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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onto the race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit: another runner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks for the pic, Steve!

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

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

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

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

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AS looking back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Redressed in warmer stuff. Great event RDs!

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

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

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

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

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

I skipped 3 total Christmas songs!

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Revenge on Frozen Gnome with the Solo IAT 50k

The Frozen Gnome 50k DNF and the Solo 50k on the Ice Age Trail Revenge

January 11, 2020 – Crystal Lake, Illinois

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You wouldn’t think Illinois was hilly, but somehow, someway, they found some in a seemingly small park or two with many trails and loops. That’s part of the magic with Ornery Mule Racing events. Every trail gem will be found and showcased. The caveat of this race was that it takes place in the middle of January in the upper Midwest winter. There is a 10k and 50k option on a 10k looped course with one main aid stations at the start of each loop…and boy was it an aid station. The course cut off was 8.5 hours on a very hilly course for the 50k.

I ended up signing up for it as a training race and a way to better force myself to figure out winter running especially with my cold urticaria (allergy to the cold). Everything regarding this has been so complicated. But it seemed race day temps weren’t going to be too bad. 32 degree start, with winds almost matching the temps.

The biggest unknown with the forecast was if it was going to rain. Rain around freezing temps is more complicated than snow, as rain will soak through as it takes a long while before snow will do the same. Luckily it held off, but it did pour on course beforehand so the trails would be muddy for sure. Rich and I stayed the night with a friend only a few miles from the event. Got up, headed out, and got a nice parking space, which there seemed to be plenty of. I hung out with friendo Megan who was out for the 10k, as were most of my friends at the race, and we had donuts. I spent time in the car getting all my gear on, which included my baselayer, a sweatshirt, and my light waterproof Altra Wasatch jacket. I borrow a pair of baselayer leggings from Megan, and topped them off with another wind layer tight and wool skirt. I was all jacked up in layers. Oh did I mention the buff for my neck too and winter beanie? I was a hot mess of random collected stuff, and nothing matched. Very unlike me, but I wasn’t about to DNF due to clothing choices just because I wanted to be cute.

Race started shortly after dawn (after 7am). I met a few trail sisters and friends near the start, making it really feel like a reunion. Though I was not as prepared to run 31 miles that day, I toed the starting line…training run, right. I had a plan based on effort, and stuck with it. The first loop, I stayed with Megan for a while, but her 10k effort was faster than where I needed to be to sustain for 5 loops.

The course started in a park, and quickly swung out into the trails of the park, passing by a lake/pond thing and we hit some icy bridges. I had enough footing to trot across, but without spikes, it was slower going. The course rose up some stairs and continued on some open prairie trails. I was still in more a conga line, and mostly behind a lot of slower people until the end of loop 1. After the prairie, we entered the woods and the trail rolled along…something I need to work at being better at physically. There was some mud along this path, got worse after each pass. Very slick footing that people lost the battle with on the downhills.

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About half way through the loop, I came upon this really muddy section that was very akin to what I had to go through at Rocky Raccoon several times for several several miles.

I knew tip toeing around it would do no good, and time would be lost by doing so, like I was seeing everyone doing. It’s best to not make trails wider than they are anyway by “going around”. So with power and speed, I pressed straight through. Good tip, the faster you go, the less time it takes for the mud water to enter your shoes and the less that gets in them overall. There were 5 loops, so this would happen again regardless.

The course rose more up for a smaller loop around some neat trees and a bit more mud. The course was tacky but with the falling snow (now), the ground was beginning to freeze…but not enough to make a difference. Having the ground freeze would have been more useful in my honest opinion.

The last parts of the course had some really steep inclines, and I got to power hike them with my skill, which was nice to have that speed there on others. Coming down was easy, but I came to one spot that was pretty icy.

82386835_2598617710192308_4369358324295008256_o I did not take note at that time where it was. There were spots between the tree to see how far up you were though. Butt Slide Hill, one usual feature of this winter race, was something to look forward to. I was indeed curious as to how slidey this hill was for me. There was the rope there, but no snow to slide on. In fact, the mud wasn’t even an issue there either! I ran straight down and it was a wheeeeee moment.

The rest of the course wound through the woods up and down and around. Some neat tree fungi clung to their bark. I fought the urge to take pictures. Coming into the finish area, it was nasty. Puddles abound, and the finish line was deep with water. The cold seeped in and I stepped to the side and to the aid station to refill. I was only carrying 1L of water, and I went through it all. Topped it off and had a bunch of soda and took off again. The second loop started out much better being able to pace myself without the crowds from the first time around.

82054260_2598622106858535_7542456557439549440_oI scooted around. Snow was lightly covering the trails so you could see the most recent footsteps. Things were going swimmingly and paces were great overall for my time goals. I was staying warm, although had some mental complaints about the head my head was giving off, and opted to fully unzip my jacket. Around mile 10.6, I saw a volunteer taping off part of the trail I guess maybe people had gotten lost on or wasn’t marked well enough. Not watching my footing taking a sharp left turn on the trail, my left foot slipped on the icy mud forward and my right leg went backwards causing me to split and since it was downhill, I sat on that backwards leg. OUCH.

The volunteer came over to me to help me get up but I literally had to sit there for a bit and really rearrange myself; take my leg out from under me, as my groin and hip really pulled the tendons and muscles to my right knee which hurt the worse immediately. Left leg seemed unaffected other than the achy knee pain I’d been suffering since Freight Train in mid-December (I had to remind myself it had not even been a month since finishing that). With great amounts of help from said volunteer, it took 3 minutes to get on my feet (my garmin had stopped from the fall, hands took some damaged but it was superficial). I hurt, and it wasn’t good. I was not even sure I could make it back to the finish…about a 2 mile journey. I still wanted to try and walk it off, so I meandered down the hill, limping pretty badly. In the back of my head I knew it was over. This race wasn’t worth further damage.

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I eventually made it back to the start, and sent Rich off for my trekking poles (I had brought in case the mud was really bad). I decided on one more loop, that maybe somehow I could still finish this, maybe the pain would just dissipate enough that I could pull it off. My 11-12 min/mi became 17-20 min/mi. I couldn’t even power hike. I forced my weight onto my right pole for support. The whole loop, I said goodbye to all the features I had gotten to know along the way, and took pictures on this loop. I knew that fall had been a nail in the coffin for my 2nd ever DNF. Even if I had forced my body to continue another 2 loops after I hit the finish line again, I would not make the cut off. There was no longer any point to be on course. The ground was getting better with every passing mile though, and wish I could have stayed longer. I made it 3 loops total of the 5, making it 18.6 miles, 8 miles on the busted side, which happened to really be an upset hip. It’s hard to tell when you are on course if the injury you got will get worse progressively or if you can push through it. I felt the entire time I had really overstretched or overextended the muscles there. I might have pulled something, I have no idea. But I have goals this year in 2020 and this wasn’t worth sacrificing those goals, not now.

