Friday, September 28, 2012

Virgil Crest 100 ... Conquering Physical And Mental Limits

I have heard the saying “do something every day that scares you”. Well, after this weekend, I’m pretty sure that I should be good for the rest of the year now. This past weekend was the Virgil Crest Ultras and it would be my fourth run there. The first year I ran this event I was content with running the 50 miler (and then working an overnight aid station, which was way fun). But the next two years I had my eye set on the 100 miler and it just never worked out and both times I stopped at 50 miles. Despite running on these trails quite a bit and knowing them pretty well, the actual race was just too hard … definitely physically, but mostly in the respect that I could not mentally get back out there on the second loop after 50 miles. That’s the hardest thing for me on multiple loop ultras … leaving the comfort of warm clothes, friends, and just getting to hang out and have a relaxing beer after a long run. But this year I found new determination. I had seen my friends at so many ultras this year and got to hang out with them and enjoy beers after tough races. So this time I just didn’t have to do that. This time I had another agenda. This time it was all about me. This time there was nothing else to do for the entire weekend but run. This time, barring any life-threatening injury, I would finish this Mother. And to further encourage myself I kept in mind that I wanted to be the first local female to complete the 100 miler on home turf … and each time it didn’t happen it would open the opportunity for someone else to step in and do it. So that’s what truly kept me focused and I just had to keep reminding myself of that. It may have been an egotistical idea, but it was something to focus on and something to keep kicking my own ass into gear with.

Friday, September 21

Thank goodness for the proximity to home for this race. I had already decided that I wanted to sleep in my own bed the night before the race. It is 45 minutes from Newfield to Virgil and I had already thought about what time I would be getting up for breakfast, etc, if I stayed in Virgil the night before the race versus what time I could just roll out of my own bed, grab breakfast, and eat it on the drive to Virgil. Really, not much difference. So I decided that I would sleep much better at home. I also ditched the idea of the pre-race pasta dinner and Joe and I and our friend, Kevin (also running the 100 miler) went out to dinner. These two things, getting me away from the hype of the race, proved to be very good for me. I just needed to relax and focus on myself. 8:30pm I hit the bed, 3am I was up (a bit early, but you know … nerves …) and by 4:15am we were on the road to Virgil and the games were about to begin. And welcome to my playlist of music that helped to get me through this. I only wore my IPod during the first half of the race but there were some key songs that just stuck in my head throughout and just stuck as so appropriate in my head.

Saturday, September 22, 6am, Hope Lake, THE START.

Well I took a walk around the world to ease my troubled mind

I left my body lying somewhere in the sands of time

But I watched the world float to the dark side of the moon

I feel there is nothing I can do, yeah

- “Kryptonite”, 3 Doors Down

Wow … there was a lot of bustling around of runners at Hope Lake and yet it didn’t seem to affect me. I got my stuff together, chatted with some friends, and just thought about a weekend of running. And nothing else. There was nothing else to do. So when we all started running at 6am I felt very much at ease.

7:08am, Gravel Pit Aid Station, mile 4.4.

My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me

My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating

Sometimes I wish someone up there will find me

Till then I walk alone

- “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”, Green Day

I could tell by the time that we would soon be hitting The Gravel Pit aid station. Looking at my watch it was maybe just a bit too fast for me, but I didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard so I was happy with the pace. And then the trail curved to the left. A bunch of us were running together and we kept running downhill for what seemed a bit too long. I didn’t remember ever running downhill this far before arriving at The Gravel Pit. After some discussion with the leaders of the pack we decided to back-track, which was a good idea because we had gone off- course. We were supposed to make a right after the left curve, which would bring us right up to The Gravel Pit. Oh well … we lost just a few minutes, but no worries. It was still way early. A couple of peanut butter crackers and a refill of GU Brew and I was off on down the trail.

8:20am, Lift House 5 Aid Station, mile 9.7.

