Thursday, October 22, 2020

Double SCAR

It was back in August when I reached out to my favorite local running buddies to take on the Quad state challenge - a 42 ish mile stretch of the Appalachian trail from PA-MD-WV-VA. I've done it before and intend to make it annual. Amidst that planning, my friend Dave mentioned S.C.A.R. and having no idea what he was talking about I quickly Google searched and learned that the Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR) was a tougher 72 mi Stretch of the AT in the TN/NC chunk of the trail. I thought it sounded fun but with the logistics of 2020 I did not think much more about it. I did however mention it to my friend Celia, whom I also coach and was preparing for Pinhoti 100 as her first 100mi run. What I did not expect was what came next.

Celia let me know immediately that something like SCAR was much higher on her to do list than Pinhoti- especially being 2020 with COVID-19. It didn't take me long to get on board and offer to come down for this adventure. We chatted a bunch and thought we'd just drive up and do it, but I questioned logistics, "If we run unsupported for 72 mi, how the heck do we get back to our car?" Celia without hesitation said " We could run back..."The dream was born. 

As I began to research, this route was not easy, not even a little. Runners I respect for their grit and strong races had done it according to the website "Fastest Known Time" so I reached out to them. They explained why this route was so challenging and although no one said a double SCAR was impossible....every single person said "I can't even imagine"...and each of these ppl were hard,, strong tough ultra runners. I was beginning to think I was crazy. Around this time Celia decided that 144 mi was in fact crazy for her and she'd love to do single SCAR. The more SCAR runners we spoke to the more wild the adventure became. It turned out on the FKT website that only 3 ppl had completed and posted a Double SCAR, all of which were Men. I was lucky enough to have a fruitful conversation with at least one of them. It occurred to me that our little adventure was more than an adventure...I'd be setting a record, no matter how temporary or good or bad I actually performed. This made it even more special and meaningful as a woman. Via the FKT website I also came to a lucid understanding of supported vs unsupported and although Celia and I were thinking of being unsupported we found that just having one another made us both supported and that's when we opted to create a crew and search out pacing.

Long story short, another friend Robin was beyond excited to support us. Celia and I gathered 2 pacers and 2 more individuals to help support us out there. The plan came together and in no time it was mid October.

October 16, 2020:

0230am....I wake up, I know it's way too early but I toss and turn and try to turn off my brain but I'm already thinking about Liz Canty starting her SCAR FKT attempt at 4am and imagining my next 48+ hours... By 0300 I did something I'd never dream of doing, I woke up my crew and said "I'm so sorry, but I can't sleep anymore- anyone want to go run 144 mi?"
Although very supportive I was asked to wait 30 more min. I agreed and rested a bit more. At 0334 I got up and contemplated how to be gently obnoxious, to wake everyone up. It didn't take long. The energy was high. The morning was fluid as we dressed, ate and made final preparations.

0512AM I began to run across Fontana Dam with Jeremiah. The wind was intense but we know in a few more yards we'd be climbing for hours and we'd be plenty warm. We hit the trail and dropped to a fast hike with some jog thrown in on the flats and descents. I thought that I was going slow but Jeremiah let me know I wasnot. I asked him to pace from the lead and get me on track. We hike d and trotted for hours sharing running tales and injury stories, family, life, everything... I hardly noticed the terrain I felt completely comfortable. We were bumping into Sarah at mi 16 in no time. We refilled bottles, ate a quick snack and we were off on our way to Rocky Top. Again the climbs felt so easy I didn't remember them at all, then at Thunderhead I only recall the steep descents that we went bouncing down. The hours ticked by with ease. The superfuel from Skratch nutrition, Spring Energy gels and Perfect Bars combination I had going on was perfect. The climb to Clingman's Dome didn't even phase me. By now Jeremiah had broken a pole and a calf injury he'd been fending off for the prior week was screaming at him. I didn't think to question when our ascent to Clingman's started to become a descent.

The signs to the parking lot made sense to me, so we kept on going. Jeremiah had expected the crew to be at the a specific intersection where I now know is where we went the wrong way. When they weren't there we were headed to the parking lot. Once there, my crew wasn't. I was out of water but otherwise considered going on without aid. I managed to call Robin and find that she and Stephen and Celia were on the AT... Wait? What?! I was confused- so were they. Fifteen min had already passed before Robin and Celia were running down to me in the lot. None of us were sure how this could be. They were sure they were on the trail but as far as I knew... Jeremiah and I were sure we were.

I was in a bustling whirlwind so I didn't even think to pull up my map. I got what I needed and confirmed with Jeremiah that I just head down the steps we came up and turn left to go down the trail... He confirmed and had told me the next section was mostly descents - a good section to push the pace a little... So I took off down the trail... But I didn't see any markers, I kept looking...and looking and then the doubt set in.

I pulled out my phone and looked at the map... We'd screwed up! Four letters played across my mind. I'd already lost 30 min at a 10 min pit stop and now I was 1 mi down a steep trail that was an off shoot from the AT- Forney Gap Trail.
I tried to hustle back to the AT as swiftly as I could but I couldn't push too hard either....with 31 mi down I still had over 100 to go. I found our wrong turn and could hardly imagine not missing it... Despite the marking the actual trail didn't look like a trail from the angle you come from. When I finally saw Stephen and Robin I was so frustrated... not with anyone just disappointed. Stephen who had driven hours to be at this check point for me said "What do you need, I've got everything you asked for?"
I felt a twinge of guilt and disappointment that I had just gotten everything in the parking lot and now I was a bit stressed as I mentally tried to shake off the extra 2 mi... I said "I'm so so sorry, all I need is an ear to vent for a minute" I sat on a rock and spewed off my complaints. Stephen gave me all the kindness he always does and Robin too and sent me on my way. I bounced down the long descents, right knee twinging a bit. I stopped and checked the map many times as markings on this stretch were very spread out.

I could feel the temperature start to drop but I was moving so well I was able to keep enough body heat to avoid stopping to add layers. I came out to Newfound Gap at 12 hrs and 45 min. The wind was intense, again. The sun disappeared behind clouds. I changed into tights and added two top layers and gloves and hot hands. I slurped potato soup but turned down coffee. I'd not yet had any caffeine that day and I thought I could get through the first 24 hrs without. I had caffeinated Spring gels in my pack in case I got desperate.

James, who'd pace my next section was itching to run as it was freezing standing still. I tried to hurry and pack all chargers for the night and be ready. Finally after a 15 min stop I was ready. We took off at a good clip, things were going pretty well except I couldn't communicate. Moving through the cold took my attention. I listened to James and wished I could find an ounce of the joy I'd felt in the first 42 mi but the simple added stress of the cold made me quiet. I'm not great in the cold, I don't like how it feels, the fear of being very cold consumes me... I remain in a fighter kind of stance...fighting the cold, lacking any ability to relax into it. My paces dropped as we continue to climb and climb. Without that internal joy it went from playing in the woods to work. I worked hard, never quit but I grew fatigued. I started to get very sleepy. Moving forward on the trail was tougher and tougher. I was set on getting to Davenport Gap and getting warm. I couldn't go too fast though as Celia was supposed to get a full nights rest before starting with me and if I was too fast she'd be starting exhausted. I let this be a guide to keep my pace steady but not push at all. My right knee was angry on the descents and my left achilles was unhappy...I assumed from all the climbing I certainly hadn't trained for.

Finally, after a 7 mile descent...Davenport Gap 23hrs 19 min. I jumped in the car prepped for a long break. I was tired and since I wasn't caffeinated I thought maybe I could rest. Within 5 min I knew I wouldn't sleep and started on my list. I'd spent the last 30 miles making a mental list of what I'd have to do to get out of the car and do SCAR again.
1. my phone had the newfound bustle the wrong white charging cord went into my pack so I needed to charge that.
2. My coros Apex watch which I adore to no end is in fact a pain in the butt to charge while bouncing down trail- so that needed more juice
3. I needed to change to compression socks and change into to my 5mm drop shoes to help my achilles.
4. I wanted to use the theragun to feel good
5. I needed to be warm, hot even before leaving the car and needed to be dressed warmer for the next 10 hrs than I'd been
6. I needed to eat, drink and refill my pack
7. I needed to get out the poles to let my upper body assist in the heat production I needed or I wasn't going to make it through the cold
8. I needed coffee!
9. I was ready to start with some advil

That was it! After 45 min to 1 hr I was hot, cozy, fed, talkative and happy. I thanked James and apologized that I wasn't more fun on the trail.

