Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In the End: A Stream of Consciousness Year End Review of 2013

2,405 miles. That's what the app tells me. I hadn't set goals for the year, which was good seeing how running went south for a while there in mid-February, a mileage goal for the year may have just been to much for me to take.

I was going to write a post like last year, summing up the best and worst of the year but as I began to think of the past twelve months I realized there was a hard line drawn when you divide the days of your life by best and worst and I didn't feel like doing that.

So instead I started to write a recap and this is what came out.


New Year's Day, 15 miles in snow and ice on the Terrapin course with Jeremy, Todd, Kevin, Sam, Jared and a new guy, Phil Layman. I was the slowest of the group, still sore from a hard run the previous Saturday. This pain in my calf would continue to grow as I continued to fight the very thought of resting it until I was given no other choice. First run of the year, Frozen Toe 10k. I didn't win a jacket. I was still given a spot on the Aid Station's running team. January gave way to early morning runs with Alissa, Nicole, Kelly and lots of loops, both slow and fast, at Holiday Lake. Cold, dark mornings, some of which filled with rain. Double loops and more fast loops, I fought what could be the way I normally would, self-doubt. Start of the Lynchburg Trail Running Club, let's see where this goes. Holiday Lake PR, more calf pain, double runs the day after as if I only had a brain. More pain in the calf, let's run a 5k the week after. Pain, more pain. Stop.

That's stop running, for ten days, so that you'll yearn for it again, so that you'll learn from it perhaps. A long ten days followed by weeks of running with pain but not as much. Long slow runs in the mountains. Constant questioning will I even go to California? Terrapin. Promise Land. Going through the motions. Driven by fear and a little desire. Long wet run with Brian and Kevin, the kids came out to crew in the rain, this is real friendship. The cove race followed by extra mileage at home on Candlers in the rain with more friends who want to see me succeed, I spent the better part of those three hours further convinced I had no place toeing the starting line at Western States. Go ahead, buy a plane ticket, taper.

California, Tahoe. The Western States trail. The biggest pine cones I have ever seen. Lake Tahoe. The Donner Party. Scott, Sue and Eli driving up to crew us. All the notices about bears. The complete shutting off of my brain. I came to see the mountains, toe the starting line, I had hope that I would finish but not a lot of confidence. Ankle pain and macerated feet. More time off. More letdown. Floundering through the hot and humid summer months. Grindstone hell day 1. Grindstone rain day 2. So much questioning. Wondering. Indecision. Iron Mountain. So much vomit. Tears of frustration. More vomiting. The mexican dinner tirade, I am an idiot.

Douthat 40 miler. I just want to have a good day, enjoy the run. I have never met a goal in quite the way that I did this day. I had a good day, I enjoyed the run. Thirty miles with Brian Keefer, ten miles for Ultra Signup. Real surprise. Real enjoyment. Hell or High Watermelon. Good friends and good times. Shifting gears. Finally saying no to Grindstone. Moving on to Masochist.

Skipping Deep Hollow because tradition and family trump my selfish desires....sometimes. Long Mountain. Cole Mountain. Candler's Mountain. Rinse. Repeat. Government shutdown. Grindstone postponed. Grindstone cancelled. Fears. Doubt. Head trouble, a new kind of injury. Wednesday night therapy and mexican. Hellgate acceptance email. Masochist. Just an okay day in the mountains after a little hard work. Change the name to Blue Ridge Trail Runners, it suits us more anyways. Move on to marathon running. The love of other's success in themselves. I have become that person that runs marathons for fun.

Then something happened on the one Hellgate training run I did. I completely lost my mojo and I had little to work with from the start. Early taper. Ready for the year to just end. Doubt. Doubt. Doubt. Throw in a little Turkey Trot with the kindergartener and then it's time for Hellgate.  Midnight start. But a fair start. Freezing rain and 2 am=unmeasurable levels of self-doubt, struggle. Tough love. Great friends. Finish line. End of year blues. The feeling that I need a new beginning.

2014: Looking Ahead

I am, and will always be, an imperfect person. My goal is to be better than I was before. I hope, someday when my 40, 50, 60...year old self looks back it remembers, that it realizes, that I tried to focus on the real and the right, that I tried not to focus on the small and petty, but I make mistakes, I am making mistakes. Time slipping away, time wasted.

The new year's resolutions of recent years have been very selfish goals on my part, run this many miles, PR this distance. In 2014, I aim to shift focus. I am not saying I won't run just as much as I did this year. I am not saying that the desire to be faster is not always present. I am saying I want others things more right now than just those things, that they are not the priority they might have been going into 2013.

I want to be a better person. I want to be gracious, adaptable, compassionate, tolerant. I want to love more, laugh more. I want to have more patience. Do more quality time with my children. I want these things because the unhappiness I have felt of late I know is coming within, from something I have misplaced or overlooked.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Hellgate 100K++ 2013

The Most Fun You Can Have Running 66.6 Miles In The Mountains


This was my first time running Hellgate, and I went into the race without many expectations or goals.  I was lucky to have crewed and paced my wonderful wife Alexis here last year, so I was somewhat familiar with the course.  And I trained all summer to run my first 100 miler which never happened, so I had logged a pretty good amount of mountainous long runs.  But, I haven't been focused since Grindstone was canceled, and MMTR was possibly the worst running experience of my life a few short weeks ago.  So I went into Hellgate 2013 in fairly good shape physically, but in a bit of a funk mentally.

So I didn't bother setting any time goals for the event, and instead decided to try to have a good day running.  Something that I heard at Western States this summer and has stuck with me is that it is better to just consider events of this magnitude "runs" and not "races".  Only the few elite runners at the top of the list are really racing.  

Another gem from Western States: "...we will all be measured on the same scale, we will test ourselves against the mountains."  This wasn't going to be about any other runner or anyone else's expectations of me.  It would simply be me vs the mountains.

