Bighorn 100 Race Report

It is around December when I am usually considering what races I might do the next year. Looking ahead to 2021 was a little different as I had several races from 2020 that were rolled over to 2021 due to the pandemic. The biggest race on my rollover calendar was Lavaredo in Italy at the end of June.

But then many of my local friends started to talk about doing Bighorn in June offering a variety of distances from the 100 miler, 52 miler and 32 miler. While I really wanted to do Lavaredo, my family was not comfortable with me traveling to Italy and Bighorn was one of my bucket-list races, so the decision became easy. Then immediately my parents and my husband Ed all wanted to go to Wyoming to join me and the others at the Bighorn race.

Our Group from Georgia

My training leading up to the race was some of my strongest. I was feeling great but big mountain 100 milers which are some of my favorite races also scare me to death. DNFing a race does not scare me.  It is the unknown and all the things that can go wrong that scares me but excites me at the same time.

Knowing Brad Goodridge was going to be my crew chief takes a huge load off my mind. He takes care of all the details that are out of my control, and I know he will not miss a thing. He usually has much more confidence in me than I have in myself and lets me know when I need it most that I can do it!

Sherri was going to pace me as well as Ed. Both strong climbers and could join me on sections of the course that had the biggest climbing sections. Those are the plans I had laid out but when I say big mountain races scare me to death, it is largely because in 100-mile races, my experience says plans do not always go as expected. Bighorn 100 would be no exception.  If you have a run 100 miler, one thing that you learn is that they are a 100 miles of problem solving. Having a plan is great but being able to adjust your plan becomes the game changer that can save your race.

Group photo waiting for start
Rami, Troy and I enjoying a conversation
with John Fegyveresi (ok yes, we were fan stalking him)!

The Bighorn 100 has experienced rain the last several years of the race. That rain leads to lots and lots of shoe sucking mud. It also goes up to a fairly high altitude that is notoriously very cold and often snow covered during the over-night hours. All of this with around 22,000 feet of climbing and a 35-hour cutoff. I had an “A” goal of a 30-hour finish but really my main goal is always to finish and have fun. I love the mountains and enjoy the trails and scenery. God has created a beautiful masterpiece and it is an honor and privilege to be able to run in it and I never take that for granted! We do these races to go places few will see, experience limits few will push, and gain a perspective we would otherwise never have!

First big climb

The race starts off with a very large climb of over 4,000 feet in just the first few miles once you hit the single tracts. Due to logistics, Brad did not go to the start of the race, but Ed and the rest of the Atlanta crew saw us off. I knew Brad would be waiting for me at mile 13.5. Early in the race but after the race’s first major climbs so he would have a good gauge on how I was doing. From there it would be rolling hills and a good downhill drop into the 30-mile mark and picking up Sherri for the big 18-mile climb to the high point of the race.

Close to seeing Brad and dropping off my poles
for the next 20 mile section

Those first 30 miles seemed to go by quickly. The scenery was spectacular, and I shared some of the miles chatting with a couple guys from Denver. It was the final aid station (AS) before dropping into Sally’s Footbridge, the 26.5-mile AS where I came across the first of our Atlanta runners. The heat of the day had started to get him and slowing down some and cooling off at AS is definitely a key in the heat.

First Aid Station where I see Brad

I got to Brad at Sally’s Footbridge where I picked up Sherri. I was feeling great and ready to have company for the big climbs ahead. The course was so beautiful, and I was excited that Sherri was going to have lots of hours in the daylight to enjoy its beauty. She usually paces me during night hours and misses so much. I did not want her to miss this course. It is also here that you have to be sure to get your lights and warm clothes for the night. It is easy to see why people forget that because of how warm it is at this point in the race and nowhere near dark. This is always when my check list for Brad comes in handy. He makes sure I do not miss a thing especially later in the race when I can no longer think for myself. This next section as Sherri and I began the long climb toward the mile 48 turn around, was when I got my first punch in the face. So far, my race had been going perfectly as planned but those plans were beginning to be challenged. Living in Atlanta does not give us any altitude training although we had gotten heat in recent weeks, which would later prove to be helpful. As we quickly rose in altitude, I began struggling to breath. I knew it was the altitude, but it had caught me off guard as I have run at altitude in other races and never experienced any issues. Now it almost seemed the life was being sucked right out of me. All I knew to do was just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Sherri kept encouraging me saying that I was doing great.

Sherri and I just after she joined me

We finally got to the AS 8 miles from the turn around. It had seemed slow going but it was still a while before dark and so far, not gotten cold on us. I sat down a minute to reset things and take in some warm broth. Let me say here, that these AS were over the top and some of the very best. The volunteers were experienced and knew exactly what to ask and do for you. Some AS were so remote that they used horses to get the supplies into them. That is some dedication to help out runners!

So here I sat needing to reset things and get my mind into a positive mode instead of being discouraged. One of the AS workers must have immediately seen I was not doing well or in a good place. He began waiting on me and seemed to have taken me on as his personal project. He gave me a few minutes to drink my broth and then he came over with a pulseox tool to check my heart rate and oxygen levels. He knew right away I needed to recover some more before leaving. He would come back to check my oxygen levels again several more times before allowing me to leave when my readings got back into good ranges. Even though we continued to climb in altitude I had gotten over the hump and didn’t really struggle as much after that.

Where the altitude struggle started

The next AS was 4 miles from the top and turnaround. Sherri and I finally got out our lights and put on warm layers and jackets. It was dark and cold as we came into the Jaws AS at the turnaround. Brad was parked and waiting on the road just outside beyond the AS. As soon as Sherri and I walked in, one of the AS workers immediately came over and took hold of me. I wanted to use the porta-potty and get some more broth. Again, this worker took me on as her personal project not letting me out of her sight, even holding onto me to guide me. I must have looked worse than I felt. Soon I was out of there. Quick stop with Brad to drop Sherri off and adjust a few things before I was ready to take off getting down out of the cold and altitude. I ran on and off with other runners all the way down the mountain.

Brad and Sherri met me back at Sally’s Footbridge just before the sun came up. Sherri was originally planning to jump in here and pace me for the next brutal climb and about 17 miles. She hinted as we came into Jaws that she might not jump back in. She knew my goal of 30 hours was within my grasp and she did not want to slow me down. So, I had mentally prepared myself to finish solo.

I dumped a bunch of gear here to lighten my pack and knew I did not need all the extra things because it would soon be daylight and warm out. The next 3.5 miles was an unbelievably tough climb up at least 3,000 feet. Once I got there it felt like I was home free with a nice rolling section ahead. During this long 7-mile section, the day would start to heat up and by the end as I got to the next remote AS, the course was completely exposed and the sun was out in full force. The beauty of this course was also in full force.

I now had 6 miles and another rough climb leading into an AS and seeing Brad and Sherri one final time. Now the 32-mile runners were on the course and began giving encouragement to us 100-mile runners which was appreciated. The oven of the day began to really take its toll. Not just on my pace but my spirits as well. I knew I would see Brad very soon and knowing he had some cold drinks for me kept me moving forward when I did not think I could.

Brad came down the trail a bit and walked me into the AS. I know the look on my face might not have showed it but I am not sure I was ever so happy to see you Brad! Another fairly quick reset. I was anxious to get this race finished. Brad and Sherri updated me telling me that Ed wanted to pace me in the final 4 miles so now I had that to look forward to.

I’m definitely struggling in the heat of the day
but the views still did not suck

The next AS was another reset from the heat then on to the final big uphill push before a long decent and some flat miles to the finish. Rami Odeh was running the 32-mile race and as luck would have it, he was just behind me near the top of that final hard steep climb. I waited at the top for him. Rami had also been working with me as my coach on nutrition and weight training over the last few months. He had seen me through some extremely challenging times in my life and I was very happy to see him now. I was ready to have company and have him pace me to the finish.

I waited for Rami to get up the climb so he could pace me in

Even that plan was short lived. As we headed down, I took off running (well I called it running) and ended up dropping Rami. Just like our more recent training runs together, sorry coach, call it a testament to your good coaching! This long downhill that we came up just the morning before seemed way longer than I had remembered, even though it was endless going up. And as one plan falls through to have Rami pace me in, I see my husband, Ed coming up the trail towards me ready to pace me in the last 10 miles of the race. My legs felt great, my feet were in good shape, my stomach was doing okay but the heat had now just about brought me to my knees. It was midafternoon and not an ounce of shade anywhere.

A couple of more AS and a lot more heat, I finally crossed the finish line. As you come into Dayton, Wyoming, the finish line was in a packed park, the crowds were overwhelming. The long shoot to the finish was lined with people cheering in the runners. It was that 100-mile bib I wore that almost had crowds on their feet to cheer for you. It was all I could do to smile as I crossed the finish line. I would have been in tears but honestly, I think I was too dehydrated to produce any or they dried on my face in the heat. I nearly collapsed into a chair and needed several cold cups of water as Brad and Sherri were immediately at my side helping me.

We found a shady spot in the grass for me to lay down and recover. Sherri collected my buckle and finishers jacket for me. A little while later Rami came in and joined us and we all got a cold beer to drink.

So while my “A” goal didn’t happen as I missed it by about 45 minutes, my goal to finish and have fun was more than met.

Such a well put on race! I cannot express enough how great a job they did with this race. The pre-race activities, the swag, the RD’s, shuttle drivers, to all the many, many great volunteers. We do not run these races without a lot of people helping us along the way. I have run lots of beautiful courses and you really cannot compare them. Bighorn though was spectacular with its beauty and if you have to suffer on some mountains somewhere, this scenery will definitely keep you in good spirits. I feel blessed by all the great people helping me and to have finished when nearly half of the runners who started the race did not. Embrace the journey because every step is a blessing! Great friends and family are an even bigger blessing!

2nd in Age Group 50-59 Female
Rock, Buckle and finishers jacket

The Footprints We Leave Behind

It seems like I hear a lot of talk about our carbon footprint. I’m not a political activist and don’t really have a “cause” that I have a connection to. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen someone so passionate about a cause that they broke down in tears crying. Their cause didn’t happen to grab me the same way it did them, but I’ve thought to myself many times since then, I wish I could be that passionate about a cause. About anything really.  While I might not find myself that passionate about a specific cause, I do have a natural inclination to want to take care of our planet and nature that I love and enjoy.

Let’s talk a minute about that carbon footprint of ours. What exactly is that? Wikipedia describes it this way, “A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.” As I started to look deep into this, it becomes an endless rabbit hole that quite frankly is way too complicated for me. I’m not a science person, talking about CO2 and fossil fuel burning leaves me lost. It all leads to climate change and the short of it for me is that it all has to do with taking care of our planet. Finally, something I can understand and get behind.

