My first 100 miler
Five in the morning. Dark and drizzly. I find myself in the midst of a crowd of people after half a year of barely leaving my house. This is 2020.
mistake #1: I forgot to grab my mittens when we left the Air Bnb. Brian had a pair of gloves he wasn’t going to wear so he gave them to me.
Wearing my jacket and gloves, the drizzly 58 degree morning doesn’t feel too bad. The race director had told us not to arrive early, and we didn’t. Less than five minutes after we arrived, we were sent on our way.
The trail out of town was one big mud puddle. It was slow going, which was fine. We were in no hurry. The darkness somehow seemed to make the miles go by quicker. We were climbing, but it was so gradual you could barely tell. The drizzle switched to rain. It wasn’t long before I was searching for a place to pee. And then it wasn’t long before I was doing it again. This was going to be a major theme of the day.
It took over an hour for the crowd to thin out enough that I felt comfortable taking my mask off. It was time to eat something. I reached into my pack for my Clif bar and it wasn’t there. I searched all my pockets. I found my 100 calorie chia bar and my single serve packet of cashew butter, but no Clif bar. “Brian, you know that Clif bar you found this morning and asked if it was mine and I said ‘no’? It must have fallen out of my pack.”
mistake #2: Not double checking my pack and therefor not having the fuel I’d planned on for the first 28 miles.
This would have been a bigger deal for Brian. I have no problem relying heavily on aid stations. My stomach can tolerate just about anything. I just usually have a half a Clif bar an hour in and the other half a half hour later. Not a big deal. I ate my chia bar.
Seven miles in, we hit the first aid station at Taylor Valley. I was surprised to see so many people out in the still-dark morning cheering for the runners. I was hoping for some sort of granola bar-type thing at the aid station, but I was out of luck. I grabbed a package of trail mix and we headed out.
It was truly a beautiful morning. The rain-swollen river thundered along beside us, with pine trees lining its banks. We crossed several trestle bridges and meandered through pastoral countryside.
There was a guy in an orange raincoat standing along the trail not far from the turn-around at Green Cove. We figured he must live there and had just come out to watch the runners. We smiled and said good morning.
There were pit toilets at the aid station/turnaround. Brian and I both used them. I grabbed a clementine. I wasn’t feeling particularly chilled, but it was wet and cold enough out that my fingers didn’t work. It took me so long to peel that damn thing! It tasted good, though.
We set off back the way we’d come. Now it was a nice, gradual downhill for the next 14 miles back to Damascus. The man in the orange raincoat was still there, so we smiled and waved again. It was daylight now. The farmland was filled with colorful wildflowers and backed up to green mountains just beginning to show a little fall color.
We skipped the aid station, because the crew area where my Dad was was just about a mile after that. It was cool to come around the corner and see him there cheering for us. There was another guy there, too. It turned out to be my sister’s friend, Craig. He was the one we’d seen at the top with the orange rain coat. We had never met before, but I asked him if he’d known I was Jen’s sister because we look so much alike. He said he had figured as much.
Dad had all our gear set out for us and made sure we had what we needed for the next 18 miles. We dropped our headlamps for him to recharge and we gave him our coats. It was still raining, but we’d been comfortable coming down off the mountain and we weren’t going back up there and the forecast had said it was going to get up to 70 degrees.
About a mile later I realized that I had made a huge mistake. It started pouring, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. I was soaking wet and wearing only a tank top and shorts. I was FREEZING.
Mistake #3: Not holding onto my coat.
Brian was just a little cold, but I was MISERABLE. He was starting to get bouts of nausea, so we were stopping to walk every few minutes. Eventually I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to run ahead because I needed to keep warm. I was so angry with myself for being such an idiot. I saw one guy wearing a trash bag and was so jealous. I contemplated asking at the aid station if they could spare a trash bag.
Brian started feeling better and caught up to me well before we got to the aid station. Luckily, the 3.7 miles to the turnaround and back went by really quickly.
