Early on this summer I decided it would be a great idea to round up an all women’s team for the Virgil Crest 100-mile relay. I started asking all my lady friends that run; some are interested, some didn’t want anything to do with it, and some had to think about it. The best place I found to track down a team for this is when I volunteered at a 50-mile race in the area. I found 3 of my teammates at this race. I’m not sure where this idea came from but it was in my head all summer. This is the one race I really wanted to do this year. All other races were social outing, a good time, and I could give or take them.
I have been struggling to stay healthy all summer. My calves have been a huge problem for me. There were many days this summer when I couldn’t walk without being in pain. I thought I would have to drop out of the relay team that I was so excited about. But, since I asked all these ladies and got the team together I was dedicated to making it happen. I pushed through, got massages, stretched, practiced yoga, and did everything I could to keep myself running until after this race.
A month before the race I lost my sister and couldn’t even think about running or my race. I struggled to preform my runs, some days I couldn’t even get out the door; I was only running about every other week at this time. I realized how much of a mental struggle running is. I couldn’t push myself to run up a hill. I couldn’t tell myself to keep going, I was too mentally drained to push myself physically. I had so many reasons not to do this race, to just drop out, no one would hold it against me...but me.
Leading up to the race our team had a very difficult time deciding on a team name, I think this is due to everyone being so agreeable. No one really cared what the name was and therefore we were left with “Team No Name” Yep, you read that right, during the relay we came up with many other names. “I give up” “Just the relay” “At least I’m wearing shoes” “The Lady Team” any of those would have probably been better but we didn’t really care.
My team consisted of the most awesome ladies in Ithaca. First we will start with Amy Dawson, super mom, cake baker and decorator, the most organized person I know. You can follow her blog skirt runner here. She organized all the legs each person will run with our strengths and desired running terrain and distance. Placed it all in a binder with directions on how to navigate from aid station to aid station. Stephanie Wright, nurse, cook, super mom. She is an amazing cook and had us all over for a carb loading dinner and made the most wonderful chicken jambalaya for the cooler. Yeah, I laughed so hard when she told me she was packing chicken jambalaya. It was so out of left field, but I don’t know if I will ever be able to participate in a long distance race without it from now on. It was so savory and the chicken was a welcome meal after snacking on aid station food all night. Gloria Lemus-Sanchez, super mom, cheerleader of the team, and probably has the most ultra running experience out of all of us. Gloria ran the course 2 years ago to complete her first 50 miler and volunteers at many of the ultra races in the area. I learned so many good tips from her, such as putting each new outfit together in a separate zip lock bag. So brilliant! Doreen Fenton, dog lover, badass hill dominator, and trail runner extraordinaire. Doreen is the fastest runner on the team and was begging for all the hills. The rest of us complied graciously. She is also training for a trail marathon, so was happy to take 4 legs, when the rest of us had 3.
Finally it was the morning of the race, we didn’t start until 8:00. I love this start time since the race was 45 minutes away I didn’t even have to get up much earlier than my normal time. We packed the car the night before except for our changes of cloths and shoes. The car is super packed at this point. Try to fit 5 over packing women in a FJ Cruiser, it fits but barely.
Gloria is our first runner at 8:00 am. She takes the start line at Hope Lake Park and she is off! Our journey has begun. I am the second runner so we make it to the first aid station Hitching Post, that is run by the Finger Lakes Running Club. I see Gary and Maria who are the mascots of all races in and around Ithaca while, anxiously waiting Gloria’s arrival. I look over the map try to memorize turns and hills. I am rather concerned about getting lost. Since I have never made it through a race without getting lost, I know it will happen. I just hope to not get too lost. My fellow teammates all decide not to take water with them because they are shortish legs, mine is 7 miles. I will not run without water because a 7-mile trail run can turn into 10+ miles quickly with some wrong turns.
Gloria arrives and I am off! The first 3 miles are hell like always. I never hit my sweet spot until somewhere around 3 miles and 8 miles. The trail is very well marked in the beginning and my concerns about getting lost start to fade a bit. I am however running a lot slower then I would like to be. I start to feel bad for my teammates. I always feel as though I preform poorly during races, walking up hills I know I can run because I don’t want to get too gassed out in the beginning. I do the same thing here. The trail was awesome with many turns and some technical sections. About halfway trough my section the markers are starting to get more spread out and I stop. Realizing I haven’t seen a marker in a bit then start to retrace my steps find another runner and we figure out the trail together. I follow this runner for a bit chat about where he is from Waverly, NY. This is right near my husband’s hometown. I never get his name but know he is the runner from Waverly in a blue shirt. I let him pace me for a bit until we reach the last incline where he powers up and I start hiking. I reach Carson Road and get a bit confused. Maybe I should have also read the description about the section instead of just looking at the map. I didn’t realize I was on a road for the last section but I follow the road come over a slight hill see my runner friend in the blue shirt and let him show me the way. I come into the aid station happy to see my team and it is Doreen’s turn.
