Habanero Hundred Race Report, August 22, 2015

A short back ground story here, it will make sense later in my race report, I promise.  So in May, shortly after signing up for this race, I crewed for a friend at Cruel Jewel 100 in Georgia.  If you’ve crewed for a runner in a 100 miler before, you realize you get to know some of the other runners out there and often help others along the way.  Several runners happened to be within an hour or two of my friend and I began to chat with them all and get to know them.  By the half way point in the race, I was crewing and helping other runners who needed a hand.  One of those runners came into an aid station carrying a large stick as a walking pole.  Without even a thought I asked him he wanted a pair of poles to use, which he happily accepted.  When I told my husband (who was not an ultra runner at the time) scolded me saying I would never get them back, they were brand new $150 ultra lite poles.  “Oh it’s ok, I’ll get them back.  I’m not worried. They all know me at the finish and trail runners are the best people.”  And yes, I did get them back and was happy to be there and see that runner cross the finish line and so many others who I had helped along their journey.

On to Habanero 100M/100K which was appealing because of the generous 30 hour cutoff for both races.  The race also had relay teams doing  both distances, along with a 50K race as well. This was a brand new racing event being put on by TROT (Trail Racing Over Texas).  It was located just outside of Austin, Texas at Buescher State Park.  A running friend of mine who lived in Texas had pointed this race out to me in April and for my birthday in May, I bought my plane ticket and signed up for the 100K race.  This was huge.  First, I’d never traveled out of state for any ultra race before and secondly when I first signed up, I had no crew or any other help.  Let’s don’t even talk about how it’s an August race, in Texas and it starts at noon! Did I mention in TEXAS!  Ok, I thought I did. Could this sound any tougher.  And no one seemed to want to join me on my journey.  Carrie? Lisa? Nope they aren’t interested in Texas in August!

So it was a long hot summer of heat training in Georgia. Most of the time Carrie and Lisa weren’t even interested in joining me for those races or run.  I had also managed to talk a non-running friend, Joyce into joining me in Texas and crewing for me.  She would be a great cheerleader and get to see my sport close up. It was a 7 mile looped race so I figured I’d set up camp, basically crew myself with some help Joyce and it would be no problem.  Well except for that nasty Texas heat!

Another little side story.  One of the things I thought was really cool about this race and the race director, they offered you a chance to pick your bib number.  Well if you made a donation to their sponsor, which was a group that helped children who had lost their fire fighter parent.  My husband, being a firefighter himself, was inspiration enough for me to want to make a donation to this great cause.  Such respect for these guys and all they do, and I love to support their families as well.  Now that I made a donation, what number would I choose?  I don’t really have a favorite number.  Between 1-500 any number.  So I chose 343!  Why?  Well 343 is the number of fire fighters lost on 9/11.  I would wear that number in honor of the fire fighters lost on that horrific day in our history, and I would wear it proudly.


I flew into Austin with my friend the day before the race.  We had a hotel set about 20 minutes from the park where the race was taking place.  One friend who I did know from an online Female Ultra Running FB group was running the 100 miler.  So I did feel like I had a friend and was excited to meet her in person.  We drove out to the park the day before, picked up my pack and took a look at the camp set up.  Nice grassy area, nice bathrooms, it all looked promising.  I met my friend Rachel in person and was ready to get a good night’s sleep and be ready to run the next day.  I did mention it was a noon start right?

I bought several Styrofoam ice chests for my stuff.  Cold Cokes and Ginger Ale in one, Ice for my pack in another, mint ice water in one for my bandana and Popsicles in another.  I felt like I had unloaded an endless supply of stuff at my camp site and everyone in Texas thought I was crazy.  But I’m a planner and I knew what I wanted.  Now this racing group, TROT had two of the best aid stations I’d ever seen!  They always had lots of ice and endless amounts of food, but I like to have what I know I’ll want just in case. Really folks, it’s 107 degrees out there.  I can’t remember how many thousands of pounds (yes 1000’s of lbs) of ice the race went through, I personally used over 100 for myself!  It was hot folks, night time was NOT any cooler.

