Amy (shubbe) wrote,

SwimRun NC 2019 race report.

SwimRun Lake James in 2018 might have been the first swimrun that we did, but SwimRun NC was the race that first got me interested in swimrun. One of the features of the race is that they get some AMAZING photographers to come out and take pictures of the course and of the race, and when I saw some of those pictures after SRNC 2017, I fell in love.


This picture is from 2019. I'm far too lazy to go find one of the waterfall pictures from 2017 that sold me on the race.
Photo by Kai-Otto Melau.

(Editorial note: The amazing photographs in this race report are courtesy of Aaron Palaian, Kai-Otto Melau, and Richard Hill. Links go back to the SwimRun NC flickr page where they, and many other beautiful race photos, are posted. All other photos are mine or Meredith's, and the link goes back to my flickr. It won't be confusing which is which, trust me.)

It's also intimidating as hell, because it's a tough, run-heavy course, and they want to make sure everyone who signs up is ready for this challenge. So we started with Lake James, which is still tough, but swim-heavy, which plays more to our strengths. It was a great race for us to get our feet wet, literally and figuratively. But we knew we wanted to do NC at some point.

That's an intimidating elevation profile.

It was too close to Ironman Arizona 2018 to even consider (just kidding, Trista totally wanted to do it, but I'm the Adult in our swimrun partnership, and I said I didn't think we could give it the proper training it deserved, even if Coach Karen somehow gave us permission to do it), but Trista was able to go out and volunteer at the 2018 race, and check it out a bit. And also get us an in for 2019, because volunteering at the race gets you a spot in next year's race (I mean, assuming you otherwise meet their qualifications, which we hoped we did).

And so we registered for SRNC 2019! And a couple months before the race, we secured the services of one Coach Kristen, primarily in preparation for Rockman 2020 (I suppose I'll post about that eventually, but yes, we're registered for Rockman 2020 in Norway), but Kristen also has a ton of experience with SRNC that could help us get ready. And after a lot of swimrun bricks, strength workouts, and some stairs, we showed up at Hanging Rock State Park, NC, ready to run through some waterfalls, climb up a billion steps, and hopefully finish!

Each team also gets little good luck cards from kids at a local elementary school, which is ADORABLE and inspirational! They get to learn something about swimrun, too, and hopefully they'll do one eventually and someone will make THEM a good luck card! Thank you, Dominque!

Not only were we racing a fun race we'd been looking forward to, but we also got our whole Lake James swimrun crew back together again! We rented a really fun little (not little) cabin and spent the whole weekend laughing (and drinking) (mostly the drinking was after the race) (mostly).

Got the gang back together. #cabinlife #rockingtherockingchair

We picked up our gear at packet pickup, got a little shakeout run on the first part of the course, and were reassured that despite the threat of weather, they were going to do everything in their power to make the race happen if it was safe.

Pre Race “Before” Team Portraits
Packet pickup professional photos! Go, 215, Team Adorkable (but usually more appropriately referred to as Team Shitshow)!
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

I woke up several times during the night to the sound of pouring rain, but never heard any thunder. We were optimistic, and headed to the race site in the dark and in the rain.

Skull socks and game faces. SwimRun NC, here we come.
Matching (Swedish) shirts, matching (skull) socks.

As we pulled up, we saw Marcus, and we made a little joke about how he should be warming up (which some other teams were out doing). He told us he wasn't yet warming up, because there was a 30 minute start delay. Uhoh. Hopefully this wasn't going the way of SwimRun Georgia (which was very delayed, and then after we eventually got to start, was ultimately canceled for weather).

It's a good thing there was that 30 minute start delay, because it took an inexplicably long time to get through the portapotty line.

SwimRun NC 2019
Poop faster, people!

While the weather at the start line was drizzly to rainy, it was nothing to delay the race over. We thought maybe there was a cell headed our way, but then later heard that while it was fairly tame where we were, up at the top, where we were headed, and where volunteers were already stationed, it was stormy and windy and very unsafe. Fortunately the weather calmed down enough that they deemed it safe, and we were able to get started promptly at 8:30am.

SwimRun NC 2019
All suited up and ready to "race"!

Trista and I lined up at the very back, having no delusions that we were trying to anything but completion at this race, and took off at a nice, comfortable pace, letting everyone else slowly (or quickly) pull away ahead of us.

SwimRun NC 2019
The first part of the course, from our shakeout run the day before.

Oh, a little more about the weather. In addition to being rainy and dark, it was also 75 degrees. We had thought it was going to be in the mid 50s. It was definitely not in the mid 50s. It was .. oppressive. But this race was wetsuit-mandatory, so we had to go out in this warm, wet weather in our wetsuits. So as not to die, most people started the race wearing the bottom half of their wetsuits, but had the top unzipped and down at their waists. We did this, which wasn't the most comfortable thing, and was very awkward with all our gear, but worked out just fine. This is the first time we've run with our wetsuits down at our waists with the intention of putting them back on later in the race, I think. We were.. not good at it. But more on that later.

