Weeks 24-26: TAPER

Weeks 24-26: TAPER

Tapering has been a welcome time. I am honestly ready to be done training. I'm tired. I miss having free time and flexibility in my schedule. I think that is a pretty common feeling to have when training for anything over a long period of time. My anxiety has still been eating at me, and I know having this race over with (great mindset, right?) will chill it out a bit. It did not help that I had a last minute work trip to Boise, Idaho for 4 days. As much as I can get bored with my routine, I really value the structure and disruptions like that ramp up my anxiety a bit more. 

I tend to worry about the flights (delays, lost luggage, plummeting to my death), how I tend to eat like shit when I travel, the stress of making sure I don't miss any training, and of course leaving my little furkids. Never mind that this is a cool work opportunity, I get to explore a new place on my runs, and the cats are always fine with their sitter (who they probably like more than me). The human brain is a fascinating and occasionally infuriating mystery.

I posted a lot of Idaho pictures in my IG feed, but the short story is that I loved running there. It was hot but not humid (OMG BLISS), the scenery was beautiful, and there were so many options within a mile of my hotel. Paved riverwalk, sand trails, you name it. I would definitely like to go back to Boise on my own time to explore more. As much as the trip was a disruption for me, it was also a shot of enthusiasm back into my training. I enjoyed my runs and looked forward to what I'd see that day. Much needed. 

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Week 24 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 32
Miles ran: 32
Time on my feet:  6:21:34

EFFING TREADMILL. That is really how I'd sum up week 25. The weather was unforgiving, both in heat and humidity, so I opted to do two of my runs (each 6 miles) on the treadmill. As much as I struggle on the treadmill, I know I'd suffer more outside. Case in point, I did 5 miles outside on Thursday evening and had to stop at a stranger's house midway through for ice and water. I was desperate. My usual routes don't have a lot of shade and I felt myself cooking from the inside out. It was highly unpleasant and I am super grateful for the woman who helped me out. She actually thanked me for asking her, which I found funny. I must have looked pretty rough. 

I did start to pay attention to the weather forecast for next weekend, and I'm not happy. After what seems like endless temps in the 70s, the race site will be experiencing a heat wave with temps in the mid to high 90s. Starting on race day. I mean, really? REALLY? It is hard not to worry when I see that, knowing how I have fared on my long runs here in NC with that weather. Being used to it and being acclimated to it are two different things. I would not say that I have acclimated to those conditions yet. Race day will be what it will be. I can't control the weather but I'll use the forecast to inform how I approach the race that morning, as well as dialing in my fueling strategy. Nora has told me that the outcome is already determined, so I just need to show up and see what happens. One week to go. 

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Week 25 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 30
Miles ran: 30
Time on my feet:  6:12:59

Race week! No race recap details here, that comes soon. Pretty low non-race mileage. One last massage to get the kinks out. I flew to NY bright and early Thursday morning and had most of the day to just relax. My sister surprised me and drove up (with my BIL and nephew!) to support me. They won't be coming up to the race itself (1.5 hrs away plus trying to occupy a 5 year old boy for however many hours it would take me to run) but wanted to be with me in person as much as they could. I was so surprised and so happy. I've been really nervous, wondering if and how I will finish, but being surrounded with people who know how hard I worked and believe that I will finish helps to convince me of what is possible. 

I had a great shakeout run Friday morning with my Dad and sister before we packed up and headed to the hotel and packet pickup. Going up the afternoon before the race helped to see where the start/finish line would be, as well as get a peek at portions of the course. I saw what the trail markings looked like and could scout out a place for my parents to set up basecamp. It definitely started feeling real once the bib was in my hands. All that was left was to grab an early dinner and head back to the hotel to prep, followed by what would be a fitful night of sleep and a very early wake up call. Finger Lakes 50k, here I come!

