Saturday, November 6, 2021

Javelina Jundred: Settling the Score


In October 2019, I headed into Javelina Jundred feeling incredibly confident and fit. I had hit times in workouts that seemed impossibly hard. I felt mentally tough after coming off a year of injury followed by a spring in which I crammed in a finish at the Georgia Death Race, a 3:18 Boston Marathon, and the Everest Marathon. I could do hard things.

But the desert won in the end that year. I made it to just past mile 50, but spent the prior 20 miles feeling pretty awful and the last 5 in particular were the worst I have ever felt in a race. I was violently puking, wandering from side to side on the trail, and could not imagine trying to run another 50 miles. So I logged my first real DNF

The aftermath wasn’t pretty. I don’t know when I finally came to terms with it actually, but I remember I felt really, really awful about the whole experience for quite some time. I drug pacers and crew out for the first time and was pretty embarrassed that I quit on my own accord. I thought I would always be the person who’d have to be pulled off a course kicking and screaming, or, at the very least, with a bone sticking out.

When the dust settled and the pity party subsided, I decided that I wanted to put the training to use and signed up for Long Haul 100 in January 2020. It was a good race for me and I treated it the opposite of Javelina. I went in with minimal plans, adjusted some of the things that didn’t work, and while I am always competitive, didn’t go in with any hopes other than a finish. I ran a 19:58 and managed to feel really good for the majority of the race. 

In that same month, I signed up for Javelina for October 2020, seeking redemption. We all know what happened last year and though they still put on the race, I decided to defer due to all the Covid restrictions and the uncertainty of the world at that time. Luckily, Chantal, Roger, Cassy, & Jared all deferred as well so I was excited that we would have something to look forward to in October 2021.

As I said in my Boston Marathon recap, training was a mixed bag. I felt like I gained a lot of long run experience during 2020/2021 with a bunch of self-supported adventures, but I also struggled a lot. I was getting super nervous before speed sessions and spent a few weeks this summer feeling very, very unmotivated to run. 

Maybe other distance runners can relate, but I would hands down choose a 5 hour run in the mountains than a 20 minute tempo. There are parts of me that know that in order to be a faster runner, I have to put in the speed work. If I want to qualify for Boston year in and year out, I can’t just do a bunch of 5 hour runs in the mountains and expect the speed to follow. I usually end up feeling really proud of myself after the speed sessions so I really tried to figure out why I was struggling so much with the psychology of it all.

After Boston, I felt good and was able to make the most of the 3 weeks in between races. It gave me confidence that I raced well in Boston, but I also knew that a 3:20 marathon really meant very little if trying to predict a desert 100. I wanted to go into the race feeling a healthy mix of fear and excitement. Strong, but not overly confident. Prepared, but not afraid to deviate from the plan. I kept saying I was just ready to see what the race gave to me.


We got up super duper early to catch our flight and spent the morning flying, picking up the rental car & rental scooter, and finally got lunch around noon PHX time. Both of us were already exhausted and it was only halfway through the first day. We got some groceries and dropped off our stuff at the Airbnb, meeting up with Cassy & Jared who, along with Chantal & Chris, would be sharing the house with us for the weekend. Roger, Laura, and Kynan met us for dinner and beers at a brewpub and all of us headed back to try to get one good night’s worth of sleep.


Being on East Coast time still, I was able to wake up early without any issue. Cassy and I were lucky enough to see some real javelinas in the backyard of the Airbnb and shrieked with delight as we followed them around safely behind the fence. Also, the desert has the most incredible sunrises/sunsets and we had an incredible vantage point from where we were staying.

There was a shakeout run at the start/finish line sponsored by goodr and rabbit with the promise of freebies. Cassy, Jared, and I enjoyed 30 minutes on the trails and walked away with some free gear. We got back to the Airbnb and then the whole gang went out for a carb-loading session at a local pancake restaurant. It was then time for packet picket, swag purchases, and we ran into everyone, including Megan, in the tent. 

All of us wanted to then get off our feet and relax for the remainder of the day. We blobbed on the sofa, eating and hydrating until Chris whipped the group up a big batch of pasta. One of my favorite things to do is to have a family dinner with other runners before a race and this just felt so happy. After dinner, we all laid out our bags and gear, discussed when to leave, and tried to get some sleep.


