Thunder Rock 100

Posted by Breanna Cornell on May 19, 2015 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Thunder Rock 100

May 15, 2015

101 miles –16,100 feet of climbing

My 4th 100-mile finish.


It feels so good to just be. This whole race was a fantastic meditation.



With a noon start on Friday, I drove the 3 hours from home in Northern Alabama to the Chattanooga-Smoky Mountain area of Tennessee. After a quick runner check in, I drove to the campground that would host the start and pitched my tent. After socializing with a racer’s family, I (surprisingly) found I had reception and decided to see if I couldn’t get any work emails answered (a poor and frustrating decision on my part). A phone call with my parents helped to flush the pre-race jitters and work anxiety from my mind before I hit the sack.

Morning of the start.



The disadvantage of being a morning runner and getting to work at 6:30 AM meant that I could not sleep in past 6:30 AM. With just over 5 hours until the start, I lounged in my tent and indulged in a large breakfast of bananas, ensure electrolyte shake, and chocolate. I finally packed up and drove to the finish at Raft One (a short 20 minutes from the start). There, I dropped off my drop-bags at the morning runner check in and socialized with some of the other racers and crew. At 11:20, we all loaded up into Raft One’s white water rafting buses and were hauled to the start.



All the while, I was looking out the windows, absorbing the misty mild-mannered mountain air. The Smokies, once as tall as the Rockies, their sharp peaks weathered to rounded hats, stand like hunched old men, fighting the effects of gravity and time; eroded but dignified. The humid air amplified the colors, the Ocoee reflecting the beauty.



Sometimes, I feel the need to justify my decision to move to Alabama. This was but a short 3.5 hour drive from home. How lucky was I to have this essentially in my back yard? My excitement mounted for playing on the trails.



The start. Off the buses, onto the grass, smile for the cameras, and GO!


We sprung into the woods, and it wasn’t long until the trail began to wind up, up, up. The hill never seemed steep, but would appear to level off ahead only to find that it went up more. There was no peak in sight, so the lengths of the climbs were deceiving.

But the views!


When a break in the dense green foliage allowed us to glimpse our elevation, the Smokies rewarded us with a sea of blue rolling peaks, mist rising from their troughs.



I quickly fell into a comfortable pace with a pack of runners which included a couple who raced together – a husband and wife team who had completed the Badwater 135 in 2013 together as well. We spoke about racing, where we were from, about life. And then the trail went down…

Down, down, down!


The single-track trail was hardly even half of that on the two mile decent to the river. I wanted to look up, to stop and absorb the vistas, and the one time I did I stubbed my toe and almost went tumbling down the rest of the mountain. Focused, I emerged at the bottom to the river crossing, where a herd of volunteers and supporters passed us the rope to cross and cheered us on.



This event sincerely had some of the most excited crews, volunteers, and onlookers that I’ve ever seen at an event. It was beautiful.



The river (about mile 17) was refreshing in the afternoon heat. Not a half mile out of the water, we began to ascend once more. Winding up to the peaks on trails varying from overgrown grass paths and two tracks forest service roads, it began to rain. We were honestly lucky because the forecast had scheduled thunderstorms throughout the day and into the night. The rain, however, lasted only for a couple of hours. Between the river crossing and the rain, however, my feet were raisins. I could already feel hot spots give rise.



As the day meandered on into the evening, I had wonderful conversations with many runners. We observed how many ultra-runners tend to have engineering degrees, be doctors, professors or teachers (i.e., at one point I (engineer) was running with a teacher and a dentist). I love how the trail introduces conversations that ebb and flow between comical (bodily functions, singing songs in voices that are out of breath), intellectual (environmental conservation, new technology, etc…), and introspective (learnings from racing, life). I loved it. I loved everyone on the trail, every step with them.



Mile 50.


10 hours and 15 minutes.





Night hit and I slowed. I slowed with the distance and the dark. The trail became technical, with a six mile stretch that almost brought me to a crawl. Two runners caught up behind me. The trail narrowed, dug into the side of a ravine. I stepped on the edge of the trail. All of a sudden, there was nothing beneath me but a 30 foot drop to the river below.



I scream and flailed. With cat-like reflexes, the runner behind me caught my hand. For a moment, he was the only thing stopping me from an injury-inducing fall. He pulled me up to safety (my hero!), and I stood there, shaken for a moment. But for a couple of scratches and bruises, and some shaken nerves, I was OK. I ran as far from the edge from there on out.



I just had to make it to mile 62.


There, I would meet up with the rolodex of North Alabama: Steven. Steven and his wife, Denise, had offered to come crew/pace me. Due to the noon start, they had been able to drive up after work on Friday and promised to meet me at mile 62. Jogging into the aid station, around 2 AM, I began calling “Steven! Steven Davis!”



Finding my team – who was already prepared for my arrival with a chair and my goodie bag – I plopped down to change my still wet socks and shoes. The blisters had begun and my shoe change was too late to stop the process. At least my feet would be more comfortable in a shoe that allowed for some swelling (and a shoe that was not wet).

Morning while running with Steven through tall grass.



Waving to Denise, Steven and I took the trails by storm (ok, maybe a bit slower than that). The following hours passed with jokes, stories, and dawn. Sooner than I knew it, we were at mile 82. Denise met us here, and Steven took off with her to rest a bit and catch up with me in another 10 miles. The next 10 miles I plugged out by myself, plugging in to my iPod for the first time during the race. Never have I not listened to music or audio books for so long during a run. In the past, I have used them as a tool to space out and just go. But I was so consumed with the people, the conversations, the beauty of the course, and my head was in such a good space that I didn’t need them. Heck, I didn’t want them. I was in a groove!



The music, however, aided me in keeping the slow-jog pace up until I next met Steven. Upon joining me, he urged me to move it, hustle, let’s get to the finish. By this point, my blisters were very painful. Each step was thought out, where to place my foot so I don’t slide into my toes. Areas of slanted and uneven ground became points of frustration. I lost the ability to control my responses to the roots and rocks and cried and yelled at the trail a bit.



It’s funny, being two hours from the finish line, knowing that you’re going to finish, and thinking “why can’t we just be there?”



Passing through aid stations, I was informed that I was the 3rd female (no way!). Every little noise behind us became the 4th place women racing around the corner. Steven had to keep reaffirming that there was no one behind us, that, no, those weren’t voices. Pumping my arms in a fashion that Steven dubbed “granny arms,” I’d pick up the pace at each sound that could be a top three finish slipping away.



And then we could hear it.


Not behind us, but ahead of us.


The finish!



A 200 foot hill to summit, and then descend, we rounded the bend and there it was.




23rd / 51 overall

3rd / 12 finishers (14 DNF) female

2nd / 6 (10 DNF) age group



With 124 people registered, only about 100 (?) started, and about half of the field dropped. It is my slowest 100-mile finish to date, but it’s on a tough course and I feel good about how I raced it. I ran every evenly for the first half of the race, and while I may have slowed down drastically by mile 60, my pace from 60 to the finish did not slow or vary much.



The course was challenging and beautiful. The aid stations were amazing, offering a savory variety of foods, including bacon wrapped pickles, hummus and olive wraps, avocados and tomatoes, soup, gels, trail mix, heed, pop, egg wraps, paleo pumpkin pancakes, and much more. The volunteers staffing the aid stations were even better – a huge thanks to all of the volunteers! This was also one of the most organized races I have ever run; the runner and crew guide sent out before the race was extremely comprehensive and detailed. There were points in the course that were not clearly marked, however, and I did loop back to certain points to make sure I was going the right way. The finisher’s buckle isn’t anything extravagant, but I love it all the same – a subtle way to commemorate a wonderful day on the trails.

Toe already turning purple from stubbing it.



After being awake for over 33 hours, Steven, Denise, and I went out to eat (how lovely a full meal is after snacking for a whole day!) and clean up in the hotel (after returning to the finish because I forgot to grab my pack and shoes… ops!). Steven and Denise were an amazing crew and I cannot thank them enough!



This is my last race until the Badwater 135. I have never felt so ready for anything, and Thunder Rock has for sure gotten me to the mental space where I need to be and abolished many fears that come with facing a great distance ahead.



I cannot wait for the next challenge!



Do what you love,

Love what you do!


Zumbro 2014

Posted by Breanna Cornell on April 13, 2014 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)


Zumbro: Return to the Beast


***Warning: This post contains gross pictures of feet. If you find this disturbing, I suggest you don't run long distances or continue reading.

I went back to Zumbro, that malicious looped course that spawned my first ever DNF a year ago; my first 100 mile attempt. Despite despising the fact that you had to complete the same loop 6 times, that the weather is completely and utterly unpredictable in April in Minnesota, and the early time of year offers little training opportunities to hit the trails before race day, I registered almost as soon as registration opened.



Because I absolutely loved the people there.


Upon what was initially perceived to be a failure upon last year's drop, I became connected to a network of people threaded together by this incredible event. Aside from the fact that the race director, John Storkamp, and his wife, Cheri, are some of the most grounded, whole-hearted people I have ever met, this event attracts runners who are willing to go to the ends of the earth for each other– more so than I've encountered at other events. At last year's event I met one person in particular who completely changed and bettered my running and life experiences this past year: Maranda Lorraine.

Maranda, Ed, & I, Zumbro 2014


In 2013, Maranda attempted Zumbro as her first hundred, as I had, and dropped, as I had, at mile 50. We bonded around the campfire, exchanged phone numbers and ideas for exciting adventures. Through online and phone messaging, we arranged to meet in the Grand Canyon for our Rim2Rim2Rim adventure. Only having interacted in person 5 months prior, Maranda drove all the way from Minnesota to Arizona to do a double crossing of the Grand Canyon with someone she hardly knew. But we intrinsically knew each other through the spirit of ultras, and our friendship grew from there. Again, she supported me at Pinhoti, pacing and supporting.


She has done so much for me, and others; she completely gives herself to everything she does. She has become the thread that has connected me to a larger running community that I would be able to have done on my own. Through her Ninja Runner's page, inspirational photography, and just incredibly supportive personality, she doesn't give herself enough credit for her accomplishments that span outside of running times and distances. I knew that Maranda and all the Ninja Runners that she has sewn connections with would be at Zumbro. Because of that, I knew I would be there too.

Our humble Ninja Runner camp.


I will spare this post the nuances of detail– the camping and packet pickup, the pre-race dinner, meeting up with all the Ninja Runners– and the course description. You can read about the course description in my blog post from last year here or on the race website here.


The course was in much better condition this year, however, and I was optimistic. The trails were relatively dry, with only a few patches of ice and mud. They did not have the standing water that we experienced the previous year and where there had been a stream crossing in 2013 was simply mud. The snow, ice, and mud revealed that the underlying trail was rocky and semi-technical in places, leaves hiding devious ankle-twisters. Maranda and Theresa would both be running the 100 with me; Ed and Ryan would be pacing Maranda, Jill and Mark pacing myself.


Pacers were allowed to join after the 50 mile mark. This year, John informed us that we could have both pacers on the trail at once. Maranda had put me in contact with Jill and Mark; I had only connected with them through Facebook prior to the event. I was so happy she did because they turned out to be the perfect pacer-racer match, as I would soon learn. Mark would go to the ends of the earth to support anyone. We formulated a plan: after 50 miles, we would only have three loops left to go, so Mark would take the first, Jill the second, and we would complete the third as a team.


