The Frozen Otter, 2019

It’s a long one! Grab a snack or pull up the squatty potty and dig in! Read about how I went a little nuts around mile 60, my embarrassing recovery issue, and all the excruciating details about the stuff I wore and used. Have questions? Anything? Ask! I hope you enjoy the read.

Race days make for a happy Toots! (Photo credit: Karen McLennan)

Stats:

Total miles (Garmin): 65.02

Total time: 20 hours, 32 minutes (a Personal Record!)

Overall pace: 18:57/mile

Overall elevation gain (Garmin): 9,131 feet

114 racers, 59 official finishers, 35 “Frozen Few” finishers.

(To be considered one of the “Frozen Few,” racers must complete the full 64-mile distance in under 24 hours. Racers can still be considered an official finisher with less than 64 miles, as long as they did not accept a ride and made it back to the start/finish on their own power. They are then ranked under full 64-mile finishers.)

Overall rank: 19th
Gender rank: 4th

Start (10am) – Butler Lake (CP1):
7.43 miles
Time stats weren’t listed in results for some reason, but I did not stop at this checkpoint. I checked in, immediately checked out and kept going.

Butler Lake (CP1) – Greenbush (CP2):
8.08 miles
In 2:30pm / Out 2:39pm (9min break)

Greenbush (CP2) – Hwy P (CP3):
7.09 miles
In 4:38pm / Out 4:49pm (11min break)

Hwy P (CP3) – Greenbush (CP4):
7.09 miles
In 6:54pm / Out 7:07pm (13min break)

Greenbush (CP4) – Butler Lake (CP5):
8.08 miles
In 9:22pm / Out 9:35pm (13min break)

Butler Lake (CP5) – Mauthe Lake (CP6):
7.43 miles
In 11:48pm / Out 12:27am (39min break)

Mauthe Lake (CP6) – Hwy H (CP7):
9.06 miles
In 3:11am / Out 3:36am (25min break)

Hwy H (CP7) – Finish!
9.06 miles
In 6:32am

The race:
This year I over-explained everything on my gear section, so you can geek out there if you want, but I’ll put a few notes here about the race itself first.

First of all, when I arrived at early check-in on Friday afternoon I was given my name/time pieces from the “Frozen Few” plaque, which means there were enough finishers faster than my fastest time to kick me off. So, I didn’t plan for it, but getting my name back on that plaque became a new goal in the back of my mind, but not the most important one this year because I hadn’t really prepared for that. But it was there. My three goals going in this year were:
1) finish
2) get a PR (finish faster than 21:49)
3) finish in under 20 hours
I managed to get #1 and #2, and missed #3 by about a half an hour. I’ll take it! As for getting back on the plaque? I’m not sure if I did or not. I think it’ll be close.

2019 shirt design, my two name/time pieces and my newest dog tag

We weren’t required to carry extreme weather gear (sleeping bag, shelter, full change of clothes), but it was a close call. I believe it did eventually dip down to a -20° wind chill in the early morning hours. It felt cold, for sure, but I think it helped being in the woods for most of the course.

It was snowing at the start of the race, and the sun poked through the clouds and floating flakes of snow after a few hours and towards sunset it cleared up. Once darkness fell, a nearly full moon came out with a skyfull of stars. That kept it cold, but man, was it pretty! The woods were beautiful all day and all night.

The trail was snow-covered after getting a fresh few inches the night before the race, but the tricky part was that there was a solid layer of ice underneath in stretches in the first maybe 16 miles. My hip flexors were actually aching (I normally don’t notice them at all) from constantly light-braking with my feet every step to avoid slipping. And it sounds like there were many falls amongst racers. It was tricky because you couldn’t always see the ice until you were on your butt. I literally slid into checkpoint 3 on my butt while taking video, so that’s fun (and can be seen in the YouTube link below). What was weird was that it wasn’t slippery on the way back through after the 23-mile turnaround. I think maybe it got colder and the snow stuck to the ice, giving us traction. Thankfully!

One of the few times I sat down (maybe even the only time). When I slid into CP 3 at Hwy H!

I had a little bit of knee trouble, and it really only hurt when making a brake-like motion going downhill, which I guess I blame on the ice and slippery trail conditions. So I found that barrelling down the hills, praying to God I didn’t trip and Superman to the bottom, was the only way to approach the hills with no pain. It was risky, but it was also quite fun.

On the subject of pain, I have a question for you – what are your thoughts on taking NSAIDS (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc) during a race? In 2017 my general practitioner recommended a pain reliever plan to hopefully get ahead of a knee twinge I was concerned about. It basically involved alternating Aleve and Tylenol, while not overdosing according to label dosing instructions. I followed that plan in 2017 and had no trouble. I used the same strategy this year (I was more concerned about my feet this time), and again had no issues. But I recently heard on a couple of different podcasts, in random discussions, that some doctors *highly* recommend staying OFF NSAIDS during a race… And apparently some are quite passionate about their argument. So I guess it’s something I need to dig into. What say you, my friends? What do you think? What do you do during a race?

As for how it all went for me, overall? Great. I had a really fun time. I did run/hike with a new friend, John (I met him during a long training run), for almost the first 30 miles, and we were making plans to push each other to a sub-20-hour finish, but his knee suddenly had other plans, gave out on him, and sadly he had to drop. That bummed me out, so I used that emotion to propel me. I mean, what else can you do but push on… So I did. I stayed in high spirits. I ended up doing the remainder of the race pretty much by myself with the exception of a few short conversations when I’d catch up to someone. But I was used to being out there at night alone, as that was how most of my long training sessions ended up, so I just watched the moon, followed the circle of light emitted from my headlamp, talked to myself and trudged on. And on.

One thing I did differently this year was I participated in the drop-box option at mile 46 (also the start/finish). In 2017 I walked the 1/4-mile back to the parking lot, sat in a warm car, charged electronics, visited with family and friends, ate a burger at the pavilion, changed socks… while it was fun to lollygag, it used up about 90 minutes. This year using the drop box and not going back to the car I only used 39 minutes. And I can still improve on that time. I’ll 100% do the same next time. Drop box for the win!

I had no hallucinations this year, but somewhere in the last nine miles, after about 60 miles and more than 18 hours of steady activity, in the dark and cold of the early morning, alone, I heard voices in the woods. First they were yelling my name, and so I’d stop and listen. As soon as my feet stopped crunching in the snow there was silence. Then I’d start walking and under the crunches I started hearing people talking. It sounded like they were right there, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying because my footsteps were too loud. Every time I stopped to listen – silence. I finally realized I was going crazy, so I pulled out my phone and risked being “that asshole” and played some music sans earbuds (admittedly I was carrying earbuds, but with only a few miles left I said f-it because I didn’t want to dig them out). The voices stopped, and maybe a couple of hours later I was running into the finish, so happy to be done.

After the race I got my cherished dog tag and headed to the pavilion with my Mom and Dad, who came along to cheer me on (and were at EVERY aid station because they are freakin’ awesome!). At the pavilion, a volunteer made me the best damn cheeseburger (thank you!)! I chowed that down with a bowl of soup and contemplated a beer, but I didn’t want anything cold. In hindsight I should’ve taken a swig of the Fireball that was sitting on the table. See? No matter how many times I do this, I’m still a rookie. Next time… Fireball.

I did take some video clips and threw them together in my cheap, simple phone app. You can see that cheese here:

Oh, and the clip in the video where I mention snot bubbles? I didn’t remember taking that one. It was fun surprise after the race.

Recovery:
Okay, how much should I share? All of it, I suppose, because that’s what I do. So prepare yourself for TMI. First of all, my recovery was mostly normal. I was tired. Duh. I had a really tough time walking around on Monday and seriously – getting up and down from the toilet involved bracing myself against the wall and counter while sliding my feet along the floor until I plopped onto the seat (pro tip: wear thick, fuzzy socks or slippers with no grip so they’ll slide effortlessly along the floor of your bathroom, and remove any rugs to aid in the toilet-plop). Getting back up required grunting noises. It helped.

I had a blood blister on the tip of my 2nd toe on my left foot, but this happens in every race. I think that toe naturally curls under and tries to grip with every step. But it didn’t really hurt, so it’s no biggie. And it looks cool. I also ended up with a weird bruise on the top of my left foot just behind the big toe, and there’s a small bump on the tendon. Not too sure what that is. It sometimes hurts, but not when I run… So… It’s okay? I think. And my knees hurt a bit – a sharpish pain right in the front of my kneecaps. And I think this caused my baker’s cyst to flare up. And, as always, my feet and toes got puffy and didn’t want to move – typical post-race inflammation that I need to work on.

