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!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

North County Run 2016: The Prelude to an Epic Adventure

Still the biggest medal in all the land. It finally stopped raining
and here I am smiling through the pain and shivering.
There is a time for everything and sometimes everything needs to happen simultaneously. 
The North Country 50 mile Trail Run 2016 was my time to prepare, suffer and dig deep. Practice for the big game. It left me cautious for what was coming next. This is the short tale of North Country 2016.

This race was one of the toughest, darkest races for me including asthma, pain, and torrential rains that produced grey screens like wax paper inhibiting my vision and washing out the trails. At one point I was yelling, "This it Ultra!" through the woods. I ran through flowing creek-like paths hiding the roots and rocks beneath. There was no other way but to run through it. Sounds extremely safe, right? Aid station #5 was referred to as Lake #5 on the second loop. It was a mess, and I kept imagining the fall I might take with my face submerged in water and mud.

Aid Station #5 referred to as Lake #5. When I stood in front of this table
to get something to eat, I was up to my ankles in water, and another runner
thought I should step out of his way as if I was in a shallow spot. I think
I replied something like, "We are all in the same lake."

The race started with a delay due to thunder and lightening which protocol is that start time shifts
30-minutes after each lightening sighting or strike in the sky. But once the race starts, you are on your own. I suffered an unusually bad breathing issue within the first 14 miles which I felt miserable and unable to catch my breath efficiently. I worked my lungs so hard that they hurt for a week after. I felt like I attempted 100 miles! My doctor then prescribed Singular which helps block allergens from the lungs and I have been on it ever since. So far so good. Whew!

I would have dropped this race like many did after the first 25 miles if not for a few things: 1) I didn't want to be quitter. It pissed me off thinking of that word, 2) I needed that damn thing to qualify for Grindstone100. My last true 50 was just over the 2 year span requirement and 3) Evie caught me at mile 25 changing my sobbing shoes for 10 miles of dryness. I kept telling her she saved my ass. I just followed her feet with my asthma thick lungs for the next 25 miles while trying to assist another runner with his upset stomach and misery. Ginger? Pepto? Tums?

I finally hit a DEEP mental dark spot with 8 miles to go and walked away from the Lake #5 Aid Station for a moment alone. There was a pain cave in my chest and mind and I had enough of being soaked. It was just about then that our male runner mate we had picked up (guy with stomach issues) started talking in detail about his diareah from the pre-race dinner the night before. And on cue, I forgot about my mental misery and will never think about cream sauce the same way again.

I doubted if I even belonged in GrindStone100 for most of the race due to the breathing issue that I just couldn't figure out, and an IT band strain that was creeping in by mile 20. I tried to stop thinking about it, but I couldn't. I kept pushing with the thought that there is nothing I can do about Grindstone, but I can do something about this race in the now. It was during this race that I found my mantra: "We Go."

In a storm, with breathing issues, in mental darkness, through creek trails, with IT band pain for 25 miles, with a guy talking about diareah... "We Go"

We finished with hardly anybody waiting out this full day of storms at the finish line. It finally had stopped raining! I had placed 4th in my age bracket (at least 5 had dropped behind me due to the stormy day) and I received a small award while lying on a table getting stretched out by the physical therapist. When he was done, my IT band felt new and better than the other leg! Where does this man work?!

Evie looking at the little boy right next to me blowing the airhorn.
The rain stopped but not the torture.
Evie and I grabbed a beer and some food and shivered over to a picnic table to eat and cheer for any runner who may be coming through. If they were out there as long as we were, they darn right deserve some cheers!!! Unfortunately, some little boy went rogue and had an airhorn he kept firing off near us and what ever parental units he had, weren't claiming him. That sucked. We didn't stay too long and shivered on back to our car shortly after our ears couldn't take anymore.

I continued to ponder, "What the hell and I thinking going to Grindstone100?" This was one crazy 50mile training run.
How does this race apply to GrindStone100?
Because this race was the prelude for what was coming. It scared the hell out of me with doubts and physical challenges. I am grateful that it did. And I was even more grateful that day to chase Evie's feet through flowing water to get the hell out of there before dark.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Spirit Arrow?

Spiritual energy formed into the shape of an arrow that is capable of injuring and/or killing spiritual beings.

I am three weeks out from Grindstone 100,  and if I haven't doubted myself enough I had a freak accident three days ago. 

I was on my last double day of 20 miles with my run buddy, Evie, and jumped into the roadside woods for a pee break at mile 10. It happens, and what are you going to do about it? I heard a car drive up and Evie was talking friendily to whoever. I was waiting for the car to leave and couldn't tell who it was, and decide to just move on with it and come out. She was talking to a Law Officer! That's right I walked out and was greeted by sheriff deputy, who gave me a loud speaker greeting with Evie chuckling.

