Pilot Mountain, NC
Elevation Gain: 4,080 ft.
Placed 27th out of 84
This was my first marathon. I remember back in September reading about this and thinking 'How cool would it be for that to be my first full marathon?' I was also considering the Myrtle Beach marathon (held on the same day to be my first. But give the travel and cost requirements for it, and the convenience of the Pilot Mountain Payback (PMPB). Plus, I could easily train on the race course as I live about 10 minutes from the trails. So in October, I decided I would take this adventure and make it my first marathon.
I was super excited the week leading up to the race. The morning of, I had the typical nervous feelings in my stomach. I was ready to just get out there and run. We made our way to the race located at Yadkin Island Park. To get to the start line, you have to drive through 2 creeks. Parking was full near the start line so we only crossed one creek before parking. That meant we had to cross by foot, the second (and deeper of the two creeks). Everyone was having to do this. Some people (including Summer) accidentally slipped into the water. Those racing just brushed it off saying they had to get wet at some point.
We were met at the start by Summer's parents and my mom and sister. They all came along to wish me good luck. Summer had planned to go to every road crossing and take pictures and encourage me. Little did I know that everyone would do this. I am so lucky to have Summer to be so supportive of me and doing crazy things like this. And my family and hers too as they all encouraged me and were my support crew the entire day. I even had other runners commenting on my fans. Thank you to everyone for making my day so special!
As I went to retrieve my bib number and goody bag, I was looking for the previous year's winner, Jason Bryant. He's a local guy (from Elkin, NC) and is on the La Sportiva running team. I've been reading about him for the past month or so and his ultramarathon races. It was surprising to me that he is from close by where I live as this area doesn't necessarily produce a lot of ultrarunners. As I was standing in line, I noticed a guy in front of me wearing La Sportiva shoes, gloves, jacket, and pants. He looked to the right and I saw his face. I knew it had to be him. So I just asked 'Hey are you Jason Bryant?'. It was. So I introduced myself and we chatted for a few minutes before the race. That was a great start. I knew I probably wouldn't see him again as he finished first last year in a time of 3:15.
Now to the race. The marathon included 84 people and the half was overstocked with 132 (original limits were 100 per race). We all gathered at the start and the RD said GO! Immediately, we all had to cross a creek. I wasn't worried because I was wearing my SealSkinz (waterproof socks I received for Christmas). After the creek we had to climb a massive hill up a dirt road. I knew this was coming and most people didn't. I had an advantage all day knowing what was coming as I trained on the course while some people came from all around to run either the half or full. So I paced myself up the hill as a lot of folks passed me. I tried to pace myself most of the day and save enough for the end. While running up this hill, there was a guy running with his dog. Yes his dog. The dog had covers on his front paws. Halfway up the hill, the dog popped a squat and laid a fresh one for everyone's viewing pleasure. I made a couple of remarks like 'Dude we just started!' and 'It must have been the nerves'.
At the top of the hill we hit the trail and went back downhill. Once we reached the bottom, we were at the parking area. My family cheered me on as I crossed creek number 2. We ran out a dirt road, crossed creek number 3 and I settled in. Yes, that was 3 creeks we ran through in the first 1.5 miles. After that, we crossed the first road and hit the Corridor Trail. This trail is roughly 6.2 miles long and is up and down the entire way. The end of it served as the turn around point for the half marathoners. There were 3 more creek crossings on this section of the course. I knew that I had to conserve as this would be my route back to the finish line. There were also 3 roads we had to cross throughout this trail, 2 of them having aid stations.
I reached the first aid station, crew cheering me on, had a banana and a handful of M&M's. I continued on, feeling good, pacing myself. When I reached the next road crossing (no aid station at this one), I saw Summer and could tell something was wrong. I asked what happened and she pointed up the road. Apparently cars were coming down a hill and around a curve and saw the spectators and stopped as runners crossed. There was a motorcycle coming down this way as well and rounded the curve and could not stop in time. He slammed on his brakes skidding, bike front tire wobbling, and eventually laid it down. Luckily Summer's mom is a nurse and she quickly rushed to the scene. She thought he had a broken collar bone but he was more upset about the bike. The ambulance came and took him to the hospital. I hope he's ok!
