Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Foothills Trail - A Rippedtents.com Production

It was near 10 p.m. on Friday night and I was lying awake thinking about how odd and wonderful it was to know 4 other people who were within 20 feet of me willing to take on the same challenge as me in the morning. Doing a big adventure run solo is always an option, but sharing in the beauty, the suffering, and the entirety of the experience is always better with friends.

I rented a campsite at Table Rock State Park over a month ago as the spots were filling up and I snagged the last one. Unfortunately, I thought it was a spot that you could pull into with a car and have restrooms nearby and not a primitive campsite that you had to hike into. That led to a bit of a snafu Friday evening as I couldn’t find the campsite when we arrived at dusk and ended up pitching my tent in grass next to the parking lot. 

Aaron and David were sleeping in Aaron’s truck bed tent. Cassy and Jared brought a tent, but decided to car camp instead. Which all worked out okayish except for when the park ranger drove through at 10 p.m. and shone a flashlight on my tent asking why I was set up in the parking lot and not at my campsite. Luckily, she was okay with me keeping my tent there for another few hours as we were headed out early and even gave me a hiking pass that we neglected to secure the day before. 

I didn’t sleep well which is unusual for me, but I think I was just nervously excited to go suffer. I had my alarm set for 3:30 a.m., but woke up at 3:20 a.m. and started to get ready. Once everyone broke down their camps, changed, and loaded up their gear, we drove over to the trailhead. It wasn’t a race and we thought we’d miss the sunrise (re: rain) at the summit, but we did want to make sure we got going fairly early. At 4:49 a.m. we left Table Rock State Park and began our journey.

The weather was perfect for the first couple of hours. The forecast showed rain early on, but it held off until after sunrise. We reached Bald Rock Viewpoint and though it was dark, it was cool to see all the lights in the surrounding towns after climbing 2,000’.

There were some nice, runnable sections before the final ascent to Sassafras Mountain and though it had started raining, it was just a drizzle and we were all in good spirits. We laughed at our terrible luck of running with good views on mountain summits as we straddled the South Carolina/North Carolina border.

There was a nice long descent into Laurel Valley and we were making good time. Though the goal was to get it done and not linger too long in the rain, I never felt as though we rushed nor lingered unnecessarily at any point. We stopped to filter water at mile 14 or so and then kept it going. I was warm enough as long as we were moving and had on multiple layers including a vented rain jacket. It wasn’t too bad for a few hours, but by the time we reached midday and the rain never really let up, we were starting to crumble a bit mentally.

Naturally, I said something about how I was pleasantly surprised that the trails weren’t too riverlike right before the skies truly opened up. When we were at some of the lowest elevation points, the trails were incredibly sloppy and it was almost like just running through a creek for miles at a time. The only saving grace would be when the trail would sporadically veer straight up from the water source for a few hundred feet with slippery 6x6 blocks offering climbing support.

Jared was doing a spirit check on everyone and it was hard to not be in a negative state of mind when the conditions were just ugly. There was no cell service, the rain was unrelenting, and our next closest chance for dry clothes and bailout was in the early evening. I was trying to appreciate the fact that while I was not happy with the weather conditions, I felt good otherwise, was eating well, and hydrating enough that I had to pee (a rarity for me on a super long run). The trail was actually quite beautiful as well. Ferns were popping up, wildflowers were in bloom, red salamanders and slugs were hanging out in the rain, and holy waterfalls Batman, this trail had all the water sources. 

We filtered a couple more times in this section, each of us motivated to keep our stops quick so as to not drop our body temperatures even more. There were a few campsites with tents along the way and a few groups at forest service roads hovered under 10x10 canopies, trying to stay dry. But we saw only 5 other moving people on the trail for the entire 76ish mile route, 4 hikers and 1 runner. 

Katherine was meeting us at the Upper Falls Overlook and was exactly where we planned for her to be. Except that none of us had ever run this section of the trail and while we could see that we were still on course according to Trail Run Project, we had no cell reception to give an ETA. I thought I had erred on the side of conservative when I said 6 p.m., but the rain and trail were tougher than we thought. Those nice flowy downhills were actually just a bunch of steep stairs and rocks. And any flat sections were just rivers at this point.

David went ahead of us when we thought we were getting near the aid station, but then the rest of the group came to an intersection with just his pack lying on a log. No one wanted to run any extra miles at that point, but we all had different ideas as to why he would leave it. I was happy to sit down for a few minutes while we debated about what to do. Just when someone (Aaron or Jared, I cannot remember) decided to go towards the Lower Falls parking lot, David popped out and said that we needed to keep heading towards the Upper Falls Overlook. 

The east side of the river wasn’t too bad as we made a gentle ascent towards the falls, but the rest was a complete shitshow. My Garmin died right in this section and my charger was at the aid station so I couldn’t even estimate how far we had left any more. There was a partial manmade bridge across the river and then anyone wanting to make it to the other side had to leap boulders the size of large cars across a raging river. Our legs were definitely feeling quite toasted at mile 45 or so and I feared my ability to propel my body and land upright was very much lacking at this point. Once I was climbing down a wooden ladder propped against a boulder and nearing the land of the west side, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

The last mile to the car was a gnarly climb and we were all panicked that we weren’t going the correct way and had no cell service to confirm we were near. I

It seemed counterintuitive that there was a short downhill section for a few hundred feet and we feared that somehow we’d missed a sign or intersection that would bring us to the aid station. Jared climbed all the way to the top parking lot and saw no one so we continued on to what we hoped was the correct spot. There was never a more joyous noise than hearing kids shrieking as we came into earshot of the car. 

Katherine handed me the best grilled cheese of my life and I sat down on the gravel, soaked to the bone and shivered while I ate. I knew I needed to get out of my wet clothes quickly and grabbed my dry gear bag. At this point, I was still erring on the side of stopping, but something inside me told me just to change into my dry running clothes and not my done clothes. The liner in my shorts had been wet for 10+ hours from the rain and while it wasn’t bothering me during the run, I was all of a sudden in a ton of pain once I switched to capris. My Squirrel’s Nut Butter was too stiff to spread, but Cassy came in clutch with her tri-glide and saved me from additional pain.

