Updated: Nov 4
My pacer from mile 48 to 82 summed up my race the best when she told me at the finish line, “You just kept having things thrown at you. We would problem-solve one thing, and then something else would come up!”
A spectator at the end said to me, “Way to keep fighting!”
That is how it felt…like a battle that I just wasn’t winning.
I knew race day was going to be hot and that the course at the top near the turnaround was going to have a lot of snow and mud. So, I prepared by carrying 2L of water on me at all times and having a crap ton of socks available so I could change them the second my feet got wet.
I went out from the start at a hot pace because it turns into single-track trail pretty quick and I didn’t want to get stuck behind a conga line of people. I felt really good during the initial climb, pushing the pace just a bit, but not enough so that I felt like I was working very hard. The sun was already out and feeling hot.
Going into the first major aid station at mile 18 where I saw my crew for the first time, I felt really good. I was drinking tons of fluids, eating calories every 30 minutes, and not pushing the pace too hard. At the aid station, I repacked my calories, filled my water bottles, and got out of there as quickly as possible.
The day continued to get hotter, getting up to around 85 degrees, so I really slowed down the pace after that aid station so that I could keep my body temperature under control. If at any point I felt like I was working even remotely hard, then I slowed down. This helped me to continue to climb well on the uphills and run a bit on the flats and downhills.
Then the fun really began.
It got SO hot out and there wasn't much shade on the course. With each progressive aid station, there was more and more carnage. I would show up to the the aid stations feeling energetic and on fire. When I looked around me, all I saw were runners laying down or sitting in chairs completely destroyed by the heat…Ok, I must be doing a good job taking care of myself.
After I changed my socks for the first time at mile 30, repacked my calories, changed my shirt and headed out, my first obstacle was thrown at me.
I couldn’t make it to the pre-race meeting, so I chatted with the race director the day before the race just to see if there was anything I needed to know other than what was on the website. One of the things she said to me was, “If you don’t see an orange flag for a quarter of a mile, then you are off course and should turn around.” Those words were burned into my brain. I am always terrified of getting lost.
So, out of the 30-mile aid station, I was running on the trail…and kept running…and kept running…and then I found another runner. “So happy to see you! I was wondering if I was off course because I haven’t seen a flag for a while!” He told me he was a bit worried because he hadn’t seen a marker for a while either…great…
A ran for another quarter mile and then started to freak out. The race director said to turn around if it had been a quarter mile! This can’t be right! We had gone way more than a quarter of a mile.
So, I turned around. Then I saw 3 other guys and asked them if they knew if we were on course or not. They said they were worried as well but there was only one trail! How could we go off course?! So, I went forward with them for a bit. Then after another quarter mile of still not seeing a flag, I turned around again. I met up with another group of guys and the same thing repeated itself. They weren’t sure if we were on the right trail, but there just couldn’t be any other way! So, I went forward with them. Another half mile forward without seeing a stupid orange flag. I was completely flipping out at this point. “What if I don’t get back on track? I am completely wasting time and destroying my chances of doing well. What if they force me to DNF because I am on the wrong trail? Then I would have my first DNF all because they didn’t mark the course well.” The anxiety was sky high at this point.
Looking back at my GPS data, I see that I turned around FIVE TIMES because of thinking I was going the wrong way.
The last time that I turned around, I ran into another group of runners. Finally, someone said he had done the race before and he was “pretty sure” we were on the right trail. UGH! Not the level of confidence I was hoping for.
So, I decided to just commit and go forward and hope for the best. After a while, I saw a camera man!!! I could have cried! And hugged him! I didn’t do either of those things but gosh did I feel like it! He said we were 2 miles from the aid station and everyone was commenting on how there weren’t any flags. He said I was on the right trail and to keep going forward! Thank goodness! There was at least another mile without flags but I felt ok about it since the camera guy said we were on the right track.
When I got to the next aid station I was relieved but also totally pissed. I couldn’t believe how much time I wasted and had no idea how much extra distance I added on to an already very long race. The people at the aid station said they let the previous aid station know that the course was not marked but those volunteers said, “It will be fine” and decided not to do anything about it…It obviously wasn’t fine.
For the next few miles, I had a massive pity party for myself. I trained so hard for this race and felt like I just ruined it by getting lost…then the pity party turned into being completely pissed off because I was just listening to the words the race director said right to my face. But, I knew I needed to get over it.
