Sunday, October 4, 2015

Barkley Fall Classic "50K"



Veni, Vidi,... Vici????

Well maybe not so easily, but I did finish. BFC lived up to all my wildest expectations and more. The taste of Barkley I was seeking, I got.



Veni

On Thursday evening, September 17th, we started driving.  We made it to Roanoke before stopping around midnight.  The next day we drove straight to Clingman's Dome to "summit" our 6th highpoint.

A rare, clear day atop Clingman's Dome.

Ryan and I successfully summited. Titus did not. We were turned around half way up the .5 mile paved path by a park Ranger (who was quite nice and just doing his job) who gave a us a written warning for having a dog on what is consider a park trail.  Dogs were allowed in the parking area but not on the "trails" and we totally missed the tiny "No Dogs" sign at the base of the path.  After the Ranger ran Ryan's license for any outstanding warrants and wrote us the citation (again, the Ranger was super nice..and Ryan has no outstanding warrants!), we put Titus back in the car and hiked up the .5 mile path in 8 minutes.  Later we read in the brochure that on average visitors should plan for the .5 mile (330 foot of vert) to take 30 minutes. Based on the amount of tourists, young and old alike, huffing and puffing their way to the top, I believe it.

Notice Ryan gripping the railing for dear life.

The view from the top was the best we have seen yet and after Ryan's quick trip to the gift shop we were back on the road headed to Historic Rugby, TN where our cabin awaited.

Apparently a gift shop essential for Ryan.

Around 7pm we arrive in Historic Rugby and stop at the only restaurant in the vicinity. Luckily, our host for the weekend, John Sharp, happened to be at the restaurant already.  (I say luckily because there was no cell service there and we definitely would have had trouble finding the cabin on our own). With him were his two friends, Gina and Kyle, who were also racing Barkley.

Eventually we head back to the cabin, prepare our packs for the next day and after a very helpful Barkley 50k course tutorial from Gina (who ran last year) we all head to bed.  I think every runner at Barkley can agree that the cloth map we received with our bibs is by far the most memorable, useful piece of race swag ever.



Vidi

I was more nervous than I thought I would be by the time we got to the start.  Driving in through the fog in the dark and past Morgan County Correctional Complex and  towards the entrance of Frozen Head State Park was surreal. MCCX is the prison that replaced the famous Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex allowing for its closure.

Never in all my racing thus far have I ever carried so much crap with me.  My Nathan VaporAiress was loaded up with a bladder 2/3 full of water, Hammer gels, electrobites, Endurolyte Extreme in the handy water proof pill pocket, a 12oz bottle of Tailwind, backup Tailwind packets, my handy cloth Barkley 50k course map and my Zephyr 300 handheld flashlight (because i was told we need it to run through the dark prison) and work gloves. Yes I was told leather work gloves were a necessity!

Steve Durbin,the official RD, gives a quick intro.

Laz lights his cigarette.......

Running down the road to the actual Frozen Head State Park entrance sign is even more surreal. Shortly after we pass the sign, we make a left and head up a jeep road and soon enough we are on single track and we begin to climb.  Switch back after switch back, climbing and climbing. I feel like I can run the whole climb but I remind myself this is only the first climb so maybe I should chill.  I begin to leap frog with one of the women. At this point I was pretty sure this woman and I were the first but knowing where all the women are ends shortly after we make our first wrong turn. One of many. I lose track of placement eventually and decide to just run, enjoy and not to worry about if I win or lose. Although I came to try to win the Barkley entry, I realize part way through its about way more than that.  I came to see!  And see I did!

Lots of wrong turns and lots of doubt make up my Barkley experience.  What is usually a solitary venture eventually blossomed into a team sport.  Ran some jeep roads with a PE teacher named Josh from Florida. Living in Florida didn't stop him from being a beast on hills.

       Testicle Spectacle

We reached Testicle Spectacle together and he said "Well, here is where the gloves come out!" Work gloves on I follow him down this steep as hill completely covered with over grown briers. The hill follows power line so all the trees had been cut down and John had advised me when I get to this point to head for the tree line. Do not go down the middle. This is the part where you begin to choose your own route. Josh disappears down the hill.  I begin my descent and find myself laughing out loud at how ridiculous this just got! Everyone tells me Rat Jaw is worse. How can it be worse!?!?  Don't ever pose that question at Barkley! I can always be worse.



Those briers! I do not regret wearing a singlet and shorts but damn did they sting. It wasn't the saw-briers that hurt so much while they were cutting you, it was being so sweaty and having tiny cuts all over your arms and legs. This is what I came for though, the Barkley experience. And I had my gloves which really helped me blindly grab things to hoist my myself up the hill. I remember going hand over feet part way up, sweat is dripping off my nose and I am pulling myself through a thick area of saw-brier and thinking this is freaking crazy awesome. I also remember thinking how in the hell would someone do this 4 more times over the course of 2 and a half days...and more importantly how would I?? Or could I even??




I finally make it down the hill and get my bib punched. Instead of book pages like the real Barkley, we have to get our bibs punched at each checkpoint sectioned on our bib. Each punch had a different shape so you couldn't fake it. On my climb back up i see John making his way down. I hear him first before I see him. The Texan always makes his presence known.  I was shocked and relieved when he catches up to me on his climb back up.  At least I was with someone who might be more sure of where they are going.  From here on out we generally leap frog with the same people the rest of the race. I had been told at the last aid station that I was in second (female) and that first place, Alicia Rich was only about 5 minutes ahead of me.  Well I never saw her on my way down Testicle Spectacle so she was either way more ahead or choose to come up a totally different way than I went down.

