No Business 100

I’ve run two 100-mile races. Both included a decent amount of research and signing up six or more months in advance. Meticulous training followed. Everything I did in the next 6-7 months was for whatever goals I had for my upcoming 100-mile race. With No Business 100, I threw that out the window. I essentially tacked the race on to the end of my season – four months after Kettle Moraine 100 and five weeks after Superior 50, both of which were ‘A’ races for me. So why do this? Well, a few reasons:

1.)  I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Yes, I know, running ultras already puts you outside of your comfort zone but I wanted to see how my body responded to running a 100-miler on my current fitness and experience – not so much from a six months training plan for that race specifically.

2.)  I raised money for Girls on the Run of Eastern Iowa along the way. I’m very involved in our local Girls on the Run chapter. The organization turns 10 this fall and I wanted to celebrate in a big way.

It also helped that my coach, Matt Flaherty, responded to the idea with excitement. I value his opinion and would’ve second guessed myself if he thought it was a bad idea.

So, why No Business? Well, my friend Joshua Sun put it on my radar way back when as we were discussing fall races. It’s always been in the back of my head if and when I decided to actually go through with a fall 100. The course looked beautiful and pretty rugged, running through five public areas in both Kentucky and Tennessee. It was an inaugural race which adds another element of the unknown. No race reports to pore over or previous experiences to learn from. We were the guinea pigs essentially. I knew these guys (Ultranaut Running) put on solid races so I wasn’t nervous about organization and logistics.

A few other factors that put this out of my comfort zone:

  • There were only 85 runners and the course was one big loop. This means no seeing other runners unless you pass them or you get passed. 85 runners of varying speed on a huge looped course could make for a potentially lonely day.
  • The course itself looked pretty tough. Technical, remote, and hilly. Add leaf cover and you’re dealing with some pretty treacherous terrain at times. I should also mention both my 100-milers were on pretty tame courses compared to the trails of Kentucky and Tennessee.

So, knowing all this, I had no time goals – I just wanted to enjoy the trails and see what happened.

I was very lucky that my parents decided to make the trip to support me. This meant that Ross would be able to pace me for a few sections of the race. I was prepared to run without a pacer but also didn’t want to if I could help it.

At the pre-race meeting there were a few items that were mildly disturbing – there were bears (which I knew) and  we were warned about a really mean man that lived at mile 94 who was not a fan of the race or us running by his house. They told us that police would be patrolling the area. Neat! : /

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Pre-race photo with Ross.

The race started at 5:00 a.m. at the the Blue Heron Mining Community. A really cool area where – you guessed it – there used to be a big mining community. I checked in and got my spot tracker. This race is pretty remote so every runner had to wear a spot tracker on our packs.

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Mom and dad and a bunch of miners.

The start – mile 25 (Duncan Hollow)

We started a few minutes after 5:00 a.m. and off we went, right up a hill and across a cool bridge and into the trails.

I settled into a comfortable pace in a line of headlamps. Not much chit chat, just everyone taking in the enormity of the day/s ahead. Early on, maybe around mile 5 or 6, I went off course and took two other people with me. Luckily, I was skeptical early on and we didn’t go more than a quarter-mile or so when we realized our mistake and turned around. This course was clearly marked but I must’ve had my head down.

I started chatting with one of the guys who I went off course with. His name was Tyler and he had run Yamacraw 50k (put on in the same area by the same race director) every year and knew the area fairly well. He told me what he knew of the course and we talked about past and future races, training, etc. We got at the end of a conga line and after a few miles I decided to pass.

I was feeling good and wanted to open up on the down hills a bit. I remember feeling very float-y down the trails and smiling a whole bunch. I was grateful that I was feeling so good.

Around mile 12-15ish, the trails got pretty technical and I slowed down. I remember wondering if the rest of the day would look like this – and if it did, it was going to be a loooong day/night/day. But luckily, there were plenty of runnable sections on the course – just plenty of technical sections, too.

I was very excited to finally turn off my headlamp, which I think I did around 7:30ish. I could finally take in my surroundings and I wasn’t disappointed. Enormous trees surrounded me and I felt very small.

I should also mention it was very humid – 100% humidity, in fact. I could already feel hot spots early on and tried to take care of them by slathering Squirrel’s Nut Butter where my pack was rubbing, mostly on my collar bones.

I passed a few folks but didn’t really find anyone who was running my speed. I did see quite a few people on their horses. That was nice.

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Probably around mile 22 or so. Photo credit: Misty Wong

I crossed a bridge and started climbing a hill. This turned out to be a really, really big hill. I knew there was a massive hill before the mile 25 aid station so I thought I’d be seeing Ross and my parents soon. More climbing and soon I saw a guy standing on the trail who looked to be a crew member. Yay!

Soon I saw an aid station and my crew. It was great to see them. They said I was doing really well and I soaked in the compliments. My watch was behind about two miles already so I realized I was probably moving faster than I thought which also gave me a mental boost. I grabbed my iPod, which I usually try to wait until the halfway point but I was ready for some tunes. Grabbed some gels and slathered on more Squirrel’s Nut Butter and I was off.

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Ross has perfected the gel/nutrition handoff by using a method I call “the waiter.”

25 (Duncan Hollow) – 43.9 (Bandy Creek)

When I left the aid station, I felt aahhhh-mazing. I turned into the trails and had some lovely, runnable downhill singletrack. The music + seeing people + finally getting to run after a huge climb put me on cloud nine. I belted out songs as I floated down the trail. The next seven miles were probably my favorite of the whole day.

I saw my crew at 32 and next up was the Grand Gap Loop. This was an extremely scenic loop with breathtaking views over the Cumberland River. Right before these views and very high cliffs, I fell very hard. A week later, I still have the bruises on my legs. I got up and dusted myself off and just 10 feet away there was a sign that read “WARNING: DANGEROUS CLIFFS or something to that effect; essentially telling me that falling off the edge would lead to my death. I think I actually said out loud, “OK, Kelly, FOCUS.” Luckily, I stayed on my feet and every time there was a clearing or lookout, I made sure to take a moment to take it in.

Throughout this time I was playing leap frog with a guy named Sheldon. He was really nice and sounded like he had a lot of stories to tell. Unfortunately, our paces weren’t matching so we never ran more than a few minutes together.

It was starting to get really hot. We were up high and the sun was out in full force. I may have grabbed an ice bandana as early as mile 32. Either way, ice was now a staple.

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Ice bandanas! Mile 32.
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Mile 38 aid station included MR. FREEZIES!!! I’ve never been so happy to eat Mr. Freezy. The volunteers at Grand Gap #2 were awesome.

Around mile 40 I remember thinking how mentally I felt at mile 60. Uh oh. I was definitely expecting this to happen though so I didn’t let it get me down. I made it to the mile 43 aid station, Bandy Creek, and told my crew I was getting pretty lonely out there. They told me a woman had just left the aid station. Her name was Amy and she seemed really nice. I actually could see her about 100 yards away. But I needed to refuel and really had to go to the bathroom. There was a bathroom in a building a little bit off the course so I knew it would be unlikely I’d catch up to her.

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Inhaling watermelon.

Miles 43.9 (Bandy Creek) – 61.7 (Pickett State Park)

I left Bandy Creek knowing I wouldn’t see Ross or my parents until mile 61. That was seeming like a pretty long stretch but I tried to focus that at mile 61 I’d also get a pacer. I didn’t catch up to Amy but the next six miles seemed to fly by. I can’t remember the terrain very well but I do remember the next aid station (Charit Creek Lodge) because the ladies running it were a hoot. They had music going and were drinking beers. I honestly think if it would’ve been a ho-hum aid station, I might’ve hit a pretty low spot. It was mile 50 and you can either go one of two ways: I’m halfway done already! OR I’m only halfway done. These gals were celebrating that I was halfway done, they were full of energy and super spunky. I danced a little bit to the music and drank some coconut water. They cooled off my hat by soaking it in ice water. They were awesome and I want to be their friends.

Even though I wanted to hang with these awesome gals, I knew I had to get moving. They didn’t mention anyone close by so I figured Amy was long gone by now. I tried to savor the energy from the aid station as I powered on. There weren’t a lot of big climbs but I do remember thinking that it was a lot hillier than I anticipated. My last 100-miler was 9k feet of climb so I didn’t think 11k feet would feel a whole lot hillier, but it definitely did. I wondered if they were wrong about the amount of climb.

I believe it was around here when we passed through the beautiful twin arches. There were quite a few people milling around and with good reason – it was spectacular. The arches made me feel really small. The course had countless rock formations that were extraordinary but the twin arches were definitely the most incredible.

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Photo of twin arches taken during a spring training run. Photo credit: No Business
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Photo credit: No Business

Around this time, I started having some low moments mentally. I still had so much race left! I thought of the donations from my friends and family in support of Girls on the Run and my race. I tried to fill my head with all the people in my life because of GOTR. Most of the time it worked but other times there wasn’t much I could do to lift my spirits.

I knew I was close to the mile 55 aid station because I saw signs for “Magic Pig Potion” ahead or something like that. I felt a smile come across my face. I came into the aid station and saw a few people and a few kids. One of the kids asked if I wanted some Pig Potion, which was in a pig-shaped canister with a handle and a spout. I asked her what exactly it was and she told me it was ice water and that she’d pour down my back. YES, PLEASE! I crouched down and she poured that magical ice water down my back and it felt sooo gooooood. Thank you, kind child! I ate some fruit and joked around with the volunteers. They were super nice and I enjoyed my time with them. I didn’t want to leave! I asked them if anyone was ahead of me and they said a woman left about a minute before I came in. WAS IT AMY?! I asked in delight. Sure enough, it was. They said there was a few miles trails and then of road. I was hoping to catch Amy on the road section. I left the kind volunteers in search of my soon-to-be-friend, Amy.

I headed back in the trails and when I popped out on the road a few miles later I SAW AMY. She was still quite a bit ahead of me. AAAMMMYYY, you have no idea how much I want to be your friend right noooow!! Slowly but surely, I got closer to Amy. After we entered the trails, I caught up to her in one of the many cave rock formations that had been along the course. I told her how I’d been searching for her all day and I was so excited to finally meet her. If she thought I was crazy, she didn’t show it. I thoroughly enjoyed her company and was sad it took until two miles before we picked up our pacers to catch up to her.

We saw the aid station come into view and I let out a big ol’ WOOOOOP!

It’d been awhile since I’d seen my people and it was great to see Ross and my parents again. I changed my shirt since it pretty much had been wet all day long. I changed my socks, too. I felt a hot spot on the bottom of my foot and thought a sock change might help. There were a lot of creek crossings so my socks were also wet and full of sand.

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Ross gearing me up! I wasn’t as annoyed as I looked.

Miles 61.7 (Pickett State Park) – 77 (Hemlock Grove)

Ross and I got ready to take off and left the aid station shortly after Amy and her pacer (her dad!). I wouldn’t see my mom and dad until mile 77. We crossed a bridge and headed back into the trails. Soon after, Amy pulled off to the side and said she had to go to the bathroom. Ross and I went ahead and he caught me up on the day. It was so nice to have someone talk to! Or at least someone to just talk at me. it didn’t take long before we had to turn on our headlamps.

I don’t remember when exactly but I started to feel pretty low. I think it was after the mile 71 aid station (which was right on the state line, by the way! pretty cool and fun volunteers). I started to slow down for everything – little hills, technical spots, anything. I was slowing down to 16-17 min/miles. Eventually Amy caught up and passed us. She was moving at a pretty good clip – not crazy fast but what I thought was doable. I decided to hang on for as long as I could. Lo and behold, I could move just as fast! I guess I just needed to know I could. I looked down and saw 13-14 min/miles and I felt better. Even though I didn’t care about time, I also didn’t want to be out on the course longer than I had to.

I yelled ahead to Amy and told her that she didn’t know it but she was helping me out a ton right now. I got a little bit behind her but could still see them ahead. We eventually crossed a sizable stream and on the other side was the mile 77 aid station. This is where I was going to lose Ross. He would pace me again at mile 91.

I wanted to pop what I thought was a blister on the bottom of my foot – right in the middle. I’d never had a blister there but I think because my feet were constantly wet, I was more susceptible to blisters. I took off my sock and saw a 2-inch crevice thing down the middle of my foot. It was like the skin folded together. I think what happened is the blister I did have popped and the skin created this weird fold thing. Anyways, two aid station angels took care of me. Tony and a woman whose name I can’t remember. They taped up my foot and put my socks back on. THANK YOU, AMAZING VOLUNTEERS!!

Amy and her dad stood up and asked if I wanted to run with them.  They knew I was losing my pacer and said they’d wait for me. I was blown away by their kindness. I said yes and got up to go. Both of these kind acts by the volunteers and Amy are perfect examples of what makes the ultrarunning community great.

Miles 77 (Hemlock Grove) – 91 (Bald Knob)

We crossed that stream again and took a left. We had two miles until the next aid station but we had to climb Peter’s Mountain during these two miles. We joined another runner, Jeff, and his pacer, Karen. These two run a ton of ultras and Jeff had just run Superior 100 five weeks prior.

