happy running

Texas 4000 2018 ride report.

I think this might be the first time I've done the Texas 4000 ride! Maybe. Not sure. Can't remember. I think it used to be elsewhere, but this year it was in Lampasas. Karen was out of town doing swimrun with Trista, and CC was in Houston, so I asked Matt to come out with me and do the 50 miler, and he consented. I told Karen I could try to add mileage on at the end or something, but she said instead I'd do the 50 miler and a 4 mile run off the bike. Sounded innocent enough.

The ride was.. mostly good. Much less wind than we had at Real Ale. Fewer hills than at Real Ale, though there were definitely hills (more rollers than the steep or really long hills at RA). But the main difference in the negative direction was the terrible roads for the Texas 4000. There were basically two sections of maybe 5 miles each (maybe) that weren't terrible, demoralizing chipseal, and the rest was just awful. Hard on the hands, hard on the average pace, hard on the motivation. I told Matt those Texas 4000 kids are gonna be riding this thinking "What have I gotten myself into?!" Hopefully they don't have 4000 miles of chipseal.

Otherwise it was pretty good. Great for the first 30 miles. Matt and I rode and chatted and had fun. Then Matt's back seized up, and between that and his hands being in pain from not being able to ever be aero because of his back, and those roads being terrible, he really suffered. I stayed with him for a while, but then pulled ahead of him at some point. I knew he was suffering, and probably didn't really want company to witness that, plus I still had to run off the bike (and it was HOT and sunny already), so I just rode in by myself.

I transitioned relatively quickly to the run, and then took off on the route I'd mapped out ahead of time. 2 miles out, 2 miles back. No problem.

The first mile was not really a problem. A little stop and start, because it went through historic downtown Lampasas, and I was crossing some biggish cross streets. Then a turn onto 6th street, where I'd spend the rest of the Out. Things went okay until I crossed the highway, and then there was a giant hill in front of me. I considered turning down a side street, but I KNEW this route would get me my distance, and I didn't know where the other streets went, so up I went. About halfway. Then I stopped my watch and stepped into someone's shaded yard and just tried to breathe. I considered turning around and going back. I felt BAD. The heat was just terrible, and trying to run up a steep hill in it was making me light headed. And I really had to pee. But finally I decided I'd try to do the whole 4 miles. So I started my watch again, but walked. At least I was making forward progress.

Well, I'll try not to draw this out TOO much. There were two more hills after that, each worse than the last. I really should have turned on the elevation feature when I mapped it out. I had good intentions, but I ended up walking part of each hill. Each direction, since I had to run back up those hills on the way back (it wasn't uphill on the way out, downhill back, each hill was a hump). Two more times during the run (so 3 total) I came to a complete stop in a yard where there was shade, and just talked myself through it. I was MISERABLE. And had to pee so bad I almost wet myself at one point.

When I finally got done with the hilly part and got back downtown, I decided to stop at a portapotty on the sidewalk. I knew it would be gross and hot, but I thought maybe it would make me more comfortable. I ran up, stopped my watch, set down my bottle on the ground, walked in, closed the door, tried to lock the door, and it was so hot, so smelly, so terrible, that I kinda wobbled a little as I tried to even get the door locked. I knew this was a bad idea, so I stepped back out, picked up my bottle, and started running again. (I now realize even after I got back to the car, I never peed; not until we got back to Austin.)

There were no more hills, but I was just dead at this point. I considered walking on this flat part. I did make my final full stop during this flat section. Just to be in the shade for a second. And to tell myself that I was proud of myself for doing the full 4. And that I was almost done. Then I made myself start walking rather than stopping. Just for a few seconds before I started running again. I wanted to be able to keep walking if I'm ever in a race feeling so miserable, not just stop. Walking at least makes forward progress.

I finally made it back to the car, and had to run slightly past to get to 4 (you bet your ass I was getting my full 4 after all that). Then I walked to the shade in the yard we were parked in front of, and just sat there breathing while Matt came out to make sure I was okay. And told me it was 97 degrees.

So yeah. I did my 50+4 (actually 48+4, but I wasn't willing to circle the neighborhood to get 2 more miles). And it was terrible. And I'm proud of myself.

My run splits were 9:06, 10:05, 10:40, 9:57. So yeah. Started out okay. Then slowly fell apart. Then sorta pulled it back together. I hope to never need to use the memory of that experience during a race with similar weather.
happy running

Real Ale 2018 ride report.

Since we're doing such a late-season (November) race, we really just started formally tri training, which means we missed all of the early season rides. (Well, Cecilia didn't, since she did the MS150, but Karen and I did). Our first opportunity was Real Ale, which is a hell of a ride to start with. Especially when the longest outdoor ride you've done was 11 miles at the Rookie, and the longest you've been on your bike was 75 minutes on the trainer. Once we decided to do Real Ale, we figured we'd do 65 max, 50 if it was really windy or we just weren't feeling it. At that point we had one weekend to try to cram for that ride, and we went out and did 45 miles on Parmer. And it was as painful as jumping from 11 miles to 45 should be. But at least it wasn't jumping from 11 miles to 65.

Matt decided to join us, and Ryan was threatening to. Cecilia was busy, so she couldn't make it. Then it turned out Ryan was busy, and Meredith joined us. She was sanely only doing the 50 miler, though.

And it was hard. It's still really hilly out there. I've done basically no hills. The first few, my legs were just fine, but my cardio and breathing were out of control. After maybe 4 long, steep hills, my legs got in on the complaining action, as well. It was.. a long ride. It was also windy, which started as a painful headwind, and then moved to a painful crosswind. There were times where it was just unsafe to be in the aerobars, especially on those downhills. A lot of people said they were almost taken out by crosswinds.

Matt had been told that we were doing 50-65, but evidently thought we had decided 50 (probably because Meredith was sure she was doing 50), so he was expecting 50. And was even more undertrained than me. His ride was a lot harder than ours. He ended up riding basically from 30-65 without stopping, because he was afraid his body would revolt if he stopped.

After Meredith peeled off at the 50 mile turnoff, the rest of us basically split apart. I couldn't stay with Karen on the hills, so she'd pull ahead. She'd wait at aid stations, and we'd wait to make sure Matt was okay, then we'd start up again when Matt went by, and then we'd split apart again.

It wasn't fast. It wasn't pretty. But I've now got a very hilly 65 mile ride under my belt. There aren't that many charity rides left until Fall starts, so now it'll be a lot of Parmer or the trainer.

Once we got done riding, Karen and I went for a 2 mile run off the bike. The day had started overcast, for probably 2-3 hours. Eventually, though, the sun came out, and it was out in full force for the run. And they haven't magically built pleasant places to run since I last ran from the brewery, so we ran up the highway, like normal. And it was miserable, like normal. But we got it done. Then we drank beer and ate gourmet grilled cheese.
happy running

The Rookie 2018 race report.

Last year I did the Rookie shortly after doing Ironman Texas. Having just done an Ironman, my body was a little beat up, but in great shape. This year was the exact opposite. This is basically the beginning of my Ironman training. I have a great run and swim base, but no speedwork for a really, really, REALLY long time, and no real work on the bike of any speed to speak of. So I really wasn't expecting much other than to remember where all of my triathlon stuff is.

To make matters worse, I ran a undertrained trail 30k last weekend, and it wasn't until Thursday that I could walk down stairs normally again.

But I love local events and I love the Rookie and I love hanging out with friends, so I headed out to Decker Lake looking forward to fun, not at all stressing about the race itself.

"Triathlon is stupid" was the theme for this race, but it was so much fun getting to hang out and laugh with so many friends. Congratulations to those who raced, and thank you to those who volunteered and cheered!
Swim 300 meters

It was wetsuit legal, but I wanted none of that nonsense. Not for 300m. Not when I'm heavier than I would prefer to be. Not with a wetsuit that I was already afraid last year was going to develop fingerholes.

When it was my wave's turn to line up, I ended up at the back of the wave, talking to Kendra. Heather came up and said we were too far back, but honestly it doesn't matter at all when it's a time trial start. There's going to be people in front of you no matter what. So I just waited my turn, and then they said go, I jogged into the water and dove in. And immediately jostled my goggles such that the right cup was a little out of place and letting a little water in. That's the eye I can see out of. Oops. I decided to just keep swimming and see if I could still see enough to get by, and I was fine the whole swim. I couldn't really see very well, but the buoys are big, and I didn't swim into any walls of people. Just did my swim, trying to stay as focused and strong as possible, since this was the one sport I actually felt okay about, speed-wise.

And it was over super quick, which is what's so wonderful about 300m swims.

T1

I had left my Oofos on the path up to transition, but I learned last year that when I lube my feet up such that I can later run without socks, it means my Oofos are rather dangerous on my foot, especially while running. So as I ran by them, I tried to pick them up so I could carry them up, and didn't plan well, and almost fell over as the crowd watched me. Yaaaay.

Then I ran up the hill to transition, figuring I could put on my shoes if things were super-stickery, but it was fine.

Found my rack with no problem, ditched my goggles and swimcap, grabbed the Gu from my helmet and put it in my back pocket, put on my sunglasses, put on my helmet, grabbed my bike and ran out.

Bike 11.1 miles

I had actually practiced the shoeless mount the day before (having a coach again means I actually do stuff like practice transitions), but there were so many people at the mount line, and not really much room, and people weaving everywhere, so after one rather abortive attempt, I just swung my leg over and pushed off. And then as I rode out to the road and turned the corner, I couldn't get my left foot into my shoe. The velcro was messed up, and I couldn't sort it out. Eventually I did, and then fastened the straps, but gawd, you can really tell when you haven't been riding a bike or doing triathlons. Just a mess.

Drank some water, settled into my aerobars, and rode my bike.

I originally thought Karen's wave started 10 minutes after mine, and figured I'd hold her off for as long as I could. Then I found out she was only 4 minutes behind me, and I figured I'd still try. And she passed me about 3 miles into the bike. So much for THAT motivation.

Otherwise the bike was pretty uneventful. Nobody did anything particularly dumb, nothing particularly noteworthy happened. The hills were all still there, and terrible. I ate my Gu around mile 9. I did a similarly crappy job of my dismount as I had with my mount. This dismount is always awkward, because you go up a hill, so you can't get your feet out of your shoes then, but at the top of the hill you're practically at the dismount line, and there's a speedbump you go over, and everyone is watching you. So I cruised through the crowds at about 5mph, dealing with my shoes, and then hopped off at the dismount line.

T2

I initially went down the wrong row, but realized it pretty quickly, and found my spot on my rack. Racked my bike, ditched my helmet, crammed my shoes on, grabbed my race belt, and ran out. I fumbled a little with my shoes, but otherwise this was a fairly solid T2.

Run 2 miles

Julie had passed me at the end of the bike, and we came out of transition at the same time. She took off running and passed me, and I settled in to see what my legs were willing to do.

The course was different this year, because of rain in the few days before the race. They said it was still 2 miles, and there was still water at mile 1, but I knew nothing else about the course. It still started on the powerline downhill, but evidently since nobody was coming up, it didn't turn around and come back up.

I passed Julie back a little while later, which she said was because I was a trail runner, and I told her I wasn't a trail runner who ever tried to run FAST on trails.

I never really felt GOOD on the run. It's a tough course. You can't see the divets in the grass, and you constantly feel like you're going to turn an ankle. Makes it hard to trust pushing yourself.

I passed some people, some people passed me. We looped around and went into the woods where we usually come out of the woods to the finish line. I ran by the aid station for the first time, not yet at mile 1, and grabbed a cup of water. Looped around some more, by the aid station again, and then there was a dumb hill.

It's not THE dumb hill, the one of the end of Danskin, but it basically led down to the base of that hill. It was a steep downhill, on grass, and then you had to U-turn and run back up the stupid steep uphill. On grass.

It looked tremendously unpleasant from the top, and it proved to, in fact, be tremendously unpleasant. I tried to use the downhill as much as I could, without turning an ankle in one of the many holes. I turned around. Then I started back up. That hill just sucked. Full sun. Grass. Steep. Lots of people were walking, but I was determined to run up with no walking. There was a girl ahead of me that was super solid and I'd been following for a while, and I just tried to hang with her. (She was in my age group, but I was fairly sure that I was nowhere near podium contention, so I wasn't trying to beat her. Just use her energy.)

We went by the aid station one more time, and I really did want water, but I didn't want to deal with.. anything, I just wanted to be done, so I ran by without taking water. We exited the woods as we normally would, and the rest was the old finish line stretch. Well, the last year version, where it's all grass and you don't get on the road. Grr.

I came up behind Sharon, and I told her I'd been using her as my rabbit for a while now, and she should come with me now to the finish line. She stayed with me for a few seconds, then said she could only do what she could, and fell back. I tried to push myself as much as I could, but I felt very rough and awkward.

That last stretch took a thousand years, but I managed to get to the damn finish line, and was done. How in the world can a sub-sprint be so hard?

Results

I really had no idea at all what to expect from my times. I hadn't looked at my watch, and while I was secretly hoping to be somewhat close to an hour, that was really an unrealistic expectation. I ended up ~1:30 slower than last year, which is probably about right.

Swim: 5:42 (1:54HM)
T1: 2:41
Bike: 39:02 (17.2MPH)
T2: 1:27
Run: 17:14 (8:37/M)

Not super impressed with my swim pace, but who knows how far the swim actually was. Plus I didn't wear a wetsuit. Transitions were fine. Nothing to write home about. I'm actually pleased with my bike pace! I've done very little riding, all on the trainer, and definitely no speedwork. I didn't deserve that 17.2mph, but I'll take it. Hopefully that means good things for my cycling when I actually.. cycle? As for the run, that's a significantly slower pace than I have run the Rookie run in the past, but for my current fitness, it's not too shabby. Of course, I also think the run was short, so it WASN'T that fast, but regardless, I felt good about my effort, and I think I have a good base to build on.

I was right about my performance not being podium-worthy, I was 9th in my age group, 6 seconds from 8th because I couldn't pass that girl in front of me.

And right after I crossed the finish line, I found Karen, and we met up with Todd and Cecilia, and we all cheered for Belle as she finished the bike, and then the run, of her first ever triathlon, at age 73. She would have won her age group no matter what, but she turned out to be the only person 70-74 who came out to do their first triathlon that day. Inspirational, and proud to call her my friend.

"Triathlon is stupid" was the theme for this race, but it was so much fun getting to hang out and laugh with so many friends. Congratulations to those who raced, and thank you to those who volunteered and cheered!

