Race Report :: Rocky Raccoon 100

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Rocky Raccoon Race Report

Stats:

Rocky Raccoon 100 mile

Huntsville, Texas

February 1-2, 2020

Finishing Time: 27:36

Why Rocky? I finished Twisted Branch in August and was looking for another WS qualifier for this next year. After chatting with my coaches a bit, we decided Rocky could be a good option and could play off my training from Twisted Branch rather than doing a summer or fall race and “re-training” for it. I was a little unsure because to this point, each of my qualifiers has intentionally been harder than the previous – each having more elevation gain than the last. Rocky did NOT have that, being more of a “flat” race, but we decided a good goal could be speed for this one, rather than elevation. I was definitely excited about that goal but also cautiously optimistic. To this point, my best 100 miler was 25:50 and that was Hennepin – towpath, gravel, and SO FLAT. I barely count it. My other four have been IT100 (twice), Hennepin again, and Mohican. I finished each of those with between 10-30 minutes to spare on cutoffs. Needless to say it was going to be a HUGE challenge to entertain that goal, but I was excited to try.

Not long after “official” training started, I started having foot issues again. I lost a long run and some training, headed to the bike for miles instead, and then when that was feeling better and I was feeling stronger, I headed to San Diego for two weeks. I had foot issues there trying to run, ended up hiking and climbing a LOT but I was crazy nervous because the long run miles weren’t there. The hours on my feet were there. The strength was there. I was still doing weights at the gym and a LOT of foot strengthening exercises, but I lost one long run on that trip and postponed another one. After California, I headed to Pokagon for a 30 miler, which actually was amazing, followed by a 20 mile road run. Then as I was getting ready for my final long run weekend, the Midwest weather hit, leaving me not only NOT going up to ChainO or Pokagon, but not on trails at ALL. My last “long run” was 10 miles on an indoor track (140 laps), 10 miles on the treadmill, and 2 hours on the bike. Followed by some strengthening and time in the sauna. Definitely NOT what I anticipated for my last long run. I was getting nervous. This wasn’t supposed to be how it went. I spent the last couple weeks doing more strength and weights and speed workouts and resting, nervous about heading into Rocky with a lofty goal and NOT the training I ideally wanted.

Now, I should also throw in here that my coaches are AMAZING and flexible and never once seemed to doubt my capability to do this. Most of it was my own frustration and trying to adapt – I’m such a “schedule” person that if my plan says “20 miles”, I’m DOING 20 miles, darn it, or I’m not happy. So I did have to learn how to adjust and trust that what I was doing was still going to be good training, just different than what I originally thought.

Another part of this race was that it was in Texas. Six and a half years ago, I was matched with a running buddy through the I Run 4 program. Evan was just under a year old, and he became my inspiration and motivation for so many of my runs. With the challenges he was facing nearly every day, it put into perspective that my “hard run” was not actually that hard. I dedicated my miles to him and ran my races for him. And this race, being in Texas, was going to mean meeting him for the very first time. They still lived 8 hours from the race, but were willing to drive to the race to see me finish on Sunday morning. Part of me secretly thinks I wanted to finish in over 24 hours so it would be light outside when I finished with him. Much of my excitement around this race was the thought of meeting my buddy in person for the first time AND having him meet me at the finish line and cheer me in.

I could rehash my foot issues but if you really must know more, they’re mentioned multiple times in previous race reports and blog entries.

For this race, I went into it fat-adapted. I first tried this out just over a year ago and found that it really improved my races and training. I could run longer without trying to figure out what food would and wouldn’t work for me, and I didn’t need to worry about stomach issues brought on by force feeding myself during a run in order to keep my caloric intake up. Most of you know I am NOT a huge fan of the keto diet. I spent the majority of my life avoiding foods that had carbs in them and when I finally came to the conclusion that carbs were NOT actually the devil and I weighed more than 80 pounds, here I was cutting them out again. Mentally that is definitely a challenge for me, but I knew the results were what I wanted so I stuck with it. My original plan was to have some turkey and mayo on low carb wraps to bring with me as well as bacon, in case the aid station fare was not super keto-friendly. Then as the race progressed I would eat more of just what sounded good, keto or not. I had plenty of “junk food” with my sister at the start area as well.

