Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Freestyling It for a Zippier, Healthier and Happier 2018

If gaining weight was was an Olympic sport, I would dominate. While watching season 2 of  Fit to Fat to Fit  as I was running on my treadmill, I found it ridiculous that a couple elite fitness trainers couldn't gain the 30% bodyweight they needed to gain. "Oh, what should I eat?" Really? Hire me to advise you. Those are results I can produce.

The show is based on the premise that by gaining weight over a period of a few months and not being able to workout at all, that the individual will become a much better trainer while losing it in the following four months and becoming fit again with an unhealthy client. Most of the trainers have never been overweight and out of shape in their lives! Gasp! Please tell me your woes. No, just don't.

The mental and physical changes are radical, but this season I was a little disappointed that gaining the weight was a struggle for a couple of them. They obviously weren't getting into the spirit of things like homemade cinnamon rolls, chocolate covered turtles, frosted sugar cookies, black forest cake, lasagna, linguini with alfredo sauce, pizza, french loaf bread smothered with olives, mayo & cheese, and cocktails like margaritas and sangria just for starters. Heck, I ate all of that and gained back 10 pounds of the 5 I had lost over a couple months in three weeks time and I was still running 40 miles a week.

As entertaining as that show is, this is my reality. I have spent the last few months in a slump and completely unmotivated without a true training plan or big adventure in view. Just stuffing my face and enjoying the taste and mingling of the holidays with a lack motivation. Seriously, I can help you increase your weight, call now.

Each year January brings in my, "Oh, shit! Get it together!" panic mode because I am officially three weeks into an ultra running training plan if I want to run a race in late May or early June, which I usually do. It's a good thing I kept running through the slump.

So I have officially hit my reset button and registered for not one, but two 100 mile races for 2018 with both have a 100k cut off time. This year I am going for the fun as well as the beat thrive:

• Kettle Moraine 100, WI 
Time to conquer this little beast with it's silent killer hills. Vendetta time. The biggest perk being able to spend time with my lucky charms Krista and Evie and possible other crewers/pacers. 

Javelina Jundred, AZ
Noted by others who have participated in it as the one to do for a good time with costume encouraged. Maybe I'll even see Catra Corbett on the course!

Javelina Jundred with Catra Corbett, center.

I know I haven't written much about my medical tests on my lungs and heart, but after my Grindstone experience with breathing, heart rate and feeling in credibly sick issues, I went to my doctor and had things checked out. My tests came in as healthy (win, win!), although my asthma has increased and I was placed on a steroid inhaler which seems to be working better. I have also change up my running to heart rate training. Which means I am running slower and having to walk to lower my heart rate to 135 bpm. The results I am looking for include running longer and faster with less stress on my heart and lungs. People that heart rate train also have less injury. Not to say that I'm not climbing on the Jacob's ladder. That is a challenging higher heart rate workout.

And my weight gain? I am embracing Weight Watcher's (WW) Freestyle™ plan that came out in early December. Yeah, I know. Here I go again exploring yet another diet change. I'm someone who did try very low carb and high fat eating for 9 months while tracking calories and saw some pretty slow but significant weight loss. However, I didn't experience huge performance results from a very restrictive diet other than feeling better running lighter and feeling like mind was a littler clearer after three weeks. I am looking forward to feeling that again, only sooner. This WW plan has more variety and less torture over tracking and restrictions. I am creating a lot more interesting homemade dishes that my family is enjoying along with me. I've even made my own yogurt a few times following this YouTube video below.

I am finding recipes online with high ratings that look like they will tickle my tastebuds and can be altered to have less points or even zero. Like this recipe for Indian Spiced Red Lentil & Chicken Soup. I have made it true to the recipe as well as ommitting the coconut milk and vegetable oil to save points. Once Upon a Chef has been one of my favorite resources for powerfully flavored recipes for several years.

Freestyle™ is incredibly easy and healthy with a list of more than 200 free foods I don't have to track while others are tracked in an app. Some of these non-tracked, or free foods, include: beans and lentils, skinless chicken breast, fish, nonfat unsweetened yogurt, vegetables and eggs. The key however is not to stuff one's self. I think I have proven over the years that too many calories is just too many. One question I have ask myself when I want to eat more or out or the food point range, is "Will this help me get to my goal?" If the answer is "No", then I most likely don't go there and consider if I am really hungry and substitute one of the zero point food options.

Have you ever heated frozen berries in the microwave? It tastes like pie filling when it comes out and cuts my craving for dessert. I'm down 9 lbs in three weeks. I assume some of it is water weight so I'm not going to get overly excited yet. I'm expecting a slowdown soon as I keep pressing on into 2018.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Life is a Grindstone

A friend of mine sent me this message and image before this year's Grindstone100.
I'm still an imperfect diamond in the rough and may always be:
Thinking of you Jill! Remember this quote and remember you're made from the toughest
and most badass stuff there is!! You got this!!

Disappointment is difficult.

It is disheartening to train so many hours and miles upon miles, pushing through early dark mornings before anyone else is awake, run strenuous hill repeats and stairs in the evening, climb the Jacob's Ladder a couple days of the week to 3,000 feet, and all part of working relentlessly for a solid goal to finish Grindstone100 during their warmest and most humid race event ever — and yet be so very far away from the goal.

For many, it was possibly their near perfect race. For some of us ... not at all. I was in and out of sickness for 10 hours of the race and missed the hard cut-off by 20 minutes at only 37 miles in and about 8,000 feet ascend. Those numbers suck ass and could break me if  all I take in account are those numbers. If I forget just what I was feeling and the hold that really had on me. If I forget the physical limitations that occurred.