So camp was set up, chatted some with my friend and the race started off pretty quickly.  The course was a  7 miles loop that was a lollipop.  You had a mile or so of the stick, then a loop with an aid station about half way around.  Once you got back to the start and main aid station, each runner was required to weigh in.  This was new for me, but they wanted to make sure everyone was safe and not either losing or gaining too much weight.  Sections of the course were not shaded and it got very hot.  So hot I remember it was almost hard to breath. I would tell myself over and over that if those fire fighter could go in that burning building on 9/11 to save others, I could run this!  I did say it was 107?  In Texas they would say the “Real Feel” is 109 or whatever.  In Georgia we say it feels like 109, they call it the “Real Feel”.  Whatever you call it, baby it was HOT!  With a noon start time, you were thankful you only had 1/2 of that first day in the sun.


Blistering Texas Heat, It isn’t Pretty Folks

It was nice during the first mile in and out to pass other runners and see people but mostly it was just a countdown of running 10 loops.  I’d see my friend Rachel when we were both in the out and back section and see how she was.  She was doing the 100 miler so she was pacing herself for the long run.  I came in to the main aid station and my friend would be a great help each time getting my pack refilled with ice and tailwind. My Nathan pack has an ice pouch in it that’s right against your back, and each aid station I’d refill it with ice.  I’d try to eat what I could but my stomach was in the best shape.  The first several loops that I came in, I remember a guy (who seemed obviously a volunteer) would come up to me and tell me I was doing great, looking good and keep it up.  I was so focused on what I was doing getting what I needed that I really hardly looked up at him.  After I got a few more loops behind me, I was a little more relaxed when I came in.  I looked up at him and finally noticed his shirt.  He had on a Cruel Jewel shirt.  Now I have to say this, I’m NOT an observant person and I’m terrible with names.  So when I saw his shirt, I immediately said something about it to him.  He said to me, “yeah, remember you lent me your poles!”  Steven Monte and I had become FB friends after Cruel Jewel but I just hadn’t put it together.  The ultra running world is so cool, if it wasn’t 107 degrees I might have gotten chills just then.  It was started to become night time and immediately feeling bonded to Steven I asked him about pacing or if he knew someone who might go a loop or two with me later on.  When I finally came in off my 6th loop my friend Rachel was there at the medical tent.  She told me she was done.  Injured and dropping.  I was heartbroken for her but understood, we sometimes have to make that call.  I knew she was planning on a pacer later in the race, and the thought immediately came to me to ask if her pacer would still be interested in pacing someone.  Again, such an awesome running community.  Texas I don’t love your heat but I love your people!!!

I had lost a few pounds and the RD was starting to give me a little grief about it.  I knew I wasn’t eating good, so I made a major effort to really be drinking my tailwind to get some calories in. When I finally came off my 7th loop, Andy Rose was waiting and ready to pace me.  Only two more loops I had to keep moving.  It was such a blessing sharing those last loops with Andy and getting to know him.  I moved as fast as I could and Andy thought it was much faster than he expected.  Being a looped course, I had no idea where I was as far as position, I was just focused on finishing. My feet were beginning to really hurt, with part of the loop having heaving gravel sections and the combination of the heat.  They weren’t blistered at all just hurting.  The overnight heat proved to be nearly as relentless as the daytime heat and I knew I wanted to be done before the sun came up.  When I finally crossed the finish line I was surprised to hear that I had finished 3rd overall female and 5th place overall.  It was a hot one and the heat had taken its toll on many runners.  The 100 mile race ended with only one single female finisher, Julie Koepke.  Many runners had dropped down to the 100K.

HH153rd Place Female Overall, That’s some Sweet Heat Habanero Jam

It’s Texas what did you expect for an award?!?!



Georgia Death Race Report, March 14, 2015

Months of training, planning and running other races all leading up to here. Not only the longest run I’d ever done, the toughest with 40,000 ft of elevation change. From the moment I signed up for this race, we received emails about how we were all going to die, train harder. The race director, Sean Blanton aka Run Bum took great pleasure in telling us how we would surely die on this tough course.

