A little over 8 years ago I had a friend mention to me that he was considering something called "Ultra running." My immediate response was "Why? I don't get it." Why run more than a traditional marathon distance? Isn't that challenging enough? Why make your body go LONGER than 26.2 miles? What's your incentive? Then I found myself toeing the line at a 100 mile race.....
|I'm pretty shy. You can never find me in a crowd.|
This journey began over 18 months ago, when I registered for the 2016 running of the San Diego 100 Mile Endurance run, and got cut for time last June at mile 71.7. The inability to complete this race fueled my need to make sure I completed it this year. Needless to say, I was glued to every device I had available the 2 weeks prior to the race checking the anticipated temperature range for the 2 days involved. As things started to get a little more real, race day temps looked ideal. Perfect in fact.
I came into this race with more mental preparations than last year, but less actual training. I started working last August, which made it harder to get those mid-week runs in (go figure) and the guilt of already hoarding the majority of Saturdays from my husband last year caused me to work my run schedule into more local (not mountain) runs. But, I learned a couple of important lesson from last year.... ready for this?.....
1) PAY ATTENTION TO THE CUTOFFS. Whaaaat? Pay attention to the cut offs? I have been a road runner for over 15 years, a trail ultra runner for a mere 3 years. Cutoffs were never a thing for a road race. You just go out and run. There's 1 cut off, the finish, and those times were usually ridiculously generous.
2) EAT. Seems pretty self explanatory, right? Well, I just finished the PCT 50 mile race in May and I forgot to eat. "Forgot".... I ended up with a great 20 miles, and not so great 10 miles and 20 miles of forceful power hiking and making it the next aid station. Followed by one of my worst finishes and a night of nausea and vomiting (too much?). A seasoned 100 mile friend told me to find a gel that worked for my stomach and eat 1 every hour. That was my plan. And whatever aid station food appealed to me.
Ok, cutoffs and eat. Seems easy enough. Got my drop bags ready, got my crew ready and I think I got me ready.
|Drops bags, crew bag, misc bag, and binder. All ready to go.|
Race morning came way too early. Everyone was jittery and ready to go. This year I had a crew, a plan, and told so many people I was going to do this race that I couldn't NOT finish.
|The amazing Ricky Roane.|
|It's just 100 miles Whitney, no worries....|
|An amazing runner. She does 200 mile races and smokes me in every race |
that I have run "with" her. Also coming into this race injured....
At the first aid station, the Running Skirts team was there to get everyone set to climb Stone wall Peak. I asked my friend Fern to fill my pack with water, thinking I had consumed enough. I was informed sternly that my pack was still full, and that it better be empty when I made it to the next aid station. My job was to drink and run. Damn. I needed to listen to him too, because not only was he seeing with outside eyes, but as one of the top ultra runners in the SoCal area, he has "some" experience under his belt. So, I left AS #1 with plans to run and drink. Considering I only had 7.5 miles in me, the first part was harder than I thought it would be. So was the second. But I met a buddy I occasionally run with and chased him down the mountain. And when I made it to the next AS, my pack was empty.
Chambers and Sunrise 1
When I checked my time vs my pace chart, I noticed I had managed to be slow enough in the beginning of the race that I was now officially running my "oh crud" pace. I figured I wouldn't get here until at least after Pine Creek (mile 36). I made it a point to bring myself back into my "realistic" race pace. So I ran more than I felt comfortable with, but then again, there's really nothing comfortable about ultra running. It started to get hot at this point, and I knew the next two sections were going to be hot, exposed and warm. The extra push got me into the AS within a better buffer of my realistic pace vs oh crud pace. Maybe my crew expected me to stick to the slowing pace I had been displaying and not suck it up and run, but we missed each other at the first crew AS. I had tucked a few extra gels in my pack just in case, and I knew I'd see them at the next aid station. This meet up was important since I would then have to go 20 miles without another crew AS, so I definitely needed to see them.
