Race Report :: Twisted Branch 100K

I’m not even sure where to begin this race report, honestly. The short version is that I finished, and I qualified for Western States, which were my biggest goals. I’ll start at the beginning and work my way to the end, hopefully in a slightly cohesive fashion!

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WHY Twisted Branch? ::

I’ve never run 100K before. I’ve run 50Ks and 100 milers, but never done the 100K or 50 mile distance. I needed a WS qualifier race this year and looked at several many times. Okay, I PORED over the qualifier list trying to find one that fit my goals. I wanted a race that had more elevation than Mohican, but not CRAZY more – I just wanted more of a challenge. Just like I picked Mohican because it had more than the IT100. I constantly want to challenge myself. So that was one goal. The other was that at the IT100 last year, I jacked up my knee pretty bad. It was the end of December before I could even run 10 miles, and January before I was really running slightly regularly again. My coaches and I decided it would be best to find a qualifier in July or August or later, to make sure I would have time to finish rehabbing my knee and get cracking on another training plan. That threw out the San Diego 100 I had been eyeing, so it was back to the drawing board. Twisted Branch met both the elevation goal and the date goal. It was an August race, giving me time to train, and the 100K had about 11,500′ of gain, so more per mile than Mohican by far. So just a couple days after registration opened, I jumped on it. It sold out a few days later. I signed up BEFORE the WS lottery, so that was a gamble, but I’ve been discovering you kind of have to take that risk because if you wait until after the lottery, many of the qualifiers are either lottery based themselves OR sell out immediately after the WS lottery. So I risked my registration fee.

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WHAT is it? ::

Twisted Branch is a 100K race through the Finger Lakes Trails of “upstate” NY. (Okay, upstate is probably further east, but it’s upstate from the City.) It’s about 64 miles of mostly trails, with some gravel jeep roads, dry stream beds, and a few mile-ish paved sections. It’s known for being crazy hard, with several long sustained climbs and downhills, and lots of roots, flat rock-y sections, and occasional mud. There’s a quote on the website which I now find COMPLETELY true – This is not a groomed park trail. This is a course that will challenge you all day long. Sections that appear to be flat on the elevation profile may be the hardest miles you do all day. Don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to finish this race.” It’s a point to point race starting in Naples, NY at Ontario County Park, and ending in Hammondsport along Lake Keuka.

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Beautiful course, but so many rocks!

TRAINING :: I knew going into this that it was going to be hard. I was going to have to train hard to meet the WS qualifying finish time of 19 hours. The race has a 20 hour cutoff. It actually used to have a 16 hour cutoff, but there were so few finishers they extended to 18 or something, and there were STILL so few finishers that they finally settled on 20. I read a LOT of race reports and studied the course a LOT. Most people ended up finishing about 2 hours AFTER they anticipated they would. This made me super nervous because I tend to have a history of chasing cutoffs, and I REALLY didn’t want that with this race. I have some AMAZING coaches who put together a great training plan for me and I worked my butt off to do ALL of it. With my coaching/rehab getting my knee back AND strengthening to the point where my foot issues were nearly not an issue anymore, I was training pretty strong. LOTS of hill repeats, hill repeats with a weigh vest, hills at the END of my long runs to make sure I could still do hills on exhausted legs – there were a LOT of hills. In Indiana, especially central Indiana, there are no long sustained climbs or downhills. I expressed my concern about the downhills and my coaches put together a leg strengthening plan to help with that. I felt good, really. I went into Twisted Branch after probably the best training cycle I’d ever had, feeling the strongest I ever had. But I was still crazy nervous because I’ve learned to respect the course AND the distance and I knew this was going to be tough. I also have been sticking to the fat-adapted diet and that seemed to have such a good result at Yamacraw that I was excited to see how it did with this race. I don’t usually enjoy it because I LOVE CARBS but if it was working, I was wiling to do ANYTHING to help this race go well.

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Again with the rocks!

PRE-RACE ::

I have an amazing crew and amazing pacers. Seriously. These guys are the best. Joel and Shelley would be coming to crew and pace, and Steve would be coming to be crew chief and be pretty much all around amazing. The other awesome thing is that my brother, who lives in Brooklyn, was going to drive up Saturday morning, meet my crew at our AirBnB, and then come around to help out there the rest of the day. I was SO EXCITED to have my brother there and that was a huge motivation for me. I packed up everything and drove partway Thursday night to meet half my crew and sleep there, and then we left at 7am Friday morning to pick up Steve and head toward NY. Our goal was to get to the AirBnB and settle in a bit before heading to packet pickup which was 5-7. We knew we weren’t going to stay for the pre-race meeting because it didn’t start until 7:45 and that seemed pretty late when there’s a 4am start and our AirBnB is 20 minutes away. We stopped at Chick-Fil-A for lunch because it was there AND because it had food I knew I could eat. I tend to stay away from new places right before a race because…. uncertainty! We arrived at the AirBnB which was beautiful, unpacked the car and settled in just a bit and then headed to Ontario County Park for pickup. Twisted Branch is a smallish race but the packet pickup/vendor event was amazing. The swag was fantastic! In my cute canvas Twisted Branch bag, I had my shirt, stickers, vinyl decal, coffee, and then went and picked up my free Darn Tough socks! I also bought a hoodie because if you know me, I can’t go to a race without finding a hoodie! 🙂 After a couple pictures and getting some more free stuff from the Patagonia vendor, we headed to a tiny grocery store/deli for some light dinner food and then back to the AirBnB.

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The view at Ontario County Park was beautiful!

I should interject here that after my dinner of a chicken/cheese/tortilla wrap, our lovely AirBnB hostess stopped by. She had messaged me earlier that day that she had become intrigued by the ultra, and decided to volunteer at an aid station! She stopped by the house to introduce herself and let us know what aid station she would be at. It was SO COOL to have her do that. She was so excited, too. I didn’t get much sleep that night. I was in bed by 9 and didn’t fall asleep until about 10 and then slept pretty restlessly until about 1 or 1:30. My alarm went off at 2am and I started getting ready. We left about 3 for the park and arrived with time to relax before the race.

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Trying to smile at 3am! #GritSquad

THE RACE ::

The race had a 4am start. Why do I pick races with STUPID EARLY start times? Mohican was 5am. Haha. I need to work on that if I want to keep my crew around! Anyway, we arrived at the park early, I got checked in, and we started about 5 minutes late due to the RD making sure everyone had checked in. SO happy he took the time to do that!

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At the start line!

The first couple hours were in the dark and that was hard. I’ve run in the dark a LOT and even on trails in the dark, but the ascents and descents were tricky with all the roots and loose rocks and me trying to not roll my ankle. That didn’t work. I rolled them about 20 times before mile 38 and about 7 after that. It was pretty slow going as my legs woke up and got into the “fat burning” mode, and I arrived at the first aid station, Cutler, (no crew) later than I wanted to for my goal times. I was in and out after taking one orange slice, and then headed onto the road for a bit. I’m getting some of the road sections mixed up a bit but I think this one was at least a mile. It was about 6 miles into the race or so and I was getting about a 10 minute mile pace or faster for most of it so I made up some time from the previous section. I forced myself faster on the next parts, but much of it was slower than I anticipated with it still being dark. I was upset coming into Napes (12.5 miles in) and my crew knew it. I was well off the 20 hour finishing time and I knew it would be impossible to finish at that pace. It had taken me about 3 hours for the first 12.5 miles and I was ANGRY at myself. I wanted bacon but the AS was out so Steve went back to my cooler to get mine, but I was so ready to get OUT of there that I just told Joel and Shelley I’d get it next time because I needed to get OUT of there. The stretch immediately after Naples was pretty runnable and I was on a mission. I had to make up time and I was SUPER fearful of not making the cutoffs for AS. I didn’t remember if there was a cutoff for the next AS, Sneaker, but I was booking it to get there fast. And then, THE CLIMB hit. This was NOT the highest or longest climb of the day but it was by FAR the steepest. It was soul sucking. Seriously. I had met several people and was running with them, and we launched ourselves into that climb and quickly realized how steep it was. I was using trees to pull myself up and make sure I didn’t fall backwards because of how steep it was and it JUST. KEPT. GOING. At one point I was actually on my hands and knees crawling up it because I couldn’t stand straight. This was the point I discovered the joy of “hands on the quads” and using my arms to help climb. We finally made it to the top and I was TOTALLY disheartened to see the slow slow snail pace on my watch. I was more determined than ever. I ran behind Joe and in front of runner Shelley (because I had Crew Shelley, too!) for a while after that until Sneaker, pushing myself to not walk AT ALL as long as the course was runnable. There were some muddy sections we walked through because the mud was slick like oil and I was sliding around EVERYWHERE. I didn’t need to stress my ankles and feet out any more this early on. This was the section where I determined if I didn’t make the 19 hour WS qualifying time, I was going to give up my dream of WS because there was NO WAY I deserved to be there anyway. It was pretty rough to mess with me mentally that early on in the race.

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I made it into AS3, Sneaker, having made up some time but not enough that I felt comfortable. I think this was where Shelley handed me a fun size Snickers and told me it was my reward for making up time and if I made up more I could have another at Italy Valley. I didn’t stay more than a minute to switch out my bottles and grab the Snickers, and then I was out. I did check the cutoff time for the next AS, Italy Valley, and it was 10:30. I had plenty of time to get there if I moved it. Much of this section was downhill, although not super fast downhill because of all the roots and rocks. I probably rolled my ankles the most in this section! I arrived at AS4, Italy Valley, to see my crew AND our AirBnB hostess who was volunteering there. It was 9:12. I was over an hour ahead of the cutoff and I was MOTIVATED now. I took another Snickers, replaced my water bottles, one with sugar free Kool Aid because crew Shelley noticed I wasn’t drinking a lot. I had told her if I wasn’t drinking enough, to fill one of my bottles with the sugar free Kool Aid mix because I trained with it and would DEFINITELY drink it. I was taking salt tabs at every AS so I was up on salt, too. I stayed at Italy Valley for 1 minute.

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The only selfie I took during the race 😛

Then it was straight to the climb out of Italy Valley to the Lab. During this section, I noticed my shoes felt loose and made it a point to remind myself to re-lace them at the next AS to make them tighter. The sky was clouding up a bit but it was beautiful. Some of the sections were right along a cliff that if I slipped, I would have crashed down a couple hundred feet, but they were beautiful. There was a photographer, so I started running. Of course. Who knows what those photos will look like – I was fighting for my life to not fall down a cliff! Haha! It was very pretty although I wasn’t looking up hardly at all. Just about all my mental energy was looking at the trail in front of me so I didn’t fall, so I unfortunately probably missed a bunch of the amazing scenery. I climbed into the Lab AS and this was the only AS I sat down at the entire race – just so I could tighten my shoes up. My crew did that for me while I munched on a Snickers and a sip of Coke. I was SO happy to have some Coke! The next AS, Patch Road, was a no crew access AS, so I wouldn’t see my crew again until Bud Valley when I picked up Joel to pace me at mile 38. I was ahead of cutoffs again, having arrived at the Lab at 10:55, about an hour and a half ahead of the 12:30 cutoff. The next time I’d see my crew I would also see my brother! They were heading immediately over to the AirBnB to pick him up. That was great motivation to get me through the next 10 miles.

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The next stretch was the absolute worst. There was not a lot of climbing – there was some downhill, but it was by FAR the most technical part of the entire race. Most of it was unrunnable for me. I’m sure the leaders ran it, but I’m not confident running over tree roots that reminded me of the HURT course, or the loose rocks I kept rolling my ankles on, or the MUD – the slick mud, OR the creek bed areas that were just rock covered. It was extremely technical for this Indiana girl and was the hardest part of the course for me, honestly. I arrived at Patch Road and the volunteers helped refill my Kool Aid and gave me a slice of bread with about a quarter cup of Nutella on it. DELICIOUS. I booked it out of there knowing I’d see my brother and pick up my pacer Joel at the next AS. There were a couple of steep steep climbs before Bud Valley and I powered up them. One of my biggest strengths in this race was fast climbing. I was slower on the downhills, but that’s a hard one to train for in the flatlands. But I would regularly pass people on the uphills and then they’d pass me on the downhills.

