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Lessons Learned During A Stage Race

This is my third year doing the Grand Viduta Stage Race and I have learned some lessons and have some take-aways, y’all. Sit back and soak up the elite-runner knowledge.

HA! I made myself laugh at that one. Sit back and soak up the knowledge of a crazy girl who talked about boob chafing for 3 days.

  • You never know what kind of aid you will love with all of your heart until you get to the aid station. Last year my friends who rarely drank coke found themselves drinking it at every aid station. For me last year it was Powerbars. This year? Pretzels. I am NOT a pretzel person. Unless it’s a Combo you will never see me eat a pretzel by itself but this year? I COULD NOT GET ENOUGH. The very last aid station on the very last day did not have any and I might have cried.
  • Surviving the same 3-day trail race with someone can help you surmount any past social faux pas. Whether you thought someone was in their 50s who was actually in their 30s, or if you called someone by the wrong name, or if you called someone’s dog by the wrong name…you will still be besties by the time the 3 days is over. Just knowing you fought the same war and survived eliminates all past awkwardness. This is a treasure for someone like me who does embarrasses herself regularly.
  • I will offer strangers drugs at some point. The first year it was a guy who had rolled his ankle and was going to quit. “I HAVE DRUGS!” I always say. Because I do. I carry ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Excedrin with me. This year I offered them a guy who was just trying to survive past day 3 after an injury. “ARE YOU SURE?” I emphatically said when he declined. I am the back-woods drug pusher, I DO NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER.
  • I am best friends with all aid station workers. Without fail, every year, every day, every aid station, I show up and want to just bond with the clean people on the other side of the table. They’re like mystical humans and they’re offering me food and sodas and water and I just profess my love and appreciation like some sort of stalker ex-girlfriend. My group always points out, though, that we are aware of the difference between us and the racers at the beginning who probably don’t even stop. We stop, we chat, we take pictures, and we hang out. WE ARE NOT IN A HURRY, NEW BEST FRIENDS WITH THE PRETZELS!
  • I will break my No Sending Facebook Friend Requests after every Grand Viduta weekend. I set the rule in place because I’m obnoxious on Facebook. I post a million times a day, everything from Harry Potter memes to Trans Advocacy articles. I am a LOT to take on Facebook so it makes me feel better knowing that I did not push that on anyone. But if we survive Grand Viduta together? I’m probably going to send you a friend request. If you didn’t push me off a mountain by day 3? You can handle me on Facebook.
  • There’s always things to learn about your friends. I made new friends this weekend, but I also learned new things about old friends. Like engagement stories, or favorite music, or the fact that we know the same church camp songs. (“I am a C! I am a C-H! I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N!”) There’s never a shortage of conversation topics and since you’ve lost your mind, there are no taboo subjects. “I poop at the same time, every day!” Might be something I said 14 times over the last 3 Vidutas. Would I ever even talk about my regularity to my family? HELL NO. But someone running 3 days with me through the woods? You’d better believe you’re going to know all about my digestive health by the time we cross the final finish line.
  • You can never love your trail running friends enough. I end every year feeling so blessed to be a part of this amazing community. These people are my family. I love seeing their beautiful faces and cheering them on and laughing with them, and maybe sometimes crying with them. I want to greet them all with hugs every day but I don’t because that’s weird and I’m just now getting them to look past the fact that I forgot their name that time at packet pickup. But I love them, and every year after this wonderful weekend, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

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A For A Different Kind Of Therapy…(SHOT!)

11182720_10153748071728496_3882568604493266364_oToday is the start of THE third as well as MY third Grand Viduta Stage Race. My friends Chelsea and Colleen have also both done it every year and our goal is to be the first (maybe only if our plan to knock out the other contenders works) (just kidding) to the 10-year jacket. And if there is NOT a 10-year jacket we will make them ourselves. WE LOVE THIS RACE, is what I’m saying.

Three days of running all over our mountain. Huntsville has more than one mountain, but this one (Monte Sano) has two different groups managing areas – the state park and the land trust – so there’s the biggest collection of trails and therefore the mountain we run on the most. Most of these trails we know mostly in ONE direction (because of how they are run for whatever race we are training for) but this race does a great job of making us go the OTHER direction on most of them. Running the opposite direction on a road doesn’t disorient you but running the opposite direction on the trail? You’ll be like, “WHERE IN THE HELL AM I?” because everything looks different.

