Superior 100

Last year one of my buddies sent me a random message saying he was throwing his name into the Superior 50 lottery and inviting me to do the same. What the hell? I thought and in the lottery my name went – and then pulled out.

Superior 50 went better then I could’ve ever hoped. I had a steady day and a strong finish. I ended up first female and ninth overall, which certainly added to the experience, but it was the race itself – the volunteers, the other runners, the meticulous detail from the RD to give us the best experience possible, and of course, the Superior Hiking Trail – that made the race memorable.

As I was thinking about 2018 races, I kept coming back to Superior 100. It’s been bucket list race for awhile and  I always vowed to sign up after I was more experienced and had a few tougher 100s under my belt. For those who aren’t familiar, Superior is a pretty tough race – 103.3 miles, 21,000 ft of climb and a very technical trail (meaning lots of roots and rocks). I realized I could always make up arbitrary rules to determine when it was the “right” time to run a race.  It didn’t take long to convince myself it was the right time run Superior 100, regardless of my “rules.”

My training went well and if anything, I went in feeling a tish undertrained. I dealt with a minor hip flexor issue about a month leading up to the race and was a little cautious with my training but overall, I felt my fitness was in a good place. My coach, Matt Flaherty, helped improve my running drastically the past 18 months and I trusted his training plan. I was more concerned about my mental game. I switched jobs in June and while my new gig is a dream job scenario for me, I was putting in a lot of hours and things were slipping from my training: strength/core work was lacking, I wasn’t doing a good job stretching and rolling, and my nutrition wasn’t great. I was worried all these little things might come to bite me – whether I wasn’t mentally in it or my hip flexor would flare up or my hamstrings would blow up from neglecting my strength work (gotta keep those glutes activated!). Anyways, I went into the race thinking if I had a good day, I’d come in around 26-27 hours (I have no clue why I chose this, by the way) but was anticipating a tough race. I didn’t have time goals, just to have a steady, fun day.

The weather was shaping up to be nearly perfect and I had a top notch crew ready to roll. My crew consisted of my boyfriend,  Ross (who hasn’t missed any of my 100s); best running friend, Julie; Julie’s wife and my good friend, Romy; and Katie, my best friend from high school who was going to join the fun Friday afternoon. I was grateful for the support of this kickass group.

The pre-race meeting was where it all sunk in – that I was actually going to run Superior 100, a race that both scared and excited the hell out of me. The energy at the meeting was through the roof and I soaked it all in. I saw lots of familiar faces and friends I’ve met on the trail at other northern MN races. It was like a big family reunion.

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Pre-race photo. Photo credit: Ian Corless

We headed back to the hotel to settle in for the night and get a good night’s sleep.

The race started at 8:00am which was by far the latest I’ve started a 100-miler. It was pretty nice to “sleep in” until 5 or so. Luckily, I fell asleep easily and slept the whole night.

Ross and I stayed in Lutsen (the finish) so we had about an hour drive to the start. The drive was pleasant and the sunrise above Lake Superior was lovely. I remember thinking that I’d see that same sunrise in 24 hours while on the trail.

Start – Beaver Bay (Mile 20)

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After milling around the start at Gooseberry Falls State Park for awhile, chatting with folks and getting jazzed for the journey ahead of us, we were herded to the start line. John Storkamp, the race director, gave us a few pre-race words of wisdom and sent us on our way. The first 4ish miles are on the Gitchi Gami Bike Trail along Lake Superior. I settled into a comfortable pace and tried to be grateful for a few miles of looking around rather than staring at the trail. I kept checking my watch to make sure I wasn’t going too fast but essentially just let my legs do what they wanted. I chatted with a gal for while – her name was Tami and I met her at the pre-race meeting the night before. It didn’t take long before the trail led us underneath the highway adjacent to our left and up to the Superior Hiking Trail, our home for the next ~100 miles.

 

My plan for the day was to run comfortable, steady, and strong. I did not let pace dictate my actions all day. I ran by feel and I think most would say that’s the only way to run Superior. I found myself behind a line of 7-8 runners and decided to stay put for awhile. I eventually tried to get around after 10 or so minutes, which isn’t easy to do on single track. I made my way up and soon we ended up at the only river crossing of the day. I decided to charge in. A volunteer told us it was slippery but no one had fallen yet. No later than five seconds went by aaaand down I went. I jokingly blamed the photographer for distracting me and am pretty sure the photo below is evidence of me “yelling” at Todd, the photographer.