Somewhere in this section or the last, I hit the 50K point and realized it was my second fastest 50K time, next to Yamacraw. And this was during a 100K and I had already climbed 5,000 feet and descended 5,500 feet! I felt pretty good about that and took a picture for evidence and motivation both.

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I arrived at Bud Valley at 2:10, over two hours ahead of the cutoff now. I was making up time. Shelley gave me a Nutella wrap, I hugged my brother, grabbed another swig of Coke, and took off with Joel. We would see our crew again at Glenbrook, 6.4 miles later, and then not until Urbana where I’d pick up Shelley for the last 6 miles. I was feeling better, my legs felt ok but Jello-like, and physically I felt good. My stomach was great, my mind was clear, and I was moving well. I was walking pretty fast and running the sections that were runnable. Not too long after we left Bud Valley, we heard thunder and when we came into a clearing, saw some AMAZING storm clouds rolling in. Some guy at a road crossing was all “thank goodness you got out of the last part before the storm hit” but I don’t think he realized the storm was coming directly toward us. We stopped and took some pictures of the clouds because they were super amazing. Joel got to finally experience the mud I had been talking about and realized it was no joke. And the climbing. We made it through a decent climb before the rain started but when it started, IT STARTED. I think it rained between Bud Valley and Glenbrook, but I’m not positive. I do know that it was a torrential downpour for quite a while, and I was getting a little cold walking so I forced myself to run. I think I remember telling Joel I needed to run to warm up so I wouldn’t get hypothermia. It was warm outside but it was a cold rain and I knew I would get chilled easily. We moved quickly despite the mud and pouring rainstorm.

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The storm clouds were pretty beautiful

We arrived at Glenbrook before 4pm, over 2 hours ahead of the cutoff. We didn’t linger for long – got some food, hugged my brother, acknowledged the crazy rain, and then took off. We knew this stretch would be long, having 2 AS with no crew. The next stop was Lake David, only 4.4 miles away, but someone had written incorrect information on the sign out of Glenbrook leading us to think it was actually over 6 miles away. Somewhere in here my water bottle got a hole in it and was leaking, so I was down to three water bottles. That would take slightly longer to deal with at the AS, but we were getting it done. I realized after about 4 miles that we were actually almost to Lake David, so the sign had been wrong. I grabbed a cheese quesadilla and some chips and Joel refilled my bottles, and then we were out.

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That stretch had taken longer than I wanted because of how technical it was and all the new mud from the rainstorm. It was sunny again now, though, so I was drying off and warm again. But the mud. Oh the mud. Up well past my ankles and shoes in places and impossible to run through, because it was so slick. That’s what had slowed us down so much getting to Lake David. Joel texted Steve on the way out to say we were leaving and Steve expressed concern about how long that stretch had taken. We explained the mud and then determined to make up time. My goal was to be to Mitchellesville by 7pm or just after and then it was 2.5 miles to Urbana. I wanted to be to Urbana by 8pm to pick up Shelley, leaving us 3 hours for the last 6 miles up and down Mount Washington. I had been hearing all day the average runner takes about 2 hours to do that section which would leave me at about 18 hours, 1 hour ahead of WS qualifying time and 2 hours ahead of the final cutoff. I was feeling okay with this plan and tried to keep my pace moving to make it the 5 miles by about 7.

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There was mud

We ended up at Mitchellesville about 7:14, giving me time to grab some Coke from a community cup and nothing else. It was only 2.5 miles of an apparently pretty runnable section with no big climbs, and a road downhill. We could still make it to Urbana by 8pm. We ran a lot of that section when we could but as long as I was moving we were still okay on time. We ended up getting to Urbana about 7:55. I used the bathroom quick, refilled bottles, discovered another leak and that my pace chart had been poking through and breaking my bottles! It must have been positioned just right because I’ve never had that happen before. So out went the pace chart – not like I needed it the last 6 miles. I knew the times. After a couple hugs and food and refills and getting my waist light on, we were off for the final climb and descent to the finish.

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Saying goodbye to Joel after 18 amazing miles

The trek from Urbana to the finish took almost exactly two hours. Crew Shelley got to see the mud, we met up with Runner Shelley and Joe for a while on the climb up Mount Washington. They took off on the descent a bit ahead of us. We turned our lights on partway up the climb and chatted. Most of this section would not be running because we were climbing, and then the downhills were steep enough and my legs were shot enough that I wasn’t trusting them on the downhill sections. Somewhere on the climb there was a baby snake! Glad Shelley saw it first and not me or the entire region would have heard me scream like a little girl. On the final descent, my light started blinking and went out. I was confused because it had been fully charged that morning and I only had it on for about 1.5 hours. There’s no way it should have been going out already. I flipped it back on and it did  the same thing. I turned it on low power for a while and it worked. Then it went out altogether. I took a while slowly trying to follow Crew Shelley’s light as the others were ahead of us now and the one behind us was too far behind to use his light. After a few minutes of THAT not working, I realized I had my cell phone with me, on airplane mode in lower power so I still had well over 60% left. I turned its flashlight on and used that for the last 1.5 miles or so of the descent to the finish line. We were stopped at the road before crossing into the park and making the final turn to the finish, and once traffic was by and the guy gave the go-ahead, we were off around the final curve. Final finishing time? 18 hours. Exactly. Except for 13 seconds over. I blame that on the light and being stopped by traffic!

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Shelley and I at the finish line!

After coming into 12.5 miles well off of the final cutoff pace, I am pretty darn pleased with the race. I picked it up and my pacers kept me moving well, and I qualified for WS by an hour AND was 2 hours UNDER final cutoff. Not chasing cutoffs is rare for me and I was pretty excited. I got my epic finishers mug and tried to figure out how to walk again and climb into a car to head back to the AirBnB. Exhausted and very happy and very grateful to my crew and pacers.

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WHAT WORKED ::

Keto. Fat-adapted. That worked amazing. I am NOT a fan of keto because I LOVE CARBS and this training cycle has been SUPER hard because I love food. I can’t say I’ve always loved food and I was SUPER nervous to try fat-adapted with my history. I also knew people might criticize me for doing it because of my eating-disordered past. BUT I kept it in check and was careful and it WORKS for me. It was SO amazing to not HAVE to force myself to eat at every AS just to get to the next one with energy. Did I eat? Sure I did! But it was on my terms and what sounded good to me, and not because I was counting calories and needed 200 in order to sustain me to the next AS. I ate fruit and Nutella and wraps and bacon and PBJ and chips and quesadillas – but because it sounded GOOD and I was HUNGRY. My stomach NEVER gave me an issue – except the top of a huge climb I was so out of breath and trying to drink water and couldn’t manage more than a couple sips until my heart rate slowed. That doesn’t count. I never felt sick, never got cramps. My salt intake was spot on. My hydration was good. A bit sketchy at the beginning because it’s hard to drink water when you’re climbing on your hands and knees up a frigging mountain, but I was never dehydrated.

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My sweet brother who drove 5 hours from Brooklyn to see me!

My socks and shoes and 2Toms. I wore a *gasp* new pair of Feetures socks. I’ve worn the thicker ones before but had a new thinner pair I tried. I lubed up with 2Toms and wore my Altra Olympus shoes and didn’t get ANY blisters. I had a couple “hot spots” on my tailor’s bunions, but that is expected with the off-camber-ness of the trail and my feet sliding against the inside of my shoes. But seriously, no feet issues in mud and rain and rocks? WIN! My toes took a beating from slamming against the front of my shoes on all the steep downhills, but that’s pretty unavoidable.

Also a win was running in the rain to stay warm and dressing appropriately for the weather. And bringing Kool Aid for gross tasting water. That Kool Aid was so darn refreshing!

The other win was training. I trained for hills and climbs. Could I have trained more? Couldn’t we all? But I was ready and that helped SO MUCH. I was also mentally stronger this race than most others. Maybe that comes with experience, but I was not going down without a fight and I think my attitude was pretty decent for most of the race except that one low spot. You can double check with my crew and pacers on that one! 🙂

The final thing that went well was my foot. I’ve been working on tendinitis issues and foot pain for a year now with my coaches and I am SUPER impressed. My tendon gave me ZERO ISSUES during the ENTIRE race. I rolled my ankles a bazillion times and that tendon stayed strong! I have no residual foot pain from the race, either. That is TOTALLY unheard of for me after almost 20 years of foot issues. So that’s probably the biggest win EVER.

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The only thing wrong with my foot was that I could hardly get to it through all the mud!

WHAT WOULD I CHANGE? ::

Honestly? Not much. Maybe would have done a bit more stair climber work or tube run hill repeats. I was smart picking the tube run for some repeats because that was SERIOUSLY what most of that race was! So more of those would be good. There really isn’t a lot else. Maybe made sure my shoes were tighter at the beginning so my feet weren’t moving around in my shoes so much for the first stretch!

I’m sore still today (Monday) but not bad at all. I slept like crap Saturday night but that’s expected because my feet and legs were so achy. But nothing is injured. So that’s amazing.

MAD props to everyone who helped me along the way. My running partners, Jerry, Joe (a couple times!), Amy, Shelley, Joel, Erin, Brenda….. You guys are my people. I gain so much knowledge from you every time I share miles with you!

More props to my coaches, Suzi and Stephanie from Evolve Performance Running – seriously, can’t even express how much you guys have helped me and encouraged me!!!

And to my crew and pacers, Joel and Shelley and Steve and my brother Eric who stepped in and was amazing too. You guys are my heroes. FIREBALL.

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Training mindset and the extra

It’s Monday today.

I don’t normally enjoy Mondays. They ARE a much-needed rest day after my usual long run weekends, but I’m usually sleepy and having to go into work and just generally BLAH.

Today isn’t much different. Training is hard sometimes. It’s a lot of miles. It’s a lot of time. It’s sacrificing many things. It’s dealing with people who just plain don’t understand, although I am blessed to have many people in my life who have made an effort to understand and support me.

My next race is in just over 6 weeks. Twisted Branch 100K in the Finger Lakes region of New York. I am both excited and terrified over this race, to be honest. It’s going to be the toughest race I’ve ever attempted. It has about 11,000′ of elevation gain over the course of about 64 miles, and several climbs of 1,000’+. We don’t have hills like that here in central Indiana. I don’t have a three mile downhill to train on. I don’t have the terrain that is probably out there, although I really don’t know anything about it out there since I’ve never been. When I ran Mohican last year, we did a training run out there a month before so I could get a feel for the course. I’m going into Twisted Branch blind, with only a handful or race reports or podcasts to draw from. That terrifies me. It also terrifies me because I don’t know what it’s like to climb that much in a race. I do take some comfort in that I completed the 5 Peaks Challenge in San Diego, which is 5 climbs of around 1,000′. I was hiking that, however, not racing, so it’s hard for me to imagine doing it quickly.

My training has been good, though. I have a couple of great coaches who give me hard but wise workouts, have extensive knowledge in injuries, injury prevention, and strengthening to help me prepare. I don’t think I’ve been slacking in my training, even though sometimes it feels like it. I think there’s a wisdom that comes with experience in terms of listening to your body and knowing when you need to rest, when something is more serious than you initially thought, when you can push yourself, etc. I sometimes think I could push myself more than I do, which is definitely something I’m still learning. But I’m also getting better at listening to my body and knowing when I need to take a break or extra rest day. I’ve changed my training, coaching, diet, and prevention measures for this race. Some of it I’ve been doing for close to nine months, other things are more recent. But I’ve not run a race longer than a 50K since I’ve made these changes.

First, coaching. I’ve had a running coach before. Heck, I AM a running coach. But the wisdom my two coaches have has really helped me fine tune for this race – virtually every time I run I am training something SPECIFIC, which is more than just the “junk miles” I had been putting in for most of my more unstructured training plans sans-coach. I switched my diet around at the beginning of the year. I’m hesitant to post much about that because with my history of food issues, a diet change seems to be the last thing I need. BUT I’ve been careful, had a lot of guidance, and Yamacraw was the proof I needed that it’s working. Fat adapted is the way to be! Not that I enjoy every minute of it. I don’t mind saying that. Is it a permanent change for me? Probably not. I’m not sure. I am not one of those people that switches their diet around and suddenly no longer craves things from before. What I wouldn’t give for a huge chocolate iced, cream-filled donut right now…. Or that DQ Blizzard…. everything in moderation, right? I’ generally an all-or-nothing kind of person when it comes to the food world so I’ve been pretty strict with myself on this one. I’m sure there’s margin for “error” (ice cream) but I do want to be cautious.

