Let’s get muddy! 31 miles of muddy!

It’s so ON!

Tomorrow’s the day! I’m going to try to run 31 miles through the woods! And it might rain and storm the whole time, so the Dances With Dirt might turn into a Dances With Mud – and that’s okay, too!

I kind of failed at my first tapering week. I really didn’t think I’d have any trouble cutting back on running, but I ended up getting a trucking run to Spokane, WA and had a little extra time along the way, so I stopped twice at amazing places and couldn’t resist enjoying some trails! So two days in a row I trail ran 8 miles, but it was so worth it!

The first place I stopped was the Painted Canyon area of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I got on the trail, turned around at about four miles and it started to rain. Running in and out of little stream canyons turned into quite a challenge, as it got super muddy, but the storm clouds and intermittent sunshine was making for some pretty amazing views and colors down in the canyon.

Painted Canyon area if the Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The next stop was near Butte, MT on the Continental Divide Trail! I parked at a rest area, crossed over a stream, scrambled up a steep hill, over a fence, along a busy ATV trail, through a swamp crossing, and finally got to a dirt road that led me to the CDT trailhead. I smiled as I ran the smooth single track trail slowly uphill through tall pines and huge, rounded boulders and enjoyed the fresh air. Again, at about four miles I reluctantly turned around and went back to the truck. Yeah, I totally could’ve kept running to Canada!

The Continental Divide Trail! Oh, my heart!

Once in Spokane I met up with Adam! I was picking him up there, and he was going to ride along with me until we got home! I was retrieving my husband from the west coast! We met up with our friend Charlene and had dinner and drinks and hung out in Spokane. It was a fun night.

😍

After a couple of deliveries, we ended up parking in Yakima, WA and taking my 34-hour reset by enjoying a 4th of July fair, complete with fair food and a really fun demo derby!

Cars dragging boats. Best thing ever!

The next morning I ran my last long run of only 8 miles, and it was time to cut off my miles. I decided to not run at all the week of the race – that way I’d be super-antsy to get on the trail and run on race day (that worked, by the way!).

I actually accomplished the no-running goal without any problem – but mostly because I got sick (so awful when I’m over the road!!). I mean, the throwing-up-in-the-rest-area-toilet kind of stomach bug. I hate throwing up, and I’m horrible at it, as for some reason it always wants to come out both ends. Is that TMI? Maybe… Anyway, it made for a rough next couple of days, as I was pretty exhausted from being sick, trying to finish up my week over the road, and then trying to scramble and replenish lost nutrients so I could still, hopefully, feel ready to run the 50k! What a bummer!

So! The race! I’ve given myself three goals to shoot for, which is kind of a thing I like to do. Goal #1 is usually one I’m pretty confident I can attain. Goal #2 is a little more specific, and goal #3 is usually something I’m unsure of. Well, for this one, being my first 50k ultra race, they’re all up in the air, as I really don’t know what to expect. So…

Goal 1: Finish

To be totally honest with you, I really think I’ll finish. I just hope it’s a good running day – which means I don’t feel like I’m bonking at mile one, and I’m not crazy-tired (which may all depend on whether or not I sleep through the thunderstorms tonight – we’re camping!). Also, again, maybe TMI, but I’m getting my period tomorrow and it’s going to be my heavy day, so that’s going to add an element of fun, but as I’ve said before, I’ve never let it stop me before. Tomorrow will be no exception! So finish. I can do that! Right? Haha!

Goal 2: Finish in under 10 hours.

I would have to run somewhere around 20-minute miles to finish in 10 hours, and I should actually be able to hike that pace, so… This should be attainable. I think. There’s hills and maybe mud, which my worn-out sandals don’t get much traction in. Am I already making excuses!? Haha! Lookit me! No. I CAN and WILL FINISH this thing in under 10 hours. There. 😉

Goal 3: Finish in under 8 hours.

This one puts me at running somewhere just under 4 mph, which is possible for me if I’m having a good day, but on hilly trail, unfamiliar terrain, and coming off of the stomach flu, bonks might come into play here if I go out too fast or something. Again! What’s with me and these excuses! Oh, I dunno – I think one of my biggest hold-ups might be aid stations. I’ve run long on trails before, but they’ve always been self-supported, so this will be different. But sooo awesome!

NBD. Right? This is the back of the race shirt – and it was on the waiver I signed. So there’s that!

So… all in all, I feel good about this, and thank GOD, I feel recovered from my evil stomach bug! And I’m actually really excited – more excited than I’ve been during any of the road races I’ve done in the past. Why is this so different? Because I get to run something really hard, get dirty, be in the WOODS for hours on end, and there’s going to be freaking tables of food about every five miles. Seriously? What could be better!? Yeah, I really think I’m going to love this ultrarunning thing.

Will I be saying that tomorrow at mile 28? Umm, probably not. But during that post-race beer, I’ll be looking for the next race I can sign up for… I bet ya.

At the start/finish line during packet pick-up. See ya, tomorrow, race!

Wanna track me as I run? I start tomorrow, July 14th at 5:30am. Go to this link and put in bib #239 or my name!

Tonight I love solid bowel movements! Because, you know, I’ve been sick… So yeah. It’s a big deal! 😋

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The 50k is coming!

First of all, I’ll start with a happy update since my last post – my coolant tank has been holding coolant steadily at the “full” line! This is a big deal for Delores the Volvo! And me! I did have a couple of long waits at shops for a trailer light and a goofy situation getting a tire repaired this week, but that’s just truckin’. Always something. But at least it wasn’t coolant-related! Yay!

Ready to rock ‘n roll! Should I wear these insane shades for my race? Haha!

So on to the subject I popped on here to write about: My upcoming 50k race!

I just finished my peak week of training (at 44.8 miles! Holy moly! In one week! That’s a lot for me!!), which means the next two weeks are taper weeks, which means I run less and less leading up to race day, which is July 14th, which is 21 days away! My plan for the actual race week is to run zero miles and focus on sleep. Because… I’m tired.

So looking forward to this!

