San Diego 100 Race Report: Will Run for Ramen

newbannerphoto1398380360sd100Out 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!

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

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

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

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

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.

“What?”

“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.

kittehYou May Also Enjoy:

Rocky Road 100 Race Report

Zion 100 Race Report

Chimera 100 Race Report

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Chimera 100 Race Report

The Chimera of Greek mythology is a ferocious, fire-breathing beast made up of part lion, part serpent, and part goat. She is a terror, but also swift-footed and strong. She sprints the mountain trails of this course, devouring runners and claiming her victims one DNF at a time. On this race of incessant climbs and quad-shredding descents, you have only two choices:

Fall prey to the Beast. Or run at her side.

When I first signed up for Chimera, I knew this race was out of my league. But I knew that if I trained hard, I had a chance of finishing. And if I didn’t, at least I challenged myself and hopefully learned something.

For a few weeks, I approached Chimera with a “race that I will try” mentality. But the Beast smells fear from miles away, so I knew I had to change my mindset. I adopted a new approach:

  • Do or do not. There is no try.
  • You don’t have to be fast, but you better be fearless.
  • Are you a Mexi-CAN or a Mexi-CAN’T??!

I would finish this race no matter how bloodied or broken. Quitting was not an option. This is the story of how I survived.

****

When I ran Javelina 100 at the end of October, I overheard a runner encourage another by saying, “It’s only one 50K in the morning, one in the afternoon, one at night, and then a short 10-mile loop.” That made sense to me, so for Chimera I broke down the race into three parts:

  • The first 50K I would run as the Serpent.
  • For the next 50K I would be the Goat.
  • And in the final push I would be Lion.

1. Serpent

“I don’t know about tomorrow. I just live from day to day. I don’t borrow from its sunshine, for its skies may turn to grey.” – I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

The serpent is one of the oldest symbols in mythology. One of the first things I ever learned was the Biblical story of Adam and Eve falling prey to the crafty serpent. The serpent is shrewd and cunning. And that’s what I need to be early in this race.

I remembered a Bible verse I had learned in my childhood from Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Strategy in a 100-miler is everything. The key is to hold back as much as possible and preserve your body. I did this by keeping my body loose, slowing down, and not bombing any downhills. I made sure I never felt like I was exerting myself or breathing heavily. In fact, the first time I actually pushed myself to run was at mile 70+, when the sun came out on Sunday morning.

I love downhill running on single track, so I really had to make an effort to slow down and not fly these sections. I knew that I would need my quads later on. Tons of people passed me early in the race as well, and on every out and back I noticed that there were less and less people behind me. I was in the back of the pack.

2. Goat

“To some it’s the strength to be apart. To some it’s a feeling in the heart. And when you’re out there on your own, it’s the way back home.” – Katie Melua

Before I left for Chimera, I posted on my Facebook status: How can a goat be afraid of the mountain? It is his home.

That’s how I felt going into this race. I had no jitters–just excitement. This would be my first mountain 100, and although I had never run this far in the mountains, I knew I belonged in the clouds.

As Sarah Duffy points out on the Chimera Facebook page: “The course description includes 16 different terms for UP.” Some include:

  • Steep Up
  • VERY Up
  • Decomposed Granite Up
  • Truck Trail Up
  • Uphill Danger
  • Rolling Up
  • Generally Good Footing Uphill

There are also 15 different terms for DOWN:

  • Steep Technical Down
  • DANGER Down
  • Rolling Down
  • Very Rocky Downhill
  • Short Rocky Down
  • Slight Down Rocky

Sarah continues: “It was a purely physical challenge. I finished a climb and there was another one. I got to the bottom and I had to turn around and go back up. I rounded the bend and the hill continued on. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer physical demand of all that climbing, but I’ll recover happily knowing the monstrous fire-breathing creature didn’t eat me alive.”

Fabrice Hardel won Chimera this year with a mind-blowing time of 16:52:06. He broke the course record from last year (which was also his). After Cuyamaca 100K, Fabrice gave me the following advice for Chimera: Find the steepest hill you can and run up and down, over and over again.

He was dead on.

Climbing

I channeled my inner goat and embraced these climbs. Rather than seeing them as something outside of me that I must conquer, I imagined myself playing in my own living room. The hills were not strange, nor foreign. They were a part of who I was. They were hard, relentless, and beautiful. Just like me. I tried to remember that I wanted to be here. Even if there were no race, no buckle, no accolades. I would still want to run.

Positivity was crucial. This I learned at Javelina, and made sure my mind was clear and positive the entire distance. To me this means not allowing myself to get caught up in the stress of the race. I don’t allow myself to think of the cutoffs. I don’t wear a watch so I can’t stress over my pace, and I eat consistently. When I’m having a dip, I stop and mentally address it.

Something like this:

  • I’m feeling grouchy right now because I haven’t eaten enough. I will stop and eat at the next aid station.
  • I’m feeling worried right now because I don’t think I will make the cutoff. I have plenty of time.

Stress can lead to physical pain if I don’t put a stop to it. It’s a wave of desperation and exhaustion that hits all at once and makes everything suck. With every race I do, I’m learning to control it more and more.

Sidenote: My inexperience as a 100-mile runner showed when I realized at the end of the race that I pretty much missed all the hot food. I heard there were burgers, quesadillas, and pizza, none of which I saw. I was told I was supposed to ask for it. Oops.

I had also mistakenly assumed that most of the course would be single track. When I realized it was a lot more fire road (where cars could drive), I switched into my Hokas the first chance I got at mile 50, and they truly saved my feet out there.

Coming from a background of minimalist running, this was my first time racing in Hokas and by far my longest run in anything this supportive. What I found with the Hokas was that I could run more of the course with minimal pounding on my feet. My form didn’t change–I was still running light and my feet still felt strong from the minimalist training. But they gave me a break as far as watching all my footfalls late into the night. I also had to do less jitterbugging with my legs (especially downhill) in an effort to maneuver around any rocks that might trash my feet.

Although I love my minimalist shoes, I can’t deny that I owe much of this race to my Hokas. My feet after the race were immaculate. There was no blistering. No broken skin. No swelling. I almost feel that my minimalist training combined with using Hokas to bring it home created a perfect storm. I had all the benefits of minimalism, combined with the benefits of protection.

The biggest criticism I hear about Hokas from the minimalist viewpoint is that there is little flexibility at the ankle. So if you step on a rock, your ankle is more likely to roll. This wasn’t an issue at Chimera since the rocks were not the trickiest I’ve maneuvered. It was more straightforward terrain than what I have been training on, so by keeping my form light, I avoided any ankle issues.

The more I run, the more I realize that success has very little to do with what brand of shoes you wear, and so much more to do with specific terrain, combined with personal preference. Hokas might have felt terrible on another course. On this course, my minimalist shoes felt terrible, although I’ve had great success with them at other races.

In the meantime, my good friend Patrick Sweeney ran the entire thing in Luna sandals. He signed up the day before, with zero training, and came in 8th place. To me, that goes back to show how irrelevant footwear can be. All that matters is what feels good to YOU.

I also feel that 100-milers are an exception. When you’re talking shoes with someone, they’re probably not planning to run 100 miles in the pair they rave about. Distance can really change your perspective on things like this. The Hokas worked for me, and I always vote for whatever works in the moment. Right now I’m seeing some value in training minimalist and running the later miles of a 100 in Hokas. But I’ll keep experimenting.

I also brought my iPod to help me out in case I needed a push through the night or in the later miles. That helped me at Cuyamaca 100K, as well as Javelina. I even had a backup iPod in case my battery died. While the iPods worked, my headphones busted early on, so my music was useless. I’m sort of glad that happened because I still really enjoyed myself and now I know that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t have an iPod or an audio book with me.

