Wednesday, May 16, 2018



THE DAY THE HEAT WON
The UROC 100K


I like to think I'm tough. I'm an ultrarunner after all. As a group, we pride ourselves on completing these amazingly long and difficult races when most people would never even attempt such a thing. Yet, there I sat on a log at around mile 51 at the UROC 100K seriously contemplating dropping, and generally feeling very sorry for myself. I was dizzy and staggering all over the place. I could barely run 100 yards before having to walk. I'm pretty sure I wasn't running faster than a 15 minute mile on flat, non-technical trails by this point. The heat had done me in, and there was no coming back from it. My goal coming into the race had been top five. I was currently sitting in 5th place, but I was convinced someone would pass me at any moment. I decided that if I got passed by another woman, I would drop; which is not something I'm proud to admit. I kept turning around checking to see if anyone was coming. This was going to be an ugly death march to the finish. 

But let's back up a bit. I had intended to run the Bull Run 50-miler on April 7th, only to get a cold the week before the race. I can't tell you the last time I was sick, but that's life sometimes. It was pretty obvious the week before Bull Run that a 50-miler wasn't in the cards, so I began looking for another race. I had started to gain some fitness this spring, and was itching to get back to the trails. I was SLOWLY getting over a nagging hamstring/glute/sciatic thing that had been lingering since November of last year, and was ready for a challenge. After searching for something relatively close to home, I came upon UROC. I ran the idea by my coach, David Roche, to see what he thought about doing a trail 100K with 12,000 feet of climbing with about a month to cram๐Ÿ˜ฒ. Always the supportive optimist, he was all for it as long as it was something I really wanted to do. I think he was a little concerned that I wouldn't be satisfied if I wasn't at the top of my game. He knows my personality too well. I'd like to think I had a realistic grasp of my fitness with only a month to do any specific training. Truthfully though, it's hard to separate your previous accomplishments from your current training. I always want to win, or to at least race to my potential. I absolutely love racing. I LOVE it.  I can't run just to finish. It's just not the way I'm wired. I really wish I could sometimes; It sure would make races a lot more enjoyable. I'm also very good at lying to myself. I could probably stop running for a year entirely, and still convince myself that I could run a 100-miler. No matter my current level of training, my mind still thinks it can run the way I have in the past. I think it's the same mentality that keeps us coming back for more, even when it hurts so much. We can lie to ourselves about all of it.

With a green light from my husband and my coach, it was a go! I could not wait to run my first real mountain ultra in two years. I was also terrified. My longest races last year were a flat, fast rails-to-trails 50K and a road marathon. Not exactly ideal training for a mountain ultra. That is exactly why I wanted to do this race. It's been a while since I really doubted my ability to finish a race. I've run over 100 ultras by now, so the question of whether or not I can finish has now shifted to how well can I run? How hard can I push myself, and just what are those limits? This race, however, would be an interesting experiment to see how my road training last year would translate to the trails. I didn't know how my quads would hold up, or if my hamstring issue would flare up after so many miles. It was terrifying and exciting at the same time.

I did what limited training I could in the month leading up to the race. I believe I topped out at around 80 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation gain (mostly on a treadmill). Taper week was the usual case of nerves, phantom pains, and irrational fears of crippling illnesses just waiting to derail my plans. Thankfully Friday finally came, and I drove down for the pre-race briefing at Skylark, a beautiful residence on the Blue Ridge Parkway with 360-degree views of the mountains.
View from Skylark
Russ Gill, the race director, had an entertaining race briefing followed by a photo op of some of the top runners and a short Q&A session. It was fun, but also slightly embarrassing. 
Pre-race briefing ๐Ÿ“ธ: Greg Soutiea

Finish chute. Boy, would I be glad to see this on Saturday!


With all of the pre-race festivities done, I drove down to the start, and parked my van. I had decided to sleep in my van mainly because I'm cheap, and it was convenient. I'd set up a camping cot in the back of the van, which fit perfectly, and settled in for the night. I set my phone alarm for 4am before I forgot. After my awesome dinner consisting of a subway sandwich and white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, I took a tylenol PM and tried to sleep. Amazingly, I actually slept pretty well that night, only waking up a few times. I did have a random dream where I was in a car dealership, and someone stole my van. I was running around in a panic trying to find it so I wouldn't miss the race start. ๐Ÿ˜„I guess there always has to be at least one weird race panic dream.


Race Morning! It was finally time. I quickly ate my overnight oatmeal with peanut butter, blueberries and almond milk, and drove my van up to the finish area at Skylark. They had arranged a shuttle to get us back to the race start, so our vehicles would be waiting for us at the finish. Very nice touch, in my opinion!
After several bathroom breaks, we all lined up at the start and were off.
Camp Blue Ridge

Camp Blue Ridge right next to the start
The first 6.8 miles gradually climb up to the parkway on paved and gravel roads to aid station 1. As expected, everyone took off like it was a 10K. My plan was to hang back and go slow. I am not the type of runner who goes out hard from the gun and tries to hang on. My best races are when I hold back until the second half or last third of the race, and then catch everyone who went out too fast. It's always more fun to be the hunter than the hunted, in my opinion. Anyway, the miles went by quickly, but I was already sweating A LOT. I am not a big sweater, but it was sooooooo humid. It was only in the 60's during the early morning hours, but it did not bode well for the day ahead if I was already soaked in sweat. I ran mostly by myself until I caught up to Leah Ling, fellow SWAP member several miles into the race. I immediately felt better as we chatted all the way through the first aid station and onto the next long 11.3 mile section on Whetstone Ridge. This was a long 22 mile out and back on with only one aid station in the middle. For many people, this would decide their entire day. Run out of water here and your race was over. We ran along a ridge with no chance of any water crossings, so you better have enough water for 1.5-2.5 hours. I was wearing the new VaporMag race vest with two bottles up front and a 20oz handheld for these sections. I planned to ditch the handheld at mile 30 after we finished these two very long sections. Everything was going well, except I didn't screw one of the lids to my bottles tightly enough, and water was running down the front of my shirt. I immediately drank the entire thing before I lost all of the liquid. I knew I would need every ounce or I would be in trouble. The miles flew by as I tried to find a sustainable rhythm. Before too long we came upon Brian Rusieki, who was having a rough day. He was fighting a cold and a lower back injury that would eventually cause him to drop at the turnaround. It was fun running with someone who is usually way ahead of me, even for a few miles. Brian, I hope you heal up quickly. We caught up to Amy Rusieki as well around mile 12ish. I was having a blast talking and watching for the front runners to make their way back soon from the aid station at mile 19. 