Runners generally talk about the difficulty of taper weeks – after all the training, it’s hard to just back off suddenly. And I get it, I really do. And I might find myself there once I’m deep into taper-ville. But right now? I don’t think that I’m going to have any issues with that – At – All. I’m just worn out and looking forward to the slow-down. (But I hear that’s what they all say.)

So I managed, so far, to stick to my wacky, flexible, truck-drivery, homemade 50k training schedule, without missing a beat, for 14 whole weeks! When I look back on that, and all the places I’ve run to make this shit happen? That’s craziness! But, because of my perfection-ish obsessiveness, I feel ready to run those 31 miles. I think it’s going to go just fine and be really fun – I mean, as long as I don’t have a major bonk day, which could happen, and dangit, I’m due for my lovely period that very day (not awesome, universe). But then again, that’s never held me back before. So whatever!

135.8 miles in these last four weeks! And my legs feel good!

The race: The 50k I’m signed up for is called Dances With Dirt at beautiful Devil’s Lake State Park, which is just north of Madison, WI. Definitely check it out! There’s bluffs, a lake, forest, and apparently, dirt – and in addition to the 50k that I’m signed up for, there’s also a 10k, half marathon, full marathon and a 50-mile event, so there should be lots of fun trail people hanging out. I’m really excited to dive into the ultrarunning culture and meet some other crazy-awesome people – I hear so many great things! And? I’ve heard ultras referred to as eating events with some running. Yeah, I think I’m going to really like this stuff.

But. A big but. That 50 miler is one short month after this 50k, and while I’m trying to stay focused on one race at a time, I do know after seeing some online videos, that the Marquette Trail 50 is tough. Like, seriously, there’s a good chance I could just not be quick enough and get pulled from the race for missing a cutoff time. So I can’t help but have this in the back of my mind, too. I’m going to give it my best shot, you can bet on that! And, 50 miles feels crew-worthy, so Adam is probably going to be my guy! He’s gonna feed me, fill my water, and kick my butt back out on the trail from the aid stations when I want to linger. So that’s going to be yet another whole new (awesome) experience.

And why all this? The very original idea was to run a 100-miler in 2019 – because I’ll be turning 40. I mean, why not? Reasonable. Right? Haha! Nope. Not at all. But that’s how I roll. We’ll see what I say after hopefully crawling to a finish at the 50 miler. And the 50k. First things first! I gotta focus!

Maybe I will have a tough time tapering! I’m pretty wound up!

Tonight I love the Ten Junk Miles podcast. They really kept me great company on a lot of my runs. Thanks, guys. ❤️

A funny sweat story:

A few weeks ago I went for a run and was laughing at myself when I got back to the car because, well, this! Sweat patterns can be so weird!

Then tonight, I took my shirt off to change, and… this! Oops! I did it again! Didn’t realize I chose the same bra/shirt combo. And there were a LOT of people on that rec trail! Probably gave ’em all a good chuckle. 🤣

Work Run Repeat

I need a vacation soon. This has been a trying week, but mostly because it started out with needing a new radiator last-minute, totally throwing off any sort of schedule that I can never really count on, anyway. Here’s what happens: I plan, plan, plan. Then it changes. But, that’s just trucking. Heck, that’s life. So… I’ve got a delivery 1,200 miles from home, and my trailer will be ready at 2pm. I’ve got it all figured out, so I get up a little later than normal and head to town with my duffel of clothes, clean dishes and a huge tote full of healthy food for my fridge. I know it’ll all just barely fit in there, too. It’s a small fridge, but bigger compared to the fridges I’ve seen in most other trucks. It’s one of the features of this truck I really love. Anyway, fridge-lovin’ aside, I get to my truck, toss in my stuff and pop open the hood right away. It’s Tuesday and the shop where I park is still open. I always like to do my pre-trip as soon as I can just in case something is a little off. That way there might be time to have them take a quick peek. Usually all is well, and I move on with my planned day. Not today.

Turns out my radiator is cracked. After all was said and done, I was set back a precious 7 hours (but better than the two days if they hadn’t had the parts – silver lining?) and I was on my way – only to have to make another pit stop in Milwaukee to have a hose clamp adjusted and my coolant topped off again. Because almost all of it leaked out, setting off my red-blinky-noisy-scary stop-alarm on my dashboard. And after that was all taken care of, I had to wiggle this beast of a vehicle through a construction-peppered downtown Milwaukee at night. That was fun. Well, no, it wasn’t fun, it was sketchy. But I made it unscathed. Sometimes I look back on stuff like that and wonder how. How did I even?

So, yeah. It’s been a stressful week. Adam’s still out west, and in order to not miss him I’ve been trying to not think about him (he’s so busy with the movie set that we’ve hardly talked -at all – mostly just some text messages here and there).

In Oregon getting beardy and doing movie things!

It’s impossible not to think about him, as it turns out, but the working and running has kept me busy enough, I guess. But I’m feeling a little disconnected from him. And a little blue. I know once we see each other those feelings of disconnect will dissolve and we’ll be back to normal in no time, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t wearing on me a little bit.

And I’m thinking more and more about using a week of my vacation to, I dunno, do nothing? I want to hike and visit friends and visit family and catch up with people I love and camp and sleep and eat ice cream and float down rivers and sit in front of bonfires and go for long runs and see more friends and more family and catch up some more and sleep more and hike a really long trail for like 8 months. But I have a week. When? What? Vacation is even stressing me out right now. What’s my best use of a week off? When should I take it? Who do I see? Where do I go? How do I do everything all at once? I need to do all the things and immerse myself in the company of all my people!! Because I miss everyone so hard! Ugh. Guess I’ll just keep working. It’s too much to think about.

I do have two events coming up that I’m looking forward to, though. Just weekend deals, as of now… And it’s races! It’s been forever since I’ve done a race, and I’m pretty excited, actually. I signed up for a 50K (31 miles) in July, and a 50-MILE race that’s in August, because apparently I’m officially crazy. I was on the wait list for the 50-miler and honestly didn’t know if I’d get in, so I kind of put it out of mind and focused on my 50k – that one was a for-sure thing. So I came up with a very flexible training plan about 2 months ago and got to work on it.

Because of my job, I did get the opportunity to do a couple of “runs” in the mountains. Which thoroughly kicked my arse.

