Monday, December 12, 2016

Hellgate 100k


When I sent my paper application in to run Hellgate 100k, it sounded like a great idea. When I was lined up with 139 other runners about to start a 100k at midnight in the freezing cold, it did not. As the seconds ticked down until the race start, I found myself turned backwards looking at my crew. They were in for a night of music, dancing, and eating junk food. I turned around and looked at the dark trail ahead of me, I was in for a night of something entirely different. When the clock struck Hellgate, there was nothing I could do, and we were off with only our headlamps and a trail of orange streamers to guide the way.

The first section passed quickly, as the start of a race always does. At mile 8 I arrived to Aid Station #2 where my crew was waiting and BOY were they excited to see me. I asked how I was doing: first female. Oh noo Being first feltweird. Normally, I would have panicked that I had gone out too fast but I had been particularly cautious for this race my first 100k, I definitely didnt want to go out too fast during this one- and knew that wasnt the case. My crew helped convince me to just run how I feel and see how far it got me. So off into the dark woods I went!

It was a 16 mile stretch until I would see them again- roughly 3 hours. I got passed by Sarah Schubert at mile 10 and passed back into first right before A.S. #4 at mile 23. It was the same thing as before, it felt weird to be first, I felt fine, thanked my amazing crew, and I ran on.

The distance between A.S. 4 and A.S. 5 is only 6 miles and net downhill, meaning its supposed to be one of the easiest sections of the race. It was anything but that: less than a mile out I realized that the hose of my hydration pack was completely frozen. I tried bending it, putting it underneath my shirt (it had already been underneath my jacket) and running while pressing the hose against my chest. No luck. I tried to calm myself down by remember how easy this section was suppose to be. It wasnt. The trail on this section was extremely difficult to follow. It wasnt that the course wasnt marked, the problem was (to quote Leif) that this trail looked like it is only used once a year during Hellgate. I found myself at what appeared to be 3 intersecting trails with no streamers telling me where to go. After looking in each direction and finding no clues, I picked the one straight ahead and ran down it before coming to several large logs crossing the trail. I knew this wasnt right, in fact I was pretty sure it wasnt even a real trail, so I headed back. I looked in the two other directions and still couldnt decide, so I chose the trail to my left and ran down it. After a couple steps a VERY obvious and reflective streamer came into sight that had been invisible to me before. That was weird…” I thought as I kept running. The trail was becoming harder and harder to follow and at several points I got confused which way to go. Soon, I came to a grassy downhill that I knew led me into the aid station. Wed walked up this trail in previous years while crewing and I knew it was littered with several deep holes. I reminded myself to be alert and avoid twisting my ankle (again, I already had at mile 11) but I couldnt see that far into the distance. Even with my super bright headlamp I couldnt see more than a few feet in front of me. My vision looked milky and very cloudy, like someone had put fingerprints all over my contacts before I put them in. I knew what this was: the start of Hellgate eyes. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, its a condition where your corneas freeze. Yes, they actually begin to freeze. Its not painful but it clouds your vision and makes it EXTREMELY hard to see.)

At mile 30 and ~5:30 a.m, I entered the aid station. I found Jonathan to explain what was happening and started choking up. II cant see. My pack is frozen, I havent drank any water. Dylan removed my jacket and pack as Jonathan ran to get eye drops and water. I sat down while Laura and Sam tried to take my shoes off (which were frozen solid from a creek crossing ~2 miles back), replace my socks, and put band-aids on my already forming blisters. Neel and Hunter were unsuccessfully trying to thaw my pack out, they later told me they had to literally stick it in the fire to accomplish this. I was an absolute mess. Sarah Schubert had come and gone somewhere in this time. After what was a Nascar-worthy pit stop by my crew, I stood back up, put eye drops in my eyes, my pack and jacket back on, and left with clean socks on my feet. I had another 16 mile section until I would see them again and two bad eyes to get me through it.

I started up a long fire road climb. I tried hiking with my eyes closed, squinting, and straight up crying to re-wet them and get my vision back. It was getting worse. Headlamps and reflective things (streamers, several trail signs) were extremely blinding to look at and I had to mostly just stare at the ground to see where I was going. The sun was rising and I was hopeful it would help but the exact opposite happened. The sun, obviously, was just like a huge light swallowing my entire field of vision even when I wasnt directly facing it. I moved from fire road to a technical section of trail and started tripping every couple minutes. At one point two runners (one who was Jon Houck whoop whoop!) passed me and I completely fell off the trail letting them by, having to catch a tree to not start sliding down the cliff. After running for awhile like this, I got to a road that was about a quarter mile from Bearwallow Gap (mile 46 aid station). Apparently, there was a streamer straight across the road to a trail that leads you to the aid station. I didnt see it and ran straight down the road about a quarter mile before convincing myself I made a wrong turn. I guess I looked VERY lost and confused because some guy in his car stopped to talk to me. I asked him if he knew where the course was and he said he wasnt sure but my best bet would be to cross straight across from where I came out. I ran back up and sure enough, there was the trail with the streamer that I hadnt seen before. I could hear the aid station and thought about how I still had 20 miles left in the race. Thatd be about 4 more hours tripping on rocks, making wrong turns, and running blindly through the woods. I entered the aid station and started crying into Jonathans sweatshirt. I think Im done. He gave me a moment before walking me to the rest of the crew.

