Inaugural Chesterfield Gorge Ultra: The Race That Almost Wasn’t

This past Saturday was National Trails Day, and I chose to celebrate it by running the inaugural Chesterfield Gorge Ultra.  This race is a 30-hour, run as much as you want in the time allowed event.  The fact that this race was the brainchild of legendary RD Amy Rusiecki (one of my pacers for this year’s Ghost Train 100 mile) made it extremely appealing and I couldn’t wait to get to the trail and start knocking out the miles.

 

I spend Friday night in Holyoke with Laura and MJ, and we met Crutch and John at Fitzwilly’s Pub in Northampton for pre-race food and beer.  It was so much fun to sit and relax and exchange crazy stories while we enjoyed awesome sliders and local craft beer.  I highly recommend you hit this place if you are ever in the area.  On our way back to the car we passed a cool little place called the Tunnel Bar and wished we could stop inside and check it out, but it was time to head back to the hotel and rest for the day ahead.

We got up bright and early Saturday morning to head to the race.  Amy really outdid herself with this venue, and she managed to order almost perfect weather for us – overcast and dry.  We arrived at check-in to find that not only did she lie to us about having no bling (she got us awesome pint glasses with the race logo), she fully intended to share the beer that all the runners were bringing for her (bonus!!). We got our bibs, dropped off our inter-loopal gear, and awaited the start.

 

Laura and I intended to run together until it no longer made sense.  I was doing the 50-mile as a training run towards the VT100k, and since Laura couldn’t make VT this year she was using this race as her 100k.  Due to the difference distances we planned to run, we knew that our paces would eventually have to be different.  We started off down the trail at what we thought was a good pace and enjoyed chatting with other friends who’d come for the race.

 

The views along this trail are really awesome.  We spent a lot of time following the Westfield River.  It’s a popular spot, and it was cool to see people out in the river fishing and swimming.  Neat rock formations, wildlife, and the sounds of the moving water all added to the experience, and we took it all in as we made our way towards the 7.75 mile turnaround spot.  As we approached the far aid station the overcast and dry weather had turned to sun and humidity, and with more than a mile of exposed trail we knew this would eventually take a toll on runners.  We focused on staying hydrated and cool, and made the decision to slow our pace.

Along the way we met Dave and Rob, who were brothers doing their first ultras.  We ran the return trip with them, chatting and laughing about life and running.  The miles were rolling by pretty well and I managed to eat and drink better than I have on most of my ultras.  We had been stopping to stand in the icy streams that cross the trail because the cold water felt so good on hot, pounded feet.  Little did I know how this would come back to bite me in the ass later in the race.

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We arrived back at base camp and mile 15.5 feeling pretty good despite the higher temps and sunshine. I’d been drinking about a liter of water between aid stations so felt really well hydrated but behind on calories. I ate quite a bit, exchanged my wet singlet for a dry one, and debated on changing my socks and shoes.  Since I didn’t feel any hotspots I elected not to spend the time changing my shoes but instead used the porta-potty while Laura changed her own wet shoes.  Within a few minutes of arriving at the aid station we were ready to head back out, still feeling pretty damn good.

 

We spend a fair amount of the next 7.75 miles discussing our plans for the rest of the race and decided that the time had come to split up.  We agreed to stay together until we reached the far aid station and then I would go on alone.  It was hard to leave Laura, but I knew I wanted to move along faster and we both had to run our own races.  We got to the turn around and spend a few minutes refueling, refilling our packs, and getting ready to take on the trail alone.  I gave her a hug and took off, moving away before she could see my tears.

 

About a mile or so after the aid station, my right foot started to get annoyed.  I noticed a hot spot forming right in the center of the ball of my foot, a place I’ve never had a blister before.  It still wasn’t bad, just a slight discomfort, so I pushed on. I did notice that the loops seemed to be getting longer, a fact that brought attention to my declining energy level. I still felt good, though, getting iced down at every aid station and filling my pack with ice water, and eating and drinking well.  When I arrived back at base camp I wasted little time, quickly refilling my pack, changing into yet another dry singlet, and heading back out for my last long loop. I would still have to do one short out and back to complete my 50-miler, but at least the worst would be over.  Or so I thought.

 

Just past the half way point in the loop was a nice little stream that I had stood in almost every single time I passed through it.  The cool water felt so good on the hot and tired feet.  This time when I did it, I felt the stinging of a probable blister (or two) and immediately regretted not changing into dry socks and shoes.  Ah, well, I only had 12ish miles to do, how hard could it be?  I pushed on to the far aid station and spend a little bit of time there, getting cooled down and chatting with the volunteers.  I was still way ahead of my 12-hour goal so I was ok with using up a few minutes of time getting some mental energy.

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A lot of the far end of the trail was covered in traprock, which hadn’t bothered me until the last loop. Now, each step on that right foot was excruciating, forcing me to walk way more than I wanted to.  I started a rapid downward mental spiral.  I recognized it but couldn’t seem to do anything about it.  I tried some of the tricks I’ve learned, desperately trying to spin the situation around, but the more I tried to rebound the farther down I spiraled.  My foot was just screaming, and all I wanted in the world was to stop and take that shoe off.  By the time I got to the mid-point aid station I had made the decision that I was dropping at what I (incorrectly) thought would be 45 miles.  For some reason I was thinking that it was a 15 mile loop, and that my watch must be wrong, because they said I still had 3.5 miles to go back to base camp and my watch showed 43 miles.  I knew there was no way I could do another 8.5 miles on this foot.  I headed off down the trail, sad that I would miss my 50 mile goal, but confident that I was making a responsible decision.  After all, I have a big race in 7 weeks.  I had basically walked most of this loop, and that didn’t change for the remainder of it.

 

I arrived back at base camp and said “time for taps”.  Anyone who has any knowledge of the Barkley Marathons knows those dreaded words.  Amy came over to me and asked me what was wrong. I quickly told her how my foot felt and told her I couldn’t do another five miles.  I even stopped my watch.  She told me it was only 3.5 miles.  I redid the math in my head and realized my mistake and said, “aw crap” and re-started my watch.  Everyone laughed and suggested I sit down and let the crew take a look at my feet.  I removed my wet socks and shoes and was shocked to see how macerated my feet were.  Holy shit, what a mess.  Deep crevices in my right foot explained the pain I was feeling.  They found a blister between my toes (another first for me) and drained that one.  MJ ran over to the car and got my cushioned Hoka road shoes, and grabbed dry socks and Gold Bond powder from my drop bag.  Amy and her crew of volunteers fed me some acetametaphen, dried my feet, covered them in powder, put dry socks and shoes on, and sent me back out with MJ.

