How do I explain something that feels unreal?
There has been a story leading up to this race that has been happening simultaneously and I believe led to the outcome. As most of you know, I have been planning a cross country move, moving my daughter into her new place, and dealing with some other emotionally personal items.
I signed up for this race as soon as registration opened in January after not getting in Western States, again. This sounded like a good option, it was close and I could get it knocked out before the move. Turns out my client Jen’s family(who ran the race also), lives near the State Park so we would have a place to stay and she would have plenty of support and crew. My plan up until about 3 weeks from the race was to just finish and collect the ticket for the 2023 lottery. In my mind, my training hasn’t been ideal and I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to hold emotionally. If you have run a 100 miles before, there is a great deal of mental energy expended before, during, and after.
Someone very close to me responded to my above statement about phoning it in, “That’s what slow people say.” Coming from someone else I may have responded with a snarky response, but I respect them and I really wanted to make them proud. So over those next few weeks, I started to reframe my attitude about it and I decided to try, to low-key go for the win. It had been a year and half since my last 100 miler and ironically my first in the Midwest. I knew this race came with about 14,000 ft of climbing, but my thought was, what goes up must also come down, especially on a looped course. I also knew that my client and friend Jen would be there running her own race, as her coach I wanted her to be a part of this experience.
Jen and I left Madison about 10am for the 8 hour drive to Ohio. This drive went by so smooth. We stopped for pizza and ice cream before arriving at her brothers house in Gidion, Ohio. We were able to relax and sleep in real beds before camping the night before the race. Before we went to bed we started to lay out our drop bags, figure out what went where, and double check our items. The race plan I was going with and I suggested to her was to only have drop bags at Mohican Adventures Aid Station. We were going to do 4 loops (28, 27, 23, 22). To me having drop bags on the course was over kill, so that is the plan we went with. Carry all the food you need for that loop, supplement from aid stations as needed and refill water the same way.
As I was laying out my morning of clothes, I came to very hard realization that I had forgotten my pack. For this Type A, planner; how the fuck did I forget THE ONE thing other than my shoes that is hard to replace!? It was now 8:30pm and I had a minor internal freak out. I made a call to make sure the pack was at home, at the same time Jen realized that her son and crew chief were making the trip to Ohio in the morning. So her son (I can never thank you enough Andrew) picked it up later that night. Crisis averted. I do want to say, that I would still have raced, and I would have found a pack one way or another.
It was then time to walk away from the organizing and lay down. The most important night for sleep is two nights before the race and we were going to take full advantage of that. I then spent the next couple hours on the phone with the same person who helped me reframe my race, hearing about a life changing experience they just had the day before that really resonated with me. I could feel the excitement and emotion and I planned to take that into my race.
I woke up at 10am, so about 10 hours of sleep, I call that a win. We planned to leave around 1pm to get to the campground and check in to Mohican Adventures. Jen’s family and crew were set to arrive around 4pm to the race start/finish shelter, I wanted to get the tents set up and get a run in before they arrived. We finished our drop bags, and got on the road. We forgot about our ice cream, so we ate that in the car for lunch!
We arrived at the campground by 2:15pm, got to our site and pitched the tents. We then got changed for our run and drove across the street to packet pickup at 3pm. Grabbed our bibs, and asked where we could get on the course to do our shake out. We ended up previewing the beginning of the course on an out and back for about 40 min, just in time to meet up with Jens parents, crew chief, and son. The pack was then handed off! Jen and I then grabbed dinner from the food truck that was stationed at the start/finish area. I was anxious to get in the tent to lay down before our 7:30pm race meeting. So Shawn, Jen and I went back to the camp and planned a bit, also deciding that we would set our pop up tent at Mohican Adventures aid station as our main base. I told her that I didn’t need much of her help, and she should focus on Jen. I was racing, Jen was running.
Shawn went to dinner, we chatted with our tent neighbors for a bit. To our left people were running and to the right one guy was going for his first 50 mile, we joked with him about race strategy where I stated for the first time out loud I was going for the win. Afterwards Jen and I took a nap until 7pm, and headed over with Shawn to the race meeting. It was a basic race meeting, talking about the race markings, accomplishments of past and present athletes, and of course the weather. This apparently was the best weather they have had in a decade. Low 70’s, lower humidity, and dry. LFG.
