Get it?! Like a picture is worth 1000 words?! So like, The Bear 100 turned into The Bear 1000?! Well, at least I laugh at my jokes.
Crewing for Matt is always extremely fun, even though he never believes me that I have fun. This time was my first time solo crewing, and just before the trip he surprised me with an early birthday gift that included a bunch of fun camera toys that I could try out during the race. Here’s my recap of our time in Utah, in picture form:
I wish now that Matt could have known the fun that I was having while he was running, as I think it would have lifted his spirits and pushed him to go further than 75 miles. I also wish I had captured any photos of him at mile 75. While he would have hated to look at the photos knowing that he dropped and didn’t finish the race, the look of raw emotion on his face and in his body language was extremely intense. I’ve never seen him look so emotional.
I understand and respect his decision to drop from the race, and am thankful he went on to finish another 100 miler the following month and keep up his Western States Qualifying streak. He’s truly an inspiration to me, and see him so down on himself post-Bear was absolutely heartbreaking to watch. He ran 75 really tough miles – something I can only dream I will get to do in the future, and something most people are simply not able to do. I’m an incredibly lucky woman to spend my life with this man, to get inspired by this man, and to be supported by this man.
I tried to write this blog post back in October, my race report for my first DNF at the Bear 100. I didn’t finish it. I didn’t really want to.
One and Half Runners was supposed to be a place for self-reflection. It exists for Colleen and me to catalog our running experiences: good or bad, fun or grueling. Colleen has been amazing at capturing the difficulty of chronic injury and illness and has been open and honest about how difficult it is. I relish every opportunity I get to read one of her posts as it provides an authentic peek into how she is progressing and growing as an athlete.
Then there’s me. One DNF and I went into full-on “woe is me” mode. I didn’t write this post. I didn’t write a report of my successful finish at Javelina. I didn’t write about my plans to run Boston or Miwok in 2018. I just didn’t want to. To be honest, I didn’t really want to think about running and certainly didn’t want to write about running. But now, three months removed from the DNF, the approach feels disingenuous. I didn’t take the time to reflect on my experience or try to grow as a runner. I signed up for Javelina for some closure, but that was obviously a reckless decision. So, time to reflect some and recap a bit to try and grow as a runner.
A bit about the race. The Bear isn’t quite at high altitude, but it certainly has a lot of up and down. Through some pretty remote parts of Utah and just into Idaho (though I never crossed the state line) the Bear was one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever had the privilege of running. I usually geek out about the details of a race, but the Bear has a low key vibe with a barely functional website, so I tried to remain laid back about my approach. The first 20 miles are some of the hardest with a huge climb out of Logan, up Logan peak, and then descending back down to the valley. During the first 10 mile-long descent, I already felt some aches in my quads. Looking back, this was just the first mental slip up. I was absolutely fine, but a bit of doubt slipped in so early into my head that I think the whole day got derailed within those first few hours.
I met up with Colleen at around mile 19 for the first time and told her I was feeling off. But I’m not a quitter, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to DNF a race when I wasn’t injured and was definitely fit. So, I plugged along. The miles just went by so slowly, with so much more effort than I was used to. Sure, at Grindstone it rained so hard I basically got trench foot and I wanted to fall asleep on the side of the trail because of the 6PM start, but that made me feel like a bad ass! The Bear just made me feel weak and ill-prepared. I saw Colleen again at mile 35 and 45, each time looking admittedly worse for wear.
Mile 35, trying to get calories in after a huge descent.
Mile 45, feeling extremely low with the second largest climb of the day waiting.
Leaving mile 50 and starting the second largest climb of the day, I was fortunate enough to run into Jeremy. Jeremy is a bad ass dude from Salt Lake City who has run pretty much every ultra I dream of doing. We chatted for the 8 or so miles between aid stations about why we push ourselves to these extremes, what these races mean, and how fortunate we are to do them. My spirits were lifting and our legs were starting to turn over faster. Finally, I was out of a 50 mile funk and ready to finish this thing! We came into the next aid station and got taken care of by our respective significant others before taking off for another dozen or so miles together. The sun set, and the last few miles of this section began to feel never ending. But I wasn’t alone, and finally I felt like myself.
We got to the aid station and split up to tend to our separate needs. I used the restroom, got more clothes on, and tried to eat a lot. The temperature was dropping fast and I was quickly too cold and had to sit by the fire. Jeremy yelled to me he was taking off and to catch him, but that was the last I saw him. I stayed by the fire trying to warm up, but it never happened. I contemplated dropping here, before even trying to catch Jeremy, but I was still mentally far away from a DNF. I got out of my chair and away from the fire, and took off for a 15 miles on my own.
Out of the aid station I went, immediately starting to shiver. I’m not used to being cold during races, and the extreme chill made me uncomfortable and mad. I had no idea why I was lingering so long in aid stations and why my internal drive was so pathetic. I slowly warmed up on the climb and a long runnable descent had me striding along at a solid clip. I made it to the Logan River aid station (which is not crew accessible) and ate some noodles and waited for some runner to leave with me for the company. Again, if I had just started moving here I probably would have felt so much better, but the cold night left me oddly powerless. When I finally left 10 minutes or so later, I was greeted with a wide river crossing. I fell, submerging my gloves in the freezing water. Out the other side, my body was shaking rather violently as I power hiked desperately to warm up.
My race was over. I was cold and my gait was getting funky with the fatigue. The terrain was getting more technical, not easier as I had anticipated. I just wanted to stop. The next 7 miles from Logan river to where I would drop at mile 75 were extremely hard. I thought about how selfish I was for making Colleen crew for me for 30 hours in remote Utah, alone. I thought about how much money I had spent to get to the race, and how quitting seemed so wasteful. The race was going to be my qualifier for Western States and Hardrock – now what? The pity party raged on for about 2 hours, and when I death marched into the Beaver Mountain Lodge, my decision was made to quit.