At the top of Testicle, John and I begin our descent down Meth Lab Hill. Eventually we head back into the trees and my feet slip out from under me and BOOM! Flat on my ass in a pile of mud. Blood, sweat, and now mud. Now I just needed some tears to bath in.




     Brushy Mountain Correctional Facility

Eventually, we emerge from the woods and actually come out onto a road. And there it is! Brushy Mountain Correctional Facility.  Nestled among the giant Tennessee hills, sits at the bottom, the old prison. If you don't know your Barkely lore and the significance of this prison, do yourself a favor and google it. In true Barkley fashion, I am not going to "map" it out for you.




Heading towards the prison, I am excited I might get to see Ryan and Titus. Ryan still injured had to sit this one out, once again.  We get to the road to cross it and I see my car driving towards us! Its Ryan and he is leaving! I flag him down and he turns around and meets me at the Brushy Mountain entrance. I have only run 18 miles at this point (around 5 hours) but it feels like an eternity since I have seen Ryan. "This is crazy!" I tell him. He tells me there is a chick way, way ahead of me. I tell him I don't even care at this point.  I say good bye to him and Titus and head into the prison with the small group of us who have been leap frogging. When we get to The Hole, the bib puncher doesn't make himself known immediately so we are fumbling around in the dark not sure where to go. Then he emerges from a solitary confinement cell, punches our bibs and we head out.



Up Big Rat, straight up climbing. Gloves back on and grabbing whatever root, rock or tree branch we can get our hands on.  "Is this Rat Jaw?" I asked John.  "No! Rat Jaw is worse," he replies. Another guy Ron who is also from PA and has run this before replies, "This is Big Rat."

       Rat Jaw

We come out onto what looks like another jeep road and more power lines with brush 5 times thicker than anything on Testicle Spectacle. Welcome to Rat Jaw. Straight up. I don't see the top but apparently there is a tower we need to get to at the peak.  Now five of us remain together at this point.  Ron, the Barkley 50k veteran, from State College, PA. Russ from Bloomington, IN. John Sharp, the Loud Texan from Selma. Troy from Columbus, OH who in my head I nicknamed Skrillex before I learned his real name.  And just like that Team Rat Jaw assembles!

Team Rat Jaw: Russ

Team Rat Jaw: Troy


John leads the way into the briers as we plow our own switchback to the treeline on the opposite side of the hill.  No exaggeration but from the base of hill at the prison to the tower at the top of Rat Jaw must have taken us at least 90 minutes and I am not even sure it was a mile total. I had no GPS (unwritten rule or written somewhere depending on who you ask, that there is no place for GPS at Barkley).  After a lot of team work, more blood, sweat and some cursing, we helped hoist each other up over a small rock face and emerged from the brush over the last steep, dirt hill. Cheering spectators were there to greet us and one woman captured some amazing shots of most all of the runners. We climbed the metal tower to get our bib punch, took in the view for a second and headed back down.  John assured me that from here on out we were back on single track and no longer needed our gloves. What a relief. After that,I was definitely ready to run again.

This doesn't even do it justice.

Checkpoint at the top.

Only 4 miles to the next aid station and the cutoff for the marathon distance for those would not have time to do the final "9 mile" loop.  Coming down a bit of single track before reaching the aid station where Laz would be waiting to punch our bibs for the second to last punch, I hear the pounding footsteps of someone running strong. I take another step, stumble and for the 3rd time that day get a debilitating calf cramp. As i bend over, cursing and rubbing my calf the blond girl I remember from the beginning of the race (she had a documentary crew following her)  blows by me like a freight train. SHIT! I yell and take off running, completely placing the calf cramps from my mind.  We reach the aid station and I see her just ahead of me.  The drop bags are here and I grab my ziplock bag of 3 more Hammer gels and a PB sandwich. I am so hungry at this point and was really looking forward to having that sandwich but blondie has ruined that for me. :) No time! All I can do is jam the ziplock bag in pack and head to Laz for my bib punch.



"How far ahead is first female?" I ask.

"No way you are going to catch her but you can over take second. Do you have water?" Laz asks.

"I don't need any, I just got some at the last aid station!", I mumble frantically.

"You cant leave here without water. People ran out last year. Someone get her some water." Laz shouts.

I reluctantly take off my pack and without removing the bladder I un-slide the top and hold it out for the volunteer to fill, she pours in only a bit before the bladder appears full.

"Wow! That's a lot of water you got there," exclaims Laz.

AAHHHHHHHHH wasted time I think (but we will get to this....). I head out in a sprint after the girl who is now in second.  It is not too long before I pass her going up the hill, she looks like she totally died. So confused and running scared I begin the last major climb. I run/power hike as strongly as I can to put distance between me and Bec (I can stop calling her blondie now). I got to chat with her after and she is a sweetheart. She came all the way from Sidney, Australia and is crossing her fingers for a chance at the real Barkley in March.

