Grindstone 100 Race Report

It’s always a little difficult to know where to start with these race recaps. Let me start by telling you this race got on my radar when my friend Jenny finished it last year. I knew it was a tough mountain race, and these usually get my attention. I immediately reached out to Brad Scott, who had crewed/paced Jenny, and asked if he would consider helping me next year. Not long after that I found myself in a conversation with Jen Raby and Andy Jones-Wilkins about Grindstone, and let’s say it wasn’t hard to convince me. With Brad and Jenny on board to help, it was very easy to push the register button when the race opened several months later.

IMG_0904

If you’re looking for a race report that gives you blow-by-blow details about the course description, the tough climbs, all the rocks, and in general what a grind the race is, you don’t need to read any further. There are lots of other reports full of those details, and I read a few of them myself. Grindstone 100 has a few unique elements that add to the difficulty of the race. I’m a middle to back-of-the-pack runner, and I’ll share more about how I tried to prepare and deal with the challenges I encountered. Keep reading if that interests you.

The year was already lining up to be a little too heavy with 100 mile races for my liking. After having run Hellbender 100 in April, which nearly took it all out of me, I was very apprehensive and nervous about Grindstone. I couldn’t really even focus on it until after my summer of back-to-back races at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Miler and Badger 100 (in Wisconsin), and then H9 50 Miler (in north Georgia). My coach and I talked while I was recovering from those races. I’d never done back-to-back 100 milers, and I was finding the recovery to be long and slow. I felt like my body wasn’t recovering like I wanted. I’m no longer young and while I usually recover well from races, my schedule may have been too much. All of this made me even more anxious about Grindstone, notoriously one of the tougher races on the East Coast, or as we like to call it, the Beast Coast. Ultra runners on the West Coast often say our trails in the East are much more technical (which means rocky and rooty), and if that’s the case, Grindstone is the Crown Jewel that showcases technical!

IMG_0896

My coach and I allowed my body time to recover at its own pace. I slept a lot, tried to eat well (okay, but it’s summer and I do like ice cream), worked with my PT/trainer each week, had a few massages and another round of dry needling and acupuncture. As the race got closer, I finally got very excited about the race itself, although maybe a little obsessed over how tough it was going to be. Spoiler alert: those fears were well-founded. One of my biggest concerns was the 6:00 pm start time. With a 38-hour cutoff, I was going to be out there for 2 nights. Barely feeling recovered, I wasn’t excited about the evening start. If you’ve been friends with me for a while or followed me for any length of time, you also know this isn’t my first rodeo at 2-nighters. I finished Cruel Jewel in 39 hrs and change, and UTMB in 46 hours. It’s tough. Let’s face it, staying awake and managing running, eating, drinking and fatigue through 2 nights, not to mention staying ahead of cutoffs, can be rough.

IMG_0886

Since I do have a little experience with this lack of sleep thing, let me tell you what I do. It may not work for everyone, but it seems to help me. First, I don’t consume caffeine in my daily life. I drink coffee, but its decaf, so not much caffeine consumption. I’ve changed how I eat and drink during big races, and my plan now is to not drink Coke (which I only do during ultras and it’s my absolute favorite) until the later hours of the race.   I had just read an article prior to running Grindstone which discussed 200 mile races and managing sleep. The take-away was to not take in caffeine or sleep the first night of the race and wait until the second night, if possible. Even if this works, it doesn’t reduce how hard it is to stay awake and run through two nights in a row. Again, I think my anxiety about the difficulty of this race was well-founded. I don’t think any 100 miler is easy. There are just too many things that can go wrong and usually do. It’s basically 100 miles of problem-solving. But the less sleep you have, the harder it is to think through and solve those problems.

IMG_0887

Brad Scott had crewed and paced me in my very first 100 miler!

IMG_0890

Brad Goodridge helping to keep my nerves under control before the start

Just weeks before the race Jenny told me she was no longer going to be able to help. When I talked to Brad Scott we knew we needed at least one other person. So I want to give a huge shout out and thank you to Brad Goodridge for being there to help me out on very short notice. With my team of Brad Squared in place, my nerves began to settle.   I decided to fly to the race to avoid a long driving trip there and back. My pre-race plan was to fly in the morning before, then rest, rest, rest. Eat well, get a good night’s sleep in a comfy bed and rest some more on race morning. Together with my crew, we headed to the campground (where the race started) for the pre-race meal and pre-race briefing. Then with 3 more hours until the start of the race, I crawled into a hammock and stayed off my feet. I even managed a little nap. Runners and crew all gathered for the start, chatting away and taking photos with friends. With a later start time, I knew as soon as the race started my anxiety would settle down.

Let the fun begin! Seriously let’s get this thing get started!

While I did read a few race reports and descriptions of the course, I didn’t memorize details about where the climbs were or their length. I’d looked at the course profile and knew there were many steep ascents and descents. I remembered the first 5 miles were mostly rolling, and after the first aid station would be the first of many big climbs. I also read there would be many false summits. During the entire race, I hung onto that piece of information and never let myself be convinced I was at the top of any climb, because you almost always were not.

IMG_0891

Only 1.5 miles into the my crew sees me go through the camp ground

I enjoyed the first 90 minutes of daylight and getting through the first aid station, but on the first steep climb I was seriously questioning myself. I was already struggling on the climbs. My breathing was heavy and I felt like I was so slow. After reaching the top of an out-and-back on Elliott Knob, where you punch your bib, you come back down and hit single track trail. I finally felt more comfortable and settled into a steady pace. I always found myself around other runners and I enjoyed chatting with them. That made the night hours and climbs pass quicker. I came into the first aid station where I saw my crew at Dowells Draft mile 22, and I was running happy. I had settled in, found my pace, and was nowhere close to the cutoff times, and I was quickly off again. It would be another 15 miles and a few more mountains to climb before I would see my crew again.

Knowing this race would most likely take me two nights to complete, it meant 24 of the 38 hours could be in the dark. I felt that a good waist light would be a huge help and a worthwhile investment. I have a Petzl Headlamp that I love and it’s very bright, but I get tired of wearing something on my head. I purchased an UltrAspire 800 lumens waist light and had taken it out a few times before Grindstone to test it. It uses rechargeable batteries, so I tested how long they would last, and how I could get them to my crew to charge them between aid stations where I saw them. Being able to see well at night, especially over very technical terrain, turned out to be a huge help.

I came into mile 37 and found my crew in the car, thinking they had just missed me, but they quickly helped me get what I needed before I began one of the longest climbs on the course. Brad Scott, who had crewed this race the 3 previous years and knew the course, made sure I changed into dry clothes. It was still several hours before daybreak but he also knew it would be much colder up where I was headed. He was right, so it was a great call on his part. I also knew I had not been eating well. I made it a point to sit there and get lots of food in me before leaving. Mentally, I was well prepared for the climb ahead as I had been told by another runner how long and steep it would be. Again, I knew there would be false summits, so I kept that in mind as well. After finally grinding it out to the top of that long, endless climb and getting to the next aid station, daylight came and I began seeing the front runners heading back towards the finish. I got to greet many of my other friends who were running and we encouraged each runner as we passed. It was now only 6 more miles to the turnaround where I would pick up Brad Scott to pace me.

