October 12, 2014 by trailcats
I try not to think too much…about running. I usually train with Holly and then sign up on a whim. I decided to run my first ultra (and marathon) the day before (~34 mile in Buncombe, SC) and then did the same for my first 50-miler (Lake Martin 50). But the Thunder Rock 100 (Friday, May 16, 2014 near Ducktown, TN) was premeditated.
Last December Holly and I ran the Bartram 100-mile trail race. After finishing 4th overall, and 2nd female (by 4 minutes) with a sub-22 hour finishing time, Holly felt ambitious and signed us up for Thunder Rock. She backed out with good cause (bun in the oven—baby Winnie), and I had plenty of time to think about what was coming.
The 2nd 100 has got to be the hardest. No longer naively innocent, but not seasoned enough to be confident. Bartram left me scarred—the rain led to wet shoes led to blisters that made the last 30 miles agonizing. I knew I could cover 100 miles, but knew it could be brutal. So I thought about the upcoming ThunderRock way more than any other race I’ve done. For 5 months, everything I did felt small relative to what was lurking.
I’ve never actually researched how to train for a 100 mile race, but I assume low miles are not the preferred training regime. Bartram left me with a sore Achilles, so I took 2 months off (including a 50k in between that confirmed the need to rest/heal). In February I baby-stepped back with faster/shorter runs. In March I built up to some longer distances, and ended up going into TR with about 8 weeks of 25-40 mile long runs (plus about two faster 10-mile runs per week). So I was probably light on miles, but healthy. I was prepared to run halfway and figure out the rest.
The race had a noon start beginning with 40 miles of great trails, some technical and some awesome stretches along waterways. Then sunset and 40 miles of mostly hard-pack roads through the moonlit night. And sunrise was almost to the river—the winner made it here by 1:30 am! A cold river crossing woke me up, and sent my bag of salt and vinegar chips floating downstream. Only 20 miles to finish, but first a big climb—it looks wretched on the elevation chart, but really was a gentle power walk that ended way sooner than I expected before the mostly downhill finish.
The weather was perfect, or at least that was the forecast. I was surprised by the rain and hail in the first 10 miles, and I wasn’t able to beat the rain to the finish on Saturday. So water and mud were a factor, but not as bad as it could have been. It cleared up enough to have a big cheesy moon watch over us at night.
Holly was my co-pilot/crew. She prepped as carefully as if she were running. She bought me a new headlamp, baked awesome Monster cookies (Molly’s recipe), made sandwiches, pasta, etc. And then waited around in the cold overnight to see me briefly 5 times during the first 80 miles (~21 hours). Since I was in ABM mode (Always Be Moving), the aid station stops were short and sweet, maybe 20-30 minutes total. Sleeping in the car was not as comfy as she planned, and 4 or 5 layers can still be chilly when it drops to low 40s overnight. At the river, she had to stand outside in the rain early in the morning for several hours trying to spot me on the other side. Holly claims that being a crew person is harder than running. Ok. It is hard, and I guess I have to pay back the favor sometime.
Run buddies. Michael and Kat schemed to run together, so I thought I’d try to pace myself with them. Kat was strongest early, and waited a couple times to re-form our group. Michael took a few extra minutes to sort out a testy stomach at mile 15, so Kat and I moved on. I think she pulled, and I pushed, and we ran together for about 80 miles! That’s pretty amazing considering I think we were both at a comfortable pace the whole time. It was great to be able to share the journey and beautiful trail together. Kat is a steady runner…she just keeps going and going. Kate joined as a safety pacer at mile 50, and we ran together for 30 miles. Kate is about as friendly and encouraging (and an amazing athlete) you can be! So I lucked out big-time.
I was grumpy at about 90 miles when the flag markers all but disappeared for a stretch. Not losing the trail is part of the challenge with trail running, and I really wanted to avoid bonus miles. This particular event set expectations high in the pre-race pep emails, so it was a buzzkill that the markings compared unfavorably to other events in some stretches. I slow-trotted until I spotted a runner coming up behind me.
And then I looked up and Holly was running toward me from the next-to-last aid station! She was going to run me in to the finish. At one point, she thought I could beat 25 hours, and we hauled ass for 15 minutes until we ran out of clock. It was cool to be strong enough to turn it on after 98 miles.
Logistics. First, thanks to the volunteers. Aid station expectations were high with a contest and hype to expect the best aid stations ever. A few really rocked it (and a few were a bit lame to be in a contest…just saying). The friendly faces, bright lights, mascots, and nice variety of food made a couple of them clear winners. My fav was the cheese pizza at mile 47—where I saw Joel. Even with all the aid, I mostly self-aided with grilled cheese sandwiches, monster cookies, and salt & vinegar chips in a baggy in my pocket.
And so I finished. I never felt There were 200 entrants (not sure how many started)… and 131 finished. I was 60th at 25 hours 25 minutes. The first-place rabbit finished under 18 hours!
Post mortem: I’m finally posting this 5 months later. Winnie is a poo machine. Holly is itching to get back to trail running. And me, I’m still not thinking.