Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run – Race Report

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.

The purple star is the race location. (source)

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.

All the clothes and gear
Packed to the brim

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!

Each runner gets a skateboard deck at this race.
Photo: Lauren

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.

Photo: Charlotte

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.

About 2.5 to 3 miles in. Photo: Schreiner Trail Photography

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.

Coming into the Damascus crew and aid station areas before mile 18. Photo: Lauren

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).

Leaving Damascus. Photo: Charlotte

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.

Mile 20. Photo: Charlotte

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.

For reference – Mr. Inspiration on a different Yeti race day.

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.

Alvarado aid station. I told Charlotte I was fake smiling, but I was starting to settle in to the race the tiniest bit at this point. Photo: Charlotte

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.

Eating my quesadilla and headed for Watauga.Photo: Charlotte

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.

The last photo I took for the rest of the race.

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.

Barry meeting me on my way in to Watauga around mile 29ish. Photo: Charlotte

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.

Coming into Abingdon. Photo: Barry
Sock and shoe change – Barry assisting and Dad supervising. Photo: Charlotte

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.

Headed out, cheese quesadilla in hand. Photo: Charlotte

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.

Coming back into Watauga around mile 36.
Giving a situation report to Kim on the way out of Watauga. Photo: Charlotte

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.

Coming into Alvarado around mile 43. I like the way my rain jacket matches that tree 🙂 Photo: Charlotte

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.

Leaving Alvarado. Photo: Charlotte

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.

Cathy and I leaving Damascus. Photo: Lauren

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.

Photo from a different night on the trail, when it wasn’t raining.

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.

Faces like this one, except they were white against the dark trees. (source)

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.

This is not me and this is not Green Cove. But it’s a good depiction of what was going on up there. Photo: Schreiner Trail Photography

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.

Photo: Charlotte

One Mile With A Smile – Race Report

I am training for the Yeti 100 Miler at the end of this month. As part of training, I thought finding a race to get in a longer, supported run around the end of August/early September would be good and my coach agreed. Enter: the One Mile With A Smile 12 Hour Endurance Run in Chesapeake.

Race tank top

I made the 6-ish hour drive to Chesapeake the day before the race and stayed in a hotel. I was up entirely too early the next morning to pick up ice and make the short drive over to Oak Grove Lake Park, where the race would take place. I couldn’t believe how humid it was and how warm it already felt outside (upper 70’s) as I left my hotel around 5:45 AM. I knew it was going to be a day.

I arrived at the park about an hour before the race start and was able to make just one trip from my car down to the staging area with my rolling cooler, toolbox, and chair. The race was on a 1.5 mile gravel loop around the lake, and you had 12 hours to run as many complete loops as you could. I got my stuff set up, hit the porta johns, and prepared to race.

Race set up. Even though it was going to be hot, I opted not to bring a canopy since I was at this race solo and didn’t intend to stop much.
Pretty lake at sunrise.

This was a smaller race, with around 60 runners. Per usual, people were really friendly and I chatted with those set up around me until it was time to start. A few minutes before 7 AM, we lined up to start the run. And without much fanfare we were off and running!

Race start. It’s hard to see, but the guy in front of me is dragging a tire.
Photo credit: Air Aspect

I was feeling insanely nervous before the start of the race, like to the point that I had to fight a strong urge to pack up and go home. I don’t know why I felt that way, as I was just there to get in some miles and time on feet. I didn’t feel like I was feeling any pressure. I guess chalk it up to mounting nerves as Yeti draws closer. As it turns out, it would take hours until I finally settled into the race. Right from the start, I used a 4 minute run / 1.5 minute walk interval.

I knew it was going to be a really hot day, so I took little sips of water or liquid iv on each walk break and also made sure to keep eating every 30 minutes. At the start of the race, it seemed like it was just us runners at the park. But it didn’t take long until I started seeing lots of other walkers, runners, and exercise groups at the park. It never felt crowded to me, and I enjoyed seeing all of the different people.

One of the workout groups hung their clothes in a tree while they ran laps and did other exercises. For whatever reason, I found this amusing to run by.

I chatted on and off with other runners as I made my way around the course. Occasionally, I stopped at my stuff to swap out flasks and pick up extra fuel. There was one group set up right behind me that always checked in with me and asked if I needed anything, and offered for me to use the shade of their canopy if I needed it. It was so kind of them and I love how supportive the trail and ultra community is.

Early on in the race. Photo credit: One Mile With A Smile race staff

By 11 AM, the temperature had crept up into the 90’s and the relative humidity was over 100. It was tough to manage. I started feeling really hot and nauseous, and I ended up flip flopping my run/walk intervals for two laps (about 3 miles) to cool off some during the hottest part of the day. After that, I used a 2 minute run / 1.5 minute walk interval. I also started putting ice in my bra and in my ice bandana, and switched to a sun hat. That all seemed to help me manage the heat alright.

Fake smile while suffering in the heat.

