Grindstone 100 Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brad started pacing me at the turnaround

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

We enjoyed nice views during the day

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

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

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

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

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

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Doc Mike and I at the finish!

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

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

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Zion 100 Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lightly raining but ready to get started

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

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IMG_8772Views from that first climb

Photo Cred: John Taylor

 

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

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

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Feeling a little better and the rain has stopped

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

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

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

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

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Ready to finish the last stretch

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

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A 100 mile finish is always sweet!

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

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

 

Vermont 100 Race Report

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

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

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

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

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Just before our 4am start

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

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

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

 

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

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How could you not love this race!

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

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We are all still moving good and having fun!

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Enjoying this gorgeous Sunrise!

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

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Just after my finish!

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

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

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

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This calls for celebration!

 

 

Badger Mountain Challenge 100 Miler

I don’t know if most ultra runners are like me; after a big race it’s hard to sit down and process what you just completed and accomplished. It’s a little overwhelming to think through.  I first heard about the Badger Mountain race when I was running with my friend, Mike Bloom, about a year and a half ago.  It immediately caught my attention because it was in my hometown of Richland, in Washington state.  I had no idea a 100 mile race was run there.  Then Mike went on to tell me it was a great race, he was going back to run it again, and I should come join him.  Mike is an Army Ranger and said he could get us crew and pacers, and it would be a great time.  Note to self: Ultra Runner Amnesia sets in shortly after running something, so don’t trust even your best friend or running buddy no matter how great it might sound!

2017 was the year Mike and I were both able to get the race on our calendar and we made our plans to go run it.  I was so excited to run a race in my hometown, spend time with my parents and family, and run in the hills where I used to ride motorcycles as a kid.  Ok, so it’s already sounding a little too good to be true.  I haven’t lived there since I was 18, and just to save you on the math, that was 34 years ago.  When my mom told me my room was ready for me, I got a chuckle because I hadn’t ever lived in their current home.  They had probably moved 10 times since I was 18!  There’s no doubt my parents were excited about me coming and that was very endearing to my heart.

Mike took care of finding us crew but we both struggled to find pacers.  I knew people in my hometown, but no ultrarunners.  Our fall back plan was to run together.  Mike felt sure I’d be stronger, and he didn’t want to hold me back, but we’d at least give it a go and see how the race went. Anne Chrispo-Taylor, a runner from Georgia who had moved to Portland, Oregon was running it, as well.  So I would know at least one other person, and we know ultra runners are friendly – you can chat and run with most everyone.  Well, if it’s a big enough race and others are around you.

I’d like to give you some background on this race but I don’t have much.  The race website clearly states it’s a tough course with 14,000 of elevation gain and a 32 hr cut-off.  They don’t require a qualifying race but do suggest a very tough mountain 50K race prior to taking this on. Weather is also a huge DNF factor in this race with possible freezing temps at night and often high winds on the ridge. I run in Georgia on the Beast Coast, so how hard could this really be?  I doubt they have anything on the Dragon Spine!

I met Mike at the race an hour before the start.  My mom dropped me and all my gear off with Mike, and our one crew person, also named Mike.  Yes, ALL my gear!  I took a checked bag when I flew out that weighed over 50 lbs!  Before you laugh too hard, I used every bit of it and was darn glad I had it!  The coach I’ve been working with since last summer also encouraged me to take more than I need to be prepared.  I didn’t regret that for a minute, and Mike Nielsen, our crew, was happy to handle it for me.  I have to say that if you ever get the chance to have someone with a military background as your crew, whether they are a runner or never been around an ultra race before, you have no worries.  You will be in very capable hands.  You never would have known this was his first time to crew, and he pulled out all the stops to keep us warm and well taken care of in the brutal weather conditions, and even commented when he knew I hadn’t been eating enough.

Mike greeted and introduced me to several of his friends he knew from his years of living and racing in Washington state as we waited for the start.  As predicted for the week leading up to the race, it was indeed raining at the start, and was expected to rain most of the day.  Not the way you want to start a 100 miler, but you learn to roll with it.  Soon we were off and this race starts with a climb up the front of Badger Mountain!  Welcome to the Badger Mountain Challenge! Later, without a doubt we would definitely view this as one of the easier climbs on the course.  It was a nice smooth crushed gravel path that wound it’s way to the top using switchbacks, then down the other side with similar trails and to our first AS and crew stop.  This looked like it might be much easier than expected!

