How this came to be
Just over 9 years ago, my sister Sarah ran Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Scott and I made a spontaneous choice to go support her. We couldn’t be part of her official crew, but we could be integrally involved in her day, supporting her and her whole gang. This incredible experience laid a foundation for us to lean into running. It even prompted us to semi-jokingly discuss running our first 100 miler for our 50-50.
In the wee hours of the morning on Sunday August 7th (Sarah’s birthday), Scott, Teressa and I scanned our first of 10 courses of the FLRC Ultra Challenge. To complete this successfully, we must finish all 10 courses in 24 hours.
FLRC and the pandemic
Before I launch into our adventure, I want to share about how our local running club became such a key part of our life during the pandemic. In early 2021, the club kicked off the FLRC Challenge. It gave me something to focus on for the year while races were mostly canceled. It energized my running and helped both Scott and me feel more connected to the running community. I challenged myself to attend a few group runs, met more people in person, and made more connections on Strava. The courses challenged me to run some on trails and running them gave me the confidence to sign up for a trail race. I was thrilled when they brought it back for 2022.
I’m really impressed with the number of ways that the club found to have people participate and compete in this newest challenge. They had a completely new set of courses, including the option to run on any track and have it count, as well as one course that was near my house. It was nice to have to drive 20 minutes or more for every challenge run.
The Ultra Challenge
In the first running of the challenge, they offered this up. I remember thinking, “only real runners can do that.” I really never gave it a thought. Maybe Scott could do it but there was no way that I would have the courage or endurance. I honestly never even considered it.
This year in version 2.0, the club created fun incentives to get involved virtually. You could get “social points” for posting about your run, for running with others, and for supporting local businesses after your run (and writing about it on the same day).
It is funny the things I’ll do for competition. I don’t generally use social media but found myself posting on the forum. I usually run by myself and suddenly I was running with Scott, looking forward to group runs and convincing my friends to sign up. Later in the summer I even invited my friend Sarah to run the Lick Brook course with me! We’ve never run together and we tackled this challenging 13+ mile course on a 90 degree afternoon.
So why not try the Ultra Challenge? I had convinced Teressa to sign up for the Challenge this year after she ran several courses with me the first year. Teressa is game for most anything and while I honestly don’t remember who came up with the idea first, I know we both thought we could probably do it. We spent the summer waffling on it. My kids and Scott strongly encouraged me not to do this. I wasn’t trained for the distance and it would be scary for them. At the same time we were considering this, I accidentally found myself at the top of the list for most miles. So, suddenly something that I hadn’t really concerned myself with before became a priority. I started trying to log miles - more miles than I should have on my feet and my family got a little worried about my obsession with this challenge. In their mind, this was just one more thing that could get to be too consuming. I told Teressa we probably should cancel this lofty goal and she pushed back saying we could do it, but that she was cool if I didn’t want to and her family would probably be happy too.
As we talked about the very few possible days we could do it, Scott mentioned that if I did it, he’d want to do it too. I told him I wasn’t comfortable with him out there solo and suggested that if it was ok with Teressa that he join us. We had some strict ground rules about time and pace and him running separately. As you can imagine, that fell apart rather quickly.
So let’s get to the story!
This changed many times. I originally proposed a midnight start and Teressa countered with 3 am. I had an entirely different order of courses than you’ll see below and we all made modifications in a shared doc for a bit. This final order is a tweak of our actual planned order from just a day prior.
One change occurred the day before. Scott and I were enjoying breakfast in Trumansburg at Creekside Cafe. It was 9 am, 88 degrees, humid and sunny. Our original order had us hitting Brookton Hill and Dale after Lick Brook in the heat of the day, spanning noon. I looked at Scott and suggested we make it our 4th course instead of the 5th. We ran it by Teressa and determined that the change was good. This one change, set the stage for a much more positive experience. The next change was about drive time. We had ourselves bouncing around a bit. We had convinced ourselves that a bit of extra drive time was fine. But, after Lick Brook, we realized our stops were longer than we had budgeted for (travel time plus 10 minutes was budgeted) and the only thing we could really control was drive time. We adjusted the courses from there to lessen travel time. This proved to be another smart move, as it also pushed the very runnable and short Lansing Center Trail to last.