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Week 26 summary: 
Miles scheduled:  45ish
Miles ran: 46.72
Time on my feet:  2:41:44 (non-race) 10:03:36 (race time) 12:45:20 total

Prequel

Prequel

This should be fairly brief, if for no other reason than because I am typing this on my phone during Legs Up The Wall at the hotel. Welcome to race eve. 

Bib obtained, dinner eaten, gear prepped. Nothing left to do but wait. Thank goodness I am a patient person. So patient. Heh. 

The one thing I keep coming back to is how grateful I am. To have a body that got me this far. To have the means to travel to a race. To have a family that moves heaven and earth to support my crazy dream. To have friends who sacrificed their schedule to mine so I didn’t have to train alone.

Becky, I don’t think I could have made it to the start line without you. So many miles over these past six months. Early mornings and weekday evenings. You kept showing up for me without a second thought and I am so grateful. You weathered all my anxieties and fears and kept me putting one foot in front of the other. I am indebted to you and thank you will never be enough.

Rose, you kept me from careening over the edge whenever I crept close. Negative pep talks, Office memes, and lots of punching. I never had to filter what I was going through and a friend like is a rare gift. I cannot wait to dick around with you soon.

Lauren, you are the best cheerleader ever. From a state away you kept me believing and smiling. You go above and beyond for your friends and I don’t know how I could ever deserve it. The texts, IG posts, snail mail and and more. I love you to pieces and hope I can begin to repay you for the love you’ve given me. 

Ray, you’re an IDIOT.  You’re also incredibly caring and supportive and I have written proof that you like me so suck it. Thank you for knowing just what to say and when to say it. Those messages meant so much. And I’m saving them. Forever. Deal with it.

I would not have started going after this big scary goal if I didn’t have a badass bitch with a plan ready to show me the way. Nora, you’re a fierce and dedicated coach. You don’t sugar coat anything but you don’t skimp on praise either. No nonsense, no frills, no problem. You believed well before I did and you haven’t stopped. You contained my crazy and directed that energy into productive work. Thank you for enduring all the panicked texts and whiny run reports. I hope I make you proud.  

So many people supported me this far, from work to friends to family. I can’t help but be humbled and overwhelmed by the support. It’s just running, in the end. But you make it feel like an exercise in love. Tomorrow I plan to run with joy. To think of those here and gone who have loved me. I know it will be hard but it will also be worth it. Tomorrow I celebrate. I fight. I push. I crawl. I fly. I finish. Fit, strong, brave.  

 

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Week 23: Peaking

Week 23: Peaking

Thank you so much for the incredible comments I got on Instagram immediately after that ill-fated 20 miler and for all the kind words I received after the Meltdown post. I took another shot at 20 miles during week 23 and I got it. It was not what I would call a redemptive run. It was gritty and humid and hot and slow and painful and stubborn as fuck. I didn't exactly set myself up for success the night before, as I had concert tickets that had been purchased months ago, but that was the decision I made and I'd live with any consequences. I slept decently for the 5 or so hours I did get and didn't have an issue getting up when the 5:30 am alarm went off.

I was not anxious about this run the way I was the week before. If anything, I was almost detached. I knew it was going to get done, that I would get it done no matter what, so I didn't let my mind start going down the what-if road to hell. A couple things that may have contributed to that: the route and my fueling strategy. I decided that my usual haunt might be playing into my anxiety and it wasn't worth the risk so I decided to try a new spot. I'd done a few smaller sections of it in the past, mostly at dusk, so it was unfamiliar enough to be distracting. It allowed me to do 7 miles out and back, hitting my car at 14 where more fuel and company would be waiting for me. I'd then go out and back the other direction for the final 6. 

