Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cacapon 12 Hour Challenge : Prepared to Succeed

Race morning I woke up and packed up my tent and headed to Cacapon State Park. I'd been there the evening before to check in and was glad that I'd explored the directions before race morning. I got myself set up next to someone who looked well prepared, but also well practiced. He didn’t have nearly as much crap as I did. He had many more shoes than me. We chatted briefly as got myself ready, applying my body glide, organizing my food, gallon of Spring Electroride, gallon of water and getting my nice dry socks and shoes on. Finally, it was time to start.

The course: Each loop was 5 miles. You begin the loop running up and out of the AS and climb to your first right where the course plateaus briefly before you drop to a stream crossing with a sharp 5 step climb on the other side. Then you continue on mostly flat with mild grade that takes you to some gentle rollers and then you begin to ascend, easy climbing until a sharp left, leading to your next right where you hit a climb of rock steps taking you to the top, 1 mile in, then you plummet down, across a stream and then up again, another good climb which flattens out to a long runnable downhill section with massive mudpits, a stream crossing that resembles a small waterfall, very pretty, and another smaller climb somewhere in there but in no time you come out to the gravel road out and back to the 2.5 mi AS.

From here, you turn back onto the trail and enter the most technical section, gently climbing for half a mile, then very technical progressively steep downhill, mud, water crossing and then more climbing followed by a short disappointing downhill leaving you wanting more before you hit unrunnable thick greasy mud, another water crossing and another good climb (the last before you hit the home stretch). Once this one flattens out you just roll with it, splash through more mud and 2 more water crossings before connecting to the incoming loop and running downhill back to the AS.

Lap 1- I quickly made it to the front, mostly running with Joe, who was shooting for 50 miles for his 50th Birthday. He’s run the race every year! He was running very strong for what seemed like a low ball goal for the pace he was holding. I felt great, no issues, it was nice and cool out. I was thoroughly impressed by the terrain and climbing, it was in fact challenging. I didn't feel like I was pushing myself at all, just treating it like an easy long run.

Lap 2- I was alone already. I tried to just keep moving steady while it was still nice and cool outside. I made sure to eat take in my Fuel 100 bites and start to drink my Spring Electroride religiously.

At the end of this loop I stopped for just a minute, chugged from my gallon bottle of premixed Electroride. Then, I took a Spring long haul gel and grabbed a couple bites of bread to go and took off quick.

Lap 3- I was already feeling the climbs, I was still running to the same points in the climbs as my first loop before hiking and I felt fine, but I knew it'd only get harder.

The mud in the deepest water managed to shove a large dose of sand into my sock, so after this lap, I took the socks off and rinsed and dried my feet, applied powder and made the crazy decision to go sockless in my soaked shoes, since without stopping at my car I probably didn't bring enough socks, but my feet have always been okay and I run a lot of sockless miles. I didn’t retie the laces though, which left them rather loose, (something I wish I'd done but ended up having no real effect) because I saw Joe take off and I wanted the company since we were clearly running the same avg pace. I ate a half of an avocado as I jogged into lap 4.

Lap 4- Pretty soon, Joe let me pass again, and I was on my own again. Still just moving well, I was now starting my hiking further down the climbs and I knew I was losing time, but it was too early I wanted to be able to run, not solely hike, throughout the day. I grabbed sticks when I could to help me climb.

After that lap, I cleaned my feet again and put on dry socks- so nice!! Ate some Lara Bar bites and chugged some more Electroride and I was off again, determined not to waste more time than I needed at “home base”. This time I remembered to grab my “already soaked in ice water” Frogs Togs Cooling hat that I'd forgotten trying to catch Joe last time. I placed that on my head to keep me cool, long before I felt too hot.

Lap 5- I felt like I was really slowing up already, I guess my first low, which seemed too early to me and that ate at my confidence. I decided 50 miles sounded like a pretty good goal, 62 seemed reachable, but I didn't need to run 62 to make my overall goals. I wanted the Female CR, but more than anything I wanted to be able to run well, recovery fast and be prepared for my 100 miler in September. I had to remind myself of the long term goal. Needless to say, the mental weakness and over analysis allowed me to slow down and let go of trying to make this anything amazing. If there were any regrets in my race, it'd be right there.