At the end, I wanted to cry, I knew it was over long before I crossed that line for the final time. A volunteer greeted me with a medal from a previous years’ 10k. I refused it the best I could. I did not do what I had come to do and did not deserve anything. He still gave it to me, and a promptly took it off and gave it to Rich. This is when I truly grasped how amazing the aid station and start/finish line really was.

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There was a heated tent on the side, had hot coco and other drinks, many benches to sit on and heated fans blowing hot air around. It was purely amazing. I saw everything at the aid station. They had all the basis covered for food and drink there. Nothing less from Ornery Mule. I shouldn’t have sat for so long, it was a long few miles to drive back and getting to the car even after I was done for the day. I was freezing soon after.

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I decided to take a designated break from every physical activity after that for at least 3 days. Knee pain almost disappeared entirely, and now seems like a thing of the weird past. I got up some nice snow miles in the fresh snow, but then Wisconsin decided to stop snowing yet stay near freezing temps. I spent two weeks planning out how I was going to make up this 50k. I decided on a route based on the Ice Age Trail so I would have less chance of getting lost, and made it one-way to motivate me and to see more of the trail in one go.

I decided on starting this winter ultra trip half way through the Whitewater Lake Segment, heading north through the Blackhawk Segment, then crossing into the Blue Spring Lake Segment, to the Stony Ridge Segment, to the Eagle Segment, and on to the Scuppernong Segment for a final hurrah. It sounds very simple, follow the yellow blazes. But I’ve never been there on those trails before. I have no idea what the trails looked like, winterized or not. I had a high chance of getting lost or something going wrong. Megan wanted to help out, so we devised a plan where she would car hop to specific meeting locations along the trail where it would cross a road. She sometimes would get out and head backwards towards me on the trail to meet me, and we’d both run back to the van, then she would go to the next meeting location and so on.

Planning on a Friday two weeks out from Gnome, things collapsed before they started. Andrea was going to let me stay the night at her place and we would take my car to the finish to drop it off, and then her take me down to the start, but she had to get in a 20 miler, and I didn’t want to interfere with that plan. Megan had curling, and I didn’t want her to be pressed for time either. So I delayed it for a week. The snow that fell that week stayed put through the whole next week, as we went through minor melting and re-freezing day/night cycles, temperatures on fluctuating between 25 and 34, with very overcast skies for days on end. I was kind of worried about the unknown trail conditions, and how traveled on or not they were since the snows.

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So January 30th, I headed out to Delafield where I would shop for 1.5 hours to cure off some of my “race” anxiety. What fun it was. Then out to Andrea’s. I had a rough nights sleep there, remembering not sleeping and looking at the clock thinking it was 11pm and it was 1am. That’s about how my nights go when I’m anxious. I naturally woke again and again, and finally woke “woke” up around 5:30am, we were to leave the house at 6am to make it to the start at 7am and start. I rose to my phone not being completely charged (yup, that’s what I forgot this time, a phone charger), and a notification from my weather app saying there was freezing fog and slick spots. I didn’t really pay mind to it until I was following Andrea to Scupp in my car and saw her run a stop sign for no reason until I tried to stop and I also ran said stop sign. Speed was quickly adjusted for.

We both made it, parked my car after filling out a state annual park pass (oops), and headed for the start on Esterly Road on the Whitewater segment. Megan messaged me telling me about the ice. Yeah, we knew. We all arrived safe at the meeting lot, snow covered and icy. We were late due to the extra caution, but what’s 15 minutes?

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It was about 28 degrees and overcast, just like it had been for over a week already. Nothing changed. No real wind to worry about. We took some pictures, and I pushed off into the woods.

Andrea yells at me from behind “follow the yellow!”

I was alone. The trail was pretty nice! As soon as my friends were out of sight and I took a left onto the Ice Age Trail (IAT), the trail became not nice hahaha. It was immediately a narrow, one foot in front of the other path, covered in ice from where they path had been beaten down. Some sections would crop up that were less icy, and had some more snow cover, but for the most part, it was hard to get traction or footing to push off. So I shuffled along quickly realizing within minutes that my legs were pretty swollen from sitting all day the previous day (should have had the shake out bike or something low key). Once the swelling feeling subsided, I was bombarded with the “let’s fall asleep” foot, except this time it happened to be BOTH feet taking turns! I stopped periodically when I started to get the pins and needles feeling to remove my foot slightly from the shoe and take whatever pressure from it off. This cycle continued for 2.5 miles.

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Megan had run her van ahead and met me coming back about 1.75 miles from her parking spot on the trail. She told me about the hills and such, but the main thing on my mind was the trail conditions. I hardly had time to think of the gain or hills or whatever. My sole focus was being upright the whole time and not taking any risks that would put me in danger. My shuffling had put me at a 16 min/mi almost right off the bat. This depressed me, and I didn’t know it was going to get worse.

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The very narrow path.

We got back to the van, and dropped my jacket off and headed back out quickly. The next section was much of the same narrow icy trail, and I started thinking to myself:

Well I didn’t shave my legs for this, so that’s good.

This is really the Ice trail, not the Ice Age Trail.

My ankles will be made of steel for the rest of the year!

How did Annie NOT get lost?!

I wonder if I’ll PR all these Kettle sections on Strava?

What are all these black dots? Soot, I’m sure. (They were actually bugs.)

Overall the blackhawk segment was pretty well traveled. And I had no right to complain about the ice. I would have borrowed spikes, but there just weren’t long enough sections in my mind to justify using something new to me so early on. Looking back, they would have increased my pace by a fair bit. Because it was well traveled, I did not have to worry about breaking trail. Although it was difficult footing, I could manage without falling. The snow sections were more difficult since the divots in the snow were deep and partially frozen over from the constant melting/refreezing cycle.

I would spend my time guessing if the foot size was male or female, or what shoes they wore. At some point I swear I ran into cowboy boot, or pointy high heel, shoes prints.

Pretty soon I made it to Young road (or thereabouts), I met up with Megan and grabbed an oatmeal cream pie, consuming Sprite every chance we met (including the first time which was all I took in). I had plenty of what Megan calls “onboard” nutrition in the form of liquid gels (great for winter!).

Speaking of packs, I decided to weigh my pack. It was just under 8lbs without the nutrition, so I’m sure it ended up being around 8lbs for the run. I did this on purpose because I knew I would have to carry more for the Georgia Death Race in March, including the 1.5lb railroad spike. But I had nutrition, extra water, a mylar blanket for safety, my phone, ipod, and spike in my pack. I admit, it’s heavy.

I headed out and up from there. I believe the next stop would be horse camp. I went through a forest of pines, a LOT of the same age pines. Some had red paint slash marks on them. I was confused about why they had them on them. 83823431_2639825506071528_6043692401984274432_oThe terrain got worse, as everything in the forested pine section had melted slight and frozen completely over creating mini foot hills that you couldn’t get a good hold on and my feet were sliding out from me every which way. Though no snow, so no depth to the course, it was hard to run on. I found a broken pine branch and put it in my hair (about the half marathon mark now), I remarked how slow I was). I ended up carrying it along for a lot more miles. Some of the end of the trail was snowshoed. Although this didn’t make it easier by much, the trail was a bit wider in places, but inconsistently so.

