Zion 100 Race Report

This race isn’t hard to sum up in just a few words. I’d probably use the word Majestic to best describe it.  If you have never been to Zion National Park, this is definitely a race to add to your bucket list.  If you aren’t a 100 mile runner, no worries!  They have a 100k distance as well as 50k, and even 1/2 marathon – something for everyone.  The views are breathtaking and the 100 mile race gives you a 34-hour cutoff (which is definitely needed) if you want to enjoy the scenery and take it all in.

Two years ago I ran the Antelope Canyon 50-miler and visited Zion National Park for the first time.  I knew I wanted to come back and run the Zion 100.  It’s a Western States qualifying race, and while I’m on my journey to eventually run WS, I want to run some of my bucket list races, also.  I like to see new parts of the country and enjoy each race, and this was a good year for Zion to fit into my schedule.  I signed up in the fall of 2017 when I got early signup pricing, still months before the WS lottery drawing for the 2018 race.  I chatted with my coach at the time about signing up for Zion not knowing the lottery outcome.  We decided that I could always drop back to the 100k option or defer my entry (they are great about giving you lots of options).  I tried to convince a few friends to come run it with me, but couldn’t seem to get anyone to jump on board, so this was my race and I was running it because I really wanted to do it.

My favorite running buddies, David Yerden and Rich Higgins, both agreed early on to crew and pace for me.  I also wanted my husband, Ed, to come, but because our son was not on spring break it was just too rough for him to miss school or not have Ed at home to help him.  Our son has challenges with school and I simply could not run ultra distances and races if it were not for the support of Ed!  He may not get my “crazy” but he always supports me and I work hard to balance home and running.  It’s not always an easy thing, and often puts a huge burden on Ed.  Bless his heart!

The Zion 100 race has a Friday morning start.  That meant leaving Atlanta on Wednesday, flying to Las Vegas and then driving to St. George, Utah, which is 30 minutes from the race start in Virgin, Utah.  The small town of Virgin is barely a speed bump in the road, and you would miss it if you blinked.  The race itself is not in Zion National Park, but just about 30 minutes outside the park.  The race organizers were very clear about this in the literature for the race.  Most ultra runners understand that NO race can take place in a National Park or on the Appalachian Trail (AT) for us East Coast runners. The views, the scenery, and the beauty of the area was on display even outside the park, however.

Leading up to Zion, I had a slight cough, probably due to the high pollen season in Atlanta in the spring. I didn’t have a sore throat or any other signs of being sick, but a rather annoying cough.  At least 10 days out from the race I started taking Allegra and Ziacam to alleviate the cough.  It did seem to help but I knew either way, it wouldn’t bother my running ability.

Early on Friday morning, we loaded up our rental car and headed to the race start.  The weather wasn’t ideal as it was lightly raining, and the forecast was showing rain for a good bit of the day on Friday.  I’ve run enough races in the rain, so I wasn’t at all concerned about that.

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Lightly raining but ready to get started

We listened to a last minute briefing from the Race Director and then started the race right on time at 6:00 a.m.  It started with an easy road, then trail, section that quickly led to the first climb of the course up to Smith Mesa and the Flying Monkey aid station.  It’s a rough, paved road climb so while it’s a little slow going up, it didn’t feel terribly steep or bad.  It was nice to chat with others around me and settle into the long race ahead.  At the top, we were quickly onto the trails, which would normally have been an awesome, very runnable and easy section, even in the early dark hours of the race.  But due to the rain, it felt like you had 20 lbs of clumpy clay mud on each foot.  You literally felt the weight of it with each step, and this thick, slippery mud was not the kind that kicked or came off easily.  Just as I was settling into the start of a nice race, I had to decide how I was going to navigate this trail and terrain. How long would this last?  How long could I fight this mud, the slick sections, and the weight I felt on my feet?  On top of that, I was already feeling a little off, physically.  Nothing felt really bad, but I just felt “off.”  Maybe it was the medicine I had been taking. I had that foggy feeling in my head.  Later, I thought it also could have been due to the first climb up to the highest mesa of the race.  Possibly the altitude was affecting me?  I just knew it was way too early to be on the struggle bus and I wasn’t sure I could fight the mud and my foggy head for the next 90 miles.  This wasn’t going to be pretty.

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IMG_8772Views from that first climb

Photo Cred: John Taylor

 

Just as I was starting to feel a little defeated and unsure of how things might play out, my friends, Tony and Kathy (who were the only 2 people I knew at the race and they were running the 100k distance) caught up to me.  It was so nice to see them and just have friends around for encouragement.  I was determined to stick with the two of them to get me to my crew and pacers later in the race.  We were soon at the second aid station and headed off the mesa towards Dalton Wash aid station, where I would see my crew at mile 18.  As soon as I started descending I began to feel better and the running was much easier without all the mud.  Things were looking up!  I had gotten ahead of Tony and Kathy coming off the mesa, but they quickly caught back up and we came into the aid station together.

I don’t remember what I ate at this aid station, but the important thing was drinking Ginger Ale that my crew had for me.  My stomach felt “off” from the very start and I wanted to be proactive in settling things down.  I handed off my lights and got a dry pair of gloves to try and stay warm.  I left the aid station with Tony and Kathy, while Rich walked me up the road to let me try and drink more Coke before he headed back.  This section was another hill climb on dirt road.  We ran a good bit at first because it was more of a gentle climb. Tony and Kathy were moving stronger, but I worked to keep up.  I was trying to hang on to them for dear life, hoping I could just get pulled along.  The top of the climb was steep, but at the top we arrived at the next aid station.  This was Guacamole Mesa, and after the aid station we had a 7.5 mile loop and then we would head back down to our crew again at mile 33.  One thing that seemed to always taste good to me during this race was oranges.  They had lots of fruit choices and the oranges just seemed to be a winner for me.  It wasn’t the calories I needed, but it was something that worked.  As we left that aid station, Tony asked if I wanted some of the broth he was carrying in a cup.  That sounded good and it was also warm and soothing.  The weather was still rainy and it was getting to be annoying.  The mud wasn’t an issue at the top of this mesa, but there were endless puddles of water and many rocky sections.  Tony and Kathy eventually slipped ahead of me as I fought to pull things together and tried to keep moving.  I think Tony and Kathy were just on a faster pace because of running the shorter distance, and I knew I needed to take care of myself and run my own race.  After the broth had a chance to settle, I began to perk up and for the first time in nearly 25 miles I was beginning to feel better.  My stomach still felt rough (and it stayed that way the entire race) but with something in my stomach, I felt better.  I stayed with a guy named Vic for the rest of the miles back into the 33 mile aid station where I saw David and Rich for the second time.  Vic said if I left the aid station before him, he’d catch up to me, but I didn’t see him again until we saw each other on an out-and-back section 44 miles into the race.

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Feeling a little better and the rain has stopped

Feeling a little better this time in the aid station, my crew insisted I eat more, and I did.  We walked to the car and I sat for a minute and drank more Ginger Ale and ate a whole PB&J sandwich.  The more food I ate, the better I felt, although my stomach never felt great.  Rich again walked me out of the aid station, letting me drink a cold Coke and getting me to the turnoff for the next section.  I was now at mile 33, and I wouldn’t see them again for 23 miles, where I could pick up one of them to pace me.  The toughest climb of the course was just a few miles ahead of me.  This is where not fully knowing the course might have been a good thing.  I was able to move well on the downhill’s and flat sections of the course, but I saved myself and hiked most of the uphill’s.  The steep climb up to the Goosebump aid station was almost enough to take out the toughest of runners.  It was extremely long and very steep, with the trail getting rougher and rockier with each step.  The top section was hardly a trail but more like a boulder field climb (some exaggeration here, but that’s how it felt).  When I say the climb was worth the view, I can’t even begin to describe the beauty this course showcased.  While my stomach didn’t feel so great for most of the race, I didn’t fail to take in the views and enjoyed every minute of the course.  I tried to run in the moment and focus on the scenery surrounding me.  Some of my favorite running is single track technical, and the rocks and sections on top of the mesas offered me trails in my ultra happy place.

Nearly 18 miles of running across the hard rock surface began to wear down my legs, however.  It was almost like running on pavement, but I was eventually back to the Goosebump aid station and headed towards my crew and pacer.  It was starting to get dark and I ran as much as I could to try and get to my crew before having to turn on my headlamp.  They were able to meet and crew me about a mile before the next aid station.  After taking care of a few things, getting Ginger Ale, changing into warm dry clothes for the night, switching to a smaller pack, and picking up my poles, I was off again, with Rich pacing me.  The next aid station was 1.5 miles away and for the first time in the race I sat down here for a longer time.  I drank a couple of cups of Roman Noodles and broth, ate some bacon (which for the first time in the race didn’t make me want to throw up just smelling it) and after feeling much better I was off for a 6 mile loop with Rich leading the way.  Rich set a good pace, and we moved really well.  The last part of the loop was a lot more technical and hilly which slowed us down (ok, I slowed us down).  Even at night you could see the beauty of the course.  We went through the aid station, saw David again at mile 64, and then headed off for a fairly long section before we’d see David again at mile 76.

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Rich was with me this time as we came down the long steep climb I had gone up earlier in the day getting to the Goosebump aid station.  I tried to tell him how tough it was and I’m not sure that even going down you could grasp how tough it was going uphill.  I was really happy I had my poles to give my legs that extra support going down.  It was then another 7 miles through the desert to get to David at the Virgin Desert aid station at mile 76.  It seemed like moving through the rolling hills in the desert at night took a very long time, but we were passing lots of runners and moving really well.  Just before getting to the aid station, I got really cold.  The desert night had brought down the temperature and because I was slower and sleepy, I began to get very cold.  As soon as we got into the aid station, I told David I needed to get into the car.  He tried to get me to warm up by the fire, but that’s a no-no for me.  It would warm me up, but I’d be way too cold after walking away.  In the car, I put on another jacket, long pants over my shorts, and also put on a beanie hat.