Brad started pacing me at the turnaround

It was indeed colder, foggy and windy at the top and the location of the turnaround aid station. It was nice to now have company and be able to chat and catch up on the day. It was also a huge help to just have someone there to encourage me that I would make it. The thought of getting close to cutoffs was not how I wanted this race to play out. I’ve learned that 100 mile races with cutoffs over 30 hours means it’s hard and you need the extra time. I just wanted to finish this thing, but I also wanted to have a goal. With a 38 hour time limit, I gave my crew a pace chart using a 34 hour pace. I thought that might be a bit out of reach for me but would be very happy to just finish. Having Brad assure me that I was on a good pace even though I felt I was still sucking on the climbs was a huge mental boost for me. It seemed like we got back to the 65 mile aid station in no time and we saw Brad Goodridge, who was now crewing both of us.

We enjoyed nice views during the day

I’d like to think that I’m easy to crew for, but in a 100 mile race where you are up for two days and your crew is also, everyone gets tired. I have a large “crew” bag for any possible supplies (and probably too many things) I might need. I’d say most of the time I don’t need much of it, but I try to come into the aid station, sit down with my bag and take care of things and get what I need. Sometimes it might be a change of shoes, clothes, new batteries, etc. I try to be as self-sufficient as I can, but it’s nice to get help from my crew digging through the bag to find all the stuff I need, or take care of my pack. In any 100 mile race, and especially a long one like this, you have to remember your crew is probably very tired and cold, as well. Crewing is not an easy job. The aid stations at Grindstone were all extremely well run with great volunteers. They were always quick to offer their help in filling your pack, getting you food or drink, and were very good at telling you how far to the next aid station and what to expect ahead. They also made sure you didn’t sit around too long. At this point in the race, I pretty much knew each section ahead started with a long climb, so I eventually quit asking them what to expect.

At this aid station I knew I wanted to change shoes. Usually my plan is to not change shoes unless I have problems with my feet. My feet felt really good, but I knew the later miles in the course would be rockier. So my plan was to switch from my Altra Timps to a more cushioned shoe, the Altra Olympus. Another really good call. Soon, Brad Scott and I were off again, heading over the next mountain and 15 more miles before seeing Brad Goodridge again. After a lot of good climbing, another aid station, and more long climbs, we finally had some great downhill running. It was dark, and Brad and I enjoyed the game of “catching the carrot.” We would see the lights of other runners ahead and would keep moving strong until we caught and passed them. We played this game the rest of the race, chasing down and passing people over the final 35 miles. I didn’t feel like I was climbing strong, but I was climbing steady. I wasn’t stopping and I wasn’t slowing down. Now into the second night, I was taking caffeine and for the most part not struggling to stay awake. If I can keep moving at a decent pace, I usually stay more awake and focused.

We came into the Dowells Draft aid station at mile 80 to be greeted by not only Brad Goodridge but several other friends who were now helping out at this location. Shannon Howell and Kelly Boone waited on me, getting me food and helping me take care of things. We were out of there quickly with their help. Thank you! It was still quite a long way to the finish but began to feel closer. The aid stations at Grindstone are all a little further apart than many 100 milers, between 7-9 miles. With the long climbs in between, it would take some time. All I could do was follow Brad and just keep grinding it out. Oh look, there’s another “carrot!” We were both starting to feel the lack of sleep creep up on us but we tried not to focus on that. We finally made it to the mile 87 aid station, but I don’t remember what I did or needed. All I remember was Brad Goodridge telling me there was just one more aid station. It sounded so close but I still had 14 miles to go, and it would include a very rocky technical section.

As we made our way up Crawford Mountain, it became very foggy. The fog made it hard to see, it was misting, and the wind was picking up. We tried not to think about it as we worked our way across the very unstable rock sections. We heard what sounded like large branches crash down and my heart started racing. We were now on a new mission to get off this mountain and into the aid station. Just as we turned onto the Chimney Hollow trail and had only 2.5 miles to the aid station, Brad told me his kidney had been hurting for maybe 8 miles or so. Wow! I wasn’t expecting that. There was another runner with us who had been struggling to follow the course, and he happened to be an ER doctor. We surmised that Brad may have been dealing with a kidney stone, although Brad hoped it was just sore from getting jarred on the rocky sections. Nearing the aid station he kept stopping and even went to the ground on his knees, waiting for the pain to subside. I felt so bad for him, knowing that my husband Ed had dealt with a kidney stone just 4 weeks ago. I knew it was painful, if that’s what he had. I also knew he wouldn’t be able to pace me to the finish. As long as Brad was okay, I was totally good with getting myself to the finish. I came into the aid station and told Brad Goodridge what was going on, and that Brad was not far behind me. I quickly got what I needed as Brad Scott came in, leaving him in good hands I headed out for the final 5 mile section.

This last section was not marked, however. You followed white markings on the trees until you got back to the campground and then followed pink flagging to the finish. When we started the race it was daylight and following the runners in front of us was easy. It wasn’t as easy to follow the white markings in the dark, with no one leading the way. The ER doctor, Mike, came out of the aid station right behind me. Brad Goodridge had loaded the course onto the All Trails app on my phone before the race. The app was now very helpful to make sure we stayed on the course. Mike and I shared the last five miles together and crossed the finish line in 35:16. Brad Goodridge told me afterwards that I had come into each aid station right on my goal pace. I had no idea I was even close to it, as I always felt like I was struggling.

IMG_1840

Doc Mike and I at the finish!

I know for sure I could have never finished Grindstone without the help of Brad Squared! It’s a tough race with lots of things that make it challenging. Having experienced crew was very helpful for me and a big part of my finish. My love for this sport is all about the friends I’ve made along the way and the trails I share with them.

IMG_0872

Couldn’t have done it without these two! Thank you!

IMG_0875

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report

I love to travel to other parts of the country, run races, and experience different race directors and their courses. I have a small bucket list of races I’d like to run and TRT was definitely on my list. It has a reputation for being a great race, very beautiful and tough, all the things that attract me to a race. TRT is definitely a race to consider adding to your bucket list. They also offer a 50 mile and a 55K option.

Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed meeting many new friends at races. When ultra running, if we spend a few miles together or sit together on a shuttle bus, we become fast friends. When I signed up for TRT I didn’t know anyone in the race, but I was confident I’d make new friends once again on the trails. I actually did end up knowing a couple of friends running the race, and looked forward to seeing them again.

IMG_0473Getting to hi to Maia at packet pick up

I feel like I’m getting more and more comfortable taking care of myself at races, but I enjoy travelling and having friends with me. I’d prefer to have a pacer or friend to run with because I’m more of a social person and runner. I can do solo, but prefer company. I got my friend Sherri Harvey on board to travel, crew and pace me, and we bought our airline tickets shortly after I got into the race. A month or so before the race, Russ Johnson offered to come help crew and pace me. Russ has run the race previously, so that was a huge relief to have his experience on my team.

I heard over and over that George Ruiz does a great job as race director, and that the course is very challenging. It definitely lived up to that reputation from the moment I arrived in Carson City and went to an impromptu meet and greet. I met runners there that would be friends after the race. From beginning to end, the entire race had such positive vibes and excellent volunteers.

On race morning, I left my hotel room to walk across the street and catch a shuttle to the start. And yes, I sat by someone on the shuttle who I would end up spending some miles with, and my crew would hang out (unknowingly at the time) with her boyfriend who was there to crew her. The race started promptly at 5:00 a.m. and just before the start I would get to say hello to my friend, Janette Maas, also from Georgia, running the 55K. Familiar faces are always fun to see!

