“Hang Tough”: The Lookout Mountain 50

Lookout Mountain was tucked in the deep darkness of a Tennessee winter on the morning of December 19. Frost prickled and clung to every branch on the surrounding hillsides, casting a ghostly hue over the landscape. My breath escaped my body in shallow gasps, hitting the 19 degree air in wispy clouds. I was shivering badly in the unexpected cold, and drifted closer to a nearby blazing fire-pit, just yards from the start line for the Rock/Creek Lookout Mountain 50.

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I wrote the encouraging words of Major Richard D. Winters of the famous “Band of Brothers,” 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on my left hand: “Hang Tough!” It became my mantra for the event.

 

As time ticked confidently forward, fear began to overtake my mind. This would be the longest, most technically difficult and mentally trying event of my running career. A true mountain race with tremendous climbs, long stretches without aid access, multiple water-crossings and a long rope climb into the clouds.

The cold was overwhelming, and I had forgotten my gloves. Luckily, my crew member, Amber, had a pair and selflessly handed them to me in an attempt to keep me warm. As I stood there shivering in the bitter air, all I could think about were our soldiers exactly 71 years to the day in the snow covered Ardennes Forest of Belgium, surrounded by the enemy in an offensive soon to be called the Battle of the Bulge. Never would I be that cold and scared.

The gun went off and I took off. The first section of the race followed a long technical downhill along the side of Lookout Mountain.

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In the first mile, spacing out before hitting the singletrack.

I found myself on, or close to, the lead through the first aid station around the 6 mile mark. I felt great, strong, and even confident. Then, in a split second, all those positive feelings were smashed.

At mile 8.30 the unexpected happened in a split second. My foot found an ice covered rock under a technical downhill, hidden under a bed of leaves. I was going too fast to stop, on too steep a grade. Before I knew what was happening, I hit the ground hard and slipped down the descent.

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The aftermath of running 42 miles after a race-day accident.

I laid in a shaken heap in the leaves for a moment before stumbling to my feet. I was shaking from the shock and the cold. My left knee, ribs and shoulder instantly hurt. My right knee and elbow ached a bit too. I looked down at my knees and to my horror, I saw my left was immediately swollen to the size of a baseball. Blood was pouring from an open gash.

It was 5 miles to the next aid station. So I started walking. At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that my race was finished. I was losing too much blood, has a severe contusion on my right knee, and I could not breathe properly. But I refused to look at my cuts and bruises. I did not want it to get into my head. I did not want to quit, but believed it was inevitable.

At the aid station, a medic applied WoundSeal to my knee and gave me some Ibuprofen. She also asked me to please consider dropping from the race. But I again though of our World War II paratroopers in Bastogne and decided to at least try to get back to my crew at the next aid station at mile 22.5.

What I did realize, but refused to accept, was the fact that the next section of the race was by far the hardest of the day: a grinding climb, gaining over 2,500 feet in just under 5km. My knee was searing. My mind swimming. But, using my Black Diamond trekking poles, which I nearly decided to forego at the starting line, I pushed my way up the mountain, trying my best to relieve the stress on my left knee in particular.

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Relying on ropes to literally pull myself up the mountainside.

Whether it was the altitude, or the high I get from reaching the summit of a mountain, but at mile 22.5, when I crossed by through to the aid station and saw my crew: I decided to keep going. The next 27.5 miles passed by in a blindingly painful blur.

Mile 35-37, on a loop running on my own, I began to cry. The pain killers began to wear off as I drifted into a mental state that had me wincing in pain at every step and eager to quit. But it passed after a few water-crossings.

My competitive race for the podium was over, but now the true experience of ultra-running began. I ran with people from all over America: a lawyer from Georgia, a retired Fort Bragg paratrooper, a veteran Virginian ultra-runner who had done every race you could think of. We swapped stories and shared miles, suffering alone but also together: Currahee in the essence.

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The hardest portion of the race for me, physically and mentally.

Around mile 41, I took a break to hike and get some food down. I checked my phone to see messages from co-workers, friends, family… People cheering me on from all over the World. My mother, Emily, Sam, Brendan, Suzie, Kia, Natalie… Countless people who mean so much to me and kept me going in my darkest points.

“Keep going! Did some math and you should be about half way. Cheering for you!”

“Stay strong! You can do it!”

“You’re a badass.”

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Lula Falls, most stunning thing I have seen during a race.

As the miles slipped away, so did the sun. I was treated to a beautiful sunset as the finish line neared. My headlamp flickered on and I was able to more easily navigate the darkness. There was one final climb before the end, and I was able to power through it, beckoned by the far off sound of the announcer and the lights of the finish line.

I was able to run. And as I found myself heading into the finisher’s chute, lined with Christmas lights, I heard the announcer say: “Number 132! Kathryn Lindquist of Cary, North Carolina. Kathryn ran 850 miles from Normandy, France to the Eagle’s Nest in Germany to raise support for our World War II veterans… Let’s give her a round of applause.”

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Immediately upon crossing the finish: heading for a warm up of Ramen noodles. Exhausted and hungry.

10 hours 53 minutes 22 seconds. My goal was to finish sub-9:00. But sometimes you just have to say, “Nuts!” on a Bastogne-esque winter day, and readjust your expectations. I finished 13th overall in my first regional championship, still managing to win divisional honors by 5 minutes.

So, my racing season for 2015 is over. It has been quite a year, and quite a season. Since returning from Europe in August, I raced three times: winning the Currahee Challenge mountain race in October, finishing fourth overall in my return to ultra-running in the Old Glory 50K in November, and then surviving the challenge that was the Lookout Mountain 50.

2016 will be far more physically challenging, but nothing will top 2015. Look for my recap for the year coming up later this week as January arrives.

Thanks for all the support. Currahee and hang tough!

Next Event: Uwharrie Mountain Race 40. February 6, 2016. Uwharrie National Forest, North Carolina.

I was fueled by Skratch Labs’ Apple & Cinnamon and Matcha Green Tea + Lemons for this event. And weathered the event in Salomon Running’s race kit, including the S-Lab Sense Ultra 3 SG.

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