My (self-supported) Kettle Moraine 100M Race Recap 2020
My 1st 100 Miler – Self-Supported – Kettle Moraine 100M - September 19-20th 2020
“It was miserable and amazing all in one lovely package.”
Where do I even begin…
Back on January 1st, 2020, I registered for Kettle Moraine 100M on June 12-13th, I was excited and nervous and all the feels.
I started to map out a training plan, and read everything and anything I could get my hands on about running your 1st 100 miler.
Fast forward to April – I was in the middle of my 1st 70 mile week and the news hit…due to the pandemic, Kettle had to move to September 19th. I stayed focused and finished my 70 mile week and then took a month to rest up before training started again.
During the first part of training, I had doubts that would creep in, “niggles” that nagged my body, and thoughts of “could I REALLY do this, would my body hold up, how would I conquer my fear of running at night”…
I kept my head down, kept focused on the work, and trusted in my training. All the while a pandemic loomed in the background, I hoped that since this was a trail race, we’d be safe, but also had the worry that this too, like so many other races, would have to get cancelled.
I kept debating what I wanted my “1st” 100 experience to look like, did I need a true race setting? Was this something I could do on my own, self-supported?
Fast forward to July 24th, I remember the day vividly, I was in the middle of a 20 mile long run, and I got the text that Ice Age had been cancelled. I stopped running and searched on social media and saw that Kettle Moraine had to cancel too. My heart sank, and so many emotions raced through my head. However, when my training buddy and friend Jaime decided to tackle her 1st 50 miler self-supported earlier in the month, I said to myself, ok if Jaime threw down and had the courage to do this on her own, facing all the unknowns a new distance holds, I needed to, I OWED it to myself to do the same.
(BTW Jaime decided to run her 2nd self-supported the same day as Kettle, so we’d get cap off our 9 months of training with an epic self-supported race, running the 1st 50 miles of my 100 together!)
I immediately messaged my crew (ha ha still mid run) and asked if they were all on board to tackle this self-supported, and without hesitation they all said YES!!! Next I messaged the race director Michele of Ornery Mule Racing, that I was planning to run the Kettle course as planned on September 19th, and she replied right away helping me navigate the course. Messaged my coach that while the race was cancelled, I was going to tackle this self-supported and would need all her help planning and how to execute the day. Lastly I posted a message on the Kettle Moraine Training Group on Facebook, and was overwhelmed with suggestions. I downloaded an app called Gaia, uploaded the course, and planned out the next few months of course recon.
I was 100% IN and focused on the goal!!
August was filled with two big “1st’s” and challenges – 100 mile week and nighttime training run.
The 1st week in August was my 1st 100 mile week – this was a big huge week, I had runs every day including a 13 miler in the middle of the week and capped off with a 50 mile virtual race to end the week. I tried not to overthink it, and just took it day by day, run by run. By the time the 50 mile race hit, I was shocked at how good my legs felt, and I was excited mentally for the challenge. I ran the 50 miler as a true “dress rehearsal” for the 100, this too was self-supported so it was great practice before the big day!
Later in August was my 1st nighttime training run. I was NERVOUS. But was lucky to have my friend, pacer, and sports chiro Ryan, as my night run tour guide. Another perfect “dress rehearsal” for the 100, getting to try out my lights and experience nighttime running (which is a crazy crazy experience) before the big day was crucial!
We were now a little under a month before race day. I had “checked all the boxes”, the big training was done. I started to think thru and organize ALL the things (which OMG there’s a lot) that I would need to run this race self-supported (huge kudos to all the race directors out there, WOW there is a LOT to think thru). Planning ALL the things actually kept me calm, like I was doing something that was in my control.
On Friday, a week before, Jaime and I drove up for one last long run on the course. When we were all done, I sat down, looked out into the trees and forest, and was like, “you got me next week, right?”
T-Minus one week…anxiety was at an all-time high. I had constant nervous energy. I had my crew team meeting, where we went over my race plan, logistics for the day (as they were acting as crew AND a mobile aid station), and any last minute details to sort out. We talked about goals (moonshot goal was sub 24 hours, overall goal to be considered official and under 30 hours), and my number one was run grateful, be happy, and have fun out there. I had gotten a tattoo of the word “grateful” about a month before, I wanted it as a reminder to be grateful for every step, mile, moment. A reminder how lucky I felt to be able to do something like this.
