…in the dark. The plan was that Geoff would run with Kain (10) and I would run with Rowen (13…cue mom tears because I still can’t believe my baby is a teenager). Then, we’d make sure the boys were content, fed, and hanging out with our friends, and we’d put in as many loops as we felt up to.
As we line up at the start, Rowen (13), who is wearing a neon orange sharpie marker curly pencil-thin mustache (per the pirate theme) asks if he HAS to run with me. I had previously looked at the ultrasignup registered participants list for this race, and saw that there were only a handful of men registered for the 5 miler. And then I made the classic runner – and mom – mistake by telling him he had a chance to podium.
Don’t ever do that.
Because what I didn’t bank on was three really fast dudes who registered for the 5 mile race at packet pickup that evening.
Regardless, my 13 year old now thinks he can take this thing (thanks a lot, mom), and wants to sprint off down the trail and leave me in the dust. I tell him he is welcome to go on without me, knowing that he knows full well enough that if he needs me, to just hang back – I’ll catch up eventually.
Chad gives some pre-race instructions to the smallish crowd, and then says “go”. What happens next is something I only see in difficult trail races or ultras: a small handful of people take off down the trail (including my kid), while maybe 90% of the rest of the runners stand there politely going “No, after you.” “No, YOU go, I’m in no rush!” It’s almost as if people understand the monumental undertaking that is about to occur, and they want to delay it for just a few more seconds.
Like dipping your toes into the cold pool before jumping in. You KNOW it’s going to be cold, and you KNOW you have to get in, but you aren’t ready for a cannonball just yet.
So, I take off down the trail at a happy, leisurely pace. I didn’t plan on being this far towards the front of the pack, but I will also happily move on over to the right for every “on your left!” I hear.
The first mile winds through the mountain bike trails in the opposite direction that we went last year. Which means we get the easiest sections over with first – and save the gnarly climbs for the very end of each loop. I’m not sure which direction is worse, but in that moment, I don’t care. I had set my watch to run 4 minute / 1 minute run/walk intervals. Again, I hadn’t run any sort of distance in months, and I knew the key to going further would be to preserve my legs from the start. I somehow miss the first walk interval – probably because I’m busy running my mouth to my friend Andy, who is right behind me.
Eventually my watch beeps at me to walk again, and despite feeling really good, I oblige. I quickly hop off to the right side of the trail and let the train of about a dozen other runners pass by me, including Geoff and my youngest son. “What are you doing, Heather?” one guy yells my way. “I’m run-walking. Ten hours is a looooong time, my friend!” I respond, confident in my decision.
I walk – no – I strut happily down the trail. It’s a gorgeous evening. The temperature is hovering in the low 70’s, an incredible reprieve from the oppressive 90 degree temperatures we’ve had up until that morning. And though I realize I’m only 9 minutes into a 10 hour event, in that moment, I feel amazing. My body feels good, and I feel in my element on the trail among the trees.
It’s been a long while since I’ve felt that, and I’m really damn happy about it. I take a deep breath and truly live in that moment. This is exactly what I came here for.
I continue to run and walk through my 4/1 intervals, and surprisingly already start ticking past people. I catch up to Geoff and Kain, only to watch Kain catch his toe and fall hard. Geoff scoops him up almost instantly and plunks him back on his feet, in the way only a 200+ lb muscular man can scoop up a 70 lb little guy. It’s graceful, almost like a choreographed dance. Kain is fine, but they start to slow down. I offer to stay behind with him, but Geoff insists I run on. So I do.
It’s not long before I catch up with my other, older little dude…the one who had left me in the dust. We’re about 1.5 miles into the 5 mile loop, and I can already see him starting to fade.
“Hey buddy. Are you tired?” I ask as I run up behind him.
“Hey mom – yeah.” he replies, already sounding exhausted.
“Did you go out too fast?” I ask him, already knowing the answer.
“Yes I did” he responds without an ounce of hesitation or shame. He then proceeds to tell me he overheard that our friend Kevin had an iliotibial band injury, so he thought if he could keep up with Kevin for the start, eventually Kevin would fizzle out.
Turns out, that didn’t happen.
Alas, I’m proud of my guy for having the confidence to think he could throw down on the trails with the adults. Both of my boys definitely got their moms (often misplaced) competitive drive.
I spend the next 3.5 miles encouraging this kid down the trail. He’s shuffling along in the pained, sloppy way that only a teenager who is still growing into his body can do, but never once complains. I make another classic mom mistake, somewhere around mile 4.5, in saying “Just think, how many other thirteen year old’s do you know who are running a 5 mile trail race, IN THE DARK, on a Saturday night? I bet most of them are at home, sitting on the couch, playing X-Box!”
