The Barkley Fall Classic – The Race That Crushed Me

The Barkley Fall Classic exists to give runners a taste of the real Barkley, a 100 mile race that is known for being the most difficult and secretive trail race in the world. Unlike the original Barkley, anyone can register for this one and you can get along just fine without a compass. The Fall Classic is also “only” a 50k, although that is contestable, with the option of a bailout marathon for anyone not meeting the time requirements and/or for those who decide they’ve had enough. To quote Laz, the goal for the Barkley Fall Classic is to provide a “finish.. attainable for anyone, but easy for no one”. The Barkley, on the other hand, is known as “the race that eats its young”. It is supposed to make runners fail and has done a pretty good job at that, with less than a 2% finish rate in over 30 years.

But even though the BFC is easy compared to the real Barkley, it still crushed my soul. I can normally squelch the negative thoughts that pop up when running but halfway through this race I got deep into the philosophy of pain and suffering – “Do I even like running?” “How could it be THIS hard?” “WHYYYY???”

But that is the point of the race after all, to challenge us to reach within ourselves and if need be, to embrace failure. For the first time ever in a race, I had to take the bailout option due to being twenty minutes past cut-off. I still got my dog tags for completing the marathon but it wasn’t the race I had set out to finish. After 10 hours and 17 minutes of blood, sweat and tears sweat in my eyes, I failed. And now, less than a week later, I want more. Just like many of the runners out there, I have written off the hardships and am ready to try it again. I’ve replaced the memories of wanting to lay in fetal position mid-race with thoughts of how great it would be to cross that finish line and retrieve my croix-de-barq.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

For the weeks preceding the race I attempted to sort the sarcasm from the truly useful information, especially coming from the BFC Facebook page. I got that it would be hard, there would be briars and it was hinted that there were some new additions to the course that were especially exciting. I was secretly hoping we’d get to run through the tunnel that runs through the old Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary featured in the real Barkley. What we got was even better.

The day before the race, I rounded up my kids and my things and drove up to Wartburg, TN to view the course map for the first time. My mom met me there to help with the kids and the look on her face was priceless as we listened to a volunteer describe the course: “You go up the candy-swear-word trail (the name was changed to protect the innocent)… down testicle spectacle.. down meth lab hill, into the prison, up gunnysack…” My mom told me later that she questioned whether she and the kids should be there. I was mostly just excited that we were going to run inside the prison. The map was printed on microfiber and like Linus from Peanuts, I carried that thing everywhere as I studied and memorized it. I even took it with me to bed, hoping to look at it more after the kids fell asleep. But also because it was so dang soft.

Midge bites

Day before the race and I already had a million midge bites while my kids played at the playground at FHSP

Race day came and I easily woke to my alarm at 4:30AM and made myself a large hobo breakfast of all the leftover foods my kids didn’t want to eat the night before. My dad drove me to the race start as I tried to decide – long socks or short socks? Compass or no compass?

Runners, including myself, lined up haphazardly on the road in preparation for the race start. I headed to the middle of the pack, where I feel most at home. I chatted with Wade and some nearby runners and we preached to the choir and joked about how long of a day we had ahead. We talked about taking pictures but instead just took in the moment. After less than a mile on the road, we turned left and ran past the infamous yellow gate, the start of the real Barkley. The grade was not too difficult but many people were walking and lines were forming so I followed suite and joined the conga line of hikers climbing the Bird Mountain Trail.

Climbing 1,600 ft in two miles is not what one would traditionally classify as easy but it was on real trail and there were people all around so that was nice. It was a surreal experience, getting to be involved in a trail race with so many people (214 started the race). When reaching the top of a long climb people would hoot and holler in excitement, giving hope to the runners below. Within the first hour, the branches and leaves overhanging the trail were glistening from the sweat of other runners. I chuckled to myself when I saw how sweaty the poison ivy was. For the first two hours I was in pretty good spirits, talking with others and generally enjoying myself. Someone mentioned that we should be going faster because it would only get harder but there were too many people to get ahead by much anyway. Then I got hungry. My effort was a little too demanding to get any food down so I decided I’d wait until the aid station and focus on eating then. But none of the food at the aid station (bananas, chips, slim jims and trail mix) looked good to me. I had been sick for the week prior and still had some lingering nausea issues that left me feeling very picky. I forced a few chips down and a banana down, said hi to the rangers, thanked the volunteers and went on my way.

Tub Springs

Tub Springs

This is when I noticed my pace on the uphills going from a brisk hike with intermittent jogging to a walk. I still jogged the downhills but couldn’t will myself to go any faster up the hills. I now recognize that my hunger played a pretty big role here but since my time machine can’t transport food just yet, I can only prepare better for next year. I was still occasionally passing people and still ahead of cut-off times so I wasn’t too worried.

I passed through a ditch (which will not be named) when Josh, a runner I had met at the Full Moon 50k, said hello and helped me climb out. Since my wrist had been broken and in a cast for the three races prior, I took a moment to appreciate how great it was to be able to use both arms and to feel the breeze on my arm.

Then I hit Deja Vu Hill, where we ran a loop, doubling back on part of the trail we’d just covered and continued on to the next aid station. Here’s where I joined up with David for awhile, who was cramping up and couldn’t find his salt tablets. I shared some of mine and we hiked and jogged together for awhile and swapped stories. I shared some chips and without thinking, pretty much just ran off like a jerk. I remembered my graham crackers that I was excited to finally eat only to realize they had fallen out of my bag. I complained out loud and a runner said she had seen some animal crackers and salt tablets on Deja Vu Hill. Nooo! My lunch and David’s salt tablets were gone AND we had littered.

It's not all bad

It’s not all bad

We followed the signs on some easy jeep roads for awhile and I tried to appreciate how nice the weather was and how easy the trails were, despite how tired I already was. I talked with a woman for awhile who will also be running the Pinhoti 100 this year. It’s fun meeting so many people and re-meeting them down the road in this weird community that is ultrarunning.

Soon enough we were at aid station #2, close to 5 hours in. They described the next section and said it would be a lonnnng 5 miles until we got back to their aid station. For me, it was about 4 hours. It started out easy enough, basically jogging down a jeep road for quite some time. I was excited to see testicle spectacle (don’t quote me on that!), a tough part of the course that comes from the original Barkley. I asked some random trail runner girl who I thought was in the race if she had seen testicle spectacle and she looked at me like I was crazy. Ha! I couldn’t stop laughing about what she must have thought I was talking about. And then there it was, the powerline cut we had to go down just to come right back up.

Testicle Spectacle

Looking down Testicle Spectacle

There was a runner sprawled out on the ground, cramping up. He told me I’d understand his pain when I made it back up. I recognized some of the volunteers and talked with them while waiting on a guy almost passed out on one of the hands-and-knees type of climb. It was even steeper than I had imagined and even going down was tough. Many times it was easier just to slide on my butt. The jewel weed to me was beautifully ironic, since it is often used to calm itching and burning skin. I tried some on my legs but there wasn’t enough jewel weed on that mountain to calm the lashings my legs had already taken, and this was on the easier section. Despite all my complaints, I actually was having fun. One guy was taking a break on the side of the trail and said, “At this rate, I’m not sure I’m even going to make the cut-off!” I wasn’t really paying attention to the time or the cut-offs at this point but replied, “Don’t say that! I’m just now going down!”

Bottom of testicle spectacle

Going back up Testicle Spectacle

Once at the bottom, we got our bib punched and just turned around. Looking up, I realized exactly then why this section was named testicle spectacle – boy, what a view! I wish I could describe how difficult it was, but I’m just going to have to use the old cop-out and say that words and even pictures won’t do it justice. I think at times we were trekking a 70% grade, using rocks, saplings and briars to pull ourselves up. I actually passed people going up and felt confident that I was making good time, especially with so many people around. This really was a fun section, getting to see all of the people I had met in the hours prior. And sometimes, it was nice to see people who were clearly in more pain than me.