We made it to aid station 2 where I doused myself with the wonderful ice sponges they had at each aid station. It was absolutely worth the extra 30 seconds it took to get completely soaked and cool my body down just a little. I refilled my completely empty bottles, and began the long climb heading back the way we had just come. There were 6-8 women all pretty close together chasing Amanda Basham, who had the lead. I had her pegged for the win, and figured it would be a battle for 2nd-5th. Sure enough, everyone was within striking distance. I think I was maybe 6th at this point? I was felt fantastic, in a good flow and feeling like this might be a good day. Then I hit mile 25 and my first low. It was really starting to warm up by now. This direction was more uphill than the other direction with some grindy hills along the ridge, and it just started to wear on me. I took a  gel hoping to snap out of the slump. I came off the trail at mile 30, and saw David Horton waiting for me! I knew he might show up, having biked up from Lynchburg that morning. It was nice to see a familiar face, and he helped me find my drop bag. More ice sponges, a starbucks espresso, some salt and vinegar chips, and off I went. I still felt like I was struggling a bit, but I figured so was everyone else. We ran along the parkway for a bit, back down the gravel road we had come up that morning, then up a yucky climb to Skylark. We ran tantalizingly close to the finish line around mile 35ish? before being sent back out for the second half of the race. I was spending way more time at the aid stations than I normally do trying to cool down, drink, and get my heart rate under control. I was yoyo-ing with Sheila Vibert through here. I was struggling to run up the gradual climbs, while she was on cruise control on the hills. I would catch back up on the downhills, and we went back and forth like this for a while. The course eventually got back on trails as we ran through the Slacks Overlook and Torrey Ridge sections. Mile 35-45 kind of blurs together in my mind, but I remember that it was HOT with barely any breeze. I felt like a lobster being not-so-slowly boiled to death. I thought I was still running pretty well in spite of the heat, and was in 4th place. I knew Sheila was running well, and probably not to far behind me. I had no idea who else might be back there too, so I was running a little scared. 

Then it all came to a grinding halt around mile 45. I was running along Torry Ridge, which is super technical. Normally, I love, love, love technical running, but I was really dizzy and weak all of a sudden. I didn't trust my legs, so I began walking even on the downhills. Not surprisingly, Sheila came flying by me on a downhill looking like she was on a mission. Now, I was in 5th, crap! I was literally staggering and stumbling over the rocks just hoping to get off this section as quickly as possible.

Typical Torry Ridge trail

This all led to me sitting on a log about 13 miles from the finish contemplating my poor life choices. The problem was that I didn't have a legitimate reason to stop. Sure I felt bad, but so what?! I wasn't puking, I wasn't peeing blood (although I truthfully wasn't peeing much at all), I didn't have an injury and so on. I just felt completely spent, and was disappointed to be in 5th. It was a good lesson in humility, I guess. I'm sure the heat had a lot to do with it, but I can't remember the last time I felt this bad ( I probably think this during every race). I literally could not run unless it was obviously downhill. The one saving grace was the ten or more streams crossings we had in the last 10 miles. I unashamedly sat down in every single one, even if I had just crossed a stream a few minutes before. At this point, I had little hope of catching any of the women in front of me, and I just wanted to survive. There was one horrible 1,000 foot climb at mile 58. The ironic part was that I was still able to climb pretty well, even though I couldn't run to save my life. I'd been thinking about this climb all day, trying to prepare my mind for the discomfort. It wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. I think I powered up that climb about as quickly as I had been "running" the previous flat trail miles. I made it to the last aid station around mile 59, and I was committed to finishing now. There was no way I was quitting with about 4 miles to go, most of them on roads. My legs came back as my brain sensed the finish was near. The course dumps back out on the Parkway for the final few miles to the finish. I ran as hard as I could as I kept peeking behind me to see if anyone was in sight. I was still terrified of being passed in the final few miles. I swear I saw a person about 3/4 of a mile behind me. I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman, so I ran as hard as I possibly could to make sure they didn't catch me. I was running so hard I started dry-heaving right next to the port-o-potties about a half mile from the finish. The final insult was this short but steep climb up the hill at skylark to the finish chute. I walked the entire hill straight through the finish line in 12:53:43. There was no running left in me, and I had no desire to try to run simply for a good finishing picture. I was too tired to care. I think I was more relieved than anything, and just happy it was over! In case you were wondering, the next finisher was sixteen minutes behind me, and a guy, so who knows if I actually saw someone or just imagined it.

A few minutes after I finished when I was able to get off the ground ๐Ÿ“ธ Francesca Conte

Women's podium
Now, A few days later, I'm really happy about the whole thing. I was able to run a grueling 100K with zero mountain training, and was still able to be competitive. I'm grateful that my body is strong enough to run ultras. This wasn't my best race or my worst, but I got to spend a day in the mountains enjoying God's creation. What a great Mother's Day gift! I want to thank all of my sponsors for believing in me-Nathan Hydration, Drymax Socks, Rabbit apparel, and Huma gels. I also want to thank my amazing husband for holding down the fort while I was gone. I love you, honey!
















Gear:
Shirt: Pearl Izumi tank
Shorts: Rabbit Hopper shorts
Sports Bra: Nike Pro
Socks: Drymax hyper thin crew
Shoes: Pearl Izumi trail N2 (I've been saving these)
Pack: VaporMag with 2 bottles (size SM, but would use XS next time)
Handhelds: Nathan speedshot plus flask, and the old 20oz. quick draw plus for the Whetstone Ridge sections

Food:
10-15 S caps/salt stick tabs ( I lost count)
15-20 gels-mostly Huma gels, but also some GUs from the aid stations
2 honey stinger chew packs
3 gin-gins
a few jolly ranchers
2 bottles of coke and some at the aid stations
tons of water
1 pack of Tailwind
some pickles
a few potato slices with salt
2 oranges
2 ibuprofen 
a little chicken broth
There are probably some things I've forgotten, but that is most of it.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Hellgate experiment

     I might be on a roll with another blog so soon after my last one. Don't get used to it though! I just have some time, since I'm tapering for my marathon. Do people actually taper for marathons? I feel sort of silly actually, since the race is "short" for me. On the flip side, I don't want all those horrible track workouts, tempo runs and painful long runs to be for nought. I want to be fresh, and have a positive first marathon race experience. I guess I'll find out in a few days. I'm actually excited! It will be done quickly relatively-speaking (oh, please let it be over quickly), and I can still be home at a reasonable time. I'm hoping to run smart, negative split, and complete the Strava challenge for a free pair of shoes. Good motivation if nothing else. I'll just be glad when this taper week is over. It's probably been the worst and most stressful taper week I've ever had, culminating in either dislocating or breaking my pinky toe last night...two days before the race...Sigh! At least now I'm much less worried about the little niggles and leg fatigue that always spring up at the last minute. If I can just walk without pain come race day, I'll be happy!

