Burning River 100

Warning: this is long, folks.

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

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

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

START

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILES 22-53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILES 53-66

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILES 66 – 80

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

IMG_2571

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

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

IMG_2577
Probably around mile 67 or so?
Hello, hill.
Hello, hill.

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

IMG_2579
The gross hill.
IMG_2582
Almost to the top!!
IMG_2581
We having fun yet?
Get to the top and see ANOTHER massive hill. Embrace that shit.
Get to the top and see ANOTHER massive hill. Embrace that shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILES 80-85

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

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

MILES 85 – 90

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

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

MILES 91 – FINISH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ALMOST THERE I’M SO HAPPY

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

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

Blurry.
Blurry.

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

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

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

What I learned:

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

What I’d do differently:

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

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

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

The race day stuff, for those who care:

What I wore:

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

What I ate:

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

Thanks for listening, folks!

* We didn’t really call them goobers.

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Hawkeye 50k

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

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

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

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

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

Spillway!
Spillway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost done!
Almost done!

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

wat.

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

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

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

Lookout Mountain 50 miler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finishing in the dark.
Finishing in the dark.

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

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

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

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

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