Tunnel Hill 100 was held in Vienna Illinois on November 12, 2016. This was a successful race for me and was the 5th 100-mile challenge I was fortunate enough to survive. Here is how my experience went:
On Friday, November 11th I drove the whole way to Vienna with my boyfriend Mark and my nephew Brandon, who is 10 years old now. We got a little bit of a late start but made it to Vienna around 7:45 pm. The drive went well for the most part. Mark and I fussed a little towards the end as we often do but we were able to get over it and get back on track shortly after we arrived in the campground in Vienna. I had slept well on Wednesday and Thursday at home trying to rest up for this race. I had a head cold and was taking all the vitamins I could to hold it off which worked luckily.
After we arrived we finished setting up our camping area. Our friend Matt B. was already there and had set up a canopy and one tent, claiming our spot for the event. The Tunnel Hill 50 mile race was going to be his first ultra. He had already gotten my race packet and number as well which was a big help. I got bib number 236. After getting everything situated we had some dinner. Matt B. bought steaks that he grilled for all of us. I had made baked potatoes and corn at home the night before and brought them for dinner. We only had to heat them up. Matt B. also brought some wine and I had ½ a cup before going to bed. We brought a 2nd tent that Mark and Brandon slept in while I slept in the car hoping to get some quiet peaceful sleep.That was the intention at least. It was so cold that night, going down into the low 30’s that my feet would not warm up. I didn’t have enough blankets and while my core stayed warm, my feet remained cold the whole time. This caused me to wake up throughout the night multiple times and I didn’t get a restful night’s sleep at all.
I finally got up at 6am and started getting ready. Mark and Matt B. were already up and getting things ready. I went to the restroom before lines began to form by the other racers. Then I had Mark start my car and turn up the heat for me while I crawled into the back and got my race clothes on. I taped up my ankles and calves with KT tape which I believe helped during the race. I ate half of a banana and a few bites of leftover steak. Matt B. came in and I taped up his right IT band which he said helped a lot during the race since he had strained it pretty bad during training. I also sipped on a NOS energy drink I had brought and that really woke me up. Before the race started we took a few pictures, I made a Facebook post, and got my music going. Brandon and Mark gave me a hug and told me good luck and that they would see me at mile 10 after they went to have breakfast at a diner down the road. There were a whole bunch of people and the energy was great at the start of the race. I made a mistake by wearing my trail shoes and realized later that the route was almost completely flat without any roots to dodge so these were not the best shoes to race in. It caused me to work harder while running and I really felt it in the back of my calf after a while. I changed shoes at mile 35 to fix that.
The first ten miles went smoothly; I ran the whole time and was very happy to see Mark and Brandon. They were there smiling when I ran up. The aid station had little beacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches on Hawaiian rolls and I ate one…very good. The boys said they were going to wait for me to do the 3-mile loop at Karnak, IL and see me at the same aid station after the 6 miles. I was trying to take it easy and conserve my energy as I stayed at 11 minute per mile pace. About a mile out from seeing the boys I saw Matt B. He was doing great and cruising along running 9 minute miles. His IT band was a little annoying at that point but not bad, the tape was helping. He seemed in a good mood and was enjoying the race. After another mile I was very happy to stop at a ranger station which had bathroom facilities where I had a rather long pit stop to take care of some untimely female issues. I was able to resume my cruise control pace after dealing with the female challenges that Mother Nature was throwing at me. Having cramps was an issue for me in the beginning of the race and I had to take some Ibuprophen at the start to make them be manageable so I could run. Luckily, the cramps were over after the first part of the race. No fun though!
I saw the boys again as I approached mile 16. Brandon gave me some nuts and words of encouragement. He and Mark were playing a chess game while I was running and he was enjoying that. They told me they would see me back at the camp area when I arrived which was about 10 miles away. I switched from my music to an audio book called “Free Refills”. It’s a true story about a doctor who was addicted to prescription pills and his struggles with that. It’s a good book and kept my interest during the race. I listened to the whole 9 hours of it on this race.