A fancy, heart-shaped bruise

And here comes the TMI, which I will admit is embarrassing, but whatever, I’m human. I full-on shat in my pants at home on Sunday. I mention that I messed up my body before the race with my diet (below where I talk about my race-day nutrition), and I’m pretty sure this was its way if saying a big F-you. But, thankfully I was at home and could take care of it right away. So that is only the 2nd time I can think of that I full-on pooped in my pants, and both times were running-related. *Sigh* I should go back to hiking.

So, in conclusion, I had a great day, a great race, it made me happy and temporarily satisfied with physical activity and time in the woods (which as I write this, I already need more), and I finished strong with a PR and can already see places where I can hopefully improve for next time. Maybe I can still get under 20 hours. But first, I turn 40 this year and I’m going to run 100 miles. You’ll hear all about it, oh, don’t you worry (unfollow me now if you’re already so sick of my long race reports! Now’s your chance!). Anyway, I said this would be too long, and I did not disappoint… I mean, keep a rolling. I dug into my gear selections. So… There’s more. Sorry!

On to… Gear!
Here’s what I wore, list-style. I go into detail about these items a little further below:

Sugoi Subzero tights

Ink N Burn Sport Skirt

Patagonia underwear

Cheap sport bra from Target

Injinji Nuwool crew toe socks

REI-brand midweight undershirt

Short-sleeve Ink N Burn Tech Shirt

Patagonia R1 3/4-zip fleece
Patagonia R1 full-zip fleece

Patagonia Nanopuff jacket – it’s synthetic (not down) so maintains some warmth if it gets damp.

Altra Lone Peak Low RSM trail shoes

Dirty Girl gaiters

Kahtoola microspikes (I carried them, but didn’t use them this time.)

Fat Otter buff

Smartwool ear cover and hat

Black Diamond down mittens

Cheap silk gloves liners

That skirt! 😍

Notes about the wearables:
The Sugoi tights again worked great, and this year I added the Ink N Burn Sport Skirt over the top for an extra layer of warmth on my ass, because it was going to be a cold year, and that was super-nice. It might be a lady-issue, but my fatty bum always gets so cold in the winter. This layering system was perfecto – just that one extra layer did the trick – no frozen fatty bum. And I had side pockets on the skirt to stuff random stuff into – usually wrappers I didn’t want to drop on the trail, and a few that I picked up.

I started out wearing the 3/4-zip fleece, but shed it probably 4 miles in because I was starting to sweat (avoid sweating and change your layers up as soon as you can in these cold activities. That sweat WILL freeze when you stop for even a second and you could get into some trouble. PSA over.). I also shed my ear cover. It was cold (low teens) but I got toasty quickly when moving. I added the fleece back in sometime after dark when my arms began to consistently feel chilled.

I switched from my Patagonia 3/4-zip fleece to a Patagonia full-zip fleece (same weight/thickness, basically just a different design) at 46 miles because the full-zip has side pockets (the 3/4-zip does not). I put my Smartphone in the pocket with a body warmer (which is like a hand warmer, except it’s larger with a sticky back).I stuck the body warmer directly to the inside of my fleece pocket and the phone battery held up much better in the cold temperatures that way.

I wore the Patagonia Nanopuff on the last 18-mile stretch when the temps eventually dropped below zero. This layering system worked perfect for me in 2017, and again this year.

Shoes? I’ll keep a long story short. I usually run in sandals, but with this being a long winter race, I chose the Altra Lone Peak so I had toe protection from the cold. I had quite a lot of foot pain in training due to the transition from sandal to shoe, but by race day, the foot pain was minimal (thankfully, as this was one of my biggest concerns going in). The shoe had great grip, but there were icy patches that got sketchy, and traction devices would’ve been helpful – I chose to power through them and never used my microspikes, and when temperatures dropped on the return trip from the 23-mile turnaround, the ice wasn’t nearly as slippery. The one con to this shoe is that there was a small visible hole in the outer (waterproof) shell after the race, and with only a few long training runs in them before-hand, I was a little disappointed to see the early wear. My Altra Neoshell boots I wore in 2017 did something similar, but I blamed it on running with traction for the entire race (unusual rubbing). While that kind of sucks, I’d go with the same shoe again. I like the wide toe box, zero drop, and they did successfully keep my feet warm and dry the entire race. I didn’t take them off once and only had my standard tip-of-the-2nd-toe blisters. I did have foot pain on my left foot with a weird bruise, but not sure if it was the shoes or the fact that I just ran 64 miles. Okay, that wasn’t short. But trust me. I could’ve made it a LOT longer! Shoes… They’re a thing with me.

There was snow, but not a lot, so I wore my lightweight Dirty Girl gaiters instead of my knee-high Outdoor Research winter gaiters like in 2017. It was a good decision, as the DGs worked just fine keeping any snow pieces out of my shoes. I’d switch back to my OR higher gaiters if it was significantly colder and/or if there was deeper snow.

I wore a thin buff around my neck the whole race and pulled it up over my mouth and nose only during the later half of the race for extra needed warmth. I also carried a fleece-lined Buff but it was way too warm to wear. I won’t even carry that thing unless it’s going to be -20 from now on. It is too warm!

I started the race with just the Smartwool ear cover, shed that pretty quick (so needed nothing on my ears during most of the daylight hours), put it back on after dark, then switched to my hat during the last 18-mile stretch.

I have yet to find the magic cure for cold fingers. They are fine when I’m moving, but as soon as I stop to do anything, they get cold and quickly feel numb and become useless stumps. My strategy was to do what needed to be done as quickly as possible, suck it up buttercup while they were still stinging-cold and get moving. I wore a thin liner glove the whole race and used my big Black Diamond mittens on and off later on in the race. I eventually had hand warmers in them so I could get a jump on warming my fingers right after a stop. Once I got feeling back in them (usually 5-10 minutes after moving), I’d shed the down mittens and was okay with the liners. During the last 9 miles I kept the down mittens on, along with the liners. And hand warmers. It got cold.

Other gear:
BackpackOut There USA MS-1. This is the same pack I used in 2017. It’s comfy, not a ton of bounce when jogging and lots of accessible pockets without taking it off. I only had to remove it to put water in my water reservoir during the race or to remove/add my fleece. I didn’t have luck with the bottle holders this year, and I don’t remember that being an issue in ’17. Don’t know why. But once I removed a bottle, I had a hard time getting it back in the holder, so I barely used the bottles. I might consider switching to a smaller backpack with no waistbelt and a front pack next time. But I would use this pack again if I don’t have time to train in something that new, or the funds to aquire that something new. It’s a good pack for this race.

Water containersCamelBak 1.5L water reservoir with insulated tube.
Yes, I’m one of the crazy ones that still uses a hydration bladder. I was able to keep water flowing through it as long as I took the following steps, and not missing a single one: fill with warm water (at aid stations, I used half cold and half hot water), keep as much of the tube (which is insulated) and the mouthpiece tucked into my shirt (almost in my armpit kind of wedged under my pack strap), after drinking, blow a puff of air to move the water out of the hose and mouthpiece (but not so much that you blow air into the bladder (this takes practice to get it just right), and most importantly – *SIP OFTEN.* This keeps you checking on it and the water flowing, keeps you hydrated, and if it does start to freeze up, I can usually catch it early enough that I can get water flowing again pretty easily. With that said, it did freeze up on me after I left the 46 mile aid station for the last stretch – but that’s because I didn’t follow my own advice and stopped sipping often. I did have a bottle with me that I added Tailwind to, and that was tucked into the front of my fleece and stayed thawed. Even though it made me look like I had a 2nd pair of weird boobs. But I did not care. Liquid hydration wins. I think for the next one, I may try training with just the one bottle to keep it simpler – kept tucked into my shirt – like a weird set of boobs. Because that seemed to work. I’ll chug a few cups of water at each aid station, then fill my bottle to sip in between out on the trail. I still like the bladder, but it would be nice to not have to mess around with it and keep stuff simpler.

Black Diamond trekking poles – Same ones I’ve been using for over 10 years. I’m considering upgrading to something lighter. I actually had some hand cramping during the race and numb fingers during recovery – I think these symptoms are from using the poles. And I love using poles, so I have to work on this.

Black Diamond Spot headlamp – takes 3 AAA batteries (be sure to use lithium batteries) I switched out the batteries once at the 46-mile checkpoint and had no issues and could see great. Same headlamp I’ve been using for years.

