On Wednesday May 25th, 2016, after crazy packing and supply acquisition, I left for Goshen, Vermont. I drove to the Blueberry Hill Ski Resort. I was very nervous and going into new territory. I participated in a 72-hour trail race. We would run for 3 days, and whoever runs the most wins. It’s a bit “Alice in Wonderland” I know. The longest timed event I had done before this was 24 hours and it was on a paved 3.5 mile loop.
I arrived and checked in. I wanted to get camp set up before it was dark. And the bugs immediately shocked me. They were overwhelming. The smart veterans were wearing mosquito nets. I lasted about 5 minutes before I sprayed myself with bug spray. The ultra community is great. Those that arrived earlier than me offered to help me set up my tent and carry my gear. I got to know people very quickly. I was also immediately impressed with the runners that were participating in the 888 kilometer race that had started one week prior. True grit and passion!
My gear was packed and ready to go the night before. And I slept surprisingly well. I was able to fall asleep after I got my gear packed for a 8:08am start. But, I woke with nerves. I was up before dawn and ready to go. I did my best to eat, but could only stomach so much food. Sean, one of my crew, arrived early and was able to be there for the start. There was a good group of us. We lined up for pre race photos and we were off.
Our start was uneventful, but we all must’ve been nervous because we took off in the wrong direction. We were quickly corrected and set on the right course. The course was a figure 8. The top loop was 7.5 miles. The bottom loop was 20.5 miles. Both loops were adorned with creepy creatures (fuel for later hallucinations) for roughly the first 2 and last 2 miles. See the pictures. There were witches hanging from trees, bloody pigs, weird clown dolls, freaky cats and mirrors, and mime clown masks hanging from trees.
The 7-mile loop was not awful, but there is a significant climb. About a mile or so in, you have to climb Mt. Romance. There is nothing romantic about it. It is straight up and quite a challenge. It doesn’t last too long. I just had to suck it up, power walk as fast as I could. When we reached the top of the Mt. Romance it is winding trails with hills that are mildly rolling. It was a great place to pick up a decent running pace again. However, there are swamps. I came to call these the Swamps of Despair. This mud was black, nasty, full of flies, and would suck your shoes off. This loop, along with the 20 mile loop was filled with black flies. The flies were relentless. They would swarm incessantly. The flies would go into my mouth, nose, ears, and even behind the lenses of my sunglasses. High grade DEET bug spray was a requirement, and we had to reapply frequently. Even with the DEET, at times it would get so bad I thought I might go insane.
The 20 mile loop (and it was longer than 20 miles, just sayin’) was a mental soul suck. It was slow going. On the first day, I ran my 2nd 20 mile loop of the day at night. Sean, my friend and pacer joined me. About 10 miles in, I slipped in a stream on a rock and banged my left ankle bone really hard. It was excruciatingly painful. My foot swelled and every step hurt. I honestly wondered how I could finish this technical loop in the dark while I was in so much pain. Needless to say, I yelled quite a bit. Every misstep was blinding. The pace was very slow and I really wondered if I was going to be able to continue with the race.
My routine when I finished running for the evening (sometimes it was actually morning) was very simple, but it seemed to take a lot of effort. I would check in and let the race volunteers know I was at camp. I would immediately eat and drink something. I would then walk to my tent and prep for shower. After shower, my support crew would make me some food. Typically this food would be as calorically dense as possible. It was not easy to eat because I was nauseated. Then I would go into my tent and care for my feet. This would entail popping blisters and applying ointment so my feet would be blister resistant the next day. Then I would try to eat a bit more and sleep.
Another issue we all had was the heat. It was in the mid 90s and humid. The Vermont marathon was actually cut short, but we are tougher than that! I actually run well in the heat. I get hot like everyone else does, but I seem to process the heat better than most. However, during Infinitus I was having major stomach issues. I was having cramps and dry heaving. Also, my mouth and GI system felt HOT. I refused to let myself vomit. I was afraid; once I started I wouldn’t be able to stop. I also had worked very hard to consume these calories. I didn’t want to start all over and lose them. I was able to some how get it together on night one and recover. Many dropped due to stomach problems. When I woke up the second morning I was ok. My body was properly trained to recover from these long endeavors. I had gotten enough hydration, electrolytes, and food to make up for the deficits. But, throughout the race I would struggle with nausea and an intensely overheated GI system.
