Saving the Best for Last- Devil Dog 100k

Since it's been almost two weeks since I ran my first 100k, I thought it might be time to try and make sense of all the thoughts in my head and write them down. At the beginning of 2018, I set a crazy goal of completing Devil Dog 100k after pacing a good friend at the 2017 event. It was pretty overwhelming and a lot SCARY to set such a goal after having only completed one 50k in 2017. I knew it was going to be a lot of work and that it would not be easy.

In the first half of the year, I focused a lot on keeping my body strong and healthy with some cross training workouts that helped tremendously. I felt so strong and capable. In September, you might remember that I completed 45 miles at the 12 Hour Labor Pain race and felt pretty incredible about that.

I faced a lot of life changes between that race and Devil Dog and was honestly feeling extra anxious about it in the weeks leading prior. My schedule kept me from a few longer runs so I just hoped that all my other training would make up for the missed miles. Even lining up at the start, I was questioning myself and whether I could really complete the distance. To make matters even more interesting, I was starting out in shoes that I had never worn before. Thursday before the race, I went out for a few trail miles and my legs and feet felt like trash after I was done. Logically, I decided to go buy brand new shoes before I left Friday afternoon.

Before everyone gets all bent out of shape, let me explain. They were just a different model of the Altra Lone Peaks I have been running in the past few years so I wasn't too worried. I have never had any major issues with their shoes straight out of the box and hoped this pair would give me the same experience. The outcome? Best. Decision. EVER. I ran 43-ish miles in those suckers and didn't regret a minute. They felt amazing!

Aren't they gorgeous?

Back to the race. My partner in crime, Bekah, and I headed down to the VA Friday afternoon. We wanted to get in town early, pick up our race packets and goodies, eat dinner and get settled into our hotel at a decent hour. The race started at 6am Saturday and our shuttle ride to the start was at 5:15 am and we knew we wanted to try to get as much rest as possible.

Dinner of champs- don't worry there was also PASTA!!

Unfortunately, Bekah wasn't able to run this year as planned, but it was so awesome to have her a few other friends there to crew and cheer me on at the allowed aid stations. If you have never been to or run an ultra, having a crew isn't always necessary but really helps your morale. They are there to help you get snacks, change your clothes (get mooned by accident), and fill up your camelbak with water. Yes, these are all things I could do myself, but when you are lots of miles in and tired as hell, it sure is great not to have to find stuff yourself.

(kinda) ready to go.

A few key facts about the set up of the race before I get to the (hopefully) good stuff. The 100k race consisted of 3 loops; the first was the longest at about 22.75 miles, and the second two were about 20 miles each. There were three main aid stations, two where crew members could hang out and wait for their runners. The first was at the start/finish area and is called Camp Remi, the second was call Camp Gunny (crew was not allowed here), and Camp Toofy. Fun fact: arriving at Camp Toofy was always bittersweet. It meant we were about 7 miles out from returning to Remi, but it was also the most challenging section. More on that later.

As I mentioned earlier, I was all kinds of anxious lining up at the start. There were so many things that could go wrong in 62.1 miles and I was just hoping none of them would.  Before I knew it, the race started and we were off and running. Not far into the race, a man started talking to me. Little did I know how much of the day I would spend with him and how we would motivate each other. He introduced himself as Dave and told me he was from Wyoming but was currently stationed in Princeton, NJ with the Navy. It also turned out that he was really great friends with the race director! I know I have said this before, but these conversations are really what I love about ultra running and trail runs in general. There's nothing like meeting people from all over and getting to connect with them, even if just for 5 minutes.

(photo credit to Miriam)

Since we started in the dark, we got to see cool sights such as the long line of runners lit up with headlamps and the not so gradual lighting up of the sky at dawn. Before I knew it, we were over half way into the first and longest loop. I was happy to be at this point because it meant my body was finally "warmed up" and I felt like I could run forever.

I separated from Dave at one of the aid stations, but later rejoined him and another woman, Miriam, somewhere in the the last 6-7 miles of the first loop. Miriam was from New York and she was really the leader of our new found little crew. She kept pushing us onward no matter what and at one point, completely disappeared out of view. Dave and I laughed at the irony because we had all just been talking about changing clothes at the end of the loop and Miriam was currently dressed in all black, like a ninja. We had decided she was way more bad-ass than a ninja, but she sure vanished like one.

(another taken by Miriam, I had planned to take pics loop 2 and forgot my phone!)

At the conclusion of loop 1, we all took some time to change into slightly cooler clothes since we expected it to get into the 50's and we were already getting warm. As I ran into Camp Remi, I was surprised to see my pacer for the third loop, Jerry, already hanging out with Bekah at the aid station. Bekah helped me (not so) gracefully change my clothes and get ready to head back out to the course.

