Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What NOT to do in your first trail race

I have been thinking about trail running A LOT lately.  Especially with the weather changing, it is always on my mind to some degree.  So, naturally, this has led me to reminisce about the trail races I have been lucky enough to participate in.  I have an overwhelming amount of great memories, but I also have learned from a few of my less considerate competitors what NOT to do during a trail race.

For the most part, trail runners are a pretty laid back sort.  We go out into the woods and run very long distances as a form of meditation and escape, so it is usually pretty hard to ruffle our feathers, but here are a few things that will.  And keep in mind, especially at ultra distance events - these people run 50 and 100 miles for fun.  While they are the nicest, most supportive people you will ever meet, they are also not the type of people that I want to anger.  Just my opinion there.

First, the most obvious, LITTER. Seasoned trail runners (i.e.  the crusty ones) were attracted to trail running because of their love of running, yes, but in a big part it is because of their love of nature.  We run through the woods to get away from smog, traffic, noise and litter.  Remember the simple Boy Scout mantra of "Leave No Trace".  What you pack in, pack out.  This counts for those little tear away Gu tabs too.  The last couple of years, I have noticed an increased amount of trash on the trails during races, especially those with shorter distance options.  I love that road runners are being lured onto the trails - much peace can be found there.  I don't love when trail newbies think they are in a road marathon and just throw their trash wherever they want, assuming that there is a crew anxiously waiting to clean up after them.  Very uncool, and a sure way to get one of the crusty types to give you an ear full.  Carry your trash to the next aid station and dispose of it there or bring your mom along to clean up after you.

Second - and one that will get you shoved off the trail (yes I have done this - don't judge yet - full story ahead) - YIELD to faster runners.  If you hear someone coming up behind you and it sounds like they have somewhere important to be (like the finish line), hop off of the trail, wish them well as they pass, then continue on your way.  When a race has long single track sections, getting stuck behind a slower runner who is weaving all over the trail can be maddening.  Which leads to the third thing to avoid during trail races, and the story I promised...

If you want to listen to music during the race, that's cool, just keep it low enough so you can hear someone coming up behind you. Here's the story:  At the Wild Hare 50 miler last year, I was pushing for a PR (personal record).  There is a 10k option at that race which attracts many first time trail racers. This is usually  awesome because they are happy to be out there, and it is great to encourage them when you cross them on the trail.  BUT last year, as I was running through a single track section of the trail  (narrow section where there is only room for one runner wide), I  came upon a slower runner ahead. As I approached her she didn't budge, so  I called out, "Passing on your left", still no response.  When I got close I saw she had earbuds in, so I said a little more loudly, "Excuse me" - which I know she didn't hear because by this point I could hear her music as well as she could.  So yes, this is when I dropped a shoulder and plowed through on her left side.  She was startled and pulled out an ear bud, so I suggested (nicely) that she turn her music down.  Believe me, I have hopped off of the trail many times for faster runners, and they are always thankful.  Just be considerate.  Besides, when you are running in the woods, I have never understood the reasoning behind basically cancelling out one of your senses.  Hearing something growling, hissing, or approaching at a fast rate is desirable in that situation, it seems.

Fourth - be careful how closely you follow behind another runner.  It often helps me when I am tired during a race to mentally hook onto another runner and have them "pull" me.  This is a great tool, and you might be able to switch positions with the other runner and take the lead for a while to shift roles.  BUT - don't latch onto someone's shoulder and run so close behind that they can smell your breath.  And be aware of the signals they are sending out as to whether they desire your company or not.  Yep, you guessed it, I have another story.  This one is about a chatty little fellow named Bob.  Bob hooked onto me in my second 50 miler (Wild Hare in 2010).  He had evidently read a whole lot about ultra running, and was happy to impart that knowledge onto me - for about 14 miles.  Of constant talking. From him.  Now, I am generally a solitary runner for these races.  Unless the plan all along is to run with someone, I usually like to go it alone.  I like me, and the time alone is my meditation time, so I tried different tactics to politely separate myself from Bob's company.  I stopped to tie my shoe (he waited) and I lingered at the aid station (you guessed it).  Finally, I had to tell Bob, as politely as possible, that I wanted to run alone.  I believe I said something like, "I have really enjoyed your company, but I would like to run alone for a while."  He was offended, but I was late into my second 50 miler and feeling like poo, so I really didn't care.  He would have been much more offended if I had said what I was actually thinking.  Those of you doing Wild Hare may get to see Bob.  He usually runs in very short Texas flag shorts.  Can't make this up, folks.

