December 4, 2012 by trailcats
Pine Mountain 40 may have come and gone but the memory of Sunday, December 2, 2012 will live on forever!!!
So many good things have culminated in the last several days. My last day of grad school was Saturday; my mom flew up from Texas on Saturday after class to help cheer me on for PM40; I ran a solid race on Sunday finishing in 8:20 – 5th female – and in the top 20% of runners (assuming 150 started the race); and I have a several interviews lined up in the next week. I haven’t had this many positive things going on at once in a long time – if ever. It’s so surreal and I feel a little unworthy of it all.
This race report will start on Wednesday, November 21st, when Harley and I ran Woody Gap to Bald Mountain and back. I was excited to run this part of the AT but was a little nervous for Harley as he has been battling intermittent ITB pain for several weeks.
I thought we might end up doing a fair bit of hiking. But his knee cooperated and despite the fact that he hadn’t done any really long runs in a while – he killed it – all 18 miles of it! I, on the other hand, started feeling this vague pain in my right heel area by the time we got to Bald Mountain. It worsened as we got closer to the car, especially around mile 16. Foot pain can be vague and I wasn’t sure if I was experiencing PF or a stress fracture. I was definitely dubious that we would be running again on Thanksgiving as was the plan. We drove about 60 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville to spend Thanksgiving with Meredith and Steve. We did some very light hiking along the way and my foot was feeling ouchyouchy.
I refused to acknowledge the possibility that I might not be able to run Pine Mountain the following weekend. Instead, I took a week off from running. The longest break I’d taken from running since June was probably 3 days – so this was very hard. But it worked. I ran some last Thursday and Friday and did ok. My ankles were stiff and sore, but my “heel” pain had not resurfaced and I was feeling good-to-go for Sunday.
I barely slept Friday night as I was so excited for Saturday. I had my last test of the nurse practitioner program at 8am, class until 3pm and then my mom was slated to arrive from Texas at 4pm. Too much excitement. TME. Harley and I got her from the airport and we headed home to Smyrna where I introduced her to all of my running gear as we packed up the car for Sunday. She learned all about gaiters, arm sleeves, trail shoes, socks, hydration vests, electrolyte tablets, trail nutrition, compression sleeves, anti-chafing gel, moleskin, headlamps – you name it – I demonstrated how to use it. And then we were all tucked in by 9:30pm for a 3:45am wake-up call!
By 3:46am I was in the shower and the coffee was percolating. The three of us were in the car by 4:30am and making our way to Pine Mountain. I thought I might use the drive to snooze, but I was a little chatterbox and too excited. I’ve had PM40 on the brain since June. This race has been my training goal since I started getting serious about trail running. Prior to May of this year, I’d never ran beyond 11-12 miles.
We got to the group shelter and checked in by 6:30am. I saw some familiar faces from Tuesday-night GUTS runs which was comforting. Harley and my mom walked me to the start of the race. We all hugged and then they walked to the sidelines. At that moment, I had a flurry of emotions. I realized I could very well be running most of this beast by myself – so I was sad about that. But I was also thinking how far I’d come this year – with running and with school. I thought about how my mom, Harley, and eventually Helene and Kati would be there to cheer me on at EACH aid station and how lucky I was to have all of them in my life. Then – the race started – at 7:05am we were OFF!!! And my eyes started to tear up. I was a hot mess. A happy hot mess. But a mess just the same! And there was only one thing to do. Run. So I did.
The first 3 miles or so were user-friendly, gentle rolling hills and no rocks. Then there is the beautiful ridge you get to run on and see the sun rise. I talked to a few people in this section who said this was either their first or second ultra, too (it was my second). I was prolly in the front third of the pack. I should mention here I had some goals for the day. First, to finish without injury. This technical course, with approximately 5,000 feet of elevation gain, is known for its super bitchy rocks covered by inches of fluffy leaves (luckily the leaves were a little matted down from a recent rain). Second, to finish in 9 hours. Third, to finish in 8 hours. Hey, dream big or go home. I made it the first AS (5.9 mi) in about 1:05 and was happy to see that my mom and Harley had made it there. I was really hoping they’d be able to hit each aid station without a fuss with regards to parking. My mom was especially cute here and requested a hug! And on I went!
I met Richard Schick on the next stretch. He ran his first ultra in 1977 and for the last several years has ran at least one ultra a year. He told me that if I beat him today, he’d be “chicked” by me. But if he beat me, I’d be “Schick’d.” Spoiler alert: I was Schick’d.
