Ice Age is the race that made me an ultrarunner in 2013 and a race I love to go back to. This was my fourth time back, and third time running the 50-miler. I PR’d last year in 8:20 (you can read that race report here) and was hoping to PR again in 2019. My spring was very busy and left little room for the “extra” stuff that I feel like elevates training (strength, nutrition, sleep). But the training runs were there, I felt like my fitness was in a pretty decent place, and the weather and trail conditions were shaping up to be nearly perfect. Also, I know the course pretty well now and feel like that is such an advantage.
Although I PR’d by nearly 25 minute last year, I didn’t really have a great feeling race. I think I went out too fast and the last ten or so miles were pretty unpleasant, both mentally and physically. I had been in third all day and was passed at mile 40, which was pretty demoralizing. I was hoping to be a bit smarter this year. I made a plan to run by feel and hopefully, if it was in the cards, I’d have another PR at one of my favorite races.
I was super excited to not only run Ice Age again, but go with a bunch of friends. We had five women running Ice Age; some running their first trail race, going for PRs, or running their first ultra. We decided to rent a house and make a weekend out of it. No matter what happened on the trails, I knew it would be a fun weekend with trail sisters.
Ross and my parents were once again going to crew me. They’ve done this enough that I barely have to give them instruction. And Ice Age is a pretty easy race to crew so that’s always helpful.
The 50-milers started at 6:00am and while my trail sisters weren’t there (their races started later), there were still plenty of friends to see, which is one of my favorite things about Ice Age. After a few announcements, we were off!
Start to Hwy 12 (mile 17)
The first 11 miles are pretty gentle and runnable, definitely a lot of rollers but pretty flat compared to the rest of the course. Looking at splits compared to last year, I took the first 11 miles a tish easier than last year. I didn’t necessarily plan that but was just trying to listen to my legs. A few women passed me in this section, including two who I realllllly wanted to run and chat with but knew deep down I should just keep running my pace.
I came through the first loop at the start/finish area and was told I was ninth. I knew there were several women in front of me but didn’t realize there were eight of ’em! At this point last year, I was in third and I tried not to let that fact impact my running. I figured if I had a good day, I’d pass some OR I’d just get beat by a bunch of women who are faster than me (even if I did have a good day). While placing high is nice, it’s also something that I can’t really control most of the time so I try not to let that get to me. Don’t get me wrong – I think I am a competitive person but I usually don’t try to “race” until the second half or last third of the race (and sometimes not at all).
Anyways, after the easy-ish 11 miles and some chatty miles with a few new friends, we entered single track. The last time I ran these trails was in March for a training run and the section seemed really hard. I think the trail was a little soft and muddy and just sucked the energy out of my legs. I also remember it feeling challenging in 2018. But today felt great. I got through the single track and and made my way to some nice runnable trails along a few lakes. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I got to the Hwy 12 aid station. Soon, I heard traffic and popped out to the parking lot and aid station.
I try to be really efficient in aid stations and was in and out pretty quick and on my way to Race Lake.
Hwy 12 (mile 15) to Hwy 12 (mile 26)
The section out to Rice Lake has some technical sections and was fairly uneventful. This is the first out and back section, which is fun because you start seeing the fast folks and you get to see where you are in the line up. I saw a few friends and cheered them on. I was running with a guy who told me he thought I was in fifth, which seemed unlikely considering I hadn’t passed any women unless I did at the aid station and didn’t know it. We started counting and sure enough, by the time we got to the aid station, I was in ninth, but I wasn’t far behind a few.
I ran into the aid station and went right out, noticing I passed at least one lady at the aid station but I must’ve passed two. I was feeling pretty good and knew soon I’d be at the half way point. I was thinking I’d hit the half way point right around four hours, which I did. I started daydreaming of an 8:00 hour finishing time and then quickly realized how unlikely that was, even if I was having a great day since the second half of the race has more climb. It was right around here that I changed the display of my watch so it was only the time rather than pace and splits. I can get pretty negative in my head when I see splits slower than I think they feel (which happened at Ice Age last year) and just decided to nip that in the bud and truly focus on feel. I made my way back to Hwy 12 and the only thing notable was a fairly comical fall.
Hwy 12 (mile 26) to Emma Carlin (mile 40)
I got to Hwy 12 and actually had to wait for traffic for about 20-30 seconds which happens. I rolled into the aid station, grabbed some gels and a swig of coke. I left the aid station just a few seconds behind another woman, Holly, who I wanted to run with early on, and ran with her for a bit. She had to go to the bathroom and we parted ways. I think I was in sixth at this time.