And now Ironman training has officially begun!
happy running

The Tangle 30k 2018 race report.

I was looking for a way to stave off Post-Awesome Depression after SwimRun Lake James, and what better way to do so than to do a severely under-trained trail race?! I poked Karen about it, because this is my Summer of Karen. I have to get in as much Karen time as humanly possible before she moves to Florida in the Fall. Since she'd done the first 30k in the Rogue Trail Series, she was totally on board for the next one, The Tangle. I figured.. I'd done ~13 (non-contiguous) trail miles at Lake James. Then 10 miles the next week, as a nod to recovery. The jump from 10 to 18 seemed pretty steep, so I did 14 road miles with Karen to bridge that gap the week before. And then declared myself totally ready for 18 trail miles!

The good news is our only goal was to stay upright and have fun. Mission largely accomplished!

The race was out at Flat Creek Ranch, which I'd never been to. However it was right next to Pedernales State Park, which I had been to. A couple days before the race, Karen said she'd heard it was supposedly an easier place to run than the Maze had been (Walnut Creek). I didn't tell her that everything I'd read said "beautiful, challenging, and technical", nor did I tell her about Paul T's race report where he turned an ankle out there and couldn't run for weeks. None of that seemed like it would be useful information.

And it WAS (in my opinion) more technical and challenging than Walnut Creek, but it was also beautiful and fun.

2018-04-30_06-52-33
Before!

It was 3 10k loops. The first loop we just took nice and easy as we figured out the course. Karen and I have completely non-complementary skills when it comes to trail running: she's awesome and fast at the flat, non-technical trails and fields. She has to slow down to not leave me behind on those parts. But she's also very new to trail running and understandably cautious on rocks and technical uphills and downhills, so I had to hang back a bit on some of those, or pull ahead a bit until she caught me on the flat after the hill. Had we been able to combine our skills into a single person? We probably would have won.

Instead we just enjoyed ourselves and laughed and told stories and tried not to fall over.

We stopped at the start/finish aid station after our first loop and refilled our water, grabbed another gel, then headed back to the second loop. I was awfully tired for only being 1/3 done, but still having a grand time.

The second loop we just settled in to enjoy what we already knew. The most exciting part of loop 2 for me was hearing Cow Feeding Time. One cow was SUPER EXCITED about food, and yelling constantly. I was sad we couldn't see them through the trees, but glad we got to hear them.

Otherwise we ran and ate and drank and took salt. And started getting a bit tired. We got less chatty in the last half of the second loop. It was starting to get warmer, and a lot of the rocky uphills were completely unshaded.

This is also where we had our only small mishap, where Karen fell forward slightly on a steep, rocky uphill. Fortunately she just scraped her knee up a little, and it didn't bother her.

As we'd run through one particularly beautiful part of the course on the first loop, we said it was a shame that we didn't have a camera. We decided at the end of the second loop that loop three would be the loop we took the camera with us. A victory loop to just enjoy and not worry about how fast we were going. I was very happy with that news, because I was already approaching the longest run I'd done since Rocky.

As we ran by our stuff to start loop 3, I grabbed my phone and shoved it in my pack pocket. It doesn't really fit there, and it's a pain and not comfortable, but it worked out just fine. We then hit the aid station to refill water, and drink a couple cups of Coke, courtesy of Paul the aid station sommelier.

Then out for our victory loop! We just had fun on that loop. A couple stops for pictures.

The Tangle 30k 2018
Love this picture.

Some videos through the most beautiful parts.



A fake tunnel!



A treacherous bridge.



And then cows! I was so happy to see the cows I ran completely the wrong way, and Karen had to reign me back in to go the right way.

2018-04-30_06-51-22
Cows!

The last few miles were a little rough. It was very warm by this point, and very sunny. We started passing other people doing the 30k who were looking rougher than we were.

The Tangle 30k 2018
Action shot.

It seemed like every time we thought we might be getting close to the end, there'd be another steep, rocky, exposed uphill. But we soldiered through, stayed strong, and got to that finish line once last time!

2018-04-30_06-51-37
We are not wearing timing chips here. That's because we crossed, they took our chips, we handed the camera to someone, then we went and crossed again. #fakenews.

It was a lot of fun. I'm so happy that Karen has finally joined the trail world, so we have yet another venue for doing dumb shit together. It's so much fun to run through the woods like kids. And I felt pretty okay at the end, if intensely salty. Including eyelid salt.

2018-04-30_06-51-49
Eyelid Salt.

Of course, then I woke up the next morning and my legs reminded me that I had not trained up for those distance. Ow. Sorry, quads and calves.
happy running

SwimRun Lake James 2018 race report.

Editorial Note: This is my first time co-writing a race report! I wrote up my experience, then I gave it to Trista who went through and added her comments. This is me. This is Trista. I loved seeing how her race differed from mine, and I had to fight not to go back through and comment on HER comments, because then this race report would never, ever end. It's possible she expected me to remove some of the comments she made, like the ones where she asked if I forgot to mention something, then I mention it in the next sentence, but really it's just funnier if I leave those in. From here on out I want to do every race, and every race report, with a partner! Hope you guys enjoy.

Just about a year ago, Trista mentioned that some of her Masters friends were registering for something called SwimRun Lake James. I’d heard of this swimrun phenomenon, and was very intrigued, because you’ll note that it does not mention a bike anywhere. Only the two sports I love! I told Trista I wanted to do one of those someday, and it turns out that it’s a partner race. One thing led to another, as these things do, and suddenly Trista and I had submitted an application for SwimRun Lake James 2018.

Pre-race tradition.
Tradition.

Yes, an application, because you have to submit a race resume proving that you have endurance experience in swimming and running, and aren’t likely to die out on their course. And they didn’t want just any experience. They wanted relatively recent experience. We could only submit events that took place within the last 24 months. We were excepted (this typo was in our acceptance email, TWICE, so it was a running joke all through our swimrun experience), and Team Adorkable was born.

SwimRun Lake James packet pickup.
Team Adorkable!

Well, our official name was Team Adorkable. Pretty early on we renamed ourself Team Shitshow, because we never had any idea what we were doing, and anything we tried to do typically went wrong in some way. While we are pretty adorkable, Team Shitshow really described the beautiful disaster of our partnership more accurately.
SwimRun Lake James packet pickup.
Team Shitshow!

Okay, so, what IS swimrun? I’ll try to keep it short. LIES! She never keeps anything short. Basically it’s like an aquathon or like splash and dash, except it’s splash and dash and splash and dash and splash and dash, etc. That is how a triathlete would describe Swimrun. You and your partner run across an island, then jump in the water and swim to the next island, run across that island, repeat ad infinitum. The rules are pretty open as to what equipment you can use, but anything you start with, you must finish with. That means most people wear a wetsuit (required for most swimruns, including Lake James), goggles, swimcap, shoes, a pull buoy, and paddles the entire race. Yes, we ran in a wetsuit and we swam wearing shoes. It’s a ridiculous sport where you have to just embrace looking absurd. To make things even more complicated, you have to stay within 10 meters of your partner at all times. That’s not too hard when running (as long as one of you isn’t significantly faster and also very impatient (not a problem for us ONLY because Amy is patient. She is a significantly faster runner than I am, and has trail experience which I’m sure we’ll cover later)), but staying together while open water swimming in the middle of a lake can be challenging, so many people choose to tether themselves together with a rope for the swims (which we did).
If we need photos we could insert some of the ridiculous gear people have tried in races. Like the fins tied on top of shoes from Florida. Or inflatable shin guards. Or…..

finshoes
As you wish.

Each race has different numbers of legs and different total distances, depending on the geography of the race site. Lake James is what would be called a "long course" event, with 13.1 miles of running and 6200 yards of swimming.

distances
This is what we did, and the order we did it in. We also had to carry a little laminated copy of this during the race.

Unfortunately with Trista living in North Carolina and me living in Texas, we never actually got to train together. Which is not to say we didn’t train! We both had big run events in the late winter (Rocky 100 for me, Oak Island Marathon for Trista), so we had a great run base. Trista never stops swimming, and I managed to ramp my swimming back up after Rocky, plus we’re both comfortable and competent swimmers, so that wasn’t an issue. I got in several good open water swims, which Trista couldn’t really do, because her open water was frigid, but she did sneak in one 51 degree short lake swim. Trista managed to get several swimrun practice sessions with a borrowed partner, to test tethering, which I couldn’t really do, since nobody else down here was training for my race. So we came to the race feeling fairly good about our swimming and our running, and maybe slightly less good about the fact that neither of us had done a workout that lasted longer than 90 minutes for a month or so, and this swimrun race had an 8 hour cutoff. Ha. Surely we’ll be fine. We can fake endurance, right?
Add ridiculous training pics here?

29683266_10216177229567325_4823414746784937868_n
Yeeeep.

One thing everyone was nervous about was the water temperature. It wasn’t really even on our radar as a concern when we signed up, but as the race got closer and the water didn’t get any warmer, we started to get a little concerned. Neither Trista nor I had any real experience with cold water swimming, and even though the air temperature at Lake James went up the week before the race, it was only really enough to get the water temp up around 55 or 56. Probably not a big deal for a short swim, but with several longer swim segments in our race, we really had no idea whether we were going to end up hypothermic or not. It did help that the promised front which was supposed to bring a 100% chance of rain and drop the temps into the 30s didn’t end up arriving until several hours after the race ended.

SwimRun Lake James: the day before.
Testing the water temp from our vrbo. I was like "It's not so bad!" and everyone else was like "IT'S FREEZING."

The week before the race, we all ended up panic-buying all the neoprene we could find. Then at packet pickup the day before the race, we all panic-bought a neoprene heat vest to add to our costume. (We decided the swimrun motto was “Everything new on race day!”)

I'd say we're suited up and ready to go, except we still only have half our gear on. This sport is ridiculous.
Heat vests! In front of one of the many weird mirrors in our fancy Vegas vrbo.

All told, I ended up wearing: a tri top and tri shorts, a sports bra, a neoprene heat vest, a swimrun wetsuit, compression socks, trail shoes with lace locks, neoprene sleeves (came with the wetsuit but are a separate piece), neoprene gloves, a swimrun belt, a pull buoy strapped to my thigh, hand paddles either on my hands or carabinered to my belt, a swim cap, and goggles. I carried a neoprene swim cap (shoved into my wetsuit), but never wore it. (Oh, and a one-size-fits-none singlet with our number on it. This thing was GIGANTIC.) This turned out to be absolutely perfect for me. I was never cold, and while I got a little warm on the runs, it mostly wasn’t so bad I had to take anything off. I basically wore the same thing, only difference was that I made Amy carry the tether, and instead of a tri top I had a swimrun top over my heat vest. The swimrun top is similar to a tri top but it also has pockets in the front. 3 giant, easily accessible pockets that held our course map, mandatory compress bandage, water bottle, and the neoprene cap I didn’t end up wearing.

SwimRun Lake James, before and after.
Obligatory jazz hands!

We also had matching braids. Partly because they are adorkable. But mostly because it was practically impossible to get just your head into that damn neoprene swimcap, and there’s no way anything ELSE would fit, including your hair.

prep
Adorable braids, and carabiners to try to make our one-size-fits-none singlets not fall off during the race.

Race morning we completely took advantage of our close-to-the-park vrbo, the tiny size of the race, and the laid back atmosphere, and Team Shitshow and Team Blonde (Meredith and Laura, also not their actual team name) rolled into the parking lot around 7:35am. For a race that started at 8am. It was AMAZING. We parked, finished getting suited up, took some pictures, and then at 7:55, I realized I should probably hit the bathroom one last time. Which meant Trista had to help me take half my stuff back off, and then put it all back on afterward.

SwimRun Lake James, before and after.
Obligatory jumpshot.

And we STILL made it to the startline with plenty of time to spare! Swimrun is basically the anti-Ironman at this point. We’ll see if that lasts.

pic4
Pretty small field. Pretty big scenery.

And then we were off! The first leg was a run, which we were very happy about. As much as Trista and I both love swimming, we both have a lot of anxiety tied up in triathlon swim starts. Somehow running first and then swimming removed all (okay, most) of that particular anxiety. Yes I completely agree with this. But in its place there was Garmin anxiety. I needed a quick last minute lecture on how to start/stop/lap the run segments since I was in charge of those, and Amy was in charge of the swims. Plus we’d be able to build up a little warmth before we had to brave the cold waters.

Unfortunately the first run was also probably the most boring part of the entire race. It was the only run leg that was actually on a road. Well, the kind of road that cars regularly drive on. Actually the very road that we had driven on to get to the start of the race.

pic6
Starting out! That's us in the purple socks in the middle.

But it was a nice, calm, mellow way to start the race, really. Teams had plenty of room to spread out and find their paces and their positions. Trista and I settled into an easy pace and watched all the other teams pull ahead of us and leave us behind. This was not unexpected, as neither of us are aggressive runners, and neither of us are fast starters, and our plan the whole time was to start out easy and taper off. It also gave us a chance to see all the different gear the other teams elected to wear. And show off our adorable matching Swedish GoCoCo socks!

So the first run leg was pretty uneventful. It was almost 2 miles, and with an air temp of ~55, I got a little warm. I actually took off one glove a couple minutes in, to cool down a bit. I couldn’t really take off the other glove without also taking off my Garmin, so that one stayed on. Swimrun is a sexy, sexy sport. Indeed.

Then we ran around a bend, and could see cars! And a bridge! And a blaze! (blaze is a trail term, one of many I’ve learned in this adventure. It’s the little ribbons they use to mark the course so we know what to follow) The blazes were pink or pink striped ribbons that they used to mark the path on the trail runs (ugh, I can’t even). We had driven by this one the day before and stopped to take a picture and peer down the steep dirt goat path that went down to the water. And now here we were! Which meant our first swim was imminent. Aaiiee!
You gonna add that pic? I never actually saw that pic. I forgot it exists! Yay

2018-04-13_09-18-02
That pic!

We turned left onto the path, and it went straight down. (The day before, Laura was like, “There’s a RAMP right there, why do we not take the ramp?!”) It was steep, but all dirt, no rocks, so I barrelled down the trail, and Trista was like, “What?! What are you doing?!” as she cautiously made her way down the hill. Did I mention this was Trista’s third trail run ever? Whee! Not entirely true. I stopped at the top EXPECTING us to cautiously make our way down the hill. But then I watched Amy go right on down, not skipping a beat. So….trusting fully in her and her decision, and not having a better idea of how to approach it, I went all in and did exactly what she did (after yelling at her for doing what she did). First lesson of the day in trail running, yay!