View from parking area.
The truth: I was at a slow pace by the time I hit the cutoff and unable to run with gut cramps, and heaving every mile. It was ridiculous. What was wrong with my body?! My calorie intake was a total of 133 calories an hour by the end. I had fallen WAY behind because of the nausea and was gagging on Huma gels. Was this a real WALL I was hitting? Being that the Director announced Tailwind was on the course, I removed my spare bags from my pack so I could carry less. BAD CALL. Stupid, stupid, stupid...they were out of it when I arrive at the second aid station and in need of it. Judging from my pee color later, I was VERY dehydrated as well from sweating and breathing heavily.THIS NEVER HAPPENS TO ME.

The truth: My breathing had been off for most of the time and it is something I need to take more seriously. My mind went back and forth in its own obstacle course of misery from… "What the hell is going on? I am so sick of being sick! Why the F do I want to do this?" To thoughts in the brief moments of non nausea of… "Hell yeah, I love trail, the woods, lots of rocks and climbs in the moonlight with flickers of headlamps moving ahead of me in the distance, with the sounds of animals in route and leaves snapping. Take in every ounce to enjoy this moment! Maybe I can still make cut-off! These aid station workers were right to put me back out there and I am grateful that they acted as my crew!"

This year's Grindstone adventure was not the epic adventure I had looked forward to. On one hand it really, really sucked, and yet I had to make lemonade out of it and go for a hike later in the day and enjoy Virginia's mountains with my husband since I had dragged him out there. I didn't cry about the outcome. I was still stunned with the short jaunt through the woods — I mean highly technical rock hell hole that the first 22 miles is and the sluggish next 16 miles. This was my husband and mine first time away together since having kids 11 years ago. My day completely changed unexpectedly and it's something I tell my kids they have to adapt for. It's something that ultra delivers every time.

I wonder how the man in the fetal position, sick on the side of the trail spent his day. Or, the other two guys who doubled back down the trail hurling felt about their race. I imagine, just as disappointed as me. Sometimes, there is no recovery and waiting it out doesn't work in your time frame.

Ultra running is my hobby. Yes, this is what I do for fun. Participating is such an endurance demanding sport means not everyday is going to be in my favor, and it's going to be a commitment. It's going to be hard. And the lessons learned sometimes hit me over the head. I am in this for the long haul, not a one and done mindset in the least. I can't even imagine! But I am licking my mental wounds because they are there and real.

So when I talked to my mountain, it replied back, "Not the way you want it today."

When I do cross that line again, I am going to appreciate it so much more. I let myself mourn for one week in this disappointment of this race outcome, and today I hit the road again however it grinds me up. Breath in, breath out…with one foot in front of the other.

Larger rock traversing that I actually enjoyed the most between mile 31 and 37. Grateful for this section.
View from road heading to Charlottesville on Sunday.
How symbolic: my cracked Grindstone cookie. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lighthouse100: I AM THE STORM

From my BAMR (Bad Ass Mother Runner) friend, Freedom.

I am not sure anything could have prepared me more for running in the Lighthouse100. Maybe if I was running in Florida or somewhere else hot that gets humid as well, I would have been a little more mentally equipped for the surprise heat wave we received in Northern Michigan June 10th and 11th. We originally expected high 60s to low 70s in the day, but it turned out that mother nature had another plan to make sure this race had extra challenges with temps reaching more than 90 degrees and 30-40 mph winds that just blew hot air around. Add on the fact that this course is mostly in full sun and on asphalt, and that heats up at least 120 degrees coming off the pavement, and you have the perfect condition for a DNF served sunny side up.

But what's really different when every ultra course I have been on asks the same question? "Do you have what it takes to get to the finish line? Can you adapt?"

Fortunately my run buddy and I had one mission—to finish this Motha. So when Dave Krupski, the race director, warned several times for runners to slow their role during the hottest part of the day (noon to 6p.m.), we knew we already had that speed down and would be doing what was necessary. Finishing is winning in ever sense of the saying when it comes to ultra, especially 1-0-0 miles.

The Lighthouse100 is a new Michigan race introduced for 2017. It is currently the second 100 mile course in the state—offering a 50 mile option as well. Basically in my backyard, I was ecstatic to see it pop up as I was considering going back to the Kettle Moraine with Evie around the same date. She would be attempting her first 100 miler. With a race this close we figured we could have it crewed or paced easily.

Magnet for the crew to tag cars.
Evie's sister, Sharon, flew in to crew as well as Krista who was with me at Grindstone and had met through Another Mother Runner at Ragnar D.C. We had our two ace crew captains taken care of. This race allows pacers to drop on at any part of the course which I hadn't encountered before. There was enough interest in participants to start dropping pacers on at mile 10 and having one to two pacers between the two of us the rest of the way — one long party train that's an all-nighter. Our plan was to stay together. We had found great active tanks by Fellow Flowers with a strength driven poem line I had seen before and decided to call ourselves the Storm Chasers. Our crew would be following and meeting us every five miles. In essence, chasing the storm.

I am the STORM: Sharon, Evie, myself and Krista.
Dave Krupski, race director, shows us the prized buckle pre-race. 
Although I have participated in other 100 mile races, they have always been on trail. This is not the mountain climbing, root and rocky obstacle course like GrindStone or Superior. It's only 3,241 feet ascending compared to 23,000 of a trail race like GrindStone. This opened a whole new world for me. The Lighthouse100 is a road race. Which means more pounding and faster expected times for finishing. This was not part of the appeal for me. A trail race has natural changes in pace and muscle usage from hiking up a hill, running down, running on flats, and maneuvering through areas that are just non-runnable with roots and rocks or on the side of a hill. In order to switch up our muscle use and give ourselves some rest early on, we decide to run it in intervals of 5/1—meaning five minutes of running and one minute of faster walking. We implemented this on our long runs about two and a half months out from the race.

Race Day: Let's get to it

I really can't say I was nervous or on edge about this race. I tried to soak it in the most I could and stay in the moment. After three non-finishes, my nerves don't get the best of me. I even slept pretty well at the Michigan Inn & Lodge in Petoskey—great price, nice rooms and lots of extras. I think this place is under-rated. It's located about 5 miles from the start. The only downfall was the loud men who carried on a little late outside our room. They were definitely NOT running 100 miles the next day. Thank goodness I had ear plugs with me!

