Ultra Race of Champions – Skylark Edition

The Plan
My main goal was simply to finish. I won’t say I didn’t want a podium spot but I still felt the sting of my DNF at Bandera so most important to me was finishing my first 100k. Normally I set time goals throughout my races but since this was a new course I had no data from which to formulate my goals. This was a “go out and run” kind of race and I welcomed this lax mindset – I took a lot of pressure off myself. I knew who my main competitors were, and relying on my race style thought I would be racing in 2nd place most of the day before getting caught (but hopefully not getting caught).

Part 1 – Whetstone (miles 1-29)
6.8 miles to the first aid station consisted of gradual climbing on a mix of paved and gravel/dirt roads. It was a great start to the race. There was no need to jockey for position to get onto the single track, and it provided the perfect warm-up for the legs. After the aid station it was onto single track and I was excited for the trails.

The next 8 miles contained rolling terrain with some technical spots and some nice climbs to prepare you for the day ahead. The miles were still ticking off quickly and I was feeling great. The course was exceptionally marked – I don’t think they could’ve done a better job. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t go off course around mile 15. There was an intersection, and a flag to mark the intersection, but instead of looking for the flag on the turn I bombed straight through it and ran a good 90 seconds before realizing I didn’t see any “confidence markers”. I stopped and turned around to look for the guy who had been close behind me. He wasn’t there. So back I went and sure enough there was the flag on the trail I was supposed to turn on. Of course I panicked for the time I just lost with that error but I reminded myself that it was very early in the day. This was a theme I repeated to myself multiple times throughout the race. From there we had a 3 mile descent to the lowest point of the course where we would turn around and retrace our steps 11 miles back to the 1st aid station. This was a very tight spot for 2-way traffic but it was exciting to see the race leaders coming through. Mocko and Jorge were running together chatting like they were out on a training run. Soon after was a steady stream of men taking chase. Amanda was making her way up – all smiles and looking strong.

It wasn’t long on my return trip before I saw Emily, and then Amy. Damn. They were close. Cue panic again along with the realization that I wasn’t even 1/3 through the race. I started playing the game in my head “how many miles can I make it before I’m caught”. I know this is a dumb game to play but it’s my way of setting mini-goals 😉 It must’ve messed with my mind because during the entire climb I was struggling. My legs felt weak and I was feeling overheated and dizzy on the steep climbs however I wasn’t sweating and I had goose bumps. This can’t be good. I thought maybe I should cut back on the effort but also realized how little effort I was already putting out. It was all very confusing. My hands and fingers were really swollen. I couldn’t remember if that meant I had too much salt or too much water. How could I have too much of either? I remember wishing Jay was here so he could tell me which it was and I could fix it. I sustained several cuts on my legs through this section and I was sticky with blood. My left knee cap was covered in blood and every time I put my hands on my legs to power hike I was making it worse. The cut wasn’t bad at all – it just bled a lot. I was chalking this section up to being the worst part of my day, and it was still so early. Let me just make it to mile 30 before I’m caught.

Part 2 – Those damn jagged rocks (miles 30-53)
I was elated when Whetstone was behind me and happy to be back on the roads for the next 4 miles so I could recover. We made our way onto the Skylark property and had to climb ever-so-close to the finish chute. That was a tease. It was nice to run on some open grass fields as we toured the beautiful property on our way back out onto the Blue Ridge Parkway headed to Bald Mountain. Once we arrived it was back onto the trails. What I remember most about this section was how painfully slow I was going. There wasn’t a whole lot of elevation change but the trails were plastered with sharp rocks that were looking for any opportunity to end your race. I normally enjoy this kind of challenge but wasn’t in the mood for taking risks, again saying that it’s way too early in the race. Eye on the prize – finish. This led me to hike a lot of this section. I hiked, and I felt terrible for hiking. In hindsight it was smart but it still hurt my ego. This was definitely where I would be passed.

I don’t recall much more of that section. I remember making our way down to some falls before another steep climb out of that valley. But the rest is a blur. Mentally I was focused on making it to the aid station at mile 53. That was where I would grab my bottle of go-go juice for that last 10.5 mile push to the finish.

Part 3 – Shaking my fist at Bald Mountain (miles 54-finish)
I was pumped to arrive at AS8 where I was greeted by the kind couple who I met before the start. They came down from CT to support their son and they were cheering for me at every opportunity. I asked how their son was doing and they told me he was doing great – and actually wasn’t that far behind me along with the next female. If they said anything else after that I didn’t hear it – my mind was fixated. I didn’t ask how far back she was – I never asked where she was all day because that’s one mental game I don’t like to play. I filled one bottle, swapped the other, and said my goodbyes. It was time to work. The aid station volunteer told me it was 6.4 miles to the next aid station after climbing Mt Bald. I audibly whimpered.