Lastly, NOISE.  When people run trails, they generally do so for the solace of nature.  When I run a race, all I want to hear is the sound of my breathing, the crunch of leaves and twigs under my feet, and the occasional spurt of conversation.  Last season, I noticed a new phenomenon.  If you need to have an electronic voice tell you how far you have gone (never accurate out there anyway), and how fast you are going, PUT EAR BUDS IN.  I was pretty evenly paced with a guy at Cactus Rose who had his app on his phone telling him his half mile splits out loud (FOR A 50 MILER).  Luckily, road OCD does not translate into trail success, so I was able to pass him before too long, but I would love for new trail runners to be able to leave that OCD BS at home.  When I race, I wear a $40 timex.  I don't even start the timer, just look at the clock and do the math.  If your gadgets are your security blanket, that is fine, but don't make others listen to it too.  Trails are so varied, and conditions can change so quickly that knowing my splits would probably stress me out more than anything else.  So, one more story about what NOT to do in trail races:

WEARING BELLS ON YOUR SHOES.  Yes, this falls under the noise heading, but it is a funny story so I thought it deserved its own mention.  Last year at Cactus Rose 50, there was a chick with bells on her shoes.  Dead serious.  At first, she was a little ahead of me on the trail, and the trail twisted and turned a bit so I couldn't see her, I could just hear this ching,ching, ching sound.  It was like running to catch up with Santa or something.  I couldn't figure out what the heck was making that noise - until I caught up with her.  We were at about the same pace at this point, so all I kept hearing for a couple of miles was ching, ching ching.... Finally, when we were climbing a steep hill (or small mountain - the Hill Country is a beast), the ching, ching, ching was turning more into a CHING, CHING, CHING and I could no longer hold my tongue.  I did restrain myself though and politely asked her what the purpose of the bells were.  She said something about, "Oh, I think they are funny, but most of my running buddies find them annoying" and she laughed.  I believe at this point I developed a twitch under my right eye that I get when I am contemplating what a few years in jail would feel like.  So I said that maybe that is because people come out to the trails to enjoy the sounds of nature, not to feel like they are pulling a freaking sleigh.  To which she said something about liking the way they sound, and I believe I said something about wanting to shove her off of a cliff, or something to that effect.  Anyway I soon passed her and it was no longer an issue for that race.

Then, a few weeks later I was doing the Wild Hare 50, and what do I hear????  Yep, you guessed it. Same chick, and evidently she has a death wish.  The only good thing is that the bells must weigh her down, because I soon put enough distance between us for it not to bother me.  But, as I came in from one of the laps, she was near me, and I yelled to Christina, who knew the story from CR "That's the b*&ch with the bells on her shoes".  Still makes me laugh. DON'T BE THAT CHICK!  :)

Okay - remembering all of these stories makes me laugh.  Even the "bad" memories from my races are awesome!  I love that you just never know what the heck is going to happen out there.  You will find inspiration from the most surprising sources.  Remember - generally, the aid station crews are seasoned ultra runners who want nothing more on that day than to help you succeed in your journey.  If you have any questions - ASK THEM.  They have saved my hiney more times than I would like to admit, through nutrition advice, a back rub during my first 100 when the muscles in my back were seizing up, slicing and duct taping blisters on my feet during my first 50 to make it possible for me to finish, to telling really bad jokes to make me laugh when I am delirious after running 20+ hours.  These people are a treasure - take advantage of their knowledge.  Just don't complain.  That they don't like.

And welcome to the darkside.  Trail running is prayer time.  Be thankful for any little ache or pain you feel out there - I am sure there are many who would jump at the chance to experience that feeling.

Happy Running Y'all.


Monday, September 9, 2013

From 100 pounds overweight to training for an ultramarathon...our very own Charles Thompson's journey

Sometimes you may be running alongside greatness and not even know it.  I know many in our group will feel that way after reading Charles Thompson's story.  We already knew he was a tough guy with a big heart, but now we get to understand just how tough he really is.  Check out Charles' story below.  WARNING:  Your excuses will seem pretty weak after this.

The display read 35 pounds. I had just put my bags on the scale at the heliport to go offshore again. As the woman behind the counter registered this, I filled out the sign-in log verifying that I had the certifications necessary to go out. Next was the part that I had come to loathe. It was my turn to step on the scale. Over the past months I had lost about five pounds, but had since lost my resolve. I stepped on the scale, making sure that the disappointment didn't register on my face. Still, I could not turn my gaze away from the scale's readout. 267 pounds. Five feet eleven inches tall and 267 pounds. "If I don't do something about this, my health will start to be affected," I thought.

 Up until that point, I really did not have any severely negative consequences due to my being overweight (obese if I am honest about what the height/weight charts read). My past trips to the doctor told me I needed to lose weight (I paid this man to tell me this?) and that I should keep an eye on my blood pressure as it was a little on the high side. The fact that I had not been to the doctor in about four years crossed my mind. "I've been fine; I AM fine," I had been telling myself. Never mind what I saw in the mirror. Never mind what I saw in the pictures of myself (I sure hoped the camera added about thirty pounds). "I'm overweight, but still healthy."

 Then my penny pinching side kicked in. My employer has a program designed to encourage you to live healthier. Each year you fill out a questionnaire about your eating habits and how much exercise you get. Tack in what your last blood pressure readings and what your cholesterol was at your last check and you can get a discount of $180 off the annual premium for your health insurance. Well, I had everything filled out except the last cholesterol readings. This was sufficient to get the discount, but my curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to fill EVERYTHING in (a little peek into my personality here). This prompted a decision, I now had to go back to the doctor. It won't be that bad, right? Appointment made, they wanted me to go into the office the week before to get my blood drawn. This way, I was told, the doctor can review my results with me right in the room in case I had any questions.

