Burning River 100 (8/2/14)

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Race morning started off appropriately. My clock was somehow behind by 10 minutes. I didn’t even realize it until we were about to leave the hotel. I hadn’t eaten yet and wasn’t really hungry. My husband drove me to the start and was insistent on finding me something to eat, but that 10 minutes had me feeling uneasy about stopping. We arrived at the start line about 30 minutes before the start at 5am. We dug through my crew bags and fished out a bag of mixed nuts. Breakfast!IMG_2506

Burning River 100 was more than just a goal race to me. Training and preparing for this actually began back in 2013 with the running of Highlands Sky 40 mi and WV Trilogy 50 mi. These were just stepping stone races towards what I termed my “Year of 100s.”

After multiple logistical complications in the last two months leading up to the race and even almost coming to the point where I was probably going to have to DNS, my husband stepped up to the plate and became my crew. Him crewing for me was a logistical feat all of its own.  We both knew this time a finish was certain barring any injury especially since I had my failed 100 mi attempt at Outrun 24 driving me. The 81 mi I did at O24 in April taught me the tools I needed to run BR in a time I could be happy with. My biggest fear was that I would be running without a pacer, and I would be forced to face my fear of running alone at night.

Once the race started, we headed out across the field from Squire’s Castle and onto road for quite some time. I actually don’t remember a lot about the early miles of the race.
I was cruising along at a comfortable speed but much faster than I anticipated holding throughout the race. I wanted to get the first quarter out of the way and get into my stride. I took advantage of the fast road mileage at the start and came into Polo Fields (13.6 mi) in 2:13. The course changed to easy bridle trail, and I found myself still running way too fast and constantly trying to slow myself down. IMG_2514Somewhere after this point I met David Corfman who has quite an extensive 100-mi resume. David gave me excellent advice and “coaching.” I was so fascinated with his expertise and willingness to share his experience with me that I ended up running almost all but the last 10 miles with him as well as the very seasoned ultrarunner, Keith Straw. The good conversation, jokes, and stories made the entire day fly by.

My husband met me at Shadow Lake (24.38 mi) for the first time since the start. I ate a few aid station snacks, gave him my headlamp, filled up one of my bottles with Red Bull, and drank Ensure. Then I was off again. By the time I got to Oak Grove (39.73 mi) where my crew was set to meet me again, my toes were starting to blister from the Hokas. When I arrived at Oak Grove, my daughter had come with my husband. It’s so awesome to have family crewing, but it was so hard to not stay and visit with them!

 

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Keith Straw, Me, and David Corfman

Anticipating mud after Oak Grove, I put on my Speedcross. My poor swollen and blistered feet were not happy. I really enjoyed the trails from Oak Grove to Boston even though my feet were in bad shape. It started to rain a little and thunder, but under the canopied singletrack, we all stayed relatively dry.

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Oak Grove – 39.73 mi

At mile 54.59, Boston was my next crew meet. I came into Boston, and saw so many familiar faces! Boston was booming with people, crews, and spectators. I wanted to stop and greet all my friends, but I knew I had major foot surgery to do here and it was going to cost time. I grabbed some aid snacks and found my husband who had brought our teenage son along this time. It was lightly sprinkling. Nervously, I ripped my shoes and socks off to reveal massive blistering on both big toes. I lanced the biggest one with scissors and taped it with Leukotape. (Surely, I’d regret that tomorrow when I tried to take it off. Leukotape is some serious stuff!).

I knew there was no way I’d get away with wearing the Hokas at this point and resorted to my back up shoes which were my daughter’s street Reeboks which were a good half-size bigger. After eating a couple slices of pizza my crew brought, drinking a Red Bull and an Ensure, I headed back out again. For the first several miles, every step was blister torture. I was concerned that I had made a huge mistake popping that one. After some time, however, the pain slowly subsided. The shoes were comfortable, and while they lacked any manner of tread, I instantly knew they had saved my race from many long hours of suffering.IMG_2520

Time passed really fast between Boston and my next crew point at Pine Hollow I (72 mi). Other than taking a fall that could have been really nasty, everything was going pretty good. I was starting to have some thigh chafing but felt it was nothing a big slab of Aquaphor couldn’t fix. I ate just a little from the aid station and took time to lube up extensively. This was the last time I would have crew access until mile 91 at Botzum. It was starting to get dark. I grabbed my headlamp and was physically feeling okay but starting to hit my first mental low. It got dark really fast during the Pine Hollow loop, and about a mile out, I realized my headlamp was dimming and I had forgotten my spare batteries. I contacted my husband and asked him to meet me on my return to Pine Hollow with batteries. By the time I got back, it was very dark. I grabbed two sets of spare batteries and changed my old ones out. I set out into the dark and regrouped with Dave and Keith.

