Blast From The Past: My First Race Report

Going through my closet I found a pad of paper with a hand-written journal entry from 2005 about the 206 mile Seattle to Portland Bike Race. I’ve apparently been writing race reports since I was 15 years old! I typed it out as true to the original as possible, keeping all of the embarrassing idiosyncrasies for your viewing pleasure. Places where I’ve included present day commentary will be [bracketed in green]. Enjoy!

image3



 

First Race Report

Seattle – – – – – – S.T.P. – – – – – – Portland

The madness of it all started out with 1 simple question – “Who wants to go on the STP with Chelsie?” I only begged like every single person I know & the answers were all the same… “Um… no.”

Then Super Mom came to the rescue – a little late – but it was definitely fashionable! We knew the training would be much more grueling for her this year – seeing as she didn’t train at all last year.

After what seemed like hours of huffing, puffing, sweating & complaining we made it up our driveway. A little ibuprofen & we were back on the road.  While we were training, I found out Mom hated going up hills & with a passion. I was surprised that at the top of a hill, I did not see a look of relief (As I do) but of devestation. I asked why & found out she hated going down hills almost as much as she hated going up ’em! What a bizarre woman – eh? She roder her brakes down almost every hill – I’m surprised her tires haven’t melted!

We finally worked are [sic] way up to 65 miles (yes, mom, I rounded) & were rearing to go…. to bed!

I didn’t have to worry too much about Mom’s weird eating habits – she’d always end up getting her full quota of protein (bugs)! I don’t know how Mom did it – I’d be hungry after an hour of bikeriding (even with my 1,000 calorie breakfast) & she’d eat like one banana for an entire bike ride. Then, after the bike ride, right before bed time – she’ll eat enough for the both of us!

And now I shall begin the saga of the 2005 Cascade Bicycle Classic Seattle to Portland Bike Ride or the CBCStPB (or for short – the StP!). This 204 mile journey features rolling hills, beautiful valleys, lush forests, and 8,499 people in spandex! I’ll start from the beginning – actually, I don’t know how to spell that [I still don’t]I’ll start from the start. At the UW we met with Albert, all decked out in spandex (I never would have guessed!). He rode with us for the 1rst 24 miles until breakfast & we were too slow for him so he linked on with another group.

seattle-to-portland-2

15 year old me!

O.K. Rewind. Seattle was really pretty but not like last year – it was a bit cloudy and there weren’t like 2.3 bazillion boats on the harbor (like the year before). I was hungry at mile 5. I remembered alot more than I remembered I remembered. You know? Steep hill @ mile 10. Albert took a potty break, caught up w/us, & kept goin’. Breakfast was a tortilla & an Odwalla – I was still hungry of course! Oh, yeah & Albert & I raced a few times (up hills) which warmed me up & got my heart rate to about 212 bpm. It was fun though! We kept trudging on ’till lunch which was ALOT O’ FRUIT! We had perfect weather, not too hot, not too cold! We had a few short stops for relieving the bladder, picking the wedgies & for drinking dihydrogen monoxide. Right before lunch, at mile 42 (or something) was “The Hill” (scary music). I told mom if she made it up all the way w/out stopping I’d give her a back rub. Yes folks, she made it. She was sweating like a pig (which is really an oxi moron but whatever) but she made it! 

I got a headache from the glare & wind & a little drugs took care of that  [ibuprofen]My knees hurt but that was it. I got a few comments on my knee-high socks – comments not compliments. Well… they liked ’em! I stood out like a sore thumb with my socks and my spandex-less bottom. Oh, well. We stopped & got pizza realizing that Dad wasn’t ‘gonna feed us. I’m ‘gonna stop for a moment of silence for that pizza – it was really really good.       (silence)      Right before we ate the pizza, Mom ate her plum & a bag of nuts. What a nutcase!


stp

Just about 5 minutes from Tenino – something tragic happened – Mom’s back tire popped. Poor Mom!, She was so sad! I think she thought she ruined it for us. We found out how biker illiterate we were when we didn’t know what size tires we had, what size tubes we had, or even what kind of bike she had! One of the STP helper trucks saw us & stopped. The driver was German & if she weren’t so nice, I would’ve felt like we were in a concentration camp. She was like “I will get in zer and you give me ze bike. Lift ze bike. Zatz it.” It was funny! We got a tire on at Tenino making up for lost time in the truck. We only lost a few minutes, maybe 5 or 10. We got back on our bikes until we got to Centralia – good thing too – they gave us free Creamsickles! We were gonna eat w/dad but decided “Why wait” & kept going ’till Napavine. It smelled really bad like cow caca for a while but we managed! We finally got to Napavine 13 miles & one really long hill later! It felt great. My knees didn’t hurt any worse & I wasn’t sore. Mom was a wee bit pooped but can you blame her? We went almost 50 miles more than she ever had before!

We jumped in the hot tub after another meal – it was a good one! Hannah, Danno, & I walked to get firewood & guess who carried it back? Yes, I did! Lazy bums! Well, we played cards & then got some ZZZ’s.

The next morning we got up & went & it started img_0964and then it started RAINING. Oh, no! I was sporting my new STP Jersey and sweatpants pulled up Michael Jackson style on the right side [so it wouldn’t get caught in the bike chain]I got some comments on that too! One guy asked “Is that Prince or Blood?” and I said, “It’s Michael Jackson!” Another guy wuz like, “Is that the new style?” & etcedera. It wuz cold. It was wet. It felt like we wet ourselves. I don’t think we stopped for breakfast it was too cold. We did stop at Castle Rock for a while though – to chow of course! I had a big mat of dirt and mud in my ponytail – yuk! Going to the bathroom was not cool with all those wet layers! We were both glad we shaved off the extra 13 miles! Definitely more hills the 2nd day. Mom actually started appreciating downhills and didn’t use her brakes! It was pouring and really windy and though I wasn’t sore I was happy to get off my bike at Taco Bell. After the bridge & 20 boring miles – you could say I was excited to get off my bike. 

There was a “concert” & signs promoting it. I was thinking like along the lines of Beethoven or Back. I was wrong. There were punkers everwhere. Most of ’em had black hair, if not black – pink or green or some crazy color. They all had like 2,000 piercings (that we could see). They all glared at us. There was a whole string of cars of them. It was scary! At Taco Bell some punks came in & they were crazy! One girl had pink all around her eyes & then dark black. One guy had hair combed to the side & pokey in the back. They were all weird! One guy tried to go in the woman’s bathroom! I was like – yeah, this is definitely not classical music!

Well.. After that little scare we got going… in the rain. It was long. A very long 30 or 29 miles (whatever). A steep hill in Portland caught a lot of people off gaurd including Mom (who stopped but then got back on!). 3 miles from the end I hit some R&R tracks wrong a popped my front tire. Mom was like “We are not stopping – you are riding”. So I did. Some people were like, “You know you have a flat tire?” I was like “Duh!” Actually I was a little more polite. Some man was like I’ll fix your tire and I said, “No that’s O.K.” & he goes “God Bless you!” Ha Ha. The last 3 miles pooped me out. Mom was happy we were both the same tiredness 🙂 We were ecstatic. No spoilization from the fam fam this time though!

Well… that was one of the best B-day presents ever!

stp-barn

Advertisements

K2PD 64k: “Need a lift, mate?”

When my family made a rough outline for our epic road trip through Australia, I scoured the internet for a trail race near our planned route and happily found a 64km point-to-point race smack dab in the middle of our trip, from the rainforest in Kuranda to the beach in Port Douglas. The race website mentioned that there was a chance to see cassowaries, an endangered bird of jurassic preportions, and I was hooked. I told my husband about the cassowaries and to my surprise, he was a little worried. I had to ask, “Wait, cassowaries are dangerous?”

cassowarycassowary-feet

cassowary-attack

Why yes, cassowaries can be dangerous

Now I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that everything in Australia is trying to kill you, but after signing up I received a welcome email with a two page document about all the dangerous things we could encounter during the race. The list included cassowaries, venomous snakes, wild hogs, jungle leeches, ticks (one of which can cause paralysis), a stinging tree that causes excruciating pain that can last for months, and finally a spiked plant called lawyer vine, which I found out should not be underestimated. Reading through this list was strangely exhilarating and even now I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or relieved that my closest encounter was with the lamest item on the list, but we’ll get to that later!

As per usual, I went into this race gravely under-trained. In the two weeks before the race, my inlaws, my husband and my 3 and 4 year old boys had traveled over 1,000 miles in a motorhome. All of our adventuring left time for me to get in just one hour of running on the esplanade of beautiful Hervey Bay and only then because Matt and his dad were busy getting a taillight fixed. This race was going to hurt.

When race day arrived, my husband Matt drove me to the start and my inlaws stayed with the kids at the hotel. Stepping out of the camper, we realized I had forgotten my compact water filter. I didn’t think it was a big deal but Matt cares about me more than I care about me so he drove back to the hotel to get it while I got checked in. If you have ever run with me then you know how talkative I can be but I was strangely quiet and reserved. I don’t ever stretch before I run but I pretended to as I observed the people around me. I smiled as I listened to the pre-race banter and how familiar it all was: jokes about bad decisions and the pain to come, time goals and a short summary of how little they had trained, and self deprecating jokes about blisters, chafing, using the bathroom and other topics most non-runners wouldn’t bring up in a normal conversation. Even on the opposite side of the world, surrounded by people with cooler accents than me, I knew these were my people.

Listening to the bathroom jokes reminded me to use the “port-a-loo” and I got in line behind two other runners. In the time it took me to get through this tiny line, Matt had gotten back, packed my running vest, and the pre-race meeting started, which he also listened to for me. I only had time to give Matt a quick hug and kiss before jumping into the group of runners for the race start. Like most trail races, the race started with little ado and we were off! Running in the dark in the middle of a jungle doesn’t sound particularly inviting but the road was wide, there were plenty of people, and I knew the sun would be coming up shortly. I took a deep breath as I took in all of the unfamiliar bird calls and resolved to enjoy the day in this new place.

The first 28km/17miles traveled along Black Mountain Road, starting on pavement and eventually giving way to dirt road. I heard several people describe the course as ‘undulating’ which is not just a quirky Australian thing to say but in fact a perfect description of the constant rolling hills. Since there were no rocks or roots to jump hurdles over, I was able to get into a good rhythm and just run. After passing and getting passed by the same man multiple times, I made a joke about us playing leap frog and that it was now his turn to be “it”. The next time he passed me I learned that his name was Matt, same as my husband, and eventually we joined up. He had run the race the year before and knew he needed to take it slow in the beginning to save some energy for the trail portion. I wasn’t going particularly slow myself but it was a good pace and I enjoyed the company. He had two young children close to my kids’ age and like my husband, he was an officer of the law, so we had lots to talk about and the time passed quickly. At first he thought I was Canadian which was something I heard quite a bit while I was over there (and to be fair I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, not too far from the Canadian border). After finding out that I was American, he asked what I thought about Trump running for president, to which all I could say was, “Uggh!” We also talked about the Barkley Marathons, which I was much more excited to talk about.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Black Mountain Road

We made good time, hitting the first checkpoint in about 3 hours. We were about to hit the Twin Bridges segment, a remote 20km/12mile section of trail with limited access. Once on the trail, Matt was energized to be feeling so much better than last year and seemed to run faster and faster while I struggled to keep up. I was starting to cramp up which is unusual for me and I was generally feeling tired. I told him to go on ahead but he wanted to stick with me until we got through the trail section. There is safety and sanity in numbers and he remembered being alone last year with only his thoughts and creepy jungle sounds to keep him company. I didn’t want to hold him back but I was also glad to have someone with me!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Twin Bridges Section

The trail was wide and not very technical so I felt like I could watch for snakes and other creatures pretty easily. I saw a cool lizard and at one point, Matt saw a snake slither off the trail just in front of us, I only wished I had seen it too! All was going decently well until my head was suddenly yanked back, kept in place by a hidden strand of lawyer vine now firmly attached to my hair. I understand now why it is also called “wait-a-while” vine, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was “Aaaagh!” I nearly gave Matt a heart attack but he was relieved to see that I was only being attacked by a plant and he trotted over to help pull it out of my hair. I was so tired at this point that I was secretly glad for the one minute break. Thanks, lawyer vine.

“PASSING ON YOUR RIGHT!” A woman yelled behind us. She had headphones in and didn’t realize she was being so loud. I’m easily startled so I shrieked and poor Matt whipped around yet again, wondering why there were now two women yelling behind him.

We came up on a few hills and we both agreed to take a little walk break. On one such walk break we heard something rustling loudly in the woods and Matt said, “We’ll be running now!” We guessed that it was likely a wild pig and we were glad not to have seen it!

There were no water stops during this long trail section and Matt eventually ran out of water. I donated a small amount from one of my bottles and he suffered through for probably twenty minutes or so until we finally got to the end of the Twin Bridges Section, where there was a nearly empty water cooler sitting on top of the gate. I was glad to get some water but worried for the people behind us. Thankfully there was an official aid station not too far from the gate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We turned back onto the Black Mountain Road for just a little longer before hitting the Bump Track. The Bump Track is a historic road, so steep in sections that passengers in horse drawn carriages would have to get out and walk. Before hitting the notoriously steep sections, we caught up to the race director and another woman and talked with them for a bit before pushing onward. My ability to decipher the Aussie accent had diminished to nearly none and I was having a hard time participating in any meaningful conversation. Feeling confident in my ability to finish but not as speedily as Matt, I urged him to go on ahead and told him to say hello to my family at the finish. He reluctantly agreed and we thanked each other for the company as we parted ways.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View from the top, heading to the ocean

Now on my own, I reached the peak of the Bump Track and headed down the mountain, enjoying the views, the slate rock formations, and some cool looking termite mounds. The elevation drops more than 300meters/900ft in less than one kilometer and there were times where the grade was so steep that I had to zig zag as I ran down. I saw some tortured souls making their way up the bump track and decided I didn’t have anything to complain about!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bump Track

After exiting the Bump Track and following the signs across a paved road, two blonde police officers drove by and asked with a concerned smile, “Need a lift, mate?”

Me: “I’d love one! But I’m in a race..”

Officer: “How far ya goin’?”

Me: “64 kilometers total, I’m about 55km in and I’m headed to the Surf Club.”

Officer: “55 kilometers in?! Looking great considerin! Best of luck to ya!”

This interaction put a smile on my face for the next painful miles. The course continued on, now alongside various paved roads and gravel paths. I caught up to one runner and we chatted briefly, mostly just to relate how tired we were and how excited we were to be done. We reached the final checkpoint where I grabbed some coca-cola, thanked the awesomely dressed volunteer, and slowly but surely worked up the energy to pass that same runner again. I had to continuously negotiate with myself because I really didn’t feel like running anymore. I would say to myself, if you run for three minutes straight then you can walk for thirty seconds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I finally hit Four Mile Beach, and was told by a volunteer at a water stop that I only had 4 kilometers left to go. I was both relieved and exhausted by the thought of having to go 4 more kilometers. The beach itself was beautiful and there were lots of interesting things to take my mind off the pain – windsurfers getting lots of air, bubble formations in the sand, and people everywhere. Lots of kind words were exchanged on the beach from total strangers. One lady asked if there was a marathon going on and she wasn’t convinced she heard me correctly. “Did you say 64 kilometers?” I nodded. Her eyes widened, “64 kilometers?! That is INCREDIBLE!” A little further down the beach I asked a woman if I was getting close to the surf club and she laughed, looking distantly at a cruise ship in the harbor, “I should hope so, otherwise I’ve missed my boat!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Parasailers!