I love our planet! I grew up as a kid loving the great outdoors. I could not get enough of it. As a child we were pretty much expected to play outside and no one worried about where we went or what we did, just be home by dark. So, enjoying our great earth is not something I have to think about wanting to take care of, it’s part of a logical belief that we should all do so.

As a hiker and trail runner, enjoying nature and being in that great outdoors is my love. Even my very life blood. The trails of nature are where I’m the happiest. “Leave no trace” is a phrase most every trail runner has heard and endorses. We can’t enjoy the trails if they are not taken care of by the very people who use them.

So, if we are going to take good care of Mother Earth and reduce our carbon footprint, what does that look like for the average person? The everyday trail runner? Are we going to get an electric car, never fly on a plane again or maybe ride a bike more and drive less? All these are great ways to reduce our carbon footprint but maybe not where we are going to jump in to start with.

Most of us have heard of the 5 R’s; refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. It all starts by learning another R and that’s to rethink. Going zero waste is a great step towards making a positive impact on our environment so let’s look at each of these R’s from a trail runners perspective and see some simple ways we can impact the footprints we leave behind.

Refuse – The first step should be to reduce the amount of waste in the first place. Once it’s created it requires energy and resources to address it.  Use a reusable cup at races, even if they might provide paper cups, simply refusing to use them is a first step. We can refuse to use plastic disposable drop bags and instead use one that is reusable and retrieve it after the race, instead of disposing it.  Develop a simple mindset of refusing to use things that create waste if we can use another greener option.

Reduce – This is the simplest way to make small changes. Always be asking yourself, “what are ways we can reduce our waste?” Don’t buy small individually wrapped items to eat but rather buy in bulk size and put in a small bag to carry. Refilling a water bottle to drink from and avoid buying bottled water whenever possible. If you take a look around, you can find lots of simple ways to cut down and reduce the amount of waste you leave behind.

Reuse – This is also a fairly easy way to make an impact. Simply by reusing something, the affect can literally be having no waste at all. Those baggies we use to carry our food or snacks can be used again. Our water bottles can be refilled thus, used many more times. Even by donating our used running items allows them to be reused/repurposed rather than thrown into a landfill. Flagging used by Race Directors on a course can be reused. There are an endless number of small things we can do to have a positive impact. Think about what you throw in the trash and see if possibly there is a way to reuse it.

Recycle – For our part to recycle items it takes a bit more effort. Obvious things like cans and plastic bottles, or other plastic products, along with cardboard can all be recycled. It does require a little research as to where to recycle them and exactly what they take. A little effort on recycling goes a long way on the impact we can have on our planet.

Rot – Composting is a another option and is also great for gardens with a simple to set up compost bin. The old hikers’ motto “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” doesn’t make an exception for food scraps. When we walk out of aid stations with food like apples, oranges and bananas we should not toss the peels but carry them out with us instead. An apple core can take up to two months to decompose and an orange peel or banana skin up to two years. It’s not only trash and an eye sore but also a cue to others that it’s not a big deal to litter. Natural litter is still litter and litter begets litter. Even if there is not an option to compost them, tossing them on the trails is not an alternative.

So, there you go. A few beginning ideas on how we can put the 5 R’s into action as trail runners. Challenge yourself to find many more ways. Sometimes taking care of Mother Earth is as close as picking up trash left behind by others and making sure we don’t inadvertently drop trash ourselves. Let’s challenge ourselves and consider what we can do to reduce our carbon footprint. The only footprints we leave behind should simply come from the bottom of our shoes.  Now, let’s go for a run.

Black Canyon 100K Race Report

This was Sherri Harvey’s race!  She wanted to run a 100k so we looked at several spring races to choose from that wouldn’t interfere with her spring motorcycle riding days and she picked Black Canyon. As soon as they opened the race to a waitlist only we put our names on the list. It was around six weeks before the actual race day that they finally invited the waitlist into the race. We had expected it to happen so we kept our training up planned on being able to run it. 

We made our travel arrangements and dialed in our runs and training. If you don’t know Sherri Harvey there’s a few things you should understand about her. She is an engineer and she likes everything neat and orderly and by that I mean she likes a schedule. If her schedule says we are “supposed” to run 18 miles, we run 18 miles because that’s what the schedule says. More on this later.

We headed to Phoenix, Arizona a couple days before the race. Sherri had never been there, never experienced their awesome running trails or even seen the big saguaro cactus before.  We were more than excited to run this race as we travelled to Arizona. We were both a little disorganized, forgetting things, losing things and last minute race changes. It was nice to have the extra day to get it all together. 

I’d run this race two years before and felt pretty confident in how Araviapa Running is able to put on outstanding events. On race morning you are picked up by a shuttle from the designated parking location and taken to the start. This year with Covid it was much more complicated with specific shuttle times based on your race start time. But just as I knew would be the case, the whole race, which has literally hundreds of runners, came off flawlessly. 

Race Director, Jubilee Paige

We immediately met up with local Atlanta friends Chris Girard and Ellen Comeaux at the start. Wave starts were every 15 minutes with thirty runners in each.  We were spaced out and welcomed by the amazing race director, Jubilee Paige. I have a major girl crush on Jub!  She’s full of energy, talented, fun and an outstanding race director, what’s not to love about her!

Social Distanced Starting line with Chris and Ellen!

It was a chilly morning start which is typical for this race and February desert weather. Sherri and I had discussed a sort of race plan which was mostly to go out slow and just enjoy the day. The number one goal was to finish. We probably should have discussed a “break up” plan but we had run a 100 mile race together with no issues, this was a far shorter race. No problem. Of course, nothing is a problem until it is. We ran Mountain Mist a few weeks earlier a little too fast at the start and had a great race the first half but then struggled the second half. Our goal this race was not to do that again. 

Sherri likes to have a race aid station chart which I usually make for each of us. This time I only made one for me, assuming she had made hers. Then the last minute change in our start wave, made the cutoff times wrong on my sheet. Harvey likes her schedules. She likes to take the chart and figure out in her head what time we will get to the next aid station and how far to get there. I’m more of a run by feel runner. I run what’s comfortable and Harvey needs time to warm up and find her groove. 

Trying to take in the view and let Sherri set the pace

The race started and we were on paved roads for maybe a mile or so before hitting the trail. It seemed like a slow comfortable pace to me, we chatted and neither of us was redlining with some crazy pace. I don’t remember how long it was before Harvey started saying we were going out too fast. She was telling me our pace. Yes doing math in her head, or from her watch and I was sure she was wrong because it didn’t feel too fast to me. It was comfortable and I felt really good. The beginning of this race is largely beautiful downhill running. You are warned not to go out too fast because the course is deceiving. The second half is tough. 

Finally Harvey told me that if I was having a great day I should leave her. But this was her race. I didn’t really care how fast we went, I was enjoying the day. Hence the need for the “break up” talk. We were going to run it together so I would wait every so often giving her a chance to catch up. I took pictures of her running and enjoyed the scenery. I don’t think she was at all impressed with my picture taking or telling her to smile. 

How can you not have a great day here?

If I had to guess I’d say the further we went the more frustrated she got with me, and I was feeling so good. We tried to get Harvey to recover and bounce back as I was certain she would. With each section the distance between us seem to widen and the wait at the aid stations just a bit longer. No breakup plan still. I will say that when the 20 MPH headwinds kicked up, it did make things considerably tougher.

We rolled into the 30k mark just halfway into the race. I was only feeling better as the day progressed and Sherri was clearly worse. The next section was a little longer and once we got onto that section, the gap really widened. I began chatting and enjoying the company of several other runners before settling in with a couple younger guys. We kept a solid pace getting to Black Canyon City aid station at around mile 37.4. It was getting dark and now it was clear Harvey and I were definitely breaking up. I could run with one of the guys I’d been with and not have to be alone in the dark for the second half which promised to be much tougher. 

Smile Harvey, this is supposed to be fun!

I got my drop bag here, changed into a dry shirt, grabbed my headlamp, my waist lamp and poles, then got some food. Just as it was starting to rain and I was going to take off, Harvey came in and let me know her plans to drop. I could clearly see her swollen knees and the pain in her face. Finishing would be very painful for her so she made the decision to accept her first DNF. 

My new friend John and I took off for the next long section. Sherri would go back to our car and hopefully jump in to crew for me at the Table Mesa aid station some 13.5 miles later. I didn’t expect her to make it there in time, but the long sections of climbing definitely made the second half slower. We continued to run strong on the downhill’s but the long uphill climbs were slower. I was happy to see Sherri at Table Mesa. She was in a good mood, maybe the first all day, and made sure I had gotten something to eat and that I had everything I needed. 

Now John and I were off towards the finish.  Around 7.7 miles to the next aid and then 3.6 to the finish. Most of the time I led the way for John. He liked the pace I was setting and I was climbing the uphills really well. This section would find John on a bit of the struggle bus. I could tell he was in pain but he never said a word. This was his first 100k and after we hit 50 miles this was all new territory for him. We had a lot of climbing in that section and he said he probably couldn’t run any more. We had a really strong hiking pace so it wasn’t a concern and we had more than enough time to finish in his goal. 

Finally, the last aid station. I tried quickly to put fresh batteries in both of my lights while the aid station workers were trying to give out shots of fireball. Sadly, they couldn’t seem to get any takers. I quickly said “I’m from Georgia. We have fireball at every race, I’ll take a shot.” Clearly Arizona shots are not the same as Georgia shots. They handed me a cup with what was closer to 3 shots. No problem, I only had just over 3 miles to go. John said the aid station workers told him the trail was smooth to the finish. He must have smelled the barn because now he led the way and we ran the entire 3.6 miles with him crossing the finish line just before me. Excellent day on the beautiful Black Canyon trails! I was definitely in my happy place all day. Sad not to get to finish with Harvey so she could get a second buckle but I’m sort a 100-mile buckle purist. I don’t really like buckles for less than 100 miles. It was bittersweet but sweet none the less. 

Harvey we’ll find another epic race adventure to run but, in the meantime, you are still one of my favorite pacers! 

Running Home in the Tri-Cities

The Tri-Cities, Washington is my hometown. West Richland is where I actually grew up right on the banks of the Yakima River.  Those were simpler days in a smaller town. Nevertheless, I call this home where most of my family and many of my friends still live. At times there is a tug at my heart to go back home to experience and embrace the changes since the days long ago.

Seeing the Columbia Valley, where the rivers that all join together at the very heart of this great community, I remember the many hours as a kid I spent enjoying all that it had to offer. I rode motorcycles in the hills, rode my bike freely in the streets, swam at the public pool and water skied on the rivers. It holds many fond memories of my younger years.

Starting in the 3rd grade I went to Hanford when it was at the time a K through 12 school, later graduating from Kamiakin High School in 1982. In high school I ran track one year but my love was playing JV and Varsity basketball. After graduation I went away to college because of course back then there was no way to get a 4-year degree locally. I never returned Tri-Cities to live.