As always, they fixed me right back up again. Catherine gave me sunglasses, Henry got me hot food, my pack and jacket were taken and I got a new jacket to wear. I put eye drops in my eyes and someone suggested I take my contacts out, rewet them, and put them back in. Of course, as soon as I took out my contact I dropped it. Immediately we were on our hands and knees looking for it. The ground was pretty blurry even when it was a foot in front of my face. Is this it? I asked, pointing to something shiny on the ground. No, thats a rock. Oh is this is? Another rock. THATS how bad my vision was. At one point I got up and told Jonathan not to move, there was something shiny on his jacket. Thats his jackets button…” Crap. Someone got my glasses from out of the car and I put those on. We thought maybe they would help keep the wind and cold out of my eyes and help my vision a little. I had 6 miles until the next aid station, probably over an hour at the rate I was going, and left feeling miserable.

And miserable I stayed! Ive never cried and run before but trust me, I cried through this entire section. I tried to look back and see if 3rd place was catching me but couldnt see far enough to know. I looked ahead but couldnt see there either. It was extremely frustrating when I started an uphill because I couldnt see how long it was, how steep it got, or how technical it was so didnt know whether to run or hike. When I got to turns I couldnt see far enough down the trails to know which one had a streamer marking it and I couldnt see rocks that were on the ground. I would run, trip on a rock, catch myself, run, trip on a rock, trip on another rock, then finally catch myself. I was miserable, miserable, miserable. At one point, I was running and found myself completely off the trail. I back tracked to the last streamer and looked around and didnt see any other direction to go so I started back down. It was definitely not right. I could hear someone coming closer and had to wait for them. He showed me where the trail was, totally not obvious to me, before we climbed a mile to the aid station.

Jonathan came down the trail to see me and I told him I was quitting. No way I was going on. I couldnt see anything, I couldnt do this for 3 more hours. I didnt care if I was in 2nd, I didnt care how close I was, I was tired. OK, you can be done. I had dreamed of those words the last 6 miles but in this moment it hit me that I wasnt physically giving up, I was mentally giving up. It felt terrible, it felt wrong. They told me unfortunately 1st was very far ahead, very unlikely I would catch her but I had a very good chance of hanging onto second because Kathleen Cusick (3rd place) was 15 minutes behind me. Immediately I was back in. In a whirlwind, we went through the same motions of filling up my pack with food and water, putting my jacket back on, and sending me off down the trail. I was running down, down, down into the dreaded forever section knowing now, with the last aid station 8 miles away from me and then another 6 to the finish line, I was going to finish Hellgate one way or another.

The next section was a blur, lots of hiking, hallucinations of Kathleen, some random guy in the woods taking my photo. I still have no idea how he got there or if he was even part of the race. Then I was at the last aid station. From here on out it was 3 miles up, 3 miles down to the finish. I hadnt seen Kathleen but only imagined she was closing in, I felt like I was moving very, very slowly. About 3 minutes after starting the last climb I heard cheering and knew Kathleen had just come in behind me. I hiked faster but couldnt run for long periods of times. I knew if I could just crest the mountain in 2nd place, I would be able to kick it in. The climb ended up being short, only 2.2 miles, and then I was rolling downhill. I kept looking back to see if Kathleen was catching me, if she was going to outsprint me, and finally did see two people about 3/4th of a mile out from the finish. I attempted what felt like a sprint but according to my watch was about 7:30 min/mile pace and just hoped I could hold them off. I imagined they were women and was scared Id drop 2 places in the last 5 minutes of the race. I got into Camp Bethel and rounded the corner up to the finish line, never happier in my life. It was such a wonderful feeling to be finished a race that was so mentally challenging and freaking long! My first 100k! Crazy! I found out that Jordan finished his 10th Hellgate in 5th place I thought finishing this race once was crazy, think about 10 times!!! Leif, my lets-freak-out-about-this-race-together partner, who I constantly asked his fueling plan, pre-race dinner plan, pre-race sleeping plan, race-day clothing choice, blah blah blah blah had a strong finish after a very tough race. Virginia Tech breeds some amazing ultra runners!

Thank you SO SO MUCH to ultraVTs amazing crew and support system. Jonathan, Dylan, Hunter, Laura, Henry, Sam, Catherine, Neel, and Lynnie I could not have done it without you guys. Thank you Michelle Anderson, Josh, Kristen, David Horton, and anyone else who helped me through this race as well. The ultra running community is truly unique and exceptionally kind. I love this sport, the pride and pain it brings, and the adventures it takes you on. You truly have not lived until youve died at Hellgate.

Leif, me, Jordan, and David Horton

Monday, April 27, 2015

Promise Land 50k

“Crap, my shoe’s untied”

I’m debating on whether to stop and tie it or not. I don’t really think I’ll fall but I’m wondering if it’ll hold me back when I need to be pushing on these last two miles of the race. Plus, I don’t really want to get best blood by falling flat on my face down a gravel road- that’s just embarrassing. The guy I’m running with stops when I bend down.

“Keep going! I’ll catch up, I promise”

He takes off again and I’m left alone, trying to remember how to tie my shoe but thinking more about where the woman behind me is. I tie it once but pull one of the laces too tight and it comes undone. My hands are shaking now but I get it right this time. I jump to my feet, grab my handheld, and continue running down the mountain. The whole thing takes about ten seconds, maybe fifteen but it turns out I needed them…

It’s 5:29 AM and Jordy, D-mack, and I are standing with about 300 other runners waiting for the race to begin in one minute. We’re looking for Darren and Jonathan, two other VT runners who will most likely get top 5, but we don’t see them anywhere in the crowd. It’s dark but a bunch of people are wearing headlamps, all pointed at race director, David Horton, who is counting down the seconds left until the start. Darren and Jonathan are still nowhere to be found. I’m worried for them, wondering what they could be doing that’s more important than starting the race. All of the sudden they run in from my left, seconds before the time switches to 5:30, and then we’re off, headed two and a half miles up a gravel road.