We ran down a path next to the water, and then suddenly the path ended. At the water. Our first swim!

2018-04-13_09-17-49
NOW YOU TELL US.

We had discussed ahead of time, when talking about expectations and goals, that we weren’t going to worry too much about Efficient Transitions (because….team shitshow). We had both done some swimrun race simulation, but not really focused on transitions. And since our only goals were to finish and have a good time, we really didn’t want to sweat the details. Which is good, because this was our first time to really embrace our Team Shitshow nature.dammit! You can erase both those. lol

We ran straight into the water (um, no we didn’t), which was chilly but not so shocking as to bring us to a halt. We actually stood on the path above the water for a bit, next to Team Blonde while trying to stay out of people’s way as other teams tried to move around us to get into the water. We fiddled with equipment and when we thought we’d done a good enough job we got into the water. Turns out, we weren’t the only teams struggling through the process. I unwrapped the tether from my waist, and we had to kinda spin both our belts around to get the clips on the correct sides (both in front). Trista clipped the tether to her, and then we were ready to swim! Except.. we didn’t have our paddles on. So we had to unclip those from our belt and put them on. And then we were ready! Except we weren’t wearing our goggles. Which we had to remove our paddles to use our hands to put the goggles on. But THEN we were ready! Except we hadn’t actually swung our buoys around from outer thigh to inner thigh. We were laughing pretty hard at how poorly we were doing, and kept throwing our hands up in the air and yelling, “Team Shitshow!” A random spectator on a log (or was he a volunteer?? I’m not sure) offered encouraging words (while laughing at us) saying every team in front of us had also forgotten their buoy.

FINALLY, though, we were actually ready, and we started our first swim.

swim1
This a view of the bridge where we STARTED the first swim, on some other day where there was actually sun.

Again, the water was cold, but it didn’t feel terrible to me. After the initial 90 seconds or so, any skin that is exposed goes numb so nothing feels cold. For us, this was our face and our knees. It helped that there was a LOT of stuff to deal with. I had to figure out how to deal with the tether, since I’d never practiced tethering. I kept ending up with the tether on my far right, outside of my right paddle, and so grabbing it with my paddle. After getting frustrated with that for a few strokes, I realized I needed to adjust my belt so the tether was RIGHT in the middle of my waist. Once I fixed that, it was mostly a non-issue. Then I was dealing with paranoia that I was going to have to basically race the whole time to keep up with Trista. I knew she was faster than me, especially in the pool, but I didn’t know how much faster, or how that would equate to open water. This also turned out to be a non-issue. Trista swam smooth and steady, and I was able to sit in her draft with some effort, but not a prohibitive effort. It felt good and sustainable. So then the last issue that we were encountering, that was distracting me from the cold, was that we were dodging and weaving through a lot of other teams. I was cheering for Trista in my head and she led us up to and around half a dozen other teams in that first 800 yard swim. Despite the fact that her goggles kept fogging up, and so she had stop several times to clear them so she could see where she was going. Awe, you were cheering for me! I love that. I learned that one of the best things about this sport is how great it is to have a teammate out there with you the whole time. Now that I know you were cheering for me in your head, I won’t even bring up the fact that after our first swim when I asked you how it went you said I was inconsistent, and it was a little hard to keep adjusting your speed to mine. See….won’t even bring that up.

Okay, so this is where I have to make a confession. Normally my race reports contain every single detail of my race in the exact order that it happened. I can’t do that here. This race had 14 run legs and 13 swim legs. I honestly can’t even remember the end of the first swim, much less every single 0.05 mile run across a tiny island, or whether the third swim was a beach exit or an island ledge exit. Whew, she’s sparing us some detail….

Which is GREAT news for you, because now you don’t have to read about 14 run legs and 13 swim legs!

So instead I’ll just give an overview of the legs, how they worked, and anything notable I can remember! I promise, it’ll still be a stupid amount of detail and way too long. Don’t you worry. Wait, she’s NOT sparing us detail...

Though I can’t remember the end of the first swim, I do know that we swam to a giant American flag. Each swim had a giant American flag at the end, usually visible from the swim start, for you to sight off of. If it was a particularly long swim leg, or if it had a turn, the swim leg might also have one or more buoys guiding you until you could see the flag. Some particularly long swim legs also had a strobe light at the exit to help you sight. Super, super helpful. Also helpful, is a partner who stops when you stop so you can ask her “Where’s the blinky? Do you see the blinky?” And then she points you in the right direction.

flag
Murica.

The islands had all sorts of terrain, so the entrances and exits of the swims varied wildly. Some had a beach that you could swim up to, or walk down onto to get into the water. Very civilized-like. Some looked civilized, but once you got into the water, there were underwater trees or rocks that you swam into or walked over. Painful and unexpected. Not like triathlon, where you have volunteers and a carpeted exit. (New swimrun motto: “There are no carpets in swimrun.”) And then some swims had a tiny little parcel of land to stand on while you tried to haul yourself bodily up a muddy, rooty, tall, impossible embankment, using a skinny little insufficient rope! We DEFINITELY hadn’t trained for this part. And we definitely weren’t good at it.

pic3
This is one of the beach entrances, I think the one where the chatted with the kayak guy for so long he felt obligated to take our picture.

Amusingly, for several of the first swim exits, we had another team right behind us that had to wait for us before they could climb up. Trista was in the lead, since she was leading our swims, so she would start to climb up, and I’d push her up by the butt. Pick your partner wisely, people! Then I’d go to try to pull myself up, and suddenly someone would push ME up! Or one time just pick me up by the waist and lift me up! We came to find out this was Team Ramses and Rebeca (not their actual team name, but we only knew their names at the time, so that’s what we called them), and though Ramses claims he was just trying to get us out of the way so he could get through, it was a HUGE help for a short girl trying to scale a tall, muddy incline. Let me add here that this would NEVER happen in triathlon. I loved seeing teams help other teams out there. I didn’t feel any “you got chicked” mentality or the super aggressive attitudes like I’ve come across in triathlon. It was so refreshing. Eventually they pulled ahead of us for a long time, and Ramses was sorely missed when we got to one exit that had a single flimsy ROOT that you had to climb onto, and then pull yourself up and over onto a slick, muddy ledge using a rope that was actually more a cord. I swear, it took us 5 minutes to get up that stupid thing (and most of that was me failing). Where’s the GoPro when you really need it?

IMG_20180407_131740
Team Ramses and Rebeca, after the race. They are evidently siblings, so kudos to them for not killing each other.

We found out pretty quickly that there was definitely no staying clean in swimrun. We had to grab handfuls of muddy cliff, or slide in mud on our butts or our bellies, and then try not to rub that mud onto our faces when we forgot, and our face itched. (Hi, Trista.) The good news is, even if we got muddy, it was only a matter of time before we got back in the water and could wash some of it off.

So that mostly covers transitions. Other than to say, even though we never really got our act completely together, and had an element of Team Shitshow every time we went from swim to run and back to swim, we actually did a pretty decent job. We managed to run down our checklist each time, and move onto the next sport. This is notable because we’d often pass people DURING these transitions. We’d come out of the water, unhook, turn our buoys, raise our goggles, split our watches, all while walking purposefully, and then start running as soon as we were able. Meanwhile the team that came in at the same time as us was still in the water.

Equally true when starting a swim. We would come out of the woods to a beach and find 2 other teams standing in the water already, getting ready to swim, looking like they’d been there for a few minutes. We’d wade in, get ready, and take off, either with them or maybe even before them. I think a lot of that was people who were cold and didn’t want to go back in the water, or people who just didn’t like swimming and wanted to put it off as long as possible. Whereas Trista and I were like, “YAY, swimming!”

Speaking of swimming, we kinda rocked the swimming. Trista led the whole time. I had expected this to be the case, because I expected to be struggling to stay with her. When I figured out that I wasn’t that much slower than her, I offered to take the lead for some swims if she wanted, but she was comfortable at the front, so she led for every swim. Some other teams used the tether to let the stronger swimmer on the team physically pull the weaker swimmer, but we were close enough in speed that I could just stay right on Trista’s feet with the tether slack, only using it to keep me from having to sight. (I still sighted. I have control issues when I swim. It took me forever in Ultraman training to trust Matt to guide me with the kayak rather than sighting myself.) Other than goggle problems that made her have to stop a few times throughout the race to clear them, our swims were almost completely drama-free. What?!? No...do you not remember the damn speed boat?

The “almost” is because we did witness one speedboat (oh, carry on) that was speeding across the lake, not noticing all the kayaks and boats that were out there to keep us safe, and it got DANGEROUSLY close to some swimmers. We were just about to start our swim when we saw that, and it definitely made us a little more timid and cautious in our swims after that. Amy had to push me into the water after this incident. I think I would’ve stood there for another 10 minutes or so making sure he wasn’t going to swing around and come back for us. Thankfully she kept us moving. Fortunately we didn’t see that guy again, and we never had any other indicidents.

My mental checklist for the race basically had three parts: the 7.7 mile run, the 1600 yard swim, and the 1300 yard swim. Everything else was relatively short, at least comparatively. Once we got through those 3 things, the race would practically be over and it was just celebration through to the end.

Of course, that 7.7 mile run felt like it was 15 miles. OMG it was never ending

Aside from that first almost-2-mile run, most of the run legs were SUPER short. Like 0.05 miles short. That’s where we swam up to an island, ran across the tiny island, and then immediately got back in the water. It was ridiculous and fun. But that meant that the runs longer than 0.05 miles felt really long. Which meant that the 7.7 mile run was almost interminable.

And it had a dramatic start. Thanks for catching the most dramatic part of my day, Patti. It’s Patty. With a Y. She’s a damn local celebrity. Get her name right, would ya?


Glorious, but I feel like it could be even better.


Ohyeah, that's the stuff.

After my dramatic-looking but entirely injury-free faceplant, we got to our first aid station. I still haven’t stopped laughing about this. There were very few chances for water on the course, so we spent a few minutes there, taking our first gu (~1:10 into the race, not really ideal), drinking a ton of water, and getting prepared to do our first and only real run of substance. That meant taking off our swimcaps to stay a little cooler. Unfortunately when I took mine off, it ripped. In a manner that meant there was no way that it was going to actually ever go back on my head. Trista asked the aid station volunteer if she had any replacement caps, but she did not. There was nothing we could do, so we just started running, figuring I’d just be capless from then on, and hopefully wouldn’t get DQed. Good thing we had our hair braided adorkably

And spoiler alert, I didn’t get DQed, because I never had to swim without a cap. Maybe a mile later, we had to run across a road. They had a volunteer on the road to make sure cars stopped so we could cross safely, and that volunteer had a swim cap on his hand, because the caps were neon green, and he was trying to be visible. Which he was, until Trista ran up to him and said, “Hey, do you need that?” and pointed to the swim cap. He said, “... No?” and she said, “Okay, thanks!” and took the cap off his hand and we ran off. Yay, I had a new, whole swim cap! Which survived the rest of the race unripped. Race saved by Trista!

Otherwise the interminable 7 mile run was good. It was BEAUTIFUL, through majestically tall trees and on pine needled paths and across this ridiculous mossy bridge. It was also hilly, and Trista got her introduction to “walking with purpose”. She complained that walking with purpose wasn’t appreciably different from running, according to her burning leg muscles. Fortunately (?) she also couldn’t feel her feet most of the time, so hey, maybe it didn’t hurt as badly as it could have! It really was so beautiful. We kept high fiving and commenting about how great it was to be out in nature, on these trails, doing this crazy fun thing together. Me, not having any trail experience, loved the stark contrast to road running. We were having SO MUCH FUN!

ferngully
Evidently they dubbed this part Ferngully. It was stunning.

Aside from Trista’s feet, which she said felt like peg legs for most of the runs, we really didn’t ever have any temperature problems. We warmed up on the 7 mile run, and I did unzip my wetsuit a bit (swimrun wetsuits are front zip for this very reason), but I never had to take off my (thin neoprene) gloves or (thicker neoprene) sleeves. And my feet weren’t really even a problem. Yeah, I couldn’t feel them really but the rest of me was warm which was so much better than I could have anticipated after checking the forecast all week. I was happy to not be shivering!

Next up was my second checklist item, our longest swim. It was allegedly a mile, though based on how it felt and how long it took, we suspect it was shorter than that. We think we had a wind assist on that one, and we just zoooomed across the lake. So much fun. I’m going to be honest. At this point, after the long swim, I was kinda sad. We’d gotten thru our big obstacles and I mentally knew it would be over soon. I wasn’t ready for it to be over yet.

pic5
I think maybe this is the long swim? That's not us, though.

After we got through that one, we had a long series of shorter runs and swims. A dash up and over a tiny island, then a short to medium swim across to the next island. There were three notable things during this time. Is one of these things my braid?!? Because we’ve gone through a substantial part of the race and you haven’t once mentioned my braid. I had a braid go rogue that I couldn’t stop talking about. It’s like Amy was able to block it out or something. The left braid got caught on the velcro of my wetsuit and it turned into a fishtail type braid, and kept getting shorter and shorter as the race went on. Apparently, it was bothering me. And if it’s bothering me, I talk about it.

One was what we dubbed Shitshow Island. We swam up to the island, started following the blazes to the other side, but as we started to turn right to follow what was obviously the right path (we could SEE the beach for the next swim just through the trees), another team ran by us going off to the left. Not on a path. Not following blazes. Just running the wrong way. What we THOUGHT was the wrong way. We were looking around in confusion, but then Race Director Kristen appeared (out of nowhere! How did she get on this island?) and said, “Ignore them, they’re just warming up!” Which made no sense to us, but she was telling us to go the way we thought was right, so we just kept going. As we ran by her, she cheered for us enthusiastically and aggressively, like “GO GO GO AAHHH!” and it was inspiring and also somewhat terrifying, so we took off. Only to find ANOTHER team of guys running toward us, the wrong way! What is going on?! Why is this island so weird?! Finally we got down to the edge of the island, to find that there was a steep dropoff and muddy descent to get into the water for the next swim. It was one of the only (maybe the only?) descent that had a rope; mostly the ropes had been for climbing OUT, not sliding IN. Once we got down to the water, we found an all-female team down in the water, trying to climb OUT. We couldn’t understand why, because THAT’S THE WRONG WAY, PEOPLE, but when we apologized for using the rope to come down while they were trying to go up, she said it was okay, because she was cramping, and had to wait before she could go back up anyway. So .. I guess they were trying to get out of the cold water to get the cramping to stop? I have no idea. We dubbed them Team Crampy. And then took off to get as far away from the confusion of Shitshow Island as possible. Meredith and Laura said their experience there was odd, too, so we decided maybe it was the island from Lost. And maybe we didn’t survive the crash after all.

pretty
Some other team running through the beautiful forest.