Lap 6- Refilled quick, took in some Spring Hill Aid for energy and little boost of caffeine.
Headed for 30, it was getting warm, I was feeling the same as Lap 5, like 60 miles seemed a long way off, I wasn’t even half way and although not way low, I was definitely not out of it yet. Reminding myself the low wound pass and soon enough Tyler would be out to pace me as practice for GJ 100 and because who doesn’t want a friend to run with after running the same challenging loop 5,6,7 times. I pushed myself to stay strong, I wanted to finish my 7th lap before he arrived, but I was already well behind my original goals (which were created by my dreamt up idea of the course- as there isn’t much info on it available, so my goals were just off anyways).
Lap 7- I knew I wanted to move well and get back, Tyler would be there after this loop, and I just had to keep on moving strong. The first big climb pushed me down, questioning myself, then the next climb, definitely hiking now.  By the half way AS on this loop I was still feeling mentally weak, but I'd been talking my confidence up, reminding myself of my ability to just enjoy the run and I found a pretty happy place there while I dug my way into the pain cave.

Lap 8- Tyler came!! I was so psyched, it was just great to have company, we talked for most of that first lap together, it felt easy, my time was terrible, I ignored it and my goals, I just needed to keep moving and I would do fine. In hindsight, the time lost chatting was noteable, tacking on 4-6 min per 5 miles. Something to work on for my 100 miler.

Lap 9- new socks/ new shoes again!
There was no question I’d finish 50 miles now, but would I do more? I wasn’t sure, I was tired now and the idea of throwing in the towel early and getting home to my family was sounding pretty awesome.  I didn’t come out to run a 50 mile race though I came out to practice moving for 12 hrs, and I needed to remember why I was there, it wasn't about distance so much as time. I wanted to be motivated and Tyler helped with that a lot.

Lap 10- I tore into my other half of an avocado since the first half felt so good.
I was mentally done, I told myself that this was it, the last full loop I had to do. I could still get the female CR even if I walked just one more mile after that, so I should have been motivated to push hard, but for some reason it wasn’t coming. I dragged on, Tyler trying to convince me to move, but I just didn’t want to. There was still the motivated self in me though, I knew that despite really not wanting to do more, the only thing I wanted was to do more. I kept fighting away the weakness. It's the hardest part of timed loop race… Keeping moving, because there is no finish line… No assigned distance… It's whatever you want it to be. You can come run 5 mi or 50 mi, it makes no difference to anyone out there. You are all on your own separate journey through suffering towards success.

Well, after this one, I asked the RD what he thought. He told me he was pretty sure the second lady was only 20 min out and would totally go for one more loop.

That was all I needed, we stopped quick at home base and I took a pre made bag of sunchips to go.

Lap 11- I hiked as I ate my Sunchips, Tyler reminded that I was just letting the second lady gain on me. Part of me wanted to brush that off but then the thought of all the work I'd done all day coming down to an actual race, well something clicked, I focused on my feet like I was really running a race and maneuvered through the climbs and rocks with ease. The rain started but the trees kept most of it off of us. It made me walk down the rocky descent since it was went now. I was able to mentally stay in the game straight through to mile 55.

I still had 45 min, I wanted to do just a little more, but I knew I didn't want to convince myself to do the climb to the 1 mile out marker, so 0.6 out and back.

Last 1.2 miles- I pushed it on the way out not remembering how much mud was in the first half mile at all, but there was tons. I was tired of fighting for footing and this weighed on my pace. Once we turned around I new I was done after this, so I just took it easy.

After I finished I asked about the second lady and came to find out she stopped at 50 after all. She made my race end well, even having already packed up and headed home. I was grateful.

