>Alyssa’s guide to traveling/racing alone, part one

>It was Ínevitable. When you do more than 10 races a year, you are bound to have to travel to a big race alone at some point. I have been very fortunate in that it has taken years before I’ve been faced with this. But, the earth finally spun one way, aligned with Jupiter’s moons, and here we are. In light of this monumental event, I will be updating this with tips and tidbits of things that I encounter along the way. Like everything in life, there’s a right way and then there’s Alyssa’s way – so here we go:

-Dress for success. This is not the flight to show up for unshowered and in sweats. You need to look good. If you look good, you feel good, yes, but more importantly people like to look at you. If people like to look at you they will be more inclined to help out and carry your heavy suitcase for you. Or buy you a beverage from Starbucks.

-Part of dressing for success is this: wear flair. No, not TGI Friday’s vests and buttons flair. Athlete flair. This can be a slippery slope though, as you do not want to look like a douchebag. This means avoiding the shoes with bungee laces, and the wicking race shirts. Instead, find a simple cotton T from when cotton was cool. Something low key, maybe a nice blue or gray. Do not forget your compression socks though! A lot of people find that compression socks can make a big difference to any aches or pains. I always seem to find myself stocking up on everyday compression socks for women before a trip. You want something another athlete will recognize and respect you for. It says “I’m going to a race, do you want to be my friend?”

-Dont be on your phone. Traveling and racing alone is like being on a first date – same phone ettiquette applies. People won’t interrupt you if you’re texty texting away. And you want people to interrupt you – that old man sitting beside you can not only tell you about his time in WWII, but also about the time he drank his own weight at a bar in Madison. You want to know where that bar is.

-Ask lots of questions. When you travel alone you will be confused. Maps aren’t always available, time zones are weird, and you’re going to need answers. The best way to get the answer is to ask. However, rushing up to someone, bumping them with your backpack the size of a 3rd Grader with an LLBean bag, and yelling the question is not the best approach. Scout out the terrain. Look for someone who works there, speaks your language, and brushed their hair this morning. Approach them with a smile, and ask them something easy. What time is it, what city am I in, who do the Packers play this weekend? They will know the answer and this will immediately boost their confidence. Now they are ready to tackle the more difficult questions: I have 12 minutes to get to Gate F6, can I do this? Where is the best place for a breakfast sandwich? Or, can you help me carry this? Again, between your looks and their newfound ego, you’re a shoe-in.

-Bring snacks. This is not so much important for traveling alone as for life in general. Snacks keep your blood sugar up so you’re in a good mood. They’re good conversation pieces with attractive people around you. Everyone likes snacks, easy morale boost.

More to come. The journey to IM Wisconsin has only just begun 🙂

>QOTD

>Some inspiration for those doing IM Louisville tomorrow. Good luck, race hard, have fun 🙂

“You’re not going to make it if you don’t have a passion for it. You’ll find a time in a race when you’re off form and running 10th or 12th place. If you’re doing it for cash and not for love, a negative thought will go through your head and it will kill you, destroy you, and you’ll never get back. It’s particularly cruical in the Ironman, where there are six times in every race you enter a dark place of doubt and must have that passion to overcome.” –Brett Sutton remembering his words to Chrissie Wellington in 2007 in 17 Hours to Glory

>I say, You say, we all say Luray.

>This past weekend I kicked off my traithlon season with a double header – the Luray International Triathlon on Saturday, and the Luray Sprint on Sunday. In 2008 I did the olympic distance and knew that I would like to come back and try the double. Friday afternoon I headed down to Luray with a couple friends to stay in the “Hilltop Hideaway” house that was rented for the weekend (pics to come soon). Seeing as the weather wasn’t the greatest most of the weekend, I was glad not to have us all stuffed into a hotel room the entire time. Instead we got to watch a lot of movies, play with sweet toys, and sleep in bunk beds!