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I crossed the river and knew we’d run along the river the opposite way for awhile. I was lucky enough to spend four days in July training on the first half of the course (since I knew the second half from running Superior 50 in 2017) and it was really nice knowing what was ahead. There isn’t any better training for a race like Superior than training on the course.

We eventually came to the first aid station and made our way down a little spur trail to a parking lot. This is one of the very few times you see anyone in front of you. I saw a few women, including Mallory Richard who would go on to demolish her own course record and place 5th overall. I didn’t see two of the other speedy women, Ashley Nordell and Gretchen Metsa, so knew they were ahead. I didn’t need anything from the aid station so turned around and headed right back up the hill I just came down.

There was a volunteer at the top of the hill who jokingly asked what took me so long. I laughed and told him it was early enough so I would allow his jokes. I don’t know who he was but I have a feeling he’s been part of the Superior family for a long time.

I made my way back on the Superior Hiking Trail and eventually found myself running with a few guys, Mike and Jeremy. I really enjoyed talking with them and the miles clicked by quickly. We caught our first glimpses of Lake Superior and took it all in. Both Mike and Jeremy are seasoned ultrarunners and we spent several miles talking races. I was glancing at my paces and was a little surprised how quick some of them were (for Superior, anyway!) – and realizing that I may come into the aid station way ahead of schedule. I also didn’t factor in four miles of bike trail into my predicted times for my crew. Oops.

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Happy! Photo credit: Tone Coughlin

I made it to Beaver Bay and was so excited for a full on aid station with crew access. Not only to see my crew but the energy is usually SO GOOD with so many people hanging around. I ran in and I was blown away by the response – EVERYONE started cheering. Usually people at aid stations are supportive but I had never had so much fanfare. I felt so supported! I glanced around and didn’t see Ross, Julie, or Romy. A volunteer filled up my bladder while I kept scanning the crowd. They weren’t there but I also knew I had everything I needed and the next aid station was only five miles. I just figured it would be that much sweeter when I saw them next. As I left the aid station, everyone started cheering again. It was the best.

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Feeling like a celeb at Beaver Bay.

Beaver Bay (mile 20) – Silver Bay (mile 25)

Jeremy and I joined up again and started running together. I was looking forward to the next section – a delightful stretch that runs along a pleasant, babbling river. It’s pretty rooty but still fairly runnable. Soon we were off that trail and ran a very tiny amount of bike path before we hit single track again. I remember this section being pretty rocky and my memory was correct. Soon we were climbing and popping in and out of ridge lines. While the temperatures were quite perfect, it was starting to get a little warm in the exposed areas.

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Just a photo of the stunning Lake Superior and a girl who can’t stand up straight. Photo credit: Ian Corless

All of the sudden, I came across Gretchen sitting on the trail. Uh oh. I met Gretchen a few years ago when she kicked my butt at Wild Duluth 100k. I’d seen her at several races since then – she is a very strong runner (she won Superior 100 last year) and just an all around great person. I stopped and checked in on her. She said she felt like she had the flu and her legs were a little wobbly. I knew the aid station was just a few miles away and since she didn’t look delirious, I decided to get to the aid station so I could let volunteers and her crew know what was going on.

Soon I was at the Silver Bay aid station. I was super excited to (hopefully) see my crew for the first time! I’d been running for about five hours at this point. I came into the aid station and there was Julie waving my bottles around. Yay! I let them know I was feeling good and running comfortably after they told me I was way ahead of schedule.

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I can’t tell from this picture, but I think I was happy to see my crew.

I also let Gretchen’s husband know Gretchen wasn’t far behind and that she wasn’t doing well. I would find out later that she dropped at mile 50. Side note: Gretchen was at the finish line when I finished and was one of the first to congratulate me. I think it’s pretty damn awesome she came to the finish to support her fellow runners after a DNF.

