Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fat Dog 120

Over a year ago I heard about this race, Fat Dog 120, in Canada.  Tough, rugged, remote... and it immediately caught my eye.  This is exactly the kind of race that gets me going and Fat Dog 120 made the short list of ultras to run immediately.  When I set my schedule for 2014 I really wanted FD to be part of it.  With a slight pause to consider what it'll be like running over 100 miles - I signed up.

I didn't change a lot about my training to prepare for the extra distance.  I did try to add more vertical in my runs and added slightly more volume for a few weeks - but nothing drastic.  Unfortunately, I developed some tendonitis in my anterior tibialis about 2 weeks before FD.  I ran on it once in some pain and hoped it was nothing.  It returned the following day in earnest and I knew I needed to take action.  I started icing it and had my PT take a look at it.  The words were cease and desist.  Stop all activity.  Now.  So for 6 long days I sat and did nothing.  I didn't run, I didn't bike, I didn't hike.  I tried to stay off it, iced it, rested.  And stressed about whether I could still run FD.  I'd all but given up on FD when my PT said things had calmed down enough that I could try to run again.  I ran one day and then the next.  And the A/T seemed no worse for the wear.  PT gave green light to race.  I'd never done a taper quite like this before a big race but I still wanted to race.  (nothing like losing the hope of doing something to make you realize how much you wanted it)  I rushed to put my gear together and set off for Canada!

I hadn't done a lot of prep for the race.  I knew the race elevation profile and sort of understood where the aid stations were.  I knew several were far apart and that was the reason for the extra gear they require of us.  I also knew the climbing was nothing short of remarkable and that I was headed into the unknown beyond 120 miles.  That basically is all I knew.  Not much.  As it turned out, I think the ignorance served me well at several points in the race.

Driving into Hope to get to the pre-race meeting on Thursday
Nick (my friend and pacer) and I drove up from Olympia on Thursday.  We headed to packet pickup and the pre-race meeting straight away and managed to make it there with only 5 minutes to spare.  Border patrol takes ages!  I started listening to the meeting but then walked off - those things make me so nervous!  It was a great place to meet some old and new friends - most importantly Grant Maughan, who we were rooming with before and after the race.

Thursday night we headed to Princeton where Grant had booked a room.  The night passed with some fun and a little conversation, but a lot of legs resting and introspective thoughts by us all.  I picked Grant's brain for a few thoughts - most notably he told me that the last climb has a bunch of false summits.  Grant is an amazing athlete (just took 2nd at Badwater this year and 3rd in a stage race across eastern Canada the week before FD!) and his excitement to run the course had me pretty pumped for what was coming.


We all tried to stay calm before the race and other racers were friendly and social to ease the mind.  We had some fun waiting to follow the bus to the start.  Grant called me a Japanese pop star with my mini-pigtails and I got the gangster thing going on with my hat as well.  Laughs are good before big events and I loved being in the company of some fun guys before the start.



Once we got to the start, we all lined up for a last check-in right before the race.  We then lined up on a precarious little bridge and waited for the start straight up the first climb.


My race plan was pretty simple.  This was going to be a LONG race and I needed to go very slow and EAT from the beginning.  No deficits and no effort should be felt for a while.  The first climb went quickly and I enjoyed chatting with other racers as we hiked.  Right from the get-go I felt like this race was in a league of it's own.  Not only was the course going to be challenging but the people this race draws are just top notch groupies of the ultra community.  We are all the tough ones who thrive under huge challenges.  And we treat everyone else as if we'd known them for decades.  Even though I was racing with people I'd never met, I felt like I was surrounded by family.  Maybe it's because we bond in our pain and challenge - or maybe it's just because we are all good people who love our sport.  I think it's a bit of both.

It was evident to me from the start that my anterior tibialis was going to be an issue for the race.  It felt tight and overworked on the first climb and I had a spot on the front of my shin that was painful.  I think I started compensating to make my left leg work harder right from the beginning and likely started striking differently with my right foot.  The level of pain wasn't terrible but it was bothersome that I had pain from the start of the race.

The race follows a pattern for the first 40 miles of the race.  We climbed a long gradual climb - then descended back to basically the elevation where we started.  There was usually a minimal aid station along the way, but the major aid station was at the bottom of each descent.  The weather was overcast and cool - with some passing light showers now and then.  I think in prior years this section can be very hot as the aid stations are far apart and there isn't much protection from the sun.

