Monday, February 23, 2015

My 100 mile Soul Journey

Jeff and I departed on our journey on Thursday evening after work toward Steelville, MO. We were going to be meeting up with Rob, Shelby, Journey,  Mike, Adam, and Matt at the cabin that evening. I had been sick early in the week with some chest congestion and coughing, so I slept as Jeff drove. Around 10:00pm, I was having such a coughing fit and a difficult time resting, and with 2 hours to go in the car that Jeff decided we should stop for the night in hopes that I could get some quality rest.
And he was a genius, because I slept a solid 9 1/2 hours! We grabbed a couple bagels and some green tea and headed to the cabin. The drive into Steelville was full of beautiful fall colors, and I was in heaven.

We arrived in the early afternoon Friday, and the gang was out checking out the start area and the trails. We quickly unpacked the Jeep, and I started prepping my gear and crew instructions. It wasn' t long and they were back filling us in on the start area and information they had gathered. We chatted and relaxed and soon Morgan, Jessica, Gary, Richelle, and Larry had arrived and we walked to packet pickup at the Lodge literally out the front door of the cabins. The volunteers were very nice, and informative.We ate the pasta dinner provided  and they also had some YUMMY brownies that our GOATz crew were all over. The RD gave us a briefing as we wrapped up dinner. After the briefing we headed back to get ready for our early morning.

I am never nervous before races. I'm not bragging, but running puts me at ease rather than nervous. But, I couldn't sleep, because the coughing was dealing me a fit. I set my alarm for 2:45am and was up and at 'em! Took a quick shower and dressed and out the door by 3:45am. OT100 is a point-to-point race, so we had to drive to the start and check in by 5:30 for the 6:00 start. I took a cat nap on the way there,  and visualized the race. We all huddled together for warmth at the start and hugged one another and I kissed Jeff  and said " See you in 14 miles!"

The start is on a access road 1.5 miles out then back and up a short road which leads to single track trail. This was new to the race this year and was nice to be able to set your pace. I teamed up with Gary and Jess. We took off on a quick clip for about a mile to warm up and then set into a nice pace. We walked hills, and chatted some but not too much. The leaves were so thick on the trail that it was hard to make out what people were saying with all the crunching. And under all those colorful leaves are rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. The Ozark Trail is absolutely beautiful. The fall colors of deep reds, golden yellows, and occasional pine needles (which are my favorite.) At mile 14 we came into the Sutton Bluff aid station. I grabbed some Ramen , did a quick shoe change, Jeff re-filled my Tailwind and we were off with Jeff and Richelle cheering us on! The three of us stayed together for about 38 ish miles, I was feeling pretty good and locked in my cadence and headed solo to the mile 40, Brooks Creek aid station. I was greeted by Shay ( my pacer from mile 65-finish) , Richelle, and Jeff who would be hopping in to run 25 miles with me. I changed my top layer, re-lubed my feet, and drank some Coke, more Ramen, and oranges. I was feeling really good, having Jeff run with me really put me in my zone.

Jeff and I were running at a steady pace, hiking hills, and keeping consistent. Right at sunset, the temperature immediately dropped. I remember saying to Jeff , "It just got cold." He said I said that at the exact time of sunset. I was experiencing some vertigo throughout miles 45-65 and the headlamp shining on the leaves encouraged this dizziness. We were quick at aid stations, grabbing what we needed and walking out with food. Jeff kept telling me over and over how proud he was of me, and that gave me some extra oomph. From Highway DD aid station (mile 47.2) to Hazel Creek aid station (mile 65.4) It was cold, lows hit in the teens and with the creek crossings I was having some issues with the chills. Jeff was trying to give me his coat, and I kept refusing as he needed to stay warm as well. I could tell he was concerned for me, the dizzy spells had me stopping frequently to assure my footing.

Right before Hazel Creek aid station there are two creek crossings very close together. I asked Jeff how far we were from the aid station and he said he thought less than a mile. So I didn't waste any time looking for rocks to get across, I went full on through and they were fairly deep. At the second creek crossing we ran into Morgan, who had hurt his ankle. We checked that he was okay, and headed on to keep moving. The aid station wasn't as close as we had thought...I kept telling Jeff we took a wrong turn, and I was so cold. At this point I was shaking, and my left calf had sunk in from cramping so hard. I finally saw the lights of the aid station...the volunteers immediately collected me and put me in what I call "The Coffin." But, it was a trailer with a heater and chairs. Now, this is a huge no-no...but I had to. I was convulsing, had tears froze to my face, and my left leg was not cooperating. Shay and her husband Chris were waiting for us , and found me in "The Coffin." I was in tears, teeth chattering, and soaked...not my normal self. Shay was working so hard to get my shoes off, but the laces were frozen. I sat a couple of minutes shaking while Shay undressed me and got me wrapped in a sleeping bag. I asked her to give me a few minutes alone with Jeff, who was kneeling beside me. I looked at him wheezing , crying, snot faced I couldn't talk. He just kept saying, "We're going to get you warm, dressed, and back out there." I then asked him, "Why do you hate me?" Jeff had tears in his eyes, in all honesty had he told me to quit things would have been bad for him. The volunteers were doing great getting me all I needed, checking in, and encouraging me to get after it. With Chris, Shay, and Jeff gathering all my gear, dressing me, and booting me back out on the trail I stayed for nearly 45 minutes. But, my calf relaxed, my tears thawed, and my pitty party was over.