     This isn't about the marathon though. That is more about just getting me out of my comfort zone, and hopefully making me a little faster. After my last post, my husband and I talked a lot about training and racing, particularly ultra racing. It just isn't realistic right now for me to go train in the mountains every weekend for hours. The closest mountains to me are about and hour and fifteen minutes one way. Adding the extra 3-4 hours just for driving makes for some early mornings, and too much time away from home. So what are my options? 1.) Don't run trail ultras anymore 2.) Run them without training and suffer big time, or 3.) Get creative and train with what I have. Since I've done #2 before, which was incredibly painful and not even remotely fun at Masochist 2010, I think, I choose option #3.

     So, what is the best way to try this fun experiment? Why not sign up for a brutally hard 100K in about a month?! Enter the Hellgate 100K. For those of you not familiar with this race, it's a trail 100K that starts at midnight, over technical hills covered in leaves with long climbs and descents that will slowly make you wish you were anywhere else. Here is just about the best write-up you will ever find on the race written by Aaron Schwartzbard http://blog.vestigial.org/hellgate-overview/ . It's a badge of honor for anyone who finishes this beast; and it's a race that I love to hate. There isn't really enough time to get my mountain legs back after my race on Saturday, but I'll have about 3 weeks of training before I need to taper again. I know I can cover the 100K distance, but my climbing and descending legs need some help. I haven't run in the mountains since July, and I don't want to experience the death shuffle from destroyed quads. Since I won't be going out to the mountains to train, I'm getting creative. I bought a weighted vest last week to use for my treadmill hikes and backwards treadmill walking (thanks for the idea, Maggie Guterl!). Hopefully that will add some stress to the workout. I'll also add in some hill repeats here in town. We have one hill that is maybe a third of a mile long. Not necessarily Hellgate hills, but I'm going to run the ups hard and the downs hard, and repeat about a million times. I'll also do some stadium workouts, plyometrics, and anything else I can think of to "cram" my body into whatever kind of shape I can in 3-4 weeks.

     I would not necessarily recommend that anyone "cram" training in for a race; however, I've been running ultras now for almost 17 years. I have about 3,000 miles on my legs this year alone. I know when to back off and rest (not that I always follow my own advice). I'm going to hope that muscle memory and my road legs will get me through a lot of it, and the few weeks of climbing will help me survive the rest. At the end of the day, I am looking forward to spending an entire day (and night) to enjoy God's creation with my friends. I'm grateful that my body can still do this crazy sport. It won't be a PR, but I'm ok with that. I am giddy at the thought of being on my beloved trails again. Hellgate, here I come!

     And finally, I've had the chance to try a new bar that I am excited to test out at Hellgate. The company was gracious enough to send me some samples to try. So far, I like them a lot, and I will give them a go during the race. I love that they only use real ingredients, all of which are actual food items, with nothing that I can't pronounce or understand. Check them out if you are looking for something new to try. https://skoutbackcountry.com/#/

Friday, October 28, 2016

Thoughts and musings.

 I've been pretty quiet on the running and ultra scene since Western States. I haven't run an ultra since June. There are many reasons for this, and it has been an intentional decision on my part. For one, my body took a really long time to bounce back from that race. I had lingering knee pain, ongoing plantar fasciitis (which I'm still dealing with), some other niggles, and a general lethargy whenever I ran that simply wouldn't go away. Some of this was simply because I hate hot weather running, and we had an extremely hot summer here in Virginia. There was the usual post-ultra letdown that usually happens after a big race. Every run felt hard, even when I ran slow, and I just felt like crap to be honest. Along with the running stuff, this year has been a stressful one for me and my family. Back in January my husband and I had made the decision for me to quit my job, so that I could be home during these formative years in our kids lives. To make this happen, my husband started a second business, I was still working full-time, and after a successful Georgia Death Race, I ramped up my training for Western States, not to mention how awesome sleeping in an altitude tent for a few months can be. Insert major sarcasm here. To say all of this combined put a strain on our family life would be putting it mildly. Even after quitting my job in May, life was still very chaotic and stressful. After the whirlwind of Western States, I realized that my family needed to become my priority. They had all sacrificed a lot during the first 6 months of the year. As much as we all like to pretend we are superhuman, at some point, something has to give. I can't do it all and do it well, even though I like to think that I can. Something will suffer, and I never want it to be my family. I think this is  hard topic to talk about as ultrarunners. My running group, particularly my women running buddies always talked about finding balance, or keeping the right perspective between running and the rest of their life. No one wants to admit that they might not have found that good place. It can be a tricky balancing act, and I will be the first to admit that I think running took over my life for the first 6 months of this year.

 The thing is, I absolutely love running ultras, and being in the mountains, but I love my family more. Ultrarunning by its very nature can be an all-consuming sport.  It takes hours and hours to train if you want to be competitive, like I do. I am not wired to simply get out there and be satisfied with a finish. When I started running in my early twenties, that was enough for me, but having tasted some success makes it very hard to be happy with just finishing. I am way too competitive for my own good, and I'm just not wired to do anything halfway. I want to be the best that I possibly can, and I don't honestly think I've reached that peak yet. I am by no means the most talented athlete around, but I have a gift for running long and working really hard. The longer the distance, the more I like it. When I first found ultrarunning in college, I knew this was something I was born to do. It's hard to explain to anyone outside of the sport exactly why I love it so much. It simply makes me feel alive unlike anything else I've ever experienced in life.

On the flip side, there are seasons in life. Circumstances, jobs, family, and friends ebb and flow like the seasons of the year. We have to be willing to change and adapt as life happens. I will never get these years back while my kids are little and under our roof. I don't want to be the absent mom who always put herself first. I don't ever want to look back with regret. While I think it's very important to show our kids that you can be healthy and active as an adult, even with jobs and responsibilities, I never want it to be a negative thing in their lives. One of the driving forces in my running has been to be an example of what is possible for a normal working mom with kids. I am not a professional athlete (I wish I were), but at the end of the day, this is a hobby. Maybe there is a reason that there aren't many moms with young kids running ultras competitively. I know there are some, but not many. I still think it's possible to do, but it's my time to sacrifice a little of my own competitive drive for the sake of my family. My boys started kindergarten this year, and my daughter is three. It became quite apparent during the course of this year that our kids were suffering with me working full-time as well as trying to be a competitive ultrarunner. I don't want to miss this precious time in their lives.