At Nora's urging, I set a 45 minute alarm on my watch for fueling. Every 45 minutes, down the hatch with fuel. I was, and still am, trying out different foods and looking for something that I can get down and has enough calories. The rice cakes are great, albeit labor intensive and since I am traveling not something I can easily recreate for race day. At the advice of another ultra runner I tried using Uncrustables (strawberry, because it is the only jam that matters). They are super portable, thaw on your person (esp. in recent weather here in NC), and check all the requisite nutrition boxes (calories, carbs, protein, etc.). The only problem I encountered was reaching the center of said treat and the gob of remaining PB triggering my gag reflex. Not cool. It washed down easily and sat well otherwise, so I am hopeful that I can make them work come race day. 

The combination of 45 minute fueling intervals and no single stretches of route longer than 7 miles helped keep my brain occupied but I was struggling when Becky met me on her bike between miles 12 and 13. The weather was taking its toll. I was glad that I would only have 6 left when I got to my car and yet had no idea how those 6 would get done. Becky dropped her bike at the car and laced up to keep me company for a few of those 6 (BLESS HER). I was walking more often at this point and had fallen behind on my fueling (my fault). At her suggestion I made a last minute change to do the final 6 out to end at her house rather than 3 out and 3 back to my car. I'd be running past one more water fountain with this plan and she'd drive me back to my car. Not retracing my steps sounded like a good idea at the time and I knew the trail well enough to get to her house on my own. 

She could only stay with me for a couple miles before heading home to her kiddo, so I slogged out the last 4 on my own. I ran, walked, and lurched my way through the greenways of Cary. I don't remember what I was telling myself in those remaining miles. I knew I was doing math, as I always do. Take the most recent mile split and then start guessing what my finish time might be if I got slower, stayed the same, sped up, etc. I do not recommend this and wish it was not a habit. The math, no matter how I did it, was unsatisfactory but there was nothing I could do about it. It was going to take as long as it would take. So will race day. Am I still moving forward? Yes? Then I'm doing it right. Maybe that's a pretty low bar for you. Maybe you bite me. 

There was no jubilant finish at 20. There were constant glances at my watch until it FINALLY clicked over, a ceasing of forward movement, and a tired sigh. It was done. It was over with. At this point I didn't actually know if I had one more long run to go next week or if this was it, so I didn't want to celebrate prematurely. It also just didn't feel like that big an accomplishment. Perhaps because I was wondering how those legs of mine would get another 12 miles done the next to round out the week. I mostly just wanted to go home and lie down. Hopefully the enthusiasm for new levels of exhaustion will appear on race day, along with more temperate conditions. Week 23, you're excused.  

Week 23 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 48
Miles ran: 48
Time on my feet: 10:07:26

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Weeks 19-21: What The Fuel?

I find it hard to believe that 20+ weeks of my life have come and gone, especially through the lens of a long training cycle. I didn't know what to expect since I hadn't done anything like this before, but dedicating a large chunk of your time and your physical and emotional energy is intense. As in previous posts, this one has a theme. I don't make them up, they just develop over the course of a week or two and I notice them as I look over my training log. In case the title of the post isn't clear, this one is focused on fuel. 

For a while I was able to do what always worked for marathon and half marathon training. Gels, sports drink, water. Lather, rinse, repeat. Until it suddenly stopped working. What I mean by stopped is that with little notice my body (mainly my mouth) no longer wanted gels. I could get the first one down on a long run but successive ones were a challenge. It didn't seem to matter the brand, it was just too much sugar. I had a strong feeling that I wanted nothing to do with sugar. I was craving anything savory. Bring on the salt. What the hell?

 cannot handle the heat and humidity

cannot handle the heat and humidity

I've never been one to enjoy gummy candy so chews were out (also, hey more sugar). Waffles too dry and I was not comfortable chewing on the run. Gels had just been so easy, why did it have to change? Aid stations in ultras are generally a wonderland of food and I was looking forward to that, but it didn't occur to me that I might need to start incorporating previously unconventional fueling into my own training. I didn't even know where to start. I tried Fig Newtons but they were too dry, so I didn't get enough fuel in on my long run, and BONK. I tried Picky Bars but they were still too sweet. Tried Skratch Labs chews (I know, I said I don't like chews) and they were ok but nowhere near the amount of calories I need to be taking in per hour (200-300). 