At the next aid station I caught up to a runner who had passed me while I was doing hot laps on the trail while being lost. I stuck with him for a while and man alive did that help a lot. We both vented for a hot second about the course not being marked but then we went back to enjoying the trail and chatting a bit. He was from Hawaii, and it was his first 100-mile race. His stoke for life was so unreal and was 100% what I needed in that moment!
The trails 8 miles before the turnaround started to get nasty. It was full of deep and slick mud which turned into snow with standing water underneath it…and there was no going around it. My attempt to keep my feet dry ended there. I did everything I could to just stay upright!
I hit the turnaround and it was awesome to see my crew. I took a minute to take care of my feet, pack more food, and refuel so that I could have a solid second half. I was still feeling really good physically at this point. I still didn’t feel overheated, dehydrated, bonky, sick, fatigued, etc. I was so ready to absolutely crush the last half.
I was starting to get blisters at that point so we dried my feet, put new socks on, and had a med lady take a look at them. She helped patch them up to help reduce friction as much as possible.
We packed up my vest and off I went with my pacer!
The next 8 miles were interesting since we had to go back through the snow and mud. At one point, there was a creek crossing that we just needed to jump across. I jumped over it with not quite enough oomph and slid sideways into the creek, landing on my left side in the freezing rushing water, spooning the side of the creek. WOW! If that doesn’t wake someone up! I was completely caked in mud on my left side and so cold! I jumped right up, had a solid laugh and then continued on.
We kept up a good pace, doing some solid hiking up the hills and running when I could. We were up really high at the point (over 9,000ft) so the running was pretty short since I would get out of breath pretty quickly.
At each aid station, I would dry my feet, pour Goldbond everywhere, and put on new socks. I could feel that my blisters were getting slightly worse, but I was hoping they would hold on until the finish.
“Are you being a good eater?” my pacer would constantly ask me. I was consistently taking in calories (or so I felt) even though at this point, I was dry heaving and feeling nauseous. I totally felt like I was going to throw up but that has never happened to me before, so I trusted that I wouldn’t. We joked around at every aid station because I would take the same small Lays bag and refill it with more food. That bag stuck with me for a solid 70 miles. At one point, I even ate a plane tortilla that my pacer threw into a Ziplock bag with salt in it. Mmmmm...plane tortilla.
I also kept getting hick-ups for some reason. My pacer would give me a peppermint and then they would go away quickly. I knew that if I stopped eating, I would be completely screwed for the rest of the race, so I kept piling animal crackers and chips into my mouth. Swallowing hurt and I was so sick of chewing food but knew it was for the best.
Then around mile 55 my body said, “NOPE! I am so sick of this heat!!!” The lows overnight were 65 degrees and that just wasn’t cool enough for me. I started hyperventilating, feeling dizzy, my vision was blacked out in the corner of one eye…ugh…I have had this happen twice before and I knew that I had to just slow down and keep moving forward. There just wasn’t anything I could do about it.
I couldn’t catch my fricken breath! Hyperventilating and being at a higher altitude do not go well together. I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t’ move. My pacer kept telling me to take deep breaths and I did my best to do that. Man, I just needed to get some air in. At that point, we were hardly moving. I just couldn’t get it together. Then, we passed a water crossing. “Do you want to put water on your hat?” my pacer asked me. There are two things I hate more than anything:
1. Having water poured on me
2. Being cold
So, did I want water on my hat? Heck no…Did I do it anyways? Yes I did…I was sooo hot and couldn’t breathe. I was getting desperate. So she soaked my hat and that felt pretty good. “Do you want me to fill this bag and pour water on you?”
Let’s do it.
So, she took a Ziplock bag and filled it with water and poured it on my neck. BAM! What a rush! Keep in mind that this water is melted snow from up high. It…was…cold…And exactly what I needed. It was a complete shock to my body that gave me goosebumps all over my body…and my breathing went back to normal immediately. Just like that. I seriously couldn’t believe it.
By the time I hit the mile 62 aid station, I was in rough shape. I was walking/running so weird because my feet were in so much pain. I was so hot, kept hiccuping, and I was so nauseous. I didn’t want to eat anything. We spent way too much time at that aid station having a med guy work on my foot. He did a great job of doing what he could with patching things up…then off we went again.
