Last year I tackled the Twisted Branch 100k. A challenging course that begins in Ontario County Park outside of Naples, NY and runs to Hammondsport, NY, I finished in 16 hrs 35 minutes. This was well before the 18 hour cut-off, but I knew I could do better. So I decided I wanted to do it again, and this time since I knew the course I could train much better!
Those of you that follow my blog know the insane-ness of my summer training, well at the least half of the summer. Well, I kept up the intensity after returning home and prayed it would pay off.
Friday: August 19th. Catch up with my crew/pacers. We pack up the car and head to New York. We drive the 5 long hours and get to Naples around 7 pm. I am excited to get my race bag. Inside is my bib, a sweet Orange Mud truckers hat, a bag of coffee created for the race, and a few other things. I am super pumped about the hat and my race shirt! I love when races give a quality cotton shirt, especially women's cut. I wear the shit out of them!
Head to Naples for Pizza. If you are ever in the area make sure you check out Neapolitan Pizza right on the main street. It is brick oven pizza and it is delicious. As are their breadsticks! Then we moseyed down the road and hit up Lynnie Lou's ice cream which had fantastic homemade icream (and they are not afraid to make big scoops!). Back to camp and head to bed.
Saturday: 4:00 am, alarm goes off. I hit that snooze button (like I always do) but don't stay in bed long. I can hear the other runners up and moving. Okay, I'm up, I'm up. I walk the 20 feet to the gathering area, grab some coffee and part of a cinnamon roll (THANK YOU!), throw in the my contacts, change into my race outfit and now I am ready to go. As I start towards the start line I start to see some familiar faces from last year. I am getting excited! I run ultra's by aid stations. Today there are 11. So I will count up to 6 and then down to 5. Not worried about mileage or even time. I know how many miles to each aid station and I will take today's race one aid station at a time. I have secret time goals, not even my crew know them.
5:00am- Scott, the amazing RD, gives race directions. We are looking for blue and white markings on the course. I pay very close attention to this. Last year I got lost 3 frigging times. I am bound and determined not to do it again. Actually that is my main race goal today... Don't. Get. Lost. I am standing with Rob and Chris, runners who I got to meet and run with last year, I am glad to see their faces as I know they will make the miles go by quick.
Get ready, GO! We all take off. I am starting towards the back. I am NOT going to make the same mistake I did last year and go out too fast. With so many headlamps going it is very bright on the trail and is easy to see as we go up and down. Oh, and Chris had his 600 lumens light that basically lit up a half mile radius. It was like having a car behind you lighting the way. Woohoo Thanks Chris!
We are chatting up a storm as we roll through Aid Station 1 and onto Aid Station 2. The volunteers are so excited when we come in and make you smile and look forward to moving on. There are no crews allowed at station 1, it's a quick stop. However, it has all the nutrition items we could need.
Aid Station 2: YA! My crew. They get me hooked up with fresh gum, top off my tailwind, and send me on my way. As I head out I of course start popping my gum. At some point I remember Chris saying 'Oh that's right, I remember. Ambyr is the gum popper". hahaha. So this is where I throw in a little about me... I always chew gum when I run. No other time, just when I run. It is always the same kind (5 gum, spearmint rain ...hint hint come Christmas). I chew gum because my mouth gets really dry when I run and it helps. Unfortunately for those who hate gum poppers, I don't just chew it, I also pop it. A lot. As the day goes on I get many comments about me and my gum popping habit. You always know when I an near. Pop Pop.
I keep getting through the aid stations and traversing the ascents and descents. This first section has some pretty awesome climbs and some pretty awesome downs too. The trail is stunning as we go through different types of terrain. The stops are great with a lot of food options, coolers of water and tailwind, and a fantastic slew of volunteers and crews. I get to aid station 5 around mile 26 or so ( I had the miles switched off on my watch, I just had the time of day showing) and immediately give a list of what I need. New gum (2 pieces please), change my socks, and pack my bladder full of ice then top off with tailwind. It is getting hot and I need to have the cooling effect of the ice. I also wipe down with a towel I pull out of the ice water bucket they have carried aid station to aid station since #4. I also offer the bucket to a few other runner throughout the day as I see people struggling with the heat. It is quickly approaching 90 degrees out, and we are all starting to feel it a little.
Then I ask for my Ipod. Usually I would never listen to music during a race, and trail running I try not to listen to things and just enjoy nature. And when I do listen to things it is usually podcasts (because I can pretend I have company... hours and hours of solo running this summer got a little lonely). But I ask for my music. See I remember this section from last year. You go through a corn field, then you come to a trail section that is not exactly well groomed and not always marked well, it is easy to get turned around. So mentally it is a tough section. I also remember last year hating this section because I was pretty damned sure they lied about there being an aid station. I mean, they didn't... but that isn't the point because in my head it wasn't there.
So I gear up and head out. I am on my own (as I was most of the last section). I tune into the music and immediately have some good ole Kid Rock, followed by Linkin Park, follow by Disturbed, then a little Doobie Brothers, then some Garth Brooks, and such on and so forth. My taste in music is eclectic to say the least. Well thank the good heavens I had it. Because this section still blows in my opinion. It is still super easy to get lost (but I didn't!) and once again I was damned sure they lied about the aid station, I mean they didn't but that isn't the point again. hahaha I finally get to the aid station, the volunteers get me some food and I head out. I want my crew!
