Where to begin. The Yeti 100 was the biggest run I have taken on to date. More than a month out from the race, I was already dealing with some serious nerves and anxiety, having trouble sleeping some nights, etc. There were even days that I simply decided I wasn’t going to do the race, even though I continued to follow my training plan. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before leading up to an event. The magnitude of Yeti just seemed more monumental to me than anything I’ve ever done before.
The weather forecast was looking okay until Hurricane Ian started tracking to make landfall in Florida a few days before the race and then swing up the east coast and hit our area during the race. By that point, it would be a tropical depression and nowhere near the devastation it caused in Florida. But we would be faced with rain throughout the weekend, starting around 2 PM Friday, and winds up to 40-45 mph overnight on Friday night.
I have a history of crazy race weather every time I do a big “first” (snow at first trail race, hail/wind/mud at first 50K, torrential rain and wind at first 24 hour race…), so of course the remnants of a hurricane would come through. All I could do was prepare as best I could for the cold rain and wind, the worst of which would hit overnight while I was up on the mountain.
Dad came down to help crew me for the race and he, Barry (my husband) and I headed down to Damascus on Thursday afternoon. We were staying in an Air BnB on the outskirts of town with the rest of my crew/pacers: Charlotte, Lauren, Kim, Cathy, and Peter. The house we ended up staying in was sweet! I had my typical pre-race Subway dinner and then we headed over to packet pickup at Wolf Hills Brewery in Abingdon. It was super busy and I ended up waiting in line for over an hour to get my race swag and GPS tracker. Thank goodness I ate before we went!
After we got back to the house and got settled, we had a crew meeting and then it was time to pack the car and head to bed. I got small bits of sleep during the night, but mostly just laid in bed with my eyes closed until my alarm went off at 4:30 AM on Friday morning. I got up and had my coffee and oatmeal, got dressed, and prepared to race. At 6 AM Barry and I headed to the race start.
I was insanely nervous on the drive up to Whitetop and I think I barely spoke to Barry. There was no parking at the start, so runners could either take a shuttle or have a crew member drop them off “kiss and ride” style. It took about 40 minutes to get up there and B dropped me off, telling me he loved me and would see me in a few hours. It was a chilly morning, with temps in the low 40s and the sun not quite up yet. I opted to start out in shorts, a short sleeve and long sleeve shirt, and gloves. I used the restroom and then listened to race director Jason’s pre-race speech, and at 7 AM we were off and running!
Based on my nerves leading up to the race, it truly was a huge victory for me that I showed up to the start line and actually started this race. As we headed down the trail, I tried to do my best to stay calm and settle in. The first 17 or so miles were all downhill and I started right away with my 4 minute run / 1.5 minute walk intervals to keep my pace under control early. As the pack thinned out in the first mile, I found myself towards the back and by myself. But the pace I was running felt right to me so I just kept at it.
I was feeling alright as I made my way down the trail. I still felt pretty sleepy and I felt a bit empty, too. I made sure to drink at regular intervals and eat some fuel about every 30 minutes (huma gels and honey stinger chews). I hit the first aid station in Taylors Valley a little before mile 11. They told me they would have pierogis and hamburgers overnight. It was up on a steep hill and I made a mental note to have my crew go up there for me if I wanted anything from the aid station when I passed through there again during the night. I refilled my Tailwind and grabbed 1/3 of a banana and headed down the trail.
I noticed a few things hurting early on, but they seemed to come and go as I ran: my left achilles, my right hip/piriformis, and sometimes my right pinky toe. In a long race, sometimes things hurt but there’s a lot of time for them to feel better, too. As I made my way towards Damascus and the first time I would see my crew, I started counting my steps. It’s a game I play sometimes either when I get bored or when I’m just trying to manage my nerves. I counted somewhere over 8,000 before I lost interest in the game.
I arrived in Damascus between miles 17 and 18, about 4 hours into the race, and I was still getting settled in to my run. My crew was at the town park waiting for me. I made a quick stop at the restroom restroom, where I started having some GI issues that would mostly stick with me the rest of the race. But I was otherwise fine, and my crew (Barry, Dad, Charlotte, and Lauren) swapped out my flasks and restocked my pack with more fuel. I was pretty quiet and not smiley yet, as I was still trying to calm my nerves, and I think it alerted them to the type of day we might be about to have.
