This past weekend, I ran the Graveyard 100 miler. Graveyard is a point to point race along the Outer Banks in North Carolina starting in Corolla and heading south to Hatteras Island. This was unlike any hundred mile race that I had done before in that it was all on pavement! I’ve run on trails. I’ve run in the desert. I’ve run in the mountains. I’ve run a lot of road marathons and even a couple 50ks. But I’ve never run more than 31 miles on the pavement…until now.
I thought I would hate it. The pavement did hurt but it was a great race and I’m glad I did it. It’s not all that often that you can travel from one end of a large landmass to the other in a day. Even less often that you can do it by foot! I ended up finishing in 21:17 – more than an hour faster than my ‘best case’ time and good enough for 15th place out of the 98 runners. Here is a not so brief write-up of my experience at the 2015 Graveyard 100:
The race is on Saturday so I travelled down late on Thursday to avoid any chance of a winter travel snafu messing with the race. I had lunch with some great running friends and we chatted about the logistics/course and our goals for the race
First, some background on the course and logistics. Graveyard 100 is offered in two very different categories: crewed & solo. The race has four manned aid stations (miles 21.4, 42.4, 62.8, 87.2) and 11 other unmanned water stations with water and sports drink along the course. Crewed runners had access to the four manned aid stations, water drops but were also allowed to be supported by their crews throughout the course and could use pacers in the 2nd half of the run. Solo runners had access to the four manned aid stations, water drops along with drop bags that would be transported to the four manned aid stations. Since the course was point:point, you had to plan carefully to ensure that the gear you needed would be at the right aid station at the right time.
I’m a planner and love a good excel sheet so I got to work figuring out my best/realistic/worst case times for the course. Given a 5a start and the fact that I wouldn’t be running a 13:01 100 mile time like the winner of the race, I would need a headlamp both at the start of the race for the first 90 mins until sunrise and then again for the overnight section. In addition, the temperatures were due to start in the 20s topping out in the 40s and then return back to the 30s overnight with the possibility for some strong headwinds. All of this called for gear, layers and options!
My rough approach using my best case times (based on a 22:30 finish time) were as follows:
Bag 1 (21.4 miles / 9:10a) – Drop head lamp. Drop a layer if it was warm enough. Pick up 1,000 calories for the next 21 mile stretch. Pick up sunglasses.
Bag 2 (42.4 miles / 1:31p) – Pick up a head lamp in case it gets dark before the next drop bag. Change layers if i’m soaked. Pick up 1,000 calories for the next 20 mile stretch.
Bag 3 (62.8 miles / 6:04p) – Pick up the night layers including a heavier jacket/wind breaker. Grab a replacement battery for the headlamp. Pick up 1,400 calories for the next 25 mile stretch.
Bag 4 (87.2 miles) – Change headlamp batteries. 600 calories for the final half marathon push. Additional layers if I was cold and/or slowing down.
At 3p on Friday, I was off to the mandatory race briefing to hear about the run and also deposit my drop bags. The briefing was informative though the RD seemed to go out of his way to stress the pain/suffering aspect of the run. Some may get geeked out about the opportunity to suffer through an ordeal but I run these races to experience new trails/locations and meet awesome runners. To each their own I guess…
With the briefing done and the drop bags deposited, I grabbed some food and headed back to the hotel to get off my feet and relax for the evening. The race has a 5a eastern start and I needed to be on the shuttle to the start by 4:10a so I wanted to be in bed early!.
At 3:15a after a semi-succesful night of sleep, I woke up to gear up. It was a balmy 22* which is warm by Chicago winter standards but still pretty damn chilly for North Carolina. I was on the shuttle by 4:10a and heading north towards the start at Corolla. Once there, we were able to stay in the vans to stay warm and could drop our heavy coats inside of our finish-line drop bags just prior to starting the race.
At the start line with Elizabeth, Jaeson and Jeff. Photo credit: Jeff Liu.
At 5a, it was time to start running!
