Yeti 100 Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our first time coming into Damascus

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_7622Jason Green, Yeti 100 Race Director, #NotACult

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

73456010-IMG_2590One of my favorite photos on a trestle bridge

 

Taper Madness

I picked my “A” race at the beginning of the year, I trained for it during the past 6 months, and now it’s Taper Time.  Runners who train for a long distance race understand what tapering is all about, but for many it’s the hardest part of their training.  It’s the dreaded taper – those last few weeks leading up to the big race.  After months of high mileage running, long workouts, hill repeats, speed work and tough schedules, it all comes to a screeching halt.

We are anxious about our upcoming race, and all of the sudden it feels like we are letting things slip through our fingers.  You often hear complaints during the taper about gaining weight or being afraid of losing the fitness they have worked so hard to achieve.  Mastering the final few weeks before the race is trickier than it seems.

Tapering before a race has many benefits for our body as well as our mind.  It allows our muscles a chance to repair, as well as increase its glycogen.  Another benefit is reducing the risk of overtraining.  After months of hard work, we want to show up on race day with legs that are fresh and rested, not tired and heavy.

A balanced taper should consider important elements like duration, weekly mileage, and key workouts.  The duration of your taper can vary but the end goal is to arrive at the race well-rested and feeling strong.  Some runners may taper for two or three weeks while others may find that a 10-day taper works better for them.  The taper is important not just for our body to recover but for our minds to rest.  We need time to focus on our race and make sure we have everything in order; our nutrition, gear, shoes, crew, and pacers.  Look over your travel details, the course description, aid stations, drop bag points, and packing your gear.  Taking care of these details during the taper will allow your mind to rest and relax in the last few days before the race.

CUTTING BACK

Most all tapers will have a reduction in weekly mileage.  How much we reduce our mileage may depend on how hard our training has been and how we feel going into the taper period.  If you have a coach, they will plan the taper according to your overall training schedule.  Otherwise, it’s common to reduce your mileage by around 20% a week starting about two to three weeks out from the race.  You should experiment with what works best for you.  While we reduce our mileage we may still include some key workouts such as hill repeats, intervals, or other specific runs.  We want to maintain our fitness but keep our legs feeling loose as well as getting some rest.

So how can we make the dreaded taper time be more exciting for the runner?  The fact that our long-awaited race is quickly approaching brings its own level of excitement.  But this may also be a good time to experience a little extra pampering.  Getting a massage or a pedicure can be a treat and also work out some of the knots.  This might also be a good time to catch up with friends or family members you haven’t seen during your busy training season.  Just relaxing or enjoying a good distraction like a movie or book can take your mind off the taper.  Life is often hard to balance, and this could be the time to put a little more balance back into it.

The race will be here in no time and the taper will quickly be a thing of the past, but it could be the very thing that kicks off your race with your body feeling ready and strong.

Published September 2017

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Dark Sky 50 Miler Race Report

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

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Our group of friends just before the start

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

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

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

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A short section of our muddy rocky fire roads

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

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Running through the arch

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

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

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We started together and finished together!

Badger Mountain Challenge 100 Miler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just before the start

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

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Culvert under the Freeway

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

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Coming into McBee Aid Station

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

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

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

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

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Getting my buckle from the RD, Jason Reatherford

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

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Buckle Up!

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

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Me, Mike Bloom and Mike Nielson, somewhere mid race

Despair of Injury

The word that none of us want to hear – rest.  Unexpected injury or illness can take out even the best and strongest of runners.  We could end up on the sidelines of the racing season for reasons that are beyond our control and be forced to figure out what to do next and how to keep pushing forward.  The thought of sitting around and not being able to get outside is like being grounded as a kid, times 10!  This can be a frustrating time as we wonder how to retain our fitness and not lose all we’ve gained in our training.  When an injury or illness take us out of our game for an extended time, how do we adjust our plan so we are able to come back strong when we get on the trails again?  How do you deal with mental aspect of being injured, which may be more challenging than the physical recovery itself?

