North Carolina | Hittin’ the Trails of Medoc

Just a few weeks after Maui, I was back at it again. Planning races so close together wasn’t the best idea, but after poor showing in Hawaii, I was more than ready to get things back on track. This time however, I was switching it up a little bit. For this marathon, I was getting off the road and hitting some great trails. Now this wasn’t always the way North Carolina was planned. There was a little hiccup in the planning that landed me in Hollister, North Carolina, running up and down Medoc Mountain.

Race: Medoc Marathon
Location: Hollister, NC
Date: 10/17/2015
Finishing Time: 4:56:11
When checking out races to do in North Carolina, I had originally planned to run the Greensboro marathon. My brother in law lives just outside Greensboro, so it seemed liked the perfect race in terms of travel. A little over a month before the race date, the Greensboro marathon posted on their Facebook page that they were having to cancel the event. The reasons they gave were due to low registration numbers but more importantly, a lack of interest in the local community for the event. This was a total bummer. Kaela and I had already planned the trip to NC to visit her brother and family, but I was hoping to get a race in as well. I did some searching online and came across a trail marathon in Hollister, NC.
I had lived in North Carolina for 10 years as a kid and never once heard of Hollister. Come to find out it was only an hour from where I grew up and about 2 1/2 hours from where we were going to be staying. I had reached out to their contact email to go over my situation with Greensboro marathon and also to find out what the proceeds of the race went towards (remember I only support races that give back in one way or another). I heard back within the same day from the race director with a little overview of the race and how they help the local parks in their area. He was bummed to hear that a community wasn’t coming around the event in Greensboro and offered me a discount code to get the normal pricing (instead of late registration) for their race if I decided to participate. As I read the email, I was mentally deciding that I was going to register, but when the race director went out of his way to be even more inviting, that was the icing on the cake and I registered the next day!
Since the race was on a Saturday, we left on Ohio on Thursday evening and drove overnight to NC. Quick unrelated side note. On the drive down I listened to game 5 of the NLDS as my Mets closed out the Dodgers to head to the NLCS. Lets just say I may have woken Kaela up a few times from either punching the steering wheel in frustration or screaming in celebration. Okay, back on point. I spent Friday relaxing, carb loading, and playing with my niece. Since we were no longer going to a race that was 15 minutes away, we made sure to get to bed at a decent time, as a 4:00am alarm comes quick.
Beware of Medoc

“Stop this train, I want to get off and go home again…”, somehow John Mayer as your 4:00 am alarm sound makes it somewhat better. Since we had the 2 1/2 drive I was able to get my final carbs in on the road rather than waking up earlier. We made it to Medoc Mountain State Park about an 45 minutes before the start of the race. This is one thing I love about small trail races. There is no need to stand around for an hour in a coral. We just line up behind a banner and wait for the starting siren to go off.

The Medoc marathon consisted of three 8 1/2 mile loops utilizing the trails throughout the park. From the start, we headed out on a short out and back that would help round out the needed distance that the loops wouldn’t provide. It was a funny thing to start a trail marathon with 1/2 mile of paved road but I think it did help me find a decent stride to keep my legs fresh and loose before heading off on the trails. For those not familiar with trail running, paying attention to the terrain and trail, as well as, your pacing, will be what gives you best shot at success. Since this was a late fall race, the trails were completely covered in leaves which can cause some slippery conditions, especially on a cool damp morning like it was.
Short road portion at start
I used the first mile to get accustomed to trails and to be mindful of the steps I needed to take. The trail didn’t start off very technical, I just had to pay attention to the leaves and the occasional hole made by local wildlife. Just before mile 2 we made the accent to summit of Medoc mountain. Now we will call it a mountain because that’s what they call it, but a mountain in central North Carolina is really just a good sized hill. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an easy hill due to the grade but “mountain” may be a stretch. Once at the top I coasted down the long downhill into the first aid station. I grabbed a few pretzels and kept on moving. Weaving in and out, up and down, I made my way the next few miles
All smiles the first time I saw Kaela

Kaela was able to find a nice spot on the course and setup with a tailgate chair, so she could see me on each lap. The first time I saw her was just after mile 5. For this pass I just gave a smile and an “I love you” as I passed by with a group of 5 or 6 runners. There is something about trail running that brings out the conversations between runners. Usually on road races, the most conversation I have is just a few thoughts based off a spectators sign, or maybe something funny we saw on the course. But on the trails deep conversations are had and you actually meet and learn some things about complete strangers. Over the next few miles we shared running stories and had a few laughs.

