“I’ve got a bad feeling about this..” was the only quote that came to mind going into the SwimRun NC race. Despite my best efforts to be prepared, with previewing the course, training pretty consistent and everything else I could do, it only took a sprinkling of real life to get in the way and attempt to derail things. Life can be funny that way, throwing you curve balls and all. Heck, sometimes it can be downright cruel.
Right after the SwimRun VA race in Richmond, VA, I headed home to be with Mom as she went into surgery. I won’t go into too much detail, but I HAD to be there, because it’s family. You know how that goes. Even though sleeping in a hospital chair off and on over the next 10 days (not to mention all the driving) and the stress of worry put up a huge brick wall approaching the final days before the race, I don’t regret it for a millisecond. Quality time was spent with all of my family, and frankly, sometimes that has to take a precedence over everything else.
So, as we all gathered at the Green Heron Ale House for the race briefing, the butterflies began to start. There was nothing I could do now but give it my best shot.
SwimRunNC, if you read their website, was the brainchild of Jan Kriska and Jeff Beckelhimer. Although this is true, Herbert Krabel had his paws in on it, too. With those three minds together
, they had created an awesome race and I was really looking forward to it.
I won’t make this post any longer than it needs to be with re-explaining what SwimRun is all about. If you know me, you already know I’m not one for short posts, so why make it longer? Having done a bunch of these swimrun things, you check out my post about the Rockman (swimrun race in Norway) or my OtillO (swimrun world championships in Sweden) post on how swimrun came about from a drunken bet. Katie Tobin even did a pretty darn good writeup that should give beginners an idea of where to start, equipment and what-not.
But, a quick overview of the SwimRun NC race is definitely in order. It starts at the Green Heron (right next to Dan River), and the goal is to run all the way to the top of Hanging Rock and back. The 11 run sections (total 14 miles) are all TECHNICAL, single-track trail except for the gravel road start and a short run through a paved parking lot. All but one of the 9 swims (total 2 miles) are in the lake, smack dab in the middle of Hanging Rock State Park. The final swim is downstream in the Dan River. Of course, strictly following swimrun rules, you have to race with a partner and both of you have to stay together. My victim for this race was Caleb Baity and it was his first swimrun. We raced under the name of GU Crew.
To give you an idea of the elevation and distance, this photo was taken from the Dan River bridge about 100 yards from the start. You can see the top of Hanging Rock waaaaay off in the distance. That peak you see is where we have to climb up to and then back down to the start. That’s the race. Easy peasy, right? (gulp)
Caleb and I had been here several times over the past couple of months to check out portions of the race course and to sample some of the microbrews they had on tap at the Green Heron. With over a dozen microbrews on tap, the beer was a tasty motivator, so as we lined up with the rest of the racers, we commented on having one when we got back.
At the start of the race, the air temp was in the low 50s and the water was advertised at 59 degrees. The only section of gravel road was at the start. Once we left the parking lot, we ran down the gravel to the trailhead giving a great opportunity for the racers to spread out a bit.
At the first road crossing, we didn’t stop to take on fluids, but took some on the run.
The run from the start included many cool rock formations and a small waterfall we had to run up. Here’s a couple of pics from a training run.
But one of the coolest parts of the race course was the larger falls that included some hand-over-hand climbing and beautiful scenery. Here’s Team Tiger Cub, the winning mixed team, made up of Lawrence (L) and Jaime Brede (R) showing how to tackle some of the terrain.
This leads you up to a larger waterfall that you have to traverse before continuing your hand-over-hand-climb. Some racers went behind the water, while others took the quickest line which was right through it. Here’s winning female team, Have We Met, Misty Beccera (L) and Sophia Chadwick (R) taking the fast route. True to their team name, these two fast ladies met for the first time the day before the race.
Continuing the climb consisted of another water fall a little higher along with more tough, technical climbing. Once clearing all of that, we had to run up railroad tie steps that lead to the parking lot of the Hanging Rock Park visitors center. Here, Amy Nalven (L) and Bettina Shepard (R) of team Jersey Rocks, navigates the climb. Can you guess where they’re from?