We got back to the campsite about 9pm and got ready for bed. We chatted about our wake up time. Now, I am an anxious before race runner. I like to be up and at the start an hour beforehand, Jen is the show up 5 min beforehand type. So we compromised with leaving at 4:15am to drop our drop bags at our own tent and to drive across the street. It was an eventful night trying to sleep. We had it all: babies crying, dogs barking, car alarms going off, and blaring music.
SATURDAY 6-5- RACE DAY
3:15am came real early. I got right up and made my coffee with a jet boil and french press. I also made my race morning breakfast: Picky Bars performance oatmeal. Jen provided some comic relief and helped ease the anxiety with her multiple attempts at placing her bib on her shorts. Guess what, we got on the road at 4:12am, we were early and this made me so happy!
Once we got to the race start, Jen decided to eat her breakfast of a bagel and peanut butter, this was also hilarious to me. I will forever be thankful for her, making me laugh so much before such a long day! Shawn braided my hair in a low braid, this is always my race hair. It is easy to have my hat on front and backwards. 4:45am and we made it to start line. It was low 50’s, but very comfortable. I started in a tank, lightweight longsleeve, gloves, flatbrim hat, IPOD shuffle, gaiter, shorts, short socks, and trail shoes. Since the race started at 5am, and knowing that almost the whole course is single track mountain bike trails, we would be in tree cover and it would be dark for awhile. I decided to start with my back up Black Diamond headlamp. It was lighter and I wasn’t sure if I would be carrying it for the first full loop. I had enough Spring Energy and water on me to complete the first full loop without utilizing the aid stations. My race strategy has always been, get out front and stay out front. The race starts on a paved bike path and then quickly goes into the single track, so getting out front seemed crucial for me.
Jen and I line up together with good luck hugs and the gun goes off. I position myself in a group near the front. I have this calm confidence about me, I knew this was going to be a good day. There were about 6 miles before we got to the first aid station, and I was in a conga line of about 6/7 people including myself. I felt myself wanting to go faster, but reminding myself that this pace would be good for me as I had a long day ahead of me, so be patient, you’ll have your time. There were two women in this group ahead of me, and I chatted with one right before we entered the Gorge aid station. As they all stopped, I kept going. I never saw them again in the race. Once I passed them I knew I had to be in the top for women, how high up I wasn’t sure. To my surprise Shawn, Stacey, and Monica(all Jens crew) were there and I tossed them my lamp. Leaving here I though it was such a treat to be witness to the forest waking. I wanted to savor every moment of it.
The next aid station came by another 5ish miles later, Firetower. But you could hear this aid station about 2 miles before you actually got there, they were bumping. I went through this one as well without stopping, except to quickly grab my sunglasses. I can’t even tell you how gorgeous this trail is. The forest was waking up with the birds singing the sounds were relaxing. Also, the downhill! Swoon! For someone like me where downhill is my specialty, this was like a dream. Flying through these trails was so exhilarating. I remember leap frogging with a man named Ben, he was easy to spot with his lime green hydration pack. We would jockey back and forth, where he would catch me on the climbs and I would make space on the down. He ended up passing me before the Dam section where we did the ladder climb up a tree root system. Climbing out of there and up to the dam, I was so hot and finally shed the long sleeve. I saw Shawn, Stacey, and Monica at which point they informed me that I was indeed first woman and I was ahead by 11 minutes. I asked about Jen, and she was said to be in great spirits. I chugged some ice cold water and made my way down the many stairs towards the Covered Bridge Aid Station. In and out again. This was a bit confusing at it was an out and back to the aid station. Another runner had told me the worst part of the course was this section from here to Hickory ridge. He was not kidding. The climbs and switch backs here were relentless, but still being the first lap I had the energy to tackle them.
The scene coming into Hickory Ridge was gorgeous, it was straight out of fairytale, this section was about 5.5 miles of winding lush forest. Once leaving there without stopping it was another 6 miles back to the Mohican Aid Station. This was another super flowy section, with soft pine needle areas along with some technical rock gardens. Even on the first loop I thought this section seemed to last forever. With a little less than a mile to go you cross through the edge of the campground before having a steep rocky decent to the paved road that led to the aid station. What a feeling to be cheered for on both sides by all those people! Once again the crew team was at our Green Bay Packer tent, ready to help with whatever I needed. I emptied my pack of Spring wrappers(keeping them to count later), I had felt something in my shoe and I knew better than to let that go unattended to. So I changed socks, re-lubed and put on the same shoes.