I was about 5 feet from the road, walking through the tall weeds and grass—when I felt it. A sharp stabbing pain in the front inside of my shin and my leg got a little stuck. I saw a sage green color of a tube and thought I stupidly hit on some sort of wire. I looked down again and saw some blood. By the time I reached the vehicle and said hello I could feel more stinging and pain and when I looked down I saw a longer and deeper cut than what I had thought was there. More blood was coming out now and I knew I needed stitches. 

I hobble over to the gravel side of the road dialing my husband with one hand and covering my leg with the over. He was on his way and the officer got out his medical kit, offered me a seat in the back of his car, and taped and bandaged me while I waited for my husband. Evie blotted blood from my shoes which I now refer to as "my bloody shoes. Oh bloody hell!" The officer and her assured me that this was nothing. It would be 5 stitches and a ugly scar.

The weapon of mass destruction's tip size
in relation to my thumb. It's a full arrow.
The officer then went looking for the weapon of mass destruction and I stood up pointing and hobbling to where I came through and we were just about on it when we found arrow with a rusty tip meant to tear through an animal was sticking straight up pointing to the sky with its sage green shaft pushed into the ground. He stated that there was no way I could have ever seen that. That made me feel a little less stupid. He said that he had never seen a single arrow left like that before. That makes two if us!

On the plus side that I am really reaching for now,
I had a great ER doctor that stitched my leg with 5 stitches on top—spread for drainage—with two more layers of stitching below. This wound was deep and I probably got lucky I was told, as it could have cut through my calf if the arrow was more slanted. The doctor was also a trail runner and he understood what I needed and said although he would tell me to rest it, he knew I would push it. Yup, I had the right doctor for the job. I was in and out of the ER in less than 2 hours. That's amazing!  

I am currently recovering wearing a compression sock over my bandage. I haven't run in three days. This is truly a forced taper like I have NEVER done. And that means yes, I am still in for Grindstone 100. The other BAMR running Grindstone 100 reeled me in yesterday the we were discussing the last long runs and that the 20 miler I had on schedule would be extremely high and wear any runner out too much before a race. So the joke is, maybe that is what I have been doing wrong!

I am sore. I am hobbling around right now, but I have to have faith that not even a Spirit Arrow is going to take me down. I wouldn't be that "Special Kind of Crazy Hall of Fame" BAMR if I flaked out now after every other sacrifice I have made. Just like when I run repeats, it's time to recover on the downhill…recover, recover, recover…

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Kettle Moraine, WI: Oh My QUAD!

The shirt I really should own!
I can't help but to feel disappointed at making it 77 miles and dropping due to the time cut-off to the next aid station and back and some blown out quads. And at the same time, I know when I am beat, and I have a new sense of what matters to me in these challenges. There will always be that unknowing sense of where I will end up and what will happen on the course. That's part of the appeal in the adventure for me and I think most ultra runners as well. I am not in it to win it. Amazingly enough, that has never happened. I am in it to do the best I can with what is dealt and it's going to be a ROUGH challenge. I expect it.

By mile 77, my quads were shot and there was no way I could make the splits happen without out-of-control descending down rocks. Every step down screamed and I was taking the downward slopes and rocky steps straight legged at this point. I still had the power climbing ability—probably thanks to the Jacob's Ladder training. But the stepping down reached beyond my pain threshold and continuing on and trying to catch myself through the rockiest part would have become dangerous and like having no brakes in a getaway car. I just want to remind myself of the reality of that as I write this. The "in hindsight" we do after a race plays tricks and amnesia alters the severity of what was reality in these experiences.

Although Evie, my BFF pacer, didn't want me to know the cut-offs and still go thru the next section regardless, my other pacer, Gina, pointed out that I couldn't even bend my legs which became extremely laughable in my mind. Literally running down hill and rocks with pencil legs. I knew that the crazy needed to be pushed no further. One hematoma with a longer recovery has been enough for this runner's life time. And the thought of crashing down? I think I might have fainted from the pain that could have caused, because these brakes called "quad"s were completely stripped, close to none existent—GONE.
Sunset from our cabin the night before and me making avocado sandwiches the morning of the race.

THE START and the Nitty Gritty

The day started off with me very calm. There was nothing else I could have done in that moment and maybe being my second 100 miler, I have already learned to just chill. We woke up in the smelly mothball cottage (the smell was enough to make me run to the start line!) on a near by lake that was just 8 minutes from the start. The closeness and lake view was the best part. I booked it on VRBO which actually was everything I expected besides the surprise disclaimer when we got there of, "Don't take long showers" or flush the toilet often. I believe the manager's exact words were, "If it's yellow let it mellow. If It's brown, flush it down." Uuuu, yuck.