I slept well and woke up to my alarm at 4:00 a.m. I drank coffee, ate a muffin, and filled up my hydration bottles. I slathered copious amounts of both sunscreen and anti-chafe cream all over my body. Then it was time to head to the race!

Chris drove Chantal, Adam, and myself to the drop off area of the race so that we could get the scooter out of the car for Adam. Luckily, this saved Chantal and I some extra steps too in the process. Though it was down to the wire and he was sprinting, Chris was able to park and see us off for the start.

Roger and Megan came over to say their good mornings and we dropped our gear bags under the pavilion. There wasn’t too much time to spare because we were then lining up in the start corral, listening to the countdown. Laura tapped me on the shoulder and I stood next to her and Chantal, waiting to get started. 

Then it was go time!

Race - Loop 1

I knew that it would be impossible to stay with anyone I knew for an extended period of time so I didn’t have any plans to try to run with anyone. But, as fate would have it, Chantal ended up hitting the single-track one person ahead of me and by the first half mile, we were chatting away. It felt like old times and though we had a long way to go, I truly wanted to just soak in the moment of getting to be able to do this with my friends.

We were keeping the pace easy and we made our way around to Coyote Camp at mile 4 and to Jackass Junction at mile 10.5. It was cool enough and early enough that I didn’t stop to get anything at the first aid station, but I did top off my bottles at Jackass. There was kind of an unspoken rule to just run your own race and not wait for anyone if you needed/wanted to either stop or go ahead.

But as we made our way towards Rattlesnake (mile 15.7), both Chantal and I found ourselves running with Cassy as well.

Laura came past on this descent as well and I thought about how cool it was that we are all so close together after running for a few hours. Chantal went on ahead after a while, leaving Cassy and I to talk about anything and everything. We got so wrapped up in conversation that I forgot that we were in a 100 mile race for a few miles. It felt like just another training run with one of my best running buddies, albeit in the desert. 

Coming into Jeadquarters at mile 22.3, we saw Chantal getting aid near the drog bags and after hitting the timing mat, made our way to our own gear.

I restocked my pack with my “loop 2” bag, topped off my hydration bottles and grabbed ice for my hat and buff at the aid station.

Loop 2

The cool of the morning now completely gone, it was time to head into the worst part of the day. I told myself to just keep moving and not worry too much about if I needed to walk or slow down a lot. I really was not checking my splits, knowing that the only goal that mattered was to finish. I’d look at the mileage to determine how close I was to the next aid station, but did not want to get too sucked up into how fast/slow I was going.

At some point between Jeadquarters and Jackass, I caught up with Chantal and we ran the yucky stretch together. I remember thinking that I needed to grab my handheld bottle when I finished the loop as I was completely out of hydration when I arrived at Jackass. I was trying to keep my temperature down by using ice at every aid station. I put it in my stretchy hat (this was clutch!), in my buff around my neck, in my sports bra, and for a brief period of time, down my pack. 

Coming from the land of humidity, it is so strange to me that my skin was so, so dry even though I was dousing it in water at each aid station. My shirt stayed a little wet when I put the ice down my pack, but my shorts were mostly dry the entire day. The flip side of no moisture was that I found it hard to figure out if I was drinking enough and the cooling properties of being doused at the aid stations lasted for only a mile. 

After going through Jackass on the second loop, I shuffled slowly trying to both mitigate the heat of the day and to allow Chantal to catch up if she was still feeling good. All of a sudden, Jared was on my shoulder and I was so confused. It was way too early for him to be lapping me as I hadn’t even been lapped by a pro yet, but also I hadn’t passed him prior? But then he said that we were both at Jackass together and he was on his second lap as well.

We ran together towards Rattlesnake (mile 38), leapfrogging each other at times. The heat was peaking and I was trying to just shuffle when I could, hoping that I could just get through the next few hours without crumbling. I was a little nervous coming into Jeadquarters again, knowing that the next stretch would be the one in which I met my demise in 2019. Adam had gone back to the Airbnb to get some rest, but Chris was there and it was great to get some encouragement. 

I repacked my bag, grabbed my headlamp and dug through my food to figure out what I might be able to consume. I stuffed everything with ice again and took off on my 3rd loop. My stomach was starting to feel iffy, but I was trying to at least drink some electrolytes so as to not completely bonk.