Amy and Jeff were both climbing way stronger than I was. I had actually felt decent all day on the climbs but now I was struggling. The second I started to climb I felt my heart rate shoot up. Before we climbed, it felt like we were essentially running alongside/in a creek for a bit. Once we started climbing Peter’s Mountain, I fell back.

I caught up again at the next aid station and tried to leave when they did. The next five miles was along a gravel road. Even though I much prefer the trails, I welcomed the gravel road and a break from worrying about catching my toe on a rock or root.

Amy fell back a bit and she told me to go ahead if I was feeling good. I knew I’d see her again in the trails. I tried to listen to a podcast to make the five miles go by quickly but I couldn’t focus so I just unplugged. I stopped and turned off my headlamp and looked above. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the stars so bright. It was incredible.

I rolled through the Spring Branch aid station pretty quickly. I wasn’t eating much at this point but still taking in gels. I stopped taking in Tailwind long ago because it was making me really thirsty. There was no sign of Amy but I did catch up to Jeff and Karen again. They were from Illinois and we chatted about Midwest races. Jeff has run 16 or 17 100s and had a lot of insight on different courses. He said this was one of the hardest 100s he’d ever run. I felt grateful that I had so much company the last part of the race. Considering how few people were actually on the course and how few I ran with early on in the day, I was surprised I was running with others this late in the game.

We started climbing a big hill and they put me away. Karen said that Jeff’s wife was a mail carrier and taught them how to power hike really well. I tried to mimic them but it didn’t work. I couldn’t believe how fast they were moving. I felt like a sloth.

Soon after, I saw a few headlamps behind me. I figured it was Amy and her dad. As they got closer, I realized I was right. And she looked FOCUSED. She barely said a word as she passed. Her dad barely had time to say, “Is that Kelly?!” as he scrambled to keep up with her. I was happy for her and how strong she looked. A few miles later I made it to the mile 91 aid station. Karen and Jeff were there and Amy had just left as I ran in. Apparently, Amy didn’t even stop – just took off. I knew I wouldn’t see her again.

I saw my parents and Ross who I hadn’t seen since mile 79. Ross was all ready to get me through the last 9ish miles. I told my parents I’d see them at the finish.

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A smile at mile 91!

Miles 91.2 (Bald Knob) – 100 (Blue Herron)

Ross and I chatted a bit about how the race had played out the last few hours. I let him know my climbing was shit. Soon after, my watch died. I didn’t care too much but later on was wishing I knew how many more miles were ahead of me. It was so humid that the trees were dropping water on us.

I started to feel really bad on the climbs, a few times stopping at the top to get my heart rate down. A was feeling a bit light-headed, too.

We popped out of the trails and on to a gravel road. I saw a house. And I knew it was the crazy man’s house. The lights were off and I didn’t see anything alarming. He did have a few signs he took the time to make that said “You are not welcome here” and “F-ing go away.” I bet he is a joy to be around.

The aid station was just about 50 yards from his house. Again, I didn’t eat anything. I did use a bathroom though.

We thanked the volunteers (from the local American Legion I believe) and soon after, had a huge hill to climb. Five more miles. We were almost done but holy buckets, it felt like a long way to go.

We came across a park sign that said “Blue Herron 4.3 miles.” I was happy to see evidence we were getting closer but 4.3 miles still felt like a million more miles. A few miles later, we saw headlamps through the woods going the opposite direction. We heard a “MARCO!” and I yelled “POLO!” At least someone was having fun! We passed the two guys soon after. They were in good spirits.

We shuffled on and wondered how close we were – we didn’t want be too optimistic. At one point, I thought we were for sure less than a mile. Then we saw a sign that said “Blue Herron 1.3 miles.” NOOOOOOO. I know, it’s stupid – what’s another half mile or so? But if you’ve been there, you know.

We eventually came to a bridge. Ross asked if it was the same bridge we ran across after the start. COULD IT BE?! Pleaaase let it it be. And then we saw lights at the other side and we knew we were there.

I crossed the finish line in 24:45.The race director was there to give me my buckle. I told him what a beast his course was but also gave him kudos on putting together such a solid race. I ended up 4th female and 9th overall. Just 34 runners finished the race. I was super stoked to hear a woman won the race overall in an incredible time – 20:30. Hell yeah.

Amy’s dad was there and told me congratulations. He left soon after so I’m thinking he stayed just to see me finish, which was incredibly sweet and thoughtful. I was hoping to catch Amy but she and her sister (her pacer for the last 9 miles) went to change.

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All for a belt buckle.

I sat down and thought “what just happened?” Where did Saturday go? This race felt more surreal than my previous two. I’m not sure why. But even though it’s my slowest, I’m just as proud of this finish. I wanted to run beautiful trails and put myself in a very uncomfortable place mentally and physically to see how I responded. Quite honestly, I’ve never wanted to quit a race so bad. But there was literally nothing wrong with me – I just didn’t want to run anymore. This was definitely a mind over matter race. A “one step in front of the other” race. These are the kinds of races where you can learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of.

I was starting to get really cold so we headed down to the car. We had about 20 minutes to the hotel and I laid down as best I could and dozed in and out of sleep.

Words can’t really express how thankful I am for Ross and my parents crewing and pacing. Having their support was invaluable and I am beyond grateful they take time out of their lives to essentially sit around for 25 hours waiting to see me for a few minutes every 3-4 hours.

I’m also blown away how much my friends and family raised for Girls on the Run of Eastern Iowa. GOTR-EI received $2,250 through my SoleMates campaign. My goal was $2,000 and I thought even that was a stretch. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who donated – whether it was $10 or $100 – you made a difference! And knowing I had so many people supporting my fundraising efforts kept me going on the course.

Next year, the No Business 100 course will be run in reverse. I would 100% recommend No Business to anyone who is looking for a well-organized, beautiful, and challenging race. The guys at Ultranaut Running know what they’re doing! The fact that they got so much right on the first year on a point-to-point remote course speaks volumes. Thanks, No Business, for an incredible experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kettle Moraine 100

Kettle Moraine 100 was my second 100-mile race and I had a few specific goals:

  • run sub 22 hours
  • finish the dang thing (last 25 miles) a lot stronger than my last 100-mile race

I also had a “would be nice goal” to podium but I didn’t want that to influence my running at all until the second half and if it made sense (i.e. I wasn’t dying).

I turned 30 this year and my boyfriend got me a super awesome gift: he paid for six months of coaching leading up to KM100. I’ve been interested in hiring a coach, but they are a bit expensive and I kept thinking “does someone like me REALLY need a coach?” With Ross saying he’d pay for it and me realizing that I can hire a coach if I want to, I made the decision to hire Matt Flaherty.

If you’re interested in how I made this decision, here’s quick back story: I met a guy named Jeff at a race a few years ago. Jeff and I met around mile 15 of the Ice Age 50-miler and ran the rest together. Since then we’ve kept in touch. He hired Matt a few years ago and saw some seriously impressive improvements. He had nothing but good things to say about Matt so after an initial conversation about what his coaching entails, I hired him.

This six months of training was entirely different than how I normally train but like Jeff, saw many improvements. I focused more on quality miles rather than just “run all the miles” and cut down on back-to-back long runs. I was a little apprehensive about this at first but it proved to be a successful strategy for me. My “b” races (Clinton Lake 30-miler, Naked Prussian 50-miler, and Chippewa 50k) all went great and left me feeling confident about my training.

Anyways, fast forward through six months of training and I felt ready. It’d been two years since I ran 100 miles and I was anxious to try again and do it better this time.

Start-mile 15

I was lucky enough to have three people take time out of their lives to crew/pace me. Ross (boyfriend), Natalee (trail sister/badass), and Stephanie (dear friend who always has a smile on her face). Steph lives in Madison and was going to meet up with Ross and Natalee in the afternoon. Natalee was going to pace from 70-100 and Ross was going to pace 62-70 if I felt like I needed it. Part of me thought I might want some time to zone out solo so we decided to play Ross’ pacing by ear.

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A very beard-y Ross and I before the start.
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Natalee! Fun fact: she braided my hair.

Remember Jeff who introduced me to Matt? He was also running Kettle for the third year in a row. He decided he would run with me for the first 100k to help keep his pace in check and keep me company.

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Me and Jeff

We got there a half hour early and did pre-race things: got our ankle timing chips (not nearly as annoying as I thought it would be), took photos, exchanged pleasantries with other runners, etc. I was happy and anxious and ready to go.

The race director said a few words about course markings and weather and all that good stuff and then it was go time! The 100-milers and 100k-ers started at the same time so there were about 500 folks on the trails. Luckily, we weren’t dealing with single track at this point, so it didn’t feel like 500 folks.

The first seven miles of the course is a section that you do four times total so you get to know it pretty well. It’s filled with a bunch of short, steep pitches. I walked every hill and if I wasn’t sure if I should walk it or not, I just did to be safe. I knew these would feel like mountains the last time (93-100). I made a mental note of the flat sections, too, which made up more of the section that I thought it would.

Jeff and I caught up and talked about training, races, and life. It was good to properly catch up since most of our communication the past few years has been via Strava and e-mail. He was super helpful since he knew the course so well.

I remember checking my mile splits and was a little surprised at how slow they were but then mentally slapped myself across the face. You’re running a 100 miles, you idiot, just run comfortable. So I did.

The weather was perfect. Overcast and still a little cool. The forecast had been mostly predicting rain but the morning of, it was right around 30% chance. I was fairly confident it wouldn’t rain (I would be very wrong).

Miles 15-36.6 (Emma Carlin – County ZZ)

I first saw my crew at mile 15. I was mindful about getting in and out pretty quickly. I switched my bottles, got some gels, and got out of there pretty fast. I lost Jeff at this point. This happened pretty much all day at aid stations and poor Jeff had to hunt me down every time. But hopefully he enjoyed getting to open up a bit more for a mile or so (he’s a lot faster than me).

I knew the next section would include the dreaded meadows. At some point before the meadows, we also went one through of my favorite sections of the race where pine trees envelope you on both side and the pine needle covered trail makes you feel like you’re bouncing through the woods. I remember both Jeff and I commenting on how much we liked this type of trail.

The “meadows” is stretch of open prairie with hardly any shade and a naturally humid area. We’d do this section twice. Luckily, it was still overcast the first time though and this is when it started to rain. It felt pretty good but I just kept thinking “pleaaaaaaase, sun, do not come out after this rain” (the sun didn’t listen). Then it started thunderstorming.

We got through the meadows and went back into the trails. The trails started to get pretty muddy. And then extremely muddy. Certain sections were incredibly slippery and some were like straight-up mud pits where you just hoped you didn’t lose your shoe and maybe your entire leg.

Anyone who’s run in constant mud will tell you it’s really annoying. They’d be right. But I just kept any negative thoughts out of my head. Tried to have fun with it and know that nothing will last forever. Natalee had also reminded me that after mile 47 the course drains pretty well.

Jeff and I talked about how much fun the single track trails would be if they were dry. I remember us thinking the rain had finally let up and then BAM – it just starts POURING on us. I got really muddy since I had to use my hands at times to get myself up slippery hills.

I was able to see my crew three times in 15 miles in this section since two of the aid stations are at the same spot (County ZZ) and the other (Scuppernong) was just a hop, skip, and a jump away (for them anyways). I’m sure that helped keep my spirits high in not-so-great conditions.

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Coming into Scuppernong – mile 31.6
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Lookin’ sexy at Scuppernong.

We also saw a lot of other runners since it was an out and back. I enjoy seeing and cheering on other folks so I think this also kept me in a good mood.

The rain slowed down and then eventually stopped. I remember seeing little strips of sunlight bouncing off the trails and was dreading what was next – heat and humidity. It began to look straight up steamy. Gross.

36.6-47.4 (County ZZ – Emma Carlin)

I saw my crew at 36.6. I got some gels and new bottles and said I’d see them at Emma Carlin (mile 47). I knew the next 10 miles would be a little rough – we had to go back through the meadows under the full sun and a few really sloppy sections.

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County ZZ aid station and MUD

This is when I put on my first ice bandana and boy, do I love these things. If you’re ever running a hot race, I highly recommend keeping yourself cool by rolling up ice in a bandana and tying it around your neck.

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Pondering the mud.

Anyways, I left my crew, anxious to get the meadows over with as early as possible. Once Jeff and I entered the meadows, it was like a full on sauna. Jeff said, “Doesn’t this feel great?” and I’m like, “WTF?” and he says, “It feels like an oven!”

I know Jeff kinda well, but am not super familiar with his sense of humor. I still don’t know if he was joking or not but it made me laugh regardless.

We saw lots of folks walking the meadow section and I don’t blame them. That heat just sucked the energy right out of you. I kept trucking since I still felt alright. Figured the faster I can get done with this section the better.