The next notable experience I mentioned was far more pleasant, and everyone I talked to afterward agreed it was one of the best parts. I couldn’t even tell you where we were, but at some point a volunteer told us to run up the road a tiny bit and then follow the blaze into the trees. Even with that instruction, I ran right by it, but Trista said, “It’s here!” I hadn’t seen it because there was no path there. Because this part was 100% bushwhacking! No trail. It wasn’t cleared at all. The only way that you knew where to run was following from blaze to blaze. Through tall grass, between bushes, over felled trees, UNDER felled trees, it was like being a little kid running randomly through the middle of the woods! I told Trista I expected to come out at Narnia at any moment (and was a little excited about the potential for Turkish Delight). It was SO much fun. SO MUCH FUN! Best part of the race. Not fast, certainly. We had to walk a lot of it, we had to backtrack slightly a few times when we tried to go the wrong way. We had to swing one leg over a tree trunk, sit on the trunk as swung the other leg over, then hop down off the trunk. It was ridiculous, and I was sad when that part ended.

And finally, the third notable experience was during one of our ridiculous water exits. It was probably the hardest one, where there was really no obvious way to navigate it; a very tall ledge that was all mud and no footholds. There was a rope, but with no footholds, it was really hard to get up. They had a volunteer at the top, but all she could really do was offer advice. Finally I shoved Trista up and then she pulled me up, and we tried to wipe off some of the mud and grime we’d accumulated. As we prepared to run off into the trees, the volunteer said, “Good job ladies! I think you’re the second female team!”

Wait, what? Trista and I both immediately laughed, because that was so improbable as to be ridiculous. We told her that probably wasn’t true, but thanked her for letting us know, and ran off laughing. We decided that since we had no way of knowing, we’d just pretend that it was true for the rest of the race. Why not? Team Shitshow, Second Place Female Team!

Shortly after that, we came upon Team Ramses and Rebeca again! We hadn’t seen them in several hours, so it was delightful to find them. We were all going roughly the same pace for running and swimming at that point, so we just stuck together for the rest of the race.

The last long swim, the 1300 yard one, somehow felt longer than the 1600, and had more chop. I think the wind assist we’d gotten earlier was now a wind impediment. 2 notable things happened for me during this swim. The main one was that it was the first time I had to think about race rules. Team Ramses and Rebeca were close enough in front of us, that based on my triathlon experience, I felt it would be a smart strategy to draft behind them. They were going about the same speed as us so I went for it. But as soon as I did it, I questioned if it was legal. But I couldn’t spend much time dwelling on it because I suddenly was smelling cucumbers. Weird right? Am I having a stroke? Is this early onset hypothermia? What. Is. Happening. From that point on all I could focus on was trying NOT to smell underwater. But we cruised through it with no problem (yeah, no problem), and then we were nearly done!

pic2
This might actually be the long swim again? And it's not us. But LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL IT IS.

Trista had written the swim and run distances on her paddles, so we’d have some idea what came next without having to dig out our course map, and as we went to consult the paddles to find out what we had left, we suddenly heard the finish line.

paddles
Such a great idea that we stole from someone else on the internet, and we referenced them constantly.

We were right there! We did one short swim where we didn’t bother to tether (for anything 200 yards or less, tethering took more time than it gave us benefit, so I just drafted with no tether, or swam beside Trista), a tiny little 0.05 mile run across on island in a little train with Team R&R, and then suddenly we were there at the water’s edge, looking across at the boat dock to the final island and the finish line! We’d stood over there the day before looking at this spot we were at now, knowing it would be the last swim!

2018-04-13_09-20-25
Last swim! We swam from over there to here where we were standing!

And it was LINED with spectators all cheering loudly for us! It was the most amazing feeling! I’m gonna be honest here. In every race I’ve done before this, I’ve been super excited to hear or even see the finish line. And while it was exciting to see the spectators and know that we had survived our first swimrun event, I was a bit sad for it to end. We were having so much fun out there.

It was only 100 yards, so we didn’t bother to tether, just waded in and swam across; our last swim! Then we crawled out of the water, ran through the cheering tunnel of people up the road, and up to the finish line!

finish
Heading up the road to the finish line. Great posture, ladies.

Which honestly was a little disappointing, after the insanity of the boat ramp. The finish line had two volunteers and an announcer who I couldn’t actually hear, who was announcing to nobody, since everyone was down the road at the water. But still! The finish line! We DID IT!

Once we crossed the finish line, the first thing we learned was that the promised warm showers weren’t actually warm. That was a bit of a bummer, since Trista’s plan had been to basically live in the shower for a few hours after the race. There were warm showers up the road a bit, but we weren’t willing to travel that far. Instead we immediately headed for the car and changed out of our wet clothes and into warm, dry clothes. (Well, after more pictures, of course.)

After that, we learned there were burritos, so we went in search of those. On our way we found Meredith and Laura and talked to them, then we found burritos, and we ate burritos, and we took more pictures, and ate cookies, and chatted with other people, etc. All that to say, a while later, when someone came up to us and congratulated us, we had completely forgotten about that volunteer who told us we were second place female team. But evidently it was TRUE! Still kinda didn’t believe them.

results
Proof for the disbelieving Trista. 5:11, and 400 calories consumed. Nutrition failure!

That was an amazing and delightful cherry on top of an already amazing race. All we wanted from the day was fun and completion. We were not aiming for a podium spot. It wasn’t even on our radar. And in fact Trista says this is her first podium ever! Go, Team Shitshow!

IMG_1794
With our swag! (And ridiculous warm outfits!)

I’m glad we didn’t know for most of the race, though, and that we didn’t believe it when we did find out. We felt no pressure the entire race. We chatted with volunteers and other teams. We took forever to get our act together in transitions. We chatted with each other during some of the swims. We stopped to pose for pictures. We spent a ridiculous amount of time at the aid stations having our water cups refilled so we didn’t waste cups. I feel like we probably could have shaved off a good half hour from our time just by taking the race more seriously, but I’m so glad we didn’t. We had a pretty perfect race, and a perfect weekend. Trista had the unenviable task of cramming two different friend groups into one house/weekend/event and hoping they got along. Turned out to be a complete non-issue, because Team Blonde and I were already kindred spirits, we just hadn’t met yet. We’ve rectified that now. I love happy endings.

SwimRun Lake James: the day before.
Team Blonde and Team Brunette!

I think Trista and I got super lucky, in a lot of ways. We hit the partner jackpot! We never trained together, but our abilities ended up being nearly perfectly matched. We both had a good race physically, not having any problems with the cold water, no (real) falls, no blisters, no stomach problems, no cramping. And we both had a good race mentally, as well. We smiled and laughed the whole time, we never argued or disagreed, every decision was made as a team with no dissent. You know how in most races you get annoyed at other people? Or maybe get annoyed by yourself? Or the course, a volunteer? Something!?! I was never once annoyed with my partner. I was so thankful and happy to be doing this with Amy. I couldn’t have asked for a better match for my first swimrun. I think I turned to Trista 20 times during the race with a giant grin on my face and said, “I am having So! Much! Fun!” We still liked each other at the finish line!

cute
Adorkable.

Would I do it again? Oh hell yes. We were already discussing what was next while we were still out there. My dance card is already pretty full for the next year, but Trista and I have pencilled in SwimRun NC for next Fall. (We’d get to run by WATERFALLS!)


How do you celebrate finally being home, warm, and dry after spending all day in 55 degree water? That's right, you strip down and cannonball back into that same water! Meredith always has the best ideas.

Plus I now own every single piece of swimrun gear, so I have to justify buying all this shit.

We are Serious Athletes
SwimRun is Serious Business.
happy running

Rocky Raccoon 100 - after.

I've intended to write this post for a while, but I just haven't made the time or had the motivation to do so until now. I know I'll wonder in the future, though, about post-Rocky, and I've had people ask how it's gone. Easier to just point them at this point. Hi, anyone I've pointed here!

I actually felt pretty okay once I crossed the finish line. People started breaking down the tent and the supplies and packing up cars, and I just stood around talking to my crew and pacers and friends and being generally useless. I figured that was an acceptable time to be useless. We took my shoes off, and I finally got to check out the state of my feet. They were pretty gross, but also so much better than they could have been. I had blisters under ever toe tip, which is what had been causing me so much pain while running, and also blisters under maybe 4-6 of me toenails. Impossible to tell at that point. But miraculously, not a single blister had popped during the run.

My feet felt much better after I put my Oofos on, and then I stood around chatting more. I had considered, before we left home, packing up a recovery drink for after. But I had nothing to really recover for at this point. I figured if I needed post-race food, there would be something at the race I could eat. After so many months and miles of meticulous planning, I was ready to just wing it once I crossed the finish line. And I wasn't feeling the urge to eat anything at that point, so I didn't.

After standing around for a while, I started to feel a little wobbly and surreal, so I asked Robyn if I could put my gross body in her folding chair (all of ours were already packed up), and she let me because she's a good friend. After sitting for 5 minutes, I felt normal again, and got back up to go cheer in the final finishers, high-five the other runners who were still around, and then cheer in the people who finished not quite under the time cut-off, including the amazing 14 year old everyone spent all day cheering for and encouraging.

Once everything was packed up, we headed back to the car, and back to the hotel. I still wasn't hungry or craving anything, so I let Matt choose our post-race meal, and he chose some fast and easy McDonald's. We drove through and took our food back to the hotel, where I immediately jumped in the shower. It felt SO GOOD to be clean, and I really didn't have much chafing to speak of.

After the shower, I ate a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, maybe three french fries, and a couple sips of Diet Coke. It was neither appealing nor unappealing, and that was all I felt like putting in my body. Matt laid down at that point and took a nap (it was maybe 5pm at this point?), and I tried to do the same. And failed. My body was completely jumpy. All of my muscles kept firing randomly, and I couldn't get comfortable. After a while I remembered that I should elevate my legs, so I shoved some pillows under my feet for a while, but that wasn't very comfortable, so I just tried to toss and turn until finally I gave up. I tried not to glare at the sleeping Matt. He had been awake just as long as I had at that point, and I needed him to be rested so we could actually go home the next day.

Eventually Matt woke up, and we went out to get Chipotle for dinner. That's usually my go-to when I want something I like and know I can tolerate, but even though I was able to eat more than I had from McDonald's, I still just wasn't really hungry or inspired to eat. I ate part of a bowl and called it good.

At that point, the SuperBowl was probably on, but that's not something that interests me on the best of days, so instead I took an ambien, and finally, blissfully, fell asleep.

The next day my legs felt much better than I would have figured. I was a little scared of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), but it really wasn't terrible. Which is good, because our hotel room was on the second floor. We hobbled to breakfast, and then into the car for the drive home. I was also a little scared of what 3.5 hours in the car would do to my legs, but they really weren't even all that uncomfortable in the car, and our car normally kills my hamstrings, post-run. We probably should have stopped periodically to stretch our legs, but we both just wanted to be home, so we drove straight through, no stops. Behold, the power of dehydration.

I had taken Monday and Tuesday off work, and mostly we did a whole lot of nothing for those days. Tried to put away all the race stuff, and do laundry, and apologize to the dogs for being gone for a few days.

I had no idea what my body would be like after running 100 miles, and I was actually surprised that my legs weren't bad at all. I would say it was comparable to post-marathon soreness. The first day I was back at work, Wednesday, I still had trouble walking down stairs normally, and had to use my hands to lower and lift myself off the toilet. By Thursday, though, the soreness was fading, and my legs felt fairly normal. Again, very similar to what I experience after a marathon.

My feet, on the other hand, were a disaster. First there was the blisters, which made walking very painful. Once I got home, I pushed a (clean) needle under 4 of my toenails to drain the blisters there. That helped SO much. I also tried to drain some of the blisters under my toes, but most of those weren't as cooperative. Some had become almost a hardened callous+blister, and were incredibly painful. I had to wear socks to sleep each night, so that my feet didn't touch the sheets directly. Too uncomfortable otherwise.

The first night I was back home, my feet ached a little bit, apart from the blisters. The second night, though, I fell asleep, and then suddenly woke up a few hours later because my feet ached SO BADLY. The internals of my feet. My foot bones and tendons and whatnot. This was the kind of thing I had really expected to experience after stupidly running 100 miles, but when it didn't happen in the first few days, I thought maybe I'd magically get to avoid that kind of thing! Not so much. Matt very kindly rubbed BioFreeze on my feet and gave me ibuprofen and pat me on the head and told me I wasn't dying. And eventually I got back to sleep.

I basically lived on ibuprofen for a few days. My body was a big inflammatory disaster.

But then pains started to fade, and things started to feel more normal. That was maybe Friday. Once my blisters and foot internals started to feel better, though, I realized I had some slightly alarming discomfort in my right foot. 5th metatarsal area. You know, one of those places it's very common to get a stress fracture. I was pretty nervous. I realized the first two hot showers I took, that exact site was super heat sensitive, which can be a sign of problems. I spent that first weekend assuming that on Monday, I was probably going to try to find someone to check out my foot and tell me if I should be worried. But then.. it faded. And hasn't been a problem since. Yay!

I ended up taking a week completely off everything. I tried to convince myself that a swim might help me recover faster, but my heart just wasn't in it, and so I did nothing. One week after Rocky, I finally convinced myself to go do a short swim. And it did feel good. And it helped me feel slightly less like I was going to go into SwimRun Lake James completely underprepared, and Trista would have to drag me along in the swim.

I ended up swimming Saturday, Sunday, and then the next Wednesday, all short and easy.

Before Rocky, I'd had no idea how I would feel afterward. Mentally, physically, emotionally. I decided that if my body was just wrecked, I would take all the rest of February off running, and start running again in March if my body felt okay. The longest run segment at SRLJ is 7 miles, so really I only needed to work up to that, and a month was plenty of time to do that. I wasn't concerned about getting back into running.

