Crewing Tahoe 200

Not only would this be my first experience at a 200-mile race it would be the first time I would have to coordinate so many things as a crew chief.

So, let’s back up just a little. I was introduced to Ana by a friend when he reached out because she was running a 200-miler in the North Georgia Mountains and needed some pacing help. That was an easy yes for me as I love helping others when I can. Unfortunately, while I would spend 2 different nights in the mountains pacing her, her race ended early when managing too many variables and the sleep deprivation made a finish impossible.

Ana had her sights ultimately set on Tahoe 200 and after a disappointing finish she hired me to coach her. After our time together we were now friends as well and we found a balance in a coaching relationship. While she put her trust in me to help coach her to a successful finish at Tahoe, I had to find a way to take an athlete who jumped straight into a 100-mile race that she did complete to a 200-miler finish in Tahoe. This was clearly not anything I would recommend anyone do but I accepted the challenge knowing how much Ana really wanted this.

Pre-race photo

The very first thing I wanted was for her to get more experienced at races and particularly a 100-miler. A few months later she attempted a local 100-mile race and while that race also didn’t end in success, it offered us both critical information on things we needed to do. It also offered Ana some much needed experience with other races. She would also run and successfully complete a 100k race just a month later. This was a win she needed, and I needed for her. More learning again for both of us.

Now we needed to get our Tahoe 200 details together. I would go with her to serve as her crew chief and pace her at some point. While she could have a pacer for 150 miles, I clearly couldn’t do that and manage all the details that this race required. Ana was able to secure 4 different local runners in the Tahoe area to help pace. We did a couple of zoom calls with them to work out details on their available timing, distance they were comfortable running and how to plug everyone into the plan. While a plan was coming together on one hand there were also huge pieces that were just not dialed in. Things for Ana like a shoe that worked and nutrition. These pieces to having a successful race are often critical.

Other things Ana did spend time on was reading articles and listening to lots of podcasts on running 200 races, how to manage sleep during them, taking care of blisters and mental toughness. She explored her why and found things to hang pure grit onto.

I could go into way too many details here about just getting to Tahoe, but we made it to the race start with Ana well rested and ready to see this race through.

Race Start, it’s an amazing scene!

They had trackers on each runner, and I was able to use that as my main guide to how she was moving and when I’d need to meet her at the next crew station. She would first have to run 30 miles and I would have no real idea how things were going until I saw her. Although one text from her at mile 10 to tell me that AS didn’t have food and the spring energy she needed to even resupply her pack. She had no food and was not happy about it. (Later I would learn some volunteers shared from their personal supplies to get her through)

First sight of Ana and she’s all smiles

So, the first critical thing was going to be nutrition and getting behind in that at by mile 30 wasn’t a good thing. At the first crew access AS in Tahoe City, I walked out to meet Ana about a 1/2 miles out. We were able to talk, and she caught me up on how things were going. We didn’t waste any time talking about the race itself, the stunningly beautiful course, or the new friends she had met along the journey so far but rather we got straight to what she needed and how she was feeling. My job was to see that I got every critical item she would need into her pack, as well as help her with any clothing charges needed. Putting on dry clothing and making sure she had a working headlamp heading into the night could not be overlooked. It would cost a runner their race and it’s not far into the race when your runner is not even able to think through some of these things. My job was more than chief cook, bottle and clothing washer but also to handle every decision and shield her from all the stress that she didn’t need. I would make decisions and Ana completely trusted me to do that.

Next crew stop would be mile 50. Here was when she would pick up her first pacer Kaytlen. Kaytlen and I met at the trail head along with her husband, Taylor who dropped her off and would be a pacer for Ana later in the race. We had to hike in a mile to get to the aid station, so I need to make decisions on what exactly I needed to take to her. Once again, I hiked out probably 3/4 a mile and met Ana on the trail so I could get an update on how she was doing and quickly make plans for what I would need to do at the AS to help her. One of the most important things I could do was to reassure her and give her lots of encouragement.  She was very close to our estimated pace at this point.

Her feet were doing well, and she was in good spirits after spending much of that section with a runner who she said saved her. Now however, a complete change in our plan needed to go down as Ana really wanted to try and sleep. She had also shared that she was struggling to breath and has a rough cough. First thing was to get one of the medics to listen to her lungs and make sure she was good. This could be anything from struggling with the altitude, dust that was on the trails and even the very dry air that we were both not used to. Or it could be a cold, COVID or the flu setting in. No matter what, now we would have to monitor and manage this carefully. (We would learn after the race that this is called the “Tahoe Cough” and many runners suffered from the same thing).

First up was to get her a quick nap. We had a Subaru Forrester as our crew vehicle and after the race started, I used blankets, pillows, padding and sleeping bags we borrowed from Kaytlen and Taylor to set up a sleep station for her. Complete with a sound machine that plugged into an outset in the back. Due to her labored coughing, she couldn’t get much sleep but after an hour and a half or so I needed to get her up and going to keep her well ahead of any cutoffs. When I did wake her and she got up, she got sick to her stomach and felt really bad. At mile 50 it was looking like her race once again would not see a successful outcome. While we lost a lot of time, Ana got on a change of clothes, was feeling better and was able to keep moving forward heading out with Kaytlen.

Ana just before dropping into Incline Village

I went back to our Airbnb that was located about midway on the out and back course. I would retreat here after each stop to take care of any things she would need the next time I would see Ana, coordinate with her next pacers, update her husband, Eric who would fly in late on Saturday, kept track of Ana and Kaytlen’s progress and try to get a little rest myself. I would get an update or two from the pacers so I could dial in any additional things to our plan that now looked nothing like our original one. We were now way off our plan due to the early rest we hadn’t planned for, and her pace had slowed as well, which I was sure was due to the cough and struggle breathing.

As I was getting an update from the tracker, I saw their course would literally take them right through the streets of Incline Village where our condo was located. While I was not allowed to crew here, I could drive along the course path to see if I could get a glimpse of Ana and Kaytlen, get any updates, and try to encourage them both. As I drove through Incline Village, I found the course route and saw them crossing the main highway right away.  I rolled down my window to encourage them as I had done all the other runners I passed before getting to them.  Ana was now really struggling with her breathing and coughing badly. I went to find a store where I could get some cough medicine for her and drop it back off to them. I was now growing pretty concerned about the cough and mostly just the difficulty it makes to breath which also makes all the climbing more difficult. It wasn’t a good combination and I wanted Ana to have the best chance of completing the race.

