Wednesday, March 20, 2013
One of my favorite quotes is "She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails"- Elizabeth Edwards (UK). This quote would resonate in the weeks leading up to the Graveyard 100, during the race, and post-race, as well. Graveyard 100 would be my third 100 mile race. My strength is running, not hiking or climbing, so I thought that this race may suit my ability. I mentioned this race to my two close running friends as we were all a few miles into the Cheat Mountain Moonshine 50 mile race and before I could justify why I wanted to follow a white line on asphalt for a 100 miles, they both said "Yes. That sounds good!". My husband decided to surprise me by signing up for the race just before it filled in October.
So, the four of us trained and peaked with a 47 miler four weeks prior to the event. Around this same time, we learned that our oldest daughter, Alexandra, would be performing in a dance solofest the same day as the race. This was such a heart wrenching discovery. Now, we were faced with decision of whether to run the race. There was no alternative, but to discuss this with her directly and let her make the final decision. Jason was struggling with severe knee pain and needed surgery. Alexandra's dance was dedicated to him as she chose a song that he sang to her as a small child. Jason chose to stay and sacrifice his potential 100 mile finish. Alexandra decided that I should run the race since I would see the dance later in May. So, this was our first adjustment in our sail.....but, this was such a tough choice.
My mom took her last breath a week and a half before the race. The hardest thing that I have ever done is to know that her final day on this earth was probably that morning and then to watch her take her final breath as I held her hand and assured her that everything would be ok. I was emotionally exhausted. I was running a bit too much during this time, in an attempt to deal with the stress, and strained my calf. So, now I was 2 weeks away from Graveyard, injured and exhausted.
My friends, Joe and Mary Beth, who were also running and Shauna and Matt, who would be crewing, all met and left Friday before sunrise for the trip to Kitty Hawk. The trip was smooth and the forecast looked perfect. We picked up our packet and saw how turbulent and raging the ocean appeared. We joked about doing a triathlon in that water. The pier where we had the pre-race meeting was moving a bit and it was making us nauseous, but not quite as nauseous as I felt after Brandon, the race director, announced that due to road washout south of Nags Head, the race may have to be an out and back. We would not know this until the next morning AFTER the race was underway. He was confident that there was a good chance that the course would follow the original planned route, but the decision would be made on race day. So, we all headed to our hotel to sleep as well as possible before a 100 miler and contemplated what to wear to start the race!
Matt and Shauna drove us to the start of the race at 4:10 am. The weather seemed mild and the atmosphere was light. We sang the national anthem (well, some of us did)and then we were off in the darkness. The three of us stayed together and shed our first layer pretty quickly. We found some nice port-a-pots on construction sites to use periodically. It seems funny how a port-a-pot can be such a welcoming sight! We arrived at the first aid station where there was still no word on the decision of the race route. A quick shirt change and some snacks and we were headed toward Kitty Hawk. Things were going great. Joe slowed down a bit and Mary Beth and I just chugged along chatting and laughing until we reached Kitty Hawk and veered left onto Route 12. Immediately, we were faced with a road full of clutter and debris. Most of the road was completely saturated with sand and water and smattered with wood pieces, tumbleweed, siding from houses, and various hardware that had been blown from the apparent storm of the previous days. Mary Beth and I hiked up some sand dunes to avoid water, but quickly I sank about a foot deep into sand and water and we realized that this was going to be an adventure. This is about the same time that Mary Beth checked her phone and received a text from Jason stating the announcement was placed on Facebook that the course would be changed to an out and back! We both had a few moments of despair (and a few curse words), but we quickly adjusted our sails and decided there were some positives to this decision (I think that we were delirious, because I can't remember what we rationalized at the time as positive, but somehow, we did!). We also decided at this point that we would move to the upper road to avoid the high water. This did add a little distance, but it seemed worth the effort to avoid the water and sand.