But I had a new fire in me. I made it 54 miles and I did not want to lose my position this late in the race. The next few miles turned out to be my favorite of the race. I don’t know how many times we crossed streams – it had to be at least 6. Many of them were knee deep or higher. Sure they slowed you down but the cold rushing water felt great on the legs and it also washed off the blood from multiple cuts. I knew that if I could maintain this momentum and determination I could hold 2nd place to the finish.

And then I hit Bald Mountain. Or rather Bald Mountain hit me. The climb was steep and never-ending, and it was quickly sapping whatever I had left in the tank. I started to get dizzy and wobbly on that narrow single-track and all I could think was “if I fall down this mountain I will have to climb it again. I do not want to climb this again.” And so I focused. My hamstrings clocked out for the day. Like “hey, we know we have to stick around for the rest of the day but don’t expect us to do any work.” Not only did Bald Mountain drain the energy out of me, but it also drained my watch. No more data to rely on.

After what felt like an hour I made it to the summit and that final aid station. I grabbed a cup of coke, a handful of pretzels because I was craving salt, and half-laid on the table for support while my bottle was filled. 4.2 miles to go. Half of this was road. “I got this” I told myself. I kept checking my watch on the road – I wanted to keep tabs on the distance I had left and what my pace was. I knew my watch was dead yet I kept looking at it hoping it would give me some reassurance. I also kept looking back – just in case.

Turning onto the Skylark property was such a relief. Just one more steep climb to the finish line. I said “time to light that last match” and then laughed maniacally at myself because there were no more matches. As I made my way up the S-turns a young boy at the top of the hill was shouting down at me “finish strong! C’mon – run strong to the finish!” It was adorable and I appreciated his enthusiasm and support, but I also wanted to yell back “this is my strong – you’re looking at it. Pathetic I know, but it’s all I got.”

Halfway up the climb I passed some of the male finishers who were at their cars cheering me up the climb. Then I saw Amanda hobbling back down from the finish. I was happy to stop and congratulate her on my way up. Yep, that was my finish – stop and have a quick chat. One more turn and the finish line was finally in sight. I crossed the line and Francesca asked if she could take my picture. So I made one last effort of the day – to look like I was feeling great. Then I proceeded to the bench where I collapsed between 2 other finishers. I thought to myself “I don’t think I’ve ever smelled this bad in my life” which kept me from sitting too long. I spared the 2 guys and quickly got up so I could start my hobble back down the hill to my car.

Photo: Francesca Conte

The course was tough. I definitely underestimated it in more ways than one. But then again so did many people as the web site claimed 7,202 feet of climbing while watches confirmed 12,000. But hey, who wants an easy ultra? We wouldn’t be doing this if it was easy. As with every race I have some takeaways to work on – it’s all part of the process (and the fun). Gill and Francesca created a challenging yet beautiful course and a well-run event. Their passion for this event is evident. I would definitely go back to give this course another go.

The Grub
As I wrote in my product review, Muir Energy was my fuel of choice for this race and it worked well for me. With the variety of flavors I never tired of them. Luckily I brought plenty of extra for my drops because I was finding that I had no appetite for solid foods and only wanted Muir. Since this product is working so well for me I am happy to announce that I have partnered with Muir Energy to fuel my future races! (insert shameless plug –> discount code for those who want to try it out –> LK10OFF) P.S. Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana is still my favorite!

As usual I relied on Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix for my electrolytes throughout the race. One error I made was not bringing any of my beloved Hyper Hydration. With the forecasted weather I didn’t think I would need it but I was wrong. I survived without it but I’m sure it would’ve helped me in those later stages of the race when the sun was beating down and my skin was a solid layer of salt.
The Gear
First I have to give a shout out to Henry Klugh of Inside Track. When my local running store basically told me “too bad” when I inquired about a rain shell I knew that I would have better luck at Inside Track in Harrisburg which was conveniently on the way. And that’s why I love small running stores – Henry went into the back, climbed the ladder, and went digging through boxes until he found his rain gear. He hooked me up with the perfect rain shell – lightweight, packs into its own pocket with a hand strap for easy carrying, and it matched my singlet, Altra Superiors, and even my drop boxes. Stylin’! Even though I didn’t end up needing it, Henry took great care of a fellow runner and eased my mind.


The Altra Superiors are my go-to race shoe on the trail. Although the King MTs would’ve been great for the technical parts of this course, due to the amount of road and gravel they would’ve been too much. I’ll get to race in the King MTs soon enough – and I can’t wait to put those bad boys to the test! I also wore my trusty Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest 3.0. Enough pockets to store needed nutrition between drops, and it’s quick and easy to swap out my bottles or refill them when needed.

