Sunday, January 9, 2022

ATY 2021 - Relentless Forward Progress

Once upon a time, I was kinda good at multi-days.

Then, job challenges, moving, big life changes, and, well, COVID year. 

After a previous slew of multi-day successes, I DNF'd a 48 hour at ATY in December of 2019, had a really challenging 6 day race at 3 Days at the Fair in Fall of 2020, where I developed the lean early on day 4, and subsequently DNF'd a 48 hour at Jackpot in April of 2021, leaving the brutally hot course to go hiking at Red Rock Canyon.  (Quote from my on-course call to my brother right before dropping out:  "I don't want to be an ultra runner - I just want to be a regular runner.").  So, going into ATY , it had been almost 2 years since any sort of successful multi-day.  Added on to this was my DNF at Spartathlon, failing to make the cut-off at 41 miles.  My confidence was not what you would call high

Still, I've had a couple of successful races this year.  Got first place female finish at Silver Moon 100 in the spring, followed by first place female at Angry Owl in Oregon along with the course record.  Finished Javalina in about 26 hours, and had a great joy run at TGNY in June.  So, 2021 was a mixed bag.  

My first 6 day at ATY was 2018/2019, where I set the female course record and hit 453 miles, for a world age-group record.  I went into this 2021 race with a few goals.  Super super stretch A goal (call at A+++), was 500 miles.  Pace plan for this was 95 on day 1, followed by 81's every other day.  It sounds good on paper, but anyone who has run a 6 day knows that 81 on the later days of the race is pretty tough to achieve.  Goal A was 475, which would be a female road record, and B goal was anything over my previous 453 - or a personal best.  C Goal was anything over 400. 

Really, all of these represented success to me as long as I stayed on the course and did my best.  

My biggest physical concerns going into the race were the possibility of getting the "lean" again, and the question of whether or not my nagging plantar fasciitis would become an issue.  Other than that, I was in good race shape, having just run a fast almost PR marathon a few weeks prior, and feeling healthier and stronger than when I went into Spartathlon in September.

Sue Scholl was originally going to crew me, but she had a work project unexpectedly come up, so I was going to be on my own.  This is doable, but requires more organization and planning.  I was going to be sharing an RV with Seattle beast Jill Hudson and her friend Jennie.  This set-up allowed all of us to both have a bed, as well as a bunk or shelf where we could have all of our race things laid out.

For a 6 day in the desert, where weather can (and usually does) include hot, cold, and rain, you need lots of clothing.  Essentially at least 6 sets of hot weather clothes, medium weather clothes, and cold weather clothes - plus rain gear.  I always bring at least 3 pairs of shoes, and also brought about 5 different types of inserts in order to switch things up if my feet started giving me trouble.

Travel to the race was a nightmare.  My plan had been to arrive early on 12/26 which would give me that day to relax and sightsee, and then more of the same, plus race prep on 12/27, followed by race start on 12/28.  Alas, that was not to be.  I ended up spending 14 hours in the San Francisco airport and did not arrive to my hotel in Phoenix until close to midnight on 12/26.  My plan was to sleep until I woke up the next morning naturally, snag breakfast and a shake-out run, then get organized for the race.

I slept well, breakfasted well (my hotel had a little pancake maker!  Love those!), and met my new friend Cole for a 5 mile run.  He lives in Phoenix - I'd met him after Javalina, and we went to a local park.  Normally my first run after an airplane ride is crap, so I was stunned and thrilled to average a 10 minute per mile easy pace with bouncy legs.  

I touched based with RV bunkmates Jill Hudson and Jenny Appel.  Their flight, like mine, was now experiencing delays, so I was charged with meeting the RV people when they arrived on the course.  The RV arrived and got set up, and I focused my nervous energy on organizing my race things in the RV for easy non-crewed access.  Soon enough, it was time for dinner, and my last hotel sleep before race start.

I've done enough of these now that I was able to get decent sleep without thinking too much about what was ahead.  That is my general coping strategy:  ignore my imminent reality until the race starts, and then, well, it's too late.  

Breakfast included more adorable pancakes, and an early arrival to the race course.  I hung with Jill for a bit, got dressed, and went over to the starting line about 20 minutes prior to Go-time.  It left just enough time to say hi to all my old friends, without too much getting nervous time. 

Hanging at the race start

Day 1 was smooth and relatively easy.  I had gone in well rested and the miles just ticked off.  I put my feet up for a few minutes when I hit 50, at about 10 hours.  I got off course at 90 miles to rest, with a plan to get in the last 5 after the sleep.  I managed that plus 3, all while feeling I wasn't going too hard.  The hardest thing about day 1 was the rain.  It drizzled all day.  The drizzle itself wasn't a problem, as the temperature was mild and the rain wasn't too hard.  I generally don't mind running in the rain, and didn't this time either.  The problem was the mess that it made of the course.  The course is largely packed dirt - which means that run turns it into a muddy slippery mess.  There were also many potholes that turned into little lakes.  Many runners were trying to assiduously avoid the puddles, but I just splashed right through them.  There was really no point in trying to keep my shoes dry - it was impossible, and in fact sometimes the cool water was soothing on my feet.  Still, it meant that my shoes were caked in mud, and my socks were trashed.  I'd need to pay more attention to foot care to avoid blisters, and would definitely need more socks than I had brought.

Day 2 plan was a total of 81 miles, but I had already banked 3 in the 8-9am hour, so really, just 78 before rest.  Again, this came relatively easily.  I was starting to get fatigued on day 2, but nothing I couldn't work through. The course was starting to dry out, which was nice.  However, Friday (day 4) was forecasted to be a downpour all day, so we were all painfully aware that the dry course would likely be temporary.  I was thrilled that after 2 days, I was still solidly on pace plan.  Day 2 is always rough emotionally, and it is hard to say why.  Maybe it is because the newness of day 1 has worn off, and you still have so much time to be out on the course.

The morning of day 3 felt great.  I'd had a solid nap about 10 miles before the end of Day 2 miles, and that plus foot care, ibuprofen and some caffeine made the morning tremendously happy.  I ran solidly for what felt like hours, just in the zone, listening to my music. I was, however,  definitely slowing down a bit.  This is not at all suprising - negative splits in 6 day races are rare, and slow down is to be expected.  This was probably the day I mentally slipped from A+++ goal of 500 to A goal of 475.  At this point, I was solidly on track for that, and was still feeling confident.  And, one of the cool things that happened on Day 3 was hitting the 200 mile mark.  I was fortunate to be close to some of the fun runners I'd been spending time with, and they escorted me across the timing mat for my 200 lap.

The 200 mile crazy train

I think it was the evening of Day 3 where my first major issue occurred.  I was playing around with my sleep schedule and I decided to go down for my long nap a bit earlier to see if it might help.  This turned out to be a really bad call.  First of all, I wasn't sleepy enough to sleep.  So, after taking the time to address feet, change clothes, and do all of the things you do in the long break, I lay there unable to get the restorative sleep I needed.  Secondly, I checked out Facebook and saw a post about the status of the 6 day race, and comments regarding specifically my performance as compared to that of the runner who was currently in second.  The gist was that I might be in first place now, but that due to my dodgy sleep strategy, I likely wouldn't be by the end of the race.

This did nothing to help me sleep.  Nor did it do anything for my confidence.  Regardless of the fact that I knew my sleep strategy was fine (as long as I GOT the sleep I went down for), it was disheartening to see that forecast.

After 2 restless frustrated hours, I went back out on the course to get the rest of the day's miles.  Because I hadn't slept, the speed burst that normally comes after a good sleep didn't come, and the miles were slower and fewer than planned.  Day 4 dawned and I was just feeling tired and hurting.

