Last year, immediately after completing the 50k distance at Cloudsplitter 100 in Norton, VA, I decided that I wanted to attempt the 100k this year. These races always seem so far away when you sign up for them and before you know it, they’re here. After Ironman Canada, I basically had two months to focus on Cloudsplitter, and those two months really flew by. All of a sudden, race week was here and Jon and the pups and I were headed to Norton!
Stepping up to the 100k distance, there were lots of new elements included in my race planning. One of those is that I would have two friends who would “pace” me for portions of this year’s event – Kim and Jess. For me, that would mean keeping me company throughout the night, reminding me to eat and drink, and keeping me moving, although not really at any specific-pace.
Kim arrived in Norton on the Thursday night before the race, so she joined me for my shakeout run on Friday morning. During the run, who did we see but my favorite City Manager, Fred, who I met at the race last year! We chatted briefly and then went our separate ways, but I wanted to mention this because Norton is such a special place and I hope that comes across in this post. Everyone is so darn friendly and the fact that Fred remembered me from last year is emblematic of that. In any case, after the run I got my feet up because of my wonky knee, and Jon and Kim headed to Walmart to do some shopping. I needed some food for the crew stops and Jon wanted some warmer clothes because the weather was colder than we expected and would be even colder on the mountain where he would be crewing for me. When they got back, we drove to two of the three crew stations that they would be driving to during the race.
Checking out Bark Camp Lake, which I would visit twice during the race.
Friday evening was the athlete briefing. Jess joined us for that, and I picked up my bib – number 1000! We all enjoyed the bluegrass band and a warm welcome from the City of Norton. My favorite part of the athlete briefing again this year was hearing from the biologist about what a special place High Knob is biologically for both plant and animal species.
I did not sleep well on Friday night. I normally don’t have sleep issues before a race, but this time I did. After lots of nervous tossing and turning, the alarm went off and it was time to get moving with my usual race morning breakfast and routine.
One of the many awesome things about Cloudsplitter is that the race doesn’t start until 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, so we didn’t have to rush. We were able to walk to the start from our hotel, which made race morning super easy. It was definitely chilly, so it was nice to wait inside at the Farmer’s Market until the race started.
Nervously waiting for the start.
The first segment of the race, just under 10 miles, went perfectly for me! I was 100% on point with my nutrition. I was running everything that was runnable and speed hiking anything that was too steep or rocky to run. I even met a super friendly woman who was doing the 50k and we chatted about races and it really helped pass the time.
Before I knew it, there was my crew at the first aid station at High Knob Recreation Area, and I was filling up on a food and on my way again.
Chatting with my new friend Shelley who was racing the 50k.
I felt similarly strong during the second segment of the race. My nutrition was spot on and my energy was high. I had one scare with the knee around mile 15 where it really started acting up, but I was able to keep moving and get through it. I saw my crew again at Bark Camp Lake at just under 20 miles for a short stop and on I went.
The third segment of the race was extremely challenging for me. This section had something like 30 water crossings (it felt like a billion trillion, but I’m guessing 30 is more accurate…). You had no choice but to get wet at several of them. I fell twice slipping on wet rocks. I knew I was slowing down a lot and I was starting to get mentally tired. Between watching my feet, watching the trail markings, and navigating the water crossings, my brain was starting to get fried.
I got back to Bark Camp Lake at just under 30 miles and had to use the bathroom, so I handed Jon my poles, ran to the bathroom, and then tried to quickly fill up on food/drinks/gear for the next segment of the race. This was a disaster. I was mentally drained and was digging through the giant tub of food, clothes, and equipment looking for my headlamp, chews, etc. I couldn’t find anything. I was frustrated and complaining to Jon about why he didn’t have everything laid out for me to just grab and go (yes, I should have been thankful he was there doing this for me and I’m not proud of losing my temper with him). Things were spilling everywhere, including an entire bag of pretzels. I was so frustrated and upset that I left the stop without my poles and by the time I realized it, I didn’t want to back track.
This is when my mental downward spiral started. I was so mad at myself for leaving the poles and at Jon for not having my stuff laid out. I was mad that I didn’t have a pacer (I could have had a pacer for this section of the race, but lost one of my pacers a few weeks before the race). Not only was I mentally in a bad place, but also physically. I had been relying heavily on the poles to keep weight off my knee, on the steep inclines and declines, and during the water crossings, and not having them definitely slowed me down. It was starting to get cold and dark. I stopped eating. I started walking sections that were runnable. I mentally quit. I sent Jon a text saying I would be dropping out at the next stop.
In ten years of racing, I have only DNFd one race EVER and I was literally unable to walk in that one because of injury (this was during a marathon back in 2012). I am not a quitter. But I really, truly, was ready to pull the plug in this moment.
Just before I got to the next crew stop (back at High Knob Recreation Area around mile 49), I ran into Jon. He had walked on the trail in his street clothes to meet me. I told him I was stopping.
