Promises to Keep….Hellgate 2014

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

I didn’t finish Hellgate.

I did not finish the Beast Series.

But you know what….(ssshhh, don’t tell anyone)….I’m actually OK with that.


Rewind a few weeks.  Following Masochist, I took a week off, and then started to ramp up the miles.  And by “ramp up”, I mean I jumped right into a 50 mile week, followed by almost a 60 mile week.  The legs felt great, the speed was there.  But something wasn’t quite right.

The first sign was irritability, alternating with depression.  I was REALLY short tempered the week before Thanksgiving.  I took it out on my kids and my husband, and then myself.  It was only a day or two before I recognized this as a tell-tale sign of overtraining.

So what did I do?  I ran more.

The only relief I could find was by running.  Long or fast.  Whatever it took to get the endorphins flowing and to get a high.  For the first time, I felt like an addict.  And I’m not exaggerating or meaning that in a good way.  I was chasing a buzz…but not with drugs or booze.  And it was a problem.


The second sign was even more obvious.  I got a nasty case of bronchitis over Thanksgiving.  I was coughing up green junk.  I sounded like a chain-smoker.  The next week I got the flu.  I laid on the couch, without any energy to do anything other than moan.

So what did I do?  I ran more.

I used Hellgate as an excuse to hit the trails for a long trail run right after Thanksgiving.

Jimmy and Me. Post-Thanksgiving trail run on the MD AT.


And then a super-hilly tempo run the next day (I used my dog as an excuse for the fast miles).  And then, once again, I left Richmond before dawn to run in the mountains.  When I had the flu, I still managed a five or six mile run.  Or 45 minutes on the elliptical.  I needed to run.  Hellgate cometh.

Turk Mountain, traditional #badass pose with CATs and CRUTs


The third sign was panic and anxiety.  Gripping my soul.  Ripping my inside.  Every day, several times a day, feeling like I was going to explode.  I did – but not externally.  Every panic attack – and there were at least a dozen – shut me down for several hours.  I avoided people.  I hid inside.  And I ran.

The fourth sign was my body falling apart.  It was almost comical.  The week before Hellgate, I was cooking dinner.  I turned towards the sink and almost fell to the floor. Something was wrong with my knee.  For three days I had searing pain every time I crossed my legs or tried to turn.  That, and the Hellgate taper, finally stopped the running.  Last Wednesday, I went for my pre-race massage.  But instead of loosening me up, I left with a jacked up neck and back.  48 hours of heat and Epsom salt baths helped a bit, but I still felt it when I left town on Friday.

Before leaving town, I walked to the bus stop to get the girls.  I had in my pocket my “Promises to Keep” necklace from Jenny Nichols.  I held it tight, in silent prayer.  One more race.  66 miles.  18 hours.  You NEED to do this.  You NEED to finish it.  A promise to yourself, your team, your family, your friends.  Get a grip, girl.  It’ll all be over soon.

And I was tired.


But I was also SOOOO excited for the weekend.  My dear friend Terry was “borrowing” the girls Friday night for a sleepover and they were so excited that I had ZERO mommy-guilt about leaving town.

When Mommy's away, the girls will....make giant Christmas cookies.   Thanks Mrs. Cole!!
When Mommy’s away, the girls will….make giant Christmas cookies. Thanks Mrs. Cole!!

I picked up Bethany in Richmond, and then we headed to Charlottesville to fetch Sophie and AJW for the ride down to Camp Bethel.  Pre-race was the usual fun time of catching up with friends and watching Horton hold court.  Hellgate is really special…intimate and intimidating.  The final race of the year, a chance to see trail friends one more time.

Girl-Selfie with AJW taking care of business in the back seat of the Party Van
Girl-Selfie with AJW taking care of business in the back seat of the Party Van

Everyone bantered on the way down.  Sophie giving advice.  Bethany describing the course.  I was silent.  There was NO way I was going to talk about the malaise that had overtaken me.  Better to hold it in and hope things sorted themselves out on the trail.

Dinnertime! Dana Krakaw, Meghan Hicks, Me, Sophie, and Bethany enjoying they yummy food.

Dinner was fun, the pre-race briefing entertaining.  We retired to the bunks to get some sleep.  I zoned out, but didn’t slumber.  When the alarm sounded at 10, I questioned whether I should start. But I had Promises to Keep.  I got up, got dressed, sucked it up and headed to the start line.


