Yeti 100 mile Endurance Run (September 25, 2020)

My first 100 miler

Miles 0-14

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.

The crowd had thinned out at Taylor Valley. I filled my water bladder and grabbed a couple mini Snickers. I had to stop and pee two more times before we got to the aid station in Damascus.

Miles 28-46

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Photo credit: Samantha Smith Taylor

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.

Miles 46-64

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.

With my hot Nuun in hand, we headed out for our second 18 mile out and back.

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.

Miles 64-82

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.”

Oh.

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.

Miles 82-100

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.

I did.

About me

 

Nemophilist
Noun

  • (rare) A person who loves or is fond of woods or forests. A haunter of the woods

I love my cats (and all animals, which is why I don’t eat them).

My ideal city would be car-free.

Running is awesome! Walking is pretty cool, too.

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Doing things is so much better than having things.

You can listen to a summary of my life ambitions here.

 

Zion 100K race report (April 7-April 8, 2017)

The Zion 100K:

“A challenging and scenic run through the southern Utah desert adjacent to Zion National Park.”

The forecast for race day called for partially cloudy skies becoming more cloudy in the afternoon with temperatures in the high seventies.

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(Miles 0-15)

The 100 milers started a few minutes before the 100K runners. The first mile was a gentle uphill climb. The second was too, but with several little dips that dropped about 8 feet and were so short you could almost stand at the top and jump over them. Mile three got quite a bit steeper as the Flying Monkey Trail took us up the side of our first mesa of the day. At about the three-mile mark, the single-file line of runners came to a halt. We stood there. And stood there. We pulled out our cameras. We saw a beautiful sunrise. We started talking to each other.

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IMG_0388About a half hour later, a shirtless guy squeezed his way around the line, to the front. At first I was a little irritated. Everyone else was just waiting patiently in line. But then I realized that he was trying to get up to the rope climb that was the cause of the traffic jam. He showed everyone a way to get around the rock without using the rope. It was on loose rock on the steep canyon wall, but it got us moving again. There were sections where the trail was crumbly, sloping and barely two inches wide. I took deep breaths and kept moving forward.

The first aid station was at the top of the climb. We then did a loop around the mesa and hit the aid station again before descending on the same trail we’d climbed up.

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Flying Monkey aid station (miles 4 & 10)

I was expecting there to be some flat running on the top of the mesa, but there wasn’t. Instead, it was a roller coaster of short steep hills. The trail was also a lot rockier than I had expected. Somewhere up there, we ran into Cory Reese, the author of Nowhere Near First, which Brian and I had both read and loved. The Flying Monkey Trail was scarier on the way down, but at least the traffic jam was only backed up for about 5 minutes, as opposed to the 35 minutes on the way up.

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A much shorter traffic jam on the way down

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The section from the bottom of the Flying Monkey Trail to the next aid station (Dalton Wash) went by pretty quickly.  We talked to the girl with the “Do epic shit” picture for a while. She was doing the hundred miler. It was her first. This was the greenest section we were to see all day and included the only river crossing. The race guide said that you usually don’t have to get your feet wet. There were people trying to hop across on the rocks, but we just sloshed through. We’re used to running with our feet wet.

This was the largest ultra that I’ve done. I’m used to volunteers coming right up to me at aid stations, asking what I need and offering to fill my hydration pack. These aid stations weren’t like that. Honestly, all the attention at most ultras makes me a little uncomfortable, but as I struggled to push the water cooler button with one hand and hold my hydration bladder open and keep the mouth piece from dragging on the ground with the other, I found myself wishing somebody was there to help.

(Miles 15-30.5)

After Dalton Wash, we had a long climb up to Guacamole aid station, where we would again run a loop around the top of the mesa and hit the same aid station before descending the same way we’d come up. The top of this mesa was a little less hilly than the first one and there were plenty of views where the trail ran along the edge of the mesa. I stayed as far from the ledge as I could on these sections. We also ran for several miles on sandstone, which was uneven, hard as rock (ha!) and sometimes required a two-handed hop up or down. In other words, not easy trail.

