I couldn't help but share, as well as with our running club. Fascinating read, Julia! My God, it was fascinating as if I never had done it myself! Totally captivating, you absolutely should revive your blog, you got a way with words. Well, may be when things mean so much:) So freakin' proud of you! that digging deep, that "if I get to 100k under 18 hrs, I swore bloody oath to go on", the Ramen noodles "king of all night foods", the toe stabbing, the last sections where you pushed and believed...It WAS YOUR DAY!
Damn. I am going to think about it this weekend. Thank you.
Kettle Moraine 100 mile run, June 2/3 2012
This is a very long report, as it deals with not only the race itself but the lead up to it as well. You can skip the backstory and the training parts if you like, and go straight to the main business.
This race was a long time coming for me. I suppose it started many years ago at Rocky Trails, out at Inks Lake, a set of races put on by our own Slammin’ Sammy Voltaggio. I went there to do the trail marathon with Diana Heynen amongst others, and as we sat round the camp fire the night before, Diana and I were both in awe of all these people who had run multiple 100-milers. We both were thinking “Could I do100 miles?” Of course Diana went on to run several herself in fairly short order, but it took me a lot longer to even think of attempting one. I am not a very good runner, and I’m 51, with a full time job and an 8-year old daughter. But I am stubborn, determined and have some experience with hard sports and epic adventures. I also have a husband who understands why I do what I do because he is into the same things. Although we don’t generally train or race together he never questions why I would want to do these things. So that helps. I hope my story can help other people to see it is possible to overcome obstacles and achieve a goal that sometimes can seem unattainable. You just have to want to do it enough.
After Rocky Trails I went about running several 50ks to get used to the idea of doing an ultra. I joined Hill Country Trail Runners, and soon got to know quite a few people in the ultra community. I read people’s race reports and started to feel comfortable in the scene. Running trails was an easy switch from roads because at that time I was still rock climbing and had done countless approaches to crags and mountains in my time. I think this level of comfort with the outdoors, in difficult weather and when I’ve been exhausted with a ‘sac full of climbing gear to carry has a lot to do with my end success in the 100. I had also learned how to push when on the verge of passing out, as I was a racing shell rower to quite a good standard in my 20s and 30s. So although I’m a plodding, back-of-the-pack runner I have some tricks up my sleeve.
In the early part of 2007 Liam Douglass put out a request for people who might be interested in crewing Badwater for a friend of his. I jumped at the chance, but it turned out to be not just Badwater (as though one can ever say “Just Badwater”), but a Double. So our runner did the race through Death Valley, then went to the top of Mt Whitney, then returned to Badwater. It was just short of 300 miles through the hottest desert in the US in July, and to the highest peak in the lower 48. That was an adventure and a half I can tell you. I wrote about it, and so did our runner, Mark Cockbain, who has an amazing ultrarunning resume. You can check those reports out on the HCTR website. Anyway, when I returned home I was in such a state of euphoria I immediately signed up for Bandera 100k. You could say that the Badwater Double had inspired me to step my own game up. I also set about training, by myself, and using my own training program that largely consisted of long runs at the weekend and a couple of shorter ones in the week, plus a bit of gym work when I could fit it in and some training races; Palo Duro 50k and Warda 50 miler. I finished all of these successfully although I was slow. I felt like I had really passed a milestone, literally, with being able to do 2 races of 50 miles or more.
