With more than a week to think about my race I have been forgetting and remembering small bits and pieces as time goes on. I wanted to write out a race report to serve as a resource for future race planning and just to reflect on what an amazing adventure this race was. This is a long one, enjoy!
Like a lot of people, I have entered the lotteries for big races out West each year as an exercise in futility. In June, I realized that I didn’t have a qualifier for Western States and if I was going to be able to keep my previous losing lottery tickets, I better run a qualifying race before the end of the year! I knew that my training would be compressed and that meant that I could not miss a work out, I didn’t. Also, my sister, Beth, is training for her first official ultra, MMTR 50miler, and I needed to set a good example for her! My training went well, I felt stronger as the weeks went by, my resting heart rate was coming down, I finished a Whole30 to try help my stomach issues and become a ‘fat burner’- I felt good! My plan called for a 50miler in the end of August and what better excuse to run and get revenge for be DQ’d at The Ring in 2012! I went into the Ring with the idea of a training run and came out (after some early stomach issues) with a 5hr PR and a course record, feeling strong and ready to run another 50k when I finished. Grindstone, here I come!
Thursday evening, we filled the car and rooftop carrier to the brim with rain gear, cookies, pop up tent, team sweatshirts and everything I could think of. I got my ceremonial Jimmy Johns Beach Club as we picked Beth up from the train station. We drove directly down to Staunton, checked in to the hotel and went to bed around midnight. With a 6pm start, I wanted to try and sleep in as much as possible, I got up a few times, but with the blackout curtains I stayed in bed until 11am. We went to check in and pre-race briefing, enjoyed the salads and kombucha I brought from home for lunch.
I was determined to try to nap before the start. My crew help me set up a perfect spot away from the parking lot and with a bit of a breeze, but as soon as I was drifting off – rain. So much for my nap, guess it was time to get ready, eat as much as I could, continue hydrating and pretend it wasn’t raining.
As everyone huddled in the dining hall, I was feeling ready to just get going! I just focused on being patient, meditating, visualize my race and staying calm as the clock inched towards 6pm.
I had decided to start with my heart rate monitor on and run with Jim Daniels, who I shared the first 55miles with at MMT, in an effort to keep me from going out too fast. That lasted about 0.5miles, I looked down, my heart rate was 170, I wasn’t breathing hard but I couldn’t see Jim. I chatted with Megan Stegemiller as we saw plenty of familiar faces and cheers as we ran past the bath house and off into the rainy night, but I really needed to back off and stay calm. As we crossed through 5miles, and before it got dark, I took a bathroom break to try to let some other ladies go out ahead, take the pressure off. I fell in with a crowd of familiar faces as we chatted, commenting on the fog and hiked up Elliott’s Knob. I ended up catching Megan and Rachel as we got to the top searching together in the fog for the punch! We turned around and started going down, my favorite part, and after a few minutes on the more technical and wet trail I looked behind me and couldn’t see headlights, so much for company.
I was feeling good and tried to eat a Lara Bar after we climbed out of Dry Branch (mile 14). It took me several miles to get it down and I made a decision there that I was going to switch off of solids and stick with my homemade chicken broth, beef broth from my favorite Pho place in DC and dark chocolate almond milk. I did trail work on this section in summer, it was steeper than I remember! I chatted off and on with a variety of people, a pair of brothers, Nick Ferrara- from Philly and CRNA Dave Dirito who gave me some strong advice– “If you are going to use poles eventually, why not start using them now.”
I came into Dowell’s Draft, feeling good, I have been cruising without pushing, chatting the miles away, ready for some broth and to see my awesome crew. There was so much energy as we came into the aid station! I saw Rachel come into the aid station while I was sitting and head out quickly, I know what a strong runner she is and wanted to keep her in sight! Jim came in right behind me and we left together, I had grabbed my poles. Catching up to Rachel as we again hiked and jogged out of the aid station was great. I remember running the other direction down this awesome part of the trail during the summer together and it was nice to chat. She stepped off the trail for a bathroom break, I expected to see her again quickly. This is the first of two sections that I feel like I could have run had my fitness and the weather been better.
As we cruised down into the TWOT lot, I was excited to see my crew, refill my almond milk, grab some sweet potatoes and get this climb up Little Bald over with! My weight was essentially the same as check in, my stomach had settled and I was feeling good about my nutrition. The climb was what I expected, runable mixed with hiking, I was glad to have my poles!
At the top, it was windy, it was cold, it was blowing rain at me sideways, I was cold. I went to get my arm sleeves, not there. I ran faster that I probably would have in this section but I had to get to my drop bag, I needed gloves and my long sleeve top! Man, dry top and warm fingers felt so good! Barry Lass was at the aid station as I got there and we would share the next roughly 40miles going back and forth.