(BTW my crew aka #edgefamily aka “the dream team” consisted of my hubby Bill, my daughter Gwen, and my Edge fam Andrea, Andrew, Becca, and Dr. Ryan)
It was time to pack up all the gear, water, food, and supplies. (the car was filled to the brim, 4 Papa Johns pizzas, 2 dozen donuts, 15 gallons of water, tubs and bags and bins all filled w/ essentials for the weekend.)
The night before the race was here, the whole crew shared a house just minutes from the Start, we ate, laughed, talked thru the next day, Jaime and I packed up our hydration vest, loaded up the bladders and tried to rest up as much as possible. Random side note, I never paint my nails, BUT before my 1st 50 miler I happened to have my nails painted green, and since the 50 went well, and I’m superstitious, green nails for race day has become a thing! So the night before the WHOLE crew got manicures and rocked green nails in solidarity. #greennailgang
September 19th, 2020, 4:15am – alarm goes off, it’s Race Day.
Coffee is brewing (thanks to my hubby Bill – nicknamed Coffee Czar), Jaime and I made our breakfasts and sat quietly in the Kitchen while the rest of the house soaked up the last bit of sleep for the weekend. My heart was pounding, and my hands shook as I drank my coffee. Did a quick weather check and it was 35 degrees, going to a high of 65 degrees, sunny and dry!
Whew – breathe… breathe…
Race outfit was on, tied my shoes, loaded in the car, and off we all went into the dark on the way to the Start – the Nordic Trailhead as I played “All The Feels” by Fitz and the Tantrums.
As soon as I put on my hydration vest, I felt official, like it was my superhero costume.
We met up with some more Edge Family, Stephanie and Sarah who were running their 1st 50ks that day, and Kerri who was another rockstar crew member. I even got to meet another Kettle racer, Denny who was also running Kettle as his first 100 miler that weekend (we had been messaging back and forth all week, it was nice to put a face to the name).
(the Edge Family is an epic group)
We played the Whitney Houston version of the “National Anthem” (gotta make it feel official – Thanks Andrea!) and you could see the sun starting to light up the sky. Lots of hugs (a few tears) and good lucks later, headlamps were on, and we were off!
(Jaime and I in one direction, Steph and Sarah in another)
**Quick overview of the course!**
The Start/Finish was at the Nordic Trailhead in the Kettle Moraine Forest. You go about 7.5 miles counter-clockwise around the Blue Loop until you cross over Bluff Road. You take a small (and overgrown) connector trail to “Confusion Corner” (as it’s called) a spot where the Ice Age Trail intersects, and you head North through Horserider’s Camp, Emma Carlin, through McMiller, and up to the Scuppernog loop, before back tracking back South, back to the Blue Loop, and then back to Confusion Corner, and you head South to Rice Lake, and then back to the Blue Loop for the Finish. Sixty-five percent of the course is on the Ice Age Trail, with the other made up trails near and around. What was also great about this course, was I had run several parts of it during the Ice Age 50k and 50M, and during several course recon trips. What was crazy was how different the trail was in the early Fall vs the Spring when I was used to running up there, plus it was WAY more overgrown than I had ever seen it (ha more *fun* higher grass, sneaky hidden roots, and mystery rocks to navigate around).
**We also uploaded the Kettle Moraine 2020 100M course gpx file into the navigation app Gaia.**
We started out with crisp fall air, and frost on the ground, we warmed up quick, but our feet got cold and wet. My mind was already racing but I kept telling myself to bring it back to the present, be where your feet are. It was comforting starting on the Nordic Loop, I know this section like the back of my hand.
Before we knew it we were in a good rhythm and at our first crew/aid station (Bluff Road ~mile 7.4). We were greeted with smiles, music, and a full table of options! Wow our crew was crushing it! They were masters, Andrea and Becca were our “crew chiefs” managing our nutrition and gear, the boys brought the good vibes, and Gwen ate/handed out Oreos!