As part of this plan, I like to incorporate things at certain distances to motivate myself. I have a small set of speakers that I use to play music (I dislike wearing headphones) and use it as motivation to get through the night. My speakers broke, however, on my way over. I shrugged it off, but when Mark found out, he stopped to buy a new pair before coming to camp. Jill was ever ready, ever excited, and infused with all the positive energy that I needed. While waiting to pace, she slept in full running regalia– headlamp and all– coddling her water bottle, the anticipation to hit the trails too great.

Jill, myself, and Mark


Going into the race, I knew that I hadn't trained as well as I probably should have. Being in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is wonderful at times, but also has it's draw backs. This winter was very harsh– we had over 50 consecutive days below freezing (many of those days below zero), and a cumulative snowfall of 314.5 inches with 50 inches still on the ground the day I left for Zumbro. It wasn't that I wasn't physically or mentally trained for the distance; no, I completed a self-supported 50 miler on snowmobile trails a month and a half before the race. On days when I was fed up with fighting cars for the shoulder of the road, or the temperatures and wind, I would ski or indoor row. But one simply can't train for Zumbro on roads, a track, a treadmill, or on skis. No, one needs to run on sand, to weave between trees, to train on steep ups and downs, on the slippery mud that can only be found on trails. And I had not had the luxury of training on trails since October.


Knowing this, I mentally braced myself for a beating.


8 AM start.

57 of us toed the starting line. The first loop went smoothly enough. The uphills were no longer difficult for me, some of the skills from mountain training this summer carrying over. I spoke with runners from all walks of life; many returning, some new to the race, some their first, all inspiring. The sun was out and temperatures that started in the high 30s began to rise. I smiled. I couldn't help it: I was happy to be here.

OMG! I'm running on dirt! Not snow! SO HAPPY!


Ending the first loop, my feet weren't feeling too great. The trail definitely had a lot of loose sand that had been frozen in place last year. The pores in my NB110s had let some slip into my shoe. I could feel some hot spots and decided that a shoe change into the Altra Lone Peaks might mitigate this. Coming into the start/finish, I slid on the orange Altras and took back to the woods, engrossed in the ending of "the DaVinci Code" on my iPod.


Reaching the afternoon, the course began to warm up. Actually, it got really hot. I know the 70s aren't hot, but coming from 30 degree weather only a day prior made the 40 degree difference feel extreme. In shorts and a tank top, I was sweating and my feet and hands began swelling. A lactic acid feeling began to build in my legs. I began to closely watch my salt intake. The hot spots on my feet did not agree with the warming weather. Despite all of this, I couldn't complain. I hadn't seen the sun in what felt like a year!

I stopped believing in the sun around mid-February. Zumbro proved me wrong.


Finishing the second loop, I came into the start/finish area a bit sun-burnt. The Ninja Runners were busying themselves running (literally– taking the short cuts through the trails) from aid station to aid station to cheer us on and offer assistance. I felt good! I knew I was going to slow down, I had to if I wanted to avoid the hobbling-cramping-penguin finish I did at Yellowstone-Teton. I resolved to walk more hills.


By halfway through the third loop, it became evident that blisters were forming. I have felt the onset of blisters in racing before. Most times, they just seem to build up, be painful for a bit but not unbearable, and then resolve themselves. Thinking that the cooling air that would come with night would help the situation, and the impulse to maintain forward motion, I didn't consult them. I was spending little to no time at aid stations and wanted to continue this momentum. It wasn't until I came through at the 50 mile mark in ~12:30:00 that the pressure they exerted had confined me to a walk.

Ed giving my legs a rub-down at an aid station.


Upon reaching John, Ed, Jill, and Mark at the start/finish I explained the pain that my feet were causing. We decided to take a look at them and do a sock change. I had parked near the start/finish and was using my car as my drop bag. As I rummaged through my backseat for a new pair of socks, my nose began to bleed. It wasn't just a drop, but a flood.


I bled on my sweatshirt.

I bled on my car.

I bled on my face, my hands,



And it wouldn't stop. It was absolutely ridiculous. I guess the air had just dried my nose out because it seemed completely unwarranted. After about 10 minutes of going through a half a box of tissues, I was able to get a new pair of socks on, lace up, and start hitting the trail with Mark by my side. Going up the first ascent of the loop was compounded, not only by the blisters that had begun forming on the tops of my toes from my feet ramming the front of my shoes on the steep downhills, but due to the fact that I couldn't breathe. BECAUSE MY NOSE WAS STILL BLEEDING.


I had a coughing fit that lasted about two minutes. Because I was choking on blood.

But blood, I said, don't leave! I need you!


Eventually, it crusted up enough to stop. I only looked like I had dirt shoved up my nose now. I began telling people that a bear punched me and I punched it back and it ran away. Because a bloody nose from dry air is lame.


Darkness came quickly, the moon– while almost full– wrapped in a haze of clouds allowing little light to assist us on our journey. Mark and I listened to music, but we found that we much preferred talking. We talked and talked. We talked about how we were the reincarnation of trees (I'm a white pine!), about the carbonic acid system and pC-pH diagrams, about the difficulties of job hunting, about life. And though we were walking, and I was slow and in pain, it was fun. We joked, we sang, we laughed! We even got down to "43 bottles of beer on the wall" from "99" after seeing how low we could go on a certain straight stretch of trail.

Bandaged up feet.


My feet were not improving, however, and this spelled trouble. The blisters on the tops of my toes were one thing, but the blisters on my heels were another. It felt like I was walking on inflated water balloons, making the steep downhills painful and difficult. Compounded by the limiting vision at night found us gingerly picking our way over rocks, roots, and mud. I had to lean on Mark on the downhills to alleviate some of the pressure on my heels. I had to stop to sit every now and again just to let my feet recover for a bit.


It was really frustrating. Every time I tried running, the pain became sharp and searing. After several years of having limited blister issues, I wondered "why now?" I had honed my sock-shoe combination over the course of the past three years to be ideal for myself. Had it been going from such cool weather to a warm afternoon, the swelling of extremities with the increase in mercury? Had it been the sand that we dumped from our shoes at each aid station? Despite my efforts to mitigate the onset, was there more I should've done? The questions, at this point, were null. All that mattered was that we were moving forward, however slow.


We made it to the second aid station of the loop. There we found Maranda. She was having a different battle of her own, having struggled with keeping food down for the majority of the run. We exchanged support and returned our focuses to getting back on the trail.


I sat down with Mark. We needed a plan to move faster. We had been asking passing runners and pacers if they had Tylenol. I hate taking medication, but with how much I had been sweating earlier I was trying to avoid Ibuprofen (due to its interaction with kidneys). Not that Tylenol is any better. We determined, however, that it should at least be tried. With no Tylenol to be found (I had left it in the car! Ugh!) I took Ibuprofen, and we headed out. Once it kicked in, I was able to step up the speed on my walk. The effects, however, lasted but a couple hours.


Upon our return to the third aid station of the loop, my feet were in the worst shape yet. An aid station volunteer, Chris, took action. Chris was phenomenal. He was doing everything in his power to move every runner suffering back out onto the trails, to get them running. We had drained some of the blisters on my feet, but the heel blisters that were causing the most issues were not yet topical; they were hiding under a calluses, too deep to be punctured, but the swelling visible nonetheless. Chris suggested wrapping. I was hesitant, worried that any material might chafe and cause more blisters. However, with no other solutions offering themselves, Mark and I decided trying anything to get back out and moving at a decent clip was better than nothing.

Mark and I upon completion of the 4th loop; raining now.


Chris must be magic because the bandaging that he made was perfect. Cutting out a square in some padding, he formed a support for my heel around the blister to relieve some of the pressure. Pulling my shoes back on, my feet felt ten times better. Mark and I took to the trails, power hiking through the night.


Dawn came as we came back through the start/finish area. Holy crud bucket. That loop had taken us 10 hours. I was more amused at the fact that it had taken that long. Mark and I had completely lost ourselves to jokes, to talking, to stories, to moving forward, to the night… we hadn't realized how much time had passed. I was more impressed than depressed.

After cleaning up – just swollen.


Jill joined us, frantic. That loop had taken so long, we had her worried. She had been checking with the timing officials for our progress. Well crap; we only had 13 hours to get another two loops in. Well, I did 3 loops in less than that time before, right? Why stop now?!? No, we keep moving until they tell us we can't move anymore! To the trails!

Mark, myself, Jill, and Ryan before heading out for our 5th loop in dry clothes.


Jill joined Mark and I as we set out on my 5th loop. It had started to drizzle by the end of my 4th loop, so Mark and I had just changed into more dry clothes. As we began the climb up the first hill, the drizzle became rain, which became a downpour. Then the lightning started. Flashes of light accompanied by the guttural booms bounced off the Zumbro river valley's walls. The electric glow cast brief shadows over the landscape, putting the differences in weather within the 24 hour time frame in sharp relief.


The morning's temperatures and weather was in stark contrast to the previous day's; where yesterday had been sun and warmth, today was cold and wet. With temperatures in the low 40s, the rain became sleet.


Jill turned to Mark and I, "Well, at least it's not hailing."


The sky promptly began to poop miniature snowballs on us.


I couldn't be mad.

It was just comical at this point. Jill and I were in hysterics. As the rain came down, the dry trails that I had praised became flowing rivers, freezing water up to our shins. The clay became mud that slid and suction cupped to our shoes. We were soaked to the bone in a matter of seconds. Literally, the dry clothes we had put on not 10 minutes before were more wet than the ones we had taken off.

We yelled at mother nature.

We screamed.

We danced.

We laughed.


"We need a canoe!" Jill yelled over the noise of the storm.

Indeed, I didn't think we were on trails anymore but a river.

What else can you do?


As we arrived at the first aid station, a herd of 17-milers stampeded past, over 200 of them. Between the 50 milers that had joined the loops at midnight, the 17-milers that had just started their venture, the numerous times the course had been looped by the 100-milers, and mother nature's generous bath, the trails deteriorated in an incredibly exponential time frame. Like, we're talking e to the Zumbro power.


It was ~9:30 AM. We had to make it ~13 miles in 2 hours and 30 minutes back to the start/finish to beat the cutoff for the final loop. It had just taken us an hour and a half to go 3.03 miles; between the rain, hail, and wind. In addition to this, my blisters came back with a vengeance with the soaking bandages becoming a hinderance rather than an aid.

Jill's photo at the start/finish of the clouds moving in when she was waiting for Mark and I.


We had a team meeting: was continuing at this point realistic? It had taken me ~3:30 to do a loop when I was fresh and able to run. Now, with trail conditions, shivering, and our slug-pace how far would we get? Mark feared that injury would be imminent if we continued; the downhills in the next section of the course were among the most technical and steepest. Least of which, it was 40 degrees and we were all soaking wet. Jill was freezing, I was cold, our clothes weighed 10 pounds. News of hypothermic runners was circling the aid station.


It was an unspoken agreement that dropping would be the smartest thing. I didn't want to say it, because I didn't want to stop. However, I wasn't going to make the cutoff. Why risk injury or worse when incompletion was evident?

Mark reported to the timing officials that I would drop.


For the first time during the race, I felt sad.

For the first time during the race, my smile left my face.

For the first time during the race, I cried.


I had wanted Zumbro so bad.

I had wanted this finish because I knew I could do it.


Catching a ride back to the start/finish in a truck was cold, but I couldn't complain. I had given it my all. The questions we asked on the trail were not "Can I stop?" or "Why am I doing this?" but "How can I keep moving forward?"

I had so, SO much fun.

