Summer of 2017, I was diagnosed with hidradenitis suppurativa, an autoimmune condition of the skin, which prompted me to make some lifestyle changes. For six months, I followed the Auto-immune Protocol (AIP) diet, quit drinking, and dropped 23 lbs. With newfound clean energy, I suddenly had these urges to run! Before that, I HATED running!
I use my runs as opportunities to learn, either about myself or whatever topic that interests me on YouTube. From the Recommended playlist, I played a random interview between Tom Bilyeu and David Goggins on Impact Theory. It was this episode that I first heard about Badwater 135, one of the world’s toughest foot race. I wrote down in my journal that one day I would also like to run an ultramarathon.
End of September, I moved down from the D.C. area to Fayetteville, N.C. to start my tour at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I didn’t know anybody, so I started running by myself. First, I’d go for a 30-minute run to see how far I could go. Then I’d increased the time to 45 min…60 min.. 2 hours! By the end of October, I logged a total of 132 miles!
27JAN18 – NC Fatass 50k (Ellerbe, NC)
In November 2017, I signed up for my first official marathon. Technically, I did the Bataan Memorial Death March in 2014, but I rucked the entire way, so that doesn’t count. I couldn’t wait until May for the Flying Pig Marathon, so I searched for a race that was happening sooner. I found the NC FA 50K on Ultrasignup. The race description said “no fees, no awards, no t-shirts, and no whining” Free race! So I decided why not?! Even though I’ve never run a marathon before, I felt inspired by David Goggins and asked myself “What would Goggins do?”. Coincidently, I went to my local running store for a pair of trail running shoes, and there was a picture of David Goggins on the wall! I didn’t walk away with new shoes, but I took it as a sign that I was meant to become an ultrarunner!
My husband AJ agreed to run it with me, even though he didn’t train for it. We both didn’t know much about nutrition – I brought a sweet potato plus few snacks from Sprout’s, which to my delight, had just opened in Fayetteville. For my hydration system, I carried a Camelbak that was way too big and ditched it in the middle of the first loop. I remember laughing about how ironic it was to use the same Camelbak that kept us hydrated at the music festival in Vegas where we got married in 2 years prior. I started at a conversational pace (15 min/mile), so AJ grumbled at me, “At this rate, we’re NOT going to make it!” I told him to relax and that we had 31 miles!! By mile 15, he was done and hoped that I would quit. The cutoff was 8 hours. We both finished in 7 hrs and 35 min. What a great way to start off the New Year! I couldn’t believe it when I overheard people who were already talking about doing another race the following weekend.
FEB – Airborne! (Fort Benning, GA)
Didn’t have a race this month, but I attended the U.S. Army Basic Airborne School (a career dream come true!), so I knew there would be plenty of running. Some days I felt extremely motivated and woke up at 0430 to run before PT formation at 0600. I even ran my fastest 2-mile time: 15:35.
25MAR18 – All-American Marathon (Fort Bragg, NC)
After my 50k, I was hooked and wanted to run the next race. I made it a goal to run a marathon monthly. I signed up for the All-American Marathon because it was a great way to get a tour of the base being new to Fort Bragg. I met Victor who was also from California and ran with him. It was 40 degrees, cold, and misty. This is the race where I adopted the Wim Hof mindset and didn’t take any nutrition, only drank water at the aid stations. Sounds bizarre I know, but hey I didn’t die! I kept a consistent pace up until mile 19 before I started walking. I finished the race in 5 hours and 30 minutes. The walk back to the car was the worst part because I didn’t have anything to warm to put on. I celebrated my first official marathon with a victory bowl of pho at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant (funny because it’s called Vietnamese Restaurant and I ate with Victor).
14APR18 – Single-Track Maniac 50k (Williamsburg, VA)
For the next challenge, I wanted to see how I would do on a 50k by myself. I still did not know anything about nutrition like using salt tabs or energy gels. I grabbed AJ’s Orange Mud water bottles from last race and ran with my Nike Free RNs on the trail. Fayetteville is pretty flat, so I was NOT ready for the elevation or the heat. I met a girl named Liz at the beginning and ran with her for a bit. I tripped 2nd mile and rolled my ankle. I caught up to Liz half way but completely bonked during the second half. I finished in 8 hrs 37 min. That weekend, I stayed with my Couchsurfer host Chelsea. We didn’t get to hang out much because of her schedule at the local meadery. She set up a bucket with Epsom salt for my feet and gifted me with Anatomy & Physiology coloring book “For Health and Wellness!”
