Georgia Loop Report

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

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

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

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

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Dropping Water at Woody Gap just before we started

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

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

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

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

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Quick Photo before we start this thing!

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

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We aren’t even close!

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

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

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

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

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Finally day light and our crew!

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

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

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View from Preachers Rock

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

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

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

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We made it!

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

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

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

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

——
NAT Geo Map #777

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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Vermont 100 Race Report

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

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

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

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

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Just before our 4am start

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

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

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

 

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

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How could you not love this race!

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

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We are all still moving good and having fun!

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Enjoying this gorgeous Sunrise!

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

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Just after my finish!

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

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

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

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This calls for celebration!

 

 

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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Running the Race

Post-race blues are common among runners, but there are steps you can take to help avoid these lows

If you’ve been running long enough you have probably experienced it before.  We plan for months, train long and hard for our goal event, often running a few other races along the way.  The big race has come and gone, but now what?  Whether or not our race was the success we wanted and planned for, it’s over and we are left to sort out our post-race feelings.

These feelings include feeling sluggish, unmotivated, bloated, tired, and sometimes even depressed.  Whatever the outcome of your event, we can all go through these post-race lows.  So how do we recover from them? Does the runners’ high that people talk about always follow with a runners low?

After long ultra races there is usually a recovery period for most runners.  Some literally take several weeks or even months off from most running to allow their body time to recover, and to catch up on personal things that have gone neglected during the long months of training.  Post-race blues can quickly creep up on someone during this time of recovery, so it’s good to take steps to avoid these lows. I’ve found a few things that help during this time.

End of a Chapter

Write a race report: ultra runners like to write and share race reports, usually within a few days or weeks following a race.  They share details about the course, how their race went, what they did right or wrong, and summarize their race experience.   Others might just write out a list of things that went right or wrong as they make notes on how they can improve in their next event.  These reports can be shared on the internet, then read by other runners.  The positive feedback received when sharing these reports can provide encouragement and support, as well as prolong that feeling of accomplishment.  The process of writing a report will also help you to close the chapter on one race and allow you to move on to the next adventure.

Do other outdoor activities: enjoying other activities that keep us moving but allow our bodies to recover is another great idea.  Doing so with friends and family members makes it more enjoyable after months of having little time with them.  Cross training activities like biking, hiking, kayaking, or exploring trails and new places are great alternatives to running during your recovery.  You can also try slower running or walking that allows you to look around and see things you might normally miss while training.

New Adventures

Set another goal: ultra runners love to immediately sign up for the next race once they have completed their goal race.  Many will go to UltraSignUp.com within the first 24 hours of finishing a race to find the next exciting challenge, even as they try to stay off their feet and regain their strength.  It seems crazy that when our body is still feeling the pain it has just endured, our mind can quickly push that aside in search of the next adventure and goal.  When our eyes focus on the next race, it helps us plan a smart recovery, make our next training schedule, and keep the lows from settling in.

Volunteer: find some race volunteer opportunities.  Race directors are often looking for volunteers and helpers for events.  By volunteering, we find meaningful reward in helping others and giving back to the racing community that we enjoy.  We can help other runners by crewing and pacing for them, or satisfaction in seeing others reach their goals.

It’s important to remember we all get them to some degree, recognize them for what they are, they might appear for a while but will eventually go away as time moves on and we refocus.

Published December 2016

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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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