Soon enough I could make out a building in the distance, then some flagging and then, hallelujah, the finish line! My family is normally pretty easy to pick out but this time they weren’t the loudest of the bunch and I ran through the finish still looking for them! Luckily, my husband saw the whole thing and called out to me but he was having a hard time convincing the kids to come over (they were having too much fun in the sand). My in-laws got back just a moment too late, having left to get some sunscreen and chairs. Not wanting to waste their efforts, I slumped down and enjoyed the break! We decided to celebrate with some ice cream and to make my day even sweeter, a volunteer ran over and told me that I placed 3rd female!

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to run this race! Thank you to my family for encouraging me to sign up, taking care of my children, and supporting me in this crazy hobby!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finished in 8:42:51! 

img_4837

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The mountains we started on!

 

 

img_7304

Post Race Hobble

Team Sassy Pants and the Fun Enforcers

On May 21, I got the privilege of running with my Mom and Sister as they completed their first marathon! I want to shout it on the rooftop but I have a blog so I’ll shout it on the internet instead: GUYS! TIFFANY AND MY MOM RAN A MARATHON!!!!

Running a marathon would have been accomplishment enough but they stepped it up a notch and ran a trail marathon with 2,500 feet of climbing, a thigh-deep water crossing, lots of lizards and even a snake (albeit a tiny one)! The run did not involve crying, vomiting, or drama of any sort. In fact, Mom’s “low point” was just a few miles of quiet running in the early miles and Tiffany didn’t even have a low point at all. They spent a lot of time on the trails training hard for this and it paid off!

Getting There

Somehow, filling a minivan to max capacity on a multi-state road trip ended up being one of the most fun and (mostly) comfortable road trips I have ever been on. The trip included my Mom, my Dad, my pregnant sister Hannah, my older sister Tiffany, her husband Jeremy, and Tiffany’s friend/adopted-family-member Heather. I was the last to join the group and just before I got in the van, Dad laughed and said, “It’s a madhouse in there!” I soon found out that he was kind of right as we laughed more than any sane family would have.

My family is weird because we actually like being around each other and Heather’s vibrant, energetic personality fits right into the mix. At this point she has come to numerous family get-togethers, she likes our family’s 7-layer jello, she is one of us now. With the addition of someone who is as close as family but without the backstory we had an excuse, nay an obligation, to share embarrassing moments and funny stories from years past.

All of our plans and reservations were arranged by Tiffany beforehand and I think my family agrees that she makes a great travel agent. Thanks to her we visited the St. Louis Arch and, for even more of those nostalgic feels, the Old Spaghetti Factory. While we were at the Arch, we ended up in line in front of a life-of-the-party type, he offered to take our picture and laid on the ground beneath us directing us this way and that. I noticed he was wearing a marathon shirt and hat so I had to brag on my Mom and Tiff. He told us in story telling fashion that Mom and Tiffany would soon be joining the less than 1% of Americans who have run a marathon. He likened a person’s first marathon to a true love’s first kiss, “You’re nervous at first but if you do it right, you’ll want to do it again and again!”

IMG_8862

Left to Right: Me, Dad, Mom, Heather, Hannah, Jeremy, and Tiffany!

Morning Of The Race

As great as the race went, Tiffany’s morning did not start with butterflies and rainbows. She went into the trip with plantar fasciitis and a recently discovered bone spur (which despite possibly being the source of her pain, she will excitedly point out that it is shaped like a shark tooth). Her physical therapy tape had come off and she was having a difficult time replicating it with the drug-store brand tape. And to top it all off, the shower in her room tried to boil her alive. So yeah, she was a little cranky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Butterflies and Rainbows!

Having learned our lesson from Jeremy’s race, we left early enough that the drive itself wasn’t stressful, even when we lost service and the GPS thought it best to take us on the back-roads tour. When we got to the race start at the Berryman Campground, we were able to get checked in and put on our race bibs with plenty of time to spare. It was a beautiful, blue-sky type of morning and I was looking forward to it. I was slightly worried that we would all die of heat exhaustion and the million other things that could go wrong, but mostly I was happy that it somehow wasn’t pouring (see every race I ran last year).

IMG_1587

Race Start

After some lighthearted joking and hugs all around, we found ourselves joining the group of runners at the start. We talked with a dad and his 18 year old daughter and learned that it would be her first marathon too. Now typically in a trail race the race director will give some important instructions before the race start and you have to pay close attention to hear over all the people talking. Well apparently we were the annoying talkers because suddenly everyone began running, including us! This was really happening!

IMG_8910

We were able to run side by side for the first bit as the race started with a quarter mile out-and-back on a gravel road, effectively thinning out the crowd before hitting the narrow trail. It was interesting to catch a glimpse of the other runners and I happily observed that, despite this being their first marathon, Mom and Tiff didn’t look out of place at all. Within just five minutes we were passing back through the campground with our crew cheering excitedly. Since we missed the countdown at the start, this felt like the true start of the race. We passed through the start/finish banner (shortest race ever!) and made our way to the Berryman Trail, on which we would stay for the remainder of the race.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

5 minutes into the race

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Feeling like the true start of the race!

Once on the single track, we shuffled around trying to figure out who would go in front. Mom had Tiff had done a lot of training together but this was the first time all three of us had run together. Despite my protests, they shooed me to the front and I awkwardly tried to settle into a conservative pace that would work for all of us. It was a little slower than Tiffany would have liked, but honestly Tiffany could have gone faster the entire race if she had wanted.

We introduced ourselves to a similarly paced man behind us (hey Jason!) and let him know he could pass us at any time. He assured us that our pace was just right and joined us until somewhere around mile 4, when we said goodbye as we stepped off trail for the first of several potty stops. The fact that Mom and Tiff were able to nonchalantly pee in the woods was evidence enough that they had put in their trail time. When we got going again I tried to get a feel for how they were doing and they further proved their ruggedness. “It’s pretty rocky, huh?” Mom shrugged candidly, “It’s not any worse than what we’ve trained on.” I prodded further, “Well.. what do you think about these hills?” Tiffany laughed, “What hills?” Tiffany has hiked and run over 250 miles in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the goal of hiking every trail in the park (900 total miles) and her time there has certainly paid off. I knew that they had been training hard, putting in more mileage than me in fact, but it was really starting to sink in that Mom and Tiff were real live trail runners now.

IMG_8915

In the course of their training, Mom observed that Tiffany always ran faster in the final two miles. Runners often use the phrase “to smell the barn” to describe this phenomenon. From wikipedia, “Smell the barn: idiomatic verb; To experience heightened anticipation or to act with renewed speed or energy as one approaches a destination, goal or other desired outcome, like a livestock animal at day’s end returning to its barn” During the race, each aid station was Tiffany’s personal barn, and she would run with a little extra pep in her step when we got within a mile or two of the prize. (Did I really just compare my sister to a livestock animal?) With an aid station every 3-5 miles, she never really lost that energy, even up until the end of the race. Or, to continue with the metaphor, you could say she was rearing to go the entire time. (I need to stop).

Getting closer to the first aid station, Tiffany took the front with Mom behind her which allowed me to take a step back and enjoy watching their adorable dynamic in action. Tiffany would announce various statistics about the run and give suggestions like, “Ok Mom, we’re going to pick up the pace after that tree.” Mom would generally follow along then lip back or groan begrudgingly, always with a smile behind it. I asked mom if she listened to Tiffany and she sassily responded, “I listen.. but I don’t do what she says!”

IMG_8932

Tiffany told us we should be reaching the aid station at mile 5.5 soon and even though we couldn’t see it through the woods, we arrived after just a few more turns of the trail. I had previously envisioned that I would be super helpful and run ahead to fill their bottles like they did for me at Pinhoti. What actually happened is that by the time I had filled my own bottles, bragged on them to the aid station workers and shoved food in my face, they had already done the same and it was time for us to head out. At some point later on, I mentioned out loud that I was getting hungry and Tiffany gave me an electrolyte gel. That’s right, Tiffany was taking care of me during her first marathon.

Back on the trail, Tiff took the front again and I fell in behind her at mom’s bidding. We were pleased with our time and we focused on the fact that we would get to see our crew at the very next aid station! As Tiffany and I talked, I started to notice that Mom had stopped being so sassy and was mostly just running quietly. There are times in a run when silence is restorative and peaceful but this didn’t seem like one of those times. So, I read a Bible verse.

Hebrews 12:1 – Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us”

My voice cracked as I read it. I anticipated that there would be low points but imagining my mom being in pain so soon in the race threw me off guard. “Pull yourself together, Chelsie,” I thought. This all sounds really dramatic considering she wasn’t even being outwardly cranky but my mom told us later that she was in a low point, and even after hearing the Bible verse she thought to herself, “Is this even God’s will for me to run this, or is it my will?” It’s both laughable and admirable to think that her biggest wall was just a few miles of stoic running but it shouldn’t have surprised me at all. She had even told me multiple times that she typically feels good for the first several miles, then everything starts to hurt until the halfway point when she starts to feel good again. Spoiler alert: that is exactly what happened.

IMG_8916

During this time, Tiffany and I were talking about all colors of the conversation spectrum when it struck me as odd just how normal this all was for her! She even mentioned running future races including the very difficult Cumberland Trail 50k. Let me tell you, people don’t do that sort of thing during their first marathon.

Tiffany started picking up the pace as we approached the aid station at mile 9, this time going even faster knowing that we would get to see our crew. On the final hill I was glad to stay back with Mom rather than having to keep up with Tiffany. As Mom and I climbed the hill at a more reasonable rate, I heard our cowbells and started running faster too! Call me sappy but my husband and kiddos decorated those cowbells and it was like they were there cheering for us. We were greeted with the wide smiles of our crew, their energy was seriously invigorating! We gave a quick update, I shoved some food down my gullet, Dad threatened to chase me with the pickles and then off we went!

72b6b81a-a148-43cb-82f9-9dc8ad8146d0

My adorable cowbell

IMG_8928

The FUN ENFORCERS

Tiffany and I happily laid out the stats as we ran: the next aid station would be at mile 13, the halfway point! Mom joined in the excitement momentarily, “Wow, halfway?!” Then, “Wait a sec.. Is that a good thing?” We laughed and I chided in singsong that we weren’t allowed to think about how far was left but how far we had come. “Oh ok…” Mom said with an eyeroll. Sassy Mom was making a comeback!

Around this stretch that we passed a large group of backpackers. Passing them was awkward because it also happened to be on what was probably the longest hill of the day with multiple switchbacks. Tiff blazed on but Mom and I tried to tuck back behind some of the backpackers. They urged us on ahead offering words of encouragement and we pressed on tiredly for our ego’s sake.

Mom’s energy levels had been steadily improving and by the time we reached the next aid station, the volunteers said we all looked too happy to already be halfway done. I bragged on my ladies some more and then we left for the next aid station where we would see our crew again! Remember that I said Mom normally starts feeling better around the halfway point? Well, not too long after leaving the aid station she took the lead, jumping rocks and roots like a gazelle. I slowed momentarily to video just how zippy she was and had to sprint to catch up. In fact, before I could catch up I thought I saw a snake in the path and yelled out, “Mom! Stop!” Thank goodness it was just a root because she was so far ahead that she didn’t hear me and stepped right on it.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might

Earlier in the race, Tiff had mentioned that she was worried about how she would do after mile 16, the farthest she had ever gone on foot in a day. With that knowledge, I planned a little surprise party to reframe the point of worry into something fun (and I just so happened to have a few party supplies packed for such an occasion)! When Tiffany announced our distance, I whipped out a party blower and awarded them each a plastic “medal” for their achievement.

Party time

If I had thought to bring some cake the party might have lasted longer but we had a river to cross! We waded across the thigh deep water, soon entering the Brazil Creek Campground where we heard the glorious cowbells along the short stretch to the aid station and our amazing crew! Heather danced like a beautiful Tazmanian Devil with cowbells, Hannah documented, while grinning ear to ear, Dad checked in with Mom and Jeremy checked in with Tiffany. I saw the port-a-potty and announced, “Hey! A real-live bathroom!” The aid station volunteer raised his eyebrows and said, “Is that what you call that?!” I laughed, “We’re trail runners, we have low standards”.

IMG_8949

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Still partying!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mom at the Mile 16.5 Aid Station

Before we headed out, Heather warned us that we would have a short stretch on the road before turning back onto the trail. Mom is normally great at navigating but running apparently makes that part of her brain turn to mush and anytime there was a split in the trail, Mom’s first inclination was to go the wrong way (even when there were literally signs with a big red X and the words ‘wrong way’). As we headed out, Mom somehow ended up in front and Tiffany and I just followed like sheep as we crossed the road instead of turning onto it. Tiffany thankfully caught the error within a minute and we turned back, slightly unsure at first until we saw our crew drive past. It could have been so much worse!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our crew car cheered us on as they passed and stopped at the top of the hill to point us in the direction of the trail. Heather did another cowbell dance which was a hilarious source of entertainment. How could we be cranky with a crew like ours? They were self proclaimed “fun enforcers” and they were doing great at it. We got back on the trail and Heather sprinted after us with her cowbells swinging. Just 4 more miles until we’d see our lively crew again and then we would only have one more aid station until the finish!

We had been seeing (and hearing) lizards throughout the race but somewhere in this section Tiffany pointed out a snake on the trail so small that even Mom wasn’t afraid of it! Or maybe Mom was too tired to care at this point. Either way, I didn’t know it was possible for Mom to see a snake and not freak out.

IMG_8960

Do you see the snake?

Not too long after this we got passed by the first place 50 mile runner who, more than 40 miles into the race, was going at such a good clip that he had his pacer biking behind him to keep up. We stepped off trail and cheered him on in amazement. Soon after we saw a hiker headed toward us who said, “You must be Tiffany, Chelsie and Lynette!” Our crew had been bragging on us all day so I figured he had recently met them as he hiked past the aid station. What was strange was that he then turned around and joined us as we climbed the hill. I considered that maybe he was being polite and didn’t want us to slow down to talk with him. He told us that the last female runner thought he was a creeper until she realized that he was a volunteer (and that’s when I also realized he was an aid station volunteer)! The nice volunteer with the strange greeting process led us to the familiar sound of cowbells and the smiles of our crew and the aid station workers happily filled up our bottles. The next time we would see our crew we would be crossing the finish line and that was only 6 more miles to go!

Mom and Tiff headed out and I told them I’d catch up while I was supposedly trying to remove a tick from my bellybutton. I actually did have a tick problem but what I was really doing was having Heather load an air-horn in my bag, just one more way for me to be ridiculous. The air-horn stuck out awkwardly so I ditched the idea and left in a scramble with Heather once again chasing me onward, cowbells swinging wildly. And then Heather fell. The good news is that she didn’t get seriously hurt so you can enjoy the fact that Hannah got it on video. It is a glorious video (sorry for the potato quality). 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heather chasing me before the fall!

Not long after I caught up with Mom and Tiff, we saw someone up ahead, the first marathoner we had seen in 15 miles! We didn’t start the race with any competitive intentions.. but Tiffany and I were definitely excited that we were actually going to pass someone! Mom was not motivated by that thought in the slightest but she tagged along as we picked up the pace. As we got close enough to pass, we made sure he was doing ok and exchanged a few nice words. When we passed, I secretly hoped that we could hold our ground for the rest of the race which we did.

As we climbed up a long hill 22 miles in, I pulled out another secret weapon: pom-poms! I intended to use them to cheer Mom and Tiff up during any low points but since that never really happened, I felt a hill was as good a time as any. “BIG G, little o, BIG G, little o, Gooooooo G!” “Be Aggressive. B – E – Aggressive. Gooooo Team!” They thought it was cute. I was aiming more for funny but either way we were having fun!

Phillippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Him who strengthens me

Just before the last aid station, the 2nd place 50 mile runner passed us looking tired but still plugging along. I did some more family bragging at the aid station and then we headed out for the final 2.5 miles to the finish. We were giddy about at how well everything had been going and how little we had left. Twenty four miles in Mom said, and I quote, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually having fun!”

