A drive through the Rockies in mid-September is a beautiful thing.
That's the thought that kept rolling through my mind as I was stopped in traffic along a minor highway. There was road construction. I had been stopped long enough that I turned off the truck. In fact, I was pondering getting out and stretching. And I did. We were stopped because the highway department was building an animal overpass - a bridge over the highway to allow the animals to cross the highway safely. This stretch of highway is in both deer and elk country, and the moose numbers are increasing. Along with all of those come a fair number of road kill incidents. The bridge was supposed to help all that.
The weather was exactly per the forecast. Sun and beauty. The aspens were turning. There was just a bit of rain, but it passed quickly. I had given myself plenty of time to get to Steamboat, so I didn't mind being stopped. And stretching against the truck felt good in the September sun. After traffic broke, the drive was uneventful and every bit as beautiful as I had expected. The road that drops into Steamboat is wonderful any time of the year, but in the fall with the leaves, it's a little extra special.
My first stop was the grocery store. The day before a long run I always go out and buy breakfast for morning. I grabbed my usual muffins, and wandered over to the bananas. And there were none. I looked around. The typical healthy looking people of a ski town hid things for a bit. But if you knew what to look for, you could tell the store was filled with runners. The food in the cart was just a bit healthier than one might usually expect. The shoes were mostly old wore out running shoes. Not the kind that looked like they had been used as work shoes, but the kind that looked like they had been run in until they could barely contain feet, and then were delegated to daily wear shoes. There were bits of KT tape sticking out of shorts and peeking through rips in jeans. The typical race T-shirts were sporting distances that didn't look quite right. The typical 5k shirt had an extra zero. So did the 10k shirt. The store was overrun with ultra runners. And they had picked over the bananas in a grand fashion. I wandered over to the organic section and found a bunch that looked like it might be yellow enough by morning.
The rest of the afternoon was spent packing and re-packing drop bags. There were two aid stations I would pass through more than once without crew. One I would hit at about miles 11, 52, and 90, and another at about 57 and 81.
Race mistake 1: When holding your headlamp and fresh batteries, swap the batteries before you get distracted and forget.
After the drop bags, I moved onto the gear I was going to wear and carry. My starting race clothes, my vest, some extra layers. With all the mucking around with gear the nerves were in full swing. I was having a hard time retaining focus. In fact, the whole week my mind was all over the place. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't work. Eating... Well OK. I was eating just fine. It's save to say I was eating everything I could fit in my mouth. I called it good enough. I knew the basics to pack. I knew I had crew that would help me. I knew I had drop bags to help me help myself.
So off to check in and to drop off the drop bags. And instead of the stress levels dropping, they went up. Check in wasn't ready. The bibs weren't there yet. I was getting a hard time about one of my drop bags. (It was a cooler. They don't want coolers. But it was smaller than some of the backpacks that were there, and I had it taped shut, so it was allowed.) I was trying to figure out if I needed to run across town to buy a back pack, as well as trying to figure out if I should eat dinner then or wait until after check in and the mandatory race meeting.
I am no stranger to pre-race stress.
Things start to roll. The line is backed up and slow. Due to the discussions with the drop bags, I'm now near the back. I get checked in, and get my bib. We all sit down and put on bunny ears for a picture. The big difference between this and other races is the check-in stop where a medic with a laptop was asking if you had any medical conditions. I made some crack about a mental disorder that made me think running 100 miles was a good idea. The lady just smiled and said I was certainly in the right line. At the end of the check-in line was where I bought the party tickets for my crew, and the gondola tickets for the ride up. And there, at the end of the table the kids sized T-shirts caught my eye. And for the first of many times over the next two days my eyes filled with tears. There were two shirts. One read, "My mom can run 100 miles, can yours?" And the other read, "My dad can run 100 miles, can yours?" I didn't buy them. Just in case. And that made my eyes water even more.
I stopped at Q-Doba for dinner and took my football sized burrito back to the condo we had for the weekend. As I was eating the crew and pacers started to arrive. I had my crew boxes pretty well set. They were marked Eat Me, Drink Me, Fix Me, and Dress Me. I still had a fair bit of gear to muck around with. Shoes and whatnot. One of the many things I had meant to do the few weeks before the race and just never quite got around to was attach velcro to the backs of my shoes so I could wear my gaiters during the race. There was a brief discussion about gluing things together there in the condo and for whatever reason, I didn't. I was going without the gaiters.
Race mistake number 2: Wear the damn gaiters.
It was getting late. My crew and pacers were urging me to sleep. Of course they were right. I made my usual joke about pretending to sleep the night before a race and went to bed after setting a couple alarms. I'm not sure what happened, but for some reason I actually slept a full night.
I woke up an hour before my alarm. I checked to see that the alarm was still properly set and went back to sleep. The dreams in that hour were remarkably weird. I don't remember all the details, but in one I was late for a race. And the alarm finally sounded. It didn't sound like anyone else was awake. I used the flashlight on my phone to head to the kitchen to retrieve my muffins and bananas. I brought those back to my bedroom, turned a laundry basket upside down to use as a table and started to eat breakfast. I didn't get too far into my banana when people started wandering in. I felt sort of like people were staring at me and expecting me to do something. But everyone was in a good mood, so it wasn't too awkward. I finished breakfast, put on my race gear, and it was time to go.
Everyone who was awake went to the start with me. Anaka, Lisa, and Melissa were troopers. We hung out in the tent near the start for a while. And it started to rain. I started to freak out about the weather, and the layers of clothes I was wearing. Lots of people were putting on more layers, jackets, hats. I calmed my panic by thinking. The first four miles were straight up the ski hill. Regardless what I was wearing, I was going to be soaked through when I hit that first aid station. So I took a look at the actual temperatures and decided to put on my extra long sleeved shirt and my light gloves and left the rest of the cold weather gear for later.
After I was re-situated my team gathered around me and started to show me posters they had made. Without me knowing they had gathered some quotes from people I knew and made them into a poster collage. I read a few of the words in detail, but I started to cry and resorted to just trying to make out the names in the tears. Seriously, you guys are all incredible.
Go time. We all wandered to the start. It was still spitting rain, but nothing much. I'd say I was dressed about right. I lined up near what I thought was the middle of the pack, on the side where I knew my friends would be with cameras.
Stop and think a moment. When was the last time you started something without really knowing what the outcome might be? That's where I was. Lined up for the great unknown. I knew I was going for a run. I knew it was going to be long. I was pretty sure I was going to finish, but I didn't know I was going to finish. And if I'm honest, there was a good chance I would not finish. It was big. It was scary.
The start went much like the start of many long races. We all took off, but no one took off too fast. We ran past the crowd on a piece of flat land. Then, we turned up the hill. It didn't take too long for the pack to turn into one long string of fools. I did seem to be about in the middle. That's good. That's where I wanted to be in order to pace myself.
