First, as I have mentioned, running an ultra is not a one-person show. Even if you don’t have an aid station crew or a pacer, you rely on Race and Aid Station Volunteers to make sure you are staying fueled and hydrated, to treat blistered feet, and more. I enjoy having family and friends out on course and for me a crew and pacer(s) is invaluable. My crew for this race were Amy Rayburn, Jesse Hulsizer, and my husband, Joe, who also paced me for 18 miles from Hyak back to Stampede Pass. My other pacer was my training partner, Mary Frasier, who ran with me from Stampede Pass at mile 69 to when we were pulled from the course at 89. Jesse and Amy operated like a Formula One Pit Crew. I don’t have exact in and out times, but I don’t think I was ever at a stop for more than 15 minutes, with most being a 5 to 10 minute stopover - which would include restocking my pack, reapplying sunscreen, and making sure I ate something more substantial. I can’t say I ever entered an aid station feeling great, but I always left feeling like a new person. I would not have made it as far as I did without their expertise and help. I think it’s important to note that one attribute that really helped was their steady, unwavering emotion; while my emotion may have been up and down; their’s remained calm and cool the entire time. And I am extremely grateful for them giving of their time and energy. More on the invaluable time and energy of my pacers to come.
To recap, the course changed 48 to 72 hours before the race (when roads were closed due to the Jolly Mountain fire) to an Out and Back from Easton to Hyak and back. No one seemed to know the exact change in elevation, but there was speculation that it would be more gain, and all-in-all a tougher course, especially with the temperatures reaching into the 90s on Sunday. I still went into the race excited and optimistic.
We camped just 5 minutes from the start which made race morning feel very easy. I ate my current pre-race breakfast - which is an Almond Butter and Banana and Honey sandwich on GF bread, checked-in by 7:45AM, got pinned up, attended the pre-race meeting, applied sunscreen, and was ready to go just in time for the National Anthems – there are enough Canadians in the race their anthem is played too.
Easton to Blowout Mountain (Mile 1 to 14.2)
The race doesn’t start until 9AM so it was already warm. As with most Ultras everyone was relaxed about taking on the day ahead. While I had seen some of the course I did not know the first 14.2 miles. I knew that it had a lot of climbing and we had been warned to not blow up on the Goat Peak climb because we’d pay for it later in the day. So every time I felt my heart rate get over being comfortable in the first 15, I’d back off on pace reminding myself of the 85 to 90 miles ahead. The first 14.2 seemed to go by quickly, there were several of us together chit chatting here and there and while there were moments of, “oh yes, this is steep and technical,” and “this is not going to be a fast descent back down” I tried not to let the return trip get in my head and kept powering up. After the climb up to Cole Butte, we did get a bit of downhill - it was rocky fireroad, but I was able to pick up the pace and enjoyed being able to open up the legs and run. The downhill fun ended quickly though and then it was back to climbing and I began to really feel the heat of the day. Cole Butte was a minimally stocked station and I was looking forward to getting some ice at Blowout Mountain.
Blowout Mountain to Tacoma Pass Miles (14.2 to 22)
I was really looking forward to this section as I knew the trail from miles 16 to 22 which I’d done during a training run. It was a nice gentle runnable downhill on the PCT. I ran most of it with a runner from Oregon and enjoyed swapping stories about some of the same races we’d run, and his experiences running both the Bigfoot and Tahoe 200. My hip flexors were a little cranky on the downhill and it was a nice distraction from that. I knew that they would eventually calm down and something else would “hurt.” I came into Tacoma Pass where I got to see my crew for the first time about 20 minutes after my latest projected time, but I wasn’t worried.
Tacoma Pass to Stampede Pass (22.1 to 32.9)
Coming out of Tacoma Pass the course immediately climbs for a couple of miles, maybe with a bit of running mixed in, and you’re treated to some amazing views. It was late afternoon/early evening and I was so looking forward to it cooling off. I think I somehow got behind on fuel in this section. I started to take more food from the in-between aid stations, which meant I wasn’t eating as much from my pack, and I made some fueling errors. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, nutrition and hydration are so key in this game; if I start to clip rocks or if I start to go to a dark place mentally, I know it’s nutrition or hydration related. My lack of caloric intake would show up in just a few miles.