It may be a doctor, coach, or spouse who’s asking us to take a break and you may have to look at the greater good of what’s being forced upon you.

My experience has taught me that we can’t use the internet to diagnose ourselves and it may require a trip to a specialist.  We may have to make the tough decision to give up running for a period of time due to severe injury or serious illness.  This requires us to accept the idea that to continue to run is not something we are either able to do or is wise to do for our greater health, whether this means a short rest period of a few weeks or a longer time frame of several months. We can and will come back, but a time of rest is required and we must accept that.

GET A NEW PLAN

The first thing to do when sidelined is to come up with alternative options for fitness. Giving up running doesn’t mean giving up all cardio workouts, core or strength training (unless we have an illness that requires us to completely stop all activity).  We can incorporate other activities like spin cycle, weights, indoor rowing, cycling, swimming, and even yoga to name a few.

Many of the fitness clubs we belong to have a variety of classes that can help add accountability into our workout.  Most runners need more cross training, so look at recovery time as a way to get stronger in other areas.  These other activities can help us stay focused and active while giving our injury a chance to heal.

When we know our break from running is for a certain period of time, we can stay positive by focusing on a goal further out in the future.  It may be big adventure or race that is a year away, but the time will go by very quickly.   Other times, healing doesn’t come in time frames easily measured, and an extended break from running may force us to look at goals more long term in nature.

CONSIDER VOLUNTEERING

My experience in running and racing has taught me that volunteering is often much more rewarding than racing.  We can stay involved in our sport by volunteering at a race, either by working an aid station or helping to crew a friend in their race.

While the ultra runner doesn’t like being forced into a period of rest or even admit to injury it is usually the wise decision to fully recover.

Make the tough call and then start planning your steps through it.  The goal is to stay mentally strong and physically active while recovering from injury or illness, and hopefully be stronger and wiser when you return to running.

Published January 2017

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Join The Family

Taking your running to the next level is tough, but you’ll never feel alone along the way

All sports seem to have a certain camaraderie that goes with them.  Often teammates share a love for their sport or seem to be part of a brotherhood.  In ultra running, the community that runners share seems to go much deeper, way beyond sharing a love for the sport.  There’s an immediate connection with others and you just know “these are my people.”  There seems to be a draw for many runners when they decide to cross over to the ultra distances and experience the community that awaits them.

So what is it about this ultra running community? I’ve found in my experience some unique things that make up the bond in this group of runners.

Understanding

If you are a distance runner, marathon or longer, you’ve probably been asked by friends and family why you do it.  Many ultra runners are even considered “crazy” by most who just can’t understand their desire or drive.  Within the community of ultra runners, there’s no need to explain why we put ourselves through such long distance runs, pain and suffering.  We don’t have to put into words our drive or motivation, we just quietly run alongside one another on the same journey.  There’s no questions to answer as to why.  Our fellow ultra runners are our safe family of acceptance and give us a sense of belonging.

Encouragement

Short distance races are all about the win, that first place trophy, while longer endurance races are about the finish.  The reward to the ultra runner is the accomplishment of completing the race. In the ultra distance races even the faster runners encourage, give high-fives and cheer on all the other runners.  When ultra runners pass on the trail they look at each other and say “good job” and offer words of encouragement no matter what pace they are moving.

It’s a supportive community where at times the slowest or last place runner has the largest crowd cheering them on as they cross the finish line.  It’s this unusual level of encouragement that greets all levels of ultra runners and truly makes you feel part of the ultra community.

Support

In ultra distances of 50 miles, 100K or 100 miles the runners get help from others.  Crew and pacers are used by runners to support them during these race.  Sometimes supportive family members help, but mostly its other ultra runners step in and help one another.  For some runners it’s a large group that helps get them to the finish line.  They often sacrifice days of their time to help one another accomplish their goals and races.  While on the course if a runner is hurt or needs even the smallest item, from a Band-Aid to food, a fellow ultra runner will stop and offer help or personal items from their own pack to aid another runner.  It’s a community that helps each other cross the finish line.

