Part I: The Why.
One of the most asked questions over the past few days has been: “How did you choose to run across WI?” There isn’t a concrete answer for that, it really was as simple as, no one had done that before in the way I wanted and during the time of year I was going to. So, why not?
I have realized that many of the the things that I say yes to have that connotation of “Why not.” I mean, really think about the reason you do the extraordinary things you do, yes we want to achieve our goal. But what is the reason that you started thinking about it in the first place? Or the things that you have thought about but haven’t done yet. Life is short and opportunities get less and less, so Why Not choose to say yes?!
While growing up, both sides of my family had things we didn’t talk about and people who were no longer with us for one reason or another. Something as a child you don’t understand. As I grew older those secrets came to light and it was quite clear the struggles that plagued our family were not unique to us. But as I was in the midst of forming my own adult life with a small child, I thought I had escaped this fate that seemed to loom over each of us. I took so much pride that I was able to keep my shit together and always keep moving forward.
Until the spring. It was a year since my mom passed, 6 months since my friend died. My dog got hit by a car, I found a lump. The relationship with my daughter was strained, my training was lacking. I was alone. Now, the feeling of being overwhelmed was an understatement, having many things to deal with on my plate is not new to me. This time everything was different. This thing that I didn’t know I was waiting for with anxious curiosity finally came around the corner and snuck up on me. I was deep in the abyss before I even knew what hit me. As I climbed out of the deep end after trying to swim for a few months, did I realize what was weighing me down. Fuck man, pretty sure that is what depression is.
2018 was a big year for me in terms of personal growth. Acknowledging, accepting, setting boundaries, and moving forward.
When fall approached I was beginning to entertain the idea of running across WI. This would be about 75 more miles than I have run at one time. On the roads. In February, in one of the worst winters we have had in some time. But none of that mattered, it was about the cause and people that I could help by doing this. My grandmothers charity Riverway Communities of Hope, was already doing grand things but I knew we could do better.
Part II: The Run
Thursday: Packing for 175 miles in the winter on the road seemed to take up much less space than a 100 miler across the country in the summer. Cody, my dear friend and training partner was my crew chief. How I actually got him to say yes to this is a mystery. We left Madison about 7:40pm heading to Kenosha and our starting area. A couple stops for water and some last minute first aid “just in case” items and we were there.
10pm and it’s go time. The original start was midnight, but we decided that we would be up anyway and why prolong the inevitable, so we moved it up a couple hours. This course was pretty straight forward and flat to start. Basically once I started heading west, I just kept going. Cody drove ahead to each turn as I made my way through Kenosha ensuring I wouldn’t get lost. The plan was to go about an hour ahead or about 6 miles and I would meet him to eat and drink so that way I wouldn’t have to carry anything. Also for the first 35 miles I would be solo through the night, so this way it would break up any monotony.
Friday 2:20am: This is the first time I sit down and take more than a minute or two break. I was over 25 miles in and I was really cold. Unbeknownst to me, it had gotten down to 8F when I was dressed for 20F. I was having a hard time keeping my hands warm, even with my tried and true gloves. Neither Cody or I knew it was going to be that cold, but the wind was at my back so that was a plus.
I change my shoes, apply the lube Kanberra to my toes which has menthol in it making it very soothing. Eat some more food, take in some salt and stash a bit of food in my jacket. Also, my first pacer is a bit early so the plan was to meet him in the next 6 miles. All in all this stop took me about 10 minutes. My headlamp had died twice from the cold, so we swapped out for Cody’s rechargable one.
Insert Jackson my first pacer, whew I was glad to see him. I was enjoying the solo miles, but I knew the sun would be coming up in a few hours and he had just ran Black Canyon 60K and I was excited to hear about his race and just listen for a bit. At some point in the first hour and half together Cody comes up behind us informing us that we had missed a turn to head west. With a little navigation we were able to head west at the next intersection. Which meant down the road I would need to head north to hit the road I was supposed to be on to head west from there. Thankfully this was the only wrong turn throughout the entire thing. In the end, it added an extra 8 miles. Jackson stayed with me for about 3 hours and left just as the sun was coming up. I would be alone for the next 7 miles until I hit Walworth to pick up Kate.
Friday 7amish and over 50 miles in. I take some tylenol, eat a bunch and pick up Kate. I was starting to feel my pace and the lack of walking. For the first 25 miles it was flat and therefore I didn’t walk. With Jackson there was a little bit of rolling hills, but still not much to “make” me want to powerhike. So once I grabbed Kate I told her that we should do some run/walk intervals from light pole to light pole. If you have never been to this part of the state, let me paint a picture for you. A flat country road as far as you can see and pasture or fields flanking you on both sides with a view all the way to the horizon. This is it’s own right is beautiful and can offer a certain type of solace. This was not one of those times, it was a little daunting and boring. The run/walk intervals were fairing decently enough, but the walking was hurting more than the running. The bottoms of my feet were starting to get the “tender foot” that I was dreading. We opted then to run the rest.
After the next 7 mile stretch with Kate, it was time for me to change shoes again and tackle the next few hours until I got into Clinton to pick up Adam.
That next stretch was probably the best I felt the entire run. The sun was out, the temps were mid 30’s and I had a smile on my face. I felt like I was flying. It was about mile 70. I knew that when I got to Clinton I had a welcome wagon. A husband and wife who were the parents of a person who reached out on instagram, were there to offer aid. Ultra running is truly remarkable in that way where it brings strangers together. After fueling with homemade breakfast sandwiches and fruit, changing my base layers and tending to chafing on my armpits, I was ready.