The anthem.  A prayer.  We were off.

Hellgate Elevation Profile


The first few miles were good.  After a week of not running I relaxed….get into your groove, girl.  This is what you need.  The legs felt solid.  The breathing was easy.  The internal tension eased.  Its actually going to be OK.  This is who you are.  This is what you do.

We passed the first aid station, and turned onto the road.  A runnable 4 mile climb up to Petits Gap.  It felt easy.  It felt good.

Around mile 6 things started to turn.  Like someone turning down the volume, the energy left my body.  I came into the aid station, called out my number, and ran right through.  Get me outta there before I see any crew I know.  Get me the hell away from warm cars and a ride home.

Just past the aid station, the course turned to the right.  I stopped at the stop sign, put my hands on my knees.  And I cried.  Deep, gulping sobs.  7.5 miles into Hellgate and I knew I was done.  I had a choice to make.  Go back to the light and the warmth and the cars, or head into the woods and into the night.

I chose the woods.  I ran into the darkness.


I remember parts of the next two hours.   A thin ribbon of single-track and a train of headlamps behind me.  Convincing myself that I just had the Demons on my back – a mental low spot that would be over as soon as the calories kicked in.  Taking my jacket off, burning up.  Two minutes later, putting it back on because I was freezing cold (Later, I’d remember the flushed cheeks and burning face from dinner and realize that I’d had a fever….I brushed off the 99-degree reading earlier that day as “close enough to normal”).  Watching some guy puke off the side of the trail, feeling sorry for him…10 minutes later being that runner.  Dry-heaving, doubled over.

The endless, brutal, BEAUTIFUL climb up to Camping Gap.  Stars up ahead.  Headlamps up the trail.  So thankful to be out in the darkness.  Then turning into the wind, chilled to the bone, convinced I’d never be warm again.

About two miles before Camping Gap (aid station #3), I decided I was done. For the health of my body and the health of my brain, I needed to stop running.  It was not a hard decision.  It was not a long process.  And though I am not a religious person, I knew without a doubt that God was telling me to stop.  It was OK.  It was the right thing to do.

So I did.  I pulled into Camping Gap, told them I was dropping and sat by the fire.  A warm cup of broth found its way to me, and I was done.


Relief came.  Jenny joined me by the fire not long after, and we laughed and commiserated.  Sweet Brenton drove us to the next aid station, and Grattan lent us his car to drive back to Camp Bethel.  I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept like the dead for three or four hours.  When I awoke, I stumbled out to the main room.  Horton had just arrived and I tearily apologized for dropping.  I got a hug and a “Girl, you look HORRIBLE!” and I felt better.  Not physically, but emotionally.  It would be OK.

And I was there on the couch for the rest of the day.  Cheering when Ryan crossed the line in a course record time.  Coming to life to see John Anderson finish in 5th place.  And then Bethany, 2nd female.  Nebs and Kyle and Marc – all sub 14.  Jeff and Dan not far behind.  Alexis finishing strong to secure the Beast win – I am so happy for her!  Sophie with her 9th finish and grandmasters title.  Siobhan and John Leonardis, finishing the Beast together.  What an incredible day.

Nebs and Kyle crossed the finish minutes apart. What a great end to their year of friendly rivalry!


Siobhan and John Leonardis…fist couple to finish the Beast Series – and they crossed the finish together. Love these two!!


Throughout the day the fever and malaise came and went.  I’d rally for a bit and then feel wasted.  We finally left the camp to drive home, and I was in bed a little after 9pm.  And except for breakfast this morning and dinner tonight, that’s where I’ve been.  Utterly fatigued.  So weak.  No energy.  The thought of running a mile, much less another ultra, seemed impossible.

Until about an hour ago.  I perked up a bit, and started to feel human.  I thought about Catawba.  And running into the Spring.  Maybe Promise Land??  This is who I am, this is what I do.

But I NEED some time off.  Two solid weeks of ZERO running, and then a month to reassess.  Spending time with my babies.  Soaking in their childhood.  If 2014 was about pushing myself to the limits, then 2015 is going to be about regrouping.  Getting strong in body and mind.  Letting go of numbers and paces and rankings.  Back to the love.  Back to my roots.


