Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Daily Chase: Vol. 78

Where has the summer gone? I feel like the game never changes, and yet I seem to find myself in the same situation every year! The summer presents itself in all its opportunistic glory, filled with a multitude of time for all the desired projects, and then it’s gone in a blink of an eye 🙂 That’s certainly how I would describe the last month, which has flown by at hyper speed.

At any rate, the running has continued, the streak remains in play, and the rain and humidity has controlled my life far more than I would have preferred. Not only has it meant some very damp and hot runs, but it has also meant a quick 3-day landscaping project has taken several weeks to complete! We finally bit the bullet and decided to dig up the asphalt in our backyard (who paves their backyard!?!?!?!?!). The end result will be a much more beautiful and usable space, but first it has to stop raining for more than a day so we can actually finish spreading the top soil and plant the grass seed. I’m pretty sure it was bone dry for two month, and then has rained every other day since we began this project…ugh!

droplet

It looks so innocent, right?

Luckily, we made our yearly trip to Minnesota to visit family and do some exploring. It’s always fun to get back home and visit old and new haunts. We were able to spend a lot of time with my sister and nephew as well, which was a blast! I managed to squeeze in quite a bit of running, and explored some areas I had never seen before, despite growing up there. Everything just looks different when you are a runner!

Adams

Chasing42 Log: 20170710- 20170812

Run: The miles have been hot and humid for the past month but they’ve also been consistent. I’ve been really happy with the track and tempo workouts I’ve incorporated during the week, and the solid trail miles on the weekend. I’ve been keeping my weekly mileage fairly consistent around 70, and trying to incorporate as much vertical gain as I can along the way. I managed a comfortable 26 miles this morning and feel like I’m about as acclimated as I’m going to be at this point. Soon enough, classes will begin again, and my running schedule will change.

The #chasing42streak continues and now sits at 631 days. 

traillove

#traillove

Thought: The history of lawn/turf management and landscaping in this country is fascinating to me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as our project’s extended timeline has given me plenty of time to stare at the piles of dirt in our backyard. Why do we spend so much time on our yards/lawns? We waste untold millions of gallons of water to feed grass, we spend millions of dollars on mulch, dirt, and plants, and we invest hours upon hours working to keep things up. We compete with neighbors, we pay homeowners associations, we adhere to landscaping policies, and it’s all to live a lie. Just think for a moment how much more time and money you would have if you weren’t tossing it into the ground so you don’t get judged negatively by others. What other interests or hobbies would you pursue? How much more running would you do? How much more time would you spend with your partner or significant other?

How much more time would you spend #chasing42?

Ok, time to head outside and mow the lawn. Again. Why won’t it stop growing? Zero-scaping sounds better and better by the day!

Laurel Highlands Race Recap

I’m fully aware that this review is long overdue. As is usually the case, the summer seems to have gotten away from me amidst the various projects, work and home-related, taking up my time. With that being said, the Laurel Highlands 70.5-miler was an amazing race experience, and certainly worthy of a #chasing42 review!

I try to be very respectful of the beautiful epicurean’s time and energy, and not drag her along to every single race I run. She has been overwhelmingly supportive from day 1, and I cherish that support. Since the Laurel Highlands 70-miler was a relatively local race, being just a 4 hour drive northwest into PA, I agreed to make the trip myself. The race took place on Saturday, June 10th and I took off Friday the 9th from work and made the drive up in the afternoon. The race is a point-to-point course, starting in Ohiopyle, PA, and running along the Laurel Highlands trail north to Seward, PA. As I was traveling alone, it didn’t make sense to bother with a hotel room for a few hours of sleep, so I decided to park my car at the finish and sleep in it Friday night.

LHT-3

My sleeping accommodations. 