I hadn't really anticipated how much I'd MISS running, though. I was sad not to be able to run. So after 10 days, when my feet felt normal again, and my legs had no residual soreness, I went out and tried to run. And it was fine! I was prepared to turn around immediately if it felt bad, or do 1 mile, or turn around after a mile and do 2. But I did my standard 3 mile loop, and it was fine. No pain, no soreness, no regrets.

So now, 3 weeks after Rocky, I have run 6 times, the longest being 6 miles. Taking it nice and slow and easy. And things have felt great. I've had slightly less success with my swimming motivation, but I'm trying not to pressure myself too much on that front. I've already warned Trista she'll have to wait for me, which she'll have no choice but to do, since we'll be tethered together. I just have to build a little swim endurance back up, but I have over a month to do that.

I officially declare myself mostly recovered, though I will continue to do everything slowly and easily and with a lot of recovery time.

How do I feel now about the possibility of doing another 100 miler? Still one and done? Unknown at this point. I still feel no urge to do Rocky again. I'm still not googling "100 milers". But I'm not saying I wouldn't maybe do a more scenic 100 miler that was just one loop, or an out and back...

For now, though, my race card is full for the rest of the year!
happy running

Rocky Raccoon 100 mile trail run 2018 race report.

Once upon a time, I said I had no interest in running a 100 miler. I'm a terrible night trail runner, and I really like sleep.

I think the first seed was planted at the California International Marathon in 2015, where I'd fallen off pace, and I told Kate I'd rather run 100 slow miles than try to "race" another marathon.

At some point I realized that even if I was a terrible night trail runner, there were plenty of people who basically walked the entire night portion. And I could certainly do THAT. And for the sleep thing.. well, I'd just have to hope for the best, since I have very little experience with sleep deprivation. And so I signed up.

Training went well. I found a coach who agreed with me that "less is more", and I did some fairly comparatively minimal training for Rocky. That brought me to the start line rested, uninjured, and completely unsure that the training I'd done was enough to get me through 100 miles.

I also arrived at the start line already sleep-deprived, because just like the first day of Ultraman Canada, I just could not sleep the night before. I actually did get a solid 30 minutes before Rocky, which I only know because I had a stress dream wherein I was repeatedly destroying a regenerating hive of demon wasps with a flamethrower. SO RESTFUL.

But there was nothing I could do except try to at least relax my body, and I got up race morning prepared to do whatever I could, mentally and physically, to get through the race.

There was no reason for my crew and pacers to show up until later in the day, so Matt and I drove to the park alone, and he went and set everything up while I sat in the car to stay warm. It was in the low 40s, heading toward a high in the mid 50s, then not slated to get too much colder than that overnight. Perfect on paper, if that's all the paper said. But the paper also said there was a 50% chance of rain. That's less perfect. But only 50% less perfect. Fingers crossed.

IMG_20180203_053459
Waiting to start. I hatehatehate the waiting part. I also was very reluctant to part with my puffy jacket.

With 3 minutes until race start, Matt took off for the car to meet me at the first aid station, I meandered over to the race start, and at 6am, we started the longest race of my life.

Loop 1

From looking at the results, I guess there were around 350 people there at the starting line, but it really didn't feel congested at all. I was anticipating a very, very long day, so I made sure that I didn't push at all, didn't pass anyone, just settled in to go my easy pace and get my body used to running. Especially in the dark. I'd done no night trail runs in training (plenty of runs in the dark, but all road), and it's not one of my strongest skills. Fortunately I had a lot of miles and hours ahead of me to practice and get comfortable.

056-(ZF-10561-64996-1-004)
Intently staring at the ground, as I would be doing for many miles. Huh, I forgot I started out wearing gloves.

As a very brief overview of the course (since I'll be mentioning the aid stations a lot), it was a 25 mile loop, mostly comprised of out and backs. (Previously it was 5 20-mile loops with one long out and back in the middle, but the park was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, and all the trails had to be recovered and in some cases cut brand new.) You run to Nature Center, a long out and back to Gate, Damnation, interminable out and back to FarSide, back to Damnation, Nature Center again, then back to the start/finish line (aka Dogwood). Dogwood and Nature Center were easily accessible, the rest ranged from challenging to nigh impossible for crew and spectators to get to. That meant a whole lot of miles seeing practically nobody other than runners and aid station volunteers. Fortunately the aid station volunteers were amazing, and the runners were wonderful and so supportive.

Okay, so, having taken my first step, I officially had fewer than 100 miles to run. It had finally started.

The first few miles are really just a blur. It was dark. I had no idea where I was. I was intensely paranoid about the roots that I knew were present in abundance on the course. There were a fair number of people passing and being passed. And I was focused on settling in and practicing patience. I knew patience was going to be one of the (many) keys to my success. 100 miles is unfathomable and overwhelming, so I was mostly framing things in terms of half hours.

My nutrition strategy, which would be another key to my success, was to eat ~100 calories of something every half hour. I had my watch set to beep at me every half hour, because otherwise I knew I'd never remember. I was carrying a lot of GU (strawberry kiwi Roctane; jury is still out on whether I'll ever eat another one, but I don't food fatigue easily, so I actually probably will) and a lot of Honey Stinger blocks in tiny bags, 7 blocks per bag, just over 100 calories in each bag. Eat one of those things every half hour, or if I happened to be near an aid station when it was feeding time, eat a PB&J quarter from the aid station, or whatever else might appeal. Restock my backpack with those things every time through the start/finish line. Drink water frequently (carrying 24 ounces in two front bottles on my pack). Take 1 Salt Stick Cap every 2 hours, unless it got really warm, in which case take one every hour. That was my lofty plan that I figured would probably fall apart at some point, but I'd adhere to as long as possible. (Spoiler? Foreshadowing? Not telling, you'll have to keep reading.)

Eventually, after what felt like way, way too long, I made it to the first aid station, Nature Center. It was allegedly only 3.x miles (I never did, and still haven't, figured out exactly how long it was between each aid station, and really, why bother learning it NOW?), but I could SWEAR it took me over an hour to get there. I just checked with Matt and he says it was about 46 minutes. That explains why my feeling of timing was so off the whole first loop, though. Getting ahead of myself..

Came into Nature Center, might have refilled one of my water bottles, I honestly don't remember, ran by Matt at the drop bags and told him I didn't need anything yet. He had been planning on taking my headlamp if it was light, but it definitely wasn't light yet, so I headed back out.

Ugh, my headlamp. I hate headlamps. I can really only see out of one eye, so my night vision is terrible, headlamps give me horrible tunnel vision, and they're so very uncomfortable. Even more so because I don't wear hats while running, so that hard plastic is sitting right against my forehead, digging in. I could loosen it, but (a) that's hard to do while running in the dark, since you're depending on said headlamp to see, and (b) it was already loose enough that it kept creeping up to my hairline and I'd have to pull it back down constantly. So I was really looking forward to it finally getting light enough to remove it, and desperately trying not to think about what ALREADY being sick of my headlamp meant for the many, many, MANY hours of headlamp-wearing that were still ahead of me. Those hours were still many, many, many hours in the future, and I was sure many other things would be annoying between now and then to keep me occupied.

The sun did eventually come up, when I turned onto the long jeep road that went out to the Gate aid station. I took my headlamp off and wrapped it around my wrist, then had a volunteer at the aid station stash it in my backpack when I got there.

161-(ZF-10561-64996-1-003)
I hate this picture, but .. jazz hands.

I should also mention it started raining. It had been threatening all week to maybe rain, and it finally settled at a 50% chance. I actually enjoy running in the rain, and I REALLY enjoy not running in the heat, so the overcast sky and the light rain was nice. I was hoping it would die off pretty quickly, though, because I'd already had one terrible mud run this year, and I really wasn't excited to have another one.

The out and back to Gate, that interminable uphill and then return dowhill, seemed to take forever, but were on a fairly kind and unnotable jeep trail. Then the trail from there to the Damnation aid station actually seemed REALLY short. Every other set of aid stations seemed impossibly far apart, but Gate->Damnation was like a gift each time.

Cruised through Damnation with only a water refill (I basically refilled one water bottle at each aid station for the rest of the race, always had that second one Just In Case), then .. FarSide. Alleged distance from Damnation to FarSide according to the aid station list (which, FINE, I just looked up): 4.27 miles. Actual distance from Damnation to FarSide when you're running: no less than 10 miles. And then you have to come back to Damnation again. It took for-freaking-ever, and there's really nothing notable out there, certainly no spectators, and your reward at the end is an aid station with only water and TailWind.

The out and back to FarSide was my kryptonite. It was my demon. It was the worst part of the race for me, and I had to do it four times. I fully admit that I let it become A Thing in my mind, and I suffered heavily for it. But I couldn't get past it. (Mentally, that is. Physically I managed, or I'd still be out there, sprawled out on the side of the FarSide trail in the mud. No mud yet, though. Getting ahead of myself.)

The one saving grace of the FarSide out and back, and in fact of the entire race, is that it WAS an out and back. Everything was an out and back. Mentally that was tough, because you see everything a jillion times. But it also means you get to see the other runners a jillion times, too. And everyone was SO NICE AND ENCOURAGING. I wished everyone well, and they wished me the same in return. Each time we saw each other. Every out, every back. I said "good job" SO MANY TIMES during Rocky, and I meant it sincerely every single time. You could feel how much everyone supported everyone else, and it was an intensely bright point in a day that had some pretty dark points.

So I made it out to the FarSide aid station. And I made it back to Damnation. On the way back to Nature Center, I had my first real moment of physical frustration. Because I was tired already. I hadn't even completed one loop, and already things felt Really Difficult. How in the world was I going to run 100 miles when ~23 miles already had me questioning my life decisions? I think I actually ran by a mom and 4 kids on the side of the trail, and as they cheered for me, I said, "Running 100 miles is a stupid idea, kids. Don't do it." Then as I was almost out of earshot, I yelled, "Uh, and stay in school!" Look, I don't know. Being alone for a really long time makes the brain do weird things when it finally has an audience.

(Oh, and since I've had people ask: No, I don't run with music. 100 miles of the inside of my own head. Scary, scary times.)

Back through Nature Center, and then the home stretch back to the Dogwood and the end of my first loop. This was the first time I'd really "seen" that section, since it was dark when we came out. It ran along the lake, and went over a series of bridges/boardwalks that are lovely, but also cruel tiny hills that got more slippery the more it rained.

We turned a corner to an uphill, and then suddenly there were my friends! Betsy and David, Julie and Richard, along with birthday signs and beads and cheering and a frog balloon that I was instructed to kiss (and did!). It was a wonderful surprise and a little overwhelming after so many hours of being alone. And it was just a preview of what was to come, because another half mile later, there was the start/finish line! 25 miles. 1/4 done. Fuck.

Loop 2

The pit crew cheered me in, then ushered me over to our tent where they had stuff laid out. Swapped out my water bottles for fresh ones, then asked what I wanted. I had been pondering this for a couple miles. I had picked out a lot of foods that I found worked for me, but I was only able to really carry GU and blocks, so I really only had 3 opportunities, at the start/finish of each loop, to eat some of the other things I'd brought. This time I elected to have half a turkey and cheese sandwich, and part of a miniature can of Coke. I was feeling good, so I wanted to get in a few extra calories over my 100/hour. Matt and Melissa (who had arrived while I was doing my first loop, along with Michael, who I introduced myself to as I was cramming food in my mouth) put new bags of nutrition in my pack while I shoved additional stuff in my front pocket. Then Matt walked out with me while I drank more Coke, so he could take the can from me when I'd had my fill.

Handing the Coke back to Matt, I said goodbye and headed back out for loop 2.

IMG_20180203_113831
This picture is SO terrible it loops back around to me loving it.

I glanced at my watch and saw that loop 1 had taken me just over 5.5 hours. That was better than I had anticipated, but I knew that didn't really mean much in the grand scheme of things, because it was still very early. Even while I was pleased with my time, I was very displeased with how hard things already were 25 miles in.

Loop 2 was the hardest loop for me. When I told Melissa that afterward, she said, "You're the only person on earth who has ever tried to claim that the hardest part of a hundred are miles 25 to 50." That may not strictly be true, but I do recognize it's probably not common.

Let me clarify that it was the hardest loop for me MENTALLY. Not physically. I was still doing okay physically. I was tired and I slowed down some, but I was still running anything that wasn't dangerous or noticeably uphill.

And actually I was probably doing pretty well mentally at first. I ran back past the Birthday Squad and got more cheers, then back through Nature Center. It was still raining, and the hill up to Gate was getting ever wetter and puddlier, but it was still tolerable. I decided to finally use a portapotty at Gate, since I knew there weren't any at Damnation or FarSide, and discovered that it smelled oddly delightful in there. Not something I've ever said about a portapotty. I first suspected some sort of scented rearview mirror-style air freshener, but no, it turns out there was a SCENTED CANDLE lit in the corner of the portapotty. That was a first for me. I would say it was for the athletes, but I suspect it was because the aid station volunteers were right there next to the bank of portapotties, and it was for their own self-preservation. Regardless.. weird, but pleasant.

When I got back to Damnation this time, I decided to stop and get my drop bag. I had a drop bag at both Damnation and Nature Center, just in case I needed anything special when I was out and about. A dry long-sleeved shirt, a flashlight, an extra bag of nutrition plus a PB&J, and a stick of SportShield, which is what I was after this stop. My portapotty adventure had shown me that some chafing of the nether realms might be taking place, and I wanted to get that under control before it got out of control.

As I ran up, I made eye contact with the drop bag volunteer, and called out my number. He went to find my bag, and I said, "It's BB-8." That understandably made no sense to him in that context, so when he finally found my bag and brought it over to me, he glanced down as he was carrying it and.. it was BB-8! He smiled, and I said, "I told you!" Easy to identify in a crowd.

IMG_20180202_145055
This was me dropping off my drop bag for Damnation the day before the race. I am both an Adult and a Very Serious Runner.

I shamelessly shoved my hand down the back of my shorts while he waited, then put the SportShield back. As a last minute decision, I also grabbed my flashlight from my pack. I had fully anticipated that I would be done with my second loop before the sun went down, but it was so overcast and dark all day, I wasn't sure what sunset would be like, or when. I felt a little better knowing I had SOME light with me just in case.

And then the out and back to FarSide. Again.