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Just before the start

From the aid station, we crossed a paved road and then climbed up Candy Mountain with similar trails and switchbacks.  Five miles into the race and a couple of the mountain climbs done.  Once we got to the top of Candy, the nice crushed gravel trail abruptly ended and the real race course began.  We encountered a steep downhill with loose rocks and at the bottom we went through a culvert (my first culvert in a race).

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Culvert under the Freeway

We then had many miles of road, which for the record I don’t like.  Did I say I don’t like roads?  I may tell you a few more times before I’m done.  We ended up running a total of 34 plus miles of paved roads.  The course had been changed just weeks before the race due to some of the private land no longer being accessible for the race.  What was originally going to be a 50 mile loop done twice, was now an out and back course done twice.  So after we made our way through the culvert and several road miles we got to the next AS where we met our crew again.  We then had 4 more miles of paved roads that wound around vineyards and orchards before we literally dropped onto trail again.  We looked across a steep valley that had a climb going straight down and then straight up – probably 300 ft of elevation going down and up.  This kind of straight down hill trail jams your toes into the front of your shoes!  It wasn’t a mountain but it was a BAH (Big Ass Hill)!  If you had to only do it once you probably wouldn’t give it much thought, but knowing you had to go up and down this thing a total of 4 times wasn’t a particularly comforting thought this early in the race.  A few more  miles of rocky jeep roads brought us to the Orchard AS.  The next few aid stations were a little closer together and we got to our crew again in about 3.5 miles, then another 1.5 miles of paved road before we hit the McBee Parking AS.  This became a sort of home base for our crew for a few hours.  We would now climb up McBee Mountain and cross a 4 mile ridge to the turnaround AS.  First, we had to get up McBee Mountain.

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Coming into McBee Aid Station

It was still raining while we climbed to the top of McBee Mt, and the mountain was covered in fog, so there was no visibility.  That was probably a good thing.  The climb was roughly one mile of very steep single track trail, so steep you climbed on your tip toes.  You think that when you get to the top, it’s all good.  But it’s raining pretty good when you hit the ridge, and the wind is blowing around 40 mph.  The trail on the ridge is 4 miles of very technical and loose rocks with more climbs to get to the turnaround AS, and the wind is trying to blow you off the mountain.  We finally got to the AS and some much needed shelter from the wind.  But that brief sense of accomplishment was overshadowed by the thought that you must first get back across the windy ridge and then you’ll have to do it all again on the second out and back.

Mike and I stayed together and as we headed back across the course.  We would solve any issues that came up when we saw our crew and began to talk about the plan once we got back to the 50 mile turnaround. At the 50 mile mark, you can drop your race down to that distance.  If you choose to keep going it will now be a DNF if you quit later.  Just for the record, we never discussed it.  The rain had finally stopped by this point.  We got to the AS and changed into dry, warm clothes for the night, dry socks, and I also had some blisters to patch up.  Mike was already dealing with chaffing, IT Band issues, an ankle he had rolled, and blisters as well.  We made our stop as quick as possible.  I took time to send a text message to my mom, letting her know that Mike and I were doing well, we had stayed together, changed into warm clothes and were heading back out.  This relieved her from a sleepless night of worry.  Soon we were off for the second out and back.  Even as we left, several other 100 milers were sitting there, deciding whether they would go out for a second time.

We were now warm, we had our head lamps, knew the route, and what was coming next.  We had a great power hiking pace and were stilling running well on the downhills and flats.  As we got to the culvert for our second time, the first place runner was passing us and heading back to the finish line.  We were now on the long road section.  Did I already mention I hate the roads?  We made our way back to McBee Mountain, roughly 70 miles into the race.  Mike got his gloves and we bundled up, ready for what we knew would be the toughest part of our race.  The first time climbing up McBee Mountain, we kept a good climbing pace.  This second time, it was a slow, painful climb, just the beginning of our greatest struggle in the race.  On the way up, we said that if we could just make it to the top we wouldn’t complain about the ridge.  But nothing could have prepared us for the high winds and freezing cold that awaited us at the top.  We fought through the cold, strong winds just to move forward over the very rough, rocky ridge that seemed endless.  There are no words to describe how brutal the weather was on this ridge.  My hands were cold, and although we both had our poles with us, I had to put my hands in my pockets, even with gloves on, to keep warm (tucking my poles under my arm).  It seemed like forever until we got even close enough to see the turnaround AS on top of the far off hill on the ridge.  With the wind blowing so hard and having our hoods, buffs and hats pulled up high, we couldn’t hear each other to talk.  So we had to settle for hours of listening to the wind and fighting to stay upright on the trail.  Once again, finally getting to this AS gave us much needed shelter from the wind and cold.  As soon as we ducked in there, we were greeting by lots of other runners who were taking their time and trying to warm up.  Gunhild Swanson was volunteering at this AS after running the 50 miler during the day.  What an incredibly kind and inspiring woman.  They served us warm soup, waited on our every need, and even gave us hand warmers before we headed back out to fight our way once more across the ridge. (Tip I learned from Mike here, put the hand warmers in your gloves on top of your hands, not in the palms.  The veins are on top, and that is the fastest way to heat up your fingers.  Just another advantage to running with an Army Ranger).  It seemed like the ridge would be our last great hurdle, but we both knew there were still several more good climbs, as well.