So, have I found anything that works? Sort of. Cheesy peanut butter crackers have sat well but I'm still not eating enough at one time to avoid bonking. Something more calorie dense and compact would be easier. Uncrustables peanut butter and strawberry jelly had a lot of potential, but getting to the center full of peanut butter would eventually make me gag and I wouldn't finish the whole thing. Dang it. After talking with my massage therapist (also a coach and endurance cyclist) I bought the Skratch Labs cookbook "Feed Zone Portables." I am not great about actually using cookbooks but this is a problem I need solved so I had to give it a shot. 

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So far, so good. I focused on trying the rice cakes in the book. Not dry crusty diet food rice cakes, but cooked sushi rice mixed with various ingredients. It has upped the amount of prep I need to do the night before a long run, but it is worth it. Having a rice cooker is clutch here, and this is definitely the most I've ever used it. I opted for a veggie version of the Denver cake the first week and then a fried rice-esque take of my own the following week. The saltiness is exactly what I seem to be craving on the run and they sit just fine in my stomach. Everything I have tried has sat well, to be honest. I think I just have a tolerant stomach, for which I am very grateful. 

This problem definitely isn't solved, far from it. I'm still struggling to eat enough of what I carry to ward off bonking symptoms or ending up dehydrated. The heat and humidity have been winning, much to my dismay, but I'm fighting back. I'm not eating early enough in the run, nor am I eaten often enough. It doesn't sound like a hard problem to fix, but for me it has been. I'm not hungry when it comes time to start eating, so I don't eat. Stupid. I can't chew real food and run at the same time, so this new fueling routine requires me to take more walk breaks. I'm also not allowing myself enough time to get what I need into my body before running again. The issue here is being too focused on the clock, honestly. My ego doesn't like seeing mile splits above a certain time, and I've been giving the watch priority over my body, which is a huge mistake. I've paid the price over and over and over again on my long runs. I'm working on it, but it hasn't been an easy fix. 

I know that come race day it will take as long as it takes. And I repeat that to myself on my long runs. It isn't like I'm going to stop my watch on race day every time I hit an aid station or eat something on the course, so why am I bothering to fret about it now? It's all ego, truly. Come race day my splits are going to be all over the map because the course will a big mix of elevation. This is what I signed up for. I keep trying to fit ultra trail racing into a road running box. It will never fit. Every week I am reminded of how different this is and how much I still have to learn. Checking my ego might be the hardest thing I do but it could be the key to getting me across the finish line. If I don't fuel well, I won't finish. Bottom line. Eat early, eat often. Now I just need to tell my brain to SHUT UP and do what needs to be done. 

 frosty hydration heaven

frosty hydration heaven

Week 19 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 32
Miles ran: 32
Time on my feet: 6:22:22

Week 20 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 44
Miles ran: 44
Time on my feet: 8:47:12

Week 21 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 42
Miles ran: 42
Time on my feet: 8:21:25

Week 22: Meltdown

Week 22: Meltdown

I know I'm writing this out of order, and I do have weeks 19-21 in draft, but this past week of training was intense. It is important to me that I get this down before I go out for my next attempt at 20 miles tomorrow morning. Yes, my next attempt. I don't mean to imply that I won't finish tomorrow, just that I didn't finish last time. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know what happened. The other runs during Week 22 were unremarkable bordering on not great. It has been hot and humid here, and I do not run well in those conditions. I've been feeling banged up, physically and mentally. 22 weeks of training wears on a body, and that is to be expected. What I did not expect was the resurgence of my anxiety. It used to be crippling, many years ago, but with medication and a lot of personal hard work I have it well under control. 