Then I met Matt Jackson, an Army Ranger, and Jeff Olive, a National Guardsman. These awesome guys would be my running mates for the rest of the day. We made it to Mollyhugger and I heard my mom ringing the cowbell for the first time that day. Yes, it was me who purchased the cowbell and wanted it rung all day to all you naysayers! Just be glad I didn’t run with it!
Over the next portion (and really all day), I learned a lot about the US Army. It’s fair to say I am clueless when it comes to military talk. So I really enjoyed hearing Matt and Jeff talk shop. Matt had just come back from Afghanistan a few weeks ago and just started running ultras on the weekends to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. You should check out his website and make a donation. This section of the race was hit pretty hard by a tornado a couple years back which makes for some surreal scenery with all the downed trees. It also means there is no escaping the sun here. This made me reflect back to that morning when my mom asked if I put on sunscreen. Just a little. Thank god I was wearing a hat.
We made it to Dowdell Knob at mile 14.3. I knew Joel was working this AS and I was looking forward to seeing another familiar face. And of course, my mom and Harley were as cute as ever, cheering me on. When I ran the Buncombe ultra in September, I remember hitting some mental lows between mile 14 and 20 and was worried about what lie ahead for me. Luckily, I still had my running mates and all the banter kept me distracted. I was also concerned that taking a week off of running would be a detriment to my level of fitness, but I continued to feel good – right up until mile 18 or so when that vague heel pain started lurking again. I “soldiered on” in good company.
The next 10 miles got to be pretty technical in some parts. There was a lot of uphill hiking. And some fine maneuvering around boulders and river crossings. I was more aware of the PM rocks in this section. Now me personally, I have had a different relationship with these notorious rocks. I think in large part because I’ve read
about them on so many race reports that I always expect them to be worse than what they are. I also tend to like technical trails as they keep me very distracted and I like to kind of skip around all the rocks and/or tree roots. It’s like running over hot coals. Or jumping rope double dutch.
Jeff was really looking forward to the TV Tower AS at mile 23 – where the grilled cheese sandwiches were. Honestly, I remember coming to that AS but I was feeling pretty hot and that AS was kind of a blur. I know that’s when I got Harley to hook me up with my first ice cloth to wash my face off with. It was dreamy. That’s also when he started getting on to me about minding my eating. My plan was to eat what I normally eat on longer runs and not try anything new. So I had my favorite Honey Stinger gummies and Power Bar Smoothie. And I would occasionally grab some pretzels or chips. I was doing my best to try and eat something every 45 minutes – definitely trying to stay 10-15 min ahead of bonking.
But it was so blasted hot at 70+ degrees I had a hard time discerning if I was eating too much, not enough, water logged or dehydrated, nauseous or hungry! I wore one little ring that day in order to assess my hydration status. I thought that was pretty clever.
Our little threesome made it out of the TV Tower and back on the trail in less than 2 minutes. Jeff, a very impressive sub-3 marathoner, was going to lead the way for a negative split. We did the first 20 miles in 4 hours. Another spoiler alert: the negative split did not happen. That back loop really slowed us down. I didn’t see it coming. We hadn’t really stretched our legs in a long run in quite some time for all the rocks and hiking.
Oh, I should also mention something about these military dudes and their walking. They train for hiking fast with heavy rucksacks and weighted vests. People tell me I’m a fast walker. Um, not like these kids. I look down for a second and they’ve scurried on ahead. They are fast walkers. Like for reals. But really – this section of the trail was super gorgeous. Runnable or not.
When we got to Rocky Point AS the second time – all we had left was 15 miles. Eye on the prize. And more cold towels to the face. Even Jeff, who started out as a cowbell hater – started looking forward to hearing it in the distance as it signaled an AS with cold water, powerade, chips, and a brief reprieve from the pain and agony and glory of ultrarunning!!! Harley had informed me that my girlfriends were getting close. I was looking forward to seeing them soon. And my mom, as usual, was one of the first people I saw on the trail, getting ready to take a picture. She was On. The. Ball. Best idea I ever had, was asking her to fly up to Atlanta for this race instead of graduation!
