Race report: Swimrun North Carolina

image-9Misty Becerra and Sophia Chadwick share with us their experience at the inaugural SwimRun North Carolina which took place on October 30th, 2016 in Hanging Rock State Park, USA. Third state to host a swimrun, North Carolina is a beautiful place, another nice sport for swimrunning. Photos © Brian Fancher Photography

I had just returned back to Victoria British Columbia after traveling to Sweden for ÖtillÖ when I received a message from Misty Becerra. She had received my name from a friend of a friend of an acquaintance (we still aren’t sure how it all transpired) who said I might be interested in teaming up with her for SwimRun NC. I quickly looked up who this Misty person was and saw that she had done ÖtillÖ in 2015 + 2016, was based out of Florida, and was a super endurance athlete. Feeling pretty accomplished after having finished ÖtillÖ ten days prior, I figured that this was a pretty awesome experience that I couldn’t really pass up. Within an hour I had responded to Misty, asked my boss for the weekend off (who said something along the lines of: “You can’t say no to this Sophia!” – it is SO helpful to have an avid endurance junkie as your boss!), bounced the idea off my boyfriend and mom (“I’m not totally crazy to race with a stranger am I?!”), and booked my flight. I had just under 6 weeks to dust off my paddles and pull-buoy, Icebugs, and burn off the delicious Swedish bread and salted butter (seriously – sooo good).

Unfortunately the lead up didn’t go exactly to plan (but when does it ever). I was working extremely long days, had a ton of commitments and was dealing with a dog that decided as soon as he turned one, he was going to turn into a rebellious teenager. Swims started to fall by the wayside, runs became short (but sweet), and fatigue quickly set in.

The Sunday before race-day, I managed to meet up for a trail run with my training partner Jay. I was tried and stressed out with work and the dog. It had been raining non-stop, the sun was setting, and leaves had all fallen (read: the rocks were covered). I had been having a few issues with my left leg in the two weeks before so decided to wear a different pair of trail shoes then I’m used to. Jay’s first comment to me is “Whenever I wore those shoes on the trails I always ended up rolling my ankle – you’re pretty brave!” I told him it would be fine because I needed a bit of extra support for my tired and sore left leg. Twenty minutes later I’m yelling and hoping around – over I went on a sneaky rock in the middle of the trail. I remember hearing a loud crunch and looking down just in time to see my left foot go horizontal at the ankle joint and feeling immediate pain. I knew right away that I was in trouble. The next few days involved crutches, ice, braces, ultrasound, x-rays, and lots of Advil. I was crushed. BUT, each day that went by, my foot started to feel a teeny, tiny bit better.

I arrived to Charlotte on Friday evening and was greeted by my new friend and teammate Misty and her two athletes Tagg and Reeli. We drove 90 minutes to Tobaccoville where we stayed with Misty’s Aunt and Uncle, Sharon and Larry. That night we all got to know each other but the major topic was my foot; Aunt Sharon urging me not to race and Misty assuring me that “whatever happens, happens. If we need to pull the pin in the first run then that’s what we’ll do”.

The day before the race (Saturday) we had a relaxing morning at the house getting some of our gear organized. One of the biggest things that helped in ÖtillÖ was having run/swim splits on the paddles, so Misty and I made sure we did that for this race (although by the time Sunday rolled around we had the splits burned in our memory). Package pick up and the race meeting were happening around 4:30 pm at the Green Heron Ale House in Danbury NC so we decided to head down a bit early to check things out. As we were driving up to Hanging Rock State Park, a pit in all of our stomachs started to grow – we have to go up THAT?! The four of us scoped out the lake for the swims, the trail along the lake and the start of the big climb up the mountain. Misty, Tagg, and Reeli all did a short run and while I was tempted, I decided against any running. Eventually we headed down to the Ale House for race meeting. We picked up our gear, took a look around the start/finish area and put our hands in the river (a refreshing 52F). Coming from Canada, it actually felt pretty nice – for the other three coming from Florida, it did not feel so nice. The race meeting was short and sweet with the highlight coming from race director Jan Kriska: “If you don’t finish this race with some sort of cut or blood on you, we’ll start to think you didn’t do the entire thing!” Super reassuring given the state of my foot…

imageRace was set to start at 8am sharp on Sunday. Things were pretty standard – pre race jitters, nervous pee coupled with some serious taping and bracing for my foot made for a rushed morning. The temperature was around 57F (14C) and was expected to reach a high of 82F (28C) so it was going from warm to hot by Canadian standards. Because we had a 4.3 mile run up to the lake to start out with, I opted to run with my wetsuit down at my waist and cap off, Misty, being a Floridian who is constantly cold, decided to suit right up for the first run. The race starts out with a wide gravel road for the first few hundred meters before turning into some narrow single track trail which leads you up to the lake after 4 river crossings. Not knowing how my foot would hold up, we stayed back initially but by the time we hit the single track we were stuck behind a big group of teams. Misty asked me how my foot was doing, I replied with good, and next thing I know, she’s charging up the trail beside the teams in front of us and before I know it, we are leading the women’s race. The pace was a bit nerve wracking for me but once I was able to see the trail unobstructed in front of me, I knew we had made the right decision and I wasn’t having to worry about every step I took. We pushed the pace for the rest of the climb while also trying to make smart decisions when it came to the slick waterfall section (which was seriously so cool to run up!).

