Oh, you know – 2 months later I sit down to type this one out. I am already regretting waiting so long as the whole experience just seems like a dream. And I’m happy to say not a nightmare. Quite the pleasant memory actually, as the further into the past my races become, the more I tend to remember the good and positive feelings and drown out the bad. That’s a good thing, right? That’s what keeps me coming back for more. And I will be back…
I put into the lottery for this race back in January before I had even completed one ultra-distance race on trails. What kind of a moron does that? This girl. I had actually viewed this race as my “consolation prize” after hoping to get into IronMan Boulder but it selling out before I could register. I like pushing my limits and finding out what i’m made of and doing something as epic as Wasatch 100 in my first year of trail running seemed like no joke. Looking back on how things turned out, I couldn’t be more grateful that I didn’t get into Boulder IronMan. My experiences this past year on the trails feel like I have finally come home to my real passion.
My training schedule for this race really started in January after I got into the lottery. I immediately signed up for several other ultras in one night as a strategic build up of both distance, terrain, technical difficulty, and mental toughness training. My race schedule was as follows:
March: Buffalo Run 50K: 31 miles, 3900 ft gain
June: Squaw Peak 50 miler: 52 miles, 12000 ft gain
July: Speedgoat 50K: 33 miles, 13,000 ft gain
This schedule kept me motivated to continually train and push my elevation and technical terrain experiences as Wasatch covers 26,000 ft of gain over 100 miles. It is considered one of the most difficult races in the nation. Oh mommy. I had intentions of completing the Katcina Mosa 100k in early August but had to opt out due to some IT band issues coming off of Speedgoat 2 weeks prior. Good choice.
I ran 4-5 (usually 4) days/week in preparation for this race. Most people think that training for this distance requires upwards of 60+ miles/week. I am an minimalist. I believe that while miles are important, keeping those miles quality while giving your body adequate rest is equally as valuable. I also find great value in weight training to keep my body strong and aid in quicker recovery time, thus I was in the gym 3-4 days/week which is also why I only ran 4-5 days/week. I averaged around 50 miles/week on the trails, with one longer run on Saturdays. Those longer runs averaged anywhere from 18-26 miles depending on the week. My peak week topped at 76 miles. I had intentions of a 50-60 mile training run (Katcina Mosa 100K was to be that training run) but with some family commitments I had to settle with 3 back to back runs of 20, 14, and 26 miles and a few shorties at the first of the week. I was worried that my lower mileage and unconventional peak week would not be enough to carry me through this caliber of a race but I am happy to say that I proved it to be a great and realistic training schedule for a mom of 3 kids and husband that travels often for work while training for his own races.
RACE DAY – The first half:
How do you even begin to describe the feeling of standing at the start line of what will be the beginning of 30+ hours of straight running? Oddly enough I felt no more jittery than the start of a marathon. Really. I am surprised that despite my lack of experience in this distance and my doubts with my training, I felt remarkably peaceful at the start line. I am grateful to have spent the last few months running with a group of now friends that are avid trail runners, most of which have run this race several times. They were all happy to impart their vast wisdom and knowledge to me on our runs over the summer. Two pieces of advice that I believe saved my race – one physically and one mentally:
1) Start SLOW. Don’t let your race day anxiety get the best of you and start speeding up when people are passing you. Let them pass. You will likely pass them at mile 60. Minutes cost at the start will save you hours on the back end. If you think you are going slow – go slower. Make your goal on the climbs be that you don’t push yourself to the point of hearing yourself breath and feeling a lactic acid flush in your legs.
2) You will have a thousand second winds. You will be amazed at how horrible you can feel one minute and then feel so great the next. This comes with the territory of this distance.
The beginning of this race starts out with a nifty climb gaining 4300 ft in the first 9.4 miles. I decided to take the advice given and be more conservative than I felt comfortable with for my competitive nature. It was definitely a power hike. My goal was to keep my breathing controlled and steady. I was surprised that not many people passed me. I listened to the conversations of a group behind me talking about their past race experiences and could tell that they had been around the ultra block a few times. This made me feel more confident that I was pacing with some people that knew how to race. I left my headphones off to keep my mind on my breathing and how my legs were feeling. I didn’t want that deep burn in my quads and hamstrings. By the time I had come over the top of Chin Scraper and began my first descent, my leg literally felt fresh. That’s how slow I was going.
I was happy to catch up with a friend Kendall Wimmer at the top and spend the next few miles chatting with him while we took a pretty conservative but steady pace down to the first aid station. I packed some replacement GU’s, a Core Power protein shake, replacement hydration bottle with my favorite drink and replacement socks in each of my drop bags. I ended up almost never using anything out of my drop bags. I tried to minimize the amount of time at each aid station and limited it to grabbing a few items of real food (watermelon, boiled potatoes dipped in salt, potato chips and oranges usually) to offset the GU and having someone fill up my pack with water. I only sat down at the major aid stations when I had a crew later in the race.
