Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Race Report: Run for the Roses 5K/10K

One of the best parts of the fall season (in addition to cooler weather, hoodies, bonfires, apple cider, and comfort food) is the large number of local races taking place. In the Ames/Des Moines area, I could easily run a race every Saturday and Sunday for weeks on end. Unfortunately, my bank account can’t necessarily support this, but it’s fun to be able to support local groups, causes, and often friends organizing the races. The Run for the Roses is just such an event, and an annual Ames tradition, with this year’s race being the 28th annual. I don’t typically plan ahead much for smaller races, and have a tendency to sign up at the last-minute, and this race was no different. There were so many friends running the 5K, 10K, or both that it seems like a no-brainer, so I signed up a few days prior to the October 5th event (albeit, too late to get the discount given to our running group!).

My training has been a bit seat of my pants since completing the Mark Twain 100 and recovering. I know I have the Des Moines Marathon and the Route 66 Marathon coming up, but training for those is really just a matter of maintaining my fitness after my legs were recovered. I was happily surprised that the recovery period after the MT100 was quite short, and I was out running again three days later with only minimal stiffness. I had to smile knowing that my training had obviously paid off in that regard.

The race itself was on Sunday morning, but I still managed to go out for my normal Saturday morning run and logged 25 miles. I decided to run to the start of the race on Sunday morning, which would add about four and a half miles to my day and get me near where I wanted to be when coupled with the 5K and 10K. My intent all along was to run both races comfortably and treat them as training runs with a lot more friends. I haven’t really felt like I’ve had a lot of speed in my legs lately, but have mainly chalked it up to logging more miles than ever before. Thus, I had no expectations other than to have fun, and run with a great group of friends. The 5K started at 9AM, and I got there about 20 minutes early to pick up my packet and pin on my bib. I lined up with a couple of friends who are far more speedy than I, and figured I’d try to hang with them for a mile or so, and then taunt them as they went whizzing by me. I shouldn’t have underestimated my competitive spirit quite so much.

The final stretch of the 5K w/ Eric (in a tutu) hot on my heels! (photo credit: Tim Fencl)

The final stretch of the 5K w/ Eric in a tutu hot on my heels! (photo credit: Tim Fencl)

The gun went off, and I took off fast, but was still fairly comfortable. After almost a mile, I wondered why my two friends hadn’t passed me. I yelled back at them and told them to stop sandbagging and pick up the pace. That’s when Ben pointed out that we were running a 6;40 pace. I was quite shocked by this, and definitely didn’t feel like I was moving that fast. I briefly considered slowing down, but my internal competitive nature got the best of me and I decided to see what I could do.l I kept pushing and was able to maintain about a 6:45 pace through the first two miles, despite quite a few rolling hills. The course runs along a trail for the last mile or so, and both Eric and Ben were close on my heels the whole way. I naively thought for a moment I might be able to hold them off, but soon realized they had more speed in them then they had kicked out. Ben passed me as we were flying down a curving hill. I continued to hold off Eric, but I slowed a bit coming up a short, steep hill near the finish, and he passed me with a slap to the ass about 100 feet from the finish. I had no intention of going out as fast as I had, no aspirations of finishing as strong as I had, and certainly didn’t expect a PR. However, I finished in 21:21 (20/378, Garmin Time 21:07, no chips), which was in fact a PR!

I was a bit surprised and all smiles as I downed a bottle of water and started chatting with Eric, Ben, and others. However, I felt like I had put it all out there for the 5K and I still had to run the 10K. I told myself I would take it easy, and that I had already accomplished more than I expected. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what, if anything, I had left in the tank. The number of 10K runners was significantly less, but it was still a decent crowd (over 1,100 participants for the two races). After about 30 minutes to catch my breath and rehydrate, we lined up to do it all over again. I went out considerably slower, but still felt comfortable with a 7:30 pace. Ben took off ahead of us relatively quickly, but Eric and I stuck together longer. We ran into another friend who was out for a run of his own, and he hopped in and began pacing us. I stayed with the two of them through the halfway point, but fell back after a 7:49 mile. However, I managed to push hard those last three miles, and I kept the two of them in sight the entire way. I was hurting a lot more towards the end of the 10K, but realized that I had a chance at a PR yet again, so I kept pushing. I crossed the finish line in 47:33, which was good enough for 20th out of 71, and another PR! My hands fell to my knees and I kept the same goofy grin I’d had on my face since the start of the 5K.

Roses-Medal1

After we recovered a bit, we all made our way up to the middle school for made-to-order omelets and other breakfast goodies. We sat around chatting, and wondering where our times left us. The final surprise of the morning was finding out that I took third in my age group in both races! I’ve never placed in my age group in any race, so this was pleasant surprise, and I couldn’t help but crack one final smile as I picked up my two medals. I wish all Sunday morning training runs could be this much fun! As always, the race was very well run, the volunteers were fantastic, and the food was delicious. Alpha Omicron Pi & Ames Area Running Club have this race down to a science at this point, so if you are looking for a local 5K/10K with lots of energy, I highly encourage you to check out this Ames area favorite!

The Pacer Chronicles: The Flight of the Squirrel

The joy of having multiple pacers is that the memories and accounts of the event all differ just enough to make these stories different. This account keeps that theory alive as Lani describes her experience at the Mark Twain 100.

“The ultra run experience is still pretty fresh. I made my debut as a pacer at the Mark Twain 100 in the middle of September. Someone used the word “intense” to describe it. I cannot think of a better word. It truly was one of the most intense and rewarding running experiences I’ve had to-date. I have hesitated to write this because I don’t want to take any undue ownership of Adam’s run, but I found it meaningful enough personally to go ahead and write down some of my thoughts about it all since he requested it.

Lani "The Flying Squirrel" made friends on the way down to MO.

Lani “The Flying Squirrel” made friends on the way down to MO.

Adam arrived for his final 25 mile loop at about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning…. I had been waiting for him since midnight. Not because I expected him to be there at midnight, but just because I had been sleeping fitfully and I just really wanted to be ready when he came rolling in to the aid station where we were camping. I knew the last thing he would need is to be waiting on me. It was cold out. I was shivering in my layers inside a cozy sleeping bag and having visions of him and Carla out in the dark woods with nothing but shorts and shirts. When we met him earlier at mile 59 and he came running in with Nicole (our first crew pacer), he was not only hurting but also fighting back severe nausea and stomach cramping (something he had never experienced before) from eating half of a burrito with cheese in it that didn’t settle well with his lactose intolerant constitution. His wife/crew chief extraordinaire had given him a digestive enzyme at this point, we had all lifted him to his feet and reluctantly pushed him out of the first aid station (words from his wife/crew chief extraordinaire whispered in his ear spurring him forward) with Carla (the next-in-line of the crew pacers) to navigate the next six hours of the night. It was SO hard to watch him go knowing how bad he was hurting. I can only imagine what his wife was thinking/feeling. In those hours before midnight, I lay in my cozy sleeping bag worrying. Weird things happen when you fade in and out of consciousness. Hearing the cowbell when runners came in at various points throughout the evening (at one point in the evening, Nicole thrashed restlessly, half-awake/half-asleep, around in her sleeping bag and commanded, “Seriously! Enough with the damn cowbell ALREADY!” I mean really… we were trying to get sleep around here… those runners can find a different way to be motivated, right? Heh.) and listening to the race director masterfully help runners make their way back out on the course. “Get moving,” I would hear him demand, “You’ll warm up when you start moving. Do you have a coat? Does anyone have a coat? You need to get a coat on and get back out there. GET outta here. Move… you’ll warm up when you start moving.”