Long-time friends Sean Marvin and Rick Carter from team Palmetto Off-road show how it’s done on one of the rocky climbs
Once through the parking lot and across the road, we approached the lake where there was a feed station / water stop. Since we would come through this same water stop 6 times, quite a few friends, family and spectators had camped out to watch the show. There was music and an announcer (see pic below) to add to the entertainment. At this point, we were in about 5th place.
The above picture is a view from the dam where the swim entry and feed station was set up. We had to do a 500 meter swim to the end of the lake and then a trail run back to the dam. On the way back there was another short 25 meter swim across a cove and a steep technical descent down to the spillway and back up to the feed station. Once completing one of these “laps”, we’d do it again before continuing our climb up to the top of Hanging Rock. If you’re keeping count, that’s 1050 meters before going up. On the way back down from Hanging Rock, we’d have to do the two “laps” again for another 1050 meters
Caleb and I decided to use a tether in the swim since I tend to be a stronger swimmer. In the first 500, I pulled back a little and tried to get the shoulders warmed up before going hard. In the second lap, I pulled much harder.
The descent down to the spillway was almost straight down. To add insult to injury, there are numerous roots that tried to grab toes which would not end well. The race directors had put out a rope for us to use, but we took our chances on running/sliding/falling down it each lap.
At the bottom, there was a very large boulder we ran across which made for some great photos. In classic Caleb fashion, he took advantage of the opportunity to goof off a bit. I would have too, but I was breathing too hard to give the photographer any time.
The climb out was almost as steep and really got your quads burning and heart rate jacked up. At the top was the feed station where all the action was. You could hear the music and announcing all the way across the lake.
I loved the atmosphere at the feed station. Everyone was cheering and the volunteers were going out of their way to help in any way they could. All of the racers we encountered were having a great time. Since it was a multi-lap section of the course, we had an opportunity to mingle in with other racers even though we were in the lead group.
Sifting through the pictures, these two stood out to me for some reason. I think they capture the atmosphere of things. Check out Tagg LeDuc (L) and Reeli Reinu (R) having a blast.
Rachel Dolan (L) and Katie Tobin (R) of team #Rageon getting some high fives from the spectators.
After our two laps of the swim, Caleb and I proceeded our long climb up to the top of Hanging Rock. We made our way up to the campground with 3 teams passing us in the process of us getting our wetsuits situated. After passing the campground, we started up the single track trail that also consisted of an advertised 642 steps. I didn’t count them, but I’ll take their word for it. Many of these steps ranged anywhere from 8-12 inches in height and some were made from railroad ties while most of the others were made from surrounding stones.
By the time we hit the steps, I was having a hard time. My heart rate was through the roof and I could hear every thump, thump, thump in my ears. I kept having to take short power-walk breaks to try and get it to come down. The whole time, Caleb was trying to keep my frustration down and spirits up. He was barely breathing hard. We made it to the top and took a short break to snap a photo.
Running down was much more technical than the ascent, but I didn’t mind at all as I finally started to feel like I was in my element. The more technical a trail is, the more fun I have running it. They say racing is mind over matter and I began to believe that on the downhill, technical run. I was having such a good time mentally, I completely forgot about how I was feeling physically. We passed several teams on the way down.
Arriving back at the lake, my provided, red swim cap split in half when I went to put it back on. Caleb handed me the spare he was carrying and I threw it on right after we got tethered back up. Despite the low temps, my bald noggin felt as hot as Miami in July.
The cold water felt great and got my body temp back down to where it needed to be. Caleb did a great job staying on my shoes, even tapping them several times throughout the two laps of swimming.
Jan Kiska (seen below) and his crew of volunteers did a great job taking care of folks at the feed station. Here he is asking me how I’m doing and if I need anything. He also confirmed for us that we were in 4th place. His enthusiasm every time we saw him was high and exciting.