The ultra running community is a group that encourages, supports and takes care of its own.  Run a race or two and you might find yourself saying, “these are my people.”

 

Published November 2016

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Mystery Mountain Marathon, October 9, 2016

 

This was a hard one.  Well, all of them are hard, actually, but it does seem like some are harder than others.  Sometimes it’s just not our day.  Maybe we are tired, our nutrition might be off, our mind isn’t quite with it, or for whatever reason the run just seems like such a struggle.  We can try to just enjoy a beautiful day for running and some beautiful scenery, but it’s hard to enjoy that while our head is focused down on the trail.

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Fort Mountain, Chatsworth, GA

I had a goal, a plan.  I even shared it out loud.  Normally I don’t share a goal.  It’s like bad luck – I might jinx myself or something.  But there you go, I said it out loud – I really wanted a sub 6 hr finish.  This would be my third time running this race.  It’s 26 miles with 7,000 ft of elevation gain, lots of single track technical trails (my favorite), long stretches of rocky fire roads and some gnarly downhill sections.  Previously, my best time was 6:16 and each time I’ve run it, I’ve also been the Grand Masters Female 1st Place Finisher.  This year I have been training with a coach and felt like I was stronger and had a good chance of reaching my goal.  I also asked a couple of my running friends, Bill and Loren, if they would pace me.   I knew with a little push, I could stay running on sections I had walked in previous years, and that should help me reach my goal.

Promptly at 8am, the race started with a bang, literally from a cannon.  Like most races it started out on a short road section before entering the trails, then within a mile or so the trail narrows to some single track and very technical sections.  This is my favorite part of the course, but today it took me several miles before I felt like I really settled into a comfortable pace and run.  I know I’d pushed myself up to the front a little more than normal and was running strong with my two friends, Loren in front setting the pace and Bill just a few steps behind me.  We all stayed together and pushed through nearly 5 miles of trails before Bill took the lead and moved further ahead.  He had been struggling with stomach issues all week and I knew he was not feeling great, so I was happy to see him push ahead and find his own groove.  I also knew Loren would continue to set a good pace and help me to push even when I didn’t feel like it.

At each aid station, we got an update on how far Bill was ahead of us.  Sometimes it was a couple minutes, and later it was more like 5 or 6 minutes.  He would leave word that he expected us to catch up to him as he continued to struggle with his stomach issues, but he seemed to be having a great race anyway.

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I really was having a good time

Around mile 9 or so, I turned my ankle.  At first, I wasn’t sure just how bad it was, but I was able to walk it off within a few minutes and begin to run pain free again.  It did, however, make me more cautious so I wouldn’t turn it again.  This wasn’t my “A” race and I knew I didn’t want to injure it seriously.  After the mile 10/11 aid station, the fun really began with a steep power line climb and then a downhill that is called the “downhill of despair.”  I guess that should be description enough.  I was hopeful that once we finished the downhill section, the trail would smooth out and the fire roads would not be quite so technical – a little easier running.  But instead, we experienced more rocks and technical sections that made it difficult to settle into a comfortable stride.

Once we went through the next couple of aid stations that seemed to come quickly on the fire roads, we came to what’s known as Conte’s climb.  Most local ultra trail runners and any GUTS Member (Georgia Ultra and Trail Running Society) knows who Franco Conte is.  I’m sure his ears are burning as many of us go up this long climbing section named after him.  The climb isn’t hard because it’s so steep, but because it’s so very long.  Most Georgia runners are used to hills.  We run on them almost daily, and they are usually short and steep.  Long steady climbs that never seem to end are not our specialty, in most cases.  Two weeks earlier, I had been in the Grand Canyon, so this was right up my training tree.  I had this one.  Loren and I were looking forward to reaching  the Last Gasp Aid Station, but it just seemed to take forever.  By the time we got there, I felt I was a little past my Last Gasp.  We caught and passed a few runners here as we headed into the last section of rolling hills with more climbing.  By now, I’m just ready to be done.  Loren pushed us forward and I kept running even when I really wanted to just walk it in to the finish.   I knew I had to keep pushing to stay with him.  He kept track of our time on his watch and let me know we were doing great, but I didn’t really want to know exactly how we were doing.  As long as we were good, that’s all I needed to know.

