Cloudsplitter 100 2019

On a whim, I signed up mid-September after careful recovery from this summer’s debacle. For those reading the first time, let me catch you up.

First off, Cloudsplitter 100 is a 100 mile race in the extreme South Western part of Virginia in Wise County (well either that or Scott County, but I think it uses both). Starts in Norton, VA and heads up and over several ridgelines and mountains to gain over 24,000 feet, and loses about the same over terribly rugged terrain of rocks and roots. It’s a smaller race, but has some amazing people show up. It was my first 100 miler one year ago and now I’m back.73129330_732719520531184_6400742392034492416_n

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After the Blue Ridge Double Marathon back in mid-April, I took some time off from longer distance running, cutting back to long runs of less than 13 miles, with the exception of 16 at Galena Sky Trail race. I did a few halves, one at the beginning of May and one at the end. Weekly mileage was pretty low, and I started lifting weights for cross training. I might have overdone it on my first few sessions, and suffered from ill effects during Galena that slowed me way down. The beginning of June, I took a flight out to participate in the Team BU event in Golden Colorado. During that flight, my legs swelled up really badly (an often common occurrence with me and planes). I tried running it off, but failed on hydration throughout my visit (trying to catch up was hard since I went into the flight dehydrated). The run following my legs started to feel very painful, and my left leg never got much better. I ended up running the FKT for Military Ridge State Trail the week after, and participated in soccer games weekly, then ended the month with a 50 miler…throughout this entire process since the Colorado trip I had countless doctor visits.

My insurance does not allow me to cut corners and see specialists right away so I had to go through the process of going through one by one. Finally, in early July I was able to see a sports medicine doctor and she ordered an MRI. July 8th, I was diagnosed with a fibula stress fracture, nearly completed in the middle of my leg (not near knee or ankle). I had cut back all running after the 50 miler at the end if June, and was just biking. I was shocked since I was able to run on it SO much and had my highest mileage running month ever…all on a stress fracture. I am still investigating the cause of swelling on planes (which also happens if I sit too long), but at this point my doctors have stopped really trying to figure it out. I am trying to still get a follow up with insurance on getting a gait analysis done, but not sure it’s going to be covered.

So began the long climb out of my first real training injury. Sure last year during CS100 I injured myself while barreling down a hill tearing my anterior tibialis tendon (which let me tell you folks, you NEED this to run downhill), but not something from overuse. I am still not convinced it was purely overuse since I had not been using it for a while prior to the incident. Who knows.

I had begun ramping up training in June to prepare to go sub 24 at Badger 100. And had I not been injured, I was on track to make a solid attempt at it. Instead I was on crutches, but volunteering at least. I swam my longest ever swim during this period, trying to keep my fitness, my doctor not allowing me to bike or do elliptical, I also included doing upper body weights 2-3 times a week and did core as my body allowed.

I was cleared to start running again towards the end of August. I was just finishing up my return to running program when I took my second trip out to Colorado for Rocky Mountain Trail Camp. This stung a lot because I was so afraid I was going to undo everything I recovered from. I was afraid the flight would again cause me to get another stress fracture. I drank like mad, and wore my medical compression socks a LOT. They hurt, let me tell you. I still lived in fear every moment. I couldn’t convince myself to go far, afraid one additional mile too far would send me over. I was depressed.

During this time I was seeing a therapist, but she really did me no good at all. So far in my life, I have not found seeking outside help has ever really helped me. I know people try to convince me that I just “haven’t found the right person”, but in reality, there probably isn’t. Every session with her felt like a waste of time. The only thing that was going to bring myself out of this slump was to get back out and exhaust myself…that feeling of accomplishment that you gave your body a good push. Only, I couldn’t.

This is the one time I stuck to myself and a plan. I started doing short runs, multiple times a day, 3-5 miles at a time. I biked every other day, and ran every other day. I ran when I didn’t want to, when the weather was bad, when I wasn’t feeling great. I was making great progress, and was able to gain enough confidence to do a few interval runs. Then it hit me like a piano falling from the sky…

I managed to escape it in the Spring, but here it was, a full blown sinus infection…the yearly plague of my existence. This one took me down hard too. I went to urgent care, and took care of it and was on antibiotics. Trouble was, this was the week I was truly going to test if I could run far without consequences, the 12th week post injury, when I knew no matter what, I was going to be ok. I was DOWN for the count, no exercise. Living became miserable. Even driving out to Virginia two weeks prior, I was still stuffed up and congested beyond reason. I wondered if I was going to shake it before race day.

As usual, I headed back home to Virginia ahead of time to squeeze in whatever elevation training I could get. I did some repeats of Sharp Top Mountain (rugged 3 mile round trip trail) and some Appalachian Trail stuff. I loved every minute of it, temperatures roasting my bottom up in the 90s. I savored every moment. Relished in every ounce of sunlight and every drop of sweat that trickled off my nose as I climbed hard as I could up those mountains. It was glorious and gave me a satisfaction you can’t get anywhere but on the beast coast…for me anyway. I’m weird. If nothing else went right, this was worthwhile. I came down from some of those runs and cried inside hard knowing nothing hurt. I managed to set a new record climbing up once.

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Sharp top trail

Everything in the bank I could penny-pinch was going to be in there no matter what I did. So taper crazies (even though there was no real taper in this training cycle), call it pre race jitters, got me on a new Santa Cruz bike. I rode up in the mountains the week prior to the race, testing out new bikes on trails I had never been on. What a blast. I can’t wait for winter to thaw already so I can rip up some trails on it.

Race day was going to be tricky in a lot of ways. I was underprepared, but injury free. I had no planned pace, but knew I wanted redemption on course. I put off everything about myself for this and tried to support everyone else…everyone from Team BU and Becoming Ultra season 7. I didn’t think about myself or my race in public. I didn’t want people to think I was being selfish by racing with the athletes. I was so excited for them.

But I figured out I needed this race for my own mental state. I hadn’t been able to do any late year goals now due to this injury and summer is my favorite season…I’d missed it all. If I played it smart, I could finish, I was ok with hiking and some running. Then I could go into the perpetual Wisconsin winter sort-of-happy (I’m never going to be ok with temps below 40, sorry, not sorry). I would give this race everything I had left to give…and more it turned out.

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So enough intro… let’s get down to this.

74487750_401168217224852_6069139593586802688_n I watched the weather carefully, as always. And as always, I watched as the temperatures disintegrated from 80s to 40s. It was such like fate that I just laughed at my own misfortune that always seems to happen. More bothersome was a week out, rain entered the forecast. It was at that point I rolled my eyes back in my head at the fact it wouldn’t be Cloudsplitter without cold and rain. However, the area had been in a drought for some months now, and I wondered deeply how much water would truly be on course even with the rain.

Pre-race, my sister got us (the family) a massage. It was nice, we had lunch and headed down to Norton by car on I-81. I watched as the leaves on the trees browned as we went further southwest. The drought had made it so the leaves on the trees didn’t display bright colors. I was still ok with this, though did want to see more color. At least this year it wouldn’t seem like an overgrown jungle rainforest with a side of hurricane. It would mean more dead leaves on the trail…a risky situation with what would lie beneath.

We arrived, I picked up my packet and started to meet the members of Team BU I had not met. We had dinner at the local cidery, which was a little stressful if I am to be honest (the food was rather slow, as well as the service). I headed back to the hotel and got everything arranged on the bed. I had no idea what I was going to wear until that moment, checking the radar, and last weather forecast before committing. I decided on my Inknburn 6″ shorts, a new baselayer by Gore, an Inknburn Tech shirt on top, starting out with balega socks (knowing the first part of the course was going to be dry), and my Altra Olympus. Temps didn’t drop too badly overnight, which was rough as usual. I slept from around 12am through 6am, better than usual though. I woke up a few times…it was hot in the room. When I awoke for good, I found out the 2 hour marathon had been broken. 72385463_970019090019530_3000181672986542080_n

I woke up Rich (who arrived by car from Raleigh with my pacer Sonja) soon after browsing weather and facebook for a final time before I turned my phone on airplane mode for 2 days straight…imagine no social contact with the world! I know right? I saw the temps were supposed to drop through the day and the current temperature was 63°F. Not bad I said. I decided then to leave my vest and jacket behind. Solid choice. Still wore the baselayer.

Rich headed up to get breakfast, and then we headed out to the start. Internally I was a mess, and such a disorganized mess it didn’t make it outward. There was no plan for pace, there was no thought process of how this would go…I had nothing to go on. I was a bit later getting there than I wanted. A few pictures were taken, and I ate a peanut bar as my pre-race meal. This went well, let it be known. I mean, I was actually able to EAT all of it! I was quite out of it when I lined up somewhere in the middle of the large pack inside the farmer’s market building. There was a prayer and then a musket sounded off our start. I soon realized on main street heading out that I was near Ginger of team BU. 73049143_2379333315671144_3624505012555612160_n I hung with her until she outran me about a mile in. I told her to go on, and I needed to go a bit slower. The mountains were covered in a cloud, weighing heavily on them. The road quickly turned up and to the familiar Legion Park that would lead us all into the woods and up the first climb. The bridge was slick as ice. I released my poles from their confines, where they would never return to for two more days. The first climb was not as congested as it was last year…less people stopping or climbing slow. My paces through mile 14 were about the same or a little slower this year, probably the lack of training (had to stop comparing at mile 14 since my data is super messed up from last year after my fall around there and getting lost for 3 miles). The climb was moist at best, not too wet, but traction wasn’t great in places especially with the leaves and rocks. Last year was still worse so I didn’t think about it too much.

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I hung out with a few 50k’ers in the jungle looking first miles heading up, and kept asking if they wanted to pass me, but they said I was the pace leader and the tour guide since I told them a bit about last year. Good group of dudes. The trail was not as technical in these parts, but kept climbing at a pretty steep pace. 72877473_748736482627593_5671622005061844992_n My mind kept wandering that I’d rather be hiking this up than trying to ride my bike up it (they were good mountain bike trails). We hit some bike obstacles as well, including a long wooden ramp and a ton of berms. We passed by the giant sandstone boulders as big as houses under the cloudy skies, threatening with rain later in the day. Eventually, the steep portion came (like really steep, I was very familiar with). I felt much better physically on the climb than last year, although I’m sure that had to do something with the slightly slower pace. I knew this opened up to a road which we would run on. And there it was! But maybe the course has changed from last year, but I remember it being more road here. We headed almost immediately back onto trails on the other side of the road (near Flag Road Rec area). I didn’t remember this. I soon left the 50k’ers and caught up with a 100k girl that I hung out with until reaching High Knob Tower, the first aid station. We kept each other moving and chatted. This part of the course was pretty boring, but remember coming down this section the previous year when it was littered with deep tractor tracks in the impossible mud at night.

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Soon I reached High Knob Tower. My mom and sister waited with Sonja. Rich had passed long before, as I expected he would doing the 50k (his first). I grabbed some Sprite and headed back out. I didn’t refill my gel storage…this ended up being a mistake. Some mistakes are hard learned and I can’t seem to ingrain in my head that I need to put stuff in drop bags and not rely 100% on crew……..

I was grateful to see them, but wanted to keep moving. I felt good, and felt like what pace I was going was balanced. Up at the actual tower, we took the climb down.

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I remember well the climbs up and down from High Knob Tower, but this year I would have to do it SEVERAL times instead of just one up and down. This year, they had to remove an aid station in order to satisfy the average aid station distances in order to keep all UTMB points at max (6), which was High Knob Recreation Area, a small parking lot about 1-1.5 miles away from High Knob Tower. Last year the course went:

 

 

 

Start -> High Knob Tower (closed 1st pass) -> High Knob Rec Area (pass 1) -> Edith Gap (pass 1) -> Bark Camp Lake (pass 1) -> Little Stony -> Bark Camp Lake (pass 2) -> Edith Gap (pass 2) -> High Knob Rec Area (pass 2) -> Edith Gap (pass 3) -> Bark Camp Lake (pass 3) -> Edith Gap (pass 4) -> High Knob Rec Area (pass 3) -> High Knob Tower (2nd pass open)….

THIS year however, there was no High Knob Rec Area, and you would continue past this to High Knob Tower which was a heck of a climb up to it, narrow, rooty, and pitted with uprooted fallen trees down the mountain side. This slowed me down.

On the way out to Edith Gap, I met Randy and Don, two others doing the 100 miler.

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Randy and his sandals.

Randy is a well known runner for his running sandals and I didn’t think twice about it since I knew a guy who also ran in them in Arizona from Inknburn. True grit to be able to do it in my opinion, but you do what works for you. I can’t imagine running x number of miles in other shoes too with small compressed toe boxes! Behind him was Don, military guy who had just DNF’d the Barkley fall classic 50k because of passing a kidney stone of all things! Great guys and lots of good conversations that passed the time quickly. I ended up stick with Don for a very long while. Don had done the Cloudsplitter 50k last year so he was familiar with the stuff we were going over and we talked about the differences between the two years as if we were far into the race at all.

 

Eventually we reached the dreaded rock garden of my nightmares from last year. This year it seemed so different (but then ended up being just as bad anyway), the rocks were not a round as I remembered, but they shifted something bad in place…more pointy. They lasted JUST as long, a little short of a mile, and I made sure I paid special attention to see how long it lasted. It was in this section I passed Rich and gave him a hug calling out to him smiling the biggest smile. I was SO glad he was ok!! Right behind him was a equally smiling Chelsea doing her first 50k as well. I wasn’t paying any attention to who was where, but she was the leading female! It was so great to see them, and they had no idea they were that close to each other. Soon I caught up to Ginger, as she took her time on the awful rocks. I wish her luck and continued on with Don. Eventually we reached Edith Gap (and maybe it’s Edith’s Gap, I don’t know), my favorite aid station from last year. I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

 

Last year they had Christmas lights strung about, a fire, many chairs, all sorts of breakfast foods, and the best orange drink (like sunny D) and mats to lay on…probably more. Well it was fine, THEY HAD IT ALL AGAIN!! I was so happy. I passed the place I had tripped last year and came into the aid station with a 13 min/mi. No getting lost this time. Scott from Becoming Ultra (my coach last year) was also there, and Ileana from Team BU. What a great recharge. I walked up and asked for a sausage patty. I was given one! I took 3 glasses of orange drink and was off with Don…the shorter segment between aid stations, 4ish miles. The last section was nearly 8 miles (although I told myself 7 the entire race, this helped mentally). Let me tell you, I hated every one of those miles. Although they were flatter, it turned out they were all downhill that you couldn’t feel one way, and uphill the other way. This section also had some really deep creek beds that crawled up for several feet almost straight up 90°. These were horrible last year as they were wet.

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The path from Edith Gap to Bark Camp Lake was technical and had some steep climbs thrown in every now and then but had some really runnable terrain if you were careful. I’m guessing it was around this time the skies “opened up” according to those not doing the race. I barely felt the rain and never felt wet. Don and I continued to make our way as I described the course from there on out and we kept talking about what we were doing. Boring, but it kept us going. We reached Bark Camp lake after running through some nice pines and smaller hills (runnable) and mostly tolerable terrain, walking the slick wooden bridges which I forgot to count again. I was looking forward to changing out socks here for fear that the creek beds that lay ahead were not so dry.

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But it was not to be. No crew. I looked around. I grabbed some coke in a slight panic, and headed out sad. This was now mile 19.7, and I was out of gels. Remember that hard lesson I don’t learn? This has happened a few times now, and it’s on me that I should know better by now to not depend on crews.

Right on my toes was Don however. And I recalled briefly before being proven differently that the section between Bark Camp and Little Stony was pretty easy and runnable. Upon reaching the first stream crossing, I learned two things:
1. This area is in a BAD drought, the creeks were dry as a bone, no running water.

2. The large rocks that crowded the empty streams were slick as the wooden bridges and posed a real danger. One wrong move and you’d be down in a very bad place. Caution was exercised in excess for fear of falling.

I didn’t dwell on mileage in this race. I managed to break the course down by aid station. My goals were to make it between them. This made time and mile pass by super fast. Before I knew it, I was at mile 24 and arriving at Little Stony. I was a little disappointed that we did not have to make the trek up the hillside to fetch a page out of a book to prove we’d been there. The lady at the aid station looked familiar and asked if she had been there last year. She was, and talked about the book. I grabbed a gel and oranges here and a lot of soda to refill my missing nutrition. I tried to look at the positives, and knew this was one of my fastest sections last year and it was only 4 miles from Bark Camp Lake which I assumed my crew would have gotten there by now. I blamed myself for being 90 minutes ahead of my time predicted there.

But people remembered me from last year! I kept being reminded every time someone recognized me. It made me feel at home. No other way to describe it. Very warm feeling.

After being blessed with a floss pick (thank you aid station for having them with the oranges!!), I headed back towards Bark Camp Lake, which went slower than I planned. The ground was very rocky and especially rooty through this section (more roots than rocks). I kept moving knowing it was mostly flat. Don caught back up with me. It was nice to have someone along. Great guy that Don. It only dawned on me that DON was spelled D-O-N and not D-A-W-N. I had a laugh at myself.

Upon arriving back at Bark Camp, passing by the struggling running cedar (I couldn’t think of the plant’s name for the life of me the ENTIRE race) wanting much needed water, I did not see my crew again. I was going to break down. I knew this aid station was super important the second pass because it was going to get dark before I could make it the almost 13 miles back to High Knob Tower. I got in some coke, not nearly enough in my panic, and told Don what was going on. I ask the aid station workers too if my crew had been there. There was no cell reception at Bark Camp, and no way to reach anyone. I freaked out that something HAD happened to Rich. I knew coming back down to Norton on that mountain side was not the most safe, and feared the worst. I asked the aid station crew if they knew if he had finished via hand radio. I didn’t remember his number though! I felt stupid. I wanted to cry. I decided I was spending too much time there and I was burning my now precious daylight.

Don saw the situation and knew about it. We ran back into the woods together, me headlamp-less. He had only one headlamp. Ileana was also supposed to have been there to pace me. It was mile 28 now. Deep breath. Whatever, I can make this work somehow.

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I mean, yeah, that’s the trail in a LOT of places of how it looked.

The nearly 13 mile trek back to High Knob Tower began. The skies began to break up, reveling sunshine and my spirits lifted a little. I made the most out of my running, and knew I would eventually hit a HARD wall, but I was not there yet. I had no gels, no nutrition, leaning heavily on drinking hammer endurolite. We agree to run as fast as we possibly could to make the most out of the sun that was left. Randomly we ran into Ileana, who had backtracked from Edith Gap to find me. I was utterly surprised but didn’t question it. I updated her on what was going on with the headlamp situation. She had a poor headlamp and a handheld light. Somehow we would make it through with these items. At Edith Gap, I drowned myself in liquid as fast as I could and picked up two sausages, one to eat along the way. Night time was breathing down my neck.

 

Along the way up and out of Edith Gap, the first place female was heading backwards with her arms over her ribs. I immediately went up and asked if she was ok (she was with her husband) and if there was anything I could do. She said she thought she had cracked a rib. I remembered not too long after Edith Gap the Rock garden existed…I wondered if that was what got her as I thought she was consistently about 2 miles ahead of me, which made sense. I began to hate the rock garden even more now. I felt so bad for her, but her husband said they would be ok getting back to the aid station which wasn’t too far away now. It hit me after she left that I was now in first. A new fire was lit that wasn’t there before. I knew 3rd female was about 2 miles behind me at Little Stony.

My math on our pace suggested we would make it to about the parking lot at best with the light remaining, but not all the way to High Knob Tower. The rock garden slowed us all down…per usual. It was getting darker and harder to avoid the obstacles in the trail. Upon reaching a lake on the left (me knowing we were very close to the parking lot), we shuffled around some light and turned what we had on and made our way through the now darkness. We arrived safely at the Parking lot of High Knob Rec area around when I thought we would, and there Rich and Sonja was with the headlamp. I didn’t have time to talk or be upset, I couldn’t let my emotions get the best of me.

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Love playing “where’s the trail”.

Ileana had thankfully managed to update me on how Team BU was doing. Chelsea had won the 50k, first woman, and Heather of Team BU right behind her I believe coming in 2nd! Rich had finished in 6th or something in a little over 7 hours. Kathryn was doing the 100k and still out there. Trevor, also of Team BU, the young 20 year old also doing the 100, was out there somewhere as well, ahead of me, as he’d been the whole race.

 

I was overjoyed for all of them. I tried to keep these things in mind as my anger was suppressed.

I headed back up the dreadful climb of which is High Knob, the highest point on course. I arrived and got what I needed to resupply. I took some time here before heading back out on the final out and back along the branch I had just come from…a nightmare in the dark. I still felt ok physically but slower and now chilling. I switched into something warmer and pants. Mile 40 now.

72138291_3718769388148601_5498405003351556096_nIt was Sonja’s turn to pace and I thanked Ileana and headed back out for the last 24ish miles of my nightmare. Last year by this time I was really feeling the effects of being injured, this year, feeling the lack of training by this point. My ankles could have really used a long run, and my feet were starting to suffer a bit. No blisters, but just pain. Ugh, this is just too soon, I was pretty dumb for signing up for this.

I tried my best to keep moving the best I could. Sonja could run more than I could, but I was so afraid of getting hurt, that in itself slowed me down. I can’t tell you if that helped my race or not even now. As she pulled me along, we eventually ran into someone who was laying on the side of the trail. Brows furrowed, I asked if he was ok.

It was Trevor. Didn’t look like he was in good shape, and I did tell him before the race if I passed him, I would drag him with me. And that’s exactly what happened. This was truly a low for Trevor. We tried to get him to feed and take some pain meds. A few miles later and he was up and at it again. We reached Edith Gap, where I had a quick sit, and refreshed and moved onto Bark Camp the final time.

We got Trevor to his family at Bark Camp. Rich was waiting at the lake, and was sleeping. I took a quick break here and refilled on stuff. I ate some little bites and they went down well. Well, heck, I should have brought more. The more you learn!

At this point, I started eating brownies. I was able to actually eat them so I didn’t complain. If you have never read about me and ultras, I have a VERY hard time chewing. I’m never hungry, and I gag at a lot of foods. So if I can eat something, it will stay down, but that’s IF I can eat. I had a grilled cheese early on too. Maybe it’s just the way they fix them at this race?

I headed back out, Trevor convinced he couldn’t run anymore. I said, “we’ll see”. The long way back was uphill, so if it was runnable we should at least try. I hated this section more than anything, and even more at night. I just wanted to be off of it. It was pretty miserable out there. Too long of a wait meant getting chilled, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I spend a lot of time dragging Trevor with me and Sonja (Sonja also taking a huge role in helping that end of things). I debate in my mind if I should have gone ahead, but the night was too dark and it darkened my mood. This whole section. My wits were about me, as Trevor screamed behind me. As we went along, I couldn’t wait much more and plodded ahead after the rock garden. I spent some time alone.

It was great to finally reach the pavement of the parking lot coming back to High Knob Rec Area. One last climb. I slowed. I was fatigued and tired. My feet hurt and I wanted a change. I remember even my feet were this bad last year and it was DRY this year. I eventually made it back up, sat in the warm car, as my body temp dropped fast in the middle of the night. I fixed my feet, switching shoes, socks (XOSkin compression I wore last year preparing for water in Devil’s Fork loop), adding blister pads under the now-starting-to-macerate balls of my feet. I soaked them in some alcohol briefly to dry them out. Reapplied some 2Toms. I was sick of Hammer, and switched purely to water from that point on. My predicted time into High Knob Tower was supposed to be between 5:35am to 8:46am. It was still dark so I knew I was on the lower end of that since sunrise wasn’t until 7:36am. Sonja wanted me to stay, I wanted to go…I was cold. Trevor was somewhere. Rich didn’t want me to do that section alone, I did NOT want Rich to go with me after his 50k. There was a lot more arguing at this aid station…mile 64. I was tired and just wanted to go by the plan. The next 4 miles were mostly downhill, and then MORE downhill after that even down into the bowels of the Devil’s Fork Loop.

I ended up agreeing Sonja would continue pacing, but I would drop her if I was too fast. All three of us ended up heading out and me and Trevor took the lead down the now gravel fire road at a good clip.

Soon after about 1.5 miles, Trevor dropped off somewhere to pee in the woods. It was still dark out. I was on my own again. I was on my own until I got down to Devil’s Fork Gate, a new aid station manned by the Boy Scouts troop. It was still mostly dark but light was coming. As I was heading down I would stop and look back, and saw no lights. I was ok with this. I refilled on some soda and a small ham and cheese sandwich at the aid station but the lack of grilled made it mostly unappealing. I tried some chicken broth but it did nothing for me but burn me. Frustrated with nutrition, I sat in the chair for a bit afraid to go into the loop without light. Soon, Sonja showed up…but no Trevor. I didn’t know where he was. I didn’t think he passed me, and the aid station guys didn’t say he checked in. I asked about the water levels in the loop. They said dry as they’d ever seen it before. As sad as it was to hear for environmental purposes, it was good news for my feet and speed. I decided to head out with Sonja.

It was slow going. I saw the sun start to rise over the mountains I had never seen before through the trees to my left. There was so much cloud cover last year, and it truly was stunning to see it rise. The sun will rise…it has to. I kept that in mind, and I’m not sure why. I guess I thought renewed energy would come. But it didn’t.

I remember how painful this section was to me. I thought how this wasn’t too steeply graded downhill (OH HOW I WAS WRONG), and why I couldn’t run it last year due to injury. I was in a low physically, but not so bad mentally. I was drained. The grass went on forever, and I power hiked most of this. I should have ran it. I SHOULD have ran it.

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Mile 72 came and went. Uneventful for the most part. Then we arrived at the loop. It was my perception that this was the same loop I did in April. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but one thing is for certain: counterclockwise was the harder direction hands down. I might go back there and do it that way. I wondered if Mr. Karl Speedygoat got lost here or how he handled it. Soon after starting the loop, I ran into two other 100 milers. A guy with red hair who was pretty upset having done a mile in the wrong direction. I told him with complete confidence that counter clockwise was the right way. I don’t think he believed me, but what else was there to do?

The long slog through devil’s fork loop was…awful. It never has been a highlight, but this year seemed worse, maybe I was worse off physically (sans injury). Everything seemed impossible, but I keep moving forward. Sonja waned. The downed trees were so tall to get over for these short legs, they were SO TALL, why did they have to fall ON THE TRAIL?! How did someone make a trail out here, why did they make a trail out here. It was so precarious in SEVERAL places for lengths of time. I kept thinking about how dry it was. Why did it all seem so uphill when it was net downhill to the devil’s bathtub later in the loop?! Everything was so much steeper. But honestly it was as steep as I remember, but better traction this round. Each mile ticked by at roughly 2mph. A crawl, quite literally. Navigation wasn’t too bad though.

Nearing the end, we found the bathtub…it had barely a trickle of water going into it. A truly heartbreaking sight, that had been so lush back in April. I couldn’t get my phone out since it was trapped in a pair of tights. I was already wasting enough time piddling around the loop at my pace. Eventually I came to a stop at a large LARGE boulder field that used to be a creek. Scott was standing on the other side (me, confused where to go for the first time in a long while). He caught up to us and asked where Trevor was and what way to go. At the time, nothing made a lot of sense, so I said, “I can’t wait here, I have to get going”. As soon as I left, I was oddly enough able to press the pace a bit and run. I felt good actually.

72769256_2757992770898539_3745217391986999296_nI ran into the Devil’s Fork Aid Station, mile 77 just about. Mom was there along with the family that ran the place. My sister was ready to pace but I was highly freaked out about it not being the loop we did. I was so afraid she would get hurt. I panicked and asked Rich to pace me the loop…JUST the loop. I couldn’t go through that again alone. They didn’t have my supplies from the car, but that was going to have to be how it was. I recalled I was still in first and so badly wanted a quilt prize. I knew Rich could climb quickly up the hill out of Devil’s Fork. I knew what was coming. I did not fear it.

We started the rough 1+ mile climb up the broken down fire road (can you really call it a road though?). 73125917_583748768829836_2182633153544323072_n The only non-technical (technically) part of the loop. There were still a ton of larger rocks to navigate but hey you take what you can get. I settled in and made the grind up. It didn’t take as long as I thought, as I made it up in about 25 minutes, I thought, a PR from last year! It turned out it was on of the best strava times once I uploaded my data and got a trophy. The loop was not pleasant the second time either, and I tried to go faster. I tried to convince myself I was going faster. It was awful. Again. I just don’t remember it being that bad I guess, or had this expectation since it was dry it would be better.

No, the rocks were slick in places with the dried creek, there were ropes you had to take hand hold of as you  made you way along a narrow bank, super steep drop offs (do NOT fall off the mountain side, Andrea told me so), climbs that made my calves feel like they were physically separating from the bone… the side of my right foot pinged with pain. I couldn’t tell what pain it was anymore. Both my ankles seemed to take turns aching terribly, screaming when a rock would tilt the wrong way when stepped on wrong. The terrain was tearing me apart. Breaking my legs down. One thing I KNEW I had were my quads…and they did not fail me one time. I knew the wall would come, and I then realized the wall had been hit long ago in the night.

When I upped my water intake, I ached less. Que the water. Something I noticed as I went along, I would have ups and downs not only physically when running or whatnot, but also each pain seemed to take turns announcing they were there and in charge. I knew this came from undertraining, and it was my fault for that. I took on something I very well should not be doing for my own “pleasure” and amusement, so I could go into winter knowing I had something under my belt.

72294432_2909551352604050_6043731091049676800_nThe pain had been building for quite some time. Not sure if muscular or bone. All I knew it would come and go in waves. I didn’t seem to have any real mental lows where I wanted out, but at the end of the 2nd loop of Devil’s Fork, I then realized why there were so many people who just plain quit after mile 90 despite feeling ok with nothing apparently wrong with them.

It would all be over. This didn’t really occur for me mentally, but I understood everything. An epiphany you could say. All of a sudden, at mile 83, I got the why. To be sitting, showering, warm, relaxing, everything would be over. And all you would be left with is the utter regret that you could have kept going. People who have done the 100k have long mentioned that race runs like a 100 miler (granted the 100k is almost 70 miles). So what does that make the 100 miler run like? Things I thought about in my daydream like state around the end of Devil’s Fork. Rich didn’t talk much, though I wished he would, it’s just not him. I was in no mood to chit-chat about anything. I was highly focused on not dying off the side of a cliff and hitting rock at just the right angle to prevent my ankle from lopping sideways every 5 seconds. This course definitely takes the wedding cake of all cakes of your mental capacity. I think I’m trained enough to endure any sort of length of focus, but buyer beware, this course will give you enough to think about every step of the way. Looking up was hard to see the beauty around us.

The last mile of Devil’s Fork came not swiftly (although I would pray it would, it just doesn’t, I don’t think, for anyone). I was not able to run it, although I tried my best try. I accepted the low point and kept moving the best way I knew how…forward.

Back at the aid station at Devil’s Fork, my family waited, and I need to use the restroom. It was locked up. I was upset at this, and I tried to keep my emotions under control, a mighty task at this point. The sun was shining and it wasn’t cold anymore. It was afternoon, and I had 16ish miles left in this stupid race. I knew I would make it at this point no matter what happened and that released a giant burden off my…well, chest and everything else…except the feet…they stayed sucky.