This is honestly the most fun I have ever had at a race. We talked nonstop. I seriously lost my voice from laughing, singing, and talking so much. It was beautiful; the people, the atmosphere, the support. This is my family away from home. I love them all.


Will I return to Zumbro?

Honestly, probably not– not to race at least. To crew or volunteer, I would be more than happy. The time of year does not permit for adequate trail training like you really need to be able to perform well if you hail from a snowy area as I do. The weather in southern Minnesota this time of year is incredibly unpredictable and can be frustrating. And six loops is a lot. Will I return to Zumbro? Probably not, but I never say never.

Ninjas represent!

Laurie, John, myself, Maranda, Ed, Jill, Mark


Of the 57 people who started, 25 people finished.

That's a 44% finishing rate. After the weather that was experienced on the course last year, kudos to all who showed up to brave it again! A shout out to Maranda and Theresa, Ninjas who gave it their all.


Also, April Anselmo set the female course record in 23:21:01 coming in 4th overall. The only other finishing female was Kathy Jambor, finishing in 10th. Way to represent, ladies!!! Nathan Leehman from North Carolina won in 20:30:51. Just want to congratulate all the winners, all the finishers, and all the people who are just plain awesome enough to train through winter to come to a brutal course. You can see the results for the 100 here.


In closing, I don't have much to say other than my feet still hurt but my legs are ready for another adventure. I'm already missing my Ninjas and brainstorming for what we'll do next…


Until then,

Do what you love,

Love what you do!!!

Best of Wishes,




Pinhoti 100 Race Recap

Posted by Breanna Cornell on November 9, 2013 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

The Pinhoti 100

“Turkey Home”


I could not believe it.

As I stepped out of the airport terminal towards Maranda’s car at nearly midnight on Thursday, it finally hit that this was my last race of the year. I was overjoyed to have Maranda, who I had not seen since our Rim2Rim2Rim adventure, be my crew and pacer. She is an amazing runner, and person, and I knew that there was no way I would not finish with her support.


The Pinhoti 100 is a point-to-point trail race starting in Heflin and ending in Sylacauga, Alabama. It features 16,180 feet of total vertical gain through wooded forest on single track trails. Pinhoti, meaning “turkey home,” doubled in the number of race entrants this year, with over 200 people registered. Hearing rumors of how technical and difficult of a race it was, I have to say (having now completed it), I actually consider it a really good first trail hundred. Maybe it’s just perspective as it was not as technical or extreme as I was expecting, given I had faced the Superior 100…

Elevation profile.


After a good night’s rest in the hotel, we had all of Friday before the pre-race meeting and packet pickup to explore Alabama. I had never thought of Alabama as a place that I’d want to go to visit, but the forests were amazing. The trees were incredibly tall, despite being no thicker than their midwestern cousins. I joked, “It’s because they don’t have to hold snow up for half the year.”


We attempted to find the aid stations where Maranda would be joining me, but to no avail. Once on forest road, the trees overtook the landscape and steeply rolling hills the terrain. The original plan had me leaving on the bus from the finish to the start at 4 AM so Maranda could sleep in, but, seeing as we could not find where the start or aid stations were, we modified this. Maranda now planned on following the busses to the start in the morning. This race was really out in the woods!

The trees here were HUGE!

Please note: All photo credit goes to Maranda Lorraine


At the pre-race meeting, held in the local rec-center, we mingled with other runners as everyone chowed down on spaghetti and examined the items in their goodie bag. I have to admit, Pinhoti had one of the better goodie bags I’ve seen with a long sleeve wicking tee, ginger chews, and a Pinhoti magnet that mimicked the finisher’s buckle. Maranda and I socialized at a table with a couple of other runners, where we met this crazy-haired dude named Brian. Pinhoti would be Brian’s first hundred and (little did we know then) he would smash it in 22 hours.


The pre-race meeting seemed to go on forever as door prizes were raffled off. Maranda and I finally made it back to the hotel to catch some shut-eye before our early morning wake up call.


4 AM.

Myself and 200 others huddled on a trio of school busses. The ride, once deviated from the highway, was a rollercoaster of forest roads, reminiscent of my previous night’s dream of riding trails around winding mountains. We arrived with just 15 minutes to spare before the 6 AM start, hardly enough time to make that last bathroom break.


Our mass of runners bounced excitedly at the start, decorated with Christmas lights, headlamps reflecting the reds and oranges of the tree leaves back on us. The air was humid, but cool 45 degrees. This was the largest (most amount of people) ultra I had done. It was a bit intimidating to be standing amongst all these inspirational people, reminding me a bit of the start of a marathon.


With the chorus of “GO!” from the race director, we took off down the dirt road, which quickly turned onto single track trail. After the initial sprint from the start, we quickly came to a halt. It was a bottleneck. There was no point in rushing around people; it would be rude and I wasn’t in this race to get a good time. I had gone out far too fast in Yellowstone; I wanted to be able to run the latter half of this race.

Narrow trail with a lot of branches snagging your legs.


As we formed a single file line, I took the slow moments to socialize with the people around me; who knows if I’d have company later on the trail? The 6 miles to the first aid station were very stop-and-go; each time a stream crossing came up, we would all come to a halt as each person gingerly made their way across, trying to avoid getting their feet wet so early in the race. 


To ease my anxiety about such a slow pace, I reminded myself that there was no rush; I took in the scenery around us. The single track trail wound up and down on the sides of the hills, a line of headlamps snaking through the dark woods like a train of lanterns. The trail was very slanted, like running on the shoulder of the road, and extremely narrow, but soft. There were rocks and roots to be avoided, but nothing so technical as the Superior 100. The ground was mostly covered in a cluster of fallen, slippery leaves and incredibly long pine needles.


Around mile 8, I decided it was time to pick up the pace a bit. Not wanting to get ahead of myself, however, each time I caught up to a group of people I decided to stay in the back for a while before making my way ahead. The sun began to break its way over the obsurred horizon, shooting rays of yellow through the red forest. The trees looked like they were on fire. It was beautiful.


The aid stations, staffed with enthusiastic volunteers, joined the trees in their festive autumn spirit. Stocked with candy corn and pumpkin bread, each aid station had something delicious to offer. Several of the aid stations even had pita bread with hummus. Pinhoti’s aid stations were, by far, some of the best that I’ve encountered in regards to the diversity of food offered and decorations.


The day passed quickly filled with speaking with people on the trail, alternating between listening to the woods and an audio book I had tucked in my pocket. Sooner than I realized it, I was at mile 40. Mile 40 had us facing the largest climb of the whole race. The climb I was not worried about; it was the downhill. I had heard that the downhill was a lot like rock climbing more so than running down it. I had not been faring well with the downhills thus far, maybe due to how much downhill Yellowstone-Teton 100 had had and my recovery from that, or other factors. I seemed to be consistently passed by people on the downs, but had no problems on the ups. I hardly felt like any effort was going into climbing, and I would leapfrog all the people who had flown by me gliding downhill.

Beautiful views!


The climb at mile 40 was beautiful, scattered with large boulders and overlooking the surrounding Talladega forest “mountains” (I still won’t call them mountains after spending a summer out west; they are very large hills). Upon cresting the hill was a cacophony of supporters, spanning the length of a boardwalk and overlooking cliff. What truly blew me away about this race was the number of supporters at each aid who came to cheer us on. There were so many people, it felt like a marathon! It was wonderful to experience and amazing that these people took their time and effort to come out and cheer.


Having conquered the largest hill, I had the largest descent ahead of me. I knew, however, that at mile 45 Maranda would be waiting for me, ready to join in the fun. I was passed by a handful of people on this downhill, as I gingerly picked my way through the rocks, but it was no where near as scary as some of the downhills in the Superior 100. I had braced myself for another super technical race like Superior and was happily surprised with how smooth Pinhoti actually was.


The bottom of the hill dumped us out at aid station mile 45, where I spotted Maranda and ran to hug her. After the difficulty of finding the aid stations the prior day, I had been a little bit worried. Pacers were allowed to join at this point (as there is no crew access at mile 50) so Maranda geared up to pace.

Lots of stream and river crossings.


The next 10 miles had us talking about almost everything. I was a bit of a chatty-kathy during this race, but I could not hide my happiness and excitement to just be there. It was beautiful, and I just wanted to take in every part of this last race of 2013.


It was funny, some of the things Maranda and I talked about. We spoke about how we had only met in April at Zumbro, how she had come down to the Grand Canyon not really knowing me. We had been strangers, really, at the beginning of the Rim2Rim2Rim, but left as comrades in ultra escapades. We talked about how I had struggled through Superior, how Maranda had dominated it, and really how stress influences performance. Running really is mental. You just can’t do it if you go in with the mindset that it’s going to be hard, that it’s something you’ll dread. But if you go into an event looking forward to the miles of trail, the miles of new friendships, the miles of beautiful scenery, then it will be one of the easiest things in your life (certainly easier than catching up on all of my school work, which is what I’m doing now… ops!).


Pinhoti was exactly this.

I was enjoying almost every step of the home of the turkeys.


We were in and out of the 50 mile aid station in 12 hours, exactly.

Making it to the 55 mile aid station, where my drop bag was located, had my iPod speakers. I plugged in some music, and we were able to jam on the trail together. As the shadows of the forest elongated, and darkness overtook the sky above us, we maintained a strong pace.


Perhaps too strong.


Maranda spoke up, “I’m having a hard time keeping up with you.” Maranda had just raced a 50 miler not a week ago, and had driven all the way down from Minnesota to join me here (because that is how awesome Maranda is). It was completely understandable why she was tired. I wanted Maranda to be there for the end of the race, so we made a plan: she would drop out at this aid station and meet me at the next one, giving her some time to rest. With that, I took off into the dark woods alone while Maranda hitch-hiked to the next aid.


Soon after Maranda and I got back on the trail, my speakers died. Without the beat of music to keep my mind aloft, my pace slowed a bit. Soon after that, my headlamp began to dim. I slowed even more. I kept stubbing my toes and seeing the trail markers in the distance, making a B-line for them, then finding myself off the trail. Communicating with Maranda, we switched headlamps, pulled out my hand flashlight, and she had me take some salt pills (containing potassium, which helps with coordination). My condition improved, and we were able to pick the pace back up. I had extra headlamp batteries stowed at aid station mile 85, which was just up the last big climb of the race…

An easy uphill :)

As the course slanted uphill once again, we began to hear the thump of music in the distance. The trail went up, up, up and seemed almost longer than the first climb. We spotted a sign, declaring: “½ mile to the top!” As the switchbacks plateaued, the most brilliant aid station I have ever seen materialized. Music poured from speakers that thumped with the beats of pop artists, holiday lights were strung from branches like a massive spider web, and a tent rose from the forest floor like another hill to be climbed.


Only one more aid station to go to mile 85.

Mile 85 seems to be a magical mile marker in regards to the race feels almost over. It’s only 15 miles to the finish, 15 miles! Everything seems to come with ease after that point (mentally, at least). The first half of the race feels as though it’s all about making it to 50 miles, the latter half about making it to 85 miles, and the rest about surviving.


As we traversed the night, the ground seemed to glitter, as if a fairy had spread green fairydust over the ferns. I pointed this out to Maranda who took a closer look and shrunk back, “You don’t want to know!” “I do, tell me!” “They’re spiders…” Our headlamps were reflecting off little green spiders, everywhere. Being a complete and total nerd, I thought of Ron from Harry Potter:

“Why did it have to be follow the spiders? Why couldn’t it be follow the butterflies!”


