FKT: Nathan Toben - Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Segment 10 (NC) - 2020-10-21

Athletes
Gender category
Male
Route variation
Standard point-to-point
Multi-sport
No
Style
Supported
Start date
Finish date
Total time
12h 24m 19s
GPS track(s)
Report

NOTE: this is the raw text from the trip report linked above.

Nathan Toben's Trip Report/
Mountains-to-Sea-Trail: Segment 10/
Date: October 21st, 2020/
Time: 7:00am EST - 7:24:16 EST/
Supported FKT: 12:24:19/

 

The run started to plan. I was surprised to see ~25 people (family, friends, trail stewards, and many kids and staff from Triangle BikeWorks) braving the dark, foggy morning to stand in the Pleasant Green Trail Access parking lot and count me down. It felt like a legit race send-off as I headed down the trail at 7am sharp. 

The first few miles are some of the most technical on the entire Segment 10 route. My plan was to ease down from 10-minute miles to give my proprioception time to warm up. I found myself settling in to mid-8-minute miles - probably too fast. However, movements through thin ropes of fog felt efficient, so I went with it. The first snag was - due to the weather and thick riverside canopy - the Spot Trace GPS tracker could not find a signal. I was confident that there would be more than sufficient evidence for FKT verification but disappointed that people at home were going to be limited to Facebook updates. 

I came into West Point on the Eno (~10.13 miles) at around 8:30am, my crew's first aid stop. I drank down some calories, grabbed a fresh hydration belt and left.

The next section of trail is highly runnable and a slight downhill grade. I found myself hovering in the low low 7-minute mile range for some of the time, careening along the muddy bank of the Eno in the fog. I felt light and fast - noting a good taper -  eager to set myself up for a quick first half. 

Making swift work of the section, I popped up into the Snow Hill Road parking lot and was greeted by my partner Carina, and Bill Boyarsky (Segment 10, trail task force leader). We snapped a couple quick photos, I got some aid and dipped back into the woods, continuing my southeasterly way from the Eno River to Falls Lake. 

 Miles 15-30 went decently if not a touch labored. It is at this point in Segment 10 that the Mountains-to-Sea Trail has left the flowy banks of the Eno River and starts its winding dance along the finger-like ribs of Falls Lake. This shift in the trail's character can be felt by the increased difficulty of finding a rhythm while running. A low-lying section of the route, there were a few muddy troughs - just enough to keep the feet consistently wet. The first set of negative thoughts made an appearance but I quickly showed them the door. A quick aid stop at "Red Mill Road 1" (19.13 miles) with my dad preceded an equally quick aid stop at "Red Mill Road 2" (24.14 miles) with Carina (my partner) and my mom. 

The final 5 miles of this "act" weaves over railways, through tree farms, across powerline corridors and through the uneven mounds of old dump sites. In my recons of the route, I found this section to be stifling. On the day, it proved no different. I came upon Cheek Road (30.18 miles) hiding a thin level of worry from my dad. We made a few changes to our nutrition game plan for future aid stops and I was off to tackle the longest leg between crew. 

Nutrition and drier, more runnable trail brought my head back around. I saw a red fox, some turtles, bright white columns of fog lifting off of Falls Lake as the sun tried to force its way through the clouds. I could read my average pace was hovering around 9-minute miles and the reality of the day really came into frame: the time has finally come to send it. Today is the day. My goal was to post a sub-14 hour finish. My execution of the first half of the route had taken advantage of the cool weather and banked ample time, despite flirting with running too fast. Regardless of these positive currents, I met my partner at Baptist Route (38.58 miles) humbled by the rising temperatures and time between seeing crew.

I drank down some calories, made a shirt and hat change, talked with my brother who had driven out to see me, had my first can of coke, grabbed up a fresh hydration belt, and set off.

Miles 39-49 are characterized by dilapidated outbuildings, deforestation and sections of game land doubletrack. A shotgun went off a hundred yards from me, despite my orange attire. I thought, "it would be a shame to go out like this when the first half of my run was so stout...". A sensible FKT concern. As much as we as humans love to sow division, I came upon the hunter soon after the shot and he apologized for not seeing me sooner and I apologized for not making my presence known after the shot was fired. We both bid each other well wishes from across a metaphorical canyon of politics, both nature enthusiasts, and I arrived at Boyce Mill Road aid (43.42 miles) in decent spirits.

My sister and dad were there to support me and it was really important to get that connection before knocking out the most rhythm-disrupting section of trail on the entire route. Nothing to report other than I set my jaw and grinded it out. Without a few hits of caffeine via coke, gels and drink mix, that section could have put a monkey on my back that would have been real hard to shake. Instead, I kept my thoughts to a minimum, rode the buzz, and pressed on to Creedmoor Road (48.45 miles).

At Creedmoor, I took a sock and shoe change, choked down some burger and fries and took a moment to soak in the company of my partner, mom and dad. I had to ask Carina to change my shoes for me because when I went to bend forward, my hip-flexor nearly seized. My body hurt significantly. Despite my nausea, I ate. Despite my nausea I drank. Despite my thoughts, I ran on. And to my surprise, I ran fast.

Looking down at my watch, I observed how my average pace had risen to ~9:25 minutes per mile. But with fresh socks and responsive road racing flats on, I rediscovered the elasticity in my stride and dropped to 8-minute miles, feeling like my old self had returned. The trail is shaded and soft through this section; one of the more popular Falls Lake recreation areas. I was ticking off the miles in a kind of out-of-body state, stunning myself at the effortlessness of the quickened pace. But then, as I hit a significant woop-dee-doo in the trail, my hamstring seized. It fully contracted. I let loose a startling yell and froze. It took some mental kung fu to convince my body that it was okay to relax. The hamstring finally let go, but for the remainder of this leg, it was a hair away from re-seizing.