 I was ready for anything the doctor had to tell me. It was going to be just like all of my other appointments. "Charles," he was going to say, "you need to lose some weight and your chart shows that you have a history of high blood pressure in your family so you are going to need to keep a close eye on that." Just like that I would have my numbers that I can fill in on the next questionnaire; problem solved! 

Charles and his wife, Daisy.

Everything went fine with the physical examination until we started going over my blood work. My total cholesterol was fine at 158 but my HDL numbers were quite low (a good goal for men is above 40 and I was sitting at 29). My "slightly elevated" blood pressure had escalated to pre-hypertensive, and my liver numbers were "really strange" so he wanted to send me back to the lab after my appointment to have more blood drawn to test for hepatitis (What?!?). "When I see you this time next year, I will have to put you on blood pressure medication and probably something to help you raise your HDL levels, if you don't do something about it on your own." I had finally done it. I let myself get unhealthy because of my eating habits and my weight. "What can I do, besides the obvious 'lose weight'?" He told me that the only effective way he has seen to raise HDL levels without medicine is strenuous exercise. Not just exercise, HARD exercise. I needed to get my blood moving hard and fast. In addition to raising my HDL levels, this would have positive benefits like improving my liver numbers and losing weight. "Great! One recommendation would fix all of my problems! It's too bad that it involves exercise."

 I did not enjoy the prospect of being on a pill for the rest of my life. Choose diet and exercise? This was quite the eye opener. Pills or healthy living? I chose to get healthy. First I started with the diet since I could not afford a membership to the gym. Being the technology geek that I am, I started searching out a way for me to track the calories that I consumed. Of course - "there's an app for that!" Setting up the app and telling it how much weight I wanted to lose per week (I opted to go the max of 2 lbs), I started my adventure; not an easy feat since I worked offshore and had access to the Galley there. The food isn't always good, but there is ALWAYS a ton of it (or tonne as my current assignment was on a Danish flagged vessel)! The first week was not bad - not good, but not bad. I lost more than my two pounds and was feeling pretty good. Then weeks two and three reared their heads and I realized that I was HUNGRY! I continued to follow the calorie restrictions that I set for myself and after the first month I had lost 12 pounds!

 That is where my life took a turn. I lost my initial 12 pounds…and that was it for almost a month. In the back of my mind, I hear my doctor's advice again - exercise, hard exercise. "Alright…I can do this," I told myself. I had no access to any weight equipment, which was my first choice. My second choice was a bicycle, which I did not have - strike two. I had a pair of shoes in my closet - running shoes. These shoes had an "interesting" history since I purchased them using winnings from a game…the McDonald's "Monopoly" game! Odd that I would get a pair of running shoes thanks to a Big Mac and a large fry and that they would change my life.

 I crammed my feet in my shoes and tied them too tight - a runner I was not. I was going to give it a herculean effort however. I hopped in my car and drove around the neighborhood to determine the distance around (Is my geek showing again?) and came up with 1/2 mile. "Alright, I'm ready for this!" I started with a brisk walk to warm up - down to the first corner of the 1/2 mile loop. "Here we go…" I began running…and breathing…sucking air…gasping. I had made it down the stretch to the next corner and achieved victory! I walked for a minute, turned the next corner and took off running again. I didn't make it down the next leg when I felt "nature's call". I gingerly made my way back to the house, answered and then decided to take a shower. Warning: weak stomach alert! At this point I turned on the water to the shower and promptly threw-up! Overdid that one there Chuckie! Next time, take a longer victory lap and cool down better!

 I continued this routine, running from corner to mailbox; corner to corner…corner to the house. I built my way up to a mile steady running over the next month or so and was feeling pretty good about that! My exhilaration also extended to the bathroom scale - I was losing weight again! I steadily trotted along, pushing myself further and further towards my goal of weight-loss. I had set myself mini-goals of 10 pounds to lose. I also allowed myself one "Bust!" day per week (can you say Seafood Friday). Using this regimen of fewer calories, more exercise, mini-goals and bust-day, I began seeing great results. Five months into my journey I had lost 45 pounds. Month six was another good month and the scale showed 54 pounds total! I finished my first 5k and my first 10k - both under my goals of 30 minutes and 1 hour respectively.

