Saturday, 9 December 2017

McDowell Mountain Frenzy 25k

With my final race of the year fast approaching, I'm feeling really happy with how training leading up the race day has gone. With a greater focus on faster miles and flat running, I'm starting to really notice the difference, so much so that my tempo runs are now an average of 10 seconds per mile quicker than a couple of months ago. I suppose it helps that the weather has finally cooled off, particularly in the evenings when I tend to do my runs, but regardless, I am for sure feeling fitter, faster and stronger than I have done since the San Diego Marathon back in June.

Last weekend, I tested my race fitness by taking part in the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 25km trail race. Admittedly most of my faster runs have been on road which makes a huge difference, but I figured that if I could do 8 minute miles on the trails, then that is a vast improvement compared to last year.

When I looked at the entry list, there was some good competition for this one and I knew that if I wanted to secure another victory, I was likely going to have to work for it. The good news is that I felt confident in my training - I had been feeling good and knew that so long as I didn't fall over or anything silly, I might just have the edge although I suspected it was going to be a close race.

The morning started cool and overcast and with a slight breeze that helped to keep the temperatures low. We even had a little spotty rain which didn't amount to much but it was a welcome relief from the above seasonable norm temperatures we'd been encountering recently.

The course consisted of a 10 mile loop followed by a 5 mile loop. I didn't know the course, but having ran at the McDowells on numerous other occasions, I was well aware that there could potentially be some short but steep climbs at some point. If there was a lot of climbing, I knew I would struggle as I haven't been doing a great deal of hill work, so I was relying on my pace to give me a strong run.

I felt amazing for the first 8 miles. The climbs really weren't causing any problems and I was running a good pace that I felt comfortable with. Unlike the Punisher Night Race a couple of weeks ago, the plan this time was to run comfortably hard and maintain a good tempo. The rolling hills were fun and I was enjoying the single track sections. I'd been having problems with tight glutes in the week leading up to this race and I was concerned they would cause havoc if there was a lot of climbing, but thankfully they behaved themselves and caused no problems.

The constants dips up and down, and the twisty turny nature of the course meant that I couldn't see if there were any ladies close behind. Unlike the night races where you can see the beam of head torches, in the daylight you have no idea until somebody is right beside you. I guessed that I had no more than a 5 minute lead if I was lucky and so I just kept focused and maintained the momentum.
But the final two miles of that first loop were horrid as the rolling hills got steeper and longer and I was having trouble keeping things going. In addition, my legs were feeling tired on the climbs - I'd not been doing hilly runs in training and the legs were going into shock with what seemed to be constant climbing. I ended up walking small sections and with every walking step, I knew that the chasing ladies would be gaining on me.

I finished the first lap in just under 1 hour 20 mins for a shade over 10 miles. I'd said to Andy prior to the race that if I ran the first loop in less than 1 hour 20 and was feeling good, I would go for the course record of 1.59. With 5 miles to go and having been averaging 8 minute miles, it would have been possible if a little tight, and whilst I started the second loop strongly and was picking up the pace again, I knew there would be hills which would slow me down.

I overtook some of the chaps on the second loop but still I couldn't see any ladies behind. The sun had by now starting to break through and it was getting quite warm which was causing me to get extremely thirsty. I hadn't realised how much I'd been sweating and I really needed to stop for more fluids but didn't want to waste any time at the aid stations. I kept pushing onwards and as the course looped back up to the bridge where we would join a sandy wash for a short stretch, and there was just a mile and half to go, we faced an extremely steep and long climb. I walked the hill, glancing back to the trail behind me as I climbed  to see if any ladies were hot on my tail but there was nobody. I now knew that the race was mine and I could relax a little. The course record was now beyond my reach but I still wanted to finish strong and I relished the final downhill to the finish line.

I was very happy to win the ladies race in 2 hours 6 minutes exactly, placing me 8th overall, with the second and third ladies just 3 and 4 minutes behind. It felt like I'd had a good race - admittedly the hills were a nightmare but I knew that was because I have been focused on flatter running for ATY and my hill running was weak right now, but I can deal with that.

Top 3 Ladies in 25km Race
There is no denying that this year has been a great year for me in terms of racing and I'm still bewildered by some of the victories I've had. I'd love to finish the year on a high by running a PR at Across the Years in just 3 weeks time, and as things stand, I think it's achievable. My main goal is to PR - if I do that, I will be happy regardless of whether I reach my more ambitious goals or not. My ultimate goal is to run the qualifying distance for the GB 24 hour team although whether I would want to compete for Great Britain again remains debatable - I've lived overseas for too long now and whilst I am clearly British - or English! - I don't feel that sense of pride anymore as my loyalties lie elsewhere. But chasing that goal will motivate me to keep going and gives me something to aim for - I'm not really thinking beyond that right now and will just be taking the race an hour at a time.

So with my focus well and truly on having the best run I can on December 29th, I just want to say thank you to everybody who has supported me over the past year. - your support and encouragement is humbling and it means so much. Have a happy Christmas and a happy holidays and for those that are there, see you at Camelback Ranch at New Year :-)

Friday, 24 November 2017

Racing Again - Punisher Night Trail Race 30km

I have no idea why I felt so nervous about Aravaipa's Punisher Night Trail Race 30km on Saturday evening, but just a couple of hours before the 6pm start, the butterflies were doing somersaults in the old tummy. For the past month, I'd been really happy and surprised at how well my training seemed to be going, and whilst 7 minute miling doesn't feel remotely as easy as it used to do, I was starting to feel much more comfortable running at a faster pace again.

Enjoying some good quality training sessions

The original plan  had been to run the 50k Pass Mountain race that same morning but a clash with Tillie's puppy school graduation day meant I had to transfer to the night race instead. I wouldn't have missed her graduation for the world and I'm pleased to say that the little girl was outstanding on her last training session despite distractions from her ever supportive bug brother and sister, Wilson and Brandy. The furries were also due for their annual checkup and vaccinations, so a 3.30pm appointment at the vets with all the family in tow meant that I was starting to wonder whether I would even  make it to the night race on time.

Tillie's last day at puppy school and her first certificate :-)

Thankfully we didn't encounter any drama and we arrived at Usery Mountain Park in plenty of time, enabling us to give the pups a little walk prior to the race start and witness the most beautiful, amazing sunset.

Beautiful sunset at Usery Mountain Park
There were only around 25 people registered for the 30km race and yet I was still feeling extremely nervous. I had a race plan - I wanted to run around 2 1/2 hours - and having been instructed by coach Adam to "run happy, but fast", I knew what I had to do. I also wanted to practise getting in and out of the aid station more efficiently - having taken a look at past race results, it was evident that I tend to spend far too much time refuelling so I needed to enact a much smarter strategy to get me out and back on course far more swiftly. Thankfully Andy was there to help, and he did an excellent job in making sure I spent minimal time grabbing drinks and gels, so much so that two passes through the aid station and an unplanned pit-stop mid-race only cost me a mere 90 seconds as opposed to the usual 5 minutes plus.

The race consisted of 3 x 10km loops on pretty flat and smooth terrain. There were a couple of sections that were somewhat sandy which made it hard work on tired legs as the race progressed, and there was just one small but steep, rocky climb and descent that really wasn't as bad as I was expecting. I had no idea what pace I was running in the dark, but my breathing and heavy legs told me that I wasn't taking things easy and as I reached the end of each loop and glanced at the timing clock, I was very pleased to see that I was on target to hit my goal.

Being so few entries, I was looking forward to running pretty much solo for the duration of the race - this would allow me to run my own race without any distractions, and to really test my speed and fitness. As soon as the race started, I found myself running out ahead of the field, but a minor error meant I missed the first turn and had to double back and I found myself in the midst of all the other runners. Thankfully the trail was wide enough to allow me to get back into my flow and I found myself running out in front with a couple of guys. We ran together for a short while but as we started a gentle incline under the sandy wash area, one of them pulled away whilst the other chap ran just behind me. After a mile or so, I started to become a little frustrated that the chap was still sitting on my shoulder and appeared to be tracking me - every time I speeded up or slowed down, he was matching me stride for stride, and occasionally he would try to strike up a conversation. I was on a mission and was really not in the mood for idle chit chat, and I found it really hard to remain polite whilst trying to firmly convey that I really didn't want to talk.

As I neared the end of my first loop, the same guy was still right behind me and I ran into the aid station chuntering about him and expressing my frustrations to Andy who was waiting patiently for me with a drink and a gel. But Andy was amazing - in around about way he told me the sooner I stopped moaning and got going again, the sooner I could get away from him and refocus on my race, and within a matter of seconds, I was off on my second loop.

My first lap came in at just over 47 minutes and as I headed out on my second lap, I was feeling really good and strong. But after a couple of miles my stomach started to bloat and I had the urgent need to jump into a bush to relieve myself. Although I soon got going again, I had lost some of my momentum and I ended up with a 50 minute second loop. 

