I know, terrible way to start a story with the end,but it was 100 miles. It’s not about the end,it’s about the journey;the adventure;the struggle;the pulling-it-together;the highs;the lows;the sunset and sunrise,and the beauty of the course that brings both tears of joy and tears of pain. My fourth attempt and the first one I actually started with a healthy body and mind. Damn I wanted The Finish.
It was set up to be an awesome weekend no matter what. A slew of friends were either running or pacing or crewing:Brett (my crew,pacer and love of my life),Devon,Nathan,Randy,Walter,Jonathan,Krissy,Rick,Jason,Sarah,Steven,Kim,Topher,Lisa,John,the infamous and tirelessly positive Ken Michal and a ton of others I met along the way.
Randy found an awesome little cabin for a bunch of us about 3 miles from the start. Unfortunately Randy came down with a stomach virus or food poisoning literally the day before the race. This was a terrible set of circumstances since he had no appetite on a day that he should be eating upwards of 4,000 calories before the race. To be honest,I’m not sure how he toed the line that morning feeling like he did,let alone to grind through 44 miles well into the heat of the day. He estimates he held down ~500 calories,though who knows as he was puking as soon as 10 miles into the race. I’ve got some really tough friends…
I tried to get Randy to join me in my oatmeal breakfast feast (it was a lot of oatmeal),but to no avail.
The weather forecast was seemingly perfect on race day for a full day of running with cool temps (40 degrees or so) in the morning with a projected high of 75. The first 23ish miles went by really fast. I got to see my ‘crew’at 7,13 and then at 23.6. I was wearing the Hydrapack racing hydration pack since I wanted to have my hands free. One –to make sure I had no excuse but to keep eating and two –so my arms didn’t get too tired from carrying bottles. The course after 23.6 goes down to Noble Canyon,does a loop down at the bottom,and then has a big climb back up. Since it took me 4.5 hrs to get there it was just about 11:30am and getting into the heat of the day. I grabbed an extra bottle at this point which really saved me. The Cuyacamas have a dry climate,are pretty exposed,and well…I was running a lot.
I knew this next section would be hard so I settled in to taking my time with it. The descent was fine,but the loop at the bottom just sucked. I had some words with a lot of bugs and probably scared a couple of runners into thinking I was completely batty. It didn’t occur to me until I was 2/3 in that I should use the ipod I had borrowed. Seriously,it saved me. It didn’t matter what was playing as long as it took the noise away from those bastards flying into my face and ears and nose…urgh,i’m actually getting annoyed just typing about it!
The climb out of the canyon up to mile 44 was rumored to be really tough,but 2500 ft over 8 miles is,for the most part,a runnable grade. I took it easy nonetheless because it was hot and it was only 36 miles into the race at that point and Wendy Barth a runner who I had met along the way said that she remembered being destroyed after this climb the last year. I thought it wise to take her advice! I figured this whole 20 mile canyon section would take me 4.5 hrs and I was pretty spot on and as I made my way up to the top I felt pretty good (all things considered). It was great seeing my crew again (mile 44) and I ate some food,switched packs,dropped my bottle and kept on moving. I did keep the ipod on. I haven’t run with music for years. I know….don’t do anything new on race day,but I made the exception and was glad I did. I had a blast in that next section;the single track along the ridge was a lot cooler than the canyon I just had the ‘pleasure’of experiencing. My body felt good and strong so I might have pushed it a little to try to catch up to Wendy. I thought I grabbed enough food;what I could stomach,when I got to the 51 mile aid station. Maybe I was distracted by the dog pound or the music but they basically kicked me out of there for looking too good so off I went. This was 10:53 hours into the race. I was stoked to have been comfortably under 11 hours half-way through,but grabbed a long-sleeve shirt and a light just to be safe.
The bad part….this section,51 to 58 is when the wheels came off. I don’t know what happened. I was dancing on the climb out of Sunrise 1;literally…like fist pumping and lip singing Eminem and then BAM,a wall or something,I felt awful:low energy,I couldn’t breathe well,stomach achy,legs achy,tired. I was walking on the downhills and people were passing me like I was standing still. There was a rumor that I might have a pacer (Sarah Crosby Helms) at 58.9 so I was trying to look forward to that and just get to the aid station. I don’t remember much of this section except feeling like crap. When I got there,I found out that Devon Crosby-Helms was going to pace me since her runner Jonathan was toying with dropping. Another terrible set of circumstances with stomach issues and he pushed himself another 20 miles after he was experiencing this. Did I mention I had tough friends?
I sat down (beware the chair!) and got my socks changed and one of my blisters taken care of. It definitely made a difference. Lisa and John were awesome and super helpful as was our friend Jeffrey Rogers who made a point to come by and let me know that I was doing great and would make it out of this rough patch. I was too determined to reach the finish and did the math that if I kept at a 3.5-4mi/hr pace I could still get 25hrs or so. I was okay with the possibility of not getting under 24hrs;I wanted that finish line too bad to care.