I drank a little more and I was off to tackle the first of 3 loops that were based out of this aid station.  The loops were 5, 6 and 7 miles long.  Rich lead me on the first loop where we were able to get into a good running pace, again passing lots of runners and moving pretty well.  I warmed up quickly at this pace and soon took off the extra jacket.  David began pacing me on the second loop, now at mile 81.  It was longer and more technical than the first loop, so we were a bit slower this time around.  We were again passing more runners and kept moving along. For the first time during the race, I began to eat sugary treats to pick up my energy – Skittles!  I love almost everything about Skittles although they are harder to chew when they’re cold.  David also started giving me Tums when he began pacing me to see if that would help my stomach.  It seemed to work a little but wasn’t a totally winner.  As we started the final 7 mile loop, the sun was up, and we were able to turn off our headlamps.  That always seems to pick up your spirits as the new day breaks, and of course seeing the sunrise was beautiful.  This loop had some spectacular canyon views below us and was easily the prettiest of the 3 loops.  We saw Rich one last time when we finished this loop, and we had 5 miles left to the finish.  I took off my long pants, my gloves (which I had worn the entire race), switched back to my trucker hat and put on my sunglasses.  It was the home stretch and I wasn’t slowing down.

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Ready to finish the last stretch

This last section had lots of gentle downhill running, then a short climb up to the road, where it was 1.5 miles to the finish.  There were more runners around us now as the 50k and half-marathoners were coming in on the same trail to the finish.  We managed to pass a few more people and David did a great job keeping me running all the way to the finish.  I had high expectations of finishing this race between 26 – 28 hours.  That goal was sort of thrown out early on with the mud and my stomach issues, so I tried to enjoy the course and finish strong in the end.  David said I could get in under 29 hours, so we continued to run as best as I could.  When I crossed the finish in 28:47, I was more than thrilled.

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A 100 mile finish is always sweet!

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The race has a 34 hour cut-off and while I was well ahead of that time, the day was beginning to warm up, so it was nice to be finished!  You get to pick your own buckle, as they are all custom made and each one is different.  I sat down, took off my shoes for the first time, and enjoyed watching others finish and feeling the warmth of the sun.  Tony and Kathy showed up before we left the finish area and it was fun to see them again before we headed back to our hotel for a shower and some rest.

I can say the race was very well run and had great volunteers!  Each aid station had lots of food, plenty of water and supplies.  It’s a “green” race, with recycle bins and compost toilets at each aid station which can be very nice to have, especially when you have 100 miles of stomach issues.  My crew wasn’t a fan of the compost toilets and were not disappointed to bid them farewell when the race was over.  No matter what may have gone wrong in this race, you would have missed out had you not stopped a moment to take it all in and enjoyed the views and surroundings.  Truly a majestic place to run, no matter what distance is your jam.

 

Georgia Loop Report

The Georgia Loop isn’t exactly a race, but after doing it, I think it certainly deserves a report to share my experience.  It’s like running the Grand Canyon R2R2R in some ways.  It’s not something you just wake up and decide to do one morning.  It takes a lot of time to plan and strategize.  (Note: if you want more detailed information about running or hiking this Loop, see the detailed notes at the end of this report)

If you live in Georgia and have been an Ultra Runner for at least a little while, you’ve probably heard of the Georgia Loop.  It’s basically just that, a looped route that connects the DRT (Duncan Ridge Trail), the BMT (Benton MacKaye Trail) and the AT (Appalachian Trail).  It can be done in either direction and has about 3 main easy access points where you can  start and finish.  The mileage of the loop is approximately 56-60 miles and around 16,000 – 18,000 feet of climbing. Because the mountains tend to be cold and snowy in the winter, and hot with little water in the summer, the time of year and weather are critical factors when making your plans.

There was a lot of chatter on Facebook and among local ultra runners in the last two months of 2017 about putting together an attempt at the Loop.  These types of things usually start with a large number of interested people, but then slowly dwindles down to just a few who can stay committed and get it on their schedule.  In my case, I piggy-backed off others who had people committed to crewing for them.  There are not many places a crew can actually help you, but it is still critical to have crew you can meet at a few important points along the way.  Essentially, you need to be a runner who feels comfortable running 10-15 miles with no help or crew, which makes those few crew access points very important.  Think of it more as a self-supported run with potential crew stops.

Just 2 days before our planned Saturday morning start, the weather was showing a large chance of thunderstorms overnight on Saturday.  Not knowing how long the run would take but certain most of us would be out there for some overnight hours, the start was changed to Friday night.  This would get everyone to the finish before the storms.  This also added another factor of being up all day, then running all night and into the next day as well.  This plan may have just gotten harder.  Time would tell.  Afterwards, it would be deemed the “Georgia Loop after Dark!”

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Dropping Water at Woody Gap just before we started

Ten runners ended up starting.  One solo runner with a pacer, additional groups of 2, 3 and 4 runners, with only 5 of us finishing.  I started in a group of 3 with Rich Higgins and David Yerden.  We dropped our cooler with supplies and other items to “our” crew, Jason Anderson, just a few hours before heading to the start.  In case you are wondering what I packed, just about everything!  And then I packed some more, because “That’s How I Roll”!!!  If you know me, run with me or have ever crewed for me, you might be familiar with my infamous “notebook”!  I like details and to cover all the bases.  I might be a little OCD, but I’m not admitting to it.  This was just a training run or adventure run, so there was no notebook, but I still packed every possible item and a back-up, filled my cooler with Cokes, Ginger Ale and lots of snack options.  You never know what you might need or what’s going to sound good at the moment.  In the end, usually nothing sounds that good to me except a nice cold Coke!  I filled the cooler with supplies for the three of us and dropped it off with a bag of extra clothes, shoes, lights, and other items I probably wouldn’t use.

Rich and I drove up to Dahlonega together and met David so we could get a good meal before starting our run.  We dropped in at Dahlonega Mountain Sports to say hello to Sarah and Sean, the store owners.  Go visit them if you are in the area, it’s an awesome store and be sure to tell them I said hello!  Sean shared with us his experience running the Georgia Loop the year before, and while he mentioned the suffering, my mind played down that part.  I would soon remember his words to the wise, which I wasn’t wiser for until I experienced it myself.

On our way to the starting point, we stopped at Woody Gap to stash a supply of water.  It was our safety plan if for some reason crew couldn’t get to us at that point.  We knew we would need a water refill for the last 9-10 miles of the run.  Our starting point was Wolf Pen Gap, where we could park cars along the fire road and run the Loop in a counter clockwise direction.  Going that direction put us on the toughest section of the DRT first, then the BMT, and finally the AT, with a short section of the DRT at the end to get back to Wolf Pen Gap.  There were only two major turns on the course, but they were critical turns with no flagging.  You can run this totally unsupported if you want to drop water and supplies along your route beforehand, but it takes about 4 hours to drop everything off, you need to use bear canisters for your supplies, and it takes 4 more hours to pick everything up afterwards.  Probably not a good chance to get a cold Coke either, so that’s why we decided to use the help of a crew.

We got to Wolf Pen Gap, got ready to go with a final check of our packs and headed out at roughly 7:10pm.  It was already dark, so our headlamps were on from the start.  If you’re familiar with the route, you know it’s pretty much a climb from the very start.  It was exciting, just like at the start of a race, and the adrenaline was really going at this point.  It was exciting because it was new for all of us, and it was a bucket list run we were doing.

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Quick Photo before we start this thing!

The temperature was perfect.  I wore a long sleeve shirt and a breathable jacket over it.  Most people know I wear double what everyone else wears.  The guys were in short sleeve shirts with jackets around their waists!  We were off to a great start with lots of climbing to the top of Coosa Bald and well under way to our excellent adventure.  This may seem a little unbelievable, but it’s totally true. The three of us were having a great conversation about the safety of running with others.  Of course I’m a female, I just don’t run alone and I always carry my phone.  For one, my husband would not want me out there alone, and secondly, I was always taught the safety of having someone with you.  You just never know what might happen.  Even if someone knows where you are, in an emergency they really can’t get to you that quickly.  David is more of a solo runner at times, and I think even considered running ahead of us.  He is certainly much faster and stronger than Rich and I.  With our limited crew stops, and timing the run to not get ahead of our support, we decided to stay together as a team.  This wasn’t a race, it was really was about training and the overall experience.  And then – BAM!!  David went down.  He was at the back and when Rich and I realized he had fallen, we looked to see him pick his head up off the ground and his hand covered his right eye.  Blood was clearly dripping all over the place.  I remember David’s immediate words were that he knew it wasn’t good.  I quickly thought of what I had to help stop the bleeding, and pulled my buff from around my neck and gave it to him.  A few minutes of pressure and the bleeding began to subside.  Rich took a look when David pulled the buff away and told him he saw a pretty good gash that he thought could need at least a couple of stitches.  NO!  We were only 4-5 miles into our adventure.  Luckily, David did not feel dizzy or lightheaded.  He was able to get up and even kept a good pace as we continued on towards our first support stop.  We discussed how David would need to stop when we got to our crew at Mulkey Gap and go to the hospital for stitches.  He felt pretty good considering, and it was hard to accept that he would have to end his run before it even really got started, but we all knew there wasn’t much choice.  We got to Jason and he agreed with our assessment, so if it’s any consolation, David, you were pulled by medical at mile 8.  Sorry buddy, it won’t be the same without you.  I will say that we didn’t miss your altimeter readings later on when the climbing was so tough.  We could have been forced to toss you off the side of a cliff if you had kept giving us those readings! (As an update, David received a total of 13 stitches in four separate lacerations around his eye.  He’ll be back to run it again!)

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We aren’t even close!