A year went by without a real plan, then in 2009 I decided to commit to doing Bighorn, a mountain 100 miler. I thought about how I should approach this, and thought the best way would be to shoot for June 2011 and spend a whole year doing 50 milers so I’d be comfortable at that distance, and then the second year I’d do Rocky Raccoon in Feb 2011 and build to the mountain 100 in June. This was my plan - for about a week. I wrote it all down on a planner, looked at it and to be honest I chickened out. The thought of all that intense training for 2 years solid made me falter. And that, right there, was a mistake I think. Instead, I decided there was no way I’d stick to that level of training for two years so I had to make it happen in one. Of course I had excuses ready, like it’s not fair to the family for me to do this, so I need to shorten it. Anyway, the shortened version became the new plan and Jan Bandera 100k, Feb Rocky Raccoon 100, and June Bighorn 100 became the key races, all in 2010. I ran this idea by Diana H, and asked her tentatively, that if RR went well would she pace me at Bighorn. She was up for that so all I had to do was train. I wish it had been that simple. Bandera that year was about 15 degrees at the start and didn’t warm up much the whole time. I finished, but had a miserable race and was beaten up by the end of it. I then realized that, for me at least, running Bandera 4 weeks before RR100 was a mistake. It was too soon for a taper but I didn’t have time to recover, do some more miles and then taper. So I spent the time between races in no-mans-land. RR100 is another story but suffice to say I went out too fast, didn’t have my warm clothes where I really needed them and dropped at mile 55, borderline hypothermic. At least I thought I was, and I didn’t want people to have to rescue me off the course. So I dropped for my first ever DNF. I didn’t like it. I saw Diana and told her that if I couldn’t do RR that it was unwise to attempt Bighorn. That at least was a good call I think, as I know Bighorn is hard.
So now the wheels had come off the plan, and once again I drifted with a short race here, a short race there. Some time around May my husband Andrew casually mentioned he was going to do the Longhorn Half Ironman (he is into full IM and more so this was a training race for him). I asked “When is it?’ He replied “October – the 17th I think.” I had to bite my tongue. I thought “No you’re not buddy, that’s my 50th birthday and there’s no way you’re racing that day”. I fumed quietly for a couple of days, but suddenly I had an idea. “I’m rubbish on a bike, swim like an Ohio River coal barge, but I can run when I’m tired”. A Half Ironman would be perfect as the key event in a 50th Birthday Challenge. We could do the race together, my folks will be in town to look after Phoebe and everybody will be happy. You can read about this on my blog at http://julias50birthdaychallenge.blogspot.com/
In fact the blog morphed into the 100-mile-run blog up until November 2011 when entries ceased. I don’t know how Olga does it with hers. I just don’t have the energy. Anyway, the reason the Half Ironman is relevant is twofold. One is positive in that it gave me a break from ultra trail running and a different focus for a bit. The other is negative in that I’m convinced the biking led to bad plantar fasciitis, which I’d never had in all my years of running. I should mention also that by this time I had taken up Taekwondo with my daughter, and was testing through the color belts while all this was going on. In the meantime I signed up for Bandera 100k and another go at Rocky Raccoon 100. You’d think I would have learned from that mistake last time, but I thought I’m in better shape this time and the weather is surely not going to be so bad. Plus, loads of other people do both.
Just after the triathlon was over, though, I developed full-blown plantar fasciitis. I tried active release and massage but that didn't cut it, so I went to a podiatrist who gave me a cortisone shot (I was up all night afterwards - couldn't sleep at all). He also taped my foot. It did feel better after this, but I wasn’t able to train much. So I had it taped up for Bandera and decided I'd probably drop at the end of loop one (50k) but I'd see how I felt. The foot wasn't too bad but the rest of me was complaining because of lack of training so drop I did. I asked Joe if I could switch from 100 to 50 miles for Rocky Raccoon, and he was cool with that. But 5 miles in to RR50 I rolled my ankle really badly and had to stop. I actually heard a loud crack when it went, about a mile from Dam Road. I spent a month in a boot and two more weeks in a soft brace. Then I started running again. The podiatrist said I should never run on trails and never further than a half marathon. So I ignored that, went to physical therapy and got back into it. I ran a couple of evening midweek 5k races in the blistering heat of July/August. Then I decided that what I had done training-wise for the last two years was not up to the task. I'd had several DNFs and was picking up injuries. So I decided to get a coach. Not just any coach. I got Olga!
