Part IV.III: SUSITNA 100 2016, HALF TO MILE 90

5 Star (Mile 52) to Eagle Quest (mile 63)

The soup at 5 Star Tent was so good I wished I had taken a second or third cup. (You’d think I would have learned after Flathorn to eat while the eating was good!!) I was CERTAIN L and K would catch up to me in no time, judging how quickly they had passed me on the last section, but I was going to make them work for it. I was driving myself crazy but I kept looking behind me the whole time, a trend that continued the whole race. There is something so demoralizing about getting passed.

Not too long out of the aid station, I started seeing a blinking light in front of me, which gave me a target. It took me a while to catch it, but eventually the light stopped and I arrived to find LA Model Ryan. The rope connecting his pole to his sled had broken, and he was trying to figure out a fix. I stopped and muddled around with him for a few minutes, trying to get my foggy brain to devise a brilliant solution and wracking my brain in an attempt to think of the extra repair gear I might have with me. I had not brought rope, which is what he needed. I gave him a bungee and departed, mentioning that I was trying to stay ahead of a couple of girls and uncharitably thinking to myself that he should have tested his system better to know how it would work after many miles of cold and ice. I shouldn’t be cocky, but I had tested my system a lot and was struggling to be sympathetic in the middle of the night.

I pushed through the next section, on a high from being so strong into 5 Star, and playing games with myself about lights in the night. It was hard to be incognito out there with headlamps and flashing rear lights, so I moved around the S Curves in the river quickly, imagining myself like a mouse. Every runner and skier behind me was a cat. I always get passed in every race, so it felt like a miracle that I didn’t get passed enroute to Mile 63.

After going mile 34 to 52 in 5.5 hours, I had deluded myself into thinking I could do the next 11 mile section in 3 hours, which I’m sure was possible…until about 2AM I started falling asleep. My eyes were closing uncontrollably. I had preemptively taken three caffeine pills before 5 Star, but apparently they were wearing off. I have no idea why I didn’t try to pound some more caffeine at that point – I think I was convinced that I was getting close to the checkpoint, that I would arrive to the lodge by 2:30 or 3AM. I can’t even remember what I was eating during this point, but I’m sure it wasn’t enough.

I arrived at Eagle Quest Lodge at 3:30AM. SO. SLEEPY. This was about a half hour longer than I had anticipated. We were sort of closer to “civilization” coming into Eagle Quest, and lights from dwellings appeared in the distance deceiving me into thinking I was close. Seeing the lights and winding through a group of buildings had given me false hope for a while, so I was ridiculously relieved to finally arrive at one of the buildings that was the lodge. I asked the guys who greeted me if there was an aid station. They said they had water. That’s it?? I said. If you want food, you have to go in and buy it. Ugh. I had been prepared with cash following the race briefing, but I didn’t realize there would be NO. OTHER. AID. I grabbed my water bottles and went inside, microspikes and all. I was really glad they didn’t ask me to take them off. I don’t think I could have mentally handled that.

I sat at a table and put my head on my hands, moaning. I was nauseated from depletion and needed to eat. The proprietor lady in the lodge asked me if I wanted anything. I asked for tea and oatmeal. Everything felt overwhelming and confusing. I looked around like there was something I should be doing. The thought of sitting here waiting for food seemed crazy, so I closed my eyes and laid my head on the table to take advantage of the time.

Everything felt so hard. My brain was mired in marshmallow goo. I knew I needed to pay. Digging through the pockets of my pack yielded no money. What the heck. This cannot be happening. I’ll be trapped here forever. They won’t let me go if I can’t pay. It was a vortex, a vacuum, a nightmare. On and on I sat, immobilized by my inability to comprehend a solution to this conundrum.

A table over, LA Model’s film crew was hanging out. I remember them asking if I was okay and maybe if I needed anything. I’m sure I looked horrible. At one point I had dragged the garbage can over so I could vomit if necessary and was leaning over it moaning. I asked if there was a bathroom, scared they were going to send me outside to an outhouse. I don’t know why I didn’t think there would be a restroom in the building, but it took me forever to ask because I didn’t want to go outside yet. I used the bathroom and felt a little better.

The clock on the wall was like Poe’s Tell-Tale heart. I looked up at the taunting clock a lot, but I couldn’t move. I felt pressure to leave, to keep moving, to depart from the warmth and light into the cold and darkness. I picked at my oatmeal, willing 5 oats at a time in my mouth. Like the clock, the milk and sugar taunted me, pressuring me to use them. It was so confusing. I didn’t know if it would taste good or not, so I just ate the oatmeal plain and dry. One bite. One bite. One bite.

I had fainted in the last three 100 milers I had run, all of these episodes corresponding to violent vomiting. This was the last thing I wanted to happen. It was not safe to pass out in front of these strangers, these people who don’t know me. They’ll pull me from the race if I pass out. My only goal was to navigate this nausea and depletion without vomiting and move safely on my way. I was certain if I could make it through the night, I would finish just fine. There’s something about the rising of the sun and dawn of a new day that fabricates a fresh start, even 24 hours out.

LA Model had shown up, looking good. Of course he looked good. He’s an LA Model. He and his crew and the two long haired racer dudes (one was named Marty) were discussing his sled and how he would fix it. I zoned in and out of conscious presence, overwhelmed by this conversation. Long haired runner dudes finally departed;  I was still being tortured by the beating of the clock.

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The inside of Eagle Quest Lodge. Photo: Rachael.

Lourdes and Kim arrived. In my delirium, I had convinced myself they had passed me somewhere on the trail, or maybe simply bypassed me while I was glued to this lacquered oak chair seat. Maybe they were doing so awesome they didn’t need to stop here and had just signed their names and kept going. I was convinced something like this had happened. Anyway, they did arrive, and Lourdes sat down by me, preparing her freeze dried meal with hot water.

A conversation ensued between Lourdes and Hollywood about reality TV shows, one called Seekers and one called [something else I can’t remember], the one that LA Model Ryan was in, on the Discovery Channel Online. I felt like I was in hell, if hell was decorated in “90’s country & oak” decor. Lourdes seemed fresh as a daisy, eating like a horse and being all coherent and stuff. (Turns out, that meal haunted her for the next 8 hours.)

At one point when I was feeling particularly nauseated and groaning loudly, Hollywood suggested some saltines and 7Up. I was like I don’t have any money. I didn’t know what to do. Lourdes told the server to bring me whatever I wanted. I said I would try to eat it and thanked her. Referring to Lourdes’ brother as Lourdes’ Brother, I asked him if he could also spot me some money for the oatmeal. They said OF COURSE THEY WOULD. I kept saying that I needed to leave. Now the clock said 4:10AM. Lourdes told me to just sit there and get myself feeling better. I ate the saltines one at a time and washed them down with Sprite. I started feeling better. Finally, about 4:30AM, I arose, carrying the remaining few saltines and the ¼ bowl of oatmeal I had left. I vowed to eat it while I was walking. And just like that, I walked outside.

Eagle Quest (Mile 63) to Cow Camp (Mile 79)

Arriving back at my sled waiting for me outside, my game plan was to quickly overdress and get moving STAT so that I didn’t start freezing in the dramatic temperature drop from the inside to the outside. I pulled on running pants over my tights and zipped a second puffy coat over my thigh-length blue down puffy. I yanked on a fleece and wool ear flap hat and my down mittens. At 4:30AM, this was bound to be the coldest part of the race. Even then, I don’t ever remember suffering from the cold.

The next hours until daylight were more of the surreal—darkness punctured by a circle of light, tremendous sleepiness, the smell of moose. I rotated between walking, fast walking, and ultra shuffling  (i.e. running), depending on how sleepy I was. I allowed myself only one instance of shut eye, face down on top of my sled, just for a minute or two. Otherwise, I was moving. Need to keep moving. Must move. Forward progress. These thoughts ate at my muddled mind.

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Dawn of day 2. Mmmhmm.

The sky turned black to grey about 8AM, and I had made it through the night. I emerged from a very long section of undulating road through pine trees into a beautiful vast white expanse and came to an intersection way out in the middle of this plain. The lath (long wooden trail markers) had been utterly clear to this point, but suddenly I was confused. Crossed lath meant “wrong way.” I reached a crossed lath, but I could see no where else to go. Hesitantly, I went forward, but only for about 100 yards because it just didn’t feel right. I towed my sled in a U-turn to re-trace my steps back to the intersection. I looked in all directions but could only see the way from which I thought I came and the wrong way. By this time, daylight was stronger than darkness, and I turned off my headlamp. A light appeared from across the plain, way over by the trees. Confused, I thought it was a snowmobile…or maybe a train. How did a train get out here?? I didn’t see any tracks. I imagined an engine sound. Because I didn’t know where to go, I waited for the light. I thought I could ask the driver for directions.

But then, the shape of a person’s body materialized in the dim light. It was a runner with a sled and a headlamp. What the?? Why was he coming from that direction? Didn’t I come from over that other way?? I honestly don’t remember how the next few minutes went, but the runner arrived, and it was clearly no issue for him to see the way, so I followed him. There was a lath there. How had I missed it? Was it the way I had thought I came from but really didn’t? I’ll never know. Regardless, I was back on the rails and moving well into the sunrise.

The morning was stunning. Photo: Rachael.
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Cow Camp is for Lovers. :)

On and on I went, listening to my iPod continuously until I entered some trees and narrower trail again and started to think I might be getting close to Cow Camp. It’s hard when you don’t know a course and have no idea what lies ahead. You imagine things that are all wrong. I was sure the aid station would be at the base of a spine of hills along the river. It wasn’t. We had to cross these hills to get to the open lake and the aid station on the other side. Hill after hill, I pulled my sled up after me. I was actually enjoying this section. The terrain was interesting and unspeakably beautiful. I emerged onto a frozen lake and saw a wall tent across the end of the lake in the distance. My pace quickened as I arrived, extremely happy with my time of arrival, about 10:30AM.

Today was Valentine’s Day, and Cow Camp’s theme was LOVE. 🙂 They were fun people, and the vibe was fun. I went in the tent to peruse the food, eating the top off an apple cinnamon streusel muffin and asking for hot Tang in my smaller Hydroflask mug. I took the Tang and a whole can of Coke for the road and left after less than 10 minutes. I was feeling really great about my progress, heavily aided by good weather and trail conditions.

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Cow Camp aid station. These were a few of the people just ahead of me.

Cow Camp (Mile 79) to Hunter Tent (Mile 90)

We left Cow Camp straight across the long way down the frozen lake, which was also a bush plane landing strip. We were instructed to not run on the landing strip. Okay. Shawn McTaggart had arrived at Cow Camp a little before or behind me, I can’t remember which, and she departed Cow Camp just behind me. I expected her to pass me quickly as we crossed the lake. But mysteriously she didn’t pass me, and I kept pushing forward as the trail departed the lake and started more than undulating through the toughest part of the course. The trail turned sharply up then sharply down then sharply up…and so on. My legs and hips and back were so tired that I pulled my sled up every hill with my arms to take the weight off my lower body. The downhills were no reprieve, because if I didn’t also hold the sled behind me firmly by the poles, it would swing around me and take me down with it.

My energy output was tremendous, and the can of Coke from Cow Camp wasn’t fueling me sufficiently. My mind started to let me down. I started to get emotional. For miles I hauled my sled up the hills and held it back down the hills, crying. Despite my exhaustion and lack of calories, the underlying emotion was that of being proud of myself. I was truly happy, in a devastated sort of way.  

See me being emotional here.

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Powerline trail right before Hunter Tent. Photo: Rachael.

FINALLY, we emerged from the trees into a river bottom and then up onto a long straight trail along a powerline. I recognized this stretch from studying the map. I thought it would be a pretty quick section. Of course it wasn’t.

Approximately a half mile before Hunter Tent, Shawn came out of nowhere and passed me, looking chipper and moving fast. Normally getting passed is a blow, but not by Shawn McTaggart, and not now. Having her in front of me gave me something to focus on. I could see when she made the right hand turn off the power line trail, which was extremely encouraging, and I just kept my eyes on her until the magical wall tent of happiness appeared in view.

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The amazing Shawn McTaggart pulling into Cow Camp.

At the sight of Hunter Tent, I composed myself, having enough self respect that I would not arrive at the aid station like a weeping crazed lunatic. I could manage to at least leave that stuff to the lonely sections in solitude.

I had realized I had a signal on my phone through this section and was talking with John as I arrived at the Hunter Tent. Race Director Kim Kittridge was there and gave me a hard time for saying “love you” as I arrived and signed off. I guess it was a little weird at Mile 90. I hem hawed about wanting soup—wanting it, but not wanting to wait. They didn’t have any Ramen cooked and had just started boiling water. By the time I had perused the aid station fare, filled a bottle with water, and emptied the trash out of my sled, I did not want to wait for the water which still had not boiled yet. I apologized for having them start something I was not going to take but said I just needed to go. I had been there five minutes tops. I can’t even remember what I snagged to eat. I did take a can of Coke for the road. Only 10 miles to go, and I thought I could phone it in. Of course I couldn’t.

Hunter Tent to the Finish (Mile 100)

Shawn and I left Hunter Tent together, for a moment until she couldn’t find her sunglasses. I was looking at her and didn’t even see the glasses sitting on top of her head. She walked back to the aid station where someone more coherent pointed them out. I had moved on, but she caught up and passed me like it was no thing. Before she left me I asked where she had been after Cow Camp. She replied that she had laid down on her sled and slept for a while. Geesh. I can’t conceive of employing that strategy, but it sure was working for her. The “beast mode” in me told me to try and keep up with her as long as I could, which turned out to not be long. I gave it a shot, but Shawn was moving, breaking out a strong run. She finished that last section 45 minutes faster than I did.

I had a run, but it was soft. Tree to tree, I would run. Tree to tree, walk. Tree to tree, run. Over and over. Keep running. Don’t lose your run, I told myself. It was about 5 miles from Hunter Tent on a snowmobile trail to the road and then about another five after turning off the road onto the ‘lollipop stick’ we had traveled over 30 hours before.

PART IV.II: SUSITNA 100 2016, START TO HALF

Start to Mile 21 – Point MacKenzie

20160213_092047It was beautiful day as the sun rose to greet and warm us. The first 5 miles melted away on icy, firm snow conditions. I tried to lock that section in my mind because it was the “stick” of the lollipop that we’d complete at mile 95-100 tomorrow.

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Rachael and Mike.

At the intersection 5 miles out, Rachael and I found ourselves with Mike, the only person in the foot division of the race packing his gear in a backpack instead of sledding it. I was impressed. He’s a 51-year-old, 30-year Navy veteran, stationed in South Korea but retiring soon out of the Navy to Anchorage. Susitna was his first foray into retirement, Alaskan style.

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Not far from the start.

Mike checked his watch and confirmed we had averaged 12-13 minutes per mile so far, which was awesome — much faster than expected. He wanted to average 4 miles per hour (15 min/mile) overall. I knew that there was no way in hell averaging that pace would be possible for anyone our place in the pack, but I told him it sounded like a good goal. Although we started out quicker, I was going to be happy to maintain a 25 minute per mile average. Mike is just one of those people you know is tough on first meeting, and I didn’t figure he would have any trouble finishing, even if it wasn’t as fast as he thought.

20160213_153441The next miles flew by. Rachael and I had planned to run together for the first 21 miles. It’s tough to stick with someone, even early on, in races this long because of the constant ebb and flow of individual pace. It’s really best to run your own race. Additionally, running in pairs was difficult with the sleds scraping loudly behind us. You couldn’t hear each other talking unless you were running two abreast, which was difficult on the parts of the course where there was a single best lane of travel.

rachael8We focused on moving consistently because the first checkpoint at Mile 21 had a 2PM (7 hour) cutoff. According to all the race reports we had read, this was a tight cutoff. Most of this time, I lagged behind Rachael and just focused on keeping up.

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Moguled trail.

The trail alternated between long open stretches and rolling hills through trees. I wish I could comment on the topography and geographic landmarks, but honestly I have no idea where we were most of the time and especially at night would not have known if we were on a river or a swamp or a lake or just some tundra or what. I remember it all as either “flat vast expanse” or “hilly trail through trees.”

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Hollywood on the left.

At one point, we caught up to a group of snowmachines and riders parked on the trail. I stopped for a selfie and one of them said it was his first time on a snowmachine — he was from Los Angeles. They told us they were the film crew for “LA Model” aka Ryan Young, who was being filmed for a Discovery Channel show. I nicknamed the crew member “Hollywood.” I saw them several more times throughout the race.

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Immediately before the start, I had pulled on my original, lighter pair of overshoes that I had torn up on my last training run. I thought they’d stay intact and would not be as hot for the daytime as my heavier neoprene pair. This was a mistake, because the torn edges kept creeping up the sides of my shoes, collecting snow, which made my shoes wet. Rachael’s shoes were also wet from stepping off the trail in the first miles. Because we had no idea what the temps would be or how epic it would get “out there,” wet shoes felt dangerous. I was wearing thick wool socks, which I knew would retain warmth when wet but maybe not if temps dropped dramatically or if I could not keep moving. I quelled my negativity about this and focused on moving and monitoring.

20160213_114730Around noon, I felt myself starting to sweat. I wanted to avoid this, so I stripped off my long sleeve shirt and ran in my tank top for a while. My morale was super good at this point, and I started picking up the pace — I’m just not a fast starter. After maybe an hour in the tank top, we got into some shady trees. I made the call to stop, pull on my long sleeve shirt, and change my overshoes, something I should have done immediately when I saw a problem but didn’t because we were in a hurry.

Susitna 100 2016 – Summery from Emily Berriochoa on Vimeo.

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We got our first taste of the rolling hills maybe halfway to the first checkpoint. They didn’t feel like too much of a thing at that point, but we had no idea what was to come either. Good thing. I witnessed a couple people without rigid connections from their waist belt to the sled really struggling on the downhill sections. Controlling the sled behind with PVC or some type of rigid pole is essential to avoid getting creamed by your sled passing you and then dragging you down the hill with it.

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Sunrise.

Rachael seemed to be having some issues working out her sled system on these rolling hills and I pulled ahead a bit. By this point with my feet warm and hopefully drying out, I was feeling motivated and physically good and wanted to use it or lose it.

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Rachael coming onto the river by the boat ramp.

We rolled through the trees on a double track trail, which was one of my favorite sections of the race, emerging to cross a river, navigate through a boat launch recreation area, and start up car road that would take us a few miles out to the first checkpoint. The sun was brilliant and I was moving in a good run-walk cadence. The footing on the road was softer and a bit punchy, as it was not groomed by snowmachines as well as the rest of the course. I passed two trucks that had given up trying to dig out of the soft snow on the edges.