Once again, I started small talk with Andy, going into detail about how I'd just had a bout of the trots and had to dive in to a bush. He asked if  it had made me feel better and at my reply he firmly hurried me on my way, highlighting once again that I'd already dealt with the problem and didn't need to dwell on it.

As I commenced my third and final lap, my legs were starting to feel the distance and the pace. I hadn't ran more than 15 miles since Mogollon back at the beginning of September, and with tonight's faster pace, my legs were clearly letting me know that they weren't quite used to this right now. My calves were starting to tighten a little and my glutes were complaining, but I was still trying to push onwards. As things stood, I had an hour to run the last 6 miles and I was feeling fairly confident that I could still do it. However, the wind by now had picked up considerably and I was finding it hard to maintain my pace whilst trying to battle a persistent headwind.

I'll let you into a not so secret secret - I hate the wind! I can handle pretty much any type of weather that is thrown at me - heavy rain, blizzards, heat, you name it, I can handle it - but give me a brisk wind and I want to give up. Windy weather means putting in double the effort for the same results, and Saturday night was no exception. As the wind picked up, my breathing became more laboured from the increased effort and as my pace started to slow, I was starting to feel frustrated. The wind became even more intense and out of sheer resentment, I started to walk, effing and blinding as I went along. I only walked a few steps before I chastised myself for being so childish and started to run again, but another strong gust stopped me in my tracks as I started to have a grumpy strop at Mother Nature. I fought with both myself and the wind for the entire gravel road section and was so relieved when I finally saw the turning that would take us back up the sandy trail - I would rather deal with an uneven sandy trail than battle with the wind! Besides, this trail offered shelter from the wind and with just under 2 miles remaining, I found my pace increasing again. I made it to the top of the climb and could see the finish in the distance - another 10 to 15 minutes or so of running and I would be done.

I finished in an official time of 2.27.50 feeling suitably tired and happy. The race had panned out pretty well in the end and I knew that I had given everything I physically could on the night, although there are clearly areas where I know that I could have done better.

Awards time :-)
We hung around for a while afterwards, enjoying some grub and a hot coffee whilst sitting beside the campfire. Although it was a beautiful, clear night, it was also quite chilly and even with the warmth from the fire, the cool desert air was still noticeable. Of course, the dogs were with us and they joined us for the fun whilst we chilled out and chatted with friends whilst waiting for the awards.

An evening around the campfire, trying to keep warm
Having now completed a race and proved to myself that my training is starting to pay off, I am feeling more confident about Across the Years in just 5 weeks time and feel that I am on track for a PR. Having done the event a couple of years ago, I know what to expect this time and my race strategy will be completely different. The next few weeks of training will be crucial in making sure I remain on track to achieve what I hope to achieve - I know there are going to be some hard sessions where I need to push and work harder, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to hit my end of year goal.

For now though, I have a few days off for Thanksgiving and I'm looking forward to spending some precious time with the family before Andy heads off to Canada for a couple of weeks. I also have the McDowell Mountain Frenzy to look forward to which will be my next race here in Phoenix until the biggie - hopefully that too will go well, and I will know for certain that I'll be ready to tackle ATY next month.

Punisher 30k Trophy and stuff

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Autumn Ramblings

It's been two months since my last race and I have to say that I've really enjoyed having a little downtime. Sure, I do have a goal race in December but for the past few weeks, I've been focusing on getting back some speed and gradually increasing the miles without the added pressure of racing. Recovery from the Mogollon Monster went really well and I've had some really good training runs where I've been hitting my target pace when required, and I've managed to keep abreast with the local running scene by doing some voluntary work at a couple of the Aravaipa events.

During September and October, the weather in Phoenix was still pretty hot with temperatures still close to the 100 degree mark. Folks living elsewhere were talking about how autumn was in the air, and photos on social media showed damp, misty mornings with fog lingering in the fields, or pictures of mountains with a dusting of snow indicating that winter is just around the corner. It certainly didn't feel like that in Phoenix and I was in desperate need of some "autumn therapy". We headed north on the weekends to escape the heat, not only for our benefit but also the dogs, and we enjoyed some cooler weather in Prescott where we had a lovely hike with the dogs before heading to Lynx Lake to allow them to have a splash and a paddle in the water to cool off before I headed off on a little trail run and enjoyed the beautiful autumn colours of the trees in the forests.

Fun at Lynx Lake with the pups

Fun in Prescott
The following weekend we were in Flagstaff as we'd volunteered to help out with the Sky Race up that way. We were helping out with finish line breakdown and packup at the Arizona Snowbowl and our shift didn't start until 6pm so the plan was for Andy to walk the girls Brandy and Tillie whilst I did my 6 mile training run and spent some quality time with Wilson out on the trails. Being at the Snowbowl meant we were close to the trailhead for Humphreys Peak so I'd plan to arrive just after lunch and then head up Humphreys with Wilson in tow. Unfortunately, an accident on the I-17 heading north put paid to that and we arrived around 2 hours later than initially planned which meant I wouldn't have time to make it to the summit and back by 6. I was somewhat frustrated but there was little I could do, so Wilson and I headed up as far as we dared before the sun started setting and we needed to head back. We made it to 11,000 ft which meant at least another hour of climbing before reaching the summit, so reluctantly we had to turn around and head back.

Heading up Humphreys with Wilson

 A wee run part way up Humphreys Peak with my boy!

The trail was pretty steep and extremely rocky in places, but both Wilson and I had so much fun together and we ran side by side in unison, both happy and content to be spending some run time together. And the colours - oh my! The Aspens looked absolutely stunning against the blue skies and I was so happy to finally be experiencing a little bit of that autumn beauty.

Autumn has arrived up north!
Meanwhile, Tillie was having the time of her life exploring the forests with Andy and Brandy and apparently she was fascinated by all the smells on the forest floor, the squirrels chattering in the trees and all the other unfamiliar sounds of the forest that she was experiencing for the first time. 

Being in Flagstaff, the weather was certainly much cooler and by night fall, the temperatures were already falling close to freezing. I was in my element as I put on my hat and gloves and a warm fleecy jacket - I much prefer cold weather to the heat and I love putting on winter clothing and feeling all snug and warm whilst breathing in the cool, refreshing air.
Volunteer Shift at Flagstaff Sky Race and enjoying the cool, autumn night :-)
We worked our shift in the dark and the dark skies looked so beautiful with the stars twinkling away and the moon shedding it's silver light over the area. I shut off my headtorch a couple of times to enjoy the beauty of the night and as I did so, a shooting star flew across the skies above. With the cool temperatures, it finally felt like fall and I loved it! Even the dogs were curled up on their blankets whilst waiting in the car, snug as bugs in rugs :-)

Of course, on arrival back in Phoenix later that night, it was much too warm for thermals - such a contrast after just a 2 hour drive!

My next volunteer stint came just a week ago when I put my name down for the safety patrol sweep at the Javelina Jundred. I have an obsession about running at night and this time, I would be doing my shift between 1am and 6am and was looking forward to being out on the trails at the McDowells, helping out the racers and offering encouragement.

The day before Javelina, I received a message from my good friend Denenne. She was back in Phoenix again but this time she would be crewing for 3 running friends at JJ rather than racing herself. One of these friends - Ryan - was hoping to run around 16 or 17 hours in only his second hundred mile race and he was looking for a pacer for the last loop - would I be willing to help out?

I'm always happy to support other runners and help them to achieve their goals and so of course I said yes without any hesitation. This of course meant that I would now be completing 2 loops of the course giving me 40 miles in total and I would need to be a Javelina Jeadquarters for longer than I had initially planned.

Enjoying Javelina HQ whilst waiting for Ryan to arrive

I had never met Ryan but I knew that targeting such a quick time meant that he must be a good runner and I was somewhat concerned that I wouldn't be fast enough and would screw up his race. Thankfully both Denenne and Ryan assured me that all would be good, especially as Ryan would already have 80 miles in his legs by the time he picked me up.

I got to witness so many amazing performances that night including a new course record for the men of just over 13 hours (WTH??!!) and it was so nice to see so many other people meeting their goals. For Ryan, things unfortunately didn't go as he'd hoped but then that's the thing with ultra running - sometimes everything goes great and then other times we have the roughest race ever, and I've certainly learnt that no race is the same. I won't tell Ryan's story as that's for him to do, but what I will say is that he truly is a gutsy athlete. He could so easily have thrown in the towel but he persevered and still finished in a fabulous time, smashing his 100 mile PR in the process. He also tolerated my awful singing and terrible story telling - if it were me, I would have thrown myself into a cactus and ran away very quickly!

At the finish with Denenne and Ryan

From my perspective, I had a wonderful night of trail running. The conditions were perfect - cool temperatures and clear skies, and when I headed out on my second lap to do the safety sweep at almost 3am, it was great to see all the runners still out there pushing themselves onto the finish. I got to hear the coyotes singing again at 4am and I turned off my headtorch to savour the feeling of being out there on my own in the darkness just listening to the sounds of the wild, and then by 6am, the sky started to turn a stunning red as the sun started to rise above the horizon. It really was beautiful out there.

