Bald Unyielding Twilight Trail Trial (BUTTTs 12 hour event) 2020

Sometimes the opposite is true, and you need to stop competing against yourself and compete with others.

It’s been a while, truly, since that self-supported winter 50k last month, and the classic “post ultra blues” sent me down a dark and cold road for most of February. But no, it wasn’t too cold here this season and excused myself hunting for a southern state ultra to “get away” this time. I started coaching more clients, which gives me life; I love helping others and move them towards their goals. So work increased. But the days grew cold and, well, icy. I’m all up for parting snow, well, no, I’m not, but I will. I quite frankly stopped struggling through snow because I was frustrated with the effort put in in January, the 50k being the final straw…final snow? The overall lack of snow and melting-refreezing cycles covered the trails in ice as well as some of the bike paths. I did not invest in running spikes, I did not pass go, I did not collect all the miles. I had no excuse other than struggling with the lack of daylight and overall Wisconsin winter seasonal affective disorder getting to my core once again. Fun fact, we had over a foot of snow living on the ground, which apparently is rare here in February? (Source NOAA)

I started biking again. I worked out almost every day, I just wasn’t always running, and I was not outside. I did my longest stint of treadmill running/climbing ever in February. Then hubby brought home an ick, and then down with the ick, I pushed at-home strength. Many sets of crunches, lunges, and squats later, my body was in that satisfying state of DOMS that we all seem to crave. However, that was Monday before the race I signed up for!

We all have those friends. The ones that gently encourage us and show us the errors of our ways bluntly. That friend for me is Natasha. She tagged or posted about this race, that was literally created less than 3 weeks before the event was supposed to happen. All you have to do is call my name, girl.

The race was slated to be on Leap Day, February 29th, 2020, with a 3, 6, and 12 hour option. How perfect to get me back on track with training (Georgia Death Race most certainly does NOT train itself by any stretch of the imagination). So which distance? I could always drop from 12 hour to lower if not feeling great, or stop early (I’ll get to the description and rules next). 6 hour seems logical, but I do want an ultra, and asking for a sub 6 hour 50k on a 1) training run, 2) hilly course, and 3) on the fly, is probably not logical to assume…that’s a tight cutoff and I do want a February ultra to keep my pretty meaningless streak of 1 ultra per month alive by a hanging thread, or rather “extra” day. I ended up settling on the 12 hour, and a plan to get in 40-45 miles, taking it easy, and getting the so valuable winter time on feet. Legit one of the toughest things about training for a spring LONG distance ultra, is getting that time on feet in, especially if you are not dipping into the night time hours. Luckily this race started at 6pm, so a night race. All dark long.

The race was called the Bald Unyielding Twilight Trail Trial, or BUTTTs for short. It came out of left field, the one with the snow…or rather the prairie in Illinois. It would take place at the Bald Hill Prairie Preserve near Mount Morris, IL, or somewhere in the vicinity of Rockford for us who aren’t local. This is a very rural area. So with less than 3 weeks before race day, the website gave the details as thus:

It’s all about the number of loops. The race was a 2.15-ish mile loop with about 120 feet of gain per loop of mostly open prairie. If at the end of the time there are ties, those that are tied will race one final loop to see who will come out on top…this is versus traditional timed races where whoever gets their last loop in first, gets first. I loved this new concept (to me anyway) of a fight to the finish, a sudden death approach. I would not be lucky in the 12 hour for this to happen, but I did think it was super interesting.

If you were in the 3 hour, you could bump up mid-race to the 6 or 12 hour and still get an award, but you could not bump down and get an award. Awards, what they might be, no one really knew (and that was stated in the race info), would only be for top female and male of each timed event. All events started at 6pm, with the 12 hour ending at 6am the next morning.

There was one main aid station at the start/finish of each loop. I resisted hard a few times in calling the time between loops the interloopal period (c’mon brain). The description for food was basically anything that wouldn’t chip your teeth (winter ultra my dudes), gatorade, and water, and possibly some usual aid station fare. I’ve not had luck with this sort of description in the past, so I opted to bring my own goodies in case. They said there would be seating and fire and a place for large drop bags!