Everything was in slow motion, but at some point, I knew if I was even going to consider going on that I needed to refill my water, my pack, and make sure I had everything I needed for the next 30 miles. Someone said something about an impending thunderstorm and I had a minor meltdown as I layered up. I didn’t know if I could handle being in the dark cold rain for hours after the day we just had. I slurped a bit of communal ramen and then there was a rush to make sure I had all of my stuff.  

With Cassy’s knee bothering her since the early double digits part of the run, she knew she was dropping at the aid station. Jared had been cheery all day, but his foot had been bothering him in the last few miles and given that he had done a 50 miler 2 weeks prior (!!!), he ultimately decided to call it a day as well. I saw the overly packed car and while I was uncomfortable from the cold and chafing, my legs were okay and I had no major malfunctions. Plus, I had been hyping myself up all week to not let the discomfort keep me from going on. If I had to do a bunch of walking or rest for a while, the goal was to finish, not go after some arbitrary time. That being said, I did say at some point on Friday that I thought it was going to take us 26 hours….  

Aaron was game to keep going as well so with the thunder slowly rumbling nearby, we suited up with Katherine and stepped across the road to continue on our journey. There was some back and forth with David about having him come rescue us at a road crossing in 5ish miles so I felt game to at least try. Spoiler alert: he came to rescue us about 60 seconds after we had left the road crossing and ended up sleeping in the car for like, 5 hours. <insert cringey I’m sorry face>

I normally run warm, but I left the aid station with a short-sleeve, long sleeve, half-zip, and a puffy jacket. Plus, I threw a rain jacket in my pack as an extra precaution. It was probably in the 60s, but I was frozen. Katherine was a welcome add to our pathetic duo. Even though she’d been up all day with the kiddos and running around in the rain to crew us, her mental state appeared to be 1,000x better than ours. Once we got going and I was warmed up, I could take off my puffy jacket and actually felt a little better with food in my belly and the distracting conversation. The rain never came in the way that we expected. It drizzled a bit for a short while near midnight, but I never felt the need to layer back up. 

The trail was much easier by comparison in this section and though we weren’t moving fast, it was very runnable. That is, until we started to head down towards the Chattooga River. The river was raging from all the rain and we could hear it as we descended down to the banks. While the trail was no more wet than what we had been dealing with all day, it was super technical with slippery rocks, sections of sand, and constant up and down. I was feeling very defeated at this point because we could not even keep a steady walk. 

I never was really worried about running out of water because we were constantly surrounded by it. At the final fill up, we took a few minutes to sit down on a wooden bridge, eating a bit of food. I’m not really sure what time it was or what mile we were at, but I remember it being peaceful. We still had hours left to go, but it gave me a bit of life to just exist for a few moments without movement.

There wasn't much to look at in the complete darkness and so we only stopped a few times in the last 30 miles for gear shifting and a couple of times to just collect ourselves.

Once the final few climbs came into view on the map, I started to feel a sense of relief that we were going to get it done. I power-hiked ahead a bit on the climbs, knowing that Aaron would catch me on the downs. We had all become more quiet as the night wore on, but when we got to around the 10k left to go mark, there was a bit of excitement that we’d be done soon enough. 

As we watched the sky slowly lighten, the trail became easier again and we shuffled along, motivated by finishing. I was so ready to take off my heavy pack full of food that I didn’t eat and gear I didn’t wear. Plus, while I didn’t have any blisters, my feet were very sore from the 26 hour effort. All I could think about was sitting on the picnic bench back at the RV without my pack on.

Shortly after we clicked off our headlamps, the trail widened as they do near trailheads and we started craning our necks for signs of the park.

As soon as the asphalt and trailhead sign came into view, I could feel the sense of relief wash over me. We were done.

Katherine took a few pics of Aaron and I near a few of the signs.

Then the 3 of us made the additional trek to the RV from the trailhead. At that point, I was happy to walk on unobstructed pavement and that picnic bench was minutes away.

The gang all came out to check in on us and I was feeling even more grateful for this crazy group and their support. I took a shower, powered through a giant muffin, and passed out on the sofa in the RV for one of the best naps I’ve ever had. David, Jared, and Cassy went back to Table Rock to get Aaron’s truck and allowed us to sleep for a couple of hours. Then, it was time for hugs and good jobs and we were headed back to the real world with tired legs and full hearts. 

Random  gear tidbits: Hot Hands don’t work very well in the rain, trucker hats absorb too much water, peppermint Tums and ginger candies are game-changers, loosening my shoelaces make the bottoms of my feet hurt less, KT tape across the sport bra line = zero chafing, Squirrel’s Nut Butter does not work well in cool temperatures, venting my rain jacket was super smart, a tight base layer is clutch, and a variety of snacks kept me from getting snack fatigue too early on. 

Snack situation: Various GU gels, Honey Stinger waffles, Nature’s Bakery fig bars, cheddar Goldfish, peanut butter pretzel bites, Uncrustables, Rice Krispy Treats, fruit snacks, and oatmeal raisin bars. I drank a mini Coke and a Starbucks double shot pre-run and the caffeine definitely helped. The grilled cheese and ramen at the aid station were PERFECTION. I only wish I had enough brain power to remember to drink another Coke.

Trail tidbits: Plenty of water along the trail to filter nearly the entire way, very well-marked and following Trail Run Project in airplane mode all day confirmed we were headed the correct way, hardly any foot traffic on a yucky day (I would imagine it to be very crowded near trailheads on nice weather days because it was very, very beautiful), and potentially lots of places to crew on FS roads. 

Thankful for this weird group of people. Thankful for a body healthy enough to do these things. Thankful for saying yes when it sometimes feels really scary.

