Well… they say better late than never. So four months later, I finally sat down and wrote my race report for the Ozone 36 Hour Endurance Challenge. The race took place in Rockwood, TN at Camp Ozone at the end of October. This was a timed race on a 1.77 mile loop with options of 6 hours up to 96 hours. I opted for the 36 hour event in the hopes of hitting 100 miles after missing the mark at Yeti 100 the month prior. As is often the case with ultrarunning, the race threw me some curveballs and challenges that I didn’t anticipate… here’s how it all went down.
My race started at 9 PM on Friday night, so I worked the first half of the day and then made the 5-ish hour drive (thanks, Knoxville traffic) to Camp Ozone. I arrived a little before sunset and got my canopy, chairs, table, and car sleeping arrangement set up. I had done some grocery shopping in advance and was all set with my favorite ultra foods.
I didn’t want a lot of fanfare about this race, so I headed down solo without a crew. However, my friend Michael was there running the 96 hour event (he was on day 3 by the time I arrived) so I had one friendly face going into the race. But by the end of the weekend, I had made several new friends and acquaintances.
After checking in at race headquarters, I went back to my car and had some dinner. Around 8:30 I made my way back over to headquarters and the aid station area for my race start. It was just me and another girl entered in the 36 hour division. The aid station atmosphere was really cool with music blasting, lights, and even some Burning Man-like costumes. At 9 PM we were off and running.
Shortly after I started, Michael joined up with me. We ran together until sometime between midnight and 1 AM, when he went to go sleep. I enjoyed his company and appreciate that he wanted to make sure I felt comfortable on the course with the night start. Speaking of which, I have run races at night in the past. However, I have never started a race at night that was going to go through the night and into the next day. I didn’t anticipate how difficult that would be.
I got extremely tired and had a rough patch from 2:30 to 4:30 AM. I wanted to nap but I didn’t feel like I had run far enough to “justify” a nap. It really messed with my head that I was wanting to stop and take a break when I was only 15 to 20 miles into the race. Looking back, a short nap may have helped. I had been awake since Friday morning and still had all of Saturday and Saturday night to go, since my race would officially end at 9 AM Sunday morning. I could have managed the first night better to set myself up for success later in the race. Definitely a lesson learned.
The volunteers at the race were phenomenal. During my rough patch, I sat down in the aid station at one point. They checked in with me and encouraged me not to sit in the aid station under the warm heater, because I would end up making decisions based on how comfortable it was there. I’m grateful that they got me back out on course. I moved slowly the rest of the night due to being so sleepy. The course was a mix of gravel road and singletrack trail, and I went through a patch where I kept stumbling a lot.
Sometime around 5 AM Saturday morning, Michael was back on course and joined up with me again. Unfortunately for him, I spent the 90 minutes before sunrise whining about when the sun would come up. When it finally did, it helped so much. It was also really cool to finally see the course in the daylight after running on it all night long. I got some waffle with syrup from the aid station and felt like a new person. I rode that high for awhile before I hit my next low patch.
As the day went on, I would have really good laps and then one or two bad ones. Getting some food from the aid station during my low points definitely helped. They had a great selection of food with lots to choose from. During my race, I ate: cheese pizza, pasta with carrots and potatoes, grilled cheese, apple slices, instant potatoes, cheese quesadilla, waffle with syrup, lime fruit popsicle, honey stingers, Huma gels, candy, Tailwind, Liquid IV, Coke, and Ginger Ale.
The course itself was really gorgeous. I loved being at the camp, where it felt a bit secluded from the rest of the world. The 1.77 mile loop included some gravel road sections, an out and back section on a trail, and another singletrack section that went across a metal bridge.
I also really enjoyed getting to know all of the people at the race. I made new friends, including Stacy G, Lawrence, and Sheri. Like Michael, they were all entered in the 96 hour event and were so strong and totally kicking butt.
It got warmer during the day, but it didn’t feel too hot. As the morning carried on, the 12 hour runners, 24 hour runners, and 6 hour runners joined us. It was nice to have some more activity on the course, and some of those runners were totally ripping it up.
As the day wore on, I noticed that my right heel was bothering me more and more. I had pretaped it, but after awhile I stopped at the aid station so that medical could assess it. We decided to remove the tape and found that there was a deep blister under the callus. She decided it was best to leave it alone and just tape over it and I was back on my way.
In addition to new friends, I made several new acquaintances and I got to meet Steven Kornhaus in person, who I follow on YouTube (UltraTrailSteven). He was running the 48 hour event. There was also an awesome family running the 72 hour event and their 13 year old son was shooting for 100 miles. I got to share a little time with him and saw him many times on course, often accompanied either by his mom or his dad. In the afternoon on Saturday, we got word that he was on his final lap to hit 100 miles, so Michael and I stopped at the aid station so that we could cheer him in. They also happened to get popsicles out at that point, which was perfect timing!
After cheering the 13 year old in, I headed back on course to continue my race. My feet were getting more and more sore. The balls on both of my feet just hurt. I think it may have been from so much time on gravel, or maybe I was just being a baby.