It was much later in life, after my kids were grown that I took up trail running as a hobby. It wasn’t long before I found myself drawn back to the Tri-Cities to run the Badger Mountain Challenge Trail Race. To run the hills and mountains that surround the area where I grew up, I would see it all with a whole new perspective, a “Vantage” point if you will.

The Badger Mountain Challenge is put on by a local race director and draws runners not only from the local area but also from many other towns and states. The race is a one of a kind, top notch race experience. It’s held in the early Spring at the end of March and provides multiple running distances from 15K, 50K, 50 miles and 100 miles. My favorite distance is the 100-miler where you can go big or go home, and here I could do both!

The 50 and 100-mile distances start off at the base of Badger Mountain in Richland then the course takes you up and over the mountain, across to Candy Mountain where you again go up and over it.  You run alongside orchards as you travel out towards McBee Mountain in Benton City. Next, the course goes up the face of McBee and along one ridge line before coming back, circling across the other ridge and down, following the same path back to the start at Badger Mountain. The 100-mile runners do this twice. In addition to the long race distance, the challenge with this race is often the ever unpredictable weather that mostly includes very cold temperatures and wind that time of year, especially in the overnight hours.

For me it was a time to come home to see and experience my childhood stomping grounds more on foot. The mountain top views give you the chance to take in every part of this beautiful valley, appreciate all that it has to offer and really see how it has grown over the years. I was able to watch the sunrise over the Columbia River and see the surrounding mountains while running where my younger feet had not traveled before. I made many new friends during the race and walked away with an unforgettable experience when some of my family came to watch me finish a race for the first time.

There are several trail and ultra races of varying distances in and around the Tri-Cities area.  You can find them with a simple search on the UltraSignup.com website.

I ran the race a few years ago. Now when I’m in town, these mountains call me once again to come run and hike them, where I capture new memories and see my beautiful hometown from a whole new perspective all over again. This year’s Badger Mountain Challenge will take place March 26-27.  It just might be the perfect time for me to go home again.

Rim to River 100 Race Report

I’m not one to sign up for inaugural races. Typically, if a race peaks my interest, I prefer to see how the first year goes, let them work some of the kinks out and then read a few race reports before running the race.  But there was just something about the Rim to River 100 in West Virginia that really tugged at me when they first announced it.  I followed them on their Facebook page, and while it was the Spring of 2020 and we were still deep into Covid and quarantines, I knew I really wanted to run the race.  They offered a refund if it was cancelled, the race proceeds were to benefit a non-profit and the race looked epic, what did I have to lose, so I signed up.

My big race of the year was the Bear 100 and since that race was not cancelled, it was my main focus.  It was only 6 weeks prior to Rim to River but I felt I could recover and enjoy a beautiful 100 miler in West Virginia. (An inaugural race and the first 100 miler in West Virginia!)  After the Bear I talked to my running buddy and also my pacer extraordinaire, Sherri Harvey to see if she was interested in another adventure, this time in West Virginia.  When she took a look at the race, she thought maybe she’d like to run this one as her first 100!  She put her name on the short waitlist and within days was into the race.  Sherri knew for her first she’d like us to have crew rather than go solo, which was my initial thought.  We quickly got Brad Goodridge on board to come crew and experience West Virginia with us.

Sherri didn’t have much time to plan, she had a few weekends for long runs between motorcycle weekends with her husband, next thing it seemed we were in West Virginia.  The race director had sent out lots of emails with information on the race and had organized all the race information for Brad to crew us. They would start the race in waves with 20 runners every 15 minutes over a 2-hour period until all runners were on course.  The overall cutoff time was 32 hours and you had to finish in 32 hrs no matter what your start time was.  Cutoffs at the aid stations were based on the final wave of runners, so if you started earlier you needed to sort of keep up with “your” cutoff time because you could get to the finish over 32 hours and not get a finish.  It sort of sounds complicated but it really wasn’t.

The start of the race was at Ace Adventure Resort where we had rented a cabin and had a very short walk with Brad down to the start.  Sherri and I checked in at the startline and I talked to a couple people I knew and introduced myself to the race director telling him how excited I was for the race.  It seemed that they were well organized.  We had been instructed that we must start at our assigned wave time (6:45am), the bibs were chipped so they had your start time and you needed to start then or you would receive a DNF. 

They had music playing and right on time, our race started.  The start was about a half-mile of uphill on switchback roads in the resort before dropping onto some beautiful single tract trails that would circle us around the ridge of the resort.  Sherri and I quickly settled into our pace plan of running the downhill’s and flats and power hiking the uphills.  A plan that for me saves my legs and keeps me from going out too fast and blowing up.  We didn’t have to deal with conga lines because of the wave starts and never felt like we were caught up in the game of going out too hard. 

First view of the river
View from Concho AS at mile 7.5

We saw Brad at the first aid station (AS) just 7.5 miles into the race.  We knew we wouldn’t need anything at that point, but it’s always nice to see crew.  We quickly came and went at that AS, just enough time to dump our jackets that we started in when it was still a little cooler at 6:45am.  It would be 19 miles before we would see Brad again The next AS was an out and back section of the course.  This section of the course included some of my favorite trails, with old mining railroad beds and beautiful scenery.  It was just stunning.

We saw a few runners we knew in this out and back section and with the race so spread out it was nice to see a few more people.  We headed from there to the 26-mile AS where we’d see Brad again.  We were now down by the river and enjoying more beautiful scenery and views.  Our friend Jennifer caught up with us and we shared a few miles and chatted with her.  We got food from the AS and went to the car where the crews had set up for their runners.  I said hello to some other people I knew who were there crewing other runners before getting what I needed. We then headed out again.  We wouldn’t see Brad again until mile 55 and well into the night, so we had to be sure we had lights and some batteries with us now.

View from Long Point at Sunset

I’m not sure any of these pictures do this course justice but I don’t think I could describe it well either.  It seems that the race director certainly showcased the best of the best the area had to offer and views that were just gorgeous.  The course continued to have good downhills and uphills as we continued on our plan of power hiking, or hiking with a purpose as I call it, and running the downs and flat sections.  By the turn around where we saw Brad again, it was definitely getting cool out.  The day time temperatures were around 70 with the night calling for low 50’s.  Being by the water so much of the time, it was definitely cooler during the night.  We had our jackets on but tended to get chilled when we stopped at AS’s during the night hours.

Trying to make sure we had everything for the overnight hours

Now we headed back after the seeing Brad at the turnaround.  It had been 55 miles there but would be only 45 going back because we would skip a couple of out and back sections. It always feels good to be halfway and counting down the miles.  It was now another 27 miles to Brad again and that was always something we looked forward to.  These were the early morning hours and felt like some of our slowest.  Before getting into an AS we always talked and made notes as to what we needed to do when we got there.  One thing was always to eat some real food.  The AS’s were all excellent with good choices of hot foods and awesome cheerful volunteers. 

As we literally dropped in the AS where we saw Brad next, the steep downhill got to Sherri and her knees and feet were hurting.  Mine weren’t much better.  The course was surprisingly rocky and lots of roots in sections and I think we both managed to kick more than our share of them.  I for one sacrificed at least one toenail to that course which is something I haven’t done in several years.  We now had 18 miles to the finish as the day was beginning to warm up just after sunrise.  We were able to unload all our headlamps, extra batteries and empty our packs of any extra gear we no longer needed.  We kept our light jackets, beanies on our heads and gloves on until it warmed up a little more.

18 to miles to get Sherri her buckle!

Because we didn’t have to run an out and back on this section like we did on the way out, we headed to an AS we had not yet been to.  Once at the Ace Beach AS, we were greeted by some of the most energetic group of volunteers offering us all kinds of food.  Sherri’s stomach hadn’t been feeling too great but she was able to drink calories at the AS and her electrolyte drink.  All of a sudden we both saw small Butterfinger candies and that was the thing that called to us.  First time either of us had touch something sweet during the race, but now only 11.5 miles to go it was our reward.  We knew we had the only creek crossing on the course ahead and some good climbing after that, so we got going fairly quickly from the AS.  In 7 miles we would see Brad for the final time before the finish.  Sometimes the final miles coming into an AS seem like the longest, you think it will be around each corner and it’s not.  I always love it when Brad meets me just outside of the AS on the trail.  I know when I see him that the AS is just around the corner and he always meets me with a happy smile on his face and encouraging words.

Brad meeting us just outside the final aid station

We knew the final AS had beer as many of the runners coming in with us were looking forward to that.  I heard they had pancakes and that’s what I wanted.  We walked the last little bit into the AS with Brad, again got rid of the extra gear, beanies, gloves and jackets.  My friend Michelle who had already finished the race was also there along with a good crowd waiting on runners and cheering us all on.  Final push and it’s a buckle for Sherri.  There was never a longer 4.5 miles, I have no idea how that always happens in races.  As Sherri and I stood at the top of the last short drop just above the finish arch, I looked at her, gave her a high five and congratulated her.  We ran down the final hill to music playing, crowds cheering and hearing our names called over the microphone.  What an awesome way for Sherri to get to finish her first 100 and be handed that buckle!  Our friend Jennifer who had finished not long before us was also there cheering us on.  Brad had our vehicle backed up to the finish area and we sat on the back of the van for several hours. Sherri and Brad had a beer, we chatted with other runners and we cheered for those who were finishing.  We enjoyed watching so many finish that we had run with and just being safely social distanced with our community.  The race director and the volunteers totally knocked it out of the park with their first race.  I could not have been happier to be part of it!

The day after the race we went into the little town of Fayetteville to have breakfast at the Cathedral Cafe.  We ran into other runners, some of them we had spent time with on the course and some had been AS volunteers.  At the Water Stone Outdoors store, one AS volunteer remembered us from the race and we were treated like local legends.  We even got to see and say hello to the race director once again as he came into the store.  It was definitely a 100-mile experience I would recommend to others.  I couldn’t have planned a better race to be Sherri’s first 100 miler!  I would not call it an easy course but then I like beautiful and epic, not easy!  And of course, no 100-miler is easy, don’t kid yourself.

A couple of after thoughts about the race:

I personally thought the course markers were some of the best, although some may not have agreed.  I’ve run races in at least 10 different states, East, West, Mid-West and I’ve seen lots of course markings.  I’ve never seen a course that had mileage markers on many of the turns, both going out and coming back you knew where you were by the mileage markers. The flagging at night also had reflective tape and were easy to spot.

Markings at every turn, some with mileage markers

There were port-a potties or bathrooms at every AS.

The AS volunteers were among some of the best even though most had never been to a race before or weren’t even runners.  They took the best care of us and were always helpful, happy and extremely encouraging.

The social media, emails and communication leading up to the race was some of the best.  Their Facebook page was always showcasing photos from parts of the course and the AS volunteers were on their before the race asking what the runners wanted for food/drink. It was so clear that they wanted to do the very best job and they did.

