Without Limits had a great weekend up at SwimRun NC Hanging Rock. We all competed in the 3rd year of the SwimRun NC event. The weather was perfect, low 50s in the morning and 60s at the end of the race. Friday before the race was dreary with cold rain and wind which dropped the water temps to an easy mid-50s. Between the air and water temperatures it set out to be a perfect race day. We had 8 teams up at the event and it was awesome to see so many Without Limits athletes enjoying themselves. Originally I wasn’t going to race and just head up to camp, take pictures, and help out as a volunteer, however a few weeks ago I was asked to fill in for a female team who lost her team member. I joined up with Misty Becerra who won the 2016 event with Sophia (who I replaced this year). I met Misty 3 year ago in Sweden when Jenny Ledford and I went over to compete in OtillO. Our (maybe more mine) goal was to have fun and finish SwimRun NC. I mentioned to Misty that I really didn’t want to the pressure of winning since I had been crawling in flooded houses for the last month helping others recover from Hurricane Florence. Focused training wasn’t something I wanted or needed. I did one long run of 16 miles on FLAT grounds and that wrecked me so I was uncertain about my endurance as this race averages a 4:30-45 finish time.
Friday we set up camp in the rain and went to bed fairly early because there wasn’t much else to do in the rain after dark 🙂
Saturday we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and hike-jog up to Hanging Rock. Misty had never seen the view or been on that trail. The race course does not cover that part of the park.
We took some pictures, checked the amazing view out and then headed back down to check out the lake. The water was chilly, that we confirmed 🙂 We took the trails back to the campsite were we cleaned up, ate lunch, and then made our way to packet pickup and the pre-race meeting. It was great to be at the Green Ale House as we were greeted by Jeff and Herbert (Race Directors) and they were both full of smiles and excitement. Our gear was checked over and we picked up our bibs, swag, good luck notes from the kids, and caps. We were ready. After talking with Misty we agreed that she would lead most the race and definitely on all the swims as she was the stronger swimmer. I added a new goal to my list… fly down the Moore’s Wall trail which is a very technical decent with an average -8.3% grade. We agreed we both would carry bare minimum nutrition and use what was on the course. We also agreed to tether on all the swims and tether on the runs were we needed each others strength. It worked out very well. We chatted with other Without Limits teams and shared stories about what race day will bring. The pre-race meeting was to the point and great for new athletes. After the meeting we went back to our campsite made our fire, ate dinner, and went over our gear and tentative race plan for race day. I still had no intentions of winning and really wanted Without Limits team members Jennifer Devers and Bridget Philips to win. Those ladies trained super hard for this event and they were in great shape. I went to sleep anxious and mind racing ready to play as hard as I could on Sunday.
Sunday morning came quick. We woke up, made coffee and ate some breakfast. The morning was cool and perfect. Our cars we loaded with our gear and we took off for the start. As we were getting dressed and suited up I kept thinking to myself ‘I should really warm up’. As a coach I always tell my athletes in cooler weather it takes a little longer sometimes to warm up and feel good, ya well that’s the truth for me and I didn’t do that race morning and paid for it. Shout out to Massimo as I saw him warming up, nice work! Everyone was lining up and we had about 5 minutes to the start of the race. I told Misty I didn’t want to start fast because I would blow up and didn’t want to do that the first 4 miles UP HILL. The gun went off and boy did we take off. I have no idea how fast we were going except for the fact that I wanted to throw up my breakfast at one point. Here is my one piece of advise for athletes on this course… either practice going out fast and know your skill level of ascending fast out the gate OR ease into the first 4 miles and let the crazies go. I promise you’ll have time to catch up if you can fly downhill. Misty was patient and offering gentle pushes and pulls as my heart rate felt like it was 200+. We were getting passed left and right by teams and had no idea who was in front of us. Cam and Dean were one of the WOL teams that passed us and I distinctly remember Cam offering to switch teammates since Dean was pulling him. I honestly considered it.. Cockrum and Shane were the next WOL team to catch up, they were full of smiles (at that point, ha). We ended up