Colleen did an amazing job trying to get me back out the door without seeming pushy. Apparently Jeremy was only 15 or so minutes ahead of me, which honestly deflated me even further for my decisions to wait so long at the aid stations. Jeremy went on to finish in 26 or so hours, and I’ve frequently said how if I had stayed with him I’d have a belt buckle for the Bear 100. But that’s a weak excuse and I don’t think I could’ve made it the last 25 miles in 6 hours. I do wish I had company, either Jeremy or a pacer, to drag me that last quarter. I know physically I could’ve done it, but the Bear broke me down and made me accept my first DNF.
I left the aid station and cried in the car. I cried the next morning at the AirBNB. I probably cried a few other times. Colleen was now in grief counselor mode as I tried to reconcile what had happened. Honestly, I thought I would slowly turn into the 50 year old ultrarunner without a single DNF on his ultrasignup account. And if I did have a DNF, the story behind it would be worth telling! But no, at the Bear I simply was worn down, beat up, and could not bring myself to finish. I’ve replayed the race in my head to many times. I think about the end result pretty much daily.
A month later I went on to have a successful race at Javelina. Obviously motivation was high, but I did it alone, without the pressure of making Colleen sit idly for hours or wiping snot from my mustache. And that is a good summary for how I feel about the whole thing. Mentally, I think my race at the Bear is the logical conclusion of 3 years of break-neck ultrarunning. I spent 2015-2017 going to whatever race I wanted, pushing hard, and finishing by any means necessary. In Utah, I couldn’t. Physically, I think I was fine and fit to finish. But mentally, I was at the end of my rope. At the end, I was exhausted by the high benchmark I had set for myself. The march to mile 75 to drop, all I had was feeling selfish for the sacrifices myself and others had made to help me get there.
But what I’m left with is a greater appreciation for being a part of this wonderful sport. I’ve been so lucky to travel the country and meet so many amazing people. I feel like a trail runner, and one that’s excited for all the adventures to come. It feels much less like a need to prove myself and more an opportunity to experience magnificent places and push my boundaries.
A note from the Half Runner:
Matt loves to think I get bored and hate crewing for 30 hours, but I honestly had the most wonderful time crewing solo at this race. Matt got me some fun camera toys for my birthday, so I spent the day enjoying the weather, taking photos, reading books, and making friends with all the other spouses/significant others there supporting their crazy runners. And met a cute puppy! Stay tuned for my recap of Utah, in photo form!
Yep, I’m still here! While I didn’t blog often in the first place (let’s be real, I just spend my time pestering Matt to write blog posts since he runs about 20 times as much as me) but unlike Matt, I actually have an excuse 😉 I’ve been dealing with an injured ankle/foot for a few months now. During my 50 miler, I ended up twisting my ankle at some point, and due to the adrenaline and runners high, didn’t think much of it. It hurt for a hot second but was nothing in comparison to what my quads felt like, so I barely noticed it. I had mentioned it to my doctor post-50 miler when I went in for my rib/upper respiratory issue, and she said just to let me know if it persisted.
After my last blog post (embarrassingly in late August) I noticed growing pain in my ankle when I was running. It had always been there post-50 miler, but not super prevalent. I mostly ignored it and assumed it was just a passing issue. After a few more weeks of the pain not really getting any better, it eventually transferred to my foot. At this point, I knew there must be something wrong, and I was likely making it worse. I went for a run on October 9th and decided to call it quits until I saw my doctor.
At this point, the pain was mostly in my foot and I was no longer running, so my doctor really only focused on my foot pain. She did an x-ray which didn’t show any signs of a fracture. She told me to wait 10 days and if it still hurt, we would get an MRI. Cut to 10 days later, pain is still there, she says we can do another x-ray. I put up a big fuss, and it was thankfully changed to an MRI. Unfortunately, the MRI didn’t show any signs of a fracture, and my doctor’s exact words to me were “Your MRI is normal so you do not have a stress fracture. Your pain is probably due to ligament or tendon strain. I hope it feels better soon.” Like actually my doctor just said it was PROBABLY a strain, and that she hopes it feels better soon. I almost lost my mind. I temporarily gave up, felt defeated, and just thought “well if it were a bigger issue, I guess my doctor would be more concerned.”
After a few days of wallowing in self-pity and wishing I could run, Matt convinced me to just make an appointment with my sports medicine doctor. I didn’t realize I didn’t need a referral with my health insurance, so I asked my doctor for a referral, and another whole issue ensued. I called and asked for a referral on a Thursday and they said I would hear back from someone within 1-2 business days confirming that the referral was processed. I called back on Monday since I hadn’t heard from them, and they said that it hadn’t processed and that they had no record of the referral, so I had to go through my doctor’s office again. They also let me know it wouldn’t be approved for 4-6 weeks. At this point, I was furious with my doctor’s office. I called my insurance directly, and they told me I didn’t even need a referral, so I immediately called and made an appointment with my sports medicine doctor as soon as he could see me, which ended up being about 2 weeks later.
Within 5 minutes of the appointment, he diagnosed me with a sprained ankle, sprained mid-foot (due to changing my running form to avoid ankle pain), and my cuboid bone was misaligned. He popped my bone back into place and gave me a referral to physical therapy. I’ve been in therapy for about 4 weeks and should be back up and running within hopefully the next 2 weeks.
These past 3 months have been incredibly hard for me. We’ve been planning as much for our wedding as possible since we are leaving for Austin soon, working on figuring out where we are going to live in Austin, going through our belongings to figure out what we are and aren’t taking to Austin, raising a new puppy, maintaining balance between our work lives and social lives, and of course the holidays.
I have had an incredibly hard time finding the emotional and mental strength to do any sort of workouts. My goal was to focus on strength training, but I’ve just been so drained and depressed about not being able to run. I honestly hate going to the gym – I miss the ease of just being able to lace up, step outside, and go run for as long as I want. While I know working out is a good stress relief, I’ve found going up to the gym for a workout ends up being more stressful than no workout at all. I just get inside my head and think about how much I miss running, and how much I hate staring out a window at the outdoors while working out on an elliptical or bike.