I catch up with Troy at this point and he is looking rough but moving well. He tells me has has been out of water the majority of the race as he could not find his bladder before he left Ohio and that he is really feeling the effects. All he he had were soft flasks. "I can give you some water, no problem. I have way too much in here and it feels so heavy!" I tell Troy.  I take off my VaporAiress and pour water from my bladder into his flask. Some of it gets on the ground and some of it gets in his flask but I fill it and then head up the hill. Troy falls behind and I am alone now.

This climb goes on forever but I am grateful to be on actual trails.  Somewhere soon I will get my bib punched for the last time and finally head to the finish. I have been running for over 8 hours and am not even done yet!  I go to take a sip of water. Empty! Oh the irony!  Laz is probably laughing now, he knew. It's all part of his grand plan of pain and suffering.  I think because i had so much crap in my pack and i didn't take the bladder out to refill it, it only looked full when we poured the water in. He warned me. People run out of water he had said...  At this point even my toes were cramping. It was a weird feeling but there was nothing else to do but run on.

More doubting. Where was this last bib punch? I felt like I had been running forever and the last thing I wanted was to miss it.  I kept stopping to look around and even check out behind boulders and ridges along the way to see if there was some hidden check point. Eventually, a good southern boy catches up to me with blood all over his face.  I ask him where the hell this check point is and he assures me its ahead.  A few times I turn around and wait for him and ask him again.  It was the doubting..as well as my less than average downhill skills that ultimately lost me 2nd place. After reaching the last check point and stopping to get a bit of water for my pack (surprise water because I didn't know there would be any), I begin the 3.5 miles back down to the finish.  And then I hear those foot steps again...... I don't even turn around this time. I know who it is.  I step to the side and let her pass and then do the only thing I can. Run as hard as I can after her.  Its not even that i suck so bad at downhills, its that Bec was soo good! I try to keep her in my sights but lose her at the first real turn.  I think I know which way she went but doubt again causes me to refer to the map which I have had rolled up in my front bottle pocket for easy access through out the race.

Flying down the gravel path that leads to the road that leads out of the gate and to the finish, I think this seems an odd way to end this race. A sprint down the road. I hear cheers from the finish which i cannot yet see and reckon that those cheers are likely for Bec but i didn't want to take any chances and have her sprint by me again (in case she had taken a wrong turn and ended up behind me). So I run on.
Ladies and Gentlemen, all the way from Australia.. Bec Wilcock!


Vici?

Turning the corner and running towards that finish line was a total relief. I was so glad it was over and I had decided along the way that I never wanted to do it again. I thought doing the real Barkley was out of the question and that I had gotten the taste i was seeking.  The Barkley Fall Classic had cured the Barkley itch. I was wrong.  Barkley haunts my dreams. Literally, haunts them. I have had a dream almost every night that I am on the Barkley course in one way or another.  How do I make that stop? How do I quiet the Barkley voices? Maybe Laz knows.....


Prologue

Because this blog isn't long enough yet...

As always, thanks to Team TROT. I think we should re-consider white singlets. :)

Thanks Altra! The  Lone Peak 2.5s did the trick.

And of course Nathan Sports. My clothes and skin were sliced up the VaporAiress doesn't even have so nmuch as a tiny rip from all those saw-briers. That's quality!

And finally.....Titus got his high point of the trip the next day in North Carolina at Mount Mitchell!











Sunday, June 7, 2015

CAYUGA REDEMPTION

photo credit: USL
Well sort of.....Not every blog has to be epic and neither does every race.  Here is my attempt at a short, quick read for my Cayuga Tails 50 Mile Trail Championship experience.


Cayuga 50 marked my 7th week after Worlds.  It seems like way longer.  For the remainder of April and some of May I took it really easy.  No speed work or structure. When I finally began my structured workouts again from Michele I felt tired and slow and not recovered. To be expected I guess. Towards the end of May I had a few good speed sessions and workouts where I felt like I was back.  On May 24th, I raced the Charlie Horse Trail Half Marathon put on by the awesome Pagoda Pacers, a large, local area running club  who have a lot of badass members.  It is Ryan's favorite race and he reminded me so, just a few times though out the winter and into this spring.  I had a total blast running this race!  The hills were more challenging than I thought and I enjoyed insanely steep road section that was one mile downhill. This section reminded me of the Hatfield and McCoy Marathon which i will sadly miss this year. :(.   Anyway, this race gave my legs a good pre-Cayuga workout so I decided to take it super easy the week after.

Ryan, Titus and I arrived in Ithaca Saturday morning.   I met up with Eric Dalamarta at Finger Lakes Running to do a round table discussion with UltraSportsLive.  Tyler Sighl also participated. He is a really talented, genuine dude from Wisconsin and unlike Roy Pirrung (the only other guy I know from Wisconsin), Tyler actually eats cheese!  You can check out the piece we did with USL's Bree Lambert HERE.

At Robert Treman State Park, we met up Aly Venti. My former teammate drove from NYC with her dog Vusu to hang out and camp. I am super grateful to her awesome dinner she prepared.  We cooked it all over an open fire.


NO but seriously.. it was soo good!

Jackie had joined us at our campsite for dinner and told us she was sharing a cabin with a girl named Amanda Basham.  We hadn't seen that name on the entrants list yet which means I hadn't stalked her in the internet yet. After reporting my findings to Jackie, she looks at me wide eyed and says "OOOHH this girl is gonna win!" If you have watched my USL piece above then you know I had predicted Jackie to win.  I did not predict myself to win because I like to be realistic.. sometimes.