I got my bathroom break and a sandwich in me. I sat a little while longer. I decided I had enough time to make it to High Knob before it got dark. That lightened the mood as well, I didn’t have to take my headlamp quite yet. I wanted a singlet, but no one knew where my clothes were. My back had started chaffing pretty early on wearing the new baselayer out of box, off the tags. The thin back and my bra were not best friends. I had tapped it up but still felt it ping occasionally. It was warm enough I could have rid myself of it, but not today, not tonight. I gladly accepted a whole grilled cheese and soda. I packed up and went out…with Rich…despite my better judgement.

I desperately did not want him to continue on, but I knew climbing was still easy for him. Rich did NOT need the extra miles. But I assumed he would stop at the top of this long climb (none too steep anywhere, just a solid grind). Sonja was tired and needed rest. The new plan was to let my sister pace me from High Knob down to the finish now. She deserved the finish spot patiently waiting for me this whole time. 72842461_1362195983930694_4469551939851386880_n

I was going to make the turn to head up and out, I ran into the other girl. I’m sure she had been running with her husband as well (I asked her what happened after the race was over), but he was not to be found. I asked if she had her headlamp going into the night. She did. We had a good very short convo about the loop and how slow it is. I asked her what loop she was on, and she had one loop to go. I wished her luck.

I knew this meant she was about 8 miles behind me at this point and she still had an aid station to check back into. I felt safe, so I relaxed a bit and made sure not to pressure my heart rate up the heart rate breaker hill. Up up and up. Me and Rich talked as I took my time climbing, drinking more and more. But this time seemed different…longer. Was it really my slightly slower pace that made this climb last what felt like a whole mile longer than last time?! I was sad. I felt like we should have reached the sign, maybe I missed it. I had been seeing faces in the leaves for some hours now. I don’t think it was hallucinations, but more so just starring at things that have holes in them for too long and being bored. Like that cloud looks like a dragon sort of thing. This leave looks like it has a face based on the holes in it. This one is smiling…oh nevermind.

75054768_615078372358054_5643828906617208832_n The LONGEST CLIMB OF MY LIFE. Last year it was more “exciting” in the respect that I had to be careful with EVERY single step because the climb past the loop sign (1.5 mile up past the aid station) turned into just steady climbing with double track that had been used to pull the aid station there last year out of danger from all the torrential rain. The tire tracks were huge and my feet were small. My knees slide out from under me it seemed every step of the way. Now the steps didn’t seem as exciting, but there were a ton of dead leaves, so I guess that was ok. But not so mentally engaging to make time passage a thing at all.

Really, when did it stop? I’ll make this blog go by faster and spare you my complaints. It eventually turned into a grassy road that met up with the aid station at the top (short answer was 3 miles of this climb). I tried to preserve a bit of energy for the gravel climb. But no, I don’t remember this stupid grassy road being this steep coming down?? Ugh. Roll eyes cue here.

Made it to the Gate Aid station again, nearly mile 88, and 4 miles to the top of the actual climb. Yes this climb was over 7 miles in length, and the first 1.5 miles being stupid and steep and stuff. I could see someone like the speedgoat being able to run this sort of (the not as steep parts), but for that long? I want a live feed next time. I grabbed some soda and pretty much was in and out. I just wanted to get to the last aid station, mile 92.

But first I needed chapstick. ANYTHING in the world to coat my lips that were pulsing with my heart rate in them. The only thing they had was neosporn, and I took it. It wasn’t good, but it kept the badness at bay. And thus the climb started….well continued. The beginning of the end.

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WHY DOES IT KEEP GOING UP?!

I pressed on a pace a little bit, think big toe on the gas pedal. I would grind a bit and back off. I had to pee at some point, so I sat off to the side and told Rich to wait and watch for cars. After, a few cars met us. It was a narrow gravel road, but vehicles could access it. I was so tired I did not want to move too far off the side of the road, the oncoming car got pretty close, and I said, “well if this is how I go, this is how I go. This must be how it ends, and if it ends, I won’t be in pain anymore.” I was joking but in my tone of voice it must have sounded pretty depressing. I think it freaked Rich out a bit. One more car came by and asked, “What is going on here?” Rich tried to explain, but it didn’t come across very coherent to the average citizen I don’t think and he drove off mostly unsatisfied I think. I wasn’t going to stop moving.

 

Then a car was approaching with Virginia tags and a personalized plate. I thought maybe at first it was family, but it was friends. It was Ginger! She was heading down to the Gate to pick up Trevor to pace, along with Chelsea. He was making it along. So he was behind me. I was told that he was in front of me this whole time since I first got to the gate after I had lost him. This made me very confused since I had never seen him since I left him on the gravel road we were now heading up. She asked if there was anything I needed.

And just like the spongebob meme, I NEED IT, scene, I asked for chapstick. This lovely dear lady had an extra and graced her possession on my poor soul. I thanked her with my life and laughingly considered DNFing due to chapped lips.

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UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP

As we were nearing the last 2 miles of the climb, Rich got a text that the girl behind me was past the Gate aid station we had JUST been at. I panicked, had I been taking it too easy? I was having a much better time at this pace and was enjoying my time out there. Now I am freaked out. How? How did she move that fast through the loop?? It’s not totally unreasonable considering she had dropped her husband (who, to be fair, looked not great when I passed them at mile 40 on the out and back). I shuffled faster uphill. I hurt more.

Rich sent word ahead of me what I needed to get in and out of the aid station.

73324875_764330327329491_8880702941636329472_nI ticked down each quarter mile as we went up. My mom had come down a little ways to meet us (sun still up) and give me the dirt. I wanted my sister to pace me, but I knew what pace I had to attempt in order to get downhill fast. Past High Knob Tower is was mostly steep downhill to the finish in the last 8 miles. I arrived at High Knob Tower, mile 92.7 in a hurry. I forgot to check in, and got someone to go tell them and headed straight for the aid station car they drove. I took some acetaminophen and washed it with as much Sprite as I could manage down. I grabbed the headlamp and tied my jacket around my waste if pace came to worst case at some point. I kept walking away. We agreed that Rich was the only one fast enough to keep up with what I planned to do. It STILL didn’t make sense that she had caught up, but there was no way of confirming or knowing.

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Goodbye everybody, I’ve GOT to go, gonna leave you all behind and face the truth.

And off I went. It was a slow run at first, the grease in the joints needed to get a move on. My feet cried out, oversensitive to every touch, every blade of grass and touch of a leaf. I cried out as I moved quickly down the short paved section and back onto the trail. I arrived at the most non-technical grassy section of the course which was moderately downhill and had a few rocky sections. I recalled how nightmarish this section was last year as the winds picked up at night, the rain spat at my face, the mud shifting my body in direction it wanted unpredictably, and leaves hitting me from every direction…questioning where I was every 2 minutes (which I’m sure Sonja didn’t enjoy much of). Now I was racing it, and secondarily racing the sunset. It was 6pm, and sunset was in 56 minutes. I knew I had a bit of cushion after sunset with the clear skies, but not much. I wanted to make the most of what time I had.

 

More crying out, every time my foot hit any rock hidden beneath the leaves. I flew by two guys who just starred and was basically like “yeah, get it!”. Rich stayed behind me as I hit mile one from the aid station at 10:55 minutes, my fastest mile split the whole race. I maintained close to that for as long as possible, my eyes tearing up. But my quads were still ok. Every now and then my calves would splinter in spasms in various areas and I would limp, giving way to the pain. I barreled down as the sun quickly set. I made it to about 2 miles to the finish before needing the headlamp where all chaos broke loose.

I believe I lost about 15-20 minutes doing one of two things: messing with the headlamp (would not turn on other than one flash once), or getting lost. I turned around a few times trying to find the markers in the suffocating new darkness. I told Rich he will no longer give me directions. We went silent. I was mad. I lost so much time. I couldn’t let Rich go without light, but I needed it too to go faster. This is not something either of us could compensate for.

Rich had not really run on trails in the dark, if at all in his life. I had, but I was so tired and things were failing. I was still slower than Rich at times, and losing light did not help things. I had so much packed into my front pockets, I dropped so many things, picked them up, wasted more time. I wanted to cry. I had bought so much time and the fear of the unknown crushed me. Eventually I gave Rich my Kogalla light which I desperately wanted to put on bright but forgot how. I took Sonja’s headlamp and just used whatever light it produced. We made do. This whole night running at cloudsplitter hasn’t gone great now I think about it. The steep section eventually came as we found our way and I knew my way from there no questions asked. I knew I was two miles away now. One hard mile, one easy pavement mile and I would fly down that with all I had left.

I had expended everything I had left long ago. This wasn’t even fumes anymore. I have honestly no idea where it came from. But I knew the moment I stopped, it would be over for me, my body would be done and spent beyond its limits. My tendons were depleted of strength, yet I could still give a little power when I needed it. I thoroughly expected to be the most sore I had ever been coming soon to a couch near you.

The trail heading down was now but powdered dirt that lingers in the headlamp glow. I rushed as fast as I could manage down the 17%+ decline, sliding down some of it like there was skree and rocks. But the end was a little too rocky for me to manage and my ankle fell to the side. I pushed off and on anyway. I could hear Rich tripping over nearly everything and I felt incredibly bad. I could hear his breathing as he tried to keep up with his deteriorating condition. This was way too many miles for him and now I was pushing both our limits. I hit Legion Park and even ran across the slick bridge against my better judgement. It was almost all downhill from here and we could see now. No truck waited for me this year. I guess the advantage of getting down the mountain fast.

I cried out as my leg ached and begged me to stop. They threatened to peel apart right then and there. But my quads held me as I hit the last mile with everything I had in me. I passed the intersection in town to turn left, tried to time it so I wouldn’t have to wait for traffic. I ran as fast as I could to cross the street before the truck came. I didn’t care.

I got to the last “hill”, the overpass leading into town and ran it. I did not stop. I ran past the hotel. I ran straight down the sidewalk, ignoring another car wanting to pull out of a parking lot. I realized then it was still around dinner time and normal people were still awake. Passing mile 100 at a sub 11 min/mi pace now. I was in disbelief but still carried as hard as I could. I was going to come in under 36 hours. I was going to beat it…my original goal last year that would be really nice to have. I turned the final corner to get to the farmer’s market where I had begun and a sharp pain shot through my left foot from the bottom through my entire body making it want to collapse. I had felt this before!

The macerations that were on edge so long ago had quite enough with my shenanigans of going this hard and burst on me in an instant, just a few feet away from the finish. Every rock was like glass, every step hurt. I put my head down and ran it in. I was done.

72786347_2552781651629555_4401268105943187456_n35 hours and 54 minutes later. Beating my time last year by about 3 and a half hours, my average pace in the last 8 miles was 14 min/mi. I had no idea how to react. I had gotten first female by some combination of a miracle between one DNF and low attendance and sheer grit to finish strong this time despite my hurdles. I was presented the quilt I had so badly wanted. I did not want to ruin it, it was so pretty and precious to me now, I said I could not hold it, I was so dirty. I didn’t want to come off as ungrateful, but may have seemed that way. I was happy and angry and everything all at the same time (have I said everything enough this article??). I was upset I went that fast at the end, I was mad I didn’t get my pacers in the right order, unsure where the other girl was behind me, I was so glad I survived, and though I did well for myself but I suck at being prideful.

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You did it lil one!!

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YES I WANT IT, I WANT THE QUILT BADLY BUT I AM NOT CLEAN/WORTHY RIGHT NOW!!

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Me contemplating life and what pace really means in the grand scheme of things.

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That face when you think you did something you shouldn’t have or maybe didn’t think you could do?

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GIRL, save that garmin data!!!

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GIRL, save that garmin data!! PLEASE!

I probably missed a lot of pictures I should have taken with people cause I was so overwhelmed by so much going on. Then my mind turned to a shower. I sat there and decompressed for a bit. I got the nice handicap room at the hotel and headed back to get clean, wanting that more than most stuff you could offer me in the entire world.

 

72682000_2627168190659911_2239520794243760128_n.jpgI can definitely say my feet were the main issue here, very underprepared with time on feet and not getting the stimulus of longer miles or hard terrain. I did what I could. I headed back to watch others finished. The warm and welcoming farmer’s market. Plenty of chairs and a reason to hang out with others. I talked with Rob Apple and cheered others waiting on word from Trevor. Trevor eventually came in after 39 hours, a little past when I had come in the previous year. I let Trevor’s mom and sister know what to do with him since Trevor had been mostly out of it since mile 40ish when we found him.

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All smiles, see, just give me a hot minute!

Don finished along with Randy after I did. Randy made the comment that this course is just takes more out of you than other 100s he has done. I trust his judgement. Glad I got to hang with such great athletes out there. I was so proud of our Team BU at this event too. What comradere! It was also amazing to meet the guy who was directly behind me when I tripped and fell last year hurting myself, hearing that he knew I finished. People really remembered me.

It didn’t go as planned, and I wasn’t as fast as I could have been, but I did what I could with what cards I dealt myself. Maybe a shorter distance calls out to me next year. Who knows. This race always feels like home. There are never any surprises, but it will be interesting to do a race that’s not there of that length. I am signed up for the Badger 100 again this year, so we shall see. I also have Georgia Death Race with Ginger next March.

I am on day 4 of recovery. I can walk mostly ok, my feet were the battle. My back has hurt the most for external pain from the chafing. My arms and quads came out completely unscathed somehow. My calves feel like they have deeper damage, unknown what that means or really feels like (I haven’t pushed it). My bones ache in my feet, but my knees are vastly improved from last year and didn’t hurt at all. I can only say this might have been from the lack of mud. My ankle swelled up pretty good along with my feet. I fought very hard to keep them from turning into complete balloons. My feet grew about 1.5 sizes last year, and this year only 0.5 size post race, so I did better in that regard. The swelling is subsiding finally as of today in my feet, but I feel a lot of fluid like pressure underneath still. I am generally confused how I got away with all that, but I know there could be deeper issue that would start to matter if I try to return too quickly, so for now, I am taking my time and going to do some biking and walking.

Cloudsplitter will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my first and second 100 finish, both very different. The course is extremely challenging boasting almost 25,000 feet of gain and equal loss over 101 miles. The constant up and down and extended climbs make it both hard and easy. Hard in that it’s just a physical grind, and easy in that it keeps you from going too hard over time. The terrain is a killer, I have yet to meet someone who has done the 100 who hasn’t had swelling and complications after. The nerves in my feet are far from happy and probably the most problematic issue I had (have).

The course is a good one, it does require you to be physically well on the devil’s fork loop, and I question why that part of the course is so far into the race (seemingly dangerous at times). The only thing I absolutely hate is the multiple out and backs. With that many trails in the area, I am sure they could branch somewhere else at some point to find the extra 24 miles needed to prevent the extra out and back. It’s just really daunting and boring and takes away from the quality of the course in my opinion, as well as making understanding the flow of the course confusing since you don’t go all the way out to Little Stony a 2nd time. There is a lot of appeal to courses that are long and don’t have repeating sections. I know there are probably issues concerning UTMB points, so I get not wanting to change it. But the course IS in the Jefferson National Forest and there is plenty of opportunity to get gain on the other trails. If this is changed, I would consider doing it again, but I just have no interesting in going back and forth all night long.

I would like to thank my mom and sister for helping crew, I know it was hard, especially trying to crew Rich for the 50k at the same time (and he crushed it even when he got lost for miles on end). I know my sister was supposed to pace, but I guess now she will have to come to the next edition of what crazy thing Steph does next. It was hard to figure out where the other girl was behind me and I couldn’t risk losing getting first female in probably my only race. Thanks to Sonja for coming all the way out and helping pace and be patient with my journey…get to Kona!! Rich, oh Rich, against my better judgement you paced me for miles and miles, and most of those miles did not have smiles. You are the very best and I know you overextended yourself for me. I know it was your choice, but let’s get you trained for that next time so I feel better about letting you do crazy pacing things when you have a race. Thanks to the City of Norton, I think it was the head honcho who is always taking pictures…you sir are quite awesome and a good guy for the whole community. Thanks to all the volunteers, the ones who remembered my poor soul out there last year, and all the work they do…they care so much, especially the family out in Devil’s Fork parking lot. Thanks to the RD, who I am sorry I ignored in my mass fuzzle brain of finishing…thanks for bringing this race together from so far away. Thanks to all my friends brand new from the race, to the old ones who have supported me…you know who you all are, many hugs. Thanks for not calling me out on doing this ridiculous feat and instead just being there for me. We might all be crazy. Thanks to my new pacer Ileana who is the biggest sweetheart in the world. Ginger for the chapstick OH MY GOODNESS THE CHAPSTICK YOU HAVE NO IDEA!! It saved my life. All of Team BU who was there especially for Trevor who I tried to help as much as I could while maintaining my own race. Thanks for picking him up after we carried him through the night. This is TEAM!

 

Women in Trail Running

Please enjoy my mixed smattering bag of womenly goodies on this little writing odyssey. I just kind of went with the flow…not that monthly flow, but yeah, you get it.
Now I may not speak for every female out there, but let’s get something straight…

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Or get muddy, but that’s everyone. Between the toes, under the nails, cuticles. So much for that pedi!

You will chafe. Somewhere, maybe somewhere you didn’t know you could. You’ll feel temperatures differently. You’re hot, she’s cold. It’s 50 degrees.

Maybe you leak a little in places. Maybe you get weird blisters just thinking about running. Maybe you run intervals. Maybe your heart is in a different place than your friend’s. Your hands swell. You get boob sweat in winter. Maybe you lack boobs and wear push up bras for running? I know I did for a long time. But don’t tell anyone.

Ladies come in all sizes, all shapes, and every ability. The ladies who are out there giving it what they have, have courage. Race day isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. No, a lot of training gets put in. And if a lot of training wasn’t put in (I admit I’m sometimes one of those), we put forth all of our experience on the course in front of us. That experience, however, comes from miles and miles of training under all sorts of conditions. Rain, snow, wind, more snow, heat of the sun midday, creepy lonely nights…those birds, will they attack? It’s just a robin.

Nope, that’s definitely a red winged black bird…time to run like heck. Que impromptu speed session. Wait, what’s that rustling over in the bushes? Ack! Chipmunk. But something deep in the back of our mind keeps us on our toes at every little change in environment, or sound that isn’t expected…

Our heads sometimes go straight to flight or fight, and being totally self aware that things are out to get us. That something could be men. No, not all men are dangerous, but there are some that are, and they wish for less than good things to happen to us. For what reason? Who knows. But we don’t deserve it.

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We are out there giving it our all, to work hard for ourselves. We oftentimes think about when we should run, or who we can run with, to give us that peace of mind, of protection against our society and world. We want to feel strong. So we make ourselves strong. And that can come in a variety of ways.

We go to the gym, putting on clothes that hope do not draw attention, especially in such an enclosed area. We head out to do our speed workout on the track, keeping covered afraid wearing just a sports bra even though it’s hot as the devil’s oven out just to not attract unwanted gazes, or worse, have others judge our rolls and scars. Out on the streets we run with a swivel to our head, keeping an eye out for followers, and trying to avoid cat calls. Driving to a running spot so people can’t track where we live, or how often we run a certain path…

We try so often to be safe and feel confident. Now I know I cannot help you all be more confident, it’s just the society we are in. But we have trails. Running freely and judgement free among the trees and tricky roots and rocks that line our path, making it a harder earned run. And when you get done, you can bask in the glory of what you accomplished. Running trails, you can leave your pace behind you. It will be what it will be.

I write this as my own blog post, just reaching out to other women out there, saying it’s ok to be experiencing these things. No it is not ok for society to treat us this way, but the winds of change are slow. Now I would like to talk about what we do out there.

Buzzing participants surround you, manly men, cocky men…oh neat there are some ladies here. You go to talk to them. They are just doing the 10k option, while you feel a little embarrassed you are running the 50k and will be in for the long haul, kind of wishing one of them was joining you in your day of labor.

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And don’t get me wrong, everyone who goes out there is a champion in my book, and I’m not meaning to say just a 10k, but I am reaching out to those of us who want to go that extra mile (or 20), who have drank from the sacred kool-aid we call ultra running. We sometimes feel very lonely, sometimes like we are the only ones there, and the few other women may look very intimidating; classic ultra long distance runner, long blonde hair, carrying just a handheld, lean and tall, and seemingly ignoring everything going on around them. You are there with your hydration pack, packed full of supplies for your long haul with blister kit, extra gels, salt tabs, body glide, chapstick, and bladder weighing in at 5 pounds no less.

But there is a smile under that trucker hat, as your focus soon shifts to the starting line as the sun begins to peak out revealing the trail before you. You start to focus in on the inner you, why you are here. Why are you there? You should be there for yourself, and it’s ok to be selfish! Enjoy your day.

I know it’s hard to be one of the few females out on course though. And sometimes it may seem that others aren’t experiencing the raging hot spot you are getting from higher than expected humidity under your bra, or wait, did that bee just sting me? The NERVE of that bee…no it was a wasp. Die wasp. Missed. Guess I’ll keep chugging along.

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It’s hard to be huffing and puffing on a hill — and yes you trained for that hill and you knew it was coming — and being passed by men who seem to be taking it in stride. Remember to take the time and bring the focus back on yourself and what YOU can do for yourself at any given moment. Each moment you earn for yourself. Each step you take forward (and sometimes a few lost steps that may add to your day, shake those off and accept the bonus miles and brag later). Each breath you are able to enjoy.

Close your eyes and take in what you have managed to accomplish. Sometimes it’s so hard when you compare yourself to others. And inevitably it will happen. To every one of us…big or small, faster or slower. Running generally is a solo sport. Don’t expect to run with others, everyone has different skills, and bless the trail angel when they come along and are by your side.

Let’s take a step back. You are there for the 10k, this is your first trail race, and you have worked so hard for so long to get to this point. You are nervous, but maybe you have some new and old friends by your side. Who quickly disperse once the run starts. You are alone with yourself. You are trying to convince yourself not to give into walking. Walking is so easy!

No, you did not get this far to give up on your arduous efforts leading up to this! You might feel so overwhelmed you don’t deserve to be there. Well, let me tell you the news.

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Breaking news really. You paid to be there (whether that’s paying for the shoes on your feet, or an event or whatnot), you worked hard to be there, and you have every right as every other person has to be there right in that moment, and all your future steps leading you forward. But your mind is a powerful thing, it can empower you and take it right away from you at the same time. Mental toughness, the willingness to refuse to quit. Build it up like a monument so no one can take it down. Come at each step that seems darker and darker with curiosity instead of anxiety or negativity. Ask what you may feel like in 5 minutes, or 90 seconds. Create a mantra…you can do anything for 1 minute. Negativity is temporary, I promise you that. But if you give up, you keep part of that darkness, and will only wonder what could have been if you’d taken the next step.

What is your limit? Can you actually find out? Is there one? You might find you have a temporary limit…work to remove it. Come back, try again and again. Seek joy and pleasure in your journey and soak every moment in, because one day you may not be able to later in life.

It’s rather interesting to see the stats on events, especially as they get longer. I see a lot of participation, women outweighing men, in shorter events. I see women get at it, every pace, every shape. These miles are nothing! But as the miles drag on, those of the female variety tend to lessen in participation. Are we scared of trying? I know from psych research that women are more cautious than men, not as likely to take risks. So it may come down to personality as well. Going the distance is definitely a risk, and an ever increasing risk of failure. We dislike failure. It may be that women are expected to raise kids. I don’t see a lack in participation from the male variety. Shouldn’t raising kids be a joint effort? Another societal expectation? I have no right to say since I do not have these experiences, but I know others who might be going through this. And maybe that’s completely ok with them, that’s their relationship and family.

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But I at least want to say: try. It becomes rather addicting to try, and to see new places, experience new things. Oh how I call the mountains’ name so often (they don’t answer back echoing the sounds of my empty wallet). Prove to yourself you can do hard things, and it’s ok that they are hard, even harder than you expected. And maybe you need a break. That’s ok too. In life there is ebb and flow. Up and down. Positivity and negativity.

Ultimately, you are going to be upset with yourself. You’re going to be angry at things. That’s normal. Go for a run, you’ll feel better, even if it’s delayed after a day or two. You don’t have to sit there and be supportive and positive all the time. We are women and our mood swings can be dangerous…to others. And sometimes ourselves. Find something you can do to chill. Take a salt bath. Drink some tea listening to classical music for 10 minutes. Yoga? I’m not a yoga person, but deep breathing is the shizzle I hear. Close your eyes and imagine your happy place. Do you hear the sound of the leaves crinkling before you on the ground? The smell of fresh pine. Can you hear muffling of the virgin snowfall? Or feel the radiant sunrays on your back, with the crickets singing off in the distance?

This has been quite an adventure in itself. Being a woman running can be lonely even in a crowded room. Hold your shoulders back, chin up, as cliche as that sounds, and march forward in your endeavors. YOUR endeavors. YOUR journey. Each step is so important, if just for you. Don’t be afraid to question, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. No one on Earth is perfect, no man, no woman. It’s hard not being afraid, but sometimes the greatest reward is overcoming that fear and just being you.

What is my Stress Fracture?

Well, if you didn’t know, I have an almost complete stress fracture of the Fibula. What does that mean, Steph? Bear with me, this is more of a personal blog about my struggle with this stress fracture and a way for me to get the anxiety out and release some thoughts…

It means my leg is not broken, yet. It means with continued activity it will break, and then recover time would be extended further than if I hadn’t. The fibula is the smaller of the two long bones in you lower leg, and mostly non-weight bearing but helps take a load off of the tibia, the main weight bearing bone of your leg. Usually, the fracture will happen in the lower or upper part of the fibula, however, mine is basically in the middle…atypical for a stress fracture for a runner. Skipping most of the medical jargon and stuff, I am here wondering what happened. I went through my head countless reasons, but none make a whole lot of sense. So let me give you the basic timeline at least from when I found out.

I found out on July 9th, 2019, for an MRI I had done at 7:45pm the previous evening, July 8th. That day, I had already played 2 or 3 songs, not difficult for me, on our dance game with friends without any pain. My sports med doctors had called me directly and told me to be on crutches for 2 weeks, and the results from the MRI indicated swelling and edema around the fracture site, indicating the fracture was nearly completed and it was my body’s way of trying to protect itself. It was a hard pill to swallow, and emotionally, I had to hold it together, for the sake of my doctor on the phone, and the crew of friends who were visiting for a pokemon go ex raid (special kind of event you get invited to do to catch a special pokemon). There were all of a sudden so many steps I now had to take in my personal life to make immediate changes. I was overwhelmed, and since I had guests over, I could do nothing at the time. In retrospect, this might have been for the best since it prevented me from panicking.

Everything went through my head. How did this happen. Why did this happen. When would I be well again. I am going to miss our summer in Wisconsin this year, after it had been cold for so very long. We had only had summer a week or two when I got the call and I have been having a massively bad time adapting to my new climate in the upper midwest, and each passing season, it seems to get worse. I guess I’ll delve into that a bit.

When I moved to Wisconsin, winter of 2016, I found the cold to be novel. However, I immediately struggled to get outside with temperatures hovering around 0°F and snow everywhere all the time. I came from a place with cold and snow, but what I had to be outside in was not nearly warm enough, and after moving expenses and starting out married life with Rich, we had no money to invest in new clothes. The following winter, 2016/2017, was quite mild, and I was outside more often than before. But I thought this was what normal winter was, which I would be wrong about. I just lucked out. I took a break from running long after I PR’d my half marathon time and finished a late season 70.3 Ironman race (my first, Los Cabos, see here). I remember finally getting a winter coat good enough for the climate then at least and we decided to build a house (that wouldn’t be ready until August, a year after we purchased it) and my mind and life was occupied by that.

Fast forward to winter 2017/2018, post Ironman Wisconsin and Xterra Maui. I took more time off than ever, rather burned out from the training of both of those. I ran when I felt like it, 3-5 miles here and there, not getting monthly run miles past 30 miles/month. Then Andrea hits me up and says do Zion with me. I say ok. I figure I’ll train well enough. I struggled through it, but hit it hard in March and did my 2nd 50k (and coldest and wettest to date, it was awful weather) and long back to back weekends training myself as I got my coaching certificate earlier that year. I ended up doing the 100k in April, pretty well prepared with two months of mostly solid training. By this time I had more outerwear meant for Wisconsin, but it was another milder winter. Unknowing to me.

Again, fast forward to 2018/2019, my worst winter yet and the one I tried really hard to train through. Back in October 2018, I finished Cloudsplitter 100, but with a partially torn anterior tibialis tendon tear that took me down hard. I managed to get back up to marathon distance by December, and tried to hang onto some sort of base from that until February when I did Rocky Raccoon 100k. I fought hard to get in miles, but every time I would go out, everything would go wrong. I would deteriorate so quickly and get tired super fast to the point I would want to fall asleep on the trail. I got rashes and bumps on almost all my runs over 15 minutes outside below 40°F. I started bleeding from places I should not have been bleeding from and after every effort outside, I wound up falling asleep in front of our fireplace. It wouldn’t be until I rested that my body would feel normal again. I also noticed that my internal body temperature after running (taken less than 2 minutes after stopping) was below 94°F every time. That was rather scary. I was diagnosis with cold urticaria, and prescribed antihistamines for the winter months. I had to switch my training to be indoors and my training fell apart a little.

I managed to get in another 50k for my birthday, Terrapin Mountain, and it went as well as it could have given I did not have the mountain to properly train with in Wisconsin. I rested a bit, and continued to train along the mountains back in Virginia, preparing for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon in April. I rocked the double despite the weather. I wasn’t even sore from it. I had zero pain and did a few easy and light runs the following week. It was still pretty cold in Wisconsin this past year (2019) when I returned back after being in Virginia for a month, and my training lightened up a lot. I did a few 3-9 mile runs 2-3 times a week, but didn’t get in the speed work I had wanted for training for the halves I wanted to try and PR. I did one half at the beginning of May and at the end of May. In-between, I started doing weights, and really overdid it one day with legs, and did something to hurt my abdominal area, which showed in a 17 mile run I took super easy a week later. I rested another week, and did more light running. The last weekend in May was the Madtown half. I kept my effort even and was pretty successful considering I had no speed work in my agenda going into it. Still too cold for my muscle to really put power into strides.

The following weekend, I did a bunch of boot camp style workouts, but nothing long. Most things were intense though. I had done more weight lifting 2 days beforehand too, including legs again. When I flew out to Colorado, I was massively dehydrated. I admit, I am very bad about hydrating, but some of this was not preventable in this case due to travel mishaps…I was basically late for everything preventing me from getting water on the other side of security, and a flight too short for the airline to have water on board, and my next flight boarding on the other side of a large airport before I landed.

When I ran between those two flights, I could already tell my legs were swelling, as I could feel my heart beat pounding against the tight walls of my legs. It wasn’t quite painful yet, but I could tell I was in trouble. I did not have time for water, as I was the last person to board that flight even with running across the airport. I immediately pushed the button for service and they didn’t come to me until the flight was taking off. I finally got some water…even if it was a tiny cup. By the time I landed in Colorado, my legs were shiny and full of fluid and very puffy, but hard as rocks. I could feel my heart beat inside them even while sitting. I tried to do my leg exercises on the plane, but being in the middle seat with an obese person sitting next to me and using some of my own seat (I will save you my rant on that), I had absolutely no room. I went to sleep that night and got up early to go run.