I went back to following the tracker to keep track of Ana when I got a couple of text updates from Kaytlen letting me know that things were going well. The main thing now was to keep her moving forward and in good spirits.  Attitude is everything!  I was now also in touch with her next pacer, Madeline.  We arranged a meet up time and got something to eat before heading to the next AS where we would change pacers. This was Spooner AS and you were very strictly not allowed to crew your runner here, but you could switch pacers.  Ana had slowed her pace significantly and my biggest concern was getting her to the halfway point at Heavenly so I could get her as much sleep as possible. Madeline and I discussed how I thought we were going to need to push Ana at this point a bit. We made a quick switch, and they were off toward the turnaround point but before long I would get a text from Madeline saying Ana wasn’t happy with her!  We needed to push Ana to keep her moving but careful that we don’t push too hard, and she isn’t able to keep the pace and get discouraged. If you have paced at all, you know that when things are tough it can be a delicate balance.

Madeline and Ana ready to roll

My next job was to head to the Reno Airport so I could pick up Eric, Ana’s husband who was flying in to help crew and be a support to Ana. As soon as we got back to the Airbnb it was time to check the tracker to get a progress update and figure out when they would get to Heavenly which was the turnaround point. Here I knew Ana would need as much sleep as we could afford to give her.  It seemed that the big struggle had become her getting in nutrition, and lack of sleep was not far behind. For Ana it started with aid stations not having what she wanted to eat, and it can be difficult to eat. We were now at the halfway point, and I felt I really needed to make sure Ana understood that she had to eat, we had to get calories in her. After Ana’s nap, she took care of patching her feet up with more tape, switched shoes, clothes, and got in some much-needed food. Madeline was going be sure to keep an eye on her drinking and eating. Eric and I headed back to the Airbnb confident she was in good spirits, well fed and ready to go. After a couple hours of sleep, myself, I was up to check on the tracker and get an update from Madeline that Ana was running hot, out of water and had dropped her! Ana also wanted pizza! I was busy trying to get pizza together when the next text is from Ana to meet her on the trail with Pizza and water because she doesn’t have any. I start moving to get what I could of the pizza ready and get out to the aid station.  Again, this was the Spooner Aid Station that strictly had no crew access. Joselio who was the next pacer met me at the AS and after the AS captain gave me approval, we both headed out on trails to find Ana and Madeline. We came to Ana first and she had been able to get water from a mountain biker on the trail and was only about a mile out from the aid station.  Joselio went back with Ana to the aid station while I kept going on the trail to find Madeline and get her back ok.

Those are some of the sweetest flowers Eric!!

Let me add this quick story here, which I still remember fondly. When Joselio and I got to Ana on the trails headed towards the Spooner aid station, I spot her coming towards us carrying a handful of yellow flowers. Like a scene from The Sound of Music, as if Ana had been frolicking in the flower fields picking flowers instead of moving down the trail. When we get up to her, she tells me she had forgotten it was Father’s Day!

Joselio and Ana heading out

After Ana spent more time getting some food in and having the medical person help retape her feet, a shoe change and she was off again with Joselio this time. This section would have some good climbs and heading into the 3rd night of the race. We needed to find a way to get Ana another nap even if it’s just a short one. The original plan was a couple long naps during the race, but early on when we got hours off schedule, I knew we couldn’t afford long naps, but we would have to find ways to get smaller short naps in. After letting Ana take another short nap on the side of the road just before heading up the big “Powerline” climb headed back to the Brockway Summit. I wanted to do the climb with Ana and Joselio to give Ana that extra support and see her to the top of what would be a tough climb.  As it started to warm up on the climb, Ana started to peel off layers of coats and long sleeve shirts and we tossed them onto bushes, knowing I could pick them all up on the way back down. Where the strength and grit came from, I have no idea!  Ana made that climb like she just started the race.

Taylor now jumps in and paces Ana for the 20 miles stretch between Brockway and Tahoe City. We are waiting to let her sleep again when she gets to Tahoe City AS and has only 30 miles to go.

Taylor and Ana

It still feels like a long way to the finish, but she is getting closer with each step. I feel like my job continues to make the decision that gives her the very best ability to get there. After getting to Tahoe City, we give her an hour nap and repack her pack getting her ready for the final push. While everyone is so vested in this journey of hers, we each played a role in getting her this far. Now it’s my turn to jump in and pace her home, and we all know there is little to no room for error. The whole team feels the stress of how close this might all be, and we all know it could be very close.

Headed out for the final 50K, we all know this is going to be close

After getting Ana up and ready we get right out of the aid station.  I had downloaded the course onto my phone, as Ana had asked all the pacers to do, but in the upcoming section there had been some vandalism and some flags were missing.  I was ready, until we got off course.  We were following flags and it took me a short distance to figure out we hadn’t seemed a flag recently and possible needed to check the app.  Sure enough we were off by maybe ½ miles or so. I was so frustrated with myself knowing I didn’t have time for that, and unfortunately Ana knew that. I didn’t want her to feel the stress as we quickly adjusted and were back on course. I texted the team to have someone check the tracker for me just to be sure. Taylor quickly replied letting me know we were showing on course!

We were also now on some smoother trails, and we did some running and moving much more quickly. Of course, there was plenty more climbing to come. I have to say the entire time, not just on the course with Ana but even during all my other interactions with Ana, she stayed positive.  Never once did anyone, her or the team ever suggest she wouldn’t or couldn’t make it. I never once heard the word “quit” from anyone.  As her coach I had told her you never give up!  It’s not over until they pull you from the course! Go down fighting if you must, and in the end a win is finishing strong!

Almost to the top!

During the early morning hours when Ana slowed down, I needed to let her take a short trail nap.  Something she didn’t want to do with anyone else, but she trusted me when I told her we were going to do that. She fell asleep about the time she asked me how long.  Fifteen minutes later my alarm went off, and she was back up on her feet with not a single complaint.  We were quickly back to a strong pace and way ahead of the time we thought we’d head into the next aid station even after taking the short nap.

The final aid station was just 10 miles from the finish, but it would not be 10 easy miles.  I knew this was an aid station with sleep stations, so Ana quickly headed off to get a little more sleep while I took care of her pack and got some food. Soon she was back up and, in a chair, next to me. They brough her some food from their extensive menu they had posted in this large warming tent with heaters, and I shared the last of the hashbrowns they had given to me.  Hashbrown had turned out to be a winner for her the second half of the race.

Homeward Bound!