I got up to the campground around 4PM and got a quick lay of the land and made sure I knew where to park when I returned, and then I headed into Johnstown for packet pickup and the pre-race dinner and briefing. 2017 marked the 38th running of the race and they certainly have the logistics ironed out very smoothly. I showed up, collected my bib and shirt, and found a seat for dinner. The pasta dinner was quite good, and I was pleased and full as I left, having a much better sense of the course, and feeling content as I headed back to the campground/ finish area. I pulled out my packable camp chair and relaxed with a good book to enjoy the remaining sunlight before curling up in my sleeping back in the car to catch a few hours of sleep. The benefit of sleeping “outside” is going to bed when the sun goes down and not worrying as much about staying up late!

I wouldn’t say I slept great, but I still got a decent amount of sleep before my 3AM alarm woke me from my slumber. Other folks had begun to arrive and park around me to secure their place at the finish area before the buses arrived to shuttle us down to the start. The buses cut through the darkness promptly at 3:30AM with their school bus charm, and we boarded silently in the dark. The drive ended up taking much longer and was much more winding and bumpy than I had anticipated so additional sleep was out of the question. We arrived at the starting area with very little time to spare, and everyone made a beeline for the bathrooms. I took care of business and walked up to the starting area with a few minutes to spare. The morning light was just breaking through in the park, and there was an air of calm anticipation running through the crowd as we waited for the signal to start.

LHT-4

The falls in Ohiopyle made a great starting line! 

I opted for poles in addition to my normal Salomon pack, soft flasks, and various nutritional needs. The course itself has over 11,000 feet of vertical gain, and the jagged elevation profile left me confident that the use of poles would be a good choice. I was certainly correct! After a short jaunt on the road to the trailhead, we hopped on the Laurel Highlands Trail and didn’t leave it for the next 70 miles. The trail itself was consistently technical, beautiful single track with some spectacular views. I told myself I would actually stop at least once to take in the views this time, and I eventually did make good on that promise. The first aid station at mile 11.6 made for a bit of a longer first section, but fresh legs and plenty of Tailwind, along with the energy of the race and the people around me made the miles tick off pretty quickly. There was no shortage of climbing, however, and I had accumulated well over 2,000 ft. of vertical gain.

The next section was filled with shorter but more frequent climbs, and I was starting to have flashbacks to the Georgia Death Race and the constant climbing and descending. I had heard that a majority of the climbing for this race was in the first 20 miles, so I was prepared for it, and my legs held up really well. All of the climbing I had been doing in training was certainly paying off. I didn’t spend long at the aid station at mile 19.6 and got back out on the course to keep my momentum going.

I should have known better, but for a brief moment as I was leaving AS #2, I actually thought the course would get easier. It didn’t. The aid stations were further apart than in many other ultras, and I enjoyed the old school feel of the race. It forced me to pay more attention to my hydration and nutrition, and plan accordingly for the longer chunks of miles.

LHT-5

Beautiful views. All. Day. 

Things started to heat up, literally, by mile 30, and the crowd of 143 runners (70.5 distance) had begun to thin out quite a bit so I was spending significantly more time by myself. The climbs kept coming, and the rocks and roots continued to make the trail a formidable companion. My head seemed to be bouncing between the trail and the views as I tried to simultaneously not trip and enjoy the gorgeous landscapes laid out before me along the trail. I should note that this is not a bad problem to have, and the constant distractions made the miles and climbing much easier as I continued my relentless forward progress.

Eventually, I made it to the mile 46 aid station and eagerly anticipated access to my drop bag. This aid station experience was one of the best I’ve ever had thanks in large measure to an amazing volunteer that helped me from start to finish. I was pretty darn hot, had run out of water, and was soaking wet from sweat so a cold rag and ice water on my neck and back felt amazing. He grabbed my drop bag, refilled my bottles with Tailwind, and I put on a clean shirt and a fresh pair of socks. By the time I left the aid station, I felt like a new man. The drudgery of the previous 7 miles (after AS #4) was a distant memory, and I headed back out on the trail with renewed vigor and excitement!