WHY?

That’s the big question. Why would I go all out in training and diet changes and trying different things? Why would I totally throw myself into training for this race? Because of the training mindset I have.

Well, it IS a WS qualifier, so there’s that. I do have a time goal. But it goes beyond that. It’s something that’s been rolling around my head for a few weeks now. When I signed up for Twisted Branch, I solicited an amazing crew of people to come out and join me in the adventure. My crew and pacers are amazing. They are committed. They are all-in. They are detail-oriented down to having a freaking BINDER of information about aid stations and cut off times and all of that. They are all-in. And it would be SO UNFAIR to them if I wasn’t all in, also. Who am I to enlist a top-notch crew to sacrifice their weekend for me and then NOT be as absolutely prepared as possible for the race? They do all this work and agree to help me and then I skimp on hill repeats because I’m tired and don’t feel like it? That’s not fair to my crew.

I understand things happen. Races don’t go as planned all the time. My crew knows that, too. But if I go into this race having prepared the best I possibly could, and THEN something happens, that’s more understandable than if I go into the race half-heartedly and not very well prepared. I don’t have extra cash lying around to sign up for a race and then NOT be ready for it. I don’t have extra time to be gone a weekend away from my husband and NOT be prepared. And it’s my JOB as the runner to do everything I can to be as ready as I possibly can be. I’m going to work hard. HARD.

And THAT training mindset is what makes me do the extra.

If you know me or have run with me, you know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the crazy hill at Mohican that I decided to do 5 repeats on. Knowing full well I’d be totally exhausted after five, and then deciding to do one more. I’m talking about having to do 3 sets of 8 reps on the leg press and then deciding to do just one more set. I’m talking about the extra. The thing you do when you’re exhausted and can’t do any more, and then you do ONE MORE. THAT one more could be the difference in finishing the race or giving up. It could be the difference in the speed to get to the final finish line. The extra is what I love doing. Checking my watch and seeing I can hit about 7 hill repeats in the allotted time and then deciding to push myself an extra 30 seconds faster each repeat so I can squeeze in 8 instead. The extra. Do the extra.

 

19

I don’t usually write about anything other than races but I’m branching out today. Today is April 19th. It’s a date that will be forever etched in my mind as the beginning of a downfall and several other things.

Nineteen years ago started a slow fade. A slow fade that took almost fifteen years to rebuild. High school is never easy but my senior year took a drastic turn. April 19th was the day I was checked into the psychiatric unit of a local hospital. I was suicidal. I was hurting myself. I wanted everything to be over and I wasn’t afraid to tell people that. April 19th, I became publicly “crazy”. Most people had sort of been able to tell over the past few years that I had been going downhill, but April 19th, it became official. It started years of hospitals and therapists and medications and ER trips and extended stays and treatment programs. It began a life that seems so far away now, but then when I think about it, seems very close. April 19th was the start. The next year I’d be in the hospital again for self-harm. Then the anorexia got out of control. The bulimia. The over exercising. Everything in my life became marked by where it was in the timeline between hospital stays and therapy appointments. Nothing was normal. So many things are scattered between those years. My memory is vague on a lot of things because my body was starving and my mind wasn’t functioning. I was manipulative. I was brutal toward people. I hated anyone who wanted to try to help me but then I so desperately wanted help. Mental illness is weird like that. You push away the very people you SO want to help you. My life revolved around pain. Sleep. Lack of sleep. Alcohol to numb everything. Where I could hurt myself next. Which doctor I had to hide things from next. Who I had to lie to in order to get out of things. Years piled on years. I lost so much time. Sometimes I wonder if the reason I love traveling and exploring so much now is simply because I never got to experience it when I was supposed to. Instead of doing study-abroad programs, I was entering a three month hospital stay for anorexia. Instead of traveling after graduation, I was living in solitude in another city, far from friends, hurting myself every single day simply because I didn’t know what else to do. I never lived. April 19th. Good Friday this year. Which makes it doubly hard because Good Friday was also the day I should have died. The day in 2003 when I sat in a dorm room with a friend downing shot after shot of absolut citron with lemons and sugar until 45 minutes later, half the bottle of vodka was gone and i was drunk as anything. i should have died that night with the level of alcohol in my system. I shouldn’t have ever seen that Easter Sunday. But for some reason, I lived. And the pain continued for another 9 years until healing finally started taking place.

So here I sit, rambling on about things most of you never knew about, because Good Friday and April 19th are so significant to me. And because I couldn’t let the day pass without acknowledging that it’s 19 years later and I am still here, alive, thriving, and sometimes wishing I could have those missing years back. The years where I got my Master’s degree but barely even remember the campus I was on for two years. The years where I made friends and drove a school bus and lived in another city and don’t remember most of it. The missing years where college suddenly ended and I was 35 years old. In between saddens me. I wish desperately, sometimes, that I could reclaim those years. But then, they were so awful. But then, they made me who I am today.

There is so much more to the story. But for tonight, I’ll remember 19. I’ll remember the night things unraveled.

And then I’ll be thankful that somehow, they wove themselves back together again into something far more beautiful than it was before.

Race Report :: Yamacraw 50K

Short version :: Yamacraw 50K in Stearns, KY. Finish time :: 6:56:12

Long version ::

Back in October a group of us decided to stay up until midnight to register for this amazing race called Yamacraw that was supposed to be beautiful in the southern Kentucky springtime. So I registered because, well, why not? A 50K is doable. It sounded pretty. I didn’t have Kentucky for my 50 states yet, and it sounded like a fun adventure. Between October and April a lot of things happened. I guess part of the story starts last August when Kanawha Trace 50K fell apart on me. Or rather, my body fell apart on me. Since then I worked with coaches who helped fix my body and get me stronger. I registered for this race before the IT100 where I injured my knee and was pretty much not running at all until the end of December. I wondered whether or not this 50K was a good idea. I figured I’d be ready for it by April but there were plenty of times I could barely run 5 miles and didn’t know how possible it would be to do well.

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beautiful, foggy morning

Another change started in January when I decided to step into the keto world and adapt my body to burn fat rather than rely on carbs during a race. I didn’t actually take this decision lightly based on my past and based on the flack I might get from friends who might think it was another diet attempt or something. To this day, actually, I haven’t posted anything about it and my Pinterest board is private for that reason. But I guess if you’re taking the time to read this, you know now! Anyway, I did it for a number of reasons. IT100 was rough on my body not only with my knee, but with my GI issues. I had those at Mohican as well. And I’ve always struggled to make myself eat enough during a long run to have enough energy to really finish it. Since I’m registered for Twisted Branch in August, I knew I needed to do something to be able to have the energy to keep going. Keto sounded tempting because it would allow me the freedom to not eat if I didn’t feel like it AND still have the energy from my body burning fat to keep running longer with more strength. So Yamacraw fell about three months into that change and it would be a good test to see how it was going.

Training leading up to Yamacraw? It actually went pretty well. My coaches were having me do speed workouts and tempo runs and I could tell I was getting stronger. My long runs got a bit faster and my tempo run times were getting faster. The few weeks leading up to taper were hard because I was traveling to New York and moving and things got a little hard and there were some long runs that were skipped. I did do a pretty cool trail while in New York – a 26 mile hike/run on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. It was meant to be a long run but with the recent overwhelming rain north of NYC, much of the trail was pure mud AND it was one of those trails that goes through small towns and isn’t always marked so I had to pull out my phone a TON to find directions and make sure I was going the right way. It took far longer than I had hoped, but it was good time on my feet and it was beautiful along the Hudson. The next day my brother and his family and I did a 5-ish mile hike up Bull Hill which was also beautiful. I was happy because as hard of a climb as it was up there to the top, my heart rate stayed really low, which told me I was more physically fit than I thought. Training must have been working. I had no more long runs – just a couple more speed workouts before the 50K at that point so “the hay was in the barn”. My knee has healed up and I wasn’t really having any physical issues. My foot was getting a little sore with tendinitis because I was increasing miles and not doing my PT exercises every day like before. But I also knew that I could work through that and often, the tendon calmed down part way into the run after it had warmed up.

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Some time before the race, Stacy, who was also running the 50K and I had briefly chatted about trying to run under 7 hours. Now, my personal 50K PR was actually one of the first 50Ks I ran and was 7:55 on not nearly as hard of a course, so I knew that would be a challenge, but I also enjoy a challenge and something to work toward. I also knew I was running better than a few years ago when I hit that time, so it might be possible. I kept it in the back of my mind even after I found out I’d be running it without the company of my friend. I held the goal loosely because I had no idea what race day would bring. There was a lot of rain leading up to the race and as a result, the course had an alternative route we would be taking bringing the mileage from close to 34 miles down to an actual 50K at 31 miles. The actual distance is still being debated as many peoples’ watches read short. I’m chalking it up to the switchbacks and trails and GPS just not reading switchbacks well because I honestly DID feel like in the beginning, my watch was off on some of my paces per mile. I would run almost the full mile and it would still say 15 minute pace, which I knew was not right. So something was clearly going on there. Whether or not the course was 31 miles, I’m still claiming it as a 50K because with trails, you just don’t know. Trail miles are so different than road miles.

The day before the race, I packed up my car and headed south to Kentucky. I planned to arrive at packet pickup about 6 or so (it was closer to 6:30) and then head to our AirBnB house about 30 minutes away. I picked up my things, bought a t-shirt because why not, and headed to dinner next door with Stacy and her kiddo. We arrived at the AirBnB as it was getting dark. I tried to get things ready for the morning as I knew it would be an early drive to the parking lot where the shuttles were picking us up to drive us to the start/finish line. It would be warm – 75 by the time we finished so I decided on shorts and a t-shirt. Hindsight is 20/20 and I totally should have worn higher socks or something because my legs got pretty torn up from the sticks and twigs and roots and other things hitting them. I went to bed relatively early deciding that I would play the race by ear and not really have too many plans. I loosely knew what my pace had to be to run under 7 hours, and that was really about it. For once I wasn’t staring at cutoff times because I was definitely confident I could make the 10 hour and 15 minute cutoff for the race.

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Race morning I filled my water bottles, brought some food with to eat before the 7:45am start, and headed to the shuttle parking lot. We waited inside until loading the buses which was nice because it was still a little cool outside. I lost track of Pat and Ashley who were also running and we ended up on different buses but finding each other at the start line. It was not my intention to run with anyone during the race, but Pat and Ashley and I ended up falling in line pretty early on and stuck together almost the whole race. I did tell them at one point to leave me because I didn’t want to hold them back, and they went ahead, except I stuck right behind them. The first half of the race was HARD. Most of the climbing was in the first half and there were several brutal climbs and those, coupled with the excessive mud and stream crossings, slowed my pace to where it would not be possible to run under 7 hours. The trail itself wasn’t overly technical, but there were a LOT of leaves on the trail covering up the roots and sticks, so that definitely slowed me down. I walked through most of the larger mud puddles because first, I didn’t want to lose a shoe, and second, a guy had slid in the mud right next to me early on, going down hard and splashing me with a face full of mud. I didn’t want to be that person. So I slowed through most of it. At the aid stations, I had planned on not eating anything and I passed the first one, barely stopping to refill my water bottle and scolding myself for not drinking more. The next aid station, however, I did take some peanut M&Ms because they sounded amazing. and kept me going until the ext aid station where I had a few more! I made myself take 2 SaltStick orange chewable tabs every hour, starting at 30 minutes into the race. This strategy, while it wasn’t an actual planned strategy, worked REALLY well for me and I’ll probably keep doing it.