Training for an ultra race is hard as a truck driver. Mostly because finding time and places to run is exhausting. Also because if I’m not running, I’m sitting. Driving. A lot. And my legs get twitchy and need to stretch and move. Whenever I’m home I get in a longer run, and on the road I try to get in two our three shorter runs and some body-weight strength workouts in where I can. And, lately, headstand attempts, which I’m terrible at.

Headstand in the truck! Getting there, but still pretty horrible at them!

I’ve somehow managed to keep up with my plan so far, but it’s kind of tiring me out, and I’m trying to take it easy this week – and already looking for the next chance I’ll have to run. Tomorrow, I think. If there’s a safe place to run from wherever I park my truck. Sigh… Turns out actually running is the easy part of this. Who would’ve thought?

Oh. And then suddenly? I’m #2 on the wait list for that 50-miler! So chances are pretty good I’m going to get in. And now I’m kind of freaking out. My last 20-mile run was a beatdown, and I’m already nervous about my last long training run (25 miles) and my 50k race. Can I even DO 50 miles? Yes. I can. It’s going to probably hurt – really bad – but I can do it. Right?

I keep thinking about the Frozen Otter. I’ve done that twice, and it’s 64 miles. But it’s also a winter race, which really is a whole different beast. And I had 24 hours to do that one – it was probably mostly hiking and some running. These races are going to have shorter time cutoffs and I hope more running than hiking. And a lot more sweating. I’m a total noob when it comes to ultrarunning. So I’m definitely learning as I go, and we’ll see how it turns out. I’m really just winging this thing.

As of right now, my confidence obviously isn’t super-high, but I’m just going to keep plugging away and try to focus on the 50k for now. That’s on July 14. One month away. 50k. Focus.

One of my fave photos from a mountain run in Missoula, MT at the top of Mt. Jumbo. Loved this run!

But even before that, this cup of hot decaf coffee while these guys finish unloading my trailer. Then I drive towards Boston, and then towards home where I can start another crazy week all over again. But hopefully this time a good long run and no new parts will be needed on my truck. Fingers crossed.

Tonight I love seeing my coolant tank full. I really do.

That’s a nice thing right there. A full coolant reservoir!

The good-bye part

Gonna miss those cuddles!

Adam chose to start his PCT hike on March 21, mostly due to lack of permits available since we made the decision he should hike so late in the game. To get to where he needed to start, I put in a request at work to take a load to California, but hadn’t heard a peep, so we planned on me taking him to a train station in Madison instead. Then, on a Tuesday, work let me know they had a California run they needed covered. But we’d have to leave that Thursday. Like, in a day and a half. Game on!

With the taking the train plan, Adam had at least an extra week at home, had some loose ends to tie up spread out over that week, as well as a couple of training hikes he planned to get in. Then boom! Had to do it all in a day! We rallied – stayed up kind of, well, really late Wednesday night, but pulled everything together. I even got the most important thing done – I made Adam a butter cake for his birthday (early since it’s March 23rd and he’ll be on trail by then). It might have been 1:00 in the morning, but I did it! And it was pretty darn good, too! We were at the truck Thursday morning ready to roll.

Butter cake!

Close up of its yumminess.

The drive out was okay. It was nice to spend time together, listening to podcasts, talking about the trail, and Adam even read my PCT blog from 2013 aloud, and it was fun to relive a lot of that year. I took a few days off after I delivered my trailer of cheese Monday morning, and we got to really get some quality time together. We played lots of cribbage, drank coffee, ate lots of fun food, watched movies in the truck, got a hotel room for one night and had some beers and watched bad movies, and even took a 5-mile walk. It was nice.

We also drank margaritas!

Then I got my backhaul. Produce. Some of our most stressful times trucking was when we got produce backhauls. So it was a bit triggering for Adam and he had kind of a tough time watching me deal with some of the crap one has to deal with when picking up produce. Started with getting my appointment times and realizing it was nearly impossible to make it on time. I left as soon as I could and drove as fast as I could get away with in California (the speed limit is 55 for trucks), and was 20 minutes late, after pulling into the wrong place because my address was wrong. The right place was across the street, but it still made me later than I already was. I was told I had to reschedule my appointment because I was late. I called the broker, and he was able to get an appointment for an hour later, which by then was the current time, and they told me they’d call me when the load was ready… So it wasn’t ready at my original appointment time anyway. After a few hours I finally head to my second and final pick. I got a door right away, backed in and sat there for 5 hours. For six palettes. Six! Ugh… I was close to being out of hours when they finally finished with me, so we spent the night in the shipper’s parking lot. So I spent most of my day waiting around in dock doors without the option of going anywhere, and maybe made twenty bucks. It can be frustrating. Adam knows this all too well, and I could tell it was making him anxious. He needed to get out of that truck and on to the trail!

Finally the next morning I was able to scale, and was surprised I was legal with how much product they put on my trailer. Thank God. Off we went. One thing that worked in our favor was that the Sierra was getting a massive snow storm. I mean, literally 60″ of snow. That’s 5 feet!

No joke! Those Sierra storms! In March!

So driving I-80 over Donner Pass wasn’t going to be a very safe or wise option, so I veered south toward I-15, which would take me north toward Salt Lake City instead. On the way I was able to stop in Bakersfield, California – where Adam and I planned to part ways. It was the furthest south I could get him. And a bonus – I was able to pull right into the motel parking lot where he was going to stay because they had truck parking! We ate at the diner that shared the lot, got a coffee, got Adam and his few possessions settled in his room, and after kisses and hugs, I drove away.

A couple super-short videos of Adam getting a move-on.

It didn’t seem like I was going to cry – probably because I was so excited for him. But then as soon as I pulled onto the highway my nose got all tingly and my vision suddenly blurred through thick tears. Dammit. I was gonna miss him. So much.

About 10 miles down the road he called me. He left his trekking poles in the truck! I was able to loop around and go back – which was so worth it for one more hug. Every thru hiker leaves their poles behind somewhere at some point – he just got it out of the way right away!

And off we went our separate ways.

And, just to prolong our goodbye a little more? Lunch in Bakersfield.