My point in all of this is that I've backed off of ultras for a while. One lesson I took away from Western States was that I am very strong as an ultrarunner, but also pretty darn slow (no offense to those who run slower than I do). This entire year, I kept waiting for a race to destroy my legs, but it never happened. My huge takeaway from States was that my weakness is the actual running. I can hike all day long, and run downhills great, but everyone killed me on the runnable stuff. My legs are strong, but my weakness is my running. I like to call myself the lazy runner. I like trails because I get to walk :-)

So, I decided to train for a marathon, my first one ever! I've never actually run a marathon, and in a strange way, they scare me way more than any ultra, Barkley and Hardrock being the few exceptions. I live in Richmond, Virginia, and we have an awesome marathon here every November. I've never run it, because I despise road running; and also because I've always run either the Mountain Masochist 50-miler and/or the JKF 50-miler. Both races fall around the same time in November as the Richmond marathon. I suppose I could be like my friend, Annie Stanley, who ran Masochist one weekend, paced the Richmond marathon the next weekend, and then ran JFK the weekend after that. Ouch! I once did the Masochist/JFK double, which is also a terrible idea.

Realizing that I could train for a marathon on lower mileage, stay in town training on roads without driving an hour to get to the mountains, and pushing myself out of my (trail) comfort zone made the Richmond marathon a no-brainer. Let me just say that marathon training SUCKS! I feel like a newbie runner trying to figure out what to do. I have no idea what time I can run, but I know it will hurt way more than any ultra I have done. I'm trying to embrace track workouts, tempo runs, and road long runs. In the end, it will make me a better runner and athlete, as well as allowing me to be a more present mom and wife. It's a win all the way around in my book. Our goals in life have to coexist and work in harmony towards the same ultimate goal, not oppose each other. I don't know what next year will bring, but I hope to find balance in everything I do. It has also freed me up to discover a newfound love of cooking, hot yoga, and cross-training. In a painful way, it has been fun to stretch myself, and try something way outside of my comfort zone. I have a new respect for what marathoners do. It is another world to be an elite marathon runner. With just over two weeks to go, I'm excited to see how this all plays out. Hopefully it won't get too ugly, and then I'll have to figure out what is next! 

Happy Fall!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Western States 2016. Sweet Redemption!

It's hard to know where to start with this report; not because I don't have anything to say, but because I want to do the experience justice. I'm not sure I can fully express my feelings and emotions about this magical weekend, but I'll try.  This has been a fairy tale adventure since January, and really, all the way back to 2004 when I dropped at Michigan Bluff. It has finally come full circle. The monkey is off my back in a way I could not have imagined back then.

Since January of this year, my running life has been completely focused on getting into Western States. Not a single day, probably not a single hour went by when the race wasn't at least a thought in the back of my mind. From reading race reports or course descriptions, to watching YouTube videos, I thought about it constantly. This would be my first 100-miler in eight years. In my 16 years as an ultrarunner no race has consumed me as much as this one did. I'm not sure what I would have done if I hadn't gotten my golden ticket. There was simply no other option. No alternative. I had to get it! I won't rehash what happened at the Georgia Death Race, since I already wrote about it, but I got my golden ticket! In a single day my world changed. I went from hoping to return to Western States one day in the distant future, to realizing that I would be running it in 3 very short months!

It was time to get down to business and start training. AJW and I spent the entire drive home from the Georgia Death Race planning out my training and racing schedule. I expected to need some down time for the rest of March to recover from GDR, but my body bounced back surprisingly quickly. I jumped back into training almost immediately. For the next few months, I trained harder than I ever thought possible. I can't remember what I did back in 2004, but I can confidently say that I trained harder for this race than I have for anything in the last 10 years...and my body felt great! There is a fine line between training to reach peak fitness levels and going down the road of overtraining and injury. I feel like I was doing a dance with that line the whole time. It's more art than science; the line is not clear and it constantly changes. It's easy to see how easily people fall into that trap, but thankfully, I think I came out on the right side of the equation. It was one of the main reasons for having a coach this time around. I needed that outside perspective to keep me in check when I wanted to push harder than I should. By no means do I think that everyone needs a coach. I've never had one before this year, although David Horton pretty much taught me everything I know when we trained together in my 20's.

I stepped up to the starting line with a few niggles, but no major injuries. My body felt primed and ready to go. I had a serene calmness when I arrived in Squaw on the Wednesday before the race. I had no control over how the other women had trained or how talented they may be, but I knew I had done absolutely everything within my power to stand at the starting line as ready as I could be. I did the strength training, the heat training, the core work. I watched my diet, did my long runs, got massages, went to my PT. There were no doubts or regrets in my mind about my training, so I could accept the result no matter what the day would bring. I was at complete peace.
Obligatory starting line pic with my dream team!

Check-in craziness
minutes before the start with the infamous AJW

After a restless night's sleep Friday night, I woke up full of adrenaline and anticipation, proving yet again that sleep the night before a race is irrelevant. I quickly ate my granola and banana, and read a text from my husband back in Virginia that brought tears to my eyes. It was a passage from the Bible that reads, "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint". I carried those words with me all day. After quick hugs and words of encouragement from my crew, the countdown began, and we were off running up the mountain. I was so relieved to finally be off and running. All I had to do was run, eat, drink, and be patient. Pretty straightforward, right?!? If only it were that simple...

I started training with a heart rate monitor this spring for the first time ever in my ultrarunning career, and it proved very useful in training. I knew how easy it would be to let adrenaline and my competitive nature make me run too fast in the high country, so I wore a heart rate monitor until Foresthill. I had practiced with it in one 50K race leading up to States to get used to it. I wanted it for the first half to keep my pace honest (and slow).  No matter what Karl Meltzer says, 100 miles is a very long way. I have a very healthy respect of the length of a 100-miler. You can't fake your way to a finish in a 100 like you can a 50. My crew was under strict instructions not to even tell me my place for the first 30 miles unless I asked. I expected the high country to wear on me, but I only really felt the altitude on the climbs. The first 30 miles went by in a flash, except for the stupid, long climb between Duncan Canyon and Robinson Flat. I wasn't expecting that one for some reason, and I didn't feel great during the climb. I leapfrogged with Maggie Guterl and Erika Lindland along here, and pretty much for the first 45 miles of the race. I knew both women would run smart, conservative races, so I knew I was in good company.