So now our team of 3 was only two.  We felt terrible for David, but knowing he would have been there if he could, we added him to our list of people we were running for.  Their strength pulled us through at times when we had none ourselves.  We had about 11 miles to go to get to Hwy 60, or as it was called “The Highway to Hell Aid Station.”  Our crew wouldn’t be at this stop, but we would see crew from the other groups and get some water and snacks if needed.  The climbs across the DRT seemed long and endless with each mountain higher than the one before.  Most runners call the DRT the Dragon Spine.  Straight up, straight down, with no switchbacks.  If the steep ups don’t wear you out, the steep downs will get your quads, your toes, or both!  For Rich and I, the steep downs seemed to do the most damage to our toes, getting smashed into the end of our shoes.  Before we got to the DRT/BMT intersection our toes were in pain, and running steep downhill’s was going to be rough.

The steepest of the climbs gave way to some easier trails for a few miles.  We caught up to one of the early groups about a mile and a half from the Highway to Hell AS, and then came into the AS just after the first runner had arrived.  Except for our toes, we were feeling pretty good at this point.  We refilled our packs with water, taking note that we had not been drinking enough.  We needed to do a little better at that.  We both drank a cold Coke and quickly headed back out to continue the journey.

It was 2:00 a.m. when we left Highway 60, (about 19 miles into the Loop) and we would see our crew again around mile 33-35.  We both had our headlamps with one set of batteries as a backup.  While the climbing did not get easier, we enjoyed the moon that was out and the awesome temperatures for a February night in the mountains of Georgia.  Not too long after crossing the Swinging Bridge over the Toccoa River, my headlamp started to fade.  I knew I had an extra set of batteries, but we also knew I only had one extra set.  Depending on how long the new set would last, that was it.  We had no crew, no AS, no help.  So I pushed on as long as I absolutely could before putting in the backup batteries.  Next it would be Rich’s headlamp starting to fade.  He pushed through as long as he could on the first set of batteries, also.  Rich had also been dealing with leg cramps in the last few races we’d run.  Somewhere between miles 25-30 the cramps hit him.  Being a training run, Rich had purchased some highly recommended Hot Shots to try out for the cramps. He had taken one before the start (as directed), had one in his pack and one with our crew supplies. They are fairly expensive but Rich felt it was worth a try.  Soon he was stopped in his tracks with a painful leg cramp.  Sure enough, the Hot Shots almost instantly took his cramp away and we were off climbing again.  Rich was now very cautious on the climbs, because he felt the strenuous climbs set off the cramps and we had no more Hot Shots with us.  We would have to pick up the last bottle when and if we saw our crew again.

It was a long dark night and then rain came.  It was a light rain at first, but eventually we had a good hour of fairly heavy rain.  We had our rain jackets on to keep us dry and comfortable, while we continued making our way with frustrating headlamps on what seemed like constant uphill climbs.  Without David, one thing that could go wrong was a missing a turn or taking a wrong turn.  We knew our way and we knew the directions, but you know how “ultra brain” and “ultra fog” can affect you.  In our pre-adventure planning, one thing I did was mark our course using the AvenzaMaps app on my phone.  We would not need a cell signal to use it, and could easily see where we were.  When we came to the big open field we’d heard about at the southern end of the BMT, we had no idea what way to go.  We wandered a little aimlessly in one direction by following hunter tacks, but once I pulled out my phone we realized we were totally off course and headed the wrong way.  Having to climb back up a hill we just went down, we were soon back on course, and the crisis was averted.  Best money ever spent, and best advice received from the Duffer, AKA Brad Goodridge, who I might say is a local legend and the best source of information for doing the Georgia Loop.  Thanks, Buddy!

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Finally day light and our crew!

We made the left turn at Long Creek Falls shortly after that and were now on the AT.  But we didn’t know where or when we would see our crew again.  It was a bit of a mind game that can get to you when you’ve been up all night.  Otherwise, we were still doing well.  Our feet were still sore, but we were feeling pretty good as the light of day began to break through.  At this point, I’d managed to kick so many rocks in the dark, over and over again, that I was sure my big toe nail was no longer attached.  Toe nails are for sissies anyway, and this stuff is not for those folks!  We knew we should see Jason, our crew, somewhere around mile 33-35.  He told me he would be at Hightower Gap, although others mentioned different places, and we just resigned ourselves to the fact we’d see him eventually, but not knowing exactly where that would be.  We did need water and hoped we’d see him sooner rather than later.  Finally, as we began to drop into the Hightower Gap parking area, we heard calls and cheering!  What a welcoming sound that was!  But we didn’t expect to see Thomas there, as well.  Thomas was part of the group of 4 runners we had left behind at the Highway to Hell Aid Station.  For them, their hell ended just a few miles later when one of the runners who had been having serious stomach problems since mile 8 decided it was time to call it quits, and they were all in or all out together as a group.  Regardless, we were happy to see a familiar face, and our gear bag and cooler with ice cold drinks in it!  Thomas even had sausage and egg biscuits from McDonald’s for us!  All was right with the world, for a few minutes anyway!  We made it a short stop and were soon on our way.  I think we got to this point some time early in the morning shortly after the sun came up, maybe between 7-8am.

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We were now working our way across the AT towards Blood Mountain, but unfortunately there were several mountains to climb before we got anywhere close to Blood.  Being on the AT in daylight gave us some spectacular views!  The top of each climb was always rewarded with an awesome view and we didn’t fail to grab a few pictures along the way.  Jason was able to crew us a couple more times along the way and we finally got to Woody Gap, our final crew access point around 1pm.  We refilled our water and headed out.  We were in the home stretch, but 9-10 miles is still a long ways from home and now every climb and every step just hurt.  We were ready to be done.

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View from Preachers Rock

We might even have entertained the thought of quitting, but there was nowhere to quit.  Rich told me later that in some of the final miles he had thoughts that someone was going to have to come get us.  But there were no access points, no help available.  He said he knew that, but figured they’d send a helicopter, drop a basket or something!  The things some people think of!  It was definitely a very long stretch from Woody Gap to the turn onto the DRT!  I have run that section  to Blood Mountain before, and was looking forward to a familiar easy section, but right then there was nothing easy about it!  We enjoyed a beautiful view at Preachers Rock and ran into one running buddy coming back from Blood Mountain, but aside from that we were on the struggle bus and just wanted off.  We finally made it back to the DRT and knew then we were very close, but not before climbing just one more mountain!  Worse than climbing up that mountain was the very steep downhill on the other side of it, dropping us back into Wolf Pen Gap and the car!

The sight from the top of the last hill dropping into Wolf Pen Gap was bittersweet.  We had been anticipating the view of the car below for hours.  We knew we had made it, completed a bucket list item, and finished something only a small list of people complete in a day’s journey.  But darn it all, that last hill was steep and my toes were killing me.  We officially finished in a time of 22:04!  We didn’t care about our time, but some of you might be wondering how long it took us.

Afterwards we waited an hour for the second group of 2 runners to come in.  John and Scott started about 30 minutes after us the night before, and all day we expected them to catch up to us.  We all shared stories and took a group picture as we waited for the final runner to come in with her pacer.  In the end, we decided we needed to head home because we didn’t know how far behind us she was.  It was getting dark again and we were very sleep deprived.  It was a great training run and a fantastic experience!  Ten of us started and 5 of us finished!  Those who didn’t finish will no doubt be back to try again, and who knows we might even consider another run at it, but not anytime soon.

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We made it!

John, Scott, Myself and Rich after getting some dry clothes on

If you are reading this blog looking for information on running or hiking the Georgia Loop, the following is information that Brad Goodridge assisted us with:
Nemesis Loop (Brad’s notes)
Woody Gap to Wolfpen (10 miles)
Wolfpen to Mulky (8 miles)
Mulky to BMT/60 (12 miles)
BMT/60 to Hightower (13 miles)
Hightower to Cooper Gap (8 miles)
Cooper to Gooch Gap (4miles)
Gooch to Woody (3.5 miles)

If you plan to do the whole loop at one time (without support)….
You need to put aid out the day before the attempt (Wolfpen, Mulky, BMT/60, Hickory Flats, Hightower, Cooper Gap). Food In ammo cans (Bears) (there is ZERO water on the DRT). Takes ~4 hours of driving to put aid out.

You should also do section runs before you do it again (can be tricky between big bald and Hightower (there is a turn at Long creek falls) when you are tired in the middle of the night). The last 3.5 miles from Gooch Gap to Woody is a killer (you will want to die).

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NAT Geo Map #777

The easiest place to start is Woody Gap on GA-60 CCW.
Going North, follow the White blazes on the AT to the DRT (Blue blazes) about 8 miles in (trail on the left before Blood Mountain)

You can also start at Wolfpen Gap (near Vogel off of SR-180).
Some people like to start at 3 forks, but that’s a hour drive on forest road drive and a mile from the AT/BMT (depending on the direction). Same with a BMT/60 start.

The DRT blue blazes turn into BMT White Diamonds on the top of Rhodes mountain (DO NOT right turn like the GDR or Crewel Jewel Course).

The only tricky turn is at Long Creek Falls (it a 3 way turn)
You want to take the left trail (AT north), straight goes to 3 forks and Springer, right goes to Long Creek Falls (nice place if its daylight)

These are all places you can drive to.
Woody Gap
Wolfpen
Mulky
BMT/60
Hickory Flats (about 3 miles before Hightower)
Hightower
Cooper
Gooch

Looking… Hightower to Gooch are all off of USFR-42 (turn left on GA-60 about 3 miles past Woody Gap (before the 180 turn)

Whiteoak Stomp – N34.783989 W83.975463
Woody Gap, N34.67650 W84.00048
Wolfpen Gap, N34.76396 W83.95211
Mulky Gap, N34.79909 W84.03974
Fish Gap : 34.802165, -84.071082
BMT/60, N34.76638 W84.16353
Hightower Gap, N34.66361 W84.12971
Horse Gap, N34.65571 W84.10543
Cooper Gap, N34.65294 W84.08452
Gooch Gap, N34.65221 W84.03217

 

Mountain Masochist 50 Miler

This is one of those historic and iconic races that most ultras runners who have been running for a few years have heard the name of. David, my regular running buddy shared with me back in the spring that he wanted to run this race and knew it would be a challenging one. If it would be a challenge for him, I knew it would definitely be a serious challenge for me. I signed up for this race when it first opened but it wasn’t my main focus over the summer and fall as I had other big races I was more focused on. I had spent months working hard with my coach on speed work, hill repeats and core and strength workouts. So I went into Mountain Masochist (MMTR) feeling stronger than I have ever felt and totally ready for the challenge.