I learned that I really enjoy the solitude and silence of being out on the trail. I’m very comfortable with the passing of the hours, with no distractions and only the shuffling of my own feet to accompany me.

3. Lion

“If you fall, pick yourself up off the floor. And when your bones can’t take no more, just remember what you’re here for.” – Gym Class Heroes

Having “preserved my body” for the first 60 miles, it was now time for beast mode. I pulled into an aid station about 30 minutes before sunrise, and was informed of a new danger:

“Do you have a pacer?” a volunteer asked.

“No.”

“We recommend that people run with pacers, because there is a mountain lion from here to the next aid station.”

“Oh. Ok….”

I still didn’t have a pacer.

I remembered my mountain lion encounter at the Grand Canyon and decided it would be best to avoid this new obstacle. I tried shining my light into the bushes where the lion might be hiding, but that was useless. My light was only strong enough to illuminate my next few steps, so I wouldn’t see any mountain lions until they were on top of me.

Instead, I decided to sing loudly to the lion. Surely my terrible singing voice would terrify him and send him fleeing into the mountains. It must have worked because the sun came up and I never saw any other lion besides myself.

As soon as the sun rose, I started running. I ran into the Indian Truck Trail aid station, and was greeted warmly by what looked like all my friends!

I was thrilled to see Trasie, Elizabeth, Julius, and Trisha, among others. They were so eager to help and I got star treatment. I also had a cup of the most delicious homemade butternut squash (vegan) soup with avocado. It was my first time seeing any hot food vegan options, and I was immediately energized. Refueled, I ran the seven miles down Indian Truck Trail to meet my pacer Holly.

Running into Mile 80

At the bottom of ITT, I changed my socks, got into some dry clothes, re-taped my foot (preventative), and grabbed some gaiters. It was such a relief to see Shacky again. The last time I had seen him was at mile 20, after the first single track loop. The day before.

Even Ginger and Momma Cat came out to say hello. Ginger licked all the salt off my face while Kitty demanded to know why she had not been recently petted. I gave her a quick pet, but I couldn’t stay long–we still had a lot of climbing left, and I started hiking back up the hill with Holly.

Ginger was waiting a really long time for me to come down the trail…

Climbing again…

Holly and I made it to the top of ITT, Mile 90

It has been said of Chimera that “even the downhills feel like uphills,” and that is certainly true in the last 10 miles especially. As soon as you hit a downhill stretch, you realize that you have no quads left. Thankfully, I had worked so hard to preserve mine, that I had some leeway to run or at least walk comfortably downhill.

I was in such high spirits chatting with Holly. The mountains were beautiful, we were moving through the clouds, and Shacky had packed me a large ziplock bag full of watermelon, apples, avocado, and grapes. We also picked up some clementines at Trasie’s aid station. I almost ate the entire fruit bag.

It’s impossible for me to be sad on the mountain. I’ve been in San Diego for a year now, but I still feel like a tourist when I run at these spectacular elevations. It never gets old.

The downhill stretches were tricky because they were so steep that it was harder to walk them than to run. But running this late in the race is hard to do as well. There were no comfortable options.

I had to remember that the Lion doesn’t represent comfort. It represents strength and power. And with the blessing of the Chimera She-Beast, I ran it in. As sick as it sounds, I was almost sad to see it end. I was having such a great time with Holly and I knew that stopping would be more uncomfortable than running at this point.

I finished in 31:52:31. I didn’t realize it at the time, but finishers who complete the course under 30 hours get a silver buckle. I’ll be back another year to claim my silver buckle and play in the mountains with my old friend Chimera.

Yes, she is as vicious as they say.  She haunts these mountains because she can be herself here: crafty, fearless, and strong. She does share her trails, but only with other beasts.

Me crossing the finish

With RD Steve Harvey at the finish

The Aftermath

My recovery is going great. I’m stiff when I sit for too long, but once I’m walking I feel pretty good. I also feel good when I sleep. Ha. I’ve been craving so many fresh fruits and veggies, and I don’t want to look at aid station food for a very long time.

My weight feels about the same, but I have no scale to confirm. I haven’t tried running again–I believe recovery is a crucial part of training. I want to take a really easy week, and hopefully be running again by next weekend. We’re headed to Zion to preview some of the Zion 100 course over Thanksgiving.

I told Holly as we neared the finish that this is the buckle that I will treasure the most, for many reasons. First of all, it’s my first mountain 100. Second of all, it’s the only 100 that I actually trained for. And finally, it was the only race that I seriously believed at the time of registering that I couldn’t finish.

The swag

The Course

Elevation profile

Shout Outs

Shacky

Besides crewing me, Shacky was a huge part of my training. He has been taking me across state lines to the steepest, rockiest mountains to train on. He has given me tons of time and space for long runs, and then longer runs. He has supported me in signing up for races as “training runs”, and has crewed me for those events as well. I could never have done this without him.

Here are some of Shacky’s highlights:

  • Hanging out and having a beer with Karl Meltzer the night before the race
  • Seeing Fabrice smash the course record
  • Seeing Pat Sweeney ape Vanessa by signing up for a hundred at the last minute and bringing home a buckle (8th overall)
  • Seeing Wes Edell run his first hundred and finish it in 7th overall
  • Being weirded out by the strange church near the aid station I hung out at all night

Holly

My pacer made the last 20 miles of this race downright fun. I never once felt sad or sorry for myself. We shared some great conversation, she kept me eating way after I had forgotten, and she wouldn’t let anyone pass us. She even made sure my shirt was on straight (I left the aid station with a backwards shirt). I’m so grateful to her.

Jason

Jason Robillard took me under his wing as my coach after I signed up for Chimera months ago. He kept me on track as far as mileage, speed work, and general training. He gave me great advice and I was able to learn quickly. Jason is now organizing a boot camp in San Diego for ultra runners. I would strongly recommend his training style. You can learn more about it here.

Congrats to all the beasts who conquered this epic race!

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Krispy Kreme Challenge 2012 Race Report

After my shocking defeat at last year’s Krispy Kreme Challenge, I was back this year for some revenge… in a wussier division. HERE is my report from last year for your amusement.

The original challenge is:

  • Run 2 miles.
  • Eat one dozen Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts.
  • Run 2 miles.

Last year, I registered for the more illustrious “Doughnutman” Division, which was:

  • Run 2 miles.
  • Eat one dozen doughnuts.
  • Run 2 miles.
  • Eat ANOTHER dozen doughnuts.
  • Run 2 miles.

I couldn’t do it. Not even close.

This year, I opted for the “Lite” Division:

  • Run 2 miles.
  • Eat half a dozen doughnuts.
  • Run 2 miles.

The race took place at DeAnza Cove at Mission Bay. It was a perfect morning for running: sunny and breezy. A vast improvement from last year’s pouring rain. We arrived in the RV with Shacky, Pat, and Ginger in tow. Pat was running to win, Shacky was running to finish, I was running to not puke, and Ginger was just running.

Group shot L to R: Pat, Rusty, me, Shacky

There was a great vibe at the race start and we warmed up by doing pull-ups. Except for Ginger because she doesn’t have any thumbs. I was thinking about running in shoes, but when I saw the flat, smooth sidewalk, I decided to go barefoot.

This is where we would be running.

This is where we would be eating doughnuts.

WOO pullup!

Pat almost sprained his pinkies.

So strong!!

The first two miles were great. We ran out one mile on Mission Bay, turned around, and came back. I was near the back of the pack. I was trying to push my speed, but it was still cold out and my feet were getting numb on the pavement. I tried to hop on to the grass, but that didn’t help much. So I just accepted a slower, comfortable pace, and finished up my first two miles.