Day 4 was the day it was supposed to pour all day.  It dawned cloudy and cool, and because of the forecast I stayed in my tights and long sleeve shirt.  However, sometime mid morning instead of raining, the sun came out and it got unexpectedly hot.  So instead of getting soaked and maintaining a comfortable temperature, I was battling heat and some relatively brutal sunshine.

Because I kept expecting the rain, I never actually changed my clothes to deal with the unexpected conditions.  The best I could do quickly to deal with the heat was to take off my long sleeve shirt, so I found myself running in black tights and a jog bra.  Stupidly, I also forgot my hat, and I never put on sunscreen.  These are all things a crew might have kept my on track with, but on my own, my brain was getting mushy.  I therefore spent the morning of day 4 getting progressively more overheated and sunburned.  Adding to the discomfort was the overall "unwell" feeling that occurs after breathing through your mouth for over 250 miles in the desert.  I felt flu-ish, hot then cold, having a horrible time maintaining any steady body temperature.  I was headachey with some cold sweats.  These symptoms in the time of COVID suck, because they could be anything.  I knew it was perfectly normal to feel this way during a multi-day, because I've felt it every time.  Still, there was a lingering question of whether or not I truly was getting sick.  (Jump to post race - tested negative).

The miles on day 4 came agonizingly slowly.  It was as if this horrible day was in slow motion.  I had pretty much resigned myself to losing first place.  I didn't see how I could maintain it, feeling the way I felt.  My coach texted me earlier in the day with a pep talk, giving me the splits I'd need to hit to stay on goal for the 75.  I knew they were impossible, so I just gave her a thumbs up and ignored her.

Sometime late in that awful day, I caught up with Marie Boyd and had a chat.  I told her I was exhausted and that my speed was suffering.  Which is to say... there was none.  If I stayed out on the course without getting some restorative sleep, I'd just steadily lose ground to the other women who currently were significantly faster.  Marie agreed that at this point sleep was imperative.  I might lose a couple of hours on the course, but it was crucial that I refill the energy tank.

After I hit the 50 mile mark on what I had originally hoped would be a 75 mile day, I resigned myself to a long rest.  With a huge sense of relief, I went into the RV, and did all of the self care things.  Foot care, clothing change, food/drink, and finally, blessed sleep.  This time, unlike the previous night, it came quickly and soundly.  I set my alarm to allow myself 3 hours, but after a little over 2 hours of sleeping like I'd been drugged, I woke up wide awake, alert, and optimistic.  I can't even begin to describe how much better I felt.

Downed some caffeine, pulled on my clothes, and headed out.  

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  This was happy making.  So, too, was my knowledge that the other 2 lead women were still sleeping - so as long as I was out on the course, I was banking miles into the lead.  

The hours on day 5 just ticked by.  The weather was sunny but cool and breezy.  Really, the first perfect running weather we'd had for the entire race.  Tom Jackson's wife M'Lee generously bought me a hat and some aloe, so I was able to both prevent sunburn that day and address the burn I already had.  The biggest issue that started to occur on day 5 was the steady deterioration of my feet.

I'd struggled with plantar fasciitis in the months prior to the race, and although I kept it manageable, I never really chased it away.  By day 5, I was starting to experience some pretty significant heel pain.  Also, I was getting some impressive nerve pain in both feet - they constantly felt like they were on pins and needles, with some numbness in my left toes.  It felt like there was grit under my socks, even when I had a fresh change of socks and shoes.  

Because of the previous day's poor mileage, and because of how my feet felt, I'd ratcheted down my goal to just exceeding 400 miles, and maintaining the women's win.  This was looking pretty doable on both fronts, but I was starting to get concerned about where Sandra was.  Sandra had been steady on my tail for 4 days now, and I had every expectation for a while that she would pass me - but as of 11:00 on Thursday morning I still didn't see her out on the course, and I was getting worried.  I texted her but didn't hear back.  

Sometime in the next hour, I saw her.  We hugged, and both cried.  Turns out her day 4 was as shitty as mine.  These things are all mental, and she'd had a rough night.  But, now she was back to do what she was here to do, and I was glad to see her get in her zone.

For anyone who doesn't know her, Sandra Vii is a world class badass.  She won Badwater in 2017, and has the female record for a transcontinental crossing of the United States.  She podiumed at the Dome in 2019, and then came back and won it in 2021 with 422 miles.  Also... she is a truly amazing human being.  On day 5 we spent a bit of time running laps together, and I got to hear a bit of her story.  She is humble, powerful, and one of the best runners I've ever seen.  If there is anything I am truly grateful for about this 6 day race, it is having had the privilege of running with this wonderful woman.

Sharing a lap with Sandra Vii

This is not to diss the other amazing woman pushing me to continue.  Andrea Mehner came into ATY without any previous multi-day experience.  I had raced against her before, at FarmDaze 24 hour in Georgia.  She won by a couple of miles.  She came into ATY with the absolute right attitude for a first 6 days - which was, to just be out there for as many miles as she could do a day - and then get solid sleep at night.  She was regularly off the course for 6-7 hours each day - far more than me.  However, when she was ON the course, her miles were incredibly fast.  She was ticking off regular 14 minute laps, while I was trying to maintain 16-18 minute laps.  Truly a remarkable performance.

Some of the other folks who I was thrilled to spent time with include Aussies Marie Boyd (73 yo, 10 day) and Annabel Hepworth (72 hour winner), Seattle babes Jill Hudson, Jenny Appel (72 hours), and my bud Rachel Entrekin (48 hours), Florida phenom Lisa Devona (OMG! speedy!  48 hr winner); Terrie Wurzbacher (73 yo and in for 10 days!).  I'd gotten to share laps with Tom Jackson, a Spartathlon teammate and with whom I will run the Berlin Wall 100 in August, and with legend John Geesler.  Witt Wisebram, who also shared the podium with Andrea and I at Farmdaze, was in for 10 days and going through his own spiritual journey.  Van Phan is an ultra legend - she was the women's leader in the 10 day, and was here with Mikey Sklar -  a truly wonderful human being and Van's SO whom she met 2 years ago at ATY.  My new friend Chad, my friend Steve Tuttle, my new friend Eddie Fackler who was running 200 miles after losing 200 pounds.  So many wonderful people.  I'm sure I'm missing folks and it is unintentional - I love you all.

A lap with Rachel Entrekin and Mark McCaslin

Scott Thompson, Rachel Entrekin and I

Anyway, back to the race.  Mid-day Day 5, Sandra's husband went out and got us lunch from Culvers, and Sandra and I took 30 minutes off course to chow down.  I had a double burger with cheese, onion rings, and a huge diet coke.  It.  Was.  Heaven.  I had no problem stuffing in a few more french fries since Sandra didn't want all of hers.  I was thinking I'd take a quick 20 minute power nap after the big lunch (sleep does great things when combined with food) but realized that my phone was in the charging station in the warming tent so I had no way to wake myself up.  Charging devices was another thing that was a little more challenging without crew, as I had to managing getting devices hooked up, unhooked and back in my possesion - which took a bit of time.  Anyway, without my phone, I had to keep going and stay on course.

As decent as my mood was on day 5, I truly was having trouble with my feet.  The pain was relatively constant - it was just a matter of how severe it was at any point in time.

Still, I was on pace for the women's win, as long as I stayed the course.

Day 6 was all about foot management.  Once again, the miles came painfully slowly.  I knew I'd be hitting 400 miles sometime on day 6 and expected it to be sometime around midnight.  But even slow 20 minute laps were eluding me.  I think I probably changed my shoes 20-25 times day 6.  Pretty much every lap.  I'd dart into the RV, pull on some other combo of shoes and inserts, and hobble back out.  Really, nothing was working.  The heel pain was awful, as were the pins and needs of nerve pain.  Finally, I pulled on my oofo sandles and started walking in those.  Those were the best miles I got during the day.  I was actually able to jog/walk for a bit in the foamy flip flops.  I just needed to watch my footing to ensure I didn't trip or stub my toe. 