I made it to the next aid station at mile 57 with ease relative to the previous miles, and was in really good spirits. At this point, I was determined to see how far I could get without using my headlamp. I rolled in, fueled up, and pulled out my headlamp in anticipation of using it soon, but I still had some light in the sky. I danced with the setting sun almost as far as the next and final aid station at mile 62, helped in part by a short stretch of dirt road up to the AS that I could navigate with very little light. I was all smiles as I pulled into the final aid station, took a few shots of Coke, and struck out for the final stretch.

It got dark pretty quick, but my headlamp cast a nice wide beam so I had no trouble navigating. After about a mile, I found myself running nearby to another runner, which hadn’t happened in quite a while. We got to talking and humorously discovered that we followed each other on Strava, and lived miles from each other but had never met in person. We ended up running in the final 7 miles together and talking the entire time about a whole host of topics, which made the time fly by rather quickly. We both had been thinking about the possibility of breaking 18 hours as the finish line grew near, and we began to push as hard as we could with 5 miles or so to go. We kept looking down at the clock and knew it would be close, especially since we weren’t entirely sure how much we had left as the finish grew near. We made the final push and “sprinted” across the finish line in 18:03.

LHT-1

All finishers received a beautiful wooden “trophy”, which was a small replica of the permanent stone obelisk trail mile markers along the Laurel Highlands Trail, and I was quite happy to claim mine. I hung around the finish area for a bit, sipping on soup, and cheering on other runners before eventually making my way back to the car around 12:30AM. I was exhausted, and my wet wipe “bath” didn’t really cut it, but I was too tired to care and I climbed into my sleeping bag for a few hours of restless sleep as my sore leg muscles began to repair themselves. I predictably woke up with the rising sun, briefly enjoyed the cool morning air, and then hopped in the car for the 4 hour drive home. It was a whirlwind weekend, as so many race weekends are, but I absolutely loved the course, the volunteers, and the overall experience. I collected my second Western States qualifying race as well, and fully embraced the #chasing42 spirit along the way!

LHT-2

Daily Chase: Vol. 77

As much as I claim to hate the heat and humidity, I certainly can’t argue with the fact that it creates quite a lush green landscape in the state parks in the area! Of course, that also means poison ivy at every turn, but as long as you know what you are looking for, you can pretty well avoid it. At times, I feel like I’ve been transported to a lush jungle or northwestern rain forest environment, and it truly adds to the enjoyment of the single track. There is just something special about being able to mentally escape while on a run and focus your energy on the beauty around you. I’m always a bit confused when I see people out on the trails with headphones in their ears, as though they were doing their best to forget they were in the woods in the first place. So, get out there, find your happy place, and enjoy #chasing42, no matter where your single track may take you!

Lums Ponds-1

Lums Pond State Park

Chasing42 Log: 20170619- 20170709

Run: The miles have been relatively consistent over the past few weeks, although the combination of a Laurel Highlands recovery period and hot/humid weather has left my legs a tad bit sluggish. It’s really only been in about the last week that I’ve started to have the same spring in my step that I felt during the comfortable spring months. A solid summer routine has certainly helped push through the heavy legs and keep the summer training moving forward. Here’s a quick snapshot:

Monday- comfortable group run with the Delaware Running Club crew

Tuesday- track workouts at a local high school when I can make it, or tempo miles         around campus

Wednesday- progressive track workout with Delaware Running Club crew (how do you speed people do this all the time!)

Thursday- no drop trail miles at Brandywine Creek State Park

Friday- recovery run, short and easy

Saturday- long trail run, increasing vertical gain

Sunday- mid-distance trail run, more vertical gain

So, the #chasing42streak is still going strong, and a consistent schedule of rolling and interspersed comfortable miles has kept my legs feeling fresh…well, not that I’m starting to acclimate to the heat at least!

