Rocky Road 100 Mile Race Report Part 4

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

“The first 50 miles are run with the legs, the second 50 miles with the mind.” – Unknown

Lap 4: Miles 45-60

It didn’t get hard until after mile 50. At mile 49, I was running steady and happily. I felt rejuvenated after eating a good meal. But at mile 50, my body decided to close up shop.

All at once, everything started to hurt. My legs. My body. I felt tired. Exhaustion set in. And it was getting dark. Calculating our times a few days later, we would learn that this was our longest and darkest loop.

My feet were starting to kill me. I looked down and my Lunas and frustration set it. What was I thinking trying to run this in minimalist shoes? This was an insane distance, and I felt I was demanding more of my feet than other runners. I felt disadvantaged, and that put me in a foul mood.

Shacky was having trouble of his own. He had developed chaffing under his kilt so bad that he could barely run. We walked in misery together, willing ourselves to move towards the start line so I could change my shoes and Shacky could treat his chaffing.

Shacky is a faster walker than me, so I was half-speed-walking and half-running to keep up. It was as fast as I could manage, but I didn’t want to go any slower. I wanted to get this loop over with.

We tried talking to make the time go by faster. We shared stories from our childhoods, talked about our most embarrassing moments (Shacky’s story is priceless), anything I could think of to get our minds off the pain. It worked for a while, and then we fell back into silence.

A few times now I had caught sight of Stacey pounding out her miles. She ran at one pace, and I never saw her walking. She first inspired me at Across the Years where she wore a shirt that said, “Don’t be a pussy” and reminded me of my friend Kate. She wore that shirt again at this race, and I thought of it as a mantra. I also thought of Kate’s blog post, STFU And Just Do It, which I loved.

Kate wrote a rant about people who say, “I can’t do it!” and I imagined her now “kicking my arse” to the finish line. She wrote:

When I hear people say, “I can’t…” I just want to turn around and shake sense into them. I want to shout at them and make them realize what sort of life they are missing when they use… the lamest excuse in the universe.

It just annoys me when I think of all that wasted potential… Don’t they realize that they may never be their best until they “Shut the Fuck Up and just do it!”?

I tried to pull it together. It wasn’t even that late in the evening yet. How could I be falling apart so soon?

The more tired I got, the more my anxiety grew. I struggled to shuffle/speed-walk alongside Shacky and when he got only a few feet in front of me, I’d feel a wave of desperation. I imaged him getting smaller and smaller in the distance and I didn’t want to be alone.

I heard what sounded like a loud rattling in the bushes, and I grabbed Shacky’s hand.

“Is that a giant rattlesnake??” I demanded.

“No.”

I looked closer into the bushes. “Are you sure??”

“Yes.”

I stared harder. I was pretty sure it was an enormous rattlesnake.

“It’s a sprinkler,” said Shacky. He was right.

Earlier in the day I had a chat with George and he said “Don’t let anyone fool you. This isn’t an easy course.” He told me the hills would catch up to me, and he was right. But he also told me I had plenty of time, to take it easy, and to run my own race. It was these wise words that I now relied on.

It was quiet out on the course. Every once in a while, I would hear runners coming up behind me and I’d turn around to find that nobody was there. This happened several times and it was creeping me out.

Every time I stepped off a curb to cross the street, it was pain. Cars waiting impatiently for me to hobble across each intersection. Along the course there were also sandbags on some of the hills. It now seemed that the entire course was covered in sandbags. I saw sandbags were there was nothing. I saw them leaping out to trip me, and I was tired of high-stepping over them.

“FUCK YOU!!!” I heard a car screech past on the street with teenaged hecklers hanging out the window. They sped by a couple more times yelling mostly obscenities and things like, “YOU’RE SO SLOWWW!!”

Snobby fucking rich kids speeding around in Daddy’s car. If you’re so tough, try driving like that OUTSIDE your posh little gated community. These are your Saturday night plans? Really?

