Old Dominion 100 mile Cross Country Run
an epic run on a historic 100 mile course
Upon arrival at the fairgrounds in Woodstock, VA on June 2d my husband and I opted to park in the back row of the grassy lot, furthest from the fairground building the race operates out of. I’m not really sure why, but we saw other tents there and some slight offering of shade from the few trees lining the lot on the 88F degree afternoon. We parked and quickly made our way over to check in and the race briefing.
I weighed in and obtained my race number, 174. I enjoyed watching William, my older son, take in the process. It was not his first time at one of my races but probably the first time he’s old enough to really understand what was going on.
The race briefing was informative and special, getting to hear Pat Botts talk about the race from the beginning of it’s creation and her and her family's impact on the sport of ultra running. I continue to feel a strange sadness that I only just have come to meet the most historical members of our special sport in the past 18 months. None of my heroes can say how much more time they can be involved in ultra running/ race directing, crewing, etc..., it seems to be the theme of their memorable discussions. I hope I can learn enough from them before they step down from their roles in our community.
After a full hour of listening intently, determined not to get lost for once, the briefing ended. My husband, son and I headed to Sheetz for some dinner. I indulged in a bacon cheeseburger and fries, not my typical pre race food. This year is all new! My body hasn’t worked well in 9 years so for better or worse in many ways I am starting over. Things that worked for me in the past failed terribly the last couple years, so nutrition was hardly a plan, I was winging it and letting my body figure out what it likes.
Back at the fairgrounds we again picked that back row and began to set up our tent for the next two nights. It seemed fine until after it was set up and we realized how ridiculously far from the bathrooms we were but neither my husband, Dave or I decided to mention it. William was fired up and excited about running back and forth.
I dove into arranging the car and my stuff for the race. I talked Dave through my bin and what I expected from him as my crew. He was recovering from some strange bug and he notoriously gets a bit stressed out as my crew so I tried to keep it simple and easy, 1 bin and 1 cooler bag that William could carry. We went through the initial aid stations and timing once more as I estimated I’d be to mile 19.6 between 7:15 and 7:45am. After all that. We were all ready to lie down and rest.
It was 2:23 am when I looked at my watch. It was a bit earlier than I was planning to get up but I was no longer sleepy and so I climbed out of my sleeping bag and began race prep. Time glided by as I ate and drank breakfast. A little after 3:30 am I was sitting on our cooler and Richard walked up to the car. I was surprised in the dark but happy to see he’d made it. Richard would be my safety runner later that evening and he’d be “around” if I needed anything else, which turned into crewing me all day long with Dave and William.
After kissing William goodbye, as he was opting to go back to sleep and not wake up at 4am for the race start, I headed for race check in and only minutes later the starting line. 4:00 am arrived and we were off!
I intended to run solo and pay close attention to the course through town but instead I spent the first 4 miles with Cassy, we chatted and shared running stories and I ended up bantering on about the Appalachian Trail as the road began to climb. Slowly I noticed we were no longer having a conversation, it was just me talking and starting to pull ahead. I continued at my pace and sadly did not see another female runner all day.
The initial climb up to Woodstock Tower was long but steady and smooth. I walked when it seemed steep enough that I should and otherwise jogged cautiously rereading Rachel Lemke’s words from her email to take the first climb easily and save my legs. I also felt unbelievably prepared for this race by running the Lynchburg Ultra series- 3 x 50k, specifically Terrapin and Promise Land which featured long climbs and descents that are very runnable, if you’re ready.
At the top the course drifted downward for miles and I held a steady but comfortable pace. I came upon John, a runner I’ve been to plenty of races with and we chatted for a few before rounding the bend through the Boyer-In Aid Station calling out our numbers “147” “174” and we got a kick out of that! A minute of two later John wished me well and slowed up on the trail section. I trotted on and then hiked up the trail.
Seamlessly, I popped out on the road and matched paces with another runner, Johnny, who I also knew, though it’d been years since we’d seen one another. We were talking and he was already struggling mentally with his day. Soon after a group of 3 or 4 guys came running up towards us, they had missed the trail section. I had my GPX running and Johnny had done the course before a few times so we were 100% sure we were on track. The guys now full of adrenaline took off in front of us and missed the trail again, we called them back and got them back on track before gliding through the Boyer-out Aid Station.
The next few miles were rolling gravel roads which I was expecting from the numerous race reports and Youtube documentaries on the race. I ran smoothly and comfortably, making a purposeful effort not to chase or race.
Arriving at the first Pit Crew (PC) aid station I saw Richard who met me immediately and brought me running down the road to my husband and car nearly 0.2 miles from the AS (off course) and frazzled by my early arrival. I was frustrated, I was only 4 minutes early and they had clearly been the last crew to arrive parked so far from the aid station. I just asked for my pack that I prepared and needed the water bottles. I was curt but not unkind, said thank you and took off muttering to myself about how I should have told him an earlier time. I had arrived at 7:11am and left out by 7:15am losing more time than I hoped. I ran hard for a few minutes and then hiked up a long road hill and then found a comfortable pace around 9-9:30 pace and moved smoothly once again.