It was wetter this time, and there were many new puddles and mud fields to contend with. And a few miles in, it started really, really raining in earnest for the first time that day. Pouring. 95% of the people out there were wearing rain jackets or trash bags. I had neither of things. Now to be perfectly honest, I was not cold. And as I've said, I like running in the rain. But I was alone. It was pouring rain. I felt very exposed to the elements. And tired. And so sick of this section of the course. And I still had to do it again, in the dark. And then I had to do it AGAIN. How in the WORLD was I going to do it TWO MORE TIMES, when I was already SO TIRED?! Not to mention, not even done with the CURRENT time. The whole thought process was exhausting, and a spiral I couldn't drag myself out of.

I did rally a bit when I was almost to the FarSide aid station. I turned a corner, and there in the middle of the woods, standing on the side of the trail were three people in rain ponchos, not running. I was mystified as to who would be out there, and how they even GOT out there, since FarSide is pretty inaccessible other than hiking in. Then as I got closer, I saw it was David, Julie, and Richard! These crazy idiots were MY crazy idiots! They cheered for me and tried to take pictures as I ran by, then did so again as I ran back by after refilling my water at FarSide.

amy-rocky-from-julie
Heading back in from FarSide in the pouring rain, taken by Julie!

That rally was pretty brief, though, after I left them. People were starting to spread out a lot more, so I was spending more time alone out on the trail, and with the harder rain, now the mud was really becoming annoying and problematic. I DID realize at some point that not only did I have a flashlight if I needed it, but I also had my headlamp in my pack, since evidently nobody had pulled it out after my first loop. Which I guess was reassuring, but I noticed it because it started to hit up against my flashlight and was making an awful noise. I spent a frustrating amount of time reaching back behind myself trying to smash my stuff around to separate the two things so they'd be quiet. I could have just stopped and spent 2 seconds fixing it, but that wasn't the frame of mind I was in.

As I went back through Damnation, I was going to grab a PB&J quarter, as I had done at a few of the aid stations, but then I saw they had quesadillas, which sounded delicious, so I grabbed one of those instead. It was pretty delicious.

Damnation through Nature Center and back to the start/finish were low. Just.. low. I admit that at one point I thought, "75 miles would be more miles than I've ever run. Maybe that's enough." I wasn't at that point yet, though. I pushed that out of my mind, and didn't let myself dwell on it. I knew that things can turn around at any time, and I suspected I was going to have a much easier time of it (mentally, at least) when I finally picked up a pacer.

In fact, in the last few miles as I ran in, people were coming out with their pacers. There was a new energy that went along with the first fresh faces we'd seen in many hours, and a lot of peppy talking (along with some less peppy replies). I grinned and joked as one couple went by with a particularly excitable pacer, "Ugh. Pacers are the WORST!"

914-(ZF-10561-64996-1-002)
50 miles done!

Loop 3

I came into Dogwood happy to see people again, but also feeling a little shellshocked. It was starting to get dark out on the trail, and I felt somewhat feral for not having much human interaction for nearly 12 hours at this point. And then suddenly here's my crew, asking me questions, changing my clothes, wrapping things around my waist, putting things in my hands. I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible, but everyone was talking so fast and asking so much.

Since the rain had finally (FINALLY) slackened off, we swapped out my wet short sleeved shirt for a dry one, then put a long sleeve on top. The temperature wasn't supposed to drop too much, but with the dark would likely come a lot more walking, which would lower my core temperature, so a little warmth would be welcome. Matt told me they were making me take my rain jacket in case it started raining again, and tied it around my waist. Melissa transferred my race number from my old shirt and pinned it on my new shirt while I drank about 3/4 of a Boost, since that's what I'd decided I wanted this round. I was tired of eating things, and drinking some calories sounded like a delightful change.

As we were replacing my water and nutrition in my pack, someone handed me a headlamp. I said we needed to sort something out before I went out, and explained that my headlamp had been driving me crazy that morning. I'd decided I needed to wear something under the headlamp to keep it from digging into my forehead, and to hold it in place. They dug out my running hat, but I was afraid that it would impair my already crappy night vision, so we decided I'd wear my warm hat (beanie), and hope for the best. I have trouble wearing warm hats even when it's cold, as gloves and hats make me overheat easily, but I hoped that would be more manageable than 12 hours of headlamp pain.

27934932_10214378828201229_1541655073_n
The pit crew assisting me in prepping for my next loop.

And then it was back out for loop 3, this time with a pacer! First up was Karen. The original plan was to have Karen pace me first because while she's 100x the runner I am, she's a relatively new trail runner, and had never done any night trail running. We figured she would take the early shift, before it got too dark, and run me out to Gate. Of course, the reality was that it was already dark when we set out, so that didn't go quite as planned, but it turned out not to be a problem at all.

27783411_10214378822521087_935200601_n
Heading out with my Karen! Okay, fine, it was lighter than I remember. But getting dark!

As we set out, I told her I wasn't sure I was capable of having an actual conversation, because all I'd done for the last 12 hours was say "Good job! Good job! Good job!"

Despite that, though, I spent the first bit of the loop kinda giving the lay of the land and what I needed and my view on things out there. Basically that since everything was an out and back, we couldn't really run two abreast, so I'd prefer that she run behind me, and let me set the pace. I didn't need motivation or to be pulled, I was still self-motivating well, but I needed company, conversation, and light.

Then we just settled in to our normal comfortable running. Karen and I have run so many miles together, and it was nice to have one of my best friends out there sharing this experience with me. Also singing me happy birthday every 5 minutes.

We caught each other up on the stories of what had been happening in our worlds since the race began, and that got us all the way to Nature Center. As we saw the lights of Nature Center approaching, I said I was going to hit the portapotty once we got there. She said she was going to use the crew radio (walkie talkie) to let the rest of the crew know that we were at Nature Center and on our way to them at Gate. And also figure out how to turn her headlamp on.

936-(ZF-10561-64996-1-001)
I barely even remember that someone took our picture, but I'm happy to have it! More jazz hands, Karen staring intently at the ground, and headlamp off!

Evidently this was her first time using her headlamp, and she'd never tried to turn it on wearing gloves, and she hadn't been able to figure it out while running. So she'd been running behind me for 3.7 miles wearing her headlamp, but just using her handheld flashlight the whole time. I told her this was absolutely going in my race report.

By the time I got out of the portapotty, Karen had figured out her headlamp, and attempted to contact the rest of the crew, but gotten no response.

We headed back out into the slightly-better-lit darkness. It was fun to run with someone for their first night trail run. She kept shining her lights into the dark in wonderment, and I kept telling her she was blinding the poor birds. The ones who weren't already asleep.

At this point it was full dark, and I was starting to walk a lot more of the heavily rooted sections and muddy areas. Self-preservation.

When we got to the jeep trail to Gate, we found that the rain had hit it pretty hard and made quite a mess. Most of the road was very squishy and slidey mud, often with a big puddle or two forcing you to the side. Sometimes there would be one semi-decent line through the mud, but you'd have 4 people (one runner+pacer going each direction) who all wanted to run that line. It involved a lot of weaving and splashing. We joked that Karen, who is more of a "nice hotel and a glass of wine" person than a "hang out in a tent in the woods" person, got credit through this experience for her first "camping" experience since she was a kid. She still won't poop in the woods, though.

Eventually we made our way up to Gate, and found Matt and Melissa! Matt was dropping Melissa off and picking up Karen, and Melissa was swapping in as my pacer for the rest of the 3rd loop.

As I ran into the aid station, I ran past the number verifier. Since they can't realistically put timing mats way out in the middle of nowhere, we had to check in each time we went through Gate and FarSide (the two out and backs) so they could note our number to verify we made it all the way out there and didn't cheat and shorten the course. He looked at my number and said, "Got you, number ... 98." And I was like, "Thanks! Wait, that's not my.." and I looked down, and sure enough, I was number 98. Except I wasn't. I turned to Melissa and said, "You had ONE JOB, Melissa!" She had pinned my number on upside down. For some reason I found it hysterical. Probably because I had run 56 miles at that point. But it's STILL one of my favorite memories of the whole race.

While the crew got their stuff sorted out, I shopped through the available food, and decided to grab two quesadilla triangles. I started eating one, and found that my crew were still talking, not really about anything relevant to the race. And I was antsy. So I said, "I gotta go!" and waved and took off running. It's actually the one moment that I feel bad about. One of my goals was to be kind and obedient to my pacers and crew, and even after I said it, I felt like it was kinda rude. And really I doubt anyone else thought anything of it, but it's weird how your brain works when it's tired. So.. sorry, crew.

Now I had a new pacer, and a two quesadillas, and we were headed back down that squishy, annoying hill. Melissa kinda took off and was pulling away from me, and I spent a few seconds trying to stay close to her, then I realized we needed to have a talk about what I needed from her, and I called her back. Once we established I'd prefer to set the pace and have her behind me, things went much better. I finished one quesadilla, carried the other for a while, told Melissa I was having Quesadilla Regrets, and she took the remaining one from me and summarily tossed it into the woods. Problem solved. You're welcome, nature.

Now, of course, we were headed back to my nemesis, FarSide, by way of Damnation. I was getting very frustrated because I felt like I couldn't see anything, and then we realized that my headlamp batteries needed to be replaced. We did that at Damnation, and it was so much easier to see after that.

Well, sort of. One SUPER frustrating thing that was happening was heavy fog rolling in over the course of the night. Wearing a headlamp in fog illuminates all the tiny water particles which then appear to be a tangible thing right in front of your face. I kept finding myself ducking or weaving to avoid hitting the thing in front of me, like it was a tree branch or something else hanging down, but it was really just water particles. It was a constant source of frustration and confusion for my poor tired brain throughout the night.

I tried to keep telling myself that once I got through this trip out and back to FarSide, I just had to do it one more time, but somehow that wasn't reassuring at all. I was pretty quiet during this part of the run, just trying to hold my shit together and practice patience and get through it. The good news is, you can basically just set Melissa to On and she'll talk as long as you need her to. About anything and everything. Some of it was just one-sided, telling me things. Sometimes she'd ask questions. Sometimes I'd respond. If I didn't, sometimes she'd move onto different topics, or sometimes she'd just realize that I wasn't in a place where I could interact, so she'd just talk. Sometimes my response was just to tell her how much my feet hurt, because I was a stellar conversationalist at that point.

And my feet really hurt. There were puddles and mudpits which were somewhat unavoidable, and those plus the hours of rain had gotten my feet fairly wet. Not soaking wet, but just a low-grade wet, which after many hours of running really softens up your feet and causes blisters. I found myself sometimes walking just because my feet hurt, and that scared me. I did NOT want to end up walking the entire last loop. I had this intense fear of doing that, even though I knew people do it all the time. For as much as I was practicing patience, I wasn't sure I had the patience to walk a full loop. It would just take So Very Long. My brain fought hard against that scenario.

And then I fell in the mud. It's actually (spoiler) the only fall I had the entire race, and it wasn't at all the one I was expecting. Tripping over a root? Sure, I was expecting that to happen at some point. I'd already seen one guy fall fairly well in the soft sand, and one girl do a full-on Superman in a kinda sketchy root area. Falling is a given with all those roots. But my fall came in a nasty, disgusting pit of churned up, super-slick mud. If it hadn't been so dark, we probably could have seen that there were many slide marks and buttprints in that mud pit, but I stepped in unaware, and suddenly my feet flew out from under me and I landed on my butt with both hands grabbing into the deep mud. Ugh. And ew.

As I got up, someone else running by said that you could go way around to the side, over a fallen log, and avoid the mud pit a bit. Knowledge which was useful, but would have been even more useful several seconds earlier. We navigated through the rest of the pit, and then started running again as I sorted out what to do about the mud. My butt was covered in mud, but that was no big deal. My headlamp had gotten knocked so it was pointing upward, and I haven't the slightest clue how that happened. I found out later I'd hit a button on my watch to move it to a different screen, though there was no mud on my watch, so again, how did that even happen? And my hands were full of mud. Just.. coated. I spent the next 20 or 30 minutes trying to scrape mud off one hand with the other equally muddy hand, with little success. Melissa gave me one of her wipes, and that really did nothing useful. I threw many handfuls of mud off into the woods. It was.. just gross and frustrating. I was inevitably going to have to wipe my eyes or nose or mouth, and I really didn't want to coat my face in mud.

I managed to cope with it until we finally (FINALLY) got to the FarSide aid station again, and then Melissa used her water bottle to wash down my hands enough to make them tolerable. We both refilled our water, then headed back in.

Which, predictably, took forever. I tried to run when I could, and Melissa kept saying that when I was running, I was keeping a great, steady pace. But the dark was really messing with me, and I was so paranoid about roots and my footing, and now about mud, so each time I'd catch my toe on something, or slide or slip, I'd end up walking again because I was afraid of falling. Get in a great rhythm of running for 5 minutes, then walk for a minute until I regained my courage. Repeat ad nauseum.

My LEGS actually felt pretty good. But my feet were starting to hurt more and more. If I could get started running and get into a rhythm, I could ignore the foot pain and zone out. But then something would break my concentration again, and I'd have to start all over.

And then the poop breaks. Fortunately I never had any intestinal distress, but sometimes my stomach would just be like "Hey, you need to poop, and you're gonna do it soon one way or the other." I'd try to wait for an aid station/portapotty, but then it would become non-optional, so I'd duck off into the woods.

We decided to celebrate the fact that my body was still taking in food and processing it and then eliminating it, just like a normal body, and not completely shutting down because I was stupidly running 100 miles.

Despite all the walking and sliding and pooping, we eventually made it back to Damnation again, and there were Rhonda and Vegas, volunteering! I'd known they were going to be there for the overnight shift, and had been looking forward to seeing them, so this was a nice little boost. We said hi, they made sure we were doing okay, and we headed out.

Damnation to Nature Center was another low point, running when I could, frustrated that I still had so much of this loop left before I had to do ANOTHER WHOLE DAMN LOOP, including the FarSide out and back again. (If you're tired of hearing about the FarSide out and back, just imagine LIVING IN MY HEAD for all of this. It was loud and terrible at times.)

Since this loop had taken so much longer than the previous two, I was running low on food, despite having grabbed my extra food bag from Damnation. So when we got to Nature Center, I shopped for something to eat from the aid station. I was going to grab Another Damn PB&J Square (just kidding, PB&J; I love you still, and you were reliable and good to my stomach the whole race; let's never fight again), as the volunteer rattled off a list of the things they had available. I had been ignoring all the other food all night, so I was about to grab my sandwich square when I heard her say "mashed potatoes". Mashed potatoes? I really like mashed potatoes. And they sounded warm and squishy and easy and salty. So I asked for that, and she returned with a cup of delicious mashed potatoes.