Thank god I had Devon;we chatted a lot and I kept apologizing for moving too slow but it kept my mind off the fact that my body was rejecting forward motion. She reminded me to eat and drink and after the first section of 7+ miles (which took 2+hrs) I was starting to feel a little better. The next section I had one of her FRS chews and within 20min I was feeling great;not just better but really good and hungry,like starving hungry! I think it saved me,that chew,or at least that is what I gave credit. When we finally got into the 72 mile aid station where Brett was going to take over pacing I was ready to rock. My legs still felt really sore but climbing felt a lot less laborious and I had energy again. It was crazy. I stuffed my face at Sweetwater;a whole grilled cheese (well most of it) and tomato soup. I was looking forward to ‘running’with Brett;I knew he’d push me but be comforting at the same time. 28 miles to go….
I ran occasionally,but as Brett pointed out it was in 30-45sec bits every 5-10min or so;it wasn’t getting me to the aid station any faster. It was also starting to get pretty cold and so I would run just to warm up a bit and then as soon as it felt too labored in my breathing I would fall back and walk hard. I did walk hard;I moved with purpose for the most part. I was still feeling the altitude (I am prone to feel it,plus I currently live at sea level) and there were climbs where I wasn’t sure I wanted to go any further,but I just kept moving. Sometimes I wanted to talk;most of the time I didn’t for fear of wasting too much energy.
At 80 I got to see Randy and Rick again! It was so nice that they came out to cheer me on through the middle of the night. At one point they drove to one of the aid stations and decided to take a nap;when they woke up Rick hurriedly started the car and asked Randy ‘which way are we going?’to which Randy,dumbfounded,looked around and replied “um,we are already there?”. Maybe the sporadic naps crew food did a number on their brains. Probably a similar state to my brain at that time.
I got really cold after this and it was a recurring theme at most of the nighttime aid stations as I would eat something and all the blood would go to my stomach to digest and leave my fingers and toes to fend for themselves. And it was windy;almost to the point that I thought I might fall off a couple of the ridges that we traversed. I kept making Brett hug me (awwww) so that I could get warm. It probably helped him too since he wasn’t moving very fast with me….
He was a great pacer though,reminded me to eat and drink and move. Kept telling me how good I looked (if you think bloated,smelly and dirty looks good….) and how strong I was (oh yeah baby 3.5mph is smoking fast…). It was awesome. And then the sun rose. I’m not sure when it happened exactly. I do remember that it was dark when I came into 88 and the aid station volunteer told me that I still had a chance to get under 24 hours if I somehow could manage a sub 10-min pace for the next 12+ miles (hahahahaha was my reaction to that). But the sunrise and canyons were gorgeous and we could see them from nearly every direction.
This course has a little bit of an evil bend to it;mile 92 is on the other side of the lodge where you start an finish. You literally could cross the highway up on the ridge and be there…and you can see it from the trail. This would be all fine and dandy to have to run 8 more miles if you didn’t have the pain of knowing that it was going to take you 2+ hours to do it. We plodded along,sporadic running and a lot more walking. I got passed by another woman who was handling the downhill sections a lot better than me (i.e. running more than I was) and I didn’t really let it bother me too much at that point. I wanted to finish. I knew I was going to finish. I couldn’t wait to get my medal and my sweatshirt and my buckle and hug Brett and the RD since I was pretty sure they would be the only ones there and then sit down and then sleep. But I still had some miles to cover.
The last aid station and that last 3.8 miles of the course finally arrived and I was warmer again;enough to strip one layer. I really wanted to run as much of this last section as I could,but it hurt so bad. Brett was doing some math about me getting under 25 hours,but I didn’t really care so much about the time. However,I did end up passing that woman again and another guy so I must have felt okay enough to push through. With a mile to go Brett tried to push me by telling me that someone was behind me,which I knew wasn’t true and then he gingerly let me know that honestly,I had 7 minutes to go under 25 hours (hahahahaha a 7 min mile is even funnier than the 12 miles in 10 minute miles). I shuffled and walked and pretended to run and was so fucking excited that I was so fucking close to the finish line that I think I cried. We got to the little bridge that heads right to the lodge and Brett encouraged me to run it in….except that the RD wanted us to finish in front of the lodge so the return had us loop around a row of cabins (really?!?!?). I walked and then….I ran,turned the corner and saw so many more people than I expected:Devon,Nathan,Sarah,Rick,Randy,Jonathan,John Mendinger,Ken Michal,other finishers and their crews. It.was.so.awesome. I’m pretty sure Devon was tearing up,I could hear her screaming before I could focus in and realize it was her. I finished. 100 frigging miles.
Rick took a video of the finish (below) and I’m so glad he caught it on tape. A lot of people commented that they couldn’t believe how polite or coherent I was at the finish. I think that means I didn’t run it fast enough.
Which probably means I have to try again,right?