It was mile 35 and I was 8 and a half hours into my first 100 mile race. I was walking on a smooth single-track downhill, a trail I would normally be head over heels to run, because my achilles was in too much pain to do anything but walk. The race had gone relatively well up to that point. I had happily made my way through the uphill section of the course, the part I struggle with, and was just a few miles into the downhill. In my race plan, this was the part I was waiting for, the part where I could stretch my legs and enjoy my favorite parts of running. Except that’s not how it worked out.
I went into this race on a whim, signing up a mere 3 weeks before the race. I also went in severely undertrained. I spent the summer “running for fun,” which definitely meant I had thrown in some beautiful and hard long runs through the mountains, but also meant that was pretty much all I did. There were no hill repeats, no speed work, and, let’s be honest, pretty minimal work week running (sleep > AM running > hot PM running). When I decided to sign up for the race, approximately four weeks out, I emailed Heidi and asked her if a one week training plan for a 100 sounded legit. She agreed it did (a true #runabler), so I knocked out one “peak” (aka. only) week of training that consisted of 65 miles, over 16,000 feet of vertical gain, and a whole lot of time above 12,000 feet. Both my mind and my body survived the week, so I signed up for the race and started my “taper” (aka. what I had been doing the rest of the summer).
Knowing all of that, I went into the race absolutely certain that it would hurt. I knew that I would have to push through the aches and the pains, and dig down deep inside me to make it to the finish line. What I did not expect, was for the pain to start so early in the race, and on the part of the course where I would normally excel. I might not have been very trained, but I was made for this kind of downhill running.
So I walked. And I moped. And I kicked some rocks and threw some profanities at my achilles. And questioned what on earth I was thinking when I decided to run 100 miles on essentially no training.
And then I hit another uphill section that never seemed to end. I’m not a big fan of climbs. They’ve never been my strong suit, and they’re even worse when I’m already in a bad head space. Somewhere during this seemingly endless climb (it was actually quite short in the big scheme of things), I sat down on a tree stump, feeling defeated, and thought about if this climb was this miserable at mile 40 of my race, it may well bring me to tears at mile 90.
And it was that thought, the thought of crying at mile 90, that made me realize that I was going to finish. Because no matter how frustrated I was that I was already hurting, that I was reduced walking only a third of the way into my race, my mind was already thinking about mile 90.
I got up off my stump and trudged on up to the top of the hill, where more beautiful singletrack unfolded before me. I knew it was downhill all the way to the halfway point, so I decided to give running a go again…and in complete disbelief, I ran the next 5 miles to the turnaround with not a single pain in my achilles.
And it never hurt again for the rest of the race.
In all honesty, a lot of the rest of the race seemed like a blur to me. I remember mile 35 vividly, which is odd because I don’t usually remember the hard parts of races (hence why I keep signing up for them!). But I wanted to remember it…I wanted to remember the struggle, the thoughts I almost had about giving up, the pain, and the frustration. I wanted to remember pushing past it, on deciding that I could finish the race walking every single step if that’s what it took, on sitting down on that log and knowing that I was going to make it to mile 90, no matter what happened. And most importantly, I wanted to remember that IT GOT BETTER.
That was one of mantras going into the race – It Gets Better – and I had it written in sharpie on one of my wrists to remind myself when things got hard. On the other wrist was You Are Stronger.
I chose those sayings because they had gotten me through a lot in the past year. Something that other people told me when I came to them frustrated and sad and lost, and something that I told myself when the climbs (both in life and on the trails) seemed bigger than the strength I had left. It gets better. You are stronger than this. And you know what? Just like during my race, it always did and I always was. I found the strength and the courage, I found the joy and the beauty, and while the pain and difficulty didn’t always melt away, I always found my way through it.
For the rest of the race, I never hit another low like I did at mile 35. Sure, there were moments when I was cold, or tired, or just really wanted to sit down, but never again did I have to mentally and physically struggle so badly to keep moving forward.
When I started writing this recap, I struggled to write a play-by-play like I do for most race reports. It didn’t feel right for this one. The journey you go on over 100 consecutive miles isn’t chronological, nor would it make much sense in words to someone else.