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Descending the short steep climb after Dalton Wash aid station. We had to go over that damn hill twice.
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There were many, many miles of running on sandstone on top of the mesas.

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IMG950397I ran out of water about a quarter of a mile from the aid station. When we got there, we were told they were out of water. One of the volunteers was furiously peeling oranges, telling runners to squeeze the juice out for fluid. I was dumbfounded. We were in the desert, 7.5 miles from the next aid station.

We headed down the trail. Less than a mile later, a truck pulled up and a guy hopped out, asking if we needed any water. He apologized profusely for running out, letting us know he’d sent out several texts saying they were getting low and needed water. He said the last one was; “NEED FU&*ING WATER!!!” In all caps.

I’ll say. But whatever. I was able to refill my pack before it became an issue and I hoped everyone else was, too. A couple of miles later, another truck stopped to make sure we had enough water.

The sun started peeking through the clouds on this section. By the time we reached Dalton Wash aid station for the second time, the sun was out in full force. I was hot and a little annoyed at the weather forecast. It was supposed to be cloudy, dammit!

The section leaving Dalton Wash to the bottom of Gooseberry Mesa was my least favorite. We had to cross a busy road, then we were on a long, hot dusty road that stretched on in full view in front of us. Even though I’d applied sunblock at Dalton Wash, I could feel my face burning. My lower back was hurting pretty bad.

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My least favorite section

Once we started the unbelievably steep climb up Gooseberry Mesa, I actually felt better. The climbing eased my back pain and the different terrain was a nice distraction. My only complaint was the damn sun beating down on me. Stupid wrong weather forecast. Most people were not as happy about the climb as I was. We passed more than a few people seated on rocks or the ground on the side of the trail, suffering from cramps or just plain exhaustion.

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This group of three was pretty somber when we met them on the trail. We ran into them the next day at the hotel and they were MUCH happier. They hated this climb and ended up dropping about 8 miles later.

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About halfway up, Brian slowed considerably. Eventually he asked if we could stop for a minute. He said his heart was pounding. I was a little concerned when I turned around and saw that he was visibly wet with sweat. I sweat way more than he does, but in these hot, dry conditions, I was just salt-crusted and dry. It struck me as very odd that he was wet. A little while later, he said he felt nauseated. We trudged on, stopping frequently for breaks. Near the top, he sat down on a rock. I went a little ahead to find a place where I could get off the trail to allow others to pass. We sat for a while. I looked back and saw Brian vomiting a huge amount of water onto the dry ground in front of him. I had no idea what I should do. He looked like hell, but said he’d be fine in a minute. He was ready to go sooner than I thought he would be. We were only about a quarter of a mile from Goosebump aid station. When we got there, he went and found a chair in the tent and I got him a ginger ale and some broth. The broth went down well, so I got him some more. A lady in the tent said he was dehydrated and his body had gone into shock and stopped absorbing water. He needed to rest and re-hydrate, but should be fine.

(Miles 30.5-47.5)

We headed out of the aid station an hour before the 6 PM cut-off. We had five hours to make it the 12 miles before the next cut-off, but only 5 miles to go to the next aid station. Brian was still feeling a little weak from getting sick and I was in no hurry. Before the race, we’d talked about whether or not we’d stay together for the whole thing. The week before, I’d pretty much decided that I wanted to. Ever since my months of intense half-iron training, I’ve lost the desire to push myself.  This race was no different. We had covered more than 30 miles at this point. My back was hurting more with every step. I had zero interest in seeing how fast I could get to the finish line. I just wanted to get there before the cut-off. Doing that with Brian was much more appealing than doing that by myself. Facing 30 more miles alone was not something I had any desire to do.

The views from the top of Gooseberry Mesa were pretty incredible.

IMG950405The sky got even more beautiful as the sun started to set. It hadn’t occurred to me that we’d need our headlamps on this leg, but I soon realized that we would. We caught up to Cory again on this stretch. He asked if we’d mind taking his picture. We joked that it would probably cost us the win. As Brian took his camera from him, I asked if he’d mind taking a selfie with us in return.

