Shattered

So I’ve basically been a mess since the monster.  That’s not entirely true, the week following the race we were on vacation which was great. We saw more of Arizona, even did a great 12 mile hike to the plateau of the Grand Canyon (I even ran a bit!). We finished our trip up in Vegas where we shopped or laid around the pool, drank too much and probably ate too much but that’s what you do in Vegas.

Can you see that thin trail on the green plateau? That’s where we hiked to and back.

And then we got home.  And the post race blues set in. I’m really trying to be positive about how the race went and I really did have a fantastic time but one thing still remains….I didn’t finish.  And that sucks. I know not many finished but it doesn’t make me feel any better, in fact I ran with 3 of the finishers at different points so why couldn’t  I keep it together and finish too?

My body feels beaten and everyday I rest it seems to get worse. My foot injury from earlier this year seems to have resurfaced and I can’t be bothered to go see my physiotherapist because it always feels better by then. My feet are still a mess of blisters and healing skin.  I refuse to commit to anything running related and I’m downright miserable.  Every time someone tells me how proud I should be or what a good job I did I feel even more like I failed because these people believed in me.

I guess I haven’t been much fun to be around because Dan (whose belt buckle I’m so jealous of) has signed me up for a half marathon in November that he is also running except he’s excited about it (the medal has a plane on it and we are medal hoarders).  So I guess I have that to look forward to which according to some google searches is a good start to beating post race failure blues.

Dan had fun running down the Canyon

Today was the first day I ran since the monster. A measly 3km and it hurt and was slow and I just wanted it to be over.  But when it was I was glad I did it (or more accurately that Dan dragged my sorry butt out). I don’t feel too bad right now, even considering making an appointment to have my foot looked at (or maybe a massage).

I can tell I’m still a little surly but maybe that’s a bit of some post vacation blues too and the fact that I have some extremely frustrating people in my life and I’m letting them get to me. Whether I feel like it or not I think it’s time pick up the pieces and get back at it.

I want to feel like this again.

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Crewing 101

Dan

This was my first attempt at crewing solo, I won’t lie I have been stressing out about this more than I did about running my own race. What if I’m not fast enough? What if I can’t find the aid stations? What if I am too hard on Heather? What if I forget to make her eat? What if I make her eat too much?  What if I am too fast? Actually scratch that last one, that is not something I have to worry about, but all the others have been playing on my mind and these were just a small sampling. So just getting to the start line and seeing Heather take off was a good start.
Things quickly went south when I left the start line and headed to the first aid station and promptly got lost – oh crap 20 mins into crewing and I already suck and to make matters worse I could tell at least one other crew had followed me, obviously mistaking my quick departure for confidence. Great I am lost and have probably pissed off someone I am going to have to see for the next day and a half, good going Dan!!
After nearly an hour of expletives and multiple u-turns and I finally made it to aid station 1. I still had a bit of time to kill before Heather was due in and as I didn’t want to face anyone who had got lost following me I decided to head into the trails and let the smoke settle. I was instantly jealous of Heather these were some of the most beautiful trails I have ever seen.   Eventually I decided to slop off back to the aid area and blend into the background and not be identified as the moron who got everyone lost. Not to be, the second I showed my face I heard “oh you got here, I followed you”, oh dear oh dear, fortunately it was followed by a laugh, Huegette did seem to mind and even found my navigational incompetence funny.  We spent the next 40 or so mins chatting and I learned that she was crewing for her husband Dan “the legend” Brenden, very cool hearing her stories of their travels, though I have to say I think I need to find a way to claim that moniker for my own.
The runners came through in quick succession and as Heather arrived and started asking for things that I had left in the car I realized that I had gotten a little distracted by my chatting with all the other crews, who I have to add managed to chat and have everything their runner needed. Fortunately Heather’s demands were simple ones, one quick sprint to the car and we got her back underway. To be fair to me she was 20 mins ahead of plan and I really was planning on being set-up by the time she was due in.  At least I had managed to make her gel flask, which was no small feat as I had practically managed to freeze the gel. Oh well I was going to get more practice as the race wore on.

Aid Station #1. Having way too much fun.

