Friday, September 21, 2012

100 100 Miles to Redemption (Hallucination Hundred Report)


100 Miles to Redemption

Hallucination Hundred First 100 Report

By Sandy Stiner



It started with my husband, Erick reading Dean Karnazes’s book, “Ultra Marathon Man.”  He passed it on to me and said, “We should do one of these!”  I laughed at first and before I knew it we were signing up to run the North Country 50 miler.  We had both done some marathons at this point, so how hard could it be?  Training began and a few months later, he injured his back at work and it was not possible for him to continue his training.  I pressed on but come race day, I was ill prepared for the hills, heat and humidity.  I fell countless times and wound up dropping out at the 35 mile mark.  He decided to do the hard trail marathon anyway, untrained and did manage to finish.  I felt a failure.  I signed on to do the Run Woodstock 50 miler in September 2010.  I wanted a little redemption.  The race went exceptionally well and I finished in 13:01.  I even took third in my age group.  Granted there was only 3 in my age group that finished, but I’m not complaining. 

The next spring I tackled several marathons including the back to back, Kentucky Derby and Flying Pig Marathons.  One on Saturday, the other on a Sunday.  I thought if I could do 50 miles in one day, I could surely do 26.2 miles two days in a row.  Luckily, my stars aligned (all 4 of them in the Marathon Maniacs) and I completed this journey.  So what next?
On to what I called the “Epic Fail” of last year.  I signed up for the Run Woodstock Hallucination 100 mile run for September of 2011.  Things felt good, my training went well.  I had a previous 50 mile finish and a handful of 50K’s in at this point. I had pacers and crew lined up.  So what was the fail?  Well, I was not prepared to adjust when things didn’t go according to plan.  The rain came pouring down for days before the event, soaking the trails.  It continued through out the event leaving 8 inches of mud that would suck the shoes right off your feet.  I tiptoed around it the best I could, cursing and unhappy the entire time.  I wound up a the start/finish aid station at the end of loop 3 (of 6) trying to change my shoes and socks...this was pointless.  The race director told me I had 4 minutes to get out of the tent or I would miss a cut off.  I just handed him my bib and was done.  I felt defeated, I did not think there was any chance to finish the race in the allotted time.  So I packed it in with a 50 mile finish before risking a DNF (Did Not Finish) in the entire race.  
After the race I was so depressed, feeling like I failed.  People asked how I did and I said, “Well I only finished 50 miles.”  Of course the non-running friends would say, “Only 50 miles, what do you mean?  That is great!”  They did not see how I missed my goal and 50 miles was not the brass ring I was hoping for. 

Friends began to ask me what race I planned to go to next. They said they wanted to know so they didn’t sign up for it.  They knew the black cloud would follow me and make for some crummy race conditions.  So I decided one thing.  I needed to just embrace the suck.  Take what mother nature threw at me and make the best of it.  I took on a motto that I heard a friend say.  If the race wasn’t going as planned, I would say to myself, “This sucks! But I love it!”

After a few days of sulking, I got back up on that horse.  Determined to surpass the 50 mile distance.  I signed on for the Top of Michigan 100K in October of 2011.  This race again struck me with bad weather.  It was 40 mph winds with a temp of 38 degrees and driving rain the entire time.  I sucked it up and finished it in 13:00.  I felt vindicated after finishing the 100K.  I took 3rd place in the women under 45 category.  I like to say that, it sounds good.  I always put an asterisk after that.  There were only 5 people in my age group to begin with.  One was a DNS (Did Not Start) and one was a DNF.  I got third just by finishing, but hey-I’ll take third place.  I scored some nice race swag for it.  As a back of the backer I rarely get to place in anything, I take what I can get.  After the elation of this race I decided I would go back to Run Woodstock in 2012 and get that 100 mile buckle.  

2012 consisted of several marathons and a 50K, all I said were in the name of training.  I followed a training plan from Bryon Powell’s book, Relentless Forward Progress.  The title of the book became a mantra for me.  The summer consisted of lots of long, hot training runs in almost unbearable weather.  The neighbors looked at me as if I were crazy (of course I am.) Who intentionally goes out to run in the hottest part of the day?  I went out when it was raining, on purpose.  I was bound and determined to run in all weather so when race day came this year, I would be ready.  The culmination of the training happened at the North Country Trail Marathon, the same place I DNF’d at mile 35 two years earlier.  Granted I only did the marathon, I was treated to 92 degree weather and high humidity.  Luckily I just didn’t care.  The race went on and so did I.  No record setting times, but I finished it.  