We continued to move well and make good progress and we found port-a-pots at the opportune times! We arrived at Aid Station 2 feeling strong, but with the worry of what the turn around may present. We saw the leaders coming back and it appeared that they were working very hard against the headwind. As we headed out toward Bonner Bridge, the wind intensified and it was obvious that the runners were facing a challenge contending with the wind. We turned around only to be blasted by the force. We had to secure our hats from being plucked off our head and carried away like a kite. It felt as if someone had a rope around our waist pulling us back as we tried to move forward. We would learn later that the wind was gusting around 25 mph. I felt as if I were fighting too hard and told Mary Beth that I had to adjust and go easy pushing into the constant blast. I told her that she may need to go ahead and not to wait. So, this was the agreement as we headed into Aid Station 3. The struggle against the wind continued for a few miles, but seemed to decrease as the sun was setting. This is also about the time that Shauna and Matt showed up with the best pizza that I have ever tasted. We inhaled the pizza and decided to run on the busy highway, in order to avoid the sand and water, for the final 6 miles into Kitty Hawk. It appeared dangerous at times, but we hoped that the traffic would take mercy on us and we trudged along. We ran most of this segment due an urgency to get off of the busy road. Soon, we were at the final Aid Station and we were still together!
I did the math in my head and thought that we definitely could break 24 hours and if we pushed on without falling apart, then a sub 20 hour finish was in our reach. We decided to do a 15 min run and then walk break as long as we could keep that going. Things started to get tough around mile 85-90. Our chatter decreased to "It's time for a walk break" and "I need to go whenever we see a good spot". Any time that I felt tired or wanted to walk early, I immediately thought of missing Alexandra's dance recital and that I had to make this run worth the sacrifice. I also reflected on my Mom's fight just to hang on to her final breath. There must be some of that fortitude that she left in me! We missed a water stop somewhere and we were both without water. Luckily, we barely found the next water stop and replenished. Now it was mile to mile and each one became longer and harder. We knew that we had to pass by the finish chute for the final out and back segment and were prepared, but we weren't prepared for how long it took to get to the end of that road! We turned and headed back toward the finish and ran most of the way. We crossed the line hand in hand and finished as a tie for the 3rd place woman in 19:31! We embraced and received our silver buckle and asked Matt to take our picture with Brandon, the race director, who adjusted his sails several times over the weekend, as well.
We were then off to get the crew car to Joe. Shauna had been running with him for several miles in the dark and now they were cold and hungry. We drove until we saw them. It just happened to be at the hotel where we had made last minute reservations due to not being able to get to our condo near the original finish line. Joe wanted us to get to the hotel and then he would take a break in the car. So, we retreated to our room while Shauna persisted in crewing.
I had the typical post race hypotension which led to a very quick shower and then a short break recumbent on the bathroom floor with my feet elevated. But, otherwise, I was just basking in endorphins over Mary Beth and I pushing ourselves as only two kindred runners could understand and then finishing so strong. I was also anxiously waiting for Jason who left right after the dance solo to drive all the way to the Outer Banks to see me finish. He wasn't going to make it since we had finished earlier than predicted, but I was still excited to see him ASAP. I was also waiting to hear from Shauna and find out how Joe was progressing. Needless to say, I did not sleep. I then received a message from Jason that he got a flat tire about an hour away from our hotel! He adjusted his sails, after there was no response from AAA, and changed it himself. He was back on the road! Shauna sent a message that Joe was progressing well and should be done in under 24 hours which was all of our original goal.
Jason made it to the room about a half hour before Joe and Shauna. They had just set the breakfast buffet out in the hotel lobby.
We slept about an hour or so and then woke up refreshed (that was sarcasm) and had breakfast before heading down to our comfy condo where we would recover and relax in Hatteras. We traveled about 10 miles when we learned from the realtor that the road was still closed and there was no way to know if it would open that day. So, we adjusted our sails once again. We chose to drive to Williamsburg and stay at a condo that my brother in law manages. We celebrated that night with a nice dinner, a few beers, and great company.
So, the Graveyard 100 experience overall was just a parallel to life. You adjust and make the experience as positive as it allows. Life would not be such an awesome story if your boat was always sailing on placid waters. Sailboats act in direct response to the wind and sea, which is forever changing.