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Just before dark, we started running again. It actually didn’t hurt any worse than walking. In fact, I think my back felt a little better running. Cory passed us again. He’d taken a cool picture of us and told us if we emailed him after the race, he’d send it to us.

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The awesome picture Cory took of us

When we reached Goosebump aid station for the second time, my first priority was pain medicine for my back. A volunteer kept coming into the runner’s tent with hot quesadillas. The ones with beans and cheese tasted amazing. As tired as we were, I think Brian and I were both eager to get moving again, if only to get the last 18 miles over with. Once again, we pulled out of the aid station an hour before the cut-off.

(Miles 45.7-63++)

The longest miles there ever were.

The descent from Gooseberry mesa was on the same trail we’d used on the way up. If you can call it a trail. The first portion was just a steep jumble of loose rock and sand.  I asked Brian if he was sure we were on the trail and he said yes, but I still had a hard time believing it. The climb down from Gooseberry was my second least favorite part of the course (for the record, my two favorite parts were the climb up the Flying Monkey Trail and the views from the top of Gooseberry mesa). I made up a song about how badly I wanted to be off the mesa and sang it a few times to Brian.

He loved it.

I’m very musical.

Once we were finally off the mesa, I started feeling much better. The pain medicine had started working, which made a huge difference. I think the back pain was from not having my hydration pack properly adjusted. It happened at Fat Dog, too. I guess I can get away with it for shorter runs, but an improperly adjusted pack starts hurting like hell after about 10 hours.

The desert in the dark is a tricky place. It feels like you can see everything for miles, but in truth, there is a lot hidden behind hills and below the valley floor. We ran and ran (and walked) for what felt like forever. When I thought we couldn’t be more than two miles from the next (last!) aid station, a man passed us going in the opposite direction wearing jeans and a t-shirt and carrying no light. A few seconds after we’d passed each other, he yelled out “an hour and a half walking time to the next aid station.” That one statement completely demoralized me. Every bit of energy I had disappeared. That couldn’t be right.

But right it was. Some time after that, a young guy we’d seen on top of Gooseberry mesa caught up to us. He asked if the next aid station actually existed. We all agreed that we should have been there by now. I was just going by feel, but they both had GPS devices that backed up what we all felt. He ran the rest of the way to the aid station with us. I thought we would see the lights long before we got there, but we just turned a corner, and there it was.

I had to use the bathroom so we took longer at this aid station than I wanted to. As we headed back out in the dark, I noticed that my headlamp was really dim. I’d never used it for more than 4 or 5 hours and hadn’t anticipated doing so this time, either. I ran my first 100K in 15 hours. Going by elevation gain alone, this race should have been easier (it was not). Taking the heat and unfamiliar terrain into consideration, I had anticipated finishing this one in 16-18 hours. I really thought we’d be finished by midnight at the absolute latest. But that hope had long since vanished.

At this point, we were both still 100% confident that we’d make the 2 AM cut-off, though.

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My headlamp continued to get dimmer and dimmer until I finally had to resort to digging out one of the cheap back-up pen flashlights Brian and I each had in our packs. It was annoying to carry and wasn’t much brighter than my headlamp. The light also moved with my arms as I ran, which I wasn’t used to. But it was light. The nighttime desert was playing tricks on us again. It was getting dangerously close to the cut-off time and we were still heading away from the only light we could see for miles. We started thinking we had somehow gotten off trail. Reason told me that we had followed all of the signs and therefore must be going the right way. But my tired, sleep-deprived brain panicked, imagining that we were heading aimlessly off into the desert. Brian was convinced we had gone the wrong way.  At this point, that could easily mean not making the cut-off.

We backtracked about a half mile to the last sign that we’d seen. It pointed us in the direction we had gone. We turned around and ran as fast as we could in the direction we’d just come from. I had no way of knowing the time, but Brian’s watch said we’d been running for about 19 hours and 50 minutes. We had 10 minutes to get to a finish line that was nowhere in sight. It felt pretty hopeless, but we ran blindly into the night. Finally, we could see a faint light ahead. It was definitely the finish. The trail took us right by it. I couldn’t believe we were so close and still running away from it. When we finally did turn so we were running towards it and could see the clock, It read 19:59:30. Holy crap were we cutting it close. I sped up as I heard Brian say “we’re going to be fine.” How could our reactions be so opposite? I wasn’t sure we’d make it in 30 seconds, but he was right. The clock read 19:59:47 as we crossed the finish line.