Shoe surgery day 6

I took a power nap about 6 miles before 400 miles.  As much as I wanted to power through to 400, I was just too exhausted.  It was my plan to get a decent 2 hours of sleep after 400, and then go straight through until the race end.  And this was what I did.

Jill gave me a pair of her Hokas that were a size bigger than mine.  They proved to be the magic bullet in that I didn't have to change them every lap.  My goal after waking up from my post 400 mile nap was to land somewhere between 410 and 415.  

With Jill Hudson and Rick Haas

I think I forgot to mention just how cold it was nights 5 and 6.  Once the rain was gone from the forecast, the temperature at night plummeted.  Night 5 was below freezing, and night 6 was in the 30's.  So one of the challenges was clothing choice.  If you wear clothes that are comfortable for a walking pace, you get overheated if you run.  If you dress to run, then you freeze your ass off if you are reduced to a walk.  There is really no winning.  I chose to wear pretty much every piece of warm clothing that I had, and every once in a while would burst into a jog just to warm up.  Although my feet at this point felt well enough to run more laps, there wasn't any need in order to meet current goal, and I didn't want to do any more foot damage.  At this point, due to Jill's larger shoes, I had a significant hot spot on the bottom of my left foot that was transforming into a sizeable blister. Sometime in the middle of the night my strategy became "a lap an hour".  During this special time, I walked with John Geesler, with Tom Jackson, with Sarah Emoto and Dennis Williams, with Marie Boyd, and with Jill.  And, I did end up getting in more than a lap an hour.  The time in between laps was spend thawing out in the warming tent, and eating all the food.  The starving kicked in.  At 4am I had 2 blueberry pancakes, followed by 2 more the next lap.

Rachel Belmont arrived in the morning hours with a breakfast sandwich and hot chocolate, so enjoyed a bit of second breakfast with her arrival.  Rachel and Cole had come to the course several times to bring me sustenance and cheer.  Cole works at a pizza parlor, so earlier in the race I'd been gifted with a pizza.  Rachel also brought a box of magic donuts (magic because they improved my speed by 4 minutes per mile for several hours!) earlier in the race.  Mucho thanks to their race support, as they were also busy with events in their own lives!

Rachel brought me lots of goodies!

As the last 2 hours often are, they were magical.  There is something in knowing that you will soon be off of this hamster wheel and back in the real world again.  Doing things like knitting, and baking, and showering, and sleeping in a clean bed!  Being... a normal person.  There is a quiet joy in knowing that you have done what you set out to do - maybe not in terms of total mileage, but in terms of giving it everything you've got.  You have faced every problem that has come before you in the 6 day period and come up with the best solutions you are able to devise in the moment.  You gain inspiration and stength from your comrades in arms.  You share stories, and wisdom, and heartache.  You cry with each other.  You laugh, oh so much, with each other.  You get silly; you get serious and somber.  You get reflective.

I am happy to say I left only 8 minutes on the clock, and I ran it in to the finish line.  414.911 miles, first woman.  It was done.  My 3rd 6-day.  Not as strong as my first, but nowhere near as broken as my last.  Good enough to make me think I need to give it another go.  

At the award ceremony with Andrea Mehner

Friday, October 8, 2021

Spartathlon 2021 – Heartbreak at mile 41

Failure is hard.  I mean… it’s easy to do, but hard to digest.  It is even harder when you are not expecting it.

I certainly went into this race knowing that failure was a possibility.  I am not a fast runner.  My strength lies in going out slow and not slowing down as much as others.  Almost without exception, every race I’ve ever run, I’ve started out DFL.  So it goes without saying that a 153 mile race with aggressive early cut-offs every aid station (2-4 miles apart) with marathon cut-off at 4:45 and 50 mile cut-off at 9:30 will not be a recipe for a successful race for me. 

I at least had the knowledge that I COULD do it… because I previously had.  I did this race 2 years ago and was even more worried then than now about the early cutoffs.  However, somewhere, that day, I found speed I didn’t know I had, breezing through the marathon point at 4:11, and the 50 mile point at about 8:42.  I paid a cost, however, getting very nauseated and faint between miles 50 and 62.  I had been afraid at that point I wouldn’t be able to finish.  Because of that experience, I came into this race with a more conservative strategy, aiming to hit marathon with only 20 or so minutes to spare, and hoping to get to 50 at around 9 hours 15 or 20 minutes.

I’d also like to add that I came into the race strong and well rested, with weeks of solid hill practice behind me, good sleep, and a fast marathon for speedwork about 4 weeks out.  I was, in short, cautious, but confident.

I had a great crew.  Dave Oakley, who had previously crewed me at 3DATF during the horrific lean experience was my lead, and Rachel Belmont, a young fast 24 hour runner fresh off of a volcano stage race adventure, was his partner.  I trusted them implicitly and was happy to have them there.

My biggest concern, really, going into the race, was how my gut would behave.  I’ve had some issues over the past couple of years with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, resulting in emergency trips to the bushes.  As the first 15 miles or so of the race was essentially through the city, I was terrified of needing a bathroom and not having one available.  I was also worried about losing the precious minutes, should I need to duck off the course.  I gambled, and decided to take an Immodium 30 minutes prior to the start of the race, with the thought that at least it might get me to 50 miles, and after that, I’d have more leeway because the cut-offs got more generous.

The run started off uneventfully.  I was far less nervous than the last time, so was able to enjoy running from the Acropolis down to the streets of Athens.  I was pretty thrilled with how bouncy my legs felt and the ease of running.  I hit the first aid station without any issue with time thanks to the downhill start. 

I was far less thrilled with miles 3 through 5, which had far more uphill than I remembered, forcing me out of my “easy” zone and into some huffing and puffing to maintain pace.

To just clarify the degree of my concern about cut-offs, on my normal “regular pace” 26 mile training run, generally my first mile is probably an 11:30, the second might also be, and it is probably not until mile 6 or 7 that I start dipping into the 10’s.  Although I can finish with an average pace of 10:30-10:40 comfortably, that is all after warming up for 15 miles and negative splitting.  For this race, I had to pretty much aim for an average 10 minute mile pace for the first 15 miles, and then keep it to 10:30 til marathon, and then to 11 for 50 miles.  Very outside my comfort zone.

Still – I hit 5 with no issues and the course seemed to level off and even throw in some downhill.  At one point I caught up with Steve Troxel, who I believe had a similar pace plan as me, and we talked about our happiness with our current pacing.

I hit 15 miles with a 10 minute mile pace average, which really made me relieved.  I was moderately alone on the course with runners in sight in front of me and behind, but none right in my zone.  It was lonelier than my last Spartathlon but allowed me to really run my own race without feeling pulled. 

I enjoyed the scenery immensely this time – the coast was stunningly beautiful and blue off to the left, and there were occasional ruins. 

Somewhat prior to marathon, I started feeling uncomfortable in a few ways.  First, it was getting hot.  Despite the forecast of cooler than usual ambient temperatures, it felt pretty warm and dry, as there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was brutal.  Secondly, I was getting concerned about my gut.  I began to think that the Immodium had been a bad idea.  I was starting to experience a dull ache in my belly as well as feeling uncomfortably bloated.  I’d already pulled off into the bushes once, despite the fact that the Immodium was supposed to prevent that.  Instead of preventing, it was just making things difficult. 

With the full sun overhead, cooling became an issue.  Any aid station that had ice, I grabbed some and stuffed my hat and bra.  I needed to fill my ice bandana, which I had worn proactively around my neck, but didn’t want to take the time, so I texted my crew to have it ready for me at the first point they could meet me.