For the first mile I’m watching Jonathan and Darren, (kind of creepy, I know) but it calms me down. At the start of the race, it’s best for me to do anything I can besides think about what I’m beginning because it always takes me a couple of miles to switch into racing mode. When they’re out of sight I start to focus on my own race, I tell myself the first four miles (all uphill) are to ease me into the race, don’t go too slow but don’t go out too hard. I run the first two and then begin to hike when the road gets steep, telling myself this is a good strategy. The race bears right onto a trail, taking me up another mile and a half to the light side. At mile 4.5 I hit a patch of technical downhill and immediately twist my ankle. It doesn’t feel like a bad twist but it’s the ankle I’ve been having on and off trouble with for the past month so I wait a second to see how bad it really is. Pain shoots up my leg but after a minute it’s gone.

Relax, what’re you gonna do? Drop? There’s nothing you can do about it so just forget it.

I’m not as worried about the actual twist as I am about what it’ll do to my head. I don’t want this to slow me down on the technical descent. Right when I need him to, Neel, a VT runner, catches up to me and we run together for two miles or so. We’re talking about how quickly the race is going and how we want to finish in under 6 hours, making me forget about my ankle completely. We catch up to Lori Cooper, who placed 4th at Terrapin 50k last month and will most likely place top 5 today. I look at my watch, we’re only at mile 6, a little too soon for me to be catching her so I’m worried I’m running too fast. She hears me talking to Neel and looks back. I can’t help but think that she doesn’t like me. She’s an experienced runner who probably has her racing strategy nailed down, meanwhile, I’m this punk 19 year old who doesn’t really have a solid plan in place. Neel passes her but I don’t, convinced it’s too ambitious at this point in the race. I think she tries to drop me because we run a 7:30 mile but I can’t tell, maybe it’s the downhill making us go fast? I’m getting worried that I’m running too close to her when she asks me if I want to pass. I think she’s pissed.

“No, not yet” That wasn’t supposed to sound so cocky so I try to recover
“Maybe not ever” Wow, she probably really doesn’t want to hear that so I try again
“I like this pace” Smooth.

I decide to drop back a little and give her some space, just because I know it messes me up when people run too close to me. We hit the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile 10 and there’s 3 miles of gravel until the aid station Keely and the rest of VT’s crew are at. Lori drops me…hard. She’s completely out of sight. I’m running with a guy who graduated from Virginia Tech in ’99 and keeping my eye on another woman I’m getting close to. We pass her just before we hit the aid station and I run up to Keely, panicking about needing more water and my caffeinated GU’s. Keely tells me I’m in 6th and Jonathan’s in 3rd, I always like to keep tabs on how his race is going to take my mind off my own. When I’ve got everything I need I take off unnecessarily quickly and practically throw myself down 4 miles of technical trail. I’m convincing myself that technical descents are my strength so I don’t panic about how quickly I’m going. I manage to pass three women in two miles, putting myself into what I think is 3rd.  It’s only mile 15, less than halfway through the race, and I’m already in my goal place. I try to work the descent so I’m running like hell, trying to put as much distance between myself and the women behind me. I reach the aid station at Cornelius Creek and David Horton’s there, yelling at the men I’m running with to not let me, A GIRL, pass them. I ask a women there to fill up my bottle, she tells me she thinks I’m in 3rd and that I’m doing a really good job. She’s so genuine and happy for me that it calms me down and I tell myself if I need a hug when I get back to this aid station, she’ll be the person I’ll ask.

Two more miles of gravel road, I’m taking a right back onto the trail and starting the loop, what I consider the hardest part of the race. I know this is where I have to work the hardest and something Darren previously told me is ringing in my head: “When it gets hard, just run harder.” There’s a small uphill and I start to hike. I try running again but stop. I just can’t get myself to do it. I look behind me and don’t see anyone. I’m hiking along the trail, thinking I’m hitting a low point in the race, when I see Clark Zealand, the director of Terrapin 50k. He tells me good job and I smile, I’m way more excited to see him than he is to see me, I don’t think he remembers me. I ride this excitement, running as much as I can before it wears off. Neel, who I’ve been piggybacking this entire race, catches me again and we reach the next aid station. I take only Advil before we both head out. We run most of the rest of the loop, staying together and passing a couple people who tell us good job as we pass. That’s what I love about ultrarunners, everyone’s so nice and encouraging during the entire race. It’s been about 30 minutes since we left the aid station and Neel’s told me two jokes in the meantime, but I’m not feeling them (even though I’d recount them to the entire ultraVT team later because they were actually pretty funny) I’m too concentrated on trying to keep myself in motion.

“This loops grueling, dude”

We finally reach downhill, a BUNCH of downhill and I hear what I think is a highway near us. A couple minutes later I figure out it’s the waterfalls and I’m so happy, it means we’re almost out of the loop. We reach a quarter mile out and back and I pass a woman whose already been to the aid station and smile at her, she looks strong. At the aid station I’m told I’m in 4th
“Damn it. I thought I was 3rd.” Then,
“Actually, 4th is pretty good, I can live with that.”