When we finally dropped off the side of the ridge, the sun began to come up and we were back on downhill single track, allowing us to make up some time and finally run for the first time in quite a while.  Back at the next AS, I changed shoes and socks, and repaired more blisters for the last 20 mile stretch, knowing there would be around 7-8 miles of road.  Did I mention I hate the roads?  I thought I did.  I texted out a few updates and we headed back towards the finish.  We knew we had plenty of time and had hopes of moving at a good pace and making up time on the road sections.  We started to come across more and more struggling runners as we just kept moving at a steady pace.  The next time we got to our crew, I handed Mike my phone to charge so I could get it back at the final AS and have it with me at the finish.  While we started out running sections of the road, it became a struggle to keep a running pace.  Mike was really hurting between his ITB, chaffing, ankle and blisters, but he never complained.  He’s army strong!  We headed back over Candy Mountain, feeling a little more hope knowing it would be our last really tough climb.  The back side of it was straight up and covered in loose rocks, making it extremely slow going at mile 94.  Once we hit the top, we were back on the crushed gravel switchback and we could again move at a better pace.  Mike tried as hard as he could, but a shuffle was all he was able to do.  We made it across the last road and to the final AS and crew.  We knew we had only one last climb, back up Badger Mountain with switchbacks, and then downhill for another 2 miles to the finish.  I sent my mom a final update letting her know I was about an hour from the finish.  Mike was visibly in pain but never said a word about it.  The wind was strong at around 30 mph and it was again hard to have a conversation without being right next to each other.  I went slow with Mike as we made the long climb up Badger Mt.  I told him the good news was we would finish.  The bad news was we wouldn’t make it in sub 30.  If we wanted to sit at the top of the mountain for a while we could be DFL, but of course we had no interest in doing that.  Once we crossed over the top ridge and onto the downhill side of the mountain, I began to finally run again.  I knew Mike was moving slower but I was ready to get out of the wind and end this race.  I ran the last 2 miles downhill at a good pace and was happy to be finishing strong.  Just as it started straight up Badger Mountain, the race ended coming straight down, and there was a nice cheering crowd at the finish. With my Mom, Dad, and sister there to watch me, I have to say it was one of the sweetest 100 mile finishes I have completed!  The perfect ending to a very tough course in my hometown!

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Getting my buckle from the RD, Jason Reatherford

Ten minutes later, Mike came down the mountain.  I met him and ran the last few hundred yards to the finish with him.  We had done it together!  It was a team effort that kept each of us going.

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Buckle Up!

And it was a team that got us through!  Mike Bloom and I were just the runners.  We could not have made it without the help of Mike Nielsen, who crewed us, the awesome AS and race volunteers, Jason Reatherford, a great RD, our family and friends supporting us, and those of you who followed our journey as we conquered the Badger Mountain Challenge 100 Miler!  NEVER AGAIN!  Did I mention I hate the roads?

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Me, Mike Bloom and Mike Nielson, somewhere mid race

Where It All Started

I guess we all have a story, never did I think mine was all that interesting. Many times people will ask me, “When did you start running?”, “why did you start running?” or “what’s your story?” These are the same questions I would ask others, my curiosity into their story, their beginning.  The responses I often heard, “I’ve run most of my life,” “I ran in high school or college.” At first those responses immediately intimidated me, and kept me from sharing my story.  The feeling that I don’t belong in the category of “runner,” because I have no back ground or history of being a runner. But we all “have a story” and just like moving to the starting line of a race I put those fears behind me, this is my story to share.

My story starts as a full time mom of 3 kids and basically a couch potato.  Oh I played basketball in junior high and high school, grew up snow and water skiing, rode bikes and was always active outside.  But being a mom and working full time when my two oldest were young, I wasn’t very active.  As the girls got of age, my oldest daughter went off to college and number two was going to follow soon.  Our third child was born in 2001 and at that point I had become a full time stay at home Mom.