Coming down the final stretch of this lap was pitch dark. I knew the turn to the start line wasn’t far, but I couldn’t see it. I wished so badly that there was some sort of sign or illuminating arrow to give me hope. I needed to see how close I was. I put my head down and wished that so hard. Then I looked up and yelled to Shacky, “Oh look! Are those scarecrows pointing the way?”

Shacky looked up but didn’t reply.

“The scarecrows right there! Can’t you see them?” How could he be so blind??

Then we passed right beside them. They were just posts.

Crossing the start line at mile 60, I walked straight to the food guy. I later learned his name was Adam, and he had been the angel to more than one runner. Besides serving food, he had popped blisters and provided invaluable moral support and encouragement.

As soon as he saw me, Adam pulled out a hot pizza box and I have never seen a more beautiful sight in my life. I grabbed two slices and headed back to the car to change my shoes.

As soon as I put that pizza into my mouth, I felt energized. I didn’t have many shoe options left, so I changed into my Altra Lone Peaks.

The temperature was dropping fast, so I put on my warm Animal jammie pants and two sweaters. I was moving slow enough that I didn’t think I would work up much of a sweat.

Shacky treated his chaffing, and we set out for the next lap in slightly higher spirits.

Lap 5: Miles 61-75

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” – Unknown

It was dark now, so Shacky carried my headlamp and we shared it. He was still keeping a fast walking speed, and I trotted along beside him.

My Altra Lone Peaks had some significant tread on them, but they weren’t as pronounced as the VIVOs. Also, they were more supportive. Compared to the Lunas, they felt like pillows for my feet and I was so thankful to have them at this point in the race.

The next few miles were a blur. I kept my head down for the most part, since the headlamps of oncoming runners would shine on my face and bother me. Every once in a while I would hear a greeting or a “Good job!” but I had no strength to reply. I barely even looked up.

The curbs seemed to be growing taller as the night wore on, and I was now fully convinced that this course was far from “easy”. My friend Paul explained it perfectly in his race report:

I would rather run in the mountains on some “hard” terrain than endure hard pack dirt with pavement… Plus, add in the danger of crossing intersections with cars zipping by (and some people looking at you like you just pissed in their cheerios… because they had to wait for you to cross the street before they could proceed down the road).

Earlier in the race, I had longed for rocks and climbs and single track and I wished for them now again. I think “easy” courses are hard for me, and “hard” courses are easier.

The endless, repetitive motions of flatter terrain take a hard toll on my body, and I’m much less mentally engaged. I need mountains to feel inspired and I seem to be at my best when I’m either climbing or descending. All I could do now was plod ahead.

I thought of Ginger. I imagined that she would want me to be running, since she also loves to run. I had seen many dogs out during the day and it made me miss her. I thought of Catra who had lost Rocky and was running this race in his memory. It’s amazing how deeply dogs can inspire us.

In my mind, I mentally ran through all the dogs I had seen that day. Most of them had been on the other side of the street under the care of considerate dog walkers, but I did have one sour memory:

Two desperate housewife-looking ladies who looked like they had just walked out of botox were speed walking together and chatting loudly, each with a large dog. They walked side by side, taking up most of the path. With their dogs running around beside them, they pretty much hogged the entire path.

It was late enough in the race that runners were either speed walking themselves, or running at a slow, shuffling pace. So these ladies were extremely hard to pass at the speed they were going. I got stuck walking behind them, and when I sped up to run past, instead of letting me go by, they passed me again. I passed them one more time. Then they passed me. Really bitches??

Thankfully they weren’t out long – they didn’t look like they were into sweating much.

A loud voice behind me brought me back to the present. It was Anastasia singing loudly to herself, dressed up like Supergirl. I smiled. Under normal circumstances, many people would call that “crazy” … but when you’re running 100 miles this is actually pretty normal. Anastasia wouldn’t be the only one singing herself through the night.

They say that the hours between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. are the absolute hardest part of 100 miles. For me, the entire night was a dark, heavy, disheartening experience. It hurt to run, and it hurt to walk.