Sprayed sunscreen, and topped off my water. I was so so close to my goal of finishing both 17oz flasks in the loop. That is a big deal for me. I don’t sweat much, and my need to drink water is less, but can get me in trouble. I had started with one flask of water and one of Spring Electroride, I just topped it off with water here, diluting it.
Since I had my bags organized by loop, I restocked my Spring, asked about Jen again and got on my way for loop 2. When you leave the station you have to go through the fence onto the paved path to the right, just like the beginning of the race. There are timing mats just before each aid that the thick neoprene ankle bracelet picks up.
LOOP 2 about 10:30am
Ben came into the aid station after me but must have left before me, because I caught him in the first mile or 2. Coming up to the first aid station I was surprised at how fast I arrived there. I was having a blast. I refilled my water flask, (hats off to Gorge because they were the ONLY aid station to have ice water). Then added Salt Stick powder electrolyte mix to the other flask and topped it off. I believe from there to Firetower Ben and I still hung together, I do believe I lost him after the second aid station. Rather than doing the ladder climb on the second loop, we took a back way up to the dam. There were so many families out enjoying the day and they were all very respectful when I would announce “Runner Back.” Hands down the worst climb of the entire course was in this section. Coming out of the woods on top of the dam, it sure was nice to see the crew. I went past and headed to Covered Bridge. I came in ready refilling both bottles, diluting the electrolyte one. My plan to eat every hour was still on point and I was stomaching the Spring just fine, going for the higher calorie ones, knowing I was burning it quickly. One thing to note though, I was so hungry! I was supplementing with watermelon here and my stomach would contract with the actual food. I was really looking forward to the next loop where I could eat something solid.
Same thing coming out of the aid, the brutal climbs. I could feel myself getting taxed a little more by them, but was still super strong on the downhills. Coming into Hickory Ridge, I was once again ready with my bottles and refilled with water, ate as much watermelon as I could in 1 minute and left. I was constantly looking back convinced second place woman was on my heels. I had a mantra for the last few miles going into base camp : Light, Feet, Eat. These are the things I needed to do there before I started loop 3. When I got there, no crew was there. Fine, not a problem. They had everything laid out for me. I changed my sport bra, changed my socks, re-applied lube, ate a Spring, chugged some ice cold water, refilled my flasks and searched for my lamp. I had my heavy rechargable Petzel, but it would be hours before I needed it and I didn’t want to carry it. I couldn’t find the one I threw at them in the first loop, so I took what I had and put it in the back of my pack. I also knew I would want the more powerful one on loop 4. Loop 3 LFG.
LOOP 3 about 5:30pm
I was not pumped for this climb the minute I started it. I was starting to feel the effects of the last 12 hours and I was moving slow on the climbs. Within the first couple miles, this guy in fantastic spirits comes by with his treking poles making conversation. Man, I was glad to see him and I told him as much. I hadn’t run with someone since the beginning of loop 2 and it was nice to see someone chipper when I was a little low. We talked about all things, and then he was gone as fast as he arrived.
I saw Stacey and Monica at Gorge and asked them to find my other light and meet me at Firetower with it. I also wanted some caffeine, all they had was Mt. Dew. They also didn’t have any ramen or potatoes stating it was too early. I knew this was going to be bad news for me. I left there and threw up maybe a mile down the trail. But as most of you know, it feels good to hurl. I was still moving well on the down, so I was taking advantage of it. I had my Ipod shuffle and tried to listen to music. I made it about 3 minutes realizing that I wanted none of it. Coming into Firetower for the 3rd time knowing we now start the “short” loops was exciting. I then saw Stacey and Monica again, they traded out my lamps, told me Jen was feeling good and I was 90 minutes ahead of second place female and in the top 10. Once again I asked if they had any hot food, their response was that it wasn’t warm yet. My response “Is it edible?” you may be shocked to learn that it was not, so I left there eating more watermelon and trying some coke.