(Shoutout to Jared & Katherine for most of these amazing pics!!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Silver Comet FKT

“Whatcha tryna do?” asked the woman in the window at Wendy’s when my crew told her I had just run the fastest known time on the Silver Comet Trail.

“Honestly, I’m not even sure….”, I answered.

What was I trying to do?

Ultrarunning serves no ultimate purpose in life other than self-fulfillment. The woman in the window ultimately asked if I was training for a bike marathon, likely unable to comprehend that I had just covered 61.5 miles on foot, by choice, on a chilly February day. Her question was (and is) 100% valid.

If I ever figure it out what I'm trying to do, I’ll let you know.


I really cannot remember when I first started thinking about the Silver Comet Trail FKT. I knew some cyclists who had ridden for long distances on it and certainly locals used it as a flat and (mostly) traffic-free training space. Sometime in 2020 though, I started thinking about FKTs and while I love training and being in the mountains, my forte for endurance is flat and fast.

I tossed around the idea a bit in my head and then started talking about it aloud sometime last fall. After a couple of races and adventures in September/October, I really was focused more on training towards a 100 mile week. When Eli reached out to me in November about getting after the FKT on the Silver Comet, something he’d also been considering, I was excited to help out, but not feeling quite where I wanted to be in training.

At some point in my 100 mile build, I realized that I would likely have all this endurance fitness and the Silver Comet would be the ultimate culmination of a big training cycle. Normally, the fitness would be for a race, but since those have been pretty sporadic at best, I decided this would be a really great opportunity to try for an FKT.

The 100 build went better than expected and I soon found myself checking that box and ready to check another. Because there are no set dates for FKTs, I knew that I was going to just have to aim for a weekend and hope for the best weather-wise. If things looked really bad, I could always adjust as needed.

A week out from the planned date, the weather was predicted to be icy and I started getting nervous about needing to adjust. As it got closer, it appeared to warm up, but then it was supposed to rain. Not ideal. I kept refreshing the weather app all day long on Wednesday and Thursday, hoping that the chance of rain would lessen. Luckily, it appeared to be less than 50% and accumulation was to be light, if there was any.

It was go time.

I spent the night at my sister’s house as she lives about 2 miles from the trail head. I was able to sleep pretty well and started stirring shortly before my 5:40 a.m. alarm. I drank a cup of coffee and managed to eat half of a giant bagel with peanut butter. My stomach was not feeling great, but I was hoping it was just pre-FKT excitement nerves.

The night prior had felt really chilly so I donned a long sleeve and my puffy jacket over my tank and walked outside. At the trailhead, I realized it was thankfully a bit warmer and was able to switch to just my arm sleeves. After a bit of shuffling of getting my gear into my crew’s car, it was time to get a couple of pics at the start and the countdown to 7:00 a.m. began.




I headed off down the trail with Aaron next to me on the bike and my crew/pacers cheering me on. It was still dark enough to need a headlamp and I spent the first few minutes just settling into a really comfortable pace before I even glanced at my watch. I told Aaron that I was sorry I’d become less and less talkative as the day wore on, but that I deeply appreciated him sitting in the saddle for 10 hours on a cold day, slowly pedaling.

The first miles were rather uneventful and I noticed that I didn’t really feel particularly good or bad. There was no pop to my legs, but I didn’t feel bad mentally or physically. Which was probably best because I was just letting my body wake up with the sky and staying bored in the early miles.

I recently bought a pair of Aftershokz headphones and it was nice to have music playing in the background really quietly while also conversing a bit with Aaron. I knew the battery on both the headphones and my phone wouldn’t last all day, but it would at least get me 6+ hours at least.

The first aid station was at mile 8.6 and the crew was ready to hand me a fresh handheld and a couple of gels. I had my watching beeping at me every 30 minutes to tell me to eat and was going to alternate watered down Roctane and just plain water in my handhelds. Being chilly out meant that I really didn’t need to mess with a hydration pack and after running a 100 miler last year with just a handheld, I knew it wouldn’t annoy me.

Scott surprised me around mile 12 and hopped into pacing me for a few miles right after I made a pit stop at a legitimate bathroom next to a playground on the route. I hadn’t planned on having run pacers until mile 22.2 so it was a nice surprise to share a few miles with him. I was still in really good spirits then, despite my Garmin going haywire and telling me that I was 2 miles behind what Aaron had on his GPS and what the mile markers were at.

At mile 14.7, the crew met me for another bottle exchange and I decided to grab some peanut butter pretzels and a rice krispy treat. My stomach was already getting tired of the sweet stuff and I was determined to not let my fuel game go south so early on in the run.

Once I got to 22.2, I was happy to pick up Eli and David to pace me for the next long section. I started to have a couple of down spots and I think having them there kept me from getting too negative. It was a conscious effort to try to make sure I was keeping it fun - shouting through the echo-y tunnels keeping the conversation colorful.

David gave me an Uncrustable at one point and I was decidedly topped off on calories. I let it sit in my mouth half-chewed for a really long time and then spit it all out once the bout of nausea came over me. Eating was good, but eating too much was bad. So from then on out, I really kind of ignored my watch timer.

At mile 33.5, Coot’s Lake, I was starting to feel the concrete wearing on my legs and opted to take a few Excedrin - not ideal for my liver, but I was dreading the next 28 miles without some relief.

Fortunately, the combination of cooling off on the nutrition and the Excedrin seemed to help and by the time we got to Nathan Dean Sports Complex at mile 38.7, I was feeling much better mentally and physically. The Sullivan’s kids would come running up to us at each aid station now that David was running so it was like having a tiny fan club each time we approached.

Aaron handed me a birthday cake Oreo and I find it funny that this handoff of the Oreo and the short little stretch of boardwalk is etched into my brain now.

I hadn’t run in this section before and even though it was a bit hillier, I was enjoying a little bit of change on my tired legs. David & Eli kept the conversation going and I was still in decent spirits towards the end of their pacing legs that I was able to add in from time to time.