The leaders fighting it out! (Lynne Cao Photography)

As I was finishing my miles, I saw the first place runner sprinting back out for his final laps, with his cheeks stuffed with doughnuts. He looked like death. He was grimacing, and his face looked white. Then I saw Pat heading out, not looking so hot either. His cheeks were also stuffed with doughnut.

When I got into the eater’s corral with my six doughnuts, most people were already munching. It was a somber, foul mood. Everyone had their heads down, overwhelmed in their own personal hells.

Yum? (Lynne Cao Photography)

Hitting the wall…. (Lynne Cao Photography)

Digging deep! (Lynne Cao Photography)

Last year, I imagined that I might actually enjoy the first couple of doughnuts. But this year I knew better. It sucks from the very beginning. As soon as you open that box and the smell of sugar and dough hits you, you immediately want to hurl. All you can do is take bite after bite, and hope to God that nobody starts puking around you.

Last year, there was so much vomiting, but this year people really held down their doughnuts. Pat and I developed a theory that when ONE person vomits, that sets off a chain reaction and everybody goes off after that. But if you don’t see anyone else throwing up, it’s easier to keep the doughnuts down.

Also last year you weren’t allowed to leave the corral until your mouth was empty, but this year you were allowed to stuff your face and finish chewing/swallowing on your final laps. I think this made for slightly faster times.

I flattened three doughnuts together into a pancake, and started eating. I tried to chew only as much as I needed to in order to manage a swallow, and I took two big bites at a time. In real life, I’m a super slow eater. I had to really concentrate on what I was doing to eat faster.

At first, I was looking around to see if anyone had a better strategy, but the eating was so disgusting that I would start gagging if I looked around for too long. People were stuffing and spewing and making terrible faces. So I just kept my head down and concentrated on my own doughnuts.

When I finished my three doughnuts, I flattened the other three in the same way and kept plugging away. I waited until I only had about four bites left, and walked over to the road again, tossing my doughnut box and stuffing the rest into my cheeks.

Just as I was getting ready to leave, Pat came in (finished the race) and asked how I was doing. At that moment, one piece of doughnut went a little too far down my throat, and I had to choose between keeping it down, or answering him. I just nodded and walked back to the eater’s corral—I couldn’t run with my cheeks this stuffed. I took a couple of extra minutes to chew and swallow, re-stuffed my cheeks, and took off.

Because I had only done six doughnuts, I was now ahead of Shacky and many others. It took me a good quarter mile at least to finish chewing and swallowing what I had in my mouth. The two miles went by more quickly, since I was concentrating on not throwing up. I kept a steady pace, but not sprinting. I didn’t want to make myself sick. There were two girls ahead of me, but one of them had done the dozen. There really weren’t many girls at this event to start with.

I saw Shacky on the out and back, and I had a good lead on him. Of course, he had eaten twice as many doughnuts as I did. Less than a mile to go, I spotted Pat who had run back to take pictures of us. I was feeling better and I knew I would be keeping the doughnuts down. It actually felt more comfortable to jog than to stand still with a belly full of glaze.

Doughnut high!

I finally swallowed!

We took some photos and then the finish line was right there! I sped up a little and ran it in: 48 minutes (second female in the Lite division, 5th Lite overall). Carlos was right behind me, and I watched Shacky come in. At the finish line, Shacky busted out some salt and vinegar crickets and some spiced larvae, which we ate and used to horrify the other runners.

Shacky running it in! (Lynne Cao Photography)

Me eating a cricket

More crickets…

… and worms!

It was a good day.

One thing I love about the Krispy Kreme Challenge is the high level of athletes that come out for this fun run. As Keith Kirby, the Race Director, pointed out: We had 100-mile finishers, Badwater finishers, and athletes of all levels. One of the competitors was Nickademus Anthony Hollon, who currently holds the record for being the youngest Badwater finisher. He confirmed that out of all the races he’s run, this easily ranks in the top five when it comes to difficulty.

I know exactly what he means.

There’s something about eating all those god-awful doughnuts that takes you straight to mile 75 at an ultra. Your body wants to shut down. You can’t remember why you registered for this. Every moment is terrible. You have no will to go on. And pushing through that gives you a good perspective of what it’s like to finish a 100-miler. The physical pain isn’t there, but the mental struggle is strikingly similar.

I also strongly recommend this race for anyone who needs some “sweets aversion” therapy. If you have a sweet tooth that challenges your diet year-round, this race might cure you of it. I used to like baked goods. I really did. But since the Krispy Kreme Challenge last year, I did not have a single craving, and was even sometimes repulsed by the thought of eating a cake or doughnut. You learn to hate even the smell of baked goods for at least a year.

Last year when I ate a dozen, I felt sick for three days. I could barely eat. With only six doughnuts this year, my recovery was much better. I felt good (and hungry again!) by the next day. It also really made me crave some fresh veggies. I am never more thankful for a clean, green diet than after the doughnut run. I’ve been vegan for almost a month now, and I wondered if this race would be a fun “cheat”. Instead, all it did was make me happy to be vegan and eager to go back to my regular diet.

Some people don’t want to sign up for the Krispy Kreme Challenge because it’s not a “serious” race. I assure you it’s not joke. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also incredibly horrifying and difficult. Completing this challenge will make you a stronger runner. It will teach you something valuable about your body, and it will make any stomach issues you get at future races seem that much easier to handle.

See you next year!

(Lynne Cao Photography)

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Krispy Kreme 2011 Race Report

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3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100 | Trail Running Club

Photo: Andrew Pielage

Here is my race report from the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100:

3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100 | Trail Running Club.

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Oriflamme 50K Race Report

This ultra snuck up on us. Until a week ago, we had planned on running the inaugural Hollywood Half since we had free entries, then at the last minute I decided I’d rather PAY to run on a trail than to run a free road race.

I’m ruined for road races. I literally have zero interest in ever running another road. As far as I’m concerned, a road race weekend is a weekend I’m NOT spending on a mountain. And where’s the fun in that??

I try to not be a trail snob, but I’m picky with my races now. I want all my mileage to go towards training for Chimera 100 this year, probably the hardest 100-miler known to man, and certainly the toughest thing I’ve ever done. I’m not sure if I’ll finish, but I’m sure as hell going to try. That means spending my time running vertically as much as is humanly possible.

The Oriflamme race director, John Martinez, was so accommodating and got us into the race even though we had already told him we weren’t coming. It was such a wonderfully organized event full of great friends and familiar faces, I felt like an idiot for almost missing out. Hollywood red carpet VS dirty trail ultra? I know where I belong.

Photo: Thanks to Greg Hardesty

Shacky and I got up at 3:30 am on race day and drove to the start. We overestimated how long it would take us to get there, so we showed up in time for the “early start” at 6 am. Darcy was starting with the early wave, and we were tempted to take off with her as well. But it was still dark, we didn’t have headlamps, and we figured we’d have more company with the normal start. So I took a nap in the car.

Shacky assumes it only takes me 3 seconds to get ready, so he didn’t wake me up. When I opened my eyes it was only 10 minutes to start time and Shacky was in the bathroom line. I stumbled out to go pee, get dressed, fill my water, and get to the start line. As soon as we got there, the runners had just taken off.

Photo: Thanks to Theresa Wheeler

I fell into the single track line and there was some walking for the first few minutes until the crowd started thinning. I had no goals as far as time, and I didn’t know the course. I thought I would just treat this as a long training run and enjoy the day.

A few people passed me in the first couple of miles and I finally settled into a comfortable, slow pace. Before long, there was a wide gap between the person ahead of me and the person behind me. I happily trotted along by myself, enjoying the trail and the scenery.