I realized after throwing up a few more times that the carbonation of the soda was NOT my friend. The 2.5 mile section of trail to the Covered Bridge Aid was so gorgeous! We ran right next to a creek, over wooden bridges, and lots of rocks. I made a note to slow down here on the last loop since it will be dark. Covered Bridge saved the day with Ramen, it was veggie and tasted gross(personal preference) but it was hot and solid. I also drank a cup of coffee, refilled flasks and left. After leaving here was the second time I peed.
Coming into Hickory Ridge, on the ridge opposite I saw a baby black bear cub!! Holy cuteness and panic, because where there is a baby, there is a momma. I hung around for a bout 10 minutes running loudly to scare any other bears off. Thankfully I didn’t see the mom or the baby again. Once I arrived to Hickory Ridge they had the most excellent potato soup and coffee. It was just what I needed to get me back to the base at Mohican. This loop took longer than I expected since I was shuffling the downs at this point. I was just tired, but never in the pain cave. I turned on my light here and arrived into Mohican around 10:20pm ready to pick up my pacer and be done. When I arrived, Aaron, Stacey, and Monica were there. I asked for hot food, changed my socks one last time, refilled water, and sat. I was defeated by that last loop and I was dreading the climb into Gorge. At one point Monica said to me, “You got here at 10:25, it is now 10:40, you need to go,” I responded with “give me 2 minutes.” Writing this now almost a week later I can still feel myself wanting to stall at the same time not wanting to lessen the gap between second female. There was never a feeling of wanting to quit or that I couldn’t do it. I just wanted a minute before the suffering started again.
Final Loop, about 11pm
My original goal going into this race was a sub 22 hour finish. It was clear in loop 3, that was going to be hard to do. Starting Loop 4, with about 4 hours to finish the loop, it wasn’t happening. I didn’t even care about top 10, I wanted the win. So Aaron who is a friend of Jen’s from High School was my pacer. He was new to this, but had some experience as he ran the 50K here before. I tried to tell him that my climbing was very slow, I don’t think he understood what I meant until we started moving. I could tell I was still in a calorie deficit and told him I need hot food when we get to Gorge. We get there and I eat ramen, mashed potatoes, and coffee. Still trying to supplement with Spring. It was then decided at Firetower he would leave and I would be getting a random guy who knows the course and their runner dropped, so he was ready. Bring it.
I peed once more in the woods leaving Gorge and definitely threw up at some point when I was with Aaron, but that was the last time and I started feeling better. Coming into Firetower and the handoff is made while Shawn rubs out my right calf, while my shin on the left was brutal. Running at all was very difficult, so I knew I would need some coaxing. Ate more ramen, more coffee and then my new pacer Jared and I were off. I told him the same as Aaron, my climbing is slow and my running is almost non-existent at the moment, but I will keep moving. We get into the little short section and I ask him if he thinks any one has fallen off the trail into the water. As he was telling me of a time where he almost did just that, we came upon a man who tried to get over for us and fell almost all the way into the water!
He runs ahead of me into Covered Bridge to get some food, we hang for a bit to eat, I ask one of the aid station volunteers to rub my left shin, hoping it will help. I thanked him joking at least, it wasn’t my feet, then got on the way. It is now about the time where people who are going for sub 24 are going to be pushing with about 10 miles left. A few men pass me, we pass a few, and so forth. I am in so much pain in the left anterior tib, that each uneven step was torture. I knew that I was too far out though to try to start running, but with about 3 miles to Hickory Ridge, I was able to position my foot in a way that I could run!
I told Jared that when we got there, I wanted to eat and get on the way quick, I was ready to be done. He waited for coffee and I peed in an actual porta potty. The groove I had coming into the aid station wasn’t there anymore, maybe because this section was a little steeper downhill. I remember moving slow and gave up on the sub 24 cutoff, and focused on getting there in under 25 hours. We passed maybe 2 people and Jared informed me that when he picked me up I was 12th, so now I was top 10 and at least 2 hours ahead of second female. With about 2 miles to go, I am behind him just whining, Shit, Fuck on repeat because my leg was in such a bad place, but pushing to get this done. I pass one last guy with about a mile to go, whispering words of good luck. With the last steep downhill onto the road past Mohican Adventures the last push began, I turned off my headlamp.