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waiting for the start

Before the halfway aid station, there was a particularly brutal climb that kept going forever and ever and ever. I think we clocked it at a mile and a quarter long, with no switchbacks. There may have been cursing. My climbers were broken. I was hurting but still moving. We got to the top and walked, knowing the aid station was close by. I honestly did not think I’d be able to run again after that climb because it had been so rough on my legs. But, then I ran. The entire race I had a song I had listened to the day before stuck in my head on repeat. It had been the first time I heard the song but on my drive down to Kentucky, I threw it on repeat because the words were just so, so perfect for this race weekend. The chorus ended up being my mantra for nearly seven hours as I sang it over and over in my head, making myself believe every single word. I figured it would be appropriate to share it.

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“perfect sky” by sarah slean
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one of many, many stream crossings

We arrived at the 16.6 mile aid station which was where our watches were reading the mileage at only about 15 miles. They told us that was what people were saying, but honestly, the switchbacks up until then had been VERY plentiful, so I’m pretty sure that had something to do with it as well.  They told us it was another 5 miles to the next aid station, putting us there at about 21 miles. That was probably the hardest stretch because of coming off the long hard climb and there were several other climbs in there, but there was also a decent amount of downhills. I started running with Simon around then, I think. We chatted and that helped the miles go by. We walked a bit because our legs were recovering, but then once we started running again, I felt better. My legs were sore and tired, but still allowing me to move. We met up with Pat and Ashley again before that ext aid station. It was warming up a lot and I had gone through just about all of my water. There was another big climb to that aid station and I tried to conserve my water until I could refill both bottles. I had eaten some actual food at the previous aid station which had given me a good boost of energy. That nutella tortilla wrap was AMAZING and I couldn’t wait to get another if they had them!

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this is my “i’m still half asleep” face

I stayed with Pat and Ashley and Simon until the last 5 miles We came into that aid station and with 5 miles to go, I realized it might actually be possible to hit under 7 hours. It might be close, and I might not make it, but I sure wanted to try AND I was feeling good.

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still pushing through

THIS. THIS was such a HUGE change from any of my previous races. Usually by the last five miles I’m barely hanging on and just trying to trudge through to the finish and get done. That was what Kanawha and Huff and the previous Kanawha had been like the last couple years. Just hold on and try to make it. Hope you have a little energy. Run if you can for a few seconds. But here I was, five miles to go, telling Pat and Ashley and Simon that I was going to take off and try to make my goal. I grabbed one last handful of peanut M&Ms and made sure my bottles were full, and took off. I heard Simon behind me telling me he was coming too. We ran. We barely stopped. We walked only to climb a couple hills that were in that stretch. Those were my fastest miles by FAR, clocking 11 minute paces after already running 26 miles. I had one mindset and that was to reach my goal, and the best part was that my body actually allowed me to DO it this time. With about a mile to go, Simon said “we can do this!” and he took the lead, booking us down the trail at sometimes a 9 minute pace and I just kept trucking behind him telling myself it was just like a tempo run. The final turn onto the bridge, he took off and I followed, at about a 7 minute pace which is just purely ridiculous but it was amazing at the same time. I crossed the finish line at 6:56 and was giddy. My body felt pretty good. I was walking okay. I was sore, of course, but I wasn’t injured even with my two pretty hard ankle turns, and I wasn’t falling on my face exhausted and out of energy. I felt like I could have run some more.

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of course the photographer would catch me in between the smiling and thumbs up i was giving her

I’m usually pretty okay mentally during a 50K. I want to push myself. The issue is that usually my body has nothing left to push myself, ending in total frustration. This race was neat because mentally I wanted to push myself, and physically, my body LET me push myself. THAT is the change I see. I’ve trained hard. I changed my diet. And I think that combination working together really helped make Yamacraw a fabulous experience. I’m ready to get back to training now as soon as my quads decide to let me walk normally again. 🙂 They’re pretty sore!

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After the race, we headed back to the AirBnB and I showered and then decided to go exploring because I had seen a sign for a Natural Bridge and it sounded pretty cool. I drove there, walked around a bit, took some cool photos, and then headed north to eat dinner before heading back to the house. I’m glad I decided to stay Saturday night as well because I had a beautiful Sunday morning sitting on the deck listening to the birds and the wind. It was a peaceful house and I’d definitely go back to that one again, too! AirBnB is pretty great.

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the natural arch i visited, with a sweet filter
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nothing like a quick hike after a 50K race!

If you’ve read this far, congratulations. It’s over now!

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Race Report :: Indiana Trail 100

Short version ::

Sorry. There is no short version. 😂

Long version ::

I’m not sure where to begin this race report. First, it’s probably going to be long, and second, it’s probably going to be raw. So if either of those turn you off, sorry not sorry.

It’s Tuesday after the race and my emotions surrounding it are still on overdrive. Originally, the IT100 was not in my race plans for the year. It was potentially going to be a backup race in the event that Mohican went south, but Mohican was my WS qualifier race and that was “Plan A”. I wanted to volunteer at IT because of how amazing the aid stations and volunteers were the previous year when I ran it. But then in December, there was this ornament hunt up at ChainO, and I ended up with a free entry into the IT100, so I accepted it. And plans changed. Mohican happened and I finished, so IT was not an imminent “must finish” race, but I needed to do it justice because….free entry…. Don’t want to waste that at ALL. After the Kanawha Trace 50K in August, I became increasingly frustrated with my feet and the tendon pain that’s plagued me since I started ultras. Previous surgeries had left me with tendonitis and everyone I saw said “it’s just going to be like this or you can stop running” (paraphrased). I wasn’t taking that for an answer. I was tired of my long back-to-back runs being cut short because of the extreme pain I was in after the first one. I was tired of just “running” to get miles in not knowing if my foot was going to cooperate. I was tired of driving up to my ART guy once or twice a week (45 minutes away each way) to get “fixed up” enough to get my next run in. I needed answers. I wasn’t done with ultras. So Steve suggested I talk to Stephanie and a few days later I had more answers than I had gotten in ages and a strength training plan to start working on my feet. It was painful, also. Having not actually strengthened those muscles much, some of the exercises were pretty rough. Then came the change-up in my training plan for IT100. Not much, but just enough to give me back some speed work and hills (thanks, Suzi!). I stuck with the plan with minimal pain, still working through the foot/tendon/muscle strengthening. There were ups and downs but I was getting my long runs in fully, and faster than usual. I was feeling stronger and much more confident heading into taper. And then I tweaked the muscle on my left leg and had some IT band issues THE WEEK before the race, and I about freaked out. Everything had been doing so well. We added in some more/different strengthening things but even the day before IT, things were still not great. The weird irony of the whole thing is neither of those issues EVER reared their ugly heads during the entire 100 miles, even when I was putting far more stress on them because of babying my right side. So. Mad props to my coaches for the help in getting my strength up!

The race.

I was so ready. I was prepared. I know things never go quite as planned, but I had trained hard and worked hard and I was SO ready. My time goals were narrowed down and well within reach. I had my husband crewing me at the boat launch, and two amazing pacers to get me through the last 48 miles. Everything was planned out.

I ran the first 7.5 with Amy, which was amazing, really. It was a decent pace and even better conversation. About mile 3, just after the South Park aid station, my GI started not feeling the greatest. Lower GI. My stomach never gives me issues. I regretted not stopping at the porto or pit toilet but decided to gut it out until Hilltop. We came around the prairie bend and up onto the ramp/bridge. We were warned about potentially icy bridges but none of the previous ones were icy. Well, I took it at a 90 degree turn (thanks, Joe!) but as soon as I stepped onto the ramp with my right foot, it slid sideways out from me and I went down hard on my left side. My hip hurt and my elbow hurt, both on my left side, but I got up and brushed it off and kept moving, not realizing that in the process, I had twisted my right knee when my foot slid out. We made it to Hilltop and Amy and I parted ways. I narrowly made it to the porto, grabbed some ginger ale, and headed out to Rally. My left side felt better. I knew I had a scraped elbow, but my hip felt normal again. By the time I made it to Rally, I narrowly made it to THAT porto. My pace was a tad under what I had been hoping for my first loop, but I was still okay, just really upset that I felt so, well, crappy. Literally. This was new territory for me in a race. I’ve never had lower GI issues like that. Suzi and Stephanie were out at Rally and I briefly explained what was going on, grabbed some more ginger ale and a quarter sandwich and some soup because I hadn’t been eating OR drinking enough because of feeling bad. I knew I was behind on both hydration and calories. I left Rally to head back to Schoolhouse and used the porto yet AGAIN. A couple times I thought I was feeling better, so I took another quarter sandwich, ginger ale, and soup, and headed for the boat launch and the S/F area. I quickly changed out one of my bottles because, yes, after a full loop, had only made it through ONE 500ml bottle of Body Armor/water mix. I had been drinking at the AS, but I knew it wasn’t enough. At the S/F, I met up with Suzi and Stephanie again, and did NOT use the bathroom there (WHOA!), regrouped, and I’m pretty sure I told them I was mad because I was off my times that I was aiming for. Suzi gave me a time goal for loop 2 and I took off again.

Loop two, I ended up stopping at BOTH South Park AND the little pit toilet just after it for yet MORE bathroom stops, but after this, I was feeling mostly better. What was NOT feeling better was my bottom half from chafing in places I didn’t expect. I had tried out the undergarments on a 35 mile run, but apparently, given the circumstances of the day, etc, they were NOT working out well. But I didn’t have any other options at that point so I kept pushing toward Hilltop. This issue was super bothersome, but it wasn’t a reason to stop and whine too much. This was also the stretch when I first noticed my knee starting to bug me. I didn’t have any idea why it hurt because at the time, I didn’t remember that the slip had twisted my leg out. It just felt off and was getting a little stiff, but I made it out to Hilltop, grabbed some more ginger ale and food (bacon maple oatmeal cookies!!!) and took off for Rally. I was staying close to my pace goal I needed to keep in order to make my loop time and I ran the entire flat stretch out to Rally slow but steady. At Rally, I ate some more (woohoo! No more stomach issues!) and felt pretty good. It took about 32 miles to get the lower GI issues out, but by then my knee was bugging me. Still no foot/tendon pain or IT band pain. There were several people I ran with – Jill for a while, I saw Sherry and shared a few minutes with her but she was cooking and took off, and David whom I chatted with for at least the last 3 miles of the loop. There were others, of course. I switched my bottles out at the boat launch and got my waist light and flashlight and got my watch charging before heading to the S/F. Got some more food, knew I’d be meeting Shannon at Rally to pace me, and I just needed to get there. I just about made that loop’s time goal, and I was okay with that, but I knew things were quickly slipping away with the amount of pain I was feeling in my knee now. Walking was happening more frequently, and running was slowing way down. Somewhere during loops 2 and 3 I started singing the chorus of “500 miles” and running as I was singing, then walking a bit. I stretched it into singing the chorus twice while running. Then tried for three times. Mind you, the chorus is not very long, but it was stretches of running I wouldn’t otherwise have made myself do. I swear I sang that song at least 500 times.

Loop three was rough. The first half for sure. There was some ugly crying and getting REALLY down on myself for not having things go how I thought they were supposed to go. In the time it took me to get from the S/F to Hilltop, I had determined I had let myself down, already let my pacers down because I was moving so much slower, and was letting down everyone else in the Ignite group who had supported me and run with me and helped me so much. By the time I got up the hill to Hilltop I was a mess. Dawn (you are amazing) asked me how things were going and I couldn’t even say anything without just crying. She hugged me and got me into the tent and I got some ginger ale and food and she massaged my knee and stick-ed it really good for a few minutes. Joe came over and refilled both my bottles and I can’t even remember who else was there encouraging me on. I still felt like a disappointment when I left but my knee felt a little better temporarily. I didn’t want to push it and the section right before Rally quickly went from being my least favorite section to one of my favorites. I have always loved the pine needle section about a mile out from Rally, but the sun was setting and it was getting beautiful and I just tried to take it all in and regroup and re-set myself. I’d be getting my pacer soon. I think I apologized to Shannon within minutes of taking off from Rally because I was so slow. He helped work on my knee a bit which REALLY helped, both at Rally before we left and again at Schoolhouse. It was cooling down, dark, and not very late but I DID get my first drink of Coke at that Rally stop and that was energizing. It had been weeks and I needed the caffeine at this point. I honestly don’t remember a lot about the rest of loop 3 other than my knee was in full force hurting. And it was this point where Shannon determined after asking me a few questions that the pain in my knee was likely from the fall at mile 5 and twisting it and then continuing to run on it. It made sense since I did remember my foot and leg sliding out from me and that’s why I tried to compensate by falling on my left side. After a quick stop to replace bottles, get my hoodie on, and trade out mittens and hand warmers, we headed to the S/F for loop 4.