'Twas a dark night out there in the desert! at 3am

6am and the sun starts to make a break :-)
Despite having covered almost 40 miles overnight at the weekend, I was very surprised at my pace for my midweek tempo a couple of days later. I expected to be sore and tired, but my legs felt strong and raring to go. Now that things have finally cooled off a little, I have started to do my tempo runs outdoors again and I was very happy to have been running 6.40 pace even though it was in the dark with limited street lights. I've felt really good on my other training runs this past week too which is a good thing as by Thursday, I was back at the McDowell Mountains again, this time for the Ragnar Trail Relays.

Back in the summer, I was asked by a work colleague if I would like to join a Ragnar team in November. I had heard about the Ragnar Relays across the country and they had a good reputation for being very well organised and lots of fun. I also enjoy doing team events and so found myself saying yes to joining the "Insane Trail Posse".

Other than Allen and his wife Carrie, I didn't know the other members of the team and I was a little apprehensive as to how things would pan out. Andy wasn't able to come due to babysitting the dogs and I can be a little shy around new people, so the thought of sharing a tent with 5 other complete strangers for the next couple of nights was a little bit .... eeek!

I really needn't have worried as these folks welcomed me with open arms, had a fantastic sense of humour, and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. It was great to be on a team that was in it for the fun more so that the competition - sure, we would all be trying our best, but it wasn't about winning - it was about encouraging eachother, having fun and  finishing the event as a team.  We each ran 3 loops - the red, the yellow and the green, with the furthest distance being 6.6 miles. I know that I could have taken my time on each of the loops but being short for me, I wanted to run them hard just to see how my legs coped. My legs felt strong but my breathing was laboured and with all the dust in the air, my chest was wheezy, but I tried to run as best as I could for the team. I was extremely happy with my lap times, and I was extremely proud of our team as our last runner made his way to the finish line. We may not have been the elite on the day, but we had so much fun, so much camaraderie, and a great team spirit and that for me wins hands down.

Insane Trail Posse - what a TEAM! :-)
So now that the Ragnar Relays are done and dusted, next on my agenda is the Pass Mountain 50km in just a couple of weeks. I really wanted to race this one but as things stand, I may not be able to go. Andy is likely to be heading to Newfoundland in Canada for a couple of weeks and Tillie will be graduating from puppy school the same day as the race - if Andy isn't here, then Tillie's schooling is far more important which means missing the race. It is disappointing as I am feeling fit and strong right now, but sometimes things do have to take priority over running. Besides, my main race is at the end of December and there is always the option of going back to the McDowells once again for the McDowell Mountain Frenzy at the beginning of December to gauge how my running is going and what target I should set myself in the 24 hour.

I'm excited about ATY and I have set the bar high for myself. I'm feeling confident as things stand as I feel my training is heading in the right direction, but that could all change. For now though, it really has been a nice change helping out at races and making even more new friends. I count myself extremely lucky to be part of such an amazing, supportive running community that just keeps expanding and I can't wait to see who I'm introduced to next :-)

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Mogollon Monster 100 Mile Trail Race

If you want to know about the Mogollon Monster 100 Mile Trail Race look here. In short, it's one hell of a tough race and in its 5-year history, only a few men have gone sub 24 hours whilst ladies course record stands at a little over 26 hours. An old friend of mine that's a keen mountaineer and has done some crazy adventures in their lives tackled it a couple of years ago - even they described it as “a tough one” where the terrain is “ridiculously steep and loose-rock-kind-of technical”

So why on earth would I even entertain the idea of something so difficult, especially when my running strengths don't include climbs?

It's that thousand-dollar question .... why?! Running Friends will know why - we like to challenge ourselves, we like to see what we're capable of, we want to know how far we can push ourselves both mentally and physically. I know I can run 100 miles, I know I can run for 24 hours, but would I be able to do it on what's considered to be one of the hardest 100-mile courses in the US? How would I cope with over 22,000 ft of steep 35 to 45% graded ups and downs that are so rocky, you can't really run them? How would it feel running at almost 8,000 ft on the Mogollon Rim? How would I cope running through the forest at night with minimal marking and trusting my judgement as to which way I should go when the trail seems to disappear on the rocky terrain? More importantly, would I freak out if I saw a big, furry sasquatch lurking in the trees waiting to pounce on some poor, unsuspecting runner passing by?

For me personally, the appeal of these types of races is addictive and I know that if I can get through it in one piece, it'll make me a stronger person in the real world.

Before the Race
Back in January, I was invited back onto the Aravaipa Running Racing Team. It is such an honour to wear their shirt and to promote trail running in both the Phoenix area and further afield. I hadn't really planned my racing calendar at the time but I knew for sure that the Mogollon Monster would be an A Race for me - with 9 months preparation time, even in the Phoenix heat, I felt it was ample time to get into the best shape possible for what I hoped would be a good race.

Leading up to the Mog 100, I had some good race results including a decent marathon in San Diego and unlike last year, I was coping with the desert heat and training was going well. Knowing the Mog 100 was hilly and technical, I tried to run as many hilly and rocky trails as possible in and around Phoenix to help me to prepare for the race. My climbing was getting stronger, and whilst I was never anywhere close to a female version of a Killian Journet, through the wonders of Strava I could see myself improving on the climbs in the local area.

A month before the race, we took some vacation. Andy's parents were visiting the US for a month and we were taking some time off to head to Wyoming for the eclipse before doing the personal grand tour of the Western USA. We saw some amazing sights and they were truly blown away by the sheer beauty and variety of landscape in America. 6 states and over 5000 miles later, and they'd still only seen a small portion of this wonderful country!

Being so close to my main A race, it was vital that I kept up with my training. Sitting in a car travelling for near on 3 weeks did cause some weakness in my back, hips and glutes but thanks to the wonderful Mackenzie and her most excellent sports massages, the creams and groans from the road were ironed out and I was feeling pretty good.

I did some amazing runs whilst out in Utah and even got to spend some run miles with my favourite furry boy Wilson, and when I could, I was still running the hills in preparation for Mogollon.

Running in Utah

Running in Utah

But the lead up wasn't without some hiccups. During an early morning smoky run in Visalia CA 2 weeks before race day, I took a tumble on the road resulting in scratched and bruised arms and yet another injury to my right knee. The knee would start to heal, but then the dogs would knock the scab off and for the next week it bled and weeped on and off whilst trying to heal.

Another nasty fall on the right knee!
In addition, my crew extraordinaire Andy tripped and hurt his ankle quite badly and then popped his back just a couple of days before. Would he be ok to crew me for over 24 hours in that state?

My two wonderful pacers also worried me. My coach Adam had once again offered to pace me, but he had ran a 12 hour race a couple of weeks earlier, covering 67 miles which meant those miles were still in his legs. Then my friend Kristina came down with a knee injury a few days prior which put doubt on her availability - it looked like I'd be crewing myself and relying on my own motivational words in my head for the vast duration of the race. I'd done plenty of races under my own steam and I was pretty sure I would be ok this time if folks couldn't make it - my biggest concern was getting lost in the night hours. I'd been up to the Rim on training runs and got lost in broad daylight - gawd help me if I ended up on my own in the dark!

As it turned out, Andy's back behaved itself, Kristina' s knee caused no problems, Adam recovered remarkably quickly, and we had the added bonus of our friends Leo and Scott joining us from Calgary for the adventure. Fingers crossed, it was going to be an awesome weekend :)

Usually I hate early starts for running but a 6am start time seemed far more reasonable for this race, especially as we'd rented a house just 5 minutes from the start line.

I was up at 5am and managed to eat a full bowl if porridge and a banana as well as downing some tea and coffee. Oddly enough, I wasn't feeling nervous and I didn't know why. In all honesty, I think it was because I felt like the underdog. I knew there was competition and figured that a top 5 finish in around 28 hours seemed possible - anything quicker or higher up the field was a bonus.

I had looked at the entry list and already knew the ones to watch. A lady in her 20's had entered the race and she was based in Colorado which brought with it the benefits of youth, gorgeous mountains and altitude. I'd also done a little bit of internet stalking - she was fast!

Then there was fellow team mate Suzy Kramer. Suzy had ran the Bigfoot 200 a month earlier where she placed 2nd, and whilst one could argue that she may not have recovered, I believed that the training for Bigfoot had put her in perfect stead for a good race half that distance. Suzy is also a much better climber than I am - add to that her years of experience and her intimate knowledge of the Mogollon course (she's done this race twice before), she was also on my top 3 list as ones to watch.

Then there was Constance and Honey both of which I met on a couple of the race training runs. They may not have been as fast but they are consistent and were very good climbers - I always believe than a consistent pace wins the race and they too were on my look out list.

