Splitting Clouds on Stone Mountain with the Devil’s Bathtub in the Mix: Cloudsplitter 100km

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During school, I was one of the last people chosen to be on a sports team. I didn’t enjoy group sports at all, but I liked to walk or run, sometimes with someone else and sometimes alone. I am not a born athlete. I have to work hard physically to complete an ultramarathon, but mentally I am at home in the woods.

For the Cloudsplitter 100km, we traveled to Norton, Virginia, a town that the mayor called “the smallest town in Virginia” during our pre-race meeting the night before our 8 am start. The race started and finished at the Farmer’s Market in Norton. The course went through the streets of Norton for just over a mile. Then, we entered trails at the base of Stone Mountain whose peak, High Knob, is just over 4,000 feet up in elevation. The trails up to High Knob are steep and go between giant rock formations, not far from Flag Rock overlook where there’s a statue of the Wood Booger, what the locals call the Sasquatch or Big Foot legend. We didn’t see the statue on our summit to High Knob, but that didn’t mean the Wood Booger wasn’t out there.
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Runners chose between four race distances (25 km, 50 km, 100 km, and 100 miles). Interestingly, the 100 km distance was actually longer and measured 113 km from start to finish. The other race distances were exactly what they said they were. Only the 100km distance was more. Of course, I was running the 100 km distance.
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I chose the Cloudsplitter after completing the Dark Sky 50 at Big South Fork in May of this year. I loved the Dark Sky race and was ready to go a step farther toward my race dream goal, which I’m not ready to share just yet. I was looking for an ultramarathon that was 90%+ trails. I don’t enjoy running on pavement very much at all. I avoid it if possible and make only a few exceptions. I also needed to know if I could handle the elevation of mountain ultras. I live in middle TN which is like a big bowl, and the elevation is no comparison to the mountains. I also wanted to go past 50 miles so that I would know if the distance through the night was something I could accomplish and would enjoy. The Cloudsplitter fit my needs, and I messaged my friend Bryan to find out if he wanted to try it out with me.

Bryan and I had met at the Bell Ringer 50kmlast December, and we ran most of that race together. We tried to meet again for the Dark Sky 50 miler but never saw one another.


This time, B and I met at the race start. My family was with me. B’s girlfriend and his race pacer, Alex, accompanied him. Everyone was all a-buzz with the news that KM, the world record holder in 100 mile race wins was there to run the 100 miler. Everyone wondered if KM, at 51-years old, would break the course record, set the previous year by a 22-year old. (Note: I was completely clueless about KM, as I don’t follow the news or watch tv. I would have had no idea who they were talking about if my husband hadn’t told me the day before. I didn’t even know the race was a Mont Blanc qualifier until B told me that it was. I didn’t even know what Mont Blanc was until after May of this year. I really purely run because I think the trails seem cool to experience😂).

The race contained two out and back portions with the central hub located at High Knob. We ran through the town, up to High Knob on trails, then into Jefferson National Forest to Edith Gap, on to Bark Camp Lake, through to Little Stony parking area, where we turned around at an aid station there and took the same trails back to High Knob. The second out and back went from High Knob to Sentry Road on to Devil’s Fork Gate to Devil’s Fork Loop and back to High Knob via the same route. My first goal was to make it back to High Knob aid station by 10 pm, when I would refuel, change clothes, and then head back out for the second out and back of the course which I hoped to complete by dawn or early morning. Finally, the last leg was from High Knob back down the mountain to Norton, which I hoped to complete by noon the next day.

Here’s what happened: We headed out of Norton at 8 am on Saturday morning. B and I caught up on his recent events, which included a trip to Disney that he and his girlfriend took that week. They drove from Orlando, picked up his pacer on the way, and made it to Norton the night before. B’s radio blasted out Fusion as we ran through the streets and took to the trails up the mountain. We talked to the other runners along the way up to High Knob.


I met R, a 100-mile runner in sandals. He told us about some of his epic adventures. I liked him immediately, but somewhere along the way, we got separated. I didn’t plug in my earbuds or play music until we passed through the High Knob aid station, though I did try but they kept falling out or the phone wasn’t actually playing the music. It took me awhile to get the music and earbud working together (I never really got both of them going, and I finally gave up on the earbuds altogether and left my phone playing music quietly in the front pocket of my vest…of course, this was much later in the middle of the night…I turned it up sometimes when alone and needed.)

Since my husband was with our daughters, I told him not to worry about meeting me at the aid stations where crews were allowed. The week before our trip, we had all watched BIG STONE GAP, and Norton was only about 20 minutes or so from the town of Big Stone Gap. I encouraged Terry to take our girls to see the town where the movie was filmed. I wasn’t expecting to see them during the race, as I was hopeful that they’d go sightseeing. When we reached High Knob, Terry and the girls were waiting for me. Terry refilled my camel pack and water bottle. B’s girlfriend A and A pacer met him there, too. (😂 Team A&A for B).


Then, B and I took off again, but instead of following the race course, we took a small detour and ran up the High Knob tower to see the view, and I was glad that we did. The clouds blanketed Norton that morning and fluffed up to and around us. The views weren’t typically breathtaking, but they were layered and soul satisfying. After a brief video and photos, we went back out on the trail which dropped off the mountain and tumbled into the gorges. I loved this section through fern beds, mossy rocks, and into rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets. The trees changed and the light filtered into the forest to us. We both admired the beauty. We talked about our wonder with nature and how it felt like another world.

Eventually, after hurrying through a section with bees buzzing around us and other runners, we got into a small pack of runners. We ran with the group up to Edith Gap aid station and maybe beyond it. The forest began to change with trails that contained mossy rocks and stones. We walked across some of them. Most everyone used trekking poles from the start of the trails at the beginning. This was the first time I used trekking poles in a race, but I was glad to have them for stabilizing myself. Sometimes, I placed them in one hand and ran, and other times I used them to trek quickly along rocks that I called rocking chairs. At Edith Gap, I refilled my camel pack and filled up my handheld water bottle with Vitargo. I took a Saltstick capsule, and Bryan ate potatoes and a sampling of other foods. There was a big variety of foods and a nice fire at Edith Gap.


We headed for Bark Camp Lake along the Chief Benge Scout Trail. Creeks ran alongside the trail, more thickets, and trails with rock gardens. The wildlife expert said to “stop and smell the roses,” but to me, he meant “stop and smell the rocks,” and some mountains bloom rocks, covered in moss, shiny black, knocking, rocking chair rocks. Oh, the music on the trail. Finally, somewhere along this trail, I plugged in an earbud and DECIBEL by Analog Affair reminded me “From midnight comes the dawn” so I would remember my plan. I chose “chill” music, in its various forms… the main reason is that I knew that I would be taking my time on this ultra and still feel pushed. I really wanted to practice seeing, noticing, photographing, talking, and moving forward on a mountain, and see all of those trail spaces on it within 40 hours or whatever I could stand.

B and I stopped someone from going the wrong way at a fork in the trail. Somewhere in all that KM passed us and we realized it was him after he went by. At Bark Camp, our crews greeted us, along with volunteers. The fire was warm. Refill and change shirts for me. Take advantage of a bathroom at the picnic area.

We were off again on a mainly level trail that was littered with rocks and creek crossings. I was grateful that it had been a dry summer, so the creeks weren’t as slippery as they could have been. We were pretty sure that KM passed us again. I guessed that we crossed over 10 creeks, of varying widths and depths, with rocks of varying sizes up to the size of a large four-wheeler (some people said we crossed over 20 creeks by then, but I didn’t officially count them). People passed us in both directions now, and the shorter two distances were already gone. Everyone on the trail was a 100km or a 100mile runner. “Make them wheels roll,” someone said as we passed. B kept losing half of one of his trekking poles. It would get stuck in the rocks, roots, creek, everywhere. When we reached Little Stony, we refilled, ate, turned around and came back the same way toward Bark Camp Lake. Crossed the same creeks.

“Gee, Baby Ain’t I Good To You,” and yes, I thanked the mountain creeks and rocks for being kind to me.


Back at Bark Camp Lake aid station, Terry insisted that I change shirts again. I questioned him but ultimately, I agreed that as it became dark, I would be colder. B asked Terry for some pliers and he fixed his trekking pole. We refilled, took advantage of the bathroom one more time, and took off. This time, B’s pacer, A, accompanied us. Maybe two miles out of Bark Camp, I was stung suddenly by a bee that I never saw. I cursed the bee but kept going. My inner thigh throbbed about halfway up, where the bee stung me. I was certain that I saw the stinger fall out when I stopped to go to the bathroom.