We had a tiny Chihuahua come and defend his property in this stretch and I took a picture with a cemetery sign. I was “feeling dead” and it seemed really funny to me at the time. This was probably the last little bit of humor I could muster before myself as I headed into the last half marathon.

Mile 45.8, Grady Road was the last aid with David & Eli and I was taking more time now at aid stations, enjoying a minute or two of a break and getting what I needed. Aaron had filled up his saddle bag with food at one point and I was subsisting on ginger candy and watered down Roctane anyway so I wasn’t super concerned.

Katherine & Jared jumped in for pacing duties at this point and we immediately started doing a lot of walking as this section of the trail is affectionately known as “Mount Trashmore”. With the extra walking, I was able to get my stomach to a more happy place and even asked Katherine for some snacks because I was starting to feel hungry.

Once we got through the hills of Mount Trashmore and I was topped off on calories again, I was able to keep a steady run going again AND I was feeling in a bit better spirits.

At mile 51.4, I handed off my phone and headphones which had now died, picked up my Mighty music player and tossed off my Spibelt (which was no longer serving the purpose of holding fuel). I rubbed Voltarin all over my legs and wiped my face down with a baby wipe at Cassy’s suggestion. I finished the last little bit of Coke and then we headed off into what I knew was ultimately the final stretch.

The crew met us again at mile 53.4, just 2 miles after the previous stop and I was feeling ready to just knock the miles down. I didn’t stop for anything there and plodded along until I was hungry again and tried to eat a rice krispy treat. Much like the Uncrustable earlier in the day, it sat in my mouth for far too long until I ultimately just spit it all out.

I was trying to run 2 miles at a time before walking at this point and would only allow myself a few minutes of walking if needed. The music was blaring in my ears and once I got to maybe mile 56 or so, I was determined to just try to keep going as long as I could without walk breaks. Katherine, Jared, and Aaron were talking and I could hear snippets of their conversation, but between the music and my tunnel vision, I was in my own world.

My mood was widely swinging at this point, I was highly emotional about my crew spending their day with me and I almost felt a little embarrassed about the whole thing. Like, how did I deserve to be so lucky? And then I would slip into anger, wishing that I could push a little harder and run a little faster, knowing how little I had left to run.

At one point, a couple of German Shepherds came flying out of nowhere and barking wildly, chasing us down. I was so out of it that I didn’t even notice until Katherine pushed me to the side, using her body to shield me from the dogs. Fortunately, they eventually backed off and no one (humans or dogs) were hurt, but I think we all felt the cumulative adrenaline rush.

My rush wore off rapidly though and soon, I was back to checking my watch, doing runner math, and contemplating just how much longer I had to move before I could stop. As we neared closer and closer to the end, I just told myself to hold on for 20 more minutes, 15 more minutes, 10 more minutes. The long expanses of the trail played mind games on me because I could spot the markers from afar, but it seemed so long to cover the distance.

Once we got to the last marker where the cars were parked, I desperately searched for the arch that was the state line marker. I wanted so badly to find the extra gear and sprint to the finish, but I was completely gassed. It took everything I had to just keep the pace I had to bring it to the line.

I hung on Katherine’s shoulder as long as I could, letting her pace reel me in until I finally spotted the arch. Any bit I might have saved for the end was completely used in the final miles to just keep running. As I crossed the finish tape (which was sooooo cool by the way!), I nearly collapsed as my body knew it was allowed to stop moving.



This truly was a group effort. I never, ever would have been able to manage this day on my own and each one of the crew and pacers played such a pivotal role in making it a successful day. I always thought it was a little corny that athletes would often thank those around them while not highlighting their own successes, but I can’t say enough good things about my selfless crew. I really lucked out in finding all of them.

Photo creds: Jared Campbell & Eli Dickerson

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Georgia Jewel 37 Miler RR

I didn't write a race report for the beer mile(s) or the Brasstown Bald 5k that I ran in between the weekends I ran the Boston Virtual Marathon and the Georgia Jewel 37 miler. But it's been a busy few weeks of racing for me. Especially for 2020!

The beer mile was really just more a stupid and fun time that happened to have some running involved. I ended up running about 7 miles that day, but in no way was this good for my health. Somehow I came back to life enough the next morning to wake up at 4am to go run a 5k up the highest mountain in Georgia. And came in 3rd place pretty much just power hiking the whole thing. 

So things had been going well enough. I honestly was surprised at how well that my virtual Boston went that I thought I was turning the corner on feeling all crappy about (most of) 2020. When I woke up on race morning this past Saturday, I felt anything but good. I was super nauseous and though I choked down a couple of pieces of toast, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was pukey. 

Side note: we ended up eating a super late dinner the prior night and Adam complained that the queso tasted like soap so I was wondering if I was just psyching myself out thinking I had food poisoning or something. 

I got to the race start an hour early and picked up my bib and packet without issue. I then went back to my car and tried to lay down for about 20 minutes because I felt both super sleepy and nauseous. But then it was time to put on my shoes, my pack, my bib, and head down to the start. I saw Jennifer at the start and talked to her for a few minutes before the race started. 

Because of Covid, we started in waves of 10 runners at a time and everyone was wearing at mask. I was in the first wave and while it was nice to not feel choked up in the beginning miles, I suddenly felt like I had a target on my back. I definitely was not running my own race for the first couple of miles because of this feeling. A few of us went back and forth, exchanging places as we navigated the forest service road and pavement. I didn't stop at the first aid station at just 3ish miles in and just kept right on cruising up the hill.

Once we hit the first large single track section, I finally felt like I had shaken the feeling of nausea. The temps were great, I was sipping on my Roctane and water and taking nutrition every 45 minutes or so. I felt really, really good in this first single track section. Even on the uphills, I was hopping over rocks and just enjoying the day. I talked with Sally for a short while and then I was pretty much on my own for a number of miles. 