So, I guess to some degree I did and didn't feel pressure - some folks thought the race was mine before we had even started which brings that pressure of expectation from others. The good news was that I had no pressure from myself. Sure, I had a goal time, but I didn't know the course (I'd seen just 30 miles of it) and had no idea how steep or rocky the climbs were and therefore no idea how to pace myself. My main goal was to just keep moving forward and to keep eating and drinking - if I got that right, then anything could happen.

The other thing that kind if helped was that due to having visitors for the past month, I hadn't really been able to get into my own headspace to overthink things too much. I'd done a tough race plan a few days earlier, I'd prepared my drop bags on the Thursday evening without much if a strategy, a d I turned up on race day feeling physically prepared but in some ways totally disorganized. I even forgot to check-in on race morning because I was still trying to figure out how I was going to tackle things - thankfully Jubilee and Hayley checked I was there within minutes if the start and I felt a right plonker forgetting to do it!

But I was there, and as the national anthem played before the start, I got that familiar feeling of anticipation and was starting to get a little emotional.

As it ended, I gave Andy a huge hug and commented to him once again that I had no idea how to tackle this and to just keep me fuelled and keep me moving whenever he saw me. I told him to expect me when he sees me and that whatever happened, I would be ok.

On that note, we were off and the Mogollon Monster 100 miler had begun.

The sun was just coming up as we made our way up the trail and the temperature was just perfect. I was surprised at how quickly some folks had set off - there were lots of miles and lots of hills ahead, yet some had gone off at what seemed like a 10k pace rather than a hundred miler!

I had no intentions of going off too fast, and although I saw Suzy and her friend Brad disappearing up the trail together, I was careful not to get sucked into the race this early on.

I'd made the decision to keep my breathing easy and my heart rate low rather than trying to stick to a specific pace. The terrain would dictate my pace and I wasn't prepared to burn myself out by trying to run 10-minute miles when I knew there was a pretty good rocky climb coming up in the next couple of miles.

This section of the course I was familiar with - the training run back in July had taken in this segment and I knew exactly what was coming. Right from the get go the trail was climbing, steady at first as it wound through the trees, then gradually more steeply as we approached Donahue before we made a left turn to follow the steep, windy, rocky trail that would take us to our first climb up the Rim.

The first of many climbs up the Mogollon Rim !
It was early in the race but I was feeling ok and although quite a few people overtook me I was making steady progress up the climb. In the distance, we could hear the elk bugling to each other across the forest - it was such an Erie sound but also quite beautiful, and I found myself beaming as I listened to their call and took in the views around me.

Before I knew it, we were running down the dirt forest road and the first aid station at Dickerson Flats. Even though we were only 6 miles into the race, I stopped briefly to take a gel and consumed some oranges before saying a cheery goodbye to the volunteers and making my way to Turkey Springs.

There was no sign of Suzie and no sign of any other ladies close by. It had taken around 1 and a quarter hour to get here, I was feeling good and feeling relaxed.

DICKERSON TO GERONIMO - 4.4 miles, 10.3 miles total
As I left the aid station, I immediately saw the wooden sign for Turkey Springs. Back in August during the training run, I had missed this turning so hadn't yet had the pleasure of experiencing the joy of running down here. I'd heard that it was steep and extremely rocky, not runnable in the slightest unless you're feeling reckless or suicidal, so I didn't really know what to expect.
Leo and I had by now caught up with each other and as we headed out on the trail through the trees, it didn't seem too bad.

We were running without too many issues but then a half mile later or so, the trees cleared a d we were greeted by the most amazing views of the Mogollon Rim.

The trail started to descend and as it did so it became far rockier and much steeper. Low brush was all around us and although the course was flagged, there were sections where it was difficult to identify the trail and we took a wrong turn. I'm usually a reckless downhill runner but I found myself walking and with every step, my feet would slide and I wouldn't have a proper grip. Leo offered me a pole to help with my balance but I'm a stubborn old fool and like to do things the hard way.

I've no idea how long it took us to pick our way down Turkey Springs - the trail would smooth out only to turn rocky again a few strides later, but eventually we seemed to hit the forest floor and after a couple of stream crossings and some far gentler ups and downs, we ran into Geronimo Aid Station where Andy would be waiting.

GERONIMO TO WASHINGTON PARK - 9.8 Miles segment, 20.1 miles total
Shortly before approaching Geronimo Aid Station, a runner passed me and said hello. It looked like a man from behind - politically correct or not, he had very hairy legs and the build of a man - except when they had said hello, they had sounded like a lady as they moved swiftly away from me on the trail.

Coming into Geronimo, the first thing I did was scout the gathering of people to see if I could spot Andy. He was there, and I promptly started to refuel on some jelly sweets and a coffee as well as a few other bits and bobs to keep my energy levels up. Mr or Mrs was just across the way from me, and I stared and them with absolutely no shame trying to figure out whether there really was another lady alongside me. The more I stared and the more I listened, I realised that it was a man and the relief I felt was immense. Considering we were only 10 miles into the race, it was a silly reaction but if nothing else it proved that I was feeling competitive and was unwilling to relinquish my current position easily.

Andy was fantastic in making sure I ate and drank but didn't faff around too much, and after around 5 minutes I was already making my way up the Highline Trail which would take me to Washington Park where I would once again see Andy.

Geronimo Aid Station and Andy making sure I was eating and drinking
PC: Scott
The Highline Trail is very pretty and was a pleasure to run in the daylight. The views were exceptional and although there were some rocky sections that were impossible to run at a decent pace, there were also smoother sections where I could make up some time.

A few of the guys had started up the trail at the same time, but after a couple of miles we'd split and I found myself running on my own. I was still feeling pretty good especially after a good feed at the aid station, but I was starting to feel some bruising in my big toes from the ups and downs and I found I was altering my gait to compensate. I was also starting to tighten a little bit in my glutes which was affecting my stride and I felt the need to have a good stretch to loosen things up again.

The Elk were still calling to each other in the distance and the temperature had started to rise - some sections of the Highline Trail were quite exposed and as we ran over the red rocks, I could feel the heat intensifying. I was taking a gel now and then to keep the energy levels up but now it felt like I needed to drink more. I was sweating like crazy and so took a salt pill just to keep cramps and other issues at bay.

I was really enjoying my run along this trail and with each step I knew I was making steady progress.

I'd spent a considerable length of time running on my own but within a couple of miles of the aid station at Washington Park, I saw a lady ahead of me skipping over the rocks and looking good. 

There was only one lady it could be - it was Suzy and she was looking good. It was far too early in the race to start the chase so I settled back and tried to maintain my composure and kept my pace consistent.

Around 10 or 15 mins later, I'd caught her up and I felt awful going past. We said a friendly hello to each other and as I focused on the trail ahead, I started to move away and open a gap. My big toes were my now very sore and every little downhill was causing me some discomfort. Trying to control the minor pain and contemplating whether I should change my shoes at the next aid station or not took my mind off the running and shortly afterwards, I couldn't see Suzie and seemed to be motoring.

Another painful, rocky downhill ensued and then we hit a dirt road. There was no sight or sound of the aid station but I knew it must be close. I started down the road, spotted a sign for Washington Park and caught up another chap. But something didn't seem right. We'd ran down the road for a couple of minutes when we realised we'd missed the trail turning we'd been warned not to miss. Bollocks! We now had to run back up the road and find the correct route. I was stupidly frustrated. I'd taken the lead only to lose it a few minutes later because of my mistake - how dumb could I be?!

We headed back up when the other guy said we were going the wrong way again but my gut instinct said no and I stubbornly told him he was wrong. He turned around again to head in the opposite direction whilst I hesitated - nope, this time I was following my instinct - back up I went and sure enough I spotted the black and red polka dot tape on a bush alongside a fence.

I knew by now that I had slipped back into second place. It was ok though - we were only 20 miles in. Had it been at 80 or 90 miles I would have crumbled but I still had a long way to go and I was sure not to panic or let it get to me.

The last couple of miles into Washington Park seemed to go on forever. The trail followed a little ridge and just seemed to veer away from where I thought the aid station should be. I was eager to get into the aid station - I needed fuel and I wanted to change my shoes - another 80 miles of my big toes being bashed with every step was an absolute no no, and I was hoping that Andy would be there to help me out.

The single-track trail finally ended and after a half mile or so on a wider track and a couple of stream crossing, I finally ran in to the aid station and thankfully Andy was there.

Where's Andy??!!
PC: Scott
 Washington Park to Houston Brothers - 6.5 miles, 26.6 miles total
Andy was quick to give me food when I landed at Washington Park and I guzzled down some onion crisps, Jaffa Cakes, Jelly Sweets and some porridge. I hadn't realised how hungry I was and it all tasted amazing. I also downed a coffee and some ginger ale, determined to get as many calories inside of me as possible.

My toes and feet were quite sore by now from the rocky terrain and I desperately needed to change my shoes. I was gutted about this - my Saucony Peregrines were the most comfy, cushioned, snug fitting trail shoes I had ever worn and were ideal for the race, but I needed some space around my big toes and so grudgingly swapped them out for my Inov8s. Andy's back was still giving him grief and he'd left my spares in the truck a couple of minutes down the road so Norm ran down to fetch them for me whilst I refilled my bladder and covered my toes with some new skin to stop them blistering any further.