At Edith Gap aid station, they updated us on who had dropped out, where KM was, the difficulty of the trails as nightfall blanketed us, and more. We took off again, and B gave one of his trekking poles to A somewhere along the way. They led the way, and I drifted back as I ran out of water and then the liquid food in my handheld bottle. It became dark, so B and I turned on our headlamps. I chewed a Saltstick, and that perked me up for a little while. I noticed a headlamp approaching me from below in the creek, but it wasn’t on the correct trail. It was well below the trail that everyone was supposed to be on. Already KM had passed us again, we thought. That was the third time, we thought. He was almost finished with two sections of what we hadn’t even completed once. I shouted down to the headlamp in the creek. She shouted back to me that she was lost. I directed her until she reached us on the higher trail.

We followed B and A until we couldn’t find a marker in a deserted and abandoned parking lot. We noticed lights from what looked like a log house. We all said that we hadn’t noticed a house earlier. The woman runner was positive there wasn’t a house. I remembered the abandoned parking area, but not a house. We split up and searched for a marker. After a couple of minutes, I found a streamer hanging from a tree and then a reflective marker. I shouted for everyone and we took off again, B and A led the way on the climb back to High Knob, and we were passed by several 100 mile runners headed back down the trail for their second out and back.

There, at High Knob, my family ran toward me, happily greeting me. I refilled, climbed in our car to get warm in the heat and changed clothes. I had already decided that I would eat chicken noodle soup in the night. I haven’t eaten land animals in about two and a half years. I do eat seafood, fish, eggs, and dairy products on a regular basis. I knew the choices of warm soup foods would be potato soup or chicken broth/soup, and I had already made up my mind to make an exception. Sugars usually bother my stomach when I run, and potatoes especially feel like a chunk of coal in my belly. I was ready for the chicken soup, and I ate about four cups of it. I was warm and felt replenished.

B texted me and said that he and A were going to sleep for a little while in his girlfriend A’s car. He didn’t know if he would continue or not, but he was going to sleep first.

I decided to go forward. If I stopped or slept, I would get stiff. When I fall asleep, I usually do so for a long time. I don’t like short naps. I was hesitant about continuing. I considered dropping down to 50km and just heading back down the mountain to the finish in Norton, but I reasoned that I was already over 50km and I might as well take my time and hike the remainder even if I used the full forty hour time limit. My daughter Zoe begged me to continue. I couldn’t believe that she was so encouraging. Both of my daughters told me that I could do it. Terry said that I could do it.

I went to the aid station and asked about the trail ahead, refilled everything, kissed Terry and our daughters, and took off. First, I headed down a paved road listening to WILD NIGHT by Van Morrison, “wild night is calling” then onto a gravel road, Sentry Road. Light sticks lined one side of the road and were dropped every thirty to fifty feet or so.


The sky was incredibly magical. Expansive as I ploughed over the ridgeline, hiking, not running, listening and giving music to the night of the forest. The mountain falling away to either side. Trees rotating up and away from the ridgeline, pointed forms, limbs reaching as webbings while holding the webbing of spiders and nests. My own form striding across to the sounds of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE “Covered with heaven above. Just you and I beneath the stars, wrapped in the the arms of sweet romance, the night is ours.” I loved being in the night on the trail, with the forest, knowing that so many people were out here, sprinkled into the landscape with me that I was just fine to enjoy it. KM passed me again, and he was headed to the last aid station before the finish. Or at least I thought it was him.

I was enthralled with the forest itself, as if it is a being all its own, so “I’ll always always keep the memory of…” THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME. “We may never meet again on the bumpy road…” I strode on toward Devil’s Fork Loop that contained The Devil’s Bathtub.

Before that though, I had to find the turn off Sentry Road. The full moon continuously looked like the lights of an aid station in the distance. It kept fooling me. I texted B and told him about the roads, feeling certain that he would continue if he knew the conditions ahead. He texted back that he was waking up A and they were heading out in about five minutes.

I felt the chicken noodle soup wearing thin, and the wind whipped across the peaks. I saw red beady eyes in the forest and made noises. Woo woo!! I passed a few runners. More red beady eyes with silhouettes that resembled bear?😂 I made noise, woo woo! Then, I thought that I saw something that truly scared me to the point that I ran—a skunk! I slowed down to a hike and turned up the music again, “Waitin for the bus all day…” and I was feeling pretty good that I hadn’t been sprayed by a skunk by the time I asked for broth at Sentry Road aid station.

The fire as we approached each aid station was a beacon. I waited to smell it every time, knowing we were close. I needed those moments to recharge. Taking four and five cups of broth, sometimes standing by the fire, then saying thank you and taking off again.

Aid station moments were when I turned off my music and talked to people, asked them about the trail, told them about my experience, listened to aid station volunteers tell their own stories about other runners or the trail. This is the stuff of a great story. A book, I thought, and headed out again, hiking. Everyone was wondering if KM was going set the course record. I knew more stories about him were coming along the trail.

I walked again, down an old logging road that I described later as “quite nice” but I was slow and sluggish, wondering what was coming next.

Approaching the Devil’s Fork Loop, of course SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL was on my mind, and I found myself sounding it out, woo woo! just like being at the concert and hearing fans catcall the Devil all the way out of the stadium. I passed runners coming out of the Devil’s section.

My music picked up and carried me a little faster as I got to the Fork. I started to see a headlamp ahead and was happy about it. The stories about the bathtub had a rhythm that made you want to pair up with someone. Nightmares on Wax mixed up some DEEP DOWN as I partnered with another runner and made the fork into the loop. I met T and followed him as the loop went round and round and round and across and across and across giant rock gardens in every part that we thought might be the Devil’s Bathtub. I felt as if I was going down the drain at one point, only to climb a little ways out of it. We climbed over plenty of trees in the dark and balanced on the edge of the tub, in the dark, in the deepest gorge on the race, in the dark. My cell service was out and I couldn’t warn B about the state of the bathtub. I worried about it. T said that B was going to be pissed with me and laughed. We crossed many many creeks. I moved the music up and down, really relying on the music when we didn’t have the light to help us and appreciate the nature around us. Yes, we wore headlamps. For both of us, it was our first ultramarathon through the night on the trail. For both of us, it was our first run past 50 miles and the highest elevation ranges and fluctuations. Needless to say, it was an experience beyond what either of us was expecting as we both discussed while trying to navigate the trail, find the direction, and not fall onto a rock and break an ankle, or leg. We got truly lost off the course only once and not very far. We returned and were careful not to lose sight of the markers.

T sounded perplexed by the trail. “How would they even get someone out of here if they broke their leg?” I suggested that paramedics could drop down on lines from a helicopter if a life and death situation were to occur. I’m not sure T took comfort in that scenario. We both took comfort in the fact that the creeks were mostly dry. T asked something like, “How do we even explain to someone what this is like?” And then he continued, “I couldn’t bring my kids on this hike. I don’t even think I would do this hike with my wife. It’s that difficult.” I agreed. I wouldn’t do this Devil’s Fork Loop hike with my family even if they parked at the parking area, which T and I both thought we would see at any. moment.

However, the Devil’s Loop still felt never ending and slow slow slow until we finally! heard the generator from the aid station at Devil’s Fork Parking lot. I happily said, “I smell exhaust.” We both thought it was funny that I was happy over the smell of exhaust when we signed up for this nature experience. Down the stairs to the aid station. Still going down.

More broth! Hit me again with the broth! That’s what I felt like at the aid station. I got my second headlamp out of my drop bag as my first had begun to dim in the last mile. T decided to steal away and get a ride with his friends. He told the aid station volunteer that he was dropping out. I got the scoop on the trail ahead and was also informed about KM when he came through the Devil’s Gate earlier. Even though I never asked about him, everyone told me about him. Led Zeppelin’s HOW MANY MORE TIMES rocked me on out of the Devil’s Fork aid station, where I had been warned about the steep grade on the climb out that would go on for about two miles, maybe two and a half.

And of course a trip around the Devil’s place wouldn’t be complete without The Stones again on the way out, “I’m the man on the mountain that says, ‘Come on up,’” and I had a fresh water bottle of food, a full camelback and LOVING CUP was perfect as I climbed up, up, up. “What a beautiful buzz,” and I laughed thinking about being stung so early and continuing. “Nitty. Gritty.”

I had to dig in to get up and out of there, Gramatik TALK THAT SLANG clapped and I kept up my mantra, hiking and forward. Moving with rhythm. Moving. Noticing. Red beady eyes. Bear? Could I be sure? “Ohh” “wooo,” “woowoo!” scurrying to one side and the other. Shit! Who’s there? I jumped to the side. Really? No one answered, but I could swear that was a person. MFer. Nightmares on Wax FLIP YA LID just making me wonder a little bit, and shake my head, go forward. Whistle. Whistle. Head bob. Whistle and head bob. The forest is beautiful. Head on and don’t even think about Wood Boogers.