I had a hard time sleeping on my trip back, and I felt totally scatterbrained. I had so much to do at home – I needed to get my goals and responsibilities into some sort of schedule and make some to-do lists or something. I just need to keep busy, which it doesn’t seem like will be a problem. By the time I got home I felt thoroughly exhausted. It was weird parking my truck and having the car there waiting for me – usually Adam would pick me up. I did all my grocery shopping right away, alone, got a coffee, alone, drove around, alone, got our mail from the PO box, alone… You get the idea. It’s all stuff we’d normally do together. So weird. But kinda fun. If I didn’t think about it too hard, anyway.

Then I got to our apartment and pretty much instantly went nuts getting all kinds of things done. Dishes, clean toilet, get Adam’s resupply together, laundry… Are you asleep yet!? I know, it’s the boring side of things… but I think it’s going to get more interesting. Maybe…

Now I’m sitting here writing all this after a super full day of errands – and I got my first long run in for my 50k training. It was 10 miles, went well, but I think I’m going to be pretty sore.

Training for a 50k! Gotta stay busy and focused!

So, next blog will hopefully be up very soon – I’m going to compile some highlights from the first week. Adam was able to get pretty good cell phone reception, so he called me at least once each day (so far), and a few great text messages and photos. And… something that totally surprised me – I got super nervous. I’ll have to tell you all about it. But for now, I must sleep, because I really need it before I hit the road again.

Tonight I love snot rockets. Here’s a little demonstration video:

We ate a ginourmous piece of carrot cake at a casino on our way out.

We actually drank margaritas twice. These were much better than the other ones.

After our 5-mile walk some serious thunderhead-looking clouds we’re building. Pretty!

Dear Aloha,

Dear Adam (or more appropriately in this case, Aloha),

You’re about to embark on a pretty crazy journey along the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m excited for you, and thought I’d do my best to help you along with a few bits of advice, most of which you have probably already heard, but… maybe not. So here goes:

  • Don’t go barefoot in the desert. There are pickers everywhere.
  • Don’t eat the pink snow. Or the yellow snow for that matter.
  • On a cold rainy day in Washington a hot meal will go a long way.
  • Every once in a while focus on each of your five senses with intensity.
  • Camel up at the water sources in the desert.
  • Swim when you can.
  • Call your wife regularly because she’s going to miss you.
  • Mix a cold coffee before a big climb for a boost.
  • Take lots of pictures of your friends.
  • Eat fresh green things when you’re in town.
  • Air out your feet at least once a day.
  • Be sure to catch some sunrises and sunsets.
  • Don’t pass up an opportunity to laugh. Or to cry.
  • Blister pain always hurts when you first start walking for the day or after a break – the pain will subside after you get a little ways down the trail.
  • If you hear loud noises outside your tent at night there’s a 98% chance it’s just a deer licking up your pee.
  • Never quit on a bad day. Or the next day. Or the next one.
  • Always carry safety pins so you can pin stuff off your backpack to dry.
  • If you were a girl I’d tell you to bring a pee rag but you’re a guy so you’re lucky.
  • Pay attention to the water report and plan accordingly.
  • Listen to your gut. It’s almost always right.
  • Err on the side of safety but if you’re unsure err on the side of whatever will keep your butt alive.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Dig a good cat hole and be sure to pack out your used toilet paper. It’s really not that gross once you get used to it.
  • Take risks but be smart about it.
  • A warm Coke really does taste good on the trail. It’s worth carrying out once in awhile.
  • If you’re going to clean your socks in a stream be sure to do it downstream from where people filter their water.
  • Be miserable, be happy, be sad, feel pain, feel joy, be mad, be numb, laugh – just enjoy the whole gamut of feelings because it means you’re human. And it means you’re alive.

And the final piece of advice – the most important one – look over that list I gave you one more time… And forget about it. That doesn’t mean to *not* do those things – it just means this: start with a blank page and start your own list. This is YOUR hike. All yours. It’s your journey, and you are going to have all of your very own, unique experiences. Make your own decisions and do the things you want to do. Be whatever “you” you want to be and make it all yours.

But really, maybe *do* call the wife once in a while. :)

I wish you all the luck in the universe, I wish you fair weather, plentiful flowing springs, and all the experiences you can handle. I hope you overflow.

I love you.

Love,
Robin (Toots)

P.S. A quote you shared with me… And a good one:

“One step, one punch, one round at a time. You got this.” -Rocky

Tonight I love the anticipation and excitement that comes along with brand new adventures. What a feeling!

More twists. Including the PCT this time!

A switcheroo I never imagined!

So, the latest twist in the tale of the Grapas is that, somehow, I became the truck driver and Adam became the thru-hiker. I mean, really. What is actually happening? I don’t know. But I’m not joking.

Adam is going to hike the PCT. He starts on March 21. He already has a permit. He just bought new gear. He just finished a little shakedown hike. It’s for real!

March 21, folks. That’s like, really soon. This was a decision we made together, ohhh, about two weeks ago. No big thing. Right? Well, yeah, it’s kind of a big thing.

Adam had just picked me up from the truck and we went to a Starbucks and were talking. He was having a significantly “down” day, making us both feel a little hopeless. I honestly don’t remember how it came up exactly, but we started talking about long hikes again – which he has brought up a few times since quitting the trucking thing – specifically that he kinda maybe wanted to try it. But then we got the apartment, he started driving for Uber (which was one of THE biggest hassles EVER! And I know, you had NO problems, neither did your friends, and their friends… This is just what we categorize under “The Grapa Curse.” It honestly could have it’s own blog post, but these things tend to get flipped the middle finger, thrown over our shoulders and put behind us. Maybe. Hah!)

Anyway… The PCT came up, and we both decided he should do it. And he should do it now. Like start this spring. I mean, I’m just working… A lot. And if he went now, he’d be able to hike covered under my health insurance, so that’s pretty sweet. And if he got out there and absolutely hated it, or something breaks, he can always come back home to the exact situation we’re in now. There’s not a whole lot to lose, and there’s a whole bunch of positive experiences to gain. Talk about *the* perfect treatment for depression and anxiety! Nature! Fresh air! Personal accomplishments every day, both physically and mentally! A self-esteem booster. A confidence builder! All the good things. I know thru-hiking changed me for the better. For the stronger. I have hope that it can work for Adam, too. What. Better. Time?