Curled up in the sleeping bag for a few zzz's.

Curled up in the sleeping bag for a few zzz’s.

It sounded harsh, but I realized psychologically this is what those runners needed to be able to finish. Self-motivation was near impossible at this point in their running experience. An excuse to stop would be a welcome reprieve from the aches, the tiredness, the shivering from the cold, and the gigantic mountain of the prospect of a “night in the dark woods” looming ahead of them. At one point, I sat straight up and looked at a sleepy, disoriented Nicole trying to make sense of what I was saying and asked, “Where’s Adam’s coat? His silver coat he had on this morning? We need his coat.” So it was no wonder I just got myself up and set myself in a chair around the campfire at midnight with others waiting for their runners to come in. My company was mixed. One man whose wife was running her first 100. Another couple of guys whose Dad was out on the course and were discussing ways to keep their mother from worrying and plotting how they could just get her to come out of hiding in her tent and sit around the campfire with the rest of us. A young man, experienced in 100 mile runs himself, waiting to pace a friend who was quite willing to share tips with me about what I should do for Adam through the next leg of the race. What I learned? Melissa (Adam’s wife) said it best. “Crewing for an ultra involves a LOT of waiting around and anxious speculation.”

Ready and waiting...and waiting :)

Ready and waiting…and waiting :)

When Adam finally rolled in at 2:30 a.m., he was tired and sat down in a chair voicing his decision to stop (this at mile 75 with one more 25 mile loop to go… and well ahead of the cut off deadline). I had been told this would happen (thank you, Larry Kelly, for a very accurate and thorough pacer overview/tutorial of what to expect) and I thought he looked good enough to continue (at least until the next first aid station where we could re-evaluate) so when he came rolling in at 2:30ish saying he was sorry and he was done, giving me a hug and asking me if I was disappointed in him… acting a bit loopy and a lot tired… well, we just sat him down in the chair… I put my gloves on his hands, someone in first aid got him some warm potato soup, I put my Relay Iowa jacket on him (as I mentioned earlier, it was COLD in MO that night and he was only wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt!), I offered him some Aleeve which he took even though he normally doesn’t, I put Carla’s (the pacer who just brought him in from mile 59) headlamp on his head, pulled him up and said, “Let’s get going, Adam… you’ll warm up if you get moving.”… he stood up and weakly/slowly/wobbly, but not unwillingly and more notably, without any verbal protest, followed me… I did my best to power him through from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m (apparently the darkest hours mentally and physically in the ultra run experience, although I’m not sure this was the case in Adam’s experience as he had a pretty challenging 16 miles with Carla just prior to my shift)…. it was a pretty long nine miles, and I’m not sure what he remembers about those dark hours but he kept up with me pretty good and I tried to push him as much as I dared… non-stop through the dark for those four long hours I was saying… look out for those roots, watch for those rocks… stay with me… stop and take a drink (when he did, he swayed in a slow circle trying to stay awake)… he was not coherent at all and completely childlike in his dependence on me. We talked about various things. Who had he met? What was his favorite ultra race, to date? What was his highest point, so far. His lowest point? Where was his favorite place to vacation? We made up a little song about “rock and roots” and laughed some. He stopped mid-trail at one point when he heard some rustling off to the side in the shadows just outside the fringes of our headlamps’ line of vision. I heard it, too, but didn’t want him using energy to worry about anything so assured him I had just tripped over a rock.

Thankfully I didn’t research big animals in the dark Mark Twain woods until AFTER I got home from the race. A small little white mouse skittered out onto the trail and then back to the left. We were passed a couple of times by human beings. The second time, by a man who looked at us with a long hollow, glazed over, vacant stare as he trudged by and on up the hill. Straight out of a horror movie kind of stare. At another point Adam talked about how he was so very, very tired and could just curl up over there on the side and go to sleep. “I know you could, Adam, but we just have to keep going,” I urged. At some point, I veered to the left and down into a riverbed. Thankfully, Adam was coherent enough to stop and call me on my error. It was the only time, I believe, I actually came close to getting us lost in the woods and somehow I think it wouldn’t have taken me very long in that direction to realize it. However, at this point? Every extra step? Really. Counts. Sorry, Adam. It was also at this juncture I quite distinctly heard an animal growl off to the right side of the trail and a little behind us. It is strange how your mind just pretends it isn’t really happening. That it’s just your imagination. That there really aren’t ferocious forest animals in the dark that could eat humans. How you just set your face forward and power ahead. Adam talked about how he just wanted to sit by a campfire. “Soon,” I assured him, “very soon.” And I didn’t know how true that would be. As we approached the first aid station, a chair was waiting for him in front of a very inviting, cozy campfire – a worrisome inviting, cozy campfire. I was having visions of him deciding to curl up right there and go to sleep. So he again enjoyed a warm bite of potato soup – this time in front of the fire and I’m a bit disappointed now to realize he doesn’t remember any of it. It seemed like such a welcome reprieve in an otherwise dark, cold night. As had been typical of our experience with the race support staff all race long, I was treated once more to their above-and-beyond attentiveness as they helped me change the battery in Adam’s waning headlamp and we were ready to move on out again. I knew for certain it needed to be sooner rather than later. The dark woods awaited us. A few times I remember telling him, “Adam, this is the last time! The last time you will run this trail until you come back someday.” He assured me it was the last time. EVER. There was only one other stop on the trail as my own headlamp grew dim where we were passed by a woman and her pacer. I had Adam take a hydration break while I replaced the batteries. It’s amazing what a difference a bright, as opposed to not dim, light makes.

The rejuvenating power of the sun!

The rejuvenating power of the sun!

