When I signed up for this race I knew it was going to be a challenge for several reasons--and that's exactly why I did. First I was coming off a big training block through the brutal heat of a coastal South Carolina summer training for the Barkley Fall Classic. I have also been battling some health issues that were still unknown at the time of the race. As for the logistics of the race. There are no aid stations. You can have drop bags at 7 designated spots that better have everything you need at just the right time. I spent a lot of time thinking about my ow it turned out. I share some thoughts for next time at the end of this race report. You can also check out an Instagram post I made about packing drop bags here
For the 100k distance it was 31 miles out and 31 miles back. In the swamps of the Francis Marion National Forest. The date of the race had to get moved due to a dog deer drive that was scheduled for the same day as the race--if you live somewhere where hunting isn't a big deal I'm sure you're probably wondering if I'm joking--I'm not! This put the race the weekend before Thanksgiving and a lot of runners couldn't make it due to travel plans. Which I knew meant a lot of lonely miles--just how I like it.
This was the hardest training block I've ever been through. Some minor health issues that I'm still trying to figure out plus running longer miles than I'm used to through the summer heat have made training feel pretty rough at times.
Chad at Eagle Endurance puts on some pretty badass races here in the Charleston area. There may not be much (basically none) elevation gain in these races which I honestly think makes them harder because at least with climbing and defending you use different muscles for awhile. When it's all flat you're just going.
Going into this race I felt super prepared and surprisingly calm. As a fun twist, Chad ( the race director) provides only water on course but you can drop bags at a few spots. I was honestly in my glory because I usually rely on my own food to get me through. In each bag I put a note that said exactly what I was supposed to eat/drink, clothing changes, and a quote that I knew would fire me up🔥
The weather was PERFECT. It started out in the 30s and got up to mid 50s and was slightly overcast. The trail is mostly shaded. It's your typical coastal trail with its fair share of roots and some rocks and almost always some water on the trail. Based off a previous 50 miler time, I estimated it would take me about 14 hours.
The race started at 6am and it was still dark out. I quickly realized my headlamp was nowhere near as amazing as everyone else's and was thankful for the light of those behind me 😂❤️ I got to my first drop bag and made my first mistake--I took my gloves off and left them in that bag. More on that later
As it warmed up I got changed with the help of my @orangemud towel from @fleetfeetcharleston. The first 38 miles were pretty uneventful. The trail was beautiful and easy to maneuver. I only saw one stranger and one snake. I didn't trip on any roots. With the exception of one 2 hour stretch where for some reason I didn't drink much--I nailed my running nutrition and stuck to my fueling plan. Tailwind Endurance Fuel provided the majority of my carbs and I added in some @sourpatchkids watermelons, @goldfishsmiles, pretzels, PBJ, and GoGo Squeeze pudding pouches.
At about 10 hours in my watch died I wasn't looking at pace or mileage but the watch had the course on it which meant if I took a wrong turn my watch wasn't going to yell at me. Which was fine during the day but it was going to be dark soon and I really didn't want to run with my phone in my hand and have to keep looking at it to make sure I was still on course. I made it to a drop bag right before dark and got my headlamp out of my back and put on some compression calf sleeves for warmth but damn it made my legs feel FRESH🙌
After the sun went down I put on my Patagonia Houdini jacket to help keep some warmth in but I quickly started to get real cold. Miles 40-50 were brutal. It was cold. It was dark and I was over it. I decided that when I got to the drop bag at mile 50 that I was quitting and that was final.
Well I rolled up to the drop bag and a volunteer had a FIRE going. I sat down on the ground and had myself a solid pity party. There was no way I was leaving this fire. He told me I wasn't allowed to quit and gave me a winter hat and socks to wear as gloves until I could get to mine. The socks were his kids knee high trampoline socks and they saved me.
I started off down the trail shivering like crazy because the fire warmed me up and now I was away from it and really cold----and my headlamp died ☠️At this point I feel like the universe is asking me to quit. Luckily I packed a power bank and the cord was long enough that I could tuck it in my pack and it didn't bounce around at all🙌 I had 5 miles until the next drop bag and then 7 miles from that bag until the finish line. It felt doable. The next 5 miles went smoothly and when I got to that last drop bag I pounded a few nutter butter cookies and was EXCITED🥳 Just 7 more miles. Or so I thought.
Remember how my watch died--well that came back to bite me in the butt. I took a turn and realized it was not the right direction so I turned around but I went back down the trail from the direction I had just come--I'm guessing about a mile in the wrong direction.
I ran back and then came to another fork in the trail. I went down the one marked with orange tape which is what we were told to look for. I ran about a half mile and for some reason decided it didn't feel right🤷🏼♀️ At this point I had been out there for probably 16 hours and could have used some caffeine but I don't tolerate it super well and did not use it in training so I didn't have any.
I run in the morning in the dark but never at night. There's something about being in the woods at night alone that creeps me out. I didn't practice this in training because I didn't anticipate being in the dark for more than an hour or so. My headlamp was hitting all the little spiders eyes and it looked like the trail was lit up with Christmas lights. I was torn between listening to music or not. I didn't necessarily want to hear all the sounds of the woods at night but I did want to be aware of my surroundings. I did end up keeping music on but turned it down very low and I wear Aftershockz so they weren't in my ear which allowed me to hear just enough.
I was starting to make really dumb choices. I turned around and ran back and then ran down the other trail only to realize I was right the first time. I finally crossed over the highway and it was time for another round of dumb choices. No markings indicated that I should be turning but I turned anyways. Just randomly into the woods only to once again realize I messed up. My mental game was pretty much shot. Another extra mile ran. I got back on the road and found the correct spot to turn back into the woods. I saw the 4 mile marker and I just put my head down and cried and cussed and kept moving forward. I hadn't seen any other mile markers and it felt like I had been running for a little so I was pretty scared I was going to look up and see a mile marker that said 3 and if that happened I knew I was going to lose it. Next time I looked up I saw the most glorious number ever--1!!! 1 mile to go. I ran. And cried and cussed some more and finally saw Chad and a blazing fire. Mentally that was the hardest race I've ever done. I made some dumb mistakes and my watch dying (it's supposed to last 25hours) really hurt me during those last miles when I needed to not rely on my brain.
I finished in 18:21 which was WAY over what I expected. My watch dying and then getting lost in the dark because of that plus my need for some caffeine but being too stubborn and scared to take it--are what added that extra time. I got mad when I was out there longer than I anticipated and that mindset did not do me any favors.
Things I would do differently next time:
-Keep essentials on me the whole time (gloves, warmer layer of clothes) instead of putting them in drop bags
-Get a new watch?? I use the Garmin Fenix 6s and reached out after the race and they walked me through some things and we figured out I had both satellite systems running and that was likely the culprit on my watch dying so early but I'm still a little hesitant. I have been wearing Garmin FOREVER though
-Practice using caffeine during training runs even when I may not need it so I feel more comfortable and know what I can tolerate for race day when I may need it
-Get a new headlamp (already did that and love this one)
-Practice running at night in the dark in the woods
-Have the mindset that it will take me as long as it takes and not get fixated on a goal time
Sign ups are open for this year and I'm considering doing the 105 mile option! I'm a glutton for punishment!
Kayla Fitzgerald is a Registered Dietitian & Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and founder of Endurance Nutrition located in Charleston, South Carolina. She works with clients from all over through 1:1 nutrition coaching, small group coaching, and online courses. Her goal is to help you fuel your body for whatever the day has in store whether it's a 100 mile race or getting through the work day.