Rocky Road 100 Mile Race Report Part 5

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

“Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further … past what your mind wants to let you. That’s what ultrarunning is all about; introducing you to a self you’ve never known.” – Rex Pace

Lap 6: Miles 76-90

Shacky wanted to quit. He was a walking zombie, his chaffing was intense, and if he dropped now he would still be credited for finishing 100k. It would still be a distance PR for him and there would be no shame in DNF’ing his first 100-mile attempt.

Our friend Rachel decided to DNF. Her feet were so swollen, she could no longer walk. Shacky was thinking about joining her.

Knowing Shacky was ready to drop out made me stronger. I knew that if I showed any sign of weakness he would make up his mind to stop. He was just waiting for me to say the words, “I’m done,” so he could breathe a sigh of relief and fall sleep in the car. I wouldn’t give him the pleasure.

I had run 100k before, and I wanted to push further. This was all new territory for me and I wasn’t ready to stop yet. I grabbed some food for both of us while Shacky went to the car to generously lube his chaffed parts. He wanted to sleep so badly, so I told him I’d wake him up when it was time to go. In seconds, he was out like a light.

I took 20 minutes to take off my shoes, rub my aching feet, eat as much as I could, and drink some Rockstar. “Just one more full loop…” I told myself. I was anxious about spending too much time here.

If I didn’t get back out on the course soon, maybe I never would. I was afraid to sleep because I didn’t think I would ever wake up.

I woke Shacky. “It’s time to go!” … but he didn’t want to. I set his alarm for another 30 minutes of sleep, and told him that I was heading out. I instructed him to catch up to me after he woke up, and we’d finish this together. He nodded.

I believed he’d come. My best card to play at this point was his sense of competition. I knew he didn’t want me on the course putting up miles without him, and I knew that would eat him up. I was sure he’d catch up to me.

I stepped out of the car and headed to the bathroom for one quick potty break before I started walking. My plan was to walk slowly and let Shacky catch up. I didn’t care about time, but I did want us to finish together. I was feeling better, and I felt like he might need me before the night was over.

I walked slowly. It was really cold, so I wore two sweaters and wrapped a blanket around me. My jammie pants were keeping me warm, with my skirt underneath.

I felt much better, but I didn’t want to move any faster. I imagined that every second Shacky walked by himself would be a nightmare for him. I remembered my own desperation, fear, and paranoia at being left alone in the dark, and I didn’t want him to experience that.

In the meantime back at the car, Shacky decided as soon as I left that he didn’t want to sleep. He jumped back on the course while I was in the bathroom, already running to catch up to me. He didn’t realize I was still behind him.

For several miles, he’d run faster to catch me, and I’d walk slower to wait for him. We would do this until we were hopelessly separated. And when we’d find out what had happened, my heart would drop to a new low.

I looked at my watch and estimated approximately how long it would take Shacky to catch up to me. I walked and walked, but he never seemed to come. Where was he?

The sun would be coming out soon and I was already at the second aid station. I was starting to get worried. Did he even wake up? Would he finish?

Just as I was starting to wonder if he quit, I saw Shacky coming back towards me from the turnaround point. I blinked my eyes and stared. Was I hallucinating?

When we reached each other, I was still confused. “Did you pass me??” I asked. When Shacky explained what must have happened, I didn’t know what to say.

He was running at a steady pace and he said he felt good. He said he would run to the finish, then maybe if he was feeling good, he’d run me in for my finish. Then he took off.

I just stood there with my mouth open. What was happening??? I looked back at all the time I had wasted walking slowly, and I suddenly realized how much distance he had gained on me. I wanted to cry.

MAYBE run me in for my finish?? Fuck that. I wanted to finish together.

I was at mile 80. The sun was coming out and I was still in my jammies, two sweaters and blanket. I was tired. I hadn’t slept at all and I was still a little delusional. But suddenly all I could think of was catching up to Shacky.

We hadn’t talked about finishing together, and catching up at this point seemed impossible. I knew he wasn’t slowing down, which meant I had 20 miles to run FASTER than his already-fast pace. Oh, and did I mention I had 80 miles on my legs?

It was insane, but I didn’t care. After the initial shock of watching him leave, I grabbed some food at the halfway point and took off from that aid station like a bat out of hell.

I didn’t know I had any strength in my legs. But they moved. I didn’t know I had any breath left in my body. But I inhaled. The faster I went, the better I felt. I was flying.

I remembered my Asian mentor’s words, “The race doesn’t start until mile 80.” This was it. This was mile 80. And the chase was on.

