• Grindstone 100 Endurance Run - The Long Report

    There was not enough space in the Eat Clean, Run Dirty magazine, and so here it is!

    I knew one day I would run 100 miles, and after experiencing the perfect day at Hellgate 100K in 2020, with many miles left in me, I believed the time had come.  In my mind, I’d planned on my first one being Pinhoti 100, in my home state and nearby the trails my dad took my brothers and I camping. I distinctly remember dragging my pink princess suitcase on single track into the woods where we’d be camping. Obviously, we didn’t go far.  We enjoyed the campfire, tomato soup, nature, and overlooks. Pinhoti seemed like a milder (though let’s be real, nothing is easy about 100 miles!) first 100.  Alas, my husband Mike Fox has been crushing the Lynchburg Ultra Series this year, and the date of PInhoti conflicted with the date of Mountain Masochist. After pacing and crewing Mike and other runners at Grindstone in past years, what with it basically being in my backyard, I could feel the pull of the race. It was destiny, I suppose. At this point, I’d paced several friends in different 100 mile races and studied the sport enough to accept that the most logical way to gain further wisdom was to just do the darn thing.

     

    I was told there was race magic to be had even in 100s, but I’ll warn you now that this story has little to none.  I was fully within my body, feeling it ALL. Carnage is the only word, I feel, that adequately fulfills the description of the race… unfortunately right from start to finish. It was most certainly not my night-day-night, and while my whining was epically horrible, I somehow crossed the finish line at a run, in spite saying I’d stomp my way through it. 

     

    Grindstone 100 starts and ends at Camp Shenandoah, the race course of which is primarily an out-and-back that begins at early evening in the final days of summer. The course boasts upwards of 23,000 feet of climbing (and loss) and traverses across several mountainous trails, many that are technical and some that are highly runnable.

     

    My race began at 5:30 PM in the elite wave start. 8 females were in this wave, and we lined up well behind the elite men.  With the afternoon sun mercilessly beating down on us and no more time to hydrate or second guess our gear, a countdown began and we were off! I totally screamed when I passed by my husband.  My nerves were exploding, cowbells were ringing, and where finally beginning this epic journey and staving off the anticipation collided had simultaneously eft me giddily squaling and also numb to the magnitude of what I’d just started.

     

    Heather Dougherty was a friendly face at the starting line, and we exchanged a few remarks regarding our exposure to the sun and heat as we circled the lake in the first quarter mile.  Beads of sweat were already forming, and I was gradually pulling back more and more to respond to my body’s alarm signals.  I told my quaking mind, “It’s okay, it takes you a little while to find your groove.” Nevertheless, I didn’t want to walk yet, so I smiled and pretended that I was relaxed and bebopping as we passed by spectators.  I’m pretty sure the temperature was in the mid 80’s at the start, and the humidity was most definitely quite dense. 

     

    Within those first 5 miles, my friend Dan Spearin, who years ago when I was racing Promise Land 50K for the first time and under intense treatment for Lyme Disease and Babesia wouldn’t let me drop at mile 13, shared a few miles, some distracting conversation, and some encouraging remarks. We passed through that first aid station dripping sweat, needing bottles topped off, and prepared for the first major ascent up Elliott’s Knob.

     

    Once we turned off the winding, technical single track, it was a seemingly vertical climb on a loose gravel road to the fire tower, where we would turn around and take a left hand turn onto another single track trail. Males from later waves were passing by now, but again, I assured myself of my goals: 1) finish 2) finish in time for bedtime and 3) wait to race until mile 70.

     

    Every now and then, I’d stop my hands on knees climbing (and pause from the wishing I had poles here), turn around, and focus on my breath.  The sun was setting and the nearly full moon was rising. I wish I’d snapped a photo, because the view was a beautiful distraction from the grind already at foot. Though I’d hoped to summit Elliott’s Knob before darkness descended, I was only around 5 minutes behind that goal.  I walked through the overgrown brush to the metal fence perimeter of the tower, touched it, and was happily putting the first of 7 significant climbs in the past.

     

    I fell in step with Sarah Hodder, a Grindstone veteran, but we were quickly swarmed by men in a hurry to fly over the loose rocks in that steady descent into Dry Branch aid station. Wouldn’t you know it that my taped up ankle succumbed to rolling multiple times, which were quite painful due to the obvious camber of the trail! I hobbled it off, whimpering and telling myself I needed to proceed with care to prevent more of that in the future. I”ll go ahead and tell you, my ankle got into gear and didn’t give me another issue the remainder of the race! We continued gingerly running down this improving section of trail until all of a sudden, Sarah screamed from behind mel I was so scared she’d been bitten by a snake or something! I ran back to her and asked what happened. She was clutching her foot screaming “it’s biting me on my foot!” It turned out to be a swarm of yellow jackets, and suddenly everyone around me was yelling out from getting stung.  “Run!!!!” And it was like a new race had started.  I managed to avoid being stung, and luckily no one around us had allergies to bee venom, but my husband is anaphylactic, and I got the feeling he probably did not have his epipen, so no way in hell he’d be allowed to pace me on this section on the way back. It wasn’t planned anyway, but things do evolve as races go on, and I stored that away to share at mile 20.

     

    Shortly after the bee stings, we descended into Dry Branch, refilled fluids, grabbed some snacks, and began the God-awful descent up Crawford Mountain. Seriously, fuck that mountain both ways.  The ascent was not technical but essentially the same grade of steepness as Elliott’s at times. I really wish I had trekking poles here, and again, I was huffing and puffing, turning around to release my hamstrings, and watching everyone basically leave me… bye Sarah.  I tried not to think about how I was 6th, as I’d been reminded the race doesn’t really unfold until mile 70, but I couldn’t help but weigh my placement with my equally demoralizing rate of perceived exertion only 15 miles into this beast and wonder how to regain contact with easy movement.  That’s what the first 70 miles were supposed to be!  

     

    God sends angels. In real life too, but I find them on the trails in the form of aid station support, crew, and fellow racers. This time my friend Corey Gray had reached me, starting 20 minutes behind me, and had already caught me around mile 17. My knee jerk reaction was to say… already? But I managed to avoid the negative self-talk for like another 5 minutes.  Honestly, Corey was a safe space for me to share how absolutely miserable and overexerted I was feeling. It was nearly 11:00 PM, which is wayyyy past my bedtime, and I couldn’t go easier than I was going. Once we got our “ugh” off our chests, and I shared I’m going to convince Mike to let me drop, we chatted about his daughter running cross-country and distracted ourselves from the misery.  He took a sudden tumble behind me but quickly bounced back up. We were in a finally flat section and running fairly easily, crossing the road and spending a couple more miles on the trails before pulling ourselves up the steepest single track and onto the grassy road that leads you up to the first crew-accessible aid station: Dowells Draft.

     

    Nighttime contrasting with the blazing lights of headlamps and twinkle lights was a bit disorienting. It was noisy, people were cheering, I saw Sarah receiving aid, and I was pushing through the tunnel of people, desperate to make contact with Mike.  If I mentioned dropping upon seeing him, I can’t remember. I do remember telling him about the bees and chastising him for not having his epipen.  He sat me down immediately, remarked on the conditions and how he saw steam rising off of runners, lovingly served me broth and Mountain Dew. We changed my shoes because I had hot spots forming on the back of my heels.  Corey plopped down next to me and Mike served him aid, too! Mike takes his crew role very seriously, closely following the 10 page document I’d written explaining my hopes, expectations, dos and don’ts specific to me.

     

    Suddenly, I see Sarah before me.  She said she wanted to wait for me, and I said that’s great! I’d love to run with you, but I am not quite ready. A couple of minutes later she was shivering. We were all wet from sweat and the humidity. She said she was cold and needed to go. I didn’t blame her at all!  Mike recommended Corey and I get started together, but when the time comes, leave the other (he said that to both of us).  I was feeling in a much better headspace as Corey and I headed to the relatively gentle and non-technical ascent to Hankey and Lookout Mountain, the next aid station was 7-8 miles away. Breathing and ease, that was the focus of this section of trail, and so I stayed on Corey’s tail, and we gradually caught a few people as we climbed up to Lookout Mountain.  There wasn’t much conversation, and the rising cacophony of crickets chirping along with the occasional hoot of an owl reminding us that we are currently nocturnal.  Once we reached that aid station, I was thrilled to see some of my favorite people! It me!!!! Pump me up! Tell me I’m doing great! Feed me!  I can’t remember the food, but I remember leaving there feeling so refreshed. I pulled out my headphones to trigger the dopamine I direly needed to get me through the night, told Sarah to hop in with me, and took off because I was eager to see my man at North River Gap in 7 miles, the trails being rocky and then smooth.  I was finally in a groove, though I could hardly call it race magic; I wasn’t clipping by miles. I was mustering my legs over the jagged, craggy rocks and wow, after the first mile, I didn’t see a single soul. I was entirely alone. A first for night racing.  Oddly, I was at peace with it, when ordinarily I feel hypervigilant and on edge.

     

    I was thrilled to cross the river and head towards the aid station, and as I descended on the road to the aid station, again, it was about coming in looking happy, relaxed, but focused.  You never know who is seeing you, and while this is mile 37 of the race, what I do can influence or motivate the rest of the field. I found Mike in the middle of the bright, cheerful aid station at North River Gap, where a blow up unicorn was pointing to the trailhead for the 7 mile, 3000 foot climb up Chestnut. As I sat in my chair and took inventory of my surroundings, I saw quiet crews, and very few runners.  I asked Mike where the runners were because I hadn’t seen one in front of me in the last 6 miles.  Apparently there were a bunch ahead of me that had just left, and the affirmation I wasn’t the only person still in this event was encouraging.  I drank more broth (scalded my mouth, so we added water), got my trekking poles in hand, and impatiently waited for the flash to capture a picture with the blow up unicorn before taking off! I tried not to think about the 65 miles remaining or the fact that I had around 30 miles of race before seeing my crew (and pacers again).  One bite at a time, this elephant.

     

    I know this climb fairly well. I live in Bridgewater, which is 22 minutes from North River Gap parking lot by car.  I’ve run up chestnut at least 10 times by this point. It’s steep and filled with varying sizes of rocks, loose and packed dirt.  The views would be spectacular during the day, though the starry sky and nearly full moon were a nice alternative.  At times, the trail was very narrow, briars scraping my arms and legs, and I’d hold my poles instead of dragging them through the brush. These miles went oooooon. Getting to certain turns and milestones on the trail. Holy shit, I have underestimated the painstakingly slowness of these miles in comparison to my training runs and past race efforts. I’d wished I’d written some mantras for how slow I felt, because “relentless forward progress” doesn’t quite scratch the surface as my past and current ultrarunning selves collided.

