Out of all the 100s I’ve run, I was the least confident going into the San Diego 100, and rightly so—I was vastly undertrained. Probably not as undertrained as my first 100 miler, but close to it.
We entered the SD100 lottery on a whim while we were wintering in Pennsylvania, and got in. I was excited to start training, but was soon disheartened by the Pennsylvania winter that prevented us from moving any faster than a 20+-minute mile pace through deep snow.
I regrouped and took up some long hiking instead. We’d go out for seven or eight hour days on the mountain, bundled up like eskimos, and trudged slowly through the snow and ice. It was a beautiful, challenging, and sometimes frustrating experience. The extreme weather tested my willpower and mental limits, but I chalked it all up to good SD100 training.
When spring hit, the plan was to beeline to San Diego and get in some course training before the race, but RV repairs delayed us significantly and by race day we had only done two short hikes on the course.
What’s worse, we discovered that our winter hiking translated poorly into San Diego training. The heat and elevation were frying our brains and our bodies. It was hard to keep a running gait after so much hiking. And to my horror, we discovered that we had both gained 15 lbs of winter weight.
Although I had been active, I had compromised my nutrition on the east coast to include much more junk food than I normally eat, and under the winter layers I hadn’t noticed the extra pounds. By the time we got to warm weather, my running clothes weren’t fitting right and my body wasn’t moving the way I was used to. We did manage to lose some weight before the race (nine lbs down for me), but still not quite my ideal race weight.
I was negative about my ability to finish until a couple of days before the race. I kept telling people I would start but probably not finish, and I even told my pacer not to come, convinced that I wouldn’t make it to mile 50. I felt like I was running in a body that wasn’t even mine.
Paul Hassett, Shacky’s pacer, called us out on our negativity and a few days before the race and I realized I need to snap myself into the right frame of mind: I WAS going to finish! I could do this. I had done it before. Sure, it would hurt a little more… but I could finish. I WOULD finish.
I adopted Robert Frost’s Canis Major as my personal mantra:
The great Overdog
That heavenly beast
With a star in one eye
Gives a leap in the east.
He dances upright
All the way to the west
And never once drops
On his forefeet to rest.
I’m a poor underdog,
But to-night I will bark
With the great Overdog
That romps through the dark.
At the start line, I was excited to spend an entire day on the trails. I was poorly prepared—no crew, no pacers, only a tiny drop bag with a change of clothes and a headlamp at mile 56—but I was sure it would be a good day.
The vibe of the race was infectious. So many of our friends that we had missed were there, either as runners or volunteers. This was my element! I was right where I belonged.
At the start line, I chatted with Colleen Zato and warned her that I would be trying to tag along at her pace for the first 30 miles, but that she shouldn’t wait for me. I was a little worried about getting lost since I didn’t know the course very well, but I had also packed the turn-by-turn directions. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to consult them for the first 30 miles and could instead get away with mostly following Colleen. I knew she would keep a slow and steady pace.
Then we were off! For the first few miles, the trails were clogged and in some sections we were conga-line walking. The runners ahead of me would kick up dust (as I was doing for those behind me) and it was hard to breathe. When the crowd spread out, I let a lot of people pass me as I settled into a comfortable slog. I had already lost Colleen.
I ran for a while with Rob Distante and leapfrogged with Antonio Rios, and before I knew it we were at the first aid station. I grabbed some more water, a couple of orange slices, and left in under a minute. After that, we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing.
Me with Antonio. He went on to finish his first 100-mile race!
I was loving the climb! I’m a stronger hiker than I am a runner, and I managed to catch up to Colleen again. I was feeling great. We stuck together and took pictures and chatted until we ran into the next aid station (all the photos on here are hers). I saw Shacky coming out of the aid station as I was going in, and he looked like he was doing just fine. At the aid station I grabbed some watermelon, more electrolyte drink, and was off again. Colleen was seconds ahead, so I jogged to catch up.
Pirate’s Cove aid station! Aaaarg!
The next stretch was lovely and effortless. We ran into Sunrise 1 together and I was surprised to find Shacky sitting in a chair looking rather miserable. He was holding a bottle with a powder mix, and a wet powder blob was stuck in his beard. “I don’t think I can do this,” he told me.
“SURE YOU CAN!” I practically yelled. “Just grab your stuff and we’ll walk the next section.” It was seven miles to the 50K mark and we had plenty of time to make the cutoff, even if it was a slog.
Me trying to talk Shacky into leaving the aid station
It was getting warm, but I figured it was just my lack of heat training (I later learned it had actually hit 120F+ in some sections). David Lopez helped me soak my head in ice water, we posed for (another) picture with Colleen, and then we were off.
I tried to keep up with Colleen, but she was way faster than Shacky so I decided to lag behind a bit. I walked a lot and kept looking behind me to see if Shacky was following. At first he was… until he wasn’t. I walked slower… but no Shacky. I stopped for a few minutes and let a few people pass me. Two gentlemen I had been leapfrogging slipped by, Corina Smith, and Jeff Coon. Still no Shacky. Hm.
