Safely Through

Cry Me a River 100 Mile Race, July 8-9, 2022

There was one thing I really, REALLY hoped would not happen during Cry Me a River. One thing I was afraid to face during this particular race: heavy rain. Rain always creates issues to deal with at 100-mile races, namely chaffing and wet feet problems, but at this race it appeared rain could cause a more insidious risk.

Online race reports online for Cry Me a River are sparse, which is understandable since it is a small race. Most of the race reports I unearthed talked about rain—pouring rain that caused slick downhills and scary creek crossings. Dread skittered up my spine and exploded in a flash of fear as I read one lady’s account of trying to make her way across a raging flooded creek. I prayed, “Please God, don’t make me face that.”

The weather forecast for race days (Friday and Saturday) looked decent when I checked ten days before the race—not as hot as it had been lately and only a small chance of some passing rain showers. The closer we got to the race, however, the lower the forecasted temperatures dropped and the larger the chances of rain grew.

By the time we arrived in Peoria on Thursday evening, it looked like a pretty sure bet that there would be some rain overnight, as well as during the morning and early afternoon hours on Friday, but it didn’t look like anything heavy.

Driving into Camp Wokanda

It was still daylight when we arrived, so after stopping by our Airbnb bungalow in Peoria Heights, we drove north to scout the race course. First, we drove to the starting area. Seeing course marking ribbons fluttering from bushes and tree branches as we drove into Camp Wokanda made the butterflies in my stomach flutter. I took a peek at the trail and then we drove south to Detweiller Park to find the turnaround at the far end of the course. I hiked a few tenths of a mile down the trail there, too.

Don felt more secure knowing where to drive to meet me at the two crew-accessible aid stations and it always makes me feel better to check out the area as well. Our Airbnb was about 18 minutes from the race start at Wokanda and only 12 minutes from the turnaround at Detweiller.

Back at our bungalow, I did some stretching and foam rolling, used the NormaTech compression boots, and tried to relax. Pre-race anxiety is real for me. I’ve come to accept it as normal to some degree. It means I care about the race. A lot. I work hard to frame my thoughts in a way that lightens the load of anxiety, but sometimes it still clings to me like a suffocating mantle that grows heavier day by day as the race approaches. The more difficult the race, the weightier the mantle. Even though this was my tenth 100-mile start, the anxiety was still with me.

The tenth time. Nine times I had run through the day, through the night, and into the next day, sometimes crossing the finish line . . . and sometimes not. I thought back through the list: Black Hills, my first 100 (finished the course, but way over cutoff); Black Hills a second time (successful finish); Superior (successful finish); Zion (DNF for missing a cutoff at mile 79 due to injury); Mines of Spain (DNF for missing a cutoff about mile 80 due to injury); Chattanooga (long course—missed a time cutoff about mile 80); Mines of Spain again (DNF for missing a cutoff at mile 85 due to injury); Outlaw (successful finish!); Mines of Spain (success again!); and now Cry Me a River. What would this race bring?

This would be my first 100-mile race where none of our three adult ultrarunning children would be present to help crew and pace. In spite of having my usual pages of instructions in hand, including a detailed crew sheet for each aid station stop where he would meet me, Don was still worried he would miss something important and mess up my race. I knew he would do fine.

Sample crew sheet

It was killing our daughter Elizabeth not to be able to be there for this race. It would be my first 100 without her presence. She has been my cohort in so many running adventures, both at races and of our own making. However, recent life changes plus starting a new job made it impossible for her to come. Or so we thought.

Unbeknownst to us, Elizabeth was scheming a way to get to Cry Me a River. She had to work Friday until 7:00 p.m., but decided to leave after she got off work and drive through the night to arrive in the wee hours of the morning Saturday. She would miss the first part of my race, but still make it for the last 20 hours or so.

When she called me Thursday night and told me this plan, I was extremely concerned about the driving through the night part. It would be fine, she explained. Since both of her sons (the oldest of whom is 17) as well as her boyfriend wanted to come along, they would have three drivers, she explained. They could take turns driving and sleeping. I was still concerned, but also happy to have them coming.

When it was time to crawl into bed, I drifted off to sleep fairly quickly and slept well until around 5:00 a.m. Since the start of the race was not until noon, I lay in bed and rested until abut 8:00 a.m. before getting up to begin the day’s preparations. A quick look out the front door revealed it was drizzling and it appeared we had received some rain overnight. The forecast said the rain should move out by around 3:00 that afternoon and the rest of the race weather looked dry and less humid.

My husband Don and I teamed up to prep my race fuel. Don began filling my soft flasks with slurry mix—four Liquid Shots, one serving of EFS powder, and water to fill the flask. Shake well. Top off with more water if needed. It’s tedious and sticky work, since the Liquid Shot now comes in single serve gel packs and each one must be cut open and squeezed into the flask.

I got busy cutting my solid fuel into serving-size chunks of 4 to 6.5 grams of carbs each. I planned to eat a chunk of solid food every 15 minutes along with my slurry.

I was excited to try out the latest refinement of my fueling plan—counting carbs instead of calories. At my last few 100s, I had consumed from 250 upward to even 300 calories per hour, but late in the race, I still struggled with my usual under-fueling symptoms of nausea and excessively tired legs. How do I know these symptoms were from low fuel? It’s simple. They magically go away when I eat more food (which is not as easy as it sounds after 75 or 80 miles). You can read just about any of my race blog posts for examples of miraculous food-based recoveries. I joke that the answer to every issue I have during a 100 is to eat more food. But why in the world wasn’t 300 calories an hour enough?

Calories can come from protein and fats as well as carbs, yet carbs are the most readily available fuel for our bodies while running. Perhaps I had been taking in plenty of calories, but not enough carbs.

I stumbled across the idea of counting carbs instead of calories from following dietitian Julie Shobe on Instagram. (I recommend her information. Find Julie on Instagram @ultra.runner.nutrition.) I was hoping that taking in 60 or more grams of carbs per hour, as recommended by Julie, would keep me from slipping into a deficit. About 46-47 grams of carbs each hour would come from my slurry and the rest from my pre-cut chunks of solid foods—various cookies, toaster pastries, and peanut butter cracker sandwiches . . . and mashed potatoes.