I was listening to MUY TRANQUILO when I saw two red beady eyes and a definite bear form very close to the trail in front of me. A big bear. The only one I’m certain about, but they seem to appear for me and have quite often this year (I saw 4 in one day this summer, really, in broad daylight, and one was licking bark on trees, probably eating bugs and/or sap, and trying to get away from me…bear show up for me). I made disco owl noises again and the bear sprinted across the trail and down into the forest. Definitely one bear😉.

I was waiting for the aid station when the moon started playing tricks on me in the distance again, but I knew that I was getting close after I passed the fork in the loop. Straight ahead I made it back to Sentry Road.

I drank broth. They told me that KM had finished. A 100miler and his pacer who were sitting at the fire asked me about the state of the bathtub. I told them that the daylight would be better for them because it was a challenge in the dark. I refilled everything, took a Saltstick, drank more broth, and felt amazing as I headed back to High Knob as dawn approached.

I passed 100 mile runners coming my way, ready for the Devil’s Fork. They asked me how it was, how far was the next aid station, and I encouraged them all and let them know what to expect. Good things: the aid station was close, the road was nice, the loop was tough but dry and light when they got there.


About halfway up Sentry Road, I turned off my headlamp. I soaked in the beauty, the spaciousness, the feeling of being alive in that moment in that place and it was sublime. I passed R who I’d met early on and his feet still looked good in the sandals. I wished him well.

Up one of the last hills on Sentry Rd, G caught up to me. I met him at a few aid stations and at least once on the trail, but it was those times when I was either talking to someone else or leaving or being in my own headspace as happens, so we finally talked as we approached High Knob. I learned that G was a born athlete and had been a runner since high school. I thought he was probably 60 years old. We didn’t discuss age though. We talked about who we are, little bits of information telling stories that were in our hearts. G was a great companion up to High Knob. He gave me plenty of useful advice by talking about his own life from his experience. It wasn’t an intentional, let me give you advice type of conversation. It was by being present that I learned from his stories.

At High Knob, G’s wife met him. Terry drove up just as we were approaching the aid station. I told G that I’d see him at the end or rather, “Good luck” and “nice to have met you” because I knew that G would beat me in to the finish. He was an experienced 100 miler and was ready to finish this run. I was in the newness of the experience and I both wanted to play it safe and savor it. And, that’s what I did.


I ate again, took advantage of the portajohn, hugged Terry, and then headed out for the final leg of the trek. I messaged my best friend Jennie, my friend Lisa, and my mom.
I turned up the music and took my time. By then, my IT band was hurting on a leg that I had hurt during a fall about two weeks previously. Of course, the leg wasn’t ever injured to the point of needing medical help. I ran a half marathon and 10 milers almost daily for weeks after the fall, but the elevation coupled with the length of the race inflamed it. I focused on one step at a time and the music. TRANQUILO by Gramatik was playing so I allowed myself to be a kid skipping down the mountain at times in the loops, down stone stairs, “Jumping off the porch like Mom’s not home…” threading along the mountain, “run with the feeling of being alive” and enjoying KINGS OF SUMMER by ayokay and Quinn XCII.

This descent was tangible inside every part of me and I thought about the footfalls, the miles before, the books I was writing, how I wasn’t even hungry, how I was still cold, the many footfalls before my own on the mountain, the power of earth to create, and how I love to create. I wanted to ride bikes across the Netherlands with Terry. I wanted to do that very soon. “LOVE IS HERE TO STAY not for a year but ever and a day…” again Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong serenaded me and sang the feelings of my heart.

That IT band kept telling me to take it slow so I did. I thought that I was close to the base of the mountain only to have another layer reveal itself. Layer upon layer down, over a dam, and down down down again. Two runners passed me and one said, “when does this race ever end?” Down, down, down, and still going. Big Mama was even singing BALL AND CHAIN. “My Love holds on like a ball chain.” I was talking to the mountain by then. I was so ready to go. 99 PROBLEMS by Hugo was reminding me to keep it going, “make the Devil change his mind,” and I was definitely happy that I wasn’t at the Devil’s Bathtub right then, and then there it was, the road! Pavement to lead me back in to Norton.


I passed flowers and stopped to take a picture. Walking, I enjoyed the sun warming me. I soaked in those last few minutes and walked into Norton. As I crossed the bridge, I decided to run. As cheesy as it seemed on one level, and very appropriate on another, Voodoo Child played right on cue, and I laughed at the synchronicity of life as I turned the last corner. I laughed looking to my right toward the mountains. I saluted them and continued running until I saw my family waiting for me at the turn off the road and into the parking lot of the farmer’s market. I crossed the finish line at 11:17 on Sunday and got my medal, hugged my family.
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I took off the tracking strips that were pinned to my pants and gave them to the race director. A woman was talking with two other runners. She said that a local experienced hiker had died in the Devil’s Bathtub back in the spring, that he had fallen, lost his footing, and broken his neck instantly. I was glad that I didn’t know that before my trek through the bathtub, but I shivered thinking that I had sort of known it and had gone slowly through it.

My family and I took pictures, communicated with family and friends, and headed back to the hotel.

I worried immediately about B. I texted him and found out that he was at the last aid station back at High Knob. He was going to finish. A was still pacing him.

I didn’t have one blister. I made it to the finish before my goal of noon on Sunday. I had one tiny chafed place on my lower back from the last pair of pants I wore. I was proud that my training, nutrition, and gear worked perfectly for my goals in particular and that I didn’t get sidetracked by any other goals. I planned my book and know where I’m headed. I was sore and stiff, but I could walk and climb stairs. B texted that he made it. We were both proud of finishing a tough distance and elevation gain.

My legs did swell for a short time as we traveled back and the next day. I took a walk the next day and the day after that. I only had one muscle cramp that really hurt. I taught my yoga class three days later and it felt great.

I know this moment in my life will inform much more in the future. For now, I am writing, resting, practicing yoga, and planning new adventures. I am also feeling immense gratitude for the race organizers, the community of Norton, the volunteers, my family as my crew and cheerleaders, my friends who cheered, the people I met along the way, B and his crew A&A, and the mountain itself.
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Partial Playlist (set to shuffle):
“Decibel” by Analog Affair
“Make Them Wheels Roll” by Safia
“Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
“Wild Night” by Van Morrison
“Under a Blanket of Blue” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
“Waitin’ for the Bus” by ZZ Top
“Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones
“Deep Down” by Nightmares on Wax
“How Many More Times” by Led Zeppelin
“Loving Cup” by The Rolling Stones
“Talk That Slang” by Gramatik
“Flip Ya Lid” by Nightmares on Wax
“Muy Tranquilo” by Gramatik
“Tranquilo” by Gramatik
“Kings of Summer” by ayokay and Quinn XCII
“Love is Here to Stay” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
“Ball and Chain” by Big Mama Thornton
“99 Problems” by Hugo
“Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix

I’m definitely not a sponsored runner, but for what it’s worth, these are products that worked for me: Altra Trail shoes, Saltstick Caps Plus and Saltstick Chews for electrolytes and vitamins about 10-15 total, Squirrel Nut Butter anti-chafe stick applied liberally all over feet to neck pretty much, CEP compression socks worn through many runs, Swiftwick socks with holes and worn through many runs, Nathan bladder and tubing for my camelback, Vitargo fruit punch vegan muscle food, Black Diamond trekking poles, Northface gloves, various ball caps, cheap stretchy gloves with the thumb and pointer finger cut out, old Underarmor clothes I’ve worn through a lot of runs. I always carry a small Mojo bag, and this one was gifted by my Terry, and among other things contained a small rose quartz angel, a couple of small wild turkey feathers, a rock with a flower-shaped fossil creating an opening in the center….

**Notes: Series of events and who said what is to the best of my memory. I do read newspapers every day, so though tv is not in my life on a regular basis, I am informed about my world (it’s possible to skip tv and be more informed). Placement on course descriptions is approximate. Definitely edited for clarification a dozen times.

