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!





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

The Footprints We Leave Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report

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

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

IMG_0473Getting to hi to Maia at packet pick up

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

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

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

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

IMG_0436Seeing Sherri and Russ was always the best!

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

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

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

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

IMG_0424The views were incredible

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0468Lucia captured this picture of me coming into the finish

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

IMG_0416Rusty Nail and I before the race already friends

Black Canyon 100K Race Report

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

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

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Starting Line Photo

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

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David and I hung out before the race

 

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John, Stephanie and I all started together

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

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

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

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Kim Wrinkle took good care of me

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1534Finish line, all smiles

 

More Photos from the Black Canyon Desert

Looking Back and Looking Ahead to 2019

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

UTMB Race Report, August 2018

Wow!  It’s hard to know where to start!  Emotions are still all over the place at this moment just trying to take in the whole experience. It’s not a race you sign up for and decide to just run it.  UTMB is the largest ultra running stage in the world, and there’s just nothing like this one!

My journey to the starting line began more than 3 years ago when I earned my very first UTMB points in the 2015 Georgia Death Race 100k.  With the growing popularity of UTMB, qualifying for the lottery has become more and more difficult.  I don’t want to explain the whole lottery process, but when your name is drawn, it feels like getting the winning Lotto ticket or a payout in Vegas!  It feels like you’ve made it, but it’s just the beginning of a very long road.  After eight months of training you hope to show up at the starting line in Chamonix, France.  But who really dreams of running in France, in one of the largest and most difficult running events in the world?  Aren’t those just the dreams of the elites and top runners? Seriously!

My friend, Stephanie, and I met at that very first Death Race and we both dared to dream big!  We put our names in the UTMB lottery for the first time in 2016 as a team.  Under their new team rules, if one got in, we both got in!  We were selected into the race in the second year of entering the lottery!

We planned our trip, trained hard, and went over to Chamonix, France 6 days before our race. UTMB isn’t just one race.  There are 5 different races and distances throughout the week, all leading up to the crown jewel, the 106 mile race!  Each race starts at a different town and ends in Chamonix.  We spent the week watching the crowds grow and seeing runners from the other races cross the finish line.  The excitement for UTMB was off the charts!

Our race started on Friday evening at 6pm.  We tried to spend the day relaxing as much as possible. Then just 4 hours before the start of the race, we got the alert that the weather had changed and the cold gear kit was required!  This was one of my biggest fears because I do not like the cold.  We were already carrying so much required gear, so the thought of carrying even more was not what we wanted to hear.  Not only was the temperature expected to drop significantly, it started to rain as we headed to the starting line.  We were determined not to let it dampen our spirits.  My friend, Soon (who we had been hanging out with a lot during the week), Stephanie, and I put on our rain ponchos, headed down to the start with our crew and lined up with more than 2500 other runners!

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The huge crowds began to clap, runners waved flags from their countries, and we watched it all on the big screen next to us as the announcer hyped up the crowds and runners.  The elites were introduced as they each came to the starting line. The noise from the crowds and the excitement grew deafening.  Then just moments before 6 pm they began playing the song, Conquest of Paradise, and the feeling was indescribable!  I don’t think I’ll ever forget that powerful moment.  It all became so real, and just as the song ended, the race of a lifetime had started.  Our journey had begun.

IMG_0889Running through the crowded street of Chamonix

The race starts with crowds so thick you can’t move, and the streets were lined with people throughout the town for miles as we began running.  You knew this was going to be like nothing else you had ever experienced.  Stephanie and I grabbed on to one another, holding hands as we crossed the starting line and trying not to lose each other in the crowd of runners. The first 10k is flat and easy, but after that teasing terrain, things got seriously real!  The very first climb was like nothing I had experienced – rain, mud, and miles of climbing up a boulder field!  It felt like it took hours to get up the first climb.  We had trained hard and been given lots of wisdom and advice.  One of the biggest pieces of advice seemed to be KFM, or “keep f@#$ moving”!  My breathing was so labored and my heart rate was through the roof.  I couldn’t imagine how this thing I had gotten myself into would play out.  Moving through the first 19 miles to our first crew spot at Les Contemines, we were certain we would miss the cutoffs.  Stephanie and I chatted as we headed into that aid station and felt certain our journey was over.  At only 19 miles in we were both ready to bow down to Mont Blanc and be grateful for the journey we had.  I know it sounds a little dramatic, but I promise you have no idea, this thing is for real.