And this next stretch is where the miracle started to happen. I had been told if we could keep him running until daylight, he’d be home free. I remember being amazed myself to look up and see light at the top of the trees above. I remember thinking, “Is that the moon?”, and then hearing that first bird… the hopeful morning song of the whip-poor-will calling out in the dark woods not that much unlike the one you hear in this video clip – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sukE9pGayRc. It was then the full realization hit that it was daylight. We had made it to daylight! I pointed up and said, “Adam, look… it’s daylight. You know what that means? Today’s the day. Today’s the day you run 100 miles!” The next few miles were a challenge as we winded back and forth through the woods, me worrying the entire time that maybe we were not on the trail, but not wanting to burden Adam with my worry by voicing it. So I looked for and inwardly and outwardly rejoiced every time we saw a pink ribbon or arrow on the ground reassuring me that indeed… we were still on the trail. Almost unexpectedly, we popped out of the forest onto the paved road we had to run on for just a little ways to the first aid station where Eric (our final pacer and the absolute perfect one to bring Adam to the finish line, I might add!) was waiting to take him on the home stretch. Emotions surfaced sharply and unexpectedly, tears welling up in my eyes, overpowering me as I realized I was running (yes, running!) alongside him (did I mention that we were running??!!) down that paved road and up to that first aid station in those early morning dawn hours, the sky filled with such beautiful light… it was an experience I can’t explain in words or ever replicate. A euphoria, a sense of re-awakening, a sense of hope and pride in his accomplishment I could never describe. And I said it out loud again. Just in case Adam hadn’t heard me the first time. “This is the DAY, Adam! This is the beautiful, amazing day you run 100 miles! We did it! No. YOU did it!”

No better way to pass the morning hours!

No better way to pass the morning hours!

The Mark Twain National Forest is pretty dark, even with the moon, in the wee hours of the morning. Cut off for this trail ultra was 32 hours. He wanted to finish in 24, but to my knowledge he’d never done a trail run like this before. I was literally picking up his leg for him and then supporting him as he would lift himself across the logs across the trail at various points. I would later find out this was largely because of a hamstring injury he sustained earlier in the race. On the last one, I actually lifted his leg across and then physically lifted/pulled him across the log myself. At certain points during the night he was fighting to stay awake. In fact, I’m quite certain he might have run while sleeping the last part of our run. I was very humbled and a lot inspired by the whole experience… it really spoke to me about the power of a good “encourager” and how important encouragement is to finishing when you don’t have the power to encourage yourself. I was glad to be able to play a small part in him achieving his big goal. He EARNED that belt buckle! So proud of him. So amazing to see “Don’t want to? Do it anyway.” in action.”

The Pacer Chronicles: A Dark Night Rises

Our second does of pacer perspective comes from Carla, who endured the darkest part of the night, both figuratively and literally. Once I had a chance to process the whole experience, I realized that this group of friends saw a side of my running that they had never seen before. In any ultra, the overnight hours can be rough, but stomach cramps, nausea, and sleep deprivation make for a wicked trifecta. She got me through the toughest stretch of running I’ve ever experienced, and I’m eternally grateful to her for that!

No, not that Dark Knight :)

No, not that Dark Knight :)

“Go Adam! Go Adam! One lap down. Three to go. Yeah really. He’s running three more. He’s got this. That’s right. One lap is 25 miles. No, it’s not a bike race or a car race. He’s running on nothing but two legs for 100 miles!

This will be easy for Adam. That’s what I thought. I see him running all over town all the time. He runs before runs and he runs after runs. And it was easy for 25 miles. It even looked easy for him to run 50 miles.

Wait, let me back up and start from the beginning. A friend of mine, Adam, sent out a Facebook request asking if anyone wanted to run part of the last 50 miles in a 100 mile trail race in Missouri with him. I’ve never watched an ultra-marathon before so I said sure.   As the race got closer, we learned that we would be camping in a primitive campground and the planning began for food, tents, water, fake tarantulas, etc. We never did see a tarantula and for that I’m thankful. It wasn’t until after the race that Lani read there are wild boars and bears in the Mark Twain forest. I’m also somewhat thankful that I didn’t know before the race. We all thought we were prepared with our water bottles and head lamps. I had so much to learn about ultra-marathons.

All smiles before the race!

All smiles before the race!

During the week leading up to the race, I took some time to look at the race website. I noticed times from the previous race were like 24 hours. Wow, I hadn’t done the math. Adam is running all night long? If anyone can do it, Adam can. On the trip down to Missouri through the curvy hilly roads, Eric did his best to calm all of us ladies with his stories of creepers jumping out with pitchforks. Either he is really good at getting into character or he was actually freaked out about running through a dark forest. Despite his apparent apprehension, Eric offered to take the late shift running the last leg in the dark. I took him up on that. I mean, there are tarantulas out there.   I was taking the second leg which was 16 miles long from mile 59 to mile 75 to run with Adam. I was so excited to have the chance to run through the forest with Adam while he accomplishes this amazing feat that few of us can fathom attempting.

We’re up bright and early to see Adam off on his journey. This is really happening (I think that’s what Adam said). There were what looked like 50 people headed off into the dark forest with their camelback (water backpack thingies), head lamps, compression socks, special secret “nutrition” drinks (maybe captain, no one really knows), and gaiters (shoe umbrella thingies). So off they go and back to bed we go while Melissa faithfully meets Adam at his first aid station at mile 9. We roll out of our tents for a team meeting so Melissa can fill us in on what we can do to help. Whoa, there is more to this than we thought.   He needs his water backpack thingie filled, his special secret drink filled, secret special knee cream, magic muffins, needs changes of shirts and coats, and headlamps and shoes. I still wasn’t really concerned because Adam will tell us what he needs. I was an ultra-marathon virgin though. I didn’t know what was coming.

Adam finishes his first loop of 25 miles at a great pace with a smile on his face and joking around. He looks as fresh as some of us look after 5 or 10 miles. We help him refill his special secret drinks and hand him a magic muffin and he’s off again. Go Adam! Lap one down.   Nicole, Lani and I head down the road to buy wood for a campfire and of course some photo opps with peacocks and buses then off to meet Adam at mile 34.

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Adam’s still looking awesome! This is so easy for him. 34 miles! Amazing! Now he’s headed back in the woods to make the trip back to the campground. We’re headed back to the campground via the car to enjoy Melissa’s famed s’more pancakes. Noteworthy graham pancakes sandwiching marshmallows and chocolate, mmmm. We’re thankful to find that two boys waiting for their Dad have built a stellar fire and they are willing to share. It’s naptime for some while I talk Lani into a short jog to stretch our legs. There were two races taking place this day. The other race was a 50 mile race. So we started seeing those “only” running 50 miles begin to cross the finish line. The family and friends were sitting in lawn chairs near the finish line cheering for everyone running in from the forest.

Soon we see Adam who is still at a great pace and looking amazing. He has completed 50 miles which is only half-way. He seems strong and ready to go. We fill his secret drinks and get him set to go again. They asked him what he’d like to eat and told him the options. He asked what was on the burrito…beans and cheese. Yes he said, so Nicole gets one for him. He eats half then he’s ready to take off. Now that he has completed 50 miles, his pacer can run with him. We’re pumped and ready to go. Nicole takes the first 9 mile leg. They run off into the forest.

