Vermont 2018 race recap

This post has taken longer to write than others. I feel as though I have told the story 100 times already. I feel this race also sort of flew under the radar, in a storytelling sort of way. But, alas here I go.

I started my trip by going the opposite way and into another country. I went to Banff, Canada. I car camped, I tent camped, I ate good food, I ran up a mountain. Not just any mountain, a mountain that was seemingly untouched, a mountain that seemed to go on forever in a way you’d crane your neck looking so far up. I saw a Canadian glacier up close, and watched as a pair of loons as they taunted a dog. The views along with the air was something you can’t explain. I will absolutely be going back there. I have no doubt that this trip before a goal race was the right decision.


Long before I set out to travel to Canada and Vermont I made a decision. A decision to run this race alone. Since I started racing I had a partner, a partner who spent his life in the competitive world of athletics and knew the importance of a good crew, especially in long endurance events. I went in blind, trusting, and taking it for granted. I relied heavily on him to be there for me in a way I couldn’t for myself. Until one race day a few years ago at the Door County Fall 50. That had been my first ultra, and I had run it 5 years in a row, I love it. The last year I ran it, I signed up the night before and had clients who were running it for the first time. My crew chief couldn’t make it. Needless to say I was alone. I held first place for the first 50K +, PR’d by 45 minutes and had a great race; alone. Something clicked in me in the same way something clicked as I started running and the urge to go further and faster had. I wanted to see how much hurt I could withstand, how much and far I could go without breaking. If you have read some of my other posts or listened to interviews, this is a reoccurring theme for me. I am searching for my breaking point, the place you go that you have to risk your metaphorical life to claw out of.

pre race ice cream is a must

So, I knew after Wasatch last year and the dissolve of my marriage, I knew I needed to do it this way. Solo. And I did it. Did I find what I was looking for? No. Did I have this epiphany about lifes meaning? No. What I did find though was pride and a sense of freedom. I consider myself a strong person, and most people would agree. But for some reason I have always had this hesitation to do things alone, not for the want or the belief that I could. I think for the reason that I can. I like people, I can fit into any crowd, I make friends easily. The more I think about it, I realize that I really like being alone also. Growing up so early and fast, and having to rely on myself for most of my life, I got really good at it, so the hesitation to translate that into my running I feel is foolish. They say having a good crew can make or break a race. Running solo, there is no one to blame but yourself. So I felt I had to do this.

Again, as I write this I feel so neutral about the whole thing. No crazy ups, no crazy downs. All in all it was a great race, I felt awesome for most of it. I went in with zero expectations, I didn’t prep the way I usually do, I didn’t have sharpied splits on my arm like usual. I knew two stats: the time it took to get to the first bag drop about 20 miles in, and my finish time from last year. I had multiple goals: A. sub 20, B. sub 22, C. beat last years time of 23:41, D. sub 24, and E. finish and get my Western States ticket. None of these however came with a plan.

@vegasultrarunner and I at the start

The place I was staying at was almost a 2 hour drive away. So after the race meeting and dinner Friday night, I get back and go to sleep about 8pm. I sleep til 1130ish, get dressed grab my race day and after race stuff and start the drive back to the start. I arrive about 1:30am and get about 1.5 more hours of sleep/rest before I check back in and get ready to start. I finally meet @vegasultraruner from instagram and line up at the start.

I knew the first big chunk would go by fast, I remember it being fast last year so I knew to expect it. I ran for a bit with a guy and we are chatting about races we’ve run etc. Come to find out we had just seen each other on social media because of this race. I think James has the luckiest time with Western, he was the last person off the waitlist in the 37th spot last year!! Running with James felt effortless, we had a great pace going, even being sub 20. Keep in mind this is in the first 20 miles of a 100 mile race. If you have run one or if you haven’t there is so much race left and so much can happen. You take advantage of the times you feel good, and grind through the ones you don’t.

At some point we got separated, probably at one of the aid stations, he had a stellar crew of his wife and 2 daughters. I was on my own. After hitting the first major station 5 minutes ahead of last year, I grabbed food, AltRed tabs, and tylenol out of my bag and left. The next few sort of blended together, I remember changing socks and shoes at the next major aid about mile 30. Stephen(@vegasultrarunner) and I piggy backed a bit for awhile and ran together for a few miles in those early hours, I couldn’t tell you when though.

I remember thinking to myself that there was alot more trail to the race than I remember. I was also so thankful that it was a dry year, there were places that my shoe literally got sucked off last year, that now was dry and completely runable. If you have read my other posts or ran with me and heard me talk about how much I hate meadow sections during the day, you know how much I loathe them. Well thank you Vermont for adding one into your 100 miler! This year however, I was faster than last, and the humidity was actually pretty manageable, and the sun still low. Psst: I didn’t hate it!

Somewhere after the meadow or right before I met up with Brian and then Tim. The three of us hit it off well, sharing stories of what we’ve run before and whats coming up. Brian is in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, which has been my goal for 3 years given I get into Western States. Tim has run this race 7 or 8 times and this was going to be his longest run since last year when he ran it.

The next part of this race recap is going to go by quickly, it all runs together and is pretty boring I would say. For the next approximately 70 miles the 3 of us ran together. All of us were solo runners. We would go into an aid station do our own thing and meet up after the fact. We took turns in the lead and pulled when we felt strong. I remember leading and flying through the trail sections and smiling, I felt so good and so comfortable. They were probably sick of me saying “this is like what we have at home!” We ate popsicles and Tim ate enough Roctane gels for everyone! Coming out of Camp 10 Bear the second time about mile 70(where you picked up your pacer if you had one), we all did a clothes change out. I changed my singlet and sports bra, socks and shoes. I was wet and dirty from ice that I was using to cool myself in the heat of the day. I didn’t want to go into the night with wet clothes.

There is a point where you almost don’t believe the pace you are seeing or if it’s possible or accurate. But we came out into this one stretch of the road and I remember last year being on it with Jana and I had her turn off her headlamp and take in the sky full of stars. It was so beautiful. This year we still had a few hours of daylight left, and that was a little turning point in my head. My competitiveness was now awake.

