LOVE HARDER , EAT BETTER & EXPLORE FURTHER
I was tempted to write a Barkley Marathons race recap, really dive into the whole 12 hours I spent Out There - especially after reading some of the inspiring ones written by fellow Barkers. But I still haven’t found a way to put what I really want to say into words. I trip over my emotions, battle with my self-loathing, and cringe in fear that someone will misinterpret anything I try to say.
Seeing as I have abandoned this blog since writing my Mountain Mist 50k recap, I think I at least owe myself enough to write sort of a “winter recap”. We’re coming into April now, though it still feels damp and chilly some days in Huntsville, and spring is always a convenient time to press reset. In fact, I wrote that at the top of the page in my planner the week after Barkley…
Through February and March I shuttered myself in with my training. I logged my mileage and my climbs fortuitously, taking spare moments to do squats and lunges. I ran mostly alone, tagging a friend or Luke to run a few miles with me, but being off-training-cycle with your husband and most other friends (no one else was training for an end of March 100 miler ….weird?) made it difficult. It’s easy to highlight a few training weeks that went great - and the ones that made me cry in frustration:
The week after MM50k, Luke and I headed to Frozen Head for park loops and climbs. I felt great out there in the snow and we spent 8 hours on a Saturday moving well. At this point I was heading to aim for a 50k effort every Saturday that I could manage and hit high 80-90 mile weeks with 15k+ gain. Strength training was a bonus and I was in bed early every night.
Another great week included my Dismal 50k - 8 out-and-back repeats on two of our gnarly Monte Sano climbs that culminates in 31 miles and 13,000 feet of gain. I finished off that week ready for RunLOViT 100k scheduled for the next weekend to test my long distance legs (I hadn’t run more than a 50k since Pinhoti 100 in November).
Unfortunately RunLOViT was cancelled this year due to torrential rain and thunderstorms in the area of Arkansas where the race was planned. This culminated in a wasted taper week, a frazzled 8 hours in the car and scrambling to get runs and vert in while our own mountain was becoming more and more unrunnable in the relentless spring rains. No bother - who’s to say the Barkely wouldn’t be incredibly muddy? (Spoiler Alert : IT WAS).
But as they say - keep on keeping on. Another highlight of my winter was becoming an RRCA certified coach in March. Though that weekend was spent mostly sitting I got as many miles as I could in with early morning wake-ups and treadmill miles in the gym where the class was held.
The nuclear power plant that I work at had also scheduled an outage for the majority of this training cycle - how dare they! This meant weird schedules and night shifts. But it also made for a perfect peak week, Luke and I were able to spend one day bushwhacking a 25 mile course from one end of Huntsville to the other and the next day in Chattanooga on some hilly mountain terrain and visiting some of our favorite people.
And finally I got to taper - I planned no runs longer than 10 miles, 7 days out from the Barkley. It felt great to prepare, spend more time with my maps, and finally some quality time with my husband and our new poodle puppy!
Friday we headed up to the park - I wish I had realized sooner that really we should have gone up early early Friday morning to get a camping spot. But it was a blessing in disguise and we ended up camping with Shalini Kovach and her husband (who’s name has escaped me!). David Dye would also be heading up to crew me - a good friend who could spoon with Luke while I was busy. Together we put up a recently purchased shelter - seemingly prepared for the rain…. [Cue Jaws music].
And as we all know - the next morning at 8:30 AM we started preparing to head out into the woods. I felt great, rested and strong. Also - I felt wildly out of my league. Standing with Maggie Guterl, Amelia Boone, Jamil Coury, Mike Wardian, etc… hell, I just felt stupid. I still feel stupid. But with a whiff of tobacco we started climbing and I felt back in my element. I’d like to rip the bandaid off and describe this all quickly:
10. Our group fractured again as Eoin (Ireland), Remy (France) and I stuck together to head down to the prison. I knew this line easy from the Fall Classic and got us into the tunnel, all moving well.
11. The climb to Indian Knob was uneventful, I could follow the contours and even some leftover footprints but I shot to far South and ended up on the actual peak of Indian Knob rather than the capstone that would contain the book. This took a little wandering unfortunately and Eoin and I misplaced Remy in the process.
12. Eoin and I started downhill toward the penultimate book. This book, to me, seemed one of the most complicated finds and I can’t wait to test out navigation here again. Eoin and I weren’t far off the line, but losing time discussing, as Nikki and her group caught up to us. I was relieved to see Maggie again and like good little ducklings we followed the Amazon Nikki right to the book. Maggie, Eoin, Remy and I decided to power on quickly.
We were lucky to spot Jamil’s headlamp at the correct capstone as we all topped out on Chimney tops. He was headed out on his second loop, looking appropriately beat for the weather and gnarly course. I knew how to get us down from here - after finding the old trail and then the new green blazes it was easy to get us downhill. Chimney Tops is tricky, its really easy to miss a switchback and run into the woods - or, in this incredible mud, just lose the trail altogether. I did forget that we weren’t supposed to hit the visitor center as my legs were flying down the trail, I had to back track to Eoin and Maggie before we could start the correct path back to camp.
I want to go back. I feel a need to redeem myself and that I owe the course a better Liz Canty. It deserves a better shot to break my body down completely and I want to give it a fair fight. If Mother Nature showed up with all the right gear to make us miserable, I should have shown up prepared as well.
So now I press “reset”. Luke and I took a weekend in Pensacola to get away from it all and took our runs to the beach and the road. I’m nearly out of my funk, though I still want to cry when people ask how that “Barkley thing” went.
My mileage is back up and I head to the Boston Marathon next week (this post is obviously late, the Boston Marathon was awesome and my race recap will come for that ASAP!) for some much needed time with my family and the community I feel when I’m in Boston. In fact, my old team, the Highland City Striders will be working pedestrian crossings in Brookline. You know I’m stopping to hug them. <3
I struggled with anxiety about Mountain Mist until about Friday night when all our friends rolled into town and finally I was stoked to run Huntsville’s most famed trail race.
Mountain Mist has a special place in my heart. When I moved to Alabama in 2016, made my first friend, Kevin, my third Sunday in town was spent volunteering at the Mountain Mist 50k (“50k? Like kilometers? But that’s longer than a marathon, why would someone do that…”). I volunteered at the Rest Shelter Aid Station run by Josh Kennedy (~Mile 30). This was the “snow year” that moved the race to Sunday after the city closed many roads Saturday due to icy conditions. I was amazed at the strength and endurance I saw coming through that aid station after men and women had spent hours in the mud and the technical terrain. Having only completed 1 marathon and 2 half marathons (and about 10 trail runs ever), I immediately eschewed the idea…until I signed up for the Black Warrior 50k one month later. What the f*ck Kevin.
Anyhow, I think Martin (at www.ultrakrautrunning.com) has put it best so far to describe Mountain Mist 50k as a Southeast trail running family reunion. From Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and beyond, trail runners come to Huntsville to take on the 20+ year old course. I got to the lodge thirty minutes early and I was only able to hug about 20% of the people that I would have loved to catch up with.
Friday night Shannon, Dave, Jackie, Jeff and Bernie-the-poodle all came to crash in our new pad. We have two spare bedrooms (iceboxes) and plenty of space. Enjoying their excitement for the race really changed my attitude. I hadn’t tapered at all and had been feeling the weeks of Barkley training in my legs. I was completely convinced the race would be wash out and I would just have to run “for fun”. After quick dinners, chit-chatting and bib-folding we all crashed for an early morning wake up.
At 5:30 Luke and I rolled over, looked at each other and lamented our life choices. Nevertheless, we were up and at’em, caffeinated and soon our crew was packed into the Subaru and the Merritt Prius and we were off. Jeff wasn’t racing and was instead going to meet his speedster wife at a few aid stations - newly minted HOKA athlete Jackie Merritt was going to demolish this race for the second year in a row. I was way more confident in her than in myself - ha.
Quick hellos, body gliding and selfies before we got outside to let the shivering commence. I new I was safe in shorts and a tee rather than overheating, but damn was it chilly standing at the start line. Luke and I had decided that we’d be running our own races, but I was at least going to keep up in the beginning and avoid the bottlenecks that happen if you hang back. There was a competitive women’s field this year - it was going to be a close one between Jackie, myself and Emily Ansick (a badass who I’ve written about before at Grand Viduta Stage Races grand-viduta-stage-race-recapping-trail-runner-summer-camp.html ).
And we were off. David Riddle took off like a rocket, straight up insanity. I only saw Jackie’s shorty-shorts for about two miles before I lost her around a curve too. Mountain Mist is a complicated course - it has a really fast start on the road, onto really easy trails and it all lulls you into complacency. Until it beats you to a pulp all the way to the finish line from Mile 16. The sadism of it all speaks to me.