It’s also currently very green and everything also looks different for that reason. Of course, this is also why this will be my last long trail run until October. I don’t like the green stuff. It usually contains poison ivy (of which I’m highly allergic) and snakes (of which I’m deathly afraid if they’re poisonous). This is like the party at the end of the school year, the last time we’ll all be together in one place until Fall.

Because it’s three exhausting days, I have opted to always just try to have fun and not stress about PRs or time goals. It’s nice to have a group because you can kinda hold each other up when one of you is feeling down and – luckily – we tend to alternate those moments. Until the last day when we’re all just delirious and tired and taking selfies with Powerbars at the aid stations. It’s so fun.

I was telling Colleen Wednesday night, this weekend I have two cups. One representing my physical energy and one representing my emotional energy. This weekend as I drain the one representing my physical energy, I’ll be refilling the one representing my emotional energy. Three mornings in a row of seeing the faces of some of my favorite people first thing, running through the woods with my friends, soaking up the energy of Spring and playing in the mud.

See you on the other side!

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Why You Should Never Day Drink With Ultra Runners.

Let me start by giving you an update on my husband’s training path. His Ironman in September did not go as planned as his knee (which had been bothering him off and on for awhile) basically stopped him from running the second he hit the concrete (which is much harder than asphalt, a reason you’ll see people running on the road instead of a sidewalk) greenway at mile 8 or so. He took a couple months off and then eased back into running by keeping to the trails. His small blip on the greenway with me at my 110K triggered the pain again, so he’s really been focusing on trails and trail races. So…OF COURSE…he’s wanted to make his next big goal a 100-Miler and give up triathlons all together.

BUT HERE IS THE PROBLEM: His wife is stubborn and won’t let him.

WHY?

Because I want to do one first, OF COURSE.

I always assumed I’d get my buckle (the token 100-mile completion prize) first because if there’s ONE THING I had on Donnie, it was that I’ve run further than he ever has. SEVERAL TIMES. His longest distance to date is a 50K whereas I’ve done 42, 44, 52, and 68 mile events. OF COURSE I assumed I’d be the first one to run 100 miles! As he’s been planning more and more trail races and talking to friends who do 100-Milers, he’s been hinting more and more at this stupid 100-Miler in Alabama in November and this has REALLY put the pressure on me because I WANT TO BE FIRST, DAMMIT. The only problem is, the one I want to do (the same one I did the 100K at) would be AFTER his so he’d have to wait until 2017 which he was NOT happy about. HIS FRIENDS ARE TRAINING THIS YEAR! He doesn’t want to do it NEXT year!

Now you’re ready for what happened on Saturday when we started day drinking with other ultra runners.

It started with a celebration of Grand Slammers past and present (we did the local Grand Slam – 3 50Ks and 1 marathon – last year) at a local brewery which sponsored the event this year. The topic moved to 100-milers as it does in this type of gathering and Donnie and I brought up the current dilemma – he wants to do a race that is later than the one I want to do. One of our friends brought up a race in Tennessee called A Race For The Ages. We have a local friend who did it and I remember reading his race report and thinking I could maybe do 100 miles there but it sounded like a 1-time event so it wasn’t on my radar for doing it again. But it turns out – due to popular demand – they’re doing it again. Here’s how it works: You get 1 hour to run how ever miles you can run FOR EVERY YEAR YOU ARE OLD. I would get 41 hours to run 100+ miles which would actually even allow me to break it up a bit and sleep in the middle somewhere. I’m 99% I could do 100 miles in less than 30 hours (that’s how long the Pistol gives you, which is another reason I was considering it) so I could get sleep in the middle and still do 101 because I still want to say I’ve done MORE than Donnie.