Realistically, I thought maybe top 5 would be possible (and in retrospect I still don't think this was an unrealistic goal).  Then I learned there was still prize money for 4th place so that was my new goal. I was also excited to try out a brand new Nathan race vest called the Fireball.  Its not even available to the masses yet. I really loved all the extra space up front to carry gels but had to give it back when I was done. I think I fit 6 Hammer gels in the one pocket.

A storm rolled through shortly before dark so Ryan, Titus and I were in our tent early and Aly and Vusu in theirs across the way. In the morning as i got ready in a comfortable 65 degrees.  Warmer than last year.  Turns out that was the warmest it would get all day.  It started to rain on and off in the morning but the start was overcast and pleasant.  The gun went off and everyone ran ahead. I ran the first loop with Jackie mostly. The pace felt comfortable I really enjoyed being on the trails again.  "Racing" an ultra length distance with minimal pavement.  I felt amazing until mile 20ish.  It was like a switch. My legs went from great to NOOOOOOOO!  My hamstrings tightened up and my knee started screaming from the downhills. Towards the end of the 1st lap, Karen Holland caught up to me and I got to chat with her a bit. I love Canada!  I have yet to meet a disappointing Canadian. :)


Despite all the fun I was truly having, I thought that since my legs felt craptastic and my knee cap felt like it was tied in a knot that I should maybe just drop at the start/finish and spend the rest of the day catching up with Aly and hanging out at the campsite with Ryan. The thought crossed my mind.  Heading into the finish for my lap 2 i realized I was 8th place female. Not much changed the 2nd lap. My pace slowed a bit but so did everyone else's. Well, except Jackie's.  She came in to the 1st loop 7th place, right ahead of me and ended up 2nd... so my prediction wasn't too far off. 

The second time up Brook Lick hill was 2 minutes slower than the first time.  That Hill! The course, on the way back, has us come down a different way but I was not looking forward to the down so I tried to enjoy the up.  The waterfalls were more amazing than I remembered and everything just looked so green. I was actually disappointed when we ran through a muddy section that had planks across the muddiest parts. I thought about running next to them instead of over them but then remembered my legs were already really tired.
This picture of Titus is my attempt to make this blog more interesting.
So to wrap this up; I had an absolute freaking blast running this race even though I grimaced in pain on the downhills, it was between smiles.  I never hit a mental low point.  In fact one of my high points was around mile 40 when it started pouring cold rain and it felt like the temps dropped to 40s. My hands got numb and I felt like I couldn't move as well. I tried to run faster to stay warm but i had been trying to do that for the last 20 miles (run faster that is) and it wasn't happening.  I felt alive. Total and utter enjoyment!  Maybe it is because I could never get my body to that threshold were the pace made it painful. My legs were not on board with that plan.  I ultimately finished the race in 9:07 and 6th place female. A huge improvement over last year (10:28 and 14th female) and I guess we can successfully call that a redemption... right?  


Thanks to Ian Golden and Red Newt Racing for allowing me this shot at redemption. Cayuga will remain one of my favorite races ever.  Aly, thank you for being at the half way point to help me out while Ryan sat in his tent thinking I was still 4 miles out. ;)  Ryan, thanks for driving me all the way to Ithaca. It is far. A lot farther than I ran.  Michele, thanks as always for your guidance and expertise.  You never tell me something is impossible. You just help me try to make it happen.

The wining combo on my feet once again..Trail Toes, Feetures and Altras.  They work best when you put them on in that order.  My Nathan Fireball served me well and I really like the colors they have coming out next season.  I organized all my race and post race stuff in the my Victory drop bag. I survived the entire race on mainly Hammer gels and post race I drank my Recoverite.  I did enjoy the salted potato I ate.  It was delicious. Mike Reddy, maybe next time I will take you up on your McDonald's french fry offer. Thanks for all your encouragement at every aid station.

Next big one is Burning River 100 in Ohio in late July.

Eric, Tyler, Jeff, Jackie, Anna, Mike, Amanda and yours truly. Thanks to Ryan for taking the pic. You are an expert.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

YOU HAVE TO RUN FOR AMERICA




  The last gunshot to signal the end the 2015 IAU 24 Hour World Championships went off almost two weeks ago.  I have been home for 10 days now. The soreness has faded.  The reality of what happened two weekends ago has set in.  There are so many details I want to write about and I can write a blog on just how interesting and amazing my teammates are. I truly made some friends for life with those guys.  But for now I will focus on my race.

TRAINING

It did not go as I had liked it to go.  I wanted this to be the best training I have ever put forth. I wanted it to be perfect.  I wanted to show up in Italy 100% confident and knowing I hadn't missed a workout. I wanted to be in the best shape of my life.... But instead,  I was sick twice during the 3 months leading up to Worlds.  End of January, I started to feel rundown and developed a cough so bad I could not even talk or laugh without going into a coughing fit.  Running and even doing simple strength exercises were out of the question. I did absolutely no physical activity for 12 days! When I was finally well enough to attempt some easier short runs outside the temperatures plummeted to sub zero (Fahrenheit).  So I did a lot of treadmill workouts.  Not ideal but better than nothing at this point.

In March, I got sick again but this time not so bad.  My head filled up with congestion and I thought it would never stop. At least I had no cough this time but was wary of it returning so I took it easy for another few days and missed a couple of speed workouts.  But as the World Championship race will prove, things don't always go the way we want them to.  All we can do is make the best of it.