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Headed back out after the first crew stop

We got into the very busy aid station and anxiously searched for our crew!  Our crew was Rob Apple (who had 10 years of UTMB knowledge and experience at all their races) and John & Rebecca Storey (friends of Stephanie’s and now mine, from Knoxville, TN).  Rob told us we were doing great, we had time, and they quickly helped us get into dry clothes for the next section.  It would be 30 miles and the next afternoon before we would see them again in Courmayeur.  We had our first taste of reality and it was time to get to work.  No time for a pity party, we needed to KFM.  That was pretty much how the first part of the race went for us.  I knew cutoffs were tight up front and we seemed to stay just ahead of them for the next 30 miles before we seemed to put a little time in the bank.

My breathing was labored and my heart rate elevated with each climb.  Stephanie seemed to do better on the climbs and helped pull me along.  Downhill and more technical sections seemed to be my strength, so we helped each other. We were in it together, but we knew anything could happen.  And it would.

We felt discouraged at our pace, but each time we saw our crew they would reassure us we were doing great!  Rebecca would always tell us we were awesome, and though I don’t think we believed it, we simply had no other option but to accept it and KFM!  We were merely in survival mode each time we came into an aid station.  Disappointed we had barely beaten cutoffs once again.  Often we felt drained with nothing left to keep fighting.

Coming out of Courmayeur (mile 50ish) and now well into day two, we thought the weather would be nice, with the worst of the bad weather behind us.  Our crew encouraged us to switch to shorts and a short sleeve shirt but we both opted not to.  That would prove to be a decision that saved the rest of our race.  Rob told us the next climb was the worst.  We later realized he lied to us a lot!  Good crew sometimes have to tell a few lies.  Some tell more than others!

You couldn’t really talk to people around you on the trail.  You usually had your head down, were in survival mode, and didn’t dare look up.  You also could not speak to them because you had no idea what language they spoke.  There was always a bond though.  Heavy breathing, gasps, and deep groaning that everyone understood.  Everyone was going through a struggle that transcended language.

When we got to the top of that big climb and started out of that aid station, the volunteers stopped us and made us put on our required sealed rain jackets.  They had warned that the weather was going to be cold where we were headed.  A couple aid stations later, at Arnouvaz, they would make us put on our required sealed rain pants.  We were not far ahead of cutoffs but looked around to see that many of the runners were calling it quits here at Arnouvaz, 58 miles into the race. We were determined not to quit but knew there was a good chance it might beat us before we could finish. We now had 10 miles or so to the next cutoff point and about 4 hours to get there. That normally wouldn’t seem so bad, but this is UTMB!  As soon as we were on the trail we could see this huge overwhelming climb before us.  With all the people we had just seen give up at the aid station, it now seemed like that might have been a good way to end this thing.  It also seemed like more runners were coming down after starting the climb than going up.  One thing you get good at is keeping your head down, putting one foot in front of the other, and KFM.  We would later agree that the climb up Grand Col Ferrett was the worst climb of the race, but I think that was because it was mentally the toughest.  The weather was rough; heading into the night again, rainy, windy, foggy and cold!  We were into our second night of the race and were still barely surviving cutoffs. Nothing was getting easier, only harder and steeper!   It felt like hours later when we did finally make it to the top.  My hands were frozen and cold, it was windy, and I was completely exhausted and defeated.  I was also feeling like I was on the verge of being hypothermic.  We had two more check points to get through before La Fouly, and still a long ways to see our crew again at Champex-Lac.

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I had also strained my groin coming up that climb.  A warm shower and bed were all I could wrap my mind around at that moment.  In the meantime, it was survival mode and I balled up my hands inside my gloves so I could warm them up and feel my fingers again. We were now on some of the better downhill sections of the course, but it was still cold, wet, foggy, rainy and night time.  We knew we had managed to stay ahead of cutoffs, but it was definitely the lowest point of the race for me. I knew my groin was at least strained, and that doesn’t sound fun for 40 more miles of tough climbs. We were not far from the La Fouly aid station when we came across a few young women (we were now in Switzerland).  The crowds all along the course were yelling and cheering “allez allez allez” or “bravo” but these young ladies looked at my bib and hollered out “Stay Strong, Make America Proud”!  Dang it, why did they have to say that?  I had almost made up my mind that with my injury and the weather, I was dropping.  Now I have to “Make America proud”?

We got to the La Fouly aid station, 67 miles complete and ahead of cutoffs by about 30 minutes or so.  Then the minute I crossed the timing mat and came into the aid station tent a large screen cued up and played the first of two videos of encouragement my friends had made for me!  The first was from my MARC group (Metro Atlanta Running Club) and then another from GUTS (Georgia Ultra Trail Running Society)!

 

This is the MARC Video with Cherie

I literally stood still right in the middle of the aid station and cried.  In the first video, I saw my friend Cherie.  Shortly before I got into UTMB, Cherie was diagnosed with cancer.  She would have surgery and undergo 6 months of chemo treatments while I trained for UTMB!  I dedicated my 2018 year of running and my UTMB race to her.  She has never given up, and the moment I saw her on the screen I knew I wasn’t giving up. Mont Blanc and I would fight this out to the end.  Somehow, some way.  I had no idea how, but I was going forward.  I was going to make all the people cheering for me and my family who made sacrifices for me to be here proud!  I would know that I dug deep and gave it all I had.