 I lost 80 pounds in the nine months prior to my annual physical/visit to my GP. I was thrilled…and PROUD! What was the Doc going to say when he saw my success? I went in to have my blood-drawn the week prior to my appointment…excited! It was finally time to see the doctor. The nurse showed my back to the room and took my vitals. My blood pressure was great and my HR was lower than it had EVER been - a result of my conditioning and a mini-victory! Then we wait…and wait…and wait. The doctor entered and sat down next to me. He reviewed my chart, looking over my blood-work and began asking me questions about how I felt. "Great since I followed your advice and lost all that weight." He re-consulted the chart and was shocked at the year-on-year comparison of my weight. "Wow! I always make that recommendation hoping that one-day someone will follow it. You lost a lot of weight!" He asked me how and I told him that I started running and pushing away from the table. "Do you have any races or anything that you are training for?" I mentioned that I was training for my first Half Marathon and that I was tremendously nervous about it being such a far distance! "With the weight you lost I know that you have the drive to make it at least that far." Boy did that make me feel good. It was time to review my results from the lab. Blood Pressure - NORMAL. Liver numbers - NORMAL. HDL level - 43! Total cholesterol was in the 130s! JUBILATION!!  
Charles at Chicot during a trail run.

All of my hard work had paid off. I was healthy and I felt great. I no longer felt that deep disappointment when I saw a picture of myself. I was committed now and had actually begun to like running - something that I NEVER thought would happen. I started it as a means to reach my end goal. I noticed though that I was less stressed and even looked forward to the next run. I finished my Half Marathon and signed up for its big brother the very next week - the Marathon! That is how I came to be where I am today - a multiple marathon finisher who has an Ultra-Marathon on the horizon. A man who successfully lost 100 pounds through discipline, effort, grit and sheer determination. This is my story (minus a few details for posterity of course LOL). 

Charlie (left) with Randy Carlson after a trail run.
Happy Running, Y'all!


Friday, June 21, 2013

The Next Thing

What do you do when you reach a goal you have been working towards for three years?  How do you find motivation and excitement again for the sport that has become such a huge part of you?  When your life has had a complete makeover and you have to redefine yourself, where do you start?  These are the questions that I have been going round and round with over the last few months, until it hit me.  I will run an ultra in  a place I  have always dreamed of visiting but never thought I would see in my lifetime - Ireland.

Ever since I was a kid, I can remember seeing pictures of the Irish countryside and being mesmerized by the beautiful colors - deep, rich greens bordering blue water.  Throw in a few castles and ruins, and I was hooked.  There has always been a romantic connection with Ireland in my mind.  Yes, there are tons of other countries I would like to visit: Italy for the architecture and art, England for the history, Spain for the culture and beauty of the land..... you get the point.  But, while these places pique my interest, Ireland is the one place that I feel strongly drawn to.

So, when the advertisement for Lost Worlds Racing came across my news feed with this picture -
well, the decision was made before I realized it.  I am racing in Ireland in May of 2014.  Anyone who knows me knows that once a decision is made, it is pretty final.  The rest is just working out the details.  I have always been that way.  The hardest part about doing a 100 miler is deciding to do it.  In my mind, once the decision is made, the race is already complete - then I just have to make it happen.  So that is where I am now - making it happen.  

Luckily, one of my Team in Training friends, Suzanne Brevelle with Avenues To Travel, is a fabulous travel agent and she is handling the details for me.  I am in the process of getting my passport (yet another first for me), and I will be registering for the race in the next few days.  I just have to decide whether I am doing the 50k or 100k.  While I would love to see 62 miles of Irish countryside on foot, I would also like to be mobile for the remainder of the trip.  These are the kinds of decisions I like making!

What am I looking forward to the most?  Sitting around a table at the host hotel with other runners from different countries after the race telling stories and listening to theirs.  Some things create an immediate bond, and running is one of them.  Even though we may have nothing else in common, I have no doubt we will have plenty to talk about!

Happy running y'all!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I see speedwork in my future...

After finishing the 100 at Rocky last February, it took a while for me to figure out what I wanted to do next, as far as racing goes.  I found myself with 12 ultramarathons under my belt, which ended at Rocky with me reaching my goal of 100 miles in one day, with a finish of 23:27.  I had my sights set on that goal since my first 100 miler in 2011, and finally reaching it was an amazing feeling.  Once I was physically and mentally rested from training and racing, it was time to start thinking about what was next.  I knew without a doubt that I would continue to run ultras.  I LOVE these races.  I love the journey of race day.  You never know what the day will throw at you, or how you will handle it.  The only thing I know for sure when I start one of these races, is that I will cross the finish line one way or another, barring severe injury or illness.  What will happen between the start and the finish is anybody's guess.

A conclusion I came to early on in this thought process was that I was going to take the year off from 100 milers.  I had put a huge amount of stress on my body over the previous three years of training, and I felt like backing down on the distances run might be a nice break.  I really enjoy the 50 mile distance, and I am curious how fast I can get at it.  I had a solid PR at the Wild Hare 50 miler in November, 2012, with a 10:15 finish.  The more I looked back on it, the more I want to try to beat that time.  So, as someone who HATES speedwork, and does everything in her power to avoid it, I guess its time to embrace the inevitable.  I want to get faster at every distance this season, from half marathon to 50 miler, so intervals, tempo runs, and ladder workouts are on my calendar.

I am also doing something else I said I never wanted to do again.  I am running a full road marathon for time.  Over the last two years, I have gone to Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Marathon to support friends who were running it.  I have always been impressed by the course (especially the part that goes through campus - proud Tiger here!), as well as the organization of the race.  So, I am going to see how fast I can run a full marathon.