By the 2nd climb I was starting to really feel pain in my shin.  The uphills seemed to be easier on it but as soon as I turned downhill I started to trip over things with my right leg and when I'd catch my foot on a rock and my ankle would bend forward it was causing excruciating pain in my shin.  And with a technical and rocky course you can imagine this happened a lot!  The 2nd climb took us through a burned out section that I really loved.  Something about the green growth on the ground mixed with the dead sticks of trees above made it very beautiful.  I met up with a runner who is doing HURT this January along this section and had a fun time talking about that race coming up.

The descent off the first climb brought you down to the big river crossing.  I reached this point just after 7:30pm.  It was good to cross this in the daylight.  My shin complained horribly in the water - it did not like the rocks and precarious footing in the river. The current moved pretty quickly and I found myself almost falling down several times.  The fixed rope saved me!  The water was pretty deep - it reached the bottom of my skirt at the deepest section.  I climbed out of the water and fed myself at the aid station before doing the road section up to Bonnevier - the 41 mile mark of the race.

At Bonnevier I saw Nick, my pacer, who would start with me at mile 78.  He gave me some good cheer and help through the aid station - getting some more clothes on and putting my headlamp on for the night section ahead.  He sent me on my way and yep, you guessed it, the course started to climb.  This first part of the climb was on a gravel road that made it easy to see with the waning daylight.  I was a little paranoid I'd miss a course marking along here because it was getting dark and the flags weren't as easy to see - but I had enough people around me that I figured we wouldn't all miss them.  The course eventually turns back to trail and at this point it was time for lights.  My anterior tib continued to hurt very badly and I had to consider what to do through the night.

I tried to channel my PT's voice into my head.  Figure out what he would tell me to do.  Reality was that the pain had worsened during the first 45 miles of the race.  But it wasn't getting worse at the moment.  I decided that I'd continue cautiously and if it felt much worse then I'd have to make a call about whether to stop.  Because of the pain in my shin I didn't run much at all during the night.  I hiked and tried to eat.  The course spent much of the night along a ridge which was quite cold and windy.  There was also fog and clouds obstructing our view and ability to see.  Headlamps only seemed to reflect the light back at you.  At several points it was difficult to find out where to go and I was grateful to have a veteran along the course with me at that point who steered me along.  Once he pressed forward I had another buddy who at least helped me look for markers and yelled to me about turns to make.  These are the gems in ultras that really make a difference.  :)

At the end of the dark hours is when I reached my low point.  The aid station was much much further than I anticipated, so I was out of water and out of food for miles before I came to the station.  My A/T was in pain from the descent and I feared my race was about to become a death march and hike to the finish.  (I tried not to think about the fact that there were 55 miles to go)  Several people passed me and asked if I needed anything.  I turned down the first two but then when a guy named John came by he held out some Shot Blocks - and the sight of them was just too hard to resist.  I wolfed them down and continued on my way.  The transformation was immediate.  I started to feel better, more positive and more energetic.  I was able to start running again and felt my energy levels rise. It was still several more miles to the aid station and I am still grateful to John for offering those blocks!

I came into the aid station at Cayeuse Flats and was told I was the 2nd woman to reach that point.  I was stunned, I'd been hiking all night long!  This gave me some extra motivation to continue and to get to my pacer who was about 5 miles up the trail.  At this point it was morning - and I think I reached Nick at about 9am.  Nick had energy to spare and was a great pick me up at this point.  I'd been trying to calculate times that I could finish in and I was grateful for a distraction and some conversation after the long night.  Nick is what every great pacer should be - a good liar.  Told me I looked great, I was moving well, and encouraged me to run the flatter sections after the aid station.  He also kept prodding me to eat and drink.  I can be kind of grouchy about doing this late in a race and he handled it with finesse.  Acted like I was telling him exactly what he wanted to hear.

We motored along for the morning and tried to run as much as I could.  We then encountered what I call "mosquito hell."  It started with a few here and there.  And it turned into what can only be described as swarms of them.  Nick joked that we had just entered The Hunger Games and the mosquitoes were a challenge thrown at us.  It was annoying and ridiculous how many bites we got through here.  Through clothes and through bug spray.  Mosquitoes didn't care.  I probably got over 100 bites during the 3-4 hours we traversed this section.