The first aid station came up quick. I didn’t need to stop, but I slowed down to say hello and grab a cookie. From there, it was all downhill.

I had a blast flying down the hill and ended up passing a few people. My downhill running skills have dramatically improved since running down the Los Pinos hill last weekend with the Robillards. Pinos is the steepest downhill I’ve ever set foot on (and most brutal climb). It made this downhill seem like a piece of cake.

The best thing I can do while running downhill is to relax my legs, go with the momentum, and not be afraid. When I get scared, my legs tighten, I slow down, and I’m much more likely to slip and fall on my ass.

When the road flattened out, I fell into my normal slow pace again and one of the guys I had passed caught up to me. We were running on sand now, which was hard to do in shoes. We’ve done some decent sand training, but always barefoot. I couldn’t believe how much harder it was to slog through the sand wearing shoes. But it wasn’t far to the second aid station.

I saw Desi and other friends at the next station, filled up my hydration pack with ice water, and took off again. It was getting really hot.

On my way to the turnaround point, I saw several more of our friends and they were going strong. It was great to see them all running together. I still wasn’t near any other runners, and I wondered at what point I would see Shacky coming back.

When I saw the turn, I realized Shacky was waiting for me, so I checked in at the halfway point and turned right around. Shacky’s shoes (New Balance MT 110s) were giving him trouble—he was getting too much sand in them and had to stop every few minutes to empty them out. We made it back to Desi’s aid station, where Shacky again emptied his shoes and I grabbed some oranges.

We hung out here for a few minutes longer than we really needed to, and started walking the sandy section back. Shacky was having a hard time running and I was doing a slow jog to keep up with his walking pace. At the bottom of the hill, I decided to push myself.

Photo: Thanks to Greg Hardesty

I’ve been trying hard to improve my hill running in preparation for Chimera, and I thought this hill would be a good test for me. Shacky later said I flew the hill, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. I ran as much as I could, and focused on a power hike the rest of the time. I had to put my head down and really concentrate on moving my legs forward as quick as possible. Otherwise I’d probably still be out there.

My “ultra walk” is pitiful. I’m trying to work on it. I run as much as possible because I know my walking pace is about as fast as slug. Jason once wrote that we shouldn’t walk hills as though we’re perusing futons at Ikea. That’s totally what I do. So I tried to imagine myself NOT at Ikea.

I tried to tell myself:

  • This isn’t a stroll. This is a race.
  • At least this isn’t Los Pinos.
  • The faster you can get up this thing, the sooner it will be over.

I passed a lot of people who had been ahead of me, and it was obvious the hill was taking everyone out. Some people were cuddled under thorny bushes, seeking any sort of shade. Others were low on water. It reminded me of the Pinos climb on Keira’s race, where I basically lay down on the trail and prayed for death. But I wouldn’t lie down today.

I conserved my water and made it to the top with adequate supplies. As soon as the road flattened out, I happily started running again. I looked behind me but Shacky was nowhere in sight. Would I actually beat him to the finish?

I’ve never yet been able to beat Shacky in a race, mostly because he hauls ass and never lets me. But I knew he was struggling on the hill and that was my chance to slip past. He’s better than me on downhills, but I’m better at uphills over time. I’m also better in the heat. So on this race, I had advantages I could play.

On the way up the hill, I saw some Search and Rescue trucks and I wondered in the back of my mind whether Shacky would drop out. If he did, I could make fun of him for days. If he didn’t, I could beat him to the finish. WIN WIN!

At the aid station on the top of the hill, I felt like I was on the home stretch. My spirits were lifted, and I stopped for some watermelon and oranges. I considered waiting for Shacky, but then Christine told me Shacky had dropped.

NOOOoooo!

It never occurred to me that he might be hurt or dehydrated. I know he’s a hardass, so I just assumed he was being a wuss. I figured he’d be at the finish line, so I decided to haul ass to the end where I could make fun of him.

I ran the second half of the race much stronger than the first half. Usually, I’m giving it all I’ve got in the second half, but today I felt as though I still had a lot left. It was a good day for me. Part of me wondered whether I should have started faster, but I had a blast and I was really proud of my performance on the hill.

The last few miles were extremely pleasant. I was all alone, and for the most part couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind me. Every once in a while, I would come across another runner, greet them, and pass. I wasn’t going fast, but I was running.

Photo: Thanks to Rachel Hassett

As soon as I saw the finish line, I started to sprint and crossed with a big smile. Then I hung out and spread rumors about Shacky dropping out. I figured whoever finishes first reserves the right to spread rumors about the person behind them.

Shacky wasn’t at the finish line yet, and after 20 minutes I started to get bored and wish he had given me the car keys so I could at least change. You know, now that I’m the faster runner I should be the one to carry the keys. Thirty minutes later I wondered if maybe had had been hurt after all. Nah… he’s a hardass.

Then Julius told me that he hadn’t dropped after all—he was still on the course. Nice! I was proud of him for finishing, but was pretty sure he was still being lazy and walking. I thought about running back to scold him for taking so long, but decided to eat cake instead (Happy Birthday Carlos!).

Photo: Thanks to Carlos Quinto

There was a great crowd at the finish, and I had fun chatting with everyone. Shacky finally finished an hour later, pacing a girl who was running her first ultra. So it was hard to scold him for taking so long. I decided to get him some chili and pop instead.

Photo: Thanks to Theresa Wheeler

The next day, we went for a run with the dog on Mount Woodson where both Shacky AND the dog kicked my ass on the uphills. Pretty sure I’m still better at burpees though.

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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

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Rocky Road 100 Mile Race Report Part 3

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“If one could run without getting tired I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.” – C.S. Lewis

Lap 3: Miles 31-45

At the start line, I frantically foraged through the shoes I brought and suddenly hated everything.

Altra Lone Peaks? … Those still had a lot of tread.

Vibrams? … Too tight on me. They cut into my foot at Surf City.

Kigo Drives? … My feet flop around in them too much. It’s not a perfect fit.

Lunas? … Probably not a good choice for this terrain. Although Lunas have no tread…

I worried that my feet would have to work too hard in the Lunas and that the gravel would get in between the sandal and my foot. I also worried the knot would rub and cause a blister since I hadn’t broken them in much. But I did love that they had no tread. The VIVO treads were killing me.

I decided to wear my Lunas on top of my injinjis. Shacky had run in his Lunas for the first 30 miles, but was now taking them off because his feet were hurting. Would the Lunas make my feet hurt even more? I was willing to take the chance and find out.

For the next few miles, my feet were in heaven. They had room to move and stretch and there was just enough of a barrier to protect my feet against the gravel. The Injinjis prevented any rubbing and the odd pebble that got stuck under my sandal felt more like an occasional massage. I was feeling good.

At the first aid station, I glared at the cookies. I didn’t think I could force any more down, so I grabbed some chips instead. The volunteers at the first aid station were very attentive. They watched for runners as they came, and yelled ahead to ask them what they needed. They were friendly, cheerful, and motivating at all hours of the day and night.

I wish I could say the same for the second aid station, where I had dropped off a couple of layers of clothing. When I needed to pick my clothes back up, they would be in different spots. I once spent close to five minutes looking for my sweater, only to find it trampled in the dirt, far from where I had left it. The volunteers just stood around watching me search for it.

Many of the volunteers seemed to be made up of kids more interested in socializing and flirting with each other than paying attention to the runners. I didn’t mind that so much, except they’d often crowd the snack table eating chips or drinking pop, so it was hard for me to get through to refill my bottle.