Race Day (or night rather):

Some people think that Horton is being especially sadistic in starting Hellgate at midnight on Friday, but the genius of it is that we all have to run through the dark.  If the race started at 6 am, then the irritating fast guys would still finish in time for dinner and never even need a head lamp.  So really, Horton is being at least fair, but arguably even a little compassionate.  

We all got to the start line knowing that the weather forecast was bad.  The chance of rain and freezing rain hovering somewhere between imminent and completely unavoidable.  So we knew what we were in for, and we were there anyway.   I am extremely blessed to be part of the best running community in the world, and from that group of runners I was lucky enough to get the best crew ever assembled to help and guide me through this adventure.  

Alexis, Kevin Correll, and I were all running and being crewed by Blake, Kristen, and Jamie, who flawlessly managed to crew three runners all through the night, morning and into the afternoon.  Without the support of that fantastic crew, this race would have undoubtedly gone much differently than it did.  With the weather forecast and the oppressive course dominating all of our thoughts on Friday, this crew was weighed down with approximately 72 changes of clothes, lightweight jackets, heavy jackets, waterproof this and that, changes of shoes for all of us, 14 different kinds of soup, a camp stove, 712 gels in 19 different flavors, raisons, snickers bars, waffles, granola bars, and 3 different kinds of sodas, and not only were they expected to remember which runner wanted what and when, but they did such a perfect job that my only complaint is that I didn't get any Mac'n'Cheese at Day Creek.

So we took off into the dark forest with the support of our beloved friends, the knowledge of an approaching winter storm, and the legendary stories of this humbling course to keep us company into the night.  132 braves souls started at 12:01 am at the Hellgate terminus of the Glenwood horse trail, embarking as one on a journey that everyone must, in the end, complete on their own.

From the start I got seperated from Alexis and Kevin, but I found Charlie and Phil to run with for a while, through the woods and the first knee-deep-ice-cold creek crossing strategically located at mile 2.  We all started up the long climb to Petites Gap together, but drifted apart as we climbed the first 5 mile incline at our own pace.  Near the top Alexis and Kevin caught up with me, I was hiking and they were running up the hill like champs.  I pushed a little harder than I wanted to just to stay with them for the last mile of the climb, and to the second aid station at mile 8.

At Petites Gap, our crew had a table and stove set up and looked more like an aid station than the actual aid station did.  We all picked up our packs here, as we had all stolen Kevin's plan to start with just a handheld on that first climb.  (Genius)  As I was drinking down a hot cup of noodles and watching my comrades run away, I was amused to see other runners skipping the official aid station and approach our crew for support.  That is how awesome our crew was.  

So I left Petites Gap knowing exactly what was in front of me, and finding some comfort in the fact that I was familiar with this part of the course.  Technical downhill followed by smooth rolling singletrack, followed by 3 miles of steep gravel road.  Predictably I passed Kevin and Alexis cautiously picking their way through a nasty patch of rocky trail, and I was surprised to see Phil again so soon, considering that Phil likes to bomb a good downhill just as much as me.  I made good time on the singletrack section, and hit Hunting Creek Road at about 2:30 am, and that is when the weather started.

After a couple of steps on the road I heard the rain in the trees, and then I felt it on my face.  This was much earlier than any of the forecasts had called for, this was going to be a miserable night.  But then the gods of the lonely mountain runners smiled on us, and the rain turned to sleet.  Delightful little ice pellets that bounced right off of me without even leaving a damp spot on my clothes.  There was hope in this, and I was in the market for hope, so I took this as a good sign.

The climb up to Camping Gap and Aid Station 3 was a long slow endeavor.  I hiked alone in the dark with the sleet pelting me, but I hiked steady and I made it to the top.  I greeted the Aid Station workers cheerily, but they didn't seem to be enjoying the weather or the cold windy spot that is Camping Gap, so I tried harder to spread my good cheer, making jokes about a the weather while eating everything I could.  Brenton Sweyers was working at this Aid Station, and it is always nice to see someone you know.  He encouraged me on and said that he would see me at Little Cove.

The next section of the course is what we call "the grassy road", because basically that's what it is.  A long grassy service road that rides just under the ridge line of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the ever-windy side.  I believe this road is about 6 miles long, but there have been times when it felt like 20.  It is non-stop rolling up and down, short little hills that break your momentum, your rhythm, and your spirit.  But this night was different.  About a quarter of mile from camping gap the sleet turned to snow, and then the snow got heavy, and then the night became surreal.

There were times when the snow was falling so hard that you couldn't see more than six feet in front of you.  After about a mile of this it began sticking to the ground and accumulating fast.  I was able to turn my headlamp to the red-light feature and just follow the footprints of runners in front of me.  I passed four or five people on the grassy road, and none of them seemed to be enjoying it as much as I was.  I felt like a little kid playing in the woods.  This wasn't a race to me, it was an adventure, and I decided to make it a grand one.

By the time I started the technical single track decent to Overstreet Falls Aid Station, the snow was already at least three inches deep.  I was having a marvelous time when I hit the Aid Station, and I chatted with the volunteers about the snow while I waited for a fresh grilled cheese sandwich to come off the grill.  A runner I had passed on the downhill caught up to me here and we left hiking up the next hill together, sandwich in hand.

We hiked up the mile and a half to where the Aid Station would have been if the Parkway hadn't been closed, and I left him as I passed Floyd's Field and started into parts unknown.  The next two sections of the course were a complete mystery to me, but I knew about the Aid Stations from crewing last year.  

The trail to Jennings Creek was mostly downhill, punctuated with semi-frozen bogs that tried to steal your shoes in the murky icy mud.  I ran through these frequent swamps with wild abandon knowing that I was going to change my shoes and socks at the next Aid Station.  It was fun.  In a childish, splashing in the puddles kind of way.

I got to Jennings Creek a little ahead of schedule and surprised my crew and Horton a little bit.  It was after 6 am when I got there, so I greeted everyone good-morning, Blake filled my pack and I ate scrambled eggs and pancakes while I changed my shoes and socks.  I felt bad for Kristen and Jamie who looked so tired and cold.  I gathered up my gear, and headed off towards Little Cove, and a couple of big climbs.