Another loop I remember little of, other than aid station to aid station, rolling my hamstring out, trying to fight through the pain. Shannon and I discovered we both enjoy the Clifty Falls area and we talked about camping a bit and the woes of looking up and picking a “full shade” campsite only to get there and they’ve cut down all the trees! At this point I was definitely questioning my ability to finish in time. My time goals were all thrown out the window and it felt like a death march. I did get my streak mile in just before Rally but by the time I got to Rally I was a wreck. This is one of the many times that aid station volunteers who have run ultras are so priceless to have out there. I didn’t know what I wanted or needed. I wanted to sit down and warm up. I was freezing, I was tired, I was in so much pain and was having a hard time bending my leg at all now. This was my first thought of DNFing. I just didn’t think I could do it anymore. Nick came over and talked me through the options, none of which were dropping right then. It was “get back to the S/F and reevaluate.” It was “put your head down and close your eyes for 5 minutes”. I think I argued back that I didn’t think I HAD five minutes to waste but I did it anyway. I didn’t sleep, but it got my breathing back a little and the coughing under control (from the cold) and five minutes later it was “okay, Kate, time to get up and get out of here” and away we went. I think I remember Shannon telling me I got a bit more with it after leaving Rally. Sometimes, encouragement and rest can do wonders for someone. We weren’t running, but I was definitely walking quicker than before. I was in agony by this point. Worse than Hennepin. Worse than Mohican. I couldn’t even WALK fast like I could last year. Hills were nearly impossible because my leg wouldn’t bend. And every step down was complete pain. We got back to the main tent and Joe was waiting. We had ages to do the final loop but I was pretty sure I would take all the time as slow as I was moving. I apologized a hundred times to Joe about walking so stupid slow. Before we started the last loop (the “victory loop” as Joe called it!) I saw Jen at the main tent aid station, snapped a photo with Steve at one point (maybe that was before the 5th loop – it’s a little blurry to me!) and then Joe and I headed out. I tried a cheese quesadilla and couldn’t finish it, but my nutrition was still okay.

The last loop was one of the most awful and amazing experiences of my running “career” over the past few years. It was agonizing. Every step. Hills were nearly impossible, I was nearly hyperventilating over the pain, and Joe just took it in stride and helped me get my breathing back under control and supported me through all the hills that I couldn’t manage. I’ve never experienced volunteer support like I did on that loop. I remember very little of it because when pain is that extreme your brain tends to fixate on that and nothing else sticks. I remember not seeing ANYONE for ages as we walked slowly on, mile after mile. Joe had landmarks that he would tell me about. First we would come to the bridge, then to the slow uphill, then to the… over and over that entire loop, he set landmarks that were so much closer than the “5 miles to the next aid station” that had me overwhelmed. Point to point, slowly ticking them off the list. I didn’t know HOW we would finish in time because I knew what our pace was and I was barely able to hold on to a 20 or 21 minute mile at that point, limping every step and trying to control my breathing so the pain didn’t raise my blood pressure and heart rate to the point of no return. Every aid station volunteer was so helpful and encouraging and supportive in getting me what I didn’t know I needed at that point. I remember so many people asking me, “what do you need?” And I would just shake my head and say, “I don’t know” and pretty soon someone would be filling a bag with salted tater tots for me, or handing me a Coke glass and a cookie. They just knew. It was absolutely incredible. We got to Schoolhouse one final time and Joe got me a lei while I kept on moving. I think I ended up with a glass of Coke to get me through to the finish. In the last 2 miles, what seemed like about 10 people passed me and it was so gut wrenching to just have to let them go. There was no way I could physically catch them at that point. So we trudged on. We came to the boat launch and my car was gone so I knew Eric was at the finish waiting for me. One last hill to get up, then the downhill. Then the finish. It was within reach with hardly any time to spare, but I knew, for the first time EVER, that I would not be able to run through the finish line. There was absolutely no way my body could do that. I was not able to bend my leg at this point and it was heartbreaking to walk through the finish line feeling defeated rather than running through. But I did it. We did it.

That buckle meant the world to me and at the same time I wanted to throw it into Sand Lake because I didn’t deserve it. I know I was sleep deprived, but I was really and truly very angry at myself about this race. I still am to an extent. I know I should be so, SO happy that it was a finish and not the DNF it could have been the 5+ times I almost did. I should be happy I made it through and should enjoy the accomplishment. But right now, a couple days later, it’s still a bitter pill in my mouth. I should have done better. I should have moved faster. I should have done SOMETHING (who knows what, though, since this was kind of outside of my control!) different. It wasn’t what I had planned. It wasn’t what I was capable of. It was on that day. But it’s not what I had trained for. And although I’ve had several races like that, this one really struck me harder than the rest. Maybe it’s because it’s my home course with my home people, but it’s still hard.

What’s harder still is lying on the couch with my knee barely moving, and being relegated to “DL” status. I’m a SUPER bad injured person. I don’t handle it well. I need to be moving. I need to be working and planning toward my next goal. Instead, well, I’m not. Which is also hard for me. Sorry this wasn’t the super encouraging end to the race report. In a few days, my head will clear a little more and I’ll gain a bit more perspective, but right now I’m stuck in the rut of disappointment. Which is SO not the place I’d like to be! I would LOVE to be smiling and “faking it until I make it” but I’m still upset with myself.

Things that went well during the race? Once I got past the initial GI stuff the first 32 miles, my nutrition and hydration were right on par. I never had stomach issues or didn’t want to eat. My pacers were amazing and the volunteers kept me going. I started caffeine at mile 52 and it worked AMAZING. I was tired, of course, but I don’t think I ever did the zombie walk or started falling asleep on the trail. I was pretty lucid except for the whole pain thing. The other thing that was amazing were my feet. It was dry, but I still didn’t get a single blister. I recently started wearing Darn Tough socks and I think they’re now my favorite. I wore one pair of socks and one pair of shoes the entire race with zero issues, which was fan-freaking-tastic.

Things I’d do differently? I’m not actually sure. I’d probably have a more designated crew out at Rally to help push me out of there sooner and get my stuff filled, etc, but everything really did work out okay. There was nothing I could have done about the slipping on the bridge thing. I didn’t realize it was an issue or I may have tried to help the injury sooner. It was out of my control and I do realize that, even though I’m upset about it!

I love the IT. I love the volunteers and the course and the well-oiled machine that the race is. It is truly a top-notch race with top-notch EVERYONE involved. My race didn’t go according to plan (they rarely do, right?) but I am still glad I pushed through with a lot of help from my friends. That buckle will definitely mean something special to me. Man, that was a group effort for sure. Now it’s time to rest and recover and let my knee heal up so I can get on to the next thing! I couldn’t even begin to list the people I am so so thankful for. My pacers for one – Joe and Shannon, and Steve, Mike, Brenda, and Jerry for being such amazing leaders and giving me such an example to follow. The aid station volunteers who all kept me from quitting – you know who you are! There are too many people to even try to list them. This was a group effort and I am so very grateful for the opportunity to run the IT100 this year!

Race Report :: Mohican 100

Short version:

Mohican 100, Loudonville, Ohio

Finished 31:33

Humid as heck

25,000” elevation change

Long version:

Grab a cold one and chill because I tend to be long winded in these. Mostly so I can look back and remember what I otherwise would probably not.

First. Why Mohican? It’s no secret I want to run Western States someday. I love history. I feel like it’s the Boston Marathon of trail running. Where it all began. Where 100 mile races started. In addition, it’s beautiful, challenging, and iconic in what it represents to me. So when IT100 got moved to October, I knew I wanted to find a spring qualifying race in case something would happen at IT100 and I was unable to finish. WS qualifying races need to be completed by November and that wouldn’t give me much time to do anything else without losing my ticket from last year. I had it narrowed down to three races – all spring/early summer. Burning River, Kettle Moraine, or Mohican. And then I started asking people which was the hardest. Because let’s face it, WS isn’t easy. If I couldn’t finish a hard qualifying race, would I be able to even think about finishing WS? The verdict came back unanimously on Mohican, so I signed up.

In January, I started my training program with the help of Aubree and Steve. Aubree wrote it, Steve approved it, and I was off. Two weeks later I ran a snowy run in 7 inches of fresh snow and strained my left quad. Sidelined for a couple weeks. End of February, I got that nasty respiratory thing that was going around where you basically couldn’t take a breath in without launching into a coughing fit. Running was funny. I had to sleep sitting up for a week. Sidelined again for almost three weeks. I was getting frustrated now because training was NOT going according to plan and I knew I needed to step it up. The end of April was Big Sur and I was getting my back to back long runs in. I did some hiking in California and running hills while out there and took off even more with the hills after getting home. I had another week where I was sick with something and attempted my long run and failed. I stuck it out for about 20-22 miles mostly at a power hike or slow run up at ChainO but it was a rough day. Another long run weekend down the drain. A few of us planned a trip to Mohican for a training weekend, about 4 weeks before the race. That weekend kicked my butt. It opened my eyes to the difficulty of the course and gave me a few things to focus on. I was supposed to have a 3 week taper, but after the training weekend I re-vamped my entire training plan. I’m not stellar at coming up with ideas, but I decided to change things up. The two weeks after the training run, I moved all of my weekday runs (except for my 1 streak mile!) to the Arc Trainer, the treadmill at incline, and the stair climber. However long the remainder of my run was, I spent on one of those. LOTS of stair climber work and lots of treadmill at 14% work. Then I full-on tapered for two weeks. That pretty much sums up my training. NOT what I had planned on. My training cycles up to this point had been much better, so going into the race I was nervous.

That’s another thing. I had read race reports. I had watched videos. I had heard stories. I knew it was a long shot and I knew there were people out there who doubted I would finish, the biggest of those being myself. I had so many doubts that I didn’t tell many people outside Ignite that I was running it, and when I did, it was always with the caveat, “there is a VERY high chance I won’t even finish”. So my doubts going into the race were SUPER high, and I think that played into a lot of what happened during the race.

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Race Weekend:

I drove to Ohio on Friday and checked into the AirBnB house with Steve, and then we drove to Mohican to meet everyone else. Shelley was running the 50 mile race, Steve and Joel were pacing me, Amy would be one of my main crew members, and Pat and Dawn were coming along for Friday night and part of Saturday. Most of us would stay at the AirBnB Friday night. Packet pickup was easy. We headed across the street for dinner (delicious burger!) and then back to Mohican for the pre-race meeting. I felt more settled after hearing where the course markers would be because that is always my biggest fear in a trail race. After the meeting (sorry I made y’all stay!) we headed back to the house 30 minutes away. We went through my stuff so everyone knew where things were, Dawn gave me an amazing massage that helped my jacked up shoulder/neck AND relaxed me! I maybe got 4 hours of sleep that night, if that. My nerves were really getting to me. 3:15 came early and we heard the Rocky theme playing downstairs (thanks, Steve!). Left about 3:45 for Mohican and let the games begin. The weather was going to be HOT and VERY humid, but not much of a chance for rain. It was going to be a challenge to keep cool and hydrated and not start going down the road of dehydration or heat exhaustion. My plan was Body Armor mixed 50/50 with water – one bottle every 5 miles. Switch them out when I saw my crew. I was WAY organized as far as food, and what I would eat on which loops, but that pretty much went out the window once the heat became an issue. It’s hard to eat solid food when it’s that hot. I ended up surviving mostly on applesauce, watermelon, orange slices, and bananas. With a few Pringles and quarter sandwiches thrown in.