On day 2 I started to get into a groove. I ran the 7 mile loops solo. The only really tough spots were the climb and at night. The 20 mile loops were run with either Sean or my husband Bill. Having them along for moral support was amazing. They were also able to tell me when to power walk faster and when to run. They were also great about bug spray and sunblock application, and also for telling me when to eat and drink and take salt.
One would expect it to feel scary or creepy in the forest, but I run in the woods at night and this is not new to me. I learned to avoid the technical sections in the dark. However, in some of the heavily wooded sections, on the single track trails we could hear large animals to our immediate side. There was really nothing we could do but keep moving forward. The animals didn’t want anything to do with us, frankly anymore than we wanted to be around them.
Late night on day 2 is when things got weird. In the past, I have had mild hallucinations while running. Typically, I am just so focused and when I get tired I start to see things that aren’t there. I see a leaf or a rock and turn it into a face or another inanimate object. I usually know what I am seeing is NOT real. I did start to have these sort of hallucinations late night on day 2. They became very intense. I did not know that what I was seeing wasn’t really there. At times, when I was alone some of the things I saw really freaked me out. At one point, I felt really awful. My stomach was hot and sour, my feet hurt, and I was tired and cranky. Something happened. It was like someone flipped a switch. All of a sudden my pain disappeared. I also felt extremely drunk. I was very wobbly and dizzy. I honestly didn’t care though because I could run and was pain free. I think I was annoying the heck out of Sean because I was laughing non stop and being off the wall weird. I somehow acquired the nickname “Hula Girl” because I felt like a dashboard ornament shaking side to side. We completed this 20+ mile loop, and I went out for the final 7 miles of the night. It was a very slow 7. The hallucinations were strong and epic. I actually took out my mace at one point because I thought I was going to be attacked. Ah, the joys of ultra running…
On day 3 I was simply going to run all day, as many miles as I could. Sure I was tired. I averaged about 3 hours of sleep each night. But I knew that it was the last day. I learned that I needed to prep mentally for my next loop as soon as I began the current loop. The staying in the moment idea does not work for me. If I stayed in the moment, I would stop. I needed to have a plan to get back out on the trail as quickly as possible before I changed my mind.
The race director and my crew told me early on that I was leading, but I didn’t want to know the stats. I needed to run my own race. However, on the morning of day 3 I looked. I was leading and there were a few women that were close. My goal was to stay a loop ahead of them, and then keep running! The competitive drive was OUT. It wasn’t that I wanted to beat anyone else. It was about doing the best that I could. I went into this race with a goal of running 150 miles. It became apparent that I wouldn’t hit 150 (the man in first place would, the second place man did not) but I was OK with not reaching 150 miles if I won.
At roughly 11pm Saturday night, I finished a 7 mile loop. I finished and the race director hugged me. I didn’t know why. He told me I had won! I was ready to run more! He told me I didn’t need to, and I was done. OK. I was the first woman and 3rd overall. I covered 115 miles. This number seems low to me. However, with the heat and challenging terrain, we all completed fewer miles than we anticipated.
It is normal for me during races, to contemplate never running again. I usually pick another sport. I decided to quit running (AGAIN) during this race, and I would play soccer and run sprint triathlons. Well, maybe I didn’t quit running. I signed up for the Infinitus Trail Races for 2017. I signed up for the 888k (552 miles) and there is a 10 day cut off. There are also other races 8k, 88k, and 100 mile. I highly encourage you to try one of these races. The race directors are wonderful. The race organization and volunteers are also amazing. I have no complaints whatsoever about the race. And I feel like my ultra running family got bigger. I walk around all of the time feeling like a member of the Island of Misfit Toys (Rudolph reference.) And being with the Endurance Society at their race, actually allowed me to hang, for 3 days, with fellow Island members.
I would like to thank Bill Fanning and Sean Meehan for their awesome race support. They fed me, cared for my feet, got my gear together, pushed me when I needed to be pushed, and kept me sane. I also extend great thanks to my wonderful coach Lisa Smith Batchen. She puts up with my endless questions, never takes me seriously when I complain, and coaches me with never-ending love and kindness.