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Coming out at horse camp, I knew I needed something more on my back where my pack was. I asked Megan to Vaseline my back up. She was on it. I had some hot coco here she had brought and more Sprite. Most sections between where I would meet Megan would now be less than 4 miles.

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Not so runnable, but fluffier snow. I’ll take it.

I was pretty stoked about this. The next section was snowier, and was a little more manageable, but some deeper snow had my ankles getting really unhappy, and my wet feet were taking a beating with the shifting snow underfoot. I had to slow down if I was going to keep going for twice the number of miles I was at. I reluctantly took it slower and power hiked a bit more to save my feet and ankles, following frozen footsteps that had long come before me in the snow. I tell you, following other people’s gait and stride length is not something I recommend ever.

 

 

 

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Cool fungus tree.

Megan ran back to meet me again (trying to get her monthly mileage goal on the last day of the month!), and we took a quick detour to her car at Emma Carlin. It was right around here somewhere I got to one confusing intersection. I opened up my phone and looked to see which direction to continue on. I was about to choose wrong. Straight or right? Both were well traveled (as the previous segment had not been as well traveled). Right was the correct choice.

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Continuing on, the trail dumped out into my first real long prairie section. The footing was especially hard and deep here, that my running dropped to a fast shuffle, picking my potholes to try and dig into, when all of a sudden the trail opened up! For whatever reason, the trail became completely runnable along with some shallow bulldozer tracks. The wind also picked up in this section. But I was running! This was the first time I could actually sustain a pace and only turn my ankles every so often instead of every other step. I had two good miles when my watch beeped….what?!

 

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Last picture before my phone died.

I saw it display a facebook notification. I most certainly did not turn bluetooth on, because that would drain my batteries, both phone and watch. My screen would not display, turn on, or do anything. I also noticed my flashlight on! What in the world? I tried every button. I eventually managed (in like 3 minutes) to hard reset the phone on my way up some random hill after this nice runnable prairie. 5% battery?! I couldn’t do anything. My battery went from 40-some % to 5% in seconds. I guessed it was the cold and the wind took whatever heat I was giving it away. I hurried towards whatever road Megan was going to be waiting at. I knew people would freak out if my strava beacon stopped tracking. After some GREAT running miles around mile 17-20 (great as in compared to anything else on trail that day), I reached Megan and gave her the scoop. She would try to charge my phone and get word out to people I did not die.

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The snowmen on the trails kept me company.

I at some point had taken my first gel, being able to fill up on tons of soda and hot coco for a while and often enough. This gel was SIS lemon-lime, I did not prefer the flavor, but the texture was amazing for the temperatures, and still liquid. Will have to remember this if it gets cold. I kept an extra cream pie in my pocket to get mushy and warm, this also worked well. Though I knew I was irritated with the course conditions when the crinkling of the simple plastic bag it came it got on my last nerve.

Mile 19 was my fastest, sub 13 minute mile!! I know that sounds very slow, but given course conditions I’m going to praise it. Mile 20 was over 13 minutes but I also had stopped to get aid, so that’s a huge win. The Stony Ridge Segment was FABULOUS, great running, a few hills that kept you moving, but the trail was plowed? Sledded on? I wasn’t sure but there was more the two feet width to the trail and it was fairly level even with the previous foot steps in it. I was very thankful. The next stop would be Wilton Road. I felt bad leaving my phone with Megan, but it was a useless paper weight unless it could communicate with the outside world. She would try and charge it while I ran the next short segment.

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Charles the Possom.

The trail got a bit tougher the closer I got to Wilton Road, the aid station I ran in a local North Face Race in September (it was so warm then!). I reached the famed spot and Megan informed me that she couldn’t charge it with her cables, and needed to run to my car (now were we closing in on where it was parked) to get my cable. I told her that was fine. I was doing mostly ok with less aid that I planned up to that point, so what was 3 more miles?

I headed out into the prairie north of Wilton Road. It didn’t look like anyone had really been there since the snow. I realized maybe ONE person had been out this way since the snow 1-1.5 weeks ago. Being exposed to the sky, it was really hard packed on top, the kind of snow you step on and are on top of for a split second before sinking deep in the snow below the surface. The person who had been there had clearly been hiking or walking because the steps were not very far apart, too far for MY walking/hiking, and too short for running. This was really awkward, so I started breaking trail instead, but the thickness of the ice layer on top of the snow was making moving VERY difficult, and I slowed tremendously. The snow here was calf deep, as most of the other places where I had to be in snow was only ankle deep or a little more or less. Each step was extremely draining, having to pull my leg forcibly upward, and while I tried to step where they had been a person sometimes, the edges of the hole would catch the wrong way and I would stumble. Keeping upright was being made difficult with every step. This section was so soul sucking, I wanted to cry. There was no way out, and with the snow melting in my shoes and refreshing the skin of my feet with freezing water (melted snow) every step of the way, I was losing body heat fast.

It didn’t take 10 minutes for me to super chill. I went from good to bad that fast, and I was not moving very fast (though as fast as I personally could have). I tried to start running a bit to get my blood flowing faster and get feeling back to my feet, but the snow dragged me backwards and pulled at my knees and hips. If this had been fresh snow, it would have been much easier to deal with and faster to run in. When you have fresh snow, or snow that isn’t as melty/frozen, you can pull your legs through the snow with little/less resistance. Frozen snow, you have to pick up your feet all the way up and out, you can’t shuffle or drag your way through it. I wasted a ton of energy. It was a great and fun challenge up to here, mile 22. But if I did not keep moving, I would not make it. This stretch lasted almost 3 miles until I made it near highway 67, a large parking lot.

A little before making it to the parking lot, all of a sudden, the well trodden trails returned instantly, like there was a designated “thou shall not pass” sign that was invisible to me that I crossed paths with. The running was not ideal, but it was a blessing to not be stuck in iced snow fields exposed to the wind. I was back in the forest too, a place I had run before! I had run this section with Andrea two years prior for a 15 mile run. I was close. My spirits lifted as I met the only human I encountered thus far. He was a nice hiker, I stopped for quick conversation and asked how he was doing. He was telling me about how he cleared this nearby tree from blocking the path completely “just the other day!” Always be kind, and it lifts you up. I told him I came from Whitewater, he said “I know where that is!” I did it today I proclaimed on my way up the hill. “Oh really? That’s pretty far, I hope you have a good rest of your day.” He was so nice! I milled uphill away from him and saw more snow bugs. I had entered known territory.

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Upon reaching the parking lot to meet Megan, she gave me a 60% charged phone as I started strava again. I took in a can of goodies and hot coco this time. I had filled up water at Wilton, and decided no more water (it was really heavy and I was done feeling extra heavy). I kept worrying about Megan getting in and out of these icy parking lots, but she kept magically doing it like clockwork. I headed out towards the Scuppernong trails.