The road section was long and my pacing was very good, I was worried about overdoing it early but I didn’t push. The sun was already getting warm on the exposed roads. I hoped my fancy SPF “ice” shirt would be the magic to stay cool but I had only gotten to try it once pre race and it was about 68 degrees instead of 85 as race day would be.
I ran through the next Aid Station and stopped for a pancake and morale boost. The stop was unplanned but I promised myself I would eat through the race and slurping more gels was not exciting me. The road continued rolling right into Four Pines 1 where I’d finished the first 32ish miles in 5hours. I was feeling well but not fresh.
I spent a full five minutes with my crew getting food in and packed and then left running up the road until a left onto the trail. I was hiking a climb almost immediately and feared my legs were done running. Maybe I was already done, I’d gone out strong and maybe I messed up and it’d be hiking for the rest of the day. My mind tried to take me down a rabbit hole of negativity but instead I repeated my new mantra “let it happen” which simply means for me to let the trail or course take me. Faster than I thought I came out on a road and ran downhill.
I was flying and knew there was a climb coming so I mentally braced myself. The climb was not a notable steep hike, no, that would have been easier. It was a long double track rutted out forest service road/trail that took you ascending upwards so slowly my mind was sure it was flat and runnable but each time I tried I would reel as my effort would climb too quickly and so I hiked. I hiked hard trying to salvage time but I figured the other top runners were running and I’d be passed soon enough. Again, I pulled out my mantra and reminded myself that generally every runner feels similar by 35 miles, it’s not easy, it’s not supposed to be, even if the trail is “easy”. I came to the descent and as soon I got running both knees had tendons screaming at me.
My left knee ached and my right knee throbbed. What?! I thought… I haven’t had knee pain this early in a race, well, ever. Maah Daah Hey 106 was the only race I recalled hobbling in with knee inflammation but that didn’t start until almost 100 miles in! I was a bit stressed as it slowed me down. I came into the mile 43 aid station and was weighed. Weight was stable and so I focused on salt, taking in a packet of LMNT and pickle juice. I took off down more gravel road and popped motrin. I didn’t want to take something so soon, but my knees were threatening. As that kicked in though my downhill pace picked up.
I rolled into the Four Pines #2 AS looking fresh and feeling great. I was warm but not too hot, still I knew it was time to get packed with ice. I worked on eating and drinking as my son asked what I wanted and Dave and Richard took care of the rest. Another running friend was there and after a quick chat I was back on the course running and then hiking a long sunny road climb. I passed the mile 50 sign painted on the road and let out a little cheer!
The road continued upwards to the mile 52 aid station where I enjoyed a slice of lemon, that was a new one but it was really nice, and a pickle juice popsicle. I felt myself “hanging out” a little too long so I pushed myself to move on. The next section was much more runnable than I imagined and made solid time passing one guy and then zig zagging with another all the way to Edinburg Gap.
Here I was surprised to see Richard without Dave and Will, but he said they got caught up looking for food and he had all my stuff. I took in soda and more LMNT and Richard and a race volunteer packed me with ice and soaked my shirt. I was cold… for a minute. I remembered to grab my headphones which was exciting. I never remember to utilize entertainment in a race, but this time I did.
I took off up the ATV trail bopping along to my tunes and passed another runner. While I was cruising, I saw two more rattlers on this section, which brought my count to 5 for the race! I was on high alert now, trying to stay central to the trail, listening for any low rattles and trying not to trip on the rocks and sand. There was a small aid station in the middle of this section where I forced down a gel and some more soda before continuing down the trail. The volunteers were all amazing!
I moved for 3 or 4 jeeps and than about 10 ATVs and somewhere just jogging along I tripped and rolled over. I laid there in the dirt for a minute examining my body. Other than being covered in sand dirt sticking to every damp surface (all of my body and pack) I seemed ok. A few scrapes and bruises but I was fine. Now, though, I suddenly felt cautious. I didn’t want to go down again. My pace slowed, my mood had gone from elated to fearful and I struggled through the final 2 miles until I came out to my crew.
I sat there with my crew and ate a sweet potato, regaining my mental game. Just then the soon to be 3rd place guy went sprinting out of the aid station. I commented to my crew that I was not about to look that good, I’d be slower than that. In fact, I think I said I was ready to hike it in, I’d had enough running for the day. Dave said, “Nope, you’re throwing together another great performance, you gotta keep it up.” I hardly acknowledged the comment. I was just running along and doing my thing, nothing felt great about it, but I had to admit there also wasn’t anything wrong (other than my knees threatening), which meant I did in fact have to keep it up. Off I went!
It was an easy section of the race, soft trail, double track and gently rolling but I struggled. I knew I needed to hustle so I power hiked and jogged and pushed myself, I didn’t allow for any pity party to roll in, but I stayed on the edge. I had my headphones on me still but they were powered off. I didn’t need it and wanted to save that for the final miles. I rolled through whichever AS came before Elizabeth Furnace and drank more soda and stayed only just a minute.