Even though we ran together for majority of the race, we were alone with our thoughts and in our own head. We would go miles without talking especially later on. We laughed, and settled into the pain cave. Those last 10 miles were the worst for me, we had fallen off our sub 20 pace, but maybe sub 21 was close. The tricky part with this race, is there is no respite. It is 100 miles of hill repeats. So if you aren’t power hiking up, you are trying to make up time on the way down, and that starts to take its toll. Just the act of starting and stopping was painful.

Polly’s is the last major aid station before the finish, you have about 5 miles left. They lure you in with belgian waffles and warm Vermont maple syrup. I made the mistake of sitting, eating a waffle with so much syrup, I even had one person at the aid station pour syrup in my mouth. When I got up though, I was cold. Shivering, teeth chattering cold. It wasn’t that cold out, 60 maybe,  but the effort of running all day and at this point it was about midnight. It took me about a mile to warm up. We all knew we just had to make it the next 2.5 miles to the water only spot. Then 2.5 to the finish.

This last section sticks out most in my mind because I had a low spot, I was feeling overwhelmed. I was hurting, I was tired, but I was also happy. I was doing it, I was going to PR. But, as we all know you CANNOT celebrate early in an ultra. So many things may still happen. So with about a mile to go, Tim tells us to go. I lead, and I shut it all down. Every pain receptor that I have firing is distinguished. I go. This single track of smooth dirt seemed to just barely touch my feet. The glowing milk jugs leading the way to the finish, a left turn and a slight uphill and under the banner I came. 21:09:22. Almost a 2.5 hour PR. Brian and Tim shortly thereafter.

I am proud of myself. I am happy I met those guys, all of them on the trail.

I feel the real challenge was my sleep and travel. I will say that I am fortunate enough to be able to fall asleep anywhere. My lovely cousin and her boyfriend live in upstate NY, and came to Vermont for a little get away and it was a chance to see each other. Immediately following the race at 1am, I changed and got in the car to drive the 1.5 hours back to Stowe. We will not get into details on how that drive went, I am sure you can picture how awesome it was. I had to shower and had enough time to catch about 4.5 hours of sleep so I could pack and get on the road to be BACK at the race finish for the awards meeting at 11am. This is where my cousin came in clutch, her boyfriend then drove my car to the start so I could grab another hour of sleep!

Commence food and awards. This is where I find out that I came in 11th overall female, the competitive side of me was pissed. I came in 8th in the open female category which is under 40. No clue where I placed in the solo category. I then pep talked myself, 11th is higher than 17th last year, its almost 3 hours faster, and you had zero expectations. So stop being a baby, there is nothing you can do about it right now, and be happy with how the race went.

Race director Amy awarding me with the buckle

Fun Facts:
*I changed shoes 4 times, socks 5 times.
* I went in with little expectations
* I ate yogurt in the car 30 min before the race start
* I used my tattoo of the elevation for the race to figure out what we had left to climb in the race
* I ate so much more sugar than I normally eat, making me super bloated that I looked pregnant
* Following awards I had to drive another hour to the airport, where I slept for 2 hours waiting to board.

Thank you to Timex for having me on the team and taking a chance on this crazy thing as ultra running. SaltStick for keeping me in check along with hydration. Thank you to Alt Red for keeping me steady. I had so many betalins! Zealios for keeping me protected from the sun. The Gear Well for making a stellar resealable pouch that allowed me to bring my own food in my drop bags. Oiselle for providing my race shorts and bra everytime and continuing to support me! UltraAspire for my reusable cup, whether it held flat coke, boiled potatoes, watermelon, or lunch meat. It worked great the entire time!

Lastly Thank you to all who wished me good luck, sent kind words, and projected good vibes before, during, and after the race. Even though I was solo, I had you all with me!

 

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Let us get real

We all talk about being “real,” we encourage each other to show our true selves, show the grit, the pain, the heartache. That’s a bunch of bullshit. We say it like we are going to open up our shell and share together all kumbaya style. But, in reality we want to see it from others, so we can feel better about ourselves, make our shit that we hold close to the lapel seem not so shitty.

Within the past year or so, I’ve shown some real stuff. If you are close to me, you have seen some of it first hand. I feel as a woman, as a runner, as a coach, as a friend, as a human. I owe that to myself and to anyone who may be watching; looking for some sort of common denominator, to feel less alone. I am not a bullshitter, I am not a sugar coater, I am a straighter shooter and you see is what you get. I have walls that can’t be repelled. I have a lifetime of compartmentalizing practice, and my name is a synonym for the word strong.

In that same time period I experienced some pretty fucking amazing firsts. I set goals for myself to travel solo, say yes, buy ridiculously expensive plane tickets on a whim. Surrounding myself with some of the best people I know, being uplifted by pure kindness and empathy.

I also ran one of the hardest races of my life, while losing life. I had lost my mom and hadn’t dealt with it properly. My marriage had been over for sometime and we both knew it, and neither wanted to be the one to admit it. And that course was real hard. Shortly thereafter I lost my dear friend, who has been gone now for over 6 months and I can’t think about him without crying.
With the recent attention on people in the limelight with suicide, a friend recently posted something that really hit me in the feels. It simply said:
“Check on your strong friend.”

 

For about 6 weeks prior I felt as though I had been hit by almost everything I think I could have taken. All at once. Right in the face. No warning. I was having a hard time dealing. I was then mad at myself for not sucking it up and moving on. This isn’t me to wallow, or to cry, or to sleep all day and not run. Who the fuck was I? It wasn’t me. I have been through way worse and come out the other end unscathed.

I had a friend recently tell me that she knew I needed help, but didn’t know how or what to do, so she avoided. I do not blame her in the slightest, I was a fucking wreck. I would have backed off too. We talked about this in some depth. I thanked her for her honesty and courage. I explained to her that I thought I was strobe-lighting to everyone asking for help and I felt abandoned, not just by her, but by everyone. At one point I drove to her house unannounced for a simple hug and lost it. I was lacking physical touch in the sense of comfort, someone to hold me and tell me it would all be ok.

