Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hellgate Race Report 2014

Hellgate 100k

Fincastle, VA

December 13, 2014

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." Oscar Wilde

The Week and Days Before

After the Mountain Masochist 50 miler the first of November, I took more time off. No running, doctor's Todd's orders, I went to see my chiropractor more often, give myself an honest attempt at recovery. Instead of running I did a lot of thinking, about what had gone wrong since Iron Mountain, why I was so disappointed about Grindstone and Masochist. At both I had run, at least at some point during, well enough. But overall I was not happy, I was walking away (Ok, limping) with at least a small handful of regrets after each.

After ten days off I started back to running, but I relaxed, I had run so very little between Grindstone and Masochist and had done ok, In the past I have run very little between Masochist and Hellgate and done ok. With my attentions turned to Hellgate and my knees finally feeling some reprieve, I set my sights on acceptance. I accepted where I was, fairly beaten but not broken. With one race left in the Beast Series I decided it was about survival. That isn't to say I didn't want to do well, but I knew ultimately it was about finishing.

The week leading up to Hellgate I didn't run at all. And I thought about Hellgate about as much as I was running. Our two youngest sons were sick, one with a cough and cold and another with a fever and vomiting. I started to worry about becoming sick. Then Todd's mom's stepfather became ill, she wasn't sure if she would have to travel to Indiana to see him, I didn't know if I would have Todd for crew or if he would have to stay behind at home and watch our children. Then on Thursday my brother called, my father who has diabetes and has been suffering with foot trouble all year was going back in the hospital for a fourth time with a bone infection. All this sickness and uncertainty lead me to two things, a near overdose of Emergen-C and the thought that Pam Rickerd had planted, "You don't have to run Hellgate, you get to." I decided I was going to run for my dad who was lying in a hospital bed the future of his foot uncertain.

That wasn't to say I was all together ready. Whenever I did think about Hellgate, especially on Friday, I got nauseous. I was laden with fear, too many to name, but all bearing down on my back. The biggest perhaps was accepting that with the no pacer rule I had to decide how well I thought I could do, and if I thought I could be top 5 I had to plan to run all of Hellgate alone, a first for me. I knew I wanted to do well, that even though the field of women looked strong, I wanted a top 5. I wanted 14 hours. I told Todd I was going to plan to run alone but if I was far enough behind a top 5 at Jennings Creek aid station he could plan to run with me starting at Bearwallow.

After some back and forth Todd and I decided that we were going to skip the dinner and race briefing at Hellgate in exchange for some rest at home before driving up. I love pre-race festivities and find the one before Hellgate to be even more special than most others, however I was using experience of past Hellgates to drive that decision, having fallen apart with fatigue both previous years I chose the comfort of my bed. I slept about an hour before Todd got home from work. I tried again between 7-8 but I just lied there in the darkness thinking of the year I had had, the good and the bad.

The rest of my crew, Opal and Kevin Corell, arrived at our house about 9. They brought pizza, I ate two slices. Todd had also come home from work with pizza, I had eaten three slices. We sat around the kitchen table making final preparations, choosing headlamps, stocking my pack. At a little before 9:30 we set off for Camp Bethel. They gave me the back row of the Tahoe to rest some more.

We said our hellos at the camp, which happens to be the finish line and picked up Sheryl Mawn and Jordan Whitlock to ride over to the start nearly an hour away at the Little Hellgate trail head.  Sheryl and I have run Hellgate the same number of times (three now), she always rides to the start with us. She always listens to me piss and moan the whole way over. This year she joked what was I going to complain about this year. Instead we laughed and talked about her living in Colorado, doing 14ers with Kelly Reece, the time passed quickly and we were there before it felt like we should be.

Horton had joked that the weather was going to make this year's running of Hellgate a sissygate. I wasn't upset to hear this, but when we arrived at nearly midnight at the start the weather seemed much warmer than I would have thought. This made final preparations a little more difficult as now I worried I was overdressed. I swapped my wool cap for a Mountain Junkies beanie, left my Houdini to be stowed in my pack that I was picking up at Petits Gap (aid station 2).

With Kevin's awesome gloves and a bottle stashed with a GU, granola bar and a Nutri Grain bar we headed over to check in and take a few photos. I was feeling fairly good. Standing around with so many friends, running and crewing, in the minutes leading up to midnight, well wishes and hugs, it's part of what makes Hellgate so special. But at the same time, I was just so so ready to START. As usual it felt like this great weight let off just a little when Horton unleashed us at just a minute past midnight.

In the Beginning, the Hellgate Start

The first few miles of Hellgate are rolling, grassy and wide double track and I found my legs right away. Having started near the back of the pack I quickly started to pick up my place in the pack. Usually I start really slow, but for some reason this is never the case at Hellgate. I really can't explain why that is, maybe the dark does it. There were more creek-like crossings in the first three miles this year. By the time we finally made it to the calf deep creek that leads you to aid station one we had already gotten our feet wet at least two or three times.

I had seen Bethany Patterson on the rolling grassy road and had tried to catch her, but she was too fast. I had reminded myself not to run anyone's race but my own and had slowed. But on the road to Petits I saw her once more. I was moving well on the road when my stomach had a sharp shooting pain, it made me walk and grab my side. It was particularly bad gas cramps, probably too much pizza. But it hurt and kept flaring back up, it was to be an omen of the next few hours to come. I reminded myself that it doesn't always get worse, to relax.

I stayed behind Bethany for a ways, I ate the Nutri Grain bar even though my stomach was saying no, but I had vowed to eat both the cereal and the granola bar before aid station two. That didn't happen, the stomach was revolting and getting the cereal bar down was difficult enough. I finally caught up with Bethany and her friend Ryan who I believe has run every Hellgate. She was as friendly to me as ever, which really is something, I had tried to start up conversations with others, and had lost all hope of friendships when Bethany started to talk to me. Sophie caught us and we four continued on to Petits. We got there at 1:25 am. They went on as I stopped to exchange the water bottle for my pack with my crew. Todd yelled at me for not eating, I tried to argue that my stomach was bothering me, he said it doesn't matter you have to eat. I wasn't there long, just to situate my pack.

From one peak to another, the valley in between.

Last year I fell apart with the weather from Petits to Camping Gap. This year, I was going to hold it together. The first mile of trail, though rocky, wasn't too bad. I moved quickly over terrain that scares me, over rocks and around bends. I passed a few runners and made an effort to catch back up with Bethany and Sophie when my head started to itch. I scratched the itch but it just got worse. Soon it was on my neck, then my arms. In addition my stomach went further south, by the time we were on the Terrapin section that leads to Hunting Creek Road my stomach said to get off the trail. I tried but it's single track, there wasn't anywhere to go. I climbed up the steep side of a creek bed, that I didn't realize was a creek bed until midway climbing up, I fell and smashed my finger. I barely got situated in time to use the bathroom. I was itching everywhere. What the hell is going on? I wondered. I put my wipes back in my bra and got back down to the trail, having been passed by no fewer than a dozen runners by this time. The time I had made on the way to Petits now gone.

I was feeling nauseous and itching all over. Hold it together, it doesn't always get worse. I didn't know what was making me break out but I could now feel raised bumps on my neck and see the hives on my arms. I had itched my head so much I had done something that messed up the fitting of my headlamp. I wondered if it was possibly the merino wool top I had won as a door prize at Grindstone that was doing it to me, that maybe sweating had made my skin irritated to it, but my head was itching too. I stopped and took the top off, ever so thankful to have the Houdini in my pack. I started running again and Brian Dibeler passed me, I thought I would stay with him and run but then the headlamp became problem-some from being knocked a little loose with all the itching. Fix problems as they arise, Alexis! I stopped once again, to pull off the side of the trail to exchange headlamps. Finally, with the Houdini on and the new headlamp I was able to run again! I had a small series of issues but had dealt with them without falling apart, give yourself a proverbial pat on the back, Alexis. 

And put your music in. You need it.

I wasn't as warm as before, the merino wool top had been much warmer than the Houdini but the itching was going away so it really did make me think it was the top. I got to Hunting Creek Road not long after and slowed to a walk to eat. I took out some Nature Valley bars, but they were dry and difficult to eat. I ate half of one. I had packed them because they had seemed like an easy source of calories, but they're not if you can't eat them. My stomach was still upset, both needing to stop and slightly nauseous making taking in calories difficult. I decided to let eating go for a while with the hopes that maybe my stomach would settle.

After that first section of trail in this section which is mostly downhill to rolling, you climb on a gravel road all the way to aid station three at Camping Gap. The sky was so clear it was beautiful, the lights off in Bedford I suppose it was, were beautiful to see. I ran much more of this road than I did last year, but probably still walked more than half of it. I knew I wasn't eating but I also convinced myself that I had eaten a lot during the day and my stomach was telling me not to eat, so I was listening. I was still running alright. As the road weaved closer to the top it got colder and the wind picked up, I thanked my crew again for remembering the Houdini. It was a life preserver.

I reached Camping Gap just before 3 am I believe. I was in good spirits. I joked with the volunteers, I drank a little coke, had a small bite of banana and took a cookie as I wished Brenton a good vacation. Leaving this aid station I had seen Dana Kracaw again, I had seen her a time or two over the race so far and when I kind of fell into her pace on the grassy road we started up a conversation. She was super sweet and friendly and I was my usual self, a complainer. I told her about my hives and the stomach trouble, my smashed fingers. She said she had fallen and I noticed then that both her knees were bloody, she said she thought she had broken her finger. Her sharing that made a difference. I had dealt fairly well with my little series of trouble on the Terrapin section between aid 2 and 3 but her smiling face through her fall reminded me that it isn't always what happens to us but how we deal with it that makes a difference.

We talked about races, Dana had ran Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc this summer! There is nothing on my running resume quite that awesome and I immediately thought she was cooler than the air around me, and conceded defeat. Todd had told me at Petits, that even though I was running with the likes of Bethany Patterson and Sophie Spiedel that I was ninth or tenth female. I really accepted that whomever I would like to think I could be, I am just a small town runner and mom, there were some tough as nails women in the field ahead of me, I didn't need a top 5. I would just run the best that I could and let the chips fall where they may.

In addition, Dana could run. I would have to take these little walk breaks, of which I was convinced I needed and she would just keep steadily plowing along. I would occasionally catch up to her again and we would chat and then I would fall behind and listen to my music again for a while, I managed a cookie once. But it was nice, it did help to pass the rolling grassy section to have an occasional friend. The first few miles are downhill in this direction but as you get closer to the turn there is an increase in climbing. It's all relatively rolling, small climbs but that didn't stop me from walking a half dozen times. She pulled ahead on the way to the trail that takes you to Overstreet Falls, and I stopped to use the bathroom again. Very thankful that I stashed wipes in my bra as they were easiest to get to there.

When I caught back up with Dana I mentioned my stomach was bothering me, I felt like a complainer, but there is something about getting that stuff out there that helps me, like the simple fact of telling someone how I am feeling makes whatever is happening that much easier to bear. We talked about Leadville as we covered the final rocky descent to Overstreet Falls and I was so happy for her company as I didn't even notice the usual ankle twisting and turning through here.

On the way up the gravel road I let her pull ahead and tried to eat again, I knew my crew was going to be disappointed in how little I had eaten in the sixteen miles I had gone since last seeing them. I managed two Oreos. I caught back up with Dana and ran a little more with her but then as the road flattened I knew we were approaching Floyd's Field. I was a little down that I was only going to make it there three minutes faster than my 2012 time, but I had struggled some so tried to accept that. I was very excited to see my crew and get some warm food and drink in me.

I got to Floyd's Field at 5:04 am. I saw Todd first and he led me over to the Tahoe where Kevin got out and gave me Mac and Cheese and Mountain Dew. Someone went over and got me Grilled cheese from the Aid station table and Todd said I was seventh or eighth. I said I didn't care I was running with my friend Dana and it was just about finishing the Beast. Todd said I was running well and needed to go catch the girls just ahead. Kevin said "you've won the Beast, all you have to do is keep running."

I looked at him, I was maybe hurt that he didn't remember, didn't realize. "I am not winning the Beast, Annie isn't two hours behind me, she could be right behind me." And then almost in unison, speaking over one another, they told me she had dropped from Hellgate. I honestly couldn't believe it. "Why? What happened to her?" They didn't know, they said they thought she was sick. That Jenny Nichols had fallen badly and was out too. I asked if they were lying to me, it just seemed so unlikely. They seemed a little mad about that, but it had all just caught me so off guard. I knew that the only way that I could win the Beast was for me to have the best day possible and Annie to have a bad day, I didn't think that was likely, not with the way the fall had gone. This news, it just didn't feel right.