     

    There was a man ahead of me that I swear had stadium light beams emitting from his waist that illuminated my hallucinations of within-sight aid stations.  Brief moments of hope passed before me, and then I’d realize that they weren’t real. Curse that man and his hallucination-eliciting lights! I fell in behind him and some men, but their trek pulls were too slow, and I was hungry. I needed that aid station.  Gels weren’t really sitting well with me anymore, and I needed sustenance. I popped electrolyte tables, some peanut M&M’s and cheezits, but I needed more minerals, more glutamine (which I know soothes the epithelial lining of intestines and enhances absorption of electrolytes and nutrients). So I passed by. One of them I knew from Hellgate 2020, and he heckled me a bit, saying it took me longer to pass him this time! That stinker.  I wished him well and didn’t see him again. By this point a couple of the leaders, including our friend Mclane Grow had passed, and I was grateful only a little more single track remained because sharing the trail in two directions is UNFUN! 

     

    Finally off the chestnut climb and heading towards Little Bald, I thought the aid station would be at the turn, but it wasn’t.  A brief pity party after having sucked down my remaining fluids, and then I’d ask other leaders how far to the next aid station from here.  It was about a mile and a half longer, but downhill and flat, so I was running some! Yay running! The fog was a descending heavy blanket around us, and our lights reflected the molecules of water in the air instead of our path. Luckily, jeep road and therefore less technical, though there was the choice between shoe-sucking mud puddles or scraping against thorny briars. I chose briars.  The scars are healing great FYI; I surprise myself by wearing them with pride. 

     

    I reached Little Bald to find 4th place female, Ash Walsh, refilling her bottles! Boy, am I so happy to see those volunteers. I ate grilled cheese and drank broth as I refilled my bottles.  I won’t lie, it’s the little wins like pulling out my bottles before approaching the aid station to be efficient with my time that made me feel like I was doing all I could to be successful.  This next section was awesome in comparison to what I’d put behind me. I focused on pulling through powerfully with my poles, jogging when possible, and I was passing others quickly. I liked how these miles clicked by. Happiness. It was time to ascend Reddish, in 4th now, and excited to be turning around.  I saw more and more runners on their return trip, including Heather and Christine! Cheerful hellos and encouragement really lift me. Yes, we are competing, but we need each other. It’s a hard thing we are doing!

     

    This night I felt was eternal; I’m not a night owl. Rarely, actually… never do I pull all-nighters. Not even in college, where I was the grandma hitting the sack at 8:30 because I had music theory right at 8:00 AM! I co-slept with my babies as a means to survive the early days of motherhood.  What I’m saying is that making it through the night without crashing is huge! HUGE! Yay for another victory along the way. 

     

    Finally, summiting Reddish Knob, and I was kissed by the most heavenly daybreak. It was a deep, rich red, and I did need to have a human, non-race moment to soak it in, my unintentional, yet impeccably-timed gift for pushing through a terribly challenging first half of the race.  So much for keeping the first half easy, but I’ll take this gift and cherish it forever.

     

    Selfies having been acquired in spite of fumbling with my headlamp, it was time to proceed to Briery Branch and turn this shit show around. This aid station went without a hitch, though I forgot how long the distance was between Briery Branch and Reddish Knob. The peanut M&M’s were probably my best fuel investment for this race, Picky Bars, the worst. I didn’t eat one. I remembered liking them before, but I just couldn’t force myself to eat them this training cycle. More broth, Ash Walsh shows up and asks me how I’m doing! I felt great, so I of course shared that and that it was my first 100, so yay for being halfway!  This seemed to surprise her, and I informed her that I lived nearby so my comfort on the course was fair, even though the course totally sucks! I also shared that I’d read her blog on Grindstone previously and remarked that I hoped she found redemption in this race, which based on the time, seemed to be very much in the realm of possibility. 

     

    Then Sarah Hodder trickles into the aid station, as I’m sipping away on my broth. I’m good to go, it’s time to get moving! I run out of the aid station, and strike a power hike on the other side of the curve. My husband has taught me many things. Racing is just a part of me, even if I’m not a pro or a top pick to win these things. My music is going (let me tell you, my headphones DID have race magic or God’s blessing because they never died and still had juice for a 1 hour run a week after the race. Wow.) and I am cruising past people. The views are incredible, as the sun is just peeking over the far away mountains and looking to an entirely cloudless sky, and I slow to a hike to grab some photos and videos.  I recall in my mind the mostly non-technical, gradual downhill stretch ahead of me and dial in my effort. This should be easy pacing, but I also need to get off the ridge before the sun begins beating down. While the fog had lifted, the heat was the next challenge; solve them as they come, I’d been told.

     

    These miles, thankfully, clicked away. Morning bathroom routines went without a hitch (I hadn’t practiced with immodium), though I did announce to one man coming by that I was stopping so that he’d pass me by already.  Check and check! Some open bald sections lent themselves to full access to sun exposure. I kept my eyes set on the next throw of shade I could shirk to without rushing. I am a vampire, and oh how I wish sunlight just revealed my sparkles to indicate I was a supernatural predator.  Damn you, Twilight!

     

    I reached the Little Bald aid station around 8:15, and it was indeed warmer already. My stomach was subtly alerting me that it was unhappy. I asked for broth, grilled cheese, and Todd, aid station chief, gave me some Tums to take now and later. I was off quickly for another mile and a half before turning back onto Chestnut. 57.5 miles into this, and I’d realized now I was in for a long day of suffering.  Break it up, I coach myself, get to Mike. Again, favorite race-day mantra since mile 15: just get to Mike. As I was leaving, the gentleman checking numbers told me that from mile 45 to mile 57, I’d moved up 20 places, Wow! While my knee-jerk reaction was hell yeah, my subconscious tugged on me a bit, reminding me to dial in my effort because it was not time to really push yet. 

     

    “Descending” Chestnut encompassed many steep, narrow trails, loose rocks, and now, the blazing sun. My hydration had seemed to hold up in spite of the oppressive heat and dewpoint the night before, but question marks were exploding all over my brain.  I remembered sage advice to take problems on as they come, and it wasn’t an issue yet, so I drank and focused on moving down the 7 mile, 3,000 foot climb without destroying my quads or rolling my ankle.  I was successful in this, but as I summited Grindstone Mountain (the last rolling climb before the descent into North River Gap), I really got overwhelmed with how painstakingly slow I was moving over the rocks.  I can fly down descents, unless it’s technical. It must be my self-preservation because I don’t take a lot of risks and therefore don’t fall often. Right before the last short but very steep climb up to Grindstone Mountain, I came upon Andy Jones Wilkins bebopping around. I asked him if he could put me on the other side of it already, and he laughed and carried on his way.  But I was serious.  Atop Grindstone Mountain, I found myself pulling my poles along and staring at a giant blue construction crane and swearing it was real! Maybe there had been trail work on the mountain - I don’t know!  My first legitimate hallucination, and I thought hallucinations were only for night time. The lack of sleep was finally catching up, I suppose. I was in uncharted territory, setting a record for the amount of time I’d been awake at 27 hours already since the morning before. 

     

    I was relieved to see a few people on the trail clapping, and I was like “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad that’s over.” “ I’m never running this trail again.” Finally the trail had “flattened” out and was merely technical, and I was running, but walking over the mini bridges.  I heard Daryl, my crew before I saw him, which is hilarious as he is 6’8”, but then I saw him and he was guiding me back to my seat. I’d done it: 30 miles to get back to Mike. 

     

    Mile 65+ (hovering at my distance PR) and with more climbing and time on feet than I’d ever done before. I felt wiped. I clutched a gel ice pack against my face and body while Mike changed my socks and shoes again (pair #3). Sophie Speidel came up to me and told me I was doing amazing, and now only a 50K++ left to go. Unfortunately, my left hamstring had been tightening more and more in the descent from Chestnut, and I felt a little too beat up to be thinking “Hell Yeah, 50K to go!”, but in spite of my whimpering, I wasn’t quitting. It wasn’t a thought in my mind. She directed my attention to a person lying down on a cot.  “You are in 3rd place. She hasn’t moved in awhile, and I don’t think she’s getting back up. 2nd place was here for 45 minutes, and you look way better than her when she was here. Buck up. You are strong.” Sophie is tough as nails. She keeps it real; matter-of-fact encouragement, no sugar coating or ego petting, just facts and tough love. So much was happening here while I was taking in the current race environment: phone attached to external battery and placed in baggie, new bottles and snacks, sunscreen on face, female-specific wipes, body glide, new buff, no new shirt, that comes at mile 80, and sunscreen.  I quickly ate a plate of potatoes, drank broth, drank my pre-mixed MUDWTR iced coffee, and some Mountain Dew. My motivation was back. It was time to get out of here.

     

    Sophie snapped some photos for my “fan club” (I laughed!) as Jonathan, my pacer from mile 65-80, and I took off down the road at a strong hiking pace. We jogged along as I recapped him on how the night had transpired, asked how his week had been (we are both reading specialists for the same county, so lots of things to discuss), all during this non-technical and fairly flat section of the course. As we began ascending the rocky (larger rocks) trail up towards Lookout, my stomach began to rebel like I’ve never felt before.  Rumbles in the jungle!!!! My heart rate was low, but I felt alarm bells sounding. I stopped for the first time, leaned over (felt great on my hamstrings) and rested my head on the butts of my trekking poles, breathing deeply.  I think the hot sun pelting down on us through the skimpy shade of the trees was escalating the work placed on my body to digest.  My body couldn’t cool and digest at the same time.  I tried not to get overwhelmed by the long day ahead of me in light of my current situation. For the most part, I did alright.  We’d count 50 trekking pulls, then pause to breathe.  Occasionally, I sat down on a rock and just put my head in between my knees.  These were my slowest miles yet, arguably the slowest of the entire race, and my new game plan was just to ease my way up to Lookout Mountain so that I’d have something to work with coming down to Dowells Draft.

     

    I remembered my husband at Grindstone 2017, how great he looked at North River Gap but then his death march into Dowells draft later. I immediately felt remorse for not being sympathetic enough to his needs, honestly to any of my pacer’s needs in past experiences, and that had nothing to do with my current pacer’s behavior; he was wonderful, patient, and encouraging. Also paid very close attention to my need for eating/drinking. These seem to be the quotes for 2021, but “you don’t know what you don’t know” and “once you know better, you do better.” Noted and filed away. Meanwhile, I was on an entirely new learning curve: relentless forward progress looks and feels very different in 100 miles than in other races. It’s slow. Slower than slow. Time has all but stopped.  Occasionally, a gust of wind would make the sweat feel cool on my skin, and we’d find pockets of denser shade to rest and catch breaths or simply enjoy moving through with less oppression. Ultimately, I was grappling mightily with calming my stomach. Somehow, I knew it would improve. I needed to lower my core body temperature, to lay down, and to eat/digest without moving. 