Part of running races on trails is navigation. It is important to know where the route goes and how it is marked. The absolute most important part is knowing where the route goes. Sometimes marks get moved or are missed. And at less than half a mile in, the leaders and about half the pack missed a couple markers. I saw them. A few guys in front of me saw them. We headed up the hill in the right direction and called out to the others. We were on course, and I looked ahead and did a quick count. Four people in front of me. I was running my first 100 mile race, and I was now in 5th place overall. It felt good, but it didn't last long. I didn't expect it to. But the five of us in the lead pack took the chance to celebrate and make jokes. And we worked our way slowly straight up the ski hill to the top of the Gondola. And it started snowing. It wasn't the graceful, quiet snow of December or January. It was the sleet-like snow of September. But it was snow. And I smiled.
During these first four miles I had plenty of time to walk through my strategy. I was not running 100 mies. I was simply going from aid station to aid station. Including the finish line, there were 18 aid stations. The longest distance between them was about 8.5 miles. I knew I would see my crew at about miles 20, 30, 47, 64, 74, and somewhere along the last 6 miles.
(Photos in the slideshow above are from Kurt at Slimside photography and are used with permission and thanks.)
At the top of the first climb was the top of the main Gondola at the Steamboat ski area. There were people everywhere. And it was awesome. The snow had moved on, and things were starting to clear. Just below the top of the climb I saw a familiar figure. There was Kurt from Slimside Photography taking pictures. I had a feeling this was the hard part of the climb. Kurt knows how to find people at the tough part and make them look good. We exchanged some pleasantries and jokes as I crawled by in a line of runners. It wasn't long at all until I was in the crowd of spectators that had gathered at the top of the lift. There were familiar faces everywhere. It seems many of the people I had met over the last year involved in the Colorado ultra running community were either racing, pacing, crewing, or just hanging out cheering. I don't remember everyone I saw, but it seemed everyone was there. I remember seeing Laurie. I remember telling her (excitedly) that I got snowed on. And I remember her smile as I worked on through. And that was the end of the insanely steep climb up a black diamond ski run. From there we were on snow cat track and maintenance road climbing to the top of the mountain. Melissa was volunteering at the first aid station. As I rounded a switchback I looked up and saw her. She was down from the aid station and cheering on runners. And she hiked to the aid tables with me. My bottles got topped off. I had some food (a chunk of watermelon, and a few potato chips). I confirmed this was the right aid station, and confirmed that my watch was now useless.
I had the watch in "ultra track" mode to extend battery life. I expected accuracy to be less than what I was used to, but my training runs had indicated things would be within a reasonable rounding error. Yet here I was at the first aid station, four-ish miles from the start, and the watch said I was over eight miles in. That was not a reasonable rounding error.
(Pictures above by Melissa Wood and used with permission and thanks.)
Aid station 1. Including the finish line, 17 left to go. About mile 4.5.
The next section of course was fun. Rolling hills with some short climbs and some long, rather fun descents. I fell in behind a guy with gray hair who was moving at a strong, steady pace that felt "too slow" and decided I was going to stay right there with him for as long as our pace matched. I'm pretty sure he said his name was Gerry. He had just run Cascade Crest a few weeks before and was nowhere near recovered. But he was here and moving well. We talked a fair bit about nothing and everything. Gerry had some serious experience. I decided to hang with him as long as possible, and maybe even change up my plan and pace a bit to spend more time with him. We had a common goal of finishing on the buckle side of the cutoff. We got passed a fair bit. And I was OK with that. It was early. And I was a newb. I really had no business passing people at this poing in the race. My goal was survival and not getting cut off. And this pace felt great.
At the next aid station, I sat to re-tie my shoes. I knew there was a long downhill coming and wanted to keep my toes off the fronts of the shoes as much as possible. I topped off my bottles, grabbed more watermelon, and a small piece of peanut butter jelly sandwich and was on my way chewing as I headed down the trail. Gerry was right in front of me. I could see him rounding the next bend. With a little push I would catch him in just a few moments. I was right where I wanted to be.
Aid station 2. 16 left to go. About mile 11.
The eleation profile on my arm confirmed we had about 6 miles of downhill on a trail I had been on many years before. I wound up in front of Gerry when nature called and since he wasn't pacing me I took the hill at my own comfortable pace - paying attention to make sure my feet found the flat spots. I quickly caught the group in front of me and fell in line. There was conversation, and some laughing. At the front setting the pace was a lady named Monique. I had first met her at one of the many training runs my local ultra runners (And Human Potential Running Series) organize. With her was a Mr. Robinson from the Dallas, TX area. There were a couple others that were in the group, but they passed at the first opportunity. I didn't know it at the time, but Monique and Mr. Robinson were to be key contributors to my race.
This was also the stretch where I started really talking and really getting to know people. There was a young man from South Carolina whom I would bump into repeatedly, as well as a lady I know only from facebook. She and I train many of the same trails, sometimes on the same day, but never together or at a time close enough that we could actually meet. So it was nice to put in a few miles with her and see her training paying off so well.
Oh, and there was a trail too. This is the Fish Creek Falls trail. From the top it's about six miles of downhill with a fairly technical section, some mud, one rock hopping stream crossing, and a lot of tourists nearer to the parking lot. And the tourists and hikers were incredible. They were cheering. They were encouraging. Even if they might have been muttering about the loonies "bombing" down the trails, they didn't express any disdain in a manner that the runners could hear. And that really boosted the spirit. And when the spirit is boosted, so is the pace. The six miles went too quickly. The trail was fun. The people were good. And I wanted more. We came up to the "limited aid" stop. From here it was about four miles of pavement into town to the next aid station. The weather was still cool. My bottles were full enough I didn't need to stop. I pondered the vault toilets for a moment when some of the group stopped to use them. But Mr. Robinson and I kept on trucking, barely slowing for the aid stop.
Aid station 3. 15 more to go. About mile 17.
The next three miles were pretty much all downhill on pavement. My body wanted to fly. Mr. Robinson reminded me that was a bad idea. To paraphrase someone else, "Settle down. You have all day to hurt yourself."
And it didn't take long for the group to re-form. We were a good fit. Mr. Robinson had been on the course before and knew what to expect. The rest of us were just hoping to run a conservative feeling first half and let the second half work itself out. It was somewhere in here that I started doing the math and started to worry. Was I going too fast? Maybe. But it wasn't feeling like work. We were keepign it very conversational. There's no doubt that everyone in the group is well within their aerobic boundaries. So we kept going. This is where the watch would have been useful. Accurate distance and pace could tell me exactly if I was moving too fast. I was essentially naked (running without technology) and I did not have the data I was used to using to pace myself.
