Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Boston Store to Pine Lane (4.1 miles, 58.6 total)
This section was filled with memories. In 2008, I was on a death march. It took me about two and a half hours to navigate this 4.1 mile section. This year, I was feeling immeasurably better. I had Shelly to keep me company.
The trails were pretty gnarly, including an incredibly root-laden stretch. This section was a net gain in altitude, so I powered uphill more than down. We tried to stick with the 10/2 ratio, but our efforts were thwarted by the hills.
Shelly gave me the run-down of the crew’s experiences throughout the day. As I expected, their day had been spent frantically rushing, relaxing, and laughing. She told tales of goiters, the dude that had his crew spray him down with Axe body spray, a side-trip to a gourmet deli at a local grocery store, Jesse fixing our car (the guy really is the jack of all trades), Art’s unnaturally-large big toes, and some other assorted shenanigans (some cannot be printed to protect the innocent… or not so innocent). Also, it seemed as though NE Ohio does not open until later in the morning. McDonalds doesn’t open until 7:00?!? A grocery store that doesn’t open until 9:00?!? WTF?
The conversation and fun terrain took my mind off the 55+ cumulative miles I ran to this point. We quickly approached Pine Lane, the next aid station. This was the aid station where I was pulled from the course in 2008. I had bitter memories of slinking back to the minivan my crew had at the time, my head hung in defeat. Still feeling as good as I did was a huge moral boost!
The volunteers had A LOT of questions about he kilt. One of the gentlemen had previously run a 5k in a traditional kilt. Needless to say, I was impressed! Another lady asked her friend “Is that what I think it is?” in a not-quite-quiet enough whisper.
I think I ate a grilled cheese and a few Gu packets. I refilled my water bottles, Shelly refilled hers. We said some goodbyes and were off!
Section pace: 18:18
Pine Lane to Happy Days (5.5 miles, 64.1 total)
I would like to say this section went as smoothly as the first. I would also like to say I stumbled upon a briefcase full of unmarked fifties.
The section started well. There were a few trails that gave way to a bike path. I was trying to maintain the 10/2 ratio, but it quickly broke down. This was my first and most severe low point of the day.
Unfortunately, Shelly has never been with me through a low like this. We went for being very talkative to dead silent. When I go through a serious low, I tend to focus inward. I monitor my body at this point being very careful to meet all my needs. I know the low will pass, but it can be a very dangerous time IF I were to stop eating or drinking.
As if by some intuitive sense, Shelly handled this rough patch extremely well. She reminded me to keep eating Gu, keep drinking, and keep taking the occasional electrolyte capsule. This section felt like it took forever.
At some point, Ben passed us, as did Liz Bondar (Movingon). Both looked as if they were in much better shape than I was. Eventually, we entered a large field and could see the aid station at the other end. Just as we began crossing the field, I began to perk up. What horrible timing!
Jesse and Art were waiting. They took my water bottles and exchanged them. They led me to the chair and I eagerly plopped down. Being off my feet was definitely a relief at this point. I drank my Mike’s iskiate and a Starbucks Frappuccino. After gathering my lights, I checked out the aid station fare. They had a great selection, including ramen noodles. They gave me a cup and I immediately took a big gulp. Bad idea… the noodles were scalding hot! I asked for a few ice cubes and the obliged.
At this point, I was just stalling. Jesse was going to be pacing throughout the night. I could sense his anticipation as we chatted with the aid station workers. I answered the requisite kilt questions, but declined the request to show everyone what I was wearing underneath. None of us needed that, especially Jesse.
Barefoot Johnny O was working this aid station, also. The last two pictures above were taken by him. He was a HUGE help as he was able to give us specific advanced recon for the next section.
After another minute or two, Jesse and I headed out.
Section pace: 18:33
Happy Days to Pine Hollow 1 (6.8 miles, 70.9 total)
We were immediately greeted with a small climb which brought us to a sheer rock face. For the next half mile or so, we followed this trail along the wall. It was one of the more scenic sections of the entire trail. I was very happy we managed to see it in the daylight, though the darkness was beginning to encroach around us.