We later realized that because of chip timing and the fact that the 100 milers started a few minutes before us, we actually had a little over 5 minutes to spare. But I kind of liked the idea of making the cut-off by mere seconds. I also thought that we had achieved the DFL (dead fu#*ing last) title, but there were a few people listed in the results as finishing after us. They didn’t finish within the 20 hours though. So I’m not sure if we can claim the DFL title or not.

But I think we can.

Finishing my second 100K has got me thinking more about attempting a 100 miler.

The main reason that I’ve not really wanted to try the 100 mile distance is because I hate the idea of running through the night, but it surprised me how well I handled running from 6 Am until 2 AM. I know it would suck, but I now think I might be able to handle the whole staying awake all night part. Just a thought.

There’s something to be said for finishing at the very back of the pack (or dead fu*#ing last). Neither one of us was all that sore the next day. By Sunday we felt fine (other than the nasty blisters on both of Brian’s feet) to do some hiking in Zion National Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hashawha Hills 50K race report (February 25, 2017)

The training plan Brian and I are following called for a 31 mile run. We knew it would be much easier mentally to do a 50K event than it would to try to run 31 miles on our own.  Hashawha Hills 50k fit in almost perfectly. I was a little worried about this particular race because they use a lottery system to determine who gets in, and the weather on race day in previous years has been terrible. There seemed to always be snow and/or ice on the ground. Other than those two minor things, the race sounded great to me. I would’ve been disappointed if we didn’t get in.

Fortunately we both ended up making it in. Fourteen hopeful runners were not so lucky. And we lucked out with the weather, too. Sort of.

In 2010 and 2011 the race fee was $20. Since then, it has been reduced by 10¢ each year. The 2017 price was $19.35. That is an insane bargain.

The start and finish were at the Hashawha Environmental Center.

Bib pick-up and the pre-race briefing were held indoors. Hot coffee was available and runners had the luxury of flush toilets and running water. There were only two stalls in the women’s room, but the line was never very long.

After the briefing (where we were told to follow pink ribbons, never to cross red ones, that there was an out-and-back section we’d be running twice and that we needed to pick up a fat rubber band on our first loop and a skinny one on our second loop and that we would be getting our feet wet) we all headed down to the start/finish. There was a covered picnic pavilion where we could leave a drop bag. The course is two 15.5 mile loops, so we would have access to our bags after our first loop and at the finish.

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I didn’t even hear anyone say “go.”People just started running, so I followed along. There was a short section on the road before we headed into the woods. The website described the course as having “never-ending small hills to wear you down with a few bigger hills thrown in just for fun.” After finishing the race, I would agree with that assessment. I was feeling pretty good at the beginning though, and while hilly, the course wasn’t mountainous. All of our training in the mountains made the hills feel very runnable. But this was just supposed to be a training run and I was determined to treat it that way, so I walked the hills when the people in front of me did and I didn’t even feel too impatient with the slow walking pace!

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The out and back section was downhill on the way out and uphill on the way back. There were a lot of people ahead of us, so we were constantly having to get over to the side to let people by. Most everyone was very friendly. There were a lot of calls of “good job!” from the faster runners.

We picked up our fat rubber bands and headed back up the hill. A runner on his way down asked if we’d sell him one of our rubber bands.

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The temperature had climbed into the seventies and it was humid. The liner on my shorts was starting to irritate me. The liner had lost all elasticity quite a while ago, but it hadn’t been an issue. Until now. I’d been carrying a little jar of Vaseline in my pack on long runs because my sports bras and arm often chafe. But for whatever reason, I hadn’t put it in my pack for this run.

It felt good to finally reach the first aid station a little after mile eight. Lube!! They also had a large selection of food and drink. I took some Gatorade and a homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. I commented about how good the cookie was and the volunteer told me “we call them better than sex cookies or, that’s what Gary Knipling calls them anyway.”