I’m so excited! It’s finally my turn! We soon leave to meet them at the 59 mile aid station. Adam has run this 9 mile leg twice before so we have a good idea how long it will take him. This time it’s taking a little bit longer so maybe he’s slowing a bit. We’re still waiting and no sign of them. Did Nicole hurt her back? Did one of them trip and get hurt? We saw a lady earlier in the day who fell and hit her head on a rock gashing it open. It’s starting to get dark. They don’t have headlamps. No one thought they needed them. This is the first I’ve worried for Adam’s safety and now Nicole’s. It’s so hard not to just go out there and find them. Finally, here they are with a small flashlight. Adam’s not looking good as Nicole explains that he was dizzy and had to sit on the trail. His stomach is upset from the burrito. We learned he is lactose intolerant but thought the burrito sounded good (really Adam?? J) He’s not sure if he can continue. He rested while Melissa gave him a pep talk and enzymes. Adam and I put our headlamps on and headed into the pitch black forest.

Despite the shape he was in at the aid station, we started off doing quite a bit of jogging. The enzymes and a bathroom break helped his stomach. It was going well I thought until…the headlamp fiasco. The nice expensive headlamp Adam was using stopped working. We were so very thankful Melissa had handed me a flashlight just before we left the aid station. We keep trudging on through the dark forest. The trail was pretty technical with sharp rocks and roots making it even more of challenge for Adam as his legs tired. Apparently it was even more of a challenge for me because I was tripping more than Adam and even fell once. I tripped and did something similar to sliding head first into home base. I told Adam I was fine and we kept moving forward. We made it to the first aid station, rested shortly then moved on back into the dark forest.   I know I keep saying “dark” but dark in the forest is darker than any other dark. It seems worthy of repeating.

We’re about 5 miles into the 16 miles and it’s getting a bit tougher for Adam. I’m in front now, he needs to stop for a break once, and he mentions being done at the next aid station. Our pace has slowed and it’s probably about midnight. I didn’t really know what to say other than we need to make it to the next aid station and rest. As his friend, it was hard for me to encourage him to continue doing something that was so painful. No, this was definitely nothing like a 5K run.

We really needed something to take our minds off the rocks and roots and dark and dark. We’d had good conversation about work, family, kids, running, friends, etc. Then there it was. Something fuzzy and tan on the trail in front of us. Looking at us. It was close enough we could see it with my not so bright headlamp, but far enough it was hard to make out what it was. We stopped dead in our tracks. Adam had told me before that someone had found a mountain lion track on the trail. We must have scared it. It ran up the hill to our left. Adam yelled “here kitty kitty” and threw some energy chews to it. This is when I knew Adam was hallucinating. Just kidding. We’re going to try that next time. I could see its eyes when it looked at us then disappeared over the hill. We just stood there. I said “that was kind of like the size of a large raccoon”. Adam said, “yeah but it ran like a cat”. I said “yeah, should we keep going”. We kept moving and Adam said something like you’ll know if it comes back and attacks me from behind. I’m pretty sure he was only half-joking.

We made it to the aid station through the dark forest without being mauled by any forest animals. Further research leads us to believe that what we were nearly attacked and eaten by was in fact a bobcat. We were so thankful to have a fire to warm up by. Adam seemed fairly serious about quitting but he said something about not really knowing how we would get back from the aid station. It’s in what seems like the middle of the forest with no cars in sight. He said he could make it back to the campground. And we find ourselves back in the dark forest traversing roots and rocks.   A few runners and pacers passed us while we were on the trail but not many. We learned that about half of the 100 mile runners had already dropped out leaving about 30. From here to the campground was just Adam’s courage to take each additional step with legs that no longer want to lift a foot off the ground. There were no more jungle animals or broken lights or falls. Adam talked about quitting when he made it to 75 miles at the campground but not wanting to disappoint his friends who came to pace him.

Making s'more pancakes while I was out running...this hardly seems fair!

Making s’more pancakes while I was out running…this hardly seems fair!

We made it to the campground 16 miles and 6 hours later. Eric and Lani were there waiting for us. A sight for sore eyes for sure. Adam rested and ate some soup. Lani got him a coat to warm up. I didn’t know why he did it other than because the race director told him to and Lani said let’s go. He got up and headed for the dark forest with Lani for the next 9 miles. Nicole and Eric and I looked at each other asking if we should let him go in the forest in that condition. I got a couple chilly hours of sleep then packed up camp and went to meet Adam and Lani at the aid station. When Nicole and I got there we were amazed and elated to see a new Adam. He had a second wind. The sun was up and he was smiling and ready to go! It was such a relief as Nicole, Lani, and I needed to hit the road back to Iowa. We knew he would make it now. And he did finish the last 16 miles with Eric. Adam ran 100 miles! It was such a unique experience that I will always remember.   A great time with friends and a chance to do something we had never done before.”

The Pacer Chronicles: A 180 Degree Turn

At this point, you’ve either read my account of the recent Mark Twain 100, or perhaps simply know that it happened. Shortly after the race, the epicurean and I got together with the rest of our friends that helped crew/pace to share stories and celebrate the group accomplishment. It was wonderful to hear their side of the race, and I began to realize just how much happens during an ultra that I’m simply not aware of because I’m out there running. It makes sense of course. The world certainly didn’t stop while I was out on the trail for 30 hours, and everyone wasn’t quietly sleeping in their tents. However, I think everyone who runs becomes so engrossed in the experience and eventual challenge of putting one foot in front of the other that you simply don’t have time to think about what everyone else is doing. You certainly hear tidbits, but rarely the full story on the perspectives of the crew and pacers who are so important to the ultra experience. I thought it would be fun to get those perspectives directly from my crew members. This is the first installment of Pacer Chronicles, and offers a bit of insight into all of the effort and energy that goes into supporting an ultra-runner during a 100-mile adventure.

First up is Nicole, who was lucky enough to be the first person to pace me, as soon as I finished the first 50 miles. She definitely got two sides of me very quickly!

Nicole: "Remind me why I'm sleeping in the woods again."

Nicole: “Remind me why I’m sleeping in the woods again.”

“Sometimes when I start something, I know exactly what to expect or at least have somewhat of a clear vision of what an experience will be like.   When I decided to join the pacing team for Adam’s Mark Twain 100 mile trail adventure, made up of my Speedy Streaker friends, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what to expect -silliness, craziness, feeling of relaxation, laughter, and a little bit of running.  The physical activity aspect is just an added benefit of a day with my running friends.

