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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations. It’s over now!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Location :: Western Illinois (Rock Falls/Sterling to Colona)
Time :: 25:50
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Short version: Finished. 9:08. Those were fun hills. The bull didn’t get me.
After the IT100 I started thinking about hills. Elevation. See, my secret (well, not anymore) desire is to run Western States. I know you’re all thinking I’m absolutely insane and that no one who finishes a 50K in 9 hours could ever run WS. Bear with me here, k? IT is a qualifier race, so I have a ticket in my hot little hand. Whether or not I put that ticket in come November remains to be seen. Most of me thinks I’m going to put it in and take my chances, because I SUPER don’t want to lose the ticket! Part of me thinks that’s effing ridonkulous because number one, it’s crazy expensive and MDH and I are about to dive headfirst into debt with him starting school for the next year and a half, and number two, because the amount of time and training involved to FINISH WS is crazy to even think about. But I tend to be a stubborn woman and when I set my mind to do something, I find a way to do it. Sometimes that’s been a bad thing. More recently, that’s been a good thing. So, that being said, I finished IT100 and decided if I wanted to even consider WS, I needed to run something other than the flatlands.
I started searching for July/August races (long enough out from Hennepin) that had at least a LITTLE bit more elevation than IT but that also weren’t miles upon miles away and crazy expensive. I found Kanawha Trace. Somehow managed to talk Steve into it and then about 12 other people from the IGNITE group. Not sure what we got ourselves into after looking at the elevation chart, we set out to conquer this race. We had heard about the barbed wire and electric fences and climbing and crawling over and under them. We heard about the bull in the field (thanks, Tasha!) and many other things. I was prepared for it to be crazy hot but in the week leading up to the race, the temps looked to be pretty tolerable.
West Virginia has several different landform things going on. Kanawha falls in the Appalachian Plateau, which is slightly less crazy than the Appalachian Mountains, even though there is a considerable amount of elevation. Kanawha tended to be short, steep climbs and downhills, rather than super long uphills and downhills (although there were several pretty long ones.)
I left town on Friday about noon, after a quick stop at the chiropractor. Julie was going to be with me but she sprained her ankle a few days earlier and it was a wise move for her to stay home and recover in time for Hennepin. The party van left about when I did from Fort Wayne and although we were on totally different routes down to WV, I was texting Aubree and generally SUPER excited and a little terrified about the race. We met up at the Boy Scout camp where the finish line was for dinner and the pre-race meeting. I got my packet and shirt, chip, and all of that and then headed over for dinner. I love my IGNITE people. I don’t see them nearly enough and I was more than excited to spend an entire weekend with them. This was also the first out of town race I would actually NOT have to check out of my hotel the morning of the race because I’d be leaving right after. We were spending Saturday night there as well. The pasta dinner was tasty but I could feel a migraine threatening to come on and I was getting REALLY nervous, especially after listening to the pre-race meeting. It was going to be tough. I have Hennepin the first weekend of October so I needed to not go too crazy here. Training for Hennepin still had to continue the week after Kanawha. We headed back to the hotel which was about five minutes from the finish line, and then headed out to dinner for those who didn’t eat the pasta dinner. I had cheesecake. Because. Cheesecake. And water. My head wasn’t feeling the best but I honestly think most of it was just nerves. I just wanted to get out there and see what would happen.
I really didn’t have a plan going into the race. Honest. Zero plan. Other than finishing in under 10 hours, since that was the cutoff. I wanted to enjoy myself and the scenery, and not get injured. That was it. The morning of the race we got to the finish line about 6am for the bus ride up to the start. (It was a point to point race.) I had my pack with about 1.75 liters of water, a baggie of trail mix, a baggie with toilet paper (because you never know!), and a package of tiny Oreos. I was really planning to just eat at the aid stations and pray for Coke at each one! I wore INKnBURN because, well, INKnBURN. Peacock tech tee, Flora sports bra, and my new (to me) denim shorts (a unicorn I finally got to purchase the week before the race!). I had my Ignite hat and Goodr sunglasses because those are seriously amazing things. I loaded up with bug spray and sunscreen and shoved my tiny spray bottle of bug spray in my pack just in case. Also in my pack were salt capsules and peppermint oil.
The bus ride there was fine. We got to the start and were told the port-o-johns had not arrived so we all pretty much made haste to the woods. Nothing like watching 75 people charge for a spot among the trees. Good thing I had TP with me because I definitely gave some out to needy people.
