I was a little worried about accomplishing my goal at Tunnel Hill 100. I wanted to run a sub-15 and knew this was the best course for me to give it a shot. Normally, before a race that I want to run well, I try to get ready mentally, by having some positive self-talk. However, I was more excited about my planned break in December than racing another 100 miler. I kept trying to force positive talk in my head two weeks prior during my daily runs, but soon thoughts of laundry or errands would seep in, leaving me sort of uninspired. I had done all the training, tapered, eaten right, taken my Hammer Supplements, planned for the weather, etc. But, couldn’t get that spark built up to accomplish what I knew would be a hard goal to knock down. Well, it is what it is, my husband always says. Sometimes, you just can’t force it. So, I just went with the flow for the week and never really got worked up about the race. I planned for the weather, which was much colder than it usually is this time of year (normally low of 40, high of 60). I am not a huge fan of the cold, but...it is what it is. The forecast was for the low to be 20 degrees and the high to be 38 degrees. I packed accordingly.
Race morning came, and I waited with my husband in the car until I was pushing my window to be able to go potty one more time. We hopped out of the car together and walked to the starting area. As we are waiting in line, I said, “Crap, I forgot to put on Chapstick...I’m going to want some later when you see me.” My husband reached into his pocket and pulled out some Chapstick. I looked at him with wonderment and said “Wow, YOU ARE THE BEST CREW EVER!” He laughed and said, “Well, just don’t ask for a Pony.” I busted out laughing...”that was really random...where did you come up with that? I suppose it would be a lot quicker if I had a pony!”
|Me, Troy Shellhamer, Mike Crowder, Mark McCaslin, and 3 others in the early miles|
Being a race not far from home, it was awesome to see a bunch of friends. I had just enough time to chat a bit and say hello to everyone. I lined up at the start with my friend, Troy Shellhamer. We run together regularly and both had the same goals for the day...break 15 hours. We watched as about 20 people (some doing the 50 and some doing the 100) took off at the start...we let them go. We had both talked about how important pace would be and planned to run together for as long as we could. We started off a little faster than we wanted (in the upper 8:30’s), and kept working to slow ourselves down. We had amassed a group of about 7 runners and just chatted, enjoying the day. We remarked about the “frost roses,” which I had never heard of...bunches of icy snow that came together and looked like chunks of raw cotton (or roses I guess). It was cold, but it wasn’t totally overcast as forecast, and actually was rounding out to be a nice day. I was thrilled I picked the perfect clothes to run in. (Initially when the season changes to colder weather, I forget how to dress). We all ran together through the first out and back (26.6 miles) and then started to get separated. I handed my jacket to my husband and asked gleefully for my pony...epic crew fail (no pony provided) :) I suppose he did tell me not to ask for one. Regardless, it made me smile to think about him having a pony for me. It probably sounds dorky, but I am easily entertained, especially as I get tired. Throughout the day, thoughts of Starlite (Rainbow Brite’s pony) flashed into my head and made me smile.
I was a little ahead of Troy, but I was going to stop for my first potty break around mile 30 and figured my small lead would give me enough time so that we could run together again. Perfect. I opened the port-a-can door, and there he went running by. I ran a little faster to catch up with him. We got to talk some more. It was nice to catch up on kids, life, etc. At one point, he had me laughing so hard, I actually buckled over and stopped running. At this point, it felt like a long run with friends. The second out and back section was prettier than the first. It had hills on either side of the trail with rocky formations. Every now and then, there would be bridges to cross and a river or creek meandered on either side of the trail. Just before the aid station, I got to pass through an old railroad tunnel, which was dark inside. It was cool, but made me slow a bit, as I couldn’t see where I was going, and the water that drips from the tunnel had weathered the surface inside the tunnel, making the footing feel a little uneasy.
|Troy & I|
At the next aid station around mile 40, I had started to separate from Troy and had started to pass people who had gone out too fast. I was feeling good and averaging around 8:40 pace. My company was gone, so I happily turned on my ipod. It was nice to have company early on, but I am content to run alone and sing to my tunes. I remember seeing a guy at least 2-3 miles ahead of me who was looking strong. Back to the start/finish marked 50 miles. For the first time in a race, where I could drop down at 50 miles after coming back to the start, stopping early NEVER crossed my mind.
|Coming through the tunnel around mile 38|
My husband was seamless as a crew all day. I never had to even break stride with him crewing. He had exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it, and when I wanted it. He went with the flow if I asked for something different and had it ready at the next aid station (except for my Rainbow Brite pony...hehehe). I had based the crewing schedule off of 8:50 pace, and was slightly ahead at 50 miles (averaging 8:41 pace). I was okay with being a little ahead, as it was supposed to be sunset at 4:41pm and I wanted to wait until mile 60 to pick up my headlamp. When I got to the aid station at mile 60, I stopped briefly to put my jacket back on and get my headlamp. My husband told me that “rumor had it that the guy in front of me had only run 50k as his longest run, and that I’d likely pass him”. I left the aid station, and saw him within a mile, equating to him being about 3 miles ahead. He still looked good. I thought about what my husband said and thought...he is wrong. He has 30 minutes on me with less than 40 miles to go...no way I will catch him. Good for him, I thought...first 100 miler and he’s going to run a sub-15! That’s the cool thing about ultras...rookies have break out days all the time, which keep reinvigorating the sport. I hit the turn around and headed back. Just before I got to the aid station, I saw my friend Troy. We gave each other high fives and exchanged “good job”.