It was very useful info (if you read it!!), including that the one port-o-potty was off trail a bit. Not having a good idea where this place was and how the trail was, I didn’t think this info was that big of a deal (it was at the bottom of the hill that was iced over). But half the challenge of ultras is figuring things out as they come, and a winter ultra, well, considered part of the deal.

I think the one thing I admired most about this pre-race info was that it wasn’t sugar coated or tried to avoid the obvious questions. The race was pretty cheap in my book, and that immediately tells me not to expect much, this has up sides and down sides! I’ll close with that remark at the end of the story here, else I’ll be spoiling the tale.

Onto the race.

After signing up I had fears and a bit of remorse. What did I think I was doing signing up for another winter event?! I failed at the first one, made up my own later to finish off what I had started, and knew every single winter challenge I’d be facing, and made even worse in the dark. I know my body does not play well with the cold. Cold urticaria is something that brings me down, and I have to be super prepared and careful in how I deal with temperatures below 38°F. I had some faith in the climate forecast, hoping for warmer weather considering the winter we have been having. But one should never hope for warm in a season where it’s rarely the case. I lucked out. The high of the day was supposed to be 36°F (though it did not break 35), and the low only dropping to 32°F (this ended up being almost correct, with a itty bitty little caveat).

I got some shaky sleep Friday evening, knowing I did not have to get up for the race meant I could wake up later. So I did. I still had some anxiety rolling around, but not enough to affect me. Hubby Rich and I got up, went to a friends’ house for a small gathering for breakfast and watched the Olympic Trials. Afterwards, we dropped by the grocery store to pick up the goodies for ourselves, telling Rich we should pick out stuff we’d eat outside of races in case we didn’t use it. GOOD PLAN.

We didn’t have in us to eat a full dinner at 3pm, so after packing up, we gassed up locally and grabbed some quick bites to eat along the way. This probably was a super good plan since I can’t remember that being a bad thing later on. We hydrated well, as we made our way taking the 90 minute drive down super rural county roads (seriously we were never on a road more than 8 miles, and usually not more than 3!), no reception, and plenty of cows. As we drove, the temperatures increased slightly and snow covered fields became spotty white fungus prairies. Rich was deadly silent the way down, more nervous than I’d seen him. Come to think of it, I’ve never been with Rich right before an event of this magnitude (to him); the first marathon he flew in to meet me, the first 50k also flying in. I felt bad for him and tried to keep conversation light and focused elsewhere. Finally I asked him why he was so quiet and what would help, would talking about the race help? I let my iPod continue to play all my songs on random as we drove along. I wanted to give him the hug, but I was driving so that probably wouldn’t end well… mental hugs, yeah! Go get ’em brain waves.

The last few roads brought us to a dead end at the Bryon Forest Prairie Preserve. Reception! Weird, but ok! We parked and walked up the long icy hill to the aid station tent. I probably should not have worn flip flops, but no crazy looks from the other runners! Must be in the right place. I realized quickly heading up the hill that this was going to be a challenge and how much of the course would be packed down, uneven, icy snow with little to no traction. At check in, we got bibs and received a nice insulated water bottle, and asked to write our names on a camping cup that would be ours at the end of the race along with the sporf (spoon on one end, fork on the other). This was one REALLY cool part about the event. It was a cupless event, but they gave you a cup to have for literally anything you wanted at the aid station…it wasn’t a cheap decision it felt like, but I really admire this since there was only one aid station. Just made sense.

Coming back down the hill, it was emphasized to me how little traction there was, flip flops or not, this was slippery and no way around it. I hit up the port-o, having drank all the way there, and seeing how far it was off trail. The port-o was also handicap sized, very very nice, I took note for later when I’d be struggling getting clothes on and off inside. The unfortunate side of this, was there was only one, so you’d have to wait in the race more than likely. I also took note of the toilet paper amount inside. Looks like they were good to go.

Back at the car, we changed into our race clothes (we would have roasted on the longer drive down). I prepped my feet with A&D and new Balega socks I’d worn once before on a longer run inside. I had my baselayers on already and added my Altra Heat Zone tights, my Altra Core Hoodie (learned this was pretty good midlayer back on the self-supported Ice Age 50k), and my Altra Wasatch Jacket on top. I packed in my glove/mittens and a chapstick along with my iPod. This would be ALL I carried.

