Post-race amnesia: Total or partial memory loss after a race, particularly when it comes to remembering the hard and horrible details and all the pain and agony of running and how you had no fun at all for most of the race.
Despite doing a pretty good job of being present in the moment during the Big Horn 100M last year, the post-race amnesia kicked into full swing not long after the summer sun faded. By winter, I found myself signing up to run the race again and had talked enough about how beautiful the course was to convince a bunch of other RMRs to also sign up. In the final few weeks of training and advice-sharing I assured the newbie Big Horn-ers and newbie RMR 100 milers amongst us that this course was neither all that technical, nor all that steep, nor really all that hard. The night time wasn’t even that long either! Again, I did a good job of going on and on about how beautiful the wildflowers were and how magical it was to have a huge posse of green shirts out there last year.
Fast forward to about mile 5 of the race this past weekend when I was jolted out of my amnesic stupor by the relentlessly steep 3,500ft climb up to the Upper Sheep’s Gulch aid station at mile 8. The carpet of blue lupine & yellow balsam root wildflowers were even more intense than I’d remembered. Unfortunately, so was this darned climb! With my hands on my quads I power hiked most of the way up feeling slightly anxious at the barrage of curse words I’d get from the rest of the RMR runners when I’d see them at the turn around 40 miles later for lying to them about the difficulty of the course!
Now, I’ll walk you through my goals and how they played out. In addition to the foremost goal of just finishing the darned thing, I had a few focal points going into the race this year.
100 Miles in 1 day. I missed the elusive 24-hour mark by 13 minutes last year. This year, I wanted to join the Sub-24 Hour Rusty Spur club. Like any time goal, it’s a completely arbitrary number that doesn’t really mean anything but I was annoyed at myself last year when I saw the group of Rusty Spurs being called up to the front at the awards ceremony and noticed that they were all dudes. This year there’d better be at least 1 woman up there with them and I wanted to try my darnedest to be her. Like the silver buckle at Western States or the Royal Order of the Crimson Cheetah at the Wasatch 100, it’s a goal that many strive for but few attain. A lot can happen in 100 miles.
Faster than the sun. Last year, I managed to make it to mile 46 before I had to switch on my headlamp. This year I wanted to beat the sun to the turnaround at the Jaws Aid Station at mile 48. Just as we were heading to the race start, I quickly looked up my Strava file from last year’s race and saw that it had taken me about 11 hours to run to Jaws in 2015. In my haste, I forgot to look up any other splits along the way to give me some markers to gauge myself against. Doh! So I’d have to just run by feel and, mostly importantly, just try to stay cool and relaxed through the hot daylight hours.
As I made my way along the course towards the Footbridge aid station (mile 30) and chatted with other sub-24 hour aspiring runners, a few asked me if I thought we were “on pace” based on my run last year. Honestly, I had no idea. They probably hated me for being so completely useless.
Running with the boogie man. My biggest focus of this race was to run through the night by myself without a pacer. There are no pacers allowed at UTMB so I wanted to challenge myself to run through a more lonely night out here in the middle of nowhere Wyoming than what I’ll likely experience at UTMB where I’ll share the course with 2,500 other runners. I’ve run plenty of miles alone in the dark but I’ve never run from sunset to sunrise alone. Thankfully, the summer solstice sun and full moon would give me an easy first experience to balance out the fact that I could likely run the whole night without seeing another runner and could very well run into spooky monsters and ghosts in the darkness.
I dusted off my 2009 iPod shuffle and relearned how to load it up with cheery & appropriate tunes like “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers, “The Dogs Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine, & “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars to fill the silence and drown out the sounds of my own thoughts.
Less whimpering, More running. My feet are my biggest issue in 100’s so far. No matter what shoes I wear or what the course holds, by the last 20 miles they are so destroyed that I can hardly run the downhills without whimpering. Take a cheese grater, a sledge hammer, a pile of hot coals, a meat grinder, and a ten thousand pound tank while you’re at it and now go to town on the balls of your feet. Smash them, bash them, grind them and generally wreak havoc on them. And make sure they’re nice and soggy while you’re at it so the skin is extra sensitive. That’s what it feels like.
This year I needed to do a better job of sucking it up. It hurts like hell to run, but, on the upside, it doesn’t hurt less to walk. And, after doing a lot of complaining in the past, I’ve come to the realization that whimpering more does not, in fact, make it hurt less. The final 25 miles of the UTMB course hold 3 brutally long steep climbs and descents – I am terrified. Big Horn would be a perfect test piece for me to practice shutting up and pushing my threshold, particularly during that final 3,500′ descent from mile 88 to 95.