It became very hilly, but my calories I took in were doing work. I hit 25-26 miles. Slower than I wanted, but the trail were most ideal here compared to what had been. There was that sledding width groomed-ness about this trail. Like someone had taken a kids sled and drug it along the trails making a perfectly person-wide trail that was flat snow and runnable. I have no clue what was going on but I accepted. Quickly came across a wild Megan in a nearby prairie, she had made it back to me again, coatless this time!83797372_2639829856071093_5950830415861252096_o We took a quick pic at a “Springs” sign, and headed back into the wood to the place my car was parked at ZZ. When we arrived, Andrea was pulling her SUV up from her family arrangement she had, kids in tow. Cheering roared from the back seats. They parked and we rounded the corner, with smiles on our faces. I stocked up on some calories at the van, and was given a lucky dollar from one of Andrea’s kids. I tell ya, I find money in the ultras I do well at. This one was worth a lot I guess! (Though I found over $2 in pennies after cloudsplitter 100.)

Megan and I received a rose, and before we got too cold standing there, we hugged our goodbyes and headed off for the final 4 miles. Scupp was an icy covered trail, but SUPER wide, and some of it (we were on the orange loop for what that is worth to those who know the area, I do not lol), was run over by some tractor or something making two paths for each of us to run in. We weren’t fast (I should say just me), but we were running. I hit a wall at mile 29 when I realized I needed something. I had gels but I also only had 2 miles left. I decided to save my gels for next time. Hill after hill came, but mostly in the first 2 miles of this loop. I should mention that I’m so used to opening up on the downhills, but absolutely could NOT at any point during this run because of the ice (traction) or because of the uneven frozen divots in the snow created by other people that would oftentimes turn my ankle. I was snow blind a majority of the day, it was very hard to see any texture in the snow, which lead to more ankle turning and catching myself several times a minute. My hips were so tired.

Though I was fading from nutrition, we came down the final hill back towards where I was parked and hit a decent mile. Could I have kept going? Sure. But why? I was done. I stopped my watched ceremoniously between two trees before reaching the pavement. Seemed like a finish line to me!

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We spied the group running the John Dick 50k the next morning doing set up in the building nearby. I quickly got my car key, grabbed all my stuff to change into and was instantly in the bathrooms to change completely before I froze. I was walking pretty fine. I continue to too. We sat there for a bit at the van having a hot coco before taking off back home. It was really nice, and would definitely do it again not in the winter. I would also dig being the supporter too, as Megan yo-yoing back and forth with me was very entertaining. When would she show up? Who would spot each other first?! It was a great thing to look forward to.

I state what I am happy with:

– I did not get lost once. I had a few questionable spots, but the blazes were really often and clearly marked (maybe not great in the night time though).

– Despite having a heavy pack, I was glad I got the significant amount of practice in with it.

– I managed my feet and nutrition very well. My layers were great and have finally nailed how to handle the upper 20s and low 30s for running with my cold sensitivities.

– Negative splitting the 50k. My second half was faster, as my pace average was in the 17 minute range coming in half way. I know this was mainly due to improving trail conditions (sans that prairie section after Wilton road), but it’s still harder to move faster the further you are into ANY run.

What I am not happy with:

– Judging myself for my pace and effort and layers and comparing them to others when I should not be. I am not running under the same body conditions as others out there and not accepting myself that it IS harder for me to do these things under 40 degrees. On the other hand, I excel when it’s hotter. I have to always remind myself of this.

– Judging my pace. My original goal was in the 7 hour range, but that quickly changed once the trail conditions were more known, and it was not possible. I ended up for B goal which was getting under the Frozen Gnome cut off to “earn” my finish. I know it’s not the same course, but I felt like I needed to do it. I am also constantly comparing my paces to others who have done 50ks recently, even if they had it easier.

– I’m not happy with the trail conditions obviously, but that cannot be helped, just like race day, you can’t control how conditions are, but I did have some control of when I did this. It could have been more ideal for sure, but it also could have been the -28 degrees it was this exact time last year. Take everything with a grain of salt.

What I learned:

– Freezing fog isn’t bad for running, but is not great for driving.

– Winter ultras can go from 100 to 0 very quickly, and become a dangerous situation. I am glad I had others there for my own accountability, but also for safety (first!).

– Never underestimate any 50k (this is always a lesson learned).

– No one cares what your pace is, especially on some training run.

– I have not learned about these snow bugs. Someone educate me.

Why do this? I have done one ultra distance a month since Cloudsplitter in October, so why break the streak?? Its good training for time on feet which is harder for me to get in the winter. I had 4 specific training runs before this 50k attempt. The first two were 9 and 10 miles back to back days, where I feel like I had overdressed, and the pace went well, and were in the fresh snow. The last two were shorter, under 6 miles, but they took everything out of me, and I think it was because I did not use enough layers to stay warm enough, although I was not cold during the run. I also learned if I end up breathing too hard in effort/pace, my throat started to narrow and it becomes harder to breath. I REALLY had to watch that, and learned that on a recent speed workout (which I had never really done when it was cold before due to excess snow covering the ground).

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I have no idea what I will do for February, and I have GDR in March. Everything is really leading up to that, and time on feet and climbing to me are most important for that. After GDR it is green on full time training for Kettle Moraine 100k and after that Badger 100. So many big goals and dreams of mine and I’m staying in Wisconsin for them. I hope again you enjoy this marathon of race reports. I’ll be back in the future with lessons I’ve learned in a blog report soon.

These may be inaccurate but, final stats:

31.1 miles traveled

3,156 gain (and very close to loss as well)

8:25:21 time elapsed

7:48 moving time

16:15 average pace

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Freight Train 100k

Freight Train 100k
Farmville, VA (no, not the facebook game popular in 2008)

I became very frustrated with recovery after the Madison Marathon (I would not have done the marathon again, but I got a free bib, and had very similar conditions as when I did it in 2017, cue the  face), and by that, I mean the total destruction of the skin on the bottom of my feet.

Cloudsplitter ended October 13th, 2019. I was feeling pretty spry afterwards despite not having the proper distance training (although it turns out my efforts of vert training paid off in full), and did a few recovery runs and got back to my old self. I decided to take a free bib for the Madison Marathon on November 10th. I did the usual, no different socks or shoes. My feet were still tender from Cloudsplitter where I received some minor underfoot macerations, but they had healed up mostly. Well, about half way through, my feet got wrecked hard. In a road marathon. Nothing different.

I took the next week off completely to heal the peeling skin. It peeled like the layers of an onion I swear. I taped up and ran/walked a night 50k (self supported on the Hennepin course), a solid 10 hours on my feet. I had nothing bad happen! So I decided I could run again. WRONG. Maybe it was the lack of sweating that day…

On a short trail sisters’ run I was leading on the Badger state trail on a damp morning (puddles), I could tell I had new blisters only 3 miles in, slowing me to a limping walk for the final mile back to my car. I was embarrassed. I’ve never gotten blisters in ANY shoe or sock combo running just THREE miles!

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I will not be sharing the “post” race pics, but here are my taped up feet prior to the race.