I kept looking back, hoping to see Rachael coming soon. She never appeared. We had separated enough by this time that I had no choice but to press forward. I felt bad, but we had not agreed to stick together for the entire race for this reason; it just happened a little sooner than we planned.

On this road, only a mile or two before the checkpoint, I caught back up to Navy Mike. We had leapfrogged for the first 20 miles, but he had been ahead of us for a while. He seemed to be in tempered good spirits, and we chatted for a second, but I wanted to run. Bidding Mike a good day was the last time I saw him until the post-race party Monday night.

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Karen and Lourdes, shortly before the first checkpoint.

On the open road, I had seen Lourdes and Karen, two girls from Calgary, ages 48 and 50, up ahead. Leaving Mike, I chased them down, stoked because I figured they would be years ahead of me. We compared notes, but I fell back when they were pushing the pace more than I wanted to. I kept contact, though, and we arrived at the aid station close to the same time.

I hit Pt. MacKenzie about 2:50PM, an hour and 10 minutes before the cutoff. This was thrilling, a good start. After the previous couple miles of punchy snow road, I hoped there would not be much more of that sort of snow. An extremely helpful lady at the aid station filled one of my Hydroflask water bottles for me, while I grabbed a can of Coke and a couple of chocolate covered espresso beans and then departed quickly. With thirteen miles to the next aid station, I left one of the 32 oz. bottles mostly empty.

Pt MacKenzie (Mile 21) to Flathorn (Mile 34)

Shortly after the checkpoint, I passed some dog teams getting ready to run. There was a big crowd and kennel trucks, and the dogs were yapping and barking like crazy, raring to run. Soon after I ran by them, two of the teams passed me. This was fun. A very Alaskan touch.

Susitna 100 2016 Dog Sled Team from Emily Berriochoa on Vimeo.

The section to Flathorn Lake seemed uneventful and I don’t remember many details. I passed a girl who was sitting on her sled changing shoes or socks. My mood was good, and I felt like I was executing well so far. I plugged in my iPod and let myself just pass the time with my favorite friend, music. 

One piece of equipment I carried my running pack was a Delorme Inreach GPS tracking device. It allowed “fans” to keep track of my progress on their computers. We could also exchange text messages, so keeping up with messages kept me occupied some of the time. The well-timed notes of encouragement from friends was invaluable to my morale throughout the whole race.

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Navy Mike out for a long hike, before sunrise, sometime after 9AM, Saturday.

Rachael and I had each bought a pizza in Anchorage the day before the race and wrapped it in foil to eat on the run. I suspected from prior experience with my stomach that I would not be able to eat the very garlicky cheese pizza later in the run, so I “ate early and often,” finishing all but one piece of pizza before arriving at Flathorn. I also worked on eating the energy bars I had made.

Frequently, I would pause, turn around and reach into the front of my sled, grab my bottle, start walking again, drink heartily, and toss the bottle back into the sled without stopping again. It was a good system, and I think I stayed better hydrated doing this than I do in normal races using a water bladder in my pack.

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Late afternoon Saturday.

Every so often, snowmachines would pass, and one of them stopped ahead of me. The race photographer jumped off and snapped a couple of pictures. When I got to him, he pointed behind me. Look at the view in the background of that picture. High pink and blue and white mountains rose behind us. I can’t wait to see those photos. I hesitated to ask him how far it was until the checkpoint — perceptions are so different flying around on snomachines than they are on foot — but I did it anyway. He pointed to the low hill in out front of us and said we did not go beyond that, instead turn right and skirt around the base. That hill easily could have been three miles away, but at least I had a landmark to reference. I think he said the checkpoint was 5 to 7 miles, or 1.5 to 2 hours, tops.

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Just before Flathorn. Light starting to dim.

My energy was good when I arrived at Flathorn just after the sun had set about 6:10PM. I figured I would arrive there between 7PM at BEST and more likely near the cutoff at 9PM. Arriving before dark was so exciting.

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Following the flamingos and tiki torches to Flathorn checkpoint.

To reach the checkpoint, we skirted around on top of the frozen lake edge and “docked” our sleds like little boats at the base of the embankment that went from the ice up to the houses. We were allowed to leave our sleds at the bottom, so I quickly gathered my water bottles and hiked up the stairs without my sled up to the aid station. After a quick in and out first checkpoint, I was motivated to keep this quick turnaround trend going. I felt very calculated and strong at Flathorn.

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Inside Flathorn aid station. Photo: Rachael.
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Flathorn.


This was one of the best aid stations ever. The approach was lined with pink flamingos and tropical accoutrements. Entering the little red house was like entering a level of Alaskan backwoods heaven. It was cozy and warm and rustic, and the people in there were tremendously friendly and helpful. Three or four other racers were sitting in the checkpoint. I didn’t engage with any of them, staying focused and avoiding distraction.

20160213_181111I asked for hot water in one bottle and regular water in the other bottle. One girl asked if I wanted meat or vegetarian spaghetti. I asked for veggie to play it safe. It tasted so good. I wolfed it down while waiting for my water, and then I departed. I should have eaten another bowl of spaghetti.

Earlier in the day, my plan had been to change into a fresh, dry shirt at mile 34, so back at the sled, I forced myself to do this. I was in a hurry but also determined to execute this race like I knew I could. A few minutes preparing for the night would save me time and problems later. I stripped back down to my tank top and pulled on a merino wool half zip and my new long puffy down coat. I stashed my sunglasses in my pack pocket and put on my headlamp. I pulled on my light mittens over my liner gloves. This level of layering was perfect as the sun went down.

“In an out” of this aid station was 20 minutes because of the long walk in and out, so I was super happy to depart about 6:30PM. Right as I was leaving, Lourdes and Karen arrived looking great. They told me later that Rachael arrived to Flathorn right as they were leaving.

Flathorn (Mile 34) to 5 Star Tent (Mile 52)

Soon after Flathorn I passed Dayton, a skier. He was re-waxing his skis after some previous icy sections had put the hurt on his wax. I peeled open my chicken fried rice Mountain House and poured in hot water, resealed it, and let it sit in my sled to rehydrate. I was going to try to get this down before 5 Star, 18 miles away. Staying fueled would be critical going into the long night, and historically I am not good at staying fueled. All food starts to sound bad, which precipitates extreme hunger, which precipitates nausea, and then vomiting, and then…

Anyway, I was trying to eat. I thought of the food in the sled for a while before getting brave enough to crack it open. I pulled my spoon out of my pack and dug in. Hmm, I didn’t remember chunks of egg when I ate this on a training run. Barf. Emily, it doesn’t matter; it probably tastes good. Don’t look at it, just put it in your mouth and chew. I talked myself through bites over and over for a while, probably getting through half of the packet (~400 calories) before tossing it back in my sled.

Dayton and I leapfrogged most of the way to 5 Star and chatted a couple of times until I pulled away for good when he stopped for one of his ‘5 minutes per hour’ breaks. He is a single dad, works full time, and is a full time student at University of Anchorage. He told me he was undertrained, but I commended him for taking on the challenge and encouraged him to push through. I saw him Monday at the post-race party; he did not finish, making it to mile 63 before dropping. During this time I also got passed by Lester, a 63-year-old gentleman from South Carolina. That man could walk like ultra-walking legend Ulli Kamm. He told me he had pulled a 60 pound sled up Denali on a mountaineering expedition, but never anything like this. Well then. Lester and I leapfrogged for a while into the night, and he finished about an hour and a half behind me.

An hour or two after leaving Flathorn, I had popped a few caffiene pills in hopes it would ward off the sleepiness that is almost ubiquitous to overnight racing (go figure, right!?). So far so good, but the night was young.

I have no concept of time or miles through the night, but I believe I was over half-way to 5 Star when Lourdes and Karen caught up to me like I was standing still. I thought I was going pretty fast, but they were chatting and moving, making it look easy. I was determined to hang on to them and not let them out of my sight. Just keep the gas on, I told myself over and over. This is beast mode. You are steel. No one’s seen anything from you yet. Usually, I am afraid to push hard in races because I can’t recover from the effort, but I forced myself to believe in myself and my body and keep working hard.

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5 Star Tent checkpoint. Photo: Rachael.

I arrived at 5 Star Tent, mile 52, just behind Lourdes and Karen at midnight. This was one of those very rare instances where the checkpoint appeared before expected, a glowing canvas wall tent in the middle of nowhere we were sure was a mirage until it became tangible. I was elated at how fast I had completed the first half – about 15 hours. I was doing really good with quick aid stations and didn’t want to change that so I asked for soup in a cup, filled a water bottle and got out of there, drinking the noodle and hamburger soup as I walked out. Lourdes and Karen were still there preparing their food when I left, aiming for the next aid station, 11 miles away, in 3 hours or less.

But the hardest part of the night — that early morning witching hour — was yet to come.

PART IV.I: SUSITNA 100 2016, PRE-RACE

My son D says to me, She’s a beast…I call her Mama. This is my beast story. The main event for this particular tale just happens to be a race called the Susitna 100: A Winter Race in Remote Frozen Alaska. After a weekend like this, it’s hard to know where to start, so obviously, begin with gratitude.

Thank You

To the following people, thank you so very much for your advice, expertise, thoughtfulness, listening ears, encouragement, and borrowed gear: John Berriochoa, Dwight Schuh, Dennis Ahern, Tony Huff, Paul Lind, Doc Lind, Dennis Aslett, Rob Anderson, Lynette McDougal, Amy King, Dieter Berriochoa, John Odle, Kim Neill, Shawn McTaggart, and of course Rachael Bazzett. You people share my success.

The race committee organized an outstanding event. As with any longstanding event with a big local constituency, the Su 100’s family feel and camaraderie were strongly evident both at the briefing where people reunited with other annual offenders and at the post race party where three new 10-time finishers were recognized, stories were told, and the Race Directors knew 70% of the field by name. The volunteers were world class. I don’t think I’ve ever received better service at aid stations.

As this was a brand new genre of event for me, everything felt confusing, so pre-race I was not sure if the race was disorganized or I simply didn’t understand the “local culture.” Today, I’ll pick the latter. I really, really want to go back. It only took me about 24 hours post-race to decide that!

Disclaimer

I know nothing special. Most racers knew a ton more than I do about outdoors survival, winter ultras, and sled running. But I know what I know, so that’s what I’ll share. If anything, it will help you understand what not to do if you attempt something similar.

20151230_101519My training felt like ultra meets outdoors survival, although that description feels melodramatic considering the temperate weather and lack of survival skills required during the race itself, making for many fast times and a couple of course records. My training was conducted in far more difficult conditions than the race, so Su ended up being far less epic but far more wonderful than anticipated.

Thursday 2/11: Briefing and Gear Check

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John dropped me off at the Boise airport.

On Thursday, February 11, 2016, after a slightly delayed flight out of Seattle (and a slightly not so slight freakout about that), I landed in Anchorage, claimed my 65 lb. bag (hallelujah!!) from the oversize baggage claim (the bag contained my sled, both 4-foot poles, and all my race gear), claimed my rental car, drove downtown, and picked up Rachael at the hotel.

Taking advantage of a no-risk animal sighting in the ANC airport.
Taking advantage of a no-risk animal sighting in the ANC airport.
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My luggage. (L-R) Carry-on backpack and purse bag, 65 lb. checked bag containing the sled, gear bag which I packed inside the bigger bag.

After a brief moment of total girly reunion giddiness, we drove a couple blocks from the hotel to a church for the mandatory gear check and briefing. If we had missed the gear check Thursday night, we would have had to wait until AFTER the race started Saturday morning to get our gear checked before we could start. A late start to a race I wasn’t even sure I could finish to begin with was NOT acceptable, so making my flights on time and arriving at the briefing right at 6PM with my sled and luggage intact felt like the first win of the trip.

20160211_185057Rachael and I had woken up Thursday morning in different cities and without talking, dressed in jeans with matching Pickled Feet Ultra Running shirts and IMTUF 100 belt buckles. Rachael asked if she should change clothes before the briefing, but I said let’s just go for it.

Thus, after nearly getting stuck a couple of times navigating our giant bags through the various doors, we entered a church event hall filled with the most outdoorsy, hardcore people you’ve ever seen in one collection feeling like sorority girls, all wide-eyed and twinsy. Understatement: I felt outclassed and out of place.

Snaking through the long gear check line, we chatted with other racers. The big question was always: bike, ski, or run? Most people in the room were going to bike the 100 miles, but we tracked down a few foot racers, including running legend Pam Reed (I was not sure it was her at the time because she had not been on the registered list) and Shawn McTaggart.

I was in awe of Shawn, knowing she had done some serious hardcore winter races, including the 1000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) footrace two times. She just finished the 350 mile ITI again (March 6, 2016). Incredible. Rachael and I are incredibly grateful to her for feeding us intel and advice in the weeks and months leading up to the race.

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We finally arrived at the gear check tables, where volunteers meticulously checked off our gear — including a complete unfurling of my giant down sleeping bag to verify the “-20F” printed on the very bottom — and weighed our bags. I thought the weigh-in at this juncture was irrelevant because we would ultimately pack our sleds differently for the race, but my bag weighed 26 pounds. This did not include water, extra clothing, some of my food, or the sled itself.  

The race requires the following gear:

  • Sleeping bag rated to -20F
  • Closed cell foam sleeping pad-minimum size = 3/8″ x 20″ x 48″
  • Bivy sack or tent (NO space blankets)
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Rear flashing light to be used after sunset
  • Two-quart (64 oz) insulated water container
  • 1-day of food (3000 calories) may be consumed after the last checkpoint
  • 15 lbs of gear at ALL times-including the finish line

For a complete list of additional “recommended” gear and a discussion about what I actually carried, check out Part V of this blog (not posted as of 3/12/16).

After the gear check, we picked our race numbers and settled in for the briefing. Race Director Kim Kittredge gave both an enlightening and concerning presentation, complete with slides like this:

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Weather conditions (choose any two): Ice, mixed rain and snow, 40F to -30F, ground blizzard, breakup, whiteout, fog, dirt patches.
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Evacuations: If you drop out of the race, notify a race official at a checkpoint. You will not be charged a fee if you get back to the finish line under your own power. If you are evacuated, you will be charged.

Much of the course information might have made sense to locals, but we could only hope that the course was marked adequately and that we wouldn’t encounter any overflow, a dangerous situation where water exceeds the ice covering it. We noted to stay off bush airplane landing strips and watch out for snowmachines (snowmobiles).

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Sign on the hotel.

After the briefing, we left my luggage at the hotel and headed downtown to find some vegan Thai food for dinner (drunken noodle with fried tofu and coconut curry with potatoes!), and then went to bed soon after as this was a crucial night for sleep. No partying until after the race!

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Those bell carts are not as nimble as you’d think they might be.

Friday 2/12: Pre-Race Prep Day

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Fresh pre-race feet.
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Dehydrating ourselves the day before the race. :\

Friday was our free day to run last minute errands and find the race start, so naturally we started by spending some time in the hotel hot tub.

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Birthday cupcake!

Next, we loaded my economy size rental car to the brim with all our gear and then found a fantastic coffee shop for lunch, where Rachael bought herself a birthday cupcake to eat on her birthday, 2/14. She toted that cupcake for 100 miles but had to defer the eating of it to Monday after the race because it never sounded good to eat during.

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Shoppy Shoppersons. Anchorage holds awesome used outdoor finds!!
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Fur bikini, anyone? Only in Alaska.

Next, we hit an outdoors consignment store, where I picked up Black Diamond liner gloves and a Patagonia long down coat, both of which I ended up using a lot during the race. Totally good purchases. After spending WAY too much time shopping, we picked up a gourmet artisan pizza each to eat during the race, hit up Walmart for foil to wrap the pizza in, and finally headed out of town about 3PM. I was drooling over the mountains on the drive to Wasilla.

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The mountains driving northeast of Anchorage.

happytrailsThe race was headquartered at 4-time Iditarod winner Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake, 30-45 minutes past Wasilla, so like many out of town runners, we had booked a hotel in Wasilla for Friday night. Before checking in, we continued on to Big Lake to ensure we could arrive at the race start without getting lost.

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Rachael putting feet on the course the night before the race. Foreground: wooden lath used to mark the race throughout.

Rachael navigated us perfectly using GPS on her phone, and we could finally put our feet on the terrain of the race. It felt good to be standing on the course. We would feel REALLY good once the gun went off.

The unknown hung like a nervous pall on our psyches.

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Friday night dinner was pad Thai vegan noodle packets in the hotel room while we loaded our sleds. I had put so much effort into every decision before the race, I didn’t agonize too much over anything at this point, but I did consider every piece going into the bag. The night before, I had already made the decision to not take my stove/alcohol based on the “mild” conditions. We wrapped our pizzas in foil, considered the prudent extra clothing to pack considering the “warm” temps and lack of precip in the forecast, and taped up our feet to prevent blisters (an amazing system that truly works – see my blog here for details).

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Our sleds, packed and ready.

About 9:30PM, we turned out the lights, anxious about the 6:30AM alarm. I slept pretty good until about 3:30AM and then on and off after that. My stomach was turning and upset. You can’t complain about 6 hours of good sleep the night before a race.

The Start

I had planned to eat another high calorie noodle packet for breakfast, but after the havoc the previous night’s spicy noodles had wreaked on my stomach, I accepted Rachael’s offer of oatmeal, packed with nuts and dried fruit. We each ate two bowls of this. Downing more calories might have been prudent, but simply choking this much oatmeal into my nervous stomach felt like another win.

About 7:15AM, we left the hotel, hoping to arrive to the race start by 8AM.

Of course, we missed a turn to Happy Trails Kennel and had to find our way around the icy back roads. This did not create the most stress-free start, especially because the racer parking was located past the start line about a quarter mile.

Signing in to the race.
Signing in to the race.

Because we were running late, we decided to walk back up to the kennel to sign in before the 8:45AM check in cutoff and then walk back down to the car, unload/organize our gear and sleds, and finally walk back up to the start with the sleds. This was literally Rachael’s first time pulling her race-ready sled setup.

Back at the car after signing in, I talked myself through each move, willing my hands to stop shaking and all decisions to be calculated. I had prepared too well to bypass details due to 11th hour pressure. A last minute phone conversation with my friend Paul set the tone, putting me in the frame of mind to give everything in me to this effort. Our sleds felt heavy enough as we hurried to the start and skirted  the ~120 other racers to a clear spot in the back corner. By the time I jerked on my cycling overshoes and microspikes (crampon-like traction devices) while sitting on my sled behind the start line, the race director was giving the 2 minute countdown.