Loop 3

As I got past Coyote (45.7) for the 3rd time, I felt surges of nausea hit me. I was determined to not have a repeat of 2019. I walked a bunch in this section, trying to keep my heart rate and food down. Mentally, I struggled a bit as I knew I was in the same section as where I imploded before. My sub-24 wave bracelet had been physically annoying me since I put it on the day prior. I slid it off in this stretch and stuffed it in my pack, not wanting the clock to deter me from a finish. 

In 2019, I was so consumed with not losing time that I flew through aid stations and pushed myself to run through the heat of the day. This time, I tried really hard to be a patient runner. 

But as I came into Jackass, I knew I was going to do it. I pulled out my long sleeve shirt and stuffed it in my pack. I drank a cup of broth and used a Wisp to brush my teeth.

A couple miles down that stretch, I started to feel my stomach turn very quickly. I stopped abruptly and said goodbye to all the soup I had just consumed. But as soon as I did, I felt a million times better. It was like hitting a reset button. The sun had finally gotten low enough that I no longer needed ice and I was finally starting to feel comfortable. My legs were tired of course, but the promise of cooler temperatures brought me to life again. I even paused to take a sunset pic because I was having a "how great is this" moment.

I clicked on my headlamp near Rattlesnake (57.4) and started to get excited about being able to see Adam soon at Jeadquarters. The lights on the tents glowed in the distance, but I knew that once I heard the music, I was less than a mile away. Seeing Adam, Chris, and Roger (who dropped from the 100k), was just what I needed. They helped me get my stuff ready for the next loop and I felt ready to go tackle the last 2 loops. I asked how everyone else was doing/feeling knowing that misery loves company and we’d all just suffered through the worst part of the day. 

Loop 4

I grabbed a PBJ half and ate most of it, all but a bite or two. I felt around for my baggie of batteries and headphones, but realized I left it back at Jeadquarters. Luckily, I was able to call Adam and have Chris (thankyouthankyouthankyou) run it out to me. I lost a couple of minutes, but it probably was good to have my sandwich settled.

Somehow, I was able to find a little bit of my running legs and my confidence grew as I ticked off the miles. It definitely was not easy by any stretch, but I felt very lucid and determined to keep moving. Once I reached Jackass again (71.6), I checked my drop bag for anything I might need in the final loop and a half and then tossed it in the bin to have it sent back to Jeadquarters. 

I was near the back of the pack of the Jackass 31k runners during this loop and arguably, the most happy/positive people. Aravaipa has a race that starts at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday night that consists of 1 loop of the course and these runners are encouraged to wear costumes with lights and perk up the field of dying 100 miles/100k runners. It definitely helped to have these runners breathe a bit of life into me.

As I approached Rattlesnake (76.8), I desperately needed to use the porta-potty. I kept thinking it was closer than it was and was practically sprinting the final mile. Fortunately, I felt much better after going and shuffled along, getting excited for the bell lap.

When I reached Jeadquarters, I was told that Laura and Chantal had dropped and Megan and Chris were both available to pace. Luckily, they arm-wrestled it out decided for me because I didn’t want to have to make choices at mile 80! Megan would be accompanying me on my last loop. I asked about Jared and Cassy and were told they were together and while feeling a bit rough, were committed to finishing (!!!).

Loop 5

I grabbed my pink “final lap” bracelet, refilled my bottles, and then Megan and I headed out into the night. She was great at making me eat a little tiny something every few miles (albeit with me complaining about it) and walking with me for what felt like the majority of the last lap. 

I was definitely delirious at this point, but making jokes and super happy that I had someone to talk to for the last lap. I honestly don’t remember too many specifics about what we talked about, but I do remember that it ran the gamut from very serious to very light. It took my mind off the task at hand which is exactly what I needed in the final miles. 

It was really cool to go through each little section and be able to say that I didn’t have to do THAT part again. At Jackass, the party from the night wave of runners had died off, but I stepped into the dance floor for a quick hip shake. Megan took a shot of Fireball and with that, we were off to finish the last 9 miles. 

We passed a fair number of people in the final few miles. I wasn’t running fast, but I was able to at least still run. There definitely were plenty of walk breaks, but I was trying to just move as quickly as possible. I’ve known Megan for a long time (via the interwebs) and while we’ve done a few of the same races, this was the first time we’d ever run together. We talked about our crazy Covid year adventures and it reinvigorated me (after I recover) to go tackle more of them.