As we power-walked up a hill, the 3rd place 50 mile runner tucked in behind us, happy for a walk break. We insisted he pass us, putting him in that awkward position where he had to start running again in order to make any ground. He pushed himself onward and jokingly asked us to hold all of the other runners back for him (and since no one else passed us, we did just that)!

Running It In With Team Sassy Pants!

The final miles were a combination of felicity and fatigue! We were checking the mileage at every turn so in my best mom voice I scolded, “Remember kids, a watched pot never boils!” To which Mom responded in her no-nonsense way, “They do boil, it just seems like it takes longer. So are we there yet or what?” When Tiffany gave the good news that we only had ½ mile to go, Mom retorted, “I don’t want to hear that!” Tiffany turned around and gave her a dirty look. I was loving it!

Getting closer, Tiffany called out, “Quarter mile left! Let’s run to the finish!” Mom jokingly whined, “Do I have to??” We heard a car and knew we must be close! We turned the corner to see our crew cheering us on, the finish line just a short stretch away! Cowbells never sounded so good!

We finished hand in hand with Mom and Tiff dragging me in (a joke that was lost on our audience). We crossed under the finish banner grinning ear to ear. It had been a great day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m proud to say that my family is full of strong and sometimes sassy marathoning women! My mother-in-law Betty ran a marathon in 2004 and now 3 out of 4 of the women in my immediate family have done so (my other sister is 30 weeks pregnant but she hopes to complete a marathon in the future and now it’s in writing so she can’t back out now). And, with no prodding from me, my sister-in-law Christy and my niece Caitlyn expressed that they would like to run a marathon this fall! Can’t wait to see what the future holds. 

Congratulations again to Mom and Tiffany for their hard work and accomplishment! And one last shout-out to Dad, Jeremy, Hannah, and Heather for being the most supportive and fun crew anyone could ever ask for. This was an awesome experience for us all and I am glad I got to share it with my amazing family.

In sum, BEST RACE EVER.

 

My Family Runs With Wild Stallions

Two weekends ago I got to experience a race from the other side as I cheered on my mom, my sister, and my brother-in-law at the Grayson Highlands Half Marathon and 50k. To give the short version, since you know I won’t afford you such luxury for the rest of this post: THEY ROCKED IT. My mom and Tiffany wanted to finish the half within 4 hours and they ended up running it in 2:57. Jeremy, having never run more than 14 miles before race day, finished the 50k in the top 20% of finishers with a great time of 5:22. Things were tough but they had a smile on their face each and every time I saw them and I could not be more proud of their positive attitudes and accomplishments.

13043724_10209566506029352_1320349852113131197_n

Part of the Grayson Highlands course!

My family has always been somewhat active and outdoorsy but they have never liked running for the sake of running. My mom ran in her teens but has consistently said that running hurts too much since having kids. Tiffany and Jeremy have done a few small races but it always came back to a question of “Why would anybody do that for fun?!” Last year at this time they started training to pace me for the Pinhoti 100. I was a little worried about how it was going to be to run with my (then) non-trail-runner family but they were committed to it and eventually got to the point where running wasn’t so horrible anymore. Once during training, Tiffany and Jeremy ran through the woods shouting, “Trail running is so much fun!”

13055527_10209566506189356_5316402849397663850_n

Wild Assateague Ponies were introduced forty years ago in this area and can be seen in the park and during the race 

After pacing me for 10 miles at Pinhoti, Jeremy asked my mom if we would all crew him like that for his first 50k and that’s when I knew he was hooked. As for my mom, she tends to round numbers in hilarious and extreme ways so after working her way up to 4 miles she resolved that she would have to run a marathon. And then Tiffany, who also paced me for 10 miles, decided that if Mom could run a marathon then so could she. Tiffany was the one who found this race and decided that she would spend her birthday weekend running through the mountains with the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.

Elevation Profile for Grayson Highlands

Killer elevation profile for the 50k. Jeremy ran up that first monster hill.

To celebrate properly, my parents rented an adorable little house an hour from the park in which we cozily fit seven adults, four children and one dog. The morning of the race we headed to the park in three vehicles: the runner car (Tiff, Jer, Mom), the crew car (me, my brother, and my two kids) and the cheer car (my Dad, younger sis, her two kids and the dog). The runner car left early enough but due to some nonsensical GPS directions and limited cell service, Jeremy got there with barely enough time to grab his bib number and run to the race start. I took a wrong turn but pulled up just in time, promptly ditched my brother Daniel with my sleeping kids and ran to see Jeremy out the chute. And then just like that, the 50k had started! As the runners shrank into the distance, I tried my best to take it all in. I was excited, worried, and proud all at the same time. My family used to hate running, now Jeremy was out running his first ultra and Tiffany and my Mom would soon be lining up for their own trail race!

3fb8e7c8-0d13-489b-8917-f933d4ca0848

Hi Jeremy (blue shorts)! Bye Jeremy!

With one hour before the half marathon start, they got to fully experience the pre-race jitters as they got checked in and then debated layer options for the cooler-than-expected mountain mist. Ten minutes left until go time, Mom and Tiffany headed to the race start and decided to hit the bathrooms one last time. The line didn’t seem that long but they were still in line when the race director gave the two minute warning and they had to decide whether they should wait it out or go without. Mom and Tiff reluctantly gave up and quickly joined the swath of runners at the start as they hurriedly adjusted their running packs. We exchanged last minute well wishes and then they were off! Again I felt the wash of excitement, pride and worry all over again.

67db9efd-1e31-42e0-b552-1f57f646ace7

Tiffany and Daniel before the race start!

62d78687-dca3-4852-a98c-7dcdada9f920

My mom is going to kill me for this, but she looks great in those spandex!

As the designated crew, my brother Daniel and I sat in the car going through race instructions, looking at the park map and piecing together what we knew about the course to calculate when and where we needed to be to see our runners next. We were allowed to provide aid at Massie’s Gap but with no course map we had no clue what mile that was in the race. We read that we could also walk, but not drive, a mile down a park road to the camp store. We stopped at Massie’s Gap to gather some intel and I interrogated the volunteer manning the gate to see what he knew. With new-found information, we guessed that our runners should be through soon. My kids had just woken up and were a little groggy so my brother and I each held a child as we waited. A passing runner complimented Daniel on being a good dad. Ugggh. This mortifying inference happens often enough that whenever we are within three feet of each other, I use the word “bro” with the frequency of a frat guy. I don’t really remember what I said in response but I can guarantee it was something awkward.

Mom and Tiff during the race!

Soon enough we could see our runners coming up the hill and they looked great! It was still early in the race but at least things were going smoothly. Next they would go through the gate of Massie’s gap and see the wild ponies! We had to get down the mile road to the aid station so I grabbed all the things our runners might need and we headed out. With two kids in tow, things were not happening in our timeline. “Mommy, I’m hungry.” Thought of that Linden, here ya go. “Mommy, I’m thirsty.” Brought you a water Liam, have a drink. “Mommy, I have to poooop.” You can hold it, Linden, I believe in you. He told me that he couldn’t hold it but the cold pit toilet was scary enough to change my poor kid’s mind. Still, we weren’t going to make it down to the aid station in time at this rate so I sent Daniel ahead while I did my best to urge my children to walk faster. Both kids were cold and and wanted to be held so all I could do was take turns holding each kid as we slowly shuffled down the road. At some point the trail came into view and we got lucky enough to see my Mom and Tiffany, though from a distance. I cheered them on and my Mom jokingly yelled, “Stalker!” They still had a sense of humor so things were going well. They turned back into the woods and I knew at this pace they were going to beat us there. Thankfully, the park manager took pity on us as he drove by on patrol and asked if we needed a ride! YES PLEASE. Daniel was still running down the road as my kids and I drove past in our gracious taxi.

Jer on course

At the aid station I found out that we had missed Jeremy who had come through twenty minutes earlier than expected! He ran 15-17 miles in 2.5 hours which averages out to a ridiculously fast trail pace no matter how you look at it, especially when you consider that the first major hill climbed over 1,100 feet and he ran up it. I was impressed that he was doing so well but I felt horrible that we had missed him. To make matters worse, I found out later that the vehicle carrying the supplies for the mile 10 aid station couldn’t make it up the mountain so this was his first actual aid station. He didn’t have any water until he decided to fill up his collapsible bottle in a stream around mile 12, then still had to wait 30 minutes for his water purifying tablet to kick in (I think he took a few sips out of desperation anyway). The fact that he did so well despite the circumstances only shows that he was made for this kind of thing!

G and Linden

“I really love you a lot G!”

Within just a few minutes we saw mom and Tiff heading down the hill, still looking g
reat! They didn’t need anything from us so we were really there just to cheer them on. Linden gave his “G” a hug and told her that he really loved her a lot. I have to say that he’s a pretty great crew kid. They took off with only had 5 miles to go! The volunteers at the aid station told us that there was plenty of parking for us to bring the car down if we wanted. I told my kids that I would run and get the car if they stayed with “unkie” but they vetoed the idea because they know that I never go for a “quick run”. Daniel probably ended up running a 5k just crewing for our runners, this crewing business is no joke!

Rock 1

unnamed (2)
We knew Mom and Tiffany would be close, because by the time we met up with the cheering crew at the finish line we were already recognizing runners from the last aid station. Mine and Hannah’s kids unfortunately did not have the patience for the continuous anticipation at the finish line. After so many times of us asking, “Is that them?”
the kids decided to go play on a nearby rock. Then suddenly, “That’s them!!! Everybody cheer!!” WooOO-HOOOO! Somehow at that exact moment, the first place 50k runner sprinted through and everybody cheered, it was pretty perfect.

unnamed (1)

It was such an exciting moment and we were all grinning ear to ear. Well, everybody except my nephew Caleb who was less than happy that their finish wasn’t all about him (see pic below).

13077085_10209708846146706_8179045826231196818_n

I wanted to stay and listen to their tales of valor but I also wanted to see Jeremy at least once on the course so I grabbed Liam and drove down to the aid station at mile 25. Somehow he hadn’t been through yet. Sweet, momentary relief! I set out a few things I thought he might want and chatted with the aid station volunteers and a fellow spectator. And then the worry set in. Why isn’t he here yet? I hope nothing is wrong. Surely he should be here by now. Luckily I only had a short time to uselessly worry before he arrived looking fresh as a daisy. I was so proud and so happy for him that I couldn’t contain the cheering, “WOOOOT-WOOOOT!” I quickly caught up with how he was doing as he downed the nasty chia water he requested and got the things he needed. Basically, lots of things went wrong and he just kept running. As I bragged to the volunteers that this was his first ultra and that he had never run more than 14 miles, one of the guys he had befriended on the trail came in and said with a tired smile, “Yeah, I hate him.” He nodded to Jeremy and said something along the lines of, “Let’s finish this thing, yeah?” And off they went!

0a4d83cc-ed85-49ff-93fb-c74ee204dcf4

Taking time to give Liam a kiss at the aid station

I quickly packed up our things and headed to the finish line, where I finally got to hear Mom and Tiffany talk about how their race went! It wasn’t long before we saw Jeremy pass by which meant that he had only 1.5 miles left to go. We quickly regrouped the family and eagerly awaited his finish. He was coming in so fast we, we didn’t need to ask, “Is that him?” Jeremy rounded the corner in a full sprint and announced his final leg with a primal victory roar, “AAAARRRGHHHHHH!!!!” He shared sweaty hugs all around and and then promptly collapsed to the ground with one final shout of triumph and exhaustion. It was a fitting end to an epic journey.

What an interesting perspective it was to see many of the same runners in little snapshots of the journey – the excited early miles, the tired middle miles, and finally the triumphant finish. Crewing my family was surprisingly challenging, rewarding, and SO MUCH FUN. Trying to find out where to be and calculating when to be there turned out to pretty difficult, especially with two kids in tow as my family does for me all the time. I completely missed Jeremy when he needed it most and when I finally met up with him at mile 25, he had to dig through his bag to find what he needed. Even though I did a pretty horrible job, crewing my family turned out to be very rewarding. To be so wholeheartedly invested in the goals of another person, let alone three people, and to see them succeed is a wonderful experience. I was beaming with pride the entire day and have been bragging on them ever since.

4fd1228b-f307-41f8-9b45-fafc05b4273d

fa01df34-2545-4842-b55f-1007c3425c02

My mom and me!

I can’t wait to see what’s next in store for Jeremy. I mean, he even joked about the possibility of a future hundred miler which no one in their right mind does after their first 50k. As for my Mom and Tiffany, I can’t wait to report back on their first marathon coming up on May 21! I almost wish I was crewing them again but can’t wait to actually run a marathon with them, checking off Missouri for my 15th state at the Berryman Trail Marathon. Look for my next family brag post in the near future!

d7d08aef-cfe3-4bfc-9ca8-71fc48450970

Back at the rental house, Tiffany now has to battle the giant octopus my husband and I made for her birthday

ecdf4171-5d47-49b9-b80a-7d286a022c54

Race Report: Mississippi 50k

♪ Yo listen up here’s a story ♪ About a little guy that lives in a blue world..

In a moment of inspiration as I was driving down to the Mississippi 50k, I decided that I would memorize this deeply moving 90’s pop song so that I could serenade my friend Sarah during the race. I was so committed to this plan that for thirty minutes I listened to this lyrical masterpiece on repeat at full volume. They say practice makes perfect but apparently that does not apply to my singing. During the race I tried belting it out no less then eight times and failed each time as I mixed up the words eventually trailing off into faint muttering. If you were at the race then yeah, that was me. I’m Chelsie by the way, and my friend Sarah is the one who puts up with all this nonsense. She’s the one who recommended the Mississippi 50k, expressing that it was sure to be a “muddy good time”. This was apparently one of the driest years the race has seen and we still trudged through mud puddles shin deep at times. It was a blast!

CLUE

I don’t have many pictures so here is my favorite movie, which I made Sarah watch on my kids’ mini DVD player the night before the race.

We car-camped in the Long Leaf Trail Campground, less than a minute’s walk away from the race start. The sun rose as we started off, revealing the emblematically Mississippi land with a vast expanse of pine trees and grassy undergrowth surrounding us. The 50k would take us for two laps of a big loop (12.5 miles) and finish with a smaller loop (6 miles). 50 mile runners would have to be extra mentally tough and run an additional big and small loop.

In the early miles I made sure to tease Sarah for her abnormal hatred of socks. She didn’t even wear socks during the night as she froze in her car, meanwhile I was wearing two pairs. To even the playing field I admitted that I only tie my shoelaces like every six months – that’s weird right? She looked a little concerned and suggested that I tie my shoes a little tighter for the day which I most certainly ignored. Of course I lost my shoe in the first deep mud puddle. And the next one. I should probably listen to her more often (but don’t tell her that).

The course had mile markers which are relatively uncommon in trail races and with plenty of aid stations thrown in the mix, the miles passed by quickly. The most memorable aid station was “Bubba’s Truck Stop”, complete with helpful rednecks and sign advertising opossum on the half shell. The people who volunteer at races are a special kind of crazy and we love them for it.

Aid Station Volunteers

Aid station volunteers at “Bubba’s Truck Stop” from MS50 website

Multiple times throughout the race I tried giving Sarah the “save yourself speech” wherein I tried to convince her not to wait up for me should I start metaphorically dying. She wasn’t having any of it so for 31 miles we joked around, made fun of each other, and splashed through mud puddles. I was definitely better off for it. She did say that she never has to worry about having to talk to people when I’m around so I guess there’s that?

We chatted off and on with some different runners we met along the way, probably annoying some and entertaining others with our strange conversations. I even saw a runner friend I met at a marathon in Louisiana, and we exchanged congratulations for our years’ exploits as he passed. The ultra-running community is pretty great.