Celia and I took a pic and headed out on the 7 mi ascent I had just finished coming down. We climbed straight through till sunrise and then kept on climbing. My muscles were warmer but my face was wind whipped and my brain was begging for warm weather... None would come.

We continued, I knew I was working hard still hiking strong and keeping a solid shuffle. I waxed and waned out of complete exhaustion. I took a 3 min rest laid out a this gorgeous moss covered log. Then another a few hours later. These short sits/ rests would revive me for another hour or two. We passed through moments of warmth and cold that had us taking gear on and off what felt like every 10 min. The time had slowed. The mental fatigue of being cold was wearing me down, but other than my feet starting to hurt a lot I felt completely fine. I was getting sick of eating and wanted to get back to Newfound gap...I wanted real food and I wanted my altra olympus to help my feet. I was really feeling hopeless as we hiked on and on.

Only 3 mi out from Newfound, a group of hikers around a spring looked at my exhausted face and said, "You look like you're doing something serious." The simple words of a stranger recognizing the exhausted determination in my face was the gift I needed... Someone to recognize that I wasn't just out for a day hike but I was in fact trying to do something really hard. I felt so blessed. This powered me on as I chased after Celia with all my might, she was in a hurry to get to Newfound and I knew I could hang on. We'd finally made it to Newfound gap again, 106 mi into my adventure. Shoes, charging, layers, food and coffee. We spent too long here too but we needed to be ready. We had 42 mi to go and it was obviously going to be too cold a night for sleeping. If I chose to dirt nap on the trail even for 5 min it could be too much for Celia or I to get moving again from getting that cold. We talked it through and were ready for the night. There would be no sleeping.

We left Newfound smiling for the video camera for our friends and family but as soon I we turned to go I started to cry. I was terrified to go into the next section. It was cold, still...again... It didn't get warm all day and now it'd be colder, windier and I'd be twice as tired and my muscles... There was no more bail out, we had Clingman's for a last pit stop, but there was no where to quit after that. One way, one step at a time I'd get back to Fontana Dam.

The climb to Clingman's Dome was great, we were moving smoothly but when the route markers were more than 1/2 of a mile apart I freaked. I didn't want to be lost, I ran back to the last marker to confirm, as I'd left my phone with Robin to charge fully. We weren't lost and luckily only backtracked a little bit. We arrived to Clingman's in a strong very very cold wind. We drank coffee and filled our water/ superfuel for the last 30 mi. We rushed out of there and onward with frozen fingers and faces from the 5 min stop. We went hard the next 10 miles. We were cruising. We both felt so good. We rambled on and climbed up and down. The climbs kept are avg pace fairly low and after 3 hrs my caffeine had run out and my hunger returned, we still had 20 more miles. So few, yet so far.

I took in a couple of gels hoping the caffeine would be enough but it was minimal and temporary. The movement from Mile 122-135 was insanely slow. The wind, the climbs... Multiple times I had to sit, whine, regroup while being blasted by the wind. This section was an absolute blur between the dark, windy hours and my exhaustion. I freaked out about the map because I quite literally didn't remember climbing or descending so much on the way North bound. Yet we seemed to be working very hard and making very little progress. 

We eventually got to the top of Thunderhead and began the endless descent. The rest is so so blurry. It was filled with very slow hiking climbs and desperate trots on the flats and ascents, looking at my watch way too much. With only 16 to go we thought or dreamt about being able to hold a 4mph pace but at best my shuffle was getting me a solid 3.8 mph pace and then inevitably there would be another up or down that would slow me back into the 2mph zone. I felt so hopeless, but knew the only way to stop was to keep on going. There were tears, moans, silent prayers and pure exhaustion. I stood against a number of trees just wishing I could sleep for a moment but it never came. I begged for the morning sun.

The sun finally broke across the trees and Celia and I tried to pick up the pace. The down kept going and going and going.... And going...I was completely astonished as I still didn't recall climbing any of this. My feet ached to stop. The morning brought hikers and I knew I must be close. When I couldn't believe I was still on the trail I asked a couple who was hiking up, "The trail ends soon right?!" - they likely thought I was crazy but I was feeling pretty crazy at that point. Anyways they said yes and within 5 min I was running down the paved drive on my way to the Fontana Dam sign- the Finish Line. I immediately laid down in the grass and stop moving. 147.64 miles completed, 51hrs, 54min, 50 seconds; 37,474 ft of elevation gain and 37,890ft of elevation loss.

Celia came in a few minutes behind me. She did not make the 24 hr SCAR, but mostly because she chose to stay with me and pace me on the much slower second SCAR. We'll have to get back out there to knock that out ;).

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Maah Daah Hey 100 (106+)

July 1, 2019, Monday morning and my first day back to life and reality after 2 weeks away with Army National Guard. I was relieved to be home and getting back to my real life when an email popped into my inbox, "Maah Daah Hey LOA". I was initially just saddened to realize I'd been chosen to go to North Dakota in 24 days to run and represent the Army National Guard team simply because I wasn't ready to think about leaving again already and also because it's been months since I'd been able to train well due to ongoing hamstring, back and pelvic pain, so the  thought of running a fast marathon sounded excruciating (my inner self was already imagining the pain). Then I remembered that this was one of my top choices for the years' races and hello...not simply a road marathon but trail run and did I mention -> in  North Dakota! How cool? How lucky am I?  I jumped onto the website and quickly saw that they had other distances, including 106. How enticing? A 106 mile trail that you could cover from point to point and considering my training and pain issues it would be doable perhaps simply because I could move so much slower. I quickly emailed our coordinator to ask for an extra day so that I might attempt this. Then I called my husband Dave to share the news and ask his opinion. I honestly expected him to remind me that I'd been struggling to manage my pain already and that this was a bad idea. I told him in my, "I already know the logical answer here" voice. He responded with "Cool baby, this is cool right? If you want to do it, you should do it." And so, I did.

As luck would have it I ran a 70+ mi week (if you count the walking miles which typically I don't but for slow going ultras walking can be a huge benefit) only 1 week prior. So it fit to have another high mileage week in before this attempt. At that time I really didn't know how my body would do out on the MDH and I hesitated to even consider a finish. I wanted to go and see as much as I could and I would simply do the best I could. Tuesday, July 2, I dug into my hamstring...desperate to get some release or pain control and I flared it, for 4 days I could hardly walk, I couldn't even attempt to run, every step felt like a knife. It's been like that so many times though it didn't really bother me, except that I lost an entire week of training and now had 3 weeks to be ready to run 100+ miles. 

The following week I was "better" or back to my usual pain and I aimed for a 55 MI week. I also found, via reference, a great physical therapist who took the time to listen to my entire injury saga, evaluate my running gait, and get other team members on board to manage my issues. They, both of my PTs, supported my relatively idiotic plan to go run but we agreed that post MDH100 I would be a good patient, listen, learn and heal.

That week went fine and the next week I had one 22 ish mile overnight run with my friend Jackie and this was a huge confidence boost. My pain was manageable the whole run,  I tested Rocktane by GU as a new nutrition tactic and tested out my brand new shoes. Prior to July 1, I was not nearly ready to consider my next ultra, in fact I'd just confirmed my dropping from Twisted Branch 100k which I hope I'll be attending in 2020. So, New shoes, New food, long run and a good friend... I hoped that'd be enough, because I was out on time. From that run I had 10 days to race day. So I planned to train hiking and shake out runs and hope for the best.

Last thing to note pre race wise is the course itself. Now the elevation isn't crazy, in fact on paper is the easiest ultra I'd attempt, but it was remote. There would be 3 aid stations, mile 25, 50 and 79. Any other support you might like, would be at Checkpoints A-I which were any road access locations in the trail. Most of these were 8-15 miles apart, there was a nice chunk between 68 and 79 where they were nice and close 4-6 miles apart. My only crew would be our team coordinator and I had no luck searching for a pacer in  North Dakota. So this would be very much my own race. This was an exciting challenge!