IMG_0417

I started out the race with my new friend from the shuttle, Rusty. We enjoyed each other’s pace as we got to see the sun come up and get our first views of the lake. The first and second aid stations came quickly and I saw my crew at the second. They hiked several miles and thousands of feet to see me at my first and second pass through the Tunnel Creek aid station. They brought my poles just in case I wanted them, and sure enough my Piriformis was being cranky, so I definitely wanted them. It was very nice and a huge boost to see them.

IMG_0436Seeing Sherri and Russ was always the best!

Rusty and I soon caught up to each other again and enjoyed more miles together running into the mile 30 aid station where I would see not only my crew but my coach, as well. I had to ask if Rusty was a nickname. Inquiring minds want to know these things! She told me it was a nickname, and how she got it was a long story, as if we didn’t have a lot of time on our hands. All she said was it had to do with a drink called the Rusty Nail, she didn’t remember anything, but the nickname stuck.

4070-08-502-ZF-6308-50880-1-001-013

We came into the Diamond Creek aid station together. I got some food and cold drinks and was encouraged to head out and tackle the Diamond Peak climb ahead of me. Meghan, my coach, didn’t want me to sit too long, so after she gave me a quick word of her belief in me, I was off. It would be another 20 miles before I would see my crew again, but then I would pick up Sherri as my first pacer.

IMG_0448

Getting some much needed encouragement from my Coach, Meghan Laws before heading out to climb Diamond Peak

Although I felt like I was doing well eating and drinking, I began to bonk after coming out of the 35 mile aid station and hitting another long grinding climb. I took in some Spring Energy to give me a boost. Then rounding another switchback or two and still feeling a little low on energy, I was greeted by a female runner sitting on a rock looking like she was catching her breath. It took me a second to realize it was one of just a few runners I knew at the race, my friend Lucia, who I had met at the Zion 100 the year before. In our chats leading up to the race, I knew she had just been cleared by her doctor to run the race due to some health issues. She wasn’t looking too good and I sat next to her for just a few minutes, sharing her rock and the views. Looking back, they were probably some of my favorite moments in the race. Of all the runners who could have been sitting on that rock, it was my friend. We got moving again and covered the miles together into the next aid station. She dropped back just before getting to the aid station and I knew her race was probably over. I was ready to head out when she came in and confirmed that she was going to drop. I gave her a hug goodbye and took off. I was on a mission to get to my crew at mile 50. I still had lots of climbing ahead and then a long descent. I once again came across my friend, Janette, who was running the 55K. I greeted her and kept going.

IMG_0424The views were incredible

I finally got back to my crew and was in much better spirits, as if I’d just gotten off the struggle bus. I knew I’d now have someone to push me and keep me moving. I tried to take in some food and put on a warm shirt, as the night was approaching. We had great weather so far, but it can get cold at night on the ridges and we needed to be prepared. Sherri and I took off for the second loop of the course. Unfortunately, it got dark before Sherri could see much of the course. We hadn’t gone far when we once again came across my new friend, Rusty. She was struggling with her borrowed headlamp. Sherri and I hoped she’d be able to stick with us and run off our lights but she just wasn’t able to keep up. Rusty and her boyfriend had driven down from Canada and arrived at Carson City late the night before and she had not gotten much sleep. We then figured out that Rusty’s boyfriend is who Sherri and Russ had been hanging out with at the aid stations.

4070-03-590-ZF-6308-50880-1-001-009

Sherri and I pressed on. She kept me moving and running on the good runnable sections. The climbs were still tough for me and it seemed like I wasn’t able to run too well in the dark. Luckily, it gets light early in this part of the country, and we were soon headed into the mile 80 aid station to meet Russ. I was starting to worry that my time on the struggle bus was going to cost me and I wouldn’t make cutoffs but we got to Russ with plenty of time to spare. I ate more food and changed out my contacts, which were bothered by the dust. A fresh pair felt great in my eyes. It was daylight again and I had 20 more miles to the finish.

IMG_0433

IMG_0462

Russ paced me the last 20 miles and his knowledge of the course was very helpful to me. He removed any stress I had by assuring me I was doing well and had plenty of time. We ran the sections where I wasn’t climbing. Russ made sure I got a strawberry Ensure smoothie at the Hobart aid station and then sorbet at the Snow Valley aid station. Both were refreshing and tasty, and I was ready to run the final 7 miles to the finish. It was a long 7 miles but we came upon some horse riders and enjoyed views that were unbelievable. Russ called Sherri from the final water stop to let her know we were just over a mile out.

IMG_0451Everyone said the view if you look back on the Diamond Peak climb are some of the best

You can hear and see the finish from about a mile away. It’s a long mile as you circle around Spooner Lake to the finish line. Russ took my poles so I could run it in, and one of the first people who greeted me with a high five was my friend, Lucia, who had to drop! That was so sweet for her to come out to see me, as well as her friends, finish.

IMG_0468Lucia captured this picture of me coming into the finish

We waited with Rusty’s boyfriend to see if she would finish, and we were so happy to cheer for her as she crossed the finish line. The finish area was a huge party, in what they called the “Ultra Lounge,” as runners waited for the award ceremony to receive their buckles and awards. It was a great finish, hanging out with many of my friends old and new. I was blessed to share miles with so many of them, and have the support of some great friends, Russ and Sherri, to help me reach my goal. I hugged my friends goodbye and before I left I asked Rusty if she was on Facebook. I asked what name to search under, and of course she replied “Rusty Nail!” You gotta love ultrarunning and making friends along the way!

IMG_0416Rusty Nail and I before the race already friends

Hellbender 100 Race Report

I start most of my race reports by telling you how beautiful the course is, but they always are! I choose races that look epic and challenging. The beauty is the payoff for the hard work.  Hellbender was definitely all that and then some. I had Hellbender on my radar after hearing about the inaugural year of the race last year. When Stephanie and I began talking about races for our 2019 calendar, we discussed Hellbender and were eager to sign up.

I don’t judge a race by swag, but if you do, this race won’t disappoint, but there’s really so much more.  The race starts in Old Fort, North Carolina at Camp Grier. From the moment we arrived, it had a cozy, welcoming feel as volunteers greeted us at the large pavilion. Many of the runners stayed in the small bunk houses that circled the pavilion, and as the runners began to gather, it had the feel of meeting your new best friends who you were going to spend the next several days with at camp.  We caught up with old friends and met new ones while we waited for the pre-race meeting to start, followed by a great pre-race meal. We camped in a nearby field. It doesn’t get much better than sleeping very close to the start of a race!

IMG_1739

We had one friend coming to help crew us part way through the race, and possibly pace, but we were prepared to be mostly self-sufficient.  We knew this would be a challenging race, but felt well-trained and ready. Stephanie had been fairly sick 10 days prior to the race and we weren’t certain she would start until just 5 days or so before the race.  I had been dealing with Piriformis Syndrome for many months, and I always stand on every starting line knowing that anything can happen and there’s no guarantee of a finish. I don’t take a 100 mile race lightly and always respect the distance.

IMG_1741

Some people did better at studying the course

Now, I’m an admitted elite geek! I love to follow all the ultra runner elites, read articles about them, follow them on social media, listen to them on podcasts, and follow the races.  I admire their God-given gifts of speed and strength. I’m especially inspired by the masters-level runners that are still racing strong, and admire my coach, Meghan Laws “The Queen” who not only guides me, encourages me but believes in me.  My gift is not speed. I’m a fast runner only in my dreams. But what I possess is toughness and determination. I pick races I really want to run and embrace them.