The sun set a little before 7 PM and I tried to mentally prepare myself for a second night. At this point I had been awake for over 30 hours. This is when things started to get weird. We could hear interstate 40 from camp, but you couldn’t see it. During the second night, I saw lights moving along in the distance. With the sound of big rigs in the background, I was convinced I was seeing the interstate. I told Michael I didn’t realize you could see the interstate at night. He was confused at first, and asked me “where?” I pointed to the lights and he laughed and said that those were runners with headlamps approaching the aid station on the other side of the lake. Oops…
I think Michael and I separated for a little while after that, and I ran some laps on my own. I was simply exhausted and didn’t know how to handle the sleep deprivation. Around 8:30 PM, I sat down in the aid station and had a complete break down. All of a sudden I was just sobbing and I really didn’t know why. Stacy B, the co-race director, sat with me and provided some words of comfort. She got some sugar in me, in the form of a Jolly Rancher, and then brought me a little cup of pasta with carrots and potatoes. I told her I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop crying and she said I was behind on calories and over tired. Michael came back into the aid station then – I think he had hit his goal of 200 miles by that point. He sat next to me and also provided some support.
I was still crying and started shivering pretty hard, so the aid station folks suggested I take some food to go and go do a lap to warm up. Michael went with me and I continued to cry for about half of that lap until it finally subsided. After that I felt a bit better, emotionally, but I was still just completely exhausted. However, I did get a little boost on each lap every time we hit the turnaround point on the out and back. There was a propene-fueled lamp at the turnaround and I loved seeing it each time.
The support from Stacy B, Michael, and the other volunteers definitely saved my race. They helped me keep pushing forward, and as the night went on I would do a few laps and then rest in the aid station. I also took two 10 minute naps in my car, making sure to set an alarm on my phone each time.
Sometime during the night, my right heel with the blister started burning. I had it looked at again by medical in the aid station and she found that the blister had ruptured. She made a few more holes to help it drain, which hurt because my whole heel just felt really tender. She got it taped back up and also taped a blister on my left heel, and I was off again. Side note: After the race, it took several months for the blisters on my heels to fully heal.
Aside from mistaking runners headlamps for the interstate, I had a few other hallucinations during the second night. At one point, I was convinced that the hand washing station outside of the Porta Johns was a giant bottle of pancake syrup. Specifically, it looked just like a bottle of Mrs. Butterworths. There were also lights shining up onto the leafless trees at the aid station and from across the lake I was convinced that the trees were on fire with billowing smoke. Someone was also backing their vehicle down the road and I thought their red tail lights were a fire truck.
During the night, I was running with Michael again and he had a sort of hallucination of his own. We were on the out and back trail and a runner coming towards us had dropped his headlamp and was bending to pick it up. Michael thought it was a bear and he grabbed my arm and said to stop and wait a minute. I was pretty sure it was a runner, but he was wearing dark clothing and was hunched over trying to pick up his light. In the darkness it was hard to tell for sure. Ultimately, it turned out to be a runner, haha. To be fair, they had seen a bear on the course earlier in the week and there was fresh bear scat on the out and back trail during the race. Michael’s hallucination, if you can even call it that, was a lot more plausible than the ones I had.
The weather forecast was calling for rain from 3 to 7 AM on Sunday morning. It was in the 40’s and if it rained I knew I would stop. When I made it to 70 miles, 40 total laps, at 3:00 AM I officially called it done. I missed my goal of 100 miles, but 70 miles is a new personal distance record for me! Technically, I had nearly 6 hours left in my race, but at that point I had been up for 45 hours, with just one or two short naps, and it was time to stop. The rain did eventually come, so it was just as well.
After I finished, the race director, Will Jorgensen, awarded me a 50 mile mug (the next tier of finisher’s award was the 100 mile buckle, so I received the mug). We took a photo together at the finish line, which I can’t find now, and we chatted for a bit before I made my way back over to my car. I packed up all of my stuff and drove over to the cabin area. Michael and his bunk mates had kindly offered me one of the free bunks and a hot shower in their cabin and I graciously accepted. I even had the cabin to myself, since they were all still out on course. I took a shower and crashed hard from 5 to 9 AM. I woke up feeling pretty refreshed and went down to the aid station to watch the 96 hour runners finish up the end of their race at 10 AM. They were so incredible.
A little while after that, we convened at the camp lodge for food and fellowship. I really enjoyed getting to sit around and talk with everyone and get to know them better. The food was great, too! They did some recognitions, and I ended up winning the 36 hour division. That was pretty cool. After that, I helped some friends get packed up from the cabin and then I hit the road to make the 4-5 hour drive home.
My very first timed race was at Holston River in 2018 and I ran the 6 hour option. There were people there doing the 36 hour event, which was the longest option. I couldn’t fathom that at the time! Four years later, here I was hopping into a 36 hour race. This one had a 96 hour event as the longest option. I can’t currently fathom that! So I guess we will see what I’m hopping into by 2026….