As I left the Sunrise 1, I got a cooling buff from the Running Skirts, some hugs from the Trail Crashers working the AS, and some ice and food. I ate a coupe of pickles, and had some soda to wash down my CarboPro and BioTropic. I took off down the most beautiful section of the race. It's also sneaky hard. Last year it was so hot I felt like I was getting baked here. This year, I turned on my music and had some fun hopscotching and chatting with other runners. It was perfect. I had a great song playing in my ear and one of my training partners in sight. As I worked my way closer, I was so happy I started singing out loud (apologies if you were within hearing, I'm not a good singer.). I hoped that as I passed my friend he would follow along. I got a smile and a head shake. I wasn't sure if it was a "she's so crazy" head shake or "I'm riding a low point and can't go with you" kind of shake. Last year my absolute favorite picture was taken in this section. And I didn't buy it because I have a rule about not buying pictures from races I don't finish. So even when I was tired, I ran around every blind corner just in case a photographer was there. Alas I was disappointed, but I finally made it to the next AS, so there was a positive!
Pioneer Mail 1
AS #4, Pioneer Mail 1. I had made a mental note to get a BIG bag of gels, my watch charger, a battery pack, and a spray down with bug spray. I had heard a rumor that the biting flies had been in the area, and I was NOT going to take any chances. After getting the AS crew to fill my pack with ice and getting a piece of plain bread (yep, already trying to keep my stomach from going south), I met my crew (at this point only Marvin) to grab all the essential gear and a few encouraging words. The next 2 sections always make me work hard. And I'm far enough into the race that stuff is hard, my legs are tired and I'm questioning why I do this. Maybe this whole "remembering to eat" stuff thing is working for me. I was FAR less grumpy or worn down in this section. I was actually running, go figure. Same hopscotching, different group of runners. One guy swallowed a bee and got stung in the throat. Seriously, stung in the throat. We stopped for a bit to make sure everything was OK and his breathing was good and unchanged. Everything seemed to be fine and he said he was not allergic to bee stings, but we agreed he should take a benadryl just in case. And, I guess he was ok because he made it the the next AS before me!
The road to Pine Creek is another level of hell, I'm sure of it. I forgot what a terrible experience the road to Pine Creek was. First you emerge from the trail to a hard packed dirt road that climbs, and rolls, and climbs. And its hot, and climbs more. Maybe now would have been a good time to take a gel, but it didn't happen. And I slowly made my way forward. Watching all my new friends leave me, even bee sting guy. And when we finally made it to the top, it was a never ending hot road down (I've officially entered the complaining phase of ultra running). Forever. And frickin' ever. You would think downhill would be nice, but it hurt so much. My quads sent out a protest and made sure I knew that they did not like the current situation. Zip it short stuff, we're "running" here....
I finally freaking made it. It was about 20° cooler this year than last, and I was totally not hungry. But I made myself eat just a little something (slice of watermelon and pickle spear, no, I'm not pregnant), got my pack filled with water and ice and took an iced coke to go. Oh, and filled my sports bra with a big scoop of ice. It was AMAZING. I highly recommend this move. As I took off up Noble Canyon I attempted to not let little demons whisper in my ear about being tired, or hot, or how hard the climb was. Sip, eat a gel, climb, get startled by a piece of ice falling out of my sports bra. I was passed by several people having a slightly better point in their race, but as long as I didn't stay in this low, I was Ok with that. Soon I was passing people. I was had some runners envy of people who had poles. I've never trained with them, but I felt like they definitely HAD to help, right? Soon enough (it felt like forever) I made it to Big Tree (is this THE Big Tree or just a rather largish tree?), where the aid station usually is for the Noble Canyon 50k, so I knew the road had to be coming up soon. Crossing the road was a mental sigh of relief. The AS had to be soon, right? 3 miles now? I was "mostly" done climbing for this section, right? I always forget there's just a little more climb after the road, and some more to get to the AS at Penny Pines 1. Soon another runner passed me on what I think was the last mile before the AS asking if it was close. I told her what I knew, "I've been thinking it's close for about 2 miles now...." I finally made it to Penny 1, so much earlier than last year.
As I sat and had a cup of soup, I thought about this next segment. Runnable. But could I run it? I got my drop bag, retrieved solid food (which I couldn't eat), some gels and a battery charger for my phone. I left feeling tired. So I took a gel and tried to walk fast. Soon I felt it start to revive me and I ran some. I thought about seeing my friends at Meadows (the next AS) and how close I was to the last real challenge, heading down to Cibbits and climbing back up again, a 14.8 round trip, down and up a mountain. But before that, I has to make it to Meadows. So I walked the uphills and ran the flats and downhills. And didn't get passed by a single runner after the gel revived me. I thought that wasn't too shabby considering I had around 45+ miles on my legs.
