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?”

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!”

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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!

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Finished in 8:42:51! 

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The mountains we started on!

 

 

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Post Race Hobble

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.

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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!

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

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.