This year was my third time running Dam Yeti. For this year’s race, the shorter distance was a 55K (34 miles) instead of a 50K (31 miles). An extra 5K means more miles, more smiles! As the race approached, I considered two main options for my race plan: One, I could put my hard training to work and go for it; or Two, I could use it as a dress rehearsal for Yeti 100. I talked to my coach, Janice, at the start of the week and we decided on option one: go for it! I would aim for a 50K PR, which would mean I’d have to split 50K in under 6:30. I spent the rest of the week trying to wrap my brain around this and get my mindset ready.
I also spent the week stalking the weather forecast, which was looking really good for Saturday. Cool in the morning and not too hot, as far as June goes, in the afternoon. I got to Damascus on Friday afternoon and met up with Charlotte and Christine. It felt so good to be back in a town I love and back together with good friends for another race weekend. I had my typical Subway pre-race dinner around 4:30 and then we headed over to Abingdon for packet pickup.
At packet pickup, we got our race bibs and swag, and caught up with a few friends. We also got our pre-race photos taken. After that, it was time to head back to Damascus to chill before race day.
I was up at 3:45 AM on Saturday morning and had my usual oatmeal and coffee. We left Damascus at 5 AM to catch the race shuttle in Abingdon. I was worried about getting carsick on the 50ish minute drive up to Whitetop, since the roads are really curvy. Fortunately, my Dramamine did its job and I also ended up with a front passenger seat in the shuttle. My shuttle arrived in Whitetop around 6:45 AM and I took a quick bathroom break in the woods before heading to the start. It was in the low 50’s and I was freezing, but that was perfect for race day. I met up with Charlotte and Christine, who were on a different shuttle up to Whitetop, and we exchanged hugs and some final words of encouragement. I was feeling SO nervous. This was it.
I made my way closer to the start as I listened to race director Jason Green’s funny pre-race speech: “Don’t get lost today! Trains don’t make right or left turns and neither should you. Every Saturday, 12 year old girl scouts get on bicycles and make it to Abingdon. Don’t be that person!” Immediately after his speech, at 7 AM, we were off and running. It was go time!
Usually in ultras, I struggle mentally at the start and end up starting out slow. As I settle in and get into a groove, I tend to pick it up and get stronger by the second half. But to PR, I was going to have to be aggressive from the start and take advantage of the gradual downhill for the first 18ish miles. I also don’t usually start ultras with music, but I had made a playlist for the race and started listening to it right away.
We were bunched up for the first mile and my split was slower than I wanted by about 18 seconds. I was using an 8 minute run / 2 minute walk interval and tried to focus on finding some space so I could run the run segments comfortably hard, as planned. After that first mile we did spread out some and I was able to run at the pace I wanted. I had made a pace chart for myself using a website called UltraPacer. The website uses a GPX file for the course. You can input an overall finish time, and it will give you splits that are adjusted for the incline, aid station delays, etc.
I’ve never attacked an ultra like this and it was scary to put it all out there from the start. But I knew I had to capitalize early. Aside from that first mile, I managed to keep my mile splits in the low to mid-11 minute pace, for the most part, for the first 10 miles. I was coming in under the projected split on every mile. I was also staying really focused on the trail so I wouldn’t trip and fall and derail everything. The Creeper Trail is a rail trail, but it’s pretty rough especially up near Whitetop.
I came into the first aid station in Taylor’s Valley a little before mile 11. Based on my plan, I needed to arrive here around 2:05 and I hit the aid station in 2:03. A little ahead of schedule, which was good since the aid station was busy and I lost a bit of time here. My friend Jason was volunteering and it was awesome to see a familiar face. He helped me get both of my flasks refilled with water. I started the race with one Tailwind and one water, and at this aid station I added more Tailwind to one flask. I also got half a cup of Coke to go as I headed out. I think I lost about 2 minutes and 30 seconds at this stop.