I love eating mashed potatoes during 100s. They are the perfect savory to my slurry’s sweet. And they don’t require chewing! The trouble with mashed potatoes is that if they are not kept hot enough (or cold enough), they will grow dastardly bacteria which can cause GI issues of a different sort. If you are brave, ask me how I know this. Like many other perishable foods, mashed potatoes can be kept at room temperature for two hours, but after that—eating them is risky!

Originally, I did not plan to consume mashed potatoes at this 100. Besides the problem of keeping them safe to eat, my husband was already stressed about crewing this race solo. I was not going to ask him to fire up the little propane burner and boil water to make me instant mashed potatoes. Then about a week before the race, I made an exciting discovery. Did you know you do not have to have hot water to make instant mashed potatoes? I discovered that you can simple pour the measured potato flakes into a Ziploc bag, add the measured (cold) water, zip the bag shut and mush it around a bit and—voila! Mashed potatoes! No cooking required!

Mashed potatoes were suddenly back on the 100-mile menu. Don would make them the non-cooking way and keep them on ice in the cooler until I needed them. Keeping them in the safe temperature zone cold would be much easier than keeping them in the safe temperature zone hot. I wasn’t sure if I would like eating cold mashed potatoes, but I was game to try it.

I made final preparations as the time to leave for the race start neared. I dressed in my chosen race gear, lubed spots I knew tended to chafe, and applied Rock Tape to both IT bands. Then Don assisted me in taping the points of my shoulders and across my low back at the points that tend to get raw from the pressure and rubbing of my pack. I applied Vaseline to my feet. I don’t like applying a petroleum-based product to my skin and only use Vaseline when I am pretty sure my feet will be wet for a prolonged period of time. It looked like today might be one of those days.

I decided to start in my new Lone Peak 5.0 shoes. It was taking a bit of a risk, but I told Don to be sure to have my Superior 3.0s available for a quick swap in case the Lone Peaks gave me any trouble. Soon it was time to load up the van and head out. I braided my hair as we drove to Camp Wokanda.

At the race start, I checked in and picked up my packet (bib number 7). It was interesting that the timing chips were not in the bibs for this race, but in ankle bracelets we were given to wear. At least that meant I could fold my bib up nice and small before pinning it to my shorts.

Ready to start

Two more women signed up that morning, so there were five of us female runners. I’m not sure if all 9 men who had entered showed up and ran, but I it appeared there were 12-14 of us starting the 100. (Other race distances offered were 100K, 50K and half marathon.) We had a brief pre-race meeting at 11:45 a.m. The race directors were super friendly and helpful.

By this point, I just wanted to get started! I know once the race begins, I will relax and begin to enjoy myself. Noon arrived and we were off. The Cry Me a River course is a 2-ish mile loop of Camp Wokanda and then an out-and-back to Detweiller, all completed five times. At start time, the temperature was a cooler 77 degrees, but the humidity was a whopping 97% and there was not much of a breeze. The drizzle had let up.

Off we go . . . at the back of the pack.

We trotted up a pea-graveled park maintenance road and cut onto the single track trail for a steep climb. Before I even got to the top of that first hill, all the other runners had left me behind and were out of sight. I reminded myself sternly that this was okay. I know by now that starting out extra easy pays off in the end and that I need to run my own race. The first descent was steep with some wet slippery areas. It had me second guessing if I should have grabbed my poles. The rest of the loop held some rolling runnable sections, as well as a sustained staircase climb and a long unevenly terraced descent.

I breezed through the start/finish area without stopping and headed for Detweiller. Not far from Wokanda, we ran through a section of tall trees growing on the hillsides with strange narrow tubes crisscrossing overhead and all around. It looked like a giant science experiment. I had caught up with one of the guys and asked him if he had any idea what those tubes were. He didn’t.

Soon we hit a long steep climb. These hills were definitely bigger than anything we had back home. At the top, we were treated to a flat section of wide pea gravel/dirt trail along the top of the ridge. I caught and passed a few runners—which was handy when I took a wrong turn at the end of the ridge trail and they hollered me down. I had begun to suspect I was off course, but it was nice to have them looking out for me.

About 2 miles from Wokanda, after another of the long staircase climbs, I popped out into the clearing of Robinson Park. The course markings led me across the grass then down a cracked, uneven blacktop path and through a parking area before we crossed the road. There were several road crossings on the course, but we were warned to be extra careful of this one because of higher traffic speeds. Robinson’s was a quasi-aid station. Sometimes there were volunteers there and sometimes not. This first time through, there were a few folks handing out candy. I smiled and declined.

Robinson Park

Plunging back into the woods after crossing the road, I began to see the real beauty of this area. The online photos had not captured the grandeur of the terrain (and these photos in my blog don’t either)! The ridges dropped abruptly down, down, down into deep ravines, most of which sported a creek. Fortunately, there were bridges over all the creek crossings except two. The trees towered into the sky—they were so tall! —and the forest floor was open and free from the brush that encumbers our woods at home.

I tried to decide where this terrain reminded me of. Arkansas? But it was not rocky like Arkansas. The trails were decidedly not technical. There were a few scattered smooth stones here and there, but nothing you had to dance over or around. In many places the soil was sandy. When Elizabeth joined me on the trail the next day, she said the terrain reminded her of Frozen Head in Tennessee, where the infamous Barkley Marathons is run. I had to agree. We decided that if you traversed off-trail here you could have Barkley-esque terrain.

I was sweating profusely because of the thick humidity and drinking a ton of water. I topped off my bottles at every opportunity. (I feel like I hydrated well through the entire race.) I had started with regular EFS in my slurry because of the cooler temperatures, but began to wonder if I should have started with EFS Pro for more electrolytes. I was carrying SaltStick capsules, so I could add more electrolytes if I felt I needed them. I go by Jason Koop’s recommendations for 354-472 mg of sodium per each of my 20-oz water bottles.

