This has been a dream of mine since the I-40 overpass and accompanying section was completed several years ago, to run the full length of the trail end-to-end and back. I actually did the full trail three years ago, but starting from Southpoint area and adding several miles in downtown Durham to get to 50 for the day. This would be a true out & back from the start point, and I wanted to give it a good effort, as I'm in the midst of training for a 24 hour race.
The weather was perfect Saturday, high 40s when I got started at 7:52 am from the corner of Morehead & Blackwell. I had support from my girlfriend, Ari, who would meet me near Southpoint Crossing, at the New Hope Church Rd trailhead, and at the turnaround point, where I would swap out bottles and take care of other fueling should the need arise. The first 14 miles, I was accompanied by my friend Andy, which was a nice way to ease into the run. Because of the early start, the first few miles from downtown Durham passed uneventfully and mostly without seeing other runners or bikers. The road crossings were all relatively empty and I took that as a good sign of things to come. I stopped to pee at mile 4 and had to actively remind myself NOT to stop my watch like I normally would.
My initial plan was to run ~8:00 miles on the out portion and then see what kind of energy I had and try to be close to that coming back, which would give me a shot at a sub-6:00 finish. We were a little quick, but the effort felt relaxed and comfortable so I went with it. I got to New Hope (14.5 miles) 1:53 in, ahead of target, quickly got a new bottle, and took off for to run the remaining ~30 miles solo. The section from here to the end of the trail is crushed gravel instead of paved, and it felt nice underfoot. It's also much more rural and lined with trees and farm houses (and the random new housing development). Turns out, both UNC and NC State's track (XC?) teams were out doing runs so there were plenty of people running much faster than me all around to distract from what I was doing.
Hit the southern end, stepped into the parking lot (in my mind, that represents where the trail ends), took a quick picture by the trail sign, chugged a Red Bull, grabbed a bottle, and was off. Halfway done in 2:51:44, feeling good. The temps warmed a bit over the last half of the run, but the tree cover was helpful for this stretch and I stayed on top of my fueling. Energy levels stayed good. The stretch from the southern end back to New Hope was probably the most taxing, mentally and physically, because it felt almost constantly, gradually uphill.
Once I got back to New Hope, I felt a growing confidence in being able to hit my goal, and allowed for some increased effort. I hit ~50k in 3:59. Approaching the Southpoint area again, I knew this stretch, on much less fresh legs, would be tough. There's a relatively large hill that runs behind the movie theater up to the I-40 overpass, I knew if I could get passed there and still feel like I had some gas in the tank, I'd be home free. It went fine, I took a moment going over the highway to appreciate how many times I'd run this stretch thinking about doing this run.
Crossing NC 54, I had my closest call as a car ran the red light, but the adrenaline rush helped on the next slightly uphill 2ish miles. I got lucky at the MLK/Fayetteville light again, timing it so I crossed with the green as it changed and didn't have to wait at all (NOTE: there is a small section of actual trail along Fayetteville, from MLK to Solite Park that is closed due to road construction, and you are detoured to the other side of Fayetteville running along the sidewalk to the park. It's a negligible difference in distance - I think it might add a few hundreths actually - but I would like to eventually re-do this when everything is opened again). From mile 4 to mile 2, it's a gradual downhill, and I pushed like I was at the tail end of a marathon. Right after mile 2, I got my last "major" road crossing, and was lucky one more time - the road crossing gods really smiled down upon me today. When I got to 1.25 miles to go, I calculated that I could break 5:40 if I ran a 7:45 pace the rest of the way. I picked up the effort, and saw my Ari running out around the 0.75 marker, which gave me an even bigger mental boost. The trail rounds turns round a corner as you cross Enterprise at 0.5 mile and you're treated to a beautiful view of downtown Durham. This is when I knew I had made it. I sprinted (or felt like I sprinted) the last bit and stopped my watch at 5:39:13.
To my knowledge, this run has not been attempted before. I am glad the weather, traffic, my stomach, and legs all cooperated to enable me to establish the FKT. What a fun day!