“Surround yourself with people who have dreams, desire and ambition; they’ll help you push for and realize your own.”
Friday evening just before 7PM, I left New Boston hoping to finish the 130ish mile trek to Farmersville sooner, rather than later. Greg was in to crew the duration. Kelley was crewing through Saturday afternoon and Bryan McKenney accepted my invitation to pace Friday night. I felt I needed a someone with me during the night hours – safety in numbers.
I experienced A LOT of anxiety and doubt the 10 days going into this event. I mean, I basically decided to do this a month out and that didn’t provide an optimal time frame for proper training build up. I felt under trained. I knew the trail was gnarly in spots and I wasn’t sure if I could persevere. I didn’t sleep well the entire week before. I worried about starting at 7PM and having to run through two nights. I genuinely doubted my ability to pull it off. I didn’t start this adventure in the right mindset at all.
The first miles were deceptively easy trail, yet they still wore me down quickly. Running on flat land is just HARD. I wasn’t prepared for the difficulty of navigating the obstacles of the meat of this course. The conditions alternated between lakes covering the trail, mud bogs or sections of THICK thigh-high grass/thorny plants/poison ivy and, just for fun, sprinkled in here and there were completely downed or sketch bridges (I CRAWLED over two of them). Every once in a while, the NeTT would give us a peace offering of some runnable terrain.
Bryan hopped in between New Boston and DeKalb and off we went. The trail basically parallelled the road through this stretch. Pretty straightforward. After we left Avery, the trail veered off from the road, so it finally felt like we were on an actual trail. Be careful what you wish for. We navigated mud and water covering the trail, which, of course, took more time than we wanted to give. We fell behind schedule then missed a turn to workaround a downed bridge East of Annona, causing us to backtrack. I was already secretly contemplating dropping. My stomach was off, fatigue was already wearing on me and I wasn’t in a good head space. But we marched on. Between Annona and Clarksville, we trudged through the thickest overgrowth one could imagine. We tried to run but it was futile, so we ended up hiking. I had not put on my pants yet and after this section, my legs were trashed from endless cuts from thorny plants. Bryan and I rolled into Clarksville just after the sun came up. He got me through the night and headed home for some much needed rest. I could tell how miserable he felt and I wondered if he would ever speak to me again for getting him into this mess!
I ran solo from Clarksville to Bagwell. Honestly, I don’t remember much about this section but I’m sure it alternated between tall grass and mud and trail lakes. Greg hopped in to pace from Bagwell to Detroit. Kelly Whitley left a nice, firey treat for me in that stretch and it was a welcomed pick-me-up. I was on my own again from Detroit to Blossom, but the Whitley’s were waiting to cheer me on as I left Detroit. When people take time out of their day to cheer you on, it means SO MUCH. Even with the treats and the visits, the trail was wearing me down and I could overcome the urge to throw in the towel. I admitted to Greg and Kelley in Blossom that I didn’t think I could make it, but they weren’t having ANY talk like that. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t quit, but I longed for the ability to sit as long as I wanted and SLEEP. So far, the Mother Nature had been kind to me, but the rain had moved in and was getting stronger. Greg paced me from Blossom to Reno but since it was time for Kelley to leave, he sent me on my way and put his crew hat back on.
I was starting to come around. Running was decent, the stomach was OK, I had a long, easy section of trail, and, most importantly, I was beginning to take back control of my mind. The urge to quit was replaced with the urge to finish. I was running for my crew and pacers now more than I was for myself. I couldn’t let them down. Bryan had already given up a night of his life for this, Greg and Kelley had given up a night and half of a day and I had Brent on deck to pace the second night. I could not let their sacrifices go to waste.
Bobby was waiting for me with Greg when I got to Paris and I was so happy to see him! It was quite literally a monsoon at this point and I needed to see him at that point. The immediate goal now was to make it to Roxton so that I could pick Brent up for the night hours.
I can’t remember why I had to hop off the trail and take roads out of Paris to get back on the trail, but that’s what Greg said and he always knows. On the way out of Paris, a trail angel named Alice was waiting on me, IN THE POURING RAIN, to cheer me on and take pics and video. Heart of gold. Her visit was a pick me up, for sure!!