I enjoyed the company of the little green glitter-spiders nonetheless.


At this point, my run was as slow as my walk. We were almost to 85, and still walking at a good clip. Maranda and I had been silent for some time, with the occasional stumble. Following one of these stumbles, anda pause, Maranda spoke up:


“I have to find someone to pace you at mile 85.”


I knew something had happened, but I wasn’t going to worry about it. I gave an acknowledging “Alright,” learning later that Maranda had painfully twisted her ankle. 


Mile 85.

The magic mile. We stumbled into the aid station, Maranda frantically asking if anyone could spare pacing me for a bit. For some reason, at this point, I became increadibly sad. I started to cry. I could not stop crying. All I wanted to do was cry. I was sobbing as someone helped me to put my sweatpants on.


Luckily, Maranda found Monica, who was part of a 3-person crew. She offered to pace me, and we took off down the forest road. From this point on in the race, we would be on dirt roads with very little single track left. I was happy to leave the single track, as I was losing coordination with increasing tiredness.

With Monica (at the finish) still sobbing.


Monica loved to talk. And I loved that she loved to talk. It really helped to fill the silence that had been building all night. It made the tears go away and the miles past faster. Monica was amazing for stepping up spontaneously to pace for someone she didn’t know whatsoever. Thank you, Monica!


As we reached the last aid station, our headlamps off now, I could not spot Maranda. Monica left to aid her runner to the finish, and I was just ready to be done. I didn’t even stop. I moved right on through the aid station. Only 5 miles, right? I got this…






My life.


(I’m finding I say that almost with every race now; in the moment, it seems like it’ll never end!)


I spent the last 5 miles alone. By myself. It was all me.

And the tears came back. I had NO control over my emotions. Each time a runner passed me and offered “good job!” all I could do was sob back.


The course turned onto pavement, and I jogged, searching for the high school football stadium that the race would end in. After passing 2 stadiums, the course markers finally pointed in to the finish. I hurried in to the track, spotting Maranda across the finish, and falling into her arms.


All I could do was sob.

And then collapse on the grass of the football field.

And sob.


I cannot believe it was done.


26 hours, 53 minutes, 23 seconds.

86th place overall out of 164 finishers, 17th out of 32 female finishers, and 6th out of 8 in my age group.


Hey, I didn’t finish at the top, but that’s OK. I finished, and that was what I was going for. I paced myself a lot better in this race compared to Yellowstone, where it took me almost twice as long to finish the second half as it did the first half. It’s a process of learning. Now, I just need to learn how to pace myself so I can carry that speed over into the second half… or I could just go out on the trail, enjoy the company, and use up all the allotted amount of time– get your bang for your buck! Just enjoy the community of this sport. I was able to run (or slow-jog) almost throughout every part of this race, and definitely was not in as much pain as I was at the end as I was in Yellowstone. Heck, I wasn't even hobbling later that evening. Trails and slower pacing really made a difference.


You've just got to love it.

Brian, whom we had bet at the pre-race meeting, came to the rescue! We had to retrieve Maranda’s car from the 45 mile aid station. Brian was awesome and provided a ride back to the checkpoint, you know, after having run 100 miles.


The way this sport gives back never ceases to impress me. Runners, crews, pacers, and volunteers alike are just so willing to give and help out. Maranda drove down and supported me the whole way, Monica stepped up and helped out a runner she didn’t know, Brian helped us out after the race. This community is why ultrarunning is amazing.


This whole year seems like a dream.

From Zumbro to Angel Fire, Angel Fire to Badwater, Badwater to the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon to Superior, Superior to Yellowstone, Yellowstone to Pinhoti… I think I will hibernate for a while.


Until the next adventure,

do what you love,

love what you do!


Best of Wishes,





The impossible2Possible PERU expedition has started! You can follow the Youth Ambasadors along here!



Please take a moment to check out Maranda’s Ninja Running Facebook Page– like it for awesome daily inspiration injected into your facebook feed!

Yellowstone-Teton 100 Race Recap

Posted by Breanna Cornell on October 12, 2013 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Yellowstone-Teton 100


The theme of this race: Growing up.


I took off from school on Friday to fly out to Idaho Falls, where my brother (Matt) would meet me and we would drive into West Yellowstone together for the prerace meeting. There were so many moments leading up to the start where it felt like the race just would not happen. There was the initial scare when the Federal Government went MIA and the National Parks were closed. Fortunately, this race took place on roads that, while they passed through National Forest, were to remain open and the race permits valid. The following scares commenced in-route to the race; all flights to Denver were grounded due to high winds. Despite arriving in Idaho Falls 2 hours behind schedule, and Matt’s hour late arrival to the airport due to road construction, we were able to make it to the prerace meeting on time.

I could breath.


Awesome view, right?!?


It was really great to be able to see my brother, whose high school graduation I had guiltily missed. It worked out perfectly that his travels across the country for rock climbing coincided with his location and the timing of the race. Not having seen him in 6 months, I was excited to have him crew for me. In addition to Matt, Mark Kreuzer of would be part of our little Y-T team. Mark and I connected through twitter, and he planned on meeting me at the 50 mile mark to join in the latter half of the race.


The drive from Idaho Falls to the pre-race meeting in West Yellowstone revealed the amount of snow the area had received. It was colder than anticipated, but sunny and gorgeous. Matt and I made a plan as we jammed out to some old-school Green Day: Matt would drive no shorter than 5 miles ahead, offering water, food, and any clothing swaps that would be needed. Matt would join the race well rested, sleeping in past the start and joining me about 4 hours in.


The rules of the race were reiterated at the prerace meeting; cars could support runners when stopped, reflective vests must be worn, run into oncoming traffic, pacers could join after 50 miles, and the like. The prerace meeting was small and intimate. When picking up my race packet, the race director, Lisa, give me a hug first and my bib after. There were many respectable (and epic) runners present; Oswaldo Lopez (winner of Badwater this year), Connie Gardner, and Pam Reed, to name a few. Despite the small crowd, I recognized some faces, such as Grant Maughan who had also been at the Superior 100 but a month ago. It was funny to travel across the country, multiple times, and run into the same people at different events. This sport really has a family-like feel in that regard. The warmth of Lisa’s introduction, however, at the meeting (and throughout the rest of the event) sincerely made the Yellowstone-Teton feel like a family reunion.


Long, straight roads


Following the prerace meeting, Matt and I crashed at the hotel whose doors were not 200 feet from the start. Even though I’m 21, had spent the summer away from home in an internship half a country away, and have traveled for multiple races before, I felt like an adult for the first time. Like, a real adult (whatever that means). This is the first trip where I had bought my own plane tickets and hotel room, and was able to pay for my brother. This trip felt like it was completely mine. And that makes one very grown-up feeling.


We fell asleep eating burritos and watching Rio on TV.

Because that’s what grown-ups do.


The following morning had me tip-toing past Matt, out the door, and to the cold, dark start line. With headlamps on and bearing reflective vests, we took off as a neon pack at 6 AM sharp. The first miles were filled with conversation and split times that were too fast to hold for 100 miles. Clouds that blanketed the sky began to lift as the sun rose. The sunrise was spectacular, golden rays finding the gaps between branches, contrasting the snowy blue mood of the landscape. A river of mist wound between the mountain summits and down to the valley where we crested and made our way downhill.



I was going too fast, but I felt good.


Lisa pulled up in her van next to me and called, “Are you cold?


In an over-enthusiastic response, I yelled, “I’m from Michigan!” As if that explained anything…



It was cold out, though. My water bottles froze. At the first aid station, I had them refilled with hot water. With how good my legs were feeling, my stomach was not. I had to stop about once an hour to use the bathroom, and it continued through most of the race. In the beginning, that was all that was slowing me down.



The course was beautiful, but the road brutal. Only 20 miles into the race, and I could feel the long down hills irritating my legs. There were long stretches of road where you felt like you weren’t moving; it was hard to judge your speed, and with the adrenaline that comes with the beginning of a race, it didn’t feel as though you were moving that fast. When my brother caught up to me, about 4 hours in, he yelled “You’re going too fast!”



After the 60 mile mark – the Tetons looked like clouds, wide open farms

From that point on out, Matt would drive 5 miles ahead, stop and wait. When I approached him, I would grab some fuel and he would refill my water bottles. I would continue walking as I ate, and would see him in the next 5 miles. Matt did a phenomenal job. Our stop ‘n goes were flawless. We began to recognize and play leap-frog with surrounding runners’ support crews. It was fun to smile and wave and have short conversations with crews that were stopped. Everyone was super supportive, and even offered some remedies for my stomach woes.





The 50 mile mark.


Holey crud-bucket. I did do that too fast. The 50 miles passed in a blur of crew-stops, audio book, saying hi to crews and Lisa. The cows had mocked me at a cattle guard, where Lisa had thankfully been present to honk them away. A fox had darted across my path, daring me to chase it into the woods. The long stretches of road had continued, the hills tame and spread out.



You’re going too fast! You need to slow down,” Matt offered his warnings again. “Mark is still 3 hours away. He’ll meet us farther down the course, but you need to slow down.



Heeding Matt’s warning, I began to incorporate more walk breaks. The terrain following the 50 mile mark had to be some of the most beautiful along the course. The next 10 miles had winding roads that were narrow, had more hills and towering pines. I found two (expired) license plates on the side of the road, which I carried with me to the next aid station as miniature prizes. My stomach finally began to calm down a bit.



I began to hurt.


Walk. I went from run to walk.


Other racers began to catch up with me. We offered each other words of encouragement as we crested a hill that opened to vast expanses of farms facing the Tetons.



The Tetons.


They were crazy beautiful. The white peaks topping their blue bodies were so high and shear that they almost appeared to be clouds supported by rock. Mark joined me at the next stop.



It’s a weird thing to meet someone in person whom you’ve only communicated with online previously. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. Mark was just the pacer that I needed. Humble and experienced, there was no question that I was going to finish. And his confidence carried over into mine. The 5 miles leading up to when Mark joined me had me dreading walking, trying to jog, hurting, and slowing down. The fun of the event was becoming overwhelmed by pain.



But with Mark, it wasn’t about the pain.


We didn’t talk about what we were doing (traveling a 100 miles on foot). We talked about everything else. As the sun set and stars emerged, the temperature dropped, but our conversation (and Lisa’s homemade soup) sustained us.




Mark, working with in addition to his experience as an ultrarunner, had a vast amount of knowledge to offer. This event became not about the running, but about the conversation. And our conversation turned to social media. And Mark helped me to work through, not just the remaining miles, but a lot of confidence and issues on how to approach things that I had somehow gotten wrapped up in a way that I did not want to be.



I won’t lie and say that I’m not embarrassed by my 3 DNFs. I threw my goals out on the internet without thought. Why? Because I get excited! Who shouldn’t be excited about the prospect of conquering an ambitious goal? But I don’t want to become one of those people who says “I’m going to do XYZ” and then never does. But goals are that: goals. If you set a high goal, it’ll be tougher to reach than if you had set goals that are stepping stones to a larger one. I’ve thrown some of the largest goals I can think of out there. I would love to reach them, and I’m trying.


Finisher's buckle


But Mark brought to light how some of these things can be viewed in social media, like Twitter and Facebook and on blogs. He was honest, which was something I really needed. Sometimes, what you throw out there isn’t interpreted the way you intended. It made me self-conscious about what I had posted in the past, and makes me want to completely eject myself from social media. Offering a solution, Mark reasoned that it doesn’t have to be “I, me, my” as he aims to inspire and promote by highlighting other runners and events.