Of course he does. He’s the runner who pulled out the orange bikini bottoms and asked me if I’d ever heard of “Trail Cinderella” at the Thomas Jefferson 100K.

We had a little over two-mile loop to do before we were back at the same aid station. I grabbed another cookie and a different volunteer told me, “we call those better than sex cookies.” I smiled and grabbed another. I was thinking about filling my hydration bladder, but Brian was heading out of the aid station and for some reason I didn’t want him to get too far ahead of me. I spent most of this section trying to keep up with him. He was passing everyone. I should’ve filled my bladder. It wasn’t long before I ran out. I thought I had about three miles before I’d be at the next aid station and halfway point. I was very pleasantly surprised to get there less than two miles later. My Garmin only said 14.5. It should have been 15.5.

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I was so focused on refilling my water and guzzling Gatorade that I forgot to apply Vaseline. It was a painful 7+ miles to the next aid station as my shorts liner rubbed the tops of my thighs (and other more sensitive bits) raw.

The weather forecast was calling for afternoon thunderstorms. For most of the second loop I felt like I was racing the storm. The last 5 miles of each loop seemed to contain the steepest and longest climbs. In this section, we caught up to a loquacious lady who helped the miles pass more quickly. With about two miles left to go, the storms finally caught up with us. A loud clap of thunder and nearly simultaneous lightning flash made me scream out loud. Then the torrential downpour started. I haven’t been out in rain like that since my AT though-hike. It washed 27+ miles of sweat, salt and grime from my body and felt absolutely wonderful. I was feeling pretty good, but our new friend seemed to be tired on the hills and Brian was battling a bout of nausea, so we were moving pretty slowly. Although I had decent energy, my hips and back were aching and my legs were tired. The pace didn’t bother me.

With about a quarter-mile to go, our friend pulled ahead.

I was happy to cross the finish line and receive my awesome handmade finisher’s mug.

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Although this was my fourth ultra (I’ve finished a 40 Miler, 50 Miler and 100K), it was my first 50K.

There was hot chili (veggie and meat) for the runners back in the Environmental Center. It was perfect. I was craving anything meal-like and not sweet.

This was a fantastic race and the bargain is ridiculous! If I lived closer, I’d want to run this race every year.

You can read the official race recap and see results here.

 

 

I ran 50 miles.

trilogyIn one day.

Never mind the fact that most of the people who ran with me that day had run 50K (30+ miles) the day before and would be running 13.1 miles the day after.

Never mind that. There are many different levels of crazy. This year, 50 miles was a BIG freaking deal to me. It was my first ultra and by far the furthest I’ve ever run.

Although, now that I’ve finished the 50 miler, I want to be one of the cool kids and complete the full trilogy. Maybe next year I’ll join the ranks of the true crazies.

West Virginia Trail Runners Trilogy 50 miler

Why did I pick a 50 miler as my first ultra?

Because I knew I could finish a 50K, but I wasn’t so sure about a 50 miler.

Oh, and this particular 50 miler included some hills.

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But that’s okay.

I like hills.

The three races that make up the trilogy all start and finish at The Mountain Institute in Circleville, West Virginia. The majority of runners do the full trilogy, or just the half marathon. I was one of a handful of runners opting to run only the 50 miler.

Everyone is welcome to camp for free on the grounds, or rent a bunk or Yurt.

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Meals are served in the dining yurt.

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Everyone washes their own dishes.

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Sometimes when I have a big race (or anything that I’m nervous about) I deal with it by not thinking about it. That is what I did with this race. I put off planning and packing until the last minute and arrived woefully unprepared.

I have a great deal of outdoor experience. If you add up all the time I’ve spent backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, I’ve lived in my tent for more than a year of my life. I’ve also spent countless hours running and hiking in the mountains. I know about mountain weather and being prepared. Yet I still managed to show up for a mountain race where I would be tenting out the night before with only one pair of pants (jeans!) and one long sleeved shirt. No hat. No raincoat. No trash bags to keep my sleeping bag and gear dry.

I’m an idiot.