Up and down and up and down. So many big, big hills! Many of the downhills were too steep for me to really run. I sort of hiked-shuffled-skipped down them. Most of them were terraced with boards to prevent erosion—so many boards to step over. There were also more long flights of wooden stairs. My Lone Peak shoes seemed to be performing well. I didn’t feel any hot spots on my feet.

I began to hear highway noise and after another climb, I reached the metal culvert tunnel taking us under Highway 6. It was long enough to almost make me reach for my flashlight in the darkness midway through. Not long after that I shuffled down a lengthy graveled slope, uneven from erosion. After a sharp right turn onto more single track, I found myself facing the creek crossing described in the appalling race report. Short concrete pillars had been poured to form stepping stones across the creek. The water looked shallow and unassuming as I easily hopped from pillar to pillar and onto the opposite bank.

The long eroded gravel hill, much steeper of course than it appears

A few miles later, I hit another thickly graveled road section (these were definitely my least favorite parts) which lead to a pea gravel-dirt road which in turn led to a small park shelter housing Green Valley aid station. The smiling volunteer filled my water bottles as I perused the food offerings. With my finicky stomach, I rarely eat from aid stations. The fruit always looks appealing—especially watermelon! — but I seem to have a problem digesting fructose while running ultras so I resist the temptation. The bag of Chex mix looked appealing and I had the volunteer pour some into one of the Ziploc bags I was carrying. The crunchy salty cereal bits tasted amazing and I gobbled them down as I hiked on. From here it was about three miles to Detweiller.

I was fueling consistently on schedule. Every 15 minutes the nutrition alert on my Coros watch vibrated and beeped which freed me from monitoring the time of day so closely. (I fuel at the top of the hour, 15 minutes after, 30 minutes after, and 15 minutes before the next hour.) Every 15 minutes I took a swallow of my slurry (judging how much from the marks on my soft flask) and ate a pre-cut piece of solid food. Still, even before I reached Detweiller at mile 11, my stomach felt off. Not nauseous, but just a bit yucky. Ugh. What was the problem? Did the appeal of the salty Chex mix mean I needed more sodium? I was unsure.

The trail dumped me into a parking lot area at Detweiller, and the ribbon course markings lead me along the road and across a broad grassy meadow before turning back into the woods. (I was hoping the bug spray on my shoes was repelling any chiggers. Did they have chiggers here? I happen to be a chigger magnet.)

Across the meadow

Before long, I recognized the bit of trail I had previewed last night. Across a newly constructed wooden bridge and out onto the road for perhaps 150 feet, then back into the grass to cross the timing mat. I was glad to see my husband ready and waiting for me at our blue van. I arrived at the turnaround at 3:10 and spent about 8 minutes restocking fuel and refilling water before starting the journey back to Wokanda. I picked up a Ziploc bag of cold mashed potatoes.

When my husband had been doing some final shopping before we left for the race, I had asked him to pick up some Tums. Knowing my dislike of additives and artificial coloring, he chose Rolaids since they had a “cleaner” ingredient list. When I compared the two products, I discovered that Tums is just calcium, while Rolaids is calcium plus some magnesium. Did it matter? Should I even try them during the race at all since I had never used either before? I know, I know. Nothing new on race day. But the threat of stomach problems can make me reckless and desperate, and I had decided to carry three tablets with me. I took one not long after leaving Detweiller. In a few minutes, my stomach felt magically better. Completely fine, in fact. Maybe this was another great tool to add to my arsenal.

Since the start of the race, we had only received a few sprinkles, and now that it was past 3:00 p.m. I assumed the major risk of rain had passed. I wasn’t too concerned when a few more sprinkles moved in shortly after I had left the Green Valley aid station inbound, but these were more persistent and gradually increased to a steady shower—and then a downpour. It didn’t take long for the trail to become a miniature river. My footing still felt sure and I splashed blithely along feeling rather like a kid playing in the puddles. It even seemed less humid and easier to breathe after the rain began.

All was well until I splashed down a big hill and came face-to-face with the one thing I had feared happening during the race—the one thing I had asked God not to make me face. Here was the monster of the online race report come to life. The creek had flash flooded. A crazy amount of rushing brown water totally obscured the submerged concrete pillar stepping stones. How in the world could I ever get across this?

I stood in the rain and pondered my options. No other runners were in sight. It was several miles back to the Green Valley aid station. Retracing my steps was the last thing I wanted to do. Okay, not the last thing. The last thing I wanted to do was drown. The water was flowing at an amazing velocity, but it did not appear to be extremely deep. Could I get across safely? Should I try? I prayed for wisdom.

How had the lady in the race report gotten across? I tried to remember. Did she use poles? Maybe I could find a big sturdy stick—the kind folks used to hike with. I hunted along the trail and came up with one that seemed passable. Studying the turbulence in the current, I could guess the general location of the submerged pillars. I reached out and poked the stick through the water. It hit something solid. The first pillar.

Tentatively, I reached out one foot and stepped onto the pillar, trying to balance myself with the stick. As soon as my foot touched the concrete, the current immediately knocked it sideways off the pillar. I pulled back. The current was too strong. I was not going to be able to walk across via the submerged pillar stepping stones.

I looked up and downstream. Was there a better place to try to cross? It appeared not. What should I do? I stood in the rain and thought and prayed some more. What if I didn’t try to step on the pillars but simply waded in? How deep was it? Tentatively, I shuffled into the water at the edge of the creek, entering upstream of the concrete pillars.

The water pushed me against the first pillar. I reached down into the water and grabbed a hold of it. The water was shin high. I reached for the next pillar and found it. Easing my way toward it, the water rose to my knees. The current was forceful, but the pillars provided points of unmoving stability. I carefully made my way to the third pillar. The water came to the top of my knees, but no deeper. Slowly and deliberately, I made my way from pillar to pillar until the water was only ankle deep. I stood and scrambled up the bank. I had made it! Thank you, Lord! I was so relieved to be across!

Later I was told that the first place man was swept downstream attempting to ford the flooded creek. He reached the creek after I had crossed. He was outbound on his second loop, while I was inbound on my first. Maybe the water had gotten deeper. Also, I think he just waded in and did not use the concrete pillars for stability. Fortunately, he was able to climb out downstream unharmed.