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Loop 1 started well. I remembered some of the climbs from our training weekend there. I got my streak mile in at the very beginning down the camp road. The first climb was referred to as “big ass hill” by the RD, so that’s what I called it. Mohican has a LOT of climbs. Some are pretty steep and long, some are steep and short. Most of them are steep. The downhills also tend to be steep and will tear up your quads if you’re not careful. I got to Gorge Overlook about 4.5 miles in about where I wanted to be on time. Changed out my bottles, grabbed a cookie and a waffle and was off. The funniest part of the race happened just after Gorge. We crossed a road and then headed back into the woods and I was alone. Suddenly, two identical men came out of the woods toward me – one from each direction. It was SUPER awkward and I verbalized that. Turns out they were identical twins, one running his first 100, the other from Colorado and has run six. Using the bathroom in the woods makes you meet people, I guess. We stayed together until Fire Tower and I would flip flop with them MANY times over the course of the race. They were so fun to chat with and hear their stories.

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I was still feeling pretty decent at Fire Tower, didn’t spend a lot of time there if I remember right (Crew – you can feel free to remind me what was REALLY happening!) and then headed out for the 5 miles stretch to the dam. During loops 1 and 2, the long loops, the stretch from FT to Covered Bridge passes the dam, which is a crew location. From the dam, it’s just under a mile to Covered Bridge. The last two loops from Fire Tower to Covered Bridge do NOT go by the dam, so no crew access until start/finish, but that stretch to the Covered Bridge is only 2.8 miles or something. This stretch was also the famous “root climb” that they only had us do the first loop. You drop down into what looked like an old creek bed, by the falls, climb around and over a LOT of downed trees, mud, and rocks, and then finally climb out using a “root ladder”. It was SUPER beautiful and fun, but I am glad I didn’t need to to it on the second loop where I would have been much more tired!

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Came into the dam not drinking enough and it was getting very hot. I think this is where I picked up the ice bandana which was an absolute life saver. Seriously guys. If you want to stay cool…. That thing was amazing. I took half a PBJ, changed my bottles, and took off. I would be at Covered Bridge in a mile and needed to drink more, and then it was 6 miles to Hickory Ridge and 6.2 (more like 8) to the start/finish where I would finally see my crew again. I didn’t linger at Covered Bridge because I had just seen my crew. I grabbed some watermelon and ginger ale and I think that was it, then took back off. Right after CB is probably the longest and steepest climb of the race, and you get it all 4 loops. This stretch – the stretch after CB to Hickory Ridge and then to the start/finish was the most mentally challenging. Each is about 6 miles long, and there are some tough climbs in there. Hickory Ridge was a welcome sight. I had them replace the ice in my bandana before leaving, had some more ginger ale since I still wasn’t allowed Coke and then took off for the start/finish. They said this stretch was 6.2 miles but everyone I talked to thinks at least 8. It went on forever and mentally it was hard. It was so hot and humid and I needed to cool down. I had been taking salt each time I saw my crew but my face was heating up. Once I hit the campground my crew was waiting. That’s about a mile before the start/finish, but a good place to refill things and I got some sunscreen and bug spray on. I was eating applesauce but not a lot of solid food. Joel had grilled cheese for me and I ate about half of it on my way to the start/finish.

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At the S/F, I’m pretty sure it was Shannon I saw there and introduced himself when he saw my IGNITE tank. He asked me what I needed and I told him I was pretty set because I had just seen my crew. I grabbed some more watermelon and set off, knowing I’d see my crew at Gorge again. This stretch was hard. I was over a marathon into it and I was tired and breathing hard and hot and all the doubts were coming back into my mind. This was the start of the ugly crying. There was a lot of that from here out. I was doubting myself. I wasn’t doing math correctly (I have a hard time with math when I’m NOT running!) so I had decided already I was so far behind time and wasn’t going to finish (which was totally wrong because I can’t math). I was hurting – my IT band was hurting my knee and the downhills were hard. Amy came to the rescue at Gorge and massaged my leg out which worked WONDERS and took the knee pain away. Gorge to Fire Tower was equally as hard and I was crying when I got to Fire Tower. There were many not nice words spoken and I was frustrated. I was drinking so I wasn’t dehydrated but my calories weren’t where they needed to be. I munched more watermelon and a few Pringles and pretzel sticks and tried a cookie and applesauce. Put some more oils on my knee after another rub down of my IT band, and then it was off to the dam. This stretch was a bit better I think. I remember coming into the dam feeling a little better but I had a blister on my heel that was really bugging me. I think this is where I changed socks but I forgot to lube my feet up again. I decided we could take care of the blister at the start/finish when Pat was there to help.

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The 12 miles after that to the S/F were painful on that blister, but that was only the beginning of those. I promised to drink half a bottle before CB because it was a flat stretch, and then refill the bottle with water at CB. I got out of CB quickly. The lady asked if I wanted my light and I looked through my drop bag and was all, “wait, I didn’t pack a light because I’m supposed to be back to the S/F before dark”. This is also when I realized I hadn’t grabbed my Garmin charger from my crew at the dam, so my watch was going to die pretty soon. It got me about 44 miles which was really about 47 because my GPS was VERY off. The stretch from the CB to the S/F was about 12 miles and in that 12 miles I literally UGLY CRIED almost the entire way. I was DONE. I was tired, hot, and seriously doubting myself. Courtney came across me (from the Ohio group we had ran with Sunday on our training run) and encouraged me. I came up to a picnic table and sat down, still crying. MAD props to Dani and Jen and Courtney who asked if I needed a hug and after trying to say no, I gave in to the “sweaty ultra runner hugs” and that encouraged me so much. Dani and Jen refused to pass me until we got to the next aid station. I love love love the running community.

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At Hickory Ridge, one of the aid station volunteers asked me what I needed and all I said was “a reason to not quit”. I honestly don’t remember what he said but it was enough to get me kicked out of the aid station and heading toward the S/F. Still ugly crying, also. Hickory Ridge to the S/F is supposed to be 6.2 miles, and just after the mountain bike trail marker for mile 1, it splits off, a downhill to the right toward the parking lots, or a straight section that we were to take. Mentally it is SO HARD to think the “turn off” is coming up but it’s really not until 1.5 miles later. Anyhow, I was VERY happy to finally get to the campground as the sun was beating down on me on the camp road. We did some blister recon which didn’t take the pain away but helped for a while. Also got my light and STEVE And with Steve, what else do you need? We were not planning on meeting crew anywhere this loop so I took everything I’d need for the entire loop. It was about 4:30 and we really were just about right on schedule for where I had intended to be, but I still felt like I was moving too slow and there was too much left. This was also my first sip of Coke and it was AMAZING.

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A lot of loops 3 and 4 are kind of a blur to me. It was a LOT of running small sections when I could, and trying to walk as fast as I could when I couldn’t run. It got dark, I’m pretty sure I told Steve my entire life story because it’s not like we didn’t have the time! I had expected the humidity to drop a bit as it got darker, but it actually rose to 100% and the temps only dropped to about 70. It was still brutal. I remember passing lots of people throwing up and not doing well. I just wanted to get past them! I did keep drinking and taking my salt, and eating was still mostly just fruit. There were *ahem* many trees I took advantage of as my GI was not super happy with all the applesauce, but it was a trade off for being able to still actually EAT something. I was willing to put up with that part because I knew I couldn’t probably handle much solid food. I remember telling Steve I knew people doubted if I could finish this race and honestly, I think the biggest one was myself. But I was not going down without a fight. Part way through loop 3, it was decided that Amy would be pacing me the first 8 miles of loop 4 and then Joel would take over for the rest of it. I was in survival mode at this point. The blisters on my feet were BAD and hurt a TON but I decided that blisters were not going to be a reason for not finishing. That would be super lame, so I pushed ahead with the pain. Really, the blister pain was the worst. My legs hurt and were a little jello-like, but the blisters were what was keeping me from moving any faster. Have I mentioned the blister pain? I think I counted 10 by the end. I did get my streak mile in on this loop with Steve – it’s on his watch if you want to check since I didn’t have mine!

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We finished loop 3, replaced a bunch of stuff in my pack, and got ready for Amy to take over. We changed out the battery in my waist light and filled my pack with more wipes, applesauce, and Body Armor. We would only have another hour or two of dark and then we would meet up with Joel at the Fire Tower. In hindsight, I should have taken my waist belt off at the Fire Tower because it chafed my sides pretty bad, but I didn’t know that until the post-race shower! Amy and I took off and Amy was TOUGH, yo. It may have been her first time pacing, but you definitely want her. She was NOT letting me off easy. She went into “mom mode” with making me drink and run and eat more. I know I told Amy more than once that I wanted to just lie down and sleep because I was so exhausted. There was a little bridge that looked exceptionally inviting but she wouldn’t have any of it! I did notice a HUGE difference in my alertness and exhaustion between Hennepin and this one, though. Hennepin, I really DID stop at the aid station and close my eyes and couldn’t see straight. Here, I was exhausted and talking about it but I think (Amy you can correct me!) I was pretty lucid and alert, as much as one can be. I wasn’t stumbling off the trail!

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With dawn came renewed doubt that I would finish, and the heat was back. Usually dawn is revitalizing but it wasn’t this time. Joel took over pacing at the Fire Tower and that was also great. He knew exactly what pace I needed to be at and was keeping silent watch. I however, was NOT silent. I know I must have asked 3789324 times if we were keeping an okay pace and were going to make it. We were and he allowed to me stop at a tree every now and then to regroup and catch my breath. We were keeping a quick (to me) walking pace and the humidity was making it a bit difficult to breathe. I was dizzy a couple times and drank some more and got some more salt in me.

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I remember warning Joel that the last section is a LIE and takes forever and there are several large climbs. It’s irritating because you can see the campground and hear people but you still have miles to go. Joel fashioned me some great trekking poles to use on the last couple of climbs. If I ever decide to use those I need to figure them out a little better! I was NOT a pro, but they did help relieve some of the stress of the last big climbs. I had zero idea of how we were doing on time despite Joel telling me. My brain wasn’t processing very well. I figured I might finish with five minutes to spare, which to me, was still a win. We zipped through the campground (okay, “zipped” is not an appropriate term) and took the LEFT turn toward the finish (finally! The other loops we would go right toward the start area) and when we got to the field I started running. It was only pure adrenaline that had me running there because everything in me was GONE, but I crossed the finish line smiling at 31:33:56 to the cheers of the best and most amazing crew and pacers and Igniters EVER.

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Lessons learned:

Nutrition is hard when it’s stupid hot and humid. Hydration is key. My calories were not where they needed to be but I was well hydrated and I am convinced that made all the difference. Don’t force yourself to eat something that you don’t think will sit well. Fruit sounded amazing to me so despite the GI issues, I went ahead and ate a lot of fruit and easy things like soup.

Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. I can’t stress that enough. I stayed pretty close to right on track with hydration even though I would forget to drink sometimes. The Body Armor was amazing. Mixing it 50/50 with water was not too sugary but still gave me good electrolytes and calories. Salt tabs were also critical. I was popping two at nearly every aid station and taking the chewable ones when I needed. I’m convinced the Body Armor and salt were key.

The caffeine trick worked. I stopped drinking caffeine about three weeks before the race and my crew wouldn’t allow me to have any until loop three. This worked, apparently, because according to the aid station volunteers, I was “much more alert” than a lot of people coming through! Haha!

Stair climbers are awful but quite effective.

The power of an amazing crew can make all the difference in the world. I can say with absolute certainty that I would not have finished this race without them. No exaggeration. First, they had me in and out of aid stations like a pit crew. And they didn’t allow me to linger long when I think I otherwise would have. They got me what I needed and got me back out and moving. They squeezed freezing cold sponges of ice water down my back. Second, they were encouraging beyond anything I could have imagined. Everything they said, even when it was kicking my butt, was still encouraging somehow. When I started getting into my own head and doubting (which was, honestly, about 80% of the race) they didn’t let me stay there. That alone kept me moving. Third, my pacers were amazing. Once they started pacing me, I had no watch (it had died anyway) and was only trusting them on the pacing. I did ask about 3248327432 times if we were okay on pace, but they KNEW and I needed to just chill and believe them. I don’t think it was until about halfway through loop 4 that I really started believing Joel when he told me we were okay but needed to keep moving quick. These people really weren’t going to lie to me and tell me I could do it if I really couldn’t. I’m at a total loss for words in describing my crew. They were exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it. The teamwork and efficiency of everyone kept me moving when I otherwise would have stopped for longer. On the trail, without them pushing me forward, I would have slowed down and probably wouldn’t have made the cutoff times. I wouldn’t have quit because I don’t quit, but I doubt I would have made the cutoffs.