We headed out of Nature Center, finally destined for the start/finish line, and the end of my next to last loop. We walked as I ate mashed potatoes, and I realized there was no way I was going to eat this whole cup (which was only maybe 1/4 full to start). And we'd already passed all the trash cans. And there weren't any trash cans along the course until the end of the loop. I asked Melissa if she'd put the cup in the big pocket of my pack, and she said she'd just carry it. Which is how Melissa found herself running on a trail in the dark in the middle of the night in Huntsville, TX, carrying a cup of mashed potatoes. Living the dream.

I ran as much as I could during this time, and I actually rallied a bit, presumably just knowing that I was almost done with a loop. Plus we swapped some pretty funny stories during that time. Stellar "getting to know you" stories that you're usually probably pretty drunk when you tell other people. Excellent for laughing and passing the time, which is just what I needed then.

27848750_10214378808600739_35807647_n
Okay, so I didn't actually SEE this guy, but at one point Melissa said, "You wore it!" to some people running out as we ran back. I was intently staring at the ground/trying not to blind people with my headlamp, so I didn't see. When I asked about it, she said someone's pacer was wearing a Care Bear onesie. For an entire 25 mile loop. I told Melissa I didn't even realize that was an OPTION, and now I was disappointed in all my pacers.

One of the things Melissa talked about during that time was how your first 100 miler was the perfect time to come up with your "signature finish line move". Like Paul's finish line pushups, or something of that sort. I suggested I already kinda had jazz hands, but she wasn't satisfied with that. I said I often jumped at finish lines, but I really didn't think that was going to be feasible or safe after 100 miles. She asked if I could moonwalk, I assured her I couldn't. She asked if I could do the worm, and I admitted I once could, but hadn't tried in years, and again I wasn't sure that the end of a 100 miler was the time to try it. She finally tabled the discussion when she couldn't come up with anything that sounded realistic and appealing.

But that took us all the way to the end of the 3rd loop! I had run 75 miles. 22 more miles than I'd ever run before.

Loop 4

I barely remember this part. It was late and dark and I was tired and so not excited about going back out. But I never considered NOT going back out. I was determined to finish at this point.

I had told Melissa I wanted to lose the jacket tied around my waist, and I wanted her to champion me in that decision if necessary. Evidently I was expecting a fight? But nobody objected. I was so tired of food, I hadn't really come in knowing what I wanted, as I had the last loops. Michael mentioned ramen as people were suggesting things, and I turned to him and asked if he would get me some ramen. Evidently I had decided Michael was my crew, too. He very graciously got me a cup of ramen, and two quesadillas, because either word had gotten out that I was pro-quesadilla, or he's some sort of quesadilla-whisperer.

As my crew did stuff, probably swapping out headlamps and stowing many batteries in backpacks and shoving nutrition places, I ate some of the ramen and a quesadilla, trying not to think about how very not-done I still was. How long I was still going to be on my feet.

We decided that since my feet were hurting so badly, I would take some tylenol. I hadn't taken any drugs so far, and tylenol might help with the foot pain, and likely wouldn't cause me any other harm, given how (relatively) little time I had left.

And then back out onto the trail again, for the last time. This time with Matt! The plan from the very beginning of this ridiculous idea was for Matt to pace me the last loop, and now here we finally were.

I had to give the pacer overview again, warning about slick bridges and muddy bogs, telling him to run behind me (though things were pretty spare at this point, and he was able to run beside-behind me a lot of the time). Then he told me various things that had happened with the crew and other races while I'd been running. I told him various things that had happened to me while I had been running. And then I started telling him the stories that Melissa had just told me, because when you run with someone you hang out with every day, sometimes you have to steal stories from other people to get fresh material.

I was walking more and more, getting clumsier and more awkward on my painful feet. Amazingly, I was still eating every 30 minutes. In fact, I was eating so much, I was actually running low on food. We had already ransacked my spare food from my Damnation drop bag, and as we went through Nature Center, we stole that food, too. No sense taking it back home, after all. Sometimes I would get hungry between feedings and eat an EXTRA GU. Who does that? This girl. Am I the only person to potentially gain weight during a 100 miler, other than through something like hyponatremia? Possibly so. (I don't actually know if I gained or lost weight, but I sure felt bloated.)

One place I completely failed was salt. I was taking it every 2 hours, and that worked for the first 12 hours. Then I maybe took 2 or 3 more salt pills for the remainder of the run. I just couldn't remember to pay attention that closely to the time. Watch beeps: eat. That was firmly in my brain. But I didn't really look at the TIME when it beeped, so I didn't take salt. Then I'd randomly remember, but it wouldn't be at a half hour or hour, so I'd say "Well, I'll just wait until the next feed, and get back on schedule." Then completely forget. The good news is, I never had any cramping from my lack of salt pills. The bad news is, in the last few hours, I was having to pee CONSTANTLY. I was still drinking dutifully, and the water was just going straight through me. The good news is, there were so few people out, I could just pee on the side of the trail without anyone (other than Matt) seeing me.

So I ran and I walked and I ran and I walked. I would sometimes force myself to run just by being so tired of being out there, and trying to make it END already, dammit. Through Damnation again, and hugs and cheers from Vegas and Rhonda. I completely lost the word "Damnation" around this time. I'd try to reference it, and I'd come up with "Deception". "Tarnation." "Consarnit." "Drperceptron." So many things, and I just couldn't retain "Damnation". Even now, I JUST typed "Deception" and had to go back and correct it.

Oh, I did sit down for the first and only time this loop (other than the portapotty). Even though my feet hurt, I could mostly force myself to run through the pain. Then I got something in my shoe that was rubbing up against my fourth toe on my left foot. I tried to shift my foot around in my shoe to get the object in a more tolerable place, but I just couldn't do it. So after 5 minutes or so of extra pain from this object, I finally told Matt I needed to take my shoe off and get this object out. I think he was hesitant, because taking off your shoes is bad unless you really, really need to, but I knew that with this thing in my shoe, I was going to have to walk. Just too painful otherwise. So we stopped and I sat on a log and we got my shoe off. Immediately debris fell out, which was probably the culprit. Then we cleaned up my sock more, and crammed my shoe back on. And it was great after that. I mean, my feet were still in agony, but with that thing gone, I could run again.

And then the sun came up.

Everyone had told me things would get better when the sun came up, but (a) it was impossible to wrap my brain around the fact the sun would ever come up, and that it would ever be light again, and (b) people lie to you a lot when they're trying to encourage you to continue doing something hard.

But slowly it got lighter and lighter, and then it was light enough to take off our headlamps. AND MY HAT. That hat saved my race. I appreciate that the hat allowed me to comfortably wear my headlamp with no forehead pain and no annoying sliding around. But that hat was way, way too warm for the weather, and taking it off felt amazing.

The sun came up at a very fortuitous time: on our way out to FarSide for the last time. Being able to see again raised my very low spirits, and helped convince me that I might be able to finish this and FINALLY STOP RUNNING. Actually, it convinced me that I COULD run again. Now that I could see, the paranoia was basically gone, and I was willing to run through areas I would have walked in the dark.

This is also where the brain weirdness really started. I was a little excited, going into this race, to see what my brain would do when it was really, really tired and sleep deprived. And honestly so far it was a little disappointing. I hadn't seen any spooky eyes looking back at me from the trees. I hadn't seen any rhinoceri out of the corner of my eye. Honestly, I didn't even really feel "tired", in the "sleepy" sense. I didn't want to just lay down and sleep on the trail. I was fine to stay awake. But with the weird light of early morning and my tired eyes and exhausted brain, I started to see things that weren't there. Or rather, miss-see things that were there. I'd see a person standing off the trail up ahead, but it would be a stump. I'd see birds clustered on the trail, but it was roots. We got to one mud pit, and I came to a screeching halt, Matt almost running me down. I looked at the mud pit, and I couldn't make sense of it. It looked like it had two thin paths through it that were dirt instead of mud, but if I turned my head, the whole thing kinda SHIFTED, and I couldn't focus my eyes directly on it. It's pointless to attempt to explain it, I couldn't describe it even then. I just told Matt he was going to have to lead us through that, and I'd stick straight on his heels, because I just could not make my brain process that image into a solid picture. So bizarre, and also kinda fun. THESE were the brain shenanigans I had been hoping for!

We made it out to FarSide. Refilled my water, and Matt said to go on ahead while he used his phone to check in with the crew and let them know we were on our way back. He caught up, and we settled into a kinda weird yoyo maneuver. I was running a lot more than I had been in the dark, and my running speed at that point was just a little too fast for his fast-walking pace, but awkward for his slow-running pace. So he'd walk and I'd pull ahead, then he'd run to catch up to me, repeat. Because the pace was awkward for him, he was catching his toe on a lot of roots and rocks, and stumbling a lot, which was making me nervous and wanting to turn around and make sure he was okay. We were a weary, exhausted comedy of errors out there.

As we came to the hill leading back up to Decep.. er.. Damnation, a guy passed us and said something about how if we pushed, we could still make it under the cut off.

Wait, what?

Not making it under the cut off wasn't even on my radar as a thing that could happen. I knew the first two loops had taken me just under 12 hours, but I really hadn't paid any attention to how long the 3rd loop had taken, or how long the 4th loop was currently taking. Right then, a woman passed me and mentioned something about how we were just fine for the 10:30 Damnation cut off.

Now I could SEE Damnation at this point, and it was XX:08:XX on my watch, so I knew that even if this Damnation cut off she was mentioning was in 22 minutes, I could make it. But suddenly I realized that maybe I had done too much walking, and I was going to have to find another gear to make sure I finished under the 30 hour cut off. If I recall correctly, and the odds of that are probably low, I basically had 2.5 hours to go from Damnation to the finish line. Which sounded like a lot, but I wasn't sure how far it was from Damnation to the finish line, so I decided caution was the better part of valor.

And I ran.

I ran up the hill to Damnation, and when I got there, Matt pressed some of his GU into my hands (I had completely run out of the food I was carrying) and said, "Go, I'll catch up."

So I went. My feet felt like they were on fire, but I ran. If it was a particularly tall hill (some people would argue there are no tall hills in Huntsville State Park, but those people hadn't run 90 miles), or a particularly menacing hunk of roots, I'd slow down, but otherwise I ran.

Matt caught up and told me that it should be less than 7 miles from Damnation to the finish line, and that as long as I was doing under 20 minute miles, I should be fine. But I was running scared at that point. And annoyed with myself for having fallen so far behind without realizing it. And more than anything, I just wanted to be done. So I ran.

Matt stayed close to me, but neither of us were talking at that point. I was too focused on staying upright and pushing through the pain. We passed several people who were trying to walk purposefully, fighting the same demons and finish line cut offs that we were.

It was frustrating that I was moving well, but it was still taking so long to get from Damnation to Nature Center. Also frustrating that I had to keep eating. I was ready to go into "I'm almost there, it doesn't matter anymore" mode, but I still had a long time to go, and couldn't afford a calorie deficit, or dehydration. So I dutifully ate every time my watch beeped, even though I had started gagging a little each time I ate something. The food stayed down once it was in, but it sure didn't want to go in.

Finally I turned the corner to cross the road to Nature Center. I had pulled ahead of Matt a bit, so we hadn't discussed what I needed at Nature Center, but the only thing I planned to do was hit one final portapotty and then go. I had enough water and food to get me to the finish line, and I didn't want to stop for any longer than necessary.

So my head was down and I was focused on the portapotty on the other end of the aid station, when I heard cheering. A lot of cheering. And there were my people! I couldn't even process who all was there, but there were a lot of them, and one of them was ROBYN! It nearly broke my brain at first, because of course Robyn was there, she had been there before. Except that had been an entire day ago. She had gone home! To sleep! Like normal people who are just living their lives and not stupidly running in endless circles in the dark! But now here she was again! I was so happy to see everyone.

But also super focused, so I don't even know what I said or did, other than kept running past them all and into the portapotty. My hands barely functioning to untie and then later retie the drawstring of my shorts, but I got in and out as quickly as my body would let me. As I ran out, tying my shorts, I hooked a left and immediately started running down the trail, trusting that Matt was nearby and would follow me. Instead I heard Matt's voice yell from the distance, something like, "This was the plan! I love you!" and then Melissa appeared beside me.

I had no idea why I'd swapped pacers, but I couldn't be bothered to be too concerned, other than verifying that as far as she knew, Matt wasn't injured. She didn't think so, just said she'd been called in to run me to the finish line, so I put that out of my head and concentrated on running.

And I ran nearly the entire 3.7 miles back to the finish line. I mean, we're using the term "running" very loosely here. I was exhausted and sore and awkward, but what I was doing was notably, mostly, not walking. I was proud of how well I was still moving. And Melissa remarked on it, which helped me confirm that I wasn't just hallucinating my running.

I don't even know what we talked about in those last 3 miles, or if we did talk. It's a blur. I do remember she revisited the signature finish line move, and offered forth a few new suggestions, like parking a semi just before the finish line, full of 30 dogs. And then when I got close, someone would hand me 30 leashes, and I'd run those dogs across the finish line. I pointed out that maybe that was a little too much chaos to be realistic, and plus I wasn't sure you were even supposed to have dogs in the finish area. She remarked that my brain still worked awfully well for someone who had run nearly 100 miles.

I'm not sure if we talked about other things, but Melissa kept telling me how well I was doing. I used her words and her strength to keep pushing myself. I felt like maybe I'd started my finish line push a little too early (er.. kinda from Damnation, I guess), and now I wasn't sure I could maintain this. I knew that I didn't need to "run" as "fast" as I was, but it felt amazing to be so strong at the end of something so difficult. It felt amazing to BE at the end of something so difficult. I could finally wrap my head around the fact that I was going to FINISH this thing. That it would be over. That I could stop running. At some points it felt like maybe this was my life, forever. But I practiced patience, and I had made it.

We ran over the bridges that, for me, marked the beginning of the end. I was going to finish this.

We hit a small uphill, and I let myself fall to a walk briefly. And immediately we saw Julie playing lookout up in the Birthday Squad zone, so I HAD to start running again. Then through the cheering Birthday Squad one final time, bookending my journey. We had decided that, even though it was now February 4th, that it was still my birthday until my run was over. And my birthday was almost over.