This is when I got passed by Lisa. I also met Lisa on one of the training runs with my local ultra tribe. Laurie (from the Gondola) was going to pace her later. Lisa and I even did a training run together where she proceeded to try and kill me. it was bad enough that she came back with a car to pick me up. And there she was on race day passing me. it felt right. I was happy for her. She was clearly feeling good and moving good.
Coming into town felt odd. We had been on the road with cars for a while now, and I had gotten used to that. Stopping for the crosswalk signal is what did it. There I was in a race. The clock was ticking. And I was waiting for a light to change. If this were a road race, I'd be screaming about ruined mile splits. But it's not. And while a 1.5 minute wait is an eternity, in this event it was unlikely that a minute and a half was going to matter.
The next mile or so to the aid station went quickly. The sidewalks and bike paths through town were flat. The next road crossing was a simple stop sign and the cars were happy to wave us through without making us even break stride. And this brings us to the next aid station. And the first time we really get to see our crew.
Aid station 4. 14 more to go. About mile 21.
(Photo by Slimside Photography runner 655 is me. 651 is Mr. Robinson. Green shirt is Monique. White hat is Kristen from Ft. Collins if I'm not mistaken.)
I saw Kurt first. He was taking pictures again. Then I saw Lisa - my crew chief. She was sitting on a chair on the side of the path. When she saw me she jumped up and we started to swap out bottles. Lisa fell into the crew role brilliantly. One of my main concerns was lingering at aid stations. While a 10 minute aid station stop is no big deal, if you do it 18 times, that's three hours over the course of the race. That's getting cut off. So I gave the crew extra bottles. (I was carrying four bottles to be filled with tailwind, and a bladder for water.) The empty bottles got swapped out as Lisa walked me into the only hard walled indoor aid station. And the sound was deafening. The voices echoed off the rafters and the ceiling. I could hardly hear. It was hot out, and I have a hard time eating when it's hot out. So I grabbed more watermelon, a few chips and a couple M&M's and started walking out. Mostly, I just had to get out of the building.
I kept talking with Lisa and Anaka as we walked. At the next aid station, I was going to want shoes and socks. My coach was going to be there too. As I started to exit the aid station area Laurie made another appearance with the camera and I paused for a picture with Anaka. (Lisa, is in the background.) Estimated aid station time was about three minutes.
This next section was a blast. This was a piece of trail I never even knew existed. We climbed a ridge and went along the top for several miles. There were spectaular views in all directions the whole time. After an initial couple exposed miles the rest of the climb was in the shade. There were deer and elk track everywhere. Nothing was too technical. The trail had a cute name that I don't really remember, but it was something along the lines of "Lane of Pain." It was solidly steep, but nothing too sustained. Then we summited out and started to cruise down transitioning from pine and aspen into scrub oak.
And the group reformed. Me, Mr. Robinson, and Monique were all just kind of cruising. Though I will say Monique totally dropped me on the first big climb. She was cooking!
Water only. Aid station 5. 13 more to go. About mile 25. (Except this was WAY early on the course, so lets call it mile 22.5.) Bottles and bladder had plenty. Didn't even slow down.
The trail was cut through the scrub oak. That meant there were several exposed roots, and a few stumps in the trail to be worked around. None of this was complicated or technical, but you really had to pay attention. And Monique took a digger. We gathered her back up and confirmed the bone wasn't showing. (Bone ain't shown? Keep on goin!) Not long after, I caught my own foot on root or stump. I hit it in just the right way such that whatever it was I kicked came down through the top of my shoe and hit my toe. Hard. I stumbled. I swore. I didn't fall.
This section of trail was downhill and downright fun. We were cruising in the sun. There were birds circling on the air currents. There was still mindless conversation to use to check your effort. And I hit the same toe on the same foot again. I swore a bit louder this time, but I just kep on going. The group had a rather detailed, and I'm sure comical to outsiders, discussion about a porta potty we could see that did not appear to be on the way to the next aid station. And as we crested the little rise we could see the tents and start to hear the people.
Aid station 6. 12 to go. About mile 30.
My crew was there. I know there's a picture somewhere, but I can't find it. Someone grabbed my bottles and started to fill them. Someone else found me a chair and we started to change my shoes. My coach was there. We had some discussion about something that seemed important at the time. I was washing my feet with baby wipes. I had only one question: Was I going too fast? I could tell by the look on his face the answer was yes. But his words were comforting. I hit that point in the race about the same time he would have. I now had some time in the bank for later. But I didn't need to push any harder than I was, and I could even relax a little. Then my coach, Sherpa John from Human Potential Running Series, made me some sort of bacon tortilla wrap and stuffed it in my mouth. And it was good. This was the first "real food" I'd had since breakfast. Had you asked me, I would have said I was too hot to eat. But he didn't ask. There was food. In my mouth.
So I ate as I walked down the road out of the aid station. Estimated stop time, more than five minutes, but way less than 10. Not bad for a shoe change.
As I walked down the road I took a few minutes to look around. This could have been any creek bottom in Colorado. There was pasture. There were cottonwood trees. And the road was both well worn, and rough from all the rocks, washboard, and washouts. I've spent a lot of time in places like this, and I felt a bit at home. Kristen from Ft. Collins caught me and we talked a bit before she took off. It didn't take long for Mr. Robinson to catch me. And we continued chatting about nothing as we turned off the road and started up the trail. There was a good size mule deer doe muching grass not 20 feet from us. As long as we stayed on the trail and didn't change our cadence too much she didn't care we were there. This section of trail was a gentle climb back to the top of the scenic ridge. It was well wooded and shaded. And I was able to relax and cruise. I hiked most of it. But there were plenty of runnable sections that got me going. There were even some banked turns. 30+ miles in and I was relaxed, running, smiling, and having a good time. Though I do admit I forgot to make airplane noises on the banked turns.
As we neared the unmanned "water only" stop the first of the hares passed us. I should back up. The format of the race is unique. The average Joe starts the 100 mile race at 8:00AM. The above average Joe who expects to finish in a faster time starts at 12:00PM. I was being passed by elites. And they were happy, and friendly, and some of them were having as good a time as I was.
We also passed the back of the pack and the course sweeper on the out and back. DFL seemed in good spirits and smiled as we gave him a cheer.
When we hit the unnmanned "water only" stop, the jugs were nearly empty. There was about two water bottles worth of water in them. Mr. Robinson and I combined the two jugs, and I drained the water from my bladder into Mr. Robinsons bottles. I still had one full bottle, and we were going to save the water in the Jugs for someone who needed it more. About this time, Monique caught us. We let her know about the water situation and our estimated distance from the next real aid and she also decided to save the water for those who needed it more.
Aid station 7. 11 more to go. About mile 39.