Turns out, he too would have rather been at home, sitting on the couch, playing X-Box.
But he wasn’t. He was on the trail being a badass. He finished a gnarly 5 mile trail run in just over an hour, in the dark. And I was mighty proud. Best of all, he wasn’t pissed at me that I told him he could podium, when in fact, he did not podium (I think he came in 4th).
Yeah, I skipped a recap of loop #2. After Kain and Geoff finish their loop, I get the boys squared away and Geoff and I head back out onto the trail. Nothing out of the ordinary, or worth documenting, happened. It went by fast, I felt strong.
So moving on to loop three. I’ve just changed my shoes from my Inov-8 Trailroc 285’s to my Hoka Challenger ATR 3’s, because my right arch is suddenly on fire. If you’re paying attention to details (or simply a shoe nerd), you’ll notice that both of these shoes are from 2017, and that’s probably why my feet hurt so bad. This is such a first world excuse, but we have a plethora of running shoes kicking around here, and I often forget how old they really are until suddenly I’m experiencing ridiculous amounts of pain.
Anyway, the point is, my feet hurt. Specifically my right foot. And my hips, while not screaming, are definitely letting me know with each step that a) they have reached their current 10 mile limit, and b) this trail is harsh. It’s a windy, aggressive mountain bike trail that has a number of punchy dips, climbs, and curves. Not to mention, it’s littered with roots just begging to trip you if you let down your guard for even once second. You are never able to relax, and you are never able to open up and actually RUN. The constant tension and contorted running form immediately starts tearing up your legs. I’m suddenly remembering how physically painful this race was last year, and how Biggins Creek has an innate way of trashing your body.
But it’s OK, because my mind is still in A+ form. My energy levels are high, my emotions are in check, I’m genuinely happy, despite the discomfort. I also have the most random song stuck on repeat in my head: Rhythm of the Night by DeBarge. We heard it on the radio earlier that morning, and to be a total ass to my husband, I made sure to turn the volume WAY UP. He’s ridiculously picky when it comes to music, and gets pretty ornery when it comes to music he considers to be bad.
Like, you know, DeBarge.
In order to have the most realistic race recap reading experience, I highly recommend you press play on this video, then put it on repeat while you continue to read, and imagine that’s what my brain sounded like for the next 4 hours. (If nothing else, watch a few seconds of this and appreciate how amazing and awful – but mostly awesome – the fashion of the 80’s was.)
Miles 1-3.5 go a little something like this:
Run, run, ignore the pain.
“Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night, dance until the morning light…”
Run, ouch, take a sip of water, run some more.
“Forget about the worries on your mind. You can leave them all behind”
Is that a snake? Nope just a stick. Run, ignore the pain, avoid tripping on the snake stick.
“FEEL THE BEAT OF THE RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT!!!!! OHHH, OHHH, OHHH…”
Over. And over. And over again.
Eventually we come to what I will call the “happy/sads” in honor of 2015 Infinitus ultramarathon, and the endless figure 8 loops that were nicknamed happy loop and sad loop by participants. However, unlike the 10 mile happy / 16 mile sad loops of that race, these happy/sads are a little less…sad. What they are, instead, are small “optional” sections of the trail that are marked “difficult” for mountain bikers.
Picture super steep, narrow sections of trail just asking for your front end (bike or face, take your pick) to smash into a tree. Steep down, steep up, and then it’s over. And while they are optional for the mountain bikers, they are not optional for this race. We’ve got to take them. The first few loops are fine, but now we’re entering the time in the race where these “happy/sads” go from “fine” to “hilariously painful”, and eventually “this is dumb, why do we do this?”. I even fall going uphill on one of them.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: she’s only 14 ish miles into a race. Is it really that hard?
Yes. It’s really that hard. It’s actually kind of stupid how deceivingly hard this course is (and if you’re wondering, it’s a vastly different and more difficult course than Hallucination, which utilizes a section of this trail). Again, I think it’s a combination of the highly uneven terrain and the fact that you can never really get into a “normal” running gait. In fact, to skip ahead a little, this year one of our local runners who has been destroying 100 milers left and right only beat my 35 mile course record by one loop. 40 miles in 9+ hours. THIS COURSE HURTS EVERYONE.
We finish loop three, and I tell Geoff I’m taking a break. I’m not done, but I am going to sit out a loop.
So I take a loop off. I sit with my friends, I eat some vegan Shepard’s pie that our amazing camp chef (unofficial tittle) Dinah had made for our group. I’m really enjoying my night, and feeling just fine and dandy about the 15 miles I completed. I had no distance goals for this race, I had simply promised myself to listen to my body. And my body was saying “that was fun and all, but we hurt, so let’s be done.”
