04 February 2014

Emily's Epic Birthday Adventure: Day 2 Recap

If you haven't heard, I turned 30 on 29-Jan and wanted to celebrate by doing 30 hours of outdoor activity, and also raise $3,000 for the Team Noah Foundation. The plan was to ride for 9hrs on Day 1 (Thursday), then run for 12hrs on Day 2 (Friday night), and then ride another 9hrs on Day 3 (Sunday). Day 1 went super well and you can read about it here. Then I went to work all day Friday, and once the sun set it was time for Day 2: a 12hr night run in Grafton, IL. The friendly Metro Tri Club was putting on this new 12hr ultra on a super-hard course and I had to be a part of it. I convinced my Alpine Shop teammates Jeff and David to run it with me, and then the week before the race, my Team Noah Foundation teammates Dwayne and Adam said that they were signed up, too. Since neither Dwayne nor Adam are runners, I was really surprised, and honored, that they would voluntarily sign up for a 12hr race. They told me they planned to just hike/jog as many laps as they could, and honestly in an ultra that is a very good strategy. Also, my parents were in town for my birthday and planned to crew for me/everyone. How awesome is that! I was excited to have so much positive energy surrounding what could be a soul-crushing race.
My parents (Charley & Mary Anne) took me out for birthday dinner on Thursday night, and then finished up race packing on Friday while I was at work. Thanks Mom & Dad!!!
The forecast for Friday night was pretty dismal, as in "temperatures in the low 30s/high 20s with freezing mist/rain all night". This was confirmed when I went out to my car at 6pm and found a thin layer of ice already covering the windows. I tentatively hit the roads to Grafton and found them slick, but not dangerous. I was even able to make it up the unbelievably steep hill to Aerie's Winery. I met my parents and Jeff and David for a pre-race dinner at winery's restaurant. It was really cool for my parents to meet my teammates and of course there was lots of Emily-story swapping. Dinner ran a little long and all of a sudden it was time to get ready to race! We ran back to the Race HQ and debated clothing choices. I was also in the unusual position of debating shoe choices - I'm trying to recover from what I think is bursitis in my left foot so my trusty Cascadias were not an option (too narrow). I settled on a pair of Speedcrosses, with the knowledge that if things went bad I could change them after the first lap (NOTE: 1 lap = 5 miles with 1,000' of climb). I also was helping Dwayne and Adam gear up for their first ever running race, AND trail running race, AND nighttime trail running race. It was so awesome to see them tackling a BIG unknown with such excitement and bravery. Go Team Noah!
The start! I'm in the light blue jacket.
Laps 1 & 2 
I start out in the front row with Jeff and David and we casually jog off the line when Robin said "GO!". The lap begins with a steep downhill - losing about 320' in a half-mile. Almost immediately my toe is unhappy, so I work on adjusting my stride to something that will be more accommodating. Also almost immediately, my mind starts to worry. What if this pain keeps up all night? Am I doing more damage to myself? Or am I being a wimp? You know, standard injured-athlete doubts. My coping mechanism turns out to be silence. Normally I love talking to fellow runners, especially during races as long as this one. Not today. A few runners say hi, I say hi back to be polite, but I'm silently wishing they would just get away from me already. I even purposely slow down so that other runners can pass me and I won't be expected to make conversation. Fortunately, the course is so hard that most of the time there isn't extra breath for talking anyway. For the first 4 miles we're constantly being dragged either straight up or straight down the Mississippi River bluffs. My adventure racing and orienteering experience is paying off HUGE, since I'm used to moving over all sorts of gnarly terrain.
I come back the Race HQ after the first lap, knowing that I HAVE to change shoes. I brought about 6 pairs with me and I go straight for my "rehab shoes" aka Hoka Stinsons. I haven't worn these since they boiled my feet on the last trek of USARA Nationals, but I'm hoping tonight's cold temperatures will mitigate that risk, and the cushy soles will help my toe. They do feel nice as I beeline down the opening hill and tackle another lap. On the first lap, I started giving myself landmarks, and on this lap I cement them in my brain:
  • huge downhill
  • LONG LOLLIPOP: rather large uphill, big downhill, volunteers with a blazing fire (time check, ~20 minutes), big uphill, big downhill, small draining ditch crossing
  • gravel road with horses at the end of it (time check, ~35 minutes)
  • big uphill 
  • SHORT LOLLIPOP aka "The Playground": nasty stair-step downhill, creek run, big uphill, off-camber section, downhill, creek crossing, nasty stair-step uphill
  • continue uphill to "the blue line" (time check, ~60 minutes)
  • then a really nice stretch of rolling runnable trail, overlook out-n-back, cross road into Race HQ
My mind is constantly obsessing over my toe. The Hokas have improved things significantly, but I still fear that I'm causing more damage than I can overcome in 24hrs. I start making plans to catch Dwayne and Adam and hike the rest of the race with them. I'm really bummed that such a small body part is causing such a big readjustment in my race goals. But, I am reminded of my injured friends who would probably kill just to have the option of hiking for 12 hours, so I tell myself to suck it up, keep moving, and enjoy myself as much as possible. My Epic Birthday Adventure isn't based on miles, just hours, and I can still raise money for the Team Noah Foundation just by being out here. So I trudge onward.