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven

When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed

With a word she can get what she came for

Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven

- “Stairway To Heaven”, Led Zeppelin

The section to The Lift House was just plain fun. I was still running with a lot of other runners and got to chat it up with some friends. Things were feeling pretty good. When I got to Lift House 5 (should be called Slaughter House 5?!) Joe was there waiting for me. After seeing me off at the start he went all the way out to Daisy Hollow to help set up that aid station and then hustled back to help me out. It was so good to see him, as always, and he got me out of the station in rapid fashion, fixing me up with my trekking poles and hydration pack. I threw on my iPod and I’m not joking, “Stairway To Heaven” was playing as I started to ascend the slope! How ironic! This first climb up the alpine slope is always a pisser and today was no different. And the grass was a bit slippery. So I just put my head down, focused on the music, and dug my poles into the ground.

I have to say that nothing outstanding happened during this section. I had pre-run most of the section the previous week and I knew where I was. What I wasn’t sure on was the timing of how long this section should actually take me, since it had been revised a bit from 2011. So basically I tried not to think about time and just thought that whatever time this section took me would be the baseline to go by for the next three times I would go through it.

9:44am, Lift House 5 Aid Station, mile 13.9.

Destination anywhere

East or west, I don’t care

You see my baby don’t want me no more

This old world ain’t got no back door

- “Destination Anywhere”, The Commitments

The section ended with a long, bone-jarring, rocky, muddy downhill that I was sooooo glad when it was over. For once I couldn’t wait to get back on the flat. And at the bottom of the hill was Joe … waiting with all my needs. I had developed a bit of a hot-spot on my left big toe and also felt some rubbing on my heel. I really didn’t want to stop and fart around with getting my compression sock off to deal with this, but it was necessary. Take time to make time, I was once told by a very wise ultrarunner. Taking this time now would prevent losing time on a major fall-out later.

Joe got my tackle box out and got exactly what I needed. Nexcare waterproof tape for the toe (the stuff sticks forever and is like a second thicker skin) and moleskin for my heel. But I knew the moleskin would not survive sticking to my sweaty foot and I really did not want to keep having to change it. So I superglued it to my heel. There … that oughta hold it for a while.

11:34am, Rock Pile Aid Station, mile 20.

There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west

And my spirit is crying for leaving

In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees

And the voices of those who stand looking

Ooh, it makes me wonder

Ooh, it really makes me wonder

- “Stairway To Heaven”, Led Zeppelin

On down Tone Road, hydration pack full of GU Brew and Pringles in hand, chatting with friends. Wow, things were feeling pretty good so far. But there was still a long way to go. My big issue with the Virgil Crest course is that I have a hard time thinking of it in terms of the Virgil Crest course. I tend to fall into thinking I am somewhere along one of our other FLRC race courses. And that is disastrous because I start thinking I am closer to finishing that I really am. So I had to keep reminding myself of where I was TODAY. And also trying to not think of it in terms of mileage or landmarks … just that I was out there to run until 6pm on Sunday. And that was still a long ways away.

I ran a lot with my friend, Jim, and Colleen … both who were attempting their first 100. It was really quite nice. We talked a lot which kept us all from going out too fast. But somewhere maybe a half mile or so before we were to exit the woods onto O’Dell Road I felt that I just was losing myself. I felt like I was losing focus. Although I enjoyed running with Jim and Colleen it was time to get back into my own head. Surely I did not take off at a full sprint but I did pick up my pace just a bit and stopped talking. I had to remember what the goal was. I had to start thinking about what I would need at the next aid station.

On the final climb up to the Rock Pile I ran into a group that was hiking down. And among that group was Joe Dabes, long time FLRC member and founder of many of our club’s trail races. Joe has also hiked the entire length of The Finger Lakes Trail. So it had some significance seeing him out here and I thought of what an honor it is to me to be able to be out on these trails for hours on end. And it felt good to tell him that I would be out here for 100 miles. It brought back the focus.

At the top of the climb was the reward of food, drink, and people. It was a regular party! But it was get in, get out. No time to waste when I was still feeling good and there was no need to stop. I quickly filled my pack, downed a vanilla bean Orgain, grabbed some chips, got a kiss from my wingman, Joe, and I was off.

1:01pm, Daisy Hollow Aid Station, mile 25.1.