The trip to Lynchburg, Virginia for this race was 7 1/2 hours long drive and there were five of us runners from Georgia who decided to jump into the race. All of us knew that to make the tight cutoffs we would have to be having a great day and manage ourselves so the wheels didn’t come off later in the race. I honestly didn’t spend a whole lot of time researching the race, but during our trip up, I got lots of information from the others who had done more reading about it, along with Janice Anderson, who was one of the runners with us. What makes Janice such a good source of information? Well I guess not much more than the fact that she has won top female 4 out of 7 times that she has run it. Those were more in her glory days of an elite runner, but with a 35 year old race such as Mountain Masochist not much of the course had changed. We had more fun talking with Janice about what it was like to run “back in the day” when they didn’t have packs, much less water bottles, and fueling for a race was quit the challenge. There was no internet, cell phones or UltraSignup back in those days, and going to races and receiving Ultra Running Magazine in the mail was their only connection to other runners across the country. I felt like a pampered runner with all we have, and no matter what happened the next day on the course, I knew in my heart the true badasses where those runners from years gone by. That’s what Mountain Masochist would symbolize for me.

It’s a little odd when you go to a race and don’t know a single other runner than those who came with you. This race screamed deep history from the very beginning. Janice immediately knew the first person she saw as one of her old running friends, and then she received a huge welcoming hug from David Horton (original Race Director of MMTR).  I sort of felt like I was a bit of an outsider just looking in on the old years gone by in Ultra Running, I felt a little out of place. You know how us runners look around the room at packet pickup or pre race dinners and kind of size up the other runners. I don’t call them competition because for me it’s just others who are running and I am no competition for them. I made two fairly obvious observations, 1) there were not many woman who took on this challenge and 2) even the guys running it all looked like very serious and tough runners, as did the women! These were some true Beast Coast runners! This wasn’t a fun run in Georgia where everyone shows up to have a good day together and everyone finishes no matter how slow a runner you are. All that being said, I felt more than ready for the challenge.

Janice and David Horton, Original RD of MMTR 50

The five of us who came up from Georgia were staying in a large cabin we rented that turned out to be just minutes from where the race ended and where we would catch a shuttle to the start. After our pre race dinner and getting to listen to guest speaker, Scott Jurek, we headed back to our cabin for the night. We had to get to bed early to catch our 4:15am shuttle ride. The time in the morning seem to go by fast, from getting up, to taking the shuttle and once again checking in for the race start. It seemed before we knew it, at 6:30am and in the dark hours of the morning the race started.
We were quickly on a paved road for about a mile and 1/2 before dropping onto a nice trail that was very easy to run. Rich, Tony and I all settled in together for our run. Before we were too far into the race David would come by us, so we knew he was in front of us, where we expected him to be. Janice we had passed on the road section but we all run fairly close to the same pace and didn’t expect her to be too far behind us or for long. We spent the dark hours before the sun came up on rolling trails that crossed creeks, had some climbs but nothing at all crazy. I had the sense that once it was light out, the scenery would be beautiful and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Rich, Tony and I

The first AS was one of the furthest at roughly 7.6 miles and it seemed to come up on us fairly quickly. We all grabbed something quick and kept moving. The next section started with a climb on what we might call a fire road but they are much smoother than the fire roads in Georgia and covered with taller grass so it seemed really like a section of single track. AS began to come up on us quicker and the next one was just 3.7 miles away. The weather was cooler, and although we had all taken off our jackets, we weren’t going through our water too fast and needing refills, so AS seemed to be rather quick to get in and out of. Our pace felt strong but it seemed like no time and we had come through an AS with a good 2.25 mile climb to the next AS on road. While Rich and I continued to climb as steady as we could, Tony began to struggle in the climbs and fell behind. When we reached the top and the AS we found we were just 6 mins ahead of cutoffs and only around 16 miles into the race. This isn’t how I wanted the day to go but chasing cutoffs looked like the Mountain Masochist way! It was a good 2.5 miles of downhill that we were able to open up on and run at a good pace and gain a little time coming through the next AS.
Fall Colors were so beautiful!

Rich and I had not been able to wait for Tony and now were not sure if he and Janice who were both behind us had made it through some of the AS and cutoffs. We knew we were running close to cutoffs ourselves, but continued to run strong, climbing hard and running a fairly fast pace on the downhill’s and flats. We came into the mid-way AS at mile 26 with about 10 minutes before cutoffs. This was a drop bag point, but we chose not to drop any, and probably would have had little time to mess with them if we had. A drink of Coke and on we went as quick as possible. The course was a lot of gentle roads with unbelievable scenery. I had my phone but could only bring myself to take it out a couple of times to snap a few quick photos. Soon it began to rain. At first it seemed more drizzly but before long turned into a real rain that was cold. Before I got soaked I went ahead and put on my jacket and even put my gloves back on just to stay warm. I didn’t feel like the rain made the course a mess because the roads seem to handle the water well.

IMG_7881An actual “bear” sighting!

It was a another long climb into the AS, that was the start of the “loop” which was about 5.3 miles, although lots of people say it more like 6 miles. We knew lots of people complained about the loop saying it was rocky and technical, and thus far on the course it had been anything but that. The first mile or more of the loop, it was extremely easy running and we started to pass runners and hoped to be picking up some time. It would be the beginning of many runners we would pass. Although as the loop got wetter and muddier it did become harder to navigate at the pace we wanted to be moving. We had a 20 minute cushion coming into the loop so we felt we were still in good shape. Soon we got to an out and back section on the loop, you did a long climb and had to punch your bib at the top before heading back down. We came across David coming back down not long after we had started the out and back section. David was in good spirits and wearing his rain jacket, so I was happy to see him and felt good about how he was doing. He wasn’t far in front of us, but with the amount of people we moved aside for, the rocks and muddy course we definitely lost some time on this out and back section. Once we punch our bibs and started back we came across Janice. She was also doing well and we were happy to see her as well. She had last seen Tony before the half way point and we later learned he missed the cutoff there and was pulled.

Rich and I worked our way back down and finished the loop as quickly as we could. It was very rocky and technical as well as some steep muddy and slippery sections, again slowing us down some.  Just before coming in the AS off the loop we were told we needed to hurry we were just minutes ahead of cutoff. They tried to get us to eat but also get going because of cutoffs. We thought this was the last “hard cut” but shortly after we got out of the AS we were told by other runners that we needed to keep running at a good pace. They were telling us we had about 20 minute left to get 3 miles. We’ve been running cut offs and back of the pack all day long and quick math, that doesn’t add up for me. We never stopped and didn’t give up for one minute. We were confused thinking once we got about 50K into the race it would not be any trouble to finish. We pushed hard and ran into the AS ready to keep moving when we were told we were done. Our race had ended at mile 42 (although my Garmin said 44.85) missing the cutoff by just 5 minutes! We had done 8,500 ft of climbing and had kept a solid pace of 13:28. I was disappointed to not finish the race but not disappointed with my run. It was a challenge that I would do again. A very well organized race and even offered a very nice shuttle ride of shame back to the finish area! Janice was pulled just minutes behind us, and we all got to the finish just in time to watch David come across the line and finish strong! David was the only one of us from Georgia to finish, and in a small way seemed to offer our DNF’s a little redemption.

Rich, David, Me, Janice and Tony the next morning!

My DNF (Did Not Finish) was more like, I Did Not Fail to Challenge myself! I didn’t pick an easy race that I knew I could finish, I wanted a challenge! This is the Beast Coast and we are some tough runners here and we’ll be back one day to show MMTR how tough we can be!

Yeti 100 Race Report

The Yeti 100 is a beautiful race course with wonderful volunteers, one of the best Race Directors and sweetest buckles in ultra running!  My running buddies, Carrie, Lisa and I have had buckle envy over this buckle for 2 years.  In late 2015 when everyone was signing up to run the Yeti 100 in September of 2016, it was all we could do to keep from signing up.  We had already planned a trip to the Grand Canyon to run R2R2R just days before the race, so we all knew we had to wait until 2017.  Carrie and I both went to the 2016 race after returning from the Grand Canyon to help out volunteering and pacing.

Yeti 100 is a beautiful course along the Virginia Creeper Trail that runs approximately 33 miles on a rails to trails path, following creeks and rivers, crossing over more than 40 trestle bridges along the way, showcasing gorgeous views and scenery.  You run the race from Whitetop Depot down to Abingdon, back up to Whitetop, and down once more finishing in Abingdon. Because of the non-technical surface of the trail and being fairly flat, the course is completely runnable.  I’m more of a mountain runner and this type of course is not necessarily in my wheelhouse.  After enjoying my time volunteering at the race last year, I decided not to sign up for it this year with Carrie and Lisa, find an “A” race for the year and help at the Yeti race again.

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This year’s race became more exciting when race director Jason Green designed a special sub 24 hr race buckle. If you “shot called” sub 24 and succeeded, you would get this sweet sub 24 race buckle.  If you failed to complete the race in the sub 24 time you got nothing but the finishing time.  The new buckle didn’t interest me because I’d had 2 years of buckle envy for the regular race buckle and a sub 24 time was not even remotely within my reach anyway.  After running my “A” race for the year, I decided to reached out to the RD to ask about getting into the race and had two and half months to focus my training on the Yeti 100!