We had run this part the day before, so we knew the course took a sharp left off the gravel road and onto some really pretty single track. We'd run that single track the day before. Now we got to walk it.

The very large disadvantage of starting at the back. When there's congestion, the back gets the worst of it. We had a pretty major conga line for.. well, I really have no concept of how long. It felt like forever. We'd run a few steps, then the people in front of us would have to walk because the people in front of them were walking, and on up the line. It was frustrating, because this part was probably the most runnable part of the course, but it was also beautiful and green and lush and raining and Trista and I annoyed everyone in our vicinity by repeatedly yelling "OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS, THIS IS AMAZING".

Serial killer cabin in the woods that we ran by.
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

Other than walking and prettiness and some little stream crossings that showed us how cold the water was (it felt AMAZING and we were so excited to eventually get to swim in that cold water), this part was pretty uneventful. We hit an aid station at a road crossing and stopped for water. After that, people started to pull away from each other, and we were left alone. The rain had cleared up at this point and the sun was starting to come out and peak through the trees. We just enjoyed running through the beautiful forest for a while, until (dramatic music)...


I feel like doing a race based entirely on pictures of waterfalls is a recipe for setting yourself up for disappointment. How can it possibly live up to a year and a half of hype and anticipation?

Well, it was even better than I had anticipated. The only thing that could have been better than the actual experience of the waterfall section is having a gopro strapped to me so that I could share it with everyone. Because I can't do it justice with words.

And yes, there are photos, but that's mostly of the bigger, impressiver waterfall parts. What you can't really understand is how long this part goes on. I was anticipating "run under waterfall, maybe climb up a little bit of rock, done". Instead you climb and and scramble and run through water and over trees and hit your head on rock overhangs (maybe this was just me; Trista thought I brained myself, but it didn't even leave a mark! I was kinda hoping for "minor but bloody head wound" in case there were any photographers; alas), pull yourself up with ropes, splash through streams, climb up more cliff faces, and constantly exclaim "Is this REAL? We can't possibly be doing this!!"

This is Marcus and Caleb, who eventually won. Caleb presumably did not hit his head, but you can see how one might, if one is clumsy.
Photo by Kai-Otto Melau.

I imagine if you're up at the front, you try to get through this part as quickly as possible, because that's what one does in races. When you're back with us, it get congested again, because it's actually incredibly dangerous and so you don't want to rush and slip and end up incredibly injured in a place where you can't really easily be removed. But this time you don't care about the congestion, because it gives you more chance to just look around and marvel at the ridiculous thing you're doing.

Under a fallen tree and up through the water!
Photo by Kai-Otto Melau.

The female team in front of us had one relatively confident climber and one more cautious climber, so we were basically going her pace, just following along right behind her. Could we have asked to pass her at some point? Honestly not really. I mean, there wasn't really any place to do so, plus I'm not sure we would have gone appreciably faster, and she would have just ended up directly behind us. It wasn't a place or time to race. It was a time to just enjoy the hell out of it and laugh and try not to slip on the slippery rocks.

Oh, look, here we are! That's Trista and I waiting to head up the rock. I think I've got my hands out to boost the girl in front of me if she slides back. LOOK HOW MUCH FUN THAT IS!
Photo by Kai-Otto Melau.

You might get the impression this was my favorite part of the race. It absolutely was.

I mean, seriously.
Photo by Kai-Otto Melau.

But eventually it did end, and we were back on a normal, non-magical-waterfall trail. It was particularly non-magical because it was uphill, up some big short-leg-unfriendly steps, and through mediumish sharp decorative rocks that are very uncomfortable to run on. I briefly considered turning around and going back to sit under waterfalls again, but I figured Trista wouldn't appreciate that.

That trail dumped us into a parking lot (man, things went from magical to mundane really quickly!), and we realized that this was The Parking Lot That Portended The Impending First Swim. We'd been told that the parking lot was a good time to suit back up and get our swim gear on. We hoped this was the correct parking lot, and started trying to get our wetsuit tops back on and zipped.

This is not a skill we naturally possess.

Again, we were in a section of the course that is EXTREMELY runnable (paved parking lot), but we were walking because we could not manage to run while: getting our arms out of our singlets and working them up around our necks, pulling the wetsuit up to our shoulders while not messing up the buoy on our back or the belt (and in Trista's case tether) around our waist, making sure we had everything out of our shirt pockets that we needed before we sealed them forever under our wetsuits (for instance, we were storing our swim caps in our front shirt pockets, so that had to come out first, and then we had to figure out how to hold that while doing the rest of this), doing the yoga necessary to get our arms into the sleeves of our wetsuits (this required us assisting each other), getting the wetsuit zipped, and then putting on our swimcaps and goggles. There's a video of the first female team doing this, and it takes them about 4 seconds, while running. It took us about 5 minutes, while walking.