Anyway, back to the race. Going into it, I felt pretty good. Despite having only my road bike to race on right now, I figured my bike and my run would be solid, and my swim would be what it was….probably not that good, but it’d get me there. The first tri of the season is always a ltitle nerve racking, but before I knew it I was in the water, swimming my little arms off. I came out just over 28 minutes, which comparitively ended up being a very good time for me. I hopped on my bike and took off, hoping to gain some ground on the girls ahead. While I did catch a few of them, a strong headwing on an already tough course gave me a run for my money. By the time I hit the run, my legs were spent. Although, I didn’t know it until after the first lap. Having friends out on the course certainly helped as I was struggling to get through the second loop. But, I made it and came through in 2:44. 

Wait.

What?

I did a 2:34 here 2 years ago, and I am in better shape right now! A little bummed, I have since perused the results and have concluded that the hard bike this weekend took its toll on everyones bike and run. And, the swim was a different course than 2 years ago. So really, no room for comparison. Especially considering the winning women’s time this year was a 2:36 (I ended up in 7th).

After a solid mexican feast, we headed back to the cabin to relax. Before I knew it I was waking up again though, this time for the sprint (whew). I was the only one of the crew doing the double, and I was pretty thankful to have friends out there rooting for me, especially in the pouring rain that Sunday brought us. By the time the race actually started though it was mostly dry. My swim felt strong, and getting onto the bike I was almost tentative after the “disappointment” I felt like I had the day before. But I just put my head down and got through it, ready to see where I stood when I was on the run. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too far behind the leader. However, in that span of a couple minutes was about 6 other girls. My legs were feeling the effects of a week of training and a race the day before, and I came through the line in 1:36, ending up in 12th place overall.

Overall, it was a good start to my season. Unfortunately, the way things work out my next race is the big one. But this isn’t the time to start doubting myself. In the next couple weeks I’ll finalize my plan for either a new bike or turning my road bike into something race-worthy. Hopefully that will let my mind rest a little more and allow me to get in the last 2 big weeks of training.

>Making plans and being awesome

>So as much as it stinks to have to plan races out months (or a year!) in advance, it actually is for the best because it does allow for the time to prepare for the events. So, this month I have begun to peice together my 2011 race schedule. Not to be ignored, of course, are the 3 big races I still have coming up this year – IM Wisconsin, Mt Masochist 50, and Hellgate 100K. Originally I had planned to “race” MMTR and Hellgate hard, going for broke in each of these. However, about a month ago, I got a crazy idea. I began itching for another 100 miler in the plans. Then when I really got thinking, I was reminded of an offer my friend Ryan Schmidt had thrown out when he moved to Hawaii with his family – that they would be out there if I wanted to come run the HURT 100 to help.

Now, HURT falls into it’s own little category in the 100 milers: Hard. The course record for the women is set by a certain woman who has won the race the past 2 years, and also won Western States this year in 19 hours. Her time on the HURT course is just over 24. That means this course is tough. Still don’t believe me? Take a look at this picture, showing what the course is famous for – the roots!

Oh, and there’s the 24,935 feet of climb and 24,935 feet of descending to deal with.

But, this race is also well known for being an amazing weekend to take part in. The “hawaiian spirit” is in full force, and from what I can tell, the runners all become family for the weekend.  So, this past weekend I found out that I had indeed been accepted (via lottery) into HURT. That means MMTR and Hellgate will still be in the works, but will be training weekends with long runs the next day. One thing is for sure – to be successful in Hawaii, I have to learn to be on my feet for a long time. I am certain that I will be running through the night, and want to be coherent when I get to see the beautiful sunrise the second day of running.

HURT comes at a weird time (Mid January) so this will be the first year I train fully through winter and don’t take December off. But, I plan to take February easy, then in March start easing into training again to prepare for Eagleman in June. Then maybe a few of the favorite summer tris, and then I’ll switch back to ultras, and look for a mid-to-late fall 100.