The first of these climbs is a steep gravel road, and on this hill all the precipitation stopped and a thick fog settled in.  The fog was do dense that I turned off my headlamp completely, and just followed the road hoping I didn't miss a turn somewhere.  I guess the sun came up somewhere in this area, but all I can say for certain is that the sky lightened.  After the initial climb there was a long downhill road section that I found myself resenting because I knew that the next Aid Station was on the top of a big hill.  But after the downhill, and a little bit of rolling single track, I found the bottom of that big hill I had to climb.

Waiting at the bottom of the hill, since crews weren't allowed at Little Cove this year, was my crew and another, just there to cheer people on.  It was nice to see them, but I had to keep moving up, up and away.  At the top of that climb was Little Cove Aid Station, supposedly the halfway point of the race.  Brenton was there and we talked about the time splits, it was 8:05 am when I arrived and Horton said you should double your time from there, so I figured that I was looking at a 16 hour finish.  

The next section contains an infamous trail known as "the devil's trail" and Brenton said that it took him 2 hours to run it last year.  So that was my goal, 2 hours.  Brenton also told me that the first part was gently rolling and runnable so I ran it even though my legs wanted to walk some of the hills.  I ran for a long ways before I found a hill worthy of taking a hiking break.  I like hiking breaks.  Then the trail narrowed and became slightly technical and began to descend and wind in and out, but nothing that I wasn't accustomed to having spent a good part of my summer on the AT.  So when I got to the next Aid Station at Bearwallow I had to give Horton a hard time about how "sissy" the "devil's trail" was.  

It was sleeting again, but my crew was there with hot food and encouragement, and in addition to that, half of the runners I know seemed to be there cheering and spectating.  I got some news about the front runners, and some news about Alexis and Kevin, and then they kicked me out and made me run again.

The rest of the course I had run the year before with Alexis, but I didn't remember it all that well.  The first trail was much more uphill than I recalled, and it was hard to run for long without hiking.  But after a mile or so the trail became rolling instead of steadily climbing and I was able to run pretty well all the way to the Aid Station at Boblet's Gap.  This was the last time I would see my crew until the finish, but they were right on time, arriving a few minutes before me.  I didn't need much so they just helped me get some hot food from the Aid Station table, and gave me some more news about some other runners out there.

Leaving Boblet's Gap and heading towards the Aid Station at Day Creek is known as the "forever section", supposedly only 6.6 miles long, but in actuality it is more like 8 or 9, and feels like 12 at that point in the day.  I met a runner in the woods who was also running his first Hellgate, and struggling a little, and I think I ruined his day when I corrected his pacer on the distance to the next Aid Station.  He said that he was sure we were within a mile of the Aid Station because his watch said that he had run 5.5 miles since they left Boblet's Gap.  When I told him that it was in fact the "forever section" and that the posted mileage was a vicious lie on the part of the Race Director and that we probably had another 3 miles to go, I thought he was going to quit right then and there.  It was mostly downhill from that point, and I ran pretty well for that point in the race, and that last Horton Mile took me 32 minutes to cover.

I got to Day Creek Aid Station and Sam and Steve were there because they were crewing our buddy Charlie, and they helped me get in and out and moving up the last hill of the day.  When I left Day Creek it was no longer raining, sleeting, or snowing, for the first time all race.  By the time I climbed up to Black Horse Gap the fog was so thick that I kept seeing people who weren't really there moving around in front of me.  On no less than six occasions I was positive that people were coming towards me out of the fog, only to turn into small pine trees or stumps as I got close enough.  

Then I reached the top.  I had 3 miles of downhill service road left and I was done.  The fog thinned out fast on this side of the mountain, but the first mile or two were somewhat technical and I ended up kicking a rock pretty hard and almost falling on my face.  Possibly because I was tired and possibly because I was running harder than I had all race, but this was the one and only time I kicked anything during Hellgate.  I still ended up losing a toenail the next day.

The last mile of Hellgate is flat smooth road that turns to asphalt as you turn into Camp Bethel and approach the finish line.  Somewhere on the final decent it had begun to rain but I didn't really notice it until I was nearing the finish and it looked completely deserted.  But Horton came out to meet me, and it was over, and I was happy, and I had fun.

I finished in 13 hours and 50 minutes, 19th overall.

Post Race Thoughts:

Something happened out there in those mountains, and I found something that I have been missing for a while.  I run because I like to run.  I have fun.  I run in the mountains and the woods and not on the roads and sidewalks, because I am looking for an adventure.  An escape.  I have never raced well, and that is because I am just not a racer.  I'm just a runner.  And that is enough.

Some adventures have to be shared, and Hellgate is a great Adventure and I hope that everyone who wants to try it gets a chance to try it sometime.  Hellgate may not be easy, but there is fun to be had out there every time you run into the mountains and forests.  And when we forget that, then we forget why we run.

Crews and Volunteers make events like this possible for average runners like me, there may be a handful of people who could run that course unsupported, but I'm not one of them.  Thank you so much to everyone who helped me and every other runner out there.  I know that it is my turn to give back, and I will be crewing and volunteering a lot more in the coming year.

I want to thank Dr. David Horton for not only creating such a wonderfully inspiring event, but also for being such a motivation to so many of us in this running community.


Race Report: Hellgate 100k++ 2013

Hellgate 100k++

Fincastle, VA

December 14, 2013 12:01 am

"And I've had it better than some and I know that I shouldn't complain, though my grandfather told me once that all pain hurts the same."
-Langhorne Slim, Back to the Wild

The last entry I wrote to myself in my log was Friday afternoon just before I attempted a short nap before heading with the crew over to Camp Bethel for the dinner and race briefing that precedes the midnight start of Hellgate ended with this, "You have done pain and suffering before, you do not have to do this everyday but you have to do it today."  If only I hadn't forgotten this when night finally came around.

