The NutCracker 6 Hour Endurance Run & the Quest for the "Damn Yeti Jacket"!

With a slightly nauseous stomach and approaching the 16th mile marker, I already knew I was going to drop out.

We were practicing an 8/2 Run/Walk strategy that proved itself unlikeable (to me, anyway) and with the heat in the upper 80's and a seriously poor excuse for an aid station at mile 8, I had nothing more to prove. This would have been my nineth 50k finish had I kept going into the night with Heather and Emily.

Problem was... I just didn't want to.
So I dropped.

That event was to be a training run out in Farmville, Virginia called the Night Train 50k for The Yeti 100, Our first 100 Mile attempt  in September of 2017.

In addition to that 50k training run, we also had a 50 mile training run on the schedule as well which we ended up doing.  I finished that one.

The 100 miler came and went (read about it here!)  and we finished in just over the 23 hour mark.

It wasn't too long after the race that Jason Green, the RD for the Yeti 100 posted this challenge:


This sort of challenge proposes a problem!

Because if your running partner is the one and only Heather Gardiner... then you know as soon as her eyes laid sight on this post, we were going to be off in search of a 100k! This was the only distance that Heather needed to qualify for the jacket. And even though, no one to this day actually knows what this jacket looks like... It didn't matter! Throw out said challenge! Must meet, said challenge!

So a couple weeks later, still only having a ten miler as our longest run after Yeti, here we were, on the road to Cedar Point, NC to do a 100k at the Tideland 24 Hour Endurance Run in the Croatan National Forest so that Heather could get her "Damn Yeti Jacket" as she put it, and so eloquently, I might add!

Upon completion of the 100k, she had now qualified for the jacket... which left me only short a 50k! And had I known then what I knew now, I would have never dropped from Night Train earlier on in our training!

We had until the 28th of December to get his done, or until I had to get it done!

The hunt was on for a 50k! Ideally I would have loved to do Seashore Nature Trail which is taking place on the 17th of December and a race I had run fives times. I hadn't signed up this year because I did not know how the 100 miler would leave me. Hell.. I mean, I had visions of like... being so hurt that it was a possibility of never running again!! So I didn't sign up and by the time I had decided too, it was long gone sold out!

So the search shifted to ultrasignup and was wholly based on the distance we had to travel for it. We did not want to drive more than three or four hours to get there. We found a couple good options but settled on this one.. and I think it was the name that got me!

The Nutcracker Endurance Run - "Deck The Halls with Pain & Suffering"

This was a pretty diverse timed event as it offered a three hour, a six hour and twelve hour option. Only needing a 50k, the six hour was the obvious choice, and while not racing it or going after any PR's, we could still finish in about five hours based on our pace goal for the event.

I said all this with the assumption that Heather, now a dignified Yeti Jacket Qualifier, would even run the race with me.. She had just completed all the major ultra distances. Would she even want to run this one with me?

Short answer: Of Course she would! :)

Race day was December 9th, 2017 and we had about 2-3 weeks to mentally prepare for the distance. Our longest run since the 100k had been 14 miles, but we had been running about that distance for about 3 weekends in a row as our long run, now in training for our spring marathon at One City in Newport News, Va.

We left Friday afternoon for the 3.5 hour road trip to Dunn, NC where we booked our hotel. A little dive we dropped about $59 on just for some shelter overnight. The weather during the drive was horrible, rain the entire trip and the forecast for the next days run didn't look any better. Temps in the 20's at best, with a high percentage of rain the whole day.

Start time was 7:30 AM Saturday morning.

We awoke to temperatures not as cold as we were expecting, about 36 degrees. But still very cold indeed. I dressed in running tights, shorts over top and three layers of shirts; one long sleeve and two short sleeves. I chose my trucker hat and my Altra buff over a toboggan and I had on synthetic crew socks and was wearing the Altra Paradigm that I had run the Yeti 100 in! I felt warm in the room and I knew I would warm up once we got moving.

As we drove into Erwin, the rain didn't seem to threatening. It was misting under a sky that turned gray the day before and we were hoping for some mercy out there.

On the approach to the starting site we noticed some tents that eluded us that we were in the right place. The start was set in Erwin's historic downtown area. A diner, a pizza place and some other businesses lined the road where the 12 hour participants left just more than hour earlier at 6:30 AM.