Fast forward to 2012, at the age of 48 I was basically overweight and out of shape, then a friend invited me to start hiking with her.  It was also a bonus that I could get my 3 dogs out of the house.  Not to mention that for the first time since living in Georgia, this was an opportunity to begin to explore parks and recreation areas that I’d never been to before.

To expand my hiking opportunities my friend encouraged me to join the Atlanta Outdoor Club (AOC), a club focused on hiking and other outdoor activities.  I was welcomed and inspired by so many outdoor enthusiasts in the AOC.  Soon I was joining faster fitness hikes and I began to really enjoy the challenge of trying to keep up with the fast pace hikers and was even starting to jog to keep up.  These weekly hikes became a 5 1/2 mile jog for me.  Next my friend asked me if I wanted to run the Peachtree Road Race.  I had never done anything like that, but living in Atlanta for over 20 years, I knew it was biggest 10K event around with 60,000 participants.  I immediately said I would, figuring running a 10K (6.2 miles) couldn’t be that much tougher than my 5 1/2  mile fast hikes.  I could at least finish it, plus I’m always willing to try most anything at least once. So in 2012 running the Peachtree Road Race was my first race ever.

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My daughter Katie and I right after my first Peachtree Road Race

Before long I signed up for other 5 and 10K races as well as running often with another friend who I met in the AOC who was a more experienced runner.  As a beginner and having no fitness back ground I started signing up for weekly trail runs with the AOC to build a base.  These runners did more than just run with me, they waited on me, they supported me, encouraged me,  and taught me that I could do whatever wanted to do.  I was slow at first so after one of my first runs with the group I began to bring my dog Summer, an Italian Greyhound, for company.  She’s still my best running buddy and joins me on all my training runs up to 30 miles and runs a few races with me too.

SheMoves ATL5

 

On the AOC fitness hikes I met Stacey who became and still is a good friend. Stacey was a runner and really wanted me to do a half marathon with her. That seemed like a long ways from the 5 or 6 miles I had gotten used to running but as I said, “I’m willing to try anything at least once.”  However, others had cautioned me to train and not just jump into it like I had done with the Peachtree Road Race.  So we agreed on the Georgia Publix Half Marathon in March of 2013, and I began to train for the longer distance.

While training for the half marathon, Stacey asked me about running a marathon.  At this point I wasn’t sure I could do a half marathon and I’d never even thought of running a marathon.  A marathon wasn’t even on my radar.  By now Stacey and I were close enough friends that I knew her background.  You see Stacey was a breast cancer survivor of 10 years.  She was a young, single mom when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy, chemo and several additional surgeries.  She had turned to running during her recovery.  Running a marathon was a bucket list item for Stacey and I knew immediately if she could go through all that, I could run 26.2 miles for her.   We signed up for the October 2013 Chicago Marathon and spent the summer and fall training.  We had the best time running together and a great first marathon experience.  She will always be my initial inspiration for running a marathon and continues inspires me as a friend and cancer survivor!

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Stacey & I before the Chicago Marathon

Would I run another marathon?  The first marathon I ran for Stacey but I felt like I wanted to run another for me. A tough question with a passionate response…”YES”.  Two weeks later I upgraded an Atlanta Track Club 10 mile race to the Atlanta Marathon.

After two more road marathons in early 2014 I finally did my first trail marathon.  The trails are where I began to run and enjoyed most of my training runs.  The feeling of running through the woods, the challenge of climbing the mountains and the technical nature of the trails really developed my passion for trail running.  The community I found during that first trail marathon hooked me.  The trails are where I truly enjoy and love to run.

Now that trail running had become my happy place, a month later I did my first 50K, an Ultra Marathon (any distance longer than 26.2 miles is considered an Ultra Marathon). Again I thought it would be one of my “try something once and done” type things.  But now the trails had become my love and the distance was an enjoyable challenge.

Soon with some encouragement from another running friend I began a quest to run a 100 mile race.  Not only was this something way out of my wheel house, I had never even heard of it before.  But the challenge was something that excited me.  How could a middle-aged mother of 3 who didn’t even start running until the age of 48 begin to consider such a thing?  So this is my journey.

I am an ordinary woman, wife and mother. My faith and family are of most importance to me on this journey that I am embracing. A journey that takes me through the good, the bad and the difficult, the ups and the downs along the way, and what keeps me going.

A trail running mom on the path to run 100 miler! I truly believe that EVERY STEP IS A BLESSING! Posting and sharing little bits of trail wisdom as I go!