We completed lap one (12.5 miles) in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Since we were parked in the campground, we were able to drop a few layers off at our cars without having to stray from the course. I wasn’t feeling great but my spirits were still decently high probably because at this point I was just surprised to be feeling better then Sarah. This was short lived however and Sarah’s low point was a lot more graceful than my complete bonk (coming up). We were still running a decent pace and continued bickering like an old married couple, which for us means everything is good. At some point during this second loop, the first and second place fifty mile runners lapped us. They were amazing.

Ever Graceful

First loop done. Most graceful photo of me, ever. 

In the final miles of the second loop, we ended up with a runner from the U.S. Air Force that ran the entire distance holding an American flag. We ran behind him for a little while, getting whipped in the face with our nation’s symbol of freedom, or just freedom for short. We joked that he needed to train an eagle to fly with him as he runs.

We finished up the second and final big loop in 2 hours and 30 minutes, 4 hours and 45 minutes into the race. With only six miles to go, Sarah started to smell the barn and was feeling good again, ready to finish the thing. This is unfortunately when I started to suck wind. She could have taken off and left me in the dust but she stayed with my whiny butt. I even gave her the “save yourself” speech again.

NSYNC

Second loop done, Sarah’s looking intense

So here I was, trying to pep myself up knowing full well I was losing it. Whew, only six more miles. I got this. And Sarah was like, “Ooh! There’s a runner up ahead. I think we can pass ’em!” I told Sarah that I was so cranky that I wanted to chuck a pine cone at her. She laughed and challenged, “You wouldn’t!” So of course this gave me just enough energy to pick up a pine cone and chuck it at her.

We eventually did pass a runner and then we came up on a group of horses. I asked Sarah what we should do hoping she would suggest that we walk until we came to a crossroads. No dice. We politely told the riders that we were going to pass them and that was that.

Horse

Adorable horse pic from the race FB page

We hit the final aid station and continued on with me starting to bonk to the point of not talking. That’s when you know I’m feeling bad. I pretty much just tucked in behind Sarah and followed her footsteps for the final three miles until the finish. I only spoke to complain about how much I felt like doo-doo whereas Sarah was saying nice things and encouraging me, basically pacing me for the final 3 miles. That’s true love right there.

Speaking of love, we soon caught up to a couple, each with a handheld water bottle in their hands. The water bottles are significant because for a brief moment they held hands with their water bottle hands and it was adorable. Anyway, the thought of passing anyone made me even more tired and I may have muttered to myself something like, “I don’t wanna..” In fact, I think this is when I decided to chuck another pine cone at Sarah, only this time I didn’t give her a warning. And instead of a softer, worn-down pine cone I accidentally picked up one of those super spiky ones. And instead of hitting her shorts I hit her on her bare calf. As it left my hand, I immediately regretted it as I realized what a jerk move it was. She spun around confused, probably wondering for a split second if she would find her leg on the trail behind her. I felt so bad! Then again, feeling bad is probably what gave me the energy to pass the cute runner couple which made Sarah happy in the long run.

As we approached the finish, Sarah and I could see that we were close to finishing just at 6 hrs and we booked it. Right before the finish chute, Sarah being the humble and way-too-considerate person that she is, stopped abruptly to let me go ahead before I could process what was going on. I slowed and turned around, waving for her to come on but it was too late, I was already passing through the finish. For the record, I am still mad at her for this. To make matters worse, the volunteers at the finish line asked who came in first because that person was the third place female. Normally this would be exciting news but it I shouldn’t have been the third place female, it should have been Sarah. The volunteers handed me my a trophy and they gave Sarah a pair of socks as a consolation prize. Remember that Sarah hates socks?? Of course she has refused to trade prizes with me, although the debate is to be continued. Cutting the the trophy in half would be difficult so now I’m thinking something like the Ya Ya Sisterhood of the Traveling Trophy?

Jerk

Coming in before Sarah LIKE A JERK.

Sarah

How I found Sarah after using the bathroom. She is probably pondering the meaning of life and our friendship. Or just resting.

After scolding Sarah for being too considerate, we plated up some delicious rice and beans and just relaxed for a little while before having to drive home. We inspected the sand and mud in our shoes. At some point I overheard the man and woman parked next to us say something about the rice crispy treats she had brought. “As in home made rice crispy treats?!” This brought on some quality conversations about what an awesome running food rice crispy treats are, how homemade is so much better then store-bought, and other important running topics. The woman offered for me to have some but I half-heartedly declined. Luckily Sarah sensed how urgently I needed them and said something like, “Yeah, she’ll take one”. The woman opened the lid to the container revealing the perfect marshmallow to rice crispy ratio, those things were amazing. They sent me home with an entire container with the reasoning that I could share some with the kids when I got home. Yeah… they didn’t stand a chance, those things didn’t even make it home. So thank you kind strangers (angels?), I wish I had gotten your names!

IMG_7654

Way too excited about the rice crispy treats

We saw flag guy again and when he told us his name is Eric, it occurred to me that even his name is patriotic – AmERICa. (It may be my only original thought ever but you can steal it if you want dude, just make sure to start training that eagle. And seriously, thank you for your service!). 

AmERICa TREX

AmERICa hugging a T-Rex

In sum, this was a really well organized and great race. I was able to run a personal best of 6 hours and 5 seconds for the 50k, probably due in part to all the fun we were having and Sarah keeping me accountable at the end. For those of you following my adventures, this race marked my fourteenth state and was wonderfully Mississippi in every way. If you are considering it, take the plunge and as Sarah said, prepare to have a “muddy good time!”

Trophy of Lies

Anyone know how to cut acrylic in half?

^Official music video for the “I’m Blue” song, for those of you who didn’t grow up in the 90s

Cummins Falls Marathon: Sweeper Duty

It’s not everyday you get to walk on water. One unique feature of the Cummins Falls Half Marathon is the innovative kayak bridge pictured below, where you get to do just that. The bridge consists of multiple kayaks strategically tied to one another to make pontoons for the plywood boards overhead. My friend Sarah and I were course sweepers for the full marathon but we made a quick side trip to check it out for ourselves. IT WAS EPIC. Sarah and I tend to stick to trail races, and by that I mean we are full on trail snobs, and we both agreed that we would run this race again. The course was beautiful, the aid stations were frequent and well stocked, the shirts were actually nice and the after party was catered by Outback Steakhouse and the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce who apparently know how to cook some fine chicken. The best part, though, is that the money earned from this race actually goes back to the park. The Friend’s Group that puts the race on plans to use the money to purchase additional land to protect Cummins Falls. How cool is that?

The night before the race, my family stayed in the cabins at Edgar Evins State Park, just 30 minutes from Cummins Falls. My in-laws were going to watch my two kiddos, my husband Matt would help at the race wherever needed and Sarah and I would be “sweeping” the back of the pack, making sure no one was left behind while also picking up course signs and accidental trash. This kind of thing is our twisted idea of fun.

IMG_7550

My husband, Matt, found a (toy) snake in his boot, courtesy of our kiddos

The start of the race was abuzz with excited runners, park rangers from around the state and interestingly, Tennessee Tech cheerleaders. When the race kicked off, we hugged Smokey the Bear for warmth and hung around waiting for stragglers who might have missed the start. Like a mother with a restless child, Sarah chided me to be patient and eventually relented permission for us to get out there. We discreetly tailed the final marathoners along the course and let the volunteers know that we were last ones through until the 5k and 10k. The aid stations were plentiful, each with a group of happy and helpful volunteers and plenty of food and water, even for us at the back of the pack. Not to set the bar too high for next year, but those aid station bananas were the best I’ve had in awhile, they were perfect. For those of you weirdos like me who are curious about bathrooms, there were at least 6 along the course resourcefully located at unique locations – a volunteer’s house, a rented port-a-john, an actual outhouse, a civic center, and a church bathroom. I wasn’t brave enough to use the outhouse but it was interesting to say the least. There was very little road traffic through much of the race, the majority of the cars that passed by were aid station volunteers and rangers checking on runners and finding things to help out with. We even got to see my husband a few times.

IMG_7551

As we ran, Sarah and I relentlessly made fun of each other as friends do, with her pointing out my unchanging habit of wearing gray while I ridiculed her deliberate lack of socks. No seriously guys, she ran the entire marathon without socks. I also made fun of her mittens, my view being that gloves are undeniably superior (except in the case of small children) and we debated this topic until the best thing happened… when she tried to use air quotes in conversation while wearing mittens. I urge you to put your hands in mitten position and try to make air quotes. If this doesn’t make you chuckle, I don’t know what will.

IMG_7557

Sarah giving a thumbs-up, one thing you actually can do in mittens

IMG_7561

She might kill me for posting this (but it’d be worth it)

We continued our dorky conversations as we enjoyed the beautiful country roads. Soon enough, the half marathon course split off the full marathon course across the epic kayak bridge over the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River. It was much sturdier then you would expect, even when running across. Then we got back out on the course, now with Ranger Nat behind us in a ranger vehicle. At some point, the rangers asked us to run ahead to the next runner since the patrol vehicle would be able to drive behind the very last runner. We felt exceptionally useless so we fought over who would get to pick up pieces of trash. To pass the time we held discussions about whether or not one could survive jumping from different vantage points into the river. We also played “sticks” at every bridge we crossed over.. and I learned that Sarah is much better at that game than me.

IMG_7555

We ended up behind a runner named Don who I later found out was 85 years young. He stopped to talk to some people who were working outside and I thought that he might be asking for directions so Sarah and I approached him to ask if he’d like to look at our map. We stood there talking for awhile and he urged us to go ahead of him. I tried to explain that we were the sweepers and he laughed and said, “Oh you guys are ‘Sneakers’ huh?” At each aid station we would learn a little more about him. He told us he had run over 140 marathons. He was friends with the woman behind us, Cathy, who was completing her 360th marathon! It was pretty humbling to be following the footsteps of such accomplished runners!

At some point we talked to Jeremy Vaden who works as a Ranger at Cummins Falls State Park and used to be my husband’s supervisor back in the day when they worked at Burgess Falls. Vaden was going to relieve Nat of tailing duties and we suggested that they both take lunch so we could feel useful again. Sarah and I resumed our post at the back of the line and continued onward. We were excited to finally get to see the course’s monster hill (something is definitely wrong with us). I played it off like the hill wasn’t that bad but I was also glad that I didn’t have to run up it, especially since this was 17 miles in. Painted onto the road was a relatable frowny face with X’s for eyes, which is how I would have felt had I been running.

Cummins Falls Elevation Profile

Course Elevation Profile.

As course sweepers, the race signs and trash we picked up along the course became tokens of our usefulness. We sprinted at the first sight of course signs, and we pushed, we tricked and we bargained in an attempt to have the most. Then a ranger vehicle would stop by, we would drop off what signs we had and the cycle would start again. At one point, Sarah had picked up several discarded gel packets in a row so I was pretty excited when I saw the glimmer of one on the road that she hadn’t noticed. I reveled in my victory as I reached for the shiny package.. until I saw that it was in fact a condom wrapper. I yelped in disgust and threw it back down as Sarah laughed and laughed. At the next aid station I doused myself in hand sanitizer and vowed never to use my left hand again.

Somewhere around mile 23, Matt stopped by with two steaks for Sarah and me (he is seriously the best). We literally stood there on the side of the road with steaks in hand, juices dripping down our face as cars passed by. It was a beautiful moment.

We got back on the course with full bellies and our legs feeling the hours spent on the road. Soon enough we picked up the half marathon sign for mile 12 which we assumed meant we were just a mile from the finish. Unfortunately the full marathoners were only at mile 24, still two miles to go as the race literally throws you for a loop right near the finish line. The final miles of any marathon are tough but this would have been a mental hurdle for sure had we been racing it.

We passed the final aid station where at an adorable puppy had wandered. I petted him and loved on him and came to the conclusion that puppy aid stations should definitely be a thing! You wouldn’t be able to leave in a sour mood. Then again, you might not be able to leave at all.

IMG_7639

We finished up the last little stretch and rounded the corner to the finish. Many had packed up and gone at this point but park manager Ray Cutcher waited at the finish to congratulate Cathy as she came in. I was glad to speak with her. She told me that she had completed the race in honor of a colleague of hers that had passed away. His goal was to run a marathon in every state and she has been finishing up the states that he didn’t get the chance to do. I only hope to be so awesome when I grow up.

IMG_7552

I am obviously biased since I love State Parks and the Friend’s Groups that support them, but this race was wonderful in its own right. If you are trying to decide if you should do this one, listen to the wise words from Nike and JUST DO IT. If you can’t decide between the half marathon and the full, I vote that you sign up for the half so that you get a chance to run across the kayak bridge. I definitely recommend visiting Cummins Falls State Park the day before the race so you get a chance to hike the easy half mile trail to the overlook of the falls and see what you are helping to protect.

12728948_1084667091590248_2879539535246486216_n

Picture from the Cummins Falls Marathon Facebook Page

Thank you to Ray Cutcher and the Friends of Cummins Falls State Park for putting on a great race and letting me be a part of it! Thanks to my friend Sarah for driving 6 hours to run and play sticks with me. And finally, thank you to my parents-inlaw for having a blast with my kids so that I could spend a day doing something I love!

12779121_10208847235485289_5233808096208432820_o

Linden hugged me and told me I was stinky!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Cloudland Canyon 50 Mile Race Report

I could not have been more excited for this race. It was on my short list of awesome looking Georgia races and even though I accepted that it might not work out for 2016, a twenty percent off promotion put the idea back on the table. My parents-in-law overheard me excitedly talking to my husband Matt about it and not only did they cook me a delicious meal that evening, they offered to personally sponsor me for the race. I say this all the time but while everyone else is making jokes about their in-laws I am joking around with mine. They are amazing and supportive and I love them.

image

I have run a marathon in each of the blue and green states. Green states represent races that my inlaws have supported me in a major way through sponsorship, crewing, lodging, babysitting, feeding, driving, cheering, and praying! I am loved!

Unfortunately, about a week before the race things started falling apart. Paul wasn’t going to be able to come because of a commitment at church, the rest of us got sick and then two days before the race my son Linden had a scary asthma episode. I had strongly considered not even running because it felt wrong to leave Linden when he had been feeling so bad. Last minute we decided that Betty would stay home with the boys and that my mom, who was also sick, would crew me at the race.

I was pretty tired from taking care of Linden the night before so as I power-napped, Matt stayed up and prepped most of my stuff for the race – yes, he is that awesome! Two hours of sleep later and I was leaving for Cloudland Canyon State Park, just an hour’s drive from our house. After my hour long jam session in the car, I parked in the grass field next to the group lodge. I looked over and my friends from the Barkley Fall Classic, Trung and Consuela, had parked right next to me! We headed in to race check-in and I chatted with a few people I recognized from the trail running group in Knoxville. It’s fun getting to know so many like-minded crazies in this awesome ultra-running community.

Soon enough we were all called outside to the race start for the pre-race instructions. One thing that stuck out was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “The course is well-marked so if you get lost it’s because you are an idiot”. Most of you are too nice to tell me but now I know the truth.. I am in fact an idiot. More on that later.

Just a short speech later and we were off, heading down the road into the dark fog. The plan is to be out there all day so we all kind of shuffle along like some big group run. We soon hit trail and join the inevitable conga line of runners, slowing to a walk occasionally. Lucky for me, I am slow and don’t mind. I have fun talking with some fellow runners and relish what little scenery my headlamp offers. I don’t love running with a headlamp but I’ll admit it was pretty neat seeing the string of lights bobbing through the woods. The trails here were smooth and easy and my feet stayed dry – it was like a trail running vacation!

