So, this isn’t the typical blog posting from me…you note the lack of photos. I wanted to put down my memories (fuzzy as they are) from my first 100k. I’m still on cloud nine! (pun intended)
Cloudsplitter is an out-and-back course along the Pine Mountain Trail along the KY/VA border. It starts in Elkhorn City KY and turns around at Pound Gap, VA. The 100k has 17,000 feet of elevation gain. This is the second year of the race. Mark and I ran the 25k last year and had fun.
To say I was nervous is probably an understatement. I had my nutrition and hydration down and was finally eating. during ultras However, my training plans are completely unorthodox. I don’t run back-to-backs, nor do I run lots of training mileage. In fact, I averaged about 25-35 miles a week, with a few weeks in the 40s, but many weeks in the high teens. It is definitely not the typical 100k (or 50 miler) training plan. However, I also follow those long runs walking a round of golf, so I’m on my feet all day. In the preceding 4 months, I had run a marathon, a 50k and a 30 mile training run on the Cloudsplitter course.
Two weeks prior to Cloudsplitter, I ran my last ‘race’, the AF ½ Marathon, a relatively flat course. While I finished strong, I didn’t PR like I felt I was capable of. There was a point in the race when it was a drag to keep going. That really hurt my confidence. However, as Mark kept pointing out, it was also the longest road running I’d done over the last few months. As we got closer to race day and I was tapering (sort of), my runs felt great. I ran a few short night runs to familiarize myself with night running again.
Since the plan was for Mark and me to fly down to Pikeville, we watched the weather closely. About a week out, everything looked good, so we got a rental car and started making plans. Unfortunately, a hurricane in the Atlantic changed those plans. By mid-week, the weather forecast started looking terrible. At one point, it was calling for almost 2 inches of rain on Sat. It was going to be a mud-fest (again). 2015 will be remembered as the year of mud. I had 4 big races this year; three of them were held in muddy conditions.
On Friday morning, we woke up and checked the weather. While we could have flown, it would have been on the edge of our comfort level, so we decided to drive. We checked into our hotel, drove out to pick up the race packet, then dinner.
Dinner was my downfall. Looking at the menu, I carefully decided to pass on the fried banana peppers. However the zucchini hush puppies sounded great, and for some reason it never occurred to me that they too are fried. They were tasty, but my already nervous tummy decided that it was not happy with me at 3 in the morning. Food would once again be my downfall, I was sure of it.
Waking up on Sat morning, the weather forecast was still ugly, but the amount of rain was significantly less. We’d still be in the clouds all day, so no pretty views that we had on the training run. The plan had always been for Mark to meet me at Pound Gap, the turn-around point at 50k. With the rain, I asked him if he’d also meet me at Birch Knob (25k/75k). His willingness to wait around for hours was a game changer for me.
With my stomach in knots, I barely got an English muffin and peanut butter down for breakfast. On the drive to the start line, I was able to drink some Tailwind, so I had some calories in me, but not an ideal situation. This would last almost the entire race. I could barely eat anything without my stomach revolting until mile 54. Tailwind was a race saver for me. I never did drink as much of it as I thought I would, but it kept enough calories coming into me that I never bonked. Slowly, I was able to eat some other solid food, such as potato soup, sandwich and of course the DLM Salted Caramel Killer Brownie that Mark had waiting for me at 50k.
The race started out with a bang (literally, they started it with a shotgun). The rain started right on cue as well. I ran, chatting with Morgan, for the first mile along the road. As we hit the mountain, I said goodbye, as we started the long climb up. The first 7 miles are along atv trails and is one long climb up the ridge (with a few downs). Going down to Goldfish Pond aid station would have been more appropriate with a sheet of plastic. The mud was terrible.
About 10 miles in, you start running the ridgeline. It’s smooth rock with just some painted lines on it. It was slick and hard to follow in the daylight. I was not looking forward to the dark. At this point, my stomach was so knotted up, that I seriously considered turning around at the 25k point and making it a 50k. It was an honorable option, given the weather conditions. I was mad at myself. After a few (long) minutes, I snapped out of it. I realized that I would forever feel guilty if dropped to the shorter distance. My choices were the culprit, so I was going to tough it out. From then on it was onward. I came up to the Birch Knob aid station smiling and happy to see Mark.