     

    Before we arrived at Lookout Mountain at mile 71, I actually clocked an 18:15 mile! My heartrate had stayed in the 120’s, even a 119 average, which was good so that my body could digest!  Much improved and primed perfectly to take in food at this aid station, the CATs aid station! Seeing my friends was such a welcome sight after that significant battle up the mountain. I asked if anyone had a blanket I could lie down on, could I have ice, and some grilled cheese?

    As I lay there, Jonathan brought me ice, which went down my sports bra, under my run buff on my forehead, and Becca brought me 3 pieces of grilled cheese, which was excruciating difficult to eat slowly because it was so good. I think they also brought me broth. Becca handed me two packets of pepto bismol, which I never took and probably should have, and then opened up her bag of running fuel and asked if I wanted powders, gels, whatever, No more gels for me; I took nothing.  Too much sugar had rotted my stomach . We dumped out any electrolyte fluids and refilled with water. Actually, we didn’t do that. Jonathan did that. I’d take salty snacks, M&Ms, and electrolyte tablets in between aid stations from here on out.  I had hoped for a 10 minute rest; that’s what I’d shared as I entered the aid station with whatever glee looks like when you’re entirely depleted.  However, my blissful rest was cut short as I hear Andy Jones Wilkins’ voice resounding throughout the woods. Becca whispered that there’s a chick with him. It was Ash! Drat!

     

    The next couple of moments were a whirlwind of movement, but I rolled over, hopped up, whispered to Jonathan that we need to go, and we were running! We ran for around 200 steps up a climb, and melting ice dripped down from my bra and buff. Ah, it felt so nice. I wanted to be out of sight before I fell back into a power-hike, and we were successful. It’s wild: the time would fly by, but the miles were frozen in time. Jonathan would remind me gently “Nelle, it’s been 30 minutes and you haven’t sipped anything; Nelle’s it’s been an hour, pick something and take three bites.”  Whimpering, I did it, and it was hard to trust my stomach wouldn’t rebel again.  Amidst those challenges, I’d point to a skull hiding in the logs, and a tractor sitting on the side of the trail.  It was fairly amusing and a welcome distraction from my current quality of life. Mile 77, I began feeling a sense of dread with the duration between aid stations.  We were moving, and looking back, the pace was GREAT after what I’d just recovered from, but I was concerned about how close Ash was.  

     

    Finally, at mile 78, as I was throwing a fairly significant pity party that would soon resemble a toddler’s temper tantrum, Ash came shooting by, carrying, but not using her poles. Was I doing this wrong? Did I make the wrong call? She is an experienced ultrarunner; this is my first. She’s got her own battle she’s waging out here, her second time on the course.  She’s killing it.  We mentally worked through how to not let her passing me take the remaining wind I had out of my sails. But she bolted by and disappeared, giving me a taste of my own medicine.

     

    I asked how much longer until the aid station, and Jonathan said not much further. I needed finite information.  Everything seemed far! I’d lost all perspective. He shared that it was about 2 miles, at which point, I replied that’s not a little bit further! I started to cry, and I dropped my poles and stomped off. Full-fledge toddler. Embarrassing.  We got back going, and he reminded me that I’m moving at a great clip, just keep going. So I did. I’d whimper here and there, but the jokes were gone for the remainder of this section, which I ran much of, with intermittent hiking poles. I did say I did something right because I was running in the final 25 miles to go.  Finally, we reached the trailhead that leads to the Dowells Draft aid station. I saw a person taking numbers, and when I reached that person, he/she was nowhere to be found. Yay hallucinations. Mile 80 by 3:15 PM, 21 hours, 15 minutes into this monster with  22 miles to go.

     

    Jonathan and I ran up to that aid station, where I came upon my happy crew and Caroline… with pizza! Yum! I immediately sat down, at which point Jonathan was off and refilling my bottles.  I changed shirts quickly while Mike stuffed my back. Caroline was bringing me more glorious ice for my buff and my sports bra. Someone handed me a pizza slice, and I was surprised to find myself ravenously biting into it and needing to slow myself down.  Jonathan had made a list of needs prior to this aid station, and great news, the Arnica cream had been located, and after eating a full slice, I was slathering that on the back of my left knee and atop my tiring hip flexors. I asked how far ahead of me Ash was now, and they said she wasted no time getting in and out of the aid station, just refilling bottles. Damn. I was jealous, but ultimately, this was my first one! I just needed to stay upright at this point. I say that, and then suddenly there’s a female that had snuck up from way behind, and I was again, doing my best to sneak as we hustled out of the aid station. Jonathan’s pacing was done, and now it was Daryl’s turn.

     

    The single track off Dowell’s is so steep going down, and I hobbled my way before looking up and see this monstrously steep section - how did I forget this from training camp? Good God! I powered to the top of it and again, head on the butt of trekking poles with long, deep pulls of breaths.  I needed to separate myself from the pressure I was unnecessarily placing on myself so that I could keep my cool.  We were run-walking again, gradually ascending, descending, and crossing the road, back where it was flat, back where Corey Gray face-planted.  Seemed like forever ago.  We caught a couple of men here, some that I’d leap-frogged with throughout the race, some I hadn’t seen yet. I pushed up this climb, and the effort was overwhelming, the sun beating down on me as I climbed up the side of the mountain. This was Crawford Mountain, and she’s a real bitch, coming and going. 

     

    Again, I was being nudged gently to drink, to eat. Had I not just eaten a slice of pizza? Was that enough? Apparently, time was passing by fast and still, so slowly!  I felt like I was constantly forcing myself to eat but really struggling to do it. I did eat a 100 calorie bag of peanut M&M’s again, so that’s good! However, my cognitive tolerance for struggle was rapidly unraveling, and I began panicking about the long way to go still with such high temperatures.  Did I mention the high was 87º? Yet, I’d passed several men, and in spite of throwing myself periodically onto several rocks and sobbing, Daryl noted that they weren’t catching me.  That was encouraging, but still, staying in the pain cave and focusing there was very difficult.   He’d calmly state that yes, we were still climbing, but no, we weren’t there yet. “You’re doing it.” “Yes, it’s hard.” He affirmed every thought I had except: “this is never going to fucking end.” “It feels that way, but it will. You’re making progress.” I nearly cried, no actually I did cry when a mile clocked in at 27+ minutes. And he’d remind me, “Nelle, we just climbed 2000 feet. This is a tough climb.”
    At one I told Daryl, I’d like to be airlifted out of here, the only other logical alternative is to full send myself off the mountainside. Joking, but in that kind of suffering, I find myself remembering 10 centimeter, 6 plus hours of endless, fruitless labor, and I just want someone to put me under until it was over. After 27 hours of labor, crowning as my epidural went in and grunting heavily into my doctor’s arms, I finally had a baby.  That’s what I’m remembering. All over body aches and pain, entire musculo-skeletal tension, ebbing and flowing, catching my breath and having it taken away.  Am I a masochist for finally finding an experience that mimics my experience of labor? Yup.

     

    I’m sure one thing my pacers learned is that I don’t want to hear we are “almost” there. It’s so relative when the challenge of the next aid station, milestone, turn, switchback feels endlessly away. I certainly learned that and had failed to anticipate just how hard the agonizing of sitting with relentless, SLOW, progress would feel. However, a century later, we have arrived on the ridge, and I am seeing toddler-like leaf humans hanging on stems of larger plants. I point them out to Daryl, and then we are descending. Down, down, down, steepest of down, nearly as steep as Elliott’s.  By this point, I’m approaching 24 hours of movement, and ugh. I’d hoped I’d be closer to the finish than this! So finally, my body can do less work, but I can’t coordinate my body effectively enough to really run much. So sobbing and driving my poles in front of me, I zero-heartedly descend, secretly wanting to forward roll like a Ninja-Turtle. Ninja Turtles forward roll, right?

     

    Finally, I can hear cowbells and cheering somewhere below where we are, and the trail is evolving into a gentler descent, and so we are running, click, click, click, past the gate, and into Dry Branch around 5:45 PM.  Daryl remarked that we were over 24 hours, and he claims he celebrated silently for me. I found Mike, walked up, hoping he’d put his arms around me and let me cry. I just sobbed as he ushered me to my seat, saying everyone’s been crying here. Sophie came up to me and reminded me that 100’s aren’t fun. That’s not why we do them. Yes, yes, I realize that. I am questioning everything now. But at the aid stations I wasn’t throwing down “I quit!”, so at least there’s that?! I eat half a slice of pizza in my lovely chair, and bravely request pieces of quesadilla for the trail.  Taking more food was mandatory per my crew.  It was time to go, even though by the absence of it in discussion, 2nd and 3rd place were far out of grasp. Former 2nd (now 3rd) was hanging on with all she had. I’ve gotta hand it to these women. We were toughing it out, even if some of us weren’t going down without more f bombs than a sailor drunk on rum.

     

    I was up and moving toward the final climb to Elliott’s Knob, where the yellow jackets and ankle rolling rocks lay waiting for me.  As I was leaving, I was told the 5th female had arrived. Dammit! All the whining and crying alternated with the wimpiest power-hiking was enough for the men I’d passed but not enough to get away from her. It was time to really dig. Had I struck rock, because the course was full of them. Only 1500ish feet.  87 miles in, approaching single digits.  Sophie said no more than 4.5 miles to the intersection with Elliott’s Knob fire road.  And so, we were power-hiking, but stronger than Crawford, not with renewed energy or refreshment, but with the final embers that glow before finally going out.  Mentally, I was a lot stronger through here, playing my music aloud (all the explicit stuff, of course, I find it highly cathartic).  Staying present, being in a race for 4th, knowing that the race for 5th wasn’t far behind, was at times overwhelming. I distinctly remember having pushed for awhile, and all those overwhelming feelings came to a head, I put my head on my poles again and contemplated just sitting on the side of the trail waiting for the two women behind me to pass me before picking myself up and getting to the finish with my tail in between my legs.  No, I wasn’t going down like that! It would suck getting passed after the immense suffering all day to be where I was, so onward.  We crested over 90 miles, at which point Daryl claims he did another internal celebration for me.  Finally, always finally in these races, the trail evened out, and optical illusions caused by hope and fading daylight seemed to put the trailhead constantly just beyond reach. Finally, I asked 

    Daryl how much longer because it had been 4.5 miles since Dry Branch, and he looked at the fancy map on his fancy watch.  The trailhead wasn’t yet visible. So I carry on for a couple more minutes before stopping, asking again, and whipping my own phone out.  Looked like just under half a mile. I was eager to get to the final aid station, with around 4 miles to go to get there. Possibly 75 minutes? In spite of panicking about the moving trailhead, we carried on, powering through. Daryl, after I regained composure, shared that my climb was inspiring, that he thought he wasn’t going to have to work out here today. Finally, some humor, but also an effort in these later miles to hang my hat on, which is really good because coming down Elliott’s did have me in toddler mode.  Between potty breaks and unnecessary streamers (seriously, the course is overmarked!), I hobbled down this shit show of a descent for about a mile before I praised the trailhead that would lead us down into Falls Hollow.  

