Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wherever You Go, There You Are - The tBunk Endurance Challenge

The tBunk Endurance Challenge
November 7-9, 2014

Would you rather risk failure attempting something hard or have guaranteed success doing something easy?  That was the question I asked myself when I searched for my next race.  I opted to try something hard, something I had no idea if I could complete.    
Registration opened on April Fool’s Day for the 2014 tBunk Endurance Challenge.  This was the second year for the event.  It consisted of a 200 mile, 150 mile, 100 mile, 50 mile races and a 50K “fun run.”  I decided to risk failure and signed up for the 200 miler.   The race series was named after Tom Bunk, an ultra runner from Wisconsin.  He passed away shortly before the 2014 event, after a courageous battle with cancer.  I never had the chance to meet him, but everyone that I encountered spoke highly of his dedication and generosity towards others and the sport of ultra running.
All the races are in the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin.  The race is described as tough but fair.  It is designed to test your mettle, not your patience.  The course for the 200 miler consists of 22 laps on the 9.19 mile blue loop.  This actually totals 202.18 miles, because why do 200 miles when you can do 202.18?  The course is not overly rocky or rooty, but  a million fallen oak leaves easily hid the trip hazards.  The elevation change totals 37,400 feet.  The race started at 7:00 a.m. on Friday and you must be finished by 7:00 p.m. on Sunday.  In the first year of the event there were only two finishers.  Lucky for me, one of them was my friend David and he offered to pace me.  My wonderful husband, Erick was there to crew for me and updated friends and family of my progress on Facebook. 

David and I before the race.

       We arrived at the start/finish area at 6:00 a.m. to drop my gear off and pick up my bib.  I brought a huge rubbermaid tub filled with several changes of shoes, socks, clothes, hats, mittens, hydration packs, water bottles, skin lubricants, and headlamps.  I also had a cooler filled with electrolyte drink mixes, energy gels, and more than a dozen bottles of Ensure.  I held out hope that these lotions and potions will get me to the finish line.   Other runners arrived and I saw that I was not the only one that packed as if they were going to be out there for a week.  
Me and my gear.

  The temperature was 34 degrees, a chilly start.  There were 13 people registered for the 200 miler, only 11 showed up.  The 150 started at the same time and there were seven people registered for that event.   
The small field of runners.
There was such a small group that it seemed more like a training run with friends than a race.  I felt pretty comfortable being in the back of the pack.  I took the first loop in two hours and four minutes.  I had two hours and forty minutes. to complete each loop.  I knew I ran it too fast, yet I was the last person to complete the loop.  
The second loop I tried to pace myself better, I came in about 12 minutes slower.  The next few loops went by uneventfully, unless you include the abdominal cramps and vomiting.  The wind picked to 20 mph and temperature dropped into the high 20’s during the night, accompanied by a cold rain.  At the end of loop 6 (56 miles), David started to pace me. I have bad night vision and it is harder for me to see trail markings in the dark.  I was glad he was there, even when we both missed a course marking and logged an extra mile.  
      I no longer wanted to eat solid food after I vomited a second time.   Two Ensure per loop seemed to keep up my calorie intake. My feet started hurting and I stopped for a shoe and sock change.  It felt as if each loop during the night I was developing a new problem.
      The 100 mile and 50 mile runners started their race at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, we started to see them on the course about 15 minutes later.  They were running on fresh legs and flew by us like we were standing still.   They passed and said words of encouragement.  Ultra runners rarely pass without saying something.  You don’t get that in shorter races.  There is a sense of camaraderie.  Possibly it is because most of us are competing with ourselves or the clock and not each other. 
Forcing down a PB&J.
We finished loop 9, 82.81 miles at 8:18 a.m..  It was 43 degrees and the wind picked up to 30 mph.  I kept forcing in the food that I did’t want to eat.  My breaks between loops became longer.  I wanted to go faster but my legs just wouldn’t cooperate.  I know as a runner the furthest distance is not the length of your race, it is the distance from your head to your feet.  This is especially true when there is a short circuit someplace in between. Loop 10 was completed at 11:53AM, 91.9 miles.  I was pretty happy to be running at all at this point.  Typically, at a 100 miler I walk almost everything after the 100K mark.   I was not going fast, but I was still going.  
At 4:27 p.m. I hit a new level.  101.09 miles, further than I had ever run before.  I took a 15 minute nap, which turned out to be a big mistake.  After being warm and comfortable laying in a cot, I did not want to get back up or go back out in the cold. I hit loop 12, 110 miles at 7:58 p.m., each loop was taking longer than the last.   The temperature continued to drop into the low 20’s.  I had to stop and change into warmer clothes for the night.  It was more time down the drain, but to keep going I had to stay warm.
Attempting to nap.
Going up the hills became increasingly difficult, I developed a pain in my hip flexor.  A fellow runner offered some pain medication.   It helped for awhile.   At dusk the first of my hallucinations started.  I asked David, “When did they put that building there?”  He looked at me strangely and I knew it was my mind playing tricks on me.  What I saw was a large screened in building with a person inside on a ladder, behind the building was a huge cell tower.  He told me the building was not there and that it was a tree, not a cell tower.  I stared at him in disbelief.  I approached it slowly while it disappeared and turned into a tree, just like he said.  
Stalling, not wanting to go back out.
Throughout the night I apologized to David because I was walking so much.  I felt that I was letting him down. He reminded me that I was at a point that was further than I had ever gone before.  
My hip flexor took a turn for the worse during the night.  I looked more like a prisoner dragging a ball and chain than a runner.    Each time I approached a hill I was forced to physically pick up my left leg to make any progress up the incline.  We were both exhausted mentally and physically during this loop.  To add insult to injury, it started snowing.  
We came into the aid station after loop 14.  I knew there was no chance of making the cutoff for the 150 or the 200 at this point.  I decided that 128.66 miles would be the end of my race.  I knew in my heart I could have pushed myself on to the 150 distance, but it would not have been within the cutoff.  No buckle, no official finish, but I would also likely have a lasting injury.  My journey ended 1 day 21 hours and 7 minutes after it began.  I knew David wished he had brought me to the 200, but I told him I would have no regrets about this D.N.F. (Did Not Finish)  How can you regret the furthest you have ever pushed yourself?   
My selfless Pacer (David) and Sherpa (Erick)
After a shower, a few hours of sleep and some food, I felt way better than I should.  We drove to the finish line to watch the last two people on the course finish their quest.  In total, there were three official finishers in the 200 miler.  One runner dropped down to the 150 mile race and completed it.  Another person “unofficially” finished the 150 miler as he wasn’t within the 48 hour cutoff time.  Craig, the race directer opted to list the mileage results for each person, even if they didn’t make a cutoff.  He said he’d rather give everyone credit for the mileage they logged, rather than listing the big letters that no runner wants to see, D.N.F.   