Luckily, at each of my races this year, I will have plenty of friends out there, also competing.  That makes it so much more fun!  Here is my schedule so far:

July 27th - Big Butts 50k (31 miles) -
Lane Gremillion trying to cool off after last years race.
 I get to run this one with my buddy, Josh Louviere.  It will be his first ultra, so we are running it together.  He is turning 31 on July 14th, so running 31 miles a couple of weeks later seems to make sense. (??)  My time here last year was 6:53, so if we can beat that, great, but with the temperature hot like I am expecting, just finishing in good health is a win.

October 20th - Gulf Coast Half Marathon -

 I did this one last year and loved the course.  It was pretty warm, so hopefully we luck out with a cool front this time. My time there last year was 1:56, so I just want to beat that without throwing up this time. :)

November 16th - The Wild Hare 50 miler -

This will be my 4th time doing this race and this is also the spot of my 50 miler p.r. last year (10:15).  I love this course - all within a working cattle ranch, and run on mountain bike trails which means lots of sharp drops and tight turns.  Fun, Fun!! AND I get to be here for Julie and Randy Carlson's first 50 miler!!

January 18th - The Louisiana Marathon -

Believe it or not, I am probably most nervous about this one.  It should be an interesting experience, though.  I get to see how long I can hold on until the wheels fall off. My loose goal for this race is to get under 4:10.  My pr at the marathon distance is 4:11 in a training run, and 4:22 at an official race.  Who the heck knows what the day will bring?

February 8th - Rocky Raccoon 50 miler -

 For the last 3 years, I have done the 100 miler on this course.  This was the sight of my very first ultra - the 50 miler in 2010.  Since then, I have taken over an hour and a half off of my 50 miler time.  It will be fun running with Liz Wooster and Emma Valentine as I do my best to break under the 10 hour mark.

So far, this is it.  I never close the door to other opportunities though.  I love suffering with friends, so if I get invited to join in on some other stupidity, I probably will.  Speedwork in the summer in Louisiana.  Jeez...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

This is why I hang out with runners

 Things heard from Acadiana runners in 2012 - 2013:

"Boy it's hot.  (August in Louisiana) It would really suck to loop Chicot (20 miles through the woods) 
right now.  Who's in?"

"Run a marathon?  26.2 miles on PAVEMENT!?!?  That sounds very painful.  I'd like to try that."

Fawn Hernandez and Stephanie Fournet before their first marathon -
Rock n Roll New Orleans 2013  

Eric Gravish in his first marathon -
Mercedes Benz Marathon 2013
"Run MORE THAN 26.2 miles?  Huh."

Christina Gravish running her first ultra!!  100k (62 miles) at
Cajun Coyote in December 2012.
Bobbi Parker and Denise Kidder at their first
50 miler in February 2012.

John Robideaux  at his first 50k (31 miles) with
 Tim Gill in November 2012.
Liz Wooster at her first 50 miler
with Christina Gravish  in February 2013. 


Jessica Amy running her first 100 miler
 in Feb. 2013.

The Schoolmaster at his first 50k.

Bobbi Parker before the start of her first 100 miler,
with Brad Delcambre and me.

Run from Baton Rouge to New Orleans on the levee?  Sounds horrible. 

All three Lafayette Rouge Orleans 6 Person Relay Teams!
Now that is a high concentration of awesomeness right there!


More Rouge Orleans pix - from relay exchanges to the scene inside the mothership.

What do all of these pictures have in common?  Happy people.  Why are they smiling?  Because they know a secret.  They know how amazing it feels to achieve something that no one else can take credit for.  They know that all of their hard work and effort has led to the creation of some amazing memories.  Because they risked failure, and put themselves out there, they have gained a quiet confidence and a deeper understanding of themselves and their capabilities.  Everyone in these pictures has learned that their acceptance of some level of discomfort and struggle in their lives continues to make them better people.

How many people get to experience something like this:
Full Moon Trail Race, August 2012, Fountainebleu State Park
5 miles through the woods at night.  Good times.

Julie Carlson enjoying her 1st place age group
finish at Cherokee Chase.
Tara Breaux not enjoying herself at
Cherokee Chase.
Bobbi Parker and Denise Kidder at the Bandera 50k in January 2012.

And how often do you have people cheering for YOU??  

Karin waiting for Steph and Fawn at the Rock n  Roll Marathon.

Here's hoping that YOU are in one of these pictures soon!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

100 miles in 1 day

Wow, what a journey.  From being a non-runner 6 years ago, to starting out running a half marathon (which almost killed me, but didn't quite do the job), to moving quickly into marathons, then ultras, it has been one heck of a ride. When I first started running ultra marathons in 2010, I had no desire EVER to run a 100 miler.  I saw people doing it, and how bad they looked at the end and thought "No way!  That looks dangerous."  But, the 50 miler didn't kill me, and I still felt like I had not pushed myself all the way to my limit, so of course the next logical step was a 100.  So, I signed up to do my first one in 2011.  It was a horrible experience.  The entire plan I had laid out for the race fell apart when my pacer had to pull out at the last minute because of a family emergency, leaving me to cover miles 60 - 80 alone in the dark - NOT something I had planned for, and having a last minute pacer jump in for 80 - 100 who was in no way prepared, although good intentioned.