We started with some basic gym work and relatively short miles, but had a good plan for which races I’d do as training races. At that time we were considering Old Dominion to be a possible goal 100 race. In any case, we were looking at June 2012. So it was almost a year to train for it. I would say most of my training went well in the sense that I did most of it, with a reasonable level of effort. This was partly the reason I wanted a coach – for accountability. Having more quality workouts and a coach who wanted to know what happened when I did them helped me get out the door and get them done. I keep fairly good records of my training and was able to compare training in previous years. There was definitely an up-tick in my weekly mileage, but it wasn’t just junk miles. There were hill repeats and tempo runs and track. And lots of weights/gym workouts. I have to say I half-heartedly put some of these things in before but really there was no comparison. I’d have been much more likely to plod 5 miles than do a quality set of hill repeats. And added to this in the early stages I was still doing Taekwondo two days a week. I began to lose weight, but also felt the muscle tone improving. The long run regime was comparable and I didn’t feel the need to ask for workouts weeks in advance because I had a sense of what they’d be. It was a kind of weird little present each Sunday, to get Olga’s email with the week’s workouts!
In any case, it wouldn’t have worked to have a set of workouts weeks or months in advance, because, as Olga would tell you, mine had to be constantly tweaked for this or that. One thing we both had to wrestle with in the Fall was my insane work travel. I was constantly in hotels with no time because of travel. So I spent some time on the treadmill and making up strengthening routines with whatever paltry equipment was there in the hotel gym. But we got things done. Then came my first training races, which didn’t start very well. The first, a road half marathon, got cancelled due to a freak storm. We had a record-breaking drought and it had to storm on that morning. Oh well – I was mad and did my 13 miles anyway up on Palmer Lane on my own. The second race was a 25k at Wild Hare. This is what I wrote in the blog:
“My first race in the trail series leading up to the 100 was disappointing. I made basic errors like going out too fast, then allowing others to push me along despite my best efforts to slow down. Going out too fast had to do with optimism: wow I'm feeling great today, if I do this pace I'll get a PR. Allowing others to push me along had to do with ego: “Would you like to pass me”? “No - you're setting a great pace”. Thinks OK - I'm great at setting a good pace (despite the fact it is still too fast). Thankfully my next race is only 3 weeks away so I will remember this lesson, especially as in a 50k I would really pay for going out too fast. It was also humid. I got cramp in my calves, which is very rare for me. I semi-fixed it with electrolyte tablets but should have realized it before it became a problem. To be fair I wasn't the only one. Quite a few people dropped from the longer races. So I just hung there for a slow time of 3hr 46min. Just over 15 min/mile pace. This is too slow for just 25K when I'm wanting to do 100 miles. However, the 2 weeks before the race were really bad for race prep (work and sick child) and I'm not 100% either - I have some kind of ongoing stomach issue (probably same as Phoebe). I knew something was wrong around mile 4, when my water bottle felt awkward and heavy and I kept having to switch hands. I never normally even notice I've got it. Then my whole core and stomach started feeling stiff and tight. I ate a ginger remedy and that helped the stomach some. Need to just move on to the next race now, and try to remember the lessons learned”.
So the next race was Rogue’s 50k out at Reveille Peak Ranch. I did about 7.42 for that, and was the only Senior Master Female so I won a brand new pair of New Balance road shoes. Woohoo – it pays to be old! The two key training races were to be RR50M and Hells Hills 50M with a 50k in between. The first went really well. Conditions were difficult this year at Huntsville with a tremendous thunderstorm at the start, and a very wet course. But I got it done in a decent time. By this time I’d also picked my goal race. Kettle Moraine was on the same day as Old Dominion, and was a 30-hour cutoff rather than 28 and I’d trade a bit of heat and humidity for some hills. The name seemed a good omen for me – it’s a geological term and I knew exactly what kind of terrain it would be. I also talked with Olga about whether I should have a pacer, and I decided to go without. There are all sorts of reasons why I made this decision. From financial to knowing myself pretty well. I just think I am stronger when I’m on my own without anyone to whine to.
