Coming off of several weeks of recovery and uncertainty with my injury I made the trek down to Virginia to attempt to finish my first 100 mile ultramarthon. I felt very nervous about whether or not this was a good idea but my heart told me to go and I listened. I had ended up having my pacer bail on me due to injury and I would have to suck it up and run alone in the dark. I bought a little rubber chicken that I attached to my waterbottle and figured when I was alone at night he would be my companion. Honestly, I didn’t even think I would make it far enough for it to get dark anyway! We picked up our numbers and got a good meal at the prerace briefing. There was a woman there who was going for her 5th finish and I really admired that so I approached her and told her I thought it was really awesome that she did that race 4 times already! We got a good nights sleep in the pouring rain (our tent stayed dry) and woke up to very humid conditions at 2:30 am on Saturday.
I got dressed and made my way over to the starting line for some breakfast. It was very damp, hot and humid. I was so excited but so nervous. I took in some deep breaths and decided I would hope for a sub 30 hour finish but realistically would probably be chasing the 36 hour cutoff. It was dark out and I was surround by almost 200 people ready to spend the next several hours playing in the woods with me.
Before I could even process what was going on we were off, running across the grassy field and up a gravel road. Suddenly my groin and hamstring started to ache. People were cruising up the hill and I was dying. I was thinking of dropping at the first aid station. Some older guy ran up past me trying to be friendly but I was too sad to have a conversation. I cried all the way up to the 3.6 mile mark where we entered the trail. There was a huge slow congo line in front of me as I was pretty much last going into the woods.
The pace quickly went from a run to a very slow walk. I started to get frustrated at how slow the pace was but my leg started to hurt less and soon the pain was gone! I started to make my way past people going up the first hill and just kept chasing those headlights in front of me. I was shocked when I finally passed about 30 people and found myself catching people! I almost cried as I was able to start dancing with the rocks again! It had been so long since I felt that good on a run! I felt so strong and began to think my injury was a blessing in disquise! I really think I would have freaked out and way overtrained for this race.
Before I knew it the sun was coming up and I no longer needed my headlamp. I was feeling really happy and was enjoying myself! The trails were just my style! Lots of long hills, lots of rocks and lots of great singletrack and awesome ridgelines! I ran the flats and descents, whined on the roads, and bombed up the hills! I was so thrilled to see that I was still a wicked fast and strong climber! I felt like this course was made for me!
About 15 miles into the race I started to get blisters. The weather was holding out but the humidity was awful! I started to pop my blisters at the aid stations and that gave me relief but my feet were also swelling and soon getting socks and shoes off were getting too hard to deal with. So, when I felt that sharp burning pain coming on I started slamming that part of my foot into rocks to pop the blisters without taking off my shoes and socks. It was either dropping or dealing with the pain so I just dealt.
Around Woodstock Tower I ran into a bunch of fun people, one of them being a guy named Gary who is 67 years old and was running Massanutten for his 14th time. He was a riot and for some reason carried a pair of salmon colored underwear with him which he told me I could wear. I told him I would wear them on my head and he just laughed! He told me all about the course and we had a nice conversation until I had to stop and poop.
Shortly after my pooping session I lost my rubber chicken. I was so bummed out and thought about the long lonely night ahead. Soon I caught up to Rob and we were running a nice pace together. Then we came up on a girl named Kari (who was the one I met the night before). She and I were running the same pace as us and we just happened to be staying together so we started chatting. Before I knew it she and I were talking and we both were without pacers for the evening portion of our run so we joked that if we were together when it got dark we would spend the night together keeping each other from losing their sanity.
Around mile 30 I started to hate my La Sportiva Crosslites. I was getting horrible blisters and the shoe felt like it got mashed out from the pounding on the rocks. This was a very technical race and I am not even sure what shoe I would want to run it with. Hokas may have been a better choice and if my Brooks were half a size bigger those may have worked too.
Kari and I were still running together and enjoying the weather as it was sunny. The humidity and bugs were awful but both of us were so happy to be out there running! She had been unable to run for about 6 weeks because of health issues and for me I have been injured since March 14th. We both had a good laugh at our lack of training and figured we would be cutting it close to the 36 hour cutoff. To our surprise we were on a 29 hour finish pace and figured we would try to beat Kari’s PR on the course which was 29:36. We didn’t have a ton of wiggle room on that time so we came up with a plan.