Spoiler Alert: I finished sub 24 and got the buckle!  If all you want to know is how fantastic the race is, how each aid station is top notch with every volunteer taking care of each and every runner, how the course is so beautiful, how the RD is awesome, and how it should definitely be on your bucket list of 100 mile races, you can stop reading now.  If you want to know how a mid-pack runner at best, trained and finished this race in sub 24, keep reading.  This might be a little long but if ultra runners are good at anything, it’s talking about running and our races!

I have been working with a coach for over a year now, and the Yeti 100 is my fourth 100 miler under her guidance and training!  I feel like a smarter, more patient and stronger runner than I have before.  I finished Vermont 100, my “A” race, with a PR and felt strong and good the whole race.  Once I had some recovery time, I shared with Coach Sally that I wanted to run the Yeti 100, which was 11 weeks later, along with a small list of other races.  Her reply was something like “you are gonna give me a heart attack!  ha ha!”  She crossed a few races off my list, made me promise to allow myself good recovery after Vermont, listen to my body and we immediately went to work, seriously concentrating on my core work, strength training, speed work and stretching.

While I still didn’t care so much about the sub 24 buckle, I was beginning to think about testing my limits.  I had worked hard all year and felt strong, but I’m really not a sub 24 hour runner by any stretch of MY imagination.  This course could be a fast one, giving me the best chance for a PR and doing well, but it could also be my worst nightmare.  Since I’m not a flat surface road runner, I didn’t have shoes I love for this rails to trail course, and I tend to get caught up in going out way too fast.  I know the carnage this course brings after seeing it firsthand last year.  So with just 2 weeks before the race my regular running buddy, David, told me I should tell my coach about my sub 24 idea.  I knew she could guide me and would let me know if that was even something I should push for.  Her reply this time was “I think you can do it” along with a rundown of what I needed to do over the next couple of weeks, including some big changes in my running and workout schedule.  Just 48 hours before the race, Coach Sally and I chatted for a long time by phone.  She calmed my anxiety, encouraged me, and told me she thought that I was way stronger than I thought I was.  She believed in me!  We went over my race strategy in detail, and if I could execute the plan and run smart and patient, taking care of me throughout the race, she was sure I could do it.

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I had no crew and essentially no pacers.  My buddy David got into the race at the last minute, so I wouldn’t be able to get help from him.  Carrie and Lisa had crew coming down from Wisconsin to help them out, the same friends of Carrie’s whom we had run with doing the Grand Canyon R2R2R!  I knew they would be there if I happened to see them.  They also had a cabin right on the trail in Damascus next to the main aid station at mile 17/50/84.  I was able to put my crew bag and a cooler on their porch so I could access that if needed.  Damascus was also a Drop Bag AS, but I thought having my personal bag for quick access would be helpful.

I had been training and running all year with my other running buddies, Rich and Jen.  We live fairly close together and catch some weekly runs and most all our weekend long runs together.  Rich and I have been able to push and support one another as well as run some long races and work through problems together.  So I knew going into the race we would run together, but if you’ve run races long enough you know anything can happen.  Our plan was to run together and have a strong race.  It wasn’t until much later that we quietly discussed the possibility of running sub 24.  We didn’t “shot call” it and we really didn’t want to feel the pressure from anyone.  We wanted to run a smart, patient race and see how it went.

IMG_7603Jen, Rich, Me, Lauren and David

As with many Georgia runners, we are personal friends with the RD Jason Green.  We also know and are friends with more than half the runners, so this was a family reunion, party, and race all rolled into one!  Packet pickup the night before the race was nonstop hugs and high fives.  Then it was off to the hotel to settle down and get some sleep.  Race morning was a shuttle ride from the finish in Abingdon to Whitetop, and before I knew it, Jason gave us last minute greetings to have fun and go!

Most runners try to break this race down into thirds.  It’s a down, back and down race so it really makes sense.  There are aid stations about every 7-10 miles, with Damascus in the middle with our drop bags.  Since it starts with the first 3rd being a gentle downhill all the way to Damascus, the key here is to watch your pace.  Not only is it easy to get caught up in the race and go out too fast, the downhill section of easy running makes it even more difficult to keep yourself in check.  While you feel good running downhill, later in the race you can really pay for too fast a pace.  Several times in this section we had to check our pace and really slow down to stay under control.  I kept focusing on strategy Sally and I discussed; be patient and focus on how you want to feel at mile 70. Then Rich would say “Slow down Trena Machina”!

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Our first time coming into Damascus

We got into Damascus with a quick stop for food and a cold coke before we were off towards Abingdon.  I don’t drink caffeine in my regular diet.  I had given it up many years earlier.  The only time I drink a nice cold Coke is during an ultra race, which is one of my favorite things.  I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian, or even a particularly healthy eater for that matter.  I like my ice cream!  One thing Coach Sally has taught me to do is eat real food in my races.  I used to come into aid stations and look for the cookies and candies, but I now focus on finding real food to take care of myself.  I like potatoes, fruit, soups, PB&J sandwiches, grilled cheese, etc.  I do like my cold Coke but stay more focused on real food.  In my bladder I use Tailwind and have a water bottle in the front of my pack.

The day was warming up and we were now in the less shaded section of the course.  A few miles out we came across Tracy, who gave us some cold bottles of water and would become our “trail angel” several more times during the race!  Many times we came across crowds crewing other runners and they always offered us cold water and asked if we needed anything.  Just seeing smiles, cheers, hearing the cow bells and claps from those people was so awesome, giving us a mental boost.  We passed through the Alvarado aid station at approximately mile 25 on good pace.  It was now 9 miles to the turnaround at Abingdon.  Shortly after crossing Watauga Trestle Bridge, Rich said his stomach was not good.  Yikes!  This was a more uphill section and we had been running for 30 miles or so with no walk breaks, so we decided to power hike and give his stomach a chance to calm down.  Soon thereafter, Rich had to stop on the side of the trail to throw up.  Stomach issues are something that would get to a lot of runners in this race.  The fast pace, the heat, and trying to eat – the wheels would begin to come off for many runners and it’s not easy to recover.

IMG_7611Alvarado AS was Magical!

Rich worked hard to keep up a good pace so we could keep moving and stopped when he needed to throw up.  It forced us to slow down our pace, which we later felt probably turned into a good thing, giving us a chance to rest our legs and keep things in check as we went the last few miles to the turnaround aid station at Abingdon.  We also began to see the runners who were in front of us as they worked their way back towards Whitetop, and it was super exciting to see so many of our friends and cheer them on as we passed.  Once we got to the aid station, we found Carrie and Lisa’s crew who gave me a cold coke and gave Rich a ginger ale.  Rich had managed to get his stomach back under control, the ginger ale helped, and after quickly grabbing food we headed back out.  We stopped briefly to hug Jason Green again.  I told him that I had been training hard, and I didn’t know if I could get a sub 24 but I was hoping to.  If we did get in under 24 I really wanted to have my picture taken holding one of the sub 24 buckles even though we hadn’t shot called it. Jason told us if we finished sub 24 we would be getting both buckles!  Now there’s some motivation.  But we had a long way to go.  Focus. Patience. Take care of business.

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We now began to cheer on those behind us, giving high fives and hugs (and kisses to Jen from Rich) as we passed runners on our way back.  We were back on target with our pace and still doing well.  But this is 100 miles and we were only 1/3 of the way in and anything could happen.  Before each aid station we discussed what we needed so we could keep our stops brief as possible but still taking care of ourselves.  Back at Damascus and the half way point, we planned a longer stop.  I needed to change shoes as the ones I began with were not a good choice.  I found that I had calluses with blisters under them which needed to be drained and patched up so I could keep moving.  I changed into dry clothes, picked up head lamps, jackets, ate some food and got back on the trail towards Whitetop.  We made it to the next aid station at Taylor Valley before dark.  We ate some warm broth here and took off.  It was a fast power hike up to Green Cove which would be within 3 miles of the final turnaround.  We got into our jackets, gloves, and warm clothes for the final push.  We were starting to see more runners now coming down from the turnaround as we got closer and closer to the top.

It was definitely colder up at Whitetop, so we made our stop brief, but managed to take in warm soup before heading down.  We were now at the point we had planned to be all day.  We felt relatively good, stomach and legs were great and we were ready to make up a little time and head down to Damascus.  Sometimes our plans don’t go quite as planned, however.  We ran a good stretch down to Green Cove before the small rocks on the trail seemed to be tripping us both.  We would slow to our fast power hiking pace to keep from falling.  Every time we started to run, one of us would trip.  It was very dark at night up there, and even with lights it seemed hard to see the details of the course.  So we moved as fast as we could down to Taylor Valley and back through Damascus for the final time.  We knew our stops needed to be quick, because the time was ticking away.  This sub 24 hour time was getting tough.  It felt like constantly chasing cutoffs, knowing that if you let up you couldn’t make it.  We left Damascus with a good running pace trying to bank more time to give us a little cushion, but the night just seemed to drag on and the legs seemed to slow down.  Our plan was to get to Alvarado AS with 2 1/2 hrs left on the clock to complete the final 9 mile climb up to Abingdon and we didn’t think that would be a cake walk.  With no idea of our mileage due to both our watches shut down, we only had a clock to go by.   Alvarado turned out to be a mile further than we thought and we came in feeling defeated, and knew we would have to settle for missing our goal.  We would still finish strong and still get our buckle, but sub 24 had just slipped through our fingers, despite all our hard work.  We chatted with the awesome AS crew and told them we couldn’t get our sub 24.  They tried to convince us we could, but we told them we just were not moving at that pace anymore and we were now down to only 2 hrs and 15 mins with 9 miles of slight uphill.  They said it was only 8.5 miles, but we still felt we were done.