Usually when this happens to my legs, and yes I have tried compression on planes, and several brands (I am supposed to be called about a personalized medical pair, but its been two weeks now—they call YOU), I just work out, go for a run typically, and after about 20 minutes, I start experiencing a LOT of leg pain and pulsing feeling like my muscles are tearing apart, and if I can push through that, the swelling will diminish and I’m back to normal and can run normally after that. I have done this a few times before, every time with the same feeling and same result. This time felt a bit different. This time it felt like my muscles were being pulled apart more so than before, and were bleeding inside. I was with my friend Scott, doing a life in the day sort of thing and doing all the workouts. I mentioned I needed to stop, trying to massage my legs and let blood flow through them. I remember my right leg hurt a bunch and I was close to limping. My left leg was also in bad shape but not as bad. Since it was only a little under 3 miles, I don’t think it got the fluid out of my legs. Maybe it was the altitude, lack of oxygen, maybe it was the dehydration. There were so many things going on right at that time.

I did a few more workouts that morning before heading to a local gym where I foam rolled my right leg out. It was about 60% better after, but I then noticed my left leg was still in the same shape. My priority though was my right leg and I kept tending to it. Some rest that night, and I woke up with some residual swelling, but not nearly as bad as it had been the day prior. My legs were still super tight across the skin and muscles, but they were starting to jiggle again (for lack of a better word). I took a step out of bed and my left leg hurt, and hurt to touch. My pain overall still was not absent from the swelling and the feeling of my muscles being ripped the day before (I don’t think they tore, but that’s debatable, I’m just describing a feeling for the sake of this blog). I continued to workout and run. The beginning of runs would feel horrible and I would limp on my left side. But the longer I went and warmed up, the better it got. This was the case for every run afterwards, and was up until I got the MRI.

I decided to then do the FKT I had planned a few days after getting back from Colorado. 40 miles along the Military Ridge State Trail, solo. I started out in some pain, but it went away with the miles. I felt pretty good at the end in fact. The next morning I was only a little sore and the pain in my left leg was present, but not as it had been the previous weekend. I had scheduled a doctors appointment with my primary care office about the swelling by this point. I was worried about deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, a very real and scary danger involving leg swelling that can potentially kill you if there is a pulmonary embolism (PE). I was able to get a scan of my veins and an x-ray done to rule them out. Results came back negative. I was able to get an x-ray scheduled and done after S’mores 24, 53 more miles on the leg. I had played a soccer game the week before, and some of the push offs from the left leg felt real bad. I decided to rest it at that point. The x-ray came back with a small thing that triggered something from the tech and told them to investigate. At this point I had been referred to a sports medicine doctor for their opinion. This is now late June and I had been active this whole time being told by 3 doctors so far “let pain be your guide”. I did this, but apparently this ended up being for the worst. I got in to see her in July. She said she doubted it was a stress fracture because of its location and my history I had given with my training of when the pain started. I did fail the hop test, as I did not even want to “hop” on one foot knowing it would hurt. I didn’t know what this meant at the time.

During this period of time, I had two professional massages, and they commented how tight it was and it felt like a knot to them. It did hurt when they massaged it and it was not better when I left. But it also wasn’t worse.

By the time the MRI was scheduled, insurance caught up, it was July 8th, and when asked by the lab tech where my pain was, I could no longer find it. I guessed since I knew it had turned into a spot of pain as the pain from the left calf subsided over the weeks. So from May 30th until July 9th, I was fairly to extremely active on the leg in question, only stopping a majority of activity after June 26th when I was told to just bike and not run. When I got the call about the results, biking was no longer an option.

Part of the reason it took so long was 1) insurance, and 2) progression of doctors trying to figure out what the pain was. I will say this though, I do not thing it was the increase in activity AFTER my days in Colorado in early June which would explain why it’s so severe (I had a huge increase in mileage and activity post Colorado including the 40 and 50 miler only two weeks apart), but it probably most certainly made it worse, despite my pain decreasing over this period of time, only being irritated during soccer games and the beginning of runs. My gut says that it started that weekend in Colorado, and because of the swelling I had.

The only mechanism that explains where it is, and don’t quote me because this is all new information and might be that my anatomy is bad, is a muscle pulling at the bone until it fractures. The purpose of the fibula is supporting muscles of the lower leg and ankle stability. I never turned my ankle, at least not within the last year. Ankle feels fine and has been fine. A trigger for a fracture is also weak calf muscles, I’m fairly confident my 16” calf is not weak and is well supported. My body was not fatigued either so it’s not like the fibula had to take any addition weight on. Unless it was too much weight when I did weights the few times leading up to the Colorado trip.

Could it have started during Cloudsplitter? I had major swelling post race, but my pain was limited to my torn tendon on my right (but who knows what 80+ miles compensating on my left leg to make up for the injured right leg would do?), and anterior shin pain on both legs evenly. I haven’t experienced any leg pain since Cloudsplitter. Not after Rocky, not after Blue Ridge. I felt so good physically going into May and my mileage dropped a lot then, so I wasn’t spiking in mileage or effort.

Whether it was cumulative or sudden, I don’t think I will ever know. I know that MRI’s don’t lie, and yes I felt pretty good physically when I went in for the MRI July 8th, hardly any pain I could even hunt down. It blows my mind that I am one step away from a broken leg. I’m glad I mostly started resting 12 days before the MRI, although I biked a few times (no pain at ALL), went for a hike and a few short walks (around half a mile) without pain, and played some dance games without pain as well. As I sit here, I have absolutely no pain left at all. Of course, I have been on crutches, so maybe that has changed? I feel baffled by the fact that I have that much internal swelling and I can’t feel anything.

I friend suggested that maybe my muscles are so strong that they are supporting my bone enough that I can’t feel it. I would believe that easily. I also remember I took a nice salt bath (also trying to figure out if that would help the pain go away) earlier in mid June, and letting my leg move in the water and feeling the site of pain back then. Since then, I have been cleared to swim as I wish, and have been. Yesterday, as of this blog, I swam with my legs, and felt nothing. I assume I was feeling the swelling from the fracture, and not the actual fracture since there aren’t nerve endings in bone.

Regardless, I have started to seek my own help, and asked for a therapist, 1) to help deal with this life changing event (going from very active, to hardly active at all for the sake of healing) and coping with the associated depression resulting from not doing anything and trying not to blame myself, and 2) how in the world will I deal with another winter, when I was not able to fully experience and enjoy summer in the best ways I know how? This makes me sad writing it out. I started writing this very blog post to help me cope and get my thoughts out instead of making countless social media posts that go nowhere but probably annoy people and think I’m complaining for the sake of complaining. However, there is quite a waiting list to be seen. I am trying not to get discouraged by this.

There is also quite a long wait for physical therapy of which my insurance does not want to cover (although they covered it for the torn tendon earlier in the year, it took from early November to early January to be seen). So I need to start educating myself on how to recover properly in case I am truly declined from PT. I found a useful medical journal article that details the study of recovery for patients who are active runners recovering from a tibia fracture. Although the tibia is the weight bearing bone in the leg, the recovery for that is much longer and involved, so I figure if I follow that protocol as described therein, then that should be a good enough plan for a fibial injury.

Where do I go from here? I of course have bailed out of Badger 100, which was supposed to be my 2nd 100, and I had goals of going sub 24 hours. I instead will be volunteering and doing my best to bring my best to those out there. August 7th is the date to look to right now, which is when I can start weight bearing again. I was told to wait for 6 weeks before running is attempted. Six weeks is August 21st.

It will be touch and go from week 4 on in my honest opinion. I oftentimes forget I am really broken, and walk away without my crutches like a normal person. I’m babying and limping on purpose, even though I do not have to. I am trying to be super careful. I have upped my calcium and Vitamin D intake to normal daily recommended values at least just in case that was a cause. I do wonder after recovering for a few weeks when I can put in effort like as in stairclimbing and other activities to build endurance and muscle. I still have so many questions, many that cannot be answered. I am still talking to doctors about my leg swelling, and will know more the more flights I take, but part of me doesn’t want to cause it on purpose just to show the doctors how bad it is.

Looking ahead, Cloudsplitter may be off the menu in any capacity, but I’m going to take it day by day, and build as strong of a body as I can with what I can do so I can jump back into training safely. If an ultra is off the table, then I have a few long distance triathlons that I can train for that happen in the winter (given they don’t sell out). I know I am hitting swimming hard, and can already do a half ironman swim under the time cut-off. Next step in recovery is biking, since it is not as weight bearing as running. Building these up and keeping my base cardio is important to me. Whether than ends in a triathlon, an ultra, or nothing at all and getting good enough to beast the Georgia Death Race for my birthday in March, I’m going to come back.

Run S’mores 24 – 2019

Run S’mores 24 hour race…

Or 16 hours.

June has been quite the month for me, I’ve reached more miles this month than any other month, but a majority of it has been either tapering or ramping up and banging out big miles. It’s kind of an experiment in coaching myself to better learn how the body handles big efforts over a shorter period of time. I always hope I can learn for myself and then help clients out and back it with some science (and experimentation). I had S’mores on my calendar for quite a few months now, always seemed like a good idea to run for 24 hours on a 3 mile looped course in late June when it would be warm and sunny. Well some of that ended up being true, but not a lot.

I based this off of the 50k I did on a 5k hilly course last year (Hot Hilly Hairy), which is still my 50k PR. It was pretty nice having a base camp you could access every 3 miles with all your goodies. Uh no. Wait, let’s fast forward now.

The events leading up to this didn’t seem too bad, a lot of piddly miles mixed with larger and harder efforts. After the Blue Ridge Double Marathon, I recovered surprisingly quickly and was running two days later. I wanted to train for PR’ing my half distance but the cold and snow quickly stopped that. I still ended up doing the Wisconsin Marathon Half May 4th, doing a dance game tournament the weekend after, and the weekend after that the Galena Sky Trail race 4 hour where I had stressed out/pulled my abdominal wall slightly while trying to do weights (unknowingly at the time), preventing me from really going all out. A week after and basically taking a whole week off from working out besides arm focused weights, I did the Twilight 5k and Madtown Half that weekend. From there, I ventured to Colorado where I was signed up for the Dirty 30 12 miler in Golden. On the plane, my legs and feet ended up swelling up (and I’m still trying to pursue why this is happening but as of today, still haven’t heard back from my doctor after being cleared for DVT and muscle tears).

IMG_20190601_111400_1After getting off the plane and sleeping for a short period of time, and being dehydrated from travel, I went for a short run. I could tell my legs were extra tight from the fluid that had built up from the flight, and usually a short run will loosen things up. I eventually felt my left leg release a bit, but my right leg was being quite stubborn. I did another workout right after, nothing intense and then a hill repeat and strength workout. A break in the day, I went to foam roll hard. I focused mainly on the right leg since it was annoying me at this point. Never has it taken so long to release this and I was getting impatient, and also focusing on hydration too. That trip, I ended up doing a bunch more, with runs being fairly short in the 5-7 mile range but with a lot of gain, with the exception of the Dirty 30, where my left leg would actually hurt until about mile 6 where it just went away, and I couldn’t even feel it for 3 days after. Back on the plane, I kept trying to move around (probably to the displeasure of the people next to me) and keep my legs from swelling. I am not sure it worked, and my left calf remained knotted up (and whatever it is it is doing right now STILL).

I got professional massages, took salt baths, used ibuprofen, foam rolled, everything. Nothing seems to help.

61940362_1277002745808074_8382098796674285568_nI ended up running the entire FKT with this issue, and it eventually it calmed down during the run again. It was irritated afterwards, but again calmed down. But then I played a soccer game and irritated it further with the power required to stop-go during a game. And here I am…going to the doctor, not getting answers. They told me let pain be the guide, and really didn’t pursue the issue further and said they would call me about setting up another appointment with a specialist. Still no call today. I’m not going to go off on how much I hate my PCP and how she has disrespected my activities with a personal bias, so deep breath. S’mores 24.

I was mentally prepared to just walk for 24 hours. But I soon forget how long it takes to walk 3 miles, and how little practice I have power hiking at pace lately, which makes me use a different form that tends to create precisely ONE hot spot on my right foot. I got cleared from DVT noon on Friday the day before the race. I went to the grocery store and bought a number of things I wanted to try. I wanted to do this event totally on real food or liquids. I grabbed the new orange vanilla coke, some grape juice, pineapple-tangerine fruit cups in coconut water, apples, nectarines, grapes, and watermelon. The site did not specify that they would have any on course nutrition or support besides water, so I assumed I was going in on my own.

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I also brought along with me: Rich, handheld water bottle, face wipes (new!), all my antichafe products, bug spray, umbrella, running jacket and vest (waterproof), new Kogalla “head”lamp, two headlamps and batteries, light up night running vest (required), hiking poles (why not), plastic baggies, poncho, visor, extra shoes and socks and gaiters, two power banks and cords, soft flask, sunscreen, biofreeze, orange mud pack and bladder, calf sleeves, headband, and some random other things thrown in.

I ended up using a lot of this stuff. My goal was to be able to walk/run the next day (keep the effort in check), and to keep the feet happy (no blisters!)…this was really important to me. I would rather sacrifice my mileage and time than be beat up from this.

I found Megan and Joan, the two I would share a tent base camp aid station with. It was a bit further out from the start/finish than I bargained for, not their fault, but I feel like everyone was in this situation. HHH had it so all the tents and runner areas were set up along where the runners came through, not an area designated beside it where you had to remove yourself from the course somewhat to get aid. This ended up giving me more than 3 extra miles total during this event. That is no small amount.

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Anyway, I dropped everything at the tent, and planned on it storming at some point, or all points. The weather leading up to Saturday was a mixed bag of goodies….goodies? Booties. It was forecasted to be upper 70s, generally this didn’t change, and 40-80% chance of thunderstorms at any given time, and this went for Saturday night as well. The threat for Saturday night did not diminish before race day, however the chance for rain on Saturday magically disappeared for some odd reason. Weather, y’know?

IMG_20190622_084831It was pretty sunny, and a little humid. I recall midday humidity being around 62%, which was abnormal for the area. But weather has been butts lately…nothing above 70 degrees, no sun, just overcast drizzle crap day after day. No true storms either. I just wanted summer. My plan was to just do a lap and see how course conditions were (since it had been raining) and see if I needed to change up anything about myself…socks, shoes, nutrition, etc. Should note that a majority of people there were relay teams. There was also a mini 6 hour S’mores.

I lined up around 8:50am for the 9am start. I had chosen my Altra Superiors with gaiters, and zensah mid calf compression socks (see how they would work, no antichafe had been applied at this point), Inknburn shorts and new racerback top, handheld water bottle filled with grape juice. I carried nothing else but my iPod. I positioned myself towards the back unsure what my legs would do. I didn’t do a shake out run beforehand, or really that week. I was nervous for what my legs would feel like.

I started my watch when the Race Director set off the race (it’s 24 hours total no matter when you cross the starting line). I took a few steps and I knew I would be in for a long day. It was difficult to get moving and could feel a slight limp in my stride…if you could call my mini shuffle a stride. I eventually caught up with Megan that loop.

The Course:

It started out grassy and prairie like, my favorite, out to a quick jaunt through a forest of big pine cones that should be avoided (they would turn an ankle later in a race if not careful), returning to grass with hard packed dirt under it…which made it not so bad. The sun shone through and lead to a steep downhill that landed you right back in the forest. Cue the wood chips! The RD had told us in the pre race briefing that they had covered the muddy sections with wood chips. This lull in the course would lead to the first uphill which led to another sunny area and back into the woods were it was so flat, and very runnable. So many wood chips though, and very soft underfooting here. This lead to some soft rolling hills that weaved in and out. Nothing was single track about this course. Always at least double track. Somewhere in here there were cones that went slightly downhill (about a mile in), then back up. The next mile was pretty unmemorable with one bigger hill that went up (and not down). This uphill lead to some pitched trail slanting to the right in the sunshine, hard packed dirt again. Back into the forest, the wood chips littered the area.

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If I may, this was similar to Habanero with the sand, but it was all wood chips. Not something to fondly remember on race day !

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Turtle eggs on course!

The hills rose and fell more, shorter this time, and by a lake it seemed. You could hear the frogs and various animal life but couldn’t see it. The trees here yawned in the wind. Yes, I can hear most everything while I have my iPod playing, I only tune in to it when I’m bored. This lead to a long downhill and then up to level off for a bit of almost muddy path, and then a short downhill leading to the only muddy place on the whole course before it rose sharply for a very brief time to the only aid station on course at exactly mile 2.5. This lead back into the sunshine and grassy plains, but still with hard packed dirt. I mention the dirt because the dirt below the grass is very important with how it runs. Soft dirt can grow thicker grass and is much harder to run on. The trail fell beyond the aid station back into the woods with the cones from before (the only section with 2-way traffic), and slightly uphill. Once past the cones, there was a nice section without grass or chips, and was just hard dirt and very easily run. This lead back to the start/finish to complete the loop.

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Long endless stretch of super runnable ground.

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The hill before the hill at the end.

Just beyond the timing mats, was the exit for the course for solo/double runners and our tents. This is where all the extra distance was tacked on.

So I was suffering a bit on the first lap. I was trying to take things slow, but caught up to Megan shortly. I decided to just run with her since her pace seemed logical to me. This may have been a mistake on my part since I had not trained at that pace, but I wanted the company more than I cared about what I was doing. I honestly didn’t have plan leading up to it with all the mess going on with my body recently and unsolved mysteries. I just knew you had to make it to 50 miles to get the buckle. I had wanted to try and get the womens course record, but today was definitely not going to be the day, that also required 80 some miles. I was still willing to put in 100km worth of miles today.

FB_IMG_1561334790518Megan’s goal was to get in 50 miles in under 12 hours. She also wanted to get in 100km no matter what. All good stuff. Joan was doing her first ultra and off on her own. We wished her well and tried to keep up with how she was doing throughout the day. Megan and I agreed to skip going to the tent for the first 6 miles. When we got to the first aid station, I was about half way through my grape juice so diluted it half way and that hit the right ratio and hit the spot. I could tell I was not hydrated enough though going into the race. When we returned to the tent after the 2nd lap, I grabbed some more grape juice and downed an entire coke (200 total calories), which didn’t end up coming back to bit me.

I refilled my bottle at the aid station the 3rd round with water (in addition to the grape juice I hadn’t drank yet). Megan told me her husband would be bringing the dogs to run with later. I was ok with this. I took a quick bathroom break upon returning to the start/finish, and then going back to the tent again. I cleaned my face with the cleansing wipes and reapplied sunscreen. I told Rich he could go hang with friends and come back around 4pm. We had no idea where Joan was. I tried not to think about the number of miles we had left. I ate some watermelon and refilled my bottle with grape juice, I felt so proud I was keeping up with nutrition…

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On the 4th loop I believe when we stopped back at the tent, I ended up trying to eat an oatmeal cream pie and a rice crispy treat, both new to me. I also had more coke.

The dogs ended up joining us shortly. Hootie was first up, the regular to Megan’s training runs. She had a nice belt to attach him to and he behaved like he didn’t have a care in the world and just went along, pulling Megan along at a slow trot. I remarked that I felt so slow watching Hootie not give any effort in moving forward on the leash. We did this loop a wee bit faster. Next up was Bette, the puppy who had little experience. She kept me on my toes as she weaved in every direction on our loop. It was around this time (hitting around 18-20ish miles) that I decided to switch to my Altra Timps and out of the socks I was wearing. The socks I had been adjusting for several miles not really noticing they were bruising my ankles yet.

It was such a relief to get rid of the tight socks, but I noticed when I put on the new socks that my ankles were not happy at all with the compression they had been under for so long. Ugh. I was a bit sad I hadn’t caught this before now.

Bette’s loop was much slower as we walked mainly through it. It was a nice break. Back around again, we picked up Hootie for one last go around. The sun was high now. But the first major steep hill (mentioned somewhere around mile 2 on the loop), we ALL spotted two little creatures. They were raccoons, but they were so small. Hootie got so excited (more excited than this old decaying stump he liked so much twice in a row), and Megan had a hard time persuading him to move on.

 

 

I noticed at this point my stomach was becoming more unhappy. It had been progressively getting worse each loop. I couldn’t tell what was causing it. When we got back around, we dropped Hootie off and we went off on our first solo loop (without puppers) in 9 miles. I told Megan I would stick with her until about 50k and try and do a loop fast and one loop power hiked as fast as I could. I could tell the heat was really getting to Megan at this point, walking through all the sunny sections now. I tried to keep her in good spirits. I didn’t notice the heat too badly, I suppose it was upper 70s by now, but the sun was what I really noticed. We’ve had so little sun this year that I knew it would be harder to deal with for any of us. I noticed it the most during my FKT for Military Ridge. But I still didn’t have enough exposure in my opinion to be good with all of it. I still don’t think the heat or sun played a role in how I felt.

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As much discomfort as my stomach was in, I could always still smile for the sunshine. (Coming down from the on aid station.)

As the sun grew lower in the sky, my stomach felt worse. Rich had made it back to camp. I had some more coke and at some point had eaten some pineapple (of which I am at least sensitive to allergy wise, or flat out allergic)…the only things I can point to for this stomach discomfort was either the pineapple, too much sugar, or too much water. I kept drinking the grape juice for another lap though. At one point, Megan wanted to run, and my stomach just said no (this was a first for me). I broke into a power hike and fell behind. This was the first time we broke apart. I managed to keep her in sight for a majority of the loop until I passed her hiking on the hills. I entered camp alone and decided to keep moving past camp in a power hike. My hot spot made itself known….boo. I decided quickly after leaving the camp area that I would put some antichafing stuff on when I got back. I managed a great loop in time, but my stomach kept decaying. I stopped at camp and had some more watermelon and soda. When I left, I started to feel even worse. I slowed and huddled over in total discomfort. I remember after having a sip of grape juice I wanted to throw up and got that saliva feeling in my mouth but my body would not do it. I felt if I could just throw up, I would feel better. But my body is pretty resilient. My pace dropped severely after being able to maintain 14:30 pace by simply walking, down to 18:30. I crawled my way back to camp as it got darker and saw people passing me with lights on. I told Rich I was going to the porto.

I believe I was in there for at least 20 minutes if not longer trying to produce anything. Nothing. No relief came, and I decided that I would go lie down in the tent. I laid down for a very long time. My total time resting on this loop alone was one hour. I changed my shirt to my long sleeve shirt I brought, and my vest. I wanted to switch to my hydration pack but I realized I forgot the clip to my bladder. Ahhhh I found out the one important thing this race I forgot to pack. Usually has something to do with the hydration I’m using. Oh well. I wasn’t planning on drinking anymore anyway. I was feeling much better, probably 40% better, after lying down. I got out and it was cold. The sun was down and I prepped my headlamps. I could still see a little and wondered how far I could get without a headlamp. Just something to keep my occupied. My pace was terrible, especially after resting and not moving for an hour. I have never done this in an ultra, but nor have I had stomach issues. I’m glad it was at a timed race at least.

The negativity spoke to me so much here. Your pace is bad. Why do you keep going. This is an embarrassment. You shouldn’t have tried…

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Unmemorable 2nd mile.

I hated everything about myself and how I was failure. Yet I kept moving forward like I always do. I thought about all the times I had gone this far and how much harder the terrain was then and the conditions worse than today. Why could I not do well today? Yet I kept moving forward…

Eventually, I turned on my headlamp and didn’t worry about what my watch said, although it hurt to see each mile pass and the numbers it displayed, displeased on how slow they were ticking by. I couldn’t run…my ankles were killing me, I was alone, and now my feet felt like I’d done too much. I tried not to let those be an excuse for why I was feeling bad. My stomach churned some more but not as angry as it had been, allowing me to walk.

I messaged Andrea to see how far away she was. She was coming. I got back to camp and decided to wait for her. I went back into the tent to stay warm. I waited for probably another 40-45 minutes, but I didn’t care about time anymore. I continued to not intake anything as my stomach was on the mend. I had some more coke, but not nearly in the amounts I had been taking in. I switched to my soft flask and carried that (apparently not small enough though since it did bother me, so note taken, not good for long runs) with just water. I had two more laps. The previous lap I had just fallen into Rich’s chest and didn’t want to go back out.

A lot of people say when you sit down and get comfortable, you won’t want to go back out, causing people to DNF/quit, but my personal comfort is being held by Rich. Note taken there too as much as that sucks. I sat down every chance I got and was always able to get up and get back out there. Two more laps.

Andrea arrived and it was hard to get moving. Andrea tried to convince me for a few additional laps, but even 50 miles seemed like a stretch at this point. My feet were pounding. They had so much cumulative fatigue over the past few weeks, they were done with my nonsense. Our laps were slow and I continually apologized to her about the pace. I was so glad to listen to her whole adventure from Yeti that she did earlier that month and distracted me from myself. A voice in the dark when I was in the dark. The second lap we decided to do her intervals but backwards, so 1 run, 4 walk. It was a lot and I was very slow. I counted down the hills, and said goodbye to each and every wood chip. I said goodbye to the mud puddle.

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This wood chip made it home somehow, I guess to be expected with all the wood chips on course. It will be burned ceremoniously.

I ran the last little bit the best I could. I had had my poles for some time now ever since I started power hiking loops, and I am not sure they did me much good (I would use them, then not but carrying them never bothered me), but they did keep me accountable for moving forward. I finished 53.5 miles in 16 hours and 30 minutes, very embarrassingly. It was 17 laps, so the race total was 51.5 miles. Megan had finished in about 16 hour and Joan finished in around 17 hours (times not precise for them).

My feet hurt to the bone pretty good, so no more laps for me, no matter how much others wanted it.

I felt like not staying the whole 24 hours was a disservice to what I had signed up for. I felt like leaving early was a DNF in my book. I still have a lot of bad feelings about how I did, but looking back I’m not sure they could have been avoided at all.

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Gotta finish.

Let me break it down. No it’s not the smartest to run on something that could be an injury. No I still don’t know what it is, but I am taking some time off now from pounding anything (regardless of sport) to let things possibly heal, including my feet and bones. I knew excessive fatigue played a role the minute I started the race. This is my highest mileage month I’ve ever had in my career of running so that is to be expected. This gives me better ideas in how to train and how to up my foundation. I have also added three cross training sports now and feel stronger than I have ever.

For the stomach issues. I’m sure going in not hydrated enough played a role and drinking way too much for my body to process during the event was a bad idea. I assume that eating pineapple is just a bad choice on my part but thought it may play out ok. The watermelon was ok, and I added salt to it, but it wasn’t a very good melon. Between the grape juice and the soda, I probably over compensated in sugar per hour. The initial laps were certainly not taking me a full hour (not until the last few) and I was taking in too much and probably too much at once. I wouldn’t define it as gut rot feeling, but just cramps and that affected my form from the hips up. No lower digestive issues. I am sure having a cream pie, rice crispy treat, and soda did me no favors. This was the first time I had been able to really over fuel and I certainly did.

IMG_20190622_144014Pace. Had I cared about myself and made it my own race, I would have kept to what I had been practicing. I think the stride I was taking to maintain running with Megan were much too short. I also ran without using the intervals I had been practicing (I didn’t plan on using them anyway because of the hilly nature of the course, of which I got about 5000 feet of gain over the 50 some miles, but this is probably underestimated since garmin has been doing that recently). I also kept in mind if my form was being affected by my calf, I would just hike.

What went right?

Despite It being a horrible race for me personally, I did do some things right of which I can only now talk about. I bought, and used periodically, these facial cleansing wipes (not make up remover wipes) because my acne has a history of being really bad after ultras and it’s just something I’ve wanted to try and prevent for some time now as I have enough acne issues outside of running. I have to say besides making you feel completely refreshed, they prevented 98% of the post race acne. I am very happy with this outcome and hope to share with others. Also, grape juice does work for me, maybe not better so than the blueberry V8 though. My electrolyte balance was dead on and I did not add electrolytes until near the end when that’s what I would take from the one aid station. I did add salt to my watermelon, but I would only eat 1-3 pieces at a time. I never felt any leg cramps during or after.

It was interesting to note that this is one of the first ultra courses I’ve been on recently where I haven’t had wet feet. I knew I was sweating, so while I was stopped waiting for my stomach to settle down, I went ahead and took my socks off and cleaned my feet with hand sanitizer. They dried up like a charm. I know the socks were still moist, but it was a good time to try something new like that. I look forward to using this trick on wetter courses in the future.

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This buckle size though…

Otherwise, what did I think of the event? The course was solid, nothing wrong and great places always for people to pass who were fast and doing the relay. Requiring reflective and lit vest while on a trail I still think isn’t something you should have to do though. Having one aid station 0.5 mile away from the finish I thought was kind of dumb, but mentally broke the course down further so I’d rather have one than none. I would have put the aid station where the cones were, as it was very near the campground anyway and there were trails to get there. Although I hate on the wood chips, I am grateful for them as the course remained the same throughout the race no matter how many times people passed over the trails. Rain never came. The shirts were great. The medals and buckle were really great quality and the buckle was massive for no reason lol. It was odd it took the race crew a few hours to place a water cooler at the start/finish, and there was kind of an aid station near there, but it was behind the toilets and I have no idea what they provided. The race website didn’t speak of offering more than water, so that’s what I planned for. There seemed to be more than that as there were gels at the one aid station and they provided nuun there too…and chairs. Thank you so much for the chairs at the aid station. The volunteers were great too. Overall even with the little quirks, it was a good event. I would probably be more into the relay next year as something new to do, with just one other person would be interesting. The teams go up to 8. Lastly, they only gave awards to the top male and female finisher, so there really was no reason to push hard. I think giving out more awards, or at least top 3 overall, would have been better.

I’m still beating myself up over time and distance. I expected more out of myself. The Blue Ridge Double was easier, worse conditions, more vert. Even Terrapin Mountain 50k with the 10 mile climb I was faster at the 50k mark. My 100ks were all faster paces, and all of them were far worse conditions in gain/loss on course, being sick, being sandy, being hot, being cold… You can only control what you do about it. Live and learn. Megan said, do it until it’s not fun. What great words that day. I’m glad I didn’t force more miles. I need to mentally move on but it will be very difficult. More about that in the next report I guess.

Right now, I am treating my calf muscle myself and resting. I will maybe get in some minor miles soon, but until mid July I am not planning on ramping up much more with the final push in miles for Badger. Lots of heat training whenever we actually get summer, which looks like maybe this week. We are about a month behind in climate for the year, so hopefully this fall will be super warm. If that’s the case, I’m willing to consider something at Tunnel Hill. I will not know until closer to then. I just don’t dig being cold. My next event is probably going to be Dance with Dirt Devil’s Lake again, but unsure on the distance…again. I have some trail work this next weekend I’m doing to help them so that’s cool.

All The Small Things (races) – Spring 2019

Alright, it’s been some time folks and I certainly have done a few things.

I didn’t manage to do a write up on the Wisconsin Marathon half, Galena Sky Trail 4 hour race, the Madtown half or Twilight 5k, or the Dirty 30 12 miler…all of these races having something in common…all but the Madtown half were shorter distances than the events offered. The Wisconsin was a full marathon, I did the half, mainly to support my friends Andrea and Damaris (who was visiting from the surface of the sun according to her and several other Florida residents) and take things easy two weeks post Blue Ridge Double Marathon. I did the Twilight 5k, of which it’s the 10k. I greatly dislike 10ks, and I was in no shape to PR, but I love me a good 5k hard out effort, and I love love love Madison Downtown at night (running only, I am in no way an urban girl). I opted for the Dirty 30, 50k ultra in Colorado, 12 miler to support Team BU members and my husband who ended up not being able to attend. It was a let down, but I went on many adventures knowing I didn’t have an ultra to run that weekend.