IMG_1744Almost time to get this started

After a quick check-in on race morning, we were off at 4:30 a.m.  The first 5 miles were on road. If you know me, roads are not my favorite, but five miles on country roads in the dark seemed like a nice start and almost enjoyable.  It seemed we were quickly at the first aid station where the real race would begin, and later end. During the pre-race meeting and chatting with some of the runners who had run the race last year, we knew the first climb would be the longest of the race.  I had to tune out the course details at the meeting because it was beginning to get too overwhelming. We knew there were 5 big climbs in the beautiful Black Mountains, with the toughest ones being in the first half of the race. In the middle of the race we would climb and summit Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak on the east coast at 6,684 ft.  There would be 21 miles of gravel roads, and the five miles of pavement at the start. We knew the biggest climb of the race was the first one – 7 miles. The predicted morning rain started during our first climb and we stopped only to put on our rain jackets. As we got close to the top it was much cooler. We had been told we could expect big weather changes between the tops and bottoms of the climbs.  It was raining and foggy by the time we got to the top, and most runners know that’s not a fun combination with headlamps. Luckily, daylight came before we reached the summit but our epic view was fogged in. The beautiful scenery along the way did not disappoint, however. We came across three very old and abandoned campers at an intersection of fire roads just below the summit. In the early morning rain and fog, we called them the “creepy campers!”

IMG_1746Summit of Pinnacle but no view

We made it to the top of Heartbreak Ridge and summited Pinnacle before finally heading down.  We knew for certain we had our work cut out for us. Before long, we were at the Blue Ridge Parkway water drop and headed down towards the second aid station where I knew a couple of the volunteers.  They were the only friends that I knew would be at the race and was already looking forward to a familiar face. Getting hugs and words of encouragement from Kris and Kim was just the boost I needed.  As it turned out, I knew people at almost every aid station and they were calling out my name and cheering me on. Each aid station had a large number of extremely helpful volunteers and always offered us a great variety of food choices.  We were waited on, encouraged and taken care of like we were the only runners in the race. We went up the Snooks Nose climb to Green Knob, which we were told was the steepest climb of the course, and then back down to another aid station.

 

As we came into Neals Creek aid station, we were surprised to be greeted and encouraged by Aaron Saft, the race director.  At this point, we were probably the final runners to get there, but were well ahead of cutoffs.

IMG_1764

We then began the climb to the summit of Mt. Mitchell.  It proved to be a very tough and technical climb that was beginning to eat away at our margin on the cutoffs.  When we finally summited, we were able to take in the incredible view before checking into the aid station there.  Ken, who had come to help crew for us, met us as we reached the summit and our spirits were lifted just to see him (he couldn’t crew us here, but did greet us).  As we came into the aid station we were again met by the race director. We had lost some time on the climb and were now only 20 minutes ahead of cutoffs. After the long hard climb, we were thinking the downhill would give us a chance to gain back some time (I should have paid more attention at that pre-race meeting). I was so surprised to see Aaron once again and asked why he was there.  He said that he was there to check on us and see how we were doing. He was there for all the runners at the back of the pack. It was probably one of the most encouraging things I’ve ever had an RD do. Aaron told us that we probably would not be able to make up any time on this downhill section, but we would in sections after the next aid station.  I assured him that we would make it to the finish and hoped to get a hug from him. He promised to give us a hug and a he’d hand us a buckle when we got there. When he said it, you knew how much he really wanted to see you finish.

IMG_1757.JPG

IMG_1758Mt Mitchell Summit and not quite so cold

The downhill from Mt. Mitchell had a few more climbs and very technical, rocky downhills, including a rope section.  It got dark, and with the wet trails, it seemed like the longest and toughest downhill section. We knew we needed to get to the aid station and make the cutoff but we were getting very nervous about it.  When we finally got there we were sure we had missed the cutoff. This time I was surprised to see my friends Brad and Jenny. Brad quickly told me that they were going to let us keep going if we wanted to continue.  Yes! We wanted to! They told us we had to go roughly 22 miles in ten hours to make the next cutoff. Brad assured him that we could most definitely do it.

We still had a long way to go, but we were full of hope and began the climb up the Buncombe Horse Trail, when we passed another runner.  We were no longer DFL. But if we thought the climbs got easier after Mt. Mitchell, we were wrong. It might look like it on paper, but you have to account for how you might be feeling at this point in the race.  We had wet feet all day, and the steep and technical downhills had begun to take a toll on our feet. This quickly became a low point for us as we fought hard to stay moving and make up some time. Then, Stephanie’s light went out.  As we were rushed through the previous aid station, we had not gotten extra batteries. We somehow managed through some very wet and muddy sections using only my headlamp as our guide. We were eager to get to the aid station, not only to put on our long pants and warm up, but we really needed to borrow a headlamp if we were going to make it.  The volunteers were so happy to help us, give us warm food, coffee and lend Stephanie a headlamp that no doubt saved our race and allowed us to keep moving.

IMG_1769

We began to move faster through some “easier” sections and surprised the volunteers when we came into the next aid station an hour and 45 minutes ahead of cutoffs.  With Ken bringing our drop bags to us, we were finally able to take time to change shoes and socks. We couldn’t pay too close attention to our feet but knew how they felt, and we had roughly 30 miles to go. Ken began pacing us for the last 20 miles. It was nice for us to share those miles and some final tough climbs with him.  He got to experience our race but only a small amount of our suffering. We had managed to pass a couple more runners in the final downhill push and finished 2 ½ hours ahead of the final cutoffs. As promised, Aaron gave us a hug and handed us our buckles. As we sat down, the aid station volunteers began to wait on us hand and foot. Then Aaron came over to us and handed us each a special gift, telling us we had both won our age group award. We started out just wanting to finish this beast of a race, but walked away with so much more.

IMG_1761

The next morning, I walked over to the pavilion to see if Aaron was still around to thank him once again, and thank the volunteers who were still there. Aaron gave us another hug and said he had one more thing to give us and soon came back with gift certificates for a pair of shoes!  We said thank you and final goodbyes.

We may not be gifted with speed but we are both tough, determined and never give up!  As AJW would say: “Gritty AF”! This race, the Hellbender 100, is the Beast Coast at its finest!

 

Elevating Your Run Experience

New Year’s resolutions are not my thing.  I’ve made them over the years, but like most people, they are long forgotten after two weeks.  Resolutions like losing weight, lead to failure when there’s no specific plan to go along with the goal.  Instead of making a specific plan as to how I might change my diet or set up an exercise program to meet those goals, they’ve all ended miserably.  So I’ve long since given up on making resolutions.

At the beginning of the year, I was listening to an Ultra Stories podcast with Sherpa John Lacroix and found myself incredibly challenged.  It wasn’t about setting a resolution, but taking a whole new look at the year 2019 from a totally different perspective.  I’m a runner, and more specifically an ultra distance runner.  Over the last five years, most of my goals have focused on races I’d like to run or distances I’d like to complete.  As a runner, it would be very easy for me to focus my whole life on running, and it can become all-consuming.  It can be a very selfish and narcissistic sport where you draw a lot of attention to yourself and your accomplishments, while spending a lot of hours doing it.  But running isn’t my whole identity or how I define myself.  I’m so much more than that.