I lost Luke around mile 4 and by the end of the first half I was settled into 3rd place female behind Jackie and Emily and somewhere in the Top 20 overall. The first half just rolls on some mountain bike trails, with one solid climb, and I just get bored. I happily settled into my pace and enjoyed the perfect, misty day - really I was just waiting for my legs to cramp and accumulated fatigue to take over.
But it never did. I love this course. I was stoked to hit Red Gate (the “halfway” point), and find out Jackie and Luke were only about 7 or 8 minutes up and Emily was only up about 2 minutes. Back half is my jam and I was ready to turn it on. Rocky terrain, a few big climbs and some lovely mud - I felt pretty confident in my inov-8s with only a few little ankle jumbles. Climbing Waterline - which is an experience everyone needs to have someday - I caught a glimpse of Emily and a few minutes later I saw Luke’s hairy legs. I made it my mission to catch everyone by the Boulevard Parking Lot, it’s all downhill from there ;).
I may have confounded the aid station workers here (if they didn’t know me) when I caught Luke chugging some Coke and said something to the effect of “You ready mofo? Let’s go!”. We took off together down Natural Well, we stayed together to the ditch where we actually ended up on a double date with Ansicks and everyone got to watch me straddle a downed tree that I have never successfully climbed over.
After the ditch, I was ready to put the hammer down and hit the Natural Well downhill hard. I was sad to leave Luke, but I know that if I focused I could cut some more time off and maybe gain on Jackie a bit. Downhill on Natural Well is tough, lots of big drops and slippery rocks that can really take a toll of your quads and hamstrings. I complain every year that if I was a little bit taller, I wouldn’t be annoyed by this section nearly as much. I ran into Yong Kim and then Martin on slush mile as I went, and I was elated when I hit the Rest Shelter climb. Get to the last aid station at the top and then you are home free. I wish I had had a little more energy to run more parts of this climb, but I think I made good time - according to Strava I did PR the section so I’ll take it. I chugged a cup of Coke at the top - promptly threw it up on near an aid station volunteer (you all are AMAZING and I love you) and took off like I was running from the cops. Oh, the speed you can find when you really want to beat your husband in a race…
I made the turn for the finish line with a huge PR - 4:44. Four minutes back from Jackie who gets closer to the course record every year. Luke was only a few minutes behind me with a PR of his own - good enough for 3rd in his age group in a hugely competitive men’s year. We were 9th and 10th overall and I don’t think much would have made us happier.
We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon up at the Lodge before regrouping at the house for some amazing vegan chili courtesy of Chef Jeff - which we promptly covered in sour cream and cheese because we’re animals. All told, it was an amazing weekend - I’m so glad I didn’t back out of this race. Huntsville Track Club and Fleet Feet put on a first class event, with supah cool swag and its only a few minutes from our house! Next year, call ahead and we’ll bunk as many people as we can to test out the Mist
Shoes - I've been partial to the Saucony Peregrines of course, but the mud of the Mist course is legendary. I went with the TrailRoc 270 Inov8s, a lot less cushion but it was worth it for the sticky rubber and mud-shed-ability.
Gear - Saucony Bullet Tight Shorts, Lulu Swiftly Tee, and Swiftwicks on my toeseys.
Pack - As always the Nathan VaporHowe 4L, with a 1/2 full bladder it holds enough that I only stopped at aid stations to chug Coke and I didn't feel weighed down. I really need to reorder this in a size that fits...
Nutrition - Tailwind Nutrition in the pack, and a pack of Honey Stinger Strawberry Chews that came in handy during the longer climbs.
- “I was more of a Tupac guy” - Luke Hough, the whitest man in Heflin, Alabama while discussing 90s rappers on our way to pick-up
- “HOMEWRECKER” - Ryan Ploeckelman
- “Serious question, can you run with a tampon in?” - Sean “The Run Bum” Blanton
- “I mean, you knew it was going to hurt” - Jackie Merritt
- “I totally see those headlights coming at us, but I gotta poop, let me know if they get too close” - Me to Jackie around mile 80 as redneck truck approaches
- “Does she only eat Oreos?” - Mile 93 Aid Station volunteer
- “I’m gonna Breakfast-Club it” - See photo, hitting the asphalt for the 2ish miles to the finish line
- “This is how it ends, death by Pitbull in nowhere Alabama” - What IS it with unfenced dogs in the backwoods
- “You don’t have a vagina, crush it dude” - Me, to the amazing gentleman who passed me trucking before we hit the high school :) but at least didn’t knock me out of First Female
Did I really run 100 miles? My body, my feet, my knees and my soul definitely know it, but my brain is still all “What the fuck happened to Saturday, how is it Monday and I’m driving to work”.
Now, I can probably recap 50k and 100ks a bit briefly, but this would become a lengthy blog trying to summarize 22 hours of relentless forward progress. Instead, I gathered all my favorite quotes, those that made me laugh and the things I remembered the most vividly this morning. Second, I broke this run into four sections and describe them as well as I can for those who know me and for those that may like to run Pinhoti in the future.
Miles 0 - 45
In true Liz fashion, I spent most of this time alone. At the beginning and on and off through mile 20 I spent time with Whitney Stanley, Sarah Williams and Lauren Mitchell. Formidable women in their own right who took on this challenge with grit and grace. I’m sure they were much more lady-like than I was.
I felt like I spent this entire 10 hours or so with my feet wet. Lots of rain this year made for lots of creek crossings that were dried out last year. This would make for some hamburger-feet later on, but, for someone with generally no blister issues I kept on chugging with my trusty Swiftwicks.
Every aid station transition was quick and perfect, all due to my crew and even the people they enlisted at times to fill packs and mop my face (Thanks Jobie Williams!). It got hot, stayed hot, and for me that only made the day better. I am sick and twisted and love the heat, bring on the misery, I’ll chug Tailwind all day long.
Running these miles was rolling and gorgeous with mostly curvy gullies and views of the changing leaves. Leaf-cover made for a few toe stubs, but no big falls. Climbing mT.Cheaha was worth every minute spent in the socked-in woods. The view was beautiful and truly the climb was not a bad as I expected, in fact I ran most of the way up, assuming I had messed up my pace chart and was not heading toward Bald Rock. Heading down the road after Bald Rock was the warmest I really ever felt in the exposed sun, and dropping into Blue Hell was truly rough. That technical section was slow going and was the only time I got a bit lost as I missed a well-flagged turn and ended up in someone’s picnic lunch.
Miles 45 - 65. Quick moving time spent with Sean Blanton
I ran into the Mile 45 - Silent Trail Aid Station with Jess who said if I wanted, Sean Blanton was willing to pace for the next 20 miles. I had intended to take this all on alone until 65, but really at this point I was just plain bored. I had one great gent I had been running on and off with, Jim Fleming, but other than that just silence or my headphones. Run Bum was a GREAT distraction and really a great pacer. He kept me even, my heart rate down and by the last ten miles with him I was still running strong. Sean, Jim, James Demer and I crushed that section and came into Mile 65 within a few minutes of eachother feeling great. Miles 45-55 are a mix of rolling, single track and a bit of road. Miles 55-65 are a long, long stretch of fire road that mostly goes uphill until you take one hard left to beautiful, soft downhill pine trail to the Mile 65 aid station.
Unfortunately right towards the end, I had started to develop a little bit of heel pain. I had started to modify my stride and hit more on my midfoot but I could tell that was just going to start a whole new host of problems. “Here comes the tough stuff”, I thought. I knew. As Jess had said earlier, I had trained for the suffering and took on some tough tune up races to prepare for it. Game on.
Miles 65 - 85. Pain setting in with Jackie Merritt
I kept on chugging, taking Jackie out for the night and the next 20 miles. Heel pain settled in (and still hurts, sure it will work out in the next week or so) and due to increased power walking and a weird stride my right IT Band was really unhappy. I was able to keep a pretty good pace until Mile 75 (Pinnacle) a long, twisty climb that I truly enjoyed. Somewhere in the midst of these miles Jackie - a doctor and master of bodily issues - worked on my foot a little, performed some magic and alleviated a bit of the pain. At Pinnacle, I ate some noodles, put on cushier, dry socks and headed out for the last 10 miles with Jackie. Some more rutted fire road that put my foot through the ringer, but we kept on moving. The last miles down to the Bulls Gap (Mile 85 and the Huntsville Track Club aid station!) are this twisty, mind-fuck that has you hearing the voices and the music for over a mile before you finally dump out into the aid station.