Even though technically my race ended with a D.N.F., I felt as if Craig gave me a pat on the back by acknowledging what I accomplished.   I’ve often heard the saying, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”   I see now that my journey was the real destination. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

It's All Relative - The Marathon to Marathon


A year ago I was very fortunate to be chosen to be an Ambassador for SkirtSports (  I think one of the reasons they chose me is that I enjoy encouraging others on their running journey.   I truly enjoy being part of the SkirtSports community, it has rewarded me in so many ways.  
As much as I love to hear compliments on my skirts, the best compliment I ever received was someone saying that I inspired them to run.  To me that is a huge gift.  I’m in my third decade running and that compliment has only recently been bestowed upon me.  My friends and family know that running is a huge part of my life, so when one of them starts up with running-it is like giving me a gift.

A few years ago I retired from my career as a police officer.   Dean, my brother was unsure of what kind of gift he wanted to present to me that would be meaningful and something I would remember for a lifetime.  I was teary eyed when I opened the card, in his sentiments he wrote that this card was good for one marathon with him. 
Although Dean had not always been a runner, he was active in sports all his life.  Running was a development in the past few years for him.  We ran the Bix 7 miler together and that was his longest run to date.  He has always been a big supporter while I did my running, including crewing for me at a 100 miler.  Even though I missed a cut off at mile 93 and was pulled from the race, he enjoyed being part of the running community and trying to help along the way.
I gave Dean a book on marathon training along with a training plan.  We decided we would do the Marathon to Marathon in Iowa in June of 2013.  I enjoyed watching the progression of his long runs and hearing of his experiences in training.  I remember how proud he was of what he was accomplishing, I guarantee I was even more proud of him.  

Time flew by and it was time for our marathon to happen.  Our parents drove from Michigan and an aunt and uncle drove from Kansas to support us.  My husband (Erick) and Dean’s girlfriend (Christi) came along to be the ultimate sherpas.  They were along the course to support us and make sure we got to the finish line.

Anyone that knows me is aware of the black cloud that has followed me to a lot of my races.  The Marathon to Marathon would be no different.  The forecast was not looking good.  Race day met us with temps in the 70’s.  The marathon started in Storm Lake, Iowa and headed north to Marathon, Iowa. The race is a point to point road course through cornfields and farms in rural Iowa.  There is little place to take shelter in a storm.  The winds picked up and before we knew it they were up to 20 mph, by the end they were almost 40 mph.  Almost the entire race, as we looked to the north it was a wicked and dark looking sky.

Dean did great, but  he battled some muscle cramps when he got to the 20 mile mark.  This was further than he had ever run.  Around mile 21 the race director drove by in his car and said there was a dangerous storm headed our way.  Cloud to ground lightening was expected.  He said that if a bus drove by we would need to get on it and clear the course.  Dean asked what exactly that meant and I said it would be the end of our race.  He told me he knew exactly how I felt when I missed that cut off at the 100 miler he crewed me at.  The idea of a race being cut short against your own will is not appealing.  He kicked it into high gear and kept going.  Throughout driving rain, thunder and lightening strikes (sometimes within 1/4 mile of us) he pressed on.  
Our family
Erick and Christi took extra caution and drove our Jeep along the route, always within 1/4 mile of us in case there was an emergency.  The race director drove past us again around mile 23.  He asked if we were ok to keep going.  Without thinking or consulting Dean I said, “It’s just a little rain.”  I think we both laughed at that a bit later as we had never been out in that kind of an open area in a lightening storm.  
We started to realize that we are going to be able to complete this race, despite the storm.  We turned the corner and saw (through the deluge of rain) the sign that announces we have arrived in Marathon, Iowa!  We had about a half mile to go to the finish.  Our parents and aunt and uncle were standing in the pouring rain in their dollar store ponchos waiting for us.  Our mom tried to run with us in
Our mom
her Crocs in the ankle deep water to the finish.  We crossed the line and the announcer says our names and also that we are brother and sister.  We received our medals and congrats from our families.  I’ve never been more proud of my brother than I was on this day.   
Fast forward 1 month.  It is my birthday and my brother has no idea what kind to give me as a gift.  I open a card and he’s presented me with a certificate to run a 50K, his first ultra marathon, with me.  He doesn’t need to say the words that I’ve inspired him, his actions mean more than any words could say.  