Regrets: Why didn't I go for another mile or two??? I had 30 min!!!
That's all. :)

Anyway, now its time for 2 weeks of down time. My body needs to seriously recoup and then its back to the grind as I prep to crush the new Georgia Jewel 100 course. Haha... well that's how I hope it goes down.... I always say, 
"You never know whats going to happen in a 100 mile race, all you can do is prepare to handle what ever does".


Spring Sports Nutrition:
Electroride is an easy to drink run version of lemonade to me, its refreshing, but not too strong, too sweet or too anything. I didn't get sick of the flavor at  all during my11.5 hrs. At 60kcal per serving it cannot be a lone source a fuel but its a great addition to their gels. 
My favorite: Long Hual- its like a really smooth peanut butter with banana, but lighter in flavor, easy to take, easy to swallow and easy to digest.
Hill Aid-  with a slightly more bitter flavor, but with a boost of caffeine and somewhat of a fruit pouch consistency as opposed to a gel, its yummy and also easy to take. I don't have any issues with the texture thing, but I've heard other runners who aren't a huge fan, to me real food doesn't really turn into a gel- so I'll take my real food please. 
Power Rush- I didn't utilize this one during my run, it's not a go to flavor for me, probably the beet juice, but I probably should have. I've used it on a couple training runs and it really helps to give you a little boost. I'll have to keep working with it though
Recovery: Can't say enough, I'm not usually a chocolate fan, but you can taste the cherry in there and a little nutty flavor and just wow, so yummy- hard to eat this one for fun sometimes

MUIR Energy:
Still loving the Blackberry Thyme Gel, Cashew Lemon Mate; For this race I had one of these babies on the way to the race and ended up having one on the care ride home. These gels are also totally real and they are gels,  gooey and thick, rich in flavor due to the molasses and essential oils. 
They sit in my stomach well and let me have a little more variety to my flavor pallet while I'm out there. 

Nathan VaporHowe 4L vest: Still great, maybe not the most resilient pack, both bottles (not made by Nathan- but still a financial hit for me) broke at the last race and one of the two straps broke as well, I had safety pinned together for this race and held up pretty well. I still absolutely love the texture, weight and fit of this vest.

Topo Athletic: Cannot say enough about these great shoes. They were made for my wide toed runner feet and I love the support they give the back of my foot. The MT2s really dried out fast throughout this run and I was a little nervous when I switched to my Terradventures that they'd hold too much water in, but they also stayed light and comfy, through and through. 

OOFOS: I decided to finally give them a go, I had to get the clogs because I wanted something I could wear to work for 12 hr shifts... I don't feel stylish in clogs, but my feet and more specifically for me, my ankles have had way less pain since I quit walking around in cruddy flip flops and flat unsupportive shoes. Impressive.

Milestone Pod: Hands down the best data collection device available to anyone on the market. I've had some issue with mine, which can happen with anything this fancy, but their team has devoted almost too much time and energy getting my pods back up and running. Best service I've ever experienced with a company. This little foot pod helps you get to know yourself, your running, your shoes, your stride, your recovery, better and now it feeds live data too! It's just such a great tool, I cannot say enough about it!

Not the prettiest data but for a course like this one, it is what it is: 
*note I only was able to get data off my MT2s

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Time in Between

The time between races during a strong season can be impacted by so many factors. It has to be adaptable to life, because we cannot plan for everything. For me, a high strong individual with way too much going on most of the time, it’s really easy to think I can do things, recover for things, like I see other people doing, but I can’t always. Things aren’t simple. My toddler doesn’t always sleep through the night, an argument with my spouse, house problems, dog problems, family stuff… they happen, and you do what you can to avoid them and for me, not to stress out about them but they take your energy, they have an impact on your sleep, your hormones, your wellness.

So between Chattanooga Stage Race and Cacapon 12 hr, I had 3 weeks, one to recover, one to train easy and one to taper.

My biggest concern was my overall leg strength and running form was not 100%, maybe more like 75%. I’ve run a few big races, as an ultrarunner, the most destructive races to my overall recovery and ability are road marathons. I end up running so hard, for that significant distance, and wipes my legs and cardiovascular system in a way that running any distance of ultra marathon, trail runs never do. I never go into a trail run with dreams of holding a steady 7:15 pace. I don’t honestly train correctly to do such a thing.