Once in my life I had to quit something.  I was in middle school and came from a broken home.  Back then, no one came from a broken home.  I was shy and struggled to belong but eventually found a place where I fit in when I made the basketball team.  I mostly sat the bench but that sense of belonging meant everything to me.  Then my mother made me quit the team when one of my grades slipped below a C average (the coach’s history class nonetheless).  That was the worst feeling in my life.  I swore I would never quit anything again.  I often wonder if that was the defining moment in my life and from where I draw strength.

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We now had some downhill and uphill getting to Champex-Lac.  There’s always more uphill!  We again got to our crew and knew we had survived to fight some more. During that section it had been Stephanie’s turn to hit a low point.  She was tired and hungry but we knew we had to keep going.  Just KFM!  Keep your feet moving!  The next climb was rough for her and she began throwing up.  We didn’t dare talk about it, but we both knew this could end things for her.  When we finally got into Champex-Lac, mile 76 or so, Stephanie said she had to lay down.  We didn’t have time to stay long but Steph needed to recover.  Here the crew had more access to the aid station supplies (later in the race they were more relaxed) and allowed both of us to sit and take care of small things.  Our crew waited on us bringing food, drinks and refilling our packs.  We still had 30 miles to go with a number of mountains to climb.  Extreme fatigue and mental exhaustion had swallowed us up.  We could only focus on the next little section.  Rob would continue to tell us the hardest climbs were behind us.  Maybe looking at a chart it looks easier in the second half of the race, but after so many miles and so much time each step is more and more difficult.

Hydration was never a problem for either of us.  We drank well and it wasn’t really warm until the final afternoon so we both stay well hydrated.  Eating became a little tougher.  I personally loved the aid station foods; cheeses, meats, crackers, soups, and Coke, which was usually nice and cold, just how I like it.  The difficult part was we had to constantly stay moving.  We knew we could not relax and sit at the aid station.  We had been given lots of advice not to spend too much time at the aid stations.  It was amazing how many people did just sit or sleep at the aid stations, or just didn’t seem in any hurry to leave. The problem with grabbing food and eating on the go was that we had gloves on and poles in our hands all the time. We couldn’t put our poles away because immediately out of most every aid station was a steep climb. You also couldn’t really eat and climb.  When you would eventually get to a place that leveled out some, you still were using gloves and poles, and it was such a hassle to get anything out of your pack. Even stopping to put on or take off a jacket was a huge ordeal and we just couldn’t afford the time.

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Stephanie’s stomach started to rebound, but she was so exhausted.  It was very early in the morning on our second day and we were again finishing a very long, steep, unending climb. Climbing felt more like a pilgrimage than a large conga line at times as we literally journeyed over mountains from one town to the next with the same group of people. We knew them all by sight and each one was desperately trying to get to the same place.

We got to the next aid station, a rustic Refuge at La Giete, just before the sun came up.  It was small and people were sleeping everywhere.  There was no real aid, just water and coffee. Stephanie laid down on the hard wooden floor and covered up with an emergency space blanket.  I gave her 10 minutes to sleep as I anxiously watched the clock.  We had another 5k to get to our crew at Trient.  Luckily it was a downhill section, although even these downhills were not very runnable.  I wanted to give Steph a chance to sleep but not too long.  I got out her weather pants and warm jacket from her pack.  I was getting cold myself just sitting and trying to sip on very lukewarm coffee.  This was not the cappuccino I’d enjoyed in Chamonix the days before the race.  I put my warm layers on as well, made Stephanie a cup of coffee and got her up.  She put on her layers and we were soon on our way. Steph had rebounded some more and we were desperately trying to put some time in the bank on this next downhill stretch.

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Bam, we had made it to Trient, around mile 86.  Our crew again gave us food and refilled our packs with water as we briefly sat down.  Rob gave us our update of what was ahead.  The worst climbs were over he said again.  Again, all lies!  He also told us if we could get through the next section, around 8-9 miles, we would have no more cutoffs.  They would let us finish.  We were so exhausted and stressed from chasing cutoffs but felt sure we could make it now.  The climb from Trient turned out to be one of the steepest climbs we had done.  It was now daylight and warmer.  We had finally changed into shorts and taken off our jackets.  Eventually we got over the top of the mountain and started down a good downhill section on our way to Vallorcine and what we thought to be the last cutoff to stress over.