Post race celebration
Way to go Dino!
Since our marathon, Dean has done the Bix 7 miler again, this time with Christi.  She also did her first half marathon with him in September.  These actions mean more to me than any other gift could.  These are gifts from the heart and it’s all relative.  
Back row-Erick and Uncle Tom
Front row-Aunt Jan, me, mom(Carole), dad(Paul), Dean and Christi

Monday, June 30, 2014

You're Going To Do What? - Center of the Nations Series


5 Marathons in 5 States in 5 Days 
Center of the Nation Series
September 16-20, 2013

Spring of 2013 I stumbled across a posting on the Marathon Maniac race calendar for 5 marathons in 5 states in 5 days.  What the heck?  I’d never even known something like this existed.  Erick (my husband) and I had been considering a long road trip in our RV for the fall anyway, so I thought I would ask if he would consider taking me to this event.  Typically I say it is easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, but this was kind of a big deal.  Five days in a row of running marathons in the middle of a vacation.  I don’t know many husbands that would go for that.  I poured a few beers into him and approached him with the idea.  To my surprise he said to go for it.  He told me to go sign up right now, I certainly wasn’t going to argue with that.  
I told a few people that I had signed up for the Center of the Nations Series.  I feel that if I tell people what I am doing it helps to hold me accountable.  If you think I got crazy looks when I said I was doing a 100 mile race, you should have seen the looks I got when I dropped this bomb.  
All of a sudden it dawned on me.  How do you train for something like this?  I searched Google, but didn’t come up with much.  I fired off a couple of emails to famous ultra runners.  I got one response, it was from Ray Zahab (of the Running the Sahara movie.)  In his email he said, here’s my phone number, why don’t you just call me on Saturday and we can discuss it.  It was like getting an email from a celebrity.  I told Erick about it, he was a little star struck too.  I prepared a list of questions for Ray, he an answer for each. Basically, I need to be used to running on tired legs.    I need to get up each morning and get those first few steps in, knowing that it will get better after a few miles.  Ray gave me some hints on how help speed up my daily recovery and tips for dealing with my stomach issues that I typically get at my ultras as well.  I took notes and was thrilled to get this advice from one of my running idols.  
My training went well, I had followed the Relentless Forward Progress  book plan for the Beast of Burden 100 Miler.  Shortly after Beast, I paced my friend David at the Hallucination 100.  I kept praying that I didn’t trip on something on the trail and get hurt.  I couldn’t imagine not being able to do the five marathons.  
Erick and Jersey 
Erick decided we would turn this trip into a month long vacation.  He took care of the logistics and we left Michigan in the RV with Jersey, our cocker spaniel.  We visited friends and family along the way.  I’d like to say the journey to the first race was uneventful, but it wasn’t.  We got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and were unable to change it ourselves because the lug nuts were on too tight.  I’d also like to say that our roadside assistance was prompt and got us on our way quickly.  Well, let’s just say that in some areas of the country it can take more than 24 hours to get a tire changed. 

     The Center of the Nation Series (or CONS as we liked to call it), was a first year event.  The race got it's name as Belle Fourche, South Dakota is the geographical center of the nation.  The race was organized by a fellow named Clint at  He has several other multi-day events, but this was the first year for CONS.  The race would consist of a marathon in each of the following states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska.  The website said that the race locations should be less than 200 miles apart.  I started a Facebook group so people could start chatting about the event.  It seemed that there was going to be a good turn out for the event.  People could register for just select states or all five, they could also do half marathons.  Clint also offered that if you had someone volunteer at an event, you could run it for free.
     There was a pre-race pasta dinner in North Dakota on Sunday night.  We went and had a few drinks and met lots of the runners.  The organizers give you your bib, you wear the same bib all week.  You also got your race shirt and first medal.  The medal consisted of a red, white and blue ribbon with a medal that was a compass point that had a map of the United States on it.  The five states involved in this race series were raised on the medal.  It was pretty darned cool.  The medal had little clips at the bottom of it.  We would later learn that each day, in each new state, we would earn a new medal that would clip onto each pervious medal.  You also got a small bar that clipped on with the race year on it. By Friday, if you put the medal on it would hang down to your knees.
All the races are similar in the aspect that they were either a short loop or short out and backs.  When I told friends about this, they were horrified at the thought of running such a strange course, thinking they would be bored to death.  I felt it would be kind of nice to see so many people all the time.  If these courses were point to point you might not see anyone for hours at a time.  The way they were designed, I don’t think I went five minutes without seeing someone on the course.  