When we started, I fell in with a few Ignite people for the first mile or so, which was on the road. Shelley and I are both running Hennepin in the fall and Jenn was taking it easy still from IT. Ashley and Annie were with us until the first real aid station, too. The first part of the course is on a road, and actually, the first half of the course is more dirt road than I had anticipated. I didn’t mind that much, but I was glad every time we turned back onto the trail. The first aid station was just water and Gatorade and we didn’t really stop. The AS at mile 7.5 or so was the one with the port-o-john. I got some Coke there and salt caps (seriously, they practically BEGGED me to take theirs rather than using mine! Amazing people!), and half a PBJ while I waited for a couple ladies in the port-o-johns. When we took off it was Shelley and Jenn and I as the others had gone ahead. We decided pretty early on that our goal was to have fun and enjoy the run as a training run and to finish within the cutoff. It was really nice to have people to run with and a common goal. The miles ticked away. Some of the climbing was crazy steep. I was doing well powering up the hills, and that would be for the rest of the race, too. Some of the downhills were steep and I took them carefully because one wrong step and I would have slid down a pretty steep drop off. I wasn’t going to risk that. My quads were holding up pretty well the first half of the race, but the downhills were definitely pounding my kneecaps some.
A lot of the race blends together right now. That’s what I get for waiting a few days to write the report. For about 10 miles or so we had a white dog following us – and leading us sometimes! He seemed to know the trail well and would point us in the right direction. Every time we thought he was gone, he would show up again from the other side of the creek or something. He wasn’t threatening at all and seemed to enjoy the walk. For him. It was a walk for him. 🙂 Up and over bridges, over barbed wire fences, and under electric fences. Which were turned off. A couple of the barbed wire fences we actually took the green gate next to it over because it looked easier. I think we picked up the dog somewhere after the mile 14 AS and he followed us at least to the mile 22 or 23 AS. I tried to get a selfie with our new friend but he was more interested in the water they put out for him. Our GPS watches were not keeping accurate record of our distance. Shelley’s and my watches were off about a mile and a half or two from each other. We weren’t entirely sure where we were at mileage-wise, and we kept forgetting to ask at the aid stations!
We were looking for the field with the bull because Tasha had told me about that and I really wanted a picture of the sign. We finally found it, long after we thought we’d find it. The bull was NOT in the field but we did dodge a lot of his poo. The cattle field earlier had a lot of that, too. The climb up out of the bull’s pen was wicked steep but short. We had a couple beautiful climbs where we got to the top and there were big power line towers next to us. I remember hearing the buzz of the electricity and wondering if something weird would happen to me when I walked under it! The views were amazing and it reminded me of what one might think getting to the top of Rat Jaw or something, without the briars, of course. After the mile 23 or so AS is where things got interesting.
We were on pace to finish between 8:15 and 8:30, which was fine with me. For the first part of the race, I hadn’t been concerned with time. Jill and Steve were with us and we started having some pretty steep climbs. I powered up with Steve and waited at the top, and that’s where the first thoughts of pushing myself came in. I wondered how I would do if I kept going. I was feeling pretty strong on the uphills and climbs, which was amazing to me because that’s been something I’ve not been good at in the past and have worked on. It was cool to see the improvement. Although I did want to push myself ahead and see how I could do, I also was WAY more interested in running with friends and enjoying the run. I know I would have regretted going ahead after we spent so many miles together. We were slowing down, especially on the climbs, and I would get to the top and wait, wondering if I should leave. But I couldn’t bring myself to. I love my team too much and I love running with people more than I was interested in a time, especially at this race. My goal had never been to see how fast I could run it and I stuck with that. I’m glad I did.
The final few miles were rough. Tiredness, humidity, and difficulty breathing on the climbs was catching up and we were moving, but not as fast as before. My knees were hurting a decent amount from all the steep downhills. My quads were actually not feeling awful. It was getting harder to catch my breath/keep my heart rate down with the humidity that was creeping in. There was a point before Jill and Steve took off where we took a wrong turn and added a good half mile at least onto our run before finding the right trail again. Of course, it was on a huge climb, too.
A few miles from the finish at the last AS I finally needed to refill my pack with water. I’d been drinking a good amount at each AS in terms of Coke and/or Ginger Ale, so I wasn’t behind on hydration. The first sip I took of the new water was AWFUL. It tasted like lead or paint and I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle more of that. I went mostly without until the finish. We saw the gnome hidden in the rocks. I guess he wasn’t “hidden”. There was also a neat cave we got to go through with a little waterfall. The scenery was beautiful. It made up for the crazy hills!