So off he’ll go. Am I jealous? Duh. Yes. But I’m equally – no – more excited for him than anything. He can have his own experiences and maybe find himself somewhere he didn’t expect. I think it’s going to be the best thing for him, and when the time is just right for something like this, why on earth would you let that go? The decision was pretty easy… Just a little tough because of the big change. But also exciting! Life! What the heck!?

As for me? I’m gonna work. Still a lot. It’s just the nature of trucking. Make money, pay the bills, hold down the fort, send Adam resupply packages, cheer him on, and run. I decided to focus on running so I’ve got something to get me out of the house when I’m home and out of the truck while on the road. Also, to keep me distracted from some obvious loneliness I’m going to inevitably be dealing with. I already signed up for a 50k, so it’s on. Shoot. I should probably start training for that now. I’ll have to write more about that later. The race is in four months. Yikes.

So the focus right now, is to get Adam… er… Aloha (his trail name, which he got in 2013 while I hiked the PCT and he trail angeled his way up the trail) all geared up and ready to go.

Here’s to more crazy changes and grand adventures!

Tonight I love… Adam in a Patagonia Nanopuff! (Easily one of my favorite pieces of gear I own, even at probably 10 years old. So glad he’s got one now, too.)

Just showing this photo again, because… Can you believe it? And that Nanopuff! 😍

His pack is already looking PCT ready!

More important training! Live on, PRT (from 2013)!

The Frozen Otter – my 2017 race report

I did it! 

I’m officially a two-time finisher! I first became one of the “Frozen Few” in 2010 (which you can read about here), but I’ve always wanted to do it again. This was my year. What a great race. I mean, I had a really good day. And I’m going to talk all about it here. 

Since it’s going to be a long one, this is how it’ll look – it’ll be in three parts. First I’ll include my stats, which are my times, pace, and miles between checkpoints – all the number-y stuff. If you want to skip over all those itty-bitty details, scroll down to the second part – the race report. That’s where I’ll jabber on about the day, how I felt and how many times I pooped. No, really. You’ll be shocked. Then third, after the race report I’ll list the gear and clothing I used/wore. Because I know some people (like me) are gear junkies and dig that sorta thing. Stuff worked for me this year, so… I need to remember. And share! So here goes… 

STATS

(I based mileage for these stats on the Kettle Moraine North Unit mileage chart, which can be found online. This totals 63.32 miles, whereas the GPS on my Garmin tracked me at just a little over 65 miles. But to make the breakdown between checkpoints easier on my brain, I used the chart.)

Total miles: 63.32

Total time: 22 hours, 30 minutes

Overall pace: 21:19/mile

Overall elevation gain (from my Garmin): 8,602 feet

Calories burned: 9,896

113 racers, 60 official finishers, 26 “Frozen Few” finishers. 

I placed 20th overall, and 2nd in my gender (only 3 ladies went the full 64 this year, including a 52-year old and a 17-year old! Age is just a number, peeps!) 

Start (10am) – Butler Lake (CP1):

7.43 miles / 2h 07min / 17:05 pace

In 12:07pm / Out 12:12 pm (5 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP1) – Greenbush (CP2):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 2:34pm / Out 2:46pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP2) – Hwy P (CP3):

7.09 miles / 2h 02min / 17:12 pace

In 4:48pm / Out 5:00pm (10min break) 

Hwy P (CP3) – Greenbush (CP4):

7.09 miles / 2h 21min / 19:53pace

In 7:21pm / Out 7:36pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP4) – Butler Lake (CP5):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 9:58pm / Out 10:30pm (32 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP5) – Mauthe Lake (CP6):

7.43 miles / 2h 15min / 18:10 pace

In 12:45am / Out 2:21am (1h 36min break)

Mauthe Lake (CP6) – Hwy H (CP7):

9.06 miles / 2h 49min / 18:39 pace

In 5:10am / Out 5:35am (20min break)

Hwy H (CP7) – Finish!

9.06 miles / 2h 55min / 19:18 pace

In 8:30am

THE RACE REPORT
As I mentioned, I had a good race day. All things went better than I’d planned. And to be honest, I can’t tell you why. But I can go over the things I did leading up to race day, and what I did the day of. Because something worked. 

First of all, my training for this thing was most definitely unconventional. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and frankly, I know I don’t have the time to “properly” train for an ultra winter race. So my strategy was to basically stay in shape and go for one long run/hike each month – to “remind my legs I need them to go far.” That’s in quotes because that’s literally what I said to myself – that’s why I did the long runs. In fact, here’s my schedule, which I pretty much stuck to, except December – because work got insane and I was sort of babying a hurt knee… Or maybe using it as an excuse to rest. 

So not your typical training schedule, but it was fun, for the most part. It was tough getting out on some of those, and several were on little to no sleep because I’d hit the trail immediately upon getting home from a run in the truck. But I figured it was good fatigue training – which I think was actually a huge help on race day. I knew exactly how I was going to feel in the 21st hour. Stumbly. That’s how. But I knew what to expect, and I knew when to drink coffee. And how to stumble without falling. I got kind of good at it. “Pick ’em up!” became a mantra I would say to myself out loud in the dark woods, reminding myself to pick up my feet so I didn’t trip and fall (which I ended up doing quite a few times anyway). 

For the week leading up to the race, Adam and I took the whole week off from work, so I had a chance to get all my stuff together (physically and mentally). I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish each day, spreading it out to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I had a list of food to pack. I had a list of gear to get ready. I had a pace chart and a chart to show when to take my Aleve and Tylenol so I didn’t OD and piss off my kidneys. I had a lot of lists. 

On Sunday before the race, I went for an 8-mile trail run on the course. It was 5 degrees, and I sweat my butt off. I also tested my new Kahtoola spikes on the very icy trail with great success. The next day, Monday, I packed up and hiked about 4 miles with a full-geared backpack to Shelter 2 – again, along the race course. I made a campfire, ate couscous, drank a beer and even sipped a little whisky before bundling up in my down booties and sleeping bag. I figured it would be nice to have a little quiet time to myself, and as a bonus, help me adjust to the cold a bit. I stayed toasy-warm all night. In the morning I hiked out 8 miles in the pouring rain. I was soaked and chilled when Adam picked me up. As long as it didn’t rain on race day, I’d be okay with just about any other kind weather. 

