I really had very little idea of what I was getting myself into for this race. I’ve run some 50k’s, but this is double the distance. This isn’t like a jump from a 5k to a 10k, or a half marathon to a full. There’s really only so much that you can cover as far as the percentage of miles. So going into this, the furthest that I had run was 36 miles. Meaning, I was going to need to run the furthest that I had ever run, and then run a marathon. Sounds reasonable.
That being said, I feel like I was about as well trained as I could have been. I’d done a nice mix of technical and non, and a lot of hills. The hills proved to be more than worthwhile. I also received valuable advice from friends who had run this before.
I started with the girls that I went down there with (four pretty amazing women who I admire), knowing that their pace should be a reasonable place for me to start. A common problem for runners is not going out too fast. With distances like this in particular, you have to pace yourself, or you are more than screwed. I do not have that problem. Left to my own devices I would start out far too slow. So worried that I’ll push too hard in the beginning, I start out too far back and crawling. I’m working on trusting that I’m capable of more than that. It’s a hard thing to have faith in your own abilities.
This course is known for being tough. There’s a lot of technical terrain, rocks on rocks, on rocks, as well as a lot of up. Perfect for a first 100k. So people like to remind you of that and talk about that. Because of that, people tend to leave out that there is some really nice runnable dirt on this course as well. Not to discredit the courses toughness, because it is tough, but there is a lot to run freely. A friend had mentioned going in the year before with such far reaching expectations of how difficult the course would be (her first 100k at the time), that she constantly kept asking herself “is this the hard part?” I thought of that a lot along this run. “I mean, this is hard, but surely it must get harder right?” Always being mentally prepared for falling rocks, larger man eating cacti and snakes helped me to stay positive about the course, which by the way, is freaking gorgeous.
We started hitting some of the initial hills and I started pulling a little further ahead. I love hills. I am not the fastest person out there, but I’m confident in my ability to go up (down is another story). I did a lot of run walk intervals so that I wouldn’t burn out too fast, but it helped me to gain some ground. I felt great on that first loop (of two). I was running more than expected, taking hills well, and loving the cacti, views from the tops of hills, and the feeling of general badassary all around.
Then mile, oh let’s say 25 hit. I started to get a really sharp pain in the top of my foot. I found myself walking. Let me clarify: In ultras, there is typically walking, but we like to call it hiking. We are, after all, on a hiking trail. We work on this as a skill, working on our speed. Now we aren’t just hiking, we are “power hiking!” Unless things aren’t going well, then I call it walking. This is never a good sign. I was falling into a funk. I started having a conversation with myself about how much my family had sacrificed for me to have this training and travel time. I knew I could finish this course, even if I had to “walk” a lot of the second loop. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I had made good time and would make all the cutoffs.
After a bit Ashley came bubbling up behind me. “Loosen your shoelaces again, take some Advil, give it ten minutes. It happened to me at Pilgrim Pacer (talked her into this as a training marathon….it was somehow all up hill). You’ll be fine. Well I feel great so I’m going to go, have fun!” She bounded off, looking so natural and comfortable, like she was just having a great race. So, I did what she said. It was great to see her. As I started to feel better Carol popped up behind me. “Let’s go.” She’s so matter of fact about things, just we’re running now. She introduced me to her new friend Rosemary. Carol is great at making trail friends. Rosemary was very petite British woman in big Hokas ,a little skirt, short grey hair, and blood all over her face. In short, a total beast who had just eaten it on the trail. I ran some downs that left to my own devices I would have taken more slowly, and finished the first loop.
The right people at the right time make quite a difference. Coming onto the aid station we saw Ashley again, still looking amazing. Carol and I took back off without grabbing much, and checked with Rosemary (who got back on the course behind us) before starting loop two.
I felt much better at the start of the second loop. My foot pain was under control, and I was back loving those hills. I felt stronger than expected. I was excited to pass the 36 mile mark. From this point forward, every step was a distance PR. Step, win, step, win, step, win, step, win. I was also running much more than expected, less hiking, no walking. I have also signed up for a 40 mile race in February, so that mile marker was significant as well. I swear I got a second wind around that point and had a really steady stride. It was a nice confidence boost for that race.