Electronics:
Phone #1 – Verizon Google Pixel 2 XL – held up okay. I used it for video and pictures, so had it powered off unless I wanted to use it. It died from the cold somewhere around the 10-hour mark, I think, but I wasn’t protecting it from the cold (it was tucked into the thigh pocket on my skirt). At mile 46 I recharged it and placed it in my fleece pocket with a body warmer and it held its charge great the rest of the way. It came in handy around mile 60 when I was hearing voices in the woods. I played some music to shut them up. 😉

Phone #2 – US Cellular pre-paid flip phone – my biggest disappointment. It worked perfect in 2017, and doing everything the same this year, the battery dropped to almost nothing in the first 6 miles. I know the cold was a factor, but my guess is that the three-year-old battery couldn’t hold up. I ended up powering it off before it died, as it was my main contact phone and I wanted it in case of emergency. Next time I will try to replace the battery beforehand or just stick with my Smartphone. Verizon works pretty good out there, too.

Garmin Fenix 3 – watch for GPS tracking and stats. I recharged it once at mile 46, after about 13 hours. I like having one continuous track recorded, and this way-too-expensive watch does just that while staying charged for a pretty long time.

Anker battery charger – kept in my drop box at mile 46 and used it to charge both phones before the last stretch.

Pocketjuice small portable charger – kept on me during race for a quick charge if needed. I didn’t use it on the trail, but I did use it at mile 46 to charge my watch while my phones charged on the Anker.

First aid & other items – SOL emergency bivvy, REI whistle, spare Black Diamond headlamp without the strap, lighter, fire starter, heat blanket, small Swiss Army knife, hand and body warmers, blister pads, 2Toms butt shield anti-chafe wipes, medical tape, duct tape, blinking red bike light, orange smiley face blinking light for backup, chapstick, Aleve, Tylenol, salt caps

Toilet kit – Deuce of Spades trowel, TP, ziploc bag for used TP (a leave no trace practice – please get used to carrying out used TP!), hand sanitizer, wet one wipes, and Immodium

Nutrition:
Huma gels – these are great when you don’t want to eat anything because you can just squeeze ’em down your throat for the calorie bump.

Tailwind drink mix – my fave. Always had a bottle with some mixed in. Didn’t consume as much as I’d have liked because my bottles were difficult to reach. I’ll fix that for next time. Probably just keep one bottle tucked into my shirt.

Starbucks Via – I have a caffeine strategy that I like. I stay off caffeine as much as possible in my normal every-day life (and I’m a trucker. If I can do it, you can do it. 😉), then on race day, when the fatigue sets in, I have a Via and feel like I get a turbo-boost. I wait until I really feel I need it for the first dose, then continue its use from there.

I also carried candied ginger and Pepto for tummy upset, but didn’t use, but I maybe should have in the last 6 hours.

Other food things: I just put a bunch of random things in snack-size ziplocks so I had a variety of sweet, savory and whatever to choose from. That way if I lost my appetite, hopefully something would appeal to me and I could get some energy in me. I had things like M&Ms, mini almond butter cups, Waffle Stingers, Annie’s gummies, Cheetos, boiled eggs (which are SO weird when slightly frozen), pre-cooked breakfast links, grapes (so awesome!), and cashews. I did end up losing my appetite towards the last hours of the race, didn’t drink enough, and ended up with some digestive issues… Meaning I had to trail poop (*so* not fun when it’s like -5° out). I could get into why this happened, but it would go on way too long. To keep it short, I screwed up the timing with putting my body into ketosis before the race. I should’ve worked on it sooner so my body was fully fat-adapted, but as it turns out, I believe, it was sort of in transition still. So it just didn’t feel right. Live and learn and poop.

Extras for fun:
Biggest gear fail: the flip phone I thought was indestructible but nearly died at 6 miles.

Biggest gear win: Ink N Burn skirt over my tights to keep my butt warm. And hand warmers.

Fun surprise: Seeing Ross and Randall – two long-time friends from my backpacking group that stopped out to cheer on racers!!

Favorite food consumed: Nutty bars at the Greenbush aid station and a close 2nd, those sausages at the Hwy P aid station (thank you, volunteers!)

Nutty Bars!!

Aches and pains: Top of left foot just behind the big toe, front of kneecaps, cramping in left hand

Weirdest thing: hearing voices in the woods in the last 6 miles of the race

That’s all folks. I hope it helps someone out there! My ending piece of advice? Try not to poop your pants. That is all.


Tonight I love a lot of stuff, which happens to be all people because people rule – the race directors and volunteers because they make this race happen, and they make it so fun… along with all the other racers! Also? A big one – my mom and dad – for being two of my biggest fans and for cheering me in and out of every aid station. Thank you! Everyone!

My mom and my dad on race day, cheering in racers at Butler Lake (photo credit: Karen McLennan)

This is my favorite photo from the race. Almost seconds after my dad drove away from the race, my mom passed out in the back seat. We were all exhausted, and this photo just tells the whole story. And it’s freakin’ adorable. ❤️

Vloggin’, movin’, and runnin’

Been also doing a whole lot of truckin’.

What’s new? Well? The super-short version: Adam and I moved into a new apartment closer to town. I’m being featured in a series of vlogs online about trucking. And I’m about to run 64 miles. Again.

The new apartment? It’s in Kaukauna, WI. Adam and I have always wanted to live in Appleton, so we moved to Kaukauna. I know. I swear to you, one of these days we’ll live in Appleton. But really, it’s practically Appleton anyway. It’s right on the edge and it’s by all kinds of things like restaurants, grocery stores, and you know – all that junk. And one of my favorite parts? It’s a stone’s throw from the CE trail, which is a paved recreational trail, so I can run without worrying about getting run over by cars. And? I’ve run on it after dark and felt safe. Bonus. We like this place a lot so far. And! We have the best shower curtain a person could have. I think it’s my favorite part of the whole place. Well, maybe it’s actually the dishwasher (seriously. You forget how amazing these things are until you don’t have one!). But that shower curtain. Yeah, it’s pretty rad.

Best shower curtain ever!

Next, v-loggin’. I was approached at work to see if I’d like to start doing a series of video logs. I was nervous about it because I’m a rambler (as you know if you’ve read any of my other blog entries) and these videos are all around 2-3 minutes long. That’s it! So short! That’s like… two words! But seriously – it’s been a really fun (and good) challenge for me. I just take some video on my phone, send it to a great guy I’ve been working with (Hi, Matt!) at BConnected, a local marketing company, and he does the editing. People look it over to make sure I didn’t say my name wrong or have a booger in my nose (although if I did, you know I’d want to point it out and laugh about it), and it gets posted on the V & S Midwest Carriers Facebook page for the world to see. It’s been a really fun project! I get to talk about trucking, some of what I’ve learned, promote the industry, hopefully inspire more girls to drive, and sometimes brag about the company I work for (seriously awesome people!). So watch for those! Here’s a link to the YouTube channel and if you follow V&S Midwest Carriers on Facebook, you’ll see them there, too. Something you wanna see, know about, or hear me talk about? Let me know!

Here’s one of the videos:

Then there’s the whole 64 miles thing. The Frozen Otter. I’ve participated in this event as a racer for several years, and once as a volunteer (which is equally as exhausting as racing, by the way). I completed the full 64 miles in 2010 for the first time, proudly becoming one of the “Frozen Few” and the 4th person to ever finish it. That was the 4th year the race was in existence. And only 4 finishers up to that point! It’s brutal! Then I finished it again in 2017 – you know, to see if the first time was a fluke. And the reason to go at it this time? I’ll admit it. I’m hooked on it. It’s hard. I like doing hard things. I like to break myself, then keep going. It’s close to home. It’s something to do in the winter that keeps me training and in shape. And it gets me out in the forest for long hours, a lot of them at night, and that is a kind of peace you need to experience, meaning I can’t explain it because it’s that awesome. Winter in Wisconsin, in the forest, alone, at night – just you, the stars, the owls and the crunchy snow under your feet. It’s silent. It’s peaceful. It’s serene. It’s sparkly in the moonlight. You just have to do it.

So that’s what’s new. The Frozen Otter is what’s on my mind mostly at the moment because it’s less than a week away. I’ve got to mentally prepare myself, and a lot of that preparation for me is visualization. I’m mostly trying to run through the last half, with feet that hurt so bad I won’t want to take another step (because they will – I’ve been having trouble with that) and then pushing them another 32 miles. And if the forecast holds, we’ll be running in 5° temps or possibly lower (not including the wind chill). For up to 24 hours straight. I’m ready. And I’m nervous. And excited. And. It’s going to be SO cold! Let’s see how far I can push my body and mind this year!

Brrrrrr!

You can bet on a blog entry about how that goes! So follow here if you need some more good toilet reading later on.