When my watch said 26.2, the marathon aid station was nowhere to be found.  26.3.  26.4.  26.5.  26.6.  26.7.  It finally showed up and I clocked the distance at about 26.88.  This was .68 miles later than I was expecting.  Which, at a 10:45 minute pace, translates into over 7 minutes.   So, instead of my goal time of 4:25-4:30, I was looking at 4:36 with only 9 minutes of cut-off.  This.  Was.  Bad.

I bolted out of the station and caught up with Steve, who confirmed my distance (he’d actually clocked it at 27 miles) but who reassured me that based on his watch we were on pace.  And yes – according to the pace per mile I’d been running, we were… but not according to the mileage.  What neither of us knew at that point was that a detour had been added to the race early on, but that none of the cut-off times had been changed.

This immediately changed my mental game from confidence to something close to panic.  I had really been counting on a 15-20 minute buffer, so to only have it down to 9 was terrifying and disheartening.  I texted my crew to have my ice bandana ready, as well as some Gas-x and a popsicle.  They were a well oiled machine as I rolled in and out, and the cooling immediately helped.

Until the ice bandana ice was melted and the fabric dried, and I started to get hot.  And my miles slowed down.  Although I felt like I was keeping the same pace, my watch was showing me miles in the 11’s, and one uphill mile in the 12’s. 

More panic.

Shortly past one aid station I saw Will Thomas who said “What the hell was up at that aid station?  I just got through with 30 seconds to spare!”  He sprinted ahead of me and started making up time, and got far enough ahead that I no longer saw him.

At aid station 17, I made the cut-off with 2 minutes to spare.

2 minutes.  I still had over 12 miles to go to get to 50, where things would ease up.

There was a little wall right past the aid station, where I sat down in despair.  I wasn’t going to make it.

I got up again.  If I wasn’t going to make it, I was at least damn well going to try to get to the next aid station.  I started moving again and called Dave.  “I’m not going to make the cutoff”.

He reassured me that I had plenty of time to make it to 50.

I told him it wasn’t 50 I was worried about – it was the next aid station.  He hadn’t been aware that EVERY aid station had a cut-off.  He reassured me, and I started moving.  But, with despair in my heart, I was not sprinting.  I didn’t have sprint in me.  Besides of which, the gut acted up and I needed another stop.  It was over and I knew it was over and I was just mad and sad with just a little bit of relief (I hate that) that I could stop being uncomfortable soon because that bus was waiting for me.

On our way to CP 18, I saw Steve, walking.  I said “we’re not going to make it”, and I walked with him a little bit.  He was cursing and horribly sad.  He had started cramping up and it blew that section for him.  I started jogging again, but there was zero power and zero spirit in it.  I hit aid station 18 just 3 minutes past cut-off, where they told me “you can’t go on.”

Yeah.  I know.

They asked for my bib, my chip, my GPS locater.  I handed them all over.  There was a little cadre of us – 5 of us missed the cutoff at CP18.  We were listless and angry and a couple of the runners were shocked.  They appeared to not have the foreknowledge I had. 

We headed for the bus and took our seats.

The bus.  Let me tell you what is NOT on the Bus Of Shame.  There is no water or food for sad and hurting runners who have been running for 41 miles.  There are no babywipes or towels or anything to make you feel better about the shitty situation in which you find yourself.  There are just other sad runners, staring out the window with dazed looks on their faces.

A view from the bus

We drove on to the next aid station to wait for the next crew of DNFs, where some of us got off the bus to scrounge for food and water.  I am profoundly grateful that I had crew, so I could text them to meet us at 50 miles so we could get off the fucking bus and at least get some sympathy, love, and dry clothing.

Steve and I met Dave and Rachel at 50 and had a sad reunion of sorts.  We decided to hang out there and wait for the American runners who still hadn’t passed through yet….  Nathan, Tom and Will, I believe.  We knew Will was chasing cut-offs and we knew how hot it was, so we had ice ready for him and some cheery words.  And we decided then and there that we would stay on the course to support our team, despite our personal defeat.

We did a Ragnar Relay shower, with baby wipes and dry clothes, and got ourselves some food.  We stopped at a couple more crew points, and then made a side trip to Sparta to check into our hotel and shower.  Coming back from Sparta it was early morning and we had the privilege of seeing the runners in the lead, and took a side trek to say hi to Bob Hearn before meeting up with Will at mountain base. 

I have to say, having not finished my own race, it was pretty cool to see the race from the point of crew.  We got to spend time with other crew members  - Phil McCarthy, Jessica Marti, and M’lee, as well as Otto’s crew Jurgen and Elaine, and also see the course by car.  As crew, I found myself just in awe of the runners who were still out there, thinking to myself “how can they be moving like that in this heat?”. 

Will and Tom came into the last aid station with 20 minutes to spare.  From this point they only had 10K to the end, and plenty of time to do it as long as they kept moving.  We headed to the finish line.

Driving into Sparta hurt like hell.  I recognized all of the places I had been running 2 years prior.  I cried.  We parked and headed to the finish to wait for our guys.  I cried some more.  Being at that finish line, with the runners’ names being shouted as they ran in, and the majestic music playing, and not running it in….  that was hard. 

We checked the tracker and saw that Will and Tom were getting close.  We had flags ready for them, and were ready to video their finish.  They were running together and I met Will to give him his flag.  I asked if he’d like company running in to the finish, as at this one point runners are allowed to have their support run with them.  I am so incredibly and humbly grateful that he said yes.

So, I got to run in with this fabulous runner who ran the race with grit and determination, getting stronger along the way after a 30 second brush with possible DNF.  Will finished his race with 36 minutes to spare – an enormous amount of time to gain back considering how close he’d been at the early cutoffs.

What a gift, for me to be there to watch that.

I love this sport.  As much as it can fucking hurt, I love this sport.  I love the people.  I love that people put themselves out there to accomplish the impossible. 

Will Thomas at the finish

Me, and my crew Rachel and Dave

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Popsicles and Love - TGNY 100 Redux

I love this race.  I knew it before I ever ran it, when I first read Fred Murolo’s race report several years ago now on the Ultralist.  It was confirmed 2 years ago when I ran the race with training buddy Larry Huffman and within the first couple of miles, my heart swelled like a balloon when we were fresh out of Central Park, exploring the upper west side, and were presented by a breathtaking sunrise City view.

Love it.

I knew I wanted to come back (ideally as many times as possible) before I even finished my first TGNY, and indeed I chose this race over running at the Dome because these days choosing joy over, well, just about anything else, seems like a good bet after the year we’ve all had.

The thing about the 2021 race that was going to be extra special, however, was that I would be running with my good friend Katie.  I had first described Katie in the short story “Runner Girl” in my book.  I described her as a light in the darkness, as the first thing I ever noticed about her was her headlamp in the early morning dark.  At the time we met, she by and large was not an ultra distance runner.  Not long after our meeting, she took her initial forays into ultra with a self supported 50K run and then a 60K race in Central park.  She did her first 12 hour with me at Ethan Allen, around a track on a hot hot night in Vermont.  She killed it. 

Back when I told her she would definitely do 100 at some point she said “no way” – and particularly no way to NY because Katie is not fond of heat and NY in June can be hot hot hot.

She changed her mind.

(yay :) )

A few months ago when it started looking good for the in person race to happen, there were a few slots available and Phil gave them out by lottery.  I was already in the race due to my 2020 COVID deferral, so when she got in the lottery we know we would be running together.


I’d moved out the West Coast in the fall of 2019, and had only seen Katie once in person since I moved, during an impromptu trip east earlier this year after I and my folks were fully vaccinated.  The opportunity to not only show her my all time favorite race but to spend 24 plus hours catching up was joy.