 

 

 

 

Pinhoti 100 Race Report, November 7, 2015

If you’ve ever read any of my race reports you know that I’m a planner. I think out the details, write lists and plan each step.  The other thing you might notice is I always love to have good company on my runs.  I’m not a front of the pack runner that races, I enjoy running and the company along the way.  I admit I am competitive at times but it’s about enjoying the journey and my friends mostly.

Carrie, Lisa and I had been running together pretty consistently for months.  We all ran a similar pace, are at a similar place in life with kids basically grown, and really like to run and enjoy ourselves.  We began calling ourselves Team Rainbows and Unicorns, which started when we were in a race running together.  Someone made a negative comment and soon Lisa explained that we could not say anything negative because she was running in her the world of “Rainbows and Unicorns!”  We were not to upset that world Lisa was running in.  So you know if you can beat them, join them!  We all run in that world and we don’t allow any negative into our running world circle, although all are welcome to join us there.

I’m not sure when exactly we all decided to run Pinoti.  I had volunteered at the race in 2014, and knew for certain I wanted to run it the next year.  Somewhere along the way, I talked Carrie and Lisa into joining my adventure.  Lisa was on board first, she was easy, Carrie on the other hand wasn’t sure doing a 100 miler was every on her list to do, but had more recently admitted she had some thoughts of it.  By May of 2015 we convinced Carrie to come run Choccolocco 50K, another race in Alabama that is put on by the same race director as Pinhoti.  The plan was to show Carrie the beautiful Pinohoti trails, (which Lisa and I had run on some when we did Cheaha 50K a few months before), and convince her into joining us on our 100 mile quest. Well Carrie pulled the trigger on Pinhoti a few weeks before our Choccolocco race and the Pinhoti trails on the Choccolocco 50K only excited the three of us for the awesome journey ahead.

So here we were months later, lots of miles of training and lots of 50K and 50 milers run. We got our lists made, bags packed, crew and pacers set up and felt pretty much ready for the race.  Lisa’s husband, Bill and daughter, Melissa were going to crew for us, and Molly Freeman was jumping in later in the race to pace for us. The three of us met together and planned our drop bags, where we would stay the night before the race, how we would get to the race start and all the details leading up to the race.  A couple minor changes had happened leading into the race, the biggest of which was rain.  Now we were all a way too used to running in wet muddy conditions at this point but it had caused a changed in the course.  Pinhoti is 100 mile race, point to point.  It starts in Heflin, AL and ends 100 miles later in Sylacauga with several points along the way for your crew to access you.  Because of the rain we were told that a couple of the normal aid stations would now be water drop points only as they could not get an aid station set up in there.  The race start was also changed.  We would now be starting at Aid Station #3 on the course, running back to the second AS then back to AS #3.  Sounded easy enough but this didn’t play out to well for the start for us.  Planning for 100 miles of wet also offers its share of challenges as you try and prepare for your feet being wet for that long of time.  But we had drop bags back and planned to change clothes, and shoes at mile 40 which was Mt. Cheaha (Bald Rock).  We had planned as best we could, now it was go time.

Carrie and I stayed at one hotel, got up early race morning and drove to where Lisa was staying.  We left our car their and rode with Lisa and our crew to the start.

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Just before the start, it was raining lightly

It was an very exciting start with so many runners we knew gathered, and adding so many who were crewing, the crowd was huge and I think it was one of the most exciting starts I had experienced to that point.  Soon we were off.  Usually early in a race I lead and set a pace.  I probably tend to go out a little too fast but I usually try and get us ahead of the slower runners so we don’t fight to get around folks.  It was roughly 5 miles from where we started to work our way back a single track section to aid station #3 but just before getting on the single track we went up a very short distance of fire road.  With literally hundreds of runners running we quickly found we had started too far back and got in a log jam of people waiting to get onto the single track.  That all made for a slow start.  Once we got onto the trail it was several more miles of congo line running but we made the best of it and chatted with the folks around us as we settled into our run.  Once we got near the aid station it because I steady stream of front runners passing us on their way back from the first aid station and back to the AS where we started.  Being a single track trail, we had to constantly stop and get off the trail and hundreds of runners in front of us were passing.  Well that wasn’t the start we wanted but we did get to say hello to our friends running in front of us and got quickly out of that first AS and off to the next.  We attempted to make up a little time after the slow down off passing runners, we came into the next AS and were about 45 mins ahead of the cutoff.  We tried to again get quickly in and out here and off.  Just as we got what we needed a train came and trapped us on the wrong side of the tracks for probably 5-10 minutes as it passed.  Finally out of there, we felt like we were finally off and running but further back than we wanted to be.