I train to adapt. I train in the early am, the mid afternoon and/ or the late night. I run in hot, mildly cold (I’m a wimp in the actual cold) and I train to run rolling hills, steep ups and downs, flats, mud, water crossings, technical roots and long burning nutrition. So the concept of a mostly flat road marathon at one steady pounding pace taking in quick sugars, well, I’m never really ready. Part of me wishes I would want to be and join the league of the amazing sub 3hr runners… but every time I run a road marathon it confirms my love for the trail.

My legs were tired and my cardiovascular system felt like crud after Lincoln Marathon in early May. I tried to recovery and I jumped into my only couple weeks to train for my stage race and just a couple little life factors came along to add themselves on and my gait was poor. My Milestone pod data was letting me know it, my leg swing was mid, instead of my usual mostly high, ground contact time increasing, cadence decreasing, and the worst signs: My HR was increasing, my respiration rate was increasing, I was fatigued, sleeping very well- which is odd for me (but luckily a good sign I was not overtrained and my resting HR was steady at an average of 53 bpm- no changes recently). My muscles just felt bad. I also started PT for some chronic issues and as stated in my previous write up I just felt unbalanced.

After Chattannooga Stage Race, the plan was to recovery, run a bit, and taper yet again. I’ve been recovering and tapering for what feels like months! So it has been frustrating, but necessary. I went back and forth about doing the 12 hr run. I wanted to, because it was good timing for the distance/time on feet leading up to my September 100 miler. It’s also a timed loop race, so it’s great mental strength training, heat training, nutrition practice and the course had some technical areas and good climbs. It  was perfect.
On the other hand, if I pushed my body into overtraining, then I could forget about reaching the rest of 2017 goals… a fine line. I was nervous about it, but overall, I felt if I took it easy and really just listened to my body and really focused on doing my nutrition and hydration well, then I would be ok. I made sure I was prepared- something I never really do. I always “wing it”, I guess because it’s exciting but also probably as an excuse so that if things go badly, I can say I didn’t really care that much about this one, I wasn’t really ready for it (Even though in reality it means everything to me). At one point, say, 2012, that’d be acceptable, I was a newbie and naive and I loved that. But now… Now, I study my courses, I train for my courses, I read every blog available to piece together what I can of the unseeable conditions of race day. I plan my “dream” paces and my “I’ve blown up” paces, I know when and what I’m supposed to eat and drink…. So that I will succeed. The piece I miss on Race day- nutrition, I don’t follow my own plan… I go back to my trusty ole’ “I’ll just wing it” and then I struggle. It almost cost me Bull Run Run 50 and it almost cost me at Chattanooga Stage Race too, luckily day 1 was a wake up call, to follow my plans, to take the time and EAT/ Drink and absorb nutrition.

With the looming fear of overtraining, yet again, in my short ultra running career I knew to not play “cool”. I knew I had the chance to run smart, and do well. The CR was not out of reach for me. I really believed I could run 100k on the Cacapon course and that’s what I planned to do presuming I felt well and my body wasn’t crashing.

So, the week of the race arrived and felt ok, not great but well enough. I was going to run my race and was going to be smart about it.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Chattanooga Stage Race: 3 Days, 3 Mountains, (roughly) 60 miles

After a long day of travel and "travel eating" pre-race I really wasn't sure how this weekend would go. My training had been great until I actually trained too hard 3 weekends prior, which had sent me into an unplanned hard 3 week taper and felt generally very poor. The plan had gone from "Do my best" to "Just have fun and make sure you don't overdo" since I was and am still riding the my edge of healthy. I knew I would have no trouble with distance, but was poorly trained for the heat. 