I felt like a very little kid in a very big World Wide Web.


All I can say is that all I have ever aimed to do in social media is to maintain sincerity, communicate with others of similar interests to gain and share knowledge, hopefully inspire others, and just to share some of my stories.



A motto I have held close to my heart was to “Shoot for the moon, because if you miss, you’ll land among the stars…” but had I been shooting too high, too far, too soon, to fast…?


I counted a total of 11 shooting stars that night.


The cold set in. Ok, so I’m from Michigan, and it’s only 24 degrees, but I’m cold, and my butt is cramping, and I’m doing the “I’m about to fall asleep head-bob.” Some extra layers, hot chocolate whipped up by Matt, a butt massage and Tylenol from Mark, and we kept moving.


And moving.

And hobbling.

And walking.



And then we were there.


There it was! Lisa’s Dreamchaser’s store, the FINISH!


I tried to run, but it was a penguin-run (have you seen penguins run?!?). There was the finish! And all of a sudden, I was across it and in Lisa’s arms. I cried. I hadn’t cried the whole race, and just let it all out. She ushered us into her store to warm up, take our shoes off, relax. A half hour later, Mark headed out with a brief goodbye, having to get back home.


I finished in a time of 24:35:26

taking 16th out of the 26 finishers, 5th out of the 8 female finishers, and first (and only) in my age group. I could not have done it without Matt or Mark, who earned this finish just as much as I did.


Lisa & I at the finish – so many layers!


The top three male finishers, Oswaldo Lopez, Nelson Armstrong, and Grand Maughan all broke the previous course record. Oswaldo and Nelson had a sprint to the end, finishing but 17 seconds apart (Oswaldo in 15:34:51!). Connie Gardner followed in 4th with a time of 18:25:10, also breaking the female course record. All of these finishers, these runners, these people are some of the most humble and inspiring on the planet that I can only say is a group I am privileged to be part of.


Connie, Oswaldo, Lisa, Nelson, Grant

Lisa did an amazing job directing the race – she made all of the soup at the aid stations herself (and it was delicious!). She is one of the most welcoming and wholesome race directors I have ever met. Lisa, I don’t know how you could improve this event more!



Oswaldo & Connie at the airport with their trophies!

After a solid night of sleep, Matt dropped me off at the airport to spend a day in the air. However, while waiting to board, Oswaldo and Connie appeared, carrying their Bison-trophies. It was amazing to be able to spend the last leg of this journey with such accomplished runners!


And so the Yellowstone-Teton 100 came to a close.


I think I learned more about myself in the latter part of the race than I cared to know. I was honored to meet some of the best people in this sport (whether they were finishing first or last). Time was spent with family, and friends who became family. I finally finished a 100.


Part of growing up is conquering challenges, seeing things in a light that might not be the way you want to see things, and accepting that you might not have run the best race, but you finished.


A happy surprise

I wouldn’t change this experience for the world.


(Yellowstone-Teton 100, as a race overall: 5/5)





Do what you love,

Love what you do!




Best of Wishes,


Superior Sawtooth 100

Posted by Breanna Cornell on September 8, 2013 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (6)


Superior 100


This is a blog post I do not want to write.

But I'll write it anyway. Because I have limits, and I'm testing them. And I will break them. But when you try to push your own limits, you risk falling, and lots of it. But falling is not failure, so long as you get back up and try, try again. And, man, did I fall A LOT in the Superior 100.


I am mad, and frustrated, and exhausted.


The fact that I felt prepared for this race by training in the mountains in Arizona, by crewing and pacing at Badwater, and by the Rim2Rim2Rim in the Grand Canyon, was overshadowed by two weekends of long runs prior to my taper that went horribly wrong, a week of driving prior to race week, and my car breaking down on the way over to the race. Thankfully, Amie, who would be crewing and pacing me with Riccardo, had driven over separately so we had another vehicle. We had to leave my car in Duluth to be fixed.


You get to see a lot of these along the Superior Hiking Trail – the course was a point to point along this trail, featuring 20,000 feet of total vertical ascent.

There are many things I could go into about this race– camping the night before with my team and Maranda, all the awesome people at the race, the beautiful views, the stress of my broken car and missing Thursday and Friday of my first week back at school, etc, etc…– but I just don't feel like going into detail.


I am tired.

Somehow managed a smile-ish; so overheating in this photo.


So here it is, long story short:

  • The course was much more technical than I anticipated. Roots and rocks and trees to climb over and under.
  • It was hot. 85ºƒ even though the sun was not out. Not just hot, but muggy. Humidity such as I thought gills would do better than lungs. Arizona had not prepped me for this.
  • I was tired. You should not be asking the universe existential questions by mile 10. My heart wasn't in it. I became clumsy and fell often and hard. I think most of my residual soreness isn't from being on my feet a long time, but from falling so much. My head just wasn't in the run.
  • I didn't feel good. Despite having drank 7 liters of water, I peed once in about 12 hours of running. I was nauseous going uphill and lightheaded going down. I could do nothing right.


I began to wish that the whole trail was board-walk... ahhhhh ankles kill from the technicality!

Why such a bad race?

  • Heat
  • Humidity
  • Possible overtraining (Uh, let's see: Zumbro to Angel Fire, Angel Fire to Badwater, Badwater to Rim2Rim2Rim, Grand Canyon to here, weekend expeditions in-between? But, as any runner can tell you, a couple days off feels too long!)


End result: Me & Amie passed out. No cares were given.


I was not alone. Of the 200 people that registered, 178 started, 85 dropped, and about 65 finished (these are not the official numbers but what I had last seen reported).

5 PM – 5 hours before the 10 PM cutoff.


Honestly, I need a break.

A mental and physical break.

I'm not giving up, I'm just going to take it easy. At least until the next one (which is the first weekend in October). I just got to a point where I was so DONE.

I don't mean to graze over the amazing volunteers and other racers in this blog post, and the amazing job hat Amie and Riccardo did. No, without Amie and Riccardo, I would have dropped two aid stations before I did. The aid station volunteers were amazing, the race organization perfection, the course marked well, and overall an epic experience.


I'd also like to give a shout out to Maranda and her mom, Mary, for being part of my ultra-family, camping and supporting each other! Maranda did awesome in the 50 miler, placing first for her age group.

Maranda wth her awesome award, crafted by the race director, John Storkamp, himself!


As far as qualifying for Badwater 2014 goes, it's not going to happen this year. And maybe that's for the better. It gives me one more year to gain experience, one more year to go back and volunteer, one more year to save money for it (it's expensive!), and less pressure to get the races in before February. I think the pressure of having to qualify right now added an unneeded stress to the races. I need to return to running's roots, the nature and fun of it all, the movement, because I feel that I've lost a bit of that.I might need to throw in an "easier" ultra that I know I can finish strong to build my dwindling confidence back up.


3 attempts at a 100 are 3 things I just don't want to talk about and explain anymore. I've stumbled and fallen, but am still moving forward, learning something new with each race.


Due to the confusion and rush to swap gear from my car to Amie's when broken down, I forgot my charger and ended up not being able to take photos. The photos in this blog post are courtesy of the Superior 100 Facebook page, Maranda, and Riccardo.

Thanks for everyone's love and support. Run strong, my friends, and

Do what you love,

Love what you do.


Best of Wishes,


Angel Fire 100 Race Recap

Posted by Breanna Cornell on June 25, 2013 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (0)

The Angel Fire 100



Where do I even begin?


I performed better and worse than expected.



The Angel Fire 100 course, starting and finishing at the Angel Fire Resort Lodge in New Mexico, is about an 8.5 hour drive from my Arizona internship. Having found a runner in a friend, Danyka – my summer housemate – joined me on this adventure. We drove over on Friday for the packet pickup and check in, passing through gorgeous plains, mountains, and forest fire smoke. Being the college students that we are, we camped out in my car the night before, parked in front of the beautiful Angel Fire Lodge (mocking us with its fanciness).



At the packet pickup, it was announced that the course had been changed from its inaugural layout of last year. The original course (a 12.5 mile out-and-back to be completed 4 times) had to be altered due to the proximity of the forest fires. While the mountainous ski resort was not filled with smoke, it was visible in the distance. Better safe than sorry, eh?



The initial loop.

The new route was a lollipop: a 6.5 mile loop followed by a 9 mile out-and-back, totaling 25 miles per “loop” to be completed 4 times for 100 miles. The alterations meant that aid stations were now ~4.5 miles apart as opposed to one every 3 miles in the original layout. This change was manageable and very minor when taking everyone’s safety into consideration. There were 2 unmanned aid stations, which supplied water only, about 4.5 miles (on the loop) and 11 miles (on top of the mountain) into the course. The manned aid stations were stocked with drink and food (fruit, wraps, PB&Js, gels, chocolate – you name it!) and located at the start/finish and turn around point on the out-and-back.

I didn't take this photo, but where they are riding is the grassy section of the 6 mile loop. The mountain in the background with the bald strip is part of the out and back section.



The race itself, in only its second year, was small, but the runners who I met the evening before the race were enthusiastic – I was excited to get to know them over the race! The 5 AM start time had us at the informal starting line with our head lamps on. Having been training in 100°ƒ+ heat, the cool 40° had me wearing more than just a headlamp. With a “Get set, GO!” we took off (50km runners, 50 mile runners, and 100 milers) down the pavement that lead to the start of the 6.5 mile loop. The loop was flat and fast, featuring only 741 feet of total vertical gain in one go. The grassy flat sections turned into the woods where a smooth dirt trail picked up our route and guided us back onto an exposed gravel trail.



The out-and-back section.

By the time our course took us back to the start finish, I was shedding my jacket and headlamp, leaving it in my drop bag by the aid station. Time to tackle the out-and-back! Immediately, the course began to slant uphill. The out-and-back diverged from the road, up by the chair lift which was being utilized by mountain bikers (hanging their bikes on the back of the lift, riding up, then biking down the mountain). It turned onto a dirt mountain biking trail and took to the woods in steadily climbing switchbacks.



The trees!


Oh my god, I did not realize how much I had missed the trees being in the desert! The tall pines, the smell of moss, even some creeks! We crossed over some small wooden bridges and under others. The birds were my music, the greenery my entertainment.



The dirt single track remained relatively smooth until about 3 miles into the out, where the mountain biking trail deposited us onto the ski hill. Not being covered in snow, the slope was rocky, loose with gravel. The grade became steeper and steeper as we climbed to over 10,000 feet in elevation. The hill seemed like it would never end. The grade became so steep at one point, I began to wonder if this wasn’t a rock climbing competition. Upon reaching the top, though, the view made it totally worth it. By this time, the sun had painted the sky pink, clouds lulling through the morning watercolors.


I was breathless.



Passing the top of the chair lift, zip liners, and the water stop, the trail became a dirt road that wound itself by some lovely mountain homes, a road-side waterfall (a waterfall by desert standards, that is), and stunning vistas over the mountainous landscape below. Flowing mostly downhill, the roads lead to a rather technical rocky two-wheeling section that meandered its way down to the turnaround aid. Stocked with food and some awesome volunteers, I refilled my hydration belt before bracing myself to conquer the downhill.


The downhill was a lot of fun!