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I was shocked at how much better my feet felt, and I jogged alongside MJ’s long walking stride.  I ran the whole last 3.5 miles, hills and all. Leaving MJ in the dust, I tore into the finish line at a sprint, surprising everyone.  Despite all the problems of the last 12 miles or so, I managed to miss my time goal by only minutes, coming in at 12:07.  Amy wrapped me in a big hug and said, “that’s the runner I want to pace at Ghost Train!!!”  She’s just the best, pouring passion into each event she does and deeply caring about her runners.  I’m so blessed to call her my friend, and I hope she knows how much I love and appreciate her.  She even gave me one of her coveted Sunday Morning Stouts, which rapidly dulled the foot pain and returned me to my cheery emotional state.

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I spent a few hours cheering other runners on to their finishes while I waited for Laura.  She did a tremendous job, finishing her 100k in just over 18 hours.  It was a great day for both of us.  Turns out she had been having her own blister issues, and had to use some mental tenacity to get through her race.  I think we both learned a lot about ourselves during our time on that trail.  I know I learned that I have more grit that I thought I did, and I’m confident now that even if things go to hell in a hand basket, I can fix it and move on.

Many, many thanks to Amy and her crew for a spectacular event.  I hope to return for as many years as she chooses to host this race, and I’ll be sure to change the damn shoes and socks no matter how good I feel. I also need to recognize the many people who make this crazy shit possible for me: Liz, Donnie, Crutch, Beth, John, Jon, Laura B, Carolynn, Brad, and Laura L for sharing all the miles (and beer);  the CT Trailmixers and the Shenipsit Striders for the cool training events and races they host; Skratch Labs for taking care of my hydration, electrolyte, and fueling needs;  and most of all, my husband Joe – my rock, my biggest cheerleader, and my best friend.  Thank you all for everything, and I’ll see you at Silver Hill.

 

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When your best is just barely good enough. (Ghost Train 100 mile endurance run)

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

~ Steve Prefontaine

 

Pre has been an idol of mine since I started running. Maybe it was because he was a bullied, scrappy kid like I was. Or maybe it was because we shared the same birthday. Whatever the reason, whenever I run I think of Pre; but it wasn’t until I attempted my first 100 miler that his words really meant something to me.

The Ghost Train Trail Races are held at the end of October at Camp Tevya in New Hampshire. This seemed like a good venue for a first 100, considering the mostly flat terrain and the out-and-back course. Laura and I arrived on Friday in Nashua to check into our motel for the weekend, and it became clear very quickly that we probably weren’t staying at the Ritz. After meeting with our crew to set up our camp, we headed out to dinner and then back to the motel. We were awoken not once, not twice, but three times during the night by the, um, colorful clientele. Loud exhausts, drunken screaming matches in the parking lot, and yowling cats (yes, apparently someone living at the motel had a cat that wanted to be let into the room at 4am) all added up to not much sleep. Oh well – who sleeps well the night before a race anyway?

Brad and Carolynn picked us up early Saturday morning and we headed off to the race venue. They had picked out the BEST site…right next to an outbuilding that apparently had outside electrical outlets. This meant that we could have lights and boil water for food during the night. Perfect!! We had picked up our packets the night before and dropped off our bags at the Milford aid station, so all we had to do was wait for the race start. It was such a low-key, friendly atmosphere that I really didn’t feel nervous at all. It would be fun to get out on the course.

The YETI yell went off at 9:01am, and we were off down the trail. The plan was to do a 5:1 run/walk ratio until we couldn’t do that anymore. The trail was a mix of single track, old railroad bed, and a little bit of road. It went through people’s backyards, by picturesque ponds, and over a nice little technical hill that was just enough to keep it interesting. We also had to navigate a steep set of stairs and a tunnel under the highway. Not bad for the first few times, but obviously these little landmarks were going to be tough in the later miles.

   

The first 30 miles went by so fast that I don’t actually remember much about them – except for coconut bra guy. At first I thought I was already hallucinating, but no – I wasn’t. We laughed, got a photo taken with him to prove that we weren’t hallucinating, and started on the return trip to Camp Tevya.

When we arrived back at Camp Tevya at the 30-mile mark we were able to pick up Brad for his first 15 miles of pacing duty. The first 7.5 miles we kept up the 5:1 ratio but on the way back to camp we had to reduce that to running every other run segment. Clearly reality had started to set in, as well as fatigue. It was going to be a long night. It was at this point that I lost Laura, as she was starting to have blister issues. Brad texted ahead to Carolynn that we were two miles out and asked her to get some noodles ready. I was getting cold and the hot food would hopefully help me feel a bit better.

 

I left Camp Tevya with Jamie (who was doing her first 7.5 miles of pacing), leaving Laura with Brad to address her blisters. It was getting dark and colder and I hadn’t put on enough clothing, so all I wanted to do was get to the other aid station and my drop bag. Jamie took off her long sleeve and put it over me, and I felt bad but she assured me that she was ok. When we arrived at the aid station I added more layers of clothes and filled my camp cup with coffee, planning to walk the next couple of miles (which included the hill) and sip some hot coffee. I told Autumn of this plan, as she would be doing the next 7.5 miles with me. She kept me laughing when I hit my low points and kept me moving when I wanted to stop.

 

We had passed Laura on the out and back and discovered that she was moving well and not very far behind us. We arrived back at Camp Tevya and now it was my turn to have a blister taken care of. While Brad dealt with bandaging my foot, Laura arrived and I was happy to see that we’d be able to go back out together. We had run so many training miles together that it just didn’t seem right for us not to finish this race side by side. She waited while I finished up changing socks and getting some food, and we headed back out on the trail with Brad (now doing his second 15 miles of pacing).

The wheels had seriously come off the bus by now. We were 60 miles in and about to enter uncharted waters. It had been dark for hours, we were cold and tired, and there wasn’t much running involved. One foot in front of the other was all I could muster, and it was frustrating to have each mile take so long to pass by. I felt like we were getting nowhere fast, but I just couldn’t run anymore. I had succeeded in shutting out the demons for 60 miles, but they finally got a voice. I started saying how done I was, how hard this was, and how much I wanted to stop. It was WAY too early for that, but I couldn’t help it. What kept me going was remembering that I had so many people supporting me and tracking me, and letting them down was not an option.

 

Earlier in the day I had seen Amy Rusiecki on the trail and she had given me a big hug and told me to never give up. It did my heart good to see her again, this time volunteering at the Milford aid station. We were at mile 67.5 and all I wanted to do was sit by the fire and get off my aching feet. She listened to me whine, filled my cup with coffee, and sent me back out on the trail. I knew she was right to do that, but at that moment I hated her just a little bit. The good news was that this was the last leg we’d be doing in the dark. OK, I could deal with that. It has to get better in the daylight.

Arriving back at Camp Tevya and mile 75, we took some time to rest and eat. It was so cold. I kept thinking that I just wanted to be warm again. I had known that this was going to be hard, but it was still so much more difficult that I had ever imagined. I saw other people suffering out there too, so I knew we weren’t alone. We passed a guy dressed as Fred Flintstone several times, and each time his “yabba dabba do” got weaker and weaker. He was clearly having a really hard time. We cheering him on each time we saw him. It’s amazing how a bunch of strangers become like family when you are going through the same ups and down together.