28APR18 – SHE Power Half (Fayetteville, NC)
Found Fayetteville Running Club on Meetup app and met Kady-Ann a rainy Saturday in March. She invited me to the SHE Power Half. There I met other ladies of FRC. To my delight, there were other lady ultrarunners in the club!! I recognized Tricia, who was also a new girl. We ended up chatting, running, having lunch, and attending the Dogwood Festival together 🙂
Because of my new running obsession, Aj shared a YouTube video he found on the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico. They are renowned for running long distances…in sandals! Fascinated, I ordered the audiobook Born To Run by Christopher MacDougall. Like many people who read the book, I fell for the barefoot/minimalist shoe craze and bought myself a pair of Vibram Five Finger toe shoes and a pair of Luna Sandals to try running in them. I can’t tell you if it makes you a better runner, but the strangest thing that happened over time is that my shoe size went from size 7 to size 8. I had to donate a large moving box full of my old shoes and heels!
More importantly, this was how I discovered the legendary Ann Trason and decided I wanted to run a 100 miler too. Why not ask the BEST for advice? Plus Cleon had been saying I needed a coach before I hurt myself. Her website said: “Please, do not hesitate to contact me…” Of course, I hesitated and thought, “What would Ann have anything to do with a noob like me?” I finally had the guts to e-mail her and asked her to be my coach. Even though our first conversation was totally awkward because I blanked on what to say (or was afraid to tell her I wanted to dream big already), she was sweet and I was super stoked when she agreed to start working with me in May. I told her my monthly goals were to run at least a 100 miles and a marathon.
06MAY18 – Flying Pig Marathon (Cincinnati, OH)
It was the 20th anniversary of Flying Pig Marathon. AJ returned from his travels in Kenya/India just a couple days prior and drove us 7 hours to Cincinnati to run the marathon with me. My bib still said “First Time Marathoner.” AJ doesn’t like how slow I start so he took off without me. The whole city was out cheering, and every aid station was pig themed. I wore a pair of Disney Piglet ears and gave high fives to the children. I crossed “The Finish Swine” in 4 hrs, and 59 minutes, my goal was 5 hours! AJ finished a few seconds before me, which is still impressive with his jetlag and lack of training. I guess I could always say it was our first official marathon as a couple. We met up with Cleon and Glenda after the race to pick up our finisher medals and jacket. I’m happy we got to experience their favorite city with them!
02JUN18 – Hell Hole 60k (Bethera, SC)
I chose this event while race shopping on Ultrasignup, because of its name and the way Chad, the race director, welcomed “pour souls” in the event description. AJ drove us down to SC and stayed in a little town called Moncks Corner. He agreed to run one loop (17 miles) with me. The swamp water was up to our knees. Aside from the heat and humidity, the mosquitos were the most demoralizing part. I tried eating a clove of garlic to ward off the mosquitos, but the only thing that did was scare off my husband. AJ ran a bit more than planned, a total of 27 miles before he rang the bell. Later, we found out that he could have signed up for a 17-mile option. I ended up finishing 1st female and 3rd overall in 7 hours and 37 minutes for the 60k (37.3 miles). The next day in church, we were still scratching all those mosquito bites from hell!!
09JUN18 – Virginia Tough Mudder
The following weekend, AJ & I drove up to Virginia to do the Tough Mudder. My training calendar called for 10 miles so why not do an OCR to change it up a little? Plus, no burpees were required like the Spartan races. AJ definitely prefers OCRs over marathons. I don’t blame him. I used to be more willing to do OCRs because the obstacles would give me a break from feeling bored. It was my first race in my Vibram V-Runs.
JUNE – Kenya – AJ & I celebrated our wedding anniversary in Kenya. It was really nice because we had a place to stay in Nairobi and AJ had friends from his job there. I ran 10 miles in the Karura Forest located in northern part of Nairobi city. I got distracted by the Sykes monkeys jumping in the trees. On our anniversary day was perfect: Kenyan coffee, giraffes and baby elephants, riding bicycles, and hiking through Hells Gate National Park. We were given a tour of the park by a member of the Masaai tribe whose grandfather killed a lion with his bare hands! The whole trip was such an amazing experience, words just can’t describe!!