Silver Bay (mile 25) – Tettegouche (34.9)

Seeing my crew gave me a little pep in my step and I was feeling good. I knew some tough sections were ahead – the climb to overlooks of Bean and Bear Lake and the climb up Mount Trudee. The climb up to Bean and Bear Lake is pretty rocky and I kept thinking the reward would be the spectacular views over the lakes – definitely one of the best views on the course. I made it to the top and took a moment to appreciate the view and my body for getting me there. I knew coming down off the overlook was still rocky so I wouldn’t be making up any time on the downhill. And then the climb up Mount Trudee was soon after, which also provided more breathtaking views. A photographer was at the top to capture the moment. I’ll take a minute here to say Superior provided the best race photos I’ve ever had, hands down. There were photographers all over the course and I’m grateful they captured some very magical moments during my race.

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On top of Mount Trudee. Photo credit: Cole Peyton

I knew I’d soon enter Tettegouche State Park and see my crew again. I was pumped to run into the park on buffed out trails and see my people. The aid station was located on a little service road that intersects with the SHT. I saw my crew and let them know I was getting pretty warm. I put some ice in all the places and knew it was at a point in the day where the temperatures would slowly begin to drop.

Tettegouche (34.9) – Country Rd 6 (43.5)

After leaving the aid station, I looked forward to running through Tettegouche and across the Baptism River. As I approached the river, trails were replaced with wooden stairs and soon I was on a bridge running across the Baptism. This is one of my favorite rivers. We’ve stayed in two cabins that are right along this river and brings back very good memories of summer vacations spent tucked away in the woods and spending mornings running the SHT. Soon I was climbing and then descending back down to Hwy 1. After I crossed the road, I prepared to climb up to Section 13, a popular spot with rock climbers. If you know this race or the SHT, you’ll know I wasn’t quite remembering the trail correctly.  Section 13 was after County Rd 6, but either way, I thought I was climbing up to Section 13. I was by myself for most of this section and was feeling a little lonely. I decided to pick up my iPod at the next section since the earliest I could pick up a pacer was mile 51.

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Photo credit: Markman Outdoor Photography

My legs were feeling good and I tried to get past the low spot. I thought of Mollie Tibbits, a young woman and University of Iowa student who was murdered while running country roads near her house in rural Iowa a few months prior. Her death impacted many, including me. After her death, many conversations revolved around women running alone and if it was safe. I thought of how she died doing something we both loved and dedicated my miles to Mollie. I thought of my vow to never let the act of one man dictate how I felt about running and how running made me feel.

I eventually found myself descending once again and thought I heard the faint sound of cars and hoped I was getting close to the next aid station. Luckily, my ears weren’t deceiving me (yet) and I eventually popped out on a road and ran to the aid station, feeling relieved and happy to see my favorite people again. I let them know that physically I was feeling good, just a little lonely. I grabbed my iPod and headlamp to be safe, more gels and blocks, and reapplied lube (side note: I did not get ANY chafing!). Julie and Ross did a great job of monitoring hot spots. Ross asked if I wanted a pacer the next aid station and I told him to be ready, just in case. I went to the bathroom and then off I went.

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Country Rd 6 (43.5)- Finland (51.2)

This is when I actually climbed to Section 13. My mood was better after seeing my crew and I started enjoying myself again. I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but the trail got real technical – essentially just sharp rocks just waiting to twist ankles. I caught up with a guy and he said, “Someone told me this section was runnable!” And we both agreed that person was crazy. The trail eventually smoothed out a bit and I continued to run with my new friend, Ben. Ben and I settled into a fairly steady pace and good conversation. We realized we were moving pretty well and figured this is what the crazy person was referring to when they said the section was runnable. We were making good time and miles were flying by. I felt smooth.

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Section 13. Photo credit: Tone Coughlin

Ben and I realized we had run both Superior 50 last fall and Ice Age 50 earlier in the spring. And after awhile, Ben realized we only finished two minutes apart at Ice Age. We chatted about trails, road running, and track and field. He was a really fast road guy (and still is) and I loved hearing about his transition into trail and ultra running and his previous life on the roads and track.

He told me he thought I was in third place, which was the first I had any idea. I thought I was maybe in the top five but it’s so hard to know and I usually don’t inquire until the second half of my races to ensure I’m running my own race.

I told Ben I had the option to pick up a pacer at mile 50 but if he was ok with it, I’d just keep running with him and hold off on picking up a pacer until mile 61. Luckily, he was totally down with that idea.