Holy cow, knowing the course was SO helpful. Just being able to mentally prepare for what was ahead and strategize is such an advantage. A few miles later, I caught up the other gal I wanted to run with, Kelly. I ran with her a bit and we talked races. We’re both running Superior 100 this September so it was fun to connect about that. I got ahead at the next aid station, around mile 30. I was feeling pretty strong and motivated. Once I got to mile 35ish, I was feeling so good and my head was in such a good place. At one time, I thought “Wow, I only have about a half marathon left”, which is a total 180 from last year when I was struggling haaard. Volunteers were telling me how strong which was another boost (and could’ve been a big ol’ lie they tell everyone 😉 ).
I felt like I was running pretty strong and was nervous that was going to bite me in the butt the last ten miles but just kept running by feel. As I got closer to mile 40 aid station, my friend Jeff saw me (who ran Ice Age in eight hours on a training run!) and seemed pretty surprised to see me so close to him. As I got closer, I saw two women heading my direction and realized I had closed the gap between us considerably (1 and 2 were waay ahead of me).
Emma Carlin (mile 40) to the finish
I got in and and out quick, determined to catch at least one female. After a few miles, I finally caught sight of fourth. We were in the section of the course that had some pretty decent climbs, which is not my strong suit. She said I looked a lot better than she felt as I passed her. I think me passing her gave her the motivation she needed to kick into gear because on the next climb she passed me right back – and then effin took off!! This was probably mile 45 or so, and my legs were definitely tired. I could still click off decent miles on the downs and flats but those climbs were just killing me and the last ten miles are not flat. I just could not keep up with her. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve tried harder. When she demolished me on the hills, I thought “DAMN, there she goes!” and I wish I would’ve thought “DAMN, maybe I can do that, too!” and tried to hang on. But I didn’t. Maybe next time. I continued on with my race, thinking maybe I’d catch her but I never saw her until the finish line.
By this point, I thought a PR could happen but it still wasn’t inevitable. I was hoping my watch was off by a bit in mileage and I’d get a little cushion but realized that was not going to happen (darn accurate watches!!). The last 1.5 miles are flat until the last little section to the finish line. Last year, I feel like I kinda phoned it in so was prepared to finish as strong as I could. About half mile or so out from the finish, in a wide open prairie section, I caught sight of a blue shirt and realized it was the woman who was in third all day. I turned up my headphones and tried to reel her in. I saw her start to walk a shorter climb and knew if she kept that up, I could catch up. Then I saw her turn around and see me and she took off. I still tried as hard as I could but she beat me by about 30 seconds.
I crossed the finish line in 8:19:43 in fifth place. Last year, I ran 8:20:36. So not even a one minute PR and really isn’t much of anything in the context of 50 miles. I was hoping closer to 8:15. But even though though my time was essentially the same, the way I felt and the way I executed the race was like night and day. I felt strong all day, I stayed positive, and ran my own race. I’m pretty happy with my race this year.
And what made the race even better? Celebrating and supporting my friends. We hung out at the finish line/post race party for a few hours, cheering friends in and celebrating PRs and new race distances. Not to to mention, Ice Age does a great job with their post race party so it’s a place you actually want to stick around after you’re done.
It’s hard to imagine not running this race since it’s been such a big part of my race calendar the past few years. I really do love this race – it’s a super fun reunion with ultra friends and a great introduction for new trail runners to experience what the trail/ultra scene is all about. Huge thanks to the Ice Age RD Jeff Mallach and the volunteers for making the Ice Age experience one of the best.
A few other thank you’s: my coach, Matt Flaherty, who’s helped me become not only a faster runner, but a smarter runner. And of course, THANK YOU to Ross and my parents, sacrificing ANOTHER day to cheer me on and hand me gels.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First off, Ice Age is a great race. It was my first 50k and ultra in 2013 and since then, I’ve been back twice. I ran the 50-miler in 2015 in preparation for Burning River 100 and again in 2018 as an “A” race. The trails themselves make this an awesome race, but the race director (Jeff Mallach), the volunteers, and post-race party bring it to another level. It’s really like a big party with all your trail friends.
The course is essentially a loop, and then two out-and-backs, meaning you get to see lots of people throughout. I really like this aspect – you get to cheer on friends and see the top runners (which is also helpful if you’re watching placement). And not to mention seeing friendly faces can be really helpful if you’re in a low spot. The course is deceptively hard, I think. Not a lot of long climbs or descents, just CONSTANT up and downs.
I had a pretty solid training cycle, kind of piggy backing on my Chuckanut 50k training. I was feeling pretty good and excited to see what my legs could do. I was hoping to PR (8:43) but really wanted to break 8:30. I thought maybe if I was having a really, really good day I could break 8:15 but thought that might be a long shot so didn’t want to get my heart set on that and then be disappointed.