Now a good deal of crewing is hurry up and wait.  Especially this next leg as I was skipping the next aid station, the Race Director had said that it might be cutting it fine to beat our runners there, and given my abject lack of navigation skills I thought it best to heed his advice and meet Heather at aid station 3. This gave me a good few hours to kill so I retreated to the nearest saloon which I was able to find with ease based on the multiple times I had already driven by it in my state of u-turn limbo. Now I have no idea what the place is called but it was certainly an interesting experience. To say I stood out like a sore thumb would be an understatement first of all I was significantly reducing the average age of the place, secondly I wasn’t drinking (more due to the later pacer duties rather than the crew duties) oh yeah and I was the only one not to arrive on an ATV. Kind of odd but the majority of patrons primary mode of transport was ATV, had to wonder if there were different drink driving rules for these.  I had attempted to order the healthiest item on the menu, the grilled chicken sandwich, what I didn’t count on was the bun being fried, oh well.

Patio lunch break.

Aid station 3 was found with masterful ease due purely to how well it was signed. I was ready here, small talk could wait I was getting all the gear I could possibly need from the car before any of those shenanigans.  And I waited and waited, some of the other crews were starting to worry about their runners, people seemed to have slipped behind pace already, then we heard a few groups of runners had gone off course. I knew this was one of Heather’s biggest fears, ranking somewhere between being eaten by a mountain lion and trampled by an elk. A few minutes later a small pack of runners came through, one asked if Heather had already come through, when I said no she said that she must be in the pack of runners that got lost. My heart sank, I know Heather is mentally and physically tough, but I wasn’t sure how much this was going to eat in to her psyche. Not long after Heather popped out of the woods, a little annoyed at her detour but overall still pretty chipper. After I sent her off for the next section I realized that she had come through that aid station a little behind her race plan, and that it may potentially get dark on next leg if she had any issues. Did her crew chief send her off with a head torch? Of course not, strike 2. I considered chasing after her but thought this might be considered cheating, instead I spent the next few hours worrying.

Aid Station #3. She doesn’t look annoyed from getting lost for an hour does she?

Heather did make into the next aid station with about 20 mins to spare before darkness descended. At this aid station I earned a few brownie points back after insisting that Heather change into a long sleeve shirt despite her protests, all the locals had done it so I told she had to, turns out I was right.
The plan was for me now to head back to the hotel and grab a few zzzz’s before coming back to the same aid station at the 50 mile point    However the dirt roads were sketchy and slow and I didn’t fancy my night time navigation skills to be better than my daytime ones.  Solution sleep in the car, problem it gets cold, solution heated seats. After a few fitful hours of sleep I changed in the car and got ready to pace. My final crew duty for the night was to fix up Heather’s feet, cleaning, popping blisters, applying blister guard followed by a talcing, and fresh socks, home run!
Now let’s get pacing.

Mogollon Monster Race Report: Part 2

Where did I leave off, right I was all by myself…

Pinchot Cabin to Washington Park – 9.68 miles, +813ft,-2056 ft
I’m all by myself. It’s dark, it’s quiet, and it’s kind of cold. I can fix the cold, slip on my jacket and my gloves, much better. The quiet, I can fix that too, Edge of Glory (yes the Lady Gaga song, my little sister was going to have a flash mob at her wedding and it turns out that I was one of the few who constantly practiced so sadly I know all the words to that song, FYI- flash mob never happened) starts playing in my head and I sing to myself a little and for some reason I swear I can hear bells jingling every time the wind blows. I try to eat, but my body decides it’s time to “reset” and I vomit up a whole honey stinger waffle on the side of the trail. That sucked, I feel icky, and I swear I hear bells. Alright Lady Gaga, let’s get going. Okay the bell noise is getting louder and I feel like the trail blazes are moving ahead, is this the hallucinations that ultra runners often speak of? Dan saw my cousin Alex slack lining, why do I hear bells and see moving reflective trail blazes? Hang on….is that???? It can’t be, but that would explain the bells. I speed up (as much as I can) and sure enough I find myself behind Ed (who is dressed like a jester, bells and all!) and Dan B. I think we were all surprised to see one another, but Dan B. told me to jump up front since I seemed to be having no trouble finding the trail (thank you new head lamp). I warned them that they may have to endure some of my singing but they seemed ok with that, I was in a groove and had to keep moving forward while I could. The trail finally led to a road that took us up to another road that we crossed and we found ourselves standing at the top of the steep 2 mile descent into Washington Park, oh how I wanted to be there, but I was completely freaked out about having to go down this trail. There was nothing I could do but keep going forward, my trekking poles had become a nuisance (I would not recommend poles on this course, more hassle than help) so I folded them up and started my descent. There was a lot of swearing happening between the three of us and I ended up on my butt, often, although that seemed better than the alternative of falling on my face. Eventually we made it out and were greeted by a cheering squad at the aid station (it was 2 am, what were all these people doing here?). I was so happy to see Dan, and I was hoping that this would be the motivation to keep going. Honestly, I was worried about going on, I hadn’t eaten anything in nearly 2 hours and my feet were getting worse, but since I break my “race in pieces” I refuse to make any decisions until I get to the end of one piece. Once again Ed was trying to help me deal with my stomach and got me eating some soup and avocado (I know it sounds gross, but it was good and apparently fat is what helps an ailing tummy) Dan saw to my feet, a big thanks to the man who stood by with a flashlight so Dan could see what he was doing. Once again the aid station volunteers were incredible, a blanket was wrapped around me so I wouldn’t get cold and I don’t even know whose chair I was sitting in but I hope I didn’t make it too smelly. Dan B. was out of the aid station quick, then Ed was out of there, I decided to change into my compression shorts because my hips were starting to get sore, of course this is no easy feat when you have fresh legs let alone 50 miles tired out legs. Finally I was decent and we could head out, I know I wasted way too much time here but I needed the break and mainly the food that I managed to get down, and most importantly is that Dan was officially now my pacer, and we had to get a move on.

