Cape Fear, Bald Head Island, NC
60° F partly sunny. Light breeze – 15+ mph head wind coming from the north end of the cape.
10 miles of paved roads around the island.
1 mile of single track trail with heavy brush.
40 miles of beach (2 out and backs).
Cutoff time was 14 hours.
Black Diamond headlamp; buff; hat; Altra KingMT shoes and gators; UD pack.
The start area is relaxed, with runners chatting and taking pictures together. We all stood in front of Old Baldy lighthouse. The race director (RD), Chris Kostman, made announcements and recognized runners for previous achievements and records. Everyone clapped during the ceremony. Pre-race felt like a special time (I felt warm fuzzies), I didn’t think about the race ahead, just lived in the moment. The National Anthem was played, and as soon as it finished playing, we were given the “go” to begin. I felt calm and thought to myself, “Here we go. Just do your thing.” I realized steps in that I didn’t have my GPS watch ready, so I clicked it to find the satellite. It quickly found the satellite and I was set to check my progress. I rarely look at my watch when I run, I run by feel.
I am 18 weeks pregnant and well-prepared for the day ahead. I chose a pace that was comfortable. One of the paces that I have been training at. If I’m comfortable, baby is comfortable. I had a plan and roughly knew what I was in for. Race-wise, this was my third consecutive Badwater Cape Fear 51.4 miler. Anything can happen weather and tide-wise once you are running on the beach. This was my 9th time running 50 miles or further in about two years, my OB basically advised me not to do anything new [after seeing my OB, I decided to see a midwife for more natural care and who was more suited to my lifestyle]. I am very well in tune with my body.
Pregnancy-wise, this is my first baby, and I love him or her very much (the gender will be a surprise)! Training has gone well and I’ve felt well. I toned down my running and CrossFit intensity, and added a rest day or two when I needed it. I didn’t follow a training plan, just listened to my body and ate a ton of healthy food! There were weeks that I still trained 5-7 days. Baby was healthy and I had been feeling strong kicks and punches for the past 2-3 weeks. I felt so proud of baby! Of course, mama was a little nervous, as moms usually are, but I trusted my preparation, health and experiences to be able to have a great day.
As we all ran across the wooden bridge over a marsh and onto the paved, golf cart only roads, our paces sorted out. Both 50 milers and 50 k-ers were running together. Our friend, and awesome race photographer, Robert E. Lee (Beamcatchers), was taking pictures. Everyone enjoys seeing him! Runners that I keep in touch with online said hello and shook my hand as they passed me. Very nice to meet people in person! The road weaved around the island. Large Oak trees covered with Spanish moss created a tunnel. Thick, leafy brush was between the trees. We ran past all of the large, beautiful beach homes, each uniquely named. There was a slight breeze and the sun squeezed through the clouds. Perfect running weather. I was wearing shorts and a performance material long sleeve shirt that read, “be.short.run.pregnant” on it. My husband came up with the saying, which plays off if my Instagram handle, “be.short.run.ultra.” I designed the shirt, and my friend, Heidi, made it and a tank top, which I wore underneath.
About 4 miles in, we were at the first aid station (AS). I already ate a GU gel and was deciding on what to eat next. I knew that baby always takes what it needs first and that I needed to eat food the entire day. The AdventureCORP Team / volunteers are very sweet people… and a bunch of badasses when it comes to running and races!! I was asked what I needed and encouraged to take extra. It was going to be an 8 mile stretch until the next AS. I removed my long sleeves and ate a banana and an orange. I drank Tailwind and refilled my soft flask with water. I thanked the AS crew. I had a few runners around me, all moving at a slow pace. It was mentally helpful having these people around and knowing we were all in this together. Spectators greeted and cheered for us as we glided by. I thanked volunteers for directing us on turns. The road section is a warm up run, but to me, begins to feel long and I’m looking forward to the trail section.
I was directed onto the trail section and told to watch my head and my feet. The trail is single track and lush. Hurricane Florence struck and parts of the island were still in recovery, the trail was in decent shape. The trail slows your pace, as it is windy and has many little things to trip over, a couple of logs to step over, and low branches and trees to hit your head on. – I’m 4’11.5″ tall. Despite the trail being well marked with neon pink ribbon and an occasional Badwater arrow, I managed to find myself a few steps off course, twice! I was busy looking down and followed what looked like the narrow trail. I let three male runners with long legs pass me. I would have an easier time following and pacing. The varying stride lengths and cadence felt good after the repetitiveness of the road. The trail is a nice transition to the beach. I recognized the final part of the trail and knew I’d be coming out soon. I started to hear people down the road. Coming up wooden planks, a volunteer was there on the road and happily greeted and directed me to the next AS.