Start to Aid 1 (mile 21.4)
Pace: 10:08 / mile
At the start, we headed north for approximately 1.5 miles to the ‘end of the road’ in Corolla before turning around and heading back south for the next ~99 miles. It was cold out but people were fresh and in good spirits. There was a good amount of black ice on the roads and I noticed a bunch of slips and one fall early in the race. I remarked to a nearby runner that this was perhaps the only positive thing about training through a Chicago winter. The early race leaders including Marco Bonifiglio and Valmir Nunes went out hard and seemed to be running sub 7min pace and we saw them coming back from the 1.5 mile out and back quickly.
I found some other runners that were moving at a similar pace (9:45 – 10:00 pace) in the early miles and we started chatting. Getting through the early ‘warm-up’ miles with using a lot of physical and/or mental stores is key so it was great to find some company. I ended up running with a guy named Ian who is in the Coast Guard for nearly the first 50k of the race. We shared stories of training, running, families and more and generally passed the time quickly. We had similar goals for the race and both agreed that we were going a bit fast so we attempted to moderate the pace a bit.
We ran roughly the first 14 miles at a 9:45 pace and then did a 10/2 run/walk split through the first aid station (mile 21). The stop at Aid 1 was fairly uneventful. The volunteers were terrific but all I needed was to drop my headlamp in my drop bag, grab a running hat and some calories and get back on the road.
Aid 1 to Aid 2 (mile 21.4 to 42.4)
Pace: 10:25 / mile
Setting out from Aid 1, I was still running with Ian (that is him just to my left). We kept moving with the 10/2 splits and were cranking out the miles. We passed through the first marathon in just over 4:30..just under three more to go right? The roads were well maintained though I did note the slight cambre. We were instructed to run on the left side of the road facing traffic for safety purposes and i’m certain that the very slight slant of the road will have me walking sideways for at least a couple days. Around mile 30, Ian saw his crew and needed an extended stop so I pushed on solo. I was relieved that I had covered nearly a third of the race and was so far unscathed but I knew that I had nearly 70 miles of pavement to cover so it was way too early to celebrate. I maintained the 10/2 walk/run split all the way through aid 2 though I did start to notice that I was looking at my watch a bit more often hoping for the ten minute run stretches to be over sooner and sooner every time.
Aid 2 was a relatively short stop. I was at or ahead of my best-case predictions which was great but my headlamp was at aid 2 and I had to carry it with me even though I wouldn’t need it until well after aid 3 at this point. I was frustrated with the extra weight in the pack but more focussed on the fact that I was knocking down the miles with relative ease nearly half-way through the race.
It was at this point that one of the volunteers told me that I was in the top 20 overall. I laughed at that since I’m at best a mid-pack guy and soldiered on while thanking him for the info.
Aid 2 to Aid 3 (mile 42.4 to 62.8)
Pace: 12:09 / mile
Leaving Aid 2, I could feel that my feet/legs were getting sore with all the pavement pounding. Nothing hurt but this was no soft trail – this was hard unforgiving pavement. I stuck with the 10/2 eventually adjusting down to a 9/2 and then 8/2 walk/run split trying to stay ahead of the fade curve. Towards mile 49, we were nearing Bonner Bridge which is the one ‘hill’ in the entire course.
You see, for the entire 100.5 miles of the Graveyard course – there is only 136ft of elevation gain and the majority of it comes climbing the bridge. I had joked with my friend Sarah that I was going to run all of the hills on the course and stayed true to my word/joke! I will say that it was nice to use a slightly different set of muscles climbing the bridge though it did take a bit of work to run uphill after the first 50 miles.
My garmin elevation stats for the ENTIRE race.
The bridge was still open to traffic and nearly every vehicle that passed went out of their way to give me and the other runners plenty of space. While there was a guard rail, it wasn’t all that tall and the thought of a dive/swim wasn’t all that appealing.
