For the past several months my friend, and super ultra runner Rick Gray had been trying to get me to sign up for my first 50 mile run. I had already planned to run MMTR in november for my first 50 miler, but Rick seemed to have other plans. The first time he mentioned it was on a saturday run with the IMTR. He was talking about Cheat Mtn Moonshine Madness 50 mile. He was saying that there were some peoples names missing from the list. He went on to say "beth and jenny!" I just looked at him like he was crazy. ME? Run a 50 miler? in the dark? in august? I quickly dismissed the thought. NO WAY, RICK GRAY!!!
However, our next run in march for the tacky leprechaun; sure enough, Cheat Mtn 50mi came up AGAIN in conversation. Rick looked at me directly this time and said "you still haven't signed up yet!" This time I just sighed heavily and said, "maybe. I am thinking about it." Well, that next monday. I registered for cheat mtn. knowing rick would be relentless haha. My family and non- running friends were proclaiming that I have lost my mind and I that I am really just taking the trail and ultra running stuff way too excessively. I was obsessed. I was going to get hurt. I was going to burn out. I wasn't giving myself anytime to recover. ( mind you these are people are don't run )THEN my road running friends tell me I'm just stupid to ultra. I'm going to kill my speed. at that point is when I would tell them that Cheat mtn was a night race. You could see the look in their faces.. I went from teetering on the edge to a lost cause in about a split second.
I knew that I could do the mileage and the work to prepare myself to run 50 miles. However, I knew that I really needed to do some night running on single track. I wanted to be VERY comfortable with it. No way was the first time I am going to run with a headlamp on race day. but what was I to do??
Then I get an open email from Rick Grey to the email list of IMTR's. Proclaiming that he was aware of my problem. AND My friend Doug Blackford, also had the same dilemma for he is running Mont Blanc ALSO on the same evening as Cheat Mtn and it begins at night. Rick's suggestion was to have a night run a ENORMOUS 42 mile loop on the AT/ IMT. here is the map:
To be ran at night. Start time of 9pm.
What a great group of friends I have! Seriously I am so appreciative to have them, because I know there was NO way I could get in training like this solo.
So began some research begged some of my ultra running friends for headlamp advice. I decided to select 2 headlamps and use them together. ( thanks to the suggestion of a sage ultra runner) I used a petzl Myo xp on my noggin. and then I wore a tikka plus around my waist so I could see my feet a little better.
The forecast for friday night was going to be a little on the cool side with 30F and windy. I tried to layer my clothes some, but not too much. I was concerned with overdressing, and me carrying too much in my pack because other than aid at mile 20, this was a self supported run.
I decided to use my ultimate direction wink hydration pack because it has so much more pockets and room than my nathan pack.
I met beth at 7pm the evening of the night run and we went to Whistlepig Bistro in Damascus for dinner. We met up with JJ, his wife bonnie, and walked in and the place was SLAMED. WOW! all the tables were full! We saw Lone Wolf and Gypsy at the bar eating their dinner, so we ended up sitting with them for dinner. The food was AMAZING. and the 1.50 PBR's were too good to pass up. Carbs. beth and I needed carbs.
We went back to sundogs parking lot to prep for the run, we met up with Jim, who drove up from Columbia, SC to run with us. JJ got his kilt ready.
One by one everyone started congregating and ready to GO! We were a little late getting started, and ended up leaving damascus closer to 9:30pm.
There was definitely excitement in the air as beth and I ran across town via the VA creeper trail enroute to the AT. We pass right by our friend Aliese's house as we jump up on the AT, and Aliese and her two exceptionally sweet and bright children were all out of the porch yelling and cheering us on.
I was pretty anxious to get started and get some miles behind us. The first 5 miles or so is some pretty tough climbing.
I pretty much charged up the mtn with reckless abandon. I was having SO much fun, SO happy to be there. I knew I should go out slower.. WAY slower. but it just really didn't seem like an evening to play by the rules. We stopped at the back bone rock trail and regrouped. I ate a honey stinger gel. I noticed immediately that as soon as I stopped I was getting cold. I wondered the beginning of the run if I was overdressed, but there 5 miles above town I realized I was underdressed and I did not bring enough clothes.
I got to run most of the climb with Jim. I had never met him before so I got to know him and the miles went by pretty quickly. We made it to the shelter at mile 11 and stopped for the rest of the group to catch up again. and I was SERIOUSLY teeth chattering cold this time. okay, in the back of my mind I'm thinking.. okay 50k more to go on this run, and you are already shivering. I got out my go lite jacket and then got out my handy dandy handwarmers and put some in my mittens. AAH!. I ate a packet of Justin's almond nut butter and took a salt stick cap.
I think everyone else looks cold in this picture at the shelter as well. I have to add that beth and doug both hit their heads going in and out of the shelter. Which really shouldn't of been funny,but it was.