BCSP-1

Rainy Mist at Brandywine Creek State Park

Thought: I’ve been thinking more and more about running grit lately, in large part due to the running of the Western States 100 just a few short weeks ago. The conditions are always hot, and the net downhill course definitely creates challenges for many runners. It also increases the likelihood of a mid-race bonk that can feel like the end of the road. Those runners that can truly remember that they’ve been there before, they know they can come out of it, and they are committed to finishing strong are the ones to watch. This was perhaps no better exemplified than by ultrarunning start Kaci Lickteig, who came into this years race with the F1 bib as the returning champion. She went out strong in the early miles, but his a really tough patch where even walking was a challenge. It’s always humbling to hit those points, even after knowing you did everything correctly in training. However, her humility, perseverance, and grit are a large part of what makes her a true champion. She eventually came out of her slump and finished the race, and her experience and the grace she displayed during and afterwards are part of why I love this sport so darn much! You can listen to her fabulous interview on ultrarunnerpodcast.com here for a great reminder of the ups and downs we all face while #chasing42!

Battery Park

Battery Park along the Delaware River 

Daily Chase: Vol. 76

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and father figures out there today! Summer is in full swing, albeit not officially here yet, and that means each passing weekend is precious and filled with possibilities. Last weekend, that meant an adventure to western Pennsylvania for the Laurel Highlands 70.5, and this weekend was filled with yard work and other tasky endeavors. Not every weekend can be filled with excitement, right?

Chasing42 Log: 20170605- 20170618

Run: Last weekend, as I was ticking off the miles and chasing the sun and the clock during the Laurel Highlands 70.5 Ultra, I was struck with two competing thoughts. On the one hand, I clearly wanted to finish as quickly as possible (and certainly under the 20-hour threshold for it to count as a WS qualifier). On the other hand, I knew that If I finished after midnight, then I would have my Sunday run completed and be able to take an even longer break and still keep my streak alive 🙂 Alas, I made really good time and finished around 11:30PM. I logged a few hours of sleep in the car, and made the journey back home early Sunday morning to a much anticipated shower. It was a hot afternoon, but I still laced up my shoes for a slow mile around the block, and I kept my streak going. This past week has been all about recovery and intentionally not pushing my legs any harder than comfort would allow. I managed a solid longer run yesterday, and went swimming in the humidity today, but enjoyed every minute of my time on the trails. I’m certainly not fully acclimated to the heat and humidity yet, but it will come. In the meantime, I’ll keep pressing on and enjoying myself and my training!

rainbow

An incredible rainbow during a relaxing weekend. 

Thought: My father isn’t a runner. To the best of knowledge, he never was a runner, despite being built like a marathoner in the purest sense. However, from a very early age, he instilled in me the benefits of hard work and the importance of pursuing your dreams. He encouraged me to explore my interests, no matter how far fetched they might have been. I could have easily told him I wanted to run a marathon as a child, and he would have supported me and then asked me “what’s next?”. Anyone who has run an ultra-marathon of any kind has probably had some version of the “that’s crazy” conversation with a friend or family member. That’s simply not a response I ever received from my father. Instead, he’s always been nothing but supportive, encouraging, and proud of each and every one of my accomplishments, running or otherwise. It takes someone special to recognize a unique set of interests and never deviate from supporting someone as the chase their dreams, and my father continues to be that person. He taught me what chasing42 meant before I even had the words to describe it, and I continue to be thankful every day for his presence in my life!

Daily Chase: Vol. 75

I’m currently sitting on our front porch, enjoying a cold drink, and loving the cool breeze and comfortable temperature. I’ve spent a good majority of my time out here this weekend, and it’s been the perfect opportunity to relax, catch up on some reading, and bask in what I hope is not a short-lived spring/early summer season. It’s a nice balance between knowing I need to get things done around the house, and wanting to spend all my time outdoors. If I could hit the pause button on the weather and time of day, then I’m pretty sure this is when I’d do so. Do you have those moments when everything clicks and you just want to bask in the relaxation? Are you making the time to go to your happy place and pause to truly enjoy it? The miles fly by rather quickly and it’s easy to get caught up in the training, and sometimes it just takes someone handing you a cold drink to force your hand!