From here the course got fast. Pretty much all downhill. A few technical sections. A few steep sections. The steeper stuff got walked to save the quads. (Settle down. You've got all day to hurt yourself.) And I tripped on that same foot in the same way. I swore louder. Somehow I managed to not fall again. Mr. Robinson dropped back at some point. And I think that was the last I saw of him. Thank you sir. Your company on the course was priceless. We saw the film crew that was there to record the leaders of the hares race (us mortals were all tortoises). They didn't even lift up the cameras as we came into view. But they did give us a cheer and a clap as we cruised on by. And Monique and I accelerated down the hill into the next big aid station. We were both smiling and running strong. Getting back to civilization and the setting sun and cooling temps boosted our spirits.
We were back at Olympia Hall. This was an important stop. This was the last crew access before night fall. This was the last chance to really grab supplies and warm gear. There would be several miles, several thousand feet of climbing, and several hours before we saw the crew again. And this was where I could pick up my first pacer. I ran into the aid station jazzed by the downhill, the civilization, and the overall excitement to see my people and run with Jeff.
(I don't remember where those pictures came from. If they are yours, please let me know!
Top - Logan, Anaka, and LIsa sending me out of the aid station. Bottom - Jeff and I about to have a really good time.)
(Photo credit Slimside Photography - Me, coming into the aid station fast and happy.)
Aid station 8. 10 more to go. About mile 42.
Things quickly got serious. This was planed to be a longer aid stop. But none of that could even start until I got these burrs off my leg and shorts. At one point, quite some miles ago, I stepped aside on the trail to let one of the faster runners through. And in doing so, my leg hair and shorts picked up a fair number of these burrs. They didn't hurt. They didn't get into the skin. But I knew I couldn't change socks and risk having one fall into my shoe. And putting pants over them couldn't possibly be a good idea. There was a flurry of activity outside the aid station. Hands were pulling the burrs off. Faces were coming in and out of my vision. There were a slew of questions about the status of my bottles, hydration bladder, what clothes I needed, where I wanted things packed. I answered everything to the best of my ability and wandered over to the aid table while the rock star crew did their thing and dug through the supplies to find what I had requested.
And I have to admit, this is where things started to fall apart a bit mentally. There were faces that I knew I should know, but I couldn't put names to them. And those were faces that were comfortable enough with me to touch my sweaty self and help clear burrs off my skin.
There was a young girl working the aid station food table. I'm guessing she was 12. And someone trained her well. I was reaching for watermelon when she asked what she asked, "What do you need?" That's an important way to phrase it. I just stared at her. Without prompting, she slowly started listing off the hot food she had on hand. Again, excellent training. Just start talking about food and maybe something will sound good. I was just about to waive her off and go back to the crew when I thought I heard her say "or meatballs."
Me: Meatballs? You have meatballs?
Her: Yes, would you like some?
Me: Yes. I would like a meatball please. (ALWAYS be polite to aid station workers. Always.)
Her: Just one?
Me: Just one. Yes. That should do.
I'm not sure, but I thought I saw someone behind me waving. When the meatballs showed up, there were two.
I don't remember the details of the wardrobe change because it happened quickly and kind of a NASCAR pit stop thing was going on. There were people helping with my socks and shoes. There were people helping me change shirts. There were people packing my vest and putting it back on me. My handheld bottles disapeared for a while and showed up full. And at some point I took a bite of the meatball.
And everything stopped. It was the best meatball I had ever had. I know it was one of those frozen ones from the store that are probably made in a factory in New Jersey. But that doesn't change the fact that it was the right food at the right time. Suddenly my crew was very happy. I guess they were concerned with the lack of food. And I was very glad there were two meatballs.
At then the activity slowed and I was fully dressed, wearing my vest and holding my bottles. My headlight was on top my head. It was time to head back up the mountain. Jeff was my pacer for this section. We were to follow the paved road we took into town many hours ago, and follow that awesome cruise of a trail back up the mountain to the next full aid station. There was a water stop about 4 miles in, and it was another six miles to the full aid station. And the climb was big. Real big. There would be precious litle running for the next 10 miles.
On the way out of the aid station I saw one of those very familiar faces that I knew I should know but didn't. He cheered me out. And I hit the brakes. I stared at him a minute, and the lightbulb painfully came on. I actually pointed and said, "I just figured out who you are!" My mental state was clearly dimming. But I had the important parts down. I knew where I was. I knew what I was doing. I knew where I was going. And I knew who I was with.
And I knew I was still having fun!
Jeff and I enjoyed the little cruise through town. We actually ran the flats. We fell in with a happy group for the mile or so until the climbing started. We all waited at the crosswalk until the course marshall said it was safe to cross. And it didn't take long for the running to stop and the power hiking to begin. The four miles of pavement to the water stop went pretty smoothly. I had to stop to get something out of my shoe. (Use the gaiters!) The headlamps came on when it got dark enough. The cars were all well behaved.
As we neared the end of the pavement I heard someone call out from behind me, "Go Bomb 'Chelle!" I knew what this meant. Michelle Yates was there. Michelle is an elite ultra athlete. Last time I ran with her was a small running club trail 10k and she was like 9 months pregnant. (No, it's not an exageration.) I had a great race that day and she beat me quite soundly. And here she was passing me on a climb. I picked it up a bit to run with her a moment. I wanted to say hi and cheer her on a bit. She was working hard, but still kind enough to chat a moment. The excitement of that meeting carried me for more miles than I should probably admit.
Aid station 9. 9 more to go. About mile 46.
There was about a quarter mile of downhill that I think I at least tried to run. This was well groomed dirt. At the bridge that crossed the creek the downhill ended and there we were facing about six miles of nothing but up. It was time to climb Fish Creek Falls. I relaxed into my hiking pace. Jeff and I were talking back and forth a bit, but not too much. There was a whole lot of climbing to do and we were both working pretty hard. We started reeling people in and passing them. I felt like I was in my element. It was dark. I was in the mountains. And I was climbing. And it was getting colder.
We were pretty near the top of the steep section when things started to get cold. Unlike many people, I did not put on my cold weather gear at Olympian Hall. I had my crew put it in my pack. Remember the first 4 miles straight up the ski hill? Same situation here. No matter what I was wearing, I was going to be soaked through with sweat when I got to the top. So I chose to keep the warm stuff as dry as possible for as long as possible. But it was finally time to stop and put some real clothes on. I don't remember how long this took, but some of the folks we had passed had caught back up. As I put my hands in my gloves I realized another race mistake. I hadnt' counted on wearing my light gloves at the start. But I did. And they got rained on, snowed on, and sweaty. And I just put them back in my vest pocket. Well, here I was six plus hours later wearing the same wet gloves.
Mistake: Swap out the gloves for fresh ones! You packed them. Use them. Secondary mistake - Put gloves in the drop bags!