The wind was whipping and it was pouring rain when I arrived on Friday night. The temperature was 50, but the wind chill and rain made it feel much colder than that. The parking area was about a quarter of a mile up the hill from the registration/dining yurt, so I had no choice but to head out in the cold rain. I have to admit, I was not thrilled about the situation. I was also seriously considering sleeping in my car. I was cold.

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Luckily, the rain stopped long enough to set my tent up without everything getting soaked. Even though I was cozy and dry inside, I still had a lot of trouble falling asleep and slept fitfully. I was awake before my alarm was set to go off at 4:20.

I crawled out of my tent and was greeted by a foggy and gray morning. I shrugged on my soggy coat, sorted through my gear and headed down to breakfast. The hot coffee tasted heavenly, but I limited myself to just a thermos and a half.

No, that’s not a typo. I limited myself.

It was very dark, but not too cold when we lined up at 6am for the start.

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Starting line to aid station #1 (6.9 miles)

Since the furthest I had ever run before this race was 28.5 miles, and I had finished that run feeling completely spent, I knew that I needed to take the early miles very easy. So, when the people in front of me started walking on the first hill, I did too. I’m a fast walker though, so when a lady came walking by on our left a few minutes later, I followed her ahead. I continued to walk all of the steep hills and jogged slowly on the milder slopes.

We snaked around the hilly (and wet and muddy) grasslands for a while before heading into the woods, then out onto a paved road for our first big climb of the day.

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Don’t let my pictures on roads and smooth trails fool you. They are not representative of the majority of the course, they were just the only places where I felt like pulling my camera out of my camelback.

Dawn was just breaking as I reached the first aid station. They were collecting headlamps at this point, but we were heading back into the woods and I felt like I still might need mine, so I held onto it. I filled up my bladder and a volunteer asked if I needed anything else. I told him I didn’t think so and was on my way

Mile 6.9 to aid station #2 (9.2 miles/16.1 total)

I settled in behind the two guys in front of me. The section immediately following the first aid station was rocky and lined with pine trees. The air smelled crisp and fresh. Eventually, one of the guys stopped to pee, then the other one did, so I was on my own for the first time. It was a little unnerving knowing that I was now solely responsible for following the blue flags that marked the course. I needed to pee as well, but I waited for quite some time before I found a decent spot to take a short detour off the trail.

I managed to keep myself on course, and was pretty proud of that accomplishment

After the rocky section along the ridge, we exited the woods and were treated to an amazing view of the valley. I was in awe and couldn’t get over how happy I was to be exactly where I was, doing what I was doing.

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It was around this time that I was struck by the magnitude of what I was doing. I was running fifty miles. And I was doing it HERE in this beautiful place on an amazingly gorgeous fall day. Life seemed pretty darned good.

Soon we were back in the woods and climbing again. I ate a gingerbread Clif bar as I hiked up the steep slope. I caught up to a lady in front of me and settled in behind her for a while.

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There were many slippery sections and some very deep mud pits on this stretch of the course. I stepped in one that reached mid-calf and nearly sucked my shoe off.

I pulled into the second aid station just as the lady who had been in front of me was leaving. I filled up my water bladder (with the help of one of the volunteers) and transferred some of my snacks from the back of my hydration pack to the front, then I was on my way as well.

Aid station #2 to aid station #3 (8.8 miles/24.9 total)

This was the section I had been worried about. We had been warned at the race briefing the night before to make sure that we didn’t miss the turn-off for the out and back section to aid station 3. I was paranoid that I would miss it.

After leaving aid station 2, the course meandered along the river for a while. We were treated to a nice view of Seneca Falls, as well as several river crossings. That water was COLD!

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A mile or so later, we were climbing again. This is where I passed the lady in front of me, as well as two men.

As I passed one of the men, I asked about the turn-off we were supposed to be looking for. He assured me that I hadn’t missed it, that it was at the top of the hill we were climbing.

I was happy to find that he was correct. I was alone when I turned onto the out and back section down to aid station 3. This was the first runnable terrain I had encountered since the road up to aid station 1. It felt really good to be able to actually run for an extended period of time. I came up behind a guy, and also caught sight of a lady just ahead of him. I passed him, but it wasn’t long before I needed to stop for another pee break. He passed me back while I was off the trail.