We started out the race by touching the Petoskey lighthouse, walked back to the start line and waited for the official countdown with 71 runners. Unlike trail races, people were running instead of walking over the start line. Evie and I had met another runner during our training 50 mile run on the Tart Trail in Traverse City. We ended up running with him during the race for about 45 miles. One of the reasons I love ultra races is because kindred spirits run them and conversations are easy between runners. There were no port-a-potties in this race, so we stopped in at a gas station and Flap Jack Shack (which was busy) during that first 20 miles. We kept our pace controlled, and Sharon stepped on the course at about mile 10. With so much talking I decided I needed to play some tunes to keep my own mouth from running and to slow my heart rate. It was going to be a long race and I didn't want to lose too much energy early on.

Karen pacing.
We picked up Karen at mile 20 and it was beginning to get hot with full sun and no shade cover. I had told our crew the day before that I didn't want to hear anything about the temperature. To me anything over 80 is hot, so lets not talk about the temperatures at all. I'll just convince myself the peak is 84 degrees. As much as I had wanted Karen at the end of this race because I know she can push me through rough miles to finish, it worked out well that she was there on some of the more difficult hot miles. We watched as two runners ran up the rolling heated asphalt hills right next to us as we hiked it, and had the same thoughts and mouthed the words, "What the heck?" Not only would I not run up a hill in an ultra race, but not in the heat unless it was a mad dash to the finish to make a cut-off.

Right on cue, our pace dropped around noon when the heat rose. In my mind, I just knew that some people would want to push too much being a road race and under estimating the humidity and the effects of how ling this journey would be. However, Evie and I knew that our slow run was going to be what ever it had to be to make it through. The heat was rising up from the pavement as well. I sensed the struggle in both Evie and our new running friend. I felt it too. It was now the heat talking for us and we had a little more walk. If we hit any shade at all our pace picked up for that pocket. Although it was windy throughout the race, it blew hot air around and was better than no wind at all. There were reports of 30-40 mph winds.

Avocado love:
I must have eaten three of these.
I was experiencing some shin pain early on — something gifted to me from our asphalt 50 mile training run — and I asked Sharon to look up taping techniques and she tried taping me up when we saw her at the next 5 mile marker. The tape fell off almost immediately, and then again at the next 5 mile marker. The spot she had located was perfect, if only the tape would stay on. It was after the third time that we pulled out the duct-tape on course and wrapped it around my leg. That stuck! So when we pulled back in to the next station we added more which would last the entire journey —visually marking me as the girl with the pink duct-tape leg. At about mile 45, our running friend picked up his pacer and went on, and we exchanged Karen for Sean, whom I knew in college. It's amazing the support we received when we just asked for it. We had put the word out on Facebook (FB) and had quite a few people willing to step in and pace. Torch Lake was a more pleasant run with some shade, lake views and beautiful homes. We caught up in conversation, and he even mentioned that this looked like a race that he might want to consider next year. As we approached the 50 mile aid station we saw a runner walking quite slowly and asked how he was. He said he was dropping. Evie yelled out, "Don't do it!" He indeed did drop though. And judging from the Ironman tattoo on his leg, he was a tough athlete. Bummer. I wish we could have pulled him along to go as far as he could until time ran out.
Sean stepping on to pace at mile 45.

At Mile 52 I aided a couple blisters, changed my socks and found that my other shoes would not go on my feet without pain. My feet had swollen too much. I changed my inserts from the other shoes and continued with the shoes that I had been running in. Evie was having some discomfort and retaining from possibly all the Tailwind we had been drinking. The assistant director, Ethan Olds, advised her to switch to water for a while, which worked out well for her. I switch to more water too as I was feeling it too. However, by mile 55 I was feeling a little nauseated. I started eating small Ginger Rescue tablets that I had on me. Here we go, again. The one mantra that had repeatedly crossed my mind in the past came back, "No Surrender."

My beautiful friend right after she hit
her top mileage at mile 52. Everything
after this is gravy, right?
Sharon pulled up to hand us our lights and vests since 9pm was approaching. She said there was a surprise waiting at mile 60 for me. With that, I became motivated to move a little faster. I knew my kids and husband must be there in Elk Rapids. I was so happy to see them as we came in and the spark and excitement in their eyes pumped me up. I gave them a stinky, sweaty hug. We had several new people there to greet us. as well Kendra had a pop-up tent waiting for us to change in. It was perfect! We exchanged our wet clothes for dry and headed out with Rachael after fueling again. I hugged my family goodbye until the last couple miles where they would be meeting me. My husband said to have a good night. That's right, time to get through the night.

To change our clothes: sweet pop-up tent via Kendra. 
Seeing my family at mile 60 and heading out again.
 They were beaming.

As we headed off into the falling sun and darkness, the moon was large and orange. Racheal kept pointing out the qualities of the night, while Evie and I just couldn't cool down and kept moving.
Time to get moving and rip off these layers because
we keep overheating within a few steps.

Vehicles were moving particularly fast and roaring their engines with a couple going back and forth which was a little unnerving. We continually moved off the road and into the gravel. By mile 65, I was having stronger nausea. I kept eating Mamma Chia squeezes, raspberry HUMA gels, and avocado. Those things seemed to go down. We drank a SPARK every 10 to 20 miles throughout the race for some added vitamins and caffeine. I never really did feel sleepy or tired. Evie told me to go on at some part of the race, and I barked back, "No."

Our next pacers, Kristi and Casey stepped on with lots of energy and conversation.They kept us on course and entertained in the dark quite well, and had checked out their route before hand. I think their section was a little harder to find the roads, but the course was marked with blinking blue lights to help guide us which was reassuring. By the time we arrived at mile 70, I had Krista join me a little early. I was still feeling ill and wanted her there, which proved to be a good call. I was feeling a little emotional, and she read me messages of encouragement from our BAMRs of our Another Mother Ragnar Relay Team and GrindStone SKOCHF (Special Kind of Crazy Hall of Fame) tribe.