Two weeks of tapering began.  The Facebook chatter was all about how great the weather was to be for Run Woodstock.  Then it changed.  The weather prediction went to (Surprise, surprise!) RAIN!  My husband told me to stop looking at the forecast.  Every time I looked at Facebook someone was saying, it was going to be another "Mudstock", like it was the previous year.  I refused to let this bother me.  I reminded myself that I trained in all weather.  I would accept and embrace whatever came my way on race day.  While everyone else was complaining about the weather, I shouted, “Bring it on!”

Now to set the picture for the race.  For anyone not familiar with the Run Woodstock Hallucination 100 miler, it is in the Pinckney State Park, not far from Ann Arbor, MI.  The course is described as “Dry and runnable.”  The course is made up for 6 loops, about 16.7 miles each with an elevation gain of 1,301 feet per loop (7,806 total.) It is made up of single track trail, rail trail and horse trail.  You encounter an occasional runaway mountain biker or horse on the trail.  A very small section of the race is on a dirt road.  Some describe it as one of the more technical trails in the area.  But that doesn’t say much, as there really aren’t technical trails in this area.  The trails are clearly marked and I never had a problem following the markers.  
The "Dry and Runnable" Course

The rules for the race are that you have to finish in 30 hours.  You also have to run the first two loops on your own, then you are allowed a pacer.  I knew my pacers would be crucial to my success.  I asked my friend Dave if he would pace me again this year.  He came out for one loop in the rain and mud last year.  I thought for sure he wouldn’t sign on again after my “fail” last year.  But he graciously accepted and said he would do the 3rd and 4th loop with me.  This is a huge deal as it is the night time hours on the trail.  Who in their right mind would get up in the middle of the night and run on a trail for fun?  Well, Dave would.  He eats this stuff for breakfast.  He’s such a tough trail runner that if he fell and cut himself, he would probably bleed spinach.  
Pacer Dave

On to pacer number two:  I leaned upon a man who was partly responsible for my desire to do a 100 miler.  Mike is a podcaster, and I listened to his show for years.  I remember when he did his first 100 miler and I thought, “Wow, that is amazing someone I know ran that far.”  Along the way, I had met a few other people that had run this distance, but Mike was a great resource and willing to help me when I needed it. I gave my pacers only one demand.  I wanted them to lie to me.  Tell me I look great when I look like crap. Promise me that you’ll buy me a beer, get me a pizza, anything to keep me moving forward.  They both laughed at me when I said that I wanted them to lie to me, but we all know when you look like crap and someone tells you the same, it really doesn’t make you feel any better.

In the race you are also allowed to have crew.  For this I enlisted my Sherpa, also known as my husband Erick.  He is so generous to take me to my races and wait for a long time while I play in the mud and have fun with my running buddies.  We also brought my best friend Ronda out to keep Erick company and to be my biggest cheerleader.  Crew is so overlooked and under appreciated.  They wait for you for an hour, just to see you for one minute. I count these two as a blessing at this race.  

Run Woodstock is a hippie themed event.  It is three days of peace, love and running.  They have races of every distance.  You can run a 5k, 10K, half marathon, marathon, 50K, 50 mile, 100K and 100 mile. They even have a “natural mile” and of course I saw them on the trail well before I began hallucinating.  The race takes place at Hell Creek Ranch, near Hell, Michigan.  Yes, you can say you “Ran through Hell.”  It is a weekend of music, bonfires, friends and running.  There is a laid back feeling that makes you feel welcomed.

A close friend of mine had passed away recently, she battled cancer and it took her from us way too soon. I decided I would dedicate this race to her.  Her spirit was with me the entire way.  I felt she was an angel on my shoulder, if I almost tripped on something, I would say, “Thanks Joyce.” There are different kinds of suffering, hers was not chosen, she did not choose to have cancer.  Yet she fought a good fight.  I would choose to suffer some by the pain inflicted in running 100 miles, in her memory.  

About a week prior to the race I asked Mike if he wanted to do a pre-race interview for his podcast.  He’s game, so we meet at a local mall.  After lunch we do the interview with some strange Kenny G type mall music blasting in the background.  He’s told me earlier that I seem very relaxed about the race.  I hate that the race is a whole week away.  I want to start it now.  We do the interview and of course I feel as if I have said, “like” and “um” too many times, hoping I don’t sound like a total idiot.  Fifteen minutes later, he shuts off the recorder and we say our good-byes, knowing the next time I will see him will be about mile 66 of the race course. 
 