RESIDUAL EFFECTS

I was bullied. I was shamed. I didn’t participate in the #metoo movement when it happened because I wasn’t ready (I’m still not ready, but it keeps coming up & I’ve been encouraged to share in order to heal, but I can only share parts of it…still). It has been 30 yrs & I still feel the effects of it. Psychologically & sociologically, I was messed up. I couldn’t even breathe in big crowds. I had panic attacks. I hyperventilated. I was anxious, jumpy, & moody. I was guarded & scared.
About 15 yrs ago, a friend told me, “You have PTSD, girl.” Another friend, “Were you ever suicidal?” I paused. I broke down as it swallowed me like a giant wave.
When I was 13, suicidal thoughts plagued me, & my aunt showed up to take me away to anywhere else, some place where I could breathe & laugh, a destination that allowed me to have a clean slate. My parents are wonderfully loving & beautiful. They had tried, but they were powerless to change what was & had happened to me (it was 1989, long before #metoo ). There were abuses from adult acquaintances that I would never tell anyone about. People thought I was fair game because I was so broken. Classmates wrote stories about me, read them aloud, taped mean things to my locker, wrote about me on bathroom stalls, & SO. Much. More.
At Ft. Bragg, no one knew me. It was the greatest relief I had ever felt in my life, standing in front of Iron Mike. My uncle had taken me to the statue. My aunt laughed with me, shared with me, helped me feel whole. She was obsessed with art & photography. She taught me about Surrealists. She read a biography of Picasso aloud. She gave me a book by Shel Silverstein. My uncle, a career Army Officer & Green Beret at the time, bolstered me up, directed my confidence to rise up, & encouraged me to write.
The teacher assigned us to write our obituaries. I already knew what that felt like inside, & I shrunk back. My uncle sat in front of his roll-top desk & held out his hand, “What do you have so far?” He read it while I buried my face in my hands, ashamed. He said something like, “Good start. I think you can do better than this. You’re smart. You’re strong.” He went through each word with me & asked me what I really wanted in life, & both my aunt & uncle told me to dream very big. I had never been far from TN.
I did go back home, & when I returned from Ft. Bragg to TN, time shifted my classmates. They changed. I wasn’t bullied or shamed again but I had regular anxiety attacks. I wasn’t the nicest person to people who had been mean to me previously. I didn’t forgive them in my heart, but I didn’t even know who or how to be most of the time.
No one apologized until 20 yrs later. When one person said, “I’m sorry,” she created a moment of redemption for many people. She didn’t even “do” anything to me back then, but she still felt as if she had participated in some way just by witnessing/knowing about some of it.
Over the years, I continued to go to my aunt & uncle (& they took me to Germany, France, accidentally my aunt & I ended up in Austria once) because I felt like I was part of them & their family. My cousins called me “Sis.” They all united to save me—my parents by letting me go, my aunt & uncle by embracing me & teaching me something I wouldn’t have ever gotten anywhere else.
Someone once asked me, “What did you do to make them bully you?” So, I clammed up again. I blamed myself again. Now I know there’s no good reason for that shit. Recently, I’ve thought about it so much. Trail running became the healing action for the residual brokenness I carried: How I continued to struggle long after & how I still do a little when it rises up. Mainly, I’m glad people are speaking up now about their struggles with bullying/shaming & don’t hide it all in silence. Lately, I’ve talked about it more than ever, and after reading so much about bullying and slut-shaming, I want to encourage people to realize that damage happens even when people seem like they’ve “gotten over it,” even after they’ve healed. I share for three reasons: You never know what people have been through, I want to walk through the fear of sharing this, AND I have deep gratitude for the adults who saved me.

Dark Sky 50 Miler: Layers of Trail Beauty

2228EEBC-590E-45DF-ACF8-04E16C7C7C5B.jpegDark Sky 50 miler for May the Fourth, 2019, in Pickett State Park and Big South Fork Forests.
Layers and textures of forest: My words want to tumble forward, pressing out and growing in green and lush drippings of fern fronds and pink bulbous lady slipper flowers hanging on tiny stems, my thoughts want to surge out with a force of stone scarred and scratched, etched and oozing with thousands, millions, of years of changing. My heart still beats wildly with memories of the yellow trillium, the monkshood and hundreds of tiny unnameable flowers and fungi, the rocks with colored ooze, and stones home to universes of moss and sandwort and all manner of wort. All hues of green and brown swayed together so they turn kaleidoscopic as we plunged into the forest and rose up out again and again.

First, up before the dawn, the whippoorwill sang. I haven’t heard one since my grandmother sold the family farm, where the whippoorwills’ home was at the fork in the road and it sang daily. I lost myself in listening to the whippoorwill, my memories, and preparing for the race, mixing the sports drink for my pack; before I realized, it was almost 6 am, the start of the race. I threw my Stormtrooper shirt on and the backpack. A quick run downhill and I was at the lodge. B4FC7F25-089B-458D-AE81-003D86241078
I couldn’t find my friend, my running partner from my last race in December. I thought it would be easy with only 108 registered runners. He thought it would be easy. We would just meet at the race start. But, I was skimming into the race start that morning, checking in, making sure I had what I needed, and taking a bathroom break.

Suddenly, the race was on, and we were all moving in a herd and I hadn’t found B anywhere. My playlist started with Jimi (a lot of Jimi for this one), “Let Me Move You” was the first to move me.
D8AC11B3-9350-40F7-B39E-8B1DAF3D4F9F.jpegBecause we were so far out in the forest, I didn’t have cell service since the day before when we exited the interstate, which was about an hour away from the park entrance. B, my running partner who I met at my last race, was staying at Charit Creek Lodge (camp) in Big South Fork, and my husband and I stayed at Pickett State Park, where the race started and ended. The parks are on the line of the time zones, so part of the time my phone said CST and part of the time, it said EST, but it wouldn’t communicate via text or phone to anyone. This became a mental challenge as I couldn’t keep track of my time properly, not to mention I was mesmerized by the beauty of the forest. First realization, I should have worn a regular old watch. Next time. And, I reached out to the trees, traced fingertips across bark as I passed by.
A985584C-78A6-41E1-A7B4-4CE9AAD0F9B7.jpegTerry, my husband, was my one-man crew, so even though I didn’t see B, I knew that Terry would be at some of the aid stations, and that would help bolster me along. This was my first 50 mile race, and while I felt prepared as I could be, I just didn’t know if my body would agree to push past 31.069 miles (50km), my farthest distance until the 50 miler.

The race began with a quick jaunt through the trails around the lodge/rec center at Pickett State Park, and someone said it best in front of me, “Great, it’s the obligatory first walk of the trail run.” Yes, once you run a few trail runs, you soon realize that if you don’t angle yourself to get toward the front of the pack (regardless of if you are a fast finisher or not—remember, the finish is far far away, so it’s not about that), then you will be stuck on a single track in a long line of trail runners who are forced to walk due to the middle group. The middle group does the run/walk early. The front runners keep running for a while to create distance and walk later, much later, and some probably don’t walk much at all. I do walk in the middle and at the end, but in the beginning, I just want to get going. If you get stuck at the beginning, you walk, and if you are like me, this creates a lot of anxiety because I am stuck in a pack like a road run, and that’s why I don’t do road races; I don’t want to be in a crowd of any sort. I like to join with one or two runners, but if that can’t happen, I prefer flying solo. I know how I like to run and when I am forced into a condition, then the anxiety rises up. I choose runs with less people so that the crowd isn’t a factor. I get such bad anxiety in big road races that I have vomited for miles and once the anxiety gets started, it’s difficult for me to turn it off. This is both unhealthy and embarrassing. So, I will never set my sights on a Boston Marathon. I love the forest and running in it beyond anything, and it doesn’t cause me to vomit even after 50 miles. I can’t imagine hitting the pavement anymore than we had to in this Dark Sky 50 miler just to get from the trails at Pickett State Park over to Big South Fork trails. We ran about three miles, at the most, of pavement.

That morning, when we finally got to that first little stretch of pavement, I was happy because the herd could break apart and spread out. I was actually a little panicked at that point because I needed some trail and some good space. I didn’t see B anywhere. I was trying to get toward the front a little more just to see if he was up there. At the Bell Ringer 50km which we partially ran together, he was in front of me for a long time in the beginning of the race, so I reasoned that he must be in front of me again. Still, as we neared the trail head, I hadn’t seen him.
BAF184F3-77F4-4760-B4B3-F5CC88EC4D78.jpeg “If 6 Was 9” played about this time and I was ready for the forest. When we exited the pavement and hit the trails into Big South Fork, it was beautiful. I eased into my stride, so happy to run at a peaceful pace. The views around the rock formations and small caves kept me going and longing for more.

About the time I was listening to “Mojo Man” and fighting with my earbuds to fit correctly in my ears, I realized that I had been traveling behind two guys for a while. I would get closer to them and then back off again, giving them space. They asked if I wanted to pass.
“No way,” I said. “I appreciate you letting me cruise behind you guys.”

I knew that riding their wave was great, and I didn’t want to move. J started the introductions, and he was our trail leader. He was adept, and I felt confident being on their path. J was experienced with some impressive runs on his resume, but he didn’t tell me that. P told me. P is training for a 100-miler, and he has some 50s under his belt. He said that he had met J and kept running farther and farther. I was so relieved, and knew I was with the right guys, especially when J gave the trail a good cussing when his hat fell down a ravine into a waterfall as we rounded and rounded and rounded.

“Little Wing” was there and I felt as if I was walking through the clouds, in a fairytale, but I was in the forest. I felt like a kid with my cousins slashing our way through the saw briars and following cow paths into a “holler” on our grandparents’ farm, not that far away (maybe one hour west) from where we were running as the crow flies. Trombone Shorty was playing by this time. A little “Buckjump” and a little “Hurricane Season” went great with all the hopping.