     

    We pulled our headlamps out. The twilight was casting shadows, and personally, I did not have the time or energy to deal with stumbling at mile 92.  Parts of the trail are fairly nice. I’m clocking 14-16 min miles here when suddenly, my light is blinking warning signs saying it’s running low on battery. I do recall Mike having charged it, and Daryl was wearing my back-up light.  We traded since I was leading the way ahead of my pacers. I like to be in front anyway, so that pacer was a non-issue.  It was at this point I needed to think about how I’d enter that aid station. I’d been on my feet for nearly 27 hours at this point, I didn’t feel great, but dammit I was going to finish and do all I could to not get caught by anyone in the last miles! I hadn’t seen (or heard) a soul other than Daryl from Dry Branch to Falls Hollow.  I told Daryl to text the group that I needed Mountain Dew in a soft flask, water in the other. No stopping, no chair, be ready for a flying hand-off, to swipe the key from Mike before we took off. We were a half mile away, and I was feeling the magnetic pull of the aid station, letting it take me, but then my heart would force me to slow, even though my average was 128 BPM, anything over fat burning was too high, not enough glycogen to transcend. 

     

    I picked back up as I heard the cowbell, and we were cruising in. I whipped out my half-full bottles, as I had failed to hydrate well in those final 30 miles, but oh well, poppeding my new ones in.  I took a drag of Mountain Dew. Mmmmm good. Surprisingly good. We were cheering and rolling, as Mike fell in stride next to me, crossing the road, hopping onto the single track, and giving the appearance I was crushing the end.  Mike and I were crossing the railroad tracks as some horn went off, and oh my gosh, it scared me to death. No trains though, we’re good. 

     

    Shortly thereafter, we were hiking and climbing up, and I was taking it in okay, powering through with the poles. Mike hadn’t seen me use them, so I think it was interesting for him to see me using something new to us both after many shared runs.  Not 5 minutes though later, my tolerance for climbing was at the threshold, and my joking approach to “Oh look another climb” had been reduced to whimpers.  Mike just kept by my side. I’d ask him if he was proud of me, and he said “I already told you that. Of course I am!” We reached the gravel road and continued to climb. Ugh, more climbing. The embers hanging on on that last climb fizzled out with a final puff of smoke. Here came the death march. No more digging, just one step at a time. I saw a woman with white hair waiting at the left turn to take us down single track towards the camp, but actually it was just a white blaze on a tree. I remarked on it, and I don’t really remember the exchange. It was past 8:00 PM, and I was craving sleep something fierce,

     

    The trail was runnable at times but very rugged at others. These miles crept by, 16+ minute miles up until the very last one. We crossed creeks and I struggled with my footing many times. Finally, there it is again: finally, we reached the bathrooms where we’d turn right, away from the straight shot to the finish line with around 2 miles remaining. Two freaking miles. Oh, how it went on, even though it was slightly downhill! We power-hiked. I started looking back, more frequently than I had on Crawford and Elliott’s final climb, and Mike called me on it. Are we on the right trail? I don’t remember this rope. Is that the finish line? Oh gosh, how much further until the finish? Joking about rocks, then crying about rocks, joking about climbs, then crying about climbs, joking about the trail never ending, you know what’s coming next.I spent so much energy crying, but I was making an effort to keep it light with the jokes, but we all know there’s an ounce of truth in jokes, and the truth found me fast. I began losing my absolute shit as we turn right, away from the like, away from everything. Some of the streamers in this section were not reflective, and it was hard for me to see, so I was asking again, are we on the trail? Where the fuck is the finish line, dammit!!!!

     

    By God’s grace, a turn left took us down the weird “trail” that rolled down and then turned sharply towards the lake. As we crested the slant of the of grass bank, I saw a light bobbing in the woods, moving faster than I was.  I told Mike we had to run. I wasn’t getting caught and moving to 5th with a half mile to go! And so, we were sprinting at a 9:45 pace. Oh my GOD, it was finally really almost OVER. Running, running away from that light behind me and towards the finish,  and Mike pointed a directed me to the grassy field I’d started on, as I carried my poles in hand, I hauled ass and crossed that damn finish line.  Cheering around me in the darkness.  Daryl walked up to me and I just leaned into him saying “Oh my God.” A female voice says “Yay, Nelle!”, and I look up like a buffoon and blind Amanda Womack with my headlamp, My friend had been out on the course at Falls Hollow the night prior, this evening, and came to see me finish. So grateful. 

     

    My whole crew was waiting for me. I was ushered to a chair and presented with my buckle, my top finisher half zip, a Klean Kanteen finisher item.  I refused to get back up for a finisher photo, so I pointed to the banner from my chair and smiled.  

     

    The next finisher was a male, whose sister I was racing, I later learned her name was Claire Lorentzen.  Apparently my push to Elliott’s Knob put me ahead of her coming into at Falls Hollow by 25 minutes, and she finished 5th in 28:48.  Christine O’Gormon was 3rd with 27:53.  It was strenuous, immensely challenging day. Walking to the car, climbing the stairs up to my bedroom, showering then bathing in epsom salts were unsurprisingly taxing.  I took Tylenol PM and happily, yet painfully climbed into my bed. I was home in time for bed, a little late, but before midnight was fairly respectable. Waking up in the morning, I felt mixed emotions: pride but also questioning my ability to suffer well. It was brutally ugly, The ugliest, saddest, weakest sides of me were the ones my friends saw. They were incredible. How blessed I was to wage this multi-stage war between myself and this course with them in the wings as my second because the course wasn’t my enemy; I was.  

     

    My First 100 Mile Race

    28 hours 12 minutes, 101.85 miles, 23,000 feet, 16:36 average pace

    4th Female, 41st Overall

     


  • Jack and Jill Downhill Marathon - Nelle's Race Report

    Why this race?

    Mike and I set our sights on the Jack and Jill Downhill Marathon in North Bend, Washington not only as an opportunity to see a new beautiful destination after staying close to home for over a year due to COVID, but also with the intention of performing at a speed that gave us as much time below the Boston Marathon qualifying standard as possible to ensure we were accepted, as the cushion requirements have become increasingly more competitive. Mike, with his supernatural talent and years of top-level competition would likely qualify with ease on any course. I, still being in the youngest age group (18-34) for two more years and not being superhuman, needed to run well under the qualifying time of 3:30 (in 2018, it was 3:35!) but also under 3:22 (the slowest accepted for 2021 was over 7 min under the standard, whereas my previous qualifying time was 4 minutes and 46 seconds under the qualifying standard. This course being a very gentle downhill combined with my personal proclivity towards strong downhill finishes at ultra races suggested an optimal outcome for me, and so the training began specifically for this race in late May.

     

    The lead up:

    May was a tricky month for me because the winter and spring had been riddled with Epstein Barr virus intermittency that I’d recently calmed down, but in response to the COVID vaccine (Moderna) and other life stress, reactivated. Thankfully, it is largely resolved now. Treatment took a lot out of my energy stores, and my running performance tanked.  Nevertheless, the peace that I find in the flow state of running as well as in exploring mountain trails remained non-negotiable for my mental health, and I was not interested in wasting anymore race entries unless essential.  I resolved to train as I could and perform the best I could! Once Terrapin Half and Promise Land were behind me, I agreed to my doctor’s request to take a 30 day easy period and limited by long runs to under 10 miles and no easy runs over 6 miles.  My speed work was short and at my top speeds. At the end of May, I raced Conquer the Cove (3rd female) and found myself feeling very well.  I had stopped taking my pharmaceutical prescriptions for Epstein Barr and have not resumed them since. I experienced many side effects while taking them, and it’s nice to have my body back to myself.

     

    I always look forward to summer time, but I also dread summer training. However, just as I remind my clients to focus on effort and trust that the cumulative, consistent training in the soupy heat compounds come fall.  However, my race wasn’t in the fall; it was midsummer!  So I opted to take my quality sessions (once per week) to the treadmill, where I could get both incline and decline specificity for optimal race preparation.  Investigation of gym temperatures indicated that I was still training warmer than average race day temperatures in North Bend, so I found that encouraging. I know the treadmill isn’t for everyone, but solo training requires a lot of mental energy, and I was already training at speeds I’d never come close to racing before in the marathon distance, and too much stress physically and mentally was not worth the risk given the limited amount of time I had to train, not to mention the damage diminished confidence from failed workouts can have on race day performance.  

     

    I recruited friends for my long and easy runs, which was a huge boost mentally after some hot, late morning runs that I had taken on solo.  Not fun! Training partners are not to be undervalued in the process; if you don’t have one or a few, I highly recommend you start looking in your community!

     

    In this training block, later workouts included a half marathon at a progressive pace (PR: 1:32:30), a 14 mile race simulation (7:14 pace average), and a 10 mile progressive (10K PR of 43:32). I will be completely honest with you, the final 10 day taper was awful! I wasn’t injured, but my body was sluggish and sore from easy runs, a 4x800m workout (at 7:15 pace!), and climbing the stairs.  I spoke with a few friends on their preparation going for personal record marathon paces to gain perspective and resolve.  The taper is purely mental. But that doesn’t mean you don’t feel it physically! Regardless, trust your training, and don’t do anything dumb like sprint through an airport to make your (now boarding) connecting flight the day before your marathon...just kidding, you’ll still be okay! (This happened to us - the day before was more stressful than I’d prefer)

     

    RACE DAY!

    We woke up at 3:00 AM.  Coffee was preprogrammed and by 3:15 Mike had eggs scrambled and ready. I always struggle to eat on race day, but knowing the effort ahead of me, I knew fueling well was non-negotiable.  I applied body glide EVERYWHERE, KT tape under my sports bra, selected the 3:15 pace band from the three I grabbed at packet pick up (my B goal), and that time before leaving the house flew on by! We drove from where we were staying in Snoqualmie Pass all the way down to North Bend (30 min away) to load the buses. The wait to get into the parking lot was pretty long, but we managed to park and load onto a bus departing for the marathon start at Hyak Park with relative ease. We weren’t sure where the bag drop was, but it appeared to not be located here, so we loaded the bus with all of our drop bag items once we saw others seemed to be carrying extra gear onto the bus! The drive to the start was around 40 minutes long, during which we had witnessed the full moon (these definitely affect my energy, but I’d intentionally done a hard workout on the June full moon to train my brain and body to be successful in spite of it) above the mountains as the sky lightened, giving way to the sunrise. By the time we arrived, I was needing a bathroom!   Luckily, the lines weren’t long, and afterwards, we sat on the ground to wait a bit. It was around 5:40 at that time, and the race started at 6:30.  We took some pictures, and I made a final status post before going into airplane mode!

    Pre-Race Photos - Hyak Park

    I'm liking Mike's fauxhawk here.