We finally could smell the cookout at the finish and took off running, only to realize we had gone the wrong way around the lake and had to go back the other way. There were several not very nice words escaping my mouth at that point. But we sucked it up and back-tracked to make it to the finish. Steve met us and ran with us in to the finish.
Final time: 9:08
Thoughts after the race? First, nutrition and hydration were spot-on again. This is one thing I am SUPER happy about because (knock on wood) I have NEVER had issues with this. I probably could have drank a bit more than I did, but toward the end when I refilled my pack, the water was SUPER gross-tasting and I just stuck it out to the end. Coke and Ginger Ale at the aid stations, along with PBJ and a couple orange slices were my go-to. I did take salt capsules regularly. Two at the first AS, one at the second, and another two at the third.
Physically, I felt pretty good. My knees took a beating on the downhills, but my quads were surprisingly not awful. My shoulders and arms hurt from my pack, and probably from steadying myself a lot, but that’s pretty normal. My heart rate was pretty high during the race and I attribute that to the humidity and heat. I’ve not always done well in high heat/humidity and I am so thankful it wasn’t hotter than 80. I did get my heart rate down quickly most of the time, although there were a couple spots where I definitely needed a bit more walking than I preferred.
The biggest thought going through my head is the “what if” game. I’ve spent the last few days wondering if I should have taken off and run my own race and if I had, what I could have run it in. I’m trying to not think about that too much because I am SO happy I stayed with Shelley and Jenn. We had WAY too much fun and it was MUCH needed laughing and cursing!
I am SUPER happy with how I did on the climbs. That was a huge confidence booster knowing that I was powering up them well and not getting too out of breath until the final couple climbs. It also means that I want to challenge myself to run MORE of these. I’m already looking for the next elevation race, without going too crazy at once.
Where am I going from here? Still considering WS, although I know the elevation is CRAZY more than this little race was. BUT I also know that I did some hill training leading up to this and it paid off, and if I really want the WS race, I think I can train myself to get there. Somehow. It’s a stretch, but it’s a dream I’m not ready or willing to give up just yet.
We headed back to the hotel and enjoyed a nice dinner at Outback before crashing. Sunday morning, the group took off about 8 and I hung out until a bit after 9 when I headed to Huntington for church and lunch with some friends who used to live in Lafayette. Obligatory cute baby picture here, of course. It was an amazing weekend and it was relaxing. I mean, other than the 32 mile run. It was much-needed before the start of school and all the craziness about to happen. I can’t wait for the next one! HUGE props to my Ignite team for making this so fun and for not killing me! I’m glad it sounds like everyone else really enjoyed it, regardless of where the race took them. Next up – Henenpin 100 in October!
Last June, MDH and I went to Chain-O-Lakes State Park as one of our many camping trips we enjoy taking during the spring and summer. I was finishing up a reverse taper from my back to back marathons, and was in the beginning stages of training for the Hennepin 100, my first hundo. My plan was calling for a 20 mile run that Saturday, followed by 10 on Sunday, and although I had been running camp roads at several parks for shorter runs, I really wanted to get out on the trails. Since I’m female and all that jazz, I didn’t particularly relish the idea of being totally alone on a trail I knew nothing about, so I set about getting some information. I posted in the TAUR FB page and immediately got a response from a guy named Steve, saying that he was familiar with the trails, and that if I met at the Sand Lake beach parking lot area around 9, he’d show me around. I clarified that I was a VERY slow runner, but he assured me it was fine. He was going to get about 14 miles in.
Little did I know.
Saturday morning, I ran 6 miles on the park roads before finding the parking lot, where, surprisingly, there were a decent number of people and cars. Apparently, this was some kind of group run thing. I must have looked a bit lost, but Steve quickly introduced himself and Mike and several others I wish I remembered, and off we went into the woods. Now, I hadn’t run trails. Pretty much at all. And after a few miles, I was REALLY feeling it. I slowed down, we chatted, I swallowed some sort of weird bug (deer fly?) that I was hacking on the rest of the run. During that run, I mentioned I was training for Hennepin, which Mike was also running. He mentioned (or someone did), the IT100 race. I knew several people who had attempted that race in the past and I had heard stories and seen videos, and it seemed like a HARD race. After 14 miles on the trails that day, I was pretty sure that was unattainable. But, Steve said, there’s a 50 mile and a 100K option, too, and I should think about those. Somehow, before the end of the run, I had been suckered into seriously considering the 100 miler. I said goodbye to my new friends with a promise I would be back because it was beautiful up there.