I changed from my windbreaker to arm sleeves. Right as we were taking off, we encountered our first hiccup of the day, I asked Jaime if she grabbed her watch (she was planning to charge it at each stop, to ensure it would last her whole day), she had the watch but it had reset. A few F bombs were dropped, the crew reassured her, and I told her not to worry, I got you! And we took off down the trail on the way to Confusion Corner and heading into our Northern out and back.
We were talking and laughing, the miles were ticking by. This section of the course is
a roller coaster of hills, with rocks and roots scattered, you have to be mentally and physically “on”. We were cautious by this “Stone Elephant” rock formation, as there was a super tricky tree stump that EVERYONE had tripped and fallen on, not today.
Halfway to Horserider’s, we ran into the Edge 50k crew again, Steph and Sarah, who were on their way back to the trailhead.
Mentally we in a good space, sun was up and the day was just gorgeous, how did we get so lucky to have this weather. It felt like Mother Nature and the Universe “had our backs”.
I was eating roughly 100-150 calories every 30 mins, my rotation of sweet and salty (Bobo Bars, Honey Stinger Waffles, PB Pretzels, Plantain Chips, Spring gels as an easy food backup and eventually some PBJs, potato chips, and gingerale – my magic trio of trail food, and later on would include pizza, quesadilla, mountain dew, and donuts). And taking plenty of sips of my water with Skratch, so much so, I swear we hit a new peeing in the woods record during this race as well. I was on the schedule of refilling my hydration bladder every 2 stops, or around every 12-15 miles.
Before we knew it we were approaching our crew and next aid station on wheels (Emma Carlin ~mile 15.5). I had run this section of the course before during the Ice Age 50M, so I knew we were close. We crossed Hwy Z, and I thought, hmmm we should have seen them by now. Gave the crew a quick call and we had just missed them, whew close one! Andrea came running down Hwy Z and we found them! I changed into fresh, dry socks and dropped off my arm warmers, another easy in and out stop!
This aid station was full of energy, we got to meet the other group’s crew, and got to be known as the “Chicago Crew”.
Back on the trail, and we were excited, this next section was the ONLY section that I/we had not done course recon on, so it would be all new. We ran through some prairie sections which were open and expansive. We then entered the McMiller Area, a section of loops, that I expected to be like the Nordic Loops at the Trailhead.
And I was wrong. MAJOR hiccup of the day, these f*$% loops were a nightmare. It was like the Bermuda Triangle in the forest. We dropped several more F bombs and WTF’s. Every time we’d set down a trail, it was wrong, EVERY DAMN TIME. And this section was HILLY. So invariably we’d have to go UP a huge hill or DOWN a huge hill just to get back where we were. We texted the crew that we were in a tricky navigation section, and probably 20 minutes behind schedule. Everything was taking longer because we had to run while looking at the course map on Gaia. We figured we had run maybe a mile extra at this point with several navigation stops.
We were angry, frustrated, and burning energy, mentally and physically…not a good combo when you are only ~20 some miles or so in and have a LONG day ahead of you. To make matters worse, we apparently were close to a shooting range, so all you could here was guns firing, not really “easy on the nerves.”
We took a deep breath, tossed on some 90s Hip Hop, and kept our eyes glued to the map on Gaia, and FINALLY we were out of these hell loops. BUT… into some sort of hellish deep sand, OMG, REALLY!!! All we could do was laugh. We knew we had run some extra miles, but weren’t quite sure how many.
This hiccup also solidified my goal in my head, running the 100 miles was enough, I just wanted to finish in under 30 hours, to be considered an official finisher (if the race had taken place). No worry of anything more, just finishing with a smile on my face. These extra miles had taken a sub 24 hour finish out of the picture, but it was calming, it wasn’t probably even right to think about a sub 24 hour goal in your first 100. I have deep respect for the distance, and just finishing was going to be an honor.
And Jaime said it so perfectly…what would become a mantra of the day for the both of us, “it is what it is.” This was the 1st unforeseen challenge of the day, and after overcoming others throughout the morning, we talked ourselves through it and both found peace in knowing that everything was happening the way it was meant to, and that each new challenge would add to the experience. So, we just settled in and kept on moving forward.
Finally we were back with the crew (Wilton Rd ~mile 23.9), we realized we had run SEVERAL extra miles, and were closer to 40+ minutes behind schedule. UGH. We vented to the crew and like the amazing humans they are, they showered us with words of encouragement.
