LOVE HARDER , EAT BETTER & EXPLORE FURTHER
“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…