See, people don’t know what to do when the person they count on, the strong one, loses their shit. It is foreign and uncomfortable to everyone. It’s easier to do nothing. 

So my strobe-lighting that I thought was so obvious, was overlooked because I’m strong, and I’ll be fine. Which I truly understand as that is my motto. “I’m fine, it’s fine.” For the first time in my life, I didn’t know if I was going to be fine and I felt as though I had no one to turn to.

At some point in the year, I wrote down some words, some words that I remember almost threw themselves on the page:

” “I’m good.” It’s for the best, I’m fine, really. That seems to be about 85% of the time. Why am I crying on an airplane headed to a weekend of fun and laughter? How can I be so confident one moment and doubt everything the next? I’m lonely, I have been for much longer than it may seem. It is possible to be in a relationship, have a partner, and feel utterly alone. This is the hardest part of it all.  Almost the ultimate betrayal. Being lonely while still having a person to touch, even without the passion and the intimacy you crave. Physical touch in itself is an addiction. 
Stay busy they say, it will cover it up. Fuck that! If I stay busy I’m avoiding, I’m running away. I have to feel, I have to feel everything. I’m a little hollow right now, I feel gutted. That love and adornment I crave: I am scared is gone forever. I doubt my ability to be taken at face value and taken for what I offer and accepted with open arms. no judgement. Just acceptance and understanding. I will NEVER be lonely in someones company again.”

I had mourned my marriage emotionally previous to that writing and it wasn’t entirely about that anyway. This writing reminded me in that dark time not too long ago, why I suffered more than I had before.
My primary love language is physical touch, with a close, almost tied second of words of affirmation. Have no idea what I am talking about? Take this quick quiz. The Five Love Languages. No, I have no affiliation to it whatsoever, but I am a cheerleader for it. I think it is beneficial in romantic, platonic, work, and friendships. Learning what you crave from others and how they receive it, I believe is crucial in any successful partnership.
So I guess the whole point of this is: Life is messy, it’s hard, it sucks, people are cruel. Life is also amazing, it’s beautiful, it’s full of joy, people are extraordinary! Don’t be afraid to show the spilled milk, the shirt you’ve been wearing inside-out all day, the kid you took to school in their underwear, your tear-stained face, the fall before you get up.
IT HAPPENS TO ALL OF US!! Seriously.
Check on your strong friend, and check again, and again until they fess up. Remember, we are the strong ones, we can take it. We need it, almost more.
I get asked why I run ultras. This. All of this and how I got to this point. What made me strong and the path I took. That’s why.
P.S. Don’t worry, I’m good. For real. Just a little speed bump in this thing we call life. I just needed to learn why it was on a steep incline.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wasatch 100 recap

You must know by now that I completed this hard and unforgiving race. Before the race started I was baffled about the challenging course, knowing there was no qualifier to enter and why someone would choose this course as their first 100 miler. I met quite a few of those people out there.

The week leading up to the race I found myself scrambling for pacers. I had one nailed down, but I knew I could have at least 2 more and I knew by looking at the course I would need them. I posted on social media, my pacer posted also. A couple leads came in, but timing didn’t work out. Finally, I got one and made plans to meet ahead of time to go over my expectations and what I would need from her.

I went into the Wasatch 100 confident. I felt recovered from Vermont, about 7 weeks prior. We flew to Utah within the 48 hour altitude window, and I got to sleep in a real bed. Wednesday night upon arriving in Salt Lake, we met up with Valorie my pacer for the last 33ish miles. She came recommended by a friend of a friend, and boy was I glad. She has volunteered and paced this course before so having her in my arsenal was awesome. Roger and her made plans for him to pick her up, I tried not to listen because my job was to run.

We then drive to Park City to stay with my dear friend Liz and her family. How crazy that less than a year ago, I hadn’t even met her yet. Thank you Kara Goucher Podium Retreat for creating some pretty great friendships! She grocery shopped for us, fed us, and we even got our dog fix! Leaving Roubaix at home was hard. He is my race companion, but the strict rule and a $1,100 ticket for having a dog on course was enough of a deterrent to leave him home. The two labs at the house made it more bearable!

Thursday morning I met with my other pacer who also thank you to the power of social media, I found. Her Instagram account is pretty famous, and she is just as great in person. She was planned to pace me from Lambs Canyon to Brighton where I would then meet Valorie. Locked, loaded and plans made for the meet up with Roger. We go back to the house and pack my drop bags. There are 8 drop bag locations, and only 3 areas where my crew could reach me. Needless to say I would be relying on the drop bags heavily. Talked to my coach and took a hard hour and a half nap before we needed to leave for the meeting. The race meeting was at 4pm, and lasted about 9 minutes. Dry, Hot, and Smoky was what stuck with me the most. What a great race day description. We met up with the only other person from WI racing, Guy. Wished each other good luck and hope to see each other at the finish.

Liz was amazing and made salmon and homemade sweet potato fries for dinner, then I went off to bed about 7:30pm. We had a 2:15am wake up call for a 5am start. I slept hard for about 2 hours, and was in and out for the rest of the night. I am usually a hard sleeper, but I think I was afraid to miss the alarm. Breakfast consisted of 8 pieces of bacon and a yogurt for the road that I would eat right before the start.

a little yogurt 15 minutes before the start

I slept the 45 minute drive to the start, bathroomed once, and ate my yogurt. It was go time. I had been afraid of this course since Vermont. I knew that within the first 5 miles that we would be climbing for 4.5 miles with 4,300ft of elevation. Remember I live in Wisconsin, I don’t see that kind of climbing, ever.