Back through some more prairies, and then into more wooded, technical single track, and up to Scuppernog, it felt good to be back in familiar territory on the Ice Age Trail.
However, mentally I was not in a good space. I didn’t expect to hit a “low” point so early.
My coach had told me, there will be lows, but you have to have confidence there will be a “high”, you just have to ride it out.
I don’t think we realized how much the navigation errors from earlier affected us mentally and physically. I was definitely getting into my head. I was trying to push the negative thoughts down, but they kept bubbling up.
We got to get another burst of love and energy from our crew at our next stop (Hwy ZZ ~mile 29.2). The crew, like they had all day, kept encouraging us, telling us we were doing great, but to get the hell outta here and keep running ha ha.
Jaime kept joking that she just had “15 more miles to go”! Her watch had stopped early on, she was trying to do “runner math” and ask me as little as possible for what mile we were at.
At this point, I just wanted to get through the Scuppernog loop and start heading back South to feel like we were making progress. My knee was bothering me, I was trying push the thoughts away but I couldn’t. We were even checking the map on Gaia more than we needed to, in fear of getting turned around again, or heading down the wrong colored loop.
Thankfully we got back into talking, laughing, and played some songs. We were maybe halfway through the loop and ran back into Denny and his crew! They asked us how the day was going and we explained how the McMiller section was horrible, dropped some more swear words, and they laughed ya, “that section is horrible, we are running the 2019 course.”
(*side note: I had the gpx file for the 2020 course which included the McMiller section, the 2019 course was routed a bit different and didn’t include those sections.)
We finished the loop and were heading back South on the Ice Age Trail through the rooty, rocky, single track sections. We ran into another Kettle racer, Will, exchanged good lucks and well wishes. It was so inspiring (and comforting) to run into other self-supported racers out that day.
It was truly one foot in front of the other. We were hiking more, and took turns asking one another, “try and trot for a bit?” Ha why we started calling our run a “trot”, I don’t know, but it made us laugh. Laughter was like a jolt of energy out there – an instant mood lift.
Another comic relief was how it seemed my watch would beep [insert watch beep noise] every 5 minutes as a reminder to eat. I’d be like, “Jaime guess what?”, and she’d know and be like “no, come on, time to eat again? We just ate!!” Ha ha I remember my coach telling me that a 100 miler is every bit a food eating contest as much as it is running. I was so thankful for my “gut training” when it did feel like all we were doing was eating.
After some more time on the Ice Age Trail, we got to see our crew again (Hwy 67 ~mile 37.7). It was such a nice surprise to see Steph (who had finished her 1st 50k earlier), and Kerri, and Kerri’s family Moose and Angie. I let out a few deep breaths and got hugs. Ryan taped my knee, and I hoped it would help, at least mentally it felt supported. As we left, the crew warned us that the next aid station they would be giving us our headlamps.
Holy sh*t. Shit just got real. Not only did we need to traverse back through the “Bermuda Triangle” section of McMiller, nighttime was going to hit earlier due to our hiccups from earlier.
We said to ourselves, we are just going to have to slow down going back through McMiller, slow moving but in the right direction is better than moving quick but having to back track a bunch again. And at this point in the day, we couldn’t afford any more extra mileage. At least it was another excuse to play more 90s Hip Hop.
The taping helped for a while but I kept feeling like my knee was going to give out on the downhills. We got back to the prairies where running should be smooth and my knee just wasn’t right. Jaime was like, “I know easier said than done but, you have to try and let go, the more you stress about it, the more tension manifests there, try and just feel as relaxed as possible.” She was right, I laughed as I know if I asked my coach Sarah, or my sports chiro Ryan (both who think very similar to one another) they would have said the same thing.
I was frustrated and nervous. Racing thoughts in my brain…You can’t slow up too much, you are holding Jaime back. You have an entire crew of people here for you this weekend, you need to make this happen. You’ve worked so long and hard for this.
I tried to shift my mindset, I NEEDED to shift my mindset. Truly focus on getting aid station to aid station. One foot in front of the other. And control the things I could control…keeping up with my hydration and nutrition.
But fear kept jumping to the forefront.