I saw my crew for the first time at mile 23 (Duncan Canyon). It was a huge mental boost to see them, and pick up my ice bandana and hat. I ate an avocado and cheese wrap, and took off. I left the aid station feeling really good, but almost immediately started feeling hot spots on both of my big toes. This really concerned me, since it was not even 30 miles into the race. I spent the entire time between Duncan and Robinson (mile 29) trying not to panic. Mile 25 was way too early for blisters! I prepared myself mentally to accept that my feet were just going to hurt for the next 70+ miles. I can handle a lot of pain, so I just chalked it up to the cost of running 100 miles. I couldn't figure out what the problem was. I had been diligent about getting the grit and rocks out whenever I felt any small pebble in my shoes. The only thing I can think, looking back at it now, was wearing a brand new pair of socks. It was the same brand that I've worn for the past two years without problems, but this was a brand new, unworn pair. Rookie mistake on my part. I made it to Robinson Flat, where AJW was waiting for me. I immediately told him I needed to change socks. It was the only thing I could think of that might help. Before the race, I had thrown in a pair of Drymax socks almost as an afterthought. Since my trusty socks were causing me problems, I decided to chance it. I lubed my feet, switched socks, and got out of there as quickly as possible. Looking at the splits after the race, this was my longest stop at any aid station (5 minutes). It was worth it though. My feet felt better almost immediately, and I never thought about my feet again. Before you ask, no, I was not sponsored by Drymax (I am now).  I'm a believer now though! I finished the race without a single blister.
photo credit: Frank Bozanich



Coming into one of the early aid stations
photo credit: Eric Davis
After leaving Robinson Flat, we were treated to a glorious section of switchbacky downhill running, which I loved, followed by a very blah section of flat, slightly downhill running on a dirt road. I'm admittedly not a great road runner, so this section wore on me a little. I just tried to stay steady, and keep eating and drinking. I made it to Last Chance at mile 43 without incident, and prepared to enter the famous canyon sections. I was actually looking forward to the next 18-20 miles. I had prepared for the heat physically and mentally. I was ready for this. You are either bombing downhill or hiking up the climbs. There aren't many sections where you have to decide whether to walk or run, which is my type of running! I knew that if I ran well through the canyons, I would possibly start catching people. It was supposed to be a hot day, and I was hoping for brutally hot! I needed carnage ahead of me. People may disagree with me , but I never thought it got very hot all day unfortunately. Maybe because of the heat training, or maybe because the aid station volunteers did such a fantastic job of keeping us wet and cold.

I was still running with Maggie and Erika as we began the descent into Deadwood Canyon, the first of three canyon sections. It was hard to get into a rhythm on this downhill. The trail was somewhat technical, and covered in these little leaves which made it slick and slow. I just focused on not falling or twisting an ankle. We made it to the bottom, crossed the swinging bridge, and began the heinous climb up to Devil's Thumb. In my opinion, this was the worst climb of the day. It was steep almost the whole way to the top. I think I was low on calories, because I felt slow and a little grumpy ( a sure sign I need to eat something). I was surprised that no one caught me on the uphill through here. I finally made it up to Devil's Thumb, and promptly downed two orange popsicles and some Ginger ale. Iced down and sponged off, I left with a renewed bounce in my step. I simply cannot say enough about the aid station volunteers. They were so helpful all day long, and I gained energy each time I came through an aid station.

I started down the long downhill into El Dorado Canyon. It was a more gradual downhill than the previous section. The footing was better, and I think the sugar kicked in. I felt better than I had in the previous section. I began the climb up to my crew at Michigan Bluff. This was where I dropped in 2004, so it was a huge mental barrier for me. I couldn't wait to get through Michigan Bluff and keep going! Not long into the climb I passed Sally McRae. I could tell she was having a rough time, and my heart went out to her. I knew she had high hopes for Western States, and had trained hard. It was a reminder that 100 miles is a very long way, and anything can happen to anyone. I was really impressed to learn that she gutted it out and finished the race. It's not easy to keep going when expectations aren't met. I kept pushing up the climb passing a few more guys on the way up. You could tell the day was starting to wear on people.  A few of the guys were just sitting on the side of the trail looking completely worked. I can see how the canyons can suck the life out of you if you aren't careful.

I made it up to Michigan Bluff to find AJW waiting for me. It was here where I had my first drink with caffeine. I had intentionally waited until halfway to start any gels or drinks with caffeine because I wanted the boost when my body started to tire. I had cut out caffeine for a month before the race  to really maximize its affect. Anyone that knows me knows how much I love my morning coffee. This was the hardest part of the training for me. I'm not kidding! It might seem like overkill to some, but it worked for me at GDR. Every little bit helps, even if it's only a mental boost. It's worth trying, in my opinion. Anyway, I drank an ice-cold Starbucks Frappuccino, which was just heavenly!!!

Michigan Bluff looked like a war zone with people laying all over the place. The canyons had taken their toll. Andy finally gave me the rundown on my position in the race. He mistakenly thought that I was in 10th place, which was not accurate. I was in 11th, but it didn't matter. I hadn't expected to be that far up in the field by mile 55 anyway. One of the highlights of my day was seeing my old friend, Scotty Mills here. I heard that he was working the aid station. He came over to give me a quick hug, then promptly told me to get moving. I felt fantastic for already being over halfway into the race.

Enjoying my milkshake hiking up Bath Road
photo credit: Eric Davis
My crew and I had run part of the next section between Michigan and Foresthill when we flew into town the Wednesday before the race, so I knew what to expect. I had been looking forward to getting here all day, because it meant I was on my way to getting my pacer. I actually thought several times during the race about how fast the it seemed to be going by. I remember listening to  Ann Trason mention on a podcast that all of her Western States races went by in a flash, and that was certainly the case for me. Right before the descent into Volcano Canyon, I passed Yiou Wang walking along a road. Again, I was impressed to find out that she persevered and got her silver buckle. I have so much respect for those that gut it out on a tough day, when it is much easier to just throw in the towel. Now I was truly in 10th place, even though I wouldn't know that until I reached my crew at Foresthill.

Volcano Canyon ended up being my favorite section of the whole race. I felt so strong, and my stomach was holding up nicely. I flew down the hill, jumped in the creek at the bottom, and began the short climb up to Bath Road. When I saw my crew waiting for me with a vanilla milkshake, I was practically dancing. We hiked up the road together as I drank the milkshake, and took stock of the day. I felt really good with how things were shaping up. I was in 10th place earlier than I had anticipated. My energy was good, and I now got to run with my friend, Annie, for the next 20 miles! We didn't even stop at the Foresthill aid station, as amazing as it was. I felt like a celebrity with everyone cheering as we ran down the road. My crew had a spot set up just past the aid station, and we regrouped there to switch out my pack. I even got a high five from Ann Trason. There has to be some good mojo meeting Ann Trason for the first time at mile 62 in Western States!
Scouting out Volcano Canyon on Wednesday
Running into Foreshill
photo credit: Irunfar.com



Annie and I left Foresthill on a mission. My goal was to run from here to the river in 3 hours. Don't listen to anyone that tells you it's all downhill to the river though. It's not at all! Andy had prepared me for this, so I was mentally prepared. We made it to Cal 1 quickly, and pushed on to Cal 2. This section was a bit of a grind with all the rollers, but I still felt strong. Unfortunately, the heat began to wear on Annie, and her stomach started to go south. We came into Cal 2, and found two women (Jodee and Nicole) sitting in chairs getting worked on by the volunteers. They both looked kind of rough, and suddenly I went from 10th to 8th place! We bolted before either woman could get out of the aid station ahead of us. I felt like I was running faster than I had all day. Annie's stomach finally had enough on the short but horrible "6-minute" hill heading to Cal 3. She told me to go on ahead as she had to stop and take care of business. I felt bad leaving her back there, but she promised to catch up once she cleared out her stomach. I've always said that pacing is a tough assignment. You probably haven't trained the way the runner in the race has. You aren't in the same mental place, since it isn't your race. You don't get to choose when to run or walk. It is all about your runner; and it's a tall order.