That being said, while I want to turn this awful feeling around and find something I’m more interested in, we are moving in less than a month, so it’s hard to commit to something now that I’m not sure will be as easily available or close to home as something like the yoga studio down the road from our apartment. My goal once we’ve moved is to find an activity or gym that feels less like a torture chamber and spend as much time per week doing that as I do building up my running base again. While I should be back to running soon, I want to be able to consistently work on my core while also not working out at home – I’m about to work from home permanently and will need to get out of the house to exercise or I might actually go insane.
I’m hoping I can get out of this funk as soon as possible by getting out of my comfort zone in Austin, and find a source of stress relief that isn’t running in case (okay let’s be real, when) I get injured again. While I’m excited to get back to running, I am going to take it slow, and not get ahead of myself by signing up for races before I’m ready. Hopefully, by springtime, I’ll be back in at least marathon shape, and maybe I can squeeze in another ultramarathon before our #GrandElamUltraMarriagethon in September of 2018!
Post-50 miler life has been interesting, to say the least. Personally, we’ve solidified a date for our wedding, booked a venue for the wedding and reception, locked down a place to stay for the wedding, bought a wedding dress, and booked a photographer. Heath-wise, that cold I got the week before the race took 6+ weeks to go away – during those 6 weeks, I tore a ligament in my ribs from coughing so much. Running-wise, this all led to a less than ideal ramp-up back into training, and I’ve only gotten 129 miles in 11 weeks – that’s only about 12 miles per week. Not ideal, since my goal for the year was 1,200 miles, and I’m currently only just over 700.
My next race is the Ghost Train 75 miler, but after going through a lot of health issues this past winter/spring, only to have an injured rib for 6 weeks, I have decided to not put any added stress on myself. In an ideal world, I’d be back up to 45-50 miles per week right now, but in reality I was pushing my body too far trying to make up for lost time. I had three pretty good training weeks (30 miles, 24 miles, then 28 miles) with some decent long runs (13 and then 15) but when I went to do my long run last weekend, I just couldn’t do it. I went out for an 18 miler, and ended up calling it at 9.5 miles. My body was tired, I haven’t adapted to the summer heat yet since I took so much time off for my rib, and my shins have been starting to get sore. My Garmin Connect data was showing me I was pushing myself to my limits in those three weeks, and I’ve been stressing myself about counting up mileage, switching my runs last minute, and pushing myself to run when I don’t feel up for it.
I’ve decided enough is enough. My new plan is to train based on how I’m feeling. Obviously, nobody wakes up and thinks “Man, I just feel like running 18 miles!” so long runs will be planned a bit more, but overall my focus is going to be on my health. I want to get at least 15-20 miles in a week, but I also want to focus on strengthening. My core and upper body leave a lot to be desired in the strength department, and every runner could use better strength training for their lower body. This way, when I’m ready to start training for the Gorge Waterfalls 100k in 2018, I will be fit and have a solid base of both running and strength training under my belt.
It’s tough to make the decision to cut back on running, but we in the GrandElam household has some stressful times ahead of us, and I personally feel that following a training plan diligently for an ultra certainly won’t lower my stress levels. Running will still be my release, but not running won’t stress me out as much as it currently does. I love ultra running, and I’m still hoping to get a solid 30 – 45 miles in at least at Ghost Train. I’m excited to take a step back and focus on my overall fitness for a change! Plus, Goose will like having his mom home more ❤️
I have a confession to make. A lot of the time, at least recently, I don’t love running. I have not been “loving the process”. I haven’t been thrilled with my races. Most training runs feel like a slog. While a bit demoralizing, I think it’s to be expected to be honest. In 2016 and 2017 I accomplished more than I had ever really expected as a runner. Two 100 mile races, half marathon PR, 5K PR, a Boston qualifier. It was just success followed by success followed by success. Everything had such tremendous payoff it felt incredibly rewarding. Now, it feels like I am just going through the motions. Seven Sisters was a bright spot of running with friends and craziness that was genuinely exciting. I’m still anxiously awaiting The Bear, since 100 milers are so challenging and unique, but TARC Spring, Wachusett, and to some extent Escarpment felt like a grind. There were moments during Escarpment I thought “I fucking love running”, but a lot of that race was punishing and challenging. The mentality was taking a toll, but on Saturday, all I could think was “I really fucking love running!”
Sure, the TARC Summer classic was still 31 miles. And 31 miles is a long way. And whenever you go a long way there are some low points. The point is that every low quickly left and was replaced by gratifying highs. The race, the community, and my performance all culminated in a great day. I’m hoping that I can take this rekindled energy and train hard going into the Bear.
A large part of what made the day work was treating the race as a training run. Normally, I think this is a bullshit excuse to wipe away a sub-optimal performance, but I had 40 miles on my legs from the week leading up to it, had run 24.5 miles on my long run the previous Sunday, and hadn’t done anything to really treat it as an A or even B race. So while I undoubtedly spent parts of loop 1 doing mathematical gymnastics to estimate a finish time, I quickly let any thoughts of performance and position slip away. I was going to run 31 miles and I’d either be in first place, last place, or somewhere in between. What’s funny is that I had tried to do the same thing at this race two years earlier and failed miserably. So, after three years of ultrarunning, I can safely say I know how to use a race as a training run.
Like two years ago, I think the TARC Summer classic is one of the most enjoyable courses I have run! It has a mix of everything: single track, fire road, hills, techy sections. A 10 mile loop is just long enough to stay fresh but short enough to seem manageable. What’s also amazing is that I can summarize the race in three sentences.
On my first loop, I settled in to running by feel and enjoying the day, and after about 5 miles everything clicked and it was smooth sailing.
I fell right before the start on the second loop, but it got me fired up to run faster than the first loop!
On the last loop, I fell again and felt a bit sorry for myself, so it went a bit slower but I still finished in 5:34 (in 2015 I ran a 6:39)!!!
Boom, easiest race recap ever! Honestly, it is difficult to write a report about a race I have already run. Especially when the goal was supposed to be the same. This year though, I was able to have a spectacular time. I feel reinvigorated for the final 6 weeks leading up to the Bear 100! Can’t wait to see how it goes.