The next segment of the trail was the last before the turn around point for the half marathoners. I saw the first group of them coming towards me and they were flying. They had to have been running sub 6:30 pace which was impressive to me. I was nowhere near that but I had a long ways to go. I passed the guy with the dog. They were in the top 20. So a lot of people can say they got beat by a dog today. I kept trading places with one guy who would run up a hill, then walk, and I'd pass. Then he'd run back and catch up and pass me, then walk. Obviously he wasn't concerned about his pace.
About 7 miles in, my right knee started hurting the same as it did on my last long run when I was running down one section of the mountain that is a bunch of 'man placed' rock steps. I knew if this kept up, I would be in a world of trouble once I got to the top of the mountain. So at the half marathon turn around point, I ate another piece of banana and another handful of M&M's. I then asked for some Advil. Summer didn't have any, but had Aleve instead. She did not know the dose recommendation and I didn't either. But apparently you're only supposed to take 1 every 8 hours. She handed me 3 and I downed them. The pain subsided soon thereafter.
I started my ascent up the Mountain Trail which leads up to the top of the mountain. This part was quite technical in places. I quickly passed the aforementioned guy who couldn't control his pace. Never saw him again. I did a lot of walking on this section as it was mostly uphill. Once I reached the end of it, I had one more section that I hate. It's uphill, and it's man-made stairs. I walked up them conserving my energy. This led to the summit. I reached the summit which is also the checkpoint so you have to make it here in order to get credit. I wanted to make it to this point in 2 1/2 hours and I was early. 2:15. So I took my time eating and drinking and posing for pictures. The RD was also there and I overheard him tell the lady checking peoples' numbers that they were down to 73. So 11 people had already dropped out. I then started my descent.
The next section goes around the knob of Pilot Mountain and then down the back side. Another woman and I ran together through the downhill section. After the treacherous rock steps, we headed down a pebble path. I ended up passing 2 guys who were going the wrong way. I hope they figured it out. The downhill was just that, and I was feeling good. I ended up seeing 6 deer running through the woods about 20 yards from me as I came to the end of the middle section of the course. After reaching the half marathon turn around point for the last time, I knew I had 7 miles remaining. I ate some chips and had some water and continued on.
At mile 18, I could feel the wall coming. My legs were tired. My upper body was tired. And my mind was telling me to stop. But I couldn't. I'd come this far. Each road crossing, my family was there cheering me on. And that kept me going. My mind kept telling me to stop, and I would stop and walk, but then it would tell me to run. This was repeated so many times. I did a lot more walking than I wanted on the last 7 miles, but it was what I had to do. As I came off the Corridor Trail, there was an unmanned water cooler and one other runner. I stopped with him and we talked. We both said 'I'm so ready for this to be over'. He asked how far we had left and I said I don't think it's but a mile.
I continued on in front of him. The last trail segment was the same we started on, mostly just the dirt road we drove in on. People were leaving in their cars, cheering me on as I was by myself. I ran through the final 2 creeks and Summer was there to meet me and run with me across the finish line. Before getting to the finish line, I saw Jason leaving, carrying his first place plaque. He had finished in 3:05. I kept my eye on the prize though. Everyone was cheering for me and that made me want to sprint. So I did, left quad cramping and everything. I finished in 4:43:51. I completed it under 5 hours which was my goal. I was also told I finished in 27th place (out of 84 registered runners). I don't know how many DNF'd but that will be posted on the website in the coming days.
We were awarded as finishers with a PMPB either large coffee cup or small soup bowl. Not sure what it'll be. Probably just a dust collector somewhere around the house.
Overall, a success. I am so lucky to have a supportive wife and family that spent their day cheering me on. Thanks to them to making my day one I'll never forget. Pictures below for your viewing pleasure.
Me at one of the road crossings.
The half marathon dog.
The infamous Pilot Mountain knob.
My lovely wife Summer and I after the race.