I decided I was running way too hard and needed to calm it down some and conserve a little. So beth started running with Jim and I ran with Rick, doug and Joey. We got to this section of the AT where the Forest Service had been doing some control burns. It had rained the day before so nothing was on fire but the smell was a little much after running in it for a couple of miles. we got to govt road. and I knew now I was going on sections of the AT I had never been before! yay! We ran on to 421 and I couldn't believe it when I saw a Johnson Co. TN sign. WOW! I can't believe we were that far.. oh wait we weren't that far trail wise... we were only 15 miles in. It was getting colder and we were getting on a different trail so we had to stop so the group could see where to go. We had a couple people who had never ran the route and we didn't want anyone to get lost at night. so we camped out on a picnic table and waited.
it was getting colder.. and stopping was really hard on my my knees and hip flexors were hating me for the stop and go stuff. see the cool patagonia fleece beth has on?? I would of LOVED to had one up there friday night. my thin long sleeve and go lite jacket did not cut it! BRRR.. so teeth chattering again. I decided it was a good time to gel, take 2 motrin, and cuddle with beth because I was freaking freezing!!! We had fun joking around and laughing.. we watched this crazy enormous horse trailer go up and down the mtn.. honking at us each time it passed. I did burpees for the group to show everyone what this CRAZY core exercise looked like.. so that was fun. doing burpees on a friday night in the leaves on the side of 421...
Finally everyone was all together again and it was time to go to cross mtn!! WOO! it's the kinda half way point for us, and stopping point for 4 of our friends.
I ended up running with rick, doug and joey again for this 10k. we passed 3 ?? tents by the AT on this section. I know there was one guy just in his bag on the side of the trail ( haha bless his heart.. him there asleep and 9 trail runners go clomping by at 2 in the morning) I got behind doug and rick about 5k out from cross mtn, but was in front of joey and I got off the AT and onto a spur for about 100 yds. it completely freaked me out once I realized what I had done. I backtracked and found the trail by that point joey was coming down the trail and I admitted my blunder. I was just thinking .. what if I hadn't realized what I had done, and gotten lost? in the dark? but all was well, and Joey and I ran the last 3 miles together laughing and talking and just what a cool moment it was that we were running there together on the AT under this enormous canopy of stars.
I was feeling a little down when we got to the AT parking lot at cross mtn. though.. it was like I went from extreme high to extreme low. my mood shifted quickly I had stopped and I was really COLD. I was worried about time.. I was worried because on the way to Damascus Brock called and told me he had "accidentally" told MY MOM that I was running 42 miles on the AT @ NIGHT ( and other than me SO wanting to seek revenge on my dear sweet husband for such utter betrayal) I felt guilty because I knew my mom would be up all night worrying about whether or not I was cold or lost or hurt. My poor mom has been through so much. I had told them I was going running at night with the IMTR's but I wasn't about to tell her how much or that literally I would run ALL night long. I just knew my parents wouldn't understand my freakish behavior. but first and fore mostly, I knew my parents would worry. They have ALWAYS worried about me. I know it's out of love and concern. I never really tell them about my mileage or long runs...They think I'm trying to punish myself or push myself to these crazy limits. I don't really know how to convey to them that REALLY my time in the mtn's isn't about pain at all. It's about peace of mind. It maybe escapism of some sort, but when I run in the mtns, I feel so free and happy and have this sense of contentment I have never experienced before or any where else.
SO as soon as I walk up to rick, doug, beth and jim.. I say " rick, talk me up.. because I'm feeling kinda blah. right now." I ate a banana, drank a coke. I know I need to eat more but I don't feel like it. okay.. this maybe crazy.. but everyone makes fun of me because I'm a non-urinator when we are in the woods. I NEVER have to pee EVER. ESPECIALLY during a race. and I admit, as I run more ultras and longer races.. I was REALLY shocked by all the pitstops and just how open it all is-- you just see everyone right beside the trail taking a leak... I had drank pretty much all of my hydration pack and I realized. I really should try to pee.. so Jenny peed in the woods ( not for the first time-- I've camped/hiked tons) but for the first time DURING a run. and I felt tons better.. I really should try that more. I think I'm just too self conscious about that. maybe eventually I'll get over it. but being in complete and total darkness helped. so I say I will at least have that going for me at cheat mtn. haha.