MS13

Listening to Sherpa John pose a couple of questions caused me to think a little harder and dive into it a little deeper.  He got my attention with the question:  Would you still run if there was no Strava to see what you’ve done and no likes on social media?  That’s easy for me! Absolutely!  I love the woods, the trails, and the freedom of being outdoors and exploring the mountains. For me, racing brings the extra challenge of a course and being able to do a long run with support along the way.  Finishing a difficult race leaves me with a huge sense of accomplishment of being able to work through issues and keep my focus on the journey to the end.

The more I thought about this question, I began to think about the role of social media.  We post about our races and accomplishments on social media, sharing pictures and looking for responses.  For some people, no run seems complete if they don’t post it to Facebook or Instagram.  Am I one of those people?  Could I be a little too addicted to following every race, elite athletes and others on social media?  The answer is probably going to sting a little bit.  In running, we sometimes say we had to dig deep.  We might need to dig a little deep here, too.

101

Before Sherpa John finished chewing me up and spitting me out, so to speak, he offered up a challenge to his listeners.  Okay, you’ve got me listening, let’s hear this challenge:  List 3 ways you can elevate your running experience in 2019 that have nothing to do with the following:  time, distance, elevation, race, external validation or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop!  Then create a challenge for yourself that will help you obtain your goals.  Wow, you might need to re-read that and let it sink in for a while.   So as I accepted the challenge John put in front of me, it wasn’t hard to come up with a list of things I’d like to focus on in 2019.

  1. 1. Focus on stretching and rolling to avoid injury, putting myself in a better place for running long-term. I’m going to be 55 years-old in a few months, and it’s often the accomplishments of the Grand Masters-level runners that inspire me more than anything.  Seeing the video of 70 year-old Gunhild Swanson’s epic finish at Western States in 2015 inspired me to be running for years to come.  I realized I could be in the sport for more than just a few years.  In order to do that, I’m finding I need to take care of my body and be very intentional about it.  I’m going to challenge myself to stretch and roll several times each week, especially following races or long runs
  2. Plan an adventure run with friends this year, not just a race. I’ve run the Grand Canyon R2R2R and I count that experience as one of my favorite things I’ve done as an ultra runner. Being an ultra runner gives me the ability to see things that I may never be able to see any other way.  My legs have allowed me to experience incredible views.  So I’d like to plan an adventure that is not a race.  There are so many trails I’ve never run on, mountains I’ve never climbed, and views I haven’t seen.  I want to enjoy the beauty of creation and embrace the experience by enjoying it with friends, all without the pressure of a race.  My challenge is to pick that adventure, plan it, and do it.
  3. Volunteer more. Not just at races, but also do trail maintenance work.  I value our trails and the freedom we have to use them to run and hike.  I want to make every effort to give back.  I’d like to learn how to be an advocate for saving our trails, and learn how to preserve and care for them.  I’m challenging myself to take a class to be certified in trail maintenance work and to volunteer more at races.  For every race I run, I will volunteer at another race.
  4. Help others more. Ultra running sometimes takes many people to help you to complete your goals.  It’s a community that helps one another.  I love the friends I’ve made and the time I share with them on the trails.  I enjoy pacers in my races, not because I can’t finish without their help but because I truly enjoy being with them, and enjoy the conversation and experience.  I want to spend more time helping others by crewing, pacing or just encouraging them.  I want to focus on others so I can share things I’ve learned and help someone else in some small way.  I’m challenging myself to seek out people that might be in need of crew or pacing help.
  5. Run more without a watch. Focus more on just finding my happy place on the trails and in the mountains, not caring about the distance or elevation, or uploading it to an app or spreadsheet.  Spend some time off the social media grid, so to speak.  I’m a numbers person, to some degree, and am always looking to see my distance or time.  I’m going to challenge myself that once a week I will run without my watch.  No Strava upload (sorry coach) and no data.  Crickets.  Off the grid at least once a week.

While that may have seemed like an easy list to compile, it’s going to be quite challenging to do.  Essentially I want to focus more on others and less on myself.  I want to enjoy the trails and give back what I can.  I don’t want to be just different, I want to make a difference.  It’s a tough challenge, Sherpa John, but I accept your challenge.  I hope others will join in, as well.  Dig deep.

IMG_6541.JPG

Black Canyon 100K Race Report

I’ve been wanting to run an Aravaipa Race for a long time now.  They seem to have so many great races and I really wanted a chance to experience one for myself.  As soon as the 2019 Black Canyon 100K race opened for registration, I talked several of my local running friends into signing up and join the fun.  When I got a chance to meet Jamil Coury at Western States in 2018, I told him we had a big group coming from Georgia for the Black Canyon race.  A lot of us signed up, but many didn’t actually make it to the race, due to injuries.

We flew out to Phoenix on Thursday before the race so we could settle in and have Friday to rest and go to packet pickup.  We had a good dinner and went to bed early for the early race start.  Due to heavy downpours that occurred on Thursday, they had to re-route the course at the last minute.  Huge shout out to Aravaipa Running for all the work that went into that and how smooth the whole race went.  They have tremendous volunteers with very well organized aid stations.  Runners had plenty of options, no matter what your diet might be.

IMG_1542

Starting Line Photo

Because Black Canyon is a point to point race (which, by the way, is one of my favorite race types), we were shuttled to the starting line.  The temps were pretty cool but not crazy cold.  We left our drop bags, used the bathrooms and started the race right on time.

IMG_1519

David and I hung out before the race

 

IMG_1543

John, Stephanie and I all started together

Black Canyon is a race that easily lulls you into thinking it will be a fast and easy run.  It essentially starts with a lot of very non-technical trails that are mostly downhill.  Many runners might find it difficult to keep from going out too fast and crash later as the day warms up.  Stephanie flew out from Knoxville and we once again got to enjoy the trails together.  She is much better at setting a manageable pace at the beginning than myself.  I’m one of those runners that goes out too fast and doesn’t settle into my own pace until much later.  I have been dealing with Piriformis Syndrome for several months and while it is much better, there was the real possibility of it being a long painful day.  I knew I had to let Stephanie lead and go easy.

The start turned out to be windy and cold, with a little rain, but it soon cleared away into a very beautiful and comfortable day.  I was enjoying my morning and the beginning of the race until somewhere around mile 10.  I began to get that uncomfortable feeling in my Piriformis I had been dreading.  I was also beginning to have trouble keeping pace with Stephanie, although I could see she wasn’t far ahead on the beautiful winding trails through the desert.  I chatted easily with those around me and enjoyed the beautiful Black Canyon Trail.  Somewhere before mile 20 and the Bumble Bee Ranch Aid Station, I began to think I needed to tell Stephanie to leave me and thought my day might be much rougher than I wanted it to be.

Luckily, as it often happens, you get a little renewed at the aid stations.  At this aid station, I ended up getting to meet, and got help from, a Facebook friend who I knew from Ginger Runner Live!  That seemed to change my mood.  Stephanie and I chatted and I told her my fear of keeping up with her, but she assured me she didn’t want to go any faster.

IMG_1520

Kim Wrinkle took good care of me

 I left that aid station feeling good, and Stephanie and I enjoyed some beautiful views and took a few pictures in the next section of trail.  Running through the desert is so different from our normal runs so we both took it all in.  I think we both felt a little unsure if we would be able to finish with a sub 17-hour time, which is the requirement for it to count as a Western States Qualifier, but we didn’t discuss those thoughts.  Our goal was to move forward.  We are both solid runners and hikers, and this course was very runnable.