I chatted with MDH over the next few months as I was training for Hennepin. With Hennepin in October and it not going quite how I had envisioned, I was even more nervous about the IT100. I expressed this to Steve (I think) and he assured me that if I wanted to run the 100, they would help me run the 100. Little did I know how right he was.
I made the jump and signed up for the IT100, after discussions with MDH about running both the Huff 50K that December to get a better feel of the trails, AND knowing that I needed to up my hill training, AND travel to COL a decent amount to run the trails. There was no way I could finish without seriously training, and even then, I knew it was a long shot after how Hennepin went.
The Huff was crazy. I didn’t write a race report on it but the first loop was 7 inches of powdery snow, and the second was freezing rain and ice. It was epic, but I finished, and that boosted my confidence going into the IT100. I began going up to COL about twice a month to run the trails with their Saturday morning group. It’s a 2.5 hour drive, so as the runs grew longer, I woke up around 3 or 3:30am to make it up there by 7 to start with Joe and Brenda and Jerry and many others. I also began using the UltraLadies 100 mile training plan, which many of them were following. I loved it. It had a LOT more back to back long runs than I had done for Hennepin. I also incorporated hill repeats (not sprints) every Wednesday on a huge hill close by. That was a smart move, too. As race day got closer, I got more nervous. My first goal, and really, only goal, was to simply finish. I was invited to join up with the IGNITE ultra group up there and readily accepted, giving me a HUGE support base with people whom I knew would help me SO much. The advice, expertise, encouragement, and laughs I got from running with my IGNITE buddies was unreal. Seriously.
Leading up to race day, I packed and over-packed, of course. The weather forecast changed about twelve times in the two weeks before the race, and by the time the forecast had solidified, it looked to be miserable, wet, cold, windy, stormy, and rainy almost the entire weekend. I packed a drop bag for Rally with two hoodies, two jackets, complete changes of clothes, several pairs of socks, a change of shoes, rain poncho, hand warmers, first aid kit, hats, gloves…. and my car with MDH was my drop bag at the start/finish, with all of that plus more. Extra jackets, changes of clothes, more rain ponchos, more gloves and mittens and hats, and lots of hand warmers. In my pack, I threw in a poncho, hand warmers, salt caps, chapstick, ginger chews, my essential oil rollers, toilet paper, bug spray, and plenty of water. The night before the race, I picked up my race packet (with a sweet hat and jacket and shirt!) and met up with a couple people. I needed to chat with my two pacers because originally, I was to pick them up 3 miles in at the South Park aid station where they were both volunteering. Due to everything going on, that was changed to the start/finish. Amanda and Aaron responded quickly and we made the arrangements. Amanda would pace from 40-60, and Aaron from 60-100. Aaron had asked a million questions beforehand and I had typed out a lot of answers and sent it to both Aaron and Amanda so they had an idea of what I’d be carrying, pace, issues I might have, etc. I found Joe at the pre-race meeting and chatted with Jerry and Brenda and a few others as well. I was really getting nervous at that point.
I knew I had put in a LOT of good training. But I also knew how those trails would be in the rain. Mud. So much mud. I tried to not get disheartened or anxious, as I knew once I was finally running, most of that would wear off. Taper really does crazy things to your mind.
The night before the race, MDH and I had dinner with some old friends and headed back to COL for the pre-race meeting, and then to the hotel for some good sleep. Haha. I was too nervous. We finished a movie we had been watching and started another. My head was starting to really hurt – borderline migraine – probably because of the stress and anxiety and weather changes. I really wanted to sleep well before the race, but I probably only got a good four hours or so before our 3am alarm went off.