I arrived at my friend Chris' place, in Chattanooga around 9pm, got settled, showered, said hellos and went to sleep. Morning came and I was excited! My energy level was pretty good. I had a PB&J and a cup of coffee for breakfast. I arrived at the start/finish with plenty of time to check in and get settled. I started looking for the people I knew and those I was looking forward to meeting. Turns out we'd parked right next to each other by coincidence. I met Liz Canty, Chris, and Franklin and it made for a pleasant start to the weekend. We enjoyed the usual pre race banter as we got ourselves ready to go.

 Day 1. Raccoon Mountain 

An easy 16.5 ish mile start on mountain biking terrain. We head out and down hill. My ankle that I was worried about was fine on the trail. I felt like I was running very easily, but thought that was a pretty good thing since I hadn't been feeling too hot the weeks leading up. I also had very minimal prep for any heat or humidity. So overly comfortable seemed perfect. 

I was trotting along, losing my breath on the climbs and on the descents and flats trying not bite Liz's heals too much, I was really enjoying the comfy pace we were doing but I knew I really should get out and go. Liz eventually made the suggestion that I move along and at that point I did. I felt good, I  was happy to literally get off her back so she could run her race... And then, me, well, I actually felt very good. I felt like maybe I should have been going a little harder earlier, but in a stage race...who knows? It wasn't long before I was on my own and rarely saw other runners.

I was loving the trail bouncing along just enjoying being out there, working hard mentally to stay focused on my heart, my breathing and my gait. After all, this was day 1 and I couldn't afford to actually race it... So I just ran like a normal training run, took my time enjoying a Muir Energy blackberry thyme gel and was happy my body felt good. 

Miles 9-12 climbed a lot, it took a toll on me and felt hot, a little weary so I began moving gingerly and decided to take in some more calories. I feel enjoyed my Fuel 100 Salty Cocoa bites and I was keeping on, keeping on, but certainly not going very fast at all... And then BOOM! Miles 12-15ish were all downhill, sharp drops into winding looping descents, I was loving it, but was still feeling the overall heat and humidity. Realizing I still hadn't finished my 24 oz of fluid by then and hadn't stopped at any aid stations, I realized too late that that was not the best decision in a stage race. Having already passed the final AS, I made a mental note to do better tomorrow.

 2 hrs 17 min later I finished, first female and saw the smiling face of Jenny Baker, I hadn't seen her since my epic failure at Georgia Jewel 100 the prior year, but we'd stayed in touch and she'd suggested I come out and run this race. She is ALWAYS smiling and kind and I was grateful to have a friend waiting at the end for me.  I had my first cup of Spring Sports Nutrition Electroride and it was like love at first taste. We waited anxiously for Liz to come through the finish. Soon enough Liz was finished and we sauntered over to the ice bath where a couple guys were already chilling. I got in slowly and was really impressed to watch Liz, socks and all just climb in like there weren't actual ice cubes floating around.

Notice how she looks so comfy and I feel like I'm freezing

We enjoyed some post race food and company. I got to meet a bunch of new people and ran into some known faces, like Tyler, my pacer during "our epic failure" at Georgia Jewel, it was nice to catch up and hear about his upcoming awesome adventures. By noon-ish the crowds were clearing and everyone was headed to rest up for day 2.

I went back to my Chris' place in Chattanooga and hung out eating granola and being a bit concerned about my hydration. My lack of smart hydration choices left my tummy knotted up. Something I can easily manage for 2 days, but I'd need to be a lot smarter to make it 3 days in the Tennessee heat. A beer and some very frustrating attempts at origami with Chris' daughter later I was enjoying some fresh made spinach linguini with roasted veggies and my all time favorite running fuel, bread.

I rolled my legs out and went to bed for 10 pm. Wouldn't you know by though, Chris was also having two doggy guests for the weekend and they were not so happy to be on vacation, they cried ALL night long.  I tried many ways to cover my head and ears. At 3 am I finally downloaded a white noise app and Chris had actually just separated the two dogs and we all got some much needed rest.

