First and foremost, I must thank my family for putting up with and supporting me through all the long, long hours I spent training for this event. I could never do any of this without the support and understanding of my husband. I have learned so much from his incredible patience. You are all at the heart of my running. And I thank my daughter for her help along my miles of training. Many water bottles did she fill! I apologize in advance if I’ve shortsighted anyone inside or outside of this writing. It’s hard sometimes to write these damn things and remember everyone and everything 😉
On Saturday, April 26th, I was mentally and physically prepared to toe the line at Outrun 24 in Kirtland, Ohio alongside my mother, sister, and daughter. The course is a 1-mile trail loop consisting mostly of limestone and 65ft of elevation gain per mile. My mother and sister flew into Pittsburgh where my daughter and I picked them up and drove on to Ohio. We went straight to the race HQ to pick up our packets and set up our tent. It was pretty breezy and chilly with a light drizzle.
We left our tent for the night and checked into our hotel in Mentor. We scattered our gear across the room and made last minute shopping lists. After grabbing some grub and some more supplies we repacked everything and were in bed slightly before midnight. We got up around 4:30am and headed out to the race around 6am. We ended up with plenty of time to organize our tent and supplies. It was a chilly morning, and we all dressed in layers we could peel off as soon as the sun broke the tree line.
I wasn’t sure which shoes I wanted to wear because, unfortunately, near the end of my peak in training, I discovered that it was likely that my new Salomon Mantras were causing problems with my right Achilles. There was only 2-3 weeks left before the race, so I figured I would just have to keep switching shoes all day and hope for the best. I brought my Salomon Mantras, Salomon Speedcross 3, Sketchers GoRun 2 (which are usually my treadmill shoes), and my old Salomon Crossmax. The trusty Crossmax would, in the end, get me through another 10 miles with a bum ankle.
I started off with my Speedcross, since they are my most comfortable and quickest shoes. I love the height of these babies, and I’m having a really difficult time finding anything else that feels as good as these. I knew that my feet would be irritated by them around 10-12 hours and planned to switch things up near mile 50-60 since I wanted to slow things down a pinch at that point and ride the clock.
At 8am we were off! During the first couple miles, my compartment syndrome flared up in both legs but was a great deal worse in the right leg. So after mile 3, I stopped by our tent and stripped off some layers and let some of the swelling abate. My legs were feeling a good bit better by the next lap and the pain resolved there on out. I was maintaining a quick pace fairly effortlessly and decided to stick with it and get to mile 50 as soon as possible.
It was a lot of fun each mile wondering if I would run up on one of my family members grinding out their own 50ks. I would come up on one of them and slow down or walk and talk with them at times. It was very motivational! At times we would catch each other in the tent and would take a break and talk. My heart truly melted for my sister. She hit a really dark place later on and was very upset because she wanted to help me at night and knew she wouldn’t be able to. I wanted to stay with her and console her so badly.
The nature of ultrarunning… it can bite!
By mile 26 or so, I began having serious problems with chaffing from my shorts. I had tested them plenty of times in training and never had any issues. I was stopping every 3-5 miles to slather Vaseline on my thighs, but the damage was done and was worse every mile. I was mentally prepared to deal with this for the rest of the evening and ended up cycling through different shorts throughout the day to find something comfortable, but it was really too late.
My pace crept up higher and higher as the day went on, and by the time I crossed 50k, I had set a new 50k record for myself. I considered that this might not be a good thing, but I was feeling incredible and had plenty of juice left. It was then that I decided I would push myself to find my limit, and if I crashed at some point, then I would at least know what I was and wasn’t capable of. I was more afraid of a half-assed attempt and walking away from the race wondering if I could have done more. That’s a position I am done being in. It’s risky, but I want to be utterly destroyed when I finish.
We had grabbed Subway sandwiches to eat at the race. I do love some Subway when running. I had a meatball sub which wasn’t my first choice but worked out pretty well, and I ate the first half while I checked off miles 27-28 and the second half sometime later in the day. It was a big boost, but it was a bit too much food for running 9:20ish paces. I had to slow down a bit and let things digest.
I had reached 54 miles a bit over 10 hours into the race. I was slightly ahead of my projected targets. I was in 8th place overall and sitting well with a 4-mile lead as first female. I was in a comfort zone and felt it was time to put on cruise control. I changed into the Mantras which was possibly my major mistake and headed back out to hit my next target. I felt 100% other than my feet being somewhat sore from the Speedcross, but I knew this was going to happen and was ready to handle it.
Around 7:50pm, almost 12 hours into the race, I was 10th overall, with 60 miles and still holding 1st female. I was very comfortable with my pacing at this point but the Mantras and my chaffing were becoming just short of torture. The Mantras started feeling like running with concrete blocks strapped to my feet, and I started feeling some stiffness in my right ankle which, at the time, I didn’t take to mean anything. The downhill section was becoming slightly painful. The uphills still felt really amazing. I looked forward to hitting the grade up every lap. The one “major” hill, which is really short and not really steep, I had decided to run every lap early on in the race and then only run as much of it as I felt good about later in the race. This worked out good, and I never regretted running it even later at night. Downhill was the only problem.
