NCT Wisconsin Section FKT – Part One

The biggest summer of my life, when racing in person disappeared…

This summer I had been marching along with the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee and entered Coyote Summer, meaning from May 1 to August 31 (GVRAT) I had to complete 1000km across the state of Tennessee virtually, and from July 1 to August 31, complete 400 miles for Coyote Summer. Of course when I finished the 1000km for GVRAT I would continue on for the 1000 miler. I had been averaging over 220 miles a month for two months and heading that way for July as well. Richard had signed up for the Badger 100k by Ten Junk Miles earlier in the year. This of course became virtual in July. I decided that I would pace him for his first 100k if he would have me, of course fearing I would be too slow.

But then it hit me. I was fully trained up for a 200 miler basically. But all events were virtual now. What about a longer FKT? I popped onto the FKT site and searched the routes but nothing was nearby within any reasonable driving distance (13 or less hours). I was a bit disappointed and called off the search for a while, but later realized that I could submit my own FKT route! There are tons of trails and systems/routes not included on the FKT site. One that sparked my interest not being on there was the North Country Trail, a trail that is 4,600+ miles long stretching from Vermont to North Dakota! Yet the only piece of it on the FKT site was the Michigan section, 500+ miles long and including a bridge walk that may or may not be open during covid-19 (I think labor day is the only time to really cross it without traffic, but some thru-hikers have gotten through by other means). Regardless, 500+ miles was a little too ambitious given I had never gone past 103 miles total in my life. On closer inspection, the Wisconsin section of the NCT was between 209 and 211 miles, how perfect!

The NCT site was very well organized and had every resource available, and for every state, broken into chapters. The maps using the avenza app were free to everyone and was an app you could use offline (a GPS locator). I knew if I were to do this I should expect little to zero cell service and no where to eat or stay overnight. All these assumptions were correct.

The next issue would be time of year. I didn’t exactly want to hinder myself in the heat, so chose the end of August, and hoped that would be a good time for others in case I needed aid or help (pacers/crew). I figured early September Wisconsin in the south usually cools off to lower 70s for the most part on average, so extreme northern Wisconsin a week or two earlier would have about the same. Daylight hours mattered too. Now to keep up volume and training.

My “training” had come and gone in waves. I would go through heavy periods of heavy loads and volumes, doing upwards of 60-80 miles per week to dipping down to 20-30 for recovery weeks. In July, I did a mini ultra for my monthly ultra, just over 27 miles, in a heat wave and downpour. My mileage for the month dropped off below 200 miles, as I spent a good 10 days tapering for pacing Rich. I decided then a few things:

1) I would sign up for the 100 to get the time on feet and volume, although this was cutting it close with recovery from that and I’d never done a flat 100 before, and 100 milers just come with all sorts of associated risks.

2) I would submit the FKT route after the 100 on August 1st to make sure I wasn’t injured or that someone else wouldn’t snipe it out from under me before I had a chance to attempt it first.

Time started passing so slowly as it was…

For the 100/100k with Rich in tow, I formulated the base plan which was walking/hiking for 0.2 miles and then running the rest of the 0.8 mile out for each mile. I would let him set the pace for the aid stops, which was graciously provided by dear Megan and her van. We would be using the official race course being it was so close to where we lived. This meant starting in Belleville, heading down to Orangeville, Illinois and heading back again. For myself, I would then figure out what I was going to do personally since the 100 miler started in Orangeville. I voted for doing shorter out and backs on the Badger State trail, heading north until the path became paved, and then south again, and then filling whatever I needed thereafter. We also decided to start a bit earlier than the 100k start to avoid people who might start at the same time (since we started on the day of the badger on the trail where it started!).

It was a lovely day, starting out sunny. Rich forgot his watch, finding out on arrival. Facepalm.

Moving on, we would use my watch. Megan was there and also attached her Coros as a backup on my hydration pack. Looked like highs would top out in the low 80s, but clouds moving in later in the day. And that’s exactly what happened!

With the plan in place, and all ultra goodie things shifted over to Megan’s van, we took off south down the trail. Megan would meet us every 3-5 miles, which was often enough. Everything went smoothly, the trail was a bit damp and sticky in places, but not muddy, and not hard. Rich and I kept the intervals going. We got a small ways in and decided to take the detour. Detour? An official one.

So sadly the trail tunnel has been closed due to dangers surround the structure and it was illegal to pass through it. The official detour took runners (and bikers who passed along the trail too) off to Tunnel road, a very hilly road even not by Wisconsin standards. We started up the hills to the right and were followed by bikers, some walking them up, some grinding the gears. The top was amazing, full of farms and fields of flowers and hundreds on hundreds of yellow butterflies flitting about. This was absolutely the best part of the course. Down and back up we rolled along the hills until the road dumped us out back on the trail heading south.

Most of these miles were mundane and even keen on pacing. Arriving at Orangeville, we overshot the pavilion to the right where a port-o-potty awaited (though there was one more pavilion with a restroom, a legit one along the way I think around mile 20), to cross the covered bridge that read “Orangeville” on it, which was the official starting line for the 100. I apparently missed the new Wisconsin Supreme court Justice running back towards Belleville along the way, as she was getting sworn in later that day as she ran her 100 miler. Upon returning to the pavilion, we met again with Megan and took a longer break here. I jumped into a new shirt, mine was soaked with humidity that stuck to me like a moist summer shower, and ate a bunch. Oops.

DOWNED TREE…THE MOST EPIC FORESHADOWING OF YOUR LIFE RIGHT HERE.

Well shortly after taking off after inhaling as much sugar as my body would allow, my system broke. I started getting a side cramp, and if I learned anything from my mess with cramps from the virtual 100k I did earlier that summer, I needed to walk and keep my heart rate low to digest what I had trying to settle in my bowl of sloshing inside me. I apologized to Rich for slowing us down. Rich started taking longer breaks, but mentioned along the way he wouldn’t be opposed to continuing on for the 100 miler with me. I told him straight up “I’ll ask you again at mile 50.” Well off knowing things are highly likely to change past mile 40, and he had never ran this far before (us, being at mile 35 currently on our way back to Belleville).

We quickly got back on our pace intervals, although a bit slower now in the running department. Bugs were only bad in spots, and trying to write this now even mentioning the bugs were possibly bad in parts in Badger comparing it to what was to come during the FKT…well…

Rich started asking me to complain a bit cause it made him feel better than he wasn’t the only one suffering. I knew miles 40-50 well, and knew complaining did nothing and it would only get worse from here, and the fact we were running and moving well, in my opinion, was a good thing, a positive. This is when the mood dropped, as I likely predicted would happen around mile 38-42. Rich reconfirmed he would not stop and he would get it done no matter the time it took. I felt bad for him, but he needed to learn how this felt on his own. Running became challenging as we broke out intervals into smaller ones to make it more manageable. But the transition between running and walking was what was getting Rich, but running for too long and walking for too long weren’t good either. I kept track of our intervals and kept the train moving. We eventually caught up to the Texas crew, who hadn’t a headlamp to their name. It was getting dark. Our intervals didn’t match up well with theirs, but our overall speed was faster…though our stops longer at aid. Unintentional cat and mouse.

The Texas crew.


At Mile 50, “Rich…”
Rich immediately saying, “No, I just want to finish the 100k.”

We reached the detour coming from the opposite direction and it felt like fresh air literally. The hills moving our muscles differently and the open night sky breathed freshness all around. Rich was beginning to realized too that stopping too long at aid would cause him too freeze, a good “force you out of your chair” motivator. I only resigned to sitting on the van bummer most times. I am pretty good at getting up and out on my own, although sometimes slow about it, I’ve never been trapped by the allure of chäir. 10K left. 90K down. The pain was pretty real for Rich.

He stuck it out as we hit the final stretch which was a huge motivator to have no more aid stops left. We arrived back in the parking lot we started from at the 100k mark and he was done! I switched clothes for the night, keeping my watch running and taking a picture of his finish mileage and time from my watch for reference. I propped my feet up as I ate. However, this is where things started decaying for me…

The next 7 miles were out north and had one aid stop between. I headed out into the dark, humid night. My light shone on several nearby paradise bushes with leaves overturned and white, gave the night a spooky feel. I walked for about a mile to let the stomach settle the food, trying to have learned my lesson from earlier, and to get moving again. I started up with the intervals myself again. At this point, I had switched to more minimal shoes. I had started out with the Olympus and switched to the superiors. I passed by Dot’s Diner, unknowingly in the dark. As I got closer and closer to the turn around at the far north end (this is quite a few miles past the 100 miler course turn around north of Belleville), I started to decay a bit, reaching 70 miles. I arrived at the Megan Van and took a sit myself and lowered myself onto my back to let my feet relax, feet propped in chair after enjoying some food..and found out EGGS ARE INCREDIBLE! Like mindblowing WOAH moment.

Megan helped me up, but in the processes, I pinched the side of my right foot into the side of shoe and it HURT really badly. I teared up a little and headed out with a bag of chips, starting to feel cramping oncoming. I was so alone now. Previously, with Rich, we had passed several people either enjoying the trail or actually running the race course. There was a bit of peace, but the idea that there was an ultra left (30 miles) and by the time I got back to Belleville, STILL having 24ish miles left… so daunting for some reason and it was weighing on me now my mind was on the clock.

The actual race, and to get a buckle virtually, you had to come in under 36 hours, and I was currently under 26 hours. There was no way I wasn’t going to make it, but now I wanted to optimize my time now Rich was gone, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to try harder, I was supposed to keep hiking and occasionally running to make sure this was just a training race. But honestly I don’t know if I have it in me to with 100% assurance make a race a training race and stick with the plan when I have a shiny PR staring me in the face.

Not far off from the northern aid stop, I was running great! I felt great! And then I didn’t. I started getting sharp cramps in my calves if I tried to move efficiently at all, even walking. I started picking up nearby sticks to “roll out” the muscles. Ugh I was getting frustrated getting a 2nd wind and then being defeated by my own nutrition. It wasn’t particularly hot out, and wasn’t all day, just humid. But it took a toll and now it was time to pay up with interest.

I arrived at the aid stop and sat and ate chips, grumpy now. I didn’t want food, I never want food. But I needed salt and stuff. I forgot to add a nuun in my bottle. I had dropped my pack back at the northern point for less weight as I wasn’t going through enough water to justify the pack and it was chaffing my back per usual…just never kept up with the excessive sweating through the day with enough vasaline to counterbalance. My time ticked away…

I slugged my way back to Belleville, just not like I was when I had left. It was still dark and I prayed for that second sunrise. I somehow convinced myself that walking slower would make the sun come up faster since I wasn’t covering as much ground. When I had checked my watch time, it was 3am. Sunrise wasn’t until 5:30am or thereabouts. I continued grumping about time.

Back at Belleville my feet were hurting pretty good. I decided to take a walk through the park there and out to the residential area along the gravel path. The rocks were beginning to make me ache, and I had no idea what was to come after all, epic foreshawdowing. The silver leaves bathed me in the spookiness as Megan tagged along in her clogs (I was not moving fast at all). This mentally distracted me which was good. This is when I realized the time in the superiors was a mistake for my feet. They aren’t bad shoes, but a bit too little cushioning for where I was in the game. Sunlight was peaking over my shoulder at last upon arriving back at the van. I changed up the shoes and shoved my pouting aside, ate and headed back out south towards the tunnel. I was able to kick up a run, and decided to let it ride until I could not run again. About 1.5 miles in, the running came to a halt when my feet decided to ache and hurt again. Even walking was uncomfortable. The little stones, each and every one, was a curse. I focused so much energy on not hitting any of them along the rail trail. I didn’t remember (of course) that there were that many stones and rocks before.

I dragged again into the aid at the southern end. I got word there was a cat, but I missed him. I also got word that our friend Kristin was going to come out to help. I breathed the fresh news in and gave me hope, regardless if she came or not. I was not expecting pacers. I was able to produce some running again past the aid, but again, 1.5 miles out, I decayed yet again. The waves of in and out of decay were annoying but also demoralizing. I stopped outside of Belleville on a bench and took my shoes off and massaged my feet and inspected them for damage. No external damage to be found but the massaging surprisingly felt amazing. I could have stayed there forever.

I arrived back and Kristin was there waiting. She took me on a tour of Belleville through the streets and I had my poles. Wasn’t a good combo as I moved slowly. I had my mini breakdown at the van. Sob sob, gotta get going, suck it up. Daytime was showing its flavor. I started doing circles around the small parking lot surrounding Belleville community park. It was about 0.3-0.4 miles around and paved with a micro hill on both sides (one up and one down). I started running it. I started feeling better. I got new shoes from Rich who had successfully slept and come back to greet me again. These shoes were 0.5 size bigger. I decided to try and go out again on the trail. Worst mistake ever and it tore me back down. Rinse repeat.

Back to the small paved circle. Scotty and crew were cheering my antics on from the middle where the pavilion was. Must think I’ve gone insane. I kept with what was working. I ate and chipped away at the final half marathon. Thinking how long a half marathon was going to take me made me sad again. I kept mathing my way a finish time. More sadness. I think I just got really down on myself trying to prove I could make up time in the final marathon of a 100 when I was not ready to do so after a long day of pacing Rich along. It wasn’t MY day anyway, it was his, and we got him that finish. That was all I cared about until I was on my own. So much pressure for nothing. I did well. Regardless. Was it pretty? No. I ran around a hamster wheel parking lot mindlessly in the same direction for hours to finish.

Eventually, Andrea and her kiddos showed up at the park to cheer on a friend finishing a different distance there. The found some toilet paper for a finish line.

I ran and ran. Finally it was time to stop, the watch said I was done, and the first time I have managed to force my watch to hit 100 miles without restarting (lifelong goal accomplished), after 3 attempts at this! The finish chute made me cry, the distance made me cry, the agony that it was all over made me cry, everyone there pushing me to finish it up made me cry. What didn’t make me cry right then? I wanted to be emotional, and usually I’m not, some feelingless monster sometimes that just settles for the lack of emotion thereof. I get jealous of those who can get all broken up and heartening at their efforts. I knew at that point I was not hurting for real, and that there was twice the distance to go soon…

I managed a 39 minute 5k for the last 5k. My feet were dying with nerve pain, no severe swelling at all, but this is exactly the result I was hoping for. Nothing else felt too terrible other than being slightly stiff from not having any elevation gain for the most part (2000 gain over 100 miles, but the majority was a slow grade up for the first 50k). Total time according to my watch for 100.05 miles was 27 hours and 54 minutes, 16:45 average pace with all the breaks and everything. I had meant to make the aid stops quicker as Rich left, but the problems I had after he was done ruined me. I have no real doubt I could do sub 24 hours, but not on a course like Badger most likely. I need hills in my diet. The trail ate at my feet despite being flat. This is a theme I had heard from other flat races such as Yeti. Same feeling was at Freight train 100k too, though I attributed my bad times there to being fresh off of Cloudsplitter.

In the coming two weeks, I worried my head off about being prepared AND recovered for the FKT. No blisters or anything from Badger 100. I did some 5-8 mile maintenance runs in-between when I was ready to get back to it, but not real volume other than focusing on the hiking part every day. The right side foot pain lingered, only rearing its head at special times…not often enough to think about.

So much had to be done in preparation for the FKT. I set up a short fundraiser to give back to the trail which took some of my time figuring out since it was a non-profit and they were not listed on any site to accept non-profit donations (facebook/gofundme), so I had to set up a personal fundraiser outside of non-profit. A lot of long talks with Megan about the food plan, buying all the camping gear and maps, and laying out how timing would work and trying to wrangle up literally anyone to help pace.

The time came around, the week of the FKT, and I started paying extra for expedited shipping on gear I needed that wasn’t being processed. It would have been nicer to go in stores, but that wasn’t an option. The new Altra Escalantes also came out right beforehand, and I was hoping they went back to their original feel of the stretchy upper (spoilers, they did). I figured I need all sort of back ups just in case not knowing exactly what I was going to encounter on said mystery trail. Megan had scouted out a bit leading up on some trails. She took care of the food and spreadsheet and location information which is hecka challenging. We both assumed there would be no cell service up there (we were correct, sorry more spoilers).

The week was a blur, just so much prep and making lists and checking them 12128376 times over. Sleeping pad, sleeping bag, everything for contacts (I really need to look into lasik), allergy meds, things to even live for over 4 days. That brought me to the plan…I had no idea what I was doing so I messaged some friends who have done longer things to ask for advice. For the really long FKTs it was advisable to sleep during the night instead of pushing through. Brilliant me was like great! So sleep for 2 nights (sort of) and plow my way through the final night for extra miles and finish up.

The first 53 miles of the trail coming from the west were all road with a small section leading off of the Superior Trail to start off. The goal was to finish that section on the first day. 53 down and 150 some to go. The section after the road was considered part of the Brule State Forest. Brule led into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest…a truly never-ending forest area. From mile 53 to basically mile 166 was all forested and trails. A short road section, then another shorter trail section and road to the finish (final 12 miles). After the 53 mile day, another 45+ mile day was planned into the woods and trail, and then minimal sleep, and a 100+ mile push to the finish. Too ambitious I was for my experiences.

Did I mention that it was minimal sleep? It was just over 200 miles, and that was equivalent to a 200 miler race right? Right?? People didn’t sleep much during those and this was no epic 500+ mile FKT adventure, it was my smaller 200+ miler adventure journey. So little knowledge…

I packed everything up rather successfully and Megan showed up to my house with her van and we packed It full and headed out Wednesday morning to the Mont du Lac Resort near Superior, Wisconsin. With Covid-19, we were all weary of staying in a hotel, but I found a place that rented out cabins for really reasonable prices! Plus it was only a bit away from the start of the FKT. Covid-19 wasn’t the only reason for camping in-between days, it was also more so the fact there was no where TO stay. There were really no towns along the way, no places to restock had we left anything behind. It was really pack in pack out. I really wanted to find a place for the finish to shower up and reset, but everything was well over an hours’ drive away, so might as well just drive on home.