Upon awakening, I made avocado sandwiches with low glycemic bread while Evie made the grilled cheese sandwiches. The final items were packed in my over stuffed packs with pickle juice, date samoa balls, GUs, VESPA, coconut water, Tailwind, coconut coffee shots, Starbuck protein coffees, ginger candle, Pepto tabs, vinegar and salt chips, chocolate, socks, clothing, bandages and a couple safety pins—prepare for everything and anything. That is ultra. My crew, of Evie and my husband, were meeting me about every other aid station where they were permitted and assisting me with my bags. I was welcoming the help this time. It's a hard lesson to learn.

The night before we tried to pick up my bib and I was told we were 2 minutes too late even though our phones said it wasn't 7:00. Apparently there is a strict cut-off for obtaining a bib and it's at the discretion of one person's watch. It didn't feel very welcoming at all. But trying to stay positive we tucked out tail between out legs and moved on down the road.
Left to Right:
Bib pick up: Picking up my bib the morning of the race since I was told I couldn't pick it up 2 minutes after 7:00 pm the night before. Our phones showed it wasn't 7:00 yet but apparently packet pick up is on race time to who ever works the station. These cut-offs are serious! Don't mess with them!
Bag drop: My husband and pacer Evie at the start. These bags are over the bag drop size described in the manual. Note for next time to ignore stated size in manual.
First 10k into the race: a happy moment eating oranges and fueling.

Insert Mantra: First 50 miles, do no harm

They sent us off in a mob of 100k and 100m runners down a wide two-track surrounded by some of the tallest and greenest trees I had been by. I felt a little like a hobbit. I didn't know who was in the 100m vs 100k without asking. I started out easy—real easy. While other people raced down the hills, I pulled back. About 20+ miles in, right before entering the meadows another runner was feeling sick, so I gave him my Pepto. I was feeling great. I was sorry it was covered in GU gel, but individually wrapped and safe. ICK!

I enjoyed the conversations about running with several runners. It's always a running interview. Come to find out, Pat and I had the same training plan from Relentless Forward Progress. He is in his 50s and has completed a few 100s. I felt like we were paced well, but after mile 31 things became more challenging and I got a little nauseated in the woods. I lost him and Steve. Pat was obviously stronger than me. I am not sure why the nausea happened yet again—the whole nauseation thing blows my mind since I don't get sick training.  I have also never seen so many other ill people on the side of the trail taking a time out. I ended up fighting in and out of this state for the rest of the race, but more so in the heat of the day. It was 80s with high humidity of 90% or more. Not a good mix. I ended up placing ice in my hat, shirt, and light neck gaiter from INKnBURN. The ginger candy seems to really help calm my sick feeling, but then I needed to GU and was sick all over again. I hate you. I think we need to separate.

Side note: As noted by my pacer, Evie, this race was easy to navigate through as a crew member. They had no problem finding the stations and they even allow the pacers access to food and drink at the stations.

I began really looking forward to when I would run with Evie and by mile 44 I had lost my banked 30 minutes. IT WAS HOT IN THE MEADOW coming back in the sun. I hiked the heck out of much of the meadow at under a 15 minute mile pace up and down the mowed path. It's a very runable part,but damn the sun was beating us down now. I started having to use the porta potty more. And the fun just kept on rolling. I had two blisters that needed popping and duct tape was the best remedy after the blister pads failed to stick well with my sweat—I did pack everything.

Insert Mantra: I can take it.

I picked Evie up a little behind schedule and we were off on the trail. I can't tell you how great it is to have a pacer pointing out the rocks, tree roots and bumps as the sun goes down. The trail is not really that technical but every little bit of assistance helps as the heavy forest made it seem a lot darker than it was, and the sun started going down.

Insert Mantra: I can take it.

We kept on going and about mile 55 I really noticed my quads aching on the steps downward. It was painful! Fast speed forward and we were at the Nordic Trail Head—the start and finish for mile 63. I saw the Director and asked him about cutoffs. I didn't know what time it was since my watch failed hours before, but I knew I was off. We were under the cut off by 31 minutes and had to hustle now to get back out! This was awful news. Beat the clock was on! I changed clothes remembering the freezing issue I went thru at Superior and we headed back out. The Director hollered, "100 miler going back out!" and the crowd cheered and blinking lights and sirens when off. They do know how to make it exciting.

Although we were running, we went back to a speed walk and Evie made calls on the trail to tell my husband and next pacer, Gina, where we were and to find out how much time we had.We saw two head lamps ahead and one looked like he was aiding the other just by the way they were huddled and not moving. They started running as we approached and as we were next to them, Evie asked if the one that had the movement of a non-pacer—slow and weak—if he was running the 100 mile. His response was, "Bite me!" Apparently the hours of "good job," "keep it up," "great work," "way to go," from other runners had broken him.