J and P were the best trail leaders. I knew that they would get me to B if he was up there. We crossed many streams, creeks, and I swear one of them was a river, gushing, and we used the rope because they told us “Don’t be rockstars. It’s slippery.” It was indeed slippery. We clawed up banks. I was hearing Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings by then, and was “Settling In” as she reminded me to “Be Easy” Baby. We hopped trees, straddled trees (I bear hugged because I am short), slid off stones, navigated jagged points of rock, slid down leafy trails, turned, and bounced around giant rock formations, creeks and streams, tiny waterfalls, slick bridges, and slanted bridges, slatted bridges, ladders, and rock paths, rock ledges.

And we were at 13.something. A bunch of crew and volunteers suddenly cheered. There was a giant pickle asking me questions. Huh?
“Do you need anything?”
No, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That’s all I felt, gratitude for everyone there. Nashville Running Company presented the race and the volunteers were all wonderful.

Terry was there. “You’re doing great! You have good time. Do you feel okay?”

“Yeah, it’s beautiful in there,” I said, even though we were still in the forest; we were just crossing a dirt road at that point, but I meant the trails; it felt like being enfolded into the trails.

“You have us way the fuck out here in the sticks!” he said. “Whoa, these Jeep roads. I almost got the little car stuck.” He was so nervous that he couldn’t refill my pack at first, and he was fumbling with it while talking to me. We finally got it in and I ditched the storm trooper shirt. I was already soaking wet. The humidity started to rise. My fingers swelled as I left the aid station, telling Terry that I love him.

My playlist had reached The Rolling Stones, Dance Pt. 1, who said to “Get up, get out, get into something new. It’s got me moving, ya’ll.” I headed down the trail to find a good spot for a bathroom pit stop. I noted that I had already drank a 2liter of Vitargo. My fingers swelled and I realized that I forgot to get the handheld bottle with plain water. I was happy to have a fresh 2 liter in my hydration pack, but I really wanted plain water more and more and was irritated with myself for forgetting it.

I lost J and P somewhere in all that, too. The beauty kept coming but so did the challenges. I had to follow the white flags on my own, as my own leader, and sometimes I got a little panicked when I couldn’t find a flag, but eventually, I grooved with it and found the rhythm.

Alicia Keys sang what my heart thought, “I keep on fallin in and out of love with you,” to the trail. I climbed rock stairs, wooden stairs, tiny wooden stairs with a leg span for men 6 feet tall. I am 5 feet tall, but I leaned into them and bounded down, hooked around the switchbacks. “The Weight” by The Band played and I felt it lift me up a little lighter, a little easier.

Yoga came in handy. I felt as if I was playing trail “Chutes and Ladders” at times. I stretched, lunged, walk skip or jump your feet up from plank, yep, got that covered on the Sheltowee Trail. Left an eka pada rajakapotasana back by the creek, malasana under a medium sized waterfall, hanumanasana! between two trees to the limit! “Message to Love” from Jimi played and that’s what I felt. Great love and respect for the forest. Gulping it in. Slip on down and breathe, breathe.

I would catch sight of runners ahead and behind me sometimes. No B. J and P were long gone. I was following footsteps of other runners sometimes. We passed each other sometimes and everyone was encouraging, everyone cheered each other on, everyone was kind. “Goin’ Up the Country” by Canned Heat reminded that “the water tastes like wine” and that we could “jump in the water, stay drunk all the time.” I definitely felt groovy without any need for alcohol. The John Muir trail dipped into dark forest winding, and I was thinking of all the footfalls that had traversed the trails, thinking of timelessness, and sometimes the dream state held me. 240EC778-657D-4484-A8F1-C67E96D0D02D.jpegI was looking into the valley from the top of a rock perch with a bee hive buzzing all around me and then I was down in the ravine with big boulders, crows cawing out warnings, and then it started to rain, to pour down, and a full on gulley-washer waylaid me, as I was headed for the aid station at mile 20-something.

I got little paper cups of water and drank a lot of it. The rain poured down. I was so happy. Again, I was incredibly thankful for the volunteers who hiked out there with water and sat in the rain for us. My fingers went back to normal, and I settled into a run and then a walk and a run and then a walk.

I didn’t see Terry at the aid station, and I worried about him trying to hike in to it and missing me. He broke his foot a little over a year ago, a bad break, and these wild, single-track obstacle-ridden trails could be treacherous for someone like him. Still, I had to go on. I had no way to contact him. My phone didn’t have service. I stopped taking pictures because everything was wet.

I zipped the phone up and didn’t listen to music either. Trumpet flower blooms littered the trails which were lined with foam flowers. Some rhododendrons bloomed their pink tongues out toward the rain. The trail turned to slush, and mud holes that got deeper and deeper as we ran alongside the river. I stepped in mud up to my knees and I plunged forward trying to navigate through slippery mud dirt, sloshing mud like thin concrete with holes that threatened to swallow me. The creeks and streams poured through the trail toward the river that sang beside me. Slushy, sloshing between rocks, the trail became a creek and a stream. I thought that I was running up the river at one point.

I sat in a waterfall and felt my skin sting and burn from chaffing. The cold water soothed it. I counted to twenty seconds and ran again. I ran and ran, saw the sliding footprints of other runners as they had tried to navigate the trail. I sat in another stream and counted to twenty. “Cold, cold water.” And, I ran again. Moving onward, the trail finally pulled up and up, still holding mud holes and dirt slicks and running streams, but moving up nonetheless, until finally I reached the split to Charit Creek.

Terry was there! Hallelujahs! And they were playing Jimi. I was “Home” for a few minutes.
“Have you seen B?” I asked.
“No, I haven’t seen him anywhere,” he said.

I took out my earbuds and moved around my phone, discovering a peppermint stick I had put in that morning. I couldn’t eat anything, but I left it in the pack and gave the pack to Terry to refill. I took the handheld water bottle, thanked the volunteers and headed out on the small loop at Charit Creek toward the Twin Arches. I was so happy to be relieved of my pack for a short loop. And, I was waiting for this part. I wanted to see this more than anything else on the run.

My hands smelled like peppermint and a song started to play in my head, “a peppermint stick for old Saint Nick. Hang it on the Christmas tree. A holiday season. Loopdeloop. He’ll be coming down the chimney down.” All mixed up and playing in my head. “Peppermint stick. Loopdeloop…down the chimney down…” I realized after I had already traversed the wooden plank horizontal stilt bridges over the swampy area and was climbing into rock formation territory that I had forgotten my phone to change the music in my head and to take pictures. It was still in my pack. That deflated me. I was down, “he’ll be coming down the chimney down” my legs were sad, and I almost cried as I passed gorgeous rock formation after rock formation.

“Loopdeloop. Leave a peppermint stick.” I thought about dropping out and getting my phone and coming back around, taking pictures of this loop, and then just walking out with Terry. I was tired anyway. I had already ran farther than ever before in my life. I had felt love and gratitude all morning. I was immersed in the beauty of the earth and the human spirit. “Peppermint stick for ole Saint Nick. Hang it on the Christmas tree. Holiday season!Whoopdedoop on this loopdeloop. Coming down the chimney down…merry bells keep ringing. Whoopdedoop on this loopdeloop…”

Ugh, I laughed and tried to shake off the loopdeloop happening in my brain. I looked up to the majestic stones, the rocks towering, sheltering, snuggling together. Then, I came to the Twin Arches and met C. He was standing underneath it. I had been following him for a little while at some distance back. He said, “wow, it’s incredible!” Or something like that. I was so taken aback by the beauty of it, that scene, that it didn’t matter how he phrased it, I felt the same sense of wonder.

We headed back down the trail and C led the way. He introduced himself and told me that it was his second year to run the race. I told him that it was my first 50-miler and he said, “you’re doing great, much better than I did last year.” He explained that it was hot the previous year and he dehydrated, barely finishing the race. This year, the rain made it challenging, and as far as I was at that point, he said that I should definitely keep going. Walk, see how far you can get, that was his advice. We made it back to the Charit Creek aid station again. I took a bathroom break, picked up my pack from Terry, telling him I’d see him at the end, and headed up to Gobbler’s Knob, the big hill many had warned me about.

Mush! Climb! Push! I kept going and met up with C again around one of the bends. We reached Gobbler’s Knob together. My time was all messed up at that point. They said to keep going, so after some water, I headed off down a double track Jeep-like trail. C stayed behind at Gobbler’s Knob for a rest in a chair for a moment. If I sat down, I wouldn’t get up, so I kept moving.