I felt an immediate and sharp pain on the back of my left leg somewhere in the middle of this section. They told us at the start that a yellow jacket nest had been disturbed in this area and I thought really, is this my luck to be stung?? It had been almost 20+ years since I'd been stung by a bee or wasp so I had gotten lazy about carrying my epiPen (it was in my car). Luckily, it didn't appear to hurt my breathing, but holy shit, it felt like someone was holding a cigarette to the back of leg. (And is super irritated as I write this.)

Nearing the 11.5 mile aid station, I got some Tailwind in my soft flask and grabbed half a banana. I had been doing a lot of running in the previous section and was honestly looking forward to finally getting to do some climbing. The forest service road of this section bottomed out near a creek and then the course climbed to another pretty runnable ridgeline section. Ray and I talked for a good bit in this part and that made the miles go by. This is also the section that I managed to see Shannon somehow looking insanely fresh with 80+ miles on her legs.

Once I got near the top of the ridgeline, I knew I'd start to see some of the faster runners in the field coming back by after the turnaround. I was getting excited to cheer everyone on and shout words of encouragement as we passed. Sure enough, as I made the descent into the Snake Creek aid station, I got a good glimpse of the front of the field. Everyone was looking so strong!

Meanwhile, my nausea started to return on the descent and I was happily relieved to see there was both gin gins and Tums at the aid station. I drank a little bit of ginger ale, got another half of a banana, and then starting hiking back up. I gave myself a solid 5 minutes to just walk and try to settle my stomach. I felt okay enough to do a little running after that and tried to at least run the downs and flats. 

On the descent down to the creek, I saw Stephanie, Jennifer, and Alex and each friend made me feel a little less miserable for a few minutes. Talking to Jennifer for a minute or so was such a bright spot in the middle of my race and for next couple of miles, I actually felt pretty good. However, I was running low on water and was very grateful when I finally got back to the Stover Creek aid station.

I filled up my hydration bladder with about .75L of water and then my soft flask with more Tailwind. I had been trying to shake this annoying feeling of being sleepy all day and decided to drink about 4 ounces of Coke, hoping the caffeine and sugar would help me. Ray caught back up with me at this point and we walked out of the aid station together and then ran a bit on the single track until he stopped to walk for awhile. I went on ahead and was alone again.

At some point in this last big single track section, I took a gel, knowing that my calorie intake had been abysmal and I was running on fumes. It seemed to go okay and then a few minutes later, I was exorcist-style retching. Ugh. I tried to just wipe my mouth and carry on, but it took about 3 times before I apparently emptied out whatever was causing me distress. Honestly, I was happy at that point because while I knew that I was severely lacking in calories, at least I was not as nauseous. 

My watch had been reading pretty accurate all day so I started counting down how many miles I had until I reached the forest service road section. I drank all the water in my bladder, but was so worried about wrecking my stomach again that I was barely able to sip on my Tailwind. Each mile I knew I was a little closer to getting water at the aid station and that was my only goal at that point. I had in my head I could just walk it in from that last aid station to the finish.

The forest service road was a really runnable down once I got there and while I was probably not actually moving very fast, I finally felt like I was getting somewhere. At the aid station, I emptied out the Tailwind in my soft flask and refilled it with water. I was inconsolable at this point and being cranky both inwardly and outwardly. 

Aside from Mt. Baker and a small section of single track though, the final miles were at least relatively easy terrain. I ran for a few minutes with Whitney and then just stayed a comfortable distance behind her as we worked to finish our respective races. Once I got to Mt. Baker, I was just beat. I never have felt my legs spasming in a race before (after, yes, just not during) and as I was climbing, they just started to give out on me. I had to stop a couple of times and try to figure out a way to get up the road, stepping sideways at times because I really was at a loss as to what to do. 

Of course, reaching the top means that the race is nearly over and so I Barbie jogged down the parking lot and then ran the last little section to the finish. I missed real race finish lines and though I had spent the majority of the last half of the race saying to myself eff running and eff racing, I was so happy to finally run through a real finish chute. 

I talked to Abigail  (first place, woot!) for a minute and then watched the awards ceremony for the 37 miler. Not knowing how long everyone would be, I walked back to my car to change and put my feet and legs up for a minute. The temperatures were nice out, but I was feeling really overheated and my heart was pounding so I turned on the AC in my car and charged my phone for a few minutes. As I was lying there with my feet on the car door, I saw a familiar running form charging down the sidewalk and realized that Chantal was finishing. I'd like to say I jumped up and raced to the finish line, but it was more like a sloth shuffling in slow motion. 

She was second female in the 50 and killed it! Somehow I missed Joe coming in not too far behind her, finishing in second for the men. We all hung out after that, watching more friends come in, including Dave sprinting in his 50 miler, Oliver finishing his first 50, and Stephanie completing her longest distance. Even though Meridith and I have followed each other for years on IG, we finally were able to see each other in real life and wave. Our group then hung around to watch John come in for his big 100 finish and had a sweaty group hug at the finish line. 

As I drove home that night, I was feeling an equal mix of disappointment in myself, but the joy for so many others. It was strange. I was frustrated that my body was not doing what I wanted it to, but I was also so happy for others that it was their day. And not just saying that to sugarcoat my own sadness, but genuine happiness that they were doing amazing stuff. 

Much like everything though, now that I'm a few days removed, the good stuff remains and I know I'll be back at it soon enough. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Boston Marathon 2020 RR: The One During The Pandemic

When Boston was postponed until fall, I dreaded a summer of marathon training. Truth be told, I was pretty excited when it was moved to a virtual race for selfish reasons. The self-induced pressure of performing seemed much more relaxed if I was not being tracked. As the summer wore on, I felt like I was grasping at any ounce of fitness I could find, desperate to find a shred of my former self lurking inside.

The unknown of the impending months crept into my mind and though life is seemingly good all things considered in this pandemic, I couldn’t help but think that it is rattling me more than I can articulate. At first, I was jealous of those who seemed to be finding their stride in all of this. But then I realized that it’s just not where I’m at right now. And honestly, it’s the longest string of healthy and good feeling running I’ve had, despite feeling like I cannot go any faster than second gear. 