Washington Park to Hells Gate – 5.23 miles, +1215ft,-788ft
I was elated to have Dan with me, he just talked at me as we started to navigate the next portion of the course (I had smartly ditched my poles and was grateful for that as I had to scramble of the side of a river bed just to leave the aid station) but very quickly we were slowed by what I can only term “long grassy shit”. I’m sorry but that is what it was. You couldn’t see where you were stepping or what you were stepping on, even Dan was swearing and we were only a mile out from the aid station. “Welcome to hell Honey, isn’t it fun!?!?!” In all honesty Dan was an amazing pacer, I had told him from the get go that I needed “tough love” and constant pushing, don’t baby me and don’t let me wallow, and he did a great job following my instructions. Soon enough we had caught up to Ed, and we would stick together until the Myrtle trail. It seemed to take ages to get to the Hells Gate aid station but once there Dan didn’t let me linger, especially since the DC Boys were there and they seemed to be in a negative funk, Dan didn’t want me to get sucked in, so he got me through there fast (and once again the volunteers were amazing).

Hells Gate to Buck Springs – 7.68 miles, +1874ft,-678ft
On the road again, we managed to get lost once, it was not easy to navigate in the dark, I somehow got myself hung up on some sort of a spiky bush, Dan set me free and we got back on track, but then we hit a fork in the road. Since Ed and I had been lost earlier in the race, we were unwillingly to just follow the markings, and asked Dan to head down the unmarked trail to scout for us, in the mean time the DC Boys and their pacer caught up and the whole debate was re-ignited. Dan took the decision out of my hands and stated that we were going the way of the markers and I was a good runner and just followed (secretly praying he was right). He was correct and we made a hard left onto the Myrtle Trail. I would use the word “trail” loosely to describe this route. More like scaling a cliff in the general direction of up. It was getting light now, but this climb was horrible, it was a scramble, I was using my hands and we were on the edge of a cliff. I lost it, I just started to cry (I don’t know why I do this), thankfully Dan is tough and even though he would have loved to scoop me up and carried me off that cliff ledge, he told me this too would pass and to keep following him. And always the obedient runner I did, on the condition that I would receive a hug at the top, best hug ever! After this we were on a road for about 4 miles, leading us to the next aid station and the next hard cut-off, we had about an hour to make it. There was a lot of “run to the next tree”, “next sign”, etc, but Dan did it, he got me to Buck Springs with 7 minutes to spare. I plopped down on a chair and asked for some soup. Dan set about unloading my night gear and getting me set up to head out again, there were three other runners also sitting by the fire. Mark, who had completed the grand slam this year, had fallen off Myrtle but landed on a ledge injuring his knee (it was wrapped up in ice and I wondered how the heck he made it to the aid station). Geoff who has finished the Hurt 100 was calling it quits and Alex, who asked “Are you Heather from Race In Pieces?” This got my attention, why in the world does this man know about my blog? “Um, yes, that’s me” It turns out that Alex had read our blog from a posting on Facebook, he knew all about the Death Race attempt, it was very strange, and motivating. I stood up to go, which seemed to shock even the aid station volunteers, so I asked “can I go? I know it’s 3 minutes passed 8, but I was here before 8…” I was told “of course go enjoy. ” Alex decided to join us. My goodness we were becoming a pack.