Ultra runners are fueled by testing their limits. Nothing about the sport is easy or even sane, but the pursuit of pushing our bodies to their absolute limits drives us forward. As we attempt new races, run different trails, and ramp up our training, our limits stretch further and further. We get new benchmarks to evaluate ourselves. PRs and previous times become our foundation as a runner. Your Ultrasignup results page grows and becomes a public record of your race days, good and bad. This quest to push beyond one’s limits can become a bit all-consuming, at least for me, as new races pop up or instagram photos of faraway trails fill social media. Past successes become fuel for attempting the next insane event. But as we reach for the next distance or race with double the elevation gain, it can become difficult to measure if we are actually still improving. That’s why pacing Mike at Manitou’s Revenge was so fun for me. The race wasn’t about the next great event (although I am not sure you can top what Manitou’s got to offer), but rather a return to prove oneself against one of the most brutal events out there.
To be transparent, I had never met Mike before Manitou’s. We “met” over twitter as I saw him cast the net for pacers at this year’s event. I took the bait and said why not, I’ll pace a stranger for several hours of running. We chatted over email and social media, but right away it was clear that Mike had ambitions for this year’s event. He had finished Manitou’s in 2016, being the last finisher in around 23.5 hours. He was coming back for revenge. Or at least I deemed it to be revenge. Coming in as a pacer, it was perfect. Mike’s goal would give me clear direction for the day and getting Mike to his finish.
I was picking Mike up at the 5th aid station of the race, Platte Cove. The drive up to the aid station was a perfect introduction to what the day would hold. Dense fog and a winding road greeted me and Colleen in the Catskills. Conditions were wet and the course would be slick. We got settled and waited for Mike to roll in.
Meeting Mike at the aid station was a lot like how I imagine online dating would work, but if one of the participants had just run 30 miles and had 24 miles to run. Mike wasn’t exactly on time, and came rolling in looking a tad disheveled. It quickly turned into crew/pacing duties as I grabbed his drop bag and worked to get any food and gear he needed. Compared to the runners just prior to him, Mike was in and out of the aid station. He was a bit behind on time, but in good spirits and raced the first 30 miles extremely smart. That made my job much easier.
Mike meeting Colleen and me at Platte Cove
Now, Manitou’s doesn’t cut you any breaks. The first 30 miles suck (so I hear). The last 24 miles also suck (so I know). It’s a 54 miler that runs like a hundred. So, leaving the aid station, I knew we had 7.5 miles to the Mink Hollow aid station, but the volunteers at Platte Cove assured me the next 7.5 run more like 12. Having now completed it, I’d say that’s accurate. This next session is when the course hops on the Devil’s Path, which happens to be very aptly named. The “trail” takes no prisoners, consisting of unrelenting climbs requiring you to use your hands and descents that range from sketchy to I-should’ve-written-my-will before-offering-to-pace-this-race. In all seriousness, some of the down climbing sections were more serious than going up.
Over the 7.5 miles, there are three peaks – Indian Head, Twin, and Sugarloaf. With no section really allowing for sustained running, Mike and I chipped away the course over the slick rocks and gnarly elevation profile. During this section, we’d pick up Paul, who would manage to snap 2 trekking poles on the Devil’s path, and Jodi. We ran into Jodi right before Mink Hollow who was convinced she was going to drop. The course was treacherous and no ultra was worth killing yourself, so it seemed like the logical decision. Mike and Paul assured her that the worst was over and right there and then we formed a pack that would stick together for the remaining 16.5 miles.
At Mink Hollow, the crew recomposed themselves and geared up for the crushing climb up Plateau. Mike was 30 minutes ahead of where we was this time last year. “Perfect,” I thought, “we are gonna get him a PR at this rate”. The last climb on the Devil’s Path is another ass-kicker of steep, sketchy climbing. Once we topped out, the trail smooths before a turn down of the peak following a side trail. By this time, it was dark. While it was still a few minutes until sunset, the dense canopy and fog made running without a headlamp a no-go. The four of us did our best to navigate the admittedly smoother trail, but thick fog and slick rocks made running uncomfortable. I was hoping to start putting the pressure on the group at this point, but part of being a good pacer is knowing your place. We were moving incredibly strong and steady, so we ran smooth sections and walked quickly through the rest to Silver Hollow Notch.
By Silver Hollow, we were close to 45 minutes ahead of Mike’s arrival last year! The runners took time here to take in a substantial amount of calories. Manitou’s starts absurdly early if you factor in the bus ride from the finish up to Windham. At this point, everyone was pushing close to 24 hours awake, so just staying positive at this point is a huge success. As we focused for the remaining miles, the biggest moth I’ve ever seen tried to fly away with one of the aid station volunteers before landing on the pop-up tent. Thoroughly disturbed by the thing, I gently urged the runners to get going so I’d be able to avoid getting hit by it. We got moving up the climb from Silver Hollow, which tops out before running a slightly off-camber downhill to a creek. We made really good time down this stretch, and we all enjoyed the cold water on our feet in the humidity. Mike took a minute to douse himself in cold water before we started the final climb of the course.
The climb up to the Willow aid station is pretty damn rough. I’d say if it were 30 miles earlier on the course, it’d be runnable. But after 48 or so miles, it is unrelenting. We marched up the slope, appreciating that finally the trail makers used switch backs but still annoyed with the trail’s persistence. In the final half mile of the climb, Jodi pulled ahead to take a bit more time at the aid station while Paul, Mike, and I took our time to not overexert. Finally, we reached Willow towards the top of the hill! The aid station was stocked with hot food and plenty of snacks, which was super impressive considering it was a 2 mile hike in to the aid station. The volunteers were super friendly and joked with Mike about his later appearance a year prior. At this point, we were an hour and half ahead of Mike’s previous time and energy levels were much higher.
The crew took off from willow for the final 500 feet of climbing to the fire tower. The fog got really thick here and I really struggled as a pacer keeping the group on course. I did my best to keep a bit ahead to identify the next blaze and keep the crew moving along. Suddenly, there was a huge fire tower right next to us! The climbing was done! All downhill from here! But of course, Manitou would not let us off easily. 3 miles of downhill covered in football sized rocks that teetered, rolled, and rocked as we tread down them. We kept a strong hiking pace down, not risking a busted bone or face on the slick and unstable rocks. The group decided to finish together, and having spent 6 or so hours together at this point it seemed fitting. We finally bottomed out and made our way down the last mile of road.