Suzie had been at the aid station as I ran in and asked how she had ended up in the aid station before me. I briefly explained my error and she gave me a huge reassuring hug - that was the last I saw of Suzie for quite some time after that.

Heading out of Washington Park, I knew once again what was coming - the dreaded climb up the powerlines which was something like a 45% grade and completely unrunnable due to how technical it was. It was also about a mile or so long and was relentless! As I made my way up that hill, everybody seemed to be on their hands and knees, going two steps forward and three back with every step they took.

That climb!!!!

It seemed to take forever before I crested the summit and hit the forest road which we would now follow for 4 miles or so to Houston Brothers. Even the forest road was far from flat but it did give a smoother surface and a good opportunity to make up for some lost time. I ran pretty much most of that dirt road, taking in lung fulls of dust every time a car drove by and coughing like I was on 20 ciggies a day! The views from up here were amazing and with the lack of shade, it was getting a little toasty. You could still see some of the fire damage caused a few months ago but otherwise there were pine trees everywhere and it really was gorgeous.

Houston Brothers Turning  
Beautiful Rim Country

It didn't take too long before we reached Houston Brothers and made a left turn into the forest and shortly after we were greeted by the cheerful volunteers at the aid station.

Houston Brothers to Pinchot Cabin - 7.5 miles, 34.1 miles in total
I fuelled up once again at Houston Brothers making use of the goodies available at the aid station which included bean wraps, jelly sweets and some orange and watermelon. I was trying to get solids in me as much as possible but trying to avoid the vomiting which usually occurred during these kinds of races. Thankfully as yet, I had not experienced any nausea and I was eating well although it wasn't really settling my hunger.

I really like the Houston Brothers Trail. It starts with some ups and downs through the trees, some sections of which are overgrown with lush, green grass which felt quite refreshing on the legs. After a while, it flattens out and opens up before passing through some beautiful meadows. For this entire section, I was running well and making good progress and I was kind of hoping that with the pace I was doing, I would catch Suzie again before we arrived back at Washington Park where I would be picking up my first pacer, my good friend Kristina.

I was getting a little tight and some mild cramping in my glutes at this stage - the steep climbs and dodging rocks were starting to take their toll, but I put the discomfort to the back of my mind and pushed onwards, taking in the beauty of the forest around me. The next time I passed through here, it would be dark so I wanted to take in what I could about the course whilst I had the change.

I was still knocking out some good, consistent pacing at this point and I was still on target for my average 4 miles an hour that I was hoping to maintain if possible. Sure, I was starting to feel some tiredness but it was now that I needed to focus on getting some food inside of me. My stomach was starting to cramp and I knew that I needed to eat - if I didn't, it would balloon profusely and be a discomfort within the next hour or so.

I made substantial progress on this section and before I knew it, I'd arrived at the forest trail that would take us to the next aid station. The problem was there was a guy just ahead of me and when we reached the trail junction, there were flags in both directions. He went straight ahead and once again I hesitated. I was pretty sure that we were meant to go left so I quickly grabbed the race directions out of my backpack to check. I was right, but by the time I realised, he was too far away and I was unable to call him back.

Feeling a little guilty at not being able to call the guy back, I made my way up the small hill and in to the next aid station - Pinchot Cabin. There were drop bags here and I couldn't wait to grab some of my own food. I was so hungry that my tummy was rumbling and I knew that if I didn't eat, it wouldn't be long before I was flaking out.

The aid station staff were fabulous, refilling my bladder and making sure that I had everything that I needed. I think it was at this point that Leo caught me again and we ended up leaving the aid station pretty much together. It was good to see Leo and I was glad to see that he was having what appeared to be a great race so far, but for me I still had a job to do - I didn't know how far ahead Suzie was, nor did I know how close behind the chasing lady could be. I had everything to run for and I just had to keep going.

Pinchot Cabin to Washing Park - 9.2 miles, 43.3 miles in total
Heading out on the Fred Haught Trail, the food I had just eaten was already starting to digest and I was getting serious cramping in my stomach. I didn't feel sick but I could feel all the trapped gas building up with nowhere to go. Whenever I tried to run, the pressure on my stomach was intense and I found that I had to release the strap on my backpack to allow space for my stomach to expand.

I was running with Leo for a couple of miles and he was moving well, and although my mind and legs were willing to keep up, my tummy was having other ideas. There was no way I could stick with him - my stomach now looked like it had a football inside and it was causing me intense pain, and I watched Leo disappear into the distance, his poles clicking away on the ground as he did so.

I resorted to walking and running, thankful that my walk is quite quick, but I was also extremely frustrated that I couldn't run. I again knew this section of the course and I knew that it was perfectly runnable and an excellent place to make up some time, but I was in agony. It was also a pretty trail and back in August, we'd had several stream crossings to contend with. It was much drier today though and with the missing streams, it looked different and unfamiliar but certainly no less beautiful.

No water on race day!

Despite my walking, the time passed by quickly and I realised that I would shortly be arriving at the General Springs Cabin - just a little more flatter running along the fern lined trail before a slight climb and then I'd be pretty much at the powerlines again. My stomach was still feeling bad but I had by now started to pass wind and at one point, I felt relieved to dive in a bush and do what I needed to do. I'd been feeling a little sorry for myself up until then and having seen a couple walking along the trail with their two small dogs, I got all emotional. I asked if their dogs were friendly and then spent 5 minutes snuggling those dogs and having a cry. The elderly couple were wonderful and they gave me lots of encouragement which got me going again - they even asked if they could take a picture because they thought I looked amazing!

Oddly enough, they gave me the boost I needed and I started to motor again. I started the rocky climb up to General Springs and I was surprised to see that Leo was just ahead of me on the switchbacks. I had run/walked so much that I thought by now he would have been miles ahead so I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat encouraged by the fact that I had gained on him again. 

Hitting the powerlines again, I had somehow got back into my groove. Yes, I was hurting, yes, I was tired, but I was all set to go and determined to keep pushing. My stomach was no longer giving me jip and I was feeling relatively good. I also felt enlightened because I knew that at my next pass through Washington Park, I would be picking up Kristina and from then onwards to the finish line, I would have company.

If running up the powerlines was hard, running down was even worse. No matter where you put your feet, the ground moves and with the gradient it was so easy to slide down the hill further than intended and end up with some injury. I picked my way down tentatively - at this stage I really didn't want to fall as I felt like my race was about to start properly, and I wanted to give it everything I had.

As I was heading down, a couple of guys on the up commented that the leading lady was only a few minutes ahead of me - had I really closed the gap on Suzie again? I hadn't seen her for what seemed like hours and I had mixed feelings about catching her now - as soon as I made that move to the front, the pressure was on me to maintain it. It was an exciting but daunting prospect - could I really be in with a chance of winning the Mogollon Monster 100 miler? I tried not to get carried away with the thought but there was a glimmer of hope that maybe, if I could just hold things together, I could just do it.

Washington Park to Houston Brothers - 6.3 miles, 49.6 miles overall
It was awesome running into Washington Park and seeing not just Andy, but also Kristina and Norman. They rallied round me, making sure I ate and drank and refuelled as much as possible. I was thankful that my stomach had now gone back to a reasonable size - I was hungry and needed to eat! I think I had some cheesy noodles at this stage and boy was I ready for them!

My instructions to Kristina prior to the race were to be hard on me, don't let me dilly dally in the aid stations, and to keep me moving. From the very point of seeing her, she did exactly as I asked and I was so grateful. Suzie hadn't long since left the aid station and now the chase really was on - we both believed that we would catch her in the next section if I just focused and got moving again quickly.

Much as I was looking forward to running with a pacer, I was not looking forward to that climb back up the powerlines. I desperately wanted to walk at times but Kristina wouldn't let me and I was glad that she pushed me like she did. As the rocky ascent began, we could see Suzie approximately 200 to 300 yards ahead. It may not have seemed much, but the climb that stood between us was intense and it took all my will power to get up that hill as quick as possible. We knew that as soon as we hit the forest road at the top, it gave way to 4 miles of good runnable terrain and we didn't want Suzie disappearing into the sunset just yet. She was still moving well and catching her wasn't going to be easy.

Having fun and feeling good
PC SweetMImages
As Kristina and I hit the top, I was still trying to run as much as possible but my legs were tired from all the climbs. I was still in good spirits though and willing to work hard. We started to run the road section, stopping occasionally to give my legs chance to recover a little, and little by little, we were starting to close the gap on the lead. A mile or so later, I made my move and I knew that I was now the rabbit, I was now the one that the other ladies would be gunning for.

