Tracy Cooley

Crazy Good Potato Soup (but No Warm Hat) at the Devil Dog 100k

2023 was a big year for the Devil Dog races with three new race directors and this was one of the reasons that I wanted to run it. Although I have not forgotten the original race director: Toni Becerra. Seeing both Toni and her partner in crime Bob Gaylord at this year’s race was uplifting… since Devil Dog wouldn’t be Devil Dog without them.

I have known one of the new RDs - Pat Early - since volunteering with him at the Icy-8 many (many) years ago and I had full confidence knowing that this year’s race was going to continue to meet the same high standards as previous year’s events.

Tracy Cooley

A highlight was meeting Justin Contois, another new race director, and he was charming and welcoming. He told me to let him know if there is anything he could do to make sure I had a great race experience. Felt more like I had just checked into a luxury hotel; I give this race 5 gold stars!

Coming in the night before also allowed me to avoid all the parking issues, a quick shuttle ride in the Stan-mobile and I was all set!

I made my way to the bunk house, which was delightful as usual. Warm and cozy…. and I’m always happy to meet new people and check in on race plans and general sentiment. Plus, I get a break from sharing my bed with the dog!

Race morning was similarly calm and organized, I was starting to look forward to a great race!

The pre-race briefing

Loop one was uneventful as expected. I met many new friends and got to share stories from the ice storm in 2016 (best Devil Dog ever!), and also was asked for my advice many times. Because even though I’ve DNF’d the 100-miler twice, I learned so many good lessons that I hope others can use.

In particular, I recommended fueling up and loading up on caffeine before getting to Camp Remi for loops four and five. In my experience, getting out of the aid station was the biggest challenge and if your energy is already low then it is particularly challenging.

Above all else, I knew that the key to being successful at Devil Dog is setting a consistent pace and getting through aid stations quickly. I stuck to my plan and was always within 30-45 minutes of coming into and out of the aid stations. I needed to change my shoes early (poor planning, I meant to grab lavender Solomons but instead grabbed older teal Solomons), so killed some time earlier than expected. I factored that in and knew I would save time later (and I did get back on track for the most part).

Tracy coming up to the aid station at Camp Toofy.

I was on top of fueling from the beginning, so my energy never tanked. Since I have often struggled with this in longer distance races, I was feeling especially excellent and my spirits were indeed high. The highlight of loop one was the potato soup at Toofy, which I later learned was made from scratch by Barry Hauptman. Potatoes are go-to aid station fare for me at any and every race - but that potato soup was memorable.

Unlike loop one, loop two was eventful. Most importantly, I got to see my crew and pacers for the first time - Sam and Josie. Now it felt like an ultra since I was part of a team. Another loop two highlight was more potato soup at Toofy (notice a theme here?).

Also on loop two, I came across a group of runners trying to help someone who was seriously struggling. I sent them on their way so that they weren’t losing time. I pulled out my mobile pharmacy and gave him amino acids, Tums (to help metabolize the electrolytes he had just taken), and some Skratch for extreme dehydration. I told him to drink the Skratch slowly to ensure that he needed it, he assured me that he knew he was extremely dehydrated.

Impromptu aid for a struggling runner on the trail

Later, I learned that he finished the 100-miler in last place with about five minutes to spare. Stories like this are what ultra running is all about in my opinion. Not only did he come back from a miserable situation, but he persevered with such grit and determination that he was able to actually get it done. And this year’s race was particularly challenging with all the rain, which brings me to loop three.

I had a 3-phase plan for this race and my plan for loop three was simple - Remind myself that this is what I came for since I love running long distances. I stuck to my plan.

Cruised through aid stations, always planning and preparing for what was ahead, I kept energy levels high and I kept running. I picked up Sam - my first pacer - at Camp Remi and we got to share some fun and fast (for me) miles until the rain slowed things down a bit. Having someone with me always makes me more needy, but Sam had a solution for all that ailed me (and there was a lot). It definitely helps to have an experienced pacer, she helped me think through all the issues and think ahead before getting to Toofy so we would have a plan.

Tracy with Sam in the dark, but prior to the rain …

I was worried that Josie (daughter) would be tired and wouldn’t want to run in the rain but that girl always amazes me. She was ready to go, and had already gathered lots of aid station stories that she could entertain me with along the way.

Sam was insistent on making sure I would be warm, so we packed up my favorite warm hat and gloves… then I remembered, potato soup. I couldn’t leave Toofy without more potato soup. Turned my back for a minute… and then caught up with Josie as she took off down the trail.

Even though we had four hours to run 6.25 miles, I quickly realized that running was not a good idea with the increasingly challenging conditions from the relentless rain. The section between Toofy and Remi may be the most technical of the entire race, but wet leaves and mud made it downright treacherous. So, we decided early to go slow and enjoy the last few miles of a truly spectacular race!

Crew and pacer non-parallel Josie

We relived all the stories from previous years at this race and all of the races that we had experienced together, and there have been many. Josie has grown up around ultra running and it often amazes me how much she remembers. She will be off to college next year, so we are both trying to savor these experiences.

I realized at some point that my hair was soaking wet, Josie kept offering me her hat but I wanted to make sure that she didn’t get wet and cold so didn’t take her up on it. But I dug around in my pack twice trying to find my very warm hat that I was certain I grabbed at Toofy.

We spent most of the last section talking about how wonderful it was going to be to get to the bunk house, dry off and crawl into warm sleeping bags. That kept both of us going and in a positive mood. I mean, how long can 6.25 miles feel?

Through the dark and the fog and the rain …

Well, it took us about three hours, which is truly ridiculous. But we had “fun” and it was definitely memorable. It felt good to cross that finish line with several familiar faces. We breezed through Remi and bee-lined for the bunk house. Josie pulled out a big bag, and started throwing all her wet clothes in it and told me to throw my wet stuff on top.

I was so proud of her for being on top of all the deets, but when I looked down at the bag and all her wet clothes, on the top of the pile was my very warm hat. Now I was wondering if turning my back for a moment for that crazy good potato soup was worth losing possession of my very warm hat. I’m leaning toward an unequivocal yes.

I woke up the next morning and heard that the night was hard for many runners, but was so pleased that many of my friends not only finished but crushed this one! Most notably perhaps was Dani Sevel coming in first place female at her first 100-miler. Phenomenal!

Seeing more friends at breakfast was special, and breakfast was exceptional as usual.

The finisher’s swag!

Thank you to the race directors (new and former), all the amazing volunteers, my trail family and friends and most of all my crew and pacers - Sam and Josie. Sharing this adventure with you - as always - is a special opportunity that I do not take for granted.

I am lucky I get to do big things, and I know that I won’t always be able to do things like this forever. But Devil Dog is one race among a short list of my favorites and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a “sneaky hard” ultra in Virginia!

Devil Dog 100k Results