They got me back on eating. They told me I wasn't eating or drinking at all from the sight of my pack. I said I am not. I don't feel well. They said it doesn't matter, you need to just do it. Todd said you've drank no water, this pack better be empty when we see you at Jenning's Creek. I could tell he was pretty upset with how poorly I was eating and hydrating. Then I noticed Austin Burling was there sitting in a chair, I said "Isn't he doing the Beast? Why is he in a chair?" It was starting to scare me.

Chelsie and I had made a pact, above all else, we keep moving, you don't stop at Hellgate unless you're going to the hospital. Todd said Austin's pack was busted, he was just changing clothes and he would be on his way. They started walking me away from the aid station and I started to tell them about the wool top and the headlamp, the stomach trouble and they said stop talking, eat and run. We will see you at Jenning's. They turned back, I shouted for them to have my new headphones ready at Jennings. I yelled it again but it was all darkness.

It isn't all bad all of the time.

I had eaten and the news that I might now actually be the winner of the Beast lit a little fire. I started to run. My music and the darkness, an occasional runner. I decided that I loved running behind strangers in the dark. But then I had passed all the runners and was leading the way into darkness alone. I thought of the year that I had had, how I really had been terrified of the dark going into Grindstone, how little it bothered me now. It made going to the bathroom so much easier. Just step off the trail and turn your light out. And I did. Several times through here as the trail was, after two or so miles in, downhill. My stomach turned further south. I'll spare the details, but it was often and it was bad. But I had the experience of terrible stomach trouble in 2012, I knew that even though it hurt I had kept on going then with less on the line. So I would stop, make it quick as I could and keep on moving. It made for a lot of leapfrogging as I would pass and then re-pass several of the same runners.

Through here there is some nice service road that is very runnable and even the double trail just before Jenning's is fairly runnable with a few rocks hiding beneath leaves. The leaves seemed a little worse than I recalled in previous years, but not bad enough to slow you much. I focused on drinking as much water as I could, I knew Todd was seriously disappointed in how little water I had drank, and where as I couldn't really eat I could drink. So I did.

Last year I had a tough patch through here, this year the running seemed smooth. If my stomach hadn't been so upset it may have been my favorite part of the day. I had been having a not so great day but I had been mostly meeting my troubles with ease. I was drinking every couple minutes in an effort to empty the pack. If I have any regrets it would be I wish I had tried to eat a little more here.

I made it to Jenning's at about 6:26 am, my bottom was on fire. I got to Todd and said where is the Tahoe I need Aquaphor. Blake, Kristen, Kevin, and Todd were all there to help, but it was almost like too many hands. They had a little trouble finding the Aquaphor and then they didn't even know where the headphones were yet alone have them ready. I did scold rather unkindly to this, so I tried to follow up with lots of thank yous. They gave me some eggs and mac and cheese, they gave me Mountain Dew and filled my pack, I tried to give them my headlamp but they said I was crazy, it would be dark for another half hour. I guess I've never made it to Jenning's that well, usually I leave at daybreak.

Todd walked with me a few steps from the Tahoe, he told me I wasn't eating, I had to eat. I had to stop and use the bathroom, I told him the stomach trouble was really fighting the notion to eat. He said he didn't care I had to eat. He told me I was just behind a few women, that I had to get moving. He said he didn't think I would need a pacer, I was running well enough. He said this is not a hike, this is a runnable hill, go run it. I ran on, once more into the darkness alone.

I caught Dana again, we had been leapfrogging for hours but I didn't see her after the climb from Jenning's. Then I passed Sophie who I had also been leapfrogging the last few miles. She said she was feeling Ok. The sky started just barely to lighten which was bittersweet. The sunrise usually breaks me at Hellgate, I ran more of this hill than ever before, hoping to make up some time but also in the hopes that the running would ward off the notion to get tired when the sun arrived.

After a climb on gravel road you go around a gate, run some grassy service road and then hit a downhill on more gravel road. I was running the downhill, expecting Sophie to pass by me when this female flies by. She said she had called her boyfriend at 3 am, I had this flashback of Dana and I passing a runner on the grassy road who was on the phone. She said that she had thought about quitting and decided to go on. I told her she looked great, she did. She flew on down the hill. Literally disappeared as quickly as she had appeared. That girl is going to win this race, I thought, there are just so many strong women here, finishing top ten here will be good. Annie is going to change her mind too. It doesn't matter, I reminded myself, you just do what you can, that is all that you can do.

I knew I should be eating, but the downhill made it hard. So I vowed to eat on the climb to Little Cove. But it seemed to take much longer to get from the downhill gravel road to the road that takes you to Little Cove. It was mostly double trail and downhill but it just took a while. I was actually getting hungry. On the road several crews were parked at the turn to Little Cove, I saw mine but they were just there to offer their friendly encouragement, their smiles, they still wouldn't take my headlamp. I said, "Did you see that girl fly through here? She was going to quit in the middle of the night, now she's running so strong she may win!" I really thought this. I started walking just passed the turn so I could eat and Todd and Kevin yelled at me from the turn to run, so I ran a few steps and then stopped and ate the crackers I had been planning on eating.

And I was able to eat them and drink more water, because they are dry. And then I thought about what I had been trying to eat from my pack, I had all of this really dry food, a lot of it I hadn't trained with, and I realized that I am a little bit of an idiot. I ate the whole package of crackers and drank a bunch of water. I ran up the gravel road alternating with hike breaks and I really started to feel better, really for the first time all day. I had a little piece of gravel in my shoe that had been there since before the aid station, I told myself to stop being so dumb and fix the shoe. I stopped and shook the shoe out. I started running again, I stopped twice more to pee. I was hydrating better than ever. I felt good about what I was doing finally, eating, drinking, fixing problems as they arose and it started to reflect in my running. I ran on to Little Cove.

I got to the Aid Station at 8:07 am. Nearly a half hour better than ever before. I started to run right through, they said "it's a long ways to the next aid station, are you sure you don't want to stop?" I stopped and took some soda and talked to the aid station workers, laughed about Horton's sign and the mileage. I left Little Cove in better spirits than ever before. I was 7th female, I had been staying strong through a not so great day and I was feeling better. I ran on towards Bearwallow.

This section was good except that I didn't remember all of the twists and turns, the changes from service road to double trail to single back to double. There was lots of trail and I liked that, I felt good even though the leaves were deep in several spots. When I hit the second section of trail I thought erroneously that I was on the Devil's Trail. I took my Houdini off and wrapped it around my waist and put my head in the game. I passed several runners and was feeling good. Until we hit some double trail again and a gate and I remembered the hell this section was in 2012, that nightmare brought back my memories of this section more clearly. And I realized that was not the Devil's Trail, I am not where I think I am. And that was a little bit of a bummer.

But then I saw more runners up ahead and just focused on reeling them in, passing the time. Then I realized that there was a girl, the same girl who had flown by me just a few miles before. I reeled her in but didn't pass her for a long time, I can't explain it, but I didn't want to leapfrog her, I didn't want to pass her until I felt like I could stay ahead. She had looked so strong, I figured she was just having a low through the leaves and if I passed her she would pass me again, I wasn't sure I could handle the repeated hit to my ego of her passing me effortlessly.  I would get close to her and then back off, like I was playing a game. I ate more crackers. I stopped several times to pee. I gained more on her in the Devil's trail, which was gnarly but not as bad as I remembered from the first year. Really it just seemed longer than I recalled. There was a little creek crossing too, that I remembered but it just felt like forever to get to the paved road. On the other side there is a little bit of climbing to get to the aid station. I was shooting for 10 am to Bearwallow but I think by the time I finally got there it was just a minute or so after. Either way it was was a half hour better than my previous two years of Hellgate, I had survived through my previous years low points mostly unscathed.

Todd was waiting for me as you exit the woods and brought me over to the Tahoe. They had things in better order here. They said I was 7th even though this was a half hour better than I had ever made it to Bearwallow. I had wondered a time or two during the night if I should just let Todd run with me, but now it was the time and there was no question about it, I had to go on alone. Todd said there were two girls just in front, ten minutes ahead, I could catch them both Todd said. They gave me Mountain Dew and Ibuprofen because my hips were really bothering me by this point. They gave me mac and cheese and then a grilled cheese, they said that I had to keep eating. I told them I wasn't going to hit my goal, which had been 14 hours. Todd said yes you are, Kevin said no, you're probably right, but we agreed I could maybe do 14:15. I told them I was OK with that, that I had given my best for the day and I could be happy with that.

As we walked from the Tahoe towards the aid station I felt out of it, I wasn't walking straight and I wondered how I was going to make it all alone. I was a little scared. I left the aid station, several people cheered my name but I was a little out of it like I said. I noticed as Todd and Kevin led me past the aid station table that the female I had been trailing was standing there. It made me nervous to leave the aid station before her, she was going to catch me.

I left the aid station and I threw half the grilled cheese away. Why? Because my stomach, which I have been told is my second brain is just as dumb as my first brain. And the two together could not make a good decision. I started running, now in 6th, sure that the female behind was just on my heels. I ran but was feeling sluggish, but a few minutes later the female behind had still not caught me, the Ibuprofen was working it's way through me, giving my hips a little break from pain, and the food was starting to work. Then I remembered, this section is my favorite. I absolutely love the weaving in and out, in and out as you move from Bearwallow to Bobblet's on really rolling, pretty trail that reminds me of Petits Gap on the AT or even some of Western States. I ran it well, I felt good, I listened to my music and really enjoyed the running. I didn't know how long it would last but I recognized the moment as one to enjoy the trail and the beauty all around me. It was definitely the high of Hellgate.

Then I saw Charlie Peele and Dennis Coan, they cheered and gave me hugs, took my picture and ushered me on. It was really nice to see fellow Blue Ridge Trail Runners just out to see friends on the course, offering their friendly smiles and warm hugs. After I passed them though I lost a little of my energy, I got near the edge of the trail at one point and almost fell. I laughed to myself, at Western States on an edge like this I had dreamed of throwing myself off the side to end the misery, today I was feeling good and almost accidentally taking myself out.

I got on the little rocky dirt road that leads to Bobblets and I began to fade even more. I climbed but I was falling off a bit. I made it to Bobblets and Kevin said I was doing great, I was only 8.5 minutes behind 4th and 5th. This, though I didn't tell them, knocked me down. I needed to know it and yet it was not the news I would have hoped. I thought I had run well from Bearwallow, I had given it a good solid effort. But it had taken me longer than I had hoped, I got to Bobblet's at about 11:30 am.

I'm still not sure what I am looking for, what I want, what I am hoping I will find.

At the aid station I saw Elisa Rollins and Sam Price, they were as friendly as usual, they gave me tater tots, quesadillas and pierogies. I ate some, but not enough, I was glassy eyed and Todd and Kevin were having to answer questions for me. I left and Todd said his good-byes, his plan was to go back for Mike Mitchell. He gave me my plan, I was to take two GU between here and Day Creek and then two more between Day Creek and home.

I started off down the road, the rocky rough downhill. And I was running strong, or so I thought. I caught Mike Pfleiger, another friend from the area pursuing the Beast.  He joked that I always catch him at 50 miles. In my head Hellgate is 70 miles, I'm not saying it is, but it is in my head. When he said that I had this sudden thought that we had so many miles left, I backed off, I let him pull away. The crash that had started on the climb to Bobblet's continued. By the time we reached the trail to the right I was falling apart fast. I hiked and started to let thoughts come in, 6th is great, you're going to finish the Beast, that's what you set out to do today, be happy with that. I was falling further and further back when another runner, I think a pacer, reminded me of Todd's plan, "Don't forget to eat." He said as he passed.

Sometimes, I listen. I took out a GU right then and ate it. I didn't get better instantly but I needed that GU, I was bonking. The poor eating had finally caught up with me. I started to rethink my goals, realizing where I was, looking like 15 hours, 15 hours will be great, I thought. A Hellgate time of 15 hours in the Beast is nothing to be sad about, that's a great Hellgate time. Sixth female is awesome, in this field, with strong women from Washington state to Florida. I will be honored to hold sixth I told myself. I remembered this section, running with Mike Mitchell and Grattan Garbee a few weeks back. I had had a low that day, they had found me sitting by the side of a tree, pulled me up both figuratively and literally. I remember Mike, a fellow BRTR from Lynchburg that day, taking my mind away from all the lows weighing me down that day, all the things the year had promised at the start, the broken dreams, how I had let myself down. I don't think he knew it that day, just how much his presence had lifted me. Saved the run. Saved me from myself. I am always, it would seem, in need of that.

In that final mile to Day Creek I thought of Mike, of those of us from Lynchburg doing the Beast. Friends before but the Beast had forged a stronger bond. On paper the Beast is hard, it's six tough races, 3 closely spaced 50ks in the spring followed by a summer to over-train that leads to one doozie of a fall with a 100 miler, a 50 miler just four weeks later and then the final deal, Hellgate. It's hard on paper, but it's something else entirely in the carry out. It had broken us all, in some way shape or form, the months since Grindstone have been a roller coaster. Not being able to run, when you are a runner, not being able to run when you feel you must, it's like not being able to breathe at times, You have to figure out how to take smaller breathes, be thankful for any air you get. I can't do the difficulty justice, I just can't describe what demons the Beast lets loose, at least the first time through, but suffice it to say, a mile out from Day Creek I knew I would complete the Beast and I thought of my friends that I had the absolute privilege of going through it with and I knew that it would all be OK. "And in that moment I swear that we were infinite."

