by Rochelle Frazeur
C&O Canal Towpath (Maryland)
June 6, 2007
Tom’s Run Relay/Solo 200 Miles. Run in honor of Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Tom Brooks. This race is primarily run by Military teams from the Coast Guard and Navy. 184 Miles on the C&O Canal Towpath starting at the headquarters in Cumberland Maryland Then about 8 miles on the Capital Crest Trail way and 8 miles on the Rock Creek Parkway. Each mile on the Towpath is marked starting at mile 184, you run downstream with the Potomac River on your right the whole way down to mile 3. Of Course if you are going to run that far why not just finish the Towpath while you are at it?!
The Race director stated they had one attempt at the solo run by a “locomotive of a guy” he ran to mile 156 and had to stop. The challenge of the run is that it’s in a remote area with little to no cell phone reception. Marked access points to the Towpath can be anywhere from 5 to 11 miles apart. And there are no aid stations. Tom’s run is the only race allowed on the Towpath after dark and part of the Park rules state you must be accompanied by a mountain biker for the duration of the race.
After talking with the RD and several running partners to determine if I had the right motivation and training to finish this race we decided to go for it! I had completed my first 100 miler in Feb. In preparation for the 100 I had run one ultra of 50 miles or more a month for 5 months. There is no real race plan to run for 200 miles so I stuck with what I did for the 100 and made the once a month long runs a little longer. We also started all the extra long runs around 5 pm. We did this because the race director said we could start the race anytime on Wed but we needed to finish between 11 and 1 pm on Sat. We thought it would take about 60-65 hours depending on conditions and wanted to leave a cushion for any problems. We started at 5:05 pm.
Todd Roper my crew chief and Brie Matsen were the major part of Team Ultrachelle. The first night was going to be okay I knew that. We were still scrambling for bikers on Wed night so Brie and Todd took turns biking through the night. About 30 miles in you come to a mile long tunnel know as Paw Paw tunnel. It was dark out by the time I reached it but the tunnel would have been pitch dark if it were broad daylight. You run along this tiny path with a guardrail to the right of the tunnel and the canal on the left. The tunnel cuts through the center of a mountain and you come out into another world on the other side. Civilization seemed to be left behind. As Brie and Todd exchanged at the stop I barreled my way through the tunnel and my first hurdle was over!! During the night Brie and I enjoyed the beautiful trees in shades of black reflected perfectly in the dark grey of the Potomac winding its way through the mountains. What an amazing site. There were well over 50 deer sightings, the bull frogs cheered in the murky waters of the canal and the weather was in the mid 60’s, Perfect!
I had a sleep plan thanks to a long conversation with Lisa Smith-Batchen. I would sleep every 6 – 8 hours for about 20 – 30 min and every 24 for about 45min – an hour. And a run plan of 8/2 and 4/1. This got me through my first 24 hours feeling pretty good. But when I left the exchange point Thursday evening with my sister in law biking for support I had unexpected stomach problems. Nausea, cramping, heartburn, this had never happened to me. I called my brother who was a medic for the army and he said yep that will happen. Just wait till you start experiencing sleep deprivation!! Fortunately we passed a camp site and my sister in law flagged down a lady in a golf cart and she was able to get us some Pepto Bismal tablets. Todd showed up on bike shortly after with some Tums and we were able to get it under control by Friday morning. I reached the 100 mile point about 9 pm Thursday night and we were right on track. Taking it slow and saving something for the next one hundred.