I’m so bipolar during races, accepting my placing or the idea of getting passed at times but then chasing for better at other points. I start heading back out and pass by Lori whose headed into the aid station. When I first see her, that noise of someone slamming down all the high pitched keys of a piano plays in my head and my face expression definitely shows panicking. I smile and tell her good job but in my head I’m screaming at myself to run because I know she’s pretty good at climbs which is the next section of the race. The climb (yes, it is known as“the climb”) is hard, but not as hard as I remember. I hike almost the entire thing because I tell myself its good for my heart rate or something. My strategy must have worked because I’m closing distance between me and the guys ahead of me, who are trying a run/hike combination. I pass them and see on a sign I’m 0.3 miles from the top. I look behind me and don’t see Lori but see 3rd place right ahead. I can hear the cheers from the top as runners are reaching the aid station and I start to get excited…and nervous. The aid station is mile 29, only 5 miles left of the race. I tell myself this is good, I can run the descent faster than this 3rd place woman, I just need to get in and out as quickly as I can. I see Lauren and Keely who start cheering at me. I start yelling at them, like the nice runner I am

“I NEED ADVIL, GU, WATER…and a hug” Lauren comes over and hugs me while Keely’s getting me advil. I can’t figure out how to open my bag full of GU’s and basically throw it at Lauren to open it for me, I’m being a total bitch but I’m panicking so badly and don’t know how else to act
“Don’t tell me how Jonathan did” I tell Keely. I have it set in my mind that his race pre-determines mine. He placed 4th at Holiday Lake while I placed 5th and he placed 2nd at Terrapin while I placed 3rd, I didn’t want to know what place I should be getting to keep the trend going. I grab my stuff I run off without thanking them (THANK YOU GUYS YOU WERE THE BEST) and pass into 3rd within 200 meters. I see Jon (a different person than Jonathan) and both Henrys down the trail
“Go catch my brother, he’s 5 people ahead of you” Jon tells me. I seriously doubted that was true but it gave me another reason to run fast down these last miles other than just running away from the woman behind me. I’m working on the technical descent and choking down a 40mg caffeinated Espresso Love GU. I pass two guys on the trail down and get back onto the gravel road. The 4th place woman is tailing me, I can’t see her but I know she isn’t far behind because I just passed her a mile and a half ago… and this is where I find myself with an untied shoe. I make the decision to tie it and do in two attempts before I’m running again. I’m not really doing any work, just letting the steep descent take me. I look at my watch and see I just ran a 6:44 mile. I’m feeling good about myself until I turn around and see the 4th place woman behind me. When I say behind me, I mean REALLY close behind me, maybe a minute back. I know I still have a mile and a half of the race left, maybe, and I’m trying to hold on. I’m searching the ground for the orange “1 Mile” mark that I desperately need, if this race goes on any longer than that, I’m going to lose. I look back, she’s closer now. She’s definitely closing the gap between us. Shit, shit, shit. I look down and see the mile marker and pick up the speed a little. I can do this…

“Well, actually 4th place wouldn’t be so bad” I think for a couple seconds. I look back again and she’s closer. What do I want to do? Do I want to accept 4th or push for 3rd? I can’t make up my mind until I see Rachel Corrigan.

“HOW MUCH OF THE RACE LEFT?” I shout at her, freaking out

“Maybe half a mile left?” There’s no way I ran 33.5 miles just to give up in the last half mile. I keep pushing, hoping to see camp soon where the finish line is. I finally round the corner and turn into the final stretch. I can hear Keely’s voice yelling at me but the first person I see is Jonathan, who I’m so happy can see me get 3rd because I didn’t give up rather than 4th because I did. As soon as I cross the line I give David Horton the biggest hug. “You’re getting fast, girl” he tells me. I’m told my time was 6.00.10, 10 seconds off my 6 hour goal. The woman behind me finished in 6.00.51, 41 seconds behind me. 

I wish I had finished under 6 hours but I’m happy with my race otherwise, I’ve never freaked out for so long about anything but WHEW what a good race. Promise Land is still my favorite course by far, it’s so rewarding. Next race in the LUS is MMTR 50 Miler in November CAN’T WAIT!


ultraVT: my favorite people

4 Hokies in the top 5!
From left to right: Jonathan (3rd) Me (3rd) Jordy (4th) Darren (1st)

Finally we placed the same. 3rd place twins and the guy who makes me believe in myself the most. Thanks Jonathan! You're super speedy

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Holiday Lake 50k

At 6:30 I set off onto the first loop of Holiday Lake with one goal in mind…don’t go out like an idiot. I have to say I’m a pretty mentally weak runner because I worry too much about what everyone else is doing. I knew if I was going to reach my goal of top 10 women and sub 5 hours, I was going to have to fight myself to stay calm. Control your mind, control your pace, and control your race. My first lap was all about letting go of any anxieties and just running steady.

Fast forward to mile 13.5, two and a half miles before the turnaround. I had found Nick and was keeping up with him pretty well, falling a little behind on the (tiny) climbs and catching back up on the straights. Over the next half mile, four of tech’s boys would pass me, already on the return loop, and DANG are they fast! Mikes Jones, Leif, Butch, and Jonathan cruised by, all clearly in top 10 if they could hold pace. Seeing them do so well made me want to push forward and get a girl Hokie in the top 10 as well. At the turn around, Keely told me I was in 9th

Whew, one woman can pass me and I’ll still get top 10

 …Then I thought about that again. Was that the type of runner I wanted to be today? JUST top 10? No, I wanted to be work for better than that. I started the 16 miles back with one plan: push for the next 8 miles and then push harder for the last 8.