IMG_1527

After we got to the Gloriana Mine Aid Station (mile 23), the trail got much more technical with lots of rocks.  Most of the race was on single track and often had a good bit of rocks, but those are some of my favorite trails.  As long as we kept running steady, my Piriformis remained uncomfortable but not unbearable.  I wasn’t as fast on the hills, but with Stephanie pulling me along, I seemed to have my moments of rallying.   It was also fun in this section as we began to see the top runners racing for the Western States Golden Tickets and cheer them all on.  We made it into the Black Canyon City Aid Station (mile 35) where the reroute of the course began.  At this point we had to do a 4 mile out-and-back section before we would head back to the Gloriana Mine Aid Station and back again to finish.

IMG_1547

I saw Michael and Rebecca Richie just before getting into the Black Canyon City aid station who said David was behind them at the aid station.  Stephanie and I made a quick stop and we headed out for our 4 mile out-and-back.  I didn’t have time to look around and say hi to David.  A mile or so out from the aid station we ran into John, who was headed back into the Black Canyon City aid station.  He also updated us that David was roughly two miles ahead of him.  So everyone was doing well.  Stephanie and I began to set small goals for ourselves.  We wanted to be back and leaving the Black Canyon Aid Station by 5:00 pm.  We kept moving and were happy to make our goal.  We now began the 11 miles back to Gloriana Mine aid station, and then return the same 11 miles back to the finish.  There was a lot of climbing and some big hills midway through this section.  We just broke it down into small pieces and took it one step at a time.  About 4 miles or so from the aid station we passed Michael and Rebecca again.  They told me David had slowed down but they were doing great and everyone was in good spirits.  We kept our eye out for David and John as we were on the last section leading into Gloriana Mine.  We finally came across John who again said David was in front of him by a couple of miles.  In the dark, we had somehow missed him but that wasn’t so surprising.  This section became a little tough in the dark and then you were constantly passing other runners on the single track.  We tried not to shine our lights in the other runner’s faces but it was a constant passing game that seemed to slow us down.  This was one of the downsides to having an out-and-back course with 700 registered runners!  We reached our next goal of getting to the aid station by 8:00 pm and were happy to be headed back to the finish.  We now knew we would easily make the sub 17-hour time we wanted.

Stephanie continued to lead us at a good pace through the technical trails and back to more runnable dirt road sections.  We were able to dig deep and run much better through this section than we had the previous time.  We both seemed motivated to not just finish but finish strong.  We were thrilled to finished in just under 16 hours and meet our goals.  I would like to think we worked together, but I know it was all Stephanie.  She pulled me along and paced us the whole race.  We’ve covered a lot of miles together over the last year or two, and hope we have many more miles and adventures together.

This was a very well run race by Aravaipa Running and I hope to do another one of their races again sometime soon!

IMG_1534Finish line, all smiles

 

More Photos from the Black Canyon Desert

Looking Back and Looking Ahead to 2019

 

29

I started this blog, along with my Trail Running 100 Facebook page, shortly after I finished my first ultramarathon. Somehow, I knew I was on a journey to run a 100-miler one day, but I had no idea what that would look like. How would I train, how would I find the time, and how would my body be able to handle it all? So I decided to start this blog and share exactly what it would be like and what I would learn along the way, because, I assure you, I knew absolutely nothing about what I was getting myself into. I thought if a married, working mom of 3 who didn’t start running until age 48 (and a middle-of-the-pack runner, at best) could go for big dreams and make them happen, then I could possibly inspire others along the way.

I wanted to be authentic and share the good with the bad. I’ve shared more than one DNF and I’m sure there will be more. I’ve tried to share what works and what doesn’t work for me. I’ve been blessed to have had excellent coaching along my journey – coaches who have kept me from running myself into the ground, taught me balance and how to recover well. I’ve been lucky not to have experienced any major injuries, although when I was first running road races, I had IT Band issues, but that was before my ultrarunning days. I’ve dealt with stomach issues and chaffing, along with an assortment of other issues like blisters and bonking – the things all ultrarunners will experience sooner or later.

Since my first ultramarathon in June 2014, I’ve been on an epic ride. I’ve run in some beautiful places, and races, such as The Georgia Death Race (twice), Cruel Jewel, Habanero, Pinhoti, Grand Canyon R2R2R, Zion, Badger Mountain, Vermont, Yeti 100, and this year got to experience UTMB. My favorite part of ultrarunning is the community of friends I’ve met and made along the way – the people who “get” me and my kind of crazy. I’ve found that some of my favorite experiences have been when I’ve crewed and paced others as they chased their dreams and goals. I’ve found that while ultrarunning is a solo sport, it’s often a whole community that gets each of us to a finish line. This community includes the volunteers along the course, the race directors, the people who crew for us, those who pace us, and even family and co-workers who hold things together while we are out doing our thing.

2018 has been a big year for me! I tried to plan my year in advance, but when I got drawn in the UTMB lottery, those plans quickly changed. As I look ahead to 2019 and the long list of races I’d like to run, it doesn’t seem so easy to make those race decisions. For me, I feel running three 100 milers in a year is about my maximum. Let’s be honest, this isn’t an inexpensive sport and that is a huge limiting factor. Time away from home and work is another limitation. I’m 54 years old and I figure I will only be able to run so many 100 milers on this journey. Many of the races on my list are far away and have lotteries, so they are much harder to plan. Many of my top picks fall in the same time window, forcing me to choose one over another.

Here’s the other thing I want to share as we enter the new year, because I want to share the whole journey and not just the good stuff – not just the successes but the tough stuff and things that make me step back and reevaluate. After UTMB, I started having an “issue.” It’s not an injury, and I don’t have any pain, or it didn’t start that way. While I was recovering right after the race, I noticed my big toes were tingly and numb. At first, I thought they were swollen and I could feel them rubbing together, but I realized that wasn’t it. I finally did what all good runners do, and Googled it. I found that the foot has lots of nerves, and tight shoes could be the cause. I wasn’t in any pain, and it wasn’t a problem to run, but it was annoying and continued to get worse. I was sure it would work itself out over time and I didn’t tell my coach for quite a while. I even ran another 100 miler with no problems. It was a few weeks after that, when it progressed to sciatic pain down my hamstrings and calves during hill climbs, I decided that I really needed to find a solution to this issue. With guidance from my coach, help from a Chiropractor along with a trainer, and after some awesome massages, I’ve had some improvement. I still have numbness in one of my toes but I’m making progress. I’m focused on building a strong core, which I failed to do during my UTMB training.

So again, here I am looking ahead at 2019! My goal is to be a smarter and more consistent runner, building a strong body that will allow me to be active for many years to come. I already have goals for 2020, along with a list of races I’d love to run in the coming years, including some international races, now that I got a taste of running overseas. I never want to take running for granted. It’s a gift and a blessing. So far, the lottery gods have not been with me in lining up my 2019 schedule, but there are so many great races to look forward to and experiences to have along the way. May 2019 surprise us all!

 

No Business 100 Race Report

This is probably a race I really had No Business doing, and I say that in all sincerity. I actually signed up for it when registration first opened up in 2017. That was long before I got into the UTMB lottery, which I never dreamed I would get into. I had run part of these trails with my friend Stephanie when we ran Dark Sky 50 miler together in May of 2017. That was the first year of the No Business 100 race and I was all over it but timing wise I couldn’t run it that inaugural year.