As I moved onward, concern filled my mind about the second creek crossing. I couldn’t remember quite where it was, but knew it was closer to Wokanda. A few minutes later as I trudged up the graveled hill in the continuing rain, a new threat developed. I heard a rumble, then another. Thunder.

I have always had a respect for lightning, but after an unspeakably tragic day when a runner was struck and killed during a race I was also running, the reality of the dangerous and fickle nature of lightning was forever seared into my mind.

The rumbling increased and soon the dimness was lit with flashes of lightning. I began to pray fervently for the safety of all of us out in this storm as I ran down the trail. There seemed to be no strikes nearby, but I knew that could change in an instant. I considered my options, which were few. The culvert tunnel was coming up. Maybe I should shelter there until the lightning passed. Wait—a metal tube on top of a ridge. That didn’t sound like a good idea! I decided to just keep running and praying.

The rain finally let up when I was perhaps 3 miles from Wokanda. I had not encountered the second creek crossing yet and that was just fine with me. As I got closer to the aid station, I tried to make some decisions before I arrived. Should I take time to change socks or wait until the trail dried out? My feet felt so squishy and uncomfortable that I decided I would definitely change socks.

I hit the pea gravel/dirt road and knew I must be near. But what was this? A limb was halfway across the road with flagging tied to it. The flagging seemed to indicate that I should turn onto some single track trail. “I don’t remember this,” I thought, but followed the flagging. As I trudged up the long climb, I searched my memory for how this section of trail came into the aid station. I followed the flagging, turning left and climbing some more, then turned right and descended sharply. Wait! I remembered this descent. It was the first downhill on the Wokanda loop. I should not be on the loop when I had not yet come through the aid station start/finish area.

Feeling slightly frustrated over the wasted time and effort, I turned around and ran back down the hill to the service road. Taking the road straight ahead soon dumped me into the start/finish area. “Don’t cross the timing mat,” someone told me. “You will cross it when you leave to go on the loop.”

The reason for my confusion was because they had rerouted the course to avoid the second creek crossing, which was also flash flooded. I was thankful I didn’t have to cross another raging creek! I was also thankful to hear they had put up a rope at the creek I had previously crossed.

Don was waiting for me at the aid station. It was 6:51 p.m. when I came arrived. I’m sure I looked like a drowned rat. I was soaked through and through. I told him I needed to change my socks, and when I took off my shoes, it became evident that I needed to change shoes too. Crossing the flooded creek had left my Lone Peak shoes full of sand. Don wiped down my feet and put some hand sanitizer on the bottoms to extract moisture from the skin. After letting that sit for a couple of minutes, he wiped my feet down again, and I put on the dry socks and shoes (which felt wonderful!).

I debated over whether to take time to change out of my wet clothing. Don encouraged me to put on dry clothes since nighttime cooler weather was imminent. There was a roomy bathroom at Wokanda, so it was the ideal place to change. Taking off the wet clothes was not difficult, but trying to put on the dry clothes with sticky wet skin was problematic. I got my dry sports bra partway on and got stuck. I could not get it down in the back. I thought I was going to have to go to the bathroom door and yell for help, but with great effort I finally got it situated.

All of this took way too much time, and I began to fret about lingering in the aid station so long. Nevertheless, I felt so much more comfortable and even lighter once rid of all the wet clothing.

Don told me that the race had officially been put on hold for 35 minutes during the thunderstorm. The race directors were giving everyone an extra 35 minutes to finish. The new finish line cut off was 12:35 a.m.

After picking up a flashlight (put in an accessible pocket), my headlamp (put in the back of my vest), and more food (including a baggy of mashed potatoes), I crossed the mat and started my second Wokanda loop at 7:15. Since I hoped to be nearly to Detweiller before it got dark, I opted to wait to pick up my Kogalla lighting until then.

My stomach began to feel off again—enough to cause me to try another Rolaid. The advice I had read about taking Tums during 100s said to take one every 4-5 hours, so at 7:30 p.m. I took a second tablet. This time there was no magical “all better” effect. In fact, I think it made my stomach feel worse. I wanted my stomach to feel solid, but I also recognized that it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it has been in many past 100s. So on I went.

One of the other ladies and I played hopscotch throughout the race. She was battling stomach issues too (apparently worse than mine) and that slowed her down at times. (I was glad to see she was working on getting in more calories.) I was stronger on the climbs, but she often caught me on more runnable sections, plus she usually got in and out of the aid station stops faster than I did. (Don was doing a wonderful job, but there was always a lot to attend to at each stop.)

One advantage of running a summer 100-mile race is the longer daylight hours. Sunset was not until 8:31 p.m. and it didn’t get truly dark until after 9:00. As dusk fell, an alluring glitter rose from the ground, like fairy lights scattered under the trees. The lightning bugs were out! (You may call them fireflies in your neck of the woods.) There were so many of them! I delayed turning on my flashlight as long as possible to savor their luminous performance.

With my flashlight in one hand, it was a struggle to fuel every fifteen minutes. I needed both hands to open my food packages and slurry bottles. Eating required pinning my flashlight between my arm and my body while I juggled with opening my fuel. I didn’t want to stop and remove my vest to retrieve my headlamp from the back, but as soon as I arrived at Green Valley aid station, I asked a volunteer to get it out for me and I put my flashlight away. Fueling went much smoother with both hands free. (This was also one of the main reasons I opted not to use my poles.)

I reached Detweiller at 10:10 p.m. and picked up my Kogalla light, which I wear on a FlipBelt, along with an extra battery pack. I grabbed my phone for music. After refilling with water and fuel, I was ready to head out in 10 minutes.

My stomach was still not feeling great and now the undersides of my toes were beginning to feel tender, especially on the steep downhills. I figured it was from my feet being so wet earlier during the rain. (By the way, the water level at the creek crossing was totally down to the normal shallow flow again and I crossed easily on the concrete stepping stones the rest of the race.)