Two days prior to the race I finally begin packing.  My dining room has become a staging area for all my gear.  I can no longer see the kitchen table.  I pack as if I am going to be running for a month.  I put in several changes of clothing, shoes, socks, rain gear, and way too many gels to count. Everything from baby wipes to trekking poles.  I don’t want to miss a thing.  
Feet are looking pretty good pre-race...  Little do they know...

One day before the race.  I have lunch with a friends in from California.  He and his wife are doing the 50K.  He’s recently come off of doing a 200 mile run.  He gives me load of advice and I feel even more confident that the only outcome from this race is to cross the finish line, there is no acceptable alternative.

The night prior to the race I worked my shift at Hansons Running Shop.  Customers and coworkers wished me luck even though I don’t think some of them were still able to wrap their heads around this distance I was tackling.  The store’s elite athletes can run 5K’s in under 15 minutes, but the thought of 100 miles at any pace is overwhelming, even to them.  At home, I checked Facebook messages, lots of well wishes from friends and family that would keep me going during the race. I update my cover photo on Facebook to a photo my husband took.  It is of me from behind.  I’m in my typical running gear and pack.  I had no idea how beneficial this photo would prove during the race.  I guess when you pass someone from behind that is exactly what you are going to see, so a lot of people recognized me.  

Race morning I wake up and check my Facebook.  There is a video posted on my wall by my pacer Dave.  I click on it and the Black Eyed Peas start singing. “I gotta feeling, that tonight’s gonna be a good night...”  A huge smile appears on my face and I start dancing around the living room. This song became my race theme and popped in my head countless times later that day. 

We arrived at the ranch about 1:00PM and found our assigned parking space for our RV.  A recent purchase that my husband convinced me would be great for my races.  This proved to be accurate.  I picked up my race packet and bib, which took about 30 seconds, then back to the RV to watch TV and relax until the start.  Just before leaving the RV, I slipped on an orange rubber bracelet a friend gave me last year after my first 100 mile attempt.  It simply says the word “Remarkable” on it.  He felt that even though I had not met my goal, it was still remarkable that I would continue on this journey.  

The start was 4:00PM.  I personally like the late day start.  You get the night portion in before you are super tired, unlike some 100 milers that start in the morning and you run all day then into the night and back into the day again.  I’m not much of a morning person anyway.  I got a good sleep the night before, not having to worry about getting up early or missing the start.   I was able to eat a decent breakfast and lunch and fuel for the day, that can be hard to do for an early morning start.

3:55PM-start coral.  I’m not even nervous.  For the entire week before I was telling friends I felt like a race horse waiting for the gates to open so I could get running.  I had no pre-race anxiety.  I knew there was no alternative but to finish.  I had made my “Quit List.” I knew what reasons would be acceptable for me do drop from this race.  1- a broken bone that was protruding from the skin. 2- loss of consciousness for longer than a few minutes.  3- not making a cut off.  (If this happened, I vowed I would give up my bib and finish the race on my own.) I meet a friend who was also doing his first 100 miler.  (He killed it, finishing 4th place overall.)  My goal is just to finish.  I have told everyone I would be happy if I come in at 29:59:59 in last place.  

4:00PM-Go time.  We make a quick loop of the campground, as I pass by Ronda, she says, “You’re almost there!”  I had to laugh at that, if you count 99.9 more miles to go “almost there.”   Just after leaving the camp we head into the woods and up a short hill.  Everyone stops running to walk up the hill as soon as we are out of sight of the spectators.  This is common in ultras, almost everyone walks up the hills.  But it is still comical to see people walking in the first 2 minutes of the race, but I did it too. It is sunny and 80+ degrees out as I head out on my epic adventure. 

I thought a few of my friends and family might want to track my progress, so I turned my cellphone over to my husband and he updated my Facebook status every 4 or so miles.  What I later found out was that people were checking their computers every hour of the entire race, watching it unfold.  I was humbled by the outpouring of comments and concerns as this adventure took place.