Soon enough we hit the first aid station, something like 6 miles in. I snacked on some dark chocolate covered pretzels that I had made (10/10 would eat again) and joined back up with some fun runners from Charleston. We had fun talking about snakes, plants and running related stuff but eventually I slowed down some and ran by myself for a few miles. I adjusted my headlamp at exactly the wrong time and unknowingly passed a critical intersection. I eventually came to a crossroads with no markings, only a truck blocking the trail in one direction and an open trail going up a hill to the left. I assumed the truck was supposed to be blocking the path and I continued to the left. On the way up I saw the group I had been with earlier coming back towards me. They had apparently gone about a mile or two out of the way until a volunteer told them to head back down the hill and turn at the truck. I tucked in behind them, wondering where we went wrong but glad I hadn’t gone quite so far. We ended up back at the truck where a large group of runners had piled up and were walking around trying to sort out which way to go. We walked passed the truck and saw some course markers which further confused things as we couldn’t tell if they were going straight or following the trail to the right. A lot of us went straight until seeing a runner coming from the opposite direction heading towards us. What now?! He said the trail made a big loop, that there was a turn to the left and then it looped around to the point we were at. Great… the others had just done that and were told they went the wrong way. It was quite comical, this big group of 30 or so runners wandering around trying to make sense of it all. We consoled ourselves by scoffing at the race director and saying things like, “We can’t all be idiots, right?” Make no mistake, bashing the race director is a normal phase in most ultra-runs, but it is normally reserved for the final twenty percent of a difficult race (and typically ending immediately after crossing the finish line, when the race director resumes hero/celebrity status for the rest of the year). Thankfully another runner clarified the situation for us – the trail was indeed a loop and we did have to go up a hill and to the left but we had to go back about a third of a mile before we would see it. Back we went until we saw the turn, plain as day! I felt pretty sheepish for having missed it BECAUSE I AM AN IDIOT. In our defense it was at least dark out?

This how me and thirty other idiots saw the turn...

This is how me and thirty other idiots saw the turn…

And here's how we should have seen the turn..

And here’s what we should have seen.

The course went up a few moderate switchbacks into a beautiful, rocky section, right as the sun was coming up. The next twenty miles or so were a blur of beautiful trails, mountain laurel and rhododendrons, amusing conversations, and wonderful aid stations complete with helpful and upbeat volunteers. The trails near the five points system were unique and fun, going up and over short, punchy hills within a larger valley that was pocked with sinkholes and the occasional pond. The fog added to the strangeness of it all, making it feel like we were running through a scene out of Star Wars.

All of the awesome pictures courtesy of fellow runner, Becky Cahill!

All of the awesome pictures courtesy of fellow runner, Becky Cahill!

I enjoyed this section but my mood was somewhat subdued the whole day as I worried about Linden’s asthma. I normally consider running a nice break from my normal life as a stay-at-home mom but I instead felt the weight of leaving him. What a sweet thing it was for Betty to send me text messages throughout the day letting me know that Linden was feeling better and that they were all doing well.

All of the awesome pictures are thanks to fellow runner Becky Cahill!

I got some pep in my step around mile 21, looking forward to seeing my mom and husband at the next aid station. I ran for a solid chunk, joking around with two firefighters I had run with off and on throughout the day. I joined in on some good wholesome conversations like how the trail names could be used instead for various strip joints, and other good ones. Where the previous aid station felt longer than advertised, this aid station felt like it arrived much sooner. I hit mile 26(ish) around 11am, six hours into the race, and happy to be right on target. Not as fast as I wanted but not as slow as it could have taken me either. I took a swig of soda from the aid station and looked around for my family who had pulled into the aid station just in time! Matt and my mom jumped out of the car and I stayed a few minutes to enjoy their company and a warm meal. My mom was clearly congested and sick and Matt had driven over an hour to see me for just this aid station but there they were, in the cold rain no less. I don’t know why they put up with me!image

Back out I went, with tired legs but warm food in my belly. It would be twelve more miles until I’d see my mom again, heading back on the same trails we had run earlier when it was dark. It’s always interesting to note how it seems like the miles get longer and the hills get steeper as you get further into the race. The benefit of having done this kind of thing before is that I can usually tell myself it’s just my mind playing tricks on me. Just the same, it felt like forever between aid stations and I started worrying about cut-off times, even if that thought did nothing to motivate me to run faster. I ran with a man named Fred for a good bit and enjoyed talking with him as we finally came into the aid station, just thirty minutes ahead of the cutoff time.image

Just after the aid station, I came across a “bucket-john” on stilts. When I first opened the door all I saw were two metal trash cans, one large and one small. Oh gosh, is that what they meant by bucket-john? I noticed the tiny toilet seat in the corner and was glad I didn’t climb those eight steps for nothing! The cans apparently held wood chips, which you throw in after using the bathroom. It was interesting to say the least but I was just happy I didn’t have to worry about peeing in front of an audience (which has happened before).image

As I continued on, my thoughts oscillated between the following for almost the rest of the race: I’ve caused my family all this hullabaloo and I might not even make the cutoff times to finish? Meh, it’s just as well, I’ll get to go home and relieve Betty and my mom of all this nonsense. But then I won’t get to see the best part of the race! So? – No one else in the family is getting to see it, I’ll want to come back anyway.

I’m glad to report that I did finish the race within the cut-off times, but it was not without some additional suffering… which, in a weird way, makes the race more enjoyable to look back on. The lower the valleys, the higher the peaks and all that good stuff.image

By 2:30pm, 7.5 hours into the race, I was coming into the aid station at mile 38 which was also the start/finish area. I said hi to my mom, got a snack, joked with the child laborers who helped me at the aid station (who were awesome by the way!) and went on my way. I wasn’t really sure how the rest of the course was laid out but I was told I had about 7 miles of mostly downhill running before I would get to the gorge, where a park ranger would let me know if I could go down into the canyon based on the cutoff times. I ran the majority of this road section, hoping it would afford me more time later on. After what felt like forever (read: four miles), I followed the flagging into a camping area and onto the West Rim Trail. The trail wasn’t too difficult in terms of elevation change but it was extremely technical, with lots of rocks and roots. It was on this section of trail that I ran into Trung and his wife Consuela, pretty fitting considering I met Trung during the final miles of the Barkley Fall Classic. Consuela was suffering through some kind of injury (a stress fracture or something similar?) and was mostly just hiking at this point, though I struggled to even keep up with her walking pace. We talked about how we must be getting close to the aid station but it never came. Mentally, I was probably at my lowest point of the race but thankfully the views here were the greatest! We turned a corner on the trail and I was pleasantly surprised with a view of the city of Trenton, down in the valley below. This race saves the best for last and the views kept getting better and better.image

Soon we were rewarded with views of Cloudland Canyon, the namesake of the park – what a thrillingly beautiful place! Pictures failed to adequately portray the impressive depth of the gorge so I was completely floored when I finally got to see it for myself. After eleven hours of hard work, standing on one of the rock outcrops overlooking the canyon was a deeply satisfying experience. It was one of those moments you wish could last forever. Unfortunately for me, the clock was still ticking and I had hours of butt-kicking work ahead of me.image

On one particular rock I saw a course marker followed by an increasingly narrowing rock ledge where Fred was climbing around a tree on the edge of a sizable cliff. Oh no, this couldn’t possibly be the route, could it? Luckily, the course had actually turned, going up between two large rocks and I alerted Fred that he didn’t have to continue more rock climbing shenanigans. Later, Fred gave me a high-five for saving his life.image

We never saw a ranger or an aid station but we really had no choice but to keep going so onward we went. First there were a few earthen steps and then a 1,200 stair descent into the center of the canyon. I was whining and complaining the whole time but really, this was awesome!!! The rocks, the waterfalls, the stairs – the whole thing was incredible! I had gloves on so I just leaned against the railing and let gravity do most of the work. I kept asking how far until the aid station and the answers seemed to stay the same. I knew it would feel further then it actually was but I still couldn’t understand how I wasn’t there yet. Everyone coming up the stairs looked so tired and defeated, but misery loves company so I didn’t mind. It was still great to see all the runners I had befriended throughout the day as they headed back on the final stretch to the finish.image image

Once at the bottom, I ran what was probably 2.5 miles of easy rolling gravel trail until the aid station. It was among the longest 2.5 miles I have ever run. You know how they say a watched pot never boils? I need a phrase like that for running. I was seriously like a kid on a road trip, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” I feel bad for anyone who had to run with me during this section.image image

Even though time felt like it was moving like molasses, I did eventually make it to the mile 45 aid station, which I decided was more like the mile 50 aid station. I was cranky until I realized how cranky I was being, which then made it somewhat comical. I started cheering up as I talked to my mom and enjoyed the relief that I was actually going to finish this thing. It was 5pm and I still had 2 hours to finish the remaining 5 miles. I don’t normally stray from my list of tried and true running foods but there was a plate of cookies that looked delicious and I wasn’t saying no. I ate two and they were amazing.image

The final stretch was intense but beautiful. Once or twice I literally crawled up the stairs like a bear, using my hands on the steps in front of me. For the most part though, climbing up wasn’t as bad as I expected, especially since the climb was broken up by two small out and backs leading to beautiful waterfalls. I also had the railing to lean onto which was nice. At one point I passed by some people heading down the stairs. They cheered me on and I said something cranky like, “I FEEL LIKE DEATH!” We exchanged a few words in passing and the woman said to just remember that, “♪Everything is awesome!♪ which immediately made me smile as I sang the next line (from the Lego movie), “♪Everything is cool when you’re part of a team!♪” Thanks for cheering me up, kind strangers! image

I reached the top sooner then expected and donned my headlamp for the last mile or two to the finish. I crested the last hill and heard the most beautiful words I had heard all day, “Runner!” Woohoo!!! I was there! I choked up as I ran to the final aid station tent. I thanked Sean for such a fantastic course.. and accidentally blinded him in the face with my headlamp (sorry Sean!).image

All in all this was a wonderful race and I could not recommend it more! I wish I had gone into it under different circumstances but even in my subdued state I enjoyed the beautiful and well-marked course, the ridiculously amazing volunteers and the race experience as a whole. And as always in these races, the camaraderie with fellow runners was terrific – Matt, Elaine, Rocky, firefighter dudes, Lisa, Fred, dude in the green shirt, Trung, Consuela and anyone else I might have missed – I enjoyed running with you all and the sometimes strange conversations we had!image

Thank you to my husband Matt for staying up late to help me pack and for supporting me in this nonsense. Thank you to my mom for spending all day in the cold rain just to crew me and make sure I made it home safely. And a huge THANK YOU to my mother and father in law, for personally sponsoring me for the race and supporting me in more ways than I can count. I know you didn’t ask for the recognition but you are a huge part in helping me accomplish my goals and I cannot thank you enough! Can’t wait to go back and explore Cloudland Canyon with you all!

image

Thank you, again, to Becky Cahill for use of her awesome pictures during this race!

Guest Post: Crewing Pinhoti 100

Guest post written by Lynette Scansen – my awesome crew chief, pacer and mom

cddaef4d-50f6-4ee0-bf8a-3cc08454fac6


My first time to crew a hundred mile race: Pinhoti 100

My daughter Chelsie has always had the athletic gene and has been on so many crazy adventures that when she came to me with the thought of running a 100 miler I knew it was going to happen. The only question I had was: when? How much time do we need to prepare? I also knew that this would take the entire family as we were talking a 30 hour, yes, you heard that right 30 hour race time. Wow! Is this possible? People do this? Who? Crazy people, that’s who….

Chelsie did much research and ended signing up for the Pinhoti 100 for the month of November. She would plot and get very organized about her training. The whole family was on board and very supportive and asked what they could do, and the C.R.E.W was born. As prepared as we thought we could be we set off into an environment we had no firsthand knowledge about. The plan was to get a good night sleep, well that wasn’t going to happen, not until Sunday night. We got up early and headed to the start line, naive to what emotions and physical demands we would endure. I was excited that this day had finally come encouraging Chelsie knowing she was ready for this race. We were an hour early and I was so focused on Chelsie and her needs I hadn’t planned too much for myself. 15 minutes before the race start time the rain came and did it ever come down. I was wearing the only tennis shoes I brought and that I would be running in as a pacer 10 hours from this time realizing I made my first mistake. We were drowned rats before go time….

Ready, set, run! The race is on. Now we wait. Thankful that my daughter Tiffany knew I would not be prepared for the rain she hooked me up with a proper rain jacket and I changed into my rain boots. As we set up camp waiting for the 12 mile aid station we notice how prepared other crews were with tarps canopy and camp stove with hot drinks and food. Have they done this before? We start talking with others and met lots of people – husbands, wives, parents, children and friends from all over the country. This was exciting and we would start to recognize many as the day would progress. A quote from one women we met, “my boyfriend, her husband (pointing to the women next to her) is running”. Well everyone in ear shot burst out laughing as we thought she was talking about one man. It really was two men – you just had to be there…

Chelsie made it to the aid station in good spirits and was off again. Mile 18 here we come. When we see Chels she was down and out. She had been sick. Which brings me to the first reason I have no desire to be a ultra runner: people really go to the bathroom in the rain on the trails. We get to walk and talk with Chels changing her shoes and feeding her. This went very well and she would be off again. Next crew station would be her longest stay but it would be a little chaotic. We have a few hours first so we check in with all the other family and eat. Rain, rain go away. At this point I start to worry for the runners that did not have crew. I couldn’t imagine Chelsie out there without us 🙂 Another lesson we learned was that our GPS did not work and we only had one copy of the directions which did not fair well with the weather and all the hands on. We met at aid station 7 at 5:30pm and it is still raining and now its dark and really foggy. 10 ½ hours to mile 40. We had been organized with all of Chelsie’s change of clothes and shoes labeled but with the darkness we could not read. The crew is scrambling looking for what she needs. Lesson learned: next time we will color coordinate. We get Chels ready to go and her father-in-law and I take off. We walk while she eats and I realize I do not like my head lamp and Paul offers me his flashlight. I am hesitant because he would have to walk back in the dark but I was so thankful by the end of my run. Having a handheld light was a great lesson learned because the flag reflectors were easy to spot with the little light but not so easy with the headlamps. Now we hit the steep down hill. I would fall but then how could I not? It was crazy steep, wet and muddy (still raining). We hit a backup of runners and I watched my daughter take charge and lead us on. It was confusing finding the flags in a couple of sections it looked like there wasn’t a trail, which way do we go? Here is where several people fell and I thought these people were crazy. We were running down hill, in the rain, with streams knee deep, in the dark. I am not complaining just making observation. what are they thinking? Really; what? We get through this mile section and the part I trained for has come, running my 3.5 mile stretch, feeling excited that Chelsie let me into her ultra world. I just got a glimpse into the mind of the ones who push their bodies to the max enduring the severe elements. Most people quit at 40% of what they are capable of – not 100 milers, they give 100%. I have a deep respect for the pain they go through to get to the goal. I stand in awe of all who even attempt such a race.

My youngest daughter Hannah meets us at the next aid station to give me a break. I would go to the hotel and arrange to meet Matt and Sarah, the midnight crew. We have no cell service and updates do not come in very often. I am anxious to not be in the loop. How is Chelsie? Emotions all over and napping is not going well. But time goes by and Matt and I sit and brain storm at 3.30am drinking coffee (bad idea I will explain later).Matt fills me in over the last three aid station and Chelsie’s mood – grumpy… We need to come up with what foods to force on her and we head to Walmart and then on to aid station16. It is cold but there is a fire. We see Chelsie’s friend Melissa about 6.00am and we would stay together the rest of the day. Waiting but now it is windy with a little rain and daylight is here.