07JUL18 – Uwharrie (Mt. Gilead, NC)
After I got back from Kenya, I got sick and wanted to make up for lost time all at once at the next Uwharrie 100 group training run. BAD IDEA. I tripped and rolled my right ankle 5 times. This could also be due to the fact that I was wearing Merrill Trail Gloves 4 with no ankle support. Those shoes were fantastic at Hell Hole but not for the gnarly trails of Uwharrie. This trail is so challenging it made me question all my decisions of being an ultrarunner. Also because I got lost and took the long way down on Dutchman’s Creek instead of Uwharrie Trail South. I felt embarrassed because Dan, the RD, thought he would have to call his search and rescue team. Terrified of the Uwharrie trail, I still came back for more at the August meet and ran the entire loop correctly this time. I wore my Altra Torins (which I did not know were road running shoes) and rolled my right ankle twice. The Uwharrie 100 took place 20-21OCT. I drove there after church and attempted the loop again. This time I wore Altra Lone Peaks and successfully ran the loop without tripping or falling. Everyone was gone by the time I finished. The sunset and I felt creeped out by how dark it was getting in the woods. I couldn’t imagine doing this loop 5 times in a row and at night!
21JUL18 was the first time I started running with the FRC Trail Heads and being in one of Shawn’s famous selfies.
28JUL18 – Southern Discomfort – 12 hr (Albany, GA)
Another race was chosen because of its name and sufferings it would bring. It was the next destination that my coach was headed to for her Trason Ultra Odyssey. She is trying to complete an ultra in every state and province. AJ started a new job in the UK, so he couldn’t come to support me this race. He was SO protective of me that he flew my best friend Vy out to crew for me. He e-mailed her the instructions on how to take care of me. I still read it to get a good laugh and remind me how lucky I am to have such a supportive husband. I booked the hotel room for the 3 of us. I was so excited to see my BFF and that I was going to meet my coach in person!
The race was appropriately named. There were all sorts of discomfort going around a 1.1-mile loop for 12+ hours on a hot Georgia day. Vy was always on point with my nutrition and refilling my hydration bag with ice. She even ran 20 miles with me. I smiled at the end of every lap when the race directors John & Kelli, would cheer and called out my name. I was okay with stopping at 44 miles in 12 hours, but they told me that I wasn’t allowed to until I reached 50 miles. Suddenly, I was not smiling anymore and really wanted to scream at them. I might have thrown a little tantrum at Vy. That’s when I met Tony and chatted with him for another couple of laps to ignore the pain that was shooting up my shins. The last couple of laps, I walked with Ann and got to know her a bit more. I confessed that I hid in the porta-potties so she wouldn’t see that I stopped. Ann did the new 30 hr option and dedicated all her miles to me.
25AUG18 – Umstead (Raleigh, NC)
This is the month I decided I could save money for bigger races (or more running gear) by running marathon distances on my own. Those race fees add up! Liz, the girl I met in April, found me on Ultrasign up and then on Facebook to message me. It turns out, she lives in Raleigh!! I was thrilled when she invited me to run 20 miles with her at Umstead. I finished 27 miles that day.
SEP – A Race for the Ages (Manchester, TN)
For Labor Day weekend, Ann invited me to be her crew at ARFTA. I flew into Nashville, TN. My flight got delayed so I couldn’t meet up with Ann as planned, so I had to catch a Uber ride for 65 miles to Manchester.
My driver Paul said I was officially the longest ride he has given. I laughed because now I’ve met ultrarunners who run much farther distance and told him about ARFTA.
ARFTA was my first experience at a multi-day race. It was created by Gary Cantrell “Laz,” who is the RD of the infamous Barkley Marathons. I didn’t get to meet him because he was doing his transcontinental walk across America, but I did meet his wife Sandra and daughters. At ARFTA, runners age 40 and up are allowed the hours equivalent to their age to run as many laps around a 1-mile loop in Fred Deadman Park (buckles are earned after 100 miles). All the “kids” under age 40 will run during the last 40 hours of the race. It’s funny how they call themselves Geezers on their Facebook page. Nobody was representing in the 20’s age bracket!!