Evie and I looked at each other in the light of the aid station car lights and I could tell that NEITHER of us was about to say anything about dropping. I just kept thinking, "Do not say it! Don't you say it." We kept getting up. No Surrender. 

I knew my feet were becoming liquid blister pads and my big toe was really going to be a sight by the time it was released from this shoe. I just couldn't do anything about it now. I couldn't allow myself to dwell, when everything else was functional ... besides my occasional dry heave on the side of the road. If you want it, you have to slam it down and claim it in pain and be undeniable. That is one thing I have learned from ultra. Faith means unwavering when wanting something this big.

This is about the same time that when we would sit at the aid station, we would get a chill, and then be sweating within 1/16 of a mile when we got back on the road/path. When we finally hit the Tart Trail in Traverse City it seemed really dark. We saw quite a bit of wildlife including a porcupine (which Krista jump a little on the Tart Trail but enjoyed), deer, fox and I don't know what else, since I had to turn on some tunes to stay motivated and just look ahead as Traverse City slept. Evie and I were running behind Krista and Annalise—who was switching on and off with Dani. Our pacers did an amazing job staying positive, aiding us at stations and even working on our knotted shoulders and necks which hurt in the early morning from carrying 2 liters the entire time. It became hard to determine what things hurt more, and again I didn't want to think about it. That's ultra.

As we headed closer to the last HARD cut-off on East Bay, I had a feeling of "almost there" with 20 miles to go. My nausea was lifting and the birds were chirping. We would be heading out on to the Bayshore Marathon route and it was a good familiarity. Again, there were no rest rooms and I walked an extra distance to the East Bay park facilities only to find them locked. Inside my mind I was actually on my knees shaking my fists at the sky. "For the love!" In reality. I walked back to the aid station to set out on the official course. My feet were barking.

Back on course, the sun came up along the beautiful drive of bay and homes. Mile 85 Evie began to slow and was becoming more tired. Her feet were hurting too of course. I don't think either of us were talking much so the pacers held the conversation. She said again to just go on. Sharon said, "You are going to finish. It's just a matter of when."

That word "when" played in my head. In the next couple miles I started to feel an urgency to see my family soon and my pace picked up a little. Kendra pulled up and let us know that it was about 3 miles to the 91 mile marker at the fire house. One of the Zwitty race workers pulled up and handed us water if we needed it. I felt a surge, and at the same time it was getting hot again. We were in full sun once more. It was the longest 4 miles of rolling road hills, and there is where I lost Evie a ways back with her pacer. The only thing I worried about was heat exhaustion. Actually being physically incapable of finishing. That would stink. The fact that I could think about it, meant that I was alright.

I reached the firehouse with a real restroom. Hallelujah! I then took care of my fueling, and my family pulled in to find me. Hell yeah, mile 91. Again, pure joy in their faces made me feel a little less of a mess, because this was really happening. I proceeded with my daughter for a little ways and then my son. Run/walk again. I wish I could freeze those movements of excitement on their faces. They were so joyful. By mile 90-something I just wanted it over. This was a feeling I expected would come. No DNF today. I thought about how pissed I would be at myself if I DNFed this race. The death of a dream. People DNF for personal reasons and acts of nature and it's alright. I've been there three times with always a tremendous obstacle. But sore feet and heat was not going to be mine. Slam my foot down again.

Going by some residential homes, an elder man hobbled out with some waters for Kendra and I. How very sweet. I would have hugged him if I didn't know I was a stinky disaster and he'd regret bringing that water. Other racers were heading home from the finish with their crews of decorated cars with numbers — honking, rolling down their windows to chat up some encouraging words and waving at us. I knew we were some of the last survivors. Finishing is winning in every sense when it comes to an ultra. It isn't a puffed up false to make one feel better. It isn't a participation trophy. It's grit and TRUTH. So no matter where we came in, I wanted to cross that finish line. I knew Evie wouldn't be stopping with me out there. Kendra's husband kept us informed about where we each were.

Dash to the finish with my girl.
Last mile: Just where the heck is this finish line?? I could see the little group around a corner—my kids and husband. I switched to the other side of the road where there was some shade and they brought me in, while I kept telling my daughter to get out of the poison ivy. Yep, still a mom and how many times do I have to say it until she stops running in it? Three … three times is the magic number.

My husband and son ran ahead when we finally got close to the finish. I grabbed my daughter's hand and ran for it. Ethan Olds was waiting there with arms up and the clock was still going. 30 hours / 18 minutes. That is my "Hell yeah, Mother Fucker" moment that I couldn't say out loud because … children.

Evie came in at 30 hour / 53 minutes. We did it! Evie had told our new runner friend on that training 50 mile run last month when we met him, that he was looking at the last two finishers, and he laughed … we all did. But we were serious and I couldn't be more proud. My feet however, were destroyed with heat rash and blisters. There is no doubt in my mind that more people would have finished if not for the surprise record hottest day of the year.

The buckle award for 100 milers.
The Stats:
70 toed the line to start
22 drops
48 finishers
70% overall finish (which is an outstanding percentage)

Would I do it again?
Absolutely! The Zwitty team puts on a great race and is very encouraging to see the participants finish. We saw Ethan Olds at several stations throughout the race and he was enthusiastic and helpful with advice. I had emailed Dave Krupski several times prior to the race and he replied within a couple hours and encouraged interaction. This race is extremely accessible for crews and pacers—going through several small vacation towns. Note: Next year they are reversing the course to end in Petoskey. That could feel all new again and does lend it's self for runners not from the area to quickly make their way to their hotel.