July 25 arrived and most of the team was held up in Denver due to flight delay. We hung out and talked about our upcoming endeavors. Turns out there were 7 people attempting the 56 mile, but I was the only person doing the 106. The others planned for half or full marathon distances which were also long, 15 and 29 mile courses on trail. Not every marathon runner is trail runner nor do they want to be (after running this course - for the traditional road marathoner just standing at the start line took serious guts). We were all their for our own version of adventure. We eventually got into Dickinson, ND, checked in, ate dinner and crashed. 

The next morning I learned our team coordinator, Chris,  had brought one guy as back up support, Eric. Eric was basically assigned to be my crew (With 7 ppl doing the 56, which starts 50 miles ahead of my start line logistics were complicated, especially with 18 hrs to plan and neither Chris or Eric had ever crewed an ultra marathon). So I knew what I'd gotten into, I knew my support would need to feel as prepared as possible so I made a plan, sketched it out and we got the SAG vehicle ready.

Race day!! 
Up and off to the start at 4am. Last minute routines and set up for my SAG and then it was off to the start. Nick, the Race Director welcomed us and shared his "Why"... It was touching and meaningful. He has been mountain biking this trail for years but when the funding disappeared the trail started to too. His personal refuge and place of peace was disappearing. He decided that couldn't happen and he and his wife developed the race series and 4 years ago they invited/ included trail runners. I felt so blessed to be even a tiny piece of something good, and I was about to see the entirety of the MDH, I wanted to see and experience what Nick was so passionate about. 

After this Nick let us know the Little Mousouri river crossing would be 4.5' deep, meaning all SAG vehicles could not get from the previous checkpoint to the next AS directly, instead they'd need to drive around the entire area, roughly 2.5hrs to access the trail from the opposite side... So SAG wasn't going to Mile 50, we'd see them at 58 or checkpoint D. 

0623ish we finally got started. We all went out hiking up but no one wanted to take the lead so I did and began trotting. I really wanted to take it slow so I was being really careful not leave the pack. Soon a couple other guys came up and not long after the eventual winner and first female. It was about 4 of us bouncing around upfront. It was getting hot fast! We climbed and descended some gentle and brief switch backs and then continued onto miles of open grassland. The sun streaming down, a 10" single track rut weaving along and constant wind that was only just more than a breeze. It was everything I dream about as a runner. 

Mile 10, checkpoint A. This was our first stop and the only one until mile 25. I refilled my chest bottles and took my full 2L bladder. I chugged a soylent and pickle juice and grabbed a Little Debbie cake and went out, realizing quickly there after that we'd forgotten sunscreen.  I ran for a while with a young guy who was going for his first 100. He admitted he was likely going too hard and just pacing off of others, but we had a good chat. I told him I was going to be slowing down soon with the heat I intended to save myself to enjoy the night. Not long after that I was baking, I decided I'd better get my hat out since it'd be a long while until I could get sunscreen on. So I took my pack off to get it out and put myself back together. About 5ish min later the trail was slightly less groomed and then a red PRIVATE fence, not the black lift gates of the MDH. Oh shoot! Where did I get off track? I started back toward the trail looking every where for the next 4' 
marker, running at a 8:15 pace trying to remember not to be stupid and burn out over a lil wrong turn. Then anther runner turned right where I had clearly gone straight....(must have missed it putting my hat on), it was marked quite well.

I just kept moving, not knowing who all had passed while I'd gone exploring. About mile 20 I found a shrub and took to the shade for a minute. I thought if I stopped for pictures and took  breaks in the shade it would help me to keep from thinking of this as a race, because I didn't want to race, I wanted to experience the trail, to take it all in. I heard voices a couple minutes later and so I got up to go run with these 2 guys. We took off hiking the ups and running the runnable, he was running solid though like 9:40s... It felt a bit too hard for me in the heat but I figured I'd stick with it to AS #1 (about 4 mile away at that point).

At the AS I couldn't believe how hot it was already, it wasn't even noon. We packed my bladder with ice and I drank pickle juice, soylent and walked with my tortilla, avocado and bacon wrap pushing myself to finish it before I started to run again. I kept on the same plan of run, walk but it was still hot, desert hot though. The wind dries your sweat so you're just running in an oven. So around mile 30 still 8 miles from the checkpoint I found just one tree with  a single spot of shade. So again I sat. Only a couple minutes later Sylvia, a woman I'd emailed with prior to the race and hoped to run with, came up on me in. She asked if I was OK and I told her of course and got up to get some miles in with her. We enjoyed the next hour run walk hike run....but her walking was walking for me and not hiking. We were both feeling the heat of the day but some how in our hour together I felt like I recovered and took off down the trail. Got to checkpoint B and drank more of the same. I ate an MRE and drank as much liquid as I could. I also changed my socks which I'd never needed before but the grass was getting stuck inside the heel of my sock and rubbing. I'd already given up on my gators as I should have worn higher socks but I just don't like them. The next stretch would still be hot and another 8 miles long. I headed out my own and just kept rolling along, some clouds had come in and I was running pretty steadily. Checkpoint C was unremarkable, drank and dropped my bladder switching back to just my 2 x 18 Oz chest bottles. It was only 4 miles from here to the river. I caught up to Mark, Sylvia's husband and ran just ahead of him as I came to a deep mud "creek"...about 2 ft deep with thick mud, stagnant... But cool at least. From there it was only a mile or so to the river. 

I'd been excited for the river all day, until I started to try and cross it. I couldn't keep my grounding against the current. I started to freak out a bit....I went back to the edge and waited for Mark, I told him I didn't think I could get across without getting pulled down river. He coached me across, we only lost 50ft but I've never struggled like that in water before. I was so  grateful he was there. I pulled out my ziplock with my phone in it only to see a hole and brown water in the bag....F!!! Spent 3 min walking trying to suck river out of the charging port and get the case off...I couldn't exactly dry anything since I was totally soaked (which did feel good even if it invited the mosquitoes). I ran as efficiently as I could to AS#2 and dried my phone the inside of my headlamp and batteries. I ate 5 pieces of taffy and had both bottles filled with Tailwind. Then I took off down the trail.

At this point, the cooler end of daylight, it was time to cover ground and make up for time lost in the heat and 20 min in the river!! I was running smoothly and feeling very well. I was within 30 min of the leaders when I came into Checkpoint D about mile 58. 
This is about where things start to blend together by the way. I know this was last checkpoint with just Eric and they actually thought they'd missed or lost me. I changed socks and shoes which post 9 mi of running on river gravel was a unique blessing.

 As I left this checkpoint sunset was coming. Purple skies a very light rainbow stretched out in front of me. I came up the young guy who sadly was doing the painful drudge... The one you inevitably fall into when you go out too hard and use up your muscles early on (I know this look, the hike where you aimlessly follow your pacer and wish you'd listened better early on because I've done it plenty). I hung back with him and his pacer for a while just enjoying some company, even his pacer who would be switched out at the next checkpoint offered to pace me but it was time for me to get moving so I did. About a mile from the next checkpoint I decided to eat my MRE so I could be faster through checkpoint. Mid eating..."Rattle rattle hisssss".... I squeaked a girly scream and then headed around the trail giving the rattlesnake as much room as I could and then ran away fast!

Checkpoint E, Chris and Eric were waiting. I drank soylent and refilled. I was feeling tired but not yet ready to dig into my red bull. I didn't spend much time here. Eric told me that if I tried just a little I could likely catch up to #1, she was only 15 min ahead. I reminded him and myself that if that happens it'd be great but I didn't come to race, there's 38 more miles....we'll just see how it all goes. And off I went. 

The next checkpoint was 6 miles off which was further than expected, felt like a long time alone in the dark. Chris mentioned he might have someone to run with me so I just wanted to get there. Finally checkpoint F. From F it was only 4 miles. A teammate who other than the MDH half marathon hadn't run trail and had never night run volunteered to come out. It was only 4 miles but it helped to break up the run. I was still moving well but it took effort now... You push to walk faster and faster until you accidentally run and then just don't stop for as long as you can. We made it checkpoint G but each stretch was feeling long. It was officially past my bedtime! From here though it would be 3 short miles to AS #3 mile 79ish. Off I went leaving the friendly faces behind and headed back into the darkness.