Now we were off to get her to the finish line. The aid station worker briefed us on what the final climb was like, but the 1.5 miles of hard climbing was more of five miles of tough climbing.  Ana was again back to struggling with her “Tahoe Cough” and had to stop frequently trying to cough up what was in her lungs and keeping her from breathing.  Once to the top of that big climb and knowing we were now mostly going down, we didn’t want to miss taking it all in.  We now knew that a finish was not a question. We enjoyed the views and the scenery, the conversation of two friends who had experienced a major adventure together as we descended the final miles. I was in awe that the runners had gone up that same climb just days before to start off this race, I might have been ready to quit within the first 5 miles.  What an incredible journey! Literally against all odds with so many things that just didn’t stack up for a finish, here we were going in to see her cross that 200-mile finish line!  I literally had tear in my eyes as we both ran down to the finish with the crowds cheering and I could only imagine how amazing that must have felt for Ana!  Well done my friend!  Well done!

An amazing finish and flowers from Eric!
Total Badass with all Grit and no Quit!

Endurance Hunter 100 Race Report

In 2021, the first year of the race, I paced for a friend of mine, John Cremer.  We navigated through the last 45 miles, and I saw John to a strong finish. While it was an inaugural event and I could see a few things that could be improved upon, it did not stop me from wanting to sign up for the race almost as soon as registration opened. Running this race would complete the Pinhoti Slam for me, having already run Double Top 100 and Pinhoti 100 in other years. The point-to-point race starts in Blue Ridge, Georgia and ends in Chatsworth.  I immediately lined up Brad Goodridge as my trusted crew and Alex Anaya to pace me. I really didn’t give the race too much thought until much closer to the race.

Another fun fact about this race, my friend Ana Robbins was also going to run the race with me.  Well, the plan was to stay together if possible and I worked on trying to line up pacers for her in case we had to “break up”.  Getting additional pacers didn’t work out but more on that later.  We would plan to stay together if possible.

The race started at 7am on Saturday morning which is nice for not a crazy early wake up call.  Ana invited us to stay at her cabin in Suches the night before the race which helped us to make last minute plans for Brad to crew for us both. Although it was probably the least prepared I’d been before a race in a long time, I felt excited and confident going into it.

Let me first give you some details on the challenges of this race because compared to most 100 milers I’ve run in the past; this one had some unique challenges.  First off, the weather, which might ordinarily not be a challenge, but April in Georgia is unpredictable.  It called for cool temps during the day and freezing overnight. If you know me at all, you know cold is my least favorite temperature, but I’ve learned to bring the right gear and suck it up for the most part (minus a little complaining that is). The race director had already required that each runner carry a space blanket in their packs for emergency purposes.

Another huge challenge is there are only 9 aid stations in 100 miles and except for one, they are all between 8 and 15 miles apart. On a flatter or faster course, that might not be so bad but in the mountains with lots of climbing and obstacles to navigate, that can be a long time between aid, your crew and support. This meant carrying a little extra gear, water, and food.  The race was not that huge, but it did have 100 milers and 100K runners on the course, otherwise without the company of Ana, it would have been a long time between seeing anyone else.

Water Crossing at Mile 8

One of the rather big challenges that can be devastating for some runners, is lots and lots of water crossings.  The first one was at mile 8 in the race.  They were sometimes deep and extremely cold and while your feet would warm up within 50 yards or so, your socks and shoes did not dry out.  The first aid station that would give you a longer reprieve from the water crossings where you could put on dry shoes and socks was at mile 65.  Lest we be fooled into thinking they would stay dry the rest of the race; one final deep crossing would be around mile 96.

One final big challenge was a section of the course that had a significant number of blown down trees. This long section required you to go under, over, around, and sometimes climbing through these trees.  All of which took a significant amount of time, and you could not get into a good running rhythm with the constant stops to navigate. If you can imagine, being tall makes having to go under very hard, or if you are shorter, going over a little more difficult. Either way, it sucked a lot of time this course required from you.

Promptly at 7am we started our race from Downtown Blue Ridge where we ran out of town on paved roads and then followed the railroad tracks before we hit more roads to the first aid station at mile 8. I felt we had a very comfortable middle of the pack pace, although admittedly for Ana it was a bit faster than she would have liked.

 Shane Tucker and I chatting away

 After the first aid station we immediately hit our first deep water crossing and the trails quickly dropped us into a more reasonable pace for both of us. Not too long after we hit the trails, it also began to snow and covered the ground in beautiful white. This section was on the BMT (Benton MacKaye Trail), a section I had never been on.  At first there were a few runners around us but soon we hardly saw anyone as the race had spread out.  While the weather was pretty chilly and my fingers started to hurt from the cold, it was an extremely beautiful part of the course.  Nearly 13.6 miles later we cruised into the second aid station and our crew of Brad and Alex.

Enjoying the Beauty of the Course

I was able to get some warmer mittens for my hands along with some hand warmers, eat some food and head out for the next section.  This was one of the shorter sections at 8.4 miles that would put us onto the Pinhoti trail and where we would encounter at least 6 miles of navigating the downed trees.  Again, a beautiful section following the river, and we shared some of those miles with another runner, Todd, before he sped ahead of us.  Our race continued with us seeing our crew after long stretches and we kept up a steady pace. Alex took a break to get some sleep before jumping in to pace at mile 54 and Brad met us at mile 40 just before our long push for the next 15 miles. Ana and I had discussed breaking up before getting to Brad and I let Brad know that the new plan might be for Alex to pace only Ana starting at 54 if I went on ahead of her. It would get dark before we got to Alex to pace so we got our headlamps and hoped we would stay together. I had moments where I felt strong and wanted to move faster but I didn’t really want to be alone or leave Ana alone for this long stretch. We stayed together and got to Alex more than ready for him to pace.

Leaving the Mulberry Gap Aid Station at, it was mile 54, and it’s always a nice feeling when you know you are over halfway.  Not to get too comfortable though because this course really starts here.  Well, the climbing does anyway. It feels like a long grind to the top of the first climb right after leaving the aid station with plenty more to come. We didn’t discuss it, but Ana slowed down and I knew she was struggling with feet or leg pain. It was time for me to get moving at my own pace, and as Alex and I were together slightly ahead of Ana, I told him that he should stay with her, and I was going to keep going at my pace. I headed down the trail at a late-night jogging pace and it seemed like it only took a few miles before I began seeing headlamps ahead and began to pass one runner after another. By the time I’d gotten to the next aid station, I had passed about 7 runners. It’s a large climb from this aid station and into Fort Mountain Park. More headlamps and eventually I passed a few more runners though this tough climbing and technical section before catching up to our earlier friend, Todd and finishing that Gahuti trail loop with him.