Meth Lab Hill

Meth Lab Hill

Finally I made it to the top, crossed the jeep road and headed down a rockier but more tame power line cut – Meth Lab Hill. Some people ran down like it was nothing but I jogged down with caution, too worried to fall. The trail flattened out a bit, came out on someone’s driveway and headed towards the prison. I jogged and walked sections of the flat road which was clearly a mistake that I lost time on but I was just so hot and drained at the time. I hoped the aid station would have some fruit but they were all out and the chips, which are normally my favorite running food, were just not appetizing. Despite my pickiness, the volunteers were great and I excitedly entered the gates of the old penitentiary. After going a ways, I realized I forgot to get my bib punched at the aid station and started heading back. I didn’t get too far when I heard the volunteer yell that I didn’t need to get my bib punched there. Looking back on it now I think I could have made up the time I was behind on the cutoff by doing things just a tad differently, including getting a little more food in my system.

Road to Prison

On the road to the prison

Yep.

Yep.

The course looped around in and around the old prison, offering an awesome preview of what used to be. This was the best part of the whole race. How awesome that the race directors were able to incorporate the actual prison into the event! For whatever reason the buildings were cold inside and it felt great compared to the heat from the asphalt. The course went past open prison cells, including the actual cell the notorious Earl James Ray was held in. Then we went into the “hole”, the darkest recess of the prison where no doubt the prisoners who escaped in 1977 spent their next days. It was too dark to see so I just said out loud, “Is there supposed to be someone in here?” to which a man replied, “You just passed me.”

Prison cell

The race provided these quaint little powder rooms with a toilet and nap station!

I was hungry, hot and tired but still enjoying the race at this point. Then I rounded the corner to see a line of people waiting to climb Gunnysack Hill, the start of Big Rat and then Rat Jaw – the longest and most overgrown powerline cut featured in the race. This is where my race broke. Rat jaw was the worst thing I have ever encountered in a race. The briars were over my head and even though some of the weeds were trampled from the runners that had gone before me, there was no defined trail. Two thorns went through the rubber bottom of my shoe. I don’t know how but at one point I got a briar thorn in my underwear. If I had a quarter for every swear word I heard out there, I could have paid for my race entry and bought myself a nice pair of shoes.

Start of Gunny Sack Hill. Thankful my wrist has healed because I could not have climbed this in a cast.

Start of Gunny Sack Hill, using a downed power line to climb.

Brushy Mountain

The old Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, where Earl James Ray and a handful of other inmates escaped for 55 hours only to make it 8 miles

I was going slow but kept joining up with other runners as they rested and tried to find the best route. I was really glad not to have to navigate this particular powerline cut on my own, I would have questioned every bit of it. I ended up with a group of about 10 others following a Barkley veteran (Leonard of Leonard’s Butt Slide). We spent an hour and a half climbing the stupid thing. A sat down for less than a minute and the group I was with disappeared. I could hear them yelling instructions down to us below but my hearing is really not the greatest so I just had to guess. I did hear someone say that we had thirty minutes to get to the aid station or we’d miss the cut-off and it didn’t mean anything to me. I saw a huge rock face and hoped I wouldn’t have to boulder up it because I would have rather laid down and died. Luckily, there was a nice trail-looking path along side of it that would eventually lead to the top. I yelled some instructions down to Heather and Greg, two runners I would spend the remainder of the race with. We hiked together, complained, and we even joked a little. Compared to the rest of the pain, getting stung by a yellow jacket was pretty inconsequential but I mentioned it anyway in case I had angered a hive. I think Greg even ran a few steps.

Fire tower

The most beautiful fire tower I have ever seen

We heard shouting from the top and knew we had to be getting closer. The woman waiting up there was a heavenly sight. She swore at us in the nicest way and told us to get moving. So we did. We still had to make it up the fire tower to get our bib punched. Not even kidding, the stairs to the firetower were incredibly easy compared to everything else that had been thrown at us. Many inappropriate jokes were made as we were probably intoxicated by our lack of oxygen and our joy of having finished Rat Jaw. We went downhill for a quarter mile stretch until the aid station, where they told us we had thirty minutes to go 3.5 miles to make the cut off. I’m embarrassed to say this now, but we didn’t even try. Heather had been in a similar predicament the year before and ran a good pace the entire distance to the final aid station and still didn’t make the cut-off. So this is where we tapped out and we were all in agreement. I said that I would consider doing the full 50k if they would allow it (some races are lax on the cut-off times) but even I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go through with it. A man named Trung joined our little family on the decent down the Mac White trail and I enjoyed hearing stories of some of the epic races he has done. I decided that him and his family were basically super humans. We were still complaining at this point but we were all relieved to be so close to the finish.

Fire tower with friends

Sweet relief! So happy to be done with Rat Jaw.

When we got to Laz he asked if we had planned to continue on or take the marathon bailout option. Was the 50k still an option? I asked if he would allow me to continue on to the 50k and he said he would next year if I could get there 20 minutes sooner. I was disappointed but also relieved. We accepted our fate and continued on for the last stretch of road to the finish. Heather did what she said she was going to do and ran the last stretch. Greg, Trung and I were too spent so we did a walk-jog combo until the very last stretch. We passed Josh who was hobbling in with walking poles and a bloodied bandage over his knee. He ended up needing stitches but still managed a marathon finish.

At the finish line

Only fitting that the picture at the finish is blurred by sweat. We are happy to be done!!!

I was so glad to be done. 10 hours and 17 minutes of very hard work having only eaten a banana and a few chips. I swore off running the Barkley Fall Classic ever again, let alone ever trying to enter the Barkley. Of course I have already changed my mind. Us runners are either like the majestic Phoenix rising from the ashes or like the Dodo, too dumb to ensure our own survival. Many people think we are super human weirdos who feel no pain. Really, all of us suffer through these races, it’s the finish line that we like. At times we hate running but normally forget about how hard it was within just a few days of the race.

But as Laz said, “If it was easy, what would be the point?”

So thank you Lazarus Lake and Steve Durbin, for the opportunity to fail and the chance next year to try again. Thank you to the volunteers for putting up with our complaints and our stench. Thank you to my family for watching my kiddos while I played in the woods all day. And finally, a thank you to the awesome skydiving company, JumpTN.com, for donating enough for the shoes on my feet and for my entry into this crazy race. I am truly grateful for you all.

Rat chaps

Matt made these awesome “Rat Chaps” for me to quickly put on during Rat Jaw but I ended up not using them because I was too tired to pull them out of my bag…

Scratched legs

Mirin’ my battle scars. Honestly not as bad as expected.


A note for those who are foolish enough to sign up for this race next year:

  • Remember that a Laz mile is about 1.5x a GPS mile and 100x more gnarly
  • Definitely bring leather gloves
  • Carry enough water to last you several hours
  • Bring your own food if you’re picky
  • Long socks and gaiters are helpful but not necessary
  • You should definitely know how to read a map and follow signs
  • Remind yourself that you will hate running for up to 13 hours and 20 minutes (but you won’t regret it)
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Death Before DNF Race Series: Race Report for the DNS Marathon

This was the inaugural year for the Death Before DNF series put on by race director Matthew Hammersmith and it was AWESOME. With nearly 7,000 ft of total climb throughout the course, it took me nine hours and five minutes to complete one twenty-five-ish mile loop. There were times I had to use both hands to scramble up the mountain. There were no official course markings and the trails were hard to follow in places. BUT, as hard as this race was, I’m coming back for more next year because “challenges are what make life interesting”1.

I made fun of the RD for the fame fire, which was mostly just smoke by the time I got there

I made fun of the RD for the “fire” which was mostly just smoke by the time I got there.

The lead-up to this race was enough to scare off the majority of people who signed up. Out of 160 registered, only 35 toed the starting line. Facebook posts to the race page included an RSVP for the number of coffins to be made and a clear message from the race director that most would fail. Even the race names intimated the intensity of the course – one loop to complete the “DNS Marathon2”, two loops for the “Drop down to 50”, and four loops of full on crazy for the “Death before DNF 100”. The website also warned of a set of challenges to be completed at the one and only aid station on the course and this was a source of worry for me, especially since breaking my wrist. Going into it, I could only hope that the challenges wouldn’t include climbing rope, doing pushups or anything of that sort.

View of the mountains

View from Albert’s Lodge of the mountains we’d run

The race takes place entirely on designated trails that are decently well traveled but the course was not marked in any way specific to the race – no fancy tape, no arrows – just trail names and a good old fashioned map. I’ll admit it was actually quite fun sitting down the night before the race to study and memorize the route. I changed the home screen of my phone to a picture of the directions and my emergency contact info and felt pretty clever for it (hey, it wasn’t a bad idea!). 

The hills are alive on Buncombe Trail

The hills are alive! View from Buncombe Trail.