(minus the ski hill section)


Honestly, I thought I was going to fall down the mountain on the gravel section at the top of the ski lift. It was killer to try and run down it, because you felt like you were going to fall forward. Each step sent an avalanche of rocks tumbling below and a spasm of muscles. I couldn’t decide which was worse: trying to climb up the thing, or not die on the way down.



I strategized by running down the steep ski slope backwards. It was steep enough where I could lean into the hill and simply look down to see where I was headed behind me. In this manner, I was able to gain more traction and it had less impact on my legs. It wasn’t any slower or faster than running down the hill facing forward, but it made me feel like my life wasn’t as endangered.



The downhill mountain bike portion of the out-and-back was smooth and enjoyable, but had my legs ready to run some up hills after the 4 miles of down. Entering the start/finish aid station to prepare for my second loop had me mostly on my own. With the small field, I was only surrounded by runners for up to the downhill of the back. Now, though, I found myself mostly on my own. I had passed runners on my way down, making their way up the hill, but the next loop became lonely. As the distances between runners on the course increased, so did the temperatures and the wind. The flat grassy section of the loop that had been enjoyable in the morning became a fight with some headwind and direct sun in the afternoon.



Overall, though, I felt AMAZING.



I had this thing DOWN. I knew I was going to finish. I was having fun! It was beautiful, the course was amazing, the scenery, the weather, the people, the energy… if everything was conspiring against me at Zumbro, then everything was conspiring for me at Angel Fire.



Second loop at 50 miles down in 10 hours and 55 minutes.



Danyka cheered and hustled me through the aid station, sending me out to the 6.5 mile loop for the third go-around. She was to join me up the hill to the manned aid station after the loop. The plan was for her to pace me up the hill, then wait for me to come back up on the fourth and final loop to pace down the hill. It was motivation for me – I had to get back to Danyka then it was all downhill from there. We joked: “It’s like you’re the princess waiting in your tower, and I’ll have to climb up to come rescue you!”



A quick change from the New Balance 110s and into the Altra Zero Drops, veggie wrap in hand, water bottles filled, Danyka and I tackled the mountain (albeit, walking). Once atop, Danyka motivated me to run the next section. We made it to the manned aid station just as the sun began to crest the western horizon, spewing pinks and oranges across the sky. With the birds asleep and Danyka’s conversation gone, Danyka sent me out with the iPod, some peanut M&Ms (YUM!), and a tracker (each runner [4 of us at this point were left running in the 100] was outfitted with a tracker when it got dark in case we 1. got lost or 2. got in a fight with a mountain beast so they could find our bodies [I kid]).



About a mile later, I hit a wall.


But I knew it would happen, at one point or another, multiple times, and that I would also get through it.


I pushed on.



It was dark, but not dark enough for me to turn the headlamp on. It began to cool off; I’d have to grab my jacket at the bottom. I was on easy dirt roads and the moon was bright being the closest to the Earth that it will be for the year. My legs were heavy at this point, and I was dragging my feet a bit. Upon approaching the aid station, I forgot about the small gravel drop from the road to the trail, slid and fell.



Got up, brushed off, no harm done.


Took a step, left leg felt a bit funny, no big deal.


Get down the hill.



Passing the ski lift, down to the steep slope, slid again, fell. Stood up. Leg spasms. Stood up. Step forward.





Not a “I can push through this pain and it’ll go away” pain. A “oh crap, what did I do now?” pain.


Behind the left knee. No matter, I’m going to make it down this hill. I’m going to finish!



Hill too steep for hamstring to handle? No problem, I’ll go down on my butt!


I began to crab-walk down the hill, throwing my legs out in front of me, lifting myself up, scoot forward, repeat. It was painfully slow. After some time, a headlamp created the hill and up came the other female still in the race. I cheered her on as she cheered me. Soon, she was lost in the dark, somewhere above me. Having seen her, I tried to stand up once more, wobbled, cramped, sat back down.





40 minutes passed.



Just make it past this steep section, I told myself, where it isn’t as steep, then you’ll be able to walk. You can walk the rest of this and still finish under cutoff.




It was getting cold. Not really moving, I had lost some body heat. My hip flexors began to cramp. I wasn’t even to the steepest section of trail yet.




What if I got to the bottom of the steep part, and found that I couldn’t limp the remaining 3.5 miles down the hill to the manned aid station? What if I got stuck on the middle of the hill? In the dark? How would they get to me? There was no easy way.


I sat there for an unknown amount of time thinking it over. At least there was a road up by the unmanned aid station. To be wise or stubborn? To finish at the expense of injury or DNF without taking the risk of the mountain? A half mile back up or four miles down? Analyzing the situation, I reminded myself that I had to be fit to pace at Badwater not three weeks away. I didn’t want to put the race coordinators or the resort in a bad situation if it so happened that I got stuck on the mountain.




In the opposite direction. Up. Back up to the unmanned aid station. As the hill became less steep, I stood, walking in a sideways type fashion as my hamstring became a limiting factor. Nearing midnight, I became cold in shorts and a tee shirt. I huddled by the generator exhaust to keep warm.


How much time passed before Pete came running into the aid station? I do not know. Seeing me, I asked him to let the next manned aid station know that I couldn’t make it down the hill. He headed out, looking strong. Another half hour passed until another runner came through. I let him know I was alright, but he offered me his jacket anyway. A short time after he headed out, the race director, Chiholm, pulled up in his SUV.


Chiholm asked if I was alright – they hadn’t seen my tracker moving and were hoping that I had simply dropped it. I informed him of the situation, and he loaded me into his car, whereupon we drove to pick Danyka up from the turnaround.


It was at this time that I learned that there had only been 4 of us on the course: The woman, Pete, the man who had offered me his jacket, and myself.


It was also at this time that I learned that I had been in first. Since the end of the first loop.


It was learned at this time that, not only had I been in first, but I had been in first by 2 hours.





Given, it was a small field (about 20 runners started the 100, I think). I was told not to feel bad, that it was a tough course, that they only had one runner finish last year (I just know how to pick tough races, huh?). But here’s the thing: I don’t feel bad.




Because I know that I played it smart.


Because I know that I would have finished.


Because I felt GOOD; physically and mentally.


Because I preformed well.


Because (almost) everything went right!


Because I had fun.



Yes, I’m frustrated with my hamstring. Yes, I’m sad that I didn’t finish. Yes, I’m upset that this is one more DNF and race that doesn’t count towards Badwater qualification. But I can’t help but be happy about this race. 71 miles is the farthest that I’ve gone in one go to date. Just how good I felt throughout the whole thing was a confidence boost. I can’t complain about a race or DNF I sincerely enjoyed.



And there’s always another 100.


Why keep at the 100s when I seem to keep struggling?


I know I can do marathons and do them well. I could probably do them a lot better if I focused on them. But I know I can do them. Why not pursue 50 milers? I know I can do those too. They’re done and over with in a day. A hundred miles? That’s a challenge. That’s something I don’t know. And you know what? When I do finish my 100, it’s going to feel so much sweeter.



I’ll be honest: marathoning came relatively easily, as did 50 miles. I’m struggling with the hundred mile distance. I am. It’s something I’m not used to. Maybe I’m picking hard courses. Maybe I underestimate the distance. Maybe I’m inexperienced. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe I just need to keep trying.






give up on a dream because you fail once, twice, a hundred times. Accept that the challenge is part of the enjoyment of accomplishing something. I know that when I put that belt buckle on in the future that I will have felt that I earned it, worked for it, deserve it because I will know all of the sweat and tears that went into it. It will be so much sweeter than my marathoning metals, so much more fulfilling than the 50 mile award.



I failed. And I’m happy. Because I know I can do it, will do it.


Never give up.



Angel Fire 100            


50 miles in 10:55:--


71 miles in ~17 hours




(Results not posted at time of writing this blog)

Results page here: Link

~ 20 people started the 100

3 people were left running when I dropped. 



Shout outs to:


Danyka Deno Niesche – Pacer & epic friend


Chisholm Deupree – Awesome race director


All the people at the aid stations



Do what you love,


love what you do!


Best of Wishes,



Zumbro100 2013

Posted by Breanna Cornell on April 16, 2013 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (4)

Zumbro 100 Race Recap

Man, did I pick a heck of a first 100 to run!

I signed up for the Zumbro 100 back in December, and started training promptly following winter break in January. After a re-surge in some knee pain that I had experienced last year, I rushed back to Rick– the coach who had helped me through injury last year and up to i2P Botswana– and he helped me to modify my training plan to compensate. Injury avoided, I struggled with the loss of my dog, missing a big long run weekend to spend time with her before her passing. The winter was headstrong in Michigan, making trails unrunable and the roads a challenge.

Despite the hurtles faced in training, I felt ready. 

Let's do this.



A couple months prior to the race, I had been paroozing Zumbro's site on the "Who's Registered" page. I saw that someone– Ian– from town was also racing. I got in contact with Ian, only to find out that he works at the school that I attend. It was perfect! Ian's parents lived halfway between us and the event. We drove the 3 1/2 hours Wednesday night, packet pickup being Thursday and the 100 mile event starting on Friday at 8 AM. Ian's event, the 50 miler, didn't start until midnight Friday night/ Saturday morning. Breaking the 7 hour drive in half seemed wise before racing.

The weather had been gloomy in Michigan and, as we soon learned, also in Minnesota. After a comfortable night at Ian's parents' home, we drove the rest of the way. It was raining, but the drive wasn't awful.

That is, until we starting looking for the campground.

The campground was where the race packet pickup, start, and finish were to be for all distances (17, 50, and 100 miler). The campground was down some country dirt roads that became difficult to navigate with potholes filled with water. I was thankful that Ian had a truck!

Cookout the night before.

The cookout at the campground was delicious, meeting the other runners exciting, and my nerves were building. I slept at the campground in the bed of the truck due to the fact that the ground was so wet and because I just wanted to be able to wake up, roll out of my sleeping bag, and race! The rain pattered on the truck bed's cover, dripping on my face. I pulled my rain jacket over my head and ignored it, waking up some time later to find the dripping had stopped.

The reason: the rain had turned to snow!

Zumbro had been advertised as having temperatures in the 70s (ºƒ;), dropping to just below 40. I was fine with that, having trained in snow and cold. The snow was beautiful, and didn't seem like an issue as we toed the starting line. The prior days' bad weather might have deterred or prevented people from coming, as 81 people had registered for the 100 miler online, but only 69 of us stood there ready to go.

This was it!

We were off!




Start of the race!

I knew that we were going fast, but an ultra "fast" always feels like an easy pace for the first 25 or so miles. We sprung, filled with excitement and energy, out of the campground and into the woods.

The Zumbro race course consisted of one loop, 16.7 miles in distance. The aid stations were spaced such that the farthest distance between the two was under 5 miles. The loop featured beautiful bluffs with spectacular views, rewarding you for the steep ascent (at points, it was not unreasonable to use trees to help yourself up the hill). Atop one of the bluffs, I spotted an eagle soaring parallel to my path. Watching it instead of where I was going, I promptly stumbled. The course, in addition to eagles, featured several stream crossings over logs, a river crossing with a bridge (crossed twice per loop), and downhills thatdefended at a frightening pitch.

It was beautiful.
And it was TOUGH.


Map & elevation profile of the course.

Out towards the front of our group, I was able to experience the first loop before the snow had been stamped into the dirt by so many runners. Despite the trail being clearly marked, the snow covered what would have been an otherwise clearly visible trail. We made slight deviations in the first half of the loop as we missed some turns. I walked the uphills, despite feeling like I could bounce up them, keeping in mind the distance ahead.