 

We left Camp Tevya with Jamie on our last full out and back, and it was starting to get light out. Our spirits were lifted slightly by this, but I was still in a very low point. We had been walking for 15 miles, and it didn’t feel like that was going to change. I was exhausted, freezing, and my feet were throbbing. Luckily I had only the one blister (a small silver lining). I was well-fed and well-hydrated and amazingly alert, but I still didn’t want to walk anymore. Again, the thought of everyone tracking me made me leave the comfort of camp and go back out onto the trail.

As we approached the Milford aid station, Jamie said Autumn had texted her and told her she had hot chocolate for us. Nectar of the gods, as far as I was concerned. Amy was still at the aid station so of course she wouldn’t let me stay by the fire and enjoy the warmth. I hated her a little bit less this time; maybe because it was light out, maybe because we were headed back over that dreaded hill for the last time – whatever the reason, I knew that she did the right thing by encouraging us to keep moving. We shuffled back out of the aid station with Autumn and our hot chocolate and headed for home once more.

 

Carolynn was our pacer for the last 10 miles, and she was ready to go when we arrived back at camp. I didn’t want to spend any time here at all because my motivation to continue was seriously flagging and I knew if I didn’t just go back out there, I might not go at all. I shed most of the layers I had put on during the night, refilled my water, and we left camp. Brad decided to go with us as well (I think he realized that both Laura and I were completely shattered and Carolynn might need backup on the trail).

 

It was shortly after that that Brad got a text from my husband, Joe. He had been unable to come up due to work issues, but now had decided to make the two-hour drive from CT to see us finish. Brad assured him that he would arrive in time because we had been reduced to 20-minute miles. The thought of seeing Joe at the finish is the one thing that kept my feet moving for those last 10 miles. I wanted nothing more to do with the trail, the race, my food – I just wanted to stop. It was the most hollow feeling I’d ever experienced. Even at the turnaround mile 95, I felt like those last five miles might as well have been a thousand. I began to understand how people can drop at mile 95, or even 97. The slow pace of our footsteps made those miles drag on for what seemed like hours. Not even the knowledge that we had turned around for the last time that day helped get me out of that low.

I don’t think I let myself believe I would finish until my feet hit the pavement of Camp Tevya for the last time. We had less than a mile to go, and my feet had been screaming for almost 40 miles. I looked at Laura and told her that I thought this would be my first finish line walk. My feet hurt so bad that the pavement was just excruciating. As we approached our camp, I saw Joe and heard everyone cheering for us. My eyes filled with tears and I said “not yet. We haven’t finished yet. Everyone has to finish with us.” So Brad, Carolynn, Jamie, and Autumn joined our little caravan as we headed for the last time through the covered bridge and to the finish line.

We hit the little covered bridge and had 500 meters to the finish. Suddenly nothing hurt anymore. I swear my feet didn’t even hit the ground. Laura and I picked up the pace and we sprinted towards the finish line. I saw 29:03 on the clock as I mustered everything I had left and jumped over the timing mat, smiling like I’d just conquered the world. Holy shit, I thought. I freaking did it. The tears came as my husband handed me my buckle. Ghost Train 100 mile finisher, it read.

We went back to our camp and finally sat down for celebratory beers and to get off our poor feet. About 15 minutes after we finished, we saw our buddy Fred (who is really Benjamin Manning) pop out of the woods and onto the pavement. We gave him a standing ovation as he passed us, and hollered out our best yabba dabba do. So glad to see him make it after all the suffering he’d been though as well.

 

It really does take a village. None of this is accomplished on our own. I had the support of Honey Stinger (my fuel of choice in between the bacon and sweet potatoes of the aid stations).  I had the most supportive and unbelievably crazy training partners (thank you Laura L, Laura B, Crutch, Donnie, Liz, Beth, Nancy, Eric, Jamie, Autumn, Courtney, Tracy and countless others). I had the best crew EVER (my deepest, most heartfelt thanks to Brad, Carolynn, Jamie and Autumn for keeping me going and for mostly ignoring my shenanigans). And of course, I could never ever have done this without my awesome husband Joe, who not only continues to support this crazy journey I’ve chosen for myself, but who also continues to surprise me by showing up unexpectedly – usually when I need it the most.

 

I learned so much about myself in those twenty-nine hours and three minutes that I was on the Ghost Train trail. It wasn’t always fun, but it was a blast. I dredged up amounts of perseverance that I never thought I had. And at the end of the day, I gave nothing less than my best to this race. I hope I made you proud, Pre.

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TARC Summer Classic (or my version of the Amazing Race)

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir

 

The Trail Animals Running Club Summer Classic was held in Medfield, MA on August 12, 2017. I had signed up for the 50k as a way to get in a long supported training run in preparation for my first 100 miler (Ghost Train!!) and see some new trails. My longtime training partner Laura had originally signed up for the 40M but I convinced her to drop to the 50k so we could run it together and enjoy the trail. Misery loves company, right?

TARC summer classic pre race

The weather stalking began earlier in the week and it looked like we were in for a wet run. Fine with me, as this would cut down on the heat and the bugs. We knew that this race has had some issues with bees and I was not interested in dealing with bee stings during a long day (not to mention that Laura is allergic). As the week progressed, the weather forecast didn’t change so we felt confident that this would not be a problem.

 

Laura and I, along with our friend Caitlin, arrived at our host Eric’s house Friday night. Seemed like a good plan, considering he lived the closest to the race venue. After a dinner of Subway grinders (yes I know, not the healthiest but it was easy and seriously – who wants to cook the night before an ultra??) and watching the end of an awesome classic movie, Eric headed to bed and left us girls to hold court in the living room. It was like a high school slumber party. Probably not the best idea before running 31 miles, but it was so much fun. I highly recommend it.

 

The alarm went off way too early on Saturday morning, giving us girls only about 3 hours of sleep. After coffee and a small breakfast we headed off to Medfield in the rain. Shortly after arriving at the race venue the rain stopped and we were able to get our drop bags ready and to the start line while staying fairly dry. After a quick briefing by RD Jeff Dixon, we were off like a herd of turtles, ready for the day.

 

The plan was to run very easy for the whole 31 miles, and we stuck to it right from the beginning. When we stopped to walk the first hill, we had to move aside to let a group of runners go by and we learned that two of those runners were doing their first trail race. They had registered not realized that the 50k was trail, not road. Oh boy, I thought. They are in for a tough day. We continued with our run/walk pattern, keeping the heart rate way down, and just enjoying being together in the woods.

 

TARC Summer Classic 2017

(photo courtesy of Mike Kenney)

We were part way through the first of three ten-mile laps when I spotted something up the trail. I’m always nervous in the woods, especially these days with all the bear and coyote sightings. Hoping it was nothing we slowed down but continued at an easy jog. As we got closer I realized we were blessed with a once in a lifetime experience. A rare sighting of a legend. I managed to get a quick picture before he darted back off down the trail.