For this race, my usual crew and pacers were not able to make it. I was CRAZY nervous and maybe freaked out more than once about being terrified to go down there and try this alone. I eventually found one pacer whom I had met at the July training runs at ChainO, Brandy. That was going to be amazing. But I was still without a pacer for miles 75-100 and still on my own for crew. I joined up with the Tejas Trails FB group and quickly found several pacers willing to help, and settled on the one Brandy spoke highly of, Chad. Both had run the race before and were pretty expert on the course, so I was excited for that. On one of my longer runs alone up at ChainO, I kind of fell apart. It was just before Thanksgiving and I was having a rough day. I was in tears, being so scared that if I couldn’t even make it through a training run alone, there was no way I’d make it through a RACE alone. But I didn’t know what to do.

Thanksgiving evening, my sister messaged me that her Christmas gift to me was flying to Texas to crew for me. Cue the tears again. My sister is NOT a runner. She has never been to an ultra. And yet she was willing to join this crazy adventure and be my “person” for the race. I got excited again. This might not turn out to be a disaster after all. Could I run it without a crew? Sure. The aid stations are pretty close (except freaking Far Side) but I had a goal and I also do better knowing there’s someone waiting for me at the end of the loop for a hug and encouragement.

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With plans in place, I started packing. I made a spreadsheet of expected times. I wrote crew instructions for my sister. I packed two suitcases (never had to FLY to an ultra before) and made sure I had more than what I needed. I packed warm clothes/coats for my sister if she was going to stay outside all night in the cold. I headed to Chicago Thursday morning and was in Texas by evening waiting for my sister to arrive. We drove up to Huntsville, found our hotel, and made plans for the next day including lunch with her mother-in-law, grocery shopping, packet pickup, and walking the trails for a bit to get an idea of them. We also managed to get a good Maurices shopping trip in there, too. Because. Maurices.

Packet pickup and race meeting was fine. Met up with Brandy but Chad was getting things ready at the aid station he heads up so I didn’t get to see him Friday. I talked to the race director about my running buddy being there and he absolutely loved it. Classy guy, the RD. He’s a combination of humor, compassion, and seriousness that a race like that needs!

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Kristin and I grabbed some dinner on the way back to the hotel and ate and relaxed a bit. The morning would come early and we wanted a good parking spot, so that meant arriving at the park by about 4:30. We went to bed and hoped we would get more sleep than the night before when we were both a bit restless.

THE RACE

The race started at 6am. It was dark but I had my waist light. The first few miles were good. I stayed in the conga line and kept mostly to myself, feeling out the trail and seeing what I was in for. I’m not huge for making random small talk at the race, although I do like meeting people eventually. The beginning in the dark with the roots was just a “pay attention” sort of thing. When the sun started coming up, I switched off my light and trucked on. The first AS was about 4 miles in or so, at the Nature Center. It was light shortly after that. I kept close to the 12 minute/mile goal for quite a bit of the first 25 mile loop. Some were well under that. The trek out to the Gate AS was SUPER easy and runnable in the daylight and I definitely took advantage of that and ran a LOT faster there. I hoped it wouldn’t screw me over later, but it felt good. I was in and out of Gate pretty quickly with a quick bottle refill. I hadn’t stopped at Nature Center the first time. After Gate, you do a quick backtrack the way you came and then continue on to the Damnation AS. At this point everything was feeling pretty good. I remember feeling a little twinge in my knee but I figured it was from dodging roots and not being quite warmed up, so I just went with it. I did feel better by the Damnation AS. That was where I met Chad for the first time. He helped refill my bottles and put more Mio in them. That was my drug of choice for this race. I hate plain water, especially when it’s warm. Mio Sport has electrolytes AND a pleasant taste, so I had loaded up on little bottles  of that to keep with me as well as a few packets of sugar free Kool Aid for a treat. I grabbed a couple quarters of PBJ and realized my plan to stay keto was not going to happen. They looked good and I was hungry, so I ate. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through years of an eating disorder, it’s that NOW, if I think something looks good, it’s usually because my body needs something in it and I’ve stopped denying myself things. I did that for too long and now I just GO FOR IT. With my PBJ in hand, I started the long road out to Far Side. This particular AS is over 4 miles away and is an out and back. The AS itself doesn’t actually have food, just water and Tailwind, because it’s so “far out” that it’s hard to get supplies to. This would be the worse part of the course, for me AND everyone else. The first loop it wasn’t too bad. I was still warming up. I got out there and refilled one bottle and then headed back, looking forward to Damnation again and it’s lovely fare. It was kind of funny because either out to Far Side or on the way back in to Damnation (I think) I ended up leading a group of people. I NEVER lead ANYONE. I’m always in the back, but I was moving well and powering up the hills and they stayed behind me. At one point I heard the guy behind me say something like “dang, who is that? She’s hammering it!” Or something and I looked around because I knew it wasn’t me, but then he said it again and I was all, “oh wait, that WAS me he was talking about!” And I almost laughed because someone actually thought I was hammering it up hills and running fast! That was a nice boost of confidence for me, although it wouldn’t last too long. Mostly just until Damnation. When I arrived there I asked Chad to message my sister because originally I had told her there was no way I’d get back to the start area at a 12 minute pace, but now it looked like I just might.