I ran down the road and into the Conservatory AS (would eventually also be the finish). People checked on me and made sure I was feeling well. I felt good! I could tell that my legs were feeling fatigued sooner than normal, probably due to the weight gain throughout pregnancy. I refueled and did what I needed to. I wondered to myself if I needed to use the restroom, being pregnant, I peed all the time. I decided that I could run another 10 miles. I was happy to get to the beach portion. The race was just beginning.
I ran the entire road and trail sections, as planned. My next plan was to run as much beach as possible because I knew that with a slower pace and taking more time than usual at aid stations, I would need to run as much of the race as possible, no walk “breaks.” Of course, as soon as I reach the sand, I have to slug and grind my way through the deep stuff and over the dunes to get to the runable. I somewhat gracefully ran down the dune and across the sand towards the water. Badwater signs and banners led the way and pointed “left.” It was time to face the cape.
The beach is beautiful! I could feel a cold breeze sweeping off of the ocean and the waves were steady and soothing as they crashed to the right of my feet. We ran on shells as we followed the cape. I knew that Chris Kostman and crew would be up ahead. As I approached them, I was warned by a volunteer of the strong headwind around the corner of the cape, so that I wouldn’t lose my hat. I nodded and smiled. There was Chris! I turned left to head north on the cape and the headwind slammed against me. Chris greeted me and had his phone doing a live recording feed. I looked at him and looked at his phone. The headwind was strong as I continued up the beach. Chris was talking, but it was difficult to hear him over the wind. My buff was over my hat and ears to protect my head. He said we were on Facebook live. I smiled and stated that I was feeling well. He trotted along a few steps and then stayed back for the next runner to come by.
I pressed into the 15+ mph wind for as long as possible. The sand was packed enough to run on. It was low tide. I then dealt with the slope of the sand, which throws off mechanics. Running on sand is especially tiring on the ankles, calves and hips. Feet sink in and slide some during push off. I gazed miles ahead at the blue water tower near the Fort Fisher AS and turn around point. The tower appeared small and I knew it would be a few hours until I reached it. I told myself to be patient. I ate a gel a part of a Clif Bar and eventually pulled out my wireless headphones to listen to rock music. Runners were moving slowly, running and walking, taking pictures and videos of the beach with their phones. It was a surreal experience with the wind. I began walking and running. When I ran, I gave a harder effort and counted to 10 in my head and then slowed back down. I enjoyed listening to music like Five Finger Death Punch and Breaking Benjamin.
When I wasn’t holding my head down to escape the wind, I was soaking up the experience. I watched the Sand Pipers scurry about in groups as they strategically ate out of the tiny holes in the sand. They were fun to study. I also thought that they were mocking us runners because they weren’t struggling at all in the wind and their little legs were moving like crazy as they avoided and followed the ocean waves in and out. Other birds were bombing into the ocean and catching fish.
A few more miles up the beach and the fastest runners were already returning! The beach stretch is roughly 10 miles up and 10 back. 50 k runners complete this once and then head towards the finish line at the conservancy. 51.4 mile runners complete the beach out and back twice. I exchanged smiles and cheers with runners. The next AS is in the middle of the beach, like the middle of nowhere. God bless them! It’s windy and their lives are hard for hours. I’m so thankful for them. They fed and talked with all the runners. People asked about my pregnancy. A man who was running with his shirt off was turning pink from the sun and wind. A lady rubbed sunblock onto him. Before I left, sunblock was also applied to my already burning skin while I ate. I was thankful for the lady, it was a little late saving our skin, but the lotion created a nice barrier. I continued up the beach doing a run / walk into the wind.
I starred ahead at the Fort Fisher AS, even though it was still five or so miles away, and told myself to get to that spot. The blue water tower appeared larger. Many more runners were coming back down the beach and we all waved. I battled the headwind, while others were propelled by it. I was jealous, but thought I’d get that on my return. Times were hard and my legs were hurting badly. High tide was in full effect, I ran in soft sand and stepped anywhere that appeared more packed. I zoned out and a cold wave came up over my ankles, which upset me because now my feet would be wet. I felt like crying and was angry at myself for not paying attention.