COVID year was rough on racing.  I’d participated in a bunch of virtual races early on, and had several opportunities to run hundreds just for joy with my friends Jess and Jill before I left Seattle.  However, last fall, just after my challenged 3 Days at the Fair 6 day run, I moved to California.  Second lockdown happened, accompanied by move, job change and a divorce.  It was a lot, in a short period of time, and I subsequently took a running nose dive, struggling for a few months with nagging and persistent injuries and low motivation.  I’d recently started to recover both physically and emotionally, scoring a 100 mile female win at the Silver Moon 3 weeks prior.  I’ve been feeling better physically, by running less and sleeping more, and felt I was coming into this race poised for joy.

I took the red eye from Santa Rosa Thursday evening.  Although I had an annoying delay in Santa Rosa I pretty much arrived at JFK at the expected time 7am on Friday morning.  Alas… I got precious little sleep on the plane and arrived exhausted.  I made my way by AirTrain and subway from JFK airport to our hotel in Times Square.  Navigating my way through the city, I felt a thrill at being back.  I had been born and raised in Westchester County, and worked and lived in the city in my early 20’s.  I adore New York which is one of the reasons I like this race so much.  I love its spirit, its grit, its humanity, its vastness.  I love the grandeur and the filth; the bridges and the tunnels, and the sense that truly, this place never sleeps.  I love my history with this place.  So it was with a happy heart that I arrived at my subway stop and made my way to the hotel.  I had requested an early check in and was thrilled that at 8:15am they had a room ready for me.  I got some breakfast and took about an hour long nap.  I probably should have slept for longer, but I was expected Katie to arrive from Virginia by bus sometime shortly after noon, and besides – I cannot travel without visiting at least one museum.  This time it was MOMA.  Amazingly, I had never been there.  It was fabulous. 

After I left MOMA I wandered to Central Park and was struck by the beauty of the place.  Somehow, when I lived in New York, I was way to busy partying to ever wander through parks.  This place was lovely.  I got a gyro on rice and started walking through the park taking pictures.  The last update from Katie had her in around 2:30, but then I got a text updating it to 1:50 so I had to book to get to the hotel to meet her.

We had fun exploring for the next few hours, although my exhaustion was making itself felt in my feet.  Had dinner with Katie’s friend Hillary, who was going to be meeting us at one of the aid stations and pacing for a little ways, and also spent some time with Rachel Belmont and Denise Sauriol.

Sleep was good; alarm went off at 4 and I awoke feeling relatively fully rested.  Downed a can of Starbucks iced espresso, dressed in race clothes (feeling pretty silly in my Sahara Hat at 4:30am in the dark) and headed to the start, which is always a grand reunion. 

Phil had arranged a wave start, and Katie and I were at 5:22 – almost the last wave.  I guess the good thing about that is not having to go through that mass start feeling where everyone books out like a bat out of hell and there I am poking along at the back of the pack.  This way it was just she and I, and no pressure. Which is just how I like it.

The first few hours were bliss.  Although the day was supposed to get hot (predicted 90), right now it was coolish and overcast, though dreadfully humid.  We were both sweating within 15 minutes of the start.  My legs felt fabulously bouncy – I’ve been using new inserts and I love the energy they give my legs.  That plus the rest made the first 50K fly by. 

The course had changed a bit from the last time I ran this race, but I’m geographically challenged enough so I didn’t have a really good sense of exactly what the changes were, besides not running the Orchard Beach out and back, where I’d seen the old Italian men chatting and smoking 2 years ago.  There were more trails, I think.  Good because of shade and soft footing… bad because of roots and bugs.

The sun came out probably around 10am, and, well, then the fun really began.

Probably because of the humidity I was already getting warm, and once the sun came out, the baking commenced.  Nothing appealed at the 30 mile aid station, but there was a convenience store down the road a piece and I began what was to become a theme for the race.  I went in and bought 1 Froze Fruit strawberry popsicle for Katie and 1 for me.  Katie didn’t want hers.  I had no problem with that.

The popsicles gave me about 380 calories plus had a cooling and hydrating effect so I gained some new life.  We continued on, crossing the Triboro bridge somewhere in the early 30’s. 

Can I just say… I love that bridge.  The views are spectacular, and there is just something incredible about crossing from one borough to another on a mammoth beautiful bridge.  Plus… the second half is all downhill.

There was an aid station shortly after the descent into Queens, but alas their popsicles were… juice.  No cooling to be had there, though we did avail ourselves of ice.  We were due to meet Hillary at mile 41, but that was 5 scorching miles in front of us.

Those miles were the rough part.  By now it was life suckingly hot and humid, and everything felt slow and heavy, with a little dizzy thrown in.  All we could do was keep moving – but at this point I felt like my lack of energy was holding us back.  The last mile to the aid station seemed impossibly long.  I knew Hillary was planning to have popsicles and that knowledge was all that was moving me forward.

We finally made it and she did have popsicles, but they were half melted.  They were still cold and slushy though, so I sucked down one, greedily gulping the sticky cold sweetness and needed another one.  I was so hot.  I looked for a 3rd, but someone had thrown them away because they were mostly melted.  I saw a container of Watermelon juice, so I had 4 glasses of that over ice. 

The hydration and core temp issue was solved, but now I had a belly full of liquid and I was a little worried about how that was going to play out once we started moving.  Bathroom issues were going to very possibly become an issue.

That was our longest aid station stop – we were probably there about 10-11 minutes, so the mile clocked out at 25.  I wasn’t thrilled with that, but the cooling was necessary.  Fortunately the sun had passed it’s zenith, so we knew that we only had a couple more really hot hours to get through.

Katie did great taking all the right steps to keep herself cool.  I had no doubts about her running and endurance ability to do this thing... only her ability to handle the heat, so the closer we got to evening, the closer I felt we were to a confident finish.  Blessedly, some clouds started to appear mid afternoon and it appeared that the worst of the heat was over.

For me, running the race for the second time, there was a lot of nostalgia… remembering conversations and footfalls from the last race.  This was particularly true between miles 50 and 100K. 

One of my favorite places in the race is Flushing Meadows Corona Park.  It is packed with people, sights, smells, and street vendors.  I get 2 more popsicles, bringing my total up to 6 for the race.  All too soon, it is over.  We are back in neighborhoods for a bit, then on shaded trails.

100K is always a pretty special milestone.  Here is no exception.  It serves as a finish line for the racers who are running the 100K distance, and always has more volunteers than other aid stations – as well as drop bags.  I didn’t really need anything besides my headlamp.  Katie took the time to change into dry clothes.  She was able to eat solid food.  I still was not.  I was sad that nothing there appealed.  I downed some raspberry ginger ale over ice, and as soon as Katie was ready, we soldiered on.

Although I love the whole course, I really really enjoy the part from 100K to the finish.  There is something about getting to evening, running through the Queens neighborhoods.  It feels like you are getting a glimpse into lots of peoples lives, running all through this city.  At about the 70 mile mark, we hit the Rockaways.  This is where things really get good.  First, well, we are at 70 MILES!!  Always a landmark.  Also, we are running along a paved boardwalk next to the beach.  To the left of us is a fence, and beyond that are whitecaps of the waves breaking in the dark.  The beach is more deserted this year than last, so we can just enjoy the ocean breeze and the sound of the surf.  We run a number of miles with Matt, who meets a pacer later on and leaves us in the dust to finish sub-24!  

We exit the beach and run through more neighborhoods interspersed with aid stations.  80 mile aid… 85 mile aid…  last year at 85 miles there was a red carpet, and cannoli and Dunkin Donuts coffee.   Somewhere between, I think, 70 and 80, Katie finally got her Monster energy drink.  This gave her a much needed boost, and she perked up considerably.  Her journey reminded me so much of my first 100 – that realization, somewhere around 40 miles that even though you have traveled what seems like an impossible distance, you have so much more in front of you.  40 to 80 can be spirit sucking miles.  By 80, I think she knew she had this thing. 