There was a tiny section that we went the wrong way on towards the end. Leave it to me to get lost on the last loop. But we found our way again and trotted towards the finish tent, relieved a finish was in sight. Megan told me she’d peel off as we reached the finish chute and I was too tired to comprehend how great it would have been to have her run it in with me. I wanted Adam to also come for the final stretch, but realized the terrain was a bit too treacherous. The consolation prize was that it gave me something to be excited for in the final few hundred meters.

As I came up the final hill, I felt a huge sense of relief over finally putting this thing to rest. There was a runner in front of me, going much slower and I wasn’t sure if he was finishing or running another loop. So to give him a little space and let him potentially celebrate his own finish, I slowed down myself and danced it in. 

The desert didn’t win this time.

Link to Strava stuff if you’re into that:

Monday, October 18, 2021

Back to Chasing the Unicorn: Boston Marathon 2021

910 days had passed since the previous Boston Marathon. There was a whole bunch of life that happened in that time. I went to Everest (base camp + marathon, not a summit), DNF’d a 100 mile race, finished a 100 mile race, nabbed a couple more BQs, and then Covid happened. I did some rad running stuff during the pandemic - 38 miles for my 38th birthday, my first non-race 100 mile week, set the FKT on the Silver Comet, and ran a bunch of self-supported trail ultras. 

When we got into the final weeks leading up to this year’s Boston and saw that other majors were happening without a hitch, it started to feel real. I didn’t let myself truly accept it until pretty late in my training because it was cancelled with only 6 weeks to go last spring. 

Summer marathon training in Georgia is pretty awful. Even if you get up early or run late in the day, it’s just uncomfortable. My happy running temp is 35-40 so even our “cool summer” was still terrible. I usually am pretty self-motivated to run, but I had a few weeks that I struggled getting out the door. I gave up on workouts before starting them and threw in the towel early on more than I care to admit.

Prior to Covid, I raced a ton and usually had a bunch of gauges as to where my fitness was. The more you do something, the less intimidating it seems. So it seemed a bit daunting to me to step into the arena of a pretty prestigious marathon with not a lot of indicators as to how it was going to go.

But, sure enough, once we got a couple of days that it wasn’t a billion degrees with 1,000% humidity, I finally felt my fitness turn a bit. I knew I wasn’t PR fit, but I knew that I was probably BQ fit. Especially since I now had an extra 5 minutes!

Adam hadn’t traveled on a plane since prior to Covid and we were both nervous about navigating all the new challenges with his decreased mobility. Luckily, my mom was coming to watch the race for the first time and was a big help both physically and emotionally getting us through the weekend. My mom’s cousin Glenda lives on Commonwealth and generously allowed our boisterous clan to stay for the long weekend.

The race expo was super tiny outside the Adidas shop. I bought a few things, but we were in and out pretty quickly. This freed up our Saturday to walk/scooter the Freedom Trail with my mom and Glenda. I was happy to be outside on a beautiful day, but got a little nervous when we got home for the evening and saw I had 26,000 steps. Yikes.

I did a very short shakeout run/errand on Sunday morning to pick up my race morning food/coffee and then promptly spent the rest of the day sitting around with my feet up. I wanted to nap, but I was too excited. I drank a TON of water all day and Gatorade, anticipating the predicted warm weather for Monday. We shared pasta for dinner and then it was time to try to sleep!

I actually slept embarrassingly well. Garmin says I got almost 9 hours of sleep. With bus pickup at 8:15am and a 10 minute walk away, I had the luxury of waking up at 7am. I ate part of a muffin, drank a nitro cold brew, and my mom came downstairs to help me get the scooter outside for Adam to use later. Then it was off to the races!

The guy I stood behind in the bus line started chatting with me and we sat together on the ride out to Hopkinton. I sipped my little bottle of water and ate my traditional pre-race Snickers. With the rolling start, we all just headed towards the race once we were dropped off. I, along with every other runner, went to the porta-potty lines. I actually beelined directly to the back of the giant U-shaped area and found that there were plenty of vacant ones.

As I walked up to the start line, I noticed Marathon Maniacs Tony over to the side, tying his shoe. It reminded me I needed to re-tie my own and I used the opportunity to say hi and snap a picture together. Then it was time to take one more picture by the start before I fired up the playlist.

The rolling start was weird. Good because it gave me plenty of time to do all the last minute things on my own clock, but bad because it seemed anticlimactic to just step on the timing mat and go whenever. But, there I was, clicking start on my Garmin and rolling down that first hill for (another!!!) Boston Marathon. 

