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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- A few twizzlers
- 2 s-caps
Thanks for listening, folks!
* We didn’t really call them goobers.