No doubt the hardest event I’ve done to date. I decided to sleep in my own bed the night before and was picked up by my training partner, Mary Frasier, at 3:30AM. We were to race start by 4:45AM with plenty of time to take care of pre-race logistics – bathroom, pin number, eat a banana, sunscreen, bathroom…It was a bit cool so I decided to wear arm warmers as the first miles were shaded. My nose was running like a faucet so I appreciated them more as a hanky than for warmth. I think there were 293 starters (248 finished). So the first few miles it was single file on single track trail, lots of chit chatting, and anticipation of the climbing. It was during this section that I learned that shots of whisky, Tylenol PMs, and melatonin are not uncommon among ultrarunners on the night before a race. Around mile 3, I managed to land “just wrong” on my left foot and rolled my ankle. After a quick assessment, I determined no serious damage and could continue on. Shortly after Aid Station #1, starts a set of fairly steep switchbacks. Having previewed the course, I knew that once I hit the wood stairs, it was just a gentle grade up and I would be running again soon. This section of the course is dense forest and feels quite remote but every couple miles the trail pops out onto a ledge with amazing views. I was catching the tops of rocks and roots more than normal (did I need more calories? Was it because I was pushing myself? Not sure…) and I managed to take a spill at mile 7. Wacked my left knee, got a bloody right knee. But again, it was a quick assessment and I was off and running. I do believe I pulled back a bit at this point.
Got to Aid Station #2 - Ranger Creek (Mile 12) without any more problems and after a quick water fill was on my way to Aid Station #3 - Corral Pass (Mile 17) and the top of the first climb. I felt pretty good on the trip up to Corral Pass. The biggest challenge was on the single track up and yielding to the Elites starting their descent. I found it was hard to get into a rhythm needing to hop off the trail every few yards. But after 3 miles, is one of my favorite parts of the course - coming out of the dense trees to wide open crazy views where I felt like I was on top of the moon. I was re-energized for the last couple miles to Corral Pass.The Corral Pass Aid Station Cowgirls got to me before I could even think about what I needed and I was loaded up with water for the return back down to Ranger Creek. The course takes a different route out for the first mile (maybe more?) and then it’s back on the single track. On the climb back out I met a really nice woman from Vancouver, B.C. She was struggling and was thinking of quitting at the next aid station (Buck Creek). I encouraged her that if it was purely mental and that if she wasn’t at risk of injury she should keep going. We talked for a bit and she stayed with me back down to Ranger Creek.
After the second time through Ranger Creek, it’s 4.5 miles of cruising switchbacks down to Aid Station #5 - Buck Creek (Mile 27). I struggled on this section during the training run and I was determined to be a bit fiercer this go-around. I was descending with confidence, but as I started to notice my ankle and knee from falling earlier, I managed to slide out on one of the switch backs and had a brief conversation and hug with a rock. Shortly after – probably around mile 25, I had my first sense of nausea creep in. By the time I got to my drop bag at Buck Creek, I was uninterested in food, which clouded my thinking on grabbing all that I needed for the second loop. I had already headed down the trail when I realized I’d left some things I needed in my drop-bag. Thankfully, family was there and they ran back to retrieve what I needed, but the whole thing was just enough to put me off my game.
I let the lost time get to my head. I tried to walk and choke down some fuel and regroup, which I did, but when I started to climb from Buck Creek up to Aid Station #6 (Fawn Ridge) I was for the first time mentally off. I was nauseous, kicking myself for not being efficient at the last aid station, my head was down (literally) and I was worried that I was not going to pull it together. I knew that if I didn’t mentally pull it together that it was going to be a long 22 miles and I would jeopardize my ability to finish. Even though I knew this, it wasn’t easy to shake and I held on in that miserable space for about 2.5 miles. This is where I really got off my fueling plan (which was consuming about 100ish calories every 30 to 45 minutes). In the future I will make notes to reference on how to get back on the plan when it’s too hard to compute on the fly and with a tired mind. I finally forced myself to lift my gaze, which automatically put my body in better alignment, and I was met with some distraction, a guy that missed one of the turn offs had just caught back up and was in an amazingly good mood for things having gone wrong. So before I knew it I had made it to Aid Station #6 - Fawn Ridge (about Mile 32), which I thought would have Tums and Coke.
No Tums. No Coke. But they did have Mountain Dew. I don’t think I’d had a Mountain Dew in about 20 years. But I did on Saturday! And actually my stomach was feeling better so I didn’t stress about the Tums. I looked around at the people who had sat down in chairs (which I completely don’t understand), did not get caught up in Aid Station relaxation and went on with purpose to Aid Station #7 - Sun Top, This was the last climb of the day. Clark Gilbert had encouraged me to have a course breakdown cheat sheet – mileage from Aid to Aid, a bit about the terrain, cutoff times, etc. It was awesome to have this to reference and know it was just 5 miles further up. It was during this section that I had a woman in a sparkly skirt running in front of me for a while. I just focused on those sequins as they caught the light and (this will give you an idea of my slap happy state); I remember telling her that her skirt made me feel happy :). After more dense forest, the final steep climb is exposed and rocky. I just viewed the rocks as my stepping stones. In looking back, I feel really good about this section. I climbed with consistent strength. I climbed with determination. I climbed knowing that I wasn’t chasing cut-offs and I was going to finish the race! I was greeted by Kelli Taylor at Sun Top. It was so nice at this point to have someone know me by name rather than a number.
I knew what was ahead--6+ miles of downhill fire road. I was going to run it like a downhill road race – ha! Not so fast! I managed to go sub 10s for a bit of it, but each step hurt. I just focused on trying to have a quicker turnover and telling myself that the faster I got down the less time it was on my legs. I went back and forth with a few people on this stretch. My biggest slow down were two bathroom breaks (I’m a little tired of using the woods as my bathroom after Saturday). Porta Potties are a luxury.. I was nauseous again when I arrived to Aid Station #8 - Skookum Flats. I realized here that Mountain Dew would no longer be my friend for the day. I took one sip and my body screamed “NO!” I did, however, grab half my weight (exaggeration) in potato chips and continue walking down the trail until every last crumb was consumed.
Skookum Flats is runnable on fresh legs, but with the rocks, roots, twists and turns on 44 mile legs, I took the liberty to walk several sections. I was not going down again, In fact it had been 20 miles since my last fall. So I spent my time cursing the trail and contemplating whether or not I looked like a drunk sailor or a newborn foal, or a combination of the two. I had 2 people (I think) pass me in that section, but just after mile 49 the course leaves Skookum Flats and hits the road that leads to the finish. I don’t know what happened but I hit that road and I went into track mode– just 2 to 3 laps around the track and I was going to be at the finish! I passed everyone who had passed me, plus a couple more. I felt like I was running sub 8 miles (highly doubtful) but it felt SO good to be able to open up my stride. I was greeted at the finish by the race director, Eric Sachs with a smile, handshake, hug, WR 50 finisher beanie, and water bottle filled with ice cold water. A really awesome gesture that he does for everyone who crosses the finish line. I feel like I could write a report on all that happens post-race and maybe I will, but for now, it’s a wrap. I’m still enjoying my finish and using what I learned to plan the rest of 2014.