Zion 100 Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lightly raining but ready to get started

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

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IMG_8772Views from that first climb

Photo Cred: John Taylor

 

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

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

33 Miles

Feeling a little better and the rain has stopped

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

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

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

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

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Ready to finish the last stretch

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

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A 100 mile finish is always sweet!

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

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

 

Yeti 100 Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_7603Jen, Rich, Me, Lauren and David

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

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

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Our first time coming into Damascus

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

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

IMG_7611Alvarado AS was Magical!

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

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

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

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

IMG_7622Jason Green, Yeti 100 Race Director, #NotACult

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

73456010-IMG_2590One of my favorite photos on a trestle bridge

 

Badger Mountain Challenge 100 Miler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just before the start

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

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Culvert under the Freeway

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

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Coming into McBee Aid Station

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

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

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

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

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Getting my buckle from the RD, Jason Reatherford

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

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Buckle Up!

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

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Me, Mike Bloom and Mike Nielson, somewhere mid race

Yeti Snakebite 50K, August 27, 2016

Holy Humidity Batman! I don’t even know where to start with this race! 

Jason Green from Yeti Trail Runners hosts a Yeti Snakebite 50/50 each year at Sweetwater State Park in Lithia Springs, Georgia.  He changes it up each year usually offering 50K and 50M options thus the 50/50 and it’s held the last weekend in August.  August is not known for cool fall weather in Georgia! This year he changed it up and decided a 50K all at night would be a fun, so you had a 50K or 11 miler option!  This would be my 3rd year running the Snakebite 50/50.

Oh and another fun little change this year would be that the looped course (3 loops) would cross a river with a promise of an awesome island Aid Station in the middle.  Now how could this not be the best race of the summer!  If you’ve ever run at Sweetwater State Park, which most of the local ultra runners have all done at some point, you know the trails can be technical and sometimes challenging.

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Pre-race photo with Loren, Lisa, Carrie, myself, Stephanie and Mark

 

As with most races, we started our course with a short distanced on the paved road to a fire road that led us down to a large bridge crossing the river.  I know Sweetwater Park pretty well and have run at some point on most of the trails/roads through places Jason finds for us to run.  So the race really started out in very familiar territory for me.  I knew the trails, I knew the climbs and felt very comfortable with his course markings.  But as fate would have it, running in the heat, horrible humidity and the dark of night at Sweetwater would not be the easiest thing I’d ever done.   The race had started at 7pm so it would be an hour and a half before we were forced to turn on our headlamps.  I was hoping to get as much of the first loop completed before it got dark, thinking this would be very helpful in following the flagging and knowing my way during the dark night loops.

The island Aid Station was everything I’d envisioned, filled with several of my favorite running friends, island music, Christmas lights and a rope to aid our crossing.  A water station for refills was on the other side of the river crossing.  Once across the river during the first loop I felt again comfortable I knew my way around the main trails of the park, but of course a turn onto some trails I hadn’t been on before (or didn’t recognize at night) changed that.  A little extra distance getting off course and missing a turn told me that this had potential to be a long night. 

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River Crossing just before dark

I came in off loop one having run it with Stephanie Johnson, Loren Starr and Tony Taylor for the most part.  Stephanie was struggling with ITB issues and many of my friends and fellow runners were hanging at the Start/Finish and were dropping after the first loop.  Loren was having stomach issues, my Rock Starr friend had run a 20K that morning so he’d already run his A-race for the day, I’m guessing.  The volunteers were trying to get us out of the aid station, probably trying to keep as many moving as possible, so Tony agreed to run with me and we headed out for loop 2.  I had grabbed some cold Coke from my cooler before we left.

I really had no idea of our mileage or what time it was.  I’m usually paying close attention to that during my races but I had my watch setting on “bike” mode when I first started and after changing it a few miles into the course, I just didn’t bother looking at it.  Tony kept track on his and he would occasionally tell me we were doing good, but I asked him to keep the details of what that meant to himself.  All I really wanted to know was we were in good shape!  Well sort of. The second loop was really a mental funk for me.  My stomach wasn’t great but I can’t say it was terrible, I felt tired and just sort of generally struggling to stay focused.  It just seemed like a mental push.  During our second loop Tony and I helped another runner who kept missing the turns.  The course was marked well, but the night was very dark and it was easy to miss them if you didn’t either know exactly where they were or look up very often.  The technical course kept you looking down and I was lucky enough to be familiar with where we were most of the time.  After that our new friend Joey, decided he’d stick with us.  When he asked us if it was ok if he tagged along I remember Tony saying that’s how we roll, no problem.  Joey had drove down from another state just to run a Yeti race and we enjoyed his company for the remainder of the night.

The water crossing on the second loop helped turn things around some for me.  I still wasn’t feeling great but usually about half way through a course, just mentally I can get to a better place.  Because that AS was so remote there was very limited water there and this time through it was all but gone.  We managed to get a small amount from the bottom of one container.  We were fortunate as others behind us got none.  So sorry guys if we took the last of it.

The humidity of the night was really tough.  We got back in after our second loop and just knowing we had only 1 more loop was mentally a game changer for me.  After getting more cold Coke from my cooler, we were getting ready to head out when Stephanie and Loren came in together.  Loren was now really having stomach trouble and dropping, Stephanie said her knee was feeling better and wanted us to wait before we left for the final loop so she could join us.  Stephanie quickly grab something to drink and a bit to eat and caught up as the AS volunteers were again trying to get us all back out on the course.  Being the start and finish area it was very crowded.  If you haven’t done a looped course before, sometimes it becomes more like a party there later in the race and let me tell you, the idea of heading back out for another hard loop in the dark isn’t always the most appealing prospect.  I know some runner who don’t do looped races for that very reason.  It’s just too easy to call it a day (or night as it might be) and quit.  And if you know the Yeti Runners, it’s all about fun and beer!  So hey, there’s that too!  But off we went.

Last loop, we got this!  Our group was now 4 as we headed back out for the final time.  Everyone seemed to be feeling much better and ready to finish.  It’s always nice when you are on a final loop and you know it’s the last time you’ll have to do that climb or section again, and with each mile further into the loop, you’re that much closer to being done.  Another friend of ours, Richard had “leap frogged” with us the entire night and shortly into our loop became the 5th runner of our little group.  The power lines and the hills were tough climbs but we all found energy to run the downhill’s and flatter sections.  We looked forward to the water crossing one last time and everyone really just wanted to go for a swim at that point.  The water was pretty warm and not so refreshing but by the final crossing it felt a little cooler.  And this time through there was water at the AS although we were all well stocked knowing they probably wouldn’t have any.  A quick drink and we were up the hill and off towards the finish.  We again found our energy to run the flatter sections, avoiding the roots and rocks in fear of wiping out during the final stretch, as we headed to the finish and one Big A$$ finishers medal!  Yeti’s do it in style!  Awesome job Jason!

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Yeti Trail Runners, Not a Cult!