But I set fire to the rain

Watched it pour as I touched your face

Let it burn while I cry

‘Cause I heard it screaming out your name, your name

- “Set Fire To The Rain”, Adele

Once again, seriously, the appropriate song was playing on my iPod. Wow, I was still feeling good and got to run a bit with my friend, Eva, who was running the 50 miler. And then the rain started. Lightly at first, which was a bit refreshing. That did not last long. The wind picked up and the rain came down heavier and in bigger drops. I tried to feed off of the energy from Eva’s recent 100 mile run, which she ran in some pretty wicked rain, and she persevered. I tried to stay positive but secretly I wished that the rain would stop.

I had already started seeing some of the 50 milers and a few of the 100 milers already heading back from the turn-around at Daisy Hollow. This is always cool, getting to cheer others on and see how my friends are doing. Somewhere along the way I ran into Gerrit, another first-time 100 miler, who was way ahead of me and looking strong. He stopped to give me a hug, which I was so needing at that point. Usually somewhere around 20 miles, in any ultra, I start hitting a low point. I am never sure why. I’m not tired. I’m not overwhelmed. It’s just what happens and I know it will and I expect it. And I just have to work through it. This hug and a bit of encouragement came at just the right time.

Arriving at Daisy Hollow is always a wonderful time for me. It’s the Finger Lakes Runners Club aid station and my friends are there and it’s such a wonderful pick-me-up. And Joe was there waiting with my needs. I had already told him when I saw him at the Rock Pile that I wanted to change my shorts and shirt and I was glad that I did, since the rain had really soaked me. Wonderful oatmeal raisin cookies courtesy of Laura Voorhees, some hot broth, mashed potatoes, and warm dry clothes, and I was ready to go again. Not with the idea that I was “halfway done” with the first loop, but more with the idea that I was only one quarter of the way there … and still with a long way to go. But the focus for now was just to get back to the Rock Pile.

2:38pm, Rock Pile Aid Station, mile 30.2.

Sometimes you picture me, I’m walking too far ahead

You’re calling to me, I can’t hear what you said

Then you say, go slow and I fall behind

The second hand unwinds

- “Time After Time”, Cyndi Lauper

Excellent. I still felt like I was on pace where I needed to be. I was glad to get back to the Rock Pile to see Joe and my pacer, Karen, who was working the day shift here. I had been hydrating well and the GU Brew was working quite well for me and I just needed a refill here and then move on. But … what? What’s that in the cooler? Not GU Brew but strawberry HEED. Now I can tolerate HEED and I really don’t mind it, but my stomach was doing well on the GU Brew and I really didn’t want to tempt things by switching the drink. Thank goodness I had some single serving packets of the GU Brew with me and was able to mix up enough to refill my pack. I think I had a few chips here but not really much to eat since I still felt pretty full. My head was clear and I just wanted to get down off of the mountain, so off I went.

4:23pm, Lift House 5 Aid Station, mile 36.3.

I walk a lonely road

The only one that I have ever know

Don’t know where it goes

But it’s home to me and I walk alone

- “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”, Green Day

Again I ran a bit with Jim and Colleen, but eventually again had to just be by myself. As much as I enjoy the socializing that comes with running ultras, when I’m in the game I just have to be alone. I am much tougher when I’m alone; running with someone else makes me do things that I really should not be doing.

Things were still feeling pretty decent when I got to the Lift House. I got a bit to eat, I think I drank another Orgain, grabbed my trekking poles, and headed out. I was really trying to focus on not spending too much time at the aid stations, sitting only for a few minutes to take some of the pressure off of my back. I knew that as the time went on, time at the aid stations would become longer and I felt that I needed save some time here now to use it later.

And basically, it was just me by myself on this loop. Me and my thoughts of how horrible it was doing this loop in reverse. Way harder. And I hated it. And I cursed it the entire time.

5:58pm, Lift House 5 Aid Station, mile 40.5.