As the night wore on and I grew more exhausted, I’d do silly things like forget to take the lid off my bottle before I tried to fill it. I’d have to make slow and calculating moves to get what I needed, with no help from the able-bodied kids ignoring everyone. The more I passed this aid station, the more frustrated I became.

There were chairs here, but they seemed to be for volunteers only. Exhausted runners sat on the curbs or stretched on the fence while the volunteers sat in chairs and chatted among themselves. Once I held my bottle out to a volunteer only to have her stare blankly at me until I said, “Can you please help me fill this?”

I’m not even sure if all these people were volunteers. It looked like kids were driving by just to hang out with their friends who were volunteering, and I’m not even sure they were all kids. All I know is that whenever I passed, a ton of people would stand around staring at me as I tried to self-serve.

A couple of times, I noticed the aid station had been shifted to a different location, which starts to play with your mind after a while. Chances are not everything at this aid station was terrible. But in my sleep-deprived state, I would come to think it of it as the aid station from hell. It was definitely by far the worst aid station experience at any of my ultra races yet.

At the turnaround point, there was a final aid station. This one had chairs out for the runners while the volunteers stood behind the tables and eagerly helped you fill up on what you needed. They’d recite what they had to offer, quickly fill up your bottle, and dispense motivational messages.

One volunteer was reading notes from an elementary school class who had written to the runners. Each child had made a note for a runner who was completing the 100.

As soon as a runner came into the aid station, the volunteer would grab one of the notes, explain who it was from, unfold it, and read it to them. They were unpredictable and pretty funny.

The demotivator: “My teacher told me you are running 100 miles. You’re crazy.”

A pacer’s worst nightmare: “You can do it! Run fast and don’t give up! Run really fast!”

The class clown: “You are running 100 miles, let me tell you a joke…”

The joke turned out to be a riddle, and riddles are surprisingly hard to solve when you’re running a 100-miler. Plus the kid’s writing was so bad that we thought the joke was about three taters when it was really about three fathers.

Mmmm… taters.

My stomach was growling at this point, and I was extremely concerned about getting some real food into me. I was starting to weaken from hunger.

In the meantime, Shacky was so hungry that he was struggling with nausea. I had seen Shacky not too far ahead, and he now told me they were making burgers at the start line. Could it be true??

I confirmed this at this aid station when someone said, “If you hurry up, you might get some!” OMG! Was there a limited supply??

There was another runner coming behind me, and she was also complaining of hunger. I excitedly told her about the burgers and then stopped dead – wait, if there was a limited supply I shouldn’t be spreading the word. I had to get to the start line before her. I NEEDED to eat.

For the next 7.5 miles, I picked it up and ran back as fast as I could. I didn’t stop at the other aid stations, all I could think about was the burger. Every time I felt my pace slowing down, I had a horrible vision of some volunteer giving away the last burger just as I was running in: “Sorry, we just ran out…”

I ran all the hills and finally made it to the start line, famished. Shacky was already there eating and chatting. I ran straight to the food table and was relieved to see turkey chili, veggie chili, burgers, and sandwiches. Greg (running the 50) was hanging out at the food table eyeing an avocado. The food guy offered it to him, and Greg said he’d eat half. I immediately asked for the other half.

I was ready to eat it straight off the pit, but the food guy offered to make me a grilled cheese sandwich with avocado. I eagerly agreed. I chatted for a bit while he made my sandwich, and my spirits were instantly lifted. The food guy said he’d be here all night, and I wanted to cry with joy.

That sandwich made all the difference in the world and I felt a mix of gratitude for the food, and anger that it had taken so long to get it here.

Paul ran this race so fast that he didn’t get real food for his entire 50 miles. As a vegan, there was close to nothing at the aid stations that he could eat. They didn’t even have the traditional oranges and fruit spread. Just a few bananas.

Paul grew so hungry to the point that he had to stop and throw up before his race was over, and Shacky came close to throwing up from hunger as well.

As I ate my grilled cheese, Shacky decided to wait for me so we could set out on the next loop together. Paul would probably be showered and sleeping before we crossed here again.

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Next: Part 4 – Debilitating chaffing and overnight paranoid delusions

Rocky Road 100 Mile Race Report Part 2

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“The people that I have met are not foolish; they are aware of how tired and cold and hungry and frightened and hurting and discouraged and disoriented and how possibly injured they will become. They know they will face great physical, mental, emotional, and possibly spiritual challenges as they make their way to the finish. This is what they are racing against. This is their challenge. This is what I admire.” – Carolyn Erdman

Lap 2: Miles 16-30

I made a point not to spend too much time at the aid stations because that’s a weakness of mine. I tend to linger longer than I need to, and those minutes can add up significantly over 100 miles.

At the start line I quickly refilled my handheld, then set out again on my own. Shacky had already passed through, and I didn’t expect to see him again for a while.

I ran along happily, and grabbed more cookies at the first aid station. Then more cookies at the second one. A small voice of reason in the back of my head asked, “How many cookies can you eat??” But I tried not to think about it.

The great thing about an out-and-back is that you get to see all your friends. I made the time pass quickly over the next few loops by counting off the runners that I knew.

First there was Andy (Catra’s partner) – moving like a speed demon. I was excited to consistently see him as my first familiar face. He would go on to finish in 20 hours, 8th place overall.

Then I saw Ed, the Jester we all know and love. Before the race Shacky told me he was thinking of using Ed as a pacer overnight because of Ed’s steady, slow pace. But Ed was aiming for a sub-24 finish so that he could be done in time to race a half marathon the next day. He would go on to kill it at 22:54.

Then Catra, a lady that needs no introduction. I looked forward to seeing her at every loop. She would finish in 22:21.

Next came Carlos, who had finished this race before and was aiming for a significant PR. He was wearing his InknBurn tuxedo shirt and carried a single red rose in his hand. I only saw him with the rose on one loop. Then the next loop, I saw it in the hand of a pretty young girl. For the next three loops after that, I saw the pretty young girl’s boyfriend running pretty closely beside her.

Shacky was next, moving smoothly. I’m always awed at how effortless he looks when he runs. I was so proud of him.

Throughout the course, people somehow figured out Shacky and I were a couple and kept giving us random updates on each other’s progress.

“Your boyfriend’s up ahead of you,” I’d hear.

“Your girlfriend’s flying those hills,” Shacky was told.

Sometimes other runners would start chatting with me because Shacky had already introduced me a few miles ahead. Other times I’d come across blog readers that I didn’t recognize right away. They’d greet me warmly like old friends and it would take me a while to figure out who they were. So I learned to just greet everyone warmly on sight.

“Did you get any naked folding?” One guy yelled as he passed.

“What??”

“Naked folding! For Valentine’s!”

(What the hell?….)

Ten minutes later it hit me: He had read my Valentine post.

After Shacky I would see Rachel. She had attempted this race before, planned out each loop in advance, and was moving at a slow but steady pace. She was so cheery that she completely lifted the spirits of anyone who passed her.

Paul was a wild card. He was running the 50-miler, so his start time was later than ours. He ran at such a quick pace that he ended up finishing his race before we hit 50 miles, even though he started later. Seeing him at any point was a pleasant surprise – I had no idea where he’d show up.

The leaders were moving smoothly and insanely fast. Watching them, I remembered a comment that Frances left on this post before the race:

We need people (to run 100 miles), just like we need people walking on the moon, and people singing with voices that can be heard over an orchestra without a microphone.

It’s part of demonstrating that there is much more to us as people and that we can go beyond the way we’re using ourselves right now. That our bodies are truly amazing.