Also, with it no longer being high noon, it had cooled down quite a bit. It was by no means hot before if you ask most people out there. The weather was beautiful. Even so, I am a wuss in the heat so I was dousing my head with cold water at aid stations while dressed in a tank top, while locals wearing long sleeves looked at me like I was insane. Terri (another incredible woman in our group) told me she didn’t think it ever hit 70that day. Whatever, on that exposed rock it was hot. This also made the second loop feel better than anticipated.
It got dark around mile 45. This is the first race that I had transitioned from day to night like this. People were getting much more spread out at this point with the 25k and 50k runners largely being done. Out of everything, this is what I was most anxious about. It’s part of why I loved that this was a two loop course. I would have already seen everything once before it got dark. This can be beneficial, but I found out that it can also be a hindrance. I ran by myself for a while. After several miles of this I caught up to some other runners. I was about to go around, and thought about what I really needed. What I needed was company. So I slowed down and chatted for a while. My anxiety calmed and I got back into a groove. When we got to the next aid station I was feeling much calmer and I took off on my own again.
So that worked for a little while. When I left the final aid station there were about five miles left in the course. For those five miles I did not see a soul. Remember that whole you’ve seen the loop once part. This is where that failed me. It was open and windy, and a lot of the reflectors had blown down along that section. This was the same section the loop prior where I had all of that foot pain. I remembered walking because my foot hurt, not because there were hills. I would have sworn to you that section was flat. Apparently there are some serious hills there at the end. Who knew. So I kept questioning if I was on course.
At the time of this race, Jules had just turned 10 months old. Our family had given a lot, and been incredibly supportive in order for me to train for this. Also, this was the first time that I had spent the night away from Jules, so I had to navigate pumping breast milk along this trip as well for added excitement. (Fortunately I managed the entire race without needing to, to my surprise.) I kept a picture of the babe and my husband in my pack. My husband also left little notes in my drop bags that I picked up along the way. Around this point those came out more and more. My favorite, “I wish I could watch your cute butt as you run away from this aid station.” He’s a keeper.
I began doing things like stopping and counting to 40, maybe someone else would pop up. Maybe if I stop to pee another person would arrive. Never happened. The reflectors were so spread out that I was talking to them when I’d see them. “Why hello there Mr. Bobble, pleased to see you again. Thank you for being here.” This was of course out loud, with some singing about them in between. Maybe people were just steering clear of me and that’s why no one was around. Later I overheard someone saying, “Is it just me, or did people come out of nowhere those last five miles. There were people everywhere!” It must have been my singing.
Eventually I came to the last mile, this I recognized! This was it, I was finishing a 100k. I was a beast. I was an ultrarunner. I was finishing. (I was a little emotional.)
I ran into the finish, and got my first buckle, and then had no idea what to do. I wandered around aimlessly for a minute, repeating that in my head. “What am I supposed to do.” I finished in 14:44:33. Goal C: Finish. Goal B: finish in under 19 hours. Goal A: finish in 15-17 hours. I had a good day.
I heard someone say that there were other runners headed in. Carol finished two minutes behind me. It was amazing. She was loud and yelling “What Happened” and grinning like crazy while bouncing around. This was a huge PR for her. I love seeing people so proud of their accomplishments. It was a sincere privilege to see her come through that finish like with such unabashed joy. I could have never pushed myself as hard had I not had her there. She’s a beast of a runner. Also, I knew what to do then, celebrate, eat, and wait to see the same looks on our other runners.
There were parts of that race that were incredibly hard. There were also parts of that race that were incredibly beautiful. I felt God’s presence in a way that was really special throughout that course. I saw the right people at the right times. There were things that were hard or anxiety producing, but in a way that I think really made me stronger as both a runner and a person. I got to share in some moments with friends that were really special. Thanks so much to Ashley, Carol, Terri, and Sophia for the adventure. There’s already new ones in the works.