The “Black Bear Double” (BBD) is a double race event hosted Vacation Races, where on Friday night you are participating in the “Great Smoky Mountains 5K” and Saturday morning you are also in the “Great Smoky Mountains Half”.

I signed up for the BBD as a training session for a long trail event in November (that I won’t get into right now) to see how I can push myself while running for long periods of time. In addition to the race events, I was also planning on hiking/exploring the Great Smoky Mountains which you can see on this separate post. Over two days I was able to accomplish:

  • 10 mi mountain hike
  • 3.1 mi race
  • 13.1 mi run
  • 5 mi mountain hike

Nice total of 31.2 miles over a 48 hour time window!

Race Breakdowns

5k

I did zero reconnaissance work for this race mostly because I didn’t think I would have much of a shot in terms of placing in my age group as I still don’t think of myself as a fast runner. I arrived at the race location about an hour early before the race to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. Since Vacation Races allowed the option to mail my bib and race shirts early, I was already checked in and ready to go. I didn’t really start talking to people until the race director announced that people should start lining up in their respective groups with the fast people first and slower people towards the back. I didn’t really understand where I should be sitting as the signs that were being held up were for the half marathon paces, so I just placed myself in group 2 right behind the fast group. When the race announcer stated we had 30 seconds before the main group was going to be released, I decided to walk a few steps forward and join the lead pack.

I was the LAST person to cross the starting line of the first pack, and instantly started to go fast. Way to fast! I actually completed the first mile in under 7 minutes, something that I knew I could not sustain for the next two miles. Shortly after finishing the first mile we turned left into a grass field which slowed a lot of people down. The ground was not packed or smooth, making your footing difficult and the grass brushing the top of your toes is extra resistance that your body must overcome. We escaped the field and returned to the sidewalk path, and headed strait back to the beginning for the last mile.

I’m glad I stepped up at the last minute, because I actually placed fifth overall in the “Master” (old guys over 40) section and gained not one but two medals on Friday.

Half

Saturday morning was just another early AM morning for me where I eat my “running” breakfast (English muffins with peanut/almond butter) and drove to the same starting location as the 5k. I was trying to find my Speed Sherpa teammates who were also running the half, but ended up finding fellow Fuck Cancer Triathlon Team members Roy and Audessa, who were based out of Maryland! It was great chatting with them which makes the pre-race nerves calm.

Once the race began my legs felt a little tight but strong, which was great considering Friday’s hike and 5k run. There were plenty of people that lined themselves up in an unrealistic pace group because I instantly started passing people after the first 500 yards. I had actually never just ran a half marathon. My long run training last year was for Louisville, and those were slow and methodical targeting for training. I actually wanted to “race” a half marathon while still at a slight disadvantage by having a hydration pack (again, this is a training session for November). I knew my target pace I wanted to achieve, and things were going very well for me hitting my goal.

The race course was great! We stayed on Old Walland Hwy, which essentially follow the “Little River”. The views were great as you could see the rocky stream off to your right and the rustic houses that have been converted to nice rental properties. The course was well supported with Aid stations placed every two miles where Honey Stinger, fruit, and speed fill water stations that were designed for Vacation Races “Cup Free Racing” racing policy to leave no trash behind.

Things were going well and at mile 9 I was content on hitting my goal, when I noticed the next target pace runner was just in front of me. I realized that not only could I hit my goal, but a stretch goal of being 10 minutes faster! It hurt, but I dug in to try to find the last bit of energy to increase my speed just a little so I can catch and pass the stretch goal pacer.

In the end I did beat my stretch goal! I was shortly followed by my Speed Sherpa team mates that I had been looking for and discovered both of them podium in their respective age groups! With Friday’s half completed, I gained two more medals; one in finishing the half and the second one stating I finished both the 5k and half marathon. It was a good weekend in collecting some hardware.

Post Race Thoughts

Vacation Races hosts a great event and with the bonus of targeting National Parks as their race locations makes these wonderful extended weekend events. If you get a chance to do one of these, make sure to do it right and spend some time in your National Parks.

Race Results

5k Rankings

  • Overall: Placed 19th of 802 (top 2%)
  • Gender: Placed 19th of 301 (top 6%)
  • Male 40-44: Placed 4th out of 34 (top 12%)

Half Rankings

  • Overall: Placed 99 of 1708 (top 6%)
  • Gender: Placed 78 of 606 (top 13%)
  • Male 40-44: Placed 11 of 69 (top 16%)

Splits

Running 5k Run Half
Goal Times 22:30 2:00:00
Stretch Times 21:44 1:50:00
Actual Times 22:07 1:49:48

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