That’s why they call her Smash’em Basham! Photo: Jorge Maravilla

Finish Time: 11:54:06
Rank: 2nd Overall Female


#FridayFuel – Muir Energy Gels Product Review

During my spring training trip I decided to test a new gel on the market. Muir Energy caught my eye when I saw they are using simple, clean ingredients. I also love that the products are hand-made in small batches in Southern California. SoCal is where I got my start in running – a place close to my heart! Here is what stood out to me on their site:

  • Muir Energy uses only 4-6 ingredients for all of its products. That’s it!
  • Muir Energy is 100% Organic, Vegan, Paleo, Gluten-free and non-GMO.
  • Muir Energy is loaded with nutrition. For example, each serving contains 290-350mg of Potassium. Comparable to eating a small banana!
  • Muir Energy’s taste. You will have to decide for yourself, but everybody who’s tried it says it is unbelievably good, unlike any other gel you’ve ever tasted.
  • Muir Energy contains 115-150 calories per 30g serving – 15%-50% more than other energy gels.

I also like what founder Ian Muir McNally had to say:

“Like many endurance athletes, I struggled to find the right nutrition to keep me going while pushing my body to its limits. Most food bars are dry, heavy and not very healthy. Most energy gels are sweet and synthetic tasting, and contain ominous sounding ingredients. I wanted something simple. And quick. Something that tasted really good and was made with real organic ingredients – derived from nature, not in a lab. Something clean, reliable and good. Clean Nutrition. Pure Energy.”

Let’s start with the ingredients. On their site they do an excellent job going into detail about some of their key ingredients and how they will help you not only during activity but with overall health. Check it out here.

Now to move on to the taste… Gel haters rejoice because Muir Energy gels are not like your typical gel! The gels are known to be thick which made me apprehensive – I’ve always steered away from the thicker gels. There is even mention on their site that you actually “eat” the gels. There’s no liquid to them at all. The reason?

Bacteria and pathogens proliferate in an aqueous environment. To keep their products food safe, thinner or watery gels must use synthetic preservatives. We use exclusively real food ingredients with no synthetic preservatives. We have accomplished this by reducing water activity in our products. This results in a thicker, more viscous – as well as more flavorful, nutritionally and calorically dense – product.

Back to the taste…I started out with the Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana gel and my first reaction was “this is unlike anything I’ve ever put in my mouth!” I don’t always like to be a follower, but they can add me to the list of people who say it’s unlike any other gel I’ve tasted. Yes, it is that different from other gels on the market. I immediately understood the comment about “eating” the gels – you can actually chew on them. Unreal! The best way to describe it is an airy taffy – but without the stickiness and sugariness. Like a light and fluffy whipped taffy. I was sold after the first one. Throughout my week I tried many other flavors (see list below). I noticed that on colder days they are a little tougher to squeeze out of the packet. Their suggestion for that is to pre-cut the gel pack a little further down from the neck so that you can rip it open there and get more out easily. Having them against my body seemed to do the trick for me.

The only one I wasn’t too fond of was Blackberry Thyme. That’s really a personal preference as I’m not a big fan of thyme. I would totally eat it again – just not one of my favorites. My hands-down favorites are the Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana and Pineapple Kale. I’m a fruity kind of girl (keep your comments to yourself) and they really nailed it with these flavors! I also really enjoyed the Cashew flavors I tried (especially Cashew Vanilla because…vanilla!) In the past I have used nut butter packets for fuel but Muir Energy makes ingesting nut butters on the run even better by adding ingredients like blackstrap molasses & pink himalayan salt. Be still my heart!

My favorites ❤


Fast Burning
*Blackberry Thyme
*Red Raspberry
Red Raspberry Matè
*Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana
*Pineapple Kale

Slow Burning
Cacao Almond
Cacao Almond Matè
Cacao Almond Peppermint
*Cashew Lemon
Cashew Lemon Matè
*Cashew Vanilla
Cashew Vanilla Matè

(* flavors I have tried)

That’s right – they offer both slow burning and fast burning gels – how awesome is that? As you can tell by the flavor names the fast burning gels are fruit and berry-based while the slow burning are nut butter based. Not only does this provide options for short, intense vs. long endurance sessions, but it will also appeal to the fat-adapted athletes who want to stick with higher fat fuel towards the beginning of the race and then transition to quick metabolizing simple sugars during later stages.

They also offer Energy Jams and Spreads. On their site they state you can eat them like the gel, or you can spread them on toast, waffles, bananas, and even add it to hot water or an espresso. I will be ordering some of the Jams and Spreads next!

Photo: Muir Energy

There is a growing list of stores where you can find their products – just check on their web site. Or you can go the online route where they offer a custom variety pack so you can create your dream team!

​I’ll be using Muir Energy gels to fuel my run at UROC next weekend!!

Happy Training 🙂