Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Team Fat Kids vs. Graveyard 100km Race Report

Pop quiz, hotshot! Why did they name the ultramarathon in the Outer Banks the Graveyard 100km? Because...

A) you run most of it in the dark, and it's creepy like going to a cemetery at night.
B) you feel like you're going to die... more than once.
C) your friend who you convinced to do this with you wants to kill you during several parts of the race.
D) you pass by people walking like...well, zombies from the Walking Dead. And eventually you walk some parts like a zombie too.

Well, this is what was printed on the back of the race t-shirts (without the extra "the" at the end):

Yup, they call it the Graveyard 100 because of all the shipwrecks in this area (usually at night, obviously). Welcome to the wreckage, indeed! The original course for the 100km was to go from Nags Head to Hatteras, with the finish line at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. (The 100-miler started in Corolla at the north end of OBX, at 5am. We the 100k'ers were just the mini version, starting at 3pm.) Although, you could say "all of the above" answers were true!

Random shot of the Town of Duck...which we saw in the dark and not with a beautiful sunset:

Since I had just started my new job at Walter Reed, I didn't want to ask for two days off for the race and seem like a slacker. I decided to take Monday off for post-race recovery instead of the Friday before the race, and instead drive down Saturday morning. Luckily the race director was understanding, and let us do packet pick-up the same time as runner check-in on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately this meant that we missed the pre-race briefing on Friday night...when the RD mentioned a possible course change due to flooding of the original race course. Apparently, the 100-milers didn't even know for sure that the course  changed until 4 hours into their race!

Going back to Friday night, the other two starring members of our OBX adventure arrived in my little downtown Bethesda studio:
  • Amy, my partner in crime, arriving from Austin, TX. She has also raced Ironmans before (like our adventure in Louisville), done Kona 2x in her age group, and is a CrossFit badass. Her upper body strength and pull-ups prowess put me to shame.
  • Kevin, debuting as our pit crew chief, had never been to an endurance event of mine (or anybody else's) before and his duties would be above and beyond your typical sherpa's. After the last relationship, I guess I've learned to break 'em in early and see if they stick around or get scared off!

Amy got here first and we stocked up on more snacks for both the race and the road trip at Trader Joe's. Obviously if we were going to be running over 10 hours, we had to eat lots of food, right?! We had a really nice spread of potato chips, sour candies, peanut butter cups, chocolate coconut macaroons, Cheez-its, peanut butter M&M's all over my kitchen counter.

Cue Kevin, who is not used to hanging out with crazy endurance athletes, seeing two relatively skinny girls and this big spread of awesomeness. "What are you, a couple of fat kids?!" he asked. And hence our team name was born: Team Fat Kids. The most exciting prospect of the race was getting to eat whatever we wanted during the race and afterwards (for a whole week, we promised ourselves!).

We left early Saturday morning, stopping for breakfast/brunch in Newport News (where Kevin and Amy will give me endless shit for picking a diner that had great food but horrible service), and adding to the Team Fat Kids stash along the way...Easter is at the end of the month and my favorite seasonal chocolate was to be found at gas stations and Wal-Marts! Yes! The Reese's peanut butter Easter eggs! More peanut butter than a Reese's PB cup!

When we got to the starting line (about mile 37? for the 100-milers) around 1pm, we learned that instead of being point-to-point and ending at Hatteras (where the Graveyard of the Atlantic museum and everybody's hotel reservations were at), we would run about 10ish miles and turn around right before the bridge. You can see the bridge that connects the north and side sections of the OBX in the map above. The flooding was so bad they wouldn't even let cars through! Instead we would end up turning around and running the other 50ish miles back to the 100-mile starting point in Corolla...which was slightly uphill AND into a mean headwind. The original course was slightly downhill with a tailwind!

The original finish area in Hatteras (not that we'd make it by sunset anyway...definitely before dawn):

Luckily, me and Amy had looked at our first ultramarathon as more of an adventure than an actual race, and the goal was to just get to the finish line. Both of us had never run much longer than marathon length, done a nocturnal race (other than...a beer run), or even been to the Outer Banks. Adventure! If this had happened at a race we were seriously trying to race or place at, it may have been mayhem. Instead, Amy calmly called up a hotel at the original start (now finish line) in Corolla and was able to book us a room. I cancelled our room in Hatteras.