We got some food and walked out silently as we both let it soak in that we wouldn’t make it.  Another runner came ever so slowly past us moving at a steady pace.  I turned to Rich and said “we have to go for it!”  We pulled ourselves together and knew we had trained hard, we had worked hard to get here and knew we couldn’t give up.  I kept telling myself what Coach Sally had said to me, “you are stronger than you think you are!”  We could do this.  The miles slowly counted down with the markers on the side of the trail to help us count down our pace.  Six, Five, Four, then Three miles.  We came across other runners but we wanted to silently push ourselves along without others around us.  With around 2 miles to go my headlamp went out.  We both knew there wasn’t time to change the batteries.  Our margin of error was too tight.  I got out a small hand held light that was stowed in my pack and grabbed on to Rich to keep from tripping as we kept up our pace.  We were within a mile now, and we both dug deep to run it in. It was still dark out and that final corner in a 100 mile race seems to take forever to reach, but soon we saw the finish.  Rich started sobbing (he told me early in the race he probably would) and we ran into the arms of Jason Green with just 8 minutes to spare.  Jason took a second to realize who had come in and started to celebrate with us and Rich fell to the ground and yelled “Yeti Army”!  We had done it!  Jason gave us sub 24 buckles and the regular buckles saying “everyone needs surprises every once in a while!”  It may be the only sub 24 hr race I ever run, but it couldn’t have been any sweeter!  A Yeti race with all our friends along the way, and our friend and RD Jason there with his arms open to embrace us after our hard fought journey.

IMG_7622Jason Green, Yeti 100 Race Director, #NotACult

We had no crew and we had no pacers, but we had each other.  But we couldn’t have done this without all the help we got along the way:  Outstanding aid station workers at each stop, random crew along the course, including our trail angel, Tracy, and Jason Anderson.  Mary and Jane, who crewed Carrie and Lisa, and also gave us a hand along with countless friends who cheered us on each time we saw them.  My fantastic coach, Sally McRae, who has guided me and I knew believed in me more than I believed in myself at times.  Running buddy David Yerden, who I told Rich would be more proud of us than anyone if we went sub 24, and sure enough he was!  My husband Ed, who puts up with my running schedule so I can do what I absolutely love to do and is always my biggest cheerleader.

73456010-IMG_2590One of my favorite photos on a trestle bridge

 

Vermont 100 Race Report

Hard to know exactly where to start with this race, but first a little background.  If you want to run an epic, historic, and even iconic 100 mile race, you really have to plan way ahead.  100 milers are more popular than ever, and the really good ones seem to be so popular that they either sell out quickly or have a lottery just to enter into the race.  That is how this race got on my radar to begin with.  A couple of years ago I started a journey towards running Western States.  As most of you know, WS is a lottery race and requires a qualifying race each year to just get into the lottery.  Each consecutive year you enter the lottery, the better your chances.  Miss a year and you start over.  All that being said, it seems that it could take as long as 5-7 years just to get drawn in the lottery, and given my current age (okay, I’ll tell you, I’m 53), chances are likely that I’m going to get only one chance to run WSER100.

Living in the Southeast doesn’t offer ultra runners many races nearby that serve as qualifiers for Western States, but that’s okay with me.  I got my first ticket from running the Georgia Death Race under 21 hrs in 2015, and my second ticket from the Pinhoti 100 in 2016, and for those two years I really wanted to be drawn in the lottery.  More recently, I’ve thought I’d like to take 7 or 8 years to get into Western States.  I want to fully appreciate the journey to get there and be able to take in the whole experience.  So I plan to find 100 mile qualifying races that inspire me, challenge me, and are epic to run.  At the beginning of this year, as I looked at races and listened to podcasts (okay I’m a bit of a podcast junkie), I heard people say over and over again how Vermont 100 was an historic race, it was well organized, and said to be one of the most beautiful 100s on the East Coast.  Sign me up!

I had been working with a coach who had also helped me pick Vermont as my “A” race and she had guided me in my training the entire year.  I asked local ultra runner and friend Janette Maas if she’d be interested in crewing me at Vermont 100 and she was immediately ready to help out.  Another local running friend and often training partner, David Yerden, had also signed up to run the race.  We didn’t know if we’d run the whole race together but we’d at least start out together, run a controlled pace and manage nutrition and hydration at least until later in the race, and hoped to finish together.  Vermont 100 has an excellent pacer program where you can sign up for a pacer and they match you up with someone who fits your goals and pace.  I signed up for one and was matched with a great guy from Boston, Pete Cannon, who didn’t have 100 mile experience but had several ultra races on his resume and was a strong runner.  At Vermont, you have to get to mile 70 before you can pick up a pacer, which is quite a bit later in the race than most 100 milers.  In the last two weeks before the race, another one of my good friends and favorite running partners from Knoxville, TN got in the race off the waitlist!  Stephanie and I had run several 50 mile races together and even the first half of a few 100s together, so I was looking forward to another strong running friend to keep me moving at a solid pace for at least the first 50-70 miles before getting to my pacer.

Off we went to Vermont and we saw some of the most beautiful views and sights.  On the drive out to the Meadows for packet pickup at Silver Farms in West Windsor, Vermont, I knew we had picked the perfect “A” race.  We went through registration, bought some Vermont 100 swag, went through the medical check-in, and went to the pre-race briefing.  David and Stephanie decided to get a pacer at the last minute just in case we didn’t stay together or just needed another person to keep them moving forward.  We skipped the pre-race meal and headed back towards town for dinner and to get to bed sooner because the race had a 4 a.m. start time.

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Just before our 4am start

For me, Vermont was one of the biggest 100 mile races I’d run in.  The gathering at the start of the race was huge with around 360 runners, crew, and tons of volunteers.  There was a lot of energy and excitement at the start, and I was trying to soak it all in.  We soon gathered at the starting line and with very little fanfare the race began.  We started in the dark with our headlamps on, and with most of the course largely on hard-packed road surfaces, it was easy, gentle, downhill running for several miles.  Because the course did not dump onto single-track trail, it was easy to run in the large crowd on the roads until many miles later when it began to thin out.  The roads were smooth and easy to run a good pace, but before long we were navigating around large puddles of water and mud in one section because they had received a good bit of rain in the days leading up to the race.  It didn’t seem like too long before it was back to easy, gentle downhill.  I think we got to the first unmanned aid station around mile 7, but we still had plenty of water so early in the race, we didn’t stop for long. They did have Coke, so Stephanie and I both filled our reusable cups and got a quick drink. The next unmanned station came around mile 11.5.  There were actually a few people here to help us, and again offered water and some Cokes.  We filled our smaller bottles, got more Coke and headed out.  It was finally at mile 15.4 when we got to a fully-stocked aid station and we all took a couple of minutes to grab something to eat and top off our fluids.

The first time we would get to our crew chief and enabler would be at mile 21 – a beautiful little stop in the road called Pretty House.  It was beautiful and I remember the huge crowds of people cheering for us as we arrived.  Just getting to Janette was a huge boost to our spirits, and as we ran from AS to AS, checking one more off the list always feels good.

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Pretty House AS, Janette getting our first “proof of life” photo

 

From there we ran through one more unmanned AS and then back to Janette at Stage Road AS – mile 30.  My pacer was also working at that AS during the day so it would be a chance for him to see our pace and check how I was feeling.  Somewhere between mile 21 and mile 30, my feet were starting to feel the pain from running on the hard road surface.  I knew the toughest challenge for me might be the road surface.  I’m not a road runner and don’t really have good road shoes that I love.  I had spent several weeks trying out different Hoka models to find a good cushioning pair of shoes but wasn’t happy with the room in the toe box.  I normally run in Altras, which I love.  But the zero drop of the Altras on the road surface is a killer on my hamstrings, as I pronate and am a heel striker.  I’ve been happy with Topos, shoes that are fairly new to the market, but they don’t have a large amount of cushion.  With no luck finding another pair of shoes that I loved, I went with my Topo’s to start.  In a last minute purchase, my husband bought me a pair of Adidas trail shoes which I had used for a total of 28 miles before Vermont.  I loved them, but didn’t dare start my race in them, instead putting them in my drop bag at mile 47.

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How could you not love this race!

So coming into mile 30, all I could think about was looking at my feet and doing what I could to patch things up and get through the next 17 miles to the pair of Adidas in my drop bag.  Pete came over to check on me.  He was super cool and took care of my pack and continued to bring me food as I sat in a chair assessing my feet, wrapping my small toe and changing socks.  Hoping that was good enough to get me through the next 17 miles, I also took some Aleve after we hit a large climb headed out of there.  We went through three more AS before we got back to Janette at mile 47.  I was feeling good and my feet were doing considerably better, although I had been counting down the miles to changing out my shoes.  I hate taking too much time at aid stations, but I’ve learned that it’s sometimes necessary to fix things before they become big issues.  When I got my shoes off, I was happy I had no blisters.  The issue was just the beating my feet were taking on the hard surface.  The change of shoes and fresh socks were a small piece of heaven at that point, although the damage was done.  I knew I could make it and was in a happy place.

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We are all still moving good and having fun!

 

We now had a 22 mile loop heading out of this AS, Camp 10 Bear, before we’d be back to this same aid station and pick up our pacers.  We also knew there was a big climb just ahead of us.  We had all been running great and at a steady pace all day, but Stephanie was beginning to struggle a little at this point.  Her hip was bothering her and her legs were not feeling good.  The hard road surface was getting to all of us.  We chatted briefly with her, afraid of her falling further behind or continuing to struggle.  I didn’t want to leave her behind, but I also really wanted to run my own race at the pace I was comfortable with.  I knew I had trained hard coming into this race and was still feeling strong.  I was so happy when Stephanie seemed to rally during this loop.  While she got behind between the aid stations, she was always close behind as we came into each one.  It got dark before we got back to Camp 10 Bear at around mile 70.  We picked up our pacers and Pete jumped in to help refill my pack as I sat a minute, put on a dry shirt and drank some cold Coke.

With only 30 miles to go, it’s not quite the home stretch, and we know there’s a lot of race left, but it feels much more manageable with just a 50K left.  Pete led the way as we all left Camp 10 Bear and headed up another huge climb.  We had heard, as well as read in race reports (okay David did most of the race report reading), that the last 30 miles of the course are some of the toughest miles.  Of course, all runners know the last 30 miles of a 100 mile race are the toughest.  This is when the wheels come off, you often hike at night, and in general just slow down.  None of us were expecting an easy 30 miles to the finish but we all knew we’d finish.