It was light out when I got to the aid station at mile 75, and I was well taken care of by Brad and the aid station crew as they fed me spaghetti. Now that I think of it, that might be my first ever spaghetti breakfast, but I needed food and it sounded so good.  Todd’s family had greeted him, and he indicated that he might like a nap.  Brad informed me that Ana had dropped from the race, and he was leaving to get her and bring Alex to pace me to the finish.  I tried to finish up and head right back out where I met Alex about a mile down the trail.  This was the long 301 loop in Fort Mountain Park that Alex and I knew so well and had been on way too many times together.  We stopped briefly so I could take off all my warm layers from the cold night as it had started to warm up in the morning sun.  We had just gotten to the bottom of the powerline switch backs when Alex told me he saw a carrot! If you’ve paced me in a race, you know I like to chase carrots late in a race.  My goal is always to try and take care of myself the first 2/3 of the race so I can finish strong the final third.  That’s when I like chasing people down. So, Alex thinks I’ll catch this person on the climb up the powerlines when I’m sure I’m almost on my last gasp of doing anything. Then just as Alex suggested, I’m easily able to pass and finish the huge powerline climb with Alex’s encouragement the whole way. After the climb we hit the aid station in the park one last time where I dumped everything from my pack, got more food to eat and headed out for the final stretch of the race. This time Erin Barbely joined Alex and me to pace the final miles.  Erin had come up last minute as we thought we’d want an additional pacer to help Ana.

Brad met us one last time at the next aid station and then it was downhill to the finish.  NO IT WASN’T!  But it wasn’t all uphill either. Erin led the way and kept me running when we weren’t climbing, we all got our feet wet at the last big water crossing and made our way to the final miles that were finally downhill.  Now Alex sees more carrots and I try to tell him I’m not vegetarian, but it was the motivation as I ran every bit of the final few miles passing at least 2 runners before crossing the finish line.  It was an amazing feeling having such a strong final 40 miles on this tough course!

Javelina Jundred Race Report

First of all, loop races are not really appealing to me but because of the huge Jalloween Party at Javelina it has been one of my bucket list races for a while now. I’m also a huge fan of all the Aravaipa Running races. Earlier in the year when my friend Janice Anderson told me she was running the Javelina Jundred race and how it had been so easy to do as a solo runner with no crew, I figured I’d put my name on the long waitlist and hopefully get to join her for the big party in the Arizona desert.

Within a couple of months I was on the start list and friends of mine from Ten Junk Miles, Matt and Jenn Hoadley who had expressed an interest in going to the race were on board to come crew and pace me.

Now you have to know that Matt Hoadley knows everybody. And I mean EVERYBODY. I thought I knew lots of people but compared to him I don’t. Matt would be fine with me telling you that he’s a recovered alcoholic. He has an amazing story that he shares openly and has and continues to have a huge positive impact with his story. So, Matt not only has a huge list of friends he couldn’t wait to see at Javelina, he and Jenn are also well connected and experienced with the Javelina race.

The morning before the race Matt got up early and went with his friends to set up a canopy tent in one of the best locations (which I couldn’t even begin to know where the best place would be). Matt arrived back at the hotel telling Jenn and me how elite runner Devon Yanko was also sharing this canopy with us, along with her crew Corrine Malcolm. The ultimate men’s race winner Arlen Glick was in the canopy right next to us. Turns out Matt is as big an elite fan and follower as I am, so I was soon jealous that I was running the race and not hanging out at the main aid station (AS).

With crew and pacers Jenn and Matt Hoadley

If you don’t know anything about Javelina besides that it’s a big party, it is a 20-mile loop course around the trails of McDowell Mountain National Park that you complete 5 times. There’s a 100-mile distance, 100K and starting in the evening a 1 loop 20-mile race called Jackass 31K. This is the real party race event! The other thing you should know is that the 10-mile AS that you get to 5 times is another huge party. Jackass Junction is quite famous and possibly the most well known AS in all of the ultra running community and let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. If you like a good party, great food and awesome music in the middle of your race then this is for you. But, you have to be careful not to get too comfortable at this AS.

Janice and I at the start

The morning of the race, Janice and I both lined up in the sub 24-hr corral just behind the elite runners as race director Jubilee Paige builds the excitement and counts down the start. Sub 24 is not my normal pace but I was definitely hopeful going into the race. However, I did tell Matt and Jenn both that anything can go wrong and ultimately, I wanted to have fun and finish. I don’t want to spend my race stressing over a time or pace, I’ll run by feel and see how it goes.

By now you might also know this race is held in the Arizona desert over Halloween weekend. So, it is very HOT!!!!! Managing the heat is the biggest reason runners don’t finish this race and nearly half won’t. With a 6:00 am start time before the sun comes up, I quickly fall into to a comfortable pace to get some miles in before the sun and heat come out to play.

For the first 15 miles of that initial loop, I was doing really well. I had a comfortable pace and no real issues but that very quickly came to an end. On the first loop of the course, you take a different route from the 3rd AS back into the main crewing AS called Javelina Jeadquarters. This is not only the main AS but where crews are also taken care of with food vendors and even a mini store to buy ice for themselves or their runners.

It was in this section heading back to Javelina Jeadquarters in that first loop that the day started to really heat up in the sun. My stomach was already starting to feel rough which I’m not unfamiliar with. Then during that section my Piriformis issue that I dealt with a few years back also started to act up on those climbs. Right away I knew this might turn into a rough day ahead.

I came into my crew just a little ahead of my schedule. Once you get into the AS you do a little out and back to the finish line timing mat and back out. You do this short out and back all through what they call “tent city” and are cheered on by tons of people, many even lining the way to give you high fives. With Matt’s connections, our canopy was basically the very first one you came to as you entered the AS. Our plan was for me to drop my pack as I came in, (Matt and Jenn would restock it while I did the out and back) and they would hand me one of my cold drinks to drink while I ran the gauntlet. It was a great system that worked perfectly each loop.

Because Matt and Jenn had not crewed or run with me before I’m not sure what they thought after that first loop. I knew I felt pretty rough and can only imagine how I looked. After my gauntlet run, I came back to the canopy and mostly I think talking about the heat. They grabbed my ice bandana from my crew bag and got it filled with ice and put around my neck. Jenn had a cooling towel she laid across legs as I drank some ginger ale and when I left told me to take the cooling towel and that as long as it was wet it would stay cold. Life safer! Race safer and game changer!

