Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Co-Run-A-Virus 100 Miler

It's a crazy time right now with this Coronavirus pandemic. People are quarantined at home.
~ Days blur together. Is it April 92nd?
~ Parents have been forced to do home schooling, and there are record sales of alcohol. Coincidence? Um....no.
~ Salons have been closed so people have attempted to give themselves haircuts. That Jennifer Aniston hair style you were hoping for looks more like Cookie Monster. Ooops.
~ When cooped up at home, eating distracts from boredom. No longer is weight gain referred to as the "Freshman 15." It's now the "Quarantine 15."
~ The government has announced that lock down will not end until every man, woman, and child has watched Tiger King.

In the midst of all this craziness, I had a few days off work. I had already met my moral and ethical obligation to watch Tiger King. Yes, Carole Baskin killed him. And I figured this might be the only opportunity I'll ever have to run a 100 miler during a pandemic. (Insert Fingers Crossed emoji here.) So I set out to run the Co-Run-A-Virus 100! (Thanks to Hollie Reina for the cool name.)

I decided to stay close to home and run a .9 mile loop around the block of my house. I set up an aid station on my porch with running essentials: Dr. Pepper, peanut butter M&Ms, Doritos, and Swedish Fish. Are you new to ultrarunning? Don't give up kids! With enough practice, you can run many miles fueled by Nacho Cheese Doritos too! Around lunch time, I stopped at home for a few minutes to vacuum up at least 2,000 calories worth of nachos.

My friend Leah Lister heard that I was out running around the block. She knows that at any given moment, my blood stream is likely 30% Dr. Pepper. I saw her pull up beside me with a cold fountain drink. I could have hugged her. But then I remembered that I had been running in the sun for many hours, and I probably smelled like a rotting armadillo. (Unfortunately, I know exactly how those smell.) So instead, I gratefully took the drink and kept moving.

A few people asked about the mental challenge of running such a monotonous course. Thankfully, I don't usually get too bored, even on repetitive courses. #blessed Once I ran a 100 miler around the deck of a cruise ship. A few times I've run 100 milers around a high school track. Taking those into consideration, my .9 mile loop wasn't bad at all. As long as I have a good podcast or book to listen to, and an occasional sighting of a horse-drawn carriage, I'm happy as a clam.

Eventually I started to get sick of Swedish Fish and Doritos. Mel ordered some pizza for dinner, and I took a short break to indulge. I've eaten MANY pieces of pizza during long runs over the years. It ALWAYS tastes amazing. And I ALWAYS regret it. Before I knew it, four pieces of Little Caesar's sausage pizza had plowed their way into my stomach. This behavior will not rank anywhere on my list of Smartest Things I've Ever Done.

As evening started to approach, I could see some dark clouds brewing in the distance. If my legs are cooperating, I try to get a jumping picture during each 100 miler. This seemed like a good time to take care of that.

Once it got dark, my kids decided to join in on the "fun." (I use the term "fun" very, very loosely.) Talking with them was a good distraction from my legs that were starting to get a tad grumpy.

The level of "fun" decreased when a storm rolled in and decided to dump. No big deal. When life gives you lemons, just crack open another Dr. Pepper and loathe the fact that you're out in a downpour instead of getting into bed.

Later, the family went to bed. I started perfecting the art of sleep walking. I love sleep walking as much as I love cream of mushroom soup (exactly 0%). Sleep walking led to me almost stepping on a frog. It was time to change from an audio book to music.

Sometime way past the hour that a sane person would have gone to bed, my friend Josh Conner showed up. If you didn't know any better, you'd hang out with us and think "Those two are so quirky and nerdy that they must be brothers." As evidence of his athletic abilities, this man holds the World Record for the Fastest Half Marathon While Dressed as a Cowboy. Josh was patient with my slow nighttime pace, and kept me laughing for hours as I inched my way toward sunrise.