The race also went over the top to put safety measures in place due to Covid. Masks were worn at the start/finish and at aid stations, with plenty of spacing at AS between runners and the workers.

The Bear 100 Race Report

If you want old school, challenging and beautiful, you really don’t have to look any further than the Bear 100 in Utah.  You’ll be greeted at each aid station by some of the best volunteers, but don’t sit long or expect any coddling if you want to get this one done.

This wasn’t a last minute bad decision on my part to run this one, it’s been on my bucket list for some time.  It started when my friend Mark Scherr ran it several years ago.  It seemed like every time I talked to Mark he would tell me how I needed to go run the Bear and that he wanted to run it again too.  His excitement over the race was infectious, so it was soon on my bucket list as a race to run. This one was for you Mark Scherr, RIP.

My race pack to honor Mark

I signed up as soon as registrations opened and began putting together a team.  For me and big races, I really want the extra aid and to enjoy spending time with friends on the course.  My running partner and friend, Sherri Harvey immediately agreed to join me for this one.  Brad Goodridge has crewed for me before and having a crew chief you know you can count on was going to a big help. My parents were soon on board to drive down from Washington State to spend some time together before the race and be able to see me finish.  Later my husband, Ed and son Joey also made plans to come out and join the fun.  Ed would pace me in the last few miles of the race, and Joey had never been to one of my races before.

The race was still 10 months away, and to say the year 2020 ended up in a dumpster fire is putting it mildly.  I dealt with it not only as a runner but also as an RD.  I understood the challenges and struggles of having races during Covid and could appreciate all that it took to put on a race during these times. All of that made it a little hard to train not knowing for sure if the race would actually take place.  I just kept doing my thing but to say that I put in a good training block leading up to the Bear would be a gross understatement.

As luck would have it, or bad luck, 4 weeks to the day before the race I was in a doctor’s office getting a cortisone shot in my knee.  I was unsure if I’d be able to complete the race due to the pain I was having, and couldn’t really run.  I knew immediately on a run a couple days before that this might not be good.  I wanted to get it looked at and be able to, a) make a decision on whether I needed to pull the plug on the race and b) figure out what kind of situation I was dealing with. My doctor was super cool, he understood what I was doing, and we treated what looked to be just a lot of inflammation due to slight arthritis in my knee.  No tears or major strains, so after the shot it was an aggressive step down dose of Prednisone, ice three times a day and wearing a heavy brace on runs and during training. Over the next four weeks, the pain settled down and went completely away. I had a few test runs without a brace just before the race.  Major disaster avoided.

Let’s get this going, my nerves are killing me at this point!

The Bear 100 is an old school race.  It’s been around for a lot of years and it’s pretty low key but not small.  We were given bib numbers and assigned waves before the race.  Each runner had to text their bib to a number to check in that morning, line up in your assigned wave group, and they started them one minute apart beginning at 6am.  There was a huge crowd at the start with runners and crew. I chatted and said hello to a few runners I knew.  No announcements were made, just cheers as the first wave got under way.  To start the race, it’s about a mile or so down paved road.  Just enough to get you warmed up, but the climbing really gets going once you round the first turn.  You hit the trail in Congo lines and begin climbing for more than 5,000 feet over the next 9 miles or so.  It’s still dark so there’s not much to see besides the trail and chatting with the runners around you, if you can talk and climb.  This initial part of the course and first tough climb had me scared for weeks, so when I started to struggle with my breathing, I don’t think it surprised me but did make me start to panic.  I had been listening to runners behind me chat for a while and knew a local friend and runner from back home was just a person or two back.  I knew I was being pushed a little beyond my limits in the Congo line and asked Rich if he would mind stopping so I could catch my breath and stay with me for the climb.  He was super sweet to agree and we let a few groups by as we continued to make our way up the big first climb.  Finally, a sigh of relief once we hit the ridge line and got some of the first views in day light.

First Morning Views!  Doesn’t get much better!

Congo line near the top of first climb

Rich and I stayed together through the first climb and continued on for the first half of the race.  We both knew it would be a tough one.  The climbs and the altitude could all play a toll on how the day would go for either one of us.  He started out much stronger on the climbs and I became the push to keep us moving on the downs.  Rich was running the race completely solo with no crew or pacers. I would looked forward to getting to my pacer around mile 45.  But there was a lot of work to do between here and mile 45.  We came into the first aid station (AS) around mile 10 to very friendly and helpful volunteers.  We grabbed a couple snacks and drinks but kept moving.  By the next AS I knew I was going to need to get my stomach under control.  I think the altitude was beginning to cause some upset.  Luckily, they had a bathroom there I could use and I took some Imodium.  I knew keeping up with drinking and eating were going to be key, so I tried to keep after it.  The one thing you could always count on was fantastic views throughout the course.  There was always big climb but then some downhill to recover and make up some time.  That became the game of the race for me.  Struggling through the climbing part and trying to make up what I could on the downhill.

Finally some downhill!

Early on Rich and I knew we were somewhere near the back of the race.  The one goal both Rich and I had was to finish, and of course not chasing cutoffs would be a plus.  In and out of AS quickly and keep moving forward was key. Having someone to share the miles with and enjoy the incredible beauty was a bonus in my book.  When you have someone to chat with or just move along in silence, it seems to make the miles go by faster.  In the first half of the race, we worked together to not waste time but could not resist a few pictures to capture the experience.  With each section as the race progressed, I felt like I struggled more and more.  It was a slow beat down that makes you wonder how much can you endure, what more can this course throw at you.  The rewards were spectacular beauty, but they didn’t come easy for me.

Embrace the Journey!

Much of the details and rules of the race got changed in the weeks prior due to Covid.  When I had originally started my planning, we had 8 aid stations that crew could help you, now with new rules we could only see crew three times.  I can do a race without crew but for me it can be really helpful to have someone who is personally looking after you.  They can have my crew bag ready which for me contains almost anything I might need.  If something goes south, I can usually fix it. Late in a race having someone personally taking care of my pack and making sure I’m eating can be the lifeline I need.  This race had started out tough and seemed to just keep getting rougher.  I really began to look forward to having Sherri jump in at mile 45.  Rich and I talked a little bit about how having a fresh person to keep us moving and guiding us on the course would be a help.  I saw Brad briefly when we got to Sherri at Temple Fork AS, although he couldn’t crew me just a few words of encouragement from him was a lift.

We would see Brad again in 5 miles but knew the next few miles had some more steep climbs to grind out first.  It was now dark and it took Sherri a few miles to figure out the course markings.  It was clearly marked but not a lot of confidence markers between turns.  It seemed like the biggest fear became getting off course, doing extra mileage and losing time you knew you didn’t have.  Shortly before we got into the halfway AS at Tony Grove where Brad was waiting for us, Rich had fallen back just a couple minutes and started having his own stomach issues.

Brad had the “Red” carpet all rolled out for me!

Brad was ready and waiting with my personal AS all set up ready to go.  With the new Covid rules, he was only able to provide aid from his vehicle.  They did not want extra people around the actual aid tables.  At this first crewed AS he was not even allowed to enter the AS area until they knew I was through the previous AS.  Rich came in just behind us and got what he needed and pressed on out of the AS, said we’d catch him, which we did just shortly.  We had come into the halfway point about an hour ahead of the cutoffs.  Sherri had her game face on and was ready to push me hard to make up some time.  This next roughly 10 mile section became the place with more downhill than up, as Sherri pushed us to move as fast as we could adding an additional hour to the cutoffs.  I had wanted Rich to be able to stick with us but he fell behind shortly after we caught up to him and we knew we had to stay moving.  Sherri’s focus was to get me to Ed at mile 93 with at least an hour before the cutoffs so he could safely get me to the finish. With each AS and as the night miles and hours ticked on, that math got a little blurry.

Pictures don’t begin to do this course justice! They never really do!

I had made AS cutoff sheets for us which included how many miles to the next section, the cutoff time there and how much climb was in that section.  The sun came up and the relief of getting the head lamps off and getting to Brad again at mile 75 with our extra time still in the bank.  Then the charts we had were no longer correct.  I guess there was some changes made due to Covid and my sheets were no longer accurate.  Sherri thought that was helpful because when I knew there was a lot of climbing coming up, I’d get stressed.  Each section only gave you about a 2-hour window before the cutoff, most were 7 plus miles with lots of climbing.  We eventually had to quit the math and just go.  We’d find out at each AS how long to the next AS and just kept it at that.  It didn’t really matter how much climbing, you just had to stay moving. 

Sherri pushing me and enjoying the beautiful course!

As the race went on, I actually felt like I was climbing better.  I’m a consistent and fast hiker so I just had to move as fast as I could.  We came into some later AS and Sherri would just take my water bottle to fill it, I’d keep moving and she’d catch up with food Brad had given her to go.  I ate Humus wraps, Spring Energy fuel and broth to try and keep calories up, along with a few cokes at the AS.  We kept pushing to keep as much extra time before the cutoffs as possible and the final section leading into Ranger Dip AS where I would pick up Ed was an endless amount of climbing.  Sherri would call it the “road to heaven” because we were so high up, the highest she had been in the course. After all the endless climbing it was a short downhill to get to Brad and pick up Ed.  I had to grab some quick nourishment but we had managed to hang onto an hour and fifteen minutes ahead of cutoffs.

My husband, Ed now led the way and we would go up to the highest point in the race and the steepest climb of the entire course, but also a short 934 feet straight up.  Once to the top, I finally could sigh with relief, I knew I would finish, and I was spending the final miles of the race with Ed and enjoying every minute of it.  We chatted with other runners, took pictures and enjoyed what many told me would be the best views of the race overlooking Bear Lake, Idaho.  Those views didn’t disappoint and thanks to Sherri pushing me so hard we were able to take it all in.

I was reminded that God is good in the Hills and the Valleys!

The fall colors where spectacular and coming into the finish, seeing both Brad and Sherri who had helped me so much, along with my parents and my son is what really made the whole journey so special.  The race is low key with very little fanfare at the finish but the one thing that made my race was the people who I always know are there for me even in my crazy.  The family that supports me and the friends who probably understand the crazy a little better and share in it with me.

Great Southern Endurance Run 100 Virtual

Great Southern Endurance Run is the brainchild of Thomas Armbruster. Anyone who is an ultra runner and lives in the Atlanta area has to love the idea of running from Kennesaw Mountain to Stone Mountain (100K version). In its original years, the race included a 100 miler with a nice old school buckle that paid homage to its very first runners, Ben Gray (the mustache) and Jameelah Abdul-Rahim Mujaahid (a peace sign) who tested the course before it was an official race.