I originally had planned to run Boston on September 14th, the date that it was postponed to back in the spring. It gave me 5 days to recover until the Georgia Jewel 35-now-37-miler, but I was not really feeling excited about either race so I just kind of put it off planning for it. And then when it popped up on Final Surge on September 7th, the app my coach uses for my workouts, I was like, huh, guess I better decide. 

Even early last week I was still kind of on the fence about when and where I was going to run it. Weather was largely the deciding factor. When I saw that Labor Day Monday morning was looking good last Wednesday, I texted my coach and told him that I wanted to adjust my workouts down so I’d have fresh legs for Monday. After all, I’d run 30 miles over the prior weekend and though they were all easy miles, I knew that I was not optimally tapered. 

I bought a pair of Alpha Flys and they arrived in just enough time to put a few miles on them before the big day. Yes, they were not really necessary on the crushed gravel surface that I was running on, but I was grasping at straws for it to not feel like a complete bust.  

All the things I have come to anticipate with the race each spring were no longer the agenda for the weekend. The whole fanfare of the weekend is just as joyful as the race and it seemed odd to be “racing” without the added hype. As much as I tried to brush it all aside though, my brain definitely shifted into race mode about 36 hours from my chosen start time. It was weird. I was expecting to not feel any nerves or excitement and it was quite the opposite!

I started laying out my gear, my nutrition, and even my water bottles as early as Saturday afternoon. 

My plan was to use my car as the water/nutrition stop and run in 1 mile loops. This was so I didn’t have to worry about carrying anything, crossing streets, or calculating mileage. On race morning, I woke up at 5:25am, choked down half a giant bagel, drank half a cup of coffee, and filled up my bottles with water and Gatorade. Then, in keeping with good juju and tradition, I took a "Marathon Monday" selfie.

I got to the race “start” at around 6:15am and laid out my box of nutrition, hydration, bib number, and Spike (the stuffed unicorn, aka my cheer squad). It was still dark out so I popped on my headlamp and walked for a minute or so as the most modified warmup ever. And then without anyone watching, I began racing a marathon.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t weird. I was fighting off the urge to go too fast in the beginning as my legs felt fresh and the temperature was amazing. But I also knew that I was playing with house money. If I blew up, the worst that would happen was that I’d have to walk it in and feel a little sorry for myself. If it was my day, I could run a really great marathon. The phrase swing for the fences popped up in my brain a few miles in and while I knew I wasn’t in PR kind of shape, I was ready to just see what I had. 

The first hour went by really well. I was feeling good, not looking at my watch at all, just running by feel and counting the laps. I planned to take a gel every 4th lap and then water and/or Gatorade as needed. I took off my headlamp by around the 5th or 6th lap and enjoyed the sweet spot of the early miles, cool morning, and the sun still behind the trees. A layer of fog from the river hung in the field and while it was no match for the crowds of Ashland, it was a pretty decent consolation prize.

Miles 1 - 7: 8:17, 8:00, 7:58, 7:52, 7:42, 7:48, 7:40

Cars began to trickle into the park and I soon was sharing the space with other runners, walkers, a few cyclists, and even a few people dropping their canoes and kayaks into the river. Every once in a while, I’d have to dodge a larger group or hop onto the grass, but it remained pretty easy to navigate throughout the morning. I was tempted to check my watch for splits as the miles wore on, but I decided to save the runner math for later in the day and just keep running by feel.

Miles 8 - 13: 7:37, 7:39, 7:35, 7:40, 7:30, 7:46

At the end of mile 13, I paid homage to the Wellesley girls tradition and kissed Spike the unicorn as I stopped at my aid station to discard the gel wrapper from mile 12. I thought it might be a little weird that someone would see me kissing a stuffed unicorn, but shrugged internally and did it anyway.

As the miles crept further into the double digits, I started to feel the nag of negative thoughts and had to remind myself to just try to keep my headspace as neutral as possible. I give all my shoes names on Strava, partly to tell them apart, partly to give myself a little motivational boost. I happened to name my Alpha Flys “No Human Is Limited” ala Eliud Kipchoge and adopted that as my race mantra. Maybe it’s silly, but it distracted me briefly from the task at hand.

I finally allowed myself to look at what the time was around mile 14 and saw that I was actually running much better than I expected. I was definitely in the sub 3:30 range! 

Miles 14-15: 7:49, 7:33 

I picked up a gel at mile 16 and was getting excited that I was now entering into the portion of the run that I had less than double digits to go. I took huge swigs of water and Gatorade after tossing the wrapper in my trash bag and made the short little out and back turn. As I came past my car again, an immediate wave of nausea had me coughing and then stopping. I puked up a little bit of liquid, walked a couple of steps and then got right back in it. 

Miles 16- 17: 7:32, 7:59

As I came around the loop on the sunny side, I spotted a runner wearing a tank top that looked familiar. And then when I noticed her stride, I realized it was Chantal! She hopped right in with me and, spoiler alert, stayed with me to the finish. I was definitely working for every breath so I told her I wasn’t really able to talk much, but I was so relieved to have her there. It was definitely getting into the nitty gritty part of the run and after my puke, I was unsure of what the last hour or so was going to look like. 

Mile 18: 8:05

The two of us ran the loop and we were nearly to where I spotted her when we saw Jared leaning against his car in the parking lot. Wow, two surprise pacers! Luckily, both of them were able to talk and it was nice to just listen to snippets of conversation and interject every once in a while. I grumbled here and there about how hard marathons were and shouted out how much further I had left to go. 

I was stopping more often for hydration as the day warmed up. The sunny side was getting increasingly hotter and I felt myself pushing harder to reach the shade. My tank was sopping with sweat, but I didn’t want to waste any time removing it and hoped that the wetness would at least cool me off. 