The glory of 2-ish mile loops is you really can be free…even in winter.

In our “drop bag”, which was a smaller cooler, we packed our soda, grape juice, cakes, gels and chews, extra batteries, extra headlamps, and socks for me along with extra A&D and some blister pads. It turns out the cooler (although this was not premeditated) kept the cold OUT, and kept our items from freezing, which became important later in the event.

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Looking down the hill we would come up to the AS. Port-o is at the bottom, unseen.

Upon arrive back at the aid station (2 hill repeats so far!), we set our stuff on the drop bag tarp next to the aid station and got ready to go. The pre-race involved telling us to go “that way” and the macarena. The webpage stated that you’d have to be very talented to go off course here. This is valuable info for poor Richard. It was with the macarena that I had forgotten one step in the dance, call it race nerves. Oops.

A casual go from James one of the RDs, and we were off into the setting sun, all 50 some of us (they expected with such short notice about the race they would only get about 12 or so people, and ended up maxing out). There was no official timing for this race other than time of day. Loops were kept track of by the mighty Race directors in their fireside chairs. The would physically tally up how many loops you finish per hour. This is neat because you can see over time how consistent you were over the course of time. I figured part of the low price point was no official timing, but this has never been super important to me, especially in long trail races.

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The race started up a slight grade leading to the highest point on course in a small wooded area where we witness a grand sunset. The timing of this was perfect. I snapped some photos and moved on. I knew loop 1 was where I could take pictures while it was somewhat twilight out, so I took my time on it. No headlamp was immediately needed and thought I could go a loop without. This was nice because it allowed us to be able to study the trail slightly in the “daytime”, and gave me a good idea of what I was looking at when it was completely dark (shortly) later.

From this high point, still a bit icy, we headed straight down a longer hill with a few light rollers. The downhill was tricky as it wasn’t completely iced over, a few gems of patchy grass shone through the clouds of snow piles, melted from daily sunshine. I eventually concluded this was akin to the SAME technique I’d use for running down a technical mountainside, except in this case if you hit an icy patch, it wasn’t a rock where you’d just take a shorter step…nooooo, you’d fall straight down. But being able to use one of my east coast skills was nifty. As this mile continued, I really thought I’d be walking more. My in-game plan was to run 2 miles, walk 1 mile to make sure I didn’t get too sore, but able to run “my pace” when I did run. Recovery was super important from this. However, winter ultras seem to have a way of chewing up your plan and freezing it, and then smashing it like a sheet of ice.

The course ultimately dropped and laid flat for some time. I noticed we ran across some muddy patches, and I hoped they would freeze because 2nd lap I wasn’t going to remember where they were and I sure as heck did not want wet feet if it could be avoided. I laughed as the first mile passed, joking it would be my fastest mile the whole day (also wrong), even with the stop for pictures. Rich and I chatted. I would be so thankful if he ran with me for 3 hours, but I did not want to hold him back either. One time he mentioned that I was doing well keeping up with him. A giant question mark appeared in the sky above my head and a confused look spread over my face that absolutely no one had the pleasure of seeing. The trail turned right for the first time (sharply) and rose uphill. I remember my friend Megan saying something like every right turn is always uphill. I know she was talking specifically about the trails at CamRock while we were mountain biking, but maybe there was something to this. Do I remember a left hand turn going uphill?! I questioned life as we knew it.

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Credit: another runner.

This hill was rather a false hill, as it was pretty short and runnable without spiking your heart rate. Then there was a long stretch of flat past the mile 1 point, and we passed by some sort of spine (skeleton). We made guesses as to what it was. We concluded it was probably a deer. But it was this marker that signaled another sharp right turn up an actual hill! This one was covered in ice and snow, with far less than ideal traction. This was a walker. Up to this point since the end of the major downhill, it had been clear of ice and snow for the most part. The other side of this hill dumped us at the Big Tree, the largest tree in all of Illinois, and we missed it.