We would run as much as we could and when we had to walk we would walk like we meant it. We pushed each other through our low points and embellished our high points! We chatted so much that the hours just flew by! For the 9 mile sections we used one of Kari’s extra water bottles that was in her dropbag and shared the water so we had enough to drink. It was very hot and humid and we had to take care of ourselves. She talked me through all of my unknowns and we made sure we were peeing enough and that our pee was clear. When we would on 15 minute intervals we took salt tablets. We hydrated a ton at the aid stations and ate plenty. There were some killer views on the ridges when we weren’t in a cloud! I had no idea Virginia was so pretty!
We had one quick thunderstorm on top of one of the ridges and then the sun came out again and we were baking. About halfway through the race we learned we were the 5th and 6th place women! We were thrilled and feeling really good! We were really looking forward to nighttime as it was super hot and really needed some cooler weather. It got dark on us just after we left the Roosevelt aid station. Unfortunately Kari’s headlamp broke and luckily I was such a wuss about the dark I had two headlamps so I gave her one of mine. We got to the top of the hill and saw some hillbillies partying by a campfire and cheering us on! It was great!
Our evening plan was to run when we could and to walk when it was too technical. We slowed up a bunch, especially after a huge thunderstorm rolled in around 3am and things got muddy and slippery again. Kari and I decided to turn off our ipods for a bit and we just enjoyed the sounds of the night. The whipporwills were singing and soon there were bullfrogs and other critters making noises. We listened to the raindrops, the wind, the sounds of our breathing and our feet hitting the ground and gushing through the mud.
It was a very cool experience for me. It was almost surreal and a few times I had some very real looking hallucinations. The first one was a huge white horse with two guys sitting on it. I freaked out and couldn’t understand why they would be there. Kari just laughed at me and told me I was seeing things. It turned out to be a couple of guys resting on a rock. Then I started seeing snakes everywhere, they turned out to be sticks. The funniest was when I thought I came up on the edge of a cliff and thought the trail was down below. I stopped dead in my tracks and inched over to the edge only to see it was a stream with the moon reflecting in it and a bunch of fog in the air.
We carried on and kept on plugging away at the miles. We were both getting a bit tired and my stomach was starting to cause problems. We hooked up with a group of 5 and were running together and then I had to stop and drop a deuce. It took me at least 20 minutes to catch the group afterwards and it was really fun but creepy running solo in the woods at night. I moved as quick as possible and finally caught up to them.
Before we knew it the sun was coming up and we managed to pass two strong female runners around Birdknob and would now be 4th and 5th women overall! We were so excited! Kari and I moved through the aid stations even quicker and ran a bit faster. Soon the sun was up and we could pick up the pace. We were holding a good pace and then I got some diarrhea. It was awful! Kari would walk ahead while I did my business and then I would jog ahead to catch her. My stomach was getting really bad and I had an accident in my pants around mile 93. I was so embarrassed and just wanted to cry. Kari was really nice and talked to me and got my spirits back up.
When I had to stop and go again I told her to go get her PR. I didn’t want to be the reason she didn’t get her PR. She was so kind and told me that we were finishing together no matter how long it took. Well, I was not going to hold her back. I picked up my pace and soon we were at the last aid station with 6.3 miles to go! We grabbed some quick food and water and pushed hard up the next hill. Coming down that hill was a slippery, rock mess but soon enough we were on the road. We had about 30 minutes to do the 3 mile road run and then the .5 mile trail to the finish. We looked at each other and really picked up our pace. Our feet were killing us and our quads felt like they would explode. As we watched our watches we weren’t sure if we would make it before 29:39.
As soon as we hit the trail we opened it up and crossed the finish line in 29:29:27! Not bad for a couple of girls who were totally out of training shape! We were thrilled to finish 4th and 5th overall! She got her PR and I got a sub 30 hour finish! I don’t think I could have pulled that time off without her! I could not have asked for better company during that race. She talked me through the whole race play by play!
Here is a photo taken by Bobby Gill at the finish!
Looking back, I am so sad that this race is over. I truly had just as much fun running Massanutten as I did climbing Denali! I learned so much over that 101.7 miles about patience, persistence and digging deeper than I ever had before. I never pushed myself that hard towards the end of an ultra and honestly if Kari weren’t there to push me I would have walked a lot more. I feel so ready to tackle the next one! It is such a humbling experience to spend almost 30 hours out in the woods, moving the entire time. There is so much time to think, so much beauty to take in and so much to learn about yourself. I thought about Ryan a lot during the run and his confidence in me kept me going strong. I wanted to make him proud! It took me 19 days to get that from my Denali climb and only 29.5 hours to find it at Massanutten. Now to find a way to combine speed with mountain climbing. Hmmmm……I see some long and crazy traverses out west with Ryan in my future!