I was deliriously happy to be this much closer, but having nauseous, panic attacks about how much more we had to go. Long ago I had stopped eating solid food, and I just found out we had run out of Tailwind (total planning fail on my part, we hadn’t expected me to go through THAT much Tailwind). I had also run out of Honeystinger Chews, which were about the only other thing sitting well besides Oreos. I stuffed a taco in my mouth praying it would stay there, took some Oreos and a pack of Water/Powerade for the road and headed out with Jess Wood. I warned her things weren’t pretty, and come hell or high water we were finishing this thing. I would walk the whole thing if I had to.
Miles 85 - Finish. The dark with Jess Wood.
And the ugly sobs happened. My positivity lost to my negativity for a combined 15 minutes? Jess can attest to this better, but she kept me moving, helped me breathe through the rough spots and run whenever the terrain and my leg would allow. At this point I could barely bend my right knee, so I was limited to a stutter step run or a fast walk. Good news was, the pain in my IT band had overpowered my foot and I didn’t really notice my heel. The better news was, even 10 miles from the finish line I was truly proud of myself, and proud of my body for having only (what I considered) this minor set back. Miles 85 to the finish are mainly gravely fire/back road, with a few miles of trail and the last 2.5 or so on the pavement to Sylacagua High School.
I’m sure the weirdest conversation from the entire event occurred while I tried to explain a psychology paper I had read, and found really interesting. I decided to access my pain, accept the struggle and try to find harmony. Firstly by giving a my pain a name. We named my right leg Randall. And rather than cuss and cry, as I would have liked, I talked out loud asking for my pain to understand what we were doing here and get with the program. To accept that this was going to happen no matter what, and that I would give it a rest and tons of therapy as long as we could just cross that finish line. Who knows what might have worked, but we kept on chugging and I never totally quit on running. I swear this concept exists, or I’m fucking crazy, decide amongst yourselves.
We hit the road.
I decided to channel Judd Nelson and go full Breakfast Club. Luke Hough still does not understand this reference. See second photo of the post...
And we made it to the stadium. It was amazing and liberating to run around the track. Kevin came to holler for me (Kevin Mack who I paced and crewed for here last year) and Luke ran out to come around the track. In true "Wife of the Year" style, I actually asked him if I could hit the finish line alone. A privilege he didn’t take at his Bear 100 finish. But, in some of the hardest things I’ve done, I’ve never crossed a finish line with anyone. Georgia Death Race, Beaverhead 100k and Barkley Fall Classic all had me cross a finish line alone, and although I wouldn’t accomplish a single thing by myself, I’ve enjoyed that moment of my just my feet and me that trained and raced all those miles.
I have my crew to thank for everything - Jessica Wood, Jackie Merritt and my ever-patient husband Luke Hough. Special shout-out to Sean Blanton who entertained me for several hours and kept a good pace, Jobie Williams who helped my crew out here and there (and took great pictures!), Gregg Gelmis for more pictures, and RD Todd Henderson for putting on one hell of a race.
Shorts - Saucony Bullet Tight Shorts. These shorts can do no wrong, tight, chafeless AND pockets
Tank - Patagonia something, I actually don’t think they make this anymore. I love this shirt I should have bought twelve. Lose and fitted somehow at the same time.
Pack - Nathan VaporHowe 4L. I love having this smaller pack for race day, poor thing has seen better days at this point (Barkley put it through the ringer). Holds a 1.5 L bladder and everything else I wanted between aid stations. Which by the end was just soggy Oreos.
Shoes - Saucony Peregrines and my Trusty Milestone Pod
Fuel - Tons of Raspberry Buzz Tailwind. About 20 packages of Honey Stinger Pomegranate Chews, Oreos and Sweet Potato Tacos I packed. Liters of Coca-Cola.
Let me leave you with this lovely Coca-Cola Ad. Seriously, soda companies should start a campaign for ultrarunners...
P.S. I think "hay's in the barn" and "smelling the barn" are only Southern sayings...
And, I’m spent. Training Cycle Over. Nothing else to be done except enjoy the rest of the week in a healthy taper, resting, recovery, keeping my legs springy and enjoying the company of my foam roller and my king-sized bed. Pinhoti 100 is in four - 4 - FOUR - days. This will be my first 100 miler and I’m not confident at all. I know my training load has been high, most of my key workouts have gone great, and for the most part I think I’ve worked up my strength and no longer fear the intense blow-up that I had at the Georgia Death Race in April. Though I’ve never gone further than the 100k distance (except of course at GDR which measured in around 72 miles in 2017) I feel like I’ve got a good hang of that amount of time on my feet (13-16 hours). I finished Beaverhead 100k in July in extreme temps and altitude feeling like I could have kept running, I hit the finish line of the Barkley Fall Classic not nearly as blown to pieces as I expected and was back running a day later.
I had a few high 80-90 mile weeks, which isn’t nearly as close to the triple digits as some others will train at - but I feel like I spend nearly as much time in those miles and make up for the lacking with vertical gain (since June I’ve had at least 10 weeks with over 10k feet of elevation gain). My training load has kept me with weeks over 70 miles for 5 months.
A few great days:
This race is put on by the “Friends of Warner Parks” and many other sponsors, that all had set up amazing swag tents on a cool October morning in Nashville. Race day sign-up was super simple and computer-based (MAJOR kudos to the race company for having this set-up, it brought my stress level down a ton).
The race is a 6 mile loop, half trail and half road, using the Red Trail at Percy Warner Park. Relay teams would compete in their own division for 5 loops, and me and 20 other psychos were taking on the “Crazy Owl” option to run the 5 loops on our own for a full 30 miles. There was also a 5k option.
Looking forward to an opportunity to go pack-less and really be able to open up on this course, I prepped my mini-aid station (a camp chair, 3 Honey Stinger Chew Packets, and a concentrated Tailwind mix in a handheld bottle, Oh yah I was super prepared lolololololol). I was aiming to complete at lap every 50-53 minutes having me finish between 4:15-4:30 hours, my hip flexors were still bothering me from heavy training loads and speed, but I figured it work itself out.
Quick and easy course description, if it stays the same for future years, from the Start Line not far inside the Park Entrance, racers head out onto the road for a bit for quickly hopping onto the trail section of the loop. The 3 miles of trail chosen for the race are tough, choppy and hilly, you can make up some time on the runnable sections and the downhills but for those doing 5 loops of this there was plenty of hiking. Plenty of aid stations set up on this course to go without a pack or even a hand-held so I stayed plenty hydrated and even had to duck off trail once or twice. You couldn’t possibly get lost on the well-marked course and eventually you were dumped out onto the roads of Percy Warner (where the infamous Flying Monkey Marathon is also held). As much as you can open it up on the road, I tried to keep my pace around an 8 min/mile or less, this section was also pretty damn hilly!
I went out much to fast enjoying the company of my friends Dan Albert and Rafal (of Spring Energy - try it out! Love the Electroride Drink!). My first lap was 49:50. I slowed down instinctively not wanting to burn out. Second lap was also a good run, by the 3rd and 4th laps however I was jamming my fingers into my hip flexor trying to work out the pain that was making me consider quitting because running is stupid sometimes. The 4th lap was ugly. I regrouped at my aid-chair, grabbed my handheld so I could blow through aid stations and make up some time on the final lap and FINALLY my hip/glute pain worked itself out and I made back some time basically sprinting my final lap and taking it home. The win was fun and the swag amazing - but mostly the confidence boost of a tough, fast day was just what I needed this last week. I finished in 4 hours and 31 minutes, almost exactly a 9 min/mile average pace and only a few minutes behind the 2nd and 3rd men.
So here we are. A fewsleeps away from Pinhoti, goals be damned, I want to enjoy this experience and not leave my first 100 miler bitter, sad, angry or hurt.
"Gurlll, did a mad dawg do that to yah...." concerned family noting my war wounds Sunday while out on a recovery run.
*First off if you don’t know what the Barkley is, stop, find your Netflix account and watch “The Barkley Marathons - the Race that Eats its Young” - then continue
This race (and of course the Big Barkley) have been in my brain since I watched The Barkley documentary with my then-boyfriend, now-husband a little over a year ago. I had only been ultrarunning for a few months when we sat down with beers last summer and devoured this movie - not to mention Mr. Hough himself has a few cameos while supporting Rob Youngren a few years ago. We supported some friends at the 2016 Fall Classic and I was amazed at the carnage and the courage all the finishers had to take on that terrain that I had explored a few times - and I could not even fathom the famed “Rat Jaw”, “Testicle Spectacle” or “Meth Lab” Hill.