We walked over to the tent and were pleasantly greeted by one of the RD's behind the table. We felt terrible for her. So cold and wet. She gave us our bib number and shirt and we went back to our car for a little while until the race was about to start just after a short race briefing.

I love ultras!

They seem grassrooted in the passion of running! More WHY we run and less WHAT we are running for. There's no glitz and glam or supportive crowds that we find at the overly commercialized marathons.

The starting line for this event was....

"See that crack in the road?" said the race director during the briefing. "....that's the start line!" she finished!

"Perfect!!!" I thought.

The race started on that street and looped around onto a sidewalk leading to a packed sand trail for about a mile before entering onto the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail, a 4 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail that starts in Erwin, North Carolina and ends in Dunn, North Carolina. The trail was not as flat as it appeared but was a runnable for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for walking, trail running, and mountain biking and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

We did see some dogs on the side of the trail up on a hill... two pit bulls. They were NOT on a leash and no owner seemed to be close by. Luckily we moved right on by without incident. But they were both definitely staring us down. I have to say.. I was a we bit scared for a moment!

It's never a good day to get mauled by an animal.

The event would have us do the 5 mile out and back for about 4 hours or more depending on pace and if we could make it back before the end of the 6 hour time limit. after that, it was just a half mile out and back from the start that would be done over and over again until time ran out.

Since we were only there for the 50k we knew we could do the three loops of the course and then do about 2 out and backs on the shorter course to wrap up the distance in about 5 hours or so.

The course was a mix of hard packed sand, crushed gravel, and some patches of heavy stones.. just big enough that if you were not careful you could twist an ankle! Fallen leaves from the trees that line most of the course, cover the trail. The trail was wet and muddy in one place or two. I caught one of those stones about three times, skipping out of each one, not hurting myself too bad! Heather and I were passing by the early miles chatting, observing the views, cottonfields, manicured pastures and curvy country roads. After a few miles in we started to see some of the front runners from the 12 hour group making their way back from the 5 mile aid station in Dunn.

We too finally made it to the mile 5 aid station. And it was a good one!

Boiled potatoes with salt for dipping, chips, pretzels, candy and ginger-ale, plus a dozen other treats like donuts and other items were all available for the participants! I was thankful for a well-thought-out aid station!

We dranks some ginger-ale and I grabbed a potato and we moved on out, now heading back in the direction from which we just came! Back to the start/finish area, where there was also another aid station!

On the way back now, we were seeing new people from the 3 hour group that started about an hour after we did.

Heather and I were cheering on runners coming in our direction as we continued to keep ourselves busy, talking and joking around.

We ran by a man, saying good job and as he passed I recognised him.. "Paul" I said. "Is that you.?" I continued as the man ran by

Without turning his head, "Shane and Heather?" he yelled! "That's right!" we replied.

Paul Starling recently introduced himself to us on Facebook, mostly because he saw we were going to run this race. Paul lives in Erwin or at least 10 minutes from the start location. Paul is also on the team "Run for Life" in which Heather and I were invited to be on for the 24 Hour Run for Cancer Event in April of 2018.

So it was exciting to meet a future team member!

We made it to the 10 mile aid station, completing the first of 3 loops. We ate and drank and then took off again!

Heather lost the jacket she'd been wearing for the first loop. It was still cold and seemed to be getting colder... but our bodies were warming, adapting to the cold temps of the morning!

Arriving back now at the mile 15 turn-around, we were told two profound and possible game changing information.

One, that they were giving out over-all awards for the six hour event. We had thought they were only doing awards for the twelve hour. So when the man told us this, we looked at each other because we were very aware of what "place" we were in at the current time. So for a moment we thought.. hey, let's maybe stay the extra hour after we grab that 50k and see what happens.

Heather was currently sitting in first place, but not comfortably. There was another woman, Janna, pretty close behind or so she had been. I was sitting pretty comfortably in second place with no shot at all of passing Aaron, the first place runner. He went out the gate blazing! I just came out for a long run! Ha!