Funny enough I don't really remember much about running, but more about the people I talked to while doing so. I talked to a woman who had run multiple 100ks and this was (I think) her second 100 miler of the year. SAY WHAT?! She was amazing. I spoke with one guy around my age who actually grew up around the Harrisburg area and relocated to VA a few years ago. We didn't get too far into our conversation before he was telling me he was going to fall back and that he didn't want to hold me back. As trail luck would have it, our paces evened out to be about the same and we ended up running near each other quite a bit.

(photo cred to the awesome volunteer who took pics!)

Before I reached Camp Toofy where my crew could be, I heard a familiar voice. My buddy Rick! Of course he was entertaining and offered me a brownie and beer, I told him I would wait until I got to the aid station. By the time he made it back to the aid station, he told me he ate all the brownies. Lucky for him, I didn't get too upset because there were all kinds of goodies at the aid station (and more friends!!)

selfie cred to Bekah and Rick wins the most awkward pose award

This might win the most awkward picture of all time award though...

After this little pit stop, I knew it was just 6ish miles until I made it back to the main aid station and Jerry would finish out the last 20 miles in the dark with me. Needless to say, that 6 was more like 7 but with Dave and Miriam on my team, we made it and before dark!! Dave kept saying all day that this was his goal and we were all super pumped when we realized it was going to happen. 20 miles in the dark would be plenty for all of us!

My best cheerleader!

Time for another wardrobe change- it was getting much colder now that the sun was setting and we knew it would just get COLDER!! I also changed socks and shoes at this point because it felt like the right thing to do. I think I had some soup broth, chips and who knows what else at this point. I had been drinking Tailwind all day, but since it was cooler I probably wasn't drinking enough to keep from needing other nutrition. Luckily, there were plenty of goodies on the course that I was set. I did also keep a honey stinger waffle and a pack of gummies with me on each loop in case I needed anything between aid stations. Turns out, this was a pretty solid plan. 

The third loop was the hardest for many reasons. The biggest being that it was FREAKING DARK. Like really dark. But the MOON was amazing. I wish I would have taken a picture. It wasn't full, but it sure was big and so bright out in the middle of the woods. The last 20 miles took an eternity and Jerry, my pacer, was such a great sport. Because it was so dark, there were lots of sections I was actually afraid to run for fear of falling and getting really hurt.  Jerry just kept encouraging me and telling me stories to pass the time.  Looking back, I wish I had sucked it up and run more of those sections, but not use worrying about it right? It got really REALLY cold and it became apparent that I definitely could have had another layer on my arms and probably gloves would have been a great. But I didn't have either of these things so I made the best of it.

When I thought we would never get to Camp Toofy that last time, we finally made it! I am pretty sure there were some swear words said and my legs spontaneously took off as fast they could at 55-ish miles. They should make a shirt that says "I am sorry for what I said after mile 50" like those marathon shirts. Let's work on that, ok? 

Needless to say, I not only made it to Camp Toofy, but I made the rest of the way back to Camp Remi with the help of some conversations along the way. Jerry and I talked to a pretty young guy running the 100 miler and at least a few others doing the same. We talked about shoes, what other races/distances we'd run, and where we were from. As simple as that sounds, it helped pass the time and got us all to the end of the loop. 

Before you get to the sign seen in the picture above, you pop out of the woods into a small grassy area followed by a long gravel hill. Prior to seeing that grassy spot, I was just dragging myself along step by step. As soon as I saw that the finish was so close, I took off as fast as I could at 62+ miles.  I was so happy and sad to be finished all at once. I don't think my body would have allowed any more miles that day, but it felt so amazing to have made it SO many dang miles. It was so amazing to have set a seemingly insane goal at the beginning of the year and that even after so many obstacles getting in my way, I stuck with it and achieved the hell out of it. 

Refreshments and my finisher's "medal."

If you're still reading after all that, I have just one more thing to say. At the start of this race the path was rocky and filled with roots, the middle section was pretty smooth sailing with great sections of run-able trail, and the last section after Camp Toofy was filled with rocks you literally had to climb over. Early on I couldn't help but think how much life is just like that trail. Life is also made up of relatively smooth times but there are others we have to navigate more cautiously.  We also have to face those bigger obstacles that are exhausting and make you question if you will ever make it back to the simple, smooth section again. In both situations, it is helpful to remember to put one foot in front of the other and just keep on pushing through. Sometimes we struggle alone and sometimes you are given the right people at the right times to keep you going. 


I guess all of that is to say...It's been one heck of a year, but with the help of my amazing friends and family, I made it to the start and finish of this race. I am so grateful for every step, every mile, every scoop of tailwind, every dill pickle, every tear, every fear, every disappointment, every little thing that got me to accomplish my goal.  Thank you to everyone that helped me get here. A special big thanks to Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg for my training plan and keeping me on track all year!! 

There are so many more things I could say that I probably missed, but I will save you the details. Will I run another 100k race? Probably. Will a run this one again? Probably! They really do a great job with aid stations, instructions and clear cut off times. As much pain as I was in at the end, about 24 hours later I was thinking "what's next?" (like a crazy person).

Until next time....


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