Before the start of the race, I had applied Rock Tape to both IT bands, knowing this course had a serious amount of steep downhill, but the combination of high humidity, rain, sweat, and crossing the flooded creek had caused the tape to come loose at the top. Soon the ends were flapping. Finally, when only an inch or so of tape was still attached to my skin I decided it was time to rip it off and stuff it into a pocket. After an hour or two of running without the tape, I felt some IT band soreness just below my knees, especially on the left side. Fortunately, this did not escalate into anything serious.

I had one more Rolaid in my pocket. My stomach’s condition seemed to be gradually deteriorating, so when the four hours were up at 11:30 p.m. I chose to take the last tablet. I chewed it up and swallowed it with a swig of water, walked a few steps and thought, “I’m going to puke.” And I did. So much for achieving my goal of running a 100-mile race without throwing up.

My stomach felt great for a while (as it usually does after vomiting) and I picked up the pace, but too soon the stomach ick returned. It was just enough to make me feel sub-par and slow me down a bit. I got to Wokanda for the second time at 1:29 a.m. I stopped and sat down—because I just wanted to— but Don and I decided that I would pick up most of my fuel after I ran the loop, so off I went.

I returned from the loop at 2:17 and sat down again. Before the race, I had told Don that I would not stop coming in and going out of Wokanda since the loop in between was only 2 miles. However, several times I did make both stops, because it was too tempting to sit down for a few minutes when I was not feeling topnotch.

Stopping both before and after the loop this time caused some confusion over what I had already picked up and what I had not, plus it was the middle of the night and neither of our brains were operating on full power. At any rate, I managed to leave without picking up more slurry, which you recall was my main source of carbs/calories. About 15 minutes after leaving Wokanda, I pulled out a soft flask and finished the last bit of slurry in it. I reached for a new flask and found nothing. That was when I realized I was totally out of slurry with at least 8 miles to go before Detweiller. A flash of panic shot through me.

I had a couple of emergency packets of Liquid Shot in the back of my pack, but not enough for the hours between me and Detweiller. Plus I really just wanted my dependable slurry mix. Pulling out my phone, I prayed that I would have signal for the call to go through and that Don would answer. He did! When I explained the situation, he agreed to meet me at Robinson. Whew! Crisis averted.

I never needed to add another layer or jacket during the first night, as the temperature stayed mild and the air stayed humid. I did not struggle at all with running solo in the darkness. It just was. But on this leg to Detweiller, the miles began to feel long. And I wasn’t even half way done. With effort, I shoved the number of miles remaining out of my mind and simply focused on getting from one landmark to the next: Robinson, culvert tunnel, creek crossing, Green Valley aid station, then 3 miles to Detweiller.

Plus, a treat was waiting for me at Detweiller. Elizabeth would be there (with her boyfriend and my grandsons)! I knew she planned to pace me for inbound journey and her company would be very welcome.

At one point, I caught up to my running friend on one of the wooden bridges. She was stopped and leaning over the side. “Stomach still giving you trouble?” I asked.

She acknowledged that it was. “I don’t know if I’m going to make it,” she admitted.

I encouraged her to keep eating and keep moving. “You can do it,” I told her.

It felt like the night was short and dawn came quickly. The birds began to sing and the sky turned gray. It was definitely light when I hit the road and ran into Detweiller aid station. And there stood Elizabeth! I was overwhelmed by a surprising surge of emotions that manifested itself in choked sobs as I ran to her and we hugged. She has been such a big part of my100-mile journeys.

“Are you okay?” she asked me. I assured her I was fine, just glad to see her.

It was 5:40 a.m. when together we began the return trip to Wokanda. Elizabeth told me they had experienced delays on their trip to Illinois and she had been concerned they would not arrive in time to catch me at Detweiller. They had pulled in only minutes ahead of me. I was grateful the timing had worked out so well. So often Elizabeth paces me through the night at races, so it was a treat for her to experience the course in the daylight.

I dropped my Kogalla lighting, but kept my headlamp, as I thought it might still be dim in the thickly forested sections. It turned out that I didn’t need it. Let me say a good word about my BioLite 750 headlamp. I love it! It is so lightweight and comfortable compared to other headlamps I have owned, and once again, it performed like a champ with the rechargeable battery lasting the entire night.

Curiously, even though I had made it through the night alone and now the morning light was shining and Elizabeth was accompanying me, I still struggled mentally on this leg. I felt like I was wearing down and there were still so many miles to go. So many miles. I was only on my third out-and-back trip. Even after I reached Wokanda, two more trips remained. I began to envy the 100K runners who passed me. They would be finished when they reached Wokanda. Why did I do these stupid things? I should have signed up for the 100K. I was so sick of eating slurry and toaster pastries. It all just seemed so hard. At some point, this unavoidable truth always rises up to smack me in the face — 100 miles is a long, long ways.

Another mental hurdle was not obsessing about the “extra” mileage accumulating on my GPS watch (Coros Apex Pro). My usual experience is for my watch to lose mileage, especially with tree coverage and switchbacks—and Cry Me a River had plenty of both. When we arrived at Wokanda (at 8:50 a.m.) after finishing the third out-and-back, I should have been at 60 miles, but my watch read 63.54 miles. Sure, I had taken that little side trip on the wrong part of the trail when coming into Wokanda the first time, but it had only added about 0.6 mile. (I had checked the next time I ran the loop.)

“The course is not long. Your watch is just gaining mileage,” one of the race officials said. “It’s common.” I knew it wasn’t common for my watch, but I also knew I needed to let it go and just accept that my watch was going to read well over 100 miles when I finished.

A side benefit of having Elizabeth pacing me was photos! She is an accomplished photographer, and shoots some races for Mile 90 photography. (Find her on Instagram at photographyby_em.) Even though she was only snapping shots with her cell phone camera as we ran, I was happy that I would have some photos. I had especially wanted a photo of the culvert tunnel and Elizabeth took several. (As a side note, for some reason, going through the tunnel during the daytime later in the race made me dizzy.)

Don had a breakfast burrito waiting for me! I have found it is a real boost to eat something real for breakfast the second morning of a 100. Even though it didn’t sound that appealing, I took a big bite. My stomach said, “YES, send down more!”

I took another bite and gave it back to Don. “I will finish it when I come back from running the loop,” I said.