We learned to count rubber bands and not miles.  Each day there would be a poster that said how how many rubber bands each half or full marathoner would need to collect to finish the race.  As you completed each loop or out and back you would reach your arm out and a volunteer would slip a rubber band on your wrist.  When you collected the required amount of rubber bands you could turn them in and be done.  Now and again you would see a stray rubber band on the road and wonder if someone would do a few extra miles because of it.  On the last day of the race one of the few spectators had a sign made that had rubber bands taped to it.  It read, “High quality rubber bands for sale.  Cheap.  Credit cards accepted.”  
Jennifer and I 
We had every form of weather during the week of this event.  The temperatures were as low as 38 degrees, forcing runners to go to their cars and get jeans out to put over their tights to stay warm.  The following day would be almost 90 degrees and what little clothing you had on felt like too much.  We went from super calm days of no wind, to days of almost 40 mph winds.  We were very lucky that we only got a little sprinkle one day, the rest were clear.  A week after the race I was watching the news at home and saw that the location for the race in South Dakota had gotten three to four feet of snow.  I can’t even imagine what any of us would have done if that happened when we were there.  
Camping in South Dakota

Each of the towns that the races were located in were pretty small.  Ok, they were REALLY small.  No Five Guys Burgers and Fries or things like that.  Mostly it was small town businesses.  We stayed in our RV at local campgrounds.  Some friends had less than positive things to say about the local hotels.  As far as I know, only five people camped out at this event.  We were in our RV, one guy tent camped, the race director Clint and his wife stayed in their RV and his brother and sister-in-law had a camper on the back of a pick up truck.  The last guy slept in his car all week!  At night he would fold the back seat down and lay down with his feet in the trunk area and his chest in the back seat.  
     The races were very low key.  There was no first place prize and no tape to cross if you were the first to finish.  There was no time limit on the courses, if you came in last you got the caboose award.  I know some people are all about finishing as fast as they can.  I can agree with that at times.  Sometimes, for me, it is just about the experience.  I was far from coming in last on any day, I was also far from coming in first.   I can respect the people that stuck it out and were out there hours longer than I was.  We each fight our own battles in our own races.  Each of my race times were at least 45 minutes slower than my average race time.  I’m fine with that.  My first and last days times were exactly the same, I’m proud of that.  

I wasn’t sure how my body would handle doing five marathons in a row.  Yes, I had done 100 miles in a race.  I’d also done two marathons in two days before.  But five marathons in five days?  The first, as expected, felt pretty good.  Each of the following days were about 5 miles of shuffling until my muscles were really loosened up, followed by 21.2 more miles of shuffling.  After each race I would either try to get my feet in a bucket of ice water or put on some compression gear.  
Jersey couldn't resist a cold drink
After the first day in Bowman, North Dakota we had to pack it up and drive four hours to Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  We stayed put here for three nights.  The second race was based out of Belle Fourche and I was able to walk to the start.  The third day was in Colony, Wyoming and was only a 20 minute drive each way.  The fourth day was an hour drive to Albion, Montana followed by an hour back to Belle Fourche and then another four hour drive to Chadron, Nebraska.  Needless to say there was a little bit of driving on a few of the days.  Those were the hardest.  I was lucky that my husband drove the RV and I could just relax with my feet on the dashboard.  I had several friends that had a hard time driving rental cars without cruise control after running a few marathons.  
The courses were on varying surfaces.  A few were on roads with large chunks of gravel that tore up my shoes.  One was on a city sidewalk that was so boring.  Another was on a gravely/dirt road through a cattle ranch, I swear you could see forever in any direction.  The last was my absolute favorite.   It was on a loop in a park that was partly on tree lined roads through the campground and partly through the woods on a trail.  The weather was absolutely perfect this day.  The race director said we could run the loop in either direction.  You could change direction each loop if you wanted, or run them all the same direction.   Just collect your rubber band and go whatever direction you please.  This was pretty cool as the course looked different if you ran it the opposite way.  

I can honestly say the best part of this race series was the people.  The race director and his family welcomed you with open arms.  They provided a generous aid station each day with welcoming smiles each time you came by.  They gave you hugs at the end of the week and even gave my husband a small “thank you” gift for helping out at the aid stations.  By the end of the week, I had more than a dozen new Facebook friends.  They ranged from an older gentleman runner that did shots of alcohol instead of gels to an young, fit guy that by the end of the first day I was thanking him for taking his shirt off and inspiring all the ladies.  There was a husband and wife  that came in later in the back of the pack, but stayed together the whole way, every day.  I watched a lady in a walking boot out there each day, suffering from some kind of an injury but she refused to miss out on the series.  My favorite one out there, was my friend Jennifer.  She gave me a bracelet when I met her at the Beast of Burden in New York.  It is cute and pink and says, “Harden the Fuck Up!” on it.  She passed these bracelets out to various people at the race when they looked like they were suffering.   When we passed someone with a band on their wrist they would yell, “Harden the Fuck Up!!!!” at us.  It became a mantra.  I wear this bracelet at all my ultras.  When my spirits are low, I remind myself of my time at the Center of the Nations when bunch of runners went out and did something that they weren’t really sure they could do-until they did it. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pacing It Forward - Waugoshance and Run Woodstock


Waugoshance Trail Half Marathon July 13, 2013
Run Woodstock Hallucination 100 Mile Run
September 6 and 7, 2013

I was bored and put this in the Google machine, “What is a pacer at an ultra?”  The response I got was this: In the traditional sense, a pacer is a runner participating in a race to help another runner maintain a particular pace-usually a fast, demanding pace that may be too strenuous for the runner to achieve alone.”
Did I read something about fast?  Ha, never been accused of running fast before.  Yet twice in the same year I was asked to pace friends at races.  I’ve never done that before.  Can I do it?  Will I disappoint them?  I have to say “Yes.”   I’m honored, and a bit frightened I may let both of them down.  