It rained a whole bunch leading up to the race so the trails were a little soft with some muddy/slippery sections but overall in pretty great condition. The weather was perfect – 50s and overcast.
Ross (boyfriend) and my mom and dad were my crew, as they have been for several races. (THANKS!)
Race start – mile 9
The first loop is on the Nordic trails and is pretty runnable. My plan was to run a bit quicker than my overall planned pace to take advantage and bank some time. I mostly hit 9:00s or a little quicker. I felt pretty good and ended up running with a guy I met at Chuckanut (in Washington state!) named Russell. I also ran a bit with my friend Jeff, who I met at Ice Age three years ago, and his friend Tom. We chit-chatted and the miles went by fairly quick. As I was heading to the mile 9 aid station, someone told me I was in third place. Hmm.. ok. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know that or not but I tried to put that in the back of my head and keep running my race.
I saw my parents at the mile 9 aid station and grabbed new water bottles and gels. I was trying really hard to take very little time at aid stations and think I was pretty successful.
The photos below show a hilarious exchange when my dad couldn’t find my gels in his huge pockets. The looks on our faces crack. me. up. Thanks to my mom for capturing this special moment between a father and daughter.
Mile 9 (start/finish area) – 17 (Hwy 12)
We had a few more miles of fairly flat running so kept the quicker pace going. After a few miles, we crossed Highway H and hit the Ice Age trail and some nice single track. I was ahead of a few guys and listened to their convo for a bit and eventually jumped in. One of the guys, Bill, had run this race several times. He knew the course well and let me know what was up ahead (even though I’ve run this race and Kettle Moraine 100 which is on a lot of the same trails, my memory sucks so the preview was helpful). We eventually caught up with Jeff and Tom, and the five of us ran together until the mile 17 aid station. They were a lot of fun and I was really enjoying myself. One funny tidbit – Bill apparently has a thing for number palindromes and he mentioned how his bib number was a palindrome (212) and I realized mine was, too – 424, double his bib number. Bill was pretty psyched about that and we all thought it was a little freaky and hopefully a good sign for the day.
We opened up a bit when we were running flatter trails by Lake La Grange. Bill said the aid station wasn’t much further.
Mile 17 (Hwy 12) – 26 (Hwy 12)
We rolled into the aid station at Hwy 12. This is the same location for an aid station at Kettle Moraine 100, except it’s mile 75 and 85. I was looking forward to running these trails on much fresher legs! I knew it was a bit more technical than the rest of the trail.
I left and unfortunately, lost the fellas. It was four miles to Rice Lake and then four miles back. This is the first opportunity you get to see the folks in front of you coming back toward the start/finish. I was curious to see how far back I was from first and second female.
The trails were pretty rocky but they were much better than the last time I was running them at Kettle! I eventually saw first female and she was looking very strong and way ahead. Second female was a bit behind, but also looking strong. I also saw a few guys from Iowa City (Jasper and Mark) and they were looking good. I got to the Rice Lake aid station and just turned right back around. Heading back out, I’d also get to see close fourth place was to me.
It didn’t take long to see not one woman, but a string of them! It was super awesome to see but also made me a little nervous (in a good way, like a keep your butt moving kind of way). I had a blast seeing other runners on the way back to the aid station. This is why I love out-and-back races – the good vibes are endless. I knew several people running so I always knew there was another friendly face on the way (shoutout to Tanya, Michele, and the QC-TURD(s) group!).
While climbing up a hill, I heard cars and knew I was getting closer to the aid station. I got to the top and saw the parking lot. Woop! I had a bit of a downhill and then saw my crew again. I picked up what I needed (and FINALLY remembered to give them my gloves I had shoved in my waistband since mile three) and skidaddled.
Mile 26 (Hwy 12) – 40 (Emma Carlin)
I typically have a low moment right around the halfway point and sure enough, I started to get a little negative. The usual thoughts went through my head, mostly “my legs are getting tired and I’m only half way done” type of musings. I also grabbed my headphones at the last aid station and tried to zone out to the music. Sometimes the right tunes can really put a pep in my step. Usually it takes about five miles to get out of the funk but not this time. I started feeling really slow and thinking I was fading. I kept seeing my overall pace creep up higher than I wanted it to.
But then something magical happened. I came to an aid station and it said I was at mile 33. My watch wasn’t even at 32 yet. Hooray! This meant that I wasn’t going as slow as I thought AND I was on mile closer to the mile 40 aid station, where I would get to see my crew and begin the home stretch to the finish. I made a mental note to stop focusing so much on the damn watch. Running by effort is a lot smarter anyways and watches are unreliable. Not to mention, the dumb watch was the reason I was in a low spot to begin with.
