Vertical Mile Challenge – June 15, 2019
Rocky Face Park | Hiddenite, NC
Race 6/12 for 2019 goal! Halfway there!
It’s been a minute since I’ve written anything, and that’s because my world has changed quite a bit in the last month. I’m now living back in my home state of North Carolina, and have a lot of time on my hands while I find a job. I haven’t been using all that time to run though. I’ve let the stress of everything (that I’ll write about some time) get to me and haven’t used running as an outlet for it, for some reason. Nonetheless, I was signed up to run the VMC and I wasn’t about to puss out of it – trained or not.
An abbreviated version of the history of the race goes like this: In 2011, some dudes wanted to create a race in where you complete 5,280′ of vertical in the shortest distance possible. They happened upon a park that is 15 minutes from where I grew up, and voila! 2.2 mile loops, eight times, for 16 miles and 5,280′ of vert. All aboard the pain train!
Jenster is the one that told me about this race. It was only $25 to register and is SO close to where I’m living and grew up. It was such a no brainer! I hadn’t ran in three weeks leading up to the race and finally got in a few runs the week of the race. My niece and nephew are great running motivators and ask me every day if we can go running!
Jenster and I
The race started at 8am, so I got up at 5:45 so that I could leave by 6:30, get a great parking spot, and pick up my packet. It was a cool morning, and in the upper 50’s when I got there. There were just over 200 people running, which is the biggest group they’ve had thus far. Word is getting out, apparently. There were plenty of PoPs and a bathroom so I even got to use a real toilet! The smaller size of this race was perfect.
This shows the bit of pavement we had to run on and the part of the rock that people climb.
Not knowing a bit of the course or exactly what to expect, I started in the middle of the pack. We ran for less than a quarter of a mile on pavement and then hit the trail. Right away you could see there were going to be lots of roots – they had spray painted most of them bright orange. It was crowded up until we reached the rock face about half a mile in. I was not warmed up enough before we started the hike uphill.
My first start up the hill
While it was still cool, you could tell that rock was going to heat up quick – there wasn’t a breeze yet either. The straight uphill portion was at least a half a mile long and felt like it’d never end. I was using the footwork I’d learned while mountaineering in the snow – taking sideways steps so that I didn’t burn up my calves. Others were also using the switchback strategy so as not to go straight up the rock, which I did some as well. There wasn’t a trail so you just made your own way up the rock face.
At the top, they had a water only station that was stocked with ice cold water. It tasted like the best water I’d ever had in my life.
When you get to the top, you run through the woods briefly and get to another small rock portion, then hit the woods again and start going downhill. There were lots of switchbacks, rocks, and roots. This was a great way to start my NC racing again! I actually missed those roots! Towards the end of the loop, you come to another rocky portion and this is the portion you can see from the parking lot. This is also the portion that people rock climb on.
There was a really steep part that was killer on the feet and toes! Just before you get to the start/finish line, there are some rock stairs and then you’re back on the pavement. At the start/finish, there is a bigger aid station with food and other drinks. I didn’t get anything after the first loop and just kept going. I should also note that when I crossed the line, my watch was reading just under 2 miles.
Just after I started the second loop, I tripped and fell. I wasn’t picking my feet up enough, caught my toe on a root and BOOM! It was enough to scrape the skin off the top of my left knee (the knee that ALWAYS takes the hits!) and a little off my other knee too. My left wrist was what I caught myself with so it was a little scraped up as well. I didn’t run nearly enough trails in CO so I’m going to love getting use to it again! NC trails are far better than CO trails, in my opinion. Anywho, I had a few people ask me if I was ok and I gave them a thumbs up. It hurt for maybe a 10th of a mile and then it was fine! Just a flesh wound! I told one of them that I was due for some trail rash.
Scraped the skin right off!
It wasn’t long before I started seeing people getting treated by medical folks. I was also hearing that they had received a 911 call from someone and were looking for them. Shit was getting real and we were all starting to see and feel the effects of the terrain and heat. I didn’t consume anything besides water until after the third loop, which was a Huma gel and half a banana. When I hit the halfway mark, it was just over two hours and I ate a lot more. I grabbed some Gatorade, a pickle chunk, half a banana, and took a packet of 3 salt tabs. It hadn’t even dawned on me that I should have brought more salt tabs. I was lucky I even had the one pack.
This was definitely early on in the race… haha!
I had been playing leap frog with several people and kept seeing the same faces. The winner had finished before I even hit the halfway mark. I was also getting lapped by some folks as well. At this point, it was hard to tell who was on what lap and you didn’t really know unless you asked. A lady came up from behind me on the first or second lap and was asking me what model of Altras I was wearing. She said she’d never heard of the Timps and would be looking into getting some. We’d run into each other during all but the last two laps and she’d started calling us the Altra gals. She would pass me on the uphill and I would pass her on the downhill. I even started to “ribbet” when I went by her – haha! That 57 year young lady ended up beating me by 20 minutes! By the way, that’s the farthest I’ve ever run in the Altras and they were great!
I’m on the far left
I started off fueling well but didn’t continue to. I wasn’t taking in nearly enough when I needed to. I was only drinking a cup of Gatorade and eating half a banana. One of the laps I dipped a potato in salt and ate that – all that salt tastes so gross! The sixth lap was the worst and I was feeling pretty bad by the end of the seventh lap. I had been feeling like I was going to cramp up since the halfway mark, and I was just hoping and praying that it’d hold off – that could be a serious game changer. I even thought about this race possibly being my very first DNF. My back was also getting super tight and I kept having to bend over to stretch it out.
However, my brother, sister-in-law, and three kiddos had come out to see me finish! They were there in time to see me start the last lap. I got some food and talked to them for a minute. My nephew and nieces didn’t know what to think about how I looked and that I was scarfing down watermelon, pickles, and banana and drinking Gatorade – all of which I could barely carry over to the bench, haha! By that time, I was averaging 40-45 minute loops so I told them I’d be back in about that amount of time. As soon as I took off for the last loop, I felt re-energized and great! Seeing them was what I needed to finish strong! There was a much smaller field at that point, and I felt like I was way in the back of finishers. I was letting the aid station volunteers know that it’d luckily be the last time I saw them!
When I crossed the finish line in 4:46, my family was there to record me finishing. My nephew thought my bloody knee was the coolest and he was getting down really close to look at it. He hugged me and told me he was proud of me, dawwww!
Starters: 203 | Finishers: 184 | Gender Place: 25/48 | Overall Place: 128/184
Garmin Distance: 16 miles (supposed to be 17.4) | Garmin Vertical: 4,091′ (not 5,280′)
I noticed a comment on Strava that the course has been off every year and that everyone always gets the vertical amount that I got. That is WAY off, by more than 1,000′! I wasn’t getting the 2.2 miles per loop either. I thought that I wasn’t getting a good GPS signal. Maybe that’s still true? Surely it wouldn’t be off that much and they still claim it as a vertical mile race…. who knows.
It’s been three days since the race and I have been SORE AF! Getting on and off the toilet is THE WORST. This is certainly in the top of times that I have been the most sore. This time last year I ran the Leadville Heavy Half and I think I was this sore after that as well. I plan to run this race again next year so this will just be the weekend of pain from here on out! I’d love to make this a yearly occurrence! I also plan to get out there and run and hike the course as often as possible. It’s so close! Hopefully I’ll actually be ready for it next year.
I haven’t signed up for a July race yet but it will likely be a 5K with my 8 YEAR OLD NEPHEW!! Yaaaaassssss!