And be sure to follow my vlogs! I’m sure to embarrass myself at some point, and you don’t wanna miss that!

Thanks for reading, following, encouraging, and being you. Lots of love, my friends! ♥️


Tonight I love that freakin’ shower curtain. Because cats. Unicorns. Guns. Fire. Rainbows. Duh.

Sidenote: I started a self portrait series a little over a year ago, and I’m usually inspired by a song lyric – this one was created with the Frozen Otter in mind and is one of my favorites:

“I do whatever it takes… ’cause I love how it feels when I break the chains.” – Imagine Dragons

A random ramble

Kind of a dreary, blah day. I could use some sunshine.

I’m bored. That’s why you’re reading a blog entry about, um, nothing much. I’m laying in the bunk of my truck waiting for a phone call that there is a door for me to back into so I can get a load of canned something going to freakin’ Atlanta. I’ve been waiting for over 3 hours and can’t get a timeframe as to when they might be able to get me in. The answer is, “depends on product” and “there’s a lot of trucks waiting.” So…. hours, probably? I don’t have any idea. But the good news is that I can park here overnight, so I’m going to just go to bed, I guess. Gotta sleep some time.

So I lay here, wait, and think. It’s been a weird week for exercise. I’ve been in situations where I’m either waiting (like now) and don’t know if it’s going to be 5 minutes or 5 hours and so I don’t wanna gear up and be 3 miles down the road when they call. Also, some places (like the one I’m in now) don’t feel safe. As I was driving into this facility I observed some kind of shabby neighborhoods and people walking around wearing hoodies with their hands in their pockets and their eyes swiveling from the ground, up to the right, then the left, then behind them, and it just appears they’re up to no good, even though they probably aren’t and I’m just being paranoid and super judgemental of wearers of hoodies (p.s. I love hoodies). Anyway… I just didn’t feel the “good place to run” vibe here. Also I could just exercise in my truck, but. Yeah. I don’t want to. There. I said it. I feel lazy, and I’m making excuses. There’s always a way. I am just choosing to ignore those ways today. And so, I’ll feel cruddy and hopefully get a chance to do something cool tomorrow. But probably not, because my sleep is weird. We’ll see.

This has been a weird week for me. But good. And fun. I’ll tell you why. I started out delivering a load I picked up last week, then grabbing a new load going to Minnesota – one I’ve done before. After that I went to a place to get loaded and a co-worker/good friend of mine texted me as I pulled off of the shipper’s scale saying, “hey, I see you!” I asked if he was at the creamery I was at. He said “yup. Just backed into the door you pulled out of.” So I drove around and chatted with him. He asked where I was taking my load. He was going to the same place. He asked where I was going after that. Same place. After that? Same place. After that? Different place (but a snafu changed that, too, and now we’re again going to the same place). I can’t tell you how weird this is! But it’s making for an interesting week, because I’m not used to hanging out with friends along my routes. But this friend is super rad because we share a love for food and talk about it a lot (we both dabble in keto), and so when I first saw him he goes, “want some espresso? Just made some up in the truck.” Ummm… Sure! Then when we dropped our trailers in the same lot, he walks over and hands me a huge stick of venison sausage! It’s been too long since I’ve hunted, even longer since I’ve gotten a deer to process, so it’s also been a while since I’ve had venison sausage. What a treat! Then later, after a discussion as we followed each other along the interstate about keto-friendly jalepeno poppers, he says, “I bet I could make those in my toaster oven in the truck.” I now have 6 out of 12 jalepeno poppers left in my fridge (it was hard to stop at 6, just fyi). And some panacotta. That he made. He likes to cook and make things and I have nothing in my truck to heat food, cook food, nothin’. I eat pretty healthy, make stuff at home and bring it along with me then eat it cold while I’m buzzing down the road, but when it comes right down to it, I’m boring. But he’s not. He’s made all kinds of drool-inducing foods in his truck. Sooooo… after the jalepeno poppers thing? I’m seriously considering adding a toaster oven. They were really good! And they’re wrapped in bacon. So… bacon.

Needless to say, I’ve got a pretty good friend here, and I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but I’m certainly not complaining when someone wants to share yummy food with me! He even once tied a plastic grocery bag with homemade (again, even keto-fied) strawberry cheesecake to the mirror on my truck because he was passing through where I was parked for the night in Indiana and I was going to be sleeping and it was Christmas and we were both on the road. It made my holiday.

It’s broke. And the light was missing.

Oh, and! He talked me through fixing a broken wiring harness for a trailer light. That probably saved me a good couple of hours at a frustrating shop. And it was pouring rain the entire time and we both got completely soaked in the process. We also hung out one night and just bullshitted for a few hours. See, one time Adam and I joined him and his family for a night of camping and the three of us stayed up until daylight talking around a campfire. How we don’t run out of stuff to talk about, I don’t know. And if he’s reading this, hi. And thanks for sharing all the stuff. And I owe you. I know you’ll say I don’t, but I’ll get ya’ back sometime! 😊

So that’s that. The week only gets weirder tomorrow because after I deliver the load I’m waiting to pick up here I drop my empty trailer near Atlanta and bobtail home. A long way. It’s weird because I’ve never driven that far without a trailer. I hear it makes for a rough ride (the trucks are designed to pull heavy things, so it’s much smoother when it’s doing what it’s designed to do, therefore it’s rough when it’s on its own). It’ll just be bumpy, I think. But I also have a pretty new truck that rides quite smooth, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be just fine.

My latest Instagram of Venus. She’s a good truck and she yells at me when I get too close to other cars because she cares about me (I think).

I’m tired now. And feel like crud because I’m being lazy this week, but starting to feel a twinge of excitement to get back on track next week, which probably just means I needed a break. I tend to go hard and start to burn out a little, then naturally back off without thinking about it (just like I am now), which lets me recover just enough to start the cycle all over again. My next race is mid-January and it’s 64 miles and overnight and in unpredictable winter conditions and it’s hard, so I have to keep up my momentum for that. So yup. Random rambling. If you didn’t read all of this, that’s okay. You wouldn’t see this anyway because you’ve already checked out. And that’s cool. And one more thing… I miss Adam. And we’re moving soon.

#cliffhanger

Have a nice night, friends!

Tonight I love cream cheese.

Introducing Venus de Volvo

A new truck story!!

Oh, hi there!

As unfortunate as having a major breakdown is, I have to admit that getting a new truck is actually quite fun. And… as fun as getting a new truck is, I have to admit that the break in period can be a little sketch. Here’s what happened:

I moved all my crap into the new truck, enjoying the “new truck” smell, a dash with no dust on it, no hairballs clumped anywhere on the floor (which would be of my own hair, of course), and all the cabinet latches were still attached and in working order. Oh, wait. I lied. There was one latch that popped off right away (it’s funny because those things gave me so much trouble in my last truck). So yeah, this was a *really* new truck. It’s a 2019 Volvo VNL 860 and had less than 1500 miles on it when I jumped in and turned the key for the first time. Aww, yeah. Fun.

But then I went on my first run in this new truck, with that doggone bad-luck cloud still hanging over my head. I grabbed an empty trailer and drove 28 miles to my pick up. After getting loaded I turned out of the driveway to leave and my steering wheel made an unsettling scraping sound, and by the time I pulled into the truck stop where I planned to scale my load, it had gotten worse. I opened the hood and checked my steering fluid. Dry. As a bone. I made it back to the Volvo dealership where they discovered a cracked fitting that all that fluid leaked out of. They replaced it and I was on my way in a half an hour. I made it 50 miles before needing a new part! But whew! It as a quick, easy fix.

The rest of that day went great, and I was enjoying getting used to the smooth ride and all the new features in the truck – aka new safety features with alarms that were set on high volume and scared the bejeezus out of me when they went off. I delivered my load, got reloaded and found a quiet little spot to park for the night. I even took a couple photos of my new ride.

Here’s one. She’s pretty, hey?

Now it was Saturday and I was about 50 miles from home where I was to drop this trailer, hook to a loaded one and make my way to Virginia. I was cruising right along in my new, sweet ride, feeling cool, listening to music, chillin’ out, and

*BOOM!!*

I think I jumped 3 feet out of my seat! Something let loose under my truck and it was LOUD! My right turn signal was flashing and I was making my way to the shoulder before the air guage for my primary air tank totally bottomed out. The secondary tank quickly followed, but held at about 60 psi while I came to a stop and pulled the brakes on my own (the brakes will set on their own if you lose all your air too fast, which means your tires lock up, and that’s a scary thing I hope never, ever happens to me! This was too close!). I was shaking, so I first glanced in my mirrors to make sure nothing needed to be attended to right that second (i.e. fire or something of the sort) and then I just rested my hands on the steering wheel and took some deep breaths. I got out of the truck and could hear air leaking – badly – from somewhere.