I had originally signed up thinking I would run this race with my friend, Laura. Early on when she had gotten injured I made plans to try and run the race with our friend Lisa, who Laura and I had both met on our very first ultra race. Of course you plan to run together but you also have to be prepared for things to go wrong, someone not feeling well, or even worse and injury. Ed, my husband, had already agreed from the moment I first signed up for the Death Race to be my crew and I had one friend who I had hoped would be able to pace me for the final 20 miles.

Being an awesome crew person, Ed and I check out aid stations with fellow runner Rebecca and Eric, her crew. What great guys!

Weeks before the race I found a new pacer as my original buddy came up injured. Then to make our nerves even more on edge, the week of the race, as the weather was rainy and not looking good for race day, they reverse the course. I’m still not sure if that made the whole thing more stressful or less. I had fallen so deep into the hype I no longer knew what to expect. I could no longer change things, so I had to go with it, trust my training and stay focused.

Ed and I drove up to Amicalola State Park on Friday afternoon. The car was packed with everything I could imagine I would need. There were 3 aid stations that had crew access. We had planned that after the first aid station at mile 23ish, Ed would need to circle into Dahlonega and pick up my pacer Carrie to meet up with us at Point Bravo Aid Station, mile 43.

Lisa met us at the Lodge in the State Park around 4pm. We had a mandatory pre-race meeting that we had to attend that night, then get dinner and some sleep. Before we did that, our first plan was to get our packs ready, and make final decisions on what to wear and bring. We also had to get Lisa’s stuff moved to our car so Ed could help crew her as well as me. Lisa had crew planning to come up later in the race and meet her by the time we got to Point Bravo, but for now we would share crew.

The meeting was filled with runners. I think we looked more like deer in head lights as Sean when over the course markings, other details along with the explanation of why they had to reverse the course. He told us about the course mileage. He doesn’t use a GPS watch so the mileage they list between AS is “ish” but the cutoff times at the Aid Stations were firm.

How else does one dress for a Death Race!
How else does one dress for a Death Race!

Race morning Lisa and I get up and head to the visitors center at the lower part of the park. The race would start there and climb up 600 some stairs to the top, then run back down the east side trail so that we can run the road back up to the top again. It was raining and the start was slightly delayed waiting on the shuttle buses bringing people who stayed at the finish. Finally we all gather at the start and we are off. We ran a short distance on the road before hitting the stairs. Lisa and I pretty much run the same pace, she helps keep me from going out to fast in the beginning. We stay moving as we climb the stairs and chat with other runners as we are all crammed into the stairs that never seem to end. Finally at the top we head down the trail which is probably some of the most rocky technical section of the course. Once down we hit the road and head to the top again. This time more of a fast hiking pace up the road that is far too steep to run, for us anyway. Once we finally get to the dirt road, well basically the fire roads, we settle into an easy running pace. Lisa has her watch set to remind us to eat every 30 minutes. It sounds like a lot, but they are small amounts of something to eat, and we’ve learned to stay on top of fuel and nutrition. Before long we are at our first Aid Station, Nimblewill Gap. We were both good, looked over the AS table and grabbed a cookie and kept going. We had come into that AS around 2 hours, a full hour and 45 minutes ahead of where we needed to be.

Now from Nimblewill Gap to Jake Bull AS is mostly downhill for 8 miles. We again settled into an easy running pace, not too fast to wear ourselves out but we kept a running pace. The trails were beginning to get wetter and more and more muddy at this point. Within a mile or so, a runner came up behind us and let us know that Lisa’s jacket was falling out of her pack. I looked at her and immediately recognized her as my Facebook friend, Stephanie. We had chatted before on FB after she had been the first female finisher in the Georgia Jewel back in the fall. She settled in and ran with us, as she was running solo and was so happy to find some company. We seemed to make that downhill stretch to Jake Bull in no time. We each grabbed what we needed quickly at AS and were ready to keep moving. The next section was beginning to have larger puddles in the roads and lots of hills going into Winding Stair Gap which was mile 23 and our first crew stop.