Well, there was just one thing to do. I told Jeff my problem and my proposed solution. It was time to turn on the speed and increase the effort to get my heart rate way up in order to get my hands sweaty to ,in turn, warm up my gloves. Jeff looked at me like I was nuts. I'd been here before more times than I can remember. Winter training runs. Cross country skiing. Downhill skiing. Ice climbing. Hunting. And it's worked every time. I had no reason to believe it wouldn't work now. Of course, the risk was pushing too hard and burning out with a whole lot of miles to go. So I had to pay close attention and get things just starting to heat up, and then regulate temperatures wtih my other clothes to prevent over heating. I also had to know when to slow down again. And I took off up the hill at the fastest hike I think I have ever done.
I don't remember the exact sequence of events, but just as my hands felt normal again I found myself in line behind the guy from South Carolina. And we cruised together for quite some time. We passed a familiar face and her pacer huddled on a rock eating or drinking something. We worked our way through the mud bog. I was exra careful to keep my feet out of the mud, but that's really hard to do at night. I wound up stepping in pretty deep. Because of this, the next aid stop was going to be a sock change. The idea was to just remove the wet socks and keep the feet as warm and dry as possible. At the rock hopping stream crossing my friend from South Carolina was having some balance and confidence issues. His pacer lead the way, and I held his hand as much as I could (literally) while he worked his way across. I don't think he actually kissed the ground on the far side, but it seems he thought about it. As I danced across the rocks he laughed at me and said something along the lines of, "You just made me look like a little bitch." We all got a good chuckle.
It was at some point through here I hit the 50 mile mark. It wasn't official, but the first 50 miles of my first 100 mile race were faster than the 50 miles of my first 50 mile race just a few months earlier.
As we hit the jeep road at the top of the climb I knew we had about a half mile of mostly flat with some puddles to dodge until we hit the aid station. I think I started running. At a minimum, I used the lack of incline to pick up the pace and come into the aid station strong. Nearing the tents, I could smell the bonfire, smell the food, hear the music and the people. It was a strong and exciting draw. It reminded me of the parties in the woods back in college. But the similarities quickly ended as I entered the cirlce of light and saw for myself what was really going on.
There were runners around the fire. Many of them looked very downtrodden. Some had clearly been crying. A few of the faces were familiar. People I've seen on magazine covers. People who weren't supposed to be involved with this part of my race. They were supposed to be nearing the end of theirs. Not camped out in the light of the flames looking sullen. I made it a point to not look at the fire or the people around it. That's not where my head needed to be. My mind didn't actually use the word "drop" but I knew...
I found my drop bag and got to work on the socks. Jeff filled my bottles, brought me ramen and bacon. LOTS of bacon. I told him it was way too much. But then I took a bite and decided he shouldn't take any of it away. I pulled a mountain dew out of my drop bag and pounded it. Caffeine and sugar. Fast. There was a dog roaming the aid station that had locked onto my bacon. He was well behaved for a begger. I'm ashamed to admit I fed a strange dog a bit of bacon as I packed things up. I hope that didn't upset his stomache any. Because Jeff had spent so long taking care of me and getting me what I needed, he wasn't quite ready to go yet. With the eating and sock change, we hadn't yet hit the five minute mark at the aid station. I wasn't worried. I wandered close to a propane heater for a minute while Jeff finished up what he was doing. I got just close enough to warm my gloves a touch to remove the cold edge and avoid the need to head out at a "too fast for this stage in the race" pace just to warm up my hands again. My other gloves were not in the drop bag.
Aid station 10. 8 left to go. About mile 52.
The next leg was "all uphill" to the next aid station. It was about 5 and a half miles. And I had the weird feeling I was off course. Things were flatter and more runnable than they should have been based on the elevation profile. But there were markers and Jeff was helping to navigate. We ran the flatter stuff because we could. There was a right turn we almost missed, but didn't. And it was shortly after that the climbing started again.
The stars were spectacular. Jeff and I were alone for most of this segment. There were a couple people we passed on the climb, but compared to the Fish Creek Falls trail, it was vacant. The solitude made this piece feel long. it felt like it took forever to get to the aid station. But when we did, it was quite the sight.
Have you ever gone clubbing with friends, and got to the club WAY too early? So the music is going, the lights are going, the bar is open, but there's just no one there. That's what this aid staiton felt like. I almost didn't want to stop. But that wasn't the plan. So I stopped and went in the tent. As my eyes adusted to the light and the warmth hit me, I looked up and saw two familiar faces. There was Lisa and her pacer (and a lady I have trained many miles with) Laurie just hanging out by the heater. By my guesses, Lisa should have been WAY in front of me at this point. She invited me to sit down and get warm. I laughed at her and declined. Later, explaining the situation to my next pacer, Melissa, I actually uttered the phrase, "Homey don't play dat." One of the things I learned hunting is how dangerous getting warm can actually be. My goal was to grab what I needed and go eat outside before I got too comfortable. Jeff stayed inside a bit longer. Partly because he was helping me. I had a drop bag here, but there wasn't anything in it I needed at the moment. I would pass back through here after sunrise. The notable takeaway from this aid station was grilled cheese. I took the last little piece they had and it was spectacular!
(Photo credit: Lauri Nakauchi Me in red and Jeff Chatting with Lisa and Laurie in the middle of the night.)
While chatting with Lisa, a very tall guy stood up in the corner and introduced himself as he was leaving. His name was also Matt. We had a frend in common. Someone I knew from high school (and haven't seen since) and someone he knew from working in the emergency medecine field.
Aid station 11. 7 left to go. About mile 57.
About seven and a half miles of almost all downhill to the next aid station. On a very rough and rocky road. In the daylight it would have been very runnable. But even with the headlamps, the rocks made it pretty tricky. Or maybe it was the fact that it was midnight or so, and I had been on my feet 16+ hours and had nearly half the climbing for the course done with?
We cruised through as best we could. At this point, I was exploring new distances. I was in uncharted territory. And I was having a good old time! There were people camped along the road. Some were hunters. Some were just out or a weekend in the woods. It never occured to me to be envious of the campers sleeping. I was still having fun. The stars will still shining. The company was still good. Jeff and I played Leapfrog with Matt for a while. Then he went storming by as things leveled out. Had I been more familiar with the course, I may have gone with him. Or maybe not. who knows. I was certainly running my own race at this point. Maybe two miles before the next aid station I saw a shooting star. This means I was relaxed enough to look at the sky. So I made a wish.
Rolling into this next aid station was creepy. It was about 2:30 in the morning. The forest road was lined with camp chairs. The chairs were occupied by people in sleeping bags, blankets, heavy coats, and some just clearly wearing all their clothes. I'm sure the faces were asleep. But they looked dead and erie in the glow of the headlamps. Where the other aid stations on the course had greeted runners with cheers, these corpse looking faces greeted us with silence. So I did what I do best. I deployed awkward. I broke the silence with an overly loud "GOOD MORNING EVERYONE!" A few people laughed. And a group of chairs exploded and called out my name. I found my crew!
Aid station 12. Six more to go. About mile 65.