Around mile 65, I ditched the Mantras and went back into my Speedcross. I put pants and long sleeves on, donned my headlamp, and headed back out into the impending nightfall. By this point, I had chaffed so badly that I was bleeding pretty good. It was still something I could tolerate the rest of the race, but as you ladies out there know, downhill running and “leaking” are pretty common problems! The INTENSE burning I had with this combination every mile brought me to a whole new level of mental toughness! Not a lovely thought but bluntly true. Regardless, I was green for go. The chaffing was beginning to cost me time in an effort to stay lubed up, but luckily at this point I had time to give.
Almost 15 hours in, my right ankle rapidly deteriorated. I was about 71 miles in and still 10th overall. I had a comfortable lead on 2nd female at this point, but I was growing increasingly worried about the ankle making it through the night. I was staying very alert and never tired or exhausted whatsoever. I had a lot left in the tank to give. I stopped and changed into my old Crossmax. Throughout the next 9 miles the ankle got stiffer and more painful. I found myself walking a lot of the downhill section at times and then becoming cold with sweat. I added a thicker jacket and gloves and found myself sweating too much when I would run. The jacket was on and off throughout these miles. By mile 80, the ankle had become so bad, I could barely walk and found myself dragging it here and there. It was extremely stiff and wouldn’t flex any at the joint. When I attempted to run, it would slap the ground. I knew I had to make a very difficult decision at this point. Feeling this might be my last mile, I scanned the sky and the stars and tried to absorb every last second of the moment. I listened to my breathing and my scampering pace through the loose limestone, the bugs, and the distant voices at the aid station ahead. And then it came, the warm tears chilling my cheeks… this I would not forget.
I grabbed my mother who was acting crew for me through the night and asked her to walk with me. She had noticed something amiss earlier in the night. I could barely even keep up with her at walking pace. We talked throughout what would be my last mile, and we decided it would be ridiculous to try to continue only to go home on crutches. With 19 miles left to 100, I was out. We went to the tent where I tried to find ways to make another attempt and change shoes, but I could barely get any shoe back on my foot. My ankle was red and swollen. I broke into tears and my husband called me to console me and urged me not to try to continue. He had been texting me paces, splits, potential projected goals at different times and watching me on the camera at the lodge throughout the whole race.
At 81 miles and 19 hours and 8 minutes, my run was over. I turned my chip in with tears of anger. It was honestly one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. My mom wrapped me in blankets in our tent and I sipped on a beer while we waited for my sister to pick us up and take us back to the hotel. She had gone back earlier in the day to take a nap.
After a short nap, Lacey and Mallory headed back at 8am Sunday for awards and breakfast. I was so frustrated when I tried to get out of bed, and any weight I put on my foot sent sharp, shooting pains from my ankle to my hip. I wasn’t going anywhere. Mom brought me breakfast in bed, and Lacey and Mallory returned from awards with plenty of junk food and flip-flops for me!
Mallory ran 34 miles to secure 1st in her age group and picked up her 50k medal! Lacey literally grinded out her 50k earlier in the day like a real trooper. She’s the one that got us all into running, and she’s almost like my yoda. My mother, a tank, cranked out 32 miles throughout the day and was still good on her feet all night long while crewing for me! I’m so incredibly proud, impressed, and honored to have shared this experience with them all. Thank you all for everything you did to help me at O24!
All said and done, I ended up with 3rd place overall female with 81 miles and 19th place overall. What should feel like an achievement, feels like a deep, wailing emptiness that needs resolve. It sits bitterly with me, and I can only channel all my negative feelings into greater determination and deeper drive to strive for more. Every night I go to bed, every morning I wake up, all I feel and think about is what needs to be done next. Over the past couple days of reflection, I feel like I’ve broken beyond some mental barrier and am aware that I am capable of so much more than I thought. If this race has done anything at all for me, it’s made me more obsessive and more competitive than before and taught me not to stick limits or boundaries out there for myself. I didn’t follow rules; I followed instinct. I learned to run with my heart and soul, and that may be the most incredible realization I have ever come to in terms of running and racing.
Maybe I didn’t find the answers I was looking for (or was I looking for any?), as if going far and beyond what most think is humanly possible would bring me to some sense of meaning. It really only made me ask more questions but more relevant questions. And while I still cannot truly answer the most trivial question of all as to why we run, I can say this, because I have to. It is like I can feel life slipping away when I’m not running; it becomes void and vague. It makes the everyday grind of chores and trivial problems turn to appreciation, calmness, and acceptance just because I know I will run again.
As a side note: I feel the necessity to mention how wonderful and energizing it was to see, talk, and spend time with other runners out there at all levels. I learned so much from everyone I talked to, watched, and followed. Okay, so I might have stalked at times! It was heartwarming to watch everyone out there giving it their best shot and moving one step closer to their goals while meandering between doubt, hope, desperation, and glory. It was very humbling.
I hope to be back next year to experience it all again. There’s nothing quite like it. All were amazing runners at a very well-organized, fun race. Thanks to volunteers and the race director for putting up with and taking care of us all through the day and night! Oh and for Burning River… I’ll see you really soon with a vengeance!