We arrived at COL a bit after 4am and snagged the parking space we wanted in the boat launch parking lot. I would be running RIGHT through there on my way to the start/finish line a quarter mile ahead, and it was a great place. I knew if MDH parked in the big lot, I would want to stop there longer and would end up wasting time. As it was, my plan was to spend NO MORE than two minutes at each aid station, unless it was a bathroom stop or a clothes change. I also was not allowing myself to sit down in the aid stations (that changed at mile 60 but I’ll get there…)
I found Joe and at 6am we were off on our first loop. It was dark but getting lighter, so at South Park (mile 3), I handed my headlamp off to MDH so I wouldn’t be carrying it when the rain hit. It would be getting enough rain later and I didn’t want the extra weight. We didn’t stop at the aid station the first loop, but waited until Hilltop at mile 7.5. I took a bathroom break (my system was not feeling the 3am wakeup call) and I took a ¼ PBJ and water. No Coke yet. I had sworn off it the two weeks before the race and wanted to last as long as I could. I was so happy to see Ashley and Erin and several others at Hilltop. Having familiar faces there was so amazing. Joe and I headed out at a decent pace – faster than what I originally planned, but we were okay with it. I knew it would be hard once the rain hit, so banking some extra time early was fine. My original plan was to run the first three loops in five hours each, leaving 7.5 each for the last two loops, where I knew I might need it. We were on pace for a 4.5 hour loop. Joe and I chatted and talked to some others on our way out to Rally. It really was a beautiful day and a good temperature, and we took advantage of it. Rally was 12.5 miles in, and I succumbed to the Coke there. I took Salt Stick caps there as well. I alternated during the race, taking one cap or two every other aid station or so. I also got to see Brenda there, who was last year’s winner. She’s from my town and I knew she’d be out there somewhere. It was good to see yet another familiar face and she would be a HUGE encouragement throughout the race for me. We left Rally knowing it was another 5 miles back to the Schoolhouse, but we were both feeling okay. I’m pretty sure I survived the entire race on PBJ, grilled cheese, Coke, and a few slices of bacon. Maybe a Pringle or two. And a handful of chocolate covered espresso beans once. And a cup of soup. The grilled cheese was my go-to at Hennepin, and here as well.
Joe and I finished the first loop in 4:27, well ahead of where I had planned, and surprising MDH who wasn’t quite ready to see me! We ran ahead to the start/finish where Joe took care of some things and I got some food. We were off on our second loop, expecting the rain to hit shortly. It did rain a bit, but the trails were still in the best condition I had ever seen them. Mostly dry and not muddy at all, but I knew that would change. We stopped for very limited time at the aid stations again. I met both Aaron and Amanda at South Park where they were asking me if they were going to need to slow me down because I was keeping a faster pace than anticipated. I shrugged and said I would definitely be slowing down but with the rain coming, I didn’t mind the faster pace while I could. I said goodbye and see you soon and off Joe and I went.
About ten miles into the second loop, my left knee started bugging me. I guessed it had to do with the camber of the trail and Joe agreed. The left side was always the one that was injured. I tried to be a bit more careful, shortening my stride and trying to keep my hips more even when I ran. It wasn’t long before I really couldn’t run much at all without my knee screaming. But I did find that when I power-hiked, it did not hurt.
I apologized to Joe a million times and told him he could go run his race and I would be fine, but he wouldn’t leave me. Those are friends you want to keep around forever. We kept a really fast hiking pace and finished the second loop in just over five hours. Averaged, we were still faster than where I had planned on being. It had rained a bit during that loop but nothing huge yet. We knew that was coming later, however, I was still a bit worried that even with a little rain, the trail was going to start to mud up. I grabbed my Tiger Balm and some Aleve from the car before the end of loop two. I knew I’d be meeting Amanda at the start/finish in just a few minutes. I also took my headlamp because we’d be borderline finishing that loop as dark was coming in. I threw my pullover on over my tech shirt as the wind was starting to pick up. It wasn’t quite time for pants yet, but I figured I’d be ready to change into tights and a different shirt after the loop with Amanda. I was hoping we’d be done with the third loop by about 9pm when it was getting dark, and that would be a good time to put the tights on and revamp what I was carrying. We finished loop 2 in 5:12.
I found Amanda right away at the start/finish line and grabbed another couple quarters of a PBJ sandwich and some Coke before we set off. I was glad I had the poncho in my pack because it had already drizzled and rained some and we had heard at the tent that more was on its way. It was fun to chat with Amanda. We’re both INKnBURN ambassadors and just generally chatted about pets and races and all of that. We were still power hiking most of it, occasionally running. I ran up Jennifer’s Hill because I had told Joe I would do it with him the third loop in honor of Jennifer. Amanda took a video of that. The sections that were runnable, we ran some. My knee was still hurting a decent amount but walking didn’t seem to cause as much pain. When we arrived at Hilltop, I used the port-o-john while Amanda told Ashley and Kelly about my knee giving me trouble. Kelly rubbed Biofreeze on it and Ashley lamented that she should have brought her pre-wrap up from her car. It suddenly occurred to me that I HAD pre-wrap out at Rally in my drop bag. Not because I had put it there for the hundo, but because it was in the tiny front pocket from years ago and I hadn’t ever taken it out. She gave instructions to Amanda about how to wrap it around my knee in hopes of relieving some of the pressure, and we headed out toward Rally. I am SO grateful for the care the volunteers gave out on the course. It was nothing short of selfless and encouraging.