Staying cool use the “cooling” towel Jenn gave me

My plan on the second loop was to slow myself down and get my overheating and stomach situation under control. Time to put my fast hiking skills to work. Every AS had buckets of cold ice water with sponges to put over your head and on your body and ice to put in your packs. The volunteers would soak the cooling towel and sponge cold water on my arms at each AS and for the next 8-10 hours that was my lifeline to keeping cool.

By the end of that second loop I had started to rebound well. I had just one more loop before Jenn would join and pace me. While my stomach never completely settled, it was at least under control. My nutrition plan was all liquids during the heat of the day and see how I felt at night to eat some food. My Piriformis had thankfully quickly settled down after that first loop and the climbs were shorter and gentler on it. At Jackass Junction on that third loop I was greeted by local Atlanta runners Cassy and Jared. It’s always a lift in the spirit to see friends you know on the course. I had mostly run the race alone even though it’s a big race. Unless you run someone else’s pace, you do not stay around anyone for too long. I ended the third loop feeling much better and was excited to hit the next loop with a pacer.

I picked up Jenn and it was so nice to talk to someone. She told me all about what was happening in the elite races and how many people had already dropped from the race. It made that loop seem to go by quickly. But before I could finish it up, my stomach that was still feeling rough had me puking at the final AS of the loop. Nothing sounded good to eat afterward, but the slightly cooler night weather helped.

Jenn and I got back to Javelina Jeadquarters, and I went to do my gauntlet run with a recovery drink Matt handed off to me. Almost every time, I would loop back around after the timing mat and would exchange words with RD Jubilee who greeted ever runner, every loop. One time she even poured ice water on my sleeves! This time I got my “final lap” glow in the dark wristband and headed back out with Matt. Because it was a rough day with the heat and my stomach, we never talked about my pace or my finishing time. I had early on thrown out any idea of a sub 24. This just did not seem like a course that me of all runners had a chance at that and I was totally ok with it. I did my best to keep up a good pace and run when I could but if you’ve ever tried to run when your stomach is upset, it is not really easy. When Matt and I got to Jackass Junction the final time, I was really wanting something sweet like Skittles to get a sugar buzz and finish the race. Honey Albrecht who I met at Mogollon the month prior went over to Matt and asked if I was Trena. Finally, I knew someone that Matt didn’t!  Honey came over and said hello and it was so nice so see another familiar friendly face with encouraging words.

When Matt and I got back in off the final lap I dropped my pack the last time and ran to the finish and was never so proud of a 24:16 finish and just finishing the race at all! Not long after I finished another guy, Fred Johnson who I had met and run with a little at Mogollon also finished (we shared a few Javelina miles on my second loop). I told race director Jubilee that Fred and I had both finished Mogollon last month. She told me that she knew we had. Jubilee is my girl crush! What a fantastic lady and race director!

With Race Director Jubilee Paige shortly after my finish

Joly Javelina what an amazing race! I’m not sure I could have just dropped a crew bag of stuff and completed this race solo. It turned out to be so much more mentally challenging than I could have anticipated. Matt and Jenn were the best! Did I mention that they also helped to crew my friend Janice during her race? They might be available for a fee, but I set the bar pretty high with this desert party fun!!!

View of “tent city” also known as Javelina Jeadquarters from above

Mogollon Monster 100 Race Report

I had decided early in the year that this would be my year to start checking off some of my bucket list races.  The west coast was really drawing me in with beautiful trails and views.  At the very beginning of 2021, I signed up for Pine to Palm 100 in Oregon.  I had this one on my list for several years and this seemed to be the year to do it.  My running friend and local Georgia runner, Rich also signed up for the race.  We were both excited about the challenge.  As September neared, we began watching the Oregon fires pretty closely and knew that fires had cancelled this race in the past.  Five days before the race and only just a couple days until I was going to get on a flight to Oregon, we received an email about the race cancellation.  Rich was quick on the draw and found another race that offered a similar profile with around 20,000 ft of gain and just happened to be a race on my bucket list.

The race director of Mogollon Monster 100 had purposefully extended the cutoff date to sign up for the race because they knew other races would likely cancel and runners would want to do this monster.  It played out just as they thought it might and there were lots of Pine to Palm runners who jumped into the Mogollon Monster race at the last minute.  Huge thank you to Aravaipa Running and RD Noah Dougherty!  I scrambled to change flights, cancel cars and lodging and rebook things in Payson, Arizona which is less than a two-hour drive from Phoenix. The next few days were a whirl wind at work and printing out the necessary information about the race so I could actually study it on the flight out.  It all seemed to happen so quickly I didn’t even have a chance to tell friends and family of the change in plans.

This is a little look at a small section of the Mogollon Rim or The Rim as the locals call it

Brad Goodridge had again agreed to the switch races and crew for me.  At the time, I had no idea how much one could really use a crew for this race.  I had also decided that I was going to run this race with no pacers.  This would be the first time I would take on a tough 100-miler and do so with no pacing help whatsoever. I knew I’d have crew to see me through with additional aid and provide encouragement along the way, but I’d have no one specifically with me during the long miles and overnight hours.  While I knew Rich was going to be on course, we didn’t make specific plans to run it together. 

This was the race’s 10th year and the first for it to be a point to point course.  Most of the aid stations were a good distance apart and crewing for it was said not to be easy with long drives in between sections on rough roads and virtually no cell service.  They also said that it was so difficult to crew because you most likely could not get to all the crew locations and still meet your runner at the next one. “It’s always helpful to read the small print” said by way too many runners after the fact.

“The race covers roughly 100 miles, climbing the Rim in six separate locations spending a lot of miles along the Rim, on top of the Rim and the challenging climbs up and down with climbs and descents at 30-45% grades at some points.  Expect to climb a total of approximately 20,000 feet along the way, never below 5,200 feet and never above 8,000 ft in elevation.  While other races are certainly at higher elevations, and/or with more climbing, they certainly do not contain as rugged a terrain that is found on this course.

“This is a VERY technical course in many areas, specifically the Highline Trail, Donahue and the soon to be revered Myrtle Trail.  The first 40 miles will have nearly 9,000 feet of elevation gain.  That coupled with the terrain, moderate elevation, and intense Arizona sun, this race will certainly take its toll on each runner.”