Those Promises to Keep?  Turns out, they weren’t promises to finish a race.  Nor to run a certain time.  In the end, the promise I made was to my daughters.  I told them that running was good, that running was healthy.  That it made me a stronger person and a better mom.  At 2 Am on Saturday morning, I was breaking that promise to them.  I was running away from the true meaning of the trail.

I finish this year very, very grateful.  For the support of my family.  For my fantastic teammates (you all have inspired me and motivated me all year!!).  For the fellowship of my trail friends.  For the beauty and majesty of Nature.  Its been an amazing year, with so many more highs than lows.  Life is good.



Once A Masochist….MMTR 2014 Report

Oh, how I love this race.

Maybe its the time of year…reliably brisk, colorful leaves…with a hint of nasty weather lurking.

Maybe its the trails…rolling, climbing, twisty.  A delicious mix of gentle grades, gnarly climbs, and some technical single track to shake it up.

Maybe its the finish in Montebello…a quiet mountain village that I know so well.

Mostly its the people.  Gathered together Friday night, all day Saturday, and into Sunday morning.  The culmination of a summer’s worth of training, final race in the Lynchburg Ultra Series, a motley tribe that returns every year in the strange ritual of ultra running gluttony.

When I ran MMTR last year I knew I’d be back.  And even though I suffered better in 2014, I know that next November 7th, you’ll find me, once again, running towards Montebello.


So, a couple of things made this Masochist a different race for me.  First, it was to be run the day after Halloween.  Now, October 31 is kind of a big deal in our Neighborhood.  The kids get off the bus and hurry to their costumes.  Around 4pm, they migrate to the Neighborhood party, where there is music, food, games, and mayhem…the parents enjoy and early happy hour, the children get a head start on their sugar rush.  Jimmy’s in charge of the hay wagon rides.  As the sun sets, the set off in pack to loot the candy bowls.  Totally awesome.

Annual UHNA Halloween Party
Annual UHNA Halloween Party

But hanging out, drinking beer, chasing kids, and staying up late was not in the cards for me this year.  With a wistful sigh I helped transform my three daughters into Cleopatra, a Raccoon, and Cinderella.  We took some picture and with a heavy heart and guilty conscious I headed out of town.

Cleo and her pet Raccoon
Cleo and her pet Raccoon

Arriving in Lynchburg, I picked up fellow Dirty Moms Martha and Jenny and we went to packet pickup.  Its always fun to check in and catch up with runner friends, and tonight was no exception.

The Dirty Mothers!  We missed you, Steph!!!
The Dirty Mothers! We missed you, Steph!!!

Sophie even brought cupcakes for we lucky ones that have MMTR birthdays.

November birthday love!

We went back to the hotel and tried to fall asleep early.  But for some reason, I tossed and turned all night.  I wasn’t nervous – I actually felt pretty recovered going into the day.  But that was the second reason MMTR was different this year.  I knew, even if I felt OK, I was still in Grindstone recovery.  I had no idea if my reserves would lend the strength to run 50 miles well, or if I would lose steam and suffer on the back half (my one long run illustrated this point nicely….a 20 mile out and back along Dick Woods Rd.  The first 9 miles were easy and effortless…the return trip was almost a death march…I had no oomph left).

Anyway, I decided to just take the day as it came.  I had secret hopes of being able to start fast and make up time in the first half (last year I hit Long Mountain around 4:45, but ran very conservatively.  I thought if I pushed the pace I could do it in 4:30).  The weather was tricky, with a forecast of rain, drizzle, sleet, or snow (depending on which source you trusted).  I started with my Marmot Precip (too hot), but took it off after the first mile.  I also made the game-time decision to run in tights.  As I never felt overheated, I think this was the right call – especially later in the day when it got really cold and windy!

We started right on time, ran around the lake and into the night.  I found Sophie and Jeff, who had planned to run together, and jokingly “glommed on”. I really don’t like running with friends during races, preferring to be inward and introspective and focused, but since my goal was to run smart (and Sophie is the champ of running smart) and enjoy the day, I hung onto their train.  I absolutely love running with both of them and the miles began to tick away.  We chatted, we laughed, we sang (a bit).  It was a steady pace, and I worried that I was running too fast.  It felt like more work than last year.  So I was surprised when we arrived at Long Mountain in 4:45 – right on schedule.  I had hoped that feeling of working hard would have translated to a faster time, but not so.