I was looking right at him at this point, feeling disbelief from his answer and seeing someone in pretty bad shape. His pacer was very chatty and Evie and him went ahead of us running in conversation. As we went up a small hill I noticed the runner had disappeared and I called to his pacer that if he was with that guy, he had lost him back there somewhere. He quickly thanks me and headed back to find him.

We approached Bluff where I picked up Gina, my old college roommate, who had been waiting too long—which I am truly sorry about—but she was in great spirits and we set off to try to get through the next couple of aid stations in 3:40. I knew it would be hard to do as I wasn't moving well. The forest rockiness was more than I could keep up with at night and in the pace we needed. Just keep moving…I began really doubting making it and even getting to Rice Lake and then I thought if I had to continue just to see the sun come up I would. I was at a point of just enjoying her company.

She was really taken back by how cheery and happy people are in an ultra. Yes we paid to suffer, and we embraced it to an extreme point.Well, most of us anyways…I wondered if "Bite me" man dropped.

Side note: It wasn't so great when headlamps were coming in fast at us with the 38 mile fun run going on. Trying to not get knocked over on a single track trail, at night, after a full day of running was the last obstacle I wanted to deal with. 

Evie, myself and Gina at the end of my voyage at mile 77.
It's going to be okay. I am so grateful that these two were there.

THE FINISH, but not my end…

Gina and I talked the entire time. We heard the birds awaken before the sun was up and saw a Luna moth fly in front of our headlamps and land near us on the trail. It was way cool. The frogs croaked and owls hooted thru the early a.m. We were now so far behind that the sun was coming up as we
headed in to HWY12. At roughly 22hours and 30 minutes I was 77 miles in and out of time to to get to Rice Lake and back.The aid station leader was unbelievable. He was energetic and wasted no time to tell me how great I had done just to reach his station.
Mantra burned. My quads can not take it.

To my husband's relief, he didn't have to rush me through 11 miles of rockiness. He said he didn't know how he would have done that anyways. His eyes were bloodshot from being up 26 hours and he wasn't feeling well. He didn't look well either. It takes a lot to crew and stay awake too—physically, mentally and emotionally. He did great. But let's take a moment and laugh now at the fact that I WAS THE ONE RUNNING THE ENTIRE TIME.

100k buckle if you make the cut-off. The Kettle Moraine recognizes the
effort while other races do not and the runner gets NOTHING.
When I approached the Co-Race Director, Tim Yanacheck at the start line to claim my buckle instead of the kettle, my husband commented to him that he personally had never had an all-nighter even in college...that was just funny to watch him say that looking like a pale ghost with bloodshot eyes—and I wish I had it on video. Again, here are all these ultras up all night and running huge distances, feeling as alive as they can in the moment. That's ultra living.

Tim proudly and sensitively handed me the 100k belt buckle and said, "I know this isn't the metal you wanted. I'm sorry." I felt he truly was sincere empathized for all of us who did not have the finishing race we worked for—all 46% of us that registered for 100m and fell short for what ever reason. I love the fact that this race is so different that they want you to walk away feeling like a winner for putting it all out there.

A friend of mine told me that not everyone can finish 100 miler. I am not sure that's true but began pondering it that day because amnesia had not set in yet. So much has to come together at once just like hitting a PR or barely squeaking in to Boston as some do—not this girl, but some do.

My dear man who encourages and has my
back and ass in this cra cra adventure called ultra
even though all-nighters are NOT his thing.
I could really beat myself up over this one—and you know I will—because I know where the bottom fell out and where I felt the weakest points and I certainly thought I could finish it...Oh my QUADS! I had dropped hill repeats and strength training—as in squats—from my training to focus on mileage and climbing. That was a mistake for a 100 mile trail run. I need it all! Trekking Poles may have saved some quad strength as well. And as Gina suggested when I picked yer up on the trail, "Can you stretch?" "OUCH!!! It was far too late. I should have tried that sooner.

I walked away really enjoying this particular race and I have thoughts to come back. The course is all trail like I expected it to be and they really did have all the aid stations packed with all the items they promised. The volunteers were A-MAZING! 77 miles isn't 100 but it's far more than where I dared to dream 7 years ago. I left it all out there with what I had on that day with my body blowing up before my mind.