From my Instagram stories.

I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick situation, so the next thing I did was dig out my damn safety triangles – again – and get them set up behind me (I believe the law states we need to have them up within 10 minutes of breakdown). And then I began to look at everything. It wasn’t a tire. Everything looked right under the hood. Air compressor was still there and doing its thing. Brake drums all appeared to be intact. The air leaking was coming from underneath the truck, kind of under the driver’s seat.

We have these air tanks that sit under the driver’s seat, and we can access them through a side fairing below the driver’s-side door. They have little nozzles that we can turn to release moisture out of the air tanks, which is done on a regular basis, so I’m pretty familiar with them. My first thought was maybe one of those spun loose, but all of them were tight and no air was leaking out of them. I couldn’t see anywhere else and getting underneath the truck wasn’t possible with its low clearance – and being parked on the side of a busy highway didn’t make me feel safe even trying.

Top photo: fairing under the driver’s door. Middle photo: Shows the fairing opened up. Bottom photo: The three air tanks and their little nozzles.

I started the phone calls. It was a Saturday, of course, so after hours dispatch was on duty. I also tried calling Volvo a few times, and our maintenance guy (whom I’m getting to know well lately!). I was between all these calls when I phoned a friend who’s been driving a lot longer than me. He walked me through some things to check – I wanted to be sure it wasn’t something really stupid because it sounded like they were going to send out a tow truck, and I’d have felt horrible if it was as easy as reconnecting a hose or something. Then another Midwest Carriers driver pulled up in front of me in his personal vehicle – he was driving by, saw me broke down and was checking to see if I needed help. I did! He looked all over and couldn’t see anything, either. Same thing as me – he couldn’t get a view of where the leak was coming from. So he went on his way while I waited for the tow truck (thanks for stopping, George! You’re awesome!).

As soon as the tow truck lifted the front end of my truck up, I got down on the ground and peeked underneath. I saw it immediately. An air hose about the diameter of a quarter had popped off the back of one of those three air tanks I was describing earlier. The tow truck driver crawled under and said it looked like something on it had cracked, too, so it wouldn’t have been something that could’ve been fixed roadside anyway. So I felt a little better about the whole tow thing.

Another day, another tow.

So… I got a ride back to the same temp truck I was in when my last truck died. I threw the basic essentials in as quickly as I could and took off to continue my run for the week. On Monday I found out that the air line was fixed and the truck was ready for me again. I couldn’t wait to get settled back in, but I first had to finish my week. Thankfully the rest of it went pretty smooth.

So now I’m a few days into a new run in the new truck, and so far, so good. Well, this morning the button for my tractor brake popped off after I backed into a dock, which startled me for a second, but then I laughed. It just screwed back on. It wasn’t like it broke or anything. Man, new truck things!

C’mon, Venus! Quit playin’ with me!

I hope that cloud is gone. And I’m really liking this truck, even though there’s a few things I’m still getting used to. One of them is sleeping on the top bunk! The bottom bed converts into a table, which I love, but I know that if I change it back to a bed, put sheets on it and sleep in it, I’m not going to want to switch it around twice every day. So I’m leaving the table set up and trying to use the top bunk to sleep. But it needs a better mattress. That’s for sure.

Loving this space!

So there ya’ have it. Adventures in trucking. With a new truck. I hope to move many, many miles in Venus de Volvo!

Tonight I love my kettlebell. Swinging that thing helps with stress!

This is the cracked head from Delores, my old truck. Pretty ugly.

More cracked things (I think they called this a casing – where the piston fits into?) Also where all my coolant was leaking into.

Oh, and I also just got this new (well, used) adorable little commuter car. #TootsDrivesAJellyBean

A view I could do without for a while!

Delores the truck’s last run

Adam decided to ride with me this week. Little did we know it would be Delores’s last run. So the cool part of all of this was that Adam and I started out with that truck, brand new, waaay back in June of 2016. I mean, we had to peel the plastic off of the floor and seats – that kind of new. She only had 900 miles when we took our first trip. So last week, on a random whim, or… maybe it wasn’t so random (hello, truck gods), Adam asked me to scoop him up in the middle of my next run. So I did. And so he was with me when Delores took her last run, too. And so we’ve come full circle.

Back in ’16 when she was brand new!

The way this all played out? I had it planned out, and the folks at work had me set up for a great long, holiday weekend on the road, because they’re awesome like that. A quick overnight run to Minnesota. Then back to Wisconsin (where I scooped up Adam). Then head right back out to Tennessee, drop, hook, head to North Carolina. A delivery, another drop, a hook, and head back home. I’d probably be home, sleeping in my own bed on Wednesday night. And I had it all trip-planned. Hours, miles, where I’d be spending my nights, everything. And then I hooked to a trailer that had two clearance lights burned out.

Now, here’s the thing. Looking back on this situation, I wish I’d have done any number of things differently. Started at a different service shop (sorry, Love’s, but I might be over you), left after my 2-hour wait turned into 3-1/2 hours, I don’t know. But I ended up taking a 10-hour break there after only driving 60 miles that day because this is how it went: I was told it was a 2-hour wait to get my lights fixed. Okay, pretty standard, and really not bad for the start of a holiday weekend. 2 hours later I was told another hour and a half. At this point, if I leave, I start over at a new shop with a new wait time, in the back of the line. So I stay. An hour and a half later I’m told 30 minutes. 30 minutes later I’m told 10 minutes.

FIVE hours later I’m in the shop. And guess what? They don’t have the damn lights to replace my broken ones. Umm. Excuse me!? After waiting five hours? Ohmygosh. While I fume and try to figure out what to do next, he checks the power going to the lights. And now guess what? It’s actually a wiring issue and they can’t work on it there. I called a couple of shops down the road – one doesn’t have a mechanic on duty that can work on wiring, and the other is an 8+ hour wait, and by that time the mechanic that can work on wiring will be gone home. So I surrender, take my 10-hour break there and decide to take off later that night, suddenly switching to driving through the nights because of this whole debacle. But I’ve got Adam with me and we make the most of it. I grabbed as much sleep as I could and we got rolling at like 9pm or something stupid like that. We caffeinated, he played DJ, read me internet jokes and the top 10 ways to conserve water at home (which, by the way, were all common sense or pretty dumb). But whatever, it was like having a live podcast sitting next to me, who also happens to be handsome and have a great voice that I could listen to for hours (which I totally did). And I made it those 622 miles I needed to make with a couple of hours to spare.

There will be a few of my favorite shots of Delores throughout this blog entry.

Next, drop trailer, hook to new trailer, drive down road, scale my load (I need to take a brief tangent about this in a moment), park truck, visit Starbucks for some decaf coffee and chill time, back to truck, sleep and drive through the night again.

The tangent: I scaled my load, and while it was all legal and okay to go, my steers were pretty heavy, which I’d been struggling with for a long time with this truck. I decided it was a good time, once and for all, to play with moving my 5th wheel (which is quite a process, aka pain in the arse) to see if I can get my weight more evenly distributed. After a couple of tries, I think I got it figured out. My 5th wheel was finally in a good spot! Yay! Little did I know not even 40 miles later I’d be sitting on the side of the road with a dead truck.

So as we planned, I got some sleep, woke up and hit the road. I think it was like 10pm or something, again, stupid like that. I approached Monteagle pass, which is kind of an infamous climb in Tennessee along I-24. I pulled off at the required truck pull-off where there are big, colorful, intimidating lite-brite-style signs alerting you exactly where all the emergency truck ramps are (like if your brakes fail and you are going 100 down a mountain and need to slow down like right now – you can take one of these ramps, which are designed to slow your truck in this exact situation, like right now. They usually head uphill and are a deep gravel or sand. Yeah, scary as heck). So anyway, I start heading down the 6% grade, got into a low gear, about to settle into a nice, steady slow descent and right away, from, I *think*, somewhere on the passenger side, kind of by my steer tire, I hear a “flap-flap-flap-flap” sound, exclaim to Adam, “what the hell is that noise?” as I’m already braking and heading toward the shoulder. He says, “no idea,” and even before I get the truck to a complete stop, my red “STOP” alarm pops on, beeps once, and the truck just shuts off. I roll to a stop, thankfully safely off the road.