Then somewhere around 5:30am, my friend Turd'l Miller showed up. Turd'l has worked countless aid stations over the years, and he always seems to be at the aid station where I feel my worst. He has an endearing way of shoving food into my face to make sure I get the calories I need. There has been some ongoing trash talking between me and Turd'l about who could eat the most McDonald's ice cream cones in one sitting. (Spoiler alert: me.) At some point this competition will happen. But in the mean time, Turd'l called a bunch of McDonald's and managed to find some ice cream before coming out to meet me. That ice cream was heaven. I loved the hours he spent going around that damn loop with me.

Finally, light began to spill over Zion National Park on the horizon, and we were treated to a beautiful sunrise.

Mel shared many, many miles with me during the first day, during the night, and during the second day of the run. Just how many miles? Mel finished an incredible 40 miles during the time I was out doing loops around the block! I am seriously impressed.

At mile 98 or 99, we stopped for a minute and talked to Seret Rafferty who lives nearby. Later she shared this picture of me and Mel.

I finished the Co-Run-A-Virus 100 miler after 29 hours and 32 minutes. I really like these solo 100 milers where I can do my own thing, run my own course, and just have fun without the pressure of cutoffs. If my count is correct, I think I've done thirty five 100+ mile runs, and eleven of those have been solo 100 milers.

I bought myself a belt buckle for an award in case I finished the run. It is a handmade buckle by Bykali. I have many race buckles that have been made by her, and her stuff is always incredible. I especially love this one.

So in conclusion, you can go suck a rotten egg Coronavirus. And I'm sorry if your hair looks like Joe Exotic because your salon has been shut down so you were forced to give yourself a haircut. And to Doritos, I feel like I might be single-handedly keeping your brand in business. And I can't wait until regular races resume so I won't be tempted to run 100 miles around the block. When social distancing eases up and we see each other at a race, consider me first in line to give you a hug.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Annual Reese Family Christmas Letter - 2019



Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from the Reese family! I’m sorry to report that we weren’t able to achieve our goal of teaching our dogs to bark the notes of The Twelve Days of Christmas. I had this vision of how awesome it would be for the UPS guy to ring the doorbell and have our poodle and Great Dane serenade them with a Christmas song. Maybe next year. Here’s a little rundown of 2019 at the Reese household:

Kylee is a sophomore at Hurricane High. I don’t know what kind of time warp I entered where suddenly our youngest child is in high school. Early in the year Ky and I contracted what was either the flu or the Bubonic Plague. We’ve never been so sick and I legitimately worried that the Grim Reaper might pop out of the pantry and snatch us. At least we got to suffer together. That wasn’t the only terrifying adventure me and Kylee shared this year. We also drove five hours to the middle of nowhere (also known as Tonopah, Nevada) to spend a night at the scariest motel on the planet, The Clown Motel. Sleeping in a place surrounded by clowns (and probably bed bugs) was pretty scary. In February she completed an amazing 50 miles at the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival. Ky continues to develop as an artist. Her drawing and painting skills are exceptional. A personal favorite art piece of mine was her rendition of Mona Lisa with the face of Homer Simpson. She went to prom and Sadie’s. She spent the summer working at the local pool, and is also on the high school swim team. Another highlight of her year was when we discovered an amazing pizza place in Hildale, Utah. The first time we took a bite of their pizza, we literally heard a choir of angels rejoicing. Strange to hear angels at the pizza place, but whatevs.

Dani is a junior at Hurricane High School. She is counting down the days until she is a senior and has the legal authority to shove kids into their lockers. She reached the rite of passage every kid dreams about – getting a driver’s license. This involved lots of early morning classes, passing a test, and getting lots of practice hours with a parent. Mel went out with her once, but she was so scared that she started levitating out of the seat. When she got home, she said “You’re going to have to be in charge of doing the hours with her.” Thankfully Dani feels much more comfortable behind the wheel now. Approximately 37% of Dani’s life is spent in the water. It was highly disturbing when I realized that she is starting to grow gills. She was a lifeguard at the pool over the summer. She is on the high school swim team. And she was on the water polo team. She is a very talented swimmer. She had a blast going to the BYU/Utah football game with her siblings, and also went to the homecoming and Sadie’s dances. Earlier in the year Dani and I drove to northern Utah to see one of our favorite musicians, Ben Rector. We were pretty psyched to meet him before the concert. He didn’t propose marriage to Dani like she was hoping, but whatevs.