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I loaded up my bottles again back there, grabbed some more food (oreos maybe!) and was happy because now there were only 7 miles back to the start area and my sister! With an AS in between to break it up! So far, my pace was ON, but after leaving Damnation, I fell off the wagon a little. It was warming up and I was tired and I knew I had gone out too fast leaving me a little winded. It was humid too.

It was somewhere between Damnation and the start/finish area that I first felt that twinge of doubt that I could reach the sub-24 goal. I had it in me this loop but I knew the next ones would be harder. I’m not sure if I decided I COULDN’T do it or if my body just decided that. The mental game would be hard the remainder of the race. I did make it back to the start area smiling and still slightly hopeful that taking off my tights and long sleeves and getting refreshed for a few minutes would be a game changer. I knew I only had one more loop until my pacers so I just needed to hang on and keep moving. My sister had EVERYTHING (I mean EVERYTHING) meticulously laid out on the picnic table we had snagged. She was ready for me. I dropped my pack and headed for the bathroom while she reloaded my pack. She had wraps ready for me and I took two (I wouldn’t end up eating them) and when I came back I had decided I needed to re-lube my feet. I wasn’t changing socks at that point, but I had a little hot spot I wanted to get some lube on quick. I left after about 7 minutes or so with my shorts and t-shirt, new water and Kool-Aid, a couple donuts, and a hug from my sister. It was off for round two after I figured out which way to go.

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The second loop I slowed down a bit. The first part to Nature Center I was doing okay. Moving pretty well and not sore or anything yet, but it was definitely starting to warm up and I needed to drink more than the previous loop. I refilled my bottle at the Nature Center and headed toward Gate. I wanted to run this part because it had been so runnable the first loop but by the time I was getting close I was a bit winded. I met up with a guy, Phi, and we ran/walked for a while together chatting. He had run this one a couple times before. I left him just before Gate. When I got to Gate, Brandy was there waiting for me! That was such a relief! I was hurting more now but still smiling. She was videoing me but I didn’t know that. I thought she was just taking pictures so I’m sure the video is hilarious. Anyway, it was a great boost to see her there before heading out to Damnation again. She took some pictures and I got hugs and I refilled my water bottle and added more Mio and grabbed some more PBJ. Then it was off to Damnation. I chatted with a couple people but didn’t really stick long with anyone. I enjoy company but I also knew I had gone out too fast and needed to run my own race instead of sticking with people. I was already in my own head and feeling defeated. A quick text to the “group text” gave me some encouragement and I did really need that. I tend to set unreasonable goals for myself and then get upset when I can’t reach them, and this was a good example of that. I knew there was a LOT of race left and even if I didn’t make the sub-24 hour goal, I knew a finish was possible and, really, in a 100, that’s the ultimate goal, especially when people drop.