Running under the bridge and around into the finish was surreal. I had thought about winning multiple times on the run, but not letting myself fully register the thought. It is a long day and long race, so much can happen and nothing is guaranteed. I can hear Shawn cheering for me, as tears reach my eyes. Jared moves to the side so I can cross the line solo, and it happened. I won. Coming to the race with no support, Shawn took it upon herself to show up for me as well as Jen. Not crewing for me wasn’t an option for her. So as everyone else slept or tended to Jen, Shawn came to the finish to make sure someone was there for me and videoed the whole thing. We embraced and we both cried, two women who barely know each other sharing a moment that only we could understand.
That man that I passed right at the end turned out to be my bundle of energy from the beginning of loop 3. He had a rough go of loop 4, not being able to eat or drink. He congratulated me and said he was in awe watching me. That shared experience is something I will never take for granted. I thanked Jared and had one last piece of business. I needed to find my phone and make a phone call. I wanted to share this moment with someone I love, who understood this level of effort and accomplishment. Someone who I knew was eagerly awaiting my finish on a screen. “I did it,” I said with tears in my eyes as Shawn drove me back to camp to take a shower. Oh the shower, that was all I could think about for the last 2 loops, I even mentioned that we forgot towels and they bought us some from the Dollar Store!
I then took a 2 hour nap, as Jen wasn’t expected to finish for about 5 more hours. When I awoke I had to pee so bad, so I hobbled out of the tent when the neighbor to the left asked how it went. I told her I won, those words came out of my mouth like I didn’t believe them. She was so proud, but I had to cut her short or I was going to piss myself. That walk to the bathroom, seemed to take as long as the last loop!
I had a moment to look through my phone at all the messages that were sent, the people watching me, and the congratulations coming in. And the people who showed up, showed up in a big way. Shawn showed up at the campsite along with Andrew and his cousin. The guys packed up all the tents as Shawn gave me a ride to the finish so I could join Jen’s family and welcome her into the finish. The award ceremony started at noon and Jen was expected to come in right around then. Shawn left for the long drive back to Madison, I know she wanted to stay to watch Jen finish, but she had been up just as long as I had and arguably worked harder.
I ended up getting some food at the Guac and Roll food truck, talk about a breakfast taco! I chatted with Stacey and Monica, getting their take on the whole experience. Neither of them had ever done anything like this, so this was a first. I love to hear from crew how they saw us, what they thought about, and the dedication it takes to help one, let alone two people. They were instrumental and I cannot thank them enough!
As I sat there watching these runners come in, my win was starting to become a little more real. It is now almost 12:15 and the awards are starting, announcing age group winners for male and female. And you bet your ass here comes Jen. I am ready standing between the awards and the finish line, because I didn’t want to miss either, thankfully the RD stopped the awards to acknowledge the runners finishing. That smile she had on her face, lights up a room! I wasted no time in getting in there to be the first to hug her, and you know what she said to me, “You Won!” That pure joy we had for each other in that moment was contagious! Then, like clockwork the awards pick right back up starting with the females. Once they called my name for 1st place, I made it a point to shake the hands off all the ladies up there and congratulate them as I needed assistance stepping up to the top step.
Holy hell you guys, running 100 milers for the past 7 years and I finally won. I spent the last week in a state of awe. Going back and forth in the feelings of imposter syndrome, the post race blues, excitement, and love. There is a ton happening in my life right now, and to be able to singularly focus on this race has been difficult, hence you all getting this race report a week and half later.
A few takeaways: I loved Mohican State Park and would 10/10 go back. I would even love to pace or crew someone.
The Trail running community is something that is so so special, I have made life long friends on the trail. There really is something to be said about shared experience and mutual suffering.
Even though I showed up to the race with no family or crew of my own, I never felt alone and was treated with the same love and respect as if I was.
There is so much more to the after, but I will save that for another time. But I will share a gear list for you.
- GEAR: Pack-Salomon Adv Skin 8L, Shoes- Salomon SLab 3, socks- balega and hollowbrand, shorts- Coeur branded Suunto team shorts, Sport bras-Oiselle high ten, Tank-Oiselle flyout muscle tank, Long Sleeve-Arcteryx, Gaiter and hat-Team Bird(boco), Headlamps-Black Diamond and Petzel nano reactiv, toe lube- Kanberra anti-chafe, Sunglasses-Roka photochromatic.
- FUEL: Spring Energy all flavors, Salt Stick- Fast chews and Electrolyte drink mix, Gin Gin ginger chews