Knowing the 106-mile UTMB in August would be a huge challenge, I decided not to withdraw from No Business, but wait until after my race and see how I was feeling. I must say that my coach was not thrilled about me running again so soon, because her first concern was my recovery from UTMB. Nonetheless we made a training plan for me to recover well off UTMB, do a couple longer runs and taper way back before the No Business race. In return, I promised that if I wasn’t feeling completely recovered or my legs were still not there, then I would pull the plug and not run.
Let me also say something here about using a coach. I have loved my coach, and I use one because I trust them and feel strongly about the relationship we’ve developed. If she would have told me not to run this race, I wouldn’t have liked it, but I would have respected her judgment. Recovery is important to me (and my coach) and not just physically but mentally as well. I don’t spend money on a coach and then not listen to their advice and guidance. One of the most important things to me about a coach is that she believes in me. As runners, it’s nice to have friends and family say how great we are and encourage us towards our goals. However, a coach is much more intimately acquainted with us and our abilities. When a coach believes in you, it’s very empowering! Thank you, I love you Meghan!

IMG_1002
I’d lined up crew for No Business back in January, talked to Stephanie some about pacing me, and honestly didn’t give a lot more thought to the race. UTMB was my A-race and No Business did not get much attention until after I came back from Europe in September. That said, early on I did try talking her into signing up and running with me, but being the smart person that she is, Stephanie didn’t fall for my peer pressure. Then just a few weeks before the race, Stephanie gave in, and No Business 100 became her business as well. We already had crew, didn’t need pacers, or a place to stay; we were set. We were looking forward to a beautiful, “easy” race and not having to fight cutoffs like at UTMB. Of course, I’ve learned from experience that when a race gives you longer than 30 hours to finish 100 milers, it’s because you need that time. They aren’t just being nice.

Stephanie and I both went into the race feeling confident in our recovery and excited about the race. We had a solid plan and were ready to spend some more trail-time together. An unexpected rain fell much of the night before the race, so when we got up in the morning it was wet and chilly. We made small adjustments to our gear and what we would carry in our packs. The race begins in Blue Heron, Kentucky, also known as Mine 18, a former coal mining community on the banks of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. Tipple Bridge at the train depot marks both the beginning and the end points of the race. The course is one large loop, starting in Kentucky at Big South Fork and going into Pickets State Park in Tennessee and then back around into Kentucky.

IMG_1029

The race began on time at 6am, so we spent the first hour or so in the dark. It was a large crowd that narrowed right onto the long Tipple Bridge and an instant conga line ensued. The first few miles were a nice rolling single track and enjoyable to run. Stephanie and I began and ran comfortably for the first 15-20 miles in the upper-middle portion of the pack. We spent a few miles with our friends, Kirby and Caitlin, who went on to run at their pace after we began to take walk breaks on a long fire road section of the course. The road sections were very hard on our legs. Stephanie and I talked about how real the UTMB legs were, leading us to set a more cautious pace. For those who like numbers we ran our first 30K in about 8:15. When we saw our crew around 25 miles we were told we were about 1.5 hours ahead of the cutoff.

part0
The next time we saw our crew was in Picket State Park (42 miles in). There we took a few more minutes to change into dry cloths, got our headlamps out, and changed socks and shoes for the only time during the race… we also took advantage of the restrooms. Stephanie had started having some minor stomach issues, but they weren’t causing her to slow down. We’d maintained our 1.5-hour cushion on cutoffs and were soon off again feeling refreshed from our change of clothes and would see our crew again around mile 61.
IMG_1017

Stephanie’s coach, Alondra Moody was working the Bandy Aid Station at mile 61. When we arrived there, Stephanie and I were now only 30 minutes ahead of cutoffs. We needed to quickly take care of a few things and head back out. Alondra helped Stephanie get something for her stomach issues, hoping to settle things down for good. Once we were back on the trail, we began talking about how we could have possibly lost the hour. Looking at the cutoff sheet now, it was night time so normally you do begin to go slower. In that section we had just under 6 hours to cover approximately 20 miles, hitting three aid stations along the way. Again, for you math nerds that’s about an 18-minute pace, at night including AS stops. Even with quick stops you now have about 17-minute pace, at night with lots of climbing. Wherever our time went all we could do was get to the next AS 5 miles away and work with the time we had. Stephanie began to calculate that we had 14.5 hours to finish, as the race was really a 104-mile course. In short, we had another 44 miles or so miles to go in 14.5 hrs.

IMG_0989
Getting into the next AS at Grand Gap, there was a huge crowd with lots of people we both knew. Immediately we were asking about cutoffs… still just 30 minutes. At this point, Stephanie and I were stressed and frustrated. Chasing cutoffs is not a fun way to run, and we had felt we were running solid – pacing well, running all the flats and downhills, and only slowing down to climb. Having just completed UTMB 6 weeks prior, we were thrilled with our pace. We felt like our legs were good. Neither of us had foot issues to speak of, and only Stephanie with some stomach issues. If you are not a back of the pack runner you might not understand how it feels to run from one cutoff to the next, it’s a very stressful thing. On the one hand you are trying your hardest, not gaining on cutoffs. You don’t want to be cut, but you also begin to calculate how long until you slip up and miss. At that point, all your hard work is snatched right out from under you… STRESS!!!

78773898-DSC_1803

We had a 6.5 miles loop to do and back to that AS. Due to the increasing stress, challenges of nighttime navigation, and Stephanie’s stomach issues, I took over as lead runner pacing us during the night hours. Stephanie had paced us and pushed us well during the daylight, and now it was my turn to try my best to keep us moving at a good pace. During the last section of the loop Stephanie began to fall behind, but I kept trying to push us both. For a while I’d assumed Stephanie was the person running behind me. Once I stopped to check on her, I realized she’d fallen off and another runner was there instead. He advised me that he’d seen Stephanie some distance back throwing up. Being close to the finish of the loop, I was concerned that Stephanie would not be able to continue for long. I pushed ahead to the AS to get to our crew. It was the middle of the night and I knew if I continued the race, I’d be on my own. I wasn’t sure how much farther I could get before being pulled for missing the cutoff, but I knew I couldn’t just quit. My legs felt great, my feet were fine, my stomach was fine, we’d been eating good and running well to this point. Short of Stephanie continuing I was ready to keep moving. She soon came into the AS and told our crew, she was done. I was quickly headed out with still only 1/2 hour to spare. I would see our crew again in 7 miles.

IMG_1010
Alone, but more than able to run strong, I kept a solid pace. I ran as much as I possibly could, determined to make up time. One-by-one I passed people along the way; 10-12 runners in a 7-mile section. I got to the next AS thinking for sure I had made up time and was going to be OK. To my surprise, I arrived only to hear that I now only had 2 minutes to spare! All I could do was keep going. Now 80 miles into the race, there are 24 more to go. I’m unsure how much time I have to reach the next AS cutoff which is 9.2 miles away, so I grabbed food and ate on the trail. I chatted briefly with a guy I met in the race earlier in the day. He didn’t have any ideal about the next cutoff time and soon ran ahead and out of sight. I didn’t see any lights behind me after that.

