It was so nice to be back in the woods of Vermont. Vermont is Scott and my favorite state.  We love the climbs, the views, the vegetation and the feel.  I had run the Peak 50 mile race back in 2007 and 2008.  2007 was it’s first year and it was closer to 56 miles with some adventure challenges thrown in.  I had a blast both years but chose to race elsewhere since then.  After a visit a few months ago to the race headquarters I knew it was time to go back.

Shep and Dahlia were psyched to camp out in our VW Pop Top, so we chose to drive up later on Friday and park at Riverside Farm very close to the start.  It would have been a great spot except for all the cars driving in and out all night.  Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep.  Also, my plan, after many talks with Coach Al, was to get up at 3am and eat 500 -1,000 calories.  It wasn’t hard to get up but it was hard to eat.  I choked down some gluten free pancakes with peanut butter between along with a serving of chocolate Vega.

I finally crawled out of my sleeping bag at 5am, got ready to race, and had a serving of Osmo Pre-hydrator with 16 oz of water and one VFuel.  The race started without much fanfare along with the 100-mile race.  We went straight while they all took a right turn onto a ten-mile loop that they would repeat 10 times.

We would come back to that loop for our last ten miles. In less than 2 miles we had a knee-deep river crossing.  It was cold but fun.  After the water and after crossing Rte 100 I got into a rhythm and chatted with some of the runners around me.  Eventually we hit a bushwhack where the only indicator that we were on course was pink flagging. There was so much moose poop out there that I joked with one of the runners that a moose helped mark the course. After a big climb up and over Wilcox Mountain we arrived on an ATV trail and then dirt roads. The bushwhack was about 1.5 miles an really slowed the race down but I loved every minute of it.  A little over 12 miles brought me to Upper Michigan Aid Station.  After a short road out and back I met up with my crew and switched my UltrAspire hydration pack with a fully stocked one.  I ate a handful of salted boiled potatoes, kissed my family and headed down the trail.

The Bloodroot loop is long; longer than I calculated.  Some of the climbs are 40% and miles long, the mud was relentless and deep.  I didn’t take enough food, but I did not realized it until I hit the 31 mile aid station thinking it was the 27 mile one where I would see Scott again (it was 37, not 27!).  I had 6 more up and down, muddy miles to go and none of my personal food remaining.  I was carefully planning my intake and the plan was going very well.  Hour 1 and 2 was EFS gel, hour 3 was EFS electrolyte drink and salted boiled potatoes.

The pattern was to be repeated until the end.  My stomach felt great and my energy was good, but when I realized at the aid station I was still 1.5  – 2 hours away from my crew I had to make some decisions.  I filled my pack ½ way and scanned the aid station table.  Barbeque flavored potato chip, yuck!  Processed cookies, yuck!   I panicked a bit but then spotted some honey-roasted peanuts. They would have to do.  I took 2 handfuls and sped off.  Luckily the peanuts digested well and I was able to negotiate the next 6 miles at an okay pace, although I did feel a bit dizzy toward the end.  I made it back to my crew without crashing.  I asked for more salted boiled potatoes and a full bottle of electrolyte drink, which I downed.  I was back in action!

Three miles of mostly downhill dirt road running now to take me back to Riverside Farm where I needed to run under 2 hours to get in before 11 hours. I knew I was going to be okay by the 8.5  – 9 min pace I was able to hold all the way to the farm.  The loop consisted of steep inclines many switchbacks, with a nice long (3-4 mile) downhill after reaching Shrek’s cabin 9top of the mountain).

I struggled on the climb but once I got rolling downhill I started feeling stronger. My watch was under -calculating the miles through the last loop because of all the switches.  I was passing many people but could not tell which race they were in.  There was a 15 mile, 30 mile, 50 mile, 100 mile, 200 mile and 500 mile race going on at the same time.  The competitors in the 500 miler, especially my friend, Michelle Roy, were very inspiring!  So, as I pushed the pace and was reveling in my ability to do so (I had not be able to finish strong in a long time) I kept looking for the finish line but each time the trail got closer to the farm it would loop away again until finally the course took me right into the finish.  I crossed in 10 hours 56 minutes.

I ended up fifth overall and first woman but my biggest success was not in winning but in being able to run consistently strong again and have no stomach issues.  My stomach was in such good condition that I was able to enjoy a picnic with my family after.  That was the best prize of all!

Mentally, it’s been a challenging year for me, to say the least.  I could possibly have been in the best shape of my life this summer, but suffered from stomach issues and fatigue that did not allow me to perform up to my abilities.  Hellgate was my “feel better” race, a way to end the season on a happy note with feeling strong instead of feeling defeated.

Horton races are good for that.   Hellgate delivered, since my main goal was simply, to finish strong, which I was able to do even after a long stretch of falling asleep on my feet and barely moving forward.  My stomach never gave my trouble this race but my downfall may have been being too cautious and not taking in enough calories. Scott and I left the kids at my mother and father-in-laws to make the trip with just the two of us.  It would have been too challenging with the midnight start and the predicted cold temperatures and precipitation to have Shep and Dahlia in tow.

Thee weather delivered a mix of sleet, snow and rain with temps in the 20’s and 30’s but I felt well prepared with multiple shoes, mittens and even hand heaters to change into during the race. Scott was a trooper staying up all night to see me through this event.  After experimenting this year with numerous sports drinks I decided to go back to an old standby. My nutrition strategy was to stick with only Perpetuem like I used with success at Laurel Highlands 70.5 mile back in 2011.  The race began at 12:01am, right on time.  I had a fun time chatting with Kathleen Cusick  (the eventual woman’s winner) for the first few miles but then held back a bit to focus on conserving some energy.

I felt good and was slightly ahead of my goal pace when I rolled into mile ~27 (which is actually ~30), I refilled water, got more Perpetuem and continued on.  I decided to keep my lights, but didn’t need them for more than 15 minutes as the night was fading away and daylight came quickly.  As soon as I crossed the street the course went straight uphill and I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks. My pace slowed and my eyelids felt heavy the higher I climbed. I was fighting to move. My thoughts began to turn negative, but I fought them to stay on task; to finish feeling good.  I focused on “I CAN!” My stomach was doing fine but I was fatigued and had thoughts that I needed to combat it with more calories.  Maybe, because of the cold, I underestimated my calorie need or Perpetuem just wasn’t working for me.