Our conversation and our steps got more animated, and we walked and trotted along, ticking off the miles.  These late evening early morning miles were strong and joyful despite our sore feet, heavy legs and significant chafing and bruising from our packs.  We could see the Verrazano bridge off in the distance and were starting to make some predictions about finish time.

Brooklyn is special to me too, because I lived there for a few years out of college.  My last report describes the ghosts of my past.  They didn’t whisper as loudly this time around, but I still remembered those street names where I had walked or lived…  Dean Street…  Carroll Street… Court Street…  heading into Borough Hall and the 95 mile aid station.  Last time I did my dancing at the Coney Island Boardwalk.  This time it was with the 95 mile volunteers.  We boogied down while Katie made use of some bushes as there were no potties available.

And just like that, there were 5 miles to go.

There is nothing…. nothing in the world… like crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn by foot.   

As we landed ourselves back in Manhattan, we had 3 miles to go.  Or would have, had we not somehow ended up wandering down 5th Ave instead of Broadway, necessitating a cross-town navigation correction that probably added on a couple more tenths of a mile.  Crap. 

Get ourselves over to Broadway, 8 uptown blocks to go, 7, 6…..  we see them.  We see the finish line volunteers waving and cheering.  They are beyond reach, due to a pesky red light.  We stand there impatient, until we get the green and head in to the finish. 

We are finishers 18 and 19 – and, we find out later, tied for 3rd woman.   

It was so very special being part of Katie's first 100, in a race that means so much to me.  After an impossibly long dismal year, the sun is finally shining again.  And the future is bright.

Thank you, Phil, for putting your heart and soul into this perfect race.  Thank you to the volunteers who go out of your way to make each and every aid station an oasis.  Thank you to the racers who keep each other moving and joyful.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Darkness and Light - 6 Days at 3 Days at the Fair


Relative success is a dangerous thing.  It gives you a taste of what you are capable of, and a thirst for success.

As a runner, I’ve found my niche in multi-day running.  I didn’t start experiencing any regular podium placements until I started going 48 hours and beyond.  It turns out, as a slow runner, you can still have success at races as long as they are races that rely on tools beyond just raw speed.  I've discovered I have an energizer bunny gear that just keeps going… and going… and going…

Usually, anyway.

Thus, the reason why I sign up for these events that are so very hard on the body, and so very enlightening for the soul.

48 and 72 hour races… they are brutal enough.  But 6 day is a whole different beast.  It is, when you think about it, almost a week of constant running.  That is a long time.  Life in the outside world happens and you are running.  There is world news being made, babies being born, people dying.  And you are running.  

It’s kind of crazy. 

At my first 6 Day race, I was chatting with Dave Johnston somewhere around Day 5 and we were talking about what we were going to do in the “after” times.  I said “see that CVS?  Over there?  Across the street?  I’m going to go there.  I’m going to get off this effing course and go the that CVS.  Because I can.  And… see that path?  I’m going to walk on that path."  

Craziness.  For a week, you are a hamster on a wheel.

Why would anybody do this thing?

Turns out we all have different motivations.  For some, it is purely about the record.  If there is not an opportunity to set a record, there is no reason to race.  For others, it is all about the friendships.  Just a couple of days set aside to do some easy running.  For others of us, it is somewhere in between. 

Me?  I’ve come to like pretty trophies.  I’m always thrilled to get a trophy – particularly one as beautiful as those handed out at the Fair.  Records?  Those are pretty swell too.  I managed to get myself an age-group world record at the first 6 Day I did (although I am well aware that there were other faster runs that exceed my mark and just didn’t have the right paperwork to make them a record).  So – my name is out there. Appropriately, or no.

So – this race.  It was to be my 2nd 6 day race.  My first one at Across the Years 2018/2019 went astoundingly well.  I exceeded my stretch goal, broke the women’s course record, and got myself the age group world record (again technicalities, but…).  453 miles, or you could call it 452 and change after the course got audited and adjusted.  In any case, a well-executed race.   

It stood to reason that if I had done this at my first 6-Day, there was room for improvement.  Yes?

I set my sights high.  500 miles.  Pretty round number.  Planned splits?  100 on day 1 followed by 5 80’s.  So that was my A+++ goal.  “A” goal was the Women’s Road record which (also due to technicalities) stands at 475 miles.  475 is only 22 more than I had logged at ATY, so that actually seemed pretty reasonable.  “B” goal…  to at least exceed my past performance of 453.  “C” goal… 400 miles.

It turns out I needed a “D” goal.

Fortunately, I had one.  My “D” goal, after my course walk-off at my 48 hour at ATY last year, was “Stay on the fucking course”.

I’m pleased to say, (and hope I’m not giving too much away) that I met my D goal.

Generally I am not good at taper but because of all the really big miles I’d been putting in all summer, I actually rested quite a bit coming into the race.  My legs felt bouncy and energetic during my baby runs all that last week and I was raring to go.

Given that I knew exactly what I was in for (or so I thought) in terms of the mental difficulty of a 6 day race, I actually slept pretty well the night before.  I was honored to have had Dave Oakley of Ohio volunteer as crew, and we both stayed in our posh new RV the night before the race, getting everything organized. 

Race morning was warm and muggy, and the day only got warmer and muggier.  There were less than 20 of us on the starting line at 9am.  Rick did the countdown and we started off at an easy jog.

I could immediately see the benefits of the extra rest in the fast miles that were coming surprisingly easily.  Normally my “slow easy” is somewhere closer to an 11 minute mile but I was throwing down consistent 10:20-10:30’s without any effort.  This got me to 50 in 9 hours 11 minutes, and got me a 100 mile PR at 20 hours 20 minutes. Although my planned Day 1 split was 100, I had always had it in my head that if I COULD go 105, I would.  Turns out I logged 108 (although about 20 seconds of that was in day 2 so my official day 1 total was 107).  That gave me a little cushion to play with in terms of days 2-6 where I hoped to log an average of 80 each day. 

One of the treats of day 2 was the arrival of my cousin Rebecca, who was going to be on Team Amy from Day 2 to 3.  Rebecca is not only my cousin, but perhaps my closest friend.  We have shared incredible ups and downs all of our lives and had always been there for each other.  She had never seen me in my ultra world with my ultra people and I was so happy and grateful that she was coming to be part of the fun

Day 2 the weather changed from hot and muggy, requiring constant ice bandana changes, to muggy and rainy in the late afternoon.  It was still warm, but not so warm that the ice bandana was needed, and I was still, at that point, running in a jog bra. Later in the evening a shirt went on, and then it REALLY started to rain.  It went from a steady drizzle to a deluge and the course started to empty.  Through quite a bit of the night, there were probably no more than 3 of us on course.  Dave and Rebecca were critical to my emotional and physical well being.  Despite the downpour, Dave was out there, under the tent, as I ran lap after lap.  The real kicker came when the temperature plunged at least 10 degrees and very suddenly I was too cold to go much further.  I decided to come in and get warm and dry and then go out and get the rest of day 2 miles after a nap.  That plan worked and I ended day 2 with a total of 187 miles. 

Although I didn't know it yet, the Lean was starting

Day 3, the weather dawned beautiful.  Crisp, clear, cool, dry.  You really couldn’t get any better.  I was running pretty consistent 13-15’s which should easily get me my day’s 80 in 20 moving hours, allowing a bit of off-course nap time. 

I think it was about halfway through Day 3 that I saw my shadow, and noticed my right shoulder was significantly lower than my left.    “Am I leaning?” I asked a fellow runner in horror.

“Yes.  You have been for a while.”