Thanking the volunteers for the support I continued on and now I upped the pace. If I could get to 75 miles by 14 hours I’d have 6 hours for the last 25 miles to break 20 hours. I kept doing the math though and it was close, too close. I fought my mind off and continued to agree to just do my best, same as I’d been doing all day. The goal was to have a good race, a smart race, not to win, not to hit a certain time simply, to not F it up.
I rolled into mile 75 at about 14hrs and 4 mins. I wanted to get out fast but the AS is an important one. I needed to switch packs/ drop weight, get my headlamp and extra headlamp. I needed to let the volunteers try to K-tape my knees which failed due to the wet sticky sweaty conditions of my legs. I took some tylenol, ate a potato and something else I think and almost 10 minutes later I finally was up and out with Richard as my safety runner.
We ran through the runnable and continued upward on the climb to Veach east. It was as expected, it was long, so long that it seemed doable until the final half mile where the grade and rocks made it just hard enough to make your lungs burn 80 miles into a race. We reached the top and I gasped for air, my stomach turning from the effort. Richard was pushing me to eat and drink and me, I was still trying to breathe enough oxygen to settle my system. We ran shortly after down the descent and then came out on a gravel road. We power hiked with occasional jogging but my effort level was turned up.
At the mile 82 AS I had some soup, but there was so much ice added, which I requested to speed things up, that the soup was fairly gross. I choked it down forcefully and we continued on. Now, in my mind, the game was getting as far as I could before dark fell. We climbed to the second ascent and then as we entered Sherman’s gap it was dark. I bounced from rock to rock moving well but cautiously, Richard still reminding me to eat and drink. It’s always hard at this point, because time passes differently, faster, while you move seemingly much much slower. When this happens, mixed with general fatigue of food you swear you just ate and drank a minute ago but really another 75 minutes have passed. Not to mention I was refluxing that soup from mile 82 over and over, wishing it would just come up already so I could be done with it.
Finally, we arrived at mile 87 and William was still a ball of energy. I saw Quattro and Jana and tried to focus on what I needed. I was just over 16 hrs in and I needed as close to 3 hours as possible for the final push. Now, I was gunning to get William in bed by midnight, I needed to finish sub 20 hours. The rest of the few minutes here was a blur. I know I popped another round on motrin in desperation as my knees screamed at me. I’d never taken motrin twice in one race, but today was the day!
I took off running but soon found myself lost in the roads from earlier in the day. My mileage was confusing, my pace didn’t make sense. I was moving as hard as I could but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was mentally lost but I stayed positive and tried to focus on my music and moving forward…watching the tenths of a mile tick by at the end of any ultra is much too excruciating. I thought I had two more endless miles when I came to the AS. I was elated to have arrived so quickly. The volunteer told me it was only 2 more miles to the top of Woodstock Tower and I was mind blown! I asked him to verify that he was telling the truth and he did. I was pumped! I took off running with intermittent recovery power hiking but I pushed hard to the top.
I had been waiting ALL day for the opportunity to pound down the climb from the start of the race. I had trained specifically and kept this part in my mind the entire race. Down I went, holding a sub 9 min pace, chiding myself for not being able to get under 8, but my legs were accepting of the beating nonetheless. The road flattened sooner than I hoped and I crossed the damn onto a dark flat road. I wanted to stop running but I was too close to the finish. Here, I again felt lost in the miles, feeling like the AS should be closer, but that I wasn’t getting anywhere, it didn’t make sense. Just as before though, I forced myself to keep moving forward and not stress about the confusion, that was just my brain’s way to tell me it was tired.
I finally passed the final Aid Station and rolled on down the road, I could see the 4th guy in front of me and I dreamt of chasing him down but he was just as excited to finish as I was, after the next turn I didn’t see him again. I hit the final climb and mixed power hiking and jogging to make it. I came into the fairgrounds and onto the track, I ran as hard as I could around that big dark loop and finished in 19 hours 36 minutes and 40 seconds. I was thrilled and very nauseous.
I gave some hugs and sat in the fresh rain for a couple of minutes to enjoy my success before resuming my goal of getting my son to sleep by midnight. We walked off the track and I began drive heaving and then puking, first time that had ever happened! Ha! I told Dave I needed to eat. We had nothing appetizing. I wanted a cheeseburger and fries but settled for a pancake from our cooler. I tried to chew but managed ⅓ of the thing before giving up. I struggled with sleep enough that I ended up back out on the track from 3:20-4:00am to see the last few sub 24hrs finishers, then when Richard woke up I begged for a ride to Sheetz. I finally got my burger and fries and soon after fell asleep for a good hour.
I had such a great, smart, fun run! It was exactly the day I wanted. I don’t know that I could have done much better. I mean, more on top of my electrolytes and more calories, but I did SO much better than my usual so I can’t really complain. I don’t know that I’ve ever finished an ultra and felt satisfied with race, but this time, I did and I do.
The race was perfect, the volunteers and aid stations were the best, my crew and safety runner were everything I needed. It was a wonderful One Day Run <3