I actually questioned whether this was even the RIGHT parking lot, because the teams we could see ahead of us were running strong through the lot, not suiting up in any way. Maybe we were doing this VERY prematurely, and had another couple miles of running in hot wetsuits ahead of us? Ugh.

But no, on the other side of the parking lot, we headed down to.. the water! Ohyeah! SWIMMING! Every other swimrun we've done has maybe a 0.5-1.5 mile run as the first leg then the first swim. At NC we'd been running for 75 minutes at this point, and I had kinda forgotten that we were eventually going to have to swim.

But we were ready! We confidently ran past all those teams who hadn't gotten ready in the parking lot, and were now stopping at the lake to gear up. We headed straight for the water, and as we did, I heard the race announcer say over the PA, "Here comes team 215, Adorkables, Trista and Amy! They're skipping the aid station and going straight into the swim!" I was like, "Wait! Why are we skipping the aid station? We haven't had water in a really long time, and are hot and tired and really thirsty, we are being really dumb!" But we'd already committed to this course of action, and were at the water's edge, so we just waded in and started swimming.

I'm just kidding, of course. We never just wade in and start swimming, especially our first swim, especially after 75 minutes of tiring uphill running. Our transition wasn't TERRIBLE, but it took us a few seconds of gear checking to agree we were ready, and start swimming.

A little swim overview here. The race has 9 swims total, but it's really just one set of lake swims repeated 4 times, then a river swim at the end. I appreciate the RD making my race report simpler by setting things up this way.

First up a 500m swim across the lake. It was beautiful. It was full of gorgeous Fall leaves (I really prefer my leaves on the ground, and not in the water, constantly making me think I'm under attack by lake squid). And it was COLD.

Look at those colors!
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

It's possible we had good-naturedly complained right before the race that it was going to be SO WARM at the race, but it was still wetsuit-mandatory. So we had to run around with our wetsuits pulled down and be hot and miserable. Well, a couple minutes into that swim and we realized why it was wetsuit-mandatory. It was allegedly around 62 degrees, which isn't necessarily frigid, but it's notably very cold, and probably enough to make cold-sensitive swimmers hypothermic if they spend much time in there.

Fortunately, as cold-water-loving swimmers, Trista and I found it delightful, and Trista pulled us quickly through that swim, passing several other teams that had been just ahead of us on the run.

Er.. also, I realized halfway through that swim that evidently I'd never managed to get my wetsuit fully zipped in the parking lot, and over the course of that swim, it worked its way back unzipped and I was swimming with a nice water scoop catching all the water and slowing me down. The good news is, I was able to stay with Trista, so I didn't actually slow us down as a team at all. But man, that was frustrating. And extra cold.

After that, you climb out for a short, fairly tame run through some roots and mud, during which time Trista helped me get my wetsuit actually zipped back up, then back into the water again for a 25m hop across a little channel. I mean, you could almost jump it. (Not really.) When we saw it, we decided not to even bother tethering, and Trista didn't even use her buoy. Then you hop out of that swim and do another really short run to a terrible mudslide of a downhill. It was bad enough the first time, when only one round of wet people had churned it up. By the end, it was literally a glassy wall of slick mud.

Ooh, added this photo which was published after I'd already published my race report! Love that there's a photo!
Photo by Kai-Otto Melau.

Fortunately they had a rope tied to a tree at the top, and we could basically rappel down the mud, using a couple big roots to catch ourselves on the way down. It was sorta fun, sorta frustrating, very muddy. Fortunately we immediately ran through a little stream crossing with big rocks, and I dipped my hands in to rinse them off, since they were thoroughly mud-coated from the descent.

I think this is the dam after that muddy downhill. Most people evidently crossed up top there. We crossed through the water each time, because.. we didn't know we were supposed to go up top. On the plus side, I got to rinse my hands off! The last time we went through, we followed someone up top and were like "Oh! Is THIS what we're supposed to do!?" And then I had muddy hands, darnit.
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

What goes down must come up, and the other side had a hill that was completely un-noteworthy, except it was just steep enough to be very annoying, for a very short time. We trudged up, trying not to let our calves cramp, then when we got to the top we started back into a slow run. Except then Trista said, "I don't feel right. I think I feel dizzy. Maybe more like vertigo." So we immediately went back to walking again until that settled down a bit. We realized later, on hearing someone else talk about it, that this was probably the cold water causing her vertigo. Fortunately that didn't really happen again during the race. Scary stuff.

I think this is that unkind uphill. You can see how happy this person looks to be going up it.
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

After that hill tops out, you swing around and come back down around the lake again to that aid station we skipped on the way in. You can bet that we absolutely hit it this time, getting some water and eating a GU.

And THEN.. that whole thing over again. Back into the water for 500m swim, short run, 25m swim, mudslide, short uphill, aid station.

Nothing notable that round.

After completely the second swim loop, it was time to head for Moore's Wall! The climb up to the top of the elevation profile.

