It’s taken me a week to come up with what to say about this race, because it feels like it happened in another universe, to a different person.
Mostly, I just feel gratitude. I am thankful for everything that happened- getting to be there, having the ability to train this summer, not being injured, having fantastic support at home and with my crew, for the shit never hitting the fan, for the weather, the other runners, the course, the aid stations, everything. I am so incredibly grateful. I kind of feel like writing a race report puts the focus on the wrong things (my internal experience vs. the external awesomeness that allowed me to run in the first place), but maybe my experience will be helpful to someone in the future and the cycle of awesome will continue.
As the culmination of my summer (in a literal sense in that I started my first year of teaching the day after the race, and mentally, as the pinnacle of my running career to date), I had a fair amount of anxiety going into the race- could I do it? I didn’t know. I know I can do 100k. I know I can run a 50k somewhat fast. But 100 miles was an entirely new and frightening territory, with plenty of warnings out in the running world about “anything can happen” and “no guarantees”- enough to scare a newbie even more than the anticipated pain of slamming up and down hills for 24 hours. So, as I always do, I set a series of goals.
Primarily: ENJOY IT and…
Bronze …finish the race
Silver …finish under 28 hours
Gold ….finish under 26 hours
Platinum …break 24 hours
I had calculated splits for 24-28 hour finishes, but after running an out-and-back from Silver Creek to Thorp Mt. in training, I thought 26 hours was probably the fastest I could go. I wrote the goal times for hitting each of my crew access points on my arm about 3 minutes before the start. I hadn’t planned to hold myself to any times because I wanted to avoid starting too hard, but then I decided knowing where I was might be a helpful mental trick later in the race when I was too tired to do the math.
Leg-by-leg (this is how the race broke up in my head):
I loved the late start– plenty of time to sleep in, get a good breakfast (provided generously by the Easton Fire Department), sort out details with my crew, and have too many cups of coffee. By the time the race briefing started, my stomach was a mess of nerves and caffeine, but I was ready to go.
Start to Tacoma Pass: Climbs. Climbs. Long lines of people. I was glad to fall right where I did in the pack, as it gave me a chance to chat with Angel Rossi Mathis and Matt Hagen– happy runners that reminded me of my primary goal to enjoy the day. I was really hating the climbing but Matt chattered away which made the time fly by, and he initiated a few big “pass-the-crowd” moves on the switchbacks that saved me a solid 10 minutes at least. The ridge-top sections were nice- any chance to run felt amazing! My right knee was already complaining a bit by mile 10, which I expected, but not quite THAT early in the race. The first 20 was probably the hardest for me mentally, as there was SO FAR to go, and I couldn’t get my energy and enthusiasm up on the climbs.
Tacoma Pass to Meadow Mountain: FUN! This section was so fun! SO FUN! Settled into a steady routine of smashing the downs, getting passed back on the climbs (stinky knee!) but there were so many good running sections that I started to get excited and really enjoy being out on the trails. I also got to see my crew, be the first woman to the 7Hills aid station!! at Stampede, and found out I was further ahead in the pack than I thought. Also there was BEER! Thanks North Blades Gauntlet for that swig of PBR (actually, it went down terrible, but I still didn’t regret the decision). Time was moving fast, the miles were going by quickly, and I was loving every minute of it.
Meadow Mountain to Hyak: Less fun. Although I had a few good miles chatting with Marta Fisher and pacing together, she soon took the lead and TOOK OFF. She is a ridiculously strong climber, and I figured I’d see her at the finish. I tried to settle in and cruise, but wasn’t expecting the amount of gain between Meadow and Ollalie, and that was pretty mentally draining. I wanted to run more, but even the runnable sections elevation-wise were pretty technical and I started to trip a lot on the rocks and talus. I knew going too fast and hurting myself here would screw me for the rest of the race, so I put on some Blackstar and just settled in. The pain on the outside of my right knee was steadily increasing, so I decided I’d take one ibuprofen every 3-4 hours, and see how that worked. The “downhill” from Ollalie to the tunnel was nice for a few minutes, then turned into a steep power-line drop on tennis-ball-esque rocks. I walked, as it seemed more efficient. Darkness fell as we came towards the sounds of the highway. The only fall I had on the whole course came at the very bottom of the (fun, scary!) roped section, when the dirt just didn’t stay where it was as I tried to step down. The tunnel was fine, albeit flat, and I had this neat experience of feeling the pain scale back a bit– my knee was hurting at the beginning of the tunnel and felt great by the end. I came into Hyak smiling and happy.
Hyak to Kachess: High point of the race for me. At Hyak, I came in an hour ahead of my goal pace, and my husband was only ready to start pacing because he had seen Marta come through 5 minutes before and knew I’d be close behind. My crew had made up baggies of chips and sandwich halves, so I could grab it quickly and go. I also changed shoes, as the rocks of the previous 15 miles had really beat up my feet through the bottom of my Salomons. We took off up the road towards Kachess and settled into a good running pace for the flat and fast walk for the climb. My Scott Kinabalus felt AWESOME, and I was so glad I had switched. The road climb was the only thing that didn’t hurt my knee, and we could walk it fast enough to make good time. Energy wise, I felt awesome- I was stoked with my pace, had been eating and drinking enough through the day, and was loving the stars. Knowing I had someone to talk to for the rest of the race was really nice. The downhill went fast as well, and we passed a few people on the way down to Kachess. Despite Justin having to take a few bathroom breaks (veggie pizza was not a good pre-pacing meal!), this section went faster than I expected, although the downhill was pretty monotonous after the first 30 minutes. Still, we got to the aid station ahead of our expected time and that was an awesome boost.