Day 2. Lookout Mountain

I woke up feeling less tired than I expected to and I didn't feel sore, achy or anything negative. I had some granola with BP& blueberry preserves and a cup of coffee while I finished checking my bottles to make sure they were secure and wouldn't leak all over me. I left for Lookout Mountain, only 15 minutes from where I was staying. I couldn't be more jealous of my Chris for living this close to these trails, mountains and views.  I drove the curvy roads up to Lula lake, where the start and finish would be that day. 
I really did feel good, but I planned to go out easy and get nicely warmed up. On my training B2B2B runs it took me about 5 miles to feel good each day, so assumed this would be the same. Meeting at that start line with Liz, her husband Luke (there supporting), we prepared to run. 

Everyone took off flying, I was mentally, like "OMG, I'm gonna die today" but instead I widened my stride and made sure not lose step with Liz. It ended feeling pretty darn good within the first half mile and I just went with this hard pace, knowing Day 2 would set the score for Day 3. Then as quickly as we started we were all walking up a steep climb, an equalizer, a vertical gain that is literally not runnable. It was fun to watch the entire race field halt to stop and scurry up. Once we peaked we still spent the next couple miles enjoying a low grade climb with some amazing views, followed by a mile of descent leading to single track trail with rolling twisty turns that popped out at the bridge over the creek located at the start/ finish area, which was also the 1st AS.

Myself and the other couple guys I was with ran through and kept going, crossing the road and jumping back onto trail, we headed mostly upwards for what felt like a very long time. I was still holding a strong pace but I was feeling the climb, despite really strong hill training and I could feel the heat. I sucked down my fluids and had a Muir Energy Cashew Lemon- So Good! I felt better in about 10 minutes time and that really helped me ride out feeling challenged in the first half.  Winding through the forest on very runnable surface was mostly pleasant, but I was truly looking forward to the 10.8 mi AS so I could cool off a bit and just stand still for a moment. The AS was conveniently was placed at the top of a power line climb, steep crumbling footing that feels just short of runnable... you know you could run it, probably, maybe...but the loss of energy is never worth the couple of minutes you'd save. So hiking up in the sun I was excited to refill my bottles with water and get some Spring Electroride. I also was ready to have my cooling neck tie do-hicky soaked so I could test it out and hopefully feel cooler despite the rising temperatures.

I ran out of the AS looking forward to some easier miles and was happy to find them. There was little more power line work and the trail seemed like I recognized it long before I did. Mentally, I knew I wasn't as sharp as I'd hoped to be, I kept hoping the miles were ticking by faster than they were. I was anxious to rush through the rest of this run, but I knew I still had to remain calm and collected, not making any stupid energy, nutritional or injurious moves. I enjoyed my beverages and tried Fuel 100 Salty Vanilla and found them to be easy to eat, somewhat fun and interesting flavor. They worked well and kept me going.

Finally, back through the 1st and now last AS. I actually believed it was only about 4 miles to the finish, we just go up and come down I thought. Apparently that's how it used to be, running the first loop backwards, but it was a bit more interesting this year and took all of us by surprise. Randy and Kris added a bit more to the course, making it much closer to the expected 22, coming in about 20.5 miles. 

After pushing myself up the up and nearly running off the edge of that steep ascent from the start of the race, we then were running on some more winding wavy trails that brought us down near the waterfall climbing down steep wet rock face, again slowing the times of every runner. In this section jumping from rock to rock my left shin bounced and slid again a rock edge as my right landed on the next layer down. I stopped long enough to see the damage, a 2 cm chunk of skin was removed as though it'd been shaved off with a razor. Other than the pain from the direct hit in the shin it was tolerable and I kept moving, but it threw me off and about 5 steps later I rolled my right ankle and sat on my butt for a minute analyzing the new pain to see if I was really injured, but I was fine, and also to check my myself- in the mental aspect. I regained my focus and finished the descent only find a set of 2ft wet rock/ wood stairs to climb straight back up.
 I love this kind of stuff, the stuff that tries to break you. It's like the trails are just messing with you, just for fun. After struggling up the stairs we ran some more windy wavy stuff and popped out on the gravel road that leads to the finish. Just before you get there you cross a creek in up to your knees. That felt so good! Wading through there successfully and then getting my legs moving for the final stretch and coming in strong for a 3:13 finish, and successfully held onto 1st place for the women's field. (Not nearly the 2:45 I was looking to hit, but the added 2 miles of slow descent and climb were more fun than finishing early!) 