Around the corner, and onto the home stretch. There's a small hill that's not even a hill until you're in your 99th mile, but keeps you from seeing the actual finish line at first. Melissa had told me that the finish line could see the runners before the runners realized they could be seen, and they'd see all the runners walking until they realized they could be seen, then breaking into a run. I started to walk, and then said, "Crap, when can they see me?!" and she said, "Now! They can see your head!" so I had to keep running.

Up the hill, across the street, and then the finish line just ahead. Just one final time across the timing mat and through the arch. As I got closer, I could see my people up at the finish line, and they were cheering loudly and yelling for me. Through the yelling, I heard Karen's voice say, "Amy, there's a dog you can pet!" Sure enough, there was a runner who had already finished in one of the tents before the finish line, and she was holding her dog on a leash. I waved to the dog as we approached, and Melissa said, "Do you want to run with the dog to the finish line?" I had no idea what she meant at first, but the answer to "do you want to XYZ with a dog" for any value of XYZ is never no, so I said Yes!

27849170_10214378807360708_820113896_n
I believe we are in the Dog Negotiation Phase at this moment.

She turned to the owner of the dog and asked if we could take her dog and run across the finish line, and she looked equally confused, but then said yes, her dog loved to run! So she handed me the leash, and my new dog friend and I ran over the finish line together! (The dog was like, "Ugh, why are you so SLOW? Go go go go!")

image000000_01
Runnin' like I stole it. Where "it" is "some stranger's dog".

And so I ran 100 miles.



Melissa was pleased that I found my signature finish line move (run with stolen dog across the finish line, I guess?), but as I was being given my finisher's belt buckle, I said, "Hold onto that for one second.." and I went back to the finish line. Everyone was looking at me in confusion. Especially when I flopped down on my stomach in the dirt and did the worm. And I must say, I felt like I did a passable job, given that I'd run 100 miles! Of course, everyone figured I'd crossed the finish line, they were done with their phones, so there's no video evidence, but Matt did manage to catch what may be my favorite picture of the whole experience.

IMG_20180204_111516
Maybe my favorite picture of myself ever.

And THEN I got my finisher's belt buckle.

image000000
The dirt on my butt is from falling, the dirt on the backs of my legs is from running in the mud, the dirt on the front of my legs is from doin' the worm.

My finishing time was 29:12:59, so I definitely didn't need to push as hard as I did at the end to come in under 30 hours. But it felt amazing (if incredibly painful) to push at the end of something so big.

I had said that I would be happy as long as I came in under 30 hours, and I am, but at first I was a little dismayed with my splits. 05:34:00, 06:24:44, 08:23:14, 08:51:01. That's some pretty damn positive splits, and I wished I could have run a little more consistent splits. Then I looked at a random sampling of other peoples' splits, and realized that's just how these things go. Everyone slows down after loop 2, when it gets dark. I'm actually pleased at how close loop 4 was to loop 3, which was probably entirely due to my push at the end.

And Melissa pointed out that I FINISHED. It's not necessarily common to actually finish/come in under the time cutoff on your first 100 miler. Add to that, of the 350ish people who started the race, only 201 finished under the time cutoff (or finished at all). 100 milers usually have a pretty high DNF rate, but this was even higher because of the rain and the mud.

So I'm proud. I am. On some level I don't really even believe that I did it. Running 100 miles doesn't sound like something I could do. But I have the shiny belt buckle which seems to indicate that I did. And the terrible blisters.

Simultaneously the most painful and most rewarding birthday I've ever had. Ran 100 miles and raised $2000 for Austin Pets Alive! Thank you for the donations, the birthday wishes, the cheers, and the love. And I can never thank enough the people who put th
So shiny. I so don't even own a belt.

Some time during loop 2, when I was at my lowest, I decided this was definitely a one-and-done sort of thing, if I managed to "done" it at all. Melissa said that would change, and maybe it will. I'm now at the point where I'm not saying never, but I'm not googling "100 milers" and finding my next race. I'm not sure I'd do Rocky again, because there's some pretty intense demons still there. I'm not sure I'd do a looped course again. I could maybe wrap my head around a single loop, where you see everything once. Or one out and back. Maybe in some beautiful mountains (except that usually means elevation, and I've already proven I'm bad at that).

For now I'm just focusing on walking normally again. And getting ready for SwimRun Lake James in early April.

So many people helped me get to the start line, and then get to the finish line, and it's a little overwhelming to thank all of them by name. But special thanks to Coach Russ Secker for handing me the plan that got me through this race in such good shape. Thanks to my pacers, Karen and Melissa, for tolerating me, encouraging me, and seeing me safely through the woods in the dark. Thanks to my bonus crew, Ryan and Michael, who didn't sign up for helping me, but did it anyway. Thank you to Betsy, David, Julie, and Richard for spending so much of your weekend standing in the woods with balloons and beads, and cheering so enthusiastically for me. Thank you to Robyn, Dave, Thomas, and William for the cheers and hugs, and extra double thanks to Robyn for coming BACK. (Though you got a BB-8 backpack out of it, so it wasn't completely selfless.) Thank you to Mike V., who was out crewing for someone else, but cheered for me like he was my own. Thank you to all of the volunteers, who were AMAZING. They were out there all day in the rain and dirt just to help a bunch of strangers realize their dreams.

27540226_10215890514644569_5571873915000716905_n
Some crew, some pacers, some fans.

Thank you to all the other runners. Since every bit of that course was an out and back, we all saw each other innumerable times, and each time, everyone was so encouraging. I came up with names for everyone (Kilt Guy, Tutu Girl, One of These Guys Must Be Gordon..), and they all became my new friends, even if they didn't know who I was.

Thank you to everyone who donated to Austin Pets Alive! I donated $100 to APA for my birthday, one dollar for every mile I intended to run, and I invited others to help motivate me by making their own donations. I ambitiously set my fundraising cap at $1000, and my donations had exceeded that before the race even started. All told, my birthday run raised $2030 for APA, and the best birthday present I've ever gotten was the gift of helping $2030 worth of dogs and cats.

And finally, all the rest of my thanks go to Matt. He got me through the training, crewing for my training runs, grocery shopping when I was exhausted, feeding the dogs when I got up stupidly early to run. He organized all of my stuff for the race. He set up an amazing crew HQ all by himself. He wouldn't let me carry a single thing the entire race weekend, before or after. He was out there and awake every single minute that I was. And he ran me through the night and into the morning. He is the main reason I was able to run 100 miles, and I could not have done it without him.
happy running

Rocky Raccoon 100 training week 21.

Holy crap. This whole time I've basically been working on a 21 week training schedule, knowing that 21 weeks would take me up to race week. 21 was the magic number. And here we are, at the end of week 21.

Not much to report this week. I ran to work twice, the minimum run I can do to work, 7 miles. My legs felt very heavy and tired both times, which I interpreted to mean I should maybe taper a little more aggressively than I originally intended. My weekend runs were 6 and 4 (trail) this weekend, and they both felt fairly good. The weather was warm and humid for Saturday, and I spent the whole time trying to send out whatever energy I could into the universe that that would NOT be the weather for Rocky. Then a cold front came through overnight and cooled things down for Sunday. I could stand Sunday's weather for Rocky.

And yes, I have already started looking at the weather. I don't have a lot of stress tied to it, other than I'd really prefer it not be super warm and humid. But since I mostly hate that weather when I'm trying to run a certain pace, and the only pace I'm trying to run at Rocky is "forward", I'm mostly just watching the weather to decide what to wear. I mean, I'll take 2 of everything, but it'd be nice to not take my puffy jacket if it's never going to be below 60 degrees, or take a sleeveless shirt if it's never going to be above 20 degrees. Neither of those scenarios look likely at this point.

I'm working 3 days this week, which will presumably seem like the longest 3 days in the history of ever. Two short runs, Tuesday and Thursday. Thursday I am taking off work to Get Stuff Done. Packing, bag creating, food preparing, etc. I could get it all done over the week and before we leave town Friday, but it's nice knowing I have an entire day devoted just to that. And sleeping in. I'm banking as much sleep as I can while I can.

Otherwise I'm just trying to stay calm and only think about the race if I can think positive thoughts. If I start to panic, I stop thinking about the race entirely. I'm trying to make sure I think of everything that needs to be packed and prepared by making about 15 different lists. I'm only sort of kidding. I literally have 6 different lists of things currently.

I have crew. I have pacers. I have a dog sitter. I have people coming out to cheer. I have people sending me wonderful messages of encouragement already. I am intensely lucky and incredibly fortunate.

And in 6 days, I will run 100 miles.
happy running

Rocky Raccoon 100 training week 20.

Well, this was certainly a dynamic week. I moved my Tuesday run to Monday, in anticipation of Tuesday's weather being terrible. And it was, and Austin shut down and I got to stay home from work. Yay! Then I did my Thursday run on Wednesday, just to give myself an extra recovery day before my big weekend. It was 18 for my Wednesday run. The coldest run I've ever done? Possibly. But I dressed appropriately, and it was fine.

Then came the weekend. And a warm front. Ugh.

For Saturday's run, Rogue was only offering up to 16 miles, so I had to get creative. I ran 7.5 miles from home down to Rogue (starting at 4:30am!). Refilled water at Rogue and grabbed a map, then did the Rogue 16 miler. Matt met me 4 miles in, and ran out to the end and then back to where he picked me up, so I got to have company for 8 miles! Then I ran the last 4 back to Rogue by myself, where Matt picked me up. Complicated, but I got my miles, got some company, had support for most of the run, and was pretty proud of myself. Then packet pickup for 3M the next day!

Saturday was mid 50s and stupidly humid. Sunday doubled down on that with 65 degrees and even stupider humidity. Race report for 3M here, but basically I managed to sanely just treat it as a long run, my legs felt fine, the weather was terrible, and I had company for most of the race! Exactly what I needed, and ended the week with my second highest volume of running, I think?

I was originally thinking that this weekend would be the first of my taper. It didn't work out that way, but I think I really needed this week, after my week of illness. The coughing is pretty much gone, all my runs felt solid and doable, and I feel like I'm in a really good place going into taper. I'm not saying that taper won't make me crazy, but.. if I'd gone into taper right after being sick, I would feel underprepared. I feel good about where I am. And I have my schedule all written out through Rocky.

So now I just need to stick to the plan for the next 2 weeks, and be conservative. And do a lot of planning. I have a google doc shared with my crew, figuring out what I need, what to have in each drop bag, what to have at the start/finish line, what I could possibly need for each contingency. It's a lot. It's a little overwhelming. But I'm trying to be as prepared as possible, without going completely overboard. It's a fairly satisfying exercise for a list-making over-planner.

Happy taper!

9+12+23+13=57
happy running

3M half marathon 2018 race report.

Some time last year, Matt signed up to do the 3M half marathon in January. I looked at my macro and saw that I was supposed to do 12-13 miles that Sunday, far off in the distant future, so I went ahead and signed up, too. I was also supposed to ~24 miles on Saturday, so I figured it would definitely be just a supported long run, not a race.

Fast forward many months, and Matt is wracked by sickness and allergies, manages to eke out 8 miles with me on Saturday, but decides, especially given the weather, that 3M is a bad idea.

And the weather is just terrible. It was terrible for my 23 mile run on Saturday, and then even warmer (65) and just as humid for Sunday. Did I mention it was 18 degrees on Wednesday? 4 days earlier? Crazy.

Anyway, I was on my own, which was fine. I had no expectations other than getting in 13 miles of "running", after which my taper for the Rocky 100 would begin!

I hit the portapotty once I got to the start line, roamed around a bit, hid behind a tree from the wind, and then decided since I still had 30 minutes before the race started, to use another portapotty. Which had ridiculous lines, and I ended up finally exiting the portapotty around 7:26 (race started at 7:30). I waded into the start chute, and could only push my way up to the 2:25 pace group. Which was fine, because I didn't want to get sucked into the energy of people running fast at the beginning.

I crossed the start line and started running nice and easy, and my legs felt pretty okay! Definitely not light and fresh, but nothing particularly sore or damaged from the 23 miles the day before. I chatted with Summer as we crossed paths, and then saw familiar shapes up ahead! I had to push a little bit to get up there, but I slowly made my way up to Belle, Brenda, and Joe! I fell in with them late in the first mile, and decided they were running a great pace for my purposes, so latched on. Brenda lives in Colorado now, so we had a lot of catching up to do, and she basically carried the conversation for many, many miles. Which was fabulous!

I wasn't carrying water, so I got water at most aid stations, and then we'd regroup after the aid station, so I had a few seconds of standing and waiting at most aid stations. Then on Great Northern, Belle and Joe both needed a portapotty, so Brenda and I waited for them. It was definitely a different sort of race than my normal 3M, where I'm trying to go as fast as possible. But it was SO NICE to have company for so many miles, because even though I was trying to take it nice and conservative, the weather WAS terrible, and my legs were definitely fatigued. Having someone to talk to kept my mind off those things, mostly.

Some time later on Shoal Creek, maybe around mile 9, Belle started to fall back a bit. We slowed down to let her catch up, but eventually Brenda fell back with her, and I lost Joe, and I decided I really wanted to be DONE, so I just started running my own pace. I thanked volunteers and spectators and cursed the weather and told people that mile 10 was too early to start saying "you're almost there".

Then near the end of Duval, I passed someone and they said, "Amy Bush!" and it was Vicki! We ran together for a bit, catching up on how her race had gone the day before, and how my weekend was going, and Rocky plans. Then as we entered campus, she told me to go finish, and dropped back a bit.

I carried on, and tried to enjoy the run through campus as much as I could. I was anticipating an uphill slog to the finish line, but when we turned off MLK, I could see the finish line was actually BEFORE the hill starts! That was a nice surprise. I gave a half hearted push to the finish line, and crossed that line, so happy to be done.

Certainly not my fastest 3M ever, but not a Personal Worst either! I got out of it exactly what I needed. A conservative, fun, supported long run.

9:55, 10:12, 10:00, 10:29, 10:08, 10:24, 10:16, 13:31, 10:33, 10:19, 9:38, 9:51, 9:32

And now.. taper begins! Yikes.

23 mile run Saturday + humid, easy recovery half marathon slog on Sunday = beginning of taper for Rocky 100! Two weeks to go...