The leaders in this race moved like artwork. Gliding effortlessly, flying over the trail as if their feet weren’t even touching the ground. It’s one thing to run a fast marathon, but watching someone run a fast 100-miler is a deeper respect. And yet these are names and faces that many won’t recognize. We admire all the wrong people.

“How many 100-milers have you run?” I heard a voice behind me. A young Asian guy was passing by.

“This is my first one,” I smiled.

“Oh no!” he gasped, “You’re going much too fast!”

Huh? But this was a comfortable pace…

“What’s your best marathon time?” he quizzed.

“Well, I’ve only run three marathons….”

I reluctantly told him my best time was 4:20, then tried to explain one of those was my very first marathon, the second one I ran the day after my first ultra, and the third was the Disney marathon were we stopped to take a ton of pictures… but it was too late.

“OH YES!” His eyes widened in horror for me, “Way, way too fast! The runners in front of you are amazing. There’s a girl who ran Badwater three times!”

I wasn’t yet convinced that I needed to change my pace.

“How many 100s have you run?” I asked him. Maybe he didn’t know what he was talking about?

“Ten,” he answered, and then went on to name his other stats.

Now I was starting to get nervous. He seemed eager to dispense advice, so I asked some questions and he had a ton to say. I tried to keep pace with him, but he was a very sporadic runner. His running was faster, but he’d stop to walk more often.

“Don’t walk for too long and don’t run for too long,” he said. “Change it up.”

But I knew from experience that wouldn’t work well for me. I need to run at a steady pace, until I’m forced to change it up. I’m more comfortable with consistency, even if I’m consistently slow.

He eyed me over and estimated the number of calories I would need to consume every hour for my weight and frame. Then he advised me on wearing more supportive shoes. The first place runner whizzed by us.

“That guy is in first place!” he exclaimed. “Don’t follow him! Don’t even look at him!”

I had to laugh. This was a very different approach to ultras. This runner had good intentions and was genuinely trying to help me, perhaps also deriving some satisfaction in being the “expert”. But his advice made me start to doubt myself.

I wasn’t counting calories. I wasn’t wearing supportive shoes. And I apparently thought I could hang with the Badwater finishers. I didn’t want doubts filling my head this early in the race, so I slowed down to let my mentor slip ahead.

But before he left, he said one thing that burned in my mind and would come back to haunt me hours later: “Remember, the race doesn’t start until mile 80!”

Shacky and I later analyzed our pace in the first three laps and wondered if a slower start would have helped us in the second half. We decided no. We weren’t exerting ourselves at the beginning, and the issues that slowed us down would have happened regardless.

I was also uncomfortable with the concept of comparing myself with “better” runners and holding back because I felt I should be behind them. After Noble Canyon, I stopped doing that. I wanted to run my own race.

Nearing the end of the second loop, I noticed that my feet were starting to hurt in the VIVOs. The grip on the Neo Trails had proved excessive on this untechnical, too-similar-to-road trail. That’s when I realized: I don’t own a road shoe. I felt a slight rush of panic. I knew that I had to get out of my VIVOs as soon as possible, but what was I supposed to wear for the rest of the race??

Next: Part 3 – Frustration at the aid stations, and I start to get really hungry.

Read Part 1

Rocky Road 100 Mile Race Report Part 1

“I still cannot define precisely my joy in running… Who can define happiness? To some, happiness is a warm puppy or a glass of cold beer.  To me, happiness is running in the hills with my mates around me.”

- Ron Clarke

One hundred miles. This distance that has been on my mind ever since I started running. Years ago, I was a newbie taking on my first race, but I was secretly thinking about this day. The 100.

In fact, every race and every distance I’ve climbed has been with 100-mile intentions. But I was always afraid to talk about this goal because:

  1. I didn’t always have a strong support system.
  2. I knew it sounded stupid for a newbie to be talking about 100 miles.
  3. None of the other newbies could relate to me.
  4. Nobody really believed I could run that far and I knew there was nothing I could say to convince them.

I was intrigued by distance, not speed. But because I wasn’t fast, nobody took me seriously as a runner. Here are my unimpressive stats:

  • I have never run a 5K faster than 25 minutes.
  • I have only raced three half marathons.
  • My half marathon PR is about three years old at 2:04.
  • I have only raced three marathons. Total.
  • My marathon PR is only a 4:20.
  • Out of the first three ultras I raced, I DNF’d two of them.
  • I have never raced a 50 miler.

My point is: I can run ultras, so you can run ultras.

I have seen people finish ultras who are overweight. Senior citizens. Children. Teens. People who haven’t trained at all. People who have never run a marathon. People who registered by mistake. Sometimes people who don’t even really LIKE running.

We idolize speed more than we should. Speed is nothing without endurance. We admire the stereotypical “runner’s body” and we know in our hearts that we may never look that good. So we resign ourselves to shorter distances, shorter training runs, and a defeated approach to running. That is a mistake.

The ultra is an equalizer. It strips away the mystery surrounding the athletes we love, and it puts us on their level. It lets us shake their hands and pace alongside them.

Where marathons force you into corals based on your speed, the ultra slaps you on the back and says, “Stand wherever the fuck you want. Your chance is as good as any of these other poor suckers.” And when you believe that, you know you’re an ultra runner.

My love for distance was something I fed privately at first. Unlogged, unaccompanied long runs by myself. I’d disappear while it was still dark and everyone was asleep, sneaking back in as they were just waking up.

Nobody really knew how long I was out there. I’d run marathon distances on my own, or I’d cover 10K loops over and over. Or I’d disappear into the woods for hours.

When my ex-partner heard that I wanted to run my first ultra followed by a marathon the next day, he looked at me visibly upset and said, “What do you want to do, run 100 miles someday??” I was taken aback because I hadn’t discussed that distance with anyone. I didn’t even know he was aware of 100-milers. But he said it with such disgust that I knew it was a goal he would never support me in.

Still, 100 miles seemed like an unreal fantasy for a long time, kind of like the way we think of winning the lottery. It was a daydream. I wondered what kind of person I would have to be to complete 100 miles. What kind of mental focus I’d need, what kind of endurance, and what kind of people I would have to surround myself with.

In San Diego, I met the those people. Other ultra runners, other trail runners, and other 100-mile finishers. People like the Robillards and Shacky and Pat Sweeney all saw it as the next logical step in my running career. And so I started believing in myself.

This weekend, I wanted 100 miles for validation. All that time training in “secret” made me feel underestimated. I wanted to prove that I WAS the runner I imagined myself to be. That I wasn’t being reckless or “over my head” – that I really had it in me to do this. I wanted to prove that my years of running injury-free weren’t a fluke. That I knew my body, and I wasn’t a newbie anymore.

Although I’ve felt like an ultra runner for a long time, I didn’t have the stats or races to back me up. I was ready to show what I could do.

As race day approached, my confidence in finishing this distance grew. I expected that it would be more of a mental challenge than a physical one, and I expected that I would struggle with sleep deprivation. Neither of those things were true.

In fact, nothing that I expected to happen actually happened. And the things that I never saw coming were what I struggled with. Here is my story:

The Course

The Rocky Road 100 Miler consisted of seven loops: six loops of 15 miles total, and an additional 10-mile shortened loop. The course was an out-and-back in a well-groomed gated community.

The trail was a wide gravel walking path running alongside the road, separated from the street by a pretty white fence. Gorgeous homes towered over us on the opposite side.

The course was mostly flat, with small rolling hills. The hills closer to the turnaround point seemed to get steeper. Every block, we’d have to step off the curb, cross a road, and hop back on the curb onto the trails. The trail remained open to the residents.

There were three aid stations, each about 2.5 miles apart. Two along the course, and one at the turnaround point. There was one more aid station at the start line, along with most of the drop bags.