“This race and this terrain can destroy you. Nobody eases their way through the Monster.  Do not underestimate this race.  If you are not a self sufficient runner, you will fail here.  If you cannot find your way out of a paper bag, you will fail here.  If you cannot make it several hours safely on your own, you will fail here.  We do not mark this course like an Ironman.  We mark it appropriately for the turns necessary to follow the trail and to prevent runner confusion where necessary.  We’re not painting the trail in gold, you need to know the course, and you need to pay attention.”

“Do not be fooled though, this race course will absolutely make you earn every mile you traverse.  Come prepared, know your course, and tackle the Monster…”

We arrived in Arizona a day ahead of the race to get things sorted out and to go check out the course and crew locations as best we could.  I had done my best to be ready but my training had all been for a much different race.  Still, I felt confident that I was prepared as best I could be.  Due to limited space and parking, crew was not allowed at the starting line of the race.  It was a drop off or shuttle situation.  So, Brad dropped Rich and me off about 30 minutes before the start of the race. We took a few pictures and chatted with a couple of people before the race started at 6:00 AM. 

Race motto:  He’s out there…

We knew there would be very limited cell service, if any, so we couldn’t use the tracker on my phone for Brad to keep track of me.  The race started immediately with the first climb up to the Rim.  I knew I would have some service there, and quickly texted Brad so he’d have some reference as to how long that took. The first 10 miles of the race included the first climb up to the Rim and then a stretch across the top before going back down to the bottom to the first aid station.  This downhill section was one of the best running downhills on the course, and once I headed out of that first aid station and started up the second climb, I realized I had gone out way too fast on that first section.  My legs could really feel that second climb and I needed to make sure I managed things well from there on, or I would not make it.  That climb showed me just how rough the course was going to be.  This was definitely a race you needed to take seriously and manage yourself well.

I wouldn’t see Brad until almost mile 27 and after the first 3 climbs. We had heard that the toughest part of the course was the first 40 miles.  Thinking about it later, because this was the first year of this point to point course, I’m not sure anyone knew just how rough this would actually be. I don’t mind a technical course but just how technical would it be?  What is “their” definition of technical?  I would quickly find out. After the race, local runners who knew the trails and had run it other years said that this new course was probably at least 50% harder than in the past.  With no frame of reference as to the past races, that didn’t tell me much. I’ve run a handful of tough races including several Hardrock Qualifiers and this one was definitely topping that list.

I was mostly running solo as the runners spread out.  On some sections I would be around someone else for a short time, but quickly the terrain or climbs slowed one of us down and I kept telling myself I need to “run my own  race”.  Again, this was the first race that I was going solo with no pacers at all.  I always enjoy the company of pacers at night or late in the race, but it felt like time for me to tap into some confidence and see what I could do on my own.  As my crew, Brad was always encouraging me that I was tough, and I could do it.  It was just enough encouragement from an experienced runner like Brad who knew what it was all about out on a 100-mile course to give me that confidence I needed to not doubt myself. Usually once a race starts, I get into game mode and really focus on what I’m doing.  I want to enjoy the course and the race but also stay focused on my goal.

I saw Brad again at around 46 miles after completing four of the 6 climbs.  I managed to make it up the fourth just before the sun set.

Views like this are some of the best part of the races

This time when I reached Brad, I had to make sure I had my lights and put on some warm dry clothes for the night hours. I tried to make some mental notes as I got close to aid stations as to what I needed to do there. If you know me well, you know I always have a notebook for my crew.  In that notebook are notes for  each aid station that I will see them. There are reminders of things to ask me or check on, get weather updates so I’m prepared for what’s ahead, and based on miles and estimated times I know when I want to grab my lights, put on warm dry clothes or possibly change shoes.  When I see my crew, I also try to update them on how I’m doing eating and drinking so they can help me manage that as well.  Sometimes I need to sit and take in food even when I think I feel good.

Warm clothes and some broth!  I get chilled if I sit too long especially at night.

I had just completed a several mile road stretch that I was able to pick up some time on.  After getting ready for the night hours and some warm broth I headed out and wouldn’t see Brad again for another 15 miles.  This section of  the course was known as the cabin loop.  It offered a lot more runnable trails but still some rolling hills and climbs out of canyons.  The night temperature seemed to go from warm to very chilly.  I wore a long sleeve shirt with my Patagonia Houdini jacket and gloves that I took on and off.  I was around a few more runners in this section and enjoyed the company at night.  This was a nice section to be on at night as it wasn’t near as technical as the down hills off the Rim or the very technical up hills climbing back up to the Rim.  I tried to just focus on getting to the next aid station, although the miles between aid stations were mostly long with 9 – 10 mile stretches.  They had crew spots in between some of those long 10 mile sections which made having crew a huge help.  Normally a 10-mile stretch doesn’t feel so long but when you are covering large technical climbs and brutally technical downhills that are sometimes almost scree sections that are very slippery to go down or up, it seems like forever. For me, having my poles were not only a must on the climbs but also on the downs as well.  However, the toughness of the climbs was always surpassed by the sheer beauty of the Rim and surrounding mountains.  It was just gorgeous!  I didn’t stop to take many pictures, but I was always looking around at the extreme beauty of the Mogollon Mountain and the Rim.

It was still dark when I got to the General Springs Crew Only stop and see Brad once again.  I was in good spirits but knew I would have to go another 25 miles before getting to crew once again but a full aid station was only about 3 miles away.  I focused more on what I needed from my crew bag,  I don’t usually use any drop bags when I have crew, and I didn’t have any here.  Brad walked with me across the Rim Road where I dropped down the powerline section.  We had seen it the day before when we scouted out the course.  You saw where the course flagging crossed the road and just disappeared down the hill.  Now I had an idea of exactly where I was on the course and all I could do was go down what was for me the toughest downhill of the course.  Seemed like complete scree field and straight down loose rolling rocks that made going down and staying upright very difficult especially in the dark.

After leaving the next aid station I probably hit the most disliked section of the course for me.  It was still dark and night during most of it, but it was a lot of climbing up, coming down and climbing up again and we spent nearly 10 miles going along this Highline trail just below the Rim.  Finally getting to the next aid station at Geronimo, mile 72.4, was the best.  It had just gotten light out and they were serving up blueberry pancakes.  What could  be better?  I also got a huge hello and hug from my friend, John LaCroix.  After a long dark night, it was a perfect welcome to the daylight and seeing a familiar and friendly face was huge as well.  Now off to climb number 5 up the Rim.  It was now 8 miles to the next aid station and as I remember it, there were no easy climbs up the Rim and this one was one of the longest.  You begin climbing the moment you leave the aid station, but onward you must go.