Lap 3
When I return to Race HQ after my second lap, I am greeted by one of my favorite people, the indomitable Carrie Sona. She's here to cheer everybody on, and maybe even run a bit. I am thrilled that she wants to run with me, and Robin the race director gives her official permission to "bandit" for a lap. My mental state had started to turn upward at the end of Lap 2 and with Carrie's company, I get a full-on stoke recharge. We trot out for Lap 3 and words just tumble out of my mouth - my toe status, boy gossip, how awesome Jeff and David are doing, how awesome Dwayne and Adam are doing, Arrowhead 135 recap, meeting my parents, race plans, AR gossip, how her girls are doing in their college search, etc etc etc. I am so grateful not only for Carrie's company, but her advice to "just run your pace". That's all there is to it. No need for competitive pressure, no mileage expectations, just run my pace. Simple. Stress-free. Liberating! Throughout the lap, it's been misting on us, and we reach the final road crossing which is paved and off-camber. I take my first step and start sliding downhill, unable to stop myself! The mist has frozen over! Carrie grabs my arm and digs into the ice with her screw shoes, bringing me to a stop. Then we carefully pick our way across the pavement and into the safety of Race HQ building. I'm relieved to be back in my normal happy racing state of mind and ready to tackle another lap. Thanks a million, Carrie!

Lap 4
The horses!
Now that my frown is turned upside down, I cheerfully head out into the dark, cold, freezing mist for another lap. I've got my landmarks memorized and honestly, each lap has so much going on that I don't get bored. For anyone who knows me, they know that I grew up riding horses, was a horse owner for several years, and still love these beautiful animals. And it just so happens that the course goes DIRECTLY PAST a barn with 2 horses living in it. I've stopped here for a few minutes each lap, to say hi, smell their horsey noses, and give them some scratches. After the 2nd lap, I started bringing them apple slices from Race HQ. Inappropriate use of race aid? Probably, but sharing snacks with the horses helps my mental state, so it's (indirectly) aiding me, the paid runner. At least that's how I justify it.
The Playground
Also, why is that short lollipop section called "The Playground"? That's just how I came to think of it during the race. It is about the closest a formal trail race has ever come to conditions found in adventure racing and/or orienteering, and I had a blast with the stair-steps, the frozen creek running, the steep climb, the off-camber section, and the increasingly steep and muddy downhill. Just an insight into my race brain.

Lap 5
Dwayne and Adam, proving you don't have to wear fancy clothes to be an ultra runner.
On Lap 5, I'm really getting into my groove. My toe has been hurting, but not getting any worse, and I've been trying to soak it in icy water at every creek/drainage ditch crossing. My nutrition is fine and my hydration hose only takes a few seconds to thaw out when I need a drink. The trails are icing up in a few spots, but overall traction is okay. I've also been making tons of micro-adjustments with my jacket that have helped keep my body temperature comfortable: hood on/off, jacket zipped all the way/part-way/most-way/totally unzipped, sleeves pushed up or fastened over gloves. As I tromp through the creek, I hear some voices up ahead that I recognize...yes! It's Dwayne and Adam! I've finally caught them! I am so happy to hear about their night so far, how they are hurting too but totally embracing this new challenge. We share the Team Noah stoke as we hike the remaining few miles back into Race HQ. Dwayne is determined to whoop it up as we enter the room, and everyone in there responds to his enthusiasm with cheers and shouts. Yes. This is awesome. Oh, did I mention that Dwayne is doing this whole thing in jeans and a hoodie, because that's what's comfortable? Yep. No need to get worked up about fancy trail shoes and tights. Just bring your motivation and hit the trail.