From the aid station, I headed down the trail still feeling strong. I could feel the effects of the Coke and I split mile 12 in 10:57, which would be my fastest mile of the day. I’ve had some issues with my right hamstring over the past couple of months and I was having a lot of sharp twinges in it during these early miles. Luckily, it never did more than that throughout the race.
I stuck to my 8/2 interval and just kept cranking down the mountain. I’m pretty sure that’s the fastest I’ve ever run down it. At mile 13.1, I passed Straight Branch and split the half marathon in 2:31:53, about 3 minutes ahead of pace. I told myself “Keep going. Four miles to Damascus.”
It was starting to feel a bit warmer in the sunny sections on the trail, but nothing bad at that point. Around mile 16, I stepped on a banked part of the trail and rolled my left ankle. It rolled to the outside, but it wasn’t serious. For some reason, it actually made the inside part of my ankle hurt for a few miles. As I came into Damascus, my quads were really feeling the effects of running downhill hard. They hurt! I hoped I hadn’t gone out too hard, but I tried to immediately push those thoughts out of my mind. I told myself that anything that happened in the earlier miles didn’t matter. All that mattered was the mile I was in and executing my plan.
My mile splits were still coming in under 11:30 pace, which was good. I got into aid station #2 in Damascus around mile 18. The aid station had a Little Debbie theme, complete with costumes, which made me smile. I needed to get there in 3:30 to stay on track, and I arrived in 3:27. Still good. At this aid station, I switched from Tailwind to Liquid IV. I refilled both flasks with water again and also got a popsicle and half a cup of Coke. The popsicle was so good with the weather heating up.
As I left this aid station, I switched to a 4 minute run / 1.5 minute walk interval. It gets hotter through this section, and mentally I felt like I would do better on this interval. My quads also felt like they were already shot. I had hammered the first 18 miles, and now it was time to hang on for dear life if I wanted that PR.
I hit mile 20 in 3:54 and started trying to remember what my marathon PR was. I was pretty sure I was going to be close to it. Crazy. It’s between 6 to 7 miles from Damascus to Alvarado. This is always a tough section, mentally, for me. Luckily, there were some little kids handing out popsicles and stickers a couple of miles down the trail from Damascus. So I got another popsicle and a rainbow sticker that I tucked into my pack for good luck.
I knew I had put in some good work early on in the race. I was still looking at my pace chart each mile, and it felt awesome to be on the third column of the mile splits. I told myself “Last third of the race to get that 50K PR.” The miles seemed to tick by a bit slower on the way to Alvarado, and my main focus was just keep the miles at 12:30 or faster and you’ve got this. I did that all the way to Alvarado, splitting each mile between 11:30 and 12:31. I was starting to believe I was really going to do this.
As I rolled into aid station #3 in Alvarado between miles 24 and 25, Etta James’ “Fire” was playing in my ear bud and I was just in a good place. I needed to get here in 5 hours and I arrived in 4:55. A wonderful lady in a unicorn costume refilled my flasks. She told me I looked really good and I said I still felt strong. I had been hydrating really well and sticking to my fuel plan, eating Huma gels or Honey Stinger chews every 30 minutes. I was hoping for another popsicle here, but they didn’t have any. So I settled for a cup of Coke and headed out. As I headed out of the aid station, I saw my friend Dan. It was nice to see another familiar face.
It was 4.7 miles to the next aid station in Watauga and I continued to work hard during my run intervals even though my quads hurt so much. I went across the “big ass bridge” around mile 26 and split the marathon in 5:12:44 – just two minutes off of my marathon PR. That’s pretty cool. I also saw Amy Hamilton, the eventual overall winner of the 50 miler, on her way back to Alvarado. We cheered for each other and she also gave me a high five on her way by. Amy is an awesome human and a super strong runner, and now I had “Amy power” for the final push to get that PR!