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The rain continued to come down during the day, it was warm out so soon we all took off our jackets off.  Another 5 miles or so and into AS #3.  This was probably one of our favorite AS stops as lots of people were there and all cheering for us.  Our spirits were definitely lifted although we remained the same 45 minutes ahead of cut off.  A little too tight for our liking but at least we were ahead.  We finally made our way to Lake Morgan AS and our first drop bags.  We all made our mental notes coming into Lake Morgan what we needed from our bags so we could get in and out as quickly as possible.  Getting into the AS required some rock climbing just before the lake, because of the rain Lisa took a bad fall here trying to get up the rock section.  We got her up that and all got what we need from the AS and headed out.  The next section was a section we had all been on most of from an early training run there.  It’s a relatively easy section that is very pretty.  What is normally a very dry part of the course, turned out to been mostly water and muddy section.  We continued moving as quickly as we could but the water and mud made it a little slow at times.  We had gotten our headlamps from our drop bags at Lake Morgan because we knew that it would most likely be dark before we reach our next stop at Mt. Cheaha.  We got the next water stop just below our climb up to Mt. Cheaha, one of the biggest climbs on the course and refilled our packs.  Not long after that it was dark and we needed our headlamps.  The further up the climb we went, the foggier it got.  It seemed like a slow climb but knowing our crew would be at the top and a chance to change into dry clothes and shoes was what we were focused on.

Finally into the Mt. Cheaha AS and our crew got us our bags and we were all busing changing clothes.  There is “real” bathrooms here and we took advantage of complete change of clothes and assessing our feet damage from the wet day.  We spent extra time patching up feet and getting changed before we were off again.  By now it was very dark and the fog had rolled in and was pretty thick and we were not far ahead of cutoffs.  We were hardly able to see in front of us and had no idea where we were going and where the flags were.  Our crew came down the road in the car and was finally able to give us some direction.  We knew just ahead we would be heading down “Blue Hell”.  The most dreaded part of the course by most people’s standards.  The main thing we had heard was you want to get down Blue Hell before dark.  Well it was long past dark (partly this year due to the time changing the previous weekend so dark came earlier in the race), raining and foggy.  We could hardly see what we were doing and it was very wet and slippery.  We worked our way down as carefully as possible but before getting down Lisa and Carrie both managed to take a fall here.  Lisa’s being the worst but still able to move although with much more caution.  Once down the rocks of Blue Hell we struggled with a handful of other runners to find the course and direction.  The rain and mud had literally washed the course flagging away.  We finally got on course and were able to continue on working our way to the next AS, making up some time we lost on Blue Hell because a large portion was fire roads once we got off the hill. Although we were still running just ahead of the cutoff times at this point.  The next section of the course seems a bit of a blur of water crossings and rocks.  Some water crossing were much deeper and swifter than normal because of the large amount of rainfall and Carrie had hurt her leg crossing one where the water was rushing pretty fast.  We moved steady but each time we would come around a corner and hear the water rush, we knew a crossing would be ahead and we feared how big it would be.  Carrie was extra cautious of the water crossings and Lisa was still nursing her hurt leg.  We made it to the next stop at mile 50, rushing in and out of there was we were informed we were now only minutes ahead of cutoffs.  Next stop we would see our crew, so off we went.  Coming into to the 55 mile AS we were told we were after the cutoffs to keep going.  We were not being pulled and we had hoped to make up some time on the next section.  We had very little time to chat, we grabbed food and were off.

The next section was a very long fire road section that would have a water drop in about 5 miles.  Lisa and I finally began to move hoping to make up some time.  This was the perfect place to do it so we continued to push.  Carrie struggled more here but we kept pushing.  Then the rain started again.  We had thought we had seen the last of the rain and none of us were aware it was going to start up again, we hardly had time to talk to crew or the AS working the last several stops to get a weather update. This time the rain was very cold. When we finally got to the water drop we found one runner there huddled under a space blanket waiting for a ride out.  We pressed on, soon dropping back onto the trails. By now we had our jackets back on but were all beginning to get very cold.  Carrie’s stomach started giving her trouble when we were on the fire road section and now with the rain it was a struggle.  We all knew in our heads that we didn’t have time to go slow, but the cold rain was taking a toll and our spirits were quickly sinking.  I know in my own head I was quickly calculating that a DNF was almost inevitable.  We had run all day long just ahead of cutoffs.  Not really where anyone enjoys a run and I had found it very stressful most of the day as we seem to struggle to bank any time ahead of the cutoffs even though we were running good and all felt strong.  Possibly the combination of so many things contributed to this ending.  We anticipated getting to our crew at mile 65 and some warmer clothes but when we arrived it was again just a water stop.  Carrie was now shivering hard and as we were contemplating contacting our crew and what to do.  Carrie knew with her stomach she was done but we didn’t have a plan for what to do.  The longer we stood their deciding on our next move, the colder we all became.  Five miles to warmer clothing was a long ways off.  Would Lisa and I push on, could we push on?  Several other runners were around us at this point all having the same dilemma.  The discussions were quickly stopped when behind us came the sweeper and told us we were all done.

