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Country Mile: Last Outlaw Race Report

The start of another loop for the Last Outlaw. Photo credit: Jay Baker Media

After I finished my first 100k I knew it was time to enlist the help of a running coach again. I still need to write up that race report from November—stay tuned. I started working with Geoff at Hart Strength & Endurance and it has definitely been a great experience so far. I like that someone else has eyes on my training. It may be similar to how you feel about working with a Dietitian. Sometimes you’re just so caught up in your training or your nutrition that you can’t see clearly.

The race I signed up for was put on by Upstate Ultra and it’s called Country Mile. They offer a 48 hour option, Last Outlaw, 50k, and 5k. In the 48 hour option there are no DNFs; you can run/walk/sleep/hangout however you want. It’s a great format to try to get a new distance PR without the pressure of time cutoffs. I did the Last Outlaw. All the runners line up at the start line and have 45 minutes to complete a 5k and be back at the start line. This continues until only 1 runner remains. You are eliminated from the race when you don’t make it back to the start line on time or when you tap out. I’ve never done anything like this before but it sounded really fun.

Training went really well besides a few little issues on my end– I had some issues with my left glute for a few months. A month out from the race I twisted (sprained?) my ankle running in the mountains in Virginia. Luckily I have a good crew of people to take care of me and Nate at Be Better PT helped me strengthen those weakened areas as well as just get stronger in general. Geoff (my run coach) had me practice running 5ks and stopping during my long runs. We also practiced a run/walk interval that I would use on race day. Strategy is really important in this type of race because you want to find just the right amount of time in between loops. Too much time means muscles start to tense up and motivation is likely to go down. Too little time and you don’t have time to take care of any issues in between loops like using the bathroom, changing, fueling, etc..

Prep to Start Line

Prepping for the race itself was different than any race I’d done before too. I wasn’t sure how many hours I’d be out there so I packed a TON of food and clothes and gear. I certainly wasn’t going to tap out because I ran out of food. I tried lots of different fueling options during my long runs and dialed in what would be my race day fueling plan(check out this instagram post with some video of how I prepped):

-12oz fluid mixed with Tailwind for part of the day and Skratch for others. I had it in a soft flask in an Ultraspire vest that was incredibly lightweight so that my hands would be free and I wouldn’t have to come in after each loop and chug fluids before heading out again

-I had a bottle filled with just water at my chair that I took a few sips of when I came in from each loop

-When I came in from each loop I would eat 10-15 grams of real food every hour. These were portioned out into snack size bags and in bins labeled salty (BBQ chips, pretzels, goldfish, cheez its) and sweet (sour patch watermelons, scratch gummies, pop tarts, nutter butter cookies) so that they were easy to grab and I didn’t have to think about how much I should eat

-Every other hour I had ~5 grams of protein. I also had several options (Kodiak Cake granola bars, Fuel For Fire, Go Go Squeeze yogurt pouches, PB pretzels) portioned out so I could grab and go

There was a lot of logistics that I wasn’t sure of going into the race. I wasn’t sure how far from the starting line I would be set up with all my stuff–and that makes a difference when you’re running against the clock. I had never had a crew before and wasn’t sure what that would entail or feel like for me as I’m used to running alone in the swamp for the most part. Lots more unknowns than usual.

I carb loaded(grab my free guide here) for 2 days before the race. I had done it a few times before so it was pretty easy to do even while traveling especially with the help of a giant water bottle filled with lemonade and some sleeves of Ritz crackers by my side.

I drove to the race the day before and got set up with my crew and had my favorite pre race dinner of pizza with my family. Got to bed at a decent time but woke up in the middle of the night fearing that I would get lost and end up being out on the first loop. Completely ridiculous as I walked the course the day before and knew I would have to be in pretty bad shape to get lost.

I woke up at 430am the morning of the race and took a quick shower because I wasn’t sure when I would get one again and I wanted to enjoy that luxury one more time. I ate some graham crackers and had an applesauce pouch and drank some water with liquid IV. Got dressed and headed to the race. All my nutrition and gear was already at the race so it was an easy morning.