Hell yeah! It's an INKnBURN finish of Run or Die.
With Krista my crew leader that had my back 100% for 100 miles. I am so grateful.
I think I am retaining 10 lbs in this photo of fluid. My hands were THICK with the rest of me!

Some fun stuff:

Crew vehicle with banner that followed us
with our numbers (not shown here).

Customized side of hats with
the Lighthouse100

Front of our 4 hats with Dorothy running.
She is an adventurer.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

EPIC Grindstone100

I can pop the "P" and click the "C" when I remember Grinstone100 and say, "EPIC!" This was the adventure that I stepped up for knowing that it would be one of, if not the toughest race I'd ever done and I hadn't made it thru a 100 miler yet. But when Aimee suggested we do this race a year ago and team with our Ragnar mother runners from 2013, I knew I had grab onto this one or I would deeply regret it.

Hurricane Mathew was on the east coast at the time with a prediction of continuous rain and possible storms in the forecast. 

Ultra rules apply: We Go.

Grindstone100 is an out and back course in Swoope, Virginia. It has a 38 hour cut off to get through one of the toughest course in the U.S. It's a brutal 23,200ft gain and loss through boulders, rocks, forest trails, steep climbs, and was made particularly narly this year with nearly non-stop rain creating unavoidable extensive swampy areas of water running and slick, thick mud. As one of only 14 Hardrock qualifiers in the U.S., I expected no less. Although, I would have loved to have covered it without the rain and vision stealing fog. The scenic beauty was completely lost this year for me.

The race starts at 6 p.m. Friday night and ends Sunday morning. I expected a lot of darkness and this was the last thing on my mind when I was just trying to keep my eyes on the trail or trying to find the trail. Although marked well for clear night vision, we found ourselves yelling to other runners if they had seen a pink ribbon to assure we were all on the right trail.

My finish time was predicted to be 36 to just under 38 hours. I was not disillusioned to think that this course wouldn't be a kick in the teeth. I expected issues to arise. I expected to puke, hurt everywhere and question just why the hell I was doing this. Which is the worse mental fate that I didn't want to succumb to. I mentally kept prepping my mind, which will always be the deal breaker, with the "why" and reasons my body could keep going when I wanted to quit. I expected to want to quit and told two of my pacers that nothing but peeing blood should be an excuse. I wanted this one more than I have ever wanted to finish before arrow — to be as strong as I could be. I trained particularly hard climbing Jacob's Ladder 3,000 feet twice a week in addition to my high mileage, hill repeats, and had tapered well — even if it was a forced taper by way of

I flew into the Shenandoah Airport to be as close as I could to the start line and rent a car. I was told it was a similar sized airport compared to Cherry Capital in Traverse City, Michigan. It was more like Traverse City 50 years ago! It's so small I walked right by the luggage claim and didn't know it and I was one 4 passengers on the plane — the only one with luggage. I don't like big cities so this made me more comfortable. I was thrilled to be here. When I stepped off the plane there were sunny skies and I could see the the rolling forest mountain sides around. I felt like I was home. Strange, since the last time I was in Virginia was for Another Mother Ragnar when I met the same women who would be crewing and pacing this dream of mine. And just like that, it felt like time stood still again. 

Cabin entrance as I walked through the door.
I picked up my rental car and headed to our group cabin and took a scenic drive of rolling hills, surrounded by ranches, cows and horses. My GPS was able to get me to the sweet cabin, however, once I was there, I could only get reception down the road at a convenience store. After a bad nights sleep alone in the cabin with a fire alarm chirping through the night, no hot water and a nightmare where I imagined a "being" holding my hand and sitting by my bedside I was ready to get the hell into the woods where I felt safer.

The next day I made sure everything was set to go — made a lot of bacon, prepped my avocados and filled my drop bags with HUMA, salty nuts, a few candy bars, (just in case I wanted something sweet) and loaded snack bags of things to help with nausea (because history is a bitch!). I had a bigger bag of clothing in ziplock bags for the crew to bring, which I wore everything and keeping them in plastic was worth the effort. The team ingeniously  dried clothing inbetween aid stations which tells you just how great it is to have mother runners as your crew. They kept Aimee and I in motion and ALIVE. We Go.

We all met up — team Special Kind of Crazy — at the Boy Scout Camp Shenandoah for the director debriefing, check-in, weight-in (let the body shaming begin! It's really a safety thing), bag drop-off and bib pick-up at about 1 p.m. the day of the race. This race has a free light lunch and the director gave an informative safety speech as well as giving away the most worthy loot I have seen at a race. I ended up with some new wool socks. People were ready to start and overall friendly. Seeing my crew finally after months of planning had come together. I felt calm and just ready.

Aimee and I had BOCO relaxed trucker hats created for our team with the image of two moons and one sun which may forever be my favorite hat. This is truly a great company to work with and I LOVE the finished product. My daughter had to have one as well and and I saw her wearing it in her room before I left. I was so much on her mind that she told her class about my trip and she made me a card that they all signed. I get a little teary eyed remembering it.

I had done everything I felt I could in training and had the best possible team to back me up with each pacer on for different legs for specific reasons. I looked forward to seeing each of them at different parts of the race to give me mental strength and break up the race in segments. I had started these races before, and I knew how it felt to not finish (crushing) and to go through the physical pain that was coming (agony, misery and what I like to just call sufferage which isn't a word). There are always surprises and ultra is adaptation. This team would help me adapt as they would too.

We headed back to the cabin for our own debriefing of what to expect and where we would see them throughout the race and gave final instructions. Their energy was was thick. I made it clear how badly I needed a "hell yeah" by finishing this. I thought of Catra Corbett—nothing short of pissing blood. As we piled into the vehicles I rode with my two pacers for mile 50 and 65. They were full of excitement which actually made me more calm and laugh with Freedom beating the steering wheel hollaring, "%#*#! You're going to do this! You are really about to do this!" Not something I would expect from her, but summed up this mission we were all on. WE were in this together.
The team before the race, minus Nicole. Forever my sole sisters. YOU all are the success of this adventure.
Two crazy ultra dreamers. Congratulations to Aimee for a Hardrock qualifier!

