Bighorn 100 Race Report

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

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

Our Group from Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

First big climb

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

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

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

First Aid Station where I see Brad

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

Sherri and I just after she joined me

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

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

Where the altitude struggle started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bear 100 Race Report

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

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

My race pack to honor Mark

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

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

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

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

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

First Morning Views!  Doesn’t get much better!

Congo line near the top of first climb

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

Finally some downhill!

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

Embrace the Journey!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherri pushing me and enjoying the beautiful course!

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

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

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

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

Black Canyon 100K Race Report

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

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

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Starting Line Photo

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

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David and I hung out before the race

 

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John, Stephanie and I all started together

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

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

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

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Kim Wrinkle took good care of me

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1534Finish line, all smiles

 

More Photos from the Black Canyon Desert

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!

 

 

Getting Personal

Running 100 mile races is becoming increasingly popular among trail runners and many of them are selling out early.  Several of the larger, more well-known races have gone to a lottery system to gain entry into them.  The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race is one of those lottery races, and was the very first 100 mile race.  It began back in 1955 as a trail race for horses.  In 1975, the legendary Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses of the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot. Twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes later Gordy arrived in Auburn, California, proving that a runner could indeed traverse the rugged 100 miles in one day.

Many ultra runners have long obsessed over a coveted spot in the Western States race, myself included. Before being allowed to enter your name into the lottery process, Western States requires potential participants to complete a qualifying race.  Each consecutive year that you enter the lottery, you get double the number of tickets, but if you fail to qualify and enter in one year, you are forced to start from the beginning again the next time you enter. There are also a few slots open for the faster elite runners to race their way into Western States by winning one of a few events offering “golden tickets” to its top two male and female finishers.  With less than 300 names being drawn each year from several thousand applicants, the middle-of-the-pack runner like myself faces very slim odds of being chosen.

THE CROWN JEWELS

So what is this obsession all about? Why do we hold such a passion for this race? With an ever growing number of 100 mile races to run, what is the appeal of Western States?

Western States is considered to be one of the toughest 100 mile races, with an elevation gain of more than 18,000 feet. Runners get to experience some of the most majestic and beautiful high country trails, a memorable crossing of the ice-cold American River, and the historic trails that led gold-seeking prospectors and homesteading pilgrims alike to the welcoming arms of Auburn.  It remains one of the undisputed crown jewels of human endurance events.

Another part of the allure of Western States is the idea of stepping up to the starting line with many of the top athletes in the sport.  These athletes have inspired us.  We’ve listened to them on podcasts and read about them in articles.  Just the thought of toeing the same starting line as us, if only for a short glimpse of them at the start causes our hearts to race.  This course has seen some of the sport’s most stirring and legendary competitions.  It continues to spur the spirit of runners of all abilities, from all walks of life.  The starting line of Western States represents racing legends of the past as well as the future, all sharing the same trails that lie ahead.

These are just a few things that compel the average runner like myself to run a qualifying race so we can throw our names into the lottery, hoping beyond hope that we will be one of the lucky ones whose name is drawn.  2015 was my first year in the lottery when I qualified after completing the Georgia Death Race 68 miler in under 21 hours.  When my single ticket entry didn’t get me a spot, I hired a coach, signed up for and finished the Pinhoti 100, giving me a second ticket for my entry in the 2016 lottery.  I want the chance to experience a small piece of this famous race that has captured my heart and soul.  Dreams do come true, and this is the dream that inspires me, the average ultra runner, as I wait to see if this will be my year to step up to the starting line of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Published January  2017

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