Sleeping out in the cold!

On Friday, the day before the race, I went for two short runs on the trail to test the conditions. But that was pretty much it – that’s all I did physically before the race, and I went into Saturday feeling pretty fresh and not sore anywhere. Dare I say I was… relaxed!? No. No way. I had jitters, big time! But without them, a race would just be another old run. Gotta embrace these special parts, too! 

Me and Adam at the start.

So race day surprised me. I usually go to the bathroom about 8 times before any race, whether it be a 5k or a 100k. But I only went twice, and I felt like a normal person for once. At the race start, I just mingled with my family, friends and other racers, tried to stay relaxed and keep my toes warm. Before I knew it, the race had started. No, seriously. Everybody was moving past the start banners and I was still putting my pack on! I jogged to catch up to the pack and with Rich, a friend who was going to run with me. 

The four of us racers at the start – Tony, Rachel, me and Rich

The first 8 miles went by so fast! I was so used to training by myself with only my annoying thoughts to keep me company, that when I actually had real people to talk to, I had so much fun – and time flew by. Rich and I reached the Butler Lake checkpoint together, but sadly, that was our last checkpoint together, and the last time I’d hike or run along with someone the whole race. But I sure enjoyed his company! I think it was in the low 20’s, and I still got so warm on that first stretch that I had taken off my hat, gloves, and even rolled my sleeves up – and I still sweat like crazy. But I felt great anyway, and my pace felt strong and steady.

The next checkpoint came quickly, too. I think I was so distracted by having other people around that I barely noticed the distance. I talked with a few people, and even passed a few other racers all while keeping my steady pace. I wasn’t out to win anything, and passing people wasn’t like a strategy or anything, as my goal was only to finish, but I hoped to keep my pace, so I did,and it felt comfortable. At the 16-mile checkpoint my mom and dad greeted me with cowbells, along with the Fox Cities Backpackers who were volunteering – it was great to see the familiar face of my friend, Matt, too. I filled my water and was just about ready to get back out on the trail when Adam and his mom, Tara, arrived. Just in time! But back into the woods I went! 

Coming into a checkpoint – photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc. 

A couple of miles before the 23-mile turnaround, I started to see the lead racers heading back. They were all really supportive saying things like, “great job!” and “keep it up, you’re almost there!” and “the checkpoint has sausages!” I think I heard “sausages” from every single racer that passed by. It was true, too! And it was completely amazing. It was especially amazing because I hadn’t been eating nearly as much as I’d planned, and I felt a little hungry when a volunteer handed it to me. For some reason during the race, without overthinking it, I just started to eat when I felt I needed to – abandoning the way I trained all summer to eat something every hour. And I think that is one of the major reasons I didn’t have to stop for a poop yet. Sorry to keep bringing that up, but it was a serious issue on every single training run I did, and was therefore a major concern of mine for race day. I never did figure out my tummy. But so far? 23 miles in and it felt pretty great! Maybe I was forcing myself to eat too much during training. Who knows… 

As soon as I left the 23-mile checkpoint it started getting dark, so out came the headlamp. It also started getting colder, and for the first time I had a little trouble getting my fingers warm. But I brought ginormous down gloves, and that did the trick. Before I knew it I was back to just my liner gloves. I also stopped sweating so profusely as the cold air settled in. I peed for the first time at the next checkpoint, which seems crazy. I felt I was drinking enough. I sipped from my bladder regularly enough to keep it thawed out, and I switched between my Tailwind drink mix and a cold coffee, too. Once I took my first pee, though, the seal was broken. Then it felt like I had to go constantly. I ate some mostly rehydrated Ramen at the next checkpoint, and it was almost as amazing as the sausage. I filled up with warm water and head back out again. I remember feeling amazed that my legs didn’t hurt. At all. I was squatting down to stretch my knees and nothing hurt. It was weird, but I certainly wasn’t complaining! Onward! 

During the next stretch I noticed my first real pain – I think my spikes were creating a new pressure point on the ball of my left big toe. I pushed on, still able to jog the straight stretches and downhills. When I reached Butler Lake my dad was there, and delivered the sad news that Rich had to drop because he was experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. That’s some scary stuff – I was super bummed to hear he was done, but so glad he made the right decision, which can be so tough to do during a race! Especially in that condition. On the other side of the spectrum, I learned that Rachel kicked her goal’s butt. She made it 32 miles in 11 hours and 40 minutes! Woo-hoo! So many crazy emotions! So with that, my dad told me that everyone was waiting for me at the 46-mile checkpoint to cheer me into the last stretch. This gave me a boost, and off I went again! 

At the 46-mile checkpoint I chose to walk an extra quarter mile to the car to resupply, change and regroup. My mom and dad met me and walked to the car with me. Adam, his mom and Rachel were all waiting. Adam went to work trying to keep me on task. I grabbed a burger from the volunteers at the shelter, used the bathroom, tried to change out my injinji compression socks – injinjis are the socks with the toes – my mom had to help me. I just could not get my wrinkling toes tucked into those toe sleeves. Finally after some serious effort I was dressed and ready to go. I also recharged my phone and watch, filled my water, drank some coffee, and switched from spikes to yaktrax, which relieved my sore left toe. I was somehow still feeling incredible, but just a little tired. I took a longer break than planned, but still got out on the trail with plenty of time to still finish in under the 24-hour time limit. I was stoked heading back out into the dark woods! I had this thing! 

Smiling and feeling great at mile 46! Thanks, Tara for the photo!

The last 18 miles got colder. I pretty much hiked to the last checkpoint with my ginormous down gloves on and pulled my Buff up over my face because my cheeks and nose were starting to burn a little. I was feeling tired, and since I know this trail so well, I kept mentally checking off landmarks… And anticipating the next one. I knew that once I reached the sign for Shelter 1, it was just a steep downhill and short straight stretch to the Hwy H trailhead and my last checkpoint. So for about an entire hour I kept thinking I’d see it around the next turn. But I swear. It was moving ahead of me. I had to catch up! 