For those people who believed I could do this the entire time, thank you. Seriously. I didn’t believe in myself as much as you did and I’m convinced that’s a big part of why I actually finished. Igniters are the absolute BEST.

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Redemption (27 :: A Race Report)

Race Report :: Hennepin 100

Location :: Western Illinois (Rock Falls/Sterling to Colona)

Time :: 25:50

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This story begins a year ago, so hold on to your hats, grab a beer, and get ready. I’m a writer. What did you expect?

A year ago, I finished my first 100 at Hennepin. It was rough. Go back and read the report. I finished in 29:40 with a 30 hour cutoff. I was gone. My feet were gone. But I knew I wanted redemption on that course. My magic number was 27 hours. How I got to that number was almost borderline embarrassing. See, a few weeks before Hennepin last year, I ran the Evergreen Lakes 34 miler, in which a beautiful young lady finished just ahead of me, after reminding me to take salt. I was eternally grateful because I NEEDED salt, but I was also irritated that I allowed someone to pass me five miles from the finish. So when I met up with Erica at Hennepin a few weeks later, realized it was her, and then saw her finish with an age category place in 27:xx, I decided my magic number was 27. (Hi Erica! Yes, you inspired this whole deal!)

I knew it would be a stretch, but I also knew if I limited my time at aid stations and walked faster and could avoid the feet issues I had, that there was a chance I could do it. When I finished IT100 in April in 29:14 in worse conditions and a harder course, I knew I was within reach of the 27 goal. Training wise, I felt okay. I hit it about a month after IT100 when my mojo came back. I was in a slump for a month or so with some IT band issues and mentally I was slumping or something. I kept going to Chain-O to train every other week or so because I love those people AND I knew it was good training. The West Virginia 50K race was good training and I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses. Mentally, I had to push myself but physically I was feeling good. I took that as a good sign. One of my 30/20 runs was both epic and awful. The 30 was actually 31 (thanks, Steve!) and was a trail PR for me by a long shot (an hour). The day after I was supposed to run 20. After 6 miles I was going to quit when I got back to the parking lot at 9. My body was just done. I was exhausted and my legs were heavy and mentally I was just not there. Then I decided to get to the schoolhouse. When I got there I was in tears and poor Joe and Jennifer were trying so hard to help. Joe asked if I wanted to get the 20. I said yes. He said, “okay, well, we will get you there”. And we did. Slowly. Mentally it was one of my toughest training runs. The last long run before the race was shorter than planned but the 20 the next day was all right.

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The race. The weeks leading up to Hennepin I chatted with my pacers, Ashley and Sandy. We talked about when they would start and what some of my plans were. Sub-27 was in the works. I was tired during taper. Didn’t sleep super great.  My legs were feeling heavy. But I was trying to trust that come race day, I would be ready. I was looking forward to having Ignite pacers because they’re just FUN. I’m a planner, so I planned to have a pace chart card similar to last year’s, but with different times on it. I wanted to have an A goal, a B goal, and a C goal. C was to avoid cutoffs if everything fell apart. B goal was 28 hours because that gave a good cushion before cutoff. Now, the A goal WAS 27 hours. But I like a cushion just in case so I don’t freak out if I’m a few minutes behind pace. So I casually clocked out all the times/paces for a 26 hour finish. And that just became that. Suddenly my A goal had shifted from 27 to 26, but I was still counting on 27.

Julie and I left Friday morning for Illinois. She was running her FIRST EVER 50 miler OR ultra and I was super stoked for her. We made it to packet pickup, saw the finisher flannel in person (oh my word beautiful!), secured a hoodie and hat (because HOODIE), and met up with Shelley and Joel and Ashley and Kelly, Doug, Jennifer and Sandy and I don’t even remember who else. We chatted, bought WAY discounted clothes, and tried to relax through the pre-race meeting. I secured a seat on the bus from the 50 mile start with Julie. I felt pretty ready. We opted out of dinner with people that night and settled for Subway and early bedtime. Our 2:45 wake up call would come too soon. We stayed at the finish so Julie would have quick access to my 100 mile finish line after sleeping the night. I spent the evening packing and re-packing, and making sure I had everything in the right places as far as drop bags and what I was carrying with me. We left the hotel about 4am for the hour drive to the 50 mile finish where Julie was going to leave her car. The bus ride was fine and uneventful. I ate my granola bar and pineapple juice. My pack was filled with a lot more than usual due to not really having a crew. The plan was to stick with Shelley as long as possible until one of us needed to split for whatever reason, but I knew if that happened, I wouldn’t have access to stuff, so I packed it. I brought probably more than I needed, but I’m glad I was prepared. I had two drop bags – my main one would be at the Candyland/Ignite aid station with a backup at the 50 mile finish just in case.

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It was SUPER windy at the start, with rain in the forecast for later. Julie and I hid in the shelter until we were offered Joel’s and Shelley’s truck for warmth. We hung out there until the race started, chatting and taking pictures and trying to relax. My plan initially was to run the first half in 11 hours, leaving 16 hours (or 15) for the second half. Eleven hours was a stretch for me because last year it took me just over 12. But I had a run/walk plan and was determined to stick with it.

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The race began at exactly 7am and we were off. Shelley and I stuck together, doing a run/walk. The race (and I am NOT exaggerating) was DIRECTLY into the wind for pretty much the ENTIRE race. And it was a strong wind. We started out a bit faster than planned and joked that if we hit 20 miles under 4 hours we’d be in trouble with her crew for going too fast. The wind started getting worse and it was getting harder to run and catch our breath, and about mile 14 we split up, promising we’d meet up at another aid station soon. I kept the run/walk going and was actually feeling pretty good. I came into the mile 19 aid station, stayed a bit longer than anticipated, since some Ignite people were there, and then took off again. I was ahead of my schedule on my pace card so I just kept moving. I knew later in the race would be harder to maintain any kind of good pace especially if something happened physically and I was struggling, so I was okay banking a little bit of time in the first half. I was drinking okay, but struggling because I had been craving Coke and hadn’t found any at the first few aid stations. A HUGE shout-out to the guy at AS 5 who gave me some of his personal Coke. Seriously. It saved me. It was just the push/rush I needed to keep going. I was told there would be Coke at AS 6 and I pushed ahead the four miles to that one where I did indeed find Coke! And it was a push because I knew that AS 7 was the Ignite one and I would see familiar people there and get another burst of energy. I was not eating very well, I think due to the wind. My stomach was not bothering me, but every time I tried to chew something solid it turned to dust in my mouth and I could hardly swallow. I think the wind was so strong that my mouth was drier than normal, and causing me to just not WANT to eat. I was drinking, though, and I wasn’t zapped of energy, so I physically was okay. I tried some PBJ sadwiches and eventually decided against those just because they were too hard to swallow. I did eat a good number of orange slices. Those were absolutely marvelous.

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Because every race needs an epically awful eating picture. I was probably eating orange here.

Between AS 6 and 7, I came across “the scene of the crime” from last year – the bridge where I impaled my foot with a fishing hook. That was the “thank God for Hokas” moment because the hook impaled my Hoka almost all the way through but didn’t hit my foot! A guy helped me pry it out and then tossed it over the bridge into the river. I should have kept that darn hook. Anyway, I took a picture of “the scene” just for old time’s sake.

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I got to AS 7 and the Ignite crew was amazing. It had started raining about 11am and I got to AS 7 a bit before 2. I was wet but not cold, and still moving well. I was on pace for my “26 hour goal” and was happy, but I did know I’d need to start eating actual food sometime or I’d be in trouble. Mike instructed me to eat broth at every aid station, along with my Coke, to keep my electrolytes up. Someone at the AS commented that it was like a NASCAR pit crew, and that’s honestly how I felt. I was offered multiple food options, chatted with my pacers for a few minutes, talked to Steve, Mike, and the rest of the Ignite crew, and finally settled on Coke and crackers. It was 6 miles to the next AS and I figured maybe by then I’d be feeling a little more like eating. I had peppermint sticks (from Cracker Barrel, no less!) in my pack and I was breaking those into pieces and sucking on them during my walk breaks. Fred, my pacer from last year, was at this AS for some reason. I was expecting him at the next AS, the Flatlanders one, so I was surprised but happy to see him again! I left the AS feeling refreshed and ready to take on the next 6 miles. Fred promised he’d be at the next one, too, so I looked forward to that. We had rummaged through my drop bag in the rain and taken out my pullover and flashlight for Sandy to bring to the 47 mark where she’d be joining me to pace. I figured I’d want the long sleeves by then.

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The next six miles were interesting. I hadn’t more than left the AS than a random dog started following me. There were a few of us running a ways apart and she would go between us, finally settling on hanging out with me. She’d smell something, jump in the canal, and then jump RIGHT back in front of me and keep going. Seriously. There were a few times I almost tripped over her. She would shake herself off RIGHT next to me, too! But she was good company and it was reminiscent of West Virginia where the dog led us on the trail for miles and miles. I met Trey, a guy from Georgia, and we ran/walked a bit together. He was attempting to finally finish a 100 miler after several failed attempts, and if I read the results correctly, he DID! It was fun chatting with him for some miles until we got the the Flatlanders where I left him. I headed up the hill to the bathroom, first off, because a REAL bathroom on that entire course is virtually nowhere. I took advantage while I could, and then saw Fred again, Scotty Kummer, and several others (Doug, I think). I drank some Coke and had some more crackers, but I really still wasn’t feeling much of anything food-wise. Energy-wise, I was still fine, though. Must have been the Cracker Barrel the day before! Anyhow, I left Flatlanders by myself and hadn’t gone more than a few hundred feet when that darn dog appeared again. She would stay with me all the way to AS 9. She was friendly, but got in the way too much. I had already decided when I got to AS 9 that I would request they hold her there or something so she wouldn’t bother other runners and get under foot. She never followed me after AS 9. Even though I forgot to ask them.

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I ate soup, per Mike’s orders at AS 8, and Coke and then got the heck out of there because the next AS was to pick up Sandy. I was still on pace even after 44 miles and I was pretty excited because that meant I might actually finish the first half in 11 hours, which was a real goal of mine. Approaching the 50 mile finish line (or AS 10/11), I was met by Sandy and Jennifer and Doug. I didn’t stop for long because I knew we would be back there in 5 miles. I grabbed a Rice Krispy Treat, which I just realized I never ate (Sandy, do you still have it??!!), and some crackers and broth and Coke, and we were off to the turnaround. It was SO GOOD having someone there to talk to and take my mind off of what I was doing. I actually felt good at this point, which surprised me. Both 100s before I had nagging things that had slowed me to a walk by mile 30, but here I was at almost 50 and still moving decently, despite the rain and CRAZY wind. Yes, it was still blowing. It had stopped raining by now which was nice at least, so my shirt was finally starting to dry out. I was wearing INKnBURN because I know it dries the fastest of anything I’ve ever had, and won’t chafe. We made it to the turnaround and I knew I had to be seeing Julie soon. She had texted me a while earlier and said about where she was, so I figured I’d see her on her way out to the turnaround or once I left AS 10/11 again on the out and back part. Sandy snapped a picture of me at the turnaround and I captured my Garmin because I had broken 11 hours! I was pretty stoked. That was the first time I thought maybe I could actually get the 26 hour goal. But it would definitely depend on the rest of the race and through the night.

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Back at AS 10/11, I changed into my pullover (still INKnBURN of course!) and grabbed my flashlight. It wasn’t dark yet but it would be in not too long. It felt good to take the wet shirt off and put something warmer on. It was a warm shirt but the wind was still pretty strong so I wasn’t too hot. I also grabbed a fresh pair of socks in case I wanted them before we hit the Candyland AS again. I’m glad I did because I ended up changing them at one of the next AS. I threw my poncho and extra food bag into the drop bag, too, because it had stopped raining and I hadn’t touched the extra food yet and figured I’d be okay. (WRONG) Just before leaving, I saw Fred again waiting for his runner to come through! It was so fun to see him again especially when I was a little more in my right mind and not crazy in pain like the previous year!