This was going to be a fairly long run, and a lot of uphill and steps, so we wanted to take off all the gear we could to stay cool. As we ran, we stripped off our swimcaps and goggles, following the teams in front of us up some stairs to a parking lot. We walked a bit in the parking lot as we tried to help each other get out of the arms of our wetsuit, and then when we got mostly settled and reached the other end of the parking lot.. we realized we had no idea where to go. We didn't see any ribbons or blazes or signs.

We kinda fanned out, us and the other two teams there, and just could not figure out where the trail had gone. After a minute of fruitless searching, one of the teams just struck off into the woods, hoping they'd figure it out.

We didn't trust that, so Trista and I headed back across the parking lot, back to where we'd last known we were for sure on the course. As we looked down the stairs from the parking lot, we saw other teams running along the path that continued along the lake. All those teams we'd passed on the swim were now running by as we groaned at ourselves for being lemmings, and ran back down the hill to the path. This was definitely our failing, not the course markings; this course was so well marked. Great job by the RDs and volunteers!

Okay, no problem, just a few minutes lost. Except as we were settling in and making sure we had all our gear stowed, I noticed I couldn't find my swimcap. ARGH. We went back a bit, asked around, but nobody had seen it. We had to declare it lost, and hope we could find another one with a volunteer or at an aid station in the future. I was freaked out because I thought that swimcap was on the list of "if you don't have it, you're disqualified" items (like wetsuit, whistle, etc), but Trista wasn't concerned. She's like "Whatever, we keep going". So we did.

Okay, NOW we were headed the right way to go to Moore's Wall. Except the trail was just sort of.. a trail. Not notably uphill. No stairs. Definitely no struggle causing any sort of existential crisis. I was cool with that, but evidently Trista felt like she was promised 2 miles of straight, nonstop uphill struggle to the top of Moore's Wall, and she was DAMNED if she was going to be denied it with this flattish nonsense! My partner, ladies and gentleman.

The good news for Trista is that it was only a short while later that things got truly terrible, and that continued for the next, as far as I can remember, 52 hours. Thanks, Trista.

Not that she was pleased by this development.

Everyone deals with stairs in their own way. This fact is really driven home when you have a partner race that goes steeply uphill for several miles.

I immediately just fell into my method of dealing with uphill stairs, which is a steady, fast-turnover, short-step climb, with a lot of groaning when I get to the "stairs" (to quote one Meredith Moore, "are they stairs or mini retaining walls?"). I glanced behind me, and Trista was there, so I just put my head down and started churning away. We passed some people. We passed more people. We passed a guy wearing a mixed jersey but with no partner, only to come on his partner waiting for him on the stairs a little higher up. Again.. people have different strengths, and it's very apparent in partner races, and everyone has to figure out how to deal with it.

Trista was not enjoying my method. Trista was not enjoying this uphill stairs bullshit. She started to fall further back from me, and I would get into my zone, then notice I couldn't hear her right behind me, so drop back so that I wouldn't be that team where they were split so far apart they weren't even really together anymore. Basically trying to balance pulling her up the hill with my momentum, and not being That Person who Trista would end up resenting and cursing behind my back.

This is not us, and almost certainly is not this part of the course, but it's really pretty, and this wall of text needs to be broken up a bit. I actually have no idea what this part of the course looked like, because I mostly looked at the ground.
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

I have no idea how well I did, but I made a lot of jokes about my stubby little corgi legs. Especially when another person from another team strode up beside me like I was standing still with her dumb beautiful long gazelle legs. Grrr.

Eventually Trista noticed that there were markers on the trees that told us how many stairs we had gone up. They appeared every 100 stairs, and we knew we had more than 600 stairs to go up, so that gave us at least some indication of how far we had to go.

And we just trudged and trudged and trudged. After a while I was having to put one foot up on the mini retaining wall, put my hand on my quad, then push down. I told Trista this was gonna be the part that made me sore the next day. I think she grunted at me.

As we neared the top, either when we were around 600 stairs or just after, I heard Trista behind me talking to someone. And then Meredith appeared beside me, then passed me, in full Little Engine That Could mode. Trista asked if Laura was with her, and she said she was just behind her.

Which is how, 2.5 hours into our race, all four of us ended up at the top of Moore's Wall, the only location with a guaranteed photographer, all at the same time. I don't think we could have possibly planned it so that that happened, and it was an amazing, wonderful coincidence.

First we got some water from the amazing volunteers up there. There's no elevator or escalator or gondola to get up there, so those volunteers had to hoof it up there just like we did, and someone had to drag a ton of water up there. Because of that, we were instructed to only take one cup of water, to make sure there was enough for all the racers. It hurt, because man, we wanted ALL THE WATER after that climb.

Then we got our first wristband! We had to collect 3 different wristbands over the course of the race, to prove that we made it to the far points of the course. Since Trista was in charge of the tether, I put myself in charge of the wristbands. (And the timing chip.)

