I must have been delusional when I signed up for CMMM because come last week I kept asking myself what I was thinking when I signed up for my first 50-mile NIGHT trail run in the mountains! Knowing I had put the miles required for training, it still seemed daunting at the thought of covering 50-miles for the first time. I carefully packed all of my gear taking several days to make sure nothing was forgotten. Regardless of race preparation, there was still some stress about what I would do if I saw a bear. I needed advice so I e-mailed Adam Casseday, RD and asked him about the bears. Adam was very gracious in his response, “You shouldn’t worry about bears as much as you should worry about lightening.” Hmmm..was this meant to make me feel better, I thought to myself. But if the Race Director says, not to worry I had no reason not to believe him. Friday morning I hit the road at 7:30AM and set off for a weekend of unknown expectations. The drive up to Beverly, WV was beautiful, except for the rain. Driving on twisting cliff roads through the mountains was exhausting for someone who lives at sea level. Rain made it especially nerve wrecking. Thankfully I made it to the race site safe.
It was about 2:30PM when I arrived at Camp Pioneer and only race staff was there setting up. The long drive left me hungry so I opted to drive into Elkins for lunch. Wendy’s seemed like a perfect choice and the double cheeseburger, large fries and drink went down too easy. Back at Camp Pioneer runners were starting to arrive and take their place in the large parking field. I felt very nervous inside. This was really going to happen! 50-MILES! A few people asked how I was doing and all I could respond with was – NERVOUS! Some of the seasoned runners were so kind and thoughtful to give me pep talks. One even gave me his spare whistle to use in case I spotted a bear! Nice…I thought. I’m either going to get mauled by a bear or struck by lightening. Possibly both, simultaneously. After putting up the tent and sorting through all the gear, closest, kitchen and bathroom sink I brought, I finally figured out what to wear and what to store in my Nathan pack. I sent some last minute text messages to my friends and family and walked over for the pre-race meeting. I don’t remember much about the meeting except for the description of the reflectors that we would be following out on the trails – and – hearing Adam talk about how some reflectors might be missing. Goosebumps covered my skin at the thought of missing reflectors. It was questionable if I could make the distance but the possibility of missing reflectors put butterflies on steroids in my stomach.
At the start of the race we lined up, sang the National Anthem and just like that, we were off into the dark. Lucky for me my buddy Rob said he would stay with me. I questioned how long he would run with me because he’s much faster and more experienced. He said I was going to cry. What? Cry? What did he mean? Why would he say that? Did he think I was going to sit down on the trail and start crying? I didn’t ask. Given the conditions of the race there was potential for maybe a little bit of crying so I left it alone. We ran at a pretty fast clip considering the race was 50 miles but it made sense to make up as much time on the roads before hitting the trails.
Entering the first trail head was an interesting experience, to say the very least. It was not what I expected. Sure I have run on trails before, but this wasn’t a trail! It was more like a jungle scene from the movie, Romancing the Stone! There was no trail but rather a quasi-path from where all the faster runners pounded down the plants and brush. Seriously, I couldn’t believe this is what I was going to be running on. Every step was a surprise. I couldn’t figure out how to look up for reflectors and watch my footing at the same time. Now I know where every greenhouse in America grows their ferns. And it’s not “Where the Red Fern Grows,” it’s where the Green Fern Grows. I’m telling you they all grow along the CMMM course. Trust me. All hundred thousand ferns are there sprouting their limbs as wide as humanly possible playing hide-and-go-seek with my feet.
The trails never did “clear” up into defined paths. After about two-miles I got an attitude adjustment and told myself that I must have wanted this because I signed myself up for it. No one held a gun to my head so no whining allowed. Rob and I got into our groove, a slow groove but nonetheless. The goal was forward progression. I knew I had to keep moving forward as fast as I could to make the cut offs. With the fog being so dense there were times where pace was completely off because of how tough it was too see. Mud was another point of contention. There were muddy sections so deep my shoes were being pulled off. I wondered to myself if they planned the course on purpose because after each mud fest we had stream crossings to wash it all off. This went on for the whole first half of the course. There was also a point where, surprise-surprise, we couldn’t see any reflectors. None. The problem was that we also couldn’t tell where the path was. Rob and I circled around and around trying to find some sign of path. I shined my lights into the woods only to have several sets of eyes peering back at me! We took a lucky guess and went upward into the brush, finally spotting a reflector up ahead. Dodged that bullet.
We made each cut-off with [I think] 30 minutes to spare. That’s not a lot of time difference when it’s raining, incredibly foggy and exhaustion is setting in. Every now and then I asked Rob if we would make it. His response? RUN. And I did. Nearing the last aid station the long downhill allowed me to run hard and make up time. My original finish goal was 12 hours which at that point was a far afterthought. The new goal was just to meet the 13-hr cut off. Day light finally broke through the dense fog and clouds. We turned off our lights and kept running / walking as allowed.
Finally back on the paved road; the finish felt close. I wanted so badly to run but couldn’t. My right soleous started twitching the same way it did when I tore it two years ago. Being that close to the finish I wasn’t about to push it. Walking was the better option. We made our way to the white fencing and with the finish line in sight I tried shuffling when all of a sudden I felt it happened – Tears. Rob was right, I did cry. An emotional rush ran through every ounce of blood in my body. All of those miles in training, the aches and pains and heat from summer, the weeks of being exhausted. The sun, moon and stars were aligned and there I was crossing the finish line of my first 50-mile ultra. Adam and Michelle were waiting at the finish holding our coveted Finisher’s Patagonia shorts. What a memorable moment in time.
I must say it would not have been possible without all of the incredibly kind volunteers that helped us at the aid stations. Each one of them went above and beyond, especially in those conditions. In the wee hours of the morning they kept smiles on their faces, kept their energy high and bent over backwards to help us to the finish. Rob was an awesome running buddy despite his tendency to bark like a drill sergeant. LOL.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! This race completely exceeded everything I hoped for in my first 50-miler and all races hereafter have a tough act to follow.
As I write this four days following the race. I still feel excited and proud. In a strange way it almost seems surreal, like it never happened. My legs are on the mend and already I’m itching to find another ultra.
Author: Brenda Carawan