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I did manage to get myself a 50K PR on this loop. For a lot of people, a 6:42 50K isn’t a big deal, but for me it definitely was, especially being part of a 100. That put a bit into perspective for me. I was stronger than at my last 50K and that gave me a little boost also. I trucked along to Damnation and tried to smile and be excited. Chad was there again so that was good to see a friendly face. The volunteers at this race are AMAZING and I felt in good hands constantly. I refilled my bottles, made sure I took enough food for the next long 9 mile stretch out to Far Side and back, and then took off down the road eating my cheese quesadilla.

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Somewhere between Damnation and Far Side I met a guy and we chatted for a bit. Then I let him go and settled into my own pace again. Just a few minutes later I came across both him and a lady on a bridge who had fallen. That’s how I met Karen and we walked together for a while as she caught her breath and made sure she was ok. At this point the walk was super nice because I was sore and hurting and a bit discouraged. It was good to chat with someone.

About a mile away from Far Side I left our little trio we had formed, quietly, and ran in to Far Side. I needed to move. I think it was a good break to walk but my body was ready to run again so run I did! I didn’t stop long at Far Side, just long enough to fill my bottle and then head back. I was SO looking forward to Damnation and not having to see Far Side by myself again. The next time would be with Brandy. I ran/walked back to Damnation, more than ready to get back to the start area. I was so far off my pace chart that I didn’t even want to look at it. I think between Far Side and Damnation was where I tried to come to terms with not meeting my goals and not even being CLOSE to meeting my goals. I was messaging my sister out of frustration and trying to have her recalculate new goals for me and to help Brandy have a plan for what we would do. I spent a lot of that 4.25 mile stretch back to Damnation crying or almost crying because I was just angry at myself.

I shouldn’t have been.

I worked hard. I trained hard. Could I have trained harder? Maybe. But this was the race that was being given to me and simply to FINISH it was the ultimate goal I needed to keep in mind. The night hours were going to be hard. I didn’t want to get all crazy before it was even dark. I tried to keep perspective. I was running. I was ABLE to run. I was able to BE HERE. I was going to meet my buddy. The A-goal is not always the goal that is going to happen. And I needed to be okay with that.

Damnation came and went. I think I was upset at that aid station. Chad could see it. I told him I was struggling. He called out for a friend of his and I hooked up with Dirk and Hamlin and they were my lifesavers for the next 7 miles back to the start area. We ran some, we laughed some. I listened to their banter back and forth which was WAY fun. It was absolutely PERFECT for those 7 miles I laughed for REAL for the first time in 20 miles. I was having FUN again. As we were less than a mile out, Hamlin’s speakers started blaring “whooooooa, we’re halfway theeeeere……whooooooooa livin’ on a prayers” and I laughed because it was unplanned but perfect.

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Back at the start area, I put on my long sleeve shirt, kept my jacket in my pack, decided against pants (I still can’t decide if that was a good or bad decision) and got my light ready. I didn’t make any other major changes. I was still eating and drinking well. No stomach issues. No chafing issues. Just a couple hot spots on my feet but apparently that is how Texas trails go. Brandy and I took off on loop three, halfway done.

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Loops two and three are harder to remember. A little blurry. I remember telling Brandy several times that I was NOT having fun anymore. She played a video from a friend back home about 4 different times and I think I cried all four times. Occasionally I would think of something she could text my sister to have ready at the beginning of loop 4. We chatted some but a lot of it I think was just me complaining about hurting. She let me “earn” sitting down for a few minutes, and that was glorious. I really hadn’t sat yet in the race, which was good for me. I got some ramen or mashed potatoes and ate that while I was sitting for a few minutes and then it was back out there. I tried to run some but my feet were not really letting me and my knee was bugging me a decent amount. I would run a short spurt and then be back to walking. We were still moving pretty good, so that was nice. At Damnation I grabbed more water and COKE and we headed out to Far Side, knowing when we got back to Damnation, Chad would get ready to pace.

