I’m actually not sure where to start with this. The days after a 100 mile race can seem like the strangest time warp. This time, last week I was somewhere around mile 70 on the course. Since then it feels like months have gone by.
Before I start, please keep in mind that I am usually a very upbeat positive person. Many of my friends would say that I usually look for the silver lining in everything. I had started this race report looking for all the positives, but decided it wasn’t an accurate portrayal of how I felt in the moment. I have read and re-read this post a dozen times.
While I was in that hole we endurance athletes sometimes find ourselves in, I was somehow still aware of how lucky I was to be out there, how lucky I am to have a husband and crew/friends who would stay up for 40 hours just to see me through a race. I did see the amazing mountains, and even through the mental pain I saw beauty of the struggle and the wonder of nature. This race was the strange dichotomy of me, someone who believes in the power of the positive, but still has that dark depressed side that lives deep in my soul.
People say that each 100 mile race is a learning experience all in itself. Not only do you learn about running, but you also learn about the type of person you are. I like to think that this race speaks of the person I am. I finished even though I had a very off day. I hope it shows that I am that kind of person that recognizes when things get tough, the answer isn’t to sit down and give up, its to change your strategy and get back out there. Follow through, as well as being flexible is important in racing and life.
I guess I will begin this tale at the start of my day last Friday.
Friday morning, 6 am, I’m up and walking the dog. It was a beautiful cool morning and it was nice to stretch my legs a bit. I decided that one last walk over to my parents would be good for him, and me. I had slept a full 9 hours the night before..an unprecedented event for me the day before a race. Usually I am so well tapered and rested I barely shut my eyes, but Thursday night I had been tired. Not quite recovered from being ill a week ago, I tried to put it out of my head, I had been looking forward to Grindstone since May 2013 when I first signed up.
My parents hugged me and wished me good luck as my husband pulled up the driveway with the rest of the dog’s overnight things.
We backed out of the driveway and headed up to Swoope, VA arriving just in time for the pre-race briefing at noon.
After the briefing we all went back to our cars, where I had hoped to take a little nap in the field. Mother nature had other plans, and it began raining hard so we all got into the car to wait for the 6pm start instead. This was the first hit to my attitude, dark, ugly clouds with no place to meditate beforehand.
Even still, I was pretty psyched at the start. I saw many familiar faces and got to chat a bit with the famous Sophie Spiedel. She had some words of encouragement, and a hug for me before I headed off.
It was raining at the start, but wasn’t hard enough to really notice. I lined up next to a running buddy, Balto. He had run Grindstone a few times before, never really having a great race, this was his come back and he was focused and ready. (By the way he crushed his last finish time, finishing in an amazing 23:23..I couldn’t have been happier for him!!)
We struck out together, at the back of the front pack and headed towards Elliot’s Knob. In the last 2 years I have run this course back and forth, piece by piece and felt like I knew it as well as anyone else out there. The first aid station is just as you cross the street leaving the boy scout camp grounds. I paused for some water, and turned on my head lamp for the 4 mile climb up to the top. The rain was still coming down, as we headed up the fog was coming in as well. When we hit the very steep road to the top I could barely see a few inches in front of me. I don’t have good night vision to begin with, and the thick fog was starting to make me feel a bit claustrophobic, and somehow annoyed.
“Is this how the whole night is going to be?” I thought to myself, “I need a little attitude adjustment, this Debbie downer stuff isn’t me!” I tired to put the negative thoughts out of my head. Its just very unlike me not to be happy and smiling when I run. Running is always my bliss.
Next I did something I never do during a race; I put in headphones, well headphone. I don’t like listening to music because I like to be aware and able to hear someone wanting to pass on the trail. I like to have all my senses alert on the trail, plus the sound of rain through the trees is always really nice. I had to do something about the grumpy-ness that was creeping in. The music helped and I got into a rhythm.
My stomach still hadn’t quite settled from before at the Barkley Fall Classic, so I had brought all my own foods. I’m also gluten intolerant and was really sad to realize that all the soups at the aid station had gluten. Bummer for me…. By the time I had reached the first aid station where I saw my crew I had barely eaten a thing for 3 hours and was starving! All I could think about was getting “food in my mouth.” Which is apparently what I repeated to my crew a few times. After getting some avocado and potato and some other things down, I had settled down and headed quickly back out of the aid station.
What awaited me next was quite unpleasant. Usually its just 3 easy rolling uphill miles, no big deal, but suddenly I had to GO! There really isn’t anywhere to hop off trail during this section…so lets just say the next few miles were uncomfortable. I hiked with Robin a bit, and eventually let her go as I finally found a place to step off trail. I slipped to second place…
The next several miles continued on the same way, hike a bit, stop off trail. I actually started to feel really good going up that long 7 mile climb from the North River Gap aid station. Maybe moving hard uphill diverted enough blood from my gut that I could finally stop squatting! I heard some familiar voices behind me, and decided to hook onto the back of a group of runners I knew. I recognized Marc Griffin’s voice through the darkness, and happily followed their group up.
I stopped at the top again, where it leveled out, and Marc et al continued on. I didn’t realize that another Altra Ambassador and super friendly guy, Nicklaus Combs had also stopped and the two of us found ourselves alone one the trail. We hiked and chatted all the way up to the top, and then to the turn around. It was really nice running some miles with him and it lifted my spirits.