I arrived at mile 26 feeling pretty good. I didn’t need anything so I started the 24-mile loop which goes the other direction from start/finish line and the campground. I saw the boys briefly at that point and said hello. Just as I was getting started on the trail the 50-mile winner passed me and crossed the finish line. His name was Coree Woltering and he ran 50 miles in exactly 5 hours and 30 minutes! The second place runner was a whole hour and 8 minutes behind him. That was impressive to see. I switched back to my music for a while and started plugging away at the miles. At mile 34-35 I saw Brandon and Mark. They were waiting for me at the tunnel we all got to run through. It’s a big dark tunnel that trains use to use a long time ago. Mark got some good pictures and I was able to change my shoes into the Hokas (Bondi). I saw Matt B. at the tunnel also. His legs were hurting pretty bad but I knew he would finish strong. He kept going and told us later that his IT band was hurting so bad that he just took off to finish as soon as he could so he could stop running. He ended doing 8 minute miles and finished at 9 hours and 21 minute, very good for his first ultra!
There were another 2 miles out and back I had to run that brought me right back to the aid station the boys were at. I ran that and got to see them one more time before doing the ten miles back to camp on my own. The temperature was slowly getting colder and Mark gave me a small scarf, hat, and gloves. I had my arm warmers and a vest on already. The warmer clothes came in really handy very soon. The sun went down around 5:30 pm and the temperature dropped dramatically. I would have frozen without the hat, scarf, and gloves.
These ten miles were pretty tough for me. I hit my one and only wall during this race. I was starting to feel a little down so I switched to a movie. I was feeling sad about fussing with Mark during the drive to Vienna the day before. Also, the emotional connection with my husband Matt has not been as frequent and strong as it usually is and that was on my mind. Relationships have ups and downs for sure and when I don’t feel emotionally connected and strong with Matt it causes me to feel a little down. We have talked about it and are trying to get back on track but these races sure do provide a lot of time to think. This is a good and bad thing I suppose. My Matt had put a few movies on an Android phone for me which was nice. I chose to listen to “Good Will Hunting”. It’s a great movie but there are a few intense parts in it. I started to feel emotional at the scene of the movie where Robin Williams is explaining to Matt Damon how he is a punk kid because he has never woken up next to a woman and felt truly happy. It made me want more happiness and connection with Matt. Then the scene where they are in Robin Williams’s office and he kept saying “it’s not your fault”. It’s very intense and it provoked more emotion from me so I turned off the movie and put my music back on.
I was running along and was about a mile from the camp area when Mark walked up. He had a flash light and wanted to bring it to me to make sure I could see alright. It was a very nice gesture and I really appreciated it. We walked hand in hand towards the camp. He asked me how I was feeling and about my shoes. I told him I was ok and that my head cold was annoying but that my main issue was emotionally not feeling well. I told him that I really appreciated all that he had done for me on this race and was happy he was there. We had argued the day before and I said some mean things to him. I realized that he was there trying to help and wanted to help. If I keep pushing him away I will be running these races alone and I don’t want to do that. We stopped and had a big hug that felt really good. I told him more about how I felt as we walked. I feel I can see and help other people often but when it comes to my own issues and emotions it is not so easy for me to figure out. When I feel like someone will hurt me I put barriers up and act like I don’t want them around before they get close enough to hurt me. That is what I was doing with Mark in our arguments. We argue sometimes and I don’t want to. I know every relationship has conflict but he and I seem to butt heads a good bit. I do know for sure that he loves me, cares about me, is proud of me, and wants to be involved in my life and what I do. I don’t want to push him away when things get hard and I’m glad to recognize now that I tend to do that. It felt really good to talk to him for that mile. I felt a lot better afterward.
We made it back to camp and it was getting really cold. I was able to see Matt B. for a little while before he left to head home. He was feeling a little stiff and sore but doing well. I got a few extra layers of clothes, ate some food including warm soup and got some food to go, then headed out on the trail. It was around 8:30 pm when I left and I was going to do the 26-mile loop on my own while Mark and Brandon slept. I put on an audiobook and had a good time getting lost in the story. I made it to mile 60 then felt really tired all of the sudden. There was an aid station there so I got a bean burrito and ate half of it. Then I went to a picnic table and set my alarm for ten minutes. I rested my head on the table with a spare jacket I had and shut my eyes for the ten minutes. I didn’t fall asleep but closing my eyes for that time felt great. I got up and was ready to get going again. I continued listening to my audio book and jogging at a nice easy pace.