Pacing Part 1: 

      Rochelle is a girlfriend I met through my local running group (Your Pace or Mine Running Club.)  She wanted to do her first trail marathon, the Waugoshance Trail Half Marathon in Mackinaw City, MI.  She’s done a half before, but never on a trail.  She was both nervous and excited.   We both made reservations to camp in that area and meet up at the campground on Friday.  

On Saturday Erick (my husband) drove us to the race.  I should mention we were very fortunate to find the start of the race, this was quite an accomplishment-no real markings or directions to the start were provided.  At the start novices are chatting about poison ivy and bugs and such.  We brush off the chatter and are happy we put the Deer Fly Tape on our hats.  If you’ve never been in Michigan in July on the trails, this is a must.  You will hear those little suckers buzzing for your entire run, but you won’t get bit as they are glued to your head. Rochelle enjoys the trail almost as much as I do.  I didn’t hear a single complaint out of her the entire time.  She was made for this!  

Rochelle’s only goal for the race was to finish within the cut off time.  I plan to get her in with a little time to spare.  I have done more trail running than Rochelle and my running pace is a little faster than hers.  I’m comfortable that we will meet her goal.  
The trail was marked well but you wouldn’t know it when I start headed the wrong direction and Rochelle has to correct me.  Yikes!  I’m supposed to be there for her and I’m already screwing up.  Thank God she saw that course marker that I missed!
Before we know it the race is over half way done.  We’ve crossed a dam, switchbacks and lots of quick hills.  She is in great spirits.  After a road crossing we hit a wet and muddy section of trail, she takes it all in stride.  We have talked the entire time, I feel we have bonded over this race, it will connect us.  We reach a point that the trail ends and we are back on a road that I know will make a few turns but eventually lead us to the finish.  She’s getting tired, but she powers through it.  We make the last turn to and see our husbands ahead at the finish.  Her children are cheering for her.  As we approach the finish she grabs my hand and we cross the finish line together.  I am overwhelmed at how I feel.  This was her race, she finished almost thirty minutes faster than she had planned. I’ve learned you get more than you give when you pace.  

Pacing Part 2:

My friend David (the fellow that paced me at Kettle Moraine) asked me if I would pace and crew for him at the Hallucination 100 Mile at Run Woodstock.  The crewing part, I got that.  No problem.  The pacing part? This is like asking a turtle to pace a rabbit. No joke here.  David took 3rd place over all in 2012, I took 63rd place out of 69.  Big difference in our speed.  I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me.  

We met up with David and his wife Amanda a few hours before the race.  David is relaxed and seems ready to go.  He gave Amanda and I a run down on what he would like us to do as his crew.  I look over his supplies.  He has a cooler filled with Boost and a small stash of food.  He also had a small tacklebox filled with things like batteries, powdered gatorade, M&M’s, electrolyte capsules.  He had a few extra clothing items in a bag and that was it.  When I packed for an ultra I looked like I was going to be away from home for a month.  I think I have more stuff stashed in my purse on a daily basis than David takes to an ultra.  
The race starts at 4:00 PM.  We go watch David and the rest of racers start.  The weather is predicted to be good.  A far cry from the past two years of rain and mud.  We all enjoy the music and atmosphere that this race provides at the start/finish area.  There are a lot of campers and I get a chance to visit with a lot of my running friends.  
Earlier in the day, a runner approached us while we were hanging out at the RV.  He surprised me by saying that he read my first blog post about my 100 miler at Woodstock.  He said I inspired him to run his first 100 this weekend.  I am in awe of this.   I had no idea anyone actually read this blog, other than my family.  
David’s first loop was under three hours, just as he expected. (The course is 6 loops of about 16.6 miles.) David is pretty easy to crew as he does not need or want a lot of support.  We refill his bottles and he heads out.  He takes his headlamp with him as it will be dark the next time we see him.  David’s second lap goes by fast and again he doesn’t need much from us.  Between laps, Amanda and I go back to the RV and get about 2 1/2 hours of restless sleep.  Neither of us really falls asleep as we are thinking about David and don’t want to miss the alarm to get us up.  I’d hate for him come in from a loop and us not be there for him.  Most of the time we wait about a half hour extra in the dark and cold because we don’t want to miss him.  

I lose track of what happened when during the night.  I remember convincing David to take a clean, dry shirt so he wouldn’t get hypothermic during the night.  I also remember him coming in with a green look about him that told me without even hearing the words that his stomach had turned on him.  I think it is the first time he’s ever been through this.  I’ve had more than my fair share of stomach issues at ultras.  I remind him that it will pass and he will feel better.  Overnight, he is forced to slow his pace to allow his stomach to recover.  
He comes in on the second to last loop and I am ready to go do my official pacing duties.  Even his slower pace overnight was still faster than my usual pace.  I am only hoping not to be a disappointment to him.  I’ve told him several times before the race, but I remind him one last time as we head out.  I tell him that if his pace is too fast for me that his has to drop me.  I don’t want to slow him down.  He assures me that won’t happen.  He has faith in me that I will keep up.  David has a few times during the loop where he wants to just walk.  I know what that is like.  After a few minutes I suggest we start running again and he agrees.  He runs far more than I do at that point in a hundred miler.  We laugh as a black cloud comes out of nowhere and it begins to rain briefly.    It feels great and we actually enjoy it.  I’ve been at this race four years in a row.  I enjoy the course and I get to know it better each time.  There are several wooden bridges with no hand rails.  David takes a bad step and slips over the edge.  He lands with one knee in the bog and one on the wooden planks.  Both his hands smash onto the planks and break his handheld bottle.  His Boost energy drink is everywhere.  Fortunately the water bottle got the worst of the fall and not David.  He’s a tough one, he gets up and keeps moving forward.  