Wearing my fiercely united friendship
flower from Gina in Wisconsin.

Off we go in a sea of men.
And so it begins
Aimee and I lined up towards the back of the pack and set off on our journey. Within the first half mile I already felt we were going too fast. And then, we came to a complete stop at the end of the first mile as one by one runners made their way through a narrow rocky creek. We waited there for at least 5 minutes, where I took my long sleeve shirt off from already overheating. A misty rain had started and fog was coming in. We could have really just walked there. After that first passage we entered the woods and with the overcast which made it feel in the day than it was. Aimee was going to hold back for the first half and push more the second. Partly to stay with me, and partly to have a reserve. But even with her holding back I knew she was a more technical, and a faster runner and that we would be separated early on.

In the woods within the first couple miles.
Being use to climbing steeper hills in New Mexico on a regular basis, she could effortlessly climb and talk through the first several steep climbs that felt ridiculously endless to me. Most runners around us, including myself, felt like our hearts were trying to escape our bodies. I could tell by the hard breathing and a bit of groaning already going on. The climbs in Grindstone, are less up and down and more continuous. I just kept telling myself that if I could get to the top and recover that I am not exerting nearly the energy that I thought. The mind games worked and it was absolutely true.

There were a lot of people with poles right from the start. I asked one male runner while climbing next to him if they really helped. He replied that you have to practice with them. No time like the present for me, as I was picking mine up at mile 20. I had purchased Black Diamond Z Poles and had practiced one time after watching a video.

Darkness set in completely and the fog was so thick that it was hard to see a few feet ahead in the haze. I lost Aimee once in the woods and called to her not even able to see headlamps. I completely lost her after mile 10. I couldn't see any headlamps and kept rolling my ankle on the side of the hills and unstable rocks along the trail. There was no one around me. It became hard to just make sure I was on the right trail. The pink ribbons that might have seemed well placed in a normal night were hard to find in the fog. From time to time runners would call out in the dark to anyone out there, and wanted to know if there had been a pink ribbon recently which lead to several pointless back tracking excursions throughout the night, and then turning around again.

It was before mile 20 and I was thinking this combination of low visibility, constant unstableness on the ground, rocky creek balancing, ankle twists on the side of hills, and large wet rock scaling was going to get me into an accident and end this journey in the ER. My eyes were always on the trail, not that I hadn't expected this kind of focus on this course. For a fleeting few moments I thought about quitting. I really did! Then I thought of my daughter in that Grindstone100 hat. How proud she looked in her room wearing it before I left. I thought of her pride and how she deserved to be proud of me and deserved that I believe now. I didn't leave her for a few days to just quit. Her thought gave me an unexpected strength. I have never ran for anyone before but she was on the front of my mind like a shield. Just move forward until the end. Until, they throw my butt off this course…We go!

Nothing says "badass mother" like a very
 pregnant Joan with determination at mile 20
in the rain, and in the middle of the night.
She's tough and has crewed these ultras before. 
The plan:
SPARK every 20 miles.
2 at mile 80.

Oh happy night

I came into the 20 mile aid station, and there was my wet crew full of positive vibes and Aimee was just leaving. I gave her a wave. Seeing her gave me some relief that I wasn't THAT far behind.They had the chair ready (which I  have never sat down in a race before but I think it was a tremendous asset for a quick break off my feet throughout the race), handed me my salty nuts, Huma, fruit bar, half an avocado, warm chicken broth and refilled my bladder. Karyn and Joan gave me some encouragement with solid words. Boom! They were a slick pit crew already. Their energy was contagious. Krista had my SPARK ready to chug. I had planned one every 20 miles until mile 80 where I would take two. It was the added caffeine that I needed and I felt my body could benefit from the Vitamins. As I sat in the chair a younger man was next to me telling his crew that he couldn't go on and couldn't stop feeling nauseate. He had tried ginger and tums and nothing had worked. Just then, he leaned over the chair and started hurling. Full out vomiting—manly sound effects and all! I was looking straight at Krista since we had had the conversation earlier that she couldn't handle puke —including the sound effect. She was focused sternly looking away. She made it! I felt grateful already not feeling that way myself.

They handed me my poles and I headed out. I got less than a quarter mile back down the dark trail and CRASH! It happened. I slammed down to the ground and my poles were collapsed. I was on a pile of rocks. My knee stung with pain and I realized the poles were not locked. Foolish of me not to check them. Last time I slammed my knee like that, it was a giant hematoma which became known as Sally. I tried to push that idea and the stinging out go my mind. We go!

Back up, I started working my poles. I heard these referred to as "cheater poles" at Superior. I quickly found out why. They corrected my balance immediately and gave more directed work to my upper body. They helped me work through the large slippery rock section in the next 15 miles much quicker than I otherwise would have, and I passed people without feeling like I was pushing it. A-MAZ-ING! (Spoiler alert: They also created 4 bloody blisters on my hands throughout the event. I don't think that's avoidable for me unless I wear gloves.) Even though it was raining I was still in short sleeves and comfortable working through this section. I had turned my tunes on and it was golden. Between Katy Perry's Rise, Sia's Greatest and a really catchy song from Jem and the Holograms (cue the "OMG that sounds so cheesy"), I felt like a force through that sea of rocks that just kept me climbing, balancing between them and careful placing my feet quickly and fluidly. I definitely was not running but gained some time here.

I passed one man who was frustrated that he was three hours behind where he was last year at this time because of the slippery wet rocks and conditions. I just hollered back that he wasn't making me feel better. Moving forward is all anyone can do and not think about time at all. Time will drown your mind. My HOKA Stinson 3 ATR shoes where doing a great job for the most part. But my feet were soaked and I could feel the blisters coming.