I finished that race in 27 hours and 55 minutes.  Pure hell.  The last lap was horribly painful, and I walked every step of it.  In no way was I prepared for the distance, and only sheer stubbornness got me to the finish line.

In 2012, I was ready.  I had worked my ass off getting ready for that race, including running 2 - 50 milers and a 50k as training runs.  I knew going into Rocky that year that there was a good chance it was going to be very muddy because of large amounts of rain that had fallen recently.  What I was hoping I would not have to deal with was this:
Start of the 2012 Rocky Raccoon 100 miler
But, that is what I got so I made the best of it.  Despite having to pick my way around small lakes in the trail, and occasionally having a shoe sucked off my foot by the mud, I finished that day in 25:28.  I didn't hit my sub 24 hour goal, but I did have a 2 1/2 hour P.R. at the distance, under very tough conditions, so I was satisfied.

This year I renewed my focus on a sub 24 buckle.  (Yes, you run 100 miles for a belt buckle.  If you run 100 miles in under 24 hours, you get a special buckle.)  My training season began in early May this time. This gave me 9 whole months of being "in training".  Many of my runs this season were with faster friends who drug me along behind them, in the process making me a faster runner. In this time, I ran 1 - 50k and 2 - 50 milers.  All of my times this year were P.R.'s.  I was even surprising myself at my ability to push hard early on in a race and hold steady until the end.  I had already built a solid foundation to go sub-24 with the 11 ultras I ran before Rocky, but this training season strengthened my base and gave me all of the ammunition needed to succeed.  The rest would be mental.

About 3 weeks out from Rocky, I did my last long training run - a 30 mile foot tour of Lafayette.  I know this sounds miserable, but it was actually a very pleasant run.  The weather was right, and I took off and just wandered.  If there was a road that I had not previously run on, I ran on it that day.  I discovered some beautiful areas of the city and surprised myself when I had a marathon PR in the midst of the run (4:11 - my previous best marathon time was 4:22).  BUT - even though this run felt great, evidently I pissed something in my hip off in the process, because every run I tried to do after that was very painful, and filled with lots of stops to stretch.  

One of my strong points, and I think one of the things that keeps me fairly healthy as a runner is my lazy streak.  Don't get me wrong - when it is crunch time on the schedule the miles are covered, but if its not necessary, and I am not feeling it - Hello Couch.  With my hip hurting (which I narrowed down to my hamstring), I indulged my lazy streak.  I barely ran at all in the last 3 weeks before Rocky.  I decided it would be better to start healthy and a little undertrained rather than fully trained and limping.  And thankfully, it was the right decision.

Brad Delcambre, Bobbi Parker, and Me before the start.

Click on the picture for the start video.  Pretty cool stuff.
So here began my 100 mile journey.  I had a rock solid plan in place, and I was going to do my best to stick to it for the first 60 miles that I would run on my own, then I would rely on my pacer, John Fell, to get me through the last 40 miles.  I knew that all I had to do was meet my mark, and John would do everything in his power to get me through the last 40 miles in time.  So, I ran.  I knew at the start that the day was going to get  pretty warm - over 70 degrees midday - so I decided to bank some time on the first 20 mile loop, figuring on some drop off during the hottest part of the day.  I had planned for a 4 hour first loop but ended up getting back to the start/finish in 3:43.  That gave me an extra 17 minutes to tack onto my second loop, allowing me to slow down a bit in the heat, and focus on taking in enough nutrition and hydration.  It did get warm - I got a sunburn despite the SPF 50 sunscreen I was wearing - but it wasn't really an issue for me.  My stomach was a little sour, but that is normal for me when I race in warm weather.  By the end of the second 20 mile loop, I was right on my 8 hour mark, and I could already feel it cooling off a bit.  I knew that once the temp dropped, I would be energized again, and my stomach would calm down.:

This race was different because there were so many Lafayette runners out on the course.  Liz Wooster would be running her first 50 miler with Christina Gravish, Jessica Amy was running her first hundred, as was Bobbi Parker who was running her first 100 with Brad Delcambre.  Every loop I got to see familiar faces, which always gave me a huge boost.

Part of the trail. Just a small climb :)

Damnation Aid Station.  We would see this aid station twice per lap.
Some of the nicest people on the planet as long as you don't mention anything
about dropping from the race, then they can get tough. 

Runners on the trail

Jeep Road.
Or, more accurately, "The longest freaking stretch on the course."