Then we headed over to the edge of the cliff for our photo op. Yes, it's a race, and no, technically we didn't have to go over and have our picture taken, but I think everyone from first to last stopped and had it done. I mean, look how far up we climbed! Look at that view! You want to commemorate that.

Top of Moore's Wall!
Photo by Richard Hill.

My squad, in our skull socks.
Photo by Richard Hill.

And then it was time to go back down! First half up, last half down.
Evidently he took a picture of our butts as we walked away, so of COURSE I'm going to include it.
Photo by Richard Hill.

Remember how Trista hated that slog uphill? NOW Trista was in her comfort zone. Her happy place. She is a fearless and confident descender, and even though there were some sketchy bits on this descent, she just flew down. I tried to stay with her, but my ankles were tired and slightly unstable, my vision was terrible with the dappled sunlight, and while I can hold my own on a descent, it's definitely not my strong suit. Trista had to wait for me to catch up a few times as I picked my way down stuff she just flew over. Damn corgi legs. Good for trudging up, not good for sproinging down.

But it was fun! We were running along a ridgeline through the trees, and I think Trista literally went "WHEEEEE!!!!!" about 20 times on that descent. At some point we ended up pulling ahead of Meredith and Laura, and by the time we got to flat ground again so I could look behind us, they were nowhere to be seen.

Of course it wasn't all joyous downhill. We hit a few uphills in there, and we were like "What is THIS bullshit?! It's supposed to be all downhill!" I said, "Wait, let's consult the elevation profile. Do we have anything with the elevation profile on it? Yes! Your singlet, Trista! Oh. Yeah. There's some little uphills in the second half. Dammit." Handy to have the elevation profile on your shirt!

The only other notable thing during this downhill section is my shirt developed a black hole.

We did much better with nutrition at this race than we've done in any swimrun so far. Mostly because Trista would start obsessing about taking a GU roughly 2 minutes after eating her last one. That's only a mild exaggeration, but the end result was that by the time we got our act together and got water out, it ended up being every 30-50 minutes that we'd take in calories. Just about perfect.

On the way back down from Moore's Wall, Trista said she was gonna take a GU. I had lashed my nutrition wagon to her star, so I went to grab one, as well. I didn't have any left in the leg pocket of my wetsuit, which I thought I did, and was a little concerning since we had so much race left, but no worries, I had stuffed two in my Kangaroo shirt in case I needed extras. Except.. I couldn't find them.

Now there's only two pockets in this shirt. And they're sizable, but they have bottoms, so while you may be able to temporarily lose something in there, eventually if you dig around long enough, you should be able to find it. And neither of my pockets had a single GU. Nor did my back pocket, which I was absolutely sure it wasn't in, but I had no other good ideas. I sat there digging through my pockets, glad there wasn't anyone else around to witness me groping myself repeatedly and fruitlessly, for several minutes. While trying to run downhill and not brain myself on roots and rocks. Finally I said I needed to stop and really commit to this search. We stopped. I searched. Trista searched (you get real friendly in partner races). There were no GUs in my pockets. We did find the two Twizzlers that I had hidden in my pocket for when we were out and needed a treat. I was going to pull those out and be like "Surprise! Candy treats!" I told Trista sorry to ruin the intended surprise, but I was going to eat the candy treats now because I had no other calories on me.

We resumed running, and I ate one of the Twizzlers. They were individually packaged and a giant pain in the butt to unwrap, but eventually I unwrapped and ate a Twizzler.

I reached into my pocket to get the other one, because I figured there was no way one singley-wrapped novelty Halloween Twizzler had the 100 calories a GU does, and.. it wasn't there. IT HAD JUST BEEN THERE WHEN WE WERE SEARCHING MY POCKETS. I WAS INTIMATELY FAMILIAR WITH THE FULL CONTENTS OF MY FRONT SHIRT POCKETS, AFTER HAVING DUG THROUGH THEM FOR THE LAST 20 MINUTES. AND THOSE CONTENTS SHOULD HAVE BEEN AS FOLLOWS: 1 (ONE) INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED TWIZZLER.

My pockets were empty.

I dug for another 5 minutes. The wrapper from the first one kept getting stuck to my hand, and I was trying not to drop the wrapper on the ground as litter, but also keep searching. Finally, as we were running, I said, "So. Funny anecdote. .... I don't know where the other Twizzler went."

We simply could not believe what was happening. I STILL don't know what happened.

With the GU, it's POSSIBLE that maybe I had the packets in my hand at the car to put in my shirt, but at the last minute I got distracted and left them in my nutrition bag instead of bringing them. Or maybe they fell out in the lake on the loop that I did with an unzipped wetsuit? (Maybe they're down at the bottom of the lake with Laura's much-mourned Gatorade bottle?) But I had JUST SEEN THAT TWIZZLER. WHERE DID IT GO?!

We boggled and laughed, and that got us back down the path that led us back to the lake. Somewhere in that run we also picked up our second wristband, from some randos in the middle of the woods.