At one point I looked at two runners coming towards me and I saw Pete Kostelnick pacing his friend, Nathan. They both were moving much faster than me, going the other direction, and both looked focused. I smiled knowing I got to see him and was in his presence. That was exciting. I made it back to the camp area feeling pretty good but tired. I had exactly 5 hours and 20 minutes left to do a sub-24 hour 100-mile race. Considering my head cold which was really draining my energy and how cold as I was, I decided that this race was not going to be one for my new PR. I was fine with that and knew I had plenty of time to rest a while and then get the last 24 miles done. I charged my watch, got some snacks and clothes together and then crawled into the tent with Mark and Brandon. Mark woke up when I arrived and we talked for a little bit. We chatted about the race, how I felt, and my plan for the rest of it. I set an alarm and curled up under the covers with Mark. This was the first time I actually felt warm for more than a minute and it felt great. I finally drifted off to sleep and slept 15-20 minutes. My nose was so congested that it was difficult to breathe and I kept waking up but was still very happy for some rest. When the alarm went off I did not want to get up and go back into the cold. I chatted with Mark a little longer and stayed warm. Then I really had to get moving. I had been in the tent for almost an hour and it was time to get this race done.
I layered up with extra clothes, got my watch back on since it was charging, and took off. I was running along when a guy got out of the port-o-john and ran up next to me. He said he was a pacer and was going to catch up with his runner up ahead. He asked if he could run with me for a while. I said sure and we moved along at about a 10-minute pace and had a conversation. We just chatted about his runner doing his first 100 and how he was struggling. I told him that this was my 5th race and I had a bad cold. We ran for about 3 miles when we caught up to his runner who was walking. They both kept walking and I ran on at a bit slower of a pace. I was feeling pretty good and listening to some music as I went. I was looking forward to seeing Mark and Brandon at mile 86. They were going to get up early, have breakfast at the diner and then meet me on the trail at the mile 86 aid station. I was moving along pretty well and made it to mile 86 but didn’t see them. I figured they were not done with breakfast yet so I went on to do the two miles out and back loop. Those 4 miles seemed to take forever. I was getting tired and my feet were killing me. I knew some usual blisters were there but the Hoka shoes were causing more rubbing on different parts of my foot, on both feet. I was so ready to take them off. When I finished the 4 miles the boys had made it. I was so happy to see them! They brought me their leftover food and I went into the car and ate it. The warm eggs and bacon were perfect. Brandon was going to run the last 10 miles with me so we geared up and hit the trail together. Mark was going to take the car back to camp and meet us at the finish line.
Brandon and I had a great run. I was so tired and really loved having him there to talk to. He is ten years old and ran the last ten miles with me. Each year we should add to that. We had a good conversation, especially initially. For those of you who don’t know, Brandon is my nephew and his mother (my younger sister) has a major substance abuse problem. She has been in prison and is a pretty destructive person. My mom got custody of Brandon when he was 2 months old after she was involved in a fatal car accident while she was under the influence of substances. My mom and I are very close and try to be as good for Brandon as we can. He is just starting to ask questions about his mom and what is going on. On this run, he brought up the subject and I mainly just listened to him communicate what he knew and how he felt. I didn’t expect this conversation but was so happy he came to me to talk about it. He talked about my sister being mean and taking drugs. He said he liked living with his Grandma (my mom). I told him that she and I, along with Uncle Matt love him very much and will always be there for him and in his life. He always has a room in our house to go to whenever he wants. I also told him that people are mean when they make the wrong choices and that he does not have to be around them when that happens. He understood that his mother was making the wrong choices. I told him that Grandma loves him so much and does whatever she can to make him happy and that includes protecting him from mean people sometimes. His father and his father’s parents are toxic people and not nice at all. My mom tries to protect him as much as possible and it has been a lot of stress on her to do so. I support her as much as I can and try to do what is best for Brandon. I love him dearly and having him involved in my races really means a lot to me, and to him as well I’m sure. Since he doesn’t have a father figure in his life we try to take the opportunities for him to spend time with Mark and Matt as much as we can. Mark likes taking him mountain biking and teaching him how to play disc golf. Matt enjoys running with him and doing things on the computer together so it works out well.