On the straight away that leads to the Day Creek aid station I saw Kevin standing there in his maroon Moore's sweatshirt. I'm pretty lucky to have such great friends and crew.  It was 1:17 pm. I got to him and he immediately says "You're 2.5 minutes back from 5th place." It's hard to explain, but I hated that news, I had just felt complete and content with 6th place. I had worked between Bearwallow and Bobblets and picked up no time, I had bonked in the forever section and made up six minutes. It kind of made me mad.  "You can do it but you're going to have to run some of the uphill and the other side...well, the other side is going to hurt but you can do it," he said. He gave me some Mountain Dew as we walked to the aid station, he reminded me to eat a GU at the bottom and the top and sent me on my way, I'll see you at the finish he said.

I left the aid station and I walked and ate a GU and thought about what Kevin had just told me. At that moment I didn't feel like working for anything, I didn't feel like going after 5th place. But as I walked I remembered my mantra that I hadn't really followed all day, No Regrets. You will be upset if you don't try, you know you will.  So I ran a little. And then a little more. But I didn't see anyone, maybe Kevin just said that to make you move, I thought, so you would give it everything you have left. I ran a little more but I started to think that it wasn't going to happen. I saw two guys ahead. I ran to close the gap between us but didn't see anyone else.

Then at the 'tavern' there was a big group, three people and some dogs spectating and I caught the two guys and I could see another three runners up ahead. The guy, whose name I can't recall, who had reminded me to eat a GU said "There's a female right there, go get her." I laughed and said I hate this, it's going to come down to this, a downhill. He said she's struggling, she isn't doing the downhill that well. You can get her. What is was really coming down to was this: I had to decide, I had to fight. Though we were near the top I didn't jog or run anymore, I ate a GU I promised Todd I would eat and pooled all the energy I had left as I approached the parkway. I was reeling her in with just the hike, she was suffering, but this was a race, and this was top 5. I thought of Sophie, how she has nicknamed me "The Closer", I had to do it for Sophie, for Kevin, for Todd.

I walked across the parkway, took a deep breath, and ran.

In past years, I always find the strength to hit that final descent hard. I hoped I could do it this year. As I passed by the female I asked if she was OK, she just looked over at me and then away. I felt bad for a moment, but I remembered, this is a race. I took off. I used the first steep miles to pull a lead. Then I backed off in case she turned on the burners I had to be able to have another gear. I didn't want to race out the last two miles but I also didn't want to lose a top 5 either. Run smart. Drink. Run hard enough but not so hard that you can't run harder is she fights. Don't cramp.

It was a little stressful and a little fun. I wanted it now, I wanted the good day, I wanted to tell Todd when he arrived I had fought into the top 5. I had been lying to myself earlier, I wanted it. I just didn't think I had it in me.

The last mile flattens out, it's tough. I slowed down, my stomach was unhappy once more, just get to the finish line. The last stretch always feels like an eternity. But then I was at the finish line and into the arms of Horton's finish line embrace. It felt good. Fifth female, a 22 minute PR, 14:23.

Kevin, Opal and Kristen were there, they got me warm soup and crackers, a coke and warm dry clothes. Clark told me I had won the Beast and I felt almost a little embarrassed, it didn't feel as good as it should. Then Annie herself came over and was so sweet and kind, it made it feel better. She told me I had had a great year and she was really happy for me. It was tough, she had a smile on her face and yet my heart felt broken for her. It wasn't the way I had seen things going, I had gone into Hellgate pretty sure I wanted to push and have a good day but knowing that a good day still meant not winning the Beast. I knew I was on pace, as long as I finished Hellgate, to break the female Beast record, but I figured Annie would beat it too setting what would become the new record. To be in the camp, with the race and the series over, the winner was just so unexpected. Things don't always go the way they should, or you thought they would.

After some warm soup and a hot shower I gathered with friends, Chelsie's crew arrived and then Bethany's. At 4 pm we went outside to see them finish. Chelsie finished Hellgate with a PR and a few minutes later Mike Mitchell, Clifton and Bethany Williams finished. It was really pretty emotional seeing all of our friends who started finish so well and happy. There are certainly regrets scattered around but overall I think in the end there was also a great deal of acceptance.

Mike Mitchell, Chelsie Viar, me and Clifton Williams at the end of the Beast Series.

I have more thoughts but needed to get the race itself out of my head before I can make sense of the other.

Alexis Thomas

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mountain Masochist Trail Run Race Report

Mountain Masochist 50 Miler

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Montebello, Virginia

This was to be my third Mountain Masochist Trail Run (MMTR) having run it the previous two years. But it was a lot different this year. In the past it's been my fall race, all the miles I've put in over the summer and early fall have been leading to this race. This year however, it came 28 days after Grindstone 100. When debating an attempt to complete the Beast series MMTR weighed quite heavily on my decision. I like love MMTR. It suits my strengths, it's long, overall elevation gain, loads of service road, and it's nearby so I can train on occasion on the course.

This year with Grindstone I hadn't run on any portions of the course but twice. I sulked for 27 days after Grindstone about worn down knees and well, really so much more than my knees. By the time MMTR got here I just felt so ready to start. In the days leading up to MMTR I just kept repeating the same thing, I am just so glad it's 50 miles. I knew if it were anything shorter it would be harder on me but the distance played to my advantage, anything longer and I just wasn't recovered enough.

That is until I woke up on Saturday morning. I had a plan. Wake up at 3:30 am, start eating A LOT and get in game day mode. The day had other plans. I woke up at 3:38 stuffed with dread, hungry for absolutely nothing more.

I tried to eat the toast and drink the water. All I could think about was how little I wanted to run, how far 50 miles was. Kevin and Grattan met us at our house. Kevin brought my favorite food, Maple donuts from Dunkin Donuts, and I am so glad he did because if it weren't for my inability to turn down donuts I may have eaten nothing that morning. I took Kevin's advice and lathered my feet with Aquaphor, something a little new but turned out to be a lifesaver for my soft and problem-some feet. We woke Brodie who in celebration of his turning three on the same day was being forced by his selfish mother to endure the cold and wind as part of my crew. I had weighed the options, I needed that little happy guy out there.

We left here just before 5 to head to the start. I was so much less fun than I had hoped. My head started to get to my stomach. It was a long drive. When we got to the start I headed straight out to check-in, I was in such a place of distraction I didn't even recognize Jeremy taking names. I walked back to the suburban and climbed inside. I sat in the dark just willing the time away until the 6:30 am start. I thought, just get 15 miles in, then you will get invested. I was worried about my knees that had not grown silent in the recovery/taper period that followed Grindstone. I was overwhelmed with the weight of the unknown. If someone could just tell me in advance how it all plays out I would be such better company sometimes.

Finally at 6:22 I forced myself over to the start. I also forced a smile. The start line was warm hugs and group pictures, final wishes to friends and then finally the start. I took off along Chelsie and as an illustration of just how much my head was not in it I took off without a water bottle. Seconds later I felt this light shove, Todd thrusting the bottle into my hands.

The first mile was just like it should be, hello Andrew, I saw your name on the list Phil, where are you going Kathie, lots of friendly banter, feet moving swiftly over dark pavement. I gave it a somewhat honest effort to turn the burners on, when Chelsie made a move to go around packs, I followed. When Kathie pushed the pace, I followed, but it didn't feel genuine.

But I ran. And I ate at 7 just as planned. And I tried to fake it, but I've never been to good at insincerity. Kathie caught me just before the loop and prayed with me and then just after Anna, Elisa and Bethany called our names. I took them as a gift, to enjoy the long run in the mountains with friends, then we caught Grattan. We ran a few minutes together but then I felt like I couldn't keep up with them. Relax, it's 50 miles I reminded myself. I came into aid station one at Peavine just behind them with a smile on my face, I had promised Blake that smile, I was here to deliver. He filled my bottle and took my headlamp and encouraged me on.

I caught back up with my group because it was a climb and I am a climber. They all joked that they knew I would catch back up. I didn't offer that I was so much more unsure of that. We hiked and ran at intervals with Elisa setting a strong pace up that hill. When we spotted Clifton up ahead they started yelling his name, I laughed and said "Shh, we don't yell, we chase." I was playing, trying to enjoy my time, make it a game. They didn't come at first but then it was like I had lit a fire I couldn't control, they took off, without me. I could not keep up on the downhill. It was incredibly discouraging. My knees just couldn't take it, my head was certain of it. Trust yourself, I said. I had the same notion at Iron Mountain, to trust the runner that I think I am. I backed off and let them all pull away as incredibly hard as that was. I do not like to be passed, especially by girls, but I had to let them go.

As I watched my fellow Blue Ridge Trail Runners disappear down the trail before me I really wondered where my day was headed. Everything hurt already and I was only 8 or so miles in. My feet, my ankles, my hips. I had been so sure of no pain killers at the start but now looking back I think that was a rather faulty plan. I couldn't descend well so I was passed by several more runners. When Helen caught me on the winding trail I struck up conversation with her, these short conversation over the course of the day were like little treats being served up for me to savor and cherish, and I did my best to do so. I caught Robbie and he was struggling with an issue in his lower leg and wasn't sure he would finish. I told him not to think that way and keep moving. It's so much easier to offer advice than to follow some.

Coming into Dancing Creek I was so happy to be able to see my crew, just their faces alone I knew would lift me. I gave my birthday boy a kiss and swapped bottles with Todd. He started walking with me and telling me that I was right behind a big group and I could catch them, get moving this is your race he urged. He gave me two Maple Cookies and sent me on my way. Robbie left Dancing Creek with me and I got the feeling that he would like to run with me, only trouble was his injury prevented him from running the ups, mine the downs. Our injuries having not been made for each other worked to separate us not much long after.

The next few miles moved by, not quickly but at a steady pace. I stopped to go the bathroom which was the earliest ever at Masochist so I felt good about my hydration for once and struck up conversation again with a runner I had met earlier in the morning.  I came into Parkway Gate and was told once more that the group was still just ahead. I saw Clifton just after the aid station but I couldn't keep his pace on the downhill to the climb. But then I was finally rewarded with my first real climb of the day, the climb up to Robinson. I know that I have masochistic traits because I really love that climb. I caught and passed several of my fellow BRTR on that climb. I had good cause to think they would catch me running back down the other side of it as poorly as I knew I would descend but I knew I had to take it when and where I could.

I turned my music on when it came to descending. It was a distraction from the added pain that was coming down from the descent. It wasn't long before Elisa Rollins and Bethany Williams passed by me. I stayed near them but behind them to Irish Creek.  I was not having my best day but I was running a little stronger by this point. I asked how they felt and Bethany said she felt good but she knew it would grow more painful later. I didn't respond because I was jealous. I am not a perfect person and I started to let thoughts sink in, the what ifs. What if you hadn't run Grindstone? What if you had trained properly for MMTR alone? What if your hips and knees didn't hurt? I finally decided to partake in some pain meds. I let them pull away. I went back to my music. The Indigo Girls came on and helped bring me back to life a little, I listened to that song over and over again letting it take me all the way to the Reservoir.

Coming into the aid station at the Reservoir everything just hurt. My legs were tired, my feet, ankles, knees and hips hurt. I was feeling sorry for myself and in no place to race, I was getting the miles done but not like I wanted and it was getting to me. I gave Brodie a quick kiss and was ushered away almost instantly by Todd. He walked with me and listened to me grovel about my pains for a few seconds then he set into me, it came out so quickly and full of steam I can't remember half of it now. He told me that I was stronger than I was running, that I loved this race and this was my climb ahead. I don't recall everything he said but it was loud enough and powerful enough that a runner beside us said he wished he had him for crew. He said good-bye and told me to run every step to Long Mountain where he would be waiting with food.

I ran a few steps and then hiked. I ran a few more. I was passing by these two guys when I realize that one of them was James Decker. I asked how he was, he said he was fine. He asked how I was, I said I hurt everywhere. He said then how are you passing me? I said I guess I just enjoy pain and suffering. He told me Brodie was awesome and I left him with a smile. I did start to come alive a little then. It wasn't amazing or anything but it was climbing and I do constantly tell myself that I love a good climb so I had to climb. I passed a few people who remarked that I was running well for someone with tape on my knees or who was playing the Grindstone card (yes, I played it.) But the truth was I was starting to become invested, the further I went the more I believed I could do it. Why the hell does it takes so long? Well, if I knew that it wouldn't probably take me so long.