I came into Cal 3, with Annie flying in about 30 seconds behind me. She was yelling for me to get going because Jodee was right on our heels. I couldn't believe that she had regrouped so quickly. Sure enough, as I ran out of the aid station, Jodee came running in. Annie told me to go, and not worry about her. I left on my own running scared. Even though I was now in 8th place, I knew there were so many tough women right behind me. I knew that Maggie and Erika were back there somewhere and would finish strong. I knew I could just as quickly go back to F10 just as quickly as I had gone to F8. From Cal 3 you run through a flat, sandy, overgrown section along the river. I heard voices up ahead, and saw Amanda Basham being paced by Zach Miller. She was running, but not moving too quickly (or so I thought). I passed them along here still running scared. I thought I would be able to stay ahead of Amanda, but she quickly passed me back a few minutes later. She would end up finishing 30 minutes ahead of me, even though we crossed the river together. That girl can close! Everyone better watch out for her!
River Crossing!!!
Photo credit: Andy Jones-Wilkins
Finally, the river crossing came into view. I had envisioned that moment countless times in the 6 months leading up to the race. Once again, I was struck by how quickly the day was going by. I was already here at mile 78 of Western States. It was a little surreal.  I crossed quickly without any problems, and saw my crew waiting on the other side. My other mistake of the day was leaving Cal 3 without any gels. In the frenzy to get out quickly, I mistakenly thought I had some gels in my pack, only to realize there were just empty wrappers. This was my 2nd rookie mistake. I ran the entire section from Cal 3 to the river with nothing but water. By the time I crossed the river, I was running on fumes. I tried to eat on the climb up to Green gate, but my stomach really didn't want anything. This is typically the point in races where my body just doesn't want any more food.

Andy took over pacing duties for the final 20 miles. I honestly don't remember much from here to the finish. It all blurs together in my mind. I know I didn't run the part between Green Gate to ALT very well at all. I ate a gel or two, but my legs just felt heavy and slow. I walked stuff that I knew I should be running. I was low on calories, and feeling very lazy. Andy tried unsuccessfully to nudge me along, but we finally made it to ALT. I drank some Coke and had some broth with noodles. That was the magic potion for me. I had some of both at every aid station until the finish, and it worked wonders for me! My energy came back, and we started moving much better.

Somewhere in the final 10 miles, I can't remember exactly where, we passed Caroline Boller. I was back in 7th place! after what seemed like an eternity we started the climb up to Robie Point. It was not my finest moment. I was walking soooooo slowly, but I couldn't make myself go any faster. There were some headlamps not far behind us, and I just hoped it was a guy and his pacer and not another female. It would really suck to get passed at mile 99, but even that couldn't seem to get me moving. My crew was waiting for me at the top with about a mile to go. I finally relaxed just a little knowing that no one was going to pass me. When we crossed the white bridge I started running. Then I ran faster. The draw of the track is intense to say the least. I got a little emotional in that final mile thinking of all the hours of training, the hard work, the time away from my family, the horrible track workouts, every single minute of it was worth this moment.

I entered the track with my crew following behind, and "sprinted" through the finish line with a little leap of joy in 20 hours and 40 minutes. I will remember those final 200 meters forever. I will cherish the memory and the sense of deep satisfaction. I waited for Maggie to finish in 8th place about 10 minutes after I did, and Erika a little while later in 10th place. I had formed a bond with these women during the race, and was overjoyed that each of us had accomplished our goals. This race is truly something special. I enjoyed every single minute of it, and can't wait to do it again next year.

Thank you to Craig Thornley and the rest of the staff and volunteers at Western States for making this race something truly special. Your hard work does not go unnoticed. I'm so grateful to my crew-Annie, Sophie, David, and Andy for giving of all your time and support to bring me across that finish line. Because of all of you, and by the grace of God, I had an almost perfect day.To those of you who prayed for me, and stayed up late to follow my progress, I'm grateful for your support. Finally, thank you to my wonderful husband Mike for doing so much to allow me to train. I could not do this without you. Let's do it again next year!

Gear and food list in case you care:
Shoes: Pearl Izumi Trail N2
Socks: Drymax
Shirt: Patagonia capilene short-sleeve
Shorts; Nike Rival shorts
Hydration: Nathan Vaporairess pack and Quickdraw plus handhelds
Light: Petzl Tikka Plus
Food: 1 PayDay bar, 2 avocado cheese wraps, 20+ Huma gels, 1 Frappucino,  1 vanilla milkshake, lots of watermelon, 2 popsicles, Coke, Gingerale, and chicken broth.
Pre-race interview post-race podcast on Trail Runner Nation
 Here are some final random photos for you to enjoy:
Pre-race hike up the escarpment
photo credit: Andy Jones-Wilkins
I've waited 12 years for this!
My shoes after 100 miles of dust.


I'm proud to know these wonderful people
Guess who actually ran the race?
I was pretty darn happy


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

        Road to Western States-The Georgia Death Race 2016
                              "It never always gets worse"


