Aid Stations

I’ve talked about aid stations a few times and I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but the volunteers at aid stations do a lot of work. For the past three years, my friends and I have put together aid station 13 at the Salt Flats 100, which is at mile 89.7. It’s kind of an unpleasant place as far as the course goes.

It’s about a half mile below a mountain saddle. It’s really the last climb in the race and they stop you before you hit the top! Although I’m glad my aid station is not right in the saddle. This race can be very winding, rainy and snowy all in the same race. This year was no exception, although, we had the best weather this year compared to the last two.

As a runner and an aid station captain, I think it’s important to have something special about your aid station. Our is pizza. We love pizza. We have a propane stone pizza oven and bake pizza right there for the runners. They can have it cold or hot. It only takes a minute to warm it up after we’ve baked it. We buy a bunch of pizza’s from Papa Murphy’s Pizza and it’s been a beautiful thing for three years. The pizza is always a hit, cheese is the favorite. By the time runners reach mile 90 your stomach is either screwed or starving.

This year we also had birthday cake out there because it was one of our volunteer’s birthday. The cake did not get as much love as the pizza, which surprised me. I would have eaten it at mile 90 (I will eat birthday cake here or there, I will eat birthday cake anywhere). Maybe there was too much frosting.

One of the things I find the most difficult, particularly in a smaller race like Salt Flats, is keeping broth and romen noodles warm. I wish we had a microwave. Keeping the romen simmering or warming on the stove turns everything to mush and keeping it going causes it to turn to steam and disappear. Having warm choices in the dead of night when the wind is howling and the rain is coming down is critical.

Vegan and vegetarian options are necessary to have as well. Many ultra runners are health conscious and environmentally conscious. We spend so much time in nature and among the wild things of the earth, how can we not become apart of it. There are many products which are “accidentally” vegan and easy to have at aid stations: oreo cookies, sweedish fish, hummus, tortillas (no lard or sugar), fruits, and veggies of course.

The strength of the human body and mind is amazing. It’s inspiring and rewarding to be able to give back to the sport I love so much.

Looking back

One of my friends asked, looking back on Salt Flats 100, would I have done anything differently? The big thing I would have done differently is that I would not have run the Salt Lake City Marathon six days before running a one hundred.

It is not so much the distance that I believe impacted my performance at Salt Flats, but the surface and the stress of racing. No matter how hard I try to run a race as a training run, I still go out too hard and then end up reigning it in over the last half. By then the damage is done. When I went out from the starting line for Salt Flats, I could still feel the marathon. This surprised me, because I can run a 30-mile run on a Saturday, and when I get up to run a 20 on Sunday, I don’t feel the 30 as much as I felt the Salt Lake Marathon when I went out at Salt Flats.

Second, I would have packed more socks. My shoes were soaking wet, and my socks got wet eventually, as well. I was able to change my socks at nearly every aid station, but there were a few I missed because I didn’t throw socks in my drop bag.

Third, I would have gotten a hotel room in Wendover, Utah rather than sleeping in my car at the starting line. I woke up six or seven times during the night to roll over and get comfortable again. I would have slept better in a bed.

Fourth, I would have brought my own rain jacket. Although, I have to admit that Mike’s worked really well because it was big on me and kept me drier than a smaller jacket would have done. A smaller jacket would have allowed easier movement.

Finally, I would have found more solid foods my stomach could tolerate while running. My stomach is sensitive when running. It does not like to digest things on the move. I know that, at some point in an ultra-event, I am going to have to deal with my stomach being unhappy. In Salt Flats, I began to have sharp cramps at mile 16, which is atypical for me, and they lasted until nearly the end of the race. I usually don’t have any issues until at least 40 miles in, and then it is usually some nausea or bloating that can be calmed down with walking and ginger.

I have some ideas about what to try, food wise, over the next few months while I train for my next hundred. I’ve considered trying baby foods, which doesn’t have a ton of preservatives and added sugars. I plan to try scrambled eggs and celery with peanut butter. I’ve also ordered a new gel called Vifuel through and a new nutrition bar. Both of these are lower in carbs than the average gel and bar out there.  