I did finally see the sign, and laughed out loud because I was so happy. But my happiness quickly turned to worry when just a short ways down the trail I caught up to another racer, moving slow with his pack draped over one shoulder. I asked if he was okay, and he responded with a head shake and a “no.” He said his back had seized up on him, and he looked really uncomfortable. I felt so bad for him. I offered to carry his pack to the checkpoint, but he said it was actually helping his balance. There was nothing I could do for him except encourage him by letting him know we didn’t have far to go. I let him know I’d alert the volunteers so they could get a ride ready for him. He did show up while I was still at the checkpoint, and he did get a ride out. I sure hope he recovered okay. That’s some scary stuff! Anything can happen out there. Read this story about a guy who had a mini stroke last year! The importance of being safe out there is no joke! 

My mom, dad, Adam and his mom were at the last checkpoint, which was a super-huge boost before my last nine miles. I drank a coffee mixed with hot cocoa, and man, did that taste good! I was thrilled – my appetite was pretty near gone at that point, so I wasn’t eating enough – but I was trying! The only thing I was tolerating was my Huma gels (like a Guu energy gel, but Chia seed-based and made with less crap ingredients). And that’s because I’d squeeze some into my mouth, bypassing my taste buds, and since I didn’t have to chew, directly down my throat. Huma gels for the win! After peeing and filling my water bottle I head back out for the last nine miles. 

I added a layer – my Patagonia Nanopuff jacket, which was perfect. I wore my giant gloves and kept my Buff over my mouth and nose off and on. I stayed pretty comfortable, and again plodded down the trail, still able to lightly jog a few easy spots, and played the mental landmark game again. This time I was searching around every corner for shelter 2 because I knew it was exactly one mile from the finish. When I finally saw it, I nearly cried! I knew that was it. I could literally crawl the rest of the way and still finish in time. But… I didn’t have to. In fact, I picked up my speed! Nothing was hurting, except for some heavy foot fatigue, which I obviously expected and can totally handle (another helpful benefit to my super-insane long training runs). My knee that I injured back in November even felt good. Which is some sort of miracle. For real. I’m not even kidding when I say the only thing that makes sense is that my 97-year old grandma was praying for me – our family all says that she’s got a direct line to the big guy. Thanks, grandma! Not even a twinge!! 

I passed by a guy in that last mile and couldn’t help but notice his epic ice-beard! I remember asking him if I could take his photo, but my words were coming out in slow motion. As excited as I felt to be nearly done, my fatigue, lack of caloric fuel and the cold air’s effects were obvious. I ate one slice of Salami, one Huma gel, five Reeses pieces, and half a bottle of cold coffee in the last leg of the race. Just enough to get me there, I guess! If I had been going any further I would’ve had to force more down. And it’s hard to describe how cold it can get out there, but dudes’ beards can give you an idea! I later learned this badass’s name was Sean and he finished just after me. 

Sean’s EPIC ice beard!! That is a face of the Frozen Few!!

I don’t remember much of what was said when I finished, as it’s quite a blur, but I had a small, but awesome crew cheering me in. My mom, dad, Adam, his mom and my friend and fellow racer Tony was there. Rod, the race director presented me with a congrats and a finisher’s dog tag, which I’m showing off in the first picture of this blog entry. It might not seem like much… A little dog tag, but I know any of the other “Frozen Few” would agree that that dog tag holds a whole lot of value – and symbolizes determination, heart, pain, adventure, fierceness, and accomplishment. So much more, too, but those are some biggies. 

A big, happy, frozen smile! FINISHED!

So in the end, I thought my knee would stop bending. It didn’t. I thought I’d poop along the trail at least five times – final trail poop count was… Drum roll, please… ZERO! Another frickin’ miracle! I thought my calluses would give me trouble. It’s like they weren’t even there. I thought my legs would get sore and stiffen up. They didn’t, and I still can’t believe it. I thought I’d have worse butt chafe, but my 2toms butt shield did its job (I know to some, this may seem like TMI, but trust me. My fellow racers don’t even blink at the talk of bodily chafe. It’s a thing. A super-horrible, painful thing. Wherever you get it!). I thought I’d lose my appetite, and I did, but my body handled it way better than ever before. I thought I’d eat more, but it took until race day to realize that maybe I was trying to eat too much – and too much “real food” like energy bars, candy bars, meat, cheese… things that needed to be chewed before swallowing and were more work for my already energy-depleted body to digest. My guess is that my body was able to process liquid calories like my amazing Tailwind drink mix and the Huma gels without much trouble. So I learned a lot about myself, once again! It never stops when you push yourself past what you think is possible, and I love that about endurance sports! 

I am 99% satisfied with my race performance and results. The 1% comes in because looking back I could have totally beat my time from 2010 of 21 hours and 49 minutes. But my goal was just to finish, and I did that. Next time maybe I’ll shoot for time. It always comes down to conditions, which I thought were quite similar to 2010 – maybe a little colder this year. 

Post-race? I showered, ate a huge breakfast (chicken-fried steak, eggs, hashbrowns, toast, cottage cheese and coffee), slept for three hours, watched the Packers beat the Cowboys, had a grasshopper ice cream drink and went bed. That night I had some pretty terrible foot cramps that made me uncontrollably groan, and I woke up a few times in a pool of sweat, but otherwise slept okay. The next two days I felt a little normal muscle soreness and my feet swelled up pretty good, but I expected that. I will lose no toenails, but to be fair, my one damaged toe (just a gnarly blood blister) already was sans-toenail. I was tired and still feel I little behind on sleep, but as I write this I’m ready to start running again, and planning my next adventure, which you’ll read about in a couple of months, probably! Cliffhanger! Haha!

I know that was a super-long race report – so to reward those of you who stuck with me, here’s a photo of my gnarly toe. Sorry if you’re squeamish. I’m always kinda strangely proud of these things. 

The black big toenail is from early November, so that one doesn’t count… But it’s pretty, isn’t it? Who needs nail polish?