Then we realized we were hungry, having not had a meal since brunch around 9:30am, and broke into our stash of potato chips and Reese's peanut butter chocolate Easter eggs. Fueling for a 3pm start is weird! Moving on...let's get to the actual race itself...

segment 1: DAYLIGHT

Brandon fired the starting gun at 3pm, and we took off at a leisurely and conversational pace, I'd say around mid-pack. We knew we had a long day (or two days?) ahead of us and the hardest part was holding back so that we weren't going too fast. It was a beautiful day and we realized only 15 minutes into it that we had way too many layers on. So we shed some layers and stuffed them into my pack.

This first segment of the race was one of my favorites since the weather was perfect, and since it was daylight we got to see so many cute beach houses in the Outer Banks (just like in that movie, Nights in Rodanthe). We would keep pointing them out and saying "I want that one! no, I want THAT one!" At about mile 5 we hit the big first aid station, which was actually somebody's beach house. They had a grill going with HAMBURGERS, mmm! It was way too early to be stopping for anything, so we may have just thrown our extra clothes at Kevin that we didn't need, and went on our way.

More of the same, and then we hit the turnaround another 5 or so miles later (I had a Reese's Easter egg or two), and went straight into a good headwind. We would sometimes catch up to people in front of us, and then they would get ahead when we took our time going to the bathroom, or taking pictures (kind of a recurring theme in this whole adventure). I remember staying behind a couple other runners so we could "draft" them in the headwind, but then we'd get bored and pass them.

There was a little out and back by the Bodie Island lighthouse, where we got a short reprieve from the wind, and a photo op, before we spent the last hour of daylight running with the sunset back toward the hamburger beach house aid station. We were in great spirits and the legs were just starting to feel a little sore. The beach house on the way back was now about mile 18 and we made it before 6pm (sunset). I scarfed down a hamburger (hold the cheese) which seemed to disappear into thin air! No GI stress whatsoever. I also refilled my hydration pack with diluted Gatorade and changed into my 2nd set of clothes. It was now getting a little bit colder, and people couldn't believe I had been running in a t-shirt, and Amy in a tank top.


This next segment I can remember still holding a good pace, with the soreness in the legs slowly seeping in. We were now running in the dark, with our full-on reflective gear and headlamps, only 3ish hours into the race. There were two water stops (where your crew was allowed to park and help you) before the next aid station, both spaced 8 miles after the next. So we hit the marathon mark around that first water stop, and we were still in pretty good spirits. Kevin was doing pretty well as our pit crew chief, although he still refused to massage my feet. (We saw some 100-milers have their crews change their socks and rub their feet at the start of our race, which would've been mile 37 for them.) He was surprised that I always looked happy to see him, and I was...if you didn't have your own crew, the other option was to have a "drop bag" with your gear, which you could only access at the big aid stations. I.e. at mile 18 and mile 40. We didn't know what to expect for our first ultra, so it was good to have someone that would be taking care of us. Luckily the course wasn't too complicated (mostly on just one main road), but as it got darker, I figured it might be more challenging for Kevin to find the appropriate crew stops. But he always found them, good work!

After this stop, we soon hit the halfway point, and The Great Unknown--running longer than either of us have ever done in training or racing. (My longest training run was 27 miles before an old college foot injury flared up, and Amy had done a 50k years ago but walked a portion of it.) The legs were feeling heavier and we had a discussion to modify our plan to only walk at the aid stations. Amy figured we should run half of the 8-mile segment, stopping at 4 for a short walk break. It sounded good to me, and better than the abstract "let's just walk a little when we get tired" thought I would've come up with at that point.

We knew the next crew stop was at a Days Inn, and we saw one that seemed a little too early. However, there were a couple crew members hanging out in front of cars in the parking lot and I asked anyway "is this the right Days Inn?" They said it was still a couple miles up the road, so we ran a few steps, saw our parked car, and then realized we had passed right by Kevin! Oops! He had also stopped at the wrong Days Inn. We all felt a little dumb...but apparently there are two Days Inns on Route 12, 1.5 miles apart in Kill Devil Hills (what a great name for a town, BTW!).

When we got to the proper Days Inn water stop, we were still making good time. By then I wasn't feeling very hungry but I knew I should eat. I guess I was feeling tired of Reese's peanut butter Easter eggs and potato chips or Cheez-its. Maybe time for something more sugary? Aha! I located a bag of my sour punch bites (I totally dig sour candies), and they were AMAZING! Like a party in my mouth. I ate almost the whole bag. Instant sugar rush, and on we went!

In the final "8" miles to the next aid station, there was a bit of a snafu as part of Route 12 had flooded pretty badly, and was even closed to vehicles. We were detoured onto the main highway (158), which was also kind of dangerous as it was dark and there was barely a shoulder and occasionally a sidewalk to run on, but plenty of cars.