Before the start at Vogel State Park

     I signed up for the Georgia Death Race back in October of 2015 on impulse. A friend of mine had signed up, and I thought it would be a fun road trip. I had heard about it before, and that it was a tough-as-nails kind of race. The course description, the race profile, the elevation gain all appealed to me. It seems very suited to my strengths as a runner. Then, not long after I signed up, it was announced as a Golden Ticket race to gain automatic entry into the granddaddy of ultras, the Western States Endurance Run. I remember getting chills realizing that this just might be my chance at something special. This was the first time an east coast race had been included in the list of golden ticket races. When I failed to get into Western States through the lottery (I had 1 ticket), I knew it was game on.
     After recovering from the Hellgate 100K in December 2015, I eased back into training the first week of January. There was no time to waste! With the help of my coach, January mainly consisted of base-building miles, and long runs with tons of climbing. January flowed into February, and then March with one of the best training blocks I've ever had. I hate tapers, and the week leading up to the race was excruciating. When Andy Jones-Wilkins and I finally started the long drive down to Georgia the day before the race, a serene calmness came over me. Normally, I'm a bundle of nerves, but I was just relieved that it was finally here. I knew I had done everything within my power to get to the start in the best shape possible, physically and mentally. My mantra for the weekend was "trust your training, trust yourself". The rest isn't worth worrying about. 
     We arrived at the pre-race meeting to a flurry of activity (and snakes!). I had a short pre-race interview with Ashley Walsh of eastultra.com. She did an amazing job of covering the race over the course of the weekend. There was a lot of tension and nervous energy in that building. We didn't stay long as I wanted to get settled in at my hotel, and get to bed at a decent time. At least with an 8am start, I could actually get a decent night's sleep.
     Race morning, I woke up still strangely calm, which was crazy considering what was at stake. Andy, Horton, and I made the 15 minute drive to the start to check in and pick up the railroad spike we would be required to carry all day. I was blown away by the beauty of Vogel State Park. If you have never been down to Georgia, go! It's absolutely beautiful. We gathered at the start, and I was able to chat briefly with Katie Desplinter, Jennifer Benna, and a few others people, then we were off!
photo credit: werunhuntsville.com
Running along the Duncan Ridge Trail
     My strategy was to take it slow and steady for the first half since a lot of the climbing came in the first 38 miles. I'm typically a slow-starter anyway; I usually question my sanity for the first ten miles or so in these races. There is a long grinding climb in the first 8.5 miles, and Maggie Guteral, Jennifer Benna, and I quickly settled in together hiking the climb at a steady but conservative pace. Almost within the first 10 minutes of the race, I started feeling bad. My legs felt heavy, my heart rate felt too high, and the climbs felt harder than they should have. The same thing happened to me at the Masochist 50-miler last October, so I didn't panic yet. Sarah Woener had already bolted to the front like a jackrabbit. We collectively decided to let her go. It was a very long race, and it didn't make sense to push the pace in the first hour. As the miles slowly (and I mean slowly) ticked by, I kept waiting for my body to come around and settle in. I could tell Maggie and Jen felt better than I did, so I just hung on the back and tried to keep up. I even remember Maggie saying it felt like a slow training run pace. It felt hard to me, too hard so early in the race. Crap! This wasn't going how I had imagined.
     The next 20 miles or so went by roughly just like this. The Duncan Ridge trail is a relentless series of steep up and downs with very little runnable, flat sections. Usually, I love hiking and climbing, but it just felt like work. I could tell the other ladies were  stronger than I was. I just tried not to show just how bad I really felt, but it was bad. My first mistake of the day was forgetting to put S-caps in my pack. They were safely tucked into my drop bag with my crew, whom I wouldn't see for 28 miles. The day warmed up quickly, and I knew in the back of my mind, that I might be in trouble. Maggie graciously gave me some powder stuff that had electrolytes in it, which unfortunately tasted like sawdust! I choked it down anyway knowing I needed the salt. There is a short out-and-back section going into the aid station at mile 21. I think Sarah was already 18 minutes ahead at this point and looking strong. I, on the other hand, continued to feel like death. My second mistake of the day was trying to rush in and out of that aid station without checking my hydration bladder. I made it about half a mile back up the trail and tried to take a sip of water....and not a single drop came out! Even though I thought I hadn't been drinking that much, it was completely dry. I now had to go about 6 miles without water, and was starting to panic. I began to think that this just might not be my day. Thoughts were going through my head about the long, sad drive home accepting that my dream was gone. I thought of all the people back home rooting for me, and how disappointed they would all be. I began to wonder why I was still trying to race these stupid ultras, and that maybe I should just retire and find a new hobby. I have a name for this alter ego, which appears during my extreme low points. Her name is "little girl", and she is a whiny, pitiful creature. She wants to cry, and wants everyone to feel sorry for her. It's not a good thing when she makes an appearance, and many times, it means my race may very well be over. On top of everything else, my stomach had started going south very early on, probably within the first 10 miles of the race. I think the heat, along with the climbs, and lack of proper planning caused my stomach to stop absorbing anything. Basically between mile 21 and mile 28 I didn't really eat or drink anything other than sipping on a single gel. However, we had some good downhill running, finally, which is my absolute favorite part of trail running. 
     There was nothing I could do about running out of water, so I just put it out of my head. There was no point in worrying about something I couldn't change. At least I was finally able to catch my breath on the downhills, and get my heart rate down a little bit. Magically, I started to feel just a teensy bit better. I could feel my body finally settling into a little bit of a rhythm. We made it to mile 28 where we saw our crews for the first time. I think I commented to Andy and David that I was starting to feel better, and maybe it just takes me 30 miles to warm up! I drank some kind of Starbucks coffee drink, took some ibuprofen (don't hate), loaded up on caffeinated gels, and took off after Maggie and Jen. My plan had been to save the caffeine for the second half of the race, but I was desperate for something to pull me out of the hole at this point. I knew things had to turn around quickly. We started up yet another long climb, and took turns being in front. Sarah had put yet more time on us, and was about 28 minutes ahead by this point. I can't imagine how hard she must have run those hilly miles. It now seemed to be a race for the second Golden Ticket, which was a strange position to be in. The three of us had been working really well together all day, but I know all of us wanted that spot. It had to have been in the back of each of our minds what would happen later. We even jokingly talked about finishing the race all together for second place. What would they do if we tied for the second golden ticket? I don't think any of us wanted to race each other for that second spot. 
     Somewhere about mile 31 or so, it started raining suddenly. I had moved into the front of our little group at this point, and everyone stopped to put on their jackets. I had been so hot all day that the rain felt good to me, so I pushed on. It wasn't really a conscious attempt to pull away. I just felt really good for the first time all day, and got a little excited. I could climb without feeling like an out-of-shape 90-year old. I kept going, thinking that everyone else would catch up eventually. I didn't know how long I would feel good, so I decided just to go with it. Little did I know that would be the last time I saw either girl. It is kind of a blur from there until our second crew point at mile 47. I just remember feeling absolutely amazing through here. It's hard to explain the feeling, but it's that point when you feel like you are flying and could run forever. My legs felt light, my breathing was calm, and I just knew I was running well. 
     I came into the point bravo aid station at mile 47, and learned that Sarah was now only 4-5 minutes ahead. I had made up 24 minutes in 20 miles! It was game on! My stomach was still giving me problems, so I grabbed a bunch of different stuff trying to get some calories down. I think Maggie's crew person, Dylan, gave me some pepto-bismol chewable pills here, and I ate some pickles. Weird, I know, but they tasted really good. I downed some ginger ale too, I think. I'm pretty sure this was the first time I've ever eaten pickles during a race. I charged out of the aid station, whooping and hollering, as I started down an awesome 3-4 mile downhill on a dirt road. I absolutely love coming from behind and being on "the hunt". At the same time, we still had 25 miles to go, so you still had to be careful not to push too hard and risk blowing up. There was another aid station at mile 51, and I was told that Sarah had just left as I came in. I didn't need much here since we had aid 4 miles before, so I left pretty quickly. I finally saw Sarah probably within a mile of the aid station, and purposely didn't try to pass her. I wanted her to come back to me without having to work too much. I came up behind her and she graciously said I could pass. However, this was right at the moment my stomach finally had enough. I dropped back a few yards and promptly puked on the side of the trail. It was actually a relief to finally clean out the gut. I stood up and tried to run again, only to start gagging and have to stop again. This went on for about half a mile, until everything was out. Finally, I was able to sip some water, and eat a few honey stinger chews without gagging. I quickly caught back up to Sarah, and we talked for a few brief moments. I could tell she was worried about who was behind us. I decided that this was the time to go, since I had no idea how far back the other ladies were. I pulled ahead, and just focused on trying to eat and drink. I plugged in my iPod, and settled in. 
     This next whole section is sort of non-descript also. I just remember running along a paved road for an eternity! I was starting to feel the miles a little bit. I ran by fields with cows, and a house where a little girl ran out to give me a handwritten note of encouragement. It was pretty cute, but my mind was preoccupied. There were very few streamers along this stretch, and I was terrified of getting lost 55ish miles into the race. True road running isn't my forte. I was worried that someone would gain on me here. I would later find out that Maggie did indeed get within 4 minutes of me on this section. The paved road turned into a long gradual climb up a dirt road to the final aid station of the race. I had to turn on my headlamp somewhere around mile 60 or so, and I tried to keep my mind occupied by seeing how far I could go before I had to turn on my headlamp. I didn't run this road particularly well. I walked pretty much the entire uphill; I think the lack of calories was finally catching up to me. Before the race, my coach, AJW, had given me a good mantra that he learned years ago from the legendary Tommy Nielson-"Always run like there is someone 3 minutes ahead and someone 3 minutes behind you". This went through my head over and over, since I had no clue where anyone else was. I kept glancing behind me expecting to see a light. I finally made it up the climb to the last aid station, with about 7-8 miles to go. If I could just hang on, this might actually happen!!!
     I knew that there was a lot of downhill from here to the finish, which is usually my strength. I knew I could dig deep, and race harder if it came to that. My favorite Eminem song, "Lose Yourself" came on right at that moment and it felt like a sign. The words "look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment. Would you capture it or let it slip?" spoke to me. It seemed like the words were meant for me in that moment. The miles alone in the dark seemed endless, but I finally made it to Amicalola Falls State Park. The final two miles of the race are a ridiculously cruel 2 miles. You run down a nasty, rocky section of trail that takes you within 100 yards of the finish, only to turn around and climb up a million steps to the top of the falls. My only thought was to be careful and not break anything. The stairs were brutal, and again, I just kept looking back expecting to see someone's light right behind me. I reached the top of the falls, and had about 1 mile to go. For the first time, I relaxed, and realized that I was going to actually win. This was really, really happening. I was going to get my Golden Ticket! I jogged slowly down the final stretch of trail and came to the stream crossing 50 feet from the finish line. I waded through carefully soaking up every moment of the final few feet. I walked up to Sean, the RD, and gave him a quick high five. Just like that, my world changed, and I was going to Western States! AJW gave me a huge hug, followed by another great hug from Horty. I heard that Maggie was 10 minutes back, so I waited for her to cross the finish line. We hugged as she finished, and I couldn't believe we had done it. We had been talking before the race about wanting to get the top two spots, and now it had happened. I then promptly ran over to the side out of the way of the finish line, and puked yet again. This would continue several more times that night as my body crashed from the effort, and refused any food or liquid. It didn't matter. I had my golden ticket, and nothing else mattered.
     It's been about a week now, and it is finally sinking in that I'm actually going. My fairy tale came true. It doesn't really matter what happens at Western States in June. That is just icing on the cake. The Georgia Death Race was one of the most rewarding and meaningful races I have ever run, as well as one of the hardest. I still can't express properly what it means, and maybe I never will. It is a memory I will cherish for a lifetime.
     I'd like to say an extra special thank you to Horton and AJW for coming down to support me in the race. Any success that I have is thanks to your generosity in helping me along the way. 
     Also to Sean Blanton, this was an AWESOME race!! I was a little skeptical at first because I'd never done one of your races. But you are absolutely a FIRST-CLASS race director and have an amazing future ahead of you directing races!! 
     Lastly but most importantly, thank you to all the great ultra runners that took on the Georgia Death Race. This sport is so awesome and its' participants so generous. I'm so thankful for all the friendships and talks I get to have with each and every one of you during these events. My accomplishments are no greater and my dedication no more significant than any of yours. Anyone that commits to running and training for these races is a part of the same ultra running family that I belong to. 
                                            #seeyouinsquaw