Stampede Pass to Hyak (32.9 to 51)
At Stampede I picked up my waist light and light jacket and switched out my watches. Again, I knew the section coming up, the rock beds were approaching, nightfall would come, and I would start seeing the lead runners coming back through. But I was dreading this section; I had a lot less people around me. And I’m still working on finding running through the night in the woods to be peaceful. I couldn’t get my mind off the fact that I was going to have to come back through this section. Monkey mind was in control and I was having a hard time getting in touch with any feelings of joy. It felt more like survival. (I believe this was the getting behind on calories showing up). And logically I knew this, but I was still having a tough time with calories and it was a long stretch without having my crew checking in on me to either remind me or force me to eat. It was dark and I was mostly alone until Mile 40ish when the elite runners were starting their trek back and we started to cross paths. Instead of being concerned about stepping off the trail for them to pass through, I welcomed their headlamps in the darkness, beacons of hope that I too would reach the midway point soon enough. Their encouragements were welcomed and appreciated and for about every other one I was able to return the gesture.
My power spirit was not in charge, I was aware of it, but I wasn’t able to pull myself out of it. Several of the runners coming back towards me had started using their trekking poles, and I knew there was no way I would leave Hyak without them. I had not practiced with them much yet, but I knew I was going to need them not just on the technical climbs up but for balance on the descents as well. I just wanted so badly to see my crew at this point; to feel safe for a few moments before heading back out.
When I got to the Ollalie Meadows aid station I was instantly doing better, I knew I had just 5 miles to Hyak, the 1/2 way point. This is where my training run had ended so I didn’t know exactly what was ahead, but the aid station was lit up in blue and green lights (at least that’s what I remember). I remember asking them if this was the happiest place on earth because it was the happiest I felt in miles. Their energy there was great. I think I downed a coke and a water, and that was about it. I had just eaten some waffle and I knew there was Mac and Cheese in 5 miles. It was about 2 miles of technical downhill to the ropes section. A runner that I’d been going back and forth with for several miles asked if I’d like to work together through the rope section. He’d run the race 12 years prior, but didn’t exactly remember how long or the details of the section. Without hesitation I welcomed his invitation; he took the lead and we talked each other through it. The ropes were technical, but doable and I just lost footing once sending what felt like a bucket of sand into my shoes; thankfully there was a sock and shoe change just on the other side of the tunnel. Once I got to the tunnel, I was “running” again and I could smell that Mac and Cheese.
From Hyak back to Stampede Pass 2 (51 to 69.1) with Joe pacing
At Hyak I sat down for the first time. We did what we could with wet wipes to clean the feet off. At that point, there were no hot spots and it was just a matter of getting on some clean socks and shoes, which felt amazing. Here I had the Mac and Cheese with a Broth chaser. And there was even a warm bathroom with a flush toilet to use. And for a brief moment I visualized laying down to rest in the warm bathroom, but it was a fleeting notion. As soon as we left Hyak we ran back through the tunnel, and yes, we were actually running at this point; or at least it felt like it; I knew what was ahead, Joe did not. And I was afraid to tell him. I found going up the ropes to be easier than coming down. I knew how long each section was and was able to get better footing, but I was dreading the climb at the top. And it was at the top of the rope climb that I started to feel nauseous and worried because 55 miles was too early to be feeling nauseous. My heart rate was elevated and I was having to pause several times to get to the top. I had worked through the mental dark place, but now I was in a physical dark place. I had the feeling of wanting to sit down on the trail, throw up, have a little cry, and then go on, but I didn’t. I told myself just one foot in front of the other and in time, the nausea passed. But it was slow going through the darkness and the rock beds. I questioned whether the poles were helping or slowing me up and alternated between using them and not using them often. I did “shuffle” whenever I had the opportunity to.
I was hearing of people dropping from the race and I knew that I was not in a place to do that; I wasn’t even entertaining the idea. I felt confident that even though I’d slowed and gone through a mental and physical rough patch and that there would certainly be more with 30 miles to go, I was still going to make it to the finish.
From Stampede Pass 2 back to Tacoma Pass 2(69.1 to 79.9) I was about an hour later than I wanted to be coming back in to Stampede Pass, but by the time I left I was till 30 minutes ahead of the cut-off and was excited to have Mary take over pacing for Joe. We purposefully had not talked in more than a week just so we’d have a lot to chat about on the run. I knew we were heading straight into climbing back up the really fun 6 mile descent down in the first half. I felt pretty good for the first 4 miles or so but then the temperatures started to sore again, and the remainder of the run became managing energy, aches and pains, feeling on top of the world one minute and at the bottom the next. It was also at this time that I thought Tacoma Pass was my last Cut-Off and as soon as I knew I was going to make it, I got another burst of energy, enjoying the descent down into the aid station.