It seemed every time I tried to run, I would get a new blister somewhere, like it was a moving target. I ended up getting a 2nd degree burn at some point during this time, and as of the time of this blog, you wouldn’t be able to tell I was burned at all, so my body is doing its job. I then opted to cut a majority of my running to almost zero and work on the bike and strength workouts in order to heal as much as I could before the race on December 14th. Three weeks of taper, and missing a solid week of miles I desperately needed.

Also let me tell you, walking a majority of a 50k is VERY hard. Very different from running! But through every workout, I recovered well.

I had wanted to do Freight Train 100k because it was a sort of last chance ultra in Virginia, which was well within reasonable driving distance from my mom’s (90 minutes or so), flat (which would help prepare me for Badger later in 2020 and give me better perspective of what happens when it’s flat for that long), and seemed like an exciting prospect and give my sister the opportunity to pace. I wanted this race to be more about family.

I read into the race as much as I could. I wanted a PR and I wanted to do well at the race. But the site had a lot of words and not a lot of actual useful information, some of it repetitive. I explored state park sites to get information about address where aid stations could be and where crew could meet me using a combination of google maps and garmin connect course maker. Though the little chart of aid stations and mileage sent out in an email was somewhat useful, there was no course map or elevation profile. The chart actually ended up being not as useful as it should have been due to aid stations being moved and changed. More on that later.

So let me break the course down:

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The start/finish/halfway point was at the Farmville farmers market, an outdoor pavilion (not sure the site mentioned it nor did it seem to have the address to the farmer’s marker, but google is smart at least). From there, you headed east along the High Bridge State Trail to the end of the trail. This out and back was 30.5 miles (as stated on the site, and pretty accurate I found). Along this out and back there were two aid stations, one in Rice, 8.2 miles from the start, and along a road (supposed to have been in Moran, VA), 5.4 more miles away. Crew could access runners more often by meeting them along the trail in Camp Paradise and River Road.

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After returning from the first out and back, runners would head out west from Farmville to the end of the trail west. The first aid station that direction was in Tuggle 5.6ish miles away, a long trek, but didn’t noticed there was much they could do between Farmville and Tuggle as far as access. No biggie. But at this point, having just had a stretch of a 8+ mile distance and then another almost 6 mile distance to an aid station is quite the distance in my personal opinion. From Tuggle, you would travel 4 miles to Prospect, the easiest aid station to find and in an open area! From Prospect, you would travel to the end of the trail about 9 miles away. IF you had crew, you could have them meet you in between at Elam (a parking lot for the High Bridge Trail). There was a final aid station before returning at trail’s end that I simply could not find the address for anywhere, so my crew would not be accessing it. This out and back was 32.4 miles, as stated on the site (I did not find this one to be accurate).

For a highly accessible trail, this race did not place a lot of aid stations along the way. I would personally find this very difficult as a runner without a crew. This was the first year for this race, but the race director also has done other races on the exact trail.

Here are some quotes from the emails and site:

“Directions and GPS coordinates for every aidstation can be found on the race website or park website. All of the aid stations will havetypical aid station fare. Count onPB&J, cookies, oranges, Bananas and candy as well as coke, ginger ale,water and Tailwind. Tuggle, Farmvilleand Prospect will offer hot liquid (soup or broth). Some form of lunch/dinner meal will beavailable at Farmville and Prospect. Expect pizza during lunch and pasta fordinner. The post race meal may beserved/eaten at 3 Roads Brewing. Long Sleeve t-shirts will be provided for every runner signing up prior to December 1st.”

1) was not able to find all the addresses and had a very hard time finding exact address and had to match them up with coordinates using google maps and garmin connect.
2) I try to take note of the aid station food. Oranges they had, as well as Pepsi and Gingerale. Not sure all aid stations had all the items listed. Heed was mentioned in one place, and in another, Tailwind. Both work for me, so that’s not a deal breaker, but something to mention for those with more sensitivities. Hot broth was not available until I reached the western trail end (Pamplin City) and again in Prospect but only the 2nd time?? Would have been nice earlier as it was cold and rainy. PB&Js were only noted in Pamplin City and Prospect. Did not see cookies, but saw some sort of dried bread snack? Skittles was noted. I didn’t note bananas at every aid station. Was not offered any “meal” items until the finish where they had dominos pizza.
3) Long sleeve t-shirts were half sleeve shirts that were not useful for working out in and was too small for me to wear (and I went larger with my size for safety).
4) Maybe proof your texts so the words aren’t glued together in formatting.

Another issue. Ultrasignup had the cut off for every runner as 17.5 hours, and the main website had the cut off being 18 hours. Who knows which it was. I also typically do not argue with ultra distances, but I ended up with 63.5 miles, Garmin had the distance (on the site when I mapped it) as 62.8 miles, and the site had it as 62.6. The bathrooms stated to be a mile from the turn around (Pamplin City), was only about 0.3 miles or so. I only noted that since that did become an issue trying to use that one and waiting longer. There seemed to be a lot of slightly wrong misinformation. But not all was a headache, more on that to come.

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So I packed all my stuff up in Wisconsin in 8 degree weather and headed home, looking forward to the high of low 50s on race day…despite the predicted rain and low of upper 30s. Honestly I was so happy to be running in reasonable temperatures for December. It could be 8 after all.

The family, my mom and sister, stayed locally in Farmville, although we could have driven, we knew we’d be staying the night after the race anyway. We were about a mile or two away (Farmville is not large), and the Holiday Inn Express was amazing. The sheets and bedspread were buttery soft and a decent mattress. I don’t usually mention this in my race reports because it’s not that big of a deal, but this was pretty nice! So I give credit where it’s due. We ate at Charley’s Waterfront Cafe which looked like a boat house transformed into a place to eat. It looked really cool and had good food. I filled myself with pretzel and a homemade burger and a bit of chocolate cake. Got in bed around 11pm, and sleep was hard to come by per usual.

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79784792_1659933507477115_5176340850526912512_nWe woke at 6am, with a race start of 7:15am (sunrise at 7:20am), I checked the weather. Rain. As predicted over 2 weeks out, the forecast never really changed. The highs did, and looked like low 50s still (was upper 40s a week before). I wore a new highly processed wool blend shirt (10% wool, I am very sensitive to wool but this one did not bother me) and a rain jacket on top, that was it! I chose to wear my Inknburn 6” shorts despite the cooler temperatures. I was going to be wet, so it didn’t matter if I wore shorts or pants, I would be cold from the waist down. I planned on changing completely when it stopped. I grabbed some fruit loops and two cups of OJ before heading to the start.

The pavilion of the farmer’s marker was quaint. I listened to the race briefing at 7am where I wondered if there was info I was missing (I felt like I was missing a lot). There wasn’t anything I didn’t already know mentioned.

79727744_565382484301201_2623697548627410944_nI met up with Robin, the Dam 50k angel, and my Blue Ridge Double Marathon partner, who was running with her friend Mike who had JUST finished the Devil Dog Ultra 100k the weekend before. And let me tell you, this guy was a total beast out there that day. I suddenly noticed it was about 3 minutes until 7:15am race start, so I headed up in the rain to the start (approximately 40°F start temp), where…no one was?! People followed, but the race didn’t start until 7:19am. This threw off all my time charts I made for my crew a bit. Anyway off we went.