Yup, we were talking about something, who knows, it was chill and relaxed, and we missed the tree (Big Tree, the largest tree in all of Illinois). I think we were honestly trying to figure out where to go for a hot second, since the area had both benches and picnic tables. It wasn’t until after the 6th hour I figured out where the trail actually intended you on going (I swung so wide!). This is where the up mostly started. A lower grade uphill shoved its face, as the sky grew much darker and I decided to switch on the headlamp after having a near death experience, narrowly missing a giant mud stream.

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Trail in the twilight that you make your way up the slippery slope to the AS.

The trail continued in open prairie, and the mud was tacky in places as the hardened snow started appearing more often. Eventually the trail turned slightly left to head back up to the aid station which you could clearly hear AND see (though you could see the AS most of the trail). I guess this was proof that left turn uphills DO exist. Huh. This section was hard to navigate with the prior foot traffic making icy divots in the trail, long ago frozen. Some sections had more crunchy snow that was atop the packed ice/snow which was very runnable. Let’s say running was not straightforward on this, and running was becoming more walking. I eventually learned that SPARKLE snow was safe and runnable, and if don’t shine, running isn’t fine. Rich and I talked about what was worth running and what wasn’t so we’d know next loop. Rich was power hiking well, but this is where I started noticing my PMS symptoms cropping up. Skip next paragraph if you want to avoid reading about just female tHiNgS.

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So no, this was not a great time of the month for me to be doing a race. In fact, it was the absolute worst time of the month. My hormones were out of control, and had been for the last 2-3 days and I knew it wasn’t going to end before the event. I don’t know why, but this rodeo was just a lot worse than usual, as I’m sure some females know it’s not always the same. I won’t go into detail here, but they most certainly were affecting a lot of factors in this race including heart rate, effort, pain (mainly power hiking bounce), energy, and GI upset (not in the way you’d think though, had nothing to do with food). Not only that, is that I am suffering from a torn (now healing) bicep and rotator cuff tendonitis. This started affecting me later, but worth mentioning what I’m dealing with now. I had no other things going wrong.

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The trail led up the hill right below the AS, and went through periods of ice and runnable snow (if you wanted to run uphill), until the trail turned right back on itself to make the final push up to the aid station. Here if you turned left, you’d head back down the hill to the port-o. So the same tractionless ice from before is now where the trail continues to the start/finish. This was the steepest, and also the most icy. Spike really would be useful here.

Click here for James’ youtube video of the course: BUTTTs COURSE.

Rich and I arrived back at the aid station promptly and I took a look at the AS and saw Steve from Ornery Mule Racing, he said he was going to volunteer! It was great to see a welcoming face and added cheers. Without doing much we headed back out on the trail, now dark.

The next loop was faster than the first for us. Now with a better plan and a scope of the trail, and less picture taking, we settled into the groove. As we passed by where the big tree was, I noticed that the mud might be freezing over. I hoped so much this would happen, and maybe it would! We were mainly by ourselves. Back at the AS again, I decided it was time to take some nutrition. I opted for some grape juice I had stored along with actually scoping out the AS fare. Now let me discuss this…

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(Not my photo, credit to another runner at the event.)

Wow! What a nice spread! I figure with less people and a first time race and RDs, that it wouldn’t be too impressive and minimal. Boy am I always glad to be wrong. First off, the selections of soda and drinks was like someone read my mind. Cream soda and cherry Dr. Pepper?! Who has that, those are the best. Chocolate milk?! Genius. There were a few other sodas too. Next to the soda they had a vegan pot of noodles and veggies which smelled great! I took note of this for later. Going down the line, they had coffee and hot chocolate. I opted for the hot items later knowing it would take a bit for them to cool off for my taste. For the “usual Aid Station fare”, they had orange slices, both real and gummy. They had little meats, flavored chips, dates, (what appeared to be) Dot’s Pretzels, Peanut butter filled pretzels, snickers, cookies, gummy bears, M&Ms, and a variety of nuts. On the hot bar, they had hot dogs and I’m some other things, which never appeal to me (sadly) at races. My appetite is just in the hole from start to post finish line 😦

