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

73199901_404290690208728_110879348159938560_n

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.

IMG_20191001_163331

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.

72546085_409479646317477_6775424592929357824_n

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.

74522564_671821343304827_377224593900830720_n

73388358_2466849546927945_8196296892246654976_n

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.

72336000_413079632706058_2189359295668158464_n72440395_2341519259432645_6309210634592452608_n.jpg

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.

73321663_407825786514691_6429128603987869696_n

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.

72636931_380658996148898_750529862640336896_n

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.

72947755_2932280883470609_1853077873380818944_n75095310_389397825342142_3373315722854793216_n72400456_398576674147780_2998561499653341184_n

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.

72621331_2391594784271620_7993996708470063104_n

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.

72431033_520930795358866_3423321825218658304_n

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.

72839472_2514368091982488_6686815157005320192_n

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.

72753858_621840018550949_7045628789476294656_n

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.

72460161_2788203117865325_9097911021321846784_n

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.

72568986_509548926567657_7820045829992873984_n

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.

72857032_533001980581322_7028120303754543104_n

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.

72815730_810615012690935_7335756256977616896_n

You did it lil one!!

74236359_412201749486159_7032314304959348736_n

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

72799115_2380492702215505_1374686106506756096_n

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

73130925_616576582209421_8273812290206171136_n

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

72988611_382835269291376_2051954779243937792_n

GIRL, save that garmin data!!!

73081535_525637274837127_5900114187899633664_n

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.

72884166_1127228154133570_7033628938614079488_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Women in Trail Running

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

52263813_453701118502788_4015058208530890752_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

30849340_1630844320302990_1965765867_o

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

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

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

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

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

62341277_2258988407516227_5779297114345439232_n

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

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

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

55485987_2230211163912086_4344554922520346624_n

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

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

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

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

11146236_826965817357515_6491020240877620238_n

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

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

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

IMG_20180922_122446

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

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

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

What is my Stress Fracture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Run S’mores 24 – 2019

Run S’mores 24 hour race…

Or 16 hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20190621_195747

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

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

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

IMG_20190622_081514

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

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

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

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

The Course:

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

IMG_20190622_141229

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

IMG_20190622_122913

Turtle eggs on course!

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

IMG_20190622_103115

Long endless stretch of super runnable ground.

IMG_20190622_192141

IMG_20190622_193710

The hill before the hill at the end.

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

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

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

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

FB_IMG_1561333922391

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

IMG_20190622_171201

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

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

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

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

IMG_20190622_194255

Unmemorable 2nd mile.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20190623_214344

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

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

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

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

FB_IMG_1561300711541

Gotta finish.

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

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

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

What went right?

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

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

IMG_20190623_184042

This buckle size though…

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

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

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

Blue Ridge Double Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rain. Thunder.

Why though.

Don’t I deserve a break?

Nah, said everyone.

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

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

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

So there I was…

So it begins haha.

59002615_348409865807902_2009639747831463936_n
58717936_449345195607495_2573221400747704320_n

 

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

58377459_355619225074868_7584399936741965824_n

Radar 1 hour before race start at 1am.

 

Sweet!

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

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

BRM COURSE

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

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

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

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

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

The sixth section, Peakwood climb and descent.

The seventh section, post-Peakwood rollers.

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

Then do it all over again!!

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

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

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

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

58372795_584225808655496_1785699878140116992_n

“False” Summit up Roanoke Mountain, overlook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

58461082_2031235833851686_1515123634346131456_n

Sunrises approaches.

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

58461280_276842866532753_994208250972864512_n

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

58378835_2358954814340042_1613923099223261184_n

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

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

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

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

57774930_646118525838302_1502580753588813824_n

Mom and sister.

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

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

58444047_795166764192100_6598419442948898816_n

Climbing up Walnut Avenue.

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

57882449_871531136528433_3098832836937908224_n

Let’s jump!

57798919_799353617112485_7673565150024040448_n

58443432_1026279070894076_2608880375312678912_n

Climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mill Mountain.

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

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

58372971_274832333403600_3084392637197713408_n

Going into the fog during the rolling hills.

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

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

58382030_403253367178567_2543789372847685632_n

Time to climb Roanoke Mountain part 2.

58376197_637164500056675_7780589017711509504_n

“False” Summit up Roanoke Mountain, daytime.

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

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

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

57882566_582272418936125_5417893784098701312_n

The real summit!

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

58382713_1182870661892360_5919660365020397568_n

57618325_443444279532140_1927773938843123712_n

Roanoke Mountain overlook, other side.

58033134_2097068507251495_4745388633819709440_n

A new mascot appears this year!!

58543325_293361381581345_1141151919826272256_n

We made it back down!!

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

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

58375841_412785712840376_4668911140477075456_n

Pre-climb to Peakwood.

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

 

Here are a slew of pictures describing Peakwood:

58543063_431482160957629_2185991732070449152_n

The entrance to Peakwood.

58441173_369425990332544_720358176947437568_n

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

58419215_594800564359552_1143610191602778112_n

58376507_673439313092270_9091361024396754944_n

Almost to the top of Peakwood.

57936028_1411042159064995_7126722801431478272_n

Sign sort of shows steepness!

57882202_292544348341130_6620726854544261120_n

The worst switchback! Near entrance to Peakwood.

57597592_1570022026464381_1711352941979369472_n

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

57852683_2435761796655026_474290399523897344_n

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

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

58380680_562848287535135_2010908322256912384_n

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

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

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

56956527_652035631934497_5992524248973836288_n

58376961_1607888432736179_1443953556645216256_n

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

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

58604172_2319921128295793_6444178869472722944_n

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

58377958_2246030012337875_9004205112779866112_n

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

58384098_2003012029827006_7773266553738362880_n

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

57909143_591046961412634_7134853402156072960_n

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

Check out these signs…

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

59244013_415584672561007_3837213418213867520_n

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

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

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

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

58373927_2222348811412324_8579943501637091328_n

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

Terrapin Moutain 50k

Sedalia Center, Bedford, VA – My hometown

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

55485130_2211930042199570_7504622607140913152_n

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.

55653388_763009297425644_6788115611403681792_n

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.

55822126_409969496215590_4768259751282737152_n

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.

54230808_2132085073551519_5437373805838204928_n

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.

55875544_856386761400748_42833489799675904_n

55564479_391651128315930_2124607522605105152_n

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.

55627728_846260935726759_6237390689684946944_n

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.

55552008_1021675408027199_3955069283616161792_n

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.

55495988_1252098034952503_644399485589389312_n

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.

56205061_345237432777738_6527200763398062080_n

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.

This is the content y’all subscribe for right?

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.

55892336_422237905206816_8331382727626457088_n

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?!

55529886_423187178469275_845287737522126848_n

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.

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:

17492791_1269497306437695_1563775100511888325_o

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.

18159805_1300859859968106_764579068_o

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.

18159372_1300860013301424_956829527_o

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.

18195581_1300860163301409_1576139677_o

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…

17635450_1268585479862211_6874202800729070336_o

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.

18159661_1300837956636963_1100343704_o

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.