You don’t always need to do the longest distance offered, even if you’re trained to go that far, or that hard. This is a hobby for most, and meant to be fun. I decided to capitalize on that.

IMG_20190504_064900 Unexpectedly, the Wisconsin Marathon day was chilly. Upper 30s start, but crystal clear day (no rain for a change, what is this?!). I ended up wearing more than I bargained for a race, but again again again, “when have you ever been too warm?” Good point, again. I wore a thick black baselayer, a tech shirts on top (in honor of May the 4th that day, C3PO shirt), and 6” shorts…yeah that’s all I brought. I had stayed the evening with Andrea since that was closer to Kenosha than I was in Madison. Still hecking early wake up call. The half and the full started at the same time. I started closer to the front, banking on starting out easy 9:45 pace and dropping down, plus I was in the half and figured I’d be running a bit faster than those in the full anyway.

I’m still looking for a half PR, and today would not be the day, but I would try a few things differently. One was to try and negative split the half, a tall order with the paces I was prescribing myself. I had lost so much time outside to the brutal winter this year so my speed workouts were lacking.

I eased into my run quickly after starting, taking a step back from the rushing crowd around me desperately going sub 7 minute/mile pace, later on reducing their speeds to their own respective limits. I managed 9:36 for the first mile, and was pretty on target considering I needed to stay around 9:45. Second mile, settled into a 9:04 pace, third mile same. 4th mile, managed 8:59, but was feeling pressed a bit and took a step back at an aid station to re-evaluate. IMG_20190504_071311 By mile 5 I was at 9:17, more of where I needed to be and sustain and where I did a big think. I thought back when I did the Virginia 10 miler and how I felt at mile 6 with a similar pace. I knew at that race I could not hold onto the paces I was doing, but would just give it my all, for what I had.

IMG_20190504_075724Mile 5 here was the tale-tell sign I was not able to hang on to what I was maintaining currently. Heart rate was creeping up and I had slowed a bit to keep it within range of sustained effort. But that pace did not match a PR pace. The chill in the air had taken a bit of a toll on the leggies, and they felt like bricks and I was forcing the motion (still just a little too cold for me to operate efficiently). I had not actually warmed up yet. Boo. Most of the course had been shaded to this point, in neighborhoods and trees. The course was unamusing.

I texted/messaged some people and told them I had to slow down. Might have been a combination of Rich and Andrea. Unsure anymore. I tried to maintain 9:05 for mile 6, and then dropped as I hit my own wall at mile 7 and that ended up being 9:52. I took another gel (one I had had at mile 4) just to make sure it wasn’t that that was causing the wall. Mile 8 was a steady 9:51, and mile 9, 9:57 when the “hills” came along and the course started to open up to the sun. The sun was a blessing. I was starting to feel warmed with the baselayer on and wondered if it had been too much. But then never thought about it again. Mile 10 was 10:20…awful. I had fallen completely apart at the seams, walking and running. I took another gel. There was so little on course support and very few aid stations. They only provided water, maybe one or two offering gatorade…and that’s never good for me.

Mile 11 I just suffered. So embarrassed with my performance. I saw my pace slip steadily to 9:52, mile 12, 10:05…more walking. I pushed hard on mile 13 with everything I had and managed to bring it down to 9:38, sprinting the last 0.1, but it was pretty lost at this point. I had tried to fight for sub 2:05, but that slipped away too somewhere during mile 11. I managed a 2:06:20. I beat myself up for a bit, and then went to change clothes before I froze to death and find friends.

I pretty much knew my plans would be foiled, but was willing to take a risk. That’s fine. Now to shift the focus. My friend Damaris was out and about, and so was Andrea.

Damaris, being easily spotted with her raving red long locks and fellow Inknburn fanatic, messaged me and told me what happened to her race. It didn’t go very well, and she ended up dropping. So I hung out with her, not being able to figure out how to get back to Andrea on course and support her with the way the course worked. I was freezing my butt off still with temps climbing into the 50s. It was quite breezy so that didn’t help things. My newly formed blister from mile 7 also was not lending a helping…foot.

Andrea was running into some issues too. She had gotten lost on course, and I could understand why in the section she was in. The course wasn’t really marked all that well and as I was following a few hundred people, it was easy for me to lose myself and not have to think too hard where I was going. I kept things positive and told her she will get an ultra today. There was a cut off for this race though, and I knew she could beat it (and I know her plans called for her a PR, but today was a weird day for everyone). I managed to hunt her down by going backwards on the course (running), and finding her about 1.5 miles from the finish in a panic. I offered to pace her to that finish. I loved feeling useful. We got her in.

About the Wisconsin marathon event…

Well, this definitely was lackluster for a half marathon, but thinking beyond myself, this would be horrible for a full. The lack of aid stations being one for a road marathon, and a state marathon. The lack of things AT aid stations being another. I know I’ve done trail races with practical buffets lined up (though less often than road races), but I do expect some sort of electrolyte in addition to water typically at race aid stations. There was no food or energy products anywhere on course for half marathoners. I can not speak for the full. The course was rated to be flat. Mildly flat it was, but there were some slight inclines near the end of the half course. Nothing to shoot up heart rate much. The course was not really scenic at all except for a short time near Lake Michigan lakeshore on the path. Most was through neighborhoods. There was some moderate chaos around miles 9-11 where there was no direction for what side of the road you should be on, and since this section was an out and back you had people criss crossing over each other randomly like in a figure 8 configuration. The post race was not fantastic either, and if you didn’t search for the food tent you would surely miss it. They were shutting down those operations long before the final race cut off, a big no no in my book. I feel like this could have been much more “Wisconsin” and cheese themed. The stickers were the nicest part (I run for cheese). I would honestly not recommend this race.

Moving on, more cold snaps and SNOW. Yes it snowed again. This put training behind again for the Madtown half I had as my backup half PR attempt. I was honestly afraid it would be another cold year for the half. Last year I did NOT participate I heard the heat index was in the 90s. How I missed out! But leading up to that was The Galena Sky Trail Race.

Getting in a long run. I had goals for this race. I signed up for the 4 hour event, seeing as it started at noon. AT NOON FOLKS. The race was a little over an hour away from me I believe and I could almost sleep in! No worries! I slept nicely that evening. There was an 8 hour of course that started 4 hours earlier. Weather was looking less than idea and we (Megan who I teamed up with to go to the race) wondered if they would cancel. Nope. Good.

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It was raining on us the whole way there. We got there and set up camp.

By camp, I mean we brought a chair, cooler, and some supplies to be kept at their drop bag tent. The course ended up being a weird figure 8 course, so you had access to your drop bag at the start/finish, and about 1.3 miles into the course. The course was just short of 3 miles. The first part of the course was hilly, more steep, but had a nice gravel section. The second was mainly single track and rolling with two larger hills near the end. All the hills were very short. The whole race was at a ski resort of sorts in Galena, Illinois. The area was very pretty for the midwest and caught me by surprise. It looked like the lifts were turned into zip lines during the warmer months. The resort overlooked a lake far below it.

I was unsure if I could really run this race the way I wanted to. I was still on antibiotics for my annual sinus infection and had started doing some weights earlier in the week, more on that later. I was looking into getting in about 20 miles and was pretty happy the high temperature was going to be in the 70s (previously low 80s but that dream died with the forecasted rain), irregardless of the rain.

I was going to try something new, seeing this now as a long run. I brought along V8 Blueberry I believe was the flavor, to use as my fuel. Since this was a looped course, I had no interest in carrying a pack, so handheld it was. It also made things easy to refill or even grabbed while going around in circles.

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Event shirt, gender specific.

Check in was easy, and the shirt was amazingly designed, although I believe my size was a bit big (there’s no telling with womens sizing). The event crew was pretty organized and perky. Outside, glancing at the event already underway (the 8 hour had been going on 4 hours!), the aid station was pretty eye opening. They had literally everything I could have possibly wanted from an aid station which is saying a lot since I’m so picky about what I can/do consume. This consisted of watermelon and soda. Pretty sure they also had gels. They had warm food and a lot of volunteers. The only thing I could not figure out was how the course worked at first sight: there was a starting line and then the timing mats at the aid station right up the hill from the start. Seemed like everyone came from every direction!

Everyone gathered at the start, under the banner with timing mats there. This would end up being the start and end of the loop. I hung with Megan for the start, and then we parted ways afterwards. I quickly realized that my side hurt a bunch. I pushed it off cause it wasn’t a muscle that was typically bothersome. (For the record I’m sure I hurt before the race too, but not sure when it started and wasn’t triggered by any one thing.)

Going to do a series of pictures in order from the course…

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The decision sign, first half of course.

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Muddy, mildly manageable.

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Coming into the top of the resort from the first half of the loop back to the aid station. Featuring guy on zipline.

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Slick muck.

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Coming back into the aid area to finish a loop.

The course went straight up a short and steep hill. We were lucky the rain had stopped. The clouds still hung around, the ugly overcast skies that have been plaguing us. Just a good thunderstorm to make up for it some time? No? Oh well, drizzle piddle rain forever (and up until the writing of this report, it still is doing that thing). From the top, it settled in on a flatter gravel road until it moved into the woods for a while with some short rolling hills. This looped back around to the top of the resort before landing you back down into the aid station. From there, you continued down the hill and up again into the woods onto single track. This single track was more hilly and actually very muddy at this point. It was the kind of glassy mud where you can’t get traction but it’s still somehow sticky but doesn’t stick like clay. Very annoying. Out of the woods for a hot minute, you would come up to this opening where you could look over a few hundred foot drop to the lake below, very scenic. Back into the wood for another hill and back out of the wood to be greeted with the “biggest” hill, grassy and open. At the top, you took a quick turn and headed to the start again. Just past the start was the aid station and drop bag location.

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It was interesting to see how the course changed with each loop. Some parts dried out (the single track in the second half) and some parts got more beaten down and worse (the first half in the woods). The latter half of the second section remained bad the whole race. However, more about myself changed more often than 3 odd miles of loop. The pain on my right side just would come and go in waves of a few minutes. Nothing seemed to trigger it other than running, but even then, it would only sometimes be painful. It was a dull pain until it was sharp, and I would end up walking. I got a few laps in before I stopped to ask the medical staff on site about it. This took a good 15 minute chunk of time out of my efforts as I had to wait for the staff to get to the aid station and then talk it out.

They didn’t think it was appendicitis at least. They recommended going to urgent care when I got back. I did end up going to the doctor when I returned, but they didn’t know, nor did any tests. I’m always disappointed in the lack of tests my doctor does…like do they even touch people anymore or is society so sensitive that that isn’t something kosher anymore?? Raging aside, I decided to walk a loop.

I got lapped by Megan at some point in here or least half lapped. I told her what was going on, nothing serious at least. At this point, I found Heather, who was moving along using poles. I had never met her, but it was a great time getting in at least a loop with her and getting her story. She had just done a 100, and was just doing this race for fun (the 8 hour). It was great sharing the trail with her. I moved on towards the end of my last full lap before they switched everyone over to a short 0.6 mile out and back.

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Mud on course…

I debated a bit on what I wanted to do, but headed out at a faster pace, ignoring my side pain. I was around mile 14-15 at this point, not a big deal but I had wasted so much time. Why not try and do strides at the end? It was only 0.6 miles. It was very hard packed, non technical dirt (completely dry), but uphill the way out. There was a lone man standing at the end of the parade of out-and-backers who was the “cone” to turn around. I raced my way back realizing it was much easier to gather miles here. I gave it my all. I turned my 15-18 min/mi paces into 10 min/mi paces, and quickly dropping that to sub 9 min/mi for the next 2 miles. Never have I had sub 10 minute per mile pace at mile 15+. Mile 16 was 8:52. I pushed hard. I kept doing math because 4 hours was almost up and I wondered if I could get just one more out and back in. I waited a few seconds at the timing mats, but then decided why not, if I failed, it doesn’t mean I didn’t go that distance, it just wouldn’t count in the race results, and if I didn’t fail, it would count in the results. I did my best pace possible, no walking, dropping my pace to 8:20 min/mi. This is about what my best 5k pace is at this time, so to say I was beyond my comfort zone at mile 16 is an understatement. There was only one guy left, and he was already ahead of me. It was just me left by the final stretch. Everyone cheered, I pushed hard. I looked at my watch, I knew I was over now. I crossed the timing mat about 40 seconds past 4 hours. Lap was not counted.

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I was dying. I gave it everything. Megan caught me in a photo and we got our medals and cleaned up a bit and headed inside. The food and awards took forever, but glad Megan stayed as she got one of the age group awards! The food was really good in my opinion, and it was long enough after the race, I could nibble on it. Top 5 post race food buffets.

Had the course been dry, it would have been a challenge anyway due to the short and steep hills everywhere with only one quarter mile of flat section. But it was more so challenging because of the mud. The RD and crew were very nice to me. It meant a lot they checked on me and remembered me when I was having issues. I would definitely consider another one of their races (Ornery Mule Racing, they also put on Hennepin 100).

I didn’t run much during this time because of my side issues. More training lost here. But I have bigger goals and potential injury doesn’t interest me especially when no one can diagnosis it. A week later it was doing ok. I think it was from doing weighted squats after not doing them for a long time. My legs can handle probably more load than the rest of me, causing me to slightly strain some abdominal muscle. So I cautiously signed up in the last 3 days leading up so I knew I would get somewhat of the weather forecasted beforehand as well for the Madtown series of events.

The 5k was moved from its original starting and finishing location since I had done it. I went to meet up with some of the She Runs This Town group beforehand. I did not really like the new starting location. It was pretty far from where I parked (like 1.5 miles LOL). I legit did not think it would be that far from Monona terrace. Live and learn! A nice warm up was running the last 0.4 miles because I was now going to be late for the group picture eeeeek. Weaving in and out of the passerbys was quite the experience, not a negative one. Pretty fun actually. With all that done, saying hi to so many local friends; Lori, her daughter in their very cute outfits, and her son, Melissa, Leah, Amy, and more (I can’t remember everyone!), I meandered to the starting line to watch them all go off for the 10k. The 5k started a bit later. The music was overpowering at times. I lined up pretty near the front.

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Dusk almost looked like it was approaching and I hoped it would get darker by the time I finished. Temps were reaching the 80s which I was very happy about, a warm partly cloudy evening with some spicy humidity. I had a plan…for a 5k?! Yup. The idea was to try and run each mile faster than the last and start out slower than I usually do when I go all out in a 5k. Contrary to popular belief for ultra runners, I enjoy the 5k distance and putting forth a mighty effort for 20-30 minutes.

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Yes the Capitol is far away from the starting line !

I started out, uphill toward the Capitol, at an 8:30 pace, my precise planned pace for the first mile, and it felt pushed slightly but felt good. Course flattened out as it passed by those involved with the 10k and I high fived them as they passed by. I found out quickly, when trying to drop pace here, I was unable to go faster than what I was doing and spit out an 8:34 mile. The last mile I knew would be the hardest, so I kind of knew my pace was screwed, but I felt the breath of those who might be behind me and kept up my pace. I knew I was fairly far in front compared to many in the 5k. I was maintaining between 8:05-8:30 pace until Observatory hill came up, and this is the first time I’ve had to do it backwards and was unsure how I would feel about it (we would do it reverse in the half the next morning). And wow, it went didn’t it? It dropped my average mile pace to 8:51. No one was really around me, but I pressed on. The finish was soon right after the hill, so I gave 100% of what I had left. I averaged sub 7:00 min/mi for the final push. People at the finish line asked if I was ok. The winner of the 10k came in a few minutes after me and he wanted a picture with me at the milk table. Aight. Total time was an unappealing 26:45. My best is over a minute faster, still trying to beat THAT PR. That one will take a lot more work.

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I waited thereafter (not cold!) for friends. I waited for Rich, and he got his 10k PR in (his first 10k haha). I waited for Steven, and he grabbed a nice PR time too. I waited for Leah and saw her power through the last 0.1. I found Lori and ran a bit with her pushing her to the finish. It was exciting.

Let me tell you about the course. It’s fine, and the darkness set in sometime near when I finished. Post race was really good. Lots of music and a good area to mingle, a backdrop to take pictures or selfies with, chocolate milk at the finish, and water, and some goodies too. They provided glow necklaces and bracelets at packet pickup. Timing and results were ready right after you finished. Pretty perfect. There was an aid station in the 5k but I typically don’t note them and ignore them. Overall still a really good race. I found out I placed in my age group, but since age group winners can double dip with overall awards, I did not get one. I believe 3/5 Overall female winners were in my age group! Tough competition but I would try again for real next year instead of holding back.

The one thing I have to say is there is no challenge option for half/5k (there is for half/10k) which would have been nice to not get two of the same event shirt.

Onto a few hours of sleep, then up the next morning and head off for the half. The half course had not changed since I did it in 2017. This means going up Observatory the right way, and early on. Though there would be a harder hill later.

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I planned on an event split race this time, keeping the heart rate in mind and in check. So I chose to switch off the garmin screen with pace and distance and went by feel. I started out with Steven and by mile 4 I had to say goodbye, after Observatory I needed some recovery time to bring my heart rate back to levels I could sustain. My complaint here was there was a short out and back and there was no timing mat at the end where you went around a cone. EASY section to cut the course on. After hearing multiple Marathon Investigation reports, I am thinking more about these things. How every day people feel the need to cut the course even if they aren’t winning. If you are reading this and you are a course cutter, yes I am calling you out. It’s just wrong my dudes.

This half I did differently than my marathons. I would tolerate up to 160 and then hold back more if I got close to it instead of forcing a walk above 154. This ended up rewarding me.

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Observatory Climb. (See people in the background climbin’)

The day was overcast so I had to create my own motivation. Alone now. My paces for the first few miles were 9:47, 9:51, 9:57, 10:02, 10:08, 9:44, and 10:20 for the first 7 miles. My half half split was about 1 hour and 5 minutes. I was told by many people this course would be not ideal for a half PR and I thought about this throughout the course going on my way. I was feeling pretty ok entering the arb section which is where I met some demons last time I did this race, hitting a wall in a half. I still feared this would happen as this is not my favorite part of the course. I managed to catch back up to Steven here and checked out an aid station. I didn’t “try” and catch him though, I let my pace stay steady. When I caught up to him with that, we ran together for a bit and I slowed and discussed a plan for the big hill. I had done hill repeats on it like a month before and there was no point wasting energy trying to run the whole thing. Walked the first steeper part and light run towards the top. I stopped and waited for Steven, but he was a little tired and told me to go on. I decided I wanted to run the last 5k pretty hard, so I went in with what I had left.

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Big hill at mile 9/10.

Mile 8 had been 9:39, 9:56 for mile 9 and 10:33 for mile 10. Now to go in. Everything was flatter now and free. I hit mile 11 at 10:50 with a not so quick stop to eat some aid station things. Dropping to 9:30 at mile 12, and busting out a 9:01 for the 13th mile and glided to the finish. I felt fairly comfy at mile 12, and managed the 9:01 pace but felt worse. My heart rate was settled in and really didn’t rise too much. I finished in 2:10:47. I felt entirely better than the Wisconsin Marathon Half although much slower. I’ll call it even splits. I also decided two other things…

1. I no longer want to try for a PR, because it was literally so painful trying to keep a certain pace whether I was trained or not for it, and it took a lot of joy out of running. So when I PR, I’m going to let it happen when it does.

2. This course is a great PR course for me. I had more trouble with the flatter Wisconsin Marathon course. I definitely need rollers.

Going up Observatory this way was WAY WAY easier on me, as it’s more gradual and I was able to run up it in several races. The down isn’t as rewarding but if you tuck your abs in right, you can cruise on down.

Overall these reports are more numerical and less detailed, but I’m writing these way after the fact too and that makes a huge difference. I have had very little time to do much writing lately and didn’t think these sparked too much interest.

Lastly, the Dirty 30 12 miler. It ran like a marathon, do I have your attention now?

There were a lot of new things about this race.

1. My muscles were super fatigued from all the “boot camp” work I did earlier in the week, including some short runs and hill work, swelling from my flight in my legs (ouch), mountain hikes/runs, and a full on aerobic class. I was shot. Used up I tell ya.

2. I was at elevation! Race was about 9000 feet above sea level and went higher.

3. I was dealing with something in the back of my left calf at this point as a result of the flight I took to get there and the swelling in my leg that resulted from that.

4. Not having looked at any of the course or website information beforehand. Trust me folks, this is NO NO for a racer, I figured 12 miles was 12 miles and left it at that. ALWAYS read the race website. This resulted in me not knowing the elevation gain, the elevation profile, or exactly WHERE it was and that there was no service in the surrounding area.

I learned a lot of things too, more on that later.

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The day started out cold. I freaked and didn’t bring pants (again). I probably would have done better with capris looking back at least. I would have done well to have arm sleeves too, but I only brought tech shirts, so I borrowed a long sleeve shirt from Lauren (Scott’s wife and she is too awesome). I wore a hat to keep in the heat. The start of the race is up up up. I quickly learned from others the gain on the 12 miler course was 4000 feet. I did me a think. Nah, that couldn’t be right. The 50k had about 7000 gain…that seemed right. No way could 12 miles fit that kind of gain in. Well up I went. It wasn’t bad, very steady and I settled into the conga line immediately. The start of the race was on a single track and no way around it.

First mile 13:02. For all the conga line, I did ok. The next mile had a lot of up and down. Was going 8 min/mi pace ON the TRAILS, until it went up again 0.6 miles into the mile killing my pace to 11:59. Still not a bad overall pace, then my right foot caught up with me. Yes that thing where my foot falls asleep and I have to stop and release the pressure. KILL the pace. Also up up up! This mile gained about 600 feet, not shabby, but with all the issues my time ended up being 21 minutes. Heeeeeey now. The next mile had about equal gain, and thus the problems continued and I was just so frustrated now. Another 21 minute mile. Who’s counting seconds anymore??

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Pretty sure this was one of the only mileage signs, nice.

I knew the top of this climb was soon. The trail was non technical. I arrived at the top just as the garmin spoke of mile 5, just in time to stop at the main aid station. This aid station, phew boy, it had everything you could want. They had watermelon! (Grilled things too, and some other candies…) I stopped ahead of the curve to fill up my bladder with Tailwind, I had been going through so much. Maybe this was a result of being at altitude? I headed off, downhill, down this jeep road, and there was a photographer (apparently there were only two official race photographers and neither of them caught me personally on course, and I saw three others at various places which got me excited to see the finisher pics, but WHO KNOWS WHO THEY WERE?!). With the aid station I managed a 14 min/mi (moving pace was an 11 min/mi, so I can assume I was eating watermelon for about 3 minutes).

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Talk about nontechnical.

I wasn’t really concerned with sunburn, as I had on a dark long sleeve shirt and hat, as the sun rose high in the sky above with puffy clouds…wait. Those are some dark puffy innocent clouds…

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Downhill didn’t go as well as I had planned, as I was still feeling a little off with my calf muscle (it was hard to push off with my toes like normal going uphill). I managed to get in a 12 min/mi. My abs were kind of tired from all the other workouts I had done. The next two miles were pure climbing again and were very open single track, something I am very unfamiliar with. This was up to the top of the mountain there. I was still feeling pretty laggy at best, and those clouds turned to storms. Out in the distance, they boomed some thunder as I caught a few other participants (surprising cause I was not power hiking well). Two more 22 minute miles slipped by. At this point, it only crossed my mind for a few minutes that I may have too much clothing on so I pulled up the sleeves a bit. Ah. That’s good enough. I was really hoping to beat the storm to the finish, but I entered the woods now.

Entering the pines…it was nice, and shelter from the seemingly oncoming rain storm. I was passed by the winner of the 50k at this point. No, I wasn’t THAT slow, the 50k race started a few hours earlier and the courses only overlapped at the beginning and end of the race. He just like….ran up the entire struggle bus climb, right there, he did that. I saw him. What a legend. Must be nice to be able to run up an 18% grade with ease. #goals

I had some fun running through the pines and the climb continued up. I got a good power hike on, hiking with another runner and chatting it up. I had talked to a bunch of other runners along the way, 95% of them were from Colorado. My goal was to beat these two other girls who had moved from Illinois to Colorado two or three years ago. The one girl I noted was wearing an Ironman 70.3 hat, which I wanted to know about until she kept telling her friend that she needed to beat my low-lander butt out of respect…clearly within earshot. She at one point told me that it was ok to feel bad since I didn’t have what it took to do well at altitude. Oh ok. Everyone else was pleasant and nice. I kept my effort even going up, afraid I was going to blow up at some point.

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The trail turned into more technical terrain as we slowly climbed to the top where we would receive our W and turn around to head home to the finish. This is more what I expected the whole race to be actually. Hit a 17 min/mi! I think I am finally pulling out of this funk. I took some pictures and headed down after saying hi to Mike from Team BU at the top. The climb down was easy peasey for me, just like home (Virginia), and I took a risk and went a bit faster on this technical stuff. I felt at home for real here. The rocks were far more stable and drier (where did the storm go? I could still hear thunder occasionally), and my feet were not wet, so here we go!

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Sweet sweet single track in the west.

I returned down to meet up with part of the trail we went up. Hit an 11:47 mile at mile 10. The next mile still had a bit of climbing, about 400 feet at least (according to my garmin, which was lowballing the elevation gain and loss for the race), and dropped my pace to 16 minutes. There was also an aid station here somewhere, maybe mile 9?, not as glamorous as the last. Climbed over a fallen tree I had climbed over before, trying not to get wood in my hands was more the issue but I could tell meeting up with more 50k’ers that their legs weren’t having the straddle movement now.

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Final mile was amazing. It was a windy, downhill, nontechnical roller coaster. I felt like I was flying, and passed quite a few more people. I hit the final stretch at a 7:50 pace. Not enough to save my average pace AT ALL by this point. But I honestly felt all warmed up now and ready to go. Oops. I managed to finish in 3:15, but garmin says it’s missing about 9 minutes of moving time in there so my paces were probably lost in the mountains. I know I stopped for a good amount of time at the main aid station, but only took coke from the 2nd, shot it, and left.

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Top of the big climb.

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At the crossroads of the big climb in the woods.

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I was a frozen mess, but it was COURTNEY! *fan girls*

Afterwards, I grabbed some food, which honestly was quite good with the option of hamburger or hot dog, potato salad, chips, fruit, and beans I think? 10/10 ending food. The guys at the grill were diggin’ it. My complaints for this are:

1. There was no medal for the 12 miler, nothing at the finish, which was rather disappointing.

2. There were low-lander awards for the 50k, but not the 12 miler (and literally only one low lander beat me iirc).

3. For the price you paid for the race, I just expected more out of it other than food. There was no shirt unless you ordered it with your registration.

Of course I am not a race director, but I have gotten more out of similar races for less cost. Not sure what the disconnect there is. It was hard to tell what effect the altitude had on me for the race because of all the other bodily stuff going on.

From here, you can read about my 40ish miles on Military Ridge State Trail Fastest Known Time, which I did a few days after getting back from all this, as that blog is already up. I just finished up with the S’more 24 hour race, and there will be a whole write up on that coming some time this week given I have the time to write this (this report took me a few days because I have been so busy).

Oh, and this marks off Colorado on my states list, so there’s that, but I’m sure I’ll be back for more of that sweet single track.

Only Known Time – Military Ridge Trail

Military Ridge OKT/FKT

Start date: June 6, 2019; 7:34am; Dodgeville, Wisconsin

Finish date: June 6, 2019; 9 hours and 21 minutes and 17 seconds later; Fitchburg, Wisconsin

Total miles: 40.85 miles traveled

Type: Unsupported female

MRT

This was my first attempt at an FKT, or Fastest Known Time, also OKT, or Only Known Time. The Military Ridge Trail, according to https://fastestknowntime.com/, had no prior recorded times by male, female, or otherwise. Since I lived near the eastern part of the trail, I was familiar with a few miles of the 40sih long stretch of non-technical rail trail.

According to the website, this is the description of the trail:
The 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail, in Iowa and Dane counties, connects Dodgeville and Madison by way of an 1855 military route between Verona and Dodgeville. The trail runs along the southern borders of Governor Dodge and Blue Mound state parks passing by agricultural lands, woods, wetlands and prairies. There are several observation platforms adjacent to the trail for viewing wildlife and other natural features. In Ridgeway, the trail passes by a historic railroad depot.”

 

For the map I used, please follow this link: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/militaryridge/pdfs/militaryridgemap.pdf

Based on this map and information, I decided to start in Dodgeville and head east along the trail. The website states an address for the trail, but this is incorrect. The park called Wilson Park is not the location of the start of the trail. That park is close, but about a mile away from the trail itself. There were a few options of where the trail started. One was across a busy highway, but no trail existed there, but a building and a parking lot. This location didn’t make sense. Across the street was a sign saying “Military Ridge State Park Trail, Parking lot ¼ mile; Access from Hwy YZ”, but a trail existed here made of the same substance much of the trail consisted of. The third option was starting at the Military Ridge Parking lot, located further away from the website suggested address. I decided on the actual sign, as this was the only real sign near the trail. The trail looked as if it began at this sign, with the highway directly next to it, and nothing across the street looking like any trail (just a parking lot for a business there as I mentioned). If you also go by the map above, the start of the trail in Dodgeville also stops before crossing the Highway.

The end point, which I had visited several times by foot and bike, located in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, I decided to be the bridge that crosses over a busy highway called Highway PD, or McKee road. The pedestrian bridge is a highly recognized bridge from the road and trail. About a mile east of this bridge is a 5-way bike path intersection that would lead to other trails. However, based on the website map (see map link above), the trail seems to end at this street, McKee. I would run to the sign that marks the trail there at the bridge before crossing the bridge. There is no parking at this location, as also indicated by the website.

I decided to do this unsupported, as I thought there would be plenty of water and the weather would be good enough to get through rationing water throughout between towns. There are a few corrections I will make to the map/website as I go deeper into what went on on June 6th, 2019. Unsupported means I must carry everything from start to finish with the exception of water. I started out with a hydration pack (2L), full of V8 fruit juice until I ran out. I had honey stinger chews, marshmallow bunnies from Easter, an assortment of gels, one peach fruit cup, and mints for nutrition. I also carried a pack of tailwind (trail size), salt chews in a plastic baggie, sunscreen in the form of a small deodorant stick, two tech tubes, sunglasses, 2toms antichafe roll on, my phone, and used a Garmin 935 (GPS only mode to conserve battery). All this weighed quite a bit and slowed me down a little.

So let me begin.

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Actual starting location.

I began in the morning as my husband Rich drove me out to Dodgeville from Verona (where we live). We arrived at the address mentioned on the site only to find out that the trail was nowhere to be found. A local man was going on his morning walk and we asked him where the trail was from there. He said it was quite a bit aways and described where it was, around Highway YZ. Not being from that precise area, we didn’t know where it was. I looked it up on google maps and we got back in the car and drove over. We parking in a veterinarian lot across the street and I headed over to the trail sign. Upon inspection, I decided this was the best starting point, although no parking lot was that close visually. The sign felt the most official and most logical. Trying to start garmin and strava at the same time was a little complicated and glad I had Garmin as a backup, more on that later. I did a few second test, and sent off my info and posted links as I began my trip down Military Ridge Trail (MRT).

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Address on Website. Incorrect.

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So much fog.