We were approaching our next swim, putting back on the tops of our wetsuits with only slightly better luck than the last time, and I still hadn't figured out my errant swimcap situation. Trista had asked the volunteers on the top of Moore's Wall if they had an extra swimcap, but the odds of them having one was roughly -0%, and sure enough, they did not. But maybe this aid station right next to the lake might!

We ran up and filled our cups with some water, I grabbed a GU from their supply, and while we ate and drank, we asked the volunteers at the aid station if they had a spare swimcap. They did not. Then they started cheering loudly as another female team ran up, and apologized to us for the loud yelling, but these were their wives approaching. So we cheered for their wives, as well. And then someone mentioned that maybe THEY had a spare swimcap, because they'd had two earlier. One of the ladies confirms she has two, and pulls out a cap and hands it to me. I figured she meant the TEAM had two, and said I definitely didn't want to take one of their caps! She said no, she herself had two, one spare, and I was welcome to it.

Let me just note for the record that it isn't necessarily normal to have a spare swimcap at a swimrun race. You are given two for the team, no spares. Evidently there had been some thing earlier in the year where if you signed up for the race early, you got some race swag, which included a swimcap, and she just happened to also be carrying that cap on her during the race. I imagine the number of teams carrying a spare cap was somewhere between 1 and 2. I'm going to say it's not impossible someone else was, but odds aren't very high. And we just happened to come upon this person, and she was generous enough to admit she had it and hand it over to a stranger. Thank you, lady! (We did get to thank her after the race. I think I said, "Are you on Team Loaned Me a Swimcap?!")

If you're keeping score at home, and nobody but me and Trista are, that is TWO swimrun races where I have needed a swimcap (tore mine at Lake James, lost mine at NC), and two swimrun races where the benevolent swimcap gods have smiled down on me and put a generous soul with a spare swimcap in my path. I'm going to start carrying two so that I can either be prepared for future incidences, or pay it forward for someone else.

But now I had a cap! Less chance of getting disqualified, if that's even a thing for lacking swimcaps! And way less annoying hair while swimming, for sure! I crammed it on my head as we trotted happily and thankfully away from the aid station, then realized I could grab several more GU and shove them in my (LEG, NO BLACK HOLE THERE) pocket, so I ran back and did that.

And then back to the water, for two more iterations of the swim loop!

Swim entrance we got to see 4 times.
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

Mostly these went off without incident, except of course there are a couple stories.

First, it had been a while since we swam, so it took a few seconds to get everything situated again when we got in the water. I was like "Almost ready. One second. Don't go yet. Okay... READY!" And as Trista was about to push off with me behind her, she stopped and was like, "Oh. I haven't zipped my wetsuit."

We are truly #teamshitshow.

Once we were all zipped up, we started swimming, and immediately had to veer around a team who started just ahead of us. One of whom was swimming in the correct direction, the other of whom was swimming AN ENTIRE NINETY DEGREES OFF TO THE RIGHT. Because they weren't tethered, and because the errant swimmer wasn't sighting much, he just kept swimming the wrong way, and his partner was frantically yelling and trying to swim after him to get his attention. We giggled to ourselves, mentally thanked our tether and Trista's sighting skills, and kept on swimming.

As we passed the water safety people, I once again tried to figure out what the volunteer in the boat was dressed as. Last year he was dressed as a skeleton, and this year he had a horse head on the front of his boat, but was wearing a blue and white striped shirt. That's all I could tell while I was swimming, so I decided he was Blue Where's Waldo. Weird things go on in your head during the swim, because you can't chat.

See? That's how blurry things look while you're swimming, too! Could totally be Blue Where's Waldo. Or.. a pirate skeleton, evidently.
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

When we got to the swim exit for the 500m swim, we came right up with another blue-shirted female team. As we exited the water, we realized it was Coach Kristen's team! It was fun to exchange some high fives and fist bumps with the coach, even though she was a whole loop ahead of us. The benefits of a looped course! Then they went off to finish while we finished up that swim loop and headed out for another: our last of this swim loop.

As we waded back in for the last time, the announcer said something about how the time cut-off was 15 minutes away, so he was hoping he'd be there at the finish line to announce us in. I think both our hearts stopped when we heard that, because honestly we couldn't remember how the time cut-offs worked. We were PRETTY sure that we had already made the last one? But maybe we had to finish this last swim loop still before we officially made it?! But he assured us that it didn't apply to us, we were fine. Yikes. A little adrenaline.

The last two times we did the 25m short swim, there were two volunteers at the swim exit who were pulling people out of the water. It wasn't a terrible swim exit, as far as swimrun swim exits go. It was a little steep, but definitely manageable. But having someone there to help you, especially two volunteers who bodily pull you out of the water, was AMAZING. They were my favorite volunteers of the day, but all the volunteers at this race were amazing.

Favorite volunteers!
Photo by Kai-Otto Melau.