It felt like forever before we hit Rally. I honestly can’t remember if it was raining a lot by then or not. It wasn’t enough for me to put the poncho on. I grabbed the pre-wrap and after a few failed attempts, got it around and tied it off. Brenda helped get us what we needed so we could be in and out. I took a paper cup of vegetable soup because I was starting to get chilled. I was more than looking forward to 7.5 miles later and being able to get my tights on.
Then it was off back toward the Schoolhouse. I ran up Joe’s slingshot on the way into the Schoolhouse where it was time for more food. I grabbed some more grilled cheese and Coke and tried to stretch out my knee/IT band/Whatever that muscle is called. It helped a bit and we started back toward the start/finish where we would meet Aaron.
Amanda messaged Aaron to let him know I’d be changing at my car so it would be a few extra minutes. When we got to MDH, I grabbed everything I would need to change and changed in the back of the car. It had gotten dark as we were running later than planned, so at least no one saw me exposing myself! Haha! The tights were more than welcome and I grabbed my Asics Storm NYC Marathon jacket as well. It had kept me very warm during the Huff, so with the incoming weather, I knew I needed a rain jacket that would keep me warm. I changed my socks at this point, too, and reapplied my 2Toms to my feet. Of all the people who have blister issues while running ultras, I have not had any yet. The combination of the liquid 2Toms and my Smartwool socks has been nothing short of amazing. When all was said and done, I had one teeny blister on my second toe, which, a day later, had totally healed. When I had changed, we headed back for the main tent to meet Aaron. MDH also met us over there to see us off. Loop 3 was completed in 5:49. Losing a bit of time, but still averaging where I was hoping to be.
We were heading into the overnight hours quickly and I knew it was going to be a long night. I took a couple more salt caps and Aaron and I were off. He knew I was moving at more of a power hike, and Amanda told him to not allow me to apologize for it. I was still able to walk pretty quickly. Up to this point, I had mentally been doing really well. I was still pretty wide awake and moving well, even power hiking. We had people behind us yelling that “holy crap, you’re walking really fast!” and I was powering up the hills. That’s all my hill work coming into play. It actually hurt my knee LESS to go UP the hills than down. Down was the worst. Aaron is a pretty fabulous guy and we have a bit in common as far as movies and quotes and Christianity, so we had plenty of good conversations. There were a LOT of Princess Bride quotes recited. We got out to South Park pretty well and after a short stop and chat with Michelle, the RD for the Hennepin 100, Aaron gave me a 30 second warning and off we went. I think it was sprinkling a bit because I remember trying to keep my grilled cheese from getting wet while balancing my Coke cup. It started lightening on the way out to Hilltop I think, and we knew the rain was probably getting close. I was still walking pretty much all of it at a good clip, with Aaron giving me a good lead. I was keeping up with him and we were probably around a 15:30 or 16:00 pace most of the time, which was actually pretty on par for the 6 hour loop I had envisioned for loop four. We made it to Hilltop and as soon as we arrived, were informed that the rain would be starting in about 20-30 minutes. It was expected to be strong and heavy, and some people were choosing the wait at the aid station until it passed. I knew I didn’t have that kind of time to wait around, especially with my knee acting up, so we threw on our ponchos and trash bags, grabbed some food, and promised ourselves it was only 4.5 miles to Rally. We hadn’t more than left Hilltop when the sky opened up and it poured. We saw Kelly and whomever he was pacing head back to Hilltop to wait it out, and we just kept on going. I’ve run in the rain before and it didn’t phase me too much other than I knew I’d be cold. I had my mittens on to help keep my hands warm but I knew even with the tights and warm jacket that I would eventually get chilled. We kept moving at a good clip when we could, through the mud that was now overtaking the north boundary out to Rally. That’s the toughest part of the course to run when it’s muddy because it turns into a slip’n’slide. Virtually impossible to RUN. It was a bit after midnight and I had told Aaron I needed to get my run streak mile in for Sunday before I was unable to run a mile continuously. He had told me that the stretch just before Rally would be good. It was flat and runnable, maybe even in the mud. It felt like hours that we were getting dumped on. The light show was amazing and the thunder was loud, and storms energize me sometimes. This was no exception. I still felt pretty okay, but I was getting discouraged that Rally seemed so far off. Finally, Aaron gave me the go ahead to start the mile, after we crossed the main road. His watch was at 5.66 miles, but I didn’t want to end my mile at 6.66 so I waited another hundredth of a mile. My Garmin had given out ages ago when I had realized I forgot my battery pack in the car. It was probably a blessing because I would have been so discouraged looking at my watch to see such minimal and slow progress. Mentally, I think it was good that Aaron was the one with the watch. I started my mile and the mud kicked in pretty big time. It was hard and slow, but I got it done. Aaron recorded a bit of me running through the rain in my poncho. There was no way I was letting my run streak die on the account of some mud and rain.