In recent weeks, I've been getting anxious ahead of my longer runs. The weekday runs are manageable, I worry a little about how I'll feel but I attribute it to being injured for so long and being able to finish a run of any length was not a guarantee. The more I think about it as I write this, the more I wonder if anxiety crept in through the crack in that door. Eased himself in so casually that I didn't even know he was there. Until he shat all over my long run last Saturday. 

I found a telling comment in my training log from my run on Thursday evening. I'd had a massage the night before and it was hot out, so I didn't give this comment the thought it probably deserved until after the fact: "very relieved when it was over. hoping my legs feel fresher for Saturday or I might just sit down on the trail and cry." SERIOUSLY? Seriously. This was my mindset going into a 20 miler. Full disclosure, my last few longs run have been challenging. I've been running in the same place for weeks, at the same time, and feeling increasingly worse. I chalked it up, again, to being deep into training. That I just need to gut it out. That EVERYTHING IS FINE. 

And in some ways, yes, everything is fine. That is the worst part of anxiety. My mind has chosen to latch onto something, anything, that is vaguely important to me that it can manipulate. I am not injured. I have finished all of my long runs. I haven't always felt like a million bucks but I've done the work. I've been pretty damn consistent this training cycle. Anxiety doesn't care about the truth. It doesn't matter. Anxiety can make me believe that I am too slow, that it's too hot, that the ache in my knee is really an injury, that this race is a mistake, that I am not capable, that I have too far left to go and it will take way too long so just STOP. Quit. You suck, you're embarrassing yourself and your coach. You're probably her slowest client. Go home. 

 who doesn't take a picture of themselves ugly crying on the trail?

who doesn't take a picture of themselves ugly crying on the trail?

All of these thoughts and more cascaded through my mind at mile 11 last weekend, hands on knees and sobbing on the side of the trail. Nine miles to go and no idea how I would get them done. I knew I would hate myself for quitting on this run but finishing felt impossible. I had a brief respite when a fellow runner stopped to check on me. He was doing 17 miles and asked me to join him. "Are you *sob* slow *sob*" I asked? And he was going a little faster than I had been but he convinced me to get moving again. I only spent a mile and a half with him but he talked to me and he kept me going to my turn around point. I wish I could say that his kindness snapped me out of it and gave me the perspective I needed to push forward. But I can't.

I covered the 1.5 miles back to the water fountain where he had picked me up, refilled my pack, and tried to get my head straight. It wasn't working. Last week I didn't know how I was going to finish 18 miles but I just kept pushing and I made it. That gear was nowhere to be found now. Making it back to my car would put me at 15 miles and I told myself that was it. Just get there. Screw the last 5. This isn't worth what you're feeling right now. I do have some aches and pains and at 13 miles into my run I was feeling them. But they weren't at a point where the rational person would stop. They were just tired sore legs. My mind was the problem and my mind was broken. I texted Nora to let her know I was done. I'd already sent a few panicked notes and this made it official in my mind. 

I dragged myself back to the trail by my car, stopped my watch, and broke down. I was so tired and angry, frustrated and sad. My heart hurt. I felt like I'd sold myself out and created a dangerous precedent. I had the exact number of days until my race pounding in my head and this was all the proof I needed that I wasn't going to finish. 28 days away and you're fucked, kiddo. Never mind the money you wasted on the registration fee, the hotel, the plane ticket. If I cannot finish 20 miles, how will I finish 50k? I didn't know, and I still don't. I went home and sat on the living room floor. I talked to Nora about what happened and we discussed what I can do moving forward. We have some options but this is not something that is fixed in one conversation, one run, one day. 

I can't tie this up neatly in a bow, and I have 20 miles on deck for tomorrow. I'm still anxious. I don't know why the anxiety is coming back after years of quiet. I am going to show up tomorrow for my run, as I've shown up every Saturday this year. I have a mantra. I have a plan. I want to finish. I want my mind to shut the fuck up and let me do the work. I want to believe in myself the way others believe in me. I have months of evidence that says I am capable AF. When it is you versus you, how do you win? If I figure that out, I'll let you know. 