As I made it to Meadows, I could not see my crew. I could see other people I knew, but none of my guys. Oh well. Good thing I threw a small flashlight in my pack that morning or I would have been totally screwed. At this point my stomach was really starting to turn. More soup and plain bread while I hoped for my crew to show up. They had an extra flashlight I could take with me and a long sleeve shirt (it was starting to cool off). I left Meadows without sighting them and hoped what I had would be enough. The group I was running with had a little pep and we decided to run. I made it about a mile with them before stopping for a little walk break (and decided to free my poor soup and bread from the apparently evil confines of my stomach). More running, some walking while debating getting the crystallized ginger from my pack. Finally, I stopped, took off my pack and started digging. No ginger. I know I packed it. More looking, no ginger. I forced down another VFuel and hoped it would stay with me. A friend ran Western States last year and ended up vomiting most of the race, a kind older gentleman told her that as soon as she emptied her stomach she needed to put something back in. That was my plan, keep something, anything, in. While I was digging for ginger I took my tiny flashlight out and kept it handy. Soon it would be dark enough to need it. I was envious of the runners who had their headlamps as they passed me moving slowly down the trail. Then my flashlight stopped working. I was literally in the dark. I didn't know how much battery my phone had, but it had been plugged into a charger for a while, so I turned on the phone flashlight. Hallelujah, 95% battery! It wasn't ideal, but it was a light. I had lost sight of all headlamps of nearby runners and there was a split in the trail. Damn. So I took a chance and headed down a well trampled trail, only to see a couple of frogs about a half mile in. My standard rule of thumb is, if I see wildlife, I'm on the wrong path. Arg, I backtracked to the split and went uphill, eventually finding course markers again. Up, up, up. I had forgotten how much of this section went up to the aid station, and how far the aid station was. I was moving fairly slowly since I really didn't relish the idea of getting lost and adding more miles again. I eventually made it into the aid station and found my crew waiting for me at the very edge as I came in.
Red Tailed Roost
A change of clothes, more gels, another battery pack, a headlamp and a friend. I picked up my pacer here. She had gotten injured midway through training and kindly offered to help me with my race, it was going to be so nice to run with someone for the next 25 miles. 25 really hard miles. It wasn't cold enough for a jacket, so I tossed it in my pack just in case it cooled down more. As I geared up for the next section, Fern (yep, same Fern who forced me to drink) told me that 4 of the people I started with dropped from the race. Of my friends and training partners, I only had 3 left running. I was really surprised by this news and Neily, my pacer, and I had some material to discuss while we walk/ran to the next aid station. The first little leg from Red Tail Roost to the start of the descent to Cibbits is on a rough dirt road, the wind started to pick up and as we ran/walked we were blinded a little by dust. But, it was only 1.3 miles, we could handle this. I didn't realize that the aid station was just for runners returning from the climb, and they wouldn't let me grab a ginger ale as we passed thru, ugh. But, we do get to go downhill and see a lot of runners who were climbing. The wind did not settle down and we were often hindered by the dust flying into our eyes. I was really regretting getting rid of my sunglasses and my hat. I made most of the descent with my hand covering my eyes and my mouth firmly closed to prevent getting a mouthful of dirt. My pace going downhill was slower than I would have liked, but we still made it to the next aid station with plenty of time to spare.
Cibbits Flat - The lowest of the low
I hate Cibbits Flat. Hate it. Its a hard, rocky climb down and you know you have to go right back up again. As I got to the bottom we found Marvin waiting for us. I grabbed more gels, ate more soup and tried to take some Carbopro and Biotropic with a coke. Buuuuttttttt...... It didn't stay with me. Super fun. Another friend at the AS told me yet another person from my group dropped, but I didn't believe it, he is a really strong (and smart) runner and came into the race uninjured. I guessed I would find out when I had time to look it up. Neily and I left the AS and started the steep climb up the road and the mountain. I mentioned I HATE this? I'm back to wondering why I do these races. But I was on a mission. I got cut from the race last year at the top. I missed the cut off by 12 minutes. I was determined to get there in time this year. I had a better buffer than last year, but that didn't mean I allowed myself to lollygag. I was seriously starting to be tired. Not sleepy, just tired of running, and walking and being pelted by the wind and dirt. My legs hurt from getting hit from all the shrubs, and I really, really wanted to be done. There was only 1 way to be done, so we kept moving forward.