I pulled into the 3rd aid station around 4:30p having covered the first 100k in around 11.5 hours. I was still ahead of my best-case time predictions and hoping not to implode in the last 40 miles. The temps had warmed up to the mid 40s and I was still running in a long sleeve tech shirt with a light running jacket. The aid station volunteers told us that the temps were due to drop into the upper 30s (not bad) but that the winds would be shifting and that we would likely be facing a strong headwind in the last 20-30 miles of the race.
While I was still very warm and comfortable, I decided to grab my warmer jacket from my drop bag and stuff it in my pack just in case. This decision probably ended up saving my race. This was also my longest stop of the run. I had been in and out of Aid 1 & 2 in less than 4 minutes but I took nearly 20 minutes at Aid 3 to get geared up for the night. I opted for a dry shirt and also re-applied anti blister powder to both feet and anti chafe everywhere. The volunteers at Aid 3 were terrific and went out of their way to see to our needs. I almost didn’t want to leave!
Aid 3 to Aid 4 (mile 62.8 to 87.2)
Pace: 13:56 / mile
Leaving aid 3, I was still in good spirits. I turned my phone on for a couple minutes to call Kelly during a walk break to learn that both Jacob and Charlie were doing great in a school robotics championship. She even texted me a couple pictures. I missed the family and wanted to hear more but I also knew it was time to start moving again.
My run/walk ratio continued to evolve starting with 7/3…to 6/4…and then to 5/5. I was encouraged that I was still able to run with pace though I looked forward to each and every walk stretch. Eventually, the sun set and it was time for the night.
Our next aid station was at the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. With the sun down, you could see the revolving light for nearly 10 miles out from the aid station and it seemingly took FOREVER to get there. Nearing the town, the wind picked up and started blowing right in our face. I was getting pretty cold and decided not to wait for the aid station but instead to get my cold gear (jacket/gloves/hat) on right away not wanting to get too cold and not be able to recover. I was a bit clumsy but managed the gear changed and motored on.
I arrived at aid 4 tired but excited that I ‘only’ had a half marathon to go. I felt what I thought were some pre-blister hotspots so I once again took the time to apply some anti-blister powder to my feet and had some warm soup at the aid station. Fed and geared up, it was off to find the finish.
Aid 4 to Finish (mile 87.2 to 100.5)
Pace: 15:25 / mile
There was a 1-2 mile stretch leaving the Cape Hatteras lighthouse that was fairly wooded which helped to block the wind but once back on the main road, the wind was relentless and hit us right in the face.
I found another solo runner named Jim and we worked together through much of the last miles. Both of us were tired but very excited to finish. It was Jim’s first 100 and he knew he was close. Running at this point hurt…but also seemed somewhat pointless given the 30-40 mph winds we were running into but we did manage some stretches of jogging/running.
After making our way through an industrial section, we saw some signage for the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum which was the finish. A couple turns later and after some prodding from Jim to run a bit, we were done!
21:17 for the 100.5 miles! This was a PR for me by nearly two and a half hours. I was the 15th runner out of 98. It was a runnable a course as I’ve ever seen but it hurt more than any 100 miler I’ve attempted. Pretty sure I won’t run any more road 100s in my future but it was a great experience!
The race including the RD and volunteers went out of their way to take care of the runners. They wanted us to be successful though it was also on us to do the work. If your body can stand the pounding of pavement and you want to chase a new 100 mile PR, this is probably the race for you.
We were shuttled down the street to a nearby hotel where the race had set up a bunch of rooms for runners to recover. After a nice warm shower and the BEST grilled cheese ever, we were shuttled the nearly 100 miles north back to the Sanderling where our drop bags were already waiting for us. While most of the runners on the shuttle were pretty tired from the race, it was very cool to see the distance that we had covered.
- Hoka Stinson Lite
- Injinji socks
- The North Face GTD Tights
- Fuseform Dot Matrix Wind/Rain Jacket (night)
- Better than Naked Jacket (day)
- Julbo Dirt Sunglasses (day)
- Tifosi Podium Clear Sunglasses (night)
- Ultimate Direction SJ Pack
- Garmin 910XT
Garmin link: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/714259810