So we’re all talking about that while drinking and I’m hearing more and more about what makes this race awesome. I already knew it was my favorite type of format for an ultra: Small loops. I like the social aspect of that type of race (the 1-mile loops where I do a 12-hour run every year make the event like a big local party) and the fact that you’re never more than 1/2 a mile from anything you could need. INCLUDING AN INDOOR TOILET. Nighttime running is not in the woods where the monsters live. There’s a very forgiving cutoff. But most importantly: REAL ultra runners like this one too because it’s directed by a man who goes by the name Lazarus Lake and RDs the notorious Barkley Marathons. Also, because of the format, it attracts a lot of famous ultra runners of yesteryear, allowing them another chance at getting a 100-mile belt buckle without having to worry about cutoffs. OH! And speaking of the buckle (it’s the standard 100-mile price) it’s way cooler than the one from the Pistol Ultra and that was always something I was a little unenthusiastic about regarding the Pistol. I know it’s silly, but if I’m going to earn a 100-mile buckle…I don’t want it a huge thing with a gun on it.

2 beers later and I’m leaving the bar with Donnie totally excited about the fact that he might actually get to do his race after all because I’ve found a race that comes FIRST. So we get home, I’m totally buzzing on the last high gravity beer and what do I do? I SIGNED UP FOR THE DAMN RACE. I was tentatively considering doing 100 miles at the Pistol Ultra in 2017. TENTATIVELY. And now I’m signed up to do one in SEVEN MONTHS. Luckily, my friend who was talking up the race the most also signed up a few minutes after I did. He’s done several 100-milers including Western States, so he’s a much higher caliber of racer than I am, BUT STILL. At least I’ll have one familiar face there.

And 30 seconds later? Donnie signed up for his 100-Miler. Which will be in NINE MONTHS. We went from no 100-Milers on the docket to TWO in a TWO MONTH SPAN.

We better get our house sold fast or we’re screwed. All of our spare energy in the next 7-9 months needs to be focused towards our 100-milers, AND NEVER DAY DRINKING WITH ULTRA RUNNERS AGAIN.

(I AM SO EXCITED. EEK. 100 MILES. EEEEEEKKKK!)

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Mountain Mist 2016 Race Report. The One With All Of The Falling.

Don’t Forget To Relax The Day Before The Big Race!

Mountain Mist 50K is a beast that eats up the best of trail runners. I had really hoped to spend the day before the race relaxing and picturing myself meeting my 7:30 goal. I had trained with that time limit in mind and knew it was well within my reach. But then the snow came and my meditating on time goals became stressing about an icy mountain and a canceled race.

And then a miracle happened. Something I don’t know if I’ve ever heard happening before – the race was simply moved to the next day. This may sound like an easy decision, but if you’ve ever been part of a race you know how many people and organizations and permits are involved and in order to build your volunteer crew and get all of those people aligned you would need much more than one day. But Suzanne and Dink Taylor performed miracles and built a NEW crew of volunteers (maybe half were still able to help on Sunday) and got all of the proper permissions in place and the race was on! All we had to do was get there safely and luckily we had friends who stepped up and made sure we all made it to the race in one piece and on time. Sunday.

Ice Ice Baby

This is what the road looked like at the start of the race. Normally the road is where everyone runs FAST and spreads OUT before we hit the single track trails. NORMALLY. I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting I ran that first mile on the road in 12-13 minutes. And then the trails weren’t a whole lot better. We turned into the woods and I thought YES. FINALLY. RUNNABLE! I WON’T DIE! But that particular trail had melted some and refroze and there was ice mixed with snow and let’s just say for the first 3 miles my body was completely clenched in a million different ways simply from the tension of slipping and sliding. I think I felt twice. Both times in snow, but still, I ran the whole course last year without one fall and Sunday I fell twice before I even hit the “hard” part.

Mud is Safe

We headed down off the plateau and I was in a group of runners who just embraced the butt slide down a treacherous part of the trail. None of us even cared to try to stay upright. Once we got running I realized that on this particular stretch of trails my choices were: Mud and Ice in a lot of cases. Obviously, I chose mud. Because ever step in the mud was ONE STEP I didn’t have to stress about losing. I finally was able to relax into a run a little and start to enjoy myself. FINALLY. FOUR MILES IN. I started really trying to take in the beauty of my snow-covered playground and really tried to savor the moment on an adventure that almost didn’t happen. I stopped and took this one picture.
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Throwback To My Cheerleader Days

I got to the first aid station and was gaining some of my confidence back. I wasn’t that far off my goal times if I wanted to it my 7:30. Maybe it’s not out of reach? I foolishly thought. I felt good. I was finally able to run. Maybe? I started flying down Warpath and it was finally one of the moments I had been hoping for – BETTER conditions because of the ice. Last year Warpath was sloppy and I couldn’t have run it but Sunday I flew down it and it felt GREAT because so much of the mud was still frozen. And then I had – maybe my 4th or 5th fall of the day? But this one wasn’t a plop in the snow like the others. This one had my right leg bend and go behind me while my left leg stayed ahead. I landed in the herkie position and felt my knee twinge but I jumped right up (which is usually the safest bet I have learned) and just kept running hoping there was nothing serious to worry about.