Four-ways on, safety vest on, I get out, pop the hood, and my first observation is that I have almost no coolant left. I don’t see it leaking anywhere, and I recently got a new radiator, so it can’t be that, I hope! Something isn’t right here. I think about dumping my one bottle of coolant in there, but change my mind because the level in my reservoir is still dropping. I get my safety triangles out and set them up behind the truck, counting my paces to be sure they’re placed properly. 4 paces, 10 feet. 40 paces, 100 feet. 40 more paces, 100 more feet. Then I trudge back through the dark alongside my truck as the milky way twinkles and shimmers above me. By the time I get back to my opened hood, the coolant reservoir is completely empty.

Not good.

Back in the truck I make the late-night, holiday-weekend call to our after hours line and I’m instantly getting help. I’m given a number to try for a 24-hour mechanic, so I hang up and dial the number with fingers crossed that they’re not closed for the weekend. He answers! After asking some questions he tells me he’ll be out to me in an hour, which he is.

After looking everything over, then dumping like 10 gallons of water and coolant into my reservoir, he shows me some bad signs. Gray, bubbly oil, steam coming out of hoses, something dripping out of my exhaust, and an almost empty coolant reservoir (!). Again. Then he explains that it’s not leaking out onto the ground and answers the question I was asking myself when I first opened the hood: “Where’s all my coolant going?” The answer? The motor. That’s where. And that’s not good. I asked him what the best-case scenerio is here, and he shakes his head and says, “there is no best-case scenerio here.” He mentioned something about a crack in a head gasket and an engine rebuild and things of the sort, and I don’t know a ton about mechanical things, but I do know that an engine rebuild is not a small deal. Like, at all.

Pouring buckets and buckets of coolant and water into my reservoir.

After the roadside diagnosis in the middle of the night, it turns into a rush. He’s got a secure dirt lot at the bottom of the hill (about 6 miles away), and I’ve still got my one little bottle of 50/50 coolant mix. He says we gotta go if we want to avoid a tow and get it down there before the coolant burns off… or whatever the heck it’s doing. Getting guzzled by my engine? Whatever.

I literally run all 84 paces behind the truck to gather my triangles, run 84 paces back, toss them on the floor of the truck cab, and I’m soon following the mechanic’s pickup truck down the mountain. The truck is running really rough, the big, scary red stop alarm on my dash is blinking and honking at me and smoke is billowing out behind me. A car passes me and is flashing his lights at me. “I know, I know,” I say out loud.

As we approach the exit to the dirt lot destination, I step on the fuel pedal and get no response. Then it chugs a few more times, then nothing, then a few more chugs. I chug, clunk, and practically coast into that little lot, and once I come to a stop the smoke (or steam?) surrounds the truck and is blowing in through the vents on the dash. It was quite a crazy experience. But we made it.

Once the truck was safely parked, Adam and I gathered our things and he got a ride from the mechanic back up the big hill to the little town of Monteagle, Tennessee. Adam booked a room at the Super 8 and the mechanic came back down the hill for me. For now, the plan was to sit tight and wait to see what to do the next day when people were awake and decisions could be made.

So now it’s the next day – Monday – Labor Day. While Adam and I sat on a hotel bed watching “Dumb & Dumber,” weekend dispatch back at home was working with maintenance, safety, and I’m sure a bunch of other people to get a plan in place for us. Because, again, they’re awesome like that. The plan? Adam and I sit tight. They are going to tow a temporary truck from Wisconsin out to us in Tennessee, then grab my dead truck and haul it back to Wisconsin and we’d stay on the current load and deliver it a couple of days late. And that’s what we did.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Monteagle, TN, to be honest. There’s no public transportation (I mean, not a single Uber or Lyft, even), no movie theater, no coffee shop, and there’s tons of great trails, but all of them were too far away. So we visited a fun BBQ restaurant, the Waffle House to play cards, a hippie store, I went for a couple of short runs (and got a little touch of heat exhaustion), and we lazed in bed watching stupid TV. I was antsy, wanting to be driving, to be moving, to be working, but I tried to just relax and appreciate the unfortunate break.

Two days later, on Wednesday, we waited in the lobby of the hotel until a big tow truck came up the off ramp of the highway towing a gray truck with the big “MC” on the front. What a welcome sight! Our ticket home!

The temporary ride.

We tossed our stuff inside, and while doing a pre-trip inspection I discovered a visor light burned out. Well… the truck started up and ran, so we had that going for us… but that visor light was going to require a visit to a shop, and I didn’t have a ton of time to spare once again. We had to get rolling if I had any chance of meeting my *new* delivery time. There was one service shop between where we were and Chattanooga, TN. A Love’s. Greeeaaaat. Well… we tried to call to see if they had the part (see? I learned from that frustrating experience earlier!), but they took a message and said they’d call back. They didn’t. We ended up at a Volvo dealership and they fixed us up in a couple of hours. And there I was, driving through the night – again – and made it to my delivery a couple of hours before my appointment time, but just about out of hours.

She got us through a few tough winters!

But whew. We were back on track. I felt a little off from my sleep schedule jumping around so much, but we did eventually make it home on Saturday afternoon. It was a long week, and we survived. But sadly, poor Delores did not. When we arrived at the Volvo dealership where we park our truck, I pulled up next to Delores (that’s where they towed the truck to from Tennessee) and gathered up all of my belongings from inside and stashed it all in the temp truck I was currently in. I have to say, it was a little sad. I get attached to things – I mean, especially when I name them. Delores really was a good truck, and I’ll miss her, but as I like to say, “onward.” I’ll be in a new truck soon. It was definitely an unfortunate situation, and I’m sure the fix is not going to be a pretty one. So it’s a big bummer, but I’m really thankful that I work with a good bunch of folks that can carry their drivers through stuff like this. Breakdowns happen, and they’re not fun, but I felt like it went as smoothly as it could. So, thanks to all of you that were involved!

Finally home!

Tonight I love (duh) Delores. I’ll miss her!


Marquette Trail 50, 2018: My 50-mile Race Report

Marquette Trail 50

August 18, 2018

Marquette, MI

Race consists of 3 loops: *one* 11-mile loop followed by *two* 20-mile loops (run in reverse order).

Well, no cliffhangers! I finished! I chased a tough cutoff around mile 41, but ended up coming in with about 40 minutes to spare on the 15-hour limit for the 50-mile race. It was a really tough one! And it’s not just me saying that – I had several racers who aren’t new to this sport tell me it’s tough, and some of the cutoffs are pretty aggressive – so I’m pretty happy I was able to just finish. So, the next 50-mile race I sign up for? Might be something a little less difficult – just because. Or maybe not. Because I am me.

Here’s a rough video I put together that will give you an hour-by-hour glimpse into what was going on in my head. Warning: there is some crying, some joy, and some cussing. Because that’s ultras. Enjoy!

Overall, here’s what went down: I started slow, but mostly because I got caught up in a huge line of runners hiking at the start. I’m new to these races and figured it was good for me to start slow, so I just rolled with it, basically hiking. It was dark and the terrain was pretty tough with rocks and roots and a few decent climbs and descents. But then another racer came up behind me asking if we were 50k or 50-milers, and most were 50k racers. She asked politely to pass explaining that the 50k racers have a much more lenient time cutoff than the 50-milers and that she was getting nervous. To be honest, I was getting nervous myself, but I didn’t want to just start running uphill passing people and burning myself out. But as she started to pass, I just kind of kept up with her, and before we knew it, we were out of the long line and going at a pretty decent pace. I felt much better, but realized that I’d already lost quite a bit of time, so I was hustling. I hoped that that start situation wouldn’t come back to bite me toward the end of the race. Whether or not it did, I honestly don’t know. Had I been able to run faster, would I have gone out too fast? Maybe.

At about mile 15 or 16 my feet started to hurt overall, kind of suddenly. I have a theory as to why, which I’ll cover a little later on here (when I talk about my sandal snafu), but I just kept going, constantly assessing my pain levels. I figured if it didn’t get any worse, I could push through. Thankfully it didn’t get worse. They did hurt the rest of the way, and after the toughest climb (Hogsback mountain), my left knee was feeling tweaky, so add that into tightening hamstrings (I need to stretch more or do yoga or something, because yeesh), it was a bit of a struggle. But it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle – and I expected to be pushing through some stuff. In hindsight, I’m glad I had the opportunity to work through a few tough spots and push on. This is something I crave during these longer runs.