I took a gummy orange and more grape juice. That was a good tasting combo wombo! Alright, alright. As I headed out on the 3rd lap with Rich, I noticed a small rock thing INSIDE my sock. Moderately annoyed, I decided it was too small for me to care until lap 4 when I’d try and get it out. I didn’t want to make long stops if I did not have to unless it was on an even number lap (every 4ish miles). I ended up lucking out and it did no damage. So we decided that the 4th lap would be our last lap together. I needed to hit the port-o and try and see if I could do something about this feeling I had (PMS related) and remove the dumb rock (which had gotten in my sock because I had not cleaned my feet enough before putting my shoes on after wearing flip flops…hey you learn new things all the time!). I knew this would take me time and Rich had severely dwindling time and he was feeling really good, nervous anxiety gone. On the 4th loop, I took the detour to the port-o near the end of the loop, heading downhill. There was someone in there, so I had to wait a bit. Let’s say the port-o did not help. Frustrated, I headed back up to the AS to remove the dumb rock. Rock removed, I re-lubed my feet since they were getting this raw feeling that I know will lead to blisters later, and I grabbed some soda. One thing I can say is that I was fueling well. Though I started getting nervous about how little water I consumed.

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Thanks for the pic, Steve!

I headed out on my first solo loop alone. Mad about lost time and wanting to see how fast I could try and catch Rich (spoilers, I did not in the least) and was putting down some solid paces. I noticed this loop all the mud was now frozen, and provided good traction! Ahhh happy. I passed no one. I got passed by no one. I was alone haha. However, I started struggling on the way back up to the AS on the 5th loop. I was getting increasingly worried about the state of my feet and why in the world they would be feeling like they would blister any time now. The divots uphill really made me consider if I was going to make it. This event was not worth my feet and I had gotten pretty far, so I was mentally prepared to have to stop. I hate that feeling. Reluctantly, I stopped again at the AS to change socks and see if that would help. My feet were not blistered yet with the exception of two very tiny ones on the sides of my big toes (I never have blisters there, regardless of my massively blistered past). I dried/aired them off by the fire and found out the pain from my 2nd toe (which is a nail that has previously not been happy) was really an ingrown toenail and not a blister or toenail loss…whatever that feels like. Good recon mission. Yeah.

My hydration fears peaked so I grabbed my handheld from my “drop bag” and headed out with the goal of consuming the whole bottle before hitting the next loop. My feet hurt the entirety of the next loop but overall were improving. I turned on my iPod and started jamming out to whatever random song from my 2000 songs were stored on there since 2007 lol. My challenge was to listen to every song unless it was a Christmas song and I would keep track of how many I encountered.

I also started to notice more and more the temperature dropping. And I noticed when I got past big tree, the wind would start hitting me in the face, and the increasing winds… the winds were not supposed to pick up overnight. Loop after loop the wind got worse and my skin hurt more and more, I could not bare to be outside. No amount of running would help. I ran faster and I ran harder. Every covered part of me was fine. But the wind was stealing from me and bringing out the worst of my cold urticaria, and felt like I was being burned with hot water, except it was cold.

By loop 10, the 6 hour participants were soon ending their time. I was sad to see a few ladies I had met on the trail stop their time early on the 6 hour. I enjoyed their fireside company (including twin hoodie lady, I wish I had caught your name). People were stopping (I say dropping but you don’t “drop” technically in a timed race, you just stop and leave) left and right from the 6 and 12 hour. I was alone from the moment Rich took off. I occasionally got passed by the #1 male runner, but it was super rare and usually near the start/finish anyway. I was also very done.

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AS looking back.

I sat by the fire defeated. The RD Greg offered me his fleece buff. I don’t like accepting help, but I did know if I did not try something, my night would be over quickly with the way things were going. I took a lap to consider after accepting said buff. I could at least walk right? Would I freeze? Before I went into some negative spiral, I met Pat heading out of the aid station. We chatted the whole loop away. Pat is a sweetheart and I enjoyed the miles we shared together. She also went around big tree differently than I had been (hint hint, I was going too far out of the way). I hope to see her again at another event.

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Some of the snow before it became ice. Hard snow divots though.