cold drink

Do you have your cold drink? 🙂 

Chasing42 Log: 20170527- 20170604

Run: It’s taper time in the #chasing42 world, and that means less volume and a slower pace. Over the past week or so, I’ve managed to stick to a slower pace, although my volume hasn’t necessarily decreased as much as I would have liked. In my defense, it’s been rather gorgeous outside for the last week. In addition, last week was a 3-day weekend, which meant an extra opportunity for a long run. I kept things slower, and have been rolling my legs out consistently, so now I just need to reign in the miles. I kept my weekend mileage low this weekend, thankfully, and did plenty of stretching. I am sure it will be even easier to do so this coming week before heading up to PA for Laurel Highlands. Here’s to a calm race week!

pausing

Thought: The bonk. The breaking point. The “that’s all I’ve got” point. We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt the life drain from our body as we realize that we didn’t consume enough calories, drink enough, or properly account for the climate or terrain. We’ve reached our mental threshold and begun making deals with ourselves. If I let myself walk to “x location”, then I’ll pick it back up again. If I take it easy until the next aid station, then I can stock up and hit it hard again. In some ways, that mentality has become crucial to my ability to push myself into and out of the pain cave, and really challenge what I’m capable of enduring. However, I’m also aware that the mind tends to give up faster than the body does. We, as a society, are not accustomed to discomfort in our daily lives (many of us, anyway), and thus our ideas about where that threshold rests have changed over the years. Today, the average American only takes approximately 5900 steps, which includes those trips to the bathroom and to the break room for one more donut. Those 3 miles aren’t typically difficult miles by any means, and it’s drastically alternated our perception of how far we can push ourselves.

Of course, runners of all sorts certainly don’t fall into those sedentary categories the same way, but it has still altered the way we mentally perceive pain and exhaustion, the way we talk about it, and the way we view it in others. Thus, I find myself, as I tackle new and unique physical challenges, thinking about how I can push myself to go just a little bit harder, just a little bit longer, and push aside those mental doubts just a bit more. Training is ultimately about growth, and that happens on a mental and physical level. So, the next time i perceive a bonk coming on, or start making deals with myself early in a race, I’m going to try and repeat #chasing42 in my mind and push just a little bit more. Do you have it in you to push just a little bit more? Let’s see what happens!

Daily Chase: Vol. 74

I’m pretty sure that I blinked and two months rolled by before my eyes! That’s about the easiest way to describe the hectic efforts to continue #chasing42. There’s a lot to fill you in on over the last two months, not the least of which is the fact that #chasing42streak is still going strong at 552 days and counting.

Perhaps the most significant alternation to my schedule this past semester was the addition of two evening classes. I’ve taught both of them previously, but never at the same time, and managing two three hour evening commitments, which meant not getting home until around 9PM, proved to be quite taxing on my training and life in general. I found myself begrudgingly squeezing in runs where I could on these days in particular. I certainly managed to make it work, but I’ve noticed the difference in my energy levels for the past 4 months. Happily, the semester ended yesterday, commencement is tomorrow, and I’ll have grades submitted by the end of the weekend. I’m very much looking forward to the change of pace ushered in by summer, and the increased availability for runs and other spontaneous activities!

jog your mind

An appropriate poster in the University of Delaware Library 🙂 

The most significant event since the Umstead 100 was my now annual pilgrimage back to Iowa for the Market-to-Market Relay over Mother’s Day weekend. I was able to spend an extra day out there this year, and the added time spent with friends was just what my heart, my mind, and my liver needed! I’ll have a belated “race” report up shortly 🙂

M2M17

The Speedy Streakers returned for year 5! 

Chasing42 Log: 20170329- 20170526

Run: As I already mentioned, the streak is most definitely still in play and the miles have continued to add up, despite the additional demands on my time. I’ve been adding in some additional Friday miles to compensate for the decreases on Mondays and Wednesdays so my overall weekly average hasn’t dipped all that much. We’ve been getting a fair bit of rain over the past month, which has kept the temperatures down for the most part, and made for some beautiful running weather. My main training focus now is preparing for the Laurel Highlands Ultra on June 10th, so I’ve been focusing much more on vertical gain and technical downhill running.

trails- BCSP

I can’t get enough of these trails! 