We kicked off with the mile right before 3 am. On a moonless night, the air so thick it felt like you were running through water, we drove right up to the track, nabbed a picture and ran a mile. I was wearing a waist lamp my sister gave me to light the track for Teressa and me. Scott ran at his own pace. My highlight of this mile was the intense gratitude that I felt for my sister for sending this. It was over a year ago and showed up very out of the blue. I tossed it somewhere and promptly forgot about it. So much so that I ordered clip lights for this run because I knew headlamp running gave me a headache. Scott was the beneficiary of those lights and Teressa and I enjoyed this very bright (and comfortable) waist light!
After our mile, we zoomed down to Taughannock. This trail is open from dawn to dusk. I’m a big rule follower who would never dare head to the trail outside of those hours. In fact, when Elizabeth and I had our hike streak during Covid, we ended it at 200 days, largely because life had gone back to normal and our only opportunity to hike pushed into those off limits hours.
But for this, we didn’t really have a choice to hit this in the middle. It had to be at the start in darkness or at the end in darkness. We reasoned that we could explain our way out of this if we were caught, or split the cost of our ticket. Hence, we found ourselves at the parking lot a little after 3, ready to tackle our most familiar course. Teressa and I headed up while Scott headed down. Our goal was to take it slow and safe, making sure to avoid starting the day with a fall. We chatted happily, and found ourselves really enjoying the run in the dark. Again, that waist light was a high point. It reminded me of my children’s pre-school mantra for sending children outdoors to play, “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” We had great gear for this!
A switch back to road shoes in the car and a nice snack while driving and we were off to the Inlet shore trail. We parked near our gym, FLX Fitclub, pretty certain there wasn’t a 6 am outdoor class in the parking lot and hit the course.
This time, I turned on Run Go directions for us. I’ve gotten lost on this course before, even after I was pretty confident that I had it, and we both knew we didn’t want extra mileage today! The run was comfortable. We were still chatting at this point, enjoying the darkness in the first half and the arrival of dawn as we finished. By this time, we had 1, 4.6 and 6.2 under our belts for a total of 11.8. As we pulled out of the parking lot we ran into Aaron King. He was also mid-Ultra Challenge!! It was super fun to know someone else was doing this “with” us and we looked forward to possibly bumping into him later in the day.
We had a bit of time to chill in the car as we drove to our next course. Xander planned to meet us there and run with Scott. The water arrangement was for Scott to drop a cooler of water near mile 5 so we didn’t have to carry and then he would start the run with Xander, giving us a head start. We didn’t waste much time getting going here, and our agreement was that we’d run the flats and downhills and walk the hills. That was a brilliant mental strategy. It allowed us to look forward to the hills. I had run the course 3 times to Teressa’s one so I knew what was coming and was able to use that to give her a mental map to keep pushing on some of the longer flat stretches. The wheels started to fall off that plan as we neared the end but we made it in, rallying with a solid downhill and flat run back to Brookton’s Market. I was pretty proud of Xander for joining Scott so early for this. He was very supportive and sweet to us all, even leaving me his sunglasses because I forgot mine!
On the drive to Lick Brook, we discussed using this course as a recovery course. We’d walk most of it, and maybe run the downhills. At this time we had 22.2 miles on our legs of legit running. That’s no small feat for 3 people who haven’t done any distance training. Sure, we had miles under our feet, and Teressa did a 17 mile training run last week to make sure she could handle the distance. We had our 24th anniversary run/hike. We all have lots of efforts on Taughannock and we’ve all completed all 10 courses of the FLRC Challenge.
However, we were nearing a marathon distance and it was 90 degrees and humid. Luckily we packed our poles from our Mountain Running Camp. I had tried them out on my recent Lick Brook run with Sarah Giesy. They worked great so I was pretty psyched to use them today!