Week 22 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 48
Miles ran: 43
Time on my feet: 8:40:45

Weeks 15-18: fitness and anxiety

Weeks 15-18: fitness and anxiety

It doesn't look as though I'm getting any better at consistently updating my training. Once I update the training plan for Nora, and then write it a second time into my Logbook, recording it a third time here just sounds exhausting. I know I will be glad that I did because my memory is shit and it will be nice to have this to go back to in the future.

Coming off of the magic of last week's adventure at Umstead, I had renewed excitement for my own race. I hadn't started to become less enthusiastic for it, but the weeks of training were starting to wear on me, as they would anyone. This is the longest training cycle I've ever had and this mental boost was very welcome. Another welcome surprise appeared this week and in week 16. FITNESS. I felt like I had been putting in the work for a while now, and rolled with the punches as best I could with all the business with my hips. I got massages, incorporated strength work, warmed up and foam rolled when I didn't want to do anything. It certainly didn't happen overnight but it also felt like a switch finally flipped. 

I did a few workouts in weeks 15 and 16 that I have done many times before (5 or 6 miles with 3x30 second strides per mile, 6 miles with 10x1 min hill repeats in the middle, etc.) but the outcomes were changing. Yes, the times on my watch were faster and I'd be a liar if I said that wasn't awesome. What really got me excited was how I felt during and after those workouts. I felt STRONG. The effort wasn't taxing like it used to be. I felt like I could have pushed more if the workout called for it and I wasn't drained by the end. I had to laugh at the fact that it only took 16 weeks for me to get here, ha! Hell, I'm just glad to feel strong, if that was how long it had to take to get me there, who cares?! It feels amazing to feel strong and capable, maybe even a little confident. Not cocky, to be sure, but a little confident. 

Week 15 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 34
Miles ran: 34
Time on my feet: 6:37:03

Week 16 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 36
Miles ran: 36
Time on my feet: 6:42:12

It isn't all sunshine and rainbows, though. That would be too easy. Now that my brain isn't wasting time fretting over weekday workouts it refocused its energy freaking me out over the long run. I haven't had issues with my anxiety in a long time (thanks to therapy, medication, and hard mental work) but in recent weeks it has reappeared with a vengeance. There is nothing wrong, truly, but anxiety doesn't care because it is a crafty MOFO. Anything longer than 10 miles suddenly sounded too long and it would take me forever and I'd end up walking all of it and how in the hell would I ever finish a full 50k. Sounds like a party, right? Who doesn't want to wake up at 5 am on a Saturday convinced that they'll be sitting in the middle of a trail sobbing by the 5th mile?! That is where I've been the last couple of weeks. 

I don't have any evidence to support any of those thoughts being the truth. And I know that my long runs are going to take as long as they take because pace is not the point. Time on my feet is what matters. And as far as beating myself up for having to walk a bit? Girl, I will be walking come race day because that is how most ultras work. I've got almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain waiting for me and it is dangerously foolish to convince myself that I can run every step come race day. If the smart person trains the way they want to race, then I need to train with some walking. This doesn't mean strolling and if you've been on a long run with me when I take a walk break you know I don't take my sweet time. If its a hill, I'm hiking and if its flat I'm like an old lady circling the local mall. Every step has a purpose. 