A sincere thank you to Jason, Shauna, and Matt for crewing and supporting.Congratulations to Mary Beth on an inspiring first ever 100 miler and to Joe on his sub 24! A special note of gratitude to Jason, who is such a giving and caring husband and father. Thank to you the race director, Brandon, his family, and all of the volunteers who gave up time and energy to help the runners meet their goals. The Graveyard of the Atlantic tried to sink us, but we persevered! "Ready about" and "Hard alee"!
PHOTOS courtesy of Shauna McQuade, Matt Strickler, Mark Sillitoe, and Frank Lilley.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
"We're just going to look at them, we're not going to bring one home yet" I said en route to Romney. "We just moved in to our house, we have Erin's wedding in D.C. this weekend and my vet school graduation next week, after we get settled in, then we can get one." My wife had been offered a free puppy by one of her patients and we were going to check them out. As a newly-minted Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, I went armed with my stethoscope and ophthalmoscope, determined to assess each one carefully. Hey, it might be a free puppy, but I still wanted it to be a good one. An hour later, despite my earlier proclamation, we were driving home with a puppy in my lap. Although it had nothing to do with my fledgling veterinary skills, I think it is safe to say that the test of time proved that we definitely got the pick of the litter.
|Veterinary graduation, Ohio State University June 1997|
My very own dog! We always had several pets growing up, which played a big role in my career choice. We had more cats than dogs and I love cats, but dogs have always been my favorite; however, I had never had one I could call my own. Now, for the first time, I had one that was truly mine. And Mary Jane's...her first dog ever as a matter of fact. We named her Emily; I had always liked that name but MJ had politely informed me that it was not in play for the future whenever we had 'real' children. For the first few years of her life, we treated Emily as if she were our child. We took her everywhere, showered her with toys and gifts, pampered her with treats. And yes, I am almost ashamed to say, we even had a birthday party for her, complete with cake. She was so full of personality, she made friends wherever she went. I never saw her show a hint of malice to any living thing, with the occasional exception of one of her canine sisters trying to swipe some of her food as her eating speed declined in her later years.
The first year of her life, we rented a small house in Ridgeley. Our landlords lived across the street, and they allowed me to run Emily in the field below their home, since our yard was so small. Our yard was also only fenced in on three sides, with a small gap from the back porch to the sidewalk alongside the house. We asked him to install a gate there to fully enclose the yard. He wanted us to split the cost of the gate with him. When I countered that we would be unable to take half of the gate with us when we moved in a year or two, and it would be a permanent upgrade to the house, we appeared at a stalemate. It was only a few days after that conversation that Emily bolted from the yard, down the sidewalk, across the street, and into the landlord's open garage door, which connected to his basement. As we chased after her, the scene we came upon was quite comical: the landlord sitting on the basement couch, in (nothing but) his boxers, holding the remains of the newspaper he had been reading as Emily furiously licked his face, having just exploded through the paper in her effort to get to him and show him some love. Luckily, he was laughing and found the entire situation quite amusing. And wouldn't you know it, within days a gate had been installed, free of charge!
|Emily's first birthday, with friend, Sheba|
Emily used to amuse children and adults alike by plunging into the fountains along the Cumberland Mall during our runs. That was probably what cemented her as the dog for us...she shared our passion (all right, OBSESSION!) for running! It was not unusual for her to do 8 miles with Mary Jane when she got home from work, then run again with me later on. She could go up to 18 miles pretty comfortably, after that she would start to flag just a little. She was the picture of fitness, an elite canine athlete. One time a client saw me running with her and thought she was a rescue dog 'because the poor thing is so skinny'. He didn't believe me when I told him that she was just super-fit and this is what all dogs should look like. She loved to run on roads and trails, but we had to keep her on a leash...she was prone to wander off on her own explorations, chase deer, roll in the mud, etc. A ten mile run for me was probably twice that for her if she wasn't leashed. We have a nice bungee-type tether that connects the dog to the runner's waist, and we used it to our advantage as Emily could give us a pull up some of the big hills! Long-distance running is a primal activity, and it's made even more so in the company of a canine companion. We covered thousands of miles together with that leash and harness making us one entity, clicking off the miles at a rapid pace. We ran a few races together over the years...the best was the Dirty Dog Trail Run 2007 in Kanawha State Forest. She was an old girl then at ten years, but still finished as the third place dog. I think she might have won if I could have run faster...a few years earlier and we definitely would have!