(Photo Credit: Melissa Wood)
I forget exactly what happened at this aid station, but Jeff had been with me for 25+ miles and it was time for me to switch pacers. Jeff was off to catch some sleep. I would see him again tomorrow. It was Melissa's turn to take a lap with the stupid runner. (That's me.) This part of the course was 4.5 miles of single track downhill to the next aid station, then right back on the same trail. The far end of this trail would actually put us nearly back in town. The not-quite-ten-miles should probably take me around two and a half hours at this point, maybe three.
As I left the aid station, someone I had only met through facebook somehow recognized me in the layers and the poor light and came out to give me a hug. That boosted my spirits a fair bit. This actually happened rather often throughout the race. And every time it was spirit booster.
There was lots of idle chatter. I shared a song that had been looping through my head.
I can't feel my legs when I'm with you
And I love it!
That got a good laugh. Though, it really isn't as funny when I haven't been awake for nearly 24 hours.
I don't know what my pace was through this downhill section, but it felt pretty dang strong. I was running well and having a good time enjoying the trail. And like all good things, that came to a bit of an end when I smashed my foot on a rock during a faster, semi-technical downhill section. Yes. The same foot. I didn't fall, but I did use some rather grown up words to express my displeasure. I regrouped and we continued on. And it hurt a fair bit. But like everything else, the pain dulled as I continued. It didn't take long for a new distraction to arise. We came around a bend in the trail and there was something in the middle of the path.
When people hear that I like to run in the woods at night, they immediately start asking about the animals. Common sense would dictate that I should be afraid of mountain lions, bears, moose, and even deer and elk. But I'm not. All of those are very predictable, and if you keep your wits the encounter will be a bit strained, but likely end with only a good story. There is, however one animal I am afraid of in the woods. It's an animal that simply does not care. An animal that has a very unique defense system that can be used on things in the immediate vicinity, unlike claws, teeth, hooves and antlers that require contact. And there it was. The biggest one I had ever seen. Right in the middle of the trail.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Melissa had momentum and was trying to pass me. I reached up and grabbed her shoulder. I shined my light right on the thing and started yelling.
SKUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNK! RUNNERS! THERE'S A SKUNK IN THE TRAIL!
My intention was to let anyone coming know that there was trouble, as well as make enough noise and light to encourage the skunk to continue moving along and well off the trail where the loud, bright, smelly runners were. (I don't know how bad you have to stink to scare off a skunk, but I might have been there.) I don't know how long it took for me to feel safe moving again. It was probably less than a minute, but it felt much, much longer. And we carefully moved through where the skunk was. I was avoiding looking where the skunk went, just in case there was a jet of unfathomable stink headed my way. And somehow we made it through without smelling terrible. I did warn the next couple runners I saw. You know, just in case.
As we neared the aid station my foot was starting to hurt. The one that I had smashed now three or four times. But it was supposed to hurt. I was 70 miles into my day. Everything was supposed to hurt. Melissa and I made a game plan for the aid station. She was going to fill my bottles, I was going to find some soup, and maybe something to chew on. I was going to avoid the warming tent. This lead to a discussion about all the people we had seen at past aid staions huddled around the warm and my concern for their race. Melissa made some comment about how I should avoid getting warm, and my response was a simple, "Homey don't play dat."
Aid station 13. 5 more to go. About mile 70.
Still laughing about "homey don't play dat" we rolled into the aid station. Things went pretty much as planned. The soup was very, very hot. I was just standing there staring at it. One of the volunteers offered to add some cool water. I clearly did not think of that. It worked. I drank soup. And we were back on the trail.
The 4.5 miles of up were slow. And each step was more painful than the one before. I was starting to wonder if I had broken a toe again. I've run on a broken toe before. It really did feel that bad. All I knew was I had to get back up to the nex aid station where the crew would be and would have my Fix Me bucket with my medical kit. Even though things hurt, I did what I could to keep my spirits up. I kept singing my song. I kept greeting the other runners as we passed them. (70+ miles in, and I'm passing people.) It was an out and back trail and there were lots of people. I tried to greet them all with a friendly hello.
At some point, I think it was down near the aid station, we had a discussion about the status of my headlight. Remember earlier when I mentioned I was holding batteries and didn't swap them? Well things were getting dim. I didn't really notice, but Melissa did. I had practiced with so many different headlights over the year that running dim didn't bother me too much, but Melissa really didn't want me smashing my toes again. So we swapped. And that was a good idea. I seem to recall the discussion took longer than Melissa thought it should have. I was in stupid runner mode and Melissa was going through the pacer negotiation steps before taking my old light from me and putting hers on my head.
While the trip down the hill had some excitement, the trip up was uneventful. As things flattened out near the top I was paying close attention to my foot because something felt... off. And I figured it out. There was something squishy between my toes. But not like wet squishy, more like there was a gummy bear between my toes. But not a normal gummy bear. You know those larger cinnamon bears? It was like one of those.
Aid station 14. 4 more to go. About mile 74.
The discussion at the aid station was short, and I don't remember much of anything. I don't even know if I ate. I assume someone filled my bottles. All I knew was I needed a spot to sit and someone to look at my foot for me. I was steered to a chair and sat. Someone (I think it was Anaka, my next pacer) took off my sock and shoe. I dared a look down.
I had six toes.
I didn't start the race with six toes on that foot.
I was told the next day that at this point I got pale and my facial expression dropped. That makes sense. That sixth toe looked a lot like the end of my race. It was the biggest, ugliest blood blister I have ever seen. And it was on my foot. I was positive I was done. At this point, my crew came through in a manner I could not have expected or asked. The safety pins in the first aid kit were found. The alcohol wipes came out. The pin got cleaned. The cherry tomato part got cleaned. And Logan poked a hole in my foot.
I should tell you a bit about Logan. I met Logan like two weeks before as I was working the aid station for another race. The last time I saw her, she was addressing a blister issue on her foot. And it was a great big one. I helped her out then and here she was helping me out now. Karma.
I'll skip the gore. Logan took three band aids and cut them apart and put them together to make something both small enough to fit in my shoe and big enough to cover what I can only call a wound. Then it was time to find the tape to make sure everything stayed put. We needed duct tape, or athletic tape. Both of which I was SURE had made it into the Fix Me box. But there was clearly no tape. None. I forget who said it, but I think it was Lisa who recognized I had used duct tape to attach the lid of the box to the bottom. My intent was to make sure the lids didn't get too lost. But now it was time to use that duct tape to hold me together. I was taped. Someone found the body glide that I had in the tub and it was decided that my feet were going to get a good coat of glide. Logan was still down low, and somehow the job went to her.
I'm not sure what the other runners and crews around us were expecting to hear that morning, but me giggling and squealing, "IT TICKLES IT TICKLES IT TICKLES" was not likely on the list. But that's what happened. Twice.