I have about a 10-hour break here between my runs. I drive to each aid station, try to be the best support for my team that I can. Doreen takes 2 legs back to back, then Amy, Stephanie, Gloria, Amy, Doreen, then I will finally be up again on the same leg I just ran only this time it will be in the dark. We learn the directions between the aid stations and hiking to them. The Rock Pile aid station is the hardest to get to. There are a few ‘seasonal access road’ which makes me happy we are in my SUV and this tank can take anything. I was a bit concerned about the SUV being cramped but after seeing these roads I am happy we are using it and not a car or van. After the trip to Rock Pile aid station, we realized that we need to come up with an action plan for next time. This is the hardest aid station to get to. The roads are confusing, there is no road sign, the only reason we know we are on the correct road is because the gps said the road name. After we navigate the roads we have to hike in half a mile to the aid station. Next time through this will be at night and we should probably come up with a game plan for the runners. I would recommend this is the aid station to skip if possible.
When we are back at Hope Lake Lodge waiting for our first loop to be done we see some 50 milers finish. My friend Tom Garby is among then. We grab a bit to eat together I congratulate him on an amazing finish. Slighlty wishing I was having a beer or 2 then going home to a nice warm bed. But this couldn’t happen because my second leg would be up soon. I make sure to change my cloths here, if not I would have to duck between 2 doors. We see Amy appear across the lake watch her come across the finish/start line to complete our first 50 miles and Doreen is off. We are in consistence concern Doreen will come to the next aid station before we make it so we are off to Hitching Post.
While waiting at Hitching Post we wacht the sky turn dark and my nerve start to raddle a bit. One thing that is keeping my nerve under control is that I have run this section once before. Although that feels like a lifetime ago it wasn’t. I knew the locations to watch out for getting lost. I knew to turn right on Carson Road, I knew I could run some of the hills I walked before. This will be my first night time run. I have run before with a headlamp a lot in the morning before it is light, but this time it will be dark with no light coming at the end of my run. I wore 2 headlamps, one on my waist and one on my head. Soon enough speedy as always Doreen was in site and I was off for my first night time run.
This is where the fun starts. I realize I love running at night. I’m not scared at all. Or maybe my calves where hurting so bad I forgot running at night is suppose to be scary. My first 2 miles killed. I started to wonder if I would be able to complete my last leg. I was forced to hike more than I would have liked, but I kept moving which is all I really needed to do. After the first 2 miles my muscles must have warmed up a bit and I started to feel better. I not only enjoy myself but also have fun. I found the markers much easier to see at night since I wasn’t as concerned about getting lost I could relax. I had a half-mile of pure bliss then the rain started. At first I told myself I hate running in the rain and at night, but then I realize these aren’t actually things I hate but what other people tell me they hate. These are things I am told to hate. I actually didn’t mind running in the rain and at night. The woods are peaceful and this is wonderful. I only came across one runner during this leg. The rain was in a complete downpour by the time I reached Carson Road. I didn’t want to come out from covering the trees provided but I knew there was about 0.8 miles to go and I was done. I braved the elements and got my ass moving down Carson Road. This is where I was able to pick up some speed. I was actually more scared about running on the road in the rain and at night then in the woods. I turned my headlamp on my waist around so cars coming the other direction could see me. After TenKates Aid station was insight all I could think about was poor poor Stephanie. She is up next, and she has the most brutal hill climb in this storm. I arrive wet and smiling to apologetically send Stephanie on her way.
When I was running it was decided we would stop back at Hope Lake Park to hang out for a bit before heading to the next aid station because there is a pavilion there and it would be at least 2 hours before Stephanie is done. We arrive I take a 15 minute nap in the car then change out of my wet cloths and grabbed some coffee. I knew I would be up again soon so I wanted to relax for a few moments. On the way to the next aid station I confess I will be hiking my next leg in its entirety. I was being such a baby! Luckily no one cared or at least said they didn’t. I was quite relieved. At TrailsRoc station I stayed in the car to relax since I would be up again after Gloria. Also I wanted to eat something and take an Advil (sorry Dr. Brian). I don’t typically take any kind of pain relievers and try to just listen to my body but this was a time of need. I think it has been over 5 years since my last painkiller. Whatever I will not beat myself up over this time of weakness. Yes I took an Advil, I confess. I had an Advil, coffee, and a hand full of popcorn. This seemed to do the trick for me. By the time Stephanie made it back to the car I wasn’t feeling too bad. We travel to the Rock Pile leaving Doreen and Amy at TrailsRoc. Gloria was running and I would be up next. Stephanie said he had a great time in the rain on the alpine portion of the trail. Stephanie stayed in the car when I hiked the half-mile to get to the Rock Pile. This station was bumping music and had a fire going. I chatted with a few of the other runners waiting for their relay to show up and hung out until Gloria arrived.