“No,” my stomach protested, “eat all of it now!”

“On second thought, “ I told Don, “I’ll take it with me.”

“Good decision,” my stomach replied.

Elizabeth’s legs still felt okay, so she went out on the loop with me. “I can do two more miles,” she assured me. In 36 minutes we were back at the start/finish.

The sun was out and the day was warming up quickly. Don only had slurry with regular EFS mixed up, so I took 6 more salt capsules in my pocket, loaded up with water and fuel, plus a charging brick and cord for my phone and headed out solo toward Detweiller. It felt like this should be the last out-and-back. Only it wasn’t.

Robinson Park. Note the water fountain in the background. Even when there were no aid station volunteers here, we could always fill our water bottles (and I did).

I thought I might listen to an audio book. I do this frequently on long training runs and it makes the time seem to pass more quickly. While this might have worked earlier in the race, at this point I simply did not have the brain power needed to follow a story line, so I just kept playing music. Music always helps. Keep moving forward and don’t think about anything except getting to the next landmark. Robinson, tunnel, creek crossing, Green Valley, Detweiller.

My legs were hurting and the downhills had become especially difficult. The sore spots on my toes had moved to the area between my big toe and second toe. It felt like . . . sand. It felt like sand rubbing between my toes. We must not have gotten all the sand rinsed off my feet when I changed shoes and socks after the flooded creek crossing.

I pulled out my phone and texted Don, telling him I would need to change socks again and re-wash my feet. I also asked him to have my ice bandana ready. I had been resisting using it because the melting water running down my body makes it almost impossible to avoid chaffing, but I was starting to feel the heat.

When I reached Detweiller for the fourth time at the supposed 71-mile mark, my watch read 75.08 miles. It was 12:30 p.m. I hated to expend the time to rinse and wipe my feet again, but I knew it was necessary with 30+ miles to go. The volunteers at the Detweiller aid station were over the top helpful. I never actually went into the aid station at the shelter house, but they never failed to come over to our van and ask if I needed anything and assist in any way possible. They took my ice bandana and heaped it full of ice, as well as bringing a cup of ice for my water bottles.

As I was arranging the extra soft flask of slurry in the accessible back pocket of my vest, somehow I caught the lid and popped it open. I immediately snapped it shut again, but the damage was done. Sticky fluid filled the back and left side pockets. We mopped it up the best we could with damp paper towels, but everything in those pockets came out sticky for the rest of the race.

After a 21-minute aid station stop (ugh!), I turned my face toward Wokanda once again. My ice bandana was so full of ice that it felt like it was choking me. Once out of sight from the aid station, I took it off and dumped much of the ice out. Ah, much better. It’s coolness of my neck felt refreshing. I got more ice in it at Green Valley.

Green Valley aid station

There’s not much else to tell about this inbound journey. It seemed to take forever. It got hot. I wanted the whole thing to be over. I was sick of eating every 15 minutes. Did I say that I wanted to be done? But I resolutely kept putting one foot in front of the other, running when I could, hiking when I could not.

I want to mention a kind young man who always stopped to speak to me every time we passed. I mean he stopped running and stood still a moment to ask me how I was doing and say a few encouraging words to me. It lifted my spirits and made me smile every time. Thank you, Daniel!

When I saw him on this leg, I asked him how he was doing. He admitted that he was suffering. This was a good reminder to me that I was not alone in my struggle. I looked at the other runners as they went by and they appeared to feel fine. I reminded myself that I could not tell by looking at them what battles they were fighting.

As I came through the area with the tall trees and strange tubing, I saw a group of young men setting up tents and arranging their camp site. “Do you have any idea what these tubes are?” I asked.

“No,” one of them answered.

Another chimed in, “I think they are for gathering sap for maple syrup.” Oh, that made sense! What an interesting set up! I made a note to myself to tell my husband to hike out and take a look at it, since he is interested in syruping.

Before I reached Wokanda again, I decided that I was not going to stop to be crewed until I completed the loop. I would just quickly refill my bottles with water and head out. I still had plenty of slurry and solid foods. The original cut off to start the last “loop” (meaning the Wokanda loop plus the out-and-back to Detweiller) had been 5:00 p.m. I knew 35 minutes had been added to all cut offs so I should have until 5:35, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I would run the loop first to assure I was ahead of cut offs.

I came into the start/finish area about 4:15 p.m. Don was no where to be seen. I asked for water at the aid station table and was surprised at the tan-ish fluid they put into my bottles. “Is that water?” I asked. They assured me it was. It was well water, but it was filtered and safe to drink, they told me. Well, okay. It tasted all right, but I couldn’t stop wondering what was actually in the water to make it that color.

Just as I was headed down the pea gravel-dirt road, Don arrived. I hollered back at him that I was doing the loop first and then I’d stop. The loop was the beginning of my last round of the course. Coming back into the start/finish area after the loop, I felt rough. My legs were hurting and feeling trashed; I was tired; I was yawning.

When I sat down the chair and yawned multiple times, the part of my brain that was still functioning started hollering, “You know what yawning means! Your low fuel light has come on. You need more food!”

Elizabeth vocalized my thoughts. “You are low on fuel.”

“I know,” I said. Could I never manage to get through a 100-mile race without slipping into this under-fueled chasm?

Something niggled in my brain. Mashed potatoes. “How many carbs are in one of the Ziploc bags of mashed potatoes?” I asked. Seeing a package of the potato flakes in the tote near me, I grabbed it and read, “20 grams of carbs for one serving.” Each Ziploc bag was one serving, so 20 grams.

I had been so concerned about not eating spoiled mashed potatoes that the only thing which had stuck in my head was “2 hours.” The mashed potatoes were safe for two hours and after that I should pitch them. Each time I picked up a bag of mashed potatoes, I had used it to supplement my slurry for two hours and then went back to using cookies, pb cracker sandwiches, and toaster pastries.

Now it clicked in my brain that 20 grams of carbs were not enough for two hours worth of supplemental fuel. I needed to consume close to 20 grams EVERY HOUR along with my slurry. And most of the time, I had not even finished the mashed potatoes in two hours, but had thrown away the bag with some still left. That meant I had only been eating a total of about 50 grams of carbs per hour the entire time I had been eating mashed potatoes as my supplemental fuel—decidedly short of my 60+ grams per hour goal. Once again, I had been under-fueling for many hours of my 100-mile race. And I felt it.