    Document these shoes in their first race!

    not a bad view for bathrooms!

    Not a bad view for bathrooms, huh?

    Finally 6:10 approached and we dropped our bag near the start (and by bag drop) to begin our warm-up.  I felt pretty good, though the alph fly shoes felt so weird. I’d waited over a year to finally race in these shoes, so this was exciting!

     

    The race directors began announcing it was time to line up, stating the first wave would be 7:30 pace and faster.  Can I just say how hard it was to swallow my fear and move into the back of wave 1? I finished my leg swings, gave Mike a kiss and a high five, and moments later, this marathon was starting!

     

    The first half mile rolled. People were flying all around me. I looked at my watch several times to make sure I wasn’t being dumb (binary choices are my jam on race day!) and quickly realized the ease of 7:00 minute pace would result in inevitable misery later. Let the people go. Be smart and reel them in later.  Miles .5 to 2.5 were through the Snoqualmie Tunnel, hence the requirement for headlamps.  It was a really cool experience, but two important challenges lie within this section: 1) loss of GPS skews pacing slower and 2) uneven surface.  I rolled my ankle twice, but it didn’t hurt. I knew I needed to be very careful with my foot placement, especially given the shoe stack height.  I also realized that my effort didn’t align with the suggested pace on my watch, and while others around me may be pushing harder to make their effort align with their watches, it would be best for me to stay relaxed and rely on effort as my compass.  Towards the end of the tunnel, it was time to shut off the headlamp and place it in the bag for drop-off on the other side. The things we do while racing! That went without a hitch, and in the not-so-far distance I could see the mile 3 banner. I passed by it at 2.8 miles, which was an affirmation that effort reliance paid off in the tunnel, because I was only slightly ahead of the target 3:15 finishing time for that mileage.

    Where do I drop my headlamp?

    I was slightly concerned about how easy headlamp drop would be. Not the best photo, but okay!

    The light at the end of the tunnel!

    View emerging from the tunnel

    We came back another day to take these photos :)

    The view as you exit the tunnel. We came back another day for a run to reflect and capture the views!

    I’d had a smart start, but I was playing with fire in the first 10 miles.  The gorgeous views had me on cloud nine.  Mountains, ravines, rivers below, mature trees.  Just, wow.  The crushed gravel rolled under foot. I looked at my watch and YIKES… 6:50 current pace. This pace was 25 seconds under goal pace, no, no, no.  I pulled back from behind the person I was following. His pace was smooth, but too fast.  As there were no pacers, I needed to rely fully on myself today.  I settled back into appropriate pacing, varying from 7:15-7:25.  Right where I needed to be in order to avoid a wall in the final 10K.  I’d decided the first 10 miles is all about settling into pace and racing with the brain, outsmarting the survivor instincts that come with adrenaline. The downhill was definitely making it hard for me to keep my legs on target pace.  I refueled at 4 miles with a 1x chocolate huma, chasing it with Nuun endurance (mango flavor) from my handheld bottle. 

     

    I took water at every aid station, which was about every 2 miles.  I continued to check my elapsed time at each mile marker, noticing my total time and the projected 3:15 time were growing from 45 second difference to a minute and half (my time was faster). I took plenty of deep breaths recognizing that I just needed to keep moving forward while continuing to monitor pace and pulling back as needed.  I took another huma gel (berry) at mile 9. Fueling was going seamlessly.  At the half marathon mark, there were a fair amount of spectators, for the first time really! The ground was uneven and rockier here, so I paid careful attention, though I somehow managed to still roll my ankle on the early end of this course despite the sunlight. 

     

    Speaking of sunlight (and heat), the weather was pretty mild, 55º at the start.  While runners ahead of me kicked up dust from the trail, I could avoid breathing it in by running on the other side or making more distance between us.  The heat definitely became more evident as the race continued, but the sun was on my back instead of my face, and the towering trees provided shade protection from the sun. Really, perfect conditions for a large amount of the race, other than the full moon, of course.

     

    Back to the race.  After the half marathon mark, I noticed that gentle tugging in my calves and hamstrings and felt triggered by what had transpired at Promise Land.  Electrolyte tablets had remedied full fledged muscle cramps, so I knew I needed double electrolytes in my next huma gel at mile 14. When mile 14 came, I pulled out a 2x electrolyte strawberry lemonade flavor, took it, and chased it with electrolytes. Experiencing those tugs rattled my confidence a bit, as I was well into the second leg of this race (mile 10-20) where I should rely on my strength, and as my friend Sophie Lambert encouraged me, I called upon my power workouts. I’d run 14 miles progressively faster with an average of 7:14 pace.  By 15 miles, I’d already won by running further and faster than I ever have at 7:14 pace (which is what my watch was saying my average pace was at that time).  I’d tapered, my legs were healed and primed, and just as all races have high points, they also have low points. Here was mine, and I told myself it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t.  Any of you reading and hoping your marathon doesn’t hurt or have hard parts, they do hurt, but they don’t have to hurt the whole time, and the story you tell yourself influences this perception of discomfort, and that comes from a person with very low pain tolerance. Remind yourself this is temporary, call on your accomplishments in your training and past successes, and take a deep breath as you witness your mindset perform magic!

    One of the many bridges in the race!

    One of the many bridges on the course!

    And so at this point, it’s mile by mile.  I tell myself, it’s a gentle downhill, so just keep turning over. At mile 18, you take a huma gel (with caffeine). At mile 19, there’s a water stop. Throw water over your head and walk as you steadily suck down another cup of water.  Time is on your side.  Use the word “you” when you talk to yourself; psychologically this helps will your thoughts into existence. At mile 19, I passed a woman who before the race had said her goal time was 3:15 but had taken off.  I passed her at a strong pace, said good job, and never saw her again. Mile 20 approached, and it’s the final leg of marathon racing. Again, I recognized all the things that had gone well: waking up on time, loading the bus, not tanking in the first half of the race, my fueling plan going so smoothly, and finally, I’d now run 20 miles at 7:13 pace.  Again, I’d won.  By this point, I knew if I kept going no matter what happened, I’d PR... by a lot.  There was no attachment to the outcome because I’d already acknowledged so much success, and I wasn’t miserable.  I didn’t even want to quit.  The descent was flattening out, and again, I took this a mile at a time, aid station by aid station. Doing so gave me mini-victories, and you know I was victory-dancing in my mind! 

     

    As I approached the aid station at mile 21, a female ran up from behind me. She looked comfortable and smooth, obviously having found a way to run a more relaxed first half marathon than me, but it’s fine. This isn’t about where I stack up against others; it’s about my own personal goals, and my A goal was within grasp. We turned shortly thereafter for the first time off the long gentle downhill slope onto a dirt-packed winding double track. Oh man, this was my jam! Winding trail is where I lose all sense of speed and just flow. I looked down and found myself at 6:30 pace. No, no. Yes, I was in the final 10K, and it’s time to run with my heart, but not yet with wild abandon. Not yet. I pulled back and the trail gradually straightened out as we began running in more of a community park-like trail. We passed more and more half-marathoners, and then another female passed me. She also looked smooth, and so I took a self inventory. Was I relaxed and allowing my turnover to flow? Relax your shoulders, steady your breath, keep your stride strong but efficient.  Mile 22 came, and it was time for my final huma gel.  I took it, walked through the water stop to again toss water over my head and take another cup of water for drinking.  There was a man I’d run several later miles near, and I set my sights on gradually regaining ground on him, which I was able to do.  The other women were continuing to pull away, and 4 miles was still a long way to push at top effort without forsaking all miles prior.

     

    Mile 23 came surprisingly fast. 3.2 more miles, then 3.1 miles, then less than a 5k! So I focused on the mile I was in, pumping myself up with music and telling myself to just keep turning over and do the best you can do. You’ve come this far; don’t throw it all away now! I also thought to myself I will be so close to 3:10, my A goal.  I took a chance and shot for the moon and will be so pleased where I land. Just keep going!

     

    Mile 24 came, and I was amazed to see my pace not slow down, especially my average pace, which remained at 7:12, much faster than a 3:10 finish - did I avoid the bonk, the wall? I was running my strongest, most beautifully executed marathon ever! What an incredible day.  Just keep running and rocking out!

     

    As I write this, I notice that I feel compelled to make new paragraphs for each of the final miles, even though they clicked by pretty quickly.  I jammed out to my music and counted down approximate minutes. 10 ish minutes to finish. Only 10 ish minutes! Finally mile 25 arrived with a water stop. Again, I stopped for a cup of water to cool my head off and another final cup for drinking.  Another female passed me, also looking strong!  I began jogging again, feeling the fatigue finally take over, but I still managed to swing between 6:50 and 7:20 pace fairly consistently. Just keep going. It’s funny because it seems like not long after the 25 mile marker, I look at my watch and it’s already 25.3 miles, almost halfway through the mile - less than a mile to go!  I approached a photographer before a turn, turned on my happiest, strongest face, and ran past. I wanted photo memories that matched the excitement I felt within.

    Happy picture after mile 25!

    You can see how the chafing under my arms became... more severe. Luckily, I could not feel it.

    Another happy photo at mile 25!

    Just over a mile to go!

    About a tenth of a mile later, I could smell the finish and my pace was quickening, but so also was my heart rate, as well as an intensified perceived rate of exertion. I also realized I’d certainly finish in under 3:10, and processing that was both elating and shocking. So, I pulled back and gave myself a 20 second walk. Maybe I didn’t want it to be over and wanted to savor this success privately before I shared my victory with others. I could have kept going… maybe? I don’t know. I approached mile 26 and turned to see the finisher chute, lined with national flags, and I was so thrilled. I looked down at my watch to see 3:07 high. I was pushing to increase my turnover and also skipping songs to find one that matched my energy. This took a little while. I don’t even remember what was playing when I entered the chute.  

     

    I saw Mike standing on the left in between flags cheering for me. I yelled at him and yelled “yeah” with a raised fist.  I could see the clock now. 3:08 high, but I could still finish under 3:10, maybe 3:09! I smiled from ear to ear and crossed the finish line with an official time of 3:08:57, setting a personal record by 16 minutes 17 seconds! I qualified for Boston by 21 minutes 3 seconds as well as New York (3:13 and under) and Chicago!

    Video Screen Grab

    The screen grab I took from the finisher video was more flattering than the finish line photo, in my opinion.

    I learned soon after that I was 3rd in my age group and 11th female, but more importantly, Mike won the race outright in 2:41! Just amazing. He and I both saw to it that we had great races so that we could savor our victories the remainder of our trip in the Pacific Northwest. I had the race of my life (to date).  I believe that I suffered well and executed my race beautifully. Yes, I walked through water stops and walked for 15 seconds at the end, but I could because it improved my overall response to the heat and load, also allowing me to experience brief recovery intervals, which usually works for me very well anyway.