I grabbed some real food at the next aid station but because of my slowness it took me a long time to get there.   In hindsight, I probably should have stayed a bit longer, taking in more calories but I was still a bit afraid of eating because of my experience in Tahoe.  I also took an electrolyte caffeine pill, which helped stop me from falling asleep on my feet.  After staggering down the trail and dirt roads, getting passed by many people, I finally made it into aid station 7 (mile ~43).  I was 2 hours overdue.  Scott was worried but instinctually I knew what I needed to do. I asked for all the hot food he could find me. I changed my mittens, changed socks, changed into a waterproof jacket, added a layer to my top and changed my hat.  I was starting to get chilled as I sat and ate.  I filled up on warm boiled potatoes with salt and M & M’s. I started to perk up and asked for food to go as well.  I took more pretzels and more M&M’s to go.

A few miles down the trail my fatigue lifted along with my spirit.  I was running again.  I started passing some of the people that passed me miles before.  My toes thawed, my body warmed up and my stomach remained happy.  I continued to grab M& M’s and grilled cheese sandwiches to go at the next couple of aid stations.  The rain came down hard on and off.  I used my hood as a heat regulator. It worked great.  My pace remained steady and at the next aid Scott told me he would drive to the finish and run back to meet me at aid station 9 so he could run the last part with me.  Since I was no longer in top 5 female I could have a pacer.  I remained steady and felt good.  I beat Scott to the last aid station and started climbing the last mountain hoping I would see him soon to spend some time together.  It’s always a pleasure to experience some miles on the trails with my husband.  After 25 minutes of climbing he was running toward me elated that I was in such a good mood and going much faster than he anticipated.  We crested the hill and now began the last 3.5-mile push to the finish.  It was now 15 hours 34 minutes that I had been out there.  I pushed hard downhill on the rutted dirt road, bouncing off the rocks.  It’s one of my favorite things to do.  It smoothed out and turned to tar with just over a mile remaining and we ran harder, trying to get under 16 hours but I just couldn’t do it…..and who knows if that is really 3.5 miles from the top anyways!!!???  I finished in 16 hours 3 minutes a good 2 hours longer than I believe I am capable of but in a much better place mentally and physically than I have been all year.  So, I call it a success!  Thanks to all the volunteers and Dr. Horton for putting on such a spectacular event!

I do promise to write soon about my challenges in 2013, my findings (with the help of Coach Al and Dr. Kurt) and my plans for better health and better running.  So stay tuned!

I have a love/hate relationship with the VT50.  Scott and I have been coming back for 15 consecutive years to run, ride or cheer others on.  We even brought our daughter in 2009 when she was one week old to be part of the festivities. The VT 50 miler was my first ultra in 1999. The VT 50k in 2004 was the first ultra that I ever won outright.

There was even one year where I thought I won the VT 50 miler coming in under 8 hours with my best time ever on the course only to find out that a new (to me) runner had beaten me by 30 minutes.  I couldn’t believe it was true but after some research I learned more about Aliza Lapierre and over the years she has proven to be a top-notch runner besting her CR this year by over 20 minutes!  Needless to say I never got to win the VT 50 miler and at this point never will but I still fantasize about it!  I have had really tough races here over the past couple years.  My body seems to rebel on this course now.  Maybe it’s the dirt roads.  Maybe it’s because the race typically falls at the end of a long season.  Whatever it is this race still has a special place in my heart that can never be altered.  The memories are cherished along with all the friends we’ve made; Mike Silverman, Zeke Zucker and all the amazing people who make this race happen are forever a part of me.

This year’s weather was perfect!  It started out cool and foggy.  The sun remained tucked behind clouds for most of the race but the brilliant sun that finally snuck out in the afternoon was just perfect for lounging around in at the end of the race.

The day before the main events was just as great with lots of fun things going on.  Shepard competed in the kids 5k and Dahlia chose the ½ mile trail race.  They both had a wonderful time.  I ran behind Dahlia in her race and it put a smile on my face to see her running steady and determined.   Up to that point she was very shy about racing since she doesn’t like people cheering for her, but last week she announced to me that she was “okay” with it now!  It is crazy how they can just change their mind (or behaviors) on a dime!  The expo was also very nice with free ice cream and Owl bar samples, as well as a Suunto (who I had a lot of questions for) rep and other reps ready to answer questions.

Our family decided to camp out with dozens of other runner and bikers on the lawn near the end of the parking area.  We invited my brother, Tom to come with us to watch the kids while we were out gallivanting in the VT woods.  Uncle Tommy is such a treat for Shep and Dahlia.  He was a big help.  We love him very much.  I did not have to wake as early for my race since it started at 8am so I was able to help get the kids dressed and get them breakfast.  I was feeling good and ready to perform to the best of my ability so I started near the front and took off with the top woman.

I held a good pace that felt comfortable by not too hard.  The first 1/3 of the race is mostly dirt road now with lots of climbing.  My plan was to not ingest anything but water until 1.5 – 2 hours in.  I did have a good liquid breakfast of Vega One 2 hours before the start.  A few girls passed me and I counted that I was in 6th place but I felt calm and steady so it did not worry me.  I came into the third aid station (Skunk Hollow) finally deciding to take my gloves off and also thought it would be a good time to ingest some Hammer gel.  I was an hour and forty minutes in and at 12.9 miles.

Skunk Hollow is a major aid station where both 50 milers and 50k split once again.  I turned left as I was supposed to and then headed straight through the horse fences while I was focused on packing my gloves away and getting some gel.  One I got my UltrAspire pack back on I started running again and headed back into the woods.  The trail went straight up and started crossing other trails without any signage.  I began to have doubts.  I could have sworn I saw to runners go this way.  I ran to the top of the hill.  I started yelling for people.  I ran all the way back down to the edge of the woods and still did not see any signs.  I decided I must be on course and ran back up going even farther.  The ground was trampled on but I could not decide whether it was sneakers or just horse prints.  I finally stopped and made the decision that I would need to go all the way back to the aid station.  I ran as fast as I could, feeling frustrated and mad.  I ran down the hill, out of the woods, in between the horse corrals and there it was; the sign to turn!  It was on a little box on the ground just after the aid station.