Frozen Mud is GREAT

I made it to powerline feeling GREAT (with some slight knee pain) and that was another trail that was MUCH more runnable with the frozen terrain and I was thinking, Maybe…JUST MAYBE…if everything is perfect and if other muddy parts of the trails are frozen I could make up time and still make my goal. I just did NOT want to give up on it when truthfully – I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen. But I continued to run strong even with the knee pain. My friend Colleen would sometimes be a little ahead and sometimes I would be a little ahead but we were there together to check in all day which was nice. We were both very focused on not dying, so it’s always good to have a partner in those moments.

The next stretch up to the Red Gate aid station was not worse or better than it normally has been. Muddy…but typical. Ice in patches out of the sun, but nothing for long stretches like early on. I made it to red gate 14 minutes behind my goal time. I knew the next aid stop was 4 miles away and I typically can do it in 50 minutes, sometimes faster. I finally accepted that my 7:30 was out of range but that maybe I could still PR. I headed out and while the next 4 miles were runnable, they weren’t as fast as they normally are. We still had spots of ice to contend with. And the parts that were melting were getting sloppy muddy. I typically fly down this one section of Bluffline and while I was able to take it fast, not as fast as I’m used to because of the ice and mud. Everything was just a LITTLE bit slower. And I was starting to get those quad pains I get when my quads are on the verge of cramping from too much downhill. I started eating salt like it was my salvation.

Goodbye Goals

I made it to the mile 21 aid station 7+ minutes slower than I’ve ever done it. So now I was 21 minutes behind my goal time and losing my chances to even have a PR. I was starting to stress because if that segment was that much slower, what if the others are that bad? I might actually need to worry about cutoff times. My friend Marty could see that I was frazzled and just asked me if I needed water. I remembered that YES! I NEED WATER! and he took my pack off, filled it up, and put it back on me. THAT is a great aid station worker. Someone who recognizes ULTRA BRAIN and just takes over for you. He reminded me I still had PLENTY of time to beat the cutoff and we headed off on the chunk of trails I know the best on the whole mountain.

This chunk was quite runnable, and I know it so well that it felt comfortable. I still wasn’t moving as fast as I wanted, but I was running and that’s all that mattered. It wasn’t terribly muddy, but muddy enough to slow things down. Some ice, but not tons. I knew where I needed to get at what time in order to relax about cutoffs and I was pretty sure I’d make it. My only problem was my quads twinging like the wanted to cramp. I was taking more walk breaks than usual because I knew if they full on cramped before the next big climb up Waterline I’d be screwed. I just wanted to try to get past the last cutoff before they cramped, if they were going to.

And then I fell for the millionth time (Seriously, I lost count) and landed like I was praying. On my knees, but with my butt on the backs of my feet. Quads in a FULL and unplanned stretch which made them both SCREAM in agony. I had to hobble a bit to try to get them out of that constricted state and then the cramp threat got much worse. Last year I topped Waterline and collapsed in a creek from a calf cramp, I DID NOT WANT A REPEAT OF THAT because my last 6 miles last year were terrible and I cried across the finish line. I didn’t want that type of finish this year. I wasn’t going to make my goal, I wasn’t going to PR, but I was going to finish and I wanted to do it happy. SO! I took my time from there on out. I ran a bit and then when the quads twinged, I walked. NO BIG DEAL. I started settling into the fact that I was almost to the last cutoff and almost home free.

(I say this 50K is more like a REALLY REALLY HARD trail marathon followed by a 10K cool down.)

Hello Joy

I started climbing Waterline and while I was still in a lot of pain from my quads and my knee, I had entered that joyful part of running where I could let go of the stress of goals or cutoffs and just push it to the finish line. The fire department had put a rope at a tricky part we’re used to climbing. It was fun to use, although I’m not sure it made it any easier. I happily thanked all of the volunteers out there and proceeded to the final aid station where I happily greeted more friends and volunteers. This was the last cutoff and the family’s of two of my friends (Chelsea and Chuck) were both there and optimistic my friends were going to clear the cutoff. This was SUCH GREAT NEWS. I had seen their families along the way at every stop and by the time it was over they were like my family.