To start, I wore fleecy running tights, a merino wool tank top, and a single long sleeve half zip tech shirt. That was it. Basically one layer of clothing. The morning chill wasn’t deep enough to necessitate my fleece running jacket. Given the clear, sunny dawn, I knew we’d warm up the minute we started running. That jacket stayed in the sled for the entire race.

Start time!!!
Start time!!!

Suddenly — exactly at 9AM — the pack of nervous energy shifted and the bikers zipped into gorgeous Alaskan sunrise. With varying degrees of urgency, the rest of the racers followed behind. For weeks Rachael and I had been telling each other that once the gun went off, we’d feel okay, and we were right. Following four months of agonizing, “keep going” was now the only requirement, and that’s the easy part. Anyone can take one step at a time.

The reality finally eclipsed the unknown.

Susitna 100, Part III: Good, Bad, Ugly, Surreal and FAQs

I jotted this “good, bad, ugly, surreal” list on the airplane out of Anchorage, pretty much the only thing I could do before my eyes wouldn’t stay open any more. The FAQ’s are the things people have asked me most since the race. It’s just a little teaser before I polish up the main race story.

Good

cycling overshoes & microspikes
rigid PVC pipe connection between me and the sled
chocolate covered espresso beans
good mantras
iPod with extra charger
self sufficiency
Alaska
dog sled teams
ice
birthday weekend
independent warrior woman
facing the unknown
stepping outta the comfort zone
sleeveless winter running in AK
sunrise on the snowy landscape
not puking
staying vertical
Coke
Alaskans
Huma gel
pre-taped feet
ultra people/new friends
hemoglobin
down mittens
small hydroflask with Hot Tang or Coke
Anchorage outdoor consignment stores
McDonalds hash browns
Anchorage restaurants
utter depletion – giving it all
supportive family
a wall tent in the middle of nowhere
long-standing community races
hydroflask bottles (vacuum insulated = no freeze)
long down coat
hot water
Delorme Inreach
crazy messages in the middle of nowhere
post race party
completing what you started

Bad

too heavy sled load
soft punchy snow
hills; sled on hills; any combo of sled and hills
GPS directions in Alaska

Ugly

heavy sled
calorie depletion
facing a second night
wool sock rash
dog poop on the trail
videos of myself after mile 80
being overtaken by one’s sled

Surreal

ordering food at 3:30AM, 63 miles down
seriously discussing reality TV at 4AM
smelling moose at 5AM

“LA Model” (for reference: facebook.com/ryyoungLA)

film crew conducting re-takes of ordering food at 4AM
utter confusion about trail markers at dawn (still confused about that)
headlamp, snowmachine, or train??
the speed of Shawn McTaggart when she’s awake

FAQ

How long was the race? 100 miles
Was it a stage race? Was it a relay? Did you run with anyone? Did you sleep? No
How long did it take you? 33 hours and 25 minutes
You ran all night? Yes, and walked and trudged and somehow generally ambulated in one non-stop effort
Did you see any animals? No. I saw tons of moose droppings and smelled the moose in the night. They were there but I never saw them.
Was the race in the mountains? No
It was flat, right? It was flat, except for the miles of parts that weren’t
Why did you pull a sled? The race required a minimum 15# of gear at the finish. Carrying my gear in a pack would have been way too hard. Using a sled is the way to go in these races.
What kind of sled did you use? A utility sled, like ice fishers use; most people used plastic kids toboggans
What was in your sled? I’ll post an entire discussion on gear in Part V
How much did your sled weigh? I’m not sure because I didn’t take a scale. Based on prior weighs, I’m guessing 35# with full water.
Was the course marked? Yes, with 3 foot wooden lath marked with reflectors and the race name, placed about a tenth of a mile apart.
What was the weather like? Mostly clear skies, sunny in the day, some overcast, no precipitation.
How cold was it? Not very. I never had to wear more than one lightweight puffy jacket over my long sleeve shirt. The RD says, “Saturday night temps on the river were in the low teens, daytime temps were almost 30 each day.”
What did you wear on your feet? Regular running shoes, covered with neoprene cycling overshoes and Kahtoola Microspikes. I did this for 100 miles and it was a GREAT system for warm feet with good traction, despite remaining nerve damage on the end of my big toe and bruising to the balls of my feet.
How many times did you change shoes? Never. 1 pair of shoes and 1 pair of socks for 100 miles. As usual.
What were the conditions? Mostly icy and firmly packed with just enough punchy and smooshy snow (was like running in sand) to be aggravating
What did you eat? Homemade (nut, seed, nut butter, coconut oil, cereal) bars, 3 cans of Coke, macaroni soup, spaghetti, pizza, rice, Huma gel, muffin, hot tang, black tea, oatmeal, espresso beans, can of Sprite, handful saltine crackers, and maybe a few other random things, but that’s all I can remember. I needed one third of the food on the sled that I carried.
Did you see the northern lights? Unfortunately, no. The myriad stars were a small consolation.
Why did you do this race? Always choose the thing that will push you. Always do the thing you don’t know  you can do. Repeat.
Did you win? Yes 🙂

Susitna 100, Part II: The Training

This is a hard part to write because so many of the pieces I talk about here are still works in progress. I wrote this on the plane high in the air between Seattle and Anchorage, two days before the race, which was February 13-14, 2016.

Sick
Sitting in the Health Center on 9/22/15. So puffy and swollen. You couldn’t see the veins in my hands or feet.

After IMTUF (Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival 100 mile race, September 19-20, 2015), I started retaining so much fluid that I gained 10 pounds within two days after the race. On Tuesday, I went to the health center at work and asked them to check my electrolytes to see what was going on. Without some more data, I was not sure whether to take in more salt or more water or what.

The physician’s assistant called me Wednesday, September 23 and said that my kidney and liver function showed signs of distress, which is totally normal after 100 miler, but because I was also starting to pee again more regularly, and the pounds were dropping back off, I wasn’t worried about hyponatremia or kidney damage anymore.

However, one other interesting thing was revealed on the blood test. My iron levels were severely low. For the iron deficiency anemia, the PA recommended that I start supplementing my iron immediately and wrote me a prescription for 650mg of iron/day.

I was floored by this information. Nothing is ever wrong with me. I am always healthy. It slowly dawned on me that THIS piece of information totally explained why I had not run with energy for two and a half years (I identified my last “good” race as Wild Idaho in 2013).

With the benefit of hindsight, maybe I should have seen this coming. Maybe it should have been a clue to me when I was too low in iron to donate blood two times over the last year. All the symptoms were there. However, when it was happening, it was easy to convince myself I was just being a hypochondriac. Nothing was wrong with me…I just needed to try harder. And people don’t take you seriously when you say something is wrong yet continue dusting up the trails and pounding the pavement.

With the anemia diagnosis, I comforted myself in knowing that nothing I could have done would have made me better. I could not have muscled through this one. Had it not been for the thoughtfulness of the PA at my health center, I never would have gotten the critical information that maybe changed my life, not to be hyperbolic.

Suddenly, I had something to hope for, like REAL hope, backed up by data and not just dreams that my general badassery and experience would automatically translate to awesome races as I put more notches in my belt. With the promise of resolving my anemia and finding joy in energetic running again, I decided to postpone my certain retirement following IMTUF and see what would happen after a few months on iron.

CTThe week after IMTUF, I traveled to Italy for work, barely enough time for the swelling in my feet to subside, so I ended up not running for two weeks following IMTUF. On October 6, we flew back to Boise, and I ran, jet lagged and all, for a couple miles up to the grocery store and back. Even more than my resurgence in June, I was motivated to persevere and keep running.

At the same time, other things in my personal life were at rock bottom, unresolved…even lower than back in May/June. The horrible state of my body, having just completed a 100 mile run, and returning from international travel left me once again angry, depressed, exhausted, and filled with personal angst.

Running had given me a lifeline to get through the previous four months of this personal turmoil, but nothing was resolved. My perspective on life was totally distorted. My eating habits had declined  to horrible and I was sleeping 4-6 hours a night and surviving on a hardcore intake of coffee and 4-8 espresso shots per day. The only glimmer of hope is that maybe I could run if I just stuck it out.

Early in October 2015, my friend Rachael who is living temporarily on Prince of Wales, Alaska, asked if I wanted to come run the Little Su 50K with her on February 13th outside of Wasilla, Alaska. A break from life and a fun trip to AK sounded like just the thing I needed, so I said sure!! I was hopeful that I would feel stronger by then in order to meet the 12 hour cutoff in the 50K race. We planned a 6 day, fun-filled Alaskan girls getaway, and I signed up for the 50k just as soon as it opened.

Following September 23, I had a very firm plan in my mind to keep running no matter what. I knew it would feel like it always did – tired and heavy. But now I (thought) I knew why, and I had something to look forward to – the hope that one day I would have runs that felt good and faster. I continued my 12 minute per mile runs around my house. That’s all I could do. I had no faster gear. If I was running, that was the pace. I could not drop it down to 10 minute miles or faster for more than a minute or two at a time. But I had this clear vision in my mind that I could stick it out until I felt better and that way not lose my fitness in the meantime.

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Jet lagged and strung out on espresso.

Through October, I started paying attention to the food I was eating in order to boost iron absorption. I increased my citrus (Vitamin C) and cut back on dairy (food containing calcium). I knew after returning from Italy strung out of my mind on espresso that pruning my rigorous latte regimen was next on the list. I wanted to find my functional baseline. By October 19, I had weaned down to zero cups of coffee per day and started drinking tea like a chain smoker consumes cigarettes. I’m still doing that to this day.

October 19 was also the day I started seeing a therapist to help me work out the personal issues that were reaching critical mass. I could not be healthy unless I dealt with the stress and anger in addition to the physical issues.

With all these things on a generally positive trend as a backdrop, Rachael messaged me one day in early November and said she had not registered for the Little Su 50K before it filled. I was registered, and she was not. The race is very rigid about making exceptions to the rules, so there was no way for her to enter. She immediately was wondering if she should run the corresponding 100 miler, which I had been vehemently against because I wanted to give my body the time to rest and recover and get my iron up. I was sure I would not be strong enough by February to attempt 100 again so soon.

It took me a couple of hours before messaging Rachael that both of us entering the 100 miler was ‘obviously the only option.’ I’m in. We were both terrified at the prospect – it seemed big and scary and unknown – but the decision was made. We signed up.

Meanwhile, I kept running. It was all the same. Breathless on any incline. Breathless on the stairs at work. Breathless and weak climbing Cervidae Peak every Tuesday morning before work. Lightheaded and dizzy. But, sometime in November, those symptoms started to subside, and on November 24 I logged “I think I just had a good run.”  My boss at work commented that I was not nearly as faint as I used to be. You know, you’re right!  Another good run logged on November 30…and from there the energetic runs outnumbered the dead runs. I was cautiously optimistic.

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Me and my good friend Puffy.
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Bars and bars and bars. Nut butter, coconut oil, nuts, rice krispies, sesame seeds, cheerios, maple syrup, honey, agave…high calorie food for the Alaskan tundra.

Through December I put together my sled setup and began compiling my gear. I wrote a training plan and [mostly] followed it. I was not running super high mileage, but I got in very consistent training and felt good doing it. That was the amazing thing – I was actually able to follow the training through without pile driving myself. I bought a -20F down sleeping bag. I tested all sorts of high calorie bar recipes. I put in 35 hours with my sleds. I spent endless hours researching winter gear and methods that would best help me get through up to 48 hours and 100 miles of Alaskan snowmachine highways and trails. I read blogs and race reports and all the information I could get my hands on. I was obsessed with the unknown.

On December 23, I had my blood tested again. My hemoglobin, hematocrit, and ferritin levels all showed massive improvement. My PA said the anemia was resolved. This was exciting. The data supported my improved performance. I am cautiously optimistic that I will continue feeling good and that I don’t have other issues at play. I don’t have blinders on. I know I need to keep taking care of myself, getting good rest, and moving to a place of lessened stress.

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December 30 with Kermit.

On December 30, I pulled my green sled, Kermit, for 11.5 hours on a plowed road outside of Stanley, Idaho. Back and forth three times on a remote mountain road. I tested my cooking skills on the MSR Whisperlite stove with marginal results. It took me too long to boil water. I needed to find another system. By the end of the day, my sled felt exponentially heavier. I thought it was just me, that I was getting tired. When I unloaded my sled that evening, I realized that the bottom was filled with snow. I weighed it. What had started out as a 30 pound sled was now a 50 pound sled. The bottom of the plastic kid’s toboggan had cracked and I was picking up snow for at least several hours. This was not going to work. But I had done it and felt pretty strong at the end despite pulling a REALLY heavy sled. I was ecstatic. 

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Kermit with 20 lbs of snow.
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Kermit 2.0 with skis.

With J’s help, I devised a second sled, one with skis on the bottom for runners. I got the pair of kid’s downhill skis from the storage shed of Greenwood’s Ski Haus. Many thanks to Eric there for the help. I got away by myself for another introvert’s dream rejuvenating training weekend the third week of January to test out Kermit 2.0, the red sled with skis. This time, I had fresh snow, which was challenging. The curve on the skis caused the sled to pull back and forth, which was hard on my hips and lower back. It was not the most confidence boosting exercise. However, I did set up a bivy in the snow and tested out my little tuna and cat food can alcohol stoves that J made for me, which worked just as well as the MSR, although I still couldn’t get a good boil going fast enough. I also tested my cycling overshoes and microspikes together, which was a fantastic system. My feet stayed warm and dry, and the microspikes provided excellent traction even on the soft snow. Kermit 2.0 didn’t feel like a winner, though.

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Snow bivy in Idaho’s mountains.

Through several email exchanges with Dennis Aslett, who has done the Susitna 100, I learned about his sled setup, which involved a heavier duty cargo type sled that might be used by ice fishermen. I picked one up at Sportsman’s Warehouse and rigged up my third sled, which I named in a nod for various reasons to my two friends named Dennis: Blackalicious the Drag Queen. My final sled training exercise was an overnighter outside of Fairfield, Idaho. I left my house about 9PM and arrived in Fairfield about 11PM. I parked, loaded up my gear, and took off running until about 6:30AM. This black sled slid nicely and I decided this was the final iteration. I wasn’t going to fret over it anymore. Training was in the bag; hay in the barn. After I returned home, J made me a “beer can” alcohol burning stove out of an Amp can, and we tested that with very good results and a rolling boil in just over 5 minutes. This would work for the race, although I hope very much to not use it at all.

I can’t control the weather, the snow conditions, or the aid provided, but I can control my preparation and training. About THAT, I have no regrets. I did everything I could to prepare. I am in the best shape of my life. I believe the anemia is resolved. Life isn’t all rosy. I’m still working with my therapist to become a less cynical vibrant-creative-introvert-warrior. No matter what happens in the race this weekend, I believe I have fought for my life, my energy, and my running. This race is just a symbol of that.  

Susitna, I’ll see you Saturday. Bring it on ‘cause I’m bringing my Warrior. IMTUF, I’ll see you in September.

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Susitna 100, Part I: The Context

Some races are so much more than that. For me, the Susitna 100 was one of these races. I certainly didn’t know it a year ago, but the story of the Susitna 100 had already started.

All of the following is written with the clarity of hindsight. I had very little perspective about what I was experiencing when I was in those times. This is how it goes. I am glad to have moved a bit past the dark days and hope this story can help others.

I returned from a work trip to Asia in May 2015 severely depressed, the lowest I’ve been in 15 years. I was 36 years old and facing a midlife crisis. Everything in my life seemed wrong. I started waking up and thinking I had made a terrible mess of my life.* This depression showed on the scale and in how my clothes fit, which made me feel even worse.

Muar, Malaysia, May 2015.

After a deplorable race at Salt Flats 100 at the end of April 2015**, I was disillusioned with my body and with ultrarunning in general. I had thought I could call in an “easy” 100 at Salt Flats on 20 to 30 miles per week training  +  experience. It was enough to finish, but it wasn’t pretty.

Leaving Mile 80 in the Salt Flats 100, 2015. NOT happy.

For the entire year prior, I had been lamenting to all of my friends who would listen about how slow I had gotten, how I didn’t think any amount of training benefited my fitness. My friends suggested that being a back of pack runner was simply my lot in life or that maybe I didn’t train enough. At an average of 20 to 40 non-intense miles per week I could at least BUY the idea that I may need to train more in order to more than survive 100s in the bottom 3rd or 4th of the pack. However, in my gut, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my training level seemed irrelevant to any of my outcomes. I was getting slower the more I ran and the more experienced I got.

I could NOT handle the thought that I had peaked sometime in the past…that my full potential with running – and furthermore in life in general – had been realized and was not ahead of me. I couldn’t bear the thought that suffering tremendously through 100s and death marching to the finish was as good as it would ever get for me.

Amy and I walked at the Rec Center and I was breathless. I could not climb stairs without breathing heavily and slowing down. I thought maybe it was because I was 5 lbs heavier than I had maintained for the last couple of years before. All of the traveling and eating and stress and working had slowly dialed up the pounds. Or had I all of a sudden acquired a case of asthma? I was often dizzy. I could hardly rise from my chair without becoming lightheaded. Five mile runs felt hard; two mile runs felt hard. I felt heavy, dead legged, tired. I accepted all of this as my new reality and decided that I was tired of fighting to be someone I was not.  

With all those thoughts in mind, I quit running. I really thought I was done. I didn’t see the point of flogging myself with the drudgery that running had become. I didn’t even LIKE running anymore. I convinced myself I wasn’t a runner. You shouldn’t have to work that hard to be something you’re not.

I did not run for six weeks. It took me that long to come to my senses, and the thing that did it was my one true running love – the IMTUF 100 (Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival, imtuf100.com). I realized that the inspiration to run IMTUF was still inside me, despite my departure from running. I was looking ahead to September envisioning the race coming and going without my shoes on the line, and I didn’t like the picture. But I didn’t want to merely survive it. I had done that the year before, in 2014, pacerless, falling asleep on rocks all night, puking nonstop into the sunrise, death marching to mile 90, barely making the cutoffs.

In a rare and momentary ray of sunlight through the fog of my mind, I told myself Emily, you are either going to fully live a slovenly couch-surfing existence, be damn good at it, and embrace the body that comes with it; OR you can choose the route that won’t sentence you to a prison of self-loathing and living hell.

I wanted to do well at IMTUF, i.e. PR (personal record) my time from 2012. Despite my recent struggles and descent to hell at Salt Flats, I thought I COULD do well, despite nothing really having changed except for my mindset. This insanity was completely lost on me as I pulled on my big girl pants and determined that my world might be collapsing around me* but I was a runner, dammit, and nothing would take that away from me. I would run my depression away and everything would be okay again.