A lot was going through my head at that moment.  I was mad at myself for making such a dumb mistake, mad at the people all around the aid station who didn’t stop me from going straight past the turn (I remember that the course used to go that way), sad that I could not now finish with a time I know I am capable of.  With my adrenaline pumping I surged past dozens of runners.  I could not believe the number of people who had come by while I was running up and down the wrong hill.  I figured that I had lost about 20 minutes and that’s a lot in a 50k!

One good thing came out of it though.  I got to see my friend Emily Merriam out on the course.  She was one of many who had passed and when I came up from behind she was shocked.  Em tried to cheer me up a bit.  She looked great and was having a good time.  I was happy for her but my competitive urges made me want to try to catch up to where I was. I pushed on, hoping that my energy level would hold or even increase and maybe that I would come in at least somewhere near my goal time.  Every 45 minutes or so I alternated between Hammer gel and Perpetuum.

My fueling was great but I was wishing for more speed, which wasn’t coming.  I never felt like I absolutely had to walk but my running was more like a jog and I began to struggle mentally with whether it mattered to push since I lost 20 minutes or to just cruise it in.  The first place male 50 mile runner went by me in a flash.  He was unbelievable! Later, I found out he was running about a 7:30 minute mile average to finish in a new men’s course record.  Wow!  The first place 50 mile woman, Aliza Lapierre, came by me with less than 2 miles to go.  I cheered for her and she looked up with concern in her eyes and said, “Debbie, are you okay?”  “Yes”, I replied, “just a wrong turn.”  She expressed her sorry and floated down the trail to a woman’s course record!   I crossed the line around 5 and ½ hours with a smile on my face.  I had persevered after making such a bad mistake.  I was happy that I was able to get over my ego and continue on.  It was hard to be out there wondering what could have been, but it seems that all of my races this year have had that theme.  I don’t know what place woman I came in.

It doesn’t matter this time.  This day was to appreciate all that I do have; a wonderful husband, loving children, caring family, a supportive coach, incredible friends and a mind and body that can do these kinds of adventures.  Who knows if I can cover the VT 50k in 4 ½ hours again someday or the VT 50 miler under 8 hours in the future?  Maybe those fast times are long gone for me.  But maybe there are surprises up ahead.  We never know if we don’t try.  So I am going to keep on trying, because this is what I LOVE!

The Tahoe Rim Trail 100 did go as planned …….up to the 50mile mark.  The first 40 miles were uneventful as I held a good pace, had fun conversations and gorgeous views. But challenges were already present even before the race started; running at altitude, dusty trails, blazing sun and high temperatures.  I was excited to take on the challenges but blind to what lied ahead.

I was running strong and felt good for most of the race but in the last few miles on the first 50 mile loop, going back down into Spooner Lake State Park, I began to feel a bit “off” and sluggish.  I expect some rough patches in a race and know there is always an upswing. Upon arriving at the Start/Finish in just under 11 hours I decided to try to make the next 50 miles feel like a brand new race.  I changed my socks, sports bra and shirt.  I ate, drank, washed my face and resupplied.  I got some energy from seeing my crew (Scott, Shep, Dahlia and cousin Tim and Sara), but that unfortunately would not last long. I left their smiling faces, made a pit stop at the port-o-potties and turned up the trail. After walking and trying to jog as much as I could I figured I should try to switch to gels and ate a Chia Surge.

About an hour later I ate a VFuel but that didn’t help either.  Getting to the next aid station (Hobart) took me almost an hour longer than the first time.  I tried to eat and drink a bit more there but nothing seemed appetizing.  A few miles later the trail began to wind downhill again and I was able to summon enough energy to run. But with the running my stomach was getting jostled and then really started to hurt and nausea set in.  I dug out a ginger chew and tried to suck on that but it was not helping so I threw it out.  The Tunnel Creek Aid station could not come soon enough.  I sat down for a minute and when I looked up Scott was there.  He had run up the road again to start his pacing duty with me, earlier than we had originally planned.  I was happy to see him.  Scott got me a Ginger Ale and I tried to eat a bit of boiled potato. The volunteers asked if I wanted chicken broth but I needed veggie broth.  They told me they would have it upon my return. I got up to continue on to the Red House loop.  I ran gingerly on the down hills as it really hurt my gut to do it.  I continued a run, hike, run, hike pattern as best I could grabbing a full can of Ginger Ale at the Red House Aid station. Little sips were the best I could do as well as a slow progress forward on my feet.  It got dark on our climb back up and my thoughts grew dark as well.  “How could I continue with this gut pain and fatigue?  Deep breathes.   Coming in before the sun comes up will be impossible.  I can’t even walk a straight line.”  A couple miles later Scott encouraged me to try to take a Salt tablet.  It hit the back of my throat and the contents of my stomach promptly came up.  There was nothing in there but water and Ginger Ale.  I felt horrible and throwing up did not make me feel any relief.  That was discouraging since in Pinhoti when I had stomach issues I always felt better after throwing up and then was able to carry on.  We finally made it back to Tunnel Creek completing the Red House loop.

I sat down again feeling defeated.  Scott worked hard with the volunteers to get me veggie broth, crackers, sweet potatoes.  Nothing tasted very good but everything stayed down.  My energy level, stomach pain and nausea did not improve and I began to get chilled.  After 90 minutes I decided things were not turning around and I wanted to be done.  I laid down on a cot with a blanket over me and tried to sleep. We had to wait for a ride out of there and a couple hours later we were heading down the mountain in a 4WD truck going over some crazy big boulders. My gut was still aching. We eventually made it back to our car and then to bed.

There is a whole other nail biting half to this story that Scott already wrote about so I will link you here to his blog to read about it.