On the way up, we stopped at Amnicon Falls and did a short hike there to see the waterfalls. A very nice park. This was not along the NCT, so just a bonus for us. We arrived in the late afternoon to the resort. The resort had a lot of little fun offerings for kids and adults like a water park almost! Nothing open during the weekdays. The cabin was newer for sure, with a single simple bathroom, kitchen/living space, a loft, and two small bedrooms. The only con was that the futon in the living space was more comfy than the beds which were pretty hard. Otherwise, the cabins were cute and functional. We ate at the ski house (this was really a ski resort in the winter), and ate with the geese along the hill outside post rainstorm. Then settled in for the evening.

I did have a harder time sleeping, being the bed wasn’t comfortable for me, and the anxiety of what was before me. I had set the start time around 9am since it would prevent some time pressure in the morning, I knew I’d wake up more naturally and get a longer sleep. This plan worked out well as I was up and out of bed fairly early anyway on Thursday, day 0.

Why day 0? It had not yet been one day, as far as FKT terms are considered. When you hit 24 hours in, that begins day 1. We ate a breakfast served up by Megan of eggs, potatoes, and bacon. I gluped down my brisk iced tea I had brought and we packed up and headed out to the start. The start was a bit tricky to get to, and a bit more tricky than we gave it credit for. We all knew ahead of time the start was about a mile of hiking in from the Superior Hiking Trail that the NCT turned into and joined on the Minnesota boarder. After some fanangaling, and many u-turns trying to find the little gravel road that led to the nearest Superior trailhead to the starting point, we found our way. Down a narrow gravel path, we drove until we found the little sign where the Superior trail crossed that road in Minnesota. We parked and I started the pre-run prep; feet, bug spray, sunscreen, hat, hydration pack, clothes, everything. It was a bit chilly for me, mid to upper 50s or so, but perfectly sunny, sun that peaked in and out through the branches surrounding us. Michele, lil Ro, with the Ornery Mule Racing Van, came up behind us to tag along to help and record the journey. Then it was time to set off along the wet trail heading towards the Wisconsin state line. Tiny hills littered the trail. It was peaceful and a great warm up for what was to come that day.

We reached the state line after a bit over a mile in. I jumped to touch the sign that marked where the Superior hiking trail southern terminus was and where the Wisconsin NCT began. It was a very nice sign if I do say so myself, no mistaking where it was even if it was dead in the middle of the trail with nothing around, no roads, no houses. After about a minute of deliberation, I said I was going, hit my watch at 9:10am, and headed out on a slow jaunt down the trail, it had begun. This would be a 221 mile journey of a lifetime.

North Country Trail – Wisconsin Section FKT Report

I am writing a short report up here to say what I did briefly for the purpose of the FKT site.

I personally created this FKT for several reasons, but mainly to bring attention to the trail (nationally and locally). I did receive information that people have since wandered out to the trail they did not know was there!

Supported effort FKT of the North Country Trail, Wisconsin Section.

I started at the Minnesota/Wisconsin boarder on August 27th, 2020 at 9:10am. It was over a mile walk out to the start, using the end of the Superior Hiking Trail, which was marked clearly by a large sign over the trail indicating the state line. Day 0 was mostly road with a few sections of trails wet with heavy dew. It was a beautiful sunny 80 degree day. Early on, there was construction on the railroad crossing, so I had to make my way through it. After that, I encountered trail with muskrat mounds. Then back to road for the majority of the way making it through Pattison State Park. I also ended up meeting a thru-hiker on the road who decided to take a different road route than my course, he was super nice. I saw a coyote! I ended the day at the end of the road section 54 miles in at 15 hours. We went to the Gordon Dam Campsite and camped overnight.

Day 1, starting around the Gordon Dam Park and headed into the Douglas County State wildlife area, at 9:07am, continued for 33 miles for a total time of 13 hours experiencing foot issues today and nerve pain. Passed through Solon Springs (one town with supplies). The start of the day it was raining hard which delayed the start, trying to wait out the worst of it. Forecasts said a stopping time of noon, so went out in faith that it would slow. I was out with Pacer Kim and saw some great trails and lakes. Very wet. Then the rain came back and didn’t ever really stop that day. Kept trying to stop and fix feet. Stopping point was at the Gaylord Nelson Portal. Camped at my crew captain’s (Megan) private land 40 minutes away.

It should be noted that the NCT parallels the ATV trail early on and doesn’t use the ATV trail fully (it’s used as a connector). The route is marked but tricky to find if you aren’t paying attention. I went about 0.2 miles too far up the ATV trail having missed the marker and had to retrace to return to the trail.

Day 2, returning to the trail head on 27, it was mostly cloudy turning overcast for some of the day…it was hard to tell in the dense forest. Decided ahead of time to break up each run of the day. Started at 9:06am after fixing feet for a while. Left foot was macerated. Right foot was caving from the wet. This was the Brule State Forest, and it was amazing. Good little climbs and great views. Many downed trees, mostly Birch. Met one guy hiking with his dog. Ran the start with pacer Nicole, a bright personality. Made it to Rainbow lake before dark. I decided to start a new running activity during this section because it was long before I could get aid again. This section was difficult, although not hilly. After dark, my feet were a huge issue. I met up with pacer Jenny. She probably saw me at one of my lowest times. During the night we heard wolves, and a bunch of other unknown things in the dark, some very close by. I decided to end my bigger day early due to safety concerns, at Old 63 N/235, off of US highway 63 in the Drummond Woods State Natural Area outside of Drummond (the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest). We had no camping arrangements since I was supposed to overnight it. We rested in the van until daybreak, although I got about 2-ish hours of real sleep. Ended the day just short of 39 miles.

Day 3, continued on the trail from the trailhead we stopped at with the van outside of Drummond. It was a nice day, highs maybe low 70s. Pacer Kim and I set out at 6:21am at a slow hike avoiding some downed trees and tall grass. Feet were at an all time low. We heard hound dogs in the distance, probably bear hunting. We came to a very large and pretty lake with some beaver evidence nearby after crossing N Lake Owen Drive. Switched off with crew captain and pacer Megan shortly after to hit up the Porcupine Lake section, which was amazing! A must-come-back-to section. About every 3-4 miles, my nerves would be shot in my feet and I would have to stop and prop them up. This cost me a lot of time. Rain was in the forecast for the next day. I went with pacer and husband Rich for the Great Wisconsin birding and nature trail, which included a swedish settlement and a few scenic overlooks (of which I saw the first and last ones…the first one was the best viewing of the trail). I did not consider the scenic overlooks as part of the FKT trail but something I wanted to see myself. At dusk, had to make a short out and back on a fire road to resupply with the crew (totaling probably about 1km) before dark. I continued to make it to the Beaver Lake campgrounds (also a short out and back off the main trail) as our camping for the night. The nights were difficult with the unknown wildlife up there. I ended the day with only 31 miles short of 16 hours for the day. I got in early enough to get a good sleep that night for the first time. I started to realize I needed more sleep to recover for better paces later.

Day 4, packed up camp and headed back out on the access trail to reconnect to the trail at 10:02am after deliberation of the rain and thunderstorms in the morning. Faced with more wet conditions, I headed out with Megan. Rain poured down and flooded the trails. The rain stopped right before noon, and switched clothes and redid feet. Met a guy driving by who volunteered to take care of the trail section we were just on. SUPER nice guy and his section was indeed well maintained, and was part of the Hardwoods natural area. Sun shone for the rest of the day with blustery winds at times. I split this run into two pieces for my mental state. First section was shy of 15 miles. Second was shy of 16 miles. Today was the official end of the Chequamegon National Forest section (the stopping point for the first set of data) which spit us out onto Kornstead Road. The last half would take me through Mellen and into Copper falls State Park. I reached it by dark so I did not see much there. The last half of this section was hard to navigate at night and I ended at the highway 169 highway trailhead. I used the new trail that was built there per the site. We camped again at Beaver Lake for a final time.

It should be noted that the trail parallels the road leading into Copper Falls state park and that the road is not the official route. This is for future FKT’ers. As stated, I took the official route and did not use the road. It’s a little tricky to find on the other side of Mellen.

Day 5, started at 9:11am at the trailhead heading back onto road for a bit and then onto fireroad. Upon entering the trails again, there is a specific section that is marked as official NCT trail, a small out and back to Wren Falls. I made sure to include this out and back as part of the FKT…plus it’s well worth it and has a very nice camp site there. The app and the trail state this is part of the whole thing. This section of the eastern chapter is very well maintained and lovely. Lots of climbing and more rocks. This spit us out on Casey Sag Road after seeing a gold mine and other notable things. Crossing here is where things got messed up. We took some unfinished trail to be the official trail and got lost essentially. We managed with the Avenza app to make our way back to Casey Sag Road (the last place we knew we’d been on official trail). The trail we took was all blazed, but was not official. Perhaps in future FKT attempts this will be the official route, but for this FKT it was not and did not officially connect back up. There was no indication of a map anywhere. Back on Casey Sag road, we (Megan was the pacer) came back to where we had started and retraced our steps to where we took the wrong turn. This cost me upwards of almost 5 miles total and a lot of elevation gain. Made it to Upson Lake and got aid. Trail connected to 122 – Hoyt Road where it would be road until the end. This took me through Saxon, a very small town with a post office and not much else. The final stretch went to a bridge crossing the Montreal River which separates Wisconsin and Michigan. I did not stop until I was past the bridge officially. There is a Welcome to Wisconsin sign nearby on the Wisconsin side, but no Michigan sign. I ended the day 9 hours and 24 minutes just shy of 33 miles (which includes the “lost” miles) for the day at 6:34pm.

Total time was 5 days 9 hours and 24 minutes. This was truly and adventure and certainly worthwhile to be on the FKT site. I thought it was before (since I valued submitting it in the first place), but even more so now. I look forward to doing more of this in the future. My garmin gave me a total of about 221 miles total of the 211 listed. I realized I picked up some GPS drift while stationary at aid stops, the short out and backs from scenic overlooks and aid/camping, and my lost miles, but not sure I picked up that much? That is about 10 additional miles. I followed the official course via the avenza app which was invaluable and would have been very lost without it.

It should be noted that I took the official detour from https://northcountrytrail.org/the-trail/trail-alerts/ :

  • MacQuarrie Wetlands Segment to Pattison State Park:The Nemadji River Bridge on County Highway W is closed due to washout.  Detour north on W, east on County Highway C, and south on Dedham Road to regain the road walk toward Pattison State Park. — I did take this route as explained here.
  • Douglas County Wildlife Area: Spring Creek Bridge, located between the Douglas County Wildlife Area (Bird Sanctuary) and the St. Croix River: The ramps leading to the bridge are displaced, but it appears that the bridge can be carefully crossed. At this time, it is not known when repairs will be made. Not far south of the bridge, there is also a short section of puncheon that is displaced, but this area can be easily crossed. — I was able to cross all this on my own without detours.
  • Chequamegon National Forest: As of January 10, 2017, eastern sections of the NCT have been opened by the USFS but with a major caveat. Some of the larger bridges have erosion issues on the approaches. The Trail is open but use caution if hiking these sections of NCT.  — I used caution and was able to get through ok.

Here are the links to the strava data which are imported from Garmin.

https://www.strava.com/activities/3976158734

https://www.strava.com/activities/3993126808

https://www.strava.com/activities/3993143569

https://www.strava.com/activities/3993176360

https://www.strava.com/activities/3993257998

https://www.strava.com/activities/3993338633

https://www.strava.com/activities/3998667414

https://www.strava.com/activities/3999212768

Midwest States Virtual 100k and 100 miler

The Midwest States Virtual Double Trouble, 100k and 100 miler – June 2020
When things got more serious here in the US and around the world at the time, races
canceled, postponed, or went virtual. I had never really done a virtual race until the Yeti 24 hour challenge. But it was that, a challenge, run 30 miles in 24 hours, running 5 miles every 4 hours. But I soon learned the lack of the nations tolerance for social distancing and accepting the current “what should have been” norm, which we are struggling way worse now we are neck deep in this pandemic. Things that should not be politicized, have become just that. To the point wearing a piece of cloth over ones face induces anger in some and causing revolt against a system trying to protect its population. But that’s none of my business, as I continue to remain distant, running from home a majority of the time despite the hill by my house taunting me every first and last mile (now I have the strava local legend on it, go figure). I continue to remain out of brick and mortar buildings with the exception of a grocery store, of which I don’t venture in unless we are out of food. All in all, I just don’t want this virus and will change whatever it is in my life to prevent that to the best of my ability taking certain calculated risks when I choose. I want to live the rest of my life the way I have it now…not carrying some virus which we know next to nothing about long term. I have a right to be selfish to protect myself, I feel I have the responsibility to wear a mask and hand sanitize to protect others too, but here we are, with now widespread coverage of COVID-19.

I am a scientist, and I read the science, I value the evolving advice of the experts because science has to change over time when old information is overridden. This is a new virus. Our intelligence about it will change. Accept that, and follow the current accepted research, that is my philosophy with this. I’m not here to start arguments. But this IS how it is, no races. It’s not political. It’s fact. Everything is going in the hole because we can’t be responsible as a nation, and I don’t see that ending any time soon. So when Midwest States Virtual popped up, I was wary. I am just not a competitive person virtually, as it’s hard to be so…but not against myself. Regardless I am always competing against myself no matter how much I try and hold that back. What could I do with this information? MWS purpose was run 100 miles or 100k in 10 days or less in the month of June. I wanted to do something special, something creative. I thought about how I could run 1 mile really fast throughout a day, but that would be super time consuming and that’s a lot of 1 mile intervals. I thought about breaking it up in smaller mileages for speed. Speed wasn’t going to be my answer. I had just finished the half marathon/day week/100 mile week not long before the start of June as written in my blog. I was prepared to do Kettle 100k in mid June. The song another one bites the dust is on autoplay-repeat right now. I could potentially attempt the 100k all in one go and try for a PR. I’m ok with the idea of doing a 100k solo, but a 100 miler solo I reserve for events only, that keeps them special for me. But wait, I have two email accounts, and there are two races, and there were technically enough days in June to do both… hmmmmmm.

Literally the week I decided to commit to the 100k all at once, I planned and wrote up
everything for pacers and crew and picked a day. Initially, the weather looked to be about low 70s and a mild chance for rain on the 10 day forecast. That’s fine, I won’t boil. I decided to trek the whole Military Ridge State Trail (MRST) from west to east just like in my FKT, but turn around and head back for an out and back to finish off the distance where I would be as close to home after I was done as possible. I decided to do it on Friday June 12th so as to avoid the Kettle weekend of runners, so I could have more help than not, especially from my friend Megan. From there, I would take a small rest, and turn around and start the 100 miles in 10 days quest…back to back virtuals. That would be the challenge.

 

As for planning, I mentioned I was to do the MRST, all 40 miles out, then 15ish miles back
west and then back east again, ending at the closest trail crossing near where I lived as to get home faster. This would mentally break the trail down at least. Once I had the mileage for the course set up, I broke the trail down into road crossings to receive aid. I wanted to do this without a pack and potentially without a hydration bottle at all. I made it so I received the aid more often than every 4 miles, and near the end, no more than 2.8 miles or so. I asked Rich to take off of work to follow me around all day.

The weekend before, I went up north to check out the actual Midwest States course, doing somewhere around 11 miles a day for 2 days. The final 2 or 3 miles, I was running and turned my ankle really badly, and walked the rest of the trail back. There was only slight swelling, but the tendons were not happy. Coincidentally, Megan ALSO turned her ankle which displayed some colors. The next few days, I took test walks knowing I had 5 days to recover the ankle.

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One of the overpasses on MRST…in water

By Thursday I was feeling up for a test run. I headed out to the trail and did 4 miles. After
about a mile, the ankle loosened up and I had no issues with it…that is until I got home and it was pretty angry. Ironically, the thing that hurt was the inside of my injured ankle. I compressed and taped hoping for the best. I was 50/50 on whether or not I should do the 100k. I had set up some pacer friends who were so excited to help out, and Rich took off work. I felt guilty if I let them down by not running. I decided in the end, there was no real reason to not try. If I felt bad, I could call it off anytime. The danger in that for me is that I may not know when to quit. I decided to start a little before 9am, wanting to get my sleep and give myself no pressure and did not set an alarm. I woke naturally and was fresh. The low temps for that night were supposed to be in the upper 50s, a solid start for the day. However, gathering all the things, and arriving in Dodgeville at the Western terminus, it was already 70 degrees and humid. Mind you, not nearly as humid as my FKT day, there was no fog hanging in the air. It was already 70 before 9am, I let that sink in. Deep breath, I slapped on sunscreen and lathered up in bug spray for fear of the swarms that may be there. I kept in mind this was around 1 week after my FKT, just a year later, and the climate should be about the same.

116155384_1745553505592077_6013581963749822187_nSo at about 8:40am, I took off with my interval plan. When I did the FKT, I did run 0.75 miles, walk 0.25 miles. This worked very well for me, but I wanted a PR and to push the pace, so I shortened the walk to 0.2 and pushed the run to 0.8 miles. I was hitting some 10s for paces which is where I wanted to be so as to not overcook early on. I indeed made up a lot of time, that I unknowingly would need later, but somehow knew I needed the cushion. My 100k PR was set again back in December in Virginia with awful weather and terrible foot conditions for myself after Cloudsplitter tore them to shreds. 14:58 was the time to beat. Though my goal was to see 12 or 13 hours. I was gradually getting enough experience in 100ks to inch my way down in time bit by bit. I started at 19 hours, then 15:56, widdled down to 14:58. The 100k is easily becoming a favorite distance.

111009805_422507225373872_5322763088927131535_nThe trail was soft from rain that fell about 2 days back, but the bugs were only operating at a 33% capacity. Wonderful! This was a big mood boost early on. I was already sweating so much 3 miles in. The tree cover was nice. The first road crossing was Highway Y, about 3.6 miles out. I met up with Rich, agreed to swap out water bottles with Heed electrolyte mix every stop, no matter how much I’d drank. I found myself going through quite a lot of liquid early on. I drank often. Every stop my goal was to consume some calories. I had plenty. But chose gummy bears for a while. It was great seeing my bright blue jeep waiting every stop. The next crossing was Ridgeway. I liked this place, it was about 9 miles in. So 4.5 miles from Highway Y, the longest stretch of the trail I’d be on my own. I felt like this section went on longer than during the FKT! It wasn’t supposed to be 4.5 miles, there was an aid stop between, but Rich got lost, and I saw my blue jeep driving near me on a farm road nearby as Rich called saying he didn’t know what to do, as I was standing off against a VERY angry red- wing black bird. 111499238_334577664208570_8268163947124402032_n I was in a walk interval, and it wasn’t going well with the bird circling inches above my head and trying to give directions to Rich. Multi-tasking brain was a go. I waved my water bottle at the bird as high as I could, probably looking dumb as I meandered forward.

After a good 3 minutes of bird-to-human chase off, I was able to give up and tell Rich just to get to Ridgeway, opting to not bother looking for an addition road crossing to meet up.
Ridgeway is an old train station. I grabbed some soda, which I would live my life by for the next several hours. I loved it. It was so easy. Next stop would be Pikes Peak Road, only 2.25 miles away! I thought, WOW that’s not a lot at all, my first short interval of aid. 2.25 miles blew by. Opted for soda and headed out. It was getting toasty. The sun was bright above me, intermittent clouds passed offering a little reprieve. A little under 4 miles to Barneveld. The park there was on the far side of the small town, where my first pacer would meet up with me, Kim.

 

109796399_286109755784554_1773796039481984459_nAt Barneveld, I asked if the restrooms were open. I was told yes! Now I do try to not go in buildings, but I headed inside the pavilion, got some quick relief but really, I was all about rinsing my face off. I was covered in grains of salt at this point. I let the cold water wash over my face in relief. I felt refreshed and ready to head off. I grabbed more sunscreen after rinsing and a dash of bug spray, though they had not been bad at all, I knew the next section would end up being exposed to the sun more so than it had been thus far. Kim was ready to set out. I took my walk break to catch her up on the plan of intervals. Even at 15 miles or so in, I was glad to have company. I had slowed slightly, but blamed the heat and tried to manage how I felt and focus on getting calories in. Kim would pace me all the way to Mount Horeb, where my friend Lori would join me. I was so glad to take the time to show Kim all the things on the trail, as she wants to do the whole thing herself this summer. Showed her my tricks in the overpasses, showed her the farms and rolling hills as we made our way towards Blue Mounds. We chatted it up and kept the interval going, warning her I would push her through this for training too as her coach. I love hands on coaching, but rarely get to do it and one-on-one is my favorite. If I were to change anything about how I coach, it would be having a run or hiking session with someone at least once a month to talk in person while being productive. It’s a win-win.

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Teaching Kim about Parsnip.

We would talk about every light breeze that swung by to greet us and appreciate the gift from nature as temperatures continued to rise. It was nearly noon and it was already 78 degrees! The sun stretch was coming, and I was fully aware of that. Kim wouldn’t see too many miles of it, but Lori would face the brunt of it. I got the whole experience, but shared suffering is a blessing.

The trip to Blue Mounds was the last long stretch between aid I had on plan, 3.6ish miles. From there on out, with one exception, it would be under 3 miles (the exception coming soon to a sentence near you). Rich could not find Mound View Park, which is the main park in Blue Mounds, but somehow managed to get to the next road crossing?? I was very confused, there was an address and one of the easiest aid stops to find! So much parking there and a bench and tree and another Pavilion. Kim and I strolled on past as I messaged Rich asking where he was. Around the bend he was waiting. I took my soda and had a seat in my chair. I knew sitting for a short while early on would help my legs later. I know I can get up, and I never had the urge to quit or relax longer when sitting. I make it a treat to look forward to and a way to release the legs from the overwhelmingly flat trail. Moving on, the trail was getting harder and harder as the sun sapped the moisture from the ground. The radiation back from the trail was daunting in places. From Blue Mounds it was a little less than 3 miles to Erbe Road. We trucked along and made it there with haste.

Kim found her tree shade and I drank more soda and took a bag of gummy bears. I had a nectarine last time. The sliced fruit was wonderful and stayed rather cool, same with the sliced apples I prepped, that didn’t brown! Yay planning and testing! It was still a little less than 3 miles to downtown Mount Horeb, the sunniest stretch I would have yet, and this would be a test to Kim. You see, Kim loves the cold, she is my opposite. I always admire those able to handle the cold, but I wanted to be strong for Kim even though I was being paced by her. I think helping others when I am struggling or doing something hard, really helps me take myself out of the equation and worry about something else, and that for me is a good thing. And just like that, the sun was out, the temps reach the 80s, humidity around 45%. Kim requested to walk. I took the hint, and we walked. I know the tone, the sun was testing her limits at this pace. We settled into a 14 min/mi pace hiking. 102652267_551109565566546_1115689582177529422_n I bragged how we were going so quickly just walking! I talked about the landmarks around us, like benches and fields, like how we didn’t have to go up that hill…
As we closed in on Mount Horeb, Kim slowed, but I pressured her. But we did it. 9 miles later or so. I assured her this would pay off as we made it to the shelter at Mount Horeb, with drink machines, picnic tables, and bathrooms…and of course Rich and Lori waiting. Kim found her shaded grass and laid down with blessings exhaled from within. I am proud of her, that was tough, and she got tougher. Now it was Lori’s turn. Lori is training for her first marathon this year, and I am proud of her too for digging into her fears, because this is something she can do, and will do (Update July 24, She did it and super well!!). I immediately gave her the same rundown of intervals and asked how long she would pace. I had figured Lori would go about 4-8 miles, but no, she said all 13 back to Verona park and ride!! I then warned her about the endless desert as I call it…the area between Riley and Verona with no shade and very exposed to the elements. She explained to me we would just get it done. I love Lori in person, she has no questions about what she will do and what we
will do, no matter what. It was mission on.

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Lori told me about her new blisters and how training was going. I desperately offered blister fixes for her, but said she was fine. She wasn’t limping or compensating. I like to be comfortable as possible on runs! The next stop would be Highway P crossing in Kleanville, a more obscure aid stop, 3.5ish miles away. We journeyed down the steamy path under some shade from Mount Horeb, keeping our distance from each other like we had all learned to do.

It was pretty easy to do this on Military Ridge because it was a bit wider than a car. I talked about ultras and asked how her new smoker and griller life was going (food, not drugs silly). She said she had ribs waiting I believe, if not ribs, it was brisket! Just like that, we were at Highway P. Highway P was important. This would be the final turn around for the whole course, so this made the next several miles daunting because I would eventually have to come back this far from where I was heading. 116110053_618028775785224_636814979560634547_n I had a seat in the sun and a quick soda and refill (the gummy bears still in my pocket, which would remain there the rest of the trip lol) and was off. I started to decrease the amount of Heed I was taking in to balance water and electrolytes. From Highway P we would head the 2.5ish miles to Riley. I told Lori about the paved part that was completely random in the middle of no where. Not sure why it’s paved, but it is, a good 1/3 of a mile even. We arrived in Riley promptly to hit 50k for me! 3 rd fastest time I believe for a 50k for me, doing much better pace than my FKT, and to be fair I did have my stress fracture at the time, but I just had to take so much more time during the FKT to take care of myself. TODAY I had crew and pacers to help with that and things went smoothly.

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Very encouraging (fake) rock along MRST.

Riley Military State trailhead had spacious parking, no restroom, but a nice picnic table with an overhanging roof attached. I grabbed some refills and headed out to the next aid stop and to the eternal desert. But clouds were moving in. There wasn’t much distance to the next stop, under 2 miles to White Crossing Road. I decided to not make it Highway PD since that road was very busy with higher road speeds and there were accidents there involving cars and bikers/pedestrians. Both roads seemed to parallel each other and were only about 0.5 mile apart. No big deal. Quick grab and go there too.

From White Crossing Road, we headed to Epic Lane, which is near the company Epic near Verona. The miles clicked by through the what-we-thought-was-bad desert. But it wasn’t. 109710272_287284329262231_5288576631002942590_nClouds kept passing, bringing and answered prayer each wave. We kept chatting about how lucky we were, as I pulled up my weather app on a walk break seeing it was nearly 85 degrees now! Remember, it was only supposed to be low to mid 70s that day, even the DAY BEFORE it said that! Never trust the desert. We made it the short 1.5ish miles to Epic Lane, a basically 2-3 car max “lot” where people would get on the trail there. Epic lane had hardly any traffic anyway. Rich was waiting. I took a bit longer sit there to get in more food which I was struggling getting in enough now. No GI issues, just general, eh I don’t want to eat. I offered Lori some food. I got up and headed out to Verona. This stretch was the most familiar stretch for both of us, as we run there all the time. We talked about how familiar everything was and then the skies started spitting at us. Rain? Yeah that wasn’t in the forecast either haha. But it seemed to pass quickly leaving a few clouds in its wake. Then a side stitch hit me as I neared Nine Mound Road, where I would finish. I decided to switch shoes here from my Altra Superiors to the Escalantes. My feet had swelled a bit, probably due to the heat. I had planned to switch shoes and socks here since one of the overpasses just the previous day was under a foot of water…and had completely dried up by the time I arrived?! Weird but ok! Back to the side stitch, it haunted me for another mile or so before letting up. I took some salt just in case. Lori started doing her last few miles chant, as she crossed over into double digits for her run with me. I celebrated with her! What a great training run for her too. The road crossings in downtown Verona would slow us down as we inched near rush hour…which actually isn’t too bad given the pandemic keeping a lot of Epic workers at home these days. Another blessing down.

Julia was my next pacer waiting at the park and ride. I met Lori through Julia. Julia was one of the very first runners I met when I moved to Wisconsin, and was my partner pacer in my first ever race I paced, the Madison Her Half Marathon in 2016. We paced the 2:30 finish group together and have been running with each other off and on through the years. Julia is a real person. Yes everyone is a real person, but Julia is real, never fake. She admits when things are negative and tries to see the light, but isn’t perfect at it, and I really appreciate that about her. Her house burned not too long ago and went through a rough stretch in life. She made it through with her whole family and friends alongside her. Lori got her half marathon and then some, as the park and ride is closer to her house and decided she would walk home. Lori had food waiting! We took a group picture quickly and set off.

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The all too familiar final stretch of MRST is all paved and slightly shaded in spots, but loud with the highway nearby. Things had went pretty smoothly thus far, until I was with Julia that is! Soon after leaving the park and ride, it started to sprinkle again. And then skies opened up! Nothing can be normal now! We ran and joked about it all and within a mile spotted a double rainbow from end to end, so vivid and bright, it must be a sign from God, it’s all gonna be chill and ok. Couldn’t help but smile.

As we passed by the large pond (? marsh ?) on the right, I saw many white birds, so pretty, I’d never seen them there before. When I first moved to Wisconsin, I used to run this part of the trail often. Eventually we made it to Rich again at the Quarry Mountain bike parking lot. I opted for some soda and head for the first turn around, the eastern terminus of MRST. There was a sign there now!!

Signaling the official beginning and end of the trail (which was in question during my FKT…and in my FKT went further than where the sign now stands). I noted I was well over an hour faster than my FKT at this point. Deep breath, I need to turn around and head back, but with a smile. I need to use the bathroom though. I messaged ahead to Rich and asked if the Quarry bathrooms were unlocked. That would be a negative. Dane county was still on partial lockdown from the pandemic (they would open more Monday 3 days from now). When I arrived back, I had to find a secluded spot. That did not go well, and I ended up brushing up against some plants I was not unsure was poisonous. Worry splashed on me. The rain was gone now and fog from the hot pavement formed which was neat. Julia and I caught up. Julia had asked me what I needed before coming, and I said all I needed you to do was talk, please talk to me. Talk she did! It was wonderful. She had been messaging with Rich, Lori, and Megan to plan out pacing and timing. Apparently Megan was to meet me at the park and ride now and go about 8 miles with me out to Riley and head home from there. Megan needed to go back home to sleep since she did not live in the Madison area like the rest of us.

I appreciated any help on any mile. As Julia and I came back to pond area heading back to the park and ride, there was the enemy. The geese stand off. On the left side of the path were a bunch of adult geese with their geeselings (I don’t know what little baby geese are called sorry haha–just occurred to me editing this… goslings). They are aggressive when they have their babies I’m told, and they were making a ruckus at the passing bikers (no runners nearby). I told Julia, look, we are going to sprint and make a break once this bike passes near them, to time it so there is something between us. Man you have never felt so slow compared to a biker! I said go and we RAN as fast as we could past the geese hoard screaming haha. It was hilarious and a very memorable moment, not a dull moment with Julia, which I thought would be the most boring part of the run due the nature of the paved part! We chilled back into our intervals and made it back to the park and ride where Megan was waiting with her pups.

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I instantly asked Rich for our hand sanitizer and Julia gave me some bleach wipes. I wiped everywhere and did my best to possibly disinfect the areas I had touched potential danger plants with. It burned! Ouchie. As Megan and I headed out, as Julia said she might be able to come back for a few later after dinner. That did surprise me quite a bit! Did I mention Julia was wearing our pacer shirt from the half? It made me smile a lot. I told Megan my interval plan, or reminded her, as I had been talking with her about my plans for a while. But lo and behold when I reached that same exact place near Nine Mound Road, my side stitch started coming back, on the opposite side even! This area was cursed. I felt bad because I knew Megan could put up with anything I threw at her, and here I was stuck in a moderate power hike. Frustrated, I tried running every now and then, just to be pinched every time I tried. This was probably the most obnoxious feeling during an ultra I had ever had. I could totally run and the sun was dropping in the sky, I was approaching mile 50. This was not the 14-15 min/mi I wanted to have when I felt perfectly fine otherwise, and wanting to capitalize on the dropping temps now. It was nice discussing “what nexts” with Megan along the trail. We stopped by my oasis along the trail to let the pups enjoy, but Bette was not having it haha. I had showed Lori earlier and we splashed our faces, necks, and arms with the ice cold clear water!

We made it to Epic Lane again on the back, and I told Rich my frustrations. I ate an oatmeal cream pie and had more soda. We then took off after a quick sit to White Crossing Road, where I then added more bug spray to prepare for the twilight coming soon and hit mile 50 in the 11 hour range, my fastest 50 miler unofficially (disclaimer: I’ve only done one semi-official 50 miler, it was the Blue Ridge Double Marathon, as I don’t typically enjoy the distance or races offered at that distance). The side stitch finally passed and the pace picked up again. We arrived at Riley where Megan’s husband was waiting to take her home. Now I would be alone for the first time since mile 15. Where was Rich? Again, this was one of the easiest places to find. It had an address in google. AND he had been there before?! I needed water, and Megan left me a mostly used gallon jug of water that I hid under the picnic table for later. I messaged, but didn’t want to waste time. I did wait a bit, but gave up and headed out alone towards the sunset to the west.

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The sunset was peaceful, as the clouds cleared up. I often ran this portion of the trail alone and found myself running better. I decided to capitalize on this. This was the final 10 miles and I didn’t need to do intervals anymore. I skipped my walk breaks. I arranged Rich to meet me at a close road crossing before Highway P to give me water and food. I quickly grabbed and went and took my music from him to listen to. It was just so peaceful, I ran without the headlamp, fully believing I could make it to Highway P before I needed light. Upon reaching near Highway P, I heard a group of people in a nearby field on 4-wheelers and arguing loudly with each other. I kept to myself. Upon arrival at Highway P, I took more soda, options for less caffeine. I told Rich to meet me back at the place we’d met prior to this. Rich told me that Julia said she wanted to meet me at the Riley lot to pace me back to Verona. I was overjoyed. I made my final turn (so to speak) and headed back towards Verona and Riley. I ran. I felt good, the temps were dropping to the perfect spot. I opted still not to take a headlamp. I made it back to Rich again shortly and grabbed the headlamp then as now it was getting a bit sketchy to not have one despite the trail being non-technical. I passed by the paved portion of the trail again (the random one in the middle of no where), and remembered how it was earlier in the day.
Back at Riley, Rich pulled in and said Julia was coming. I sat and refilled what I needed. I had 10k left. 10K is nothing!

Home stretch, but then my math brain kicked in and it kicked in hard. 10K was a lot easier to deal with in number land. The smaller the mileage, the easier you can figure out pace and time. I was always on pace for a PR, but could I beat 14 hours?? I had forever ago in the neverending desert forgotten about making it under 14 hours. The temps were too high to go hard, and my side stitches killed my pace for too long. I had been at peace about not making it until right then.

Julia got dropped off by her husband and frantically apologized about being late. It wasn’t too late, maybe like 1-2 minutes max I was waiting and was mainly doing things for myself during that time anyway. I told her if I pushed really hard, I just might be able to push under 14 hour. I had 100 minutes to cover 10k. Easy right? We shoved off into the night. I absolutely did not start early enough to end in the daytime, though my dream is to finish a 100k when it’s light out still. I still have work to do, but my run was pretty optimal considering. We did a few walk intervals, but kept them much shorter, in the 1-2 minute range max. We managed to dodge 2 frogs and several bright eyes spiders. Nothing else monumental stood out other than me just talking about math and doing calculations. I told Rich to not stop at one of the next aid stops. I had enough water and needed to push forward with a better pace. Last 5k came. About 45 minutes to go. It could slip away if I stopped. I was ok on nutrition now and just needed to push it all out. Julia was right there with me, being the physical and mental cheerleader. I tried hard to not forget she did 10k with me earlier. Of my pacers, only Kim and Megan were ultrarunners, Julia had done marathons, and Lori was working on one. What my
pacers were doing was going beyond the line of duty. I appreciated every step with them.
Megan was even doing a 50k in the morning for herself! The temperature dropped in the low 70s, and I was set free. Everything felt normal and I pushed the pace back down to nearer where I started. As we passed under the underpasses, we made little goals. I felt so boring talking about pace and time constantly for over 45 minutes, but it was important to me, and I am grateful Julia listened. I made it to Nine Mound Road again, my finish line, I was about 0.7 miles short, so I continued to push out. Even doing the mental math of what is half of 0.7 was difficult for me, as my brain was pretty shot overthinking for so long. Going out east past Nine Mound Road also meant possibly crossing traffic in downtown Verona again, though it was now close to 10pm. We soldiered on. Pressing faster. I turned around for the absolute final time and headed back. I told Julia I was going to go as fast as I could the last little bit and if she couldn’t keep up that was fine (doubtful, but just wanted to be clear, I had no idea how “fast” would look). She kept up fine and Rich met me out on the trail with his phone.

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I finished 62.21 miles in 13 hours and 55 minutes. A new PR, and an hour faster. There was no one else there, no party at the finish line, but having Julia there meant a lot. It was dark and no one else sleeping in the nearby houses had any clue what was going on just down the street. In a way, it’s anticlimactic, just stopping your watch when it shows the correct mileage.

But my FKT prepared me for that too. I crawled into the jeep and headed home. The pain was pretty intense in my legs as I struggled to shower. The chaffing on my back was pretty bad, I caught that too late in the game. But my feet were nearly perfect, and that’s what I cared about the most. I propped my feet up and caught up briefly the going-ons on social media, as my phone tracking me using strava beacon had died a few times killing my phone battery. Eventually, my body tried to give into sleep, but let me tell you trying to sleep after an all day event is rough, you are just still going. I was prepared for it, but it made the next day pretty miserable. One thing I regret is not eating anything after I was done. I shouldn’t have been so lazy. I did hydrate however.

The next few days were a blur. The weekend was about supporting Rich and dance games and feeding my recovery. I lost about 8 pounds of water. I knew it was water because my clothes all fit the same heh. Also my ankle was now completely fine for whatever reason that I just don’t question. Megan ended up finishing her 50k and her ankle is doing well too. I did some walking on Saturday the day after to loosen up and add some miles to GVRAT (Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee). Sunday through Wednesday, I did walks and recovered.

And then just like that, I went up to Devil’s Lake Thursday with Rich for his MWS100k and did over 7 miles to start off my double trouble experience: both the 100k and 100 miler. That was the first time I ran since the 100k, and it felt ok. Labored, but ok. We decided to explore the Ice Age Trail Merrimac segment. What better way to start the Midwest States 100 miler virtual event than at random and on the IAT? I headed down to the lake after the run to take my first open water swim of the year. It wasn’t bad at all. Though the water was 72 degrees and bit chilly hah. You’d think I’d want to be submerged in 72 degree water after a hot prairie run, but nope. I’ll take a creek though, or over 78 degrees! Now I was in over my head. I was committed now. My actual mileage that day was 8.28 miles. I knew power hiking was going to happen for my 100 mile stretch, just like any 100, you will walk. Why would this be any different? I needed to play it smart. I needed to keep my body in close check, turning right off of the 100k all at once.

Friday, I joined Megan on some new to me IAT segments hunting down Fast Coree as he
made his final progress towards the Ice Age Trail FKT he had started before I did my 100k and before I did my runs up north on the IAT! He had been running and moving 30+ miles/day since then. We managed a few miles with Coree before he became fast again. It was a hot day no mistake, but I met with two others who had done the MRST FKT (I did mine unsupported), and they were great people to be around. Turns out the young girl was from my hometown in Virginia and also training for Bigfoot 200! Props to her.

Having fallen behind Coree, I noticed that when we turned the corner on the bugline path he was off trail (as bugline parallels the IAT right there). I ran at a 7 min/mi pace to try and catch him. I was SO tired that this was quite the mini mission. I caught him and yelled at him, getting him on the right path. I felt like I did a good. And now I was tired! My legs did not have the juice left for that pace right now. It was entertaining though!
With the miles done and being spent, Megan and I set up some chairs and chilled a bit before heading to our respective homes. I ended up with 15.75 miles for the day. At this point, I had planned to do a marathon with Megan to finish off my miles on day 10, which allowed me to do slightly less than 10 miles/day. Epic foreshadowing.

Day 3, and still no plan of what I was really doing each day, I meandered throughout the day, getting in miles when I could. This proved to be complicated as I had to do a lot of time math averaging and addition/subtraction. My legs and body felt fine at this point. I ended up doing an 8 miler with Rich.

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Soaking through.

I knew it was supposed to be stormy that day, so I tried to get out early. This meant skipping breakfast (bad) and not having enough water for the run (bad). We got out and it immediately started pouring rain. I thought we had it beat. But we made the most of it, as Rich got another run for his MWS100k. Uninspired by being wet, I showered and called it a day at 8 miles. The next few days would be about playing dodgeball with the weather. At this point, I am guessing not many people knew what I was doing. I was at an all time high of miles for 2 straight months, and my body was taking a beating.

104433797_265496501381429_1721011604978519000_nDay 4, was a hot one, and I took it in several pieces. I bathed in the sun, heading down for
some road miles on brand new pavement. Rich stuck with me. Fast miles though! I ended
with 13.72 for the day.

Day 5, just 6. It was at this point I was still planning the marathon on day 10. I was at 50 total miles anyway half way done. No big deal right? I did my neighborhood loop on the gloomy, rainy day, and avoided the worst part of the rain. But I melted under the humidity and only 70 degrees.

I was thirsty and this is when I knew I had to keep drinking a lot. I just wasn’t staying hydrated anymore. I was behind somehow. It was like a real race, I just got behind and I felt like catching back up was impossible.

Day 6, I did the neighborhood loop again, opposite direction. I decided I needed to power
hike. So I did it over lunch. Melted again under the clouds and humidity. I later added another loop near the town from home adding another 3.5 miles but ran these. Rich was with me again, and the storm blew in finally. 105604125_307925670375399_3162989974987480704_n The last mile we rushed really hard to get what we could in, but then saw our trash cans blowing away and sprinted to save them. I ended day 6 with 9.55 miles.

Day 7. I opted to do a workout I made for myself to put some speed on. But my body certainly didn’t like it. I finished it early with about 5 more miles. I went out for a recovery hike. Rich still needed his last few miles (he was finishing his today, a day early), so I decided to go out with him to MRST. Lo and behold AGAIN, another storm was blowing in. We saw the ominous clouds in the distance and decided to head out to beat it. I beat myself into a fast 5k to polish off the day with 11.86 miles.

We made it back to the car, wind whipping around us (seemed to be a theme now), and drove home. He then finished his miles there as I porch-watched the clouds move on. So much for the storm, it really blew over haha. But I wasn’t feeling confidence in my ability to run anymore safely. I felt some niggles in various places…including the front of my shins feeling numb, the back of my left calf feeling sparky (only thing I can describe it as), and my right hip feeling sore. I was off balance in some way and forcing more fast miles or even running miles was probably unwise. Taking the marathon off the menu now gave me an issue. I had to make up some miles now and really hit that 10 miles per day now. And I knew they would be slow. The ironic part of all this is that I was 70+ miles into the 100 miles in 10 days now, and this is probably how I would feel at mile 70. The exception was, the danger of something getting injured in this was much higher than a fleeting race moment.

Day 8, I took a step back. It was Thursday again, and in Pokemon Go that means the nests
have changed (pokemon change nests on every other Wednesday), and my common places to play are within walking distance technically (to an ultra runner haha). I went out with the mission to see what nests were out at the Library, the Badger Prairie Park, the Park and Ride, and Ceniti Park. I would do a giant loop and take my time with purpose. I ended up with 8 miles for the loop. I did a few more outings where I would pressure the power hike, but back off when I felt it was too much giving my body appropriate breaks and recovery fuels. I ended the day with 11.4 miles.

Day 9, Pokemon Go became my go-to to keep my occupied with my hikes. I really pushed the power hike for 5 more miles, hitting the coveted 15 min/mi walk. Though this was probably a little too much pressure now. I backed off the next few times I went out to grab the 7.53 miles for the day. I had finally added up enough miles for the final day to be easier.

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Day 10, Saturday was a fine day to end on. Though if I had planned it better, Sunday would have been ideal. Saturday, Kim (yes the one from earlier) had 50k on the docket. I went out for my hike at the local park, and kept in touch with Kim. I decided to meet Kim out on the MRST, it was hot, I knew she wouldn’t be too fast for me. I wanted to help. This was going to be a huge mental day for her and I wanted to be a part of it. I headed out to meet her at her turn around at 15 miles in Barneveld. She was to go from Riley to Barneveld and back again…and in the middle of one of the hottest days we’ve had to endure. The sun was brutal that day. This was the same place she had met to pace me for my 100k, seems to just went full circle here! We trudged out east like we had before. I was able to go 6.75 miles with her that day and I got to coach in person again! But we talked about everything. It just felt like a good time. She went on without me finishing strong that hot 50k day and I was done…oddly enough on Military Ridge State trail where I had started this whole double trouble mess. Fitting. 10.19 for the final day.

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I came out the other side, no injures to speak of, but I am giving my body a cool down from high mileage. I succeeded in my efforts…both of them combined for a grand total of 162.2 miles at least…though I did 2.29 more miles than needed. I finished the 100 miler in 23 hours, 11 minutes, and 20 seconds (also accounts for the additional mileage, I’m too lazy to figure out the exact time for 100 miles to the dot). If this is true, the combined time is 37 hours 6 minutes and 24 seconds for 164.5 miles. Which is pretty amazing that it beats the time it took me to go 103ish miles at my first ever 100 at Cloudsplitter (40 hour cut off) of 39 hours! I have enough training to do a 200 miler now but no where to do it and no races to try it.

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I will say that I truly understand right now the meaning of “training to the point you could break and not going over that line”, and I feel like I can feel that line, touch it, but I am walking away from it now. I am proud of myself. Could I have done the 100 better had I not done the 100k? Sure, absolutely. I could have done a lot more faster. But this was about the challenge of both and being able to come out stronger the other side.
Though at this point, I don’t question whether I have it in me to do a 200 miler now. I also will point out that doing 13.1 every day for a week was indeed harder than 100 miles over 10 days, and 100 over 10 days was far less daunting mentally, though it had its moments. Doing the half marathon a day thing made me wish it was just all at once, though spreading it over just 3 more days helped significantly. I do want to try the either 5k/day or 10k/day for speed sometime soon when I am recovered since I figure I will need to keep coming up with challenges for myself with races out this year possibly, and me wanting to fully enjoy every single moment of summer with traveling not on the plate. I love to travel and was looking forward to it this winter, to escape this winter oblivion. I do not think that will happen. It will make me thirst for more though. I will get stronger in the meantime. But I assure you the crazy builds up and needs releasing. It will eventually come out.

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I’ve always wanted to do something with Race Directing but not sure how to go about it, as I have no money for it, and probably not enough experience. However, I go about planning my solo long runs as if it is a race, hoping to give myself experience and find out what I did wrong, or how it could be better. I am testing myself! And I enjoy the logistics of it so very much. I love taking the time to plot out the route, figure out the miles and aid stops, the timing and difficulty. I would love to share that some day with others. I try to learn from the very best. So what’s next? That’s always going to be the question. I was training for the Badger 100 August 1 st . However, I have huge hunch with the way things are going, the permits will get pulled and I am no longer betting on that happening in any regard.

Like I said before, I hold 100 milers in a special place only in races, although doing a 200 miler solo has crossed my mind. After Badger, I was supposed to pace and crew at Leadville, and that has been canceled already. Kettle 100k got pushed to the end of September, though I still don’t have high hopes for that one, I will be ready. After that was Hennepin 100, my backup 100 miler in case Badger didn’t work out for my sub 24 hour goal. I have more confidence that Hennepin would happen over any others before it. After that, I am supposed to do the Georgia Death Race in November, but the jury is out whether I will do that or not now, and might ask to just do it on my own to remain safer and out of the way of people and excessive travel. Though even that might not be an option. In this world, you can’t trust anyone to do the right thing for each other, so I don’t have much motivation to go out into a world of strangers who don’t respect my health. Winter will probably kill me, as I try to figure out what to do. I know I will
recover well, but I don’t want my physical fitness I have built since last year to fade away. It’s a tricky situation. I am not comfortable going to the gym and probably won’t for a very very long time. I don’t have a treadmill at home. Times might change here people, will having a treadmill at home be a new norm for me?! FOR ME?! Tell me it ain’t so. I will wait and see.

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Next looks more promising as of right now, and I’m sure I will have a blast going back and reading this in the future to see where I was mentally with the situation and what actually transpired in real time! So you may not agree with my science and my viewpoints and how I am personally handling the pandemic, but I am doing what is right for me and others and taking care of my mental health. The only bullet to my mental health has been all the “taking sides” when there is proven science and people on the front line LITERALLY sharing their experiences of what’s going on without the filter of the news media. But even the media isn’t hiding much. The biggest bullet will be winter 2020. I greatly fear what will keep my occupied and how to use exercise as an outlet to my excessive energy. Pandemic or not, winter is always a huge downer.

So onward with GVRAT and Coyote Summer 400! 400 miles in 2 months, I’ve already done it for 2 months, and now I value walking and hiking so much more, adding to my daily strength! Let’s make it official. The summer of virtual races is here, you can join in and have something to do, and something to support, or not. Support your local RS’s. The provide work for other too, like buying shirts and medals who are businesses too. We are a larger community than you would think.

ONE MONTH UPDATE. So I wrote this almost a month ago. Since then, Kettle and IAT 50 have been cancelled (July 24), Badger is cancelled and I have signed up for the virtual 100 as a training run and to help Rich with his virtual 100k. GDR, I would have preferred to switch to virtual but I am seeing that may no longer be possible. I will not be traveling for that race, as sad as it is. I am aiming for a long FKT at the end of August (thus the 100 miler training run), and am terrified and excited. I am sure there will be another blog soon.

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100 mile week – 13.1 every day for a week Challenge

100 miles in one week

Pretty easy you’d think for the person who has ran two 100 milers over the course of less than 2 days (note both have been the same mountain 100, maybe I should try a normal 100 one day). But I never had a 100 mile week in training. Seeing as the pandemic has no end in sight, I have a bunch of free time to see what the body can do outside of a regular training season. Traditionally, I would up miles, focus on race course specifics in training, and then have a nice taper. I’ve been doing one ultra distance a month since October 2019, and now am faced with harder choices to make those up on my own without events. I managed an ultra distance and a marathon within 10 days of each other last month. But my training has a feeling of loss and purpose.

My original goal was to train up for my first attempt at a normal 100 and go under 24 hours whatever that looked like, and even if I failed, gaining valuable experience for a 2nd attempt later. It has now switched to maintaining a good base and slowly working on speed again. Mixing distance and speed training is always tricky. I always feel kinda bummed when I see my 10k pace still about 1-2 minutes slower than my PR, despite being in much better shape physically. I can hold paces longer and without as much effort as ever before. I am recovering and able to go hard basically whenever I want, but that top speed has left my legs, especially after last year’s stress fracture. But now what, we are all there. You can see it as endless opportunity, like me, and then get bogged down with the decision of WHAT to do, or this whole thing has stopped you in your tracks and you do less or nothing at all…or you could be someone who just runs for fun and this changes nothing. Aimless training can be fun for a while, but then you wonder, what now?

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Early January 2019, I came up with the idea to challenge myself to a 7 day streak of half marathons in the winter to keep me motivated. This was before I found out how bad it was for me to train outdoors for long periods in the winter air. Enter pandemic Spring 2020. This is the perfect opportunity to do this. Time to taper, time to commit, and time to recover after. The idea was to do a manageable distance every day. A marathon was too complicated at this time, especially given what I know now even if that even makes sense, more on that later. 10Km seemed too short (and word is constantly correcting to a capitalized K, sorry about that folks, there’s no stopping the autocorrect here!), but my speed wasn’t where it needs to be to feel a sense of accomplishment and that could be less than an hour every day…not enough. I did some quick math, and 13.1 miles a day would get me to 91 miles for a week. What’s 9 more miles spread out over 7 days? I could walk those as cool downs at least. Plan accepted. 13.1 miles minimum a day in one activity with as much effort as I could give balanced out each day, and walking for active recovery to meet the 100 miles for a week goal.

So I began tapering, seeing a good 70-80 degree high week in the long term forecast for most days. During this time, I planned out routes and what would occupy my mind since I would be running alone (two reasons: I never have anyone to really run far with at whatever pace I am feeling, and pandemic mode). I decided to skip Monday due to bad weather (rain, in the 50s), and this was a good choice. Friend Megan debated me saying it seems more natural to start on the first day of the week. I thought about it, and decided that Tuesday would still be better for me. Tuesday’s weather was still overcast with chances of rain and upper 50s to low 60s. Not great, but better than Monday.

Day 1, I would do 3 of my neighborhood loop, which I thought was about 4 miles. Stay close to home and use home as my aid station. Catch up on all things Becoming Ultra podcast.

Day 2, I would use the arboretum loop, a known 10k loop which the MadCity Ultras are run on. I had never really done it by myself but two loops and then some seemed good enough using my car as an aid station. Would listen to Ten Junk Miles.

Day 3, unknown, would wait on the weather and maybe do the park and ride out and backs.

Day 4, unknown, Devil’s Lake? Depended on weather.

Day 5, Lake Kegnosa was the plan.

Day 6, Military Ridge at Riley out and backs was the plan.

Day 7, Donald Park, if it wasn’t wet.

Accept things will be fluid and go with the flow.

As you can tell, a lot of these were tentative on weather. I wrote down my thoughts and a lot of them stayed that way. One thing about ultra running or training is that you have to move and adapt to your situation. I had NO idea how I would feel each day, and the dynamics were always transforming into something else I could not even hope to plan for. It was half way through the week that I realized that it was Memorial Day weekend, and that would mean people. This immediately shifted a lot of my running routes as I didn’t want to be around people as much as possible if I could help it. This nixed Devil’s Lake on the weekend and Monday, and nixed Lake Kegnosa as well. It was a bit overwhelming, but I only took it a day at a time.

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Day 1, it was hard to even get out of the house with all the cloud doom and gloom looming over the house. It was drizzly and cool. I took a hand held water bottle and waited until the highest temp of the day to start. I wasn’t fond of the late afternoon start, but it forced me to try and be done before dinner. I knew this loop and headed out at an easy pace. I have to say my first few miles got me excited that my easy pace was this fast. I decided to walk more up the hills. Yeah, that’s another reason why I didn’t do all this near my house…hills. They are driftless style hills and I am not fond of doing them over and over again without reprieve. I thought for a first day, this would be appropriate forcing me to keep it a bit slower. Good thoughts, hah. Hahahahaha.

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It was pretty peaceful. When I got done with the first loop, my watch had almost clocked over to mile 5. This loop was longer than I recalled. I guess I only remembered the times it took me to do the loop and not the exact mileage. I came inside, had a quick potty break and grabbed some soda and refilled my water. Probably not enough calories, but I had eaten before I left for the run. I thought about doing the loop in reverse, but really cringed at the idea of running 1.5 miles up to my house in that direction. I settled into the same paces as loop 1. Ran up the 1st big hill which I hadn’t before, but walked more the 2nd. I did the same soda/water when I got done with the second loop, and the drizzly intensified. I was mostly protected from the wind with the hills and trees surrounding me, but why was there wind?! I was so tired of the wind here. Natasha friendo had informed me that with warm weather comes the price of wind. Boo I say. Vetoed.

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Rich was supposed to have joined me and I waited a bit on his response, but he was still working. I headed out for the final miles. I realized I was almost at 10 miles when I stopped back at the house again. I could just run my hilly 5k route, which uses the first third of the big loop I had been doing, but it meant going back up my big hill for 1.5 miles. Whatever right, I was almost done. I headed down and came back panting from pushing up the hill as to not lose pace on my watch. Silly me.

I ended with 13.5 miles in total, lots of Wisconsin style gain, and a pretty good half time. I ate some food and decided that I was going to play dance games as it was the first day for Stamina RPG4 tournament. My legs felt horrible and uncertain. I did some lower level songs and called it a little over an hour in playing. I noticed that my blister I had been battling from the previous week was not healed. Enter the fight why don’t you?

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Day One half done! Hills!!

The blister in question was in the middle of my forefoot on the bottom. I had to act fast, and was something I was clearly nervous about being an issue for the rest of the week. I started wearing socks to bed, and covering the skin in question in lotions and vasaline. I would also switch out my daily Altra shoes every day and wear different kinds of socks. I used XO Skin the first day and my first pair of Altra escalantes since my foot wideness is sometimes an issue early on in runs. I finished my run with a 0.6 mile cool down walk. 14.1 miles done.

The next day was beautiful, yet windy still. The sun was out though and that’s what mattered. Again, I waited until a bit later. So to wait, I decided to play dance games again. I managed some speedy passes and my legs felt stiff but less wobbly than the previous night. I played for nearly 2 hours, although a bunch of that time was modding the pad I played on and testing it out. Headed out to the arb with new clothes after the dance game sesh.

I arrived a bit before 2:30pm. The parking lot was overly full, people parked everywhere. I didn’t think in the middle of the day on a Wednesday (state parks closed Wednesday) that there would be this many people. I found some open parking in a back lot that I guess not many people knew about (they were still parking on the side of the road when I arrived). I set out with my garmin and a water bottle with a stored gel. Need to eat more I said to myself. Did I listen?

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I told myself I would walk a lot more today, and have forced walking breaks. The arb loop was saturated. Bikers, walkers, runners…everyone. Since they had closed the back half to traffic (which is another reason I decided to go there), no one was in the right place. Heading around the bend, I almost was hit by a bike! He wasn’t even watching the road, but looking off into the lake at the boaters. I yelled, and he whizzed by, too late to be phased by the runner in his path. The last two days proved I could not listen to podcasts with my phone. The connection would break with a lot of cord jiggling that I could not prevent. I was pretty saddened by this as I was going to use my music more as a motivator later on. It often disconnected (sometimes every 5 steps, and I would have to take my whole phone out and push play again each time it disconnected) with podcasts, but never did with pandora. So I settled on music I didn’t have banked on pandora.

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The only wild critter I cam across.

The sun was so inviting, and I shook off what was happening around me. The arb trees were in full bloom. When I made it to the end of the drive, I followed my watch for turns. Eventually, I got off course and about mile 5, I had to stop and open google maps to figure out where to go. I did this another 2 times. I was a bit frustrated, I shouldn’t care about pace, but I did not stop my watch for any of the half runs, but stopping for directions was annoying. I eventually made it back to my car. I fueled up with the soda I had waiting. I wanted to do a reverse loop but I was not confident I could make it around by myself. I followed my previous black line on garmin navigation. I STILL got lost on the back loop. Opened up google maps. Blah.

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I weaved in and out of people, left side, right side. I was bored now. 10K loops (thanks autocorrect for that capital k) are just long. I got back to my car thankful to have more soda. I was missing a mile somehow, so I headed out backwards this time along the open road to the arb. Motivation for running waning, and legs still stiff from the first day, I took a few pics that I found funny. As I was making my final back to the car, the oncoming cars (run against traffic they said) I came up on a parked large worker truck. I could not go to the left of it, there was too much brush, so as I came up to the right side, a car suddenly came around the bend and I went a bit too close to the truck and slammed my left shoulder into the side mirror. Ouch. But better than being hit by a car suddenly there. I started hobbling back to my car again as another runner leaner than me passed me with ease. I felt discouraged and slow. Every time I face the headwinds, my body would get chilled. The temps still weren’t too high, but the sun was still nice. I managed 13.15 miles and then a 0.55 mile cool down walk through the pretty trees.

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Responsible pet owner.

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Don’t go too fast, it’s only day 2!! Should taken this as a SIGN.

When I arrived back home I was even more stiff and DOMS had settled in from day one. GREAT. I was used to those paces, but somehow was still sore. Two weeks before for the Yeti 24 hour run, I had kept a faster pace for all 5 mile intervals and wasn’t sore from that at all. Maybe taper was a bad idea? I was having trouble making dinner, so we opted to go out to eat. This became a tradition for the week. It was hard even with just a half marathon, I lost a lot of time decompressing and prepping each day. I was starting to get hungry, a lot. There were things like that, that started happening I did not plan for or account for.

Day 3 was back to being cloudy, though a bit warmer. I talked with Megan and agreed hitting the trails up was probably for the best. I was sore and it was becoming hard to keep a forever pace. I hadn’t been on a few Madison Ice Age Trail segments, so I made a deal with the husband to come pick me up when I was done so I could go one-way, south to north, on the Ice Age Trail. I mapped it out on garmin connect, that Verona to Valley View Segment was just under 13 miles. Good! Simple! Follow the yellow trail blazes, what could go wrong?

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Warm welcome!

In an effort to really get in the mood, I plugged into the Between Two Pastries Podcast with Annie Weiss, the holder of the Ice Age Trail FKT – the whole thing – and a friend from the Altra red team. After reading her husband’s book, Meet you at the Terminus, I took a page from there and walked the first mile to warm up and just enjoyed the first part of the Verona segment, way more hilly going north than south! My legs were unhappy when I took a run down the first hill. The trails were dry and in fantastic shape. I was off and on again running for the whole Verona Segment, but not a bad trail pace…still around my 100k pace. This is when I started noticing that I was drinking a lot more. I shot a gel after 45 minutes anyway. I had to get better at eating. And today I would nail it. I arrived at the beginning of the Madison segment and it was lovely.

98191728_298084787868787_4817769127793917952_nThen I came up on a trail closed sign. I followed the detour and hoped it would get me back on track. No idea if this added or subtracted miles. Moving on!

I was always busy trying to figure out where I was in relation to everything else I knew about the area. So very distracted by the 100 mile man story I was listening to on the podcast, I took a not turn, and added an extra mile. Oops. I was using Garmin navigation, but completely missed the trail turn with the new inviting paved trail.

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I made my way back to where I came off the trail, just like in a race. And soon enough I was off the trail again near a construction area. I opened google maps to find the trail and where I went wrong. Again, I hate stopping to figure this stuff out. I headed back again and found the tiny forest opening without the yellow blaze noting it.

I was starting to run much better, though my strides felt short. I came across a golf course, and it was literally littered with people. There are two stories from people with opinions. Those that believe golf is one of the safest socially distanced sports, and those who believe that nothing with gatherings of people is safe. The 2nd group would be right today. True, golf CAN be safe if you play alone. No one at this golf course was playing alone, as they all would park their carts next to each other, and travel to each hole together. In addition, it looked like the women with kids were hanging around as well. This really steamed me up inside. I had time to go into deep though. How is it fair I have been sheltering to protect myself and others, when these people find it perfectly ok to do just the opposite. I ended up concluding it wasn’t worth the internal turmoil, and that these people are why we are still in this situation and we aren’t going to get out of it. You can’t blame everything on the government, local or national. All I can do it try to be safe myself and take my own appropriate levels of risk. Ok ok venting done. Back to running.

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Very interesting hide-a-way in the Madison segment??

Upon ending the Madison segment, it dumped me onto a road. I took the right turn and saw a girl with her dog running dead in the middle of the road. I found it odd and stayed off to the side to soon come up on a giant ROAD CLOSED sign. Again? Twice?!

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I stood there pondering my action. It was due to some construction nearby and torn up road. I figured I could squeeze past and get through fast enough to not impact anything, so I did just that. I also noticed (weird timing) that a car that lived in the closed road area, squeeze past the barrier to get to their house.

Soon enough I was well on my road connector way. I was thankful for the sidewalk along the busy road. Legs were feeling even better. I gazed out to the country side and start encountering the hills.

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Why is this photo so long? The hill was just as long.

I knew I was near Timber lane, which is one of the 3 sisters on the ironman bike course here. Usually hills are much worse for me biking than running, but still they were daunting looking at them from afar on foot. Rich was on his way. He would park in a small lot (found thanks to the IAT virtual map online) and come meet me for an out and back. He actually found me! But I also realized I got lost on the road connector and went a block too far. No navigational damage done since it popped me out where I would have been anyway.

100730413_1098588413848209_229310812194340864_nRich parked at the beginning of the very short Valley View segment. This segment is ALL downhill from south to north direction. Very nice for me, but probably not so nice for Annie when she had done it. It was beautiful and loved the vert. When back at the car, I downed a mountain dew, like literally POUNDED it SO fast. Ahhhhhh. The segment ended with a very rich neighborhood. I ended with 13.82 miles, a bit more than the predicted 12.98 miles. I started a new walk activity, and walked back to the car. It was exactly a mile back to the car. Ended the day with 14.82 miles.

I got Rich to take Friday, Day 4, off, so we could run together. I was planning on getting there early, there being Devil’s Lake and doing that Ice Age Trail segment (which is 9 miles by itself), but life had other plans. We needed to take my car since my car had everything I had been using and the state park sticker. But when I got in my car, it did not start. Same face I had with the close road signs, sigh, I stared at the steering wheel. Switching cars, we took off in the non-park sticker car, fully aware we might have to pay a fine. It was muggy and humid, like most of the days had been so far.

100051378_2612336448984789_6154929465085394944_nWe arrived around 11am, a bit too late of a start. Heading out we met very few people. The climb in that direction (still opposite the way Annie went) was brutal. It reminded me of the east coast and I loved it. I looked for mushrooms and morels. No luck. A runner came up on us (one of two that day), and we had a nice chat in passing (we stood to the side). The power hiking continued as my legs felt a bit weak, and the trail continued to climb up and up. I tried to run some flats and a few downhills when I could, but my legs were not having it. In addition, when we finally made it to the bluffs portion of the lake, the crowds began. I was overwhelmed. We stood far off the trail when we could, and one time a huge family with no regards to the 6’ rule was coming towards us and I jumps on a nearby rock. I did not know it was very wet and I instantly bit it. I slipped hard onto my right hip and tore open my pinky finger and scuffed up my right arm pretty good on the large rock. No one cared to really help, and I’m sure it looked pretty bad. Only about 4-5 miles in, this was a bummer for the mood. 100092808_252695372490230_7167323500942721024_nI just wanted to get away from people as fast as I could. And it got worse. I lost confidence in the rocks and had a hard time scaling down the bluff rocks, and the people were everywhere. I’d like to toss that one out. Most people were kind however. We finally made it to the bottom. The parking lot on the south shore was PACKED. People were grilling, mingling, and just various levels of not caring about what was going on in the world. We trudged on and found the trail going up again on the other side. I was kind of excited because I had not been this way.

But there was almost as many people on this side. Albeit this side was easier to maneuver than the other bluff without all the rocks, it was just as steep. We finally made it up toward the campgrounds. Certainly no one would be out that far with the campgrounds closed until further notice. Not as scenic or exciting, we passed by empty campground with the exception of one camper. This is when the 2nd runner passed us. No words, just passed on. Garlic mustard became so prevalent in the landscape. We made our way back as I kept looking down at our slow pace thinking it was going to take x hours to make it back. The glory of running is getting there faster. I was so bummed out I just was defeated. And I was also trying to beat the oncoming rain.

We made it to the road and decided to head back the way we came. Eventually, we made it close to the car and I started trying to run again. It was hard but doable. Ended the run with 14 miles. We stopped for gas and got snickers ice cream bars and more soda.

100090388_2980727262041125_506109613196705792_nI should note that all my water was filled with liquid calories. I wasn’t going without. But I was afraid both of the trail days I would run out of water so I wasn’t drinking enough as I should have been. The idea I was only slightly over half way with the week weighed on me.

Back home, we grabbed some take out again. Later that evening I needed a milkshake. Now a new tradition! I needed the salt and whatever else it was offering up. I rolled out and stretched. I was feeling much better but Rich got sore despite mostly hiking. I felt like I had cheated. I didn’t even run 50% of the time. I got the miles in, and I did them all at once. Later that evening we went for a short walk, 1.22 more miles for the day pokemon Go shiny hunting.

I was dreading day 5, so I kept it simple. I got up, ate breakfast and headed out to the Riley parking lot for Military Ridge State Trail. I knew I had to get it in early to beat the afternoon storms that were predicted. I was sad my car was dead, I was sad I didn’t run like I was supposed to. It was only a half marathon. I was still doing well preventing the old blister from getting worse, which was a miracle. I was doing well with calories and doing my best with recovery. The first two days, my feet tried to swell up, and I would put them up. The next two days, they did not have that affecting them. The first 13 miles did not feel like a half had gone by. The 2nd day felt exactly the miles I had been in a marathon (day two mile 2, felt like mile 15 for example). Day 3 felt like ultra world, and Day 4 felt like 100k mark for sure, the time when I feel most down in a 100 or late in a 100k race. Everything matched up to the one-time mile experiences.

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Feeling defeated from all that, I started walking on the trail. I was surprised there were hardly any cars there. Most people bike from this location, and a few runners. Locals will walk but there aren’t many of them. Last time I was here, the parking lot was plum full and chaotic. I walked one mile for my warm up. Then I started running. THEN I started RUNNING. I felt way better than I had any of the other days. I refused to look at pace. I went by feel, and the first mile was faster than my first day. I kept this up for a few miles and made it back to the car. I didn’t have to carry water bottles for this one for most of the plan.

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The plan was to do shorter out and back from the parking lot. I would fuel and drink when I came back each time. On the 2nd out and back, I decided to put in a few walking breaks. This is when I noticed I could not slow down when I was running. I switched my garmin to the heart rate screen and gauged effort by that. I didn’t want to become sore again after what happened the first day. This day flew by and was my 2nd fastest day, and I think only slower because I walked that first mile. As soon as I made it back to my car the skies started opening up. 98344663_266436794553118_248339965446979584_nIt was good timing. I squeezed in 13.2 miles plus a 1.15 mile cool down walk after. Wow that felt so good, and started making me wonder what was possible.

I had little aches and pains along the way, but none would last for more than half a mile at a time. Some would return on a different day, but still never lasting. Everything ended up working itself out.

The 6th day came and I decided to walk it to be sure I was recovered for day 7. I had gotten over most of the guilt of walking to get in miles. Maybe some of it was avoiding disappointment. I had had such a good day 5, and I didn’t want to ruin it. Today there was pokemon go community day, so from 11am to 5pm, there were shiny pokemon spawning.

Today was the first day I took a huge break in the activity. Rich and I parked at a nearby park and walked all the trails hunting pokemon with no course objective. This was far less stressful. The sun was obscured slightly by haze, it was hot and I was living life. 100683037_911486999324088_342332275293159424_nWe took a break to get sunscreen and drinks and food. We had a picnic on a blanket in the park. Then we continued on! Somewhere around mile 11 I discovered I was toasted. Beyond help. How was I so red and Rich was not? I had spent way more time outside than him this year. I worried but finished the day with 13.15 miles and a slower 1.4 mile walk at home. The idea behind walking for community day was to not dawdle around and go fast to click on as many as possible. It’s hard to cover ground fast when you aren’t in a car or populated area with a lot of spawns (like downtown you can go a crawling speeds because you’ll get 4-5 spawns at any given point around you, versus where we were you’d get one every minute).

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I got home and realized how bad the burns were. I had no aloe, and everything was closed for Sunday/Memorial day. I used lotion I had and A&D. That night was horrible and uncomfortable. I did not sleep hardly at all. I wore very similar clothes the next day to prevent any of my burned skin making contact with literally anything. I covered myself in sunscreen, way more than usual.

101230583_563209330910195_5319741738296803328_nSince it was day 7, I would end it at the park and ride. I would do very short out and backs or loops so I would not have to carry water. It was up in the mid 80s for this one. I was so happy with it, even if I was suffering. This is what I wanted (not the burns). I started off running, but quickly realized this pace was not sustainable and pretty sure I burned out my energy very early on. I made it 4 miles before burning out. I fueled with soda and now a new drink fuel powder (have to say I was not impressed). I was out of gels, so I used pixie sticks. I ran along to music. I would go up the trail under the trees (avoiding sunlight), but the air was stagnant and the humidity was real. I thought this way would be better, but when I took the turn to loop back on the sidewalk (fully sun exposed and no trees to block wind), it was magical. The wind was more a breeze in my face and I welcomed the cooling effect. This loop became my standard…just under 2 miles. I will probably use this in the future now!

100523712_2643652702622880_8193978967116480512_nI could tell my adrenaline was popping off, as I was able to ignore my sunburns. I thought about all the men and women and what memorial day meant as I passed under the giant flag from the fire station. I thought about the war on the virus…the front line men and women might look a little different than a physical war between countries. I constantly thought about my friend (also Altra red team) Ray who mentioned how not fighting someone’s perspective about something to bring more peace between people in a keyboard warrior world. I still think about that a lot. 13.45 miles later I finished. I was done with 100 miles. I managed to finish running. I thought about how I was able to run at the end of Cloudsplitter 100. I will always keep that with me. It wasn’t even slow. Though it did hurt.

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I did a cool down celebration walk in flip flops (1.57 miles). My blister had finally reared its ugly head that day and I was caught walking because of it. If it popped today, then it did. My calves were tight and tired. And still looking back, was I able to do more? I should just walk away from this experience for now and not ask what if; this is valuable experience. Most high mileage weeks involve spreading out the miles differently. Doing semi-high mileage each day was way more taxing than I imagined. 101216609_971534586610976_6849640343609016320_nIf I had done 15 one day, 10 another, and a longer 20 miler later in the week, it would have gone differently. You’d take the 20 slower than the 10, but not go all out in the 10, recovering better in the 10, and being more aware of recovery for the 20 and so on. 13.1 miles is definitely a mix of different things, but at least it’s a distance where you can recover from it decently and you don’t have to do too much extra work with nutrition unlike marathons. Still I considered the time I was out versus the miles and tried to compensate. No matter how you look at it, getting in 100 miles in a week is certainly something to be reckoned with, no matter how you do it.

The ending was quiet, much like my Military Ridge FKT, you just stop, no one was there this time. No family or friends, just me and my car to get back home. There weren’t even any people at the park and ride lot, I am guessing from the midday heat. No post celebration, no where to go that is safe but home.

The biggest quandary was stopping. I didn’t have to stop. I was almost at 13.5 miles for that run alone, just to push me over 100 miles while still running (not the cool down walk I was doing every day). I considered doing more, but my skin was in pretty bad shape and my blister was on the verge of giving me more issues if I’d kept going and as I was then, I could still run and do whatever after that week, something I don’t always get to do after long ultras. My body was in good shape, no sense not continuing to run on after. I wouldn’t even call what I got niggles, they were so short lived and randomly cropped up in random places.

100061185_2832678846859657_4914316311821025280_nSo what was recovery like? I did taper two weeks into it, or at least 10 days. I feel like this was too long judging how I felt after day one and two. Maybe this would be more acceptable had I did all the miles at once, but with the recovery day to day, I am not sure the taper was short enough. Between the runs, which were mostly 11am-1pm every day, with a few later in the day, I started eating more and more every day. I was hungry, but would feel full after a good meal. I ate out more, but it did help with sodium levels…but I needed to make sure I balanced that out with water, so that’s all I would drink during the days outside of running. I listened to my body and ate when I was hungry. I stopped when I was full. I feel like that is important if you’re doing something like this or everyday life. No need to overstuff yourself. But don’t feel guilty for getting in a bit more than you’re used to. The milkshakes post run just felt like the icing on the cake I needed to really polish off the calories. I’m not saying it’s the best choice, but whole foods weren’t always appetizing.

During runs, I used mainly liquid fuel, whether powder mixed with water or using soda. I am a huge fan of sodas, and never have GI issues with them and they are fast calories. Still holds true. I used a lot of my expiring leftover gels to get them out of the way. I hate them, but hey, they were mostly free from races (“free”, you pay for the race and goodies). I am having more and more issues gagging them down. I could have fueled more at the beginning. But I did consume a majority of my calories around my runs.

100856910_1387549798104723_6157262401126268928_nOtherwise, I used a hand massager mainly on my calves when I felt like I needed it. I used recovery boots, but not sure if they had a major impact. I foamed rolled larger muscles to keep them in check a few times. But mainly I focused on feet.

The biggest thing for me, in a race or during this (and I have previously lacked the motivation and not put in the effort during training, usually a huge mistake), was taking care of my feet. The blister I had gotten before it started was problematic. I had power hiked 7 miles and was not used to walking at a very fast pace (13-14 min/mi) on trails, and nor did I pre-treat those areas for the long walk, and it resulted in two blistered areas…three days before the week started. I didn’t run the two days prior to starting to let it heal, but it did not. I carried this blistered area the whole week. I was successful but using vasaline every run on every area and switching off shoes and socks every day for a different foot sensation. At night I would use neosporn and socks and make sure I was hydrated every night (and started hydrating for the week the two days prior). You can control a lot of variables if you feet are happy.

The day after the week was over, I did an easy walking day, babying the blistered area. The 2nd day after, I went for a run, a harder run. There were so many variables that I am not sure which was contributing to my run. It was humid and hot, in the upper 80s. It was sunny, my skin was still in bad shape. My calves were really tight and my heart rate ran a bit higher with less effort. Nothing felt off however. I am certainly not heat adapted yet, and we have had hardly any days here yet above 70°F before this started. I love heat, but it’s still a beast to deal with. I was managing my Yeti pace with a lot of effort. The biggest thing was I could NOT find my forever pace. My body was so confused. Walking was too easy, even walking fast. Running a slower pace than I’m used to was hard to maintain (again maybe it was the heat), and I could not slow down from that slower pace without walking without sacrificing form or cadence. I was in a puzzling state. I will run today in the 60s and report back.

Overall I felt like I could keep going, albeit at some random and weird paces with walking mixed in.

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Miles all at once, or spread out? On day 3 and 4, I was saying to myself I would MUCH rather be doing these miles all at once. After day 4, it became a lot easier than doing the miles all-at-once feeling. So in conclusion, I would say at first, it sucks. It’s just hard and feels harder than it should. At some point, your body does adapt and it gets better, and you will feel good and then bad, and the waves will keep washing over you, but never as bad as it was for the first few days. I can’t say how it would feel to do more miles than this in a day, but listening to longer FKT runners, it does always get better. I feel like 13.1 miles at a time is such a drop in the bucket compared to 30+ miles a day.

Someone asked about laundry. I will say the same as I did for my Yeti blog. I got all my clothes washed the day before starting. The temperatures fluctuated daily so I was never stuck wearing the same thing from day to day. I had enough bras and undies to last the week so I never did laundry again. But doing laundry BEFORE you start is key! I would not want to be worrying about getting laundry done or putting it off for late at night when all you want to do is decompress from the day. For me, decompression after a run is imperative, and sometimes takes as long as my runs.

101547915_623555658252942_4912846406508609536_nLastly, sleeping. Mostly sleeping was normal to weird. Normal that I got good sleep until I got sunburned. But weird in that, I was getting up earlier and earlier each day. I wasn’t going to bed later typically, but looked forward to sleep each night, but not to the point of exhaustion, which was very nice. Honestly the challenge was probably more helpful for my sleep than anything else.

I was planning on also using this as a way to see which distance I would virtually try for the Midwest States 100/100k for June. I am still on the fence. I am not great at 10 miles, but it’s shorter than 13.1, but for 3 days longer, which doesn’t seem to prove an issue after this experiment. However, doing less than an hour of running a day (10k/day) option and trying to go hard is really tempting, though I know people will be much faster for obvious reason. The huge drawback of this sort of thing is you have no visual of who you are competing against. I don’t even know if I can be ranked as competitive, but I will most certainly try. My bones are itching to do well either way. Not everyone is on the same playing field. I am luck I am near flat land and can use it to my advantage, I can use trails or road. I have access much lower temperatures, though I will likely not choose to do morning runs to avoid heat. If I were in Virginia, I would have a hard time being faster than I would be here.

Advice. If you want to try this, a few things to note that I found useful for myself (and I know others are different, even from talking with Heather from Team BU as she completed it today—so proud of her, and having her start it mid way through mine was really neat to sit and chat about every day, feeling connected and not so alone!!):

– Come up with pre-planned routes that are interesting. Routes where you have access to a car, bathroom, aid station (house), or plan to go long. I split mine up between short and long loops, and one-way runs. I mixed things up every day. Trails and roads. Heather I believe did the same out and back every time…that could create a lot of accountability!

– Plan one day ahead each day. When you are done with your run, prep for the next day while that day is still fresh in your head. What could you have done better, fueling? Socks/shoe combo? Hydration? Don’t wait until right before your run. Keep all your running stuff in one area so you don’t lose things. Charge your watch every evening.

– Laundry all done before you start. Lay out your outfit the night before.

– Weather checks. I checked the weather daily and planned accordingly. Sometimes I would switch where I was going to run according to the weather. If it was rainy the previous day, I would avoid trails. Hot and sunny? Choose a more shaded route (or find out your route wasn’t really shady after all and learn for later).

– Fuel around your runs. Avoid post run eating binges and hunger by doing this. And hydrate really well before and after.

– Always be over-prepared for your run. Treat them like a long run. Avoid the chaffing through prevention, and same goes with the feet. It’s not just 13.1 miles, it’s a week effort that deserves respect for the long haul.

100825618_1358361484443627_2290365261338902528_nI think this is useful for anyone who plans to do a streak from 1 mile a day, or 5 miles a day, or 13.1 miles a day or up to 30+ miles a day. The longer you go the more complicated things get. But every bit of this is a learning experience. I have never done a stage race and clearly I have underestimated the effort to go into it. Don’t feel guilty if you have to take a walk day, just don’t stop moving. The goal of this was to do the miles all at ONCE. Based on the Yeti experience, splitting up the runs throughout the day, even if I did 3 miles and then 10 miles, it would have felt much differently. I wanted to do the minimum miles I set a goal for in one go. Even when I stopped briefly for lunch/drinks during my 2nd to last day, I wasn’t relaxing necessarily, I had my watch set to go again as soon as I was done and was the only time I paused it. I did not mentally take a break and I think that counts for something…especially when I knew I was going to try to go as hard as I could on the final day. It was a bit weary on me mentally knowing I had 13.1 miles a day weighing on me and I absolutely did not want to have to start over for any reason, probably why I do not ever count how many days in a row I do anything (running or otherwise).

As a final remark, if you are to try this, absolutely never give yourself a time constraint. This is supposed to be a fun thing, and you can easily add enough pressures and stressors to make it not fun real fast. It really was like a roller coaster of 100 miles, and as close to doing a 100 in training as anything I’ve ever done. I’ve done 26+ mile days once a weekend for 3 weekends in a row. Vastly different. I feel like this is much closer to the training for a 100 miler than that was based on how I felt. However, I have no way of testing it out since there are no races.100939825_670490540178145_3604119542990635008_n I will potentially redo a week similar to this in July in case Badger 100 is still on. It would be interesting to see if 10 miles over 10 days is any different stress wise. Would 3 more miles, and a few walking miles a day make a difference? Loads of questions still remain for me. I hope to get some answers at some point. Looking forward to my big weekend coming up to see how the legs do!

Update, ran a half mile PR today (3 days post last day). Legs are doing better!

The Yeti 24 Hour Endurance Challenge

I knew about this event for a while, but didn’t want to sign up. What was just 5 miles every 4 hours worth? I could do that easily. But with that sort of confidence, you know you will be thrown for a loop…or out and back. Whatever is your style.

Looking for something, some goal, to keep me motivated in May with the whole Pandemic happening (it’s still not quite “springing” out yet here, just greener grass, I am sad I was unable to go home to Virginia this year), I wrote up a blog post on my thoughts current to the time I wrote it and when I posted on my facebook timeline to share, I started to include links to virtual races for smaller race companies.

This got me thinking more and more about doing one myself just to say I did something. Mentally, the easiest one I posted about was the Yeti 24 Hour Endurance Challenge, running 5 miles every 4 hours for 24 hours. This differs from the Goggins challenge (4x4x48, 4 miles, every 4 hours for 48 hours I believe), which is free to do, and vastly different from a virtual 50k or 1-week 100 miler. With the weather in Wisconsin being ever so unforgiving during the “spring” time (mind you, it snowed in May last year, and Spring wasn’t even to be found until June…per my opinion on what Spring means to me as a southern), I spied a weekend of low 70 degree days! I saw this about 2 weeks in advanced, but never trust a 14 day forecast, so I sat on it. A few days beforehand, the highs and weather did not really shift much. I decided that Sunday would be my day. I signed up a few days before and made my commitment to it as well as the 1000k virtual race across Tennessee…more on that later I guess.

I thought about start times a lot, but didn’t put it on paper (literally) until the night before. I decided that 3am would be the official start time when I could go for a run, come back and nap and go out again for the rest of the challenge. I previously have done a similar challenge, the Solstice Challenge (50 miles in 2 day without overnight runs). It went ok, but this challenge provided me the opportunity to fix what didn’t go well during that. The major difference being that I had time goals for this challenge, and was doing far less miles, and I could not travel for this challenge to get a change in scenery. This made me ponder hard since my very local area is very hilly, and any way I go out from my house is directly up a long hill in any given direction within a few feet of departing. Cue the eye roll.

What didn’t go well during the Solstice challenge? I did not eat enough throughout. I did not take good enough care of my body between legs of the challenge, or before or after, did not plan routes ahead of time (and I had FAR less time between legs, though less miles per leg), had nothing laid out in preparation (clothes, nutrition), and lacked what I needed to fight the weather (it was late June and very hot/humid, and BUGGY). I did not care about pace, just getting it done.

This time the weather was a non-factor, just windy with temps between 50 and 73, sunshine as far as the eye could see…or clear dark night skies. I had enough bras to switch in and out and enough clean undies (doing all your laundry beforehand, key tip!). I would rinse my body with a quick soap-over after finishing, and had all my foam rollers out, my air compression boots, and hand percussion massager out.

I picked out 6 routes, 2 left up in the air for creativity for down time at home. My first route would be during the night, and planned a route that would be ok to run alone, a simple out and back. The second would be early morning with low traffic, so I picked a long loop I could do that ran along a highway (I encountered a total of 2 cars). The 3rd would be a loop and stick I traditionally did that I considered “flatter”. The 4th and 5th leg would be left up to the creative part of me, seeing where I could go in 5 miles without using any of the other legs too much. The 6th and final leg would be the out and back I took first, but with a longer out (my first one was two shorter out and backs to break up the mileage and not be too far from help should I need it in the dark). I ended up changing the final leg, more on that later.

The week leading up to my “event” I put in some hard speed work time and tempo pacing (for me at my current ability anyway), not really knowing if the event was going to happen. This would be the first thing I changed. I gave myself a week after my virtual Blue Ridge Marathon/Half/bonus ultra mile to recover before ramping back into pace. I virtually ran with my sister for her first half (self-supported!!) on the actual Blue Ridge Half marathon course and checked in via phone for minutes at a time at least every mile as I ran in a county park that provided me with the 130 foot (or as I called it, 130 points) hill that I would run up and down in order to get as much elevation gain as she was. After she finished, I continued on to do 26.2 miles and a bonus 1.5 mile to officially make it another “ultra” in April to continue my one-ultra-per-month streak. A cheap one, not even a 50k, but an ultra by definition.

The day before, Saturday, I did a 90 minute dance game marathon with my husband (the East Coast Stamina 8.5 Lower Division marathon, which meant playing 24 songs in a row ranging from 2 minutes to 8 minutes each all in a row, switching off to get the best score). Then a bit later, we went for a 3 mile shake out run and a 1 mile walk. My legs were dead from playing. I wondered if and how this would affect me.

Went to sleep around 10:30pm, which was on the early side of normal for us, but I was tired from the day and figured it would go well. It did not.

I sat there for hours, and every time I looked at the clock, one hour had passed. I tossed and turned. Nothing. I was so tired. Eventually it was 2:45am, and it was time to get up. I set an alarm, but didn’t even use it. SMH. The neat thing I came up with for my first leg was to run without my contacts. My vision isn’t good enough to drive without contacts to give you perspective, but not too shabby in my honest opinion. I was always scared if I was in an ultra and something happened to my contacts (I always pack an extra pair for my drop bag if temps are above freezing), and I would be without “seeing”. I thought, why not try to run without? I was running on familiar grounds I knew and passed over often enough to know where the cracks in the sidewalk were worse. I also was lazy and did not want to take them in and out between legs when I fully planned on napping between legs 1 and 2. I had prepped my clothes for the first two legs and would go based on temperature after that (though all bras and undies were prepped).

I slipped everything on and went downstairs to find my headlamp had yet again not charged overnight. At this point, I fully expected it to not have charged (long story with this particular headlap, and am still working with their customer service 9 months later). I grabbed my backup headlamp and lighted vest and pocket knife and headed out. BLIND, not really. It was so dark I couldn’t even really tell I wasn’t wearing anything to help my vision. Neat.

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I left up the bigger hill (shorter though) from my driveway which I decided to be the stopping and starting point each leg. Whew, this sucked sleep deprived. I was feeling the lack of sleep and lack of nervous adrenaline that usually keeps me afloat during normal early morning events (see Ironman which I also had to wake up around 3am and last until midnight, or Devil’s Lake Dances with Dirt which starts at 6am over an hour away from me). I drug along uphill then downhill which led me to the Military Ridge State Trail where I would do two smaller out and backs and head back home. The air was thicker and I breathed easy. My legs already felt heavy, as the fatigue of the past week showed its head immediately. There were no people, no cars. The trail was tricky with the hard divoted footprints and bike tire tracks carved into the dirt. I moved slowly along, slower than my A goal pace.

I had a secret goal that I wanted to hit around 5 hours, which I thought was possible given I kept around a 10 min/mi. I feel like this was asking a whole lot from my tired legs which had been dishing out much faster paces all week.

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There were technically two ways to record your legs. 1) Stop and start your watch each time, you would have an average pace for each leg, could start from different places (should you drive to another place) and not have your data look like a 3 year old found your sharpies in the junk draw and then found a nice clean slate called your basement wall…, you won’t have a “total time elapsed” unless you paused during a leg. However you would have to add up the distance, risk going over or under with ultra brain, and it would be much harder to have an “overall” pace (rest in peace pace calculator 😦 ). Of course this is all speaking from a data standpoint, you could just run with a timex.

2) You could pause your watch (this is for the Garmin series at least) which sends you to a screen that says “save, resume, resume later”. Pick resume later, and the watch preserves your run for “later”. You cannot start a new activity during that time. When you go back to record an activity, it goes straight to that last activity on pause until you hit go. This disadvantages of this method is that you can accidentally hit that start button and easily get bad additional data, you will have an overall elapsed time and moving time, and it will pick up where you left off. To explain that last point, if you started one run in a park near your house and paused and resumed near your actual house, the point where you stopped and where you started again, the data would show a straight as-the-crow-flies line from A to B. It doesn’t count the distance between, but it sure does look weird and questionable. The advantages are you will have a continuous overall pace, cumulative miles and time.

I chose to resume later to have that accumulation of data to keep me accountable. Since these were training miles, I didn’t care about the time adding up between my pauses. I did care about overall pace. One goal was to keep a consistent pace throughout the legs. I figure if the miles get done, it doesn’t matter what the overall elapsed time (which was 24 hours, but technically whatever it took you from hour 20 on if doing the challenge by the book). Having multiple legs/splits would also make me question which mile I was actually on, this ended up being really great to have after mile 15. I took a picture of the paused screen with the current data at that point each time I stopped each leg, which ended up being a very specific sidewalk tile line I came to find out.

I arrived back at home, drank my pre-prepped iced BCAAs (I love cold drinks), drank some milk and showered off avoiding my hair. The temps hovered around 57 for that run, so I didn’t sweat much. I slipped back under the bed covers and proceeded to freeze? I didn’t expect the cold to keep me awake. I was shivering and basically had a repeat of what I experienced before my 1st leg. Ugh. My next leg had me starting at 6am. Seemed logical, until I figure out it was only 3 hours and not 4?! I majored in math.

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So this is what 6am looks like?

I flowed off the side of the bed, the sky lighter out. The sun shone brightly through our windows as I gave it a dirty, sleep glare. I opted for a long sleeve shirt, capris (my legs got a little chilly in shorts at 57, and now it was only 50), a vest, and ear warmers. I have to say BOTH outfits were very appropriate and I was never overly sweaty or uncomfortable. Winning!!

The route this time was a giant loop. I started with the less steep, longer hill (which also adds some distance), and then down into my personal 5k out and back course, but this time I would continue on the highway to do a loop around. The local farmer on the road was out and about and waved. The highway was longer than I recalled. I passed by many many worms and I often thought about how the early bird gets the worm, and maybe there was some truth to that (though then I started counting birds and got to 6 and mentally gave up haha). I concluded there were way more worms than birds. It became a dodging game. I passed by another farm, and heard roosters. How iconic. I hate it, thanks. My morning hate really came out and I considered quitting the run. However, my logical brain popped in to say “hi, brain here, do you wanna start over and have to run in the morning AGAIN?” No. I continued on.

I watched all the red-wing black birds cautiously hoping it wasn’t their nesting season yet. I know this highway stretch is notorious for attack from them. I narrowed my eyes, like they could even tell I was “watching them”. I made the turn onto my road leading to my neighborhood (again, this is #2 hill repeat up this massive thing), and agreed that if I could drop my pace before I got there I could walk at the fire hydrant 2/3s the way up.

This got my pace brain working. My paces from leg one were probably more sluggish for me because I was without contact and it was dark, and it was 10 minutes after I got up. But my paces were a bit better on leg 2.

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I got home and decided to try the nap thing ONE last time, and dedicated myself to getting the 3 hour break in (4 hours between legs, not 3). I rinsed off again, and cuddled in bed. I managed 1 hour of sleep. I felt a little better now. I got up and had a banana and orange cutie and a mountain dew. Caffeine and sugar seemed to be the ticket.

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10am was the next leg. I got dressed up in a loose shirt and shorts and headed out. It was so much warmer, now 67 degrees and sunny, with the wind starting to pick up. Rich decided to join me. I decided to make my route go downtown, but all left turns so we would not cross traffic. I went a bit faster! I was feeling much better and awake.

For those of you who do not know, I am not a morning person, and 95% of my alone runs are done after 10am. I was cranky and tired from the sleepless night. But the sun just kept shining regardless, and I couldn’t be mad at that.

We started by heading up the big hill and doing a left turn town loop. I thought this would mainly be downhill/flat for the 2nd half of the run, but I was mistaken. I also did not know how far this loop was but I could troubleshoot when I got closer to home again. Turning the corner to head out of downtown (which downtown is like 5 blocks long lol), we got hit with the wind. WHEW!! That is the exact type of wind that would make a biker think twice about going out for a ride. The push-back was incredible. And guess what? It was gradual uphill! I had not really run this section in this direction before, and it was a long stretch. After making the next left turn to head back towards home, I figured out I would be about 1 mile short, so I took a short out and back on Military Ridge I had done earlier that morning sans contacts. The path was so knotted with divots, I have no idea how I navigated it earlier. It was also much harder to keep up pace on. I headed back out to home and went back up my big hill keeping my fire hydrant plan.

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Does this shirt make me look fat? Yeah cause the wind is way up in there!

Back home, it was time to lunch it up. I didn’t shower after this run because I frankly wasn’t sweaty between the low humidity, the wind, and the pacing. I immediately started my foam rolling and recovery for the next 30 minutes after grabbing a banana. Lunch was leftover quinoa soup. In retrospect, this was a mistake. This was not a calorie dense food. Even if I ate a lot, I would not get in sufficient calories, this would catch up with me later. It was at this point I decided that I didn’t want to drag this challenge on longer if I didn’t have to. I’d made so many mistakes in timing so far, I felt as if there was no going back anyway. I decided to run every 3 hours for MY challenge.

I had made up a list of things to do between my legs. The first space between legs was dedicated to napping. The second was supposed to have been for plants, but ended up being napping. So between eating and recovery efforts, I repotted some plants I had been rooting, and refilled some water jugs, and cleaned my computer screens (something I have put off for YEARS). I watered my plants too. Trying to be productive between legs is a great idea, but difficult to execute because you might be a tired runner (who got like no sleep).

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The next leg I ended up doing at 1pm alone. I headed out in the warmest part of the day (who knew the wind had NOT maxed out yet?!), miles 15-20, and did a new downtown route. I knew this would be risky especially in the middle of the day with two major road crossings. But it WOULD be flatter, except I still had to climb the big hill back up to my house again. After climbing the longer, less steep hill (and an amazing choice for pacing and energy) I headed downtown and around to streets I had not ran, ever. I had calculated the distance on garmin beforehand to make sure I wasn’t going to be majorly off. What a beautiful day! I was cheery and had more energy, thanking lunch at this point. This route was uneventful with the exception of the two road crossings I had to stop briefly for. I cursed the hill I had to climb to get back to my house, and crossed the made-up stopping line at my house with my fastest average (I think) yet!

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Cue the recovery with boots and massager and foam roller for the next 30 minutes. I was still not overly sweaty so I remained in my clothes. I got pretty miffed at having to climb a hill every time I was within 0.3 miles of my house (which made me out of breath and tired despite having easy going miles beforehand), but there was no way to avoid it…literally no way. The other side to enter our housing area is still a very long hill and out of the way mile wise. My mileage ended up short of what garmin connect showed me before starting leg 4, and it continuously makes me wonder how much garmin is cutting me short of miles sometimes.

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I forgot to eat this time, if I recall correctly, I had a few cheez-its but it was not enough. I was more thirsty and had chapped lips. I prioritized that. Got full from drinking and did not get in real calories. Rich would go out with me again for miles 20-25. I decided to do this before dinner and decided during my downtown run, I really wanted McDonald’s (which never happens).

It was also between legs 4 and 5 I discovered a blossoming blister on the ball of my right foot (unsurprising because if a blister happens, it’s always there). I couldn’t even feel it, and it was still intact. I cleaned my foot and decided to switch socks and cover the blister in a blister pad and KT tape. As I walked around in-between legs, I noticed that the tape was all coming off. UGH. If this blister popped, it would surely hurt my pace and my mood. I had been switching shoes EVERY leg and was rotating through to make sure I didn’t get any hot spots, but didn’t matter, I should have also been switching socks as well and doing more prevention. I know personally if I go faster than a 10:00 min/mi pace, I am prone to extreme blistering for whatever reason. I’ve done 100k without a blister, but have done 5k and gotten huge ones. Shrugs shoulders.

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Gotta recover!

We left for miles 20-25, leg 5, up the less steep hill to get additional distance in. I had a plan to make this more residential in an area I had not been, but the initial garmin data said it would be hilly, and for some reason I did not believe it. I was tired immediately and my pace was noticeably slower. As we traversed down our big hill (I decided to come up another side of it coming back), I told Rich that the wind was a headwind both uphill AND downhill! I had no idea how or why, but it was true cause I made a joke last time I went down that the wind was blowing in my face downhill (against the wind!) so coming back, it would be a tailwind…and was wrong hah. We made it to a neighboring subdivision, and it was just hilly as garmin said. I made it to the end of where we would add on that 0.7ish miles and was defeated and said “Rich, let’s just do the out and back, I’ll figure out how to get more miles somewhere else”. I was tired of the wind and the hills there. I was scared my blister would pop. Mood bad. I just wanted this one to be over. I hit my slowest mile climbing up the other side of the big hill heading back, and did a small hilly loop to get the miles made up from cutting my loop short at the out and back.

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My pace 😥

I knew the end of this leg meant McDonald’s though. And I showered up like before and changed for the upcoming final leg which I knew would be cooler as the sun set. I felt more fresh and had all new clothes on. My blister was a big issue now. I ignored it and scarfed down two cheeseburgers and a fry with a half of a large Dr. Pepper. My spirit was renewed. I saved the last half of the soda for when I finished as a reward since we had no soda left in the whole house (major planning mistake).

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Back home, I had little time to get myself together and head out for the final leg. I had little hope I could hit 9 min/miles this round but if I did, even if it was 9:58 min/miles, I could break under 5 hours for the cumulative running time. I held myself to my 5 miles each leg, and not pausing for traffic or whatever if I felt bad or needed a break. I was lucky to not really need to and to really focus on a pace where I did not need a break for anything. I’ll preface this also with I am not a fast marathoner, and have never really trained to be fast at that distance, and really don’t want to as it’s not something I’m interested in (Boston Qualifying).

I spoke with my friend Megan about the paces. She cleared my head and gave me insight. I didn’t HAVE to climb my hill back to my house, it was the last leg, I could end where-ever I wanted! This was brilliant. I knew the course I had picked, heading down and out and back on Military Ridge, was mainly flat, but tough to run quick on compared to road, and coming back from that I would have a 1 mile climb. So the thought was to end the run a mile before getting home and walk the bonus 50k mile as a victory lap playing pokemon go haha. This would mean a longer out and back.

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This was on the way up the big hill from my house as well as the cover photo. I passed by each time and made me smile.

I lubed up my foot the best I could and wore my loosest shoes and tightest socks. The sun was setting and it occurred to me that we might not make it back before dark…I mean anything could happen, and we’d be stuck without a light. I trusted myself and headed out with Rich who agreed to do the final few miles with me. I was warned by a friend that the McDonald’s would backfire, but I had faith that it would not. I had one hour to digest.

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Turns out the late bird can get worms too. Last leg, worms are coming back!

The wind was still blowing. I tried my best heading up that big steep hill at first and pounded the down, and landed at my fastest mile of the day. The rest was a struggle to maintain hitting the limestone path for the long out and back. I had a dream to watch the sunset on this journey, but the timing didn’t work out and I had no time to just stop. This section of trail is very meaningful to me. This was the trail I would go to every day during my stress fracture recovery, run as far as I could given the time I was allowed to run/walk, trying to make it to the goal of the oasis. We did not get to the oasis during the out and back, based on distance and not time, but I saw it in the distance. I was reminded how far I had come since then and how far I still had to go even now. I remember getting that far in my first few runs. I remembered the hot sun from late summer as the last remaining sun set in the distance. How I miss the heat. I had switched to a long sleeve shirt by this point as temps dropped to the low 60s. I knew the temperatures would drop fast. The McDonald’s rumbled, but nothing came of it. I managed to suppress its call pretty well. It proved way more of an advantage than a hindrance. And it was a great conversation point with Rich.

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At the turn around I feared the wind would blow into my face all the way back, but as we turned, it did not. I pressed on switching my iPod to one of my go-to go-hard songs. 180 bpm, 5 minutes. I can always run that. I made it back to the streets, half a mile left, slight uphill and then down to the finish of 30 miles. I pushed, but the pace would not budge. All my miles during this leg were faster, if not by much even, than a majority of my miles that day. But my effort was now much higher. As I turned the familiar corner I had visited so many times that day, my watch clicked over to mile 30 and beeped. I ran a few seconds longer afraid it would not be 30 if I stopped right away.

 

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I beat my A goal by almost 3 minutes, and at the end of the 5th leg, I was only about 30 seconds ahead of that goal. Just wow. I worked. I sat down in some cool clover bed of the nearby park and opened pokemon go. The first pokemon I clicked on was a shiny pokemon I did not have in the game. How lovely! I chilled for a bit and then started my bonus mile and back up that darn hill for a final time and get that last half of the Dr. Pepper.

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I showered up for a final time and we headed back to McDonald’s for a sweet tea and a Sprite. The final Sprite felt SO very good. It was like magic.

My blister did not pop, and I am not sore, but am a little inflammed. I would have liked to follow up with a recovery run or walk, but the blister is fragile and I will allow it to heal a bit more before heading out again. Listening to my body right now is a great thing. I had some weird aches and pains in random little places while I did my recovery session between legs, but repeating those after it was done, they are all gone.

Speaking of which, doing this broken up is good and bad. I had time to think about this since I have done this kind of thing twice now and have done similar distances all at once, fatigued and not. It’s a very different experience than doing it all at once. When you break up all the runs, you get time to recover between and you can take care of yourself, eat, do whatever. You can go faster theoretically, and come out the other end not as sore. However, breaking it up over hours gets tiring, and could impinge on sleep. And it takes planning especially if you don’t want to do the same route every leg/split. When you do a distance all at once, it’s over, but it takes a larger toll as you are out there, and there is less chance to be consistent. Nutrition is tricky and you can’t as good of care as yourself.

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The weird sick Onix!! Shiny!!

Looking back, doing the distance all at one time is probably still my preferred method, as the one message I can’t stress enough over these two experiences is your day is so consumed with the run. That can be fine, but I am used to having more of my day available to doing things other than running or recovering/eating to run. Also people tend to dislike it when you pause your watch during a run. I hate the stigma behind it but I do understand it. I think if you are claiming a pace you got with pauses is disingenuous, but if you are doing it for training, it’s fine. I set a marathon PR technically using this method, but to me, it was a training run and one I took massive breaks in, so this “PR” doesn’t even register, though I hope it shows I have some potential in beating my marathon PR one day.

I think that’s something you can truly ask of yourself if you were doing the 5 miles or more at a time. Can you hold those paces for a longer effort? I love thinking of the possibilities. If you are stopping your watch and going like 50 feet and resting, I’m not sure this is productive training, though doing mile repeats or putting purpose in your intervals, I think the value will add up. This is how I got my half PR. So I’m setting out to test the waters this way again. I think this endurance challenge is great training. The only thing it’s not great about for a training run is showing what things are really like when your legs get overwhelmed late in a long race. And in Ultras there is really no way to replicate how you will feel at mile 70 of a 100 during training, but training for “shorter” distances like 50ks or under, you can possibly get there if you so choose to. I think there is a lot of valuable discussion to come from comparing the two methods. But for now, I’m just posting my musings about it. I do prefer these backs to backs rather than long runs for myself, and then going out for one long effort as checkpoints. Everyone is an individual though, and finding what works best for you is a great experiment. There were several people who reached the coveted 30 miles in 24 hours during this virtual run experience and a great challenge for anyone and can be done walking.

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It was my thought that this challenge would bring no value to me, but that’s the other thing to discuss right? You can go as slow or fast as you want because in the end it’s counted as 24 hours regardless if I finished early or on time. It’s a level playing field with a lot of creativity left up to you, the runner. My goal was around marathon pace and keep at it for the 30 miles. I knew if I went faster, I would start falling off in pace and risk injury possibly for my fatigued state. I knew I could go slower, but I don’t, because that would rid the challenge part of this for me specifically. It doesn’t matter what distance we are talking about, 1 mile or 5 miles or 20 or 30 miles, you will have a pace. You probably have a 5k time, and maybe you’ve tried to beat it, and maybe that’s hard, but if you walked a 5k you would not have the same experience as going balls to the walls bat crazy pace. They are two different experiences within the same distance covered. I’ve never truly raced a 50k, so I don’t have a base for that particular distance, but speaking from the close cousin the marathon, I’ve taken them super easy and I’ve tried to PR. Two experiences. Usually the slower ones are more enjoyable from a personal perspective, but I do love a good challenge to fight myself over pace in a race. I see value in both.

I really thought that this would not be challenging enough since I can do 30 miles all at once, but doing it at a faster paced then I might otherwise was actually a great learning tool. But that’s the thing, you can make something as challenging as you want! Go hard, go fast, until you fizzle out on the 2nd leg, or maybe you never do and you find out more about yourself either way! Start slow, speed up. Start and stay steady like I did. Do anything you want. There’s no way to compare you experience to anyone else in this kind of environment. And that’s kind of the beauty of it. Maybe I will try a 12 hour challenge soon for 30 miles? Maybe span it over two days? It makes for great training and I have some tough things to train for right now, races or not.

Choosing a time. This is a big personal choice. My best advice is are you a morning person or night owl? My biggest mistake was probably starting too early for myself. I’d say starting 1-3 hours earlier than you’d normally run is probably wise, but for me that was on average 7 hours earlier and was just overwhelming. I would have had an easier time running into the night, but on the other hand, I was able to enjoy more sun and heat by having a majority of my legs land in the hottest part of the day. Also take weather and temperature into consideration, since you can start when you want (technically, I know busy moms and work interfere with this kind of decision). People tend to not like the heat, so if you have a hard time running in the heat, make it so you don’t land later runs in the heat…cause usually later runs are harder and harder to do and manage with or without weather. Draw up some potential plans, see what you like best. I know I don’t sleep well before events, and I do not sleep well after an event (the 2nd night is mmmm sweet though). What do you work well with?

Find stuff to do before you start to do between your legs. Get creative with your legs by finding new routes or challenging yourself to beat your own times on the same route. Wear fun clothes (wash ALL your clothes before starting, again, key tip). Rotate through shoes if you have the option. Sweat builds up on our shoes after time. The whole point of this challenge was to be alone together and have fun. Share what you do, explain what you are doing. Make it a goal to find a certain object on every run, observe more around you. And eat. Definitely eat.

Recover as you would any long distance. Get out and walk about the day after. Get those feet up and relax, take a bath, drink water and replenish yourself. Take care of yourselves out there!

 

The Quarantine Question

It’s really basic, what are you going to do?

A lot of us are freed up during this time, as many of us make the switch from Winter to Spring and the warmer temps have us itching for more miles and more adventures, but wait, we are under a stay at home order.

So what does this mean? Well, they can’t force you to stay home, but they can limit to what you can go to, such as state/county/national parks as the government tries to put policies in place to keep us safe. Read that again, this is not a punishment. Quick rant, I am not willing to get the virus for a trivial reason and potentially sacrifice my lungs or life for pretty much anything. I encourage everyone to think about that, what is getting the virus worth to you? Because some people don’t care if they are at risk of getting it, or spreading it to others. And it’s your right to go out and risk your health to do so. But overall it’s considered irresponsible to us trying to do our best to stop the spread as a human population. This virus is much more than your “freedom”, it’s a world-wide pandemic and affects the world, and not just your small 6-foot bubble. As a people, we should take responsibility for our fellow human to try and do what we can. Do what you can is what I ask…what that looks like is up to you.

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I may have collected too much cheese. Nonsense, never too much cheese.

For me, I have stopped venturing out. I go to the grocery store maaaaybe once a week. I eat and cook at home, supporting my local restaurants once a week (I want them back after this is all done with!), I go running from my house 90% of the time, only driving about 5 miles max out to one open park when less people are there. My views are rather limited. I carry hand sanitizer everywhere I go, using it before getting in my car, using it when I’m back in my car, and then washing my hands when I get home. I haven’t gotten gas, even with my somewhat gas guzzling Jeep, since early March. I wear a mask everywhere I go where I would encounter other people. I drink more water, I eat better. I focus on what I can do.

If you’d rather not read about my personal life, please skip down to “What can you do” header below. Otherwise, enjoy the ride.

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And all of you who know me or follow this blog, know I go back to Virginia about this time every year for a few weeks, because I run Mountains. I go home. I see my family. I was unable to do that this year. I was signed up for the Blue Ridge Half Marathon with my sister, training to do it with her as her first half marathon. I was so excited to share the experience, as the BRM was my first marathon, and I even did the double marathon last year. I simply cannot get enough of that course. It never bores me and always finds a way to surprise me every year. I ended up getting depressed, I was not raised in Wisconsin, and the lack of Spring in the air (not counting my horrific allergies from an apparent “mold season” before “pollen season” here), and as of this writing April 24th, there are no buds on trees, no popping flowers, no 50-60 degree days… doom and gloom to me. I try to convince myself this is just a delayed Spring here, and it will come, but when you see everywhere else with seasonal proliferation, it makes me sad.

93941934_265858847790778_6932531275391565824_nBlah blah blah, my issues. We decided to have my sister do the actual course (since she lives there) and I would do my best to get the amount of elevation gain as her course in flatter Wisconsin using a singular 130 foot hill (15% grade, which is actually pretty amazing here considering). Every time I would “summit” I would claim those 130 points, like a video game level up. We called each other at least every mile on video chat. I then decided to dodge a storm (hail, lightening, and all that jazz — the wind had been blowing all day and continued to do so). Earth Day seemed so appropriate. I ended up finishing 16 miles by the time she finished and headed home to do the rest of the miles there in case more storms came (and they did). With the sun now out, I decided to go plogging for the first time (where you run and pick up trash you see along your run — wear gloves!). I plodded along slower, and when coming back to my house to do hill repeats to try and get more gain, I saw the dark clouds approaching again. I finished up with some quicker miles and a bonus mile to squeak in a cheap man’s ultra for my monthly ultra streak, which is becoming harder and harder to do…

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So this brings me to the present day, and my present debacle. We’ve all held out so much hope that “our” event won’t be affected, but truth be told, it is almost best to assume the worst right now. We didn’t plan for this, and we didn’t think it would happen back in the day (March). But here we are and what can we do now? We do not have all the information, and the experts (the researchers and CDC) are doing their best to get us back on track before we self-implode over not getting our hair cut for a month or two. You will survive, I promise.

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What Can You do?

As a coach, I have been losing clients for all sorts of reasons, the main driver being the virus cancelling events people were motivated to train for. So the virus essentially puts me out of work. I don’t get to see people grow, I don’t get to help in goal making. And the same goes for people not being coached…everyone is at a loss, and a loss we haven’t had to face as a population or community before. Motivation is at an all time low. But it doesn’t have to be.

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Drawing

What can you do? Plenty. You aren’t restricted in how much you run, those balcony, hallway, and backyard marathoners are proving nothing can stop a person from completing something (and possibly something stupid, I do not recommend short little run-arounds to get in large mileage, nor do I think our trackers are accurate enough to even record the “laps” in our living spaces — think about it, we lose large mileage even on tight turns of single track out in the wild, do you think your GPS tracker can accurately record loops around your house without dropping distance? Just a thought train here). When I say “plenty”, I mean you can do all sorts of creative things:

  • Slow down, and stop caring about pace. Do things you wouldn’t normally do because you are too pace focused. Adventure a little. Challenge yourself and see how fast you can WALK. Stop every mile or half mile to complete a challenge like burpees or squats/lunges, throw a rock into a field as far as you can, try and find shapes in objects to keep your mind occupied or as something to post each run, and don’t stop running until you find that shape.
  • Make a singular challenge. How much elevation can you get in one run? Can you run backwards for a mile? Run 2-3 miles every few hours (there was/is a Yeti challenge just for this!). 93899001_647585832758354_5694403675535966208_n Clean up one area of your house. Throw out things you haven’t used in years. Donate your old pots/pans or clothes you haven’t worn in 2 years…you can buy more. Catch up with someone in your community. Giving yourself daily challenges will keep time moving forward. I used to use post-it notes and write down things I had to do in college and put them up on a wall. This gave me a visual clue as what I HAVE done and what I can still do. I didn’t have to do them, but taking down those sticky notes was pretty satisfying and served as a reminder what I could be doing. Lastly, look for a virtual race to support your Race directors whose events are cancelled. Yeti, Aravaipa running, Becoming Ultra, and Ten Junk Miles Racing are all offering up registrations, and Ornery Mule Racing has a wellness site for everyone.
  • Make a weekly challenge. Challenge yourself, for one week, do the same thing every day and hold yourself accountable. One goal I wanted to do was to run a half marathon every day for a week. 93998401_290503168621302_4310844681991749632_n I’ve never had time to try it, but now I can. No excuses. Sun is out longer now (wear sunscreen). Don’t make weather an excuse…every event will have weather, use this as a time to practice that mindset. Even if that challenge is making dinner every day for a week, find new recipes, ask friends about things they like to make and if they would recommend something. Keep it social. Include others even when we are apart.
  • Make a monthly challenge (if this is not too daunting, for me personally, this is very difficult). I am currently doing one ultra per month to keep me busy and thinking about how I will accomplish it safely and to keep having fun with it. Out of the 7 months I have been at this, only 3 have been actual events. 91912888_523304055044169_4973663134830034944_n Some of my friends are making monthly mileage goals. Some people are doing monthly hours of workout goals. Maybe your monthly challenge is to try and change a habit you have been trying to make like stretching, yoga, or strength. You can still get strength at home. Your body is a weight. So are soup cans. So are water bottles.
  • Speed up. If you’re used to running long and slow, make a new speed goal and use this time to get faster. It’s hard to focus on both speed and distance. It’s hard to work on either if you’re a fan of just one of those camps. Speed work doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Spend some time researching how to better yourself as a person. Do you need to adjust your cadence? Do you hit the ground too hard? Posture? Things to think about and learn. Video yourself from the side and from the back and front.
  • Take a rest. It’s ok to be unmotivated to the point that you have to take a break. Or maybe you’ve been burning the candle on both ends for too long now. 92789852_532885800996425_3486006095514697728_n Recovery is so very very important to our lives. We have no events for the upcoming months. Let your body heal. It is OKAY to not be out there killing the miles. It is OKAY to take a step back and resume when there is a clear goal. Eat a cookie, you will be ok, it’s just a cookie.

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    Making my own birthday cake and eating it too.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a cheer squad! Ask a friend, a group, or make a post. Be proud of what you accomplish. Write (like I am now even, get your thoughts out there), draw, pick up a hobby, make a hundred hearts to stick on your window. Send snail mail to family and friends. Everyone loves getting a good hand written letter, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love the surprise. Stay connected. 93883160_709340033137087_8599529106557632512_n

All our goals look different. For some of us, we need that community, that group run, or event to push us to get out for our runs. And that’s perfectly ok. There are people who never even go to events who just run to run. That is also ok. What is not ok is patronizing others for not “seeing things” your way. Let people vent, let people complain, and let people work this out on their own as long as they are not hurting others. As someone who is not positive all the time and tends to look at the world from a perspective of “the glass may be half full, but the water is frozen and therefore useless” or rather I’d prefer not to get my hopes up in case insert worst case scenario here, this isn’t hitting me mentally as hard as others. I live with probably the most positive and upbeat person there is. It certainly is a balance!

Waaaaah my events T_T

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Look forward to the future of things. If your event has been postponed, celebrate, even if it ends up getting cancelled in the long run. Our race directors are working hard and I am sure things are very complicated right now. Send a thanks to them. From that perspective, there is no use being mad if your event is cancelled and throwing shade at the RDs (and if you look closely you probably signed off on a waiver that says you surrender your registration should the race be cancelled, so any race that manages to reschedule is probably doing so on their own dime). They probably had their permits revoked by higher ups and not allowed to re-permit. They are not trying to take or steal your money.

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A lot of costs upfront go into creating these events and that money you registered with was probably used already. So please, be kind. If your race was cancelled and you are not offered a refund, think of it as a way to keep the race alive and hope there is a next time. The Blue Ridge Marathon for instance, is a non-profit. They had to cancel, and made three options available even though they did not have to! Run the race virtually, and your swag will get mailed to you; transfer to the following year; or do nothing and have your registration be a donation. Even if they are for-profit, realize they have already bought shirts and medals and purchased land permits and probably medical and various goods they had planned on using at aid stations. If you want events to happen again, don’t get mad. They are going to do what they need to to survive this.

Keep planning on your future events to happen. I’m not saying hold out on false hope, rather, keep it in the back of your mind. Keep moving if you want to. I do think that future events will have more restrictions in place when we can host them. For insight into this, I was planning on volunteering at the Hellbender 100 (now moved to November), which was scheduled for early April. North Carolina pulled the permits the week of the race basically. But before that, they had set forth a set of guidelines that gives us a window into what might be in our future.

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With social distancing a high priority, the start line would be staggered. Only a few people would start at a time. Because of this, they moved the overall cut off for the event with the exception of one aid station cut off (because it was state enforced that no one could be in that area after dark, pandemic or not). This lessen the “competitive feel” for the event, but does allow for spacing on the course. And for anyone who hasn’t run a 100 miler, even after starting with a huge group, you are likely not going to see anyone for hours after a few miles in. Moving the cut off time also included the extra time at aid stations. Gloves for all volunteers, and no pre-cut items. Everything would go back to being disposable, or one-use items like cups (as a lot of races were moving towards less waste and that meant being cupless – bring your own cup). One person would be able to refill your water, one person at a time. You can see if there were multiple people at an aid station, this could get congested and time consuming. Hand sanitizer would be offered at every aid station.

For Georgia Death Race, they were going to change the finish and packet pickup. No hugs, no hand touching. A very dead feeling at the finish line (no pun intended). No finish line party or hang out. No in-person pre-race meeting, would be over the internet only. A lot of races were prepared to do this just to hold their event, even if it took away some of the feeling or meaning that year. GDR is now rescheduled for early November.

I do not have insight on the world major marathons, as I have never done one, nor do I qualify for any of them. Though I think I saw they were offering some options to their participants. The world majors are some of the largest races in the world people-wise, volunteers, participants, and crowds cheering. I think we will begin to see what they have in store for future events and will help make standard procedures moving forward.

Ironman has already announced what they plan to do “indefinitely”.

“Safe Event Experience
In order to provide the safest experience for our athletes, we are instituting the following at our races, effective March 19.

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Reinforcing Social Distancing in all elements of the event

  • The hours of on-site event registration will be expanded.
  • Athletes will be allowed to pick up their athlete race kit/race bib and immediately exit expo area.
  • Athlete density will be decreased by increasing individual race space staging, corrals, etc.
  • No-handshake behavior will be encouraged for the duration of the event.
  • Athlete briefing information will be available digitally only.
  • Non-core, high-contact services (e.g. wetsuit peeling) will be suspended.

Hygiene First

  • Staff and volunteers who are interacting with participants pre-race, on race day and post-race will be provided gloves.
  • Hand-washing stations and sanitation stations around the venue for athletes, volunteers and spectators will be increased
  • No-touch waste disposal stations and receptacles will be rolled out as available.
  • Frequently touched surfaces at race venue locations such as workstations, product distribution areas, tables and electronic devices will be cleaned regularly.
  • When possible, on-course food and fluid supplies will be single use/single serving closed packaging
  • Athletes planning to return home by airplane or rail are encouraged to avoid travel post-event for 24 hours allowing their immune system time to recover post-race.
  • No onsite interviews or press conference with professional athletes.
  • No handshake/contact on the race podium.
  • Printed document distribution will be eliminated.”

The future IS uncertain. How you handle it and what you do IS up to you. Will you be proud of yourself that you did your best? Did you support your fellow human? You can not offer too much compassion or kindness during this time. And if you need to vent, write a comment below or reach out. It IS frustrating. It IS okay to be angry, and not have anything in particular to direct your anger at. But I ask, make this most of this time. Summer is on its way, and you bet you are going to see my smiling face sitting in the sun, soaking up every nanometer of that precious stars’ lightwaves (though wear sunscreen). Yes, nanometer is a word, WordPress/PC/internet.

91982323_2619666838248911_104317046153543680_n Wear sunscreen, brush your teeth, sleep when you must, eat healthy, binge shows if you must. Order seeds online and plant life. Order paper and crafts. Love your pets (or plants or spouse creatures or you). Don’t look at the scale. Enjoy your morning coffee. Smell your fresh laundry and wrap yourself in that post-drier warmth for 5 minutes. Be well. Be kind. We are one community.

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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.