GEAR 

Yay! Gear! 

This is just about all of it!

What I wore:

Sugoi Subzero tights

Patagonia underwear

Cheap sport bra from Target

Injinji compression socks – I love Injinjis! I pretty much only wear Injinjis all the time, now. Best socks ever. 

Patagonia midweight capilene long sleeve shirt

Patagonia R1 3/4-zip fleece

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

Altra Lone Peak Mid Neoshell boots – pretty certain these are why I have few blisters. So much room for the toes, so very lightweight, and zero drop. 

Outdoor Research tall gaiters

Kahtoola microspikes and Yaktrax Pro

Fat Otter buff 

Smartwool hat

Black Diamond down mittens

Cheap silk gloves liners

My big, green down Black Diamond gloves hung off the waist strap on my pack for almost all of the race, but made great pockets for things like my hat and gloves that kept coming on and off. And they were nice for the few times my fingers got really cold. 

In the beginning I was so warm that I had no ear/head coverage, no gloves, and my sleeves were rolled halfway up my forearms. My layers performed perfectly. I got wet from sweat at the start, but my Patagonia layers wicked properly, so by the time the temperature dropped, I felt mostly dry (with the exception of my back which will sweat regardless when wearing a pack). 

My tights were perfect, too. One layer of thick, fleece-lined tights and my legs were comfortable the whole time! 

My Altra boots worked great, but with the low snow this year, the mid-height was probably unnecessary. It’s what I trained in, though, and the combo of my injinji socks, Altras, OR gaiters and traction worked great for me. 

Other gear:

Backpack – Out There USA MS-1 – I tried about 5 different packs throughout the summer. This was the winner. Comfy, not a ton of bounce when jogging and a TON of pockets accessible without taking it off. I only had to remove it to put water in my water reservoir during the race. 

Black Diamond trekking poles – I’ve used these suckers for more than ten years. Great piece of gear! 

Black Diamond Spot headlamp – takes 3 AAA batteries, and with the lithium batteries, only had to switch them out once. (And I was able to do so by moonlight!) 

Electronics – Samsung Galaxy S6 (which I kept turned off for most of the race), US Cellular pre-paid cheap flip phone (worked great for service on the trail and the battery lasted forever, even in the cold!), Garmin Fenix watch for GPS tracking and stats (recharged at about 16 hours. Held up great), Pocketjuice portable charger (didn’t need) 

First aid & other items – SOL emergency bivvy, REI whistle, spare Petzl E+Lite headlamp, 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, blue blinking bike light for backup, chapstick, Aleve, Tylenol, salt caps (planned to use these but didn’t) 

Toilet kit – Deuce of Spades trowel, TP, ziploc bag for used TP (a leave no trace practice), tampons (yes, lucky me – race day!), hand sanitizer, wet one wipes, and Immodium (which was not needed!) 

Food and drink:

I maybe consumed only 1/3 of all this stuff.

Huma gels
Tailwind drink mix
Pedialyte – only drank one of these

UCAN drink mix – didn’t use on race day, but should have! Very good, and the liquid calories really would’ve helped me out! I think I was too hurried to mix it. Need to do this pre-race next time! 

Starbucks Via

Sweet – mini oreos, Reeses pieces, waffle stingers, mini snickers, dark chocolate coconut Ocho bars

Savory – potato chips, combos, Salami, string cheese, macadamia nuts, bacon

Ginger – I don’t like Ginger at all, but it soothes an upset tummy, and I did eat some at the 46-mile checkpoint. It works! 

Chocolate-covered espresso beans – I didn’t have any! Another weird one! 

A few more photos:

My name on the Frozen Few plaque from 2010

Inspiration

Pre-race jitters. I had just gotten my bib!

Crazy results on my Strava app – pulled from my Garmin GPS watch

I repeated this one to myself a lot.

My dad and my mom and my mom’s amazing hat.

Toots and Tears do the Frozen Otter! Adventure buddies!

I’m the one in pink. Another photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc.

My first time with spikes. Love them! I was running on glare ice during training with complete confidence.

Post-Otter, enjoying some swag. The shirt, the buff, and of course, the Frozen Few dog tag! Tired and proud!

Tonight I love these people, and you – my support.

Thank you:

Adam – You are my #1. This guy was at the race to cheer me on, kick my butt to keep me going, give me warm hugs, and a big smile at the end. On top of that, every time I did a long training run over the summer/fall, he took care of our trucking errands we always have to do on very limited time whenever we’re home. All so I could train. I know this was a big sacrifice of precious off-time, so I can’t say enough how much I appreciate this. I love you, Adam – thank you for being the best support crew leader guy ever! 

My mom and dad – they were there in 2010 when I finished, and they were here this year when I finished. To see their smiling faces and to get hugs of encouragement at checkpoints was a huge boost! My biggest fans, for sure! 

Tara – Adam’s mom, my mother-in-law came down this year. She was a great addition to my cheering support crew. She took a lot of great photos, too. Thank you so much for being there! 

Grandma Laatsch and family – I admit I had an unfair advantage compared to the other racers because my grandma was praying for me out there! I also received several well-wishes and love from my extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Rachel, Tony and Rich – my fellow racer buddies. It was good to have you out on the trail this year – even if we weren’t able to trek side by side, it was still nice to share in the misery with you! 

My social media family – you all rock. I had so many good luck wishes and followers that there was no way I could’ve given up! Strength in numbers! 

Race directors and volunteers – without you guys, thus wouldn’t exist. You make it all happen, you make is possible, and you make it fun. And you kill at making Ramen. No. Seriously. Ramen tastes awesome when you make it! Rod and Karen – I’m glad that we’ve been able to become friends through this event. Thanks for continuing to put in the hard work and travel to keep this going! 

Other racers – I don’t know most of you by name, but your kind words when passing by, your blinking red lights and bouncing headlamps through the woods like beacons, and comeraderie is something that needs to be experienced to understand. It’s incredible. And after all those lonely training miles by myself, this made the miles slip away beneath me. Thanks! 

Gear companies – Thanks for making kick-ass stuff. If I’ve mentioned you in this blog entry, it’s because you make a great product in my opinion and experience. Keep it up!