I don't remember much of this stretch, it was the same as the previous chunks of dark trail....the only views were the frogs on the trail and the MDH trail posts keeping you going! The descent to the AS was so fun, I always love switch backs. At the  AS they had a little camp fire, soup, watermelon. It was pleasant. I spent too long here...the soup was so hot and I was trying to get it down ...probably should have stuck with soylent and kept rolling. The next chunk would be 12 miles. So I didn't worry too much about taking a few minutes before the longest stretch of darkness.

The night was getting hard. My stability was lessened so managing the same 10" rut was getting much harder so I was hiking hard but less running. Somewhere in the night there was the first of a few sink hole crossings: thick deep 8-10" mud some spots dry enough to hold you others not so much leading into 18" of muddy water and back out. Soaking your feet and filing your shoes and socks with tiny gravel. I also noticed that almost every step I took kicked dirt into the heel of my other shoe. I stopped to dump it out but my heels were already tender. 

After pushing for an hour I turned on some music and just kept moving. Around mile 88 I heard this drumming. I couldn't tell how far it was or what it was. I turned off my music hoping for human life, peering into the darkness looking for car lights. I was lucky to never have a true low but this couple miles I was so desperate thinking I heard ppl. Turns out it was the sound of the fracking machines. I did get to checkpoint H but I was feeling defeated. I knew I'd lost time on that section. I changed my socks and shoes again. Ate one last MRE. I felt relatively restored and I had my red bull in one my bottles.  Just one more long stretch (but really 2). From H to I was 
estimated about 6 but it was closer to 9 miles. 

Sunrise finally came and I had hoped to make up time in the day light but I was having muscle pain to my left medial knee that had been getting worse for hours but earlier in the run it was relieved by though, there was no relief and it was getting sharper. There were 2, I think, more of those sink holes in this stretch so now the blister under my right ball of my foot was officially a blister and there was not much I could do at that point. Around 98 where I thought checkpoint I should have been I was feeling that anxiety around every turn hoping and wishing I saw my SAG vehicle and then I did finally but it was down and around, at least another half mile. I had 99.6 miles on my watch coming through checkpoint I and it was a personal goal at that point to record my 100 MI time and keep it under 24hrs . So I took nothing from my crew and  just handed over my head lamps and headed for the finish. (100 MI was 23:23)

I hustled that last 7 miles as hard as I could. Motivation would wane and I would  remind myself how much I'd like to be finished, because if you're not racing there's no hurry except that eventually you just want to sit down, dry your feet off and stop bending your knee that has been begging you to stop moving.  

At 105mi Nick was biking up the trail, he asked how I was doing and I said, "feeling okay, like I've run about 105 miles"... A fist bump later and I was headed down the final stretch of the trail. I made the mistake of asking someone where the trail head was (when I was about 1/4 mi away from it in hindsight) she told me I had 2 miles to the finish line which I didn't show, but was crushing because by my watch I had just over a mile. I knew then I couldn't beat 25 hrs and slunked into a sad hike, I was mentally weak and I was limping...I would still push the last mile but the second to last would need to just be the best I could at the moment, it sounds silly in writing to try explain when your mind bottoms out and your goals slip away (that was my low it was late and very short but those moments are why you train and since I hadn't trained it was easy to tell myself it was okay). And then I saw it... Our bright neon yellow/green National Guard jacket...."$#!+!!" I thought.... She was wrong....I am less than half mile from them! So I ran, limped, jogged my way through the finish line. Wish I hadn't let that friendly estimate get into my head. Turns out #1 lady was only a few minutes up....perhaps we could have had an epic finish together.... But...oh well. I ran my own adventure. The whole 106 + miles of it. It was everything I could have hoped for. 

I'm so grateful that I had that opportunity and the support from Chris and Eric and my teammates and the endless support of my husband who holds everything together when I'm away (which has just been too much lately). Ready to heal and have some summer with my family!!!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Georgia Death Race: How to Run yourself Ragged