Buck Springs to Pinchot Cabin – 8.25 miles, +1707ft,-1125ft
Why couldn’t more of the race be like this? I loved this trail, I was running! Like really running, it was awesome. Alex was awesome company, it was decided that he and I could be great examples of how not to run this race, but hey we were having fun. (Alex had been in second place at one point, but then he got lost, forgot his water bottles at an aid station and needed a nap, all things that apparently slow you down). We got hung up at Barbershop Canyon, when the markers disappeared. We wandered around looking for a trail for about 10 minutes when the trail sweeper, Mike, caught up to us. I thought our race was over, but Mike was cool, he wasn’t going to throw us off the trail. He however didn’t know where the trail was either, while he went to higher ground to make a phone call, I finally noticed the cut-out blazes on some trees, I had found the trail! But we did the right thing and waited for Mike to get back so we could tell him which way to go! As we approached the next aid station, Dan ran ahead to “check us in” and to find out wether or not it was a hard cut-off (it wasn’t). The gang at Pichot Cabin were awesome, I was asked about my feet (I briefly wondered how they knew about my feet…oh yeah they fixed them). They we’re really feeling positive about our chances of making Washington Park by 3pm (the next hard cut-off). That buoyed me and off we went, of course I forgot that we had to go to Houston Brothers first.

Pinchot Cabin to Houston Brothers – 7.13 miles, +1212ft,-416ft
It turned out that Mike would be sweeping up behind us all the way to Washington Park. It was fun to have someone else to talk to for awhile. We had 12km to get to Houston Brothers and I rocked it for the first 6km. Then things just turned to crap, I don’t know what to say, but I couldn’t move fast anymore. My stomach was making all sorts of noises, I had actually resorted to drinking Dan’s vitargos because it was going down and staying there. And of course we now hit the undulating section, I knew the aid station was at the top of a hill, so every time we crested a climb I was all “can you see it? is it there?” and disappointingly it wasn’t. And then I started to loose it again, the tears just burst forth. Why must I cry? Dan and Alex had pulled ahead at this point and Mike was somewhere behind me removing ribbons and I realised that I was not going to make it. I just couldn’t move fast, heck I was barely moving forward. Dan had stopped to wait for me and when I caught up I enquired about Alex, Dan had dispatched him (thankfully) he could hear me crying and figured things weren’t going well and didn’t want us holding anyone back. I was glad, Alex had a damn good chance of finishing this thing, I however felt defeated and plopped myself down of a fallen tree. Mike caught up and got to witness me in all my snot faced glory, it was then that I noticed I’d sat down by someone’s puke, and then it hit me, I remembered that puke, it was at the bottom of the hill just after the Houston Brothers aid station! I remembered commenting that someone’s soup hadn’t gone down well, we we’re almost there, for sure this time, one more up. And so I climbed one last hill and we found a sweet women standing at the top asking if I was Heather, I said yes, and she said “I’m sorry but you’re done”, I hugged her. Seriously, I hugged this poor woman. Then we found Dan B. and his pacer, this would be the first time that he’d every timed out of race, and he wanted to shake my hand! We were piled into the volunteers RV and were driven down the road, we passed Alex and we cheered and then suddenly they pulled over and told us that we had a 2 mile walk down to Washington Park aid station. Huh? I was so confused, they offered to take me to the finish line, but I didn’t want to separate from Dan (I was still a little emotional). So there I stood atop that stupid steep trail once again, sigh, sigh, sigh. Ok, I have to admit it wasn’t as bad in the daylight, but my legs had kind of seized up in the RV (even though it was only a 10 minute drive). A third of the way down Alex passed us, we cheered as much as we could and wished him luck.

It took about an hour for us to get down to the aid station, the whole time I imagined the volunteers cursing me having to wait for my sorry butt to get there before they could head out, how wrong I was. We were greeted with cheers, from the volunteers, other racers who had dropped out and their crew had hung around to cheer us in. I’ve never been so touched in my life. Dan bundled me into the car and we drove around to the finish to pick up my drop bags. There I was greeted by Jen (RD’s wife) and Jeremy (RD)who congratulated me on my hard fought battle, the big question was would I be back next year? At the time I was very quick to say no, but now…I’m not so sure. This race was an amazing experience for sure, the people who ran it, ran in it, and crewed it were incredible. I was star struck, humbled, and inspired.