I arrived at the race and headed over to where my crew was set up to get ready. I got my vest on. Filled up bottles. Told my crew what I wanted to eat after the first loop ( I think it was goldfish) and made my way to the start line. I was SUPER surprised when I got there to see not a ton of runners hanging out. I had no clue how many runners would be signed up for this but it wasn’t many. To put it into perspective–about 300 runners take on the 48 hour challenge and I’m still not sure of the exact number that started the Last Outlaw but it was somewhere between 12-14. Only 2 women including myself. Funny enough–the other woman and I DNF’d at Barkley Fall Classic last year within about 20-30 minutes of each other in the same exact place. We hadn’t really “met” but we had spoken to each other. She lives in New Hampshire and was at that race in TN and was now the only other woman here at the Last Outlaw–small world. I would also later find out that one of the runners grew up in the very small town next to my very small town in Pennsylvania and that we had some common friends so I’m sure we hung out at some point.

Go Time

Photo Credit Jarrod Brubaker

I had some serious nerves going into the first loop. I stuck with the pack and ran almost the whole time. I needed to get some nervous energy out. After that I knew it was time to run MY race which likely meant I would be alone for most of the day–which is exactly what I’m used to. My pacing plan was to run 8 minutes (somewhere around 11/12 minute miles) and walk 2 minutes (16-17 minute miles) and alternate that all day. After that first loop, I stuck with that plan for 99% of the day. I always walked across the rocky section because it was absolutely not worth trying to run through it. I always walked up the 2 small “hills” because there was no reason that I needed to run up them, I had time. And a few times I walked a little longer just because I wanted to. There were times throughout the day when I would be running near someone and we would talk for awhile. My crew also took turns joining me for parts of some loops and it was nice to have the company. But for the most part I was alone doing my thing.

The course was mostly flat (40ft of gain on each loop) on very open farm roads. There was really no shade at all which made it tough during the day when temps got up to 80F. It was mostly hard packed dirt/sand/clay with a small section with some bigger (like gravel on crack) rocks. When the course was wet early on in the day, it was a mud pit. There was flowing water on the course and I watched a few shoes get sucked into the mud. Once the sun came out and everything dried up and the wind picked up it was throwing sand/dirt everywhere. I was really glad I bought a pair of sunglasses at REI the day before!

Back to the run— the first few loops were dark and the temperature was perfect. Then the rain/wind/lightning/thunder started and continued for maybe a few hours. The course was muddy but it didn’t get really bad until a lot of the runners doing the 48 hour option woke up and there were more feet on the course. But the sun came out shortly after and things dried up by late afternoon and there were only a few muddy spots left on the course.

I noticed I was peeing a lot in the beginning and my urine was pretty clear so I upped the electrolytes so that my body would be able to better hold onto the fluid I was drinking. Otherwise–I stuck to the fueling plan I outlined above. It was the BEST I have ever fueled and felt during an ultra.

I honestly loved those first few hours in the rain. If you follow me on Instagram you know A LOT of my long runs ended up being in the rain and I’ve learned to have fun with it and even look forward to it.

So. Much. Sun

Photo Credit Jay Baker Media

I knew the sun and the heat would be the hardest part for me. I don’t do well running in direct sunlight and I’m prone to migraines. If I got a migraine I wasn’t sure if I would be able to run through it. Luckily that didn’t happen but it definitely took a toll on my body. I made sure I applied sunscreen several times throughout the day and wore a hat and sunglasses to keep the sun off my face. I also had wet towels in a cooler that I would use to help cool down in between loops but the heat definitely started to take a toll as we went into the evening. I started to notice that there were people missing from the starting line as the day went on and I felt bummed that their race was over but it was also a little confidence boost for me. It seemed like I wasn't the only one feeling the heat.

The loops just kept on coming and I was just hot. In addition to the heat we also had 20mph winds most of the day with higher gusts. This made it much harder to run than I expected. At one point I apologized to a man running next to me because I was blowing into him.

I really wanted to lay down for a little bit but that’s not possible in a race like this unless I ran a really quick loop and gave myself more time. I was out on what would be one of my last loops and I could feel tears trying to get through. I had myself a little cry while I continued to run and pushed through it. Nothing was really wrong. No injuries. I was fueling really well. I just wanted to be out of the sun. The good news was I only had a few more loops until the sun would set.