IT"S TIME! Aid Station 7 baby! I GET MY PACER!!!! Mile 38, I am ready! I come into the station and there is Jeremy dancing around and I instantly start to laugh. I am so fucking happy to see him. I roll in and Stacey instantly starts helping me get my pack fixed up. I am changing my sports bra, and this year I actually managed to get out of the line of site while doing it, Go Me!. Stacey nags me into a bite of grilled cheese and some oranges so I have some food in my system. I get geared up, this is a quick stop because I want to get moving so we get loaded up and away we go. I am ready to finish this out! We set out and Jeremy keeps my mind engaged and going. We get to the next aid station where we see Stacey. God bless her she forces me to eat again. (This is where I usually start refusing food), she talks me into some oranges. We set off again. And then.... THE WALL. Oh yeah... that big ugly nasty wall. I hit it hard. I have slowed down and I am certain we have ran at least 6 miles (We had gone like 2.5). I start asking Jeremy where the aid station is. He isn't telling me miles (I specifically asked them not too) and he keeps encouraging me to keep running. Then we hit The Hill, we are are almost at mile 50 and here it is. The Hill gets capital letters and red lettering because last year I broke down and sobbed hysterically at the bottom. But don't worry, this year I didn't sob... I just leaned over and cried. Well actually I quietly cried while trying to hike up and about 1/3rd of the way up I stop and just cried. After a good cry I finished climbing that damn hill and started looking for the aid station. I needed it, badly. Jeremy tells me a stupid joke about a horse that perks my spirits long enough to get through the rest of the section. Ask him sometime.
There it is. Oh Thank God there it is. Drank a little soda, ate a little perogi, had a few orange slices and off we went. I feel 1,000% times better. Jeremy even mentions how that seems to have perked me up. My pace is back on track,and I have passed a lady. Hmmmm... I wonder how many ladies are ahead of me.
Another aid station. Oh there is Stacey. By this point I could kiss her damn feet I am so happy to see her! I can't wait to put on my high cushion Feetures. I have saved them for the end. They are my favorite ones! I know the next section is short so I have her take out my bladder, I am tired of the weight and just use my soft flasks up front. Me and my camelback one had a fight, but my UD one was cool so I stuck with using that one. This is only a few miles and it is soft ground and mostly flat.I make good time. I wonder how many ladies are ahead of me. Jeremy won't tell me... because I specifically asked them not too. Damn him for doing as I asked. hahaha
Last Aid Station: Stacey literally had just pulled in. The coordinates on the map were wrong so she had to backtrack a little. But she is here and she is running me in. And by running I mean hiking up the biggest hill of the course, encouraging me to run the flat spots even though everything is starting to hurt at this point, and laughing at me as I ow ow ow the downs. My quads are shot! This section is 5 miles, and takes people an average of 2 hours. It is a beast. But we stick it through and when my watch hits 62 miles I think, " I am almost done". By this point I have my list of things I want. I want my squishy flip flops, I want a beer (or a squirt- the kind in a glass bottle is my fave!), and I want a frickin cookie. 2 miles later I can see the finish line and it looks amazing. Stacey keeps chirping at me to finish strong as I hear Jeremy from up the road cheering. I cross under the twisted branch arches, raise my hands and say "Oh Thank God" to the laughter of the crowd. With the help of my crew/pacers, I have finished 2nd place overall female!
As I sit around and talk to other runners, some who finished and some who didn't ,I am, as always, amazed and appreciative of this community of people. There is great food, which of course my stomach is like "yeah right asshole, go ahead and try it" so I ooh and ah over how pretty it is and take a total of 3 bites as we talk about the course and the day. I had my flip flops, I had a small beer, Jeremy surprised me with a Squirt!!!, and another runner had cookies to share. I am happy and blessed. It is now that I am willing to share my goals. Goal 1.) Finish before it gets dark- Got it Goal 2.) Finish under 15 hours- missed it by 2 minutes Goal 3.) Finish Top 3- Got it. I really didn't expect I could do do #3- that was my shot in the friggin dark goal. There were some strong ass ladies at that race. But I secretly really wanted it because that would end my running year with top 3 in every race I had done. So I am beyond happy I did it!
After a bit we collect our stuff and we head to our friend Corbin's parents place. They have acreage and have offered us a place to stay. Again, I am happy and blessed beyond belief. I got to sit with my crew and his parents around a fire, drink amazing homemade wine, eat s'mores, eat a grilled cheese (it was light enough to handle for me), veggies fresh out of the garden and relax into the evening. They put me up in the house so I had a bed and a bathroom, which I could not be more thankful for. Up the next morning to eggs and pancakes with fresh brewed coffee in beautiful New York and then back in the car to Pittsburgh.
Am I going back to Twisted Branch next year, I hope so. I don't know if will run it again, twice might be enough. But I want to crew someone or work an aid station. This race is challenging in elevation and technicality, but it is so well run it is worth it. It is absolutely stunning to run through upstate NewYork on these gorgeous trails, and the race itself it run well. So if you want a good 100k, check it out!
I will be enjoying some down time for awhile...