Saturday, November 15, 2008

Shut-In - by Guest Blogger Julie

We are pleased and proud to once again present Guest Blogger Julie, Ellie's younger and Jacquie's older sister, rock star runner, and all-around cool cat.

You may remember Julie's story of running the
Boston Marathon in April. That, apparently, was not enough.

Last week, Julie ran the
Shut-In Ridge Trail Run, an 17.8-mile trail race up the historic Shut-In Trail beginning at Bent Creek near Asheville, NC and climbing over 3,000 feet along the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the top of Mt. Pisgah. The trail was originally an access trail from George Vanderbilt's home to his hunting lodge on the top of Mt. Pisgah.
In 2006, Mistah and I (Ellie) were in Asheville and crewed for Julie -- along with her daughter and her son -- when she ran Shut-In for the first time. So we know just how hard it is to run watch someone run uphill for 18 miles.

This is Julie's account of her 2008 Shut-In experience. With some peanut gallery comments, naturally (in italics), from me.

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I was home from the pre-race pasta feed Halloween night by 9:00, and got my stuff:

Ellie's note: When *I* was Julie's crew, I brought bean-and-cheese quesadillas and a cooler of beer. For the crew.

I organized for the morning. Started getting nervous. It's such a bear to have looming...

I slept really well, got up around 7:30, got dressed, had some food, packed everything up, and Shay arrived at 8:30. We loaded all my stuff in her car and headed out.

I had Shay drop me at the Arboretum, rather than hang there with me while we readied/waited for the start. She went and got some coffee then headed to the first stop to meet me at my projected time. I chatted with all the badass runner folk (which is EVERYONE who runs Shut-In), stretched, used the bathroom a million times, obsessed about what to wear to start, what to send with Laurel (Mark's crew), what to eat before the start and when, blah blah. Finally we were called outside to line up.

I didn't even warm up – the first 1.5 miles are a gentle downhill/flat gravel road, and I figured that would be my warm-up. I needed to conserve everything I had for this bastard. I found Monica, who I ran the first half with last Shut-In (neither of us ran last year. She had a baby, and I had Monroe's wedding), and it gave me such comfort to know she was there. She warned me she was starting slow, so I wasn't sure I'd actually run with her (my deal is that I have to do a steady tempo on the flats and downs, because I slow up on the hills to conserve leg strength), but again it was comforting just to have her with me at the start.

And off we went.

That's Julie, on the left, in her lucky black racing shirt.

I felt GREAT. Got to the first stop feeling really strong. Gary (who didn't run this year, but was taking photos) yelled out that I was top 10, keep it up. This is way early on, so anything can happen, but I was glad to hear I'd established a good placement as we started the climb. Now I could track who I passed and who passed me and know how I stood for top 7. Remember, only the top 7 women get stained glass (as opposed to the top 20 men).

The climb after the first aid stop (where Shay was positioned well for me, and had just what I needed) is a 25% grade. It's a bee-och, and if you're not careful you can blow up your quads. Way too early for that, so I took it tentatively, mindful of female activity behind me. Rolled along smoothly to the next aid stop. Again Shay was there and ready, and we had a successful pass-off of fuel, and off I went. I missed her at the next stop, but it was ok because there was not a lot of distance to the next one. I needed stuff at the next one, though, but we fumbled the pass-off, and that's when things went wrong. I had a girl right on my ass, so I wasn't willing to stop and get what I needed. I only managed to get an electrolyte tablet, no water. The next stop wasn't for 4 more miles, and I'd already missed one aid opportunity. I should have stopped to get what I needed, but I wasn't willing to let the heavy breather behind me take me yet. Yeah, so that was unwise.

I was feeling fine though for about 3 miles, running strong, then I started to tank. It was a rolling flat section, so I was pushing, and without fuel it was too much, and the bottom was starting to fall out. It was WAY to early to be in trouble. Ferin Knob was ahead, just after the next aid station. It's the hardest section of the course besides 151, the 2-mile finish stretch which has grades ranging up to 25%. Ferin knob is 20%, but it goes up for 2 solid miles. And I was tanking going INTO Ferin Knob. I slowed it way down, and the heavy breather took me over as soon as we popped up to the aid station.

The Heavy Breather

I stopped, took in as much shit as I could, and went on. Jay Curwin, Monica's husband, was there and asked if I was ok. I really wasn't and I said I didn't know, and he said "Julie, just get over Ferin Knob and you'll be ok". Monica wasn't having a great race, so Jay was really pulling for me to do it for us. He was great, really looking out for me.

This is Jay.
Shay was there at every stop doing exactly what she was supposed to do, and Jay was giving me placement standings, advice about what was coming on the course, and technical encouragement. It was perfect.
Anyway, I'm on Ferin Knob, hiking. My legs are warbling, I'm lightheaded, I feel like I'm moving in slow motion. It sucked. I could see a woman with a blue shirt behind me about half a mile (you can see down the switchbacks of the mountain pretty far). I knew if I didn't get my shit together, she'd have no problem taking me. She looked strong. And young. I really didn't feel like fighting for this. It was so early on, I was already suffering, I didn't know if I could get it back. But I just put one foot in front of the other and plodded on. Put as much speed into each step as I could muster. Got to the top of Ferin Knob (sweet Jesus!), and started the blessed decline. And blue shirt passed me. Shit! And she was rolling. But I kept her in sight, I was miraculously getting my legs back, and I was feeling less like complete crap every minute. I had just needed fuel desperately, and I think the hike allowed my to regroup as my body absorbed my fuel. So as we rolled down the back side of Ferin Knob, I came back.