photo credit: Eastultra.com
At the finish with my two heroes, Andy Jones-Wilkins and David Horton
photo credit: Dylan Abrons Armajani
On the left trying not to puke


Sometimes winning ain't pretty, but it sure was worth it.

     So here is what I did wrong:
  1. I forgot to take S-caps with me, which hurt me immensely early on.
  2. I didn't top off my water at mile 21, and subsequently ran out of water. Check your water!
  3. I tried to get out of the aid stations too quickly, and didn't grab my go-to gel (EFS), which usually works when my stomach is upset. I never told any during the race, which was a really stupid mistake. This would have cost me big time, had the race been 100 miles.
  4. I had gotten ginger root at the store to put in my bladder. I was lazy, and didn't put it in at the star.
  5. I also had ginger chews in my drop bag in case my stomach went south. I never used these either. I have no idea why, really, other than stubbornness.
  6. I ate more solid food at the beginning including candy bars. Bad idea! Stick to what you know. 
Here is what I did right:
  1.  I didn't panic when up I felt crappy for 28 miles. Learn to embrace the suck instead of fearing it. It truly never always gets worse (favorite quote by David Horton).
  2.  I didn't let the puking get to me. It used to cause me to freak out and stop racing. I've learned that it can actually make you feel better, and you can come back from it.
  3. Trust your training, and trust yourself. I knew I had put in the time and the miles to run well. Even when it started unraveling at the beginning, I tried to remember that. I knew I was fit and strong. Trust your training.
  4. I know that I am a better second half runner, so I tried to be patient and calm.
  5. I put "little girl" in her place, and she never came back.  
Gear list:
Shirt- Patagonia Capilene short-sleeve top
Sports Bra- Nike Pro
Shorts- Saucony PE shorts
Shoes- Pearl Izumi Trail N2
Socks- Balega enduro low-cut socks
pack- Nathan VaporAiress pack

Food (although I failed in this department)
-one snickers-very bad idea
-Honey Stinger chews-Orange blossom is my favorite
-Powerbar gels -Strawberry banana is the best!
-lots of Coke
-pickle juice at an aid station ( I was desperate)
-soup
-Starbucks Frappuccino
-A few boiled potatoes