The parking lot was indeed ¼ mile away on the left. The trail was moist, we have had a LOT of rain lately and few days of sun and not many days over 70 degrees. This week had been an exception with the temperatures at least. The trail was mostly double track here, as you could fit two persons across easily. The mossy and dirt ground was slippery to say the least. The fog was really dense at the start, 7:34am. It felt like the east coast for sure. The distance from Dodgeville to the next town (Ridgeway) was nearly 10 miles. I knew this going in I would have to conserve water (which was currently V8 juice). I preferred this direction knowing this was going to be the longest section I’d have without water. I would later be proven wrong. I also chose this direction because it was net downhill. I am not sure this mattered at all since I got a total elevation gain of about 600 feet in 40 miles, and ~850 loss. Not a big deal either way. If I did this again, I might go the other direction, later on that.

The biggest thing to note were the massive MASSIVE amounts of gnats and bugs. No bug spray would have helped. There were just clouds of bugs suspended in the air as I passed through them, they stuck to my very sweaty skin. I checked the weather on my phone, 100% humidity (no doubt with the looming fog), upper 60s this early in the morning! I kept to a 0.25 mile walk, then running the rest of the mile, to prevent burn out on such a flat trail. My pace stayed steady, but my arms were waving around like mad. If I got my heart rate up, I’d breathe harder, with my mouth open. The bugs were so bad, I could not have my mouth open to breathe. This was truly burdensome.

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Other than the saturated air, and fog, which I had hoped by 10am the sun would have burned off some of that (did not), and bugs, the first 9 miles went smoothly, although footing was difficult at times. I suspect this part of the trail is not traveled much, as access to the trail is extremely limited the first 9 miles (no road or other trail access) despite following main roads the entire distance. I would passed entrances to people’s driveways, but that’s about it. The bright side to the adverse conditions was I would not have to worry about sun exposure for a while. Speaking of that, I was expecting the trail to be mostly exposed. This section was mostly definitely tree covered for the most part, which trapped the moisture even more and felt like I was swimming rather than running.

For the bugs, they stuck to my bare shoulders and back, and I would wipe them clean and aggressively every ½ mile or so (or less). I was afraid I was wiping off my sunscreen I had applied and also my antichafe. I wiped my chest with my hands every mile, and while swatting the swarm clouds, my hand would hit 2-3 bugs per arm swipe. It was insane and I wanted to quit because it dominated my experience. I was kind of lucky I was sweating so much because even though the bugs probably stuck to my skin worse because of that, I was able to wipe them off quickly because of the amount of sweat. Somewhere around mile 4, I had to apply some A&D I was carrying with me to my underarms, already feeling where I had chafed before. Ugh. At least I had it with me! I never needed to reapply that.

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Bug AFTER wiping myself down with my hands and tech tube.

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Ridgeway, still very foggy and humid.

I arrived in Ridgeway right on schedule. They had restrooms here in a shelter. I used that, and took advantage of a nearby trashcan to toss my fruit cup I had eaten (I tried to eat the heaviest items first!). There was a water fountain also at this shelter and I drank from it, but did not fill up my water. Probably a mistake. I didn’t look at the map, but retrospect is golden. The next town would be Barneveld, 5.4 miles away from Ridgeway. Ridgeway was a cute little town, reminded me of smaller towns on the east coast with a few shops as I could see the main strip in town from the trail. There was an old rail station here (was the shelter now) and it was well maintained from what I could see. Fog still had not lifted completely at this point. I was well soaked and sweat ran down the back of my legs continuously.

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Sometime at Ridgeway sorting out my pack (after taking it off to access the food and fruit cup), and while putting it back on, it stopped my garmin for a brief two seconds. I heard it beep and then pushed start again, thus leading to my missing two seconds on my garmin. Good thing it keeps track of total elapsed time!

It was getting hotter for sure. The trail remained mostly tree covered even approaching Baneveld. Apparently the trail was going up and down through here (according to GPS scale), but you really can’t feel it. Still feels mostly flat, especially overall. This area the trail goes through is called the driftless area, an area in Wisconsin that the glaciers did not reach in the last ice age. Pretty cool seeing the hills. The area between towns so far is mostly farms, and not very visually appealing if you’re used to that sort of thing.

Somewhere between Ridgeway and Barnveld, I managed to with my sweaty thigh:

1. Butt dial my friend Andrea (thank goodness it was her and I hope she had a good laugh)

2. Started up two cell phone games (battery killer!)

3. Stopped my Strava, many sad faces.

It took over a mile for me to realized all this had happened, when I opened my phone to take a picture I believe. Always have backup data!! Thank you garmin. Apparently I had put my phone in my pocket backwards in Ridgeway (screen facing skin and not outwardly). My phone lived in my right shorts pocket the whole day for quick access. I was pretty upset at this chain of events. This happened about 13.5 miles into the run.

I ran out of water sometime before reaching Barneveld. I knew I was getting close to empty half way between Ridgeway and Barneveld, but thought I could make it without searching for water. I learned how much water I had by feeling the back of my pack and giving it a good squeeze. I started slowing down a bit. I hit a gel and got some food from my pack along the way. I knew from experience on researching the towns two days prior that there was no water in Barneveld.

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Skies starting to clear up.

Upon reaching the shelter there, I searching for a spigot. I actually found one that seemed duck taped but water still came out. I filled my pack up with the sketchy water anyway desperate for water. The water flowed very slowly so it took some time to get it out. The next time I would access water would be Blue Mounds which was the next town 4 more miles away. I knew I would not make it without water and still running. Between Barneveld and Blue Mounds, the trail became more exposed and the sun was starting to get rid of the fog. There were a few rollers here, if you can call them hills. The trail would go from crushed limestone to the soft slick mud (not tacky, but just moist and slick). I stayed in the middle mostly in the moss/grass for traction.

 

 

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Blue Mounds State park in the distance.

I knew when I was passing by Blue Mounds State park, as the big hills loomed over the trail. I did wonder if the trail would pass over them, they do not, they bypass the hills…somehow. I knew there were nicer restrooms at Blue Mounds. I stopped for a bit here and took advantage of the restrooms. The baby doll that was on the table there two days ago was still there. Not much else to do, I threw away an airheads wrapper in their trashcan there. I headed out to Mount Horeb, I was very excited to get there. It was only 5 mile to Mount Horeb! And I knew if I could get there, I would feel refreshed and renewed because it was where the Ironman Wisconsin bike course went through…a personal boost for me. Blue Mounds was my half way point.

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Tried hard to get non-foggy pics in but nothing to wipe off my camera lens. These mile marker posts were about 0.5 mile behind my own distance for much of the trail.

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Just yuck.

While heading out to Mount Horeb, I would go through so many more bugs. I had been hoping as with mosquitoes, that the sun would discourage the bugs. I would choke on them, swat them, and was convinced my arms would be sore in the morning because of them. I literally felt like my shirt and shorts had just been in a pool. I checked the humidity and conditions again. Humidity had not yet dropped below 65%. Again, I ran low on water. I knew if I could reach Mount Horeb, I’d be able to get water. I slowed again trying to conserve water, as I was going through water much much faster than anticipated (probably due to the high temperatures and humidity). My legs were getting stiff, I found two benches, one happily occupied by a red wing black bird (joy, I love being the target of their aggression!), but I didn’t care, I would wiggle my legs and release the tension. I wasn’t sore, but I am not used to going flat for so long.

I met a runner heading out of Mount Horeb when I got about 1.5 miles from the access area there and asked how far it was. I was really trying to conserve water. I did run out but I was in a safe place at this point.

Once in Mount Horeb, I gathered water from the spigot there in my pack, filled it ALL the way, knowing the distance from there to Verona (or so I thought) and knowing what lied ahead (again, so I thought). I dumped my tailwind in at this point. I knew I was going to need the electrolytes. I sat down on the bench there in the shade. I talked to a few bikers who had done the trail several times, one guy from Dodgeville. I asked about the bugs, and they said that they had just gotten bad. Lucky me.

While I rested on the bench there, I took the time to treat the right side of my right foot which had been bugging me for a few miles now. I reapplied antichafe, and also took the time to reapply sunscreen. What a mess that was…I was so wet and sweaty I was not sure the sunblock would take. This took a bit of time, and while I was disappointed, I knew I did not want to risk sunburn or chaffing that night or the next day. Always wear sunscreen folks. I also reapplied the antichafe to all other parts, in fear chaffing would take over my run still with the humidity so high and not washing off the salt from my body. I know enough about the effects of humidity to not mess around.

I headed out on what would be the longest and loneliest stretch of trail ever. It’s very straight, very flat, and VERY exposed. The hottest part of the day was upon me.

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Weather when I was on the long stretch of no shade. Right before reaching the town of Verona.

I hit the marathon mark not long after Mount Horeb. I knew it was all downhill and flat from there, but you really can’t feel a 1% grade. I started to do shorter intervals, run 0.1 mile, walk 0.1 mile just to keep me moving. I knew somewhere there was Klevenville…never came. Apparently, it doesn’t exist on this trail, so don’t expect anything just because it’s on the map. My main focus became Riley. Not because there was anything there, but because I had actually run there from my house and the Ironman bike course also went by there too. I needed that confidence. There is a port-o-potty there, but from Blue Mounts on, I did not really need to go anymore…not great. I knew once I got to Riley, the whole trail would be exposed to the sun and dry dirt. Somewhere near Riley, I realized I only had a small bit of water left…this was very bad going into this stretch. I had thought about the stream (Sugar River), but it has very limited access, and the blue-green algae content has been extremely high in the past 48 hours according to the local news…all beaches closed for swimmers. There were several bridge crossings, and I would stretch out my calves at these points. My pace dropped severely. I succumbed to a walk right past the 50k mark, also noting it was my 2nd fastest 50k time.

 

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I would run every 0.25 miles now. Every time I would stop, I would eat one of my marshmallow bunnies. I was still slowing down! I was putting food in me though. Not enough water. These bunnies did not end up working out for me in nutrition. Noted. I was pretty disappointed because I kept trying to eat them and they went down easy. I guess the puff nature of the food made it seem like I was taking in more than I actually was.

Now the long stretch, the endless sunny stretch…

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Riley. Has trail access and Parking lot!

I knew if I did not walk this, I would indeed run out of water and perhaps have to quit altogether. The next town was Verona, where I lived. I knew I could access water there. The humidity was oppressive, as the surrounding marshes and wetlands and grasses areas trapped the moisture well and was outputting it to the trail. Little breeze helped anything, as wind was calm most of the day with a rare breeze passing by. The trail before Riley was becoming marshy, and by the time I hit the seemingly endless exposed portion of the trail between Riley and Verona, it was all marsh and wetland. The bugs started to lessen as I approached Verona however, the only saving grace, as the cottonwood seeds increased instead.

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Single digit miles now.

I intersected the highway and there were two underpasses that felt like caves with a significant temperature drop in each where I would sit against the cold walls. The first underpass (knowing exactly where I was) had a small stream run under the eastern side, and I put my hands in it, IT WAS SO COLD. I sat down and started cupping water in my hands and covering myself in this water. It felt so good. I washed my face off and poured the water down my back. A biker passed by me and asked if I was ok. I chatted for a bit, and explained that I was not that far from Verona (he was heading towards there). I said I was out of water. He went on saying he didn’t have any. Since this was unsupported, while I appreciate his concern, I could not take any if he had any. I got up from the water, and headed to town, just 1.5-2 miles out.

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Neptune, how many times I’ve passed this sign before, thankful to have reached it today. Marsh in the background.

Right when I was closing in on Verona, the trees came back for shade and I picked up the pace a bit. The biker returned with a bottle of water he had gotten and offered it to me. I refused, and thanked him greatly for his concern.

I hit the massive junction shelter in Verona. I got water from the fountain there. All the freaking water. I found an empty soda bottle and grabbed it and filled it with water and carried it along. I was so exhausted from lack of water, I hit my slow intervals again only to find out that I was getting bad side stitches on my left side. These eventually went away and my pace picked up as I approached the paved portion of the trail. I arrived at the park and ride, the only trail head of the entire trail, and the place I basically run and bike from a lot of the time with friends. It felt good getting past this. I don’t recall any more bugs here, which is weird, as I entered the wetlands again and I knew there was a giant pond a mile from the park and ride there where traffic is loud and usually bugs are a huge issue (but I guess they’re usually mosquitoes). It was at this time I realized the bugs were probably from all the rain we’d been having. Made sense with all the standing water everywhere.

I was so close to the end. The trail was so flat here (I would do time trials on my bike on this section!), and I knew it was just a mile. Two of my friends were waiting for me after tracking me on the Strava beacon all day. I saw the green pedestrian bridge where it crossed over McKee. I found the first railing of the bridge which coincided with the sign for Military Ridge, and called it done. I ended up totaling 40.85 miles, some of that probably garmin adding, some of it me wandering around a shelter, probably not all of it though.

Average pace was 13:44 minutes/mile, which is not bad, but I really thought my time would be lower. However, the unsupported aspect of it really showered what I was made of and what I had to do when things got tough. Would I say self-supported/support would be easier and save time? Absolutely! I had to take care of myself and rely on what I had. There were several gas stations and stores along the way that I could have bought what I needed especially when water and nutrition were failing me. I did want this to be unsupported so I did not utilize these things. If I had had a crew or pacer, I could have gone faster. I would not have had to spend so much time helping myself, especially reapplying a small stick of sunblock that I was carrying to my whole body. If someone would have just sprayed me, it would have taken minutes off my time. If I had planted water ahead of time, I could have filled up in no time flat instead of trying to rig my hydration bladder in lower positions hoping I had filled it all the way up under spigots. I could have called for someone to bring me a hat, thus not wasting as much energy on swatting bugs for countless miles. I could have had someone bring me my sun running hat as well, blocking the sun during that long shadeless stretch of trail. So many “if I had this”.

Regardless, I am proud of myself, and would love to see someone do this supported as road paces are not out of the question on much of this trail, given the trail isn’t damp/moist from rain or muddy, and supported the whole time. I bet there could be a blazing fast pace on this one. My moving time was 8 hours, 39 minutes, and 30 seconds, with an average pace of 12:43 minutes/mile, a whole minute ahead of my solo pace. I realized even if I had been supported, I would have had some stoppage time, but my pace would have been faster had I had more water and nutrition. My planned pace was lower than that even. But it tough to even plan a pace for these things when you are completely reliant on yourself.

What I can say mentally and physically:

Mentally it was tough. I had been alone a bunch before, but this takes the cake. Hardly anyone uses the trail on the western end compared to the eastern end (probably because Madison is on the eastern end), and there isn’t much “wear” to the trail on that end, but I didn’t see a soul for miles…this is also in part due to the limited access along the trail as mentioned before too. Usually in races, you at least pass someone every hour or two at minimum, and seeing people at aid stations more often than that. This was just so empty. True this was done on a Thursday, between the normal work hours, but even in Verona, there are many people using the trail all times of the day, even 5am. It was tough really having no one there. I would post pictures to my status about this but it was much too difficult to really mess with my phone during due to the humidity and eventually heat. I would have loved to message more but I was also very cautious about battery life. When I saw my two friends, Shana and Rebecca, said they were potentially coming to the “finish” I did get much more excited and felt accountable. The mood of the trail changed once I was in Verona and there were more people around, per usual.

Physically my legs did ok just had a tough time with the continuous flatness, thus breaking it up by doing squats and stretching at bridges, and when I’d find a bench, sitting and doing a physical shake out. My arms got so tired of swatting the bugs and wiping my body down so many many times. It just felt nasty. The physical part really wasn’t bad until I was running out of water…which happened more often than planned. The weather took a physical toll as well, with humidity ranging from 60-100% at all times, and the high getting up to at least 85°F, starting out at 66 in the morning, with minimal breeze and calm winds. The forecast was supposed to be 77°F with clouds increasing in the afternoon (neither happened). I only remember the sun being cast out by clouds twice. Once in the morning by the fog, and one cloud in the afternoon. Conditions were not ideal at all. You can get really bad chaffing if you sweat that much with the heat and humidity and you don’t continuously remove the salt in your sweat from your body. It was very hard to be more upright for two reasons: one was the pack I carried being heavier than I’m used to, and two, the bugs had me leaning very far forward as to avoid getting bugs in my face/mouth. I just couldn’t breathe right under those conditions. Today my abs are a bit sore, and my calves are tired, but not really too sore or bad. I am only slightly sunburned, and only two small chaffing spots (very much a victory).

I would love to go explore more complete trails end to end some day, and until I am more knowledgeable and experienced and faster, that time is still to come. I feel accomplished being the pioneering time on this trail and hope to inspire other women to get out and do their own thing no matter what it is. I have women in the running community that I look up to too.

Please keep in mind if you are planning on doing this with utilizing water on the trail, Sugar River is a good source, in the fall-early spring, but farms go through fertilizer and it dumps into the creeks. Also note in that between fall-early spring, the water sources will most likely be turned off from the buildings due to cold temperatures here.

 

Link to my garmin activity:
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3722568644

Blue Ridge Double Marathon

My first 50 miler, officially, yeah I know I’ve “done” 50 miles, but what does it feel like to stop at that time? Get ready for a picture show, cause I took a lot! I knew where to take them and most of them were on the fly, so sorry for the mass uploads! I tried to keep them in order.

This all started when my friend Robin messaged me last year and asked if I could come do it with her since the race suggested that you run with a friend so you are not alone at night (Safety!). Robin and I had met at the Dam 50k at Smith Mountain Lake in Sandy Level, VA two years ago somewhere with 10k left to go and ran the rest together. I have no seen her since, but we have stayed connected through facebook.

I had always wanted to do the Blue Ridge Double Marathon, but I was always afraid of the distance, and knowing what ONE marathon felt like there, with the pitch of the road, and the gain/loss on the course. But since Zion 100k the prior year, I had surmounted a bunch of long distance know-how and to not fear the unknown so much. Did I have too much knowledge of this one this time?

I had completed this course as my first marathon. I did terribly. I came back the next year ill prepared to say the least after having moved to Wisconsin and faced my first winter there (and the local said it was a mild winter, Lord help me). I did hardly any runs, and hardly any long runs for that matter, not knowing what to do when it was cold outside like it was, I had no running gear or even regular clothes to wear outside in those conditions. Training fail. It was my 3rd marathon then. I managed to mess around, and have a lot of fun (albeit super sore after), and finished 40 minutes faster than the previous year anyway, thanks mostly to upping my nutrition and figuring out how to pace the course. Another year later, I did it for a 3rd time and put some serious effort into training for it, including running my first 50k for training! I smashed my expectations and came in 30 minutes faster than the previous year, while it rained. I could not imagine doing the course faster than that, and had no unfinished business with the course or race.race_2042_photo_51324294

But there was the double marathon, and the opportunity to actually do it. I applied again, like I had two years in the past, to be a race ambassador. Regardless of where I was in this world, and no matter what I do, I will always support my hometown race. It’s really well put together and still the best marathon I’ve been to hands down. Many trail runners have described that it is the only road marathon they will ever do, a road marathon with a trail vibe. I became an ambassador and signed up for the double.

I made training plans, and put in some work, making the Terrapin 50k part of that training, along with hefty runs in the mountains for a month beforehand in Virginia. I was discouraged a little as some of my old segments were slower than I had been before. I didn’t feel more tired, I didn’t feel less adequate. My hormones probably playing some role there. What had been a warm start to spring in Virginia quickly turned late winter upon my arrival. Le sigh.

Race week went by so quickly. I monitored the forecast for two weeks out of course, and saw…

Rain. Thunder.

Why though.

Don’t I deserve a break?

Nah, said everyone.

I am so tired of being wet and cold hahaha. Laughing at myself right? It came down to mid 50s race evening. Oh yeah, the race starts at 1am. Logistics in a bit, they are interesting sit tight. Rain and thunderstorms were predicted. The high the next day fluctuated from 59 to 68°F between the two weeks of obsessively watching the weather from three different models. The time of the second marathon varied between storms and dry and overcast skies. So in classic Virginia fashion, it was completely useless and an utter waste of time trying to figure it out, and it will be what it will be like every year. Virginia spring time in April varies from their last snow of the season to blazing heat with humidity weighing you down to the black pavement radiating back the same heat, seeping into your very soul. Yay weather!

So the logistics. You as a double marathoner had one of two choices for starting times. 1 am and 2:30 am. Regardless you had to be back to the starting line by 7:30 am in order to start with the actual marathon start at 7:35 am, although they press you to be back before 7 am. There needs to be a lot of thought put into this. You have about 6ish hours for the first half, and then 7.5 hours for the second, with a cutoff at mile 24 of 6 hours. When you finish your first marathon, you have downtime, and you have to utilize that time you have to 1) not lock up for the second marathon, 2) change clothes?, 3) refuel, as there is no on course support the first half, way less than you’d have in an ultra (more on that later), 4) use bathrooms, personal needs, etc, 5) plan the second marathon!

So when you cross the finish line for the first time, that ends your timer, unlike in an ultra, the clock does stop here. This down time is all yours. If you don’t allow yourself enough time between the two marathons, starting up and finishing the second will be more difficult. If you have too much time, your chances of starting the second feeling decent is low with legs locking up, and allowing your core to stop working, body temp cools down. Ideally you’d want to finish in some mid range where you won’t get too comfortable between them and where you won’t be struggling to do what you need to get done to transition to the second. One major thing about the first half is that it is unsupported, you must bring everything you need with you. You can’t stash anything, no one can bring you stuff. There was occasional water, but even then you didn’t know when you’d access it. This added a lot of weight to my pack. The second marathon is fully supported almost every mile, and was it glorious.

So there I was…

So it begins haha.

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I had plans to stay up progressively later and later during the week, but I ended up going to bed before even my normal bed times! So that didn’t pan out. I planned to sleep in as long as possible on the day of, day before? Friday. The race started 1 am Saturday. I slept in, got good calories in, went to the expo, now in the Patrick Henry hotel. Rain threatened the skies. Ate a good dinner at Ichiban Hibachi in Roanoke and went home to prepare. My hydration was on point too. Sweet tea all week long. I double checked my “bag” for the half way point and around 11:45pm Friday night, my sister picked me up and off we went to the starting line, as I saw a strong line of thunderstorms approaching the area…due to hit around 1 am.

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Radar 1 hour before race start at 1am.

 

Sweet!

We arrived at the starting line, checked in, and met up with Robin who had magically been able to sleep somehow in the middle of the day before the race!! We meandered into the road, blissfully forgetting the roads were all still open until a car would come by. The starting temps were not too bad, as it was very moist out, the humidity rising up in the 90% range. No wind. I donned my Altra Wasatch vest for the coming rain, that with 100% certainty would come. I wore my Inknburn 6” shorts and tech under, and my Orange Mud endurance pack full of 2L of water and tailwind mix, and new Noxgear night run vest (required). I also wore shoe light flashers, a reflective and flashing wristband, and a headlamp. I carried extra batteries, all my gels, extra tailwind, phone (required), and ipod in my plastic baggy although I did not listen to it during the first marathon. This all weighed so much more than what I was used to. This would take a toll.

The start of the race was much like any other, a gentle go out into the night runners of the ultra! The course I will break down into a few section, since I have detailed this course before in two or three other race reports…

BRM COURSE

The first section, the climb most of the way up Mill Mountain.

The second section, the rollers between Mill Mountain and Roanoke Mountain.

The third section, the climb and descent of Roanoke Mountain.

The fourth section, back to the rollers from before and climbing the rest of Mill Mountain to the half way point in the marathon.

The fifth section, descent from Mill Mountain down to the flattest stretch of the course along the Roanoke Greenway steadily climbing to the Peakwood Mountain climb.

The sixth section, Peakwood climb and descent.

The seventh section, post-Peakwood rollers.

The eighth section, Wasena park and bridges leading to downtown and finish line.

Then do it all over again!!

Robin and I were the team to get through the first marathon together, the second half up in the air depending on how we felt by then. The general vibe was cool going up the first climb on Walnut, discovering that some people did not have a headlamp! I saw this when I helped pace my friend Ginger at Umstead, but the guy who didn’t have a headlamp there was slower and steady and older, but he didn’t have a care in the world! Maybe this is a thing I’ve never noticed or maybe I do too technical of ultras typically at night, but this has only been recently I’ve seen people without headlamps at night! Someone please enLIGHTen me.

We walked some of this, not much, but it was mile 2 after all. The goal much of the loop was to run moderately conservative on the downhills (the grades were pretty steep and could take down your quads fairly quickly given too much effort), and power hike the major uphills, making side deals on which hills to run parts of given our current condition as to not burn out. Pacing for the double was trick to say the least. It constantly had you thinking about what you needed to do to help prevent yourself from being too beat up. This did make the time pass faster for sure and I hardly looked down at my watch to check the overall time…just pace was kept in mind per mile.

LET OPEN THE APOCALYPTIC SKIES! Mile 2 or 3, the heavens released on us the downpour. It was hard to hear Robin over the rain. I popped up my hood on my vest and carried on. Right before the rain started, I was getting kind of hot in my getup…almost. Then it rained and justified everything I was wearing. Because it was a vest I had thought about how I would stash it with the lack of sleeves. But then kept it on for the remainder of the marathon. It rained for a good bit at a heavy pace. The roads formed puddles that were mostly easily avoided, but wet shoes were immediately a factor, and this was my biggest fear of all. I feared with the wet feet that they would macerate quickly like they had before. I specifically wore very thin socks for this first marathon. I also wore my Altra Olympus for extra cushion and the draining specs. These ended up being great choices, regardless that it was trail shoes on a road. I knew I could count on them.

The rolling hills came and went, and were much longer than I remembered! But that also meant there were fewer of them. We got to the base of Roanoke Mountain. The rain had tapered off a bit. The climb was as I remembered. But this time was different. This time Roanoke Mountain overlook had been closed since the time of Cloudsplitter due to storm damage. So we were to go up Roanoke Mountain and come right back down the way we came instead of going the full loop. This would require runners to also do a small out and back along the rolling hills between Roanoke and Mill Mountains.

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“False” Summit up Roanoke Mountain, overlook.

Upon reaching the summit of Roanoke Mountain, we noticed very quickly there was lightning. Uh oh. Let’s run a bit faster now so we don’t have weather complications up there. I studied the lightning, and it seemed pretty far, but it was very bright in the dark of the night. Seemed like dry lightning. On the way down, we hit our best paces, trying to hold back as much as possible, again, trying to save the quads. This was the first major downhill section at a decent grade we had had yet. I got a slight bit depressed not seeing sub 10 min/mi on the way down, but I knew this had to pay off later.

Once down the mountain, we hit the out and back section through a camp ground, I admit I had never been before. Giant puddles! The pitch of the road went from real pitched to not at all. Thus puddling from the rain. I had 5 gels with me, and I managed to hit all of them at the intervals I needed to. Although this time, I had a hard time getting them down from the start. So if the gel was liquid enough, I would shoot it versus trying to break it down in my mouth. This went over well. Shoes still wet. Carry on.

The out and back was a lot shorter than I imagined it would be and it was roped off the entire way. Back we went to Mill Mountain. At this point I was realizing I was quickly going through water, which normally does not happen. I had no urge to restroom it up and I knew I was NOT dehydrated before the race going into it. Maybe it was because it was a night start? I’m used to fasting the night before a race and am never really thirsty before a race or workout in the morning. But I do usually drink a ton right before bed, especially if I work out before bed (which I do enjoy doing). I needed water, and waited until we saw a place to fill up. I knew at the top of Mill Mountain were bathrooms, and worse case, could fill up in the sink there (I had done it before during training back when). Luckily, at the top of Mill Mountain, there was a guy with the water jug. I filled it up and was out, although it was quite the task taking off all of my gear and putting it back on (remember I had the lit vest on top of my water pack). All this added up to quite a bit of time. But the view. I had signed up for this race for this night view of the city. The fog from the previous day had cleared and I was grateful. I had waited for this moment. And just a moment, we had to keep moving, with the cut off looming over us.

The good news was, all the port-o-potties were already up and out. I had christened one earlier at mile 5, and now it was Robin at mile 14. I noticed that the arrows used for the full/half/10k had not been placed everywhere, but they were at the top of Mill Mountain already. So another thing to note, you had to self-navigate the course! I knew the course like the back of my hand up through downtown. It was about to get fuzzy haha.

The greenway was challenging to traverse. It was flat. How do you run flat? It’s way more complicated than you think after climbing up and down two mountains. It’s harder on your mind and legs. You have nothing to throttle you, and no perception of how fast or slow to go, especially in the dark when you can’t see anything. I’ve always had issues here. We (well at least I did) fumbled around and got through it to reach the pre-climb to Peakwood. Things started getting more interesting.

The climb to Peakwood was what I remembered exactly, but felt a little different this time. Different from Roanoke Mountain. I was climbing better, although keeping it to a power hike. Robin remarked on the houses and how nice the neighborhood was. This was really the first neighborhood on course and nearly at mile 17. All of a sudden, I smelled smoke. Fire? We kept going and soon saw a glow on the hill side (near the peak of Peakwood) and lots of lights. Something was on fire! This is as much knowledge as we gleaned cause I never heard more about it. The fire truck came back down the mountain to meet us and pass by. Near the top, we smelled the odor more. We saw the city lights well below us off in the distance through the trees, still not full of leaves yet. The top was very anticlimactic. And we headed back down. Quads were talking, but not too bad. Peakwood is very steep but not as long as the other two climbs. Upon hitting the base of Peakwood coming back down, trucks were beginning to line up cones to close off the course for later.

58373920_2302407656492561_8251078431307988992_n And then creepy mannequin! EVERY YEAR!! This house puts out this mannequin and dresses them up to hold a sign. When you’re out at night, it makes it even more creepy! The guy who we’d talked to before shouted out out his bib number to the lifeless statue and then got closer and realized it was not a person! (We had periodic check in points where people recorded our bib numbers.)

This was pretty useful as we followed it for directions. We crossed the bridge heading to the final section of the course encountering one larger climb still to go somewhere in here. My pace felt fast for once, and I knew I needed more calories and started to worry about the second marathon at this point. Would I be able to run at all? I felt gross with all the wet clothes on still. Robin and I started making deals with each other at this point to get in as much running as we could hoping our legs didn’t dwindle away. Downtown is essentially a bunch of smaller rolling hills that are just very annoying. They aren’t steep and completely runnable, but at this point you just don’t want to run them. We made the most of it using electric poles and cars parked along side the road. Much of the marathon, we did not encounter any cars.

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Sunrises approaches.

Reaching Wasena park, we ran a lot of it, probably more than necessary here as it was very tiring (being more so the flat greenway section). It was A LOT longer than I remembered. I kept assuring Robin we’d be done with it when we weren’t. Welp. Finally we climbed out of Wasena park and headed towards the finish, which you could see the big tall bank building downtown and it looked REAL far away, but it was only 2 miles? The course provides you with this really short and really steep downhill here, and quads were definitely talking. I told Robin we’d probably have to walk this the second time! It was light enough we didn’t need headlamps as the sun was beginning to rise. We hit the downhill stretch and to the first finish. As we were coming in, some people were congregating at the start line and cheered us hard as the announcer announced us coming in. First loop was done in 5:46. We had about 40 mins until start 2.