I followed closely behind Nick and Taylor (who was now pacing Nick) for the first two miles. We passed one woman during the four miles back to aid station #3 where Darren, Lynnie, and Hannah were. I grabbed a GU (which would go uneaten) before starting the short segment to the powerlines, the section of the race I was dreading most. A couple minutes after leaving the aid station I started to struggle a little bit, I wasn’t feeling well and the slight inclines were starting to feel hard. I heard my GPS watch beep and looked down

Mile 21: 10:21- Ouch

Shortly after,

Mile 22: 10:38- Even worse

Don’t break. Don’t crash. You’re doing so well, you’re almost at the 8 mile mark where you’re supposed to turn up the heat

I crossed the road leading to the one mile powerline segment and realized that without 18 inches of snow on the ground, this part of the race wasn’t so bad. I felt good, really good. I had less than two miles until the next aid station and mountain dew, basically liquid cocaine. Two miles? I could do that in 20 minutes, no, I could do that in less. I picked up the pace, passing another woman and looked down again

Mile 23: 8:16

You’re back

The 800 meters before the mile 24 aid station was a gradual uphill climb. I caught another woman but lost her again as I stopped to force half frozen water down my throat. I grabbed a cup of mountain dew, the moment I had been waiting for, and took two huge sips.

What the hell did I just drink? I almost spit it out. It tasted like battery juice. I threw the rest away, there’s no way I would have been able to stomach that.

I took off, passing into 6th within the next mile, and started to get excited for the end of the race. I was itching to be done, but had 6 more miles between me and the finish line. I caught up to a nice man who was going at a pace I really enjoyed. I ran behind him for about two miles, pulling out an 8:43 and 8:28.

I’m really loving this pace

Me? This is your pace, sweetie.

What? It’s me doing this?

He told me he didn’t want another woman to pass him. I told him I didn’t want another woman to pass me, either.

You’re gonna catch 5th place, she’s right ahead in that neon green shirt
We caught that person, but it wasn’t a woman. That didn’t discourage me thought, back in December I had told Jonathan I wanted to get 6th woman, a number I pulled out of thin air at the time. ACTUALLY getting 6th in this race was totally fine by me, it was way higher than my expectations coming into the race. I just wanted to maintain my placing now.

Well, with two and a half miles left of the race I took fifth but wasn’t confident about it. The second to last mile has some slight climbs that are TOUGH after 30 other miles under your feet. I hiked most of them, looking behind my shoulder every 10 seconds to see if I was going to get passed back. But no one was there.

Thank goodness

On one of the last uphills I looked behind me and there the 6th woman was. I looked ahead of me and saw Tyler Upham- woah what!? I ran and caught up with him. He wasn’t pleased to see me, he did NOT want me to beat him. He told me how after the water crossing he’d started to fall apart. I made a deal with him: if he helped me keep fifth, I’d help him beat me…sorta. I wasn’t really helping him beat me, I just knew running together would pick up both of our paces and that he would outkick me on the half mile road finish. So we agreed that’s what we would do.

And it worked! As soon as we saw that headless mannequin in the woods, we charged down Holiday Lake’s famous wooden steps and down the road. With fifty meters left, Tyler pulled ahead, and trust me, I tried my hardest to outkick him but it wasn’t happening.  We finished 4:48.35 and 4:48.39. It was his first holiday lake finish and a new 50k PR for me.

I finished 5th woman, twinning with Butch who finished 5th overall.
To say it was a fantastic race would be an understatement, EVERYONE from Virginia Tech did so well and we got 4 hokies in the top 10:

Mike Jones: 3rd/ 3:51
Jonathan: 4th/ 3:53
Butch: 5th/ 3:55
Leif: 6th/ 3:55

UltraVT has some FAST runners. A huge thanks to Keely, Darren, Lynnie, and Hannah being at the halfway and aid station 3- it's so uplifting knowing you're going to have people who support you at points during the race- David Horton for putting on a fantastic race- and my parents for needlessly worrying about me during the race and supporting me every step of the way


20 year Holiday Lake anniversary shirt

Huge thanks to Leif for this one- he decided he wasn't a ladies small after all

Holiday Lake Women's finisher shirt

Earned, not bought!
Patagonia 28L Refugio backpack for top 10 finish

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New River Trail 50k

The race set off at a drizzly 8 am and opened up with a flat first mile. And a flat second mile. And a flat third mile. And continued to be flat for the entire duration of the race. I think my 20 minute run to Kroger and back the night before to pick up strawberry milk had more elevation than this race did. Besides the first two miles, Keely and I ran the first 14 together. About a mile and a half before the turn around, Keely and I parted ways. I got to the turn-around (15.94 miles) at 2:37. I hated the 4 miles to the aid station at mile 20, hated the next 6 miles to the last aid station, and hated the last 5 miles to the finish. From mile 20 on, I found myself TRYING to hallucinate. I would have made the race much more interesting but instead I just thought about how far I was from the finish line the entire second half. The most interesting thing that happened in this time was finding my hair tie at mile 27 that I dropped at mile 3. I have to give a personal shout out to Will McGowan though, who met me at mile 28 and ran a mile and a half with me in chacos and khakis before running ahead to watch me cross the finish line. Thanks a TON! 