On June 7, 2015, weighing the most I had since losing the baby weight from Little M nine years prior, I started running again with a clear goal (to PR the IMTUF 100 in September) and intense motivation to get in the shape to do it. Running became my lifeline and I held on to it vehemently, just as stubbornly as I had given it up the month before.

I was signed up for the RONR 108K (River of No Return, runchallis.com) but clearly had no business toeing the line. I could barely walk from my car to the office door without taking a break, so in early June I asked my Race Director buddy Paul to drop me down to the 50K race. As June 20 approached, however, even 50K seemed too much. I didn’t want to hike it just because; plus, life still sucked, and I just didn’t have it in me to race yet. I pulled from RONR completely, and my family worked with me at the Bayhorse Aid Station instead. The morning of the race, I jogged down the road to the Juliette aid station and then hiked the 5+ miles back up to Bayhorse.

This was one of the most difficult hikes ever, but also one of the most inspiring. I was so tremendously out of shape. I had to rest-step every inch of even the slightest incline. But I was also honored to have the wind in my face as I approached a clearing and sat and watched a herd of elk at 20 yards for at least 10 minutes. Later on, near the summit above Bayhorse Lake, I encountered a black bear on the open hill and watched him frolic until he smelled me and ran. These wildlife encounters reminded me why this sport is so important to me. Races provide the infrastructure in which I can explore the mountains, travel to new country, and be alone in the wild. The RONR hike inspired me to stick with it, even though starting over is so very difficult.

By the end of June 2015, I felt like I was getting into a semblance of shape again. The numbers on the scale were back in a “normal” range for me, and I felt like I wanted to run the Beaverhead 55K (beaverheadenduranceruns.com), so I signed up. I’m so glad I did this. The course is now one of my all time favorites…and I got to spend some time on the trail with Dennis Aslett on the rocky spine of the Continental Divide. Time with Dennis is always a highlight.

At Beaverhead, I struggled with any and all incline pitches. I attributed this to being out of shape still and partly blamed it on the high altitude of the race (5-10K’). I tried to not be negative about it, with half of July and August to get in peak form.

Beaverhead 55k, 2015, high on the Continental Divide.

I struggled again at the Ketchum Backcountry 16.5 mile run the week after Beaverhead and attributed the weakness, breathlessness, and lack of performance to being tired from Beaverhead and to the elevation in Ketchum. The thing is, I was working hard. My training was consistent, rest was good, and race efforts were maximum RPMs. I was not out there smelling the flowers and taking pictures. I still could not shake the feeling that I was limited to something OTHER than my legs or my mind, but I didn’t know how to name this “ceiling.”

Ketchum Backcountry Run, 2015.

On August 1, I spent a weekend by myself at Wild Idaho and ran the 50K on Saturday with a follow up 8 miles on the IMTUF course into Box Lake and back on Sunday. Again, the climbs on these runs just obliterated me. I felt like I was wearing a fat suit, but the second half of Wild Idaho was flatter and the whole race was at lower elevation; plus, I ran with Adam from Saipan, so the time flew and I finished with my best 50K in a long time under 8 hours on a brutally hot day. I was finally getting myself back…I thought.

Before you criticize me for pushing myself too hard, racing too much, or overtraining, let me remind you I have averaged no more than 10-40 miles per week over ALL the years I have been running ultras since 2009; even in peak training, I’ve only hit 60+ miles per week (mpw) two or three times and certainly in the first half of 2015 was not overtaxing myself, at least not by running. I will acknowledge that two years of a new job and all the stressors of life* contributed to the toll on my body. You can’t thrash on yourself with no consequences.

Through the summer of 2015, running was life. If I’m going to be honest, I was not as much running THROUGH my issues as using running as a distraction FROM them, but still, running kept me focused on being healthy whereas otherwise I would have been a disaster both physically (more than I already was) AND mentally.

Feeling optimistic about the consistency of my training over the summer and looking for a last push before IMTUF, I signed up for the Standhope Ultra Challenge stage race (standhope.runwildidaho.com) – 90 miles over four days – outside Ketchum, Idaho. We would see 9000 feet many times and top out at 11K going Standhope Peak high in the Pioneers. This became my other favorite short course next to the Beaverhead 55K. My family and I had a good time, and I enjoyed four days of eating with abandon, not counting the calories or worrying about the scale, and enjoying the mountains.

Standhope at Goat Lake, the highest lake in Idaho.

Again at Standhope, I was SO SLOW. I felt like I was trying so hard but going nowhere. I was either the last or second/third to last runner of all the stagers every day. It felt embarrassing. Please don’t get me wrong. I feel everyone has a place in these races, even really slow people. I love back of pack runners – I’ve been one most of my ultra career.

But mentally, I felt like I had moved out of the last place, finishing is good enough for me stage. I felt like my experience should count for more than simply knowing how to get by. Unfortunately, my body was not supporting my aspirations, and I slogged through every climb at Standhope, finishing in a hot mess of depletion, vomiting, and hysteria at the end of the fourth day of racing. I’m pretty sure my children are still traumatized. John was like, Mom’s just hungry, guys. Geez.

I never recovered from Standhope. From that point on, I was tired ALL. THE. TIME, drained, heavy, not running with any pep or life in my legs. Against all of my better judgement I signed up for the local Resort to Rock 60K (R2R) at Bogus Basin and basically death marched from start to finish. The highlights were that I got to hike a bit in the middle with J and Little M and walk the last 5 or so miles with Ulli, but otherwise the run was a travesty. Unlike Standhope, where I was a vomiting mess at the end, I fueled throughout R2R but still finished depleted to the CORE, frustrated and weak.

Me and Ulli Kamm at the Resort to Rock Finish.

I tapered hardcore after that – no more long runs – nothing that would tire me at all. Yet every single run was so tiring and this did not change even as IMTUF arrived three weeks later when I should have been rested and coiled to run.

Despite that, I was used to being this way. It just seemed normal, so I approached IMTUF hopefully, thinking my experience there and passion for the race would get me through with less drama than I had experienced in the my last three Horrible Hundreds.**

I also thought that losing 15 pounds from May to September would help me run faster and that my training had seemed consistent and voluminous enough to count for something. I was excited at the start.

I was wrong about all of it.

IMTUF started like it always does, with me hitting the splits I was expecting and generally having a good day. But by mile 40, I was just DRAGGING. I shuffled into the mile 44 aid station after I expected to arrive, thinking here we go again. Brian Nebeker and I headed up to Snowslide Lake and it just got worse on the 1000 ft/mile climb. I had to rest-step, just one step at a time, so out of breath, no power whatsoever, no ability to push, and food started to be an issue, just like always. I had eaten well up to that point, but things started hitting my stomach REALLY badly.

The night in a hundred miler is always such a surreal blur, but I think it was on the climb out of Maki Lake that it really hit me. Little bites of innocuous food sent me into violent vomiting convulsions. I blacked out on two different vomiting episodes, and Brian stayed by my side through all the ugly stuff. I owe him for this. The 10 mile loop took us 5 hours.

After that, IMTUF once again became a fight for the cutoffs. Luckily, a buffed out downhill trail led into Mile 80 because my pacer Amy and Chiphing Fu and I had to run hard to make that noon cutoff by just a few minutes. I finished the race with 9 minutes to spare on the 36 hour cutoff and swore NEVER AGAIN. Not if this is the way it’s going to be.

Capture
IMTUF 100, 2015, Finish

To be continued in Part II.

Notes:

*I refer to “struggles” and my “world collapsing” around me and midlife crisis. These phrases may seem oblique, which is intentional. In the interest of discretion, I don’t want to expound on the details surrounding why my life felt catastrophic. In short, if you lose your center/spirit/purpose, life will crush you.

**The string of Horrible Hundreds.

  1. IMTUF 2014 – Started puking chicken broth at mile 55 and continued puking most food for the rest of the race. I uncontrollably slept on rocks throughout the night and death marched until I had to start sprinting hard to make the cutoffs at the end. Somehow I’m always able to perk up for that.
  2. NERD 100 2014 – In a fit of lightheaded dizziness and nausea, I fainted enroute to the bathroom to vomit but recovered to finish the last 20 miles after the sun came up and I got some coffee in me.
  3. Salt Flats 2015 – I started vomiting so explosively at Mile 61 that I blacked out on the side of the road. After sitting in the car for an hour, I continued on to death march the last 40 miles to a 32 hour finish on minimal calories and power level zero. I have never wished so much to be struck dead by a falling meteor.
  4. IMTUF 2015 – Dragging from about mile 40 onward, with zero ability to push or recover. Started vomiting violently on the Snowslide loop (mile ~45-55), fainted twice, and crawled to the finish with 9 minutes to spare on the 36 hour cutoff. Swore never again. 
The Finish of the NERD 100 2014.

Antelope Island 100 Mile Buffalo Run

Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100M

March 25 & 26, 2011

Davina: On Tuesday March 22nd, Emily mentioned that she would like to go watch our friend Sam run and pace him to get that coveted 100 mile buckle. Not sure how it happened, but I mentioned I would love to catch a ride down and before we knew it, we were leaving Nampa around 2:00 pm Friday the 25th. From the phone conversations we’d had with Sam on the trail since the race had started at noon, we figured would find him somewhere between miles 40 and 44…oh wait, did I mention he had no clue we were coming?

Sam: First of all, I had no business even registering for this race. I couldn’t even run for 8 weeks after the Javelina Jundred five months ago. I didn’t make the cutoff to continue on and run the last 9 miles of the race due to knee pain. I didn’t tell anyone that I registered for Antelope knowing that I wouldn’t have enough time to train properly. It took everyone about 2 weeks to figure out that I was in by checking the entrants list. My thoughts were this would force me to rehab properly and be as ready as possible come race time. No time for any type of setbacks. Also in my head was the pressure to erase the JJ DNF. DNF doesn’t sit well with me. I am not a quitter and I finish what I start. So with my training miles somewhere near half, I added bootcamp 2 to 3 times a week having to modify exercises that stressed the knees. Antelope Island, ready or not here I come!

Sam: The weather forecast was snow and rain for the weekend. Looking out the hotel window on race morning, I had to smile. It was raining pretty good, and that turned to a fairly heavy snow for a while and then back and forth between rain and snow. The reason I was smiling is because it doesn’t rain on me when I am running, and this would be a good test. While driving to the start (early because I am always early) the snow lightened up to a drizzle mixed with a few flakes. I placed my drop bags in the canopy in the proper piles. I had plenty of dry clothes including shoes in each of the 4 drop bags just in case. I also had a Starbucks Doubleshot, an Ensure, and plenty of S! Caps in each a bag. The Doubleshots were to be a pick me up for the 2nd loop. I stole this idea from Emily. She actually quits caffeine before her races so that the Doubleshots have more effect. I am not giving up my coffee! {and neither is Emily any more!}


Sam: It was getting close to race time, and the volunteers were still setting up. I helped put together a canopy. We were told beforehand that they would still be setting up until the start and they were. With a couple minutes to start, Jim Skaggs the RD drew a line in the dirt with his foot and announced this is the starting line. The equipment wasn’t there yet. I thought this was a pretty cool, low tech way to start a race. And we were off, overprepared for the rain and snow that wasn’t to be. Why? Because it never rains on me when I am running.

Sam: About a half mile in, I looked up at the snow covered mountain and could see some dark specks that must be buffalo. I remember thinking I hope we are going up there and we did and they were. The snow was beginning to melt and the trail was getting muddy in places. Somewhere around mile 8 on the second set of switchbacks, the melting snow was creating a stream of water on the trails and very muddy in places. About this time, I started developing knee issues. Oh no, not again, was my thought. At Elephant’s Head aid station (mile 13.5), I changed into my road shoes for two reasons: 1. My shoes and socks were soaked and 2. I hoped this would help the knees. Jen Stover helped with my drop bag and was there to assist. She and a friend were manning this aid station. Seeing Jen was one of my race highlights. I wish I had a picture. She had a Viking helmet on and war paint – oh wait, that was her mascara running.

Sam: Leaving Elephant’s Head aid station, I dropped quickly to lower elevation and warmer dry trails, trying to forget about aching knees and trying to stay slow and save energy while taking pics. Between mile 18 and 19 I broke out the iPod looking for some distraction from the knee pain. I have a mix of Christian and 50s music on my iPod. At this point, I was just logging miles and listening to music wishing that Emily and Davina would show up to pace me. I had a gut feeling that they were going to show even though my head said they weren’t.

Emily: It doesn’t really matter how it all came about, but Davina and found ourselves traveling to Antelope Island, Utah on Friday afternoon, the 25th of March, 2011 on a mission to assist our friend Sam in finishing his first 100 mile race. Davina and I had talked to him in the early evening when he was about mile 32, just getting ready to leave the Ranch AS. I remember talking to Sam on the phone earlier in the day while we were on I-84 in northern Utah:

Promise me you won’t even THINK about stopping until you get to mile 50, okay Sam?

Oh, I’m not quitting. I feel pretty good right now.

Emily: I was hopeful. The big concern was Sam’s knees, which had caused a DNF at JJ back in October 2010. But things sounded like they were rolling along much more smoothly for a much longer time than they had at JJ, when things had started unraveling very early in the race, about 10 miles in.

Sam: Logging miles, I met and ran with Jan who used to live in Boise but now lives in Salt Lake. We would run together and take turns passing each other and run together more. Somewhere during this time I talked to Emily on the phone. Yes, I carried my cell phone. Emily is a very good friend and running partner. I told her that I felt that she would show up to pace me and she got quiet. After I hung up, I remember thinking that I hope I didn’t make her feel bad for not being able to come. This is where I first thought they weren’t able to make it.

Sam: The snow capped mountains were amazing glowing bright pink around mile 30 or so as the sun was starting to set.

Sam: Just after dark I got a call from Emily after I stopped to use the bushes and Jan went on. {Emily: actually, it was Sam who called me, and I really didn’t want to answer because I just had this feeling that one of the next few runners would be him, and I was right. I held the phone away from my ear and could still hear a voice from the headlamp ahead in the dark talking, confirming it was him.} Emily asked if there was someone running in front of me with a red light. My thought was how did she know that Jan was in front of me? That’s when she said it was her.

Sam: I don’t have the words to describe how I felt after running about 30 miles with achy knees and having two amazing friends make a surprise five hour drive to pace me. Everything was going to be okay. This was a big boost for me. I was going to get my first hundred mile finish. The rest was Emily and Davina. These next miles were a blur. The lightening in the distance lit up the clouds in such a cool way as Emily and I ran from Lower Frary back to the Mountain View aid station where Davina was waiting.

Davina: Emily ran out four miles from the Mountain View aid station to meet Sam, and then they returned back to Mtn. View (mile 44) where I was ready to take over pacing for the next six miles into the race headquarters (mile 50), where Emily would take over for the next 19 or so miles. Sam looked great when I first saw him. He had high spirits and joked around about the buffalo. I know seeing Emily out on the course gave him the lift he needed to get through the night.

Davina: Emily and I decided to divide up the pacing into sections and alternately torture Sam with our presences. Haha – he really took it like a good sport. In all actuality we weren’t that mean – we kept the yelling to a minimum. {Snicker, snicker}

Davina: About mile 45 there is a section where we thought we were going to have to cut cross country due to unclear markings or lack of markings. We wandered around for a while trying to get back on course and to the next aide station. The RD had non-reflective orange and black course markings flagged really low to the ground, along with trampled and rained-on lime arrows. I can see the buffalo now – Let’s trample every last piece of tape! and they did. We slowly came to recognize a glow close to the ground as not some wild animal ready to eat us, but a lantern to guide our way. The guys at the Lakeside AS were very helpful and nice as they sent us on our way.

Sam: I remember deer eyes at night running with Davina.

Davina: About mile 48, we came around a rocky section to several beady eyes staring at us. My first instinct was to hide behind a rock because I had heard that the buffalo might charge if threatened, and who wouldn’t be threatened by a bunch of crazy runners out in the middle of the night? Instead, it was a whole herd of deer, the closest one being about 20 feet from us. They were beautiful. Sam kept a steady pace, hiking an average of nice 15 minute miles. Sam told me of all the buffalo he had seen during the day and how beautiful the land was. I was so anxious for morning to come so I could get to see some of the country he kept describing. In the meantime, we wandered by the light of a half moon and our headlamps, one step at a time.

Emily: When Sam and Davina came into the start/finish tent at mile 50, I was ready to go. I’d gotten Sam some Ramen to drink and we helped him recharge his Nike Sportband. After 10-15 minutes of recharging and reorganizing, we were set to go on the 19-mile loop that would take us to dawn. It was 12:35 am when we headed back out into the night.

Sam: Later in the race, I remember all the pressure melting away when the girls took away my tech gadgets and all I had to do was obey and run.

Emily: As we headed out into the night, RD Jim Skaggs commented to us “it’s just through the gate again.” This would be the second time Sam had done the course, and I was sure he would know what Jim meant by that. We rolled through the gate, confident that Sam knew where he was going “just through the gate.” But we all know darkness brings a different world.

Davina: Meanwhile, I decided I should try to get at least a couple hours of sleep so that I could be the best help as I could to Sam come those early morning hours. But, it didn’t work. From 12:30 to 4:30 am, I might have squeezed in a total of 1.5 hours of sleep, but I really can’t be certain that I got that much. My mind was on Sam and Emily. I kept praying for them, praying for Sam’s strength to hold up and for his knees to not bother him. I thought of all the runners out there and what strength and profound determination they showed. I had the pleasure of hanging out in the tent with Jon Kinzer, who pulled from the race due to a rolled ankle and Achilles issues, along with 100 mile winner Dan Vega  (15:31) and second place 100 miler Karl Meltzer (16:06).

Emily: I could see lights of runners ahead up on switchbacks on the hill to our left, and I knew that’s where we needed to be heading. The road we were on had headed straight through the gate outside the aid station. We toodled on, but the further we traveled, I started to question.

Sam, is this the way you went the first time?

I think so. I’m not sure.

We need to be up there. Maybe the road will turn in a few minutes?

Emily: The road we were heading on was leading out to the right parallel to the base of the hills. Something didn’t seem right. Finally, 1.2 miles out, I said We need to turn around. We are not cutting left up the hill like we should. I was fresh so I turned around and took off running with Sam following behind at a walk. When I frantically raced into the aid tent, I snagged the first person I saw who looked like he might be a reliable source of information.

You take a hard left along the fence directly after passing through the gate.