Stephanie met up with her crew here and Lisa and I quickly got what we needed from Ed. Back on the road again, we had another 6.5 miles to Long Creek AS, as the roads got muddier as we went. I had taken off my rain jacket at one point and we were all totally soaked. I put it back on just to keep warm as being wet was giving me chills. Just after the next AS we were finally getting onto the Benton Mackaye trail which were some beautiful single track trail that we were all really enjoying after the 30ish miles on the muddy fire roads. Sapling Gap was at mile 38 and the last AS before we would get to Point Bravo where our crew and pacers would meet us. This awesome AS had grilled cheese sandwiches that we all enjoyed. Still on the Benton Mackaye trail, we came to the swinging bridge where we came across a couple other runners who were looking at a snake. Good thing no one had stomach issues that bridge would have not been fun.

Brad Scott took this picture of us all, and we shared several more miles on the trail with him
Brad Scott took this picture of us all, and we shared several more miles on the trail with him

Just a few more miles and we were at Point Bravo. We had at least 3 hours before the cutoffs and were so happy to see Carrie and Ed standing there to greet us. Lisa’s crew had not shown up yet, and this AS took us a little longer to get what we needed together. Our new friend Stephanie had gotten her pacer and headed out just before us, we wouldn’t get to see her again but we enjoyed some great miles with her. Lisa’s crew showed up just as we were leaving, but soon we were off. The next section, the Duncan Ridge Trail (DRT), also known as the Dragon’s Spine would be the toughest. But as it turned out tougher for reasons we weren’t expecting. We knew the climbs were steep and long, that we already knew. The trail is endless up and down, thus the Dragon’s Spine, again we knew this. We would be doing it in the dark, that we knew as well. But the fog and the mud I don’t think we were quite prepared for. As soon as it was dark and we turned on our lights, we couldn’t see a thing. Trying to adjust to seeing where we were going, we were quickly off the trail, along with Brad and his pacer who was now with us. A little back tracking and we were back on the trail. Following the trail markers and keeping on the trail in the heavy fog took some work, but we finally adjusted and settled into a steady pace. Lisa and I are both strong hikers and we stayed steady. Carrie led the way as we traveled over the DRT. We got to Fish Gap and got some food and coke before heading off towards Mulkey Gap, our last time to see our crew. We just kept moving, that’s what everyone who had done the GDR before had told us, just keep moving. Mulkey Gap was only a few miles and we seemed to be there in no time. We got to our crew and I made a shoe change, unhappy with the shoes I had changed into at Point Bravo. We had gotten to that point in good time, but some rough trails and sections were still ahead of us now.

The next 5 miles were very muddy and slippery. We all had our trekking poles and were using them to keep upright and at times keep from slipping off the side of the trail. This had to be our slowest 5 miles, but as the night wore on it seemed later sections were endless. Finally to White Oak Stomp, we are still several hours ahead of cutoff times and not worrying about the time at all. More grilled cheese and even bacon at this stop. Also Lisa had been looking forward all day to the pie that was promised to be at this AS, it was however pie day, 3/14/15! Apple pie and pumpkin pie, yes please! But before we got to our pie, we were offered shots of Fire Ball! Carrie and I were all smiles!

Carrie and I enjoying the Fire Ball shots
Carrie and I enjoying the Fire Ball shots

We were pointed to the trail and told the next mile was all uphill, very steep climb but after that it was downhill! Off we went. On a mission, we stayed strong, Carrie led us up the hill and to the top of Coosa Bald. One nice thing about doing it in the dark and fog, you have no idea where the top it, so you just keep going. But possibly worse than the climb would be the next 3.5 to 4 miles of downhill. Coosa Backcountry loop is brutal up, but down is treacherous. My now your legs are tired, the trail is muddy and slippery and this section was the most painful for me. My knees were achy and I was ready to hit some flat or even uphill again. Steep downhill was not fun. Finally the last AS Wolf Creek. Carrie crabbed some M&M’s and we had to cross a very cold creek leaving there. Only 3.5 miles left, we got this girls. Three miles of uphill but it would all be over soon. We began to pass runners as we climb at a steady pass up the hill, finally reaching the top and a short distance into Vogel Park were we would soon find the finish line. A finish line was never so sweet. Not knowing if you could do it, would we get cut at an AS, but we never waivered in our determination. We were never negative or doubted for a minute that we would keep going. We finished in just under 21 hours, qualifying us for the Western States Lottery.

Tough as Nails!!!
Tough as Nails!!!