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.
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
|Cabin entrance as I walked through the door.|
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.|
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.|
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 nightI 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.
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 50Heading 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.
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.|
|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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.