 

The word go, and I am in the middle of the pack, knowing that this upcoming climb would be slow going for me and with the race being almost entirely single track, I didn’t want to hold anyone up. I don’t remember a ton about the course in that first section. I was about 65 degrees at the start, there were a few creek crossings, some nice cold air pockets. Then we started climbing, I was pushing it. I felt anaerobic, I was dizzy. I found myself moving off the trail to let people pass and then hurl in the bushes. I did this way too many times to count.

ready to go

I could tell from the get-go that I had no legs. That was the biggest blow, I knew i was strong climber, where are my legs!?!? I have never thrown up in race like this. It wasn’t my stomach, it was my head. I think it was the altitude, because I could still eat, and i was trying hard to get calories because I knew it would only get worse if I couldn’t fuel. I could climb for about 10-15ft before I was out of breath and needing to stop.

It was 12 miles to the first aid, which was only a water stop. I was questioning everything. It was 4 more miles to the next real aid station: Bountiful B. I knew I was behind schedule. I sat, ate multiple Otter pops(this was my aha moment of otter pops). I have heard many stories about them, not knowing what they were. They are freezies folks! Here in the Midwest they are called freeze pops. i had at least 2, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes. I was there for 15 minutes wanting to quit. I decided I would get to the aid station.

After a pee break in the woods I started chatting with another runner, who just so happened to be named Guy(a different one). He was a race vet, doing this for his 9th finish. This is a runner I needed to stick with, I was whining about how I wanted to quit, i wanted to drop. He told me he wasn’t going to let me, lets just get to the aid station. When we got there, I called Roger. I explained that I fell hard, I was throwing up, and defeated. He was happy to hear from me as I was over hour and a half behind my 28 hour goal. Just get to Big Mountain he said. It will be better when I can see you and help you. He assured me that I didn’t want to quit.

Guy and I left together, with him knowing the course, he gave me play by play of each section between aid. He would stop and point into the horizon and say “see that little line on that ridge, that’s where we are going.” Oddly enough, breaking it up into sections like that helped. We climbed the inclines at a Steady Eddy pace, we ran the flats and downhills. We talked about our kids, our jobs, our lives. I cried. I explained how frustrated i was with myself, that I was letting my mind get to me. I pride myself in being strong and today I was not. He was my trail angel. I know I never would have made it without him. He stated again, he wouldn’t let me quit and lets just get to the next aid station.

Swallow Rocks was next, I don’t really remember it. I do remember that when we would traverse the ridgelines the wind was glorious. It was hot and no clouds. I was constantly spitting water on my arms and onto my neck buff. The cold air mixed with the wind cooled me off tremendously. I didn’t want an actual ice bandanna, I learned my lesson from Vermont. The ice melts and then you chafe. The wind blew most of the smoke away, but it was still very dry and very dusty.

The notorious “moondust” tan and of course ramen

The Big Mt. aid station was about 32 miles in and the first spot you could have a pacer. I wasn’t getting one until Lambs at 45ish miles. I asked Guy if I could leach on his pacer with him. i got there at about 3:20pm, according to my targeted pace I should have been there by 1pm. It had been over 10 hours since the start. I knew I was behind on calories. I downed about 3 applesauces, one ice cream sandwich, countless amounts of watermelon and cantaloupe, ramen, and gingersnaps. Changed my socks and shoes, lubed my feet with Brave Soldier and baby powder. This next section to Lambs was flatter and that I should change into my race flats. Tara was on her way. She was coming there, and not waiting until Lambs. I left with Guy and his pacer, not knowing how far we would go until Tara caught us. 2 miles, that was it.

I said goodbye to Guy an told him I’d see him at the finish. I still didn’t believe it though. We were off, she pushed me. They were right that this section was flatter and faster. We passed people, never got passed. I think there was some laughing and few smiles. The things you talk about while trying to occupy your mind from the pain and hurt. Tara is from the area and people would recognize her or vice versa, that was fun to see. Alexander Ridge aid was a bit of a blur, except I think that is one where they were all wearing tutus?  A few times out of nowhere,”I’ve got gas in the tank and money in the bank” would be shouted with arms up by Tara. My response was something like, I am glad you do!

We arrive at Lambs, clearly behind schedule. I knew I wasn’t going to make that time up. so to finish was the goal, well still not even at that point. I was convinced I would drop at Brighton. I met the aid station fairy, who was a friend of Taras and volunteered with Valorie. Missy, my sweet Missy. She fed me she made me laugh, she told me a lovely story about a trip to Wisconsin she made as a child that involved a Lincoln town car with air conditioning and orange crush. She was a breath of fresh air. Roger changed my shoes again, back to the altras. I ate more ramen. Then we took on the 2 mile climb on the road. I slowed here, once we got onto the single track trail up, I seemed to hit every rock with my sore foot.

Upper Big Water, I grabbed a jacket. It was cold there, you are in a bowl of cold air. But, don’t fear there is an awesome steep climb right out of there that will warm you up. I remember telling someone as I was sitting down that I was planning to drop at Brighton, Tara heard this. Nope. They say just wait til it gets light again. Don’t make rash decisions in the dark. I know.

The only thing I remember about Desolation Lake was the moose. We were maybe a mile from the aid when Tara stops in her tracks and points out a huge moose. It sees us and starts walking towards us. We hide in the trees and stop the people behind us. We form a conga line and ran past quick. Not today moose, not today.

The next aid I remember is Scotts peak. This is the last aid before Brighton. It was a steep climb up to 9882 ft. I was so windy and cold up there. They had lights and were cheery. They had peaches and fig newtons! We knew it was all downhill to Brighton. We made an insta story, we laughed at how we kept trying too cover our lights to be seen in the video, but then couldn’t see while running. We get to the road almost to the lodge and i hear some rustling in the grass next to us, sure as shit there is another Moose, bigger than the last, just chomping away.

We get into Brighton, where you go inside the lodge. Roger is ready. Valorie is ready. I’m not ready. I know there is the last big climb almost immediately out of there. I was so done climbing. I sit, take my pack off, and to my left my aid station angel appears with an egg and cheese sandwich. What? Where did you come from? I ate it of course, sans bread. I had multiple hash browns, applesauce, ramen. Coffee with creamer or milk. I don’t really know. Roger again with the socks. Oddly enough I was in and out in under 20 minutes. At 3:24am we left with about 30 miles to go.