Every so often, different parts of my body would start hurting that have never in my life felt pain before. A few minutes later, that pain would go away and move on to a new, unexpected part of my body. Hip. Shoulder. Elbow. They all randomly hurt at one point or another.

At the turnaround aid station, one of the volunteers read us a Bible verse:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9

It was one of several that I had memorized as a teenager. Growing up, my dad was a minister and he was big on memorization. He once tried to get me to memorize the entire chapters of Matthew 5,6, and 7 (Sermon of the Mount) in Spanish, and I almost did. Besides that, I had hundreds of other passages committed to memory.

I haven’t read the Bible in a while, but sometimes during races relevant verses come to mind at my lowest points, like an emergency stash for my brain that I don’t even remember is there.

I repeated them in my head now like mantras, surprised at how accurately I could remember verses that had been stashed away for years when everything else in my brain was so foggy.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. – Isaiah 40:30-31

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness… I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9,10

I remembered the name Jehova Jireh, which translates to “the Lord will provide.” It was the name that Abraham gave to the place where God provided a ram to replace the life of his only son for sacrifice in Genesis 22. I thought of the concept of having enough. Having faith that I already had what I needed to finish this race, at a time when I seemed to have nothing at all.

Jehova Jireh. My provider. His grace is sufficient for me.

Along the way we passed little Rachel, paced by Rachel Boyd. She was having trouble with her feet swelling up and they were stopping often due to pain. Rachel said she might drop out, but for now they were just focused on getting back to the start line.

I was glad that Rachel was not alone, and it was in these hours that I understood the true value of a pacer. I’ve always been a solitary runner, happy to get lost in my own thoughts and self-motivated. I felt pacers were more about keeping you on track for a certain speed, and I didn’t care about speed here. So I didn’t think I would need one.

But pacers in a 100-miler are so much more than that. They keep you awake. They distract you from the pain. They’re motivators, nurses, and voices of reason when your mind starts to play games with you. I simply don’t know if I would have made it through the night without Shacky by my side.

Shacky was in pain himself, but he went out of his way to look out for me. He kept me moving at a steady pace, and when I started falling behind he held my hand until he couldn’t stand the pain in his shoulder. And that’s how we made it back to the start line together.

Next: A DNF, separation anxiety, and a hot pursuit

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

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8 responses

  1. Wow, reading this post brought back some memories. I certainly have not attempted something like running a 100 miles (which is very impressive) but I was in the Oxfam hike (60miles of trail walking).
    Your shoe issues and the terrain was something I remember clearly. For anyone who thinks a section of smooth flat asphalt is easy I can vouche that walking rocky trail with the cover of trees is far easier. Thats just something you can’t appreciate until you are dehydrated, hungry and wearing shoes that arent meant for the material under your feet.
    The delusions made me laugh only because my team and I came up with some very funny things such as Mosquirrelz…those would be mosquitos the size of squirrels and various other things that sane people just wouldnt understand.
    Although your lead up to your next blog post kind of explains the balance of the 100miles I am looking forward to reading it. :)

  2. Wow, Joshua 1:9 is really powerful for me. My grandmother wrote me a song as a baby based on that verse alone. I’ve wanted for some time to have “be strong” and “be courageous” tattooed on me. It was surprising and comforting to find it in your blog post today. I needed to have it back in my mind today. I’m really enjoying your recap and like that it’s a series of posts. Great work Vanessa.

  3. I’m loving reading these (as I do all your posts). You are a awesome insperation. I loved the verses too – I wrote them both down on post – its and added them to the growing wall of verses I have stuck all over my desk!

  4. Wow. I should have paced myself. Reading 2, 3, & 4 in one sitting is a pretty intense experience. I’m right there with ya and really worried about Shacky’s chafing. . .

  5. You know I’ve only done marathons. I can’t even imagine how you felt at this point in the race. Seriously! AMAZING! But I believe these things say so much about who we are and how we handle struggles.. bravo to you

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