Again, I found Jenny smiling at the finish. I started put more fluids in while we waiting intently for Liz to come and then headed straight for the creek to wash away the heat and struggle from the run. It was a gorgeous hot sunny day and as we sat we cheered for the runners going across the bridge for the final loop, still out there in the growing heat, still working hard. 

We ate some more food and then I went downtown and went paddle boarding with my Chris and his kids. We didn't go far, which was good since I'd asked him to go out, but as I was driving there was quite certain about, I was sleepy and thought that if I really wanted to run well on Day 3, I should be napping…BUT…Best race ever vs Being a good human.... I'll always choose the latter.  I was glad I did, I got to just sit outside enjoy a beer- mostly to keep the calories going in and enjoy good company. Pretty much a perfect day... only to get better. 

After paddle boarding I showered and drove up to the Baker's amazing place for dinner with some of the people I'd met and few other new faces. We chattered on about life, running and mostly running, my favorite topic. Dinner was full of good veggie fuel for Day 3 and the feeling of being a part of a running family made for a rather amazing spiritual experience. As a suburban Maryland mom runner medical person who trains and runs alone, talks running mostly through social media and cannot wait until my son can crew for me…feeling like I have people to really connect with in my passion for trail running is utterly priceless. A wordy way of saying thank you to the Baker clan and extended runner family for inviting me!

 Day 3. Signal Mountain

 After a much better night's rest I was up and feeling a bit stiff but surprisingly well. My joints, even my annoying left ankle was holding up very well. My stomach felt calm, but very hungry. I repeated breakfast from the day before as it worked pretty well and made my way to the final day start/and finish line. I had plenty of time pre race but wasn't sure how the timeline would play out as far as driving back to Atlanta for my flight out so I'd brought everything with me, so I took some time to repack my wet yucky stuff/ let some of it lay out to dry for the day. I got myself ready only to realize one my Nathan bottles had broken, the straw was falling out, so leaking everywhere. I mentioned it to Liz, wearing the same pack, NATHAN Vapor Howe 4L  but using a bladder with it and I was so lucky she had her soft flasks with her and was willing to let me borrow.

I laced my shoes, got myself prepped and decided for the first time, EVER, to run the race in a sports bra. I honestly don't own enough running gear to race 3 days in a row, as I now know, and it was going be hot and humid again, so why no? I pulled my very stinky NATHAN vest on for the last time and just hoped everyone was as stinky. Couldn't wait to wash everything from the weekend properly at home. 

 At the start line, runners huddled around trying to stretch out the kinks and tight muscles as best we all could and then finally we were off. The first mile was a bit of blur, people didn't seem to go out like they had on day 2 and within a few steps I knew I felt good. I also knew we were about to take a pretty sweet downhill section and I consider technical downhill my greatest strength so I just went for it.

Pulling ahead I was in 4th place overall, I actually worried me, but my pace felt fun, comfy, so I didn't hesitate. We flew down and jogged up, then rolled down hill again to the turn around and climbed right back up. I was keeping up with Franklin, he'd gain a few hundred yards on the accents and I'd catch him on the descents.  After getting back up to mushroom rock the trail was thin but very runnable single track trail that just keeps you rolling right along with it. 

I was very hungry, very early, so I went through my liquid calories and had a Muir Energy Blackberry Thyme again, my favorite thus far. I had no negative feelings by about 10 miles in, even I couldn't believe how well I was feeling. At the next AS I caught up to Franklin who had me go ahead, which was a little stressful in the moment, after all, I knew he could take off whenever he wanted and I didn't want to slow him down, but he insisted. So we jogged and talked career, we then hit mostly boulders and we climbed all over them, keeping our footing and our balance. The company was certainly a treat since I rarely run with anyone in a race after the first couple miles.