Then disaster struck; slowly and imperceptibly at first. The first thing that happened was I took 2 weeks to recover properly from RR50. That’s alright, said Olga, it means you worked hard. Which I did. Then I got a cold. So that was another week down. Then I came back and was ready for ramping back up and into the 50k. I had to move my race to Prickly Pear because my husband wanted to do Nueces 50 miler and couldn’t find an alternative that would fit in with other plans. So I moved from Nueces weekend to the week after. He wanted me to come down with Phoebe, and to bring the bikes so we’d have something to do. The plan was to camp after and for me to do my long run once he’d finished with his race. To cut a long story short I fell off his mountain bike while trying to go slowly and looking around waiting for Phoebe to come up a hill. I ended up on the edge of the dirt road with a drop-off of about a foot. His bike was too big for me, I couldn’t get my feet down, I tried to pedal my way out of it but the wheel slid out and I toppled over sideways, mashing my foot between the pedal and the ground. It hurt like heck and I was really mad at the situation. I could see my 100-miler slipping away from me right then and there. I reigned in the anger as Phoebe came up saying, “Are you alright Mummy?” I did RICE for the rest of the day as best I could. Olga was volunteering at start-finish that day so she could see it was not good. I went to the podiatrist who found a break in the second metatarsal and a bad sprain in all the midfoot area. He put me in a boot for 3 weeks. Obviously Prickly Pear was out, and now I was going to have my work cut out to be able to get on the start line for Hells Hills.
At this point I could have given up and abandoned my goal. But after 7 months of training already I wasn’t going to quit. And here’s where Olga helped big time. She put me into cross training. I did aqua fit, aqua jog, swimming, upper body and core work, and the reclining bike at the gym for 3 weeks. She assured me that I wouldn’t lose everything if I did this cross training. And I could see she wasn’t giving up – so why would I? After 3 weeks I went back for another X-ray and the break had healed. The swelling and bruising went down but the foot was still not great. I couldn’t run. So I did power-walking and shuffling instead, and built up some miles. Then came Hells Hills 50 miler. What was I to do? I still couldn’t run properly. But mentally I knew I had to just go for it and get on that start line and see what happened. I knew there was a risk that I might make the foot worse, but I had to see what I could do and where I was at. If I’d known ahead of time what the course was like I might not have started. In addition to the many small but sharp hills it is quite a rocky trail. Not the best for someone rehabbing a broken foot. So I went very conservatively. The first loop of 16.7 miles was OK but then I lost any semblance of form, and was really hobbling to protect the foot. I realized I wasn’t going to make the cutoff for 33 miles, but was OK with that, as I’d had enough anyway. 33 miles seemed a fair effort given the circumstances, and I was encouraged.
One thing, however, often leads to another, and with hindsight I can see that my lopsided gait, which had produced a trashed quad and blistered foot on the good leg, was to lead to other things. Namely, I rolled over in bed the following Tuesday morning and put my back out. That is, I could hardly stand or walk. I cried for a few minutes, not so much out of pain although it was bad, but out of the sheer injustice of it all. But then I thought what’s the good of it, you need a plan, not crying. So I went to chiropractors over the next week and it improved greatly. One thing I held on to was that this had happened before, right before the 50th birthday challenge. But it cleared up in time and I lost less than 2 weeks that time. If I could only rehab it quickly. Olga was very patient. She said well, the week was a recovery week anyway. Get it fixed. Lucky for me it did clear up pretty quickly. We then knew it was crunch time, and she said I needed to get some serious miles in and that the foot had better cooperate. In addition to ramping the training back up we threw in the Pandora’s Box of Rox trail marathon out at Reveille Peak Ranch. This was Joe’s course, not Rogue’s and it was hot. I did the same exact time for a marathon as for the 50k in December!! I had to smile about that. It wasn’t just me either. But needless to say a 7.42 marathon doesn’t exactly boost confidence for completing a 100 miler inside 30 hours. And I started second guessing myself about not having a pacer.
I consoled myself with the facts. I was coming off injuries and there had been no taper. There was no recovery downtime either and I ran the day after the marathon. That week, and the week after, I put in 42 and 46 miles. I felt better about this mileage but was still left wondering about all the lost miles in March and April and about not having done any really high mileage back-to-back runs, which I know are a staple of training for a big one, and which surely would have been in the plan if not for the injuries. At least the foot was now allowing me to run. And I had logged nearly 1000 miles in the training for this race.