I was a little surprised at how far into the out and back section I made it before I saw the first place runner headed back in the opposite direction. He must have had a pretty good lead, because it seemed like quite a bit of time passed before the second place runner went by. It wasn’t too long after that that I saw the first place woman. I was very surprised that I never saw another woman headed in the other direction. I wondered if that could possibly mean that I was the third place woman.

Just before the steepest part of the descent down to aid station 3, there were briars all along the trail that tore up my legs. It hurt, but I didn’t mind. The blood just made me feel a little more badass. My energy was still pretty good at this point, but the steep down hills were starting to hurt my knees and IT bands. I was having to walk a lot on the down hills. Even so, I passed the lady in front of me on the last stretch because she lost the trail for a minute.

We ran by a photographer who yelled out, scaring me as I ran by. I’m sure my picture will be awesome!

The lady who I had just passed, passed me again just as we headed into the aid station.

I grabbed some more of my snacks from my drop bag and a volunteer filled my hydration pack for me. I left the aid station with a sandwich (lunch!) in hand.

Aid station #3 to aid station #4 (8.7 miles/33.6 total)

There was a truck blocking my way as I headed back out the way I had come. I had to stop behind him, then once I skirted around, I became disoriented and couldn’t remember which way to go. I finally figured out that I had been heading in the right direction, so I continued on.

During this out and back stretch, I got to see everyone who was behind me, and it didn’t seem like all that many people. I guessed that I was right in the middle of the pack.

It was a very long climb. I wondered if all of the water and food I’d picked up at the aid station was necessary. My pack felt like it weighed a ton. I was still climbing when I glanced at my Garmin and saw that I had just passed 28.5 miles, which is the furthest I’d ever run before this race. In less than two miles, I thought, I’ll be at 30 miles. Then I’ll only have 20 miles left. Wait. What?! Twenty miles is a long freakin’ way. Twenty miles used to be my long run. Now, after running for 30 miles, I would still have 20 left to run. It was at that point that it occurred to me that if I was going to have a chance in hell of finishing, I would need to find a different way of thinking about the miles ahead of me. Less than 5 miles to the next aid station, I told myself. Less than 5 miles. I can do that.

The climb had worn me out. For the first time of the day, I was struggling. My legs and feet had started hurting on the down hill. Now my upper back and right elbow were hurting, too. The trail turned rocky and slippery again. The rocks were loose and sharp and kept biting my ankles. The difficult terrain, coupled with my exhaustion, frustrated me. I wasn’t climbing anymore, but my pace was even slower than it had been on the climb. Every time my ankle turned or I stumbled, I swore. Out loud. Nobody was around to hear. I felt tears welling up in my chest. I reminded myself that I had chosen to do this, and that I could only do what I could do.

Slowly, I pulled myself out of my funk. I caught sight of a runner ahead of me. I was actually catching up to someone! No sooner had that thought crossed my mind when I heard footsteps behind me. Somebody was passing me.

Oh well.

My Garmin battery died.

I never did catch the guy in front of me, but it wasn’t very long before I heard the cheering in the distance that signaled my approach to the next aid station.

I ate a couple of Oreos and a slice of watermelon. I considered putting on dry shoes and socks, but in the end decided not to. I felt pretty disorganized. I had no idea what food I wanted, or would want for the final 15 miles. I stuffed random things into the pockets of my pack while a volunteer again filled my bladder.

Aid station #4 to aid station #5 (6.9 miles/40.5 total)

The sun had come out by this point. A little bit of sugar and seeing some familiar faces had lifted my spirits considerably and I felt like a new person as I pulled out of aid station 4. As I was jogging off, a volunteer told me I had about a mile along the road, followed by another long climb.

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The run along the road actually felt shorter than a mile. I was back in the woods and climbing before I knew it. I was walking again, but couldn’t believe how much better I felt at 33 miles than I had at 28. Who would have thought.

I knew that the girl I had passed earlier was right behind me, but I pulled ahead of her on the climb. A couple of miles into the climb, I stopped for my third and final pee break of the day.

