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.

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.

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.

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.

Ice bandanas! Mile 32.
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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.