I began thinking about dropping down to the 50k distance, but also reminded myself that what I was going through was temporary. I thought about baby and took him or her into consideration. Baby was doing fine, besides my legs, I felt good… and had to use the restroom. I paid attention the entire race to how my belly and everything related was feeling. I rubbed my belly and talked to baby. Occasionally, I’d feel a movement. The discomfort, er, pain, was from my hips down to my ankles, and that’s normal for ultra running. I was being mindful of my form. It was time in the race to seriously mentally dig deep. Mind over matter; relentless forward progress; if you don’t mind, it don’t matter. The feelings of despair passed. Here came my husband down the beach, he had just checked in at Fort Fisher and was only 10 miles away from being finished. He looked great and we quickly checked in with each other. He took action pictures of me using his phone. I felt happy for him and imagined his finish.
Soon enough, I was at Fort Fisher and struggled over the sand dunes, but took advantage of them and used them to help stretch my calf muscles. I ran up the wooden ramp towards the restroom, I super had to go. A lady walking with her family stopped me and asked if we were “doing a 5k or marathon?” I told her the two distances. She looked at me funny, nodded and said, “oh, thank you.” I smiled and sorely walked to the restroom. After going like a race horse, I trotted down the ramp and gave my bib number at the AS. I was warmly welcomed and had my bib marked for checkpoint purposes. I was immediately fed soup and other goodies, I love these people. I hung out there for a little and talked with volunteers and runners. Congrats were received on my pregnancy. I ate enough food, but was eager to get back out onto the course. I took food to go.
After fighting more sand dunes, I was back to doing a run / walk along the ocean. I goaled myself to reach the next AS and listened to music and smiled and acknowledged runners around me. I wondered what people thought of me participating in this race while pregnant, I know it is crazy, but I think ultra runners understand. My spirits were bright and I was really enjoying the race. After reaching the AS and refueling, I was on my way to the conservancy. Still dodging waves, I ran with the wind to my back. Of course, it had died down and wasn’t as strong as the headwind. Runners were more spread out, but a small number of us noticed dolphins, it was lovely watching the dolphins.
Every stride was closer to reaching the Conservancy AS. As I closed in on the end of the cape, the sand was deep and I was picking my feet up higher. Friends were coming for their second out and back and doing the same with their feet. We checked-in with how we were feeling and encouraged one another. I was feeling well and was comfortable with being a “back of the packer.” I reached the Badwater flag and battled sand to exit the beach. I got my legs back and ran to the AS.
Another friend racing checked on me to make sure I was good to go back out, I assured her that I was. Volunteers aided me, and my husband, who was all cleaned up, came and helped. I handed off gear to get refilled and told Stephen what I wanted to eat. I went and used the porta-potty, I was well-hydrated. I heard about vegan chili and was asked if I wanted any, I replied saying that I would have some when I finished. I was told that a person at the next AS made it. I ate Clif Bars, gels and snacks for almost the entire time I was running, it was a little tough wanting to down more food. Fruit was a good option. Afterwards, I was wished well. I always feel a sense of urgency to get back out on the cape to finish the job. I waved and thanked everyone as I left.
I re-entered the soft sand of the beach and a few 50k runners were coming into the final stretch of the race. I was happy for them and we greeted each other in passing. I wasn’t sure how many 50 mile runners were behind or in front of me. I was highly race focused and ready to face the wind again. At the left turn to head north, I was pleasantly surprised and the headwind had died down and it was just normal windy. Looking at my arms, I noticed how sun or wind burnt I was. It wasn’t going to be fun that night or for the next few days, oh well. I zoned out and enjoyed the long trek, though ended up having random waves surprise me and wash over my feet. At the AS in the center of the beach, we talked about the vegan chili that I heard about at the Conservancy and continued a previous conversation until I had to leave. I’d visit their AS one last time, but knew I’d be pushing the cutoff time.