From the next aid stop it's 6 miles to go. Six really tough miles. It's 3570' elevation at that point, so we climb another 1430' to 5000' at the top of Mt. Pisgah. BTW, the elevation at the start is 2070'. But the Shut-In course climbs a total of 5000' in elevation. 2000' are down. The declines slope as much as 23% at times.

My race went well from then on. I realized if I could keep it together, I could dare to hope for stained glass placement. Jay was so happy to see I recovered and was running strong again. It's surreal in those last miles, because you're working in rote form. Legs are dead, you're just pushing and fighting. The air is thinner up there, it's hard to get satisfying breath. Everything hurts.

Blue shirt was still in sight. I'd get close at times, and I was thinking she was looking a little wobbly, but I could never catch her. She was stronger on the flats. And downhills. And ups. She eluded me.

Finally we got to the infamous 151 crossing. That's the final aid stop, where you cross the parkway into the home stretch. It's 2 miles of what feels like a straight uphill climb. A lot of it is rock, so you're literally pulling on tree branches, pushing on your quads for leverage; a few spots you're on all fours. Most of it isn't runnable. I think of it as the Death March. I had a little left in my legs, or maybe I was just so elated that the end was near and I could finally push to the end; I had some new adrenaline brewing. I was pretty sure I was one place off from 7th at this point, so I had to find a girl out there near death and pick her off. I was a wolf.

I caught blue shirt almost immediately on 151. She was toast, it was easy. I passed several men, people were literally swooning up there. One guy was bleeding from the head so bad I didn't think he'd be able to go on.
Bloody Guy
But we were so close now, and he was determined. I got about 1/4 mile from the finish, sharp downhill descent, and I beheld Jennings Minton. She's a badass local runner. Has been on fire this year, winning everything. She was down, had taken a fall, heard me coming and scrambled to get up, and looked up at me in panic. I yelled to her to see if she was ok, and told her to get up, get to the finish, just to watch her footing, that I wouldn't pass her. So we took it home like that, her gimping down, me on her heels.
We got through the glorious finish line 6th and 7th. We wrapped ourselves in a big hug, cameras surrounded us. It was WAY cool.
Jennings Minton, 6th place female, 3:27.59

The awesome Julie Corey, 7th place female, 3:28.00

The Julie and Jennings Hug

The Blue Ridge Mountains from Mt. Pisgah at the Shut-In finish

Blue shirt finishing at 3:35.34 ........Monica finishing at 3:48.48
Here are the the results.
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Julie, you are amassing quite a collection of Stained Glass
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Looking for Shut-In stories on line, I found this written by Will Harlan in 2001 after his first Shut In. Will is the editor of Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, an amazing runner. He went on to place in the top 5 for the next 4 years. Humble. Very cool guy.

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Here's Jennings' note to me the next morning:

----- Original Message -----
From: Jennings
To: Julie
Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008 8:49 AM
Subject: Shut In
Good morning awesome trail runner-Just wanted to tell you how we really should switch stained glass-You were so awesome yesterday and strong-like it did not phase you to run 18 miles up 3000 feet- To me, that is what makes a good runner-and I have to work so hard at it-which is kinda what I do with everything-but, you were graceful even until the last step which you allowed me to make.
You are by far, what I call a natural trail runner-Steady and strong wins the race-I can't wait to see how you do in other trail races. I have told everyone that my place was 6th but Julie was just being kind:)Thanks for the hug and I know we are both very busy but maybe we could figure out a way where we could do a trail run, at least once a week or something.
Talk soon-and tell Mark that you beat me- I heard him say something like you let her beat you and tell him he was right-You really did let me take a step in front of you-I hope that I can be just as gracious some day down the road-Jennings


And, finally, here is a photo of Julie winning her first stained glass, in 2006, with the Blue Ridge Mountains behind her, stained glass in front of her, and that Insane Race a thing of the (merely temporary) past . . .

Way to go, Jules.


Anonymous said...

Wow... good job Julie! We live in these same mountains and know how hard this race had to have been for you..... Bravo!!

jcorey4 said...

Thanks for putting that together, Ellie. I'm exhausted all over again re-reading it. Hey, one note - when you crewed me in 2006, that was my 2nd Shut-In, remember? Mr. Broken Collarbone crewed me in '05.
I missed you this year. You are the crew who nurtures AND fuels. Goo infused with love, you can't beat it. Nor the frosty brews and quesadillas at The finish :)
xoxo JULIE

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Oh my gosh, Jules. I forgot about 2005. You are even a bigger super-duper rockstar than I reported! Super-duper *badass* rockstar.


Me, You, or Ellie said...

Damn, I don't even know what to say. Really amazing, Julie. Truly. It almost makes me want to give up beer and train. Almost.

You rock.


Oh, and I have never seen a cooler "trophy" than your stained glass.

Pickles and Dimes said...

That is so cool, Julie. And so awesome that you let Jennings stay in front of you. You are awesome!