I caught Anna on the climb to Long Mountain. We ran a little ways together. She asked if I had been eating, like she was still on duty from pacing at Grindstone, it made me smile and eat two Oreos. She said she wasn't getting to Long Mountain before 5 hours and that her goal time of 10:30 wasn't going to happen. I get really nervous when people start talking times. I assured her that she could do it, but then started to worry about running a 10:30 myself. We got to take in the magnificent view of the mountains decked out in their full October color and she said she would like to buy that land in the little valley just below the mountain and build a house there. Then she could just sit on her porch and watch other people running 50 milers. The imagery she painted was awesome. But then while I was enjoying myself she kind of said something about seeing me later, basically implying I should run on. So I did. The wind was rough through here. I was just so ready to get to Long Mountain.

I got to Long Mountain in just about 5 hours. That was a little bit of a disappointment having usually made it there in 4:30. Todd and Kevin had a Mountain Dew and PB&J ready for me. I drank as much as I could of the pop and took the sandwich as Todd walked a few paces with me. He told me that I was only ten minutes behind Annie and Sophie and that I needed to get moving. He told me all great and powerful things. But I did not feel great and powerful. I had made it to Long Mountain but now I felt more done than I did at the start. He turned back and told me to eat the whole sandwich and then run every step up Buck Mountain, he would see me at the loop. You're far enough behind I'm probably going to run the loop with you, he said.

I walked along and tried to eat the sandwich but I struggled. The Mountain Dew had kind of upset my stomach just the littlest bit. I ate half the sandwich but couldn't get any more in. I had been eating but I couldn't get the whole sandwich in. I really struggled with eating the sandwich and the time it had taken me to get to Long Mountain. I thought about putting the sandwich in my vest, I thought about just finishing it, I knew I had to eat well to run the last half well. If I couldn't eat well then I would fail.  I finally threw it off the side of the mountain and said "F#%k this race, I'm done!" I had 7 hours, I would just walk it in. And I walked for about 4 minutes. And then I decided that I might not be able to walk every step and finish in 7 hours. I probably had to run a little bit to finish. So I started to run. Then I realized it didn't really hurt more to run over walk, so maybe I could keep running and get done a little sooner.

I ran and walked to Buck. I ran way more than last year when my hiking skills seemed so much more productive than they now seemed. Coming into Buck I didn't feel bad but then I didn't have anything I was running towards, other than the finish line. I know that should be enough, but it really isn't for me. Not at the 50 mile distance.

I came into Buck and there were so many familiar friendly faces: Wade, Freda, Opal, Chey, Rosellyn. Wade filled my bottle and they asked if I wanted broth. When I asked if it was vegetarian they answered as if in chorus, of course it is! I happily took a cup of warm delicious broth with crackers. I was on my way out when Chey's says "Go get em, hunt em down, you've only got 3 or 4 girls and then you're in the top 10." I stopped in my tracks. What? No, I'm not. I honestly thought I was much further down, I really had no idea. But she assured me I was much further up. This excited me, I told her that was the best news I had heard all day. In that moment, I believed I had a fighting chance. I didn't know just how strong those front girls were, but I'm glad that I believed that I stood a chance at that moment because it lit a flame inside me. I took off.

I ran downhill better than I had all day. I started thinking about running away from the girls behind me, closing the gap on the ones ahead. You only have 21 miles left, it was the first time all day I had looked at the distance in terms of 'only'. I started to evaluate how I felt. I felt rough but I had felt this rough for hours and was still moving. I came to the conclusion that I needed to run from this point on with no regrets.

I came into Wiggins Spring and Blake got me more broth with only a slight side of sarcasm. He asked if I had been eating, I smiled and said well, you know me. But I thought about it and I really had been eating pretty decent. And hydrating really well for me. Kim encouraged me on and I left the aid station set on getting to the loop.

I ran and walked the mile and a half with more purpose than I had last year. I met a triathlete from Tech and we ran a ways together. I felt like I got to the loop fairly quickly. It was cold and some mix of rain or snow was beginning to fall. Despite how I felt I was running I felt a little zoned out. Like I couldn't focus on things when I came into the aid station. However, everyone was very encouraging, Tammy said I was doing great and Todd and Kevin seemed to think so too. Todd went into the loop and I thought if you think I am running so great why are coming into the loop with me. He told me a plethora of stories and forced me to eat a GU. He told me I was going to catch a bunch of girls and that I was going to get top 10. I wasn't sure. I wasn't running that well most of the day, but he was so positive and forceful about it.

He yelled at me a lot, but in a way that I need, it didn't necessarily make me move any faster (I was slower in the loop this year than last) but it did make the time go. He told me to eat crackers, I ate a couple. He asked if I ate them all, I said no. He told me I was going to eat a GU every 20 minutes when I left the loop, I said OK. He said you promise me, I said no. It went on like that for a long time, he would ask me questions, he would stop and just wait for me to catch up, he would tell me what I was going to do. But I felt out of it. I couldn't really eat. I couldn't really run. The cold and snow had put out my little flame.

In the out and back to the summit we passed some girls, I figured that meant nothing, the loop is so long. Then I saw Jamie, she was walking downhill, she said come and get me Alexis. Then we passed Annie and Sophie. They were all out in front and it's so hard to know just how far out in front, I couldn't decide if I was going to muster up a fight or not. On the way up to getting the summit we passed two guys one of them said "The Running Couple, right?" That lifted me a tad, even if only slightly.

On the way back from the summit we passed a lot of girls, as usual I thought they're all going to catch me. Todd said you're going to be fine. You're going to take more Tums, Tylenol and Pepto and switch to GU. But then a few minutes later he was stopped on the trail waiting for me to catch up and he says, "You're going to need to catch those girls on a hill. And I mean an uphill because you're downhilling is worse than usual." And it's usually pretty bad. I wanted to yell at him. I felt out of it, I didn't really care about catching anyone just that no one else passed me and I was certain Anna was going to. I just felt like I couldn't run. Then I thought about Kevin. How he wanted to run and he couldn't, I technically could but didn't really want to. I thought about Pam Rickard, that I didn't have to run Masochist, I get to run Masochist. And so I tried to run, because I could.

Somehow we made it out of the loop and I was completely delirious. Kevin, Charlie, Nicole and others were around me, there was some shouting about some Mountain Dew where was it, I needed it. But I couldn't find Brodie and I started getting anxious about that which made Todd anxious and they said he's in the car, it was cold and we've got him in there. Then Todd started walking with me away from the loop telling me that I was going to eat a GU every 25 minutes, which I agreed to that schedule. And then he says there's Jamie. I look up to see Jamie Swyers. All day I had heard how she had been running great, 5th place, 6th place and now she's 100 yards ahead of me. I knew something had happened to her.

I caught up with Jamie and she told me that she was dizzy and lightheaded. I felt bad for her but I was also a little out of it myself and my husband had just told me I needed to go chase down a top 10 which I didn't really think was possible but I was holding on to that no regrets mission so I had to get moving. Joe was there and he wasn't feeling good either. I was able to drag Joe along with me but he kept saying I was sprinting which I am pretty sure I wasn't, I can't even sprint at the track series, but it wasn't long and he fell back. No regrets, run for Kevin. And on to Salt Log Gap those thoughts carried me.

I ran right through Salt Log Gap knowing that there was another aid station in a mile or so. I ran and walked this hill fairly well, I feel like I usually walk the whole thing, this year it was about 50/50. I came into the aid station and David filled my bottle as I passed through. It was 3pm. I told myself I had until 4 to get to Porter's Ridge. I ran as much as I could, I just kept telling myself to have no regrets, to give what I had left, there was only 9 miles to go, 8 miles and so on. I took a GU every 25 minutes and drank as well as I ever have. But I didn't see anyone. I was out there all alone. No one. It was kind of surprising. On the first climb I passed a guy but then didn't see anyone else until the trailer in the woods.

There were two people. I just tried to reel them in. When I got closer I noticed one of them was Sophie. It was almost like she noticed me. I felt like we picked up the pace. I stopped to go to the bathroom a final time for the day (6 times, a record for me!) and then really put the chase on. When I finally caught her she said you're tenth. I said no you're tenth and she said no I am just going for an age group record. I didn't think I was tenth I hadn't passed anyone else but I also didn't want to lose tenth if I had just pulled into it. So I picked it up.

I ran harder than I had ever ran through that section which always feels like 12 miles but really only felt like about 5 on this day. I ran it in 50 minutes. I felt OK about that. I got to the aid station and had my bottle filled one last time. And I took off. There were no more aid stations left. Just four miles between me and the finish. Four mostly downhill miles. And I gave them everything I had. My knees ached, my calves started to cramp but I thought if I was top 10 I couldn't risk losing it. I pushed harder than I have ever pushed on that final section. I remembered last year when Megan passed me, how I probably had more but never bring it. I thought about how rough my first half had been. I thought about that final mile on pavement approaching.

Near the mile marker I caught Mike Pfleiger. We talked about how 28 days wasn't enough, that our legs were tired, still beaten. And yet we were doing it. Soon we would be done. I thought I was tenth. My math skills competing with my delusional brain thought we were on pace for 9:35. I started to cramp in the calves at the fish hatchery because I don't ever run as fast as I was running. I told Mike I was going to fall apart. At the turn Brenton was headed out for Jamie and he said "Way to bring out the guns, Alexis." My calves cramped more and I slowed and Mike slowed too. He could have kept on but he stayed with me, this really touched me. A guy who is running the beast too but he stuck with me that entire final mile. I started to get a little emotional. It was turning into a pretty good day.

Except when we got to the store the time clock was off. Crap, no. That was my math. Ok, 9:50 is not a usual top 10 time...I crossed and Horton says "You're tenth girlie" and Todd gives me this big hug and says "Great job, but I don't think you're tenth. I think you're twelfth." I'm not going to lie. That last four miles was HARD. The whole damn 50 was EXHAUSTING. That moment, when my math was off and my placement was not what I thought, it was not really much fun. But I brushed it off the best I could. Jake Reed helped, he said at least you know that you gave it your all. He's right. With the day I had I am pretty thankful for twelfth.

No regrets. Except maybe a few that first half.

I do know a few things. The LUS is done. There's only Hellgate that stands between me and a Beast trophy.

There may be more, but for now,

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's not talent, it's stubbornness.

In 2011, I committed to the Mountain Junkies RNUTS (Roanoke Non-Ultra Trail Series) and decided to run my first ultra. When my first ultra, Holiday Lake, went better than expected I registered for Terrapin and started contemplating the LUS (Lynchburg Ultra Series). With goals bigger than my head I started making plans to train bigger and better than ever, a week later I found out I was pregnant.

With big goals ahead yet no plans to have another baby at the moment, I was faced with making changes to the year's objectives. I dropped to the half at Terrapin but decided that with the anchor event of the RNUTS being at 19 weeks along I could stay the course and finish the Mountain Junkies series. I ran all the races I could in the series through the spring with little training and loads of doubt. In May my body just got bigger, the days I ran more sparse. The week before the series ended with the inaugural Conquer the Cove Marathon and 25k was Memorial Day. I decided that I HAD to run that 10k held on the Monday following Memorial Weekend to give me the mental confidence that I could in fact finish the 25k the following Sunday for which I was registered.

Alicia who was pregnant with her first child agreed to run the 10k with me. All went fairly well, it was hot and it hurt but we finished. I felt pretty good about myself. My time was slow but now I would know that I could finish the 25k that Sunday. But walking around the award ceremony after my left foot began to hurt. As the day wore on the pain just grew greater. The next day I could not bear weight on the foot. I began to worry that my foot was broken. By Wednesday I was convinced of it.

When that evening came and I couldn't walk across my back deck without tears I decided to go see a doctor. The doctor took one look at my belly and looked at me with that look of sympathy saved for one who you see as not that bright, pity perhaps? He told me that I had gained too much weight,too quickly, had probably just bruised the foot badly from running on it with all that extra weight. He said I would be fine, but DO NOT RUN anymore this pregnancy. I kind of decided at that moment, that as a general rule I have a general distaste for some people.

I told no one about the doctor visit other than Todd. I told no one about the intense pain in my foot other than Todd and my sister. I KNEW people would agree with the doctor. I knew that people would tell me exactly what it was I did not wish to hear, do not run on Sunday. Skip the race! I knew that rational people would all agree, just sit it out!

But I am just too damn stubborn to be told what to do. My sister pleaded with me not run if the foot was hurting. I changed plans once again. I decided that if the foot felt ANY better by Saturday I was going to run on Sunday, even if I absolutely trashed the foot in the process I would know that I finished what I started and that I would have a good 20+ weeks left that I could recover. If the foot was still hurting as much or any worse as the week wore on I would skip the race. I don't know if I would have stuck to that plan but thankfully I didn't have to. The foot felt a little better by Saturday.