Jackson’s year has been pretty insane in the membrane. During his senior year in high school, he also completed coursework to become certified as an Emergency Medical Technician. His classes went until 10pm, after already having a full day of school. He finished his final year as the pianist of the school Jazz Band and had the honor of being awarded Musician Of The Year. He was the Music Sterling Scholar for the school and earned a nice scholarship, then graduated from high school. Jackson chose to serve a mission for the Mormon Church and is currently in Medford, Oregon teaching in Spanish. Before leaving for his mission, he gave a farewell talk at church. The night before his talk, the whole family was in the car listening to our favorite reggae band Rebelution. While listening to the song “Celebrate” we heard the lyrics “I got your back at the worst set of times, and in return know that you have got mine.” I jokingly said “Jackson, those are cool lyrics! You should work those into your talk!” The next morning we were sitting in church listening to his talk. He said “I’ve had a few health problems over the past year. I received a lot of comfort from my dad when he sat me down and told me ‘I know this is tough, but just remember that I’ve got your back at the worst set of times, and in return know that you have got mine.’” #proudparentmoment The family inside joke had all of us smiling from ear to ear. After the talk, a few people came up and said “That was so touching what you said to Jackson.” People didn’t know where the line really came from, but whatevs.

Mel has managed to continue her 41 year streak of being pretty freaking awesome. In February she ran her first 100 mile race! We were able to run every step of the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival together and it was so cool to share that experience with her. We went to Costa Rica earlier in the year. It was pure heaven hanging around the beach, or lounging by the pool and trying to keep monkeys from stealing our snacks. Mel could have started her own HGTV home remodeling show this year by redoing all three bathrooms in our house. Her dad definitely would have been proud of all her handiwork. We went on an awesome road trip together in September. We spent time at Monument Valley, then headed to Ouray, Colorado where we saw the most stunning autumn colors ever. We hiked to the indescribably beautiful Ice Lake and Island Lake. Then we spent a day in Durango before heading home. We feel so lucky to have an amazing group of friends that we regularly get to spend time with. In fact, it was during one such weekend with a group of friends that we went down to Vegas and had a chance run in with Vanilla Ice. I’m relatively sure that seeing Mr. Vanilla Ice in person probably wasn’t one of Mel’s highlights for the year. Mel has some big news – she is starting a new job at Intermountain Healthcare! By the time you read this, she will have started. She will be one of their nurse practitioners who covers a skilled nursing facility in the area. She has been doing a similar job already so it should be a smooth transition. Her only flaw is an occasional chastising when I stop at the gas station to buy a soda, but whatevs.

I’m beginning my 15th year as a medical social worker for the University of Utah Dialysis Program. After more time than I would prefer with doctors, I found out I have this thing called Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID) which basically means that my immune system is as useful as a pet rock. I had to start weekly infusions of Hizentra (kind of like plasma) and will have to continue doing them for life. I love needles as much as I love Celine Dion music (somewhere around 0.000%), but usually the infusions go okay. My friend Scott Kummer helped me complete a lifelong dream of seeing a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. We sweated a few gallons of fluid during the game, ate crappy nachos, and had the time of our lives. I ran the Jackpot 100, Zion 100, and a race called Vol State. This little adventure involved running/walking/crawling/crying across five states and 314miles. Then I got home and entered therapy to deal with my PTSD. At the beginning of the year I set a goal to read/listen to 100 books. It’s the beginning of December and I’m at 116 books. This goal really has been life changing. But my ultimate highlight of the year happened on Halloween. At work I dressed up as Bob Ross, complete with the big afro and beard. I ran across the street to grab lunch at the grocery store. The guy managing the bakery said “Hey! Bob Ross! Did you know that we sell Bob Ross energy drinks?” He told me where they were. And suddenly…I was holding an energy drink with a big Bob Ross face on the front…while I was dressed as Bob Ross. I think I made all the planets in the solar system align in that moment, but whatevs.