After the fact you begin to beat yourself up.  What went wrong?  What could I have done differently?  Did I give in too early?  The thoughts haunt me but I know that in every race there is a lesson.  I am just not totally sure what this lesson was …….yet.

There’s going to be one of those races at some point in your running career where you don’t perform up to your expectations.   My expectations were high; strong running, feel good and have fun but my main goal was a bit more modest: to break top ten……. and I didn’t even do that!  I was disappointed to say the least BUT the place was beautiful and I got a great workout in.

Scott, the kids and I camped in our VW poptop at Robert H. Treman State Park just a 1/2 mile from the start.  We got there in the dark because we arrived late to the pre-race meeting missing all but the very end of it and then we ate a wonderful dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Moosewood. Our good friend, Kelly Wilson, joined us.  It was late night getting to bed and it would be an early rise. At 4:30am I felt unprepared as I tried to finish packing my drop bags and making my flasks filled with UCAN and chia seeds.

With just 30 minutes before the start I gave Scott my alternate hydration pack and a drop bag (shoes and socks) with instruction to leave the drop bag at the Underpass aid station (~6.5 miles) and meet me there to change into my Ultraspire Surge hydration pack.

I was planning on running with just  the Ultaspire Isomeric handheld for the first hour.  Kelly and I found our way to the start, I left one drop-bag for the mile 25 aid station which was the start/finish and got my last bathroom break in.  Amy Rusiecki, Kristina Folcik and Carly Stroich-Eisley were just a few of my fellow New England girls there. The start came quickly.  I wanted to focus on running my own race knowing the first 3 miles were almost all uphill which is not my strength and that it usually takes me at least and hour to get into a rhythm.  The first part was incredible.  We ran along an amazing waterfall on CCC built stone steps.  Once we dropped into the woods and the trail undulated a bit more I felt a bit stronger.  I made it to the Underpass Aid Station in just over an hour and didn’t see Scott or the kids anywhere.  I scanned the drop bags and didn’t see mine. I kept moving and then heard a, “Hello, are you Debbie?  I am Meghan Hicks. “  For those of you who don’t know Meghan, she works for and was covering the race.  She is also a superb athlete and just won the Marathon des Sables in Morocco.

Meghan had just interviewed Scott and I for an article that will be printed in an upcoming issue of Trail Running magazine.  Back to the race…..I told her it was nice to meet her and if she saw Scott to let him know I passed through.  I was really hoping he would be at the next aid station because it would take me another hour and I would definitely need my full pack my then.  After a waist-deep water crossing and a long steep uphill I got caught by a couple woman and ran with them for a while.  We eventually popped out onto a road where a crew of people were waiting for their runner. They cheered for Jackie, who apparently I was running near and handed her a fresh bottle.  I wanted to say something that runners are not allowed to receive aid outside of the aid stations but I didn’t remember reading it in the race info and decided to let it go. After a lot of mud and tall grass running I make it to Buttermilk falls in a little over 2 hours.  It was really good to see Scott and the kids and to receive my fuel.

I didn’t stay long, crossed over the falls and climbed back up. On my way back to the Underpass aid station I began to notice a pain in the ball of my left foot.  My feet were soaked but that wasn’t the problem.  I started running with my toes curled which decreased the pain but did not take it away.  At the Underpass I grabbed a banana and kept going.  I saw Ryan Weltz (Kristina’s fiancé and crew) and heard she was running very strong.  I was excited for her.  I eventually passed through the Old Mill aid station and made my way back to the Start/finish North Shelter aid station where I would change into my alternate hydration pack.  My time was ok coming into the half-way point.  I reached it at 4 hours 32 minutes.  When I found my drop bag and opened it up I realized I had made a big mistake.  Inside were my sneakers and socks, not my hydration pack.  Ugh!!!  So, I refilled my pack that I had half full and ate a potato and a banana and took off again.  As I passed Scott, who was at the playground with the kids right on course, I told him my mistake and that I needed my fuel ASAP.  At the same time I noticed there were a couple girls just behind me.  I was loosing ground but the race was only half over, so I tried to keep a positive mindset and pushed on.  I made my way back to Old Mill aid station where Scott had somehow hightailed it to the Underpass, collected my hydration pack with my fuel and delivered it.  I needed my energy food right away.  I was relieved to get my full pack but mad at myself for making such a dumb mistake.  Now I was also thinking I should have asked him to grab my shoes!  My left foot was really killing me now. I pushed on through the ups and down, through the water crossing and back up the steep switch-backs. After a few more miles as I was running though the field I saw Kristina coming at me in first place with a determined look on her face. I cheered her on and hoped that she would keep her focus and finish ahead.  I was having a hard day but continued to move on.  After more painful miles and a slowing pace I arrived at Buttermilk in decent spirits. I told Scott I would like to change my socks and shoes at the next aid station.  I was hoping it would make me feel at least a little better.  The miles slogged by back to the Underpass where I changed my shoes and I also got passed by a female runner.  I was now in 11th place and now really mad at myself.  I downed 2 cup of soda and took off. I continued on but had nothing in the tank.  I couldn’t even muster a 12 minute mile on a flat dirt road section!  My last 3 miles were decent but not enough to catch the group of women that were just 15 minutes ahead. I was an hour slower in the second half.  That’s bad.  A half hour is acceptable but an hour is just bad!  I felt awful for Scott too.  He told me it was gut wrenching for him to see me get passed by so many.  He was exhausted, emotionally and physically.  I was disappointed, but there was nothing I could do about it after the fact.  I mentally moved on knowing that it is only a race and not even my “A” race this year. Time to focus on fixing my foot, being more diligent with planning and getting stronger on the uphills.

Despite my challenges the race was very well marked, the volunteers exceptional and Ian Golden did a great job of putting on a stellar event in an awesome park that even had the best kids playground I have ever seen.

Rocks and roots and more rocks and roots, a lot of up and down, a little bit of dirt and even less pavement = Wapack and Back 50 miler.  Wapack is everything I love in a race.