Ok, so onward back to Dowdell Knob. We were back on a familiar trail and able to run a good portion of it. Albeit very slowly. I used to think out and backs would be a bore, but really – they can be like a whole new trail. In this portion we were acutely aware of how long our necks had been looking down at the ground on high alert for the rock(s) that would bring us down. Yes, the course was gorgeous, but most of the day I was looking just 2 feet ahead.
Back at Dowdell Knob mile 28, Joel said he thought I looked as fresh as I did at mile 14. Maybe that was him being good at being an AS volunteer, but I took it to heart and went with it. I mean, this was coming from a guy who has run Western States and Pinhoti!
Ok, 12 miles left. I still felt like I had a blister brewing on my left little piggy. I felt all kinds of crap going on in my shoes. I just tried to maintain a foot-brain mental block. What’s going on down there cannot interfere with what’s going on in my head. And that was pure bliss. I was doing this. This race was happening and I was ahead of my 2nd goal. I was definitely going to finish under 9 hours. 8 hours had come and gone – but I wouldn’t be too far behind goal #3. Not if I had anything to do with it!!!
So our little threesome was off again to Mollyhugger. This portion was a lot of uphill. Probably the hardest part of the whole race for me. I was getting tired and hot. And this uphill business was not for the faint of heart. But I had a little ace in the hole. I knew Helene and Kati would be at the next aid station and I wanted to look strong for them. It’s called an intermediate goal, folks. Finally, the cowbells in the distance!!
And there they were – all four cheerleaders. It doesn’t get any better than this!!! They were on top of a big rock that overlooked the trail from the parking lot. I was a happy little trail cat – and my tail was up! Everyone was so happy and bouncing and waving banners. I spent a little time here taking it all in. The Mollyhugger AS was also home to the coolest volunteer ever (literally) as he filled my sweat-drenched hat with ice water. Whew-ie!! With a spring in my step, I was off for the last 8.5 miles!!
After Mollyhugger, our little threesome made some changes. It was hard. Matt had just run two 50 mile races in November and had been tackling some tendonitis since early on in the race. I hated to leave one of the Muskateers behind, but it was a game time decision and we were on our first downhill in a long time. So Jeff and I went on ahead. We had about 5.5 miles to the finish.
With 5 miles remaining, I had my first and only face plant of the day. No biggie. I considered it a break from running! I was back on my feet and chasing Jeff through the forest. I could hear him talking ahead and tried to keep up.
With 4 miles left, I felt a POP! I guess that was a big blister on my little piggy after all! It drew attention to my ailing, swollen feet. I really tried to maintain the foot-brain disconnect but it was hard. Luckily, the last 3 miles are mostly downhill. And Jeff was
like the little rabbit moving along the race track in front of the tired old greyhound. I had to keep up with the rabbit! It was only 3pm at this point, yet the overcast skies now made this part of the course look almost like it did in the dawn of morning. I kept asking, “When are we going to hear the finish?” When, when, when. He assured me any minute. He was really bouncing at this point. I was trying to keep my chin-up attitude going. It took everything I had. And then I heard cheers in the distance. Yippy!
When I saw the people and the group shelter between the trees, I was feeling it. This 40 miles was coming to an end. Don’t forget to savor this, Holly. Enjoy it! And there was the finish line. Holy crap, I did it!!! I heard the cow bell. I saw Helene’s awesome banner she made for me, I saw Harley, my mom and Kati and a lots of other smiling faces. I saw Jim right at the finish line and he gave me a high five.
This WAS AWESOME!
And then the tears. I was so overwhelmed. This weekend and all its highs were just too much. TME. Kim handed me my kickass finisher’s fleece and Harley kept pushing a beer. I took off my shoes, chugged some water, ate some chips, sat my ass down, propped my feet up and cheered on the other runners. We all started reliving some parts of the day – as I would for the next 48 hours (essentially nonstop).
It was great to see the other runners come through. Matt made it in only 13 minutes behind us and yelled “Rangers the
lead way” across the finish line. Definitely consider donating to the Wounded Warrior Project – this guy kicked ass Sunday in their honor. There were about 200 runners that
signed up for the race. About 150 showed up and started the race. 32 people didn’t finish. I think I done perdy good at 28th overall!
I want to thank Harley, my mom, Helene and Kati for coming out to support me; GUTS for putting on one helluva race; Thomas Armbruster, the RD; Matt and Jeff for keeping me moving for 30+ miles; and all the volunteers who made this race possible – there is no way in the world I could have run 40 miles without them.