I walk this empty street

On the boulevard of broken dreams

Where the city sleeps

And I’m the only one and I walk alone

- “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”, Green Day

Once at the bottom of the alpine loop, all the pain, all the hate, all the cursing just disappeared. I didn’t want to think about it anymore. I just wanted to get going to meet my pacer at The Gravel Pit. My head was still clear, my feet in pretty good shape, and my stomach holding things down. My pacer, Karen, was here to give me some good thoughts, and I knew that Joe would get her to our meeting place. My anxiety over this was relieved. I grabbed some food and started walking. I also grabbed my headlight as I remember getting caught in the dark in the woods just before The Gravel Pit last year. And so far I was still pretty much holding to the same pace as last year.

7:45pm, Gravel Pit Aid Station, mile 45.8.

I watched the world float to the dark side of the moon

After all I knew it had to be something to do with you

I really don’t mind what happens now and then

As long as you’ll be my friend at the end

- “Kryptonite”, 3 Doors Down

The wind had picked up a bit and the temps dropped a little, but I was still comfortable in a short sleeve shirt with arm warmers on. Love the arm warmers … easy to peel down when I’m warm, pull ‘em up when I’m cold. Nice … I even felt good to run for a bit, being very careful as I crossed through the dreadful spot where Joe had fallen and broken his finger last month. There was even a bit of thunder and lightning as I passed through this area. Eerie.

By the time I reached the aid station my stomach was a bit of a wreck. Nothing sounded good. Joe had multiple suggestions and I wanted none of them. Finally I felt like nothing was going to be OK so I just needed to try something. Anything. So I tried some pierogies. Not a good choice but I choked down a couple of them and some soda and called it good. I just wanted to get to Hope Lake and make the turn-around.

In the past I have told Karen to just meet me at Hope Lake, mile 50. I just always thought it would be easier. But let me just say that for the past two years I had felt good at The Gravel Pit and then something would just happen to me in those next 4+ miles and by the time I got to Hope Lake I was done. This year I was not going to let that happen and that’s why I had Karen meet me at The Gravel Pit. I wanted to make sure she was prepared to make me mentally ready to get in and get out of the transition.

9:04pm, Hope Lake Aid Station, mile 50.2.

In the middle of the night

I go walking in my sleep

Through the jungle of doubt

To a river so deep

I know I’m searching for something

Something so undefined

That it can only be seen

By the eyes of the blind

- “River Of Dreams”, Billy Joel

OK, things were still going good. I was on a good pace, comparable to last year when I had planned to keep going on for the 100 until my brain took over. Thank goodness for Karen being with me because I was feeling just a hint like I could have easily been done at this point … nothing physically making me want to stop, but again … the mental thing.

We pulled into Hope Lake and it was straight to Joe who had all my stuff ready as I had requested. Time for a night time clothing change and finally a new sock change. I really didn’t want to change the socks and disturb my taping, but the socks were quite disgusting by now and I knew that just having fresh socks on would refresh me. Wow … when I pulled off my socks, the toe tape was a bit loose but still intact. The moleskin was still holding firmly superglued to my heel. I changed the toe tape and pulled new socks on.

Refilled the pack with water, grabbed some potatoes and broth, loaded up with some spare batteries for the headlight (after putting new ones into my dying light), and we were off again. Spirits were high … we were on our way out for the first time!

10:49, Gravel Pit Aid Station, mile 54.6.

If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman?

If I’m alive and well, will you be there holding my hand

I’ll keep you by my side with my superhuman might


- “Kryptonite”, 3 Doors Down

Wow, the trail was a bit sloppier than it had been the first time out. Honestly, beyond that, I remember very little about this stop. All I remember is heading down the trail after this, still talking with Karen and Emanuel, who was without a pacer and had joined us. The three of us worked our way through the technical sections and just talked. It was really fun.

And then the wind picked up. And I could hear the rain hitting the trees, but it didn’t sound too heavy. But I could just feel that when we hit Carson Road and stepped out of the protection of the trees we were going to get spanked.

And spanked we got. Right in the face with high winds and stinging cold rains. It was brutal and all we could do was try to run as hard as we could to get to the next aid station and dry clothes and cover. Our sprint was short lived and we all just finally gave into the fact that we were wet and nothing would change that.

12:38am, Lift House 5 Aid Station, mile 59.9.