Oh dear.  This was not a good thing.  I’ve seen it, but never experienced it firsthand.  For anyone not familiar with “The Lean”, essentially the runner mysteriously just starts leaning precipitously in one direction or the other.  Sometimes it is forward or backward rather than sideways.  It looks, frankly, ridiculous.  But worse, although at first you don’t even know you are doing it, eventually if it continues it significantly affects your ability to move forward comfortably.  For me, this ended up resulting in a running form that required me to shove my right hand into my right hip and literally try to counterbalance the right lean with a leftward push.  Any time I removed my hand, I went almost a foot further over and started to tip.

It was awful.  And worse, it was painful.  Not in an acute way, but in a mile after mile after mile weary way – each step adding to the pain and fatigue and sucking the joy from the run.  I think by the end of Day 3 I was pretty confident that any hopes of 500 were long gone, and that 475 was a long shot.  I only got in about 62 miles – my lowest day so far. There was no way to come back from that.  I think this is when I had my first good cry.

The morning of Day 4 was rough.  I managed about a mile an hour for the first few hours after 9am.  I had been in touch with Trishul Cherns who was coming to the grounds to support Camille Herron and he generously offered to do some body work to see if he could get me moving again. 

After my time with Trishul,  I was finally able to string together some consistent laps.  He assured me that my race wasn’t over, and that I just needed to keep walking.  My goal for the day was to end up with a total of 50 miles for day 4.  Unfortunately somewhere around 10:30-11pm I was just so fatigued I couldn’t keep going.  

It was supposed to start raining at 3am and go through 7, so I had really hoped to stay on the course during the rest of the dry time prior to 3.  Given the discomfort of the cold rain the previous day, I had no confidence I’d be able to get out there and just walk slowly in cold rain, so I pretty much wrote off 3am to 7.  It felt like by coming in at 10:30pm, I was pretty much giving up the rest of the night.  So be it.  I needed some rest.  I made a Facebook post at that point pretty much putting it out there that I was resting and we’d see what happened.

I didn’t set an alarm, because I figured I’d just sleep until morning.  Magically, I woke up around 3:30.  I could hear a steady rain, but when I got out of bed I realized I felt less sore and stiff than I had in a while.  I realized if I got out there and got going, I could get in up to another 15 before 9am.  I pulled on lots of clothing including a garbage bag vest for waterproof warmth, because as long as I could move, I figured my worst enemy was the cold rain.  I got out there and started to move.

And I could.

That was possibly one of the more joyful moments in the race – to feel myself be able to move comfortably again, one of very few people out there in the rain, contemplating why I do these things.  Realizing that true enlightenment comes when you are stripped raw and humbled.  You start to see into the inner depths of your soul and figure out what you are made of. 

I wasn’t unhappy with what I saw.

Those moments in night 4 were the epitome of why I do these multi-days.  Enlightenment and Transcendence.  At this point in the race, I had lost hope of all of my real mileage goals.  I was one of the pack – slower, at this point, really, than most of the pack.  Each of us was out here discovering different aspects of ourselves.  I had a few revelations:  It is OK… to run less.  It is OK to have running not be the sole focus of my existence.  I am made up of so much more than running and my other addictions.  I bake bread.  I knit.  I write poetry.  I am the mother to a beautiful, smart, courageous daughter.  I am the daughter of 2 role models who taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to it.  There is peace to be found in running forever, but there is also peace to be found in stillness, and sometimes it is OK to be still.

More… I am a woman with friends.  And everyone, EVERYONE out here on this course is my friend.  What a gift, to be able to spend happy miles, sad miles, painful miles, rainy nighttime miles, scorching daytime miles, with these people.  Had I still been able to pursue a monster goal, I would not have these laps with my friends. What a privilege to have them in my life. 

No matter what I end up getting in this race, I will always have this night.

Those 15 miles were as close to perfect as they come.  I ended Day 4 with 40 miles rather than the 25 I’d been resigned to when I'd come in at 10:30 the previous night.

It was now Day 5. Day 5 was pretty exciting for a number of reasons.  First, the 48 hour folks were starting.  I had several friends in the field including Bob Hearn, Marisa Lizak, as well as Camille Herron who was aiming for the world record.  The weather was  beautiful – sunny, clear, cool, dry, and I had just had a positive start to the day, as well as the most sleep I’d had all week.  I was pretty on top of the world.

Day 5 was just glorious.  I was happy.  I was moving.  Not running, but moving, and moving steadily.  I enjoyed the other runners, I was thrilled that I’d made it to day 5, and I was pretty confident that I had a shot at my “C” goal of 400.  In order to do that, I had to do 56 on Day 5 and 55 on Day 6.  I pulled out a few tools in my arsenal.  I’d been running quiet for days – somehow just didn’t want the noise in my head, but by Day 5 I was ready to rock.  The songs I was listening to had a hard, edgy, driving beat.  I started with Boss’s “I Don’t Give a Fuck” and cranked it to full volume.  The raging bravado of the song fit perfectly with my mood and the beat allowed me to increase the cadence of my walk, swing my left arm, and let anger at my situation  and determination drive me forward.  Step STEP step  STEP idontgiveafuckIdontgiveafuckidontgiveafuckidontgiveafuck…motherFUCKER…idontgiveafucknotasinglesolitaryfuckidontgiveafuckidontgiveafuck…motherFUCKER step STEP step STEP step STEP step STEP.  18 minute mile.  BAM.  I then turned up my new Facebook collaborative playlist really really loud and ran to Skinny Puppy, Ministry,  9 Inch Nails, Eminem, and The Beastie Boys, among others. Those were some good miles.

I also ventured into the podcast world, which I had never really done before.  (4 podcasts – one about Jack the Ripper, one about unsolved crimes, one interview with Dolly Parton where they played a game called “Dolly or Dali” where the participants had to guess as to whether the quote was from Dolly Parton or the Dali Llama, and one interview with Elan Musk.  Who sounded, pardon me, kind of douchy).

Moving Joyfully

 The only challenge with using my phone much out there was that any time I took my right hand away from my hip  (remember, I was holding myself up), I started to tip over to the right.  So, in order to do anything that required typing on my phone, I had to stop entirely. Still, I finished Day 5 at 345 miles, with only 55 to go to make it to 400.  I took my 90 minute nap, and ventured into Day 6.

Which… did not feel so great.  Early on, buoyed by my great day 5, I tested out a few running steps.  When I say a few, I mean a few.  Very short, very easy jogging steps – just enough to turn those 20:35 minute miles into 18:50’s.  Which is actually huge, but not a lot of running.

Whether it was trying to throw in any run at all again or just the accumulated fatigue of holding my back up, Day 6 was just a constant pain cave.  I was not in a happy place – I was just putting one painful foot in front of the other.  I felt like I was moving through deep water all day – groggy, miserable, slow, and in pain.  I wanted to enjoy other’s company but I was walking too slowly to even hang with other walkers for any length of time.  The highlight of daytime in Day 6 was watching Bob Hearn and Marisa’s steady beautiful running.  And the knowledge that however it turned out, it would be over soon.

The only way I could move was
to force my right arm into my right hip.
Stop doing this, and I tipped right over.
My arm got very tired.

The thing about timed races is… you are always doing math.  As in… if I want to get 55 miles in X hours, and I am going X speed I have to move for X hours and can nap for X time.  If the miles get faster, you get more nap buffer.  If they get slower….  (which happens with bathroom stops, aid station stops, shoe changes, or just slowing down due to pain)…. you get less true rest.

Oh, and did I mention the blisters?  Well, somewhere mid-race I had to have Dave perform surgery on 2 pairs of shoes to cut out the toe-box as, despite my best efforts, I was getting under-toenail blisters.  So my piggies were bared to the world for the last 3 days.  With lancing to drain fluid, and application of Run-Goo, the toe blisters were completely controlled.  It turns out it is phenomenally comfortable to run in shoes with the toe boxes cut out, so that is in my arsenal for the future.  Alas, it doesn’t help with those half-dollar sized blisters on the pad of your foot nor with the quarter sized heel blisters.  Those I just lanced and Run-Goo’d, which pretty much took care of the situation.