Pete led us up the hill at a good pace.  I had told him that at night I like my pacer right in front of me.  I like for them to worry about keeping me on course and I can just focus on their feet and the trail.  If they stay moving at a good pace, I’ll push myself to keep up.  This was a nice section of single-track trail which we had waited for all day.  Single-track are some of my favorite trails to run, and we did just that.  David and Stephanie stayed not far behind as Pete led the way and pushed us all at a good pace to the next AS.  It didn’t seem long, and a few miles later we got back to Janette again to crew us at the Spirit of 76 AS.  What else would you call a mile 76 AS?  I raced in to see Janette, grabbed food and some Coke and was off again.  At this point, both David and Stephanie were behind me, but I knew they had their pacers and also knew we were all finishing this race.  It was time to run my race, I was feeling great, and Pete was doing an excellent job leading the way and guiding me through the night hours.  I was still hiking the hills strongly and keeping a good pace on the downhills, as well.  It didn’t seem like any time at all before we got back to Janette at the mile 88 AS.  I needed to change out my headlamp that seemed to keep going through batteries and grab some more food.  Just as we were headed out of the AS I checked my headlamp and it wasn’t working.  I used Pete’s backup headlamp for the rest of the night.

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Seeing my enabler Janette for the final time before the finish and grabbing my spare headlamp

 

The next 7 miles or so were probably the toughest miles for me, but for no specific reason.  I still felt pretty good, I didn’t have any stomach issues, my legs felt great, I was still eating and drinking well, and my feet were still basically status quo.  Pete’s headlamp wasn’t as bright as mine and I think with some fog or dust in the air (I could never quite tell what it was), and just being in the real early morning hours, my mind was slower and it added up to slowing down.  The sun came up and for the first time I took off my pack to get my camera out and take a picture of the sunrise.  It was beautiful!  Now that I could see the course again in the daylight, I was taking it all in and enjoying every minute of the journey!  This was my happy place!

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Enjoying this gorgeous Sunrise!

We now had just 5 miles left and we took off out of the last manned AS.  They had some good food there and we grabbed some, knowing there was no more until the finish.  There was one more unmanned AS just 2.5 miles down the road.  I threw away some trash but otherwise just kept going.  I hadn’t heard that the last 2.5 miles of the race were really tough, but at that point, mentally, they are all tough.  My Garmin had run out of battery life a long time ago, so I had no feel for what my time was.  I kept pushing as much as I could and was excited to see the finish line, although those final miles seemed all uphill and really long.

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Just after my finish!

Two days before my race I spoke with my coach and we discussed my race plan.  Plan A was to finish.  This was my Western States qualifier and I had to finish this one.  That’s always Plan A!  I would have been more than happy with just finishing.  Plan B had a time range I’d like to finish in!  After putting in really long weeks of training, I’d love to see that pay off.  When I finished and saw the clock, I was in shock!  I was definitely well within my Plan B time and it was a new PR for me.  I had stuck to the plan my coach and I carefully laid out, went out conservatively, kept up with my hydration and nutrition, and saved myself to finish strong.  I was really proud of executing the plan we put in place, and I spent the day with some of my favorite running friends and enjoyed a beautiful course and an awesome day!

If that was the end of my Vermont 100 story, it would be a success!  But really, the best part of the race and the highlight of months and months of hard work was getting to see David finish his 100 mile quest!  It had been a while since he’d seen the finish line of a 100 mile race and getting to see him finish strong and claim that finish brought tears to my eyes.  We enjoyed a great race together with Stephanie, and all of us finishing was a great moment!

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Words just can’t even begin on this one….

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This calls for celebration!

 

 

SPOILER ALERT:  Major WSER100 Stalker Write-Up

For the past two years, Rebecca Watters and I have each thrown our names into the Western States Lottery.  Having one ticket each the first year and two each the second.  Not good odds for either of us for either year’s drawing.  The first year we texted back and forth as we watched the live lottery drawing.  Rebecca was hoping not to be drawn, but I was desperately hoping to hear my name called. Neither of us were drawn.

For this year’s drawing in December, we planned to go for a run together that morning then sit in a coffee shop and watch the lottery drawing live.  She ended up being sick that morning and we didn’t do either.  But again, we watched it live and texted back and forth.  Rebecca didn’t want in the race again this year.  She had a lot going on in the spring, wanted to buy a home, and was getting married in the summer.  It just wasn’t the best timing for her.  So we watched again with her hoping not to be drawn and me wanting to get in.  I could almost hear them call my name and imagine going.  With only 30 or so names left Rebecca texted me saying, “thank goodness I haven’t been drawn.”  Sad face for me, I wanted to hear my name called out.  Within 5 minutes of her text to me, her name was drawn. “OMG you got in” I texted her. Her reply was “Holy Shit.”

Rebecca soon asked me to help crew and pace her, and I could not have been more thrilled than if my name had been drawn.  I wasn’t sure if she asked me because she knew how badly I wanted in, or if she knew I would help her out because she had paced me several times and knew I’d return the favor.  She knew I was organized and had crewed others before. Honestly, Rebecca is the best pacer, and the times we’ve spent on the trails with her pushing me through my race have been some very happy moments for me.  So for me to go and help her was a win, win!  They didn’t draw my name but I felt like I was a lucky lottery winner!

I’m not sure if Rebecca knew or realized just what a WS junkie I had become over the last couple of years.  I followed the elite athletes on social media, listened to tons of podcasts, knew the runners, followed the races, and pretty much become a WS stalker.  Maybe not the creepy kind of stalker (ok, sometimes my friends think it’s creepy), but I’m awestruck and inspired by so many of them.  For me, it’s not just about the elites, either.  Many times its the stories from the back of the pack or just average runners like me that inspire.  The older folks still out there getting it done – those are the stories that give me the chills.

WS1My stalking report wouldn’t be complete without at least a couple of pictures!  The Pixie Ninja, Kaci Lickteig had a very inspiring and hard fought finish this year!

 

But this was Rebecca’s race, not mine!  She made the travel plans, arranged the lodging, and rented the car.  Myself, her fiancé Michael, and his sister Katie were there for support.  When she and I met a few weeks prior to the race to go over details, I had put together a notebook and felt comfortable with how the crewing would go.  On paper, crewing can look easy, and compared to running the race, it is easy.  On the other hand, if it were that easy, the elite runners and others wouldn’t have 5 to 10 and sometimes more people on their support teams. Most of us know that CREW stands for Cranky Runner Endless Waiting, so we were well prepared for what we thought was to come.  It would involve miles of driving, hours of waiting in the hot sun, long hikes or shuttle rides, carrying chairs, coolers and gear into each aid station where they allow crew access to the runners.

We saw our runners off at the 5:00 a.m. start in Squaw Valley, California.  The excitement of the start of the race was off the charts!  We watched the elites gather, dared to speak to a few, and even got a quick selfie with a couple of them.  We stood at the start to watch, knowing that what was ahead of them wouldn’t be easy.  The day would be long and hard, but exciting for us to watch it all unfold.  With the gun shot they were off and we headed to our cars.

We had to drive 3 1/2 hours to get to the first aid station, Duncan Canyon.  We stopped along the way to get ice for the long day ahead of us, knowing we wouldn’t be anywhere near a store for many hours.  We knew being at the first aid station might be our only chance to watch the top runners come through.  Of course, we are there to support “our” runner, but this was our one time to take in the front of the race while we waited for Rebecca.  After a long drive to get there, followed by a long hike from where we parked the car, we just missed seeing the lead runner.  We heard the crowds ahead cheering him on, but we missed by just a few seconds getting to see Jim Walmsley pass through the AS.  We had time to get there and settle in before seeing the next group of top males following each other through, some 30 minutes later.  They came through one after the other, so fast we could hardly see who they were, but we recognized some of the names and saw the bibs with an “M” in front of their number, marking them as one of last year’s top 10 finishers.  This year’s field of men, as well as the women, was probably one of the most competitive in the race’s history.  The race always attracts many top athletes, but this year’s field seemed to be especially strong.  We chatted with other crew teams, including several of the elite female’s crew teams.  In ultra running, not only are the runners some of the friendliest people, but their crews are equally as nice and happy to chat with you.  I spoke with one guy from Magda Boulet’s crew, and he offered to introduce me to Ann Trason at the Dusty Corners Aid Station.  Sadly, we wouldn’t get there before her team was gone.  Ok, so I’m name-dropping a little bit here, but I told you I had become a stalker, and I need to add a few more.  Andy Jones-Wilkins (AJW) is a ten-time top 10 finisher at WS who I met for the first time at the Georgia Death Race a few months earlier.  Along with other notables like Tim Tweitmeyer, AJW is a fixture of volunteering at WS.  These past heroes inspire me as much with their volunteerism as they ever could as an elite runner.  Many claim it’s a selfish sport, but to see the elites spend their later years giving back to the sport they love is a huge testimony to their spirit and the rich history of the race.  To me, it’s much like the elite runner that’s having a bad day, yet refuses to quit or drop out of the race and seeing it through to the finish.  We would end up seeing a lot of those stories before this year’s race was over.

FullSizeRenderOf course I had to stalk the Coconino Cowboy himself, Jim Walmsley! Super nice guy and I hope to see him have his day and win WS!