I ran the race that Sunday, it was slow. To put it in perspective, I almost ran the marathon this year in the time it took me to run the 25k that year. But I did it. I finished it. Did the foot hurt? Yes, but I managed. Did I ever regret it, running? Toeing the starting line? Not even close. It was that day, about five miles in I had one of the most moving experiences I have ever had on trails. I was running along this really beautiful rolling patch of the course and I just felt, despite the pain in my foot, the aches in my ligaments, incredible. Just almost transcendental. Invincible. And I had this thought to myself, you were made for this, Alexis. This is where you belong. And I believed that voice, had utter confidence in what it said. And I have never looked back.

I'm in a little bit of a tough place right now. Both of my knees hurt, they hurt walking, going up the stairs, sitting for long periods. The days I run are sparse once more. I am full of doubt. I am full of worry. I have signed up once more for a series, the Beast.

Last night Grattan asked sympathetically if, due to the pain in my knees, I was going to run Masochist. I am doing the Beast I told him. Funny, I don't even look to starting as an option, it will just be so.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Let's Be Honest

"I once heard the worse thing a man can do is draw a hungry crowd,
tell everyone his name with pride and confidence but leaving out his doubts. I'm not sure I bought those words, when I was young I knew most everything. These words have never meant as much to anyone as they now mean to me." -Those Avett boys

I went for my first post Grindstone run last night. Well, the first run out of doors. I attempted to run on Monday in the basement on the treadmill that came last week to replace the old and broken one. Two minutes in and I was no longer sure of anything, twenty minutes later, after alternating between walking and running breaks, I called it a day.

So I went for that first official run, with peers and some pressure, high on Aleve and sunshine. Mentally it was all I had hoped for and more, I was just so damn happy to be running again after an eleven day interruption (what some may call rest or recovery) following the situation (what some may call a 100 miler). Physically however, it was a bone crushing disappointment. The first half of the run I kept up with the group, but it was flat to downhill. However, as the distance wore on my knee wore out until I had to back way off. I ended up walking it in at the end. I don't regret going, it was a much needed run even if it was painful at the end.

Let's be honest. I know what I signed up for, I signed up for something they call The Beast. I didn't expect it to be easy. I just didn't expect it to be so damn depressing. I didn't expect to feel so unbeast like, so frail, so weak. I accepted the little bit of depression, I even allowed it a few days to run it's course, then I asked it to leave. We had a good day or two.

Afternoons are the worst actually, generally about the time I would be lacing up my shoes for the afternoon run, eating a slice of toast for a snack. Now I am barefoot, hungry. I can recognize what's going on but it's getting rather hard to shake off the doom and gloom. I just want to go for a run. Is it so much to ask for it to be relatively pain-free? Maybe so. I don't know.

Today the knee pain is back to where it was a week ago, but being obsessive as well as impolite I keep finding myself wanting to test it, a squat here, a quick jaunt up the stairs. It's nagging me and so I almost feel compelled to nag it back.

Sad truth is the self and I had even done a little pep talk before Grindstone, that there may not be any running between now and Masochist. I don't know who we had fooled. Turns out, it wasn't either of us.

I am trying really hard to be happy, to see the good. I know it could be worse. I know there are still a few weeks still to heal. That there is more than running, so much more. I know all of these things but sometimes, they only stand to make the darkness that more painful, that I know I should be less crazy and yet sometimes just can't help it.

Truth is I like Masochist. It's one of if not my favorite races we do. It suits me, lots of service road, lots of climbing. The realization that I am not going to have a good day is eating away at me more than it should. I really want to shake the dark cloud, go in with an open mind and a heart to finish but the back of my mind there is this screaming about my knees.

Why can't they just get with the program?


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Grindstone 2013/2014

My official finishing time was 28 hours and 29 minutes, but it took me almost two years to get to the start line. The journey was so long and convoluted that it is hard to know where to begin telling the story, and by the time the race was over time was behaving so abnormally that it was hard to keep track of, so I will pick my favorite place to begin telling the tale, right in the middle. Try to keep up.


I woke up from a short nap, just about 10 minutes, disentangled myself from the thin tarp I had used as a make-shift sleeping-bag, and put my shoes back on. The wind was fierce and cold, but the aid station workers had a wonderful fire surrounded by chairs filled with other lost souls much like myself. Everyone struggling to find a reason to leave such an inviting location and venture back into the cold and the darkness and uncertainty. I wandered drunkenly to the aid station table and grabbed a handful of hot food before returning to the only empty chair by the fire. Why would anyone ever leave this aid station, I wondered.

But before I finished the food in my hand my answer arrived. I heard her talking before she noticed me sitting there, and I realized two things. First, she was feeling as tired and defeated as I was after climbing up Little Bald Mountain. And Second, that I was actually feeling much better after my nap and a hot meal. So my race wasn't over after all, and now Alexis was here and I would run with her. This solitary moment of clarity lifted me high enough to shake off my dark cloud and finish Grindstone in a relatively good mood.

I listened to her explain how she felt, and I advised her to take a nap like I had. That it made me feel better, and that I would wait for her and run with her through the rest of the night. As she curled up in that tarp by the wood pile Decker arrived, plopped down in a newly opened chair, and began to entertain and amuse all of those around him. This could turn out all right, I thought, I'm going to get to run with Alexis and Decker again.


I found Decker running in a large group leaving the camp. It was still light, the rain hadn't gotten too bad yet and everyone was still very much bunched up together. Other runners were talking about how they had gotten lost and hadn't seen any streamers for a while, but I pointed out a course marker as they were telling me about it. This seemed to bolster Decker's confidence, and we began to make our way purposefully up through the crowd. As the light disappeared and the rain continued he told me all about the Silver Surfer, how he sacrificed himself to save his planet, and how he ended up on Earth. The miles melted away behind us, and before I knew it we were fast hiking up the torturous long road to Elliot's Knob.

It seemed like we had arrived at the climb to Elliot's Knob too soon, 10 miles by Decker's watch and we were already half way up. I thought I remembered someone saying it was closer to 20. That climb was just as hard as I thought it would be, and the group I was with was stronger than I felt. Brian and Austin started to pull ahead when I heard Alexis behind us. We all welcomed her, and joked that we expected her to overtake us much later in the race as she usually does. I was glad that she was there, I knew she was struggling with the darkness and the prospect of running alone through the night. The summit, when we finally reached it, was cloaked in a dense fog and a light rain, and there was no view to appreciate. But I had the company of friends, and that's even better.

By the time I punched my bib and started moving down the hill I had lost sight of Brian and Austin, both of which went on to have great races, but Decker, Alexis and I were still together, and we headed off to Dry Branch Gap together. Alexis said she was going to run with me all night long. I knew she could, she's amazingly stubborn when she gets determined to do something. The descent was technical and slippery in the rain, the leaf covered rocks slipping and sliding under foot in the dark. Alexis fell behind a few times but managed to stay close all the way to the aid station. We were 14 miles in and I felt tired. Not a great feeling, but I pushed it back into the darker corners of my mind. I was running well with good runners, and that would be enough to carry me through.


Alexis couldn't sleep under the tarp as easily as I had, so she gave up. Being under-dressed for the sudden onset of arctic conditions she was fortunate to be lent a jacket by another runner, and I gave her a pair of socks from my drop-bag to use as gloves. Decker said that he needed some more quality time with the fire, which I understood, so after making him promise to get up soon and keep running we set off without him.  We were 44 miles in, and the sun would be coming up soon.

Running together the miles to Reddish Knob passed easily.  There was a steady flow of two-way traffic by this point and we began to see some of the runners we know who were having better days than we were, and were already on their way back to the camp. The sun came up in a cloudy sky on this stretch of gravel road, but by the time we summited Reddish Knob the skies had cleared and the view was beautiful and expansive. We paused for a few moments to enjoy the majesty of the mountains and lament the fact that we didn't bring a camera. Seeing the sunrise from Reddish Knob is reason enough to run 100 miles.

We ran on to the the turn around to pick up Alexis' first pacer, Alissa. This is the only section of pavement in the entire race, from Reddish to the Turn Around and back, roughly 5 miles of boring country road. Somewhere since leaving the fire at Little Bald aid station I had told Alexis that I intended to run with her for the rest of the race, and when we met up with her crew they seemed surprised to see us together, but I was happy with this decision. If it is possible to make running 100 miles easier, this decision did just that. My attitude was better and my strength held for the rest of the day.


"Go on without me," Alexis said. We were leaving Dry Branch Gap aid station at mile 14 and she was telling me she felt nauseous. I was a little frustrated at this point. It had been raining on us now for about 3 hours and the aid station hadn't had much food to choose from. I had taken a PB&J and eaten it while I waited for Alexis and Decker, but now I was hiking up Crawford Mountain by myself. The rain continued and the steep climbs on this side of Crawford were muddy and awkward, but I knew that once I got over this mountain it was all downhill to Dowell's Draft aid station where Brenton and my crew would be waiting with warm food. So I hiked with my hands on my knees up that soul-crushing mountain.

The second most important thing that I learned in this section is that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, at Grindstone is ever all downhill. But I fell in with a group of runners who were cautiously picking their way down the treacherous slope and I let them and my desire for a hot meal guide me as I cruised for the whole section on auto-pilot. It was in this section that I started letting my nutrition schedule slip. I realized too late that I was holding off eating in anticipation of the food that was causing my mouth to water, and waiting for me at the bottom. But when I hit the bottom I really hit the bottom.


"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."


On the ride up to the camp on Friday morning, as we were all joking around and trying to pretend that we didn't have any real goals for the race, I announced that my primary objective was to beat Clifton Williams as the happiest runner on the course. I have found that I run my best when I am enjoying myself and maintaining a positive attitude. I knew that if I could harness that energy that had carried me through Hellgate and a double Promise Land then I would be able to run well at Grindstone.

As the day wore on Friday my well-laid plan slowly began to unravel around me. It was a simple plan; get there early, set up camp, rest, eat, rest, eat. It happened unnoticed mostly. The nervous energy in the camp brought people together to hang out and wish each other well. The race briefing and lunch took longer than I expected. And then the rain began. By the time the race started at 6 pm, I had spent more time walking around the camp then I had laying down in my tent, and I felt hungry standing there at the start line.

The race started and I was already feeling like my game plan was weak. When the crowd of runners bottle-necked at the first single track and I was standing there waiting, I began to get frustrated. I knew that it was a long race and that it would benefit me later to move slow at the start but I was standing there not moving and it was driving me crazy. I looked back at the crowd of runners and Clifton was yelling and smiling. I had already lost, and I didn't even realize it.


When I ran into Dowell's Draft aid station I was relying on unrealistic expectations to be met. I was feeling low because I was tired and down on calories. I was 22 miles into the race and I was feeling worn out and I knew that wasn't right. I was rude to my crew and the aid station volunteers because I couldn't get what I wanted, which was hot food, and I left knowing that the climb ahead was going to be long and hard. And as I slogged my way up that hill, getting passed by runner after runner as I sank deeper and deeper into my first good bonk, I beat myself up for yelling at Brenton. I knew he had a lot of work to keep that aid station going. I knew that I was just one runner. And I knew that I had overreacted, but it was too late. I had to run 60 miles before I would get the chance to apologize.

From Dowell's Draft to Lookout Mountain went by in a hazy blur. It would rain hard for a while and then almost stop, and then rain hard again. I ate the best I could as I realized what was wrong with me, but I just couldn't get into a good rhythm. At the aid station Jeremy Ramsey told me that I was 25 minutes off of the 24 hour pace, and I knew that was mostly due to my trudge through the valley of self-loathing. I ate a little and they rushed me out of the aid station and I was North River Gap bound. I tried not to let myself get overly excited about what may or may not be at that aid station. But it was hard. Sam Price talks a big game.


From the turn-around back to Little Bald Mountain aid station we moved a little slower than I thought we would. I figured that Alexis would fall in with her pacer and just start knocking out the miles, but we were still moving pretty slow.  I let her lead, and fell in line behind Alissa. Determined to stay with her, but out of the way, not push her pace to where she was uncomfortable. She told me after the race that she was running slow on this stretch because she thought I was suffering. I guess we should communicate a little better, but it was still a good stretch. We saw everyone we knew before we made it back to the aid station, and they all looked good and had plenty of time to finish. It looked like it was going to turn out to be a good day for the Blue Ridge Trail Runners.

J.B.'s aid station was a great place for me both times through. Without a doubt the second best aid station on the course. It wasn't quite as magical in the day light, but luckily I didn't need it to be. We ate, and killed a little time doing who-knows-what, and then headed off for the seven mile long downhill back to North River Gap. I took the lead on some of the downhills, and we started to move a little better than we had since the turn around. Kevin Smith, the pacer I had lined up, met us about three miles up from the bottom and I had to break the news to him that I planned on running the rest of the way in with Alexis.