Soon we were at the top of the power lines, headed down them and into the home stretch.  We both moved as quickly, but carefully, as possible.  We quickly checked in with the aid station crew at the bottom of the hill, and were off around the lake to the finish line.  I told Loren it would take all his strength to push me in, because I was done.  I kept moving forward, trying to finish as strong as I could.

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This was all the push I had left in me

I wish I would have been smiling as I crossed the finish line, because I could not have had more fun.  I got to run on a beautiful course with absolutely perfect running weather, and I spent time with a couple of my favorite runners.  But I was spent.  I gave it all I had that day.  Maybe on a different day it would have been more.

It took a couple of days before I realized I did reach some of my goals.  I did get a PR on the course by 9 minutes, finishing in a time of 6:07, and I was once again the Grand Masters Female 1st Place Finisher!

 

Where It All Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stacey & I before the Chicago Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Cruel Jewel 100 Race Report, May 13, 2016

Carrie Dix and I had been talking about running Cruel Jewel for a year.  Right after the race in 2015 we knew we would at the very least run the Cruel Jewel 50 Miler (thank you Janette Maas for throwing down that challenge to us).  After running the Death Race 68 miler in 2015 with Carrie pacing me, we both knew that the Cruel Jewel would be no easy race.  In November we had attempted the Pinhoti 100 and had to drop after 65 miles of really tough conditions, so I think for both of us another 100 miler was waiting for us.  We volunteered for Race Directors, Josh and Leigh Saint in January at 24 Hours of Hostility and that only fueled our desire to run the Cruel Jewel.  We both just seem to know it would be the 100 miler and not the 50 that we were committing to!

In January we also ran the Cloudland Canyon 50 miler with our friend Stephanie Johnson (from Knoxville), and spent the race convincing her to join us for the Cruel Jewel suffer fest we had signed up for.  All of us had either volunteered, crewed or paced at the Cruel Jewel before and had each told ourselves we’d never run it.   But we all learned; never say never!  It’s an ultra thing.  So we made our plans together and rented a cabin a Vogel State Park where the race starts and finishes.

We all trained, lined up our crew and finalized our race plans.  The race started on Friday, May 13th at noon.  The first chance our crew would be able to get to us was at mile 21.5 and we wouldn’t get to our pacer until roughly mile 51 (which is the turnaround point at Camp Morganton).  We didn’t have an exact time but we had hoped to get to our pacers and crew at mile 51 around 13-15 hours into the race, and we’d all stay together at least to that turn around point and possibly even finish together.  Carrie and I had planned to stay together the entire race and shared crew and pacers to help us out.  Anne Blanton was crew chief for Carrie and I.  She told us at our pre-race meeting that she would not be easy on us, and she wasn’t going to be swayed by any crying.  We were finishing and she’d see that we kept at it!

Carrie and I drove up to Vogel Thursday afternoon together, and then met up for dinner in Blairsville with Stephanie and her crew who drove down from Knoxville, TN.  Later at the cabin we packed our race packs and talked about how we hoped the next day would play out before all getting a good night sleep.  It was nice to have a relaxed morning eating breakfast and getting or packs and drop bags finalized before the race start.  We picked up our packets with race numbers and chatted with many of our friends who were there to volunteer or run the race.

 IMG_5222Stephanie, myself and Carrie before the start!