Caleb and I continued our downhill run trying our best to catch the folks in front of us. Several times I overran what my feet would allow and I’d end up face planting on the trail, doing my best to do a TJ Hooker combat roll. I began to tire out a bit while Caleb kicked it in.
All the way down, we didn’t see anyone. Caleb even tried to trick me twice saying that he saw someone behind us or in front of us. Sorry bud, I know those games. Once we reached the Dan River, we finally caught a glimpse of the first two teams swimming downstream as we were running on the bank upstream to the entry. Upon arriving at the entry to the river, we saw the 3rd place team beginning their swim.
The Dan River is barely a river and more of a large creek. Portions of it were too deep to run while other portions were too shallow to swim. Complicating it were some pretty jagged, slippery rocks.
It was quite comical to see the two teams duking it out going down the Dan River. I’d be swimming with Caleb 15 feet to my right running. I’d hit a shallow part and start running while he was swimming. The other team, Chad Holderbaum and Matt Mauclair, seemed to be doing the same. No matter which mode we picked, we were all going about the same speed.
We managed to overtake the them by the time we could see the finish, but not by much. The picture below was taken by someone at the bottom of the finish line. Caleb and I are in the water swimming while Chad and Matt are running.
We stood up and ran the final section to the steps.
We made it to the steps and ran up to the finish line to finish third overall.
This was a GREAT race. Jan Kriska, Jeff Beckelhimer and Herbert Krabel all went out of their way to make this race outstanding. One of the things that makes it stand out, in my mind, is how they kept everyone informed. Throughout the year, we were constantly getting updates, recommendations on gear to use, links to videos on gear preparation, photos and videos on the course and more. It is, by far, the most information I’ve received on a race in a long time.
The course was fun, challenging and very well marked. At every one of the confusing intersections or key points of the race, there were volunteers to direct you where to go. The feed station with announcing at the lake was a really good idea and pulled friends and family into the race from a spectator standpoint. Upon finishing, there was free food, free beer and other goodies. Heck, they even brought back the GOOD gummy bears from Germany. There IS a difference.
Every racer received a Boco technical trucker cap and socks from Farm to Feet. Volunteers received some goodies too including a sweet hoodie. The top two teams in each division (male team, female team and mixed team) walked away with cash and the third place in the divisions got free shoes from Inov-8. The trophies were pretty cool and featured the actual elevation chart from the race.
BIG, BIG congrats to the top two teams who came from the US Naval Academy Triathlon Team. As an Air Force vet, I salute you boys and wish you well in your careers. Below is the winning team, Daniel Kasberg and Daniel Lloyd.
Congrats to my good friend, Misty Becera and new friend, Sophia Chadwick on taking the first place female team spot.
As for the mixed team, the first place spot goes to Lawrence and Jaime Brede.
If you want to give swimrun a try, but don’t want to take a big leap with racing overseas, you should DEFINITELY give this one a try. It’s a little more geared towards runners, since the ratio of swimming is lower, than some of the other swimrun races. So, if swimming isn’t your strength, then this may be a good one for you.
I will say that it’s not an easy race, however, as I was completely and utterly spent when I was done. Thanks Caleb for putting up with my sub-optimal output. It’s been a long season and this was a tough race to cap it off with.
As for me, I am putting this one high on the list of races when it comes to planning my 2017 calendar.
If you want to check out more AWESOME pictures, head over to Brian Fancher’s Flickr from the race, the SwimRun NC Flickr page or the shared, group album where a ton of folks dumped some outstanding photos.
If you want more information on the race itself (which you know you want to do), head over to the SwimRun NC website, which has good info, but the BEST information is continually posted on the SwimRun NC Facebook page.
Race Recap: Swimrun NC
Location: Hanging Rock State Park, NC
Date: October 30, 2016
Distances: 11 runs, 9 swims, 14 miles of running, 2 miles of swimming
Result: 3rd Overall
Products used: GU Roctane, Inov-8 Terraclaw 250 shoes, First Endurance Multi-V.