I looked at the baggie of mashed potatoes. It looked like too much to get down in one hour. “I’m done with mashed potatoes,” I announced. I ate some extra toaster pastry pieces before I got up to leave and forced down extra food the next time I fueled, too. At first the extra food seemed to just be sitting in my stomach, but this feeling soon passed and I started feeling good. Finally, for the first time since the beginning of the race, my stomach felt fine. My legs, although still tired, began to feel bounce back, too.

One more time to Detweiller. It cheered me to think I was finally, finally on my last out-and-back. When I returned to Wokanda, I would actually be done. There were, however, still a lot of miles to cover before that happy moment. Keep moving forward. Don’t think, just keep moving. Robinson, tunnel, creek crossing, Detweiller.

During the hotter daytime hours, I used EFS Pro in my slurry. It not only has more electrolytes, but also a few more calories and carbs per serving. While using the Pro, I could eat a lower carb peanut butter cracker sandwich every 15 minutes and still hit 60 grams per hour. The savory pb cracker sandwiches were a nice break from my sweeter food options (especially since I was no longer using mashed potatoes). My stomach felt great for several hours with this fueling pattern.

Then I began to feel a touch of nausea about 5 minutes before it was time to fuel. After I ate, my stomach would be fine, then the nausea would creep in just before it was time to eat again. From experience, I knew this was my cue that I needed more fuel. I switched to eating a piece of toaster pastry with my slurry at each fueling point. At 6.5 grams of carbs per pre-cut piece, they were my highest carb solid fuel.

Evening slipped in again, bringing with it a welcome coolness. When I reached Green Valley, I asked about my running friend. I had not seen her for a while and was beginning to worry that she had dropped.

“Oh, she’s ahead of you,” the volunteer told me. “She left the last aid station before you did.” And then he added a bit tactlessly, “You are the last one.”

Ouch. Okay, shrug that one off and keep moving. “It doesn’t matter if I finish last,” I told myself, “as long as I finish before cut off.” I had already come to grips with the distinct possibility of finishing last when I had looked over the entrants’ list pre-race. At 62, I was the oldest 100-mile participant by 7 years and the oldest female participant by 20 years. “Last is okay,” I insisted again to myself. “Just get that belt buckle.”

The stretch after Green Valley to Detweiller always seemed so long. Each time I burst out of the forest and into the first parking lot area at Detweiller Park, my mind shouted, “You’re almost there!” But I wasn’t. I trotted up the road, across the expanse of meadow and back into the woods again. There were more hills to climb and descend, of course, and twists and turns of the trail that seemed endless. In this section was the only long stretch of trail that was mucky, wet, and slick— good old Midwestern clay. Even with the rain, the rest of the course had drained well, leaving only a few isolated muddy spots here and there.

“I think this is the last hill.” No it’s not. “Isn’t this the last bend in the trail before that flat final stretch?” No, it’s not. Finally, finally, I reached the flatter trail along a creek that I knew was near the aid station. I picked up my pace. Finally I spotted the newly constructed wooden bridge just before the road. Finally, I clattered over the bridge, up a small rise, and onto the blacktop. Finally the welcome sight and the encouraging cheers of Detweiller aid station greeted me.

One of the volunteers was waiting for me on the road and ran with me toward the aid station, whopping and hollering each step of the way. “Look at you run!” she shouted. “I can’t keep up with you! You’re doing great!”

It was about 8:30 p.m., later than I had wanted to arrive at this last turnaround. My watch read over 96 miles instead of the 91 miles slated for this point.

“I’m pacing you the last stretch,” Elizabeth told me. “My legs are up to it.” I didn’t argue. Her company was always welcome and beneficial. Once more I reloaded with fuel and water and put on my Kogalla light. Off we went into the night. Finally, the last trip inbound.

Last time through the tunnel

Elizabeth pushed me, as I knew she would, urging me to run at every flatter piece of trail. While part of me wanted the challenge, the other part of me wanted to say, “Just be quiet and leave me alone!”

Don’t think. Just move the feet. Eat. Move the feet. Eat. Move the feet. I knew cutoff was extended to 12:35 a.m. and I tried to figure the splits in my head. (I cannot do math while running, especially late in a race.) At times, I thought I was doing fine with the cutoff. At other times, I felt like I was in danger of missing it. In my heart, I really wanted to finish before the original cutoff of midnight. I wanted to know that I didn’t need the extra time to finish (even though the storm had definitely delayed me). Just press forward as fast as you can. And eat.

The way back to Wokanda still seemed long, but I felt okay. My uphill hiking was still strong. My legs actually felt better than they had at 40 miles. My IT bands felt better, my toes felt better, and my stomach was solid. (The miracle that happens when I get in enough fuel!) I was so thankful. I was happy to be homeward bound and feeling good. I was tired of putting food in my mouth, but I knew I had to stay on track with eating to keep feeling good.

Several times we caught glimpses of lights across a valley on the trail ahead. “We’re gaining on them,” Elizabeth said. I didn’t care. I didn’t think it was possible to catch up and I didn’t care. Elizabeth continued to push me and I told her repeatedly, “I’m doing the best I can.” But was I? Did I have more left than I thought?

It got cooler than it had the first night. I was still wet from sweat and from the ice bandana and felt chilled a few times. I didn’t want to pull out my jacket, so Elizabeth offered me her featherweight windbreaker. I put it on, then immediately got too hot hiking up the next hill and took it off. Going down into the valley, I got cold again and put it on. Then quickly I was too hot. Finally, I gave up and took my arms out of the jacket, leaving it dangling behind me on my pack.

The landmarks were ticking off for the last time. The creek crossing, the tunnel, then Robinson. Only two miles to go!

Hiking up a long switch-backed climb, Elizabeth, who was in the lead, suddenly said, “You can catch her. She’s right there.” Surprised, I looked up and saw my running friend not far ahead with her pacer. I was doubtful that I could pass. “I don’t care,” my mouth said, but I knew that wasn’t totally true. It soon became evident even to me that she was dragging up the hill while I was hiking strongly.