OH. Crap. I walked back over to the gate and looked for markings that I missed the first time through. There were maybe some faint flour marks on the ground, and on closer inspection, I saw a solid white line crossing the road we had just taken. I guess that meant we shouldn’t go that way. Oh brother. I waited a few minutes for Sam to arrive and then we were on to mile 50 for the second time.

The time was 1:25 am. 50 precious minutes vanished into the night.

Emily: Sam and I pushed up the large switchback to the top of the ridge. I could tell Sam was in a little funk. He asked if he could lead so he could try to get some of his fire back, and I let him go. I needed to take a pit stop and change the batteries in my badly fading headlamp anyway. {Note for night runners: always carry a small backup flashlight so you can see in the dark to change the batteries in your headlamp if you are alone.} So, by the time I was going again, Sam had gotten quite a ways ahead on a downhill section. The top of the ridge afforded a breathtaking view of SLC across the great expanse of the lake, and I drank in the view, appreciating that I could exist in this moment in this place on this night. Dry lightning flashed in the distant sky, but stars lit the sky directly overhead.

Emily: By the time I caught back up to Sam, we were climbing our way to the Elephant Rock AS. This whole section was comprised of a loop and an out and back, so we were seeing people coming back our way, one of whom was a strong looking Dennis and then Jon Kinzer who was calling it a day, limping back to the main hub with a tendonitis issue and twisted ankle. I felt bad for him, but on a positive note, Sam had recovered his better spirits by this time, had acknowledged that he was in a funk over the bonus miles, and had moved on, literally and figuratively.

Emily: Reaching Elephant Head, we opted to do the 3 mile out and back section before the loop. The out and back was a sweet little singletrack at a slight descent out to a point that I am told was spectacular during the day; however, in the dark, I could not even tell we were on an island. It’s just you, the rocks and dirt in front of you, the stars above, and the circle of light guiding your way. Reaching the turnaround, I picked a cute sticker out of the bucket for Sam to stick to his race # proving he had been there, and we headed back to Elephant Head. I had a quick telephone conversation with John through here – we had cell service at selected points around the island. I tried to keep him and Tina updated throughout the race so everyone could pray and be informed about Sam’s progress.

Emily: Now on the 6-7 mile loop from Elephant Head, we had a beautiful experience under a stunning half moon. I tried to get some pictures but they didn’t come out so well. Eventually, we caught up to some headlamps on a section of switchbacks. We had not seen many people for a while and it was a welcome sight to not only see headlights, but more so to see that we were catching up to them. Nothing is more moralizing in the wee hours of a 100 miler than to catch up to and overtake someone. All racers experience highs and lows out there, especially through the night, and realizing you are faster and stronger than someone else brings a strong dose of good spirits. We overtook the lady and her pacer, wished them well, and went on our way. Sam’s victory arms indicated that he was happy about this small achievement. I could tell the lady was in one of those slumps and felt bad for her. But those things come and go…and Sam’s turn for the slump was coming a little later down the road.

Emily: I kept checking my trusty old Timex to monitor our progress and try to keep it steady. Secretly, I was nervous about the time, not sure how our lost 50 minutes would affect our overall mission. Originally, I had aimed to get us off the 19 mile loop about 5:30 am (5 hours), but I had revised that plan to 6:00 am after the bonus miles. After prodding Sam through some rather difficult miles, around and down to the aid station, taking walk breaks when needed, but trying to keep up a good pace, we rolled into the start/finish about 6:30 am, and Davina was waiting and ready to take up a good portion of the daytime running on the lovely flat lakeside singletrack, vast the Salt Lake and snow capped mountains ever-present for miles 50-94.

Davina: When Sam and Emily returned, we made sure to get Sam in and out of the AS quickly. Emily would crew along as much as she could and hopefully get some shut eye, which she never did – too much activity. Sam was in good spirits, his left ankle a bit sore but his knees overall good. We made sure to keep a close eye on them, though.

Emily: Morning was freshly dawning when Sam and Davina headed over the hill toward their long lakeside run. From a crew’s perspective, I think the night portion went well, and Davina and I did a pretty good job getting Sam in and out of the major checkpoint pretty efficiently, with the exception of having to charge his various electronic pacing devices.

Davina: Sam and I made our way back over to the Mtn. View AS (mile 70) and completed a short 2 mile out and back before heading on the long out and back to the Ranch. I noticed that Sam started thinking weird things were funny, like the two girls headed straight for the lake instead of turning on the trail to do the out and back. Sam good naturedly told them they were on the wrong trail and that they might get a bit wet if they kept going. Haha.

 

Emily: I hung out with the race winner and Jon Kinzer for a while before heading over in the car to check on Sam and Davina. Ben Blessing called about 7:00 am while I was in the process of overlooking the misty lake in the early morning light, flocks of birds landing and ascending, buffalo grazing on grassy knolls above the water, lake awash in blue and pink and white. I gave Ben a good report, saying that Sam was feeling pretty good so far, was maybe getting tired, but was still moving well and was not experiencing debilitating knee pain. I can’t remember exactly when Sam first mentioned to me that his left ankle hurt, but I think I dismissed it as one of those pains he would just have to deal with.

Davina: We made our way into Lower Frary (mile 77) where Emily met us, helped Sam refill his water, and got him something to eat. It was at this AS where Sam said he needed to use the restroom and came out shortly handing me an extra pair of running shorts that he had been wearing. Let me tell ya, I’m not sure what I thought when he handed them to me, but I got a great laugh out of it! I do remember him saying, That should help me run better. He’d been wearing two pairs of shorts the whole time? What??

Davina: After Lower Frary AS, I got to encounter my first up-close buffalo about 30 yards off trail. Sam wanted me to get closer and get a picture, but I made sure to keep moving as I snapped the shutter button.

Sam: This was too funny – Davina was shaking so much out of fear of a buffalo attack that she couldn’t push the shutter button on my camera. She kept saying come on keep moving. She was sure we would be attacked. The buffalo were probably laughing harder than me.

Davina: I noticed that Sam kept doing a little more walking and a lot less running. He was also starting to really favor his left ankle and even stepping slightly off the trail would cause him extreme discomfort.  About mile 80, after Lower Frary outbound, Emily met up with us and wrapped Sam’s ankle with a good ol’ Ace bandage, which helped immensely. On the trail again, I decided it was time to not keep my prayers quiet and spent the next two minutes praying right alongside Sam that God would work a healing in his body and that he would move on to conquer this 100 mile race. So many people sent texts to Sam – he had me check his phone as it kept buzzing – such amazing support from such awesome friends. Into the morning, I decided to institute a walk/run pattern hoping that it would give him a little more of a push and take focus off the ankle. Overall, I think it worked. One minute of walk and then one minute of run, allowing for two minutes of walk while he ate something – I know, I know – but I had to keep him moving.

Sam: My ankle started hurting badly and the knee pain went away. I remember as the fastest 50 milers were approaching, I was trying to let them pass and the pain was too much for me to step off the trail. I started apologizing to them. I welcomed the ankle pain as a distraction from the knees.

Emily: Davina called me shortly after Lower Frary, saying that Sam’s ankle was getting really bad and wondering if I had anything in the car that might help. I whizzed over to the next point on the trail where they would access the road, plopped Sam down in a chair, and wrapped Sam’s ankle up in an Ace bandage.

Sam: Emily taped my ankle, and I wanted to convince Davina that it was better now, even though it wasn’t. It would eventually go numb and feel a lot better. Sometime during the ankle thing, the knee pain disappeared.

Davina: Every once in a while Sam would look off in the distance and make a remark about the beauty of the snow capped mountains across the Salt Lake. It wasn’t until he asked about the sprinklers on the hillside that I began to wonder if this was what I had heard talk about – hallucinations and how the mind could play funny tricks on you. I laughingly told Sam they were not sprinklers but that if we would like to check them out I would wait on the trail for him. He decided not to. Heh heh. At one point while pointing up the hill to some bonsai-looking trees, Sam told me those were some of the biggest buffalo he had ever seen.

Davina: I decided to play along and said, Oh no Sam, those are giraffes. Yeah, that’s what I said. See those two giraffes?

Davina: I didn’t encounter my first real struggle with these imaginary images Sam was having until he thought he saw the Ranch AS, which was really the side of the mountain with rocks lunging out on the edge. If I had just run 80-something miles I could see how it would look like an aid station. Sam was so intent on getting there he kept asking me why I just wouldn’t let him go to the aid station. I tried several times to tell him that was NO AID STATION, but he told me that he was going anyway. He was just about to head cross country when we met up with Paul and Steve, and Sam asked them about the aid station hoping for a more favorable answer. Thankfully they told him the AS was up the road about two miles and that was just a hill. Thank you guys!!!  I will admit that had me in stitches. He was just so adamant, and I just got to yell at him that it wasn’t; and then he looked so sad that I had to say, Oops, time to RUN.

Sam: I got upset with Davina because I thought she was looking at the wrong spot and this was why she couldn’t see the invisible aid station.

Davina: Emily met up with us at the Ranch AS (mile 83), helped us get Sam refueled and hydrated, and then out we went, back to Lower Frary. I would switch things up on him and do 1 min walk/1 min run, 2 min walk/1min run, 2 min walk/2 min run, and then start over. Emily had brought along some turkey wraps and that proved to be great fuel for him. They were solid without being heavy on the stomach. I also had one of those Gatorade Primes that I had thought to buy to bring along because I knew Sam liked them. Between the turkey wraps and the Prime, Sam’s energy seemed rejuvenated, and he got back on track.

Emily: It was quite late in the morning before I even started feeling drowsy from being up all night, but there was enough action at the aid stations and driving along to the various points to meet Davina and Sam that I never felt like I needed to stop and sleep. Anyway, I didn’t want to be asleep when they came through, especially because they were moving faster than I expected them to be.

Emily: While waiting back at Lower Frary AS, I had the good fortune to encounter Robbie Woog heading outbound, and I helped him to get moving out of the aid station on his way to his first 50 mile finish! It was there that I also encountered a spry Dennis heading inbound, simply killing the course in his tutu with his pacer, speedster Glen Merrill.

Davina: During that day, we came across some of our 100 mile friends: Lynette McDougal, running strong and positive as always, finished in 25:51. Dennis Ahern killed the run in 22:24 with a second place in his age division and 13th overall. Steven Boyenger and Paul Lindauer finished together in 25:54.

Davina: We met back up with Emily at Lower Frary and she took back over running with Sam. They had about 11 miles to make it to the finish line and about 6 hours to do it. Sam was strong and determined. After four years of knowing Sam, I learned something new about him – he CAN run without his Nike+ and his Garmin.

Emily: The 4-5 miles (~89-94) from Lower Frary to Mountain View AS were fairly uneventful, just passing the time, consistently walk/running 1 minute/1 minute with some variations for the terrain. Sam tried to stay fueled, eating the last turkey wrap and a cheese stick I had in my pack, along with some peanut M&Ms at the aid station. At Mile 94, there was a short climb (less than a quarter mile), and the rest of the race was flat to rolling terrain on the section Davina had run with Sam the night before.

Sam: I remember seeing double several times with Emily in the last 6 mile section of the race. Two people were running toward us, but to me there were four of them. As I ran behind Emily, I thought no wonder she runs so smooth – she has four legs.

Emily: The piece of trail with 2-3 miles to go was one of my favorites. Massive rock formations hugged the trail, sometimes becoming parts of the trail; and Sam – a rock lover at heart – still had the presence of mind to point out to me what the formations looked like to him. Look, there’s Elvis! I just looked around us, letting Sam get ahead of me for a minute and tried not to get emotional about this huge achievement that was about to be won. I think I grinned from ear to ear for a good three miles into the finish.

Sam: I laid on a rock with about 4 miles to go, and it was funny for me. I thought for sure Emily would be yelling at me.

Emily: I was too kind-hearted to yell at Sam, when he clearly had a smidge of humor left. It was pretty funny to come around that corner to find Sam hamming it up on a huge flat rock, like he was sleeping. As if I would let that fly for long!

Sam: Just before Emily took over pacing the last time, I told Davina several times that the three of us should cross the finish at the same time together. I was upset when she was across the finish line with the camera.

Emily: Sam was moving along well all the way to the finish, alternately walking and running, and we only got passed by a couple of 50 milers as we passed a couple other 100 milers ourselves.  The white tent of the finish line finally appeared in the distance like an oasis. There it is, Sam!! As is often the case, objects in ultras are often further away than they appear, but I tried with moderate success to get Sam to run the last mile in. When we reached the finish area, I practically had to drag Sam down the “aisle” toward the finish line. He just wanted to stop there and wait for Davina to get over to us.

Sam, you have to finish the race!

But I want Davina to cross with us.

Well, she is over there taking pictures.

But I want Davina to cross with us.

Come on, Sam!

Emily: Almost reluctantly, Sam crossed the finish line, grabbing my hand and holding it up as we crossed. The clock read 27:34, two and a half hours ahead of the finish cutoff. What an awesome victory! Davina and I were relentless, but we only pushed Sam to the point that he was capable. This was his finish, his victory, 100 miles he covered with his own two feet. I was incredibly proud of him.

Sam: It was great of Dennis and Jon being at the finish with high fives. Seeing Emily’s excitement for me at the finish was very touching. All I could think was wow!

Davina: I learned many lessons in the pacer role of this 100 mile race:

  • 1. You can do anything for one minute – just ask Sam.
  • 2. Ramen noodles are good, but not for the whole race.
  • 3. Emily should always be there with her turkey wraps.
  • 4. Praying is great.
  • 5. Praying out loud at mile 82 is okay and other racers thank you for it.
  • 6. Just laugh when you see giraffes in Utah.
  • 7. Friends are the best.
  • 8. Watching your friend hold that buckle in their hand does make you cry.

Davina: Hey, Sam, remember when we started running at the Rec and wrote down our goals? Half marathon – that’s just small stuff, my friend. You are now in the 100 mile club! Congrats!

Sam Collier:  27:34:13.4   16:33/M   5th in 50-59 Age Group

Davina: Emily and I left for home about 5:30 pm Saturday evening.  I count myself blessed to have such awesome friends, ones who will speak the truth, ones who will hold you accountable, ones who will dream with you, ones who will believe in you, and ones who will go that extra mile with you.

BEAR 100: My Unofficial Finish

I did not quit

PRE-RACE

Thursday, September 23, 2010: John and I dropped the kids off at my parents’ house in Nampa and then picked up Sam. After loading all his gear, making a stop at Subway for an early lunch, and swinging by the church for an improptu prayer lined up by Tina for safety and strength, we were out of town right on time.

Drop bags at Leland’s Trout Farm, organized and labeled by aid station destination.

We had no problem finding Race Director Leland Barker’s Mountain Valley Trout Farm in Smithfield, UT, where we dropped off my six drop bags in a monumental lineup of bags piled in organized chaos. Because the race had grown so much this year, the pre-race meeting had to be moved from the Trout Farm up the road to a municipal park. We drove over to the park in Sugar, UT and met up with all the other crazies from the Boise area (eight of us). I was excited to see Allie and Margaret from Montana there also.

Deep breath.

I summoned the guts to go talk to Andrew Barney, who I had first met along the trail at the BigHorn Trail Run back in June. I was in the 50 mile race and passed him in the last 10 miles of his 100 miler. He was kind enough to give me some advice and show me his race notebook. I had thought my preparations were over the top, but after seeing the data he compiled and his awesome spreadsheet, I didn’t feel so bad at all. Next time, I will be more over the top. More planning with my crew; less trying to be like Dennis. 🙂 Just be myself!

Bruce Copeland showing off the course markings. Pink and reflective for straightaways, and double-flagged pink and yellow at turns.

The pre-race meeting was a fun affair, where we really got a feel for the race director’s heart. Laid back is definitely the right word to describe Leland Barker and company. A question about cell coverage out on the course was met with a roar of laughter followed by…no answer. Someone asked about whether runners would be weighed pre-race. Well, the scales didn’t come in, so NO. We are all ultrarunners here. You know how to take care of yourselves. Your crew can decide if you are fit enough to continue. Love it. Leland informed us he had forgotten to order the belt buckles in time, so we would have to wait to receive those. Haha. It was getting better and better. After listening to descriptions of course markings, aid station fare, a few rules of the race, and a word from the Ham radio director {rousing applause}, we took Leland’s advice on a restaurant and headed back to Smithfield for dinner at Callaway’s.

The food was delicious, but the service very slow (two large ultrarunning parties completely overwhelmed their service staff), so it was a little later than we would have liked by the time we got back to Logan and checked into the hotel. A few last Facebook comments, and then I was lights-out by 9:30 pm, doing my best to relax and actually sleep. It was a great night’s sleep until about 1:30 am, when someone directly above us started walking around on a very CREAKY floor. I think I dozed a bit more until the alarm went off at 4:45 am. Aggravating, but not the end of the world. Unfortunately, I had not rested/slept as much as I would have liked the week leading up to the race. None of that mattered now. It was what it was. This was race day, whether I was rested or not.

Pre-race pasta dinner

START

Friday, September 24, 2010: I made last minute agonizations about whether or not my Nathan pack contained the appropriate equipment and gathered my gear, which took minimal time, as I had neatly laid it all out the night before. No need to dress, as I always sleep in my race garb the night before a race, gaiters and all. I made a last-minute decision to don a bandanna instead of my other usual headgear, the orange BSU hat. It turned out to be a fine decision.

5:00 am. Need I say more?

As we were getting ready to head out the door, I realized I had not planned what I was going to eat for breakfast. We had some stuff in the car, but nothing sounded good. As it was sort of going to be a long day (ha!), and I probably would be burning a few calories (ha!), I acquiesced when John offered to run back inside and grab me a bagel from the hotel. Pre-race breakfast: 3/4 plain white bagel, a cup of apple juice with a handful of corn chips at the race start, and a vitamin B drink I chugged down when I first awoke.

Sam’s shirt is all wrong. It should say, “I am Emily’s hero.” Cute, Dennis.

The race start was a high-energy affair, where we all informed the race director that we were, indeed, present, and then proceeded to take plenty of group pictures with our eight Treasure Valley runners represented. 170 starters, bobbing excitedly in the dark, headlamps lit, not knowing what the next day and a half would bring…

L-R: Jeff, Paul, Dennis, Sam, Emily, Wildman, Trail Thrasher, Jon. Front: Lynette.

And with little fanfare, we were off, jogging slowly up and out of the subdivision, soon reaching a trailhead and the trail we would climb for the next couple hours from 4860’ elevation to an early high point of 8800’.

