Diane Van Deren knows she’s had a good day on the trail when that day stretches late into the night. That’s good, because that means her feet, which have been battered by rugged Southern Appalachian terrain and wet conditions in her quest to run the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in 21 days, are holding up.

After slogging through rain and sloppy conditions in the Craggy Mountains, Black Mountains, Linville Gorge and Wilson Creek during Days 4-8 of her MST Endurance Run, Van Deren found dry relief — and less rocky and rooty trail — once she’d passed the base of Grandfather Mountain. In dry conditions, Van Deren hit the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at 8 a.m. Friday morning in the vicinity of Moses Cone Memorial Park and ended it 41 miles later, at Horse Gap where NC 16 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Dry conditions have certainly boosted Van Deren’s chances to cross the state in 21 days, which would beat the current MST record of 24 days, 3 hours and 15 minutes set last year by Matt Kirk.

“She likes dry shoes,” Millsaps said earlier today. “We have a garbage bag in the truck with six pairs of shoes she trashed in the first seven days. On Thursday we had four fresh pairs shipped in.”

Van Deren’s feet were in such bad shape at the end of Thursday that her support crew suggested seeing a doctor. Van Deren declined. Friday, the support crew member Chad Pickens suggested a new method for wrapping her blisters. Pickens, like the rest of Van Deren’s support crew, works for Great Outdoor Provision Co., which is cosponsoring the run with Van Deren’s sponsor, The North Face.

“She was a little reluctant at first to try something new,” Pickens said this afternoon. “She said she’d never had foot issues like this before, even running in the Yukon. She’s used to training a certain way and is understandably reluctant to change.”

Although Van Deren had multiple blisters, Pickens said the primary troublemaker was a quarter-size blister between the second and third toes of her right foot. “That’s where the weight transfer occurs, so every time her foot hit, she could feel it,” Pickens said.

A blister, Pickens explained, is actually a protective device that forms to protect a damaged area. The problem was that the protective skin of the blister was gone, leaving an exposed, sensitive area. Pickens formed a donut out of moleskin foam, the moleskin forming a protective collar around the exposed skin. He filled the hole with Neosporin, covered the hole with gauze, then used Gorilla tape to hold the gauze in place. Off Van Deren disappeared down the trail.

Eight miles in, Van Deren asked one of her guides, Glenn Wells, to call Amy Hamm of the support team. “Diane wants to talk to you,” Glenn said. Hamm’s heart sank.

“Do you hear that?” Van Deren asked.

“Uh … no,” Hamm replied.

“That’s the sound of us running!” Van Deren said. “We’re back in business!”

Guide runners Jill Miller, Glenn Wells and Abran Moore provided outstanding support as Van Deren passed the Eastern Continental Divide near Laurel Springs around 10 a.m. and was expecting to make the Devil’s Garden Overlook, where the Mountains-to-Sea Trail leaves the mountains, heading down the Blue Ridge escarpment to tonight’s destination, Stone Mountain State Park. Tomorrow, the plan is to run from Stone Mountain State Park to Pilot Mountain State Park. That will be Van Deren’s first exposure to temporary MST routing along paved roads.

“It looks like 40-mile days will be the norm from now on,” said Millsaps, who estimates that Van Deren is about 36 hours behind on her quest to run the trail in 21 days.

Though she’ll be out of the mountains, Pickens warned that she’s not out of the woods, at least as far as her feet are concerned.

“Now, we need to watch for signs of infection,” Pickens said. “There’s still a number of things that could derail her.”