Thought: Becoming a morning person is an elusive dream. I’m familiar with the science, and realize there’s plenty of evidence to support the futility of my efforts. Nonetheless, I can’t seem to let go of the dream. In my ideal world, I enjoy a beautiful, quiet morning run to wake myself up every morning and start my day off right. I return to this dream periodically throughout the year but I’ve yet to put my finger on the strategy that will work best for me. Going to bed earlier obviously makes plenty of sense but it’s often pointless if I’m not actually tired. So, what’s the trick? Who out there has pushed through the struggle and truly overcome not being a morning person to get up early and enjoy those quiet workouts? What tips and tricks can you share? I’ll be waiting anxiously as I sip my coffee and continue #chasing42!

Race Report: Umstead 100

I relish in the logistics involved in planning for a 100 mile race. I’d almost go so far as to say that I’ve grown to love the build-up so much that it negates any nerves I might have leading up to race day. That was definitely the case this time around as I spent the week prior forcing myself to fully taper with short, comfortable runs to keep the #chasing42streak going. After the trials and tribulations of Grindstone last fall, both the epicurean and I were due for a relaxed, pleasant race experience, and Umstead delivered in spades! The location was wonderful, the weather was gorgeous, the day ran smoothly, and the volunteers and race staff were fabulous. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better race experience 🙂

Umstead-7

We packed up the car on Thursday after work, dropped Baxter off at daycare, and piled into the car with Looper. I knew we’d hit some rush hour traffic heading south on 95, but we wanted to tackle a portion of the drive that night so that our trip down to Raleigh the next day would be relaxed. We made our way down to Fredericksburg, VA and settled into a hotel for the night. It was pouring rain when we woke up the next morning, and I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to my water-logged trek at Grindstone. However, I stayed positive and we headed down the interstate and made our way to Raleigh, NC and to Umstead State Park. We arrived around 1pm, checked in, and found our way to the cabin I had reserved. It’s rustic charm was bolstered by the fact that it was literally steps from the race course. Having the indoor space to spread out everything and get settled made the evening that much more relaxing. We found a late lunch in town that afternoon, and then made our way back for the pre-race meeting. Afterwards, we made our way back to the cabin and sat out on the porch, watched the sun set, and then settled in for an early bedtime. I was quite pleased to be able to get a full night of sleep before the race!

Umstead-6

The alarm went off at 4:30AM the next morning, and I quietly got out of bed so as not to wake the beautiful epicurean. I began to get my pack squared away via the light of the headlamp, ate a small breakfast. We made our way up to the starting area around 5:45AM and the the camp was buzzing with pre-dawn excitement! My training block leading up to this race had been the strongest I had ever had, and I was filled with the excitement of possibility. After a brief moment, the RD sent us on our way into the darkness for the first of eight 12.5 mile loops. The shorter distance meant I’d be returning to see the epicurean regularly and she could relaxing at the cabin with Looper in the interim.