walking some up the hills because I just couldn’t catch my breath. I kept saying ‘Please God get me to the lake, everything will be better once I can swim…’ We finally made it to the lake and man I felt instantly better. Misty and I are very strong swimmers and worked together well. We drank and ate every time we hit an aid station. Even on cool days its important to fuel and hydrate well to perform well. We tethered up, had a quick transition and took off swimming. We blew by people in the water and my heart rate was finally coming back down to where I knew I could perform at my best. As we came around the lake for our second swim it was hard to tell which teams were on their first or second swim. We hit the water quick and swam fast passing even more teams. Once out of the water we grabbed some nutrition for our climb up the 600+ steps to Moore’s Wall. During this run is when we were told we were now the first place female team. I told Misty let’s not focus on that and to keep moving as fast as we can, again I didn’t want the pressure of winning :). Climbing stairs is something I was really good at (I trained to climb 4,444 earlier this year for Rockman SwimRun). Now that I was finally warmed up and not wanting to puke I lead this part and pulled Misty along. Misty wasn’t feeling the hottest at this point but stayed strong and followed my steps as we climbed. Once we made it up to the top we took our team picture, snagged some water and took off to descend the mountain.
Without Limits teammates Bridget and Jennifer were seconds behind us and I knew they were strong runners and passed me on the decent last year. Remembering my goal of ‘must fly down mountain on technical trail as fast as possible without wrecking’ I committed and followed Misty. She was great on the downhill and I watched her feet. She’s an avid adventure and XTERRA racer so her skills were fantastic. As we jumped from rock to rock, root to root we blazed down the trail moving faster than I ever have it was exhilarating yet terrifying at the same time. Race Director Herbert was out there too capturing teams on this decent and got some really great shots (so check them out if he posts!). Not one team passed us, what?!?! How exciting and goal accomplished. Once we got to some flatter grounds we knew the lake was coming up again and we prepared to transition back to a swim. For me that was zip up my wetsuit, unhook my paddles, and take another gel so I get just get fluids through the lake aid station. We crushed both swims again, passing more teams and building an even bigger lead over the next female team. Ok, confession, from this point forward my goal changed from finishing to winning. We actually had a very good chance of it especially if we kept pushing. There was a new small waterfall section added on this year that made the run course longer. I honestly, don’t remember a thing about it except for the fact it was all downhill = ALL uphill coming back up. My legs were pretty toasted at this point with climbing. I’ll have to come back to Hanging Rock to check that section out not racing :).
After that small add on we took off through the visitor parking lot and back down to the river. Save your legs for this section as its not too aggressive but you can move pretty fast through the last run. There are several stream crossings and a couple of smaller gradual climbs, think solid rollers. This is were endurance really comes in. You need strength to climb early on, strength to descend and then endurance to finish. I was super tired at this point and started to get tripped up. Thankfully no bad falls just stumbles. Misty really pulled me through this section and I know I wouldn’t have gutted it out if it weren’t for her. Plus I did still wanted to win 🙂 We heard some girls behind us and I told Misty let’s not be bothered by it. They eventually caught us and it was two mixed teams… phew we were still the lead females. We ran with a guys team for the last 2 miles before our last swim down the river. The water was raging and was the highest I’ve ever seen it. We’ve had so much rain, it really was almost expected. Insanely fast swim. It was so high we barely hit any rocks. Towards the end we hit a few but to be expected as we climbed ashore. We did it, we won and broke 4 hours. 3:59 for about 15-ish miles of running and 2,900 meters of swimming. WOL teams stagged 1st and 2nd OA Female as Jennifer and Bridget grabbed 2nd place.
This is probably the funnest event I do every year. The race directors Herbert, Jan, and Jeff do an excellent job putting this event on. They are honest and genuine. They love the sport and love having a good time. This is a challenging course but most certainly a good time. SwimRun is hands down my favorite sport and if you can get into SwimRun NC put it on your race calendar for 2019.