    Mike's Win!

    I'm so amazed and proud of Mike!

    Basking in our glory

    Basking in the experience!

    My technical notes and feedback for the course are as follows:

    • I found this road race to be the most beautiful road race I’ve ever run! So scenic, straightforward, not overly crowded, a trail runner's dream for road running!
    • GPS was fickle the entirety of the tunnel and intermittently throughout the course, so at many times, my intensity was based on effort and mile markers. Later in the race, the course does flatten out moreso, but the elevation profile doesn't indicate this.
    • The footing in the tunnel was challenging and wet in some places, so don't overlook the importance of quality lighting.
    • I do think the dust intensified chafing, particularly under my arms, so be liberal with body glide!
    • The alphafly shoes caused some blistering on my arches and beside my big toe. The blister on my arch thankfully popped around mile 19, but the other one was throbbing after I removed my shoes. I attribute this to usually wearing lime superfeet for arch support.  Also, beware of the stack height. The shoes took off a great deal of shock from the ongoing downhill, but it was easy in gravel to roll an ankle!

    Here is my data:

    SplitsObviously a good race!

    If you’ve gotten this far, I appreciate you taking the time to read my race report.  This experience was very special, and while I usually write race reports for trail races, I thought this road race to be the most beautiful road race I’ve ever run, and it was the race of my life!


  • Athlete: Daryl Brubaker C&O Canal 100 Race Report

    Of all the things that could almost break me during a race, I did not expect a lack of caffeine or temps in the 40s.

     

    When I picked up running six years ago, the idea of running a marathon was crazy but running 100 miles was simply unfathomable. However, as a national commercial said recently, “It’s only crazy until you do it”. So as my long runs grew longer, the line between crazy and unfathomable shifted. I don’t remember exactly when it happened but a couple years ago, I noticed that the 100 miler was trying to sneak into the crazy category…and I can do crazy.

    Race Selection

    My first time covering the distance was my self-supported trail run last spring which I finished in just under 30 hours. This proved that I could cover the distance and planted another “crazy” in my mind: 100 miles in under 24 hours. I decided that 2021 was the year to check this off the list and when MMT100 was postponed by COVID for the second year in a row, I went all in and signed up for not one but two flat 100 mile races. First up: C&O Canal 100. 

    C&O Canal 100 takes place on a 20-mile section of the canal near Harper’s Ferry. Starting at Camp Manidokan, runners drop down about 300’ of elevation to the towpath, do an out and back in both directions, and climb back up the short steep hill to the start line. Rinse and repeat. Twice. The format makes it very approachable and COVID friendly…but the devil lurks underneath. With a very long cutoff, fantastic aid stations, and mostly runnable terrain, C&O Canal 100 lures you in…then crushes your soul.

    Race Prep

    When I had signed up for C&O, I was pleased to find out aid stations were stocked with Tailwind and Honey Stingers which are my current fuels of choice. This allowed me to pack light with just a single drop bag mainly with different gear at the start line which I would hit twice during the race. Everything else would come from aid stations along the way. I didn’t even need to mix my own Tailwind. (Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate that early aid stations would not have caffeinated Tailwind…or how much I would need it.)

    Under the coaching of Mike Fox (Excel Rocktown), training was relaxed and scaled up perfectly. However, as I started my usual spreadsheet nerd-ery a new “crazy” started to emerge. With Mike’s guidance, I knew that I would hit sub-24:00. However, as I started to set goals and make predictions, it seemed like I should be able to do much better with a sub 22:00…or maybe even sub 20!

    Race day logistics could not have been easier. I borrowed my brother and sister-in-law’s truck camper and drove up Friday night after supper where I parked 100 yards from the start line. That’s when I noticed my first problem. I had grabbed my stuff to brew some quality, pre-race coffee using the camper’s propane stovetop. Unfortunately, my coffee grinder wouldn’t work since the camper wasn’t plugged in. Rookie mistake but I didn’t figure that it would matter…oh how wrong I was.

    Race Day

    7 am is a relatively late start for an ultra. Took my time getting up. Started my pre-run routine (minus the coffee). Almond flour banana muffins and UCAN for breakfast. Multiple trips to the port-a-john. Short walk to the self check-in. A masked starting line. And Wave 1 was released from the gates.

    Loop 1 starts with a lap around a field to spread out before dropping down to the canal. Settle in. Hold back the pace. Find a rhythm. Start checking off the miles. The first marathon rolled by without incident as I chatted to a couple of the other runners. Mile 30 found me running solo and the rising heat started to lull me to sleep! I have never been tired during a run but as the lack of caffeine caught up and hit hard, I started to imagine how embarrassing it would be to fall asleep 35 miles into my 100. Somehow, I managed to drag myself up the climb back to camp with my eyes half closed, ditched my cold weather gear, filled both soft flasks with caffeinated tailwind, and downed a couple Cokes. 

    Jolted back to consciousness, I headed out for lap number two (miles 40-70). This was by far the best lap of the three. I put on my headphones and checked out. Before I knew it, the sky started to darken as the sun started to drop and rain clouds started to roll in. At this point, I took the first look at a pace card that I had set with splits for 20- and 22-hour finishes. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was less than 30 minutes off 20-hour pace despite the rough first loop! This might actually be possible but I also know that implosions can happen fast in 100s and I didn’t want to lose 22 hours in the pursuit of 20. I decided to let it come and check back halfway through loop 3. The second climb back up to camp brought the first drops of rain and the darkness of night which would both accompany me for the final loop and the remaining eight hours. 

    Fortunately, they would not be the only company as my pacer for the final 30 (Jon Nyce) was also waiting at the top! We refilled my vest with a few packs of peanut butter crackers (only thing not at the aid stations), grabbed my rain jacket, and headed into the darkness. I had packed a dry compression shirt in my drop box but decided it was too much work to change. Afterall, why do you need a dry shirt 70 miles into a rainy 100 miler?!?...oh how wrong I was.

    Jon and I chatted through the next five miles while I still had the mental faculties to make coherent conversation. I gave him the outline of our course and what had been working for me up to that point. At mile 75, we hit the first turnaround of the lap, clocked my last sub-11:00 mile, and the real work began.

    “Be Calm. Be Strong.”  

    I have never leaned on a mantra as hard as I did over the next 20 miles as I employed every trick in the book to keep moving at some kind of reasonable pace. I discovered that repeating my mantra as I counted my breaths (yep, you read that right) helped distract my brain just enough to keep going. I’m pretty sure that I counted to 100 exhalations at least 7-8 times over the next 10 miles. I also had Jon keep me accountable for my run/walk intervals. I’d set the interval out loud and let him tell me when it was over to keep me from staring at my watch. We start running in ¼ milewe’ll run until the end of this mile…or… I’ll run until I meet the next runner going the other way. As the temperature dipped below 50 and the steady rain continued, my rain jacket and soaked compression shirt became less and less effective at keeping me warm. I don’t usually have issues with being cold on a run but I didn’t anticipate how cold 50 degrees and rainy could feel when your body ceases to generate sufficient heat. I was fine while running but that was becoming harder to sustain for any period of time. My walking pace was still very strong but that didn’t keep me warm. As I hit the aid station at mile 87, I legitimately started to wonder if I could actually finish the race. Within 30 seconds at an aid station, I was shivering so we would grab what we could and get moving as quickly as possible. At this point, my run was the same pace as my walk (and hurt way more) but it stopped the shivering. So I continued to alternate. Shuffle…walk…shuffle…walk. Mile 90 brought the final turnaround. With nowhere to go if I dropped and no heater to keep me warm (thank you aid station for not having a heater!!!), I grabbed a cup of soup and headed toward the finish line still wondering how I was going to do the final 7-mile segment to the end. My walk was starting to faulter and the cold was seeping in deeper and deeper. 

    At mile 92, a ray of hope. As I approached the final aid station of the race, my walking muscles loosened up and the rain lightened just enough that I could stay warm as long as I kept moving. We restocked at the aid station as quickly as possible to avoid seizing up and started the final segment. As much as I hated “walking it in”, this time it made sense as my walk was actually faster than my run. Any hope of a 20-hour finish had been chased off by the rain, but a 22-hour finish gave me 2.5 hours to cover the last 7 miles. If I could hold my walking pace of 15:00/mile, I should be fine.

    The next 2 hours took FOREVER!! Pacers definitely don’t get enough credit for putting up with their runners and Jon got to listen to a whole lot of grunting, muttering, and cursing (mostly) under my breath as I seethed with hatred at the final forever straight stretch. The course returned the favor with the final climb back up to the finish line. 300 feet of gain in a ¼ mile is bad enough on its own. After 100 miles, it’s way worst. Add in 8 hours of rain on a dirt trail and you get a 10-minute crawl up a muddy slip and slide. The last ounce of energy and body heat kicked me across the finish line with a time of 21:38:14 for my 22-hour finish and first belt buckle!!! I was thrilled to be done…and 90% satisfied with my race. 

    If you are a runner, this next part will sound very familiar. I decided many times over during the race that another flat 100 was never going to happen and, as I crossed the finish line, I confirmed that one last time. I put on dry clothes and fell asleep while shivering violently under a blanket in the heated camper. 

    “No WAY am I doing another flat 100!!”

    …on the other hand…my body held up pretty well, my training was successful, and—aside from the caffeine—I nailed nutrition. Also, I’ve already paid for Canal Corridor 100 in October…with a little caffeine at the start, some better weather, and/or smarter gear…I wonder…could I do 100 in less than 21?….maybe even sub 20?...

    Behind the Curtain/Randomness:

    • Coach: Mike Fox (Excel Rocktown)
    • Pacer: Jon Nyce, mile 70-100
    • Calories: 10,580 burned, 6041 consumed (I was aiming for 300/hour and got 280. Not bad)
    • Food: Toast Peanut Butter Crackers (6 packages), 3 cups of assorted soups, 4.5 Honey Stinger Waffles, 4 packets Honey Stinger Chews, 1 Honey Stinger gel, watermelon, 12 oz Ginger Ale, 36 oz Coke, 
    • Hydration: Generation UCAN (1 serving), Non-caffeinated Tailwind (22.5 servings), Caffeinated Tailwind (4.5 servings). If memory/calculation is correct, I consumer over 18 L of fluids :-O
    • Sodium: 20 Saltstick capsules plus nutrition and hydration for a total of almost 17,000 mg
    • Notable gear: first race with compression socks deemed a huge success!

  • Terrapin Mountain Half

    I’m sitting in front of my computer screen with a million things I’d like to share with you, but it’s hard to decide which to share first. 

     

    I am a high energy person negotiating living in a body affected by energy depleted conditions.