More now than ever, I was living for the next crew/aid stops. It was so good to see our fearless crew. They were a well-oiled machine, like an expert pit crew. We’d check in, they’d take over filling up our hydration bladders, tell us to eat more ha ha, and then quickly got us on our way.
I happened to be texting the crew, and a video pep talk popped in from Robyn…”Hey guys, going into the darkness, that’s the fun part, where you learn what you are made of. So I know you ran a little extra, it’s just f’g running, so keep F’G going!!” Ha ha it made us laugh and was a little kick in the ass to keep moving. And a good reminder... it IS simple, it’s just running.
We hit our next stop (McMiller ~mile 45.3). I swapped into a fresh dry shirt, grabbed my arm sleeves, and we prepped our lighting, and squeezed the last bit of sunlight out of the day. At this point, I was battling in my head, not wanting to wish the miles away, and truly be in the present, but also not dwell on the fact that my knee was bothering me and I had a long way to go.
As we ran off, I was getting emotional. I had been thinking about it for a handful of miles already, and now I couldn’t hold it in any longer, tears streamed down my face. I was flooded with emotion. I think it was hitting me that my training partner and who had experienced the WHOLE day with me, was going to be leaving soon, ending her own epic journey, and I would still have ANOTHER 50 miles and what I expected to be the hardest mileage over the nighttime hours. Jaime reassured me it was all going to be ok. I had incredible friends as pacers helping me. But she said she had survivor’s guilt.
The sun was setting, it was right around 7pm. We stopped to take it all in and take a few pictures. (Jaime even got this sneaky pic of me – which is one of my favs of the day). We had been moving for 12 hrs.
As we made our way back through the course, I was soaking in all the last miles I would have with Jaime. We talked, laughed, hiked, and trotted our way closer to the next stop, and her Finish Line.
We were moments from the “halfway plus” and Jaime's Finish (“plus” because Jaime would run more like 54-55 miles that day). You could hear music and cheering in the distance and we knew we were close!!! I yelled, "we have a FINISHER!"
Horseriders (~52.5 “plus”) – The crew had set up a magical finish line, complete with flags, lights, and celebratory toilet paper finish line tape.
It was surreal. We had lived a full day, full of every emotion, and even more moments had led up to this incredible finish for my friend. Yet in the whirlwind of her celebration, I had to snap myself back into focus.
Unbeknownst to me, Andrea had texted several Edge friends that I was in need some of some love, and they sent her messages to share with me. She shared with me a video from Shawna, and I started to get emotional. I appreciated all the support so very much. (*side note: I learned AFTER the race, that Shawna had rode her first century this weekend too, wow, I was so touched by that incredible gesture!)
Every next step was a new adventure, uncharted territory, in the dark, through distances I hadn’t covered yet but now my crew got to jump in as pacers!!
I changed shorts, socks (and re-Trail Toed my feet), and reloaded all my hydration and nutrition and double checked my lighting. And FINALLY got to take one of my matcha caffeine chews – ya for caffeine ha ha.
A few last hugs from the crew, one big “I’m proud of you moment” hug with Jaime, cheering and woot woots, Ryan yelled, “be one with that trail” and we were off.
With fresh energy, Andrew, Andrea (my 1st pacers) and I ran off into the dark and on our way back to the Nordic Trailhead. Our first few miles, while I was moving slow, went by fast!
Andrew was bounding with energy, Andrea was jamming my Fitz and the Tantrums “All The Feels” album, and while we had seen each other all day, there was so much to catch up on. Their positive energy was just what I needed.
I tried to “Cliff Notes” the day for them, it felt like no time had passed and also like it had been days.
I explained to them how my knee was feeling, and how frustrating and worrisome it was to feel like I couldn’t even power hike. I knew I had slowed way down, but like I told myself all day, forward progress is a pace, keeping pushing forward.
It was like the universe knew I needed a pick me up, Andrea read a text that had come thru from Kelsea, “your body is ALWAYS ABLE, keep moving forward.” Yes, yes, YES!
We made our way back through Confusion Corner (which now seemed like kids play after McMiller), and we were back on the Nordic Blue Loop, which felt like a warm hug from home ha ha. It was so nice to be in a loop that I knew like the back of my hand.
I tried to “trot” and still my knee wasn’t happy. This was a section I should be able to run.