Then we have our two dogs who create more than their share of mischief. Jack, the poodle, loves following us around the house like a stalker, and chewing on Bully Sticks. Since this letter is family friendly, I won’t describe what they are. Google it. (After I Googled it, I no longer allow Bully Sticks in the house.) He’s old and we don’t know how much longer he’ll be alive. Unfortunately he won’t be going to dog heaven. He barks so much that he will be going to dog hell. Then there’s our Great Dane, Little Debbie. She absolutely loves watching National Geographic videos. She is a horrible demon of destruction and sneaks as much food as possible. For example, this past week she enjoyed stealing a piece of pizza, a bag of homemade caramels, and a full plate of cookies that were left on the counter. Her general attitude is “I know I’m going to get in big trouble for this, but man, I love cookies, so whatevs.”

We had a lot of fun experiences as a family this year. We love going to concerts and saw Aerosmith, Rebelution, The Strumbellas, OneRepublic, and Paul McCartney. We enjoyed a fun family reunion at Sand Hollow Reservoir. We fell in love with Modern Family and had fun watching episodes and laughing together. We had lots of dance parties late into the night that included loud music and lots of mocking how terrible my dancing abilities are. A few times we’ve spontaneously made the 3 hour roundtrip drive to a dairy in Beaver, Utah that has amazing ice cream. The drive home usually includes a stomach ache, and mild self-hatred for the vast quantities of ice cream that were consumed, but whatevs.

I hope I’m not implying that our house is always a Norman Rockwell painting. We have had our share of challenges and heartache and frustrations and discouragement. We also have our share of fighting, arguing, whining, and complaining. But through it all, we still love each other. At least most of the time. We are a blanket of flaws and imperfections sewn together with love. I know. That last sentence sounds cheesy, but it’s true, so whatevs.

Thanks for your continued love and friendship. Here’s to a wonderful 2020! Love, the Reese Family

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Last Annual Vol State 500k Race Report - 2019


During the race, I thought about how I would explain this situation to my therapist. Granted, I didn't have a therapist. But I was pretty sure I'd need one after this race. I could see myself sitting on the therapist's couch and saying:

"Hi. My name is Cory. I just finished a 314 mile race called the Last Annual Vol State 500k. It took me 8 days and 6 hours to finish. We started in Missouri. Then we crossed into Kentucky. Then we ran across Tennessee. This was followed by some miles in Alabama, before finishing in Georgia. I didn't have a crew or aid stations. I was not on a prisoner of war death march. I paid to do this. I think I might have PTSD from my blisters."

The therapist would then smile, imagining all the boat payments that my extensive therapy visits would be paying for years to come. 

There are two divisions at Vol State: Crewed (with a crew and support), and Screwed (sorry, no help for you, good luck using gas stations to refill on food and fluid). I was Screwed. I had to carry anything I may need for that 314 mile journey. Here is what I took with me:

Shirt (the one pictured is the only shirt I wore the whole time)
Shorts (the shorts pictured are the only shorts I wore the whole time) 
Injinji Socks (wore one pair, took one extra)
Ear buds
External battery charger
Camera
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Contact case
Reflective vest (didn't use)
Emergency blanket (didn't use)
Altra Torin shoes (wore same pair the whole time)
Blister repair kit
Epi Pen
Body Glide
Wipes
Direction Book
Mace
Head lamp
Patagonia Houdini jacket
Travel pillow (used once, just used my pack as a pillow the rest of the time)
Ice bandana
Cash for vending machines
UltrAspire Zygos pack
Not pictured: bug spray, sun screen, hat, $.99 poncho, and umbrella. The umbrella helped a ton with both sun and rain.

After the race, my shirt, shorts, and socks were transported to a nuclear waste incinerator. 