We were kind of excited that we got to go through the town of Kitty Hawk (where the Wright brothers first flew a plane!) after the route was changed, since it wasn't included in the original 100km route to Hatteras:

We didn't know when it would be safe to turn back to Route 12, but a fellow competitor (who we leapfrogged in between stopping to take photos by the Kitty Hawk sign) mentioned that it was flooded up to the Hilton Garden Inn when he drove part of the course earlier in the day.

But before we got to the Hilton, another competitor's support crew van pulled up to us and told us it was safe to turn right back onto Route 12. Several of us obliged...and this turned out to be a HUGE mistake. There was a big ROAD CLOSED sign on Route 12 and the road was blocked from vehicles getting in and out. I don't know why we didn't take this as a SIGN to turn back onto Highway 158 (I'm going to say it was dark and we were delirious as it was 35+ miles by then, and too trusting of people that seemed to know what to tell us).

Needless to say, we ignored the "ROAD CLOSED" sign and ran into the neighborhood on Route 12. It didn't seem bad at first, just a really wet road with some sand...but it got progressively worse, with deep wet sand that sucked at our shoes. Oh no, quicksand! And then the water got deeper. We tried to detour around the back of some houses, and residents came out to see what the racket was. They couldn't believe we were running through the flooded roads, and warned us to be cautious. We tried to keep our feet dry, but it was futile, and we were a bit too stubborn to backtrack. We didn't want to run all these extra miles when we were already running so much! So we ended up running/walking/trudging through some ankle deep water, trying to find a connecting road back to the main highway 158. And that water was FRIGID. It was pretty miserable. This was probably one of the lowest points of the races, having our feet/shoes/socks wet and cold, being sort of lost in the dark, and still having over 20 miles left to run. It really put a damper on our momentum and our motivation.

We eventually got back on the highway, and then the Hilton Garden Inn, and were skeptical if Route 12 was really okay to run back on. I called Kevin, who had made it to the firehouse aid station, and a wandering stranger also gave us directions to get back on Route 12, which was dry and clear. It was the longest "8" miles ever, and we were both looking forward to some hot chicken broth and a change of clothes and shoes.

For the most part, it was dark and desolate, and since it was a small grassroots race, we were running alone most of the time, and hardly saw another soul that was in the race. It was always nice to catch up to a blinky light up ahead, and be assured we were going the right way. Seeing the fire station at last seemed to take forever, and I felt like I was dreaming! We had a very leisurely pit stop here, changing our clothes, shoes, and socks completely, and I was excited that they had PIZZA. I ate two slices, and also downed several servings of chicken broth. It was getting colder and I switched into a fleece vest and new headband. Cold and sweaty is never a good combination.

I was reluctant to leave the nice warm firehouse, but we still had 1/3 of the race to finish!

One more thing--as far as blisters were going, around the marathon mark, I was starting to feel some rubbing in between my toes. This led to a 10-year-old flashback of when I was just out of college and working part-time at a running specialty store. We sold those funny little toe socks by Injinji, and I remember the store manager, Scott, telling me that they were very popular with the ultramarathon crowd. I was training for my second Ironman then, and remember thinking "what a bunch of crazies! Why would you want to run for that long?" And there I was 10 years later, wishing I had toe socks on. Luckily the fire station had Vaseline that I slathered between my toes. And all was good from there! Blisters-wise, anyway.


Immediately after the shoe change-up (and prolonged break from running), I felt the strangest new sensation of discomfort in both of my Achilles tendons once we resumed running. They were really achy! It was the oddest feeling. I had the same pair of shoes (the latest Asics DS trainers), but maybe it was because they were slightly longer (women's 10.5 vs men's 8.5 would be narrower but about half size longer). Meanwhile Amy was having some IT band tightness kick in. My Achilles discomfort eventually subsided as my body warmed up a couple miles later, and we were making relatively good time, at least compared to the people we kept on passing. At this point in the race we were passing many of the 100km and 100-mile participants who were walking.

I was still in good spirits as usual, but I am also one of those annoyingly optimistic people. So if we were approaching someone we were about to pass, I'd cheerfully call out "Hello!" It seemed nicer than ignoring the person or rudely saying "on your left" but you could never tell if the other guy appreciated my cheerfulness or wanted to kill me. Whatevs! I was just happy we were in dry shoes and not lost. However, there were long stretches where we didn't see anyone, and by then it was past our bedtime, so we were physically and mentally tired, and I kept wondering if we were going the right way. I had to keep reminding myself that we were at the north end of the Outer Banks, where there was really only ONE main road...and we were on it!