 Miles 19 - 23: 7:37, 7:45, 7:56, 7:46, 8:00

With 5K to go, I knew that I had a sub-3:30 in the bag as long as nothing crazy happened over the final miles. It was definitely getting harder and I knew I was slowing down a bit, but having Chantal and Jared there helped me keep the pace honest. 

Miles 24 - 25: 8:03, 8:02

When I knew I had one more loop to go, I began doing a body check to see if I was going to have anything left for a finish line sprint. I wasn’t completely gassed and decided to wait until I hit the mile 26 mark. We neared the car and the Sullivans were there! I was so excited to see more friends AND know that I would be celebrating with them very, very quickly.

Mile 26: 7:40

When my watch chirped for mile 26, I gathered everything I had in me and just laid it out. Time seemed to stretch on forever as I pushed to the imaginary finish line. I checked my watch and gauged that a post in my sightline was far enough away to call it the finish line. I definitely did not want to be at 26.19 miles! So I called it out and as I crossed the “finish” saw it was enough to finally tap the stop button.

Last 0.2: 1:28

Ooof! 3:24:19

As I hunched over and caught my breath, I was so freaking excited to be done, have amazing friend support, and surprise myself with a great marathon time. It actually tied my 12th fastest time and though I died a little in the end, my second half was only 43 seconds slower than the first half (1:42:31 versus 1:41:38). And if I stick in all the asterisks I can about how it could have been better, I’m feeling really good about it. 

Once I collected myself, Chantal, Jared, and I started walking back to my car and met up with the Sullivans on the path. We all eventually wandered over to my car and stood around on a pretty perfect September morning, chatting and watching the kids play. 

It might not have had the crowds and the wild atmosphere of a Boylston finish, but I’ll hold onto tight to this one for different reasons. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

SKT RR: Stupidest Known Time on the Bartram Trail Appalachian Trail Loop

A single street light illuminates our zombie faces in a gravel parking lot. My head rests on a pillow, but the rest of my body is splayed on the gravel. I am the most comfortable I’ve been in 12 hours with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in hand and my legs finally at rest. It might not be ultra racing, but it is definitely ultra running.

John put together this idea a couple of months ago and kept the event list small given the Covid situation. I think we were all hungry to do something adventurous, but not at the cost of being completely reckless. In retrospect, I don’t know that I gave my body enough of a proper taper, but I think I was also disillusioned because it wasn’t a race.

As we got closer to the date, we started to nail down some of the key details. Katherine got us set up with bunkhouses at the NOC so we didn’t have to try to stealth camp and/or add extra hiking into our day. Chantal and I mapped out water to make sure we didn’t dehydrate. We coordinated carpools, car drops, dinners, and post-run plans. Katherine’s husband became the weekend MVP with an aid station setup at mile 28ish (more on that later). 

I picked up Chantal and Katherine on Friday afternoon and we made the drive up to the NOC together, talking about anything and everything. Chantal had a job interview at 5pm over the phone so we left her in the bunkhouse and headed down to the river with Jared, Cassy, and eventually, Aaron and his daughter Madison. 

We got takeout from the nearby restaurants and sipped beers bellied up to picnic tables. Rain came rolling through halfway through dinner, but we were protected under a large tarp and the air temperature was plenty warm. Once there was a break in the rain, we fled to the bunkhouse and settled in for the evening. The thunderstorm raged on as we climbed into our bunks and though we were dry and safe, I couldn’t help but feel mild concern if the rain continued to pour well into the morning.

John came in late and I don’t think anyone was actually asleep yet. I tossed and turned for what felt like a long time before eventually drifting off to sleep. An alarm went off and I only mildly stirred knowing that I still had plenty of time to get ready. Cassy started making coffee and Chantal started giggling and we all came to life shortly thereafter. I boiled water for oatmeal, drank a cup of cold brew, and suddenly, it was time to head out.

The group walked down the hill from the parking lot and across 100 meters of train tracks to reach the start. We took a bunch of pictures of the sign and ourselves and then headed out on our adventure. The climb to Cheoah was reminiscent of every race. We were all in good spirits, laughing about our impending misery, and everyone chatting wildly. My non-morning person was evident in that I was not incredibly talkative myself, but rather, soaking in the conversations around me.

As the sun started to rise, we all realized our early start would not be rewarded with incredible views. A dense cloud layer surrounded us and while I think we were all initially bummed, it would prove to help keep the temperatures cooler later in the day. At the top of Cheoah, our wrecking ball of sound alerted a couple of hikers who came out from their campsite to share their sunset views they captured the previous night. After the usual you guys are crazy, we took off in search of the Bartram Trail. 

Though the trailhead was in bad shape and completely overgrown, we were all relieved to find that the rest of the trail was fairly well-maintained. This section from Cheoah to the road near Nantahala was a highlight of the adventure. There were water crossings galore and though it was often rocky and muddy, it was absolutely beautiful. We were mostly descending in the section and able to make up a little bit of time in the more runnable parts. Our group would accordion out a bit and then shore up at potential turns or picture-worthy spots. 

I was eating early and often and stayed on top of hydrating. My pack was full of gear so it was an incentive to continue to lighten the load as well. We stopped to filter water and I was relieved that we had plenty of good sources throughout the route. Given that it was August though, I always got more than what I thought I needed just in case. 

Along the Nantahala River, we ran along the bikeway which felt odd after so many miles of single track. I wasn’t feeling particularly perky at this point so I just hung on bringing up the rear. The bikeway spit us out onto a bridge and then a parking lot and after a few circles, we found ourselves climbing a forest service road to the top. Because we started so early and it was a partially cloudy day, I kept thinking it was later than it was every time I looked at my watch. 

We took photos at the top and clowned around before beginning another descent on single track.

This one was definitely more runnable and I enjoyed the parts that we could open up and move our legs. As we neared the river, the marathon mark, and the middle of the day, it definitely became warmer. The trail was overgrown quite a bit near the river and we had to do a considerable amount of bushwhacking through brambles in the heat of the day. 