So here I go again…making this average Jill train like a bat shit crazy mother runner, because amnesia set in a day later. It's called Resilience as well and it's the best thing I got.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Numbers that MATTER

10, 6, 10, 20, 2 = this week's mileage heading into a true taper
2500, 1500, 1500, 2000 =  this week's ladder steps on Jacob's Ladder
5 - 6 = the hours of sleep I get nightly
4:00 = the hour I wake up to get my training in
7:00 = the time I get home to be there when my kids wake up and fix their lunches
9:00 = the time I need to be somewhere to volunteer for another race
2 = number of children Spring concerts to attend
40 = the hours I have to work in a week
3 = the soccer games I need to get my kids to
5 = the practices I need to get my kids to
4 = the number of drop bags I need to put together
3 = the number of pacers I have coming to support me
1 = the number of pre-races left (half marathon Memorial weekend)
1 = the number of child races to attend
16 = the number of days I have left until I leave to take on the Kettle Moraine 100
1= the first panic attack I just gave myself making this list

Numbers that Don't Matter:
Whatever the scale says I weigh. Fuck that shit!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Shifting Gears in 2016

Since Superior—which I will just keep referring to as the mountain of rock in my heart—I have been focusing on what I need to do to make my 100 mile conquest a reality. It's been a lot of mental mojo as well as making dietary changes to show up in the best shape possible. Extra weight, although not the only issue, is an issue over the course of 100 miles. I am the detour and road block in my own plan. I have read more written lately on the endless calories available to burn in fat already stored on our bodies if we change the way our bodies burn fuel. I have read more about elites having a high fat and high protein diet as of late. And so my journey has begun to get out of my own damn way.

Dialing My Plan with -12.5 lbs and Counting

So after allowing myself a good wallow with my pals Hershey, Reese's, Mallo Cup, KitKat, and cup cake for the rest of the month of September and into part of October, I knew I was ready to clean up my act and start again. I cut processed sugar and brought my carbs down to under 40 grams a day starting the week before Halloween. It was either going to be the best or worst sabotaging idea ever. It turned out to be the best. I did not partake in any of the candy loot my kids hauled home. I repeat, I had NONE. I was tired the first two weeks on training runs, but then I started to feel the clarity found deep into the miles of a race and walking away from carbs became very easy. I have tracked everything with the free version of the MyFitnessPal app. I aim for 120 to 150 grams of protein a day and follow a calorie deficit diet of 1,200 calories. If I gain calories through fitness, I log it in the app and eat it.
To reach the grams of protein I need, I have an optional protein shake called Trutein. It's a high quality whey, casein and egg white protein and doesn't taste like metal like many other protein shakes. I enjoy the Peanut Butter Marshmallow Cookie and Smores the most.  I can't say my running speed it there yet in changing my nutrition, but there is a clarity. It took me months to unload the 14 pound haul of candy between the kids in the form of cookies and brownies scattered to friends and family.

All of which I continued to not eat. I have become that jerk that shows up at gatherings, only eating specific foods. I eat out at Mexican restaurants and don't eat a single chip. I know… who does that? Certainly not this girl before. Everyone else benefits from having my french fries, rice, beans and potatoes, And guess what, it's been worth it! I actually saw a lot of hoopla on the internet promoting people to just enjoy the festivities with food. But I disagree. My goals mean more than the two months of gorging to find the jaded friend named Disappointment waiting on January 1. Happiness is far from the cookie table for this woman. I did allow myself three special treats during the holidays; I had a pumpkin bar at Thanksgiving that wasn't too sugary and was very enjoyable. I made a black forest cake that was to die for at Christmas. I had a piece of that, duh! And I did have a butter popcorn meal while watching the new Star Wars movie—because that's what makes me happy at a movie theatre that I attend less than once every couple years.

I seem to have made up for my not eating all the other stuff through the rest of 2015, with baking it for everyone else. For their weight gain, I apologize. By mid-December I was down 11.5 pounds. And have added another 2 pound loss since. For the first time ever (ever is just 7 years in this runner's life), I do not have to re-lose the same 10 pounds before the Bayshore marathon in May. In fact, I am below the weight I usually am for the marathon. This year I am running the half marathon the week before I head to Wisconsin to kill that Kettle Moraine 100. And by "kill," I mean survive with a solid, healthy finish where my mind isn't completely blown, and I feel like I have a little more to give in the end. Yeah, that's the dream.

Geared-In Training

Jacob's Ladder is there to make
my heartrate zip. Just try it out for three minutes.
You will survive.
A couple weeks ago I explored the Jacob's Ladder. I need to be in peak cardio fitness and lift my legs more. I saw the Jacob's Ladder on a Facebook page a year ago and have been wanting to try one out since. I found one at out local YMCA. My heartrate flew to 170 quickly. It's total body engagement climbing a ladder like a fireman. It goes as fast you you make it go since there is no motor except the operator.