It All Goes Well....Until It Doesn't

After a few more loops I started to not want to eat or drink much. I was never nauseous and never had stomach cramps or really any GI issues. I equate it to when we go out on the boat in the summer and are in the sun all day and after I get home I usually don’t feel like eating. I tried to switch from mostly drinking my fuel to getting some more solid foods in but I was gagging when I tried to eat it. This continued for about 2 loops. My husband brought popsicles and that gave me a little pick me up.

Onto the next loop–I started out walking which I knew was not a good sign. There were only 5 of us left at this point. A few minutes in I decided I would run the rest of the loop. I had to if I wanted to make it back in time with maybe a few minutes to spare. I was able to hit some of my faster paces of the day and got back with about 3 minutes left. At that moment it felt like it was all I had left in the tank. I knew that I could continue going for awhile but I was doubtful that I could continue to go at the pace I was going all day and make it back in time.

This is where things started to unravel and here’s exactly what happened. I got to the starting line and now there were only 4 of us left. I was in a low spot. I was tired from the heat/running through mud/running into 20mph+ winds all day. I hadn’t ate well for about 2 hours. There were a lot of people around and I’m used to being alone. When I get in a tough spot I have literally never had anyone around me. I have always been in the middle of the swamp by myself. I also don’t have a lot of experience running races with tight time cut offs like this (Barkley Fall Classic last year is the only one that comes to mind). I can normally lay or sit down and have a pity party, crush some Nutter Butter cookies, go to my dark place and rally and keep going and get done what I set out to do. Don’t get me wrong— I am SO grateful to my crew and to my family for being there and supporting me but it was my first time in that situation and I now know that I need to learn how to handle it better.

Other things that I realize now were dumb:

  • I usually write my mantra on my arm with a sharpie and I didn’t this time (Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done)

  • I should have asked for my headphones back. Music or some Goggins probably would have helped

This Is The End

I went out for what I knew would be my last loop. One of my crew came with me but I hadn’t told anyone that I knew I wouldn’t make it back in time. She asked if I wanted to run and I said no so we walked.. I tried to eat a few goldfish and almost threw up. A few minutes later I said I just wanted to sit down, so I did on the side of the road. Shortly after that I was able to start drinking my Skratch again and could feel my energy levels coming back but it was too late. I would have to legit sprint back and I knew I didn’t have that in me. Another one of my crew met up with us around the halfway point and we continued to walk it in. I looked down at my watch at one point and it said I had 40 seconds to make it back. That stung real bad. I knew it at the start of the loop but actually seeing the time pass sucked. We got close to the start/finish line and I could see my son running towards me. “Mom you don’t make it” he hollered. I could hear how sad he was and it broke my heart. I felt like I let him down. Honestly I felt like I let myself down in that moment too. Next up came my husband, daughter and dog and again “Mom you didn’t make it”. At that point I just had to laugh. My whole family and my crew walked me in for my last loop. Walking in hand in hand with them is a moment that I will never forget.

Finished the last loop of the day for me

I was less than ½ mile away from hitting 100k so I went back out and walked to get just over 100k to get a distance PR. When I look at strictly performance and fueling, I know that I absolutely crushed it. When I covered this same distance just 4 months ago it took me 3 hours longer and I felt pretty terrible for the last few hours. This was a major improvement! When I finished only 3 runners remained--I knew I gave it a solid effort.

But–it’s also very easy to spot where things went wrong and to be hard on yourself. I feel disappointed because I know I could have kept going. It all came down to having a low moment and not having time to get out of it. This is something that comes with experience which is why I did what all runners do and signed up for some races within the first 48 hours of this race ending. I need to get more time being uncomfortable. I need more experience being in the low place and getting out quicker by myself and with others around me.

Upstate Ultra put on a great race and I can’t wait to be back next year for some unfinished business!

I put the same level of intention and thought into fueling plans I make for myself and for my runners. If you know that nutrition is the piece of the puzzle you haven't quite figured out yet, let's chat.

Kayla Fitzgerald is a Registered Dietitian & Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and founder of Endurance Nutrition located in Charleston, South Carolina. She works with clients 1:1, through small group coaching, and online courses. Her goal is to help you fuel your body for whatever the day has in store whether it's a 100 mile race or getting through the work day.

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