A belated race report is better than No race report (I hope). It's taken me a while to decide to write, writing is like that for me. But, alas… the tale of my first GDR- sort of- honestly, its been a little too long to recall the turns, the food, the nitty gritty details that I try to share to actually have my blog be useful to others trying to learn about the course (SO this probably won't help and if that's why you're reading- so sorry. It's still a good running story!).
Pre Race: I was injured and burnt out already. The long story is long. The short story is I had a baby almost exactly 12 months prior to GDR, he was my second, so 2 Bubs, 1 full time job, Army National Guard commitments and then toss in a new business proposition and suddenly there was a lot on my plate. I was still hitting Every. single.  workout, hitting, every. single. mile in my plan. Despite pain and fatigue I pushed onward to follow the plan as designed by my coach. By mid January I peaked- I was amazing! Ha ha! But by February I was wiped out, by March overreaching with my hamstring tendinopathy and flaring piriformis syndrome. My backside was on fire and the constant daily pain was really making the running less fun.
So it was by February that I was pretty sure the race I wanted was out of reach, I knew because I couldn't imagine wanting it badly enough. I hurt and I was getting worse, not better and it was too late. Being undertrained and weak on that course or being slightly overtrained were pretty damn equal… so I didn't slow down, no regrets. But also, I couldn't see my race. I am huge believer in the meditative part of training and I just couldn't see a strong race, no matter how hard I tried to conjure it, I felt nothing. Nonetheless I was determined to close, to finish, I'd put too much work in to not just wing it. Despite the suggestion from my coach that maybe GDR wasn't worth it, maybe I should just take the loss and heal now...but no.
 I committed to going and seeing how it played out, just doing my best, knowing damn well I'd mentally struggle and it might get ugly. But I knew how to handle my weaknesses (ask for help) and I was ready.
Down to GA:  I had an easy flight, long traffic filled drive northeast of Atlanta to get to Amicalola Falls for race check-in. Once there I was excited to run into a few people and  meet a couple others. It was packed and a bit of struggle to locate friends but I found every one but Liz who had already left the crowd for an early dinner. I had no dinner plan thus far. I had found Combos and water at a dollar store and nothing else. I had race food and figured I'd get by, but it was a bit less than ideal. Anyways, after the pre-race meeting had ended I drove to my Air BnB, stopped at gas station and found Ramen noodles….figuring at least there's some carbs and salt (not something I would usually eat before …well anything). I arrived and met my hosts who were an older couple quite interested in hearing about the run and my crazy sport which was kind but I needed to unpack, organize and re-pack and EAT… so it was a bit a of struggle to manage the small talk as the night continued to tick by with my 2:45am wake up just around the corner.
Race Day:  Early early morning arrives and Stephen is there 5 min early to pick me up, Crew is On Point! I was excited, down right scared but totally excited. I hadn't  gotten to run with Liz in so long, I knew her training and her life had set her up to be Super! That girl can climb! So I was hoping to spend a few miles together before she crushed me….We met up at race check-in that morning took a couple photos and in minutes we were off to the Start line!
GDR Chunk 1: Mile 1 - 17ish I didn't feel bad starting out, but I knew right away in the back of my mind that my starting steps were not the flighty light adrenaline filled steps that they are when you're ready… but I pushed it anyways, I really was not worried about how the day was going to go, I wanted to have some fun. I headed out with the top ladies and we rolled through the first many miles. It didn't take long till a couple of other ladies had breached our group and took off hard. Soon our group was changed up a bit as every one found their climbing legs.  I knew I was not even a little prepared for the climbs and I knew I need to be right on the edge of pushing myself and chilling the heck out, but I felt good and I hoped it would last (even though I knew we were just getting started). It wasn't long at all before I was already feeling it… just like I had on my last several long runs… heavy exhaustion and fatigue. That FEELING…it gets into your head. I let myself slow up, a lot. I watched quite a few people pass as my pace tapered down hoping to get just a little bit of "Me" back. It wasn't too long before we were headed down a long long downhill (but even that was kicking my butt)… and then the absolute worst was when I realized that the endlessly long downhill, was an out and back. I didn't know it at first, but then it hit like bricks. Then there was Luzia and Liz bouncing up the trail, (both in their passing said something kind and inspiring) but I was sinking in my "defeated-ness" already, I was feeling ROUGH and I had to turn around and climb back out of there.
Chunk 2: Mile 17-34 This was hell, the entire thing, I climbed that hill out of the Aid Station in the worst mood.  I was so frustrated to have hit a low ALREADY! I mean, I knew it was coming, I knew we'd done almost ZERO hill work because I kept struggling with my hamstrings for all of my GDR focused training block, but even though my training was crashing I still completed my back to backs, my speed work…. To a "T"… so why couldn't I suck it up… I kept on pushing the positive self talk, but I mostly ran solo the entire race from mile 15 on and sometimes in ultras you get tired of yourself.  I'm used to this though, and I don't stop, (But some of those climbs did breach that 40% grade, hands on your knees and the huffing and puffing  that brought me to a standstill many times that I just froze, recollected my wimpy butt and stuck to what I know works-> keep moving forward). I had my watch to set to the elevation setting and simply kept going, knowing that every foot I climbed was closer to the at least 16K I had to hit.
Coming in to Mile 34 AS they had signs about pizza and for the first time in 18yrs of running that that sounded Awesome! I trucked into the AS happy to see people and ready to ask for a little lift. I don't collapse on people often in races and I don't remember the things I plan to accomplish at an AS. I tend to forget, rush and leave only to still be deep in my own struggles….So I decided to take my time. I really felt like I'd pretty much blown the race I'd planned on, so I might as well enjoy that I could right?? Only I was not having fun, I missed my kids and couldn't stop thinking about how amazing their day must have been, sunny and warm playing all day… and I was missing it to suffer alone in GA?!?!? Mom Guilt…. Gets me down! So anyways, I roll into the AS and eat 4 chunks of pizza and explain that I am really not into to this today and could use a boost. They helped me find some laughter and I got myself together and took off for the next section.
Chunk 3: Mile 34-50 Well … the boost didn't last long, I was still low, still whining to myself, wishing the wonderful, perfect day away and being frustrated with myself for that… I wanted to appreciate the climbs the work, the earth… and I did , but in a "forced reminding myself of why I was there", kind of way. Finally I was going to see my Crew, Stephen at mile 42 or 44, who knows? Anyway I made the effort to run into the AS but I was ready to take 10 maybe 15, just sit and re think what I was doing here. Luckily, a good crew and volunteers got me my Huel, my Red Bull, thicker socks and reminded me that through my whining I was still laughing and I was obviously not going to quit, and I knew I wouldn't too, (Which is part of the pain, part of what makes you want to quit- because you know you won't with no legitimate reason). So,  I got up and ran on down the trail… still low, but I tried using my ipod and using music for first time ever in a race. The music and caffeine helped, my brain was a little more excited to be where we were. I was moving much better, happier but not much. At the mile 50 AS I tried to get as much caffeine as I could to keep my high going and I ate a bit. It wasn't until the 7th female was coming into the AS that a little tinsie winsie fire of competition kicked in… I realized I really didn't want to get passed again!
Chunk 4: Mile 50- 74ish  I worked hard and climbed the next long fire road mountain like I'd flown all the way to GA and run 50 miles to get to it… (oh, I did)…. I passed the female in front of me and secured 5th place, but that kept me working hard because I didn't want to lose that again, I kept looking back, trying to run more than hike and jog.  I just kept on hustling, for the first time since mile 15 I was doing "Me" and it felt good. The mile 60 something AS was amazing, they got me as much coca cola as I could tolerate, a little bit more food and turned me 180 degrees toward the course where I had one of those moments when you look down a cliff and the world wobbles for a minute, it was a fairly steep downhill and my quads were wrecked, but you gotta run the downhills!! So I did, pounded down it through every ouchie ooo, owwwiiiiiiee that it took.  10 miles left and I was just rolling along. As the sun set I was reminded slightly of the disappointment of the day, I planned and trained to finish before sunset, but well… that wasn't my race. We got to the visitor center at Amicalola Falls and I was ready and waiting for the stairs, I'd been dreaming of them all day long. 
Finally, the stairs… I was so slow, but I just kept on trucking and when I got the top I had no idea how much was left, but luckily a volunteer let me know that I was 10min from the finish line, that was amazing to hear! I ran down that road as hard as I could and took the downhill on the trail fast, it was fully night time and I had to be careful, I think I had stop a couple times to find the course markers but that was it, it came out at the stream and I didn't totally know where I was until every one shouted for me to walk through the water and then I realized I'd made it. I finished GDR as 5th Female with a solid "F&%$ you" in my soul… just as the race intended ;)!
Final notes:  That course is hard, but not as scary as it's made out to be. If you train for it, even a little, you can complete it if you're willing to suffer. Keep moving forward… because seriously…. Where else are you going to go in the middle of the day or night in the middle of nowhere??? To sleep??? Instead of working on the same goal you've been getting up at 5 in the morning to complete for months?!? No way! Move your Feet! Keep going, eat, drink, ask for support- that’s why the volunteers are there! Change your socks! Wipe your face. Take the time to enjoy the work, the suffering.  It's about finding the struggle and learning over time through practice (and failures) how to work with it/ overcome it and push beyond. That’s the passion, the craving (for many of us)… to learn how to get beyond "ourselves". The actual goal is more existential than any course or finishing time.
Huge thank you to my crew, the new friends created through runners and volunteers alike! Huge Thanks to the RD for an awesome course, a ton of struggle and plenty of laughs!  I am so damn glad I got to meet you, run with you, whine to you and enjoy this crazy sport with you!
Happy running All!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

GA Jewel 100

Where do I start? 2016? Yup, 2016- An epic DNF, not just a simple failure but a series of unfortunate events that made for a great tale that sparked a desire to prove something to myself. I also, through DNF'ing, spent hours getting to know Jenny Baker and other volunteers at the GA Jewel. Between my experience at check in, on the course and after, I felt so supported and cared about- not as athlete but as a person following their passion and looking to give back, some how… I didn't just want run in the race, I wanted to be a part of the race.
2017- I planned to come back to finish the 100 miler and do it well. I worked hard from January through July- when I found out I was pregnant with my second son, Daniel. I felt a mix of gratitude and very odd sense of loss. I'd put so much work in, but I wouldn't have changed it for the world! I ran the 35 miler instead and had a chance to study that chunk of the course (for a future attempt at the 100 miler). I left after a fantastic weekend of running and volunteering in tears. Despite my joy and gratitude for the pregnancy I was afraid I'd never have a shot at the GA Jewel 100 miler as Jenny & Franklin were not sure the 100 mile distance would survive the 3 yr test period- there was chance at the time that 2018 might be the last go (due to cost vs turn out)…. And with only 6 months post partum to consider… well, that was crazy… right? I couldn't physically expect to do that? I couldn't ask my family to support that? Could I?
My husband Dave, looked at me and just said, Why not? You could do it? I said, "You know how much that'd be on you, with the boys?" The seed was planted though. I didn't commit, on any level, but I knew I had the support.