There are only a few miles left and I know that David could run faster than me in finish a bit earlier.  I offer the suggestion to him and he flat out refuses the idea.  He said he knows he will still get a sub 24 hour finish with me.  That turns into his goal.  We have about a mile left on the course and we see one of David’s boys waiting for us on the course.  He runs the last of the race in with us.  His son is as fast as David is, I see ultra running in his future too.  We hear the music that we know is playing at the finish line.  We come out of the woods and charge to the finish.  David and his son cross the line.  

David and Amanda feel like family to us.  We’ve been at several races together in the past year.  It’s amazing how running can bond you.  You see each other at your highs and lows.  You get to see the core of a person, the part that is left there when all the daily distractions are stripped away.  David did not care that I was a slower runner.  He just knew that I would be there for him and help get him to the finish line.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I'll Never Be Your Beast of Burden - Beast of Burden 100 Miler

I'll Never Be Your Beast of Burden

Beast of Burden 100 Mile Run
Lockport, NY
August 17th and 18th, 2013

Kettle Moraine was a great run.  I didn’t accomplish my goal, but I don’t regret going to the race.  Erick (my husband) was driving us home from Wisconsin and I don’t even think we were out of the state when I started scheming about my next 100 mile attempt.  He agreed that since I was trained up to the 100 mile point, I might as well find a race that I could do to get that coveted buckle.  
      I have never done a race in New York, so the Beast of Burden 100 Mile Race appealed to me even more.  When I saw a photo of the buckle on the race’s Facebook page, I knew I was in.  I had to have that buckle.  Erick checked his work schedule and said it would work.
It is very typical of me to post what my next big event is on Facebook.  I feel it helps keep me accountable.  If other people know I am planning to do a certain race, I know I will get it done.  My friends and family are supportive and I think (geez, I sure hope) they like to follow my progress along the way.  I posted that I was going to be doing this race in New York and it would be my first 100 miler without a pacer.  About five minutes later my buddy Joan (that I met at Outrun 24) chimed in and said she would come pace me.  Who does that?  How lucky am I? She lives in Canada a few hours from where the race was set and said she would meet me there.  I still have no idea how I got that lucky.  
My buddy Mike (a local friend that also attempted the Hallucination and Kettle with me) said he would also sign up and attempt to tame the 100 mile beast again.  Mike and I wound up driving out to the race together from Michigan, it was just bad luck that Erick got stuck working and couldn’t  take me to the race.)  Typically when Erick and I travel, he drives and I navigate.  Since I was driving to this race, I handed Mike the atlas and he promptly told me he has no idea how to read that thing.  We did make it to New York, after getting lost in Toronto and a slight detour to Niagara Falls.  

Joan met us and we planned for the following day.  I slept pretty good, we were able to sleep in a bit as the race did not start until 10:00 AM.   That is a late start for a lot of races but the race director said he likes to sleep in.  I like this guy already!

At the start of the race I meet up with Jennifer, she’s a friend I met on Facebook a few months prior to the race.  She’s done a 100 miler before, she has an awesome sense of humor and I was excited to meet her in person.  She is exactly what I expected.  The race starts and we proceed to run the first 25 or so miles together.  I head out quicker than I plan to, each time I look at my watch I tell myself to slow down, but I don’t.  She does a run walk plan and when I walk with her she is taking one step to my two.  She is so entertaining that I double time it to stay with her.  
Jennifer and I
The course is four out and backs (25 miles each) along the Erie Canal Towpath.  There is a main aid station (start/finish and turnaround point), a half way aid station and a turnaround aid station on the far end.  Joan said she will stay up all day and then pace me at night when Erick arrives.  I’m still not sure how people do this.  These people are superheros.  They come out and volunteer their time and stay up all day and night for nothing but a thank you.  Amazing.  I see Joan through out the  day and she takes care of me, filling water bottles, smiling and making me laugh.  

The towpath is almost completely flat.  That can be a good thing if you are looking for a personal best time.  It can also be a bad thing as you don’t engage other muscles like you do going up and down hills.  I enjoy the view of the canal and the path reminds me of a trail I train on at home.  
The day is warming up fast and there is not shade on this course.  It wound up reaching around 80 degrees.  Jennifer and I are getting close to completing our first lap and someone headed out from the aid station tells us there are snow cones up ahead.  Frozen water with food coloring, heck yeah!  I’m in.  It’s already hot and I can’t wait to get one.  I fill my bottles and grab some food and someone hands me a
Snow Cone Holder
snow cone.  I don’t have a free hand so I shove it down my cleavage.  Jennifer laughs at this and takes a picture on her cellphone to preserve the memory.  
I head back out on the course, we part ways here for a while.  We see each other along the next loop and she wound up dropping at the 50 mile mark.  She had some stomach issues and had been dizzy at some points.  