Crewing for Ann was definitely an interesting experience. I met with her friends Phil and Margaret to set up her tent Thursday night. Ann just had her 58th birthday, so her start time was Friday at some absurd hour. I came to the park after sun-rise with my first task of getting her Starbucks. I organized her two large duffel bags of hats, clothes, and other rainbow things. Ann thinks it’s a challenge being a vegetarian in the south, but thanks to Subway I was able to grab a veggie wrap for her there. Other duties included making her grilled-cheese sandwiches and babysitting her unicorn Peanut.
I met Ruben who is a veteran of Badwater 135. I told him I wanted to run Badwater because it’s the first ultra I heard about through David Goggins (whom he personally knows). On Saturday, I took a break from crewing duties and ran 20 miles on the Tennessee high way and to Old Stone Fort State Park. I felt like I was dying in the heat and scoffed at myself for thinking I could handle Badwater! Plus I had no right to complain because there were literally all these much older folks getting their miles on. One 71-year-old who completed 202 miles!!
08SEP18 – With Ann’s blessing, I signed up for the Umstead 100. Registration opened at noon. I was actually coming down from doing half-loop of Uwharrie 100 course where I had no cell service. I rushed to the nearest city in Biscoe where I spent the next 40 minutes in my truck in the Walmart parking lot trying to register for the race (there were technical difficulties that day). At 1243, I received the confirmation that I was registered for my very first 100-mile race!
15SEP18 – I was registered for the Adventure Trail Run – 12 hr in Triangle, VA but had to cancel due to Hurricane Florence. Poor AJ returned from the UK and had to deal with the combination of flooding, a plague of large mosquitos, and my tantrums from not running.
OCT- Auburn, CA and San Antonio, TX
First weekend of October, I traveled to Sacramento to meet AJ’s family.
I started and finished another book Reborn on the Run by Catra Corbett who also lives in CA. She has done over a hundred 100 milers and mentioned Tahoe 200 mile race in her book. Just knowing it’s possible makes me want to do it! AJ shook his head saying, “When will it ever be enough for you?”
Speaking of Tahoe, AJ’s uncle Wayne and aunt Kathy invited us to stay in their cabin. It was my first time in Tahoe and I fell in love!! It made me want to move to the mountains. Plus I enjoyed the fact that there were NO MOSQUITOS. The zipper to the front pocket of my suitcase broke so both my Merrills and Lunas fell out. I bought new Altra Lone Peaks from the Auburn Running Company. Did a little 3-mile run that kicked our butts because of the elevation. I totally squealed being in Squaw Valley – where the Western States 100 starts. I shared my dreams of running WS100 with them, and they said they would be more than happy to come out to support me whenever that time comes! I couldn’t believe how our worlds were connecting. AJ’s grandma lives in Auburn… so does my coach! I didn’t get to see Ann because she was out earning her buckle at Hennepin Hundred in Illinois. AJ & I ran 14 miles on the Western States Trail in Auburn. It really did feel magical.
Last weekend of October, we flew into San Antonio, TX to attend Nic & Laura’s gorgeous Nigerian wedding. The last time I was in San Antonio was when the Army sent me to Combat Medic school in 2008. Ten years later, I’d be attending a wedding with friends (and hubby) I met in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba of all places, thanks to the Army! After a night of festivities, AJ recharges by sleeping in, and I wake up early to energize myself with a 13 mile run along the River Walk. You can tell who the introvert and extrovert are in this relationship!
17NOV18- JFK50 (Boonsboro, MD)
JFK50 is the nation’s Oldest Ultramarathon. I chose this race because of my connection to the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area working at the National Guard Bureau and now at the USAJFKSWCS at Fort Bragg. When I lived in VA, I drove to the C&O Canal and spent much time meditating by the Potomac River as I was going through all my changes. Never thought that I’d be running a 50 miler!! The conditions on the Appalachian Trails were terrible due to the snowstorm, I tripped and fell on my face twice. Luckily it wasn’t raining that day. Even though there were 1000 participants, I felt lonely on the C&O towpath. A group of runners picked me up and helped me finish in 12 hours 34 minutes! The ultra community is awesome!!
08DEC18 – Nutcracker – 12 hr (Erwin, NC)
My training calendar called for 50k. I signed up for 12 hrs because I didn’t feel confident that I could run 50k in 6 hrs. In retrospect, I could’ve registered for 6 hours and continued on the course until I reached 50k, but I was also okay with paying for the full because it went to a good cause.