My coach Michele Yates assured me I had what it takes.  Her training had not gone as smoothly as she had hoped as well and she still went back and snagged herself the Western States ticket she set out to win.  I will end up using this as inspiration in tough spots in the race.

Otto insisted on carry all my bags.  

TORINO

Otto and I leave JFK on April 6th for an April 7th arrival in Italy.  The trip is long but goes without any major snags.  We end up meeting up with Howard Nippert, our team leader, and his wife Karen en route to Turin at Milano Central Station and take the two hour train ride with them.  Mike Spinnler and Rich Zeger pick us up at Torino Porta Susa and drive us to our hotel where they will continue to shuttle the team places for the next 5 days.  No small feat. As Howard put it, organizing our 12 teammates and their families and crews was like hearding cats.  Kudos to the Cat Hearders!

 Completely exhausted, Otto and I have dinner with Sky who had arrived in Turin days earlier. Dylan arrives Thursday, as well as my parents who are there to spectate.  With the arrival of Dylan, my crew is complete. (My parents have been banned from crewing.. well at least my mom, but I'm happy to have them there.)   My dream team, Otto Lam and Dylan Armajani!

Otto literally gave the shirt off his back to a member of the German team.

Over the next two days I meet my teammates.  Finally, I get to meet Traci Falbo in person.  We had been in communication over the past couple months about a number of things and we have a lot of friends in common.  With 4 of us women being total newbies on the team it was nice to have Traci who seemed to know the ropes and the right questions to ask as we spent the next few days preparing for our race.  Connie Gardner was the last to arrive late Thursday night, cool as a cucumber.  After all this isn't her first rodeo.  At one point during the race Connie, Traci and I will all come down the ramp into the stadium together after about 2 or 3 hours of running and Connie  turns and asks "So how far is this loop anyway?"

Aly Venti and Katalin Nagy who I knew the least about (aside from their accomplishments searchable online...yes, I am a stalker)  turn out to be really down to earth, genuine people.  I actually feel like I have known them a lot longer.  Kati easily cracks up at anything and Aly curses just as much as I do so we all get along really well.  They are both easy to be around.

These bibs aren't too big at all.
As for the guys, I finally meet John Cash.  He has raced and beat a lot of my friends. He is super humble and mellow but also nursing a head cold. Olivier LeBlonde makes me feel short as he is a tall drink of Evian....thats french for water ;p.  Isaiah Janzen, I learned qualified for Worlds during his first ultra. Worlds will be his second!  Rich Riopel, is there with his whole family and I was happy to finally meet a local guy. I bought one of his shirts for fundraising and I am really glad I did because the man crushed it so that shirt will be worth something one day :).  Greg Armstrong, the teacher from Tennessee,  used to make his own clothes.. and not out of fabric.  No. He used deer skin.   Harvey Lewis rolls in on Thursday during our meeting and brings up a lot of things we had already talked about earlier in the meeting when he wasn't there and then at the end suggests we don't need to be at stadium until 9:30am for a 10am start. We all almost have anxiety attacks at the mere suggestion. But then again, this isn't Harvey's first rodeo either.  ;P  (I should note that Worlds in 2013, Harvey showed up 2 hours before the race.... not to the race venue. He entered the actual country just two hours before. He put his race uniform on at the airport before taking off and was scooped up my Mike and taken directly to the start.)

This photo is too good to put a caption.

I was pleasantly surprised going into race day that we felt like a team and I didn't feel competitive with any of my teammates.  Of course someone has to win but we were also a team. I wanted nothing more than to be a scoring member of our team but if I had to be beat by two other women it wanted it be any of the women from our team. I almost got my way.....

THE START



I have never been so nervous in my life.  My body was physically hurting and I felt really weird. We are all standing in our USA uniforms with bibs on the front and back. This is finally real. We all check in and go stand at the start.  The men had agreed to line up somewhere in the middle of the pack and hang back during the beginning of the race, keeping pace together and not trying to maintain an early lead.  Us women hadn't discussed a plan.  I lined up near the men and realize the rest of my female teammates are farther up in the front.  Reluctantly I go join them.  I turn around and behind us are the men from team Japan. Ummm GUYS?!?!  And then the gun goes off...  Aly, Sky
and Kati take off way up front.  I hang back with Traci and Connie.  I'm still faster than my goal pace and figure as a rule of thumb if you are faster at this point than Connie and Traci than you are probably not running smart. I had made the decision long before the start to run my own race.  There were too many talented runners to worry about this early.

Following the pros, Connie and Traci.

In the beginning of the race, I run side by side Traci.  She assures me I am running smart, even though I know I'm still a bit faster than my goal pace. I feel like I am literally running under Traci's wing.  But this is a race and I know she has a race to run, as do I, plus I have some Zeppelin to listen to and I have to pee so we part ways. But with the wisdom, knowledge and reassurance Traci has bestowed upon me in our couple of hours running together what can possible go wrong?

We are InSync like the Backstreet Boys


THE FIRST 50

I put on my music finally after running with Traci a bit as she goes on ahead during my first trip into a European porta potty.  After about 2 hours of running I feel all the stress and anxiety of the previous months lift away. I'm smiling because this is what I have been waiting for.....in retrospect, my whole life.  To finally be in this position.  My smile is of joy but partly of confidence. I know at this point I am last American but I sticking to my plan and I'm aiming for 75 miles at the half. I also know pacing is my strong suit and that many countries are on pace for world records and that most likely wont happen for the majority, especially on a course like this.