One of the most glorious moments of the day was the first unmanned aid station I came across where I actually needed the ice water bucket with a sponge. Ooooh doggies, that felt SO GOOD. I’d squeeze the ice water on top of my head and it was an instant refresher. I also put ice in my bra and shorts. Can life get any better?

I was getting closer to Emma Carlin and my shoes were actually starting to get clean. I thought maybe I wouldn’t have to change my socks which I had been planning on doing. But then I got to a section of trail I had totally forgotten about – maybe a quarter-mile section of muck. No way around it. Just gotta trudge through it. I knew the aid station was on the other side and realized a sock and probably shoe change was in order.

47-62 (Emma Carlin to Nordic)

I arrived at Emma Carlin and was elated to see my good friend Stephanie! Steph came straight from her Girls on the Run 5k and was decked out in GOTR gear including a face tattoo (temporary, of course). This made my heart so happy. I am so thankful to call Steph one of my dearest friends and that she spent her day supporting me at Kettle.

I told my crew I was doing well but needed to change my socks and shoes. I peeled off my nasty, mud-covered socks and put some fresh ones on. My toes were happy. I put on new shoes and stood up – and my Achilles told me it didn’t like these shoes (side note: I’d been having minor issues with my Achilles and we (physical therapist and I) determined part of the issue was my shoes). I was hoping the issue would magically go away (not sure why??) but that didn’t happen. Ross went and hosed off my original shoes and I put them back on. Good as new!

 

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Mile 47 – Emma Carlin aid station. This is the face I make when I eat watermelon that’s been sprayed with sunscreen.

I also picked up my iPod shuffle at this point. I don’t train with music unless I have a speed workout and I’ve found that the right music (pretty much just Beyonce) can put me in a pretty peppy mood.

I bid farewell to my crew. By this point, Jeff and I had been yo-yoing a bit, just running our own races and what made sense for us. After Emma Carlin, we met up again. We chatted a bit and I let him know I was going to listen to some music for awhile and zone out. I felt bad but knew I needed to do what I wanted to keep me moving happy and with a pep in my step.

This section was probably my lowest mentally, but I didn’t get nearly as low as I did during my first 100. At mile 47, I had mentally put myself at the 50 mile mark and I was happy about that. But then I’d look at my watch and not be to 50 yet. And I feel like that happened like 20 times. Time was moving so slow! And I still had 50 miles left! I took a step back (figuratively) and thought about getting to the next aid station rather than the next 50 miles. That helped. I let Ross know at Emma that I did want him to join me for miles 62-70 and I thought about that, too.

With a little help from Beyonce, my mood lifted and I eventually got past that dang 50-mile mark and to the mile-55 aid station. It was still really hot and my crew had ice water and a sponge waiting for me.

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Mile 55 – Bluff Aid Station. HOT.

Off I went to complete the seven miles of trail back to the start/finish. I felt good during this section and was excited to get back to Nordic. I knew there’d be a lot of people and I was ready to tackle the next out and back section.

62-70 (Nordic – Bluff)

Jeff and I arrived at Nordic (the start/finish area) and this would be the last time we would run together. He said he needed to change clothes and he went to go find his crew. I found my crew quickly and said I was feeling great. There were tons of people and the energy was infectious!

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Ready to run with Ross and his beard! He looks a little crazy here.

I didn’t waste too much time and soon after arriving, Ross and I took off. Another woman left right before us. I would find out her name was Tina. I passed Tina soon after we left the aid station but then she passed me right back and took off. She looked strong.

I asked Ross what place I was in – I had an idea, but didn’t really want to know early on in the race. He told me I was in fourth. I felt a little competitiveness bubble up but knew I needed to continue to run my own race. We still had nearly 40 miles to cover.

Ross told me stories of the day and what the crew had been up to the past 14 hours or so. It was really nice to run with him. We got to the Tamarack aid station, which was probably one of my favorites. It was about five miles from start/finish, so you end up going through four times. They were super nice, cheerful, and helpful.

As we rolled in, I saw Tina. I think I took a swig of Coke and went through pretty fast. I passed her right after the aid station and I told her I’m sure I’d see her again and that she was looking great.

Side story time: Of the three women I “met” on the trails at Kettle, I’ve connected with all of them since the race, whether they reached out to me or I reached out to them. This is one of my most favorite things about the ultra community. #trailsisters

Ross and I kept moving and I told him I was going to put my headphones in for a little bit. Time to zone out again. I am not very shy and I am especially not shy during a 100-mile race. I started belting out songs and Ross kept me entertained by dancing in front of me. I had him try to guess songs based on my renditions. Turns out my renditions suck which is a surprise to me because I thought I sounded pretty good. (that was a joke).

We saw a lot of folks heading toward the start/finish and I want to apologize to every single person who was put through my singing and hand-dancing (that’s totally a thing, right?).

I saw another gal in front of me – Steph Whitmore, another Iowa trail runner who I’d met at other races. I’d chatted with Steph at the start of the race and she told me she was having issues with her calf. We eventually caught up to her and gave each other kudos.

Soon after, Ross got me to the Bluff aid station and Natalee was ready to take over pacing duties.

70-77 (Bluff -Hwy 12)

I thanked Ross and said good-bye to Steph who had to get back to Madison. She told me how gross ultras are and I agreed.

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Steph!!

Then it was time to cruise with my good friend and hella good runner, Natalee. I train often with Natalee and knew she’d do a great job of pushing me to the end. Natalee caught me up on life. She had been holding back some news from me so she could tell me during Kettle and have a fun topic to talk about during pacing. Ultrarunners, amirite?

It was finally starting to cool down as night fell. I’ve never been so happy to see the sun go down. There were stretches of open prairie and my oh my, did the breeze feel gooooood.

It was hard to know who we were passing once it got dark. There were “fun run” runners out, who were running the last 38 miles of the course. I put in my headphones for a little bit. I liked listening to music during the flatter sections because I felt like it made me move faster. Not sure if this is true but feeling like you’re moving well is almost just as good as actually moving well.

We rolled into the mile 77 aid station and the volunteers asked me if I was first female. I said nope – second. Natalee corrected me and said I was first. I had no clue we had passed the first female. That gave me a boost. I ate some fruit and headed off. I knew the next section was technical and I would probably be moving pretty slow.

77-86 (Hwy 12-Hwy 12)

We left Hwy 12 aid station, crossed a road, and pretty much immediately hit single track, technical trail. I knew we’d have four miles until the Rice Lake aid station (turnaround point) and then four miles back to Hwy 12. Eight miles of probably the toughest trail of the day. Breaking it into two sections helped. I asked Natalee about her job and she told me stories of what a day is like being the assistant principal of a large high school. That passed the time considerably. If running 100 miles in a bonkers time doesn’t make you a badass (she ran and won Arkansas Traveler in 19:51ish) being an assistant principal certainly does.

This is also when I began to trip a lot. And then fall a lot. I never hurt myself and bounced up pretty fast. It was just annoying. Natalee said she wishes she would’ve kept count because I fell so much.

During my first 100-mile race, my quads got reallllly sore. Running downhill became pretty painful and I was essentially walking everything but flat, non-technical sections. I also got really down and mad at everything, like stairs and rocks – anything that got in my way. Kettle was different. My legs were still feeling surprisingly good. No soreness or pain. I was able to run everything except for the ups. This felt good and kept my spirits high. I was tired, of course, but I just kept checking in with myself if I started to get a little low –

Me: “How do you feel?”

Me: “Pretty damn good considering the circumstances.”

Me: “What hurts?”

Me: “Nothing!”

Me: “Hooray!”

Me: “I know, right? Nothing to be down about.”

I also recently got a tattoo on my left forearm of a little runner girl who is part of the Girls on the Run logo. One of the reasons I got this tattoo (and put it on my arm near my watch) is because I knew she’d be a source of inspiration during races. She is a reminder of how far I’ve come in how I view myself and my body (used to have somewhat serious body image issues), my girls I’ve coached over the past six years, the friends I’ve met (including Steph!) through volunteering, and the mission of the organization. I looked at it several times during the race and each time my train of thought shifted to a positive force.

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You can see my little running buddy on my left arm.

We got to Rice Lake and it seemed like a fun place to be. We got what we needed and headed back on the trail. We saw Jeff soon after. He was in good spirits and said he’d see us soon. We also saw another woman who I thought was a 100-miler but Natalee told me at the next aid station that she wasn’t.

The next four miles back to Hwy 12 aid station were full of more falls but it went by super quick, which was surprising. We could see the aid station lights while on top of a hill while still in the trails and we knew we were close. WOOP!

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Still movin’ and groovin’.

86-100 (Hwy 12 – FINISH!)

At mile 85 of my last 100, I was in a bad place. Fifteen miles seemed like a freaking long time to still be running. This time around, it seemed totally manageable. Seven miles to Bluff aid station and then the last seven miles of the trail I had gotten to know so well.

When I got to the Hwy 12 aid station, they had a buffet of fruit and it was awesome – watermelon, pineapple, blueberries. The volunteers were great and took care of me. Ross gave me more gels (yes, I was still eating them GROSS). My friend Ross (not to be confused with boyfriend Ross) was there, too. He had run the 100k and was now along for the crew lyfe.

Ross said I was still looking good and had some cushion between me and second female, which was now Tina.

I don’t really remember much about miles 86-93 really so will just skip right to 93. I was still feeling good but was really ready to be done running. It also started lightning and raining a bit off and on.

Off we went to do the last seven miles for a fourth and final time. As predicted, the steep little hills seemed more like mountains but I knew they were coming so they didn’t bother me too much. Once we got past Tamarack for the final time, there were mile countdown signs to the finish. We’d cheer every time we saw one. We talked about how great the day had gone. My legs were still feeling good and I wanted to pinch myself.

We passed the one mile sign and hoot and hollered about how close we were to the finish. And then a mile later we saw lights and the finish line and then I crossed it in 21 hours and 12 minutes. First female and ninth overall.

I sat down and took off my shoes and socks. Both my big toes were not feeling great and I told Ross at the last aid station to please have my sandals ready for me at the finish line. They didn’t feel great because one of them had a big ol’ blister behind the toenail (I’ll spare ya pictures).

A volunteer gave me a large kettle for first place female. Lots of photos and thank yous and smiles followed.

Jeff wasn’t far behind and we waited for him to finish and congratulated him on first masters just 15 minutes later. And then I started feeling super nauseous and we went back to our Airbnb, took showers, and went to bed.

It’s been two weeks and I am still very happy with how the day went. Talking with my coach before the race, the plan was to start out quicker (sub 20 pace) to get a little extra wiggle room for inevitably slowing down. This worked out perfectly. I keep wondering if I had better conditions (no mud) could I have run faster? Maybe sub 21? Or did the mud keep my pace in check and allow me to finish strong? Guess I’ll never know.

I realized throughout this race report that I kept comparing to my last 100. I still can’t believe how much better this went, both physically and mentally, even though my last 100 still went pretty well. I chalk this up to:

  • Experience. I’d done it before and knew what to expect to a certain extent. I had two more years of running ultras under my belt and I’ve learned a lot in that time.
  • Training. Like I said at the beginning, my training was entirely different – and worked for me. A big thank you to Matt for his guidance during this training cycle. Was by far my best training cycle to date.

A huuuuuuge thank you to Ross, Natalee, and Steph. A day like this would not be possible with a top-notch crew who kept me fed, hydrated, and smiling all day long.

Jeff also played a big part of the day. 62 miles is a long way to run with someone! He gave me invaluable insight to the course which helped me prepare mentally.

The race itself was well run and the volunteers were second to none. They had everything I needed and took care of me at every single aid station. The runners out there were also super nice. Every time I passed someone, smiles and kudos were shared.

With friends like these, I am a lucky gal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grand Canyon R2R2R

“Maybe I’ll go to the Grand Canyon after my conference in Las Vegas.”

That eventually turned into, “Maybe I’ll run across the Grand Canyon and back after my conference in Las Vegas.”

Not surprisingly, my friend Julie didn’t even bat an eye when I invited her to join me for this adventure, known as the rim to rim to rim (r2r2r). We were both in different places training-wise. I ran the Wild Duluth 100k four weeks prior. A pretty tough race with lots of climb and I was a little nervous I wasn’t fully recovered and would discover this fact while in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Luckily, this didn’t happen and I actually think I hit the sweet spot – recovered but also still able to use my 100k training and race to my advantage. Julie was peaking in her training for a 100 mile race in December.

My conference was November 9-11 (Wednesday-Friday). Julie flew into Vegas on Friday, picked me up, and off we went, making our way to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a little over four hours away. The North Rim was closed since it was the off-season.

Julie and her wife, Romy, had hiked the GC 10 years before, but I had never been, so needless to say I was pumped. We wanted to get there before the sunset – and we barely made it. If you’ve never been, the GC is indescribable. Go see it for yourself.

After taking in the view, we made our way to our hotel, the Kachina Lodge on the South Rim. Our plan was to run South Kaibab – North Kaibab – Bright Angel. Staying at Kachina Lodge was perfect since it’s just a few steps away from the Bright Angel trailhead, meaning we could walk to our hotel room after our adventure. We had a cab pick us up on Saturday morning a little before 4:00am for $10. Small price to pay for easy logistics.