Eventually, we reached another forest service road and started wondering how close we were to David and the aid station. Once we hit the pavement, we knew he had to be close. Katherine had sped ahead, likely tired of waiting and anxious to get to her family. No one had cell service so we hugged the hairpin turns of the road and hoped that they would be easy to spot. At last, we spotted the open hatchback of a Subaru and the wallops of children. It was like finding an oasis.

David made grilled cheese, quesadillas, bacon, ramen, and PBJs. Plus, he had millions of other salty and sweet snacks, a cooler full of Coke, and all of our drop bags. I ate some solid food, chugged a Coke, and drank veggie broth straight from the carton. 

I opted to change my shirt, sports bra, and hat. Though my feet felt tired, I didn’t feel as though I had any blisters or major malfunctions so I left my shoes/socks alone. My shorts were iffy (re: wet and potential chafe disaster) so I stuffed a dry pair in a plastic bag and tucked them in my pack. I refilled all my nutrition, topped off my bottles, and then it seemed like everyone was ready to head out around the same time. We said our thanks and goodbyes and got on with it.

The next climb was utterly stupid. I actually love climbing because I feel like I’m a better climber and it hurts less than the impact of descending. But this just seemed to go on and on and on with nary a switchback. The only good news about this was that it gave us time to digest our aid station stop and that we were getting a wonderful breeze the higher we climbed. 

From Jarrett Bald, the route had beautiful sections of open fields of wildflowers and ridgelines. I’d stop pulling my phone out so much for pictures at this point, but luckily, some people still were snapping away.

Things were definitely getting silly and one of my favorite pit stops of the day involved Jared and Oliver lying on the pavement while the rest of us got our dance party on.

Cassy and I got into a great conversation in the section where the Bartram Trail and Appalachian Trail follow each other. I recall thinking how surprised I was once we reached the parking lot of Wayah. 

What a gorgeous evening to be on top of Wayah. The weather was absolutely perfect. It was breezy and warm, but not at all hot. Oliver planned on “only” going to this point so we stopped for a short time and raided his snacks, water, and Coke supply at his dropped car. Cassy and Jared decided to call it a day as well and I think everyone was jealous of the other person’s choice. If you were stopping, you wanted to be going on and if you were going on, you really wish you were stopping. 

We took photos from the top of the tower and then moseyed on down the trail towards the final push to the NOC. I felt invigorated from the sugary caffeine and the short rest. We were in a really runnable section and knew that darkness was coming so we tried to keep moving as best we could. Katherine, John, and Joe took off ahead of Chantal and myself. We made a pact to stick together to the end, at first silently, but later, aloud. Both of us are strong runners and were overly prepared for the day/night to go sideways, but staying together was the smart and let’s be honest, more fun choice.

The hour or so before we had to turn on our headlamps was quite magical despite the fact that we had been moving for 15 hours. The air was almost cool and we caught glimpses of the sunset through clearings in the trees. We refilled our water one last time at the Cold Spring Shelter and I remember that this was about the time we started to lose daylight. Chantal turned on the world’s best playlist and we laughed-cried that there was no other choice but to keep moving.

Despite having it on a charger, my watch still died so I had no real semblance of time or distance. In some ways, this made it better because it really didn’t matter anyway. I pulled out my phone a few times to look at the map on Trail Run Project, but it was hard to discern distance on the map without mile markers. 

I was feeling much better on the ascent to Wesser and though my feet were feeling extremely beat up, my legs and everything else were holding steady. Chantal was in a rough patch and wobbling all over the trail. However, on the descent and the last 4ish miles to the NOC, we traded places. The descents were extra painful on my feet and my dimming headlamp and lack of poles because more and more of a pain as we traversed narrow sections and huge rocky outcrops. I definitely had become team grumpypants. 

Bits of nausea came over me and I was just tired of eating trail food. At one point with just a few miles to go, I asked Chantal if I could have some of her Oreos. I remember thinking that I was hoping she wouldn’t be mad if I asked her and/or if she was saving a few for the end herself. She pulled out a package to share and I think I would have cried if I still had any emotions left. 

We were in search of the Rufus Shelter in the last section, knowing that we had just over a mile to go once we spotted it. But as we rounded the turns and kept descending, we never saw the shelter. I knew my water was now getting low and was hoping that we had just missed it in the darkness. The first lights of the NOC came into view and I said something about don’t get too excited, it could be just a house light. But then more lights came into view and the river got even louder and we could actually see where we picked up the bunkhouse passes. 

The incredible relief of stopping was within reach.

We walked over the bridge together, deliriously mad and laughing. A random guy in a pickup truck asked if we were okay which just further solidified the fact that town people are generally weirder than trail people. We took a photo at the start sign, 57ish miles miles complete.

Then we wandered like two drunks to the parking lot. It was there that Katherine and John met us for our finish line party. Lying in a gravel parking lot has never felt any better. 

Eventually, we knew it was time to try to make our way home. Chantal volunteered to drive and I gladly let her take over the reins. We got about 30 minutes down the road and she knew she was getting too tired to keep going. A rest area sign popped up right after we started looking for a place to pull over. I thought I’d have a hard time nodding off sitting straight up in my seat, but I didn’t even unbuckle my seat belt and I passed right out. An hour and a half later, I woke up feeling much, much more alert and offered to switch places so I could drive us home. 

As we drove into the Sunday sunrise, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly grateful per usual for these kinds of things. Yes, they are tough and gritty and we swear we’ll never do them again. But as time wears on, we forget the pain and remember the best parts. The belly laughs, the crazy encounters, the songs, the deep conversations, the incredible scenery, and the joy of exploring places on foot. There’s just something really special about the friendships forged at the highest of highs and lowest of lows. We were cut up, bruised, covered in dirt, sleep-deprived, sore, beyond smelly, and I wouldn’t trade these kinds of weekends for any other.