 Finding a flow like I did at NJ One Day will prove difficult.  There are what I would consider 7 significant turns on the course as well as one steep and awkward incline in an out of the stadium on this 2 kilometer loop.  Every turn is an opportunity to add unnecessary mileage which Traci points out to me at one point as she laps me again.  She tells me to run the tangents (I should know better) but had been zoning out not focusing on these important details.



Somewhere near 40 miles I start to feel nauseous,  This comes on shortly after stopping to get a quick stretch from our amazing medical team. A weird dull pain  hip began out of nowhere on Wednesday walking back to our hotel and it was bothering me now and hindering my stride. Dr. Greg Hon had been working with me to ease the hip issues and Katie and Leah were a huge help during the whole race as well as after.  At the advice of Doc Lovy, I stopped to address my hip issue before it caused my to compensate during my race. As long as I can keep my body moving and well oiled I will be ok I think to myself..... but the nausea begins to consume me. I can no longer stomach food and choking down gels puts me on the verge of vomiting.

At this point, I begin to run alongside Aly and tell her I need a good place to puke. She is limping but still moving well. Medical had just ripped off the remainder of one of her toenails.  Then I  take a spill on the short dirt section of the path. Only I can get this dirty in a road race. Im OK but Still nauseous.  I run another loop or two past the gauntlet of country tents. Then I reach our tent (the last tent in the gauntlet) and can go no further. I'm bent over the trash can beyond  our tent on the infield.  I just need to get it all out and I will feel better.  I'm somewhat successful until....

THE EXORCISM

Doc Lovy, our 84 year old, Vietnam veteran, comes up behind me and gives me some sort of Heimlich maneuver and out comes a barrage of  bright orange liquid and what Teddy (Aly's boyfriend) describes as spectacular.  (Teddy says he had the camera ready and pointed but decided not to capture this epic moment out of respect.  However, Teddy, I grant you permission to capture this Hallmark moment the next time.)   I remember standing up after this and things go hazy. I feel like my eyes roll up in my head. Keeping my eyes focused takes concentration.  It feels odd to just stand still. I realize my body is completely and utterly depleted.  Otto and Dylan look at me concerned.  I do feel better though. I run on a few more laps and nausea returns.  Doc Lovy performs another exorcism (almost as fantastic as the first) and my crew forces me to take an Endurolyte Extreme and some calories.  I think I eat a tiny pretzel.   I feel like this nausea is over this time for real.  At least the worst of it. I mean there is literally nothing left in my stomach.  Doc and my crew are trying to tell me its early and there is still hope but I think they were all kind of doubtful and trying to make me feel better.

Checking my depressing pace.

I still had hope though.  I knew I could turn it around. I figured I probably wasn't going to reach my goal mileage of 75 at 12 hours but I was going to run my ass off getting as close as possible. I felt like I had nothing left so I had to find more.  Some easy paced laps and I tried to eat mash potatoes and soup.  Getting calories was now priority. There was still 14 hours to go. I think at this point I was in 46th place.  What I do remember most during this time of recovery was the extreme thirst.  The Doc had advised Dylan and Otto that i had a severe electrolyte imbalance and they were denying me water. Or at least telling me to go easy on it. Overwhelming thirst. There was a fountain on the course for drinking. Runners were stopping and drinking from it and wetting their heads.  When I came to the 180 degree turn each time I could hear that fountain. Beckoning me to it.  That fountain.  But I resisted.

RUNNING FOR AMERICA

At some point I saw Sky limping around the track.  I knew she was having some difficulty with injury but wasn't sure what.  She was running so strong and now she was reduced to a walk. I knew Connie was also having a rough race because I started to pass her. I figured top three women on our team was out of the question though because Kati, Traci and Aly were all running so strong.  Kati was at least 10 laps ahead of me and I figured Aly was somewhere near the same.  Traci was at least 8 laps ahead.  I thought about all the people who donated their hard earned money to help me be here. All my friends and family who believed in me.  I know I was racing the best in the world and as corny as it sounds I knew if I pushed as hard as I could for the remaining 12 hours my race would be the best race I could run. So I wouldn't be in the top 10 in the world or a scoring member but I was going to get myself as close to my goal of 150 miles as I could. My 12 hour split was about 71 miles which was the same as NJ One Day (when I ran 142).
Shaka

I was feeling recovered from the nausea and a little stronger from some much needed calories yet totally drained at the same time. I felt like I was moving well though and could maintain for a long time. Again I round the track and run through the gauntlet and find Dylan there to hand me aid.  I pass our tent and Otto looks me straight  in the eye and says "Aly is out. There are only 3 of you left. Maggie, YOU HAVE TO RUN FOR AMERICA!"  He said it with the utmost seriousness.  I yell an obscenity in disbelief and toss aside my water bottle with conviction.  I will RUN FOR AMERICA.  Two things Otto said during the race will resonate with me. One is "Run for America".  The other is the way he says "Mash PO-TAY-TOE."