First thing I remember that zero dark thirty in the morning was meeting George in his pink A Christmas Story bunny costume. Then I met Brandon and started running with him. Brandon’s goal was to beat George. After I shared my story of how the Hell Hole mosquitos haunted me for days, he told me about a race that he puts on during the summer called The Mattamuskeet Death March. It’s a 100k race around the lake while carrying a 5 lb ammo can and mosquitoes are pretty much feasting on you. Sounds awful – I just might be crazy enough to do it, if I ever get invited that is.
I met a girl named Amy, who is also from California. We had been tailing each other because we had the same Osprey hydration pack. I listened to her story about how she had knee surgery in April, spent all her time recovering during the summer, and still pushed her way through Hawk Hundred miler in September. So incredible!! Later that night on Facebook, I discovered that she is good friends with Liz, who actually told Amy about me, but hadn’t connected it earlier. What a small world!! I am so excited that Liz will be running her first Yeti 50 miler
I ran a total of 40 miles and called it a day after 9 hrs. I guess Brandon and I both ended up getting beat by the pink bunny!
21DEC18 – The Great Barrow Challenge (St. Bury Edmunds, England)
My sweet husband, who is usually annoyed by how we are always planning our vacations around my running, found an ultra for me to run in England!! It was so perfect because it was on the way to work for him. I probably could’ve run from there to meet him! The challenge was three days (21-23DEC), and you had the option to run up to marathon every day. I was only “allowed” to run Day 1 while AJ was at work. Everyone was so friendly and would wish you “well done” every time they passed you on the course. Fortunately, the weather was mild during my entire trip and did not have to deal with rain that you’d most expect during winter in the UK.
When asked to represent the USA, I raised the Starbucks cup in my hand 😂 I met Tibby who lives in NY and ran with her in the beginning. She chases marathons all over the world and is close to qualifying for Boston. One of my fears is getting lost, and sure enough… I had to Facetime with Nick the course director, for directions at the end. The course was supposed to be 32 miles, but I finished 34.68 miles in 6 hours 52 min.
Other places I ran in were London, Cambridge, and in Edinburgh, Scotland on New Year’s Eve!! Did you know that unicorns are the national animal of Scotland? This made me think of my coach Ann because she loves being decked out in unicorn gear at some of her ultras. My final week of 2018 looked pretty cool on Garmin. Total mileage for 2018 was about 1750, all without serious injuries, praise God!
13JAN19 – Walt Disney World Marathon (Orlando, FL)
AJ expressed that he was willing to run the WDW Marathon, so I signed us up for the race in November. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it home from the UK until the Wednesday after the race, so I ended up driving down to Florida by myself. I stayed in Crystal River with my friend Danielle. We met on our deployment in Iraq in 2011. Back then, she was the one who convinced me to run more than 2 miles and was the one who had me sign up for my first Spartan Sprint in 2013. One time I dropped my room key during our run, and she retraced the whole 4 miles while I followed behind her in a car. What a great friend! I got a chance to swim with the manatees in Crystal River before heading out to Orlando to pick up my race packet.
I had fun during the race, I even stopped to take pictures with Disney characters. One of my regrets was not sneaking on one of the rides before finishing the course. In case you’re wondering, it is definitely possible to be sad at Disney World. During my last mile, the song “You’ll Be in My Heart” by Phil Collins was played on the speakers, which made me want to cry as I thought about how AJ couldn’t be there. So cheesy! I did get to video chat with him at the beginning of the race.
26JAN19 -NC FATASS 50k (Ellerbe, NC)
Back to where it first started! Morning temperature started out in the 20s, but I was still out there with my favorite little black shorts. So far, I can handle running in the cold as long as it’s not snowing. This is a HUGE improvement for a girl who grew up spoiled with nice weather in SoCal. It ended up being sunny and 54 anyways which was perfect! Ann wanted me to practice running at a pace that I could maintain for 100 miles. I recognized George from Nutcracker and ran with him most of the way (Finished in 6 hrs 49 min) AJ came out to support, but he didn’t run this time. It’s still meant everything to see him and share my anniversary of running my first 50k!
I guess you can say I am a little hooked on running and my first year of ultramarathons was awesome! I learned a lot about myself and still have so much more to learn. The best part is continuously surrounding myself with incredible human beings and getting my butt kicked by “senior athletes”. This year, I started cross-training and doing the speed work prescribed by Ann that I kept avoiding. Let’s see how I do when I put all my training to the test at Umstead 100.