Anyway, back to Day 6.  I tried.  I really did.  The miles ticked by, painfully, slowly, and evening approached.  Time was now my enemy – it amazingly was moving too fast. (This doesn't usually happen in a multi-day, lol).  As much as I knew I needed to stay out there on the course, I was also feeling like without more decent sleep I just couldn’t make any miles quicker than 23 minutes or so.  It was a balancing game between whether it was better to get really slow miles, or nap more often to allow short bursts where I could have faster less painful miles.  With 26 miles to go, I decided that a nap was necessary.  I figured I could throw down 3 20 minute power naps between 26 miles and the end – so nap, go around 9-10, nap again, do the same, and finish.  Except… getting up from that 20 minute nap with the 26 to go felt so very, very bad.  I was slow, I was groggy, and what’s more, my right ankle was starting to get really, really angry. It was swollen and hurt to flex, and every step was painful.

It was purely a coincidence that I was wearing
my shirt from the Crooked Road race.  The Jester 
said I should take a sharpie and write "With a 
Crooked Back" underneath!

OK.  What was in my arsenal?  Caffeine.    I didn’t want to drink it because my stomach was sloshy, gurgly and in general unhappy.  Which also made it hard to breath – it felt like nothing was moving, and that plus the lean just limited any room for breath in my rib cage.

I took a NoDoz and kept moving.

Hurting.  A lot.  Dave saying "Just one more lap".

It was the right call for that moment and got me another 7 miles to 381 – 19 short of my goal.  It was approximately 1 am or so.  My ankle at this point was screaming – I was limping and it was hard to bend my right foot upward.  It felt like a soft tissue injury or tendonitis and I knew without any doubt or any remorse that I needed to give up the 400 goal and take care of my body.   I came in to rest, hoping that with a few hours of rest I could at least possibly get to 390.  I slept until perhaps 4 – plenty of time, on paper, to get in another 9 -15 miles.  I gingerly stepped on to the RV floor.  Ow.  That ankle didn’t feel good at all.  I walked a lap.  Ow.  Not good.  I walked another lap.  Worse.  Ankle screaming.


All I was going to do at this point, trying to get in any more miles, was hurt myself.  There was no getting to 400… there was  no getting to 390. 

OK then.  Back to bed.  I had 383. 

I slept the sleep of the dead for another couple of hours and woke up at sunrise, feeling both vaguely worried about my ankle as well as remarkably content.  I had a Facebook conversation with Scotty, who was also injured, suggesting maybe we could do a hobble lap.  I taped up my ankle and with the tape and wearing sandals instead of shoes, I could, it seems, walk a very slow not horribly painful 30 minute mile.  This was the time in a multi-day race when everyone who was sleeping starts moving again – it is often a joyful time.  People have made it through the darkness and are almost at the end.  I see Scotty and we walk and cry together.  I love Scotty.  So damn much. 

Walking and Crying with Scotty

I love all of these people. 

John Beck, Linda, Fran, Al, Ke’mani,  Fred (who had to leave early due to a family tragedy), Kootz (son), Jim and Joan, Helen, Dave L, the McNulty's, Shamus, Mark.  I’m sure I’m missing folks and I’m sorry. The Fair… it’s special.  

I actually was able to get in 2 more laps after I was done.  I finished with 385 miles - enough for first place female, and 2nd overall.  115 miles shy of my A+++ goal.  But hey... I nailed my "D" goal.

It was a good week.

Receiving my award from RD Rick McNulty

3 years of beautiful 1st place trophies hand crafted
by Dave Lettieri - 72 hr, 48 hr, 144 hr



So this has so far focused on my perspective as a racer but what I also want to talk about is my crew.  Because in this area, I was blessed beyond all measure.  Some months ago, Dave Oakley reached out to me about my next 6 day race and asked if I had crew.  I sad “no – are you offering”?


I knew Dave was going to be great… I just didn’t realize how special he was.  

What can I say about Dave?  He was my biggest cheerleader, he kept me focus and on pace.  He got me everything I needed when I needed it.  He worked with me on goal revision and on strategy as my race started to deteriorate.  He butchered my shoes.  He got me, without exception, every last thing I needed with regard to food, hydration, clothing, information, when I needed it.  Above all, he let me run my own race, set my own goals, and work with me on achieving them.  He was my rock.

Thank you Dave.  I am humbled and awed by your support.

My cousin Rebecca as well.  She is the first family member to actually see me at a multi-day event.  She joined the crew on days 2 and 3 – I’m grateful she got to see me when I was still moving well.  She got me fresh laundry after the rain soaked outfits I’d planned for the next few days and when I had almost no dry socks left.

People.  They amaze you.  

Postcript 2 (or - things you may or may not give a shit about)


Nutrition is always a crap shoot in ultras.  I've always had trouble with hot races - particularly if I'm going fast, in that it is hard to find anything I can comfortable keep down without feeling nauseated. This race went amazingly well in that regard.  I went slow enough that I never truly got nauseated, and was able to regularly take in calories without taking in so many that it was counterproductive.  Day 1 (hot fast day) calories were largely liquid.  A protein shake; a milkshake; soup.  Day 2 - dry cereal and whole milk appealed a lot.  I tried a bacon egg and cheese sandwich from the aid station, but the bread just felt dry and sticky in my dehydrated mouth, so I scraped the egg, cheese and bacon off of the bread and just ate that.  Every morning after that, I ordered a "bacon egg and cheese in a cup, no bread" from the aid station.  It was a gooey, salty cup of energy filled yum.

I drank a lot of whole milk - sometimes with instant coffee and sugar mixed in for a boost.  I drank orange juice.  Didn't eat a ton of the super sweet ultra food like poptarts - food this time consisted of more "real" food.  Jen McNulty's homemade chicken soup was amazing, as were the quesadillas and burgers.  My sister in law had sent me off with a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and my mom sent me with carrot cake.  They were gone by the end of the race.  (The carrot cake was a great vehicle for the whole milk - calories AND hydration).

Foot Care:

I had more issues with blisters than usual this race - possible because of the early humidity, heat and deluge rain.  I didn't AVOID blisters, but I managed them.  Got one the size of a second toe on day 2 which I lanced and RunGood.  By day 3 I had Dave butcher my shoes to cut out the toe boxes and only ran in them for the rest of the race.  Switched often between butchered Hokas and butchered Altras.


I got more sleep than in my last 6 day, but some of this was just because of the need to lie flat because of the lean.  I think I could have gotten by with less had I been moving more comfortably.  I still don't feel like i have this area remotely nailed.  I am usually really good with either 20 or 90 minute "power" naps, but my last 20 minute power nap (definition:  you hit the pillow and are IMMEDIATELY asleep for 20 mins) left me groggier than I started.  Still more learning here - although I think every race is unique in the conditions that are handed to you.


I got this right.  I was never truly uncomfortably cold - had enough layers even when walking slowly.  This included hats, mittens, hand warmers, tights, buff, multiple layers.  During the warmth of the day I generally stripped down to a jog bra.  Ice bandanas kept me cool enough to keep moving on Days 1 and 2, which were much warmer than the rest of the week.  Run skirts were comfortable and at night I could just pull on tights over them.  Rain jacket was key.  Garbage bag vest layer really helped during cold rain.


Amazingly, I kept it charged for the entire race by having Dave keep my portable battery charged, and just carrying that and hooking to my watch as needed.

I think that's it - but if anyone has any other logistical questions, let me know and I will answer.