32 miles in 5:08, negative splitted (2:37/2:31), 10th female finisher, 25th finisher overall. Never doin’ this race again.

*Shout out to Adrienne who made this her first 50k, what an awful first look into ultras but I’m so happy you killed it!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Promise Land 50k

Promise Land started with a Thursday night potluck at Kelly’s house where I was reminded how much I love each and every person on our team and why I run ultra-marathons in the first place. When I first arrived, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be running or even attending PL; I had been sick all week and my mom was pushing for me to rest up. I didn’t think the night of camping would be a good night of sleep and thought the running would wear down my body too much. However, after an awesome night and a couple words from Rudy, I was left thinking of all the things I’d miss if I didn’t go:

1. last ultra with graduating/moving runners Kelly, Rudy, Guy, Danny, and Wyatt
2. seeing how top-seeders Rudy, Guy, Darren, and Jordan would do
3. watching Alex and Eric kick butt in their first ultra
4. the traditional pre-PL bonfire
5. seeing David Horton one last time my freshman year---always a treat
6. patagonia finishers shorts (possibly the biggest factor, I really wanted them)
7. ability to complete the LUS series
Which prompted me to send out my late-night e-mail, titled “very important decision” (see below) which apparently caused the trailrunning listserv to lost a subscriber- oops but totally worth it:

Midnight Decision: I will be joining you all (and running) Promise Land
Hannah "cured by Rudy's microwave green beans" Bright

And with that, I was off to the Promised Land!

Classic pre-race activities occurred: Patagonia give-aways, pizza and other of Horton’s favorite unhealthy foods, lots of mingling, and finally camping in a poorly set up tent.

The 4:30 wake up call had us all on our feet, preparing and eating before the 5:30 start. “BOOM” the theoretical gun went off and we began. Keely, Eric, and I ran together for all of five minutes before, in classic race fashion, Keely and Eric pulled away and I hung back to talk to Michael Rogers, who I’ve managed to run with for a few miles every race. The first four miles consisted mostly of “speed” hiking. When I got to the light-side, I met up with graduated VT triathlon ex-president (what a title) Scotty B and talked to him a bit. He ended up finishing with in 6:34 so I totally wished I attempted to stay with him more. Halfway through the dark side I caught up to my favorite person to see during 50k’s, Keely O’Keefe, and despite what Lewis Millholland’s Collegiate Times article may say (read here- it’s a good read! I was excited to see Keely this race. We stayed together for a couple of miles, enjoyed the second aid station together, and split before Sunset Fields.

I thoroughly enjoyed the technical downhill at the start of the dark side down to Cornelius Creek. I had some delicious watermelon and water before I headed down the road to start the 8 mile loop. This was the only part of the course I hadn’t ran during the training runs and thank goodness I had no idea what I was about to do or I might have tried to weasel my way out of it. It was pretty solid sailing to the ice cream aid station, mile 19, where I grabbed two delicious ice pops (orange and pink- the best flavors). The sign at this aid station said “~4 miles to the next aid station” but as I ran by it, some guy commented “That’s the biggest lie of the whole race, it’s more like 7.” I had no idea how far the loop stretched and I tried to calculate in my head who was right, this sign or this runner. It would have been a lot easier to figure out if I had actually known how long the course was. How could I start a race having no idea how long it actually was? All I knew was that it was a couple miles longer than the 31.1 standard 50k. I spent that entire chunk of the race wondering when I was going to get to the next aid station. FINALLY getting back to Cornelius Creek, I ate some real food for the first time (1/2 PB&J, 2 mini reeses cups, and some potato chips) before I started the dreaded climb….which I ended up really enjoying a lot. I had more in the tank that I had expected and didn’t have any problems hiking up.

Even though it wasn’t a bad climb, I don’t think I have ever been so happy as when I reached the aid station at Sunset Fields. I hugged a couple of the volunteers and told them they were wonderful people. When you’re not racing for top 10, you find yourself with a lot of time in these ultras to do stuff like that. Leaving the comfort of food, nice people, and water, I knew the next 5 miles were all downhill to the finish. My thighs were in pretty bad shape and I was pretty convinced my femurs was going to shoot through my knee caps (unrealistic but IT COULD HAPPEN!).

I wish someone had told me there was a “1 Mile To Go” sign because I spent about 3/4ths of a mile before that sign looking for that black squirrel, the famous marking meaning that you were almost done. When I saw I had a mile left, I started to lose some steam until Jesus showed up in the form of Jordan Chang! Telling me the black squirrel was right ahead and it was now or never to kick it in. About 50m away from the finish line I saw lightning fast senior runner RUDY, who took 2nd overall, and tried to yell at him to run across the finish line with me. It would have been such a cute photo finish except he couldn’t hear/understand what I was saying. As soon as I crossed the finish line you better believe one of the first things I did was get those super sick Patagonia finishers shorts. Definitely made the race worth it. You know what else made the race worth it? Completing that sucker, now I can say I’ve run three 50k’s which will totally get me all the ladies, spending time with the coolest people from VT, and re-discovered motivation to run.

A lot of our runners are seniors this year and are graduating this spring. Congratulations guys, I can’t express to you how awesome it has been getting to know you this year. There’s no better group of people that could have introduced me to ultra-running and I hope you all visit us at sometimes and crew/run some races in the future.

Here’s some pictures for my photo album: even if you didn’t attend this 50k and have never met half or any of these people, I still suggest you put these in your own photo album as we’re a pretty good looking group of people.