My other option is to force my stomach to learn to digest food while running. This means that I will eat a full meal and then go run over and over again. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, but it may be the only way.

How Bad do You Want that Belt Buckle?

I asked myself that question at least 1000 times over the 100 miles (161 km) of the Salt Flats 100 endurance event. My answer, I want it really freaking bad. Eight-four people registered for the 100. Sixty- three showed up to run. Twenty-one finished. There were fourteen aid stations on the course. You could have a pacer after mile thirty-one and a crew. On the Wednesday before the race, the race director (RD) sent an email out from the course. He said that there had been eighty mile per hour (MPH) (128 KPH) winds and visibility was about ten to fifteen feet.  

Race day dawned with high clouds, fifty-two degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius), and a decent head wind of about five MPH. We started right at 7:00 am on the Bonneville Salt Flats. For about 12 miles (19.3 km) we put one foot in front of the other on six feet of salt following the small green flags. The land is barren, and makes it impossible to judge how far away something is. We were headed to a solitary floating mountain.

 Chris from Colorado, strode up next to me, “This wind sucks, huh?” I said.

He smiled and said, “You gotta look at the positive, it’s keeping the temperatures down.” Chis had finished nine 100 mile races including Leadville, twice. Chris pulled ahead of me with a wish of good luck and I’ll see you at the finish.

Our first aid station was at mile ten (16 km). I had a blister starting on the arch of my left foot, so I stopped and threw some tape over it, grabbed a few pieces of watermelon, thanked the volunteers, and continued on my way. The winds continued as we crossed some mud flats and came into aid station two at 16 miles (25.75 km). From there we followed a dirt road along the base of sage dotted desert mountains. Aid station three, 23 miles (37 km), was found at the bottom of Cobb’s Peak Road. The road wound up the canyon where I found soft pink desert roses, Indian Paintbrush, and the first two trees of the race. I paused to look out over the vast stark white Salt Flats from canyon before the road curved. The desert has a desperate beauty that stirs a place in my soul.

At Cobb’s Peak, was aid station four, mile 25.5 (41 km), and bacon quesadillas. We descended for three miles (5 km) and followed the dirt road over some rolling hills. As I neared the aid station, I was thinking about what I needed from my crew, Justin and Mike. I needed new shoes, new socks, something to eat, electrolytes, and my hydration pack refilled. I needed to get rid of my pullover because it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I ran into aid station five at 31.6 miles (51 km). Justin encouraged me to keep my pullover, but I didn’t want the extra weight. I took my arm sleeves, gloves, and my shell, super light wind resistant jacket, which I could shove in a pocket of my hydration pack.

The road out of aid station five wound around the base of some more desert mountains and then climbed up through a canyon to aid station six at 40 miles (64.4 km). From there we descended a rocky washed out jeep road, requiring some fancy footwork. The mud flats were next, deer and small animal footprints were pressed into the earth. The headwind started to pick up about one mile (1.6 km) in, a county sheriff on horseback was assisting runners who had gotten a little off the course route by about 200 feet, we were following green flags. The headwind increased to 50 MPH (80.5 KPH) and then the rain started. I pulled up my arm sleeves and tried to put my shell on. I couldn’t get it zipped up because my hands were freezing cold, even with my gloves on. I wrapped it around myself, put my head down, and pushed forward.

 “Are you serious?” I called into the wind.

I couldn’t even hear my words. It was like being in a wind tunnel; the only sound was the rush of air. There were runners about a mile or so ahead of me. I couldn’t find the green flags, I was following the hoof prints of the sheriff’s horse. She had said she followed the flags out here. Every few minutes, I glance up to sight the other runners and stay on route, as a swimmer does with buoys. Someone is going to get lost out here, I thought to myself. This is nuts.