Looks like I’ll be a busy girl for awhile 🙂

>QOTD

>

“The title ‘world’s greatest endurance athlete’ some writers have
given to the Ironman champion is wrong,” she said. “I don’t want to
sound egotistical, but it is not that hard a race to finish. I have done
the Western States 100-mile run and the Iditasport, 100 miles on
snowshoes in the Alaskan wilderness. Both of those involve much
less intensity for a much longer time. The thing that is truly difficult
about the Ironman is the intensity. The Ironman distance demands a
lot, but what sets it apart is how fast they go. No other race gets that
good an athlete on that kind of course. You add the fatigue from the
swim, the fatigue on the bike, and the fatigue on the run, and what
results is a huge fatigue, an exponential multiplier of fatigue.”
–Sally Edwards, a pioneer in women’s endurance sports (taken from the book 17 Hours to Glory)
 
 
Dear Triathlon Spirits,
 
On September 12, please give me speed.
 
xoxo,
Alyssa

>Can’t be tamed

>There are 2 things I love about the sports I do. One, is winning. The other, is getting my butt kicked so much I don’t even know why I bother. In the past few weeks I have had the chance to experience both.

First, the ass kicking explained: This summer I have found a spot in my heart for cycling. Maybe it was the buildup behind Lance’s “final” Tour. Maybe it was boredom from all the running miles in the spring. Maybe it was the new road bike I got myself for my birthday. Whatever the cause, I have ridden more miles in the past month than I did all of last summer before IM Louisville, times two.  Yeah, that much.

And, it’s awesome.

I am truly enjoying learning the process of cycling. With a little bit of work, I have already come so far. But, that has come at a price. This is the first year where I have trusted myself to go out and ride with groups. I have always worried about getting dropped, but also about my own bike handling skills. Now I am comfortable on the bike, but still get dropped. Alot. By people who you would look at on the street and never know how fast they could ride a bike. No matter how good I get at this, there is always someone better. And someone a lot better. And someone a lot better than that person. Cycling is humbling, but it is also exciting and fun. It reminds me of the days when I’d do 2-a-days with the high school soccer team, going all out and feeling so tired and beat down that you can’t move. But you don’t want to stop either. Because getting your butt kicked every now and then is a neccessary evil for an athlete.

Now, for the winning part. Last weekend I ran the Rosaryville 50K. Being the 2nd year that this race was offered, I figured it would stay pretty low key, giving me a good shot to go for the W. I headed out to Rosaryville State Park that Sunday, set out a cooler of goodies on the loop (3 loops of 10ish miles) and headed to the start. I had to get through 1 loop on my own, then my awesome crew of Arjun, Jen and Cheese were coming out to run the others with me. And its a good thing too, because I started that first loop and certainly had my doubts about the day. My legs felt horrible going downhill which is never a good start. Plus, it was getting hot fast. I made it through though, and Cheese and Arjun jumped in for round 2. The first 5 miles with them to the aid station were good, I was still able to run comfortably. However, in this time I tried to take a GU and realized that it was just not going to happen. I had been drinking Perpetuem, so I was getting good calories that way, but I was still looking for a few extra. At the aid station I pounded mountain dew and like a gallon of water, and felt strong for a mile or two before my stomach really started to get upset. But, taking it slow and walking a bit, I got myself under control. Cheese and Arjun brought me in that lap to swap with Jen. At this point I started feeling really bad again. The next few miles were a huge struggle. Jen was great, just reminding me to keep sipping on water and saying I was doing well . We hit the midpoint aid station and I was just so thirsty again I couldn’t get enough water. I refilled the bottle though, packed my sports bra with ice (it really was hot….like, texas….or africa hot as Lance would say) and went out for the last section. I’m not sure if it was mentally knowing it was almost over, or I had finally found a balance of calories and liquids that worked in that heat, but I was able to run a good pace in to the finish. Coming in to the final aid station I was told I was the first place woman. I kind of laughed and told Jen that wasn’t right. I was thinking I was 2nd or 3rd, possibly even 4th. It was real confusing though because 2 other races had started behind us, so the women who passed me could have been running other distances. Sure enough, as I crossed the line in 5:16 they announced me as the first female! And, being only the second year and having beat last year’s woman’s winning time by 3 minutes, I know have the female Course Record too – pretty sweet.  They did awards as people finished, so I collected my bling and headed to Wawa with the crew for some much needed food and bevs. A great day all around!