Nice slip and slide section!
I start out into the first loop.  The humidity kicks up fast.  I enjoy the trails and the comradery with the other runners.  In trail and ultra running you tend to meet more people that you would in a road race.  I’ve made some great friends during races.  Sometimes you wind up running for miles with a total stranger that becomes a friend before long.  I have only one goal for this first loop, to finish while the sun is still out.  It will be a challenge as it will start getting dark about 7:30PM.  The first section of trail is pretty sandy.  I enjoy this as I don’t have to be careful of tree roots and rocks. The only hazard in the trail is the horse poop. Luckily, I dodge it all.   I fly down the hills, unusual for me as I am kind of a slow poke on the descents.  I come to the stretch of rail-trail.  Nice and flat, no trip hazards.  I know this section will be my saving grace.  I can put some time in the bank here and slow down when I get back on the trail.  After a while we pop back into the woods and then down the path that leads to the aid station.   I arrive the first aid station at mile 4, known as the Grace Aid Station.  Erick and Ronda are waiting there for me.  I don’t really need anything at this point.  I have plenty of water and sports drink in my pack.  A quick hello and I am on my way.  I follow a nice section of dirt road.  I enjoy this as again, I don’t have to worry about tripping on a rock or root.  I come to a road intersection.  It is Kelly and Doyle Streets.  This makes me laugh as one of the first ultra runners I met is named Kelly Doyle.  I think she will get a kick out of this.  I continue on the dirt road and then see signs saying “All Ultras, This Way.”  I follow the sign and duck back into the woods.  There is a nice section of wooden boardwalk and trails intermixed.  Some decent hills bring me to a walk and then back to speed for the descents.  I remember the trail from the past two years.  I’m feeling like I won’t get lost.  Last year I had a close call, but someone yelled out to me and I was able to get back on track.  I cross a road and see my crew.  They trade water bottles with me.  I’m doing good, still don’t need anything from them but a smile and encouraging words.  I head up to the 8 mile aid station, known as the Richie’s Haven.  There is a big yurt there.  I never fail to be captivated by this yurt.  Such an unusual structure to see in the middle of the woods.  Richie’s has lots of good food that I want to stay around and sample.  I grab a small bite and a gatorade and head back out.  Into the woods I go.  I reach the section that is tough to descend.  It has a layer of a fish-scale like material to keep erosion down.  I think it is made to catch the tread on my shoes.  I have to go slowly to keep from tripping.  I’m not graceful by nature and I really don’t want to do a face plant here.  Shortly after, I am back on to the familiar dirt road and I am headed to the 12 mile aid station.  It is the same aid station as the 4 mile one, the course is a sort of figure eight design.  I arrive at the Grace and am still feeling fine.  I’ve made good time.  I pass my crew and head back to the trail.  I remember from years prior that this section had the hardest hills.  One hill seemed to go on forever.  I fight not to put my hands on my knees to push myself up. I know it will only make my back hurt later if I do this.  I’m feeling pretty groovy.  All is going well, until it doesn’t.  Mile 15.5.  I step the side of the trail and start vomiting.  What?  I didn’t even feel ill.  It came out of nowhere.  As I stand there a few of my friends pass by.  I know they are thinking my race is over.  They ask if I am ok, I say I will be in a minute.  They seem satisfied with this answer and keep running.  I might have been stopped for 2 minutes at most.  I know this will pass.  I threw up last year too, but it was at mile 46.  That was a different story.  Last year I took a cup of vegetable soup and swallowed a pea.  I hate peas.  I think the thought of it alone made me vomit.  I have no idea what happened this year.  I hadn’t tried anything new.  No matter.  I just wiped my face off with a bandana and headed back to the trail.  I soon arrive at Bruce’s Deli, the start/finish aid station, mile 16.6.  The race organizers record my time and I tell my crew I had thrown up.  They start planning what might help.  Someone runs out to get something to settle my stomach and it will await me at the next aid station.  I met my goal, it is still just barely light out.  The first lap was about 4 hours long.  It is about 9:00PM.

Erick puts my headlamp on me and gives me my handheld flashlight.  A trick I learned to help give more dimension on the trail at night.  I also put on a reflective vest as there is more traffic on the road  section than in the years past.  I head back out.  Nothing eventful.  I follow pink flags with little silver reflectors on top.  Easy course markings.  I have no problem following them.  The race organizers did an amazing job marking the course.  I know I need to start my nutrition fresh.  I try to eat a a gummy energy gel product.  I gag on it.  I spit it out and dry heave.  Happily, I know there isn’t anything left in my stomach.  I start with more water intake and one vanilla GU, it stays down.  At Grace, there are Tums awaiting my arrival.  I nibble on them and all seems well.  If I try to chew it whole, I get a different response.  I chose to nibble.  Ronda handed me a ziplock bag with three slices of watermelon.  It tastes amazing and I can keep it down.  (I take watermelon from them at each aid station from here on out.)  I pass some people on the road and trail, some also pass me.  No one passes without saying something.  Some encouraging word.  “How’s your race going?” ,“You’re doing great” , “Keep it up!”  We are not competing, we are on the same team.  No one makes me feel inferior because I am slower than them.  The rain starts about 10:00PM, just like the weatherman said it would. I embrace the rain.  I expected it.  I remember it from last year.  I remember it getting the better of me.  It made the course a mudslide last year and I knew it would this year.  I was ready for it.  BRING IT ON!  The cold drops feel great after the heat and humidity of the afternoon.  The rain looks like shards of light in my headlamp. It plays tricks on my eyes.  I plow (and plod) through the course.   I pass a lot of people that have clearly never ran in conditions such as these.  I embrace the suck.  Because in the end, it is the suck that makes it so good.  The remainder of this loop goes by just fine.  I have hot soup broth at the aid stations. I tell them only broth, no veggies...they graciously honor my request.  I don’t want a pea incident like last year.  I knew the second loop would be tough in the dark and alone.  I come to the last mile before the campground.  I encounter the runners headed out for the “Natural Mile.”  There is always something shocking about seeing people running naked in the woods. I got a laugh out of it.  Sorry, but it is a pretty funny sight.  The last mile goes by quite fast, I’m happy when I arrive at the start/finish to meet my pacer.  