TARC summer classic Yeti

We finished the first loop in 2:50. Our goal was to stay under 9 hours, so this was perfect. So far, the trail had been fairly easy. A little hillier than expected, a little more technical than expected, but the challenge was fun and the trail was well marked and we were having a blast. We filled up on snacks and soda at the aid station, topped off our water, and started out on loop two.

 

This loop was pretty uneventful. We knew it would be the toughest one mentally so we just walked and ran and chatted about life. When we reached the lookout on this loop, there were hikers there also enjoying the view. One of them offered to take a photo of us and we quickly agreed. Preserving memories is so important to me, as we sometimes forget details during those long miles. After chatting with them for a few minutes we continued on our way, and the rest of the loop went by in a blur.

TARC summer classic 12

Coming in to the start/finish area for the second time was awesome. We had walked in the first time, trying to be conservative. This time we came jogging in and got a cheer from the volunteers. It’s such a lift to the spirit to hear people whistling, clapping and yelling for you. In most sporting events, only the winners get this. In running, even the final runners get the same enthusiastic greeting. Its one of the reasons I love this sport. We finished this lap in 3:02. A little bit slower than the first (which is to be expected) but still in the ballpark of consistency.

(photos courtesy of Edith Dixon)

We headed out on our final lap feeling pretty good. Yes we were tired, but it was satisfying to know that we would be running the technical parts and climbing the hills for the last time that day. So far everything had gone according to our plan, which is a rare thing in ultras. We were eating well, staying hydrated, keeping the heart rate down, and had managed to stay on our feet. In this last loop I did have one slip on a wet bridge and went down, but sustained no injuries. I consider that a huge win.

 

A lot of the trails are two-way traffic and it was so fun to see other runners, especially the leaders, so many times during the day. Getting encouragement from those other runners (and giving it back in kind) helps to cement the trail family. We passed one girl who was having a very hard time and we spent a few minutes walking and chatting with her. As we starting running again, Laura heard her start sobbing and it broke my heart. I understand the struggle out there on the trail – I’ve been there many times.   I hoped she would pull out of her low and start to feel better.

(photos courtesy of Laura Bachiochi)

We arrived at aid station 7 (mile 25 for us, mile 28 for the 40 milers) still feeling pretty good. By chance we got there at the same time as Caitlin and Eric and we took a few minutes to catch up and see how everyone’s races were going. At that moment, the solitary runner we had passed a mile or so back arrived, and we all cheered loudly for her. She seemed in good spirits and I hoped that we had helped her just a little. At this point the two trail virgins came into the aid station behind us. We found out that they had taken a very long rest break at the start/finish area. They looked super strong and we thought they were pretty lucky considering they’d come into an event completely unprepared for the challenge. After a few more moments of snacking and talking, Laura and I headed off in one direction and Eric and Caitlin in the other.

TARC summer classic 13

About a mile down the trail we caught back up to the two runners. They seemed to be ok despite just standing in the middle of the trail, so we kept on going. Taking advantage of the relatively flat, buffed out section, we ran as strong as we could without depleting ourselves for the final miles.

 

As we entered the last half-mile, we decided that we’d walk until we hit the last corner and then run the finish. We were both getting pretty fatigued and had been doing nothing more than shuffling for the last 5 or 6 miles. Somewhere during those last miles we had had a conversation about how much the brain acts as a governor, conserving your energy and giving you the impression that you are more tired than you really are. Little did we know how prophetic that conversation would be.

 

You can really smell the barn when you crest a steep little hill and see the algae covered pond. At this point you are about a quarter mile from the finish, and we were very eager to be there but seemingly unable to do more than a halting, staggering jog over the rocky, rooty terrain. We navigated the steep downhill and began walking around the pond and towards the finish line. A few seconds later we heard whooping from behind and we turned to see the two trail newbies, cresting that same little hill. I became a split personality in an instant. While I was so glad to see them finish and I was super happy they came through the race uninjured and looking strong, I just couldn’t let them finish ahead of us. I looked at Laura and said “oh HELL no”, and took off like I’d been shot out of a cannon with Laura hot on my heels.

 

When we rounded the last corner and came into sight of the finish, the volunteers went nuts. It was the fastest quarter mile of our entire race and we were just flying. After being careful all day long, and thinking we were so done-in, it felt amazing to be going that fast. We crossed the finish line in 8:56. The two trail newbies came in a few minutes after us, and we all exchanged high fives and congratulations. If it hadn’t been for their arrival at the top of that hill when they did, we wouldn’t have broken our nine-hour goal. I was glad to see them finish their first ultra, and I was glad they had gotten us to our goal, but I was especially glad because we were all still smiling.

TARC summer classic post race

A big thank you to all the Trail Animals for putting on such a great race. What a fun group of people!!! From the race director to the aid station volunteers to the photographers out on the course, there was never a time when we were not greeted with smiles, encouragement, and laughter. I’ll be sure to be back next year, hoping for another legendary sighting.

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Vermont 100k, take two (no guts, no glory)

“There are only two options regarding commitment;                                                            you’re either in or you’re out.”                                                                                                            ~ Pat Riley

This was the second year for me at the VT100k. This year’s race was held on July 15-16, 2017. I had been counting down the days since registration back in January and everything I did was focused on my goal race. I had cleaned up my diet, followed my training plan, and put together my stellar crew. Everything was in place and ready. But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men…..

 

We arrived in Vermont on Friday afternoon and went right to our rental to meet my pacer Dean. He had driven in from Quebec and we all wanted a bit of time to unpack, unwind, and chill for a little while before heading off to the race venue for packet pickup and dinner. Once we had all my gear set up and packed the way I wanted it, we hopped in the car and headed to Silver Hill.

 

Thanks to Mother Nature and her delivery of a very wet spring and summer in Vermont, Silver Hill meadow was, well, a bit soggy. The race committee had to do some rearranging to get all the horse trailers, campers, and crew members cars parked without being swallowed up by all the mud. Since I was running late (there’s a big surprise) and we were stuck in a long line of cars all trying to get into one tiny field, so Dean and I hopped out of the car and walked down to the tent area while Joe got the car parked.

 

It didn’t take long to start seeing familiar faces. We met up with Laura, Eric and Caitlin and we all headed over to get our bibs. On the way I ran into Kim, Krista, and Astrid and saw a bunch of my Strider peeps. Steve LaBranche was running the second leg of his Grand Slam adventure, so I wished him well (while secretly thinking he was nuts).

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After bib pickup and a perfunctory medical check, we all grabbed seats under the tent for the runner meeting. I knew Hal Koerner was at the race and I practically gave myself whiplash trying to find him for the whole hour we were at the meeting. No such luck. When the meeting ended we remembered that we had to get dinner tickets for my crew so we went over to the merchandise area only to be told the dinner was sold out. Well ok then. Off we went in search of dinner, and we ended up at a fantastic restaurant by Quechee Gorge. Bellies full, we headed back to our rental to chill out and try to get some sleep. I was full of excitement but slept really well.