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I loved crewing for it several years and helping Thomas co-direct it one year before taking it over. I couldn’t imagine spring time without this race; although I do have to admit that a 100K on roads was never a race that enticed me personally.  In May of 2020, just after quarantine but still very much the height of Covid-19, we held the annual 100K distance and added a few aid stations to help runners along the course keeping them out of mostly closed stores and restaurants.  Most runners were just happy to be out and running and really appreciated the extra aid we were able to provide.  It’s really a tough race even under the best of circumstances.

When summer came, Covid-19 was still hanging in the air and 100-mile races were starting to be postponed, cancelled or turned into virtual races.  I began to think about where someone would run 100 miles.  It occurred to me that the Great Southern Endurance Run had a course from the early years, and runners who trained and had nowhere to run might be interested.  I contacted the original maker of the buckles as Thomas had none of them left, placed an order for more, and posted the race for runners to run anytime it worked for them between the beginning of May and end of August (although I did extend it to the end of September when fall races started to cancel as well).

In the back of my mind I thought as the race director it would be very cool if I got to experience the course and race firsthand even though I was quite familiar with it.  Soon BLM protests started to hit the city of Atlanta and Stone Mountain, which made the whole thing a little questionable.  I ran Merrill’s Mile over the 4th of July weekend with Brad Goodridge and Carrie Dix, getting some long paved miles under my feet, and a chance to work on a strategy for foot care.  Roads are really not a place I love to run.  A couple days later I asked Brad if it was too soon to ask him about GSER 100 miler, haha.  We both needed to recover from Merrill’s Mile and I had the H9 50 miler coming up in August. I wanted to get through all that first.

My friend Shae Merritt-Duff from Florida texted me about a week or so after Merrill’s Mile to ask if I thought she could run GSER solo.  We then chatted by phone and the date she had in mind for mid-August worked out perfectly for me and I said I’d join her.  I soon asked Brad if he wanted to crew me, and God as my witness, he said he really wanted to run it with me!  #DontBlameMeForYourPoorDecisions

I then reached out to Rebecca Richie who is basically the queen of GSER having run it several years, setting the course record and winning it two of those years.  I had crewed for her a couple of times at the race and knew that she was well acquainted with the course and demands better than anyone.  She was still recovering from an injury and was happy to help us out.  I also reached out to a couple of the on course Aid Station homes, Franco Conti and Anne Blanton who were both happy to set up shop for us.  My running buddy Sherri Harvey who never wants to miss out on a good run offered to pace us.  Chris Fox who had completed the race six week earlier had told me if I ever decided to do it, he was happy to help, so I also reached out to him for some pro pacing and navigation.  Plan in place, help secured, almost ready.

A couple days before the race Brad and I had dinner with Rebecca.  I already knew we had the perfect crew person, but Brad I think learned real quick that we were in good hands.  She gave us lots of advice, and our group had now grown to 4 people with Candy Findley not wanting to miss out on the fun.  We needed to make all our stops quick and keep moving.  More people makes your group slower which is fine, but stops with a big group can really eat up precious time.  This race was intended to be an adventure through Atlanta seeing all the sites along the way, and it truly is that.  Thank you, Thomas for your vision, and I promise to continue it.  Stopping at every coffee shop and brewery along the route is not what you have time for.  That is probably a tour left for another day.

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Read to get this show on the road!

So let me tell you a little about our race itself, hopefully with some helpful hints if you decide to run it.  Because it was a virtual race, our start time was up to us.  We set the start time for 3:00am, which means you have to be at the bottom of Kennesaw Mountain at 2:30am to climb to the start and grab a few pictures before you begin the race.  The goal was to get in and out of Stone Mountain Park before dark.  So far over the summer with others running it, Stone Mountain and Centennial Olympic Park have been troubled areas and runners have had to bypass and work around them.  Sometimes you have to play the cards you are dealt.  For us we would find out around 8:00pm the night before starting, with Shae already in town from Florida that Stone Mountain would be closed on our race day with heavy police presence due to planned BLM protests.  The park would reopen Sunday morning.  After a quick briefing with Rebecca and Brad we decided to push our start time back to 9:00am and we’d have to punt when we got to Stone Mountain (more on that later).  Brad and I both set up live tracking on our Garmin watches trying to give Rebecca and a couple others on our team a chance to follow along.  Due to things not being linked correctly the first issue was my tracker not working but we got Brad’s going and it turned out to be a great way for Rebecca to keep track of us.

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Couldn’t resist a jumping picture at the start!

No good views but the cloud cover would be very welcomed all day.

Because it started in daylight hours it gave Shae a chance to see the lay of the land.  We were able to start off seeing Marietta Square busy with people.  We made it to Franco’s house right on schedule with him waiting for us with a cooler full of cold drinks, some bacon and Lemonchello shots.  What better way to start our day!  Franco jumped in after taking care of us and joined Sherri in pacing us to Sope Creek and through there over past Cochran Shoals area.  We had more surprises when we got to see Kim Purcell and Janette Maas as they finished their morning runs at Cochran Shoals.  Then we were off to the Braves Stadium and said our good bye to Sherri and Franco.

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Picture taken by Franco.  We are all still smiling!

We all saw our crew just after crossing over Hwy 285 near the Galleria.  Shae had her husband and dad come up from Florida with her to be her crew and pace later.  They had both also gone up Kennesaw Mountain with us to get us started.  Now they were connected with Rebecca and taking care of us like pros.  Rebecca will tell you she pealed at least 10 pounds of Cuties for us. She would peel them and put them in lunch baggies and keep them in the cooler, and during the hot hours of Saturday, nothing seemed to hit the spot like those.  I would grab a couple of bags each time I left seeing her.  But her hummus, turkey wraps were the thing that sustained me the first day like nothing else.

We made our way down to West Palisades and on to West Paces Ferry Road toward Buckhead when they crewed for us a second time.  Quick grab and go in front of Starbucks. We got a little rain after this stop but not enough to be anything more than a little cool down, until the humidity hit us. Once we made it past Chastain park and were well into the afternoon hours we decided a “quick” stop at a gas station for a icees sounded good.  Of course no stop is quick with four of us but we got in and out.  I knew Rebecca would see on the tracker that we had stopped and next time she saw us we were busted! haha

Highly recommended!

We got to our crew next at the Morningside Nature Preserve.  We were 50K into the race and time to get a few things squared away for some and pick up our pacer Chris Fox.  Huge shout out again to Chris who basically rearranged things to help us out with our last minute schedule change.  He was so great to navigate and give us the tour through Atlanta.  Shae really enjoyed so many sites he was able to point out to her along our journey.  Before we made it through the beltline we were treated to another good rain.  Shae and I put on our cheap ponchos to keep from getting soaked but it wasn’t at all cold.  Probably the rain helped clear a few people off the streets as we went through the Edgewood section of the course and worked our way over to the Oakland Cemetery.  We got more to eat and drink from our crew.  Rebecca had bought us food from Chick-fil-A and I enjoyed a cold Lemonade before we said good-bye to Chris and headed off toward Little Five Points, Decatur and then Stone Mountain.

Shae now took over as our navigator where she and I worked together using turn streets to find streets and check the GPS app.  For us the navigation part of the race was a team effort.  Rebecca had warned Brad and me in our prerace meeting how much work that can be, especially late in the race.  Candy had started to have problems with her Piriformis before we were too far into our race, and after we got through Little Five Points she was able to get a ride from a friend and ended her journey. When we got into Decatur and it was darker, we could see locating streets in the dark was going to take some work.  We made our way out to our next planned crew stop at the Columbia Seminary.  I think it was here that I changed shoes.  I usually don’t change shoes in a race unless I have trouble with my feet but I thought just switching shoes might give my feet a welcome change.  I kept my socks on and didn’t even look at my feet, there really didn’t feel like any issues were happening so why bother, although the shoe change felt good on my feet.

We were getting well into the night and our crew decided to meet us half-way from the Seminary and Stone Mountain.  This section of the course was the old school route that would take us out Rockbridge and Sheppard Roads to Stone Mountain.  After missing a turn during this section and going way beyond where we were supposed to be, it was nice to see our crew.  Rebecca could pull us up on the tracker and direct us in what roads to take to get us back on course. We were ready to see our crews again.  Unfortunately, this is where Shae decided it was time for her to tap out. She was a trooper and never uttered a single complaint the entire time. It’s an extremely rough course with 100 miles of road that can leave your feet trashed and sometimes we just know it’s time to stop.

Then there were two.  We had another 6 miles to get to Stone Mountain and Rebecca went ahead to check out the situation.  If things looked bad she would call us and we’d have to see what the alternative route would be.  Well into the middle of the night, and everything at Stone Mountain was quiet and still.  We didn’t see a single soul or car when we went through.  We got to Rebecca and she waited for us to summit the mountain and come back, so we headed down the Stone Mountain Pathway to the entrance.  Unfortunately, a short distance beyond that a huge chain link fence had been erected with large notices to KEEP OUT and Violators Would Be Prosecuted!  We knew a summit might not happen with the protests but felt we had to give it a shot.  I think not going to jail turned out to be a good decision, although later Chris Fox told me he would have bailed us out. We’ll save that card to play for another time!  Thanks for the offer though.

Back to the Stone Mountain Path towards Decatur.  It was very humid and hot overnight, never cooling off much. We saw Rebecca about 7 miles down the path before crossing over Hwy 285 again.  It was time for me to switch to sandals to give my swollen feet some room and for Brad to do some doctoring on his feet.  Let me just say that Brad clearly does not have a PhD in this area, he’ll need to work on those skills.  You do the best you can, try to limit your suffering and keep going.  Every time we would stop, the starting back up was the most difficult.  It’s that fine balance of being sure to take care of everything you can and not stay too long.  Next stop downtown Decatur.

By this time, we thought we’d seen enough of Decatur, but we seemed to circle around it and go through it every which way, and I’m certain we began to get slower, if that was possible.  Day time came as did the heat of the day.  Traffic picked up, which meant cars racing by us as we were on the sidewalk but also the traffic lights seem to last forever.  We might not have violated the laws at Stone Mountain but could certainly have been sighted on many jaywalking charges.  Now getting across streets required a light and a long wait, in the heat, uphill, both ways!

For us the final straw with Decatur was Lullwater Creek.  It seemed easy enough but with the heat and navigation, it just was not going too well.  After crossing a bridge, over a pipe and bushwhacking around a very large blow down we were finally headed out of there and not soon enough for our liking.  Finally, back to Rebecca crewing us at Dunkin Donuts, we got some breakfast and headed towards Anne Blanton’s aid station.  The long stretches of no shade and long lights took its toll.  When we finally turned on Anne’s street we were greeted by cheers and shouts, signs, balloons and happy faces.  We both were about to have a heat stroke.  It took some time to finally cool down some and slowing getting the life back into us.  We weren’t looking forward to the final stretch to the finish line, but Rebecca was now going to leapfrog us every mile or so, and Tatiana also jumped in bringing us large cokes and popsicles when she wasn’t able to find us icees  My husband Ed showed up and also met us a couple miles out and led us in.