Loops 1 & 2

Going out too fast has always been my achilles heel, but I was committed to being patient and getting a sense of the course. I rode the slight rolling hills and let my breathing guide my pace as I ticked off the early miles. I was able to switch off my headlamp after 30 minutes or so, and watching the sun rise over the wooded landscape was a breath of fresh air. The entire course is made up of relatively wide biking and running dirt paths and my fears of the previous days rain creating a muddy mess were quickly alleviated. the first decent climb popped up around mile 4, and I was happy to power hike up it, and was greeting to a small lake near the top of the rise. There were several unmanned aid stations sprinkled throughout the course, which meant I only had to carry my hydration vest with one 500mL soft-flask. It was refreshing to not be weighed down by a full bladder and I knew I’d appreciate it even more later on. The mid-loop aid station emerged at around mile 6.85, and the full spread of food and drink that greeted me was a beautiful sight, as were the wonderfully helpful volunteers. After my first visit, I left with added confidence and a smile on my face. Several smaller but steeper climbs followed along the rolling path, and I forced myself to walk them and saved my energy for the downhills and flats. This strategy served me well and I was making the final climb up Cemetery Hill before I knew it. I made the turn down into the camp, and the epicurean’s smiling face greeted me. She quickly refilled my water bottle with Tailwind, tossed me another pack of honey stinger chews, and collected my headlamp. Efficiency was the name of the game, and she was on her game! I rolled up to the start/finish area and logged my first loop in 2:06, which felt well within my ability for the 12.5 mile loop (1000 feet elevation gain).

Umstead-3

The second loop was more of the same as the cool forest air whispered through the trees. I was focusing on keeping a calm and relaxed demeanor and really enjoying my time out on the trail. I had been training for this race for the last 3+ months, and this was the reward. This loop sent us back out of camp the way we came, and down and out-and-back flat spur for the first 3 miles or so. This would be the route we would take for the rest of the race so I had plenty of time to bond with the nuances of the trail. Ironically, I would come to resent this flat section and wish for the rolling landscape that would follow. Who am I, and what did I do with the flatlander?! The remainder of the loop flew by without incident, and I felt like I was out for any other Saturday morning run. I rolled into the start/finish at 4:12 elapsed and feeling great with 1/4 of the race in the bag. I stopped to visit the epicurean and she topped off my water while another nice spectator randomly offered to help me apply some sunscreen. It was a reminder of just how much of a family the ultra community truly is, and I rolled out for my third loop with high spirits!

Loops 3 & 4

The relatively groomed trails on the course meant full-blown trail shoes were overkill of a sort. So, I went with a lightweight, comfortable pair of Hoka Clifton 2s. Once I added my trusty dirty girl gaiters, my feet were quite happy. Luckily, this happiness persisted for the entirety of the race, and my feet were blister-free by the end. What a pleasant surprise! The temps did begin to rise a bit towards the end of the 3rd loop, and during the 4th loop, and the sun added some heat in the low 70s, but it was far from uncomfortable. I was focusing quite a bit on hydrating and made the decision early on to drink at every aid station, as well as cool my wrists and head if need be. This proved to be an excellent strategy, and the ice cold water at each of the aid stations was a treat I looked forward to every time. The volunteers were clearly refilling the coolers with ice pretty frequently, and I was thankful for their dedication. Aside from the heat, everything was firing on all cylinders, and the next two loops flew by rather smoothly. I arrived at the half-way point in 9:01, and my legs were still feeling really good. I was alert, had plenty of energy, and wasn’t feeling overly hungry or thirsty. In other words, I was in a best-case scenario at the half-way point, and was doing my best not to get too excited or get my hopes up. I still had 50 more miles to go, and a lot could happen in that time!

Umstead-4

Loops 5 & 6

By this point, I had mapped out the route pretty well in my head, and knew the distances between key points on the course, including the aid stations. This made it really easy to set small goals between these points and focus on my running during those intervals. The sun was on it’s downward path by the 5th loop, and the temperatures slowly began to cool. I had definitely settled into a rhythm at this point, and I knew when to walk and when to power hike without really even thinking about it. This would normally be the point where my quads begin to get a bit tight, but my legs were still feeling relaxed, and my feet were quite pleased with my shoe choice. Although my nutrition was still working, I was definitely reaching a saturation point with the honey stinger chews. Ironically, I had moved to using them when I dialed back my sugar intake and GUs and Cliff Shot Blocks began to taste too sweet to me. Now the Honey Stinger chews were beginning to taste too sweet to me as well. Luckily, I had plenty of solid food options at the aid stations, and began to eat more fruit, salted potatoes, and cookies. This, combined with my trusty Ginger Ale, made for a strong nutritional combo. My pace was slowing somewhat, but I was still moving really well and feeling confident. I completed the 6th loop around 8:15PM, just as the sun was setting. The epicurean was in high spirits as she checked in to see what I needed. I claimed my headlamp, along with more Tailwind, and some ginger chews, and set out once more. I was only a hair over 14 hours in, but only had 25 miles left to go. My energy was  high, and it became a bit harder not to get overly excited.

