I’ve ventured through the winding trails of Charlotte’s greenways too many times to count. I’ve oogled at all of the breathtaking swamp-life and I’ve clumsily stumbled on every single overgrown tree trump.
But never before have I galloped these mystical wooded paths in a formal race setting, competing against several hundred others for greenway gold. So when I discovered that the annual Charlotte 10-Miler is hosted on two of my favorite routes, McMullen Greenway and 4-Mile Creek Greenway, I knew it was a race that I simply couldn’t miss.
Not gonna lie, come Saturday morning, I was pretty grumpy about setting my alarm clock at 5:45am to venture out for a race all the way in Ballantyne. But when I hopped in the car to make the journey, I was greeted with the most breathtaking sunrise, which reassured me that being an early bird was the right thing to do. The sky was on fire, which was a tell-tale sign that my running shoes were going to be as well. 🔥
I showed up to the starting line with plenty of time to spare. So instead of turning into an icicle counting down the start, I decided to jump on the cheesy train and partake in a leisurely shakeout run down Johnston Road (something I NEVER do, because I’m no professional athlete and I love to make fun of the runners who take themselves a bit too seriously with these pre-race sprints 😂 ). But man was I glad I did it: I’ve never felt more energized, limber, and ready to take on a race before.
Returning with a few minutes to spare, I snaked my way up to the front of the pack and hurriedly reviewed my pre-race checklist: running playlist set ✔️️, Strava app ready to go ✔️️, and good luck text from mom in my inbox ✔️️. Yup, it was time for a unforgettable run.
Then came the highly anticipated BANG and we were off with a bang. I let my cockiness get the best of me and for the first 100 yards, I was neck-and-neck with the local boys high school cross country team. My legs were in overdrive and for a brief moment, I was rockin’ the speed of Allyson Felix. Total mistake though, because just after I caught a glimpse of my half-mile pace (6:42), my body slapped me in the face. It quickly reminded me that my little wheels can only turn so fast and I needed to back it down pronto.
So just as we were making our first turn onto the trails, I slowed things down and settled into a more comfortable pace of 7:45 (I know what you’re thinking: 7:45 can not be considered comfortable…). And you’re totally right, it wasn’t. Especially when I realized how many rolling hills were hidden on this seemingly flat greenway trail.
But instead of grunting at each slope that came my way, I spent every step gawking at the wooded beauty around me. Sure we’re technically in the dead of winter and the colorful greenery hasn’t come out to play for the spring yet, but it was still an undeniably beautiful run. And since I was no rookie to these woods, I knew exactly when to skillfully juggle my camera for a mid-stride snapshot (a talent which even caught the giggle of a cute passerby 🙌 ).
Just before the scenery started to get a bit redundant, the race led us into the surrounding neighborhoods. It took me exactly five minutes to realize this wasn’t a good thing, however, because these beautiful homes hid what I consider some of the most conniving hills in Charlotte. So I gotta applaud the locals for knowing exactly where to cheer us on, because they gave us the loving boost we needed at the top of each climb. (And huge shoutout to the lady with the “Chaffing nipples turn me on” sign for momentarily relieving me of my misery.)
Unfortunately the endorphins from the crowd’s cheers were short-lived, because my legs were aching and my energy levels were plummeting. As I clung on to the last bit of fight left in me, I rounded the corner at mile 8.5 and was greeted with the most monstrous climb I have ever seen. I kid you not, when the bunch I was running with also spotted this hill, we all stopped in our tracks with the exact same look of disbelief. You would think we would’ve spotted King Kong in the distance because I swear our jaws dropped in unison at the sight of it.
I truly didn’t think I would summit this climb without sneaking a walk in. But then I looked to the crew surrounding me and not one of them stuttered in their pace, so there was no chance that I going to be the wimp in the bunch. It was like we made this unspoken pact that with 1.5 miles standing between us and the mimosa celebration, we weren’t quitting now. I took each step at a time, and even though I was moving at the pace of WalMart’s checkout line, I made it to the top. I was so damn proud of myself for mounting what was perhaps the steepest hill I have ever encountered in a race before.
Thank the Lord the final stretch was all downhill. 🙏 The race organizers were totally looking out for us because there were no last minute curves and swerves to this finish: it was a straight shot home. So this allowed me to time my finish in perfect stride: I waited until I was about 100 yards out and I turned on the turbo boost, giving this race everything I had left in me. I raced through the finish line with my signature sprint, passing at least 5 contenders on the way. Man did it feel good to hear the race emcee yell out “What a strong finish by Nathalie Emplit!”, but it felt even better to feel that familiar pat on the back from my love who was excitedly waiting on me in the crowd.
The pain I felt only moments before was replaced with the addicting runner’s high you feel when you conquer an incredible feat. I snagged my coveted tree-twirling medal and I made my way over to the true gold: the mouth-watering mimosas waiting to be chugged. I gotta admit, the Charlotte 10-Miler was definitely a tough one but the pride it brought me was the absolute best way to close out my winter race calendar.
I think it’s totally worth noting that the race proceeds went to what I consider two of the most worthy organizations in the running industry today: Let Me Run and Girls on the Run. Both of these programs introduce our youth to the glory of running and show them that running not only can promote a healthy lifestyle, but can also help create nourishing relationships and a positive self-image.
I’ve always known that it’s so important to give back in any way you can, but if I can donate to a cause that teaches our future to love the sport I love more than anything, then I’ll raise my mimosa glass to that any day!
1:19:09 finish time
7:54 average pace
13th place F25-29 out of 81
58th place female out of 669
208th place overall out of 1,450