“One of my favorite things about cycling is that it can reward suffering with joy. Another thing I love about it is that it often rejects those who don’t understand this. Cycling teaches you that there’s such a thing as necessary suffering and such a thing as unnecessary suffering, and that sometimes a short cut is a dead end.”
– Bike Snob NYC

>Who needs a boyfriend…

>

When you get bling winning races?
1st place female @ Rosaryville 50K today….Race report to follow soon!

>The Flip Side of the Coin

>Last month I had the priviledge of heading out to Squaw Valley as part of the crew for Russell Gill, of Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports, who would be running the Western States 100 mile. After the debacle of a race I had there last year, I was psyched to get to go out and not have to race! However, I would be getting my first true experience as a pacer.

I arrived in Reno on Thursday, got my rental car and headed out to one of my favorite places on earth, Olympic Village in Squaw Valley. Everything about this place is awesome, especially the fact that it’s like a little hideaway in the summer, even with the race going on. Right near Lake Tahoe, there is just so much to explore, and so many beautiful sunsets. But it wasn’t all play, as we spent Friday getting the game plan together for the race. Francesca and I would be driving separate cars to certain aid stations. They are pretty hard to get to, so its impossible to get to them all in one car. We’d basically be leap frogging each other the first 60 miles before convening at Foresthill where I would start to pace. Logistics and maps ready, aid station bags packed, coolers filled with ice….we were all set!

I will let you read Gill’s report here, but the long and short of it is that due to extreme stomach issues, he made the (wise) decision to drop at Green Gate (mile 85). I don’t want to focus on the outcome of this race as much as I do the concept of a pacer. To be honest, I was pretty nervous about the task – the day before, it finally hit me that I was running 30-40 miles myself…and with a pack! But, Francesca was there as my backup so I knew I’d be okay.

To prepare for pacing, I thought about the times that I have had a pacer. What do I like? What do I hate? Do I have enough stories to fill 8 hours of time? As a pacer I felt that I had to take care of my runner on 3 fronts – keep them strong physically, keep them strong mentally, and keep them safe and on course.

In the end, all of that went out the window. Unfortunately, Gill had been struggling to eat or drink for about 10 miles by the time I was with him. The first 5 or so miles I was with him was a battle of wills. We tried everything to get calories in his body, but nothing was taking. As time progressed and our paced slowed, it became moreso an issue of keeping the both of us safe on the trail. We still had to get 15 or so miles before any decisions could be made about his race. Darkness had fallen, and we both knew it was going to be a long night. Still, he never broke down. I have seen my fair share of tears on the trails, and have witnessed some pretty epic breakdowns. But, despite a painful pace (mostly due to stopping to puke every 5 minutes), the lonliness of the night, and the pain of 80 miles in his legs, Gill kept a good attitude. He counseled me about pretty much everything in life – from boys to careers to money. I pointed out the moon over the river, which just happened to be picture perfect that night, and despite a race which many would call chaotic or describe as “wheels falling off” he remained calm and collected. There was nothing left to be done but get to mile 85, so we just had to help each other make the time pass.

In the end, my duties as a pacer ended up being very different than I expected. But, it gave me more of an insight into what a pacer is really there to be. In a 50 miler or 50k, a pacer is probably used to push your pace, or keep track of time and when to eat and drink. But in a 100 miler, it’s a whole other ball game. In a 100, a pacer is there to be your friend. Because when things start to spiral away from your plan, the trail is a lonely place and your mind can easily depress you. Your pacer has to be there to keep you company. To remind you that you’re not alone. To laugh at you as you vomit and fart at the same time. To just go through the utter shittiness with you. An 8-hour 20 miler is not what I thought I had gotten myself into that night, but there was not a single moment where I’d have rather been somewhere else.

>Reflections

>

I’ve spent a lot of the past 2 weeks trying to wrap up my feelings after Old Dominion. I guess I was kind of hoping that I would experience some sort of profound ability to be able to put into words how the event changed me – because it did. I feel like this race was a huge milestone for me. It was security in a time of questioning if I was even competitive in the sport. It was the answer to the question of “what happens next?” I now look at myself, my sport, and fellow athetes in a different sense. But figuring out how to describe the experience in a way that is not just by replaying the miles, what I ate, who I ran with, and the things I ran by seems nearly impossible.