 

Arriving back at Silver Hill at 8am on Saturday, I thought about what it meant for me to be there. Such a historic race. Such amazing athletes. Did I really belong here? Would I finish? Yes, I’d completed the race last year but nothing in the ultra world is ever guaranteed. Some days the race goes flawless. Some days, well, it doesn’t. Which would it be today?

 

Amy (VT100’s esteemed race director) sent us up the road at 9:01am. I had a plan in place to finish in under 15 hours, thus giving me a qualifying time to enter the 100 mile race next year. I had all my splits calculated and had a list of times that I had to arrive at each aid station in order to stay under that time. I remembered that the front half of the race is the easiest for me because it included most of the dirt roads. With this in mind, I tried to bank some time and arrived at Lillian’s aid station 15 minutes ahead of time. I quickly filled my water bottles and split, keeping to my plan of not spending much time at the aid stations.

 

Up the road a bit, we entered the woods for the first time. I heard a voice behind me say, “nice job, keep up the good work!” and I immediately knew who it was. As the runner passed me I replied, “hey, I know you!! Get after it, Hal!!” I had just gotten a verbal high-five from my idol. Did you know that ultra runners have groupies?

 

I came into Camp Ten Bear for the first time at 11am, again 15 minutes ahead of time. Sweet, I’m keeping that nice little cushion, I thought. I switched out my water bottles, grabbed some food, got a nice cool down from the sponge bucket, and headed up the hill out of the aid station. I would not see my crew again until Margaritaville, which was at the end of a two-mile uphill climb.

 

Before that, however, I had to deal with two adversaries: Havoc Hill, and Agony Hill. Yep, they are both as bad as they sound. Agony Hill starts will a steep dirt road and ends with a rugged trail – both sections about ¾ of a mile long. Myself and three other runners spend the road section walking 10 steps facing forward and then 10 steps facing backwards. As I did last year, I thought to myself “I can’t imagine the 100 milers doing this after 55 miles.”, because it was all I could do to get it done after running 15. With Agony Hill finally behind me I could focus on getting up to the 20-mile aid station and my crew.

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So far, everything seemed to be going well. My feet felt good, my body was holding up, I was following my nutrition and hydration plan, and I wasn’t hanging around the aid stations. Somewhere just before the climb to Margaritaville my GPS had a seizure, and now I had no idea where I was for mileage. I would have to just judge it by aid stations now (I would eventually end up with 75 miles on my watch, with a couple of 29-second miles LOL). Needless to say, the climb seemed to go on forever, especially now that I didn’t know the passing miles. When I finally arrived, I found that I was now down to a 5-minute cushion on my time. Oh well. Maybe I could make some time back up on the way back to Camp Ten Bear, since most of it would be downhill. I again switched out my water bottles, grabbed some food, kissed my husband, and fired off back down the road again.

Unfortunately there was no time to be made up for me. Most of the double track trail that led back to Camp Ten Bear was muddy and rocky. I was starting to feel fatigued so I had to be careful on the uneven footing. I knew the course well enough that I had a good handle on where I was – and that elusive 15 hour pace was slipping more and more. When I finally made the left-hand turn to head back to CTB I knew I was way behind and made the decision there that I would just do the best I could with the rest of the day, figuring I could at least get close to 16 hours.

 

I came into CTB now 10 minutes behind my pace and told my crew of my new plan. It was here that I made a crucial mistake. I chose to switch my socks because my feet were wet from dumping water on myself and from sweating. I had started the day with my usual Injinji socks, but I knew that to get another pair of those onto wet feet would take an act of Congress, so instead I chose a different pair. This decision would soon come back to bite me and cause the second half of my race to be a real test of my guts and pain tolerance.

 

Luckily CTB was where I could pick up my pacer, Dean. I knew he would keep me focused, and I was looking forward to some constant company. I had spent most of the first 30 miles running alone. So off we headed to what should have been the last gnarly climb of the day – Heartbreak Hill. However, difficulty level is definitely tied to fatigue and so this would not, in fact, be the last gnarly climb for me.

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(photo credit: Ben Kimball, Northeast Photography)

The backside of Heartbreak Hill is a long, meandering, usually buffed out downhill single-track trail section. This year, for whatever reason, the horses had really chopped this section up. I was not able to put my feet in the middle and had to have my feet up on the sides of the now hollowed-out, rocky trail. This, in combination with the socks that I think didn’t stay in place as well as the Injinjis, started a rapid downward spiral of burgeoning blisters.

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By the time we got to Spirit of 76 aid station I was really hurting. I decided to change my shoes, hoping that would help alleviate the problem. Why, at this stage, I didn’t have the medical team address my blisters I have no idea. I chalk it up to being stubborn and stupid and wanting to just keep moving forward. So after a shoe change, a shirt change (I was soaked and getting cold as the sun was going down) and bottle change, Dean and I set off again, but my heart really wasn’t in it anymore.

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We arrived at Bill’s (mile 51) at a time that would still give me around a 16-hour finish. However, I was now dealing with PF in both feet, an angry Achilles, and blisters on both feet – as well as a very battered soul. I felt so incredibly beat up. Several times on the last section I had tried to run and couldn’t – my feet were that painful. I knew that the last 11 miles were almost all trail, except for two steep uphill road sections. I had no desire to finish this race, but I couldn’t imagine dropping out at this point. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be in this pain anymore. Both my husband and Dean told me that I could get through this section in just a couple of hours, so I followed Dean back out of the aid station and onto the trail.

 

The trail sections were unbelievably painful. Every uneven step sent searing pain through the blistered areas. I prayed for a road section. Then, the road section caused the PF to flair and my feet screamed. I couldn’t do anything but shuffle, and even then I had to stop every few hundred meters and roll my feet to the sides to take the pressure off the bottoms. I cried. I swore. I yelled. I just wanted the pain to stop. We reached a section of mud and I just crumbled. I could do nothing but hang onto Dean’s arm, trudge forward, and scream with every step. I had resolved in my mind that I might actually drop at the 59-mile aid station.

 

When we arrived there, I was barely walking. I shuffled over to the table and asked the volunteer to fill my bottles. She said “ok” and took them out of my hands. Somewhere in the back of my foggy brain, I recognized the voice but couldn’t dredge up the energy to put it together. Then the other volunteer spoke and I said, “oh!! I know you guys!!” Crystal and Jesse. I had met them at Jay Peak a couple of years ago. Since then, they have completed numerous ridiculous races such as the Georgia Death Race and the Infinitus 100 miler. Crap, I couldn’t quit now. I whined that my feet were just mangled, hoping for just a tiny bit of sympathy. What I got was Crystal giving me back my full bottles, Jesse turning me towards the road and pointing towards it saying, “get back out there and finish this thing!!”  I was so reluctant to leave that aid station. I knew that was my last viable chance to drop. After this, I was in it no matter what. No cell service, no more manned aid stations, and it was after midnight so I wouldn’t be knocking on anyone’s door. It was only 3 miles to the finish, but it could have been a hundred for as bad as I felt. I really didn’t want to go. But Crystal, Jesse, and Dean wouldn’t let me give up.