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The trail was basically the consistency of kitty litter, and wet kitty litter that stuck to the bottom of your shoes like glue making them heavy. The pea gravel was so white (in most places)! I decided to not go with my running pace plan until mile 3 because I needed to warm up. I found out by mile 3 and 4 I was experiencing the (AGAIN) thing where my feet fall asleep for a mile or so…probably due to me not wearing my compression socks on the plane ride there and sitting too long (trying to find ANY correlation), so that slowed me down and my calves just tensed hard. My plan was walk ¼ mile and then run ¾ mile since the course was predicted to be flat (it IS a rails-to-trails trail), though I learned as I went, I didn’t know how flat it truly was. I had not been training flat, mistake #1.

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Exactly like kitty litter.

I traveled along, having told my crew to meet me at Camp Paradise. According to google maps and garmin, it looked like the easiest place for crew to go with ample parking and it was a bit further away from the start than River Road (another trail access point only 1.8 miles from Camp Paradise). After passing River Road, I checked my phone to tell the crew I was closing in on Camp Paradise, only to find they could not access Camp Paradise because of a road closure. I feel like the race director should have known about this having mentioned Camp Paradise as a highly accessible site for crews. This was disappointing, but something ALWAYS happens with nutrition in every one of my recent ultras, why would this be different? Except this time it wasn’t the crew’s fault, nor mine. So I had my backup gels hahahaha! Got you this time ULTRA MARATHON. I finally learned something. 8+ miles was quite the hike out to the first aid station.

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The trail was unremarkable until the Bridge. The bridge was more than promised, and they should have bragged about it more. I was very nervous about it since I am not great with heights (see Zion 100k), but the entire bridge, and it felt close to a mile long!, had very high end chain link fences around. The bridge also had places where you could view the scenery without the fence in the way, and if I raised my arms up, I could get pics over the fence too. The bridge DID. NOT. MOVE. No motion. The sturdiest thing ever. I very much enjoyed my time on the bridge. I definitely would go back in the summer to just see it with everything green.

When I finally arrived at Rice, the 50k turn around, I assumed they would have more than one tent and more people and things at the aid station. It was lackluster. I took an orange and met my crew. I had already start experiencing intense rubbing on the ball of my right foot.

I applied more 2toms to the already taped foot (with bonus blister pads to prevent blisters under that). I switched out my two waterproof jackets, after finding out one of them was not so waterproof for my Altra Wasatch jacket. It was still kind of raining and a chance for more at 11am. I grabbed some soda (Sprite) but not enough. I ended up realizing this after leaving so I hit a gel soon after.

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Passing Robin and Michael on the out and back. Michael is a true beast having done Devil Dog 100k the previous weekend!

I was using my own tailwind in my hydration bladder I gratefully got to borrow from Robin (that one item I forgot in Wisconsin due to cleaning it out…), which helped with calories and salt. I had had a gel already on the way to Rice after I learned crew could not access me any longer.

I used the restroom here, couldn’t wait. I had a lot of OJ earlier! I did have to wait since there was only 2 restrooms and everyone had to use these.

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The side of the trails varied from slopes up to slopes down. Trees covered both sides of the trail for miles. No rocks except for one place near Rice. The slopes that went off the trail were muddy and looked horrible. I was glad I was on this kitty litter at least…and thought about those doing the Hellgate 100k this year that had started 7 hours before I did…in the rain. Gratefulness washed over me several times that race despite me feeling like I had stepped in gum the whole race.

I got to 13.1 at 2:26, faster than I wanted. I was doing my intervals and keeping warm. I felt fast, cause I was faster. Not great, but in retrospect, I don’t regret this decision because the wheels came off in a totally different way later…to come. Orchid road came, now my expectations of an aid station adjusted. Robin’s crew treated me like their own too, but I declined. My crew had everything I needed. I headed out to the end of the trail. I grabbed my own bib number from a folder to return to Farmville with to prove I had been there. The end of the trail was, well, the end. Most trails don’t have an end. Especially considering it was a rails-to-trails trail, I expected it to go somewhere, have a train station, something. It was woods! Well I was done going “uphill” for 15+ miles. Hahaha it was uphill.

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I returned to Orchid Road, and then headed out to Rice again. I looked at my phone again about a mile out from Rice to tell the crew I was almost there having slowed a bit due to the foot, to only get a message that THERE WAS A CAT. I immediately started what I called my “scuttling” much faster. What if the cat left? What if I never got to meet the cat?? These important things went through my head at mile 17.

I arrived promptly at Rice. There was the cat. I immediately went to the cat. I spent a solid minute with the small fluffy cat. I loved her and wanted her. I can defeat the chair, as I would sit when I got crewed with my mini chair which kept my legs happier, but I cannot defeat 1) chapped lips, and 2) desire to pet cats.

I reluctantly left after being mightily pushed out by the crew. I decided to open Pokemon Go (it was community day and I figured there would be a pokestop here at Rice, I was right). I clicked on the pokemon and got a shiny. 78381573_435335080472335_5256687027071483904_n I put the phone away and left Rice. I told my crew to meet me at River Road which seemed to be accessible when Camp Paradise wasn’t.

I had another gel at some point, and crossed under a bridge (oooh something different to see). I admit, I got really bored. I occasionally opened my pokemon game every walk break. This kept me going. Hitting mile 22, I knew my feet were in trouble. I asked the crew to go get my road shoes from the hotel which I had never used or ran in ever. I only knew they were Altras and I needed something different, NOW. I had 4+ miles to get back to Farmville, so they could go get them. My foot was really bothering me and keeping me from pushing off now off the ground…not great for speed or gait.

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Something different to look at!

In order to not be bored out of my mind heading back, I opened up the pokemon game permanently. I made a deal with myself. I could have the game open and play it as long as I was running. I knew my phone battery was not going to last even had I not played the game so I knew it needed to be charged at some point, so why not waste the battery now anyway? I caught a few shiny pokemon and got some great bridge pictures on the way back now the rain was gone. My shorts were freezing me, but I was putting off changing until I got back to Farmville. I ran well here anyway.

I arrived back before I knew it, thanks pokemon go. At the 50k mark, I changed my clothes completely from head to toe, and bra and underwear…everything went. It was rather complicated in a car and took me some time given I was still wet. I probably wasted about 20 minutes here…and I use wasted lightly because the change was WELL worthwhile for the rest of the race. Meaning, I did not need to change ever again. I slipped on my Inknburn capris, a rabbit spaghetti strap tencil material top, and my new Ornery Mule ¼ zip which breathed really well in the upper 40s low 50s temps! I put on my green beanie, a little much, but it treated me well especially with the headlamp. I switched out to the Altra Kayenta, never worn running, but I trusted Altra that much.

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The sun threatening to make an appearance.