Where’s Waldo? Right before the “GO”

FIRST OF TWO DAYBREAKS: FULL MOON AND FRESH LEGS

Start (4860 ft. elev.) to Logan Peak AS (10.5) (8800 ft. elev.)
10.5 miles in between (3 hours, 18 minutes)
No Crew Station; No cutoff
ETA 9:10 am; Actual arrival 9:18 am, 9:21 out
4700’ ascent, 700’ descent to mile 10.5

Ben Blessing had informed me he was going to run with me for the first 20 miles so he wouldn’t go out too fast, and I was happy to have the company. Actually, we had a lot of awesome company and conversation as conga lines of people ebbed and flowed up and up and up through 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The climb started immediately off the starting line. It was dark, but I never did even turn on my headlamp. I tried to once, but Ben told me to turn it off. Off it went. Yes, SSgt Blessing. Of course, Ben was right. The full moon was brilliant, and enough people around me had on headlamps that I never needed mine.

Rock cairns.

This first piece of trail was defined by amazing rock cairns. People had taken a lot of time and thought building some of these displays. This was a day full of promise – we climbed higher and higher, and as the sun also rose higher, the incredible foliage for which The Bear is known was revealed.

Daybreak: nuthin’ but climbing.

Along the trail, I met Chad Fisher from Boise who told me he was into CrossFit. We talked about that for a little while, because the boot camp workouts I have done since January had included some cross-fit components. We regaled the benefits. Chad posted a picture on Facebook after the race, and I wished I had remembered to copy his idea afterwards for the benefit of Tanya, my boot camp instructor. Chad had written in Sharpie on cardboard: WOD (workout of day): 1 mile x 100 times. 33 hours, 36 minutes. Great job, Chad!

That beautiful rolling section between miles 7-9 somewhere. The views were spectacular.

With the exception of some rockin’ runnable trail between miles 7 to 9 or so, it was all climb up to the first aid station at mile 10.5. Ben was so cool to hang with me, waiting up ahead and just taking it easy, giving advice and just generally being encouraging. Several times I told him he didn’t have to wait for me, but like the more seasoned runner he is, he just knowingly stated that it was much better to start out very slow. It made me wonder if I was going out too fast – if this was a very slow pace for Ben, then it was probably NOT a very slow pace for me. Regardless, I was feeling VERY good up to this point, virtually pain-free and feeling relaxed. I did not feel like I was pushing the pace at all.

View back down to Logan.

Turns out, Ben’s slow start would not cost him too much time in the long run. He ended up having a tough race, but regardless of covering the first 20 miles very slowly and taking an hour and a half nap at mile 75, he still finished in 31:26.

AS 1: Logan Peak.

WHAT HAPPENS ON THE TRAIL STAYS ON THE TRAIL

Logan Peak (10.5)(8800’) to Leatham Hollow (19.7)(5141’)
9.14 miles in between (1 hour, 54 minutes)
Crew Accessible, No cutoff
ETA 11:15 am; Actual arrival 11:15 am, 11:30 out
3700’ descent from 10.5 to 19.7

We were just getting warmed up, having a blast on one of the most fun sections of the course. We had gotten up high and the views were spectacular – fall colors in full bloom everywhere. I believe it was through here that a lady I dubbed “The Pink Lady” passed me and Ben, and I remember Ben enthusiastically commenting (Yeah, nice outfit!!!) on her all-pink costume – thick headband, tank, and running skirt. The Pink Lady would become significant to me later on in the race.

During this long, fun, rocky downhill section, I rolled the outside of my left ankle and luckily was able to hop out of it without completely committing. Close call. Luckily, the pain went away and did not affect me the rest of the race. I started getting hungry and ate a lemon Luna bar and a GU out of pure necessity before getting to Leatham. Keep the calories coming in, Emily.

 

Ben.

What happens on the trail stays on the trail: Ben is a lot of fun, and if you know him, I’m sure you can only imagine his antics. I will protect his privacy on most of these things, but someday you may want to get his advice on how to collect large, soft green leaves. Maybe he was taking them home to press and dry. I don’t know.

Allie had left Logan Peak (10.5) just as I arrived and it took most of the way to Leatham (20) before Ben and I caught up. Soon we joined up with Jon Kinzer, and eventually we all rolled into Leatham together, Ben hooting and hollering as usual (a custom that lasted the first half of the race but seemed to fade with night, as John noted), where we met up with John and Sam for the first time. I was feeling really good at this point, no pain in my legs. Happy to be there, enjoying the most beautiful day imaginable. We descended a lot, but we were just rolling along at an easy pace, Ben continuously reminding me to not go too hard. However, once at the aid station, Ben was through in a flash, off like a bat out of hell. That was the last time I saw him until Bear Lake.

Me, Ben, and Jon roaring into Leatham Hollow.

COWBOYS AND AN OUTHOUSE
Leatham Hollow (19.7) to Richards Hollow (22.5)
2.84 miles in between (32 minutes)
No Crew Station; No cutoff
ETA 12:00 pm; actual arrival 12:02, out at 12:03
300 feet of climb from 19.7 to 22.5

I had sort of been dreading this piece of the race, as it was just three miles straight up a dirt road to the next aid station. However, my preconceived notions could not have been more mistaken. It turned out to be a very beautiful dirt road section characterized by close-in trees and a cattle roundup in progress. It was idyllic. Kinzer and a new friend Erika were near me on this section. We smiled and waved at the cowboys, and they all asked if we wanted rides. We laughed when they said they would much rather die traveling their way than ours. Soon, we passed a ranger station with {gasp} an open outhouse, so I didn’t have to use the bushes. Perfect timing!

Jon and the Cowboys.
Jon and Erika.

That was the first time in the race I had needed to use the bathroom, which was concerning me. Usually I have to pee a time or two right off the bat. However, I was trying to drink most of the water in my pack in between stations, and my electrolyte/H2O balance was good, with an S-cap or two an hour, something I maintained well for the duration. I never felt dehydrated. The second half of the race was a different story. While I only had to pee a couple times total in the first half of the race, all of a sudden in the second half, I started having to hit the bushes at least once or twice an hour.

Outhouse!

TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH JON
Richards Hollow (22.5) to Cowley Canyon (30)
7.5 miles in between (2 hours, 16 minutes)
Crew Accessible; No cutoff
ETA 2:30 pm; Actual arrival 2:19 pm, out at 2:23 pm
2100’ ascent, 700’ descent from mile 22.5 to 30

At Richards Hollow (23), I grabbed a pre-made PB&J sandwich in a baggie, stuffed some trail mix in another baggie, and kept right on going. This was not a crew aid station, and we had just had a stop three miles earlier. My water would be good until mile 30.

At this juncture, the course headed off the dirt road and turned onto a trail that would take us 7.3 miles up through a canyon to another dirt road leading into Cowley (30). We meandered through meadows and were treated to beautiful rock formations in cliffs on either side and serene ponds backed by beaver dams. Jon Kinzer and I were near each other in this section –if we were both walking, he would leave me in the dust. I had to run to keep up. He has an amazing walk.

Jon.

It is important to note that this was also Jon’s first 100 mile race. He has completed three Ironman triathlons, and he is a Marine, so I knew he was tough. But when he went on to complete this race in 34:56 on 0-20 miles per week of training, it really showed how tough he is mentally. Crazy.

Beaver dam.

After coming out onto the road, I was passed by the amazing Peros – Deb had been calling me “Bandanna girl” whenever we would meet up. We exchanged some comments about the stunning weather, and we all stopped to take pictures of sheep and their shepherd. I commented on their great pace. Steve said they were racing according to his heart rate monitor, keeping the rate low to moderate, and that they were right where they wanted to be. The Peros are like ultra superheroes, and I felt honored to share a bit of trail with them. They went on to finish in 32:06.

Steve and Deb Pero.

Jon Kinzer had gone on ahead by then, and it would be much later before I would see him again. I was still running well at this point, easily tooling through the couple miles of easy dirt road descending into Cowley (30). I could tell from above that John and Sam were not at the aid station yet – no white Xterra parked there. I was a little disappointed, but thought I would take advantage of this and make it a quick stop.

I loved all the aspens.

As I stood wondering what looked good at the food table, Steve Pero advised me that a banana was about 120 calories and would be a good choice. Who was I to argue? I ate the banana, and it tasted good. I grabbed some other fruit and goodies, filled my pack with water, and checked out. 161 out! (Checking in and out of each aid station with the radio operators was mandatory.) As I walked out with Allie, she asked how I was doing. I off-handedly said I had a few hot spots on my feet.

The shepherd and his sheep.

This really caught her attention. You better take care of that now. Blisters can ruin your race.

Who was I to question the experienced, Hardrock-finisher Allie? I turned around to get my drop bag and fix my blisters exactly when John roared up honking in the Xterra. Great timing! Margaret ran out to Allie to make sure there was nothing that she needed, and that was the last time I ran near Allie for the remainder of the race. She went on to finish in a fantastic 34:38, a time she was very pleased with.

Fixing my feet at Cowley.

John retrieved my drop bag that contained clean socks while I washed my feet. Margaret, John, and Allie helped me patch my two spots of biggest concern – left 4th toe and right big toe. After putting on clean socks and the same Mizuno Ascent trail shoes, and I was ready to go.

Foot.

John, Sam, and Margaret had taken Allie’s vehicle up to the race finish at Bear Lake so they wouldn’t have to go get it after the race, and that’s why they were a little late getting to that aid station. Sam notes that he enjoyed hanging out with John and cruising around trying to find aid stations on the way back from Bear Lake. That was a blast. On this excursion, John had picked up a couple of plain McDonald’s hamburgers for me because I had thought a hamburger might sound good sometime along the way. What a sweetheart. I took one of the hamburgers and headed out into the warm afternoon.

Heading out of Cowley.

TURN OUT THE LIGHTS, THE PARTY’S OVER…NO WAIT, IT HASN’T EVEN BEGUN
Cowley Canyon (30) to Right Hand Fork (37)
7 miles in between (2 hours, 2 minutes)
Crew Accessible; No cutoff
ETA 4:30 pm; actual arrival 4:25 pm, out at 4:32 pm
800’ ascent, 2100’ descent from mile 30 to 37

After leaving Cowley (30), my legs were starting to feel less fresh for the first time in the race, the day was warming up, and there was another long climb on a boring gravel road ahead. I was starting to feel a big fatigued, not bad, but I just wasn’t enjoying this road section. I actually had to take my first bush stop, so I got out my iPod at the same time. I do not run with music generally, except for on the treadmill, but I had stuck my iPod in my pack, thinking I just might want it at some point in the race.

After the pit stop, I turned on the music. Boy, was that a good move! Turn out the lights, the party’s over… the vibrant melody of Willie Nelson resonating through my earbuds was just what I needed at that moment. My spirits lifted, pace quickened, and I knocked out that gravel road section, soon turning off onto a delightful single track downhill ride through aspen tunnels and close foliage that took me into Right Hand Fork (37). Those miles rolled away with the tunes rocking, reminding me of all those treadmill runs where my garage door was the Bear finish line. I don’t remember my blisters bothering me too much through this section after the Cowley tape job.

Loved this trail heading down into Right Hand Fork.

The course took a short out and back going in and out of Right Hand Fork (37), and as I headed in, I passed Margaret and Allie as well as Jon as they were heading out. I was not far behind them at that point. Arriving at Right Hand Fork, I noticed that Sam was all suited up to run. This was the first point that pacers were allowed to join the race, and he was antsy to run, seeing all the pacers heading out with their runners.

Arriving at Right Hand Fork.

Do you mind if I start running with you now? All the other pacers are going out. (I could almost hear the please, please?)

 

{Sigh} Sure, Sam.

I was not planning on picking him up until the next aid station. Not wanting to ruin Sam’s day or cast negativity on the race, I agreed. Sam told me later that he was also concerned about my early-forming blisters and was worried they would start affecting my race. He thought jumping in early would help. He felt that he needed to be there. And he needed to run. Mostly, he wanted to run.

Resting briefly at Right Hand Fork.

After sitting for a minute, it was time to go. As Sam and I left the aid station, I chugged down an Ensure, always good energy.

RUNNING WITH SAM
Right Hand Fork (37) to Temple Fork (45)
8.2 miles in between (2 hours, 24 minutes)
Crew Accessible; No cutoff
ETA 7:30 pm; actual arrival 6:56 pm, out at 7:28 pm
1200’ ascent, 900’ descent from 37 to 45

This section was not particularly memorable. Sam and I came out of the trees and crossed a spectacular golden meadow, dotted with huge boulders. Then the trail emerged onto another gravel road, which took us up and over another mountain. Sam and I talked for a while at first, and then I asked if he would mind if I put the iPod back in. I was really enjoying it through the last section and thought it would help me find a good pace again.

Sam.

We finally turned off the road onto a nice single track that took us down into and through another meadow, following the river for a couple miles into some campgrounds, finally coming out onto another gravel road and down to mile 45 by the highway. As we descended, I noticed the shadows getting long and the sun getting lower over the hills. Good call planning Temple Fork (45) for my switchover to night clothing. Sam said I had a pretty good pace going through this section. I think I was listening to Gene Harris, Live. 🙂

Arriving at Temple Fork.

I was hurting a bit as we rolled into Temple Fork (45) about 7:00 pm, and I knew I needed to check my blisters again. However, I was not hurting as much as the guy we passed not far from the aid station. He was stiffly moseying down the road, hands in pockets, looking as if he might be doing some serious soul searching. He almost sounded delirious as he told us he had pain like he was feverish and had a knife in his back.

You know?

Ummmm…not really. We wished him the best, but he said he was done when he got to the aid station.

Coming into Temple Fork, Mile 45 about 7:00 pm, 13 hours in to the race.

After a pit stop in the outhouse (a real treat on this course to have a few outhouse opportunities), I was herded to a chair, and John brought me a cup of soup. A volunteer asked if I needed anything, so I handed him my pack to refill with water. This was my first encounter with Dr. Marc Collman, a dentist from Ogden, who had finished his 10th Wasatch Front 100 two weeks prior (he let me rub his 10-Wasatch ring for good luck).

Yikes! Dr. Marc working on my blisters.

Dr. Marc brought back my pack, and I tried to drink a couple cups of soup and eat the other stuff John brought me. I quickly put on my long pants, long sleeved shirt, and hat, got my gloves ready to go, and tucked an extra long sleeved shirt and rain jacket into my pack. I finally took off the shoes I had been wearing for the first 45 miles.

My bandaids and blister patch from Cowley (30) were all dirty and peeling off, so Dr. Marc got out his kit and went to work, patching the two worst blisters with lidocaine patches and tape. I was very grateful for him – he was meticulous and painstaking. I had a sense of well-being with him working on me, although his meticulous ways translated to a very long stop at this station. The blister patch on my fourth toe had peeled off everywhere except for on the blister itself, where it was WELL-adhered. It was not pleasant having Dr. Mark remove that patch.

Outfitted with clean socks, new shoes, and warm clothes, and with a belly full of two cups of soup and some potatoes and cheese, I felt like a million bucks. Well, maybe a quarter-million. We took off into the twilight, straight up a big climb over to Tony Grove.

GLOWING EYES IN THE BUSHES
Temple Fork (45) to Tony Grove (52)
6.7 miles in between (2 hours, 52 minutes)
Crew Accessible; 7:00 am cutoff Mile 52
ETA 10:30 pm; actual arrival 10:19 pm, out unknown, probably 10:35 pm
2700’ ascent, 500’ descent from 45 to 52

I set out of Temple Fork (45) with a cup of cheesy potatoes in hand, and as we immediately had a huge climb off the highway, and as I had just chugged at least two cups of vegetable soup and eaten who knows what else at the aid station, I started to feel queasy. This was the one and only time in the whole race that I even had an inkling of stomach problems. I cautiously bent over by the side of the trail a couple times, handed off the potatoes for Sam to finish, took it easy for a few minutes, and before long I was feeling fine again.

Cow eyes in the bushes.

Sam, on the other hand, was having a rough time with his clothing issues. He was overheating with his tights on, as we were in the middle of – what else? – a tough climb – AND he lost his gloves on the trail while we were fixing something in my pack.

So stop and take off your tights, Sam. You’ll catch up!

No that’s okay.

Well, then, stop griping! {Grumpy}

Along this piece of trail, we encountered lots and lots of cows. They kindly made cow patty trails along the trail ahead of us. One cow followed behind us for quite a way, with Sam shooshing and yelling at it to take a hike. Ha! All we could see was dozens of pairs of glowing eyes pointed at us from the brush.

A mile or two out of Temple Fork, we turned on headlamps, even though there was a beautiful full moon. There was enough tree cover and rockiness on the trail that headlamps were necessary. Just for Jenny [Stinson], we turned off our headlamps and looked up at the stars in the middle of a dark meadow. The moon was so bright, we actually couldn’t see all the stars, but it was an awesome feeling to exist in that moment, surrounded by silence and moonlight.

The most memorable thing about this section was the cows. Other than that, it was defined as the first section working through a knee problem. Back at Temple Fork, in its “used” state, I had torqued my right knee when sitting with my foot up getting my blisters worked on. As soon as I arose from the chair and started walking, I knew something was wrong. Nothing to do but keep going, and it was fine on the uphill sections. Downhills, however, were another story, and after we completed the epic climb toward Tony Grove (52), the somewhat short descent down to the lake was agonizingly slow and frustrating. I simply could not run at a speed I would have otherwise been able to. This became a defining theme of my race.

Finally, we wove through some camp sites and around a small lake (which I saw in pictures was absolutely stunning) to Tony Grove (52). I had sent Sam on ahead to get himself taken care of and let John know I was coming.

Me and Sam at Tony Grove.

John had a chair set up for me with bean soup and lukewarm chocolate waiting, so I sat down for a few minutes to get rejuvenated while eating. I didn’t want to sit too long, so I was after Sam that we needed to get going. We had spent too long at this aid station, and I was starting to get cold. I heard that the night temperatures were in the 20s, although cold was never an issue for me like I heard it was for some people. We trained all winter last year in temperatures anywhere from 0 to 30 degrees, and I feel like I had my cold-weather running gear dialed in. I only felt the cold when we stopped too long at aid stations. Time to get moving.

Drinking soup and hot chocolate at Tony Grove.

When John and Margaret left Tony Grove, John did not realize that she had crawled in the back of the Xterra. The car was completely full of stuff. She had taken a break from her pacing duties and crawled right in on top of everything and went to sleep. John started driving, and Margaret said Where are we going? out of the blue, scaring John half to death. Haha.

 

TWILIGHT ZONE
Tony Grove (52) to Franklin Basin (61)
9.6 miles in between (3 hours, 37 minutes)
Crew Accessible; 9:00 am cutoff Mile 61
ETA 2:00 am; actual arrival 2:12 am, out unknown, probably 2:22 am
800’ ascent, 2100’ descent from 52 to 61

According to John, I just coasted through the first 52 miles, which may be true, but this is where it started getting a little dicey.