 

Those last three miles are kind of a blur. I know I was whining. I know I was crying. I know I was swearing and screaming. I’m mortified of my behavior, but I was just in so much pain. When we finally got to the finish line, I broke down completely. I can still remember Amy’s face, the look of concern she had, as she held me up and handed me off to Joe. Nothing else mattered except getting to the medical tent, getting my shoes off, and getting off my feet. I was so upset that I couldn’t revel in finishing 62 miles. I couldn’t celebrate the fact that I had finished in 17 hours and 13 minutes (a 40 minute course PR for me).  All I could do was cry. I hadn’t even come close to my goal time – neither of them. I was devastated.

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I managed to get a few hours of sleep before going back to the awards ceremony the next day. We didn’t stick around, though. I grabbed my ceremonial horseshoe and headed back to the rental. I was just so shattered. I’ve never been in a low for 11 miles before, and I didn’t know how to handle it. After napping and eating for most of the day, the fog finally cleared and I thought about the enormity of running for 62 miles. It didn’t matter the time on the clock or the mental state I had been in at the end. I had finished my 2nd 100k, and that was quite an accomplishment. I had also cycled my first 100k in late June, so I had hit that goal – to cycle and run a 100k within 4 weeks of each other. That’s pretty badass, and I’m glad I finally realized it.

I’m still planning on running Ghost Train 100 in October. If I finish it within the 30-hour cutoff, I will get my qualifying time for the VT100. However, I think I’m going to do the 100k again. I really want that 15-hour finish time, and, well, the 100k course and I have some unfinished business to attend to.

 

As usual I need to give a big shout out to my husband Joe for his unwavering support and for being the best crew chief ever; to my pacer, Dean, for putting up with a stupid amount of whining, tears, and temper tantrums for that last 11 miles; to Crystal and Jesse for getting me back on the course when it would have been so easy for me to quit; to Amy, for her continual encouragement in my quest for that elusive qualifier; and of course to Debbie, for getting me to Vermont to begin with – twice.

 

 

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Catamount 50k. Yes, you can….(whether you want to or not)

“The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race. Its to test the limits of the human heart.” ~ Bill Bowerman.

 

The heart. The mind. The body. And, quite frankly, the sanity. I have to admit that I learned the intensity of this philosophy at the Catamount Ultra 50k this past weekend. Set in the beautiful mountains of northern Vermont, this race starts and ends at the Trapp Family Lodge – a place that I have longed to visit since I was in the Sound of Music in elementary school (we won’t discuss just how long ago that was…).

 

I had signed up for this race months ago as a build up to my A-race, the Vermont 100k. Given that I had ridden my first metric century the weekend before Catamount, I wasn’t planning on finishing with a fast time. Also, the elevation profile of this race is pretty impressive so I knew it was going to be slow going. Add to that the fact that New England has had a wetter than normal late spring and early summer and, well, there was the trifecta of challenges. Tired legs, steep climbs, and probably a lot of wet trails. HA!!! Wet trails – what an understatement that turned out to be.

 

My husband and I had spent the previous week with friends in Quebec, Canada. We drove home on Thursday just in time for me to unpack, repack, and drive back to Vermont on Friday. I arrived at my friend Kim’s house in Fayston around 630, more than a little tired but looking forward to the weekend. I had already gone to the race venue to pick up our race packets and snap a few pictures so we had some dinner, chatted a bit, and headed to bed. Surprisingly, I slept really well considering all the stress of driving for the better part of the past two days.

 

The weather report said it was supposed to be mostly clear on race day; however, it was raining as we drove to the lodge. It continued to mist the entire time we were getting our drop bags set up and using the portalets for the last time before gun time. Well at least it wouldn’t be hot has Hades and we’d have a bit of natural cooling. As we milled around the start line, we met Mirna – an ultra legend who has been featured in several publications. It was pretty cool knowing that we’d be sharing the trails with someone so inspiring.

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The first 4.5 miles of the course contains the bulk of the elevation, which, because of the double loop nature of the 50k, has to be dealt with again in the middle of the race. Getting to the top wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, and so far the footing had been pretty good considering all the rain that had fallen in the past few weeks. The first aid station was here and I refilled my pack, had some food, and left feeling pretty good. That feeling lasted about two minutes. The next mile and a half contained some of the worst footing I had ever experienced on the trail. Ankle deep soupy mud, steep ascents and descents with no good traction, and water running right down the middle of the trail.

After the hellacious mud section came the reward – a two-mile downhill gravel road with the second aid station at the bottom. Here I tried a wonderful concoction of lime juice, agave and chia seeds. Feeling amazingly revived, it was easy to head out on the trail despite the fact that we were mere feet from the Lodge. It would have been so easy to bail out, but the downhill section that continued across a field assured me that the worst was behind me. Hahahahahahahahaha oh, how the trail lies to us. Up and down, through the woods, across more fields, and yes – more mud. Mud so deep at one point that I almost got stuck. Luckily my shoes stayed on (I heard that many people had lost shoes at this one particular mud hole) but I was really beginning to feel drained. At mile 13 I texted my husband, telling him I was considering my first DNF. I didn’t know if I had it in me to do another loop of this, and I really didn’t want to get injured before the V100k. He assured me that only I knew the right choice to make. I decided to wait until I got to the start/finish area before I would let myself think about it too much.

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The last ¾ of a mile of the course is on a beautiful dirt road section with a downhill to the chute. I came into the aid station in 3:55, feeling pretty depleted, and I told the volunteers that I doubted I would go back out but I would check in with them in a bit. Another runner who had decided to drop after the first loop helped me changed my shoes and refill my pack with Honey Stinger gels and snacks and water. I weighed my options: go back out for another 4-5 hours of torture, or accept my first DNF. After a few minutes, I said, “what’s the worst that can happen?” to the volunteers and headed back up the chute. As I past the 25k runners who were eating and drinking their hard-earned beers, I thought to myself, “what the fuck am I doing???” but I continued to trudge on. I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words “did not finish”.

 

The climb up to the first aid station was unimaginably difficult. The sun had come out and it was now heating up nicely. I stopped several times along that section to submerge my buff and my hat in the wonderful icy streams, and that helped keep me going. When the top of the climb finally came into sight, all I could think about was the mile and half of mud that awaited me. Well, at least the worst really was now behind me. Or so I thought. I got through the mud and was finally on the blessed two miles of downhill gravel road. That mud section was the slowest I’d ever done at an ultra. The mud mile, as I like to call it, took me almost 28 minutes to get through. But at least now I only had 8 miles of rolling hills between the finish line and me.