But hold on to what you believe in the light

When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight

So hold on to what you believed in the light

- “Hold On To What You Believe”, Mumford & Sons

Of course by the time we reached the Lift House station, the rain and wind had stopped. Of course. But at least this gave us the opportunity to change into dry clothes without soaking the new stuff. Dry clothes, a bit to eat, trekking poles in hand, and up the ski slope we went. And I dreaded every section that was muddy earlier … what the hell was I going to see this time around?

Fortunately it was not as bad as I had expected. The skies had cleared and it was an absolutely amazing and beautiful experience on the top of that ski slope. The stars were amazing! At least from what I could see looking straight out; each time I tried to look up at the sky I got a bit dizzy. But what an awesome experience; so worth being out there.

2:28am, Lift House 5 Aid Station, mile 64.1.

All through the night

I’ll be awake and I’ll be with you

All through the night

This precious time, when time is new

Oh, all through the night today

Knowing that we feel the same without sayin’

We have no past, we won’t reach back

Keep with me forward all through the night

And once we start, the meter clicks

And it goes running all through the night

Until it ends there is no end

- “All Through The Night”, Cyndi Lauper

First order of business here was to change my shoes. Crossing the little creek coming into the aid station I stumbled and stepped right into it. Crap! Thank goodness for Joe being there with my second pair of Hoka Stinson Evos. My socks weren’t too bad so I left those alone. I wanted more time to eat. I had been craving tapioca pudding for probably the last 45 minutes. Unfortunately I discovered earlier that I must have forgotten it at home. Really? The one thing that I so really wanted and was sure my stomach could handle. I really, really wanted it and when I get my heart set on something it’s hard to take something else. But when I got to the aid station my friend Ryan was sitting there eating … what? … pudding! Holy crap! I just about jumped him for it! “Ryan, where did you get that pudding?!” He had some extra in his drop bag and offered it to me and I just snarfed that right down and man, was it good! Now that’s what I’m talking about! That did so much for me mentally.

OK, time to go. This time out I decided to take my trekking poles with me, as I wasn’t sure of how steady I would be on the trail in the dark. This proved to be a really good idea.

5:19am, Rock Pile Aid Station, mile 70.2.

There is a house in New Orleans

They call the Rising Sun

And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy

And God, I know I’m one

- “House Of The Rising Sun”, The Animals

We moved along at a pretty good clip, I think, considering the technical trail and the dark. I had almost thought of leaving my jacket at the aid station, since the rain had stopped, but then decided to bring it with me just in case the rain started again. Really good idea. I had forgotten just how cold it gets up on top of Virgil Mountain and Greek Peak at night. I am certain it was in the low 40s. So when I slipped and fell into the cold wet mud, it wasn’t exactly refreshing, but the jacket kept most of it from completely penetrating my clothes. From that moment on, things changed. One minute I was moving right along with no problem, the next it all went to hell. No warning. No nausea. Just puking out of the blue. And as I puked I peed my pants. Repeatedly. It was really quite glamorous. And all Karen could do was put her arm on my shoulder and steady me. Fear just fell over me. I have never puked during an ultra of any distance. I get a bit queasy but I never vomit. What if it didn’t stop? I wasn’t even to 70 miles and there was no way to keep going without being able to keep food and drink down. So I sat on a log and pondered this as I puked some more. Finally it seemed to stop so I decided to try walking. So far, so good.

Finally the lights leading us up to the Rock Pile came into view. Thank goodness! We got to the station and the RD, Ian, was there. This gave me a little boost to see a friend and for him to see that I was still trying. So I sat down, chewed some TUMS and sipped some Dr. Pepper. I tried to eat some pretzels and got maybe three down. I felt that there was really no reason to sit here any longer; I didn’t want to get chilled and I felt like I could at least walk. My stomach felt a bit more settled but I didn’t dare tempt fate by putting more food in. Better just leave well enough alone.

7:32am, Daisy Hollow Aid Station, mile 75.3.