This section of the trail is pine lined forest, like you are running in a tall tunnel of trees, it’s beautiful.
We got far enough into the loop and I asked if we were close to the next time we’d see the crew/aid station. We hadn’t had Gaia out in quite some time, because this section was familiar. We opened the map, orientated it to our current location, and hiccup, we had gone past the Tamarack stop. In our defense, the trail parallels the road, but it’s not clear where to access the road. The trail was all overgrown, and it’s pitch black, and starting to get cold. We backtracked and tried to see if we could hear music or see light, or even a spot that looked like a rough trail leading to the street.
Andrew spotted what looked like an opening in the trail, we headed one way and thought it was wrong, so found our way back onto the Blue Loop and called Bill. He was at the car, ready for us, but it was only him. So we kept going back and forth trying to navigate ourselves to our mobile aid station. I felt bad because Andrea was feeling bad at this point that we had somehow missed it. I reassured her and said like everything else today, “it is what it is”, we will find him, we have to find him! It’s no ones fault. We are all figuring this out as we go, in a real race, this would have been marked, we have to rely on the map and knowing we are close.
Oddly this hiccup, or maybe my reaction to the hiccup, was calming. I didn’t panic.
And it got me thinking about the rest of the night, and into the remainder of the race.
At this point I’ve run extra, spent more time on my feet than planned, my knee is still not great. I had to start really thinking about my plan. I told Andrea and Andrew, that I was debating finishing my 100 miles on the Blue Loop. I had comfort in this loop, and didn’t know if my body would make it all the way down South to Rice Lake and back. I had done that section during the Ice Age 50 course, and during my nighttime training run, and I remembered it being more technical single track, with about 4 miles worth of rocky uneven terrain.
I had to ask myself, what’s more important, sticking to the course, or running 100 f’g miles today.
I felt another wave of calm just speaking my thoughts out load to them. And they both were supportive of me thinking through this plan.
And VOILA, we found the path that led to our next stop (Tamarack ~66 (supposed to be 59.9)).
I gave Bill a big hug, it was so nice to see him all day, and now manning this spot all by himself.
I started to explain to him what I was thinking, and a scared look washed over his face, and I’m like, “don’t worry I’m not doing anything crazy (like quitting), I just need to think what I want the rest of my race to look like.”
At this point I hugged Andrea a big hug of “thank you” and she hopped out and helped Bill crew. I grabbed my windbreaker and my poles and Andrew and I kept on our way to the next checkpoint, the Nordic Trailhead (Start/Finish).
We talked and talked and talked. I was even running more. Talking kept my mind off any discomfort and the poles (even if placebo effect), helped lesson the load on my knee. I had no concept of what time at night it was, or my pacing, but I felt like I had picked up my pace (funny now after the fact you can see it on Strava exactly where my mind shifted).
We made it back to the Nordic Trailhead, the spot where the adventure had started hours before. I checked my watch and while I should have been at ~mile 63.4, I was closer to 70.
I turned to Andrew and said I think I made my decision, I’m going to end this with loops here at Nordic. He supported my decision, and on we started back on the loop, clockwise, back to our next aid station at Tamarack, halfway through the loop.
I was trying to run more and more, and my hiking speed had picked up. It felt so good to feel productive. We talked and talked, ran some more, and ran into another Kettle racer with her pacers. We chatted for a bit, she mentioned she was heading down to Rice Lake, I explained my earlier hiccups and how we were ending with Nordic Loops, she too agreed that the McMiller section sucked, and how she was attempting the 2019 course.
In what felt like no time, Andrew and I were circling back to Tamarack, (I had not checked mileage at this point since we made it back to the Start), and we could see the crew – all lit up and cheering. They surprised me by meeting me on the trail vs the road. It was so nice to see Bill, Andrea (my two rockstars who had slept like 5 mins ha ha in a full day), and Steph & Kerri (who had barely recovered from Steph’s 50k to be out here crewing).
Andrew hopped out, and Ryan and Becca hopped in as my next pacers. Ryan asked me if I was SURE about my plan, and I said, without hesitation, YES, I was confident in my decision.