This was one of my least favorite parts of the course. Miles of Jeep road. Gravel. I didn’t enjoy the views as much, but I knew that it was a way to get from trail to trail at times. I turned the music on again and it was Jimi’s “Wild Thing” which definitely helped me along. Finally, after another aid station, I plunged back onto a single track into the forest to Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”. It met up with a trail we had been on that morning. I put away the music again and crossed the creek(river) that I had crossed with J and P. I held the rope and swayed into the water as it poured through the banks from the earlier rain.

I made it to the second creek(river) crossing and the bank was a slick mud slide down. A woman was scooting down on her butt. A couple of other runners were headed up the other side. Three volunteers were waiting for everyone to cross. They were clearing the trails, checking to be sure that everyone was going to be on time because it was getting late at this point. Once it got dark, it would be difficult to see in the deep forest even with a headlamp. I held some trees and started to descend the bank toward the creek(river) crossing. “I’m sorry that I’m in your way,” the woman said. She was almost in the water by then.
“Oh, you’re not at all. I’m fine to wait here,” I said.
The volunteers told me about the rope about the same time that I saw it in the mud. I grabbed it and started down the bank. The woman had reached the water. I took about three steps when the rope came undone and I slid until my ankle slammed into a rock. I was worried. It popped hard against the rock. This was about the fifth or twenty-fifth time I’d fallen depending on how you count them. I sat there for a few minutes. The volunteers came to help.
“Put it in the cold water,” one suggested.
“Just sit as long as you need to,” another said. “You’re almost there.”
“Yes, yes,” I said. Another helped me slide the rest of the way into the water.
“I can bear weight,” I said. “It’s okay. Just popped the shit out of it.” I held the rope and started across the creek(river) surge. The current knocked my legs out and I slid on the rocks. The rope swayed out with me. “Just hold on and sit there for a minute,” one of them said. “You can just take a bath,” one of them said.
“Okay, I’m up,” I said. And then the current knocked me down again and the rope swayed. My legs were simply tired, and I couldn’t get my footing. I held on and sat with the water again. “I think I will sit here for a while,” I said. Finally, I made it across.
“Just walk the rest of the way if you need to,” one of them yelled after me.
“I will,” I said.

After a little walking, I ran again and turned on the music for a final round. Big Mama Thornton wailed “I’m Feelin’ Alright” and then “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, Baby, because I feel it in my bones.” All along the creek and up through the forest. It was the same way we entered that morning. I ran my hands along the flower petals and moss. I was past 40 miles at that point.

I took some pictures because I knew the Jeep road and then the pavement would be at the end, not many more great views, just getting home. I turned off the music after Rusted Root played “Drum Trip” and I was nearing a runner who I wanted to ask about the end of the course. She told me that we were at the final 5.4 miles to the finish. She had ran some previous 50s and maybe longer, I can’t recall exactly what she said because I was tired at that point. She told me that I had definitely earned this first 50 miles of mine, as the pouring rain had made the course really tough. Many people had dropped at the aid stations due to injuries, she said. I hadn’t noticed, but I wondered if B was one of them. I was hoping to see him at the finish, already having completed the race. About the time I was going to ask her name, she took off for a bathroom break. “So don’t forget to hang up your socks cause just exactly at twelve o’clock, he’ll be coming down the chimney down.” I realized that the “loopdeloop” and “coming down the chimney, down!” were spinning in my head again.

The Jeep road and pavement were uneventful. How I loathed them both but I had to admit that I was happy to be out of the mud. My clothes were drying out a little. I had plenty to drink. I kept moving forward. The woman passed me again once we reached the pavement and I followed her from the group camp and ranger residence out the road. As we climbed up the final hill toward the Pickett State Park turn into the lodge/rec center, two boys about eleven years old cheered from a trail where they had laid their bikes down.
“We got up when the race started and we’ve been waiting for everyone to come in all day,” one of them said to the woman up ahead of me.
I couldn’t hear what she said, but it was kind, and they talked some more to her. I told them thank you as I passed by them. Behind me, they debated together on which way to go.

Finally, we crested the hill and were in the home stretch. The boys passed me on their bikes, cheering, telling me that I was almost there and doing great! I could hear the cheers as the woman in front of me crossed the finish. Then, I could hear the cheers for me. I saw Terry. I was both calm and overwhelmed as I crossed the finish line and received my Finisher’s Medal. P was there, congratulating me. He said that he and J were looking for me to finish anytime. I thanked him for running with me for a while that morning. Terry and I talked for a moment and he took pictures.

I saw J, who had went to change clothes, and we congratulated one another, too. Terry didn’t see B anywhere. The next day, when I finally had cell service, I found out that B was behind me a little ways, and he didn’t make the Gobbler’s Knob cut off.

It poured down rain about thirty minutes after I finished. I put my stinky black running clothes out in the rain and joked that a skunk would show up to mate with them since they were speaking skunk language. It poured and poured rain for much of the night. Terry and I stayed in a rustic cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, young men who were out of work in the 1930s. The park contains a small museum that tells the story of how the men of the CCC constructed cabins, the lodge, and miles and miles of road and trails and more.

It was all possible because of their work. Terry and I talked about them, how we each had thought about those men throughout the day, how we could understand why they loved it there and wanted to build something beautiful. I would stay and build something beautiful there, be in that forest. Terry built a fire and we ate pizzas that he made. I drank vegetable broth, coffee, and tea, and iced my legs.

The rain stopped by the next morning and the whippoorwills sang again. Terry and I went out on the trail before leaving the next day. We took a very short hike to a waterfall and sat among the rocks beside the glowing green sandwort. We reached our hands out into the water falling from the forest above us.

Partial Playlist:
“Let Me Move You” Jimi Hendrix
“Mojo Man” Jimi Hendrix
“If 6 Was 9” Jimi Hendrix
“Little Wing” Jimi Hendrix
“Buckjump” Trombone Shorty
“Hurricane Season” Trombone Shorty
“Settling In” Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
“Be Easy” Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
“Rock Me, Baby” (Live) The Rolling Stones
“Dance, Pt. 1” The Rolling Stones
“Fallin’” Alicia Keys
“The Weight” The Band
“Message to Love” Jimi Hendrix
“Strawberry Swing” Coldplay
“Goin’ Up to the Country” Canned Heat
“We Gotta Live Together” (Home) Jimi Hendrix
“Happy Holidays” Andy Williams
“Wild Thing” Jimi Hendrix
“Over the Hills and Far Away” Led Zeppelin
“I’m Feelin’ Alright” Big Mama Thornton
“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” Big Mama Thornton
“Drum Trip” Rusted Root

Nashville Running Company’s Dark Sky 50 miler

Bell Ringing 50k Ultra Trails Remix

Sometimes, you have to return to the scene and take back your lost mojo. In 2014, I tried my first 50km ultra marathon, after moving up from a half to a 25km and then on to a marathon distance. At just over 26 miles in the 2014 Bell Ringer, I dropped out of the race due to back pain. And, I let my fear and anxiety control me. Even though I dropped out of the race, I continued to trail run almost every day, but I never signed up for another race.

This year, 2018, I decided to train all year in preparation for this December 8’s race. I’m also a yoga teacher, and when I met with one of the park rangers in July to discuss a yoga class at Montgomery Bell State Park, I had no thoughts of the Bell Ringer being part of our discussion, but she asked if I would teach a yoga class before the race at the Friday night check-in. I agreed. Without a doubt, I would teach a yoga class and then run the 50km the next day, but my fears threatened to creep into my excitement.

Nonetheless, I created a rigorous training schedule at my home park, about an hour away, Dunbar Cave State Park, where I have been running regularly for just over a decade now. I felt confident when I surpassed 20 miles during a training run at Dunbar about a month before the race was scheduled.

All week leading up to the Bell Ringer, the forecast looked foreboding with high percentages for rain all across the mid-South, and a cold rain was predicted at that. I checked and checked, but the forecast held steady. My husband, Terry, kept reassuring me that it would hold off, and the rain wouldn’t arrive in the area until evening. I was hoping that he was right, but my gear check included a poncho, extra socks, extra shoes for the check-in at 21.6 miles, and more. He had provided me with all of my gear and new cold-weather running clothes the week before the race, so I knew that he had his own doubts about the weather.

The night before the race, I went to check-in, taught yoga to one runner who was brave enough to share a great slow flow stretch-out practice with me. I was proud of us for honoring the need to practice yoga and for not being intimated by the people who checked in behind us. He told me that I helped him with some postures, and he felt relaxed before the race, and that was all reassuring as a teacher. He would be running the 25km, and we wished each other luck as we parted ways.

I spent the night with my parents who live in the same town where the park is located. They prepared a light dinner and encouraged me, reminding me of how hard I’ve trained and how many miles I have run on my own since the last time I attempted the race. I don’t like to overload my gut, so I keep my food intake light and I try to consume several small “meals”, though sometimes that meal is only a pile of broiled shrimp.