I've been up front with Nora that this is a struggle for me right now and she's got a plan for making my mind as strong as my body. The heat and humidity have been a contributing factor as well, and I know that it is normal to slow down and feel crappier sooner in those conditions. I hate it, but I accept it. I'm also reminding myself that "it takes as long as it takes." I've gotten all my long runs in, even if I thought they took too long or I was too slow. I haven't quit, and there were times where I wanted to. Where I texted Nora and basically asked permission to do so. Permission was NOT granted, and I am glad. I think it would have made the anxiety so much worse and opened the door for me to bail on subsequent runs. I keep showing up. I want to prove that part of my brain wrong and showing up is the only way I know how to do that. 18 weeks down, 8 to go. 

 smiling because I'm done

smiling because I'm done

Week 17 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 38
Miles ran: 38
Time on my feet: 7:31:18

Week 18 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 38
Miles ran: 38
Time on my feet: 7:58:01

Week 14: I'm somewhere where I don't know where I am

Week 14: I'm somewhere where I don't know where I am

This week was a doozy. It wasn't so much the training load as the outside demands on my time that had me a little crazed. I also volunteered myself for something I thought I had no business doing later in the week and fought nerves/the desire to back out right up until go time. I started the week in Oregon for work, a little zapped from the time change and stressed out from the challenges of work related training logistics. One workout on the hotel treadmill Tuesday night, another slogging around the neighborhood Wednesday after the cross country flight home. Conditions all around not ideal for functioning at work or productive training efforts, but the real effort was yet to come. 

I had decided, months ago, that volunteering as a pacer at a local 100 mile race might be a great experience, both to see an ultra up close before I race mine and as a way to get some long run mileage in. However, the closer the date crept the more nervous I became. The stronger the urge to email the pacer coordinator and back out. Any number of valid (yet false) excuses came to mind but the bottom line was fear. Again. Always something with this guy. I was afraid to do something outside my comfort zone. I was afraid I'd be too slow for my runner and get dropped. I was afraid I'd get injured. I was afraid I'd embarrass myself in any number of ways. 

Never mind that the runners will have been on their feet for 16 hours by the time my shift was to start (aka their legs were most likely not "running" anymore). Never mind that I had logged a ton of miles during my own training cycle on this exact loop of trails. Never mind that I've been covering the distance (12.5 miles) with regularity in my training. Damn, woman. Have some confidence. Be brave. SHOW UP. 

What I chose to do was email my coach that week, finally getting around to telling her what I had signed up for, hoping she'd advise against it and then I'd have the valid and true excuse to back out. Unfortunately, Nora thought it was a great idea! The pacer coordinator sent out final instructions a few days prior and I replied to explain my nerves and ask for a little advice (read: open the door to quitting on her last minute). She replied kindly and reminded me of a) how tired my runner would be by 11:00 pm, b) that they try to pace match runners based on what we submitted when we volunteered, and c) worst case scenario I can drop at the aid station halfway through the lap and someone there can take over. Suck it up, buttercup.

What actually happened? The coldest, wettest, darkest, longest, most amazing long run I've had in my 37 years. It had rained the night before and the entire day of the race. Unrelenting. And it was cold. Temps quickly dropped into the 30s with real feel in the 20s come nightfall. Runners were dropping to the 50 mile distance or dropping out entirely. I spent the four hours prior to my pacer shift at the main aid station, tending to the frozen souls staggering in from a lap before sending them back out. I was pretty damn cold, under a tent with a heat source, in all my layers so I couldn't imagine how cold the runners were. Hot cocoa and soup were among the most consumed items at our station, with good reason. 

Once my shift was over I ducked into the restroom to change for pacing duties. I had originally planned on one pair of pants (Lux flow tights, FTW) but it was so cold that I pulled my looser thermal pants back on over them. Wool socks and wool underwear, Lux bra, two Lux tanks, a long sleeve, a vest, and an outer jacket all went on for good measure. It sounds like overkill, but I'd already been standing out in the cold for four hours with the possibility of another 4 hours in the rain if I got picked up to pace. Also, gloves, Team Bird neck buff, Lux headband, and Trail Sisters hat. Nary a body part neglected. I wish I had a picture of the entire ensemble but I was conserving phone battery for my loop. Between the cold and the time we'd be out there, I wanted as much charge as possible in case anything happened. 