Lap 6
Running past the volunteer's fire!
Dwayne and Adam are taking extra time to refuel at Race HQ, so I head out solo on Lap 6. It's still quite dark and quite wet out on the course. There is a thin sheen of ice developing everywhere, especially the first downhill which is partially on pavement. There is a thin strip of gravel on the side where traction is decent, but I witness one runner purposefully inch out to the middle of the road and then slide down on her butt. It works! But not really my style, so I still pick my way down on the gravel. At the volunteer's blazing fire, about my mile 26, Jeff catches me. I've been expecting this and honestly pretty proud that I held him off this long. We're right at the base of a steep uphill so we hike it and give each other brief updates of our night. He tells me he just took over 1st place (he thinks) and is on a mission to keep it. And then we eat some yogurt pretzels.
Jeff catches me after about 26 miles.
Lap 7
Me, Dwayne, Adam after Lap 5.
I've kept my groove since Lap 3, and things are going well. I've just passed the horses when I start noticing the sound of the wind. It is LOUD. I've only started climbing up a big hill so the highest ridgetops are still a few hundred feet above me, and I can hear the air rushing through the trees up there. I happen to be in the vicinity of my friend Tim and start seeing some light flashes. At first I think it's just Tim's headlamp looking around the woods, but then I hear a roll of thunder, and realize that those flashes are actually lightning! Tim says "I think we're going to get rained on pretty soon" and sure enough, a few minutes later, the rain comes pouring down. Oh, and there are some ice pellets mixed in there too, for good measure! I can only laugh. It must be Noah screwing with us. See, Noah was born in late April, 2011. That would put him smack in the middle of the terrible twos right about now. Whenever anyone on Team Noah has a mechanical or other misfortune while racing/training, we just know that it's Noah looking down on us and playing games. What's more fun to a two-year-old than thunder and lighting and rain and hail, in the middle of the night, while your friends are outside? Nothing! It's hilarious! Noah's caused broken spokes, taco-ed wheels, flat tires, and honestly it's a rite of passage on the team to have Noah rain on your parade. So, thanks for the welcome little guy, I sure appreciate it! 

Lap 8

Heading out on Lap 8!
I roll into Race HQ pretty pumped up about Noah's thunderstorm. I also happen to have an awesome pair of knickers (Christmas present) that I really want to wear! I throw those on, change shirts into a dry Team Noah jersey, put my rain jacket back on, and head out into the storm. It's actually tamed down quite a bit, and the rain has melted a lot of the treacherous ice on the course. I notice the first signs of sunrise, except it's just a gradual change from black to blue to grey because of the heavy clouds. I start to do a bit of race math to see where I'll end up on the day. The last lap has to be started by 8:15am, and if I avoid catastrophe I'll for sure make it back before then and have the option of completing 9 laps. I've finally been able to ignore my toe, but the thought that I'm doing additional damage continues to haunt me. So I just make my way through the course, hitting some slower splits but still overall good time, and return to Race HQ at 7:40am. I check in with Robin and the timing crew, and they say that because of the conditions, they've changed the rules to require all laps be done at 9:00am. Technically, I could probably bust out a 1:20 lap (my previous splits have been averaging 1:15, and I'm still feeling okay) but all things considered, I'd rather not. I've already won the women's race, and placed 4th overall, so it sounds pretty good to call it a day and hang out with my parents before the go to the airport. 

Hanging out after the race is pretty great. Jeff is still out, crushing his 10th lap, so I have time to change into dry/warm clothes before he gets back. Dwayne and Adam have each completed SIX laps, which is incredible. David completed 8 laps, same as me, except about 1hr faster for 3rd place overall. It's super cool to hear the stories of my teammates, friends and of people whom I've just met! Road conditions are pretty terrible for driving so that's just more incentive to stick around and chat. The Aerie's 12hr Ultra is no joke, and I'm very proud to have participated in the inaugural event! And I'm especially stoked to make it part of my Epic Birthday Adventure. There's still a few days left to donate so please check out our Plumfund page and contribute if you can! 


Robin! http://trekmountaingirl.blogspot.com/2014/02/aeries-february-freeze.html

Robin's photos! http://www.flickr.com/photos/rrongey/sets/72157640426373706/
Video! http://www.riverbender.com/video/details/1st-annual-february-freeze-tall-timber-trail-run-at-aeries-riverview-winery-video-1855.cfm#.UvGKrWRDu5A
Newspaper! http://thetelegraph.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?avis=PE&date=20140201&category=news&lopenr=302019976 Pin It


  1. Two things: I just read Noah's story. And sobbed. Sounds like a great cause to run for (my fiancee is in genetics and epidemiology).

    Second, if you love the off-camber, off trail, fun stuff, you should check out the Moab Trail Marathon and Half Marathon (assuming you have the chance to get there). It's a fantastic race!

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