Resting in some shade and taking in the views!

Once to the top at the Donahue aid station, I quickly tried to get what I needed, some broth and food to fuel the next section.  Five more miles and I would see Brad again at mile 84.2, but not without the final climb up the Rim.  It was a quick drop down and then back to climbing out.  It was still very early hours of the morning, but the heat was already beginning to be overwhelming with the exposure of the Rim and steep climbs.  I found myself climbing up the final climb to the top with a guy named Josh.  We were both struggling equally in the heat and with more than 80 miles on our legs.  We had to take short breaks under each small piece of shade we found to get our heart rates back down and cool down just a bit.  The thought of Brad being at the top of this climb where I would see him for the final time, was what got me to the top.  I told Josh that Brad would have plenty of cold drinks and ice for our packs there. I knew we had plenty to share and it was a life line for both of us.

Happy for some shade and clean clothes!

Josh and I showing our excitement for being so “close” to finishing!

I was finally able to get rid of my lights and pretty much everything I had been carrying in my pack.  I changed into clean dry clothes for the heat of the day and was ready to finish the final 17 miles.  Those were not at all easy miles with the final 12 having no aid stations.  It was hot and exposed and all I could do was just stay moving.  Definitely felt like some of the longest miles and again I spent it almost completely solo as Josh fell behind not long after we left Brad. 

I didn’t go into this race with goals or even expectations except to finish!  By the end, I felt pretty darn proud to have made it to the finish.  Josh also made it across that sweet finish line! There were 150 runners who started the race and only 88 of us made it over that finish line.  Aravaipa did an excellent job with this race but there was no handholding on this one although it did come with plenty of fair warning!  Read the small print!

I also got to spend some time with this local legend and total badass, Honey Albrecht! She runs these trails and climbs The Rim all the time!  I think she does hill repeats here for breakfast!!!

Amazing Views!





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Washington Yeti 100 Race Report

Spoiler alert here……a DNF is a DNF!  I wasn’t going to do a race report on my Washington Yeti 100 race but after several weeks of reflection I decided I would.  It wasn’t because I didn’t finish the race or not wanting to share failure. I personally enjoy hearing the stories of failure, picking oneself back up and keep chasing the dreams.  I always like to share authentically and while initially I was and basically still am totally okay with my decision to not complete the 100-mile race, but no matter what the reason is for dropping out of a race or not finishing, there always seems to be that regret after.

Explored the 2.5 mile “creepy” tunnel on the course the day before. We’d have to go through it four times.

Let me go back to the beginning.  I signed up for this race sometime in early 2020 or maybe even late 2019 long before Covid starting cancelling races.  I let a number of my races rollover which is what I did with the Washington Yeti 100.  I really wanted to run the course just outside of Issaquah Washington, in my home state.  So when July 2021 rolled around I was still very excited to go run the race although many of my Georgia friends who were also originally planning to run it, no longer were going.  I decided this would be the perfect race for me to run solo and without any crew. 

When I grew up in Washington, I was not a runner or even a much of a hiker.  However, I did enjoy outdoor activities, but never experienced the trails there.  It’s only been in more recent years as a runner that I’ve gotten on the trails in my home state. Of course being friends with Jason Green, the race director, and having run all of his other Yeti races, I had to go run this one as well.  With a little travel planning and not much race planning, I arrived in Snoqualmie, Washington the day before the race.  The race course was a couple of out and back sections of a rails to trails through what they call the Issy Alps that included a 2.5-mile long tunnel.  Very manageable with little planning.

Small race start with perfect weather

A month prior to this race I had run Bighorn 100 in Wyoming and felt I was in relatively good shape.  I had even shared with a couple friends and with Jason Green that my goal was to go Sub 24 hours in this race.  Now, I’m not a Sub 24 runner and I cannot by any means just jump in and run that pace.  I was in good shape and because I’d run only one other Sub 24 which was at the Yeti 100 in Virginia, I really wanted to do it here as well.  I had shared it with a few others to really hold myself accountable, and even Jason had said, “this isn’t like playing horseshoes!”  I knew almost would not count!

So, I found myself at the start line with a lofty goal for myself and a very small race field.  I didn’t really care about the size of the race or placing, my only goal and focus was getting my Sub 24. One thing going in to any 100-mile race, you have to know there is no such thing as an easy 100 miler. For me a flat course that doesn’t have a lot of climbing is almost the worst kind of race for me.  I like the natural breaks of hiking hills and running some good downhills.  Hence, a flat “easy” looking race doesn’t exactly play into my strength or appeal much to my sense of adventure.  For me a flatter course eventually causes a lot of hip discomfort and I have to really think about my pace and taking walk breaks.  I don’t train doing intervals so it’s not something I plan to do in races either. All that leaves me in a race where I have to do a little more thinking and very specific care of myself as the race progresses.

So here I was on a starting line where Jason gave us the “have a great day” speech which I always love to hear him give and making sure we all knew that we could drop down to the 100K midrace if we needed to.  Jason explained how many runners had waited 2 years to run the race but with Covid and shutdowns many were unable to train properly.  I have never been a big fan of offering drop down distances in races.  I always held the belief that you finish what you sign up for or you DNF it.  I try not to even allow myself to think about any other option but to finish. Well, those were judgments I held but would be humbled by those options later.  After Jason’s speech we were soon off. 

The first stretch was about 3 miles out and back.  Jason jumped on his bike and lead the way to the turnaround point.  Most of it followed next to a lake with some nice views, and out and backs always give you the chance to see other people to say hello, good job, way to go or any number of encouraging words.  This was a small race with very few runners between the two races, 100 mile and 100K.  I found myself running near the front of the group not because I’d gone out too fast, but I was running what I felt was very comfortable for me.  I tried to just focus on my race and not others but because the race was so small once we came back from the first out and back and then went the other way for a 20 mile out and back, I found myself mostly alone.  I went back and forth with one runner in those miles and our aid stations were a fairly long distance apart, so it made for mostly solo miles.  I turned on my music and just enjoyed the scenery.

I came in and left the next aid station without seeing any other runners around.  It would be another 7 miles or so to the turnaround point.  Then it was back to the start and repeat the out and backs once again.  There were a few runners ahead of me but most of the race was still behind me. My race was about to take a very unexpected turn.