IMG_1007
While I was determined to run solid, this section of the course was very technical, rocky, and now muddy, and messy trails. Rain had been falling for hours but now it was raining much harder. At this point, all I could do was focus, keep moving as fast as I could. Knowing that the odds were not in my favor, my hope of finishing were quickly fading. After being by myself for some time, I finally see someone behind me… soon I realize it’s the Grim Reaper and I think I might join Stephanie by throwing up! When the Reaper gets closer to me, she lets me know that the cutoff at the AS is 9:00. The bad news is that I’m on pace to reach it at about 9:15… now I’m really sick! I pushed harder, refusing to give up yet. It was so frustrating. I felt great, was running well but just could not get ahead. Then we came across another runner, I passed him and kept pushing. I might miss that cutoff but darn it, I’m not stopping until they stop me. We finally got to the water drop and I was thinking it was another 2 miles probably to the AS. The sweeper had no idea where we were or how far it was when I asked her. Another quick look at my watch and I knew it would probably take a miracle. I was still thinking it would take me until 9:15 to get there. Then the worst climb of the course is straight in front of me. It’s very steep, no end in sight and to make matters worse of course it’s wet, slippery and covered in rocks. Not an easy climb at 86 miles into a race. Now how do they expect me to make these cutoffs with this stuff? Even the 9:15 is looking bleak but I can’t give up. I knew my friends, John and Rebecca (who had been our crew at UTMB,) would be at this AS so I began looking forward to seeing them. I know I can finish this thing. I pass another guy as I continue up and up the hill. He’s sitting on a rock looking in rough shape and I feel his pain, but I can’t join him. I can’t lay down and quit.

Just before the AS one of the workers was there on the road, I think he may have been the captain. It was between 9:15-9:20 and certain I’m well over the cutoff. The first thing I asked was if there was any grace here. I told him how it was a rough section, but I pleaded that I knew I could finish it. When he asks how I’m feeling, I assure the captain that I’m feeling great. He asks for my number and trots ahead to the AS. When I arrive, there are John, Rebecca and the workers cheering for me. They want to know if I have a drop bag they can grab for me and what else I need to get out of there in 2 minutes. I drank some Coke, John put my headlamp in my pack for me, and Rebecca got me some food, and starting walking me out of the AS. The AS captain was told by the race director that the cutoff could be extended 10 minutes. Turns out the cutoff was 9:20, I was the last runner through this AS at 9:24.

IMG_1015

With 7.8 miles to the next AS, I have been assured by Rebecca that the worst is over, and I can finish the course. But, I have to get to the next AS by 11:55. The section begins with some good easy running and I’m gaining confidence that Rebecca was right. But over time the mud, creeks, slick bridges, it all begins to take its toll. By now I’m over 90 miles into this thing, and where the heck is that Aid Station? Just when you think you’ve got the race in hand, along comes another long endless climb! I know I must be close, but I just don’t know how close I am. I’m now too afraid to look at my watch. I swore when I got through the last AS I would prove I could get this race done and not miss this cutoff. At last I see it, I’m afraid to look at the time, but I have to… 11:48, I was never so relieved! I’m asked for my number (37) … “We’ve been waiting for you Number 37, you have two minutes to get out of here.” Now who can’t do the math, I had 7 minutes but I wasn’t going to argue.

Now an easy 2.2 miles to the water stop at mile 99.3 which has a cut off in 1.5 hrs and yes they tell me you do have to make it before the cutoff. So here’s where all that time was hiding. I easily make it there in 30 minutes with loud music playing and a whole AS and not just water. Super nice guys happily chat with me, getting me some broth and coke. Finally a huge sigh of relief. The long fight is nearly over. I finally know I’ll make it. I’m quickly on my way with 4.8 miles to go with around 2 1/2 hrs. I’m so happy, but my feet are sore, those rough sections have taken their toll. I’m no longer stressed and can enjoy the last 4 or so miles.

78773902-DSC_2982
It was sweet when I finally crossed the bridge to the finish… a smile on my face and friends there to cheer for me! Some finished before me, some left unfinished business out there, but they all celebrated my finish. It was bittersweet as Stephanie greeted me. We began No Business expecting to cross the finish line together, like UTMB. I have no doubt we will finish more races together.

78773901-DSC_2989
Final numbers for those of you still geeking out over them, 96 runners started the race, and 39 of us finished it, only 7 were woman, I finished in 32:21 and was DFL! If you are a real dork (David), last year they also had 39 finishers out of 96 runners who started.

If you are reading looking for more insights, details and information about this race, keep reading if not, carry on. This turned into a much longer report than I had imagined. So, let me share some after thoughts with you about this race and the course more specifically.

1. The first year of the race, 2017, it was run in the clockwise direction with this year being run counter-clockwise. A special buckle is awarded to those completing the race in both directions I think that prize brought back several return runners, along with runners who had some unfinished business from that first year. If you are reading this looking for information to run the race, keep in mind this report is from running it in the counter-clockwise direction. Looking at the finish times and talking to people who ran it both years, it might indicate that this was the harder direction.

2. It’s an absolutely beautiful course! If you want to run some of the most beautiful trails in the Southeast with rock overhangs, arches, lots of creek crossings, endless little bridges, some very technical sections, and lots of single track, you want to put this one on your list. The overall cutoff was 33 hours, and I would not be surprised to see them extend it in future years. It’s still a new race at this point and they are still working on making small adjustments. Believe me, they do want you to finish!

3. Your feet are going to get wet. No matter which direction the race is run there are lots of water crossings and you will get wet. The bigger ones are towards the end of the clockwise direction and the direction I did it, they were more in the first 1/2 of the race. I use Bag Balm and coat my feet before putting on socks. I did one shoe change and recoated my feet with Bag Balm at mile 40. Because of the rain, mud and constant creeks my feet stayed wet. My feet were in really good shape at the end, but I can’t promise what I did will work for you. Some people use Trail Toes and other products. This is just what I did and it worked well for me. Just so you know, you will have wet feet.

4. If you live close enough be sure to try and run some of the training runs the RD’s puts on. I can imagine that the more familiar you are with the course, the more helpful it would be. You can also run Yamacraw 50K which is held on some of the Kentucky trails, or Dark Sky 50 Miler which covers some of the Tennessee section. The course was fairly well marked at turns, lots of arrows and flagging, although I would say not heavy on the confidence marking. Once on a trail that didn’t turn off, it wasn’t overly marked. I think a few people may have complained and that may change in future years. My experience was you need to keep a close eye out for the markings especially late when you are tired. One missed turn can cost you time you may not have to make up.

5. Study the AS cutoff charts… a big fail on my part. I didn’t go in with a plan, just crew at five places. We had a cutoff chart but never really studied it or looked at it until we started running closer to cutoffs. It might have help to pay attention sooner to those.

6. If you like having pacers, you can pick them up as early at mile 40 I think. An extra set of eyes for trail markings and someone to keep you moving if you are a mid to back of the pack runner could be very helpful.

7. The AS are really awesome. Very helpful and upbeat each time you come in. They serve a great selection of food with lots of hot foods later in the race as well. I can’t speak highly enough about how well this race is put on.

8. The swag is also awesome. We got a very nice light weight North Face Hoodie, a buff, a pair of socks and some stickers. They also had additional technical long sleeve shirts you could buy as well as a couple of hat choices if you wanted a hat. Over all I thought they gave you a lot for your money. I might also say that the buckle is also very sweet, and if you finish the course in both directions they give you a second buckle that is very nice looking as well. You can tell they gave a lot of attention to details putting this race on.
IMG_1003