Then we just had that same stupid 7 miles back to Damascus. I had to go ahead of Brian for a little while again on the way back. At some point, a man in a pick-up truck said “hi there!” and then something I didn’t hear. I thought he was going to ask why we were all running in the rain, so I went over to hear what he’d said, but instead he handed me a roll of paper towels and said I could dry my face. I pulled one off and tried to hand the roll back to him, but he said “No. You keep it. You need it more than I do,” gave me a big smile and drove off. It was raining pretty hard, so soon I was running with a roll of wet paper towels and thinking that I am probably the only person in the world who this could happen to. There were a couple of trash cans along the trail and I was very happy to see one probably no more than a half a mile down the trail.
The trail was a river in places and splashing through the cold rain was chilling me to the bone. My teeth were chattering by the time we got back to my Dad. I was so relieved to get my coat back on. My Dad asked if we wanted him to set up the tent so we could change clothes, but we told him we’d probably be okay once we got moving now that we had our coats. It was still raining, so it seemed pointless to put dry clothes on that were just going to be wet within a few minutes. Plus I didn’t know if it was going to get even colder later, in which case I would want to have dry clothes then. But that short stop to get our coats had made me even colder. As soon as I tried to run again, my hip flexor seized up and I doubled over, with my hands on my knees. This kept happening the entire mile to the aid station. I asked for some hot coffee and we headed back out.
It was slow going again as my hip continued to seize up. By this point, I knew that it no longer mattered what might happen later. I needed to put dry clothes on right now or I was going to get hypothermia. I was so happy to see that Dad had gone ahead and set up the tent even though we had told him he probably didn’t need to. I asked him to make me a hot Nuun and crawled into the tent. I changed my bra and shorts, put on a dry short-sleeved shirt, a dry long-sleeved shirt and my wet jacket on top of all that.
My sister and Mike had arrived. I felt bad because they rearranged their schedules to get there early and we were behind schedule. Jen was going to pace us starting at mile 64.
About a mile later, a lady walking in the other direction saw the empty styrofoam cup in my hand and offered to take it from me. That was so nice of her! I was happy to not have to carry it until I saw a trash can.
Brian and I were trying to figure out what time it would be when we got back to the crew area in Damascus and realized it was going to be about 9 pm. Then we remembered that we hadn’t grabbed our headlamps. We would be out there for a couple of hours past sunset with no light.
Mistake #4: Not picking up our headlamps when we would need them.
The number of times that I had needed to stop to pee during this run was beyond ridiculous. I had stopped counting at #11, but it seemed to be about once an hour. I generally do pee a lot, but not during races! It’s usually 2-3 times for a 50 miler or 100k. I had no idea what was going on this time. I didn’t feel like I was drinking all that much. I’d mostly had Nuun, plus I was eating, so the liquid should have been being absorbed, but it seemed to just go right through me. Now that my legs were tired, I had a new problem: it was getting harder to stand back up when I squatted to pee.
It was dusk by the time we reached the turn-around. This would be interesting. We continued to alternate running and walking until it got too dark to see. Then we were forced to walk. The trail was crushed gravel, so it wasn’t too dangerous, but there were a lot of patches of slippery mud which were tricky. Occasionally we’d get a little light from people passing us in either direction, but mostly we were on our own in the pitch black and it was slow going.
It seemed like an eternity, but we were so happy when we finally saw the lights from the crew area, or “tent city” as people were calling it.
The rain had pretty much let up by this point, so Brian and I both changed into dry shoes and socks. I lubed up my feet really good and put some Vaseline in my pack just in case.
We picked up Jen as our pacer for this leg and I told her that her primary job would be to help me back up whenever I needed to pee.
Brian’s bouts of nausea had become constant nausea. Jen and I were chatting and Brian was trudging along behind us. He wasn’t talking at all. He looked so miserable. I am so lucky that I don’t get nauseated during races. It is such a horrible feeling.
I felt like I was getting blisters on the balls of my feet. We stopped so I could put some Vaseline on them. That just made it worse. Stopping for a minute had made walking on them so much more painful.
Mistake #5: Changing my shoes
Brian stopped a few times to dry heave. Jen picked a great leg to join us. We were a delight.