I took time at Long Mountain to change into trail shoes and restock my fuel.  I caught up with Sophie & Jeff and our new friend Chris on the climb up Buck.  At the top, mile 30, we finally asked the aid station volunteers about our placement.  “You are #11th and #12th place for women”.  Sweet.  With Sophie a lock for grand-masters, she told me to go “huntin” and try for top 10.

We rolled along towards the Loop, and got some different intel – “you’re actually in 10th and 11th place”.  Even better.  I tried to figure out who might be in front, and then decided it just didn’t matter.  Run smart, Let It Go, and stay in one piece for Hellgate.

I guess I picked up the pace in the loop – I love this section – because before too long I had lost sight of my team.  I continued to drink and eat as much as I could.  My legs were tired but holding.  All that was left was the out and back to the summit of Mt. Pleasant so I could see the runners in front of me.  As much as I grumble about this superfluous section, I actually get such a boost from seeing familiar faces and cheering on friends.  I did not see Kyle or Nebs, which meant they were having a great day (yay!), and I didn’t expect to see any of my fellow CRUTs – John, Nick, Bethany, Dan or Marc…they should all be far ahead, and thankfully that was the case.  But I did see Beth M. and Beth F., running strong as well as Robin and her sister.  It would be a fun chase, but I really like them all and would not be sorry to finish behind.  Sadly, in the mix was an unhappy Jamie – I really hated to see her suffer but knew she had the grit and guts to pull to the finish no matter what.

Coming out of the loop I had passed Jamie, so I thought I was either in 9th or 10th place.  I knew I had to run hard to maintain my position, but my legs were so heavy.  I counted down the miles, so ready for the finish line and my warm clothes.  It was really cold up top, with sleet and snow and bitter gusting winds.  All of a sudden I was thirsty, and I realized how much water I was actually evaporating.  (Turns out I was pretty dehydrated- which might have explained the heavy leg feeling for most of the day).

Right before Salt Log Gap I started running with Brian, a friend of Dan’s and Kyle’s.  We had a great conversation for a few miles, through the aid station and onto the single track.  As we rolled along I caught a glimpse of a girl up ahead.  I didn’t know her, but passed her with the knowledge (I thought) that she would still be in the top 10.   When I pass someone, I try and make sure its a clean pass – I hate leapfrogging and wasting energy.  I ran strong on the ridge top right to the last climb, and she stayed behind me.  Ugh.  I did not want to waste strength if she was just going to jump back ahead. I stopped for a moment on the climb to pull out some Chomps – I needed the calories – and to regroup.  My only chance of pulling away was to use the technical terrain to my advantage.  So I pushed the downhills, taking risks that I might not usually take.  But the last aid station, she wasn’t in sight.  However, I heard the dreaded “You’re in 10th!”.

Shoot.  Last year I spent that whole section thinking I was in 9th, only to learn at the finish that I was in 10th.  I did NOT want to be first loser this year and so I ran as hard as I could down, down, down the mountain.  Did this section get longer??  Did it get flatter??  There seemed to be a let more running this time, but I pushed it as best I could.  Finally the “naughty” tree as my girls call it, and the last steep 1/2 mile down to Fish Hatchery Road.  1 mile to go!  Brian and I ran and ran to Rt. 56 and the whole way to the finish.  Finally done!  9:41.  Seven minutes slower than last year, but I feel like I worked a LOT harder for it.  10th female.  I’ll take it.

Team Crozet
Team Crozet


Ah – the finish!  Warm clothes and slippers and hot soup.  Friends and teammates and Horty and Clark.  Families cheering, kids playing.  All is right in the world when your day ends in Montebello.

The Crozet Ultrarunning Team crushed it.  John – 6th place.  Nick – 7th place.  #DANton – LUS Masters winner. Marc – 10th finish and PR. Jeff – Huge PR.  Bethany – 2nd place female.  Sophie – 1st grand-masters.  I am so happy for everyone and so very fortunate to be in the company of such amazing runners and genuinely wonderful people.

CRUT Swag!
CRUT Swag!

Next year the race will be my 40th birthday party – a day to celebrate the journey.  Can not wait!