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I got to sit again at Far Side. Just for a few minutes. Then it was back to Damnation knowing I only had to go out to Far Side ONE MORE TIME. That was a glorious thought! I was still eating and drinking well at this point but I was definitely hurting and DEFINITELY getting cold. I was moving slower AND it was later than I originally thought. I do remember telling Brandy a few times that we needed to run because I was getting crazy cold. I had put my jacket on but I knew I’d need more at the start area. I asked her to text my sister and have her have my Patagonia jacket ready. She already had it. And my mittens with handwarmers. She was amazing. And my sweat pants. I knew my tights might not be enough and this wasn’t a fashion show anymore.

Finally back at the start area, Chad was waiting. I had used the bathroom at Nature Center so I didn’t need to stop at the start area, and could get right to getting warm. They had hot chocolate and mashed potatoes for me. I sat down and did decide to change socks and relube my feet since I had to take my shoes off anyway to put my sweatpants on. I put my windbreaker AND Patagonia jacket on and my pack over those. Changed the battery in my light. Got my headband and mittens with handwarmers, took a couple pictures, and away Chad and I went into the night. I warmed up pretty quickly after that.

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Loop 4 was a blur. I had been taking Aleve for a while now (since Hamlin asked me why I’d wait) and it was making my vision a little sketchy. Just hard to focus. Part of that was also being the middle of the night. But it did slow me down a bit more. I had taken JetAlert at the start area also, to give me more of a caffeine boost. I could always tell when the Aleve was working and wearing off because I’d be able to run more. I did make sure I was drinking enough and taking in electrolytes because of the Aleve. Chad and I chatted some. I don’t remember what about, honestly. Some if it was just me following him and trying to keep up. He set a good pace that I was trying to maintain as long as I could. We were still on par for a decent finish and nowhere near chasing cutoffs like I usually am. That was a relief but also might have made me slower. I was between goals – I had missed my A and B goals and now all I had to do was finish. I tried to push myself because I didn’t want to finish with 20 minutes to spare. And I knew at some point my buddy would be waiting for me that that would push me along even more.

I was hurting. I know I mentioned that more than once to Chad. I know I was complaining. I had a blister that was NOT getting better and at Gate we had someone look at it and take care of it. They indeed had saved me some spicy apple juice so between that and the emotional support puppy I was petting, the blister popping and draining wasn’t as bad as it could have been. After that I was limping for a while because it hurt so bad. I remember Chad telling me that the pain was in my head and if I kept telling my brain it wasn’t hurting, eventually it would stop. Well, he was right. It did stop hurting a few miles later and I could hardly feel it. I ran a little bit and walked more.

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It’s funny how an 18 minute mile pace can feel like a 15 minute pace. I think if I learned one thing it’s to tell my pacer ahead of time what pace I want to keep and then try to just hang on and follow them. I know I wasn’t moving fast but I do remember thinking at the time that I was literally going as fast as I possibly could at that point. Sometimes that point changed and I got a bit faster, but looking back at it, I remember thinking I was pushing myself as hard as I could in that moment. That’s something I need to remember. I think increasing my strength will help me be able to push myself harder at a slightly faster pace in the future. I think there are always going to be those moments when you are absolutely positive you are pushing yourself as hard as you can. My goal is not to get rid of those moments. This is an ultra. It’s SUPPOSED to be hard. MY goal is to get to those moments and just be strong enough that an 18 minute mile pace that was my MAX effort turns into a 16 minute mile pace.

As the sun was coming up, there was fog over the lake. It was beautiful. I stopped to take a picture of it and Chad took a picture of me, and then I checked my phone. I’d had it in airplane mode most of the race, as evidenced by the 60% battery life still on it after 28 hours, but I checked it briefly, and saw the only thing I needed to see to push me – Evan and his mom were AT THE PARK. They were HERE. I told Chad, “let’s go, I have a buddy waiting for me!” And we took off hobbling/running for a few minutes until I had to stop again. From that point to the finish, I knew exactly what I was going for and I pushed as hard as I could. I really do think I did push myself as hard as I could. I’m looking back on it now wondering if I could have done more or gone faster, but in that moment, I was giving my all.

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About a mile to go, I took my mittens and hat off and stuffed them in my pack. It was getting warmer. Chad said he wanted to run ahead to take pictures but I think I told him to wait until we got to the straight away. Weird that I was telling him what to do when he knows the course WAY better but my brain wasn’t working crazy well and I think I really just wanted someone there as long as possible so I didn’t fall over!