Kachess to Mineral Creek: Rough. I was surprised coming into Kachess that Alicia was right in front of me, as she had been in the lead out of Hyak (I think). I was starting to get tired, having eaten less than I should have on the downhill, and it being midnight and all. I wanted to be faster on the “Trail from Hell” section, but between knee pain and generally clumsiness, I was tripping a lot. Several guys cruised past and made it look easy–what an ego bruise! The steep hills here also got me- my legs burned and I dreaded the Needles. This was the only section where I really felt like I might crash later on. I didn’t feel like a breakdown was immediately imminent, but I felt like it was going to happen if I kept going. I was mentally tired, physically dragging, and not feeling like pushing it anymore. Then we got back to a road climb and I felt great again. It took ages to reach the top of the road where Scott was waiting, but I’m glad we didn’t get there any faster or he might have still been asleep. He quickly gathered his pack and we took off!
Mineral Creek to French Cabin: I had Scott pacing me on this tough section. We chatted away the night, mostly about the races he’s done, advice he had, a lot of boring narration by me about how I was feeling, what came next, etc. I was ready for the sun to come up as my battery was starting to die. The road climb up to No Name was pretty fast, and we passed Alicia and her pacer somewhere along the way. I kept expecting to crash soon and it just never happened. The steep needles were hard, but honestly, my legs didn’t hurt any worse than they had earlier in the race and I knew the end was near. I was really glad I had run that few mile section before race day so I knew what to expect- I think it would have mentally drained me if I didn’t know that the end was in sight. I was starting to feel tired, but on the climb up to Thorp Mtn we came up on Marta, and then saw the lead lady as she was coming down. Knowing I was that close to the front of the pack was exciting, but every one of those top 5 women is a strong beastly runner and I spent the rest of the race checking behind me every couple of minutes expecting to see Marta or Alicia flying down behind me.
French Cabin to Finish: Running. I felt great again, knowing the end was near. The sun was up and I was ready to go! As soon as we crested the saddle above French Cabin, my goal was to get to the end as fast as possible. I wanted to be done, I wanted to stay in second, I wanted to break 24 hours. I still didn’t think I could do 23 hours, as my pace on my training run had been closer to 13 min. miles, and I needed to be faster than that to break 23. I flew down though, faster than my poor sleep-deprived pacer could go and came through Silver Creek at 7:50 am, so far ahead of my expectations that I screamed and yelled and maybe even got a little a teary-eyed. The flat that followed was tough, only because I thought we would be running along the road and not the bike tracks weaving in and out. I was tired now, with no gravity to pull me forward, and put on music to cruise the last few in at a pace that felt really slow but was actually just under 10-min miles. I was happy to get a cheer from my crew and then Angel as each drove by, and to see Phil Shaw fly past in the last mile. I’d seen him sick on the road up to No Name and I knew he’d had a rough race, so it was amazing to see how well he rebounded. Then there were railroad tracks, and cheering, and some fist-pumping, and then I crossed under that big wooden sign to a high-five and hug from Rich. I thought I would have cried at this point, but I was too astounded. I don’t know how many times in life we get the chance to really amaze ourselves, but it is an incredible feeling.
My priorities were real food, water, and then a beer. It was probably the first time in my life I’ve ever hankered for a beer before eating breakfast, and man, it tasted delicious. Sitting at the finish line, watching other people I’d spent the day running with cross the line and celebrate, was the best part of the day. Each person goes through their own struggles on the trail but everyone who crosses gets that “wow, I DID THAT” amazement I talked about before. Sharing elation and laughs and hobbling with the other slightly insane people who ran that day wrapped up a pretty perfect 24 hours. Soon the beer began to kick in, my eyes started to get heavy, and I decided it was time to head home for a nap. It was a very, very good nap.
Salomon Fellraisers (first 53), Scott Kinabalus (last 47)
Ultimate Direction Jenny Ultra Vesta
Nathan 20-oz handheld
Zensa compression calf sleeves
Pearl Izumi lightweight shell (carried in pack but never worn)
Black Diamond Spot headlamp
I started with gels but my stomach wasn’t crazy about that, so I started eating mostly real food at Tacoma. Generally, I had 20-oz of gu brew between each aid station, plus half a gel or snickers or larabar as well if it was a longer stretch, then ate something hot and/or solid at each aid station, as well as some chips for salt! The hot food at night was the best..pirogie, quesadilla slices, tater tots.. mmm. Early in the day I’d eaten an avocado wrap, 6-7 quarters of PBJ, and a lot of potato chips (2-3 bags worth). I avoided soup because I was worried about having too much liquid in my stomach, although it smelled delicious. I also drank about 5 oz of Red Bull at Mineral Creek. This was one of the first races where I felt like I nailed my nutrition and hydration. It helped to have my pacer Scott checking with me frequently to make sure I actually was eating, but even before then, I kept myself pretty well fueled. I also didn’t have to use the restroom at all during the race, which was a very welcome surprise!