In the final mile, we all expressed our gratitude of having such great company for so long. Mike thanked me for pacing him on a whim and I told him not to mention it, for I had a blast and there isn’t too much better than sharing some trail miles with good company. Finishing and reflecting on the day, I’m left wondering how I am as a pacer. I got Mike to the finish and 2 runners tagged along. But did I push hard enough? Did I say the right things? Had I been too cutting with some of my jokes and jabs? Even though I have my self-doubts, the experience to me speaks more about each own’s limits. Mike PRed on the course by 2 hours. A demonstrable improvement from last year. He pushed hard and dug deep. Viewing as an outsider, he encapsulated one of the things I love so much about ultra running: the need to push our limits.
I signed up for this race almost as soon as it was announced. I thoroughly enjoyed the Bear Mountain 50k in 2016, and was ready to jump up to the 50 miler. My “big race” of the year was supposed to be the Gorge Waterfalls 100k out in Portland, and this was going to be an “easier” race, since I’d have been a seasoned 100k-er by then. Boy was I gonna be wrong!
To start off, this race did not have a course description in the Course Guide on their website. It showed the map, gave turn-by-turn directions, had the chart for elevation, but the description was “TBD” which meant that everyone who hadn’t run trails in New England was in for a big surprise. I’ve had plenty of experience on trails in the Northeast, so I was prepared for some technical terrain, but honestly it was one of the most intense runs of my entire life. You could say “well of course it was, it was your first 50 miler!” but I ran Bear Mountain last year, which was advertised as an extremely technical course, and I just ran Seven Sisters, which was absolutely insane as well. I was ready for a challenge, but I don’t think The North Face adequately prepared runners for this race.
We started the day with our alarms going off at 2:50am. We made some coffee, inhaled some cereal for breakfast, and we were out the door by 3:15 to go grab our friend Harry, who was also running the 50 miler. I won the “who’s driving home after a 50 miler?!” battle, so I drove us to the race so I didn’t have to drive home. It was about an hour, which we spent shooting the shit, talking about various other races, and trying not to psych myself out before the race. We got there, sunscreened and bug sprayed up, dropped our drop-bags off, and lined up at the start. The sun was coming up just as the race was starting, so we didn’t even need our headlamps, which was great!
Matt sped off, and I settled into a nice slow, steady pace so I didn’t go out too hard. I knew there was going to be a lot of up and down, so my goal of the day was to run any flat or downhill that wasn’t too technical, and to assess my pace on uphills as the day went on. I started by power hiking most uphills, and I ended up keeping that up throughout almost the entire race. In the 50 mile race, we summited 4 times total. The first summit was at mile 7.1, and I was feeling pretty strong at this point. I reached the summit the first time with an average pace of 14:34 min/mi, and reached it the second time with an average page of 15:43 min/mi. I was feeling strong, and had actually met a very nice runner named John around mile 3, who helped keep my mind off the fact that it was a lot of elevation. He was engaged as well, living in NYC, and we chatted about the absurdity of the cost of weddings, all the crazy races he’s run, how his fiancee is crazy fast, and exchanged fun stories. It was exactly what I needed to ignore my nerves, and focus on just moving forward.
During the first 15 miles, my left IT band was acting up. I haven’t had this happen in a really long time, and it was very stressful, so I was glad to have John there to talk me out of my head. I grabbed some advil a few times during the first half of the race, and it didn’t bother me again until the day after the race. I will definitely be spending the next few weeks focusing on getting the inflammation down and strength training in order to prevent this in the future.
Once we summited the second time, we started to make our way out to the state park. Looking at this section on the elevation chart, I thought I was going to be able to run a lot of it. I was verrrrryyy wrong. While the elevation profile was mellow, the technicality of the trails was insane. There were long sections of this where the trail was literally a foot wide, completely overgrown, with just giant rocks and roots everywhere. It was impossible to run. John had passed me by this point as his goal was 10 hours, and I was hoping for 12, so I decided to just power hike and take it slow. I had a lot of hours ahead of me, and have heard too many horror stories of runners going out too hard and crashing. I focused on my goals: walk uphill, run every runnable section, and don’t fall on my face.
I also was like clockwork with my gels/chomps throughout the day until maybe 10 hours in. I made sure to eat gels or chomps every hour, and ate other food at probably every other aid station. I also filled my pack with ice at almost every aid station, and threw at least two cup-fulls of water on my head every chance I got. I also dipped my hat in any creek we ran over to try to keep myself from overheating. Ideally, I wouldn’t have had the pack on because of the heat, but I really wanted the security of having what I needed with me, just in case. My pack was like the binky of my first 50-miler, and I was thankful to have it the entire time even if it made me hotter than I would have liked. I was thankful to have a dropbag with extra food in it as well because the aid stations were pretty sparse throughout the course. There were even some aid stations where they were just out of a certain kind of food completely. To someone who is used to running TARC races and having an insane spread of snacks, that was definitely one of the biggest bummer. To go into an aid station hoping for oranges and having them be out is a huge mental obstacle for someone who’s already been running for 10+ hours. I think if they are going to do this race again next year, they need to have a bigger variety of food available, especially to people running the marathon or more.
The trail continued to be barely runnable until around mile 20, when we did a 4 mile loop that was almost entirely runnable (to me, to faster runners I’m sure they ran the entire way), with some fast fire road miles after the loop. I got some 10-12 min/miles in around here, and felt better since I had already been on track to finish beyond my 12 hour goal. I knew when I saw the high for the day was close to 80 degrees that I would likely be adjusting my goals, but felt that it was entirely just a personal decision, rather than an across the board decision for all runners. I ran with another runner named John (different runner, I swear) who was a seasoned ultra marathoner as well, who was struggling in the heat and with the technicality of the course. We suffered together to an aid station, where I threw water on myself and set off for the next big aid station, where I’d have my drop bag and Kayleigh waiting for me with sour gummy worms. I had notifications for Matt that would text me when he crossed a checkpoint, and there had been an issue where his mile 15.5 checkpoint also counted as his mile 33 checkpoint time, so I had no idea how he was doing. His goal for the entire race was 10 hours, and at about 10 hours in, I got a notification that he was at the summit for the third time.