Nick was taking pictures - so I have several from the section late in the race.  These are all indicative of the views we had during the whole race.  Spectacular!

Eventually we reached the Skyline aid station at mile 99.  This is where the real fun begins on this course.  I knew we'd be climbing for the good portion of the time remaining until the finish and I was anxious to get going.  I tried not to think about how I'd never run more than 100 miles before and here I was about to go up one of the most beastly climbs on tired legs.  This is where the ignorance of the course paid off somewhat.  I didn't know how LONG this climb was.  I honestly thought we were going to climb for about 8 miles and then gradually descend for 12.  As it turned out, Grant's advice about the false summits was absolutely correct... except it wasn't false summits - they were ACTUAL summits you had to traverse before reaching the final summit.  As Nick and I ran this ridge where we summited EVERY summit in the ridge we started to laugh.  If you could see a peak in front of you it was only a matter of time before you saw the trail going straight up the side of it.




These peaks took a while to traverse and time was running out for me if I hoped to make it under 36 hours.  When we traversed the first summit I thought it was a shoo in - but when we kept summiting for hours and hours I knew it was going to be close.  Nick continued to take some great photos of the views - I continued to focus on what had to be done.



Amazingly, the shin did not hurt on this final ascent.  I don't know how or why, but I was happy to not feel it.  It let me focus and actually climb like I love to.  :)

The sun set and it started to get pretty dark by the time we summited the final summit.  When we started the technical descent off the top it was time to turn on the headlamp for the 2nd time for the race.  I knew time was going to be short to get to the finish in under 36 hours - so I really tried to push down this descent.  The top was difficult and started to aggravate my shin again.  But then the trail seemed to open up and the running became easier and more fluid.  I got very thirsty along this section but didn't want to slow down even for a drink for fear that I was just going to miss the 36 hour mark.



Eventually we got down to the glow sticks and the lake... which felt like an oasis.  I saw a sign for 1.5 km to go and I knew I was going to make it barring disaster.  I felt like I was running fast along this section, but any "fast" is relative after 120 miles!

I finished in 35:49, for 2nd place female.  I sat down for the first time at the finish (I never sit during ultras) and it felt amazing.  My shin started to complain immediately but I savored the moment of a race well-run.  And a lot of fun and smiles along the way.

We met back up with Grant, who had finished in 5th place (30:30) and happy with his run as well.  Lots of smiles and fun was had on a difficult course!

And who knows, I won an entry into next year's race - so there may be room for some improvement.  :)

Keep smiling.

Grant and Jen post-race at the awards ceremony

Cruel Jewel 50 & River of No Return 100k

I broke all my rules - I raced without posting about the previous race!

Truth be told, I've been enjoying the summer in the PNW and having fun racing.  Blogging is important but Mr. Trails always wins in my books.  :)

In May, I ran the Cruel Jewel 50 in Georgia.  I went into this race hoping for a top finish and had almost everything fall apart before and during the race.  On the plane to Atlanta I developed a rash - which proceeded to give me swollen joints and swelling for days.  My son had Fifth's Disease a few weeks before the race and I caught it.  I think the virus impacted my stomach and ability to properly fuel myself early on in the race and I ended up with severe gastrointestinal issues the whole race.  It was a beautiful course and tough like I like them to be, but I just couldn't get into my racing groove and suffered the 56 mile trek.  In the end, I finished 4th.






In June, I ran the inaugural River of No Return 100k in Challis, Idaho.  This was a fun trip to Idaho - I got to camp with my friend Tony and his family and enjoy the amazing scenery Idaho has to offer!  The race was my first use of liquid fuel for calories and I also had to deal with some altitude (no easy feat for a sea level dweller).  The race went well - I felt like I nailed the nutrition and my stomach was in a happy place the whole race.  This was a big boost after the race in Georgia where my stomach had been south the whole race.  The altitude definitely slowed me down - efforts began to feel too much even though I wasn't moving very fast.  I enjoyed the run and met new friends along the course - and that's always the sign of a great race with a great community.  The race was stacked with fast women and my best efforts on the course landed me 5th.  Altitude hurts sometimes!  :)  It was a really fun trip and the race was done right - a definite course to return to someday!