Lap 1: Miles 1-15

Shacky and I gathered at the start line chatting with a lot of great runners. We were thrilled to see so many familiar faces. I met the record-setting Yolanda Holder and Xy (Dirty Girl from Dirty Girl gaiters), a few other blog readers, some prominent Marathon Maniacs like Ed, and many of the runners we had seen at Across the Years. It was like a big reunion.

The race started in the dark. I wore my VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trails (my favorite trail shoe) and my InknBurn Out-n-Back shirt with a black tennis skirt (cheaper than running skirts). Shacky wore his Luna sandals and his kilt. He got a ton of attention and comments about his footwear and outfit.

I stuck with Shacky for the first few miles, and then I let him drift ahead. We were both excited and although I was conscious of starting out too fast, I didn’t feel exerted by our speed. We were running steady, even on the hills. I carried a handheld and was careful to keep drinking.

Both Shacky and I had a big early dinner the night before and had been up since 3 a.m. Neither of us had been hungry in the morning and I was afraid that if I forced myself to eat, I would feel nauseous. So I figured I’d rely on the plentiful aid stations at the race to get some food into me in the early miles.

I focused on paying attention to my surroundings. I noted every curb, every street sign, every landmark that I could remember. I wanted to know when I was nearing the turnaround point, when I was close to the finish, and where the aid stations were.

Sharp right turn. Barking dog. Orange grove. Big mansion. More oranges. Pillars.

On an out-and-back, landmarks are a strong motivation for me. I run from one landmark to the next, and when I see something familiar that I know is close to the finish, that motivates me to push harder.

To be honest, I didn’t even know this was an out-and-back until the race started. And I thought it was six loops instead of seven. I actually didn’t know much about this race at all. While some runners like to plan out every detail of their races, for me it’s better if I know nothing at all. It only causes me to stress about things I can’t control and plan for things that will never turn out.

Instead, my training for this race consisted of learning to fly by the seat of my pants and adapt to anything. I’d wake up in the mornings, grab the doggie leash, and run outside with Ginger just as I was. No shoes, no bra, just jammies and dog.

I wanted running to be as natural to me as breathing or peeing in the morning. I didn’t want to overthink my running, and I didn’t want to overthink this race. I just wanted to go out and do it. My only strategy for this race was:

  1. Finish.
  2. Keep moving.
  3. Don’t sleep.

I don’t know that it’s a strategy I would recommend for everyone, but it’s one that worked well for me on this particular race.

I had never really experienced a gated community before. I wondered how the race director managed to have a race put on here every year. It seemed like it would be a tremendous inconvenience to the residents. Extra garbage, tons of traffic, people invading their pretty path and making their dogs bark at all hours of the day and night.

Shacky and I tried to imagine under what circumstances the race director might have been able to secure this location. Maybe he lived here. Maybe he had a secret lover who lived here. Maybe he had an ex-wife who ran off with his entire fortune, then felt bad about so she let him have a race here every year. Because she bought the mansion on the corner with his money. Yeah, that was probably it.

Shacky saw one real estate agent posting an Open House sign and I chuckled to think of the poor prospective buyers who might be under the impression that this was a community full of insane ultra runners who never sleep. The real estate agent didn’t know there was a race going on, so Shacky inquired whether the property had a pool, and told the agent that if it did, he would be interested in a tour. Sadly, no pool.

I got to the first aid station.  A porta-potty and a little table with drinks and cookies and chips. I glanced over, looking for the sandwiches and generous buffet-like spread that I was used to. But all I saw were cookies, M&Ms and chips. Hm. Maybe they had all the good stuff at the next station. I kept running.

Two and a half miles later, I saw the second aid station. I stopped to drop off my sweater since I was working up a good sweat, and I also wanted to look at the food. That’s strange, no sandwiches here either. Just more cookies. I grabbed some Oreos and headed back out, a little confused. Where was all the food?

At the turnaround, I was starting to get hungry. And worried. I knew I need to eat, but there was no real food here. Chips, M&Ms, and cookies. I felt a slight panic. I didn’t bring any food. I just assumed that all ultras had…. you know, food.

I was drinking a ton but that was my main source of calories, and it wouldn’t take me through 100 miles. Would it be like this the entire race? After the panic, a twinge of frustration set it. What kind of lame-o ultra was this?? And how the hell hard is it to slap together a PB&J sandwich?

I grabbed chips, cookies, and bananas. I couldn’t force down any M&Ms – candy and running don’t mix for me. I wanted to kick myself for not eating breakfast, but I felt the race had also let me down.

I worried about Shacky because he hadn’t eaten either, and I knew he hated the cookies and chips even more than I did. As it turned out, he choked down “a really disgusting bar” back at the end of the first loop when he realized there was no food he could eat. This would not be the first issue I had with the aid stations.

Since the path wasn’t closed to residents, we saw several locals walking around and asking what we were doing. One lady caught me as I was about to turn to finish a loop, and asked how long the race was.

“Um… one hundred miles.” Her response was a blank, wide-eyed stare.

“Well, I think there’s a 50 miler and a marathon as well,” I tried to make it seem more normal

“Which one are you doing?” she asked.

“One hundred miles.” Blank wide-eyed stare again.

“Do you sleep??”

“Um… no, I’m going to try to stay awake.” I shrugged. There was pretty much no way to make this sound normal now.

“I ran a marathon and I thought I was awesome!”

“That’s great!” I tried to sound enthusiastic, but I don’t think she believed me. She wished me luck, and I think she walked away feeling less-awesome about her marathon finish. I hope she tries an ultra someday.

Read Part 2: Miles 16-30, minimalist shoe issues, and an experienced 100-mile finisher gives me a stern warning.

Walt Disney World Marathon Race Report

This marathon was Part 2 of our Goofy Challenge weekend. Read Part 1 HERE.

On marathon morning, the alarm went off at 2 a.m. (again) and I stepped out of bed. I didn’t feel so bad. Maybe this would work out after all.

Instead of going barefoot, I felt I should try to preserve my feet. I opted for my pair of very minimalist Kigo Drives, which was still a little risky since I hadn’t tested these on long distances. I hoped they could pull me through 26 miles.

During the half, I had done some miles in my Zem 360s, but the seam was starting to bother me and made a small indent on my sole. So I opted to leave those behind today.

We got dressed, packed our bags, and loaded up the car. As soon as we started driving, a deep sleepiness started to hit me. By the time we parked, I had my eyes closed and I soon fell fast sleep. Minutes before the race start.

I’m a fairly strong runner, but there are two things I have a hard time fighting: sleep and hunger. Both make me cranky and I don’t particularly give a shit about running when I’m tired. Next thing I knew, Shacky was waking me up. It was time to go.

I wasn’t ready to be awake. I got out of the car and started to walk—I was actually sore. I felt like I had already run 20 miles, and I didn’t have the slightest clue how I would now run a marathon.

It was chilly, but I had my space blanket to keep me warm. While we waited in the mob of people, Shacky covered me with his space blanket as well so I was pretty toasty and I almost fell asleep again leaning up against him. I was happy in my little cocoon and hoped I could just stay there for the entire marathon.

Go away crowds. I’m sleepy.

I remembered reading a book a few years ago about a prisoner named Richard Wurmbrand who was tortured and brutalized because of his faith. He was put in a tiny cell too small to lie down in, and in his biography he wrote about how he would sleep by putting his forehead against the concrete wall and leaning against it, letting the rest of his body go limp.

I felt like a martyr myself, so I wondered if that would work for me now. Before I could try, Shacky was shaking me awake for a Marathon Maniacs photo.

I managed to bust out a smile for the picture. See? Wide awake.