The runners that I passed would turn to clap or shout encouragement. Their surprised faces reminded me how insane my pace was. Nobody was moving this fast. Nobody was running the hills. Was I being reckless? Stupid? It didn’t matter. I had to find Shacky.

My single-track mind made the time go by quickly. The sun was coming out and I was started to get very hot in my layers. I took off my jammies, two sweaters, and blanket and tied them all around my waist.

The layers made me look like a round, chunky ball, but they didn’t slow me down. I was on a mission and failure wasn’t an option. I was running this loop faster than I had run at any point during this race.

About three miles from the start line, I still hadn’t seen Shacky. That’s when it started to occur to me that maybe this was stupid. Maybe I’d never catch him. I stopped to walk and for the first time, think about what I was doing.

I heard a car honk and turned around. It was Jeff. He was headed to the start line to pace, and seeing him immediately perked my spirits. If Jeff caught Shacky at the start, they might stop to chat and give me a brief window to make up some ground. I started running again. Maybe I could do this after all.

Steps away from the start line, I saw Shacky running back with Jeff. They were on their final 10 miles, and my heart sank. What was I thinking, I’d never catch them. I would finish alone.

When I passed Shacky, I didn’t even want to talk to him. I was too tired to explain what I wanted, plus I was afraid I would burst into tears.

But I didn’t have to say anything for Shacky to figure out what I wanted. He sent Jeff to pace me, and he said he’d walk until I caught up. So Jeff and I turned and headed back to finish my loop.

Lap 7: Miles 90-100

“When you are 99 miles into a 100-mile running race, your brain is not the same brain you started with.” – Paul Huddle

I didn’t waste any time at the aid station. I dropped the layers that I had tied around my waist, filled my water bottle and took off again, barely even slowing down.

Just 10 more miles. It was so close I could taste it. It was a relief to run with someone again, and Jeff was an amazing pacer. He made sure my form was good and ran ahead of me to all the aid stations so I didn’t have to stop. He was surprised at how well I was doing and he thought we might even catch up to Carlos.

But as it turned out, Carlos kicked it into high gear himself and basically sprinted the last 10 miles. When I saw him on the home stretch, he was flying.

There’s something incredibly inspiring about seeing someone who has run over 90 miles, who has been out there for almost 30 hours, and who can still sprint to the finish with a smile. It’s a true testament to the wonder of the human body.

I smiled to see Carlos whiz past with his pacer behind him, huffing to keep up. We are so much stronger than we imagine.

As for myself, I wasn’t even sure why I was still running. Shacky would be waiting for me, so there was no need to chase. There was no time goal we wanted to meet. And before long, this would all be over.

Looking back, this was probably the most pure stretch of running I have ever experienced. There was no reason to run, but I still did. My brain was fuzzy, my belly was empty, and my legs were tired. But I ran because it was all my body knew to do.

For a long time now people have been trying to answer the question, “Why do you run?” I imagined that on this race I would have a breakthrough or a vision that would make it clear to me exactly why we DO run. And suddenly now it was obvious: There’s no fucking reason.

That’s why people come up with cheesy one-liners like, “Because I can.” Because really… there’s no reason to run at all. It’s completely senseless. And I was about to senselessly run 100 miles. It felt awesome.

Maybe we don’t always have to do things for a reason. Maybe we shouldn’t try to explain everything. Maybe we can just run fast every once in a while for no damn reason. And if people don’t understand, well that sucks for them.

When we caught up to Shacky, we all started running together. We hit 95 miles, and I was starting to cramp up. Just 5 more to go…

I had to start taking walk breaks, especially on the hills. My feet were starting to hurt and things were getting ugly fast. Whereas in most of my races I gain motivation this close to the finish, this time I broke down.

About three miles to the finish, I started to cry. I just didn’t even want to finish anymore. My body hurt and all I could think of was how much I wanted to stop. I didn’t care when I crossed the finish line or who I crossed it with.

Jeff ran ahead to announce our arrival, and I tried hard to pull myself together. My nose was running and when I blew it, it started to bleed. I was falling right apart.

As my pain grew, so did my anger. Why the hell did I run so fast back there?? I wanted to kick myself.

Shacky walked me in to the finish, and when I crossed it there was no sense of triumph or pride or satisfaction. Just an overwhelming urge to lie down.

Shacky hugged me hard and then I had to pee. I was holding it in for the past 3 miles, so I headed straight for the bathroom. Plus my nose was also still bleeding and I wanted to get cleaned up before any pictures.

When the race director came over with my buckle, I wasn’t there. So Shacky took it for me. Until the ride home, I didn’t even remember there was a buckle. I wouldn’t even look at it until I was home. It didn’t seem to matter at the time.