Brandon and I had a good conversation about all that for a few miles. The lack of sleep and calories were starting to catch up with me and I was getting really tired. We started walking more and talking about easier topics. We talked about animals….the biggest ones, smallest ones, most deadly with poison, and our favorite ones. He currently loves wolves and I decided on dogs and dolphins. I talked about Tara who was my dog that I loved so much until she passed away last December. He told me that it was ok and that she is waiting in heaven for me. I smiled because I know she is and can’t wait to see her again. She was a Dalmatian/American bulldog, and we were inseparable for the 16 years I had the pleasure of having her. I miss her so much even now. She used to do long runs with me before she got older. As we were running/walking along I started to get really hot. Brandon was great and held my hat, gloves, and a scarf for me until the end. I appreciated it a lot and he didn’t seem to mind.
About a mile and a half from the finish line we saw Mark walking up towards us. It was great to see him and a very nice distraction from how tired I was. The three of us walked along and chatted about the camp area and packing up after the finish. I told them how excited I was to be able to sit down soon and get those Hoka shoes off.
We finally made it to the finish line and I crossed it with a big smile and sigh of relief. Mark and Brandon were right next to me and that made me happy. The final time was 27 hours and 21 minutes. The race director was there and gave my 100-mile belt buckle and an official Tunnel Hill 100 miler black felt jacket. Unfortunately, it was too big but it fit Mark perfectly and he wears it now. We got a few pictures and then made it over to the camp area. We packed up the rest of our stuff which wasn’t too much because Mark already packed up most of it. Then I got the pleasure of taking off the shoes 🙂 My feet looked pretty scary, to be honest. Blisters on my right second toe as usual. There was a lot of bruising on both sides of both feet and on my heels. The pressure was just bad from the highly supported Hokas. I used those exact shoes in a 40-mile training run the week before and didn’t even get a blister but was not as fortunate on this run. Either way, it was very nice to have them off and be in flip flops. My left hip was hurting as well and caused me to limp as I walked but nothing major.
We didn’t stick around too long and started heading home. I made myself very comfortable in the back seat with a mountain of blankets and fell asleep hard for about two hours. That two-hour nap felt great…I was so warm and happy to be off my feet. The two hours totally recharged me and I woke up hungry and ready for a late lunch/early dinner. I was craving Mexican food so we stopped at a great Mexican restaurant on our way back to NC. We all shared an order of fajitas and queso dip. It was great and we were so full after. We filled up with gas and Mark got a root beer that I had a few sips of. I don’t drink soda so that was a great treat to have. I stayed awake for most of the ride back home. About an hour and a half from the house Mark insisted that I take a nap and I eventually did. I was getting really tired again and appreciated him driving. I was not in a position to be able to drive and if I were alone I would have stopped for a nap before continuing. Mark had to work that night so we needed to get back. Plus, Brandon had school the next day and he needed to get home as well. We made it home at 10 pm. We were all so tired. Matt was great and took Brandon home for us. Mark took a quick shower and then headed out to get to work. I went straight to bed and slept like a baby all night. I was still awake when Matt got home and it was nice to snuggle with him for a few minutes before I drifted off to sleep.
It was a great trip and experience. Definitely some challenges that I was not expecting but that is the nature of these races. Always expect something to happen that you didn’t plan for. It was very good for me to go through everything that happened. I could have lived without the cramps and head cold but it makes me a stronger runner to go through it. I was very happy to be a part of Matt B’s first ultra experience and look forward to discussing his race experience and his future races with him. It was not exactly fun fussing with Mark during the ride up but it caused me to have some serious feelings and emotion that I consider very valuable and eye-opening. I appreciate the highs and even the lows like the one I had in this race. The time spent with Mark warming up in the tent for that hour and the last ten miles with Brandon were my favorite moments of the whole thing. These memories are priceless to me and I will forever cherish them.
Thank you for reading about my race experience (again). I learn a little more on each one and am so very much looking forward to next year’s races!