At that point I was extremely concerned I wasn’t going to finish this race in time. I got to mile 37 feeling defeated, at my all-time low of the race. I had run through a bunch of muddy puddles and my feet were soaking, I had hit my top level of pain in the last 5 miles, and still had a freaking half marathon to go. At this point, Tammy joined me to pace me through the rest of the race, and I was so grateful she offered to do this for me. I was feeling really down on myself, worried I wouldn’t get to finish my race, debating whether or not to just give up at that point, because there was a good chance I wasn’t going to finish within the 14 mile cutoff. I ran in and saw Tammy practically bouncing with excitement to see me, and Kayleigh and her boyfriend Tim waiting with gatorade, sour gummy worms, sour patch kids, and hugs. It was exactly what I needed to keep going. I switched my shoes and socks, and headed out with Tammy to finish this damn race.
At this point, any uphill felt like a mountain. I was quite literally making mountains out of molehills, as my dad would say. Tammy was pushing me to run when it was flat or downhill, and we were coming up with landmarks to run to when I was too tired to keep running. “Okay, see those ribbons? We’ll run to those ribbons and then walk.” Tammy honestly was my trail guardian angel, and I would have been in a much worse place if it hadn’t been for her. At this point, my legs were still functioning well, and I hadn’t gotten nauseous at all. Up until 37 I did a really good job of drinking water not only when I was thirsty, but at every beep of a mile at my watch too. Normally I worry about over-hydrating, but it was freaking 80 degrees outside, and I was going to be out on the course a lot longer than I had anticipated. I even drank 2 bottles of tailwind during the second half of the race, since I was pretty much over gels at that point.
37-44 was a blur of just putting my head down and powering through the exhaustion. By the time I reached the summit the third time at mile 44, Matt had just finished the race in 12 hours. I still had 2 hours to go, but looking back at Matt’s timing for the last 6 miles, I knew I was going to be cutting it close. It took Matt 2 hours and 3 minutes from the third summit to the end of the course, so I knew that likely it would take me at least that much time, and I was already at 12 hours. I also had a blister pop mid-run that I had to take care of at this aid station and, of course, Tammy was the best pacer ever. She ran up to the medic and grabbed anything she thought I might need. She helped me get my toe all bandaged up and back in action, since I had spent the last 4 miles of the course spreading my toes so my popped blister didn’t rub against my big toe, since it was extremely painful.
I was freaking out about not making the cutoff when the volunteer at the aid station assured me to just keep going, and that they had extended the cutoff time for the relay race by at least 3 hours. THREE HOURS EXTRA for a MARATHON. At that point, I was feeling MUCH better that I was still running any chance I could, still eating, still drinking, and hadn’t dropped. Kayleigh was at the summit, and I knew that my parents and Matt would be at the summit my final go around, so I set off a woman on a mission, with my toe feeling like new.
Tammy encouraged me to run as much as possible, had me running on the shortest path possible, and was keeping my spirits high. I was still mentally there, though I’ll admit some words were taking a long time to come into my head, and I was still physically feeling pretty strong. I was surprised that I was still capable of running at this point, when I kept passing runners sidelined with cramps, or vomiting on the side of the trail. We ran down and on our way back up to the summit, we ran into the sweeper, who was still about an hour behind us, since she was on her first loop of the summit. She assured us that the race cutoff had to be extended, and we found out that there were still relay runners on the course – the relay was scheduled to be finished by 4pm, and it was now 5:30-6pm. We trekked up to the summit for the last time, and I thought my heart would explode from happiness when I got up there and saw my mom, dad, Matt, Kayleigh and Tim all cheering for me. I got to the top and spent a few minutes hugging everyone, congratulating Matt, and chatting up the volunteers.
We set off out of the aid station on a mission to finish, and the guy that had been at the aid station sprinted past us telling me we had to run the rest of the way in order to finish by the cutoff. I said “oh don’t worry about it, the sweeper is still an hour back and they extended the cutoffs” and he was all frenzied saying that they might not honor it. The next 4 miles were not only hard because it was still pretty technical and my legs were exhausted, but I was mentally exhausted from coming up with angry tweets I’d send to North Face if they didn’t extend the cutoff time. Luckily, I was worried for nothing. After passing the same poor soul vomiting on the side of the trail for the third time, I powered through the last 4 miles and finished with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes after running for 14 hours, 17 minutes, and 4 seconds.
Overall, the race was great, and the volunteers were top notch! I know a few trail runners that don’t like that the Endurance Challenge series has a more “road race” vibe and a lot of non-trail runners, but that’s one of my favorite parts. The fact that everyone from all different abilities is out there on the same course is pretty great, despite the fact that their trail etiquette isn’t super great. I did see some cups/trash on the course, but these could easily have accidentally fallen out of people’s packs or belts despite their experience on trails. One of my biggest complaints is that they should announce who has the right of way when on a course like this. I’m a firm believer that if someone is passing you, you need to get out of their way. But if someone is coming at you, the person who has been out on the course longer should get the right of way. Proper etiquette wasn’t clear, and I was getting shoulder-checked left and right by runners at this section of the course. When you’ve been running for 9 hours and get shoulder-checked, this could seriously throw off your balance and possibly push you over and injure you. The last thing I want to DNF over is some schmuck who’s never run trails before knocking me over and not even apologizing for it.
It was the toughest race I’ve ever run, and it was one of the toughest races for pretty much everyone I spoke with. 179 runners started this 50 miler and only 75 people finished. That’s right, only 41% of people who started ended up finishing the race. It was absolutely insane. I still can’t believe it was real, and I can’t believe I’m barely even sore today, 5 days after running for 14 hours. I feel confident I’ll run another 50 miler, though jury is still out on 100 milers… I have a newly developed appreciate for how insane Matt is.