Our pace had slowed to 20-24 minute miles. I got a text from our petsitter. She had completely dropped the ball. I called my neighbor to see if she could help. She said she could and she’d call me when she got home from work. This was a little after 9:30 pm. Cell reception was spotty and I was really worried about my cats.
Brian was feeling so sick. I asked him if he wanted to stop and he said yes.
Me: “Stop, stop, or stop and rest stop?”
Him: “Stop, stop.”
I asked if he was sure and told him that I would stay with him if he just wanted to rest for a while and see if that helped, but he had made up his mind. He said he’d been feeling bad for so long that he didn’t think resting would help. Plus, we didn’t have much time to spare. If we continued at the pace we were going and didn’t stop at all, we would just barely make the 30 hour cutoff.
Our neighbor called back just as we got to the Alvarado aid station where Brian told the volunteers he wanted to drop. The timing could not have been worse, but I was so grateful to her for helping us out. I was talking on the phone when I kissed Brian goodbye. Jen was having stomach troubles of her own and missed the whole thing. Her stomach troubles weren’t from the running (er, walking) but from a bug she’d been dealing with for a while.
After I sorted things out with my neighbor, Jen asked if I wanted to try running again. I really wanted to, but was pretty sure it wasn’t possible. My energy and legs were doing pretty good considering I was 72 miles in, but the blisters on the bottoms of my feet were killing me. Sure enough, I only made it a couple of steps. I could walk at a decent clip (considering) but running on those blisters was excruciating. We were both disappointed, but continued on.
The turn-around is on the other side of a really long trestle bridge. The last few yards of the bridge were lit up with rainbow glow sticks. They had probably been there all day, but this was the first time I’d been there when it was dark enough to see them. They were so pretty.
Back on the other side of the trail, there was a lady peeing. She said she’d been peeing about once a mile. I wasn’t the only one! It was so crazy. Why were we peeing so much??
All day long we’d all been having to stop and empty the pebbles and dirt from our shoes. Lately, I’d been waiting as long as possible because as bad as my feet were hurting, it was exponentially worse when I stopped and had to start moving again. Plus, it still felt like there was crap in there after I emptied them, so what was the point? (Funny story: Brian has gaitors and asked me before the race if I thought he’d need them. I told him no. I figured since it was going to be rainy we wouldn’t be kicking up much dust. Boy was I wrong. Brian probably won’t ask for my opinion anymore and I can’t say I’d blame him. Gaitors would have helped so much!)
My back was starting to hurt too. On a positive note, this was by far the longest I’d ever worn my pack before it started to hurt. Ten hours is usually my limit. I’d been wearing if for more than twice that long.
I usually go to bed between 7 and 8 pm. (yes, I know that’s really weird.) I also get really sleepy and sometimes pretty crabby if I have to stay up later than that. So it was really strange to me that I didn’t feel even remotely tired (sleepy tired, I mean. I felt tired for sure, just not sleepy) until about 2:30 am. But once it hit, it hit HARD. I felt like I was sleepwalking. Or really drunk. I had trouble following conversations and felt like I was watching things happen from somewhere else.
Mike had walked back up the trail to meet us. I asked him how far we were from tent city and he said 20 minutes. Or maybe he said 40 minutes. Some amount of time that sounded unfathomably long.
I asked Jen to run ahead and find my handheld bottle and fill it with Nuun. She asked where it was and I told her I had no idea. I wasn’t sure how I was going to carry everything I needed without my pack, but I wanted that thing off me so bad. I had one pocket on my coat and none on my shorts. I needed to carry a mask and food. I knew I should probably have my phone if I was going back out by myself as tired as I was, but there was just no way I could carry it.
An eternity later, when I finally made it back to tent city, they had just found my bottle and were filling it. Can I just say that serious props need to go to our crew! Brian and I are hopelessly disorganized. We basically handed my Dad 6 bags of crap and said “Here. Find us what we need when we need it.” And they still managed to do an awesome job for us.
I hadn’t been eating or drinking much for a while. I was feeling really thirsty, but not at all hungry. Mike has done several 100 milers and said that Brian and I had not been taking advantage of caffeine nearly as much as we should be. He also asked if I’d taken any pain medicine. I told him I try not to take ibuprofen because I thought it was bad to do that when you’re running. He said Advil is fine as long as you’re well hydrated. I was pretty sure I wasn’t.