Four miles down, we already hit another water stop at the parking lot of another fire station in the "Town of Duck" (I kept giggling when I thought of the town name). I could tell we were slowing down because those 4 miles seemed to take forever! We didn't stop very long at all, and went on to the next stop over the next 7 miles, and the next one after another 7 miles.

Those next 14 miles were more of the same and didn't leave a lasting impression in my memory banks. Maybe because my brain cells went to sleep by then. All I remember was a dark, starry night...there are no pictures of us but it went something like this:

and this...

...and some of this...when we would look up at the sky!

It was at this point, I was so glad to have Amy as my partner-in-crime. We would pass by people running or walking solo, and it seemed so much easier to have each other for company in the darkness and fatigue. Throughout the race, we would have quiet time sometimes, and talk and catch up about a million different things at other times. We met back in 2007 through the triathlon world and have been pretty inseparable since, although we've never lived in the same place. It was my idea to sign up for the ultra, so there were times I knew Amy was cursing me (if not for the entire way). We signed up before I got a new job and had to move, which really put a damper on my training and motivation to train, but knowing Amy was also training through the winter kicked my butt into action. (Ok, so we both really only trained for 2 months or so, if that!)

I also remember (from sunset on) that we would run by a bunch of bars and restaurants, and contemplate going in for a beer and/or French fries. Oh, Team Fat Kids...

We both brought our iPods, in case we got bored, but left them in the car, because it seemed hard enough to be focused to run in a straight line during the night, in the dark, when tired and sleepy, without tripping over your own feet. Instead we talked about all kinds of stuff, work life, our meager training, dating and boys, and how we'd never do another of these ever again.

Another beautiful sunset shot stolen from the interwebs, which we didn't experience ourselves as it was dark:

Before we knew it, we had reached the finish line. Only it wasn't time to finish yet. We saw Kevin and the race director Brandon, in front of the Corolla Inn where a small finish line chute was set up. We were stunned to get there early, knowing that there was still a short out and back (2 or 3 miles?), it seemed too good to be true. Brandon admitted that the course would end up a couple miles short because of the complete course change, and this is where it got hilarious. Amy, who had been cursing me for the last few hours and saying she would never run this long ever again, suddenly piped up "I kind of want to run an extra couple miles after the finish to make it 100km!" Whilst I said "Are you crazy?! Didn't we just say if the RD says that's the finish, that's the finish?!"

Being tired and delirious, Amy then realized she didn't want to run any extra and said I should slap her for even thinking such a thing. We shuffled into the darkness in the final out-and-back, having to take some walking breaks as we weren't sure if Amy's IT bands would hold up. I remember just feeling very sore, with dead legs, and we both were ready to crawl into bed. And looking forward to a hot shower! We shuffled to the turnaround, which was a solo orange cone--the honor system, not like having timing mats at an Ironman. Although it was obvious that if you wanted to cut the course, you could...but then you'd only be cheating yourself, and all those other goody-goody cliches.

We managed to get through the last mile, and decided to put in a final sprint together to the finish line. Amy remarked she actually felt better sprinting than running really slow! We held hands crossing the finish line, and learned that we had tied for 3rd place overall in the 100km--it would turn out that the top 5 in the 100km were all women! Girl power!


This race report is getting long enough, but suffice it to say that we passed out in our hotel room (super happy that Kevin stayed awake and was able to get our hobbling bodies back to the hotel) and had the hardest time walking the next day...and the next, and the next.

Lessons learned:
  • Ultras are really hard, especially doing them in the dark and past your bedtime.
  • If you want to cross something off your bucket list, it is so much more fun with friends!
  • The Outer Banks are beautiful!
  • Reese's peanut butter Easter eggs and Sour Punch straw bites are excellent race nutrition. As are burgers and pizza.
  • A great test of friendship is seeing if you can run together for over 12 hours and not kill each other. Me and Amy passed!
Until next time...running an ultramarathon has been crossed off our bucket list!


  1. So what's on your bucket list next? I'm still coming back from injury so swimming in a relay at Wildflower is going to be a big comeback for me! LOL

    1. Good luck at Wildflower! Next on my bucket list is to get out of credit card debt, and also break 90mins for a half marathon :)

  2. Great race report and congrats on the awesome finish! Next on your bucket list is coming back to the 'ville to pick up your stuff. It's in a box now hey that's progress! So excited to read about your new adventures please keep blogging for us Wongster fans! Outer banks is an awesome place I was there last year for the 1/2 marathon. I hope you got some Duck Donuts! Love ya girl!