Shortly after I finished the mile, we made it to Rally. I remember thinking it should have been closer than it was and asking Aaron about it, but he said it was just around the corner. WHAT CORNER? I was thinking. But we did eventually make it and that tent was a welcome sight. I ate some more grilled cheese and Coke and took some more salt, grateful we had made it out there through the rain. I’m not sure we saw anyone else on the entire stretch out to Rally. We didn’t linger, though. There were a lot of people huddled around the heater wearing space blankets and I knew hypothermia was a real things. I needed to keep moving and not allow my body to cool off. It was back to the Schoolhouse, rain and all. At some point it stopped raining a little bit and Aaron and I chatted about movies and quotes and pretty much my entire life story, because hey, what happens on the trail stays on the trail. I don’t mind telling people my story and we did have a lot of time. We made it back to the Schoolhouse, didn’t waste a lot of time, and headed back to the main tent. I knew I wanted to do a full change of shirts and shoes when I got back. Everything was just drenched and I was starting to get super cold. I knew if I didn’t keep moving, I would end up hypothermic. The hill after the Schoolhouse wasn’t actually that awful this time. Challenging, but not awful. I was more than happy to see the car in the boat launch lot, and quickly explained I was doing a full change of shirts. Aaron gave me about five or ten minutes and I changed into a dry tech shirt, pullover, hoodie, and a new jacket. I also took a new pair of gloves and a winter hat, and new hand warmers for the gloves. I ditched my Hoka Challengers which had been amazing and put on my Cliftons in an attempt to have dry shoes and socks again. It wasn’t going to make much difference now with the amount of mud out there. The Challengers had done their job. It had stopped raining for now, but we knew more was heading our way. I wondered how long my shoes would stay dry for, but I wanted that last loop to at least start well. I put more 2Toms on as well. Surprisingly, I think I remember being okay mentally at this point. I should double check with Aaron to make sure that is true. I know I was wet and chilled and freezing and knew that warm clothes would definitely help.
I took probably too long changing, but it was worth it to feel dry and so much warmer. We headed down to the main tent at the start/finish to refuel, find out when the next round of storms would hit, and head out. Loop four took 6:39. Again, slower than I wanted, but given the conditions, it was definitely still acceptable.
At this point, the pain in my knee was so much that running really was hardly an option. Every once in a while, Aaron and I would get to a flat stretch and he would say, “okay, let’s run to the next corner” and off we would go. He led, and although that was the one thing we hadn’t discussed much, I was glad he was leading most of the time. It gave me something to do keeping up with him. Loop five was the hardest by far mentally. I wasn’t tired like falling asleep tired, but my body was just done. I was in a lot of pain and it was wearing me down mentally. I think even by the South Park aid station, I was in tears, and that happened a lot that final loop. Aaron kept reminding me it would be light out soon, and I hoped that would bring me a second wind. I think it was sometime between South Park and Hilltop that I started to lose it. Aaron pulled up a quote – I can’t remember what it was, but I know it was inspiring! Then he brought up Stand by Rascal Flatts and we listened to that. After the song, I told him to put his phone away, because we were going to run for a while. And we did. I don’t think it was super far, but my mind shifted to a slightly better place for a while. It’s amazing what a difference someone else being there can make to bring you out of your head. I had totally gone into my head at this point and was frantically trying to figure out if I would make the cutoff or if I was going to get pulled for being too late. I’m pretty sure I asked everyone I saw if I was going to make it, including another 800 times to Aaron. Everyone assured me that I would, but I was doubting myself because I could feel the pain. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and this was really pushing on that. It was close to unbearable and I kept trying to push ahead. My mind just wanted to be done. I remember stopping along the side of the trail at one point and just squatting down against a post. I was DONE. I think I said that. But then, up I’d get and keep moving.