Not long after that, I caught sight of two guys ahead of me. I had been walking for pretty much the entire climb, but we were nearing the top and there were sections that weren’t quite as steep. The guys in front of me were jogging every so often. I decided that I would make myself run every time they did. Using this strategy, it wasn’t long before I caught up to them. I found that my walking pace was faster than theirs, so when they offered to let me by, I scooted around them. The trail was leveling out, though. Soon after I started jogging again, I heard footsteps behind me and one of the guys passed me. A few minutes later, the other one did as well. I never saw either of them again, but I did find out later that they had dubbed me “speed walker girl.”

My painful knees and quads were again forcing me to walk on the steep descents. Before long, the lady who had been following me passed me for the final time. She remained mostly in sight all the way to aid station #5. She was leaving just as I approached. I had just finished my second Clif bar (pumpkin pie) but I ate two Oreos anyway while the volunteers refilled my bladder for me. I was eager to get running again. I just wanted to be finished.

Aid station #5 to aid station #6 (5.7 miles/40.6 total)

This was my first ultra, so finishing within the 14 hour time-limit was my main priority. But I also had it in my head that I wanted to finish in under 12 hours. I knew it was going to be close, but I had dropped my dead Garmin off at aid station #4, and had not checked the time on my phone, either. I had no idea what time it was.

I don’t really know my reason for not wanting to check my phone. I think I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself if I was close, or allow myself to take it too easy if I had plenty of time. Or I may have just been too tired to pull it out of my pack.

There was a lot of mud on this section, but the trail was pretty tame as far as elevation change goes. I should have been running more than I was.

The stretch between aid station 5 and 6 was the longest 5.7 miles of my life. I just kept willing myself to keep moving. Whenever I didn’t think I could take it anymore, I allowed myself to walk for ten steps. I also allowed myself to walk if there was even the faintest hint of an incline, and through all of the muddy sections. There were a lot of muddy sections on this stretch of trail.

Aid station #6 to the finish (3.8 miles/50 total)

I didn’t even stop at aid station #6. As I was approaching, a volunteer asked if I needed anything. I shook my head and told her I didn’t think so. My pack was stuffed full of food and I had plenty of water for the final stretch. As I ran by, the volunteer called out, “She just came by, she’s right in front of you.” Sure enough, I looked up the road and saw the blue shirt of the lady who had passed me in the last stretch. I didn’t have the energy to try to catch her, though.

I almost missed the turn-off back into the woods. The trail was a little hard to follow in this section and I was grateful to be doing it in the daylight. I didn’t envy the runners who would have to navigate it in the dark. I could tell by the sky and dropping temperature that it was getting late. My shoes kept filling with debris, and I had to take them off and shake them out several times. The trail was taking me through pastureland, spotted with apple trees. There were several stiles to climb over and although I felt as though I was moving in slow motion, I was enjoying myself, too. I felt oddly at peace.

At the base of the final hill, there was a sign nailed to a tree that said, “one mile to go.” Somebody earlier had referred to this climb as “heartbreak hill.” I knew at this point in the race, it was going to suck, but I willed myself forward. I wanted sugar so badly. I had some nuts and a Kind bar in the front of my pack, but none of that sounded appealing. I wanted candy; gum drops, jelly beans, Hot Tomales.  I had some dried mango in the back of my pack, but I would have had to take off my pack to get to it, and I definitely didn’t feel like doing that.

After what felt like forever, I was out of the woods and in an open field. I couldn’t see the finish line, but I could hear it. It wasn’t easy, but I ran that entire final stretch.

I was done! I had run 50 miles! I was feeling happy and desperately craving the icy chocolate milk that I knew was waiting for me in the cooler. In the car. Waaay up on the hill…

I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time, but the fourth place woman had been gaining on me and ended up finishing less than two minutes behind me. Not that it really matters. The first, second and fourth place women had all run 30 equally tough miles the day before, while I had been sitting on my butt and eating pancakes.

Next year I’ll get to see how I fare running 50 miles the day after running 30.

I’m kind of excited about that.

Race results.