Let me start by saying that for once, Matt adequately prepared me for a race for the first time ever. Most of the time we go for a run or a race and he tells me “oh it’s super easy” or “after the first half it’s all downhill” and inevitably it’s the hardest race I’ve ever run or the entire thing is uphill. Sometimes I wonder if he knows the difference between uphill and downhill… but for Seven Sisters, he gave me fair warning. He may have even slightly questioned it when I signed up. The man knows I hate running uphill, and knew I’d have to do a lot of it. I decided to sign up anyways, since I’ve got Wachusett coming up, and it was definitely a good decision.
Long story short, only one of us had been responsible and remembered to purchase a bib (ahem, it was me). We decided to go to the race together and hope that the bad weather had driven some folks away. Luckily, about 10 minutes before the race, we were able to snag a bib last minute – many, many thanks to the race director, Amy! You’re a lifesaver!
It had been raining all night, and was super warm and muggy for the race. I was already worried I’d overheat and wish I had a handheld instead of my hydration pack, but I knew I needed both hands free for climbing up rocks and grabbing onto trees to keep myself from falling. It ended up being a good decision, but I was still slightly too hot the whole time. I’m a little worried about this for Wachusett in particular since it’ll be mid-June in Boston, and there’s only access to a drop bag at mile 13 and mile 37, so I really want a pack to carry my goods in, but don’t want to overheat.
We started, and immediate gained 500 feet of elevation in a half mile. Matt warned me of the first hill, so I was prepared and went nice and slow. It was a little frustrating to be passed by a lot of runners on that first hill, mostly because I felt in the way. I started in the third wave, and was shocked by the amount of runners that started in that wave that shot past me in the first mile. Now, how many of those runners continued to crush it and how many crashed after 4 miles, the world may never know. But nevertheless, I felt in the way and a little self conscious, but I knew I had bigger fish to fry. It’s easier for me to check myself before I wreck myself on trails than on the road. When I’m on the road, I want to pass everyone. When I’m on the trails, I somehow remember my body has limits, and that I can control my speed. Either way, I kept myself strong and steady through the first uphill, and ran as much as I could of the downhill, but I needed to be careful. Wachusett is just around the corner, and nothing would have broken my spirits more than taking a bad fall and having to call yet ANOTHER ultra marathon in 2017.
The rest of the race is a blur of hills, mud, and rocks. It was the single most intense 12(ish) miles of my running career. The race had over 4,000 feet of elevation gain over 12(ish) miles, which is INSANE considering Wachusett has just about double that elevation gain, but over 50 miles. During the whole first half, every time I’d start enjoying the downhill, my heart would sink as I realized that would be an uphill on the way back. By the time I got to the turnaround, I was so tired, and couldn’t believe I had to do it all over again but backwards. My right shoe was rubbing against the back of my heel on every uphill and was so irritating that I contemplated just taking it off. I settled by throwing on a scoop of vaseline on my heel at the turnaround and crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t have a giant blister by the end of the race. Definitely glad I wore them during this race, since I was planning on these being my race shoes for Wachusett. After how quickly they blistered my heels, they’re definitely not coming to Wachusett!
By maybe mile 8, I was surrounded by a lot of defeated human beings. Everyone around me was covered in mud, sweat, and some even had blood dripping down their faces (or other body parts). It was like a goddamn battle field. I was lucky (or just slow enough) to not fall during the race, though my hands were literally covered in mud afterwards. Before I started, I ran into a woman running with gloves and thought that was bizarre considering the weather, but I get it now. It was definitely a super technical course, and pretty dangerous if you went all out, and I’m glad I focused on just staying upright and finishing.
All in all, the race was incredibly fun, and I can’t wait to do it again. I like to think I could run it much faster if the weather was better, but it’s New England, and I don’t think it will ever not be rainy, wet, and muddy for this race. That certainly won’t keep me away – I’ll be back to get muddy again in 2018!
Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, life has been super boring and uneventful.
LOLJK! So much has happened in even just April, I don’t even know where to start. Why don’t I start with the least exciting thing, which is that my cysts are gone and I’m cleared to run! (The fact that this is the LEAST exciting thing shows how crazy life has been…) Before our trip to Portland, I had an appointment with my doctor who told me that my cysts aren’t a super big deal, I don’t have cancer (yay!) and that my cysts shouldn’t be too difficult to control in the future. Basically, I will be taking birth control without the placebo week in order to keep my hormone levels consistent, since he thinks the one week of not taking hormones is throwing my ovaries into OVAdrive (get it?!?!) and causing cysts to form. So by skipping that week, I should be able to avoid my overactive ovaries!
After that appointment, I started attempting to run just a little bit to see how it felt. I wasn’t at 100% but I felt much better, and I was excited to get some miles in when we went to Portland! While we planned on going to Portland for my 100k, we went and met up with two of our friends that live in Asheville and just spend the week trail running, hiking, eating and drinking. It was absolutely magical, and I didn’t even get upset about not running the 100k because Matt, Brian and Sarah all helped me take my mind off it. I’m so thankful they trekked all the way out to Portland to crew for me, and also that they still trekked out even when I couldn’t race. We’ll have to thank them by paying them a visit in Asheville again soon.
On Saturday, the day of the race, we tried going to Bend, Oregon for a day trip. About 1.5 hours into the drive, while going through a mountain pass, the weather took a turn for the worse. We realized we were ill-prepared to pass through Mt. Hood in our measly rental car, so we turned around and changed plans. Matt seemed a little antsy about it, so I just let him make the plans. We decided to go to the start of the 100k course and go run by some waterfalls and enjoy the course, even if I couldn’t enjoy all 100k. We start running, and I realize I’m way overdressed for the weather. We stop to strip down, and I decide to tie my jacket around my waist. Matt is over here telling me “oh let’s find a place to stash it” and I was thinking well I generally don’t look good while I run, why change that today?
So about a half mile later, we get to this beautiful waterfall and Matt and I stop to take a picture. Next thing I know, Matt’s down on one knee asking me to marry him! It was absolutely magical, and I still can’t believe it happened. I obviously said yes! Then we laughed as we realized I was wearing a backwards hat with my jacket tied around my waist – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way! It was the perfect representation of our relationship, and I’m so excited to share our lives together. It was such a beautiful, perfect day, and I can’t wait to celebrate it by running the 100k next year!