We met at the finish line at 6:30am on Wednesday to load buses which would drive us on a day-long trip across Tennessee to the start line. Unfortunately there were some complications with the bus company and buses didn't arrive until 5:30pm. Despite the ~11 hour delay standing in the heat all day, runners still remained in good spirits.

Day 1 ~ Miles 0-62
Bright and early on Day 1, we boarded a ferry that took us across a river and dropped us off in Missouri. Race director Lazarus Lake lit his cigarette signalling the beginning of the race, then we got right back on the ferry and went back to Kentucky. I love this little quirk that allows at least a few steps of the race to be in Missouri. 

I ran many miles with my new friends Sharon and Cherie. We came across Laz on the course and they asked if I'd take a picture of them with Laz. (Gary Cantrell aka Lazarus Lake is also the race director of the Barkley Marathons.) Laz put his arms around them for the photo. Then I asked if I could get a picture as well. Laz said "Sure, but I'm not putting my arm around you." I walked up to him and right before the picture he put his arm around me. I'm not going to lie. That made my day.

Late in the afternoon, Cherie, Sharon, and I caught a view of heaven up ahead and knew we had to stop. That's right kids, heaven looks distinctly like Taco Bell. After two cheesy gordita crunches, a bean burrito, and some Mountain Dew Baja Blast, I was on my way again.

We enjoyed a stunning sunset on the first night, though I was already starting to feel the beginning of a panic attack. We weren't even 24 hours into the race and I was already feeling so tired and sore. I truly couldn't begin to wrap my head around how it would be possible to continue doing this for up to 10 days.

In the middle of the night we got to a fire station that graciously was being used as a place for runners to rest. It was a tad disturbing when I first walked in. The place looked like a morgue. 

Day 2 ~ Miles 63-101
Day Two was indescribably brutal for me. The heat and humidity were utterly smothering. I stopped for breakfast at a little cafe in Huntington. I sat next to some other runners. One guy had chaffing so bad that he planned to drop from the race. He lifted his shorts to show me that he had bloody maxi pads taped to the inside of his thighs! That was certainly a "What have I gotten myself into???" moment. By the afternoon I still hadn't slept yet, so I found a great awning of a church and took a short rest. I spent many hours with my new friend Ed Masuoka. He is brilliant, funny, and humble. He is a NASA scientist, and this was his 6th Vol State race.

On the evening of Day 2, I got my first real rest. I stayed three hours at a Knights Inn motel. Even though my room had no soap or shampoo, it more than made up for it with hair. Hair in the sink. Hair in the shower. Hair in the bed. Whoever stayed in that room before me was shedding like a black lab. I took a quick shower, then worked on fixing blisters, then slept for about 90 minutes in my cozy blanket of hair.

Around midnight I met up with my friends Jeff and Carol Manwaring and we plunged into the night together. From that point on, we spent every single mile with each other.

The race is well known in Tennessee. Many people who live along the route will set out some snacks or a cooler of drinks on their front lawn. They are called "road angels" and their kindness was so, so appreciated.

Because of the suffocating heat, we tried to focus on getting most of our miles at night. My favorite part of moving at night was when we would start sleep walking, then find a cozy driveway to take a quick 20 minute power nap. Hearing the frogs croak and the crickets chirp while staring at a blanket of stars above was magic. It's crazy how rested you can feel after sleeping for 20-30 minutes.

Day 3 ~ Miles 102-137
The morning of Day 3 was an inferno. You know that scene in The Wizard of Oz where the Wicked Witch of the West cackles "I'm melllltingggg!" as she drips into a puddle on the floor? I was the Wicked Witch. 

We were kind of getting to a crisis point with the heat and were starting to get concerned. At that very moment we came across Pam Pratt who I swear had angel wings tucked under her shirt. She had chairs under a canopy, cold Dr. Pepper and water, and some pasta salad that I would have sold one of my kidneys for. (Notice the bubbled sunburn blisters on my knees. Yes. I was using sunscreen.)