Kevin is a great guy who believes in me more than I believe in myself, and he didn't want to take me seriously at first. He spent the next three miles of downhill trying to feel me out and push the pace, which is what he was there to do. He was checking to see how much fight I had left in me. I assured him that I wanted to run the rest of this hellish race with my wife, and he relented reluctantly by the time we got to the bottom of the hill. (The one real regret I have from this race is dragging Kevin out there and not taking advantage of his services. I have thought about it several times, and I wonder what I could have done if I had turned myself over to him and let him push me up and over those hills.)

We rolled into North River Gap inbound just after noon.  66(ish) miles in just over 18 hours. Lunchtime.


When I got to North River Gap outbound, I was feeling pretty good. I had learned my lesson from Dowell's Draft and eaten well on the trail even though I expected to get a real "meal" here. The rain had slowed down to just a heavy mist. The night air was still warm and comfortable. My friends seemed to have forgiven my childish outburst the last time I saw them. All was right with the world.

It is hard to explain all the ways that the North River Gap aid station lifted me up. The food was superb, there was a large variety of hot savory food that really filled the gap that "fuel" just doesn't do. There were so many people around that it had a carnival atmosphere, and everyone seemed happy. I sat down and ate a lot. My crew and Alexis' crew were very helpful and uplifting. I almost changed my shoes and socks, but decided to wait until I was inbound because it was still raining a little. When I left this aid station I was riding high on a wave of euphoria brought on by great food, good friends and, unbeknownst to me, utter exhaustion.

Between North River Gap aid station and Little Bald Mountain aid station there is really only one thing to slow you down: Little Bald Mountain. A seven mile climb covering some of the most technical trail miles on the course. Thirty minutes into this climb my world collapsed. My energy evaporated. The temperature began to drop rapidly, just like my will to live. Two miles into this climb the mountain had already eaten 50 minutes of my time. It only got worse from there. I sat down to eat at one point and was awoken by another climber's headlamp shining on me. I don't know how much time had passed. I fell asleep walking no less than four times. I would jerk my head up suddenly as I tripped on the tangles of undergrowth along the trail. I began looking for a place to curl up out of the wind and sleep until the sun came up. 

I'm not sure how I made it up to the top that mountain, but I know that I dug deep for any and every reason to keep moving. For my kids, because we always finish what we start. For Mike Donahue who would never have another chance to fight this course. For my wife and friends who were out here with me battling the same demons I was. For my friends and crew who came out to spend their weekend traipsing through the mountains making sure that all of us lunatics were alright. Because I had trained (off and on) for two years for this. Because I could, I was somehow obligated to. So I did. I climbed and I climbed and I climbed. 

When I finally got to the top of that climb my heart sank even farther, which put it down in my soaking wet socks at this point, as I discovered that the aid station wasn't were I thought it would be. It was another two miles down the trail. At least it was down I thought. When I finally got to Little Bald Mountain aid station outbound, I went straight to my drop-bag then to the fire. The wind was howling across the open hilltop, cutting right to the bone. I took off my shoes and put on dry socks and my light weight jacket. Sat my shoes what seemed like a safe distance from the fire, wrapped myself up in a tarp that was surely there for the sole purpose of keeping me warm while I slept, and I went to sleep.

"It's not a footrace, it's an eating competition!"

Coming into North River Gap inbound just in time for lunch was quite possibly divine intervention.
I felt good. I was running in a pack now. The best food on the course was laid out before me. There were only 36 miles left to run, and ALL of the hard stuff was behind us. It was shaping up to be a fine day (days) in the mountains.

Once again the crews and volunteers at North River Gap took excellent care of us. Except I did have to weigh myself. Between the aid station and our crew who seemed bored and happy to have something to do, they piled more food on me then I could possibly eat. But I did my best. I ate and ate while Alexis' crew preformed impromptu surgery on some nasty blisters she had growing in her shoe. I opted to not change shoes again, and spent my time eating and watching them cut on Alexis' foot. It reminded me of that scene in Rocky, you know the one, where Rocky says "Cut me Mick." It was kind of a gruesome spectacle, not unlike a car accident, where people gathered around to gawk at the gore. 

They eventually got her put back together, and Kevin (my pacer) stayed behind to run around on the course and have fun, and Alexis' new pacer Robbie started running with us, and Alissa came along so we would both have a pacer, or maybe just to get some more miles in. I ran most of the next couple of sections with Robbie while Alexis and Alissa ran just behind us doing the girl-talk thing.

I feel like we ran really well to Lookout Mountain, and then on to Dowell's Draft. Alexis had given me a marker to write notes on my arm during the night to make sure I remembered what I needed at the aid stations. I wrote a note on my hand, to ensure that I wouldn't forget: Tell Brenton Sorry! I felt bad about how rude I had been during the night, even though I figured Brenton would just laugh it off, I still owed him an apology. 

Kevin Smith met us half way down the long decent to Dowell's Draft, if nothing else he was getting a good hill workout in. Between him and Robbie I know we were pushing the pace pretty good coming into Dowell's Draft, but Alexis was hanging right there with us so I didn't hold back. We were in and out of Dowell's Draft faster than we had been any of the other aid stations, and Alexis seemed pumped up by the faster pace and a fresh pacer. We traded Robbie and Alissa for Anna, and we were off.

Anna was totally a no-nonsense kind of pacer. Like a good relief pitcher going in during the eighth inning. She led when she needed to, followed when she should, and kept on Alexis about her food intake. I don't remember seeing her smile or hearing her laugh, she had a job to do and it was getting done. Kind of like running with a Terminator, she would only stop when her mission was complete. The three of us climbed up Crawford mountain like it was flat. We ran more incline in this section than I had in the entire rest of the race combined, and we had over 80 miles on our legs! We passed groups of runners hunched over and suffering up that climb, and before I realized we were running down the steep side to Dry Branch Gap. 

The aid station itself was a little disappointing, but Kevin and Alissa were there to help us out. We only had 14 more miles to go, and Elliot's Knob, the last climb of the race was right ahead of us. I don't remember what time it was, but we thought we could make it to the top before daylight failed us, so we were in and out of the aid station as quickly as possible. Maybe too quickly, but you know what they say about hindsight.

The climb up Elliot's was slower than Crawford had been, but we managed to get the vertical part done before we lost the sun. The higher we climbed the fiercer the wind was, and the temperature dropped to a bone chilling degree. I didn't remember the long flat ridge run at the top, but we shuffled over precariously nomadic stones in an ever deepening darkness cursing a certain Race Director and wondering if we would ever find the gravel road leading down from Elliot's Knob back into more hospitable weather conditions and eventually returning us to the camp and the finish line. 

We hit the descent with another group of runners, and we all started down together. They joked that they had discussed it, and decided that there was no easy way down and a full on sprint down the mountain  would be no more painful than trying to ease yourself carefully down. This was interesting because I felt wobbly and slow, yet managed the hill much faster than their intended kamikaze style attack. We slowed down a number of times during this free fall to make sure that we didn't run past the trail that we were supposed to turn onto. This paranoia of getting lost would haunt us for the next seven or eight miles, and only get worse as we entered the "maze".

For some reason we made the decision to "skip" the last aid station, I'm not so sure that was the best choice we could have made considering that Alexis bonked really hard with three miles to go. But in all honesty that aid station seemed to be designed to be skipped. It was there as a formality, more of a course marker than any real kind of aid. We slowed down and got our numbers counted, and then continued on into the darkness.

The last 5-ish miles of Grindstone seemed the most unrecognizable to me. I found it odd that this was the section of the race that I ran first, when I should have been more cognizant than at any other time during this adventure. Coming back onto the Boy Scout property was kind of like landing on another planet. The terrain seemed bizarre and foreign, totally unfamiliar. How could the place change so much in one day's time?

The markings were sparse and Alexis was bonking and I was starting to get tired again. Several times we would stop at unmarked intersections and let Anna run ahead until she found a streamer, unable to make ourselves move down a trail that may be the wrong way. Any unnecessary travel at this point just seemed like it would be too much to bear. Getting lost that close to the finish was not appealing. 

We picked our way carefully through the maze, and with less than a mile to go a runner caught us. He had run with us earlier, but fallen behind on one of the tough climbs. He looked good and decided to run on ahead of us. Some how we made it through without getting lost, and as we finally climbed up onto the dam by the lake we saw a headlamp bobbing in the darkness, in the opposite direction of the camp. I yelled and waved and he yelled back. It was our buddy Joe #98 who had just passed us a few minutes before. He ran back to us, and decided to stick with us to the finish line, now no more than a quarter mile away. We all finished together, and then went our separate ways.

As for me, I showered, ate, and crashed out in my tent until morning.

As for Grindstone, it is a tough course. No, it is more than that. It is brutal and beautiful. It is challenging and fulfilling. It is a measure of who we are, and not only what we can do, but what we can endure. It is 100 miles in the mountains. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Will I return? 

Yes. Yes, I think I will.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Grindstone 100 Race Report (Alexis)

Grindstone 100 miler

Swoope, Virginia

Friday, October 3-5, 2014

I'm always unsure of where to begin; do I begin with registering in late spring after many others had committed to the Beast series this year or do I go further back, to the back and forth struggle that last summer was, the wondering if I should run Grindstone, if I could?

Wherever you begin, the story ends the same, with the Grindstone 100 mile endurance run. 


Robbie Shull jumped on board first, without hesitation, to pace me, before I had even registered. Alissa Keith was next, donating a weekend away from her family, a lot to ask of anyone. I stole away Anna when I saw her offer on Facebook to crew for someone at Grindstone. I had been rather nervous about having a good crew like I'd procured for Western States, but with three people I was confident in I was a little more at ease. Then to my dismay, Kevin Corell's knee, which has been bothering him since early spring, went from bad to worse and he had to withdraw from the race. I asked Todd if I should ask Kevin to crew me,but he said that I was perhaps being a little selfish in asking Kevin, awaiting surgery on his knee, to come out to the race he wasn't running. But I am a little bit selfish, I was a little sad that Kevin wasn't running, though confident in Alissa, Robbie and Anna I felt like I needed Kevin. When I finally built up the nerve to ask Kevin to come to Grindstone as my crew captain he said he had already figured he would, I was quite thankful. With a top notch crew in place it was time to just move forward with plans and training.

In addition to amazing crew I was fortunate enough to spend the later part of the summer with other Blue Ridge Trail Runners training for Grindstone, namely Chelsie Viar, Mike Mitchell and Clifton Williams (as well as my husband Todd). We spent weekends in the mountains, sharing our fears and anxiously counting down the days to the start. Going into the race, my one hope was that we would all finish.

In the final days before the race I tried to work on calming my nerves and not letting my fears get the better of me. I read a few articles on boosting confidence, I took actions to control what I could such as having headlamps and then backup headlamps for the dark and tried to remain calm about the things I couldn't control. 

It was all going well, my faking the part of confident Alexis, until we were gathered around our tent at Camp Shenandoah and the rain began to fall. With my happy face gone, I tried to hold it together the best I could. That lasted about 10 miles into the race.

The Start to Dowell's Draft

My crew for the race, Alissa, Anna and Kevin were all helpful in getting me ready to start. Robbie was to come up Saturday morning for his section. Alissa said a prayer and helped me ready my favorite shorts, Kevin made sure I had something warmer in my pack and Anna helped tighten and loosen my pack so the tops of my peanut butter crackers wouldn't rub my arms. Finally, after a few pictures and a few last minute pre-race rituals we set off at 6pm.

I fell in with Sheryl and we talked about Kelly Reece and Masochist, Colorado and Disney World. We were stopped in a traffic jam when I saw Todd disappearing off ahead into the trees. I had sort of hoped to stay with him so I picked up the pace a little. There were so many people though and I was finding it hard to get around and try to catch him, I was being less patient that I should have been. Those first few miles, though easy enough, found me anything but relaxed and well at ease. The more I wanted to be near Todd the more emotional I got about 'needing' him.  I had this overwhelming sensation that I just wanted him to be by my side. In addition, I spent more time looking at runners feet then the course which proved to be a hellacious idea on the return trip when none of the terrain felt familiar even though there was only one day and direction sepearting us.

Earlier than I would have hoped it grew dark on us. I was feeling good enough, I was running, I knew, much better than at Western States. The rain was falling but rather than dwelling on the possibility of being wet I allowed the sound of it be my company. When we, several miles in, began climbing I didn't even recognize it for Elliott's Gap until very near the top. A woman asked if it was Elliot's and I told her I didn't think so, but the more up we went I realized it was. I was actually happy to have not recognized it but felt bad for giving the woman incorrect information. It felt hard, but I also felt like I was climbing well. I had been passing runners right and left when I finally recognized the stride of the dark figure right ahead as Todd. I decided not to let him know I was there but just follow. However, he turned and saw me. He was running with James Decker, a fellow Mountain Junkie, and I was just so relieved. I would just hold onto them into the darkness I swore to myself.