I was waitlisted for 2016 and registered at midnight one night last summer for the 2017 rendition. The rest of 2016 till now I continued building my ultrarunning background and hill climbing my ass off. And doing cycles of speedwork thanks to Andy Jones-Wilkins. I am the woman requesting mile hill repeats in place of a few 800s on the track….
Now, hilariously enough, I wasn’t even the most worried about the power line climbs, I’ll hike, crawl and drag my ass up any hill till my lungs scream and my butt aches. BUT I was terrified of going through Brushy State Prison - my fear of the dark is nearly paralyzing and has at least gotten better with age. And truth be told - I did lose time there, entering the dimly lit prison building I froze and entering the tunnel I waited momentarily for someone to catch up with me before I just held my breath and ran with my hand along the wall praying Pennywise the Dancing Clown didn’t pop out of the water or the ghost of a long lost prisoner grabbed my ankle. Pure Terror.. I am the woman requesting mile hill repeats in place of a few 800s on the track….
Note : If I head to Big Barkley, my training besides orienteering and hill climbing will definitely be sitting in the woods in the dark trying not to have a panic attack.
Luke and I got in to Morgan County later on Friday afternoon, grabbed my packet and headed to Harriman to a pretty nice Holiday Inn. That we barely made it to. Since we followed Cary Long and David Thurman and we all nearly got killed. After the four of us terrorized the lovely hotel clerks with our banter, Luke and I tucked in for as much sleep as we could get before a not-too-early 4:30 AM wake-up. Got to the field with plenty of time to pitch drop-bags into the trailer, catch up with all our favorites and take my new favorite group picture of the year.
I lined up - and, not able to see the infamous cigarette light - just waited for the throng to shove off. It was a cool morning and I felt great - even without much of taper working to train through the race. After the sprint to the trail head I found myself with the lead chase pack of men and felt pretty great, North Old Mac was a great climb.
Not knowing what to expect, we hit Testicle Spectacle and it was glorious. I truly could not have been happier trouncing through the yet-uncut-briars (the lead pack of men had gotten off course for a short while and caught up to us quickly). I tore my legs and arms to shreds, nearly broke my elbow and saw the largest spider I had ever seen in my life. I pushed through the church aid station without getting water and headed back to climb back up the Spectacle. We created a perfect little butt-shoving train, I had the eventual second place Anatoly Ross shoving from behind and I gave a nice guy named Jeremy a shove or two in the shorty-shorts. Eventually we got up and made our way to Methlab Hill and the Prison.
I filled up my pack quick and steeled myself for the dark and the creepy. In hindsight it was quite awesome and truly my second proudest moment of the day was not sobbing in the tunnel.
Out and Up Rat Jaw we go. This took forever. Check out Facebook. The End.
Fire tower bib punch (and I have to apologize, at the top of the fire tower I did cut in front of a few runners accidentally and did not correct myself - I really am sorry, Karma came back for me in the end) and I had to sprint off to try to regain the lead female position. Not 5 minutes later, I became one of the many who took an incorrect turn and ended up spending about 15-20-30 minutes lost. Who knows - there is no time “Out There”.
I decided to turn around and hollered to everyone I could that I though the other fork was the correct way. It was. At the “Garden Spot” bib bunch I was now 34th Overall and probably 6th woman. I was frustrated and prepared to run with every bit of fury I had. Fury only with myself, I came out not to win but to just take on something really tough and see what this terrain could do to me - and the Barkley was getting the better of me! I pulled up my shorts and prepared to hit Bird Mountain as hard as I could, I love these trails, I love the switch backs and I love the long, slow climbs, hell I even loved the many downed trees that I could vault over, shimmy under and skirt around. On the final climb to the Bird Mountain peak I had regained the lead and promised I would take every opportunity to run for the rest of the day and smile while I did it.
Descending the road to Laz and the “decision point” was a great relief. I chugged a Coke, impressing a teenager, smooched Laz the sick son-of-a-bitch and headed up Chimney Tops only a few minutes behind the 4th place dude. Chimney Tops is a favorite of mine, god I wish I could train in Frozen Head all year round. I quickly caught up to Wesley from Ohio who was keeping a great pace and together we navigated the rest of the route, climbing and climbing until the actual “chimney” came in to view. I took off through these runnable sections all the way to the final bib punch. I asked the gentleman there to never tell a soul, but I will, I ugly-cried, ugly and loud. I had run out of water on the climb and was so desperate to see jugs of warm water and to know at no point had I gotten off course.
Last bib bunch and off I went. Knowing once and for all THIS was the way to finish. And still I trust no one, not even myself, and I gestured to every hiker I passed that yes, they had seen racers coming in this direction. I continued all the way down the road to my favorite sign of the day.
And I’m still smiling thinking about the maniacal chuckle that spurted out of me.
After spending so much time alone in the woods, seeing the finish line was amazing and at the same disconcerting. As it is whenever I finish a race - seeing other people is off-putting. As soon as I took a picture with Steve Durbin (a photo I’m sure is just sexy as hell), I just wanted to be off alone, as quickly as possible. Luke helped me rinse out the rat bites and eventually we settled back up at the finish line to cheer for the rest of the field.
Cary Long snagged another marathon finish, David Thurman finally got the 50k beast of his back, David Nast did NOT get stung by yellow jackets, Jay Crosby finished in style and pants, Dana Overton crushed it wearing the most clothes (but without poison ivy OR many rat bites!), more 50k finishes from Rob Youngren, Martin, Ryan Uchida and Tyler Harbin and probably many other Huntsvillians (see what I did there…) who I have missed. I’m am proud as hell of our ultrarunning community that Beat the Rat.
Now the final question - winning the Barkley Fall Classic allows me to enter the Barkley Marathons - do I count my blessings, heal my scratches and say No, Thanks or do I relish the opportunity to go back “Out There” and let the race eat me alive….
As always Tailwind to start my day and the Sword on course helped a ton. Honeystinger chews when I could actually stomach something through the heat and the pace. My most favorite Nathan Pack that is some-what-actually-completely-destroyed from the briars. Saucony Peregrines and my trusty Milestone pod that (while not collecting any GPS data - which would be highly illegal at a Barkley!) showed me post-race what a couple power line cuts will do to your day :)
Author’s Note: Not one of us is a licensed dietician but 20+ years of training experience, one doctor and two engineering degrees we feel at least educated enough to talk about what has (and has not) worked for us…
Most often I find I am asked by other runners what I eat/drink during a run or a race - but I think its pretty important [and pretty entertaining] to understand how athletes fuel when its even more important - during training. I decided to look into this from a few interesting perspectives - highlighting lots of different diet choices - vegetarian, plant-based, omnivorous and whatever you might call how Cary Long eats.
Jackie #Wildcard Merritt - Wildcard no more - Jackie Merritt blew the southeast apart last year breaking course records and winning races across the South and most recently placing 7th at the Western States 100. She fuels on a whole foods plant-based diet (i.e. essentially healthy vegan) and has maxed out over 100 miles per week getting ready for recent efforts.
Liz Canty (me) - If Jackie is the #wildcard - I’ll take #underdog as my hashtag. Having only about 2.5 years in sneakers - I’ve enjoyed a bunch of crappy road races before finding my stride in trail/ultrarunning. Some notable performances at Southeast races, course records and my favorite - 1st Female/CR at Beaverhead Endurance 100k in Idaho this past July. Fueling vegetarian (not vegan…yet) and currently training at 70-80 miles per week getting ready for my first 100 miler.
Luke Hough (…Mr. Canty) - Seven years running competitively between road/trail and the last 5 years in the ultra trail world. Has run Zion 100, Bear 100 (which he stopped at mile 83 due to calf injury) and Rocky Raccoon 100 (23rd Male in 19:20). Only improving in speed and endurance, even though he’s getting old. Just kidding J Omnivore runner currently training for a reattempt at the Bear 100 this September and eating everything and anything I take off the stove.
Cary Long - Lover of trail running, trail working and trail-tooting. Most of the Southeast knows and loves Cary Long - especially on an East Coast Trail and Ultra Podcast - I know him as the creepy, older groomsman at my wedding… This man can do anything and eat anything he puts his mind to!
Daily Calorie Intake During Peak Months of 100 Mile Training
Liz - I definitely don’t count calories, and with increased mileage lately I have been STARVING. Lots of run-ger. If I thought about it and counted out my standard day I probably eat around 2,000 calories a day. Which sounds so silly and standard but I make sure I don’t go to bed hungry. Fun fact: I am also a “volume-eater”, I would rather eat a lot of a less-calorie dense food (read: lots of salads, fruits, veggies) than less of a more calorie-dense food.