They felt great, but they were a little tight with all the swelling of my blistered feet and tape and everything going on inside my shoe. The best part was probably the sock like liner which kept all the kitty litter out!! Worked better than the gators. But the plush feel really rocked my socks. I was also now wearing thicker balega socks. The combo didn’t work well, but it kept me mostly happy until Tuggle.

I started to see the 50k’ers starting to finish, and I started cheering them on and it brought light to my run. I was in a really good mental and physical spot. The sun might even start coming out! The section to Tuggle lasted forever though. Still not much more to report about the kitty litter trail other than I was going uphill again lol. I was allowed to have a pacer after the return to Farmville. But I only had my sister, so I left it up to her what she would do. I know my mom needed her for directions too. I have done 100k alone before, so it mentally wasn’t bad. I was already sore and locked up. Flat was not treating me well despite me preparing with walk breaks.

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High fiving Tom Green!!

I caught up to Robin, who had passed me while I was doing my wardrobe change in Farmville. I was introduced to Mike and hung with them for a while. I eventually left them when I was feeling good to go. I know in ultras I would love to hang with others, but when I’m running my race, I’ve learned (in Cloudsplitter even) I need to run my own race and when you feel good you need to go while you can.

I was starting to tire mentally and got a shock when a squirrel ran in front of me. Why do animals always seem to run perpendicular to the direction of the road?

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See restrooms behind me.

I arrived in Tuggle with the crew waiting, those bright headlights now a shining beacon of hope. Same old same old for this aid station, nothing too useful for me. I needed new shoes. I remember giving my mom my very first pair of escalantes, so they had probably 600 some miles on them, and she had them at the race. I wanted those. I took them. My little mitten slippers. The knit upper saved my race. They were beaten into the ground, but they treated me well. The Kayenta’s kept the blisters on the insides of my feet at bay by squeezing them tight against the shoe, but the inflammation setting in made my whole gait wonky with the tape also squeezing me too. The escalantes gave my feet the width and stretch my gait needed, but the rubbing started up again. I was in a losing situation trying to win. Switching to the old escalantes was the best decision of the race and saved me. The only issue ended up being they were road shoes and kitty litter filled my shoes during my walk breaks specifically. No idea why I pick up rocks only when I walk.

I picked up my sister to run with. I gave her the low down, and hit a low even with her joining me. The sun was starting to set and wondered if I could make it to Prospect before it got dark. Then we got to Prospect. This was supposed to be an indoor aid station but was not offered to go inside. They had a table along the trail with soda and water and tailwind. I sat in the car and put on the gators I had on before even if I could not attach them. This ended up being useful somewhat.

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Prospect AS.

The sun was setting fast. Heading directly towards the sun on the trail west. I ran into another guy who had succumbed to blisters. He had just DNF’d Grindstone at mile 50 or so, and we talked about how flat was not mountains. Mountains are not flat. I had to get back on my intervals since it was getting cold. I should mention when I started heading back west from the eastern trails’ end, the wind started picking up, peaking around Prospect and holding to what was about 10 mph.

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One of the only visually appealing parts of the course that wasn’t near highway or more trees.

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I dropped my sister and headed the 3 miles to Elam to meet the mothership at the non aid station spot. Now I wondered how long it would be until I had to use a headlamp! I made it to Elam and was feeling terrible. 81539521_1344059909135963_35471744055640064_n Mom got me an oatmeal Pie. And as Megan friendo let me try before at S’more, I could eat them. I took it and ate most of it. I upped my soda, of which I was having at least 2 cups every aid station. I ate a fruit cup as well. My sister opted to hang with me for the 6+ mile out and back to Pamplin City aid station, my mom very unsure she could get there especially since I could not find an address. I told her to try and if she couldn’t get close, just go back to Elam since it would take over an hour to get back there again. I put on Megan’s Craft jacket I had borrowed (thanks Megan friendo!). This jacket ended up being perfect combo of wind protection and ventilation.

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Kept sticking to the intervals. My pace was miserable now, pushing off was near impossible and I don’t heel strike. My walking was slow and I was so stiff from being in the same plane for so long. My sister was happy going along. But then I needed a restroom. I remembered the race email said the restroom was a mile out from Pamplin City Aid, but ended up being right up near the aid station itself!

Pamplin City aid was the best aid station. The ladies there were top notch and very helpful. They had broth, the first I had encountered. I took it thinking maybe some more sodium would help my spirits. Didn’t hurt! It wasn’t that hot, but it was just the right temp to drink and move on. I appreciated that a lot since I am sensitive to hot and burned my mouth at cloudsplitter. They had the first PB&Js I’d seen on course. Bananas and oranges and a fire. The end of this trail didn’t go anywhere either.

I have a massive think going on. Where did the train go? Why was this rail trail here? Both ends didn’t go anywhere and there was no other trail to get off on. I have a big think still. Why was over 30 miles of track just sitting out there?!

Me and my sister headed back. The headlamps came on on the way to the trails’ end. We saw ALL the creepy eyes of this one kind of spider. They were neon green in the dark. Scuttle scuttle.

I realized I was leaning forward too much and coach Scott’s words reverberated in my head and he is never more right…always stand up straight and hold yourself up even if you’re feeling horrible. This helps not only your mood and posture, but also your pace and form. This became my mantra when I could remember it. My sister ended her duties at Elam, now at 9+ miles of pacing…more than she trained for.

I had to make her proud, and the next 3 miles to Prospect, I ran my best run with less walk breaks. I popped on Ten Junk Miles podcast cause music was now just old for my ears. It was the Camille gang show, so lots mentally to focus on about her 24 hour record run. I valued all the things I wasn’t going through… all the worst parts of Camille’s run and her difficulties and the non american toilets.

I wanted to cry. My feet hurt so bad but tears would not come. It was too much work to produce the tears. I kept chasing Robin. I would catch up and fall back, whether she knew it or not. 3/7 intervals she was doing would not work for me. Plus I spent way more time fixing myself at aid stations than she spent probably walking. Her power hike was strong even late in the game, and mine was weak. Something I will need to further work on when fatigued and something to note in my coaching as well.

I felt I was going to be alone with the spider bugs the rest of the race. I asked very shyly if my sister would pace the last 5.6ish miles knowing very well I was in bad shape and she would also be in bad shape. She declined at first.

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Sun setting on the trail. Picture put here to break up all the text lol.

I reached Prospect again. I went inside longer than I wanted. It was warm, but it didn’t chill me. My layers were perfect! I had some hot broth, but the two pacers there (no idea where the runners were) were the most helpful, thank you guys. I got back outside and had no issues adjusting to the falling temps into the low 40s. Again, layers were perfect! I was so happy about that.

I finally found that place where I was running in comfort but slightly uncomfortable if I walked too long. The wind affected me a little though as they sustained through the darkness.

I headed out with hope to Tuggle, the last aid station. I was so close. I had wanted to call it quits when I stopped reaching my own pace expectations and goals. I convinced myself I was still well under PR pace, but the worse pace I had predicted I had already gotten to by mile 44. I hung onto that pace for a long time until the very end.