Monday, April 14, 2014

Umstead 100

Looking back, the Umstead 100 seems like a dream.  An excellent dream, but a dream nonetheless.

Smiling is easy when you're having fun!
I went into this race with a lot of unknowns.  I'd not run a 100 on a loop course and my lead up to the race was not as I'd planned.  Five weeks before the race I had minor abdominal surgery to remove a cyst.  The cyst caused discomfort for about two weeks and the surgery and a ill-timed stomach bug had me miss an entire week of running.  I almost pulled the plug on the race.  Thanks to the best surgeon EVER (thanks Katie!) and my PT for talking sense into me, I decided to race.

As I prepared for the race, I reached out to several friends for course information and advice - and one friend even biked the course with a video camera! Thanks Gene! The repetition and challenge to remain focused were my main focus leading up to the race.  I looked forward to challenging myself on a new type of terrain and seeing how fast I could run on a course that has much less climbing and technical trail than I've run for 100's before.

Packet pick-up on Friday
I stayed with friends in Cary for the weekend and found myself incredibly distracted on Friday.  I couldn't seem to focus on anything. I got many texts from friends wishing me good luck - those always mean the world to me.  I anxiously awaited the arrival of my pacer, an incredible friend who was coming a long way to help me. He gave me advice about Pinhoti in November last year but we hadn't yet met.  He arrived about 13 hours before the start and I immediately knew I was in the best of hands.  Being an awesome runner himself, he needed no explanation about what I needed during the race.  Perfect.

Race morning went off without a hitch, I arrived in plenty of time and had some - but not too much - time to ready myself.  Willy was already taking care of everything I needed - including saying the right thing to keep my thoughts where they needed to be pre-race.  My race plan was pretty simple - I wanted to go out slow and keep the pace as long as possible. I hoped for a sub-18 day if I played my cards right. 

The race started at 6:00am and the temperature had me wondering if I needed arm warmers and how long I'd actually need my headlamp.  I set my iPod to "slow and low" by the Beastie Boys to remind me to keep the brakes on.  I used my Ambit2 and watched the average pace like a hawk.  It was tough to chill out and let everyone pass me.  I focused on just me, and going slow.  Reverting to my road racing days of watching the watch.  The first lap was easy - I learned the course - and finished the lap in 2:02.

At the start of each lap, Willy and I arranged to switch my packs out.  I used the Orange Mud single barrel pack and it worked great.  Switching the packs out gave me a few gels/chews and some water so I could avoid needing to stop at the aid stations.  I wanted to get into a rhythm on this course and not feel tempted to whittle away time at the aid stations.  At the end of lap 1 I began to see how helpful Willy was going to truly be.  He switched my pack, handed me some Nuun to drink, offered me food and did it all hiking beside me. 

I settled into my rhythm on Lap 2.  I ran with a few different people who made me want to speed up but I stuck to my pace.  The temperature started to inch up and I realized this could be a big factor for me who isn't used to the heat or humidity.  I finished Lap 2 in 2:00.  Another pit stop with Willy, where I shed my Buddha tech shirt to try and cool off, and I was off again.

The heat began to creep up on me during Lap 3.  The temperatures climbed to about 70 with a moderate level of humidity.  That might not seem like much but I was still wearing gloves and jackets training in Washington!  I made an effort to start drinking more liquid and used one of the self-serve aid stations to refill my bottle along this lap.  During this lap I also started to come up on some other runners still on Lap 2.  This proved to be one of the best aspects of this race - the fact that you keep seeing other runners and can exchange everything from smiles and high fives to glances and grunts.  Lap time: 2:01.  

I made a conscious decision to try and slow down on Lap 4.  The heat was really starting to be a factor for me and I didn't want to use too much energy the first half of the race.  Mentally the loop course was starting to rear its ugly head.  I already wished for fewer laps to go and being in the heat of the day didn't help my mental fortitude.  I muscled and smiled my way through Lap 4 in 2:11.  I was sweating a lot and trying to replace fluids as much as possible.