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Ed Stepped in as RD to hand us our buckles!

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Even our posters from Tatiana made our finish feel special!

If you are considering running this race as a virtual, then let me just share a couple more small details that worked for me but doesn’t mean it would necessarily work for you.  I taped my feet up really well with rock tape and used blister Band-Aids on a couple of  my known trouble spots before the race.  My feet held up well with zero blisters but they still hurt and were sore from the beating of the pavement.  I also used a waist pack.  I knew I would see crew often and didn’t want a pack on my shoulders due to the heat and chaffing I get from my pack.  Downside is when your stomach starts to not feel well, and it did, you have something pressing on your stomach.  It’s sort of a trade off. I had my pack with my crew just in case.  With terrible chaffing due to the humidity, I opted to just stay with the waist pack. For me, that was the card I was playing.

For us, crew was a must.  If you don’t use crew reach out to the on course aid stations.  If nothing else, it gives you some friendly faces and a little bit of a “race” feel.  They are also happy to help.  Be sure to have old school printed turn sheets and have the GPS tracks on an app. Some have also downloaded the GPS to their watches and followed the course easily.  We did play with that some but maybe weren’t quite familiar enough to work it. It really worked well for our crew having a live tracker but that isn’t a must.  Have fun with this one.  It’s meant to be a great tour of Atlanta and it really is that!  There’s definitely parts of it you can’t unsee!

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Great Southern Endurance Run 100K Covid Edition, A Race Director’s Perspective

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The Great Southern Endurance Run (GSER) is a 100K in Atlanta, Georgia that travels from the top of Kennesaw Mountain to the top of Stone Mountain. It’s a small, iconic grassroots race that tours many of the highlights of the great city of Atlanta. This race is the brainchild of a local and well-respected race director (RD) here in the Atlanta area, Thomas Armbruster and 2020 would be its 6th year.

I watched the race from afar each year until one of my best running friends, Rebecca asked me to crew her and her husband Michael as they ran the race in 2017. That could be another whole story, but she finished first place overall and set the course record. The next year in 2018, I crewed her again and yet again she finished first overall and bested her course record. The next year when the local runners began discussing running the race in 2019 but the RD had not yet posted the event, I felt for them. GSER had now gotten into my blood even though I had only crewed the race, not run it. I reached out to Thomas imploring him to continue with the race and promising that I would step in and help him put it on hoping that would convince him to go ahead with it. So, in 2019 I worked with Thomas as his co-RD and began to appreciate the race from another perspective. Again, in the fall of 2019 the runners began to discuss whether their favorite spring race would be back on the calendar. When it didn’t seem to be happening, I finally made an offer to take over the race, continuing on with Thomas’ vision for the race and a strong desire to not let this race fade away.

The vision for the race was for it to be an adventure run through the city of Atlanta seeing many historical and other fascinating sites that many times go unseen. So, with Thomas’ blessing, I was handed the baton and took the reins to continue the Great Southern Endurance Run. It was later than usual when we finally got it scheduled on Ultrasignup and many runners had already made other plans, but there were still plenty that wanted to run it. GSER has always been a small family vibe race. I had a new logo created and was working with a local vendor for swag when everything came crashing down with the Covid-19 Pandemic. I immediately changed signups to waitlist only and continued to have a few sign up. Then the cancellation of races started to happen, shelter in place orders and many businesses closed to wait out the peak of the virus. What was that going to mean for GSER? Occasionally a runner would reach out and ask about the race. My plan was to wait it out. When the Georgia Shelter In Place orders came from our governor, GSER was just on the other side of those dates. That gave me hope and I wanted everyone to share that hope. Traffic was being limited on some of the trail routes and especially the Atlanta Beltline. I knew I couldn’t be reckless, but I wasn’t willing to cancel the race just yet.

Then came the virtual races. Along with races being cancelled, pushed to later dates or deferred to next year there came the virtual options for the cancelled races. In fact, my big spring race was also turned into a virtual race, but they would also be rolling over entries to the next year’s race. For many reasons you can read about in that race report, I decided to run my big race as a virtual which meant self-supporting for a tough 100 miler. I learned a lot doing that and knew for sure I did not want to turn GSER into a virtual event. I also knew that due to the way the race was set up, it could easily be rescheduled by just pushing the date out a few weeks and not completely moved to later in the year. Then things began to open up in Georgia, the “Land of the Free”! Not everyone agrees with how our governor is handling things but that’s not the point here. You might not agree with me in continuing to go forward with our race, but overwhelmingly the runners did agree. So, let me share what I did, how I did it and see if we can find a way through all this.

Once I decided to have the race as scheduled, I offered runners the option to rollover to next year if they were not comfortable with running it this year. I did not want to pressure anyone to run the race if it wasn’t something they were completely comfortable doing, no apologies needed. I let the runners know that my primary goal would be to provide safety for them and the volunteers, and I began to work through what that might look like. I felt certain I could do it. I also wanted to offer hope to runners. Hope that we would find a way through all of this, hope that races would come back, and hope that there could be some sort of return to normalcy. I knew from the runners who reached out to me, that they really wanted this. It meant as much or more to them than it did to me.

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Swag from Southen Terminus GA

I posted on the GSER Facebook page that most of the runners belong to, invited the waitlisters to join the race and also opened up a couple of extra spots. I felt certain there would be some that would not want to run it. It was a small race but with so many other races cancelled, a few others might be looking to grab onto this bit of hope.
Now to get to work. Another thing in all this that was extremely critical for me was to support small businesses. I reached out quickly again to my vendor who I had been talking with about swag, we finalized a new plan and moved forward very fast to pull that together. Southern Terminus also creates some of the most beautiful handmade wood pieces such as bowls, boxes and boards. I wanted to offer a practical and useful award and asked if there would be time to make a cutting board that was engraved on one side for the top male and top female awards. Supporting this small business and these friends really added an extra bonus.

So how would I safely support runners for this race? What was that going to look like? First you need to understand a little bit about this race. It’s more of an urban adventure type run with very limited support of a few aid stations. It’s intended to be a run that you carry some cash and enjoy places along the route, although some sections are a little more desolate as far as gas stations or stores. Normally there are 4 aid stations over the 62 miles it takes to get from start to finish. This year my main goal would be to keep runners safe and that meant trying to keep them out of going into places along the way as much as possible. Many businesses were not open and fast food restaurants at this point were only open for drive thru. So, the first decision was to add 3 additional aid stations for runners.

It seemed pretty obvious to me that the aid stations should be set up with prepackaged foods. That’s really not as difficult to provide as it might sound. Yes, it is more expensive for sure, but maybe even a little easier to offer a huge variety as lots of prepackaged snacks. Along with food being prepackaged, I would provide Crustible peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas and Clementine’s, nothing cut but available for runners to take whole. Drinks needed to be the same way. There would not be jugs of water with spouts and possible contamination areas by too many sweaty hands on them. So, I provided individually bottled water and sodas. Again, more expensive for certain. In a large race just the transport of these type of containers could be challenging as they take up way more room. One huge downside, the amount of trash is huge in comparison. As an ultra runner and outdoor lover and enthusiast, this sort of goes against my beliefs. Tough times like this force us to have to choose, and my clear choice was the safety of all the runners and volunteers. In order to put on the race, I didn’t see any other choice.

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Distanced Start Line

This race is easy with social distancing as it’s very small and spreads out over 62 miles. While there could be a gathering at the start, there was still room to spread out and keep a clear distance. To add to everyone’s safety, I reached out to a friend who had been furloughed and was making face masks for a little income. I immediately placed an order for enough face masks for all my volunteers and every single runner; yes, every runner. This isn’t a trail race in the woods, this is an urban adventure through communities. My goal was to keep runners from needing to go into places along the way, but I wasn’t stopping them from doing so. Some pathways may be crowded as parks, trails and pathway systems in our area are all open. Providing each of them with a mask (when they checked in at the start) would give them a way to cover their mouth and nose should they need to enter a store or business or feel they were in a crowded area. It was given to them in a zip lock bag so they could carry it with them and easily access it.

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Runners were all sent final race instructions which told them about the masks and asked that they wear them and social distance at the start line. Everyone was more than happy to comply with that request. I also let them know how the aid stations would work. There would be a tub with snacks and lots of choices between sweet and salty, crackers, chips, candies and much more. I had told the runners to reach out to me with any personal requests and I would make every effort to add those things to each tub. My goal was for the race NOT to be self-supported but it was self-serve. Volunteers were there to see that each runner was safe and taken care of, but from a distance. Each aid station also included hand sanitizer and wipes for the runners and volunteers to use. Many volunteers used their face masks and stayed back. They cheered on the runners, helped support and encourage them. This could be something that slows down front runners but I offered them fair warning. It takes a bit longer when you have to fill your own pack using bottles of individual water. It’s just how it works. I also highly recommended runners use a pack in this race due to the limited access to businesses and not run off handheld bottles. In addition, having a crew might also be a great choice, if possible. There was lots of communication and I felt like I had tried to think through as many details as possible. Just prior to the race, I even had a Zoom call asking for more input on what I might be overlooking which included a nurse who gave some great advice.
I feel this race was more about the planning. The actual race pretty much followed as it usually does. Runners checked in and worked their way to the start line at the top of Kennesaw Mountain. They distanced themselves and wore masks for the most part. We started just a couple minutes after the scheduled time as a few were still coming up the last short section to the top. A quick well wish of having a great day and the runners were off and going.

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Photo by Ben Gray

Our aid station workers all followed the simple guidelines of being there to see that the runners got aid safely, wearing masks or at a distance. We checked runners in at every aid station to keep track of them, following the front and the back of the race. The day was pretty hot and most were not yet acclimated to the heat. I’d have to guess that while many runners had not really been able to put the miles in to train for a 100K distance, I think most just wanted to get out and enjoy the day. It was here on the streets of Atlanta, free to run and experience the day, they could have some sort of normalcy. In the end, whether they finished or not, they were all super happy and very understanding with how the race went. The overall course record dropped by just over 35 minutes, and female runners came in second and third overall. This is a classic race that brings out the local speedsters especially among the women who have held the course record for a couple of years.

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New Course Recorder Holder showing his award

Custom made cutting board by Southern Terminus GA

Related to the Covid virus, I feel like we covered our bases pretty well. There is probably a certain risk we will all be taking for months to come just stepping out of our homes. Eventually we will all have to do that and make the decision for ourselves as far as what we are comfortable doing. At this point in time, I personally think runners need some hope. Hope that their races will not all be cancelled and hope that things will return to “normal”, whatever that might look like post Covid-19.