Miles were a blur after dark since I didn’t look at mileage after mile 42 or so. Miles didn’t matter. Only aid to aid. How many miles between aid, keep moving. I kept comparing to the 40 miles I did on the Military Ridge State Trail, which seemed a little bit more hilly than this trail ironically. I was so much faster there overall, but took larger breaks since it was unsupported. I kept blaming myself I was too slow. I even had a stress fracture at the time I had done Military Ridge for pete’s sake. Why was I so bad now?! Does the heat help me that much? The humidity and heat was so bad that day though. No sense worrying now. I was knee deep in the 50 some miles of a 100k. The here and now.

At Tuggle, I asked my sister if she really was ready to go another almost 6 miles to the finish. She was ready. I had to believe what she said. This was a long segment covered in leaves in places. I was thankful for the leaves, cause it wasn’t running on kitty litter gravel. She said what I was thinking: is this trail uphill all the time?? It definitely was uphill both ways for sure.

My sister even thought this trail was boring. I told her to keep talking. I breathed hard through my pain. The pain mounted in my knees and hips. Maybe it was time to accept that Kettle might not be so bad after all? Maybe I always need some hills in my life to keep me alive and well? We started seeing houses, but I had went through this area in the middle of the day so I had no idea how far away I was really. I fought my slow pace with everything I had. I started a new plan, where I would run the first 0.2 miles of the mile, and the last 0.2 mile of the mile. Sure this meant running 0.4 in a row, but it kept me at a 14:00 pace. My power hike was more like a slow jog/shuffle, and my run was actual running (probably around 12:00 pace)…the push off still not working. I worried about my gait and how different it was and how much of a toll it was taking on my whole body.

When I left Tuggle I looked at my mileage. It was 56.8 miles, though I was supposed to be at 57.2ish. Somewhere my watch lost some distance. But I kept going. It was 5.6ish miles back. So I should have ended at 62.4 miles. When we got close to that, I noticed I could not see anything a half mile ahead. In general with such a straightish trail, I could see what was coming about half a mile before I got there (Pamplin aid station for instance). I started to panic since I was pushing already to try and now beat 15 hours and see that number 14 in my time. I did not know how much further it would be. Was I a mile off?? My sister’s moral lessened greatly and she got discouraged and started falling behind when I saw a red light in the distance. I didn’t know for sure, but I figured it had to be the timing clock! I told her this and I had less than 5 minutes now to make it there. I did not think it would take that long, but the clock never got closer. I panicked harder. I felt bad cause I knew my sister, when discouraged, was now overextended. I couldn’t fail.

Then the numbers were visible. I had 3 minutes. 2 minutes and we passed this guy who was struggling hard, no run left in him. We encouraged him saying it was RIGHT there, come with us. 1 minute…

Push harder, push harder, it’s right there…

Hitting the only sidewalk in the race, my sister raced forward and across the line before me. I had no push with the aches and blisters. They popped in the last few feet in Cloudsplitter on the final turn into the farmer’s market, wouldn’t be surprised here either. I hit the finish at 14:58:30 according to my watch. 89 seconds to spare.

The guy, now behind us, we stayed to cheer, and he managed to run three steps over the line and then disappeared quickly. I watched my sister “walk it off”, I looked for the RD. I did not find him. I found no one actually. Very anticlimatic.

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Farmville Aid Station, mostly bare when I came through the finish.

I waited for my sister and the RD finally showed up and just said I was 16th. Ok. And? He went back down to the farmers market. I followed and asked if there was a finisher’s item (I knew there was, unless that info was wrong), he went to get it and was offered pizza for the first time. Now I only wanted a shower and to sleep.

Back at the hotel, I had chaffing on my bra line. I’d given my change out bra I was gonna use midway to my sister since she forgot hers. The only other issue physically externally was the feet. After a successful shower, I had a VERY unsuccessful sleep. Real shame, the hotel was very nice. I woke about every 40-60 minutes in pure aches from the hips or knees, and sharp pains from the blisters under the taping.

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Finisher item, can be used as an ornament.

I removed the tape the next day without doing harm. The blisters were still very intact and very inflamed, plus the size of my pinky finger. The best news was that none of the prior blistered areas were blistered, but again, the blisters had MOVED. WHY?! I just can’t explain it.

My nutrition for once was dead on, thanks to the crew. Every 3 miles I had something significant, whether it was on me in gel format, or in soda or tailwind little bits along the way. I never ran out of water, stayed well hydrated. I had to really manage water at times because I didn’t want to carry much on me. My pack chaffed my back again like at Cloudsplitter. Will have to adjust it to be against my bra and not right under it. I didn’t like my aid station times, but I had to continue to manage my deteriorating condition…whether it was my feet or adjusting to the changing weather. I ended the race barely damp on my baselayer. What luck!! I preloaded on antihistamines and it worked well when temps got near the 30s. Shorts was fine for the wet, and capris were great the last half and stayed dry as a bone. It never got cold enough for tights.

I learned a lot about running on very flat that I didn’t have with just 40 miles on Military Ridge. The intervals work, but also it’s not always necessary, but it can mentally break things up and sometimes I really needed that more than a physical break. My heart rate stayed even the whole race, and pretty low like I had wanted. This was a tune up for Badger which will be a 100 in August. I’m glad I was able to do this race to better get an idea of how to run the Badger and do it well. If this had been Badger it would not have worked out well. For flat, you should train flat as you can and when you are tired. The same plane really wears on you…this applies to all rail/trails or similar canal races.

As for me, I am done for a while, it’s time for a well deserved break. Time to shift the focus briefly to Georgia Death Race, and some vert training and biking. I need to give my skin a break and have it heal completely. It’s obviously not happy. I’m about as sore as I was after my 2nd marathon (memory serving me only for that, but sleep has accelerated that repair service of my body). I’m actually less sore than after my 100s. But I have goals to meet, and I know I can get a 12-13 hour 100k. I need better training for sure. This was a shot in the dark, but it was fun trying.

Big shoutouts to Robin for staying positive and her friend Mike and his wife for being so nice and welcoming. I got to meet Tom Green on the course too and to see him in action was an honor (he was doing the 50k). Overall it was a pretty good teaching race that I was not highly invested in. However, I think the RD needs to work on verbiage and presentation of his race as to not create expectations that might not be met. Some misinformation was not great. It’s a great starter race though, and I think it could be better in times to come, especially considering the price was not too cheap.

Update as of January 9th, 2020. Feet are recovering well now, no further blistering, but main skin damage is still visible and healing/drying out. Thinking back, I’m not sure if it was the course or what, but my left knee has been achy since off and on, bothered MOST by biking (??). Running and walking seem to make it subside, and sitting makes it worse. This has been mostly getting substantially better recently but thought it was important to note. This has not affected my gait or the way I run or walk. Frozen Gnome 50k is this coming weekend with weather predictions of heavy snow, and possibly sleet for the duration of the race (still great uncertainty about 3 days out). Stay tuned for that race report!

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!

 

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.

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.