I was arguing with myself how to quit out. My feet had drastically improved and were no longer an issue. Thank goodness for drop bags. For once I had to wear gloves. My hands usually heat up quite nicely and I hardly ever need gloves after I am warmed up. I was quite warm and was sweating, and thus soaking my gloves. They are wind proof gloves and have a thermal layer so that kept them ok while I was running. I went through cycles where I would take them on and off, aware of the building issue that they would be too soaked to be useful eventually. I arrived back at the aid station and sat by the fire warming my face. I told my sad tale of how I was dying out there and probably was done, unless I was in first. A few flips through the paper and a hand count said I was at least 1.5 laps in the lead. JUST WHAT I WANTED TO HEAR WHEN I WAS DONE. Ugh, the RD loved the expression on my face when I heard that news. Everyone had a good laugh. I knew I had to keep going. To this point, I had been competing with myself. And I was disappointed in myself.

This was something I had all night to think about and it was hard to wrestle with. I was having to stop at the AS for extended periods of time because of my cold urticaria. I felt I was failing, I stopped too long, it was too much break, I wasn’t running enough or using my time wisely. I never figured out the pace I needed for 40-45 miles in 12 hours (I figured 50 miles in 12 hours was out of the question for a winter ultra anyway and somehow managed to convince myself that was a 12 min/mi pace, also wrong), RIP coolrunning pace calculator. Hopefully your website death will be avenged. But I was not competing with myself today, my body was very much against me and fighting with every hormone it had to offer, while I was trying to burn it all off in hopes of easing the symptoms. I was competing with others on course, and they were not doing as well as I was. I had to be smart. I was being smart, and this was very hard for me to understand. I did not need to over-perform myself. I just needed to be doing exactly what I was doing. And it was sustainable.

I had some now not-so-hot chocolate. (Most would see this as a negative, but having something that I can drink in the here and now and not burning my mouth was a blessing, especially since I am sensitive to hot items. Hello Starbucks, please heat my drink to 140°F, thanks.) I got up and went back out. I got my breathing under control and set out a plan. I would run as long as I didn’t have to breathe through my mouth, which I had been doing mostly because the cold air entering was irritating my throat like mad. I could control my pace and effort. I was alone again. I felt like no one was out there. I ended up falling on the icy section on the way up to the AS (before the switchback) because of a frozen divot I did not see and slammed my tendon into ice near my foot, but shook it off quickly.

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Back at the aid station, I had some soup and sat by the fire again, trying to get rid of the guilt of sitting next to the fire. I finished off a few cakes as I went and almost all my grape juice. I tried some milk and soda occasionally, but they were getting too cold for me to consume. I opted more and more for the “hot” chocolate. Rich was always there at the aid station. It was enough having him there to look forward to. Looking back, I think the only thing he helped me with was getting a refill of drink while I was by the fire and occasionally grabbing something from the car. How many hill repeats he did from car to aid station is unknown but the number is probably greater than 10.

After the 6 hour participants left the field, the 12 hour field started dropping. Last I had checked, 9 people endured past hour 8. Most of this is such a blur because it was rinse-wash-repeat. Longer stop every 2 loops, run the 1 mile, and what I could of mile 2, and hike to recover on the hill leading up to the AS. Now the RDs said that they would have questionable taste in music, but as far as I could tell, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, try harder next time 😉

Sometime in the 7th hour my left quad started picking on me. Hey hey hey, did you know you did over 300 squats and lunges this week? I’m not too happy with that, let me sing you my song… This was also about when I saw a possum in the dark starting the loop. He stared hard at me, I stared back wide eyed, and quickly moved on after he froze. I prefer the daylight possum on the ice age trail.

Some lap around here, I ended up falling on the ice leading up to the aid station. The ice here was just so slanted right, it was hard to stay upright at all. Ended up just falling to my knees. Apparently no one saw. If no one saw it, did it happen?!

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Not-so-great pic of headlamps on the loop (white lights).

I ran into Liz, another girl out on course, she was walking the whole time in her big coat with her friend. We chatted as I passed by. Kudos to her. I couldn’t imagine walking that long in the dark and in winter. I also decided to do a sort of hiking loop with Rich when I was over 2 laps in the lead. Though then I got paranoid 2nd place would catch me and started running harder again. Maybe this is my form of hallucinating? Anything can happen in 12 hours, I was told, and told myself.

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Also not-so-great pic of Big Tree, 2nd to final lap.