As I was running down into this first aid station, I had one of the most incredible runners high’s I have ever experienced. I had run this stretch before several times during my training as it is at the top of Farmington Canyon, which is literally 10 minutes from my house. I started thinking about all of the runs over the last few months that took me to the place I was at in that moment and combined that with 360 degree views from a peak I stare at from my backyard, and I literally felt invincible in that moment. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for a body and mind that carried me to be in that place in that moment. I don’t know that I will be able to duplicate how intense those feelings were for me. You betcha I’m going to try.
I was extremely diligent at monitoring my salt and fueling intake the entire race. The latter half of the race I had to rely on my pacers to remind me as I was a little out of my mind. :0 I took 2 salt pills every hour, rotating from S-Tabs salt tabs and Enduralytes every other hour and a GU Roctane every hour with a few regular GU’s mixed in when I felt like my caffeine intake was fine. I did take Roctanes probably 75% of the time. That’s one every hour over a 100 miler. Do the math. That’s a shit ton of GU in my belly. Luckily I do well with them. My stomach is pretty much a garbage truck.
When I came into the mile 25 aid station, I was completely shocked to see two friends, Matt Williams and Scott Wesseman just getting ready to leave. I consider them both talented ultrarunners, both with a goal of 28 hours on this race which is much faster than I anticipated finishing. I started to wonder whether I was going too fast but honestly felt extremely comfortable with my pace, even still conservative. This gave me a good mental boost. I spent the majority of the miles between 25-40 running with Matt, Scott and Kendall. It made a huge difference in making the time pass to have some homeboys to chat with.
I came into the mile 40 aid station with a massive grin on my face, feeling much better than any race I have done to this point. The biggest difference was just in the conservative nature of my pace and consistent salt and GU monitoring. I picked up my first pacer Leslie, changed my socks and picked up a handheld flask of flat Coke and off I went. Let me just say that the flat Coke idea was seriously THE BEST piece of advice from a friend. It helped keep my stomach settled through the next 12 miles until we hit the mile 52 aid station at Lamb’s Canyon where Tommy was waiting to pace me. I had again caught up to my group of friends as we hit one of the notoriously boring and hot sections along a literal rut in the trail. We all had to run single file along the rut tracks so we made the most of the crap section by belting out a few show tunes. I am a much better singer than Aaron Williams. At this point I was still feeling amazing, even ahead of a few people that I expected to be far behind. Up to this point – no stomach problems, no major bonks. That was about to change…
The second half:
When I came into Lamb’s Canyon and got weighed they informed me that I only had about 2 more pounds to lose before they would have to make me sit out until I could gain some weight back. I was shocked. I was plenty hydrated, fueled, felt amazing and had no GI issues. My crew panicked a little and talked me into trying to eat a little more food. I had some broth with noodles and maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Dusk was just barely settling in and about 2 miles out from the aid station, I started to feel a hint of nausea. I started to wonder if it was the food I tried to cram in. 2 miles after that I was in full on panic mode as we hit another one of the long steep climbs and I was breathing REAL heavy, like lamaze style just to keep the barfs from coming up. This lasted 3 hours. If you are wondering what it is like to try and run while trying not to barf – it’s pretty much exactly how you’d picture it. You can’t zone out, you are living each second, acutely aware of how every inch of your body is feeling. It was a long 3 hours. BUT I never stopped, I just power hiked the shit out of that climb and let out a few primal yells (yes, it helps okay?). I came into Upper Big Water at mile 61 wondering how in the sam hell I was going to keep going. I sat down and ate a half of a grilled cheese sandwich made by the hand of God, pulled up my big girl panties and just kept going. Here is where those thousand second winds start to kick in. It’s miraculous. It’s impossible. But we do impossible. I put in my head phones and made the next climb my biotch. I even passed a few people. I started to feel good. REALLY good. How is that even possible? I may never know.
I maintained a reasonable pace (steady hiking the uphills and running the flat and downhills) until we hit Scott’s Pass. I started to get tired. It’s funny how you kind of forget that you’ve been up for 24 hours and all of a sudden you’re like “I will literally kill someone if I don’t lay down on this nice hard rock RIGHT NOW”. This part was some pretty intense mental torture. This is where it’s all mind, no body. My body was on auto pilot. My mind was almost gone. Tommy was a huge asset to me at this point as I just needed to feel comfort. I started to have a hard time focusing. Since it was pitch black, near Desolation Lake (which is just as desolate as it sounds), I really needed to focus on where my feet where falling within my little headlamp circle of light on the trail. I felt like I was on drugs – which would have been much more preferable at this point for sure, anyway…just a lack of clarity in thinking was the best way to describe it. I lost a little bit of time between Desolation Lake and Brighton Aid station just because I couldn’t focus on where to place my feet in order to do any serious running. I tried to increase my salt and caffeine intake and I think it started to kick in just before I came into the mile 75 aid station and Brighton Ski resort.