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At this point, I met up with the family. Robin headed to her car to get her stuff done. I went to the changing rooms in a nearby hotel that the race had reserved for double marathoners (really great!!). I joined the women’s changing room, which they had a nice spread of water bottles and fruit and coffee and stuff I couldn’t really take in trying to get my own self under control. 59211530_1145435898962888_7029540847007825920_n I got out of my wet clothes using the Orange Mud changing towel and dried off. They also had towels for us at the hotel too! It was so good to get out. I was getting sore though. I dreaded the second loop, having a hard time sitting down. I had texted my mom earlier to go get me sprite. I downed 2/3 of the larger bottle. I took in some pixie sticks too. I changed into my lucky monarch tech from Inknburn, and new 6” shorts. I changed socks to a thicker pair, lubing my feet up with 2toms. I found NO blisters or maceration! I was in shock. I replaced my shoes with a brand new pair of Altra Escalantes. I had nothing against the Olympus for the 2nd lap, but I wanted a different feeling under my foot after all those road miles. I shed everything except my bra…which was brand new to me haha (new brand and everything y’all). Bra felt ok, although wet, I wasn’t going to change what was working. I kept working on the Sprite. Rich and Steven, both doing their first marathon that day, were waiting outside. I didn’t want to make them nervous but I still had this sinking feeling that the second lap was not going to go well. I tried not to voice it outloud.

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I hope I don’t look like I’ve done a marathon already!

I wanted them to have a great day. This race was hardly about me. I placed it on others for sure. I was here for Robin, she was the one who asked me. Was this an A race for me? Yes, but I was sharing it. I was here for Rich and Steven doing their first, and even tackling the hardest road marathon.

I went to the restrooms in the hotel to apply more 2toms to the more sensitive areas and more diaper rash cream too. I did some business there, but didn’t really have to pee still. I drank SO MUCH. I didn’t worry about it and carried on. I met back up with Robin for the second lap, the second marathon. We placed ourselves near the 6:00 pacer near the back of everyone.

We waited for the second start. The National Anthem was sung, opera style! Woah, that was new. The announcer told everyone to look out for us with our Pink Bibs. Red is for marathon, Yellow is for half marathoners, Green for 10k, and Pink for double marathon. Before we knew it, we were off. Rich and Steven were near us and were chatty as ever. We woke out watches back up, stating we had already done 26.4 miles (my watch is always somehow 0.2 miles over EVERY year regardless of watch I’ve used).

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Mom and sister.

We just laughed beside ourselves. When you know what you are up against, and have to do it again, it’s pretty real. My energy levels were awesome throughout the night, and I waned a little during sunrise, but was back at it again uppity and everything after the marathon started again. Beep beep, we were across and going again. I noticed pretty quickly on the first climb that my legs felt great again. Thank you Sprite and Mom. What calories will do for you!

58372979_801555030225668_7639893379517513728_nThe scenery in the daytime was amazing. The fog had settled on the mountains and was very pretty. The climb from the back of the pack was a bit of a different experience. I could see so many people from back here on the climb. We ran into some really neat people and chatted it up. We took Walnut Avenue a little more conservative power hiking a lot of it. Upon reaching the base climb of Mill Mountain, we agreed we felt pretty decent and decided to start running again. Felt pretty good! We make some deal and goal targets but would often forget because we were around so many people.

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Climbing up Walnut Avenue.

At the top of the first section going on to the rolling hills again, we noticed the puddles had drained! Mile 4 or 5 of the second marathon, reaching the 50k point, there was a photographer. We talked and said we would try and jump, cause why not? Good reason as to why not, our leggies were not what they used to be! I’ve seen it before in Ironman, where some hot shot dude goes up to the finish chute and does a jump and then instantly crumples to the ground in a pile of man. We were careful and I wasn’t sure how far I’d get off the ground but we counted down and did it! Good thing race pictures are free. Thank you Blue Ridge Marathon!!

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Let’s jump!

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Climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mill Mountain.

The bugle man was still there playing for everyone who passed before ascending to Roanoke Mountain! What chops!

I took a cup of Skratch mix every aid station. I really still don’t like Skratch, it doesn’t taste good. But it was what the race provided and who was I to complain about not carrying a water pack the second half? My shoulders and back were really sore from carrying around that weight even now.

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Going into the fog during the rolling hills.

We started the climb to Roanoke Mountain again, ugh. This time was a bit slower. The grade seemed a little steeper in the day time. And being able to see where the climb stopped (or in this case didn’t stop) was a mind game. But this was an out and back and we saw the first few males in the race coming down! In the top 10 males, there was the top double marathoner male, he was blazing fast and to keep up with the regular top marathoners with fresh legs?! CRAZY! I was very impressed. I would start looking for Rich and Steven who we lost literally 0.1 miles into the marathon hahaha. I knew they wouldn’t be able to go as slow as the 6:00 hour pacer. We were also ahead of the 6:00 pacer at this point.

But the most touching and brilliant pick-me-up were the people in the marathon coming down. Everyone could recognize the pink bibs and would shout out “go doublers!” This is when we started to cluster with others doing the double marathon. We ended up in a group of at least 6 of us, which is insane to think about considering there were only 61 or so who started. Every time we passed people, which was quite often, there would be a little party of shouting and yelling at us, and it was the absolute most motivating thing to be recognized for what we were doing. I was emotional.

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Time to climb Roanoke Mountain part 2.

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“False” Summit up Roanoke Mountain, daytime.

I really hated that the course had to be changed from the traditional course of the Roanoke Mountain loop, but honestly seeing people on the out and back instead was really cool. The first aid station up there, I stopped quickly and it seemed that there was a volunteer there this year JUST to take pictures of people with their phone at the first overlook (the false summit for Roanoke Mountain…and every mountain had a false summit). Neat. We continued our way up and met up with Steven. I was puzzled. Where was Rich? Did something happen? Steven said he was just in the restroom. I saw Rich soon after and high fived him. He and Steven looked great! And a lot of the worst parts were over by now, even though it was mile 7. 2 climbs done out of 4.

(I consider the climbs to be: Mill Mountain, Roanoke Mountain, Mill Mountain summit, and Peakwood.)

At the top the aid station there had some oranges. I took oranges at every aid station that had them.

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The real summit!

Time to turn around and head back down. Oof. Ok, yeah quads took a pounding. It was very hard going down as our pace suffered barely squeaking out 13:00 min/mi. I shot some gel and tried to get the calories up. Coming down near the base, I could swear I heard my mom, but I had thought that before going up and thought it was the same person, whoever it was. But no, it was mom. She was ringing quite the cow bell, and I was confused as to where she got it! Sister took pictures and we carried onward back to the rolling hills. This time we could see the guardrails and make deals running from guardrail ends to beginning and the gaps in-between. This doesn’t work well at night! I saw the 6:00 hour pacer catching us, boo. I tried to pull Robin along…I’m sorry Robin!

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Roanoke Mountain overlook, other side.

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A new mascot appears this year!!

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We made it back down!!

We climbed Mill Mountain summit for the second time, passing by the zoo up there. Seeing the star the second time, Robin asked if I needed to stop to take a picture. I declined because I had done it so much before, and I am still ok with this decision. I stopped in the middle of the night. Robin took her port-o-potty break and I jammed stuff into my mouth. Quads were yelling on the way down Mill Mountain as we tried to extend our strides the best we could. Quick pit stop at the Moo-mosas stand (thank you guys) who always have mimosas and orange juice. I chugged three glasses of OJ down. I try not to have expectations that the locals who come out for the race every year will be there every year, but they don’t seem to disappoint. Annnnd the 6 hour pacer passes us. I finally took my first pee break at mile 14.5. FINALLY. We swept down and hit the greenway again. Just as tough as before, we managed through it. The climb up to the Peakwood climb was just as unpleasant and maybe longer than before, but we met up with Robin’s friend Wayne who indeed wanted a sweaty hug. It was refreshing. We looked at the houses in the daylight.

This is when I met a lady doing the marathon stopped on the side of the curb. She said she was cramping. I had been carrying this packet of salt chews for the entire race. I did not need them. I gave them to her and told her to eat them. She felt so relieved. And it hit me. The first time I did this marathon, a double marathoner came by me not too long before we did this year, who gave me one of his own gels and saved my race. I felt like I gave back what I had taken. The same lady caught up with us and kept us company for a while and said I had saved her race and felt much better. Then I saw the family again! Told me Rich was fast, and Steven was doing well.

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Pre-climb to Peakwood.

It was on the way up Peakwood that I also realized something kicked in. I was power hiking well, too well. Was this how it was supposed to be at Cloudsplitter before I messed up my tendon? I was consistent and felt powerful walking up, and much better than I did the first time. It’s like all my training from before hadn’t really left me. I kept feeling bad I was so in front of Robin, but we had a little crew of hikers going up. I kept checking in with her, and didn’t want to leave her.

 

Here are a slew of pictures describing Peakwood:

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The entrance to Peakwood.

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One of the steeper grades. I know you’re not supposed to take a picture of a hill because it will never do it justice, but hey.

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Almost to the top of Peakwood.

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Sign sort of shows steepness!

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The worst switchback! Near entrance to Peakwood.

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UP UP UP says the pavement. “Your last Mountain.”

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The top of Peakwood, around mile 18, was the Fink’s Aid station. They no longer had strawberries, sad day, but they still had grapes, which I took in quite a few of. This is also when Robin shot her fireball flask. Down we went! Ouch ouch ouch. We were still running though and that’s what mattered. Thankfully this was the last one. We passed some people on the way down, those no longer able to run downhill. Not going all out on the first loop was really paying off now. Shortly after the 20 mile mark, there was a young girl on the side of the road with watermelon on a stick. I immediately stopped and had some and shared the story I had:

During my first marathon, there was a small girl, probably around the age of 5 or so, who nervously gave out watermelon on a stick around this point. It was the most marvelous watermelon I had had. I was so thankful.

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She responded that it was probably her as her family did this every year. It hit me it had been four years now since then. She had grown up so much. I thanked her and her family for being out and helping all these times and that it meant a lot to me. I felt my life come full circle.

Our pace picked up a bit at the base of Peakwood mountain heading into downtown. We felt good, and I remarked that maybe Robin should have had the fireball earlier haha, and more of it. 58379879_583137065526595_571575828299644928_n Back to the mannequin, who…was wearing something different?? Oh ok. Downtown was rough, and we made even more deals for running between random inanimate objects. Let’s face it, if we were losing it and picked animate objects, this story would be more interesting, but we would have died. Our deals this time seemed to coincide with the deals we had made before, so we weren’t selling ourselves short of running. We were just proud we were running at all! Oh and I found a penny. Again, in an ultra.

I checked my text messages to see if I could figure out how Rich was doing during one of our short walk breaks. I couldn’t get the app to work. And realized Team BU women’s chat had sent me a message saying I was 8th female. What? I tried to put it in the back of my mind instead of the front, but every time I heard I’m doing ok, it lights a fire in me. From some of the repeated sections of the course though, I was pretty sure I couldn’t catch anyone (and found out later I had lost my 5th place position somewhere at the beginning of lap 2, but none of that matter because you could only check placings based on the 2nd marathon and there wasn’t data for the first to my understanding). Wasena! I hit the 50 mile mark before 12 hours was up!!! YAY!

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We agreed to walk a bit more here, and ended up running more than we had before because of this. I wanted to make sure I found the “Jesus Saves” Sign because somehow I miss it every freaking year. I found it!! I also found the big hill we agreed to walk down. It was a challenge walking DOWN a hill especially one that steep, but it was worthwhile. No leg snapping! I saw the bank building again, how is that two miles away again?!

Somewhere in here, I turned a corner and there was a cat. I perked up and the cat didn’t move as we approached. So I squatted down, like you do in an ultra (not even thinking it would be an issue, and it wasn’t?) and make clicking kissy noises at the cat. 57614897_403445283830659_1207567348471431168_n THE CAT CAME, MY ULTRA LIFE IS NOW COMPLETE. I petted the kitty and then got up and left. Turning more corners I realized I had a second wind. Robin did not. I could really go, but we were this close to the finish and I did not want to leave her, nor did I think running any faster would 1) put me below 12 hours, 2) give me a better place in the race. I’d come this far with her. Time to wrap it up. It started to rain again, the first time during the second marathon. I didn’t care at this point, the race was basically over. If I was wet, I was wet. Feet are how they are now.

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We came into the finishing shoot and Robin takes off. I catch up to her to stay by her side and finish the double marathon, the second marathon in 6:19, our total finishing time 12:07. I ended up 8th overall female, another top 10 female finish, 7th for my group (non-masters). After finishing, we found out Robin placed 2nd masters female! Feet were perfectly fine post race. I chugged down two cold chocolate milks easily. Thank you again for having these!! Eating was of course impossible.

I did not want to be on my feet however. Standing in line for the massage guy was a pain, but well worth while. I was really surprised how tight I wasn’t. I was kind of sore for two days and then on Tuesday I ran 6 miles with my friend Lori with ease. I was astonished. This was the first time I had run an ultra and been able to run after with my feet not being so mangled and my soreness at a relative minimum. I truly learned a lot more in this race and it was my first road ultra too.

I don’t think I am in love with the 50 miler. Just like the 10k and half marathon distances, I think it is awkward. I would rather just put in the effort to fulfill a 100k at that point. I clearly had more to give at the finish. Would I do the double again? Probably so. Would I do another 50 miler? It would have to be something special for me to consider it to be honest.

With the A race over for now, I rest and work on speed and getting faster. I am not injured and feel fantastic actually. I don’t feel tired or drained and I am ready for the next big thing. Except there is no next big thing for quite a while.

 

SPECIAL SHORT RACE REPORT: SLOW-K (5k, Sunday the day after the double).

Since the feet were unharmed during the making of this Ultra, I decided to drag my tired butt out of bed after not sleeping from 8:30am Friday through 9pm Saturday night for the exciting slow-k, a new addition to the Blue Ridge Marathon weekend set the stage near Wasena park, at River’s Edge Sports Complex.

The idea of this was to bring everyone together whether they ran or not in a very slow 5k “race”/event. Steven, Rich, and I headed to Roanoke for the almost hours drive to meet up with Robin again. The big news was that Jeff Galloway was going to be there! And donuts.

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They picked a fine donut, the premium Krispy Kreme kind. I had one, and was instantly sick! (My stomach was not taking things well at all.) So I added to the pleasure and fixed a hot chocolate (versus the coffee they had, I don’t drink coffee so having the hot chocolate alternative was awesome!). The “race” bibs were Leis with a small sticker with you “number”. So cute!! The morning was super rain threatening, but nothing became of that. Not too cool either.

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The start was more of a casual gathering of folks that were in the area. The announcement was made from the race director herself that “some races start with a gun, some start with a gong, and some even start by the lighting of a cigarette!” I laughed really loudly getting the joke, but a lot of people did not get the Barkley Marathons joke. “But, we start our race with the ceremonial bite of a donut!” She casually meandered to the start line. The bite was taken several minutes after the “start” time listed, classic. It really added to the coolness factor.

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And we were off, slowly! Had to pace ourselves for the big hill. I had run this 3 mile course several several times when I lived in the area, it was a very simple course that you really can’t mess up. It was on the greenway of course, and we all know how bad I am at pacing on the greenway by now!

Check out these signs…

The first stretch across the creek was wet and difficult, I tripped over some loose concrete and must remember to pick up my feet, this ain’t no trail race, but remember your basics! Soon we were already a mile into it, Robin sipping her coffee, trying to get nutrition down. I was running on donut power. Eventually, we broke free of the crowd to see those who were losing the slow-k, those running the event! Blasphemy. It looked like he was going to go sub 25, poor soul. A few followed him, but most stayed with the pack focusing on form and forward motion together.

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The Hill, and an aid station?! FANCY!!

Then the hill came. Robin and I made a deal that we would try and run the one hill. Ready, set, LUNGE! We lurched forward, our hamstrings crying out, IT band speaking another language. But we made it, heart rate beating so fast it wondered what we were even doing out here.

Then we found our target. We had caught THE Jeff Galloway. Hard not to spot him. We found a steady pace behind him using him as a buffer against the wind (there was no wind), being more aero and cutting down our energy output. Our pace increased! It was difficult but we kept up with this Olympian.

The end was near as we approached the creek again. A small incline separated us and victory. We placed well in the midpack, as we ran the last 0.02 miles into the finisher chute (which I was personally surprised there was one!) passing Jeff and securing our place, the only time we can say we beat an Olympian.

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Yes, it was a tough battle, but 55.5 miles completed for the weekend.

Terrapin Moutain 50k

Sedalia Center, Bedford, VA – My hometown

March 23rd, 2019, one day before my 32nd birthday.

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I came back early to Virginia to train a bit up for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon (April 13th, Roanoke, VA), hitting up a 50k I’d been eyeing for a while, but was never in Virginia the right time of the year. I wanted to do another 50k for my birthday considering it was:

1. on a weekend again (last time for a while!)

2. Very close to the number of miles I am old (31 vs 32)

3. In my hometown, and my family had purchased the Sedalia Center and turned it into what it is today (Arts center)

4. Very good elevation training for the Blue Ridge Double

The Blue Ridge Double Marathon has a little less than 8000 feet of gain and equal loss, Wisconsin isn’t the best place to get training let’s say. I got some good time on feet and very good mental training from the Cactus Classic Marathon not long ago. Everything pointed to this being the perfect race and the perfect fit.

The race itself was 31.3 miles, 7000+ feet of elevation gain (again, equal loss), along and on Terrapin Mountain in Jefferson National Forest, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, just north of the Peaks of Otter in Bedford, where I love to train…and a 9 hour cut off.

55576572_403077580471699_745418842968162304_n Ouch. Two of my 50ks I’ve taken rather leisurely, I’ve finished in 9-9.5 hours (albeit one was in blizzard conditions and my toes threatening frostbite; the other, Table Rock, another training race with just over 5000 feet of gain, one mountain but right after a hurricane hit making water crossings….interesting). My only other 50k with comparable gain was my first (also just over 5000 feet of gain over two mountains) but only about half of it was truly off road and not much of it trail…well, some of it just random flags marking your way in the woods. There wasn’t a good comparison for anything. This made me fear the 9 hour cut off time. I estimated I needed under a 17 min/mi. No biggie, back to being fearless?

I got back to Virginia the Monday before the race, tired, but the drive was manageable. I ended up planning a cool training run on Wednesday where I would run from a parking lot, up to Flat top summit, back down to the parking lot, and then up to Sharp Top summit and back down again. I stopped to take in the views and pictures, but tried to keep up the effort when I was moving. It totaled 8.5 miles with 3,300 feet of gain (for perspective, that’s most of the Blue Ridge Marathon’s elevation gain condensed into a third of the distance of 26.2 miles). Felt great the whole time. Felt great the next morning, but that afternoon, I started to feel sore. By Friday, I was having issues going down the stairs. The downhills I did was taking a bigger toll than I realized.

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The Pavilion overlooked by Terrapin Mountain

Friday afternoon, I went with my mom over to Sedalia to check out the scene and pick up my bib. What a windy windy day. Windchills dropped into the lower 30s before sundown. I was seriously not prepared to deal with these temperatures. Once again, I trusted a long term forecast (it was previously supposed to be in the upper 60s for highs, although the forecast for a sunny day held true). I brought only certain attire. The open pavilion was not sheltered from the winds, and the mountain loomed over the center from behind. I picked up one bib, a hand made mug, and a few stickers and a luggage tag, and one fall copy of trail runner magazine. I got to speak with the Race Director, a younger guy (Clark Zealand). I guess I was so nervous I gave him the impression I didn’t know what I was doing.

 

I got to ask if the course had any water crossings. He assured me that there were several creek crossings as well as mountain runoff water everywhere. I asked how much road there was, was answered it depended on what I considered road. He assured me that there was a bunch of satisfying single track. He mentioned that part of the course overlapped with both the Promise Land 50k (another 50k that has been on my radar but it’s in May and I’m usually recovering from another big event in mid-April) and Hellgate 100k (something I had wanted to do last year but was injured)…super interesting to me.

We left the center and returned to Bedford where we ate at Ruby Tuesday’s where I got ribs and a nice salad…a new pre-race meal from a new place! I don’t really fear what I eat beforehand anymore. It will be what will be. However, I know my body very well and I know my stomach is not very sensitive, even during a race (post race is a different story). I had most things sorted out for the race, but getting a taste of what 45°F and high winds felt like at the race site made me make some small changes.

I did not bring any tights, so capris it was. I changed my previous thicker socks opting out for my thinnest most compressive socks to help water shed (from being forewarned about the water on course). I was going to wear a singlet and a lightweight long sleeve pullover over top, but switched to my thermal long sleeve turtleneck (keeping the singlet on top of the thermal baselayer) and my Altra Wasatch jacket (wind/water proof)…yes three layers for a starting temp in the upper 30s. I changed my head gear to a hat and a tech tube over it covering my ears. Based on the race elevation profile, I opted to leave my pole with my mom who would meet me at the mile 9.5 aid station (the only aid station you could have crew at), as most of the first 1/3 of the course was a little uphill, and 5 miles of downhill on a gravel road. I kept with my choice of using the Altra Timps (1.5s) and trail gaiters.

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Sunrise that morning (mom’s pic)

I got in bed around 9pm, but we all know how the story goes.

 

I was awake every hour, almost on the hour, the entire night. The wind didn’t help blowing against the window of my room. I got up about 15 minutes before my alarm, around 5:00am. I crawled out of bed and got ready. Darkness greeted us as we headed back to the Sedalia Center. Light was no where in sight even upon arrival. It was bitterly cold, the wind remnants were still making their way through, so we sat in the car as more and more people arrived. There was going to be a pre-race briefing at 6:30am at the pavilion. I crawled again out of the car with an additional coat on, and listened to the meeting. It was just cold. My moral was sinking with the temperatures. He mentioned that there was still snow up there. Great.

Let me speak about how this went mentally a bit. There was something off about this event. I am pretty comfortable doing 50ks, even when I’m not trained, I usually have no fear, but I had a great anxiety radiating from this. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I discussed this feeling with friends and my team, but no one really understood what was going on. And how could anyone? I didn’t know myself. This was something I was alone on and I would have to get through it myself. I just didn’t want to start. I’ve never really had this feeling be this strong before. Like something bad was going to happen. I kept thinking about my plan…I knew there was a 10 mile climb in the middle part of the race, and I knew there was 5 miles of downhill before it, and rolling downhill after it until the finish that I planned on banking some time. I knew I needed to push myself appropriately to beat the cut off, put my head down, and power hike my best hike for all the uphills. I knew I was sore still that race morning and not sure how that would affect my pace.

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Sunrise, also mom’s pic

6:45am, the first twilight appeared, good thing because I was getting nervous about not bringing my headlight. We returned to the car after the meeting. 5 minutes from the 7am start, I reluctantly headed to the starting line, two giant yellow inflatables. Sunrise was at 7:14am if I recall correctly. It was light enough to see the trail at this point. But somehow my nerves didn’t settle and I became uneasy. 2 minutes til start, we all lined up in the short corral, all 400 of us between the half marathon and the 50k, and I got my Garmin ready. Now THIS was a race start I remember.

55564390_2226569950731048_6466732047686696960_nThe race was of course started off with a large gong, literally. The gong was hit several times as I pressed start on the Garmin (which wasn’t GPS ready, sigh), and we all headed out to the road to head up the first climb. I expected the participants to be more elite at this race, the race website mentioning that this race advises that this should not be your first at this distance, or your first trail race. I had asked on facebook to east coast trail runners who have done it how much road there was. Mixed answers all over. Jeep roads are roads, dirt roads are roads, gravel roads are roads…but none are asphalt. This race had them all and more. So kicking things off was the paved road that led to the left out to another paved road that led to a (assumed) jeep road that was well eroded away going straight up in vert. I ran a big portion of this and a little into the bigger climb that was getting a lot more steep as it went. The trail was wet, lots of mountain run off. I assumed the rest of the course would be this way.

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My sunrise pic.

I was getting more and more discouraged. Some dude was constantly yelling out, and another guy behind me was constantly screaming out “THIS IS A HARD 5K Y’ALL”, like it was funny. It was not. He said this like a dozen times or more. I looked up as the climb got harder, and saw the mountain was on fire (the sunrise, not literal fire). This is a pretty rare sight where the mountains look red instead of blue (Blue Ridge Mountains). It was stunning. I grabbed my phone and took some pictures. My mom also saw this and took pictures from a different place of course. This apparently happened the morning of my first 50k, which wasn’t too far from where we were, and when I was leaving with my friend Andrea to go back to Wisconsin last October. All in Bedford county.

55730991_427939057968780_7448547063152771072_nPretty soon the trail leveled out just a bit to open up to our first stream crossing. Water was flowing pretty good, but it didn’t seem too deep. A bunch of half marathoners (who stayed with the 50k’ers for the first 4 miles before diverting) were trying to go off trail to try and find a better place to cross. Some were in the way in the shallow part and I didn’t want to waste time waiting for them to tip toe around the creek. I don’t mind they were trying their best to make good of the situation cause they had the whole 9 hours to finish a half, but I didn’t have that luxury. I plowed through the crossing, the water splashing up to my hips soaking me from there down. My Altra drained super fast and the socks did their job. So early on in the race, I was glad I wore the minimal socks. However this is when things went downhill (while still going uphill!) very very fast.

The first gust of wind took my breath away. That wind hit my wet capris and stole all my body heat. I started to tear up. It hurt so bad. I kept thinking about the Cactus Classic marathon and how cold that was, but mentally I could not move past how bad my skin felt wet and cold, and each gust of wind that hit me chipped away my already low moral. I wanted nothing more than to be in a warm car, or in a fleece blanket. I had taken my allergy meds so the temperatures weren’t affecting me that badly (starting temps were at 39°F and were supposed to drop 1-2 more degrees before it started to rise throughout the day again; RD: “Good news everyone, it’s supposed to be sunny and 56°F today….[long pause] at 4pm today!”).

55608067_878889169111342_3933785079259594752_nI continued to climb and struck up a conversation with another girl. She had done the race back in 2016 or 2017, and didn’t finish by 3 minutes. 3 minutes… I asked if the climbing continued, and she said yeah. She said she was determined to finish and she pushed onward by running segments of the hill. I continued to power hike hardly being able to keep an 18:00 min/mi pace because my thighs were frozen stiff. I had to occasionally stop to place my hands on them to warm them. Sure would have been nice to have had trekking poles for this, had I known this climb was this steep and this long, would have been worthwhile even with the 5 miles of downhill awaiting on the other side at this point. My regret weighed on me. I wasn’t able to keep a decent pace at all. The trail had at some point turned into single track like a traditional hiking trail. I was hurting still. I couldn’t even perform at the level I expected of myself, and every time I tried to run a bit, I could feel that lingering soreness pulling on my muscles. I wanted to quit. There was no way out. I hated everything. Why were things so bad?

The hill crested up at the first aid station. I crunched down and tried to warm my legs. I had hit my first gel (GU S’mores, I usually don’t do GU, but this is a pretty good one) just before arrival. I felt good I kept my nutrition on pace this early, despite my actual pace cracking over 17:00 min/mi. I came up to the table, and grabbed two little cups of coke (well off-brand), and two orange slices and headed off with little downtime. The longer I stood, the colder I got. 5 miles of downhill have arrived. Misery was hanging off of me like a veil. I trotted downward from the aid station, and realized my legs were still really tights and sore from the run the past week. I was still discouraged. So much negativity. This path going down was purely gravel. Easy time to make up pace. Things were dry and more sheltered. My legs started to warm up as I approached an easy 11:00 min/mi pace trying to hold myself back a bunch because I knew I could easily blow up on this. The scenery started to change quickly. A few good miles dropped my pace down to the 14-15 min/mi average. I was feeling a bit better, but I knew the 10 mile climb would be long and slow regardless of terrain.

55881996_1518116398320342_3957881430633086976_nThe road dumped down to the next aid station, now 3 miles away from the last one. This was perhaps my favorite, manned by what appeared to be local college students, blasting music from their car, and a single table advertising that they had REAL coke, not the off-brand coke the other aid stations were trying to pass off. I found this hilarious and loved it and applauded them. They also had oranges, and I took some of that too. I asked where people were since I had not seen anyone for miles now (since the half marathons split off at the last aid station). I also realized that my watch distance was off by about 0.4 miles now (behind). So my pace wasn’t as dismal as it appeared. I took off back down the hill.

I needed to relieve myself at some point, but felt comfy finding a safe place to do so since I had not seen a single soul in almost an hour and there was no promise of any port-o’s along the course. It was at this point I realized my capris had completely dried from the water earlier! I was so excited, thank you so much Inknburn for making quick dry material. I also realized I wasn’t sweating much which also helped in warming me up. The run rose above the trees and I felt glorious. The wind would occasionally whip at me, but wasn’t nearly as bad. I still clung onto wearing all my layers but unzipped a part of my jacket. I passed by some cabins and hit another paved road.

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From the previous day

Along this part, I quickly noticed this was where me and my mom got lost the previous afternoon looking for the 9-10 mile aid station location (so she could meet me there). I knew I was close to the next aid station. I ran past the rushing creek for a few of those final downhill miles, and it was very peaceful. Very beautiful. I saw the aid station from afar and moral rose. I was finally getting out of that huge slump. I wasn’t by any means on cloud 9, but it was where I should be.

55505648_269442474009486_1445216440238997504_nI arrived at the 9-10 mile aid station around the 2 hour mark, right when I said I would be at the earliest. Confidence rose, as well as the course right past the aid station. This aid station was also quite small, but friendly. I grabbed some grapes and a few mandarin orange slices, which actually were really good as opposed to orange slices. I grabbed quite a bit of coke and met my mom. Yay someone finally made it to the crew point at the beginning of my race! Big smiles.

55514099_908498869541708_4909985601807187968_nI grabbed my poles and talked a bit and then headed uphill to the 10 mile climb; mile 9.5 to about mile 20. Still on a gravel one-lane road, I locked in my power hiking pace and settle in for the long haul, literally. I remembered what I felt like at Table Rock 50k, same kind of gravel, going click click click click on up. I was told I was 5 minutes behind the guy in front of me at the aid station.

The grade of the hill was probably varying between 10-15%, just what I had been training for, although after a long time I really thought I would burn out. I was exerting pretty good effort, at least zone 3 from what it felt like. I avoided looking down at my watch unless the mile beep was heard. I was hitting around 15 min/mi constantly. Somewhere in here, the gravel road turned into single track. Same kind of single track that I found around mile 2-3 that discouraged me so. Poles definitely made it better. I started to wonder where the stream crossings were. My feet were definitely not wet. I arrived back out of the woods as the grade of the hill increased a bit at the aid station with the real coke and along the gravel road again. I greeted them all again asking if I was last. They said there were a few behind me. I got some more real coke in me and saw my watch was about 0.6 miles behind now (this was mile 13.2ish). It was another 3-4 miles to the next aid station.

55690714_643338852753933_4025760648557232128_nIt was pretty lonely still. A half hour passed, just clicking along, when I came across a single soul…well multiple single souls. It was a small group of people making their way up around the bend. I told myself as soon as I catch them (obviously I had been catching them this whole time) I would hit up a gel. Good plan. I got to them. They would run occasionally, but mostly just walking. I noticed the guy had a gash in the middle of his forehead with dried blood. He seemed to be taking the lead of their group, as one of the women in the group didn’t feel great it seemed. He told her to walk backwards, and as I passed, I asked if everything was ok. He said she just had a tight butt. I said I wish I had that problem, trying to make a light-hearted joke. The group chuckled and I wished them luck and moved onward, and still upward.

Caught one more girl, she was by herself. We chatted a bit when I would catch her. She would run a bit and then walk slowly for a bit. This made me feel more confident in my power hiking training since I was keeping up. This was her first 50k. I told her she picked a doozie of one! She hadn’t done a marathon yet either (although she had done one in training, just not a race).