We eventually saw a few runners coming toward us, meaning we were getting very close to an aid station. We popped out of the trail and saw the aid station ahead of us. I saw my crew, which now included Katie, my best friend from high school. I ran into the aid station with a huge smile on my face and gave Katie a hug. I was feeling happy and seeing four of my favorite people just made me feel that much better.

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Lubin’ up!!

I spent some time here taking in calories. I asked my crew if I was actually in third place and they said yes, but that fourth was only about six minutes behind me. I also asked about Mallory Richard and Ashley Nordell, the two favorites. Mallory has won the race several times and has the course record, while Ashley is a badass from Oregon who has dozens of wins to her name. They told me they were pretty much neck and neck. Exciting!! Knowing fourth was close behind, I was antsy to skidaddle. I looked for Ben to see if he was ready to go. He demolished a sandwich (Jimmy Johns, I think?) and we headed out. As we were leaving, I saw fourth place coming in and recognized her from earlier in the race. I had passed her around mile 20 or so and she seemed like a very solid runner. I gave her kudos and wondered if I’d be chased the next 50 miles.

Finland (51.2) –  Sonju Lake Road (58.9)

It didn’t take long to have to turn on our headlamps. It seemed so early in the race to turn on my headlamp because my other 100s had started either very early and/or they were in the early summer, which came with an abundance of daylight. Ben and continued to chat about everything and nothing. We talked about last year’s Superior 50 since we were now on the course and tried to recall upcoming sections.

After about five miles or so, I realized I didn’t hear footsteps behind me or see Ben’s light from his headlamp. I stopped and turned around and didn’t see anything. I was bummed to lose my running friend but it’s usually inevitable that this happens at some point. I put in my earbuds and sang to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” on repeat (highly recommend). I kept trucking (and singing), feeling good about how my body and mind were holding up, and generally just enjoying doing one of my favorite things.

I came up to the Sonju Lake Road aid station and if I remember correctly, was manned by the Superior Hiking Trail Association. As I was scanning the buffet, Mike came into the aid station, too. We greeted each other and I was hoping we’d continue on together but I was ready to roll and I saw him zoning in on the food options so just decided to continue on.

Sonju Lake Road (58.9) – Crosby Manitou (62.9)

I just had a few miles until Crosby Manitou and spent much of the next four miles replaying Superior 50 in my head and trying to remember the course in the daylight. I think I ran with a guy here for a few miles and we talked about ultrarunning greats and performances. I don’t think I ran with him for very long before I found myself alone again.

I eventually popped out of the trail onto a gravel road and knew I was heading into Crosby Manitou State Park and the aid station. The aid station was farther back into the state park than I remember – maybe a half mile. It felt good to just run and not worry so much about tripping. It was also a good opportunity to check in on how opening up a bit felt – and it felt pretty good. Or at least it didn’t feel terrible.

Soon I saw lights and my crew. Ross would be running with me for the next section and I was ready for some company. I greeted my people and checked in. I changed my shirt because it was wet from sweat and with it getting chillier, I thought it would be nice to have a dry shirt. I found out later that it got down to the low 40s overnight but I never had on more than a tank top. I remember my hands getting a little cold after leaving aid station, but they’d always warm up after a mile or so of running.

Crosby Manitou (62.9) – Sugarloaf (72.3)

Ross and I headed out for the next 10 miles. We were both familiar with this section because two summers ago we came out to run at Crosby Manitou and had a pretty miserable experience – it was super hot, the trail was (and is) difficult, there was some seriously muddy sections (like my leg got sucked in past my knee type of mud), and I was attacked by what I dubbed an “evil trail chicken” (which we found out was a grouse). I had made up with the section at Superior 50 last year but was still prepared to suffer.

It didn’t take long before we were climbing up and down boulders and clocking super speedy 20 minute miles (some slower). We eventually made it to the Manitou River and once we crossed, started a very steep climb that I had somehow forgot was coming. The climb was tough and felt like it would never end at times, but of course it did. I think we had a bit more technical running and then it smoothed out a bit. Last year, this section was really muddy and while there was a bit of mud this year, nothing compared to 2017. I was feeling pretty grateful for the terrific course conditions.