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We headed out and I kept watch for Julie. That kept me going, too. Knowing I would see her soon and that she was going to finish! Finally, I saw her, as it was getting dark, and many screams and hugs were exchanged. That pumped me up a bit and I ran/walked a bit more even though my knees were starting to bug me quite a bit.

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Before mile 55.5 I decided I really wanted to change my socks. I was getting a hot spot and wanted to put some more 2Toms or something on my feet. I didn’t have my 2Toms but Squirrel’s Nut Butter was at all the aid stations so at AS 12 (MILF again!) I changed my socks and applied more lube. That felt loads better and I didn’t see any blisters outright so that was good. I knew I had a couple spots that were getting sore though. We left after grabbing a ziploc baggie of bacon (ohmyword BEST IDEA EVER) and Coke again. I was getting a little sleepy and wanted to amp up the caffeine. The bacon was amazing. We began the 5 mile trudge back to the Flatlanders AS where I knew the disco ball would be waiting again. Somewhere between AS 12 and 13, it started raining again (WHAT?!?!?!? I didn’t have my poncho anymore!). As we approached AS 13 we saw glo sticks on the ground like breadcrumbs leading us to the AS. It was pretty sweet! We got to AS 13 and they had an extra poncho. I wrapped it around myself after taking a couple pictures with Scotty and friends. Because. Well. I could. And it was fun.

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I sat for a few minutes because my heart rate was not super stellar. I was having a considerable amount of knee pain, I was pretty tired, and it was still rainy and windy. All of that contributed to my heart rate being a little high and I just wanted to rest for a few minutes. I didn’t, for too long, and then it was up and ready to head out for the six miles back to Candyland. That was one of the longest stretches of the race for me. My body was starting to really have enough and I was getting super exhausted. I remember telling Sandy it hurt so bad I was going to cry. She told me to wait for twenty minutes, and if I still wanted to cry after that, I could. It was 10pm. She gave me until 10:20, at which point I was mostly okay, although really tired. I knew I’d be picking up Ashley at Candyland and I started thinking about what I was going to want when I got there. New shoes? No. Tights? YES. It was getting cold and I was slowing down. Still doing a run/walk, but more walking than running. The walking was still fast though, and I had made it to the point on my pace chart where I could slow to an 18 minute/mile and still finish when I wanted to. I was cautious because I knew my knees weren’t going to get better. I needed tights. And my headlamp just in case the flashlight died (it never did!). But more than anything, I wanted to sit down for a few minutes – five or ten, and just close my eyes. Not necessarily sleep, but just let my body regroup and get my heart rate down before it got worse. I needed to eat and drink Coke, and I wanted to take Aleve for the pain. And I wanted something to put on my knees – Tiger Balm or Biofreeze. So heading into that AS, we were pretty well prepared with what I needed to do. I sat down after explaining to Steve what I thought I needed to do. Physically, I felt good other than my knees and being tired. Mentally I was getting to “that point”. The “why the hell am I doing this?” point. But the Ignite crew and Candyland volunteers were absolutely amazing and took care of me in a way I never imagined. I mean, literally dressing me! Taking my bib off, pulling my tights on (stinky feet!) and helping me mentally regroup. Getting Aleve and soup and Coke and anything else I could imagine. I left feeling a bit more relaxed. My heart rate had come down some, I had taken the deep breaths as instructed to work through the pain, and mentally, I was a bit better. The biofreeze and Aleve helped a lot for quite a while.

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Ashley and I started trying a run/walk at a 3/7. But she had lied because at some point she started doing 3/6 and it was working. Haha! The walking was increasing as the pain got worse, but I was still keeping a good walking pace. The grass was watered multiple times because… well…. sometimes it needs it.

The Oasis AS makes me smile because there are inflatable palm trees. I honestly don’t remember what I ate there but I was getting back to solid food again and Coke and that was amazing. At one point I had vegetable soup, but it was so hard to eat the vegetables that I gave up. Forks and soup don’t mix. We moved along through the Oasis and the Henry County Sherriff’s AS. Ashley and I chatted. She held me up a few times because I really felt like I was going to fall over. My back was bothering me a lot and I was hunching over, but then I’d almost fall over. A couple times I sat down on the trail to stretch and almost fell asleep. I was so, so tired. I think the lack of Coke early in the race when I was expecting/planning on it made a difference because this was the first time I was drop dead exhausted this early on.

I made a great realization that as a female, when you need the facilities in the woods, the position you are in is a GREAT stretch, and I actually felt LOADS better after squatting down for a while. That happened a few times just simply to stretch a little. My knees hurt a LOT and stretching my quads out a little and my calves seemed to help some. I knew my knees were taking a beating because of the hard surface and repetitive motion. They weren’t going to get better. I wanted more Biofreeze. The Watchtower AS was number 17, and that I think was the one Mike Farrington was at last year and gave me donut holes stating the number of calories in each one. This year I ate broth and Coke and then stood up to head to AS 18, mile 86.7. Standing up hurt. I remember that.

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At that point, AS 18, I got some more biofreeze on my knees. I felt awful. I was absolutely exhausted and could barely see straight. I wanted to lie down and nap but I knew that wouldn’t help either. At AS 18, Kelly and Ashley helped me with more Biofreeze, and handed me pancakes which were actually pretty good tasting. I ate two at the AS and brought one more with me as we were walking away. I had an unexpected surprise step in and pace me the last 13 miles who helped tremendously by walking at a breakneck pace. We were doing 13:30 miles at one point and it was working. I’d try to run every now and then but my knees were really just done. I was being pushed through my exhaustion, and I really honestly believe this is why pacers are so invaluable. I’ve heard debate about pacers, but for me, having someone right there reminding me that I can indeed do this is untouchable. Could I have finished by myself? Probably. But definitely not in the time I did. It was a long 6.5 miles or something to AS 19, and I really felt like it went on forever. I chatted with my pacer and we watched the sky start turning lighter and the sun come up behind us. The canal was beautiful, with the mist hovering over it and reflecting in the sunlight. There’s something about that morning dawn that renews you a little bit even though everything in your body is telling you to stop.

We made it to AS 19 finally. There were several people in front of us. Two we left at AS 19 after we booked it out of there, and one lady was still ahead of us. At AS 19 I drank some Ginger Ale and broth again, and took more salt caps. I stayed pretty on top of the salt the entire race. I knew with the humidity and wind, I wasn’t going to feel like I was sweating much, and had to make sure I was keeping my salt up. My hands only swelled up once, pretty early on. From there out, I was taking salt at every other aid station, about 2 caps every two hours. Ish. At AS 19 I looked at my watch. It was at 23:50. We had started at exactly 7am this year which meant I had two hours plus change to hit under 26 hours. At that point, with 7 miles to go, I started to think it was really possible. I asked my pacer if we could do 7 miles in two hours and her response was, “well, if we run a little more”. I stood up and said “okay, let’s do it.” And we were out of there. From that point on, the time thing blew my mind. With 7 miles to go I guess I figured it could actually happen. We were walking 13:30-14:00 miles, and running on and off when I could. Physically, I wasn’t depleted in calories or anything – my body just hurt a LOT and it was almost impossible to keep myself running. We made it the 3.4 miles to the next aid station. I sat down for just a couple of minutes to drink some Coke and then we were off to the finish. I sent a text to Julie to let her know we were 3.5 miles out and she was on her way to the finish line. To finish under 26 hours, we needed to maintain a 15 minute pace for the last 7 miles, which we did. I don’t know where that extra push came from, especially to walk that stinking fast after 96 miles, but the drive was there and mentally I was a little less foggy than during the night. About two miles to go, we saw the lady ahead of us that had been there a while. My pacer said we could pass her, but I wasn’t sure. She wasn’t walking terribly fast, so we picked up the pace a little bit and just before we entered the final stretch, passed her with a “well, maybe she’s in my age group!” Turns out she was. That about made my day later when I found that out!

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The park at the end of the race goes on forever, seriously. Once you cross the street into the park it’s about another mile stretch through the park to the finish line, which you can’t see until you’re pretty much on top of it. I did remember the finish from last year, though, so I knew it was a ways there. I tried to run a bit too early, and ended up walking a bit further before I ran toward the finish. As soon as I could see the hint of the finish line sign, I was off, and ran through the finish line strong. Ish. As strong as you can be after 100 miles. Julie and Shelley and Joel and Kelly and Sherrie and several others were waiting. It was an amazing feeling to see the 25:xx on the clock as opposed to last year’s 29:xx. It was an amazing feeling to come across the finish line to people I know – friends – teammates – and to experience such a different finish than last year. I sat down (finally!) because someone asked me why I was still standing. The finisher flannel and buckle were TOTALLY worth it. I was running for that flannel! My big regret at the finish line is that I didn’t get pictures with my pacers or friends. I just wasn’t thinking clearly enough to remember to do that, but they really were so much of why I finished this one!

The massage afterwards was amazing. I was going to shower but heard the showers were cold and I was already freezing. Erica showed me to the sleeping tent which was MUCH warmer and I stayed there until Julie came back with my bag and then I changed and ate something. Forgot my drop bags but we’re in the process of getting those back so it’s all good.

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Summary? Michele puts on an amazing race. Her and her team of volunteers and people are absolutely amazing and do such a good job of making all the runners feel amazing. We were WELL taken care of and encouraged so, so much. I love her races and hope to do even more of them. My pacers were absolutely amazing. I can’t speak enough for them. They really did keep me going and push me to keep moving. When time was up somewhere, we were out moving again. They all knew when to push just enough but not so hard I hated them. Well, there may have been a few moments. 🙂 But really, without them, I might have finished, but not under 26 hours. The Ignite crew was amazing. That aid station was a huge motivation for me and it didn’t disappoint. They made me feel like royalty, and from what I hear, they did that for every single runner who came through, and THAT is why I am so blessed to be part of this group. Their encouragement and sacrifice is nothing short of amazing. Their willingness to do whatever it takes to help a runner get back out there and do their best is why I love the ultra community so much. MAD HUGE PROPS to Candyland. For sure. And Julie, your drive to finish kept me going, too. As soon as I knew you were going to finish, I got a second wind and just took off. So ridiculously proud of you!

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What did I learn? First, the human body is nothing short of amazing. The human mind is nothing short of amazing. We can push ourselves to do crazy things when everything else around us says YOU CAN’T. My hydration was pretty on. My nutrition was on, despite constantly wondering if it really was. This was a weird race because I wasn’t eating the usual fare because of the wind/dry mouth/something. BUT I was still getting calories and salt. I learned that it is indeed possible to run a race with a headwind for 80 miles of it. That was wicked insane. Seriously. The wind was crazy, but I’ve trained in wind and I wasn’t going to let it bring me down or discourage me. I was happy with my shoe choice but I wish I would have remembered the velcro for my shoes so I could have used my gaiters. That was the one thing last year that I really wanted to do this year after all the little rocks in my shoes. I brought the gaiters but then realized I hadn’t gotten this pair of shoes ready. I ran the whole thing in Hoka Clifton 2s, and had Smartwool and then Balega socks with 2Toms at first and then Squirrel’s Nut Butter after that. I ended up with one big blister on my second toe, but it was nothing that slowed me down during the race. I took care of it afterwards and it’s getting better. My knees were my biggest issue, and I don’t know how much of that is related to the surface I was on as opposed to training I could have done to better prepare for it. Honestly, if my knees had been a bit better, there would have been a lot more running. I need to look into this for next time and see if there’s anything I can do that could help, or if it was just a product of the race.

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Honestly, I’m still a little in shock that I broke 26 hours. I know for a lot of people, that is not a big deal. But coming from barely making the cutoff last year, and looking at everywhere I’ve been in the past year, it makes it so much sweeter. My IT finish, running hills here in town, sticking to my training plan even when it meant I needed to start at 2:30am, going up to Chain-O and running with encouraging and pushy and hilarious runners there, running with my WRRC friends here who make running SO MUCH FUN (you know who I’m talking about…)…. all of those contributed to this. I’m hoping to ride this high for a little while and take a break from all out training for a bit. My body needs a little rest so I will comply. We will see what November and December brings in terms of race plans for next year and then I’ll start planning the next one!

Also, if you made it all the way through this race report, I’m pretty sure you have the endurance and patience to run 100 miles. Just saying.