The Miner’s Lady 8-Hour Endurance Run is held in Harpers Ferry, WV. The entirely/100% trail route consists of a 6.2-mile loop that includes a short (but memorable) out-and-back section. You run as many loops as you wish for eight hours. This seemed like the perfect race for me, a full-time working mom with two small children and a husband who likes to go tromping through the woods for hours upon hours on the weekends, because if my training didn’t end up being sufficient for completing a 50k, then no problem, I’ll just do three loops and collect my medal and finisher’s hat.
The day before the race, I drove to Wheeling to drop my darling children off to my very kind mother where I left them screaming at each other over possession of the Kindle Fire. I shot her an apologetic look as I sneaked out the door to haul ass back home, where I picked up Derek so we could make the three-hour drive to Ranson, WV and pick up my packet at Two Rivers Treads. After picking up my packet, we browsed the broad selection of running items available and purchased some new gels to try (not during the race, of course! Although I have about 400 fewer race credits to my name than my husband I am not a TOTAL amateur). I resisted the urge to hop on one of the many True Form treadmills in the front of the store. Although I’d love to give one a try some day (and I keep encouraging Derek to buy one for the clinic), I absolutely would be the person who sustains an embarrassing injury on a running store treadmill the day before a race. We met up with two friends/running buddies, Stephanie and Sara, for a borderline-adequate meal of Italian food and a trip to the grocery store for all of the things we forgot to pack (mostly chocolate). After returning to the hotel and doing typical night-before-the-race prep like agonizing over which clothing items will chafe the least (answer: probably the shorts you chose not to wear), we set the alarms for 4:00 AM.
After some typical night-before-the-race restless sleep and some really bad hotel Keurig coffee (I’m edging closer and closer to becoming an Aeropress-toting coffee snob), we hopped in Sara’s car and headed to the race site, which was about a 20-25 minute drive from Ranson. Given the small size of the race location, participants are required to carpool lest they be banished to the “dungeon lot” which requires a one-mile walk to the race start (the race directors do provide a Facebook group to facilitate making carpooling arrangements with other racers). We unloaded our gear and our valiant crew captain, Derek, hauled the 85-pound pink Yeti cooler to the crewing zone. Right before the start, running celebrity Dr. Mark Cuccuzella gave the gathered racers a safety briefing, and the race started a couple minutes after 6:00 AM.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the 6.2-mile loop exceedingly runnable. Here, Derek, can describe the course because he’s better at it than I am. Pacers were NOT allowed, but he was doing a long run on all the local trails and managed to include the loop so here he goes:
“Well, my first impression of this course is that the loop is tailored to beginner trail runners or an advanced runner looking to PR for whatever distance they could achieve in eight hours. Which, I’m guessing, was the director’s intention. Not to say there isn’t any challenge from the elevation fluctuation. The winner set a new course record of 50 miles and it makes sense. But I’d say the event is more about bringing new people into ultrarunning and an active lifestyle than it is about pure competition. Having run the other trails in the immediate area, including the Appalachian Trail and others in the same greenspace, I couldn’t believe how smooth the race course was by comparison. These trails were heavily maintained and as burned-in as you’ll find. Several portions are on old timber road but there’s enough singletrack to be distracting and keep it mildly interesting as your laps would pass. The loop begins and ends with a tendency toward downhill. I can see where the out-and-back to pass over the Virginia border could be mentally challenging if you were several hours deep into a hard effort. The descent down is just steep enough and just rocky enough that you can’t completely relax to pick up speed and upon the return it’s steep enough in sections that most people can’t run it top to bottom, which contrasts the rest of the course. So the out-and-back portion is likely to be the mind crusher/soul destroyer. If I was racing it, I would push the heck out that last mile or so of each lap once you’ve topped out the climb back from VA. My GPS had just over 800 feet of elevation gain for the entire loop. As a spectator for a timed event, it’s certainly more entertaining to see your runner or runners with great frequency, as it prevents complete boredom and one of my greatest fears: public napping.”
Here are some of my thoughts during each loop:
Loop 1 (miles 0 - 6.2):
This course is so runnable!
Hold yourself back! You didn’t train doing 10-minute mile long runs, you dummy.
Why do people think it’s okay to play music from a speaker in the woods any time, but especially during a race?
Someone asked Music Man how long his battery lasts.
Why am I still near Music Man.
I want to get away from Music Man.
Loop 2 (miles 6.2 - 12.4):
Stop thinking about how much time is left.
I don’t remember most of this.
Oh, this climb again.
These last two miles feel like they go on forever.
Oh hello again, Music Man.
Loop 3 (miles 12.4 - 18.6) :
I feel amazing! I could do this forever.
I love trail running.
Why doesn’t everyone do this?
I should sign up for another race when I’m done with this one. Maybe on the car ride home.
Loop 4 (miles 18.6 - 24.8)
Uh oh, quad cramps.
(While descending and following the advice of my crew/physical therapist/coach/personal trainer/husband) Tiny steps, tiny steps, tiny steps.
Do a body scan like Derek always says. Unclench your jaw, woman. Relax your shoulders.
I may have just peed a little.
Shut up, legs.
Loop 5 (miles 24.8 - 31)
This ice in my hat and vest feels amazing (a big thank you to the crew!).
Stop thinking about how many miles are left.
Uh oh, quad AND calf cramps.
Why do we pay to do this to ourselves? (Oh yeah, to get the hat and finisher medal)
That lady is turning around. Smart lady.
Last time I have to see that rock. Last time I have to see that twig.
Do I have enough time left? I’m going to text Derek and ask him even though I know the answer is yes.
Coca-Cola is AMAZING. MANNA FROM HEAVEN. NECTAR OF GODS. (also a suggestion from the crew)
I’m going to text my friend Emily. She’ll send me encouraging, all-caps messages. I should choose future races based on the location of the nearest cell towers.
Try to run this part.
It’s okay to walk this part. You’ll probably fall on your face otherwise.
Try to run this part.
And then I finished! In like 7:35, so about 25 minutes under the eight-hour time limit! I sat on the Yeti cooler and watched Stephanie finish her 5 laps. Sara was sidelined with significant knee pain after lap 1, but PT extraordinaire and A+ crew member, Derek Clark, was able to fix her up so she could complete three laps.
All in all, I think this race would be excellent for newer trail runners and seasoned runners chasing PRs, as the course is very runnable. The aid station at the beginning of each loop was well stocked with a variety of items as well as a ton of volunteers. Another aid station was located between miles 3 and 4, and offered water, Tailwind, and pop (or soda or Coke, depending on your regionalism of choice). The course was well marked and the volunteers were friendly and plentiful. As someone who usually hates running loops because, in general, I identify as weak-willed and cowardly, I found it to be a good mental challenge, and the loop is long enough that I didn’t find it too aversive. Thank you to the race directors and volunteers for a great race experience!