And it’s whispered that soon if we all call the tune

Then the piper will lead us to reason

And a new day will dawn for those who stand long

And the forests will echo with laughter

- “Stairway To Heaven”, Led Zeppelin

Well, having eaten only three pretzels soon caught up to me. One minute I was feeling pretty decent, well aware of my surroundings, the next minute it was pure tunnel vision. My head was foggy and even though I could still see what was going on around me, occasionally grunting and bitching a bit to Karen just to let her know I was still alive, it was like I was in some kind of daydream. It was pure focus on the straight ahead, one foot in front of the other. Looking at anything at my sides was too dangerous because that would make me very unsteady. I could definitely feel my body draining of energy and by the time I reached Daisy Hollow I knew that I just needed to fuel up A LOT. Joe was there waiting for me and a couple of friends, Will and Kevin, were hanging out around the fire warming up. Joe asked what I needed but I just couldn’t come up with anything. Nothing sounded good. Everything he suggested to me just turned my stomach. And then I remembered the Ithaca ginger beer that I had in the cooler. Joe grabbed that straight away and immediately I could feel the ginger working its magic. FYI … REAL ginger beer is an essential during an ultra. WOW, what a difference that made. And then Karen suggested changing my shoes. Thank goodness I brought my third pair of Hokas, the Stinson Bs. Normally they are a bit wide for my liking for trail running. At this point they were absolutely perfect for my swollen feet. And they were heaven. Finally able to tolerate something more than the ginger beer, I downed an Orgain, grabbed the remainder of my oatmeal raisin cookies for later on, and we were off. I told Karen that I wanted to leave the station by 8am and by my watch I believe we were out of there by 7:59. We were not moving at lightning speed, but we were moving and going in the right direction. And that’s all that mattered. We met up with a few more people that were coming in to the aid station as we were leaving so I knew that I was somewhere near last place, but that was OK. Place didn’t matter. All that mattered was staying ahead of the cut-offs.

9:56am, Rock Pile Aid Station, mile 80.4.

If there’s a bustle in the hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now

It’s just a spring clean for the May queen

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run

There’s still time to change the road you’re on

And it makes me wonder

- “Stairway To Heaven”, Led Zeppelin

Just before reaching the last climb to the Rock Pile I could see a couple of people on the trail up ahead. Now I was wide awake and had regained focus. It’s amazing what the sun of a new day can do for you when you have been up for more than 24 hours. When we finally reached these people I could see that it was Joe and another runner’s crewman. Man it was good to see him and let him know that I had turned the corner on feeling like shit. At least I felt like fresh shit now.

When we reached the Rock Pile it was nearly all disassembled except for a table of a few things. That was OK … all I wanted was the Orgain from my drop bag and a bit of Dr. Pepper. Solid food didn’t even sound tempting in the least. A refill of my pack with water and it was onward with my only focus of getting back down to Tone Road.

We got a super treat up on the power lines on Virgil Mountain … Joel C. had driven up there and was giving us some good cheer. Man, it was good to see another friend out there. Karen was still doing an amazing job of keeping me preoccupied … pretty damn impressive since she had been on the go basically as long as I had. What a superwoman!!

We picked our way down Virgil Mountain … a challenging feat even on fresh legs. I thought it would never end. I got a bit ahead of Karen, but I figured if I kept moving I could get to the next aid station a bit ahead of her, get some eats and drinks and be ready for her when she got there.

12:11pm, Lift House 5 Aid Station, mile 86.5.

When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

- “Let It Be”, The Beatles

I arrived at the aid station to the cheers of Joe and my next pacer, Diane Y. I so needed to sit down just for a few minutes, just to ease the pain in my back and knees from coming down off of that steep descent. It was immediate relief. Jim H. was working the aid station and told me what the cut-off was for the next section. Crap! It didn’t sound very good … actually it was pretty tight and I worried immediately whether I could make it or not. Fortunately he soon realized that his time was off and corrected himself and the new time was much more to my liking. I was still like an hour ahead of the cut-off. Perfect. Another Orgain down and I was ready to go.

Karen’s work was done. She did a FANTASTIC job of getting me through the night and through 40+ miles. What an amazing woman! I could not have done this without her. Now it was time for her well-deserved rest and time for Diane to take over. So off we went, me and Diane.