I headed down the trail, grabbing a cup of Coke from the actual aid station along the way. It was a 7 mile stretch to the next aid station in Alvarado. This is a section that is notoriously hot, but on this day it was cloudy and still in the 50’s or so. The weather really was perfect… until it wasn’t. I put an ear bud in and started listening to a podcast I’ve been enjoying lately called Office Ladies (a rewatch podcast for The Office).
I was in my own head for the first 18 miles, and I think switching to listening to the podcast was a nice distraction. I wonder if I should have done that from the start, but I didn’t want to feel like I “needed” podcasts or music to get through it. Plus I wanted to experience the race, not check out on it. On the way to Alvarado, I actually passed right by our Air BnB. Charlotte was out there cheering me on and taking some photos. Before the race I wondered if passing by our house would be mentally tough for me. But I found that I was focused on the race and didn’t have any thoughts about the house.
The miles towards Alvarado actually passed more quickly than they have any other time I have run this section of trail. I passed by the magical Pepsi machine and Mr. Inspiration, who was really kind and encouraging as I ran by. But I didn’t take photos of either because I was too busy still feeling scared and nervous.
I had to make a couple of pit stops on the way to Alvarado, before arriving at the next aid station and crew spot just before mile 25. I was pacing well and came in about 40 minutes under the cutoff.
By this time it was almost 1 PM. I had been running for about 6 hours and I knew I needed to put some real food in me for more substantial calories. Charlotte grabbed me some pb&j squares from the aid station. This is something I have eaten at countless trail races, but I took one look at it and told her “I can’t eat that.” She quickly went back to the aid station and came back with cheese quesadillas. This was more appealing, and the warm food on a chilly day was nice. I wasn’t supposed to see my crew again until 8 miles later in Abingdon. But Char offered to meet me at Watauga along the way (which was allowed per the race guide) and I agreed since I was being a baby. So I said bye to Char, Dad, and Barry and headed down the trail knowing I would see them in 5 miles.
This next stretch of trail included two of my favorite bridges, including the “big ass bridge” between miles 25 and 26. As I ran across, I was surprised to see how low the water was in the Holston River. Many of the docks were sitting on dry ground. I bet it wasn’t as low once the remnants of Hurricane Ian moved through the area.
As I made my way towards Watauga, I saw lots of runners making their way back down the trail. After running solo for the entire race, it was nice to see others and exchange encouragement. This is another stretch of trail that can get hot, but it was really comfortable on this day. I rolled into Watauga where I saw my crew, including Lauren and her family and Peter. Lo had her baby in a unicorn costume which was so cute. There was also a little aid station set up here which I didn’t expect. My crew swapped one of my flasks and then sent me on my way.
From here, it was just three miles to the first turnaround of the day in Abingdon between miles 33 and 34. I arrived around 3:15 PM, still about 40 minutes under cutoff. My crew had my setup ready for me, as I planned to change socks and shoes here, ditch a layer, and pick up my rain jacket. While changing my socks and shoes, I also pulled the tape off of my right pinky toe which was still mildly bothering me. It felt better without the tape.
Running and race-wise I was starting to get into a pretty good groove. But my stomach was not feeling great. Char brought me some more cheese quesadillas. They weren’t as appealing this time, but I did my best to eat them anyway as I headed down the trail. About a mile later I ended up barfing them up, but at least I tried.
It started raining lightly as I made my way back to Watauga. Charlotte had offered to see me again there, and I agreed because I was still being a baby. Apparently this messed up some other crew members plans for lunch at Shoney’s, haha. But I heard they made do with Wendy’s. When I came through Watauga, my crew was there as well as Kim. She had come down to pace me overnight from miles 63 to 83ish. It was nice to see her and I gave her a brief update on the day.
I kept making my way to Alvarado around mile 43ish, making several more bathroom stops on the way. Finally, around mile 40 I felt settled into the race. It’s kind of ridiculous that it took me that long to finally settle. The rain and wind picked up a little through this section and I actually got a bit chilled, even with my rain jacket on. I also lost one of my gloves somewhere through here, so one hand was cold, too.