I eagerly awaited the results that night to see if Alex, Danny and Deron had finished, and was over the moon to find they did it. I was so proud of them, even if I had only spent a few hours with each of them.

Of the 37 starters, 9 managed to cross the finish line, 0 females. That’s right not a single lady managed to finish, by the time I left Buck Springs there were only 2 of us on the course, Deva timed out at the same spot as me. I managed 79 official miles, but if you include the time I was lost and having to walk into Washington Park Aid Station it was about 85 miles traversed and 28.5 hours on my feet. That’s another reason that I have a slight pull to come back, I’d really like there to a female finisher next year, and I figure I would have an advantage having seen the whole course (no guarantees but knowing what you’re up against is part of the battle) but I really feel I need to complete a 100 miler first. Jeremy had always said that the Mogollon was not an ideal first timer course and he was right (although I know at least two of the finishers were first timers). I don’t know where that leaves me, but I will tell anyone to run this race.

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Mogollon Monster 100 Race Report: Part 1

On September 28, 2012 at 10am, 37 brave souls ran off up Pine Canyon in hopes of completing the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100 course that lay ahead of us. Spoiler alert-only 9 finished, this day would test even the most experienced runners (including a previous winner of the Canadian Death Race), we had 36 hours to put 106 miles behind us, climb over 19000 feet and descend more than 18000 feet, I was worried 36 hours wasn’t long enough.

Payson is a cute little town where we would be based from, about 20 minutes from the race start/finish. We hit up the Wal-Mart for our last minute bits, and then had a delicious meal at Gerardo’s (I was a little unnerved by the “No fire arms permitted” sign but soon learned that many establishments have these signs – welcome to America!) The meal was great, I was happy I ate a big meal then since my nerves would cause me to not eat much later on.

We got settled at the hotel and set up my drop bags and sorted out the cooler and then it was off to That Brewery for race-kit pick up and dinner. It was on the drive that I got my first view of the rim, and it was stunning. At the brewery, I got my bib (#22) and t-shirt and finally met Jeremy face to face. Jeremy is the Race Director and had been very helpful in the months leading up to the race. He dealt with my neurotic emails very professionally and was constantly reassuring me that I was not going to be eaten by anything (well expect the Mogollon Monster, he’s a bit of an unknown entity). I also had the pleasure of meeting some of my fellow racers, Marius, Rudolph, Faye, Denis and Margaret. Margaret and her husband Ted had created a great map of the course that they let me pour over and pointed out some tricky points, Margaret had done some of the course markings and had participated in many of the training runs, I made a mental note to try and stick with her, as she would know the way, next time I need to make a more permanent note…

Thanks to the time change I slept splendidly (unusual for me), we arrived at the start around 8:45, there was a meeting at 9, which I missed half of because I couldn’t hear over the truck that was delivering the porta potties. Met some more of my fellow racers and then suddenly Jeremy was yelling “5 minutes”, one last dash to the washroom and it was “GO”. The race literally starts going up a big hill, so only the really good runners took off running, the rest of us just started hiking, this was odd to me but I felt it best that I do what everyone else is doing at this point. I caught sight of Margaret and her running partner Honey, ahead and decided to run a little to catch up with them.

Race Start to Pine Canyon – 8.25 miles, +2828ft, -911ft
So there was a big climb right off the bat in this leg, but I really didn’t find it too bad. I ran with Margaret and Honey and well a good chunk of the race field. Knowing that none of us were going for the win, we were trying to take it easy and enjoy the course. The sun was shining and it wasn’t too hot (yet), we went by huge Ponderosa pine trees, which were a highlight for me, and then up a big climb with lot’s of switch backs, where Rudolph pointed out all the plants I should probably stop running into (I managed to scratch my legs up pretty good on this leg). Then suddenly we were at the Pine Canyon aid station, I was about 20 minutes ahead of my predicted time, it was good to see Dan and have some cold water, I had to fix my socks and body glide my heels as I felt like I might be getting blisters.

Pine Canyon to Dickerson Flat – 5.04 miles, +503ft, -524ft
This was a great section, it was mostly double track or road, very runnable, so that’s what I did. I ended up pulling away from Margaret and Honey and ran with Noel for a bit and cruised into the aid station about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Dan wasn’t meeting me here, so I had my water topped up by Vanessa, and got going again.