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Here we gooooo!

South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch

Most recommendations say to take the first 6-7 miles easy down the South Kaibab trail to save the quads (unless you’re Jim Walmsley of course). We followed the recommendation and took it pretty slow down. My quads never felt blasted and I give this strategy a lot of credit. It was dark when we started and it was exhilarating to know that I was making my way down into the freaking Grand Canyon, even though I couldn’t see more than a few feet around me. We turned off our headlamps at one point to take in the abundance of stars above us and I was lucky enough to see a shooting star overhead.

Every once in awhile, we’d turn our headlamps to the side to reveal a huge drop off or a giant canyon wall surrounding us. I was so anxious for the sun to come up.

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Here comes the sun.

We started to see an outline of the canyon against the sky as the sun started to rise. We could hear rushing water – the Colorado River. It became light enough to turn off our headlamps. We crossed the river and ran into the famous Phantom Ranch. Here we filled up our water. I had a 70 oz bladder in my pack and two 10 oz flasks. This felt pretty heavy, but we weren’t quite sure how much water we’d need and wanted to play it safe.

Phantom Ranch – North Rim

We left Phantom Ranch and were enveloped by tall canyon walls on both sides. I didn’t realize this until after, but you’re essentially going uphill from Phantom Ranch to North Rim. Obviously, you know you’re going up when you’re climbing out of the canyon, but it’s less apparent when you’re in the bottom. Since I didn’t realize I was going slightly uphill, I was bummed that I was feeling a little sluggish so early. I thought it probably had something to do with the extra weight of the water, but I thought maybe my legs weren’t as recovered as I thought. I didn’t let it get me down too much, but it was still very early on in the day and I wasn’t looking forward to 40~ more miles of heavy legs.

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Look how teeny Julie looks compared to these massive canyon walls!

After a few miles of running in the crack, it eventually opened up. The sunlight was starting to hit the tops of some of the canyons. It’s incredible how the sun can totally change the way the canyons look – the colors look much different, more vibrant.

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We rolled into Cottonwood Campground and checked to see if the water was on in case we needed it on our way back. It was and we realized we did not need to fill our bladders the rest of the run. There was a sign that said we had 6.1 miles to the North Rim – and roughly 4300ft of climbing. Oof.

At some point, I realized I stupidly forgot my map. Granted, there are not a lot of opportunities to make a wrong turn, but I was still mad at myself for being careless. We only had one instance of confusion near Ribbon Falls. There was a fork in the trail with a sign that said something about Ribbon Falls. We didn’t think the trail went by Ribbon Falls, so we went the other way. We came to river and we weren’t sure we were going the right way. Neither one of us remembered reading anything about a river crossing. We both went across and Julie went ahead to see where the trail went and came back thinking we went the wrong way.

We made our way back to the fork and I was able to pull up a map on my phone and I quickly took a screenshot. The map seemed to show we went near Ribbon Falls, so we followed the sign. A few guys came up behind us and they reassured us we were going the right way. They said they were from Salt Lake City and one of them actually went to grad school in Davenport, Iowa. Small world (it would get even smaller). They said they started at 6:15, which meant they were booking it.

We eventually started climbing. A lot. The higher we went, the more beautiful the views. I kept thinking about how lucky I am that I am able to do this – physically, mentally, financially. I spent a lot of time feeling grateful.

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what is this life

At some point, I thought we had a little less than two miles left. We passed a hiker and he asked if were doing r2r2r and said we were making great time. He told us we had about four miles left. UGH. He seemed confident, but it just didn’t seem plausible. I know my watch was getting goofy but could it really be THAT far off?

The climb started to get steeper and the sun was starting to feel a little warm. We took breaks to get our heart rates down. We knew the climb was going to be tough but we didn’t expect to have to take breaks. The altitude probably played a factor, too. It was a grind making our way up and it was obvious we were both focused on getting out of the canyon, one step in front of the other.

We passed a couple guys who said the trail head was about a mile away. Hooray! We knew we’d run into a group of women who started about an hour earlier than us. I “met” one of the gals via the r2r2r Facebook group (great resource, by the way). We almost started at 3:00am with them, but decided against it to get another hour of sleep. We saw a few women, and one of them yelled out, “Are those our runner gals?!” We introduced ourselves and talked for a few minutes about our days so far. They were a great group and I hoped we’d catch up with them when we turned around. They said we didn’t have much left.

We finally made it to the North Rim and we gave ourselves 10 minutes to eat our sandwiches and sit down for a few minutes. We met a few guys up there who were also doing r2r2r. One from LA and the other from San Diego. Apparently, there was some misinformation about the water being on at the North Rim. It wasn’t and they needed water so they hitched a ride about a mile or so away to get water. They took off a few minutes before us.

North Rim to Phantom Ranch

Julie and I didn’t stay long – it gets cold sitting around in sweaty clothes. Now it was time for the run part! I was feeling pretty good so I ran ahead of Julie for a little bit to open up. I realized soon after that that it might be a stupid idea to split up. I waited for her to catch up and we made our way down, taking in the bonkers views the whole way. We stopped to take a few photos along the way. For realz, the views from the North Rim are magnificent.We caught up to the fellas we had met at the North Rim and then eventually to the group of women.

Side note: Maybe I’m making this up but I swear whenever we passed another pair or group of women hiking or running, I felt like there was this mutual sense of recognition. Of course, we exchanged pleasantries, but there was something more. Like both groups were so happy and proud to see another group of women exploring and adventuring together. Maybe this is all in my head but it sure did make me feel good. #girlpower

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We ran with the group for awhile but eventually ended up getting in front of them. We had a goal of getting to Phantom Ranch before 4:00p.m. to buy some food. Phantom Ranch closes at 4:00p.m. every day to prepare food for the campers. We hit Cottonwood Campground and were making pretty good time but Julie’s legs were starting to get a little tired and she wasn’t sure if she could make it by 4:00p.m. I was still feeling pretty good and offered to run ahead and see if I could make it. She was jonesin’ for a Coke so she sent me off.

This was probably one of my favorite few miles because it was the slight grade downhill (remember that slight uphill out of Phantom Ranch?) and I felt like I was fllllyyyyyiiiiing. There’s nothing like opening up on smooth, slight downhill on the trails. I was probably smiling the whole way. I was a little worried of tiring out my legs but knew after Phantom Ranch, I’d just be doing a butt-ton of climbing anyways, so who cares? Weeeeeeee!

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I made it to Phantom Ranch at 3:45 and grabbed us some food and a couple of their famous lemonades (no Cokes at Phantom Ranch!). I sat next to a few other runners, one who was doing r2r2r with a big group and who also ran ahead to get food for his buddies. He was with a gal who was joining them for the climb out. I soon learned that Kurt lives in Salt Lake City but went to grad school at the University of Iowa! Then a few of his other friends ran in and I found out he was born and raised in Iowa City and was just back in IC visiting his parents the previous weekend. I swear, Iowans are everywhere.

Julie got into Phantom Ranch right at 4:00p.m., yelled to a girl who she thought was me saying she was getting some food, and then ran into the shop to get some food. She came out a few minutes later looking much calmer and joined us at a picnic table. We stayed for maybe another 10-15 minutes and then headed out. It did not feel great to start running again after sitting.

Phantom Ranch to South Rim

Well, this was pretty much just a looooooot of hiking. After a few minutes of hobbling, we ran out to the Bright Angel Trail and across the Colorado River, which was magnificent. We took lots of photos and then went on our merry way.

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Julie and the Colorado!

The sun was starting to go down so we knew we didn’t have much longer before it got cold and dark. I think maybe we ran a mile or so and then it turned into hiking. And then we pretty much hiked all the way out. So. Many. Switchbacks. The group we met at Phantom Ranch eventually caught up to us and passed us. They were looking really strong. We caught up to them at Indian Gardens campground where we stopped to use the bathroom and take in some food.

I remember thinking we were closer to the top than we actually were (don’t trust your watch in the Grand Canyon, folks!) and being a little bummed but just put on my game face and kept on truckin.’ I think I thought it was like a six mile hike from Phantom Ranch, but it turned out to be more more like nine (I think, it was awhile ago. why didn’t I write this way sooner?). It was dark by this point so we couldn’t see much, although the moon was looking real pretty.

At some point, I smelled cigarette smoke and was confused. Who SMOKES in the Grand Canyon? Come on, people! We eventually came across a group of 4-5 women who were sitting at a rest area on a switchback. I noticed a pack of cigs in one of the girls’ pockets. I felt a little bad for them since they seemed waaaay out of their element. I also felt annoyed because they clearly didn’t do their research or properly prepare for doing a hike of this caliber. They said they had been hiking all day and were all feeling really tired. Julie told them to just keep going and rest at every switch back if they needed to. One of the women asked if they could hike out with us and Julie replied, “If you can keep up!” Needless to say, that’s the last we saw of them.

We continued on, wondering how many more damn switch backs we’d have to switch. Grand Canyon, I love ya, but we were ready to be out of the big ditch. It started getting a bit windier, which was a good sign we were close! We had already put on our jackets a few more miles before but our legs were getting a bit cold.

All of the sudden, BAM, we popped up out of the trail! We were done! Yahoo! It took us about 16 hours and 30 minutes total. 46 miles and roughly 10,000ft of climb and descent. A little later than we anticipated but not by much.

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All done!

We took a few pictures and then Julie got a look in her eye. Kinda crazy but not mad. She needed food. PRONTO. We went into one of the visitor centers and she hit up a gift shop but she didn’t find anything to hold her over until we got to our room and ordered food. She found out there was a restaurant in the building we were in and that was it. She pretty much sprinted (ok, not really) to the restaurant telling me I didn’t have to go but she needed to – it was a matter of life or death. I followed her in, wondering if everyone could smell us.

We sat down, ordered a few IPA’s and burgers, and cheers-ed to a most epic day.

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LOL

Ok, this next part is for my pal Joshua Sun, who wants to know what are three things that went well and three things that didn’t go well. This is actually really difficult because Julie and I got soooo lucky on so many occasions. The weather was perfect and the water was on. Those two factors are the ones that most scare me since you can’t control them. But we had a perfect weather day and most of the water was on. But here’s what I’ve got:

Three things that went well (that I could control):

  1. My gear worked great. I bought another hydration pack with more room (Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta) and was really pleased with how it performed. I had only used it on one other occasion so wasn’t sure – but I had no problems and it held a ton of stuff. We both used poles which were very helpful. The only thing that bothered me were my gaiters. I don’t wear them ever but was worried about sand/rocks getting in my shoes. They ended up being super annoying so I took them off. That was really the only gear hiccup. See gear list below!
  2. The company! Julie and I run together often so we knew we could handle 16+ hours of each other. Neither one of us was trying to set any records and were both a-ok with taking it easy. Our pace and personality complemented each other. Truly, I wouldn’t have wanted to do this with anyone else!
  3. I was really pleased with how my body held up. Like I said before, I was really nervous that I wasn’t recovered from my 100k. But it seemed to be the perfect amount of time off. I was pretty sore for awhile afterwards, while Julie was able to jump back into training right away. Taking South Kaibab super easy probably also helped with this.
  4. Oh and one more – the logistics worked out perfectly. $10 cab to get to the South Kaibab trailhead? And being able to walk to our hotel after? These two things made our adventure so much easier.

Three things I’d do differently:

  1. I put way too much water in my pack at Phantom Ranch. Definitely wasn’t necessary and just weighed me down!
  2. Moved out of Phantom Ranch a bit quicker on the way out. I’m all for taking everything in and we definitely did that. We stopped and took pictures when we felt like it and soaked in the beautiful views. But it takes a long ass time to climb out of the canyon. And once the sun goes down, those views are gone. I mean, it’s still an incredible feeling to know that we’re climbing out of the Grand Canyon – but those views definitely help.
  3.  I forgot my map! Make that list and check it off when it actually gets INTO your pack.
  4. Ok, another. I don’t think I brought enough food food. Ya know, like non-gels, real, actual food. We ate a few sandwiches at the top of the North Rim but I wish I had more of those tasty squished avocado sandwiches later on in the run. I can use gels through a race, but a long slow effort like this would be a lot nicer with some food food (for me, anyways).
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The only photo of both of us in the Grand Canyon. Good one, us.