Mike and I cross paths now and again, he seemed strong but that heat was getting to us all.  I’ve said before that I typically forget a lot of the middle parts of my races.  The beginning and ends are easier for me to remember. It’s hard to stay cool today.  The aid stations are stocked with ice and I fill up bandanas and tie them around my neck.  It feels wonderful.  The volunteers also fill up our water bottles with ice.   I try to stay hydrated and keep up with nutrition.  Easier said than done at an ultra.  Any day of the week I could eat a whole package of oreos, but you put a plate of them in front of me at a race and I might eat one the entire day.  I think I survived on watermelon.  I just can’t get enough of it at ultras.   I never felt sick to my stomach at this race, although I did swallow a S-cap and it got stuck in my throat, making me dry heave.  Ultra running is so sexy...
       I am headed into the main aid station, but on the other side of the canal. I think I see the RV in the parking lot.  I call Erick and he is there!  My spirits lift, knowing he will be my rock as he always is at these events. When I get there he lets me know that he will take over crewing and Joan will pace me as soon as I get to the 100K mark, near the far end turn around point.  
The next 12.5 miles go by fast in the dark.  There is nothing to trip on and I can’t wait to get on the trail with Joan.  Until then my company are huge bullfrogs.  They hop across the path and I have to watch my step to avoid landing on one.  Huge bugs come out and I have to make sure not to breathe too deep and inhale them.  The moon is pretty full and I love the reflection on the canal.  Before I know it, I have Joan for company.
I of course stall at the aid station, using the real bathroom and wanting to sit just a few minutes.  I change my shoes to justify sitting.  No one argues with me, so I enjoy it.  Joan and I head out and she is a ball of energy.  You would never know she had been up all day.  She tells me stories and most of the time I just answer with, “Uh-huh” or “Oh.”  Her stories are interesting and funny, but I just don’t have the energy to laugh.  We walk more than run, typical for me after the 100K mark.  I always think this will change as I pass the 100K mark more in races, but it just hasn’t yet.  

Joan keeps me going,  she gets me from one aid station to the next.  She promises me that she will rub my calves if I keep moving.  I can’t imagine how good this will feel, so I do what she says.  At the next aid station she follows through and gives me a nice massage.  It is just what I need.  We press on.  Before I know it another out and back had gone by and we are headed back to the finish line.  Daylight has been here for some time.  I know Mike is still behind me somewhere.  Erick has been giving us updates.  I think he is only a few miles behind me and I am really hoping he meets his goal today.  Later I find out he fell short at the 93 mile mark, the exact mileage I made it to at Kettle.  I know it is still the furthest distance he has gone.  He’ll be happy enough with that, but he will still want a 100 mile finish one day.
We head towards the drawbridge to make our last pass over the canal.  Wouldn’t you know it?  A boat is coming through and the bridge is going up.  No choice but to stop and watch it go by.  The bridge returns to its place and we cross the canal one last time and head towards the finish line. My finish time is 27:55. I’m handed my buckle from the race director and I sit down and am treated like royalty by the volunteers.  
I feel fortunate to have tamed the Beast of Burden.  It wouldn’t have happened without the support of my friends and family.  I’m thankful for what they did to help me achieve my goal.

Months later I had the image from the buckle tattooed on my calf.  The Beast is now a part of me, both mentally and physically.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Memories Are Priceless - Kettle Moraine 100 Miler

     The Memories Are Priceless
Somewhere near Madison, WI
June 1st, 2013

     After finishing the Hallucination 100 Miler, my friend David sent me a congratulations card and a keychain with "100" laser cut into it.  David had also finished his first 100 miler at Woodstock.  It was the first time we met in person, but we had been Facebook friends for a few years prior.  In the card, David said if I considered doing the Kettle Moraine 100 Miler he would come pace me.  How do you say no to an offer like that?  You don't, you just get back on and give your credit card number.  

     The last long run was done at Outrun24.  100K was in the books.  Once again the RV was packed up and we drove to another race.  We had several other friends that would be at the race, so it would be like a running family reunion.  This race would also be an actual family reunion for me too.  My brother Dean drove in from Iowa to crew and be Assistant Sherpa to my husband Erick.  My parents have never been to one of my races.  They drove down from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and my mom stayed up all day, night, and part of the next day to watch the event unfold.  She still tells me that this was one of the coolest things she has ever seen and she would love to see it all again.  
Mom, Dean, me and dad.

Pre-race packet pick up was easy and I saw lots of familiar faces.  David drove to the campground and we had a nice pasta dinner and discussed the race.  I felt ready for it.  I knew it would be harder than my last 100 miler, the course had more elevation change and the trails would be more technical.  

     Race morning we met up at the start line.  It was a humid start which would turn into some brutal heat on the prairie sections later in the afternoon.  I enjoyed visiting with friends along the trail.  Many of the earlier miles were spent with my friend Mike.  He lives near me and we enjoy running trails together.  The trail was in good condition and the morning passed by fast.  

My buddy Joan (we met at Outrun 24)

     As with a lot of races the middle part turns into a blur for me.  I might remember something like the train that was passing through and I had to stop and wait for what felt like five minutes (but was probably one minute) until I could cross the track.  I remember Mike tripping three times in less than three minutes and hoping I could keep myself from doing the same thing.  I also remember the sucking mud and heat on that prairie.  But a lot of the day just runs together. 
Unlucky number 13?