With my “group”

The trail seemed pretty consistent technically, with no real surprises popping out at you. Well unless you count the life size “Medoc” pictures the race directors had hidden in amongst the trees! The “Medoc” is the mascot/legend for the park and the event (picture above before the race was with him) and they had strategically placed large cutouts of it on the course to give you a little pep in your step. We ran up and down some more rolling hills before coming the the dreaded staircase. There were about 50-60 steep stairs that bottle necked us to make sure no one slipped on the way down. I thought about how fun these were going to be on the next two laps.

After a few more climbs we made it to the campground area where we hit some paved road again. It was nice to get some of the dirt from under my shoes and also to get some stable ground for my feet. It wasn’t a long period as before you knew it we were back on the trail. As we entered there was a volunteer that just kept saying “keep an eye out for the root.” By the time I processed what she had said, I came up right on it. It was a large root coming out of the ground and “floating” about 4 inches high off the ground. My guess is something ate it hard and they decided probably better for someone to inform others from following in those footsteps.
Quick down and up and there I was, getting ready to start my second loop. I looked down at my watch and realized that I had blown through that first loop in just over 90 minutes. My goal for this race was sub 5 since on some technical trail and I was way ahead of that goal. I passed through the aid station, grabbing some gummy bears, pretzels and refilling my water bottle, before heading back out.
Attacking the hill, Second time seeing Kaela

Since I was well on pace for my goal, I took the second lap a little easier. I walked the steep uphills and coasted through the flats and downhills. At this point I was mostly running alone, with the occasional person I caught. Running alone helped me focus in on my surroundings and really take in the things I missed on the first lap while having conversations. On this lap, I saw Kaela just before mile 14 and I had stopped for some quick nutrition.  I cruised through the second lap in 90 minutes. As I came into the final aid station before starting my third lap, a special visitor caught the corner of my eye. My mom was just cheering and taking pictures just before the aid station. She had told me that she may be able to make it out as she happened to be in North Carolina that same weekend visiting family. The only issue was that Kaela and I had lost cell phone service about 20 minutes before making it to the state park so we had no way of keeping in touch with her to see if she was going to make it.

3rd time seeing Kaela

On the third lap, my legs really started to feel the wear of the trail and the hills. Pace slowed down quite a bit when running and walking up the hills took a little longer than before. I felt good and strong though that I was going to be able to keep moving forward at a decent pace. I met Kaela for the last time around mile 22 and got down what nutrition I could stomach at that point. I made it up and down the rolling hills, down the staircase (which was brutal on this final lap), before picking up the pace in final stretch. I crossed the finish at 4:56:11. Kaela and my mom were at the finish to congratulate me. I received my medal, my awesome finishers half zip sweatshirt, and talked to a few people I met on the course to find out how they finished and wish them good luck on their next race. I visited the food tent, grabbed some chili and snacks and sat in the grass to relax and eat.

This race is exactly what I needed after Hawaii. It was an amazing course with great support from all the volunteers, especially at the aid stations. People had told said in reviews and also while talking on course, that even though it’s a 3 lap course, each lap has a different look and feel. I couldn’t agree more with this statement. The first lap I spent chatting away and really enjoyed company. The second lap I was alone more often than not, and was able to really see the beauty of the park and trails. The third lap I wondered a bit more in my heavy legs and discomfort; second guessing  if I missed my turn and ended up off course. All in all, hitting the trails brings an inner peace within me, and that was exactly what I needed.

I didn’t have time to just sit around and be lazy, the next scheduled race was just 8 days later. We were heading to Arlington, Virginia to run with the Marines!

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