Around mile 45
After Lap 4 I started to dread more laps.  Mentally I was slipping and fought hard to stay positive.  I can't say that I won this battle - I was weaker mentally than I would like to admit.  I started whining and complained about the heat.  I do not like to be this kind of runner.  I asked Willy if he was going to run with me.  I knew he was going to at some point and I needed something to look forward to.  Being the champ that he is, he asked when I'd like him to even though I'm sure he knew the answer.  My response was something like "Now".  Maybe he knew there was no reasoning with me or maybe he is just that nice - but he told me he'd meet me along the airport out-and-back stretch at the beginning of the loop.  He also told me the clouds were rolling in and it would start to cool down now.  Two happy things for this lap!

The airport out-and-back is about 1.5 miles total and is done at the start of each lap.  Then there is a 10.5 mile "lollipop" for each lap.  The remainder of the distance is on the out-and-back to the start/finish line.  Willy used this airport out-and-back a few times to really help me during the race.  He would get me things I needed and bring them to me along this stretch so I didn't waste any time waiting around.  This was a stroke of genius to me while I raced and not only did it save me time, it gave me something to focus on these first few miles of each lap instead of the long loop ahead.

Lap 5 passed pretty quickly for me.  I think it's because I had Willy with me and it was our first time running together.  I really enjoyed it.  I told him right off that I run the tangents of the corners and he spent this lap dancing around to give me the right-of-way.  He didn't make me feel like I had to talk, which I loved.  Looking back, he seemed like a stronger version of myself beside me.  I drew strength from that.  Lap 5 time: 2:13.
Willy helping me at the start of a Lap
I ran Lap 6 alone.  I knew I needed Willy's strength for the last 2 laps and I thought I could power through the last full daylight lap.  I started to really suffer on this lap and found myself walking a lot of the rolling climbs.  I hadn't peed in several laps and I knew I needed to fuel up.  Problem was that food sounded horrible.  I focused on the other runners on the course and using them as distractions as we exchanged pleasantries.  There's something about suffering together that makes everyone the best of friends.  I had a lot of friends at Umstead.  I finished Lap 6 in 2:20 and felt relief knowing I'd have Willy the rest of the way.

My spirits were higher on Lap 7 than they'd been in a while.  Maybe it was the cooler temperatures near sundown, maybe it was Willy's company, maybe it was the pull of the finish approaching.  My body struggled and my mind struggled even more.  I was capable of running but chose to walk almost all the inclines.  I wish my mind had been stronger and pulled my body.  I had the pleasure of being lapped by Liza Howard, the woman's champion.  One tough and fast lady!  I finished Lap 7 in 2:30.

It's no surprise that Lap 8 was the toughest of the whole race.  Mentally I was cooked from the repetition of laps and my body was screaming to stop.  I told myself it was just one more lap.  I tried to push the pace but the mind seemed to have less gas than the body.  Willy reassured me that I could make it under 18 hours if I just kept my current pace.  My first watch died around mile 85 so I was relying on him for pacing.  About 4 miles into the lap I passed the 3rd place woman.  This gave me a good boost and I began to really feel the pull of the finish line.  I pushed the last few miles and tried to leave it all on the course.  I finished the 8th lap in 2:30. 

I finished in 17:47, 3rd place female and 9th overall.  I basically collapsed on Blake (the RD) at the finish line and tried to pass it off as a hug.  He presented me with my buckle and a smile and I've not been this happy to finish a race in a long time!  My friend Gene saw me staggering and helped me inside to a warm cot by the fire where he proceeded to get me any food or drink I wanted.  Talk about service!

My legs were pretty trashed after the race.  And they did not appreciate getting on a flight back to Seattle on Sunday.  But like all ultrarunners, my memory is short-term and I don't even remember it now.

This race brought out several themes to me.  One is Wisdom.  I went into this race with a lot of unknowns.  But I had confidence in my training and my fitness.  I knew how to fuel myself and how to listen to my body.  Running is what we ultrarunners do.  Have faith in the wisdom you've accumulated.  Two is compassion.  Mentally this course was tough on me.  I kept trying to power through and push in a war against myself.  A better bet is to give yourself a break.  Have compassion for yourself and the task at hand.  Have fun.  Smile.  We do this because we love this.  I lost sight of that for a few laps at Umstead.  Third is humility.  I knew this course would challenge me, would push me to a different kind of pain than I've experienced in races before.  What I didn't expect was the level of humility that came along with it.  I am always learning.  I am always open to new lessons.  Is it a coincidence I was wearing the Buddha shirt from Ink N Burn for this race?  Definitely not. 