     

    Let’s rewind first to 2017 Mountain Masochist.  I was registered for the 50 miler, but had been diagnosed with relapse of Epstein Barr Virus, Babesia, and HPA dysfunction.  The former spring, I had trained through my treatment and participated in races when... maybe I shouldn’t have. I decided soon into my second treatment (which came with complications from the steroids and anti-malarials and antivirals) that participating in this 50 mile race would be lunacy.  At that time, I physically couldn’t run more than 12 miles in a week or run faster than ~11:00 pace without my heart rate soaring to 200 BPM.  I’d already pulled out of the West Virginia Trilogy races and now I was emailing Clark Zealand to say I’d like to come to the pre-race dinner (Scott Jurek was speaking), but I couldn’t race.

     

    Here I am in 2021, with a 2nd relapse in 5 months of Epstein Barr Virus, and yet also registered for Terrapin Mountain Half and Promise Land.  My doctor is taking my case to her mentor immunologist, as my previous care suggests proper treatment. I’m clearly not healed (there is no cure)! I could take on some IV Myers Cocktails or high dose vitamin C, as those have helped greatly in the past, but I really am traumatized by the needle part of that treatment protocol, and it’s been said that if I require that kind of treatment, maybe I shouldn’t be racing at all. Oof.

    August EBV labs:

    February EBV labs:

    I really did not want to email Clark again to tell him basically “boohoo, I’m sick again”.  My racing journey is not a sob story. I have shared my story to build awareness for 4 years, and I am annoyed to be so affected by these conditions that strike whenever my stress level crests above a certain threshold.  I have felt victorious, strong, and woman, but in the past month I have felt (more times than I’d like to shared) oppressed, hopeless, and unsafe in (even betrayed by) my body.  Maintaining a growth mindset is key in overcoming any challenge, but not one person can say doing so is easy!

     

    Hellgate 100K was a big ask on my body, and I believe I honored it.  I rode the high of my race experience and gave my body the space it needed to heal and recover for over a month before even trying to run again. I know that was not the fire to reignite this relapse.  While my recovery rate from workouts and various training tends to be longer than typical, I do not believe it’s the training that is causing a relapse. Overtraining in life? Yes, but my threshold is low, at least for now.

     

    As an integrative health coach, I understand that health and wellness isn’t just about movement and nutrition. It’s about joy, spirituality, relationships, career, and more.  I think about my joy and creativity.  The build up to a race includes strategy consideration, planning fun, adventurous training runs, visualization and manifesting success!  The journey to racing brings me joy. I need that in my life. I cannot cut it out and simultaneously say that I am living.  I could cut it out and say that I am surviving, though ultimately I think my soul would suffer eventually.  I’ll never forget paying a visit to John and Michelle Andersen at Crozet Running in early January 2017, and when I came up to the counter with various fuel sources, they noted that I was making my training runs longer again.  It felt so good to be seen, that I was returning. 

     

    My hope is that this is my last racing season where I am training under treatment. If you’re tired of reading about Lyme disease, the coinfections, the EBV, and whatnot… please let me assure you I’d love nothing more than to not be experiencing it at all and instead be progressing upwards and onwards.  I can’t count the number of posts where I’ve shared it all and then just minutes gone back and hit the backspace button until the bare bones of the post remain.  That insecure part of me doesn’t want to appear a whiny, “same sad story” human.  I do want to be seen and understood.  I do want to shed light on the appearance of high functionality masking the invisible debilitating symptoms that come with chronic disease. I had half a mind (maybe three quarters) to not even share this much.

     

    Enough of that.

     

    Terrapin Half:

     

    A couple weeks prior to the race, Mike and I drove out to run parts of the course. Originally intending to run 16-17, we cut the run down to ~13.  On the climb up the mountain, my legs screamed at me. This shouldn't be this difficult, but I was a few days into treatment and the burning fire in my legs had returned (much like in 2017, the 270 days of antibiotics year).  I shed some tears, and Mike just listened.  I spoke about how even though I think I’m good at racing ultras, maybe it’s time to hang my hat.  Maybe it’s just too much on my body.  Maybe I needed to take a couple of weeks off running entirely.  I was feeling sorry for myself and not really allowing myself to enjoy the new scenery on this warm, beautiful day.  

     

    We scrambled to the Terrapin Summit after a wrong turn, and struggled immensely with the technical descent for the next 2-3 miles.  I really suck at steep, technical descent. We quickly realized this race did not suit our strengths, at least until the Reed’s creek trail, which ascended, descended, winding around the curvature of the mountain. Give me rolling trails, and my body is magic. We navigated the frigid creek crossing and the rocky bombers back to the finish.

     

    When we finished, I honestly did not want to run the half. I didn’t intend to run it.  But as race day approached, I realized that I needed to follow through.  Treatment wasn’t fun by any means, and the course was very challenging, but I needed to toughen up and honor my commitment.

     

    On race day, Mike and I woke up around 3:30, left the house by 4:30, and drove to the start.  Packet pick up was smooth, but also weird, the climate largely affected by COVID protocols, and so the usual congregating and well-wishing before races just wasn’t happening. It was pretty cold outside, just below freezing, so Mike and I huddled up in the car to wait until it was time for his start.

    The start of races at this time require special consideration, like waves, rolling starts, field limitations, etc. It was determined that this race would follow a rolling start or window in which you can start the race, with chip timing so as not to punish those that choose to start later or in a smaller (or no) group. This would prove to pose a challenge strategically for those competing for top spots.  Personally, I believe that in this environment, those who are competing for top spots race by gun time, as I find it more advantageous to be chasing people down instead of being chased down.  

     

    So, Mike started his race right at 7:00, hoping that his top competition was starting right along with him.  Because I wanted at least 16 miles for the day, I began my warm up around the parking area and the initial road section of the race, which was fun because I could cheer on 50K runners as they started.   I felt I had fueled myself well with a GF oatmeal bowl plus my usual protein coffee.  I took an extra gel before the race and proceeded to the start line.  Leg swings and quad stretches and deep squats before standing behind the start line, taking advantage of that final seconds countdown.

     

    The race had begun, and I knew because of the crazy steep technical sections, my best strategy to position myself for a top finish would be to push hard on the flat sections and the initial climb.  So far, I hadn’t seen any females, but also what was I doing? I wasn’t racing; I was just out there for the run with no expectations other than not to die coming down the mountain. Ugh, the cognitive dissonance. I wanted to race, but my legs were saying “no, thanks!” One mile into the race, 8:24 split, I felt that was a strong mile, but the devil on my shoulder was goading me to turn back. My legs felt like absolute garbage. They were sore after my 5K shake out run. So annoying … and disappointing. But whatever, not every race is going to be amazing or “my day”, so onward progress. To have those thoughts that early in the race though? That was worrisome.

     

    Regardless, I began utilizing intervals of 100-200 running steps, 50 steps power hiking.  Hands went to my hips immediately. I started passing by other runners, both 50K and Half. Around mile 2, there was a creek crossing, and instead of teetering across and attempting to balance on the precarious logs or find the path of least wetness, I just barreled across the stream, leaving around 5 people behind me.  That water was freezing, but my body was on fire, so other than my toes, I felt fine.

     

    Parts of this climb were really quite gorgeous on this clear day, because the views through the barren trees showed how much we’d already ascended and more rolling mountains resting in the distance.  After a couple more miles, we emerged onto the parkway, and that was very rewarding to reach the first aid station. But the climbing wasn’t over.  Another 500 ish feet to the top of Terrapin Mountain Summit: big rock scrambles and hands on knees hiking.  I took my first race gel here (Huma chocolate mmmmm) at elapsed 50 minutes and dug deep to finish this nasty climb.  I passed more men, but still no women to be seen around me. That was exciting. Okay, so maybe I am racing after all. 

     

    After a long ascent, it was time to go down, down, down. I anticipated the frustration and danger of this section.  While I dreaded it, I suppose knowing it was coming prevented the whining that came with it a couple weeks prior, and also, I think the practice helped me improve my footing for race day because my splits were faster!  At one point, a group of men that I’d passed earlier had gained ground on me, and so I moved aside.  There was a gentleman up there taking photos, saying “aren’t your shoulders cold?” and “y’all around 15th place”.  I told him my shoulders felt great (I was wearing arm sleeves and a crop tank under my hydration vest) and had he seen any females? I guess he didn’t hear me because he didn’t respond. Oh well, onward.  We’d descended 1000 feet in a mile at one point, and it wasn’t long before we were reaching the rock garden and dangerously steep slip ‘n slide that was called a trail. Oh, how I HATED this section. I was sidestepping my way down and grabbing onto trees to prevent myself from butt-sliding the whole way down.  

     

    Finally, that trail leveled out (sort of) and the trail proceeded downward of course for another mile into the final aid station. This aid station included a ~.3 mile out and back (downhill, then uphill) and I knew that coming back up might unveil any competition.  Sure enough, as I’m doing all I can to look strong and confident (while also taking a gel), one, two, three women come bombing down the hill.  And here’s the kicker: I have no idea when they started. And I wasn’t about to ask!

     

    Thankfully, my adrenaline kicked in and I knew that if I wanted to place high (as far as I knew, I could still be first female, and until someone passed me, that’s how I was going to behave) I’d have to push and create as much distance/time as possible between myself and them.  But I also wanted to be realistic and remind myself that if I was passed, I would not quit trying. Getting passed doesn’t make me a “bad” runner. I would stay in this until the finish.  Finally, the section of the trail which was to my benefit: the rolling Reeds creek trail.

     

    While my legs were full of lead, my soul was also on fire. Let’s go!!!!!! Okay, some running up until breathless, and power hiking 50 steps.  Don’t look back; look ahead, and look FIERCE. This section would climb up into the mountain and then gently descend and then climb out of the mountain, again and again. I took another gel (not 20 minutes after the last one) as I fell into line with a couple of men, and running behind them helped me stabilize my heart rate and build in some recovery.  Finally, I think we all accepted that it was time for me to move on, and with maybe 3-3.5 miles to go, I took off and began flowing on the gently rolling descent.

     

    At one point, I felt like I’d lost control of my legs. My knees were knocking each other and my feet were hitting the ground in places that I didn’t plan for them to.  Neurologically, I felt like this could become a problem, and I almost turned back to alert the guys I’d been running with that I might need help.  I chugged some NUUN endurance to make sure I had plenty of electrolytes and breathed deeply.  That sloppy running has NEVER happened to me before.  Luckily, the problem dissipated, so it must have been electrolyte related, who knows?  I was pushing, and again, as far as I knew, I was in first!!! These longer trail races, it’s been a long time since I’ve led a women’s race.  Maybe 5 or 6 years?!? It felt awesome. I wanted to defend my spot!  