Luke - If I counted all of my calories, I would probably be in for quite a shock. I probably pack a thousand calories in at breakfast, spread another 600-800 through the work day, and finish off with 800ish at dinner. Dinner is really where the variation happens depending on if I have a beer (or two), and how many scoops of ice cream use to deliver the chocolate syrup to my mouth. So I think I fall somewhere in the 2500-3000 range.
Cary - places the screw up my calorie intake are Sitar Indian Buffet, Hildegards German Buffet, El Omeca Mexican Buffet and 88 Chinese Buffet. Yes I have a problem. But oftentimes I try to eat a Pro-Bar for breakfast and lunch.
Jackie –Your body sees and treats 300 calories of kale very differently from 300 calories of gummy bears so your calorie count can be a pretty meaningless number. But, as an estimate, when I am running 100+ mile weeks, I am probably consuming at least 2500 calories a day. During my highest mileage and quality weeks, I often have to make concerted efforts to not drop too much weight by adding more high energy and nutrient dense foods and snacks like nut butters into my daily fueling. This is important because when your body is in a negative caloric balance (i.e. losing weight) it is much harder for your muscles and other systems to recovery from harder training efforts and high mileage.
Favorite Post-Long Run Treat
Liz - I have the unfortunate situation of being not hungry for too long after I finish a long run. My husband (and I’m sure he’ll tell you) can eat a horse as soon as he unties his trail shoes. I’m lucky if Saltines look appetizing. However, sometimes, on the rare occasion my stomach might agree a real big, cold, berry, kale and peanut butter filled smoothie is AMAZING. Our pantry (unbeknownst to Luke) is generally full of all kind of superfood goodies that I can blend up in there and sip on while I stretch out. Hemp hearts, chia seeds, ground almond & flax meal, etc. etc. Literally thinking of the one I’ll have after my run in the sun this afternoon…
Luke -Cold sweet tea. The overly sweet kind you buy at the grocery store. I try not to eat or drink a lot of sugary things in my daily diet, but post long run, I just want the sugar. After a long race, I just eat and drink anything I can get my hands on including pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, cookies, beer, chili, ginger ale, watermelon, potato chips, and one time a breakfast sausage scramble. If it’s at a finish area, I’ve probably eaten it.
Cary - Galen's Alabama Omelet which contains sausage, cheese, with gravy and biscuits and a side of thick bacon. Yes I have a problem. I feel justified and a little depressed and lonely as the last bite of gravy and biscuit traverses my lips.
Jackie – My favorite immediate post-run snack is probably a homemade coffee smoothie or maybe some kind of lentil soup in the winter. I also LOVE coconut water after a long hot run in the south. Rehydrating after your run is actually more important to recovery than refueling so I like drinking something like coconut water that encourages me to drink more than just plain water sometimes.
Favorite Recovery Meal
Liz - As mentioned, when my stomach does finally recover - the favorite finish to a long training day for me is a veggie-filled, hot-sauce covered tofu/egg scramble. And then cover it in avocado and sriarcha - because #spicyfood. Alternatively, when I’m a little more rushed basic-white-girl avocado toast is delish, but lacking in protein unless I can fry an egg up on there.
Luke - I became interested in nutrition when I was really into weightlifting, and I still carry around that idea of recovering muscles need protein. So I like a big bowl of plain Greek yogurt with granola, honey, and some form of frozen berries. I don’t skimp on the yogurt either. It has to be at least 2% fat, and I eat like 1/3 of a pound.
Cary - Anaheim Chili Serrano pepper burger with fries covered in dog gravy and nacho cheese sauce.
Jackie – I pretty much love every meal that can be found on minimalistbaker.com. We use a lot of sweet potato, avocado, tahini, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and dark leafy greens in our cooking. Daily, I add chia seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds to pretty much every meal in some form. Chia seeds are a complete protein and contain all essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own. I eat 1.5-2 tablespoons daily added to a morning smoothie with avocado toast and/or afternoon snack. I also love pumpkin seeds, especially lightly roasted with a little olive oil and salt, and will add them to anything...lunch wraps, salads, burrito bowls, stir frys, etc. Pumpkins seeds are a great source of iron and B vitamins, which are particularly important to high level training and competing as an athlete.
Favorite Pre-Run/Pre-Race Dinner
Liz - Fortunately the night before a long run or race, my stomach is not super picky. I find I have plenty of time between eating and my race/run start in the AM that I don’t have to be too careful. Anything with a good split of carbs (from gluten and veggies) and protein works well - also some sodium always helps me, so salty food is lovely. Favorites to date have been big bowls of stir-fry or veggies tacos with beans/rice.
Luke - Lucky for me, I have an iron stomach (mostly) and the pre-run dinner doesn’t matter much. I try to avoid really fibrous foods before shorter distances like the 50k since I don’t want to increase chances of any mid-race detours to the woods. My standard pre-race dinner is pizza and beer. I like to pretend it’s carbo-loading, but really I just like pizza and beer. Plus, if I don’t eat the whole 16” pizza, there’s some left when I finish the race!
Cary - salmon with sweet potatoes. However for the past three weeks I have had Casa Blanca's Hawaiian Chicken and rice cover in queso and bacon.
Jackie – Cheeseless pizza has traditionally been my go-to pre race dinner, mostly because you can find it pretty much everywhere when you travel to a race and are not always able to make a home-cooked meal. Before Western States Jeff made these Mediterranean baked sweet potatos ( https://minimalistbaker.com/mediterranean-baked-sweet-potatoes/ ) that were delicious and also seemed to work really well for me during the race.
What works best for you pre-run (1-2 hours before a long training run)
Liz - For me its not really about what I eat, but more about when I eat it. As long as I have had my last bite of breakfast 20-30 minutes before I start, I’m generally fine. Out of habit and safety - I’ll usually either have just a granola bar for a shorter effort, or, for longer runs/races, I’ll have oatmeal with banana and peanut butter and maybe even an extra scoop of yogurt. And COFFEE. Always Coffee. Forever Coffee.
Luke - This is the critical time window for my stomach and where I most often make mistakes. I’ve found a little granola or oatmeal is most tolerable, but if I’m running 50k or longer, I’ll have a bit of yogurt with it. Whatever I eat, it needs to have time to be almost fully digested before the run/race starts, or else I’ll spend the next hour with indigestion. I would rather start with an empty stomach and start eating after 5-6 miles when my stomach is settled. Once I’m settled into a run, I can pretty much eat whatever I want without problems.
Cary - Pro Bar mostly. David Thurman has put me on to peanut butter sammiches. Definitely coffee with honey in it.
Jackie – A small cup of black coffee and a slick of avocado toast with sea salt and chia seeds (shorter race 5K – 50K) OR oatmeal with banana, honey and nut butter (longer race 50 – 100 miles)
Worst nutrition mistake ever (mid-run/race/anytime)?
Liz - So maybe we could say this was altitude-induced….or I could admit that I have some lactose-intolerance issues with dairy. The day/night before Beaverhead 100k, somehow I had ended up eating more cheese/dairy than I really intended too. Between a cheesy artichoke dip appetizer, mozzarella on a veggie sandwich and probably excess milk in coffee along the way - the first 20-30 miles of Beaverhead 100k were spent off-trail and looking for “toilet paper”…aka non-rash-inducing-leaves. All of this led to incredible chafing that lasted too long.
Luke - At one of my first 50k races, I thought I would get a performance boost from taking caffeine. When I first started running ultras, the packaged nutrition options weren’t as varied as they are now, and I relied heavily on a big tub of lime Gatorade powder from Sam’s Club. I decided it would be a great idea to dissolve a caffeine tablet (or possibly 2) in with the Gatorade in my hydration bladder. The problem is balancing dosage with the need to hydrate. The day was hot, and I drank way more than usual. I got all dizzy, and my vision was tunneled. That was the worst 50k I’ve ever ran.
Cary- Before a 10K I have a Hardee's Sausage egg and cheese biscuit. Entering mile 5 I had a brown snake playing peekaboo with my brown eye. I was choking it so hard and my face was grimacing. Rob Youngren was on the side and thought I was really into the run and gave me a shout out of encouragement. Rounded the corner to the finish line and crapped myself through the finishers chute and ran straight to the blue dolphin.
Jackie – Gels. I haven’t had a gel since 2014 and I plan to keep in that way!
Coffee? Go or no-go pre-run
Liz - GO.