And then we were done with this section of the course completely! We crossed the timing mat there one last time, hopped the guardrail, which seemed like a strange course decision, but sure, and headed out on the road with the announcer saying over the PA, "Trista and Amy are headed down the mountain!"

It felt exciting and like we were heading home! Except we still had a 5 mile trail run ahead of us. And a 900m swim. We really weren't almost done.

As we ran out, a volunteer told us to run down the road (one of the few times we were on a paved road) and take a right up ahead at the volunteer. As we got down the road, the volunteer and the signs were all pointing left. This late in the race is not a good time to try braining at an advanced level, and this volunteer seemed nice and trustworthy, so we went with it, and went left.

As we ran down the path, people started running back toward us. Oh. I guess this is an out and back, and THEN we go back the other way.

This path also led primarily downhill. And people were walking back up the hill. And one team told us "good luck". We were pretty curious what the heck was going on ahead.

(Not us.)
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

And it turned out to be another waterfall! We had to slide/swing/drop down another steep, muddy bank, and then tromp through a beautiful waterfall. With big grins on our faces.

Photo by Aaron Palaian.

And then the grins faded when we had to climb up some dumb wooden stairs to get back out of the waterfall. And then back up that uphill path we'd seen people walking up earlier.

These were very unwelcome stairs.
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

Now we were headed back toward the startline, on the path we'd originally come out on. Except man, we really didn't remember any of it. It's a lovely part of the trail, but there's not a whole lot that's standout noteworthy, especially compared to the rest of the course. Plus some of this was parts that we'd had to walk through because it was so congested.

We did hit that first aid station again, and as we split our last GU (Trista had run out, and I had one left) and drank some water, the volunteer told us it was about 2 miles to the river for our last swim.

2 miles sounds doable! Except on my GOD it was the longest 2 miles ever. We kept making jokes about being 7 miles into our last 2 mile run.

As much as we were loving this race and this course, we were pretty ready to be done at that point.

We were finally close enough to the finish line that I felt comfortable pointing out to Trista that she had promised me that she was going to spend the whole race complaining about her eye twitching, since it had been twitching for the last week. And so far there had been not a SINGLE complaint about said eye twitch. We decided the way to get an eye to stop twitching was to do a swimrun race. Good to know.

Eventually we made it back to the split where a right would take us back to the start line, and a left would take us up-river for our last swim. I bemoaned the fact that we were now running AWAY from the finish line. But at least we had found the river, so our last swim must be near!

We used this time to get our wetsuits back on again, which we DID manage to get a little better at each time. I'd still prefer to just wear it or not. What a pain.

Much like the last 2 miles we were promised, this last run up the riverbank seemed to be endless. We could see people in the river doing their last swim, through the trees! But we couldn't seem to find the place where we were supposed to start that swim.

Then we saw a woman up ahead! That must be the volunteer at the swim start! Except when we got to her, she cheered for us and said it was a quarter mile to the swim! Uuuuuuuuugh. Normally a quarter mile sounds like nothing and is worth celebrating, but at this point it sounded like a marathon.

But eventually we DID get to the swim start! We got one last wristband, which I added to my collection, and we waded in for one last swim.

We'd had so much time in this last run to chat, and we periodically ran out of things to complain about, so we had debated how to do this last swim. We didn't want to tether, because this was swim allegedly very shallow. A few weeks prior, it was so shallow some of it wasn't swimmable, but the rains had filled it up a bit, and we were hopeful we could swim the whole way. But with shallow rocks and debris, the tether seemed like a very bad idea.

If we don't tether, it's dangerous for Trista to lead, because she'll just swim off into the distance and leave me behind. Which maybe she wanted to do at this point, after being with me for so many hours? But we'd come too far to get DQed for being too far apart at this stage of the game.

We debated swimming side by side, and that nearly won, but then at the last minute we decided we'd try out me leading. It's not something we've ever done in a race, and I told Trista she would probably come to regret it when she was just RIGHT on my feet, having to hold back to not run me over, but we figured why not.

And so for the first time, I pushed off first and Trista settled in behind me for a 900m swim down the Dan River.

Another female team swimming down the Dan River. I think this is maybe the start of the swim, based on those people in the background still on shore?
Photo by Kai-Otto Melau.

It was a pretty fun swim. I knew there was a current pushing us, but I couldn't really tell how strong it was. It was DEFINITELY pretty shallow in places. The volunteers recommend starting out over on the far side of the river, by the rocks, because it was deeper there, but it got shallower later. I never completely beached myself, but there were times I was VERY glad I was wearing paddles on my hands, because my hands scraped over the bottom many times. And I knew if my nubby arms were hitting bottom, it was even worse for long-limbed Trista.

I honestly kept expecting Trista to pull up beside me because she was frustrated staying on my feet, but she never did. I never bothered looking behind me, because (a) I was afraid I'd run into something (I had to avoid several trees and logs and other obstacles), and (b) I had no fear of outpacing her. I tried to swim as strong as I could without killing myself, because the only team we could see ahead of us was too far away to catch in the distance we had left unless they were very poor swimmers, which they were not.