So. How did it all unfold? Grab a beer. I’ll tell you!
Yehaw! With temperatures rising to 106F in the Tongue River Canyon on Saturday afternoon, I can’t possibly put into words how motivated and thankful I was to run fast enough to beat the heat. I crossed the finish line at 10:10am on Saturday morning in 23 hours and 10 minutes. Not only did I pull off running 100 miles in (less than) 1 day, but I knocked 1:03 hours off my time from last year, and I got to stand amongst the Rusty Spurs at the awards ceremony in the company of 21 men and… 3 women! Can I get a YEEEEEEEHAW?!
Here Comes The Sun: The long 4,300ft climb from Footbridge (mile 30) to the Jaws (mile 48) ticked off quickly and smoothly in the company of Nikki and Hannah (see how I’ve already conveniently forgotten how many rocks there were and how 17 miles of uphill is hard work?!). Along the way I passed fellow RMR, Lassen, who was battling leg cramps. Before the race I had made fun of him for having 70 miles worth of pacers lined up but now I was relieved to know he was in good hands with Mike Randall keeping him company while he regained control of his hydration and muscle function. Next I caught up to another fellow RMR, Pedatella, wearing a very fashionable plastic size XXXL poncho in the short rain and lightning storm that flashed overhead as we made our way across the open alpine meadows around mile 43. And just a couple of miles later I caught up to RMR John Knotts. I was now the first RMR. How the heck did that happen?! I came into Jaws at around 9PM to the rowdy cheers of Ryan, Cat, Ginna & Colleen who’d be anxiously scanning the horizon for any sign of a green shirt for the better part of 2 hours. I wouldn’t turn on my headlamp ’til mile 50.
Friends & foes in the night: I came into Jaws with Nikki but I knew I wouldn’t see her again. 17 miles of downhill is not my most favorite thing in the world and I’ve seen how quick she is on descents. At Jaws, I switched from a Naked Belt with two Simple Hydration bottles to my new Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta backpack (couldn’t they have come up with a better name for it?! “Vesta” with pink cursive font. Are you kidding me?! How about following their model for their men’s packs and naming their women’s line after some of the badass women who run for UD like Nikki and Hillary?! But I digress…) since I might use that for UTMB, threw some warm clothes and my La Sportiva Hail jacket in there along with an extra headlamp and another baggie full-o-CarboPro. Until now, according to plan, I’d only consumed liquid calories from CarboPro and 5 VFuel gels. I was hoping to be able to start eating real food now that it was cooler in the night.
The next several miles flew by as I passed every single runner still heading uphill towards Jaws. I stopped, hugged and talked to the 13 RMRs behind me and a few other friends who were running the race. This probably cost me at least 15 minutes but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I was so incredibly happy to see them. Some were suffering more than others but I knew that every single one of them would be able to continue on into the night. I was beyond stoked and beaming with pride. I almost started crying. Almost.
Soon enough John caught up to me and we ended up running together into Footbridge (mile 67). I dumped everything out of my pack and kept only the extra headlamp and the Hail jacket. The night was warm and I was moving well. John and I set off together to tackle the 2,200ft climb known as “The Wall”. I knew this climb would take over an hour but I was happy for an uphill so I put my head down, threw in my earbuds, blasted some music, and powerhiked the stretch aggressively.
My ankle hurt.
I couldn’t figure out when or where I’d hurt it but it had been bothering me for miles and was getting worse. The pain was sharp and it made me cry out rhythmically every time my right foot hit the ground, twisted or touched the side of my shoe. I limped. When I got to the next aid station I hoped and prayed that they would have a pair of scissors or pocket knife so I could put an end to the misery.
By some miracle there was a medic there who perked right up when I pointed at my foot and told him I needed a sharp object with which to perform surgery. The smart man did not immediately hand over his scalpel. Soon his angst was replaced by confusion when I took my shoe off, handed it over and told him to cut out the side of the heel. You want me to cut your shoe?! Yes. And so he did and I stopped wincing as much and could return to running somewhat normally until… I was attacked by monster!
This was not a hallucination.
This beast was a sinister shade of dark brown with a blood colored spot protruding from its puffed out chest. It wanted me dead. I took a few steps back, picked up a weapon and was ready for war. They say you should make yourself as big as possible if you encounter a wild animal, so I tried that intimidation tactic here. I put my hands above my head, shone my headlamp in its eyes and called out in a big bad deep voice GET LOST, BEAST!