(Almost complete) Team Photo!

Jordan, Darren, and Rudy
FACT: Wearing a hat makes you fast

David Horton and VT Women

VT runners at the starting line, way to represent the ladies Rachel!
QUESTION: Danny, where is your shirt?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Holiday Lake ++++

There’s nothing more romantic on Valentine’s day than listening to David Horton’s sweet voice telling you how to properly take a dump during a 50k.

If you don’t know who David Horton is, you need to attend any race in the LUS series, open up any book about running, or get yourself on google right now. He’s the legendary runner and the mastermind behind the Holiday Lake 50k++ that was about to be my first experience running an ultramarathon. I’ve only known one other person who can equally match Horton’s inspiration and enthusiasm for running: my high school cross country couch, Mr. Howard, who first got me into running. Thankfully when my parents shipped me off to college I landed in the hands of Horton and other crazy VT runners who’d keep me at it.

The day before the race was more relaxed than I’d accounted for when I signed up. That past Wednesday, Virginia had been hit with a pretty heavy snowfall that was both a blessing and a curse. Leading up to the 50k, I probably hadn’t trained as much as I should have. The longest run I had done in the past two months was 18 miles and the longest run I’d ever done was the Richmond Marathon a couple months back. I heard over and over again that Holiday Lake was one of the easiest 50k’s out there, with only 1,000 ft of gain per loop (which may have accounted for my lack of serious training). I also was hitting a low point in my running, I tend to go through vicious waves of being an exercise fanatic to a couch potato.
Keely and I drove down with tri team members Dylan and Jonathon. They proved to be two really cool dudes that were just as new to ultras as we were. The day went by pretty quickly thanks to a car nap provoked by Dylan’s country music, delicious food, David Horton’s speeches, and good company. Before I knew it, I was waking up a 5:10 AM (despite my earlier fight with Wyatt to get up no earlier than 5:30, who, for the record, crawled out of bed after me) and was filling up with my new favorite tri-force pre-race meal (carbs, sugar, and fat). By 6:30 the race started in the 30 degree weather with a light sprinkling of cold rain.

I ran the first part of the race with Kelly, Keely, and Lauren, the only four girls from VT running the race of about 400. We started off slowly and got trapped in the back behind some cautious older racers. While Keely and Kelly broke away, picking up the pace, I hung back with Lauren for a while. I wasn’t exactly nervous about the race, but any anxieties or dawning realizations that I’d be running for the next 6 hours straight were squashed by Lauren’s mellowness. She seemed to know exactly what pace she was feeling up for and that gave me confidence that running with her would benefit during later miles.

At the first aid station I opted for just a few sips of water and set off with the determination to pick up the pace a little bit. The next four miles were uneventful except for two mandatory water crossings. My muscles had warmed up to the cold and the knee-deep water at the second stream was much nicer than I had expected.

Aid station two was filled with some pleasant surprises. As soon as I got there I exchanged a few words with Keely who was just about to take off again. I hadn’t seen her since before mile four so it was nice to see I hadn’t fallen too far behind. David Horton had incorporated some physics into his racing advice the night before with the saying “an object in motion stays in motion while an object at rest stays at rest” so I was a little rushed to get what I needed and keep moving. I ended up throwing a strawberry banana GU at an aid station volunteer to open before I realized I knew him. His name was Tyler, a freshman at LU, and I had run the counterclockwise loop of the course with him a few weeks back. Tyler is an extremely nice and friendly runner, also new to ultras, who chose not to run Holiday Lake but plans to run Promise Land. Seeing him picked up my energy and enthusiasm which I carried for the next couple miles after I left.

I decided to make a new plan for running: instead of running a 50k I planned to run four 8-mile races. I considered the first race as a “warm-up” and planned to run steady for the next two races and really pick up the pace the last 8 miles. This helped me relax and kept me from running too quickly, with a promise to work hard the last 8 miles, I allowed myself to hike up most of the uphills and save energy for when it would be needed.

It seemed like a long time before the next station, the runners had thinned out and the path was evidently more narrow  than it had previously been. I frequently got stuck behind runners who I would have preferred to pass. The decision to pass was a challenge. The non-packed down course was about a foot of snow that was iced over on the top and felt like it cut into my skin every time I picked my feet up. Those four miles were mostly downhill but I made a note to mentally prepare myself to run back up them when the time came. I remembered how I struggled with this part of the course during the practice run and knew with the snow and previous miles wearing me down that it’d potentially be a much harder challenge.

At the next aid station I chose water only again before taking off again. I saw Keely and Kelly were only a couple yards ahead of me, but decided not to run up to them. I was in the right mental zone and was worried I’d lose focus on running my own race. They took off from the aid station a bit faster than I had and I lost them again pretty quickly.

Once again, cruise control was on (to steal an idea from Rudy on his experience during Hellgate) and I kept my steady rhythm for the next part of the course. I began to pass some runners who had already hit the turn-around point, Guy (definitely being in the top ten) and David were the only two I was able to exchange “good jobs” with. About a half mile before the turn around I caught up to a line of runners, Keely and Kelly being two of them, and we all arrived at 16 mile at about the same time.

Here I shed my gloves, rain jacket, running jacket, and head band which was wonderful. I felt lighter, cooler, and ready to clock in some more miles. I asked crew team Mike and Darren, two excellent ultra-runners themselves, for some advice on the second loop:


I could do that. 