My husband, Ed had come up to Vogel to see us off and take a few pictures.  Some brief instruction by the RD and the race was off.  We all knew the course fairly well, with 8 miles to the first Aid Station which included the Coosa Backcountry climb, we all paced ourselves, and enjoyed chatting with friends during those first miles.  We were quickly through that first AS and off to the next.  Now on the DRT (Duncan Ridge Trail, also known as the Dragon Spine) we knew there would be lots of ups and downs.  Steep ups with steep downs.  Again, we paced ourselves.  Before we knew it we were through the next  Aid Station and onto our crew at the Skeenah Gap AS mile 21.5.  It was good to see cheering friends and we all got some cold coke/ginger ale and were off.  The next couple of AS came every 5 miles or so and we all tried to stay on top of our food and hydration, although I don’t know that any of us had really eaten much.  The heat didn’t cause any of us major stomach issues, but I think we all felt a little off from the heat and climbs.  We now had 20 miles to go before the turnaround point and we wouldn’t see our crew again until then.  We decided it was also a good time to give up our poles which we had been using since the start of the race.  We felt we needed some sort of break from carrying them, and the next 20 mile section wasn’t as much climbing, well so we thought anyway.

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Around mile 43 we got into the Deep Gap AS.  We had passed and got to greet the front runners of the race just before getting to the AS. The Atlanta Outdoor Club (AOC) were volunteering at the Deep Gap AS, so for me it was nice to see many faces and friends I knew.  We got some food and headed out for a nearly 6 mile loop before coming back to the Deep Gap AS and headed another 2.5 miles to the turnaround point.  Another quick hello to my AOC friends and we were off to our crew and pacers at Camp Morganton and the turnaround.  This wasn’t the half way point in the race because during the return trip there is an extra 6 mile out and back section, but to us it felt like half way.  We all planned to make a complete change of clothes, socks and shoes here at Camp Morganton.  We felt that mentally if we broke it down into two 50 mile races it would seem a little less overwhelming to tackle and seem like a fresh start leaving the turnaround point. I made a critical decision and decided to work on my feet a little.  I didn’t have any blisters or hot spots at this point but felt like the bottoms of my feet would be in pain going back over the DRT later in the race if I didn’t add some cushion to the bottoms of them.   I worked quickly to put a layer of Mole Skin on the balls of my feet and wrapped a couple of toes where I often get callouses.  (This decision I think paid off big time later on as I was running comfortably and ended with no blisters or black toes nails for that matter).  Soon we were all out the door with our pacers and headed back to Deep Gap.  The road section was a little slower for Carrie and I headed back to Deep Gap and we were busy catching up and updating Rebecca Watters, our pacer, on the race so far.  Stephanie and her pacer moved ahead and we didn’t run with them again.

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Rebecca immediately began to access where we were and how Carrie and I were both doing.  She kept telling us we looked good but we knew pacers and crew are supposed to say that sort of thing.  It was now early morning hours and Rebecca knew that we hadn’t eaten well so far and we needed to get some food in us.  Once we got to Deep Gap she made us sit down and began waiting on us and making us eat what we could.  The 6 mile loop at Deep Gap was some of our least favorite section of the course, I think that was because it was a rocky section that after 55 plus miles really began to be painful on our feet.  It felt like a real struggle and we talked about how it seemed like a loop that was all uphill.  Now I can see that we were tired and needed more food and were both sinking into a low point.  Once back at Deep Gap for the final time, we were treated to some French toast and hot chocolate.  Sometimes in these long races the simplest food seems like the best thing you’ve ever eaten, and that begin to turn things around for Carrie and I. We pushed on the next AS which was on the extra 6 mile out and back section.  It was coming down into that AS at Weavers Gap that we started to see 50 mile runners (they had started the 50 mile race at Camp Morganton that morning and at this point the front runners of that race were catching up and passing us).  Seeing so many of our friends who were running the 50 mile race and getting more substantial food at the Weavers Gap AS was what Carrie and I needed.  Another friend from the AOC was working at this AS and she took extra care of us.  Carrie’s lower back was beginning to hurt and my friend was rubbing some Magnesium oil on it to try and relieve her pain.

Off we went from Weavers Gap feeling better than we had in a while.  It was a long climb out of there and we saw more and more of our friend running the 50 miler.  We chatted with lots of them and even took some pictures with others.