I’m not disagreeing, body.
Around that time, race director Chad comes strolling into our camp. He came over to show us a picture another runner had just texted him from the trail, of the biggest rattlesnake I have ever seen. Scratch that, I’ve never actually seen a rattlesnake in the wild, but there it was. And it was monstrous.
While Chad’s there, I decide to ask him a question. Remember when you were a little kid, and you weren’t really loving your dinner, so you’d ask mom or dad how much more you had to eat before you were allowed to be done (or have dessert)? And they usually responded with “one more big bite”?
That’s what I did. But with running.
I asked Chad “how much more do I have to run for this thing to count?” In other timed races of his, he sets minimum mileage threshold you have to hit for your results to be official. He asked how many laps I’ve run so far. I said three. So guess what he told me?
One more (big bite). FINE.
I hop out of the mummy bag I’ve snuggled myself into and drag my sorry self over to the start/finish line to wait for Geoff to finish his loop. I slowly and reluctantly take my cozy sweatpants back off, and put my sneakers back on. I put the half of a beer I have left on the aid station table with our favorite volunteer Ann, and tell her not to let anyone drink that, I’ll be back for it later. Eventually Geoff shows back up, and after he refuels, we head back out on the trail.
One more big bite.
We head back out on trail, and effectively run one single running interval. DeBarge is still going strong in my head, and my foot is still on FIRE. Fortunately, for me, Geoff has now logged 5 extra miles, and is more than happy to walk.
It’s a bummer because I’m not tired, physically and mentally I feel GREAT, but my foot is giving me the stabbing kind of pain that leads you to wonder if you could push through…or if your entire foot might snap in half at any given moment. The latter is not likely, but it’s also something any runner has grown to fear, because on rare occasions,gnarly injuries actually do happen.
So we walk. I’m fine with it. There’s something so adventurous about being in the middle of the woods, at night. Especially when your friend has just spotted a 6 foot long rattlesnake (see photo above) and every noise in the woods starts to make you jump. Of course, since we are extra jumpy, we see no shortage of wildlife on this loop, including:
- Armored opossum. AKA, an armadillo. The first one I’ve ever seen in the wild. They aren’t common in our area of South Carolina, and we definitely did not have them in Vermont. Ignore my excited commentary – at least I didn’t sing DeBarge to him (her?)
We walk, and suddenly like a light switch is hit, I realize I need to be done. My body is screaming “hey dumbass, you’d never let a client hop into such a difficult race after taking so much time off, what are you doing out here?” But we are halfway through the loop, and the only way back to the finish line at this point is to continue moving forward.
“FEEL THE BEAT OF THE RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT!”
The last mile is the longest mile of my life. I’m walking on the outside of my right foot to try to avoid the arch pain, and it’s causing my knee to lock up. I tell Geoff that I’m in more pain after 20 measly miles than I am at mile 90 of a 100 miler. In fact, if you told me I only had 5 more miles to go to get a 100 mile belt buckle, I’d tell you I was quitting anyway.
Except I couldn’t quit, I was in the middle of the dark forest with rattlesnakes, armadillos, and no other way out than to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was the kind of pain that truly makes you question what you do for “fun”, yet at the same time, you know you’ll shake it off after 48 hours of rest, and do this all over again.
We finally finish the loop. It’s somewhere around 2:30 am, and while the race doesn’t end till 5 am, I tell Chad I am done. I climb back into the sleeping bag I had left at the start/finish line, and grab the half empty beer I had also left waiting for me. It was still cold.
Now, while there were still a handful of people out on the course completing the ten hour, Missy (snake charmer) and I are the only females competing. She’s also done, but finished her 20 miles before me. Therefore, I win second place by default. Chad hands me my finishers coin and this book as my prize.
Many people would be like “oh, I got second…out of only two people” . Not me. I got second, because I was one of only two badass chicks brave enough to run around the forest at night with armadillos, rattlesnakes, and ghosts of pirates past. You can’t win if you don’t show up.
So, there you have it, a ridiculously long race recap for an event I only “sort of ” raced. Despite slower than normal (for me) miles, and lower than normal (for me) mileage, the Revenge of Stede Bonnet trail race was everything I needed it to be. I came out of that race physically exhausted, sore, and absolutely filthy.
More importantly, I had FUN, and managed to reignite the spark and desire for this amazing sport that had dimmed over the last 4 months. For that, I am incredibly grateful.
Thank you to Chad, Geoff, my kiddos, the $30 club family, and Team Out of Bounds for another stellar weekend. Let’s do it again soon!