Gear list

  • Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 3 (dude version cuz my feet are supa wide)
  • Clothes:
    • Patagonia Stride Pro shorts (LOVE these shorts, have multiple pair. if you dig lightweight material and a high split, buy these shorts)
    • Merino Wool tank
    • Injinji socks
    • Brooks Sureshot sports bra
    • Trail Sisters hat and buff. yay #trailsisters
    • Patagonia Houdini jacket (wore this in the morning and when the sun went down)
    • Gloves
    • Arm sleeves
  • Poles: Black Diamond Distance Z Z-Poles, Oxide Black, 110cm
  • Pack: Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta
  • Water Filter: Sawyer Pen. We both had one just in case but never needed them.
  • Water: Two 10 oz flasks in front, 70oz bladder
  • Watch: Garmin 910XT
  • Food: Lots of gels, bagel/avocado sandwich, dried bananas, Larabars, Tailwind in baggie
  • Misc: Rocket Pure Friction Therapy lube, headlamp, sunscreen, chapstick, gaiters, kleenex in baggie

Wild Duluth 100k

First of all, a little recap on my year thus far (if you don’t care, head on down a few paragraphs): 2016 was supposed to be the year of PRs. My plan was  to train for (and PR) the LA Marathon, use the base and speed gained to race well at Ice Age 50-miler and a 100-miler in the fall, which probably would’ve been Hallucination 100. But I ended up with a stress reaction in my femur from all the road running/speed work that my body wasn’t used to. I actually didn’t know I had a bone injury at the time of the marathon so I ended up running the marathon and held on for 20 miles, but the injury and the heat made for a disappointing finish.

Once I found out that nagging pull in my groin was actually a stress reaction, I took 7 weeks off and had to re-evaluate my goals. I decided my goal for 2016 was to run in amazeball places. And that’s exactly what I’ve done so far.

I was able to to still run most of the Chattanooga Stage Race with my friends in June, which I thought I wouldn’t be able to do after I found out about the injury. Then in July, Ross and I headed up to northern Minnesota to run the Eugene Curnow Marathon in Duluth and then spent the rest of the week in a cute cabin nestled in the Tettegouche State Park. I spent the week “running” the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). This vacation came to fruition after I decided that my “A” race for the fall would be the Wild Duluth 100k – and realized I better get some solid training on what the SHT has to offer (which is lots of climb, rocks, roots – and gorgeous views).

A week later, I went to Oregon to attend the Mazamas Ultrarunning Camp, which was by far the highlight of my summer. During the 3-day camp, we learned from ultrarunning greats Krissy Moehl and Jeff Browning, I met amazing folks, stayed in a lodge nestled between Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson and on Saturday, we circumnavigated Mt. Hood. I can’t describe how incredible the experience was, especially for a Midwesterner.

I chose Wild Duluth 100k for a few reasons. Mainly, it covered the “amazeball” description. Two other reasons: I’d never run the 100k distance before and the course terrified me. The course is about 10,000 feet of climb (my watch had over 11,000 but it tends to be optimistic) on the very gnarly SHT. Coming from fairly flat Iowa (although it’s hillier where I live than most people think), 10,000 ft is quite a bit, especially on terrain that is way more technical than I can find on the trails I run.

Ok, so for the actual race! My parents met me and Ross in Duluth on Friday. We headed to packet pick-up and ran into the a large group of QC-TUR(d)s (Quad City Trail and Ultra Runners). They had a big group running all three distances – 100k, 50k, and half-marathon. Said hello and well wishes, got my packet, and then we went to dinner.

The Start

I was able to fall asleep easily and got a full night’s sleep. Woohoo! Woke up at 4:15am, had some breakfast (bagel + avocado) and coffee, did pre-race things, and left around 5:15am. The race started at 6:00am and we were about a 15 minute drive away. Soon it was 6:00 and we were off!

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Before the race. Typical. Notice TUR(d)s in background.

I decided to get out in the front-ish because I knew we’d hit single track after less than a mile of pavement. I didn’t feel like getting caught in a conga line. We soon hit the single track and I think I was the 2nd or 3rd female in, which wasn’t intentional, just how it happened. I was in a line of about 6-7 people and we popped out of some single track and hit a road. The leader headed right to another trail and we followed. We soon realized we were not on the course. Ugh. We stood around looking for the reflective flags and soon saw a huge line of people across the street. We all headed that way and over the next mile, I tried to make my way up the conga line – exactly what I was hoping to avoid. Oh well.

The first aid station came quickly at mile 3 and like those in front of me, didn’t stop. We headed back into the trails and I found myself behind two women. I felt like I was strong on the ups and would get right behind them, but as soon as we hit a long stretch of down, they would just take off at a speed I couldn’t keep up with. I found this happening more often than I would’ve liked and I vowed to work on not being so timid on the downhills.

We were already gifted with a few incredible views of Duluth. This course is known for being beautiful and this is certainly accurate. The whole day was sprinkled with gorgeous fall colors and beautiful views.

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I came into the Highland/Gretchell Rd. aid station and saw my crew and Josh and a few other TUR(d)s who were were waiting for Steve and Geoffrey. They told me the other two women didn’t really stop but were only about 10 seconds ahead of me. I dumped my head lamp, grabbed some Gus, and took off, a little nervous they’d put a lot of distance in between us that I couldn’t make up. I really didn’t like how much I was thinking about placement so early into the race, but I had it in my head I really wanted to place in the top 3.

Miles 8.8-15.7

Have I mentioned how freaking beautiful this course is? Just want to reiterate this point.

This section is a little fuzzy, but I ran with a few folks during this section including a fella named Dan. He’s run some amazing courses and we chatted about past races. We discovered we could use each other since he was stronger on the downs and I on the ups. We’d switch leading the way to drag the other along. It was a pretty good strategy, really. We soon came to the Spirit Mountain aid station which was water only. We just kept going and we saw the ski lifts, which probably meant we had some hills ahead of us. This was accurate. We climbed and passed a few folks, I think.

The trail came to a road which we had to take for a short period of time. I had passed one of the gals in front of me at this point and so I thought there was one gal in front. All of the sudden, said gal came up behind me. What? Where did she come from? She said she’d stepped of the trail to use the bathroom. We soon came to the Magney-Snively aid station and she just zipped right through. I stopped to see my crew and get a few gels. I got out of there pretty quick.

Miles 15.7-20

This section was tough. After the aid station, I went back into the trails and soon found myself climbing a bunch. I crossed a road and continue climbing. I was pretty far away from the road, but Ross and my parents must have seen me as they drove by because I heard a honk and Ross cheering for me. As I was climbing, I heard a women’s voice behind me talking to another guy. We eventually began running together and I found out her name was Mollie. She had run the 50k a few years back. She was in good spirits and the company was nice. I wasn’t feeling super strong and the hills were getting pretty tough. Lots of boulders and technical trail. This was definitely the most technical section of the race, which I found out later was Ely’s Peak. I took a wrong turn and Mollie guided me back the right way (thanks!). She took the lead for awhile and she got a bit ahead of me. I took a pretty hard fall and kinda laid there shocked for a second. I kept going but she was moving a lot quicker than I was and was outta site. I was seeing a bunch of 50k folks at this point, too (the 50k starts at the 100k turnaround and they run to the the start/finish). At some point, I must’ve started going down Ely’s Peak and was soon on some flat trail close to the Munger Trail aid station. A female 50k runner passed me and said, “Hey! I recognize you! You’re doing great, third female.” I racked my brain trying to figure out who this was and I’m almost positive I ran with her at the Eugene Curnow Marathon back in June. Anyways, I rolled in to the aid station and was greeted by Ross, my parents, and a few TUR(d)s.

I had Ross re-fill my bladder, grabbed some nutrition and headed on, knowing it would be awhile before I saw them at the 50k turnaround.

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Everyone looking in different directions.

Miles 20-31

I had been looking forward to this section because I heard the 10 miles leading to the turnaround were a bit more runnable than the previous 20 miles. I would say this is true to an extent. The next five miles were pretty uneventful, I think. There was an aid station at 25.6 that wasn’t accessible to crew. I grabbed a cup of Coke and kept going. I passed a few fellas here.

I soon came to the dreaded power lines section. If you aren’t familiar with this, it’s a few incredibly steep hills that are under – yep, you guessed it – power lines! I’d already had the pleasure of running this section in the Eugene Curnow Marathon. It seemed we went up way more than we went down and I made a mental note that the way back should hopefully be easier (it was).

After this section, I was soon running some lovely MTB trails. THIS was what I was waiting for. Smooth and runnable.  I was able to open up a bit and really enjoy running for an extended period of time. There were still some hills but they didn’t seem long or steep enough to walk. There was a guy who was behind me for awhile and we eventually started chatting. His name was Joe and I really enjoyed his company. We chit-chatted and the time flew by. We eventually saw Mollie ahead and she took a very graceful tumble. She let us go by (after we made sure she was ok, of course). We were seeing some of the faster 100k folks head back towards the start. The first place female went by us and a few minutes later we were at the 50k turnaround.

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Just about to the 50k turnaround.
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Dad realizing how deceptively sweaty I am and immediately regretting his decision to touch me.

I was in good spirits. It was good to see my crew and I think I took some time to get some annoying rocks out of my shoe. I saw Joe leave and I took off shortly after, hoping to catch up and enjoy his company for a bit more.

Miles 31-42

Well, my plan to keep up with Joe did not work. He was moving pretty quick and he soon left me in the dust. I enjoyed the MTB trails again, soaking up the smooth and runnable trails knowing I would soon be back on the technical SHT. I remember trying to really appreciate the fact that I was running such a beautiful course and that I was able to do what I loved. The next 10 miles are pretty uneventful, really. I’ve never done an out and back course, so it was nice knowing what I had ahead of me. After about 5 or so miles after the turnaround, I stopped seeing 100k runners. I think I saw one 100k runner around mile 38 and that would be the second to last runner I would see (and no, the last runner I would see would NOT be the first female).

I got to the mile 42 aid station and my spirits were a little low. I was getting pretty lonely and was regretting not bringing along any music. I also knew I had Ely’s Peak ahead of me. You can legit see Ely’s Peak from the aid station so I had a tough time pulling myself from my crew. They said first female was about 10 minutes ahead – but looking really strong. I knew I was slowing down and if she didn’t end up doing the same thing in a big way, I wouldn’t catch up to her. Oh well, I wasn’t really bummed about this. I was just focused on getting the last 20 miles done.

Miles 42-46.3

I only had a few miles before the next aid station, but I knew they’d be tough. They were, but again, the views were dynamite. I never use that word to describe things but it just seems appropriate. I paid a lot of attention to course markers and the SHT blue blazes because this is where I took a wrong turn when I was running with Mollie on the way out. And what do you know? It worked. I knew after Ely’s Peak I’d have decent downhill to the next aid station. I think this is where I passed that other runner, but it’s a little fuzzy. Might’ve been in the next section. Anyways, I got to the downhill section and crossed a road, so I knew I was close to the next aid station. I definitely was in a better mood. I saw Ross who had come down the trail a little bit to greet me. I re-filled on necessities and debated taking the headlamp. A volunteer said it would be a good idea because “their were some forested areas ahead.” I looked at him and said, “Forested areas ahead? Oh, really?” in a pretty sarcastic tone. I felt a little bad about ribbing him but it was all in good fun. And it’s nice to be in a good enough mood to joke around. I took the headlamp and off I went.

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Coming into Mangey-Snively Aid station – mile 46.3

Miles 46.3-53.2

Man, my memory sucks. Nothing notable. Just trucking along. I do know the aid station came a little later than I anticipated and I was a little sad about that. I knew the aid station was on a bridge and every time a bridge came into view, I’d get excited, but it was the third or fourth bridge I saw that was actually the aid station. Once it came into view, my crew and volunteers started cheering. There was a steep climb to get up and I just powered up that sucker. My crew told me I was sitting in 9th overall and that I was pretty isolated. Which explains why I was seeing NO ONE on the trails. I headed out, knowing I wouldn’t see my crew until the end. There was one more aid station at mile 59, but I told them not to bother unless they realllllllly wanted to. I just planned on moving right through.

Miles 53.2-finish

The sun had started setting and once I made my way back up to the ridge, the views were totally different than during the day. The clouds had broken up so I enjoyed some really lovely views of the sunset. Breathtaking, really. Although I kept trying to stay positive and embrace where I was, I definitely could’ve used some company.

I started noticing some deep aches in my quads when I took big steps down the boulders. But for the most part, I felt pretty darn good. Just fatigued. As the sun went down, I eventually turned on my headlamp. This is when the trails started to get pretty tricky. It’s one thing running leaf-covered trails in the dark with fresh legs. It felt like a different beast doing the same on legs with 50+ miles on them. I remember thinking how I still felt pretty good and to just push past the fatigue to lay down some quicker miles. I tried my best and honestly felt like I was running at a pretty quick clip, but then I’d look down at my watch and it would tell me otherwise. Ah, such is life. This is also when I realized that 14 hours probably wasn’t going to happen. I knew I wouldn’t be much longer though.

As it got darker, the moon got brighter. And it was like one of those big ol’ harvest moons or something because that shit was BONKERS. I felt like I could touch it when I was up on the peaks. We so lucked out with the weather – overcast during the day, but clear at night.

I got to the mile 59 aid station and just kinda jogged on through. There was a little hill just past the aid station and I attempted to run up it. I was halfway up it and RIGHT when I stopped to walk, the volunteers started cheering for me to keep running. I did a little signature “raise the roof” move (god, I have to stop that) and started running again. Less than a 5k to go. Woohoo!