Coming out of Brighton, I had to tell Valorie that the uphills were slow, like really slow for me. It was like climbing out of a boulder field! You were climbing using your hands over big rocks. I started to feel weird. I told her that I was having a hard time focusing. I have seen this in other runners, I have not however experienced this before. I was sleep running. It’s a thing. I would got a few paces and not know how I got there. It was very stressful because it was very rocky and if you fell, you’d be done. At the top of this climb was also the highest point on the course at about 10,500 ft. Maybe that had something to do with it, because by the time we got to Pole line I was feeling better. 

Pole line I had a blister forming on my big right toe, so they lanced it. I drank coffee, took a bunch of cheese quesadillas to go. Valorie took off her cold weather gear and left it in my drop bag. It was starting to get light. The guy who lanced my blister told us it was 10 miles to the next bigger aid station. We thought that was Stanton, where the next drop bags were. First it was a climb then traverse to a water stop in 5 miles. We left at about 6:45am. This section was very sandy and we had to stop a few times to empty our shoes of tiny rocks. i remember repeating in my mind that we were just past the 75 mile mark, that i couldn’t quit now. By the time we got to the drop bags it would be 85 and the last 15 miles were all downhill.

The water stop was strange. I had a powdered tomato soup and some cheese quesadillas. We met a man who had been sitting there since 2 am, it was now 8am. He was going to drop. They said when he came in, he was top 15. Valorie needed a bathroom, in the mountains, you get a toilet seat on a bucket. Somewhere around here we got to see the sun rise and hit the top of the mountains. I got to glimpse Timp, the highest point in Utah. It was beautiful. It made this suffering worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We knew it was little over 6 miles to the next aid station. We ran into a woman that Valorie recognized. She was in rough shape, throwing up and VERY swollen. She hadn’t taken any salt the whole race, I offered her mine and some Stinger waffles, and applesauce. I knew i had more food in my bag at the next aid.

After passing them and dealing with what seemed like a forever section, I was breaking. My feet were hurting so bad. The issue that has plagued me in every 100, “tender foot,” was back. With all the super steep, rocky downhill I was putting extra pressure to brake on my heels. I thought by changing shoes to Altra with more padding, I could eliminate the issue. I was so wrong. I was getting desperate, I even voiced it out loud to Valorie and started to choke some tears down. i was losing the glimmer of hope that I had just seemed to gain. Then, I see it. The tents of the aid station. I start letting the tears of relief appear. We get in and Valorie tells me that this isn’t the drop bag station. My hope of changing socks and getting some respite for my feet was gone. I lose it, straight bawling now. I also have more blisters on my right heel, which a very nice man lances while I chase Advil with chocolate milk.

Another aid station man, asks if I want to know what is coming. Yes, just tell me. It’s a straight uphill climb for 2 miles then a nice downhill into Stanton. I start crying harder at the thought of climbing again. 15 miles to go. We took off my socks and Valorie rubbed my dirty feet, I got sunscreen sprayed all over, and tiger balm rubbed on my calves. Pot Hollow was kind, but ruthless. They took care of you but told you to suck it up and get going. Less than 5 miles to Stanton.

For a drop bag station, Stanton seemed small. I told Valorie that we should get in and out. To my dismay, I had stupid wool, colder weather socks in my fucking bag. So once again, no socks. I took them off, Valorie rubbed them again. I grabbed food and changed my shirt. We got word that Roger would be at the 91 mile mark waiting for us. Valorie and Tara talked about dropping any unnecessary weight with Roger there. jacket, light, etc. I was out of salt. My hands were so swollen. It was downhill and I couldn’t run. My body was good other than the bottoms of my feet. 8 miles.

Climb the wall, descend into a gully of steep sections filled with sand and rocks. Coming into Decker Aid(the last), Guy appears. Surprised, but happy to see i was still in it, he passes us. We spend 1 minute here. For the next few miles we are maneuvering around cow pies while descending on a trail that didn’t seem to exist. We almost had to bushwhack the trees. But they were beautiful, a shade of red that didn’t seem real.

The last 4 miles seemed to take forever, mostly because I couldn’t run, I tried. I was altering my gait so much that I knew that if I continued, I would cause some serious damage. We walked, watching people pass us and time click by. When you come out of the trail and onto the road you take a left onto a County HWY. You can hear the finish, you can see the finish. We are still walking. A guy comes up behind us. It’s the guy from the water stop who was going to DNF, they convinced him not to. We round the last corner and I run the last 10-15ft, visibly in pain. I did it. Fuck 33:51:41. 5 hours after I wanted to finish.

I can’t believe it. I have never wanted to quit a race. I have never doubted my ability to that extent. I knew though that if I quit because it was hard, I would never forgive myself. The weight of a DNF, lasts forever. I enter these races to find my breaking point, digging for the thing that will cut me down. Wasatch, you came close. I kept saying toward the end that I needed to finish it so I never had to come back. Now I don’t HAVE to, but do I WANT to?

To Liz, Chris, Reese, and Ella. Thank you for opening your home to us. Providing a safe and comfortable place to rest and call home. Thank you for your support and encouragement the entire time. Thank you for making me feel like a rockstar even though I felt less than.

Tara: Whew, girl. I was running a race a in February when the names got chosen for Wasatch. I had won the 50K and was greeted with an instagram message from her saying I got picked! I then immediately asked if she wanted to pace. In June she finds out she has a broken femur and her pacing duties may be finished before they even start. August, we got the go ahead. Thank you for meeting me earlier than anticipated and running an extra 14 miles to the 22 you had already planned to run. thank you for pushing me past a place I didn’t think I could go. Thank you for knowing I could do this when I was doubtful. The image of your Injin reflective socks and the reflective pieces on your pack looking like a cat are forever burned into my memory.

Valorie: It takes a pretty brave person to say yes to pacing a complete stranger. Pacing a section of the course that you have not paced yet. Thank you for letting me lose it without letting me give up hope. Thank you for making me see the beauty in the darkness. Thank you for rubbing my dirty feet multiple times. Thank you for getting me across the line that I couldn’t envision alone.