Dickerson Flat to Geronimo – 4.96 miles, +588ft, -2414ft
This section started out awesome, lovely forest trail that leads to a huge descent, I flew down it, loving every step and caught up with 3 guys from Washington DC. They immediately became the DC Boys to me, and I was Toronto to them, we chatted away and flew along the course, marveling at the views (it really was stunning), we watched Elise (from Montana) make a hard right down a trail and the “joker” of the DC Boys, yelled “you missed the turn”. Elise stopped and looked around, I had to giggle too because the turn was excessively well marked, DC Joker, told her he was kidding and to get going. We made the turn and headed down the trail for a bit and then it started to climb. Huh, I thought there wasn’t much climbing on the section, but I’m following the markers. We caught up to Elise and I start asking her if she thinks it’s odd that there is reflective markings on the course, wouldn’t the reflective tape indicate that we should be running this part at night? Elise agrees that this is weird, and that she feels like we are ascending too much. Thankfully, she has a map, we study it and decide that yes, we have gone off course (well we are on the “right” course, just not at the right time.) We shout to the DC Boys to come and have a look at the map and see what they think, they seemed annoyed by this but Doug returns and agrees, we turned onto a section that we are to run much later in the race. So we turn and start heading back, this when we bump into Dan B., we show him the map, he agrees, then we meet Noel and Josh and Casey, they all question our reasoning but after looking at the map agree we need to go back. I point out that the fact that we haven’t met Margaret or Honey, means we were off course, they know the way. When we reach the junction where we’d erred, we didn’t feel too bad, it seemed like a really obvious turn, but as we went the other way, sure enough we found more course markings. The DC Boys felt that we had gone about a mile and a half off course, awesome, now I was running the 109 mile version of the course. There was no use getting upset (I have to admit, I’m still a little shocked at how calm I stayed) and just ran on. Dan B. and I led the way, we were finally spit out of the forest and onto a road at the Geronimo aid station. Dan was there, I told him we got lost, but they already knew, when Margaret and Honey came through they were confused as to why Dan was still there, apparently we weren’t the first group to have made the wrong turn either. But it was done and I was on the right track. I was surprised to see Honey, she was dropping out. That shook me a little but I just wanted to get going to so I headed off on my own.

Geronimo to Washington Park – 9.68 miles, +1661ft, -1280ft
This section is run completely on the Highline Trail, it’s also a section of the Zane Grey 50 miler. It’s rugged. It’s rocky. It’s undulating. It’s completely exposed. Navigating this part of the trail was tougher, there were ribbons and trail blazes but sometimes it was so open it was hard to tell which way to go. I got lucky with some cloud coverage, it was stinking hot up there and can only imagine how bad it would have been with sun beating down. Something was making a strange noise off in the bushes, it was a funny noise that caused me no fear, my guess was elk, but I couldn’t see anything. I eventually caught up to Dan B., we chatted, you know the usual stuff, where you from? what to do you do?, etc. I asked Dan. B. had he run 100 miles before, he replied, “yes, nine…this year”. My chin hit the floor. Once I picked it up I pried some more, it turns out that Dan B. is an ultra running legend, having completed 108 hundreds and 7 grand slams (the current record). I was in awe, I was also confused as to how I was keeping up with this man. But truthfully Dan B. was a down to earth, fabulous man. I ended up running nearly 30 miles with him and loved every minute of it. We eventually caught up to Faye and Joe who hadn’t made the wrong turn, they were glad to hear we hadn’t gone too far off course, apparently a few runners ended up back at their cars, that would have been disappointing. Next we caught up to Chris, an old friend of Dan B’s, we all ran together, them telling me funny stories of “the good old days”, eventually Chris fell behind a bit and when we stopped to have him catch up he told us he was seriously considering dropping out, something he had never done before. It suddenly hit me how tough this course was, it was chewing up even the most experienced runners, what had I been thinking? We cruised into Washington Park aid station, just as it was getting dark. Here I discovered Margaret was also dropping out, oh man I had to keep my head together. Dan had my head torch ready, I threw on a long sleeved shirt and grabbed my poles.