     

    Finally, I came upon the creek crossing, which was a fast flowing rapid.  I really didn’t want to waste any time here, so I took the most direct path from one streamer to the next.  Freezing cold but home free basically! Time to let gravity and turnover take over. This descent is fairly technical with it’s ruts and loose rocks, but FAR more runnable than the descent of Terrapin, and eventually the trail turned into dirt, then gravel, and with just after 1 mile to go, pavement.  I remembered pushing this section on our training run and the speed I was able to recruit, and so I did all I could to engage.  7:00 pace, 6:50 pace, 6:45 pace. I can do more. I can push harder.  6:40, 6:30, 6:10, 5:48 pace at one point.  I turned right towards the final straight away and there was the annoying bump of a hill.  It didn’t last long, and at the top of that, I could see the finish line arch.  Hang on! Strong finish, I could be the first chick, and I was so happy to have stayed present and in the game that whole race.  

    I finished in 2:23 +, and while my watch said 12.75 miles, other half marathoners had around 13.01. So who knows what the actual distance was?  The next female (Elisa Rollins) rolled in not long after I’d finished, and I cheered for her because I was grateful to her (and the others) because their presence helped me push myself, regardless of the outcome.  Not long after her, another female finished (Allie Zealond).  Together, we cheered for her.  Then, I took off for another 2 mile slog because I needed a longer run that day. 

    After I returned from my run, changed and slightly refreshed, I learned that through chip timing, I was 3rd female by around a minute to Elisa.  Allie beat Elisa by around 2 minutes.  I started my race at 7:30, Elisa started hers at 7:36, and Allie started not long after Elisa!  Craziness!

     

    As top finishers, we scored Patagonia top finisher duffels, in addition to the super sweet Terrapin mug and fleece blanket received by all finishers! I love my race swag!

    Meanwhile, Mike was out there racing still, and so I set up camp behind the finish line in my fleece blanket, drinking more of my still warm protein coffee.  He won his race, and as always, it was a joy to watch him compete! We spent the afternoon socially distanced with fellow ultra running friends, and that was long overdue and very much appreciated.

    I am so grateful to have finally finished a Clark Zealand race; this course taught me a lot about how to grapple with weakness.  It’s easy to work hard where it suits, but it’s character building to push and carry onward when the course plays directly to my growth areas.

     

    This race taught me the value of competition.  While I didn’t win, I can be happy for the women who beat me and simultaneously grateful for the environment their presence created to help me push myself to reach my potential.  

     

    The jury is still out on Promise Land.  I’ve had a hard time getting my long run mileage up, and my volume and days run/week is lower than usual, due to the effects of treatment.  I had big goals for Promise Land before this, and I’m not letting them go, but I also recognize that there are physical limits to my treatment and setting the bar unrealistically high is unfair to myself and even dishonorable to the healing my body is aiming to do on my behalf.

    It's still crazy to me that we climbed to the top of this! 


  • My 2021 Holiday Lake 50k++ Time Trial

    By Mike Fox

    Left the house at 3:45am, 2 hour drive to Holiday Lake.

    Turned off of Highway 24, along with 30 other cars to find the road to be covered in ice (it hadn’t been treated) and quite a few people that were nervous on the slick road. A Toyota Corolla tried to make it up a hill and failed. For some reason that made several others with 4x4 not want to try it, and they clogged the road. I drove around about 20 cars using the grass on the edge as traction, but then there was one stopped in the middle and wouldn’t move. Frank, Sean, and I were trying to convince them it was ok, but it was no use. They weren’t interested in trying anymore, and I couldn’t REALLY blame them. It was a complete ice rink.

     

    It’s only about 4.5 miles to the starting line from where we are. I COULD run there and make it. I mean, if you’re gonna run 50k (++), what’s another 8k. Plus, it would be an effective warm up!  But, I couldn’t leave Nelle and the girls stuck at the car. I would’ve been worried about them the whole time.

    Sitting on icy road exactly when I was supposed to starting the race.

    My preferred option was to attempt a gutsy move across the road to the far side and hook the grass again. Nelle decided it wasn’t worth the risk despite me giving her the “there are leaders and there are followers” speech.

     

    We decided to turn around and try a different route. At this point it was about 6:30am. I was supposed to start my race at 6:30am. …read that sentence again.

     

    We followed a new friend, Sean (Cate, maybe), onto the new route and it was just another ice covered road. One of his friends in a Tacoma was sideways in the road, stuck in the ditch, and blocking our way. Once again, we all get out to help. After trying to spot him out of his stuck, I suggested we hook a strap to him and try to pull him out by hand. I got a few weird looks, but I convinced our group that 5 guys could pull a small truck. If any of you know my rockcrawling background, you would know that I have some experience with this. So, we did! I hooked the strap to the front of the truck, we all grabbed hold, and I said “go”.   Ten seconds later, the truck was free and we were running back to our cars to try to make forward progress. Again, hugging the edge of the road, with two tires in the ice covered grass, we made it the rest of the way to the camp and starting line. It was now 7:35am.

     

    I went to Brenton Swyers, race director, and asked what to do. He said to get my bib number and start in whatever wave I could get into. At the time, I didn’t know it, but they were starting the 25k runners. All of the 50k waves had started on time. I am so grateful for them to be understanding and letting people start late considering the circumstance.

     

    The good news:  I’d actually get to run the race.

    The bad news: I’m going to have to run the whole race by myself.

    Quickly packing enough gels for the whole race in my bottle pocket.

    I packed 4 gels in my handheld bottle pocket. Time for a 50k++ Time Trail!

     

    It was 7:45 and I’m at the starting line. Frank Gonzalez was huge in this moment. He said, “I’ll see you in 2 hours, don’t go out too fast, I love you, Mikey!” The last part he had to yell because I was GONE!

     

    If you don’t know, the race is two virtually identical loops. When I ran this race a few years ago (I won in PERFECT conditions), it took me just under 4 hours, and that was my goal for today. But there was a problem. Actually lots of problems. The course was destroyed by the runners that started before me. The temp was right around freezing and it was raining. Traffic was a challenge and a blessing. Passing folks on a single track is tough, but without them it would’ve been very lonely (I enjoyed exchanging “good jobs” and seeing friends). I was racing, but I had to hold myself back. I had a long way to go, I’m not going to catch the leaders and I don’t know how fast they are running. It’s like I’m chasing something or someone, but I don’t even know if it exists.

     

    Only a couple times on the first loop did the cold bother me. One was the stream crossing which was about thigh deep. That water was quite chilly and made me ease back into speed on the other side. Another was the SWAMP at the bottom of the logged field before you get back to the lake. It was mud up to my knee.

     

    Finishing up my first loop, I could hear Nelle yelling for me across the Lake. I was feeling great! Almost like I had just finished my warm up and was ready to race. When I came through halfway, Nelle got some great pics of me, and Frank shared that I was almost EXACTLY the same time as the leaders through halfway!

    I'm a mess, but still feeling good.

     That was huge news. With all that had happened that morning, just trying to get to the race, having to do this effort alone. Today, I could accomplish something incredibly special. I told myself that many times. I can do something special today: win this race running all by myself. What a story that would be.

     

    The first couple miles into the 2nd loop were not great. My confidence was high though. My legs weren’t tired, and I remembered the first time I raced HL50k I didn’t feel good starting the 2nd loop either. All systems were “go”.

     

    However, I didn’t know what laid ahead. As trashed as I thought the course was on the first lap, the 2nd lap was WAAAAY worse. The single tracks seemed to all have mud rivers, running down them. The power line reminded me of the nasty mud you see around cow feed troughs. The gravel roads offered two options: solid ice that had you straight arming on every step, or slushy goop that splashed icy mud on your lower legs every step. The tree limbs were heavy with ice and blocking the paths. Attempting to brush by them resulted in a feeling as though someone had whipped my face with a leather belt. The pines with their icy needles were more like getting beaten in the face with a frozen pillow. I’ve run some icy, muddy races that I’ve been able to laugh off, but not this. This was very serious.

     

    Conditions aside, there was no one. NO ONE. Just me and aid stationers cheering every 45 minutes or so. I was 3 hours into a hopefully 4 hour run and didn’t see anyone. And my gels were sooooo hard to eat. My hands were too cold to open/squeeze them and when I did finally get it into my mouth, it was the consistency of chewing gum. I even tried to stick them inside my glove for 5 minutes prior to eating to warm them up, but it didn’t work.

     

    There weren’t any negative thoughts though. Most ultramarathons will likely have you questioning why you are doing this to yourself. That never crept into my mind. I was very focused and knew I was moving well. I kept thinking that I didn’t know how my legs were taking this abuse, and that I could STILL do something very special today.

     

    Unfortunately, the cold slowly started to catch up with me with about 5-6 miles left. First, it was my head. Everytime I blinked, my eyes would ‘shutter’ as though I had blinked 3-4 times rapidly. The ability to hear seemed to be leaving me. I didn’t hear my feet crunching ice or the rain/sleet hitting my hat anymore. Then it was my torso. My soaked shirt that was tight fitting at the start was now a bit baggy, had ice along the shorts line, and wasn’t protecting me anymore. In fact, it felt like barbed wire any time the cold breeze flapped it against my skin.

     

    I had ice balls and frozen mud tangling the hair on my legs. It felt like my socks were off my heel and were bundled up at my toes, but whenever I looked down then were just as they were when I started. Man, did my toes ache!

     

    I really had to be careful because I felt that If I were to fall, I might not be able to get back up. Legit concern at this point.

     

    The last couple miles included some short uphills that I reluctantly walked. I would like to say I “power hiked” them, but that would be a lie. I walked. I’m not going to say my legs were tired. It wasn’t a tired leg feeling. It was a “we’re reaching the end of our tolerance for this bullsh*t” leg feeling.

     

    Finally, I was at the top of the last climb and only had a few minutes of downhill road running to the finish. I did not sprint, but I didn’t walk either. David Horton gave me the news that I got 3rd by just a few minutes. I didn’t quite understand and so he tried to clarify. He said that top two guys (Jordan Chang and Daniel Rau) were only seconds apart. I honestly had a hard time comprehending, and a bit of trouble speaking, so lots of very cool people helped me inside and helped me change my clothes while wrapping me in blankets. Thanks everyone for that!!!

    Dead.

    Turns out that the top guys waited an hour for me to finish because they knew there was a chance I could beat them on race time. Unfortunately, my time of 4 hours 28 minutes was around 6-7 minutes too much and their positions stood. I took 3rd place.

     

    I didn’t stop at any aid stations, which is a shame because those awesome volunteers looked like they were having a great time despite the cold! That might have been a bad idea, but I didn’t want to give up even 1 minute of time. I took one of my gels every hour on the hour as I had done in my training runs, kept sipping my NUUN-laced water, continued to risk assess, and keep my effort as close to redline as possible without going in.

     

    Considering the pre-race events and circumstances, I can’t be upset. However, I still want to win one of the individual Lynchburg Ultra Series Races this year and place as high as possible overall. I have 3 more tries. I’m behind the eight ball if Daniel and Jordan are in the series. Next up is Terrapin Mountain 50k at the end of March.

     

     



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