Runners started in small groups in ten minute increments from 6:00 until 7:40 A.M., assigned in groups from slowest to fastest3. I was slated to start with the 7:30 group despite my usual middle-of-the-pack status and was happy to get a little extra sleep. After a breakfast of champions (a brownie, a piece of bacon, a boiled egg and a steamed potato in case you were wondering), my father-in-law drove me to the start and helped get me situated. The race director gave me my bib number which was a piece of a dollar bill with the number 3 handwritten on it. He called three of us to the campfire for the 7:30 start time and told us when to go. We had about a third of a mile to run to get from the Briar Bottom campground to the Mount Mitchell trail and then 3.7 miles of non-stop, rooted and rocky uphill climbing. Scott, Lauren and I hiked the majority of this climb but the guy who finished the hundred miler, Drew, apparently ran up it. I could not be more impressed. We passed some people in the “ruck division” who were doing the loop with 40-60lb packs. And some of you think I’m crazy!

Blackberries and blueberries within reach! NOM NOM.

I spent the first 10 or so miles with Lauren, one of only two finishers of the hundred miler and had a great time talking with her. I enjoyed running with her but couldn’t keep up! She also has a three year old son and a job and can still finish a crazy race like this one. I have mad respect for her and I’m glad I got to run with her for the time I did.

20150815_135056m-XLAfter taking an hour and a half to go just four miles, we took a right on Buncombe and were rewarded with a long and very gradual downhill with plenty of wild blueberries and blackberries. I probably ate about two cups of blackberries on the course just grabbing some here and there while on the move. I saw some bear poop that showed that the bear and I had similar tastes. Some people on the course actually got to see the bear but I must have been too busy shoving food in my face to notice. Parts of this section were stupid muddy, parts were overgrown, and some sections were only wide enough for one foot in front of the other running. I caught myself thinking about the poor horses that had to traverse this trail and then thought, “Wait a sec, what about us poor people!” Still, it was enjoyable and we had some terrific views. At one point we came out on a bald and missed the sharp switchback to the right. After wandering around in the grass for a short bit and Lauren getting stung by a bee, we found our way. We caught up to another runner, Tim Shelnut, and we all ran together for awhile, debating which way to go and talking about running stuff. Lauren and Tim seemed to be gaining speed while I did not so I told them I’d see them later. Not a quarter mile later, I got to a confusing trail intersection and had no clue which way to go and my two awesome navigators nowhere in sight. I decided to go left, which ended up being the correct decision, and just a few hundred feet later came across a downed tree on the path. I went around it and saw no clear trail (I found out later that the trail followed the direction of the tree, straight up the hillside and to the left). I followed some crushed undergrowth and foot prints which led to another downed tree. This was not good. I heard some cracking down below which I assumed was another runner so I just walked through the woods in that general direction. Then I saw a building that looked like it might have been part of the Carolina Hemlocks campground where the aid station was and headed that way, it ended up being a house. I soon hit a trail and followed it a decent ways but started running into spider webs. Not a good sign. I decided to see it through anyway and ran into a road, as expected, but not Colbert Ridge Road. Things weren’t adding up so I looked on my phone’s map and found that I was close to the aid station. I got there just before Tim and Lauren so I clearly cut some of the course on accident – hopefully less than a ¼ mile. Bummer.

This picture and others thanks to Tim Shelnut!

This picture and others thanks to Tim Shelnut! More pics from his site here!

I saw my in-laws and my adorable kiddos near the aid station and stopped by for some mid-race hugs. My sons were eating brownies that they had helped their Mimi make the night before and offered me bites in between delicious bites of watermelon (I wouldn’t normally recommend the combo but was too hungry to care). I told them I’d have to keep going and Linden looked surprised and a little sad and said, “Ok, one more hug!” Then he changed his mind and said he needed three hugs, like his age. I couldn’t resist. Who cares about a few added seconds when you can get sweet memories instead!

The kids and their Mimi making the delicious brownies!

The kids and their Mimi making the delicious brownies! A great running food, really.

Then the aid station with the set of challenges. To prove we had made it to the halfway point, we tore a page out of an anatomy book to show at the finish. I specifically pulled a page about the bones of the wrist. We were also to take a notecard and a pen and fill it front to back with the things we saw and the people we met – time is obviously not of huge importance in this race and it was actually pretty nice that way. Then off I went again, up Colbert Ridge. It’s a 4 mile climb that made us all question our sanity. I chatted with a runner who had helped me open a soda at the aid station and his uphill hiking pace was about the same my usual jog. I heard voices up ahead and found a group of four runners who stopped to sit on a giant rock to enjoy the view. We all complained about Colbert’s Ridge and took pictures.

One of the challenges was to take a selfie, which was clearly a challenge for me!

One of the challenges was to take a selfie, which was clearly a challenge for me!

Then off we went again, most of them much faster hikers then me but stopping to take breaks more often. When we got tired we joked about needing a view so we could have a reason to stop. Several runners were clearly trying not to puke after eating some PB&J at the aid station. Note, while PB&J seems like the perfect running food, I have found that you should only eat it before and after a run but definitely not during. Up and up we went, acting like kids on a road trip repeatedly asking, “Are we there yet?” with some more adult ways of phrasing it like, “Surely we must be getting close now.” At times we were only maintaining a 40 minute mile pace due to the steepness of the trail, navigating the rocks and roots, and sometimes having to straight up climb. One runner and I got into a similar pace and stuck together for the next two hours or so. Rachel had a positive outlook and was wonderful to talk to and exchange stories with. We came across a runner who was slumped up against a tree with his eyes closed. “Are you ok?”, I asked. I had woken the poor guy up but I was worried that he may have passed out or worse. John said he had planned to do the hundred miler but didn’t get in until about 1:45 the night before and was taking a nap on the trail because he was legitimately sleepy.

Rachel and me at some point on Colbert Ridge probably

Rachel and me at some point on Colbert Ridge probably

Eventually we hit the Mountain Crest trail which followed the ridge all the way to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. We wouldn’t make it quite that far, sadly for me, but we did pass Potato Hill at 6,444 ft (just 400ft shy of the altitude at the summit). We passed several groups of runners resting, enjoying the view, and/or eating their lunch on the trail but we slowly plodded on. I kept thinking I might begin jogging but it seemed like the downhills were too technical to run and the uphills were too steep. Eventually I went for it and wished Rachel a farewell, sad to leave my like-minded friend but on to run my own race. I jogged when I could and went extra slow when I couldn’t.

Potato Hill at 6,475 ft of elevation

Potato Hill at 6,475 ft of elevation

I hooted and hollered when I hit the Tom’s Gap Connector trail, since this meant the race was almost complete and I’d be returning on familiar trails. This particular trail dropped a thousand feet in less than half a mile so the word steep is kind of an understatement. I didn’t think it was runnable but some guy passed me like it was nothing, reminding me that my downhill running sucks. But there were tons of blackberries so that was nice.

Rock climbing

Rock climbing

Then a right turn on Buncombe and a sudden and intense rain storm to mix things up. I came across two marines who were trucking along, their hiking pace just about as fast as my slow jog. My little brother is currently at Paris Island training to be a Marine so I asked about boot camp and chatted with them. I remembered that I had a brownie in my pack and offered to share but they didn’t want any for some reason. I got a little burst of energy from the pure deliciousness and ran off for awhile. Later they passed me and I stuck them with for awhile. Then Kelly got some fruit snacks and they took off with resolve. The rain only lasted for fifteen minutes or so but with intensity. I was soaked and I was worried that my waterproof case wouldn’t keep my cellphone dry in the puddle that was my pocket. I put it in a zliploc bag with some brownie crumbs and hoped for the best.

More Colbert Ridge Craziness

More Colbert ridge craziness

I saw two people going back out for more. I asked Drew if he was doing the 50 and he simply said “hundred?” with such hope and resolve in his voice that I was instantly proud of this guy. He made it by the way, in 37 hours no less and I later learned that this was his first hundred. He stinkin’ won his first hundred and was one of only two finishers. You should probably read his blog here.

This picture and others thanks to Jennifer Ralston!

This picture and others thanks to Jennifer Ralston! Yes this is actually part of the course we scrambled down.

Finally I made it back to the gravel road to the finish. I was singing “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes” out loud at this point because I was so giddy. I saw my kids playing in the creek and my three year old asked if I wanted to play with him. I told him I’d come right back I just had to finish the race, and finish it I did. I truly felt like I could have gone out for a second loop, but instead I played with my kids in the creek and enjoyed four huge servings of roast, potatoes and gravy afterward, and that was good enough for me!