I swapped out light batteries, socks and fresh shoes (ahh) and tried to stay warm, I think I had all the hot beverages at this stop (broth, coffee, hot chocolate) ha ha – got a little sugar rush from a donut and washed it down with Mountain Dew, maybe not the best idea for my stomach. I changed into my long sleeve shirt and windbreaker, you could feel the temperature had dropped again overnight. You could see your breath, and there was more frost on the trails.
And before we headed back out, another magical text came through from Al, “tonight is the last night of this journey! Remember all the sacrifices, the people who have helped you get here, and the people who are there with you!” (insert more tears)
(*side note: Al is an insanely humble badass who has run countless 100s, his words were words of wisdom and super inspiring.)
Within a few minutes the crew was pushing me back on my way, with Ryan and Becca as my fearless leaders. I was about to check my watch, and they quickly stopped me, “nope, no, no looking, we’ll let you know when you need to know your mileage.” OK then, I literally had no clue what time it was or what mileage I was at.
It was now in the middle of the night, it was pitch black, in the sky you could see a sliver of the moon, and stars for as wide as the eye could see. Never have I seen the stars so clearly.
Ryan was keeping us on a solid pace, and Becca was funny with her random questions to keep me focused on talking and not what mile I was in, or how my body felt.
We were hiking at what felt like a good clip, and I would challenge myself to run to the next landmark. The crew had planned to see us next at back at Nordic (the Start/Finish), and planned to hop back and forth between Tamarack and Nordic as aid stations from here on out.
(*side note: I learned AFTER the fact, that I had slowed down quite a bit after the halfway point, Ryan knew that it was not only important for me to finish, but to finish sub 30 hrs, as that was the cutoff for the real race. So he wanted to keep me moving as best he could to regain a cushion, so I could relax and enjoy my last few miles with Bill.)
Time was irrelevant. It was just about moving forward, hiking, some trotting, some running, sometimes just hearing the sound of our feet on the trail, others filled with stories and music.
Back at Nordic, I forced down some food.
(*side note…you know that feeling on Thanksgiving, when you’ve gone back for seconds, maybe thirds, and immediately regret it…that’s how I felt…). At this point I was shoving pbj’s, pizza, quesadillas, down, and it was hard work.
Chipmunk cheeked and downing yup, more Mountain Dew. My mouth and throat were getting raw, either from all the eating, all the salt, or some combination.
Never had I eaten so much pizza this late at night (sober), or drank so much Mountain Dew (outside of college, architecture studio days!).
After the foodfest, we were back on the trails, it felt good, lots more smiles and laughs, it felt so good to feel good (did my body feel “good” NO, but my mind and my energy was “GREAT").
Again with no idea of mileage or time, I kept pushing forward, and back we were at Tamarack with the crew. I swapped batteries in my lighting one more time. Ryan and Becca grabbed more food for me and we were out.
I lost track of what loop we were in, and that was ok, one foot in front of the other, it’s that simple.
Becca and I were leading the pace, and Ryan pointed out, “do you see, the sun is starting to rise!”
I was ecstatic, omg the SUN!!! I was so scared about how much nighttime I was going to have, I researched not only the sunrise and sunset times, but dawn and dusk too. And I had conquered my fear of running overnight. Around 12 hrs in the dark, in the middle of the woods, but with the most amazing pacers, it was some of the very BEST hours of my race with their company.
Ryan then turns to me, “you wanna know something else?”, I say “what” and omg the look on my face…, he says, “you have officially joined the 24 hour club, (insert smiles and laughing) 24 hours on your feet, moving.” Ryan says, “I hope to join that club one day!” I assure him, “you will, you will.” And no doubt yes – he will.
I felt like a new person, the sun was up, we had hit 24 hours.
We were back at Nordic, and what a surprise, Gwen and Jaime were there, it was the first time I had seen her since she finished the 50 miler. Hugged it out with Jaime, Gwen, and Becca, as she popped out to rejoin the crew. Ryan and I were off. He’d run me to Tamarack and that’s where Bill would be my final pacer into the Finish. And ya more donut was needed ha!
Ryan and I chatted about the experience of the day, the highs and lows, and time was flying. He asks me, “so do you want to know what mileage you are at?”, I’m like “yes!”, he said “Mile 88”. I couldn’t believe it. Mile 88. I was so close to single digits. A milestone that I knew going in, was golden. Once I got to single digits, I knew I could do it, I could push through anything then.