 That’s when the question hit me for the first time. How bad do you want that belt buckle? The wind slowed my pace to 17:00 minute miles. As the rain continued, the mud started clinging to my shoes, weighing them down, and my feet slid left and right with each step. A few miles later, we turned into the mountains again, which blocked much of the wind, but the rain continued. I was freezing cold and sopping wet.

Aid station seven, mile 50.5 (81.27 km), Mike and Justin walk out to meet me as I come in with my arms wrapped tightly around myself.

“Get me in the car,” I said. Justin went for coffee and broth. Mike turned up the heat and got me fresh clothing. I sat there for thirty minutes. A huge part of me wanted to quit. I ate a chicken burrito.

“You’ve finished the hardest part, it’s only going to get better from here,” Mike said.

“It’s six miles to the next aid station,” Justin said.

The rain continued to drizzle, I put my ear buds in and turned on my audiobook, and I went back out as the sun was going down. We followed the road over small rolling hills for seven miles (11.25 km) to aid station eight 57.4 miles (92.4 km). I got back into the jeep, soaking wet, but in better spirits than the last aid station. I changed clothes again. The rain started coming down even harder. Mike gave me his rainproof jacket, which hung to mid-thigh on me, keeping me very dry.

Back out in to the rain, I trucked along the road to aid station nine at mile sixty-two (99.8 km). I changed my soaking wet socks and put on a heavier base layer. Justin told me that they are not allowing crew’s at aid ten, which means I won’t see my crew for twelve miles (19.3 km).

“Make sure you are watching for those green flags so you don’t get lost,” Mike said. None of us were happy about this change. I was planning on them getting my drop bag from aid ten so I could use the clothing in it later, but wouldn’t need at ten.

“You’ll just have to bring what you can with you,” Justin said. I made a mental list of what I needed out of the drop bag. My good winter gloves, socks, and thermal pants.

“We’ll see you at mile 74,” Justin said.

 I headed out for twelve miles (19.3 km) in the rain in the middle of the night. I climbed the road to aid station ten mile 67 (107.8 km). My headlamp showed me that there were darker and lighter patches of the dirt road. I tried to stay on the lighter stuff because I knew that the darker stuff is super slick mud. Now, I love a slip and slide as much as the next person, but didn’t want to play tonight. I reached aid ten with minimal slipping and sliding. My feet were soaking wet, but I didn’t want to stop too long because I would get chilled. I drank down some broth, shoved things in my pocket from my drop bag, and moved on up the hill.

The jeep trail up the mountain was washed out and covered with rocks of various sizes. Other jeep trails cross over the one I was on. Most intersections were marked, but there were a few where I had to make a choice. The safest bet is always stay on the route you are on rather than turn. It was still raining the trail was muddy and speckled with puddles. A helicopter circled overhead, I could see the red and white and knew someone was lost or hurt. As I reached the dirt road that would lead me to aid 11, an ambulance passed. Not good.

At aid 11, mile 74 (119 km), I climbed back into the jeep to dry out. I changed my clothes again and we put the rain jacket and my gloves on the heater vents to dry them out. I slept for about 15 minutes. I decided not to take my handheld water bottle because it made my hands cold and wet. I couldn’t pull them up inside of the jacket when I had the handheld. It was seven miles to the next aid station where my pacer, Jeff, was waiting for me.

About one mile (1.6 km) in, I was really thirsty and regretted leaving my handheld. I watched the sun come up, day two of running. Another mile in, there was a Diet Pepsi sitting on the side of the road. I passed it at first, telling myself it might be waiting for another runner. But, then I went back. The wrapper was ripped up, so I figured it fell off someone’s car as they drove away. I considered for a second that I could get a cold or something worse, but I didn’t care. I turned the cap and heard the clicking of the seal breaking. It had never been opened. Best Diet Pepsi ever!

At aid station twelve, mile 81 (130.4 km), I ate a cheese quesadilla and drank some broth. I took my socks and shoes off and dried out my feet. I re-taped them and put fresh socks on. My pacer, Jeff, and I headed out in the rain and a headwind with nineteen miles left and the last big climb. Jeff said that a female runner got lost yesterday on the mud flats between aid station six and seven. Search and rescue found her and her body temperature was at 91 degrees Fahrenheit (32.8 degrees Celsius). She had hypothermia. She was flown to the nearest hospital.

