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  • Writer's pictureEmily Hutchins

Looking Glass 50 miler race report

Updated: Mar 8, 2019

December 1, 2018

Gritty, Challenging, Mucky, Bone-Chilling, Steep, Pain, Beauty, Hard-Core, Humbling.

63 finished. 42 DNF out of the 105 racers who showed up to race. I was one of the lucky 12 women who crossed the finish line. Many times I thought that all the folks who didn't make the cut off times were the lucky ones. Especially while running miles 37 through 50. At the time, I would have given anything to be escorted off that mountain.

I’m still in awe that I finished this race. Temps were on average between 35-45 degrees all day, with steady rain, leading into a down pour towards the last 3-4 hours. This weather, combined with the technical terrain, made for a challenge that goes down in the history of ultra racing.

Jeremy, Huck and I arrived to Brevard Friday night in the van. We mentally prepared for the next day and caught very few zzz's because of my nerves.

We started at 5:00 a.m. at Pilot Cove and made our way to the trails at Davidson River Campground. Headlights shining, we climbed our way up the Art Loeb trail and I immediately felt too hot and over dressed. I was one of the few in full tights and knee socks – most racers were in shorts and I am so thankful that I had this same gear on by the end of the race.

We climbed our way up to John Rock with the sunrise – to be honest, the first 25 miles were pleasant – nice temps and a light drizzle.

Jeremy and Huck showed up at aid station 2 (mile 12) and the next 6 miles were fast and smooth. I caught up with my new buddy from Roanoke, Ed McKeown right when it started to rain pretty hard. By the time I made it to aid station 3, I was 1 hour ahead of the cutoff time!

The next section, I met the lovely Tara Massey. We ran the next 10-15 miles together ... this was when the race conditions and terrain started to get really intense. It’s amazing the conversation and connections you can make when experiencing the challenge of a race. We talked about budgeting, workouts, food, families and life.

Here is what I learned from Tara: You can meditate while running and you should pick a word or phrase to repeat over and over when times get tough. I decided that my phrase for this race would be “Committed to Grit.”

Jeremy and Huck were waiting at mile 25 and I was so happy to see them. This was my favorite aid station because he had hot miso soup waiting and I was able to change my upper half into dry clothing and get new warm gloves. Tara and I trotted off together, but this is when the race really took a turn for the worst. Mile 25 – 37 literally crushed my soul. Pisgah redefines steep. I can honestly say these are some of the steepest trails I've ever been on in my life. Words really can't even describe what ensued during these miles. Lots of steep ascents, steady rain, but at the same time, gorgeous. So many waterfalls and wild, rugged country.

I made it to aid station 5 in plenty of time, but had to keep moving to cover 3-4 miles until the 3:15 time cutoff at aid station 6. I spent these miles by myself, racing the clock and knowing I had to make that cutoff. I worked so hard during the race and wasn't about to miss it. I summited Pilot Mountain and yes, there was a big fat pile of steaming fresh bear poop at the top. It was starting to get extremely cold, foggy, rainy and windy up there at over 5,000 feet in elevation. I made my way down the mountain as fast as possible and saw Jeremy again at the bottom (yah!). He had a lot of stories to share while watching the rescue squad fetch racers off the mountain because of hypothermia. I switched out my wet soggy gloves for a warm pair and Jeremy grabbed me by the shoulders and asked, "Are you going to be ok? You have 13 miles left and you will have to finish this thing in the dark." I smiled and said, "It's just 13 miles and I'll see you at the finish!" The next 13 miles were the the most challenging 13 miles of my life. I went into a deep dark pain cave and had some really negative thoughts. If Jeremy had shown up in the van, I would have gotten in and not thought twice about finishing the race. But I was deep in the mountains and it was steep, cold, muddy and the last place I wanted to be. There would be no Jeremy and Huck to the rescue.

I made it to aid station 7 with 10 minutes to spare before the cutoff. The volunteers all day were so incredible. They have more grit than the racers. A nice volunteer gave me a pep talk. She said there was only 4.5 miles to the finish line. She gave me hope and some wheat thins.

This last section is where I witnessed grown men break down. One fella in particular screamed in pain with every step he took. I could still hear his wincing groans even when I was way ahead of him. I was grateful for my grit and drive to finish. I passed several racers who were in so much pain and dealing with all kinds of injuries. Many of the guys around me were complaining that the couldn’t get their core temperature up. I looked at them and saw why … still wearing shorts.

Night fell quickly and I got out my headlamp for the second time today. At this point, I'd been racing for over 12 hours and needed to make it to the finish by 7:00 p.m.

I got a big smile on my face when I started to hear the faint hum of cars in the distance, which meant I was closing the gap to the finish. It got really dark and the sky opened up with bone-chilling rain, making the steep descent a big mucky mess. Again, I am so thankful for my long tights and socks which kept my bottom half warm, when I really needed it in the last and darkest hour of the race.

The Finish Line.

Oh, how I’ve never wanted to see anything more in my life. I crossed the line at 6:41p.m., with a finish time of 13:41. I was number 61 to cross that line.

Racing for 13 hours made me appreciate the simple things:

  • A big hug from my husband and licks from Huck!

  • The volunteers! The fact they volunteered their time to stand out in the rain all day to help us racers ... wow.

  • Hot showers!

  • Got out of wet clothes and into dry ones!

  • Comfort food!

We ate dinner at Magpie in Brevard, which I highly recommend. I ordered butternut squash soup, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and fried sweet potatoes, followed by homemade peanut butter pie.

My friends and family likely think I’m crazy for doing these races. But, I also believe it's the hardest things in life that teach you the most. Without these challenges, you don’t learn about yourself and what you’re made of.

I never thought I’d be able to do something like this, especially when ultra runners who have completed 100 milers were dropping out at mile 25. These challenges require just as much mental game as physical preparedness.

It requires so much mental strength to keep moving and rise above the negative thoughts. When times got tough out there, I kept reminding myself that I am so fortunate to be able to move through this rugged terrain. I’m thankful my legs are strong enough to carry me over 10,000 feet in elevation. My brain is tough enough to sustain 13.5 hours of navigating every root, rock, boulder and mud across those crazy beautiful Pisgah mountains.

Race takeaways:

  • Be prepared with your gear. I was so happy with my Patagonia Houdini Jacket, Peak Mission running tights, Injinji compression socks and Pearl Izumi running mittens. It was surreal to see extremely fit athletes being escorted off the mountain on ATVs wearing their emergency blankets.

  • Eat whole foods as much as possible and eat every 30 minutes. The best race food I had was homemade whole wheat wraps filled with mashed sweet potato and avocado. At the aid stations, I tried to stick to whole foods like bananas, oranges, and potatoes. I didn’t succumb to any candy or anything processed.

  • Stay hydrated. I drank a lot of water. Over 3 liters.

  • Stay positive. I witnessed a lot of negativity and pain out there. We are the ones who sign up for these challenges. While we might regret that decision when things gets real, I always try to remember why I choose to do these challenges – if it was always easy, then everyone would do them.

Looking Glass 50 miler ... you will forever be remembered as the race that challenged every fiber in my body and stripped me down to nothing. I know what my body can do and I am stronger because of this experience. I recommend this race to anyone looking for a challenging, technical, east coast ultra experience!

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