Friday 10am: As Adam and I work our way into Beloit the hills are starting to make their way into the route. Adam and I are no strangers to running long distances, even together. We met in November during the Worlds Longest Turkey Trot, where we ran from Milwaukee, WI to Chicago, IL totaling just over 100 miles.
One stop along the way where I took a little time to change shoes, take some ibuprofen, eat and lube up.
Once we got to Beloit about noon at over 88 miles in I picked up another pacer, Todd. It was 18 miles to the next big aid station where I would be picking up my night pacers. At the beginning of Todd and I’s journey together we found ourselves on hwy 81 which was fairly busy and basically downhill. When I changed shoes last I had put on my Hokas which helped to curb the tender foot issue, but was causing some knee pain. That factored in with all the downhill was quite frustrating. I knew by the time that Todd was done I would hit my 100 mile mark and I was going to crush my previous time. Todd ran the next 10 miles with me getting me to the 100 mile mark and providing some light-hearted conversation keeping my mind off of my knees.
I came into 100 miles at 17:25:20 besting my previous time by 3 hours and 44 minutes. That next mile was excruciating though. This was some cruel joke that my body wanted to play on me. Literally mile 101 and my knees said no more. For the next 8 miles I walked rolling hills, shuffling trying to run. I called my daughter and told her I passed 100 miles and she asked if I was done. When I said I had 75 more miles, she asked if I could do it since I had never run that far before. With the way my knees were feeling, I wasn’t so sure.
During that walk, I updated twitter, hit up social media, and checked in with a few important people. I also ate Papa Johns pizza and chugged some coffee. Ok, I even snapchatted a bit. 😉
I knew when I got to the next stop that I needed to change shoes again, back to the original ones and take a small break. A couple miles to the meeting point my next pacer showed up, Tara. I have never met her and she is from Indiana, she is a friend of my client/friend Mary and wanted to be a apart of this journey. We walked it in to the meeting spot where I laid in the back of Cody’s car with the Normatec boots on and asked for a 6 min nap, I couldn’t fall asleep so I asked for another 6 min. No luck. So, same story. Eat, Change shoes, lube, drink, take pain relievers. Off I left with Jessa and Dan about 5pm.
Dan stuck with us for about 2 miles and then headed back to the car. Jessa and I were slotted to spend the next 25 miles together. This is where things all mash together, it got dark quick and we entered the land of small and short rolling hills. My knees were getting worse and the wind was picking up. We did however run with our headlamps off when the moon was out and talked about how small and insignificant we felt amongst all those stars. A dog came up behind us and decided it was going to run with us, very friendly and happy. We witnessed this dog not 50 yards ahead of us get fully sprayed by a skunk. If you have never smelled fresh skunk, it will make you puke. This dog stayed with us for the next 8 miles, all the while us trying not to touch it. The police finally came and picked him up, only after we almost witnessed him getting hit by car right in front of us.
My knees were getting to the point where I had to walk the downhills backwards, walk the flat, but I could decently power up the uphill, but that then put the strain on my feet=tender foot. Closing in on 11:30pm, Jessa had to bail and changing of the crew guard was coming up. I was in need of a rest. I took a 45 min sleep in the back of the car, resting my knees. When I woke, my brother was there, I had to go to the bathroom, and my new pacer and crew had arrived.
I was so overwhelmed by my pace and how long the next 50 miles was going to take, but I made a rule. I didn’t want to know what time of day it was or how long it took to go from point to point. We also decided that Kelly and James would go ahead 4 miles, that seemed more manageable with the way my knees were feeling. Running with Angela was just what I needed. She has seen me in this state before. She was my pacer for the Leadville 100(my first 100 miler), running the last 50 miles with me. I feel I fueled well and was actually able to run the flats and didn’t need to run backwards down the downhill. Until it started to sleet and hail. The road conditions were getting worse. James would ride his fatbike up to us asking what I needed, so that way by the time we got to the car, Kelly would have it ready for me. What a system!
Angela and I made it 12 miles together before the weather became too much. I was ready to stick it out, I knew I would feel even better once it got light. We were under a severe winter weather advisory with ice building .25 inch each hour with no temp increase or relief in sight. For the safety of the crew vehicle, my pacer, and myself we made a collective decision to pull the plug at 4:21am Saturday.
As much as I wanted to get all the way there, having someone get hurt in that endeavor would have been awful. I am at peace with my decision. I ran further than I ever have, I set a new 100 mile PR, I met some amazing people, we raised money, we brought light to a hard often overlooked issue.
Thank you so much to my sponsors and people making this possible: Suunto for believing in me and having me be a part of your team, 608threads for providing the last minute cold weather gear, SaltStick for keeping me in check even in the coldest of temps, The Gearwell for always coming in clutch with my late in the race food container options, Dermatone for keeping my face protected from sun, wind, and cold, PickyBars: I ate so much Picky oats on this run, Rumpl for keeping me warm and cozy in a crazy situation, Smartwool for providing wool sock and baselayers that kept me dry and comfortable. Berkeley Running Company for providing me with new shoes the day before. Dr. Schupp who kept me in tip top shape before and after!
To all who sent kind words of encouragement along the way!
To everyone who donated to the cause.
To the people who showed up physically: Allison, Cody, Jackson, Kate, Adam, Bob & Ginny, Jessa, Dan, Tara, Jenn, Jay, Kelly, James, Angela, Stan and Abbie.
I will be attempting this again, and hope to make this an annual event, so mark your calendars!