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.

1 comment:

  1. Ethan Olds - Assistant RDJune 21, 2017 at 5:18 AM

    Thank you for sharing your experience and being part of our inaugural race! It was a pleasure to have a front row seat for your journey and I couldn't have been more thrilled to hand you that belt buckle. Congratulations!


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