You know you’ve got a lot going on in your life when just a few days before and ultra you realize you’ve had the wrong date for the race in your calendar.  Yikes!  Luckily we hadn’t booked anything on Saturday and my mom was able to take Shep and Dahlia at the last minute so Scott and I could drive up Friday evening and camp in our VW pop top at the race start.  Morning came quickly.  The weather was threatening but did not start sputtering on us until the exact moment that Norm Sheppard (the RD) said “Go”.  We headed directly uphill to Mt .Watatic and once there just as promptly headed down.  That was the pattern of the day; up and down.

I ran with Scott Patnode and Jeff Hart for over an hour but they pulled away on a uphill.  After that I was alone for much of the race.  It drizzled on and off for a good part of the first half and my long main of hair began to knot up.  I was developing a dread lock!  My plan was to reach the Windblown aid station (mile 9) in under 2 hours and then to the turn around (mile 21.5) in a little over 4 hours allowing me to return somewhere between 9 to 9.5 hours.  I did reach Windblown in just under 2 hours where ultra friend and crazy woman :), Michelle Roy, was helping out (along with her beau Doc and another nice man). After a few wrong turns at the top of a dirt road and topping out over chilly Pac Monadnock I finally reached the turnaround in 4 hours 45 minutes.  I got to see running friends Kristina Folcik and Ryan Weltz but didn’t stay long because the bugs were really bad there.  I dropped my Surge pack along with my gloves and pullover and hightailed it out of there.  The sun had been starting to peak out (it was obscured by clouds all morning) and I thought that was the end of the rainy weather.  I was wrong. The rain and cold came again and I was wishing I hadn’t left my gloves behind.  But, once I got over the high points I was warm again. Coming into the 27 mile aid station I had only taken in a serving of UCAN and 3 Vi Fuel gels.  I wanted to be able to continue with less food found I was getting hungry.   I wished I had packed more UCAN to try to stick to that fueling but I did not because I wasn’t sure how to go about that; gulp it down at a drop bag aid station? Make a slurry and carry it?   I couldn’t decide so I didn’t bring any and wished I had.  So I resorted to more gels.

The rocks and roots were slippery. I found my pace slowing. My knees and ankles were taking a beating.  I got caught by another runner and ran with him for a while His name was Tony Henderson.  He would get ahead and then go off course and we’d be back together again. It was quite comical.  He pulled away once more and I did not get to see him again until the last out and back. Tony was having a strong finish. This race is extremely challenging, not just due to it’s surface and terrain, but also because the out and back only adds up to 43 miles so each 50 mile participant needs to get the additional miles in by heading back out from the start/finish on the same trail for 3.5 miles and then returning once again.   It takes extreme motivation to do it!  A runner also needs to make a cut off of 12 hours in 43 miles.  I came back to the start/finish in just under 10 hours.  I was off my mark but still in good spirits.  I decided to change my shoes because I was developing a hot spot in the ball of my left foot because of the wetness and I did not want it to turn into a bigger issue.  I exchanged my Surge pack for a handheld.  The last 7 miles were pretty slow.  I know there was no way at that point that I would be able to break Kristina’s record for the previous year so I decided to just get it done and enjoy my last bit of time on the trail.   I finished in 11 hours and 45 minutes.  I was the only female to complete the 50 miles.  The RD allows racers to stop at the 43 mile mark and still be called a finisher if they have decided they had enough or they miss the cut-off.

Placing a stocked UltrAspire Surge pack in my drop bag for the turn around aid station worked really well.  I did have to refill some water at Windblown on the way back.  I think I did not drink enough on the way out.  When I examined my water bladders after the race I saw that I had only drank about 50 oz in the first 4.75 hours.  I drank  almost 70 oz in just 3 hours on the return.  I did use gels (Vi Fuel, Roctane and Hammer gels) in the race but after finishing I had the same upset stomach that I have had every race since last year’s Laurel Highlands.  Luckily it did not come in the middle of the race like it did in Pinhoti 100.  I have to examine whether it’s the caffeine in the salt tablets I am taking or too much sugar from the gels or Perpetuum.  I never had this problem when I took in regular food.  Maybe it’s time to go back.  There’s always more to learn!

Thank you to Norm Sheppard for putting on a great race.  And thank you to Scott for being so flexible with the race weekend!

This was my 3rd running of Traprock 50k.  It is a really great race of 3 (10.5 mile) loops in Pennwood State Park in Bloomfield, CT.   The race is directed by two great guys, Steve Nelson and Kevin Hutt, and helped out by many wonderful volunteers.  This year I came into the race feeling good but unsure how I would fair as I had not raced an ultra (or a trail race for that matter) since Pinhoti 100 last November.   I was hoping to better my best time on the course from 2 years earlier.

For nutrition Coach and I decided to give UCAN a try.  I ate about a cup of oatmeal with maple syrup, walnuts and banana almost 3 hours before the race and took in almost 2 scoops of UCAN about 1 hour – ½ hour before the race.  It was challenging to ingest the chalky mixture in one gulp, so it took me about a half hour to get it all down.

It wasn’t long before the race began and we were heading up a steep hill on the first section of rocky trail. On the less steep terrain I got into a rhythm and felt pretty good. I carried one UltrAspire Isomeric Pocket handheld water bottle filled with only water.  The temperature was on the cool side so I chose Patagonia All Weather Shorts with compression calf socks and a short sleeve PatagoniaCapelene T with Moeben arm warmers and a pair of gloves.  I should have worn knickers instead because it never really warmed up and my legs were cold  (and red)!