Heartfelt thanks to all those who helped me before, during and after the race.  To all those who followed me during the race - I knew you'd be watching.  To friends and family who supported me - I lean on you more than you know.  To my PT and my surgeon - Your role is a big one.  To my hosts in Raleigh - I had a blast and can't wait to do it again.  To Gene - You are the best and I'm lucky to have you as a friend. 

Last but not least, this race wouldn't have been what it was without Willy.  His role cannot be understated and I feel grateful beyond words that he is in my life.  Everything he did for me for the race was perfect.  Having someone who is just like you who gives you what you need when you need it - with a smile - while never breaking stride is an amazing thing.  He is a jewel and I've never met anyone quite like him.  And I'm sure I never will again.

Thanks for all of your support - keep smiling.  







Monday, January 27, 2014

Raw Energy Bites

Here's a recipe for my Raw Energy Dough Bites.  These pack a great punch and are awesome for stashing in your pack for a trail run.  Sweet and healthy!

1 C raw walnuts
1 C of raw cashews, sunflower seeds, pecans - mix it up, just make one cup total so you have 2 cups of nuts

Blend in a food processor until grainy.

Add 2 C of pitted dates (I use medjool)
1/2 cup of raw rolled oats
1 C of organic raisins or dried cranberries - may need more to get the right texture
1-2 tsp of quality vanilla extract (depends how much you like vanilla)
1 tsp good cinnamon (more if you like cinnamon)
pinch of sea salt

Process until the dough comes together and all the fruit is mixed and begins to stick together.  Remove from the food processor and add about a cup of raisins to the dough and mix. 

Dough will be sticky but able to be formed into balls.  I usually eat it with a spoon!

Store any uneaten dough in the refrigerator.  :)


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hellgate 100k ++

Hellgate 100k ++ is a very special race.  I knew this even before I got invited by David Horton to run it.  And now that I've run it, I can say it has stolen my heart.  Tough course, epic weather, brilliant race director, great competition and great company... an ultra runner's dream.  (Note: the ++ in the Hellgate 100k name is for the extra bonus miles added by David Horton - the course is 66.6 miles) (Also note the elevation chart from my Ambit data at the bottom of the post)

My lead up to the race was a little unconventional because I'd raced the Pinhoti 100 six weeks prior to Hellgate.  My recovery seemed slow from this 100 - maybe because I hadn't raced a 100 in over a year or maybe because I was stressing about recovering in time for Hellgate - so I listened to my body and tried to do only what it was happy doing.  Things seemed to finally come together about 2-3 weeks before Hellgate and I felt ready.

The race begins at 12:01am on a Saturday morning, this year it was December 14th.  My journey began on Thursday when I left Seattle bound for Roanoke.  I got in late Thursday night and did a quick gear check to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything before crawling into bed.  I tried to sleep as long as I could on Friday morning but I was too excited to sleep the day away.  I was excited for the race but also excited to see my college coach, who was driving down from Ohio to be my crew and support for the weekend.  Coach and I hadn't seen each other in about 12 years and the reunion was sweet.  We spent the day on Friday catching up and talking about old times while listening to great music.  I kept my feet up, ate plenty of food and took a few naps.  Perfect race prep!

The midnight start is very cool.  It creates a great energy and excitement and I really enjoyed it.  It meant running about half of the race in the dark, but it also meant having time for fun on Saturday night after the race!  I found it somewhat hard to know what to eat during the day on Friday - somehow that's easier when you are sleeping until a few hours before the start. 

My Coach was a champ - he drove out to the finish area and picked up my packet at 5pm when they were available.  I stayed and napped.  Lucky me!  This gave us freedom to arrive at the start when I was ready, not having to sit around at the camp for hours before the caravan to the start began.  It was awesome!  I started getting dressed and ready for the race at 9pm in the hotel. We'd been monitoring the weather forecast most of the day and it was clear mother nature had many tricks up her sleeve headed our way!


We arrived at Camp Bethel about 10:15pm.  This gave plenty of time to mingle among the racers and get a huge hug from David Horton.  It was awesome to see him again.  He and I met at White River in 2011 and he has this incredible personality and energy you never forget and once you're back in his presence it all comes back again.  I was really excited to run his course and his race.