I spilled out to Durham Road (54.85 miles) mumbling to my dad about salt. Salt. Salt. Salt. It was peaking out at 81 degrees and nightmares of hiking in the remaining miles echoed through panicked determination. My dad made salt packets appear like some insane genie and I washed 2 of them down with coke. I had to get going, lest stopping would stiffen the legs. My dad gave the good news that it was under 3 miles to the next aid. So I went.

Halfway along this leg, I picked up my first pacer, Brandon. His jovial demeanor and genuine excitement to be a part of the day lifted me. I told him flat out that I was seizing up; that I had to take bridges and creek crossings delicately; that he need to get behind me and I would not be doing much talking. Having never paced before, he locked right into my instructions and only brought good vibes on our travels to the next aid stop.

At "Six Forks Road 1" (57.06 miles) I allowed myself thoughts of finishing. Carina took over pacing duties from Brandon. Carina and I don't have to exchange pleasantries. We just dug in a cruised together. However, I did notice that, at first, her presence was giving me license to grunt and suffer, so I made an effort to note this to myself and not allow these calls for empathy to pilot me. I had another full-on muscle seize and it was good to have Carina there to help me calm down and get moving again. The trail undulates through here with the occasional bed of rocks and roots. Very punchy hills disrupt any momentum achieved by abbreviated flats.

We hit "Six Forks Road 2" (60.19 miles) at sunset; Carina was only warming up and I was privately terrified of failure, so we kept cruising onward together to give doubt and disruption no ledge for purchase. A beautiful section of trail, despite my mounting pain, Carina and I could appreciate the Finland-esque qualities present in the underbrush and pines. Nothing much more to report here other than that I consolidated my attentions on the present and the immediate. This is perhaps why I carry diminished resolution of this leg in my memory banks.

At "Possum Track Road 1" (64.21 miles), I bid farewell to my sweet and picked Brandon back up. Having come out last minute to chip in where he could be useful, Brandon's even-keel optimism and shadowing footfall kept the momentum up and spurred me to power up the punchy hills. 

Having already more than fulfilled his pacing duties, my dad asked that he stay in with me after "Possum Track  Road 2" (~68 miles), for good measure. This was the last leg. The pain was real and so was the finish.

Headlamps on, we cranked up the rusty locomotive that was my body and got to moving. It was all arms and eyes; the legs somehow followed suit. The only section of trail that I did not recon, once I noticed us entering the park, I realized we were close. I told Brandon to run up ahead and heed my father to prepare his timepiece for FKT documentation. Brandon disappeared up ahead with ease. Damn him. 

And then I was alone, and the whole day started to coil up like a loaded spring. 

I crested another punchy hill - the defining feature of this incredible route - and floated down a wide slope to the termination point. My partner and her mother held a Finnish flag, representing their heritage, while a Triangle BikeWorks banner was held up as the finishing tape. I ran through, and then I ran just a bit further because I knew the official end point of the Segment was exactly where Falls Lake Trail terminates into the starting  point of the Neuse River Greenway: just in front of the public restrooms. "Wow, it's over."

I looked around and the bodies in front of me came into focus. My mom, dad, partner, members of Triangle BikeWorks, co-workers, my sweet sister: it was a special community moment. This project was designed to raise money for a good cause, to set an FKT, but to try and build some community in isolating times. I think it has done so. I found my mom and gave her a big long hug.

Then, I asked for the time. 

"Hey Dad, what did the watch say?" 7:23:24. I couldn't do the math. "So what does that make my time?" 12 hours, 23 minutes, 24 seconds. Solid. Significantly below 14 hours. 

When I got home and uploaded the data, the raw file read: 12 hours, 24 minutes, 19 seconds. This will be what I submit to Fastest Known Times. Upon verification, this will be the standing FKT for Segment 10 of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

--- 

A few takeaways from the route. Though I expressed fears of going out too fast, in retrospect, I took good advantage of cool, morning temperatures and cloud cover in the first half of the afternoon. I would not change this strategy. The course is fast all the way through; I did not hike a step. But once you hit Falls Lake Trail (~15 miles), and start weaving along the inlets, the pace naturally slows. Adjusting pacing expectations accordingly is key here. In my opinion, miles 15-49 make or break this FKT. From Creedmoor Road to the finish is roughly a marathon. If you get to Creedmoor Road in one piece, you can work your average pace back down over the marathon distance. This latter stage is not without disruptive undulations but there are ample opportunities to open your stride back up and log some speedy miles.  

Allowing speculation: according to my data file, I spent a little over 2 hours "stopped". I enjoyed my time at aid stops with my parents, friends, partner and spectators. On a cooler day, factoring out time lost to cramping and casual aid etiquette, I could have gone sub-11 hours. Optimization of the route was not my first priority. While I am 100% proud of my effort, I think true FKT optimization will take shape at around the 9.5-10-hour mark. A sub-9 hour finish would be masterful. 

Through diligent reconnaissance, research, and now execution, I have developed a deep kinship with Segment 10. I hope that this effort challenges another to have a crack at it. I am happy to share all of the documents I have created for future attempts. And if you need someone to support your effort, I can be contacted at:

nathanbtoben@gmail.com