Luke - Nope, nope, nope! I love coffee. I like to make coffee. I like to drink coffee. I can absolutely not have coffee any time before a run. I need probably 5 hours between drinking coffee and running, or I’ll be burping and moaning for the entire run. This is a proven fact for me at this point, but for some reason, I still try to drink coffee before runs occasionally. The outcome is always the same, Liz being grossed out by the outward signs of my discomfort.
Cary - Definitely coffee. Issue is, sometime is doesn't do its magic till around mile 6 of the race.
Jackie – Absolutely, if the run is in the morning. Just keep all that sweetener and creamy crap out of it.
So there you go - a few of your probably favorite people talking about the things that fuel their crazy lives and the things that send us into the woods immediately…
Travel to a remote area of Idaho? Check.
Run the 100k Option when everyone else (rightly) dropped to the 55k? Check
New Coach, Tempo Work, Heat Training? Check
Be Prepared and Research the Course Terrain.......Kind Of
Rather than bore you hundreds of words - which I'm sure I could - I'd rather share this race recap in photos and commentary. Truly there are so many things I could say about this long weekend - from getting to see Liz, Todd, Jen and Eric (some of my bests from Massachusetts/Montana) to getting to see one of the most scenic and remote parts of the country blessedly on foot.
I will say I got here with some amazing training from Andy Jones-Wilkins (if you're reading this I'm sure you'd know him better as AJW, ultrarunning badass) who picked my straggly butt up, gave me some great workouts and has made me so much faster and confident. Also, of course to my husband Luke and my mother-in-law Ann who waited patiently for me to finish and at the only crewed Aid Station (where mostly I just threw sweaty things and food wrappers at her, before she had to watch me Squirrel-Nut-Butter my undercarriage).
Without further ado....Race Weekend! And we headed off on our flight!
Oh wait first we got in a car accident...yup, good ol' Nashville fender bender
We arrived in Salt Lake City, found beer (obv) and tried to get a solid night of sleep before we headed north to Idaho!! We met Liz and Todd for breakfast in an SLC diner (where we offended everyone) and then prepared for the 5.5 hour tour...
And here's where things get fun...as if they weren't already.
After arriving in Salmon, ID, home to about 300 hotel rooms, we found out that the hotel room Liz and Todd had booked had given away out hotel room! Liz had accidentally book from Thursday to Sunday, seeing as we had not shown up, they gave the room - understandable, but suddenly terrifying. There was one hotel room left in the whole town, with a single king bed.
Enter the lovely Jen and Eric Hebert. Who were also running the 100k. Liz and Luke had previously dropped to the 55k. These guys had a spare queen bed in their room - and we were golden and ready to prep!
With race time at 5:00 AM that means alarms were blaring at 2:40 (for a 3:15 Ass-In-Seat, for the 1:45 drive to the start line in Leadore, ID). Luke was kind enough to drive me and his mother to my start line.
I was feeling ready, I had anonymity here, I had no idea how I would react to the altitude, and I was just looking forward to the sunrise and the lovely terrain.
Cue amazing race pictures (taken by Luke, Liz Masterjohn and Eric Hebert - scroll to the end for awesome video by Eric!)
Here I am coming into the Mile 26 Aid Station - the only time 100kers are allowed crew access.
I felt strong, I enjoyed the DRY heat - so different from the soaking humidity I was used to. I was excited to see my mom-in-law and I was excited to start the tough climbs. The first marathon of the course is LOVELY and so runnable, the goal is to not blow yourself apart. This aid station is the start line for the 55k and the start of the hardest terrain. Lots of climbs (as seen in the elevation profile) and THE BOULDER FIELD. HOLY GOD THE BOULDER FIELD OF LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP AND TERROR AND BRUISES.
4 miles of THIS. It was amazing, I love slow, technical "running". I kept my wits about me and kept huffing, eventually catching and passing the third place male (I hadn't seen a woman since the start line). Not without first completely eating sh*t into the talus and scaring the poor guy - I appeared dead for about thirty seconds.
Finally turning off the talus field, you take the steepest way possible back down to about 6,000 ft (i.e. dropping 3,000 in two miles or so). This was tough - but at the same time an amazing oppurtunity to fly as fast as I could. Things got complicated trying to *safely* pass 55kers with trekking poles - and in fact I ran face, leg, hand first into a tree. With a few new gashes dripping blood I trucked it into the last aid station. Two oreos, fresh tailwind and I was out of there as quickly as possible. After first deliberating with the medical crew that, no, in fact I was okay with the blood dripping off me and I would clean it at the finish...
4.5 Miles of jeep road, ice-cold-perfect creek crossings and beautiful winding pasture - I trucked it into the finish line. Although I couldn't link the video in here - here's the screenshot of my finish leap to Luke. I was ecstatic - finally a day I was really, really proud of. Total redemption from the collapse of my IT band(s) at Georgia Death Race. Third overall, First woman, and a shiny new course record at 13 hours and 17 minutes (1.5 hours off the previous record).
We ambled about for a bit, let my husband drag me to the medical tent, took a paper towel shower and waiting in earnest for the next women and to see the men I'd run with along the way.
We got to see Jen and Eric finish together, hand-in-hand, later that night before we all crashed. I think I only slept 5 or 6 hours before I was up, starving, and begging everyone to go get breakfast.
Liz and Todd had to head back to Salt Lake City for a flight back east that night - Luke and I had chosen even better, to fly out on Monday afternoon and enjoy another day in Utah.
We drove back from Idaho, stopping as often as I cramped up or got hungry, and even hit the town of Lava Hot Springs to get in their 105 degree pools. Needless to say it was empty - seeing as it was 105 degrees outside...
And our final night was spent in Logan, Utah. The town Luke's next 100 (The Bear) will start in - much less busy than SLC and surrounded by mountains.
We ate pizza, drank awesome local beer, wandered (gimped), and tried to reorganize to get back to Alabama with all our gear. Logan is a lovely city with a great trail community (Altra is based there too) and worth a stop, just an hour north of SLC if you're ever in the area.
Before I dive into all the awesome gear I used at the race - here is the awesome raw footage from the 100k that Eric Hebert took while on course participating as film crew for the race - worth every second of ignoring work and watching!!
Also please check out the race - this was truly amazing and I may even go back next year. The podium winners get free entry to either distance next year :)
ALL THE RUNNING-NERD-GEAR THINGS!
- Shoes: All the love to Saucony and the Peregrines - I took my shoes off after the shifty climbing, soaking ice baths and tough downhills to not a single blister, (new) missing toenail or even maceration - although I know my trusty Swiftwicks help with that too :)
- Milestone Pod! Always - Love - Data. Unfortunately I was moving JUST TOO SLOW in the Talus field where the pod lost the 1.5 hours I spent out there. Which is completely fine with me, I otherwise love the autopause feature for when your pace drops (for instance at an aid station, looonnggg bathroom breaks etc.) so your run doesn't end up as several runs. Proud of myself for the pick up at the end, my low impact and keeping my leg swing up in the runnable sections.
****BONUS : if you're reading this before July 31st, use the code PodTeamLiz30 for 30% off up to 4 pods.
- Shorts: Saucony Bullet Tight Short - so tight (a good thing for me), pockets galore
- Top: Lulu - my go-to. Doesn't ride up behind my pack like the loose stuff a lot of companies are pushing right now
- Fuel: Started with my favorite Honeystinger chews before everything went sideways and I turned to Tailwind for the rest of the race. Seriously, truly saved my day that the race had it on course.
- Pack: Nathan Vapor Howe 12L. Would have loved the lighter 4L but with 1 crew stop I had to carry a lot more
- Watch: Timex-20-buck-Walmart-special. Hey this thing has made it through GDR, Beaverhead, Stage Racing and my life
Ever wanted to be sore, tired, hungry and dehydrated for three days straight?? Then Stage Racing is for you!
Race Recaps for a single day of racing are tough enough - putting together a little insight from THREE days of racing is always different. Following a great time at Grand Viduta Stage Race in Huntsville - I decided to take on the beastly Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race for a solid back-to-back-to-back weekend. Training hard for my 100k, taperless and signing up 4 days before the race made for an adventure!
Hydrate is the name of the game for a stage race - or any race really - especially when you see that the temperature will be approaching 90 everyday and the humidity results in swim-running.
Thursday night after work I packed up the Focus and headed towards Signal Mountain to start my mini-vacation with the Baker family. Instead of stopping or getting caught in more traffic, I packed a weeks worth of food in the car and munched on a hummus-veggie wrap and some rice cakes on my way in. Rather than strand me in the barn by my lonesome, Jenny let me stay on the couch (since hubby wasn’t coming up until Friday night with Cary Long and son). Chris and Susie (friends from Cincinnati) got there close to midnight and a few hours later it was time to head out!