Then we had some drama at the fire: only 4 runners left on the trail and all others have been turned back but there were 6 families at the fire so 2 will not have a runner. Nervous waiting, 1st runner comes in 3 left waiting. Having to pee (coffee), woods here I come… Waiting. We are getting close to cut off time and our emotions are running wild. Waiting. There she is! 2nd to come out of the 4 but her time was right at cutoff so instead of eating or any aid she sprints with tears in her eyes – we are at mile 85 and it is 8.33am. Sarah, her pacer, fills her water and sprints to catch up with Chels. All I can say is, “you got this” because I wanted to burst out in tears. I saw and felt her pain and disappointment of cutting it too close. Worried making the cutoff to the next aid station. Aid station 18 here we come. We get lost but we find aid 17 and they tell us she was 10 minutes before cutoff so we can breathe a little. She doesn’t stop at the aid station because of time but Matt would take over for Sarah. Off they go to the finish line. At this point it is 11.00 am and I know Chelsie will complete her goal. Of course it is raining but I don’t think you can get any wetter than I was. Rain you can stay because you did not discourage my finisher. Feelings of pride ran deep. That term living through your kids vicariously, well that was me. Even though it was Chelsie that ran the 100 miles I can say that I did finish my first 100 miler. I survived the nail biting, ever waiting, always raining Pinhoti 100 Crew. After 29 hours and 41 minutes my Chelsie crosses the finish line and I proudly say we did it!

Chelsie’s race displayed physical endurance and is an illustration of how I want to finish my spiritual race:

Hebrews 12:1&2 – Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith,who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

My first hundred mile race: Pinhoti 100

The first time I had even heard of someone running 100 miles was during my first marathon at the age of 16 when I met a woman who was using my big race as a training run. I remember being somewhat skeptical and a little annoyed. “Now that’s just crazy. I would never do that.” Just four years later I ended up running a 50 miler and still list that as one of my top most painful experiences, up there with childbirth, appendicitis and the two times I’ve broken my wrist. Naturally, I told myself that I would never do that again. Now I realize that denial is just the first stage of ultra-running. If you don’t want to run an ultra, you probably shouldn’t use the word “never”.

Shortly after running my first marathon post-kids, I caught the 100 mile bug and I caught it bad. I mentioned it to my husband and he just rolled his eyes with a smile and said he knew it was coming some day. I called my mom hoping she would talk some sense into me and maybe remind me that I’m a stay at home mom with no time to train for a marathon, let alone a 100 mile race. Instead, I could sense her nodding in support as she said, “Ok. When?” Everyone I turned to for the voice of logic and reason told me that they were completely supportive and that they would do whatever they could to help – they’d watch the kids, crew me, even pace me. The same night I talked to Matt about how we could afford it he made me this blog and suggested I look for sponsors. When I asked how we’d make time for me to train with his busy schedule, he made a plan with me and assured me that we’d make it work. And when I found the race I was sure I wanted to do, he registered me before I could stop him. My family and friends totally surrounded me with support and I owe every bit of my success to them.

12185551_10208057029850642_776766471486652507_o

My brother in law planted a rose bush almost twenty years ago and it continues to bloom at special times in life. This beautiful flower bloomed right before my race.

Finally Race Day

After a restless night of tossing and turning, I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to sleep anymore and got up at 2:45am. It had been loudly storming all night long and at least now it was just raining. Soon enough my mom, older sister and I headed to the race start. The course had been changed slightly due to the tremendous amount of rain and runners were now to start at Aid Station 2, backtrack to Aid Station 1 and then turn around and follow the course normally. Muddy roads and a collapsed bridge meant Aid stations 4, 6 and 13 would now be unmanned water stops. The weather wasn’t going to make things any easier but I was just going to have to roll with it. I did worry about how hard it would make things for my kids and for my family, after all, I might need them to crew me in the future!

First 13 miles – My stomach was churning and I could already hear my heart pounding I was so nervous. I just wanted to get out there and do it already! We all lined up and the race started somewhat anticlimactically, like most ultra-runs. I quickly joined the conga line of runners on the single track, occasionally chatting with the people in front and behind me. This section included lots of waiting and walking, awkwardly passing people and awkwardly getting passed. The trail surface was covered in cushy pine straw which was pretty much like running on butterflies and rainbows (but with the occasional rock or root hiding under the leaf litter to bring you back to reality). We went up and down moderate rolling hills and hit a few little creek crossings that could mostly be jumped across. I enjoyed the gorgeous fall colors and the occasional views overlooking the Talladega National Forest, what we could see through the rain and distant fog anyway. Some kind volunteer was standing in the middle of the path directing everyone around a hornet’s nest. A little over an hour in and we were having to get out of the way for the faster runners who had already hit the aid station and turned around. The side-stepping definitely slowed things down for everyone but it was nice to cross paths once again with some of the friends I had met on this journey and say hi. It was also pretty impressive to see the clusters of runners near the front, competing for the top spots and clearly giving a good effort so soon into the race – I am not one of those runners. Around this time I also started noticing much faster runners passing me on occasion and only realized later that they had gotten lost at a critical intersection of trail and Forest Service Road. The course had been marked well for the normal direction but was never changed to accommodate the direction shift. I thankfully did not get lost here but can imagine the frustration of getting off track so early in the race. Eventually I got close enough to the aid station that I could smell foods the runners had eaten when they passed by. When I got to the aid station I may have shouted, “I knew I smelled Doritos!”, grabbed some fruit instead and headed right back out. The crowds had thinned a little and I got into smaller groups of runners, chatting here and there and having fun guessing people’s accents and where they were from. I was a little concerned at how far that 6.57 miles felt in relation to the entire distance but I didn’t dwell on it. After about 2 hours, I was experiencing my usual muscle soreness and my feet and ankles were strangely tender from all the off-trail side stepping. I reminded myself to focus on getting to Aid Station 2 where I’d see my mom and sister.

Mile 13 to Mile 18 – I started heading down the hill toward Aid Station 2 and was already starting to choke up a little, thinking about my family supporting me and still nervous about the enormity of the task ahead. I was almost glad for the out-and-back because I was able to use the porta-potties at Aid Station #2 again. I grabbed some grapes from my mom and sister and got back on course, crossing over a bridge and hopping over a metal guardrail back onto single track. While I was still eating, I smelled that someone had used the bathroom too close to the trail and I completely lost it. I threw up and dry heaved for 5 minutes as I apologized to passing runners. I anticipated that I might get sick in the later stages of the race but not after the first half marathon! Thankfully that was the last of me getting sick but I was worried it was the start to a long day and grapes were no longer a food option. I had already committed that I was going to continue until the “sweeper or the reaper” got me so I kept going. It was a little disheartening to get passed so frequently through this section but I hoped the sickness would pass eventually. I shifted my focus to the beautiful trail and knew it would be just a few short miles before I’d see my crew again. When I saw my mom and sister at mile 18, they handed me a cup of warm food with a piece of bread and walked with me along the stretch of road. I didn’t feel like eating but forced it down anyways. The car was on the way so they asked if I’d like to quickly change my wet shoes. “This soon in the race? Nah, I’ll be fine.” But thankfully they were pretty convincing and the combination of the dry shoes and the warm food helped lift my spirits and I left in a much better state.

Mile 18 to mile 27 – During this section I started feeling better and stopped feeling so nervous. I think my body finally realized, “Yep, we’re going to be here all day.” The shoe change was pleasant but didn’t last long as this was the start of many stream crossings. There were so many creeks and streams it was difficult to imagine that in years past, people had finished the entire race without getting their feet wet. I went out of my way to keep my feet from being submerged for as long as possible and then somewhere around mile 20 the water was too deep for that to be possible. Several creeks were actually scary to cross with slick rocks and fast-moving water.

b314230e-7fa5-4b36-9ddf-c60ed826e215

One of many creek crossings. Or can we just call this a river?

Throughout this section I occasionally ran with a group of three – Mark, Theresa and Shannon – who were very upbeat and fun to be with. Mark and Theresa sang “Uptown Funk” word for word and several other catchy songs, with Mark getting so into that he’d turn around at times to emphasize the highlights. At one point we passed a waterfall and Mark made a joke about chasing waterfalls and then sang that song too. It was cracking me up and it was really encouraging to see some genuinely happy people. I’d ask Theresa for stats on the course and talked to Shannon about interesting races, bog bodies and other perfectly normal stuff. Soon enough, we hit the unmanned water station at mile 22 in place of the usual aid station and filled up.

66a41c57-b31d-4495-88f2-145dbe53cadf

My happy trail friends: Shannon, Theresa and Mark

A little ways down the trail, my foot got caught in a root and I landed on my hands and knees in some mud. I laughed at how absurd I must look as I washed off in the next creek crossing (which was of course not far). Then the trail took a tiny out-and-back to the Lake Morgan Aid Station, which involved a river crossing and a climb up the side of a waterfall. It was an awesome aid station put on by BUTS, the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society. It would be another 7.5 miles until the next water stop and the race director had asked that people only fill up as needed at that next stop so that the later runners would have some too. Well I got so excited picking out all of the pineapple gummy bears that I just forgot to fill up my water, a really stupid mistake that could have ruined my race. I can’t believe I’m saying this but luckily for me it started pouring (instead of just raining), cooling me enough that I didn’t end up needing that refill.

c79640b3-5b18-49bc-a738-2304d3cf4743

The waterfall going into the Morgan Lake Aid Station

dc025a7f-672d-44f5-958d-0937168506f1

At first glance I thought I might have to go through the lake…

Miles 27-41 – I had some alone time which I really appreciated at the time as I enjoyed the beautiful course and the soft trail. I turned on some podcasts which I had picked out ahead of time. First I listened to a podcast about public beheadings, then one about unusual insect mating behaviors, and finally one about Martin Pistorius, a man who had been trapped in his body for 13 years, fully aware of his surroundings while unable to communicate or move in any way. As I listened and ran I cried and cried for this man. It was pretty fitting when at the end of this particular podcast the steady drizzle turned into a complete downpour and I just had to laugh at the image of myself, tears and rainwater flowing down my face. I could taste the sweat running off my face and thought it was pretty funny that I was able to get a shower after my first 50k – not many races provide such luxury. The rain got so loud I couldn’t hear my podcast anymore so I turned it off and just ran. I ended back up with the group of three happy runners and hit the unmanned water stop (also normally an aid station) just before the climb up to Bald Rock. I had read that this section isn’t as hard as the elevation profile makes it look so I think I underestimated it a little. In truth, the climbs were never that steep and there were even sections of this that I ran… but it was still pretty dang hard. The gradual incline just went on forever. Most of the runners in years past had been able to get through this section before dark but with the later start time and the time change, it got dark before 5:00. I was glad I had brought my two lights, especially as the fog made it difficult to see the trail at times. Everyone was struggling to find the course markers but I was using a handheld light (plus I’m young yet) so I led the way for some of it. I talked with a woman for awhile who had clearly fallen in the mud but was unphased. I told her I could tell this wasn’t her first hundred miler and that if I had to guess she’d probably run quite a few. She laughed and admitted that she indeed had run quite a few. After getting our hopes up and let down a few times and hearing some unexplained loud noises in the distance we did eventually made it to the top. In the daytime the view is beautiful but all we could see was the giant rock we were standing on and fog. We had to shuffle along, holding some pine trees to make sure we didn’t fall off the edge.

9061214_orig

Normal view from Bald Rock

12208585_10207109977095070_2200055539980885532_n

View from Bald Rock this year (picture from Mann Conrad)

The trail comes right out on the boardwalk and I was so excited because my family was just at the end of it, only a quarter mile away. Woot woot! As we got closer, Mark called out to his gang, “Caa-Caaaw!!!” and his crew called back excitedly. It was hilarious yet effective and I am totally stealing this idea in the future. I soon saw my family and my nephews gave me a high five. It felt great to see so many familiar faces! I was a little behind the time I had planned to get there but was still going strong and I knew that even if things got rough, my family would figuratively “carry” me through the finish as I would have a pacer from here on out. I got to use a real toilet and did a complete clothing change to prepare for the colder weather, all the while trying to remember not to flash people (all modesty goes out the window in a race like this). My crew got me everything I needed like a NASCAR pit stop in a true Talladega Night – shake and bake baby!

unnamed

Here’s me coming into the aid station, looking like a drowned rat. But the highlight of this picture is the pot roast my father in law is holding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gold bond on the feet.

Miles 41-45 with my Mom! – We walked briskly down the road as I ate the highlight food of my race: delicious pot roast with potatoes and juicy, greasy gravy (with a side of french bread)!!! My inlaws had made me this very meal after a particularly difficult marathon and I probably ate four helpings of it and then grossed them out when I ate and drank it for breakfast. I asked if they would prepare the same meal for my hundred miler and it was easily one of the best decisions I have ever made. My mom and I walked with my father-in-law as I ate and then we stole his light for the next section, making him walk back to his camper in the dark. We started jogging on down the road until we hit the section known from another race as “Blue Hell”. This stretch would have been difficult on a normal day but add rain, fog, darkness, and the erosion caused by more than 100 runners before us, things got a little intense. My mom fell three times and she so bravely kept telling me not to worry about her. After the rockiest section was over, there was a section of “trail” that was essentially a mudslide that dropped off about 15 feet and was probably about as wide. People were scattered around trying to find the next trail marker, calling out to each other. One runner lost her balance and slid down the embankment, reaching up her hand for help. “Yeah, this is a little crazy” I thought as I pulled her up, glad she wasn’t out there alone. Shortly after that we hit a creek crossing. I only made it a mile with dry feet but it was a lovely mile. Eventually the trail calmed down and dumped out at Lake Cheaha. I wasted some time to use the real bathroom there because it would be my last chance to flush a toilet. We continued on and it was nice to have seen the road section the night before to give us an idea of what was ahead. We ran the easy 1.3 mile road section then turned onto 1.3 miles of gravel trail, running almost the whole way until the next aid station. My mom did great! We rolled into the Silent Trail Aid Station and I was feeling very fresh and peppy from all the pampering at the Bald Rock Aid Station and the time with my mom. I met local volunteer James Mink who follows my blog and had awesomely offered to pace me! (Maybe next year he will be running it?!) All of the volunteers at this aid station were great, they whisked off my water bottles and had me on my way in no time.

1cc948a1-f895-4f18-b82a-3890a0276b4a

During the race Linden got a “Monster” ice cream (that’s Sponge Bob, by the way) and he is still talking about it!

Miles 45-55 with my brother-in-law Jeremy! – I seriously had so much fun on this section! We talked about interesting stuff for awhile: differential treatment of children based on attractiveness, that coma guy again, bog bodies again, HOW MANY CREEK CROSSINGS THERE WERE. We ran strong through this section and I didn’t feel like we were lolly-gagging or wasting any time but it still took us 3 hours and 45 minutes to go 10 miles. The only explanation I can think of for why it took us so long is that we had to slow so much for all of the creek crossings, one of which was thigh deep. We passed several people and didn’t get passed so that was at least encouraging. Jeremy then turned on some music that he had picked out and it was a lot of fun. He made me try to sing the lyrics to the Hula Hula boys, “Ha’ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana”, and on another song we howled along to Werewolves of London, “Aaaooooo!” We hit the 52 mile aid station and it was awesome. They had vegan options and bacon options but the bacon was warm and the bacon was delicious and I ate a lot of bacon. Jeremy thought it was hilarious that they had so many alcoholic options, including a kind called turkey trot, and joked that he might have to run the three miles back to this party. We shoved food in our faces and continued on, excited that we only had 3 miles until the next aid station. But… this section took an hour and 15 minutes. I couldn’t understand how it took us that long except now I see on the elevation profile that it was mostly uphill. I got disheartened that I was going so slow and this was the start of my mood shift where I started getting crabby. I also realize now that even though I was full from all of the bacon I needed more simple carbohydrates too. Just to be clear, I do not regret the bacon, I just should have thought to have some fruit to go with it.

