In the weeks leading up to the race I had a few conversations with friends about the strength of the ultra running community, and how we enjoyed being part of it. It had me thinking a lot about what I love about trail running—what I’ve gotten out of it and what I hope to accomplish. I never felt a stronger sense of the running community than I did at this race, on this day.
It started Friday night with a small gathering of runners at my house for dinner. I love it when runners come together from far and wide to hang out, and it’s especially nice when we can take some time together outside of the race to socialize. It was a perfect pre-race distraction for me.
Saturday morning I arrived at the start a bit earlier than strictly necessary, but it turned out to be yet another great opportunity to say hi to a number of friends I knew I wouldn’t see once we started running. I was excited but not nervous, as we headed off into the dark towards Marlette Lake.
Is it just me, or am I the only one on the starting line letting loose with a huge belly laugh? Catherine must have been saying something pretty funny!
I ran a few miles with Kathy D’Onofrio, until I realized that her pace was too fast for me and I had to let her go. After that I ran for a while with Mark Tanaka, who is clearly also too fast for me. Unfortunately, I failed to recognize this because he is such an entertaining person to run with. By the time I left Tunnel Creek at mile 11, I was well aware that I needed to slow things down or be very sorry.
As I headed down into the Red House Loop I noticed my stomach was upset, and I really started to worry. Had I made a mess of things already? I was forced to duck into the woods for an emergency bathroom stop with nothing but thimbleberry leaves for TP. I was feeling pretty bummed, and I knew that was a bad way to feel this early in the race.
At the bottom of Red House I took a mental break to assess my situation. The last thing I wanted was to feel depressed about things already, so I made up my mind not to. I made a plan to slow down, eat some food, and get some salt caps from my drop bag at Tunnel Creek. I gave myself a pep-talk and decided that I needed to enjoy myself, no matter what the day might bring. All of this helped me feel much better.
On the way out of Red House, there is a short stretch where you share the trail with runners headed out. It was on this section of steep climbing that I saw nearly everyone I knew in the 50M and 50K races on their way down, and was even greeted by a few anonymous blog readers. Seeing all those smiling faces, getting all those hugs and hellos, was absolutely the highlight of my day. It was exactly the mental boost that I needed, and if you were one of those people you need to know how important you were to my day. Thank you!
At Tunnel Creek my weight was down three pounds already, from 133 to 130. I simply incorporated the information into my plan to take care of myself. All the way to Diamond Peak I concentrated on salt and hydration.
Turning down the new section of the course that headed towards the mile-30 aid station at Diamond Peak Lodge, I checked my watch and realized I might arrive as much as an hour earlier than planned. Would Donald, my one-man crew/pacer team even be there yet? It’s not that I couldn’t have survived without him, but there’s something very comforting about knowing someone is there waiting for you. I was looking forward to the support of someone just asking me what I needed and cheering me on. When I rounded the corner into the parking lot to see my Subaru parked there, I smiled with relief. Donald was somewhere on the other side of the lodge waiting for me. Yes!
Part of the new course includes a departure from Diamond Peak that leads the runner straight up the ski slope to the ridge. I referred to this section affectionately as the “Hill from Hell” or the “Cliffs of Insanity!” It was simply brutal. No fun at mile 30, I knew it would be unbearable at mile 80.
The twenty miles back to the Start/Finish transition went reasonably well. I spent the whole time focused on hydration and nutrition, and every time I got on the scale and it said 134 I gave myself a big high-five. I fought the heat with a bandanna full of ice on my back, and a cup of ice in my sports bra at every aid station. The volunteers, particularly the men, were amused every time I dumped ice down my top, (especially when I squealed) but no one made fun of me. They all knew I was being smart.
Back over Marlette Peak
Approaching the Snow Valley Peak Aid Station at mile 43
Friends greeted me at the 50 mile station at the Start/Finish and helped me with my food and water as Donald got ready to join me. Seeing all those people, I again felt overwhelmed by the awesome community around me. I tend to get a little giddy at the aid stations because it’s just so cool to have all those people cheering. I was told by many people after the race how good I looked at various aid stations. It’s ironic since I was struggling physically most of the day, but I’m sure it’s because I was enjoying myself in spite of feeling crummy. I’m really not such a goofball during the miles in between aid stations. I’m pretty sure.
Meghan and I do a little jig together as I come into mile 50.
Weighing-in alongside Kathy. 134! High-five!
As Donald and I headed off on lap #2, I couldn’t help but compare how I felt now to how I felt at this same point during my race in 2008. It was obvious to me that I felt decidedly worse this time around. I’d run about 30 minutes faster for 50 miles on a harder course on a hotter day, so it wasn’t too surprising. Still, my training had been much better this time around, so I held on to the faith that it would get me through.
Having Donald as my pacer was a circumstance that turned out to be nothing short of perfect. It might seem odd, since on the surface it would appear that we didn’t know each other well. As I said to him in the weeks before the race, we’d only spent about 30 minutes ever in each other’s presence, and for at least half of that (during his Western States run last year) he was in danger of puking all over me. Possibly not an auspicious beginning to a friendship, but ultra running is funny that way. He’s written enough blog posts that made me think, Whoa, this guy is looking inside my brain and putting words to my own thoughts, that I knew it was going to work out just fine. When he volunteered for the job, I jumped at the chance.