     My aunt and uncle surprised us by driving up from Milwaukee to see the family and watch me run past them at an aid station.  They probably had no idea that when you go to watch an ultra runner at a race, you really only see them for about a minute or less.  It really isn't much of a spectator sport.  Unless you are crew, then you get to see the "best" a runner has to offer.  It's been said that CREW stands for Crabby Runner, Endless Waiting.  Pretty much true.  David decided he wanted to crew all day for me then pace me.  Now that is a guy who loves ultras and trail running.  I wish I could bottle his energy and sell it. 

      I was allowed to have my pacer after the 100K mark or 6:30 PM.  I came into the an aid station at 6:20 PM and Erick decided that it would be best for me to hang out for ten minutes and take David with me instead of heading to the next aid station and picking him up there.  Heck, someone tells you to hang out and relax for ten minutes in an ultra, heck yes!  Sounds good to me.  I took the opportunity to get on a clean shirt and hat, and we left shortly after.  About five minutes later it was pouring out, so much for that fresh shirt.  The rain was coming down in buckets and it was getting pretty dark as the storm came on.  The trail (of course) was very technical in this area and had steep drop offs.  I had to slow to a fast walk to avoid slipping in the mud.  We came around a corner and heard some crazy noise.  I had no idea what it was and when I saw the source of the noise I was even less sure.  David quickly identified the baby raccoons on the side of the trail that were born at most hours ago.  We moved a little faster to avoid a mad momma raccoon.  
    The course is designed as two somewhat looped courses and shares the start/finish as the 100K point.   We arrived at the and I told Erick that I hadn't been eating much.  He forced a half of a PB&J down my throat.  David and I left and headed back on the trail.  About a quarter mile later my stomach decided the half sandwich was not a good idea and rejected it.  A minute later I felt like a million bucks.  David was astonished how someone could go from vomiting to feeling great in a matter of minutes. I see my buddy Mike coming into the 100K mark where he takes a finish after blisters got the best of him.   David and I are off and running.  We later came to the top of a hill and David told me to switch off my headlamp and look up.  I saw more stars that I have ever seen in my life.  Then minutes later I heard the call of a whip-or-will for the first time in my life.  We push on down the trail.  I start to have a few hallucinations and David tells me what is real and what is not. We run along and I think I see an aid station.  Turns out it's a lake.  We press on.  The words written in stone on the trail spelling out "Hola-Hola", that was real.  Some people, yup-most of them were real.  

      I feel something on my ankles that I think might be blisters.  We stop at an aid station and my brother Dean takes a look.  He's an athletic trainer at a university and knows his stuff.  He shines his light on my ankles as my mother yells at me for sitting down.  I told her that I'm not allowed to sit down-she's just doing her job.  Dean reaches over and pops a blister on each ankle with his fingernail.  Yikes! I didn't see that coming but he tapes them up with precision and tells me to move on.  I feel a lot better and we start chasing cut offs.
     My pace is slowing and I'm not sure there is much I can do about it.  My feet are very swollen and each step is beyond painful.  We come to each aid station with only 10 or so minutes to spare.  I only know this because I see less food out and people are packing things up and there is no hot soup left on this cold night.  This discourages me, everyone lies to me and says I have plenty of time left, but they still push me out of the aid stations fast.  
     Daylight is here and I should feel recharged.  Instead I just keep moving, not feeling especially hopeful.  David forces me to eat when I don't want to by telling me I can only walk when I am eating or drinking.  I listen to him but at some point the rest of my race turns into a death march.  We get to an aid station or what should be an aid station and only find a port-a-john and a table that was supposed to have water jugs on it.  Guess they closed the aid station early as David knew we were still on time at this point.  A few miles down the trail we encounter a runner headed towards us.  Turns out it is one of the race directors.  He says that at this point I am not on pace to finish in time.  He gives me the opportunity to take a 100K finish.  Not much of a choice now, is there?  I knew my pace was too slow and wouldn't improve enough to make up for time lost.   We continue heading into the next road where my husband and mom are waiting.  The relief on their faces astonishes me.  Like worry washing away.  Later they tell me that the race director had someone sweeping the course for stragglers and they did not see us.  Erick feared that we I fell off an embankment and David was trying to get me out.  When the sweepers came in and said no one was left on the course, Erick challenged them and they admitted to skipping a section of the course and taking a ride in a car and that they did not actually clear the entire course.  I'm surprised my mother did not have a heart attack at the thought of me lost or injured.  The race director was obviously not happy with what happened and came out on the trail on his own to find us.  We weren't lost, he just wanted to know we were ok.  
Me with the RD and David 

     Did I get a 100 mile buckle?  No.  Did I wish the next day I could have run faster or tried harder?  For sure.  But did I have a great time seeing my parents, aunt and uncle and my brother?  Absolutely.  Will I try a 100 miler again?  You know it! 

My Facebook post on June 4, 2014

     "This weekend I saw 93 beautiful miles of a gorgeous state park on a glacial trail. I spent 52 miles of it with an amazing friend. I had very dear family members along to cheer me on and support me. I ran between fields of wild flowers followed by hot and humid prairie. I trekked through the woods in a thunderstorm at dusk. I ran through a perfectly starlight, cloudless sky hours later. I encountered a baby raccoon only a few days old on the side of the trail and heard a whip-poor-will for the first time. I witnessed the sun coming up after running more than 24 hours. Yes, I missed 7 miles of my race because I am not a fast runner. But looking back now, I don't regret a minute of it. The memories are priceless. "