The pre-race festivities were rather enjoyable, lots of familiar friendly faces at the dinner, none seemingly so nervous as myself but Blake even commented to me that I didn't look my usual tormented self. Of course, I believed that I had fretted enough about the weather for the fear of it to finally be behind me. There was quite a bit of shop talk after the race briefing: pants vs. shorts, type of gloves or mittens, the performance of an outer shell. However, by 10 pm most of the group had dispersed to dress or try and snag a last short nap.

I didn't feel particularly nervous, I was honestly pretty confident at that point that I could finish and was feeling that the weather may not even end up being so bad. I realized how much I still had left to do when it was time to head towards the start and Kevin graciously gave me the front seat of the suburban. We were tightly packed with seven people and enough pre, during and post run gear that there wasn't much room to budge. I took my two Pepto Bismol tablets and drank a little water.

The group of 130+ runners and their crews caravan to the start of Hellgate every year. The few minutes between arriving and the start of the race is usually spent with smiles and picture taking, bathroom trips and last minute gear adjustments. I did my best to not think about what we were actually getting ready to do. I packed my vest and my borrowed Nathan pack (thanks Alissa Keith) with fuel: raisins, granola bars, peanut butter crackers, fig newtons, and Tums. I stuck a pack of wipes in my bra to guarantee their presence during the event. I filled a bottle with water and stashed some Fig Newtons in the pouch, they would accompany me to Petit's Gap, aid station 2, where I would pick up the Nathan pack from the crew.

Our crew, and I say "our" because they crewed three runners the whole time, Kevin, Todd and myself and at least a few more over the course of the race, consisted of Blake and Kristen Edmondson and Jamie Swyers. They gave up decent sleep and warm beds and in Kristen's case a normal celebration for the day of her birth, to come out and support and care for us through this crazy adventure. That makes them mighty special in my book.

Kevin, Todd, Chelsie, Me and Sheryl just before the midnight start.
The race began a minute past midnight. The first few miles are fairly runnable through rolling grassy road and single track. Kevin Correll had been saying since Masochist that he was going to run Hellgate with me, I told him I was going to be too slow for him and that it wouldn't last the whole run, probably wouldn't last the first mile, he was rather assured that we would, we started out running alongside one another and I wondered once again if we would really be able to run very long together.  Within minutes my body had warmed up enough that I was comfortable and the first creek crossing a few miles in, while deep enough to soak just to my knees, was short and not too miserable. Shortly after that we hit the first aid station and the gravel road that takes you to Petits Gap. Kevin and I ran further than I expected up the grave road, we passed a few people we probably shouldn't have and when I caught sight of what I thought was a Hawaiian shirt, I may have pushed to run even further in hopes of a glimpse of Todd.

My husband, Todd, who is earning his nickname Magnum PI, wore a cotton Hawaiian shirt to the Hellgate start. I think he's a goofball, but I love how unconcerned and confident he can be, I fretted over what I would wear and how greatly that could effect my day, he wore a shirt that's been hanging in his closet for over a decade. We caught up with Todd and Phil Layman was directly in front of him. We did walk a few times over the steeper sections of the gravel road but arrived in a group to Petits Gap.

Blake, Kristen and Jamie had Blake's homemade "Hellgate" table set up with ramen cooking. They had our packs and we switched off water bottles and readied our packs. Blake offered me ramen and I should have said no because my stomach had already bothered me just the slightest headed up to the aid station but I didn't say no and drank the broth in the cup of noodles he handed me. I gave the noodles back and said I couldn't get them down and headed off across the parkway with Kevin, Todd still standing at the aid station.

To hear Todd talk he walks more and waits at aid stations more than I would ever dream and yet he is fast enough when running well that his time would never even hint at these facts. We hadn't been traversing the downhill rocky trail a quarter mile when Todd came upon us full speed ahead, he asked to get around us and that, I knew, was the last we would see of Todd.

Up until this point I had actually been feeling pretty good, the weather, while cold, wasn't all that bad. I was having a rather good time. But on the downhill my stomach took a turn for the worse and I began to regret the ramen. Then, just after 2 am, it started to rain. Between my stomach and the rain, which having seen the weather forecast I immediately thought spelled doom, started immediately to wear me down mentally. By the time we reached Hunting Creek Road at 2:11 am, the rain had turned to snow but it didn't stop me from having this race changing thought, "I'm not going to finish today."

Up Hunting Creek Road we hiked, Kevin and I were both rather quiet, and my head turned from bad to worse. I was tired and cold and figured that the weather that I feared for more than two weeks had arrived. I started to miss my children, it is Christmastime and I had chosen to be away from them, and for what I wondered, to suffer and stagger through the dark and cold? I missed them, I turned the feeling of failure I was feeling in the race to how I was failing them as a mom, choosing this test of an event over time spent with them.

We hiked nearly every step to Camping Gap, Sophie passed us looking strong as well as a few other runners. I didn't care even a little that I was being passed, figuring I was doomed to quit and that frightened me a little more. We reached Camping Gap and saw Brenton who said Todd had flown through the aid station. Phil was there at the top but suffering from knee trouble and we encouraged him to come with us as we headed out. We hiked and ate and then turned back to running a little. At this point I finally confided in Kevin that I was having a hard time. Just getting it out there, that I was struggling, made me feel a little better.

The snow continued to fall on us and accumulate on the ground around us but it was prettier and better than rain to run through. The next section was one of the best of the entire day, Kevin and I actually talked and I spent less time on what I was actually doing or failing to do. The last section on the way to Overstreet Falls was a little technical and some of the rocks were icy and I even took a fall and slid along the snow so we took it a little easier but we still managed to get to Overstreet Falls before 5 am. We got some grilled cheese quarters and headed up Headforemost to Floyd's field.

We hiked every step of this climb and were passed by Amy Albu running up that climb looking strong. I stopped for my first pitstop of the day. We got to Floyd's field about 5:25 am I think Kevin said and it was so cool to cross the parkway covered in snow because it didn't even look like a road in the untouched snow. From Floyd's Field we hiked and jogged until Chelsie Viar ran into us, and for Kevin that was a literal 'ran into us', she had a big smile on her face and passed by us flying with a "Hey y'all". She was looking very strong and I didn't figure we would see her again either.