(Side Note: I had not yet mentally prepared goals for this race - which I should have, and really put a damper on Day 1. I knew the fatigue in my legs from little time off and just my state of mind in general weren’t there and I should have re-arranged this race to “Have fun, try hard, but be ready for two more heavy weeks of training”.)
Friday - Day 1 - Raccoon Mountain
Early to the start line to pick up my bib; races in Chattanooga are like family reunions these days. So many familiar faces that its hard to say hi to everyone, but I sure as hell try. Randy and Kris Whorton work so hard to make these events well-organized and fun, grabbing my packet was a breeze (and the shirt was super cute!) and Franklin, Chris and I headed out for a quick warm-up. Got to meet the awesome Meg Landymore, hoping it would be us two going out for the podium this weekend.
Knowing most of my frustration was in my head, I also felt totally enslaved by my watch. On twisty, turny trails my Suunto can be up to 2 miles off. By the time I finished this 16 mile race (correct by my Milestone Pod and other GPS accounts) my watch only read 14.2 - meaning it had been feeding me crap pace estimates the whole time.
I knew it was back to my Timex for the rest of the weekend.
I went to the Baker Barn for a nap and hydration until my man made it up the mountain around 5 PM. A quick dinner with the crew and it was lights out for me before 10 PM.
Saturday - Day 2 - Lula Lake/Lookout Mountain
Lookout Mountain is probably my most favorite in Chattanooga. It’s one of the first places Luke took me to run and some place we come back to every time we’re town for some hill repeats and long runs.
Today wasn’t as sunny but OH GOD was the humidity there. As soon as the race started, well, who am I kidding, 30 minutes before the start, I was sweating bullets. [Note the ice placement in the picture below...]. Good news was my legs weren’t totally trashed after making smart decisions to ease up the day before and get some rest.
This course is beautiful, this must be why Lula Lake is only open one weekend a month. Keep that gorgeous-ness locked up tight. After a steep climb up from the creek there was some nice, rolling single track out to Covenant College. I think the worst part of this was crisscrossing the power line cuts, now, I love me some powerline cuts, but these were definitely a little muddy and with the sun coming out they were HAWT. As you head back to the start the course is mostly downhill, weaving towards the falls before taking on the technical trail to the beautiful falls and climbing back out. The 600 stairs at the end of GDR were more fun ;)
Heading to the finish all I could thing about was soaking in the cold, cold creek. Which I might say was fabulous. Until I dropped the hugest F-Bomb upon creek-sitting - you know in front of like 5 children.
The joys of trail running.
Saturday Night was probably the best part of the whole day! All the Chattanooga family (and visitors!) headed to the Baker compound for a great veggie-filled dinner, beer, conversation and a AH-mazing berry cobbler from runner-cook-extraordinaire Daniel Lucas.
Oh and Cary Long decided to whip some nipple out so we didn’t overdo the fun.
I crashed hard that night after some quality time with my roller, beet/cherry juice and compression socks. Definitely the most important part of stage racing is staying hydrated and not getting behind on calorie consumption. Which, if you’re sleepy enough, can get easy to miss snacks and water bottles while you snooze.
Sunday - Day 3 - Signal Mountain/Edwards Point
I’ve done the Suck Creek to Mushroom Rock & Edwards Point traverse several times on Chattanooga visits. I love this run, these climbs and the view off Edwards Point. This day of the race drops off from a school atop Signal Mountain, allllllllllll the way down to Mushroom Rock. You just gotta bomb this downhill because you won’t be making up much time for the miles after and why the hell not, it’s the last day of the Stage Race!
After the abrupt turnaround at Mushroom Rock you head back to Edwards Point, these lonely, rolling miles were definitely worth the view off Edwards point. Right around here the rock garden set in, and felt like it lasted forever. These things were slick and huge (that’s what she said) and slowed me down a lot with my little midget legs. Matt Taylor came flying by looking great and I tried to keep up till the aid station.
The second to last aid station is out in a neighborhood before you tour near a Retirement Home and drop back off onto trails. It felt great to open it up on the road for a minute, and I started to keep pace with Rafal of Spring Energy and enjoyed having some company for a bit.
After following a creek for what seems like forever, in a dank cave of humidity, we hit the last aid station where I got to see my hubby before cranking out the last few miles to the finish. It always comes over me to sprint to a finish like a Cross Country 5k, who knows, because I know I look ridiculous I even threw in the head lunge to the finish line.
I was happy to end up second female for the whole weekend behind Meg who put on an awesome performance. Walked away with great memories, some cool swag and even a 6 pack of Chattanooga Brewing Company beer brewed specially for Wild Trails.
I head to Beaverhead 100k in Idaho, along the Continental Divide Trail, and try to make a small mark out west. Hoping for a finish somewhere between my first 100k (a looped, very runnable Massachusetts event where I was 2nd in 13:30) and GDR (15:40). Oh and my birthday is this weekend! Hello, 26.
Three Days of Data!
Stage Race Takeaway -
-Run a Wild Trails Event - Randy and Kris are amazing and would do anything for this community, these trails, and their runners. Heck that lady figured out exactly where all that ice was going and helped shove it in my bra by Day 3.
-The Nathan Vapor Howe 4L is an amazing short distance pack - Meg and I both rocked these over the weekend (me with a bladder and her using the accompanying bottles) and I’ll be using either this or the -12L at Beaverhead
-Run Free - Check out the Milestone Pod, seriously, unless you truly care about whatever elevation gain you might get and your exact pace (which come on is a toss up anyway), the inexpensive pod (and great technology!) plus a 20 dollar Timex are your best investment.
-Get your race kit right - the last few races, I have zeroed in on exactly what I need to wear and do to prevent chafing - here was my go to this weekend and has been for several races:
“As every runner knows running is about more than just putting one foot in front of the other; it is about our lifestyle and who we are” - Joan Benoit Samuelson
Runners, in my opinion ultra and trail runners especially, are the most selfless, caring, optimistic, determined people on Earth. Not only do we toil and suffer in our own competitive spirit, but in a moment’s notice we’d do it for our friends, family and sometimes complete strangers. I got to witness the brutality of the Cruel Jewel 100 from a side I often don’t get to enjoy - pacing, crewing and spectating.
Sarah Woerner is an amazing runner; strong, fast and competent. With nothing on our schedule last weekend and the urge to camp, I asked if she was set for crew in her Cruel Jewel 100 attempt. Turns out - my girl could use a pacer for 35 miles, my specialty. Luke and I packed up the Subaru and headed out to Camp Morganton (the Mile 50 aid station and turn around point for CJ100) Friday afternoon, aiming to get there around 9-10 PM. We expected Sarah anywhere between Midnight and 1 AM, so we were able to tuck-in and get an hour or two of sleep.
Franklin Baker rolled in around midnight, looking strong and met his crew parked a few cars down. We checked in for sweaty hugs before he proceeded to cover his undercarriage in lube and head out with Daniel “Hot Daniel” Lucas. Even though the sun was down the night was dank and muggy, I knew I would be sweating within moments of running. Franklin let us know that Sarah wasn’t moving too well when he saw her, and we noticed that she was losing a bit of time on our schedule, following the UltraSignUp Tracking. At this point we also found out that unfortunately Nathan Holland had dropped with a lot of nutrition complications from the terrible heat, it seemed no one was keeping food down.
Closer to 2 AM Sarah came in to Camp Morganton. Her feet were in a lot of pain and she wasn’t moving well, it broke our hearts knowing she might not head back out. We spent a bit of time relaxing, trying on different shoes and going for a walk before she made the right call and pulled out. The way her feet were, the last, tough 56 miles would have been an excruciating walk. Live to run another day!
At this point I was jittery and caffeinated beyond all ultrarunner’s dreams. Without too much thought (especially to my beyond understanding and loving husband who has to put up with crazy shit all too often) - I offered my pacing services up to the 4 men still hanging in the 50 mile aid station getting ready to head out. With quick glances to each other, probably to the effect of “This chick could either be helpful or super annoying and maybe my wife will get pissed”, one gent spoke up.
Benjamin was the first bloodied person to come into the aid station and was still moving pretty well from what I could see. I think around 2:00 AM everyone is desperate for another human to share the misery with - so I headed out. I decided I go with Ben for 20 miles to the Mile 70 Aid Station. GOODNESS, was this the most fun I had had out on trail in a bit. Even though he was definitely hurting and fighting his way through the hellish climbs we had, Ben kept on chatting and laughing with me. We kept up a safe pace for climbs so he’d have plenty left for the last 30 miles and I tried to keep his nutrition and stomach issues in check - no puking (while he was with me that is !). Although my decision to disappear into the night may have been crass, I knew I made the right decision. It was absolute bliss to learn about Ben, hike like I hadn’t since GDR and see the sunrise over the Benton Mackaye Trail.