It didn’t flinch.
It came after me. I screamed and started flailing a stick at it thinking to myself I AM NOT IN THE F*&$ing MOOD YOU STUPID GROUSE! Realizing that I wasn’t going to win this battle I backed away and patiently waited for him to unruffled his feathers and strut back to the sage bush from whence he came before I sped by him as quickly as my little legs could take me.
The adrenaline rush wore off quickly and my eyes started feeling heavy. I was getting so sleepy. So very very sleepy. Where was that sun?! The sky was black and still, and for the millionth time this night I looked up in surprise at a bright light ahead thinking it was either another runner’s headlamp or an aid station but it was just the moon teasing me endlessly.
By the time I got to Cow Camp aid station at mile 77 I was deliriously tired and ravenously hungry. The night was basically over and I still hadn’t eaten anything real. Could I have some soup please, mister? I refilled one of my water bottles with CarboPro, the other with Coke and then drank the vegetable soup. To my surprise the soup didn’t taste as magically delicious as I had been dreaming it would for the past several hours. I got up, shuffled out of the aid station and within less than a minute, it all came spewing out violently. Great. There go all those calories.
I ran the undulating dusty trail from which I could see the Dry Fork aid station first as a sparkle of lights in the darkness 5 miles away and then as a shining golden beacon on the eastern horizon as the sun welcomed the new day. When I got to the bottom of the final 500ft climb to the aid station, I turned my music on as loud as it could possibly go and ran every single goddamn step of that climb because it was mile 82 and I could. And when CeeLo Green’s song “F You” came on you can bet that I sang it out loud. Shamelessly.
I heard the cheers of my pacer Ginna and RMR friends Cat & Adam, and felt the first rays of sunlight wash over me as I reached the top. I was awake! 18 miles to go.
Run with your heart: A few days before the race my friend Sandi wished me well and told me to run the first 75 miles of the race with my head and the last quarter with my heart. I’m not really an emotional touchy-feelie kind of person but 100 milers have a way of stripping me down to a bumbling sobby pile of mush. So, naturally, by the time I hit the top of the last big climb at mile 89 and saw the breathtaking field of wildflowers below, her words came to my mind and I started to sob. Poor Ginna, pacer-extraordinare, had just a few miles ago handed me a slice of watermelon only to watch me violently throw it up and then start crying about that, and now had to listen to me babble on about how lucky I was to be right here right now despite the pain and fatigue (and vomit). This was the moment I had been waiting for to prove to myself that I will be able to handle the final stretch of UTMB. It was time to ignore my ankle and my aching feet and fly down the 3,500ft hill. And so I did. I thought of how I wanted to earn that Rusty Spur award for Alberto, who got it last year, and for all the women out there, and for the Rocky Mountain Runners. And I started getting a bit teary all over again.
100 miles. 23:10:53. 3rd place female. 2nd place female 30-39 AG. 17th Overall.
“Great is the victory, but even greater still is the friendship” – Emil Zatopec
Ginna, Ryan and all of my Rocky Mountain Runner family. You are selfless. You support, motivate and inspire me. You make my life bigger.
Nikki, for sharing those evening miles with me. You are authentic and strong, and all that is beautiful & powerful about this sport.
La Sportiva for outfitting me in the fantastically comfy Snap shorts (the first pair of running shorts in my 8 years of ultrarunning that I’ve actually liked enough to race in!) and the Akasha shoes which really are a fantastic 100 mile mountain running shoe.
CarboPro for reliably fueling my body for 100 miles in the heat and when nothing else would stay down.
Simple Hydration & Naked Belt for allowing me to run hands free and stay cool without anything on my back during the heat of the day.
Feetures! socks for keeping my feet blister free.
Real Athlete Diets for feeding us before and after the race with delicious, healthy, heartwarming grub (and the best damn pre-race breakfast brownies imaginable!).
And YOU for making it through to the end of this very long write up. When I sign up for this race again, please remind me that there’s nothing easy about it. Running 100 miles hurts. But it is oh so very awesome.
Here are some beautiful photos that RMR Ben captured during his pacing section with Doug:
RMR Erin crushing her first 100M! Ryan paced her for the final 52 miles :-)
Sunday morning pancake breakfast & awards:
Gisler is showing off:
Collecting rocks & buckles:
RMR 100M buckles!