I am forewarning you, just as it takes a LONG time to run 100 miles, this post will be equally lengthy. But I feel a need to document my thoughts, before my brain becomes clouded by life and future races and IPA. This race changed me, not only as a runner, but as a person, and I need to remember.
I will agree. The idea to run 100 miles is crazy. I get called crazy a lot. Your definition of crazy might be a bit different than mine, I suppose, but yes I'll agree, running 100 miles is straight nuts. The idea to attempt this "crazy" distance was put into my head by one of my closest friends, Leigh Anne. This powerful girl has done three 100 mile races and I trusted her when she casually asked me to join her in November for this race. Casually, like, "Oh hey, want to go run 100 miles in November?" as if it was just another activity to place on the calendar, right next to "Petunia's ballet recital". That was in September. If you've read my "about me" description, you know that I am "addicted to endorphins and registering for races" so of course I obliged. I have an issue with saying no really, it is truly an addiction. So we registered. And here is what we were getting ourselves into, according to the race's website:
"This is a 4 mile loop course with a 1 mile out and 1 mile back (kind of lollipop shaped) on trails followed by a two mile loop of paved surface. Cumulative elevation for the 100 miles will be approximately 11,000 feet. There will be restroom facilities (port-a-johns) at the starting line/main aid station and on the course (please use these, not the bushes or trees). There will be one main aid station at the starting line that you will pass each loop. We will be supplying some food and drinks, but because this Run D'Amore race is a "fat ass" type event, you will need to plan and supply most of your main food and drink needs."
FYI: A "fat ass" is any type of race where you supply your own energy needs, fluids, etc. Basically just a bunch of crazies getting together because they truly love to run, not for the glory or fancy porta-potties with anti-bacterial hand sanitizer dispensers or even the commemorative t-shirt. Yes you read that correctly, a race with no t-shirt. Every runner gathered supplies to share together, including food and drinks for the aid station. Trips to Costco pre-ultra are the best!
On the Friday prior to the start, my wonderful, selfless friend Dede and I left Orange County around 3 PM. She was only going up to help us get through the race, known as "crewing" in the ultra world. Did I mention she is SELFLESS? She drove us up the six hours that night, keeping my nerves in check with silly stories and good old-fashioned girl gossip. We rolled into San Martin (right outside of San Jose) around 9 PM, assembled our gear, and passed out, as that 4 AM alarm clock was sure to come too quickly.
The race started at 6 AM. There was a generous 36 hour cutoff time so I knew I'd be able to finish unless some unthinkable event occurred, such as loss of limb to a coyote or a lightening strike to the tush. It was dark at the start so we secured our headlamps and took off. The first mile of the four-mile loop course was straight up. All of the 11,000+ foot elevation gain took place in that first mile, so the total gain was only over 25 miles, not 100. The second mile was straight down the same hill. I loved these two miles the best because they were on dirt. The remaining two miles looped around an asphalt trail, though I ran alongside of that in the dirt. I find that running on trails and gravel is so much easier on my muscles and joints, and I needed them to sustain a long time so I chose to stay on the dirt for the entire duration. After that two-mile loop, we crossed the aid station, which was packed with our donated food, to include Twizzlers, cookies, salty chips, electrolyte tabs (imperative!) , Coca-Cola (sweet nectar of the ultra-running gods), salted potatoes, watermelon...I could go on and on. Let's just say it was a veritable buffet of running delicacies. I wore my Nathan Intensity hydration pack so I was sure to have plenty of water the entire day. On a side note, one thing I LOVE about ultra running is the strict "zero littering" policy. Anyone caught littering (to include throwing a water cup) is immediately disqualified. We all brought our own water cups to reuse. Totally opposite of the millions of wasted cups strewn everywhere in a traditional race.
Why not wear flying cat pants while running 100 miles?
And so we continued along this route for hours. The sun peeked above the hills and the cattle that roamed the grassland surrounding the course watched us circling, probably thinking the same thing you are right now, "Why are those people so crazy?" However your comments were probably not followed by an inquisitive, "Mooooo?" The heat radiated and we shed layers of clothes. The salt collected on the brims of our hats and we continued to replace it with electrolyte caps and Lays. And that Coca-Cola tasted sweeter than ever.
View from the top of the ascent.
Ultra running is such a fun sport because EVERY runner is there to support each other, as if we are one huge team. I made friends with complete strangers, runners from Texas to India, ages 18 to 73. Everyone had an interesting story to tell. Moms, physicians, musicians, hippies, computer programmers, engineers, sons, daughters, grandfathers...all walks of life were represented yet we were brought together by our common passion for running. That alone makes for immediate best friends. We talked gear and races for hours, for what else is there to do when you are circling the same four miles for over a day?
I hit the 50 mile mark at around 10 hours, so around 4 PM. I felt awesome. I rotated between listening to my music (an eclectic blend of Radiohead, deadmau5, Disclosure and Wu Tang, among others) and having lengthy discussions with fellow running teammates. I lost track of the number of high fives I gave and received somewhere in the afternoon too. I had zero GI distress, which elevated my mood because I fully expected to be miserable. I went into this race EXPECTING to be miserable. I was anxious actually, to experience the highs and lows of running 100 miles. That IS why I did it. I wanted to just feel. Even if it meant physical pain or mental strife. I knew the bright side would be the brightest side imaginable, if I could just get there. And so I kept going.