As a comparison, when I run hill repeats in the snow my rate is 160. Probably lower because I am taking more time on foot placement. I will be spending more time Jacob's Ladder to work on endurance and lifting my legs, as well as including more snow hill repeats which were exuberating. I need to work on my footwork skills and concentration of landing. That's a fact. I set my timer on my camera as I ran them and started to play beat the clock to the bottom as well as take a few up hill images. By taking images of myself running, I can see my lack of control with my left arm that crosses over way too much, which is wasted energy. It's an issue I am working on correcting. I have to consciously pull my right arm back and forth, like I am going to reach in my back pocket. It helps me correct the left. I am sure deep in a race, I will probably think "screw it, just run."

A little game of beat the clock (or timer) during winter hill repeats in Steampunk INKnBURN attire which seemed appropriate to get my butt in gear or shifting gears on a winter hill in Michigan.
One of the exciting parts about taking my "getting my butt in gear" photos is that I ended up with one gem. It has appeared on the INKnBURN website as a rotating photo, FB home page and Instagram. Hill repeats in the winter in Michigan is currently seen all over the world. With all the beautiful worldly photos they have to pick from, this is an honor to represent the brand in this way and illustrate that I am on my way in 2016 to believe it, live it and for crying out loud—finish it!!
The INKnBURN website page where my winter hill repeats in Michigan made the rotating home page.

And with that, I suggest a new song for anyone's play list. I dedicate this to hill repeats: Sia: Unstoppable

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Stars Upon Thars And None Upon Ours…

Superior 100 brought to mind the Dr. Suess tale of the Star Belly Sneeches. Star Bellies thought they were better than those Sneeches without stars according to the children's story, and then one day those with none bought theirs so they could be equal to the Star Belly Sneeches. It starts an on again, off again sequence until no one can tell who is who anymore.

Superior 100 has created an elite club of finishers awarded the sought after black sweatshirt where each year the finishers earn a star patch to be placed on the arm of their single lifetime hooded sweatshirt. It's quite incredible to be able to say that one has finished this particular race. Unlike the stars in the Dr. Suess story, these stars are earned with sweat, perseverance, and sometimes blood. The director, John Storkamp, referred to the stars during the mandatory check-in meeting as a "sticker collection."

Clockwise from top: The elite star sweatshirt | Myself howling behind the 1st place finisher trophy at the mandatory meeting | One of my drop bags | On the bus with my coffee where Evie stepped on to take my picture like it was my first day of school. Which coincidently, Sawtooth did school me.
For some runners the sweatshirt/sticker collection really is a strong motivation as I heard throughout the race. Past club members were wearing their stars at the check-in meeting, and my run buddy and I felt like the outsiders…because we were outsiders! We had no stars and others who have ran this race several years had at least one star or a fews down their arm. They pretty much hung with past finishers that they have known through the years. We did briefly talk to one star wearer who was very friendly to us outsiders, but that ended as previous runners connected with their pack. I was glad to have Evie there to cut through the seriousness. I didn't see anyone else posing near the first place finisher award, but it was worth it for the photo of me howling like a wolf.

The day before the race, I had been all nerves the entire day even though we took a brief hike and played tourist around a small town. I felt like I was hopped up on caffeine and jittery. We had ran into some of the trail markers at dinner at our hotel. They didn't exactly give us a reassurance of making it through this race. Instead, we felt judged by the looks on their faces and disbelief that we were in this race. HMMM didn't I have a qualifying race already? Did I really need to prove myself just to be here? One guy called us "trolls" because we lived below the Mackinac bridge in Michigan. Yep, that is all he had to say to us. So I am just going to have to say it…I thought he was a prick. And come to find out he is a bit of a running celebrity in Minnesota. Bravo! Feel my sarcasm. While the other gentlemen had some insights to the race course including where the 2 feet of water was, John Horn had more words to share. I listened up to any advice he had to give. He's legendary having won the 100 and marathon distances in previous years and was going for the 50…which he did win the Grand Master's and take 3rd overall this year as well. Wow, just wow. He said, "This race is a character builder. That's for sure." His apprehension didn't settling me at all. I had never anticipated a race in this way before. 100 miles is a big deal, and Superior is a beast.

As the Director took a pole of past DNF runners coming back to finish this raise, it revieled a 7-10 person field of hands being raised. Some had multiple attempts at Superior 100 in the past, as I met one on the course who would finish it this year after two previous years of stopping half way and past mile 60. And why do they come back after such an ass kicking? I wish I had asked him his reason. And then asked what it felt like when he knew he was going to make it. I think that would be one of the most revealing and exciting insights of an ultra runner's mental strength.
Right before starting with the sun coming up. 

The Starting Line:
The starting line was completely different from the check-in meeting. People were very socialable and one mother approached me and said she wanted my name on her shirt because her daughter was running it and she was rooting for us women. What a cool way to support your daughter and female runners.