Loops 7 & 8

After a mile or so, I flipped on my headlamp and set out into the darkness. This was a far cry from the exhaustion as I set out on the second night at Grindstone, and I was at a loss. At this point, the 250+ runners were spread out pretty well along the 12.5 mile loop, and I found myself mainly running alone. However, I had a very pleasant conversation with a badass blind runner and his guide as they expertly navigated the terrain. We shared some great stories over the course of a few miles, and we arrived at the mid-point aid station together. After a quick refueling, I bid them good luck, and headed back out as they took a moment to rest. This would normally be the point at which the smaller climbs begin to seem more daunting, but I was still climbing swiftly and bombing down the descents at a pace I probably had no business going. I had spent the last few months focusing on training on the downhills and strengthening my quads, and it was quite gratifying to know that the work had paid off. I made my way into the start/finish at 17:20 at the end of the 7th lap, and I let the excitement of the final loop begin to well up inside me.

Umstead-2

My legs were definitely tired as I made the climb out of camp for the final time. I resented the flat out-and-back more than I should have, but gave myself permission to walk a few segments, encouraged by the fact that I wouldn’t be returning. I was counting down the miles more now than ever, and allowing myself to enjoy this final victory lap of sorts. I crossed the small bridge at mile 4 to begin the climb, and quickly realized that my headlamp was the only breach in the dark in all directions. I never once felt tired, but I began to hear sounds in the woods, and I sent my headlamp into the darkness where it was met with numerous pairs of glowing orange eyes. I was power-hiking up the long climb and trying not to get too freaked out by whatever was clearly tracking my movements. I didn’t have the energy to move any faster, and I “may” have let out a few screams into the darkness to try and scare away whatever had taken an interest in my movements. I eventually moved past this section, but the irrational fear stayed with me for much longer.

I rolled into the mid-point aid station for the final time and treated myself to some delicious broth, which was equal parts warming and hydrating. Luckily, I was moving quickly enough that I never got cold, and remained comfortable in my short sleeve shirt the entire time. I set out on the final 5+ miles and was energized as I crested the top of each hill and ran down each descent, my quads still feeling strong. I rounded the corner into the final straight-away, stopped briefly at the last aid station, and then pushed on. Plenty of folks were passing me in the opposite direction, heading out for their next loops, and it was nice to see more people again. I reached the camp, and began to slowly run down towards the finish as hearty volunteers cheered me on in the dead of night. The camp was lit up, and the cheers energized me as I made the last small climb and crossed the finish line.

I was all smiles and quickly spotted the epicurean, who reminded me to turn off my headlamp 🙂 The RD came out and handed me my buckle and I was a bit in shock. I crossed the finish line in 20:26, which was well beyond what I had hoped for, and a PR by more than 2 hours! I happily took the opportunity to make my way inside hear a warm fire and it felt glorious to sit down for the first time. The french toast was delicious, and the hot coffee was long overdue. After resting for a bit, the epicurean and I slowly made our way back to the cabin. i gave myself a quick wet-wipe bath, and then curled up in my sleeping bag. It was 3AM, obviously late, but I was lying down to sleep. I had no expectations of being able to do so, and it was an opportunity my tired legs relished!

I was sore the next morning as we loaded the car, and made the 8 hour drive (damn traffic!) back, but “20:26” kept popping into my head and I couldn’t stop smiling. You never know exactly how a race is going to play out, and I’ve come to expect the unexpected, which made this smooth, comfortable, and challenging race that much more special. This was truly what #chasing42 is all about, and I have the buckle to prove it!

Umstead-5

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