From Tacoma Pass 2 back to Blowout Mountain 2 (79.9 to 87.8) Again, I left out of this aid station about 30 minutes ahead of cut-off and I was truly believing I was going to finish the race. I look back at this section of the race and it was one fiery, rocky, mess of an ascent and a rocky, dusty descent. Any break from an uphill climb was a “just as slow as climbing” descent as to stay upright. I used my poles on the descents to keep my balance. It was in this section, I thought my insides might be baking. I had moments of realizing how miserably hot it was, but it didn’t last too long as my mind would drift to another thought. I was still putting one in foot in front of the other; I was surviving, I was going to make it to the next aid station, and the next, and the next, until I finished. When I reflect on this section I am reminded of how amazing Mary was in keeping my spirits up, keeping me motivated, all while still letting me vent and release the craziness I felt on the inside. It was on this climb that we had the first sign of my potential demise, the sweepers caught up to us. I thought that I was going to get pulled there, but they said protocol for them was that they could not pass us, so they hung back and let us move at our pace. We finally made it to the Blowout Mountain Aid Station where I topped off water bottles, and then finally got below a 15 minute mile pace again on the descent. A couple of miles down and then I knew another 3 mile climb was coming up. But it wouldn’t be as technical as what we just came through, I had my poles and I was ready. Someone at the Blowout Aid Station even told me I was looking pretty good.
But then just a mile later and there was Wendy and Ruby (her dog) and the truck and another runner and pacer sitting in the shade. She slowly approached me and said this was the end of the road, that it was 4:36 that I needed to be to Goat Peak by 5:30 and I wasn’t going to make it . Seriously this has to be the worst job on the planet to pull runners from a race, but she didn’t have a choice and I didn’t either. I most certainly didn’t mince any words, but I finally grabbed one of those cherry popsicles It was a long 90-minute drive back down to Easton (the start/finish) Since I get car sick everyone was super kind enough to give me the front seat, which I shared wth Ruby, who immediately began to console me with kisses and quickly laid down in my lap to sleep. I mean if you’re going to go through something like this, you should get puppy kisses and snuggles, right?!
On the ride down the mountain I thought about the buckle and how I so wanted to earn it, not just for me, but for my crew and pacers. Because they earned it, too. And now I had nothing, nothing to show for what we’d persevered through. But I knew that that wasn’t really how I felt. Because it’s never been about the buckle, but I felt a need to try and wrap my mind around what this race was about on the way down that mountain because I needed to at least have a grasp on a feeling - something to mentally hold on to as I rode into Easton where I knew I would see runners finishing the race. And while I wouldn’t be able to communicate it, I could try to share the energy that came from that feeling with those that helped me persevere through those 89 miles.
So I let my mind wander and I came to this. During runs like this we often come across moving water, and I’ll never forget the story one of my running friend’s shared - that she was passing down from another runner who articulated that whenever they passed over or through running water that is where they would leave their worries. They would let the water simply roll away with their cares. I love this and use it often when I’m out there, and there’s something that is not serving me well and I need to just let the water carry it away. But this was different, this feeling I had from my race experience, even though it was bittersweet, I didn’t want it to be carried away; I needed to hold onto it - it’s a feeling that rests somewhere in the still water that runs deep; it can’t be seen, and it doesn’t leave, but its energy bubbles up to the top and feeds the soul. So while I can’t touch this, I can feel it and I can try to share it, by appreciating the vast beauty and danger of the remote wilderness, in creating new friendships, in deepening mutual respect with my husband, in allowing it to change or adjust my lens so that I can have a new perspective, a deeper connection with both the earth and humanity, and even myself; to have hope.
I want to add that it wasn’t until writing this that I realized I ran the longest I’ve ever run by 1.5 hours and I climbed 7 to 8,000 more feet than I’ve ever climbed at once, totaling about 20,000 ft. of elevation gain. One of my initial goals in signing up for this race was to take my trail training and racing to the next level. A goal accomplished, not to mention more knowledge and more skill to carry forward.
Another story behind the story is my dream to someday run the Western States 100. This will be my 3rd year entering the lottery and I will get 4 tickets in the pool. But I need a qualifying race (Cascade Crest was to be that race); without that I go back to zero tickets. While I couldn’t wrap my mind around getting back out there in 10 weeks, my husband reminded me of my dream and in so many ways told me that going backwards made no sense. So here we go - off to Rio Del Lago 2017. I have taken recovery very seriously these last 9 days and will continue to do so as I ramp back up. And while I will go into Rio Del Lago with full intent in getting that Qualifier, I will do my best to relax and fully experience the adventure as it is to unfold.
So that’s a wrap, my family, friends, fellow coaches and athletes, and all you beautiful souls that give me a space to share such a story as this.