My plan was to run every loop between 1 hour 35 minutes and 1 hour 45 minutes so I could cross the line in about 5 hours.  The first loop was uneventful.  I felt in control and not overextended.   I returned to the start/finish just over 1 hour 38 minutes.  I grabbed a GU and continued on. I did not refill my water since I had only drunk half and there were 2 more aid stations out on the course.  My pace slowed slightly but it didn’t worry me.  A group caught up to me as I ascended the stone stairs and felt my first twinge of struggle.  I was able to gap them as the trail began to descend again but about a mile later a slipped on a muddy steep section of trail and smashed my left knee on a rock.  It shook me up a bit, but I dusted my self off and tried to run again.  My knee hurt and I soon realized I had hit it pretty hard and it was bleeding.  I began to feel hungry and decided that it was a good time to ingest my GU.  The rest of the loop I struggled to keep a strong pace and was starting to get discouraged as I kept looking at my watch and seeing the time pass but the miles slow.  My legs were heavy but I never felt awful.  I did find myself tripping a lot more than usual which really frustrated me since I usually feel fluid on rocky terrain.  When I came in from the second loop and looked at the official clock, I was mad.  It took me about 2 hours to complete that loop.  I was obviously not going to hit my goal time of 5 hours but needed to now focus on finishing and staying up front.  I ingested a serving of Hammer gel, switched to a fresh bottle of water and pushed back up the hill for the last loop.   I ran as much as possibly but I found my banged up knee was hurting me and slowing me down on top of the general fatigue that I had.  After a few miles I thought I heard Scott’s voice cheering for me.  Yes, it was Scott.  He decided to drop out after 24 miles.  He had not gotten in enough training and work was very stressful so his mind and body were not in it.  He cheering me on to finish this thing and I pushed.  After 4 ½ hours I took in another Hammer gel and tried my hardest to move faster.  I really began to feel the unrelenting ups and downs late in the race.  I finally got to the last aid station where I decided a cup of Mountain Dew would bring me to the finish a little faster.  I never, ever drink soda with one exception….late in a race.  I learned at Pinhoti last year that it was the only thing I could keep down and it saved my race.

I finished Traprock in 5 hours 33 minutes, well off my best time on the course and even longer than the year I stopped at an aid station to nurse Dahlia!  Shep (my 6 year old son) even said to me when I crossed the line, “Mom, what took you so long?”  There are a lot of things to analyze as to why I was so slow compared to past years……one being that I had not been on trails as much due to the heavy snow this year, also I had not raced on trails since November, and maybe I did not eat enough prior to the race.  Of course, tripping and cutting my knee was also a contributing factor.  Not all of our races can be the best and each one we learn from. I did manage to stay ahead of all other woman.  That was one bright spot in my race.  Ohhhhhh, but they were closing in fast!

Thank you to my husband Scott for his encouragement, thanks to Coach Al and Dr. Kurt for helping me get my glute issue back in order (tell you about that later) and thank you to all my trail and ultra friends that make this sport so fun.  When my mind wanders to the negative side and I get caught up in “myself” I have to remember to shift my thoughts back to the people that inspire me and motivate me!

2012 Pinhoti 100

I decided to do one more 100 mile race to cap off my 2012 ultra season.  Pinhoti 100 with it’s mostly single track running, no elevation and our ability to get there and back in a long weekend made it the perfect choice.  Scott and I left the kids with both grandparents for the long weekend and caught our flight to the closest city, BIrmingham, Alabama. We made it down to Sylacauga, Alabama uneventfully and met up with a couple friends from New England. After unloading the rental car and making a grocery stop, we headed to the pre-race dinner and meeting.

We chatted with Grand Slam of Ultrarunning record holder and 2011 Grindstone 100 champion Neal Gorman (the eventual winner), and a couple other nice folks sitting at his table. The pre-race meeting was a hoot.  Todd Henderson, the Race Director, had some really crazy  deadpan humor.  Most of the time we were unsure if he was serious or just crazy. Since the pre-race meal was lasagna with loads of cheese we passed on that food and headed to a local Mexican joint. After fueling up we went back the hotel to put all our gear ready and get  a good night sleep.  We would be getting up at 3am Saturday to follow the buses to the start, 100 trail miles northeast of Sylacauga in Heflin.

We dropped our friend Kelly Wilson’s vehicle at the finish line and she and Sean Andrish, hopped into our car.  Sean would be crewing for Kelly and then pacing from 65 miles to the finish just as Scott would be doing for me.  The drive to the start took over 1.5 hours and we had to run 1/2 mile to the start, just getting there when Todd yelled, “Go!” Off we went.

I fell into a good rhythm, averaging a 10.5 minute mile through the winding single track.  The sun had not come up yet so we were all wearing head lamps.  I reached aid station 1 in just over an hour. My plan was to eat more solid food earlier and move to more liquid calories about 4 hours in, but I lost half my Clif Bar running to the start and had packed my hydration vest with only Hammer Gel and Perpetuum out of habit!  So I ingested gel and started taking my electrolyte pills.  I felt good and not overextended at any time.

About 12 miles in, I switched to my UltrAspire Isomeric Pocket handheld bottle with electrolyte drink in it. The plan was to give my body a break from my UltrAspire Surge hydration pack at regular intervals where we knew Scott would be able to crew within 1.5 hours. At various points, I ate a few potato chips and pretzels, but started shifting to more liquid energy food.  As the day heated up, the guys around me started  complaining about it.  I felt fine with the warmth.  The woods were beautiful with lots of up and down.  Most of the trail was covered with long pine needles that made for a soft landing when coming downhill but very slippery on the uphill. The total elevation change for the point to point course was more than 16,000 feet up and 16,000 feet down.

Every so often, you had to watch out for huge holes in the ground.  I wondered if they were made by an animal but finally realized they were left when a tree’s roots had burned.  I am surprised that no one broke a leg in them.  At one point, we traveled down a long hill and at the bottom was a creek.  It would be impossible to not get your feet wet so I just walked across. It actually felt really nice.  I stopped in the middle to bath my arms, legs and neck.

After reaching the highest point in Alabama, Bald Rock on Mt. Cheaha, we had a very fun rocky downhill but then some long, monotonous roads.

I was thankful to turn back into the woods after the next aid station and after changing my socks.  Now we were off the Pinhoti Trail and on a white blaze loop presumably to add miles.  At this point we went back and forth from dirt road to trail.  The miles between 60 and 65 were some of my slowest of the entire run. Those 5 miles took me 3 hours.  I was beginning to feel fatigued and noticed I could not move in a straight line.  Something had changed in my body.  I did my best to keep eating and moving.  I couldn’t wait for Scott to join me at mile 65. At one point I was alone in the dark and looked up.  I switched off my headlamp and took a moment to take in the beauty of the stars.  In the middle of my pain I was glad that I took that time.

