Running 31.4 Miles in the Sandhills

Lessons from a day in the North Carolina woods

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31.4 Miles in the Sandhills

I ran a 50K last weekend.

It was my first race of 2024 and my fifth ultramarathon. 

One of my favorite things to do is go out and experience something, then share the takeaways with y’all here.

So today, I’m going to share a bit about the race and 5 lessons I learned.

The Course

The course was a 10.4-mile loop we ran three times. It was 100% trail with minimal elevation. It was in the North Carolina Sandhills, so some stretches of the trail were soft sand, which provided a unique challenge. Overall, it was a “beginner-friendly” course.

Race Strategy

I ran this race to support my buddy Harley. 

He’s working towards some fitness goals, and this race was a catalyst for him. I had no personal goal for the race and didn’t train much for it (not recommended!).

Given that, we had only two goals for the race:

  1. Finish

  2. Run with character (ie. don’t have a mental meltdown out there)

Our general race strategy:

  • Run 1 mile, walk 0.15 miles, repeat

  • Don’t let heart rate get above 160

  • Walk all hills, no matter what

  • Consume 200-300 calories / hour

  • Every word spoken has to be positive

It worked great … until it didn’t.

Let’s move onto our lessons learned.

The North Carolina Sandhills

Lessons Learned

1. “Ready” is irrelevant

I had ~8 weeks notice to prepare for this race. 

That’s not enough time for a proper training block, and I’ve been focusing more on strength training this winter. So my training “plan” was just get some time on feet leading up to the race, and rely on experience on race day.

Then I got sick the week of the race. Sinuses clogged up, terrible sleep, the whole thing. By Thursday, I was questioning if I should even run it. 

All of the above is to say, I didn’t feel “ready” for this race at all.

And that ended up providing a beautiful lesson.

I committed to supporting Harley, so I gave it a go. I focused on our plan and kept things simple. And despite us hitting some struggles (as you’ll see), I beat my 50K personal record by 17 minutes.

My takeaway: just because you don’t feel “ready” for something doesn’t mean you can’t perform.

A big meeting, a speech, a new job, a championship game, whatever. There will be things we don’t feel “ready” for.

Do all you can to prepare, but when the time comes, know that “ready” is irrelevant. Just go execute.

2. Stop thinking like an individual

Harley started running into physical issues around mile 13.

Muscles locking up, intense pain in his knee. He knew a 50K was a huge stretch goal for him, and he probably wasn’t prepared for it.

By mile 18, it was clear he was going to drop out at the end of Loop 2 (~21 miles).

Our “run 1 mile, walk 0.15 miles” plan had long been abandoned, as running 1 mile without walking became too difficult.

Realizing Harley was done, my mind started thinking ahead. I still had a half-marathon to go. I wanted to move faster. I started thinking about my time. I stopped thinking as much about Harley.

About 1.5 miles out, Harley told me to run ahead if I wanted. I considered it.

Then I realized: I was starting to think like an individual when my buddy was the whole reason I was there.

I was no longer putting him first.

We think like individuals more than we realize.

  • When we get frustrated with our kids

  • When we get upset with our spouse

  • When we put our goals ahead of the team’s

  • When we don’t do something that would help a colleague

  • When we don’t treat others with love and respect

There are countless examples every day.

Harley had no idea I had this internal struggle, but it was the defining moment of the race for me and a reminder to put the “team” first, in whatever context that applies in life.

Not a bad place to run!

3. Are you satisfied with your effort?

When Harley was deciding to end his race, I asked him a question:

“Are you satisfied?”

As a friend, I wanted to make sure he was making a clear decision he could live with and not giving into momentary discomfort.

These are tough decisions.

The line between “smart call” and “weak decision” is paper thin.

You rob yourself of growth by not pushing past weakness and momentary pain (which will end, no matter how bad it feels now).

And yet, you can do real damage if you lead with your ego.

There are three questions I ask during these moments:

  1. Am I putting myself at long-term risk?

  2. Will I be satisfied with this effort?

  3. Will I regret not giving more?

If the answers are No, No, Yes – then keep pushing.

If the answers are anything else, then stop.

4. Finish your race

Everyone who does enough ultra-endurance events will “DNF” at some point.

Did Not Finish.

There’s no shame in it.

Two miles out from the end of Loop 2, I told Harley: “If this is it for you, finish it the way you want. Lot of growth still left.”

He wasn’t going to finish the race, but he could still finish his race. 

And that’s ultimately what matters.

As long as you’re still “running,” there’s more you can get out of it.

Harley achieved the most important goal: Run with character.

He took on a challenge he knew would likely end in failure. He grinded through it. And now he can build on the experience to further his growth.

I’m proud of him.

5. Seek the Golden Opportunity

With Harley done, I went out for Loop 3 alone.

I wanted to finish the job for us. 

I also wanted my Golden Opportunity. I knew running the last 10 miles alone would provide some growth opportunities (and they did).

Whatever endeavor you’re engaged in, push the limit. 

Embrace the process. Operate to your standard. Take advantage of each opportunity to grow.

We got it done!


Overall, I was thrilled with how the race went.

My key lessons:

  • “Ready” is irrelevant

  • Stop thinking like an individual 

  • Are you satisfied with your effort?

  • Finish your race

  • Seek the Golden Opportunity

We learned a lot and spent a day running through some beautiful country. Hard to beat that.

I’ll leave you with this:

We’re capable of more than we know if we put aside our excuses and execute one mile at a time.

Have a great week.

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