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Have you ever wondered what a wet trail looks like after 500 runners have gone through it? Let me fill you in. It turns to mud. Lots and lots of mud. The easy up and down sections that I had traversed on the first loop had become short dry sections with mud holes in between. It was impossible to run, as I was now completely exhausted. All I could do was keep moving forward at a walk, hoping that my water would hold out until the final aid station with four miles to go. It did, and as I let the volunteer at that aid station help me fill my pack I finally allowed myself to believe that I was going to finish. I had been so worried about making the cutoff because of all the walking I’d had to do. It was ticking down to seven hours, forty-five minutes and I still had three miles of mud to get through before I got to the last mile of dirt road and the grassy, downhill finish (the cutoff time for this race is 9 hours).

 

I finally came out onto that dirt road with roughly eight hours and 20 minutes on the clock. I made the decision that I wanted to finish in under 8:30, so I summoned up every last ounce of willpower and energy I had left and started to run. Several people had ventured up the trail to watch the last of the runners come in, and their encouragement kept me going when I wanted to stop and walk. I knew that Kim had probably finished much earlier (she had finished last year in just over 5 hours) and had already headed home, so I prepared myself to enter a virtual ghost town at the finish line. As I came off the dirt road and headed down the grass to the finish chute, I heard her screaming my name. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that she had waited for me, and that she intended to run me in. I looked up at the clock and saw it closing in on 8:30 so I started to sprint. Kim said “dang girl, you’ve got a kick!!!” which spurred me on even more. I crossed the finish line in 8:30:07, and that was good enough for me.

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I learned so much about myself that day. I had never really thought of myself as having mental toughness, but now I know that I have an unlimited supply of it. There had been many, many easy avenues to Quitter’s Road during this race (many places where the course either came through or very close to the start/finish area) and I had passed by them all, choosing instead to see how much I could put myself through. I am incredibly proud of myself for finishing that race, knowing how many great runners had chosen to drop at the 25k mark. That finisher’s beer never tasted so good!!!

As I look forward to the Vermont100k I know that I have the guts and the determination to reach my goals. The plan is to finish in less than 15 hours, giving me a qualifying time to enter the 100-mile race next year. Until then, its taper time!!!!

Happy Trails to you…and never, ever give up on yourself!!

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Awakening from the winter slumber

Well life sure has been interesting since my last race!! I took the winter off from training because my body (and my mind) really needed the break. I spent time just running trails for fun, doing some crosstraining, and purchasing a new road bike. I’ve always loved cycling and am happy to be able to add a few charity rides to my summer schedule.

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I also applied to a couple of great organizations to be an ambassador, and to my shock and delight I was chosen for both!! First, on a recommendation from my friend Jess, I applied to Irun4Ultra. IRun4Ultra is a group of athletes ranging from elite ultra-marathoners to every day runners like myself who have come together “to encourage safe trail and ultra-running by providing resources and connecting runners around the world in a fun, community environment” (quoted from Linda Saunders, founder of Irun4Ultra). I have made new friends around the country and around the world, and have found encouragement and support in these amazing athletes. I’m glad to be a part of such a great community of runners.

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Second, I applied to the “hive”, the ambassador program for Honey Stinger. Surprise number two came when I got the acceptance letter from them!!! It’s a truly wonderful experience when you can promote a company that you believe in. Being the environmentally sensitive person that I am, I read into all the ingredients used in Honey Stinger products and found palm oil. Palm oil is a highly controversial product these days, as major plantations are clear-cutting rain forest to make way for more palm fruit trees. I emailed the company to inquire about this and got a super response from Shannon. Her letter explained, “Honey Stinger uses only palm fruit oil that is produced under sustainable practices. The producer is a founding member of The Round Table on Sustainable Palm (RSPO). They have been assessed and certified
as meeting the requirements of RSPO Principles & Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production.”

FullSizeRenderI looked into the RSPO, and the World Wildlife Fund supports it, so I am completely comfortable with endorsing all of Honey Stinger’s products, which makes me SO EXCITED!!! I love the protein bars and waffles, and of course the gels are yummy!! I just ordered a box of the chews and can’t wait to try them.
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Training resumed on March 1, and coach Deb has my nose to the grindstone!!! Already up to nine hour training weeks, with running comprising about half that time and cycling the other half…and then we add on yoga and strength training. On the menu for this year: TARC Spring Classic Half Marathon, CT Trailmixers Spring Fling 600 minute race, Salomon Trail Running Festival 50M, Switchback Ride for the Lake 60M, Catamount 50k, VT100k, TARC Summer Classic 40M, Farm to Fork Fondo Maine 58M, and Ghost Train 100M – my first 100 mile attempt. I’m also volunteering at Traprock 50k and Anchor Down Ultra, because I truly believe in giving back to the sport that I love so much. I always appreciate the volunteers who are out there for me and it is incredibly satisfying to return the favor.

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Last weekend I attended RaceMania in Boston and had a blast!!  Learned a lot about running, cycling, nutrition, hydration, and new products.  Had a chance to listen to some great speakers, including Mike Wardian and my coach Deb Livingston and her coach Al Lyman.  Mike is a super cool dude and didn’t even mind letting me grab a selfie.  He just ran a 2:30 marathon last weekend and is competing at the famed Barkley Marathons this weekend.  I love that our community is so down to earth that we mere mortals can hobnob with the gods and goddesses of our sport!!

Well, I should get some rest for my training run tomorrow. Two hours of muddy trail in rainy southern CT…when is spring again?

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Happy Trails!!!

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Bimbler’s Bluff 50k (or 52k, but who’s counting?)

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(photo credit: Cindy Bourassa)

Well I certainly picked a doozy for my last big trail race of the year. Bimbler’s Bluff 50k(ish) in Guilford, CT is billed as “an off road foot race through several inter-connected woodland preserves in southern Connecticut. Consisting entirely of rolling forest roads or single track that can be extremely rocky, the course will provide a true test of the runner’s fitness and mental stamina.” It did NOT disappoint. I was feeling pretty confident in the days leading up to the race, but this course smacked me into reality.

 

Laura and I arrived at the venue just as the early starters were leaving the line. I almost wished I were one of them, getting an extra hour to do this reputedly tough course. But hey – how hard could it be? Some hills, some rocks, some more hills, some more rocks…bring it on. Grabbing our packets, which consisted of a bib, a car sticker (NICE!!!), and an epic race shirt, we headed back to the car to wait for our 8am start time. We high-fived fellow Striders and Trailmixers and shared well wishes with many other runners with whom we would soon be sharing an amazing journey. I love how small-town our trail running community is – everyone seemingly knows everyone and it feels like you can’t walk ten steps without hearing someone call your name and wish you good luck.