My friend Betsy once gave me advice on finding a good pacer, and she recommended having someone you respect and trust, someone you’ll listen to, but not someone you know well enough that you’ll argue with him or get irritated. With that description, I knew I had the perfect pacer in Donald.
I was excited to play tour guide on my favorite trails, and I busied myself by explaining the course to Donald, and pointing out flowers and views and things he really didn’t need me to point out.
When we landed at Tunnel Creek for my fourth time, I decided it was time to have some blister issues taken care of. They’d been bugging me all day, and frankly I needed a good excuse to sit down.
The amazing Tunnel Creek crew took great care of me, as usual. Andy and JoAnn expertly dealt with my blisters, then Jenny and Donald cleaned my feet and put my shoes and socks back on. I was reminded of watching Nikki Kimball’s crew at Western States last year and thinking what a rock star she was to have an amazing crew like that. Here I was now with my own rock star crew! I was only disappointed that no one took a picture of Jenny and Donald cleaning the dirt from between my toes. I thought it was great! I was enjoying myself so much in fact, (acting like a goofball again) that one of the volunteers asked me if I was on drugs.
“You know,” I responded, “I think I might be!” Running is kind of a drug, right?
Have you ever seen people with two such goofy grins heading into the Red House Loop? Complete dorks--both of us!
As the evening wore on, my physical state slowly deteriorated. Somehow though, almost magically, I felt great mentally. We shared stories, Donald kept me laughing with corny jokes, and on the Cliffs of Insanity! we stopped several times to turn off our lights and check out the stars. (It had nothing to do with needing a rest, I assure you!) It was good stuff, for sure.
The hardest part of the night came somewhere after 4:00 AM. I kept thinking I was feeling dizzy or something when it finally occurred to me what was going on: I was incredibly sleepy! I became so sleepy in fact, that I began nodding off while running, and swerving all over the trail. I kept shaking my head, trying to wake myself back up, but I had to do it every three or four seconds. This went on for hours. All I wanted was to sleep, just to sit down for a few minutes and nod off. I knew of course, that it probably wouldn’t help, and so did Donald, but he indulged me once or twice and let me sit down. If it weren’t for him though, I probably would have curled up at the side of the trail and slept for hours. I’m no good at sleep deprivation.
I’d heard plenty of stories from other runners of having hallucinations on trail. Since I hadn’t experienced anything like that during my other 100 in 2008, I figured I just wasn’t a hallucinator. Boy was I wrong! I’d been seeing things that weren’t really there a little bit all day, but in these wee hours of a sleep-deprived morning, it all became completely unreal. I entertained myself by watching houses and buildings and cars and people that I knew weren’t really there turn themselves back into trees and rocks. It’s really fascinating the scenes the human brain can concoct in such a depleted state.
Since I was well aware that none of it was real, I didn’t say much to Donald. When I did point out a little black dog that turned into a tree stump, I think his response was something like, “Boy, you’re really going through it, aren’t you?” I wasn’t sure if he was laughing at me or freaked out. I refrained from pointing anything unusual out to him after that.
In those last ten miles, my brain and emotions were all over the place. I kept reminding myself of the goals I’d written up before the race, and that’s what kept me from falling apart mentally. The few moments when the pain and the sleepiness were so hard that I was overwhelmed and I thought “I just want to be done with this,” I immediately put the brakes on that thought. I remembered to acknowledge what I was feeling and accept it as part of the experience. I remembered not to fight it. I’d been looking forward to this race for so long, I didn’t want to wish any of it away, not even the worst, most painful parts. I breathed deeply, took pride in how far I had come, enjoyed the presence of a friend, and kept moving down the hill with painful, little steps.
I already knew, as I made my way around Spooner Lake in the last mile, that I was happy with my race and proud of myself. I’d made a few mistakes early on, but I’d been smart and kept it together for most of the day and night; I’d stayed positive throughout the race. I think that, most of all, is what I really feel good about.
Physically, I felt much worse than I think I should have, and it was a very hard race for me starting early in the day. After my pep talk at the bottom of Red House though, I never felt down or disappointed with how things were going. I just remembered my goal of accepting my best effort without judgment. I knew I was giving my best effort, and that allowed me the freedom to enjoy myself, the freedom to let go of everything else outside of the run itself.
Andrew surprised me by being at the finish line, and the race officials surprised me by telling me I was the third woman.
“Third?” I sputtered in confusion. “But what happened to all those women in front of me?”
A woman standing nearby raised her eyebrows and hands and said quietly, “They all dropped like flies.”
I guess that’s the way it goes sometimes on a hard course on a hot day. The finish rate for the 100 was 56%. Ouch.
This race was so challenging for me, I’m not sure I’ll be back to the 100 mile distance. I said the same thing in 2008 though, so I’m certainly not saying I won’t be back. A runner passed me in the last few miles, being paced by Rob Evans. Rob told us as he ran by that he loved being a pacer this year. (He ran the 100 last year.) I told him I was seriously keeping that option in mind for next year, and I am!
I can’t express enough gratitude to all the people involved in this race. Everyone from the directors and the volunteers, the other runners, my pacer/crew, to the friends and family cheering on the sidelines. A special community indeed—this race is where I have felt it the most. Thank you!