The trail was already muddy and wet, and it only got worse. Despite this, I finished the first loop (3:07:00-ish) feeling good. Entering the second loop with wet feet, I determined that it wouldn't be any use changing shoes as they would be wet again within the first mile. The slopes that had been snow covered had melted into a muddy mixture. Each step forward was a slight slip back.

Having fun!

The uphills became climbs where I pushed my knees with my hands to get forward momentum. The downhills became a battle with gravity and friction (or lack there of). There was one down hill in particular: a ~400 foot drop over a half mile that featured mud, rocks, and trees. I felt like I needed either a.) a sled, b.) a helmet, c.) a doctor at the bottom of the hill or d.) all of the above. The flats– when they were there– were sandy, watering holes, or mud.

An uphill climb! (The kid in front is super inspirational too! Logan Polfuss is only 17 and has been running 100s for a while– check it out: all the cool kids that come to Zumbro!)

I spent most of the second loop alone, save for a man who I chatted with a bit towards the end of the loop. I was already having a mental battle. My hip flexers and lats were feeling the burn on the uphills and from fighting slippage so much. I really didn't want to leave the start/finish aid station already. Knowing that I usually have a low around mile 30, I forced myself into my 3rd loop.

Heading back into the woods was painful. It was lonely. I was hurting already. It shouldn't be this difficult! I decided that I would walk for a bit. I told myself that it was OK to walk. This decision made me feel better.

Joe Boler at one of the river crossings.

As I walked, a man came at me from the opposite direction. He looked dazed. "Are you alright?" I asked.

He looked at me worriedly, and responded, "I hit my head on a tree back there. I don't feel right." I reassured him that the start/finish was less than a quarter mile away. He seemed alright enough to get back by himself.

I hiked until I reached the top of the first hill, at which point I began to feel better. Coming down the first muddy downhill, I almost slid off the turn of the path, saving myself by grabbing a tree. On the next uphill, I felt like I was marching in place– I was fighting the mud so much. Screw it, I thought, and grabbed a handful of mud and started to smear it on my face.

"I don't want to fight you, mud!" I actually said aloud. Yeah…

Photo taken after race.


As I slid around the course, I laughed at my blunders, tried not to be so stressed. I plugged myself in to my iPod and jammed to my favorite band. I sang along out loud to my favorite songs. Despite my efforts to remain upbeat, I fell into a low again.


I hit a very low low.


It took me an hour and a half to go about 3.5 miles between aid stations at this low. It was painfully slow. I jogged when I could, and it wasn't any one thing that hurt, but just overall complete exhaustion. Or maybe everything hurt? I couldn't tell.

I was getting cold.
And then I caught up to Tony Oveson.

Tony was booking along with some poles, he smiled and we chatted for a bit. I got ahead for a bit, and when Tony caught up to me, I realized that his company was keeping me focused and more upbeat. Tony is this incredible ultrarunner; his positivity, passion, accomplishments, and experience were so inspiring, and he was willing to share it all. I walked with Tony through the last two aid stations to the start/finish of the loop.

Upon approaching the last aid station, night was falling. I began to wonder how I was going to negotiate the hills in the dark. If I was moving slowly now, how slow would I be at night? I was cold and shivering as I asked Tony about how the 50-milers (starting at midnight) would even know where the drop offs in the trail were. Tony, nodding, said "I'm going to stop at the start and take a four wheeler to the bottom of the hill back there. I suspect that there are going to be some broken arms and knee caps tonight."

Tony and I the following morning!

This statement worried me. I didn't have confidence going down those hills in the light, let alone the dark. In the light, I wasn't as fatigued as I was now. My stomach started doing summersaults.

As Tony and I approached the start/finish, the clock read:

11:59:30, 11:59:31, 11:59:32

"Let's make it under 12!" I exclaimed, and we ran past the checkpoint just as the clock turned 12:00:00.

I was at 50 miles.
Tony had disappeared. I was freezing. I grabbed some grub from the tent and meandered over to the campfire. Even next to the flame, I was cold. I didn't want to change my wet socks and shoes because it felt pointless. I sat down. I didn't feel like I could move anymore. There were others around the campfire, telling me to warm up, change clothes, head back out, but I didn't really see or hear them– just the fire.

Oh, that? That's nothing... just one of the downhills.

I had a heck of a time motivating myself for the 3rd loop. Looking out at the dark woods, flurries of snow drifting down, I felt paralyzed. One more loop. One more loop. One more loop.







Just go.


Just go.

Get up.

Just. GO.

I couldn't get up. Not mentally, not physically. It wasn't one thing, but everything. I began to cry as I whispered to the woman next to me, "I can't go back out."

Dat mud.

I had been sitting at the fire for a half hour trying to muster up the courage, the strength, some warmth, to go back into the dark, cold, wet woods, before whispering those words. Devastation, disappointment, and a strange sense of relief engulfed me with the utterance of my decision.

As if on cue, Ian and his family arrived moments later. Ian's mother rushed me to her car were we put the heat on full blast and I huddled with a space blanket and sleeping bag to warm up. I hadn't realized how cold I really was until, 30 minutes later, I began to stop shivering. Ian's family was kind enough to invite me back to their cottage where I showered, ate and rested. We returned to cheer Ian on as he phenomenally finished the 50 miler.

Of course, after some food and rest you begin to question your decision. Maybe if I had eaten something at the campfire… maybe if I had a pacer… maybe if I just started the loop… maybe if I hadn't sat down… But speaking with other runners the morning following my DNF, I began to feel less bad about the decision. I spoke with many runners who had also DNF'd (most of us around the 50 mile mark).



80 people registered.

69 runners started.

39 DNF'd.

30 finished.


A HUGE kudos to all the runners who finished! I am very humbled and very impressed. A kudos should also be given to all the runners who ran. We all did the training to get to Zumbro, we all battled at least one loop of the course, and that says something.


All I have to say in regards to DNF'ing is that I learned a lot. The conditions at Zumbro really required training on trails, which were not available this winter. I learned a lot from the other runners. I am in awe of how positive and supportive everyone– runners, volunteers, family members, friends, pacers– were of each other. The community was incredible! I learned that many of these amazing folk are going to be at the Superior Fall Races as well and I look forward to running with them all again!

The day following running 50/100, I felt like I had been hit by a bus. I hadn't even been that sore or tired after racing 50 in August, or the i2P expedition. Staying active– jogging a mile or so and helping out where I could– loosened up my muscles. Today (4 days later) I feel recovered. I'd like to go back right now and take a stab at it again! But, that's what next year's race is for, no?

Biggest lesson learned: It's the experience that counts, not your finish.

Zumbro, we shall meet again! 


Zumbro gets top marks!

The trail was difficult, and I would consider it totally doable in dry conditions. It's doable in wet conditions (as the killer runners who finished proved!) just that much tougher. The trail was well marked and easy to follow. The aid stations were AMAZING with awesome food (veggie soup, energy gels, Swedish fish, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), positive volunteers, and campfires. Zumbro had some pretty amazing photographers, such as Eric Forseth (view his photos of the race here). If you're into goodie bags, Zumbro has a good one! Water bottle, towel, awesome race shirt, energy gel and bar made me feel not so bad about missing out on the buckle. Hey, that awesome race shirt can keep me warm. Can a buckle do that? I think not… :)

Zumbro Website

Zumbro Facebook


As always,


Do what you love,

love what you do!


Best of Wishes,


100 Miles: The Prep and Countdown

Posted by Breanna Cornell on April 5, 2013 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

You guys, I am freaking out!

It is but 7 days until the Zumbro 100 - my first 100-miler!

It has been a long time coming, with some intense training, some step backs, and some large leaps forward. Through out training for 100 miles I have learned much, mostly that a social life does not like to coexist with training. 

I signed up for the Zumbro 100 back in December, following the impossible2Possible Botswana Expedition. I did not know how quickly the race would come! After taking about 3 weeks easy following the Botswana Expedition, I began to build off of the endurance from the training with i2P. Incorporating back to back long runs on the weekends, strength training twice a week, a tempo run and a hill repeat workout, I felt that my plan was solid.

In Feburary, though, the over-use injuries that had plagued me last year around the same time began to squirm their way back into my muscles. Panicked, I contacted my coach from last year, and he helped me to work out the training schedule to allow for maximum recovery during the week so as to maintain my long runs on the weekends. After building up to back to back long runs of 15 (Friday), 30 (Saturday), 25 (Sunday), the taper commenced! 

And the taper is driving me crazy! 

A taper is the time frame before a race where the volume and intensity of training is reduced so that the body can rest, repair, recover, and prepare for the future race. Cutting back from high-volume training can make a taper feel like you have too much energy. I have learned in the past, though, to trust the taper! Fitness will not be lost in this time frame, and the body should recover, rebuild, and stengthen at reduced volume. The hardest part of a taper can be mentally preparing yourself for the task at hand. 

Not gonna lie, I never said 100 miles was short! 

Wrapping your head around a distance can be difficult. Suggestions on how to approach a race of an intimdating distance include mentally visualizing yourself running it. Today, each time I glance at the clock I've been thinking about pacing. Zumbro starts at 8 AM. At this time, I'll have completed 15 miles. I'll stop at that aid station and grab some fuel within the next couple of miles. I'll be passing through the start of the loop in about 15 minutes ... thoughts to this extent. 

I have found that this approach is calming my nerves. You can try this method for any race distance. Do you have any methods that you employ to calm the pre-race jitters or to mentally prepare yourself for a race? 

Challenges Faced in Training:

Weather. I ran outside. Everyday. It was cold, painfully so at points. The trails are still snowed in, and only in the past week have we seen the sun. The winds are wicked - I battled winds upwards of 30 mph on long runs. The snow on the roads was like running on sand, the ice offering no friction. I negotiated cars and snowmobiles after being snowed off the trails. My Camelbak froze often, despite using warm water and wearing it under my shell. The layers upon layers of clothing were restrictive - I was either wearing too much, or too little. Regardless, winter offers some of the most beautiful scenery of the year!

A rare winter sunset.

Over-Training. I was overtrained. Despite the fact that I felt recovered from Botswana, the knee pain accompanied with mental exhaustion indicated otherwise. Lukily, last year's experiences with injury allowed me to catch it early enough for it to have little overall effect in training. 

Timing. We've all been busy: school, work, training, social life (or lack there of). It's a challenge to find balance. Prioritizing becomes important, and learning when that it is alright to say "No, I'm sorry, I can't go out tonight." 

Loosing a Friend. The week I learned that my dog, Speedy, was ill was the worst long run weekend. Upon arriving home to spend time with her, it was too painful to go to the trails for a long run without her company, knowing that she was at home, dying, without me. I didn't complete my long runs as scheduled that weekend. Spending time with my family and Speedy took priority. I felt guilty for skipping out, but it was time better spent. 

Challenges accepted and overcome, Zumbro is almost here! I feel as ready as I am going to be. Here's to hoping the weather is agreeable, the trails in good condition, and for a good time! 

Thank you to everyone who has followed on this journey and for your support! 


What mental strategies do you use to prepare for a race?

What are some challenges that you face in training?

How do you over come challenges? 

Comment below or post on Twitter (@love2Bre)

impossible2Possible Update

i2P's next expedition in Utah is quickly approaching! They will be examining the history of the earth in geology and dinosaurs (how neat is that?)! Be sure to follow on Twitter (@GOi2P, #GOi2P) and online: i2P websitei2P blog.

