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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.