It was a tough ending for us all.  All of our legs felt good and we felt like we had run well all day.  It’s after a DNF that you begin to think about all the things you could have changed, or done differently to change the outcome.  While it stings to take a DNF I can fully own it and wear it proudly.  We learn with every race we run and I’m sure everyone who gets a DNF has a list of things they’d do differently next time.  Do not make a DNF a Did Not Learn!  We’ll move on and Pinhoti will always be there to run again!

Habanero Hundred Race Report, August 22, 2015

A short back ground story here, it will make sense later in my race report, I promise.  So in May, shortly after signing up for this race, I crewed for a friend at Cruel Jewel 100 in Georgia.  If you’ve crewed for a runner in a 100 miler before, you realize you get to know some of the other runners out there and often help others along the way.  Several runners happened to be within an hour or two of my friend and I began to chat with them all and get to know them.  By the half way point in the race, I was crewing and helping other runners who needed a hand.  One of those runners came into an aid station carrying a large stick as a walking pole.  Without even a thought I asked him he wanted a pair of poles to use, which he happily accepted.  When I told my husband (who was not an ultra runner at the time) scolded me saying I would never get them back, they were brand new $150 ultra lite poles.  “Oh it’s ok, I’ll get them back.  I’m not worried. They all know me at the finish and trail runners are the best people.”  And yes, I did get them back and was happy to be there and see that runner cross the finish line and so many others who I had helped along their journey.

On to Habanero 100M/100K which was appealing because of the generous 30 hour cutoff for both races.  The race also had relay teams doing  both distances, along with a 50K race as well. This was a brand new racing event being put on by TROT (Trail Racing Over Texas).  It was located just outside of Austin, Texas at Buescher State Park.  A running friend of mine who lived in Texas had pointed this race out to me in April and for my birthday in May, I bought my plane ticket and signed up for the 100K race.  This was huge.  First, I’d never traveled out of state for any ultra race before and secondly when I first signed up, I had no crew or any other help.  Let’s don’t even talk about how it’s an August race, in Texas and it starts at noon! Did I mention in TEXAS!  Ok, I thought I did. Could this sound any tougher.  And no one seemed to want to join me on my journey.  Carrie? Lisa? Nope they aren’t interested in Texas in August!

So it was a long hot summer of heat training in Georgia. Most of the time Carrie and Lisa weren’t even interested in joining me for those races or run.  I had also managed to talk a non-running friend, Joyce into joining me in Texas and crewing for me.  She would be a great cheerleader and get to see my sport close up. It was a 7 mile looped race so I figured I’d set up camp, basically crew myself with some help Joyce and it would be no problem.  Well except for that nasty Texas heat!

Another little side story.  One of the things I thought was really cool about this race and the race director, they offered you a chance to pick your bib number.  Well if you made a donation to their sponsor, which was a group that helped children who had lost their fire fighter parent.  My husband, being a firefighter himself, was inspiration enough for me to want to make a donation to this great cause.  Such respect for these guys and all they do, and I love to support their families as well.  Now that I made a donation, what number would I choose?  I don’t really have a favorite number.  Between 1-500 any number.  So I chose 343!  Why?  Well 343 is the number of fire fighters lost on 9/11.  I would wear that number in honor of the fire fighters lost on that horrific day in our history, and I would wear it proudly.

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I flew into Austin with my friend the day before the race.  We had a hotel set about 20 minutes from the park where the race was taking place.  One friend who I did know from an online Female Ultra Running FB group was running the 100 miler.  So I did feel like I had a friend and was excited to meet her in person.  We drove out to the park the day before, picked up my pack and took a look at the camp set up.  Nice grassy area, nice bathrooms, it all looked promising.  I met my friend Rachel in person and was ready to get a good night’s sleep and be ready to run the next day.  I did mention it was a noon start right?