I got fresh socks and fresh shoes. These shoes were a full size bigger than the last pair. And they felt tight. I was helped to my feet and carefully put weight on the foot that previously had six toes. It certainly didn't feel good, but that would work.
This was the longest aid stop of the race. But it was still pretty dang fast. It felt like forever, but couldn't have been more than 15 minutes. When you have an awesome crew, this is what you can expect. NASCAR style aid station stops. Fast and accurate medical help. Smiles. Encouragement. Just general happiness and awesomeness. And pre-dawn foot tickles.
It was time to say goodby to Melissa and start running with Anaka.
Next up was a seven mile climb to the aid station that looked like an empty club in the middle of the night. The sun was starting to light the horizon. Anaka and I headed out. It took a while for me to find my rythm with the injured foot. And I was starting to feel some other blisters as well as some muscle fatigue from changing my stride to account for the pain.
On one of my last training runs was with Lisa and Val. The girls dropped me. At the last major intersection, Val came back to find me. We had a talk about my hiking speed and how long I could maintain it. Val, the answer is, I can hike the skin off my feet, and then keep going at about the same effort.
As we climbed up, up, up, and up I slowly gained on the people in front of me. 75+ miles in, and I was power hiking past people. Things were starting to get dark in my head. I was in pain. This was work. But it wasn't terribly bad. I tried to smile. Anaka and I made some idle chatter. She took some pictures. The hill was relentless. But hiking up it didn't hurt nearly as bad as running down it several hours earlier. We were back on the rough road. The going was a bit on the boring side, but the scenery was fabulous. In fact, the scenery on the entire course was incredible. Just the views were enough to make it worth being there. And it was light enough for Anaka to take some pictures.
Aid station 15. 3 to go. About mile 81.
Breakfast time. I was hoping for another grilled cheese sandwich. What I got instead was some french toast and fresh fruit. And it was the best french toast ever. I ate on the chairs outside the tent while digging through the drop bag. I was in the sun and feeling pretty good. This drop bag wasn't all that full. I had the space to stash my jacket and hat. Anaka dropped off some of her things. The weather was clear. The sky was a spectacular blue. The leaves were changing. It was a great morning to be in the hills.
The course ducked off the road and back onto a trail. I can't describe this trail in a manner that will do it justice. But next time I'm in Steamboat, I'm running this trail. Gently rolling, mostly smooth. If I wasn't 80+ miles in, this would have been an awesome, fast, run. I'm sure the elites had a blast on this section.
Somewhere in here my watch died. So I don't know how what time it was. But I had been awake for over 24 hours and moving for most of that time. Mentally, things were starting to fall apart a bit. I held it together as good as I could, but I was starting to see things. Shapes and colors were combining into things that just didn't make sense. This wasn't much of an issue and allowed me to amuse myself for a while. Until Anaka and I passed by this old weathered stump. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but in my mind the stump was actually growing out of Anakas head. My reaction to this was aparently enough to get Anakas attention. She asked what that was all about. I said something along the lines of, "That stump really isn't growing out of your head, right?" And we got a good laugh. But Anaka stayed close behind me. Just in case. If you hang around the ultra world long enough you hear stories about runners losing it and taking off through the woods chasing a hallucination. If you're in front of a runner who is seeing things, the runner can get some good distance and possibly get lost in the woods. If you're behind the runner, you can at least follow along.
It wasn't too long until I would encounter the biggest physical challenge of the course yet. No, it wasn't another 4.5 mile climb up a ski slope. It was a very large tree that had fallen across the trail. And this was a HUGE tree. It was bigger around than I was. And it had fallen across the trail and was sitting just high enough that going over it wasn't an option. There was enough undergrowth to make going around it unrealistic. And there was just enough room under it for someone to crawl.
At this point I was around 85 miles in. The ground looked so far away. Getting on my hands and knees was not at all what I wanted to do. I stopped and stared at the tree and assessed the situation in a manner that made Anaka laugh at me. I eased myself aaaaallllll the way to the ground and crawled under the tree. And it hurt every bit as much as I expected. But I was able to get up without help. So I guess that's a win.
And we were back to the trail. We were mostly hiking strongly, but we got a little bit of running in. We were making good time. We got passed. We passed people. It was just a good time all around. The 8.5 miles to the next aid station went by pretty quickly. There was another small tree to manage as we got closer to the aid station, but this one I was able to go over without much issue. As we were nearing the aid station the front runners of the 50 mile race blew by. These guys were moving. It was awesome. I don't think I was doing that well 50 miles ago.
Aid station 16. 2 to go. About mile 90.
On the way into the aid station Anaka and I were having some negotiations. She wanted me to start dropping gear. She said it was time for the vest to go away and for me to just use the hand helds. The compromise was I would empty out the vest, drop the bladder, and continue with three bottles instead of four. That seemed fair.
I need to take a moment and address my handhelds and thank the crew at Orange Mud. Rounding up gear for the race I noticed one of my hand helds had gone missing. I put in an order with orange mud, paid for the overnight shipping, and sent them an e-mail letting them know what was going on. Within hours I got a personal e-mail back confirming some of the shipping details, and a follow up to make sure everything arrived on time. Considering the pre-race stress, this was huge.
The aid station was a welcome sight. In my drop bag I had a mountain dew waiting or me. I was looking forward to the caffeine and sugar doing their thing on my brain. I changed socks. I ate a mostly cooked grilled cheese. And I seem to recall some bacon, but that could have been my mind playing tricks on me.
There was a medical professional at the aid station. He came over to talk to me. He was a bit concerned about the blisters, but had said we had done about what he would have. We chose not to address the remaining blisters. They were bad, but no where near as bad as the sixth toe. Mr. Medical came back a couple times to check on me as I was sitting there eating, changing, and stuffing things into the drop bag. I couldn't tell if I appreciated the concern or if I was worried he was going to find some reason to pull my bib. So I put some hustle to the aid station work and got up and out.
The official distance for this next piece is 6.4 miles. But most people seem to measure it a fair bit longer. I knew this going in. Anaka reminded me of the rolling nature of this section of the course. She encouraged me to run when I could, relax and just enjoy it. We were back on single track in the woods. Again, a great piece of trail. And then Ananka turned on the music. I don't know how she knew, but that was exactly what I needed. What a kick in the pants! Rocking out in the woods. Running. Relaxing. Having a good time. As we were passing someone, C&C Music Factory came on. And the pacer ahead of us made me laugh. I called out, "I totally thought he was going to bust a move!" And there was laughter all around. As we were working by them the song was talking about, "Jump to the rythm jump jump to the rythm jump" and I laughed out loud and said somethign about just not being able to the rythm right now.