|Emily at speed|
|Dirty Dog Trail Run 2007, age 10|
|A day at the office, late 90s, just back from grooming|
The night she disappeared was not particularly unusual. I had to work late and she was in the basement when I got home, having been inadvertently left there when the kids left for play practice earlier. She was wandering around aimlessly as she sometimes did. Her last couple years had included some mild cognitive dysfunction and confusion. She was happy to see me and wagged her tail and slowly shuffled over to me. She was getting frail and slow, and she fell trying to get up the steps. I had to carry her up them, which I often did in the last year or so. She went outside with Sara, our Lab mix. I heard the two of them romping on the deck while I fixed dinner, but then Sara came in alone and Emily was nowhere to be seen. It was still daylight and I immediately began looking for her for the next few hours with a neighbor's help, covering a lot of ground over the next several days, but to no avail. She simply vanished from the face of the Earth. The suddenness of it has been easier for the kids, I think. She just disappeared, there was no tearful good-bye, no discussion or decision to be made. It's been hard on Mary Jane and me however. I've wondered about all the worst-case scenarios...was she abducted for some nefarious purpose? Victim to a predator? Hit by a car and disposed of so we wouldn't know? Or as many have suggested, did she simply know it was her time and wander off to spare us the pain? We will never know, I suppose, but I like to harken back to a day less than a year ago with my theory...
She had been retired from regular running the last two-plus years, she just couldn't do it anymore. We had both slowed since our primes, but she far more than I. We still went for a couple easy miles now and then, mainly on special occasions like New Year's and her birthday. One day last fall I was starting out on a run, and about a quarter-mile from the house I heard the mad scrabbling of nails on the pavement racing up behind me. I turned around, and there she was chasing after me, tongue lolling, eyes glinting. She must have spotted me heading out and given chase...she wanted to run, so we did, but her pace soon slowed and within a half mile we had to turn for home and walk the rest of the way. It was beautiful to see her still wanting to get out there at that age. So that is how I like to think she went out, a pleasant fantasy I know, but allow me...she got the urge again that night and headed out for one last run. Maybe she ran until she dropped, or maybe she's still running...
|Not bad for your first dog huh Mom?|
Emily, I owe you this brief epitaph. For over fifteen years, you gave us the absolute best that you had, every day. You were Em, Emmy, Emmers, Emmy Lou. You were a champion dumpster-diver and counter-surfer; a loving big sister to three girls, two dogs, a rabbit, and three cats; a friend to everyone you met, human or animal; a devoted running partner; full of wags and wiggles, licks and laughs; and most of all, our best friend. You set the bar high. We will never forget you and I hope your final moments were peaceful and comfortable.
|Safe-guarding Dad during a lunchtime siesta|
|Long May You Run|
(Yes the song is about a car but I think it fits her too.)
Friday, June 1, 2012
Burning River 100 July 31, 2011 was a tremendous accomplishment. I started that race injured, did not tolerate the heat, had extreme electrolytes issue and still finished. I was very beat up physically, though. It took me a month afterwards to run at all and several months to begin to feel like I was recovered. I knew that if I was healthy and smart, that I could finish another 100 miler and do well and wanted to tackle another one. I can’t really say why I chose MMT or what gave me the courage to sign up for the lottery, but for some crazy reason, I did! I am not a great technical trail runner and really don’t enjoy running on really rocky trails. I wouldn’t say that I am a great climber/hiker, either! MMT was in no way a course that played toward my running strengths, so logically…..I chose this one!My friend, Joe, who trained and ran BR with me didn’t even hesitate and he put his name in the lottery, too. Well, I probably won’t get in, anyway, I thought. So, I am headed to work one morning and see an email from Joe that says “WE’RE IN”. Are you serious? I never win anything and was already thinking of an alternative race. So, now I get congratulations from Rande and Kari who are veteran MMT runners. They are local runners and friends who run MMT every year and they were very positive and encouraged us throughout our training.