We all agreed that we’d do the challenging Lick Brook side first, reasoning we’d rather just get it done. The first part of this was very slippery after all the rain, and we found our poles super useful. Teressa and I hiked all the way up, spotting Aaron King on his way down to finish this course with a blazing fast time, looking very strong! Our hike felt like a slog, and while we were still upbeat, our fatigue was beginning to set in. I led on this single track trail, and when we reached the turnaround, we headed back down and ran into Scott. We had a bit of a head start on him for this. He reminded us that to hit our “worst case time” we’d still need to run some. Since we hadn’t run a single step of this course yet, I interpreted his message to mean, “please run something here.” I suggested to Teressa that we run the downhills on this side. We had previously agreed that we’d only run the downhills on the other, more moderate side, but she fell into step with me as I led us back down to the car. On our way down we ran into Caroline and Josh Brockner, and when we arrived back to the car we ran into Kristina Harrison and her husband. Both couples were out for the FLRC Lick Brook Course challenge, and it was really fun to see them! I think we had some snacks? I know we put on our packs because we hadn’t done the first part with water. Soon we were off for part two. We left together, with Scott only a little ahead of us for quite some time. It felt a little silly to have him just a bit ahead for so long, but he eventually pulled away enough that it felt reasonable.
This side felt never ending and the single track was monotonous. I’m not the best hike leader and my voice doesn’t travel well, so our conversation faded. A lot of this hike was quiet. We were tired and my feet were slopping around in my hiking shoes. We tried to run the downhills, but there were not a lot of downhills. Still, we did run most of them, including one luxuriously long one that felt amazing! One thing we noticed on this leg was that we saw so many more things than when we ran the course. Another thing that really hit me was how SLOWLY the miles tick along when you are hiking. I do love to hike, but mostly when there is a view in it for me. Today there was no view - only a wet, single track, semi-overgrown trail slog. With just a few miles to go I winced as I planted my right foot. My right pinky toe clearly had developed its typical pointy toe callus. I wasn’t able to walk normally for long enough that I panicked that I’d need to have one of the kids pick me up. Soon, I forced myself to step normally, wincing with each footfall. I remembered Heather Cobb telling me that when she did this, she shared with her feet hurt. Her friend pointed out that her feet should hurt. What did she expect? I formed this into a little mantra for the day. Yup. My feet hurt. What did I expect?
It was after this course when we officially had 35.3 miles under our feet (it must be noted that Lick Brook is MORE than 13.1 so we really had more but we had “credit” for 13.1), that we made a change to our plan. I was afraid that if we went to Long Loomis next like we originally planned that we would hike it. I also felt we needed a break from poles for a bit. I suggested we hit the largely shaded Beebe and try to run some of it. We made a new plan for Beebe, followed by the Dryden Rail Trail before hitting Loomis. The only hard rule we had was that we had to hit Loomis in daylight.
We arrived at Beebe hot and tired. It was 94 degrees by this point and almost 2 pm. I took my shirt off for this, planning to change into a new one, but it felt so breathtakingly wonderful to not have a shirt on that I chose to stay in my sports bra. We negotiated that we’d run some and I invited Scott to join us. He hadn’t been that far ahead of us in Treman and his legs were very fatigued. He was concerned about “crashing our party” but I assured him that it was ok. I didn’t actually check in with Teressa about this, and felt a bit bad about that, but we were a crew bound by the travel, so it felt ok. Walked, shuffled, ran, walked, shuffled, ran and somehow made it through the 4 miles still smiling.
It was a short drive to this trail and when we arrived we saw Amanda King. In my overheated state, I didn’t even process that she was supporting Aaron. She walked over to us with ice and we eagerly started filling our water bottles with ice. Ours was almost gone and this felt like seeing an oasis in the desert. We chatted a bit and she gave us such great encouragement! Aaron was now beginning his 8th course while we were on our 7th. He joked that he was at a 9-10 minute shuffle. We laughed because we were hoping to not hit our highest projected time for this and to run “a bit” of the course. We agreed that after the initial flat bit, we’d run the first downhill to the turnaround at 1.5 miles. We’d then walk back up to the car. We didn’t talk about the next leg, which is a flat trail. By the time we hit the last 100 meters before the car, the heat was just radiating off the road. I quickened my step to just get away from this heat. We spent a brief time grabbing water and some food from the car before heading out. Aaron and Amanda were just heading off to do the short leg we just finished. She gave us the rest of their ice and we wished each other well.