My mother was in Michigan hoping I wouldn't start, maybe get lost on my way to the start line, or at least drop out early. I'm just speaking the truth here and this is what I have dealt with all my life.

I spoke with several experience 100 miler finishers and a couple first time attempters like myself. It's all very exciting. I was glad I brought my own coffee, because the coffee that was suppose to be there had a coffee machine malfunction. So I think some people were hurting.

Note: For the first time ever there were no restroom lines for ladies. There are that few of us.

Starting out in the race I met a woman from Holland, Michigan. We cruised and chatted thru the first few miles until we hit the trail where I was immediately was aware of her trail skills that were superior to mine, and I fell back. I wasn't even going to try to keep up with that! She had finished this race before and her trail experience was evident. I was much more cautious on the loose plates of stone and running up and down large loose rocks. I watched the foot work of other runners and could tell that their shoes were sticking surprisingly well on the curved larger boulders on mountain tops.

Examples of the trail and views. Not all of these are mine as my mind was busy.  I wish I had photographed the triple "XXX" glowing signs at night that my headlamp would catch. "Don't go off that ledge!"
Much of the trail is running on top of mountain rock (climbing up and down uneven rocks—top to bottom, and up again). It's similar to running on asphalt in the comparison that there is no cushion and higher impact unlike a forest padded ground trail—very much unlike the Michigan trails I have ran on. One runner commented that he thought it was worse than asphalt and his knees were hurting. The curve of the rocks wreaked havoc on my ankles in one particular stretch, so much so that I removed the small heel gels in my shoes. That helped stop the rocking and pain. The other balance of the trail includes a lot of roots that are high enough that it was hard to run. I literally hugged trees in areas to stable myself. I did run on a lot of sections I normally would have never ran on to keep a better pace. I usually embrace the walk but found myself embracing the run where I could. It was really hard to find the "happy" in running on such a challenging course where my mind could not really check out. It's a the vary reason some people hate trail running—you can not check out without suffering the consequences. Put it this way, this trail is so technical that I didn't even consider turning on my headset until mile 35. It wasn't even a thought. It takes A LOT of concentration, and exertion to climb up and down larger rocks, boulders, fallen trees and walk the planks. Arg, captain! And then there's the slipper thick mud sections.

Not one of my photos but
illustrates one of  the many
hillside,  rocky trails down
 that need careful attention.
This trail was not only beautiful from the views of climbing mountain after mountain, but the sounds of water rushing over falls and down streams were like poetic music with the added clatter of runners on slate rocks, which sounded like running on broken plates as percussion. I missed a lot of the beauty in keeping my eyes on the trail. Although I had read about sections, experiencing it in the moment was surreal and never being on this trail before, I thought it just seemed more like one loooong trail with similar sections of constant obstacles. There were trees that had fallen over in the trail to be either crawled under or straddle over, and swampy areas with either slippery thick mud, water, or areas that actually had plank boards to cross. The planks were awesome until I found some wobbly ones some where between 11 pm and midnight.  I thought, "If I fall here, I'm going to REALLY be hurt on all those boulders below. Who would find me?"

Descending down the rocky sides was nothing that I could just run down. I purposely left space between myself and any other runner. One man with poles, fell behind me down a rock decent. I asked how he was and he assured me that me was okay. Although, he looked like a rag doll sprawled on the rocks.

On the trail, I met runner who had hired an elite coach to get thru this race. He said he had DNF-ed another race, but made it thru another 100 in June. But for this race, he hired a coach. Training food for thought.

L-R: Aid station equipped with a bowl of salt tabs |  Running along the slate plates | My husband crewing me at mile 20 and my run buddy Evie as well.  I was feeling nauseated at this time and that didn't go away.
I waited too long to wear the Calavera INKnBURN singlet this year. That shirt deserves a party!

It was at about 40+ miles and in the dark that I started to lose faith in making it thru the cut-offs. I made a few mistakes. I had been making the cutoffs, yes. And had read enough reports that I knew not to be going any faster than a 17 minute pace. My goal was to just finish this. I had some miles in the dark that were getting quite a bit slower and I didn't keep in mind that they take that into account thru the night. I then thought about the time goals I had set, which were based on an individual that knew this course. That became silly in that moment.  I was alone in the dark looking for the trail and reflectors. Although I enjoyed the dark running, the slower speed was playing games with my mind. So mistake number one, was that I lost my faith and did math on the course. Later the next day Robyn, a fellow INKnBURN Ambassador, point that out. "Never do math on the course." Uhg! She was right.