Jeff and Carol brought a baby stroller to carry their supplies. They did this last year too and got stopped by police a few times to make sure they didn't have a baby out in the heat. The Manwarings only live a few minutes away from me. I've known them for many years. We even traveled to Tennessee together. I couldn't have guessed that we'd spend almost the whole race together, and how valuable their support would be.

We planned to sleep for a few hours during the heat of the day. They booked a motel room in advance and there weren't any rooms left. They graciously invited me to stay in their room with them. I can't express how thankful I was. Traditionally when you stop, you rinse out your clothes and hang them up to dry. (Spoiler alert: THEY NEVER DRY.) I told them I didn't have a second pair of clothes so I'd just wrap a towel around myself. Jeff said "I have a dry pair of underwear, you can just wear these while you sleep." Did I wear them? You betcha. Then we all sat there in our underwear comparing blisters. And after we woke up, I took off Jeff's underwear, then he put them right back on. That, my friends, is true friendship. When you're in the midst of a 314 mile battle like this, swapping underwear doesn't even register on the radar for bizarre things.

Our long slog through the night began with an insane flash flood. We were drenched. We got to know the smell of roadkill before we even saw the roadkill. Skunks smell terrible. Possums smell terrible. But the absolute worst smelling roadkill is armadillos. They smell like a combination of a clogged gas station toilet, moldy cheese, rotten eggs, sweaty armpits, bad breath, and vomit. 

During the night we took a short power nap. Sleep comes within 60 seconds once your head hits the ground.

Day 4 ~ Miles 138-174
We were blessed with some cloud cover which helped us get a few extra miles in the daylight.

One road angel said up some camp chairs in their garage with drinks and snacks. We caught up with my friends Sharon and Cherie and they immediately had me laughing with their hilarious stories. 

Jeff, Carol, and I got a hotel room for a few hours in the afternoon. We planned to sleep four hours but I could only sleep three because my feet were hurting so bad. All my sorrows vanished in the evening though when I made my second Taco Bell visit of the race. 

People were so interested in the race. The most common question was "Why are you doing this?" They expected to hear that we were running for a charity or something. For me, "Why?" is a difficult question to answer. It's a deep question wrapped up in a lot of thought and emotion. Instead of getting into the philosophical points of making a journey like this, I'd usually say something like "I had some vacation hours at work that I needed to burn." So many people stopped and asked us about the route, or our goals, or the experiences we had so far. People were genuinely interested and so amazingly considerate and thoughtful.

That night we took a power nap in my favorite place during the whole race: a post office! It was quiet and cozy and we slept like rocks for a glorious 40 minutes.

Day 5 ~ Miles 175-202
Day 5 was kind of a blur ("Alex, I'll take Sleep Deprivation for $600.") We spent a few hours at a motel in Columbia and got FIVE HOURS of sleep! This was our longest period of sleep during the whole race. We felt amazing after waking up. After a few miles we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. We all stopped walking and just stood there in silence surrounded by a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors. I took deep breaths. I wanted to breath in every ray of pink and purple and yellow and orange that my lungs would hold. It was a powerful moment.

As light faded to darkness, I fell into kind of a dark place myself. My feet were an utter mess. Blisters had erupted all over both feet and each step was incredibly painful. I'd consider myself fairly experienced on foot care, but I just could not get on top of this problem. I was overwhelmingly discouraged and frustrated. 

During the night we made it to The Bench Of Despair. This is probably the most legendary spot of the Vol State 500k course. By this time, many runners feel as if they have met their breaking point. The discouragement I was feeling wasn't unusual. But the silver lining is that nearly every single person who has ever made it to the Bench Of Despair at mile 186 ends up finishing the race. I just needed to not give up.

A few miles after The Bench Of Despair, we made it to The Nutt House. Jimbo and Kim Nutt LIVE for the Vol State race each year. Their front yard is transformed into an oasis of love and support. They gave us chairs to sit on, cooked us some hamburgers, and even gave us some pie. It was so touching to see how important this race is to them. They truly love every runner who passes through, and it shows.