The first thing Rebecca said to us when we saw her coming into Vallorcine at mile 93 was that Rob was mistaken.  There was another cutoff.  We were no longer surprised, but we were determined with only the last 13 miles ahead of us.  We might have welcomed missing a cutoff earlier, but now we were too close and had come too far.  We were now on a mission to get to the next check point with more time in the bank as we headed into the final climb.  The last climb turned into a climb, then downhill, then another long climb.  The worst part would be the most technical boulder and root-filled downhill you could imagine.  There was simply no way for any of the runners to move fast.  Our goal was now set on la Flegere, the final Refuge and aid station, as well as the final cutoff.  Rob had told us if we missed the cutoff they would still let us finish but we were not letting that enter our thinking.  We were making it and not missing a cutoff.  We came out of the woods from our long climb and could see the la Flegere Refuge way above us and a long steep trail of runners leading the way up to it.  We could make it!

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We can see la Flegere

We entered the aid station with around 25 minutes to spare and went right through and kept moving.  Only 8k to Chamonix and the finish line was waiting for us below.  We both shed a tear of relief seeing Chamonix below, but knew it was too premature to celebrate just yet.  It was the longest 8k – too technical to run at times but we continued to run when we could and just kept moving.  KFM – we knew it too well.  We knew the clock was ticking and we knew we were finishing but we were determined not to finish over the cutoff time.  After a very long downhill we finally dropped out of the woods and onto the trails on the outskirts of town with huge, excited crowds everywhere.

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Just a couple of these to climb over on the way to the finish, which I might add that Rob told us we wouldn’t have to do.  Liar Liar

It was hard to hold our emotions together.  We fast hiked as quickly as possible on our hurting feet and broken bodies, but our spirits soared as the crowds cheered for us.  We crossed over two sets of stair cases to make our way into the heart of Chamonix on the small crowd-lined cobblestone streets.  The crowds thickened, then we came to the final turn where we could see the finish.  The roars from the crowd were deafening as the sounds of their hands slapped the sponsor banners.  We tried to savor the moment we knew we would never experience again.  The entire crowd was celebrating with us!  We grabbed hands to finish the race, just as we had started.  The French announcer called our names, “Trena and Stephanie! From the United States of America! From the US of A! Welcome home girls!  Yes you did, you did it, you completed the UTMB! The most difficult race in the world! Well done Stephanie!  Well done Trena!”

Mont Blanc is a majestic mountain to respect!  One that humbles you, breaks you and forever changes 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.

 

Two Women! Two Challenges! One Goal!

YS6-21The Day we met “in the woods”!

Two Women – The bond between Cherie and Trena began when they literally met “in the woods!”, while running a trail marathon in 2014. Since then, the two have shared many miles, stories, and goals during their weekly runs. Cherie has played the role of motivator in her support of Trena, as well as many others looking to benefit from all-types of running. Cherie’s kindness and support for others consistently goes above and beyond.

Two-Challenges – When the two met, Cherie was on a journey to run a marathon in all 50 states, but now faces the most significant challenge of her life; having been diagnosed with a form of Kidney Cancer. She is now on the other side of surgery and faces six months of chemotherapy. Everyone knows someone who’s been through this difficult process. While Cherie and those around her face her next mountain head-on, Trena will be training for one of the world’s most challenging foot races. She is one of 2,500 runners chosen to run in the 105-mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), a race that crosses portions of the French, Italian, and Swiss Alps over 46 consecutive hours. This race is an experience of a life-time and Trena is hard at work preparing for the August 31st race date. She has dedicated all of her training miles and her UTMB race to Cherie, and her battle with cancer.

One Goal – As destiny would have it, shortly after Cherie finishes her journey through six months of Chemo, Trena hopes to be crossing the finish line of UTMB for her.  I kindly ask that you consider dedicating your miles, positive thoughts, and prayers to Cherie and her family during this difficult time. Be sure to check back for updates on their progress as these two women, with two challenges, reach one goalsuccess!

UPDATE

Strength

On July 18th, 2018 Cherie finished her last Chemo Treatment and “rang the bell”!  It was a long and sometimes difficult journey for her, but she says the support of her family and friends are what saw her through it all.  STRENGTH doesn’t come from what you can do, strength comes from overcoming the things you thought you couldn’t!

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On September 2nd, 2018 Trena completed the UTMB race in Chamonix, France after 45 hrs and 52 minutes.  It’s considered the toughest trail race in the world!  It was during a very low point in the race, when Trena came into an aid station around mile 58 that a video cued up from the MARC running group.  Trena saw Cherie in the video and knew she couldn’t quit.  Just as Cherie had not quit, no matter how hard things were, quitting just was not an option.  Both had learned that STRENGTH doesn’t come from what you can do, strength comes from overcoming the things you thought you couldn’t!

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Two Woman!  Two Challenges!  One Goal!  Success!