Ultimately I have decided that I don’t think I can really convey my feelings. People will either get it, or they won’t. I am fairly confident that anyone who saw me out there running that race, while they may not really understand why I do what I do, could see that ultrarunning was a part of me. That was what I came to do, and I was having a good time getting the job done.

I also reflected on the flawlessness of the race. In just about any distance you will have a moment where you wonder if you will be able to go on. You wonder if you’ve pushed too hard, if you’ve trained enough….or maybe you’ll simply just get sick and not be able to continue. Especially in a 100 miler, it’s just assumed you will have your low points and your high points. You will, inevitably, have moments over the hours that make you want to stop. Bring you down to your lowest. Make you question why you’re there.

This race was different. I had low moments, don’t get me wrong. But not once did I question my ability to continue, to finish, to get in under 24 hours. Not once did I sit and procrastinate getting up. Instead, I was attacking each section. I was eager to make up time and find some company on the trails. I was hungry to win the entire time, even when I knew winning wasn’t a possibility.

So instead of trying to explain to everyone the feelings that a race like that can bring you, I decided to ask myself questions and really try to figure out how this race what different. What did I do that made the race happen so easily? Over the past 6 months, what did I do right? I also read a lot on endurance athletes trying to figure out my own motivation and get a glimpse inside my head to how I stayed positive and strong not only through the race, but through some long months of training.

The most obvious change I made for this race was in training. Last September I went to Francesca and told her that was going to be my goal race, and I wanted to win. I wanted to do everything I could to beat as many people as I could. I think it’s important to have a coach that is on a separate level than just being a friend. She is, by every definition, one of my good friends. But, she’s my friend because she’s my coach – not the other way around. By treating her like a coach first, I become more accountable. And maybe it’s just because I took the role of having a coach so seriously in my sports growing up. Who knows. Either way, when she wrote my workouts, I did them even when I didn’t want to. Working 730-430, then starting a 3 hour run at 5, getting home at 845, and getting in bed to get up the next morning at 430 to do 6×2 mile wasn’t always fun. It wasn’t always easy. There were plenty of times I didn’t hit the splits I should have. And sometimes I am sure my pace the last quarter mile was probably that of my grandmother. But, I stuck out the miles. And from that I gained a greater sense of appreciation for the work that was required to do this distance properly. I enjoyed being out on my long runs. My legs started to get stronger during the 30 miles I’d be putting in, the day after a 3 hour hill workout. I would take the longer, more challenging routes. And that felt good. So, not only was I putting in the time, but I was doing what I could to make the miles count. Running became my second job – one that I enjoyed, and had fun at, but I still had to treat it as a job to keep myself in check.

So why was I doing it? Why was I running until 9 pm on a Friday night, then rushing to bed so that I could be up at 5 to be driving to the trails for a 6 hour run? When Lance is asked this question, he had the, now famous response that he doesn’t do what he does for the pleasure – he does it for the pain. That made me think – do I get some sort of sick enjoyment out of the pain? Do I thrive on the pain that’s required to run these races? I don’t think that I do. If I was looking for pain, I’d just run marathons. I can’t walk for longer after those than a 50 miler anyway 🙂

Then I thought about a Tim Noakes argument – maybe my personality made me a distance runner. He suggests that distance runners share a series of common traits – a love of privacy, an overwhelming desire for solitude, and an inability to relax or talk in company; an overconcern with physical health, typical patterns of mental behavior that include day dreaming, absentmindedness, procrastination, and an inability to make decisions. This seemed even further from the truth for me. While I value my alone time and my privacy – and I certainly love that running does give me that time away from the world – I don’t think I am an introverted or absentminded person. And, in fact, while I run the majority of the miles in these races alone, it is during the races that I am able to feel more connected to people than at any other time in my life. When I run, I am keenly aware of myself and my body, every hunger pain, every sense of thirst, etc. Being able to relay these things to crew, aid station workers, etc, boils life down to the basics of survival. I am trying to survive, and those people are helping me do that. There are few greater bonds than that. And few feelings of greater self worth than when you have a handful of people cheering you into an aid station, on a dark country road at midnight.  While the 60 people who ran the race may never cross paths in the race, we all share an indescribable bond. We know that each other raced the same trails. The same problems arose for everyone. The same day was spent running – and even when I had 10 miles to go, I felt close to those who still had 30 to go…and those who were already showered and laying in their hotel rooms that night, hoping for some brief escapes from the pain to sleep.