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When we got to the straight away road, he took off and I started running. A slow jog at first – REALLY slow, and then I saw the road crossing, and I got faster. The tents were there now and at the end of the tents I saw them. Evan and his mom. I started crying at this point, a bit overwhelmed at both finishing 100 miles and meeting my inspiration for the first time. I tried to hold it together but I was a weird combination of crying, smiling, laughing, and stinky. I helped hold on to Evan as his mom put his shoes on, and then as I was reaching for his hand to have him walk across the finish line with me, he just raised his arms up toward me. So after 100 miles, I picked up the sweet little guy and the most precious moment was carrying him across the finish line with me. I will never, EVER forget the look of pure joy on his face, or knowing that the same look was on my face. His mom took him from me after a little bit of a struggle (He didn’t want to let go!)

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And then I had one of the volunteers bring Evan his own buckle. A HUGE thanks to the race director Chris for listening to my story and allowing me this amazing privilege. It’s a memory none of us will likely forget.

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The moments after the race were equally precious with my little buddy, and we took some pictures and chilled for just a few minutes before deciding on breakfast plans and heading back to the hotel to pack up and shower. I’m glad I didn’t need my “plan B” to shower at a Planet Fitness in case I didn’t finish before we had to check out of the hotel.

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Lessons learned, things that went well, regrets?

Hydration, salt, calories, chafing – everything was nearly perfect in this regard. I did have some sausage fingers and I’m not sure if it was from too much or too little salt. I did stay pretty up on my electrolytes and salt, and I never felt sick or bad. My stomach never gave me issues. Nothing I wore chafed. I do need to consider the terrain next time to try to prevent blisters. I have a few nasty ones. This happened at Mohican too, with similar roots and rocks. I ordered some Injinji socks today to give those a try just for fun.

Lesson learned? The UltrAspire waist light is junk. What I didn’t mention further up was that about two hours before sunrise, a runner came by with their pacer and their lights had gone out. I had my backup flashlight in my pack and happily gave that to them to use, since we had replaced my waist light battery with a fully charged battery a few hours before. Then about an hour before sunrise, my light went out. Chad and I ran the rest of the dark part side by side using his waist light. Apparently that’s a known issues with the UltrAspire old waist light, and it got me at Twisted Branch also. I really feel like a battery should last more than a few hours when it’s a light USED for ultra running. That was disappointing but I’ve had that light for a few years and I’m doubtful the company really cares at this point. It’s a chunk of change to save up for the new one, and I’m hesitant to do that if the new one has the same issue. I need a light that can last through the night or at least more than a few hours.

The light was the only major malfunction, honestly. I learned a lot about myself once again. I can push myself more than I think. Sometimes I can get into my head EARLY in a race and that can destroy me. I also learned that my sister is an AMAZING crew and an even better friend. I learned that motivation can be as simple as a Coke waiting for me or a tiny Snickers bar. I learned that trail friends really ARE the best type of friend.

I need to give a shoutout to Coros, also. I used the Coros Apex for this run and I’m pretty sure every time I use it I fall in love with it more. I used it in full GPS mode and I still ended the race with about 25% remaining on the watch battery power. Never had to charge it. Never had to worry about it running out of battery. I’m pretty sure that had I kept it running, it would have lasted MORE than the 30 hours it touts.

Also in use was Muir Energy, for the first time. I had a lot with me and ended up not using a ton of it, but i did use the caffeinated raspberry one and a sunflower butter one and man those things are GOOD and effective.

Also, props to Tejas Trails for making this a cupless race. I appreciate not having to waste cups at every aid station and while we DID use cups for the hot stuff, it was nice to be able to use my own cup (the awesome Tejas Trails one!) for drinks. Mental note – bring a tiny carabiner next time to make it easier to get the cup on and off my pack!