Stepping into the unknown was exciting. I had never run for more that 100 miles before! My nephew biked Thursday night till about midnight and the next leg and rest stop. After a good hour nap I was back on the Towpath with my youngest brother who lives about an hour away from the trail. We ran until the morning and he had to go to work and then I had the next few hours to myself. It was going to be a hot day and I wanted to make some headway so I buckled down until about 10 am on Friday. I had made it to mile 135 (Badwater without the trek through Death Valley). I stopped for a short break and we picked up my next biker. My high school math teacher! The next 35 miles where just work. The temperatures rose to 104 and with a stagnant Canal on one side and the Potomac on the other the humidity level was 100% and stifling. I am so grateful for the ice packs to keep my core temp under control but most of the day was spent power walking 15 min miles. I had enough experience to know that this would be energy saved to use at night when it got cooler so I didn’t panic. RFM Relentless Forward Motion! I took my longest stop that after noon from 3 pm – 5 pm. My team packed me in ice for 10 min when I came in and I got a good hour nap. When I woke up it was starting to thunder and the threat, or relief, of rain was in the air. My next biker came at this point, an amazing woman I had never met, who would take me through to the finish. As they readied her with supplies and instructions I took off. It was still in the upper nineties so I went with a 2/2 run plan and it felt strong and good. We made it to 20 miles to go on the towpath and it finally started to pour! It felt good but my watch stopped working for the remainder of the race. I begin to run when it felt good to run. We did our last stop at 32 miles to go 16 on the towpath. I asked to be wakened in an hour and woke up 5 min early. My body was getting used to this. My brother and nephews pulled into the exchange point shortly before I left out and were able to give some much needed support to my crew who were getting little to no sleep as well! The Park police came by for the second time in the race to check on us. Fortunately the “Team Ultrachelle” Magnets on the side of the crew truck added to the validity that we were indeed doing what we said we were doing.
The last 16 miles of the towpath were definitely the best! The River got very wild and dropped about 1,000 feet over a 10 mile distance. I ran with it and could feel it pulling me along the towpath. The miles just melted away. By daylight we were hitting the 3, 2, and 1 to go!! In the excitement we went right past the turnoff at Fletcher’s landing where you are supposed to do a U turn on the Capital Crest Trailway. When we reached the end of the towpath we realized the error. Thanks to several wrong turns in previous races I knew extra miles were always a blessing. I just had to look for this one. It came a mile up the trail when a store owner came running outside when we went by with a handmade sign “go team Ultrachelle”!! An extra 8 miles but we finished the whole towpath start to finish!
The Capital Crest Trailway was the first time we started to see the relay runners. The eight miles are a steady low grade uphill so I power walked them. There were lots of local runners and groups out and in force in the early hours. We met up with the crew again at the start of the Rock Creek Parkway. There were lots of streets and turns so making sure we didn’t get lost again took a little extra time. Brie phoned Jen my biker just before the last leg to say that there were some people waiting to congratulate us. When we came around the corner I was amazed!! There were about 7 of the relay teams cheering and hooting, “There goes our first solo runner”. It hit me. We had done it. Not officially yet but with the extra miles we had already completed the 200 miles we came to run. I was pretty emotional running through all the people.
5 miles to go and two tough hills. The relay teams were passing us now and we cheered for each other as they went by. The last long climb before you enter the Navel Medical Base in Bethesda where the race ends I kept hearing horns beeping and people yelling. Then we were there. Just inside the gate and ½ mile to the finish. My brother and nephews were at the top of the hill and the whole way down to the finish I could here them yelling. I felt like I could have run another 50 miles! Someone shouted you can stop now as I passed the race director. There was no official race finish line just a group of people made up of my amazing team, family, friends and relay runners that have been doing this race for years gathered to see the first person to finish it solo. The race director shouted out 208.1 miles in 65 hours 53 minutes!
I have to thank Todd and Brie for there sacrifices in the race and training runs that allowed me to compete in this run. There navigating and hard work got me through the nights and over the “walls” along the way. And my family for coming to support me and believing I could do this from the beginning. And all the NTTR members that called prayed and encouraged me along the way.
But most of all I thank my God for using me to accomplish this goal in His plan for my life. “By the grace of God I am what I am and His grace that was bestowed on me was not in vain, but I labored more than all those, yet not I but the grace of God that was with me.” I Corinthians 15:10
Team Ultrachelle would like to thank you for your support and let you know that you can soon begin making contributions to a foundation we are setting up in the Dallas area to help young inner city girls begin to reach goals of there own in the sport of running. If you are interested in helping financially or by donating your time please e mail us at Ultrachelle@aol.com. On the trail, the road or in life remember RFM Relentless Forward Motion. Never give up. Keep your head up the next victory is just a “wall” away!!