We arrived at Covered Bridge I (81.96 mi), and I was still feeling physically pretty good but a pinch tired mentally. I started wanting to just be done. The singletrack Covered Bridge loop was somewhat demoralizing for me. There were often muddy sections, and the road shoes I was wearing were not performing well at all. I had to really hold back and watch my step. My blisters were screaming at me on every downhill, and I was afraid I’d slide right down every decline with those shoes on. I was very appreciative to have company on this section, because I know I would have been really freaked out running it alone. That 4.45-mile loop was the lowest point of the whole race for me. It seemed like it took an entire lifetime and required so much more focus than I was prepared for.

I was so relieved when I left Covered Bridge II and hit road. It was immensely uplifting. Soon I would get to see my husband again at Botzum (mile 91). I was running down the road and turned onto towpath as I neared the Botzum aid station at mile 91. My husband texted that he was there waiting for me. I finally heard cheers from the aid station. I wondered if those were cheers for my friends who had gone on ahead of me. I stopped for a moment. I had been alone for a little while running in the dark. The sky was decorated full of stars, and I turned my headlamp off and took a second to take it all in. Soon I would be only 10 miles from the finish. “This is it,” I told myself. I came into Botzum feeling a little tired and woozy, but I was so pepped up again to see my husband waiting for me. I downed a Red Bull at Botzum, grabbed a flashlight, switched GPS watches, and headed out for Memorial Parkway.

During the stretch between Botzum and Memorial I had multiple lows. It was a long mental rollercoaster. At many points I asked myself, “Why push so much? Won’t you be happy with just finishing?” Yeah… that sounds good but is so not true. I just kept running with whatever I had left and reminded myself to clear my mind. I had spent too much time dawdling at Botzum to walk much now. I didn’t have time to spare anymore if I was going to get that sub-24. I already felt like the podium was out of question, but I still had sub-24 within reach. This section was very runnable. I kept looking at my watch and finally forced myself to quit when I realized only seconds separated my glances.
IMG_2515I finally came into Memorial where my husband was waiting for me again.

I arrived at the aid station feeling so renewed. It seemed like I would never get there. From here it was home-free! I ate a few snacks and left my iPod and one of my water bottles and headed onward for the final 5.59-mi stretch to the finish. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about the run to the Finish except that I gave it my all. I was feeling a lot more highs than lows and started seeing the finish in my mind. I was climbing steps on the trail and found myself suddenly thinking how much fun I was having. I had speed back in my legs and felt like I was flying though the dark almost effortlessly!

I emerged from a trail onto the road which I knew led to the finish. Finally cresting the hill my eyes filled with tears, I could see it. My husband ran towards me from a sidewalk and ran beside me for the last quarter mile to the finish. It was incredible. The moment I had been dreaming, training, and craving for the last 8 months was real. I crossed the finish line in 23:20:01. I placed 25th overall and 4th overall female. It was done, finally. I had missed the podium, but I had my sub-24. The first few words out of my mouth I think were along the lines of, “I don’t know if I’ll ever do that again.” Yeah, that’s a load of crap, and I’m sure my husband knew it!

There was some degree of suffering, but it was not as bad as I had anticipated. I was more than prepared for the mental anguish. I was prepared for the blisters and chafing. I was apprehensive but prepared to face my fears of running alone at night. I was prepared to let nothing come between me and that finish line. I set three goals for myself. First, I wanted a podium, crazy, but I am driven, and so far it’s not been a bad thing. My second was finish sub-24. The third was just to finish at all costs.