We had some really slow miles during the late night and early morning. We were all so tired. My feet felt like I was walking on molten lava, and Carol's ankle was causing lots of hassles. Around 4:00am we got to a gas station that was already cooking breakfast. We ordered some BLT sandwiches but it was going to take a few minutes to cook them. Our legs and feet were so demolished that we couldn't stand for a few minutes. Instead we just laid down to rest.

Our brains were FRIED. I think we realized the absurdity of laying on a gas station floor and we got the giggles. Then the giggles morphed into a complete outburst of laughter. We could have been arrested for public intoxication, and we would have failed the sobriety test of walking a straight line. Except that instead of being drunk on alcohol, we were drunk on exhaustion. This moment of pure misery may be my favorite memory of the whole race.


Day 6 ~ Miles 203-225
We made it to Lewisburg, Tennessee and were treated to a jaw dropping sunrise.
My feet were in severe distress and I needed some medical supplies from Walgreens. I had to sit outside and wait for 45 minutes for them to open. (Jeff and Carol went ahead a mile to our motel where we planned to sleep for a few hours.) While waiting for the store to open, a kitten found me and refused to let me stop petting her. I'm surprised that any living creature would willingly get that close to me considering that I had been wearing the same clothes for six days in a row.

The rest of the day was just a typical Vol State kind of day. You know, sleep in a crappy motel for a few hours, see a dead horse on the side of the road, eat gas station nachos, enjoy beef stew from a different gas station, take a roadside power nap, dodge dead armadillos, see a rainbow. The usual.

Somewhere along the way I lost my Badwater hat. I may have set it down when I stopped to take a picture or something. I planned to buy another one at the next gas station. Selection was fairly limited, but when I saw the bedazzled hat that said BOY, I heard the hat whisper to me "I love you. Take me with you." So I did. We've been best friends ever since.

Day 7 ~ Miles 226-267
It's difficult to describe how challenging Day 7 was for me. The heat radiating from the road was like a toaster oven. I SWEAR if you put a pepperoni Hot Pocket in each of my shoes, you could have set the shoes on the road for three minutes, then had yourself a couple of fully baked Hot Pockets. Between the heat and the fact that my feet were always wet, my blisters went from bad to worse.

We all experienced the brink of another crisis moment when we got caught in the heat of the day with no cover. This is a quick way to lose 15 pounds of sweat within one hour. My skin was withering like a dry raisin.

I just tried to hold on to hope that things would work out. I know I have the ability to keep fighting when things get hard. I recognized that this was one of those transformational moments when you realize that you are capable of more than you imagined. It's a blessing to recognize when you are living one of those moments.

In the evening we stopped at a Subway restaurant in Manchester. While we ate, I spent a lot of time trying to fix blisters. Once we started moving again, I knew I was in big trouble. My feet were in worse condition than ever. Carol said she has lots of experience fixing blisters and offered to work on my feet. I initially declined. I was being too prideful, and I was embarrassed at my condition. But my feet were at a crisis point. Something had to happen. So eventually I relented. In the lot of a car dealership she got my feet back into a condition that I could keep going.


At 2:00am we propped a phone on the baby stroller and watched the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I'm not exaggerating. I know every single line of that movie. I've never met someone who knows and loves that movie as much as I do. That is until I met Jeff and Carol! Those couple hours of the movie were pure happiness.

Day 8 ~ Miles 268-301
The focus of Day 8 was the three mile climb to Monteagle, one of two big climbs of the race. The bonus was that the scenery helped distract from our angry legs and feet.

Before the race, Carol told me that there are parts of the course that remind her of Hawaii. It seemed like a stretch to compare Tennessee to Hawaii, but now I finally understood what she meant.

Occasionally we'd get to a gas station or fast food restaurant and see other runners. Sometimes you get the luxury of sleeping in a motel for a few hours. Sometimes you just sleep on the side of the road. And sometimes you just sleep in a restaurant. My friend Cherie McCafferty took this photo during one of her stops. In my eyes, this is a perfect description of the Vol State experience:

We slept for a while in Monteagle, then I spent a while trying to fix blisters before we started again. As with the night before, as soon as I started moving, my feet were screaming with pain. I just couldn't keep going. Carol said "Sit down, let me help you." She took off my shoes and started working on my blisters.