I knew I still had time to make the cutoff… should I go back for him? I started taking a few steps back, and immediately stopped. WTF WAS I DOING?? I’M GOING BACKWARDS! Never go backwards. I lingered for another minute or so, and still no sign of Shacky. Crap.
Leaving Sunrise aid station with a reluctant Shacky
“What should I do??” I wondered.
I’m sure this sounds like a stupid dilemma, but for me it was a big deal. Everything in my girlfriend-nature wanted to go back for my dude. But every part of the runner in me thought that was absolutely ridiculous. I had already lost time… whose race was I running, anyway? MY race. I wasn’t a pacer. I knew that Shacky would hate for me to wait for him, but that didn’t matter. I felt—somehow—that it was my job to go back.
My internal dilemma only lasted for a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. My mind wandered to the last song I learned to play on the ukulele: Jesse Ruben’s We Can.
Do not hesitate when people bring you down
Do not settle, Do not wait
DO NOT EVER TURN AROUND
You’re almost there…
I swear, I swear it’s yours
Fuck it. I started running and didn’t stop until I got to Pioneer Mail 1, the 50K mark. It was now 94F.
At Pioneer Mail, I soaked my head and stuck a bandage on a hot spot on my foot. I was feeling strong and got out of there in under two minutes. It was four miles to Penny Pines 1, and I ran it in. I was well ahead of cut-offs.
I caught up to Jeff in the next stretch and we jogged into Todd’s Cabin together. Jeff was having a hard time with cramping, something he had never experienced before. We chatted and passed the time until we got to aid. At Todd’s cabin I soaked my head again and grabbed some food. I was still feeling great, even though the heat was starting to annoy me. I got out of there as fast as possible and walk/jogged alone for a while. I was slowing down.
Corina caught up to me and we jogged into mile 44 together. Corina went to get foot aid while Regina Peters greeted me like crew. She said Elizabeth would be picking me up at Meadows, and Paul Hassett would bring me home. Insta-pacers!
“Um.. ok,” I said. But Paul was Shacky’s pacer!
“Did Shacky drop?” I asked her.
“Shacky dropped,” she informed me. “But he’s totally fine with it—he’s eating a huge burger right now.”
“THAT RAT BASTARD!” I exclaimed, “I’ll kick his ass when I see him!”
Regina laughed and I took off with some watermelon down the trail.
Starting to feel the miles
At this point I was starting to feel more hot spots in both feet. I had never had blisters before, and they weren’t hurting… just mildly annoying. I figured I’d ignore them until I got to Elizabeth at Meadows and let her help me deal with my feet.
I left Meadows feeling great, but somewhere in those next few miles every negative feeling hit me all at once, out of nowhere. It was suddenly too hot. I was starving. The rocks were too sharp. And OMG, my hot spots hurt. They must be blisters?
I considered stopping to take a look, but I was afraid to. What if they were terrible? I wouldn’t know how to fix them alone. I figured my best bet was to get to Meadows and have my feet looked at. I would also sit down and eat something hot. The sun was already starting to set.
Thankfully, I had packed an extra handheld light and carried it for the entire 44 miles… just in case I got hopelessly lost and had to spend a cold and scary night on the trail. I only had one drop bag at mile 56 with my headlamp and somehow thought I would make it there before dark. I was about 10 miles off.
All of a sudden I felt a POP in my right foot. My hotspot, which was apparently a huge blister, had popped. Then it started stinging in the most terrible way. Believe it or not, this had never happened to me in all my previous races. Another little known fact: I’m a huge blister wuss.
Every step after that felt like knives in my heel. I was able to walk quickly mostly on my tiptoes (to stay off my heel), but I knew I was compensating my stride with other muscles and I would soon wear out.
“I can’t be far…” I told myself. “Just get to Meadows! Then you can fix your feet and eat soup.”
All of a sudden it was extremely important to me that I have some soup.
“What if they don’t have soup there??” I tortured myself with this possibility. “I MUST HAVE SOUP!!”
The pain grew so bad that I started counting my steps just to keep my mind off my sucky situation. It was now pitch black and I was basically limping. I dug into my pack and grabbed my handheld light. I heard someone coming up behind me… it was Corina. She wasn’t looking too well, but she was still moving faster than I was.
“I’m dropping at the next aid station,” Corina told me. “I’m done.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll get out of there before the cutoff…” I sighed. It would take me a few minutes to eat and fix my blisters, and I was already going SO. SLOW.
I told Corina to go ahead. “I’m limping this one in.”
In retrospect, I probably should have sucked it up and jogged my way in. It’s not like the pain was getting any worse. But I was way too busy feeling sorry for myself and quickly losing my motivation to give a crap.
By the time I got to Meadows, my stomach was growling, I was feeling weepy, and I hated life. Paul Hassett, Jon Sanregret, and Elizabeth Kocek ran up to me.
“She’s here! She’s here!” one of them yelled.
“You have four minutes to get out of here!!” They barked. “Just check in and check out!!”
“But…. IS THERE ANY SOUP??” was my brilliant reply.
Corina was puking in the corner.