There is no way I can properly express my enormous gratitude towards my husband for helping me pull this off. The effort it took on his part alone was incredible. He not only managed to take care of our 3 teen kids, one of which is severely disabled, but was also there for me hand and foot every time I needed him. I am without words enough to describe how grateful I am.

I once read somewhere that running 100s changes or takes something away from you every time you do it. I don’t think it took anything from me other than I have little desire to run anything less than 100 now. I gained a true sense of patience and calmness. I experienced more human emotion than I knew was possible during the last 10 miles and again during the last 2 miles. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried twice in the same hour for two completely different emotions. Seeing the finish line of a 100 mile race is an experience unlike any other I can describe and know of no other way to duplicate that. It’s incredibly addicting.

EQUIPMENT NOTES

Hoka Stinson

I starting getting bad blisters all over my toes by mile 40. Maybe these would be better if they were a half to whole size larger. The toebox is a bit narrow for my feet and not good for long, long miles – very unfortunate for what they cost. They do drain well, surprisingly, but I’m not too impressed with their performance in muddy conditions.

Salomon Speedcross

This would have been my shoe of choice from mile 40 onwards, but my feet were so blistered and swollen by mile 50 from the Hokas, they only aggravated the situation. I dearly missed being able to wear lugged shoes during the singletrack sections at night.

Reebok Dual Turbo Fire

I brought these shoes as emergency backup. They are my daughter’s running shoes and are a half size bigger than mine. I didn’t foresee using them, but they were the only thing comfortable enough with the swelling and blisters. I wore these from mile 54 to the finish. They certainly changed my outlook on paying a lot for shoes. Having that extra room for swelling makes a huge difference. This was the first time I had experienced this degree of foot swelling especially this early on in a run.

Skins A400 Compression Shorts

These shorts stay put… period. They don’t ride up and are nice and cool considering the length. I do not particularly like shorts this long, but these perform so well. The little back key pocket felt like it was irritating my skin after 60ish miles, and a little Aquaphor solved this for the rest of the race. I did have to constantly reapply Aquaphor to my inner thighs which wasn’t surprising, but the chafing was much less than I had earlier this year at Outrun 24. They wick sweat really well. In the future I think I will consider changing into clean clothes around mile 50-60. I’m a very, very salty sweater, and the accumulation of salt becomes somewhat abrasive after so many hours of running. For now, these shorts remain my choice for long distances.

Socks

I started out in a really cheap brand of thin polyester socks that I have been running in for years. However, I speculate if these enhanced my blister issues in the Hokas. They don’t wick water as well as other socks, and once they got wet they probably fueled the blister fire even more. I will probably not attempt to wear these over 50 miles again. I switched to my thin Injinji toe socks at mile 54 which not only helped keep the tape on my toes but definitely helped keep new blisters from forming. I have yet to say anything negative about Injinji socks. Had I worn these from the start, I likely would have prevented a lot of issues early on.

LED Lenser H7.2

I truly love this headlamp. For the price, you really can’t beat the features. It’s extremely adjustable both focusing and dimming, and very bright on the highest setting at 155 lumens. There is a rechargeable model, but I prefer batteries. I only changed batteries twice, but easily carried 6 extra AAA batteries in my bottle pocket for backup. It’s not that comfortable to wear for a very long time directly on skin, so I always wear it with my visor, and this works really well. I forget I even have it on.

LED Lenser flashlight

I didn’t grab this until I didn’t even really need it which was about the last 10 miles. It would have helped a lot on the singletrack at night. It’s a little heavier than I like, but it’s pretty bright. It was awkward trying to carry it along with 2 bottles, and I think a second headlamp worn at waist or chest level might be a better choice if I am carrying two bottles.

GPS Watches

My poor Garmin 305 battery has just about had it and is only getting about 5 hours now. While I would have liked to have recorded the whole run, I would have had to carry my mini USB charger and worn my pack. I didn’t see the need to wear the pack and felt like I could eliminate a lot of extra weight by carrying bottles.

I switched watches constantly with my husband and went between my 305 and my daughter’s Forerunner 10. This set up was plenty good enough to keep an eye on my pace and distances between aid stations. Since I was calling/texting my husband about 7-10 miles before I needed him, this helped me give him a good idea of when he should arrive and eliminated a lot of long waiting on his part.