 But I had no concept of what was to come when we loaded into the SUV and started our journey as pacers for Adam in his 100-mile trail conquest. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of moments of laughter and silliness between Lani sporting her “cow costume” as described at Pancake City.  Pancakes and just Diet Coke.  Or Eric cranking the most inappropriate, hilarious music as he often warned us about the dangers of pitchforks in the woods of Missouri.   Luckily we had Carla along to safely drive us through the backwoods, curvy roads. It was probably helpful that we regularly asked for Bill’s help along the way.  Bill?  And yes, Eric, it is a 9-hour trip to Berryman, and, yes, you have given up your navigation privileges.  Enjoying unexpected new experiences are big reasons I say YES when the opportunity arises for road trips and running excursions with my friends.

Not sure anyone could have prepared me for this road trip though.  Lani had great insight in asking for advice prior to the trip.  Larry Kelly was a wealth of information of the dos and don’ts of ultras like this and provided wonderful direction and tips for success, but until you experience something like this first-hand, you don’t know how you will react.

Always an attentive crew!

Always an attentive crew!

It started off like any other race.  Adam was well-prepared, calm, organized and ready to run when he headed out at 6 a.m. on that cold, Saturday morning.  It felt like any other race morning, adrenaline running high and excited to watch a good friend tackle a personal goal. Although the emotions felt similar at the start, the next 30 hours would prove to be a roller coaster of emotions.  I‘m not going to go into the details of the run because Adam summarized the experience so succinctly, and frankly I was only on the trail for a fraction of the time, offering conversation, company and banter.  In my 9-mile stint, we discussed the usual – work, travel, Netflix, friends, life, the challenges of the race ahead and THE BURRITO (yep, that one!).  As I found, it was not so much about the topics discussed, but more about just “being,” enjoying the moment and helping a friend in a small way reach his next destination (and she did, in no small way!).  It may seem strange, but my job was not to get him to the finish line, it was to help him reach the next rest station, to refuel and keep going.

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Probably the most memorable part of the experience for me was at mile 84.  When we sent Lani and Adam back onto the trail after mile 75, I was worried.  Physically and mentally it was obvious Adam was drained.  The first 75 miles were treacherous, and it seemed like a good stopping point.  Should we let him go back out?  Is he really ok to do this? What’s best?  The questions were flying through my head, but it was clear Adam was not ready to stop, and his team was not ready to let him stop.  He pushed forward.  At mile 84 when he emerged from the trail, something had changed.  Adam had found the strength to finish.  I could see it in his face.  Not sure if it was the sunrise or Lani’s random singing during those miles, but he had new-found energy and was determined.  It was clear by the look in his eyes.  He was going to finish.  I will never forget the change from mile 75 to mile 84!

 This 30-hour experience is one I will never forget and feel so fortunate to have been part of the ride. From anticipation and excitement to fear and anxiety, the race left me feeling completely inspired. The mental strength that Adam exhibited and the joy of watching six amazing people join together as a team to help a friend accomplish a feat like this, was so moving. Adam’s endurance and fight to succeed along with the determination of the crew to get him through left me feeling emotionally drained and flying high all at the same time.  The trail was challenging, but the mental trail was even tougher.  The whole experience made me proud to be a runner, inspired by what can be accomplished, motivated to experience more and blessed to have good friends to share in the journey.

Still time for fun!

Still time for fun!

 Congratulations, Adam, on your amazing accomplishment.  You are AWESOME.  I truly thank you for the experience.  Oh, and in the future, I WILL bring a headlamp, no matter what the time of day, and I encourage you to choose a location with NO bobcats or pitchforks…Until next time!”

Mark Twain 100 Race Report: Part II

I believe I last spoke to you as I was returning from my second loop. I had completed 50 miles, was smiling, and my crew of friends, along with the epicurean crew chief, were restocking my pack, bladder, and flasks. My legs could definitely tell that I had just covered 50 miles, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit jealous of the folks finishing their race at that moment, but I was feeling really good for the most part. I was ready to tackle the second half of the race, and excited by the prospect of having pacing company for the next 50 miles. I was going to treat these miles as just another great run through the woods with some amazing friends! I ate part of a bean and cheese burrito, along with some orange slices, and was ready to roll.

Loop 3- The Darkness Sets In 

The nature of the course and the number of pacers meant that each of the four folks would tackle either 9 or 16 miles with me. Nicole and I headed out back onto the trail, and we were ready to conquer the next nine miles. It was nice to have someone to chat with after 50 miles of relative silence, and our conversations bounced all over the place. As I’ve talked to my friends more and more about the race, I’ve come to realize that I don’t actually remember nearly as many of the conversations as I thought I did. I was still feeling good early on in the third loops, so my mind wasn’t straying all that much from reality. My stomach, however, began to stray from comfortable after about 3 miles. Almost without warning, I began to feel nauseous and acquired a throbbing headache. I shared my discomfort with Nicole, and we spent some time trying to think about where my nutrition and hydration plan had gone wrong at this point. Most ultrarunners know that the stomach is a finicky beast, and I’ve certainly had my share of G.I. issues in the past. However, I felt like I had been taking in solid foods, Tailwind, and water pretty consistently over the course of the day.

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

After a bit of discussion, it occurred to both of us…the burrito! How could I have been so foolish?! I was perhaps more hungry than I realized when I returned after the second loop, and the burrito sounded great at the time. It even triggered memories from the race in Arizona and the fantastic overnight burritos they fed us. Those, however, didn’t have cheese in them. I should obviously know better since I’m lactose intolerant. The middle of a 100-mile race is probably the wrong time to add some dairy-induced distress into your system, but that’s exactly what I did. The sun was setting, and my body was diverting resources to deal with the nausea that was consuming me. This, coupled with the declining temperatures, meant that my body was no longer balancing the fatigue that was beginning to overtake it. Our pace dropped off significantly, and Nicole did her best to keep me moving. The first aid station was a bit of a blur but I drank some ginger ale and found a ginger chew to try and calm my stomach. Running became considerably harder as I was constantly holding back the urge to vomit, and I’m still not sure how I managed to not return my dietary acquisitions to the earth. I focused on her voice, feet, and the trail and just kept moving forward.

By the time we reached the small section of black top before the mile 9 aid station and crew access point, I was hurting. It was a struggle to keep moving, and I was at a loss for how to describe the battle my immune system was waging against me. I was convinced that I was being attacked from within, and all I could do was settle in for the overnight siege. I’m not entirely sure how Nicole dragged me up to the aid station, and I don’t entirely remember it happening, but I made it and everyone was waiting for me. I found a chair, sat down, and put my head between my legs. Everyone worked around me to fill my bottles and get me food, and the images in my mind are more like blurry photographs than clear thoughts. The warmth and blandness of a cup of mashed potatoes was the perfect medicine for what was ailing me, and I gladly accepted it. I sat in the chair for what seemed like an eternity while everyone assured me that I was doing great, and Carla readied herself to take me out on the next segment. This was my first moment of doubt. This was the first time thoughts of quitting entered my mind. Everyone lifted me out of the chair, and the epicurean shared her faith in my ability to finish, quietly in my ear, as I left. That small, whispered sentence may have been the only think that got me back out on the trail.