Start/Finish area where runners could set up their own mini aid station,
and friends and family could hang out.
Before I took off on my third lap, I had a little more preparation to do.  From past experience running in Texas, I know that the temps there change very quickly, and I knew that as soon as the sun would set, it would cool off, so I tied a long-sleeved shirt around my waist, and I grabbed my headlamp.  The last couple of miles of this loop would probably be in the dark, so I wanted to be ready.  I also got a nice surprise on this stop, with two people that I love dearly having driven up from Houston to cheer for their Lafayette running buddies participating in the race.  Bob and Emma Valentine are two of the most supportive, loving people I know, and it was great to get a quick hug from them before I took off again.

So I started my last lap on my own before I would pick up my pacer.  My times were right on the money, and even though that hip issue I had been fighting before the race had popped back up just as I passed the marathon distance, but it stayed at a manageable level, so it didn't really slow me down.  I did alot of self-talk on this run, especially on the last two laps (more on that later).  The first 60 miles weren't too bad, but I know how different it is after the sun sets, and how much more of a mental game it is.  Hopefully, I was prepared mentally as I was physically for the beating my body was taking.  There was only one way to find out.  

Start/finish area where runners could leave their drop bags.

Inside one of the aid station tents.  Runner getting his feet taped.

I pulled into the start/finish at about 6:35 - only 5 minutes behind my goal time.  Pretty damn impressive, if you ask me :).  This is when I started to see that my sub-24 goal was within reach (well, 23:30 to be exact).  I went over to our staging area, changed out of my wet shirt, and put on a long-sleeved shirt and tied a jacket around my waist.  I restocked my waist pack, added lube (I attribute the fact that I had zero chafing to the 30 seconds this took. One of my better decisions for the day.), and asked John if he was ready.  This is when I discovered that John had been very sick over the previous week, but didn't tell me because he didn't want me to worry.  He barely had a voice, and looked tired.  And he was getting ready to run 40 miles with me - the furthest he had ever run.  If this had been anyone else, I would have had a small panic attack, but since it was John, and he is very comfortable with suffering, I knew he would gut it out and kill himself helping me to reach my goal.  I understand the way John thinks, and I knew we both had the same thought at that point, "There is time to be sick later, we have a job to do." 

So we took off for our 40 mile run together.  John ran slightly ahead with his flashlight.  He would point out major roots, and guide me to the smoothest side of the trail to run on.  When the path was clear, we were running fast enough so that when it was really nasty and full of roots, we were able to walk through the worst of it, and take off again once it cleared up.  There was no use pushing through these sections and risking a twisted ankle or a face plant when we were able to make up the time on smoother sections.

I saw the determination on John's face early on, and I knew he had a plan to get us to our goal.  I have complete faith in John, and I knew that he was probably the only person who could pull me through this.  At this point, fatigue was really setting in.  My body clock said it was time to sleep.  I was very drowsy, and even when I was running, I was looking off of the side of the trail thinking about how soft the ground looked.  I even had a few moments when I thought "If I fall, at least I will get to lay down for a second".  Yeah, I was tired.  But, experience told me that this would pass, and my brain would wake up again.  And it did, thankfully.  I was still tired, but that heavy, sleepy feeling went away.

If you think we were tired, check out what the aid station workers go through. These aid stations are manned with experienced trail and ultra runners who know what you need before you do.  These workers are out there for 30+ hours tending to tired and broken down runners, giving them the fuel they need and kicking them out of the aid station before they get too comfortable.  Kind, caring, tough people.  Can't beat trail runners.

Very cool time lapse of Damnation Aid Station.

So, we finished our 4th loop in good time and got back to the start/finish.  This is where I discovered that even though John never had military experience, he must have been channeling a long lost relative who was a Drill Sergeant or something because he was very serious about us getting a move on.  While I used the porta potty and got some food in me, John was changing the batteries in our headlamps, and getting our gear ready.  Before I knew it, we were starting our last loop.  None of our crew was there this time, it was after midnight, and I had suggested that Randy get some sleep so that he could be there for the finish and be awake to drive John and I home.  Even though I can stay awake after a 100 miler, attempting to drive myself home after this distance would be very foolish.  It would be worse than driving drunk and very dangerous.  Thankfully, Randy agreed to play chauffeur for the crippled people.  

We took off on our last loop a little after midnight.  We had almost 6 hours to cover 20 miles to make it in under 24 hours.  John was on a mission, and I decided right there to just shut up and do exactly what he told me to do.  When he said run, I ran, doing my best to keep up with him.  This was a tough loop.  All of the little aches and pains that had kept me company all day were now amplified.  I don't know if they actually hurt worse, or if I was just too far beyond tired to keep them in check.  Every time we would start running again, I would moan from the pain.  It wasn't intentional.  I had no idea that I would make that noise, it just happened.  Every time.  A few times when we were running, I would tell John just to keep running as long as the ground was clear.  It was just too painful to start again.  This is where John started playing mental games with me.  He would say "You give me a minute of running, and you get a minute of walking."  I noticed early on that he never looked at his watch for this, so I knew he was blowing smoke up my a$% about the time, but I had decided to do whatever he said, so there was no questioning or arguing that was going to happen.  He was the conductor of this train.  I was just the passenger.