At this point, I had been running for about 6 hours and I still really hadn’t settled down. But the park was really nice and per usual at every timed race I’ve done so far, I never got bored on the loops. I don’t know why I don’t, but I guess this race format is just a good fit for me.

During the day, I saw so many people with dogs! There was a lady walking a red bloodhound which made me smile and think of Hank and Scout. I also saw a guy walking three big, gray dogs. Their three leashes were tethered to one that he held, and it made me think of Hagrid’s three headed dog, Fluffy, from Harry Potter.

Suffering in the heat. Photo credit: One Mile With A Smile race staff

I hit 30 miles around 3 PM (8 hours into the race), right as a thunderstorm rolled in. It rained, and sometimes poured, on and off for the next two hours. The temperature dropped quickly during that time and the wind picked up, which felt so nice while running. But I found that when I stopped at my stuff to swap out flasks, I got chilled pretty quickly. So I did my best to just keep moving. And guess what? I had FINALLY settled into this race. After eight freaking hours, mentally I felt ready to go.

Here is a fish sculpture that I ran by like 30 times.

During the rain, I started chaffing pretty bad on my thighs and on the inside of my upper arms. I tried to reapply chaffing stuff, but it didn’t help. It had turned into liquid from sitting in the heat in a black toolbox in the sun and seemed to be ineffective.

At this point, I was still doing my 2/1.5 interval. I probably could have switched back to my usual 4/1.5 but this felt like it was working fine and I was moving well so I just stuck with it. I ran and chatted with a lady for a little bit and her voice sounded so familiar. Finally, I said “Were you the lady in the inflatable unicorn costume at the Alvarado aid station during Dam Yeti this year?” And she said “YES!” How funny! She had such a positive impact on my race that day, and it was fun to get to know her more and run with her on and off during these later miles.

Smiley faces were the theme of the race, and several hours into the race I spotted this on one of the trees.

The last few hours of the race passed by fairly quickly and before I knew it, I was down to my last few laps. I thought I had time for two more laps, which would put me at 42-ish miles. But on what I thought would be my last lap, I realized I was going to have time for another one – awesome! The end of the race was kind of funny. There was a long, 0.2 mile straight stretch heading into the finish line, so the people in the finish area could see us runners coming from a distance. We knew we were going to make it in on time, but for them I think it was more suspenseful. They were all yelling and cheering for us to get there in time!

Finish line / timing mat area

I finished my race in a total time of 11 hours and 55 minutes, with 44.2192 miles according to the official results. I collected my race medal and finisher’s mug and then headed over to pack my stuff up and head up to the car. Just like that, all casual. After the race, I was driving 3 hours to my dad’s house and I had planned to change clothes before leaving. But once I got up to my car I was ready to just get on the road and get the drive over with so I could get a shower. So I hit the road in my nasty race clothes and rolled in to my dad’s house around 10:30 PM. I ate some dinner and rehashed my race with him before grabbing a shower and finally crashing.

Finisher’s medal

Overall, I think this race was a solid effort for me. I fought through some serious race nerves early on, and never really experienced any highs or lows during the event. But I did well on hydration and nutrition, especially given the heat, and stuck with my intervals to continue moving forward. There are definitely some things I will take from this race as I head into Yeti, and I’m grateful for the experience.

P.S. Someone please remind me not to sign up for a race in July or August ever again. Thanks!

Dam Yeti 55K – Race Report

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.

Damascus wall art

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.

Race sign I walked past on the way to the shuttle. The next time I saw this sign, I’d be less than a mile from the finish!

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.

It’s very much “down” for the first 18 miles

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.

The always gorgeous Taylor’s Valley

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.”

This year the Sasquatch on the trail had tighty-whities and a karate headband.

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.

Yeti potty! Much appreciated, but I actually never needed a potty break the whole race.

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.

Magical Pepsi machine on the way to Alvarado

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.

Leaving Alvarado after saying hi to Dan. Photo: Kayla Billadeau
Sign leaving Alvarado. A bit crass, but it was exactly the plan for the day.

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.

Coming into Watauga. Had the lid off of my flask ready to refill. Photo: Jennifer Hess Foster
There were so many ducks along the trail heading into Watauga and on the way 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.

YESSSS

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.

Made it back to this sign, hours later.

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.

Dam Yeti 55K Finishers!

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.

Biscuits, gravy, grits, hash brown casserole, and eggs.

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.

Mill Mountain Mayhem 10K – Race Report

This past Saturday I ran the Mill Mountain Mayhem 10K, which was my fifth and final race of the RNUTS series (of a possible seven). I will be at the anchor event, Conquer the Cove 25K and Marathon, at the end of May manning the final water stop. But this one wrapped up my RNUTS series racing for 2022. And we finally had some gorgeous weather, with sunshine and temperatures in the 40’s!

Barry and I arrived at the race about 45 minutes before the start, got our packets and prepared to run. I also met up with Lauren, and I laughed when I saw we had dressed the same.

At this race, the staging area is about half a mile from the actual start. After a couple of trips to the porta johns, Lauren, Barry, and I decided to make our way up to Fishburn Parkway for the 9 AM start.