What didn’t work so well? Other than some small race issues more do to me directing this race for the first time and throwing in extra aid stations, I think our safety for the runners and volunteers was very good. Supporting a race this way is much more expensive with everything being individually packaged but I guess RDs will have to make some adjustments for that if they plan to provide aid. Bigger cost I think might be the individual water and drinks and certainly the amount of trash is greater with providing prepackaged food. The majority of this race was not on trail but rather through town. I’m sure each race will have to be evaluated a little differently.

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So, a short run down of changes due to Covid-19:
1. Added 3 additional aid stations
2. Provided prepackaged food
3. Individually bottled water and sodas
4. Face Masks for Aid station workers and runners
5. Social distancing at the start, using masks or buffs as well
6. Recommended packs with bladders to limit the need to refill at each aid (avoiding extra touching etc. of water hydration pack)
7. No post-race meal (this might be more specific to my race and being immediately after Shelter In Place orders ended in our state)
8. Hand sanitizer, hand wipes and gloves at each aid station
9. Aid stations were self-serve keeping volunteers from touching more things

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Trena Chellino, GSER Race Director

 

Double Top 100 Race Report

This is a race that quite frankly has never really been on my radar. The course is a local legend for being a notorious 5 loop beat down. This year with my friend Alex, I signed up to do it. Since I was doing Lavaredo in June, this seemed like the perfect “training” race. Sure why not? This is ultra running. We do stupid things.

As fate would have it, not long after committing and signing up for the race, the Covid 19 Coronavirus Pandemic started to spiral. I dare say a year none of us will forget. When my “A” race in Italy was cancelled, I was left with Double Top still on my calendar. Most every ultra runner had at least one or more of their races cancelled, and short of doing a virtual race or run, the races came to a screeching halt.

Along with Alex, one of my other close running partners, Sherri and I had all been training on the Double Top course. The State park was still open so we continued to go each week, seeing very small crowds and literally no one on the remote and difficult sections we were on. Each week as the Pandemic got more and more serious, more shut downs and shelter in place orders, we waited for this race to be cancelled as well. With the park still open, and the support of the rangers there, the race became a “virtual” option. Who would do this difficult of a 100 miler with no support, no aid, virtually no help.

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Alex, Sherri and I would talk each week as we were out there of the pros, the cons and the feasibility of actually doing the race. The social climate was also escalating with people very opposed to the race not being out right cancelled. So let me just say a few things here. Our race entries were all rolled over to 2021. We were in no way pressured or even encouraged to attempt this. I personally have looked at all sides of this debate; you can’t really distance yourselves, it’s irresponsible, you would put that community at risk by going there, you could endanger the whole emergency and medical system if something happened to you. The list goes on. I’m not wanting to debate either side of this. I looked at it very seriously. Two weeks before, the three of us decided we were NOT doing it, and then the week before we completely flipped. It’s hard to say what tipped the whole thing. One big factor was the course was going to be marked that weekend (the original race date of April 17, 2020) while we had until the end of May to complete the race as a virtual in possibly a less controversial atmosphere. Frankly, I think for me it was the idea that I loved being in the mountains. The 3 weeks prior when we would go there, it felt like the one thing that made the whole Pandemic life we’d been living, seem to fade away. Mentally it was a God send! The parks were open and we were not breaking any laws. Another idea that helped tip the scales for me was, what else do I have to do besides sitting in my house. Lots of people are out on the streets running “virtual” races on roads, and that didn’t seem the thing for me. I felt like I had a higher risk of spreading the virus or catching it by going to my local grocery store. It might not be the right decision for everyone, but for us it seemed to be.

So we made our plan for an 8:00am start on Friday morning. Alex and I were both running the 100 miler and Sherri was signed up for the 100K, but for fear of missing out, Sherri reached out to race director and decided she was going to attempt the 100 miler with us. It would be here first. It would’ve also been her first 100K for that matter but you know the whole “Go Big or Go Home” motto, ultra runners seems to embrace that like no other!

Our plan was for each of us to drop a car at what would have been an AS location, a couple that you would hit twice during each loop and also a water drop at another. We would each have a cooler stocked with Coke and Ginger Ale and snacks for all of us. We had our own bottled water as to not add any risk in sharing. We would pack “drop bags” of sorts to put in each other’s vehicles such as extra clothes, shoes, jackets, personal fuel, etc. We picked what we thought was the right location for our “main” aid station because of bathrooms being there, and we added a Jet Boil to that location to make hot broth or coffee if needed. We felt we had it pretty well thought through. For Alex and me, this wasn’t our first rodeo at a 100 miler. For Sherri, well you don’t know what you don’t know and we all figure some things out as we go. She knew she was in good hands, we would all stay together and take care of one another. We also didn’t want to involve anyone else in our attempt by asking for crew or pacers, although as soon as I told my husband we were doing it, he immediately said he was coming up the second day to do some miles with us. He had been up there with us on past training weekends, and was also looking for some revenge on the “big” climb of the course.

So there you go. We had our plan set in place. I had a little more time during the week to work on details since Sherri and Alex were both still working from home full time. I created our aid station chart, added encouraging messages to the sides of my water jugs, I made us race bibs, as we decided to call it the Double Top Covid 100. I even created some encouraging messages for us to get at the end of each loop by putting them in little Easter Eggs with some candy treats as well. Even with all the planning, my biggest concern I voiced was my fear of getting in enough calories. Let’s be clear, this is not an easy race course. There’s 28,000 feet of gain and you do it in 5 repeated loops. I hate loop races and try to avoid them. I knew we would have to eat and take in calories but we would not have the selection of aid station spreads that are ready to grab and go. If we didn’t stay on top of calories from the start, we would not be able to handle the brutal climbs in this race as the miles went on.

So with our plans laid out, we checked in with the Race Marshall of sorts and who was also a good friend of mine, Brad. He had spent several days carefully putting signs up marking the turns on the course. We were required to check in and be “officially” started by Brad and text him after completing each loop. We got a quick start photo with a few brief instructions and were off.

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Touch-less, Self-supported, and Self-reporting

It was a little chilly to start with but the sun came out soon and with all the climbing you warmed up quickly. The 20 or so mile loop starts with five miles before getting back to our first car for aid. We would pass one of our cars just 2.5 miles into the loop but we planned not to stop there each loop to try and avoid extra time stopping if not needed. Five miles went quick and back to our first official aid but we were all mostly good and kept moving. The next 7.5 mile section of the course is considered the most brutal. It’s not really bad until the final 2.5 miles, up until then it’s some of the prettiest parts of the course with waterfalls, spring flowers in bloom and more gently rolling hills. Of course by the time you get to round three, four and five of those gently rolling hills, they are mountainous climbs, filled with rocks and it’s endless. Let’s don’t get ahead of ourselves just yet. Loop one was amazingly beautiful, the weather could not be better and the only plan was to enjoy the day and adventure ahead. The beginning of a 100- mile race is always mentally tough. It’s hard sometimes to wrap your head around no matter how many times you’ve done it. The plan is always to focus on just get to the next aid station. We make it to the top of the big powerline climb in a pace probably faster than most of our training runs. I was leading the way and feeling great and hadn’t really realized I probably took that a bit too fast. Sherri and I happily sat on a rock at the top waiting on Alex who it seemed was struggling a little more that day. On previous training runs we were all together on our climbs. I told Sherri I was sure he would bounce back. He was experienced and some days you start out slower. We dropped from there to our next car aid station, made a quick stop and continued on.

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From there you head a couple miles towards the park entrance which would normally be an aid station and where we had dropped water. It’s also where during the first two loops you are required to do an out and back on a connector trail to the Pinhoti Trail (hence at one time the race was called Double Tap, as you tap the Pinhoti twice). It’s nearly a mile down, and yes back up again with some steeper sections. It’s a happy moment when you have finished this section after the second loop and know you don’t have to do it again. That section can be a little warmer during the day so we thought a water drop there would be nice to have. Turns out we all were happy each loop to get to that water stash.

After that out and back, it’s another 5ish miles to complete the loop. Finally, a nice downhill section that is another incredibly beautiful part of the course. A long stretch of it follows a waterfall, has more flowers in bloom and is not nearly as rocky as other sections until you hit the bottom of the falls. Towards the end of the section to the finish of the loop it’s a lot of very rocky climbing. The final push is a section they call the “Switchbacks from Hell”. On the first loop they don’t seem so hellish but eventually they are from the devil himself.

IMG_2026We complete the first loop, try to quickly get what we need and head off for loop 2. Once we are through the next section and back to another car aid we are feeling a little more confident with nearly 1/4 of the race complete. One step at a time. During this section it became increasing more noticeable to Sherri and me that Alex was struggling. I was certain he’d recover and be climbing like the champ he is, but it was taking him a little longer to get there. At some point during this section he told us we could leave him. I assured him we weren’t going to leave him. We were in this together, we needed each other to do it, we were a team. In a regular race if I was with someone who was seriously struggling and told me to go, it would be different. It seemed sort of like hiking the Appalachian Trail (not that I have done that), but you wouldn’t just leave one person behind. The huge Powerline Climb was at the end of the section, Sherri and I knew at the top as we waited on Alex that it wasn’t looking good. We were getting very chilled waiting on him as the cooler weather towards evening set in. When Alex did get to us, he broke the news that he was dropping. I was crushed honestly but not surprised. We had talked about this race, trained for it and planned to do it together. Alex had even done the 100K last year with success, so this was a huge blow. We also knew deep down this was probably a smart decision. It’s a course that only gets harder and harder, and he would drop out now and continue to help us as our crew. We had come to realize by this point, that a crew would be really helpful. Every time we would come into one of our car aid stations, everyone is digging through bags, getting things here and there, trying to remember everything and if it was even at that location. After getting head lamps and warm clothes for the night, Sherri and I were headed towards the entrance and then our final down and back to the Pinhoti tap. We were moving quickly and eager to get that little section over with.

IMG_1999Second Climb Done!