I went through the next aid station where a couple male runners commented that my INKnBURN armor legs were BADASS. I thought how I needed all the armor I could get here and that a warrior is what I needed to be — stronger in my mind than a wolf as a wolf might take cover and a warrior goes on. I normally would not have worn purple compression socks with these medieval capris, but I promised my daughter I would.
Karyn and Joan ready to keep us moving
like a NASCAR pit crew.

Susan holds the umbrella for a brief dryness and
I slipped on the Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket
that ultimately soaked me.
"Waterproof" — my ass.
Further down the trail in more rocks, I met another runner who was attempting this race for the third time with no finish yet. He warned that the toughest part was actually after the 35 mile mark. It would be 4000 feet going up for 8 miles. He said to just get through that. I arrived at the next aid station to start that climb and the crew quickly had my dry socks ready, my pack on refill, SPARK ready to chug, and a warm broth in my hand. It would have been useless to pull out my one pair of dry shoes when I would just be soaked immediately again. I popped a blister that was expanding around my heel. Although I tried to apply duct tape and Trailtoes tape, nothing was sticking in this extreme wetness.The tape slide off. I changed my socks out for the brief dryness. Karyn, Susan, Joan, and Krista had it down to business and had me ready to roll again while Freedom rested up for the run at mile 50. I had my first real coldness coming on and Susan advised me to just get moving up that next climb with one long sleeve and my rain jacket and I would warm up quickly. Being a strong 100 mile veteran, she was right. I was quickly in a sweat in that long climb with switchbacks.

I worked through the steepest and longest climb following a relentless runner up, up, up. He finally paused to catch his breath and I passed with my tunes pushing me. I kept thinking that I can recover at the top of the endless climb and that THIS was the worse part as that past Grindstone runner had told me. Just get through it. As I passed I heard him gasp "ha-mazzz-ing." Ha-mazing is what were all are on this day I thought.

During the next stretch I became completely soaked through in the dark and very cold. My Ultimate Direction Jacket was a disaster. The material was clinging to my body and I began to worry about hypothermia and how cold I was becoming after the climb. I needed to get to my 99 cent kiddie poncho stashed in my 50 mile drop bag. The sun was coming up and the fog was less inhibiting. Some lead runners were on their way back already coming down the widened steep trail of slick, brownie-batter like mud. This was really going to be interesting being more of a back of the pack runner when I came back through after 400+ passes would have been already made.

As I grew colder and colder, I thought of my next plan to beg for a garbage bag at the next aid station. Plastic! I need plastic now to hold in heat! The trail became what would have been more runable if it wasn't for the several inches of water and mud absolutely everywhere. There wasn't any going around this. Just through it in less water filled and slippery mud spots than others. I came upon the next aid station and saw people around the a bonfire. NOOOO!!! There was no way I was about to go near that fire and let it suck this race from me with it's warm alluring bullshit promise that staying there was okay. I quickly found the person in charge and was informed that they had no trash bags. I just looked in his eyes and slowly said, "I-am-sooo-cold." He asked if I had a crew waiting at mile 50. I said, "yes," and he went to a vehicle and gave me his wife's jacket and told me to just bring it back on my return. I thank him and said, "I will be back with my pacer, and since we are only saying good things, I won't tell her about the hell that awaits her." He saved my race in that moment of mercy.

Mile 50

Heading into the 50 mile aid station my tunes died and I began singing to myself. There is one turn-off before the 50 mile marker that the runner has to punch their bib before going to the aid station. As I turned off that road a few runners heading back out warned that the punch was missing and that we could skip that extra half mile up and down. I didn't see one person do that. Honesty lives amount runners. We were not there to win, but to do something 100% awesome. I pushed on and kept thinking… just get to my pacer. Get to Freedom.

Me at 50 miles coming into the aid station in the heavy rain.
Check out those puddles getting hit! The color of the day is grey.
When I arrived at the 50 mile aid station there was a little tarp covering a few seated runners and a man making silver dollar pancakes. The race wasn't weighing anyone since they had more urgent matters with runners coming in completely soaked and dropping from the race due to hypothermic concerns. My crew quickly grabbed my pack and started pulling out my dry clothes. I was so glad that I sealed them in plastic after the tarp gave way and poured rain right into my bag.  One of the aid station workers was telling me to just change around the corner from the pancake man and promised none of the men 1-3 feet away would look. Ummmm no, I just couldn't completely undress and redress like that. I hadn't lost my mind yet. Freedom and I went a little further off into the woods where I found a perfect tree canopy without pouring rain. People were in vehicles all around probably debating if they should continue. It would be all over for me if I did anything like sit is a warm car. I imagine that is was all over for their runner as well. I changed clothes, the team worked on warming me up, refueling my pack, taking my units that needed recharging, and handing me food to scarf down. Susan kept slapping those little pancakes in my hand and I kept eating without thinking. I worked on my badly blistered feet and changed my socks again. They hurt — alot. "It won't hurt anymore than it does now," she said. And with that thought, it made it easier to except and just keep repeating down the line.

As people entered the aid station looking extremely cold, I heard runners dropping from the race. A man sat next to me telling his fellow runners that he was out without any dry clothes to carry on. I was so very lucky to have this team with me. They made my race continue with their support, navigation, and relentless positive spirit. Although I spent too much time at this aid station and needed it — at least an hour — I had no intention of dropping.