Things were still slow moving since I was trying to avoid getting my feet wet. This made the million water crossings so slow, trying to find the perfect path across.
“Let’s make a statement by cruising through the next aid station since you don’t need anything.” We were in and out of the next aid station in a flash spending just enough time there to grab fluids and food. This felt really good since I wasn’t doing much cruising at that point. My pace was still super slow but the sun was rising and that always helps to feel a bit more energized. We did some major climbing and I did my best to keep hiking as fast as I could. I never got sleepy overnight, which was a first for me, so I was super happy about that.
Mile 66 to 82 were sooo slow. I couldn’t tell you how many times I apologized to my pacer for our pace being so slow and boring (Emily deserves a Pacer of the Year award). My feet hurt so much and my body just wouldn’t let me push. When we hit the 76-mile aid station, we said “screw it” and decided to pop the massive blister that was on the soul of my right foot and causing me so much pain. Popping blisters is a big no no because of risk of infection, but I didn’t care at this point. I needed some relief.
My pacer put 4 holes in the blister and wanted to put more in it because it was so massive, but I didn’t let her because it felt so horrible. We did what we could to clean things up, create some padding for my foot and then keep going. At this point, the 32-mile racers were passing us. That was nice because they brought some fresh life to the race! They gave me a little burst of energy.
As we hiked the massive climb up the mile 82 aid station, we saw one of my coaching clients! It was nice to chat with her for a bit before getting to the aid station. Something about seeing a familiar face sure does spark some energy in me!
Then at mile 82 we had someone work on my foot some more, tried to find some food that I could stomach, and get me out of the aid station. The sun was getting so hot at this point and the faster I got out of there, the less heat I would have to deal with.
My partner, Brian, joined me as my pacer after that! It was nice to chat with him and hear stories about his day while I was running.
“We should catch Laurel and Matt!” said Brian…They are some friends of ours who were in view ahead of us. Brian had been running with me for maybe 1 mile when he said this to me and internally at that very moment I felt like a candle at the end of its life…flicker…flicker…poof. There went all my fight.
I had nothing left to give. The sun was so hot, my feet hurt so much, and now the sun felt like it was completely baking my feet. I fought through getting lost, nausea, dizziness, hyperventilating, foot pain, mud, snow…I had nothing left to give.
It was at that point that the negative chatter really got loud. Therapy is great if you want to uncover your deepest demons…but so is running 100 miles.
“You aren’t good at this”
“You should stop racing”
“You shouldn’t be working with runners. You really need to close your business and do something else”
"Real runners wouldn't be whining about these things. They would push through it."
Seriously…it got dark.
But, I had to keep moving forward.
I did what I could to stay in the present moment. I chatted with other runners, chatted with the awesome aid station people, and took my time. I didn’t push it. I knew that going faster would get me to the finish line faster, but I had zero fight to move with any speed.
We pushed through and I couldn’t tell you how many times I apologized to Brian for how slow we were going. There were some tears at one point and as we got closer and closer to the finish line, I felt more and more like I had failed.
I had trained more consistently and harder for this 100-mile race than I had for any other ultra. I fueled better, paced better, hydrated better, managed chaffing better, took care of my feet better…did literally everything better than the past. I went out to WY 3.5 weeks early to acclimated to the altitude and get familiar with the course…but it wasn't enough. My feet and the heat crushed me.
The last 5 miles are all gravel road…in the sun. I trotted at times but mostly hiked and chatted with other runners. I knew I would finish and who cares when I did at this point. Usually, I hate being passed by other racers…but I didn’t care at that point. I cheered them on, and let it go that they were going to beat me.
I finally finished in 33:13. There was just over a 50% finisher rate and only 30 women finished.
It’s wild to think that I lined up at the start line with a solid group of runners, and only half of us finished.
But, I was still flooded with disappointment when I finished.
I don’t like talking about those emotions with people because most people don’t understand the competitive mindset.
Finishing isn’t much of an accomplishment for me in my mind because it is so far from my goals. I never question whether I will finish or not, so finishing just isn’t enough for me. Finishing isn’t the type of challenge that excites or drives me. I want to finish well, and I didn’t do that.
This has been a year of trying new races in new environments and I learned a lot about what I need to keep working on from a race execution standpoint to do well at these dry mountain races. So, I will continue to work on those things and continue to grow as an ultrarunner because that’s the only option.