After some GU and water I tried to get back onto the course without Keely and Kelly noticing, with the knowledge that running alone was the best way to go, but Keely caught back up with me. This was definitely intimidating. Keely’s a tank when it comes to running, especially long distances. We ran the Richmond Marathon together and were clocking 7:50-8:20 minute miles for the first 20 before I crashed. I was worried if I ran with her now I’d psych myself out and lose the zone I was able to put myself in. I ended up pulling away from her a mile or so after the halfway point and ran on.

I convinced myself as long as I could stay ahead then my pacing was spot-on and I wasn’t losing energy: I was running scared. I hiked less uphills and the ones I did hike, I hiked more quickly than before. During one of them, I noticed a familiar pair of high socks as another VT ultra-runner’s, Steve. This wasn’t Steve’s first 50k like mine, he took top 20 at MMTR last October, but had gotten hurt before this race. I would've loved to see what place he could have gotten injury-free, but it was nice knowing another runner on the course. I hadn’t really talked to Steve much before then but that didn’t stop me from expressing to him that I was panicking. He offered me some water which I refused, which calmed me down a bit and helped me refocus. It’s the little gestures of kindness during races that really help me out and I gotta thank Steven for saving me at the point in the race.  We played a round of front-seat-back-seat before I was about to convince myself I had enough energy to push ahead.

I grabbed some mountain dew (so delicious) at the next aid station before pushing on to the part of the course I was dreading. I had a lot of adrenaline pumping and this part of the course wasn’t bad. I was able to push up some of the inclines with little hiking, which raised my spirits a lot. Before I got to the next aid station I passed a woman who I’d counted as woman number 11 as turn-around runners passed me during the first loop. Wait, could I get top 10? I was in and out of the next aid station with barely enough time to grab another GU and water. This was the last 8-mile race I had to run and I promised myself to cruise through it.

I picked off runners until I was completely alone without a visible runner behind me or in front of me. Something I was really looking forward to was the water crossing, it was like a mandatory ice bath that was going to be a shock to my system and hopefully pick me up for the last seven miles. When I reached it I literally fist pumped the air. I had a sudden thought that I hadn’t gone to the bathroom all race, something that meant I wasn’t hydrated enough. I didn’t want to waste any precious time stopping to pee so yup, I force peed myself right there and when I dived into the cold water, I dunked myself in waist-deep and considered myself clean again.

I was feeling so good right then, speeding along the course with a now empty bladder (which hadn’t been bothering me in the first place but running is a mental game). David Horton told us Friday night that he had driven on some of the course to pack down some snow and I was taking advantage of those tire tracks. The snow was packed down, I only had a few miles left, I felt good. Then I hit an uphill. Wasn’t the course supposed to be all downhill? Suddenly I started to feel not so strong and my pace decreased significantly during this climb. My pace hadn’t dropped the entire race except for some 30-second hikes and I was starting to panic. I kept periodically checking behind me to see if anyone was catching me but kept seeing no one. At one point I thought I saw Keely, who was wearing a white jacket, and tried to sprint for a while, only to look back and realize what I had been seeing was snow, not someone’s jacket. During this entire climb no one had caught up to me, "damn I guess I'm still moving pretty fast"
Then I got to a road and looked for some muddy snow that indicated the connecting path. All the snow had been untouched. I turned around and looked at tire tracks I had just run up and only saw one pair of shoe prints in them. I messed up somewhere. I screamed every word of profanity I could think of before turning around and racing down what I had just run up. I was checking the woods for the turn back onto the course that I’d missed the first time and saw nothing. It began to dawn on me that I’d just blown the race for myself. I got all the way to the bottom of the hill before I saw two other runners beginning to climb and told them to turn around. Coincidentally, Kelly was at the bottom (going the right way of course) and directed me back on. She said Keely was ahead of her and I took off.

I really started to lose mental strength and couldn’t get it back. At the next aid station I was told Keely was less than a minute ahead and I took off way too fast. I ended up seeing Keely less than 200 yards ahead at one point on an uphill but I lost everything after that. She was definitely feeling better than me by the way she was running. I’ve heard so many stories of runners who have had broken bones or twisted ankles and still pushed forward (pick up Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run book, turn to any chapter, and you’ve got yourself an example) but I wasn’t one of those runners that day. Keely pulled ahead of me by 11 minutes the next four miles before the finish. A lot can happen in four miles. I went from feeling pretty disappointed in myself to genuinely enjoying the finishing downhill with an older runner named Michael. 

At the finish line I chatted with some VT runners who had finished a decent amount of time before me before going inside and diving into some double stuffed oreos (by “some” I mean 20+). Just like at MMTR, I was surprised at the energy people have after running an ultra (especially when it’s in “Horton Miles”) and was even more surprised to find I was one of them. I ate myself sick, showered, the team snapped a picture, then I took a killer nap on the ride home. I need to personally thank Dylan for staying awake to drive the entire 2.5 hours back, him and Jonathon had taken 6th and 7th overall and I have no idea how they didn’t fall asleep.

The rest of the day was spent exactly how it should have been, with way too many oreos to handle and only four hours of sleep because of my high sugar intake. The experience was absolutely exhilarating and I can’t wait to see everyone at Terrapin (and earn myself some more oreos). I’m so proud to finally call myself a VT Ultra-runner and be part of this amazing group of people.

Hokies and Horton
Photo Cred: Mike Jones's phone and whoever used Mike Jones's phone to take this picture