I made it back up to the aid station, which apparently I would hit 3 times total during the race, and got some more fake coke and this time they had watermelon. I grabbed a slice and oh man let me tell you. Watermelon is the hands down best aid station food even though it’s low in carbs and stuff, it just feels good man. I felt up my water pack and I was good for the next 5-6 miles (as they told me that’s how far it would be, more accurately “it’s 5 or 6 miles depending on which one you like better”, which I did not quite understand). The section would be a lollipop style out and back with a really long stick.

Still going uphill, the trail turned into jeep road, or double track, you choose which. If I were a jeep, and yes, I have a jeep, I would feel pretty uncomfortable taking my car up here haha. It was all fun and games until I encountered a gate. The gate was to keep cars out of the path, it was metal and extended across the whole trail and a little off to the left side. The right side was useless to maneuver around since it was up a bank, and the left side seemed like the path of least resistance as there was a little foot trodden path around it to the side. The metal pole jutted out into that little path and I ducked under it, but then BAM. I stood up too quickly, and really hit my head just above the forehead…a sound that resonated pretty loudly considering the people behind me yelled if I was ok.

I honestly wasn’t sure, I hadn’t hit my head like that in forever it seemed. It wasn’t bleeding, but it was pounding. I slowed to a walk to do self-assessment. I wasn’t dizzy, my vision was ok. Everything seemed to be ok, as the girl I had passed passed me again. I saw all the people coming back from their round trip to the top. If there was a place for bad things to happen, this was it. There were so many people. I resumed my power hike and caught up to the girl again, as the mountain here rose up along the ridgeline. The double track became grassy…great, prairies, my favorite. Insert rolling eyes here.

There are trails I don’t like, and they are grassy ones and horse trails (where the ground is pitted with hoof indents). There were no horse trails here though.

The grass wasn’t that bad, as a majority of it hadn’t started growing yet. It wasn’t dead, but it was close. It more so was interesting because it was on a mountain…why is there grass on a mountain?! The main reason I don’t like grass/prairie is because of the lumpiness. It’s annoying you can’t really be 100% sure of where you’re stepping and how it’s going to turn your ankles. Slows me down for sure. The mountain got a bit steeper after about 6-7 miles into the 10 mile climb. My head was doing a bit better, and I kept drinking. I still hadn’t gone through my 2L pack of tailwind mix though. I was salty all over.

55564256_382200872626176_662649553249370112_nAbout 2 miles from the turn around in the “pop” of the lolli, I ran into some more guys and passed them after a quick chat. I rejoined the girl doing her first ultra, and we hiked together the rest of the way and when we got to the top, there was a guy there camped out making sure everyone punched their bib. On this course, there were 3 locations where you had to punch your bib (all with different punch patterns) to assure you didn’t cut the course. This first one was very obvious, more on that later.

The end of the 10 mile climb was upon us. Mile 19 something. I kept thinking about the similar climb in Cloudsplitter at mile 79 (the 10-12 mile climb from there), and I just couldn’t recall anything other than the pain I was in trying to run the little bits of that uphill to try and make the cut-off; listening to my dying watch beep telling me I did anywhere from a 7 min/mi to a 34 min/mi…so mentally draining and that’s where my mental toughness so to speak came in to play. At least on this climb, it was sunny, albeit windy as heck, and it was daylight, no hurricanes, no cold fronts, and my watch was almost accurate to within 1-2 minutes per mile. I knew at this point, there was one more big climb, but I got to go downhill for the next 3 miles!

When I headed out with the girl, she lost me pretty quickly moving much faster than me downhill. My head pounded in protest, so I kept my run slower than I wanted. My quads also protested from being sore still. So this is where my training caught up to me, doing it so close to a race. I kept a pretty good 11-12 min/mi pace down the double track “roads” and right when I was about to get back to the metal gate, there were two racers I passed. I felt my heart drop as I knew they were at least 5 miles behind me, and I calculated as I often do obsessively in races (I swear this takes up half of my mental energy and 80% of what I think about when I run), that they would not make the cut off. I got to the metal gate and distinctively put my hands on the metal end and slowly wiggled my way around it. Safe.

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Snow. I found it.

As I headed to the aid station, with it in sight, I started to remove my water pack and get it ready to be refilled. I started the painful process of removing my jacket. It was finally getting warmer, as I’m sure it was around noon or later now. I tied it tightly around my waist. At the aid station, I refilled with tailwind (thanks for being the sponsor! I carried a bag of tailwind around the entire race for nothing haha), grabbed MORE watermelon, and more fake coke. I was ready for the climb, as the climb went literally straight up at the aid station on single track. Being able to see it from the get-go was pretty encouraging, for me anyway. It looked exactly like I expected.

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Technical trail is technical.

Oh, it’s cold without my jacket. I don’t think the wind “returned” but it sure made its presence known. I hiked my usual hike for this terrain and grade. It was steep, technical, and almost exactly like Sharp top. Go figure. Same county, same string of mountains. The only difference was that this climb leveled off some times. Sharp top does not level off. The climb was about 2 miles. I hit times I had seen before on these kinds of hikes, so I was fine seeing them (the 21-27 min/mi). I didn’t fight it and just kept my effort level even. It got more rocky. The top was great. There was a short out and back, probably a quarter of a mile, where the 2nd bib punch was. It was out on a rocky outcropping, overlooking the land. The punch was a little closer to the edge than I would have liked let’s say. Upon turning around, my dizziness from being at the point of no return (drop-offs surrounding me) jumped at me and I knew I had to move back fast or I’d be doomed (dooming myself). Heights don’t do me any good.

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This was the top of Terrapin Mountain.

Now it was off to what is known as fat man’s misery. I was intrigued by this and thought about what it might be. It was described as as place with two rocks that was hard to get between. One, I didn’t know if there was a way around? And Two, would everyone fit through it? I passed by some very large rocks the size of cars up here that may have been like it, as I had to climb down them.

55460023_2117992804958303_409036325740609536_nBut until I arrived at fat man’s misery I didn’t truly know. What I witnessed answered all my questions. I had caught up to the group in front of me as well, another group I had not caught before. There was a guy there pacing the group from the Blue Ridge Trail Runner’s group (that I had went to my first group run with the Thursday before the race and did a really fun scavenger hunt run with them through the city of Lynchburg…of which I knew like 2-3 of the clues of like 30—insert shame face emoji here). This guy had caught me at mile 13 (just getting on course I assume) and was heading up to the multi-stop aid station before the Terrapin Mountain climb to join his runner.

55897223_336715943861078_820092780758958080_nThere were two very very large rocks that there was no way around, that seemed to be joined by other very large rocks surrounding it. If you were to find your way around, you would have found your way off the side of the mountain. They formed what looked like a very small cave that was slanted like a parallelogram (got that spelling right first try, thanks spelling tests in geometry 10th grade!). I called out to the guy asking if he would take my picture at the end. He said sure! I tried to hurry my way through, and quickly realized the drop down into the pit was larger than my inseam. I slid down my best slide into the dark, small pit below in-between the two rocks. The passage between them was…interesting. It really made you feel fat because you could not stand upright, but your feet were balanced. Trying to walk forward while keeping your whole body at an angle otherwise is actually very difficult, so I would slide my torso forward, then my hips, then my torso, and so on until I was through. Whew!

He got my picture and I thanked him. He moved on quickly to catch his group. I got out and it wasn’t over. I reached another pile of large boulders. I had to climb them to get over them. OUCH. Oh no, I was cramping, and threatening to cramp in every muscle, literally. The rocks were much too high for me not to hoist myself up or throw my knee over and pull up. Joys of being an average girl.

I was starting to panic a bit seeing as I could not manage myself into a position where I would not cramp. I was perhaps gonna cry. I was stuck and I shouldn’t be. This was the first time I had not brought salt with me. Figures. I was stronger than this, I can get over these stupid rocks. I might hurt my capris but I was gonna get over this. This was not going to stop me from finishing…they’re just ROCKS. I thought about the Dawn Wall. Heck, I can climb one small boulder. I gripped the sides of the rock with both palms and gave one LARGE push and hoisted myself up so my butt would “grab” the side and I’d be able to slide off the other side. OUCH. Again. It felt like my entire chest cramped inward. Like the muscles from my shoulders to my sternum seized up. I’ve never felt anything like it. I knew I just had to relax. I made it. And I slid off the back side with a small jump.

I started to run a bit, as I felt so tight in the torso. I focused on breathing and relaxing my muscles. Mind over matter. This helped a lot and I started to drink a LOT more than I had been, seeing as tailwind was my only source of salt out here, although I was not thirsty…tricky game to play folks. Heading DOWN the mountain, it was a lot like Sharp top. I knew the terrain and hunkered down, tightening the abs and locking into position for the steep downward grades on the technical single track. My chest slowly relaxed over the next mile. My foot started cramping forcing me to a walk for a hot minute. Mind over matter…

56184244_338723480093743_6172360710115295232_nI passed through caves of rhododendrons, passed by massive hibernating grape vines. Truly was a scenic trail. It was what I expected here and also what I needed and wanted all along. I was slow as the trail started its countless switchbacks. Garmin slowed as it clocked this one mile at almost 30 minutes. I knew I had been moving the whole time, so I blamed the switchbacks. It was about six miles from the last aid station. I knew this was the long haul between them. The trail winded down and turned into pure forest single track. Every time I thought I was at the bottom, I wasn’t. A few stream crossings finally appeared, although more in the way of mountain runoff. I was able to tip toe around basically all of them. No biggie at all, and no loss in time. Dry feet are happy feet.

I had heard rumors of a rock garden from a past participant. So far on course, and now closing in at the marathon mark, I had seen nothing worthy of the rock gardens from Cloudsplitter. Then it appeared, out of thin air really…no, not really, they’ve been there a while. The rocks resembled something of what I found at Cloudsplitter, but VERY dry. Not too long a stretch either, but mostly downhill made it more complicated than it needed to be. Was this what Cloudsplitter would have been like dry?! I started to question everything in life.

The trail split at the bottom it seemed. Go straight to the aid station, awaiting me at the bottom of a very large rock gravel “road”, and the right, going back to the start/finish. A crew of dudes sat there directing “traffic”. I went forward looking forward to that fake coke. Hey I can’t tell anymore now anyway what’s fake and what’s real. Noted. The rocks along this path were annoying. I didn’t even mind the rock garden or the technical boulders at the top of Terrapin. Heavens no, not these rocks. They were like rocks that wanted to be sckree but couldn’t make it to the top, the fallen angels of rocks. Ah the classic Bedford county red clay/mud. Good thing it’s dry, no stains to anger mom today.

Continuing down into the aid station, I found good southern folk with all the fixin’s. Literally. This aid station was the buffet you wanted in a trail race. Potatoes, soup, sandwiches, pickles, candy, corn?, and a lot more. I spotted the watermelon and grapes right away and honed in. I ate a piece and then realized on the table there was a thing of salt. I thought to myself, hey that’s real nice at this point to have salt for those who need it. Then I thought again, looking at what was in my hands… WATERMELON. SALTED FREAKING WATERMELON WHAT A GENIUS IDEA!!!! 11/10 for this aid station, heavy clapping. I swooped that salt right up and spread it on a fresh piece of watermelon. I bit down, and HEAVENS OPENED UP TO ME. Nothing was more mouth quenching (it’s the quenchiest), the umami. I would do this race again for this moment in time. What was this? MORE? Sweet tea!! And not the absolute cheapest stuff either (sorry Devil’s Lake Dances with Dirt). 3 cups please.

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Reluctantly, I had to leave back up the fallen rocks hill. Getting back to the intersection of trails, I asked if I went right (my previous left), and they said no, up the hill to my left. Sad face. “But that’s uphill again”. They didn’t find it funny I guess. I thought I was hilarious.

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From earlier in the race, but additional picture!

UP the hill I went. And that’s the story for the next 6 miles. Rolling hills…but it mainly just felt like it was uphill. I ran a lot more here making up time somehow in fear I would miss the cut-off. More streams, but like, actual creeks. Easy to jump rock to rock if you have agility still. I could see if you were tired, jumping rocks and potentially slipping on one into the frozen waters of the Atlantic below would not be your cup of tea. I found out at this point, I was not tired at all. I had finally warmed up, and was actually sweating a bit, and was moving very well. I had expected the last part to 1) be on “roads”/roads and 2) for it to be net downhill. Where did these hills come from?!

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This picture captures everything about my hometown. Taken about a mile from the finish.

I’ll save you the details, but all of it was moderately technical single track that went up and occasionally down for a bit. This was more so a trail (after looking at my relive) that went along the side of the mountain instead of actually going up or down it, which is why it was so up and down. I was so tired of it all! I put forth a lot more effort here. I had also been told by a prior participant that when I got to the stream crossing you couldn’t avoid, you were almost home. Well this stream I came on was certain high from the recent rain and I was able to avoid about half of it. Pretty nice stream. Though there was no avoiding the silt that entered the shoes whenever I crossed a stream. Pfft. Eventually the trail spit me out onto the “road” we started on, I recognized a cabin we’d passed in the first 2 miles. It was wet, same as before, as I no longer cared about wet feet this close to the finish. 56328689_165974090971204_7655112063554945024_n

55639990_2370984943134603_5453005712974151680_nBack on the paved road, I could see the finish area. I was keeping a pretty mild 10:30-11:00 min/mi pace. It was sunny and warmer. About a quarter of a mile away I could see my mom and sister sitting on the side and I waved my poles. I came into the grass shoot with the giant yellow inflatables at 8 hours and 11 minutes, about 50 minutes before the cut-off time that made me so nervous before. In a 50k, 50 minutes is quite a bit. In a 100 miler, 50 minutes is not a lot in my opinion (cough Cloudsplitter, although none my fault for being so late to finish, well kind of my fault for falling). I was in super good shape and although my soreness was still there, it was not nearly as bad as it felt before. The course was 31.3 miles. My watch totaled 30.3, a whole mile off, no doubt due to the switchbacks and mountains…with their powers combined, makes GPS irrelevant.

All I wanted to do was put my feet up. I got changed in the port-o and we headed out for Pokemon Go Community day for a bit. The next day, I was not really sore at all, and was moving MUCH better than I had on race day or the two days leading up to race day. This race was really solid prep for the Blue Ridge Marathon Double. I did a mountain run on the road yesterday even and everything was easier and more manageable than it has been in past times. This was the first time I truly stuck to a race plan I created for myself. I told myself to power hike my best on the climbs and run the down and flats. I had specific paces to hit on each up and down, and hit them right on target. I just did not know how that would turn out time wise for beating the cut off. My nutrition plan played well for the most part, I could have had more in the middle climb, but everything went ok. I am truly tired of the cold however. There are still things to learn from this, no matter how many races I do. I hope I can pass down information to others.

I am currently signed up for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon April 13th (1am woooo!), The Epic “80” mile gravel bike, plan to be at the Wisconsin Marathon for my friends, the Dirty 30 12- miler (was supposed to be Rich’s first 50k, but that didn’t pan out due to work scheduling), and the Badger 100 miler in August. There are others, but they won’t be for racing. I have yet to decide what to do at Cloudsplitter. On the one hand, I want to do the course right, and not injured and have a good day. On the other hand, I have done it and have nothing to prove, there are far more 100s out there for me. Maybe I will figure it out.

Cactus Classic Marathon

The Cactus Classic Marathon, Manito, IL.

When will I learn that March is like the worst month it seems to race?

Last year it was my celebratory 31st year on this round planet, ’round this planet, ’round this planet…that roundness giving us seasons, by running a 50k, or 31 miles. I still have a 50k in store for this year too, the day before my birthday (I don’t know why, but there aren’t races on Sunday at least in the Spring, seemingly anywhere in the US). More to come 🙂

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Before leaving for the race.

“Spring” marathon. No, not really spring, it was before Daylight saving (that night actually), and actual Spring starts later this month. But we’ve been through quite the winter, and not only us, seemingly enough. Rain and snow both have been plaguing most of America this winter. And I learned it wasn’t over. March: In like Lion.

Since Rocky Raccoon, I haven’t been able to really go out and run. I was in a car accident that moved my rib cage and made it difficult to breathe. Going through insurance, it took a while to make a PT appointment and get something done about it. Finally, very late February, I was able to get in and start the recovery. Found out more that my spine had shifted as well. The week of the race, and still not registered, I went out for a test “run”, a majority of it was power hiking at incline. It went fairly well as long as I kept the pace easy. So I signed up, knowing my friend Andrea would be doing it. We’d talk about a plan on the way down to the race outside of Manito, IL, which is outside of Peoria, IL.

I felt incredibly bad about not being able to pace Antelope Canyon for my friend Sonja. But not being able to run, or know how I would fair past 3 miles, I did not want her to have to be accountable for me in case something happened to me. I was supposed to lead her and be strong, and I don’t know if I could with even 75% certainty.

Regardless, I was signed up for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon in April, and I needed miles badly. I have a secondary race lined up, Terrapin Mountain, which I have my doubts of whether I can finish below the cut-off time, but the elevation there is legit and will help a lot.

As usual, I checked and stalked the weather, knowing I can’t handle a certain level of cold. A few hours south, they forecasted for rain, 100%, from Monday on, and 47-50°F. Sounded good. I was optimistic since the forecast didn’t change for several days leading up, nor the day before the race. I packed the usuals, but very disorganizing so. This came back to bite me.

Andrea and I headed out from Madison Friday evening for the 8am race start on Saturday.

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That feeling when you discover there is no more snow covering the ground! We did it, we ran away from winter.

The closest non-murder hotel we could find was just outside of Peoria called Morton. It was very clean, and the front desk lady was very talkative and told us of the lore of the prohibition era there and the park we were visiting, along with how safe the town was. In the room, I started laying out all the things I needed for the race. I checked off all the boxes except:

– Hydration bladder

– half of my needed nutrition

Ooops… so I had no way to carry water! At least I had my collapsible cup. Aid stations were just about 3 miles apart from each other. With the cold and rain, I doubted I would need to hydrate up and I did a “marathon” in December with only a handheld for each 13 mile loop. The nutrition was more of a worry since I didn’t know what they would have and some of that nutrition was my tailwind which depended on me having something to carry water in. Onward to sleep land.

The four hours of sleep was ok, I managed off an on every hour, waking up about 10 minutes before the alarm.

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In Vanny with Andrea keeping warm before the race.

We had a quick breakfast and was out for the 45 minute drive (yes, further) to Sand Ridge State Park—but wait, there’s more! It was bright outside, bonus! The park was known for its sand which apparently was deposited there when the glaciers melted there long ago. Neat! Always up for a geology lecture. The Cactus Classic was also known for the course, not only very sandy, but also very filled with cacti. I had my doubts about the cacti to be honest. I grow cacti as a hobby (well, mainly succulents), and they do not like the cold. How are there cacti that can grow this far north?!

Upon arrival, it was a small area with two open pavilions. Two Port-o’s and two enclosed state park restrooms (open!) were all that was there. When I got out the car for packet pickup, it was cold. Slightly bitter, and a wind in the air to make things sound poetic here. Pickup was easy and back to the car we went. At this point, I regretted not bringing heavier tights. I opted for my more heavy duty wind/water proof jacket because I’m weak like that and didn’t care if I got too hot (since I never have and we’ve had this discussion on this blog before of “when have I ever regretted wearing too much” and the answer being never). I didn’t wanna wear it because I’ve been wearing it for a majority of runs and races for the past year and it had shrank a little in the wash over time (gonna write outdoor research about that since it was quite the pricey jacket). I wanted to wear something cute! But Cute wasn’t warm and I was not about to quit out of a race because I didn’t dress appropriately.

So I wore craft baselayer, Inknburn pullover (I felt cute inside at least), heavy jacket, Inknburn tights, brought my lightweight gloves I had to buy while pacing Bandera (the mitten part is what mattered), wore the really thin XO Skin socks (figuring when the rain started, there would be water everywhere and I have recently read that thin socks prevent foot damage better than thicker socks when wet), gaiters and brand new Altra Superiors. I have not ever owned any model of the Superiors, but after I think one short run with them in the snow, I was ok with the idea of trying a marathon in them especially with the threat of sand and muddy puddles all over tarnation. I trust Altra clearly. The Superiors are just low to the ground and I think I’d have a better feel for the trail with them in this case.

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The “after” picture, but the Altra Superiors.

The race started just behind the pavilions in the woods. The pre-race briefing was useful. The RD (I assume) talked about how the course was the previous day… mostly ice free, frozen, hard sand, but because of this, they were not able to mark the course as clearly as they wanted to. The general rule was “when in doubt, followed the ATV tracks”.

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Cool fungus at the start.

I think it was a simple “on your marks, set, and go” for the start. I had myself plugged into the iPod in the right ear super super low volume since I planned on pacing Andrea for at least 6 miles, and encased in a plastic baggie, encased in another plastic baggie that held my cellphone in preparation for the predicted rain. I was not going to be able to take pictures of the course (I have some regrets about this but my phone would have been wrecked had I managed to get it out and back in of it’s tight plastic baggie from all the water falling from the sky). So this time you’re going to have to use your imagination!! You can do it, I believe in you!

Usually with looped courses, I try and describe the first loop and leave it at that. But today, the first and second loop (13.5 mile loops) were completely different from each other. So let’s begin. Starting right off, the snow had really melted everywhere in the area (as we physically had driven out of the snow covered lands right after getting to Illinois). The exception were giant snow piles that were now humble little mole hills of snow, and the trail, where snowmobiles and runners or skiers had pounded down the snow into two slick lanes of ice.

Upon entering the trail, we were greeted with a small stretch of snow/ice. Mostly ice along the tracks of the snowmobiles, and mostly crunchy-ish snow otherwise that was pretty runnable I would say. You could avoid some of the snow if you truly wanted by sneaking around the sides of the trail. Someone had clearly taken care of the trail as the briers and weeds had been cut down to about 6” stubs, all the same height as each other for the entirety of the trail. The trail was very solid, and to my memory was never really muddy (I think in part because the ground was still frozen tundra). Some of the sand sections were mushy, and some of it was mushy-solid, but none of it was too loose, nothing like the beach on a dry day. I am not sure how much of the course was actually sand since it started raining about an hour after the race started. I was able to keep my feet dry pretty easily before the rain started too! Mainly avoiding some shallow ice puddles by running on the snow nearby, but nothing I had to really walk or strategize how to get around. The trail was really runnable and I was pleased. I encouraged Andrea to keep going and walking hills and such. We spotted the cacti! They grew along the edges of the trail, although they were pretty sad this time of the year and all wilty. But they were there!

A little over an hour in, the rain began. We both knew it was coming. I put up my hood and carried on trying to still keep the feet dry for as long as possible. I think I managed to keep my feet dry for almost 8 miles. The forest sheltered us for the most part from the wind gusts. Andrea made 8 miles feel like just one. I was in a fairly good mood and our pace was on target to have her in below the cut-off time for the first loop. I challenged her to pass the girl we had been behind for a while. On a part of the trail, the left side opened up from the forest to a giant field, and the trail here was really flat and really runnable, best section the whole race. We made really good time here. As the rain fell, harder and harder, puddles grew larger and larger. We started walking around them. Eventually, the puddles were so expansive we had to start going through them.

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1st loop = runnable. 2nd loop = solid ice.

We ran through the forest with pines, and we ran through a section that was pretty hilly for the flat course, that reminded me of our single track back home (most of the race was at least double track). At the top of this section, the single track made a small creek of water so staying to the side was difficult. Soon after, the puddles were longer and deeper, now instead of ankle deep, now they were calf deep and the water pierced our skin in shock and our feet numbed. After a few good strides, the shoes would drain and feeling would start to return to the toes. This assured me I wasn’t getting frostbite…at least not now. The temperatures for the day did not feel like they were rising. Starting temp was 34°F.

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Leaping across the icy sections in the trail that’s currently underwater. Yes, into water, but water without ice hopefully.

For the second time, I had to put on gloves during a race. The last time being at the OPSF 50|50, that 50k I mentioned from last March, see here for details. I clutched the gloves tight and water would pour out literally like a faucet. I touched my legs every now and then, and they were soaked through and I could drain water out from them just by touching them. I was glad I wasn’t wearing something heavier because they would have been heavier by the rain falling and I doubt I would be warmer in these conditions. I touched what was in my pocket…it was hard and cold. I realized it was the hot hands I had activated before the race started…it was frozen!! It was true my legs were suffering so much I could not push the pace, and I couldn’t take longer strides. I stuck with Andrea the rest of the first loop instead of leaving her. It was safer this way too in case one of us fell…because no one was going to come and get us and sitting there in the frozen puddles in the rain was not an option. I touched my coat, and realized all the waterproofing from it had disappeared…I guess it gave its last hurrah at Cloudsplitter. I didn’t have any other option but to keep going as is. Things were getting brutal and harder to handle, but we tried to stay positive. Andrea’s feet were doing well in her new shoes, but her feet were losing feeling and her legs were locking up hard. I told her we needed to press on harder to get our heart rates up and to help circulation of heat in our bodies to get through.

Was that thunder? We contemplated if they were going to call the race.

Eventually we got to find another girl to pass. The next challenge. The course then turned to kind of horse trails, MY LEAST favorite terrain on the planet. You could tell where the divots in the ground were and if you hit a mole hill wrong, your ankle would take the spill, or you’d be in a small bowl of water. The high ground kept you dry if you placed your arch of your foot on the top of the “hill” and would not collapse under you keeping you dry and moving forward. But your steps would be shorter and running is made difficult. If you can picture a horse trotting through the mud on a trail, you can imagine there are several hoof prints embedded in the ground. Before the end of the trail loop, there was a giant steep hill that was hard to run down without feeling like you are going to faceplant forward and die. You couldn’t tell by the reflections what was mud streaming down or if it was icy and you would slip down to your doom. Upon reaching the bottom I asked Andrea to turn around and see this monumental hill. This was no midwest hill, we have no idea where it came from.

By the end of the nightmarish first loop, Andrea bowed out respectfully after coming in at a record PR time despite the horrible conditions of the day…about to get worse, none of us the wiser. I said I was going out for another loop and I should be able to run it faster than the first at my own pace. I refilled my water at the start (thanks so much Andrea for letting me borrow one of your boob bottles, that sounds hilarious and horrible but I wanted to use the terminology I just came up with…these are basically just soft flasks that go in the front of your hydration vest/pack instead of a bladder in the back)…and I headed back out with a mission.

The rain had melted a little bit of the trail snow and created more puddles. So naturally I tried to go around the puddles, to seconds later find out the once runnable snow was now solid sheets of ice with no traction AT ALL. Oh ok ok. Another plan, ride the side of the trail. I ran up the hills we had walked before, and faster down the hills than we did before trying to get through this loop fast so Andrea didn’t have to wait too long for me. I checked the next two miles on my watch…I was…slower than I wanted. I was locked up from the cold, and couldn’t extend my stride. Not that I lacked energy at all, I was really fine and the first loops felt like 5-6 miles, not the whole 13.5. I knew I was behind on nutrition, I couldn’t help it. I had probably had 100 calories in the form of tailwind and one gel on me the first loop, and grabbed a few orange slices from each aid station that had food (I think there were three that were manned). Other than that, I had nothing to spare and saved my last gel for mile 21 when I wanted the boost.

I stopped keeping up with every other mile for some reason. So I read mile 15, 17, 19, 20…

I tried to associate miles from the first loop to the second loops to compare as I was keeping a keen eye on the splits for the first loop with Andrea. I knew mile 4 was rough for us. But when I got to mile 4 on the second loop, it was…slower! Why? The course got harder. Within minutes of being out on the second loop, the apocalyptic skies opened up their fury and poured its hardest rain. I was alone. I had not seen another runner since the half way point aid station. This was the case for 95% of this loop, unknowingly to me. I heard sounds from the wind that sounded animal like. I started to think what kind of wildlife was going to be able to eat me in Illinois. Was it wolves? At some point, I ran across spines in the trail that didn’t look like a plant. They were about 6” and looked like porcupine quills, pointy and black/gray on one point and white on the other. I was in a (now) runnable section of trail and didn’t stop. I needed to run hard and fast whenever I could cause with each quarter of a mile, the trail got worse and worse, and runnable sections decreased exponentially.

I tried my hardest to sneak around puddles that were now lakes in the trail, but I would get caught in brier bushes as they tore into my coat and legs. I learned all the individual colors of briers out there because I would still encounter them on the side of the trail where the rain had worn down the snow to pure ice and basically made the trail impassable otherwise.

During the middle of the big downpour (the rain never did stop once it start, it only got heavier), it because impossible to avoid the now rivers flowing through the trail. The trails were now flooding massively and the water was so deep that you could not see the bottom in the least. One wrong step on the VERY hidden ice beneath would have your ankle flying out from under you and you into the water. I slid under the water hundred of times trying to find some sort of traction. My muscles pulled in all sort of directions. But the worst part was the temperature of the water, being mostly melted ice and rain falling from the skies below 40 degrees. My usual plan was to sprint through these passages of water, being they were pretty short the first loop, and it wasn’t so bad and minimal water would seep in. The second time around however, I was in the water for minutes at a time for very long stretches of trail, having to go through the deepest sections of it because if you tried to run on the sides, it was all hidden ice under it and you would quickly go under. The first few seconds weren’t bad, but after that, the pain seared upward. The now knee deep ice/snow-flood waters pierced my skin like it was prying it open from the 2nd layer of skin out, radiating up into my frozen quads and my spine. My calves froze solid and I lose all sensation and feeling in my feet. I forced a spring through regardless and continued to sprint past the flood waters on the more solid trail (still in puddles but just not as deep typically), where I would have to keep my heart rate up until blood flow brought warmth to my feet. Each step was pure numbing pain like my skin was made out of ceramic, waiting to break. It wouldn’t give, and I couldn’t push off. I literally would just have to plant my foot on the ground and force movement through my hips to move forward.

Once I was able to feel again, things got better, but this happened every quarter of a mile at least, and got more frequent as the miles ticked by. Mile 20 never ended I’m convinced. I knew my watch was gonna beep with something ridiculous like a 21 minute mile after all these flooded trails during that particular stretch, but it was 16 instead. I never stopped, but I also slowed down finding the best and most shallow ice free route each time. I was needing calories…

I started getting angry, I could tell, I was yelling at the briers. I stubbed my toes and gashed my feet on the 6” stalks that were now under water, and I couldn’t see them. I was climbing around a particularly deep section and saw a small foot sized mound I could use to hop across one section of flooded trail. As I got a foot hold, the ground collapsed under me as a tree branch whacked against my face as I fell into the icy water hip deep now. I cried out in pain. I thought about the Titanic scene where Rose and whats-his-name was on the fireplace mantle piece of wood floating in a frozen Atlantic Ocean (well, I knew many people faced this fate as the Titanic story was real and these things did happen) and know I would have just died. And if I hadn’t died, I would be traumatized the rest of my life and probably moved to the amazon to make sure I never saw anything cold again. This helped keep me sane. At one point during mile 21-22, I thought about dropping because there was so much water, that I could not reheat my feet and I was not about to get frostbite over this. But at the same time, the sky stopped doing the thing.

I was a little confused, but I knew rain had to stop, and I had been out there a long time. In no way did it warm up, or the sun come out, but I was able to put down my hood, and it was ok. God sometimes sure does test your very limits eh?