I Take Back Everything Good I Said About Mud

The next 4 miles was just solid mud. The only time we got a break was if there was puddles instead and I actually much prefer the cold snow-melt puddles to the mud because the water doesn’t fight you like the mud does. The mud holds your foot and makes you WORK for it. The puddles are cold and refreshing but the mud at the bottom is not thick enough to suck your shoe off…MOST OF THE TIME. So I’d run through puddles when I could. If you have good socks and trail shoes the water wicks out and drains out of your shoe so having wet feet all day wasn’t as terrible as it sounds. The mud on the other hand was TERRIBLE. I lost traction so many time sliding down Natural Well I started worrying maybe I’d end up falling off the mountain.

I can taste the finish line.

Then we finally made it to the Rest Shelter climb…1000 feet up before our last 1.6 miles to the finish line. I ran into more friends on Rest Shelter and I was so happy to be out of the mud that I greeted them with joy and smiles. I loved seeing their beautiful faces as they passed me. I was still having to take random walk breaks to keep the cramps at bay, but I made it up Rest Shelter and carried a permanent smile for the last 1.6 miles. Every hiker or volunteer out there was greeted by a smiley dorky delirious runner saying, “GOOD AFTERNOON!” because I had made it. I had an easy trek to the finish line. I was basically done. I started being able to hear the cheering and my smile just got bigger. I WAS ON MY WAY.

Thanks to my friend Colleen who kept me company all day and took this picture at the end!

Thanks to my friend Colleen who kept me company all day and took this picture at the end!

Final Thoughts

This was an amazing experience. I can’t believe all of the efforts it took to make sure the race happened and I’ll be forever grateful for everyone who played a part in giving me that experience. From my friend Colleen who let me crash at her house to Alvin and Libby who made sure I got on and off the mountain safely. To Cam for helping me with my jacket and to Marty for filling my pack. To all of my friends at the aid stations and all of their families spectating along the way. I constantly feel blessed to be part of such an amazing community and this event really highlighted those blessings 10-fold. I’m proud of my friends who toed the line, even if they didn’t finish. I’m hoping they all still carry a special place in their heart because we all were part of something INSANE on Sunday and we should cherish that forever.

Kim Is A Badass

There were moments Sunday where I started to feel down and gray. Mostly because of all of the falling or slowing down or just general misery and I honestly – every single time – started repeating to myself: KIM IS A BADASS. Because you know what? Who cares if I finished 5 minutes slower instead of 30 minutes faster than last year, I did something amazing on Sunday. Every step was a step of a badass and I didn’t know want to forget that. I just said that to myself over and over until the funk faded. I AM A BADASS. I’ll not let mother nature take that away from me.

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If you get 10 finishes at Mountain Mist you get a 10-year jacket. I’m now 2 finishes in, 8 more to go. I figure as long as I cross the finish line looking forward to the next one then it’s a good day. And I definitely am looking forward to Mountain Mist 2017.

Thanks to my friend Colleen who kept me company all day and took this picture at the end!

I survived. BARELY.

Be proud and thankful of your Mountain Mist Trail Run finish today. That was the worst course conditions I have seen in all 22 years of the Mist. I know, I have been at every one

Posted by Mountain Mist 50km on Sunday, January 24, 2016

I have no time to expound on my race because my schedule has changed today and now I don’t have as much time this morning as I had hoped. Just read that status above and know I survived and that the 2016 Mountain Mist 50K will go down in the record books. I missed my goal by 36 minutes but I know if I hadn’t been in as good of shape as I’m in, I wouldn’t have even made the cutoffs. It beat me up but I also smiled a lot more than last year because the whole time I was experiencing that maniac-euphoria where you’re just laughing like, “This is some crazy shit, y’all.” Ice, mud, rope climbs, and nine million falls. Tune in tomorrow for the gory details.

Thanks to my friend Colleen who kept me company all day and took this picture at the end!

Thanks to my friend Colleen who kept me company all day and took this picture at the end!