As I ran into the aid station, I was greeted by several of my dear, sweet freaking nut job friends who had surprised me by showing up at 2:00am to see me. I don’t need to describe their wardrobe choices, I will grace you with pictures instead. The surprise wasn’t in their clothing choices, that’s pretty standard crew attire in my circle. I more surprised at how many of them showed up in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere to support me. It was an overwhelming moment. I was much too exhausted to give them the proper thank you’s but I’m sure everyone else that was lucky (or unfortunate – depends on who you ask) enough to be in that lodge that night gave them a thank you. In their hearts.
I dropped Tommy off here and picked up Janice to head out for the last 25. Oh mommy. I felt ready to go but as soon as we left the lodge, something immediately took a turn in my nether regions and I began to suffer one of the most intense moments of misery (moments meaning 6 or so hours) I have ever experienced. Janice was awesome to chat away to try and keep my head off of my situation but I was horrible company. I literally grunted. We had hit another grueling climb and the highest elevation point on the course. I was nauseated, I felt like my bowels wanted to leave my body and just didn’t want to be moving any more. This is the mind over matter part. I was pissed and ornery, wondering why the hell I was choosing to do this. But i’ll be damned if I was going to quit at this point. The details of the next 20 or so miles aren’t important other than it was the hardest thing I have ever done and felt exactly how you’d picture you’d feel after running for over 29 hours straight. My stomach remained at an uneasy point, no food or GU sounded good so I had to sip on a GU over the period of 30 minutes just to get it down. I really just wanted to crap my pants and get it over with (but happy to report that kept my pants clean). I just decided to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I think that is the key with deciding to do this kind of distance – deciding you can persist regardless of your discomfort level. Ultrarunners are some of the most mentally tough people I know and have a new level of respect for what happens out on the trails after this experience.
Tommy met me with 6 miles to go. I never wanted to quit but have never wanted God to make the time magically pass more quickly than I did those last 6 miles. Your body is in such a state of “WHAT THE HELL” shock at this point that I had no idea if anything was hurt or blistered. Tommy helped me to set mini goals with running to a certain point and then walking to the next point. This helped so much in terms of keeping my mind off the big picture and making time pass in a bearable fashion. At some point along this section I looked at my watch and realized that I was going to come in around 31 hours. This was remarkable for me. I had a goal to simply finish in the time cutoff of 36 hours. I could not believe with how slow I felt I started and how slow I felt I went over those nausea hell moments that I could be coming in at 31 hours. I was elated. I was happy. I was oh so miserable. Here came my favorite experience of the race:
With 2 miles left I had said to Tommy that I wanted to just run the rest of the way in. This was almost laughable when I said it out loud. I was almost pissed at myself that I did. But once spoken I can’t go back, so here I was running (running was probably a 13 minute mile – laughy cry cry) and literally moaning out loud. I came around the last corner when the finish line came in sight. My mother in law pulled up along the road and I could hear my kids yelling my name from the car. All of a sudden all of the pain and misery left my body. It really did. My kids got out of the car and I don’t remember a thing about how my body felt for that last quarter mile section – we ran the whole freaking thing when I didn’t think my body could carry me another step 2 miles before. This is how amazing the mind is. I crossed the finish line with my husband and kids beside me and my legs decided they needed to be done. And they were. But they carried me 31 hours over 100 miles and 26,000 feet of climbing over the incredible mountainscapes of my mountain backyard. I can’t look back on this experience and tell you how I did it. It’s not something that can be explained, just experienced. I would have done it the next week if I could, there is NOTHING that can replace the feeling of crossing the finish line after something like that.
I used to think 100 miles is what conquering my impossible meant, that I would feel like I had arrived at some final satisfying destination. And believe me, there is no sweeter satisfaction than literally crawling out of the depths of hell and hitting that thousandth second wind. I now understand that impossible is not a destination. Your horizons just keep expanding to accommodate your endless potential. This is what I want out of my life. I’m going to continue to reach into the landscapes of my mind and body because every race will teach me something new about myself. This is my love.
Shoes: Pearl Izumi N2 Trail (I didn’t change my shoes once)
Socks: Three changes of socks: Wright Socks, Smart Wool at night and Drymax (not one blister which is incredible)
Compression Sleeves: ZeroPoint Compression
Shorts: Pearl Izumi Women’s Fly Split Shorts
Top: Team Pearl Izumi tech tee, Lululemon Run Swiftly Racerback
Gloves: Pearl Izumi Shine Wind Mitt
Hydration: Nathan VaporShape hydration pack, Salomon Park Hydro soft flask handheld
Headlamp: Petzl Myo RXP
GPS watch: Suunto Ambit2