Once Chelsie passed us Kevin picked up the pace without word that we were going to do so and I held on but it wasn't long after that the increased pace brought back the negativity from Hunting Creek road. This time with a vengeance. I started to let Kevin pull away and once when he slowed I told him to just go off and catch Chelsie that I would be okay. He laughed it off but didn't run off either.

I did not want to run. I could not find a reason to. I wanted dry clothes, sleep, my children. I continued to get very low about the time I spend away from my kids training to then have a day like the one I was having. I wanted to quit but this time it was a stronger feeling. I started to look for reasons that I could not quit but nothing was strong enough to encourage me. I was sad that I would have to admit to the Blue Ridge Trail Runners that I had quit, I figured Horton would think I was weak, I figured people would think it was because of Chelsie passing me, but I still just wanted to quit.

The aid station at Jenning's Creek had a lot of familiar faces and they were encouraging me to go on but I wasted time stalling, I did not want to leave the aid station. Kevin was quiet and I further felt bad that I was disappointing him, that I was hurting his race, and I was a little mad that he wouldn't just leave me to wallow in self pity. My crew offered me broth but I turned it down, they gave me eggs and I ate a bite and put it down. I wasn't eating well but I didn't realize this until much later. If I could realize it all comes back to not eating well I might actually have a better day, but at this point I wanted not food but sleep, or so I thought.

Walking up from Jenning's Creek the darkness fueled by exhaustion came on and I thought HARD about turning around and going back to the aid station and dropping, I figured the crew had already left or I probably would have. I wanted so, so badly to be done, I was sad and angry with myself. The sun came up on our slowly moving bodies. Kevin stopped to use the restroom and I kept moving at a zombie's pace, I started to drift off to sleep as I was moving and then the lowest of lows came on me. I would fall asleep and wake after a moment, I started to fantasize about falling asleep and falling down and getting hurt so I didn't have to go on. When Kevin caught back up with me I dreamed about going into the woods myself "to pee" and going to sleep in the snow. I was fixated on getting out of this ordeal. Kevin was once again up ahead and not talking to me, I wondered what he was thinking but didn't ask. I kept on thinking of all the reasons I was quitting, not why I needed to stay in the game.

On the road to Little Cove (the flat one not the steep uphill one) I decided if I saw the crew I was quitting, it would be the only sign I needed to finally get out. I knew I would disappoint the BRTR, Horton, Todd, maybe others. I knew that I would DNF and end my pathetic streak. I figured I needed it to end, it was all for the best. I was sad that my Western States qualifier for the year was out the window but figured it was for the best if I couldn't even finish a 100k. I feared the judgement I would receive about quitting, that people would think it was because I wasn't doing well, but I longed for my children, I wished for their unconditional love, I knew they would think no less of me for dropping.

We were upon the suburban without my fully realizing it I was so lost in my mind, Blake said something like "good going" and pulled me back, "I need you to drive to the aid station, I'm quitting", I said. Kevin turned around and just looked at me, I hadn't told him, I knew I was disappointing him most of all and that Todd, who is always so proud of my accomplishments, would also be disappointed, but I fully believed that I could not make it to Bearwallow. I had looked at my devilish watch and knew it was about ten miles. I just knew I did not have ten miles left in me, yet alone the distance to the finish. Blake just laughed, that's right laughed at me and said "ah naw, you'll have to make it to Bearwallow and then we'll do what we have to to push you out of there if we need to." I think he even said something about locking the doors of the car. Kevin just continued to look at me for a minute through all of this and I just looked at him and said "I'm about to cry."
 I kept moving around the bend where the road turns and Jamie yelled from the warmth of the car "Smile". I turned and glared and gave her a fake smile.  Kevin began to pull ahead further than at any other time during the race and I figured he had finally had enough and was finally leaving me. I hated myself that he was not running to his potential because he felt stuck with me.

Now I knew I wasn't quitting at Little Cove to wait for a ride from Charlie Hesse. Horton and Hesse had done a pretty good job of painting that ugly picture and I knew that wasn't for me, not today anyway. And I knew that like it or not I was going to have to make it to Bearwallow now and that Kathie Colling would be there and I wouldn't be able to tell her she had come all this way to not run. Having to make it to Bearwallow followed by knowing that I had to run with my dear friend after her making it out to the aid station motivated me for the first time all night. Kevin had a good lead on me so I pulled out my ipod and put it on. I almost immediately stopped the negative self talk, it was like listening to the words of my music was a reprieve from listening to myself. I had been along for far too long with my thoughts.

Then I ate four peanut butter crackers and a granola bar as we climbed to the aid station. Shortly after that I started to run little short bursts to catch back up to Kevin. When I finally caught back up to him I apologized for being so crazy. He smiled and asked if my music was helping, I told him it was but I also felt like maybe I had been too tired to eat like I should have been eating.

We made it to Little Cove aid station at 8:36. It was cold, wet and depressing. There was little food and no one there like last year. Brenton said Todd was doing amazing and asked what drugs he'd been given and he said Chelsie was fifth women. We left that aid station and headed into what was my personal hell last year. With hell now behind me we ran really well through here, I was fairly confident that no matter how ugly I was going to finish this thing. Having spent hours feeling otherwise this was a huge weight lifted. I anticipated the Devil Trail and the road crossing so these things didn't get to me.

We saw and passed a female walking, she looked injured but she said that she was just having a low spot. Then Kevin thought he saw Chelsie up ahead, I almost didn't believe it but then we saw her on an uphill. We ran with her a few minutes, we swapped war stories and gave her a hard time about bumping into Kevin when she zoomed past us earlier in the night. She said she was sixth female and told me I should go hunt down fifth, I told her I really didn't care knowing that my pacer wasn't allowed this year if I was top five and that I needed that pacer more than a top five finish. She said she was cold and needed new socks and shoes. She led a ways and then stepped aside wanting us to take the lead and it wasn't long after that I noticed she was no longer there. I thought we may end up seeing her again but wasn't concerned either way.