Guy, not the other Guy: What can I say. I truly believe if I hadn’t met you on the trail, I would be nursing much deeper wounds. You took me under your wing. You set aside how shitty you were feeling to lift me up. i think you threw up more than I did. I cried more, so maybe we are even. I can’t express the gratitude i have for your help. 17 miles doesn’t seem like alot of miles, but those hours I will never forget. Thank you.

Coach Tommy: Thanks for the pre-race chat. It helped me get centered and focused beforehand. I know most of it went out the window early on, but it helped. Reminding me about altitude and breathing and to take to slow and smart. Knowing you were watching and following even though you were flying to another country.

To all the people following along and commenting on social media: Thank you. At a particularly low point Tara pulled her phone out and read aloud the comments. yes, I cried. Happy tears, tears of fear. I didn’t want to let anyone down. it really meant alot to know that people back home were watching.

 

 

Vermont 100 recap

What a ride. July 15-16 the Vermont 100 miler. Finishing in 23:41:47 earning the big buckle. A sub 24 hour finish was my B goal.

Back up a bit. The previous weekend is when the whirlwind trip started. I first got up well before the sun and headed to a local race where I had 9 clients racing. It was amazing to watch them in the distances from the 1/2 marathon to the 50K all on the trail. I ran the 50 mile at this race last year as a tune-up and practice race with my pacer for Leadville. A little part of me wanted to be racing, but knowing that in a few hours we would be in a car driving across the country, would probably be a bad idea.

 

 

 

We left around 5pm Saturday. Stopped along the way in Indiana, I think. We then stayed at a state park near Lake Erie the next night. We were so close to Niagara Falls that we decided to make the trip. We had my 13 year old daughter with us and she had never seen it. It was pretty cool to walk right out to the Horseshoe Falls on the USA side.

We arrive in Vermont late night Monday and set up camp in the dark. Oh did I mention that we camped the whole time?! We stayed at Mt. Ascutney State Park, which was only about 30 min away from the race start/finish. We decided to climb the mountain on Tuesday, that was as close to race day that I wanted to do any hard effort running. It was 4.5 miles to the summit and almost 3,000ft of elevation, Roubaix and I took 2.5 hours I think to get to the top. The view was worth it though.

view from Mt. Ascutney summit
My quads were sore until Friday though from the downhill. It was so steep that you couldn’t even walk it. I should have realized that this is Vermont and it was a preview to what was coming.
Friday, the day before. I went to the start/finish area at 10am to check in and pick up my race bib and get weighed. 11am my girls come to camp to talk race strategy. Laurie my dear friend from Florida made to the trip up to crew. She is a masters track athlete, so the world of trail ultras are another scene. My bestest Jana came from Minnesota to pace me the last 30 miles of the course. That is the earliest point in which they let the pacers join. I had packed my drop bags the night before, showing them which ones I wanted where, was key.
We planned for the next morning, they left and I went to sleep. When you plan to be out running for 24+ hours, getting adequate sleep days leading into it are crucial. I woke up around 3pm and we left for the pre-race meeting where i ate the best ice cream waffle cone. Met up with the girls and listened to all the elements for race day. Vermont 100 is the first race in ultra running to have an adaptive category. At least two visually impaired runners were entered into the 100 miler, and at least one physically impaired runner. How amazing! p.s. both the visually impaired runners finished! There is also a endurance horse race that happens simultaneously. They prepped us on how to approach a horse and how to run with them.
Saturday morning 2am=wake up call. I wanted to be at the start around 3am for the 4am start time. Yogurt and coffee in the car on the way to the race. Check in again, go to the bathroom, wait.
At the start of the Vermont 100
4am hits and we are off, I had to fight the urge to be out front and stay there. I knew I had a long day ahead of me and I needed to play it safe. We started with a big downhill, not that different from the hill I ran a few days before.
Pace felt great, climbs were easier than I thought, because I was having trouble engaging my glutes leading up to the race. These miles went by fast. I ran most of it with a guy named Andrew who recognized my Concept 2 hat.  You may have noticed me wearing this hat at many races. It’s my lucky trail hat. This company is based in Vermont, it was a great conversation starter. I felt a bit hesitant wearing it not wanting it to be equivalent to the guy wearing the band t-shirt to the concert. Decided it was a state pride thing.
leaving Stage Road, I think

The plan was to meet at the first crew accessible aid station which was 21.3 miles in called Pretty House. My estimated time to arrive was 8:38-9am. I got there at 7:45am, needless to say my crew was not there. I always drop bags even if Roger is there. You never know if something hinders them from showing up, you could be left without your gear. For this race I went against my usual and did NOT drop bags. I was in great spirits, feeling good. I shoved some loose fig newtons in my pack and told some other spectators that if people came in looking for #56 I was going to go to the bathroom and then head out. They caught me just as i was about to leave. I wasted 10 minutes.

I would see them again in 9 miles at Stage Road. What happened in those 9 miles, I don’t think I could remember even if it was the day after. Uneventful i guess. I think this when we went through the meadow. The dreaded meadow. It was humid and overcast most of the day, but why did the sun come out just as we were coming through the meadow?! I hate it. I was already fantasizing about jumping in a body of water. I think I lost my shoe in super deep sucky mud in this stretch too.

I grabbed an ice bandana when I saw my crew again. I changed socks and shoes. It would be another 16ish miles before seeing them again at Camp 10 Bear the first time. There are, however, aid stations about every 4 miles with water and food, your crew just can’t access them.

socks and shoes. Poor Laurie

Those next 11ish miles to the Maragaritaville aid station was a bit brutal. A tad over 50 miles in and my knee was starting to hurt. My knee cap moves when my quads get tight. Remember when I said the downhills were steep?

I was being stubborn, me I know, shocking. I didn’t want to take Advil or Tylenol fearing I would upset my stomach. Which looking back I think is a bunch of bs. I have pretty much an iron stomach, It doesn’t get upset, I just don’t want certain foods at a particular point. We all get there. As an ultra-runner I enjoy the pain, invite it even. Will I be a sell-out if I take the Advil and dull that pain that I am inadvertently searching for?