The race started just after 9 AM and we were off and running, making our way up Fishburn Parkway. This is also the road that you climb Mill Mountain on during the Blue Ridge Marathon races. For this race, we spent the first mile going up Fishburn, with a little over 300 feet of gain. I ran the first three tenths of the race and then alternated 50 steps walking, 100 steps running until I got through the first mile.

At mile 1, we turned onto the Monument Trail. This trail is more runnable in terms of elevation, but I always forget about the really rocky sections. Overall, I’d estimate that this race is about 75% trail and most of that trail is pretty rocky.

Mile 2 clicked by and around mile 2.5 we turned onto the old road up Mill Mountain. This road climb is shorter than the first, but it is steeper. I again alternated running and walking, generally sticking to 30 steps walking and 50 steps running.

Through the old toll booth
Pretty view on the way up

Around mile 3, we got off of the road and onto Big Sunny Trail. A little while later, we passed by the one water stop on the course. I drank some scratch before continuing on my way up the Ridgeline Trail. From here, we continued climbing past the Mill Mountain Zoo and up to the Mill Mountain Star at the top.

Lots of up in this one
Headed towards the downhill. Photo credit: Jay Proffitt

After the Star, it’s essentially all downhill on the Star Trail. But the trick with this race is that most of Star Trail is super rocky on the way down, so you don’t get to bomb down the trail (unless you’re the 10 year old that blew past me – but Lauren pointed out that kids have a lower center of gravity).

Rocks on rocks

My quads felt tired from having to brake to control my speed and navigate the rocks while running a sharp downhill. Just before mile 6, we went down some steps, crossed back over Fishburn Parkway, and then got back onto the trail towards the finish. From here, the trail is smoother and I was able to pick it up a bit.

Headed to the finish. Photo credit: Barry

I finished the race in 1:31 and change. This was the third time I have run the race. My first time, I finished in 1:44 and in 2019 when I was in good trail shape I finished in 1:24. So I was really happy with landing right in the middle of those two times on Saturday.

My next race on the schedule is the Dam Yeti 55K in early June. Between now and then I’m looking forward to lots of training, a few Trail Sisters events with our local Blue Ridge group, and some race volunteering.

Montvale 8.4 Miler – Race Report

The crazy weather continued at the Montvale trail races, the fourth race in the RNUTS series. For the first time ever, there was snow at this race. My running buddy, Kim, and I traveled to the race together and when we arrived it was a “balmy” 30 degrees with 20 mph winds and snow.

A beautiful day in Montvale

We picked up our race bibs and shirts and prepared to run. Before we knew it, it was time to head over for the pre-race meeting. At 9 AM we were off and running. Kim and I started the race together and ended up running the whole thing with each other.

The race started out on a grassy path that wrapped around the ball fields and eventually led to the creek crossing a little before mile 1. As expected, the water was frigid and not pleasant to wade through. We walked through the “shallow” side, which was almost knee deep in some spots. At least I didn’t fall in this one.

After the creek, we hit some muddy trail that became significantly muddier as we climbed up towards the little ridge area. The mud was very slick and was similar to trying to run in peanut butter. I was glad when we got through this section and found that other parts of the course were drier.

We started to hit some more hills through here and I tried to push myself and limit my walk breaks. I really enjoyed that Kim and I ended up sticking together. Sometimes it’s easier to push yourself when someone is right there doing it with you.

The temperature dropped steadily throughout the race, but I didn’t notice it getting colder as long as we were out of the wind. The sun even came out at one point and melted a lot of the snow that was previously covering the ground. Kind of funny how we started the race in winter, but it looked more like spring by the finish. It definitely still felt like winter, though!

Looks like Narnia

As we made our way through miles 3, 4, and 5 we hit the parts of the course that have lots of twists and turns. I always describe the trails in this race as being akin to one of those “crazy mouse” roller coasters. It’s fun to see people all over the place, but have no clue if they’re in front of you or behind you.

Exhibit A: GPS map of the course

We hit a surprise creek crossing somewhere on our way through miles 6 and 7. And then around mile 7 we retraced the muddiest part of the course. Once again we were slipping and sliding and doing our best to stay upright. It was really windy through here, too, and my face felt like it was frozen.

Snow gone
Some of the mud. Not a great representation of it.

I was glad to get down to the bottom part where it was still muddy but not as slick. We crossed back through the creek and then made our way over to the finish line, finishing in 1:54 and change. I was happy to finish in under 2 hours!

Afterward, we enjoyed some delicious post-race food. I had peppers and hummus, some infamous Mountain Junkies pumpkin bread, and a couple of Dru’s lemon cookies. I also tried some granola, which I’ve always skipped in the past. It was so good! I’ve been missing out.

After that we headed back to the car and prepared to head home. It felt so good to get some dry socks and shoes on. The next race up is the Mill Mountain Mayhem 10K – a race that has been voted both the most loved and the most hated race of the RNUTS series. Is it too much to ask for the temperature to be above freezing!?

"I've opted for fun in this lifetime." -Jerry Garcia