We saw Blanks and Grattan not long before the road crossing and Grattan told me Kathie was waiting on me reading to go.We made it to Bearwallow at about 10:30, roughly same as last year. Horton as I ran in called on the megaphone "Alexis Thomas. She's fourth, no fifth, sixth. First loser." I was certainly first loser, couldn't argue that. Blake and the rest of the crew were there with the little table set up and I didn't even go to the regular aid station tables.  I drank some broth and Jamie filled up my pack. Kathie gave me some peanut butter quarters and I grabbed some handwarmers and finally dropped my headlamps.

With Blake for Kevin and Kathie for I we headed out of the aid station. There was a lot more climbing leaving the aid station than I recalled but Kathie was very encouraging, she kept telling us to run to the next streamer or encouraging us that it was very runnable. She wasn't pushy though, just encouraging, she asked if we were eating and drinking. I told her I was eating well now but hadn't been for some time in the middle. She was doing exactly what my exhausted head wanted and needed. We jogged most of the next section that is winding and runnable and Kathie switched to non running conversation which was also awesome.

The climb to Bobblet's wasn't steep but a little wet and rocky. We ran and walked it and met a Canadian, Cameron, and his pacer and also met Joe Byron along the way who had come out to pace Kevin for a little while. At Bobblet's we saw our crew and I got more granola bars and peanut butter crackers, we also ate quesadilla's and tater tots made on the griddle by Sam Price. He remarked that I seemed better than I looked at Jenning's Creek. I admitted that I had no recollection of him at Jenning's Creek.

We left Bobblet's with food in hand and caught back up with Cameron. We joked and carried on and had a good time but I also felt that we weren't running fast enough, last year Todd and I had crushed this section. I could feel Kathie's pull but didn't feel like the rest of the group did. The whole forever section seemed to go a little slower than I would have liked and we finally managed to get around Cameron when I set my sights on Rick Gray, it was nothing personal but it was now beginning to rain and I was growing more and more tired once again and knew that I had to get moving in order to stave off a further low in my already long day.

We saw Tammy who had come out to meet Rick and Kathie asked where the next female was, Tammy said it was Sophie and she had a half hour on us. The forever section, according to my Garmin, was 8.6 miles. We were having a fun time but I knew we weren't making it to Camp Bethel in under fifteen hours. However, I was growing more certain we could do it in about 15:30 and that would be good enough after the day I had.

At the Day Creek aid station I laughed at the Diet Cola they offered and ate some milky ways and a few slivers of PB&J. We headed out after a few minutes of looking over the table like more options may appear if we stared harder. We were a just out of the aid station when someone said something about mac and cheese I asked who had mac and cheese and Kevin said Opal did, I ran back to the aid station for mac and cheese, Opal had a cup ready for me. It was pretty pathetic, me trying to manage a spoon with my freezing fingers but I managed to get a few bites in.

We saw Grattan and he hiked with us a ways before turning around to get in a little bit longer of a run. We hiked every step up to the foggy top. At the top we had 45 minutes to make Kevin's 15:15 goal. It was very cold at the top crossing over the parkway. The rain was the heaviest it had been all day and my body was starting to shiver, my knees red from the cold, I was so ready to be done. At this point I could have kicked it, there's something about those last few miles that rejuvenates desire in me, but I also didn't feel like there was a chance at Top 5, and I was happy with that as I had fretted the pacer situation after hearing about it, I didn't have to feel guilty or stress being disqualified if I was sixth or lower the whole time. Kevin was also beginning to suffer a tad from exhaustion and there was no way I was leaving him, after the day we'd had there was no way I was crossing that line even a second before him.

Kevin and I coming into Camp Bethel Saturday afternoon.
Kevin and I finished in 15:10 side by side, that final mile may have been my favorite of the entire day. It was very cold and wet those last six miles and they hurt as much as any of the miles but there was also something about those final miles that made me feel as though I'd come full circle.

Once inside the warm building, Horton told me I hadn't let him down too badly, I was only a spot of two from what he'd seeded me. Christy and Todd made sure I had food before I got out of my wet clothes and Sophie told me that I was only a few minutes behind her, that I had come in just after she had. I was glad to know that I hadn't come in too far behind the top 5. I took a shower and it wasn't even painful like last year. I got dry clothes on and went back out to hang out and watch others finish. I moved around from sofa to sofa talking with the other crews and runners. That room on the afternoon following the start of Hellgate is one special place to be. I felt lucky to have come, to have endured, to have great friends.

I am glad I didn't quit, that I had tough love through the tough times that got me to keep going but I do feel like I need a break, even if it's only for a week or two. I need to recover, refocus, maybe even re-invent. I know that some of Saturday night's struggle was not eating well but even after I felt better I wasn't really motivated to push hard. Maybe all I need is a short break, a new to do list, but there's a part of me that wonders if I'm just not any good for the long stuff. The thought makes me a little sad because when it's all over and done I want to feel like I could be a contender. I feel like I'm doing things wrong. Again, maybe it's just post-race funk, but I feel like I'm not really sure where to go next from here.

Hoping that's just the last of Hellgate getting to my head.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

This is how I feel it all got started.

I have been thinking today about how I got here. In some ways I feel like I've always been on the path that would take me here, from those years of walking the track with Todd, Eddie and Erin to the purchase and one time use of a double jogger after the twins were born, from the conversation in middle school with the track coach to the midnight sprints in high school through Peaks View Park when inebriation was more the driving factor than a finish line, I have possibly always been moving towards becoming a runner.