1:48pm, Lift House 5 Aid Station, mile 90.7.

Look around me

I can see my life before me

Running rings around the way

It used to be

I am older now

I have more than what I wanted

But I wish that I had started

Long before I did

- “Wasted On The Way”, Crosby, Stills, and Nash

Diane was wide awake and fresh and talkative. Having someone new to relay the night’s events to was fun. But that energy quickly drained from me as we neared the top of the alpine slopes. We did pass one person on the climb up, though, so that was encouraging. And then at the top of the slope, what the hell was that? A pick-up truck? Really? The truck was coming down the slope toward us and the driver asked if that was a dirt road we just came out of. We answered yes … obviously he was not someone helping with the race as I had previously thought. He drove onto the dirt road and I thought out loud to Diane “I wonder if he knows there is no outlet from that?” We got a bit of a chuckle from this and then thought we better get outta there before he came back looking for us!

The sun was out in full-force and the heat had kicked-up. Where did my perfect overcast day go? Oh yeah … that was yesterday. The view from the top was simply stunning and amazingly a lot of the slick mud spots had dried quite a bit, making the footing much better. I had envisioned sliding down some of the spots on my fanny.

We made it to the bottom still standing vertical. My knees were screaming despite the assistance of the trekking poles and the knee straps that I had on. When I got to the bottom I knew exactly what I wanted and I didn’t want to waste any time. Joe and Karen were there just waiting to keep me going. Ice water in the pack, cold Dr. Pepper to drink, and Pringles to eat on the fly. That’s all I needed; it was time to get this baby done. There was still time to blow this and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen … and in my mind, as long as I didn’t stop too long, I was going to get it done.

3:33pm, Gravel Pit Aid Station, mile 96.

Another shot before we kiss the other side

Tonight, yeah baby, tonight, yeah baby

I’m on the edge of something final

We call life tonight, alright, alright

- “Edge Of Glory”, Lady GaGa

We walked and jogged a bit down Tone Road and power hiked it up Carson. Man, that sun was just brutal! Thank goodness for the occasional breeze, but I couldn’t wait to get in to the shade of the woods. And I was so grateful when we turned back into the woods.

Diane just kept talking … about everything and anything … and I was pretty much limited to one-word grunts at this point. It was just good to have someone talk without expecting me to answer and the distraction was so nice. We power hiked and jogged off and on and picked our way through the technical section. Once out of the major root tripping sections we actually ran for a bit. And amazingly it felt good. Just before reaching the Gravel Pit we passed another runner and his pacer, who had seen me when I was dying back at Daisy Hollow. He commented on how good it was to see that I had recovered. It really is welcoming when others notice this change in you and I try to be vigilant of it when I see others so I can encourage them.

At the Gravel Pit Joe was waiting for me, offering me a chair. Nope. No time. I took two cups of Coke and just said “I gotta go”. One kiss and we were off running. In my messed up mind I was still worried about the cut-off for finishing. And once passing someone I really did not want to get passed back. I wasn’t winning this thing, but it just felt great to be able to pick someone off.

I had no idea where I was on this trail. I had never seen it in the light before. Diane kept asking me where we were and how much further and I was totally clueless. It seemed like it took forever to reach the crossing at Clute Road … with at least three gigantic cruel speed bumps coming down the last section of trail. They might as well have been mountains!

FINALLY we crossed Clute Road. As we headed down Vinnedge Road I could see someone up ahead coming toward us, yelling at us. Damned if I could tell who it was, but I just knew it meant we were nearing the end. Diane kept yelling that I was getting this done, that I was finishing, that I conquered this baby, and all I could do was just grunt. I didn’t even have the energy to start celebrating. At this point I knew by the time that I would finish well under the cut-off, but my energy was just drained. I felt like I could have fallen asleep standing up.