Coming in to Mile 59...who took away the light? (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Coming in to Mile 59…who took away the light? (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Carla and I made our way down the trail to the stream-crossing, and I slowly stepped across, trying not to topple over. She helped me across (I think), and we continued on our way. I had picked up my headlamp at the last aid station, and it was now entirely black in the woods, so our lamps were the only think lighting our way. The moon would make an appearance later in the evening, but only in those brief moments when the tree canopy parted long enough for the beams of light to float down to the forest floor. After about 30 minutes, my headlamp began to get much dimmer. This was considerably worrisome, because a) I had fully charged it before the trip, and b) we had many hours left to go in the dark! After a few minutes, my headlamp was completely dark. Fortunately, my intrepid crew had snuck my flashlight back into my pack after I had handed it off. Carla fished it out, and we carried on,

The next few hours proved to be the lowest point not only in the race, but in my entire running career. My energy never really bounced back, and each step became a battle with my body. We ran a little, walked a lot, and our conversations drifted from topic to topic, becoming more and more random and non-coherent as the miles passed by (from what I remember, and what I’ve been told, anyway!). I struggled from aid station to aid station, and my mind drifted to thoughts of quitting quite frequently. Luckily, Carla kept me talking, kept me moving, and didn’t acknowledge my self-doubt. She maintained such an amazing attitude throughout the entire 16 miles, and I’m fairly certain that I finished those miles with her energy more than my own. This part of the race was such a blur that I seem to be gaining new memories each time we talk about it. I do, however, remember that silent moment in the dark when we heard a rustling to our left. We both pointed our lights on the area, and ever so faintly, we spied the image of a small, spotted cat. At the time, it didn’t register as overly frightful to me, although I’m guessing Carla, who was far more coherent, had other thoughts. We would find out later that bobcats are pretty common in the Mark Twain National Forest, and the story only grew from there :)

Somehow, despite my body’s constant onslaught on my movement, I continued to make relentless forward progress and we finished those 16 miles. It took 6 hours, which if I had been asked earlier, would have seemed like a ridiculous figure. Carla had definitely gone above and beyond the call of duty as a pacer, and earned her MVP (most valuable pacer) status for the trip. There’s no question in my mind that I wouldn’t have finished that loop without her. I had plenty of time to plan my DNF speech, but she got me to the 75 mile mark. I walked into Jackson’s landing like a zombie, with a look in my eyes that no doubt gave everyone a bit of a scare.

I remember sitting down in that chair, exhausted, and barely able to coherently utter the words I had been mentally rehearsing for the last two hours. My entire crew could sense my mood, and I whispered hints of dropping, which they expertly ignored as they checked my gear, filled my water, and sought out food to nourish me. My hands were almost numb after forgetting to pick my gloves up off the ground following a pit stop hours earlier, and I needed gloves. My fingers couldn’t function properly, so they slid the gloves onto my fingers comically as the race director watched on with a smile. He made a comment about getting me back out on the course, and was quick to help me remember I’d feel worse if I stopped than if I jumped back on the trail for the final 25 miles. He was right. I knew it, and I fought my body every step of the way so I could get back out there. Ultimately, I was simply too tired to quit. The words didn’t come out, and deep down, I didn’t want them to leave my mouth. They lifted me up, and Lani assumed her role as the next pacer as we slowly made our way to the trailhead.

Loop 4- Let There Be Light! 

The first nine miles of this loop were more of a blur than perhaps any other section of the course. I was unreasonably tired for some reason, and could have curled up on the ground at any point to take a brief nap. Lani’s amazingly positive attitude kept me moving as she announced each and every rock and tree root that my reflexes were too slow to adequately avoid. At certain points, stopping to take a drink of water meant teetering on the brink of sleep, and I spent most of those nine miles on the verge of falling asleep right on the course. My legs were heavy, and she helped lift them over the fallen trees that looked like the walls of Alcatraz, trying their best to hold me in the gloriously open prison of my own making. I’m always thankful for Lani’s positive attitude and energy, but was no more so than during those nine miles. I followed her voice, stared at her feet, and kept moving. The darkness seemed to encompass us completely, and the tunnel vision I experienced was perhaps a blessing in disguise.

I don’t remember making it to the first aid station, but I’m sure I took in some nutrition, drank as much as I could stomach, and kept moving. The nausea was gone, replaced by fatigue as pure as freshly fallen snow, and it took all of my energy reserves to keep moving. These hours represented a very dark point in my journey, and tested me in a way that no previous endurance event had. We were passed by a few folks in the couple of hours it took us to navigate the darkness, but for the most part, we were alone and left to our own thoughts. I recalled later hearing strange noises, but Lani brushed them off as kicked brush at the time, although I would learn later that she felt a shiver of fear at what might be lurking in the darkness. Our saving grace was truly the rising sun, which began to cut through the darkness slowly and gave me hope. I recognized the trail more towards the end of our 9-mile journey as I caught a subtle 8th or 9th wind. However, each time I thought we were close to turning the corner, I’d realize that I had miscalculated. I was running from tree to tree, from Switchback to Switchback, and eagerly anticipating our emergence onto the short stretch of black top. We finally hit that section as the light emerged with enough strength to allow us to turn off our lights, and it was a wondrous moment. Lani looked over at me and said “we did this”, and “you’re going to do this!”, and she was right. I could feel the sunlight coursing into my veins and reinvigorating me as we strolled into the Huck’s Watering Hole and Eric was there to meet us. Lani had pulled me through the darkness and I was eternally grateful!

On the final leg- this was going to happen! (photo credit: Eric Esser)

On the final leg- this was going to happen! (photo credit: Eric Esser)

I stopped to refuel, enjoy another cup of mashed potatoes, and visit a restroom that didn’t involve nature’s toilet paper. Many ultrarunners talk about the importance of getting through the night, and reaching the dawn. If you can reach the dawn, you can do it. I’d always thought this was a nice sentiment, and great for motivation. However, it wasn’t until this moment that I realized just how true it really was. Almost instantly, I felt my energy return, my mood improve, and excitement fill my body. I had just woken up from a walking slumber, and I felt as well rested as when the race had begun 25 or 26 hours earlier. My crew was admittedly surprised, especially considering how I looked the last time they saw me, and I assured them that it wasn’t a fluke. I took a final drink of water, and Eric and I headed out for the final 16 miles.