A side note:

For the Zumbro 100, I am writing the names of loved ones on my race bib, kind of as a commemorance for Speedy. If you have any loved ones who you would like to be included (animal or otherwise), let me know in the comments or via Twitter (@love2Bre).

As always,

do what you love,

love what you do!

Best of Wishes,


The North Country 50!!!

Posted by Breanna Cornell on August 26, 2012 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The North Country Run

50 Mile Ultra!

August 25th, 2012


This race was amazing. As my first ultra race, I could not have asked for a better experience! It was simultaneously the most joyful and painful experience of my life thus far.


There's so much I could talk about surrounding this event, so, here goes…


Race Prep

My friend and fellow Techie, Alex, drove up the night before the race to camp out at a free "camp ground." It was actually a very kind family's yard, donating their space to racers who wished to sleep but a mile from the race start without a fee to pitch their tent. They were even kind enough to provide a spaghetti dinner and bonfire. There, Alex and I met some pretty chill runners. We had some awesome conversations over noodles and bonded over drawing a group picture, each person adding their own element.

Meeting a running hero.


At packet pick up earlier that day, Alex and I had the pleasure of meeting ultra runner Marshall Ulrich. He had just finished his run around Badwater and gave quite an inspirational speech that made me want to run more than the coming 50 miles. Knowing that he was going to be there, I brought my copy of his book "Running on Empty" to get it signed. A very grounded and loving person! If you haven't read his book, you should– inspirational not only for the feats he has done, but for the unconditional love that this man possesses.


Race Day

Woke early to a clear, humid morning and breakfast of chia seeds and oatmeal. Alex dropped me off at the race start, and returned to the tent to clean up; he was going to volunteer at aid stations for the rest of the day. I met up with my pacer, Ben, and his dad. The race start time got pushed back from 7:40 am to 8:00 am due to some fallen trees near the last aid station. Before we knew it, though, it was go time.


We took off, Marshall Ulrich driving a four wheeler around the small paved loop that we did before we took to the woods. I fell into pace with a group of three other runners. It was funny, because we were all connected in some way– one of the girls recognized me from the Waga Marathon and works at a local running store in my area, the other woman was good friends with my pacer, and the man was friends with the woman, and I had run into him on one of my training runs that corresponded with a 50k race in the area. Small world. We made a nice pacing group for about the first 13 or more miles, talking about everything. The woods were absolutely beautiful, with the low angle of the sun, ferns and pine everywhere. Our group eventually broke up, Kate and I running ahead.


The course was a 25 mile loop, following the same path that the marathoners took. It was a bit frustrating, fighting to pass some of the slower marathoners, as the trail was single track. The last 10  miles of the loop consisted of hill after hill after hill. I honestly didn't really notice the hills the first loop. I just jogged up them, maintaining constant effort. I walked up 2 hills, I think. I didn't stop at any of the aid stations– I didn't need to. I had some GU chomps and a 2L camelbak. I ate one bag of the chomps and drank all of my 2L in the first 25 miles and still felt good.

I came out of the first of the 25 mile loops in about 4 hours.

I PR'd for the trail marathon within the 50 miler!

Ben was an awesome pacer!


Ben joined me at mile 25 to pace. I slowed down considerably. Kate ended up passing me early in the second loop, moving into second place for the women. Although I fell into a low around mile 30, my spirits were still up. Ben was pretty inspiring himself, and we talked a lot for the first half. The temperatures were rising by this point, with the sun at high noon, reaching into the 90s (ºƒ). I wound up drinking another 2L of water before the 12 mile mark of the second loop. Ben was really good at reminding me to eat, even though Gu is all about I can stomach during a race.


Drew strength from Marshall's message in his book "Running on Empty."

The trails were really sandy, like loose sand-dune sand. A lot of it had gotten in my shoes (NB 110s) early in the race. With the rising temps, feet swelling, I felt blisters building. With about 11 miles to go, it hit like a nuke; a blister on my pinky toe. I stopped dead in my tracks, whipped off my shoe, and drained it with my race bib's pin. I tried to put my shoe back on, but it was too painful. I felt really stupid– the blister wasn't much to look at; how could something so small hurt so much? So I ran-walked, one foot shod and the other in just a sock to the next aid station, thankfully only a quarter mile away. This was the first aid station I had really stopped at. At the aid station, Ben's dad sprinted to get some duct tape, Phil taped my toe up, and Ben gave me a different pair of socks and ibuprofen. We were out of the aid station sooner than I had hoped and back in the race.

The unfortunate pit stop made me more determined to finish than ever. Even if I had to walk the rest of the race at that point, I would still have qualified for Western States 100, which was my ultimate goal (as well as to remain uninjured). That brought me out of a low point.


The last half of the second loop, though, was pretty brutal. The blister behind me, I went from feeling awesome to feeling awful within five minute intervals. Ben was good at putting perspective on things, and pushing when appropriate.

Rounding into the finish- ditched the camelbak for the last 2 miles.


I finally made it around the final bend to the finish, to find a happy surprise: my parents had driven 2.5 hours to watch me finish! Seeing them fueled my final "sprint" (aka, shuffle) through the finish line. Then I happily collapsed.


6 Liters of water,

6 packs of Gu,

2 pairs of socks,

dozens of new friends,

50 miles,

and 9 hours 5 min and 22 seconds later,

I had qualified for Western, run one of the most beautiful trails in Michigan, and not only finished the race, but placed 3rd overall for the women.


The finisher's medals were HUGE and the after race cook out delicious. There were SO many inspiring people there– this was also Megan's (the first place woman) first 50 miler, as well as Kate's (second place woman); a marathoner had just completed Leadville last weekend, and then paced a friend for the second half of the 50. David, 64 years young, finished in 13 hours. Everyone was so positive and supportive of each other, sharing and drawing strength from one another, I wasn't sure if I was breathless from running or from the beauty of it all.


Official Time: 09:05:22

Average Pace: 10:54 min/mile

2nd / 4 age group 18-24

3rd / 37 women's category

17th / 117 overall


Official Race Results HERE.

North Country Run Official Website HERE.


A HUGE thanks to:

Alex Kuck - friend & volunteer,

Ben VanHoose & his father- pacer & support,

Phil Stapert - duct taper extordinaire,

Ryan Hansard - camping comedian,

the family that lent their yard for racers to camp & the dinner they provided,

all of the racers who became friends on the race course,

and, of course, my parents :)


As always,

Do what you love,

and love what you do!


Best of Wishes,


the Waugoshosance Marathon 2012

Posted by Breanna Cornell on July 14, 2012 at 10:10 PM Comments comments (1)

Today I ran the Waugoshosance Marathon!

(don't even ask me to pronounce that- I just call it "Waga")


I adopted a new motto:

You have your good races,

and you have your bad races,

it doesn't matter which one you're running,

just don't quit.

This race wasn't my best, but it wasn't my worst.


I drove the four hours from Grand Rapids to Mackinaw Friday evening and stayed at a campsite instead of a hotel. Woke up at 4:30 am, packed up, and drove to where they were going to bus the marathon runners to the start, the race being a point-to-point course. There were 108 marathoners on two school busses, heading to the woods at 5:30 in the morning- it was quite the 30 minute bonding experience. Twenty-two different states were represented in our small field and a man from Singapore. I love how races bring so many people from different walks of life together.

The start of the race.


The race started just before the forecasted 7am start time. The sky was cloudy, the temperature hovering around 70ºƒ, and the air at 80% humidity. I was so thankful for the cloudy skies- when the sun came out later today, the temperature skyrocketed to 95ºƒ. The humidity I could have done without.


I took off at a ridiculous pace- a sub seven min/mile for the first two miles. My Garmin was completely useless in this race. It told me that I was running at an 8:30 pace- given the trees and cloud cover, my watch was off by two miles from the trail markers by mile 8. The trail was so well marked, though, that I could have run without my Garmin and used a normal watch for splits. I ran the first 5k in under 21 minutes.

The Waga follows the North Country Trail.


On mile four, the hills hit. They weren't long, but they were steep and sandy. After mile eight, though, the hills virtually vanished. The course had mild inclines, some short (not as steep hills), beautiful views of lakes, fields, and pine forest.


Around mile 14, my stomach began to ache. Ache as in I needed to throw up. Ache as in twisting and nausea. I slowed down. It hurt. I pushed through it. Oh my god, if I could just throw up, maybe I would feel better… Was it something I ate? Was I dehydrated? Was it related to being sick earlier this week?


I had had two cliff bars and some dried fruit for breakfast and each runner was required to carry a 20oz water bottle or equivalent hydration system. I ran with my bottle about half full and drained it between each aid station (separated by 3-4 miles). I'm not sure what went wrong, but it didn't matter. The worst part was that my legs felt phenomenal, but my abdominal … no.

They printed these nifty slips off for the finishers.


The race stopped being fun. Every time I tried to pick up the pace, my stomach would cramp and I wanted to stop and bend over to clench my stomach. Around mile 18, I realized that I was running a pace I could walk. So I said "to heck with it" and walked. I looked up from the trail, and looked around. The splendor of the woods, the pines, everything I had been missing while pushing with my head down, surprised me. I walked about a half mile, then jogged. Walked a half mile, jogged.



I attributed my poor performance the past couple of weeks in training to stress. The woods was taking that away. Back to the basics- the trail and I. This wasn't a qualifying race for anything. This wasn't for a PR. I had entered this race as a gauge and practice for the North Country 50 miler I'll be doing in August. Why am I killing myself for something so trivial? I decided to lay off, enjoy the race, the people, the trail, and avoid injuring myself or making myself legitimately sick.

Crossing the finish line!


I started uttering my mantra as I got passed time and again, as demoralizing as it is. But I also caught people who were struggling the same and our footsteps chanted together:

You can't win every race, you can't PR every race, but that doesn't mean you can't race.


I averaged about a 9 min/mile for the first 19 miles, and started a run-walk routine around mile 18. I continued the run-walk through mile 23 and then ran the last 3.2 miles, hammering out 8-9 min/miles for the last two miles. My legs had it in them, for sure.


I finished in 4 hours, 35 minutes, and 22.9 seconds.

I averaged a 10:30 min/mile


I ended up finishing 33rd overall- there were 108 people who started, and 84 who finished. I placed first (and last) in my age group, and 9th out of 31 for my gender.


Not too shabby, all things considered.


Lessons learned:

Sometimes it is better to race wisely and for the day.

Some races test your ability to push through, not your physical strength.

Don't forget to enjoy the race, the opportunity to meet people and go places you otherwise may not have.


About the Waugoshosance Marathon


It was the inaugural Waugoshosance Marathon & Half. The course followed the North Country Trail starting south of Mackinaw City (Michigan), and followed the trail all the way into Mackinaw City. I was very impressed with the organization of the race. Every mile was marked clearly, there was no question of what direction you should take at turns, and aid stations provided cold water, energy gel, and an electrolyte drink. I thought the course was relatively flat for a trail marathon, but the trails offered plenty of sand, rocks, roots, twists and turns to test your technical ability.

The finisher's medals were made by local artists- wood! Very cool!


I wish more information had been provided before hand (like if there was going to be a gear check) and that there were some long sections without an aid station were one was sorely needed, but for the first year of a race, it was phenomenal.

The age trophies were also made by local artists- this is my age place trophie.


Check out the official site to learn more about the race (like how they support sustainability!) here.



Well, I hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

I'm going to treat myself to some homemade tacos...


Best of Wishes,