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Once we hit the lake, the second women’s team, Holly Benner and Mary Kay Krause (No Seaweed) caught us and entered the water just a few seconds ahead of us. After the second 500m swim, we thought we had passed them and were leading again but weren’t entirely sure.

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Next up was the infamous Moorse’s Wall – basically straight up via single-track and 652 steps. My foot was still feeling good so we powered up the trail to the campground. Every step we encountered we thought that this had to be the start of the 652 steps; each time we were wrong – just more hill. Finally we reached the steps and needed to back off. Looking back, we said our one thing we would have done differently was tethered during this part of the race (we had tethered for every swim but none of the runs) as I was feeling pretty comfortable with the climbing coming from the Rockies. Regardless, we made pretty good time up and were only caught by one other female team, Kristen Jeno and Jenny Perrottet (Sole Sista’s) right at the top. After a quick look at the incredible view and a very quick picture, we headed back down the trail.

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As we were passing a mixed team, they told us that there was another women’s team just ahead of us and that we were in reach. We picked things up and floated down the mountain seamlessly. We got to the lake only to see Holly and Mary Kay just swimming away from shore. It took us the two laps of the lake before we caught them at the aid station before you make the turn back down towards the finish. The four of us ran together for a few minutes before they put in a surge. We let them move ahead of us while I stripped down the top of my wetsuit. With temperatures reaching 28C (82F) by mid-day, I was struggling with temperature regulation and needed to peel down my suit for all of the longer runs. Once I had freed myself from the top half of my suit and organized all our gear, we pushed the pace to try to catch up with the girls.

We managed to catch them within a few minutes and descended down to the waterfall section as a group of four. Misty and I made a move to the front and made our way down the waterfall and across the river relatively seamlessly. Finally, our short legs were coming in good use! We had a small gap on the girls when Misty asked how I was doing. “Awesome” I replied, “Great” she said, “we’re going for it. So much for just sitting in behind them.” Off we went. Misty took two pretty epic falls and I had a few near misses. We were both starting to get fatigued. At this point in the race we were running through a wide-open forest that had beautiful, rolling single-track trail. The colours were incredible and the trail, so-much-fun. We made the four river crossings and knew we were getting close to the final 900m river swim. We encountered a volunteer (who were all so amazing the entire race) who said only a quarter-mile to the swim entrance. I don’t think a quarter-mile has ever felt so long for either of us. We made it to the last, and coldest and longest, swim unsure of how far back Holly and Mary Kay were. At the race meeting, Jan had said that the first 300m of the river were swimmable but the last 600m were going to be more of a “salamander crawl”. The water temperature was surprisingly tolerable and actually quite refreshing given the long, hot run we had just finished. Once we found a good line, we were able to swim initially but before we knew it, the water was less then a foot deep and we were rubbing up against the bottom of the river. We tried walking, running, floating…everything; all with little success. Eventually we just tried to keep our bodies horizontal (which was surprisingly hard to do with the current and obstacles in our way) and keep our arms wide. At one point I couldn’t help myself from hysterical laughing because I could only imagine how ridiculous we looked trying to figure out how to get down this river – standing up, falling over, floating down feet first on our backs, face first, spinning around – it was hilarious.

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Eventually we got ourselves into some deeper water and were able to get into a groove of swimming. We saw a group of people standing at the bottom of the stairs that lead up the finish and made our way across the river towards them. Once we hit those stairs and looked back not seeing the girls, we knew were had it in the bag. We ran up those final stairs hand in hand and crossed the finish line in 3:52:37. Holly and Mary Kay came in right behind us at 3:55:51 and Kristen and Jenny just behind them in 3:56:59.

Post race festivities included a delicious BBQ meal, lots of desserts, free beer and awards. Unlike other races were people grab their food and keep to themselves, everyone sat together in large groups reliving the epic-ness of what we all just accomplished. This is one of the things I love about SwimRun – most people start out as strangers but we all finish as family, no on else knows what you’ve just gone through except those people around you. I started this trip and race on my own but finished with lifelong friends from parts of the world I would have never imagined.

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This race had it all – amazing trails, beautiful views, serious climbs, cold swims, awesome volunteers, and a super welcoming and supportive vibe. This race is truly a gem among North American endurances races and one that is definitely worth signing up for. If you’ve never done a SwimRun, this is a great one to get introduced to the sport. If you’ve done many SwimRun’s, this is a great one to challenge yourself and your climbing. Next year’s race is set for October 29th, 2017 so you’ll know where to find me!

Photos © Brian Fancher Photography

Text: Sophia Chadwiq & Misty Becerra

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