Her pacer began to verbally push her hard. He did not want us to pass. I almost did not want to pass. She had overcome so much and had run ahead of me most of the second half of the race. But I was moving faster and it was inevitable. We strategically picked our spot, and I blew by her and just kept going. I found I had a lot more left than I had imagined. I ran and it felt good. I felt strong!

We hit the flat ridge-top section of trail. I kept running. I may have had a twinge of regret before passing, but no way I wanted her to pass me back now. “Is she coming?” I asked Elizabeth, not wanting to turn around and look. “Maybe. I don’t know,” Elizabeth answered, not giving me any slack to slow down.

I told Elizabeth I was done eating, but she encouraged me to keep taking in my slurry at least. For recovery after the race, she told me. I could do that. Drinking my slurry was never hard. It was the solid bits of food that were hard to get down.

Of course, it was still a lot further to the finish than I had thought. Not another hill! I kept running where I could and hiking hard up the hills. Elizabeth said our pace was dropping into the 10-minute mile range on the flatter sections. “We’re getting really close,” she told me. “There are the maple syrup tubes.” It didn’t quite register what she was saying until I looked up and saw the tubes for myself. Almost there. Keep running.

I heard cheering as our lights became visible to the folks at the finish line. Emotions flooded my heart. Oh praise, God! I was going to finish and finish well.

We burst around the park building and into the clearing and finally, finally across the finish line. I stopped my watch. It read 105.70 miles. I was done. I had made it before midnight! My official time was 35:55:53.62. (Yep, that is 35 hours and almost 56 minutes.)

The race directors were surprised to see me. They had assumed it was the other lady coming into the finish. I smiled and accepted my buckle and . . . a hatchet? “What is this?” I asked.

“It’s one of your finisher awards,” they told me. A hatchet with “Cry Me a River Trail Runs 100-Mile Finisher!” engraved on the wooden handle. How cool is that? (My 14-year-old grandson was impressed!)
Don came running over to the finish line. “I’m so sorry I missed your finish,” he apologized. The SPOT tracker had stopped working and they did not expect me so soon.

“It’s fine,” I told him. “Totally okay.” I was just so happy to be done. So happy to be done!

My running friend came in about one minute past midnight. We congratulated each other and she commended me for my strong finish. We had both faced our struggles, pressed on, and overcome. In fact, all of the women had finished. Five women had started and five women had finished! Some men had DNFed, but not one of us women! I felt part of a band of sisters.

No finish line photos, but here’s my swag. Love that hatchet!

Postscript

After every 100-mile race, I spend time reflecting on what went right, what went wrong, and what lessons I learned. My experience at Cry Me a River reinforced something I had previously discovered: Even slightly under-fueling over enough hours will put me in a hole. Without enough fuel, my stomach feels yucky, my mental attitude suffers, my legs hurt more than necessary, and I slow down. When my tank is topped off, everything is miraculously better.

I am disappointed that I mistakenly sabotaged my 60 grams of carbs per hour plan. I still believe that counting carbs was (and is) a better way to measure how much fuel I need. I plan to stick with counting carbs for long training runs and try the 60 gram plan again at my next 100. Even with my mashed potato mistake, I my stomach issues were less than I have struggled through at previous 100s.

Don and I also discussed ways we can make crewing simpler and faster when he is solo. We are planning to get bought a second small cooler that can be dedicated solely to my race fuel, so he doesn’t have to dig through other things to find what I need. We also are considering buying enough soft flasks so all the slurry I might need for the entire race can be made up ahead of time. Fueling with my slurry mix is definitely less convenient than if I just used the Liquid Shot packets like gels and added the EFS powder to my water, but the slurry gives me more precise control over how much I am taking in every 15 minutes. Plus, I prefer drinking plain water, and I just like my slurry, so for now we will shoulder the inconveniences and continue on.

The lessons I learn from running 100s are not just about how to run closer to my full potential at future races. Running 100s also teaches me many lessons that apply to daily life. Often the life lesson of the race is clear to me soon after I cross the finish line, but this time it took a bit of pondering. I asked God what He wanted me to learn from this race, but nothing new came to my mind right away.

About a week after the race, I was telling a friend the story of crossing the flooded creek. “Before the race, I was so afraid I might have to cross a flooded creek, and then it actually happened,” I told her. “But it worked out fine. God helped me figure out the best way to cross and saw me safely through.”

Suddenly it hit me with surety. This was the life lesson God wanted me to learn: Facing my fears and trusting Him to see me safely through.

Now, I’m not condoning crossing flooded creeks. Whether it was reasonable for me to take that risk or not is debatable, but the lesson is unmistakable. I am afraid to face circumstances I cannot control. Scary things can happen in life—thing which I have pleaded with God not to make me face. Things that touch the deepest fears in my soul.

But God says, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).

God calls me to take His hand, face my fears, and wade into the waters. He will see me safely through.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. doerfpub says:

    Truly enjoyed reading about your recap of this race. I ran the 30K that year and remember all the spots you pointed out – especially getting through the flooded stream where you couldn’t see the pillars – was doing leaps of faith where the current seemed to split and then missed halfway across which definitely left a mark. The year before I ended up in the hospital – dropped at Green Valley from heat exhaustion – never know what conditions you are going to get in those Midwest July races. If you like that race, you might also like the Farmdale Ultra in October at Farmdale Reservoir cooler temps and slightly shorter hills (no steps!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. doerfpub says:

      My apologies, my wife just noticed you were recapping this year’s race – I thought it was the ’21 race which rained for 6 hours straight the day of the race causing the same scenarios – they didn’t put ropes up that year. Sounds like this was a good year to take off, but I’ll be back next year.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It seems like there is some heavy rain just about every year, but 6 hours straight would be tough for sure. I’m still considering as far as next year. There were many things I loved about the race… but thunderstorms and flooded creek crossings were not among them.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Glad you enjoyed the write up! I’ll look at Farmdale.

      Liked by 1 person

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