It took about one second for the three of them to decide that they would get me a quesadilla, hot soup (TO GO!) but I had to check out immediately. They would stop further up the trail to fix my feet, but they couldn’t stay in the aid station.
I was too tired to argue. Those bastards! I had planned to drop here!
They grabbed all my stuff, found me a log, and tore off my shoes. OUCH!! My blisters were pretty big. I tried not to look at them. I just stuck my foot up and munched on my quesadilla while Elizabeth cleaned my feet.
I insisted on popping them myself because, if you’ll recall, I’m a big wuss. And I took my sweet time popping them. Some fluid came out and then it started stinging some more. I pulled out my tape, but my insta-crew agreed that my tape sucked.
Jon ran back to his car to get some crazy bandages I had never seen before. They patched me up while I finished my quesadilla. I chewed slowly and wondered if I stalled enough, they might let me drop. No such luck.
By this time the aid station captain had found us and walked over to see if we were leaving anytime soon. He made sure I had a pacer. My insta-crew assured him I was fine and I would make it. I just looked at him with a blank stare on my face.
Finally, I got up and it was time to go.
“Oh…. your soup spilled,” said Elizabeth. She handed me an empty styrofoam cup with a lone, limp noodle dangling from it. It was still hot.
OMG NOOOOOO!!!! MY SOUP!!!!!!
There was no time to cry. The aid station was closed and we were off.
I limped a few steps, then walked, then started jogging. YES! I could run without pain again! I was gonna make it! My mood had already improved.
I had run for several yards, starting to feel pretty awesome, when I had the sinking feeling that something was wrong.
“What’s wrong… what’s wrong…” I wondered. Then it hit me. HOLY SHIT! WHERE’S MY LIGHT??
Elizabeth was ahead of me with her headlamp and I was following her… no light in my hand.
“My light! My light!” I yelled to Elizabeth.
“I had a handheld light!”
“Oh yeah… you did.”
We both knew we couldn’t go back.
“I’ll text them and see if they have it….” Elizabeth suggested as she pulled out her phone. Turns out nobody knew where it was.
“It must be by the log,” I moaned. I must have dropped it in all the commotion, god-knows-where.
It was pitch dark and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. It was also my favorite light! I felt myself slipping back into my grumpy state. All of a sudden, I was scared of falling. I couldn’t run anymore. Where’s the trail??
I asked Elizabeth to run behind me so I could use the light off her headlamp, but all that did was cast an enormous shadow of my own fat head in my path. I still couldn’t see anything.
“Do you think if I used your light and you ran right behind me, you could see too??” I was sure I had just come up with a brilliant solution, not realizing that we had just been doing that (with me behind Elizabeth) and it hadn’t worked.
Still, Elizabeth graciously gave up her light and I started jogging.
“Can you see?” I asked her.
“Um…. I think I have a light on my phone!”
Of course she couldn’t see. STUPID!
But I was jogging and that seemed to make Elizabeth happy.
A few minutes later Elizabeth had to pee. I went on ahead of her, but then I wanted to pee too. Then there was a hill I had to walk. And then… it seemed hopeless.
“We’re not gonna make it…” I moaned.
Elizabeth was a beacon of positivity. She was certain we would make the next cutoff.
A few yards away, we saw two more lights. What?? People behind us??
Elizabeth warned me not to let them catch up, but I was quickly losing my ability to care. I did try to stay ahead… but they caught up. They were moving so fast!!
“Hi!” They greeted us. “We’re the sweepers!”
OMG NO! GET AWAY!
They assured us that we were doing great, and we’d probably make it. They said it would be mostly downhill in the final stretch. I continued pushing… and I starting thinking I had a good chance. There was another runner up ahead of me, and I passed him. That got the sweepers off our tail, and I kept jogging/walking.
I had no idea how far it was or how fast we were going, but I did try to push. Every once in a while, I’d feel a wave of defeat and Elizabeth would have to reassure me. I was also hungry again.
We started talking about what I needed at the aid station. More water and hot soup. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HOT SOUP.
I also had a drop bag there with a change of clothes, but Elizabeth said there was not time for that. She’d just grab my jacket and an extra layer since it was getting colder, as well as my headlamp.
We saw someone standing on the side of the trail and he said we only had 0.2 miles to go. Elizabeth ran ahead to fill my bottles and told me to not slow down. I didn’t.
When I got there, I found Elizabeth arguing with the aid station captain. They were pulling us from the course.
“That’s ok… that’s ok….” I waved at them. “I’m ready to stop.”
I asked the aid station caption by how much we had missed the cutoff. She told me I was 15 minutes late. That was a lot… maybe I never had a chance. The drop bags were already packed up and with them, my headlamp. What’s worse, the aid station had shut down completely. No hot soup for me.
My day had come to the end at 56 miles, but I felt satisfied. I had spend the whole day running and suddenly the prospect of a warm bed and shower sounded too good to pass up.
I thanked Elizabeth profusely for pacing me, and enjoyed a bumpy ride back to the Start.
I found Shacky fast asleep in the RV, bloated from a bacon burger. Kitty stirred from her slumber and sneezed in my face. And all was right in the world.
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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker