Cloudsplitter 100 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sharp top trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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Randy and his sandals.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Love playing “where’s the trail”.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHY DOES IT KEEP GOING UP?!

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

 

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

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

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UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You did it lil one!!

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

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

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

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GIRL, save that garmin data!!!

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GIRL, save that garmin data!! PLEASE!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

All The Small Things (races) – Spring 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Wisconsin marathon event…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Event shirt, gender specific.

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

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

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

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The decision sign, first half of course.

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Muddy, mildly manageable.

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

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Slick muck.

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Coming back into the aid area to finish a loop.

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

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

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

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

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Mud on course…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yes the Capitol is far away from the starting line !

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big hill at mile 9/10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were a lot of new things about this race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Talk about nontechnical.

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

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

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

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

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

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Sweet sweet single track in the west.

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

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

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Top of the big climb.

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At the crossroads of the big climb in the woods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrapin Moutain 50k

Sedalia Center, Bedford, VA – My hometown

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

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

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

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

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

4. Very good elevation training for the Blue Ridge Double

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

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

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

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

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The Pavilion overlooked by Terrapin Mountain

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

 

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

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

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

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Sunrise that morning (mom’s pic)

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

 

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

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

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Sunrise, also mom’s pic

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

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

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My sunrise pic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From the previous day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Snow. I found it.

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

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Technical trail is technical.

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

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This was the top of Terrapin Mountain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From earlier in the race, but additional picture!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Ridge Marathon – 2017

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Roanoke Mountain

2nd fastest marathon yet (rofl)
April 22nd, 2017, my 3rd Blue Ridge Marathon. For those of you reading, this was my very first marathon I did back in 2015, it was hot (85°F) and humid and sunny, and things did not go well at all. I managed to finish in 6:12 and felt like death. Fast forward to 2016, when it was chilly (topping out at about 56°F), but sunny! I was not prepared or trained at all for this run, still managed a 5:26 finish and felt like death but was intact. So here we are in 2017, marathon #5 for me and every year I keep coming back. This year it would be about 64-70°F and rain/clouds

As some of you know already I headed back to the Blue Rigde Mountains March 27th. My plan was to prepare for the marathon with my first Ultra Marathon, the Smith Mountain Lake Dam 50k April 1st (a trail race for the most part), which climbed two mountains on course. It was rough, but I kept things slow, and finished, with THE hardest climb I’ve every done, hiking/walking/running, 1000 ft in just a mile.

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Afterwards, I thought I went so slow that it probably didn’t help me much. Of course looking back now, I’d like to do it again. I also signed up for my first 10k, Mill Mountain Mayhem (a trail race), ironically, which was a week later, April 8th. This went horribly, mainly because the first half of the race was a bottleneck where I got stuck going at a slower pace than I wanted, and tried to catch up the latter half, which was impossible due to the mountain climb (this race went up and down one mountain). Legs were ok, but how I felt rather discouraged me from feeling good about the marathon two weeks out. The next week, I practiced climbing the same mountain I did in the 10k on my bike for ironman training. The first 20 miles felt terrible, and I hit what I felt was my lactate threshold several times up the climb. The last 13ish miles were fine though. I attempted a final 2 hour 30 min run a week before the marathon. I had plans to climb Mill Mountain again but I couldn’t even make my legs get that far into my run. I made about 10 miles in that run and had a terrible pace, struggling with my heart rate, and finally just quit. Per usual before a long endurance event, I did a speed test (I usually just do a fast 5k race) for a mile and busted out my fastest mile to date since starting running at 6:49. I feel like this knocks whatever is left in my legs out and my average pace during the distance event feels faster than my training runs. Maybe I’m crazy for this, but it has worked.

Race Day. I was discouraged by the rain, of course, as probably many of the runners were. With a little luck, the start of the race wasn’t rain-filled. The race time was moved from 7:20am to 7:35am from last years’ start time, I guess I did notice a few changes with the shift of the race director. Regardless, I was determined to run my heart out (well, somewhat literally). I had a plan to run-walk the first mountain so I was not to overdo it from the start, then run as fast as I could downhills, and run-walk uphills with 4 mins running, 1 min walk, and do that for the 3 mountains and run a nice consistent pace for the remaining 10k that’s much flatter. I knew the course like the back of my hand…

None of this was true haha.

The gun went off, and I placed myself further in the front in a faster pace group to start off. Every other year I started further back and was always locked in until mile 2.5 with people. I guess I didn’t place myself far enough ahead AGAIN. I was still locked with people not running my pace (and this is still an issue with self-seeding in races anyway), and was frustrated trying to get ahead and find empty space. The first mile is always the warmup. 3/4 of the mile is somewhat inclined, and then the last 1/4 mile is straight up Walnut Ave, where the first real climb begins. 9:16 for the first mile, not bad, basically where I wanted to be before I slowed WAY down for the climb. The 2nd mile had 278 feet of climb, on your way up Mill Mountain, I was doing well with the 4-1 run-walk, until I decided to keep running through one of them, then got tired, and blew that plan out. After that it just became a game with juggling my heart rate trying to keep it from skyrocketing too early. That also didn’t go well, hitting a high of 189 bpm for miles 2 and 3 even with being conservative. Oh well. Mile 2.7, the top of the first climb where the race splits off from Marathon and half and 10k, was the first timing mat. Average pace was 10:49 min/mi. My calves were screaming, but I knew they’d calm down later. Marathon runners split off and kept going off to a section of large rolling hills leading to Roanoke Mountain. 1,785 feet of elevation gain from mile 2 to mile 7. These rolling hills were probably one of the hardest sections and then delivering the final blow having to climb Roanoke Mountain at the end. I realized how lonely I was at this point. I missed having a running buddy to just complain to or waste time talking with, making crude jokes or commenting on other runners saying “how in the world can you still be running up this thing?! Make me feel better and walk too!” It started raining at mile 4.5, bleh. In addition I noticed that my hands had swelled up. I did something wrong in my nutrition plan, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. So through the next aid stations I played around with not taking in salt and adding more water. For the rest of the race, I never got it right. They began to hurt about half way through, but whatever.

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Roanoke Mountain

I was averaging some slow 11 min/mi paces here until the super climb hit me in the face taking me down to a 15:18 mile for mile 6 and 13:32 mile for mile 7, my calves stopped screaming as much at least. At the top, my breath was taken away from the scenery, all the dense fog up there settling on the mountains, just reminded me of where I lived. I whipped out my camera and took the only pictures from the race there, of course this added time which is probably why my pace was so bad at mile 6. Worth. I was so excited to have reached the top. Not. There are technically two peaks on Roanoke Mountain, and I had only reached the first haha, I knew this though. Upon reaching the crest of the mountain, I knew it was time to buckle down, engage the abs and run hard downhill. 805 feet of loss in two miles heading down Roanoke Mountain! I won’t lie, it’s a ton of fun flying down. I could feel my quads firing, and they were on it. I had complete control. I averaged about 8:15 min/mi on the downhill, very close to my 5k pace! Coming back to Mill Mountain via the large rolling hills (I really dislike these…especially now), I settled back into a slower pace and conserved, doing about 1 min/mi better pace than I did the first go-around earlier on miles 4-5. Now one of the most dreaded climbs, the short 1.5 miles up to the peak of Mill Mountain, very very steep.
I knew this peak would take me up to the half way point, 13 miles into the race. I was glad to be done and clocked my half time at 2 hours and 26 minutes, not bad at all!! However, I knew even if I maintained my pace for the last half of the race, I would AT BEST be able to finish in 4:52. *sigh* My goal this whole time was sub 5 hours. I knew I’d have to fight for that.

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I locked and loaded my quads for the next large descent. I blasted down at managed a 7:35 mile at mile 14! I was elated with this. Stopped at an aid station and mile 15 was 9:10 along the greenway. Here was where I started having more so mental difficulties. My legs did NOT want to run flats. It was fairly flat on miles 16 and 17, with just 242 feet of gain and 62 feet of loss. Then mile 18. I knew this was the hardest of the climbs being the steepest and last climb. 3 miles of climbing now…my only goal was to crush my time climbing it from last year, 43:24 for that 5k. This year it was 39:13!! Good enough for me! I pumped my arms hard pushing myself up. Now the final large descend. Only about 400 feet in 1.5 miles, but I took what I could get. At this point, mile 20.5, I met a very interesting runner that I started to talk with, Justin. He was great and my spirits really lifted. I realized descending the final mountain that my feet had taken the brunt of my run so far and I could feel the blisters under my metatarsals much like I did after my feet got wet during the 50k. If this was the only pain I was in, I was fine with it (although right now sitting here I will tell you very differently not being able to walk with these open blisters). I was glad to have had someone push me through the final 10k or so, which are the most mentally draining miles. The next 10k are the flattest of the race, with just 310 feet of gain, but you want to walk so badly. Granted there are some steep sections left, including bridges and short, steep hills, but in general, the rise and fall of the course is over.
My pace dropped a lot. I still had my eye on the sub 5 hour finish. I ran through puddles and I was soaked. Under my arms were chafed from lack of body glide I neglected to apply prior to the race (missed those spots :/). My heart rate was in control again, keeping it around 165 mostly. I continued to push hard the last 2 miles (c’mon, it’s TWO MILES). My legs were tired, but mostly felt fine.

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I busted into a sprint the last 0.2 (which was technically the last 0.4…this course is always 0.2 LONGER, clocking 26.45 miles last year and 26.40 miles this year). This threw off my time obviously. I turned the corner, the final short climb before the downhill finish chute, and I saw the clock: 4 hours 55 minutes 33 seconds…I had to make it there before 4:57! I was totally focus on beating whatever last minute clock time I had in my mind. I finished at 4 hours and 56 minutes and 23 seconds. I tried to make my finish picture look good at least, I have failed to do this years prior, the first year trying not to pass out, and last year stopping my garmin (classic!).

 

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I waltz over to get my medal, and my legs felt surprisingly good. I got my chocolate milk and headed over to the free massage tent.

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Final Results

I climbed up onto the table and realized as soon as the therapist started on my legs that I was really NOT in bad condition whatsoever! I hardly had any soreness or pain. While I was laying there, I overheard some people saying the race had been cancelled due to storms. I heard thunder off in the distance. Well, at least I finished before the worst of it hit! I later found out they called the race at 4 hours and 52 minutes into the race, before I had crossed the finish line…that my time may not be official. It turned out, I recently found out, that my time was official, and at 4:52, they started taking down the timing mats, and if you hadn’t crossed all the timing mats before the finish, your time was not official. Those on the course were notified and given the option to finish at their own risk and would be given an unofficial time. A few minutes later, it poured down hard rain and stormed pretty bad to the point of flooding. I felt a pit in my heart and stomach for those out there doing the double marathon.
I will say in conclusion that this was the best I’ve felt post race for either a half OR a full marathon as far as my conditioning and muscles go. I thought I would honestly regret doing the 50k (which ended up being like 52k lol), but in reality it helped fuel my sprints downhill and prevented my legs from getting totally messed up during the marathon. For the first time after a marathon, I could stand up, sit down, squat, move, all without assistance. I am pretty burnt out on running at the moment, and am glad there are no more races.

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Elevation Profile from Garmin

However, there are some burning questions I will need to answer in the future here…
– Will I decide to go back and do the 50k again? I did have a lot of fun with it.
– Will I return to do the Blue Ridge Marathon again? If I do, will I choose to do the marathon or the double? Is it worth my 2018 running and athletic season to do something that daunting and SO early in the season when I know training through the winter in Wisconsin probably will not get me ready in time. Is that worth it?
– Will I decide to do more than a 50k next year in general? What lies ahead? Would I prefer to work on speed and make my marathon times faster, is potentially qualifying for Boston one day even a possibility with my body and skills? Or would I just want to go further?
I enjoy getting faster, and I enjoy testing my limits. In the documentary, The Barkley Marathons, Laz says that race appeals to the smarter crowds because they are used to succeeding, and this is appealing because they could and probably will fail. What am I looking for?

Stats from the race:
– First marathon in the rain
– Cut exactly 30 minutes from my race time from last year
– Elevation Gain: 3918 feet
– Average Pace: 11:14 min/mi
– Distance: 26.40 miles
– Average Heart rate: 170 bpm
– Best pace: 6:42 min/mi
– Calories burned: ~2,715
– Clothes were all Inknburn, 6″ shorts and cami top
– Shoes were Altra Escalentes size 7.5
– Socks were Feetures Compression
– Nutrition: Honey Stingers (  ) + Skratch on course electrolytes (  )

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Smith Mountain Lake Dam 50k Ultra Run

Event in Penhook, VA at the Smith Mountain Lake Dam. 50k that was really 32.25 miles…Horton Miles they called it.
This was my first ultra marathon, and well, it was a doozy:

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Well this was more impromptu race than planned. The plan was to use this race as a training run for the Blue Ridge Marathon (coming up April 22nd, Roanoke, VA, ~4000 ft elevation gain), because living in Wisconsin, there was nothing to prepare me enough for my goal marathon. Looking at previous years’ garmin data from three other people, I saw:
1. It was 32ish miles, not 31
2. There were two mountains, the first one less steep at the start, the second one looked like a 90° wall at mile 21
3. No one ran up the second mountain no matter what pace they displayed
4. Roughly 5000 ft elevation gain
5. The “hills” between the two mountains looked rolling
My initial plan was to run-walk up to the 5k mark (where the first mountain ended) until the 21 mile mark (where the 2nd mountain began), get to the top and take it easy until the finish. Let’s say that plan was thrown in the trash after about 8 minutes in of the 7 hours and 40 minutes I was out there.

I had driven to Virginia (home) two days before, and prepped the way I knew best, bringing down my sitting swelling I got while driving for 17 hours, and hydrating the best I could. I had my protein bar before the race, along with some sweet tea. I decided to bring along my hydration pack, as annoying and heavy as it is with 2L of water/nuun inside, along with my honey stingers and phone. So let’s get on with how the race went…

Started off on the bridge in front of the Smith Mountain Lake Dam, a place I never got to visit before as close to it as I lived my whole life (to be fair, I never saw Natural Bridge either…). It was windy, and at a starting temperature of about 57°F, it was chilly. I ditched my jacket at the start, don’t regret doing that, because the first mountain heated me up fast. There were about 30 some people doing the 50k, a very small gathering, but EVERY SINGLE PERSON seemed to be an experienced ultra runner, even by appearance, they just looked like seasoned runners.

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Smith Mountain Lake Dam wedged between two Mountains

Apparently I was the only one who hadn’t done an ultra before, as many had done 50+ miles before. Gun start, no chip time, which isn’t a problem when you are inches away from the starting line. The course went directly upwards from the start up the first mountain. My plan, was run four minutes, walk one. I was successful in two cycles of that before I had to just walk. My calves were already crying and aching. Not a good sign in mile ONE out of 30+. I had done some warm up exercises before starting, but it wasn’t enough. Everyone was walking. Finally reached mile two after 18 minutes. Great start? Reached the top a bit after and started to run again. From what the elevation profile looked like, it would just be rolling hills from there to mile 21. Wrong again. The course soon became pavement by mile 4 or 5 and was paved until mile 20.

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The course rose and fell, but the rises were a LOT steeper than the profile led on. I did my best to run the more level bits and downhills and the starting of every uphill. My feet were bothering me a lot actually with the swelling. I knew it would eventually go away (turns out that was mile 6 when it dissipated), so I fought through and ignored it. I figured out by mile 4 that this would not be my race, not feeling my best. I kept on going. I finally got a few sub 10:30 min/mi splits along the way, but I said I would take this race easy. I really took it as easy as I possibly could, not feeling guilty about my average time constantly displayed on my garmin. I occasionally stopped to check my directions for the course to make sure I wasn’t lost. I had had three nightmares the night before, and one of those was getting lost. The course WAS marked really well, but I can’t help my anxiety about getting lost. My legs actually felt better by mile 9, they actually felt warmed up (my calves weren’t screaming anymore). I hit the half marathon mark by 2:47 and some change. Possibly my slowest half marathon ever. This was 5 minutes SLOWER than my half at Ironman Los Cabos 70.3, and that was at 97°F and 65% humidity! I thought THAT was a struggle! Granite I was taking this much slower on purpose. I still didn’t feel good at this point, just sluggish and not at my potential. No injuries or nagging pains though.

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I honestly don’t remember much after that, I refilled my water at the aid station at mile 16. There was an aid station every 4-5 miles, which I found pretty often from what I’ve heard about ultra marathons/trail races. I was thankful for that. There was tailwind at every other aid station which I was also thankful for. Around mile 19.5, I was passed by two guys a few minutes apart. I figured out later that was first and second place. They looked unphased by the course! Little did I know, that the first place finisher was attacked by 3 dogs about a mile back! These were also the first people I’ve seen since everyone separated by mile 2. I came into the finisher area (the finish of the first loop), I panicked for a hot minute thinking I cut the course. I was assured by the race directors I was fine. I took a quick bathroom break and refilled my water again before making the trek up the second mountain…the death climb. I may not remember much of the first 20 some miles, but I sure remembered everything from that point on.

So I left for the rest of the race. It wasn’t straight up at first, there was some climbing, but it was sloped and steady. There were 8 stream crossings, and no way around them except to go straight through them, too far to jump across, besides jumping at this point was probably not a good idea with the chances of falling pretty high. This was a trail race, and they stuffed it into this section. I was already soaked from the first two stream crossings, so I decided to quickly cross the other. The third one was the one that got me. I’m used to running in the woods, no problem, but not really streams. The 3rd one I sank knee deep into mud, getting all into my shoes and socks. I had to stop to remove from pebbles which would have caused me grief later. At this point, I knew I was doing well at conserving because I could still bend over. But trying to hold my foot up off the ground, I got a sudden charly horse in my foot and thigh. I broke out the emergency salt sticks I had brought with me. Never had another cramp! I went on my way, now dirty and trying to clean myself off while going through the remaining stream crossings. The steeper climb began. I took some pictures of it, but little did I know that was not the true start of the climb…

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Half way up the Death Climb

It started getting too steep to even walk around mile 21.64 (I remember distinctly because I needed to know when the climbing stopped). I was getting out of breath after just one minute of climbing…WALKING! I don’t know if you can call what I did walking even as you could not set your foot full on the ground, the slope was too steep, you were forced on your toes. I’m glad I run on my toes to midfoot, my calves were prepared but burning. When I got too out of breath to continue, I would stop at a larger tree to hold on to and turn my feet sideways so I would not fall. When I caught my breath, I would push myself off the trees to continue on and look for the next tree then the next tree, making small goals. I remember looking down at my garmin and seeing 22.18, I hadn’t gone anywhere. My heart sank, it was so hard. The path was washed out from the heavy rain the day before and loose rocks everywhere. This made footing VERY difficult. I spent the time going up looking at pretty rocks and admiring the geology. This mile climb took me 33 minutes. I can run an easy EASY 5k sub 30 minutes! I could not possibly go any faster here. There was only one effort level: go or not go. What seemed like (and probably was) forever, I reached the top. Stopped for a quick pic and to catch my breath. Had some soda at mile 23. I continued on my way for the rolling hills on washed out gravel roads.

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Mile 24, I passed my first person, she was from Richmond, and was gunning for a 50 miler this summer. After a quick chat, I wished her well, and continued on. I hit the marathon mark (26.2) around six hours and 17 minutes in. Hit the aid station up there. I soon caught up to a nice runner Robin. She seemed very nice and we had some nice chats and I felt like we pushed each other the rest of the way. It was nice having someone to talk to and run beside, especially after the aid station at mile 29 (they told us about the dogs). I felt a LOT better after the marathon mark than I had previously in the race. I have no idea why. I stopped taking nutrition though, it mainly slipped my mind. Despite being told to “go on” by Robin, it was more worthwhile to stick it out with her, and a lot more fun. The course didn’t seem as hard, and the final section was a repeat of the end of the first loop, and I think I ran a lot more in the latter part of the race. I actually was feeling good at this point, with the only hold up the space right under my metatarsals. Turns out the skin was being pushed too much on the death climb after getting my skin soaked by the stream crossings and caused some blistering and a small raw strip of skin that developed on the bottom of my foot. I guess I’m lucky that was my only real injury, if you want to even call it that. It was nice coming into the finish. Although I didn’t come NEAR the finish time interval I was aiming for or predicted, I am happy I even finished and was able to push/not push through certain obstacles.

Post race, my legs are not as bad off as they were after the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon about a month ago (hard to imagine since it feels a lot longer than that). My arms ache the most probably, and probably due to using trees and propelling myself up steep hills. My back and shoulders are sore probably because I’m not used to carrying so much weight on my back (but it was worth it in the long run with the daytime high ending up being 68°F with full sun. Speaking of sun, I am sunburnt, which I wasn’t worried about because I thought there would be enough tree cover to not get burned. However, just because there were a ton of trees, doesn’t mean those trees have leaves yet! Looking back, I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently. My quads ache, but far less sore than they have been and my calves are suspiciously doing ok for the most part. If there was a time and place for calf sleeves, this was it. I attribute my calf wellness to them this time.

17632439_1268585806528845_5903544910115254943_oI found out, as a neat tid-bit, that David Horton, the race director, was the 2nd person to finish the Barkely Marathons. If you haven’t seen the documentary or heard of the Barkley, look it up…it certain is interesting!

Right now I am busy recovering for my next race next weekend, my first 10k! (Ironic), which I don’t know if I will be truly racing, depending on my recovery this week. After that, I have a week of further recovery to get ready for the Blue Ridge Marathon. I am hoping to break the 5 hour mark on that marathon this year, the 3rd year I’ll be participating in it. Once again, if you have made it to the end of this, CONGRATULATIONS!! Thanks for reading, I’ll eventually get a real blog page up and running, but I’m lazy and busy running (literally). Lastly I’d like to say, if Ironman is easier than this was, I will 1. be surprised, 2. probably cry…I’ll probably be emotional anyways. Big thanks to my mom for making it out and being patient as I mulled through this course. Peace out!

Post race thoughts: Yeah I probably will go back and do this again. It’s addicting.

Devil’s Lake Off-Road Challenge Sprint Triathlon

It rained a lot yesterday. This made for a VERY muddy race. But the day started off beautiful, low 60s and full sun breaking out. Water temperatures were around 72°F, a bit chilly, but not NEARLY as chilly as my perception had me believe. I could have went without a wetsuit, but why not? I was a running a little behind arriving to the venue because I got lost (again), had 15 minutes to set up in transition before it closed. Rushing, I set everything up as best as I could and started putting on the wetsuit (whew, what a workout). Rushing through that process, I managed to get the right knee twisted up, which didn’t make the swim as easy for that leg. But whatever, it was a MUCH shorter swim than I had been doing.

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Got in the water 5 minutes after the guys. Water was beautiful, clear, slightly wavy. Then we were off. Hit a bunch of people, bunch of people hit me. Weeds appeared about where you could no longer touch (which was quite a ways out!), which slowed me down a little…I don’t like weeds. I was able to focus on my strokes and my breathing quite well this time. I was still on the slower side, but I had people behind me. The goal was to not be the last out of the water. In the last turn, I managed to pass 3 other girls, which gave me a last little boost. As soon as I could stand, I did, and lifted my legs high and ran to transition. My swim was about where I thought it would be, about 9 minutes, but it was also about 450 m, not the 400 lol, I will count every meter extra!

Got on the bike and headed out. Oh the hills were alive with this one. The first 2 miles of the bike were straight up. Walked a little of the steeper parts trying not to blow my legs for the run (like I did last time). I succeeded. Flattening out, I ran into countless long stretches of MUD, lots and lots of wheel-turning mud. If you didn’t have momentum going in, it made it hard to pedal through it. One shook me off the left, but I managed to push off a tree and continue on. Lots of little ups and down, overall managed to go faster on average. This was part of the same course I had during the Dances with Dirt Half I did earlier this year so I knew parts of the course which was nice. Although it was not as fun spinning through wet, dense, grassy bits. The familiar gave me more confidence and before I knew it the first loop was over. I started passing some other females, and was going well until I hit one of the mud ditches the wrong way.

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I went sliding for about 12 feet on my right side with the bike still under me. As much as it was gross, I was stopped by the grassy patch ahead and “brushed” myself off. I got back on the bike, removing large chunks of ground and mud I had collected in the crash, but my bike did not go. I panicked. I started doing an inspection as people started passing by, one by one. All that time I had made up was now gone. I finally got gunk out of my rear cassette and technical bits around the derailleur and found my chain just hanging there. I put the chain back on by some miracle, and the bike protested for a few meters, but I got it shifting again and got back on my way. This put me way behind and inevitably behind 2nd place in my age group. The last 2 miles returned back to transition, and were all downhill, and it was fun getting to use my tech knowledge to gather speed. I was so afraid I was going to crash from skidding on gravel and going downhill (hard to see what was ahead because of the angle of the sun and such through the trees), but all was good.

I returned to transition and tried to hurry myself along, dropping bike and helmet (almost forgot haha), and grabbed a gel and headed out again. As soon as I was out of transition, I realized I had forgotten my run bib, whoops. I stopped for a hot second and thought about going back to get it, but I don’t know exactly how timing mats work and I didn’t want to set it off the wrong way so I went out to the run hoping they didn’t hate me for leaving it behind.

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As expected, the trail led straight up the east bluff, for 1.9 miles. The last bit was the hardest, and in fact, the hardest heart-rate spiking segment I had on the half marathon for Devil’s Lake. I ran as much as I could up and up. I was so glad to see the turn around and headed straight back down as fast and safe as I could manage on loose gravel and dirt. Thank you Altra trail shoes. The run was rather uneventful so I’ll just leave it as it was a big climb and a bid descent haha. Entering the finisher area on the grass, I managed to pass a few more people. I got to the finish 35 minutes after the run start…a little slower than I liked, but I blame part of it on the hesitation I had coming out of transition and getting water at the aid station. I finished in 1:47:37 (unofficial), which was pretty good.

The race was a lot of fun. It would have been nice to have not crashed, costing me 2nd place. Post race, I hung out with Aida, and we took some pictures in the lake with my bike. I did throw my bike in the lake, which helped getting some gnarly bits off. I will def do this one again next year…I’m coming back for 1st!! Also, no damage done to me in the crash. Getting the bike inspected though! It had a rough time of it after the mud incident. I also enjoyed wearing my #inknburn of sugar skulls which seemed to match the theme for devil’s lake

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Dances with Dirt Devil’s Lake Half Marathon

Dance with Dirt Devil’s Lake Trail Half Marathon, my first trail half and my 6th total half marathon (even if the course was a little short of 13.1). Finished in 2:24:19, with ~2,100 ft elevation change, not close to the #blueridgemarathon or blue ridge half marathon elevation change, but it was challenging! There were some steeper grades and most climbs were not nearly as long as the road marathon’s, but they were tough to say the least, especially the one that lasted almost 2 miles and had me walking and heart rate talking over 200 bpm. Participation was a lot more than last years’ race totaling about 770 for the half distance, about 50 in my gender age group alone (one of the largest).

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I woke up about 4:15am in order to get ready and leave before 5am to get to the race in time. Good thing I did the open water swim practice the day before and got up early then to get me used to the early hour. I was gathering my items to head to the race…water pack check, protein bar for breakfast check, electrolytes check, body glide check, gels and energy….nope. I had totally forgotten I ran out during the last half marathon 2 weeks ago and didn’t buy more. Looks like this is going to be an interesting race. Race day temps were expected to be in the high 70s or low 80s with sun. Perfect day for a race. But when we got there, it was clouding over, sad face. I wandered around checking out a few in #Inknburn and all the different running shoes. About 3/5 the people wore trail shoes. I honestly don’t know how people handled wearing road shoes the whole race. I watched as the marathoners started the race at 6:30am, there were maybe 30 total of them!! I wish I could have done the marathon with them, the half was so crowded on the single track trails. 7am hits and the horn goes off, only your gun time would count for time. I was going to try and place in my age group since awards were 5 deep…but the story continues.

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Mile 1 was fast, I was with the faster group and hit about 9:10 average, too fast, have to slow down. The hills did that for me, next mile was 10:14, ok pace, but should be slower still. When I was reaching mile 3, however, my right foot started going to sleep…just like the last two trail races I did (my first tri was 5k, foot started going to sleep at 2.85 miles, and the 9 mile trail race where it went to sleep at mile 1!). I thought, crap, this is happening AGAIN, and I had been trying to hunt down the reason why this was happening last two races, but never did I guess. I stopped at a bench and loosened my laces. Went on and it started happening again. I stopped at the next bench, and took the laces and undid the first eyelet and loosened the rest. Kept going for a little while longer, but it started again, but I was going down a steep grade and could not stop. By the bottom, I stopped at a stump and sat down, took my right shoe off and took my sock off, maybe the sock was too much compression? I went into mile 4 and trail turned to pavement and the climbs started, where my foot recovered, no sleeping here. Came to the first water stop, I took a sip but not much more since I was carrying. Hit mile 4 with a nice pace of 10:23. Back to the trails. I started feeling a blister develop, now it’s too late to stop that I thought. Bad news approaching mile, my foot started acting up AGAIN! I was so mad at this point, since all my little stops had already cost me 7 minutes of time!! Mile 5, I sat down, untied my WHOLE shoe, and re-laced them only lacing the top 3 and putting my one sock back on (blister feeling really bad now). I got back to it, but by this time the BIG climb up the east bluff had started. From this point on, I no longer had issues with my foot falling asleep.

Along this part of the trail, I saw many fall and trip. I was slow going up, but I flew downhill every chance I got. I thought people might think I was stupid for going so fast downhill, but I had a lot of confidence in my ability to maintain my footing.

4.3 to 6.3 miles was all uphill, and the steepest grade being around mile 5.4 going up to 6 miles. I had to walk it was so steep, and my heart rate reached 203 bpm WALKING! My pace suffered during miles 5 and 6 dropping to 13 min/mile and 14 min/mile. Still a nice pace considering the elevation change, just one mile was 321 feet, no downhill. I recovered and wish I had a gel at this point. Mile 7 and 8 suffered in time trying to recover from the giant climb and successive climbs, about 250 feet of change for each of the miles. Part of this trail was between large rocks, which I had encountered last weekend when I did some of these trails near the race. This slowed everyone down because you had to literally climb down the rocks, no running here was possible. I came up and over to the edge of the bluff at the top, and took a picture here now my time did not matter to me, just finishing. It was beautiful and saw where they were having the swim race in the lake below. Due to the path being so narrow here, I could not make up much time. It was very crowded, so many people not confident in moving forward between the rocks and the drop off being just a meter away from them. Certain death if you fell off the path here. I was a little annoyed I couldn’t move past them to catch up.

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I got my 2nd wind by mile 9, thinking, I only have a little ways to go now. I chilled out listening to 10 minutes of Focus Shift and brought my pace back to 10:23. Mile 10 I suffered again as I was fighting against my mortal enemy: tall grass. This mile was all in the sun, but that was not the hard part. The hard part was shuffling through the grass for over a mile. It felt like running in dry sand. My pace slowed but I used the time to recover my heart rate. Mile 11 is always one of my hardest mentally and physically. But I was proud I had a pace of 10:11! Although not many hills during this mile, I was still able to push myself. Mile 12, approaching the finish. There was a large portion of the end up another hill with a steep grade. Where I heard a voice at the top, saying, “Only 100 yards until the downhill to the finish!” I did not really know what 100 yards was, but I knew it wasn’t far. I pushed and pushed to get there, and saw the steep slope downhill to the finish. I went as fast as I could down to there with all my energy, yes I can beat the 2:30 finish I set out to beat today! I paced under 6:00 min/mile for the little that was left of the race, wow. I finished knowing I did not make the age group cut off, but was happy I finished faster than I expected at least, and learned a lot. The food was amazing at the end, which I usually don’t eat after a race (I let my stomach settle for a bit before attempting to eat). I found my new post race food 😀 FRUIT!! It was amazing and my stomach loved me. This was a first for sure. Nothing can beat watermelon, which I did have during my first marathon because a little girl was handing it out.

I was surprised to see people did not finish. I saw lots of people walking around with bandages. I guess falling is a common problem in trail races. I know my running through the woods when I was little carried over now, as I never felt in danger personally, but could sense others did not feel the same. I rolled my right ankle twice pretty badly, but was able to keep going. Even today I don’t feel any damage there, this was always the case in soccer too when that happened. The course was also not dirt, but more so mud, the ground was very soft all the way, which I thought would slow me down some. Maybe it did? I haven’t timed a good long run in a while.

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I would like to attempt the marathon or 50k next year, as it was a great little environment. Now I know what to do with my shoes as well. For now, I get ready for the Xterra race series in just a few shorts weeks, and cannot wait to combine mountain biking with technical trail running.