The rain had ended by 1:00 am when my last leg started. I pass my coat off to Gloria who was extremely concerned about how I was feeling but the coffee and Advil kicked in; I was ready to rock my last leg. I say my good byes and start running down the trial. This is the most fun section of the race for me. It started out with a mile and a half of wonderful single-track heaven. Along the way I saw a few other runners, some frogs, and a mouse that helped show me the trail. Then the trail came across a road, which again I should have read the description but long story short ran back and forth on the road for a bit till another runner and I found the way together. The majority of this section was on forest trails, which were rather rocky and very slick from the rain. This didn’t bother me one bit. I felt surprisingly strong and was able to run the majority of this section except for the large hill. About 2 miles in I cross paths with a fellow runner Rusty who was running 100-miles solo. I am not sure if he know this but he owns a special section of my running heart. I met Rusty about 2 and half years ago when I first started running. I was training for a 5k, Rusty was running epic distances like he is now. I would get all excited about running 2 miles without having to walk and Rusty would show me the same excitement as if I told him I ran 50-miles. He was incredibly encouraging. I never thought at the time I would ever cross him at 2:00 AM in the morning in the middle of the forest and be able to say good job Rusty! He was my first introduction to the trail running community and how awesome everyone is. I always remember this and try to emulate his encouragement to any new runner I meet. Ok back to the race. This section was my lucky section. The final turn in the race I could have missed and most certainly would have, if 2 runners had not been coming from this direction when I had to turn. Everything was going right for me. I ran up the final incline to the aid station to surprise my teammates. They all thought I would have been much longer. I send Doreen on her way and floated on the good vibrations of having an awesome last leg. I get a drink and chat with Pete Kresock who is doing the 100-mile solo. He seemed casual, comfortable, and confident. He picked my brain about the trail condition that he was about to go out on, snacked on some food then headed out.
We head off to TenKates to meet Doreen and send Amy off. In the parking lot I change into some nice warm cloths, mooned another woman sitting in her car (sorry), and work on keeping my energy levels down as to not annoy my fellow teammates. I had just come off of one of those runs that make you remember why you love running. Not sure if it was because I was then finished or because I wasn’t in pain the whole time but I was loving each and every moment of it. This is also the first time since my sister passed away that I can say I was actually happy. From that point on I was just going to try to be the best teammate and do whatever I could for everyone else. I make some coffee for Amy who missed an opportunity to nap and let her rest in the car. Gloria and I went to the aid station to get something warm to drink. At the aid station we saw Scottie Jacobs come thru who was currently in 3rd place for 100-mile solo. These amazing runners running 100-miles solo will continue to surprise and impress me. After some confusion about if it was Doreen or not coming into the aid station Amy was off for her last leg. I was a bit concerned for her, she seemed a bit shaky but she rocked her section as this superwoman does everything!
While waiting at hitching post for Amy, we all take a nap in the car together, 4 people napping in one smelly car is something you will only want to do at 4:00 AM in the morning. The car smelt pretty bad at this point, we all had run multiple times in the past 24 hours, had mud/horseshit on our shoes, and no one cared. At least we had shoes. We chatted with the aid station workers and then sent Stephanie off on her last leg and the last leg of the race! Then travel to Hope Lake Lodge for the last time of the day. We unpack the back make sure we get all of Doreen’s and Gloria’s items removed and waited for Stephanie. When Stephanie came into view I think we all felt a sigh of relief. We anxiously watch her to come around the lake and thru the finish line to seal in a 4th place finish! We finish much better friends; knowing each other’s strength and weaknesses in 23:29.
I personally loved the whole experience and surprised myself that I really love running at night. We pose for a final picture and head to our cars. All the other ladies were dreaming about going home to take a hot shower, being the dirtbag that I am, I wasn't so concerned with a shower. It would have been nice to stay around to watch Pete and Rusty finish but I was Stephanie and Amy’s ride home so we hoped back in the smelly car and headed away. On the way home I ask Stephanie and Amy if they would do a 100-mile relay again? The signals were a bit mixed on this topic. I think this was a good way of dipping our toes into the ultra distance to see if it would be a good fit. I don't think running 100-mile solo is something I will ever want to do. Pace or crew? I will definitely be your girl! Or if you are in need of a slow runner for a relay, hit me up!
Disclaimer: Your experience my vary. Actual times are a bit blurred. Please allow a 2 hour grace period, 1:00 am may mean anywhere between midnight and 3:00 am.