First checking me out

Now on his hind feet taking a look

I was running along, listening to my music and taking in the scenery when from my right and just feet in front of me a bear jumps out of the woods/brushy area and onto the trail running several yards down the trail before jumping back into the brush on the right side.  It surprised me at first and I immediately stopped.  At this point he did not feel threatening to me and was far enough down the trail, maybe 20-30 yards away so I didn’t have any real fear of him/her at this point.  I stood there waiting for him to run off and go away so I could safely continue down the trail.  I didn’t want to move or at all be threatening towards him, while he made a couple of shorter runs out onto the trail and back into the brush.  I don’t have a lot of experience with bear encounters, although I did know it was a black bear and my first instincts are not that he is going to attack me.  That being said, I still did not trust him or want to give him any cause to come after me.  So, I continue to stand and just watch him.  Then he stood up on his hind legs and looked at me and my instincts started to change a little bit.  I thought he might feel threatened and even sort of wondering if this is a momma bear with some cubs nearby that I just didn’t see.

Then I started to get a little more nervous and not quite sure how to assess what’s up with this bear.  Then it decided to come back on the trail once again and began walking straight up the trail towards me.  Not fast but it was still not something I expected.  I start thinking to myself, “ok, what do I do?”  “I can’t run, he’ll chase me, I can’t out run him” “what do I do”.  “Do I wave me arms, make noise”.  I started immediately looking on my pack for a whistle, I thought was attached to it. No luck.  So what now?  He was still walking up the trail towards me, I was alone, no other runners were around.  Now I’m too afraid to even scream or make noise for fear I would upset him as he continued towards me.  I began walking very slowly backwards up the trail.  Then a couple of runners, one who I’d been around earlier in the race, came around the corner from behind me and could see me backing up the trail.  Immediately they knew something was wrong, although they couldn’t see the bear yet.  They simply saw me moving backwards up the trail and knew it was too early in the race for me to be acting “crazy”.  As soon as they came into view of the bear, they both immediately started waving their hands and making noise to scare him off.  They were both friends and runners from New York State and seemed to know what to do, and just having them there immediately made me feel safer.  It took what seemed like several minutes before even their noises and motions to shoe him off the trail and back into the woods was successful, and as soon as he went up into the woods we quickly got passed that section of the trail and on our way to the turnaround point.  I stayed with them until the turnaround point.

These two were my new heroes!

At the turnaround aid station runners began to come in behind us, also telling stories of seeing the bear.  They were all in groups and didn’t seem to have too much to say other than seeing it.  After a quick stop at the aid station, I was on the trail headed back to the first aid station where the race started, before I would do it all over again.  I had grabbed what I needed and headed back onto the trail as quickly as I could.  When once again, I found myself running pretty much solo and many of the runners who had been right behind me had now passed me and were just ahead.

Soon I came to the same section of trail where I’d encountered the bear on the way down.  I saw that what was now the left hand side of the trail, was a very large berry patch.  That explained why the bear had no intentions of leaving his feeding grounds.  It didn’t take too long after realizing I had interrupted this bear and the vision of him coming up the trail towards me that I began to relive it and have somewhat of a panic attack.  I knew black bears were not usually aggressive, but it’s a very large wild animal and I was literally on my own with no protection.  In another few miles I was back at an aid station where I’d see Samantha Taylor, Jason’s co-race director and friend of mine from Georgia, along with Stephanie McNamara who was also there from Georgia helping out with the race.  They both began cheering for me as I came closer to the aid station but by now I had pretty much lost it.

A very stressed look on my face as I got to Samantha and Stephanie

I had in just a few miles all but decided that I was not doing another solo out and back.  Jason had offered a drop down to the 100K race which would keep me from doing this section a third and fourth time.  I had never once considered dropping down in any other race I’d run.  When I get into my zone and running an event, I want to finish what I start.  Finish what I signed up for and what I trained for. In fact, I so disliked drop down options, I even frowned upon races that offered them.  So here I was deciding to drop down.

It was funny how quickly my thinking could change and I saw things from a different perspective.  Samantha said she wouldn’t change my race until I got back to the starting aid station and see how I felt then.  But 13 miles didn’t change my mind, as I was still a bit shaky just thinking of that bear still being there.  A couple other runners that I was with briefly over those miles shared that the bear was in fact still there just over the side of the trail.  That would confirm my decision.

Once I got back to the starting aid station, I retold my bear encounter a little more to Jason as he tried to make sure I did want to drop down.  He encouraged me at that point to get moving because I still had a good bit left of the 100K distance to run.  I now changed my thinking, adjusted my goal and just wanted to finish a strong 100K race.

The course was beautiful and felt so peaceful and comforting to be running there.  Well until it wasn’t.  While I could not take home any awards by dropping down to the shorter distance, I still managed to finish second place overall and first female.  I didn’t need an award, I just wanted to feel good about what I came to do.  I enjoyed the trails and while I didn’t complete a Sub-24 100 miler, I felt confident in what I had done.

I got some sleep that night and the next morning went up to the race finish to watch the final 100-mile finishers and even went out and briefly paced the final finisher in.  I’ll be back to finish what I started, hopefully next time with either friends to run with or a few more runners to keep me company during a few stretches of the course.  A DNF is still a DNF in my book, but I guess a win is also a win.  Sometimes we all need our thinking challenged a little bit.

Bighorn 100 Race Report

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

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

Our Group from Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

First big climb

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

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

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

First Aid Station where I see Brad

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

Sherri and I just after she joined me

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

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

Where the altitude struggle started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Canyon 100K Race Report

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

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

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

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

Race Director, Jubilee Paige

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

Social Distanced Starting line with Chris and Ellen!

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

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

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

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

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

How can you not have a great day here?

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

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

Smile Harvey, this is supposed to be fun!

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

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

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

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

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

Rim to River 100 Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from Long Point at Sunset

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

Trying to make sure we had everything for the overnight hours

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

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

18 to miles to get Sherri her buckle!

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

Brad meeting us just outside the final aid station

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

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

A couple of after thoughts about the race:

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

Markings at every turn, some with mileage markers

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

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

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

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

The Bear 100 Race Report

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

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

My race pack to honor Mark

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

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

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

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

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

First Morning Views!  Doesn’t get much better!

Congo line near the top of first climb

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

Finally some downhill!

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

Embrace the Journey!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherri pushing me and enjoying the beautiful course!

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

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

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

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

Great Southern Endurance Run 100 Virtual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read to get this show on the road!

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

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Couldn’t resist a jumping picture at the start!

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

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

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Picture taken by Franco.  We are all still smiling!

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

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

Highly recommended!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ed Stepped in as RD to hand us our buckles!

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Even our posters from Tatiana made our finish feel special!

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

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

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