 The climb is about seven miles (11.26 km) long and aid station 13 sits at the top, which is mile 90 (144.8 km). Jeff and I have been friends for about 10 years and have run together for the last four years. In fact, my entire crew is on my relay team. We talked and the climb passed by with minimal notice, other than the puddles and slip and slide mud. At aid station thirteen, we drank some hot chocolate while the volunteers told us half of the runners had dropped out. We headed down the mountain. The wind, at our backs was a welcome change. About halfway down, we could see the finish line out on the Salt Flats. It seemed so far away. I knew part of that was the optical illusion created by the flatness.

Aid station 14, mile 95 (152.9 km), I got in the jeep for a few minutes. The wind was cold and blew off and on. I wanted to be done. The remainder of the race was on the paved road. It was the hardest road on the planet. That’s when the aches started to set into my legs. The finish line appeared to get farther and farther away as we approached. Signs count down the last five miles (8 km). Four miles to go. I’m quiet and focused on finishing. Jeff tried to block most of the wind from me. Three miles to go. Jeff talked to me about movies he’d seen and the dynamics at work. Two miles to go. We waved and called good job to the fifty-mile (80.5 km) runners who were also on the road. One mile to go. There was four inches of standing water on the Salt Flats. It was getting warm outside. I had three layers of clothing on.

I could see the finish. The people still milling about, the RD, Justin, and Mike were standing there yelling and clapping as I ran across the finish line.

The RD set the cold metal buckle in my hand. “You earned this,” he said with a smile on his face. “Worst race conditions we’ve ever had.”

“It was a battle out there,” I said. “Can I sit down now?”

Drop Bags…

Drop what? A drop bag is a foreign object to any runner who does not run farther than a marathon. To an ultrarunner, a drop bag is your savior. Well-placed drop bags can even replace a crew for the more experienced ultrarunner.

The purpose of a drop bag is to store gear and supplies that you will likely need later in a long race, such as a fifty or one hundred miler. If you plan to be out on the trail for twelve or more hours having a place to stash some things is very very useful.

I spent about two hours organizing my gear into drop bags yesterday. Salt Flats 100 allows drop bags at every aid station other than number one, which is ten miles into the race, that’s right the first aid station is ten miles in. That may come as a huge surprise to any marathon runner who has a aid station every one and a half to three miles during their race.

In order to pack your drop bags responsibly, there are some things you need to know about your race such as elevation, likely weather conditions, and the aid station food and drink selections. Without this information you will be packing things you don’t need or not packing something that you do need. You can’t carry everything you may need out on the course. And, even if you could, you really don’t want too. It is better to have a drop bag at every aid station than care unnecessary gear especially in the later stages of a race.

Elevation gain and loss changes your gear requirements. It influences temperatures and the technicality of the trail. It affects your speed and the thus the time you will be reaching particular points in the race. You need to be able to calculate about the time you will be reaching each drop bag to be able to include necessary items. The drop bag you will reach just before sun down needs to include things like a flashlight or headlamp. Possibly a jacket and long pants, if it is an early or late season mountain race. Might there be snow at the higher elevations? Or river crossings requiring you to change your socks multiple times during the race? Is there an extreme climb where trekking poles would be helpful, but you don’t want to carry them through the flat sections? You need to look over the elevation map and consider what you might need at each point in the race.

Weather conditions changes your gear requirements. In the desert, it is hot during the day and below freezing at night. The sun beating down on you is unrelenting. Wind changes things as well, think about keeping dirt and other debris out of your eyes. Wind can drop the temperatures even on what would otherwise be a perfect running day. Rain creates mud and excess water, in addition to sopping wet clothing, it could change your shoe choice or pre-race foot preparations. Heat and a dry climate can cause chafing issues requiring glide or some other type of lubricant for bodies or feet.