Oh lawd, I was not prepared to be emotional. For the first 5k or so, I couldn’t control the fact that I was overcome with joy to just be there. I fought it a bit thinking that I might overtax myself mentally, but then just decided to ride the wave. 

Somewhere in my head, I thought a 3:2X marathon was in my wheelhouse. I knew a 7:5X pace would get me there, but I also didn’t want to be a slave to my watch. So the first few miles, I glanced at the pace when the mile beeped, but I desperately just wanted it to feel sustainable for as long as possible. 

As I rolled through Ashland and Framingham, I knew I was playing with fire, but I kind of just wanted to see if it would pay off. The crowds were electric. I could feel the excitement of the communities having this very normal pre-Covid thing return. The weather was too warm for running, but it was great for spectating. I high-fived tiny hands, pointed at people who shouted my name (it was on my singlet), and at one point, lifted my arms up to rally the crowds to cheer. Even if my playing with fire left me burned, I was determined to make it fun while it lasted.

Into Natick, I was surprised to still feel good clicking off 7:3Xs and remember thinking that if I just made it to the halfway point at 1:40ish, I could still likely manage a squeaker BQ even if the second half wasn’t great. I felt dry-mouthed from the start and was trying to drink something at every hydration station even if it was just a few sips. I took my 3rd gel around mile 12 or so and noticed that I had to choke it down. 

Wellesley is always a highlight, but they seemed extra loud and extra in your face this year. I high-fived about 50 girls and then had to veer left because I knew I still literally had half a marathon to run. 

Over the next couple of miles, my stomach started to turn and I got concerned that I was going to need to find a porta-potty. I hated to lose any time to anything not running when my race was going so well, but I also was starting to get severely uncomfortable. When I got to the mile 15 hydration station, I bolted to the porta-potty and tried to do my best Shalane in-and-out-rapidly impersonation. I still clocked an 8:11 mile so clearly my sprint to and from paid off!

Mile 16 is the last down before the Newton Hills and I took stock of how I felt. Tummy was now happy, legs were tired, but still moving well, and with 10ish miles left in the race, I was feeling pretty good. I decided to wait another mile or so before taking another gel and sipped on some Gatorade before tackling the hills.

The Newton Hills are only bad because of where they are in the marathon. There are some hills in the earlier sections, but they are moderate and the net downhill in the first 16 miles is very, very wheeeeee. By mile 16, runners are feeling the cumulative fatigue AND then they have to climb. I had a few 7:4X in there, but I didn’t panic and really hadn’t been checking my splits for a while. I was more concentrated on the overall time.

I remember seeing signs in years past about the top of Heartbreak Hill, but I didn’t see them this year. As I crested the final top before Boston College, my emotions caught up with me again. Wtf? I was torn between wanting to just finish the darn thing already and also, wanting the moment to last a really long time. It wasn’t like it was easy, but I was definitely in a flow state. I remember feeling like I was pushing the gas pedal almost to the floor, but leaving just a little bit for Boylston Street.

There were some really strong runners to follow in the final miles and I stayed a few steps behind them as I felt my excitement growing with familiar sights. The subway tracks at the turn on Beacon Street, the first glimpse of the Citgo sign, the stupid sun-exposed hill at mile 25. 

I started anticipating seeing Adam, my mom, and Glenda and knew I needed to be towards the left. I started scanning the crowd even before I got to the Charlesgate Bridge because I wanted to make sure I saw them. As I got close to the corner of Commonwealth and Hereford, I saw my mom waving her hands wildly and I sped up to give hugs and kisses. It was everything I’d hoped for and then some. 

As I bopped up Hereford, any pain I was feeling was completely masked by my happiness. In fact, I was so smitten with feeling good that I continued running at my 7:3X pace, not aware how close I was to being under 3:20 until maybe I had 40 seconds to go? Apparently I still had something in the tank because as I glanced at my watch with 3:19:XX, I BOOKED it down the final stretch. I was pumping my arms wildly, grinning like a complete cheeseball, and in disbelief that it went so darn well. 

3:20:05. I’m not mad about it. <insert winky smile face here>

I loosened my shoes, collected all my post-race goodies (water, heat sheet, mask, medal, food bag), and made the zombie-walk back to the apartment. My support team was crossing the street on the opposite side right as I was and we all made our way back inside. 