I went to bed early, hoping that it wasn’t raining in the morning. I slept soundly until 3 am when I awoke with a feeling of wild excitement, wondering what lay ahead in a few hours. I willed myself back to a surface sleep.

Morning, and I was ready, preparing with my mom in the kitchen. She cooked egg whites and vegetarian sausages. I boiled water and prepared my drink food in the bladder for my pack and in the handheld plastic bottle. I planned for Vitargo to be my primary food during the race. I’ve never been able to eat and run, so I discovered that Vitargo will feed me as a drink and then I don’t have to deal with my moody stomach. This muscle food works for me wonderfully. I feel full and my stomach is happy while I run. This is what I kept telling myself that morning, too, because honestly, I wasn’t sure if that would be the case once I reached over 27 miles. I didn’t know how my gut would behave, and it had been a nemesis through many races.

I got everything ready and looked outside for a moment to see if it was raining. Instead, I saw white flakes illuminating the dark morning.

I yelled for my dad, “It’s snowing!”
He didn’t believe me and looked outside. “That’s better than rain,” he said. I agreed.

In fact, I was eager to go and get started once I had all my gear in place. On the way over to the race, my mom and I kept telling my dad to hurry up and go on, but he was spotting deer and kept slowing to point them out to us. “Yes, you’ll see a lot of deer this morning,” he assured me.

We made it through a couple more deer sightings and arrived at the park hotel where the race begins and ends in the parking area. The energy at the race start line felt on the jumpy-sluggish-eager-positive side. We were all ready to get going so that we wouldn’t be so cold. There were nerves about potential rain. It was cloudy so some of our own sleepyheads kept interrupting our need to run and warm up. We walked in circles, waiting to go, listening to Ranger Megan give us a quick briefing on the race course. Then, they rang the bell and suddenly, we were moving. “We’re all crazy!” someone shouted. I waved to my parents. My smile would not go away as we headed toward the golf course and turned into it.

I was suddenly aware of everyone’s music coming through their headphones and the conversations around me. I don’t usually listen to music or use earbuds during my training runs, and I realized that I had forgotten to connect my headphones and set up my music to play when I was ready. It was the one thing that I forgot in my excitement that morning, and for a race, I definitely need music. I’m usually a solo runner, and I’m not used to listening to other runners on the trail, and during a race, there are a lot of other runners who make their own sounds.

Luckily, I found my earbuds in the vest pocket but they were a tangled mess. I ran for 2.5 miles trying to untangle those damn things, and I was already cussing and dropping my glove every half mile. I used a spare pair of gloves (turquoise) to keep the phone warm so that the battery stayed charged for longer. I ran back three times to pick up one of the gloves. Finally, I left it back by a creek somewhere because I couldn’t even see it on the trail.

But the music was on, and I still had three gloves and two hats! Yes, that’s correct, 3 gloves. I wore a pair of red gloves and a red hat. I carried the spare turquoise gloves and a rainbow hat my friend Emily knitted for me for extra luck and warmth. I was good to go and the music was playing.

“Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights started me off. I created this playlist of hip hop, electronica/ house and lounge music. My husband was obsessed with it during our twenties, so I knew this music could carry me the distance. It had been our music of choice for all-nighters in Amsterdam and riding the train back the next morning to Zandvoort. I imagined the clubs and people, the djs, the dancing and euphoria. Daydreaming on the trail is good stuff, especially since I am writing a book with that time period and setting in part of it. I planned to daydream when needed during the race.

Dreamy moments began early, once the music was in place, but then 25km runners began passing us. They had started 30 min later than us 50k runners, and they jolted me back into the present moment, descending a ditchy hill with big chunky rocks.

By then, my playlist rattled and “Down” by Marian Hill kept me going by the cabin and through the ore pits. Everyone was spread out with enough space around us, and the courtesy was unmatched. Everyone moved over to let other runners pass who were faster. It was easy going and pleasant running all the way to the park office. Passing by, I said hello to my parents and stopped at the aid station for a bathroom break.

I was a little choked up as I crossed under the bridge over to the other side of the park to run the mountain bike trails. “Waiting Too Long” by Hippie Sabotage played, and I felt that I had indeed waited too long to run the race again. To run any race. I realized that the Bell Ringer of 2014 was the last race I had run and I’d dropped out so close to finishing that it surprised me to realize that I had unintentionally stopped signing up for races at that point, even though I started running 100 mile weeks, and put in over 1800 miles year after year.

All of those thoughts weighed me down over on the twists and turns and ups and downs, round and round, of the mountain bike area. “Go F*ck Yourself” by Two Feet was there just in time to remind me that I needed to tell my own sabotaging self that very thing. It was a song for grinding and I had placed it perfectly.

While 25k runners knuckle-bumped me and sped on their way, including the yoga student from the night before, I was battling that area and myself. It was too early in the run to struggle, I thought, but every time I tried to resurge, I felt weighed down.

“Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses was truth about the trail at that moment. I was in awe of the beauty—the snow covering the short pines, the creeks sparkling between snow-powdered stones, the cold white blankets lining the tree branches, the deep green of the ferns, the comforting squish of the trail underfoot, textures of bark above and below, and I reminded myself how in love I am with the trail. I snuck in a few Jimi songs to bring me comfort right when I would probably be needing them. “Little Wing” was what I needed to lead me out of that side. I stopped at the aid station again and passed my family.

“I’m so fatigued,” I told them. My trot was slow, and I waited for the group of runners ahead of me to take off on the single track that I knew was taking us to the stairs and then the halfway point of the 50km. “Just walk and hydrate for a few minutes,” my husband said.

I walked up the trail and in the direction of the stairs and drank, drank, drank. I found “River” by Bishop Briggs and that picked up my pace again. Moving me down by the creek and then up by the lake, where I passed a group of Boy Scouts with huge packs.

I was happy to be alone as a runner on the trail. I could see the group ahead of me when I needed to, and I didn’t see a soul behind me. I was in my solo run place and “Just Jammin’” by Gramatik by then. My feet were finally happy, my legs were happy, and my whole body decided to be happy around the lake, jumping creeks, and past another group of hikers to cover a section of the trail that we had ran earlier in the morning. This time, I was slower and stepped with care into the gulleys.

“Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance lifted me across the road, where I told a volunteer at the aid station how happy I was feeling to be over the halfway mark. “Halfway home. Halfway there” DJ Shadow spun through my speakers.

I was dancing down the trails and drinking a lot of food. I love the part of the trail that comes next. Through the pines, across the creeks and bridges, Moss-lined trails sparkling with icy snow, another view of the lake, and everything was “Gold” by Chet Faker as I rambled alongside the lake on the single track, slippery, beauty of a trail with gorgeous roots from the trees decorating it. I admired the trail’s variety and movement, its ever-changing textures.

When I rose up over the Spillway trail, I was in the place of “Feeling Good,” the Bassnectar Remix of Nina Simone’s classic. When we were dating twenty years ago, my husband and I would meet at the Spillway in the evenings. He and I would run the Spillway trail to the church road, and that was the exact route of the race.

Passing through the aid station at just over 19 miles, I felt great and picked up a little speed. I was in time with “Lovin’ It” by Marian Hill, and crossed the roads and back up the ore pits, this time in the opposite direction from earlier in the morning.

Again, I had trouble with my gloves as I tried to text, take photos, and change my music. “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo, and I backtracked for the glove again and again, until finally losing another one. I stopped looking and kept going. But then, I couldn’t find one of the unmatched gloves, and was aggravated because it was somewhere in my vest, I thought (turns out, one of the turquoise gloves was in my parents’ car the whole time, so I only had 3 gloves with me at the start). At that moment in the race, I assessed that I had one red glove on my left hand, one red hat on my head, the lucky Emily hat in my pocket, and one turquoise glove lost in my vest (but it wasn’t); the other red glove was lost somewhere in the half mile behind me, and one turquoise glove was lost between miles 3 and 4 at the start. “Errrrr!” I growled. Then, I put the lucky Emily hat on my hand that didn’t have a glove. It worked out.

I bounded down a big hill and met up with a fellow runner whom I had seen back at the beginning of the race and again at one of the aid stations. Someone had asked him if he was in the 101st, which would have meant that he was from Ft. Campbell, my neck of the woods. I asked him about it because I hadn’t heard his exact answer, just that he wasn’t in the 101st, but that he had been a soldier. We talked about where he had been stationed while he was in the Army.

He and I ran together past the cabin and alongside the creek back up to the cemetery. I was listening to “Sure Thing” by St. Germain as we talked about running, yoga, life. Turned out, he was a yoga teacher, too. Having the company was great, and making it to the next aid station felt like a breeze compared to my struggle with picking up the gloves.