So I just cruised down the river watching the bottom zoom by directly under me, which always makes it look like you're going really fast. Especially when we hit some actual rapids, which kinda pulled us around wherever it wanted us to go, and made us move even faster.

A couple minutes later, I saw some people in the water head, on the shore. I thought there might be some hazard in the water that was bad enough that they needed volunteers to steer people away from it, but then that other team swam toward them. And I noticed some of the volunteers in the water had cameras. And then I realized that this was actually the end! I figured the swim must be short, because 900m has never gone by so quickly. Turns out it really was ~900m, and that 900m really has never gone by that quickly for me, because my Garmin says we swam that section at a 1:00/100 yard pace. WHEEEEEEE!

Of course, with the current and the rapids, getting over to the photographers and volunteers was easier said than done. That current was no joke. The photographers were yelling at us to swim directly at them, obviously trying to get some good swimming action shots, so I did my best. I did too well, and actually ended up brushing up against one of the photographers as the current pushed me into him while we swam by. Oops.

Not us, but this person probably also hit the photographer! Occupational hazard.
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

I managed to get us up to the volunteers at the swim exit, and went to stand up. Except the current had other ideas, and as soon as I got my feet under me and stood up, the water pushed me back down again, and I fell forward onto a rock with my right knee. It hurt like hell, and I figured I was probably bleeding, but I will admit it probably looked hysterical as I fell over. So I can forgive Trista for laughing hysterically as I fell. It's even easier to forgive when karma knocked her ass over, too, while she was laughing.

We managed to finally drag our pathetic selves out of the water and onto the shore.

This is Laura just after emerging from the water, and going up the stairs. I presumably looked like a drowned rat at this point, and Laura looks like a freakin' supermodel. Ugh, Laura, you're the worst. (Also the best, though.) ((Oh, and Meredith, your wrist looks great. You been workin' out?))
Photo by Aaron Palaian.

And then it was just a terrible journey up ONE LAST SET OF STAIRS, made easier by a lot of people cheering for us.

SwimRun NC 2019
Snapped this the day before the race. Fewer people cheering for us.

We trudged up, trying to decide quickly what gear we wanted to be wearing when we crossed the finish line. It turned out there were no finish line photographers, so it really didn't matter at all, and we crossed the finish line together, successfully finishing SwimRun NC 2019 in 5:34.

We'd really had no idea what sort of finish time to expect, so we did a combination of doubling Marcus' finish time from 2018 and looking at the times of the final finishers from 2018. We settled on maybe 7 hours. So it was a delightful surprise to look at our watches and see 5:34! And also to look down in the river and see people still coming in behind us. We were just fine with being the last people out on the course, but it was nice not to be.

Marcus proved himself to be one of our best friends by appearing to congratulate us by giving us two cold bottles of RC Cola, which was like the nectar of the gods at that point. We were drinking those a few minutes later when Laura and Meredith ran up the stairs and across the finish line, and we shared our bounty with them before settling down for the most important race of the day: FINISH LINE WHEELBARROW RACE.

Trista and I have been doing nutty things at the finish line the last few swimruns we've done, and it felt like we should up the bar with FOUR of us available. So we'd settled on a wheelbarrow race.

Proud to say, Trista and I are the current reigning SwimRun NC Wheelbarrow Champions.

You guys, this race was SO MUCH FUN. From the pictures and hearing stories, I had some pretty high expectations, and I figured there's no way the race could live up to them. But it surpassed them.

Hanging Rock State Park is just stunningly beautiful. The leaves were changing, which doesn't ever happen in Austin, and the trees were just gorgeous. The waterfalls were so beautiful and challenging. Moore's Wall was long and hard, but so satisfying when we got to the top and were rewarded with that view. And the water for the swims was cold and refreshing.

I will say that it's a runner's race. There's only 3000m of swimming total, and most of that is the same swims over and over. Each individual swimrun event is a slave to the landscape that surrounds it, and Hanging Rock has a ton of great running and hiking, and not a lot of available, varied water. I did enjoy the river swim ending, though I can see how it could be frustrating when the water is lower.

Overall it was a surprisingly tough course that had little surprises around every corner, and I'm so glad we did it. I will absolutely go back and climb up those waterfalls again in the future, hopefully with cooler weather next time. And fewer black holes in my shirt.

SwimRun NC 2019

And wrapped around this amazing race was a weekend full of friends I don't get to see enough of. Now my quads ache from climbing and my abs ache from non-stop hysterical laughter. I wouldn't have it any other way.

SwimRun NC 2019
Tags: #rockingtherockingchairs, #teamshitshow, adorkable, hangingrockstatepark, laura, meredith, northcarolina, openwater, race, racereport, run, swim, swimrun, swimrunnc, trailrun, trista
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