We finally reached the person who was coming at us and it was Audrey … another fresh friendly face encouraging me. Man this was so cool! Thinking about it now, I wish I’d had the energy to celebrate this moment a bit more. But I had nothing. I just wanted to be done and sit down. And have a beer. So we pushed on down the road which seemed excessively long. I didn’t remember being on this road for this long before. Finally after we had gone for some distance I told Diane that I didn’t think that the turn was this far down the road. Now common sense says that since we didn’t pass any opening into the woods as we were going along that we obviously had not reached the turn yet. Yet I was certain that I was not supposed to be going this long on this road. So Diane ran ahead and finally found the trail head as I just stood there in a cloud of confusion. Finally … the turn to home.

As we hit the final black top sidewalk stretch that rounds Hope Lake I could hear foot steps behind us. I thought for sure it was the runner we had passed just before the Gravel Pit. But I turned around to find Will making a strong comeback! Holy crap … where did he come from? Will was smiling and energetic and tried to get me to run to the finish with him, but I knew that rounding the lake was further than it seemed and I didn’t want to start my victory run too soon.

Coming around the lake we could hear the cheers coming from the finish line. This was it; I was going to finish. I fought back the tears and tried to run as hard as I could and not look like total crap when I came into the finish. No good … I looked like crap. Diane was awesome and did a fantastic job getting me through those last 13.5 miles. I know I was not the best company and she just kept on talking whether I responded or not. That was what I needed.

Sunday, September 23, 4:56pm, Hope Lake FINISH LINE, mile 100.4!!!!!!

I am woman, hear me roar

In numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much to go back an’ pretend

‘Cause I’ve heard it all before

And I’ve been down there on the floor

No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes, I am wise

But it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price

But look how much I’ve gained

If I have to, I can do anything

I am strong

I am invincible

I am woman

You can bend but never break me

‘Cause it only serves to make me

More determined to achieve my final goal

And I come back even stronger

Not a novice any longer

‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

- “I Am Woman”, Helen Reddy

I crossed the finish line in 34 hours, 56 minutes … the longest I have ever run! I fell directly into Joe’s arms and couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. I did it. I finished. Wow. What an amazing feeling! I dropped to the ground and received my first ever 100 mile buckle and an awesome beer cup from Ian. Joel immediately filled my cup with beer and that IPA never tasted so good! I was immediately re-awakened and so happy to be with my friends. All the pain … it was gone. At least for the moment. I felt totally revived. Thank you to Ian for giving me the challenge of a lifetime, for helping me to find out what I really can do and just how tough I can be. Thank you to Joe for taking such great care of me and knowing what I needed when I sure as hell didn’t. Thanks to Karen and Diane for taking good care of me on the trail … for getting me through so many tough miles. You two are tough ladies. And I know that I can’t thank any of you enough … the only way that I could think of to really thank you was to finish. To let you know that your time out there was not wasted. And thank you to all the countless volunteers who were out there day and night and day again … especially waiting for those of us at the bitter end. You all were amazing!

It is so hard to leave the race site after the race … all I want to do is just celebrate the moment with everyone. Everyone who conquered the 50 and 100 mile distances … we were amazing! But finally it was time to go. Time to prepare to get back to reality.

And the totally best part about this race? Seriously? The just 45 minutes drive to our house, to the comfort of our own home and a hot shower. Joe and I made a stop at the State Diner … I wasn’t sure which meal to eat but I knew that I had missed breakfast and that’s what I craved. Coffee, omelet, home fries, toast. I wanted it all. And I ordered a second order of it plus some rice pudding for the just-in-case moment of hunger in the middle of the night. And I did get up around 2:30am for a snack of mac ‘n cheese, rice pudding, and beer. And hit the rest of the food a few hours later. Man, I love recovery!

So that’s the story. For once I didn’t cry during the race. My whining (out loud) was limited. I kept a pretty clear brain most of the time. I had only fleeting hallucinations, seeing branches and rocks that I thought were animals. It was the ideal run that I had been hoping for. And as I whined the last few miles and cursed the hills and rocks, swearing that if I was to get this done I would never have to do it again … I now wonder. The hard work was so worth it. I enjoyed every moment. And I’m already thinking about going for it again next year. No guts, no glory. This was the best challenge ever! I came out of this with only one blister and soon-to-be couple less toenails. Zero chafing. It was a good weekend on the trails.

And that moleskin I had superglued to my heel? It fell right off at the end of the race!