This part is when I became a bit of a camp counselor, chief motivator, part tyrant to get us moving. I didn’t have it in me to walk these last 4.5 miles in their entirety so I suggested that we run .25 and walk .25 in increments until we finished. I knew I was pushing Teressa to the bounds of what she could handle in that moment, but I felt I had to do this. It was hot. We were all tired and it would keep us moving along and get us to Loomis sooner if we ran. Scott joked that I had assumed the role of camp counselor. Teressa joked that she was not a happy camper and wanted to call her mom to go home but she and Scott joined in each time I said it was time to run. As the miles ticked off, I stopped announcing that we had to run and just commenced with running. We paused for a picture at the turnaround before heading back to the car.
This was a hard course because I was just a bit out of sync with how my legs felt from the way Teressa and Scott’s legs felt. I still thought I could run the flats and downhills. But, Scott and Teressa were struggling with running at this point. I realized when I suggested running as we crested the hill and they said the trail was too rooty and Scott shared that we were walking along with a solid 17 minute mile clip that we would hike this. I still kept a pace that was a little too far ahead of them, strangely worried that if I slowed down they would too. I should have been more chill. However, despite my intensity here, I was proud of myself for not taking on the role of camp counselor and respecting their bodies.
Before this trail, we got to have pizza. My request early in the day was to fit in a slice of pizza. I learned through this that I really like savory foods (and Teressa’s almond cookies) while in an endurance event. Scott went to Pizza and Bones in Dryden to pick up some slices for us all!
After a brief discussion of doing the same run/walk thing as we did for Dryden Rail Trail, we agreed to just keep a very fast walk. The concern was that if we did the run/walk, our walk would turn into recovery and it would tire our legs to give us the exact same pace we’d have had walking. It was long and tiring, but not at all bad when you consider we’d been going for most of the day by this point. Scott and Teressa bantered much more than I did, with Scott breaking into the occasional song to make us smile and laugh. As we finished, Sarah Giesy texted “one more to go” because she had seen it pop into the Activity page. Kudos continued as I put things into Strava. People had been rooting for us all day and some people were even still awake!!
We wrapped up Jim Schug around 10:30. This meant we COULD hit a midnight finish. We drove quietly to Lansing. I suggested the midnight finish for probably one too many times, saying we would have to run some of this and start right away. Teressa’s hamstring was tight and she needed to stretch it before we started. She and Scott were not nearly as concerned as me about finishing on the same calendar day. But, we’d started on Sarah’s birthday and I wanted to finish on her birthday. I wanted to be able to say, “we did this on August 7th” and not say “we did it on August 7th and 8th.” Today, after some sleep, I realized this sounds rather ridiculous, but in the moment it was pretty important.
So, as we stood in front of the sign, when Teressa said it didn’t matter to her if we finished by midnight I said, “this is really important to me.” I’m sure she and Scott had a moment of “wow she is crazy” in their respective heads, but Scott turned to humor and then he said, “well it’s flat now so we can run.” We ran with the course, embracing running on the flats and downhills and walking on the uphills. The grass was wet and my shoes and socks were squishy. However, it wasn’t too unpleasant. This course was Teressa’s original proposal for last and we were happy that we had reverted from our plan back to this. It was SO nice to end with a runnable course that was short!
The other thing I had wanted to have for this day was a beer. When we ran into Kristina, she pointed out that they had packed beer for after their Lick Brook run. After we showered, but before we poured ourselves into bed, Scott and I split a Flower Power by Ithaca Beer and my day was complete. Mike had stayed up for Teressa to greet her as she came in from her epic adventure.
And, guess what? We get a sign for our efforts. Our home gym will have 2 new signs to add to our wall for this day!