I knew the first few miles was a good chunk of climbing so I knew I’d have a lot of down. Unfortunately, it was pretty steep down so I wasn’t moving very fast. In fact, I think I moved slower going down than I did going up at the beginning, which I guess isn’t too surprising.

I kept popping out into roads so I knew I was getting close to the finish. Finally, the last road I came to was the main road crossing. I knew I had less than a mile left. I crossed the road and headed toward the pedestrian bridge and then I spotted Ross waiting for me. He ran the last little bit with me and that was very nice. I turned into the last straightaway that led to the finish line and finished in 14:07. We didn’t stay long. It was 8:00 and both my crew and myself needed food! (and beer).

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All in all, it was a good day. Ended up 2nd female (first place female finished 37 MINUTES ahead of me – YOWZA) and 9th overall. Ran amazing trails and raced a new distance on a really tough course. I slowed down more than I would’ve liked in the second half, but you live and you learn. I would definitely recommend this race to anyone looking for an ass kicker of a course.

Thank you x a million to Ross and my parents for once again, spending the day on the trails, most likely bored out of their minds.

For those who care:

  • Nutrition: water in my pack and a bottle of Tailwind, Gu’s every hour, fruit at the aid stations when it sounded good
  • On my feet: shoes –  Nike Terra Kiger 3s. NO BLISTERS! FIRST TIME EVER! I chalk this up to going to a men’s shoe for more width; socks – Injinjis
  • Clothes: Patagonia Stride Pro shorts and a Merino tank
  • Pack: Ultimate Direction Jenny Vesta. This was actually my first time racing with a pack and it didn’t bother me a bit.

Also, BONUS! I only fell one time. I was expecting no less than 5, so this was a real treat. I tripped a bajillion times though.

Burning River 100

Warning: this is long, folks.

I don’t know why, but Burning River 100 always felt like “the one.” You know, like how you feel about your future wife/husband. I just knew it was the perfect first 100 miler for me. It was terrain I could train for, it was close enough that I could drive and it worked well with my schedule. I signed up on my 28th birthday – December 2. It was my birthday present to myself; a birthday present that made me want to throw up every time I thought about it (that only lasted a few hours).

My training went really well and I felt confident about my ability to finish. I knew I would cross that finish line unless something unexpected happened that couldn’t be fixed (i.e. injury). I was aiming for a 22-24 hour finish based on previous 50 miler times.

Fast forward to race day, July 25, 2015. I am lucky that I had four people take time out of their lives to make the trip to Ohio and support me: Ross (boyfriend), Julie (best running buddy), and my parents. Ross and Julie were crewing, and would both pace me at some point. Julie from miles 71-91 and Ross from 91 to the finish.

START

The race started at 4:00 a.m. which was nice because it was supposed to get pretty hot out so we could get in some good, solid miles before the heat was out in full force. It also wasn’t nice because we had to get up at 2:00 a.m. and I had poor sleep the two previous nights. I wish I would’ve taken a sleeping aid Thursday night to make sure I got good sleep, but hind sight is 20/20, eh? Next time.

Our selfie game is not strong.
Our selfie game is not strong.

I took some pre-race pictures with my crew and then lined up. The first 11.5 miles were all road. I kept my pace at 10:15-10:30. The goal was 10:30 but I am almost positive every split was probably closer to 10:15. I will never know because my garmin deleted the file the next day (I’ll try not to bitch about that too much).

When it started getting light out, the farms looked incredibly picturesque, especially with the fog. It was almost like a dream. On the other side of the spectrum, a dude in front of me farted a bunch real loud. I stifled back my laugher.

I came into the first aid station at 11.57 feeling great. I dropped off my head lamp and refilled my Tailwind and gels. I went to the bathroom and got out of the AS pretty quickly.

Next up was trails. Yay! This section was mostly Bridle Trail, which was wide and runnable. Not very hilly either. I remember the miles ticking by very quickly.

This is when I first met and ran with Nick, who I would run with periodically throughout the day. Really nice guy who had run BR two other times. He let me know the second half was considerably tougher than the first. Thanks a bunch to Nick for running with me a decent chunk of the day. Our convo made some of those miles fly by.

I saw my crew again at mile 22 at Shadow Lake aid station. I was ahead of my predicted times – enough that Ross was asleep in the car and I didn’t even get to see him. Again, got in and out pretty quick.

My
My “I can’t believe Ross is sleeping” face.

MILES 22-53

Honestly, this section (yes, I know 30 miles is a lot and more than a “section”) went by super quick.

Nick and I started running together again in this section. Probably around mile 25, I saw a woman for the first time since the first 5 miles and passed her and really had zero clue what place I was in (nor did I want to know).

There was another aid station at mile 27 and this is when I was I got my first back ice rub down from Julie and it was splendid. Ice (mostly in the form of ice bandanas around my neck) played a big part of my race to keep myself cool as temperatures climbed to 87 degrees. Stocked up on gels and grabbed some watermelon (ate a TON of watermelon that day). I also ate a small turkey sandwich, which I’m pretty sure was my only time doing so. I didn’t have any PB and J’s either, even thought that’s usually my staple. The heat just made dry food seem gross so I stuck to fruit. I think I got out of the aid station pretty quickly. Nick and I met up again soon after.

Ice rub down and stretching support. What a crew.
Ice rub down and stretching support. What a crew.

I remember my watch clicked 31 miles and I told Nick how crazy it was that 31 miles was essentially the longest most people’s training runs got. And we still had 70 miles left! I was pretty good about not thinking about the “big picture.” My mind usually thought about the next aid station. Soon after we came upon some happy ladies in santa hats a the Alexander aid station. I passed two ladies right before and made a point to get in and out quick.

Alexander aid station  and the volunteers were FANTASTIC. They had ice water buckets and volunteers sponging runners off. I got sponged down, ate some watermelon, filled up my bottle, and was off. I took off a bit quicker than Nick at this aid station and left solo.

I knew I was going have a few miles of tow path (crushed gravel) before the mile 31 aid station. I really wasn’t looking forward to it – Nick had warned me it was boring and could get hot. I made it to the tow path and he was right –boring and exposed. I think a lot of folks suffered on this section. I passed a few people and kept a pretty decent clip (10:00ish if I remember correctly). There were a lot of non-runners on the path so that was kind of nice. Some people knew that a 100-miler was going on so the encouraging words were good to hear. My fav part was when a woman asked if I was doing the relay and I told her no (meaning I was doing the 100 solo) and all she said was “God love ya.”

Gettin' hot in hurr.
Gettin’ hot in hurr. Oak Grove Aid station.

Soon after I came up to Oak Grove aid station, which serves as two aid stations. It was mile 37 and I felt really good. I saw my super duper crew here and took a few minutes to get another ice bandana, some watermelon, and refill water. I’m pretty sure I took an S Cap too. It was really good to see my crew. I AM SO LUCKY. Seriously, I can’t say that enough. Every aid station lifted my spirits, even if my spirits were already high, because seeing them was just so awesome.

The next section was a little 4 mile loop. This was pretty fun. Ran with some fun guys for awhile who asked me why I was so chipper. While we were running, a dude came flying by and warned us that he has missed a turn in this section and had to re-run the loop. Gah!! That made me nervous so made sure to really pay attention. Turns out more than a few people did the same thing, including the woman who won.

Coming into Oak Grove a second time with these fun fellas. Sorry I can't remember your names!
Coming into Oak Grove a second time with these fun fellas. Sorry I can’t remember your names!

I came back to Oak Grove and saw my crew again, still in good spirits. I ate some Pringles and ditched my shirt. The red bandana had bled to my white singlet anyways (which freaked me out for a second before I realized what had happened). Restocked gels, refilled water, and off I went. Probably stayed a little too long. It was just so nice to be around my crew.

Pringles and ice.. mm..
Pringles and ice.. mmm.

I still didn’t know what place I was in and that was fine by me. I didn’t want to care about it until later and not knowing was really the only way to do that.

I left Oak Grove knowing I wouldn’t see my crew for 10 miles. Things were feeling great – stomach good, no hot spots. I could not complain. The next section is where a few things happened that put me back a few minutes.

  • I realized I had to go to the bathroom asap. But I was no where close to the next aid station, so off into the woods I went. I’m not very experienced with crapping in the woods, so this probably took me longer than it should have. It was also wasn’t super woodsy and I really didn’t want anyone to see me, so I went in pretty far. As I was making my way back to the trail, I saw Nick go by but it would be awhile before I caught up to him again.
  • I came across two guys looking like there were searching for something on the ground. Turns out one of the guys fell and his glasses few off his head. I helped him search for a little bit and luckily, another guy found them.
  • Once I got out of the “bathroom” and back on the trail, I ran by myself for a good while. I ended up catching up to a 50-miler and running behind him for a while. All of the sudden he asked when the last time I saw flag was. Crap. I was just following him. We kept going for awhile and didn’t see any flags. We came to a steep downhill and decided we didn’t feel like climbing up that thing if we had in fact missed a turn. So we turned around. We were running for a few minutes (I think??) when we ran into the two fellas I had run with during the Oak Grove loop. They thought they were on course so me and 50-miler guy turned around again. Sigh. I’m not really sure how far we had backtracked, but couldn’t have been too long.

We came through an aid station that had buckets of ice water and sponges. Ooooohhh that felt sooo nice. I was pretty quick through and off I went.

The next aid station was at the Stanford House, which was the 50-miler finish. It was a cute little town and there were a lot of people milling around. Ross met me a little before the aid station and gave me a smooch. It was nice to see him.

Stanford Aid station. Photo cred: Julie.
Stanford Aid station.
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Every aid station was like a pit stop.

I wasn’t sure if I was on track still for 22 hours, but still felt great so didn’t really care. Julie said I was doing well and that was good enough for me. I changed my shoes at this aid station because I knew I had a blister that I wanted to take care of and I wanted to change my wet shoes and socks. I was probably at this aid station longer than any other. Once again refilled my gel stash and tailwind.

Julie popping my blister. How many blisters have your friends popped for you?
Julie popping my blister. How many blisters have your friends popped for you?

I also grabbed my iPod at this point. Time for some Beyonce. Julie mentioned that I was now at the point I could take a pacer at anytime, which I didn’t feel like I needed, but it was nice to know that from now on the option was on the table. I said goodbye to my crew for another 13 miles.

MILES 53-66

The next 13 miles are a little blurry and also not super eventful. I left Standford house and sang along with my songs very loudly. I figured no one cared and I certainly didn’t. I ran through some grassy areas and I believe this is around where I took my one and only fall. 100 miles and only ONE FALL. THIS IS REALLY AMAZING.

I came to the next aid station and got my watermelon and water refill. The nice volunteer told me that I’d run some trail but then mostly road. When I hit the road, I played leap frog with a dude and his pacer for awhile. He would walk the hills but I’d keep running. When he would run, he’d pass me. This happened a few times.

We entered some trails again and according to my watch, I should’ve been coming up to the next aid station in a few miles. I was super excited to see Ross, Julie, and my parents. The trails were a little rocky, as in lots of big rocks to jump around and maneuver. There were plenty of people milling about so I figured we were close the aid station. My water was gone and I was getting thirsty!

I climbed up some stairs out of the trail and saw a bunch of cars and a shelter house thing. Hooray! Aid station! Then I saw a woman smoking in fancy clothes. Hmm.. that’s not what people look like at an aid station. I soon realized it was actually a wedding and I had to go back in the trails. NOOOOO!!! This put a damper on my mood. I was seriously SO EXCITED TO SEE MY CREW. And then it was ripped away from me.

Ok, keep going. You’ll get there. I did get there, but two miles later than I thought I would. This really soured my spirits. When I finally did get close to an aid station, I saw Julie running toward me all ready to run. She wasn’t supposed to join me for another 5 miles, but I was more than ready for some company. Especially because I was so annoyed at this point. I greeted my crew, excited to see them. Made silly faces at the camera. Ate some (more) watermelon. It was still pretty warm so I was still getting ice bandanas at every aid station. This was such a good idea.

Pissed the wedding wasn't the aid station, but trying to forget about it with silly faces.
Pissed the wedding wasn’t the aid station, but trying to forget about it with silly faces.
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I think I look like a child in this photo.

MILES 66 – 80

Julie and I took off. Yay! Running buddy! I think it took me awhile, but I eventually came out of my funk. We had about 10 miles before we’d see the crew again. Julie started telling me how everyone was rooting for me back home. I found out she had been updating Facebook at every. Single. Aid station. And people were being super awesome and supportive. Julie read me some really nice comments and words of encouragement. I have to say, it was really nice to hear. I appreciated this so very much.

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Taking selfies and running is hard work.
Taking selfies and running is hard work.

We ran some more technical stuff, where I bitched about rocks and stairs and such. We generally had a good time, as we normally do. Julie’s is my best running buddy who I have shared a bajillion miles with. I’m really lucky to have someone who wants to run trails for hours as much as I do. She’s taught me a lot and obviously is a great support to me. I’m excited to repay her the favor when she races Pinhoti 100 in November. She also got some great photos while pacing, which are really nice to have and look back at.