At 10:50pm, and I mean exactly 10:50pm, all the racers pile into cars and drive the 30 minutes or so to the start.  Coach and I didn't know the way so we wanted to join the caravan.  It was the fastest moving caravan I've ever been in!  We literally hauled along these roads - sometimes going 80mph.  I guess this is what happens when you put tapered runners behind the wheel!  :)  At the start line I waited in the car to stay warm and eventually everyone headed down the hill to the official start.

The start had a great energy, racers ready to go and see what the night would bring.  I love this photo - it seems to capture the energy just waiting in all of our headlamps! 

The race started with some relatively easy terrain, and mother nature was leaving us alone for the time being. Racers were chatting and everyone was settling in.  It was easy to peg who the top women were - David numbers racers according to ranking.  I was #103, meaning I was ranked 3rd among the females.  I started the early miles with the two top ranked women.  There was a stream crossing about 4 miles in that was deep and impossible to avoid, reaching almost my knees at the deepest steps.  Wet feet never worry me, and it wasn't cold enough to really chill my toes at this point.  Right after the stream was the first aid station, which we all ran through without stopping.

From AS1 to AS2, the course goes up a fairly good climb.  It's all on a gravel road so it's easy footing and felt very easy to me.  I love to climb and I think I found myself pushing it too hard on this early climb.  I ran the whole climb and was ahead of the other women at the 2nd Aid Station.  Of course, it's easy to feel good this early in a race!  It was a beautiful climb - not only because I love to climb, but also to see the snake of headlamps behind you as you climb your way up the long switchbacks.  I saw my Coach at the top of the climb and he seemed pleased with how my race was going so far.  This gave me a good boost as the race headed onto single track.

The single track was my first taste of what single track would be like in Virginia.  There were many more rocks than I am used to and they were covered with 6 inches of dead leaves, which made it hard to spot the rocks.  A friend from Washington had warned me about the rocks in a good luck text hours before and I didn't even consider how right he'd be!  I got passed along this section by the woman who ended up taking first place, Kathleen Cusick.  

Somewhere along this section it started to snow.  The course has a fair bit of uphill the first half and the few hours I spent along the higher sections brought some heavy snow.  It started as these small pretty flakes that made you feel like you in a snow globe.  But within minutes the snow was much heavier, making visibility challenging with a headlamp.  It felt like I was only seeing white for long periods of time.  It was difficult to see the trail and even more difficult to feel confident in my footing.  I was grateful to have a second light source - my flashlight gave me depth perception that the headlamp could not.  It snowed heavily for about 2 hours, and during this time about 2-3 inches of snow fell. 

The night aid stations all blurred together for me.  I remember laughing several times about the bonus "Horton miles".  Aid stations would tell you they were x miles apart and some where more like x + 2.  The weather was unpredictable - at times it would snow, other times it would be ice pellets and other times some other frozen precipitation.  It was cold and I was wet the entire time.  My Patagonia Light Flyer jacket honestly saved my race.  That jacket is incredible.  Kept the weather away from my core but let my body breathe. I also wore a Barrier shirt from Pearl Izumi.  This layer against my skin kept a great barrier against the front of my chest.  These 2 top layers were key to keeping my body happy! 

Aid Station 5 was the next time I saw my Coach after Aid Station 2.  The night was almost over at this point and the weather seemed less brutal.  Likely because we'd come down off the highest point on the course.  I did not envy the crew and aid station volunteers who'd been standing out in this weather all night! 
After Aid Station 5, the course climbs, descends and then climbs again to Aid Station 6.  The first climb out of the aid station is on a gravel road, and sections of it were quite slippery from the ice.  The road was a white glaze and about a third up this climb it was easy to go without my light.  I run a lot in the pre-dawn for my training and I absolutely love that time in the morning when you can see to run but cars still consider it "dark".  The climb went on for several miles and as I got higher I could see the low cloud cover and fog in the valleys.  It was beautiful. 