NUTRITION

I still have yet to have any stomach issues whatsoever with running. I’ve been really lucky, because it seems this is a huge problem for a lot of runners. I honestly didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to eating and just ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I carried one bottle of water and one bottle of HEED or Red Bull at all times.

My crew gave me several Ensure Plus’s, a sausage biscuit, and 2 slices of pizza. At aid stations I would generally take a couple S-Caps, refill my bottles, and mostly ate lots of M&Ms and cookies, a little pizza, and a few salty potatoes. I carried one gel for backup and never needed it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Running a 24-hour timed event prior to Burning River was an excellent way to prepare me for the challenge. It will test your mental fortitude at 3am when you have to leave the comfort of the aid station every lap. It’s also a great way to test drive all kinds of nutrition and gear in a scenario that you would not otherwise be able to easily recreate in training.
  • Aid stations are huge time drainers. They suck you in especially at night and become harder and harder to get away from. While they can be great mental/physical rechargers, they have to be used efficiently and strategically. Have a plan before you arrive.
  • Any minor issue or irritation realized in training is significantly magnified over such a long distance.
  • Focusing on running from station to station works. At mile 85, it seems like the end will never come, but by mile 90, the light at the end of the tunnel appears, and I found a new energy I didn’t know I had.
  • Finding new friends and good conversation can make the miles fly by.
  • Be prepared for the night…seriously prepared. The comfort of having others to run with at night cannot be underestimated especially if you’re not used to being alone in the dark. It can get weird at night! I did not have a pacer but was very lucky to have the company of 2 other runners throughout most of the night for which I am so grateful. My husband told me about a terrified runner who came into an aid station at night who said she’d never run at night again.
  • 100 miles is not really that far; just keep moving!

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Outrun 24 Hour Trail Race (4/26/14)

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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 😉IMG_2232

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.

IMG_2201I 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.IMG_2212

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.

IMG_2202The 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.IMG_2208

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.IMG_2199

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.

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Mom and Mallie getting their medals

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.

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Recovery methods include ice and beer

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!

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West Virginia Trilogy – 50 Mile Race (10/12/2013)

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Elevation profile for WV Trilogy – 50 Mile

In training, I ran my first 100-mi week and for several months maintained a weekly volume around 75-90 miles.  Then I spent the last 2 months upping the intensity and decreasing volume – a lot of elevation gain and a lot of speedwork.  The last month of training was difficult.  We had just moved to our new house, and I was so completely distracted.  I ended up doing a somewhat of extreme taper without even intending to do so, but it paid off.

My daughter and I drove down and stayed at a cabin about 45 minutes away from the race headquarters.  She was volunteering at the last aid station.  The fall colors were coming in fairly nicely, but the constant drizzle and overcast sky didn’t do any justice.  We showed up for the pre-race briefing at the Mountain Institute near Spruce Knob.  It was incredibly remote!  I found my friend, Jennifer, who was running all three days.  The WV Trilogy is a 3-day stage event with each day being 50k, 50 miles, and finally 13.1 miles.  Jennifer had run the 50k that day and shared her thoughts about the course.  She looked really good and strong for the following day’s 50 miler.

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Pre-race briefing

I slept pretty well that night, I never felt anxious or nervous. I didn’t actually know what to expect from myself other than knowing I’d finish.  What I really wanted to do was to race it all-out.  I toed the starting line at 6 am with Jennifer.  There was a chilly spitty drizzle and plenty of mud.  I was feeling pretty good, and my legs just wanted to go.  Before long I realized I had completely left Jennifer.  She obviously was going to be taking it easy since she still had one more day of running ahead of her.  Realizing that, I figured I’d just keep trudging forward.  However, I greatly missed her company all day long.  We climbed up to Spruce Knob and what I’m sure would have been a spectacular view was completely obscured by the dense cool fog.  Daylight was making its not-so-grand appearance.  I dropped my headlamp and jacket at the first aid station which I would later regret.