BACK FROM THE DEAD

So I run.  I ask for my music back which I know is a sure sign I feel better. Music annoys me when I feel crappy.  I feel good. Really good.  I can do this all night.. which is good because I also have to do this into the morning.  I realize at some point I have no idea how far I have actually run and really didn't care anyway. I was going by laps now and kilometers. I knew Kati and Traci had been running well while I what seemed like a couple hours with my head in a trash can.  I had to pick up the slack. I had to try to run harder or at least as hard as they were running. I wanted goal for team USA which means my miles had to count and there had to be a lot of them!

Around 15 hours in Kati and I end up running together for a bit.  She comes up beside me and says without turning her head "Maggie, what are we doing here?"  I think I actually managed to laugh.  Reading her blog afterwards, I learn that she posed a serious question.  Kati, I have an answer for you.  WE ARE RUNNING FOR AMERICA!

My dear Pino Penguino, we run for America!

Kati and I part ways again.  I do the math and figure I should be close to 100 by now. I look at my Timex.  I had given up on the Garmin after throwing up in the trash can for the second time. It was too depressing to look at the pace. I ask Mike Spinnler how close I am to 100 on my run through the gauntlet.  "About mile 95," he yells.  Damn.  Not gonna break 16 hours for the hundred mark.  I think I ended PRing the 100 by only 5 minutes.  About 16:40. That's OK I think.  I'll just have to big time negative split this race. I just have to run as close to 50 miles as I can in the next 7 hours and 20 minutes. That's a long time, I think to myself but immediately push the negative thought out of my head.


I can't remember now and I bet Dylan and Otto could tell you but at some point they inform me I'm running somewhere outside the top ten... Reallly!?!  More motivation.  Runners are fading around me and I suddenly become aware of the fact that I am passing everyone.  Or it seems like it. The few that are still running strong are steadily making their way around the loop as well. But for now I feel like I'm the only one left. It gives me more strength so I keep going.  I begin to think about all the weird and entertaining things I think about during these things but I also think about things that inspire me and again why I am here.  For America! It makes me feel like I am important but at the same time thinking about how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things is also comforting.  And its true. I love the night.  Running at night makes running feel so easy.  Even though at this point it is extremely painful it just seems less noticeable, like being invisible to the pain.  You know its there but it can't totally find you.  At one point the lights in the stadium go out, the smell of electricity burning and our track is lit by only the headlamps of crews of all the different countries. Like hundreds of glowing eyes in the dark. It is yet again another surreal memory.  And then the sun begins to rise.....


THE CHASE

Finally in  the top ten, I steadily move to 6th female.  Otto and Dylan had been feeding me bib numbers of women to chase down, the numbers of the women one position ahead of me. Otto would hold up the bib number each time I ran through the gauntlet.  I would head up the ramp checking the bib numbers of every women I see trying to figure at the very least what country I was looking for. I would find the bib number, try to run really strong when I passed her and then ask for the next number when I ran passed our tent.  At first it was just Dylan and Otto and telling me bib numbers but then Howard, Mike Spinnler, Karen, Rich and everyone else got into it too. Now in 5th place I ask if 3rd is attainable and I am told emphatically "YES!"  But first I still have to find 4th place. I head up the ramp and make the first right turn and see Zane.  "There she is!", he yells, pointing at a tall, thin woman (maybe Ireland?) who I remember had been moving pretty well.  I pass her and realize I'm now in 4th place. One place away from a bronze medal and a possible total podium sweep by the ladies of Team USA.  It doesn't matter that I have run out of fuel, all reserves, and even vapors. They tell me it's possible. I can catch third place.

Carrying the marker the last laps. Look how much fun I'm having!!!!!!!


311

I honestly can't remember how I knew I was chasing a woman from Sweden. Someone told me I guess but I know I didn't have a bib number because I chased a small Swedish girl who was really moving.  We were down to the final 2 hours so a lot of runners who had taken breaks had come back out for the final 2 hours to rack up a few more miles before the final gunshot. The only sure way to know where I stand against this Swedish woman is to cross the timing mat at the same time as her and check the giant jumbo-tron with our lap count.  But she is really moving fast!  So almost a whole lap I run behind her.  We cross the timing mat and I look up at the huge screen. She is 10 laps behind me!  Ok so this is not her.

 I pass our tent again.  Everyone is yelling different numbers and stats at me.  Otto insists it is still possible. I heard she was less than a lap ahead of me and I heard 6 minutes behind me. I realize I have no idea what any of those numbers mean so I decide to just forget it and run.  Around I go!  And then I see her. Number 311, really tall and wearing the sky blue color of the Swedish uniforms.   She was moving really well but I felt like I was moving a bit better. I stayed behind her until the mat so I could see for sure what lap she was on.    Maggie Guterl - Lap 110.  Maria Jansson - Lap 112.  Damn.  She is 4 kilometers ahead of me or 2.4 miles.  We have about 90 minutes left.  I run past our tent once again about to yell "I found her. She is two laps ahead of me!"  But I get more numbers.  Everyone was so enthusiastic and supportive.  I wanted to believe them, that I could catch her.  Anyway it didn't matter.  I wasn't going to slow down or give up.  If I could just put one more lap on her maybe I would have a shot.
Bib 311 - Maria Jansson of Sweden




 FINAL LAPS

I never lapped Maria Jansson again. In fact, I think she went on a Traci Falbo hunt. Her final laps were fueled by the quest for a silver medal.  We were all hunting and our hunting efforts just canceled each other out.  So there we stayed. USA 1,2, & 4.