I came into Alvarado a little before 6 PM – 11 hours into the race and an hour ahead of the cutoff. Even though I was struggling with some GI issues (most of which I really think were from nerves) and some mental demons, things were really going pretty smoothly overall. My crew had some mashed potatoes ready for me and Char also got me some boiled potatoes with salt from the aid station. I had to fight my gag reflex a bit while eating, but managed to get the food down. I also opted to put on my Frogg Toggs pants, gloves with latex gloves on top (essential for warm hands when it’s cold and rainy), and picked up some lights since the sun would set before I got back to Damascus.
The rain continued as I made my way towards Damascus at mile 49. It got progressively darker as the sun set, but I don’t think I had to start using my handheld light until mile 47 or so. I was about a mile outside of Damascus when the race leader came by from the other direction. He was at mile 84 or something and on his way to a sub-15 hour finish. Crazy. There was a lot of ponding on the trail and I couldn’t wait to get into Damascus where I would do a full outfit change and get fresh, dry socks and shoes.
I rolled into Damascus, just before mile 50, around 8:15 PM- a little over 13 hours into the race and about 40 minutes under the cutoff. Damascus was a total party and the aid station and town park were really busy. My crew had my changing tent and everything ready for me and I tried to get in and out as efficiently as possible. I got changed and Lauren brought me some bone broth and corn chowder from the aid station. Unfortunately, the bone broth got cold before I could drink it (I drank it anyway) and the corn chowder was spicy and I couldn’t eat it. Lo ran and got me a second cup of bone broth from the aid station while I hit the restroom. My crew also gave me some instant cheese grits to eat. Cathy was there and ready to pace me from mile 49 in Damascus to mile 63 in Green Cove. It would be an all uphill stretch, with about 1,400 feet of climbing.
It felt good to have dry clothes on with my rain gear on top, as the rain was steadily coming down at this point and the temperature was dropping outside. I lost between 20-25 minutes at this stop, despite our best efforts, and Cathy and I headed out of Damascus around 8:35 PM.
Most of my crew retired to the house for the night. Overnight, Dad, Peter, and Kim would crew me. Barry went to get some sleep after crewing me all day, since he would also be pacing me in from mile 84. The plan was for Cathy to pace me up to Green Cove, and then she would hop in with the crew and Kim would pace me back to Damascus. Normally, we would go all the way up to Whitetop but due to the forecasted wind and the number of widowmakers between Green Cove and Whitetop, there was a last minute change to the course. Runners would now turn around in Green Cove at mile 63 and come back down the mountain to Damascus, where they would do an extra out and back to make up the mileage before heading towards the finish in Abingdon.
As Cathy and I headed down the trail I was in relatively good spirits despite the weather. It was really a nasty night out there. But I was happy for the company and overall I felt okay. I was feeling a little empty and weak, but my legs felt alright aside from a weird pain behind my left knee. At this point, I had switched to a 3 minute run / 1.5 minute walk interval, and we stuck to that except that we were now walking all of the bridges because they were so slick.
As we made our way up to Taylors Valley at mile 56, we saw lots of runners on their way back down. Cathy and I chatted away and the time was passing pretty quickly. Around mile 53, I tripped and fell pretty hard on the trail. I gotta tell you- it hurts to fall pretty much anytime. But it’s really jarring when you fall hard 14 hours into a race. There was a split second where my brain thought “let’s just stay here” as I laid there on the trail. But then I got back up and we continued on. I was a little grumpy that I had torn the knee on my rain pants and the elbow of my rain jacket. Overall, I was alright- just bruised on my knees, forearm, and hand. Somehow I also skinned my knees through two layers of fabric.
The trail was completely flooded and had turned into a river. Pretty much from the time we left Damascus all the way to Green Cove, we were running in icy cold, ankle deep water. To put it simply, it was miserable. At times I contemplated if running on the edge, with a drop off of several hundred feet, was worth it. But then the grass was totally saturated, too, so it didn’t matter.
We made pretty good time on the 7 mile stretch to Taylors Valley and arrived around 10:40 PM, about 12 minutes ahead of the cutoff. I had gotten chilled about a mile outside of Taylors Valley on the way there. My rain gear was keeping me dry, but it was getting much colder and windier as we climbed higher and I needed another layer. I was carrying my puffy jacket with me, but I knew we were getting close to the aid station and didn’t want to stop in the pouring rain to take off my rain jacket and put another jacket on. So when we got to Taylors Valley, I was shivering pretty hard. Lesson learned: even in the rain, just stop and add more layers the second you start feeling chilled.