Cruising down around mile 50. My husband said this was after my "costume change".
Every few loops I stopped and stretched a bit. The downhill was starting to become painful. While the first half was spent literally bounding down that mile two decline, I was slowing way down and feeling those quads. But I still felt as good as could be expected. And then the sun went down. That glowing orb of hope and positive energy and warmth just vanished. And into those depths I was seeking I began to fall.
The sun disappears, bringing my confidence along with it.
At sunset I was feeling energized. Those last few moments before darkness ensues is magical. Twilight. The air felt crisp and electric. This sensation only carried me about one loop before it got cold. Much colder than I was prepared for. Sure I added more layers and mittens, but what I did not account for was the wet marine air. I ran 12 miles thinking that the little flecks that were flying into my headlamp were tiny bugs, when in reality it was the condensation in the thick air. Looking back, I know some of those sensations were perhaps hallucinatory as well. It was about 2AM I started sleep running. Literally running while sleeping.
My selfless savior Dede hopped up at that moment and knew I needed her, even though I was so cold my lips could barely say a word. She completed a few laps with me, in the middle of that cold and impossibly dark night, singing horrible renditions of Miley Cyrus (sorry Dede, keep your day job!) to try and make me giggle. We listened to the whooping call of coyotes in the near distance and we watched the spectacle of the night sky in total darkness together, looking for various constellations we recalled from childhood. It truly was spectacular, but I grew increasingly more cold. So cold in fact, that I stopped drinking water and taking in calories. I had no energy to do so, and consequently, I suffered. I grew colder and even more tired, and at mile 72, an experienced volunteer at the aid station sat me down, made me a cup of the most delicious hot vegetable broth I have ever tasted, and massaged my calves. I could have lingered there all night, yet I knew I needed to keep moving or risk the dreaded DOMS.
I continued around a few more times and then at mile 84 I was just hopeless. I couldn't feel anything on my body, a combination of being wet and cold, and sheer exhaustion. Thoughts raged through my mind begging me to quit. "84 is plenty long, be proud of how far you've come!" I thought, knowing how devastated I'd be tomorrow had I stopped right then and there. Another experienced volunteer recognized my despair and had me sit in front of the heater and told me I needed to take a short nap, no longer than 30 minutes. Every person sitting around the heater promised me I would be renewed. Dede wiped away my tears. I don't think I have ever fallen asleep so quickly, and as promised, they woke me up after the allotted time. At this same moment, the amazingly tough Leigh Anne came through the aid station. Even though I had taken a nap, I was still utterly exhausted and crying again. She kneeled next to me and said "Listen to me. You are going to get up now and we are going to do this together. Do you trust me?" and just like that, she renewed my faith in myself and I trusted her. I followed her commands like a remote-controlled robot. My head was still intact, yet my mind was not attached. She placed her warm ski jacket on me (as mine was soaked) and we set off to finish together.
Four laps. Just four laps to go. 16 miles. Just over a half marathon. We could run this in our sleep (and we somewhat did). Four more climbs of that nasty bitch of a hill. Four more descents laced with screaming muscles and sharp pain with every step. We pushed each other, each of us struggling with different aspects of the course. We needed each other and were present and focused on the survival of us as a team. It is impossible to illustrate just how bonded you become with someone, when you are both equally battling demons in your mind and muscles, in those last few hours before the sun rises, after you have been running for nearly 24 hours. A day. While the world went through the usual motions of eating and sleeping and breathing, we crept along that four mile path, eating and dreaming and breathing. She is now my sister.
Sunrise. Layers of clothing slowly peeled away, joints thawed and the most delicious eggs and pancakes (cooked over a camp stove) were consumed. The race directors knew that true love lay in awakening our stomachs. The protein of the eggs gave us strength and we washed it down with even more Coca-Cola.
Last lap. Four miles. Just over a 5K. Final ascent up that hill. We owned that hill. Final descent at mile 98. The screaming of my legs was stifled by the voices in my head that were already feeling the pride of finishing, of triumph, of sitting down. I gave Leigh Anne a special infinity symbol bracelet on that final loop. See, if you put a "1" in front of an infinity symbol, it creates a 100. Our friendship will last forever, it is infinite. We are bonded by this event, this experience of rising above our lowest lows together.
We crossed that finish line all smiles. Dede gave us a huge hug, as did the race directors, and we just held each other tight. We did it in just over 29 hours. Sometimes I look back on that number, 29. It is hard to fathom what I possibly could have been thinking about, alone and lost in my thoughts for 29 hours. Sometimes in my day-to-day routine, an hour seems like forever, yet I continued on for 29 straight hours. Therein lies WHY I did it. To push myself; to see just how much I could accomplish. I always knew in my heart I could do it, but I needed to prove to MYSELF (nobody else) that I could push the limits set forth by society. Crazy? I'd have to agree with you that yes, it is pure crazy.
And would I do it again? Well, I already have two 100 mile races in the books for 2014...
Never given, always earned, the coveted 100 mile belt buckle!
My true "sole sisters": Leigh Anne in the orange vest and selfless Dede in the middle, holding us together like the glue she is (most likely holding us up in this picture too). These girls still love me even after seeing me at the most miserable I have ever been.