He said exactly the right thing. He said that I just needed to get to the crew stop and eat some food and there was no pressure to do anything. He didn’t say I had to finish. He didn’t say Kim and Jess came all this way and would be disappointed not to run.
Jon said I could call Alyssa (who was in Hawaii for the Ironman World Championships) if I wanted to, and that she said I just needed to eat (I immediately regretted giving him her cell phone number…).
I cried a little. Jess and Kim were asking how to help. They gave me some space which was exactly what I needed. I ate some food. And the next thing I knew, I was changing my clothes to continue. I still don’t know exactly how that happened.
Jess getting ready to run with me. She brought me back from the brink!
Jess and I left together around 8:00 p.m. and she was amazing. I was in so much pain by that point and in such a mentally bad place, but she was playing music and telling me stories and making me laugh. She took over navigating so I just had to follow her and could give my brain a break. She navigated all of the water crossings, so I just needed to follow her lead and could completely stop thinking. She took all of the stress off of me and put it on her shoulders and there is absolutely zero chance I could have finished without her.
The section I ran with Jess ended up being longer than we expected (the entire course was long to begin with (68.5 miles for a 100k), and then was longer still). We had also gotten lost a couple of times and I have to give a shout out to Hannes Gehring, the guy who came in second in the 100 miler, for helping us get back on course when we got turned around at one of the water crossings and were literally walking in circles. You should follow him on social because he is pretty amazing – uphillswagger on Insta.
We kept thinking we were close to the crew stop and it wasn’t coming. I was freezing and starving. I think I talked to Jess about soup a dozen times.
We got to the next stop – Devil’s Fork Parking Lot – around 3:00 a.m. and I put on a zillion layers of clothes. I ate some soup and a warm grilled cheese sandwich. All of the volunteers were amazing at this race, but the ladies at this station were particularly awesome. I sat by the fire a bit to try to warm up, but the minute I walked away from it, I was cold again. I wanted to leave with a towel wrapped around my legs I was so cold (which, yes, was ridiculous, but I really wanted to do it). Instead, Jon gave me his brand new Walmart sweatshirt to tie around my waist to keep my butt warm (this idea was brilliant!). This photo really says it all. I was not in a good place.
Kim was on deck and off we went. It started raining shortly after we started. That was the last thing I needed, but luckily the course was quite easy terrain-wise in this section and we were just able to speed hike without having to worry about water crossings or tricky terrain. I was getting colder and colder and wishing I had more clothes. Moving quickly was the only thing keeping me warm, so I just tried to keep the pace up. This last part is honestly a bit of a blur because I was just so tired and cold. Have I mentioned I was cold?
Soon enough it was daylight and I knew I was hours (and hours!) behind my goal finish time. We finally got off the trail and onto the paved road which would take us to the finish line and who came along but Jon and Jess driving to check-up on us. They were shocked by how close we were to the finish. I really wanted to try to trot to the finish (it would be offensive to jogs to call it jogging) and for the most part I sort of did. We crossed the finish line in just over 25 hours.
Kim tried to give me a high five at the finish and I just gave her a big hug (even though I am sure I smelled AMAZING in this moment – sorry Kim!).
We ended up at around 70 miles and supposedly more than 16,000 feet ascending and the same descending, although my Garmin died around 17 hours, so these are estimates.
The finisher medals were absolutely stunning. This is definitely the most beautiful racing medal I have ever received.
I finished around 9:00 a.m. on Sunday and spent the rest of Sunday doing exactly this back at the Holiday Inn:
The only thing making sleep difficult was the pain. Everything hurt. By Monday morning, though, the most painful thing was clearly my big toe on my right foot. I ended up having to go to Urgent Care not once, but TWICE on Monday because my foot was swelling and my toe was so painful. I debated how graphic to be with the pictures, but I decided to just include this one of the swelling. I had that heat-sensitive nail polish on, so you can see my right foot was hot.
I ended up needing to get my nail drained and was put on antibiotics and painkillers. I was finally able to put real shoes on late this week.
I learned so many lessons during this race that I feel like I have to go back and make it right. Not next year, because I’m racing Ironman Wisconsin in September, but maybe 2020. I have unfinished business at this race and I just can’t let it go. Even writing this post has made me mad again about some of my mistakes!
On a more positive note, I continue to be amazed by the kindness and generosity of the people of Norton and if you like trail running, hiking, or mountain biking, you should most definitely plan a visit there! I told Fred that even if I don’t race next year, I will be back to volunteer!
Finally, I have to thank Alyssa, Jon, Jess, and Kim for their support at this race. I truly wouldn’t have kept going without them and I am so thankful that they put up with me during the low points. I know that wasn’t fun for any of us.
I am registered for the JFK 50 next month, but I may take a pass on that and focus on my efforts the Rehoboth Marathon in December, depending on how my recovery goes. We shall see.