I had requested pierogis from the aid station and Kim had gone up the hill to get them for me. After I put my puffy jacket on and my rain jacket back on, I tried to eat my pierogis but I only got through one of them before I barfed everything back up. Dang it. I was still shivering, so I took some cup of noodles to go and headed down the trail with Cathy. Peter walked us out of the aid station and he got to experience what a joy the flooded trail was. Did I mention I was pretty over the ankle deep water and freezing cold, wet feet?
I was able to sip on the warm broth from my cup of noodles and eat some of the noodles, but I was still feeling so nauseous. Cathy and I tried to do my run/walk intervals early on, but every time we ran my nausea got even worse and I didn’t want to lose what little calories I had in me. So instead we tried to speed walk and I took little sips of water.
At this point, the rain had become a deluge. We saw a lot of runners who did not look like they were doing well – many were clutching emergency foil blankets around themselves and looked soaked and freezing. It was rough out there. Sometimes I could see lights from houses located near the trail. Thanks to the weather, I longed for the warmth and dry that I imagined their occupants were enjoying.
It’s another 7 mile stretch from Taylors Valley to Green Cove, and it’s steeper than the previous section. I knew this one was going to be longer for us. As we made our way up the trail, someone caught up to us from behind and I found out he was a sweeper. I asked if I was about to be swept and he said that no, I was moving at a good pace but that I was the last one to leave Taylors Valley. Everyone else who came in there around the same time as me had dropped out. His job was just to cover the section up to Green Cove and back to account for all of the runners on this stretch of the course.
As we kept going up the trail, I didn’t feel sleepy but I definitely started to get a bit loopy from the nighttime and the amount of time I had been running (about 17ish hours at this point). I kept thinking that runners coming towards us with their headlamps were cars and runners coming towards us with waist lights were golf carts. I also thought giant white rocks were an EZ up canopy and I didn’t understand why that was in the middle of the woods. I saw faces in the trees and I kept thinking the rain drops landing on the water on the trail were tiny critters running towards me. But I wasn’t full on hallucinating since I always realized I was mistaking things for other things.
This section took forever. The higher we climbed, the colder it got. It started absolutely pouring and was super windy. I was having a hard time with my nausea. I hadn’t consciously made a decision that I was done, but I think I did start whining about why it was taking so long and where the aid station was. The cutoff was at 12:57 AM and that came and went and we still hadn’t made it. This section ended up taking us a little over 2 hours and 20 minutes to cover and we finally arrived at 1:15 AM (mile 63.5, 18 hours and 15 minutes into the race). It was a soft cutoff, so I technically could have kept going, but probably would have gotten pulled at the next aid station. I just couldn’t move fast enough to keep warm and I think that, combined with a lack of calories, just did me in. The weather in Green Cove was downright awful and there was so much carnage up there. I think the temperature was in the low 40’s, it was pouring, and there were wind gusts up to 45 mph. I even heard that it snowed on top of Whitetop Mountain that night. Green Cove was a “no drop” aid station, since they had no way to drive crewless runners back and no cell service to call for a ride. When I got there, there were probably 15 to 20 runners wrapped in emergency blankets huddled around heaters who had dropped anyway. Overall, half of the runners would end up dropping out of this year’s race, which is really high for this particular race.
I stood under the carport at the aid station listening to the rain pound the metal and the wind gust out in the open and I knew I was done. My crew knew it, too, and might have argued with me if I had tried to go back out on the course. I think if I hadn’t faced such a combination of factors, especially the rain and ankle deep water for 20 miles, we could have gotten it done. But I ultimately officially dropped at Green Cove. My first real DNF.
I turned in my GPS tracker and we all piled into Peter’s blessedly warm car and made the 30 minute drive back to the house where I got a hot shower and crawled into bed. And that’s my Yeti 100 experience: the Good, the Bad, and the Ian.
The next morning I was so grateful to be warm and dry, as the rain continued outside. But our Air BnB was right on the race course, and occasionally I would see a runner go by outside who was around mile 85 and had gone all night and was probably going to get that finish. I felt happy for them, but it also made me feel a bit sad to be honest. The conditions were brutal out there, though, and I’m at peace with my decision.
I definitely still want to get that 100 mile finish some day. In the days following the race, someone reminded me that some goals are so big that it takes a few tries to achieve them. And I think that’s a pretty good place to leave this report.