I guess I better start training. I have a great running group and a super ultrarunner husband and they all supported us in many long training runs, climbing the pipeline at Rocky Gap , and running on as many rocky trails as we could. I stayed healthy and avoided any major, lingering injuries and felt good leading up to MMT.
The atmosphere at the start of the race felt a little tense to me. All the runners who enter the lottery have to be experienced. They must have completed a qualifying hundred or 2- 50 milers. So, none of these runners were new to the sport. I could feel the nervous tension of the runners and their anticipation of how tough this course will be. I was thinking to myself, “now come on…how hard can this course really be?” (keep reading for the answer )
We woke at 2:22 am and left the hotel at 3am. I didn’t sleep well that night and hadn’t slept well in the preceding weeks leading up to the race. Work had been very busy and our three wonderful and active daughters have been super busy with activities. I was hoping that it wouldn’t matter so much, but I was a little worried going into an all-night race already feeling fatigued. Jason drove Joe and me to the start. The weather was going to be great (maybe a little warm), I was healthy and well trained, so I had no excuse, but to have a good day!
Soon after this, we are on one of the few road sections (uphill…just to make sure it wasn’t too easy) and Joe and I see a snake….a rattlesnake!!! Cool, I thought. It was coiled up trying to get warm, I assume. You could see the rattle part of the tail sticking up through the center of the coil. I pulled out my phone to grab a picture. As I went closer, Joe yelled at me to not get any closer. I think that he thought that I must have lost my mind already…..well, maybe I had!!!
I started to feel a little tired already at 20, but by 25 I was moving great and feeling good again. Joe and I pulled into the 33 mile aid station where Jason and Todd were waiting. They looked concerned that it took so long to do a 50k. Yep, that was the slowest 50k of my life…at least until I did the next 2 50k’s!
I started to feel really bad as soon as I pulled into Elizabeth furnace. I even walked over to the weeds to puke, but nothing happened. I just walked out with a little food and hoped that I would feel better soon. And, I did! I felt the best that I had felt all day and came into Shawl Gap (38 miles) with a smile on my face and my color had returned.
Joe and I walked out of the aid station with some food and moved on toward Habron. We had been warned how long and tough this section would be, but I was feeling good……and then crashed again HARD! I The climb seemed to take more effort than it should, my chest felt heavy and I couldn’t get a deep breath. My legs were toast. I finally made it to the top and realized that the ridgeline was barely a trail and was so hard to walk, let alone run! There was never a flat spot to place your foot so every step was done on an angle. The negative thoughts began to seep into my mind. NEVER have I let this happen to this degree, but they just swarmed in….”I am not good on this type of course, I should have never signed up, I should be home with my kids since it is Mother’s Day weekend, my body cannot tolerate another 58 miles of this course, I am mentally drained, I am already tired and I was not rested before the start, I hope that Joe doesn’t wait for me because I am dropping!” I had never felt this mentally defeated. My body has suffered worse, but my mind was not tolerating this course. I was never able to let my mind rest. The course requires constant concentration to navigate the rocks. If you lose concentration, you could fall and get hurt really bad. In fact, it was in this section that I lost my balance on a steep cliff area and nearly fell in a dangerous spot. I wanted to cry, but didn’t want anyone to see me so defeated at such an early stage of the race. I sent Jason a text that simply said “Dropping”. I knew that he would be shocked, but I wanted him to know that I was serious and not to get ready to run with me at mile 52. He could just start packing up the car and we could go home and sleep. Finally, the trail started to head downhill toward the aid station (no crew access). It was bittersweet as the trail was more like a ravine with horrible footing and jagged rocks. My forefoot was already tender and possibly blistered and the downhill was not a relief. I made it to the aid station and had told a few fellow runners that I thought that I may drop, but didn’t do it officially. One runner was very encouraging and told me to think of four reasons NOT to drop. I didn’t care at the point. I had 10 reasons to drop, but I guess I was not ready to make it official. I was able to eat a few strawberries and headed out on a short road section where I would see Jason and our crew. Thank goodness that Joe didn’t wait and he was already on his way to the crew.