Bobby and Greg were waiting on me just outside of Paris to guide me to where I would get back on the trail. We turned down a county road to head to the trail but there had been so much rain that a low-lying bridge flooding. Bobby wanted me to hop on his truck to get across, but I couldn’t do that! I did hold on to the tailgate just in case I lost footing. I was a bit apprehensive about the upcoming trail conditions and hoped that I wouldn’t have any serious water crossings. This was quite literally a flash flood situation.
The trail was definitely WET but luckily had bridges over all the creeks that needed to be crossed. The trail crossed over county roads about every mile through this part and Bobby was waiting there each time to see me onto the other side. I made it to Ambia, which was halfway between Paris and Roxton. Fi, Cathy and Chris were waiting cheer me on and they and brought soup and coffee. It was raining harder than ever now and again the warm kindness of my friends was keeping me in this fight. I was over half-way there and I would be picking up Brent at the next stop in Roxton. I started believing that I might actually pull this thing off!
I made it to Roxton and another kind stranger was waiting to cheer me on, Dan Lake. After my little aid station stop, Brent and I took off for Ben Franklin. This section had a workaround so there was quite a bit on road. Then between Ben Franklin and Pecan Gap, we took the Sulphur River Bridge workaround because we both felt conditions were not favorable to cross. On the workaround, we added a runner to our group….a dog that was so excited to discover people running by his house at 2AM. He got on the trail and ran with us all the way to Pecan Gap. Greg occupied the dog with food while Brent and I took off for Ladonia. I really hope he made it home OK!
By the time we got to Ladonia, the sun was coming up. That’s always a boost because you made it through the night. The rains were long gone and the skies were clear. I had the best 5 minute nap of my life in the car and we were on our way to Wolfe City. The only real issue in this stretch was a not-normal skunk that wouldn’t get out of our way and a sketch bridge or two. Bobby and Alli met us in Wolfe City and brought pancakes! It totally hit the spot. And we only had 21 miles to go!!
Wolfe City to Celeste was a bit hairy. The sun was out and the grass was drying, which made some slithery friends want to come out and get some sun on the trail. We saw at least 5 cottonmouths in a VERY short stretch. I don’t usually get spooked about snakes, but even I was getting a little anxious. A couple of bridges were also pretty sketch in this section, so we didn’t move as quickly as we wanted. (I’m sure you’ve noticed a recurring theme: we NEVER moved as quickly as we wanted.)
In Celeste, Greg announced that we had 13 miles to go and I HAD NO IDEA I WAS THAT CLOSE! I was seriously in THE BEST MOOD. Ran a couple solid miles then we hit the stupid black land mud bogs. That mud literally SUCKED OUT MY SOUL. I didn’t even think I would be able to make it to Merit, much less the final leg to Farmersville. I couldn’t believe how quickly I went from being on top of the world to feeling like I couldn’t walk another step. Brent wasn’t doing much better than me. But we finally made it to Merit and SIX MILES were all that stood between me and that finish. Bryan and Shellene had come to see the finish and were waiting in Merit….and he was actually speaking to me! When we left for Farmersville, they even ran with us a bit. I looked up, and there was Pam! She had run from Farmersville to Merit and was going to accompany me to the finish. Brent decided to stay behind since Pam had showed up and off we went.
SIX MILES. It seemed like such a short distance yet at the same time it seemed impossible. Pam’s bubbly personality and willingness to talk about anything kept my mind occupied for the first few miles. But the closer we got, the more I wanted to be DONE and I couldn’t keep my mind distracted from that. Bryan and Shellene met us at points where roads intersected the trail and he was letting me know how much farther. The great thing about this section is that it was completely maintained with pea gravel and concrete closer to Farmersville. NO MORE MUD. NO MORE GRASS. NO MORE TRAIL LAKES. That six miles felt like forever but it also went by very quickly.
As I approached the finish, there was a crowd of my friends cheering me on. I can’t even describe how touching it was for all of them to come out and support me in this way. I feel incredibly blessed to have such amazing people in my life.
The FKT was certified and so it is OFFICIAL! My time was 46:51, much slower than I had hoped, but the trail was much more rugged and brutal than I anticipated. This was by far the most difficult thing that I have ever done and I could not have finished it without the help of my friends and family. Thank you doesn’t even scratch the surface, but to all of you who had ANY part in this journey – I appreciate you more than you know!