A lot of that loop was a blur of aid station to aid station and trying to stay in the game. At one point, we had eight miles to go and three hours to do it in or something. I knew that my stretch goal of 28 hours was out as soon as the mud and rain out to Rally had hit. I was sort of hoping for under 29 then, but my body was not having it. Eventually, I settled for a PR of under 29:40, which I knew was probably still possible. We came across another woman who was also struggling and we commiserated for a few and kept going. When we had five miles left and two hours to go, I think I started believing it could happen, but everything in my mind was begging me to stop. It really does become a mental game at those points. My body had already run 95 miles. Another 5 would not kill it, but my mind was telling me it wasn’t possible. Between Rally and the Schoolhouse, Aaron told me I would NOT be stopping at the schoolhouse. He would get my Coke and meet me at the top of the hill after texting MDH that we were 2.7 miles out. I stumbled my way down the huge hill which now had some straw on it to keep us from slipping down the mud slide. Going up wasn’t as hard or as painful, and by the time I got to the top, Aaron had my Coke and I drank it by the trash can. He said, “guess who I saw back at the schoolhouse?” I had no idea, and I think I said that. It was Joe! Aaron had seen Joe there. I knew then that he would finish, as I hadn’t seen him since early into loop three. It was also really excellent motivation for me to keep moving because I don’t like people beating me. Joe is amazing, but in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to beat him, so I moved. Still mostly walking, but a bit quicker now. I didn’t know what condition he was in and if he had started running, he would have passed me. I needed to gain ground. I kept looking for him but didn’t see him. I stayed ahead of the other people behind me. At the turn to go up the final hill by the boat launch, I gave Aaron my poncho, jacket, and hat. He took the short cut to the finish and I went up Mike’s hill, cursing him the whole way for changing the course and adding that awful hill at the end. At the top of the hill was a lady cheering some people on and two little girls. I remember thanking the little girls for cheering and decided I must have looked pretty scary or something because they seemed unsure of me talking to them. Seeing the finish line and heading to cowbells and cheering was absolutely the best sound ever. It was real. I had made it. I hadn’t quit. All I needed to do was get down that hill and across the timing mats.
Which happened. Obviously. Mike was waiting there and I tried to slow down without falling over which was hard. He kind of half-caught-half-hugged me which made for a great picture. I was done crying at that point, I think. He handed me my buckle and I waited at the finish with MDH and Aaron and some others for Joe to come in. I knew he had to be close. When he finally showed up, I was so, so happy. Something about watching people you’ve trained with reach their goals is just an amazing feeling.
Loop five was a grueling 7:10.
What did I learn? Oh, so much. First, stick with what you know. I was spot on with hydration and nutrition and feet. Up until the very end when I think I was either low or high on salt because my hands were swollen. But I followed what I knew, and that made a huge difference. My stomach never went sour on me and I ended up with a tiny blister on one toe, even after running hours upon hours in soaking wet shoes and socks. Also, over packing is GOOD. I could have needed all those warm clothes and I’m glad I had them. I am also glad I made the right decisions in terms of when to put the pullover on, when to add tights, and when to do a full change. The hand warmers were HUGE. Those made a huge difference in keeping me warm and I will definitely have those again. I know my body’s tendency to get cold and prepared for it. The only time I was honestly worried about hypothermia was the five or six miles back to the start/finish on loop 4 before I changed. Otherwise, I was actually mostly okay.
I also learned how much time one can save by getting in and out of aid stations quickly. I did NOT spend two hours at aid stations like at Hennepin. I did NOT sit down more than a few times toward the end for longer than a minute or so. I did sit at Rally to eat a bit on the last loop but by that time, I mentally needed to regroup and we were okay on time. But I was NOT doing many of the things that took so much time at Hennepin. I knelt down on the trails just a couple or a few times in exhaustion. (Aaron can correct me if it was more!) but I really did try to just keep moving, even if it wasn’t a super fast pace.
I learned that the power of good pacers is unmatched. I don’t know that I would have continued if it hadn’t been for my pacers. I might have tried, but they really held me accountable for power hiking and moving and making sure I wasn’t dilly-dallying. I learned the power of the mind, once again. I learned that my body might yell stop and my mind might yell stop, but I WILL NOT STOP. Because sometimes you want something more than that and stopping won’t allow you to get it.
If you read all the way through this, I commend you. I’m pretty sure it’s a small novel, but I’m a writer. I’m not known for being succinct.