Miles 55-65 with my older sis Tiffany! – I was very excited to join up with my sister Tiffany, and it signified a step closer to the finish line. I didn’t even stop at the aid station, I just grabbed what I needed from my crew and headed out. This section was mostly gravel fire roads with not very many course flags and a lot of uphill. I had picked up my sister’s trekking poles for this section not realizing we were going to be on the gravel fire roads for so much of it. They ended up being more work then they were worth but it was still a change and that’s worth something. This is probably too much information but from here on out I kept having the feeling that I had to pee, to the point that I started worry if something was wrong. One particular time I turned off my light and went off trail. I told my sister to tell the upcoming runners that I was going to the bathroom and to tell them to look the other way but unfortunately she is deaf so she instinctively turned and looked at me to ask what I had said, accidentally spotlighting me. Haha – oops! Trail running is such a graceful sport. Onward we went, up and up the very moderate grade hills that seemed to last forever. The trail markers seemed really far apart which my sister suggested was probably because they were put up by someone in a car who didn’t realize how far apart they seemed on foot. There wasn’t really anywhere else to turn though so we kept on keeping on, eventually hitting our first aid station, grabbed some soda and continued. We went about 2 more miles on the boring gravel road and then turned back on the soft, pine covered trail. Somewhere on this section I stubbed my big toe which made me cranky and I felt earned me a little walk break. I thought I was just being a baby but a week later and it still hurts and that nail is going to fall off (that walk break was justified!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Uh-oh… Somebody left some selfies on my camera.

Before the race I had written some “crew-tips” with things I like to hear when running and things I didn’t want to hear. It really meant a lot to me that my family was following my instructions to the letter and sometimes would quote things verbatim, like, “Every step is one step closer to the finish line!” At one point I said, “Well, I guess I have been out here for almost 18 hours, I suppose it is understandable that I am tired.” And Tiffany responded, “Well you still have 10 more to go. OH NO, I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO SAY BIG NUMBERS!” I’m cracking up thinking about it. My sister did amazing! Of my entire family, she put in the most miles training for her pacing section and she did great. I was sucking wind unfortunately and wasn’t in the best mood (sorry Tiff! Not your fault!).

Soon enough we got to the next section which was crew only and I saw someone that looked like my friend Sarah ringing a cowbell (turns out it was my friend Sarah, oops). We could hear the train but I didn’t see it so I booked it past the tracks. It was nice to see my husband, who I was seeing for the first time during the race, and he whisked me to the crew car where I ate some chocolate and changed out my shoes as quickly as possible. I may have snapped at my younger sister that I didn’t want her to have hurt feelings if I accidentally snapped at her. Oh the drama of running 100 miles!

Mile 65-68 with my younger sister Hannah! – My sister Hannah is a very strong walker who on a normal day can power walk almost as fast as I can jog. We had already planned to power hike her entire section, thinking it would only be slightly slower then my planned pace anyway and giving me a short break. Only she took off and left me in the dust! I was still in a funk (sorry Hannah! Also not your fault!) and just kind of yelled “Waaaiit!” I think she had been so worried about slowing me down that she didn’t think about the possibility that I could struggle to keep up with her! The hill took us 20 minutes to climb up at a decent pace so it was probably at least a mile long. Then we got to enjoy the fruits of our labor and head back down, knowing we would get to the aid station in just a short time. We talked about how the day had gone and funny things our kids had said and just talked the time away. We had planned on jamming out but it was still raining pretty heavily, I had gloves on, it was dark and the music player was in a plastic bag.. it just didn’t work out. I was pretty bummed too because until the Pinhoti I have never listened to music during a run and I had made a pretty sweet playlist just for the race. In case you were curious, my playlist included songs, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Everything is Awesome!” (from the Lego Movie), “I Would Walk 500 Miles” and some other good ones but oh well! It was nice to spend time with my family during these sections, even when I was cranky, and the change-ups really helped to pass the time. Soon enough we came in to Chandler Springs. Matt expected to just send me on my way since I had just seen him but I needed to get out of my funk and I was really cold from the constant rain. I noticed that my fingers were pruny, that’s how bad it was. So, I got kind of bossy and asked for my very specific change of clothes. I dressed myself in 100% wool everything, wool bra, wool underwear, wool long sleeve pants and a wool long sleeve shirt. Unlike many other fabrics, wool can keep you warm even when it is wet and I truly think this change of clothes saved my race. Many people struggled with hypothermia while I was pretty comfortable temperature wise for the remainder of the race. I should note that I normally don’t wear that outfit unless it is below freezing, so even though it was still around 50 degrees outside, the combination of wind, rain and the difficulty of regulating body temperature after running 68 miles made it feel much colder outside.

0a4a82ae-d3e6-4328-8fe3-acce00ffa434

Matt made this awesome sign so I could find my crew in the dark.

Miles 68 – 95 with my friend Sarah! – My friend Sarah drove over 5 hours to come pace me during this race. Even though we have never hung out in any normal social situation because I have kids and she works and goes to school full time, we have run over 100 miles together in random training runs, including when I paced her at Thunder Rock. At this point we know each other pretty well and run together pretty well and I could not have asked for a better pacer during the toughest part of the course. After my change of clothes I started feeling better and felt like I was running pretty strong. I thought we should be coming up on Pinnacle but it seemed like we had already gone the distance to the next aid station. When we realized that we still had to do Pinnacle we knew were going to have to pick up the pace or risk missing the cut-off times. I had read from race reports that this was probably the hardest climb of the entire course. I’m glad we were mentally prepared for this section as we climbed 22 switchbacks within earshot of the aid station the entire time. Sarah found me a couple of good climbing sticks as I hiked up and I joked that I was a wizard commanding the hills to do my bidding… things get weird after running for more than 20 hours. To distract me, Sarah told me her daily routine in exact detail (and I mean exact detail) and somehow it worked. Of course all good and bad things must come to an end and we finally came up on the Pinnacle Aid Station with “Can’t Touch This” playing loudly. I was so pumped! I knew we were close to the cut-off times so I just shouted that I was feeling great, feeling pumped and was going to continue on but also how long until cut-off time? They told me I was only two minutes before the cutoff but that I was looking strong so they would let me continue. Woot woot! Sarah got me some coke from the aid station and told me to keep going. The excitement soon wore off as I realized how hard it would be to make up time and that I might really not make the cut-off times. I had already determined that IF that happened, I would officially DNF and continue on the course as a civilian, without using the aid stations and with my family crewing me. If they weren’t going to let me do that, I would just wait until the aid station packed up and continue on anyway. Thank goodness it didn’t come to that and I have Sarah to thank for that.

We continued on and Sarah warned me that I wouldn’t be able to slack off at any point if I wanted to make the cut-offs. I still felt like a had to pee all the time, even right after I would go. Sarah told me that I’d have to start holding it longer and that I wasn’t allowed to pee until the next aid station. I think I snuck off trail a few times anyway but probably not as often as I would have so in the end it was for the best.

I know that your perception of time and mileage seems longer when you are tired but the next section just seemed to go on forever! We kept thinking the climbing should eventually stop and we’d start the downhill section. We came across the occasional runner and Sarah would stay back for a minute or two and see if they needed anything, giving one man her extra poncho. We talked about how awesome it would be when the sun came up in just another hour or so and how soon I’d get to see Matt. We passed several people here and it was tough thinking that every person we passed would most likely not make the cut-offs. The sun came up on time and it revealed just how beautiful it was outside! It definitely helped take the edge of running for 80+ miles. There were a few overlooks that I wished I could stop at and enjoy but I was on a schedule. I don’t remember the next aid station because Sarah didn’t let me stop at it. She told me not to say a word about the cutoffs just to run and she would catch up. I mean, she is seriously the best pacer ever. I actually got pretty far ahead because we hit a long downhill section and I felt pretty good that I could still move at a decent clip considering what I had put my body through. She filled my water bottles and brought me some coke (how she held all of that while running I will never know) and got me a few more hiking sticks for the next climbs. At one point I thought the climbing was over and I chucked the sticks into the woods like a javelin thrower – hyyyaaah! I’ll admit that was pretty fun… until we turned the corner and saw a few more climbs. “Oops..” Looking back on it, Sarah was extremely patient with me.

Sarah kept making me eat (which was definitely for the best) and I really didn’t want to or feel like it. She handed me a few pretzels and like a toddler I spit them out “Blech!” She tried them and told me that they were fine and handed me a few more. Nope, they were still disgusting and I just looked her straight in the eyes as I tossed them dramatically over my shoulder. I was a real brat! Another time she handed me a piece of bread and when she wasn’t looking I chucked it into the woods. She turned and looked at me, shaking her head, “I saw that!”

18ee16cc-2cf2-4487-8456-f194a781f631

Another creek crossing from earlier in the race

On a particularly long and boring hill Sarah told me we I had to think of a plant that started with the letter A and then she would do the letter B and so on. This was a good distraction but at times my mind went blank and I used a different category instead. I was supposed to think of something for the letter N and I just shouted NOPE. She looked at me all sassy and so I thought of something else. It really did help pass the time and I was thankful for it.

Soon enough we were back on the single track, making our way up and over the final big climb. Sarah told me that I would have to really push the pace if I wanted to make it in time and I knew she was right. I started jogging some of the ups and when we crested the hill, I picked up the pace and ran as fast as my legs would carry me until we hit the aid station. I was sniffling like a baby and had tears streaming down my face as I realized how far the aid station was and how little time I had to get there. I saw my mom, Matt and Melissa standing on the trail cheering me on (and could tell they were a tad emotional too) and they joined in behind me as I continued running to the aid station. When we got to the Aid Station the man told me to get back out there because I was only two minutes ahead of the cut-off times and they probably wouldn’t allow anyone else to pass through there. Sarah told me later that I had probably put in a few 9 minute miles at this point which is not bad for having run 85 miles. I would not have pushed that hard if Sarah wasn’t there encouraging me and I completely credit her with my success during that section. She filled up my bottles and got me more soda as Matt fed me some avocado, bacon and marshmallow cream (don’t judge, it was delicious!). I had read somewhere that 100% of the people who made it to the mile 85 aid station finished the race and I felt slightly relieved that we had passed this landmark. I still worried that we would have to push the pace for the rest of the way and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep it up. There was nothing left but to do it.

12193806_10208082635930778_420331622841091487_n

Thanks to their Mimi and Papaw, these cuties were having fun even in the rain!

The next ten miles were on gravel forest roads so they were somewhat boring as far as scenery goes but there were no creek crossings and no hidden rocks or roots. Even though each mile hurt, running was simple and the miles passed more quickly without the constant obstacles to contend with. I got extremely whiny here and Sarah put up with my crap like a champ. She would literally push me at times. On some of the more ridiculous hills she let me lean on her shoulder to close my eyes. I don’t really remember too much about this section except that it was a roller coaster of ups and downs, emotionally and in truth. We saw some runners in the distance and used them as motivation to catch up. Sarah reminded me that the next aid station would bring us to the single digits. We were getting into the home stretch! I was really going to finish this thing! It was still windy and wet outside but after more than 25 hours of constant rain, it had finally stopped!  We talked with some runners, one of which recognized me from my race report.

The final miles with my husband Matt – Even though it felt like forever, we did eventually see my crew again! I had just run over 93 miles and I would get to finish this beast with my husband by my side. There was confusion about where we were but we knew we had 2 hours to go 5-7 miles! I was so excited to see Matt and I had fun for the first mile or two, even as tired as I was. I knew at this point that I was going to finish the race and I finally let myself think about being done. I also decided that I didn’t have to eat anymore because I was so close to the finish. Both of these were huge mistakes that left me extremely moody and emotional in the final miles. The single hour I went without food caught up to me and I started becoming so irrationally cranky and whiny. I would cry saying things like, “I just want to be done.” “I just want a nap.” “When are we going to get to the rooooad?”. Then just like that I would be fine again for a minute or two, then back to cranky. I was a hot mess and I am embarrassed for anyone who saw me in that state, I’m not sure I have ever been that ridiculous in my whole life. Thankfully my husband was expecting this and wasn’t offended but even in the moment I was kicking myself for being such a wimp. Matt recognized that part of the problem was that I was hungry and made me eat a few olives but I kept thinking about how much better pizza and hot wings would be.

We finally did get to the road and I asked a man there how far it was to the finish. He said that it was exactly four miles once we got to the turn. I had a brief moment of excitement and then got cranky again when I decided that it felt like a mile before we even got to the turn. To account for some of the course changes in the beginning (which I think only cut out like .26 miles), an extra mile was added to the road section. These stretches of road were so demoralizing. The road just continued straight forever with seemingly no end in sight. I tried to run to every other power line, walking in between, but even this was proving to a challenge. More sobbing like a baby and uncontrollable whining. We saw a school sign and I got my hopes up… until we realized it was the elementary school. Then we saw more school signs and realized it was the middle school. UUUGGGHH, when can I be done?! I look at my watch and saw that I had been running for 29 hours and 30 minutes. I had to be close or I was going to miss the cut-offs. I kept thinking I would turn the corner and see the lights to the stadium and after enough times of being wrong it really happened! Some guy asked Matt if we were running a marathon and for some reason this gave me my 99th wind and I shuffled as fast I could toward the finish line.

673c274a-0172-4f4f-ba05-fd72ef141b67

Suddenly the weight of the race was lifted and I knew that all of the hard work I had put in was coming to an end. My goal was to cross the finish line with a smile and boy was I smiling – I surprised myself and literally jumped for joy! Looking now at my finish line picture, I’m still like, “Dang, I don’t think I can even jump that high on a normal day.” After 29 hours and 41 minutes of constant forward motion, I was DONE. I shook race director Todd Henderson’s hand and took my belt buckle, a throwback to the times when hundred mile races were just for horses. Over 250 had signed up for the race, something like 220 toed the starting line and only 133 finished. I was the 131st finisher but I was a finisher. This was the longest Pinhoti to date, let’s say over 101 miles, and in the worst conditions the race has seen.

e145aa6d-fa27-4185-84e0-3faefc7a9b02

I wanted to finish the race with a smile on my face! I think I did it guys.

It was an amazing experience. I’m so glad my family encouraged me and joined me – I will always hold such fond memories of this race and our time together. My kids had a blast with their Mimi and Papaw and my son Linden is still talking about his “Monster Ice Cream” he got (the one that was actually Sponge Bob)!

1b708874-c80d-4d1c-aa8f-319872529d35

This is only half of my motley crew!

I cannot thank my family and friends enough for all that you put up with! Thank you especially to my Mom, my Dad, Jeremy, Tiffany, Hannah and her kiddos, my parents-in-law Betty and Paul, my friend Melissa, my friend Sarah and my ridiculously supportive husband, Matt. I know people say this all the time, but I truly could not have accomplished this race without you guys. Crewing is no joke and can be just as hard as the actual running, especially when you thrown in a few toddlers and constant rain.

c34d9eac-4dc3-4ef7-b017-aa569e30d323

The walk of pain.

0edd01d5-3820-45c5-8672-15a284a7d6a8

Blisters on all my fat toes but that’s pretty minimal damage for what I put them through.

I’ve been tempted to say that I’ll never run another hundred mile race again but I know how ultra-running works and no one believes me anyway so let’s just say that I most likely won’t be running another one anytime soon.

Pace Report: Georgia Jewel 100

pac·er

ˈpāsər/

noun

  1. A companion who may accompany a runner in the later stages of an ultra-marathon as a safety consideration. They may not “mule” by carrying food, water or supplies for their runner.