Once I was suited up I hung around the aid station and just waited. Helped a little bit, danced to the music a little bit, just tried to stay loose and warm. At around 11:30 the pacer coordinator let me know that she had a runner for me. Enter Louise. Louise is in her 60s and tackling the Umstead 100 for the 19th time. That's right. She's done this race 19 times. A bit of a legend among the regulars. She gave me a quick run down of what her goal was, what she wanted (and did not want) from me, and off we went. As I mentioned, I have run all but the first half mile of this loop many times before but add in total darkness, rain, and mud, and all prior experience is rendered useless. In some ways it was a bit of a hindrance, as your frame of reference for how long it normally takes to get from this section to this section totally fucks with you. 

I let Louise set her pace and our headlamps led the way. The going was slow, to be sure, between the conditions and the amount of time she'd already been on her feet. Her goal was to beat the cutoff (30 hours), and I knew roughly how much time I had to get her through this lap. We broke it up into two chunks, the first 7ish miles to the aid station and the last 5 or 6 back into main camp. There were spurts of running but for the most part it was a solid hiking hustle. Relentless forward progress. We averaged around 18 minutes per mile which sounds like a stroll but I can assure you was anything but. We got into the aid station at 7.5 miles, I got her some fuel she wanted from her drop bag and the volunteers got her some soup. I don't think we lingered there but a minute or two. 

Somewhere between the aid station and main camp, the rain lightened up and turned into snow flurries. Seriously? April 7. Snow. Ok, Umstead. Game on. We didn't talk much, as was her preference but I replied every time she talked to me. There was plenty of snark from her which was perfect for me. As we passed other runners she'd ask which lap they were on, both trying to be friendly and to see where she fell in the pack. There were a few choice comments under her breath for someone on their last lap ("I hate you"), which cracked my shit up. If I had 8-10 hours left to go, I'd hate that person too. I wish I could convey what it was truly like to accompany someone on a small part of this incredible feat. I never gave her split times but I made sure she knew if she was on track, if we needed to pick it up, if she was warm enough, eating and drinking enough, etc. She asked if I could go out on the next lap with her and it broke my heart to say no. We connected quite well but there was no way my legs were in shape for 25 miles. We talked through her game plan for the next two laps so that I could prep her pacer for the handoff. 

I brought her in on time to complete her 6th lap and we ducked into the main lodge for a quick clothing change. Got her out of several wet layers and into dry ones, fresh gloves, etc. with the outer rain shell and pack back on for lap 7. The pacer coordinator had two guys ready to take her for the next loop. While she got fueled at the main aid station I gave the guys a quick run down on her goals, what she prefers for conversation and the like, then she was off again. It lasted around 3.5 hours and felt so long and yet over so fast. I was so cold and tired, it was unfathomable to me how long they had been out there and how much longer many of the runners still had to go. I threw back a cup of hot cocoa, grab my bags, and started the muddy slog back to my car. 

I only took one picture, below, at the end of the lap. All the mud, the wet, the dark. I was home in my bed by 4:30 am, unable to get warm and wondering how Louise was doing. I slept most of Sunday away, my body aching in ways I was not expecting. The mileage certainly does not belie the effort. My 8 mile recovery run swiftly became a spin for the corresponding amount of time it would have taken to run. Between naps and spinning and slow trips to the kitchen, I kept checking the race site. Shortly before bed I got the confirmation I was looking for. Louise would be heading back to Chicago with another 100 mile finish under her belt. Congrats, woman. Well earned. 

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If you ever have the chance to volunteer at an ultra, do it. If you have the chance to serve as a pacer at an ultra, absolutely do it. It was the most challenging and rewarding experience. I wish I could adequately explain the difference between the road running community and the trail/ultra running community. Both are wonderful, but the trail people really make it feel like home, like you're family, like they've known you forever and are so glad you're there. I will be pacing again next year, and it would be epic if I got to pace Louise again. I hope I can get a few brave friends to join me. 

Week 14 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 33
Miles ran: 25.57
Time on my feet: 6:16:02