Coming down Big Tom

Coming down Big Tom

Of those who started, only two finished the full hundred – Lauren and Drew. Two finished the 50 miler and the rest of us completed just one loop. Two runners ran the loop in the wrong direction and most of us got lost at least a little bit. For the marathon, I came in 6th place as the second place female in 9 hrs and 5 minutes. I could have probably cut thirty minutes from my time with a little more drive and a little less socializing but I wouldn’t have had as much fun. No regrets, just awesome memories.

20150815_141941m-XLMy in-laws were perfect travel companions for this trip and I cannot thank them enough for feeding me, pampering me and watching my little guys. I’ve said it before, but while you all are making mother-in-law jokes, I’m getting spoiled rotten by mine.

American Chestnut on the trail!

American Chestnut on the trail!

A huge thank you to race director Matthew Hammersmith, for putting on such a great race for the low cost of 26 cents. Donations benefited the Road Warriors Corp, which is basically two awesome runner dudes (one a cancer survivor himself) running across the country to raise money to help individual cancer survivors pay off expensive medical bills. You should definitely donate to this cause.

Runner fairy land

Runner fairy land

I’ll end by saying this is probably one of the hardest trail races in the country. What do you all think? What are some of the hardest races you’ve encountered? (Because I want to run them).

What happens when you run 9 hours with a cast on

What happens when you run 9 hours with a cast on

Next race on the list: Barkley Fall Classic. Can’t wait.

1) This quote is apparently from Joshua J. Marine, some dude that I can’t find anything else about except that he said this one clever thing.

2) DNS = Did Not Start

3) Start times were based on statistics from ultrasignup, of which I have not run many races

Full mOOn 50k Race Report

This race was every bit of the party I hoped it would be! The race originally started as a birthday run for two special Arkansas runners and since my birthday was just a few days away, I figured I’d sneak my way into the birthday fun too. I also loved the dirt cheap race entry, so there was that. Just four days before the race, I headed to the doctor’s office to see if my wrist would need surgery or not. I had broken it three weeks earlier playing soccer and it was still pretty swollen and hideous looking so I started preparing myself for the bad news. The doctor looked at it and not only decided that I didn’t need surgery but also allowed that I could run this 50k, provided I didn’t fall.

We were fortunate enough to rent one of these little cabins at the race start

We were fortunate enough to rent one of these little cabins at the race start. Very cute!

Tiffany and Liam

My sister and 2 year old at the Lake Sylvia recreation area

After a last-minute but strategically executed road trip, my mom, my sister and my two kiddos went to the Lake Sylvia swimming area and small playground just down the road as we waited for the race start. It was a toasty 102° and even the lake was somewhat bath like. An unexpected downpour effectively dropped the temperature by about 10 degrees but also made things a little steamy. It was going to be a hot night! I usually use a handheld water bottle but since I’m still sporting a lovely cast, I decided to just bring my hydration pack. Ten minutes before the race we realized the hose was cracked in half (it got smashed in the cooler)! We tried to tape it but the tape just kept slipping off so instead I held a regular water bottle with my free hand and put two extras in my pack. I had my sister cut a hole in the top of the water bottle so I could just drink from the top and wouldn’t have to open it left-handed on the run. Not going to lie, I felt pretty clever about that one. It wasn’t ideal but I feel like we made the best of it.

Parking at the race site

“Plan on walking up to a quarter mile to the start. If that seems daunting, this may not be the sport for you.” -Susy in the pre-race email.

The pre-race meeting began and then off we went! After leaving camp Ouachita, we ran downhill for about a half mile on the road then hit the gravel forest service roads that we’d be on for the rest of the race. Then we started on the gradual uphill that lasted for about THREE FREAKING MILES. I knew the course had rolling hills but I think these should be described instead as “holy moley rollers”. True, the hills were never too steep but boy were they looooong. The hills were longer on the way in so I vowed to appreciate the downhills on the way back, even with tired legs. Elevation profile for full moon 50k During this race I had the privilege of meeting some awesome runners, including two blind runners. One of these runners, Everett Elam, was running the 25k and his guide, Mindy Simonson, was a friend he had met through the Little Rock Blind and Visually Impaired Runners Club. They ran with a short tether between them while Mindy chose the safest path. They were so positive and just plain hilarious, it was great to run with them. I would have loved to stay but I wanted to run my own race so I continued on. Just a short time later I caught up with the Eric Yarberry and his guide, Jason Armitage, running the 50k. They told me that he was getting a little too fast on the roads and it was hard to find guides that could keep up! He placed second in a 5k which would be impressive in itself, let alone considering that he cannot see the path ahead of him. The hill kept going and so did they while I wished him luck on his first ultra and stayed behind. I am extremely impressed and am so thankful I had the opportunity to meet such wonderful people. In fact, I enjoyed talking with everyone out there – trail runners are seriously the greatest people ever.

Everett Elam and Mindy Simonson (BVI runner and guide)

Eric and Mindy!

Eric Yarberry and Jason Armitage (BVI runner and guide)

Eric and Jason, who’s leading who?

Awesome aid station volunteer

Awesome aid station volunteer. Nothing unusual here.

The first aid station used to be water only but got bumped up to normal aid station quality, with snacks, soft drinks, ice and water which I already thought was great. Then we got to the aid stations at the 25k and 50k turnarounds which were seriously the best aid stations ever. I mean, they had everything and the aid station workers were above and beyond helpful. The aid station even had cold watermelon, which is something I fantasize about on my long runs even in the winter. They had salty snacks, fruit, ginger ale and even Dr. Pepper! They also had pickles which I despise (it even says so in my about me section) but everyone else seemed to like it so I guess I will allow it for next year. People were filling their water bottles and bandanas with ice but I didn’t have anything like that so I asked if they’d dump some down my bra and somehow it was the best idea I’ve ever had. I joked that it was the biggest my cup size would ever be! At the turnaround I decided to go for two scoops and joked that I was leveling up to a B-cup. But seriously, ice on the chest really helped cool down the core in the 80-90º insanity that we were running in. I sang happy birthday to the Momma Lou and off I went. After the first aid station I saw an arrow pointing into the woods but saw a glowstick up ahead. Luckily at this point I was running with a seasoned full moon 50k runner who told me that the arrow pointed to the location of last year’s aid station. My runner’s brain forgot this information on the way back and me and this other man ran the wrong way for a short time until I remembered the arrows were a lie! Just follow the glow sticks, easy as that. At one point two guys ran up and told me that I had almost stepped on a copperhead. I was in shock because I thought I had been scanning for snakes but yep, I had apparently missed at least two before that as well.

Horrible picture of a copperhead.

Horrible picture of a copperhead.

I ran back to take a picture, that’s how excited I was. That was the first time I had seen a live copperhead and since my husband is a park ranger and slightly obsessed with snakes, I needed a picture for a positive ID. After that I saw no less than five copperheads crossing the gravel path – never a dull moment! Most were passing by peacefully but one little guy tried to snap at a nearby runner. At one point, two copperheads crossed the gravel path going opposite directions, blocking my path. I called out to the runner behind me but he couldn’t hear until it was too late so he just hopped right over. I also saw several live scorpions which was another item on my bucket list so that was pretty cool. My light was at just the right angle to reflect the spider’s eyes in the woods and there were some monster spiders out there. There was one I would have liked a picture of but my phone was too sweaty so I didn’t even bother. Google “biggest wolf spider on the planet” and you’ll probably find one about that size. The good thing about this being on a wide path is that there was not one spider web to go through, something every trail runner can relate to. Just after the turnaround I started seeing little explosions of color on the ground and I was trying to figure out what it was. Then it hit me – it was throw up. Lots and lots of throw up. Somehow I was able to keep it together and didn’t join the club. I’ve been experimenting with different foods and have found a few things that work for me so that has helped. It also helps that I am starting to leave my middle-of-the-pack status and join the people closer to the back.

Look at this hotty! No literally, I was very hot. Thanks to Arkansas Outside for the pics!

Look at this hotty! No literally, I was very hot. Thanks to Arkansas Outside for the pics!