We cruised in to Dale's Kitchen at 4:14 am, 46 min ahead of cutoff. Not as much wiggle room as I would like, but still decent. We both had soup (I think we were both trying to save our stomachs) and then headed off to the next AS. Todd's Cabin felt so far away, and we heard some weird noises coming from the mountain, so we were a little freaked out. I took 1 picture during the race. I couldn't help myself. It was just so amazing to be out there during sunrise. This is my favorite section from PCT 50. You've just finished climbing and can run through beautiful trees and some non-technical trails for a bit. I think we started to slow down after we finished climbing, but we needed to remind ourselves that the race wasn't over yet.
Mile 75.3. My farthest run to date. We were getting dangerously close to the cutoffs and my throat hurt. I wondered if I was starting to get the cold that's been floating around my kids and my friends for a couple of weeks. At this AS we only had a 27 minute buffer. So we tried to get in and out as fast as we could and headed to the next aid station. As we shuffled, ran, walked, and everything in between, I really started to sweat the cutoff, I was going to kick myself if I made it past Dale's Kitchen only to get cut at mile 80. As a 73 year old racer hustled past me on a downhill, I really took it to heart that I may really miss the next cut off. It was rocky, but I should be able to run this. I let Neily know my concerns and started running. I ran more than 75% of this section and skated into the aid station with 13 minutes to spare. Believe me, I was starting to try to figure out who I needed bribe or what names I would have to drop to keep going.
I grabbed what I needed, hugged Neily and thanked her for her tremendous help and hustled out. A couple of guys left a minute after me, but they were running more than I was and soon passed me. I kept looking behind me to make sure I wasn't about to be overtaken again, but everything seemed to be OK. About 2 miles into the leg I saw 2 more runners coming up on me, fast. I couldn't believe how fresh their legs were. So I ran, I finally started walking when we reached an uphill and they were right behind me. They nicely asked me how I was feeling. What was the appropriate response? Beat? Tired? Freaking tired? Ready for a huge glass of sweet tea and my patio? I replied "oh, you know, like I just ran 82 miles. I'm just 82 miles tired." and of course asked about how they were feeling. Please, please, please say "I'm really really tired..." Instead, they let me know they were the sweepers and they were fine since they only had about 7 miles on their legs. MOTHER TRUCKER!!!!! I had the sweepers on my tail. This is very much NO BUENO. I double checked that I still had 45 minutes and it was about 2 miles to the next AS. The let me know my numbers were mostly correct. Hmmm.... I did NOT like them on my tail. So I politely said bye and passed the guys who took off past me out of Penny 2. Letting THEM know those guys were the sweepers. The seemed less alarmed than I was. There's nothing like the sweepers on your tail to make you run out of your comfort zone. I ran the next 2 miles to the AS.
Pioneer Mail 2
Only 1 more aid station after this. Now I'm counting down aid stations. 19 minute buffer, at least it was getting better. I saw my amazing crew waiting for me. And.... my kids. What? My husband came up and I (rudely I'm sure) that he was at the wrong AS and he wasn't supposed to start pacing until the next one. But they said they had worked it all out and the guys would take the kids and Ryan would run 16 miles with me. So he grabbed his gear and we left. Coming into Pioneer 1 was great, you have a super half mile downhill. Leaving Pioneer 2 sucked, you have a savage half mile UPHILL. Halfway up I realized I left my sunglasses, I had wanted them for the sun and the still blowing dirt. Oh well, no way I'm going back for them. Then we reached the top and started across the road to the trail, the wind was blowing people around. I watch 2 guys ahead of me get tossed about and even Ryan was having a hard time with it. He offered to take the drop off side, but I just grunted no. We ran and walked (or maybe it was upright crawling. Is there a word for that?) to the next AS and I bitched and moaned about how far away it was. But Ryan was great, and even said I wasn't as whiny as he anticipated me being. Which made me laugh. We got tossed around a bit, but not off the mountain, so that was good. We were back on the stunning section of the run, so while I was tired and my throat still hurt, at least it was gorgeous out. I had tried a throat lozenge, but it didn't help. So I did what was working, kept my mouth shut and didn't talk. This is probably the quietest I've ever been.