So the week before the race arrived and I quietly started freaking out. I calculated times to aid stations in multiple scenarios, compared those with the times Olga had predicted, and wondered how things would go. I boiled it down to one simple thing. I had to run 100k in 18 hours in order to meet the cutoff. This would be a serious PR for me as my Bandera times were in the 21- and 22-hour range. Ordinarily one might think that was madness – asking for a PR of over 3 hours. But I actually believed I could do it. An 8-hour run to the turnaround at the 50k mark would leave me 10 hours for the next 50k. Surely I could do that. Then there were the drop bags to organize. The weather looked like it would be perfect but I still brought a range of gear for all possibilities. There was good information in the race instructions that helped also. At this point I also should mention I read Allen Wrinkle’s race report as he made Kettle Moraine his first 100 mile finish several years ago. It was a really good report and I read it at least a dozen times while studying the course map and description. I also went online and read several other reports. But I thought Allen’s was the most helpful for me, partly because mentally he was in a similar boat to me. He really wanted to get it done and so did I. There was a lot of detail in there about different sections of the course and how he felt. The part about how he felt like quitting at 90 miles (although of course he didn’t) ended up really helping me. I do think proper preparation in terms of knowing the course ahead of time is very important for anyone. You don’t want any surprises. I learned that the out-and-back between 76 and 86 miles was the roughest and hilliest part of the course. The fact that I knew this saved my race.
I had one more thing to do for the preparation. I never normally listen to music while I’m training or racing, but I do like to have it as an option for anything 50 miles or over. So I asked Andrew if he would put together a rockin’ beat mix on my iPod Shuffle. Absolutely nothing slow or sad. So he enlisted the help of my Taekwondo instructor, Mrs. Christina Schwartz, who has good up-beat music for when we work out. Read on and find out the part this had to play!
I flew direct to Chicago O’Hare and got a rental car. The drive is a pleasant 2 hours up to Whitewater, where I had my hotel room, and meant I didn’t have to do two flights. The packet pickup is in La Grange. They had a marquee set up on the grass opposite the general store. I got my bag and then drove down the road a little way to the Nordic Ski parking lot where the race would start, just to check it out. Then I headed back to Whitewater to sort out my drop bags, eat and get to bed at a reasonable time. There were several other runners staying at the same place (America’s Best Value Inn) so I chatted with them briefly in the lobby.
I got up around 4.15 am and had some cereal and banana for breakfast. I took care to apply liberal amounts of Desitin to ward off chaffing and decided to go with new socks and my Brookes Cascadia shoes. I put multiple pairs of socks in the drop bags and had alternate shoes at the 100k drop bag. It was a short, uneventful drive down to the start. I brought a couple of mini bagels and peanut butter with me to make sure I had some calories before starting. I ate these between 5 and 5.30 am, and kept sipping water the whole time. The race starts at 6 am. Everyone, the 100 milers and the 100k folks, starts together. There are nice bathrooms at the parking lot so that was a luxury that I took advantage of. Timo and Jason, the race directors, gave a short spiel at about 5.40 am where Timo demonstrated the course markings using the back of Jason’s T-shirt (with him in it) and making a huge mess in the process. It was light hearted and low key – just the way I like it. They mostly have white paint arrows on the ground, which are very effective and I never felt like I would get off course the whole way around. That said, I don’t normally get off course, and some other people did.