My crew: I had a crew for this race. Adam was my crew chief and my mom and dad came along and ended up helping out a ton. Just seeing them at the aid stations was such a morale boost. They hugged me even though I was super-sweaty and cheered me in and out each time I saw them. But they did more than that. When I got to an aid station, I would take off my pack, and they’d be filing my water bladder with ice water, switching out my Tailwind bottle (electrolyte drink), and offering me options of things I brought to eat, and things I needed to carry with me. They took my empty Pickle Power bottles and handed me new ones, same with any other garbage I was carrying – at one point, even a ziploc with dirty toilet paper. Seriously. They’re the best! I didn’t even have to waste time looking for a garbage can. So, looking back, I wonder how was I so darn slow!? Well, I’ve never claimed to be a fast trail runner… I try to be consistent, but this had a few pretty slow spots and it was just a tough race! Glad I had Adam, my mom and dad there to support me!! It would have been so much tougher without them. And lonlier, since I don’t really know many people in the ultrarunning community yet. I feel a little bit like an outsider, still, but I think in time I’ll feel as though I fit in a little more. But for now, crew… I love you guys!

One of my favorite photos from the race (thanks, mom!). Adam is telling me I’ve got plenty of time and that I’m going to finish. That’s not the sun in my eyes… I’m nearly in tears of relief and pride.

These two – my dad and my mom. My biggest fans and always by my side helping make my crazy-ass dreams come true.

Pre-race: I didn’t feel as ready for this race as I did for my 50K. I think I was just nervous about the distance jump, and my training between the two races wasn’t as spot-on as it was leading up to my 50K. But I decided to go into it with the mindset that I know I can go 50 miles, so I’m just going to go 50 miles.

All four of us (me, Adam, mom and dad) camped for the weekend at the Marquette Tourist Park, which is a campground not too far from the start/finish line of the race. Adam and I arrived in the afternoon on Friday for early packet pick-up, and we met the race director because he was asking for someone to sing the National Anthem dark and early before the race started on Saturday morning. Well… Hello!? I know of a certain someone who is REALLY good at that! I was pretty excited to see him get to be such a big part of the event. What a cool opportunity to pop up! (He sounded great, too, by the way!!)

The morning of the race came to quickly. I had trouble sleeping, partially due to some loud girls in the campsite next to us, and partially because nerves. But morning came regardless, and I prepped the way I always do. I made a decaf coffee with heavy cream and tried to use the bathroom. My bathroom trip wasn’t nearly as successful as it was for my 50K, but it was going to have to do. Thankfully I didn’t have too much trouble during the race in this arena, but I DID have to poop in the woods one time. That was a bummer, but you do whatchya gotta do! And it still wasn’t as bad as some of my Frozen Otter training runs in 2016. {shudder}

Terrain: I thought the Northern Unit of Kettle Moraine was technical! Well, it is, but this run was a lot more technical. It was like Kettle Moraine on steroids! Just as many rocks and roots, but they were all BIGGER. The rocks were pointier, too. And the hills were a little bigger. I mean, Kettle Moraine is still amazing for training – especially for a race like this – but man, oh man… I fell one time, and as I started to go down in slow motion (like you always do) I spotted a very pointy, pyramid-shaped rock that my left knee was aiming right for. I was able to quickly put out my left hand and catch my fall with my knee JUST grazing the point of that rock. The guy behind me told me I looked totally graceful – maybe he was just being nice, but I’ll take it! I did end up with a little bruise and a scrape on that knee, but if I hadn’t caught myself, it would’ve been really ugly. I mean, a potential race-ender. I felt pretty lucky. Yeah, the terrain was no joke.

The climbs were insane. Sugarloaf is one of the famous climbs because you climb hundreds of stairs to the top. Then there’s Hogsback. This one is close to the 50K (31 mile) mark, when you go around the 20-mile loop the first time. Yup, you literally climb on all fours in places. There’s a really technical section of worn-down trail around tree roots and you basically crawl your way up crevices in rock until you reach the top. Once at the top you are rewarded with views of Lake Superior (and a breeze) that made it all seem worth it. Then you butt-scoot down smooth rock on the other side. And then you run that same 20-mile loop the opposite direction, so Hogsback comes up right away after leaving the first cutoff at 31 miles (which I made with only 30 minutes to spare, by the way! ).

The incredible view from the top of Sugarloaf.

There was a really nice, flatish section along Lake Superior in the middle of that 20-mile loop, though, which was a sweet little reprieve from the hills. It was sand and pine needles, with incredible views of the big lake – and an amazing breeze to go with it. Which brings me to…

Weather: It was in the mid- to upper-70’s, party cloudy and overcast at the start and sunny at times throughout the day. It felt cooler in the shade of the forest, and the breezes at the top of climbs and along the lake were amazing. I don’t think I could’ve asked for better weather to spend 14 hours in the woods!

Aid Stations: The aid stations and volunteers were awesome, as they always are! I had my crew, so I didn’t partake as much as would’ve been fun to, but when I did, everyone was so helpful, cheerful, and the snacks I did enjoy were life-savers – particularly watermelon at mile 41 just after beating the most aggressive cutoff. I felt like I was freakin’ starving and I knew I didn’t have a ton of time to spare, so one of the volunteers shoved a couple of granola bars in my hand, then sliced off a huge chunk of watermelon, chopped off the rine and handed it to me for on-the-go. I flew off down the trail, not even caring how sticky my hands were getting from that juicy, delicious sugar-bomb. That watermelon was the best thing on earth in that moment. Thank you, volunteers!!

At an aid station getting crewed. The pack was new to Adam so we struggled with it a bit when we were rushed, but it was a good choice to wear it. Ice water in the bladder kept my back nice and cool!

Post-race notes and the one (big) bummer: I set up 3 goals, which I don’t even want to bring up because I’m seriously embarrassed that my 3rd goal was even something that popped into my head – achievable or not. Goal one was to finish under the 15-hour cutoff and be an official finisher. I did that. My second goal was to have pretty even splits, which I didn’t do so well, but I felt like I was giving fairly consistent effort throughout, and my splits were more affected by getting caught in a slow line of racers at the start and the terrain throughout. I think I have a lot of room to work here for sure, though. I did power-hike a lot of the last 4 miles with a new running friend, Missy (thank you, Missy, for being awesome!). It ended up being four very memorable and fun miles. Running with people – so fun. My third goal? Yeah… Um, I set it to finish under 12 hours. Now, I know doing a sub-12-hour 50-mile race is a thing, but I pretty much knew this goal was out of my league since the women’s course record was 11:24. But my 50K goals felt almost too easy to reach, so I needed one in here that was tougher. 12 hours at the Marquette 50 was a little too tough. At least for me. I feel great about accomplishing goal #1, and feel like I made a good attempt at goal #2, but maybe my goal #3 should’ve been something that, even though I might not accomplish it, could at least be something that could motivate me to push harder. I mean, I threw that goal out before I even started. I’ll get this goal-setting thing nailed down one day. Maybe.

The bummer? I finished just before 8pm with about 40 minutes to spare before the final cutoff time, and all that was left standing for post-race celebration at the finish line was a table containing the finish buckles (thank goodness!) and an aid station. I don’t like to complain about stuff, and I don’t want to make a huge fuss about it, but I did just run for over 14 hours, and the big food venue (local Mexican restaurant burritos and bakery from a local bakery!) was packed up and gone, as was the live music, and the runners barn was all packed up. I apparently had a hoodie in there with my name printed on it that I didn’t know about, and it was packed away somewhere already. But really, the worst of it all was missing out on the post-race meal. I was HUNGRY. And yeah, there was an active aid station, but at that point, the last thing I wanted was another 1/4 banana and a handful of pretzels. But… Thankfully I have an awesome crew. They had ice cold, bubbly drinks waiting for me, at least. And then they whisked me away to a local burger joint where I was able to satiate my 50-mile hunger with a ginormous, messy, double burger and onion rings. So all’s well that ends well…

Duuuuuuuuuuude.

Recovery: I’m writing this a week after the race, and I’m still babying a sore left foot. I had all the typical sore muscles and puffy feet, but I had one spot on my left foot that concerned me. Of course I was being all dramatic thinking I had a stress fracture the day after, but I think it’s just inflammation or something because it’s getting better every day. And I must have sort of numbed the nerves on my feet from all the pounding, maybe? Because I’m currently having a strange sensation that I can only assume is those nerves coming back to life. My feet do NOT want to be in shoes right now, but truck driving kind of requires it. Bummer.

I know you were wondering what my 50-mile, sandal-wearing feet looked like afterward! Well, here ya’ go! DIRTY!! And happy to be done.

Fave from the day: Having my favorite people there, taking time out of their lives to support another one of my crazy adventures. I am such a lucky girl. And a thankful, one, too.

Oh, also the scenery. And the toughness. And that I have a new personal record for a 50-mile race (because it’s my first, haha!) and now I can go beat it! Yay!