 

The state of Georgia had several runners at WS this year, all getting into the race from the lottery except for Jackie Merritt, who won her entry through a Golden Ticket 2nd place win at GDR this year.  Even though she is a new resident to the state and we love to claim her as a Georgia home girl, we know her heart is probably still up north where she moved from.  Most of the Georgia crew teams spent the entire day and night together, taking care of our runners one by one, and helping each other with their runners at times, too.  We also checked on a couple of runners that didn’t have crew at certain aid stations or had no crew at all, and helped when we could.  We know it’s nice to see a familiar face when you’re racing far from home.  One secret gem in our crew teams was Janice Anderson.  She probably wouldn’t want me to say anything, so keep this quiet.  I may have overwhelmed her with my WS excitement and elite and famous ultra-stalking.  Janice is quiet, but her experience at WS gave us a wealth of information even though it had been 13 years since she had been back.  She was a top 10 finisher several times and raced against the likes of Ann Trason and Nikki Kimball!  I felt like I was sitting amongst secret ultrarunning royalty all day, because no one else knew who she was.  Janice was there crewing and later pacing for her brother who was running WS for the first time after years of entering the lottery himself.

At the first aid station, I started chatting with a guy who was crewing another runner.  He possessed a wealth of information about the race we didn’t have.  By the second aid station, I learned that he had not only crewed and paced at this race for some 16 years or more, he also used to be married to a previous F6 women’s finisher back when Janice Anderson and Ann Trason were running the race!  I was quite impressed.  He shared some tips, but mostly just chatted as we waited for our runners.  Each time I saw him, he asked how my runner was doing with a sincere and genuine care.  At the track in Auburn, he would find me again to give me a big hug and bid me farewell.

Katie, Michael, and I took care of Rebecca every time she came in to an aid station we could access.  We would give her cold cokes, put ice in her pack, change her socks, patch up blisters, and tend to her needs.  Her day was typical of many runners in these tough conditions – slower than they expected but steady and relentless.  Watching each runner from Georgia work their way through the course, overcoming each struggle or obstacle, was an inspiration to all of us on the sidelines.   They didn’t complain and they didn’t give up!  We knew it was tough. We saw many of the elite runners struggling, as well.  All we could do was offer words of encouragement and tend to their needs.  We tried to keep their focus on the finish line.

After nearly 29 hours of crewing, Katie and I met Rebecca and Michael (who had paced her from Rucky Chucky) just past Robie Point for the final mile into the stadium at Placer High School.  She had done it!  The long journey to Auburn would be over in just a few minutes when she crossed the finish line.  Within minutes of her finish, the final Georgia runners would also cross the line and we would celebrate with each of them!  We had watched their journey and knew how tough it was.  We knew they did not take it for granted.  They had worked hard and kept moving.

My trip to Western States 100 would not be complete without watching the final WS finishers cross the finish line in the final hour before the 30 hour time limit had expired. This was called the Golden Hour. It was two years ago when 70 year-old Gunhild Swanson crossed as the final finisher with just seconds to spare, creating a video finish watched by more people than any other finisher.  Then last year we saw the heartbreaking scene of 72 year-old Wally Hesseltine missing the 30 hour cutoff by just under 2 minutes.  Both had come back to finish this year, but the Fire and Ice of the day got the best of them before they made it to Auburn.

I was sure there would be no finish to top Gunhild’s.  I also knew that the last hour of the race was just one more reason why WS is so special.  Those finishers were cheered on as if they were first place runners.  In our hearts and minds, we knew how tough it was for them to get there and celebrated what they had accomplished.  It’s the very spirit of the race that’s in the hearts of these final runners.  Never giving up, never losing hope that they could finish.  As I saw one last runner hit the track with around two minutes left on the clock and surrounded by a large support group, my heart started to race.  Hurry, hurry, HURRY!  We started screaming.  When we knew he was going to make it, another runner hit the track!  It seemed as if she had less than a minute to get around the track.  My heart could not take it!  Screaming for her like I had never cheered for any other athlete before, and seeing her cross the line and all but collapse was not just the icing on the cake but the cherry on top!  This was what WS was all about!

I had seen it, been a small part of the 2017 WS100 experience and would take home unforgettable memories!  I was also leaving my heart in Squaw and hope to be back for it when my lottery ticket is drawn and I’m there to run it myself!  #seeyouinsquaw #Ileftmyheartthere

IMG_7158One of my favorite times was going up the escarpment the day before the race, being in the snow and taking in the views!  I never told Rebecca before the race just how tough it was to even walk through that snow.  Soon every runner found out for themselves!

 

 

 

Dark Sky 50 Miler Race Report

This race really deserves its own report, for sure. Truly one of the most beautiful races I have run but that’s getting a little ahead of things, so let me back up some.
My friend Stephanie Johnson, from Knoxville, TN asked me several months ago to come join her on this 50 mile run. We run at about the same pace, have run several other races together, and enjoy each other’s company. She had lodging figured out, so I was all in! With Stephanie planning the details, I barely even looked at the weather or race information prior to heading up to Tennessee for this inaugural race.
The weather looked great, other than some rain the day and night before, and the course looked to be mostly runnable with around 5,000 ft of climbing. No problem. I met Stephanie and her parents at the camp site (A.K.A. lodging) the afternoon before the race. Later, her friend and running buddy from Knoxville, Bobby Trotter, joined us at the campsite. Bobby was going to crew and pace us. I had met him at other races and was happy to see our friend. Later that night as Stephanie and I were falling asleep in our tent, listening to the rain come down, we discussed our “goal” of a sub 12 hr finish for the 50 miler. We both agreed that we were very capable and felt this would not be a problem.
We were up and ready for the 6:00 a.m. start time. It had gotten light out long before that and the sun wouldn’t set that night until just before the 14 hour cutoff time. (You can do that simple math!)

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Our group of friends just before the start

We started on a simple 2.7 mile loop just a hundred yards from the starting line. Right away, the scenery was a beautiful section of single track trail, and we ran under huge limestone overhangs. The trails were technical, single track with gently rolling hills, which suited both of our running styles well. We came out of the loop feeling comfortable that we had started off at a good pace, not too fast, and about the front of the middle pack. We headed back to the start area and then had 2 miles of road before dropping onto the Hidden Passage Trail for the next 4.5 miles. Every section of trail we ran on was prettier than the one before. We encountered endless limestone overhangs that often had water dripping off the side of them. We would run under and through these overhangs as we worked our way along the single track trail. The vegetation was green and luscious from the recent rain and was well hidden from the sunlight in the dense forest. We enjoyed seeing the moss and ferns along the way, while keeping a close eye on the technical trails. We had completed nearly 9 miles when we came to our first AS, which was water-drop only.

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A “proof of life” selfie early in the race!

There were several other runners at this AS, but we didn’t need any supplies and kept moving. The few runners we saw there would be a few of the only other runners we would see throughout the race. We were never passed by other runners during the entire race, so we continued to believe we were strongly in the middle of the pack. We experienced our first rough patch in the next 4.7 miles to the first full AS. We followed a creek that was very shaded and the trail was very wet from recent rains. It probably never dries out much. The trail was more technical, covered with rocks, and we had to cross lots of wooden plank bridges. The wood on the bridges was so slippery that it required great caution to carefully get across them. Just as we got back into our running groove we would have to stop to cross another wooden bridge. This would be the only section where I took a fall when my feet came out from under me on a wet rock and I fell on my left arm with no time to try and catch myself. Luckily the landing was soft and I was up and off again with no injuries.
We were very happy to get through that section and see our crew, Bobby and Stephanie’s parents, at the 13.6 mile AS at Divide Road. I took off my long sleeve shirt while Stephanie got rid of her jacket, got our packs refilled and were quickly on our way. The next 6 miles were some of our favorite running of the day. The scenery was beautiful and we were able to run almost the entire section before we went to the top of the John Muir Overlook. From here, we had amazing views of Big South Fork, then we descended into our next AS at Long Branch. We now had 6 miles to another water drop and then 4 more miles before reaching Charit Creek AS.

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A short section of our muddy rocky fire roads

These 10 miles turned into our least favorite section of the course. It was beautiful, and most of it was beside a large flowing creek, which in many ways made the section enjoyable. But the “trail” was basically flooded fire roads that were rocky and covered in not just water but shoe-sucking mud. At times, we were diverted onto trails that took us around muddy sections, and other times we tried hard to find our own paths around the mud. The scenery was no less beautiful, however, and we even enjoyed one stop at a large creek to soak our feet and wash the mud off of our legs.
We finally got through the next AS and arrived at the Charit Creek AS where we were met again by Bobby and Stephanie’s parents. Stephanie changed her socks and shoes while I changed my socks before we headed out for the first of 2 loops around the 4-mile Twin Arches Loop Trail. The scenery was unbelievable and we decided that a second time around this loop would not be bad at all. Bobby joined us on our second loop and took a few pictures of some of our favorite sections.

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Running through the arch

After one final time through the Charit Creek AS, we were off on the home stretch of roughly 11 miles. We knew the climb out of Charit Creek would be a big one, probably the longest climb of the day. The 2.8 mile climb to Gobblers Knob seemed longer, and at times endless, but we continued to run as much as we possibly could. We had another 3 mile stretch of mostly fire roads as we continued to the final AS. We had passed one runner on the way to that AS, and then another guy we had passed early in the race surprised us by showing up right behind us as we were headed out. After a one mile drop down to Rock Creek and a water-drop AS, we were back on the John Muir trail and then the Hidden Passage Trail again. The trail finished as they put us on 2.3 miles of jeep roads before we were back on the Picketts Park Hwy and a 2 mile stretch into the finish line.

We knew we had run strong all day, kept a steady pace, passed only a few runners along the way but was never passed by others. When we finished in 13:35, just 25 minutes before the cutoff time, we weren’t a bit disappointed! We ran well all day and finished strong at the end. We had even dropped our pacer somewhere in the last 4 miles. We knew we were solid, middle of the pack runners, but only a few other runners came in behind us. Lots of runners ended up with DNF’s and left us near the back of the pack finishers. Almost all of the runners finished well behind their estimated finish times.
In the end, the race course could have had a few more “confidence” markers (although we never once got off course) and the aid stations could have had more “real” food such as PB&Js and cold Cokes. A little less mud would have been nicer, as well! But the course itself could not have been more beautiful or the running company any better!

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We started together and finished together!