So, ultimately I don’t think I can pinpoint what exactly made this race pay off in such a great way for me. But, as simple as it is, I put in the honest effort and, just as importantly, I believed in that process. In the trial of miles. And having fun while you do it :

>Old Dominion 100 Mile

>”Now is not the time to be nervous. Now is the time to have courage.”-Kelly Cutrone

Who would have thought I would manage to find the most applicable quote for the Old Dominion run in an episode of The City? This race report has been simmering for several days in my head. It has been very hard for me to wrap my head around all the events and the emotion. But, I am giving it a try, so bear with me.

The weekend started midday on Friday as Melissa, Jen and I loaded up the Tracker to the brim with supplies and headed down south to Woodstock, VA. The sky looked dark as we settled into Seven Bends Lodge and then went back to the Fairgrounds for the pre-race weigh-in and briefing. The RD talked through the course and introduced some of the race staff. The race has a really cool history, and it’s also a race with strong women in charge, which is cool. There wasn’t much time for anything else as I had to get back to the cabin to prepare dinner, do last minute race prep, and go to sleep. Melissa and Jen made me a super awesome dinner and then before I knew it I was having flashbacks to last June as I sat down among about 50 GUs, baggies of pills and powers and notecards, packing the bags for my crew to take to the aid stations. As I prepared my things, my crew also prepared theirs. Arjun and Jen, having come to Western States with me last year, were preparing for the worst. As Arjun said, he didn’t want to get his hopes up by expecting me to run my 21 hour goal pace. Or my 24 hour pace. He was prepared for another 28 hour finish.

It was funny to me when he said that. For all intensive purposes, he was right. Why would he expect any different? Why was I believing that I would run under 24 hours this year? All I knew was that I had put my money in the bank. For the past 6 months, I had prepared to the best of my ability for this race. I knew that if I ran smart and relaxed, I could do it. The training that I had done gave me the courage to go after that goal. It calmed my nerves in the late hours of the night as I turned restlessly, waiting for my 2:20am alarm to go off.

Promptly at 4am, the blessing wrapped up and the gun shot off, signaling the start of the race. It was so quick and sudden that many of us were not ready – we all kind of looked at each other asking “do we go?!” before taking the first steps. Looping around the track I got to see a last glimpse of my crew for a couple hours. I didn’t need a head lamp in the early hours. We hit the water street aid station without stopping, and found ourselves at the bottom of Woodstock Mountain in no time. I made this climb with David Snipes and Rob. Sniper is a good friend of mine, a CRC teammate, and full of ultra and history knowledge. Chatting as we hiked up made it pass quickly, and before we knew it we were at the top. I refilled a bottle here, and we had a nice long descent down into the valley as the sun rose over the Shenandoahs. Hitting Boyer’s Furnace we were in a group of probably 10 or so guys. My intentions for this race were to stay calm and keep things easy for the first fifth of the race. After that I could start to push it more where I wanted, but I need to be held back in the beginning. So I sat at the back of the group as we went up the trail at a comfortable pace. I continued to go through my checklist as I went – food? water? S! Caps? Things were moving along nicely, and before I knew it I was on the last road leading up to the 770/758 aid station where I’d see my crew at mile 19. I had begun to pull away from Sniper and Rob at this point and was beginning to run by myself, so I knew it was a good idea to refuel here and take my time.