Aimee, slick mud trekking.
Freedom was my first pacer on and I was ready for some companionship! sShe slipped on the jacket I needed to return and I put on the kiddie poncho. A 99 cent life saver! We were off. I felt blessed to have her there sharing those 15 miles. Her genuine enthusiasm and encouragement is contagious and she fed my soul and kept my mind off the blisters that felt like my toenails were coming off at times. It won't hurt any worse but it will keep surging. We chatted going up the first long climb, and we were so into our conversation I didn't notice we went that extra half mile up the hill to that punch station which we weren't suppose to do on the way back. Shit happens and I don't waste time asking why. It was funny at the time because whats another half mile in a 100 mile course? She felt BAD, but honestly, I couldn't be upset. We turned around and hustled back on track. We came into the aid station where I borrowed the jacket, and a party was going on. I could feel the heat from that fire pushing towards us. There was now beer on the table and the workers hustled to cut us some oranges. It was rumored that this party started with shots in the a.m. I thanked the man for helping me and we pressed on scared that the sweepers may be coming soon. In fact they were! We had just gotten down the slickest, thickest muddies section when we heard a woman ask if were on a hike (REALLY?!) and tell us that she was a sweeper. With that, we took off running without turning around. We ran away from them like children playing Ghost in the Graveyard, passing any other runner we came upon telling them the sweepers were coming. We made it in the next aid station with a 40 minute window.

The crew preparing at the cabin during the middle
of the night to keep both Aimee and I going.

Krista was very excited
to try out her new poles on
15 miles of rocky trail.
A serious gentleman told us I had 40 minutes to get out of there. His demeanor was enough to make me want to leave in a hurry — no fun. In a frenzy, socks and shoes flying, food was eaten, SPARK was chugged, and headlamps went on! Krista and I headed off into the rockiest climbing section. I was the last runner on that course to continue. The next section of sweepers rode our tails with their headlamps. It didn't matter how fast we went or how much time we had left, they hugged close to us as if to say, "just get going already." I was at a point from so much climbing and working on the trail that I couldn't have long conversations. On a trail like this, my eyes were constantly busy. There were times I couldn't see the trail thru the rocks and I just needed to focus on where I was going and where my feet needed to be. Krista tried talking to the sweepers, but they had no words to exchange. It was very odd. I felt like they were wrecking my experience by being tailgate, spotlight sweepers, but tried to push that out of my head to enjoy why I was here.

We entered the next aid station where the sweepers were replaced — thank God! This time they were very friendly, chatty and would fall back time to time — not to ride us with their headlamps. Although the comments of, "you have such a long way to go,"  and "a marathon is so far" could have been kept to themselves. They were intruding into my segment strategy. That is not how I run ultra.

We made it to Lookout Mountain aid station where the volunteers were trying desperately to get us to try their Ritz Crackers with honey so they could ring a bell, and some sort of Nutella, marshmallow, quesadilla a volunteer said he saved for me as the last runner. The vision of that slumber party concoction shoved in my face in the dark of night is sweet and laughable. But I just couldn't eat or tolerate anything sweet. Krista pressed me to eat some nuts and a HUMA gel, which I managed to get down. We were off again and were told we had time. Famous last words … you have time, you have time, you have time …

The next section seemed really long. Krista took the lead, and when a heavy animal scurried down a tree right next to the trail, she jumped in the air while screaming and hid behind me. It was hilarious!! I may laugh at this one forever. After 75 miles on this trail, I was the main defense against the wild kingdom. I thought it was just a raccoon as we stood there and I wasn't about to turn back now, nor could I. We went on after the sweepers hollered through the trail ahead of us yelling for bears. Their talk of bear sightings wasn't real comforting for Krista. To her credit, she is brave in other ways like touring D.C. alone, which sounds frightening to me.
I believe these are the unclaimed bags at mile 80 of
everyone behind me. This race is tough.
I was spoiled to have the team I did.

At the end of 80+ miles with pacers Krista and Freedom
just before they put what seemed like the warmest
blanket ever on me in the car. 
When we thought we were about to mile 80 and near the next aid station, Krista asked the sweepers to radio in to Nicole who would be my next pacer. I roomed with Nicole at Ragnar and and I knew I would need her to coach me in after mile 80 which would be some tough miles. It seemed like a perfect plan to me. We heard the sweepers tell them that we were two miles out! There was no way we could make it in to the aid station in the time we had left with two miles to go. And all at once it felt like we were dead-pooled in this course's last laugh. My headlamp went very dim, and Krista tried to replace the battery. It didn't work, and then her's went to very dim. I had a tiny extra flashlight, but with the fog (yes, a second night of fog) the flashlight was barely useful. I could feel my hope just fall and my knee that I had banged earlier at mile 20 wasn't bending well anymore after standing there a bit. Coldness was slipping in again. I felt a little dizzy when I looked to the side of the trail. No doubt, part of fatigue. We shuffled along and arrived with disappointment in our hearts to mile 80 where the rest of the crew was waiting. I was disappointed that I didn't get to finish with my last 2 pacers. Yet, the spirit, toughness and relentless journey of this race with these women was enough to give me a Hell yeah! 80+ miles MF! This is EPIC! feeling. I will pop the P and C every time .

Nicole helped me shuffle to the car and I was thankful she didn't project on me any feeling of deep remorse for coming and assisted me with my broken down body at the cabin. Darn time limit!

30% rule. I had 30% more to give and that would have finished this thing.

Laura with just a "few things" from home for the trip.
Obviously, one of the reasons I wanted her to bring me in
on those last 5 miles. She creates big bursts of laughter and knows
how to drop the mic. She also moonlit as a pacer for 15 miles earlier for Aimee.
I covered 18,500 feet gain and loss in 30 hours, in which it rained for 27. Two nights and one day, going the furthest that I have ever gone. I didn't get nauseated for the first time! I had no less than 11 blisters. Toenail? Who needs them? I lost 6. I immediately wanted to do it all over again. Instead of killing some of my ultra soul, this experience fed the fire.

The Damage L to R: My heel blister that started early and wrapped around my foot; 
5 blisters on the bottom of one foot.The tops are too disgusting to show;
Suzy, Sally's little sister.

The end of this journey with some truly tough mothers.Thank you for being my rock in a mud-slide.
I didn't get to hug the pole at the finish.
But Aimee did in case you want to know what
 that looks like. WELL DONE BAMR, WELL DONE!