When we got to mile 20, the start/finish aid station, we didn't really stop! This is Heather now in competitive mode. No way we're letting Janna get close, so off we were. As we were leaving we had less than a half mile on her. This only meant we had to move a little faster. And walk breaks were happening too, so we had to account for that as well!
Heading out from the start/finish line, the wind was at our back for the most part. We've been really fortunate with the rain, or lack thereof up until now and the skies were still dark, and it felt as if it could just dump on us at any moment, but we were still holding out for dryer weather.

Oh.. you're probably wondering what that secound bit of "profound" info was...

Pizza! (yes, Brian Burk! I said Pizza!)

Approaching the 25 mile mark we were expecting a pizza offering and we were going to be happy to oblige! Getting closer to the table I was eying down a pizza box... bam! There it is! Heather opened up the lid revealing four slices left. We each grabbed a slice, I had some ginger ale.. and back out we went!

At this point, in between chewing bites of a cold pizza with a cracker crust, but still incredibly delicious, Janna was the topic of conversation... where is she.. have we widened the the gap? Has she picked up her pace?

Well, thanks to these cement mile markers along the trail we always new two things, how far we were from Dunn and how many more miles it was back to Erwin or vice versa! Now I love a mile marker just as much as the next runner.... but these markers???? Fuck! They were like every tenth of a mile! And when you are trying to cover 31 miles, these things play with your mind!

I tried not to pay attention to them! It was hard!

About a half mile from the 25 mile aid station we crossed paths with Janna. Heather now had widened the gap to a 1 mile lead. At this point, all we had to do is maintain the pace and keep moving forward.

But then... everything came to a screaming halt!

Heather's knee had just stopped her in her tracks.

Her knee was bothering her earlier in the race but she was able to push through. I hadn't been an issue... she wasn't so sure now and she was befuddled on why it was acting up. Her knee had not been having any issues prior to this run. What's going on? Why now?

Heather was trying to stretch, bend, move it and do just about anything she could do that might help.

I was being patient as we stood there.. but I knew Janna was gaining on us now. Heather prompted to move forward, walking for a minute and then into a slow jog... "STOP!" She called out. Frustration on her face, she brought her foot back up against her backside, hoping to find some relief.. eliminate it possibly.... again, we started to move forward.

We slowly picked up as Heather prompt and she seemed to be doing okay... but we both knew she was on fragile ground.

Now we knew we were going to stay the entire six hours, that was clear. Between unknowingly winning several age group awards to walking away from leader board placements at timed events because we were there for a distance goal that didn't take up the entire timed window, Heather needed a win!

I wanted her to have that win and take it home in the form of an award.
Not to mention I was going to grab a win as well.

So, for both of us, it seemed a good idea to stay the extra hour or so! It would be worth it.

At this point we just need to get to mile thirty aid station. Then it would be a half mile out and back until the 6 hours were up. We had this! Plus with Janna, hopefully still back a mile or so, give or take, we could kill a minute or two at the aid station upon each return and it wouldn't be too risky!

I didn't want to mention it out loud, but Heather's knee found a way to remain intact for the duration of the run. We ended up doing about 6 out and backs and at the aid station with 4 minutes left on the clock.. Janna, Heather and myself called it!

The RD's quickly presented our awards and we made our way over to the outdoor heater and had some warm food. We talked a little bit with Janna and the first place male, Aaron and got to know our new buddy Paul a little better!!

All in all a fun day! Heather taking home the 1st Place Overall Women's Award and I, taking home the Overall 2nd Place Male Award!

We ended up with about 35 miles officially!

From Left: First Place Male, Aaron Wells, 2nd Place Female, Janna Howard, 1st Place Female, Heather Gardiner and 2nd Place Male, Shane Miles
Happy to be finished!

Heather's First Place Award

Running toward the Start/Finish Line aid station and turn-around

Shane's 2nd Place Award

Proudly Posing for the camera 

Post race food and beer!

And in the end... Heather and I both qualified for Jason's unseen but highly sought after "Yeti Jacket" or we like to refer to as.... "The Damn Yeti Jacket!"

The next morning I fired off this Facebook post to Jason:

That's a lot of miles for any jacket, let alone a jacket unseen! So I will just leave with this thought... That Damn Yeti Jacket better be nothing short of Just Awesome, Jason Green!!!


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