So instead, here are some random reflections from my 25 hours and 55 minutes on the trail…
- All I wanted to eat was cantaloupe. It was the nectar of the Gods, and no matter how often I tried to get myself to eat ANYTHING else, it all tasted horrible. Cantaloupe and Tailwind are what got me through this race (nutritionally) exclusively. They only had it at a couple aid stations, so my incredible crew bagged some up in gallon-size baggies and brought them to all the other aid stations for me. I would grab a few slices at each station, put them in my vest pocket, and ration them as I went along. Sometimes it was my sole motivation for moving forward – “At the end of this mile, I get to eat another cantaloupe slice!” And in the rare instances when I forgot I had another slice stashed away, it was like a miracle had occurred.
- As soon as the sun went down, I convinced myself it was 9pm the whole night, and never asked anyone the time after that. I knew going into the race that night was going to be the hardest, because of the cold, because of the dark, but also because I freaking love to sleep and 9pm is usually pretty close to my normal bedtime. I knew if I asked and someone told me it was 2am, the tiredness would immediately start to set in, so I never asked and I let myself stay convinced it was continually 9pm, no matter how long I had been running since the sun went down.
- It was cold, but not as cold as I thought it would be. I had a lot of layers, and I wore them all at some points in the race. Once the sun went down and I still had two long sections above treeline and 11,000 feet, I knew the only thing I had to do was keep moving. There were no breathers or breaks on either of those climbs, because as soon as I stopped moving, chills immediately started to set in. On the climb up to Rogers Pass with Cassie, the winds had started to blow and I knew that stopping there might mean hypothermia and a DNF. So we just kept moving, even if that was sometimes at a snail’s pace. Once we got back into the trees towards my final descent into the finish line (which was still ~20-25 miles away), the wind was blocked and my fear of the cold disappeared.
- My crew was fucking awesome. I convinced two of my high school best friends, Kevin and Deidre, to come captain my crew/pacer team, with their 8 month old baby. Joining them were two running friends, Cassie and Katie, and a total stranger, Bob. I knew all of them on entirely different levels, and they all played an integral part in getting me to the finish line. When I say that I wouldn’t have made it to the finish line without them, it’s not an exaggeration. They did all of the thinking for me in each aid station. They filled my water, gave me my cantaloupe allotment, put warmer clothes on me, changed my headlamp batteries, and met me with smiles, encouragement, and lies about how awesome I looked at every aid station. They did all of this despite the fact that none of them were getting any sleep, they all had to have been freezing, and they saw me for only a few minutes of chaos in between long stretches of nothing but waiting. (I’ll be honest, I was impressed and grateful and fully indebted to them after my race, but it wasn’t until I crewed my first 100 a few weeks later that I realized how freaking hard their job really was). Each and every one of them were also one of my pacers. They ranged in running abilities from Katie, who was about to do her first 100 a few weeks later, to Kevin, who self-proclaimed that he had been on a “4-year taper for this.” They were all in their unique ways the perfect pacing partner. Some told (bad) jokes (Kevin), some asked ALL the questions about ultras (Bob), some spent the miles realizing how much in common we had (Katie), some jammed out to a solid pump-up playlist with me (Cassie), and some did some deep-thinking with me (Deidre). But each and every one of them did their job to keep me me moving, keep me fed and hydrated, keep me warm, and keep me motivated, all of which got me to the finish line. I truly cannot thank them enough.
- The course was short. Way short. I thought about not putting this on here, under the assumption that it would make my accomplishment seem like less. But I’ll be damned if I let anyone take away the fact that I self-propelled myself up, over, and around mountains for nearly 26 straight hours without stopping. I knew going into this race that it was its first year, and there would surely be kinks. The RD even warned us that distances were “estimates.” When it came down to it, I ran the Hideaway 100 and pushed myself harder and farther than I ever have before…and I did it with a smile on my face when I crossed that finish line – and that is ALL that matters to me.
- The first 48 hours after running were some of the most painful in my life. I have never, EVER been so sore and exhausted that I had to sit down in the shower because I couldn’t stay standing and then couldn’t get back up because there was nothing left in my muscles to do that…..until 2 hours after my race, that is. In fact, that 48-hour recovery period was rather hilarious (even in the moment), so it will have to have it’s own story at some point.
- The sun started to rise about 25 hours into my race when I was about 5 miles from the finish line. I was cold and tired and so ready to just sit down and be done, but seeing the sun rise and knowing that I had made it through the night gave me all the strength I needed to finish. As the clouds turned pink, my best friend and I talked about how far I’d come to get here, not just in running, but also in life. I took a few moments to let it sink in while I watched the stars fade away and the sky finally turn blue. It was by far my favorite moment of the entire race.
I’m not sure how many 100 milers are in my future, but I have at least one more already on the calendar for 2016.