Ha it was too funny that the crew wouldn’t let me know my mileage or my timing, I purposely invested in a Coros watch to have battery life to get me through the whole 100 and then some, so I COULD check those things, but don’t mess with your crew, they know what’s best ha ha.
Before we knew it we were back at Tamarack, were Bill would take over as my final pacer. I put on my Edge trucker hat, and packed my last round of nutrition. At this point all I could force down was mostly Spring gels and some of my Bobo bars.
I laughed with the crew that I couldn’t WAIT to take my shoes off ha ha, they assured me, soon enough. I couldn’t believe I was in the home stretch, and knowing I’d get to share these last miles with Bill was priceless.
We started off back around the loop and bam, my feet seemed to explode into blisters. It was like they came out of nowhere. My feet felt like they were on fire and also being stuck by 1000 needles. I had taken good care of my feet all day, but shit happens. We were hiking a bit more now, running a bit less, and catching up on the day.
It was so fun to talk to Bill all about THEIR day!
He shared with me all the details, all the little moments I had missed, since I was running. I had no idea the crew had literally no down time and how little sleep everyone was running on. He was like we’ve had so much fun, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. And a huge smile came over my face.
Then Bill asked me, “did you notice anything different overnight”? I said, “hmmm you started a timer at the aid stations?…” He said “yup, anything else?” I had NO idea… He said, “we took away your chair, you were starting to spend too much time at the stops, so we said ok no more chair for you!” Ha ha yup didn’t even notice – once again the crew knows best – don’t doubt the crew ha ha.
We got back to Nordic for the last time before it was the Finish Line. One little out and back. We got to the final turnaround, tears were welling up in my eyes. Bill was trying to talk to me and I couldn’t hold back the emotion, tears were streaming down my face. The whole day flashed before me.
Every step today had been a learning experience, new and different from any other race I had run. Never taking a moment for granted, and truly being grateful for every bit of this experience nine months in the making.
As Bill and I made our way to the home stretch, Gwen grabbed my hand and we ran toward the Finish. And OMG I had a real Finish Line! What a surprise!! While Bill and I were out running the last few miles, the crew with some helpers had built me a Finish, complete with a banner that read, “Katie’s ‘Gratitude’ Kettle 100”.
These people are my family, I was overwhelmed by the support from this amazing crew, and all my Edge family back at home.
I ran thru the Finish and burst into tears. It felt like a dream.
A dream 9 months in the making, ran over 1500 miles, climbed over 38,000 feet, and 8 pairs of shoes leading up to race day. There were doubts and fears to overcome.
27 hrs 57 mins and 214,132 steps later, the dream was a reality.
I experienced my lowest of lows. Dark moments I didn’t know I would get out of. But like my coach Sarah said before, you will have lows, but you have to trust that a high is coming. And my crew, a constant light in the dark and force of encouragement and love. I wanted to run this run “grateful” and truly I am grateful for all of them. It takes a village, and I was lucky to have the best damn village crew dream team out there.
I loved that we were known as the “Chicago Crew”, Everyone we ran into that day, from fellow racers, to other runners, to hikers, loved the crew’s energy (not surprised) and people seemed blown away by how many of us showed up, even though there wasn’t an official race. #EDGEfamily
I got to witness 2 sunrises, 1 sunset, and 1 million moments that I will never forget. **What was my highest of highs? It wasn’t crossing the finish... it was all the humbling acts of love and friendship I experienced this weekend. From this special crew of people…to friends near and far sending videos and texts of inspiration...I cry happy tears every time I think about it!
To be able to share the last few miles with Bill were truly special. And having Gwen witness the magic of the day was the stuff Oreos are made of ;)
We were all "100 virgins", and learning this "self-supported" thing as we went along. I'd say the weekend was as close as you can get to perfection!!
I'm beyond thankful for their love, friendship, and support. Making sure every detail was taken care of from smiles, cheers, and laughs, to a mobile aid station that was a ray of light, to lubing up my feet (don't worry - with a glove on), to keeping track of hydration and calories and timing, to pacing me thru the night and into the next day. I'm humbled and can't wait to repay the favor!
The fact that we did this all together and on our own, made the weekend that much more special. This is a weekend that I will never forget and the bonds with this crew are for life!