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Probably around mile 67 or so?
Hello, hill.
Hello, hill.

One of my favorite memories of this race is when we were running some grassy trails right around mile 70. I looked up ahead and saw an enormous hill and said ‘GROSS.’ We walked up the hill and then lo and behold – a huuuuuge downhill and a huuuuuuge uphill after. This is what they call the “Sound of Music” hill. I think I like this memory so much because Julie and I were joking around so much even though we obviously had a really tough section ahead of us. It was also very gorgeous.

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The gross hill.
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Almost to the top!!
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We having fun yet?
Get to the top and see ANOTHER massive hill. Embrace that shit.
Get to the top and see ANOTHER massive hill. Embrace that shit.

 We made it up that hill and we were at the mile 70 aid station. I think this was my favorite aid station. One volunteer told me how great I looked and that I was probably one of the least exhausted looking runners to come though. Another volunteer put ice in my hat and held it on my head so it would stay. This was one of my favorite pictures of the day.

Thank you, kind volunteer!
Thank you, kind volunteer!

I put on my hydration pack at this point because I was sick of carrying my bottle. Off we go for a 4ish mile loop before we came back to the aid station. My dad jokingly said “see you in 20 minutes?” And I said “Yeah, I’ll just go PR my 5k right now.” Good times.

Looking sexy at mile 70.
Looking sexy at mile 70.

Off we go to do a very tough loop. I actually can’t remember much of it, but I know when we got back to the aid station, I told Ross and my parents, “That was HARD.”

IMG_2589
Oh, stairs, I hate you.
IMG_2594
One of my fav pictures of the day.

Ross also said the quote of the day, “Just think, you only have a marathon left!” I think he was trying to be nice, but I wasn’t super thrilled to hear that.. I’ve since forgiven him.

Julie and I left again, knowing that it would be 15 miles before we saw Ross or my parents again. And when Ross would take over pacing duties. These 15 miles were probably the hardest and lowest mentally of the race. Not only was it getting dark, but the trails were probably the most challenging. Lots of roots, stairs (which I repeatedly called stupid), mud, ups and downs. I felt like when I finally was able to start running, I’d have to slow to a walk to get over, up, or down. I wasn’t trusting my legs anymore on steep downhills or stairs so I was taking them pretty slowly. That being said I am so lucky I had Julie along for the ride! I am sure I would’ve been much lower if she wasn’t there.  At one point, Julie said, “Fresh legs Kelly would love these trails!!” In which I replied, “Fresh legs Kelly would still think these stairs are stupid!!” That was pretty funny.

We came to some “trails” next to cornfields. I remember being so annoyed – the “trails” were just ruts that tripped me every few steps. I told Julie that this section was stupid (do you sense a theme here?) and that I would be faster walking. So that’s what I did.

Every once in awhile I’d pop in my ear buds to get a little boost from Beyonce (I listened to a LOT of Beyonce). Julie mentioned this was the quietest she’d ever seen me. I knew I was quiet, but it seemed like so much energy to talk. I’d notice Julie getting ahead of me a bit, which I didn’t think much of at the time, but she told me after she did to get me going a little faster. She noticed when she was running near me, I slowed down. She was the most excellent pacer. She told me how awesome I was doing at the right time, and just generally made me feel better.

MILES 80-85

After 5 miles (which felt like they took fooreeeever), we came to the Covered Bridge aid station, an aid station we’d go through twice. This also when my watch died, which sucked, but maybe it was for the best. On one hand, knowing how slow I was going the last 20 miles would’ve been pretty demoralizing BUT it might’ve also made me go faster. I’ll never know I guess.

The Covered Bridge loop was pretty tough. I honestly don’t remember much of it, I just know it was mostly single track. When we got back to the Covered Bridge aid station for the second time, we saw a few people going out the way we were coming in. Glad we caught them so they didn’t do the loop the wrong way. We also saw another female 100 miler. She didn’t look very good. She sat down in a chair and put her head down. I know that she had been ahead me all day and my crew was calling her “skirt.” Apparently, they gave everyone near me nicknames. I guess that’s what you do when you’re just waiting all day long. I felt really bad for her. Julie and I stopped for a few minutes to eat and things, and then kept going. Julie thought I was now in 4th place.

MILES 85 – 90

After Covered Bridge, I had 5 more miles until we would see Ross and my parents. Yay! I was feeling a little mental boost because a.) I passed a girl and b.) I WAS LESS THAN 15 MILES FROM THE FINISH. We would get passed by relay runners every so often and they were so apologetic. “Good job!” we’d say and they’d reply “Oh no, I’m just a relay runner!!” We’d tell them “don’t say that, you goober*!! You’re still doing awesome!” It was really nice to see people – just another little pick-me-up. 100 miler runners were pretty hard to come by so having the relay folks pop up every once in awhile was nice. Even though I probably still wasn’t talking much, I think mentally, I was feeling better.

I knew 24 hours was probably out of my reach at this point. Or it would be very close. Julie reported I had to hold a 15 minute pace (I think?? I can’t remember anymore) until the finish. Even though that’s pretty damn slow, it seemed hard to accomplish, especially with a bit of trails to do and another aid station.

MILES 91 – FINISH

When we got to mile 91, I was so happy to see Ross and my parents. It’d been hours since I saw them last. I didn’t have any sense of time pretty much all day, but I know now that it was around 1:30 a.m. Ross gave me a hug. Julie had sent him a text to tell him I was looking for some human contact. It was true. I sat down in a chair to change my shoes one last time. My other shoes were very open at the top and had kept getting little pebbles in them which was annoying as hell. I put the new shoes on and they did not feel good at all, but I didn’t care. Let’s just get this 10 miles done.

Mile 91 aid station. This pictures makes me laugh. I look like I'm either a zombie or trying to psych myself up for 10 more miles.
Mile 91 aid station. This pictures makes me laugh. I look like I’m either a zombie or trying to psych myself up for 10 more miles.
Evidence that smiles happen at mile 91.
Evidence that smiles happen at mile 91.

I thanked Julie for running with me for 26 miles and just being awesome in general and then Ross and I took off. I knew the last 10 miles was probably the easiest part of the course. Mostly flat and wide tow path trail or road, with a few miles of single track. Running with Ross was nice and comforting. I made him hold my hand a few times. Why? I don’t know. You want weird things after running that long. He also saw a bat eat a bug right in front of his face and he thought that was really cool. I’m sure he’d be disappointed if I left that part out.

I ran for most of this, but if there was even a hint of a hill, I would walk it. 5 miles went by and we were at another aid station. I went to the table ONE last time and ate my last piece of watermelon. I wonder if I ate an entire watermelon that day. Like at every aid station, the volunteers were incredible. I didn’t waste much time because we were almost done!! I bid farewell to my parents and told them I’d them at the finish line. Julie was going to meet us about a mile out and run in with us.

LAST PIECE OF WATERMELON!!
LAST PIECE OF WATERMELON!!

As we left the aid station, a police car escorted us across a bridge so we didn’t get hit by oncoming traffic, which was incredibly nice of him. Then we ran some sidewalks in town, which was kind of weird after being in the woods for so long. It was pretty late but I remember there being a surprising amount of traffic. A car of girls went by and honked and yelled words of encouragement. That was nice.

Either we came up on a dude or he came up on us – I can’t remember. But he was in a pretty weird place – saying some odd things, but I guess probably not that odd considering we’d been running for 97 miles or so. We entered the trails and there was a big climb. We started walking and the fellow said he was going to lie down when he got to the top. Umm.. are you sure that’s a good idea? Yeah, he told us, I’ve been doing it all day. Alright, then, see you later!

We eventually came to what I knew was coming – a ton of stairs. Tons of stairs meant close to the finish. Alright, let’s do it. I used my arms to help with the brunt of it. We got to the top and heard a raging river. It was so loud! We ran along some pretty flat trails for awhile and eventually the trail spit us out into town. I knew we were close. The trail section was over, and it was just a few miles until the finish. I asked Ross if 24 hours was achievable and he reported that it probably wasn’t. I was kind of bummed, but I was ok with it.

We started running on a sidewalk. Of course, there was a HUGE hill looming. Ross asked if I could run up half and then walk. Yes, I could. So that’s what we did. I picked a light post and ran to it. Then I walked. At the top, we started running (although I’m using the term running pretty loosely at this point). One foot in front of the other.

Soon after, I saw Julie. YES. I asked her how far out we were and she said probably less than a mile, maybe around .7 miles.

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ALMOST THERE I’M SO HAPPY

She had her phone with me and said, “Kelly, it’s 3:54.” 6 minutes to finish under 24 hours. “Are we doing this?” I asked. I answered my own question by picking up the pace. We kept going. I saw our hotel, which was a block or so right before the finish line. Hooolly shiiiiiiiiit!!!!!!! We could see the finish. There was a car coming toward us and Julie said, “move over, you idiot!!” while waving her hands, or something along those lines.

And then we heard someone yell “ONE MINUTE!!!” And then I ran as fast as my little, tired legs could go. Julie’s watch had us clocked at going a little under sub-8:00 min pace right before the finish line. Kinda crazy what your body can do when you know it doesn’t have to do it for very long. The folks at the finish line were cheering. I was so close. And then I crossed the finish line. At 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds. 100 miles. Three weeks later, I still can’t comprehend it.

Blurry.
Blurry.

I hugged Ross, my parents, Julie. Thanked them for everything. I honestly can’t say thanks enough. I honestly cannot IMAGINE doing this without such these guys. Took pictures. I tried to eat something but it didn’t taste good. We probably hung around for about 20 minutes and then we went back to the hotel.

My favorite people!!!
My favorite people!!!
My other favorite people!!!
My other favorite people!!!
Oof.
Oof.

I took a painful bath. And then a shower to wash away the disgusting bath water. I got in bed and realized I didn’t brush my teeth, but couldn’t get up again. Julie brought my toothbrush and a cup of water so my teeth wouldn’t rot out from all the gels. And then I went to bed, every once in awhile hearing cheers of other folks finishing.

What I learned:

  • I am pretty mentally tough. I am most proud of never, ever thinking I’d quit. It never even become an option.
  • My crew was essential. They were supportive, smart, and helpful. I didn’t have any major set backs and I owe a lot of that to them.
  • I can handle the heat pretty well. It got up to 87 degrees and I don’t think it really ever “got” to me. I owe this to: ICE BANDANAS, ice rub downs, hot yoga, humid Iowa.
  • My stomach is awesomely weird. I am totally grossed out I ate like 27 gels in 24 hours without a problem. I’m super thankful that my stomach can handle this, but was also very surprised. I’ll take it – it makes things easy.

What I’d do differently:

  • I wish I would’ve pushed harder in the last 25 miles. Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of what I did, but I think I could’ve gone faster. Nothing was hurting me. My legs were tired, yes, but I had no serious pain.
  • Spend a little less time at aid stations. I was pretty good at getting in and out pretty quickly in the first half, but think I spent too much time in the aid stations in the second half.
  • Study the course more. There was a lot of elevation in that second half and it kicked my butt.
  • Put more music on my iPod. I bought an iPod oooh about a week before the race. Then I realized I didn’t have any music to put on it. And I ended up with an iPod full of songs that didn’t really do much for me. Good thing I can listen to a few songs over and over again.

Overall, I am very happy with how the day turned out. My two biggest concerns were my stomach and feet and both held up incredibly well. I did have a huge blister on my right toe, but that literally happens anytime I run 50 miles so I was expecting it. I think I paced myself well in the first half. I don’t think I would want to go much slower or faster.

One question I get asked a lot is if I’d do again. And I can say with 100% confidence, that yes, I would, and am already planning my next 100 miler (not for a looong time though!). I remember thinking during the race “I won’t do this again” which was literally immediately followed by “Yes, you will, you idiot.” I think it’s in my blood.

The race day stuff, for those who care:

What I wore:

  • Pearl Izumi ultra shorts
  • Asics singlet
  • Injinji socks (2 pair total. )
  • Shoes: Terra Kigers 2 (3 pairs – last pair I put on at mile 91 was a half size bigger than normal to account for any swelling).
  • Ultimate Direction – Jenny hydration pack, which I only wore for ten miles, I think. Maybe not even.
  • Moving comfort sports bra
  • Thorsday hat (represent!!!!)
  • Lots of $1 bandanas
  • Garmin 310XT

What I ate:

  • Gu’s. A lot of them. All different flavors. Every 45 minutes to an hour I’d eat one.
  • Lemon or naked flavored Tailwind was put into my bottle at every aid station my crew was at.
  • Watermelon and grapes. Mostly watermelon.
  • Pringles
  • A few twizzlers
  • 2 s-caps

Thanks for listening, folks!

* We didn’t really call them goobers.

Hawkeye 50k

Finally, I was able run the Hawkeye 50k. I ran the 25k two years ago and DNS last year due to a bum hamstring. I was pretty pumped to run this race, mostly because I run these trails almost every weekend and it would be fun to run them in a racing atmosphere.