Leaving Tony Grove (52), we were advised that we faced a rolling four-mile uphill section, followed by a four-mile downhill piece into Franklin Basin (61). I think it was during this part that we heard an elk bugle, and then a while later, a cow elk zoomed out of the brush right across the trail in front of Sam. The night was so cool after that! says Sam. I was a ways behind Sam, but I did see the elk, and the glow from Sam’s headlamp shining off the elk had made me think it was a car crossing a road up ahead. Weird.

Me at Franklin Basin.

Getting close to the aid station, we started to encounter campsites. None of these campsites was the aid station (a recurring theme), but I did encounter Dr. Marc – who I had found out was The Pink Lady’s brother – out about a half mile out from the station with a flashlight. He stopped me to make sure I was still feeling okay. My feet were fine. Any new problems were numb, my feet were still dry, and I did not want to disturb the mojo by LOOKING at them or taking my shoes off. Nope – these were 55 mile socks and shoes.

Arriving at Franklin Basin (61), I was looking for my Starbucks Doubleshot that I had asked John to bring for me from Tony Grove (52).

He didn’t have it.

What???

Turns out, John had to park the car a ways away from the station and hadn’t brought anything up with him. This was a bit demoralizing. Not wanting to be a jerk, I tried to let it go, grabbing some dark chocolate espresso beans and two caffeinated latte Powergels from my drop bag instead. I think they helped a bit, but, disappointingly, nothing seemed to clear the cobwebs as distinctly as I was hoping, especially given my heroic success at ridding my body of caffeine dependency over the two months prior to the race.

Jon Kinzer was so very cold at Franklin (61), so John had made a spot for him by the big roaring fire so he could get warm, take a nap, and then get up and go with me and Sam when we arrived. Jon slept for an hour and a half waiting for us. How the heck he got so far ahead, I can’t comprehend. Maybe someday I’ll learn to move that fast.

Jon Kinzer, the coal miner, freezing at Franklin Basin.

We didn’t spend too long at Franklin (61), just enough to chug a cup or two of soup, and then the three of us were off into the darkness. We were very slightly behind pace at this point, but not too much – not enough to worry about – but in my inexperience, I was starting to worry. This was the start of my downhill slide.

DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN
Franklin Basin (61) to Logan River (69)
7.1 miles in between (3 hours, 2 minutes)
Crew Accessible; 11:00 am cutoff Mile 69
ETA 5:00 am; actual arrival 5:24 am, 5:58 am out
1800’ ascent, 1500’ descent from 61 to 69

Accompanied by Jon Kinzer and another girl and armed with caffeine, Sam and I headed back into the cold, clear night. Just out of the aid station, we turned off the road onto a trail that crossed the river again.

Jon has an amazingly fast walk. Once we started climbing again, I simply could not keep up, and I really started struggling with pace. Jon and the other girl seemingly flew into the night with powerful uphill strides, yet I was slowly and drowsily trudging uphill.

Someone said this wasn’t a very big hill!?!

Whatever!?!

In reality, these weren’t the longest or steepest climbs of the race, but somehow this particular climb seemed interminable. I remember crossing a downed tree and straddling on top to lay my head down. I don’t think I was there too long, but I’m not sure. Not more than a minute probably. Afraid of falling asleep on the trail and missing the rest of the race, a voice deep in my brain said keep moving, keep moving. I’d actually had bad dreams before the race about that very thing happening.

Physically, I was feeling decent, aside from my knee. No major pain, just muscle fatigue. But mentally, I sank lower and lower.

At one point, as we scooted under a log, I think I asked how far we had gone on our way to the next aid station. Sam said a ridiculously low number and giggled.

That’s not funny, Sam! {Grumpy}

He laughed again, a very giddy laugh. There’s nothing we can do about it.

I knew that, but in my muddled state, it made me mad. I never asked how far again.

Memories of these night sections are foggy, and even a day after the race, I could only remember discombobulated snippets of reality. I was in a twilight zone. Those dark miles from 52 to 75 were surreal visions of grey and black and the white light of my headlamp. Outer space.

Sam says the night went so fast. He was praying all night. It just flew by.

I did try to keep moving at a decent pace after we crested the summit of that climb out of Logan River (61). I adapted a walking jog-waddle for the flat and downhill sections because the torque in my right knee prohibited any fast downhill running, and I even managed to pass someone doing this. Ha! A small victory, but it was pretty short-lived.

Sam occasionally talked to me about stuff, but I had a hard time processing it. I could hear the words, but my brain allowed absolutely no emotional response to them. My brain was dead to anything other than self-survival.

Just keep moving.

I remember slurring my words and grunting responses.

Fatigue lent itself to anger. I was angry at Sam’s shirt, angry at myself, defeated, sleep deprived.

I am no one’s hero!

Somewhere on another planet back around mile 13, ultraqueen Wendy Holdaway had told me I would find the bottom of my soul within 100 miles. This is where I found it. If I had even remembered that Wendy Holdaway existed at that moment in time, maybe it would have lent some perspective, and I might have talked myself out of it. But I was on a path of self-destruction, immune to any rational thought.

Logan River (69) should have been such a happy aid station. A wonderful crew comes every year to operate it. Christmas lights festooned the entire campground, including a path leading in.

Not too long before the aid station, Sam had made a comment I’m sure was meant as a joke, but it nearly made me suicidal.

We should be eating at Denny’s by now.

Instead of feeling festive, I was inconsolable. We reached the aid station, where I ran straight into John’s arms and broke down sobbing.

I’m so slow! I’m behind my time! I’m not going to make it! I’m letting everyone down! I wailed. {Good grief. Get a grip, lady.}

 

You’re right on time. I don’t understand. John said. What do you need?

I just need food! I’m hungry!

 

The weird thing is that at this time, I was only 15 minutes behind my planned pace with plenty of time to make up any deficit. However, I could feel it slipping away from me. It wasn’t so much that I was 15 minutes behind right now. It was that I was 15 minutes behind and SLIPPING FAST. It was too much for my feeble mind to comprehend continuing on at a consistent pace. My downhill running was stymied. My uphill hike was pathetic. My moral state was deplorable. I knew I at least needed to keep the pace we had been going, but I irrationally felt that was impossible. Thus, despair set in for the next 20 miles. I was exhausted, sleep deprived, mush brained, and frustrated that my knee had prohibited me from making really good time into that aid station on a beautiful rolling descent.

After my meltdown, sitting in a warm trailer, being counseled by John and Dr. Marc and eating potato stew.

Regardless of my mental state, one of the best parts of the race was getting to see John at almost every aid station. He was always positive. After the race, Sam commented to me that he realized just how important friends and familiar faces were. Just seeing someone you know out there is so much of a morale booster.

Logan River (69) was a tough point for a lot of people. I was not the only one struggling. John remembers he saw some major carnage. A speedy-looking guy from Brazil we remembered seeing at the start was shaking so hard John thought he could be having a seizure. Completely unprepared and underdressed for the cold, he was shaking so hard he had to drop out. There was also a guy who was puking dramatically and loudly, unable to hold down even small sips of water. You aren’t going to get far in one of these things if you can’t even drink water.

 

GLORIOUS DAYBREAK
Logan River (69) to Beaver Mtn. Lodge (75)
7.2 miles in between (2 hours, 53 minutes)
Crew Accessible; 12:30 pm cutoff Mile 75
ETA 8:30 am; actual arrival 8:51 am, out at 9:04
1300’ ascent, 1500’ descent from 69 to 75

Jon Kinzer once again materialized at Logan River and decided to head out with us, and we hung with him for about two minutes before he disappeared into the dark on the other side of a large river crossing shortly out of the aid station.

Sam and I, on the other hand, took the crossing very slowly, as it was of utmost importance to me to not get my feet wet – I had powdered them with Sam’s AMAZING Monkey Butt foot powder at Mile 45, and they still felt good and dry. My blisters were all tolerable, and I wanted to keep the same shoes for the duration of the race ‘cause they are my most favorite pair!

We crept 3/4 of the way across the river on fat logs, frigid water roiling a few inches under our feet…and then the logs ended. Uh oh.

Until this point I had been wondering why I kept hearing reports of people falling into the water. At mile 70, when you combine slick, wobbly rocks with tired, wobbly legs, it’s not hard to imagine a full immersion. Sam was a HUGE help at this point because I was not feeling so sure on my feet. We synchronized an intricate, and probably comical, two-step across the remainder of the river on big, slippery rocks. We probably could have won an Ultra Dancing with the Back of the Packers contest with that performance. Still dry, yay!

Sam really, really enjoyed running through amazing tunnels of aspens, even though it was still dark. (He had been awake the whole day before and had been running with me all night – why was he still having a great time when I was so low?)

As I recall, dawn crept across the sky somewhere in the 7 o’clock hour. I remember almost nothing of the hour before that, but I do remember my world transitioning from black to grey to gold. Like a beautiful gift, the sun appeared over the meadow on the horizon just as we neared the summit of that section’s climb from the basin behind us. Hunters with rifles on horses waited off to the side of the meadow while we passed.

After this, it was pretty much rolling flats and downhill as we descended into Beaver Mountain Lodge, a ski yurt operating as an aid station for this day. It seemed like forever that we could see the ski runs carved on an adjacent hillside. The aid station took a very long time in coming.

It was miraculous – we emerged from the draw into a beautiful meadow just as the sun rose over the horizon.

I found running almost impossible – Sam will have to remind me if I was able to run at all. I think I was trying to adapt my knee to some sort of downhill lope. But I was still demoralized and frustrated, even with the stunning beauty of a new day surrounding me. Maybe the dawn did bring a little life to my soul, but not as much as I had hoped for.

Daybreak.

John had arrived at Beaver Mountain Lodge quite a while ahead of us and found Ben sacked out amidst piles of gear taking a lengthy nap. Finally, Ben got up and started muttering about how tired he was; Ben’s contribution to a conversation about the finish line festivities involved Oompa Loompas and edible grass like on Willy Wonka – and the girls from Hugh Hefner’s house…Yeah.

And just like that, Ben was gone…into the dawn.

Even when Sam and I arrived, Beaver Mountain Lodge consisted of bodies of people who had quit and were waiting for rides, with bags and gurneys lined up all around. The gurnies were there for ski season, but the scene reminded John of a war zone.

John exchanged my knit hat for sunglasses, and Sam emerged with BenGay from his drop bag, which he rubbed on my knee in hopes that it would loosen it up and help me get my run back. It felt a little warm on my knee, but I can’t say it worked any magic. On the plus side, the thick dirt crust on my legs combined with the white analgesic paste created a lovely pattern on my legs that remained to the bitter end.  🙂

ONE STATE DOWN, ONE TO GO
Beaver Mtn. Lodge (75) to Gibson Basin (81)
5.4 miles in between (2 hours, 8 minutes)
No Crews; 2:00 pm cutoff Mile 81
ETA 10:30 am; actual arrival 11:12 am, out 11:14 am
1300’ ascent from 75 to 81

Before the race, I had put a clean shirt in my drop bag at Beaver Mountain, my dad’s Crater Lake Marathon shirt from the early 80’s. I thought it might give me some inspiration for the last quarter of the run. For a moment, I considered not worrying about changing, but at the last moment I decided to just do it.

So, back in daytime running garb and carrying a cup of hot coffee in one hand and a cup of hot (yay!) chicken noodle soup broth in the other, Sam and I left Beaver Mountain in blazing daylight, the day warming quickly. The coffee and broth helped rejuvenate me a little bit, but my pace was still so slow. After navigating a tricky section of the race course that involved several turns, we made it across the highway to the jeep road that would lead us up to the Gibson Basin aid station (81).

Even John got confused leaving Beaver Mountain. First he passed us out by the road heading up one way, and then we ran into him again heading up the road we were taking to the next aid station. I knew this was not a crew accessible station, so this worried me, but I tried not to think about it. Sure enough, pretty soon John was heading back down the treacherous Jeep road toward us. Whoops! After a quick kiss for John, Sam and I continued up the road, and John headed down to figure out how to really get to the next aid station. Like us, John had not slept at all to speak of since 4:45 am the previous morning, so I can’t imagine he was firing on all cylinders either. Haha.

It was 5.4 miles straight up to Gibson Basin. We passed from Utah into Idaho and stopped to take pictures of the sign. Arriving at Gibson, I quickly refilled my pack, grabbed a couple bites of melon, and checked out, leaving Sam to catch up.

THE DAY GETS WARM…JUST KEEP MOVING
Gibson Basin (81) to Beaver Creek CG (85)
4 miles in between (1 hour, 35 minutes)
Crew Accessible; 3:00 pm cutoff at Mile 85
ETA 11:45 am; Actual arrival 12:49 am, out at 12:50
300’ ascent, 800’ descent from 81 to 85

The road out of Gibson Basin led about a half-mile straight across a meadow, and we could see people way out there turning to head up the hill to the right. I remember trying to run across this flat piece of road. I don’t know if you could call it running. It seemed too tiring, so I resorted to walking just like everyone else.

The long road leading out of Gibson Basin.

This brings up another recurring theme – EVERYONE walks faster than I do. A couple powerwalked past me like I was standing still, talking and laughing – well, he looked pretty focused, but she was SMILING. I could not comprehend it. Plus, I was irritated because she made me hot just looking at her in her fleece pullover. I had removed my long sleeved shirt a couple miles back, and the temperature out on that exposed section was very warm, probably pushing the 80s. I wished I had some of what they had, but I didn’t know how to find it. Maybe I didn’t want it bad enough. Part of me had given up, yet I refused to quit.

Arriving at Beaver Creek CG (85), and after navigating a series of very stressful creek crossings on Mile 85 legs – thank goodness John was there to assist me (it wouldn’t have been such a big deal if I wasn’t trying so hard to keep my feet dry) – John told me that I needed to find 30 minutes somewhere. I couldn’t fathom this. Push hard, he said. This was the first time pushing hard had occurred to me. This may seem crazy obvious, but for hours I had been trudging through the depths of despair. How do you push hard for another six hours when you have already pushed for thirty? That is maybe the ultimate 100 mile question.

Allie and Margaret coming into Beaver Creek CG.

But John got me thinking. Push hard? That’s, like, something you do in a marathon or a 5k or something. I’ve done 85 miles. It was beyond my comprehension. The doubt in myself was too overwhelming. If I would have re-evaluated my pace schedule earlier in the morning, maybe I could have convinced myself that I could still make the cutoff and get back on track. However, the enormity of my “behind-ness” had grown huge in my head like a bite of bad food in my mouth. I was very hard to convince that my slowness could be un-done. My doubt was overpowering, and ultimately what “ruined” my finishing pace.

I was exhausted. The day had grown hot. Fifteen miles, and the ascending and descending within them was overwhelming. John kept saying, Push hard. You only need to find a half hour somewhere. That’s it. You can do it.

John was right of course. I believe I could have done it, had I mustered my fire a couple of hours sooner. I may have been depleted of fuel at that point. Nothing sounded good, and I had had a hard time eating enough. While John was filling my pack with water, I made myself a half of PB&J sandwich, groaning and half-laying across the folding table, propping myself up with my elbows. Two teenage boys and their father, who were manning the aid station, glanced at me with little interest, mostly ignoring me. Nothing was offered, nothing looked good. But I made that sandwich and checked out, with John hugging me and reminding me once more that I could push hard.

 

DIRTBIKES, DUST, AND DOUBT
Beaver Creek CG (85) to Ranger Dip (92)
7 miles in between (3 hours, 8 minutes)
Crew Accessible; 4:30 pm cutoff at Mile 92
ETA 2:30 pm; actual arrival 3:58 pm, out at 4:03 pm
1200’ ascent, 600’ descent from 85 to 92

Aside from the last two, this section was probably the most pivotal piece of the race in terms of my finishing time. The next seven miles from Beaver Creek (85) to Ranger Dip (92) were interminable.

I was a lugubrious heap of flesh shuffling through hot dust.

I had my iPod back in through this section, but my brain had ceased its ability to be motivated by it or even comprehend the songs. I think Eminem’s Lose Yourself (I know, don’t judge) came on during this section: You only get one shot, do not miss your chance…,This opportunity comes once in a lifetime… The lyrics were appropriate, and I remember trying to find motivation there, but it just was not coming. I could not muster a faster pace.

I tried to envision myself sitting down back at Beaver Creek and saying I’m done. I couldn’t envision that. At the same time, I couldn’t envision myself covering the next seven miles of hot dusty, mountainous terrain. But it didn’t matter. I knew I wouldn’t let everyone down by quitting. I knew I would not be happy with a DNF hanging over my head for the next year. Plus, it was only one more aid station, and then onto the finish! What was so hard about that?

Defeat, despair, desolation…they had a grip on me for 20 very frustrating miles.

Sam tried to encourage me. You are an amazing person and an amazing runner and you inspire a lot of people, and not making one cutoff does not change that. My negative state got the better of me, and despite firm resolve prior to the race to STAY POSITIVE, EMILY, my pessimism had established a pretty firm grip.

I am NOT amazing, I am NOT a hero, I am NOT a good runner, and I am NOT going to make the cutoff!

John’s encouragement at Beaver Creek was invaluable. He lit a spark in me that did not manifest itself immediately, but it was slowly building. I was so caught up in the fact that I was an hour and a half behind my schedule, and my doubt caused me to lose focus of my goal through those most difficult miles.

Despite all that, I still did believe that I would make it past the Ranger Dip cutoff in time and that I would still finish the race without being pulled off the course. See? Shows that what you believe will most likely come true. If I had believed all day that I would finish by the 6 pm, I’m sure I would have done it.

But the spark was there, deep down. Sam and I trudged through the seven miles that seemed like 70 from Beaver Creek to Ranger Dip, the longest miles of our lives. I was trying to block it out. I knew it would seem like forever. That was to be expected. I was on autopilot, blocking out the heat, the dust, the discomfort, the exhaustion. Zone out. Just keep moving. I was not smelling the barn yet.

To add insult to injury, this section of the race was characterized by hot dust, blazing sun, and ATVs! There must have been 20-30 ATV riders who passed us on this road, as well as two idiotic carfuls of young men in a Jeep and a truck who had gotten stuck and then passed us later, giving us approximately zero inches of clearance. We were not too inclined to move off the road either. We would have been easy pickings.

Sometime in the later stages of this torturous climb, The Pink Lady and her pacer blew by us (at a walk) like we were standing still. Her pacer was “the meanest guy I could find,” Dr. Marc, The Pink Lady’s brother, told me later at the finish line.