Now it was dark. I tried to make out my friends and tell them along with other runners “good job”. That’s the one thing about out and backs that makes it nice. It’s great to always see people and cheer people on. I made it back to the start finish with 26 miles to go. I was still at 8:43 or 8:44 average at this point. I was starting to get tired and started to slow a little from miles 80-90. I was making “deals with the devil” so to speak. I wanted to walk, so I would let myself walk for 10 seconds every time my Garmin beeped a mile. Also, every half hour, when it was time to take a gel, I’d walk briefly to take it. Finally, I got to the Tunnel Hill aid station at the top of the hill (okay...it wasn’t much of a hill, but I reclassified it). I exchanged bottles with my husband and grabbed some Pringles and Coke. I got to the out and back and the two ladies at the turn-a-round cheered that I was first, saying “we were hoping it’d be the girl”. I chuckled. Then, I thought about the guy who had been ahead of me. I never realized that I had passed him. I came back to the aid station and asked my husband where the guy in the lead was. He informed me the previous leader was now 10 minutes behind me. WOW! Cool! At this point, I knew I had my sub-15, and now I was leading too. It doesn’t happen very often, so I always relish a bit when I chick all the guys. This invigorated my last 9.6 to the finish.
I ran through the tunnel, seeing my friend Troy coming towards me. I figured he was about 5 miles back. I hollered at Troy to get his fight back and told him that the guy who had been leading was dying...he could salvage his race and maybe come up with a win. I was looking back and cheering him one minute, and the next I was on the ground. I laughed out loud. Man, I am so clumsy. I fell on a 5’ wide limestone path. I had gotten too close to the edge, tripped on a rock and Superman’d it down. I got back up, took a moment to assess myself and started going again. I tried to figure out who was coming towards me in the dark to cheer people on. I realized my friend Cynthia was in 2nd place for the women and I told her that she was in 2nd. She was excited to see me leading. Around 98.5 miles, I saw two headlamps approaching and tried to avoid them (runner and pacer). I put my hand up to block the lights from blinding my eyes. Crash! We all three rammed into each other, bouncing off each other like pinballs. They thought I was going to give them a high-five and I couldn’t see anything which resulted in the collision. We all apologized and continued running once we realized everyone was OK. We all laughed about it later.
I was thrilled to run the last bit in, knowing I had accomplished my sub-15 goal! Plus, an overall win, and a top ten place on the all-time list...it couldn’t have been a better day. I had a few low spots where I let myself be talked into walking when I could have probably pressed on or just slowed a bit. But, I am not going to be hyper-critical. I took my nutrition like clockwork, ran happy, paced myself, and it all paid off...even without my pony! :)
|Troy Shellhamer (men's winner), Steve Durbin (RD), me (women's winner)|
I left to get out of my wet, cold clothes and came back to see my friend Troy finish and claim his 2nd 100 mile victory this year! It was bittersweet. I felt bad his race didn’t go as he had hoped. We are both competitive and wanted to beat the other, but I never dreamed I would beat him. We had always talked about a how cool it would be if we could go to a race and get a “Team TnT” (Troy-n-Traci) win. We were thrilled that it had finally come to fruition.
|Awesome Finisher's award made of rail road ties, buckle, and bib|
Tunnel Hill is probably the fastest 100 mile trail course in the US. If you want a PR or want to finish your first 100 miler...this is the course for you. This was a first year race, but Steve Durbin is an awesome and experienced RD who along with his volunteers made the race seamless.
I cannot thank my husband, Mike enough! He is a phenomenal crew person! I would not be as successful without him! He has saved me time in many races, playing an enormous part in my success. I would not be where I am without him. Crewing is harder than running. It was cold and sleeting, and all the while he was out there supporting me! Make sure you all thank your crew!
Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for making my belly the most content it’s ever been. I took Race Day Boost 4 days prior to the race, gels every 30 minutes (love the new chocolate hazelnut flavor!), Race Caps Supreme and Anti-Fatigue caps every hour starting at hour 2, and Fizz for electrolytes. Thanks Coast for the uber bright headlamps that I wore for the last 40 miles! Thanks to Drymax for the awesome new Trail lite socks. My feet looked better than ever after the race! Thanks to running skirts which I look forward to wearing in Arizona next month...the new honeycomb pattern is adorable!