The long walk to the race corrals wasn’t as fun this time as it had been in the half. We’d made this trek before. The Disney race announcers were saying the same lines and making the same jokes. They were funny yesterday, but this morning they sounded scripted and cheesy.

Donald came on the speaker. Then Mickey. Then Goofy. All with the same stupid lines. Was this a tape? The race announcer made a comment about Corral B that was identical to the comment he made about them yesterday, even though it was a new set of runners. I was grumpy.

By the time we had found our place at the race starting line, my entire body was sore. I thought I should try to stretch it out a bit so I wouldn’t collapse in the first five minutes. I sat down on the side of the road where some other runners were stretching, and covered myself with the space blanket as best I could while I stretched out my legs.

Closing my eyes, I tried to bust out some mental strength. “I will get through this somehow,” I told myself. But I had never in my life felt so shitty at the beginning of a race.

As I was doing some deep breathing and trying to get into my groove, some clumsy runner came through and trampled all over my sore feet. She kept apologizing, but I still wanted to jab her eyes out.

When she left I wanted to either cry or go to sleep. If Shacky wasn’t there, I might have just gotten up and walked home. Instead, the countdown started and I stood up to run.

The first three miles were miserable. I ached and thought about dropping out, but I was motivated by the fact that I had paid a shitload of money to run this race and I’ll be damned if I didn’t somehow get my ass across that finish line. It felt like mile 35 of an ultra. What a disaster.

After 3 miles, my funk suddenly lifted. My body stopped screaming at me, as if it suddenly decided I was hopeless and would not listen. I felt much better and the sun was starting to come up.

I decided to pull out my video camera and do some filming (stay tuned for a video post). I started appreciating my surroundings, looking at some of the other runners, and shaking off my introverted mindset. This was an experience that may never repeat itself. I was in Disney World!

I saw my grandma again.

And Carlos. 

The first few miles of the race repeated the same course as the half, but it seemed to go faster this time. I ran towards the Disneyland castle for the second time and envisioned princesses cheering me on.

I saw Pocahontas, one of my favorite Disney characters, and suddenly I was running with all the colors of the wind. I was going to finish.

My thoughts were soon broken by a loud and piercing shriek:

“BUZZ LIGHTYEAR!!!!!! OMGGGGG!!!!! BUZZ LIGHTYEAR I LOVE YOU!!!!”

There was a tiny Asian dude behind me in compression gear who had just spotted Buzz at a post taking pictures. Instead of lining up for photos, he opted to jump up and down from the sidelines, waving his arms wildly and screaming like a pre-pubescent girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

Buzz waved back.

After the first park, I concentrated on running from one park to the next. This helped me worry less about distance and enjoy the journey.

The parks were amazing, and very distracting with the scenery and spectators. As long as I was going through a park, I forgot I was running.

The Animal Kingdom was my favorite. They had a little pig who snubbed me when I tried to take my picture with him, some beautiful birds, some sheep, and a couple of mules. I wanted to pet them all.

One of the three little pigs.

A few times Shacky and I saw random birds (not part of the race attractions), and I’d stop to take pictures with them too. I probably could have easily run through a petting zoo and been equally thrilled.

At one point I heard someone behind me and ask, “Are you Vanessa?”

“Yes….” (Who are you?)

It was Paul, one of my blog readers who recognized me from my Facebook profile picture. He was from Toronto and before I moved, I had mailed him some of my marathon running books. He was doing the Goofy challenge as well.

We chatted briefly and Shacky took our picture.

My first time meeting Paul.

Edit: Meeting Paul actually happened in the half marathon. I confused it for the full because the whole weekend is just a big blur.

The stretches in-between parks were starting to feel rough. My legs were wincing with every step. I had to focus all my mental strength on relaxing my muscles and running with loose legs. If I allowed them to tighten, I knew I would end up on the side of the road like many others we were passing.

I walked at one point to eat a banana since my stomach was growling, while Shacky ate a Vega bar. At that point, it was just as painful to walk as it was to run. So I wanted to run to get it over with faster.

Around mile 20, I caught a glimpse of Buzz’s #1 fan again, Mr. Asian guy. This time he was very quiet, staring hard into the ground in front of him like he was hoping it would open up and swallow him. Or maybe that’s what I was hoping.

Shacky started encouraging me again. I needed it. The water stations were becoming more frequent, so I knew we must be close to the end. I didn’t want to count miles anymore because they seemed to be getting further apart. And I didn’t want to slow down at aid stations, because I would break my stride and that would just hurt more.

Instead, Shacky offered me some Vega drink from his handheld, and when I emptied it he’d run ahead to an aid station to fill up. Then he’d catch my pace again so I wouldn’t have to speed up or slow down. Sometimes all I could manage to indicate that I wanted to drink was a rude grunt. After drinking I’d immediately hand off the bottle because it felt heavy.

I have no idea how Shacky ran this so smoothly and still took care of my hydration needs while also making detours to take all the pictures. I kept asking him if he was hurting, because it looked like he was just cruising while I was shriveling away into nothingness.

A lot of people walked. I could feel their pain, but it still surprised me to see runners stopping on that final mile. At that point, it was easier to push ahead and finish strong. Besides, walking would just extend the hardship.

We passed a ton of people in the final mile. Not because we were running fast, but because we were one of the few still running.

In the final stretch, I was digging deep. Shacky said, “Just a couple loops around the block with Ginger!” That really helped.

I remembered Ginger in her doggy hotel, and how much we love to run loops around the neighborhood after work or early in the morning. A couple loops never killed anyone… I was going to make it.

Around the final corner and… There was the finish line! Crossing it, I announced “I can’t believe we’re done!” And I really couldn’t. I imagined we’d be running forever.

The race volunteers at the finish were amazing. We got our medals, lined up for pictures, and were out in front of our car within minutes with food in our hands. These were the most organized races I have ever attended. We even had enough time to stop back to the hotel and shower up before heading out to the airport.

The plane ride home was in many ways more painful than the actual marathon. I couldn’t find a comfortable position in my tiny seat. My feet hurt when I stood up and my ass hurt when I sat down.

I sprawled across my seat and annoyed at least one stranger with my shuffling. The only comfortable position I could imagine was on my knees with my face planted on the floor and my butt in the air. I wanted so bad to fly in this position. But the flight attendants would have scolded me.

At one point in the airport, I put my hand on my quad and I could physically feel my legs muscles still pulsing under my fingers in a running motion. Somebody forgot to tell my legs we were finished.

Before boarding the flight, I noticed a bunch of runners were wearing all their medals and doing deep stretches in the middle of the aisles. I was reluctant to do this. I felt it looked like a cry for attention, “Hey look what I can do! Run a marathon!” when probably half the airport ran the same race but were NOT sprawled out on the floor jingling their medals. But maybe those guys were in less pain during their flights.

On the car ride home, I was out like a light. I don’t remember ever being so tired in my life, not even at Across the Years. But the next morning, I was up bright and early and thought I might even be able to run again. I brought my shiny medals in to work and hung them up. Now I only have fond memories.

Cube bling.

Disney races are painfully pricey. The flights to Florida are packed with screaming toddlers, the airlines are overbooked, and the souvenirs are expensive. But these races materialize your dreams into objects you can see and touch. They make your miles magical.

Running Disney is about running with the eyes of a child. Some are lucky enough to do that regularly, but many of us need reminders. Disney delivers wonder at every turn, sometimes a princess and sometimes a hero. These races remind you that it’s OK to stop and make a memory.

And if you do it right, you can go home and realize that the wonder is still there. A bug in your backyard. Wildlife on your trails. An unexpected sunset. There’s still magic at every turn. All you needed was to run with the eyes of a child.

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