I arrived at the 2nd to last aid station. A guy there wanted to talk to me (I think he was the RD?? he was at least at the start/finish when I was there after the first loop). I knew since I had not seen one soul this whole loop, I had to be the only one out here. He wanted to know if I had seen anyone and I chatted a little about the condition of the trail, cause after all that mess, I was pretty done trying to go for any time. I sat there and inhaled some oranges. He didn’t ask if I wanted to drop, and I appreciated that, as I was feeling much better after not being in frozen water recently (recently as in the last 5-10 minutes). I told him I was fine to finish the last 5-6 miles and off I went again.

Crossing the road here, I headed up to single track again. The streams were flowing down the hillside along the trail (path of least resistance, sigh). But since there was no ice lake on the trail, I just ran straight through the trail creek, and joked about how I had not been told there were stream crossings in this race, nor that half the race would require a kayak. The flood trail creeks were rather shallow and fairly stable foot underneath so I plowed through. I still ran uphill since uphills were far more runnable than a majority of the trail now. Silt was pretty firm in these sections also mushy much like the sand. I could tell some of the water was draining, either that or this part of the trail was pitched correctly enough that the water didn’t flood there or the trail drained well there or something. My arms were incredibly sore, especially my forearms. I think it was from clenching the gloves and trying to keep the water flowing out of them by squeezing them all the time…that and trying to keep my hands from feeling like death. The gloves ended up being so heavy! So when the rain stopped, I took them off and I was basically fine. The wind wasn’t too bad in the woods.

I passed by the final aid station with two perky people, a guy and a girl, looked like they were also runners and got what was going on asking if I wanted to try some yoga without touching the ground challenge they were apparently doing before I showed up. They told me sorry about the oreos, they kind of drowned. As I was eating my orange slices, I glanced down and saw them. They resembled nothing of oreos. They looked like those dinosaurs that you give kids to put in a glass of water for 2-3 days as they expand into a bigger dinosaur, like fuzzy on the outside and sort of resembled a dinosaur once engorged with liquid. Or just really deep fried oreos without batter. They were so poofy it was baffling. The girl told me as I was leaving that my friend was waiting for me at the finish. I told her to tell them I am coming as fast as I can (in a high spirit voice).

Then the horse trails came. I started yelling at them too. But then decided to redirect my voice into just singing Korean pop songs on my iPod instead…until…

There was a soul. A single male soul. I had caught someone? Someone was out here too? They were walking. They seemed ok so I moved on but I most certainly stopped my singing outloud. He didn’t seem too in the mood to talk. I wished him luck and that we were almost there. I got the feeling he didn’t believe me. And then finally, the large downhill thing…

On the first loop, Andrea had told me that she saw cars parked and that were we almost back. She was right, and we rejoiced! I constantly was on the lookout to my right for these cars. The cars never showed up. But before I knew it I was back at the finish. I put on my best stride and got through the finish line where just Andrea and the RD and a friend were still there. 53570311_415758482329804_7334058636794134528_n The timing mat was just barely under water this time, as the first time I passed through it, it was very covered in water. I asked if I was last. I was apparently the 2nd female to finish and 1st in my age group. The cars were all gone because people had dropped out and/or didn’t meet the cut-off. 53442035_534210843653341_1343876364767330304_n Everyone had left, but the few poor souls still out there, with no final race cut-off. I immediately made plans to change into my spare clothes. I was gratefully for the full stall of the camp site restrooms to change in. I grabbed a sandwich the race provided from Subway and Andrea and I headed off into the coming darkness.

As we left, we passed through the small town of Manito, where we really saw the flooding in town. We hit a patch of really bad standing water in the van unexpectedly. We also had to take turns going under this bridge were a lot of standing water stood. We passed by a bank, and it read the temperature as 41. I remarked to Andrea that it was getting colder. But Andrea said it never got above 35 that day. So much for the forecast of upper 40s.

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As we headed back on the interstate, the rain picked up again and standing water on the highway would pull the car if we stayed in the left lane for any amount of time. This storm was no joke.

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Local Flooding almost as deep as the fire hydrant in Manito.

As for the race, the aid stations, they were sort of minimal, but who can expect even a volunteer to be out in that mess? But more so minimal on food. Water was an option but no electrolytes on hand that I saw. They had pringles and oreos and bananas and oranges. Good enough for me anyway. It’s not a complaint on my end. Most of the food could not be kept out because of the weather or was utter destroyed by the weather which most volunteers apologized for (they didn’t need to). The lady at the first aid station was super sweet, and was staying in her car until a runner came, and stayed the whole race!! Every volunteer was there because they wanted to be there and each one was helpful and cheery despite the terrible day that was of no-one’s fault. Overall the race was well done. I have to say, even with the warning that the course was not marked to their expectations, it was very easy to navigate and I did not get lost or get close to taking the wrong way. It was marked well.

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Really weird barn near the race.

Out of 10 women, 7 started, and 3 finished. The DNF rate was at or above 50% for this race. I placed just based off of the fact I didn’t give in or give up and I go through ridiculous things and situations to finish what I start. There are so many scenario in the past few years where people would not blame me for quitting or dropping out, but I don’t. This should give you an idea of how much was going against me at Habanero for me to DNF.

Last bit of good news, I tried those Superiors. I didn’t get any blisters, and lost all my skin on my callouses (pain free!). When I say I don’t callous well, I mean it haha. My feet today are pretty banged up from all the stalks I encountered by accident and slipping and turning my ankles quite a few times, but the most sore part of me today are my arms. Time to get ripped I guess!

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Localized Flooding outside the race location.

I like to say I’m working on my PhD in mud and water on trails.

Let the count down to the Blue Ridge Double Marathon begin. Stay tuned for the Terrapin Mountain race report, coming soon.

Rocky Raccoon 100k 2019

Rocky Raccoon 100k, Huntsville State Park, Huntsville, Texas

I’ve come back Texas, taking you by the horns, or roots or something…There weren’t many rocks. The whole goal of this race was to really PR and go all out, but I met up with some stumbling blocks along the way. I had this race in my head since doing Habanero, and took a tour of the state park a bit while I was visiting Texas back then, and it seemed real friendly to me. I knew with Cloudsplitter 100, I wasn’t sure if I would recover from injury in time to put in the training. I recovered and started training for it back in December.

The first training race was supposed to be on New Years’ Eve, the Run Your Past off, my first official DNS. Why? Because the winter storm that hit at 2pm that day covering us in wet snow that was incredible treacherous to drive in (being an over 2 hour drive north). So I opted for a snow run with my friend Lori that evening, it was still quite magical, but not the miles I was expecting. I’m still sad I couldn’t make it but maybe that was for good reason…

The next week, I was able to head down to Texas for Bandera, another Tejas Trails race (the same who put on Rocky) to help out Team BU and pace Rebecca from Team BU in her first 100k. IMG_20190105_181845 She didn’t end up wanting pacing until the last 20 miles, not a big deal for me, I got plenty of time on feet helping out at aid stations and covering the race for our runners out there. It was a cool adventure being able to pace Rebecca that evening and gave me perspective on what others were experiencing. It was my first ever pacing experiencing and I loved it. However, after we finished, I headed back to the room and showered (wee hours of the am), and as soon as I turned off the water, I basically started feeling chilled to the bone. The room was cold (it was a cabin/camp style room), and I started shivering violently and never warmed up. I tried to sleep for a few hours but in the end, got nothing and my health declined quite steeply afterwards. Not being able to get the back to back runs or long weekends I needed for Rocky was discouraging for sure. But now here’s the icing on the cake.

Last possible week of training, I ended up figuring out I have a diagnosed adverse immune system response to the cold. Cue the polar vortex. Y’all know I am in Wisconsin, and y’all know it got down to almost -30°F and in the -50s for wind chills. Going outside was absolutely not an option considering even 30°F above zero was giving me symptoms like low body temperature (recorded at 94°F, kinda scary, after only being outside for an hour or so), always needing to sleep after being out in the cold and getting sleepy when outside in the cold, developing rashes on my skin that would remain for hours even after a hot shower, and deteriorating muscle coordination no matter how hard I pushed. My training was basically ruined haha. Yes, haha.

I wasn’t set up well at all. The redeemer was the forecasted temperatures, it looked like minimal temps of mid 50s and max close to 70. 51912036_783294005344569_2927129544911486976_n Maybe some rain, who knows. So I packed up and headed out with a plan. My main plan being so undertrained was to do a 4 minute run, one minute walk interval for at least the first 50k and see what would happen and going by feel after that. More on that to come for sure, as I never do intervals. We, Rich and I, arrive in Houston almost at midnight on Friday. We go and sleep some, and take off to packet pickup, all thanks to our good friend Garner. The Huntsville State park was just as I remembered, but a whole bunch cooler. Pretty sure it was near 100°F last time we were there, and it was reaching the upper 60s that day. The Lodge was easily found and getting there early was rewarded by getting in and out pretty fast. I picked up a nice premium race swag hoodie (worth it), and my bib and dropped off my drop bag which contained my back up headlamp, 2-3 gels, wet wipes, backup antichafe 2Toms, backup salt, and backup shoes, that was basically it. 50898530_2329910913895968_4241914193512497152_n Everything else, so soda, Sunny D, extra gels, headlamp, batteries, socks, main salt, tailwind mix, and all my main antichafing stuff, jackets, was with Garner and Rich in the truck. The plan was for them to take the stuff around to various aid stations as I needed it. The lady at packet pickup warned me about possibly heat exhaustion for the next day because it was going to be so warm, little does she know…

Afterwards, we headed to Houston where we would play some dance games and eat dinner with the local dance game community there and have some evening fun. Fun was had, and we headed back to sleep. I managed to get in bed around 11pm I think, and actually slept some.

We decided also to leave about 1 hour and 20 minutes before the race, seeing as it would take us 20 minutes to drive there, versus getting there way before the 100 mile start and just lounging around. How does this always come back to bite me when I value sleep so much?? Rich and I shared a bed at Garner’s grandparents house, just across the “way” (walking distance). I got up at 5:25am, with a race start at 7am. I was ready to go but couldn’t get in touch with Garner (staying at his house and he was supposed to come get us). I started to get nervous waiting for him, so we headed out to see what was up. He was sleeps. So we woke him and out we went in a fit of speed to try and get to the race start. We were mainly super concerned about getting stuck in traffic at the entrance to the park. I’ve basically had some bad race starts due to getting into a start park before. But I figured one of two things would happen…

1. there would be a ton of traffic and we’d be late.

2. there wouldn’t be any traffic because the 100 miler started an hour before and there weren’t as many in the 100k.

It was luckily option 2. We freaked though because we thought we couldn’t park close to the starting line, so we took the first spot we saw which was actually at the first aid station! (Come to find later anyway.) Since this was the first year for the 100k, no one was sure what the situation was going to be. So we walked briskly to the start/finish at the Lodge, called Dogwood aid station. It was about a mile or a little less, but by walking we realized we could have parked closer. Knowledge is power! But what a nice warm up right?! We talked to Garner’s dad at the start, who was volunteering all weekend (bless him), he loves that race, and it’s so heart warming seeing locals get excited about something they don’t even do and help out in it.

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Nice memes, nice laughs. Saw this car entering the park for packet pickup.

The sky was beginning to brighten which was putting me a little on edge because I knew it was supposed to be mainly cloudy with a 40% chance of rain that day, all day, and didn’t know if the clouds would make it too dark to see the trail without a headlamp. The 100 milers absolutely had to have a headlamp for the first hour. Sunrise was at 7:13am, but you can usually see quite well a little before sunrise, and the race started at 7am. Rich seemed a bit out of it, but he usually was cause early morning aren’t the best for either of us. I positioned myself in the back of the starting area since I planned to go out slow anyway.

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I met a sweet older lady there, as her crew tried to talk her out of wearing her hoodie cause she would overheat later. I told her I was from Wisconsin as I agreed with her crew, and that she’d be ok without it. Again, I don’t remember how we started, I’m sure there was a countdown. One of these days I will pay attention. I waded through the crowds away from Rich and Garner towards the starting arch and timing mats, barely getting my GPS watch set up with a signal in time to start! I really wasn’t too stressed about this, maybe it was because I knew I was so undertrained that it was going to be what it was. Not too sure. Away we went!

Or so I thought. Hah. No one was running.

I walked a good 0.25 mile before anyone ran and before I had a chance to move around anyone on the trail. I talked to a bunch of people around me and everyone seemed real chill and friendly. I ran about a mile before I began the run-walk intervals. The ground was surprisingly dry. Right up until it wasn’t. The trail was mostly rooty dry soil covered in a bed of thick pine needles, crossing mountain bike wooden slate bridges, but there were select places where the trail turned into a swamp. Ankle deep shoe-sucking black mud filled in with water where runners had been before. There were some “alternate” paths mapped around these areas, but not all was truly avoidable. People were throwing thick sticks down in the mud to walk across as make-shift bridges to the best of their ability. I would say these sections made up about 10-15% of the entire 25 mile course. So while I’m at it, let me break down the course.

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This notebook has just about met its timely end. Been through Zion, Habanero, and Cloudsplitter. Now this! These were my two paces to be between.

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My custom “map” of the course. This seriously helps me understand it and how to plan for the race.

The course all started at the Start/Finish area, called Dogwood, although I heard absolutely not one soul call it that. They would say the end of the loop, or the lodge area. There was an aid station here along with port-o-potties and drop bags and tents people were using as home base. Next, almost 4 miles down the trail, you would come to Nature Center. You could park right next to this one, as it was almost a little shelter area in the park. From there, you followed the trail to a T intersection and turn left here to head up to the Gate aid station. From Nature Center to Gate was about 3 miles. Once at Gate you did an about face and headed to what I like to call Hecknation aid station, although there is a dam there so you get the idea. This aid station was sort of dead middle of the loop and you hit it twice, as it had my drop bag. It was about 3 miles from Gate to there. Once there, you headed out to Far Side aid station, 4.3ish miles away, so 8.5 miles round trip. Far Side had water and gels, nothing else.

From Far Side you went back to Hecknation and then back to the T intersection taking a left to return back to Nature, another 3 miles. Nature Center to the start/finish, another almost 4 miles, and whamo, you got a 25 mile loop. Do this twice, and on your third time, for the 100k, you went 6 miles out and 6 miles back the same way you’d do a loop out to Gate, but not quite reaching Gate.

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Back to the race. While doing these 4-1 run-walk intervals, I managed to keep a 12:30-13:30 min/mi pace. I kept purpose in my walk breaks for the most part, and kept the running to an easy pace. I enjoyed the pine trails and even got a peek of sunlight at one point! I was just in awe about not having a coat on. My nutrition plan was simple: I had a bag of tailwind mix with BCAAs for every two aid stations, one gel before every aid station, and consuming soda every aid station and whatever fruit looked good with hope of the famed Tejas Trails Mashed potatoes and ramen soup thing. Well that went downhill quickly. I made it to Nature Center aid station with 7 minutes to spare ahead of schedule, and let my crew know a few minutes beforehand. I don’t see them there upon arrival. Hmm. I eat a few oranges, get my trail cup out and have some soda, and am off. While crossing the only road we crossed in the park, I saw Garner driving away with Rich. I yelled out to them, hands up in the air, having no idea what was going on. This seems like deja vu… this has happened before. I’m cursed. Never a crew for me at the first aid station. I carry on. But before I do….”that at least looked really cool.” I took a nose dive tripping on one of the wood plank bridges scarping and bruising my left knee (hey my left knee needs all the help it can get, boo), and skidded into the wood itself, avoiding falling off the bridge at least! Ouch. 2nd ever “trail” fall, wasn’t even on the trail, smh.

The section out to the T intersection was quite rooty and probably one of the more technical areas, with a few hills and winding single track. If there were a rock, it would be here. But there wasn’t. Just more roots.

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The big hill near the start/finish.

Upon reaching the trail to Gate, the texture of the trail changed. This was more like a wide gravel service road for cars, but no rocks. Insert crying laughing emoji face here. The dirt was pale brown, and the puddles here were numerous and spanned the entire length of the road. No real way around these because of the pitch of the sides of the road up into trees. I power hiked a little here to save myself, not knowing how long this longer uphill section would be. It was pretty long, as my times were slower here, I knew I could make some of it up when I turned around and went the other way. I went back down the hill one I found out my crew was not there again and headed off to Hecknation aid station. I figured it would be a party there and it would be easily accessible.

I messaged the boys in the group chat asking what was going on? I was actually needing to know at this point. I kept turning my phone airplane mode on to save battery through the race, so I received messages when I needed them. Rich apparently had been throwing up all morning and Garner took him back to his house. I carried on. The path to Hecknation aid station was a pretty quick one mentally anyway compared to the rest. There was a creek bed, a sugar sand golf course like ball trap section (it was not a golf course, just reminds me of it), and half of it was down a long steady hill coming down from Gate. Once arriving at Hecknation, I decided to do some prevention for my feet. I grabbed my drop bag and applied 2Toms. One person there was like, “isn’t it too early for you to be having foot issues?” No, I wasn’t having issues, but if I kept going like I was, I would. I prepped my feet before the race for a dry course, not a wet one, and the course got wetter, so it was time to adjust. I ignored the stab at my planning from the onlooker, grab the spare gels and headed out again. 17 min/mi here, not too bad considering I had taken my shoes and socks completely off with the trail gaiters attached too. Moving out of Hecknation, I ran off towards Far Side. This is where I met a ton of friendly faces from the Altra Red Team doing the 100 miler, both laps even! This is where I first encountered the two girls from Alabama.

The two girls were very nice, one was experienced, making light of her first 100 miler, the Vermont 100, and telling me the story of the girl behind her she was running “with”, helping her get a good time for the 100k. I ran a bit with her and chatted. But decided I needed to stick with my intervals and wished them luck. They had previously DNF’d a race in Oregon along the coast, which I think was their first attempt to get her a 100k, and this was the redemption. The leader of the two understood, and I let her pass. Little did I know we would yo-yo the entire race.

This section was the longest, at over 4 miles, but honestly didn’t seem that way with all the hills in this particular section and swirling through the trees.

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Photo from between Far Side and Hecknation.

I don’t remember this section being muddy at all, and was one of my favorite sections. I had a little panic moment around mile 14, when my watch beeped, and I clearly thought that meant that the loop was going to be OVER 26 miles, especially when I hadn’t reached the Far Side aid station yet. I arrived and stupidly asked for soda, when they only had water and tailwind…I even knew that. I spent little time here, and turn around and headed back to Hecknation. Just outside of the aid station, I realized that it wasn’t going to be over 25 miles because we didn’t go back to Gate. Whew! Crisis avoided. It was at this point my watch was almost a full mile behind and my pace was probably listed as slower than I was actually going.

I headed back without much happening, and it was pretty monotonous and uneventful. I managed to get back to the start/finish, mile 25, in 5 hours and 30 minutes by taking it easy. Time to turn around and do it again. I looked around for my crew, none to be found, and took the opportunity to take a potty break. I expected more out of this, and waited around a bit I admit, but nothing came of it. I gave up and went back out on course. This didn’t come back to bite me at least. It was mildly lonely being by myself at the turn around for the 2nd lap out. I headed back out on the trail towards Nature Center. The sun peeked out and I felt happy.

I was getting kind of tired of doing intervals so I decided to switch it up to heart rate. And this is where I started to slow down. Not sure messing with what’s not broken messed things up, or if I let fatigue catch up with me, but my pace slowed about 1-2 minutes per mile by using heart rate versus the intervals (which understandably pushed me harder). I stuck with the heart rate until I made it to Gate again. 52262034_2079618442126321_6959865843127681024_n Crawling up this hill again sucked life out of me for whatever reason and I started hitting a wall a little past the 50k mark. I took a few pictures heading up to Gate, which I SWEAR were not there before, centered around Queen’s Freddie Mercury. Some of the volunteers recognized me and I told them about my story with my crew and pacer. I tried the porta again, no luck. I was feeling sore all over my thighs and IT band area was tight tight tight. Luckily the aid station headed by the Dallas Dirt Runners (or DDR, heh) had a stick to massage with. I used it while one of their volunteers got me a butter knife looking object to really get in, and I respectfully declines and ran off haha.

I returned to Hecknation, around mile 34, and grabbed my headlamp. Some fans, as I called them, they just sat around watching and hanging out without helping, mentioned I wouldn’t need it. It was 3pm, sunset was at 5:59pm. I would rather carry the headlamp and have the weight and not need it than not have it on me and end up needing it. As I was heading out, I posted a little something for everyone on instagram, and one of the runners coming toward me yelled at me I needed to get off the phone girl, kind of rudely.

I started feeling the water logging of the skin on my feet at this point, as I was happening to splash my way as quick as I could through the mud puddles (this prevented water from soaking through too quickly). Some time heading back to Far Side, I heard a loud blood curdling scream. Our immediate thoughts (two other runners around me) were alligators. We never found out. And that’s perfectly ok. I was going through a massive low, although mentally I was pretty intact the whole time. I was waning on calories every aid station now and could feel my body burning itself down. I took what I could from the aid stations, but it just wasn’t enough. I had never heard of the gels they were offering so late in a long race, I wasn’t willing to take that chance and have huge GI upset and potentially take me down even though the only thing I’ve ever had issues with in a race is flat out ramen broth noodles. I was forcing my pace, and by mile 38 I was defeated adding another minute per mile to my pace. 2nd lap coming back from Far Side, I wondered where all these hills came from?! I don’t remember these…

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Thanks UltraRunningMemes.

When I returned to Hecknation aid station, I found out I was chafing pretty badly under my right arm, and saw the little nurse lady there had some 2Toms. I asked for a bit. She thought I needed more calories and wanted me to stay for longer. I did not. I just wanted the 2Toms and leave. She kept me there for an additional 5 minutes or so, which kind of irked me, well irked me a lot. I had a mission and I was slowing down significantly. This lead to one of my longest miles at mile 44 or so. I left as soon as I could. Everyone else had mentioned I looked great. I headed back to the start/finish to get off of lap 2.DCIM100GOPRO

I managed to make it all the way to Nature Center before needing my headlamp, I was pretty proud of that timing! I was still on pace for faster than my A goal, but honestly deep down I had passed that off as “not gonna happen” already based on my constant deterioration and my situation that I did not have access to more calories to help me out. I was beyond help. I managed to get back to the start/finish again, mile 50, finishing the second lap in 6 some hours, slower than my first. On my way back to the start/finish from Hecknation, I started counting the women I saw on course passing me in the opposite direction, curious as to how many were in front of me. I counted 7 by the time I returned to the start/finish for lap 2. I headed over to the aid station part and checked to see if there was a place for live results. There was. I clicked on the iPad and found out I was indeed in 8th place for females. The fire in my eyes sparked and I got my butt out of there heading out on my final 12 mile out and back “loop”.

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Fanciest Port-o-potty you will ever find. Scented candles! Although, I thought I would set the whole start/finish area on fire, my coordination was so poor!

On my way to Nature Center, it was very dark, and everything changed. Everyone’s headlamps seemed so much brighter than mine on the ground. I only had my secondary headlamp and it was what it was. Soon after, about 1.5 miles from the start, the back side of my knee where the two tendons run up and down there felt like they were bleeding internally. It was uncomfortable, but not injured, and was only for a few strides at a time. I had no idea what it was or what was causing it. I tried walking it off, and power hiking, but this proved to be no change to the sensation. I took shorter strides running, this seemed to work better. I decided to ask for pain meds at the aid station, since I had been offered them before. To my surprised, Garner was waiting for me at the Nature Center. He brought me my headlamp and Sprite. I chugged it and talked about the plan. Rich was still sleeping at his house, and Garner said he was going to go get him and bring him back to see me at Nature Center. Judging my pace (as slow as it was), it was not enough time to go get him and catch me back at the Nature Center. I took the rest of my gels (4 I think) and headed out. About 1 mile later, the pain in the back of my knee subsided randomly and I pushed hard to maintain 8th place. I kept running, no more intervals. The shortened strides had the roots biting at my feet. It was very difficult to maneuver now. My quads were VERY unhappy and sore, making going up difficult….

Cue the hill going up to Gate. Even though I did not have to go all the way to Gate, we did have to go most of the way. I was constantly looking for the two other girls who were around my pace to make sure I didn’t get passed at an aid station. I didn’t find them before the turn around. At the turn around, I saw them, they were about 1-2 minutes behind me at most. I cranked up the pace. I hurt. My feet were macerated and didn’t want to have anything to do with touching the ground.

I knew if I were to get top 10, I would have to press forward as fast as I could for the last 6 miles. My pace was a miserable 16-17 minute mile even while running the whole time. At some point, I got passed by another girl I had not seen. She seemed good to go. I respectfully let that not get to me. If you manage to pass me now, you deserve your place. This was in part by the small crisis I created.

What did I do? Jealous again, and this has happened at every night run I’ve had to endure, my headlamp was dimming, and just not as bright as others out on the trail. I was carrying the backup headlamp, cheaper and technically lower lumen (brightness) than my primary headlamp, in my hand. I managed to press too hard and set it into red light mode, which was not bright, nor helpful. I spent the better part of a mile messing with it trying to get it back to white light so I could see. Eventually, no idea how, I got it back by a series of complicated and forgettable motions of button mashing and holding for 3-5 seconds. Sounds like learning how to swing dance, but harder.

I arrived back at Nature Center, beaten up quite a bit. I had rolled my right ankle pretty badly at some point…maybe mile 45? But this is now mile 57 or so. I was feeling everything as I moved faster than my body wanted. I did not see Garner or Rich at Nature Center. I chugged a soda, and took off within the minute, fearing I would lose my place to the other two girls. I passed many people, in both directions, and would muster my best “good work” or “good job” to everyone, like I had been all race. But once night fell, they became whispers from others if you got a response back at all. Night silences, and night slows. Almost every single runner was walking.

I went off in the dark running my best little shuffle run. I got lots of praise from the 100 miler runners heading out on their 3rd lap just for running. I felt like every 100 miler runner looked better than me, enjoying their evening stroll in the woods. They had 3 more laps of this stuff, and I pitied them for it. I felt like if I were doing the 100 miler, I would be in real bad shape right now for that. I kept looking back at the headlamps to see if anyone was close to me. Several caught me when I saw them, but they were fast 100 miler races. One guy passed me running then slowed to a power hike and was beating my run with his power hike (to be fair, he was also almost a good foot taller than me). The frogs and nightlife were singing from the nearby lake. The humidity was surrounding my skin like a light silk sheet. It was comforting that I was not cold this entire time.

About 1.5 mile from the finish, I started watching my watch. Even if my miles were off, my total time was not. I saw I had about 20 some minutes left before the 16 hour total time mark. I started asking every passing runner how long they thought it was to the start/finish (those that were coming from there with their new pacer, who were almost always more coherent). I kept getting “1 mile”. Just one mile. It started to sprinkle through the trees. I knew there was a chance of rain, and I felt totally blessed it had not started. I had so many goals now…

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Trying to run as much as possible near the end!

– Beat the rain

– Beat those two girls for a top 10 female finished

– And beat 16 hours. I could do this…I just had to keep running…

I encountered the last hill, probably the longest and largest on course. I had previously been walking up it with the exception of coming out on the first lap, but I knew if I were to keep my distance between me and the others, I had to keep running. I had studied what the other girls’ choices were and managed to find out their skills by watching them previously on course, and they would run uphill. This was no time for a break. I charged the hill, which was probably like 0.4 mile in length. I knew at the top I’d get to come down and it was then only 0.5 mile to the finish line itself.

I was breathing hard. I was pushing so hard now. I managed to drop my pace back down in the 14-15 minute mile range, I was gunning for that #15 in my race result. Sub 16 hours. I had so little time and no time for error. Then I was crushed.

Out from under my right foot, my skin exploded from where it had been macerated with hot burning liquid and opened wounds let the salt roll in. This happened at Habanero but on a lesser scale here. I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do. I held in my scream and put my head down and pressed onward, I could see the finish chute now. It hurt so bad. I held nothing back and could see the clock. Still sub 16. I passed by all the tents setup as people cheered me on. Garner came out of nowhere, and ran along side me pumping me up for the finish. I mustered up my best stance and crossed that finish line as the rain started to pick up more. I cried. I was tired and hurting. I was done, I came and accomplished what I had set out to do and more despite everything that was going against me.

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Rich was waiting, and I felt so bad he was feeling bad. I had so little control over my emotions. I was so focused on the goal. A lady volunteer at the finish asked if I was done done. I told her yes through my sobs. She apparently took my timing chip (I do not remember this), and said politely, hold on a second, you’ve got an award coming! Little did I know, I had also held first place in my age group. I had finished 9th overall female. I was so happy, and the pain included made me ultra confused, pun intended. I finished in 15 hours and 56 minutes, 3 hours and 14 minutes faster than my PR.

Overall the trail was super well marked and easy to navigate. I can’t believe some guy ran past Gate up towards a highway at mile 6.5! Even at night, it was pretty good. A bunch of people complained it was cold, and one DNF was from being too cold. I never got cold during the race at all, but I also never stopped for any length of time. I was disappointed I finished too early to miss out on the evening aid station food, I know Tejas Trails puts out good stuff.

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Buckle. Shoutout to Rebecca from Team BU.

It was a very interesting experience to have almost everything you planned for your race to basically get up-heaved and tossed around. I never turn down a challenge, especially when it’s no ones fault. It was my first long ultra without a pacer, my first one without a crew. It was basically done solo with the exception of being given Sprite at mile 54 and using some of what the aid stations had. I learned a lot about training too and what should go into it. I do have a lot of confidence in getting things done no matter what the situation, and I take pride in that.

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Before the shower post race.

Out of 350 some starters for the 100 mile run, 150 DNF’d. Out of 100 some 100k runners, 25 some DNF’d. Both of those ratios were high. I thought the trail was kind to me at least. The mud made things really tricky, and if I had stopped to fix my feet (which I could have avoided all foot issues given I fixed them), I would have surely lost my position in the race. I was pretty hype too to learn I made top 30 finishers counting the elite runners and men and women both. A lot of people seemed to have found the course hard. I would love to know more how people felt after the fact and hope I can find other race reports for the same day. Big shoutouts to Altra peeps at the race for being so friendly and encouraging and smiling even though we had never met; wearing the Altra apparel helped (I had my red team buff on my head the whole time). I wore my Inknburn tiger tech and Altra Lone Peaks the entire race. No blisters from shoe choice! I also wore my Orange Mud Hydration pack, I’ve been using for so long now. I was a little disappointed in my headlamp and have always been, as it hasn’t really worked appropriately since I bought it brand new. I’ll probably call the company up and see what’s up. Also shoutouts to Garner and his family for being so welcoming. You helped out so much.

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Get yourself some solid friends who will enjoy food with you. Post race celebration meal at BJs.

And some of the interesting information I heard post race…

I heard someone dropped out because they were too cold, and this is a first for me, that someone was colder than I was in a race situation. A couple of fall DNFs from what I heard, and that the course this year was particularly challenging and difficult due to the mud that wouldn’t let your feet dry out before hitting mud again, and the humidity (about 97% I’d like to say most of the race). Apparently the most difficult section according to others was to Far Side. I disagree, but I understand this section was much rooty-er, and had more hills. I thought the course was fantastic for a PR and was kept in really good shape despite all the rain Texas has been having recently.

My next adventure is pacing again, this time for my good friend and fellow pacer, Sonja out in Antelope Canyon. Hoping for warm weather that will satisfy us both. After that, I am heading back to Virginia to train for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon hoping to hit up some friendly local races while I’m there too for fun and good training. See y’all on the flip side.