Knowing that I was going to start running into the inbound frontrunners on this section, I pushed a little trying to make it as close to the turn around before I saw them. Cheering for them as they passed in the night was a big boost. As I saw fellow WUS Keith Knipling coming the other direction I gave a cheer, to which he replied, “is that Megan?” Maybe it was the darkness that was the source of his confusion, but as I yelled back, “Nope, it’s Robin!” I became more determined to stay in front.
I dropped my pack with my crew for refills and asked for some black tea as I ran up to the turn around, checked in and headed back down, as I stopped to sip my tea, pick up my pack and pacer, there was Megan. I knew that the ladies behind me was competitive and they would finish strong, better get moving! I knew I did not have an option to slack off if I wanted to stay in front. Finding this balance between running my race, my own, happy pace and the competitive side of me that wants to win would occupy my mind for many miles to come. I ran with some familiar faces, the CRNAs, Bob Hellgren who I met over the summer and Barry. The out and back of this course made me nervous. When you get to the turn around you start to feel like you are “headed home” when in reality you still have 50miles to go, can’t push yet! However, seeing everyone coming towards me, saying hellos, trying to kick Erik Price out of a chair, telling Jack Anderson to stop yawning and run, seeing Boots’ smile and awesome cheetah headband as well as all the cheers and friends on the trails keep me in good spirits!
Coming down Little Bald was awesome! The sunrise came while Iva and I were running down, wish I had a camera to try to capture it. As we kept descending an amazing thing happened, looking forward to running with my sister, I was pulling away from my pacer, (even if she was hanging back for dramatic effect) nothing quite gives you a boost like running ahead when you have 65miles on your legs!
As we headed out of the TWOT lot, I briefed my sister on our section, I wanted to be able to run down Dowell’s Draft. We hiked, we ran, we chatted, we admired the views, Beth fell but we ran the downhill! My quad were starting to feel the burn, but I knew I had to keep running the downhills, my ability to run down was my biggest advantage. Looking forward to the last section where I would pick up Pat Murray, my pacer for the final 20miles, knowing that if there was anything left as I came to the finish Pat was the right man for the job! I switched out my Garmin for a fresh battery, had some watermelon, refueled and off we went. The Chimney Hollow Trail is the other section where I feel like I should have been running rather than hiking, but I didn’t have it, better to just keep hiking than blow up at this point! We were greeted by Quatro as we came up the false summits that are Crawford Mtn, a lovely surprise and he told me Keith was 13min ahead and I better go catch him, game on!
My visualization of my perfect race had me finishing before 5:37pm on Saturday, the first pitch of the Nationals-Giants Game 2. At mile 80, ?I knew it was within the realm of possibility, but didn’t start really believing that I was going to do it until we started down Elliott’s. As we came into the last aid station, I was ready to be at the finish line, and feeling so nervous that I was going to be caught. My crew reminded me that this last 5mi section was going to take me longer than I thought, maybe 1hr20min we thought out loud? My awesome husband and crew chief who knows me too well, reminded me “your mom can run 5miles in 1hr20min.” Sorry, Mom but it was a great motivation!
With that in mind, I was ready to push! I through that going sub 23hr might be close, I knew the course record was close as well but I didn’t want to think about it. Example of why Pat is an awesome pacer:Pat: You think you can run a 23min 5k ? Me: Um…. NO Pat: How about a 30min 5k Me: I think I can? Pat: Good, we have 32mins
I put the hammer down and as we came past the shower house and rounded the lake, I knew I had a little push I had been saving incase another lady came from behind and I left it all out there. I crossed the finish line in 22:53:13! Wow! I had made it under 23hrs and with a new CR– elated, I hugged the totem pole and promptly shoved cookies in my mouth. I was ready for a shower, some dinner and the Nationals game.
We had dinner with WUSsies, Tom and Kirstin Corris, Keith and my whole crew, ate gelato until I felt sick and listened to the Nationals until I couldn’t- I think we knew around the 13th that it just wasn’t going to happen, so sad. It was nice to see all the runners and crews at the awards ceremony the next morning, to congratulate and catch up with everyone. I can’t imagine what it took to be out through Saturday night in the cold!
Overall, an amazing experience! I really enjoyed the course (and, oddly, the start time), and I am so glad I decided to run! Thank you Clark and all the volunteers for being out there all night and in the rain and CONGRATULATIONS to all the finishers!!
- Adam was right, I packed too much stuff! I need to bring a lot less.
- My crew was amazing and I could not have done it without them! They really know me… Thanks, guys!
- With more training it is possible I could have run a few more sections that I hiked, who knows!
- Training my body to burn more fat and my race day liquid diet worked
- I can’t wait to do it again!