I was now awake and aware enough to appreciate passing each portion of the trail for the last time. We joked, talked about the previous lap, and discussed my new-found energy as we pushed forward at a much more brisk pace than I had seen in quite some time. I was able to run and power hike the whole rest of the route, and felt like I had extra energy to burn. Eric began joking about how easy his pacing duties were compared to the others, and I laughed with him. It was true, and I knew at that point that I would indeed be finishing this race, and my excitement only grew with each passing mile. In some ways, this segment became like any other early morning run with a wonderful friend. Eric and I have spent many early mornings ticking off the miles before meeting others, and I could think of no better person to finish out the race. We stopped at the final two aid stations and joked with the volunteers, ate pancakes, and I thanked them profusely for their support. Many folks seemed a bit surprised at my energy, but they were ultrarunners so they understood. Heck, we even passed a few people on the way into the finish.

Crossing the finish line...I promise I was very awake, despite my closed eyes!

Crossing the finish line…I promise I was very awake, despite my closed eyes!

With about a half mile to go, we came across a volunteer standing on the side of the trail and she began cheering us on. It was a testament to the dedication of all of the race staff that she had hiked that far down to cheer runners as they entered the home stretch. No matter how hard I push myself and for how long, I always seem to find a little bit of extra energy at the end of a race, and this one was no different. Eric and I rounded the final turn up the hill and into the clearing near the finish line, and I picked up the pace and began running with all the energy I had left. I crossed the finish line in 29 hours 46 minutes, wearing the biggest smile I’d had all day. The immensity of what I had accomplished took much longer to set in, but my joy was immediate. I felt a surge of endorphins rush through me instead of the expected final wave of fatigue, and I knew it had been an amazing race, and an incredible experience. There were plenty of hugs and handshakes, and I took a bit of time to rest and eat before we packed up the car. Our exit was quick due to the 9 hour drive we had ahead of us, but that just meant I had plenty of time to process what had just happened. I’ve never been more thankful for such amazing friends and an incredible partner than during this race, and there is no question in my mind that I couldn’t have done it without them. I’ve no doubt forgotten many moments in this recap, despite it’s length, but that’s the beauty of a 100-mile race. The memories will keep floating in for months to come, and they’ll bring a little smile to my face every time!

Hard-earned hardware!

Hard-earned hardware!

 

Mark Twain 100 Race Report: Part I

There are some experiences that you know from the beginning will stick with you for a lifetime, and that thought creates equal parts pressure and excitement. The Mark Twain 100 was just such an experience, and I couldn’t have been happier with how the trip turned out. The lead-up to the weekend seemed like an eternity. I’ve been preparing for this race all summer, targeting it, and planning all of my training around this weekend. Some folks say it’s never good to put all your eggs in one basket, but this was my “A” race. No matter what happened, my hard work this year was leading up to that starting line.

This race was a series of “firsts” for me. I spent the previous two weeks working out the logistics for the trip, which was far more time than I ever remember spending on that side of race preparation. The beautiful epicurean and I would be camping near the starting line (you can’t argue with free camping!), so not only was I thinking about packing for the race itself, but also our camping needs. We also decided to bring Looper along for some outdoor time, which added another level of preparation. On top of that, I was going to have pacers, in the form of 4 amazing friends, for the first time in a race. I figured I should probably decide how to work with them as well. Even though this was my second time tackling the 100 mile distance, my previous adventure in Arizona was quite different. This would be my first true 100 mile trail race. Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind leading up to our departure.

Rustic camping in Berryman, MO (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Rustic camping in Berryman, MO (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

We got everything loaded into the car (it just barely fit), and headed south for Berryman, MO around 8:00AM on Friday. The all-knowing Google told us it would be about a 7 hour drive, which didn’t seem that daunting, although I wasn’t crazy about spending that long cramped up in a car before running the next day. The drive ended up taking closer to 9 hours, and we arrived at the campground with rain falling on our heads. This was not a good sign! We set up camp in the rain, and then hopped back in the car to head to packet pick-up. Check-in was incredibly smooth, I collected my materials, along with a really nice hooded sweatshirt, and we stuck around for the pasta dinner. There was a brief race meeting at 7:00PM, and then a raffle for some great Salomon (one of the sponsors) swag. I ended up winning a pair of Salomon gaiters, which was a nice perk. By the time we got back to the campsite, it was dark and still drizzling. Crawling into the tent in the dark, with temps in the 40s and rain, didn’t exactly make for the comfortable evening I was hoping for but we made it work. Our 4 intrepid friends were still on the road, and would end up rolling into camp around midnight, by which time the epicurean and I were long asleep, albeit restlessly.

I woke up around 4:30AM to give myself time to eat a light breakfast (Cliff bar, banana, water) and get dressed. There was quite a chill in the air, but I knew I’d warm up pretty quickly once I started running. The darkness was still consuming the everything around us for the beginning of this 25-mile loop through the Mark Twain National Forrest, so I mounted a headlamp, slipped on arm warmers and a long-sleeve shirt, and waited for the 6AM start. This was a small race, with perhaps 60 people starting the 100-miler (4 loops), and another 100 beginning the 50-miler (2 loops). I anxiously awaited the start, sure that I forgot something, and then the clock ticked down to zero, and we were off. The course itself is a counter-clockwise loop and is 99% single track, so I fell in line with some other runners near the middle of the pack, and we made our way in the dark. Everyone was in really good spirits, and I was content to push forward and listen to the conversations around me. Many of the runners appeared to be from the St. Louis area (the race is put on by a St. Louis running group, the Slugs), and folks were talking about previous experiences on this particular trail. I knew going into the race that the course was single track, but it became clear pretty early that I had under-estimated the technical nature of the trail. It was certainly not as rocky as Flatrock, but I was not going to escape the constant bombardment of rocks and tree roots, combined with endless rolling hills and switchbacks. There was only one larger than average climb early in the race, but the route still managed 2,500 feet of elevation gain per loop.

Shivering by the light of the headlamp at the start! (Photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Shivering by the light of the headlamp at the start! (Photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Loop 1: Miles 0-25- feeling the adrenaline

In some ways, the first loop went by in a bit of a blur. We spent the first hour in the dark, so all of my concentration was focused on keeping my footing. We made it to the first aid station, around mile 5, as the sun was coming up, and I was able to briefly stop and take in my surroundings. It felt good to take the headlamp off, and my core had warmed up nicely, although my hands were still a bit cold. Aid stations are perfect for breaking up large groups a bit too, and I found myself with a bit more elbow room for the next segment, which was nice. I was feeling really good, easily running the downhills and flats, and tackling the hills with plenty of energy. I told myself I was not going to go out too fast, as I am oft prone to do, and at the time, I thought I was doing a really good job of holding back and remembering I needed to do this 4 times. The first 9 miles were definitely a technical challenge, and it became clear by the end of the loop that these miles were the most difficult on the course. Just before the aid station, there was a 3/10 mile section of asphalt which felt incredibly strange on my feet after they had taken a rocky beating for so long. This strange sensation only became more pronounced as the race went on.  Luckily, the epicurean and the rest of my crew were waiting for me at the mile 9 aid station (Huck’s Watering Hole). It was great to see them, and they gave me the once over to see if I needed anything, and I headed back out to tackle the remaining 16 miles. This was the only crew access point, other than the start/finish area (Jackson’s Island), so I knew I was on my own for a few hours.