My plan was to pick up my handheld filled with Nuun at tent city and drink it on the roughly 2 miles to the turnaround and back. Then I’d take the Advil and grab a coffee Clif bar for the next leg.
Jen walked to the turnaround with me. I was crashing hard. Our pace was back in the 20 minute per mile range. At the aid station, I grabbed a cup of Coke and stared at the food for a really long time. Nothing looked remotely appetizing. Jen said I should try to eat some real food and handed me a quesadilla. I’d had some earlier and thought they were great, but now looking at it kind of turned my stomach. I stuffed two mini Snickers in my pocket and we headed out.
I took a tiny bite of the quesadilla, but just couldn’t do it. Jen threw it out for me at the first trash can we saw. I finished the Coke.
By the time we made it back to tent city, I was starting to feel better. The sugar and caffeine from the Coke were like magic. Mike handed me some Advil. Dad handed me my Clif bar. Brian found the pills in my pack that I needed to take. Mike offered to go with me for the last leg. He hadn’t planned to do this and wasn’t dressed for it, so it was really nice of him. I thought that I was going to be alone for the last 18 miles and was determined to do it. But it would be so much easier if I had someone with me. Mostly I didn’t trust myself to look both ways before I crossed streets or to not curl up on the side of the trail and go to sleep.
He asked if I wanted to be in front or back. Any other time I would have wanted to set the pace, but I told him back. I just wanted to put my head down and go. I’d rather have him just pull me along.
It wasn’t long before the Advil kicked in. It took the edge off. I still didn’t feel like I could run, but I also no longer felt like crying. It was a definite boost. We picked up the pace.
The caffeine in the Coke had another effect, though. About two miles from the aid station, I really needed to go! Mike had the same stomach bug as Jen and he was really needing to go, too. I think he even a little more urgently than me. We were pretty quiet for those two miles. I didn’t want him to feel like he had to rush at the aid station, so I told him he could wait for me there while I did the out and back to the bridge. He agreed.
So we both used the pit toilets at Alvarado. It was my seventh time at that aid station and the first time I’d used them. I prefer to go outside (especially now because of Covid) but this was also the first time I had to do something other than pee and I was really grateful for those smelly pit toilets. I feel bad for the aid station volunteers who had to smell that all day. Alvarado was a truly stinky (but wonderful) place, with awesome volunteers!
I had definitely gotten some energy back. I passed probably a dozen people in those four miles. It was so nice to get to that turnaround after the bridge for the fourth time of the day and know that I didn’t have to come back. FINALLY I was on the home stretch. 9 miles back to Damascus. It sounded really far, but that was IT. No more out and backs.
My shoes had gotten so full of crap again that I couldn’t take it anymore. I saw a bench and there was a woman sitting with her torso slumped over the back. I went and sat at the other end and asked if she was okay. Her eyes shot open and she said “Oh, I was sleeping” I apologized and she said “No. It’s good. I need to go. I’m not usually this tired. All I want to do is sleep.” and she got up and left. I decided to take my socks off this time. I swear I dumped a pound of rocks and dirt out of each sock. I guess that’s why it still felt like I had crap in my shoes even after I emptied them.
When I got back to Mike he said he’d had a nice nap which seemed strange to me because it didn’t seem like I’d been gone long enough, but it probably had been almost an hour. Time is definitely strange during a 100 miler.
We passed a few more people. We talked to most of them. Everyone seemed to be in a pretty good mood. I guess because at this point we all knew we would more than likely finish in time. We just needed to get there. And that seemed to be taking forever.
A couple of times I found myself struggling a little to keep up with Mike, which made me grateful that he was there to keep me moving.
Eventually we saw my Dad walking towards us. Yay!
Back at tent city, I gave my long sleeve shirt, coat and handheld to my sister. Dad walked the rest of the way to Damascus with us.
Finally. Finally. I was at that damned finish line. It felt like I was never going to get there, but I did.