The forest road seemed longer this time and it got to the point where I would pick out landmarks that I would run to, or I would say I would the next half mile before I had a walk break. It was now becoming a mental game as much as physical. My tummy had also started to get very windy again and for the next couple of hours I was passing wind like there was no tomorrow. I'm not sure how Kristina tolerated me - it was noisy and stinky and I felt so embarrassed but I was so glad that Kristina didn't judge too harshly!

I had become so focused on keeping moving that we arrived at the aid station in no time - we were at the half way point and I just had to keep it going.

Houston Brothers to Buck Springs - 6.7 miles, 56.3 miles in total
We ran in to Houston Brothers and were very efficient in refueling and getting out again as quickly as possible. I'd taken a cup of noodles with me that would give me some vital calories as well as some salt and I ate them as we ran/walked along the trails. I'd also taken a couple of bean wraps and some pop to make sure I had the calories. I was really pleased with my fueling strategy so far - sure, my tummy had gone gassy but there had not yet been any vomiting. Even now, having downed a full cup of noodles, my stomach felt ok and I was able to keep moving without regurgitating everything over the forest floor.

The run to Buck Springs started well. It was still daylight although dusk was falling and we left it as long as possible before we turned on our headlamps. One minute we could see well, the next the forest would become so dense that we could barely see the trail ahead of us.

Up until that point, the trail had been relatively easy to find, but now that darkness was falling, we realised how few flags there were, how few reflective markers there were, and how easy it would be for us to wander off course.

I'd left the aid station before any other runners had arrived and I figured that if I was struggling to find the way in the dark, they would be too. I had the advantage of having Kristina with me - two headlamps and two sets of eyes looking out for markers. We were doing great as a team, and although I was by now mostly walking very, very fast, we were making timely progress.

As darkness fell properly, we couldn't see anything around us. It really was pitch black and there was no light coming from either the moon or the stars. My legs were tiring and whenever we hit a climb, it felt like I was going backwards. So many occasions I wanted to stop and have a breather, but so many times Kristina told me to just keep moving. She was amazing! Even when I was shuffling, she didn't get impatient or angry, she would talk to me and take my mind off things, make me laugh, anything. She would take the lead up the hills and when it flattened out she would let me know and I would focus on her to get me to the top. It really was effective team work and I was so grateful she was there.

It was only 6 or 7 miles for this segment but it seemed never ending. I was starting to let the negative thoughts creep in, I started to ask how much further every 100 yards, I was starting to swear every time we started to climb up yet another hill, I was getting frustrated at myself, but Kristina kept me going.

I don't recall how long it took us to get to Buck Springs, but I was never happier when Kristina yelled back to me that she could see the lights at the aid station just ahead, and we made our run in.

I hadn't realised but this aid station was being run by the AZ Traileggers and it was so nice to see so many familiar faces there. Thank you guys - you are truly awesome!

I refuelled again, my stomach still tolerating food with no problems at all, and I managed yet another cup of noodles as well as some munchies from my drop bag. I downed a coffee and some jelly sweets and I felt like a million dollars! I was back on track - I was feeling energised again and ready to tackle the next section back to Pinchot Cabin for my second visit. We once again left the aid station before any other runners came in - it was reassuring that I was still maintaining my lead, but I knew that I had to keep it going. It was hard, but it was doable.

Buck Springs to Pinchot Cabin - 8.2 miles, 64.5 miles overall
Oh my gosh! 8.2 miles never felt so long and it must have taken nearly 3 hours to get there. Kristina and I maintained our momentum but it was a tough section for me where the climbs kept coming, albeit shorter by now, and we wandered off course a couple of times and had to correct ourselves. I was still managing to job the flatter less technical sections, but otherwise my power hiking practice was certainly coming in useful right now. My stomach was still full of gas, and once again I had to jump in a bush to empty myself. The thought of a big hairy sasquatch laughing out loud at my bare backside really didn't bother me - if he wanted to get me, I wouldn't have been able to put up much of a fight! I was also starting to get a blister on the sole of my foot which was causing me to run at a funny angle.

This segment was once again an unknown which made it even worse in the dark. We ran through the trees up and down some pretty technical trails, and then we ended up running through knee tall grass where we couldn't see what was on the ground. A couple of times, my headtorch reflected in water and I would jump to avoid getting wet feet but completely misjudge it and get soggy feet anyway.

Apart from the inevitable moaning of how much further, I think I was still in good spirits and feeling relatively good. Kristina and I had been chatting as we ran, wondering how much of a lead I actually had. I had a feeling that Suzie probably wouldn't catch me now, but I knew that the lady from Colorado had been running well, and I was convinced that she would catch me if Suzie didn't.

It's so hard in such a long race to know when to race your competitors - too early and you run out of steam, too late and you could end up in a sprint finish after 100 miles of crazy running. Kristina was fantastic in keeping focused and keeping me pushing onwards. I didn't know what the rest of the course held for me in terms of terrain so I just wanted to keep as far ahead as possible for as long as possible. I was hurting like crazy, but I had already said that if those chasing ladies wanted the win, I was going to make them work for it. I was giving it everything I possibly could and I wasn't about to give up just yet.

My headtorch started to fade and we spent some minutes changing the batteries as I really couldn't see the trail ahead of me. Those precious minutes of lost time caused me to look behind me for the next couple of miles, checking for lights appearing in the dark and making sure they were men catching me and not ladies.

After what seemed another eternity, Kristina and I made our way up the same small hill that I'd ran up with no problems earlier in the day - now it felt like a mountain and I was gently cursing as I made the climb. Relieved to finally reach the aid station, I replaced my spare batteries, grabbed more food and refilled my bladder. I meant to take some gels with me from my drop bag at that stage - I felt like I needed some intermittent energy to get me back to Houston Brothers again and eventually Washington Park but as I was about to go out to my drop bag, Leo arrived with Scott and we had a quick chat.

Conscious that every minute counted to me if not to Leo, I was eager to leave the aid station and in my haste, forgot to grab some gels. without looking at the flavour, I grabbed one off the table along with a slice of watermelon. I really felt like I needed more food at that point, but the distractions meant I had already wasted far too much time and so I left without what I really needed, for which I would pay for over the next couple of hours.

Kristina and I said a cheerful totty bye to the aid station volunteers and continued our way. I was feeling a little more energised again but knew that I would need food in the next hour and I regretted not taking more with me, it was too late now though - we had already started on our way back to Houston Brothers - I'd made my bed and would have to lie in it.

Pinchot Cabin to Houston Brothers - 7.6-mile segment, 72.1 miles
I was quite excited about this next section of the race. We were heading back out to Houston Brothers on the same trail as earlier in the day, except it would be in reverse. Even though we were coming at it from the opposite direction, I could still visualise the course and knew what was coming which made things easier to handle. I also knew that after this, it was a quick run down the forest road back to Washington Park where I would only have 22 miles to go and I would pick up my other pacer, Adam. Getting to that point was critical for me from a mental perspective - if I got to 78 miles and I was still in the lead, I was 99% certain that I would hold onto the lead to the finish.

But I had to get through the next 13 miles first and anything could happen in the next 2 or 3 hours as I made my way back to the rest of my support team.

Kristina continued to do an outstanding job on leading me through the forests and keeping me on track. The ups and downs were still tough for me, but with every step I was getting more and more determined to push on to the finish. There was never any doubt that I would finish and as things stood, I was still on track for around about 27 hours for a finish time. That would be the second fastest time on the course and I would be very happy with that.

A half hour after leaving Pinchot Cabin, I felt the urge for some sugar and so opened the gel I'd taken in place of my own. I hadn't realised but it was Mocha flavour and as I tore the top off, it oozed out like tar. I tried to eat it like I would do normally, but the smell, taste and texture was absolutely disgusting. I took a mouthful of the thick gook and spat it out straight away. It was awful! I had a couple of jelly sweets that had melted in my backpack pocket but they didn't really give me the valuable energy that I desperately needed. I knew I needed food again but we still had a way to go before we were anywhere close to Houston Brothers again.

Kristina continued to motivate me and kept me moving. I felt awful that such a talented athlete was having to walk and go so slow for me, but she was so patient and never once complained. 

Despite my flaying energy levels, I was enjoying this section. The forest had more shrubbery than on other parts, and I loved the single track that took us up and downs the hills which even in the dark made things interesting. I remembered that we would have a few of these ups and downs and then as we hit the junction where we'd turned for Buck Springs just a few hours earlier, I got excited at the thought of being so close.

That last stretch from the Buck Springs junction to the aid station seemed endless but we persevered and finally we arrived at Houston Brothers for the third time that day. The volunteers remembered us from earlier and were once again very accommodating in meeting my needs. For some reason, I thought we had drop bags here and I was looking forward to grabbing something of my own out of it, but it wasn't to be so I made use of the what was available. 

The temperature up on the Rim had been up and down and it was weird as we were running along. At one point, I was wishing I had a spare jacket and gloves with me, then the next I would be so warm. There seemed to be pockets of warm and cool air in the forest and at this point, we were in a cool spot. My hands were cold and I was feeling a little chilled, so I opted to have a hot chocolate again followed by some noodles. They had been working this far and figured it would be best to stick with it.