The finish line was great, there were so many people hanging out cheering on even us slow pokes. I finished in 100th place (out of 117) with a total time of 7 hours and 50 minutes at 2:50 in the morning. Nothing to brag about but I think it was pretty good training for my hundred miler this fall and anyway I had fun. It felt so good to be done and this was the first race I didn’t lose any toenails, maybe because I already lost the important ones. Since we were celebrating Christmas in July, a Christmas ornament was placed around my neck for completing my run. The best part, volunteer firefighters cooked a breakfast meal for the runners. Seriously, bacon and watermelon are the best after run combo in the whole wide world. My sister was there waiting for me at the finish and was a tremendous help. We walked back to the cabin where we took off my disgusting cast and she helped me wash my arm. Thank goodness my doctor gave me a replacement wrist sock because that thing could have been used to cause nightmares. Susy had warned us not to shower with our clothes on which was a fair warning. She said others find it disgusting while we see it as more opportunistic, haha! It’s so true though, when you get nasty enough it seems smart to rinse off first, then shower normally but I refrained. After showering most of the stink off, I hopped to the floor and got two and a half very short but restful hours of sleep before having to get up and head home. Bacon and watermelonFor this race especially, I could have not done it without my family. They are amazing and ridiculous, putting up with me and getting up at stupid hours of the night to help me on this crazy journey. I also want to thank race director Susy Chandler for putting on a quality race and for being hilarious. And thanks as always to the aid station workers for staying up all night for us stinky runners and pouring ice down my sweaty shirt. If you’re wondering if you should do this race – DO IT and prepare to party! That is, unless maybe you’re afraid of the heat, snakes, scorpions, the dark or plain old good fashioned fun.

Rattlesnake Trail 50k (race report from the girl with the broken wrist)

Comminuted fracture of the wrist. Can't say that I recommend it.

Comminuted fracture of the wrist. Can’t say that I recommend it.

As many of you know, I took a hard fall playing soccer and broke my wrist less than two weeks before the Rattlesnake Trail 50k. It was the start of the playoffs and we won so my sacrifice was not completely in vain. (Go Fuego United, my arm forever belongs to you!). Now let me just say that this 50k is tough. Like over 5,500 feet of elevation gain tough. This is divvied out between 10 major climbs meaning each hill has roughly the same vertical climb as found in the entire Boston Marathon (544 ft). In a weird twist of events, my wrist of course being the twisted thing, the difficulty of this course also turned out to be my saving grace! While I wasn’t cleared to run, the race’s 9 hour time limit helped me convince my doctor into letting me power hike the thing and I had the illusion that I would in fact do that. After my appointment I told my husband and called my mom to share that I could still hike the 31 miles and they both skeptically asked, “But will you?” Apparently they know me better than I know myself.

The campsite

The awesome campsite! No kids running out in the street here!

Smores

Hannah and Linden roasting Marshmellows as I eat my first ever s’more! Best pre-race food ever!

So my two sisters, my 3 year old son and 3 year old nephew took off on a road trip for West Virginia really not knowing if I’d be able to finish the race or not, let alone in nine hours. Driving into the Kanawha State Forest we got a view of the hills I’d be climbing and my sisters joked that they felt bad for me. We scored an awesome campsite with a small bridge over a creek that helped keep the kiddos entertained and contained. My sisters set up camp while I supervised. Then it poured. We hid in the tent and I donned a steamy plastic bag over my splint. The rain stopped long enough for us to go to the pre-race dinner where the race director, Dennis Hamrick, assured me that no one would be left on the course without aid and support. We let the kids play in the creek for awhile, made some delicious s’mores and then got in the tent where it poured again pretty much all night long. The positive side being that it rained so much that there wasn’t any left for it to rain during the race! We slept off and on, distracted by the sound of the rain and the terrifying call of nearby barn owls. (If you’re curious, this is what they sound like).

Playing in a creek

 

My older sister helped me with all the things I couldn’t do – she drove me to the start in the morning, pinned my race bib, put up my hair and filled my pack. We went over the game plan again: if at any point my wrist was hurting or swelling, I would simply stop at an aid station and get a ride back to the start/finish, conveniently located next to a playground and swimming pool. If I was feeling good, I would let the aid station workers know that “the girl with the broken wrist” was feeling good. Simple as that.

Tiffany and I making a game plan. Why do I look like an elf?

Tiffany and I making a game plan. Why do I look like an elf?

A pre-race talk, a traditional gunshot and then the race started! After a short jaunt on the road we hit the trail and immediately started up the first of ten steep uphill climbs which I hiked on up as planned. The hills were definitely in my favor as almost everyone was hiking. When at the top of the first ridgeline, I determined that jogging slowly and cautiously felt just the same on my wrist as power hiking. Any time the footing looked questionable I slowed to a walk.

At least one kid slept through the night.

At least one kid slept through the night.

There was one runner, Jonie, who was employing a similar strategy and we stayed together for a bit. She had run the Rattlesnake Trail 50k ten times before and was very knowledgeable about the course and generally pleasant to talk to. I decided to go on ahead which started the first of many times we passed each other throughout the course. Normally in races I am the one passing people on the uphills and getting passed on the downhills but not with Jonie! I fondly referred to her as the mountain goat woman as she’d hustle pass me up the beastly hills. I would eventually catch up with her on the ridges then go on my way until the next big climb. At one point, as we were running through a powerline cut, my head was suddenly yanked back stuck in some thorns. Jonie helped get it out while I shoved blackberries in my mouth.

Walking here because... really?

Walking here because… really?

I climbed this with one hand.

I climbed this with one hand.

Three weeks of rain. When it wasn't hilly, it was wet.

Three weeks of rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool rocks on the course

One of many cool looking rock formations along the course

The course was beautiful and the uphills kept things especially interesting. Some of the climbs were so steep that I’d get to a switchback and say out loud, “really?” But each hill made the accompanying ridgeline and downhill that much more rewarding. When it wasn’t hilly, it was wet and muddy. It was hot and humid but the low hanging branches were wet from the previous nights’ rain, effectively cooling me off when I’d brush past or give a light tug. I packed a plastic bag for my cast in case it started pouring but somehow it never did.

I have learned through trial and error that salt tablets are a huge benefit to me and I took them regularly throughout the race. I also had my favorite running foods in my bag (potato chips and strawberries) which I ate on the walking sections but it was also nice to have a variety of food and soda to grab and go at each aid station. The aid stations were great. There were 9 of them between 2 and 5 miles apart, fully stocked and manned by some awesome volunteers.

Not a rattlesnake, but I almost stepped on this little guy.

Not a rattlesnake, but I almost stepped on this little guy. Garter snake 50k?

Each aid station showed the current mileage and the distance until the next, which I found helpful. Because of this, I focused less on counting down the miles and more on getting to the next aid station – a strategy I think will work well for me in my hundred miler. The first couple aid stations I left the message that “the girl with the broken arm” was doing well in case my sisters asked. Soon after people started greeting me with things like, “Oh we heard about you!” or “You’re the girl with the broken arm!” A joke even started going around that I had broken my arm on the course, bandaged it up and kept going. Ha – I don’t think I’d ever be that crazy! Well… maybe if it was in the final miles…

My splint staying in the exact position as my hand would be with my handheld water bottle. I've been training 6 months for this!

My splint staying in the exact position as my hand would be with my handheld water bottle. I’ve been training 6 months for this!

Since my dominant hand is the one in a cast, there are some simple tasks that I just cannot do quickly. My sister had filled my hydration pack to its capacity so that I wouldn’t need to bother with it too often but I still needed a refill a little over halfway through. One aid station volunteer went above and beyond when he helped me fill my pack up and buckle it back on again. That doesn’t sound too bad until you consider that I was completely drenched in sweat at this point, as was my pack, and he had to touch it. I hope the poor man has since recovered. I asked which way to continue running and he said, “Always up!” I should have known.

Course markers were pink with brown polka dots

Course markers were pink with brown polka dots!