Once we hit the woods and onto singletrack, my legs took over.  I was completely absorbed in the moment.  I followed behind a couple of pretty fast guys for some time, but eventually I realized that I was cruising along way too fast and dropped my pace.  I was finally all alone and would stay that way for the remainder of the race.  I just stayed focused on getting from aid station to aid station.  I was feeling really good and fast by the time I came into aid 2, but things started to drastically fall apart for me between aid 2 and 3.  I couldn’t stop fantasizing about being at home.  It was all I could think about.  I got very, very cold in the windy mist coming across the ridge, and I had foolishly surrendered my jacket at aid 1.  I was mentally crushed.

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Really cold and not into this!

I felt tired and aid 3 seemed like it would never come.  I told myself to get to aid 3 and if I really wanted to quit then nobody would hold it against me.  I was getting miserable and had no desire to be out there whatsoever.  I felt somewhat renewed when I started seeing people coming back out of aid 3 which is at the turnaround point of an out-and-back section, so I knew I was finally getting close.  I also knew at this point that I was making good time, because I knew aid 3 wasn’t that far away and these were the front runners heading out.  I only passed one other girl on my way down the switchbacks to aid 3.  It was then that I knew I couldn’t quit.

When I reached aid 3 they told me I was 2nd female, so I knew I wasn’t delusional, though I was starting to feel that way!  I grabbed a few snacks and got out of there.  I was a little regretful that I didn’t take the time while I was at the aid station to work on my right foot and change socks and shoes.  On the way there, I had inevitably gotten my feet really wet, and my right insole had buckled and folded and was severely blistering my foot. I had never had this issue before with my Speedcross.  Only halfway into the race, and my foot was in serious trouble.  I ran on it until every step became torture.  I finally stopped and jerked the insole out after trying to readjust it several times with no luck.

I was really pushing the pace hard all the way to the next aid, and my foot was feeling much better!  I was taking a huge gamble, running up long, steep hills and burning my legs.  Then there came what I called the minefield which was a long stretch of slippery, rocky trail along a stream where missing a beat at the pace I was holding was a surefire twisted ankle!  Still feeling pretty upbeat coming into aid 4, I was in and out quickly after refilling my peanut butter cup supply.  The trek to the next aid station seemed like forever, and I was getting a bit tired and running less.  There was a LOT of steady climbing on this section, and I was starting to crave the finish.  When I finally arrived at aid 5 my mind was really tired.  I wasted a good deal of time hanging around there for a while messing with my shoe, drinking soda, refilling my water, and snacking… delaying the IMG_0002inevitable.  With only one aid station left, I headed back out into a beautiful pine-canopied section of trail.

This nontechnical section started off with a really easy grade through canopied pine trees and was perfect for grabbing some quick miles. Eventually my opportunity to “make a run for it,” faded and I was going up and up again, and I was getting really tired.  I told myself I had to hurry up and get to the aid station so I could see my daughter!  I don’t remember much on the way to the last aid station other than giving myself redundant pick-me-up talks and fishing through my iPod for “that” song (whatever it was!).  After what seemed like centuries, I heard people!  There it was, my fabled aid station… or was it a mirage?  Coming into the aid station, I was greeted by everyone singing “Happy Birthday!”  It was fantastic!  My daughter was having a blast, and it was so rejuvenating to see a familiar face! (Yeah, running 50 miles in the mountains is a fantastic way to spend a birthday, by the way!)

The last 4 miles to the finish was actually a bit of a memory blur other than initially getting a little lost for about a mile. There was one last climb to be had for the final mile, and what a climb it was! I grabbed sticks to use as trekking poles to help me just keep a pace of any sort. Finally, I could hear the finish line! Checking my watch, I was indeed going to come in under 12 hours which was originally my ultimate goal. I crossed the finish line in 11:52:58… exhausted, relieved, accomplished, complete. I finished 2nd female with the 1st female being almost 2 hours ahead of me! It was an incredible adventure and learning process.

Post-race recovery was really fast. I wasn’t very sore at all the next day, and 2 weeks later I was back to running 40 miles a week. I chalked a lot of this up to the volume I ran prerace. It was back to the drawing board for 2014. I already knew exactly what I was going to do. It would be the year of 100s. Now I just had to convince my family that it wasn’t such a crazy thing to do.West Virginia Trilogy 50 mile - 2013