I was very nervous, to the point of feeling my stomach was churning (maybe those peanut butter bagels were not such a good idea!). I tried to calm myself down without much success. I had been training for a year and now it was crunch time. I repeated a mantra to myself: focus on your pace and don’t panic. I knew I would be flirting with the cutoffs and that I had to be patient. Patience is not my strongest suit so this was going to be a challenge, but at least I recognized it as such. The weather was going to be perfect, with a cool start and no significant rain in the forecast. I had on my favorite short-sleeved shirt from Rocky Trails, which is stained red with dirt from Palo Duro, shorts and I had remembered to put on some gaiters. I had one hand-held with Perpetuem and my Nathan pack with water; my gels and some Endurolytes were stuffed into the pockets. I carried with me a baggie of Perpetuem, Andy’s Garmin (they only go to 17 hours so I knew I’d need 2), a roll of sticky-sided ace type bandage in case the foot played up, some ginger capsules for the tummy and a few Ibuprofen (only to be taken in the direst circumstance). My plan was to top off the hand-held and add powder every other aid station, keep the Nathan pack about 1/3rd full, suck down a gel every 45 mins and take a salt pill every hour to start and then see where I was at as it got hotter in the day. I also always carry a rag to mop sweat. But I had no hat or sunglasses – I planned to pick these up at 15 miles. The sun was still not up anyway.
The masses ambled toward the start line and I placed myself about ¾ of the way back so as not to get trampled. And off we went, bang on 6 am. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t look at the pace for the first few minutes, but would just run comfortably within myself. I would run the flats and downs and walk the hills. The first 7 miles are on the wide, grassy Nordic Ski Trail. It felt very easy running and pleasant in the cool of the morning. Between miles 2 and 4 there are a number of short steep hills – definitely not to be run at this stage of the game. I made a mental note of where these were because I knew I’d be running them 4 times during the course of the race. The race is a kind of lopsided T. You run out on the Nordic Trail to mile 7, then turn right (north) at Bluff aid station and do an out-and-back to the turnaround at Scuppernong (mile 31ish) along the single track Ice Age Trail. You return to the start/finish at 100k and then go out to Bluff again but this time turn left (south) and go down Rice Lake and back for the remaining 38 miles, again on the Ice Age Trail. The 38 is also offered as a fun run, with an evening start.
Very soon we were into the Tamarack aid station (4.6 miles) run by Mary Gorski and her husband. Mary is a Badwater finisher and had been at the race in 2007 so I said hi, got my hand-held topped off and blasted through. Olga had been very specific about not dawdling in aid stations in her race day instructions. She had me slated for two rests of 15 minutes each, one at 100k and one at Rice Lake. All other aid stations were to be ‘get what you need and go’. I knew I had plenty of gels and my Nathan was fine. There was no need to stay. Bluff aid station was next at mile 7.6. This one had a porta potty so I made use of that. Now, normally I don’t pee much in races and view it as a waste of valuable time (which is the wrong way to think I know), but this day I was very pleased since it meant I was properly hydrated. I knew I could not afford to get behind in anything so I decided to start working on the fuel. I ate a turkey sandwich – those small quarters they always make for ultras. It hit the spot. I also had some watermelon here and some Coke for dessert. There’s nothing like an influx of caffeine and sugar to pick you up, so I like to take some Coke at the aid stations, even though ordinarily I don’t drink it. Of course there is a bit of a crash with it as well but that’s where the proper food comes in. I added powder to the hand-held and took time to get the Nathan-pack refilled.
As soon as you leave Bluff you find some hills as you get onto the Ice Age Trail. There’s nothing really big, but the hills do keep coming at you. It is a bit like the Hill Country in that respect, except the trail itself is smoother and easier to run for the most part. Of course I did a fair amount of walking in this section. No slacking off though – made it power walking as much as possible. By this time I had succumbed to the temptation to become a slave to the Garmin pace window. This is a valuable tool, but it can drive you mad. I am constantly calculating to the point that it can be counter-productive. About this time a man with trekking poles came up to me. He looked like he was racing but we got talking and it turned out he was rehabbing from surgery and was just going to the 31mile turnaround. He knew Joe and Joyce. It was nice to break away from pace-prison for a while. I also tried to encourage a young woman who was having stomach problems. Poor thing, she made it to Scuppernong but later dropped. The trail winds down into Horseriders, which is just a water stop, and then continues on to Emma Carlin at mile 15, which is the first drop bag location. People often ask what I think about during long runs, and truthfully I don’t know, but a good part of it is pace calculating and then, when coming up to an aid station, I focus on what I need to do. Spacing out is not an option because you’ll be sure to forget something. Emma Carlin was a crucial drop bag. On the way out I knew I needed to do sunscreen and bug repellent and get my hat and sunglasses. I also changed out sweat rags and replenished gels, powders and water. Another turkey sandwich as well. I had Ensure in my bag but just didn’t fancy it.