Here are some examples of what was going on inside my head during this last loop.  It was a very busy place:

When I would start giving in to negative thoughts, telling myself, "Dammit Edie, YOU are the only person that can stop YOU from achieving this!  Just shut up and run"  "Why are you here???  Did you do all of that work to crumble now?"  "You have been in some level of pain for nearly 20 hours.  It is not getting better, but it's not getting worse.  A few more hours won't kill you."

John told me some time during these last 40 miles that if I felt the need to curse him out, that would be fine, it wouldn't be the first time.  I didn't.  Well, not out loud at least.  I told him afterwards that a couple of times when he was making me run up the hills on the last loop, it did make me feel better to call him a "Fucking Nazi" in my head.  It's pretty funny now.

Before the race, I gave John a spreadsheet with my projected paces and lap times.  This is what I gave him (except I even had it broken down by aid station) :

Lap 1 - 4:00 (hours)
Lap 2 - 4:00
Lap 3 - 4:30
Lap 4 - 5:00
Lap 5 - 5:50

Finish Time - 23:20 - stretch goal; 23:30 - real goal; sub 24 - last resort goal

And here were my actual lap times for the race
I love it when a plan comes together!
When we were just around the corner from the finish chute, John reached out and grabbed my hand.  Just this simple gesture of friendship brought out all of the tears I had been holding back for the entire last lap.  I hadn't looked at my watch at all for the second half of the last lap.  I knew we were running strong, but I had no idea what my actual time was.  When we turned the corner and I saw the clock, John said "There's your finish line.  Go get it."  And I did.  Sobbing like a baby all the way across.  The first person I saw was RD, Joe Prusaitis, one of my favorite ultra people.  I have gotten  many finish line hugs from Joe and his beautiful wife, Joyce, and I have come to look forward to these as my races draw to an end.

Joe P.  - a true class act.
A very nice gentleman offered to take my timing chip off of my ankle - clearly, I was not in shape to bend over and do it myself.  Joe and I have become friends over the years that I have done his races.  At Wild Hare, he smiled when he gave me my 5th place female award and I cried, and at Rocky, he smiled and said "Here's your sub 24 buckle", and I cried and he gave me a big old hug.

As soon as I let go of Joe, the very next face I saw was one of my favorites - a person who is very dear to me, Randy.  He just smiled and I started crying all over again.  I hugged him (he was having to hold me up at this point), and said something like, "That hurt very bad", and kept sobbing on his shoulder.  I can't even imagine how bad I smelled at this point.  Then it was over to Christina and Liz who had come out to see me finish, even thought they were very sore and tired from their 50 miler the day before.  More tears - this time from Christina too.  She has a rule that no one cries alone in her presence.  Then, last but not least, it was time to see John.  I told him then, and it holds true now, that I never could have done it without him.  No one else could have gotten the results out of me that he did.  It is partially because I have a huge amount of respect for him as a person, but also because I didn't want to let him down.  I knew that he had given up his weekend when he should have been in bed trying to get healthy to come and run 40 miles through the dark with me.  I knew this meant almost as much to him as it did to me, and I was determined not to let him leave disappointed that I didn't give it my all.  The power of positive peer pressure.

So, Randy helped me get back to our staging area so I could sit down for the first time in over 24 hours.  Christina and Liz covered my legs with a hoodie and wrapped me up in a towel to keep me warm while Randy went to get the truck to pick me and John up.  It was surreal - in fact, it still is.  I learned so much about myself on this run.  I had the advantage of lots of experience to get me through the tough spots.  I learned that even in the last 20 miles, when I feel like I have been beaten with a baseball bat for the last 20 hours, I can still push the pain down and use it to propel myself forward.  I reinforced what I had already begun to learn over my ultra journey - "Not all pain is significant".  I was able early on to embrace the discomfort I was feeling, and actually welcomed some of the familiar aches and pains when they arrived.  These pains meant I was doing something.  Great things are not accomplished without a certain level of discomfort.  I also learned that if I can hit all of these solid PRs after the year of turmoil I have had, I can pretty much do anything. I don't stay down for long and I can not be broken.  I will continue to use this lesson in my life.

Now that I have accomplished my goal, I have no idea what my future race plans are.  They definitely include ultras.  I just love the journey of the race so much, I don't see myself giving those up for a long time.  
But, for the next few weeks, all I have planned is REST and RECOVERY.  9 months of the last year I was training.  I'm tired but fulfilled.  Time to rest and reset for my next goal, whatever that ends up being.

Thank you to everyone who has traveled this journey with me.  It has been one heck of a ride, and it was great to have everyone's support along the way.  Now it is time for you to do something great - whether it is walking a 5k or joining a gym for the first time.  If a little girl who grew up in Scott can do this, you have no excuse. :)

Happy Running, Y'all

More race pix:
Gotta love these goofy volunteers!!

Home base for the race

Where the timing strap was.  I think the dirt was the only thing
holding me together.

Before Liz's first 50!!!  Wonderful friend!

Trail marker

That sweet, sweet buckle.

Joe P giving the trail briefing the day before the race.