I’m still kind of processing the whole thing. I ran much faster than I thought. I ran in a much better headspace than I thought. I was worried about the heat and the expectations and was bracing myself for a rough day. But it never happened. Sure, it got hard and I fought to keep the pace honest throughout, but somehow, Boston magic prevailed. 

Merrill’s this year taught me (as plenty of previous races have) that a good day at the races is never a guarantee. I’m allowed to be proud of the ones that go well and be disappointed in the ones that go awful. And if they go really well, I might just be celebrating an extra week. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Georgia Loop - A Production

The Georgia Loop has been on my running list for quite some time. I can't remember exactly when I heard of it, but probably in 2016 or 2017 when I was running with Sean, Deano, and Kevin quite a bit. The idea of doing it seemed well out of my skill set at the time and even as I racked up more trail miles and ultra finishes, it intimidated me.

Cut to 2021. My crew started toying with idea of doing B.R.U.T.E.S., a series of 5 tough and long trails in the southeast that are major accomplishment on their own, but are extra difficult to do within 365 days. We went out in April to complete the Foothills Trail and thus, began the clock. When Aaron texted he was interested in doing a Georgia Loop shortly thereafter, I wasn't quite sure if I was ready to get back to it both mentally and physically.

However, I was feeling great after nearly a week of no running and then just some short and easy weeks following Foothills. My short workouts felt awesome. My easy runs felt really easy. So I bit the bullet and texted that I was in for the Georgia Loop.

Logistically, this is the easiest for us to plan as the trail is only an hour away and we'd run all of the sections before. I knew exactly what I was getting in for which in hindsight, can be both good and bad!

The original plan was to do the entire loop with Aaron, Jared, Kaleb, and Ben. David was planning on doing 17 miles with us to start. I was excited we'd have a lot of support and always appreciate the extra conversation and safety of more runners. Jared met me at my house and then we picked up David at 3:50 a.m. on Saturday morning to allow for enough time to get to the trail head and situate before a planned 5:00 a.m. start. Everything was rolling on time and aside from both David and Jared forgetting headlamps, we got to Woody Gap with 20 minutes to spare.

Unfortunately, Ben was dealing with food poisoning overnight on Friday and decided to not start. So our group of 6 was now 5. We took our starter pic at the sign, clicked start, and headed off on the Appalachian Trail counterclockwise from Woody Gap. 

The weather was perfect at this time. Cool, but not cold and no wind. I was super comfortable in a tank and shorts once we started moving. Conversation was flowing easily amongst the group as we covered the early miles. I've run this section countless times and it's one of my favorites so I was in my happy place as we eased into sunrise.

Unfortunately, as we were coming off the descent of Preacher's Rock, barely 2 miles in, we all heard a pop and commotion when Jared rolled his ankle. It was enough that he had to stop for a few moments to collect himself. He continued on, but he was in visible pain from that point and eventually favoring his other foot.

Because Katherine graciously volunteered to come out and meet us at two places in the early miles, we continued on past Slaughter Creek around mile 7.6 without anyone needing to fill up water. Once we got to Wolfpen Gap around mile 10, she and the kids were waiting for us with water, sodas, Chick-fil-A biscuits, fruit, candy, and plenty of smiles. We needed to get David to the next point by 10:30 a.m. so they could head out for Fritz's soccer game, but we stayed long enough to enjoy this oasis in the woods.

In the next section, one of Kaleb's friend's Alfonso ran into us coming the other direction and hopped into our caravan. Our group grew to 6 again and this point and we tackled the early miles of the Duncan Ridge Trail all bunched together. 

Once at Mulky, Katherine again had an amazing spread. In addition to everything at the prior stop, she also now had a container of bacon as well as some avocado wraps. Our pace was slow enough that I was happily eating without feeling nauseous and making sure that I was staying on my 30 minute timer. It is definitely something I stole from Katherine to have my watch beep every 30 minutes telling me to eat and has been incredibly helpful during the long efforts to stay on top of calories. 

Kaleb was ready to drop at Mulky, but was talked into going on and making it to Highway 60. Partially because there really was not any room in the Sullivan's car, but partially because it was so early to call it a day. We got him to rally and make the decision to go on.

I loaded up my pack with hydration from the beginning, carrying 84 ounces/2.5 L almost every time we were at a water stop. I knew the heat of the day would creep up and the section after our last stop at Mulky was going to be waterless for 13 gnarly miles. I topped off and then we said our goodbyes to David and the rest of the Sullivan crew as we made our way to Highway 60.