At the turn around I got some soup from my crew, and finally changed out of my wet things. The temperature had stayed comfortable all night, but as the sun rose, the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped sharply on top of the mountain. I mentally groaned a bit, but tried to keep it to myself.
I picked up my pacer, Ringo, and Nic left us at the next aid station. Eventually I found myself back at the top of the climb I had been hours earlier with Marc and Nicklaus. Time to go down. Now, downhill is usually my forte, but not today. My legs weren’t feeling tired, but they were feeling hollow, just empty of any energy. I love love running down hill and being forced to shuffle, hike down this really fun hill was setting me back to my second low point of the race. I was frustrated, hungry, and dehydrated. I told myself that whole way down, when I got to the next aid station (mile 66) I was dropping. Sometimes I try to do a little math in my head, just to see where I am mentally. I couldn’t for the life of me do any multiplication tables! oops, not enough calories!
I got into the aid station, got weighed (I was 7 lbs less than I was the night before) I whispered to my husband “I can’t do any math..what the heck is 7×7 its been driving me crazy for 4 miles, maybe I should drop!?”
He pulled out a chair and fetched me some home made broth someone had made from scratch. YUM! Finally some broth I could drink. I must have had 4 cups of it, and then a banana-strawberry smoothie. It was the most I had eaten in nearly 17 hours. I started to come out of my brain fog. Meanwhile, I noticed out of the corner of my eye I had slipped from 4th to 5th place. Annie was looking good, and I know she had been running smart all day, I was happy for her!
I was ready to go again…not gonna quit! The way back is so easy, right? Ringo and my husband made a plan to see him at the next aid station, where Ringo would end his pacing duties, and I could get another smoothie now that my stomach was ready to accept food again.
Ringo and I made our way along, back to that 3 mile stretch where my stomach problems had first started. Now I was running down it, rather than fighting stomach pains up it…into the aid station we came…but there was no husband?! I had been running for that next smoothie, and there was none! I know, this shouldn’t have been a big deal..I should be able to roll with things. But at mile 70 with only a few hundred calories in me, I was bummed. I had some soda and a banana, and headed back out.
I put my music back on again. I noticed that I was starting to drop my pacer a bit (he later said he had some back spasms) but the little mental boost you get from dropping your pacer was just the boost I needed. Finally we arrived and found my husband! YAY food! These last 14 miles he was going to pace. I had wanted him to stay and wait for my dropped pacer though…so I started out alone. A few minutes later he caught up. Ringo had gotten into the a/s ok.
I may have whined about the cold here a bit. I knew I was so close, but I was getting so cold too! Soon, this view definitely perked me up:
As we emerged from the woods onto the road the view from Elliott’s Know was great! I paused a bit, happy to hit that section in the day light!
The last 9 miles were a bit of a blur. Now my stomach was finally ok and my legs were ready to run (hello legs, where were you the last 40 miles?!) I decided that I was going to hold onto 5th now. I had no idea where anyone else was along the course at this point. I put my head down and ran, and ran, walked the few uphill or very technical slippery rock sections, and ran. We got to the final aid station just before heading back into the boy scout camp as the sun was just setting.
I had some more coconut water and left as fast as I could. The last time I had seen Annie, woman #4, she had been looking strong so I figured there was no way I was catching her, as a matter of fact I thought she was just about finishing as the sun set. With this in mind, I still wanted to hold my position as best as possible. I passed a few guys in the next section going into the boy scout camp. I KNEW this section..or at least I did in the daylight. I was running with a purpose now, I was so, so tired. I couldn’t feel how tired I was while in motion, but every time I paused to look for a reflector I could feel how close to the edge of sleep I was.
After 26:23 hours of running, 40 hours of being awake, and 40 miles of pit stops I was finally done! And smiling still! I know I had been through lots of emotional ups and downs, but the bottom line is, I love running, really. Very few things make me smile bigger. So I hadn’t hit my goal time of 24 hours..shit happens…haha! (I can laugh about that now) I had finished, and finished in a decent time for this course. Looking back I realize it wasn’t just learning that I need more liquid fuel for races, and better tapers…but that sometimes, even when you are down, you have friends and family that can help pick you up. Once over that hurdle, where you seem like nothing can get better…it does. Persistence is a blessing, and those who persist are rewarded in their efforts. Oh ya, and by holding onto 5th place I scored a really nice top finisher’s jacket from Patagonia.
If you live in the mid-Atlantic this is a MUST do race! The volunteers are superb, most of them ultra-runners themselves, the scenery is spectacular, and the people that run the race, and RD the race make you feel like part of their ultra-family.
Big thanks to RD Clark Zealand, thanks to all the volunteers, thanks to all the VHTRs people that made all this running up in VA all summer so much fun! Thanks to my crew for putting up with my ups and downs, and trying to feed me 😉 Thanks to all my family and friends who were at home sending emails and texts and checking on my progress online.
This has been the best and worst 100 so far, lots of learning, a bit of disappointment, but I am proud of myself for sticking with it and not letting a bad day turn into a DNF. (of course with that said, this is only my 2nd 100, and I am already looking for my next!)