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Jason Green made as all laugh as we passed him pacing for David Milner

Now we were headed once again to our crew at the next AS and Rebecca would jump out from pacing duties and Michael Richie would pace the next 15 miles.  Once at Stanley Gap AS Carrie took care of a few issues and we put some other gel on her lower back to try and relieve her pain some. The next 5 miles were mostly road and our friend Brad Goodridge had caught up with us and joined us at this point.  This was a hot section on the road but we pushed on and got to our crew again at Old Dial AS.  At this point Carrie’s back was visibly giving her trouble and she was struggling to stand up straight.  We knew we were headed towards the home stretch and Carrie was determined to finish.  Brad was still with us and Michael pacing as we left Old Dial headed 5 tough miles to Wilscot Gap AS.  The first part of that section was a lot of climbing and Carrie was now beginning to slow down on the climbs.  As I pressed on I was really beginning to feel strong and was ready to do some running but Carrie wasn’t catching up.  Michael was running back and forth between us and keeping an eye on both of us, reporting that she was falling further behind. I knew Carrie wanted to finish and I knew with the 48 hour cutoff she had plenty of time to finish.  Rebecca would be waiting for us at Skeenah Gap to pace the last 20 miles back over the DRT (Dragon Spine).  But I also knew we only had one pacer lined up and I didn’t want to leave Carrie with no one to go with her.  I called our crew and then Rebecca and let her know we needed to find someone who could pace Carrie from Skeenah to the finish.  I knew I would be there waiting to see her cross the finish line but I felt strong and wanted to move faster while I could.  As soon as the crew let me know that they had pacer options for Carrie, I was ready to run.  Michael let me know she was now at least 20 minutes behind me, so I chose to just go ahead and move on.  I knew Carrie would be ok with me doing that, and I knew she was probably slowing down more but still felt certain she’d finish.  Carrie and I are good friends and I knew she would want me to go on but it was really tough leaving her and not getting a last chance to talk to her.

Michael ran with me and we got to our crew at the next AS.  I let them know Carrie was slowing down but still moving.  I needed to keep going, and they both saw that I was moving well at this point; Anne even commented how I had some bounce in my step now and she knew I was in a good place.  I wanted them to stay at Wilscot Gap and help Carrie when she got there so I got my jacket and head lamp from them knowing it would be getting dark in a few hours.  I also knew with them staying to help Carrie, they wouldn’t be able to crew for me again at the Skeenah AS and I needed to take my jacket and light now.  Off Michael and I went headed to Skeenah Gap.  I was moving good and still feeling really strong for 80 miles into the race with no sleep.  When I got to Skeenah Gap I grabbed more food and some coke, while Rebecca and Michael said hello and goodbye, then we were off.  With Rebecca being a strong climber and me feeling good I knew I was in good hands to get me over the DRT and slay that Dragon one last time.

IMG_5232The Sunset on top of Rhodes Mountain was my Ultra Happy Place!

Not long after leaving Skeenah we got word that Carrie had dropped and that was really heartbreaking for us to hear.  Now I was committed to running the rest of the race and finishing for Carrie.  Rebecca pushed us hard so we could get as far as possible before dark and having to turn on our lights.  We were able to enjoy a beautiful sunset on top of Rhodes Mountain and then get to the Fish Gap AS before dark.  I put on my jacket, gloves and headlamp there and pulled a beanie hat from the bottom of my pack (Carrie and I had put them there at the last minute in loading our packs the night before the race.  It was getting windy and at a slower pace I thought I might get cold).  Some more quick fueling from the AS and we were off.  One more AS to go before our long decent into Vogel State Park and the finish of the race.  But we had 5 tough miles and several climbs still ahead.  We passed a few runners in this section as Rebecca led us and I stayed as close behind her as I could, in the dark and into my second night with no sleep Rebecca was keeping me on the trail and moving.  Soon we were dropping into the White Oak Stomp AS and  I didn’t want to lose my momentum so I grabbed some coke and headed out.  Rebecca picked up food for me and I was onto the last hard climb up to Coosa Bald.  It was getting windy and chilly out now as the evening temps had really dropped.  Once we got to the top of the bald my only focus was to run and get down out of the cold.  Rebecca led and I again followed as closely as I could.  We passed a few more 100 mile runners before finally crossing Wolf Creek.  There was water just after the bridge and I was suddenly very thirsty.  After getting a last drink, we headed out for the last 3 miles into Vogel Park.  While I felt like I was moving fast, it seemed like the longest climb up from Wolf Creek to drop into the park.  Finally on the last mile or so, the trail was technical and I remember telling Rebecca I just couldn’t run any more.  Okay so after nearly 106 miles Rebecca laughed and said we could power hike some. We passed a few crew people out on the trail waiting and looking for other runners to come in.  Finally to the paved road in the park and the last 1/2 mile stretch to the finish line we began to run again.