Jared had taken off ahead and Aaron, Kaleb, and I trailed him in the next few miles. There had been a controlled burn in this section and that coupled with the buzzing of cicadas created a very eerie atmosphere in the otherwise quiet woods. Unfortunately, the controlled burn also meant that while we would have normally been shaded in this section, we were very exposed heading into the heat of the day. 

The views of the surrounding mountains were blues and greens so at least the summits provided us with a little bit of color.

There is really only one turnoff in that section after a very steep climb up Rhodes Mountain and Aaron and I had pulled ahead of Kaleb at that point. We hung out for a few minutes not wanting him to miss the turn and Aaron went back after some time had passed to check on him. Once we realized he was okay and had caught back up, we started to make the descent and saw Jared again. He motioned for me to go ahead and I took off from that point knowing that there were no other turns before hitting the road. It felt good to open up a bit and push harder on the climbs. Plus, I knew I was going to buy myself a little extra time to chill at the highway.

Once I got to the road, I was feeling a little cooked from the sun and the effort. I took off my pack and laid next to a tree in the shade for a few minutes. A hiker who was doing the same loop in 5 days struck up conversation and we chatted while we both waited for our respective friends to emerge. I took some time to wash my face in creek and then get off my feet.

When Aaron and Jared came in, I was able to get into my drop bag and repack all my food and top off my hydration again. I downed a Coke and grabbed a chicken wrap that Aaron graciously offered. Kaleb arrived and then we figured out how to maneuver the cars because both Kaleb & Jared had decided to not continue. I was super bummed that we weren't going to have the additional camaraderie for the second part, but understood that it was the best choice for them.

About an hour after I arrived at the road (and subsequently timing out my watch), Aaron and I waved goodbye to our friends and continued onto the second section. I knew that the water stops in the second sections would be how I'd break up tackling it mentally. We had the Swinging Bridge at 32.5, Long Creek at 40, Justis Creek at 48.5, and then we'd be finished. 

Aaron took the opportunity to fill up at Swinging Bridge and I did too since we were there. 

After we climbed out of the river, the heat of the day started to dissipate. It was still warm, but within the green tunnel and the early evening hours, I finally felt more comfortable again. Aaron was the pacemaker and we would spend long stretches of time just moving without conversation, lost in our own thoughts.

The descents were getting harder and harder on me, but I was still in great spirits and excited that barring anything crazy, we were getting it done. Once we got to Long Creek, we filtered and filled up for the next long section to Justis Creek. I sat on a big rock and enjoyed a few minutes of being off my feet, drinking cool water, and having a snack. These little stops were reviving both of us each time and as we came away from the waterfall, our conversation would be revived for awhile. 

As the sun started to set, we took another short break to pull out our head lamps and Aaron tried to text Taylor who was running in the opposite direction from Woody to bring us to the finish. We were within our projected window, but service had been spotty all day and with it getting darker, we wanted to make sure all was well. I was getting a bit tired of eating at this point, but very glad that I had options and was kind of forcing myself to just eat whatever sounded okay. I never got nauseous, just felt like I had irritated taste buds and a dry mouth.

Not too long before we needed to turn on our headlamps, just after we had 9 miles to go, Taylor and Katherine were a sight for sore eyes. I had no idea Katherine had intended on coming back to run and was so excited that we would both of them to run us in. Our party of 2 was definitely livelier as a party of 4 and while we were tired, they definitely rallied us to bring it home.

We made one more water stop at Justis Creek and then knew that comparatively, the rest of the miles were pretty easy to the finish. I knew there were still a few more climbs and there were some technical spots in the final mile, but we'd finish within our projected 17-19 hour timeframe. I was powerwalking as much as I could whenever possible as the pounding of running on my legs hurt more than running. Aaron, hearing that I was walking, put the hammer down in the last mile or so and I had to find that last gear to bring it home. 

At the sign, we clicked off our watches, finishing in 18:15:14. 

My legs and feet were beat up, but I was happy I stayed in a really good mood all day and that I had zero thoughts of stopping. Maybe the Foothills up my mental toughness, maybe it was just one of those randomly good days, or maybe I was just excited to check off this route from my bucket list. In any case, I feel really proud of this one based solely on how mentally good I felt.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Foothills Trail - A 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!!)