Finally! Only 9 more miles left and I had increased my buffer to the cutoff to 45 minutes. This is the first time I actually KNEW that I would finish. It wasn't just a thought. It was going to happen. I had over 3 hours to walk/crawl the 9 miles to the finish. I did a quick change into cooler clothes and ditched my pack (I'd regret this later), and grabbed my last bottle of sparkling water (the only thing that appealed to me). My crew chief let me know he was in bad shape, he had been sick all night and really needed to get home. I felt so bad that he didn't let me know earlier, we could have made things work and he could have gone home to take care of himself, but I was sad he wasn't going to be at the finish. He started this stupid ultra running thing....He's also probably my best friend. But, we will have HIS first 100 finish to share (right Marvin?????), when I can get him healthy enough to train for 100.
|Automatic smile, there's a camera pointed at you!|
So Ryan and I took off down the path and worked our way to the finish. Its a good thing he loves me, because I wasn't very good company at this point. And I'm sure I smelled terrible. I really wished I had run more of this section, because its completely runnable, for fresh legs. But we fast walked and I would attempt a run every now and then. Ryan was super sweet and tried to kick rocks out of my way, which only served to stir up dust. I let know know the rocks were ok, since I was a disgusting trail runner. We soon caught up with a gaggle of other runners making their way to the finish, all chatting and happy. Waaaaaayyyyyy happier than I appeared. Well, at least way more chatty. But I was happy enough, I was slowly working my way to the longest race I have ever run. Now that I had some space between me and the cutoff, my mind shifted to things other than getting to the next aid station. The sweepers behind me at Penny 2 made me realize that 2 other friends who were behind me must have gotten cut. So at best the Trail Crashers would have would have 2 finishers today. We started with 7 and I had another 3 friends running, we were down to potentially 4 would finish. Bad numbers. Well, I would find out when I had time to sit down and check.
As we pass the first 1/3 of this section, we spent a short time one a packed dirt road, and a swarm of bees flew past us. One was so intrigued by my awesome scent that it got entangled in my hair. Ah, so I spent a couple of second crouched into as small a shape as I could manage and Ryan found the insect and freed it. Nature, so fun. But, it actually was funny. And it got my heart racing. We set off again at a blistering 16 min mile pace. My watch started beeping and finally shut off. Damn, I did such a good job keeping it charged and when I ditched my pack, I ditched the charger and external battery pack. (Anyone have experience getting a saved run to sync up? I can get every other run that I stop normally to sync, but not the race, it's saved though. I emailed Suunto, but so far no response.)
|Same section of the race, different day. Such a pretty run.|
I was mentally drained at this point. I tried running, and it hurt too much to run. I could walk fast, and I tried to keep every mile under a 17 min mile, but when my watch turned off, I could only go by feel. So maybe I did and maybe I didn't push. Soon we were on the last little bit, and I swear the lake was farther away than ever. I could see and hear the finish and the people, but it felt like forever before I could get there. The prideful side of me wanted to finish at a run, the realistic side of me said just get there at a walk. Because a finish was a finish no matter what. We finally made it to the same path we ran out on and I could see the orange chute. This was really going to happen, and soon. I saw Daniel, my friend, and my kids, and made myself run the last 1/4 mile. My two boys ran the last bit with me, my daughter took a tumble, and chaos ensued later because she did not get the opportunity to run across finish line with me.
And.... it was done. I just ran and walked 100 miles. I'm an ultra runner.... right? How do I feel about that? Tired. Sore. Like I may lose my gels....
But happy. When did I become someone who would be happy being outside, running for 32 hours?
My friend who I was told dropped at Cibbits finished an hour ahead of me.
I did it. I managed my stomach, watched my time, and kept myself moving forward. The keys to 100 I guess. Pretty much immediately after finishing my brain asked "huh, wonder if I can do it faster next time...." DUDE, brain, let the body rest bit will ya?
|He did finish. My running brother.|
|Thank You Daniel! Next year, you get to run.|
|I'm actually afraid to take off my socks because I'm the one who has to clean out the car.|
|All that swag.... Where's the buckle???|
|Ultra Slam complete. Noble Canyon 50k, POT 50 Miler, Cuyamaca 100k and SD 100.....|