I listened to more music as I made my way to Fort Fisher. I really had to use the restroom, again. Four 50 mile runners exited the Fort Fisher AS and were running in a single file line on the higher end of the beach, instead of coming back down to the edge of the water. One man got my attention, as we were all waving hello, and signaled to run up there when I came out of the AS. I smiled and gave him double thumbs up. After using the restroom, more runners were leaving the AS, or in the process. They appeared in rough shape as they dug through their gear, I was also beat up. Though I didn’t have much time, I moved slowly and ate what I could, but didn’t need much. I was tired of eating a ton, baby and myself were receiving plenty. Urgency set in, I became increasingly concerned with the cutoff time and asked the people in the AS if I was okay. They assured me that I had plenty of time and that eased my mind for a little. I pulled my headlamp out of my pack and placed it on my hat, I’d need it soon. Volunteers said things like, “only 10 miles left to go” and “see you at the finish line.” It is nice that several runners and volunteers hang out at the finish to see runners in.
After leaving the AS, I recalled being told to run on the higher end of the beach, so I did. The sand was softly packed by small vehicle tire tracks, there were also shells and straw-like grasses poking out. I could see why this looked like a better option, versus zig zagging on the slanted sand into the soft sand, just to avoid waves. I also thought about the second high tide, but couldn’t remember when it was. The sun was setting on my right, it was gorgeous. Running on the higher side of the beach became too challenging, I ran out of a good path, I zoomed down the sandy hill back towards the water.
Doubts about the cutoff time bothered me again, even though I knew that I was making good time. My next thought was the immediate urge to use the restroom, these thoughts continued over the next mile, I worked on holding it in. The dark settled in, so I turned on my headlamp. It gave me flashbacks to my first Cape Fear (2017), when I ran down the beach at night, wondering about the cutoff time… the only different thing this year was that there wasn’t scary heat lightning (and I wasn’t pregnant). I began to run faster, nope, had to slow because I needed to go to the bathroom. Then fast, then slow. This continued for a little.
I observed my surroundings and thought that I should be at the AS, but it was pitch black around me and the AS would be far off to the right, up over the sand, making it difficult to spot. My watch indicated that I was close. I told myself that maybe I wouldn’t see the volunteers until the finish, maybe I passed it up, didn’t notice it. Headlamp lights were visible in the distance from runners. I didn’t notice any going off towards where the AS might be. I didn’t want to worry about the AS because I didn’t need anything from it. Continuing to listen to music and fight the urge to use the restroom, I was in some sort of zone when all of a sudden a lady appeared to my right and it startled me. She had a clipboard or something in her hand and a light. She spoke to me and I thought I heard her say something about the AS being close, so I nodded and said thanks, in an upbeat manner. I didn’t see it, maybe I misheard.
According to my watch, I had 4 miles left. I worried about what the lady said, but soon forgot as all of a sudden I went a little in my shorts. I searched for a place to go. No where, but the ocean. I’d feel guilty if I did. There was a headlamp light bobbing in the distance behind me. I gave in and looked at the blackness of the ocean, I went in the water. Feeling relieved, I became faster and could still see the runners ahead of me. The person in front of me had a red blinking light on the back of their pack, it was nice to just watch and follow (after the race, I found out that was my friend, Paul). The beach houses should be within sight, but it was too dark to see. I was desperately wanted to see the houses, they were a sign that I was close to the end of the cape. The darkness can be a killer, it felt forever.
Finally, there were the houses and I made my way to the turn on the cape, it was the deep sand. The next thing to be on the lookout for was the Badwater flag. It was going to be obvious with fun little flashing lights on it. When I reached the flag, I was relieved and pumped. My legs were heavy and everything was tired. Joints kind of hurt, especially when I got onto the road. Motivated, I made my way towards the finish. People waited and cheered in the finishing area. My bib number was noted and I ran through the finish.
Runners, volunteers, friends and my husband watched and cheered. Chris Kostman congratulated me and presented me with my buckle. He announced that I completed the race pregnant and took my finisher photo. I hobbled around, stiff and tight. I received my vegan chili and sat next to a guy who appeared younger and was all wrapped up in a blanket in front of an outdoor heat lamp. His two sisters or family members or friends (?) poked fun at him and said that a pregnant lady almost beat him. I found it amusing that they were giving him a hard time. He replied in a monotone voice, “I don’t care, I’m just glad it’s over” and shook his head.
I don’t know if I’d ever run another 50 miler while pregnant, it was harder on my legs, for sure… and all the eating and using the restroom was extra work.
Now I can say that I have a Badwater baby, it is pretty sweet.
To the pregnant runners out there: be safe; listen to your body; take great care of yourself; rest when you need to; get extra rest; listen to your healthcare provider; ask questions; do your research; don’t do too much or anything new; be confident.