We all get in Joey's truck.. beth is giggling ( I know now she was hurting and cold too and it was more to keep from crying) rick, doug jim, joey and I all in a ford ranger eating chips and drinking coke all trying to get a little warm before the remaining 22 miles. we still had 3 runners out and wanted to make sure they were okay. I was still babbling about my mom.. I couldn't get warm. Joey let me use his phone to send a txt out to let everyone know I was okay and made it to mile 20. I felt a little better BUT I REALLY want just let joey take me to my car in damascus.. get in my warm FJ and go home take a hot shower and then retire to my nice warm bed. Funny how the most basic things seem like luxury. I turn around and look at rick and beth. and am instantly snapped into the reality. This run was to help ME. MY FRIENDS were out here freezing their butts off in the middle of the night so I could get prepared for Cheat... and they all have promised land 50k in two weeks. OKAY.. let's go.. by that time JJ came and he gave me some chocolate with espresso beans in it. I hugged him and mumbled I really wish I was going with him but had to finish this run.
we start moving up the road. the AT section of the run is over and we are now getting on the TN side of the Iron Mtn trail for the 22 mile run back to damascus. This trail is used alot less frequently than the AT. there were SO many branches and twigs on the trail/ blowdowns and its' just SUPER SUPER rocky with really extremely tough climbing sections. Rick turns to me and says " THIS IS WERE THE FUN BEGINS!!!"
but actually 5 min away from the cars I begin to thank all my friends profusely for not letting me stay behind with JJ and Joey. They never MADE me come, it really wasn't a conversation about me quitting. but it was more an inward struggle I was having with myself because I was SO cold and I really did want to be comfortable. I had refilled my hydration pack at cross mtn and it was leaking on me, BADLY.. it had leaked some at the beginning of the run, but not this bad. My whole back side was DRENCHED. NICE.
We find the trail and begin following the blue blazes back to Damascus
We get to a road we have to cross to get to IMT on the other side. We stop for a minute. I feel like I'm going to hurl. Doug tells me we have 15 miles left.. we are at mile 27. I choke down a salt stick cap and eat a bag of gu chomps. The sun is getting ready to come up.
I start listening to Steve Kimock Band and the sun is rising up on the horizon and I'm running right there with all my friends. I feel SOOO extremely happy and humbled to just be there with my friends. LOVE YALL SO MUCH!!!( I tell you these long runs make me feel a little bi-polar-- happy/sad/happy/sad/happy) Seriously sunrise on the IMT really ranks up there with one of my top running moments. it may even eclipse the kingston beer mile from 1997.
beth turns and gives me a peanut butter sandwich. We have 10 miles left. SO close but so far away. pretty much the last 15 miles of this run has some killer climbs. so I was still having to work really hard. I felt like I had been working VERY hard all night. I think really after the 50k point.. my body was really like "what the..." and I started to slow up and found it harder to not lag. but I just listen to my ipod and try to keep rick and doug in my visuals. and not think about the fact that my feet are hurting and my knees are sore from all the downhill and my calves and hamstrings are killing me from all the climbing. about 8 miles left.. mile 34-- I get to the top of a hill and rick and doug are sitting on a log waiting for me. yep.. I know.. they are staging an intervention.
doug: "you need anything?" me: " nope. i'm fine. " rick: "here have some gel" ( he hands me his flask) rick: have you taken any motrin? me:" hmm I did a while ago I think at mile 15.." rick: " I think you'd benefit from a couple more." ( so I take some motrin) They make me run in front of them. i'm kinda sad that my run is all falling apart and I really needed to be babysat-- someone to tell me to gel and take motrin--.. but at least I'm still running at this point. We get to about 5 miles left and doug goes on down the trail and it's just me and good ol rick. We hike the climbs and try to run the mega steep down hill. my knees hate me. I'm death marching and I know it. I have felt this way before-- Frozen sasquatch! haha only this is more painful and worse. I don't complain I just try to keep moving and keep going. Rick and I talk about anything and everything. I'm just so thankful he is there with me and I'm not alone. I know I'll feel better in a little while, and I'm SO close to finishing. finally the last 3 miles I start feeling good again. and We are running at a good 10 min pace.. my breathing and my heartrate are freaking me out a little. I think it's just from me being up past 24 hours. but my legs are feeling okay.
we FINALLY make it back to sundogs. Rick congratulates me and tells me to remember all the lessons I learned the night before.( oh, don't you just love survival mode) that I finished and no one can take that away from me. I run to my car, and there is JJ!!! and beth laying on her yoga mat drinking a magic hat #9. Jim and doug standing around too. I bounce around and hug everyone. I'm so happy to be finished. I make a recoverite and drink it and spread out my terrapin mtn blanket and lay in the sun for a couple of minutes.
Everyone else went to quincy's to eat, but doug went back to boone, NC and I drove home to my family. :o) took a shower and a 2 hour nap.
I was very surprised that I was NEVER sleepy during my run. I thought I would get sleepy, but I guess you are so amped up from running ( and your heartrate is up) so that never was an issue. but I do see that I went out WAY too hard and then bonked at the end. I'll try to do better with that at training run #2 of 2.
recovery is going well. I really wasn't that sore the next day ... which is weird. I thought I would be. Whatever, that was the hardest run of my life so far. so even if I'm not sore.. the pain from it is seared into my memory for now.
this weekend I'm running laurel's run ascent. I would LOVE to win it again ( like I did last year) but I know realistically I just need to work hard and hope I have a good day. so we'll see how it goes. :o)
for those of you who ACTUALLY made it to the end of this post CONGRATULATIONS and AWW. thanks ;O)