I took some fruit and other nibbles too and had a drink of coke before we set off on the trail again. We were being very efficient at the aid stations, for me anyway, and due to doing so much walking right now, I took the noodles with me.

100 yards later, I took a spoonful of the noodles and they went down no problem, but then when I tried a little jog, my body started its usual reaction and I was vomiting everything back up. It looked like the bulk of it was the horrid gel I had attempted to consume earlier, mixed in with hot chocolate and a few noodles. It took 5 or 6 attempts before my body finally decided that it had finished - some of them were drive heaves where nothing was coming up, but I was retching anyway. My diaphragm now felt extremely tender from the force but I had no time to mess around. Kristina was very concerned but I assured her that I felt much better for it and was ready to get to Washington asap.

Houston Brothers to Washington Park - 6.3 miles, 78.4 miles in total

We hit the forest road again shortly after my vomiting session, and I tried desperately to run as much as possible. Kristina quite rightly said that if the girls behind were still running, then this is where they would once again make up some time, so I needed to run as much as possible here too.

It wasn't easy. My legs were sore, the blister on my foot was getting bigger, and having just been sick, all the nutrition I had hoped would give me some fuel injection had been taken from me. I tried to break the road up into chunks, run 200 yards, walk 200 yards, but I was finding it difficult. The motivation and willingness were there, but the body was refusing to do what I asked of it.

We still managed a good, efficient walk but I was once again frustrated that I wasn't running and making best use of the road section. A couple of cars came through despite the late night which threw up dust and played havoc with my lungs, and we passed some folks that had set camp up in the wood probably expecting a quiet night but having runners trundling past them all night/

I was getting somewhat concerned about the blister by now. I could really feel it burning on my foot and I didn't want to lose my lead by not paying attention to it - if I didn't fix it now, I was sure to slow down and allow myself to be caught. I sat down in the road, stars shining overhead and everything deathly quiet and attempted to put a plaster on my sore foot. Kristina offered to help but my feet were just gross and I really wouldn't have wanted her to touch them. She directed me to where to put the plaster and whilst it didn't really fix the problem, it did provide some cushioning which allowed me to run a little better and in my natural position.

I knew that there was quite a good downhill coming towards the end of the road before we went back down the powerlines, but even that was a long time in coming. I was getting so impatient now - I wanted to get out on the Highline Trail again as I knew that once we made it there, I was in the final stages of the race.

My watch had died by now so I was running blind with regards to time and distance. I had no idea what pace I was running, no idea how much further to the aid stations. I wanted to ask but I feared the answer - running in the dark feels like you have covered more ground than you actually have so I waited to be told how far we had to go, sometimes feeling deflated, sometimes relieved that we were nearly there.

The good news is that having checked in with the radio crew at the top of the powerlines, I knew it was only a couple of miles downhill into Washington Park. It was not an easy downhill by far - running down that hill in daylight was bad enough, and now we had to do it in the dark with just our headtorch for guidance. A couple of times I felt my feet going in the loose rocks and had to steady myself, muscles and tendons pinging in pain as I strained them even further to stay upright. But both Kristina and I made it safely to the bottom and had a steady but painful run/walk/hobble into Washington Park. Thank goodness for that!

Washington Park to Geronimo - 9.6 miles, 88 miles in total
Kristina had done an awesome job covering 35 miles with me out on the course, and I really don't feel like I had the opportunity to say thank you. But now the real race started, and with my coach Adam now taking over the reins and leading me into the finish, I knew things were about to get even harder.

I was so touched to see all these amazing people helping and supporting me, not just my crew, but all the folks at the aid station as I passed through. Andy had some Macaroni Cheese ready for me and I guzzled it down like I was starved. Despite my sickness just an hour or so earlier, it hit the spot perfectly and was just what I needed. I was surprised as usually after I'm sick in a race, I am unable to eat for hours, yet here I was munching on pasta and cheese as well as drinking coffee and a variety of other things.

As I ate and others refilled my bladder again, I was chatting to Adam and the others about how things were going. There was another chap listening in on the conversation and I realised it was the husband/boyfriend of the lady from Colorado, no doubt gathering information to relate back to her on how I was feeling and how I was doing. The good news is that despite feeling tired, I was still doing good and I think he got that message if nothing else, He also saw that I was eating well and still refueling - it's all psychological warfare at this stage! I made a comment to him and asked jokingly if he was listening in on her behalf - he got all embarrassed and walked away which I find mildly amusing.

Once I'd refuelled and replenished my supplies, I rang the final lap bell and Adam led me out of the aid station on our way to Geronimo. No other runners had come through the aid station whilst I was there, and we didn't see any as we set off towards the HIghline Trail. This of course didn't mean we were in the clear, and Adam set a monstrous pace that had me struggling to keep up despite my determination to do so.

It would be 10 miles before we hit another aid station, and with half an hour or so, with no idea of how far we had gone, I was already starting to feel weak again. I wasn't sure if I was just tired or if I needed to take in more fuel, but either way I was struggling. At one point, I was convinced that we must have done at least 3 or 4 miles already, but when I asked how much further, Adam informed me another 8 miles or something. This was getting hard but I had no choice but to keep moving.

The Highline Trail seemed far harder in the dark. Earlier in the day, I had run well, but now it felt tough and I kept stumbling. There were some narrow sections that were on a slope and I found it difficult to keep my balance with the gradient. There were also blades of grass that caused shadows in my headlamp and I kept thinking they were snakes slithered across the path as they moved about in the evening breeze.

I knew I wasn't moving as fast now despite Adam's attempts to keep me going at a good pace, and I was feeling so bad for him. I so desperately wanted to please him and do my best, but already I felt I was lagging and not giving 100%. I tried to run but my hips wouldn't allow me, the blister on my foot seemed to have flared up again, and despite my best efforts to maintain that positive outlook, it was hard.

I kept looking behind me to check for lights in the distance. I'd see a light up on the Rim and convince myself it was another runner chasing me down, but then I'd realise it was just a car headlight. There was nobody nearby, the night was silent, the moon and stars looked amazing - the only sound was Adam and I making our way along this crazy track and some nearby elk having a bugling session again.

I started to wish that I had brought some more nibbles with me as these 10 miles was taking a long time and the hunger and light headedness was setting in again. I was still making sure I was drinking but the water was warm and tasted horrid and the only nibbles I had were some melted jelly sweets again.

I think Adam knew how much I was struggling my now, but he was so encouraging and tried his best to get me running. Every time I managed a painful jog, he would start to clap which made me smile, and when I was walking on the smoother sections, he would convince me that I needed to run. Every step I ran, it opened a gap on those behind, every step I walked, they would undoubtedly get closer.

I was still hoping to make the finish in 27 hours but with no idea of time of day, I didn't know how close I was to that, it still seemed feasible but I had no idea what the closing stages of the course held for me. Had I known, I would perhaps have been more generous in my estimations, but then I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss!

I have no idea how long it took us to do that 10 miles in the dark, but finally we arrived once again at Geronimo. It seemed like days ago that I was last here and yet it had only been yesterday morning - it felt like I'd been on the Mogollon Rim for days!

Andy was at the aid station again and he made up some porridge for me and I had some coffee. I felt invigorated straight away, and rather than stand around eating, I took the porridge with me up the trail with the intention of eating it whilst on the move.

We spend just 3 minutes at Geronimo - a record for me at an aid station and it showed that maybe I am getting more efficient at getting through them. With another 12 miles or so to go, I could now smell the finish line and I was raring to go.

Geronimo to Donahue - 4.9 miles, 92.9 miles in total
I feel so sorry for Adam. I left Geronimo in pretty good spirits, was excited to see the beautiful sunrise and hear the birds singing their morning chorus, and even though Adam had told me that there was now a bit of a climb up to Donahue, I could never have imagined how ridiculously steep it could be.

West Webber Trail was stupidly steep and rocky. I thought we had done the climbing but as we continued going higher, I stupidly asked if it was going to take us to the top of the Rim again. I swear Adam was trying to let me down gently and I admire him for not laughing out loud at my naivety. He informed me that there might be a bit of a climb up to Donahue, that maybe it took us half way up.

Admittedly the trail was picturesque. Now that daylight had arrived again, I could see how lush this area was and had I not been so tired I'm sure I would have enjoyed it even more. But my legs were dead and we were still climbing. I had thought it was a steady climb at first, but then we started at the switchbacks, and with each turn the gradient got even more intense. Tree trunks were blocking the trail in places and whilst Adam nimbly skipped over them, I hauled myself over like a hippo that couldn't even pick my legs up. The thin ones were ok, but the thicker ones were challenging work and I couldn't quite swing my legs over without cramping or just sitting there trying to will my body to follow the instructions coming from my brain.