We punched our bibs at Elliott's and ran back down until we hit trail once more when my headlamp started slipping from my forehead. I kept trying to steady it but it wouldn't hold, to top it off this section of trail was wet and the rocks slippery. I finally had to stop to take it off and let Decker pass me. I got angry, it was the only time I thought I was going to cry the entire 101.85 miles (which I guess is a good thing?) I was mad, I had worked hard to catch up with Todd, I was convinced I needed him, and he was just pulling away as I struggled to fix my light. The more I struggled with my light the worse the scene got. I figured the scene suggested I needed to eat, I finally fixed the light and pulled a candy bar from my pack. It was hard to eat but I managed. I caught back up with Todd and Decker but now it felt like work and I wasn't enjoying any part of it. Then my stomach started to give me trouble.  There was a really friendly runner behind me trying to make conversation but my stomach continued to get the better of me, instead of making friends I started to slip into a slump. I let a few runners pass me and allowed Decker and Todd to pull further ahead. By the time we came into Dry Branch Gap I had fallen several paces back, the nausea was pulling me down quickly.

I had a little bit of a cold and a headache on Thursday and Friday that had been making me feel less than great but the onset of nausea compiled with the other symptoms worked against me. And fast. I was no longer even slightly relaxed or confident. I was pretty miserable. Todd asked if I was ok, I told him I was nauseous, he told me to eat. I told him to go and leave me. He left but not without asking if I was going to be ok, I didn't want to hurt his race, I didn't want to hold him back, I didn't want him waiting on me. He pulled away just past the aid station and I slowed to a crawl. I stopped eating, I let packs of people pass by me. I started to think about quitting.

And if you know me, once I think about quitting, it's ALL I can think about. For the next two to two and a half hours I fell further and further into a pit of my own despair, I quit and felt good about it. I encouraged myself that everyone would understand, I had a cold. I felt awful physically but I also realized with great confidence that I am not a 100 miler, it's not my distance. I was a little upset about the time I had spent training to have a bad day but decided then and there that I would stop fooling around in the mountains. I worked out a plan, I thought I was in my right mind. I felt bad for Alissa, Anna and Kevin but they could switch to other people's crews I thought, I would even help if I got a few hours sleep. I would like to see Todd finish, I thought. I was going to DNF, but it had to happen at some point, right? I was going to have to tell a few people who believed in me that I am not the person they think I am, but my children would love me regardless. In past events, I have quit, and it has made me emotional, here I felt GOOD about quitting, I felt SMART about quitting. 

I realized that I hadn't taken any Pepto at the race start, I always take Pepto but I had forgotten. I took out two Pepto, and a few tums, drank more water. When I started to feel a little tiny bit better I forced myself to eat but I was still quitting at Dowell's Draft, that couldn't be helped. I dreamed of sleeping in the back of the suburban. I had a good feeling Todd would have told our crew that I wasn't feeling good. They would understand, I just couldn't go 30+ more hours, I could not go another 80 miles. It could not be helped. My mind was made up.

Then I got to Dowell's Draft. So many people. I saw Blake first, he laughed when I said was nauseous, he led me to my crew and almost appeared thankful not to have to trouble with me. Anna had two pepto in my hand and told me to take them with Alissa forcing the drink to chase them before I even started my spiel, I'm not going on. I'm done. What did you just give me anyways?

Kevin just slightly laughed and said yes you are. I tried again but my pleas were falling on deaf ears, they just kept assuring me I was going to go on. What did I need they asked, I had no idea, I hadn't even considered leaving this aid station, I had no idea what shape I was actually in. I kept fighting and they kept pushing. This was going to be harder than I thought. Alissa and Anna grew quieter but stayed right there as Kevin just kept telling me I was going to North River Gap. This was going to be harder than I thought, I told myself, why don't they understand that I CANNOT do this? Out of the corner of my eye I caught Chey and Bethany starring at my little breakdown, pity or something worse in their eyes.

We were standing there and Kevin told me he didn't care if I walked I was going to North River Gap, we could reassess there. I knew I had lost right there but that didn't stop me from continuing to try, I knew from the previous two hour trek that if I made it to NRG I could finish, I didn't want to make it to Sam's aid station and quit there, I knew that. I knew there would be even more people to push me on, I was taking Frank's advice, if you're going to quit, quit early. If I was getting out, it had to be here, it had to be now. I then resorted to even more childish behavior, "I hate you right now, Kevin" I said and started to walk towards the trail.

Within a dozen feet I was more sick with myself for saying that to one of my closest friends than I had been previously on the course that I stopped and looked back at their dark silhouettes and called Kevin's name.

Kevin, I am a terrible person, I cannot believe I just said that. 

They walked back up to me. And I went right back to whining, You just don't understand, I can't do this for another 30 hours I pleaded. Kevin, steadfast, kept giving me all the right answers, I could go on, don't think about 25 hours or 30 hours, just keep moving forward, have you listened to music he asked. Alissa set to putting my earbuds IN MY EARS for me and Kevin just kept on reassuring me that I had done worse, that I could finish this and I was going to finish. All I could think about was how awful a person I was, I am a mother and I was acting like a child, I had just told someone that I like and appreciate very much I hated them. 

So of course, I straightened up, right?

Nope, I took the tantrum to the next level, I SAT down on the grass. I just won't leave I thought. It lasted about 14 seconds and Kevin and Alissa were pulling me up and telling me to just start walking. I wish I had gathered a less competent crew I told them. But somehow they got me to go on, not without a great effort on my part though I can assure you.

..to North River Gap

With my music on and the possibility of quitting gone for anything short of a near death catastrophe I actually began to run again. Not as fast as I had those first miles, smarter, more relaxed. I thought about my crew and how awfully I had acted. I owed them big, I vowed to eat well and stay as positive as I could for as long as I could.  I didn't know how long it would last, but I hoped at least through NRG.  The miles melted away comfortably, I ate on schedule, enjoying a grilled cheese at Lookout Mountain aid station, and ran near Siobhan and her husband but mostly alone. I started to come at ease with the darkness. It really wasn't very frightening. 

Every song that came on my iPod I somehow dedicated to my crew, whom I was more thankful for with each passing mile, "while I was feeling such a wreck I thought you'd treat me unkind, but you helped me change my mind", I listened to that song six times, I couldn't get the fact I told Kevin that awful thing out of my head. The poor guy can't run, it's got to be tough to be out there at an event that he should have been running, and I am throwing a tantrum and pleading to quit and saying the most awful things to him. I figured the best that I could do at this point was apologize and run as well as I could for all of them, that I would get to North River Gap in one piece and prove that while crazy, I had made it.

Near NRG I started feeling some pain in my feet and felt some small debris. I took my mini sharpie that I had attached to my pack and wrote "rocks" on my hand. When I got to the aid station at North River Gap I set in immediately to apologizing for my behavior at Dowell's, my crew told me Todd had been in a bad place there too. They said that I was 11 minutes behind Todd, and set about to helping me. I got weighed and was up 3 pounds, the same exact amount I had been up at 30 miles at Western States, I didn't let it worry me though like I had out there. Alissa set about helping me with my feet, applying mole skin, popping and treating a blister on my left foot. Sam came over and checked on me, apparently thinking I looked a little tired, rough, I am just so thankful he didn't have to witness what the other's did at Dowell's. Anna gave me more meds and fluids. Kevin got me some soda and food, warm potato dumplings and quesadillas.  I was there at that aid station a good 15 or more minutes but I changed my socks, fixed my feet, ate a ton of food and swapped packs. I left out of there with fresh batteries in my headlamp. It was a lot of time but it was mostly necessary time.

From there you climb A LOT. It was raining once more and I was all alone. The first few miles weren't all that bad, I knew it was a tough climb and just worked on getting it done. I decided that the darkness wasn't THAT bad, I kept reminding myself to keep an eye out for streamers but I wasn't as scared as I thought I would be. I had originally planned to make friends with someone, but it turns out I wasn't feeling/being very friendly and I actually was preferring running by myself, going my own pace. I decided I could do darkness, if I had to.

As the miles wore on I grew first tired and then cold, then more exhausted and even colder. Near the top of Little Bald I started to have a few slight hallucinations, I saw a person walk from the woods right in front of me, from the trail on the left into the woods on the right and then moments later a yard gnome. I started to see shadows and my headlamp kept casting strange feelings that there was someone right behind me. Then I started to really struggle with staying awake. I decided that at the aid station I was going to fall asleep for just a few minutes, I didn't trust just laying down on the side of the trail, what with yard gnomes and whatnot about.

To my dismay though the aid station wasn't at the top of the climb but a mile or so down a service road. That mile on service road was one of the toughest as I struggled to stay awake. I could see my breath and was hopeful for a fire. I was growing desperate when I finally asked a runner headed back the other way how far the aid station was, he said 100 yards.  Finally I came upon the aid station, the light of the fire so warm and welcoming. I got some soup and a potato dumpling and headed over to the fire, ready for warmth and a few minutes of sleep. The bonfire was surrounded by several chairs, each one of them filled. Steps from the fire one of the people in a chair turned to look at me, it was Todd! This came as quite a shock and woke me up a bit. I had not ever imagined I would catch back up with him, I figured I might see him once, headed back around the turnaround. He had struggled up Little Bald and had taken a quick nap at the aid station, he said he would wait for me. I told him no I was going to rest and he should go on, but he was insistent that he would wait, that he could use the company. I tried to lie down on the tarp where he has said he had napped but between the cold and wind and the surprise that was Todd's presence I just wasn't as tired as I had been.

Then Decker showed up by the fire. We talked about how cold each of us was when a guy, Chris, gave me an extra jacket he had in his drop bag there. Todd gave me a pair of his Injinji socks for my hands from his drop bag and we set off once more towards the official halfway point. Both of our spirits seemingly raised, if only just a little.

The Halfway Point

The sun was coming up and the jacket and socks made such a difference. Todd and I talked about our struggles and how much we appreciated having the other at just that moment, in that low on the mountain, to continue on with. When we made it to Reddish Knob we were in for quite the view, the sun had come up and Fall had clearly arrived. We punched our bibs but then took another moment to take in the beauty around us at all angles. It was pretty amazing and I am pretty lucky to have been able to share that with Todd.

We ran on to the halfway point and were both in much better spirits but the fatigue was clearly begin to settle in for the second half. I was beginning to wonder how long Todd was really going to run with me. I knew he had goals of a sub 24 hour race and I knew I was no where near that. Any goals I had made where all but gone other than finishing. I was just moving forward trying to making amends in some form to my dedicated crew of friends. We made it to the area where pacers are and stopped for a moment to pick up Alissa and headed off to the official turn around. Alissa told us stories about runners getting lost and angry hunters and I packed away the iPod for good. At the turnaround we took a moment to drink some tomato soup and share a moment with others runners, one of whom had run 33 100 milers. 

Coming back to the intersection Alissa said that they had made a joke of the fact that I kept bringing up the terrible thing I had said to Kevin because apparently Kevin hadn't even heard me say it. They had been joking and guessing what awful things I might have said, they were all a little let down with what it turned out to be. Back at the pacer pickup we grabbed a jacket and headed back towards where we had come. We passed Clifton only a few minutes later headed to the turn around.

Back at Reddish Knob we stopped for a moment for Todd to eat something and we saw Sheryl Mawn and Chelsie Viar coming and going from the top of Reddish. They said they'd gotten off course and run an extra 3 miles, it was further motivation to get moving, but we weren't.  We were actually going about things very slow and relaxed at this point. We were mostly enjoying ourselves though, talking to runners and telling stories but I was beginning to worry just how long the distance was going to take. A mile or so later we saw Mike Mitchell headed out to the turn around, we were pretty happy that all of our runners were still on the course and looking pretty good.

Back at Little Bald we stayed away from the comfort of the fire but did partake in some delicious fresh and hot quesadillas and Mountain Dew. We talked with the aid stations workers but I felt the urge to get moving. Todd told Alissa and I to get moving, he would catch up. We crossed paths again with Chris. Todd caught up once more and we ambled towards the trail to NRG. At this point the aimlessness was getting to me, I didn't know what kind of pace we were at, but I knew it didn't feel like a hustle, it was simply a forward moving pace. I figured Todd was suffering, he was quiet behind us and once or twice he disappeared to go to the bathroom. But he caught back up easily enough.

Finally, we arrived back at the trail that carried you back to the TWOT loop/NRG aid station, I nearly begged for Alissa and Todd get in front, telling them I would just do my best to follow. It was downhill but the sun was out and we moved fairly well. We ran even the little bumps. It was about this point that my knees started to bother me, a pain in my kneecaps, but I figured it was just par for the distance.