The next section has a bad rep in many of the reports – the open meadows. People don’t like it because there’s no shade and it can get hot, especially on the return in the afternoon. But these folks are mostly locals from Wisconsin, or Illinois or Indiana. They have only just got out of their winter, and for them temps in the 80s spell trouble. But I had been running 80s and 90s with humidity for 2 months so it felt quite nice. I decided that it was time to work. Forget the pace calculating – I had a new mantra. Focus and work. Thus the 15 miles went by between Emma Carlin and Scuppernong. I got there in around 8hrs15 or so. Close enough to my goal pace for me to be satisfied but not complacent. I spent as little time at the drop bag as I could. The aid station volunteers were very helpful getting things for me. So I started back in fair spirits curious to see how near to the back I was. A few people were behind me, but as it got later and I got further along I wondered if they would make the cutoff at Scuppernong. Back through the meadows I had less energy than on the way out, but revisited my ‘focus and work’ mantra. It was effective. Every time I would just get my head down and work the pace would pick up. But I’m addicted to the calculations, and soon would be back into my old ways of looking at the Garmin every few minutes. It isn’t any better if I wear just a watch, in fact it’s worse because then the pace calculations are not done for me and I whittle away in my head about distance.
I got into Emma Carlin (47.4 miles) and made sure I got my flashlight and spare batteries. Although there were a couple of hours of light left I had 15 miles to go to the next drop bag at Nordic. I also strapped a warm fleece onto the back of the pack. I was then into the trees and the hilly ground again. I knew this section would slow me down a bit and decided it was time to pay maximum attention to hydration and fueling since I would be walking quite a bit. I knew once out of Bluff I’d be back on the runable ski trail again so could make up some time there. I was still on track. Another mini pace goal I had was to get through 50 miles in about 13 to 13.30 hours. I went through at 13.15 – right where I thought I should be. I began to get excited, and words in Allen’s race report echoed for me. “This could be my day”. “After all the setbacks, this could be MY DAY”!! But I quickly damped that back down with clichés about fat ladies and chickens.
I don’t recall exactly where I had to get the flashlight out, but I was in the trees somewhere above Bluff. There was a great opening in the canopy on the top of a hill, and the three quarter moon was up. There was a bench placed for the view out over the wooded hills and it was stunningly beautiful. I would really have liked to sit on that bench. But I used it to park my pack while I got the flashlight out, had a gel and some water and then I headed off down in to the dark woods. It wasn’t too long before I got to the part of the course just above Bluff where the second out-and-back heads off down to Rice Lake. I saw a flashlight coming toward me and then veer off to the right. “Where are you going”? I said, but there was no answer and on he went. Five minutes later several others were coming toward me. For some reason my addled brain thought the split was actually at Bluff (even though I knew this not to be the case). So I couldn’t understand why runners should be coming back up the trail. “Why are you coming out this way”? I asked. Silence. “Will someone please answer my question”, I shouted rather crossly. One lad explained nicely that they were headed out for the second part of the hundred. This took some time to compute. Then I felt like such an idiot, and hoped they thought I was a 100k runner who wouldn’t have needed to know that. I was glad they couldn’t see me blushing with embarrassment in the dark. Not so much for not knowing, but for getting mad. On I went into Bluff. By this time I was a bit fed up with turkey sandwiches although they had surely served their purpose. So I had some Ramen – the king of all foods for ultras at night.