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After 39 hours and 16 minutes I crossed the finish line and was handed my buckle.  My friend Stephanie finished 20 minutes later and we celebrated afterwards back at our cabin.  Finishing Cruel Jewel 100 is an accomplishment I still am unable to completely take in fully.  Without the help of our awesome crew, Anne and Joyce and the help of Rebecca and Michael pacing, I could have never crossed that finish line.  They did an awesome job of paying attention to what I needed when I didn’t even know and made decisions for me when I needed them to.

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After a few hours of sleep; Stephanie and I show off our buckles.

 Carrie will be back for hers and I’ll be there to help her do it!

Antelope Canyon 50 Miler Race Report, February 21, 2016

My friends, Carrie, Lisa and I had picked this race months before and decided this would be a great adventure!  Actually Carrie and I chatted about some of the races that Ultra Adventures does during my 100 mile Blind Pig race.  After she spent nearly 50 miles there pacing me, I told her to take a look at some of their races, Antelope Canyon, Brice Canyon, Zion, Monument Valley, etc.  She could pick whichever one interested her and we’d go do it.  So Antelope Canyon was her pick, and Lisa and I had to admit it looked like an awesome event.

We made our plans to fly into Las Vegas on the Thursday before our Saturday race.  You could fly into either Salt Lake City, Phoenix or Las Vegas, all were within a reasonable driving distance of the race in Paige, AZ.  In the end Las Vegas was the least expensive at the time we bought our tickets.  So early Thursday we flew out to Las Vegas and spent the day traveling from there to Paige.  Driving through Nevada, Lisa wondered why on earth we fought the Indians for that land! But we headed north and into St. Georgia, Utah and then into Zion Canyon.  We got to spend several hours exploring Zion before heading out to Paige.

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We also visited Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas

We relaxed on Friday and did a little sightseeing, not actually too much to see there.  But we did hike out to see the famous Horse Shoe Bend and take in the view and sights.  We knew we’d run by there the next day in the race but thought that it might be nice to get a good look when we weren’t trying to run.  We didn’t want to spend the entire race taking pictures even though we were determined to enjoy it fully.

We did our packet pick up on that Friday afternoon.  They offered the racers a unique experience to volunteer and help put mud some Navajo huts.  Afterwards they served us some awesome Navajo tacos.  You have to take in the whole experience here.

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Another high light for us we getting to meet Vanessa Rodriguez, aka Vanessa Runs

The race started early on Saturday morning.  We had dropped off our drop bags the night before, but wanted to get there early because there was an early morning Navajo Indian Prayer time before the race start.  Soon the race was off.  It was an early dark start.  We started closer to the front which is not where I usually like to start most races.  I don’t think we realized we were that far up.  But it got us off and running and it started with a fairly large rock climb which was nice not to be behind hundreds of runners.  Once over that rock and down the other side it was a sandy desert run for many miles.  While it was still dark, you couldn’t see but we followed a long power line section as we worked our way out towards the first Aid Station.  It was getting light out and we dropped into the first slot canyon of the course.  It was a nice downhill canyon that was beautiful.  Before we knew it we arrived at the first aid station.