Around 8:00 AM we made it to the Mile 70 aid station, we found Luke asleep in the Subaru, and I gave Ben the biggest, sweaty hug and sent him on his way. A new member of our extended trail family.
Luke and I headed to Vogel State Park where we were going to camp with the Bakers, Hollands and Daniel Lucas. After an hour or so I felt great and beautiful bluebird day was calling my name. I hit the Coosa backcountry trail for 7 miles. After weeks of some tough road running due to work and time issues, it felt beyond amazing to enjoy some self-care on the trails. I got another 3k of gain in that 7 miles, but felt lighter on my feet heading back to camp.
For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed spending time with our favorite hoard of children and the ultrawife duo Katy Holland and Jenny Baker. Of course I have no pictures with them :/ too busy wrangling husbands, children and one crazy Vizla named Forest. We tracked Franklin through UltraSignup and kept in touch with his crew. I kept track of my new friend Benjamin - hoping any momentum I might have gave him stuck around.
Finally around 6:00 PM we headed down to the finish line knowing Franklin would be coming in shortly - and boy was he coming in hot. He and his last pacer Chris were sprinting in, definitely ready to be done. It was so exciting and inspiring. He was the 6th finisher in under 31 hours! Eventually we all headed back to camp for dinner. Benjamin came running past our site to the finish line about an hour later - about to beat 32 hours and still moving like a fiend. I hopped up from the picnic table and jogged with him all the way to the finish line. I’ve never been so thrilled for someone, even a complete stranger who I’d only met a few hours ago.
Later that night, I helped Jenny cook dinner for the boys. We shared wine, laughs and cheers to the runners still coming past as the rain and thunder poured down. Finally, after being up since 5:30 Friday morning, we hit the hay (the air mattress in the back of our Subaru) around 10:00 PM. One last meal shared with the Bakers and goodbye hugs all around and we headed back to Huntsville.
Two weeks of rough schedules and stress left me desperate for this weekend. Not for the running or the training, but for the amount of love you can just soak up at an ultramarathon. Its better than therapy. True determination and spunk come through at these races, everyone, especially those of us who race a little to often, should take the time to volunteer and crew and remember what the sport is all about.
And on that note - I just signed up for the Pinhoti 100 Miler and I’ll be coming into one of my hardest training weekends to date. A 30-mile sandwiched by two 20 mile runs. Working with a new coach has given me a little more confidence and I’m excited for the rest of the year.
Over the river(s), through the wood(s) and up the mountain(s) we go.
Grand Viduta Stage Race - My first Stage Race, Huntsville's first Stage Race, and whole lot of fun and worth taking some sick time to run 13 miles Friday morning.
Friday - 13 Miles, Land Trust Conservation Trails
For once I was glad that I work such early hours normally during the week - so sleeping till 6:00 AM on Friday morning was like a vacation. Till the nerves of getting ready to run at race pace 3 days in a row set in.
Luke got up and made us some coffee - I married a man who gets up at 5:15 AM everyday to make me coffee and kiss me off to work. Even though he doesn’t have to get off to work till nearly 8:00. I’m a spoiled brat.
Scarfed some breakfast, watched the news and relaxed before heading out the Land Trust - one side of the Monte Santo trail system which you can enter off Tollgate Road. I was excited for this first day, not only was I taking a half day away from the office AND doing my favorite activity, but on some of my favorite trails as well. About 2 miles from our apartment we can hit the trail heads for the Land Trust, hell I spent more time climbing Waterline repeats then I want to remember preparing for GDR.
Day 1 is twisty, turny, topsy, turvy and hits nearly every trail on this side of the Mountain. I am truly glad I know the trails and researched the course a bit because it could definitely have gotten a little confusing [PSA some of the lead runners, including myself, had to run under tape on a section of course that we looped back on to - although there was a sign to take this turn it was definitely a little nerve-wracking to run under marking tape!].
I kept my effort under control and ran most of the race with the nice gent named Darren. I knew that bombing out of there trying to keep up with Sarah [Woerner] and Emily [Ansick] would only lead to disaster later in the weekend. Climbing waterline was more fun than usual - it wasn’t mile 20 of Mountain Mist AND there were ropes! The ropes were actually a godsend in the slippery mud - I engaged some leftover GDR climbing muscle and all the pushups I worked on so my arms looked great in our wedding pictures :)
I knew I had finished third female - come to find out, Sarah took a wrong turn in the last few miles (where we had to run under to tape) and ended up running an extra 7 miles! That girl has some grit. That put Emily Ansick a few minutes in front of me and Sarah with a bit of time to make up over the next few days.
Saturday - 16 Miles - Monte Sano State Park
Day 2 - a little bit longer, but a little bit easier. 16 miles on the North Side of the Mountain utilizing a lot of the trails I use for long runs and that several local races utilize. Today was scheduled to be a bit warmer, but at least that meant the trails would be a bit drier (and that I would definitely be running this day with a full water bladder). The whole atmosphere of this race becomes so much fun on the second day - we know we’re all a little tired, about to get more tired, but happy to be out there all the same.
My legs didn’t feel too sleepy from the day before and I was excited for how much downhill we were going to get today with only a few rolling climbs. I’m definitely a technical runner and an endurance runner, short easy stuff just ain’t my thang.
We start and somehow I end up leading off the ladies for a little bit while we enjoy the lollipop on Cold Springs trail, I quickly realized my mistake and backed off a bit. I could definitely feel my post-GDR sleepy leg syndrome still and I felt like my pace was just slower than normal. I felt great on Mountain Mist, a quick climb and on to Bucca, put down some solid speed and got to spend time in my little running bubble. And then the day just felt LOOONNGGGGG, especially running along Keith and Logan Point. Although I generally love these trails for their shady rolling parts, I just felt like it was dragging and the air was still and it was so HOT.
Finally I got to see Shelby’s pretty aid-station face where we met back up with Mountain Mist Trail and I knew I was home free. Just the rest of Mountain Mist, to Cold Springs [one last climb] and then some road and trail to the finish at the train tracks. I finished 3rd Female as originally seeded, only a few minutes behind Sarah and Emily.
Sunday - 14 Miles - the Day of Many Yawns
I’ll keep this short and sweet. This day sucked. I hated starting the morning barely able to stop yawning. I started early with my caffeinated Tailwind and hoped everything would work out. On a brighter note my legs felt pretty great, but I knew the climbs were coming and they were going to come hard [that’s what she said].
First up, the climb up Warpath - a favorite of mine. Short and steep and technical, I had lost the women around mile 4 after keeping a good pace trying to wake up and was just now losing two men I had been chasing. Seeing Luke at the aid station at the top of Warpath was a nice surprise, chugged some Coke and tried to keep from yawning in his face. We headed down Rest Shelter, a fun downhill to you get halfway and it gets a little technical and the-ever-clumsy Liz rolled her ankle - OF COURSE halfway through the last day of the stage race. Luckily this wasn’t as bad as it could have been, I tied my shoes tighter and kept on trucking but lost a LOT of time dealing with that pain in the ass. We got some flat stuff but then the dreaded mile-long-climb up Arrowhead commenced - this broke me a little.
Topping out and running Natural Well things started to turn around, I sprayed my head down at the aid station hose, sucked in some more Tailwind and proceeded to descend Natural Well - probably my least graceful trail work of all time. Just stayed positive waiting to see Death Trail - just like the stairs at the end of Georgia Death Race I have a sick, twisted passion for Death Trail. I love it, I don’t do it enough, its not really runnable, but its fun for me. Put your hands on your quads, smile and bear it.
I knew the finish line was a bit further after you top out, so I kept on running to the Amphitheater where there was music, my husband and FOOD.
Soaked to the bone - I hugged the ladies and got into dry clothes ASAP. I took a hoe-bath in the sink too as all the pollen off the leaves was making me itch something fierce.
Ending up in Second Place felt great - even though I knew Emily, Sarah and I were about seeded correctly. They put on amazing performances and even though the weekend could have gone differently - that’s trail running right? This ain’t no road marathon with 3459823 course sentries. RunningLane, near and dear to my heart, put on a great event.
Luke Hough & Liz Canty
Liz Canty and Luke Hough. Co-habitants who like to run, race, explore and drink much too expensive beer. Read along through the awesome, the sweaty, the daily life and the occasional bickering over which running shoes are the best…