So, Jason (my husband) would be pacing me and Joe had Shauna (his wife), and friends Mary Beth and Todd who would all be pacing at various stages. Matt was the designated driver and crew chief to hold it all together. Jason headed out about a mile on the dirt road to see where I was and try to find me. Cell reception is horrible and often non-existent, so Jason had no idea if I had dropped or my condition. He met me and could see that I was struggling and felt defeated. He told me that several very strong runners were really struggling and somehow that helped me to realize that It just wasn’t just me who was having a rough time on this tremendously tough course. I sat down and tended to my hot spot, changed socks, switched to my camelbak, ate a little, and listened to the encouragement from our wonderful friends and Jason, and started walking out ready to start the next climb. I was still very unsure if I would be continuing past the next aid station.
Jason and I climbed well and reached the top with less effort than my previous climb. Jason called my best friend, Tina, to let her know our status, and we were able to actually run some and make some progress. I even started to feel hungry. A whip-poor-will seemed to follow us for miles, exhorting us to press on with his beautiful call. We pulled into Camp Roosevelt, and I had a smile and an appetite. Quesadillas sounded good. Ok, so my spirits were up. I was not going to finish with a great time, but I thought that now “I can do this!”
Every section after this point was just very rough. I don’t remember details as many runners do, but I remember thinking that there had to be an easy section and it just never came. There were 2 short road sections that I ran hard just because I could I finally run. I remember that each mile toward the aid stations seemed longer and longer. I remember Kern’s mountain at night being so difficult to walk and thinking how in world would someone run this??? I remember the millipedes at night and yelling several times when I touched one while grabbing a rock or tree for assistance while climbing. I remember Jason stopping to ask a woman in the ditch on the side of the road if she was OK, and she said that she was just trying to take a nap! One of my goals was to crest Bird Knob before sunrise, and I did, enjoying the beautiful view in the pre-dawn light. My crew was there at every opportunity, helping me, feeding me, and urging us on, their support was incredible!
The last ten miles were really tough. I could feel that the skin had separated on the bottom of my feet and every step was painful. The downhills and rocks were very tough on them. I was wincing at times and still held back the tears. We finally made it to the last aid station with only 7 miles to go. Of course this had to start with a 2 mile mega climb until we got to the pie plate to signify that we were headed down! Finally a downhill…… well, poop!!! This was a 2 mile rock garden where every step was a struggle due to inactive quads and wounded feet.
Once we hit the road, I ran. I ran the entire road! I am a better runner than hiker and I just kept on running! I hit the field to the cheers of my friends and earlier finishers. Kari was so emotional and crying when I finished! She knew how hard it had been and every one of the finishers of this race share the difficulty and struggle that it takes to complete the course. Joe had already finished and had bandaged his feet. Our crew was there waiting and I know that they were so tired and ready to go home, but they didn’t. They waited like only wonderful friends would do.
Jason was there for me for 52 miles. That is a lot to ask of a pacer! He kept me going as only he could do! That was our “quality” time! Thank you, Jason! Love you!
It was Mother’s Day, but there was no signal at base camp so we had to wait until we got on the road to call home. I hobbled in the shower and went to the awards where we received our buckles and Rande and Kari received their special awards…Rande for going under 24 hours(not human) and Kari for 5 (now 6) time finisher!
I really can’t believe this course and after being out there, I will forever say MMT with a different tone. I am not mad at the course. I am humbled by it and have a new respect for those who attempt it.
Jason and I have talked about this race almost constantly for the last week. As a pacer, he describes the experience as spiritual and I have to agree! Something out in the Massanutten Mountains seems to get into your soul and changes you…..I guess that answers my question to Kari and Rande immediately after the race “Why in the world do you do this year after your year?” And, I may have called them “crazy” a few times, too!
So, to my encourager at the Indian Grave Aid Station….my four reasons to stay in the race: 1) To be a strong role model for my three daughters, 2) To celebrate the hours of training spent with Jason and all of my great friends, 3) To push my body farther than I think it can go ( I guess I did sign up for this!), and 4) To forever know what brings runners to the Massanutten Mountains and have the experience engraved in your soul. In all seriousness, I just dig the belt buckle!!!!