 I am handed my marker to place in my spot when the gun goes off.  I hear someone yell "The second gun shot!"  This was actually very helpful info because if i hadn't heard someone say that I might have stopped at the first shot and collapsed just outside the stadium.   Less than 10 minutes to go.  I run up the ramp and turn the corner onto the path for the last time. I see Dylan and Otto had run out to the loop so they could see where I end up.  I think I was wincing in pain at this point and making weird noises. Everything is a blur. I see Dylan and Otto disappear and reappear a different points on the course.  I'm hoping the gun goes off when I'm near the water fountain I had listened to on the course. I wanted to stop so many time there and just let the water run over my head.  I look at my watch.  3 minutes to go still. then I see Traci.  Oooh motivation to speed up. I started with Traci maybe I can end next to her.  So I start running faster. I follow her down the ramp and into the stadium.

First gunshot. Traci crosses the mat for the last time and as soon as I hit the stadium surface I feel like I'm brand new. My legs are moving fluidly and I pull up next to Traci. 'Come on Traci!" I yell and continue around the  track. She is doing that lean that I saw in pictures from the dome. For some reason seeing that makes everything seem more surreal.  Maybe I can make it back to our tent.  I hit the beginning of the gauntlet of tents. Second gunshot. I drop my marker and stagger around. Dylan and Otto immediately appear out of nowhere. They swoop in and hold me up.  Otto stays behind to guard my marker and Dylan  guides me back to our tent about 100 meters away.  I collapse on the table and Leah immediately starts to work on my legs. Pain is radiating throughout my entire body.  But all I can think is GOLD!!  We did it!
GOLD!

If there is such a thing as a team sport in ultrarunning it is most definitely the 24 hour and in this format.  In a 24 hour event, its the little things that stay with you.  You have a lot of time to think, so if Harvey  runs up behind you at 4 in the morning and quietly whispers "I'm so proud of you," that rings in your ears for many kilometers ;p.  It is something to look forward to when Aly sees me on the course and does that little "shaka" thing with her hand, when Olivier reminds you, your low point will end and Isaiah painfully limping around the course, claps and encourages me every single time I pass. Some memorable laps are the ones I ran with Mary Lou Corino and later Lisa Van Wolde. I finally met the other legendary Canadians including Dennene Huntley.  I chatted with Sharow Law form Great Britain and a Polish runner named Patrycja.  Friendly faces I had met the previous day were Mizuki and Tetsuo as well as an Australian named Debbie.  My German buddies who were crewed by Jurgen (who is a Jedi and actually Chinese... or is that Otto?) and his wife KJ had the whole German tent cheering for us by the end of the race. I could hear my mom yelling louder than any other person in the bleachers each time I ran by.  All these faces give you a boost. It was like any other ultra I have run. i thought there might be less camaraderie because of language barriers and maybe a disdain for the returning American champs but I experienced none of that.  When I think back on this race (and even now), I won't remember the pain, nausea and exhaustion.  I remember only the good things.  Oh and the gold medal we won.

And now... my two favorite photos from the race.....

Katalin Nagy winning gold.

Olivier LeBlond beating out a Spaniard by only centimeters.


THINGS I USED DURING THE RACE

 My very own Dylan and Otto..... Without you guys, I could not have even run for the entire 24 hours. I would probably still be laying on that infield.  You fed me, comforted me and shielded me from the sun.  There is no way words can ever express my gratitude. My 4th place finish and gold team medal is as much yours as mine.

My feet faired better than the rest of me.  The winning combo.  First, a layer of TRAIL TOES, then my FEETURES ELITE socks, then ALTRA ONE2, later I switched to Olympus and then the Paradigms to finish.  Afterwards, I wore my electric pink FEETURES COMPRESSION socks and my ALTRA One2 because they feel like slippers on my feet.

I used HAMMER NUTRITION, mainly their gels and Endurolyte Extreme. In the future, I think I will use more gels and less solid food during a long race.  My crew said I actually ran out of gels at the end. Rookie mistake (and I don't think I should be making rookie mistakes at this point).

My stuff was organizes perfectly by my crew in my VICTORY SPORT DESIGN drop bag, the Bear II.

Although we couldn't sport any other team logos, I ran to represent TEAM TROT and TRAIL WHIPPASS. Without the support of my trail running team (especially Rob Goyen) and my trail running club, I truly wouldn't be here.  I must have made almost 70 hats with the TWA logo on them.

 Michele, what can I say?  There is no way I would be writing this blog about this experience without your coaching. I sometimes wonder where I would be if I hadn't met you at Rocky Raccoon in 2014. I don't think I want to know. I like where I am.  Thank you, for following along from Colorado and advising my crew.  At this very moment you are running for the American trail record at Indiana Trail 100.  You inspire me everyday.

 Thank you to each and everyone of you that donated. There are a lot of you. An unbelievable outpouring of support. You know who you are...THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  This gold medal is for you!

Thanks, Mom and Dad!

One last announcement... This is a really great month for me.  Most of you know but I now proudly work at NATHAN SPORTS. I survived my first week (the reason this blog took so long) and I absolutely love it.  It's the beginning of a long, bright future doing something I enjoy.

The obligatory Ottolamming pic. I was too tired to ottolam.

These feet ran over 400 miles.  A well deserved chill in the River Po.