Coming into mile 65 Scott was getting worried. He ran out to find me on the trail and we ran back to the aid station together. I told him how my stomach was beginning to go sour, that I couldn’t take in Perpetuum anymore and most foods, as well as pills, were making me gag.  We asked for ginger ale and someone got one thanks to another runner’s friendly crew member!  I drank that down and we grabbed a few bananas and a pretzel and headed out.  I was able to slowly eat a few banana and then tried an electrolyte pill.  It went down and my food promptly came up!  Ok, no more electrolyte pills could be taken and I felt like I was getting weaker by the minute.

I needed more food in me, but my stomach was not allowing it.  At the next aid we grabbed some peanut butter sandwiches which did not settle well and came back up.  My stomach was flipping and I was fading fast.  The climb up Horn Mountain was brutal for me.  A mile and a half of switchbacks.  Scott practically pulled me up the mountain with his encouragement.  At mile 77 we were deep in the woods.  I was desperate for something to change.  After trying to eat some pretzels I threw up again this time I was on my knees and my head was swirling with negative thoughts. I had put some much in up to the point it would be crazy to stop now, so I made the decision to continue on.  We grabbed some boiled potato with salt and a few gummy bears. More dirt road ahead.  I ate tiny bites of potato with tiny bites of crystalized ginger.  I can’t stand the taste of raw ginger but I knew I had to do it.

A few miles more and my stomach began to settle down.  With every tiny bite of potato and ginger I took a small sip of water.  Little by little I came back to life. While it was hard to fathom making it 24 more miles to the finish in the state I was in, it was even harder to consider not finishing after going so far.  I changed my thought pattern from aid station to aid station (4.5 – 6 miles at a time). I moved on and ran more and more. It also helped that a lot of the last 15 miles was dirt road and downhill.  I also found that I could drink soda and keep it down. (the only thing soda is good for!) I caught a few runners and did not get passed after mile 85.

My Suunto GPS had died at this point and I did not know what time I was at.  I kept asking Scott and eventually he began to realize that I would be able to get under 24 hours if I could keep an average of at least a 14 minute mile.  Feeling better and determined I opted for even better than that especially because I had planned on 22 hours and know I could have achieved  that had I not gotten sick.  After hearing bats, owls and coyotes, we finally made our way into Sylacauga.  We hit pavement and knew there was only 3 miles to go.  Scott asked me if I wanted to walk the inclines but there was no way. It was time to get this done.  We came out onto the high school track, I ran my half loop and came in at 23 hours 25 minutes.  After receiving my belt buckle (100 mile finishers award) we went back to the recreation department to wait for Kelly and Sean.  Scott got to take a shower but the women”s locker room was being used as storage, so I had to rinse off in the sink.  After that, I pulled two plastic chairs together, laid between them and promptly fell asleep.  It was about 6am.

Awards were held at 11:30am.  The daylight savings time change occurred while we were out on course but the race officials did not recognize it until after the race ended at 12am, so when they rolled back the clock it was a half hour to awards.  I was able to keep my place as 4th woman.  The top three ladies were phenomenal.  Denise Bourassa from Oregon placed first in 19:24.  Meghan Hall placed second in 20:16 and Melanie Fryer placed third in 20:25. They all beat the old course record!  Fortunately I also got a top ten fastest time!  And I received first in my age group.  Thank goodness for no double dipping!

A big thank you to my husband Scott.  What a great date!  Also thank you to Sean Andrish who helped crew. I want to also thank Coach Al Lyman for believing in me and keeping me strong. Now we just need to get me healthy again!

2012 Vermont 50

Yes, it has taken me over a month to write something about the Vermont 50.  The race and I have a love-hate relationship!  It is where I met Scott but it is also where I have never won even though I have run this race more than any other in my career. I thought with all my training and focus that maybe this would be the year. But, this year was no exception.  I was running well for the first 15 miles until my hamstrings tightened up and my race was derailed.  There seems to be more and more dirt road running every year as well.  My strengths are not tapped into and my mind grows weak on those roads.  I will not go into detail of this race but instead list some “dos and do nots” here.  All that plagued me in this race.

  • Do make sure to check the quantity of energy powder that you will need for the race and that you have enough.
  • Do not try to ingest a salt pill that is broken in half.
  • Do not forget how much road is in a race.
  • Do enjoy yourself.

Onto my Pinhoti report which is much more exciting!

3rd woman, 22nd overall, 19:20:27, 306 starters

The Vermont 100 Endurance Run was a new challenge for me.  Not because of the distance, since I have run 100 miles in one day before, but because of the large amount of road running involved.  I am a trail runner; the more rugged and gnarly the terrain, the better I perform.

Regardless, VT is our favorite state, and I wanted to try a new challenge.  So, after not getting selected in the Hardrock 100 lottery, I signed up for VT100, but it was a little too late.  I ended up on the wait list……number 74.  Geez!  I was skeptical that I would get off the list, but as time went on, I got closer, and two weeks before the race, I was in!  I trained all along as if I was already registered, so I was ready!

The race venue was spectacular!  We set up our tents in a field at Silver Hill Meadow in West Windsor, Vermont next to about 75 other tents.  There was horse rider/handler camping nearby as well, and just past the hundred or so horse trailers, there were two large white tents for registration and dining. VT100 is an equine race at the same time.  We all share the dirt roads and trails together.

Morning came quickly.  The race start was at 4am, so I climbed out of my tent at 3:15am after waking up multiple times in anticipation.  The sky was sprinkled with stars and the air had a chill to it.  I got dressed, used the bathroom and drank a bottle of Vega.  Scott, Danny Roy (Scott’s first cousin and my pacer), and I headed to the start line.   What was really cool was that Danny brother, Jon “swung” by on his way back to Maine from Ft. Dix in New Jersey, just to say hello and wish us good luck.