Food and drink supplies change your supply requirements. Ultra-aid stations have a buffet laid out for their runners. You will find various candy choices, a trail mix or two, chips, fruits, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and during the night hours soup or other warm foods. Drink options are just as extensive, water, Gatorade, heed, EFS, there are a bunch of them out there and it all depends upon who is sponsoring the race. There is generally salt tabs and some type of gel. It’s a good idea to check on the race website or contact the race director to find out what is going to be there. If it is something you don’t use, you have two options either test it out to see if you can tolerate it or bring your own supplies.

The Salt Flats 100 has approximately 5500 feet of climbing over the entire race, so relatively flat for a 100-mile run. The weather conditions are pretty much ideal, 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit with the possibility of thunderstorms. I will have drop bags at miles 31, 50, 57, 67, 81, 90, and 95. My crew will be meeting me at each aid station other than the 90 where no crew is allowed. I pick up my pacer at mile 81.

No matter how well you plan, you have to expect the unexpected. I have learned this not only in ultrarunning, but in parenting too. Being a single mom of two teen boys, the unexpected tends to happen so often that it loses it chaotic feel. One of the most important things you have to also accept and be willing to do is completely scrap the entire race plan on the fly and just deal with things as they come up. If you are too tied to your plan, it can and will wreck your race.

So train for six months, plan all you want, organize and reorganize your drop bags, have a million and one meetings with your crew and pacers and in the end be ready and willing to throw it all to the wind. Only then you are truly ready to run an ultra.

So I’ve heard that stretching doesn’t do much…

“Wow, that can’t be good,” I said to my son as we finished the ab workout he designed.

“What’s not good?” he asked.

“My quads are really tight. I can feel them strain against my knees sitting just here.”  I was sitting back on my ankles. My legs folded underneath me, knees on the floor.

Tight muscles are not a runner’s friend. Sure, sometimes they loosen up as your body gets warm during that first mile or so, but you risk tearing them if they don’t get warm enough. Tight muscles also cause problems up and down the kinetic chain because they restrict the mobility of all muscles and tendons connected with them. It also requires opposing muscles to work harder.

Stretching or not stretching is not the issue here. The question is when to stretch. Many research studies show that stretching can reduce your chances of injury. It also assists in maintaining a good stride. That said never ever stretch cold muscles. You will tear them. If you need to stretch before you run, do a 10-15 minute warm-up on a bike or jump roping or something that does not require big movements.

 Using a foam roller or The Stick, in my opinion, is the best way to warm up before a run. You can get them at most running stores, and I’m sure Amazon has them. You use it by placing it on the floor, lying on the tight muscle on top of the roller, and rolling it down the length of the muscle. Try to put as much of your body weight on the roller as you can tolerate. If there are knots in the muscle, it will be painful, and it can leave small bruises if you are aggressive with it. I stop and rest on the knot for 30 seconds or until I feel it release. The Stick is another massage tool (and it’s more portable than a foam roller). It is approximately two feet long, and one inch in diameter. It has beads along its center with handles on both ends. You can also find these at running stores. Many chiropractors use them.

  I roll my quads, hamstrings, illiotibial band and calves twenty five times each with the Stick before my runs. By doing this, they are warm and knots are worked out of them. Blood is flowing nicely to them, so they have plenty of oxygen, and they are ready to go.

 I have worked through ITB syndrome, ankle sprains, shin splints, and trigger point issues in my calves with the foam roller and stick. I love them, and they go to all my races.


Stretch after you run. I also use a foam roller after my run and again before bed, if I notice any knots or tight spots in any muscles. I recommend using a static stretch (no bouncing) on your groin, quads, calves, and hamstrings. Hold each stretch for 25-30 seconds. Holding it longer does not help. Rotate through each stretch two or three times.  Do not stretch to the point of pain only until you can feel the tightness in the area.


Hopefully, I can get my quads to loosen up before the marathon on Saturday (Salt Lake City Marathon) and surely before Salt Flats 100 six days later. I will be rolling around on my foam roller each night and stretching at my desk and between court hearings until go time.