I hit a wall, the wheels came off, I crashed from the sugar that I normally never eat and the Popsicles that were delicious. Whatever you want to call it, it happened there. All I wanted to do was sit for a bit. I had come to the realization that all the time I built up running faster than a sub 22 was gone. I think I was dealing with that too. Time goals are tough to let go of. I guess somewhere inside feeling that my A goal was now out of reach, why not make that gap even bigger. I sat for maybe 15 minutes, while my shoes got changed, lube was applied, pack was refilled, food was packed. My crew got me up out of that chair and on my way again with a more padded shoe.

I took the Advil.

give me those Ramen noodles!

It was another 11ish miles to Camp 10 Bear again to pick up Jana. Changing into the Hoka tracer helped my sore feet, it prevented them from getting worse. I had some serious chafing on my inner thighs that was caused by the ice bandanna melting and soaking my shirt and shorts. So that was awesome. I tried 3 different lubes. The one from a stranger that you had to apply with a glove and had a creepy baby on the package did the trick.
I went from eating salted watermelon to picking the meat and cheese out of pre-made sandwiches and ditching the bread. Ramen and coconut water at every aid station. I knew I was slowing, The thought of never finishing didn’t cross my mind. That is not an option, WHEN I crossed that line was now in question.
More chatting with strangers and mindless miles passed by just waiting until I can grab Jana.

Yay, Jana!

Picking up Jana at mile 69.4 in the daylight was great. However, we started out kinda rough. As soon as you leave Camp 10 Bear the last time you get to so graciously climb for the next 2 miles. I was already feeling worn down, I had a fresh braid from my daughter, a foot rub, and some new fuel but I wasn’t back yet. Add the climb.

We had less than 7 miles to get to the next crew spot, so that meant there was at least one aid station in-between. Jana was a breathe of fresh air and she was trying really hard to put some wind back in my sails. She was fresh, fresh legs, fresh eyes, and a fresh attitude. She was seeing this amazing countryside for the first time, she was running with the horses for the first time. In some way I took that all for granted. I had been out there for 15 hours already, I had seen most of it. How that all must have looked to new eyes!

I got my ladies with me!

The next aid station was a blur and much of the same, a change of socks but not shoes. We were in and out quick. 12 more miles. I was feeling better, the night came and it was beautiful! I made Jana turn off her lamp and stop to look at the stars. With zero light pollution and a perfectly clear night, you could see everything. I haven’t seen the milky way lit up like that in a long time. The course was also marked with green glow sticks hanging from the trees to show you that you were on the right path. These were coined ‘fairy lights’ by Jana. Pretty sure this is the leg I pooped in a field. I got blinded many a time by the knuckle lights that Jana kept swinging around.

We get to Bills, the second to last aid station. I got soup and ramen. I was feeling good. I got a nice foot rub, changing socks for the last time. We were so close only 7 miles to the next one and then 5 to the finish. Home stretch, we got this.

12 more miles, I can’t be serious

Also Jana was sweating so much she had to change clothes here. I don’t get it, I had been in the same clothes for a day almost already. Rookie.

12 miles left. I don’t remember much from this section. I know I sat down at an aid station to let my feet rest. I know there was some single track that was really hard to maneuver due to not being to bend my knee much. I got blinded by the knuckle light again.

As we are approaching the last aid station I look at my watch to see where we are at for time. I see that we have an hour and a half to get sub 24. I thought this goal was gone, I hadn’t paid attention to overall time for almost 30 miles, just the time it took to get from crew station to crew station. A runner ahead of us hears us talking. “are you doing math, you can make it. You need to do a 15 min mile.” We agreed we would stop quick and go. I needed a foot rub. It helped so much before and if I was gonna kick into high gear, I needed it. I had heard the last 3 miles were a B, the last mile especially. Roger knew we were close and had to push. He didn’t want to rub my feet, not wanting to waste anytime that should be used to get to the finish. I convinced him, that in order to get there, I needed it.

We decided to go for it, Jana I could tell had been waiting  for this. We were running up things we walked previously, we ended up passing about 15 people. We were not going to let the clock win. Every time I envisioned the finish I would get choked up and have to shove it down. Crying and running don’t mix. Jana, if you do not know her is the opposite of me in the crying game. I cry at everything, she cries at nothing. I told her she better cry at the end of this! I only snapped on her once. It was in these miles, it was a shut up or stop it or something. Quickly passed and almost forgotten already. We made it to that finish, those last 5 miles in 56:26, finishing at 3:41am with a total time of 23:41:47. I did it, I didn’t cry though. We had kicked in so much so that our crew wasn’t there. They missed it.

Finished

My daughter was disappointed, this was her first 100 mile spectating/crewing experience. It was something special to have here there eager to help, so proud. This is what makes me cry now. The hard work, the long hours, the sacrifices. She sees it firsthand. It pays off. When you spend most of your days in constant conflict with a 13 year old teenage girl and to have them light up at the sight of you while you are just trying to make it from point A to point B. That right there is priceless.

Thanks for the quesadillas Amelia

I am disappointed in myself for not hitting the A goal of a sub 22 hour finish especially when I was pace for over half the race. I know I can do better. I know it’s there. I ran with multiple people throughout the race, sometimes for hours. You jump right into a seamless unspoken ongoing rhetoric almost immediately. You can talk about hardships and fears, mishaps and DNF’s. All while never exchanging names. These strangers know more about you on a deeper level, names don’t matter, labels don’t matter.

I know. They know. Maybe you know.

Big Buckle Baby

Fun facts:
I asked for pickle juice at an aid station. Just a swig. They thought I was crazy and poured me a whole cup.

I changed shoes 7 times.

Every time I asked Jana if she had seen a confidence plate, one would appear right in right of us. Every. Time.

This course was mostly road and when you got to the single track there was so much mud that you wished for the road again.

A man named John Gessler finished his 25th Vermont 100 this year.