Ross mostly stayed ahead of me, pulling me a long. I am pretty grateful I have a partner who supports my dumb hobby 100%. He’s paced and crewed me at every 100 and not to mention, never bats an eye when I put in long training hours on the weekends.

While it was a very slow ten miles with Ross, the time went by fairly quick. All of the sudden, we were at Sugarloaf where my friend, Julie, would take over pacing duties until the end. A nice round 50k for Julie – what a pal.

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I think I’m trying to confirm upcoming climbs using my handy dandy spreadsheet.

Sugarloaf (72.3)- Cramer Road (77.9)

I was really excited to run with Julie. She’s been my best running friend for a long time but doesn’t live in Iowa City anymore so we share less miles than we used to –  we had lost time to make up! I was also excited to run with Julie because she’d never run the SHT and was looking forward to finally showing off my favorite trail. We caught up about jobs, training, and life. It was good to be back out on the trails with Julie. I don’t remember much – just that the miles went by fast and I was content.

This section is one of the shorter ones, just five miles. When we got to the Cramer Road aid station, we looked around and didn’t see the crew. I ate some fruit and refilled water and we left, thinking they’d either fallen asleep or got lost. No worries either way – I didn’t need anything and Julie was there for support. We told the volunteers that if they did make it to the aid station that I had left. I actually think there was some confusion here about if I checked in or not at this aid station, and it may have even been reported I dropped – whatever happened, it all got squared away.

Cramer Rd (77.9) – Temperence (85)

Julie and I were off again. She’s paced me before so she knows what works – and eventually she started pulling a little bit ahead of me to pull me along and make me work, but not too much. It worked. I felt like I was working toward something and moving better. This section is a bit of a black hole but I do know I was really looking forward to Temperence. I remember absolutely loving that section last year – the trail is really runnable and there’s a slight downhill grade, making the miles feel smooth and easy. I knew it wouldn’t feel quiiiiite as nice since I’d be at mile 85 instead of 35, but I was looking forward to it, nonetheless.

I rolled up to Temperence and there was my lovely crew, looking quite sheepish for missing the last aid station. We, of course, told them not to worry and that we were doing just fine. We hadn’t seen them in 14ish miles so it was good be around their energy for a few minutes.

I don’t eat much “real” food during 100s – mostly just gels, blocks, and fruit. The real food doesn’t usually sound good. A volunteer was listing off items and I was politely turning him down. Then he said “pancakes” and it sounded like the most glorious idea I’d ever heard. I sat down and devoured the best pancake I’d ever had.

My crew got us up to speed on the women’s race – Mallory had passed Ashley and was putting some decent time between the two of them. Apparently, Ashley had spent some time at the aid station we were at and I jokingly yelled “let’s get her!” knowing she was hours ahead and it was quite impossible to catch, unless I was given a new pair of legs. It felt good to joke around and laugh at mile 85.

If you’re feeling good, mile 85 is when the finish feels tangible.

Temperence (85) – Sawbill (90.7)

Off we went and next up was Temperence! It took a few miles but we eventually made it some nice smooth trail. We could hear the river next to us and it was starting to get lighter.  I knew once we crossed the river, we’d have a mile or so before climbing Carlton Peak. I think it was right before this climb when we finally were able to turn our headlamps off. I also think it was right around here when I started hearing footsteps behind me. I don’t hallucinate visually, but it seems I have auditory hallucinations from time to time during 100s. I kept looking behind me, expecting to see someone but it was just my ears playing tricks on me.

Oooh doggies, Carlton Peak was bruutal. It’s very steep and once you get closer to the top, there are some fun boulders to hoist your weary body up – because we can’t make it too easy, can we? I grumbled about how I better get a freaking amazing sunrise out of the deal.

Once we climbed Carlton Peak, we saw glimpses of Lake Superior and the sunrise making it’s way up to greet us. I remembered how 24 hours ago, I was driving to Gooseberry Falls with Ross, thinking about what the next sunrise would look like and how I would feel. Luckily, the sunrise was beautiful and while I was tired, I was feeling pretty darn good.

We started making our way down and my technical trail running skills were nearly gone by this point. I felt like a snail. All of the sudden, this dude comes up behind us, just happy as clam and looking smooth as he passed us. He said he took a little nap and the nap, along with the sun coming up, had put a pep in his step. I was envious for his pep but he was just so nice that I couldn’t be mad at him.