Because there were very few runners out there and we were all spaced out because of our starting times, we only saw other runners maybe a couple of times. One would be at the bottom of the out and back. We got down there and back out as quickly as we could move, and on to finishing loop 2. It’s dark now but we are feeling confident with Alex taking good care of us and helping us to manage the details. It felt sort of exciting heading into loop 3 when you know you are almost half way there. The next stop when we see Alex, he gives us the weather update. We knew rain was expected over night and had hoped those chances would clear out, but instead Alex convinces us to put our rain jackets in our packs. It proves to be an extremely important decision we probably would not have made had we not had him helping us at this point. Along with rain that is headed in, the wind has picked up. When you are hot a breeze feels nice, but when the wind is blowing hard and you can hear the trees hitting each other up high, you get a little nervous to say the least. Soon enough we are down on the lower section of the course and headed over towards the big powerline climb again when it begins to rain. It started slowly and we were quick to put our jackets on. We both put them on over our packs but mine won’t zip up if I cover my pack. The rain itself was very cold but it didn’t feel that cold out. I stayed warm and we both just kept moving. The rain got very heavy at times but when we got to the big climb it wasn’t a huge issue that we thought it might be with water running down it.
The rain had stopped by the time we were back to the car and Alex, where we both got changed into some dry clothes. Sherri’s jacket turned out not to be waterproof and she was soaked. We were hoping the rain was gone for good but the update from Alex was there would be more coming. Alex quickly got Sherri a poncho to use, I gave her an extra jacket for a layer under and we were off again. Seven miles or so and this loop would be done, we were more than half way now. The wind however was not going away and some of the ridges we moved across were getting a little scary. We were thankful when we once again dropped down into a lower section and eventually the wind let up a bit, but the rain came back just as Alex had forecast. It was towards the end of the night and early in the morning. I could feel that Sherri was struggling and also knew she hadn’t been eating well more recently. Just before we started up the long climbs towards the end of the loop I told her she had to eat, and when I told her she knew I wasn’t taking a “no” on that. When it leveled out briefly, I told her that when we finished the loop she would need to take some time and do a reset. Before I could really get into what that meant, she immediately said, “Trena, I love you, but….” I wasn’t totally surprised. While we hadn’t spoken a word of it, I could feel her struggle and saw it in her face. She and Alex had already discussed apparently that she might not be able to finish this, and her knees were now bothering her so bad, she knew it was time for her to tap out. We already knew my husband was coming up, and would be there shortly after we finished the loop. He could do at least 12.5 miles with me, and Sherri said Alex would pace me the last loop. I wasn’t worried about that part, I just hated to see it end for her. Sherri ran the final short section to get an official first 100K finish!

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Waiting for Ed to show up gave us time to get my watch and phone charged up, another set of dry clothes on and warmed up a bit. It was now much colder out, and I needed a jacket back on to get going. It was exciting to see Ed and spend some miles with him. It also happened to be our 28th Anniversary and we even stopped and took a photo at one of the prettiest views on the course. The rain was gone and the fog was starting to roll out. Ed had never paced me before in a race even though I’d done a lot of training miles with him. For me this was some of my favorite miles in the “race” as he encouraged me and assured me I was doing great and moving well.


When Ed and I finally hit the big powerline climb I knew he was wanting a little revenge himself from a few weeks back when he went up it for the first time. I told him not to wait on me during the climb, I would see him at the top. Just knowing he was ahead of me and after this climb, I only had one more of them to do, I powered my way up. From there it was a short drop back to Alex and Sherri crewing us. This was the point Ed was jumping out, even though he was willing to go further, 13-15 miles is his sweet spot and I knew I could do another 7 to finish the loop up. I was surprised when Alex was ready with his running gear on and ready to pace. It was a quick switch, grabbing what I needed, fast goodbye and back on the trail with Alex, who was now a whole new person. He had gotten some sleep, eaten and was moving extremely well as we powered to finish up the loop.

Alex and I discussed the aid station plan before we got there. I wanted to finally change my socks, get something to drink, get head lamps, grab my phone charger and I wanted some sweets for my pack. Skittles and Oreo’s and we were off to get this thing done. As we checked off each section just knowing it was the last time to do it, made it seem bearable. My feet were beyond sore after over 80 miles of rocks and climbs, but I knew that was temporary. It was dark just as we got to the bottom of the powerline climb so we put our lights on and got a snack. Up we went. Seemed like an impossible task but again just one step at a time with Alex encouraging me the whole way. Back to Sherri for the final time before the finish, and off to get it done. In my head I’m counting off the miles. Once we get over to the park entrance and our water stop I asked Alex to lead the way. I’m feeling like I’m moving so slow and think it would help if he leads and I can push my pace off him. When he asks if I want to run some, I quickly agree and we were off running until we hit the bottom and I was about tapped out myself. My climbing legs were almost gone and I felt like I had very little in the tank left. I forced myself to try and stay up with Alex, and the finish was my only focus. It was a bittersweet finish because I really wanted to complete it with Alex, and he had felt so great the last loop and a half with me. Alex will be back next year for his finish, and Sherri and I will be with him to see that he does!

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Double Top Covid 100, touch-less, self-supported, and self-reporting race was over. It was a journey and an adventure. Many lessons learned for sure. Taking care of yourself for 100 miles with no “real” aid stations is tough, I won’t ever take one for granted again in a race, nor will I ever fail to thank the volunteers. It’s often the little things they do for you that you don’t realize how helpful it is. Trails are best shared with friends although sometimes your best laid plans don’t go as you’d like, but we can adjust and adapt. And sometimes the toughest climbs come with the greatest rewards!

A Well Planned Break

As I am writing this, I realize many of us are taking a break from running that we did not plan to take due to the Coronavirus or Covid-19. However, I started a break back in the late fall after I finished Grindstone 100 in early October and waited until after Christmas to really get back to things.

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Not just a runner

Let me share with you why I decided to take a break and some thoughts I now have after trying to get back in shape. If you know me or have followed me for any period of time, you might be asking, “Why would you take a break?” My ultrasignup account shows that I completed some amazing races over the last couple of years, all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed. But just like you, I’m more than just a recreational runner, I’m a wife, mom, sister, daughter, friend to many, employee and so much more. Our lives are made up of so many parts, and honestly when real life hits hard, running is not at the top of my priority list. So, for the last year and half my family has been dealing with many life struggles that have not only been difficult to navigate through but have added an incredible amount of stress to my daily life.

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Hellbender 100 Finish

It began when one of my daughters got married and after a magical wedding, their relationship quickly fell apart. We then began our journey through deep waters we had never tread before. The heartbreak and stress of that relationship ending took a serious toll on me just as I was about to go run UTMB. I had trained so hard for months and was able for the time to push everything down and move forward. Just a few months after UTMB I developed issues with my Piriformis. Trying to quickly resolve that issue, my coach at the time and I developed a plan to work through it with PT, strength training, deep massages and even dry needling, all of which got me through my next big race at the Hellbender 100. I could feel my Piriformis was not completely healed although it was much better and considerably improved.

I had several other big 100s left on my 2019 calendar and continued to move forward, still continuing to work on my piriformis and manage the ever-present stress that tugged at my heart as well. Then the unthinkable came crashing into my life. First, my biological mother who had been estranged from all three of her children for over 16 years, suddenly “surfaced” with major health issues and was unable to take care of herself in any way. My younger sister, who lived in the immediate area jumped in to try and help her, even though we both felt very distant and unsure about what that would look like. My sister, in her generosity, which frankly I didn’t feel at that moment, promised to help her get moved into a permanent assisted living facility. Our biological mother had suffered a massive stroke after a hip surgery and was paralyzed on one side, unable to speak well, walk, feed herself or care for herself in any way.

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Some of my summer running fun at Lake Tahoe

Just when it seemed like my sister had it all under control, her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away 10 days later. While I rushed to my sister’s side to help her, one thing that ended up on my to-do list was my biological mother’s care which included finding a place for her to live, dealing with her condo and belongings, and transitioning her into what was now her “new” reality as well as my sister’s. My biological mother was someone I distanced myself from when I was in my late teens because of her physical and emotional abuse. I maintained a relationship with her on a limited bases until she pushed all of her children away 16 years prior. Emotionally I had never dealt with her or my feelings regarding her. The moment I first saw her, a shell of a person, helpless and sitting in a wheelchair looking like no one that I knew, I realized that inside I was still very much afraid of her. Maybe not so frightened that she could reach out and hurt me physically but very much afraid that she was still verbally able to harm me.

The unbelievable amount of stress mounted as I was in Washington, away from my husband and immediate family, and trying to assist my sister with her husband’s final arrangements and taking over the details with our biological mother. When I did come home, I went on with my training and a summer of races that seemed to help me hold it all together. Then I got the call from my sister, who’s plate was full coping with her new reality, taking care of her immediate family, making major life decisions and grieving over the loss of her husband, that she was tapping out. Our biological mother had soon turned difficult to deal with, and I needed to now step in and take over completely from across the country.

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Grindstone before my much needed break

I had run my big summer races and last on my schedule was Grindstone 100. I knew I was struggling to even get totally excited about it but I had planned it a year ago, knew I wanted to run it, and felt so close. Emotionally, I knew I was done as well. After finishing Grindstone, I told my coach I needed a break. I had been using a coach for 3 years and have loved it, but knew I didn’t want the stress of a schedule or being accountable at the time. After pacing at Pinhoti 100 the first weekend in November, I needed to go back out to Washington to handle things in person. What became the next most difficult thing for me was the clearing out of my biological mother’s condo. I had grown up with a completely different person in many ways, and what she had become in the past 16 years was unbelievable and something I was not able to process. She had become a hoarder on an extreme level and her condo was not safe to enter without a hazmat suit and face mask, and I was tasked to retrieve items before it was sold in “as is” condition. How I made it through that without completely falling apart was simply by the Grace of God, my family supporting me, friends by my side and some laughter. It brought back a childhood of memories I did not want to revisit or process.

There you go, I needed a break. The stress had mounted to a point that was affecting me on so many levels. My job gets very busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I saw this as a perfect time to take that break from running and reevaluate things after the first of the year.

My racing calendar for 2020 had already started to take shape, as I got into the Lavaredo Lottery and began making plans to run it along with a few other races. Lavaredo was on my bucket list after doing UTMB, and I knew I needed to get back to training after the holidays. That would not be quite as easy as I was expecting. I had taken a much needed mental break and cut way back on my running. I also put on several pounds thinking that it would be easy to drop it all in the new year and get back to my normal lifestyle. As a final gift to my already difficult time, I had slammed into menopause like a train wreck when all the stress started, making getting my personal health back under control one more hurdle.

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Climbing my way back and enjoying the views more than ever!

Bring on a good challenge! If we didn’t like a little struggle and adversity, we wouldn’t be strong ultra runners. It’s not always pretty, but always worth it. So do I regret taking a break? It’s certainly not as easy to just get your fitness back as we like to think, and of course I’m not a young 30 or 40-year old either. The thing about ultra running, or even running in general, it’s all a journey. Life is a journey.  Sometimes we have to run to keep our sanity. Other times we can’t run due to injury and for me, I found a time that I mentally had to step back. Now as with everyone of us, we are finding a forced break due to a global pandemic. Who would have ever predicted this? After spending the last three months working my way back, I do know that we will all make it back, wherever back is. We will be more creative to stay active in the meantime and possibly do more strength training and core work. It may require a little more effort on our part, but I think we will also find a whole new appreciation for what we enjoy. The mountains will be more beautiful than ever! The views from the top of the climb may be the rewards we had never appreciated before! The sights and sounds around us will be seen and heard brand new. We won’t take for granted a single starting line again, and possibly not celebrate a finish line quite the same.

I’m not afraid and we are not alone!