I ate 2 Clif shot bloks with two miles to go. Rocket-fuel?

I OD’d on Picky bars.

I was worried about getting a funky tan on my forehead from my backwards hat. I made sure Jana put sunscreen there.

They warned us about trench foot. Hence the changing of socks and shoes.

#Birdstrike vs The Speed Project

As much as I try I will never be able to put into words the feeling and experience of the weekend. I agreed to this journey without hesitation and without much knowledge. Lesko asked if I would be in for “an awesome adventure with Oiselle,” or something along those lines. How do you say no to that?!

I was the only runner and pretty sure crew that hadn’t met anyone beforehand. I was going in blind to what the dynamic was going to be. Throw runners, crew and camera crew into a combination of an RV and two suburbans. What could go wrong?

From the start this race was like no other. First the secretiveness surrounding the whole thing, Second, the mandatory “meeting”, was like no other I have ever been too. Third, lack of rules and course info. Oh, and 341 miles through the desert.

We got to our plan the night before with tired eyes and anxious stomachs. Our plan was a 123,123, 456 format. With runners 1-3 running 6 mile segments and 4-6 running 12. This was to maximize rest. The 3 sets of 2 crew would rotate through vehicles so that one set was always resting.

Morning came at 3am. We had to pack an entire house into an RV and a suburban and leave the house by 4am. Since I was the first runner, I chose the departure time so that we could be at the start by 4:15 for the 5am kickoff.

The energy from our team and the others around was honestly contagious. We were amped. The countdown began and we were off. I settled in nicely at a good pace, conscience of any woman who was near me that they could possibly be on one of the other 6 person all women teams.

OK, if I continue to go step by step this blog will be so long. So summary it is…

After our first round of 2 runs the first group went to eat at a little diner, I ate the biggest burger ever. This, however in hindsight might have been a mistake, the next two runs I had to run with the burger undigested in my stomach.

The order in which things happen become a little hazy due to lack of sleep and lots of things happening. The first day was pretty smooth and we settled into our routine for the next few days. There wasn’t much sleeping but there was lots of eating. We started to come together as a team and really lean on each other. That day ended with an amazing sunset that pictures cannot do it justice.
When we lost Devon initially, it was night and it was decided that Collier and myself would absorb her last 6 miles of the leg she was on. I would run 3, she would run 3, then I would run my 6(actually 7.5) to get us back on track, then back to Collier. After this set with Cathleen I believe was when we found out for sure that Devon was out.
This is also where we hit the halfway mark. To celebrate this momentous occasion we had a dance party. Blared Salt n’ Pepa-Push it and got out of the car as Cathleen passed us and danced! Some of us even got ontop of the SUV. This is also where one of the theme songs for the race made its first appearance. Ed Sheeran anyone?
It was about 4 or 5 am and we were exhausted.
The plan now needed to change but how? We decided on 12345 format of 6 miles each. I finally got 2-3 hours of deep sleep. When I awoke I thought we were in Vegas and they were so nice to let me sleep.
Many things I remember about this trip are probably not in order, but are important. With losing a runner we gained a bigger team. The camera crew doubled as crew in many cases. They sacrificed their own sleep to make sure we were safe. They drove the SUV through the sketchy desert, they rode bikes next to us throughout the whole night, they followed us with extra light. Even drove to get us Subway, which was the best sub I have ever had!
Death Valley was hard and it seemed to never end. Our strategy of 6 mile segments went out the window fast. This road wasn’t very busy and it was very straight so it was decided that the RV would go 1 mile at a time and wait for the runner to arrive. This helped mentally for the runner knowing it was just a mile, also it helped the crew be able to help with water, ice, and fuel. For most of that long stretch (100 some miles) we went 2 miles at a time. This seemed daunting, I tried to think about it in a different way and brought this up to give us some perspective. If each of us 5 do 3 miles at a time we are covering 15 miles in a set.
There were many times where one runner would do 2 miles the next would do 2 then the previous runner would go back out and do 2-3. Every mile put in here by a fellow teammate was precious and meant more rest for the next. Each of us was ready to go, most outfits stayed unchanged, shoes and socks stayed on. But every extra mile run by a teammate was welcomed with open arms.
During a glorious downhill I ran 4 miles and could have went further, but all I could think of was that the next runner should have a piece of this, experience this high after we have all been so low. This is the thoughtfulness and attention each one of the runners held for each other throughout.
My appreciation of our crew was high from the get go, but here is where it reached a new level. From running alongside us, to biking beside us, to the ice rags they gave us. They worked harder on probably less sleep than us. Their commitment was unwavering and I hold a deep spot in my heart for each of them. To the crew from afar, the support that kept coming our way throughout was not looked at lightly, we held onto those comments and took them with us in those dark and awful moments.
Running some solo night miles after that was truly special. I took the time to stare at the stars and the full moon to take in where we were and what we were doing. A little mental reset.
Seeing those lights of Vegas with about 30 miles to go, was surreal. We were so close, 30 miles was nothing, we had just done over 300 miles! These miles were the best, that bond that had been forming between crew and runners was being solidified. The phrases: we are almost there, we are so close, you can do this, were on repeat. Seeing that sign, joining together(crew and runners) for that last mile to cross that line together. We became one. We did it. Us. Together.
I remember feeling disappointment right then, there was no finish-line crowd to cheer for us, no announcement of our arrival. I also remember being mad at myself for focusing on that. Looking back and hearing Collier say it best, “we didn’t need the fanfare we were the fanfare,” is true. We didn’t need some outsider telling us we did it, we felt it in our hearts.
This adventure was a once in a lifetime gift. I will never forget the feeling these women and bro birds made me feel. I left that trip feeling empowered, strong, capable, accomplished, and part of something so much bigger than that team. We came with a job to do, not only did we do that job, we did it well. We did this for #birdstrike, we did this for Oiselle, we did this for women in general. We did this for you.
Some amazing things can happen when you say Yes to vague questions of adventure and dance to an Ed Sheeran/No scrubs re-mix.