The Pink Lady looked like death, like she could not possibly have anything left. Her face was smeared with sweat and sunscreen. Her eyes were half closed. She had a tottering hike-cadence that I should have been able to match. Her clothing was stained with dirt. But she was doing it. She was pushing and being pushed. She wanted that buckle worse than I did. This was her 8th Bear, and it would be her first official finish. She wanted that buckle BADLY, and her pacer was going to make sure she got it. She had a drive where mine was missing. Her pacer was handing her Ensure to sip every couple minutes and whistling at her like a dog to make sure she was staying up to pace.

They offered me an Ensure on their way by, but I couldn’t even muster a coherent response. I should have taken it. But it was so confusing. WHY ARE PEOPLE ASKING ME QUESTIONS!?!

 

I should have gone with her. The Pink Lady, Celeste Collman, finished in 35:55, with five minutes to spare.

After a very long, 1200’ascent over about 4.5 miles, we finally summited out into breathtaking views of rolling hills and meadows with glimpses of Bear Lake off to our left from nearly 9000 feet elevation. Having no idea how far we had come or how long we had to go to the next aid station, the crest of the hill with those views of the lake made us think we were getting close. Three and a half miles was not close. It was endless. We could see the road rolling far out ahead of us.

Bear Lake from high above.

I could see The Pink Lady and her pacer just hammering it down below us. I wished we had gone with them. If I would have had an inkling of hope, I could have gone with her. My hope had gone on vacation and was waiting for me at Ranger Dip (92). I didn’t believe…not yet.

A mile or two away from Ranger Dip, hot and delirious in the afternoon sun, Sam started hallucinating aid stations. At one point, he even started clapping and cheering for me saying the aid station is right there! I looked but saw nothing but big rocks, trees, and dirt. I’m pretty sure those are rocks, not cars, Sam, I said gravely. These things become matters of serious debate at Mile 90.

After many rolling hills and many false aid station sightings, we arrived at Ranger Dip at 3:58 pm, 32 minutes before the final cutoff for that aid station. People who arrive at that point at 4:30, the cutoff, do not make it to the finish by 6 pm. But I had two hours to do eight miles. Sounds do-able, right? Well…

Somewhere late in those miles before Ranger Dip, I began praying about my knee. It had hindered me from running fast at all on the downhill sections where I should have been able to make up time. I knew if there was any chance AT ALL to finish without getting pulled off the course, I would need to be able to run the last section to the finish on the steepest descent of the race.

Lord, if I even have a chance, if I am intended to push and make an attempt at finishing this race by six, please give my run back. I will take it as a sign.

SMELLING THE BARN AND A MIRACLE FOR MY KNEE
Ranger Dip (92) to Fish Haven (100)
8 miles in between (2 hours, 46 minutes)
Crew Accessible; 6:00 pm cutoff at Mile 100
ETA 5:30 pm; actual arrival 6:49 pm
700’ ascent, 3300’ descent from 92 to 100

At Ranger Dip, the air was festive, even though Sam and I were the only runners there. This is the home stretch! I was still lamenting the unlikelihood that I would finish in time. One of the guys at the aid station told me that he had seen people come through after 4 pm, even after me, and still finish before six. This was exactly what I needed to hear. I had to try. A bit of clarity was seeping into my foggy brain, and I thought again of all the people at home waiting to see the next set of numbers appear on the spreadsheet, thinking of me and praying for me. I absolutely felt those prayers and believe they were the ropes that kept me from plummeting.

I tried to get down low and capture how steep this last climb really was.

After inhaling some ramen noodles (the best food in the race, according to Sam, and I am tempted to agree), and refilling our water, we were out of there, with one final climb and one huge descent between us and the finish line.

The last climb. It was really steep.

This was not a long climb, but it was definitely steep, gaining 700 feet in less than a mile. I put my hands on my knees and vowed to not stop. I plowed up that hill, only looking back once to take some final pictures, and then I stowed the camera for good. It was time to get down to business. We left the aid station at 4:03 pm, and I remember looking at my watch at the summit at 4:13 pm – I’m not sure if my watch and the race clock were exactly synced, but regardless, we climbed that hill in less than 15 minutes. Rock on.

C’mon, Sam. You can do it!

And then we started down. Steep down, rolling down, gradual down, catch-me-in-a-net-steep down. And I was RUNNING. The twist in my knee had vanished. Maybe it was the adrenaline, maybe it was the power of the mind knowing I was on the last stretch. But I prefer to believe that I was experiencing something miraculous as a result of the prayers going up for me. Thank you!

Sam said one of the best moments of the race was watching me pull out my funk which took forever. The cutoff time was in doubt, says Sam, but I never doubted you would snap out of it. He was amazed at the power of prayer and at the energy I displayed after leaving Ranger Dip. That’s when I was back in the game and anything was possible. Very impressive.

Ok, this was the deal. If my knee held up, I was going to give this thing all I had. I ran tentatively at first, building until I was running as fast as I could, making really good time, probably doing a 9-10 minute per mile pace through some of those miles. I tried to outrun Sam. (He will only admit to being a little bit worn down on the way up that last hill.)

Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive came on during on this piece, and my excitement was mounting. I again thought of those treadmill runs where I visualized The Bear finish getting closer with each step. On every run for the last two months, I ran the last miles of the Bear, but now it was real. This was the moment of truth. I could push hard and try to salvage some of my pride, or I could give up and let it all go.

I had two hours.

Back at Ranger Dip, the aid station captain had identified himself as the race sweep and told me that since I had passed through his aid station before the cutoff, he would allow me to finish the race, even if I was not going to get there by 6 pm. But I had to try.

Coming out of the trees, getting closer to Bear Lake and the Finish.

Finally, we came out of the trees, but we could see that we were still a great distance from the lake, still pretty high up. Next was a section of deep dust and rocks going straight down an ATV trail that would eventually take us out to the road into town. This was so very difficult. My faculties were not entirely intact, and it was treacherous trying to navigate this super-slick dirt over rocks without crashing. There were a couple times when I did actually take this approach. After slipping on rocks, I would just give in to the fall and slide down as far as possible on my backside. It was a pretty good strategy.

A couple miles from the finish, a runner (Green Shirt Guy) came bombing past us with a terrified look in his eye. Apparently, he had passed through Ranger Dip right at the 4:30 cutoff, and he was racing the sweep to make it to the finish. He asked if he was going to make it.

How far is it? he asked.

We told him we weren’t sure, but we were pretty sure that we weren’t going to make it.

I remember looking at my watch then and it said 17:53 – only 7 minutes to cover what we were sure was over two miles. By this time, we knew we wouldn’t make the cutoff, but it was okay. Shortly after terrified Green Shirt Guy sprinted past, the race sweep came roaring up.

Is that guy going to make it? we asked. We wanted to make sure we were not throwing away our chances by not sprinting it in from here. No way, he said.

Okay.

At that point, we pretty much decided to get there when we got there. In hindsight, I do regret this decision, but it seemed okay at the time. It was enough to finish. If we had kept on running and pushing, I feel certain we would have finished by 6:20 pm. But this was not where I was losing my official finish. That happened 20 miles ago. This was where I was simply finishing, and I was happy.

We looked over to the left and saw Green Shirt Guy hiking…what? Another hill?… Turns out, we were not emerging onto the town road quite yet. We had to take a left and go over one more little hill with a water tank on top, and then we could descend down over the river and onto a gravel road through a rural subdivision that seemed to go on forever. We were walking at this point.

Sam realized he had cell coverage and took the opportunity to call Davina and Tina to give them an update. I talked to them both, and it was surreal to get to tell them I was finishing as I was actually doing it. Maybe those special phone calls were worth not running hard to the finish. I don’t know.

Along this stretch of road, we encountered Kerry Flaker (her husband Jeff had finished a few hours earlier, his first 100 also), coming out to scout our position. It was so wonderful to see her smiling face. And then about a quarter mile from the main highway and the finish, we saw Margaret Heaphy up ahead, and we broke into a run. Yay! I had been choking back tears for the last mile, knowing that this was it. On some level, I had succeeded. Seeing Margaret, the tears vanished, and I got excited. We reached the highway and Margaret broke off to cut across the finish area. We passed a smiling Allie standing out on the highway, and then we turned onto the driveway, about 100 yards from the finish line.

THE FINISH

All the fatigue melted away, the pain vanished, the defeat became victory, the tears became smiles. Euphoria took over as I ripped my pack off, hurled it on the lawn, and sprinted to the finish with a smile plastered on my face. Dennis, Paul, Lynette, Ben, Jon – they were all there waiting for me and cheering as I finished. They waited for me! That meant a lot.

Me and Sam coming down the driveway to the finish.

I didn’t quit, I said to John as he hugged me under the finish banner. I didn’t quit. I know – it’s obvious I didn’t quit, and it seems simplistic to say those words now. But it seemed profound to me at that time, and it was a mantra I had been repeating for the last eight miles. So many times I felt like I could have quit when I didn’t know how to keep going. But…I didn’t quit through the lowest of lows. I didn’t quit even knowing I wasn’t going to get my buckle. I didn’t quit.

 

So happy to finish.

After a fun picture-taking session complete with Dennis showing off his clap-pushups, a really nice race volunteer brought me a plate of food and bowl of shrimp. Dennis set me up with a chair and a blanket – I was getting cold even before I finished. I felt pampered and rewarded, even though I was not getting any special recognition from the race.

All of us finished!!! L-R: Dennis, Sam, Me, Ben, Paul, Jon, Jeff, Lynette, Margaret, Allie. Tony had already left.

As we drove out of the parking lot heading up the road to our hotel in Montpelier, I exclaimed that there was a moose RIGHT THERE! John and Sam laughed at me and pointed out that what I was seeing was really a life-size, wrought iron, 2-D black moose-shaped yard decoration. I swear it was full-bodied and that it was moving. A little way up the road, John said he kept thinking the reflectors on poles by the road were runners with headlamps. I guess that’s what 40 hours without sleep will do to you.

Sam is my hero of the day.

SPECIAL THANKS

To Sam, my friend and running buddy, who did the best he could do for me by traveling a great distance with every intention of helping me. Ultimately, it was me who needed to help myself, but that does not diminish my appreciation for Sam. He helped so much with navigation when my brain was getting mushy by always being ahead and bird-dogging the course flagging, and we never got lost like a lot of people did. Sam was invaluable when it came to creek and river crossings. He supplied me with S-caps and other tasty snacks. He rubbed BenGay on my dirt-caked knees at Mile 75 to help get me moving better.  He put up with my ridiculous bouts of grumpiness. Thank you.

To John, an ultra newbie just like me. Together we are going to get this thing down. You were the best thing that could have happened to my race. Thank you for being there at every point you could. Thank you for being unfailingly upbeat. Thank you for pushing me. I would not have wanted to do it without you.

The next day.

TWO DAYS POST RACE

I feel great except for my toes. My feet and ankles are still swelling quite a bit (swelling lasted two days post-race), and I am tired. The crazy swelling of my hands (and Sam’s too) that we had most of Saturday during the race went away almost immediately after the race. I will take a nap this afternoon. I essentially have no soreness to speak of. My right knee is still a bit sore to the touch, but with a little rest to heal it up (I will have to rest anyway because of my blistered toes), it will be back to normal in no time.

 

I finally got to take my shoes off at the hotel. My entire fourth toe was encapsulated in blister. My shoes stunk sooo badly, and my socks were like dirt clod patties. 

ONE WEEK POST RACE

  • Blisters mostly healed.
  • No soreness, even in the few days after the race.
  • Extreme tiredness remains.
  • Legs feel heavy after sitting.
  • Woke up in cold sweats Monday and Tuesday nights after the race.
  • Went to boot camp Wednesday and it about killed me – not the workout itself; that was fine – but later in the day, I could hardly function. Did not go Friday.
  • Thursday evening, 5 days post-race, I was able to run 3.6 miles at a decent pace, but that was my limit. I was running with Ben, and we were having a good time talking, but finally I had to drop off. Knee hurt later that night after sitting. Need to take it easy.
  • My nose took a week to get through the worst of the chapping.
  • Two weeks post-race: Went on an 8-mile trail run in the Owyhees, and although the overall pace was really easy, I still managed to roll my left ankle again, shooting a searing pain from my ankle bone down. Ok, that’s it. I’m taking an entire week off from running and boot camp. Self-imposed resting exile.
  • Three weeks post-race: I am still tired, but I finally feel like I am on the road to normalcy. I have been exceptionally tired the past three weeks, even now, but granted I have not been to bed too many nights before midnight. It is hard to get up earlier than 9:00 am. After a week of no running at all, I ran 4 miles in my new NB101’s with great success. The ankle is still weak, but I wrapped it and forged through a couple close calls of nearly twisting it to come out of the run with more confidence and a great appreciation for the joy of running.
  • Four weeks post-race: I think I am back to “normal” now. I ran 25 miles this week following my rest week and feel really good. Loving my NB 101’s.

POST RACE THOUGHTS

Reading back over this report, I realize it may seem to you a report of a slow decline to failure. Maybe my inability to obtain a buckle could be deemed by some as failure. I fell short of the race’s arbitrary, albeit rather generous, time limit. But I covered 100 miles. I do not feel negative about the outcome.

You may think I make a lot of excuses for what went wrong. It may seem that a lot went wrong, period. It may seem like many things could have been changed. This is hardly the case.  I do not feel the race was a negative experience, nor do I think I could have done anything differently. It is easy to re-run the race after the fact.

In reality, a lot went right, and I truly feel like I did the best I could under the circumstances during the race. I do not have to live the next year wondering if I can go the distance. There are no excuses. Like anyone who wants to improve, I am evaluating this race, and I will do many things differently at future races. I will go back to Bear next year and get my buckle. I found the bottom of my soul, and I am not sure I like what I found. As much as I wanted to be positive and have fun the whole race, I found  1) that was probably an impossible goal, and 2) that I am a person with doubting, pessimistic tendencies. These traits will not be changed on race day. This will be part of my training. Positive, positive, positive. Eat, sleep, breathe my next 100 miler. Just as in the Christian walk – body, mind, and attitude: always training.

I am the sort of person who tends to do things in steps. I look back at where I was three years and nine months ago, just starting to run again six months after giving birth to Margie – out of shape and starting from scratch. Two years ago, I ran my first marathon. A year and four months ago, I ran my first 50k. Three months ago, I ran my first 50 miler. This was my first 100, but definitely not my last. I went the distance. I have a foundation to build on. I will be back next year, and mark my words, I will earn my Bear buckle.

Simply getting through my first 100 was the best learning experience of all. You just cannot know how you will react to those late miles until you have been there. Now that I know what some of my struggles seem to be, I can anticipate them and be stronger, tougher, and push harder next time. I knew before the race that I would have highs and lows. I knew I would find the bottom of my soul. I had been reminded of that early in the race by a veteran. But I did not have the perspective within myself to remember that later on the second day. Now I know how I respond to sleep deprivation. I know how I respond to extended periods of doubt and despair. I have a better idea of what I need from a pacer and crew. I know 100 times more than I knew before this race; yet I still have 100 times more to know.

My journey continues. I hope you will come with me.

A BREAKDOWN OF THE RACE, LIST-STYLE

Successes and Good Things

  • The HOT coffee and HOT chicken broth at Mile 75 shortly after sunup rocked.
  • Brooks Ghost 2 shoes for 55 miles!
  • 40-50 miles per week was adequate training to finish the Bear in 35 hours.
  • Shirt change at Mile 75 was good. Could have used a toothbrush and face wash.
  • Feet were tolerable, in spite of the 15+ blisters. I couldn’t wait to get the shoes off my feet, but I did not have extreme foot pain.
  • Legs never hurt like crazy, just tired, without much run left in them.
  • Caffeine at miles 61 and 69 was a good thing. I think the Doubleshot was the most useful.

Need to Improve

  • Make sure to eat a little more. I remember being hungry coming into quite a few aid stations. I would hopefully avoid more lows by staying more fortified with fuel. Drink more Ensure, especially later in the race when it’s hard to take in too much food. Probably needed more calories. After a while it was not appealing to think about eating, but that’s exactly what I needed.
  • Plan aid station procedures more carefully with crew and pacer beforehand. Make an aid station list to quickly carry out, and then get out of there. Overall, if I have a crew/pacer, some pre-race planning would be in order. I can’t fathom why I didn’t do this, but it would have made a big difference.
  • Should have tied bandanna around my knee. Duh! That’s what I had extra bandanas for!
  • Should have run the race in at the end instead of walking for two miles after we realized we were going to be over the cutoff.
  • Should have paced with The Pink Lady, who finished in 35:55.
  • Needed to stay positive and not let despair and defeat rule my race for such a long time. Every runner has lows, but mine lasted for too long. Realize that achieving goals is possible as long as I am still moving.

 

Food
Many people ask me what I eat to stay fueled on a 36-hour jaunt. Here you go: The following is everything I can remember eating, a pretty complete list, omitting only random little stuff I probably grabbed from aid station tables.

  • a raspberry crème Powergel
  • multiple oatmeal raisin walnut cookies
  • several handfuls of melon
  • 3/4 of a banana (that Steve Pero advised I eat at Mile 30)
  • Cliff mango gel (yuck!)
  • lots of S-caps and plain water – success!
  • 1 plain McDonald’s hamburger (thanks, Honey!)
  • 2 handfuls dark chocolate espresso beans
  • @4 caffeine latte Powergels
  • cup of coffee
  • cup of hot chicken noodle soup broth
  • slice of cheese pepperoni pizza
  • two halves of PB & J sandwich
  • 1 Starbucks Doubleshot can
  • @4 cups vegetable soup
  • 1 bottle ensure
  • couple bites of potatoes with cheese
  • 3 margarita-flavored, extra sodium Shot Blocks
  • 1 espresso Hammer Gel (blech)
  • 1 mint chocolate GU
  • small bowl of ramen noodles
  • bowl of bean soup
  • cup of hot (lukewarm) chocolate
  • potato stew with 2 rolls (awesome!)
  • chips
  • trail mix
  • lemon Luna bar
  • Nature Valley granola bar

AN ALTERNATE FORM: RACE REPORT REBUTTAL
by Dennis Ahern

In Mountains I run.
Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, ON!
Fall colors my mind.

BOISE TRAIL RUNNERS (AND ALLIE) BEAR 100 RESULTS

Dennis Ahern 28:34
Paul Lindauer 29:27
Tony Huff 29:27 (1st 100)
Lynette McDougal 31:21
Ben Blessing 31:53
Jeff Flaker 33:11 (1st 100)
Allie Wood 34:38
Jon Kinzer 34:56 (1st 100)
Emily Berriochoa 36:49 (1st 100)