Mark had never been to an ultra of mine, so he had never crewed. It was also the first time that I had a crew. Prior to the run, I gave him a few basics…fill my water bottles and ask me a few questions: “have you eaten?”, “Any hot spots?” As I ran up, I pulled my pack off, and handed it to him, asking him to fill my flasks with tailwind. I took off for the bathroom. I grabbed my drop bag with dry socks and a cup of soup from the volunteers. Going back to the car, I tried to untie my shoes, but my fingers were just too cold. Mark graciously untied them and retied after I changed my socks. Luckily, I had thrown a light pair of gloves into my drop bag, so on they went. Mark asked the required questions, but didn’t like the answer to the food. Grabbing my headlamp (required upon leaving Birch Knob), I set off down the road. Now that the 50k folks were headed back toward town, only the 100 milers and 100k folks remained. It was an empty trail from then on…the volunteers at the aid station told me to follow the road for about 2.5 miles and I’d see another trail sign and enter the single track. That was a long time. I actually flagged a car coming up the road to ensure I didn’t miss the turn. I hadn’t. The next runner I saw was about 4 miles out from the aid station. He was a 100 miler, but was considering dropping to the 100k given the conditions. We ran together for a while, but I slowly pulled ahead of him on the hills. I came across some folks at a fence line. They told me that I was 3rd overall and had about 3.5 miles to the turn. That was a long 3.5 miles. The trail was a gravel road for the most part, with no markings. I really wanted to see someone else to make sure that I wasn’t lost. Finally the leader came running up the road. He was moving…
Crossing the busy road to the aid station at Pound Gap, it was great to see Mark waiting for me again. Some routine, this time, I had him give me a NUUN tablet instead of Tailwind in one of my flasks, the carbonation and flavor change gave me a little boost. I had some more soup and left with my Killer Brownie in hand. At this point I was second overall and first female.
Since I was now heading back toward Elkhorn City, I was seeing people again, both 100 milers and 100k. It was great to get encouragement as well as give it as we passed each other. It was also nice to see Morgan and Valerie, both still smiling. Finally, once again, I ended up alone again. Mile 36-41 were probably the worst of the day. I just wanted off the @#$ mountain. I started cursing the mountain. However, I knew I’d finish it at this point. I was still only eating sporadically, but I wasn’t physically having issues, just mentally. Pushing on, I finally snapped out of the mental funk and pressed forward. Mark was waiting for me at Birch Knob. I hit Birch Knob shortly before 7 (well ahead of my planned time), some more soup, clean socks and dry long-sleeved shirt. I was ready to finish. I knew the last 25k would take the longest. Not only was I tired, but dark was setting in. I also knew that although the ridgeline was scary during the day, it would be worse at night. In fact, I did fall hard on the rock at one point, despite all my careful efforts. Following the lines on the rock with no reflectors on the other end of the trail made it challenging. In addition, the mud in some of this portion of the trail was going to be treacherous. There was one portion of single track that required me to use the trees along the path to pull myself up the hill.
It was at the point that I started seeing headlamps coming up behind me. I could also hear voices (they were real). The next runner had caught me. It spurred me forward for quite a while. I would leave the aid station as they were coming in. It was going to take a lot for me to stay ahead of him. Ultimately, he did catch me, with 2-3 miles left. As he and his pacer passed me, he told me how impressed he was that I kept ahead of them for so long.
As I came into town, I started moving. I didn’t have a gps, but when I called Mark to let him know my position, I saw the time. I was well under my goal time, so now I wanted to finish before 11:30. I got to the ballpark, but couldn’t figure out how to get to the finish line, since it was configured differently from last year when I ran the 25k. Mark was on the inside of the fence trying to guide me in so unfortunately was unable to get a picture of me crossing the finish line, but it will forever remain in my mind.
After a Warped Wing Ermal’s and some bbq pork, it was time to head back to the hotel. It took two soapings to get all the mud off my legs.
Official time was 15:26 and overall female champion. This was better than my goal time of 16 hrs. I did this under less than ideal conditions. I’ll be back next year. The race was well organized, with wonderful volunteers willing to spend the night in the middle of the mountains in the rain. The supplies had to be brought to a few of the stations either via horseback or atv, so there was no changing of the crew mid-way through. While there is no real time tracking of the racers, I was able to program my cell phone and send messages to Mar at each aid station, so he could track my progress.
As for driving, it worked out well. Not only would Mark not have been able to make it to Birch Knob due to the road conditions, but my Dad happened to be in Lexington on Sun afternoon, so we were able to see him for lunch.
Some lessons learned:
- No fried food night before race. Seems obvious, but easy to forget.
- I need to trust my training. It works for me
- Find a pacer
- Tailwind works wonders for me.
- Altra Lone Peaks and Swiftwick socks rock…not a single blister
- Don’t leave shoes to dry under the car at night. Someone decided to take them