The race is two 25k loops around Lake Macbride, 5ish miles of gravel trails, 6ish miles of fun trails, and 4ish miles of road. Me and the Rosses got there a little early and socialized with all the local runners. Tons of friendly faces and it was so good to see everyone out at one of my favorite places.

My foot has been bothering me (inflamed tendon in the left side of my  left foot) so I was planning to take the first loop easy and see what happened. I was ready to DNF if it really flared up. But luckily, that didn’t happen. In fact, it felt pretty damn good.

The first loop I ran with mostly with Wendy, an amazing trail runner from Cedar Falls. I met Wendy almost three years ago at my very first trail race – a 10k out at Sugar Bottom trails. Since then, I’ve run into her at so many local trail races and it’s always a pleasure to see her. This was the first time I’ve been able to run with her and it was awesome learning more about her, her running, and her family.

We ran most of the gravel portion together and then she got ahead of me.  Then came my favorite part of the course – the spillway. I only wish there were more sections like this – essentially you’re crossing a spillway from the Macbride State Park into the Macbride Nature Recreation Area. I got my feet wet which I loooove because it’s so refreshing. My shoes and socks dry quickly so I never have any problems.

Spillway!
Spillway!

One of the volunteers, Julie (thanks for being out there!), told me she thought I was 6th female. I didn’t really have my eye on placing at that point, but felt a little disappointed where I was in the line up. But I shrugged it off and just reminded myself: TRAINING RUN.

Then I entered what I deem the fun trails. Cross country trails with decent climbs and pretty sites. This is probably where most people who aren’t familiar with the course might realize they went out a bit too fast. It’s easy to do because that gravel section is so flat and it’s easy to just let go and move fast.

I had a great time on the fun trails. I walked up two of the steepest climbs (right outside of the spillway and another right steep single track section in the middle of the fun trails) but I didn’t want to walk anymore than that.

Eventually I caught up to another running acquaintance, John. Another runner I’ve seen at other races and kind of know. I had a great time learning more about John and his upcoming races. We hit the road section and Wendy caught up with us. It was so nice to have this company on the 3.5 miles of hilly road.

I was feeling pretty good and was going faster than I thought I should’ve been, but hey, when in Rome, right? We came in at the half way point and thanked all the awesome volunteers, many of whom I knew. Ate some m & m’s, refilled my water, and took off again with Wendy. John took a bit more time at the aid station so we didn’t see him again. I should mention he had a marathon coming up and he was using the 50k as a training run 🙂

We started off for the second loop and I thought, “Ok. Foot good. Legs good. Let’s keep it up.” A few miles in, Wendy backed off a bit and I was on my own. And I would be for the rest of the race. Ended up hitting decent splits on the gravel section. I was still not concerned with placing or catching up to females at this point – just wanted to run strong.

I crossed the spillway again and was excited to hit the trails again. Wee! Still felt good in this section, feeling a little tired yes, but overall, feeling pretty darn good. Around mile 23, I saw a girl. My heart jumped a little bit. As much as I was telling myself I wasn’t racing, I couldn’t help but get a little competitive. I saw she was walking on a flat section, which told me she probably wasn’t feeling great.

I caught up to her and she confirmed my suspicions. She told me she was in second, and so now I would be in second when I passed her. Cool! We exchanged pleasantries and off I went.

The next few miles went by quickly without a hitch, mostly I was just dreading finishing on the road. Tired legs and pounding pavement sounded awful. I saw Ross around this point and talked with him a bit. I’d been looking for him a bunch since he was volunteering at the race – it was nice to finally see him.

I got to the last aid station, around mile 27 and spotted a girl at the aid station, taking in fluids. A GIRL. She passed me early on in the gravel section, so I knew she was a 50k runner, not a 25k. And then my competitiveness really kicked in and all of the sudden I WANTED FIRST. I whizzed by the AS and entered the trails, with the goal of getting as much distance as I could between us.

There was a mile of decently tough trail before the roads so I tried to run that section as strong as I could. I just kept thinking, if she’s a strong road runner, she’s going to catch me on the road. And was envisioning this epic battle to the finish. That would’ve been fun and hard, but it didn’t happen.

I got to the road and just zeroed in on counting. Keep the legs turning fast (which is relative at this point), power up the hills, don’t think about how many miles you have left. Ross passed me in the truck and told me I had put a decent amount of space between us. I didn’t care – I wanted more space between us so kept pushing hard.

The road is hilly and a little curvy so you can’t see too far behind you. A few points you can, but anytime I looked back I couldn’t see far back and never saw anyone.

I finally turned onto the last little bit of road and was finally on the last little stretch of paved trail to the finish.

Almost done!
Almost done!

I crossed the finish line happy and tired. Finally, a first place finish! One of the volunteers said, “Congratulations! You’re second female!”

wat.

Apparently, a badass woman finished about 9 minutes before me. Woops. The gal I passed must’ve been wrong about what place she was in. Oh well! To make matters even more hilarious, the girl I passed at mile 27 (who I thought was first) took her time with the last 4 miles and finished quite a bit after me.

If anything, at least I know I can push it if I need to, right? This race was full of my favorite things: GREAT weather (which is huge since this race is notorious for bad weather), my fav Iowa ultra runners, trails I love, and great volunteers. ‘Twas a good day.

I only added this picture because Ross looks hilarious.
I only added this picture because Ross looks hilarious.

Lookout Mountain 50 miler

Lookout Mountain 50 was not in my plan. I was supposed to run Surf the Murph 50 miler in October, but I sustained a stress fracture in my second metatarsal and screwed up my fall racing plans. I chose Lookout because it made sense with my recovery schedule, I had good friends down in Tennessee, and I wanted to try some non-Midwest trails. So, Lookout it was!

Ross and I left on Friday with a 12 hour (or was it 14?) ahead of us. My parents were already on their way down from South Dakota, taking advantage of recent retirement which means no schedule whatsoever. Got into Tennessee around 5:00, found hotel and parents, ate some dinner, and went to bed.

Ross and Dad accompanied me to the start. My mom’s back was acting up so she decided to stay at the hotel with the hopes of it feeling better by the time I hit the mile 22 aid station.

Me and my dad. Look at that hat.
Me and my dad. Look at that hat.

Started at 7:30 and after a mile of some roads, we hit single track and made the descent to the bottom of Lookout Mountain. Being from Iowa, the views were just so freakin’ gorgeous; I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on trail so I didn’t fall to my death of a constant cliff. Lots of switchbacks and single file lines. Not too much chatter going on around me and my fellow runners. At one point, I was leading a line of like 10 dudes and totally ate it. Popped back up  (“like a poptart” my friends would say) and kept trucking. It was the first fall of many.

Around mile 8, there was a flat section on a gravel road. I picked up the pace a bit and started feeling a little tightness in my left heel. That soon became a lot of tightness. My gait altered and I started to worry. I started wondering if I would have to deal with this for 42 more miles, or if it would make me drop. Long story short – once I started climbing a bunch around mile 15 it went away. I’m assuming it was because my body wasn’t used to continuous downhill trail running and my calves weren’t warmed up enough. Whatever it was, it was gone. That was probably the lowest point of the race mentally.

Anyways, I settled with a group of 4 or 5 guys as we made our way back up to the start. It was long and slow. Lots of hiking. But the good company made it go by quickly (shoutout to Kyle from Georgia and (Ed)ward from Mississippi!).

The next aid station was at mile 22 (that start/finish area) and this would be the first time I’d see Ross and my parents. The best thing happened. The aid station appeared at mile 20.2!!! Actually, it was mile 22, but my watch got off track due to switchbacks and elevation change. As always, it was great to see them. Got a dry Buff, let them know I was doing fine, shoved some food in my face, and took off. I came in at 3:53; making good time and on track with my plan of breaking 10 hours.

Still unaware that my quads would turn on me rather shortly.
Still unaware that my quads would turn on me rather shortly.

Had a few miles of flat and downhill singletrack and a little bit more of gravel road before I hit single track again. I noticed my quads were starting to ache a bit. Normal in an ultra, sure, but I wasn’t liking how much they were already barking.

Anyways, caught up to some friendly faces again and ran through some very pretty areas, including the famous waterfall. Great aid station, beautiful views. More hills. My quads were really starting to hurt and had a really tough time keeping a decent pace. Arrived at mile 34 (Lula Lake AS) and saw my parents and Ross again. Let them know I was definitely slowing down, but still feeling ok and in good spirits.

Mile 34 selfie with my main squeeze.
Mile 34 selfie with my main squeeze and biggest supporter.

Took off for the 4.5 mile loop around the lake, which I just didn’t like that much. Felt more like eight miles. This is also when I took my worst fall – which was probably my third or fourth at this point. I lost count.

That loop took me forever and had fantasies of getting back to the AS with Ross all set to run the last 12 miles with me. I knew the chances of this were slim to none. Lookout doesn’t allow pacers, but they do allow ‘safety runners,” which you could only use if you came in at mile 38 after 3:00. That was not in my plan, so we didn’t even plan on that happening. But it did. Woops.

Came into mile 38 AS and joked around with Ross and my parents, fully accepting it would very well take 2.5 hours to finish, if not more (which it did). I had some fun with trail mix, while Ross captured my graceful actions, and then I was on my way again.

Discovering Raisinettes (the BEST CANDY EVER) in the trail mix.
Discovering Raisinettes (the BEST CANDY EVER) in the trail mix.
Tossin' trail mix back into my mouth like a lady.
Tossin’ trail mix back into my mouth like a lady.
More lady like behavior.
More lady like behavior.
So happy. Notice raisin flying out of my mouth in the lower left-hand corner.
So happy. Notice raisin flying out of my mouth in the lower left-hand corner.

I’ve only done one other 50, and Ross ran the last 15 with me. I had never run this far alone before. I didn’t know how it would go and was afraid I would start to struggle mentally. But I never hit that point. Don’t get me wrong, there were some mentally trying points, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

One point of struggle though, was peeing. The aid stations, except for mile 22, didn’t have port-a-potties, and I just kind of held it without much problem until I couldn’t anymore. Around mile 41, I snuck off the trail to pee and it was just awful. My quads were screaming, I could barely bend, and I peed on myself. Good times!

Kept shuffling along, ticking off miles, verrrry slowly. My quads were dead. Got passed by some dudes. But whatever, it didn’t sour my spirits. Just kept going. I hit the gravel area by the power lines again and knew I was close. Some guy had said once you hit the power lines you’re one to 1.5 miles to the finish. I could hear the announcer. I instantly had a giant shit eating grin on my face, so excited to see Ross, my parents, and my friends Brian and Haley who had made the trip from Nashville to see me finish. I felt like I was going faster – looked down at my watch – an 11:00 min/mile pace! Wow! Flying!! (that was sarcasm).

Then I came to a fork. Right or left? CRAP. I missed my turn. I didn’t see flags. There wasn’t anyone around me. I decided to wait instead of guess. So just kinda jogged back. I saw a few people off in the distance maybe .20 miles back. A girl and a guy. They turned off into some trails. ARRGGH.

I ran back and turned off into the woods, with no energy to chase after the girl. Whatever (lots of “whatever” moments in this race). Entered another section of single track but knew I was close. It was starting to get dark, and there were some muddy spots. Turned on my headlamp and kept going. At this point, Kyle from Georgia caught up to me and we ran a bit together, talking about how excited we were to finish.

The announcer was getting louder. Kyle got a bit ahead of me and I climbed up out of the trail section onto a gravel road. There were lights/candles lining the road. I could see people cheering folks in. I heard Ross yelling. I was so happy. He jogged next to me as we went through some trees. He gave me a big smooch. I said how happy I was. I came out of the trees and into the finish line chute. And then finished. In 10 hours and 44 minutes.

Finishing in the dark.
Finishing in the dark.

I saw my dad, my mom, Brian, Haley, and Ross. I was elated. My favorite faces at the end of the hardest race I’d ever run. It meant the world to me to have them there and I am forever thankful to have such supportive people in my life.

My parents drove 14 hours to watch me run for almost 11 hours. That's some top notch support right there.
My parents drove 14 hours to watch me run for almost 11 hours. That’s some top notch support right there.
Bri and Haley! So good to see them at the finish line. Sorry I acted drunk (no, I 'm not).
Bri and Haley! So good to see them at the finish line. Sorry I acted drunk (no, I ‘m not).

I actually placed first in my age group and ninth female, which I was super surprised about. Looking back, I should have done more hills and worked on downhills. I trashed my quads in the first ten miles, making the second of the race much slower than the first. My quads were just too tired to pick up the pace on the downhills and flat. But I did learn that even though I was hurting and I was going slow, I could still hang in there mentally and get shit done.

Also, coming off a stress fracture in August, I’m pretty damn happy with how my body was able to heal quickly and complete this distance on this difficulty of trails.

This was a huge confidence booster going into 2015. I’m signed up for my first 100 in July and this race let me know it wasn’t a completely idiotic move. That’s still to be determined, but I guess we’ll find out in July.