This was my breaking point of the race. I'm not normally very emotional, but at that moment I burst into tears. When Carol saw the silent tears rolling down my cheeks, she started crying too. My feet were hurting so bad that I couldn't begin to fathom how it would be possible to go another 40 miles. It seemed absolutely impossible. But she again repaired them enough to keep going. Even now, the thought of her deep compassion makes me emotional. 

That night was a dark time for all of us, literally and figuratively. We were all having a hard time, and we were all trying to help each other keep going. Our NASA friend Ed caught up to us! We were thrilled to see him. Ed was so tired that he was talking to trees. In that moment, all we could do was laugh as we thought back on what we had experienced over the course of those eight days.

Day 8.5 ~ Miles 302-314
We made it through our last night of the race! We survived eight days! Now we only had the final 15 mile push to the finish line. A point of celebration for runners is when they reach the Blue Bridge around mile 304. By that point you can start to smell the finish line. That's when you know you're going to make it. I was ecstatic.


There are no words that could adequately express the gratitude and love I feel for Jeff and Carol Manwaring. Their compassion, encouragement, sense of humor, and grit radiate off of them. They said they were so thankful that I was part of their journey too. We talked about how we needed each other, we helped each other when times were tough, and the fact that we were with each other made the race experience so much richer. I feel so thankful to call them my friends.

We had the last climb of the race up Sand Mountain to complete. But we were determined and excited to make it to the finish.

In our final miles, we got caught in the fiercest flash flood of the race. Sometime I'll share some video from that point. It was pretty crazy. Right before the finish, Jeff, Carol, and I celebrated with a 312 mile jumping picture.

And then, after 8 days and 6 hours, covering the span of 314 miles, we made it to The Rock, the finish line of the Vol State 500k. I was swallowed with a sense of complete happiness and gratitude for the journey that I had just experienced.

Laz congratulated us at the finish line. He laughed at my hat and said he liked the creativity of buying a hat at a gas station after losing my first hat. He said "Let's trade hats for the finish line picture." I love this so, so much.

I could feel something changing in me during this race. The person who stood at The Rock after 314 miles is not the same person who stood at the start line. All the outside noise was quieted. It became so clear to see what truly matters in life. What matters is love. The world clutters our lives with responsibilities and due dates and meetings and to-do lists. They suck up our time and energy. But those things are completely meaningless. Relationships are what breathe life into us.

I saw just how powerful a simple act of kindness can be. On day 2, I started crying when a guy pulled up next to me and handed me a bottle of water. I needed that water and it meant so much to me. I regretted all the times I have passed up an opportunity to be a road angel to someone who may need something as simple as a bottle of water, or a hug, or some words of encouragement. I assure you that I will do my best to not overlook those opportunities anymore. It doesn't need to be something major. It's those small, simple actions that can make a world of difference. I will actively seek out opportunities to be a road angel to people in my everyday life.

I saw firsthand that we are capable of more than we know. I saw it in every single runner I spent time with. So often we take the easy way out in life. We choose comfort. We quit when it gets hard. But if we're willing to accept and embrace being uncomfortable, there really is nothing we can't do.


If you want to read more of my stuff, check out my books Nowhere Near First, and Into The Furnace. It's hard to summarize an experience like this into a single blog post. I don't have anything specific planned, but there may be more of this experience that finds its way to a book in the future.

Thank you to my sponsors St. George Running Center, Altra, Tailwind Nutrition, Injinji, and UltrAspire. Thank you to the amazing road angels along the course. You always seemed to be there when we needed you most. Thanks to the amazing runners I was able to share miles with. I am so happy to have new friendships with you. Thank you Laz for pushing me to my limit and showing me that I can push even farther. And finally, thank you Mel, Jackson, Dani, and Ky for your love and support. Coming home to your love was the greatest finish line award of all.