Either way, I felt a lot better. As I got closer to the Emma Carlin aid station at mile 40, I started seeing the fast folks. Soon, I saw first female and she had made her way up to sixth place overall. Woohoo! I was pretty pumped for her and added to my new found joyful attitude. I saw my IC pals. Jasper was looking good. I saw Mark a little later and he told me his race was over and he’d be taking it easy on the way back.
I was getting closer and closer to the aid station (which still felt like it took forever to get to) and all of the sudden, a woman BOUNDED past me. Literally, just floated on by looking fresh as a daisy. I felt no sense of competitiveness, just “well, there goes third place.” It was a bit demoralizing. I got to the aid station and tried to be quick. I think I got out less than a minute after third place but knew there was just no way I’d catch up if she kept that pace up.
Mile 40 – 50
Eventually, I saw fifth place heading toward Emma Carlin and felt like I had a decent amount of cushion and there was a little voice in my head saying, “you could prooobably just take it pretty easy in, if you waaaanted.” But then I got pretty annoyed with myself. just because I lost the podium doesn’t mean I should stop racing the clock. I still had goals I set out to accomplish that had nothing to do with placement. (And even though this didn’t happen, you never know what is happening in front of you and you might have a chance to pass someone.) I decided to try and run the last 10 miles as well as I could. And you know what? I started feeling a ton better.
My coach, Matt Flaherty, had sent a text the day before that had said (among other things) “be tough” and as simple as that sounds, just thinking of that concept was really helpful. Anytime I felt like I was phoning it in, I’d challenge myself to run stronger. I’d ask myself, “Can I run stronger?” The answer was always yes. I wasn’t hurting, I was just tired. There was no reason to lallygag. I ran every hill the last 10 miles except for the super steep ones and felt like I continued to run with purpose.
In that last ten miles, I saw lots of friends and they kept my spirits high. There was a group of runners from the Quad Cities that were all running together and it was so much fun to see them throughout the day.
I eventually got to an aid station and thought the sign said the finish was 3.5 miles out. Crap. I thought we were less than 3, maybe around 2.5. I had accidentally stopped my watch at mile 40 and it was off by over a mile to begin with, so I didn’t really know for sure how much longer to the finish. I was pretty disappointed to see I was still 3.5 miles out because that meant I was going to be REALLY close to breaking 8:30, like it might not happen if I didn’t really move. And I wasn’t sure if I COULD really move at mile 47. I ran right through the aid station and saw Mark right after. He started running with me and I asked him if hew know how much farther to the finish. He said 1.9 miles. WHAT?! Really!? I must’ve read the sign wrong! Yay! That really boosted my mood. Mark and I ran together the last few miles, which were pretty darn flat through tall, lovely pine trees. Looking back, I’m kind of mad at myself for not running stronger on that section. It was definitely doable.
Mark told me stories of past times he’d run this race and that helped the time go by pretty quick. We soon hit the trail that leads you back to the start/finish and we pushed up the hills. Not much farther. I soon saw a red Saucony flag and knew we were VERY close. And then the most beautiful sound of all – finish line cheering and the voice of the finish line announcer.
We both crossed the finish line in 8:20:36. For as disappointed as I got during the race, I was pretty darn happy with my finish. I found out that third place female finished in 8:05 (!!!) putting FIFTEEN MINUTES between us in the last ten miles. What a strong performance. First and second female had awesome races, too – 7:29 and 8:00.
I know at one point I was only a few minutes behind second place female so this tells me either I faded quite a bit or these gals finished really, really strong – or a bit of both. Either way, I essentially did what I wanted to do so I am pretty happy with how everything turned out. I was also able to meet first and third place females after the race and they were both super awesome and gracious (and fast!!).
I’ve said it countless times and I’ll say it again: thanks to my parents and Ross for spending a day on the trails feeding me sugar and keeping my spirits high. This sport would be so much harder without this crew.
I want to reiterate how much I love this race. There is a reason it sells out crazy fast! Thank you to everyone who makes Ice Age the great race that it is – the race director, runners, and of course, the volunteers. I’ll be back!
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.
Photo credit: No Business 100
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! : /
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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: “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.
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!
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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):
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!
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!
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.
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:
I put way too much water in my pack at Phantom Ranch. Definitely wasn’t necessary and just weighed me down!
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.
I forgot my map! Make that list and check it off when it actually gets INTO your pack.
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).
Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 3 (dude version cuz my feet are supa wide)
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
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)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.