The rest of our trip to Portland was almost as magical as that day! We went trail running, hiking, drank a lot of good beer, ate some good food, made new friends, and took a bunch of pictures! It was such a wonderful vacation, and I can’t wait to go back next year to run the race. The parts of the course I saw were so beautiful, and I know it’ll be an amazing race. Let’s hope I’m in shape to run a 100k in the spring of 2018!
As magical as it was, we were so excited to come home to Gustav, and judging by the bear hugs he gave us, he was pretty excited for us to come home too, even though Dana spoiled him while we were gone!
A few weeks after our trip to Portland, we headed down to Texas to visit Matt’s parents. We had a lovely trip, even though I ended up not running much due to an infected blister. Like actually I couldn’t wear shoes for like a week. Of all things to take me out of running, of course a blister would do it. Once I could run, we went for a nice, humid run in Austin, and spent a wonderful weekend with both his family and my aunt and uncle that live in Dallas – they drove all the way to Austin to say hello! I also caught up with one of my best friends from high school, Brianne, who actually was the first person to ever get me into running! We used to run Fun Runs in our hometown during summers. It was great to see her and catch up!
Since we’ve been back from Portland, Matt’s done a few races and I “ran” the 7 Sisters Trail Race this past weekend – be prepared for a race report! In the meantime, know that it’s been 3 days since the race and I am still walking around like someone just took a baseball bat to my quads. It was an intense race, and I can’t wait to go back next year and brutally destroy my legs again!
I sat down with the intention of writing a race recap for the Hyannis Marathon, and I just can’t bring myself to do it. To sum it up, it went better than I had ever imagined it could. I was shooting for sub-4, and surpassed that goal by running a 3:50:24. I felt strong the entire time, I stayed hydrated and took in calories as I needed them, and I finished strong with my last 5 miles being around 8:30 pace. Hands down it was my best performance out of any race I’ve ever run. Maybe someday I’ll have the energy to write a more detailed race report, but for now, I’ll tell you about my post-marathon week.
Let’s start with Monday. I expected to be sore, maybe have some stiff knees or sore shins, but I was nowhere near as bad as I thought I would be. I even biked to work, no problem! After biking in to work, I started to feel some pain in my lower right abdomen. Pain very similar, but less intense, to my pain I had a few weeks ago before I ended up in the hospital with a ruptured cyst. I told myself I was probably just sore from the race, and it would go away.
Cut to Tuesday. I feel amazing, like I barely even ran a marathon, so after work I go for a quick 3 mile run. My legs are tired, but in great shape. I start getting excited for my long run on Saturday of 23 miles. Cut to Wednesday, the pain in my abdomen is still lingering, intensifying just enough to make me worried after my bike ride home. I listened to my body and skipped my run. I worked from home on Thursday and called my gynecologist to see if they could get me an appointment. By some miracle from the heavens, she has an open appointment at 2pm. By a whole other miracle, the company I work for is amazing, and let me take the rest of the day off of work to see my doctor.
I explain the situation and tell her I’m nervous I might have another cyst. I tell her I went to the ER not a month ago for a ruptured ovarian cyst, and she asks me some questions. When was the last time you had a cyst that caused pain? Are you still on birth control? Are you skipping any pills? Are you pregnant? Does it hurt during intercourse? You know, the fun questions we all love our gynecologist asking. She says she can get me an ultrasound at 4pm in Chelsea if I’m willing to drive out there.
Cut to 3:00, I’m in Chelsea (way too early) waiting anxiously for my appointment, exhausted from the lack of sleep thanks to stress about my health. I get two ultrasounds and they say I’ll hear back the next morning. Cut to Friday during my lunch break. It was past noon and I hadn’t heard anything so of course I call in a panic, asking for my doctor to call me back. She calls me a few minutes later and tells me I have yet another ovarian cyst. She mentions they’re not normal cysts, they’re hemorrhagic ovarian cysts (aka filled with blood) which is why they’re so painful. They have absolutely no idea why I’m getting cysts due to the fact that birth control is supposed to prevent cysts from forming at all.
It’s also over 5cm in diameter, so she recommends I don’t exercise for at least 6 weeks, which is when I will need a follow-up ultrasound to see if the cyst has gotten any smaller. If it has gotten smaller, I will need to be monitored for future cysts while they try to figure out why I keep getting cysts. If it hasn’t gotten smaller, I will need to meet with a surgeon to go over my options for removing the cysts. There’s a chance if they remove the cysts but haven’t figured out why I am getting them, they will come back, and they would go over my other options, which are far less appealing and end with me not being able to have children.
I have 5 short weeks to go until the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, but was advised not to run for the next 6 weeks. I’m still unsure about what I’ll do on race day, but for now I’m taking it day by day. If my pain subsides soon, I might try easing back into a running routine, but skip the biking, since it seems to aggravate it much more than running. My doctor did say if my cyst ended up rupturing, it would decrease in size sooner than it would if it didn’t rupture, but it seems pretty morbid to hope for a rupture since it basically made any movement excruciatingly painful for 4-5 days.
Normally I would hear what my doctor said, politely agree to disagree as young people tend to do, and go about my way, silently suffering. But this time, there is a chance that if it doesn’t rupture or decrease in size, strenuous exercise could cause ovarian torsion, and I’d likely end up losing my ovary. While I’m happy to be an idiot and maybe cause some extra shin pain or push through some knee pain, losing an ovary at 26 isn’t something I’m willing to risk.
I am absolutely heartbroken that this is happening to me after 3 months of intense, dedicated training for this 100k. I’m in the best shape of my life, and I’ve never been more prepared or excited for a race. But for once, this seems like something I shouldn’t brush off and try to push through. I will keep you all posted on my recovery and my game-day decision, but as of now it’s looking like we will just be enjoying a week of vacation in Oregon in April instead of racing. Word on the street is their food and beer game is strong out in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe instead of running a 100k, we’ll drive a 100k and where each aid station would be, we’ll stop for food and beer! Sounds fun, but let’s be real, we were probably planning on doing that after my race anyways.