The course was for the most part very well marked. There was one section where a sign read “Did you do the loop?” and you could see the continuation of the course very close by. This was a bit confusing when standing there scanning the woods for the tape, but made more sense taking it one turn at a time. I followed the arrows, didn’t go down any trails marked “Wrong way” and figured it out ok but I know a few others got confused here. Another spot near the end was confusing for me when I saw a ribbon in the middle of the woods! I did not know there was a bushwacking section. I followed the tape through saw briers but then saw more tape on a gravel road just up the hill and still more straight ahead. Surely I wasn’t supposed to zig-zag off trail? Eventually it intersected an actual trail but I wasn’t certain that I was headed the right direction until I pulled some Sherlock Holmes level detective work, looking at the direction of footprints in the mud. I asked the race director about it later and he said he had planned on making a trail so runners didn’t have to run the gravel logging road but decided against it and wasn’t expecting anyone to see the random markers in the woods. Oops! Oh well, my kids thought my scraped up legs were pretty cool and that’s good enough for me.Pretty spot on the course

The mud made things difficult to navigate and I walked anytime the trail seemed slick or there was evidence that someone had slipped. From what I’ve heard, the constant influx of rain was pretty uncharacteristic and I doubt the mud is normally an issue. There were a few spots that were difficult for me to climb with a broken wrist but I managed just fine.

The last miles were the easiest of the race except for the sore legs, soggy feet and bruised toenails. After a tricky one-armed rock climb, the trail went downhill for a good bit and then flattened out for the final mile or so. I turned the corner to see my sisters pushing the boys in the swings near the finish. I called happily to get their attention and awkwardly waited a little so my son could run in with me to the finish. I guess he’s over the novelty of these races and wasn’t really interested in joining me this time so off I went. It felt so good to be done but it was comforting to know that I could have continued on. My time was 8 hours and 34 minutes and I came in as the 4th female out of 10, 21st place out of 33 runners. I’d love to know how fast I could have finished it on a normal, less cautious day but I’m very happy with how things turned out considering the broken wrist and the wet conditions. My legs and feet were very sore but my wrist somehow felt better than normal – good circulation and no pain whatsoever. If you’re considering this race, DO IT. If a mom with a broken wrist can do it, then so can you. Expect a challenge, not a PR, but it will be worth it.

Finished happy!

Finished happy!

Thank you to all who helped get me to the finish! Thank you to the race director, for providing a quality trail race; thank you to the volunteers, for giving up your time to help people you don’t even know! Thank you mom, for watching my youngest son overnight to make this happen. And finally, thank you to my sisters, for EVERYTHING! What an awesome trip!

A few cuts from my accidental bushwacking section.

A few cuts from my accidental bushwacking section. Oops!

Had to hose off before the shower

Had to hose off before the shower!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I wrote this post on my laptop, left handed, in the presence of two toddlers. Sorry about the weird formatting!

Does parenting get easier? I vote yes.

Not too long ago I was the parent desperately asking others the question, “Does this parenting thing ever get easier?”

Inevitably they’d say what I did not want to hear in my fragile state: “Parenting never really gets easier… just different.”

I’d force a laugh while sobbing silently in my head, my mental state receding further into fetal position.

HOW COULD PARENTING BE THIS HARD ALL THE TIME?? IT HAS TO GET EASIER THAN THIS!

And you know what? It has.

While I understand the sentiment, parenting has totally gotten easier. Never easy, but never quite as crazy as what I now consider baby boot camp and the following year and a half of “active duty” (baby boot camp being the first six weeks of your tiny drill sergeant’s life in which he transforms you into a well-oiled but sleep deprived machine, eroding your sense of self for the sake of the greater good). I’m now convinced that people who hold the “parenting just gets different” view fall into two camps: 1) The people who just really like the baby stage and 2) The people who have forgotten how difficult and life consuming babies are. A baby’s needs are simple but meeting those needs is straight up exhausting. When you’re going through it for the first time, it really is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do.

It seems like every time we get used to a new phase of our child’s development, things change and we have to adapt all over again. This is why people say things just get different, because each phase IS hard. But thank goodness the newness of parenting wears off, hormones eventually even out, and the body heals. The lack of sleep becomes more normal and your brain adapts by getting more restful sleep in less time. If you can believe it, your kids will eventually start sleeping through the night and some day you too might get a full night’s sleep (dream big guys!). Your house will never be clean again but that’s ok because at least one day you will not always be the baby feeding, diaper changing zombie that you might feel like right now.

They sometimes play together while I just sit and watch

They sometimes play together while I just sit and watch. Yes, this actually happens.

While you will always try to keep your child safe, you won’t always need to be on suicide watch for your little explorer. Nowadays I’m generally not worried that my kids might randomly put razors, deer poop, or engorged ticks in their mouth… all of which my youngest son has done in the past. I’m also not constantly mulling over the seemingly innocuous things that could kill them – plain old sleeping, choking on the plastic eyes of a teddy bear, bouncing too much. My kids might try to draw on the walls but at least they’ve stopped trying to eat the pen.

They pick me flowers, and I don't have to worry that they'll eat them

They pick me flowers, and I don’t have to worry that they’re going to eat them.

I asked my spouse if he thought parenting gets easier and he agreed because, as he put it, “It’s more rewarding”. As if on queue, my three year old snuggled up to him and said, “I love you, daddy!” There are plenty of challenges with my two-year old and threenager but the occasional sweet moments makes the hard work worth it. Not only will I get to look back on the adorable pictures I have of my kids, but I’ll get to re-read the cute and sometimes hilarious things they’ve said that I’ve kept track of. After my three year old watched me go skydiving last month, he asked if I was a super hero. My life is definitely getting sweeter.

The kids asked to dress up like superheroes so they could be like me. Winning!

The kids asked to dress up like superheroes so they could be like me. Winning!

Time with the kids has definitely gotten more fun too. My husband and I have been able to go kayaking more regularly now that they can join us and it is a blast. I can choose to play with my kids or if I’m wanting a break, I can (sometimes) just watch them play happily by themselves. We can go the pool, play in the sand, go to the aquarium, the kid’s museum, or a playground. There are a lot of options that have become so fun.

Here's me chilling on the edge of the pool, watching but not worrying about my kids.

Here’s me chilling on the edge of the pool, watching but not worrying about my kids.

In addition to the cute and the fun moments, the older your kid gets, the easier it is to get some alone time. My husband and I celebrated our anniversary last week and our date night didn’t include me leaking through my shirt, having to spend twenty minutes pumping a bottle and/or worrying that my child would be left hungry because the movie went a little bit long. It’s much easier to appreciate our two boys when we’ve had a little time away. I’m a better parent when I get my alone time, and it’s really hard to pencil that in when your little one’s existence depends on you. Since my kids have started sleeping through the night, I’ve been able to run several marathons this year and am training to run a hundred miler this fall. I never would have dreamed of making such horrible decisions when my kids were still babies. I’m getting to be myself again, and I’m liking being a parent more and more as the kids get older.

In short, I have my life back. It will never be the same as before I had kids, and that’s ok. It’s still pretty freakin’ sweet if you ask me.

So as a final glimmer of hope for you parents out there wondering how you’re going to make it, know that for some of us, things do in fact get easier.

They even help cut the grass!

They might even help cut the grass!

 

Q50 Trails Extravaganza 2015: “Lookin’ Good Baby!”

I loved this race so much I accidentally wrote a novel on it so if you want the short version, here it is:

  • Beautiful and hilly two-loop trail race at Bogue Chitto State Park in Franklinton, LA benefiting the New Orleans Mission
  • Saw a wild baby boar and almost peed myself
  • Had a blast
  • 10/10 would run again
  • Favorite marathon yet

The Novel:

One of my weirder hobbies is race reconnaissance, a delicate art form in which I research marathons and stalk them obsessively until I decide which ones look awesome, all while in bed. So, one night I was looking up trail marathons in nearby states and saw that there was only one trail marathon in all of Louisiana AND it had an early-bird registration price of $26, what what?!? Of course, I had already missed the early bird price but I didn’t care, this was the Louisiana race for me. After confirming with my main crew (aka my ridiculously supportive family), I decided to sign up. Just minutes after hitting submit on my registration, I got a phone call from the race director, Cesar Torres. He was calling to welcome me into the Q50 family and make sure I knew to call him personally if I had any questions about the race. I thought this must be a tiny race or one crazy, committed race director.

Running through a tunnel of green!

Running through a tunnel of green!