But instead of boring you with the very beginning I believe it's best to chose February 2009 as the starting point that really led me to where I am today. I was a few months pregnant with our third child and had been drifting in and out of highs and lows for sometime.  At that time I had a falling out with a friend who had blessed me with her friendship for over a decade. I was completely in the wrong and will never forget her honest email knocking me down in size and with good reason. I never responded, I knew I was in the wrong but felt that any apology offered would come off flat and weak. I confided in my dad and he told me to give it a few days, but I knew that the friendship was over and had maybe been over for sometime. I wondered had I been stronger could it have ended more pleasantly, sooner  and without the hard feelings. Following that falling out I entered a dark and gloomy place, I hated who I was (again with good reason). I had put on weight since having the twins. I had failed in my mind to be the mother I had always thought I would become. I felt I was headed nowhere.

In the summer of that year Todd registered and trained to do an adventure race through Odyssey Adventure Racing. His brothers had been adventure racing for sometime and Todd was inspired. He trained through the spring and into the summer. When the race came in mid-July he drove solo to the event to be a solo participant. Being eight months pregnant and miserable, the twins and I stayed home. He called from the event, he didn't have cash to pay an extra fee he'd not been aware of, he didn't know anyone at the event and felt bad asking to borrow money from anyone. He came home without participating. It kind of broke my heart.

I was at a crossroads, I wanted to lose weight and I needed some direction. I decided that day that after I had the baby (Seaner) that I was going to lose weight and get in shape so that Todd would have someone to do adventure races with and so I told him of my plans and started right in on getting moving so that the following July he would have a partner at the same adventure race.

The days were long and I was a hopeful VBAC with a newfound drive so we started walking at Blackwater Creek in the evenings. I wanted to go into labor to avoid a cesarean and Todd changed his focus to the Virginia Ten Miler. Throughout the rest of July and into August we spent many evenings on the paved trail, Todd running and I walking.

I had the baby on August 20th and was ready to get moving the following week, we returned to the trail so Todd could continue to train for the Virginia Ten Miler and I to walk. One day, about three weeks after Seaner was born I went for a walk and did a little jogging. That night, after the exercise, I told Todd I may like to sign up for the Virginia Four Miler. Todd was very encouraging but I wasn't sure who would watch the three very small children (all under 2 at this point) we now had or if I could even walk four miles. I went back and forth on whether or not to sign up.

At the time I had two friends who ran, Heather Cavaliere and Kelly Perdieu, both girls I had met at a Bunko group and had awed me with their running. They were both very encouraging that I could do the four miles but I, and this will come as no surprise, was pretty unsure of myself.

In the end I decided the Thursday before the race to sign up for the four miler. Saturday  morning my brother and his girlfriend met us at E.C. Glass to watch our children. Todd and I lined up at the very back of the pack. I stood there full of nervous energy in one of Todd's old running shirts.

And then the race began. I hadn't ever run in a race but I just followed the group's lead. I started out running but didn't know how long that would last. And then I did something I hadn't done since required of me in highschool, I ran a mile. It wasn't fast, I think nine or so minutes but when I crossed the first mile marker there was a guy there yelling the time and that moment, when I crossed that first mile line on Langhorne road is, in my mind, THE turning point.

I hadn't gone out that day to run.  I wanted to do something with my husband. I wanted to lose weight. I just wanted to like myself again.  I was so amazed that I had run the whole mile that the sheer astonishment in the fact took me another quarter mile.

Following the VA Four Miler September 2009.
I did eventually walk. Quite a bit actually. But I still made it to the finishing line. I stood there by Magnolia Foods until Todd ran back by on his way to the finish so I could cheer for him and then I continued to watch the runners until the last runner passed by before catching the last of the yellow school buses back to the start line.

And just like that I was hooked. I had fallen in love with how that accomplishment made me feel. I went home and signed up for a 5k THE VERY NEXT WEEKEND. Of course I had to google what a 5k was because I wasn't sure. And from there it grew and continues to grow. It took a long time and lots of wondering that I was a runner until I finally believed I was a runner and yet nowadays I wonder if I've always been a runner.

And Todd and I did that adventure race in July and then another in October but it turns out that Todd and I do not make the best team in a competition but that's a story for another day....

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Want to hear it, here it goes...

In eighty-some hours I will join another nearly 140 other determined runners at the start of a special run, the Hellgate 100k ++.

It will be my second attempt at completion of this unique race that begins just after midnight, a race for which I was lucky enough to stumble into a few days before last year's running. Of course that was Sissygate and this year will be different because every year is different, every run is different.

Having spent the last week or so being afraid of the possible weather scenarios, my ineptitude and the general distance it is now time to narrow it back down to the core, cut things back to the simple truth that keeps me going. That is, simply put, I'll do what I can to finish, to reach whatever goals I've set down.

So what are those goals you might ask?

I generally set three goals before a race. The first is generally a very simple goal, such as to finish the race, have a good day, fuel well, etc. The second goal is usually the mid range, if I have a good day goal and usually consists of a PR by a few minutes or other generated time goal based on current training. The third goal is usually my 'secret goal', the if I have a perfect day and all goes wonderful and as planned goal. This year I've not done very well with hitting my secret goals and this has made me generally content that I've chosen for them to remain secret. I hate to publicize a goal and not accomplish it.

And yet, this morning I read something on Facebook that suggested I take a chance and put those goals out there. So want to hear them? Here it goes:

Hellgate is expensive (especially times two!) and not incredibly easy to get into, yet it's a special, tough race that finishers earn a certain merit by just completing. These facts, combined by my growing awareness to my sissy status and just how much I dislike cold weather determined that my first goal is simply, to finish. Combine the fear that the course (and thus the overall distance) may be more difficult this year I do not want to fall victim to warm fireplaces and drier shoes as I stumble into an aid station not to leave again. My feet have not ever fully recovered from the damage they endured this past summer at Western States and the rain is my biggest concern going into this event. A few weeks ago at the Richmond marathon my feet were wet for about six hours and my feet quite unpleasant  and painful by the time I finally got to change into dry gear. I do plan on having dry socks as a preventative measure but I fear for my feet. That said I aim to stay in the game.