Shortly thereafter, I ran across another really cool bridge on the trail. It was so hot through here, but there was a bit of a breeze which helped. The suffering was in full effect. The muscles in the fronts of both of my shins were threatening to cramp, and my left hamstring felt like it was locking up or about to cramp during every run interval. But I thought “Oh, hell no. I am 3 miles from my goal and I did not come this close to blow up now.” I chugged a bunch of my Liquid IV and hoped the salt would fend off the cramps. I also shortened my stride during my run segments, which seemed to help my hamstring some. But I was not willing to back off on my effort. I was so close to my goal. I was starting to realize that not only could I get under 6:30 for 50K, I would likely get under 6:20 if I kept it up!
I rolled into aid station #4 in Watauga between miles 29 and 30, which I believe had a duck theme. I needed to get there in 6:05 and I arrived in 5:59. My friend Jason was there again and he said “I hear you’re going to PR today!” At this point, I had just under two miles to go and I told Jason “yes, I’m going to do it!” Jason helped me refill my flasks quickly so I could get back out there. They didn’t have any popsicles here, either, so I got another cup of Coke and headed out.
I hit mile 30 in 6:04 and I couldn’t believe I was going to do it. The muscles in my legs were screaming, but I stayed focused on each 4 minute run interval. My watch finally hit 31 miles and at 31.06, I saw 6:17:00! Wow. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I snapped a quick picture and texted it to my husband, Barry.
After that, it felt like all of the pressure was off. I still had 5K left to go to get to the finish. When I talked to my coach about my race plan, the focus was solely on that 50K PR. She said whatever happened in the final 5K happened. But the crazy thing is, shortly after hitting 50K a switch flipped in my head. I realized I could probably finish under 7 hours if I kept it up. I hadn’t even considered that before the race.
So it was back to work, focusing on putting in a strong effort during those 4 minute run intervals and mentally resetting during the 1.5 minute walk intervals. My legs were practically in full revolt at this point and I felt so fatigued. The temperature had climbed into the high 70’s and I was feeling it for sure.
I finally made it to the trailhead in Abingdon and made a couple of turns to get onto A Street for the final push to the finish at the brewery. A Street runs parallel to the train tracks, and you have to cross the tracks to get to the finish. As I turned onto the street, a train started going by. Sub-7 really mattered to me now, but it was going to be close. If I had to wait for a long train to go by, my sub-7 might slip away. But all I could do was run hard the last half mile down the road and hope for the best.
Thankfully, it was a shorter train and it finished going by about a minute before I crossed the tracks and made the turn to the finish. I ran mile 34 in 12:06 and crossed the finish line in 6:56:30. As per Yeti Trail Runners tradition, I got a big finish line hug from Jason Green and from “Mr. Inspiration.” I felt so proud of my hard work and was grateful it had paid off with the results I was hoping for. What a day. I have never approached an ultra that way, and I feel like I’ll take a lot away from that experience.
After finishing, I recovered a bit and hung out in the finisher area while waiting for Christine and Charlotte. I met up with some friends and made some new ones, and also enjoyed a delicious sno-cone and a bratwurst. Probably the best combination of finish line food I’ve ever had.
Christine came in, and totally kicked butt at her first in person Yeti race. Charlotte had a tough day, but dug deep and hung in there to get her finish. Once we had all recovered a bit in the finish area, we piled back into the car and headed back to our place in Damascus. We all got showers and had some delicious cheeseburgers from a local joint. Is there anything better than a cheeseburger after a race? I think not.
The place we were staying at was an apartment above a garage, with a long string of steps to get up there. My quads were totally shot from the race, and the next morning I had to go down the steps sideways. Before hitting the road, I had a delicious breakfast at Damascus Diner. Yum! I actually thought I could finish this meal, but I didn’t quite manage it. So it ended up being Sunday’s breakfast and lunch.
At this point, the next race on my schedule is the Yeti 100 at the end of September. I’ve got a couple of weeks of recovery coming up, and then I’ll forge ahead with Yeti training. It’s going to be quite the summer, y’all.