2018- Pregnancy sucks! Babies are awesome! There's a whole lot more there but let's just say I didn't begin running until June. All the running plans I worked on through my pregnancy, all my comeback plans were trashed. I had 3 months to train for 100 miles. That didn't seem impossible as much as dangerous, being post partum. Nonetheless I created a new plan that would push my limits and give me rest to heal. I focused on being able to hike, strength and ability to move through discomfort and boredom- Step ups (hours of step ups). Then mileage, but I had to just allow myself to be slower than ever, things would take longer than ever, but they did go. The training was working. I was improving, quickly.
September came and I was ready. I knew it, but being too confident is scary too, 100 miles is a long way and from 2016 and rough 26hrs at Pinhoti 100 in 2013, I learned it only takes one little thing to set off a chain of events that change the day. I couldn't be any more prepared, so I had many goals but the main ones were:
1. Finish this thing - whatever it looks like, crawl if you must, but get there… Time is not the goal, 24 would be great but 32 will do it
2. Don't give up on yourself because you are actually a good athlete, so don't let yourself forget that
3. Eat, keep eating, any time you begin to forget #2- it's probably because you're not eating, so EAT
4. Remember everything the race has already given you, give that back to every runner, every volunteer, every family/ friend out there
The Race
And so, 5 am Saturday morning finally came. We were off.
The climb began and a small pack of four or five of us began to ascend. Soon though, I felt I couldn't afford to not do my best at each moment of this run, I'd put everything into training for this and I was going to leave everything on the trail, even if I blew up later in the day,  it was worth the risk, I knew I wouldn't quit (a personal vendetta is powerful force). So off I went. I passed the Powerlines AS at 5:32am ( a time in my head that was 8 min faster than I'd estimated) and it was dark and quiet. I entered the trail and popped out the gravel road that climbs the 2nd chunk of powerlines. I watched my heart rate to keep an eye on my effort and kept moving steadily. I was excited to see the trail entrance and began to run. I was doing what I'd heard Katie Arnold repeatedly say was her plan for Leadville, Flow & smile… and I just kept going. I had trouble not thinking about later,  I kept reminding myself that later was in fact later and right now, I need to focus and just move easy, this was the warm up… the first 35 were the warm-up, not the race.
 I hit "lonely water" right on "time"… (I'd created this time chart for "if everything went right" how I could do (maybe), it brought me home in 21hrs, which I thought was unlikely at best, but heck it'd be fun to try). I climbed and rolled along the ridgeline into dawn, gliding through the rocks and finally landing at Stover AS at 7:15am. The volunteers were not quite expecting any one yet, which happened to me in 2016 as well, so I just asked them to help me grab by pop tarts out my hydration vest and I placed them in my shorts pocket with plans to eat soon. So far I'd taken in plenty of food between Spring energy gels and Made by Nature Energy Pops. I knew the next section was soft, smooth rolling so I rode out the easy feel until the next climb. I was excited for the ridgeline through this section since I couldn't forget the long descent down to Snake Creek, where everything started to go wrong in 2016. I got to pass the entire 17 mile runners field which was a nice boost, even got to see my husband for a split second right before the final descent.
I rolled into Snake Creek and they too didn't have much at that point, but the exchange with Franklin and other volunteers was a boost. I refilled with water and Tailwind and took off again.  The following section to Pocket road was tougher than I remembered, but it came back to me quick as I kept going up and up and then down, down and so much down… I remembered the hairpin turn right before dropping down to what was an unmanned water stop in 2016, then continued down until you run around the pond, cross the road and take the gravel road into the AS. This section took me an extra 15 minutes or so, which meant I was now about 20 min off my "dream plan pace" but considering how well I was feeling and moving through the course, I wasn't worried about it, just figured my estimates were too high… even at my best, this might take a bit more time. I had some Dr. Pepper from a volunteer, ate a bit and refilled by bottles. Already I was drinking so much fluid, the temperatures were climbing.
Then, the climb up John's Mountain… WOW, that was a lot harder than 2016, there was a lot more cliff sections and then a 12-15 foot rock wall to climb before it opened back up into a runnable trail. That climb had me working hard for sure, but I had 7.5 miles of pounding downhill ahead and the way I thought about Dry Creek, was that I had most of the day down there to move as best I could and actually recover from the climbing and pounding, so I went hard.
At the top of John's mountain I saw Ryan who always hosts the AS, at least since 2016 and we talked for a moment, I shared that I thought that rock wall was scary to imagine in the dark on tired legs and he said when I got back he'd go down with me if I needed it… he asked, "What time you think you'll be back up here?" I replied without hesitation, "My high goal is to make it back in time to see the sunset from up here" His eyes widened as he started to tell me that he didn't think that was going to happen… I admitted the goal was quite a reach indeed, but hey, it was worth a try…. A bunch of potatoes and pickle juice later I was pounding gravel, then trail, then more gravel until I came to a creek crossing and I peaked around for a way to stay dry but with none in sight I was just as happy to hit the cool water. I stopped and took a minute to cool my legs, arms and splash some water on my face. Back to running again within a couple steps and I was now close to Dry Creek (and I wasn't worried about any time stuff, not really, but I was about 45 min behind the high goal times already- mentally I was just trying to meet my goals for each section).  I got into Dry Creek at about 11:45am.
At Dry Creek  I was psyched to get there and see Brooke and the other volunteers, I knew Liz (my crew/pacer) wouldn't be there yet (or at least I didn't expect her to be). I did what I needed to and went out for Loop 1.
1-      So much sun after the first 15 min of the loop which was well shaded.  I had to walk as I was starting to over heat, I was moving well but WOW it was hot. I ran out of water before making it back. This time I added ice to the game and an extra bottle of water, pretty sure this is when Liz was there, but it's a bit of a blur…
2-      This loop was easier to keep moving, there was more shade, I was amazed when I made it back in 75 min, I'd given myself 80 min for the loop, so I was thrilled. This time back at the AS I dumped the pebbles and seeds from the trail out of my shoes, but doing that meant I forgot to restock ice and the extra bottle, which I didn't realize until I was already out on…
3-      Maybe the toughest loop. The shaded section felt cooler and the breeze was picking up a bit, but the heat of the day made it harder to recover.  This section took me the full 80 minutes and had me so ready to sit for a moment and cool down at the AS, where Dave, my husband and other Crew, was there. I ate well and made sure to get ice this time, I NEEDED it to survive that last loop.
4-      This one, I don't really remember well, I was HOT, it was easy running but I still needed some walk breaks, I was doing better than I thought though, moving even better than the last loop for sure. I made a mental note to take in the beauty on this section, the loops really were gorgeous smooth trail and I was about to head back up thick gravel and rock trails after this section. Last time back at Dry Creek. I switch from my Topo Runventures to my Terraventures and I was so happy when I did, the little extra support felt SO GOOD. In those 7 minutes of rest though, I felt so stiff, I told Liz I didn't think I could run out from the AS so she got me started which was life saving at that point.
The climb was 7.5 mi mostly ascent to John's Mountain. I debated poles but there was 2+ miles of runnable stuff before the climb even started so I opted to leave them behind. Once Liz had gotten me moving I didn't stop running, not even for the little climbs until I got back to the creek. There I knelt in the water and submerged 75% of my body and just enjoyed it for 2 minutes and then I hiked. The climb begins there and keeps going for a while, I could hike, I gave myself 2.5 hrs for this section, I grabbed a stick to walk with and that was perfect. I was so glad for my shoes and for leaving the poles behind. I started to look ahead and some of it really wasn't That steep, it was runnable and I'd run most of it pregnant last year for the 35 mile race, so I started jogging. I walked when I needed to, hiked plenty, but moved really well. Once I was back on the trail there was way more runnable sections than I could have imagined. On the way down it felt like I was descending 95% of the time, but there's a ton of flatter smooth surface in the section. There was so much I could run, I shaved so much time off here. When the trail opened back to the gravel road that would take me to the John's Mountain AS I was hiking strong. I kept hoping for the drive to get into a jog but it didn't come and was 45 min ahead of my best possible time expectations…. WAIT? WHAT? I'd been behind entering Dry Creek and kept exactly on pace or faster through all my loops… and now I was 45 minutes ahead. I couldn't believe it….
Then  maybe the 2nd best moment of my entire race (the 1st was obviously finishing) was the look on Ryan's face when I tapped him on the shoulder and sarcastically said, "I told you I wanted to make it up here for Sunset" … his eyes wide, he almost looked like he'd seen a ghost, "What? You Can't be here"… I confirmed that I was in fact standing in front of him and that I'd promised Liz that I'd eat up here so he needed to feed me, please and quickly if possible… now that the idea of getting through the descent from the Mountain before sunset was a possibility I wanted to do that more than anything.
That descent was amazing, but I was so grateful to have my sight, I ran the section that was runnable then I carefully maneuvered over the rocks, cliffs and loose edges on my way down, continually feeling unbelievably grateful, in the dark it would have taken an extra 20-40 minutes on the section just out of caution… but instead I was back at Pocket rd, 74 miles deep and 14.5 hrs in. The sun was almost gone, but I was still hot, the humidity remained high even with the temperatures dropping a bit. Here, I finished the veggie burger Ryan had given me at the top. I still didn't eat enough over that last 2 hrs, honestly I made the mistake mentally of feeling like I was close enough to the finish I could stop force fueling (a common slip I'm sure, took me 24 hrs after the race to see this one) and although I didn't stop eating, I decreased from getting a good chunk of calories to getting just enough to keep going. The next section was smooth still, flowing & smiling, good running and power hiking.
Coming back into Snake Creek though, my legs were starting to get tight and sore. I figured it was fatigue (in hindsight- it was not enough food!!) I ate a couple bites of my avocado wrap and 4 oz of noodles/ broth. I insisted it was enough and was ready to go, leaving the wrap on the table … (shaking my head now) I said to Dave, "just toss it, I can't eat any more"… And we climbed out of Snake Creek…and climbed… and climbed…. It felt like that anyways. My energy levels waxed and waned between bouts of nausea which apparently was my body's way of begging me to eat. I would take a gel and would get more nauseated and then feel great again for 30 min before the next drop in blood sugar. With only 13 miles to go I was falling off pace and feeling exhausted. My mood shifted, I just wanted to make it to Stover. Liz was carrying the positivity and I just let her drive that train and just kept on moving with her.
Finally, Stover AS came and they had a little bit of noodles/ broth left, again about 4 oz and I claimed I was good to go, I had enough, I just wanted to finish. We took off again, but now my head was barely in the game. Liz kept me going though. I never really hit a low, but I was barely holding on to a magnificent race and tired or not, hungry or not, I wasn't going to let go that easily. I just kept moving as hard as I could. I was sad to see my jog was officially slower than my power hike. I committed to the hike and we continued to hold onto 15min/ mile pace, almost all the way back to lonely water.
This dinky 4.5 miles tore at me. I started tripping for the first time all day, I was grouchy with the rocks, I felt a moment of actual sadness as I felt that depression of knowing you'd screwed up a great thing… but almost as quickly as it came , I mentally told that pathetic voice to Shove it! I spoke up and told Liz, I'm out of food and I'm slipping… she stopped me and poured a single last packet of Elctroride into my water bottle and shoved it back in my vest and said, "Drink it.. that's 80 calories, it's enough."  I drank as much as I could and kept taking sips, but they started to space out too. Liz asked if I'd finished it and I realized I'd forgotten to keep drinking again. We were within a mile of the Powerlines AS and I was SO ready to be done so I dug deep. I drank what I could and when we hit the gravel road I ran the entire downhill and next thing I knew we were at the AS.
At Powerlines I scavenged for calories, I didn't eatmuch, I tried to eat some cheese- its but I couldn't chew them and swallow I was wasting so much time standing there chewing. I considered the fire ball shot, but voted to wait for the beer at the finish line, (been thinking about that at every AS for the last 10 hrs!) I voiced my struggle with not eating enough here but we all finally agreed it didn't matter, I was getting there no matter what now and so I took off running.  Liz had chosen to not pace this section since she is running a 100 miler next weekend (Bear 100). I more than understood (as she probably shouldn't have even been covering the mileage she did with me) and was ready to push myself to the end.
I ran as hard as could safely run. In no time at all I was climbing Mount Baker. I was in a daze. I was certain I was just over 22hrs and although I didn't quite get my high goal, I was satisfied and ready to be through that finish line. The bottom of that climb felt so lonely, I couldn't see anything but a little bit of blue lights, at first it was silent, and then it was just a few more steps before the music was a quiet distant sound that grew louder and Liz was by my side again, matching my steps, slow as they were… but they kept coming, my feet kept lifting and then I was there at the top looking at the parking lot between me and Jenny at the finish line. I ran, hard again, it felt so good to run hard. I didn't think I'd cry until I saw Jenny, then the immense amount of work and effort came to an end with an embrace and my eyes filled for a moment, but something kept it together. Jenny told me I'd just finished in 21:03 and I was so confused. I had done my math wrong in my head for hours now. I finished in 21 hrs and 3 min….I did it? I actually did it?! I was ready, I went for it, but I actually did it?! I might be more surprised than anyone at the race… I'd done the math, but seriously?!? YES! Happy dance and weird catharsis… 3 yrs now I've been working toward those 21 hrs… and just like that (in hindsight of course) it's over.
I watched every other 100 mile runner come in, straight through the last couple around 2:30pm Sunday afternoon. Everyone out there was amazing! I'm so grateful for the run, the ability to do it, the physical part of doing it, the people involved, the trail, my family who watched my sweet babies while I was away, my running family and every single volunteer and spectator. Thank you all for being a part of an amazing Adventure!!
Now to recover and prepare for the next one….