My second goal may seem very low ball until you consider Saturday's weather forecast and my fear for my feet but I would like a sub 16 hour finish. Having failed to win a spot in this year's Western States Lottery I would like to walk (limp) away Saturday evening with a qualifier in hand for the 2015 lottery. If my head and feet don't fail me I believe this is a fairly achievable feat. However, I've not a great confidence in my training of late to be convinced that Saturday's run will be much better than this second goal.

So that leaves me with the goal I don't really want to share. This one is, if I'm honest, the one giving me the most trouble. I didn't even decide on it until yesterday after some extensive (read: ridiculous) analyzing of past training compared to current training, pace calculations and just a basic desire to always be a little bit better than I was before. All of this nonsensical premeditating and I arrived at the obvious, doesn't even make sense that it would be secret, goal of 14:35-14:44, basically a PR. I would love to think I can run a faster time but I just don't think I am properly trained for it. I would love to run closer to 14:20 but I kind of feel as though I ran at my potential last year in the good weather year and it will have to be a pretty stellar day to obtain a personal best. Truth is the more I read about the race the more I wonder how I ever ran what I managed last year.

But there's one more goal and this one is a little more difficult perhaps for me than the actual running of the race. I would like to go forward through the rest of the time between now and then turning my fear and hesitation into anticipation. It is not every day that I get to begin a run just past midnight, in the dark with a group this large, it is not every day that I will ask so much of my legs, my head and my heart. It is not every day that I get to test so thoroughly my weaknesses against my strengths. This is afterall an opportunity not a misfortune. I want to go willingly, excitedly into that cold, dark night.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

We're doing more than running here.

In the weeks post Masochist I've been shifting back and forth between no desire at all to run and some of the best, most fulfilling runs I've had all year. I can't really say I've been 'training', it's more of just surviving but occasionally it still gets the best of me.

Two weeks after Masochist I went to Richmond with my sister, Erin, to partake in her first marathon experience. I took her out too fast in retrospect in my first attempt at crewing and pacing but did my best to encourage her through to the end. The pounding of pavement and the rain did a wonder on my feet but the experience was worth the torment, I learned a lot about myself and learned at least a thing or two about those of us who 'race' even if our only prize is an intangible reward.

Burnout Approaching

The following Wednesday we had a great turnout for our weekly group trail run. And yet it was at the conclusion of this run, perhaps because I still couldn't catch Brenton, Todd and Sam for the second week in a row, that I realized that maybe I don't really work hard enough, that I only put in as much as I absolutely need to most of the time. Later in the week Todd told me I was a 'sandbagger' and that my training was pathetic, he didn't use that particular word rather he used a whole slew of them, but the meaning was the same. So on Saturday when we went to the Hellgate training run I tried to push a little harder from the start, by the time we had reached Camping Gap I was growing tired, by the end of the run I had experienced my first bonk in months. The cruel thoughts returned, why do I even run long distance, do I even really know? The thought depressed me a tad and instead of changing my ways or getting serious I decided it was time to switch to Taper mode for Hellgate. Not a logical step perhaps but it's where I ended nonetheless.

Giblet Jog

Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, we went to Altavista so that Bailey could run her first 5k. The steps that got us there were a mix of procrastination, price increases, lack of drive, guilt and permission. I waited too long to sign up for the Turkey Trot, the prices increased and I decided that I really didn't feel much like running fast even for a 5k but Bailey had wanted to do the Turkey Trot kids mile, I couldn't stomach $25 for her to run a mile so I asked her if she'd like to run a 5k to which she responded "But I'm not seven." I told her because I was her mother I could grant her special permission. She said sign her up without hesitation. I hesitated, but still signed her up.
Photo Courtesy the Altavista Journal

The night before the run she was so excited and giddy but Thursday morning found her quiet. We started in the cold and she ran a little ways but then she had to walk. When we passed by the rest of the family cheering for us on the sidelines she was still somewhat smiling but not long after we ran by them she fell apart. Tears and words of quitting poured out of her small body and I was worried. Other runners, other mothers looked over at us with a hint of sympathy to both our causes. I started to wonder if I should let her quit, if I should call Todd in for back-up. She cried that she was cold, I gave her my vest, she cried that it was too big. She cried that she had to pee, I asked if she could wait, she wailed that she could not, I took her into the woods. She reminded me of myself and it both frightened me and made my heart laugh.

Then I started to think. Bailey's a lover of stories so I began to tell her a story, The Paper Bag Princess. She stopped crying but kept moving. After the first story she set into my crying that it was cold and still too far to go, I asked her if she would like to sing Christmas carols. She rather impolitely told me no. I set in telling her the story of Little Red Riding Hood but even with my many elaborations the story was over far too quickly. Then I began telling her The Princess Bride. When she caught on she started to correct my retelling of the story, she started to skip. My heart skipped a beat, having nothing to do with the running, I realized we're doing more than just running here. About this time I caught sight of the finish line and I asked her if she'd like to run it in from there to which she said she would. She finished her first 5k and I was one very proud mom.

Research, Fear, and Everything Else

Over the past few days I've ran very little but have started in on my usual pre-very-large-race ordeal. In other words, I'm becoming more and more fun for my dear spouse.

I've read Aaron's summary of the race and read it again, soon I believe I'll know it by heart. I've scanned the elevation profile until it made me nauseous and then I put it away. I've checked the weather and pulled out my old ski gear. I've went shopping both on-line and at The Aid Station for cold and wet gear, but I've yet to buy anything because then I would have to stop worrying about that aspect of the race. I've penned some ten hundred words down in my little composition books aggrandizing just how difficult this race is going to be if the weather is unfavorable.  Last year's finish is apparently not exchangeable for any confidence that I'll finish this go round, especially following Jeremy's declaration that last year's sissy weather makes last year's race almost unqualified to be called Hellgate.

For some reason though, all of those steps are necessary for me to move forward. Truth is I am a pessimist with just a tad bit of hope that something good may happen, because every now and again something good does happen.

Well, I'm off to read more Hellgate race reports and summaries.

For now,