There was one stream crossing on the route, and I came up on it almost immediately after leaving Huck’s Watering Hole. Luckily, the water levels were pretty low, so I was able to mostly step across on rocks although I still got a bit wet. My Altra Lone Peak 1.5s drained and dried pretty quickly, however, and I knew I had made the right choice with these more protective shoes. It was clear early on that my Dirty Girl gaiters were a good choice as well! I made my way to the Tom’s Canteen aid station at mile 15, still feeling good, and restocked on water. Each and every one of the aid stations was incredibly well stocked, and the volunteers were amazing! As soon as I arrived, they were asking what I needed, filling my soft flasks, and offering me a wide array of sweet and salty foods to keep my energy up. The last 10 miles, with another aid station in between, went really well. The trail in this section was quite runnable, and I was able to make good time on flatter and more open terrain, although the switchbacks continued. In all, the final 16 miles of the loop was somewhat easier to tackle, and much more open than the first 9 miles. Soon, of course, it would all blend together pretty thoroughly. I emerged from the forest and ran comfortably into Jackson’s Island, and everyone was waiting for me. I had covered the 25 miles in about 5 hours, and my legs were feeling really good. I shed my long sleeve shirt  and arm warmers, and my amazing crew restocked me with Tailwind, Honey stinger chews, and bodyglide. The sun was out, the air was warming, and it was an absolutely perfect day to be out on the trails. I couldn’t have asked for a better day as I waved goodbye to everyone and headed back out for loop 2.

Finishing up loop 1 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Finishing up loop 1 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Loop 2: Miles 26-50- Oh right, I have to keep running! 

My momentum continued to carry me into the next loop, and my legs were holding up nicely. I began to feel some fatigue as the miles ticked away, but that was to be expected regardless. I knew that the 5 hour mark was not sustainable for 25 miles, so I began making a more intentional effort to slow down even further. This became easier as I had more of the trail to myself, although I was still happily crossing paths with plenty of other folks. Slowing down meant I needed to be even more careful of my footing, as I wasn’t going at a normal pace. I managed to kick a few rocks and tree roots, but nothing too substantial. However, I was happy for the more structured Lone Peaks to protect my feet a bit. I knew the rocks and roots would be having plenty of other conversations with my toes as the day wore on, and although I’d never lost a toe on a run, I figured I stood the strongest chance yet in the Mark Twain National Forrest.

Ok, time to go again! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Ok, time to go again! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

I rolled into Huck’s Watering Hole still feeling good and excited about passing the 50K mark. The trails were certainly beginning to make their mark on my feet but my legs were feeling good. Everyone was waiting for me, and filled up my bottles and nutrition. At this point, they had everything down to a science and it was fun to watch! They knew exactly what they were doing and all the right questions to ask. I drank some ginger ale and ate some pretzels and M & Ms, and was back out on the course in about 5 minutes. I hopped from rock to rock over the stream again, although I did manage to submerge one foot in the water before making it to the other side. The following 16 miles were all about patience, attention, and consistency. I had a much firmer grasp on the trail itself, and was comfortable being out there. However, I did manage to catch my right foot on a rock and in falling forward and catching myself, hyperextended my right hamstring. This definitely caused some pain and would end up giving me problems the rest of the race. I pushed through it though, and it didn’t slow me down all that much. I made my way back and forth on the constant switchbacks yet again, and by this time, they seemed to all bur together in the woods. I found myself thinking I knew where I was on many occasions, only to realize I was wrong. In the last few miles, I fell in step with another guy running the 100-miler and we had some nice conversations, which helped the time roll by that much quicker. He had gone out faster than he had wanted as well, so we were both in the same boat and focusing on slowing things down a bit. The added walking breaks felt good on my legs, and I was happy for the company.

Part of an amazing, attentive crew! (photo credit: Carla Danielson)

Part of an amazing, attentive crew! (photo credit: Carla Danielson)

I arrived at Jackson’s Landing around 5:00PM, which meant the second loop had taken me about 6 hours. This was a much more manageable time and I was still really happy with the progress I was making. Additionally, I was excited about being able to pick up my first pacer, and to have someone to run with and push me for the next 50 miles. I took a few more minutes at the aid station this time, ate and drank a bit more,  and chatted with everyone about how I was feeling. The first 50 miles were tough, but I was in good spirits. I restocked on nutrition, water in my bladder, and Tailwind in my soft flasks, and headed out for the third loop, accompanied by my first amazing pacer. Little did I know that those 9 miles would be the start of a battle with myself, and prove just how amazing my friends are…that, of course, is a story for the next post! Stay tuned :)

Finishing the second loop strong! It's a tad blurry because I'm clearly moving so fast ;) (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Finishing the second loop strong! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

A CyclONE City Running Tour(s)

I’ve always loved living in college communities. There’s a unique atmosphere of spirit and support that truly can’t be replicated in any other environment, and working for the university allows me to feel like a part of that community in a very special way. I moved to Ames, IA from Blacksburg, VA (Virginia Tech), and in doing so, traded one enthusiastic college town for another. My undergraduate experience at the University of Minnesota offered a very different sense of community connection due to the size of the Minneapolis area, but even in a city as large as Minneapolis, the Gopher spirit was and still is amazingly strong. My experiences in Blacksburg were incredible, and taught me what it is to be a part of a university community with unrivaled passion and energy. Now that I’ve been in Ames for almost 10 years, it’s clear to me that smaller towns simply make the town-gown relationship that much more intimate, and Ames continues to prove over and over why it is consistently rated as one of the best small towns in the country for a wide variety of economic, social, recreational, and educational reasons.

The latest demonstration of CyclONE spirit has come in the form of 30 individually painted Cy statues scattered throughout the campus and community. Not only are the statues themselves quite beautiful and impressive works of art, but they serve as a fundraising source for various charitable organizations, on top of fostering Iowa State and Ames pride throughout the area. The statues were unveiled just a few weeks ago, and became instant magnets for photo opportunities and scavenger hunts. It obviously made sense to see them all, and running around town was the clear transportation choice. The Ames Chamber of Commerce made the map available, and it didn’t take long for a friend to turn the map into a running route! Over the course of a week, I embarked on two separate running tours of CyclONE City. Throughout each adventure, I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to live where I do, and to have such amazing friends!

 

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Troy Thompson

Photo Credit: Troy Thompson

Interestingly enough, I shouldn’t be surprised that two of my previous homes have also embraced similar public art projects. Feel free to find the Hokie birds next time you are in Blacksburg, or the Peanuts gang statues next time you are in the Minneapolis area! Do you have any fun public art in your community? Have you organized a public art run before?

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