With 63 miles to go, Diane Van Deren will catch her breath today and enjoy the Outer Banks that treated her so harshly yesterday. Her plan as of 7:30 this morning is to put in 30 to 35 miles today, then finish her MST Endurance Run Friday morning. That would put her at 23 days and change, breaking the record Mountains-to-Sea Trail crossing of 24 days, 3 hours and 50 minutes set last year by Matt Kirk.
The recovery day is well-deserved after yesterday’s 50-mile-long battle with Tropical Storm Beryl, which regained strength and lingered into the evening on the Outer Banks.
“Yesterday,” support team member Joel Fleming said this morning, “Diane really proved why she’s a North Face athlete. She was a machine.”
Yesterday began at 3:30 a.m. under promising conditions. It was windy, reports Fleming, but dry. But about 15 miles in, that changed. The wind, reaching 40 miles per hour, persisted and the pelting rain, which would total 8.6 inches on the day, began.
“That’s when the elite athlete in her really kicked in,” said Fleming. Despite the conditions, which included standing water, Fleming said Van Deren picked up her pace, going from about 11 minute miles to a 9-minute pace.
“She blew off three check points all together, and the ones she did get stuff from she told her guide runner what she needed, they ran up and got it from us and she just kept running.”
On one elevated bridge crossing the wind was so bad that trail guide and expedition coordinator Chuck Millsaps tethered himself to Van Deren. Harder to blow two bodies over the side than one.
At the height of the storm, around 5:30 p.m., the Mountains-to-Sea Trail took Van Deren and Millsaps through a swamp. “We started hearing a weird noise,” said Millsaps. “Diane had heard about ‘swamp music’ and assumed that’s what it was.”
Millsaps is more familiar with southern weather than Van Deren, who’s lived in Colorado nearly all her 52 years, and knew it was something else. Among the severe weather warnings issued in association with Beryl was one for tornadoes. Millsaps figured the funnel clouds to be about a half mile off.
Worried that the worsening weather might affect the ferry schedule — the goal for the day was the Ocracoke-Hatteras Ferry, which stops running at midnight — Van Deren again picked up the pace. She reached the ferry at 10:30 last night.
Yesterday, the plan had been to try and push today’s remaining 63 miles and finish tonight, around 11 p.m., atop Jockey’s Ridge. But last night, as the long day was coming to an end, Millsaps was having second thoughts.
“It seemed like such a disservice to someone who had been through so much to have her finish at night, in the dark, with no one around,” Millsaps said. “So we talked about some options and I said, ‘How about if you do 30 or 35 miles tomorrow, get rested up and finish strong and fresh Friday. Diane was good with that.”
This morning, under conditions that tourism types pitch when selling a beach vacation, Van Deren set off with trail guides Christian Johnstone and Russell Burke, both of Raleigh. Her destination: A night in Rodanthe.
At least that’s the tentative plan.
“Once she gets going, I don’t know,” Fleming said as she, Johnstone and Burke left the Hatteras Ferry dock at 7:50 a.m. “I think emotionally and mentally, she’s ready to let go. She might just want to finish.”
We’ll be back with a midday update.