It has been a little over a month since our last SwimRun race of 2018, SwimRun NC, so I thought it was about time that I sit down and write a little race report. This race takes place every year at the end of October at Hanging Rock State Park. Hanging Rock is about 45 minutes outside of Winston-Salem, so very easy to access but still remote enough to feel like you are off the beaten path. It is a beautiful park with a lake for swimming and kayaking/canoeing, more than 20 miles of hiking trails that climb onto spectacular views and weave alongside clear streams and waterfalls. There is also access on the Dan River for paddling, over 8 miles of mountain biking trails and rock climbing. With its technical trails and water access it is the perfect backdrop for SwimRun.
We had the opportunity to do some course recon with one of the race directors, Herbert, a few weeks prior to the race. This recon proved to be an invaluable tool, it allowed us to get a great feel for the course and how technical the terrain really is. At that time the water temperature was a balmy 70 degrees, perfect for someone like me who does not do well in cold water. Well, that temperature was too good to be true and in the following few weeks the air temperature would drop and several storms with torrential rains would not only drop the water temperature but change the flow of the Dan River.
The day prior to the race all the athletes gathered at the Green Heron Ale House for packet pick-up and race briefing. We picked up our race bibs, tee shirts and hats along with an extra little surprise. Three heart-warming personalized notes to us from 3 different kids at a local grade school. This is by far the most unique and personal race swag we have ever received. The race briefing was short and I sat there anxiously waiting for someone to talk about the water temperature and the conditions of the Dan River. Neither were mentioned in the briefing but it really didn’t matter, because the conditions were what they were and talking about it wouldn’t change either.
Race morning was sunny but cold and I knew the water temperature would be a challenge for me. The race starts at the Ale House with a nice 4.5 mile run up to Hanging Rock State Park. This was moderately technical terrain with a few creek crossings and an amazing waterfall climb up and around Window Falls. There was plenty of time to get warm before hitting the lake and the first of 4 – 500 meter swims across the lake. The lake was very cold, the kind of cold that takes your breath away, that freezes your face and gives you an ice cream headache, yes it was that cold. The race director, Herbert, estimated that the lake temperature was around 54 degrees that day. We got through the first swim and cut across the bay, a short traverse past the dam and back into the lake for the 2nd loop. This second loop proved to be a bit more challenging for me, as the run portion in between was not long enough to warm up at all. Back into the lake and I started to get cold about half way across. We made it out and across the bay and by the time I hit the traverse past the dam I was shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering, lips blue and feeling like there was no way I could possibly get back in that lake again.
This is where having a really supportive partner comes into play. Looking back on it, if I were racing alone, I may not have had the mental fortitude to get myself back in that lake for 2 more swims but having David there by my side, encouraging me, supporting me and counting on me as a partner was exactly what I needed to keep going.
The race continued with a nice long climb up to the top of Moore’s Wall with 642 steps. This section was slow and steady with more power hiking than running and the views were certainly worth the work. It also gave me time to forget about how cold I was after that 2nd swim!! After stopping for some fluid and a photo op at the top, we descended back to the lake on an extremely rocky single track trail, the most technical section of the race. Once back at the lake it was back in for another 2 loops. The 3rd swim was cold but tolerable and I was so happy to get some warm chicken broth after that loop before having to get back into the water for the final lake swim of the day. The chicken broth was exactly what I needed to warm my core, just enough to get through that swim, and knowing that the hot broth would be there when I got out of the water after that 4th loop.
It was a relief getting out of the water and knowing that all that stood between us and the finish was a 5.7 mile run and a 900 meter swim in the Dan River. I knew that the river temperature would be even colder than the lake but also knew that with the current the 900 meters would be very quick. The last run took us on an out and back section to climb Cascade Falls and then down to the Dan River. We ran along the river to the entry point and hopped into the Dan River, where I decided to not submerge my face for fear of getting too cold. The river was running rather swiftly and there were rocks just under the surface that were a bit tricky to navigate. We made it to the exit point unscathed and I struggled a bit to get my feet under me. Again, having a partner who could help me to my feet was invaluable. We climbed a short set of stairs, through the finish arch and as always we both had huge smiles on our faces, happy to be finished and happy with our accomplishment. I guess I am accustomed to more excitement and enthusiasm at the finish line of a race because this was lackluster and a bit of a disappointment. No photographer, no announcer, no one from the race, just a few people milling around who had just finished.
We walked away from the finish line, changed our clothes and went to partake in the post race festivities. Despite the lackluster finish line the post race experience was enjoyable. The majority of the race participants and their families/friends sat around feasting on the tasty post race food and drink, sharing stories about the race, cheering on the division winners during the awards and hoping to win some great swag in the raffle.
This race was challenging and technical and fun and a great way to end our SwimRun 2018 season!