Thanks to Arjun, Jen and Melissa this was the first of many flawless aid stations. Sniper came in as I was heading out and reminded me to run smart. I knew he was pulling for me to have a good race just as much as I wanted to for myself, so I appreciated that. I was back on the road in no time and had a nice enjoyable rolling road section through the next couple stops. I was alone for most of this, passed once by a man named Chris. I found myself again excited to see some friendly faces as the cheers from Four Points aid station rose up ahead. At this point in the day I knew it was getting hot (eventual high that day was 88 degrees). I was a 50K in and had a long way to go, so I just went through the routine and again found myself behind a couple men climbing up the ATV trail. This lead to an eventual steep downhill, then right back onto a trail for a LONG climb. Long. Long. Hot. Humid. Buggy. Long. Climb. This was probably the lowest point in the race for me. I was all alone, the bugs were getting on my nerves, and I was frustrated feeling like I had no sense of when I’d be out of the climb. Alas, the only way out is to run, and that I did. Finally I hit creekside where I dunked myself in the creek then got to the aid station. It was here I regained my composure again. I was at the aid station with about 5 other guys – they must have just been a few minutes up ahead the whole time. So I wasn’t all alone and in last place like my mind was starting to tell me. The guys were getting weighed, all a little weary at the 4-5 pound drops. I hop on the scale and find out that I gained 1.5 pounds. Go figure.

Heading back down to Four Points is a long gravel road, mostly downhill, and I ran quickly to get there. The climate change from being out of the trail where the air wasn’t moving was refreshing, and I felt like I was getting my life back. I was even hungry at Four Points and jokingly asked for a burger. Again, I felt like a Nascar car entering the pit station as I sat down here and my crew worked around me, doing everything perfectly, it was kind of like I was in my own personal REAL nascar fantasy game that many people enjoy competing on, creating their own teams and driver selections. Anyway, with a yell from Arjun saying my pants were falling down, I was heading out for a 6 mile climb, this time at least it was a road climb. It took a long time, and again I was by myself, but it was refreshing to see the 50 mile mark on the road. I hit there in 9:35.  After the long ascent we got a nice downhill. I saw a snake which scared the Russian man I ran with, and then I caught a glimpse of my parents as I pulled into Edinburg Gap. For some reason seeing them made me tear up, and I had to get a hold of myself before coming in close – I knew if my mom saw me crying she’d think I was dying!

I think it was here that I really realized how far I had left to go. Having run 56 miles, I still had another 44 ahead of me. It was HOT. Luckily the GUs were going down like water today, because I was having trouble pinpointing anything else that sounded good. Melissa even suggested ice cream which I turned down – I NEVER do that!!!  From here to Little Fort I was on an ATV road. Since the storms the night before were pretty strong, there were some huge mud puddles. Meaning, you either went right through them – garunteeing me another 20 miles of wet feet before I changed shoes – or you added distance by running from side to side – because naturally the clearest path always alternated sides of the puddles. It was here though I noticed how well my legs were still holding up. I was running with ease, and holding a good pace whenever possible. I was still able to run many of the hills, and pound the downhills. I was able to work with Chris through a good portion of this section. He is a seasoned runner who had taken about 10 years off and was getting back into it. By the end of the section I was alone again, and was excited to see the signs I recognized meaning I was at Little Fort. My crew even had a burger waiting for me! That sounded great, and so did watermelon….so I sandwiched the meat between the watermelon and chowed down. I am fairly certain I scared some people here. I took in some soup and a couple chips here too, washed it down with Mountain Dew, and then headed out. This was exciting for me because at least now I knew all the parts that were to come. There was no more unknown.

My stomach was pretty full after all that food, so the miles down to mudhole gap were fairly easy even though I probably could have made better time on them. Cruising through the aid station there, I had my head set on getting to Elizabeth’s Furnace around 7. I had told Mel I’d be there between 6 and 8 and I didn’t want to be late 🙂 I caught a couple guys on the jeep road. One had run last year and was only about 20 minutes off his pace from last year where he finished in 21:xx. That was reassuring to me, but I knew we still had a long way to go. I had been trying to do the math for the splits all day, but the heat and the running was making my brain melt. I knew calculating things wouldn’t matter anyway – I just needed to get from point to point as fast as I could.