 

After a few pre-race announcements, the race director sent us off with a circuit around the football field, under the banner, and up the trail. The trail quickly turns to single-track and would get seriously bottlenecked without the lap around the field. I settled into a good pace, at the back of the mid-pack, and felt ready for the task at hand. After a couple of miles of gentle rolling trail with decent footing, the course crosses the road at our first checkpoint. We re-entered the woods and the next few miles are rolling single and double track with a nice stretch of gravel road. Here I fell in with another runner (Laura #2). We struck up a conversation and the trail seemed to just float on by. Up ahead of us I could see two runners that I knew, and we just kept them in sight as we motored along. At about mile 6 there was a sharp right-hand turn off the double track. All of a sudden, Laura and I were alone. I feared that the two runners ahead of us had missed the turn (which ended up being accurate). Since we were worried about the difficult trail ahead, we didn’t try to look for them and just kept pressing forward.

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(photo credit: Colleen Singer)

A little while later we came upon a group of runners and fell in with them. We climbed the false summit just prior to the Bluff Head climb and dropped down to the mile 11 aid station. These were tough miles, making our way around rocks, navigating tricky footing, and climbing steep ascents and descents. Little did we know that the fun was just beginning. After loading up on goodies and fluids at the aid station, we began the REAL climb – a 20 to 40 degree incline that goes straight up to Bluff Head. I remarked to Laura that Mt Greylock is similar to this – for the whole first 3 miles. I kept that in my head as we climbed – at least this one was only about a half mile. Breathing heavily at the top, we stopped briefly to take in the view, not realizing that this WAS the Bluff, and then pressed on. When we figured out that that was the top, Laura went back and snapped a quick few photos and then quickly caught back up with me.

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(photo credit: Laura LaRiviere)

The next few miles were on trails littered with baseball sized rocks covered in a carpet of leaves. Treacherous running for someone who has just climbed up what felt like the equivalent of Mt Everest. We did a LOT of walking through this section. It was frustrating, as we didn’t want to spend so much time not running, but we weren’t willing to risk injury in this remote section of trail. Running when we could and walking when we had to, we navigated this super-technical section as quickly as we dared. The trail turned to easier footing and a lot of downhill, so we made up a bit of time and even caught up to my friend David. We three ran the next few miles together, and soon we popped out on a dirt road by the horse farm that we could see from the top of the Bluff. It had taken us a couple of hours to get somewhere that would have taken 5 minutes as the crow flies. But since I hadn’t packed my parachute, the trail had to do.

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(photo credit: Jennifer Bryant)

Crossing through more woods, we eventually came out on the pavement about a quarter mile from the mile 16 aid station. Oh my god, did it feel good to stretch out my legs!! I managed an 8:30 pace for that short quarter mile, but it did wonders for my psyche and my body. Again loading up on goodies and fluids, we were about to set off for the next section when David stopped and started stretching out a leg. I offered him some salt tabs, which he took, and we left the aid station at a walk. We crossed what should be a bog (but dry because of the drought) on some boardwalks and then the trail quickly turned steep again. Ugh, another nasty climb. Time to grit the teeth and just get it done.

 

Somewhere in the next few miles I dropped Laura and David and was running alone. I just kept plugging forward. The technical trail and steep climbs were taking their toll, but I was determined to finish in under 8 hours. I passed other runners, and other runners passed me. We exchanged a few words of encouragement to each other and kept plodding along. More rocks, a few more small hills, and then more rocks. I knew that eventually we’d be back on the trail home, and that section included the few miles of gravel road and a few miles of double-track. I kept dreaming of that section as I was getting very leg-weary and was beginning to fear a fall. Soon I passed a pond and a fellow runner assured me that the next aid station was just around the pond. Thank goodness he was right, because I had been seriously lacking in taking care of myself and desperately needed food.

 

Rolling into the mile 22 aid station was like striding up to a buffet. It was loaded with all the possible goodies a trail runner could want, and the volunteers stepped up their game by offering us homemade chicken soup. I can’t even begin to tell you how good that tasted!!! I chugged down a cup of orange soda, a cup of water, and then a cup of soup and grabbed some cookies and a half a banana for the road. The volunteers told us that it was a good eight miles till the final aid station, so I made sure I had plenty of water and stuffed a couple of bags of M&Ms in my pack. I headed back out on the final section, which included the much-needed double track and gravel road.

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(photo credit: Colleen Singer)

The eight miles to the next aid station seemed to take forever. I flew down the gravel road, the double track, and the easier footing single-track. The technical parts of the trail were really beginning to trip me up, literally. I prayed that I would get to the finish line without falling. Twice in this section I saved a fellow runner from missing a turn, and was glad he was within shouting distance as it would have been soul-crushing to get lost at this stage of the game. I also came upon a couple of runners who had been lost several times and were almost out of water. This section really took its toll on everyone. Tired and ready for the torture to be over, we commiserated for a few minutes before they headed off down the trail at a much quicker pace than I could sustain at that point.

 

Finally the mile 30 aid station came into view. I got my bottles filled, had some soda and cookies, and texted my husband that I had 2.5 miles left to go and that I was wrecked. That was an understatement. I was also worried about Laura #1, as I had no idea where she was or whether she would finish the race under the time limit. Turns out she had dropped at mile 17, after seeing that second heinous climb. I felt bad. No one likes to drop out of a race, but considering how she’d been feeling I think she made a smart decision.

 

I think this was the lowest point in the race for me. I had been running alone for most of 10 miles. I was getting very tired, I was dehydrated and way under on my nutrition, and I knew I still had 2.5 miles of rolling terrain left to get through. All I could think about was moving forward, and I had been very reluctant to stop and get food out of my pack. I was now paying the price for that foolish decision. This last section saw a few tears, a few tantrums (thank god I was alone) and a lot of bad, bad words. Every time I thought I was done and the finish line was just around the corner, I was wrong. I don’t think two and a half miles had ever felt so far in my life. Finally, after what seemed like hours since I left the last aid station, I started to hear the finish line. As I began the final descent, I thanked the universe for getting me to the end safely and I couldn’t wait to see my husband. I hadn’t looked at my watch in a while because I knew I wasn’t going to get my goal of 8 hours, so I was surprised when I rounded the last corner and saw 8:16 on the clock. Not bad considering I’d been ready to call at a cab from that last aid station.

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(photo credit: Rat Race Timing)

Overall, it had been a pretty spectacular day. The weather was gorgeous; the woods smelled like pine and fallen leaves, and I’d had wonderful company for most of the race. And the pint glass and beanie I got at the finish line were a sweet addition to my pile of swag. To all the volunteers who were out there for 10+ hours taking care of us and feeding us amazing goodies, to race director Jerry Turk who arranged a challenging trail for us to negotiate, and to Laura, David, and all the other runners I shared the trail with, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. A special thanks to Deb Livingston for her wisdom and coaching this past year – you made this an epic season!!!  And as always, I couldn’t have done this without the never-ending support and love I get from my amazing husband Joe. Its been a great year, and it was fun to end the season with the toughest of races!!!

bimblers-goodies

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