Getting down there went as well as an 8 hour drive with two toddlers can go! Leaving the snowpocalypse that was in Tennessee, my husband and I met my in-laws and my parents at the science center in Birmingham then continued south to a strange but accommodating rental cabin in Bogaloosa. We spent Saturday at Bogue Chitto State Park (apparently pronounced Bo-guh Chit-uh but don’t ask me to say it), mostly playing at the playground and enjoying the perfect weather. On race day, Matt and I drove to the start of the race and joined the group of runners waiting for the pre-race meeting. Cesar Torres introduced himself and was a little choked up because of the number of runners that had come out for the race. His remarks were funny, touching and sincere. The race hadn’t even started yet and I was already glad to be a part of something with so much passion driving it. The race benefits the New Orleans Mission, who also came out to volunteer for the event!  One runner, I found out after the race, ran with a full back pack of rice which she donated to the Mission on completion of the race. How awesome is that?!

Bogue Chitto State Park 3

The section of horse trail, somewhere between miles 6-8?

Lined up at the start, I couldn’t wait! It would be my first time running a two loop course so I was very curious to see how that would effect my mental game. Would I get bored or would the knowledge of the course give me an advantage on the second lap? The race started off on a gravel trail going mostly downhill with plenty of room for people to pass each other. The half-marathoners and full marathoners started in the same wave so I tried my best to settle into a comfortable pace and not worry about those passing me. Many runners were walking up the hills within the first mile and so I ended up playing leapfrog with a few people over and over again. I chatted with a man named Paul each time we passed each other and we joked about the hills, which he had experienced in the race just the day before. I told him it helped to have trained in Tennessee and as we approached a particularly steep hill he asked, “So you don’t call this a hill?” I said, “This is a hill, alright! But I’m just glad I can see the top of it!” My enthusiasm stayed pretty strong for all of the first lap and I ran up the hills, slowly but surely. But Paul, if you’re reading this, know that the hills got even bigger on the second lap and I may have walked one or two.

Elevation profile of Q50 marathon

As you can see in the elevation profile, no single hill was terribly daunting or long but where the hills lacked in stature, they made up for in number! They were relentless!

There was a sign that said the bathroom in cabin three was available for runners so I decided to make a quick pit-stop since it was unclear when the next one would be. The cabin was super nice but finding the bathroom wasn’t as intuitive as I expected so I felt like a total snoop looking for the bathroom. I laughed at myself but made mental note to double check the sign just to make sure I hadn’t accidentally entered the wrong cabin. Writing this, I’m still not 100% sure I went into cabin three…

The disc golf section

The disc golf section

After this, the run got a little flatter and we passed a small pond with some calling frogs that I was compelled to identify to fellow runners, I couldn’t help it! Then we passed the playground that my family and I had spent time at the day before, continued on some road for a short time, then turned on to a horse trail through a pine forest. There was supposed to be a creek crossing here but the heavy rains made it a big mud puddle. Cesar Torres indicated in the pre-race meeting that he thought he should keep it as it were but decided to eventually lay out a piece of plywood for the wimpier runners. I scurried across that plywood with a walk of shame but I’d do it again for my poor feet. The first place female (and some other brave souls) ran straight through it, thus her well-earned position in first!

Soon after this section we passed the aid station, which I opted to hit up when I’d see it again in two miles. The volunteers were telling runners they were halfway there but since I was running the full I was only a quarter of the way there. Man! I thought. Wish I had decided to run a half marathon in every state..

Race director Cesar Torres in action at the race. "Lookin' good baby!"

Race director Cesar Torres in action at the race. “Lookin’ good baby!”

I caught up to a runner that had been just ahead of me the entire time so I joked with him about how he’d be passing me as soon as we got to the top of the hill. Instead, we ended up talking about running stuff and ran at a solid pace together until the turnaround. At some point we saw a gator stuck in the mud (the kind with four wheels) and Cesar saying “what you see on the trail, stays on the trail!” His partner in crime posted about it on facebook and now here I am writing about it so no such luck there, Cesar! We ran on and Casey told me some neat things about the race director but I’ll refrain from bragging on him since I think he’d appreciate that – you’ll just have to sign up for one of his races and find out for yourself! If you do meet him, I’m sure you’ll hear him encouraging men and women with his peppy, “Lookin’ good, baby! Lookin’ good!”

My oldest son, happily playing during my run

My oldest son, happily playing during my run

We reached the finish line for the half-marathoners and I said goodbye to my runner buddy, sad that he got to be done running and I didn’t! My husband Matt and my mother-in-law had just gotten there so I ran over to them and shoved some food in my face. Normally I would walk while eating but I was confused where to go so I just stayed put – was I supposed to turn around at the aid station or did I have to go to the finish banner and then turn around? They probably said what to do during the prep talk but I apparently missed that bit. Then back out on the course for my second lap! It was actually nice to know what was in store, it wasn’t completely boring as I was worried it might be.

My family patiently awaiting my arrival

My family patiently awaiting my arrival

I started feeling better with my food in my belly and people were commenting on how weird it was that I was still smiling and running up (most of) the hills this far in. Around mile 16 I passed a runner heading the other direction toward the finish line and I thought she was the first female marathoner, miles ahead of me. I told her she was doing great and was the first female I’d seen and she just looked confused and said, “Yeah? Ok.” Later I realized she was doing the 50 miler and that is why she was so baffled. I don’t know who you are or what you thought I meant but if you’re reading this I AM SO SORRY! While on the topic of apologies, I want to apologize to the 50 miler man who had to wait on my toddler to use the only men’s toilet at the turnaround point! From the bottom of my colon, I’m so sorry that you had to endure that! With this kind of record, my family and I are going to be banned from running events in the future!

Matt and my youngest son having too much fun

Matt and my youngest son having too much fun

I passed several other 50 milers at this point and tried to encourage them as best I could. One lady moved over for me and apologized for going slowly. I told her she didn’t have to move over for anybody – she had earned it! I randomly told another runner that my water had run out and I was looking forward to the next aid station. He offered me some of his, despite being low on water himself and also on his first marathon! Not sure if it was just the culture of this race or trail runners in general but everyone was so considerate!

During the horse trail section, I started to hit the doldrums where I was wanting to be done running and a little bored. Out of nowhere, I heard a loud crashing noise to my left and saw a baby boar running away from me. I heard even more thrashing and crashing to my right, screamed like a little girl and hurriedly pulled my whistle out, imagining that I would blow it in the momma boars face if I needed to. As if that would stop an angry momma boar. They ran off (read: I survived) and I started running with a little more pep in my step, ready to get to the next aid station. When I got there and recounted my story, they responded, “Awww! We heard that there are three babies. Did you get a picture?” How were they not surprised that I was simply alive? So nope, I didn’t get a picture.

They told me the next female marathoner was just four minutes ahead of me and so I kept going. I kept looking over my shoulder, all guilty like, just to make sure no other ladies were going to pass me.

10828088_10154039563848881_1331581744594575764_o1965619_10154039564133881_3325894502468527640_oI hit my last hill before the finish line, spotted my family in the distance and burst out in a smile! My oldest son Linden was so happy to see me so I reached out my hand and had him run with me to the finish line. I still had some energy left so I jumped and clicked my heels through the finish. Guess I should have run one or two more laps 🙂 Totally kidding, I was dead tired and MORE than happy to sit on my butt in the car for the next 8 hours.

I finished as the second female with a time of 4:53:20, six minutes behind the first female. Only twenty-three runners finished the full and I think only five of them were female so being second wasn’t as big of a deal as it sounds. Still, I won an awesome hand crafted vase!10995902_10154039564348881_6176281803266060180_o

Linden told me afterward, “I know you trailer running, I know you come back!” And he gave me the biggest kiss on the cheek.IMG_3718

So in sum, I had a blast running the marathon at the Q50 Trails Extravaganza, an amazing event held at Bogue Chitto State Park in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. Of the marathons I have run so far, this was my absolute favorite, hands down. The course is beautiful with rolling hills going through multiple habitat types on a range of surfaces – from gravel, to packed dirt, to mud in some spots, sand in others, squishy pine needles, and a tiny bit of pavement. I have never really been interested in running the same race twice since there are just so many amazing options out there but this one is tempting me. The least I can do is recommend it to all my friends.IMG_3708

One final thank you to the race director, to the volunteers at this race and most importantly, to my support system – my family! Without them, I could not even think to do these crazy races. Thank you all!

 

Race director awarding me my beautiful vase! Notice the walking canes in the back, the awards for the 50 milers.

Race director awarding me my beautiful vase! Notice the walking canes in the back, the awards for the 50 milers and the plants for all runners.

I’ve made a horrible decision (and why I don’t regret it) – Pinhoti 100

I’ve made a horrible decision.