It was a bit chilly at the start, but I stripped down to my tank and shorts.  I chose to wear a pair of Hoka’s hoping that the added cushion would decrease the amount of stress on my quads.  The first 22.5 miles passed quickly.  Amy Lane got ahead right away but I was focused on running a steady, even race, so I didn’t go with her.

I met a nice guy named Nate from New Hampshire and we talked about snowboarding for a while and then I ran with a girl from Colorado named Cat.  I got ahead of both of my new friends and noticed my intestines did not feel right.  I searched for a good spot to duck into the woods but decided to wait until the first handler station at 22.5 miles.

When I came into Pretty House Aid Station, I told Scott that I needed to use the bathroom.  The port-o-potty was in use and I did not want to wait.  I continued on and stopped in the woods around the corner.  I felt a little better but that did not relieve my intestinal distress completely.

I was still running strong though and hoped it would go away. Around this time, the sun broke through the clouds and it began to heat up. Eventually Kathleen Cusick and Larisa Dannis caught up and they got ahead of me.  I realized I wasn’t far behind in the next aid station at Stage Rd., because a few minutes after I left and the trail went uphill, both Kathleen and Larisa were behind me again.

I was making faster aid station stops than the other runners.  I ran with Kathleen for a few miles across lots of fields with beautiful views.  I took one more bathroom pit stop and felt much better.  The intestine issues were now gone for good.  Another issue had been brewing though….blisters.  I knew I had one growing on my left big toe and another on my right heal.  I chose to ignore them.  As the miles went on, my feet became increasingly numb.  I decided I would wait to do anything about it.

Once we got back on dirt roads, I began to struggle a bit.  I was drinking and eating well, but it was starting to feel like not enough.  I was getting a few hunger pangs.  I began to debate whether to eat real food.  I was only consuming Hammer Gel and Perpetuem. I got into Camp 10 Bear, the 47.2 mile aid station with my Ultraspire hydration pack drained and my energy low.

At weigh in, the scale showed that I had lost 2 pounds.  The med staff warned me that my margin of error was very small and told me to focus on eating and drinking more.  My feet were starting to hurt, and I had the urge to change my socks, so I switched to a new pair, but kept my shoes. I restocked and ate some watermelon.  Off I went, but when the course changed to a steep uphill, I reverted back to walking.

Donna Utakis found me here.  We stayed together for a short while but her uphill hiking skills are exceptional and she eventually pulled away.  Now I really focused on breathing, eating and drinking.  My energy level started to turn around but not before I got to see Kelly Wilson.  She caught up to me and we ran together for a mile or so and I got into a groove and was finally able to motor on. I had slipped back to 6th place, but left the Tracer Brook Aid Station before Kelly, so I moved back to 5th.

I worked on making back the time I lost during my low stretch, and actually started catching a few people.  I breezed through the next handler aid station where I later realized I passed Donna and Larisa and then eventually cruised on through Margaritaville, mile 62.5 where Amy made a long stop.  I was back in 2nd place!

Now back at Camp 10 Bear at mile 71.5, I weighed in a pound up from my 1st med check and was very upbeat.  I ate more watermelon, changed my socks and got out quickly.  Now I had a partner.  Danny, Scott’s cousin, volunteered to pace me for the last 28.5 miles.  It was nice to have someone to run with.  Sometimes a song gets stuck in your head and keeps going around and around.  With a pacer, there is at the very least, more interesting things to listen to and at the best, the reason why you completed the race.

At some point during this section of the race my heel blister popped and then dirt got in to the wound.  I felt the grit on my exposed skin.  The rest of my feet felt fine at this point.  I didn’t want to change shoes or socks. I just wanted to clean out the blister and put a bandage on it. This is what we did the next time we saw Scott at the Spirit of 76 Aid Station.  It felt much better. My quads were my bigger issue now.  With all the dirt road pounding, they were really beat up.  I kept up the best pace I could but I could tell I was really slowing.

At about 84 miles, I heard a hearty hello from behind.  It was Amy!  She had come back from her low spot and looked great.  She seemed to think she was in first now. I did not see how that could be but anything could happen!  I thought Kathleen was still up front, and with a commanding lead. I tried to rally but could not match Amy’s pace. I was also starting to have a hard time eating my energy food.  It was beginning to make me gag.

I told Danny that at the next aid station I needed to switch to plain water.  I was done with Perpetuem and gels.  So at Bill’ s, mile 88.6 I was feeling pretty bad.  I started getting a bit emotional.  I ate some roasted potatoes and bananas and drank ginger ale.  My stomach felt a little better now and I got a hold of myself.  Scott confirmed that Kathleen had come through the aid station about a half-hour before I did, and Amy arrived about ten minutes before I did.

It was time to turn the lights on.  Darkness fell quickly.  I kept moving, always thinking that my energy level would improve or that Kathleen and Amy might slow. Neither happened but I never dropped down to a hobble although at times I had a hard time running in a straight line. I ran straight through Polly’s, the last aid station with 3.9 miles to go, not stopping. I continued to run as much as possible, watching my goal time slip away.

The finish line was nearing and I was ready to be done, so I put the hammer down (which meant running a 12 minute mile instead of a 14 minute mile!).   I passed a few more men.  Yippee!  Soon I saw the milk jugs filled with glow sticks lining the trail.  I ran harder and could see the neon Finish Line sign in sight.  I pushed across the line in 19 hours 20 minutes 27 seconds.  Done! Third woman.  22nd overall.

I took off my shoes to check out my blisters.  Holy cow.  I had one of the ugliest blisters I had ever seen on my left big toe.  Everyone at the finish line was admiring it.  I wiped down at the post race tent and tried to eat some real food before heading to bed at midnight.  Runners would continue to roll in until 10am the next day!

The Vermont 100 was an incredible adventure. I was nervous about running so much dirt roads knowing that my strengths lie in tricky trails, but I feel happy with my performance and believe I ran the best race I possibly could have considering all the challenges.  I saw a lot of friends and made some new ones.  Even if I don’t race it again, I will definitely be back to crew, pace or volunteer some day!

Scott’s Race Report Blog Posts and Photos:

Part 1

Part 2