Back along the Nordic Trail I knew that, barring complete disaster, I would make the 100k cut off with enough time to spare to take Olga’s 15 minute prescribed break. I was thinking about what to do clothes-wise. I didn’t want to make the same mistake as at RR100 and get cold at night. Yet nobody else coming out along the trail was wearing long pants. I didn’t feel cold either. I also didn’t think I should change shoes. And I couldn’t be bothered with changing socks, which with hindsight was a mistake. I do think a sock change would have been a good idea. In the end I decided to keep the sweater and add the long tights to the back of the pack just in case. I wondered about a rain jacket but the night seemed clear and I thought I could always improvise with a bin liner if needed. After another Ramen and the usual ritual of gel, powder and water replacement I headed to the timing mats to start the last 38. Timo was there, leading the cheers for all folks heading out again. Many people had dropped at Nordic as in past years. But I had made a promise to myself, at the level of the most solemn blood-oath, that if I made the Nordic cutoff there was no way I wasn’t going to go out for the second part. This I knew. Now I was truly into new territory. I had never run this far before.
I made good time along the Nordic Trail to Bluff and started to build in confidence. Once at the left turn beyond Bluff I smiled as I remembered what an idiot I had been on the way in. Then I had another milestone – a new part of the course. This part is rather hazy in my memory, possibly because I was going through it in the wee hours of the morning but much of it was more runable than I had thought it would be. However, by the time I got to Highway 12 (77.4 miles) the pace demons were back again. It was starting to look like it would be touch and go whether I would make it in 30 hours. The first weak thought entered my head. I got what I needed at the drop bag and started what I knew would be the make-or-break part of the race. Not long after the aid station the hills start, and the trail becomes rocky. It is narrow single track and so the small rocks and roots do pose a problem. It was now dawn, about 5.00 am, and I was fed up with carrying my handheld flashlight. I thought I could do without it, but in the half-light I stubbed the second toes on both feet in quick succession. The second stubbing on the left was so painful I thought I’d ripped the nail off. I didn’t want to stop but knew that if feet are bad you have to do something. A large rock by the side of the trail made a perfect seat so I decided to try to fix the toe. I got the sticky ace bandage out and luckily was able to rip a piece off. The nail was still in place and I taped it down hard. I should have done the other one too but was mindful of the clock ticking. I got both shoes back on and then made a decision that saved my race. Now would be the time for some music I thought. Out came the iPod and off I went. On this section there are some wooden steps, both up and down. I powered up them keeping in time to the beat ‘til I felt the burn in the quads. It was like being in Mrs. Schwartz’s dojang. There would have been no way I’d have done that without that music. I’d have been slow. On the way down I ran, leaping from step to step and risking all. But I knew it was now or never. If I wanted this race I needed to do it now. Cry now or cry later. On the way down the steps I passed a guy going much more slowly and I felt bad for him because I thought he would never make it. But amazingly, he hung on and finished with just a couple minutes to spare. It just goes to show - never give up in one of these things. So I made it to Rice Lake and was still in with a chance. I knew I had to rinse and repeat back to Highway 12 so attacked it the best I could. Once at Highway 12 (mile 86.3) the pace calculations had ratcheted up several notches. I was getting manic and the music seemed to fit: Reel to Real “I like to move it, move it” and the image of King Julian and the lemurs in Madagascar helped me to move it, move it along the trail. At this point I was also playing cat and mouse with a couple other women and their pacers. We all helped each other motivate to keep moving. By now it was also really hurting – not just the toes but everything.
The stretch from Highway 12 to Duffin Road seemed to go on forever. In Allen’s report this is where he described sitting with his head in his hands at the water stop. He had it as mile 90, which is close, but when I got there and the race sign read 90.5 I would have jumped for joy except by now there was no jumping happening in my legs. Half a mile is a long way and a lot of time at this stage of the race. Now I knew I could do it if only I could stick with it. I found renewed mental strength for the short section to Bluff. From there we just had to hang on, as the other two teams were again with me, back and forth. New energy flooded in after the last pass through Tamarack and I made it in with just over 18 minutes to spare. 29 hours, 41 minutes and 52 seconds. I had finished a 100-mile run, and have a funky little copper kettle to prove it.