We got to Sawbill and was very ready to hand off my headlamp. I felt lighter and was ready to tackle the remaining half marathon. We got what we needed and took off.

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Stretching the quads and Ruby’s butt.

Sawbill (90.7) – Oberg (96.2)

This next section was honestly probably one of my favorites. The trail was more runnable and the climbs were minimal.  I felt like we were getting into a good rhythm. At some point, a guy named Greg caught up to us. I had run with him and Mike for a little bit earlier in the race.  Greg tucked in behind us and joined our rhythm. Every once in awhile he’d hoot and holler and I knew exactly why – we were cruising, feeling good, and were close to the finish. And it was just icing on the cake that we were able to share the miles with someone going through the exact same thing.

We came into Oberg, the last aid station. Aaah, it was so real! Katie was going to join us the last seven miles and I was looking forward to having my best friend of 16 years pacing me to the finish.

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Trail Sisters Katie and Julie – and me unintentionally looking cool as a mf’in cucumber.

Oberg (96.2) – Finish

Greg got out a little quicker than us and in hindsight, I wish I would’ve tried to keep up with him and hang on to the momentum from the last section. But I just didn’t it have in me. That pep I had the last six miles was gone. I wonder if it’s because I knew the next section would be nothing like the last – two big climbs were waiting for me: the infamous Moose Mountain and Mystery Mountain. Either way, he was soon long gone (and would end up putting 20 minutes on me! Go Greg!).

Julie made her way to her normal pacing spot in front and Katie hung back with me. I think Katie felt like she didn’t know what to do but she was the perfect pacer. She talked about life, cats, Harry Potter, fall, and whatever else crossed her mind. It was just what I needed to distract me while climbing Moose Mountain. This is a very steep climb with no relief from switchbacks. We were passed by two runners and their pacers – two runners who I had played leap frog with all day long. We would continue to leap frog with them for the next few miles which is probably not uncommon in the last 6 miles of a 100. For many, energy and extreme tiredness come in waves, making it nearly impossible to hold a steady pace.

I was waiting for Mystery Mountain, a much more gradual climb than Moose. I knew once I reached the top, it was essentially downhill (for real) from there. The climb didn’t feel as bad as Cartlon Peak and Moose Mountain, the slight incline rather than straight up helped but it felt like it took forever.

We got to the top and soon after, Julie re-joined us. My mood changed – I knew we were close and  I was so happy to have two of my favorite women running by my side. I was over 100 miles by this point and could taste the finish. I kept talking about crossing a bridge – once we crossed the bridge, we’d be SO CLOSE. And then there it was – everyone’s favorite bridge. We could see the hotel when we crossed. I COULD LITERALLY SEE THE FINISH.

We took a right and soon hit pavement. It was jarring on my feet. I let gravity guide me down the hill and could feel my legs picking up speed. I saw Ross right before I turned into the path that led me behind the hotel and to the finish line. And then, I was done. 26 hours and 31 minutes. 3rd female and 19th overall.

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Maybe one of my favorites. Photo credit: Mike Wheeler.
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Done! Photo credit: Mike Wheeler

Lots of hugs followed and then I drank the most delicious lemonade I’ve ever consumed. Just six minutes later, Mike finished with this kids hand in hand. I was so happy I got to see his finish.

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Gosh, I love these people.

I’ve been trying to process this race for three weeks now. Like many, this race is not just a race to me – it encompasses everything I love about ultrarunning: A tough, stunning course that challenges you both physically and mentally; a well-run, extremely organized race that takes care of not just the runners, but the volunteers and everyone involved; and of course, the people. The volunteers were amazing and I met so many awesome people on the course. And not to mention, having Julie, Romy, Katie, and Ross out there gave me an incredible feeling of support. Thank you to everyone who makes this race happen.

As for my race, I am really happy how everything turned out. I was expecting the worst and can honestly say it may be one of my best races. I was told at the first checkpoint I was in 46th place and over the next 95 miles, I made my way up to 19th. I’m pretty proud of that.

A day after the race, Mike sent me a message “See you next year?” I laughed when I saw it but knew that the answer was probably yes.

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All for a buckle.
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