As soon as I stopped and sat down in the car, the pain was overwhelming. It hurt more to stop than to continue. I was hungry, sore, and sleepy and I didn’t know what to take care of first.

Trying to figure out what to do next was enough to send me into another fit of tears. I couldn’t think straight. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I was hungry but I couldn’t get up to find food. I just sat in the car and cried.

Shacky came over to check on me and I was so mad at myself for pushing hard in the last 20 miles. I told him that it wasn’t worth it. That I should have just run my own race and finished alone. But he said he was glad we finished together, and after Jeff and Terry went to get me some hot chocolate, I felt a little better.

I was so appreciative of everyone’s support at the finish line, and I was sorry to be in such a poor state. Days later I would come to see photos of other people’s feet and realize how lucky I was to come out of this with so few battle wounds.

Later analysis with the Robillards would convince us that it was probably our minimalist/barefoot choices that has strengthened our feet enough to take this type of beating. There aren’t many people who finish 100 miles. And out of those, there are next to none who can finish without supportive shoes.

Final Thoughts From a 100-Mile Finisher

“I have met my hero, and he is me.” – George Sheehan

The day after the race I asked Shacky if he felt any different now that he had finished 100 miles. He said no, and neither did I. I feel like the same old girl. The same old runner.

I think that’s a good sign. I feel like it means this is who we were all along. This is where we belong.

For me, it was almost like a coming out. Now I have nothing to prove. It was a validation. A declaration that this is who I am and this is what I can do. And I’m going to keep doing it. Senselessly.

I don’t really know why I run. But I don’t have to explain it.

Now registered for: Nanny Goat 24-Hour & Chimera 100 Mile

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

RELATED ARTICLES:

My Final Thoughts on 100 Miles

Noble Canyon 50K Race Report (My First Ultra)

Los Pinos 50K Race Report (My First DNF)

Across the Years 24 Hour Race Report

 

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24 responses

    • Awesome! All the things I was scared of never ended up happening and all the challenges were things I never imagined :) so no sense worrying for your first! Good luck!!

  1. Wonderful writeup – you sum up the strength of human will and spirit very well. I imagine 100 takes you to some places that people never, ever know about that lie deep within. Well done!

  2. I don’t think you can know how amazing it is to read this. To know what it felt at every mile for you. Your spirit is so strong, Vanessa. Thank you so much for writing this. I wish I had more to say – but it’s all locked up in my head and most of it would probably come out sounding embarrassingly saccharine. I just hope you have some idea of how much you inspire those around you.

  3. I’ve been looking forward to each of your updates. You’ve put words to what I’ve always known. I run because… There is no other reason, and I am glad for that. Your insight that we are so much stronger than we give ourselves a chance to be is beautiful and one I feel all the time. What I’ve learned is that we don’t lose much strength over time even though the world wants us to think we do.

    Thanks for the inspiration and honest view of yourself.

  4. Awesome report,Vanessa. When I saw that you two had finished together, I figured you had just run the whole race side by side,encouraging each other all the while. It was so much more exciting than that.
    Also, your writing is so superior you should get this published, maybe in Ultrarunning magazine?
    Oh yeah, great job on the race by you and Shacky, congratulations!

  5. What a great series of posts. I checked several times a day for each one, and each one was a reward.
    “Congratulations” seems like a flimsy sentiment for this success -it’s more something said at weddings and such. But, I will say thank you for lighting the fire under my ass.

  6. /claps wildly
    /cheers loudly

    Thank you so much for putting your experience into words. Each part of the series was soooo moving, I kept wondering how you would top the previous one. Fantastic storytelling!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing and being such an inspiration. You kept me captivated and I couldn’t wait to read what happened. I loved how honest you were.

  8. I have been trying to figure out why I run as well, waiting for that catharsis/vision to come….
    Thank you, I will stop trying to figure it out and just run, and not feel like I have to explain it to anyone. If they don’t get it, my explaining it will not help.
    Awesome!

  9. I’m a little late to the party here but just wanted to say this is a wonderful RR. Really true to how it feels. I don’t know if i’m more or less scared of my upcoming first 100miler…I’m really getting scared of the pain (i seem to hurt a lot early on in ultras) but i’m inspired that you did it and maybe i can too.

  10. Wow – this was an awesome read, thank you so much for the time and effort you put into this! This gives me a tiny inkling of just how difficult a 100 miler really is but also how to suck it up, no matter the race distance, and just get through it. Tahnks so much for sharing so many details!

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