We came upon Kevin Smith just about 2.5 miles out from NRG and ran with him, he was ready to take Todd and get moving but Todd was insistent that he was going to stick it out with me. I told Todd he could leave with Kevin, I was not going to hurt his race. But Todd further insisted he was going to finish with me. I think Todd's race was all but lost at this point and he figured we could help each other. However, they did pick the pace up a little. I felt bad, that Kevin thought I was dragging Todd down, I both wanted Todd to run on and have the race of his life and yet selfishly appreciated his commitment to stay with me. Before that point I figured we were just sharing a low section, I really didn't think we would run the last 60 miles together. 

We came into NRG and saw Sam's sign that said "We love you Todd, Alexis, Cheslie, Cliffy and Mike" and I was in a fairly good place other than more foot pain and the growing pain in my knees. My left foot had a blood blister and Alissa tried to get it popped but we just ended up covering it with mole skin, we ate a good bit, Sam brought us hot foods and saw to it that we were well taken care of and Blake gave us mashed potatoes he had made. Sam gave me a card from our BRTR box, it was one Bailey, our six year old daughter, had made at the Box Party, it said "You are here to run and you are doing great! -Bailey Thomas". I folded it and put it in my pack. Because Todd was with us and Kevin Smith was no longer going to run with him Alissa stayed on to run the next section with us and Robbie joined us. Our group was in pretty good spirits as we headed out of NRG.

North River Gap back to Dowell's

My feet between the two tender spots on the bottoms of my feet and the blister on my left toe were giving me a bit of discomfort and my knees were now pretty shot, but I tried to give Robbie all that I had left as he had driven up that morning to pace me. But there was a fair bit of climbing in this next section and we moved slowly over it. I was fairly confident that we were going to finish the run but I was falling apart physically and starting to wonder just how long it was going to take. Though thoroughly enjoying the company and thankful to no longer be alone, I was growing more discontent with how slow I was going. Alissa told me to eat at one point and I started to disagree, and as I was explaining why I didn't need to eat I realized she was right, I needed to eat. Even when I think I am all together with it, I am usually not. Alissa and Robbie were helpful through here as they carried on conversations and reminded us to eat. 

At Lookout Mountain aid station we feasted on pancakes and syrup, one of the easier things to eat over the entire day. We left there and met AJ Johnson and ran a ways with him, he had run more than a dozen 100s and told us about his favorites and his hopefuls. We met a few other runners through these next miles and one of them made mention that we were on pace for a 32 hour finish. That really woke me up, I wasn't happy with the notion in the least. I had come to terms that we weren't running sub 28 or probably even sub 30, but 2 am just felt overwhelming when it was only the middle of the afternoon. I knew we hadn't been moving well for hours but I also was really begin to feel depleted. My hips and quads were telling me that 32 hours might just be so. I was falling behind my group and decided that whether it be ill advised I needed to call in the help of Vitamin I. I took two and a handful of Tums for good measure.

The pain in my knees did not subside but I did start to feel the slightest bit better. Todd and I talked about how awful we had been to our friends, we took out our sharpies and made notes to apologize to Kevin and Brenton at Dowell's. We ran to where the White Oak Loop splits and I knew it was fairly 'runnable' from here to the next Aid Station, I told Todd, Robbie and Alissa to get in front of me and just run. I told them not to worry I would do what I could to keep the pace, just have Alissa look back every 5 minutes or so to see if I am still back here. We ran very well from here on in to Dowell's, just running and not focusing on what hurt. Todd had said we should aim to get to Dowell's by 5 pm, I was quite happy when we made it to Dowell's just after 4. Originally I had planned to change shoes here but I decided not to fix what wasn't bothering me, one pair of Stinsons saw me through Western States, this pair will see me through Grindstone I decided.

We left Robbie and Alissa here and I picked up Anna for the final miles. Kevin had warm Mac and Cheese for us that Opal had made, it was the BEST food I had all day, I drank Mountain Dew and swapped packs. There were a lot of people there and we slowed to talk to several of them. Kevin told me we had 5:45 left. I told him nope, I don't have a 28 hour finish, and he just said assuredly that we could do it. I had not believed it for a moment, the 32 hour comment having taken up residence, I knew we had killed too much time, laid on the ground at aid stations, hiked too many runnable sections, but he said it with such fervor, that it made me wonder just what we could do.

To the Totem Pole

I really didn't think we could run those final 22 miles in 5:45, but I wanted to know what I had left in me. Leaving Dowell's I took the lead and ran what I could, occasionally Todd would remind me that I could hike, Anna reminded me to eat. Anna told me to put my music back in. We started to cover the ground quickly, I felt awful but I also knew that I was feeling better than I had just a short while before, that darkness was coming, I wanted to make the most of the daylight we had left. We passed this guy, Joe, and he hung with us. We were running smooth and he was complimenting us and it just motivated me to run even better. I started to feel more confident that we could make it to the finish before midnight, this just continued to feed my desire. Once or twice Todd had to reel me in, but I wanted better than 30 hours. I tried not to think about all the mistakes I had made so far during the run, instead I remembered how bad the last 20 miles of Western were and really appreciated how much better I was running this time around. My knees felt awful but I was still pushing through that pain.

We were running up a hill and I felt what I thought was my mole skin move off of my blood blister and it HURT, I stopped and sat down to fix it on the side of the trail only to realize there was blood on the side of my shoe, then on my sock. The mole skin hadn't moved, the blister had just finally popped. I put the sock and shoe back on as fast as I could and just kept moving. That spot felt better after the blood blister popped but my left foot second toe just continued to grow more painful. 

Coming into Dry Branch Gap is downhill, we were running so well, it felt really good, I wondered how long it would last. As we approached the aid station I didn't see our crew, finally I saw Alissa waving her hands and then I saw Kevin coming up from where the cars were. I was feeling a little out of it mentally even though I was still running ok. There wasn't anything appealing at the aid station so they gave me some food from my box, but I struggled to eat it. We swapped packs a final time and said goodbye's. Kevin and Alissa were going to get pizza and meet us at the finish. I started moving up hill and I hear Kevin call my name, I turn to find him running up the hill out of the aid station with a Mountain Dew, about the same time Todd and I both yell "don't run Kevin" and he just smiled and said it's fine, he thought I needed something more, he could tell I wasn't looking very good either. He was right and that Mountain Dew is pretty much responsible for the last of my good running. Within an hour I would fall apart.

We left and were still climbing well, running towards night and the finish. We lost our friend Joe who didn't want to hang onto our climbing pace. We stopped and took in the sights on the climb, again as much as the climbing hurt, the view was magnificent. We pressed on but our hopes of making it to Elliott's before dark were mostly dashed, however we had been moving really well, enough that we all now believed a sub 28 was possible.

But the climb to Elliott's was longer than I had remembered outbound and the dark slowed us more than I would have thought. The night slipped in and the pain in my knees became ever more present. We made it to Elliott's and ran the downhill well but then the distance to the next aid station seemed to go on forever. I was fighting with a lot of pain so I took two more Ibuprofen but they didn't work as much as the first had, my knees weren't affected by the medicine, just telling me to stop. The service road was marked enough but was still a slight bit confusing, the closer we got to the aid station the harder the markers were to see. It was like the course had been marked with outbound in mind, but was harder to follow inbound. On the way to the final aid station I told Todd and Anna I didn't want to stop at the aid station, we would give them our numbers and just keep on moving through, they agreed. We were all ready to be done. In retrospect, we shouldn't have told Alissa and Kevin to go o to the finish, it was our choice, but one I now slightly regret, those last miles were tough. 

Little did we know just how cruel and miserable those last 5-6 miles would be. We left the last aid station around 8:30 pm, I knew we would have to move well to hit the sub 28 hours but we were pretty confident about it. However, the trail was difficult to follow and we just didn't trust our gut to take us the right way. Anna led the whole time and even she in her fresh mind had a hard time finding the streamers, there were times when the three of us would be stopped with our three headlamps looking for the next streamer and even though we were never lost it just started to wear me down. I kept eating when Anna told me to, but not the 3 or 4 crackers I had been eating, now it was one cracker or a few M&Ms. That was all my fault. But it just created a downward spiral.

And the more I felt we were going to get lost the more reluctant I became and I would stop until Anna would see a streamer. It just felt like a maze and I was just too far gone to face it from a positive place. And I kept watching the time slip away, for a while I thought we were chasing the 28 hours but when that was no longer going to happen I gave up, I walked it. Todd tried to get me to move, Anna would try to get me to move and I would run or shuffle three feet and then stop again. It just went down and down further until I felt at the brink of tears. Our friend Joe appeared, he thought we could still do 28:10. We followed him a ways until he disappeared but then we found him lost along the dam. It was frustrating and I was cursing the race and the extra 1.85 that whole final 1.85. I didn't recognize anything, I felt like we must have missed something and were wondering in circles. But then we finally saw Blake and the rest of our crew and remembered where we were from the start. Joe, Todd and I crossed together at 28:29, I was too upset to really care, just happy to be done.

The After

The next two hours is a scene of caring friends bringing me drinks and coats and warm blankets, bringing me clothes and helping me to the showers, I felt feeble and embarrassed and yet so thankful for their helping hands. I couldn't get warm, I was nauseous, I was a little out of my head, I am just so happy I had people who care there even though they had been up for a night already because of me. Anna wasn't feeling well and she and Alissa hit the road soon after, Anna had been such an amazing help those final miles and never even let on in the slightest that she wasn't feeling well.

I took to my tent for some sleep, but the cold awoke me an hour or so later. I grabbed a blanket and headed for the finish line. I had seen Clifton finish before midnight. It was now 3 am, I asked Clark if Chelsie and Mike had finished, they had not. I decided to hang out until they did. It was my hope that all five of us could finish, I wanted to stay up until they were all safe and sound back in the camp. Once they were all there I could no longer stay awake and was falling asleep at the table so I went back to the tent for another hour of sleep. 

The next morning we stayed for the breakfast and award ceremony (you get buckled as you cross the finish). Horton passed out Hellgate applications and the lodge was full of people. We got heaping plates of eggs and grits and sat around telling stories with our friends. I had gotten up to get a cup of coffee and was headed back to my seat when Horton stopped me and told me that I was just as strong as the top 5 women, that really really touched me. I am not as sure of myself, not as sure that 100 miles is a good distance for me. Especially as my knees currently feel they've been hammered but there is just something about the distance that I feel draws me to it, even if I am not very good at it. It takes an awful lot to prepare for, and though certainly better prepared this go round I still feel I came up a little short in my own expectations.   I believe there is just something deeper and more appealing to me about the distance, when it is all said and done, I like the raw feeling it induces, I like the challenge, I like the wonder, the risk. 

The Days that follow

I didn't have clearly set goals going into Grindstone, I knew I wanted to, that I needed to finish.  And I did. I believe I trained better than I did for Western States. But I know that my head still stands as my biggest opponent.Yet this time around I feel more eager to run another 100, that I am slowly figuring it out, and that I could do better, with a little more work. 

There were many highlights in the run for me though they might not have shone so brightly in the retelling. Running with Todd was by far the biggest, especially that moment on Reddish when we were both beat and nearly broken, that the colors and expansive view led us, if only for a moment, away from all the lows. We were together, in all of that uncertainty, and I was reminded of how many struggles we have pushed through together. It was a moment we drank it on the mountain top and I will continue to pull energy from for as long as I can recall it, which I hope to be forever. 

There were also the other people, especially my crew, but other runners, volunteers. Todd argued with me last week when we were discussing my run at Western States, that I alone ran those miles. I am sorry but I just do not agree, I do not see it that way. I needed those people, both last year in California and again over the weekend, and you will just not get me to see it differently. I am forever indebted to the selfless act of good friends who gave me their time, who may have grown quiet but not moved away in my time of need, you are such a large part of this story for me, I fear I will never be able to thank you or repay your kindness. 

The highlights also include the company of the rain, the sound of it blanketed me in those dark hours when I thought that I had failed.  I usually dread wetness, my soft feet being my Achilles Heel, but I chose instead to make friends with the rain. The same went for the darkness, it has been my biggest fear going in, but once I was out there, it didn't seem as big and scary. I was proud of myself, when I let go of wanting to hold onto someone in the night, when I came completely at ease with going it alone, knowing that it wouldn't last and it would soon enough be morning. 

Another highlight was in those later miles, going up Crawford I believe it was, to feel so absolutely awful and yet finding another gear regardless of that discomfort, and the realization only acted to boost me further onward. I really wish I hadn't let that last bonk happen, but I am thankful for the beautiful miles that preceded it. 

Speaking of beauty, the Grindstone 100's being held the first weekend of October makes it all the more amazing, for all the suffering you are rewarded with the most breathtaking views. The fact that you know you missed all the beauty in the dark on the way out somehow makes it even more powerful, that what once you had passed without knowing you now have the second chance to take in all the wonder. 

As much as the run tested me, it must also be noted, it equally rewarded me.