At Elizabeth’s I was weighed in again…up another pound! According to my crew I didn’t look to good here, and I think it was probably because I had pushed hard on the trails to get in quickly. I felt okay, but was also focused on getting up the famed Sherman’s Gap in daylight. I had about an hour to do that, and with Melissa’s help, we made it to the top just as the sun was setting! Melissa was great through the entire 12 miles she ran with me. Always positive and telling me I was doing good, reminding me to breath and take my time when my feet got ahead of my brain on the rocky downhills, I couldn’t have asked for a better safety runner. It isn’t easy to run through streams and rocks in the dark. It is even harder when you have a runner with you who’s already gone 75 miles and is at their wit’s end mentally, emotionally, and physically. She held me together though, and with her help I passed 3 people in those 12 miles. Not bad considering there were only 11 out in front of me to begin with!!!

Unfortunately Melissa’s duties ended at Veach West, but I was greeted with Zero and Ryan who had come down to spectate and had just missed me leaving both Little Fort and Elizabeth’s. It was here I knew I was within the time limit, but I still had some challenges ahead of me. I changed into new shoes and socks (which felt like heaven!) and set out on the dark, windy country roads leading me back to Woodstock Mountain.

All I can say about the next 4 miles are that they were the longest 4 miles of my life. I saw 3 chem lights in those miles because kids from town had been driving around taking them down. Your mind plays cruel tricks on you in the middle of the night after 85 miles, and that night was no exception. I would look behind me often, not looking to see if I was being caught – but hoping that I would have some company in this long dark section. I was out of luck in that respect though, and had to rely on myself to stay strong and get through it. I did this by talking outloud to myself. I had run these roads before in training with Bobby. I knew the way. I would say that over and over to myself outloud: “I know where I am, I am looking for my next left turn, I am on the right road.” Then, whenever I would catch a glimpse of a flag in a tree marking the course from the morning section, I checked my watch and would repeat the time out loud to myself. I figured if I did think I was off course at any point, I should keep track of how many minutes I had been running since the last time I knew I was right. I think it took about an hour, but eventually I saw a red glow up ahead, the 770/758 aid station. There my crew told me that several people in front of me had indeed gotten lost on that section. I was thankful for the preparation I had put in, running the course, and staying alert and aware of where I was. (NOTE: in addition to running the course, I also made notecards with the turn-by-turn directions for myself. My crew would switch these out with my GUs and bottles at aid stations. This was extremely helpful and I would not do another run with turns like that without cards!) I got some soup and some more food, ready to head out on the next 10 miles, and as I left another runner was coming in. THat was Mike Bailey, and he caught me again at the top of WOodstock Mountain.

No time to chat though – I headed down the mountain which proved to be one of the most painful experiences of my life. Switchback after switchback, the lights of Woodstock almost seemed to be getting further away instead of closer. But finally I was at the dam, only 5ish more miles to go! Chris (from earlier in the day) came flying by me here. He said he had some stomach problems but had obviously overcome those and was well on his way to a strong finish. I wished him well and moseyed along at my pace, reaching the Water Street aid station, getting some body glide one last time from the crew, and making my way up those last few hills back to the fairgrounds. I dropped my bottle at the gate and ran the last half mile, coming in to cheers and clapping and, of course, Miley Cyrus jams on the radio!

I had done it. I had run, no, I had raced 100 miles in a time of 21 hours and 43 minutes. I had crushed my time from last year by about 6.5 hours. It is funny the power of the mind in one of these events. Coming into the fairgrounds, my legs hurt (obviously), but I was still able to run. Within 10 seconds of me finishing, it’s like they new they were at the end, and immediately started hurting. With no food or water or really anyone else at the finish line, there was nothing left to do but go back to the cabin, shower, and get in bed. I even managed to get a couple hours of sleep.

As we all woke up the next morning, I jokiningly pointed out how lucky we were that I wasn’t still running. The relief on my crew’s faces for that same fact was clear! The awards breakfast was great. It’s nice to be at a smaller race where you can hear words from every finisher as they accept their buckle or finishing award. I got to see 2 of my friends receive buckles that they had been seeking for quite some time too, and that is always a good feeling.

As quickly as it started, the race was over, and at work Monday morning it was just like any other day. Except for my slight limp and extreme hunger.

There is a lot more I would like to write about, but for the sake of time it will have to wait till my next post. In the meantime, I hope that the OD100 continues to gain steam and grow as a race again. I had the time of my life running those trails, and the race support was top of the line. A must-do for any ultrarunner!