Lake Superior from the top of Hogsback.

Sandal Snafu: So I did the stupidest thing you can do on race day. I started in new footwear. Doing anything new on race day is dumb, but new footwear? Come on! What was I thinking!? Well, I was thinking that it was better than the other new pair of sandals chewing my feet into hamburger (they need to be broken in). These new sandals were a new brand – Luna. They were lighter and felt softer, and I felt confident they wouldn’t create raw spots like my Bedrocks did after 20-ish miles. They didn’t create any raw spots – I was right about that. The thing I didn’t factor in (stupidly), was that they are structured differently than my Bedrocks – my feet are used to Bedrocks. Not Lunas. So around mile 15 or 16, it just hit hard. It wasn’t just a spot or a joint or a hot spot or anything – both of my feet – like the entire foot – just HURT. My foot was moving in a new way for 20 miles! So at one of the aid stations I switched back to my old Bedrocks (which are wearing thin, but my feet like them), and while the pain didn’t go away, it also didn’t get any worse. So I was able to push on just fine, and was happily surprised that at the end of the race, I had zero rub spots from either sandal! So I guess it all evens out. Now I just wait and hope that this pain in my left foot isn’t something serious and it goes away. Or I might literally kick myself in the butt somehow for committing what has to be THE race day cardinal sin. (I do really love the Luna sandals for different reasons that I love my Bedrocks, so I’ll be training in both of them from here on out. It was actually really nice to swap them mid-race, and I’ll probably do that again.)

Final thoughts: It was hard. It was fantastic. It was beautiful. I loved it all.

Looking back on the race, I was surprised to realize that there was no point during the day when I didn’t want to be there. I asked myself once how bad I wanted it (when I was really close to a cutoff), but I decided to put on my stubborn pants and just do what I came there to do. Finish. The struggles make it all so much sweeter, and so much more memorable.

Aid station, mile 47. My expression: “How am I still running!?”

Stats:

Finish time: 14:18:51

Overall: 69/132 (but I was really about 5th from the last finisher – ranks include those that did not finish, or DNF)

Age group: 13/23

Female: 19/37

Distance: 52.9 (from my GPS watch/Strava)

Avg pace: 16:14 minutes/mile

Elevation gain: 6,584

Calories burned: 5,030

Personal records: 50-miles (only because it was my first, and I think I can beat that time next time I run a 50!)

Tonight I love that I’m currently not wearing anything on my feet. My feet also love that they are naked. Happy feet.

Naked, happy, elevated feet.

Strava stuff.

Before the race I let my mom, dad and Adam write something on my arms with a Sharpie for when I struggled. Mom’s: “Because you can.” Dad’s: “Go girl, go” Adam’s: our fishies and heart symbol. It was pretty cool to see them throughout the race.

Using my finisher’s buckle to open my beer.

2-hour nap at our campsite on Sunday!

50 miles is a long way

I’m ready to get sweaty! The forecast for Saturday says 80° and sunny!

I suppose it’s time for my pre-race ramble. Yup, this time I’m going to [attempt to] run 50 miles! This Saturday! That’s like, what? Four days away? Yikes. I keep going back and forth between feeling excited, nervous, confident, not-so-confident, nervous, then always back to excited. I mean, even if I DNF (this ultrarunning term means “did not finish”) for some reason, I think I’ll feel glad that I got to give it a shot and play in the woods for a few hours.

A few hours. I’ve got 15 of them to finish. (That’s a long time to be running!) The terrain looks kind of technical, meaning there’s some roots and rocks I’ll be hopping over (which I enjoy – except when I trip on them), and it looks like there will be a few pretty tough climbs. But I hear the views of Lake Superior are pretty spectacular from up there. I’m really, really looking forward to the scenery!

The race I’m participating in this time is called the Marquette Trail 50 and takes place in Marquette, Michigan, which is located in the Upper Peninsula of the state and is situated along the Lake Superior shoreline. I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the past backpacking the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Trail near there, but that trail is really quite flat overall. In fact, I did a 50-mile training run up there once back in 2016 when I was training for the Frozen Otter.

2016 – after running a self-supported 50-mile training run on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Trail. And yupper! I’m crying in this pic. Because I’m so happy to be DONE!

But yeah, anyway, it’s pretty flat. The trail I’ll be racing on on Saturday does NOT look flat. I mean, at all.

Elevation profile for the Marquette Trail 50.

At this very moment, as I write this (and this opinion might change by the time I’m done writing), I really think I can do this. My training has not been great this past month, but coming off of a successful and fun 50k race on July 14, I didn’t really want to push my training super hard, anyway. But I did skip my ONE planned long run of 20 miles because the only day I had an opportunity to run it also happened to land on a day that I REALLY needed to just take off and do nothing. And that’s just what I did that day. Nothing. And I don’t regret that. It was fantastic. I only wish I’d had one more week in between these two races so I could’ve gotten in that longer run, but I am where I am. And I’ll be okay. I keep telling myself that one missed run isn’t going to make or break me on race day.

In addition to missing my big run, I even went through a bout where I didn’t want to run. At all. That felt strange to me, but I just took it easy and tried to tell myself that it was something my body was asking for. Or I was just making an excuse to be lazy. I don’t know. But either way, my last 3 runs (10 miles, 4 miles and 4 miles respectively) all felt pretty good, so at least I’m going in feeling like I can still actually run – at least a little bit.

I still don’t know if I’ll wear my race vest or not, but I’m leaning towards wearing it because the new handheld bottles I planned to use came in a little too late and I know I shouldn’t use something new on race day. I mean, it’s just a stupid bottle, but what if at mile 5 it starts to make my hand go numb, or it leaks, or it’s too heavy, or I just hate it? I’ve done a few runs in my hydration vest, and while I prefer running without one, and I could easily get by without it due to there being aid stations every 4-6 miles, I know it’s comfortable. So I’ll probably just wear the darn thing.

There’s so many things like this that I go back and forth with in my head almost constantly. I also still don’t know which sandals to wear. This sounds crazy. But I had a sandal snafu since my last race. The sandals I wore for my 50k were looking a little thin, so I purchased a new pair, just like them only with a bit of a more rugged sole for more traction on mud (and snow come winter time). My first 6-mile run on them felt great. Then I jumped to a 12-mile run and they chewed up my feet in a really fierce way. I guess they needed some break-in time. The resulting rub spots took 2 weeks to heal enough to be able to wear sandals again. On a whim I purchased a different brand of sandal, and I’ve since worn them around casually and ran about a total of 8 miles in them, and I love them. I MIGHT start the race in them. That’s crazy. Didn’t I JUST say I shouldn’t try something new on race day? I mean, especially a SHOE choice!? Dumb. So, so dumb. But I might do it anyway. Yeah. Stay tuned for that!

Foot woes. Need more break-in time on these new sandals, so they sadly won’t be used on Saturday. My old Bedrocks and new Lunas with both probably make an appearance, though.

One more thing – I suppose I should throw out a few goals for myself. As always, #1 is to be an official 50-mile finisher in under the cutoff time of 15 hours. So, #2? I’d like to try to run a mostly steady-pace race, meaning my splits (how long it takes to run each mile) aren’t too different from one another for all 50 miles. I hope that I don’t go out too fast and end up having to walk most of the last 20 miles. And #3 – a long shot – finish in under 12 hours. I actually think this goal is laughable because I *think* the course record for ladies in my age group is just under 11:30. I’m not nearly fast enough to get close to that. But I underestimated myself on my 50k and it felt like my 3 goals came pretty easy, so I thought I’d throw in a truly tough one for fun. I won’t be disappointed if I don’t finish in under 12 hours. But I’ll be shocked if I do. Just finish. That’s really the biggie.

So there’s my pre-race rambling. As always, I don’t feel like I know what the hell I’m doing. I don’t know that I’ve put the miles in I need to run this far, I don’t have my gear nailed down, and to top it off, I went on a sugar-eating rampage last weekend and I am scrambling here last-minute to try to recover from that. Liiike, trying to keep my ankles from swelling while sitting in a damn truck for 11 hours/day (inflammation from all the sugar, me thinks). So, yup. There’s that wane in confidence coming back!

…Screw it. Ya’ know what? I got this.

You can bet whatever happens, I’ll be sharing the experience here when it’s over!

I can’t wait.

Tonight I love sleep. Because it’s all I want to do right now, but I have to wait for a roadside tire service guy to come change a tire on my trailer. Hurry up, tire guy!

A soft bulge in my trailer tire. The tire guy says, “the first thing I’m doing is letting air out of that thing.” Yeah. She was close to blowin’ out.