Synonyms: Motivator, psychologist, dietician, dictator, entertainer, navigator, friend


Pacing a runner in a long distance race is a unique opportunity that is both challenging and rewarding. I learned a lot about the hundred mile distance when I paced my friend Sarah at Thunder Rock and was excited to try my hand at it again for the Georgia Jewel. It has many similarities to my upcoming hundred miler including the fact that it takes place on the Pinhoti Trail. The only problem – I didn’t know anyone who needed a pacer. I considered just showing up at the race with a “free pacer” sign, an idea I shamelessly stole from Knoxville ultra-runner Sho Gray. For ease of logistics, I decided instead to post on the Georgia Jewel Facebook page. Within a week or two, I received a message from Melissa. Her pacer had some unexpected obligations come up and she was left to make a whole new game plan just a few weeks out from her first hundred miler. We arranged some of the details and decided that I would meet her and her crew at the halfway point. We messaged back and forth about her sources of motivation, the course, hydration and nutrition strategies, running related jokes and anything else we could think of. By the time race day came around it felt like we were old running friends.

Melissa early on in the day and still feeling fresh

Melissa early on in the day and still feeling fresh

The night before I stayed up until 4am writing a race report so I was able to send her well wishes before her race start at 5. Her crew sent me updates throughout the day on her pace at different aid stations so I could calculate what time to arrive – a tricky business in a hundred miler. My kids were excited that my mom was staying the night at our house and Matt and I felt like we were on a mini-vacation driving with no kids in the car. We drove to the Mack White Aid Station at mile 52 of the race and instantly recognized Eric and Caden, Melissa’s crew. They said she had been strong all day but was going much slower than expected on this last section. Most of the runners she had been with throughout the race had already come and gone, one man even took a short nap in his van before heading back out. Something was wrong.

It was raining so Matt and I mostly just sat in the car as we watched runners coming down from the trail, keeping an eye out for Melissa. The aid station was in a very unfortunate location across the highway at the peak of a hill so very tired runners had to dodge cars “frogger-style” to make it across. It was a little unnerving even on fresh legs, especially in the dark. So we watched and waited, jumping out of the car a few times for false alarms. One of these times, Eric received a phone call from Melissa explaining that she was coming in a little slow.

When Melissa did come into the aid station, sometime after 8:30pm, she was the last runner by almost an hour and was not doing great. Her legs were visibly swollen, particularly her left leg. The shakiness in her voice reflected just how in pain she was. She was worried she had re-torn her hip flexor, an injury she incurred over the summer, and wasn’t able to lift her leg enough to run. She apologized and said multiple variants of “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” So we made a plan. I told her we’d get her some ibuprofen and just get to the next aid station and decide what to do from there, even if we had to crawl the entire way. She nodded and went to get a hug from her sweet son Caden. She got some very necessary care at the aid station – she taped her blistered feet, changed into dry clothes and got a bite to eat. Eric had everything organized in the back of the truck so he and Caden could get whatever she might need. After more than 13 hours of rocks and rain, her feet had taken a beating. Her feet were so swollen she struggled to change her shoes.

I gave Matt a hug and promised I’d update him through the night. Melissa grabbed some trekking poles and off we went, slowly but surely. We left only an hour before the cut-off time, leaving little room for error on the return trip. We chatted a bit and I could tell her spirits were steadily rising. We soon hit the infamous power line cut, a series of very steep climbs that are included in the course for no apparent reason. You could literally walk straight and continue onto the Pinhoti trail but instead you turn off the trail and do almost of a mile of ridiculous ups and downs only to come back to the Pinhoti trail. Unfortunately, it looked like some runners had chosen to take the cheater’s road but I can only hope that the muddy tracks were from race volunteers. Melissa told me this section had taken her an hour on the way in because of the pain in her hip flexor, which at the time was bunched up in a visible charlie-horse knot. I was thankful she was already doing so much better. We saw an American Toad and talked a bit about the wildlife. She lamented that she hadn’t gotten to see many animals throughout the day but we would get to see and hear some later! One animal she did see was a happy hound dog that ran with her for several miles. The dog eventually ran off and befriended Caden as he waited for her at the aid station. It was a very special moment for her that brought some happy times.

Voted the Georgia Jewel Mascot, this cutie joined up with Melissa for several miles and ran along the course most of the day

Voted the Georgia Jewel Mascot, this cutie joined up with Melissa for several miles and ran along the course most of the day. Photo courtesy of Tony Gonzalez.

We continued on walking and followed the pink ribbons onto a gravel fire road and eventually onto a mixture of beautiful trail and wide paths through the woods. She recounted her day and how she had been doing so well until the power line cut and her hip flare-up. The rain had not made things any easier. It had rained on her and the other runners’ parade non-stop for about thirteen hours. The trail was muddy, making every step worth about twice that on a normal day. Sometimes we’d step forward on an incline only to slide back and have to do it again. Even the downhills were difficult with all the mud and we could see evidence of runners who had slipped and fallen. I was thankful Melissa had her trekking poles for the extra support and joked that she was like Tiny Tim. She was doing so much better than when I had first joined her. It’s amazing what a difference the Mack White pit stop made, it completely changed her race. She told me later that that it was probably the lowest she’s ever been in her running. At no point did Melissa mention quitting or dropping out, even at her lowest. Now she was joking and smiling, still clearly in pain but also very present. I hope to be as positive and strong in my own hundred miler and am thankful for the example she set.

Cool little trap door spider we saw

Cool little trap door spider we saw

We navigated over several creek crossings trying to keep her blistered feet from submerging when possible. We eventually hit the unmanned water stop and I calculated that it had taken us over two hours to go 5 miles. Pacing a runner in the late stages of a hundred miler has taught me to be humble about these things. Just doing the math you might think, “Wow, 2.5 miles an hour is a walking pace – anyone could do that!” But when you see it firsthand you realize how much the cumulative effects of relentless forward motion really have on a person. Melissa was giving her best effort and taking every step with purpose well into her third marathon of the day. We refilled our water and continued on and she started to feel even better. The trekking poles took a lot of strain off her hip flexor and that pain had all but faded into the background of other aches and pains she was experiencing. We started jogging when possible on the downhills and flats and we were making up some time here. We climbed a ridge and started to descend, thinking we must be close to the aid station. We kept thinking that we’d be getting there soon. I texted Eric letting him know we were probably a mile out and shortly after we turned the corner and heard the cheering from Eric, Caden and the aid station. Woo-hoo! Considering how bad Melissa had been at mile 52, this was a complete win. We arrived at the Narrows aid station about 30 minutes before cut-off time, so maybe about 1:45am? We were losing our time buffer but I was just glad at this point that we had made it this far. There was no question here – we were going to continue on. The aid station volunteers were very tired but so helpful. Melissa wasn’t feeling the food at the time but they wrapped her up a little bit of everything and sent us on our way. Our goal was simply to get to the next aid station and decide from there.

We left the aid station and continued on with a little over 2 hours to go 6.7 miles. We started running on a flat section of road and ran for a solid ten minute stretch when suddenly Melissa shouted in pain. I hoped it wasn’t her hip flexor. She said she didn’t know what happened but her foot just exploded in pain. She sat down to take a look at it and things were not looking good. She held back tears as we took off her sock. A large blister had popped, causing excruciating pain. 19 hours of running with 13 hours of those in constant rain plus several creek crossings had wreaked havoc on her feet. We re-patched her feet as best as possible and got back to it but no longer at the good pace we had been maintaining. We slowed to a walk again and when we did run, I noticed that it took so much out of her that it wasn’t helping the pace overall. The best we could do was just keep walking so we did. She asked me to pray and as we walked along the road, I did. It was all I could do to hold back the tears. As strange as it sounds, this is one thing I love about running: those peaceful, painful moments where all you can do is give it to God. We prayed for safety from animals and from people, strength of body and mind, and in all things for His will to be done.

Bobcat tracks over the runner's footprints, photo courtesy of Aaron Van Wieren

Bobcat tracks over the runner’s footprints! Photo courtesy of Aaron Van Wieren.

Not too long after this, we were walking along a rural road section where several prayers were answered. Two dogs charged us at the ready, probably wondering what we were doing encroaching on their property in the middle of the night. I instructed Melissa to stay back and approached the dogs with my hands out and my softest puppy-dog voice I could muster. The dogs were skeptical but accepted that we were not intruding and let us go on. Safety from animals, check. Just a few hundred feet later we heard cars approaching fast, right over the crest of a hill. I stood on the road side and told Melissa to get into the grass. The cars were going much faster than we anticipated and they were completely in our lane so I grabbed Melissa and shoved her off the road. Had she been alone, who knows what would have happened. We were angry and pumped with adrenaline. Then the two cars turned back. We looked for a place to hide in case they had malicious intentions but on this particular section of road there were steep embankments on both sides – no dice. We stood off to the side as the first truck roared by but the guy in the second vehicle saw us and tried to apologize, “Sorry if we scared you – we thought you was some dumb kids.” And “We wasn’t trying to hit you, all of us just haul [tail] through here.” I don’t even remember what we said but they left and in a short time we were back on actual trail where we felt much safer! Safety from people, check, check.

Once back on trail, we started another climb. It was probably beautiful in the daytime but it just seemed to drag on in the dark. Melissa started getting quiet around this time and I started to worry that she was getting tired. Sometimes it’s good to run in silence and we did for awhile but I still periodically checked in to make sure she was fed and feeling ok.

As a runner myself, I am generally pretty tactful with how I phrase things. Instead of saying, “Only 45 miles to go!” which is super intimidating, I might say, “We have two miles to the next aid station” or something like that. At some point during this section I let it slip that were probably near mile 68 and she freaked out a little. I wasn’t sure what was going on but one thing I knew for sure – Melissa did not want to hear the big numbers. Lesson learned!

As we got closer to the Manning road Aid Station, at mile 69.8, we formulated a plan. We had watched the clock tick past the cut-off time and had no clue how the volunteers would react. I told her to put on her game face and act like she was doing great. We would tell the aid station workers that she was fine and that we would make up time on the next section. And that is exactly what we did. We got into the aid station 7 minutes past cut-off time at 4:37am. The volunteers were very tired, the radio operators were tired and her crew was tired but we had to try. I told them what we had rehearsed, that we would be able to make up time before we got to the next aid station. They asked over the radio if we would be allowed to continue and they told us that we had until 7:37 to get to the John’s Mountain Aid Station. We were still in! I spoke quietly with Eric and told him that she was actually feeling less then stellar but that we wanted to get to the next aid station.

Melissa's main motivation - her sweet son, Caden!

Melissa’s main motivation – her sweet son, Caden!

Leaving the aid station there was a creek crossing that we had planned ahead for. We donned large plastic trash bags over our shoes and hobbled across. This worked perfectly for me but Melissa had her trekking poles and was unable to hold the bags well enough to keep the water out so there she was, sloshing across the creek with two trash bags dragging behind her. Had it been any other day we might have thought it was funny. But Melissa had no more changes of shoes or socks and her feet were falling apart. Eric met us on the other side of the creek with our stuff and we spent some time here trying to figure out what to do with her feet. When she took off her shoes she unveiled the horror. When the sock came off her big toenail wiggled like a loose tooth and Eric and I both had to look away and shake off the mental image. I offered the extra shoes and socks that I had stowed in Eric’s truck. She tried them on but they weren’t going to work for her. My socks had holes in them so they of course felt horrible. That’s one downside to having a broke stay-at-home mom as your pacer. Then I remembered the pair of socks in my bag and let her try those on. She put one sock on and decided it wasn’t worth the time to put the other one on because her shoe was wet anyway. So that’s how she left the aid station. One fresh sock, one wet sock and really no better for it. We wasted a lot of time there and in hindsight I wish we had just continued on. Another lesson learned.

We had about 9 miles to cover before we’d get to the next real Aid Station at John’s Mountain and we only had about 2.5 hours to do it. Throw in several miles of climbing, gradual as it was, and we just weren’t going to cut it. I was still positive, talking about how much energy we’d get as the sun rose and how we might be able to connive our way through all of the aid stations if we had to. Melissa was doing so great considering all she’d been through. She wasn’t hallucinating or experiencing any dizziness like so many people do in the late stages of a hundred miler. This was definitely a quiet section for us and there was no pushing the pace.

Some of the mud we had to contend with. Two steps forward, one slip back.

Some of the mud we had to contend with. Two steps forward, one slip back.

As we went up a winding gravel road we heard a loud noise to our left, down a steep embankment in the woods. It was a large animal for sure and having seen a large pile of bear scat I am certain it was a bear. I looked back occasionally for eye shine to make sure it wasn’t stalking us but we were of course fine. What wasn’t fine was the huge increase in spider webs. I even joked with Melissa that one of the things I love about trail races is that I don’t have to run into spider webs. But around 5 in the morning, the spiders were busy rebuilding and I was running into web after web. One horrible decision later I decided to just run straight through a web instead of my normal stop, chop and throw routine. NEVER AGAIN. The stinkin’ crab spider dropped into my shirt and in a panic it ran to the dark safety of my bra line. I tried to reach in to swoop it out but this only panicked the spider further and I watched as he bit me three times. Have you ever watched a spider bite you?? It doesn’t hurt too terribly but cognitively it is an EXCRUCIATING experience that could be used to torture the hardest criminals. I only survived after I bent over and flashed the woods. Maybe I just have PTSD from the attack but I will definitely be carrying a blow-torch on my next early morning run.

The sun rose and despite conventional ultra-running wisdom, our spirits really never lifted. It was beautiful and we tried our best to appreciate it but I think we both knew we were too far behind cut-offs to fake our way past the aid station. I was able to receive text messages but unable to send any out so that was frustrating too. I kept getting texts asking if we were ok and asking where were we but nothing would send out. After what felt like forever, even on my relatively fresh legs, we finally made the turn off the beautiful trail and onto the final gravel stretch to the aid station.

2043 2038 2046 2035

We arrived at the John’s Mountain aid station at mile 78.7 around 8:30am, an hour past cut-off, and it was almost completely packed up. Eric said he was putting his foot down and making her call it quits and that they needed to check out of the hotel and walk their dog. I said that I would support Melissa whatever her decision was. Caden was clearly tired but hugged his mom and loved on her. We asked the aid station volunteers and they said that technically we were not to continue but that they couldn’t stop us from getting back on the trail. This made the decision so, so difficult. Before the race Melissa and I had gone through so many worst-case scenarios and how we would get through them but we never made a plan for this. She would be listed as a DNF either way so her options were to call it a day or finish the 25 remaining miles with no aid stations, possibly no crew and with no official finish. Calling it a day was no small decision for her but it was probably the right one. After 27.5 hours of almost constant forward progress in dreary conditions it was decided that she would have to finish Georgia Jewel another day.

Out of 32 registered runners, only 28 toed the starting line and only 15 crossed the finish line. The conditions clearly impacted everyone’s run. The first runner finished in 24.5 hrs, the first female came in after 30 hours and many of the runners finished within an hour of the cut-off. Melissa and I learned a lot and she got a heck of a training run in for her next hundred miler (which will also be my first) – the Pinhoti 100. I truly could not be more proud of her. She did great considering the circumstances and even came back from her lowest runner’s low to complete 27 more miles through the night with a total of 78.7 miles to her name, the equivalent of three back-to-back marathons.

I’m confident that Melissa was strong enough to have finished the race which I suppose makes this whole thing so hard to swallow. She never once mentioned that wanted to quit. She never even denounced running. I keep wondering if I should have pushed her to continue. On the other hand, we prayed for God’s will and I want to believe that we did the right thing. There are a lot of what-ifs but one thing is for sure, without hardships there would be no growth. Melissa has expressed that she has some unfinished business with the Georgia Jewel and I fully intend to be there when she crosses through that finish line in 2016.

Melissa has said that she believes God had us cross paths for a reason. Maybe that reason was for me to push her off the road when those rednecks drove past, maybe there’s something more but either way, I’m thankful for it. I made a new friend, learned a lot and had a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t take back for the world.

Thank you to Melissa for letting me join your crazy adventure and thank you Eric and Caden, for accepting me as your own! Thank you to my mother, for all the driving you did and for watching my kids – especially after I came home and promptly took a nap!

2049

2052

Ouch!

2065 2071 2074 2073