Shay and I took off into the dark trail, I was moving at a solid pace to get warmed up. An important move I made here was leaving my Garmin with Jeff, it was better to allow Shay to let me know what my timing was for cutoffs then for me to focus so much on my watch. We chatted, we laughed, we talked about how much we "loved" the rocks :) The hollows were very cold, your breath would freeze with every exhale. Morgan had let me borrow his GOATz Buff, thankfully! This helped a lot with my breathing. I remember asking Shay to turn her headlamp off and we both gazed at the sky. The stars were incredible!!! At this point I stayed steady, I listened to my body. When I needed to slow, I power hiked, when I had stomach issues I sucked Gin-Gin's hard candy and drank Tailwind, both helped immensely.

We arrived at mile 73.3, Pigeon Roost Rd aid station. This was an interesting stop. Their water was all near frozen, the food was all packed up, and the potato soup was not exactly warm either. I remember taking a drink of Coke and a trickle came out of the half full Dixie cup...frozen. I took a couple of oranges, and ate some Honey Stingers. I took off out of the A.S. FAST! Shay was hoping to get some coffee, so I took off without her knowing she would catch up.

Now, here is where I had to make up some time...
I was JUST making cutoffs due to my little hiatus in the trailer. Shay was good at pushing me, reminding me we had just a tad over 5 miles until I would see Jeff at the next A.S. We had another rather deep water crossing in this 5 miles. As we approached the crossing, we both knew it was DEEP.  We looked for rocks and we found a nice way to cross with minimal water. However, it turned out to be a not-so-nice plan. We were both covered in burrs, and we met a barbed wire fence :) We adapted and found our way back to the single track. This was a segment I could not afford to lose any time on.

Berryman Campgroud mile 78.6, was a welcoming bunch of volunteers! I had to be quick, I just beat the cut off by a handful of minutes. I had to switch shoes, socks, and add a brace to my ankle. Jeff was panicked, as my laces were frozen again. We got the switch done, ate some soup, and I received an extra boost of confidence from Paul Turner ( P.T.) He was helping with the shoes fiasco,  he unveiled an OT100 buckle saying, "You're going to finish and you'll have one of these!" I rubbed the buckle for luck and ran on...still ahead of cut off by 3 minutes.

Berryman made all the difference! I was running a lot at this point and I knew I had to make-up time. Shay pushed me. She knew just how to keep me focused. I had my music in and I was getting pumped! The next aid station was an 8.5 mile stretch. I had passed a runner, and this was Shay's tool to keep me driven. I would say, " I have to pee." Shay would respond, "No. You don't have a good enough lead on that guy back there." She would be behind me saying, " Do you want to know what you just ran that mile in?" I'd shake my head "No." Something around mile 88-90 really set in that I was going to do this. I had tears several times in the realization that I would be crossing the finish line. I would holler back to Shay, " I love you!"
 I have tears now writing this. There is a special place you find deep in the woods with your pacer. It's a bond, a trust, a deep relationship. Shay is one of my dearest friends, and she will forever be part of the reason why this journey was so special.

I came into Billy's Branch A.S. mile 87.1 and there was Richelle, whom had been pacing Gary. She had a nasty sprained ankle and in true Richelle fashion brought Gary into sunrise, when she knew it was time to stop. At this point, Shay grabbed me and said, "You just made up 45 minutes!!!" Richelle gave me some extra Honey Stinger chews, and she made sure that I knew she was proud of me.
 Our community is so supportive and Richelle has become my family. This little pat on the back gave me the fuel for the next 13.8 miles!

Shay and I took off with sun being up and bringing some warmth back I was in good spirits. I knew I had to keep strong and not allow my legs and my mind to meet at any point. We were running and laughing. At no point did I forget what I was there to do. I had just over a 7 mile stretch until I would see Jeff, this was a big motivator for me. I wanted him to not worry, he needed to see me strong and determined. I came into Henpeck Hollow at a nice clip! Everyone was cheering! I think Jeff and the volunteers were all surprised to see me moving so well. They took my bladder and my pack and I took off without Shay and my pack...I was feeling it and didn't want to stop.
Jeff ran down the trail to get me my pack, he said it was nearly a mile in ... I was booking!

Shay was back out on the dirt with me in no time, she said that the volunteers at Henpeck had told her that the last 6.5 miles had 3 large climbs. Great. I remember saying, " Of course there is..." At this point it had started raining. I absolutely love running in the rain, it's rejuvenating. Shay was worried with my bronchitis that this would really be the straw that broke the camel's back. I just pulled my hood over my head and moved forward. One step at a time. Each step bringing me closer to my buckle!

The last 6.5 miles was my closure to my journey. Every steep climb I grunted, and cussed. But I kept moving, each time I increased my pace. Shay kept telling me how proud she was, and how I was moving along so quickly. I couldn't wait to get to the finish. To get to Jeff. To show myself I could do it. At approximately mile 100, we were able to see Bass River Resort ( the finish line.) Shay stopped me. She took that moment to hug me, and thank me for taking her along my journey.
The conclusion of OT100 was me running into the finish line at a sub 8 minute pace for .9 miles. I could hear Rob yelling for me, I could see Jeff . I pushed as hard as I could, as I finished I dropped to my knees. I. Was. Done.
31:21:33. Good enough to earn me the Last Mule in The Barn Award.

Shay wrapped me in her hugs, and we cried. (Go figure) Running 100 miles changed me. I found my weaknesses out on that trail, I dug deep to bury them.
 I can't  explain in any words the way it feels to be connected with the earth, to look up in the night sky at the stars with no barriers. To hear the hooting owl through the darkness is not scary, it's rather soothing. I put many miles on my body, but none as special as this 100.9. I found a part of my soul that had been missing...the retrieval is what holds a deeper satisfaction than the buckle.

I send all of my love to each individual who was part of my journey. Each one of you hold a piece of my heart.

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