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Patapsco 50K

19 weeks pregnant, still running.... strong?? No idea but I wanted to get one more 50k at least and the weather was picturesque... so out I went to a race I was, other than coming off a great season where 30 miles was just a good weekend run, severely unprepared for. I was now training on flats, running slow, eating way more sugars than I care to admit (never had cravings for such garbage before :/) , and of course my longest run had been 13 miles since my last 35 mile run only 6 weeks prior.

I went anyway and decided I would take it easy, do my best, whatever that meant, and handle it... because I knew it'd be hard for me to not be out in front pushing myself for a good time. And sneak preview... it was SO hard.

Race morning I got to the lot early, dark, quite chilly and very dewy out. I was so glad I'd brought extra socks to change into between check in and the Start.

I am someone who struggles with Raynaud's and generally warms up slow, especially on long runs, but I've also, more often than not been at risk for over heating because I dress to be able to start without being totally uncomfortable. I've learned since that I need to stay warm as long as possible and then start frozen. So I did this and shivering, stiff and painfully cold at that start we finally got moving. I did not feel good. Unlike my memory of GA Jewel 6 weeks prior, where I started and felt really good, my legs were heavy, I felt slow, cold and tired.

I tried to ignore how crappy I felt and push up in front like I do, like I always have done, but as I went on, this was just really not working. I didn't have it, I wasn't "warming up" to the run. I felt the same, heavy, slow and now my bladder was already telling me I need to stop. Around 4 miles in, I must have let 15 people pass, which was so hard for me.  I finally "broke the seal" and then I just felt worse. I had to stop to pee 4 times in the first hour, and I wasn't drinking much because I was cold, and frustrated. I kept on reminding myself of my WHY.

"I am out here to be outside, to be in the woods, to be around other runners"

This was what I held on to. I don't know how I even did it. The 9 mile water crossing was more like 4.5 miles in, I was already wet, but I despite remembering how much frustration I had, I was having a blast out there. I was just happy to keep moving. By mile 12 my hips and pelvic stuff ached, my pace was sad, but one foot in front of the next. I kept it going.

At the 18mile AS I was feeling okay with how things were going, I thought we were at 22+ miles, so when I heard this AS was the 18 mile marker I had to swallow a large lump of frustration... yet again. I was committed to completing. I knew the next AS would be passing through the start and I prayed it was still miles out. Nope, it was mile 20!! I had 11 more miles?!?! I trudged on, trying to move faster but it was like my muscles could go no faster and I had to appreciate what they were doing as it was. So I went back to settling in and just committing to the ride. The course went on and on. More and more people running passed. It was just so different, looking at my watch, knowing usually I would be finished by now but still have an hour to go.  Thank God it was the most beautiful day and it had warmed up to a gorgeous low 60s sunny colorful day.