My new running friend stopped to eat at the aid station. My husband caught up to me there and refilled my Vitargo, and I took off again. I was cruising around the outback area toward the fire tower road. I knew the out and back was coming up, and that part was challenging for me in 2014. I told myself to get rid of the negative thoughts.

About the time I was listening to “Flashed Junk Mind” by Milky Chance, I saw signs attached to the trees. Dirtbaggers were waiting, I realized, and then heard a loud scream ahead, followed by cheers and more screaming. In the distance, I saw a large human-sized panda bear screaming her head off at me. Cheering for me. She opened her arms up and I opened my arms wide and ran toward her. We met and embraced, and she screamed more. High fives with my fellow dirtbags, noticing that they had quite a spread laid out for those who could eat and run, and I was scooting down the gravel road. I told myself to keep running through the out and back and then I’d walk. I was getting tired again and needed to drink more of my food.

At the turnaround, a volunteer had stocked the back of his truck with every kind of snack you can imagine. It was like a convenience store. “Grab some calories,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, “but I’m okay. I’ve got juice.” I took a big drink and kept moving.

After I made it through the turn, I stopped and slurped down as much food as possible. About that time, the running friend I made earlier had caught up to me. We chatted a little but he was in the zone. I told him to go ahead, and we’d see each other later if we were meant to.

I started to trot again but I was feeling “Faded” (by Zhu) and it was playing. I ran through the Dirtbag station again and up the hill. I didn’t see my running friend at all. I was guessing that he had paired up with the two guys who had been running about a tenth of a mile in front of me for a while. I lost track of them somewhere around the Dirtbag station.

After I made it up the hill, I struggled a lot. There was a stalled train on the tracks that ran alongside the road. The train sat there beside me, unmoved. “Brighter” by Rufus du Sol reminded me of how low I was right then. I argued with myself about being too cold and too hot, being hungry, getting stuck at the same place in the race. My positive thoughts fought to win out. “Leftover” by Dennis Lloyd was this moment. I heard a runner approaching behind me. I moved over to the right side.

“Hey,” my runner friend said from beside me and began to walk with me.
“Oh, I thought you were long gone,” I said. “Did you stop back there?”
He had and eaten some potatoes. I was relieved to see him. I told him that I was struggling. He told me that my husband had stopped as he was leaving the aid station back at mile 21.6, and my husband told him to watch out for me. He said, “I don’t know if he meant that he wanted me to look after you or to watch out because you might beat me.”

We both laughed. I said that it was because Terry knew that was the toughest part of the race for me and he was asking him to look out for me. We walked. He tried cracking a few jokes, but I missed them. My brain wasn’t firing on time, and it took me a few minutes to catch up mentally as well as physically. I drank more, knowing I needed more fuel. I felt so bad that he was walking but he assured me that he needed to slow down for a little bit. We talked about life again, yoga, running. I drank a lot of food and begged my brain to release an endorphin. About that time, my second Jimi song played, “Hear My Train A-Comin'” and I had to laugh at the irony. My new friend talked about 100 mile and 50 mile races. I said that those were crazy. He reminded me of the potential in the human body, the ability for endurance and strength. We talked about injuries and how yoga can help. My husband broke his leg/ankle this year, so we discussed that. We walked. Finally, he said, “Do you think you can shuffle run up to that tree right up there?”

“I’ll try,” I said. We did the shuffle run and kept going. We alternated between running and walking. We neared another road crossing at the back of the park, and my friend told me that he had never ran a full marathon yet. I checked my timer to see where we were in our mileage. We were over 26 miles, and the two of us did a high five in honor of his first marathon!

Finally, once we crossed the 27 mile mark, I was relieved completely. I had made it past my old stopping place from 2014. “Solo Sunrise” by Chet Faker played somewhere in this time, and I was at the approaching sunset with a friend, but it was so fitting in melody. We had made it past the final cutoff an hour and a half ahead of the time. Everything in my body woke up at that moment. All my anxiety dissipated. I was excited, relaxed, and feeling strong. I wondered if my running friend was an angel, and told him thank you for helping me through the terrible slump I had hit back there. He said that he just wanted to cross the finish line and feel good at the end. I agreed. “Drop the Game” by Flume and Chet Faker coincided. I had experienced enough races when I couldn’t drive myself afterward and felt so terrible that I could barely make it to the end.

We rambled down the hillside and crossed a bunch of creeks again, talking along the way, feeling good. “Telemetron” by Hexstatic and a couple more from the Listen and Learn album propelled me with beats. My excitement grew as we neared the final aid station. I heard the highway as we ran atop the hillside. The hotel was through the trees in the distance. I pointed it out to him. We would run the hillside down to the front entrance of the park and then hook back toward the hotel. Both of us were eager to make it down the hill and across the road to the final length of trail. Shirley Bassey’s “Easy Thing To Do” remix by Nightmares on Wax was like a lullaby giving me a lilt in my run.

My family was waiting for us at the final aid station and cheered us on. My dad said that he would run with us if we needed a pacer to the end, but we were okay and ready to make it.

Up the hill, we wound our way toward the hotel, down the stairs, across the bridge, and up, up, up stairs at the end. We high-fived as we crossed the bridge. We ran up the stairs side-by-side. Jimi always plays for me near the end, and this was no exception. “Who Knows” his guitar wailed.

In the parking area, about a quarter of a mile from the finish line, my friend said, “You go ahead and run across the finish line. Your family is up there.” His calves were cramping up.

“No way!” I said. “You stayed with me when I was having a hard time, and we’re crossing the finish line together.” We walked.
I said, “Let’s walk around this last corner and then there’s a straightaway, we can do it. We can run it in.”

And, that’s what we did. We ran side-by-side, increasing our pace until we crossed the finish line together. He jumped up in the air just as we crossed the finish line or we would have had the exact same time.

Thrilling. Powerful. Joyful. Emotional. My daughters were watching and cheering. My family hugged me. Terry called me his hero. My parents were proud.

My runner friend rang the bell to signal his completion of the race. I rang the bell, and then rang it again and again. I wanted to make up for 2014 and any race I could have run in between.

I felt wonderful after the race. I was ready to keep going. “I can run a 50-miler,” I told my husband.

In the car, Terry handed me my other red glove. “Another runner gave it to me at one of the aid stations. He picked it up when you dropped it on the trail.” Back at my parents’ house, my mom gave me a turquoise glove, “you left this in the car before the race.” So, I only lost one glove on the trail, a turquoise glove at the beginning.

I set new running goals immediately because everything felt different. I wasn’t as sore as I’d been during my training runs. I was aware of my shortcomings–too much multitasking and too many negative thoughts about my ability. After the 50km, I felt more alert and positive about running races than I had been in years. I was renewed. I set my sights on a 50-mile race in May.

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Notes: I could have gotten the order of some things mixed up. After twenty miles, I can’t exactly remember where a thought and/or conversation took place every time, but I try to get close and recount what mattered.

Also, this was my horoscope from Rob Brezsny the Tuesday following the race:
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Danish scientist and poet Piet Hein wrote this melancholy meditation: “Losing one glove is painful, but nothing compared to the pain of losing one, throwing away the other, and finding the first one again.” Let his words serve as a helpful warning to you, Gemini. If you lose one of your gloves, don’t immediately get rid of the second. Rather, be patient and await the eventual reappearance of the first. The same principle applies to other things that might temporarily go missing.
FREE WILL ASTROLOGY
Week beginning December 13
Copyright 2018 by Rob Brezsny
http://www.freewillastrology.com/horoscopes/
Grammar key: Asterisks equal *italics*
Rob Brezsny is amazing–check him out. His expanded audio horoscopes are even more eerily accurate.

Playlist In-Part (the Highs and Lows):
Warning: Some of these songs obviously contain explicit lyrics, and the videos could be as well if you choose to look them up…
“Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights
“Down” by Marian Hill
“Waiting too Long” by Hippie Sabotage
“Go F*ck Yourself” by Two Feet
“Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses
“Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix
“River” by Bishop Briggs
“Just Jammin'” by Gramatik
“Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance
“Halfway Home” by DJ Shadow
“Gold” by Chet Faker
“Feeling Good” Bassnectar Remix of Nina Simone
“Loving It” by Marian Hill
“Way Down We Go” by Kaleo
“Sure Thing” by St. Germain feat. John Lee Hooker
“Flashed Junk Mind” by Milky Chance
“Faded” by Zhu
“Leftover” by Dennis Lloyd
“Brighter” by Rufus Du Sol
“Hear My Train A-Comin'” by Jimi Hendrix
“Solo Sunrise” by Chet Faker
“Drop the Game” by Flume and Chet Faker
“Telemetron” by Hexstatic
“Easy Thing to Do” by Shirley Bassey; Nightmares on Wax mix
“Who Knows” by Jimi Hendrix