At the 50k mark just about exactly (apparently most of the miles between 12 and 32 were a blur and I stopped counting), the wind really started to whip. I was grateful to have my Altra windproof jacket. I had been zipping the zipper up and down for the first two loops to regular my body temp to avoid sweating too much, but at this point, I wanted every inch of me to not be exposed to outsideness. My gloves were soaked through. I kept asking Rich if he needed to sleep, but was met with nah most times. I asked for fresh gloves from the car. Apparently what I thought were my warm gloves were not given the increased winds! But I was out of options. I was not able to stay in the soaked gloves anymore.

Back out doing my rinse-wash-repeat, I started counting how many laps I had left in me. At first, and I know my math was right, I could get in like nearly 50 miles total at the current pace…not what I wanted at all. So I tried to slow down and took more time up at the aid station. Looking back, not sure what 4 more miles would have meant for recovery but I was not willing to pay the price if I was wrong. I figured I’d do 4-5 more laps and that would get me to my goal mileage. I cranked out 3 more loops. Rewarm-repeat.

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At this point, my shoulder and upper arm were aching really badly, but I knew there was not one thing that could have prevented that. Started getting more girly cramps. Nothing I could do about that. The time on feet was catching up with me too, as my muscles began to lock up from the cold (though not nearly as bad as it has been in the past with cooler temps, maybe because it wasn’t snowing or raining?!). And at this point, I would have guessed the temps were at freezing with a wind chill sending the “feels like” down to below 20. With the tailwind, the temps really did only feel slightly below 30, but the headwind took it to a new level, a level I was never prepared for. I fought the good fight with my classic “I’mma grind at this until I’m told to stop”. I was at least done with my pity party from, now, much earlier, and it wasn’t going to come back. I still fought the urge to tell myself I was slow…my memories of being able to do 40 miles in around 9 hours WITH a stress fracture no less, unsupported, and here I am trying to get it in under 12.

I made my round with about 2 hours left. The girl in 2nd called it quits. I relaxed, but not for long. Sitting for too long in the cold and wind will take you down quick. I knew I had to keep moving…regardless of “winning” or not. I ended up walking the 2nd to last lap with Rich, and the final lap sent him to sleep, and ran bits and pieces to keep the heat in me and I can’t just walk. I would have been able to run MUCH more than I did, but I didn’t see a reason to. I didn’t want to beat my body up in a training run. 45 was my max goal (which given 2 mile loops, should have been either 44 or 46 hahaha, math). If I stopped in the 11th hour I could go back down to the port-o to change before the end of the race. I finished up in about 11 hours and 34 minutes. Enough time to really run a fast final loop but I was good with an even 20 loops. I was able to chat with a few of the guys left on course, they were all super chill and great people. Nothing like communal suffering!

I quickly about faced to head down the car and change at the port-o (hill repeat 3). Rich was asleep despite me giving him a half mile warning to see if he wanted to see me finish. No dice. I banged on the car window to wake him. He was DAZED. I got him to help me out of my stuff, especially my shoes which I could not hardly move my fingers to do. Once I was in dry clothes, I realized HOW HEAVY my clothes I was wearing really were. I was wearing three layers after all was said and done. I did not sweat through the midlayer much, which explains why I was not chilled from the inside much (the wind got through somewhat). I turned my headlamp off to change, and when I went to turn it back on, it was DONE as I was! I had carried my extra headlamp batter for 7 hours just in case it went on me, not wanting to risk my cell phone battery dying in the cold weather and having absolutely nothing to navigate with on the trail. Well, at least I didn’t need it.

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Sunrise is coming, Steve is finishing! (1st male)

We both headed back up to wait for the first male finisher to complete his final loop. male leader Steve was a powerhouse and used his poles wisely! He trucked up the hill and into the finish area as the sunrise twilight began. The fire glowed with the remains of some fun colored fuel the RDs had brought. We were done, no one was left but the few volunteers (who were top notch and chill), but it was amazing still. The award was a little statue of a blue runner atop a piece of BIG TREE, how cool is that, to connect the award to the trail? Only the 12 hour winners got it. Such a meaningful piece of work to remember this effort by and memorable time. Goes along with one of my top medals…from top 10 female at Dam 50k (my first 50k in Virginia, RD David Horton), a piece of a core sample that is now at the bottom of Smith Mountain Lake; a memory of home. Leap Day was over and March had begun. It was like a fresh start.