I switched on my headlamp, though it was still too light to make much of a difference. Jesse and I idly chatted about the events of the day. I relayed my physical and mental state, along with my rough plan for the rest of the race. He in turn entertained me with several crewing stories from the day. Some were very funny, though the memories have faded due to the fatigue of the time.
Jesse and I seem to be remarkably similar personality-wise. From the onset, he instinctively knew when and how to effectively motive me to keep moving. I don’t respond well to pretty much any “firing up” methods. Call me a wimp, make fun of my mother, threaten to kill my dog… it won’t make me go faster. It just annoys me. My motivation is 95% intrinsic… I will run when the mood strikes. This is the reason I like Shelly so much as a pacer, and I was glad Jesse was of the same mindset.
My specific memories of this section are fuzzy, though I remember Ben passing once again. A few more runners passed us. At this point in any ultras, my “start fast” strategy puts me relatively far ahead. This is the point where the more conservative and consistent runners begin to pass. We would be passed on a fairly regular basis throughout the night.
As darkness fell, I switched to my trusty Fenix handheld, my most valuable piece of gear. I prefer the handheld to the headlamp because shadows cast from waist-level make it easier to discriminate between flat obstacles and obstacles requiring me to pick up my feet.
We twisted through some trails, ran through some new-growth fields, and eventually came to the Pine Hollow aid station. As we approached, we could see the runners ahead of us climbing what appeared to be a very large hill. I remembered from reading race reports that there were two climbs up to Pine Hollow. Even though I was still able to climb hills with relative ease, the downhills were becoming pathetically slow.
Upon arrival, I had been running for somewhere in the ballpark of 17 hours. It definitely felt like it. Art and Shelly looked amazingly alert, as did Jimmy V.’s crew. My abilities to estimate time had long-since passed, I could only guess it was somewhere around 2am (it was really only about 10pm).
I ate a grilled cheese and some Ramen noodles, pounded some Mike’s iskiate and Slim Fast, applied a little lube, and reapplied the tape around my knuckles. I had tried this earlier as a means of preventing knuckle chafing from my water bottles… this is the black tape that can be seen in many of the pictures.
Eventually Art and Shelly got me out of my chair and Jesse and I were off! This next section was short- 3.3 miles. I expected it to be a breeze. I was wrong.
Section pace: 20:35
Pine Hollow 1 to Pine Hollow 2 (3.3 miles, 74.2 total)
To say this was my worst section would be a huge understatement. It was my mental low point for the race. I knew I still had a long way to go, I had little energy, and the darkness and fatigue were working their voodoo on my head.
The section started with a downhill over a grass-covered hill. I carefully hobbled to the bottom. Looking at the section elevation chart, this section looks quite innocent. It appears as if there is a steady descent down to a low point near the river, then a climb back up to the aid station. Simple.
In reality, this section felt like a never-ending series of mountains. Up, down, up, down, up, down. I was barely walking this entire section. I distinctly remember the aid station workers telling us this was a very easy loop. It very well may have been, but by mid-section, I was cursing them as sadistic liars.
More people passed us. I vaguely remember some being pretty cheerful. Me… not so much. I’m sure Jesse and I were engaging in some grippingly-fascinating conversation, but I was probably just mute. Eventually this Hellish loop came to an end and we ended up at Pine Hollow for the second time.
I think this was a relatively fast stop, but my time perception was pretty skewed. I don’t remember any details other than pounding a Red Bull and leaving. As Jesse and I were about 50 feet from the rest of the crew, I realized I forgot to ask them when they last changed the batteries in our light.
I could lie and say I was in too much of a hurry or running too fast to go back and change the batteries. In reality, I didn’t want to have to travel an extra 100 feet. So we slogged on towards the next aid station… Covered Bridge. Turns out that was a really, really bad decision.
Section pace: 24:33
Jesse and Art having fun while Shelly was pacing me:
Mark and a roll of duct tape…
Mark and a tube of lube…
Art’s poisonous spider
To be continued…