It was starting to get hot. And I had more crap in my shoe. And I don't remember so many hills. We could hear the aid station well beore we saw it. There was lots of cheering and cowbell. Anaka and I made a plan. I had to get this crap out of my shoes. But sitting down was a bad idea. The transition from sitting to standing to walking/running hurt the foot skin too much. Anaka was going to help with the shoes. We were going to make it happen without me sitting down. And I was going to have some watermelon, and maybe something else. Eating wasn't sounding good right now. I was glad I had the bottles of tailwind to provide the calories I needed.
Aid station 17. Last aid station. Just the finish line left. Official distance 96.3. Most people measure this closer to 100.
The volunteers at the aid station were fresh. And they gave us a great big whoop as we came into sight. I remember wanting to run into the aid station to feed off their excitement. I don't think I was actually able to pull together a run. But I waddled in with authority. Bottles got filled. Watermelon was in my mouth. I ate a lot of watermelon. It was great. Anaka told me to lean on the table and she picked up one of my feet, untied the shoe, pulled the shoe off my swollen foot, shook all the dirt, rocks, small plants and woodland creatures out of my shoe (WEAR THE FREAKIN GAITERS!). She placed the shoe under my foot and got me to stand on the shoe - giving my foot a chance to relax and breathe a bit. The aid station workers brought over a chair and asked if I needed to sit. Anaka and I at the same time and with the same severity in our voice said, "NO SITTING!" The volunteers laughed and kept their distance. Anaka repeated her work on the other foot and I stood there eating watermelon.
It is really weird standing there, leaning on a table, eating watermelon while someone works on your shoes and feet. I was greateful and a bit sharmeful all at the same time. I was an adult. I knew how to tie my shoes. I could do this. But Anaka wouldn't let me. And that was the right choice. It really was.
As this was happening, I was talking with the aid station workers trying to get directions to finsih. They said it twice, and I just didn't understand. I know I should have. I know they were using small words. It just wasn't sinking in. "Forgive me," I said. "It's been a terribly long day. So I take this road down, and roughly how far until the Gondola where I can meet the rest of my crew?" And they explained it again. Two miles or so until the Gondola. Another four or so to the finish. Watch for the left turn onto the mountain bike trail. That didnt' sound too bad.
I remember making a bit of a screaming sound as my shoes went back on my feet. It was bad enough that the aid station got quiet and everyone stared. That's right. My feet hurt. I was within a rounding error of 100 miles and my feet hurt. So what.
And then, the directions sounded bad. The road was a snowcat track and maintenance path. it was the same one we came up over 24 hours ago. And I was suddenly very thankful that Anaka had reminded me to enjoy the last section. Because I was not enjoying this road. It was rocky. It was steep. At the time I thought I woudl have preferred heading down the ski hills. I could feel every step in every inch of my body. And it wasn't good. I didn't need to go the full two miles to the Gondola to meet my crew. They had started heading up the mountain to meet me. And I was never so excited to see people. seeing them meant the end was near. This was the first time it really occured to me that I was going to finsih this thing. That the next aid station point was the finish line.
I don't know how long the next five miles took. but it felt like a week. I walked most of it. I shuffle/ran some of it. Sometimes I had to stop and turn around to face uphill just to releave the strain on my body and mix it up. The 50 milers were running down this. Shoot, 50 miles ago, I probably would have too. Some of the hares were passing me. Some even running. Some of the folks we had passed between the last two aid staions passed me. It was getting hot. I was falling apart both physically and mentally.
I never wanted to drop out, but I suddenly understood the people that drop after mile 90. I totally get that now. I completely understand how the pain and mental anguish can consume you to the point that finishing doesn't even matter anymore. I could see the roof of the hotel at the base where I knew the finish was. And it didn't seem to get any closer. There were more and more people. And people I recognized. I remember seeing Sarah Foster from one of my local running groups. I remember seeing Rob. Just before Rob there were a pair of grouse on the roadside. I got walk right up to them. Rob hugged me much like I hugged him at the aid station while he was running the Hideaway 100. There was Laurie, and my coach, Sherpa John. Laurie said something cheerful and took my picture. John gave me a great big hug and told me he was proud of me. I migth have mentioned sort of wanting to punch him about then... And the last three miles went like that. It was nearly a parade of people I knew and friendly faces of strangers. Quitting never crossed my mind. But sitting down in the shade and resting sure did. Of course, that was a bad mistake, so it didn't happen.
After what seemed like forever, I saw Kurt, my photographer friend, again. I loved seeing Kurt. He knows exactly how far he is from the next landmark. In this case, the finish. Kurt followed us down the last mile taking pictures the whole way. Me and the crew were just having a good day in the hills by the looks of things. But on the inside, I was a mess. And we got really close to the finish line. Kurt pointed it out and told me I could run it if I wanted to. I could make it all end just by getting through that inflatable red arch.
It took a while for that to sink in. That I could run. That I could end this. And then I had an idea. I told Kurt it was time to run ahead of us towards the finish. He got a good lead, and I started to pick it up. The transition from walk to shuffle hurt. But the shuffle felt OK. The transition from shuffle to jog didn't hurt so bad. My body seemed to kind of understand what was happening and what was needed. The crew was getting excited. I could hear the crowd at the finish. They were cheering louder as I went faster. So I went faster. I don't remember transitioning from jogging to running. But the crowd got louder. As I started to sprint, I could hear the crowd explode. It was only a few dozen people, but between their noise, and the protest from my body it sounded like the time I played hockey in front of a packed stadium.
I have to say the finish was a bit anti-climactic. I crossed under the inflatable arch. I stopped and put my hands on my knees for a moment and just breathed. As I straightened a nice lady handed me a belt buckle and and beer mug. There was a quick picture with the crew. And then a simple, "OK. We're going to the medical tent to get those feet looked at."
Lisa went and got my flip flops. The medical guy just kind of laughed at me. We had done pretty much everything right. Since the race was done, there was no real point doing anything else to the blisters to treat them. "Just don't wear shoes for a bit." And soak them in an epsom salt bath. Just don't wear shoes. Looking at my feet, I didn't think that was going to be an issue. Things were swelling. And not just the blisters. I was almost watching my ankles go away. My toes were swelled and blistered and looked like overstuffed sausages.
After a few minutes I felt bad about occupying the medical chair. So my team helped me stand and gain my balance. (Yes. It was needed.) And I shuffled over towards where a car would come to pick me up in a few moments. Well, the few moments took longer than I thought. And my stomach was turning a bit. I wanted to sit down. So Melissa led me over to a nice rock in the sun. Now that I wasn't moving I was starting to get cold. And I just laid on that rock. It felt great. I don't know how long I was there, but not long enough to fall asleep. The car was here. It was time to go.
The pick up zone was the front entrance to a fancy hotel. There was a valet. And the car was parked in kind of an odd spot. As I shuffled over I could see the valet coming over to give the driver a talking to. I shouted out, "I'm coming as fast as I can! I just ran 100 miles." The valet gave a little nod and wave and went back to where he came from. No big deal. 100 mile finisher just shuffling to the car.