The climb continued and I started to act like a child - are we nearly there, are we nearly there, are we nearly there. Endless switchbacks getting steeper and steeper, and Adam repeatedly saying just a couple more, just a couple more, just a couple more. My legs refused to go up and I would stop, but Adam would shout down to me to just keep moving. It worked, I moved, but it was very slow and very painful. The joy had gone out of the event for me at this point and I really didn't care about anything. Other than Adam, the only other thing that kept me going was the thought of being caught in the last few miles and losing out on the win,

I heard voices below and was convinced it was women - it wasn’t but the two guys caught us up and I asked if they had seen any other ladies. They told me they had passed the second lady before Geronimo and she was struggling - whether they were saying it to make me feel better or not didn’t matter - I was glad that somebody else was suffering like me which meant less chance of them catching me anytime soon.

Onwards and upwards we went - it was only a flipping mile, but at 92 miles in a race, and with a 40% or more grade, whoever included this hill was not a very nice person! Adam tried to get me to eat but I really didn't want anything. I wanted this to be over, I didn't want food. I wanted a nice, warm, comfy bed and a hot bath - not burning quads and glutes that were cramping up, not hips that were telling me my age and sore feet that were saying enough is enough.

Just a few more switchbacks he said, he can see the tree line he said, but on and on and on it went. If ever I was going to quit, it would have been there, but with Adam coaxing me to keep going, I followed his lead and finally made it to the top.

Seeing the Donahue aid station was the most amazing sight ever and I tried to take on board some food and drink but was so hungry that I didn't really know what I fancied. The volunteers were wonderful once again but when they said I was the second lady, my heart sank and I nearly cried. Thankfully one of the chaps confirmed that I was the only lady he had seen come through - phew! 7 miles to go - NOW I had absolutely everything to race for.

Donahue to Pine and the Finish Line - 7.1 miles, 100 miles in total
I won't deny it - heading out of Donahue and knowing that I would shortly be finishing gave me a huge boost. My legs and body were still in denial, but I mustered every ounce of energy I had to jog whenever I could. Adam was still doing an amazing job in keeping me going and I felt bad at my rejection of his offers of Jaffa Cakes, Snickers Bars and oat bars. When he offered me the Snickers bar, had he been closer I would have snatched his arm off as it sounded like the most amazing thing - but I hadn't the breath nor energy to say give it to me now!

The Donahue Trail heading back down to where we had started the previous day was another stupidly technical and completely unnecessary section for us to run on - at least at that moment in time it was. It was so rocky, narrow and steep in parts that I was muttering to myself that these race organisers really are taking the piss. But it was downhill and so I tried my best to keep hobbling as best I could - there was still no sight of any ladies but I still needed to keep going as I still had no idea how far behind they were.

The morning sun was now burning strong and I could feel the burn on my back and shoulder - it sure was heating up and I was glad to be finishing the race soon.

As we headed down the trail, a load of other runners were heading up and I realised that it was the .35km race that had started that morning. I spotted Kori running strongly along with a few other familiar faces powering up the trail and seeing them made me realise how close I must be to the finish. I put in a little surge - it was barely visible but it made me feel better.

Adam was powering down the trail in the reckless manner that I would normally take and I was somewhat envious that he was having so much fun heading down. But I couldn't help but smile - as thing stood, it looked like I may be heading to victory - I just had to hold it together for the next 3 or 4 miles.

We came into the parking lot at the trail head and I got lots of support from hikers and other runners, cheering me along and clapping. It helped and I tried to pick things up a bit but I was so tired. I had thought it was only half a mile into town and looking at the clock on my phone, we were on 27 hours and 10 minutes - my gosh, I could even go sub 27.30!

That made me try to run a little faster, legs crying in pain, my face wincing with agony, but still trying to keep it going. We passed under the main road, surprised a police officer by saying we'd ran 100 miles when he asked how far we'd been, and as we followed the cones down to where we thought the community centre was, I started to get emotional, it was looking like 27.27 finishing time - I was so elated!

We ran into the field looking for the finish gantry .... except it wasn't there. Where the ...??!! We couldn't see any other flags, and as I waited on the road getting frustrated and seeing my sub 27.30 slipping away, a good 5 minutes passed before we finally spotted more of the flags in the distance up the road. Bloody hell! There was still another mile or still to go! I found it very hard to get running at that point. My mind and body had thought they had finished, they had gone into shutdown, and now I was asking them to wake up and move again. There were a couple of runners approaching quickly from behind and I squinted to see if they were ladies - no, we were good.

I walked as fast as I could back up to the main road and made that left turn, Adam still leading the way and trying to encourage me every step. We saw another runner from behind and Adam thought it was a lady. I turned to look and realised it was Leo - thank god for that! I didn't care if Leo passed me, so long as no ladies did.

I really couldn't muster any energy, Leo caught me, and then I had both him and Adam yelling at me to run. I seriously couldn't but then when Kristina came running down the road to me, and I finally saw the finish gantry and Andy at the finish line, finally my legs broke in to a pathetic run to the finish line.

Leo and I crossed the line together even though he could quite easily have out a couple of minutes between us, but 27 hours and 45 minutes after starting and after 22,000 feet of climbing, we finally finished the Mogollon Monster 100 miler.

Friendly hugs at the finish :-)

After the Race
Looking back at this race, I still find it a bit surreal that I won. I never in a million years thought that I would come away with the trophy but there it is, sitting on a table in our living room, watching us and making sure we don't get into mischief.

When Jamil handed me that trophy, I was taken aback by the size. It is by far the largest award I have ever received and I still can't quite believe that it's mine to keep.

He's a big bugger int he?!

The reception I received straight after the race and in the days since has been extremely humbling. I have received so many lovely comments and so much support that I haven't really known how to deal with it but I just want to say thank you to everybody.

The Mogollon Monster certainly isn't a race to be taken lightly. It is tough, it is a beast, a monster, call it what you will. There are probably around 30 or 40 miles of the course that are runnable - the others are very steep and rocky and hard on the legs and feet. If that isn't enough, the 22,000 ft of ascent is tough, especially for somebody like me that doesn't really run enough hills and they certainly aren't my strength. But if nothing else, I hope that my finishing and winning the Monster proves that anything is possible if you are willing to fight and put your heart and soul into things.

The Mogollon Monster was one of my A races for the year, and everything has been geared towards this. Now that it's over, it feels strange not to be talking about it and making plans.

I've said many times that I couldn't do these events without the love and support of others.

My husband Andy got up with me at 5am on the Saturday and was awake with the 3 pups until 4pm on the Sunday, looking after me and making sure my race went as I had hoped it would. There aren't many partners that would be willing to do this, but Andy does it every time and sometimes I don't think I appreciate it enough. This time he had a bad back but he was determined to still be there despite his own pain, and as ever, he did an amazing job. I love you Andy and you mean the world to me - thank you!

Adam - what can I say? This time last year I was doubting my ability and future as a runner and then I approached you to see if you would coach me. You helped me to get back on track, your training plans have got me in perfect shape to race the best I can, and along the way I've achieved far more than I ever thought possible. My win in the Mogollon Monster is as much for me as it is for you. Thanks for getting my training right, thank you for believing in me, thanks for being patient and so encouraging when I'm sulking like a big child, and more than anything, thank you for bringing out the best in me.

Kristina, what can I say? You are such an amazing athlete and yet you were willing to slow down and pace me at the Monster. Your support and encouragement when I hit my lowest points in the race were so greatly appreciated, and I can't thank you enough for keeping me going. Thank you for those training runs up Ord and the surrounds, thank you too for believing in me and helping me to run to victory. You helped me to take the lead, and you never let me look back.

Leo, Scott and Norm - Thanks you guys! Leo for all your humour, Scott for just being there and Norm, for the small things like running to fetch my spare shoes when Andy couldn't and refilling my bladder. It's those little things that make the greatest difference at the most crucial times.

To Aravaipa Running - thank you for having me on your racing team. Being a member of a team motivates you to do well and I am always honoured and proud to wear the Aravaipa shirt and fly the flag on your behalf. Your events are second to none - always slick, always well organised, always lots of fun. You have a fabulous team behind the scenes that not everybody sees, but I am truly grateful to all of you.

Volunteers, runners, spectators and the running community in general - without you guys, none of this would be possible. You are all amazing and I can't thank you enough for all the help and support you provide for the duration of the race and beyond. I always try to say thank you in person but sometimes I may forget or be too grumpy or too tired, so just in case, thank you to each and every one of you!

So, on that note, what happens now? It's been a fantastic year for me running wise and in all honesty, I hadn't really thought much beyond Mogollon. I know that in December there will be a few lotteries to enter and we will away the outcome of those to see what the next massive thing will be. But aside from that, I am hoping to go back to Across the Years and have another go at the 24 hours. I have a goal and a target and this time I am hoping to get closer if everything goes to plan.

In the meantime, happy trails my friends, love to all of you, and thank you once again from the bottom of my heart.

Big Foot and erm ... Big Foot ?

McDowell Mountain Frenzy 25k

With my final race of the year fast approaching, I'm feeling really happy with how training leading up the race day has gone. With a gr...