Regrets? I hate saying I have regrets. I feel like I learned from everything that happened and it will make me stronger and better in the future. I do wish I wouldn’t always set the bar so high and then be SO disappointed if I fail. I do like making big goals and I’m sure I will make them again. But my perfectionistic tendency is to be super down on myself when I fail to reach those goals, rather than doing the old yelling “PLOT TWIST” and changing things up.

Overall, I AM happy with how the race went. I TOTALLY busted my trail PR for 100. I barely count Hennepin because it’s not so much a “trail” and has no elevation. But rather than finishing with 20 minutes to spare like usual, I finished with 2.5 hours to spare, and for me that is pretty incredible. I felt STRONG for a lot of the race. My knee was bugging me from almost the beginning and I’m not entirely sure why, but it didn’t start getting worse until halfway through or so. Here’s to training hard and getting stronger and turning my “max effort” pace into a faster pace!

Many many thanks for my incredible pacers and crew, and the many friends who shared miles with me, encouraged me, picked me up when I was a wreck, talked me through a hard long run, and just are generally amazing. I have the best teammates anyone could ask for.

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Race Report :: Twisted Branch 100K

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

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WHY Twisted Branch? ::

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

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WHAT is it? ::

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

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Beautiful course, but so many rocks!

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

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Again with the rocks!

PRE-RACE ::

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

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The view at Ontario County Park was beautiful!

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

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Trying to smile at 3am! #GritSquad

THE RACE ::

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

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At the start line!

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

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

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The only selfie I took during the race 😛

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

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

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

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

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The storm clouds were pretty beautiful

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

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

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There was mud

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

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Saying goodbye to Joel after 18 amazing miles

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

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Shelley and I at the finish line!

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

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WHAT WORKED ::

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT WOULD I CHANGE? ::

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

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

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

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

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

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Training mindset and the extra

It’s Monday today.

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

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

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

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

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

WHY?

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

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

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

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

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

 

19

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report :: Yamacraw 50K

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

Long version ::

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

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beautiful, foggy morning

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

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

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

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

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

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waiting for the start

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

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

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

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

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

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still pushing through

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Race Report :: Indiana Trail 100

Short version ::

Sorry. There is no short version. 😂

Long version ::

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

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

The race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report :: Mohican 100

Short version:

Mohican 100, Loudonville, Ohio

Finished 31:33

Humid as heck

25,000” elevation change

Long version:

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

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

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

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

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Race Weekend:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lessons learned:

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

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

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

Stair climbers are awful but quite effective.

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

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

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Redemption (27 :: A Race Report)

Race Report :: Hennepin 100

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

Time :: 25:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Race Report :: Kanawha Trace 50K

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Short version: Finished. 9:08. Those were fun hills. The bull didn’t get me.

Long version:

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.

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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.

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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.

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Some people just see the woods. For Igniters, the world is our toilet! (Start line bathrooms)

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.

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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!

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Fluffy

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Lots of barbed wire!

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.

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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.

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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.

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Sweet little cave with a waterfall

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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!

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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

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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.

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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!

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Race Report :: Indiana Trail 100


Short version:

Finished. 29:17. Crazy. Still hungry.

Long version:

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.

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don’t wear a blue shirt in summer there. the deer flies will kill you. seriously. i turned my shirt inside out after this picture!

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.

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so, so beautiful

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.

everything and the kitchen sink. and a pony.


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.

flat Kate


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.

so innocent looking


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…)

trillium all the way down the hillside. i couldn’t pass up this photo during the third loop


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.

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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.

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living on PBJ

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.

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thanks for the picture, whomever took this! 🙂

 

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.

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“first one across the bridge gets the best photo!”

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.

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love these guys!

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.

still smiling!


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.

the high five tree! i high fived it each loop and counted down until i was at ONE. man, i looked forward to seeing that tree!


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.

at the end of it all. this was my second pair of shoes. the first looked a lot worse. 


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.

After 80
yep. poncho and all. at least i was warm! 

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.

this was around mile 90 or so and i was in tears. running 100 miles is not always smiles!


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.

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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.

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awkward and hilarious and amazing.

Loop five was a grueling 7:10.

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best. crew. ever.

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.

the one who got me into all of this! so, so thankful for my IGNITE friends!


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.

the bling.


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.

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