The course undulates up and down with some great ridge running from here on out.  My first east coast ultra was the Pinhoti 100 and I wished that course had longer climbs like we have out west.  I found Hellgate to be more to my liking with the climbing going on a little longer and allowing me to settle into a climbing rhythm.  I don't have a lot of recollection about the course except to note that several sections were what I call nasty single track.  Littered with big rocks which were covered in leaves and snow.  These sections were slow for me because many of them were descents and I didn't want to fall.  I saw my Coach again at Aid Station 7.  I was able to finally shed the headlamp (been wearing it turned off for several hours) and I picked up some extra gloves.  It has started to rain at this point and the rain was cold and tough to handle after being wet since the start.  And trying to put on the extra gloves made my hands especially cold and my hands were miserable after this aid station for about 45 minutes. 

Aid Station 8 came up reasonably quickly and I loved the ridge running along this section.  Once I got my hands warm I was running along this section feeling pretty good.  I was happy my hands were warmer again.  I saw my Coach at AS8, the aid station was perched under this old bridge.  It seemed pretty to me but I didn't take much time to look at it.  The course descends a gravel section that is easy to run fast on right after the aid station and then turns to single track.  I really enjoyed this single track and could sense the finish line approaching.  However, along this section I spotted a pink jacket coming up behind me.  Needless to say, it woke me up and scared me.  I hadn't run in 2nd place for most of the race to lose it now.  I focused my energy and kicked into another gear.  I didn't know how I would do it for 12-15 miles, but I knew I had to give it everything I had.  By the time I got to Aid Station 9, I had a fire in my eyes even my Coach could see.

Aid Station 9 to the finish is a 6 mile section - 3 miles up, 3 miles down.  I knew I had at least one woman coming up behind me and I knew I had to run this section as hard as I could.  I felt strong and knew I could run the 3 mile climb but thought it might wipe me out for any fight on the descent.  I decided to revert to my power hiking, which many of you know is not slow.  :)  Looking back at my Ambit data, I hiked up at about 15 min pace and felt like I could have kept this up for a long time.  When I hit the top I was able to cruise on the downhill, booking it to the finish. 

In the end, I finished 2nd female in 14:19.  The next female was about 11 minutes behind me at the finish.  I am happy I was able to gain that much distance over the last dozen miles.  The end of Hellgate brought out in me what I love about running ultras.  Just when I think I'm tired and spent I always know I have another gear.  My body has incredible reserves and strength.  And I love it when they get a chance to shine.

After the finish, I got a big hug from David Horton and made it top priority to get into dry clothes.  My Coach and I headed back to Roanoke for hot showers and some food.  I'd been looking forward to celebrating with Coach the whole race (and dreaming of being dry and warm).  We were both exhausted from being up all night, but we celebrated in style and had a blast hashing out the race.

Hellgate is a very special race.  And now it's a very special race to me.  The race went very well for me, especially considering I'd run a 100 just six weeks before.  I had plenty of curve balls thrown at me during the race and was able to deal with them without them disrupting my rhythm.  Even the epic weather didn't seem to phase me.  If anything, I think the weather kept me in the present - dealing with the moment and not focused too far ahead.  The course is amazing, I really enjoyed racing it.  The Hellgate 100k++ stole my heart.  It's definitely one of my favorite races and I can't wait to go back again.

I left Sunday mid-day to fly back to Seattle.  On the way home I had plenty of time to reflect on my experience and count my blessings.  For one, I have an amazing Coach.  I hadn't seen him in over 12 years and it felt like no time had passed.  If anything, we've grown more alike in the last 12 years.  He has been a great supporter of mine and this race highlighted everything about him that I feel so blessed to have in my life.  Crewing for a runner is not an easy job.  Crewing in bad weather is even more difficult.  Dealing with me pre and post race has it's challenges too.  But Coach took it all in stride and made me feel like he did this every day.  I am grateful for all that he does for me.

I also realized how much I loved this race.  Hellgate is one of my favorite races.

I found myself pretty choked up on the way home thinking about everything I've been through this year and where I finally ended up.  I was actively injured until July this year, when I finally found a Physical Therapist who fixed me.  Never in my dreams had I believed I'd run Pinhoti in November and have it go so well.  Never in my wildest dreams would I think I'd be healthy after the Pinhoti effort and be able to race Hellgate so soon afterwards.  I got all that and more.  I had a great race at Hellgate.  I flew home that day counting my blessings.  I count them every day.  I cannot wait for an exciting 2014! 









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