I signed up for the Pinhoti 100. There’s no turning back, I’m committed now.

For the uninitiated and/or those of you who have not gone utterly insane listening to me talk about this very subject, the Pinhoti 100 is an endurance run that travels through the Talledega National Forest. The course is actually 100.59 miles plus an additional half mile walk to the starting line, but who’s counting? I would like you all to agree now that you will personally berate and humiliate me if I do not finish for any reason other than a broken femur. Come November 7th, I will be running, hiking, shuffling, slogging and maybe even crawling my way toward the finish line of the Pinhoti 100.

 Why it’s a horrible decision:

Most of you don’t need any further explanation for why this might just be a horrible decision. But I’ve got a few things to add anyway.

First off, after running “just” 50 miles in 2008, I said that I never wanted to run that distance again. So my current self decided to make up for it by committing to run twice that distance in one run… because that makes perfect sense. In ten months, I’ll be wishing I had listened to my past self.

This thing is going to take me somewhere between 24-30 hours to complete. Chewing bubble gum would hurt after that long. Even sitting down for 24 hours sounds painful. And yet, like so many others, I’ve decided that I want to RUN for that long.

Another reason why this is a bad plan is that I want to sleep and more importantly, spend time with my family. There is not enough time in the week to sleep, spend time with my family and run so I am choosing to throw my dreams of sleep into the wind and slog miles while my family is (hopefully) snoozing soundly. My two toddlers have just started giving me hope that I may one day sleep again and now I am going to willingly giving up my precious shut-eye? That is special kind of stupid, if I do say so myself.

To add to my already long list, one logistical problem is that there is only one real bathroom on the course. The website describes the Pinhoti trail as being “unmolested single-track” – well, it sure won’t be that way after I’m through with it. Can we all agree now that this is a horrible decision or must I go on?

Go on you say? Alright fine, I have bunions. Old lady bunions. Don’t google image search this particular malady unless you just need to feel better about the ugliness of your own feet. I shudder to think about how my feet will look and feel after 100 miles of rock-kicking trail action.

I’m a wimp when it comes to the cold. The race is in November; it is going to be cold. I can’t see well at night; it is going to be dark for at least half of the race. The list of bad goes on and on.

But I don’t regret signing up for this madness, and here’s why:

I’ll get to take in 100 miles of beautiful trail, doing what I love to do, with an awesome group of similarly crazy people. I am so excited for all of it and I am going to work hard to appreciate it despite the pain.

pinhoti

This is the view from part of the course atop Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama!

I’ll get to push myself further than I’ve ever gone before and for whatever reason, that is a great feeling. The amount of pain and effort put into a task like this will make finishing it so worth it. As they say, “Pain is temporary but pride is forever!”. Crossing that finish line is going to be awesome!

And most importantly, I want to run the Pinhoti 100 so that I might actually be useful in some post-apocalypse team that will involve outrunning zombies and whatnot. Finally I will be running for a purpose and not just for fun!

I’m excited to work hard, finish the race and get over this sudden desire to kick a 100 miler’s butt so I can work on achieving other life goals that aren’t quite as life-consuming. Of course, that is if I don’t completely fall in love with the hundred mile distance.My husband has already referred to the Pinhoti 100 as my “first hundred miler”. I may be a little obsessed at the moment.

Pinhoti100

Does this not look amazing?!

In conclusion, I am super psyched! I’ve never been so excited to be so miserable before. If you’d like to join me in my quest to 100 I’d love to have you along! You can run with me during training, you can pace me during the race, you can pay for all of my extravagant race fees (thought I’d at least throw that in there), whatever you’d like to do. I am so thankful for the tremendous amount of support from my family and friends – I wouldn’t be making these stupid decisions without you guys. Thank you!

Southernmost Marathon 2014

Southernmost Point in the U.S. in Key West, Florida

Southernmost Point in the U.S. on Key West, Florida

Most runners have some allotted time to “taper” in which they rest long enough to build up fat stores and stay injury free before the big race. I paid special attention to my taper week for this race as my family spent three days driving to Key West, relaxing by the beach and pigging out. But the time came to run this thing, my first marathon after having two kids. My main goal was simply to finish with all the internal organs I started with. Spoiler alert: I did!

I wonder what bet this guy lost.

I wonder what bet this guy lost. USA USA USA.

To delay the effect of the sweltering sun, the race started at 5:30am. The race started out close to 80º and many people were sweating before the race even began. One man, rife with passion for his country, decided he should wear a speedo to stay cool.  I made sure not to go out too fast, hoping I would pass people as time went on but I also wanted to make good time while the sun was still down.

The course was beautiful! First you run the roads of Key West passing cute island homes and then the marker for the Southernmost Point in the United States. Then you run the large sidewalk next to the beaches and the ocean. The remainder of the race was on the main bike path, bridges and sidewalks. There were plenty of street lights so no headlamp was needed, even in the dark.

A general rule of thumb is to add twenty degrees to the temperature outside to compensate for the warmth you generate when running. As the the sun came up, that put me at approximately the temperature of the smoldering Hawaiian lava flows.

We actually ran along this part as we made our way around the island of Key West.

We actually ran along this part as we made our way around the island of Key West.

You could see people’s wet shoe prints just from the amount of sweat dripping into them and I even started running slightly out the way just to have my shins in the shade. But thankfully this race had tons of aid stations with water and some even had ice cold sponges to hold onto and pour over our heads. I think those things literally saved my life.

I saw my husband and his parents at mile thirteen and they were so excited to see me it made me start choking up. Matt’s mom, who’d been sporting a knee injury, ran ahead of me to get my picture. Someone lecture that woman, will you? Matt ran along side of me to feed me the pretzels I requested which ended up being a horrible idea. They were so salty and dry it was difficult to swallow them and I ended up putting them in my pocket which then made them soggy. Just gross. Now I know that I cannot trust myself to know what I want. So much for the whole “trust your body” sentiment.

I made it to the turn around point at mile fifteen which temporarily pumped me up since I knew every step would bring me closer to the the finish line.

These were beautiful bridges to run but the water was tempting me to jump in!

Surrounded by zombie runners, one volunteer commented that I was doing great and looked like I still had some gas in the tank. But the heat was getting to me too and I started imagining how great it would be to jump in the water and swim. That thought started becoming too compelling and I decided to take it down to a walk to compose myself before doing something outrageous out of heat hysteria.

It was at this point that I started running with a guy who had essentially been playing ladder tag with me the entire race. I would pass him while he would walk, then he would run past me. His name was Christopher and we helped each other for awhile but I was showing preliminary signs of heat exhaustion (swelling, dizziness, the chills). He said he was glad to run with me because I had been so consistent running ten minute miles but I was losing my game with the temperature nearing 90º at this point. We added extra running just to get into the shade for a change but it was worth it. My friend started experiencing the dreaded stomach issues and I ran off reluctantly without him.

Running around Key West, then to the next key or two until a turn around point at mile fifteen.

Running around Key West, then to the next key or two until a turn around point at mile fifteen.

The final leg was the hardest since traffic had picked up around the island and there were cars literally cutting off runners just trying to find a parking space (you know what they say about Florida drivers!).

Me getting my mom sweaty with a hug at the finish.

Getting my mom sweaty with a hug at the finish.

It really was a crazy house. Thankfully I didn’t get hit by a car because I was too tired to care much. At this point I saw my mom and we joked that she caught me walking (I was). My two little ones and my nephews had about lost their patience sitting outside, doing nothing of interest to them and that left my family scattered a bit at the finish line. I booked it with that crazy energy reserve at the bottom of the tank. It felt good to be finished! It took me 4:59:39, my longest marathon (in which I didn’t pass out in) yet. The heat clearly impacted everyone as I still came in 6th in my age group (out of thirty-five females my age) even with such a slow time.

My youngest son, Liam, wanted some extra mommy time and I was happy to carry him to the car. We later went for a swim in the ocean and it felt great! Thanks so much to my family on my side and my husband’s side for driving from Tennessee all the way to Key West just to support me!

SOMO finish 2


Note from August 2015: I have run several marathons in the heat now and would feel much more prepared to run this marathon again. If you’re considering this race, I recommend taking salt tablets throughout the run, wearing a hat of some sort, and carrying your water with you. There were plenty of aid stations but having your own would definitely help. I’ve learned that ice in the pockets or bra are awesome too. Key West is an excellent location for a “runcation” so have fun and stay cool!