I bought several Styrofoam ice chests for my stuff.  Cold Cokes and Ginger Ale in one, Ice for my pack in another, mint ice water in one for my bandana and Popsicles in another.  I felt like I had unloaded an endless supply of stuff at my camp site and everyone in Texas thought I was crazy.  But I’m a planner and I knew what I wanted.  Now this racing group, TROT had two of the best aid stations I’d ever seen!  They always had lots of ice and endless amounts of food, but I like to have what I know I’ll want just in case. Really folks, it’s 107 degrees out there.  I can’t remember how many thousands of pounds (yes 1000’s of lbs) of ice the race went through, I personally used over 100 for myself!  It was hot folks, night time was NOT any cooler.

So camp was set up, chatted some with my friend and the race started off pretty quickly.  The course was a  7 miles loop that was a lollipop.  You had a mile or so of the stick, then a loop with an aid station about half way around.  Once you got back to the start and main aid station, each runner was required to weigh in.  This was new for me, but they wanted to make sure everyone was safe and not either losing or gaining too much weight.  Sections of the course were not shaded and it got very hot.  So hot I remember it was almost hard to breath. I would tell myself over and over that if those fire fighter could go in that burning building on 9/11 to save others, I could run this!  I did say it was 107?  In Texas they would say the “Real Feel” is 109 or whatever.  In Georgia we say it feels like 109, they call it the “Real Feel”.  Whatever you call it, baby it was HOT!  With a noon start time, you were thankful you only had 1/2 of that first day in the sun.

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Blistering Texas Heat, It isn’t Pretty Folks

It was nice during the first mile in and out to pass other runners and see people but mostly it was just a countdown of running 10 loops.  I’d see my friend Rachel when we were both in the out and back section and see how she was.  She was doing the 100 miler so she was pacing herself for the long run.  I came in to the main aid station and my friend would be a great help each time getting my pack refilled with ice and tailwind. My Nathan pack has an ice pouch in it that’s right against your back, and each aid station I’d refill it with ice.  I’d try to eat what I could but my stomach was in the best shape.  The first several loops that I came in, I remember a guy (who seemed obviously a volunteer) would come up to me and tell me I was doing great, looking good and keep it up.  I was so focused on what I was doing getting what I needed that I really hardly looked up at him.  After I got a few more loops behind me, I was a little more relaxed when I came in.  I looked up at him and finally noticed his shirt.  He had on a Cruel Jewel shirt.  Now I have to say this, I’m NOT an observant person and I’m terrible with names.  So when I saw his shirt, I immediately said something about it to him.  He said to me, “yeah, remember you lent me your poles!”  Steven Monte and I had become FB friends after Cruel Jewel but I just hadn’t put it together.  The ultra running world is so cool, if it wasn’t 107 degrees I might have gotten chills just then.  It was started to become night time and immediately feeling bonded to Steven I asked him about pacing or if he knew someone who might go a loop or two with me later on.  When I finally came in off my 6th loop my friend Rachel was there at the medical tent.  She told me she was done.  Injured and dropping.  I was heartbroken for her but understood, we sometimes have to make that call.  I knew she was planning on a pacer later in the race, and the thought immediately came to me to ask if her pacer would still be interested in pacing someone.  Again, such an awesome running community.  Texas I don’t love your heat but I love your people!!!

I had lost a few pounds and the RD was starting to give me a little grief about it.  I knew I wasn’t eating good, so I made a major effort to really be drinking my tailwind to get some calories in. When I finally came off my 7th loop, Andy Rose was waiting and ready to pace me.  Only two more loops I had to keep moving.  It was such a blessing sharing those last loops with Andy and getting to know him.  I moved as fast as I could and Andy thought it was much faster than he expected.  Being a looped course, I had no idea where I was as far as position, I was just focused on finishing. My feet were beginning to really hurt, with part of the loop having heaving gravel sections and the combination of the heat.  They weren’t blistered at all just hurting.  The overnight heat proved to be nearly as relentless as the daytime heat and I knew I wanted to be done before the sun came up.  When I finally crossed the finish line I was surprised to hear that I had finished 3rd overall female and 5th place overall.  It was a hot one and the heat had taken its toll on many runners.  The 100 mile race ended with only one single female finisher, Julie Koepke.  Many runners had dropped down to the 100K.

HH153rd Place Female Overall, That’s some Sweet Heat Habanero Jam

It’s Texas what did you expect for an award?!?!