Washington Park to Houston Brother – 6.9 miles, +2169ft, -209ft
I marched up off the trail on my own, but fully expecting to be caught up my Dan B., I marched up and up and then it hit me, when was the last time I saw a trail marker? Oh crud, I looked back, I could see lights coming up behind me, but did that just mean we were both wrong (getting lost so early on really messed with my directional confidence). Surely someone would have seen me going up the wrong trail. I didn’t think there was a different trail to go on. I slowed down and waited for the lights behind me to catch up, but then I look up and lights are coming at me. Oh no. This is where I met Deron and Danny, they too hadn’t seen a marker in a while and were a little concerned. I asked if they had a map, and Danny did so he pulled it out and while we were trying to decipher where we were, Dan B. and Ed caught us up. We pow-wowed and decided to stay the course, a few minutes later we were given a great confidence marker by Jamil (the eventual winner) flying down the trail at us, he confirmed that we were on the right track. He looked amazing, still no shirt, carrying a small flashlight and a hand held bottle, amazing. Danny pointed out that he was 20 miles ahead of us, no one said anything for a while. This was only a 2 mile trail but it was steep and rocky, so we were all ecstatic when we reached the road at the top, and then had no idea which was to go. Well actually I knew we had to go right, but I was traumatized by the fact that I was going to have to back down that steep scary trail in the dark later, finally I came to and told them we go right. Another map consultation and we were off. We were on the road , which was nice and somewhat runnable, we were going up but it wasn’t too steep, so it was a mixture of run/hike/walk. The moon was up now and full, and lighting up the rim. It was stunning, we briefly stopped and turned off our headlamps to fully appreciate the sight. We stayed on the road for about 4.5 miles which was a nice relief for a bit, lot’s of chatting, maybe a little too much fun and suddenly we were at the next aid station. I was starving but wasn’t sure what to eat, they were making grilled cheese, which sounded tasty, but I didn’t want a whole one, lucky for me Deron was looking for someone to split one with, so that’s what we did.

Houston Brothers to Pinchot Cabin – 7.24 miles, +443ft, -1177ft
Leaving this aid station there was a lot of good climbs, followed by good descents, and I learned that I shouldn’t eat grilled cheese while running. Danny was also not feeling so hot, so we kind of fell behind. Danny was having stomach issues, plus he couldn’t regulate his body temperature, his coat was on then off then on again. My stomach was really upset I was belching like crazy, but couldn’t bring myself to vomit, I’ve never been able to. Dan is a firm believer in “resetting” when necessary, but I can’t, if it happens it happens, I can’t force these things. We finally hit a relatively flat runnable section so we tried to run, Danny was feeling better and I tried my best to keep up, but I couldn’t. I told him to go, but he was too sweet and stayed with me. He told me he was afraid to run by himself in the dark (a blatant lie!) he was just being a true gentleman, and because he was being so nice to me I tried my best to pull myself together and run. Just as we were getting close to the aid station Noel caught up to us, he looked fabulous, he said he was having a great second wind. I told them to go ahead to the aid station, I needed to use the “ladies room”. When I stood up from the bushes I felt shooting pains up my heels, what was this? Pain with every step. Ouch, ouch, ouch. My goodness, what is happening?

I limped into the Pinchot Aid station near tears, but there was no time to cry, I was immediately swept into a chair and asked what I needed. Dan B., Ed and Deron were still there and Ed was trying to give me soup to settle my stomach, I somehow conveyed my feet issue, and the wonderful man (I wish I knew his name) at the aid station went to work, removing my gaiters, shoes, socks, my blisters were huge, I have no idea how I hadn’t felt them earlier. The man popped them and Danny used some of his medical grade skin glue to help stick some mole skin over top, all while I was eating my soup and trying not to cry. I have no idea why I was so emotional but I was so touched by everyone’s help and thoughtfulness. The next thing I knew my shoes were back on, I was told to tie them up and then my gaiters were re-attached for me. Deron, Noel and Danny were waiting for me, but my heart just wasn’t in it, I knew I was going to hold them back, so I told them to go. Danny insisted on waiting, as I hobbled down to the road, Danny tried to get me to run but I couldn’t. He looked at me and asked if I thought I’d be ok on my own, I told him of course, and that he’d have to go now to catch the guys so he wasn’t in the dark by himself! His parting words to me were to not give up, I was still moving fast enough to make the next hard cut off. I thanked him and wished him luck. I climbed up the last little bit of road before the trailhead, looked behind me, no one else was coming, I guess I was about to find out what I was made of.

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