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Greg, the one RD, mentioned that this event was unique and needed because you never get to try out running in the dark until you are in a race. A long time in the dark is difficult to predict and manage if you have not had much practice with it, and Greg was right. The winter aspect made it super gritty and I learned greatly from this experience and I feel like that’s saying a lot. I learned without a lot of consequence at that, something I am extremely thankful, but the 2 mile nature of this really hit the spot there. My feet were intact, the two little side blisters from the seam of the 1st pair of socks. No back chafe, and no prevention…solves the hydration pack chafe question (bra or pack?). However, the cold blew me up after. I had to take some downtime to recover feeling like I had a cold.

I am eternally grateful it was not muddy. Although I fight with the cold and gritty conditions, my feet were not cold or wet. What could have been… This picture was taken near Big Tree, where I had my near death experience with a stream of mud before it ended up freezing! I am not sure if this picture was taken the day after or the day of (picture to the left here).

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Redressed in warmer stuff. Great event RDs!

As for what I paid, I don’t remember the exact amount, but I know it was less than most half marathons I’ve done (one reason I typically will not run halves). I did not expect much, but was given a good family to take care of me, and smiling faces ALL night long regardless of how many people were in the race. It might as well have just been me, as I was not paced well to run with others it seemed. I was alone over 80% of the 12 hour time (and with Rich the other portion and Pat for a small while). James is a very excited person and did well as a new RD. I would not have guessed that they were first timers. I did not expect timing, there was no official timing. I did not expect swag, but there was a very nice water bottle and the cups we could keep after the race. I did not expect much AS food, and expected it to run out…it did not. The AS food and drink were very top notch, there was always an option! The race follow up was also very neat on facebook (the event page), where people shared their images and thoughts. For what I paid, I got more out of than most races I have paid double for. It was perfectly set up and executed. I know the Rds said that this might not happen again, and then it might. I wondered if it would just be on leap year, and wondered if it would just be every year.

What made this were the little details and the people. The sunrise and sunset were timed pretty well as they could be. This gave time to “see” the course before going dark. It was 2 miles, and in a winter ultra, this means a lot, not being dangerously far from aid, and would most certainly help beginners keep going and help veterans race hard. The only downside was the access to hotels (if someone were coming from further away), as it really was BUTTTs in the middle of nowhere. I could not, even now, figure out a good way to safely get home though, after Rich and I were up all night basically and all the previous day. I stayed mentally sharp, but asking my legs to drive home wasn’t a request I would typically ask of them. I like having a fallback to driving in case I get majorly blistered or sore. Luckily I was moving really well despite my quads singing death metal. However, the sunrise was beautiful and highlighter pink rising above the clouds on the horizon. Going through the middle of nowhere on the drive back meant that we had a perfect unobstructed view. I thought about pulling over, but I knew my camera was not quite good enough to do it justice and decided to make mental pictures instead.

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Arriving home, we slept for 3 hours after showering. The cold took its toll for sure, and I’m bad at paying it until forced, then I get to pay with interest. I was forced down by 2pm after eating real food and being swamped by blankets. A day after, I am not too sore and my feet are in really good shape (apart from the ingrown nail, which had nothing to do with the race). I am hydrating and getting back into training for Georgia Death Race later this month.

My right arm is super sore probably from not using it lately due to the torn muscle and tendonitis. I really needed that time on feet and it served me well. It’s extremely hard to get time on feet in the winter in Wisconsin. You’re either dealing with snow, or ice, or just the inability to get miles in the daytime. Probably, and always, need more core work.

For improvements, I would just include some sort of finisher item, maybe a beanie or something. This race had a lot of creativity put in it, so my ideas are probably sub-par. I ended up with 1st overall female and 4th in the whole race. Rich ended up tying for 2nd/3rd male with one guy finishing ahead of him by 1 loop. I am grateful to be doing these things and thankful my body puts up with so much nonsense. I can’t wait for the warmth later this year and to kick it in all my races, and there will be a lot. Signing off for now.

I skipped 3 total Christmas songs!

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