Finally, I was within a few miles, getting there, struggling, but moving. I wish I could be more positive,  but it really was hard the whole time. The very last downhill, I knew I was done, I was on my way to sitting on my butt with my family..... so close, and then *FWAP* I tripped and fell landing on my hands and rolling onto my side on the very gravelly path. I laid there in pain for a solid 40 seconds, much longer than seemed necessary but I'd gone all day without a fall and now less than a quarter mile from the finish on all rocks... ugh my mind was done, but my body was able to get back up and jog and then run through the Finish Line with my son. I'd done it, and my milestone pod said 35 miles again!!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Georgia Jewel 35 mile run- 13 weeks pregnant

GJ 35 miler
I'm very late to writing a race report but I hadn't made up my mind about doing it, since it was not nearly what my year was meant to result in, whatever that really means. For anyone reading that doesn't know, I am pregnant, now 18 weeks along. I spent most of 2017 focusing my training on kicking Georgia Jewel 100 mile course's booty. I worked hard, I raced often but not too often, I won my key races and was on point to make my goals, until late June when I started feeling really crappy. I took some time, I tried to recover, but when I started to ramp back up, well I just felt, wrong. A couple other signs popped up in training and I despite a negative pregnancy test the weekend before my 12hr race, I was in fact pregnant. What to do, now into July, 7 full months of a great season and I would not be running a 100 miler. Despite the joys of finally being on track with my family plans and loooong term running goals, I spent a lot of time being totally bummed and sad that I was again going to be "out" of the ultra community. Unlike my last pregnancy though, this time, at least so far no sharp stabbing pelvic pain when I run!! Wooohooo… so I have opted for the adventurous runner Mom route of staying not only active but active in the ultrarunning community and for now, "racing"- running, jogging, walking in the woods with awesome ppl. So when I successfully made it through Running with the Horses marathon in WY, I thought hmmm, maybe I can still make a 50K.
Heading to GJ to volunteer with my husband was a no brainer. We'd already committed to the trip, to my running family down there and I wasn't going to bail because I couldn't do my Big Goal. I set my mind on the 17miler but the closer we got the more I felt 35 was a doable adventure. It would be challenging, but not too hard at all, it was still a safe choice. So with a week to spare I let the RDs, Jenny and Franklin Baker know that I was committing to the 35 miler.
We got in Friday afternoon and Jenny put us right to work. I had some pretty good nausea that had me laid up in her air conditioned camper for a bit but when I came out race check in was in full swing and we hustled to clean up our act and be able to answer the runner's question and get everyone ready to run in the morning. It was so much fun getting to see all the runners with their different goals and excitement that I absolutely fell in love with the previous year. I had one moment that evening when the pain of jealousy for those doing the 100 miler struck me, but I kept it together. It was the first time I realized I would actually emotionally have a tough time volunteering for the race, not only because I couldn't run This one day, but because my life was changing…again, after my last baby and hiatus from 100s I just wanted 1, I DNF'd here at GJ last year and came back to, I just wanted 1 single 100miler before baby #2, but God had different plans and the kicker is that I would not/ will not be attempting another 100 miler for at least an entire year!! I know, I have the rest of my life… I do, logic vs emotion, that day, being there… well it hurt.
After check-in I realized I needed to get ready, 35miles in 90+ degrees and pregnant meant I needed to be super duper smart. I got my pack ready and headed for bed. I would be waking up at 3:45 to do final check in and watch the 100 mile runners take off. 
Morning came and I somehow naturally woke up at 3:40, so I made my way to the check in tent and no time Franklin, Jenny and other support "staff" were up. We had some coffee and got the 100 milers set and they were off. Tough moment #2 passed quickly as their headlights bounced away.
I prepped and ate some breakfast and we were off in the creeper van to the race start. The trip was just long enough to get me really nauseated but luckily I didn't get sick or loose my breakfast calories. We made it to the race start a little late and so both the 50 miler and 35 mile races were delayed a few minutes, but in no time we were off.
I was surprised to feel really good and so I went with it taking off with 3 guys up front. I hadn't trained beyond 18 miles so I knew I could easily run 20 and definitely jog to 28, those last few, well they might be slow and ugly, but as long as I took my time I knew I could make 35. Knowing that, I planned to run what I could as well as I could, get out ahead of the heat and the pack. A couple miles in we came to a unmarked intersection and assumed wrongly to go straight. We hit a fence about half a mile up and turned back re-directing at least 40 other ppl back on course. Somehow a bunch between us and the people who followed us knew to turn right. When we got back we took off down the right path when I realized no one had fixed the problem, so I ran back to intersection again and grabbed a flag and B-lined for where my eyes went looking for a flag the first time around. I planted the flag and began a long slow climb while trying to get back to the 3 guys I was running with. I got back up there and as a pack of 4 we worked our way back to the front, just making it by the first AS at Johns mountain.
The AS was a good memory from last year so I took my time, almost forgetting it was a race, I turned toward the course and saw 2 women who had already gone passed and were trotting down the trail. I LOVE downhill so I went with it since I knew this section was primarily descending winding trail down the mountain. I got out ahead and felt great. I took one fall and getting up from it I remember that I need to be a little more careful that THAT… so I slowed down a bit, watching my footing with more caution than usual.
I rolled on through the next AS at the bottom of Johns mountain feeling very good and totally happy with my position. I was eating plenty, drinking well. The next thing I remember was crossing the road to the AS remembering this next section of the course had some killer uphill.
As I kept going, it sure did, climb, climb , climb. It was a long section getting to the next AS. The day was starting to get warmer and my pelvic joints were getting a bit sore. Once we were at the "top" you enter miles of gentle climbs and descents through this I started having trouble with footing. I'd experienced this on my long runs lately too, once my hip flexors were fatigued I really struggled… it was as if the same effort I would normally use to lift and place my feet wasn't enough, so I had to focus each and every step to get my foot where I wanted it, this meant going slow… and when it was really rocky, just plain walking. The heat too, I was so worried about having the "a little too warm" feeling so I kept below that and moved slow enough to stay comfortable.
With about 12 miles to go, I was tired. I was a bit uncomfy, but I was fine, it was just hard to wrap my head around 12 miles at the very slow pace I was going … I'm not accustomed to having to be SO careful…this would feel like FOR-E-V-E-R and it did. I broke into pieces in my mind, using my little fit bit to count a couple miles at time, give myself check points. Finally I came to the Power Lines AS, where my husband was volunteering and where I would be volunteering that night, 3ish miles from the finish. Dave, my husband said to me, "You're first female you know?" I looked at him smiling and said, "I know it… isn't that crazy?!" We hugged and I was off down the trail to the pavement. I was still uneasy having heard some telling rumors about a "crazy 50+% grade hill" and "some runner said they had to go down on their butt" so I was still waiting for whatever was the talk of the town. The last mile was smooth, I thought I was going to make it sub 9 minutes and then you turn the corner with 0.4miles left to the race and there it is, there it stood, the hill lovingly named  "Mount Baker" stood there between you and the finish line. I hiked 20 steps for every 10 second breather I was taking. I was literally laughing out loud. I stopped for photos, the hill, painful as a hill can be, was the ultimate comic relief in an ultra marathon. So, no sub 9… more like a 13min mile, but I made it through the finish 7hr 24 mins and change and I was first female, feeling sore and fatigued but otherwise like I'd successfully taken it very easy. I felt good.
I took a few hours to recover and hang out with friends before we headed back to the power lines AS where we'd be camped out all night. We arrived just as the sun was setting and got settled into the darkness, we had no generator and nothing to make noise for the runners, so we opted for yelling and clapping loudly. We took care of the 50 milers runners and around 10 or 11pm we had ourselves a generator and lights! From here we had couple of the last 50 mile runners toughing it off through cutoff. We then knew we had a couple hours gap before the 100 milers started coming through so we opted for come sleep. By 3am runners were coming through. Sometimes around 7am I had my first big cry about not being out there myself. I had reached up and stretched while looking out at the view and the thought of how I'd be feeling seeing that same thing after 24+hrs of running and 95 miles under my feet just brought me to tears. I wanted to feel that feeling again so badly… it has been so long since I'd seen it, the sunrise after the long darkness that falls over during an ultra, having brought a strange comfort and anxiety of silence, darkness, solitude all broken by the rising sun; a new day, new energy, sounds of life begin again with bugs, birds, cars miles away somewhere…. I deeply, deeply miss that experience.
Around 1230pm we started to clean up the AS, there was one more runner out and it seemed despite being a solid bit past cut off, he was going to finish. Once we got him through and on his way to completing his first 100 mile run we all headed to the Finish Line. We packed up everything, all AS stuff had been returned and sorted, the parking lot was empty, just about everyone had gone. We stayed and with his family and support we brought in the last runner, he had completed the distance. It was an unbelievable moment to watch, truly impressive. I think every female left had a tear or two fall. Soon after we said our good byes and we headed back to Atlanta to go home. Once we hit the highway I had one last heavy heartfelt cry for what wasn't and could not be, it was over, time to move on. I don't know if it was just being emotional and pregnant or sleep deprived or both but that sadness just hung there with me for a few minutes. I felt silly, but raw. Then my husband said, well, why not next year??