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One thing that was very different about this race from the beginning was that the RD and the entire race was very Green.  All trash was recycled and composted, and each aid station had a composing “out house”.  Well it was more of a tent but it was nice to have.

So at our first stop we grabbed some fruit and kept going.  Now we were on a long 3 mile or more sandy wash road.  Basically a very wide sandy road that was only driven on by large 4-wheel drive trucks.  The sand was deep and relentless, tiring you out very quickly.  Lisa seemed to do better in this section and left Carrie and I fairly quickly.  This section led us to Upper Antelope Canyon which was the most beautiful canyon of the race, although as we hit it, the sun had not fully come up and it was a little dark inside when we ran through.  Once through the canyon it was back down the 3 mile sandy road wash back to the aid station as we traced our way back up the way we came down the power lines. From the Antelope Canyon Aid station it was 6 miles to Slick Rock AS and a turn towards the Horseshoe AS.

IMG_0376Carrie had a camera clipped on her pack that takes photos every 30 seconds.  You can see in this picture the deep sand

This whole section was long deep sandy stretches through the desert.  Once we got past Horseshoe AS we headed out to run a long section above Horseshoe bend and some of the most beautiful sections with unbelievable views.  Carrie and I held a steady pace and just kept moving in the deep sand as best we could. It got hot during the day light hours with no shade on the course but in short sleeves and with the dry heat it wasn’t that bad.  We got to Water Holes AS and immediately dropped into Waterholes Slot Canyon. It was really more like a steep climb down into it.  Carrie and I enjoyed this section and ran here with our new friend Janeth, taking a few photos through the canyon.  Soon out of the canyon it was back to sandy road sections and 5 miles back to Horseshoe AS, retracing again our way back to Slick Rock AS.  Now it was a short distance back and then climb up the to Paige Rim AS which was only a few hundred feet from the finish line. But first it was a 10 mile loop run around the city of Paige with beautiful view of Lake Powell.  At least the deep sand was behind us, but for Carrie the sand had done it’s damage on legs and wearing her out.  After completing this 10 mile section, it’s a drop back down to the finish line and a just Navajo Indian made finishers award.

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Carrie and I in Waterholes Slot Canyon

Lisa had finished an hour or so before us and sat around a bon fire with many others waiting for us to come in.  It was such a perfect day in so many ways, but I think we were just all ready to get a shower and some sleep.

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We each picked out a slightly different Navajo made finishers award

 Now after a little time to reflect on our Antelope Canyon 50 Miler let me share some of what I learned:

  1. Ultra Adventures does the Grand Circle Series of races, I would highly recommend adding one of their events to your racing bucket list! They have lots to choose from and put on a great race. I personally hope to do one again soon.
  2. Antelope Canyon 50 miler was probably 30 miles of deep sand. It’s a beautiful race and you want to enjoy it but I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a first 50 miler. I’m not saying you can’t do it but I do think the 50K option at this race covers the most beautiful parts of the 50 mile race.  The cut off is 15 hours, which seems very generous but don’t be caught off guard by the sand.
  3. Visit all the sites you can while you are there.  We went to Zion on the way out and again on the way back.  Also got a permit into the South Butte section of the wave.  It was all a great adventure and worth seeing as much as you can.  I might also add that I would recommend going on the tour out to Antelope Canyon.  I know you do get to run through Upper Antelope Canyon but I think having time to see them and take pictures might be worth the trip. One regret about our trip.
  4. I wore a pair of Altra Lone Peak Neo Shells and Carrie wore a pair of Salomon’s that are also waterproof.  We both wore a pair of gaiters over the top and neither one of us stopped even once to empty sand from our shoes.  I know it might be a trade off,
  5. sand for warmer feet, but my feet were never hot.  When the race was over I was surprised when I removed my shoes and there was not a single grain of sand and I mean seriously nothing.  You will be emptying your shoes countless times on this course otherwise.
  6. It was an awesome girls trip for Team Unicorn!  We were able to share expenses of hotels and the rental car, and because it was off season in February, it was a very affordable trip.
  7. Follow your dreams and Embrace the Journey!