I also had a few physical things going on. I had been feeling nauseated since mile 20. I can't explain why to this day. But I will be experimenting more with using just Tailwind. I had to chew Pepto tabs from 20 miles on, which helped a little. The only thing that I could consume that went down well was Starbucks DoubleShot Coffee & Protein that was in my bag. If there had been warm food options that would have been appealing too. But each time I went to the aid stations there was no coffee, and all the promised hot food was gone. Right before I entered County Road 6, the last grilled cheese sandwiches were consumed. My crew had asked if there was hot food waiting and there was when they asked, but some took more than there share according to the workers right before I arrived. I wasn't the last person, so there really wasn't enough.

There was a frost advisory and I did not change my clothes before dark. I added layers but that wasn't enough. I should have changed at Tettegouche where my husband had met me. That was a HUGE mistake. I was soaked through and freezing every time I slowed or stopped at aid stations. There really should be a changing area or sheet hung. Women especially need to change. There's something that isn't talked about enough. Wearing a wet bra and underwear froze-me-out with the frosty temps. By the time I reached mile 51 at the Finland aid station, I just felt like I didn't want to go on between the burning in my legs, nausea, and feeling absolutely frozen. Hand warmers would have been a key item to pack in hindsight.

My legs were burning from the knees down. Not that I didn't expect pain, but I was going with the thought of do no harm the first 50 miles….well harm was happening anyways. I really couldn't tell if I was injured, causing injury or what. I knew I had trained for a 100 miler—but not this one! I met people in the dark on the trail pausing on the fallen trees or larger rocks—resting and just breathing. One guy moved as though he had hurt his arm badly as he shuffled along. The constant up and down stepping is nothing like running on a padded path or road running—different muscles in. I had not use the restroom all day. I couldn't tell if I had to go or not. At one point I thought, "Great, now I am peeing myself." I later found I had started my period.

The number one reason I stopped at Finland 51.2 miles (17 hours): I lost my "why".  I lost the ability to talk myself "IN" to going on and seeing how far I could go. The suffering for another 20+ miles and then getting thrown off the course, didn't feel worth it. I became reliant on seeing my husband which I wouldn't have seen for another 11 miles. That would have been hours away. Never having a crew before, the support was overwhelming, yet I needed them. Maybe it was just easier for me to stick my heels in and stop because it was him. He was in a bit of shock to hear me say, "I'm done"—words I have never said when it matters. He did everything he was suppose to do in pleading with me to keep going because I was still running and others were dragging and limping. I was frozen, and when he told me to sit in the heated vehicle, it was all over in my head and physically. It's all on me.

Several runners I conversed with along the course were strongly motivated by the thought of the sweatshirt. It wasn't motivation for me at all—not in conversation and not at the moment I dropped.  I let go of all the 4 a.m. wakeup calls I had all summer that said I could do this. I questioned whether I had enough baggage to overcome the suffering and if I wanted that baggage. And I felt for what ever reason that I had learned everything I could in the moment. I felt fulfilled in the moment. The worse part was I felt like I really let my crew down and anyone that had believed in me. Guilt. Never having a crew before I was overwhelmed by the assisted love. Even one of the Ragnar BAMRs I met in D.C. showed up, and I was touched. I was disappointed in not being able to run with her in the morning.
This was a butt kicker: the course and mental let down.

The next day I phone my kids and talked to my mother, and she was rejoicing that I DNF-ed. THAT annoyed me to no end. I thought, "Geese, if I had talked to her last night. I would have kept going!" Nothing motivates my like proving people wrong. I was pissed at myself. Cue cards for ALL next time!

Later that morning we went to meet Evie to support her on the course. She was running the 50 miler and we joked that between us we would have the course 100% covered, but she was already getting bumped at mile 26.7 Cramer Road. She wasn't making the cut-off. She was moving along, but on this course, you have to move faster. It was a kick in the teeth. She wanted to go on, but was swept. It's the just another reality of this race. She has finished many ultras, so it isn't like she isn't capable. While waiting I watched Robyn work the aid station and talk a man back into the 50 mile race that thought he had a broken rib. OMG, broken rib guy went on! I instantly wish she had been at Finland last night.

This DNF may be just the baggage I need to come back. It burns on long after the race is over. Superior has left a mountain of rock in my heart. I think every runner will get "their one that got away" experience. This ONE is mine. I knew going into this that if I could finish it, I could do anything. So the race and work goes on. Afterwards with the experience fresh in my head, another runner friend with more experience messaged me and told me she had DNFed one time and she came back to show that trail who was boss and that's what I would too. I told her, "not this race." But less than a week later, I knew she was right. I can't let go of that mountain that Superior left in my heart. Character building? Indeed. I'll be back—rock solid, amnesia and all.

Hiking views of Lake Superior and trail falls