In no time, Ry caught up to us and joined our hiking and conversation. We climbed some stairs and made are way up the next AS. From here Ry and I both watched as Franklin bounced down the paved road leaving us in his dust. We both laughed a little, commenting on how fresh his stride looked and how much he'd clearly been holding back in the previous section.

 Ry and I ran, hiked and edged some small cliffs together for the next few miles hitting intermittently very runnable chunks and very technical chunks of trail (the kind that beats up your mind. You think, "yes, I can finally run" followed by "OMG, does this stuff ever end" over and over.)We discussed my love of or increased patience in races due to "collective suffering"... The idea that just about every runner on day 3 would feel that similar mental struggle as they are slowly but surely approaching the end. 
At the next AS, having already eaten my Fuel 100 Salty Ginger, which I think were my favorite, especially being eaten with Spring Nutrition's Electroride which has some ginger in it... Yum!! ... Well anyways I was so hungry again, so I took a couple "licks" of Spring Nutrition gels that had been squeezed out onto small pieces of paper cups. It was delicious, I felt great, hot... But not overheated nonetheless, I let the AS volunteers drown me in cold water anyway, it was awesome and refreshing!

From there, I new we were close, about 4 more miles, so I kicked it up and got back into running pace, now that we'd cleared all the technical stuff. Ry didn't come with me. Within minutes my stomach was telling me I was still hungry! But I was almost done. I finished strong, Flynn came up behind me 500 yards from the end, I tried to go with him but had decided too late that'd it be fun to sprint it out so he took 4th by a few seconds. I still managed first female in 3:19.
It was slower than I'd planned by about 4 minutes, I figure in hindsight that was easily lost being more social than usual.... But I wouldn't have changed that. The company, the trail and the weather made Day 3 a blast! Soon enough we were placed on the podium to receive a 6 pack of Chattanooga Brewing Co beer featuring the race.

The day ended with some photos, lots of hugs and best wishes. I wished I could have hung around to watch every last runner complete the day's challenge, but my flight home to see my kid was not going to wait. 
On my trip back to Atlanta had the pleasure of visiting Jackie and Jeff Merritt and meeting their poodle Bernie, it was a short visit but it was nice to see Jackie again after a couple years since we've actually been seated in a race together and to be able to wish her luck at WS100 (Which went pretty well for her F7!)

Final notes

Huge thank you to the Randy and Kris Whorton for an amazing event. Thank you to all the volunteers for a very well run event. The courses were well marked and well supported. The trails were everything they were promised to be. The ice baths were a bonus that I really enjoyed!

Thank you to Jenny and Franklin Baker for their kindness, for recommending the race and for your general awesomeness!

Thank you to Liz for keeping me on my toes and your kindness too! Congrats on a kick a$$ race as you just added 60 mi weekend into your training plans (like it was nothing) for your 100k. 

Race Fuel:
Muir Energy - natural, delicious, no GI distress
Fuel 100 bites
- tasty break from gels, hard not to spill while running
Spring sports nutrition- first time tasting it and I'm in love! No GI issues, but need to try it some more
GQ6 hydration- I love the Re-fuel, always keeps me going and I can add it to anything since it's flavorless 
Tailwind- always a simple choice, yummy and easy to drink without any negative effects for a while, after about 3hrs its not quite enough for me, but some people can go all day!

Milestone Pod-  shoe pod, $25, that lets me see my trail distances, cadence, ground contact, stride length and more, its changed the way I run and helped me prevent injury while becoming more effecient
Nathan Vapor Howe 4L- my newest hydration gear and the only one that hasn't caused severe chafing or shoulder cramping. Bottles not so great, they both broke that weekend, less than 2 mo old.... But the vest itself is Amazing!!
Topo MT2- light weight, beyond comfy, my favorite shoes!
Topo Terradventure - slightly more substantial trail shoe, better for muddy trails / slick rocks and a little more support for gravelly running surfaces. My other favorite shoe :)
Balega socks- nice thin light summer pair did the trick and supported my feet the first 2 days, moved up to a more cushioned pair for day 3- perfect socks, no hot spots, no blisters