I come out of the woods and pass the tents.  I loop through the campground and I know Dave is waiting for me.  In the dark with my headlamp on, I start singing as loud as I could, hoping to call him to me.  “I gotta feeling, that tonight’s going to be a good night....”  Half way through the lyric I see him and he hears me and joins in. Huge smile on his face, ready to tackle his very first ultra marathon.  More broth at the aid station, I change my bottles and I am on my way.  I’m so happy to see Dave that I hug him.  He will be my life line for the next 32 or so miles.  The second loop took about 4 1/2 hours.  so we have 1 1/2 hours in the bank still.  I know I will need this as the race is in the final stages and I am fatigued.  Dave couldn’t be happier to be on the trials.  He couldn’t care that it is raining and muddy.  He’s unselfishly taken time away from his wife and children to come pace me.  I’m very fortunate.  He knows these trails.  He’ll keep me on track.  A few minutes later we see a headlamp coming towards us.  I tell the fellow he’s going the wrong way and he seems ok with it since he knows the aid station is near.  Then I start wonder, maybe it is us that are lost.  Dave assures me we are not lost.  He’s correct.  I turn a corner and think I see a person, it turns out to be a shrub.  Dave laughs.  It turns out to be nothing like the hallucinations that will come later.  We get to the rail-trail and Dave begins “Rabbit Hunting.”  Picking off people on the course,  passing people.  We say encouraging thing as we pass.  He counted 17 people we passed in his two loops.  I feel strong as he says encouraging things to me.  He tells me I am running through the ankle deep mud so much better than last year.  We talk about our families, jobs, politics (which he thrives on and I pretend to understand) as we run.  Dave’s brothers have come out to crew for him this year.  They are full of energy each time we see them. I absorb it.  We head back out to the road section.  I told Dave earlier that this was where I could make up some of the slower times on the trial.  He pushes me along.  We sing songs about rain to entertain ourselves...”Singing it the rain....”   I laugh remembering us doing this the year prior and everyone laughing at us.  We didn’t care.  We run into Juli, a friend of mine doing her first 100 mile run.  She is in a low spot.  She tells me she’s already cried twice.  Juli can’t believe I have so much energy and am so upbeat.  I say that she needs to suck up some of my energy and push on.  She does just that.  We pass each other along the course a few more times, her pacer couldn’t keep up and she dropped him.  Some hot broth awaits me at Richie’s Haven.  Only a minute later and  we are on our way.  I know not to waste too much time at aid stations.  If I spent a little over minute at each aid station it would be about 30 minutes time lost.  We head out.  Dave’s headlamp starts going dim.  He decides to grab his flashlight instead of wasting time changing batteries.  He says” Wow, my hands are numb.”  I move my fingers.  Hmmm. Mine are too.  Dang it.  Why did he have to say that.  I wasn’t cold until he said it.  The temps had dropped to 50 degrees and we had a cold rain.  We find out later a lot of people dropped due to hypothermia.  I say to Dave, “We will just have to run faster to stay warm.” He agrees.  We press on.  The entire time I think, I am going to get arm warmers or a jacket at the next aid station.  We arrive at Grace and I’m not even cold.  I pass on all my gear. He gets his batteries and we move on.  We tackle the big hills in the mud as best we can.  Two steps forward, one step back.  Slipping down the hills.  Still not as bad as last year, not even close.  At least we have perspective.   We arrive a the start/finish aid station on schedule.  We refill water bottles, get a small bite to eat and head back out.  We know in a few hours the sun will start coming out and we will be feeling groovy.  Somewhere near Richie’s Haven Dave realizes he’s never run as far as he has at this point.  He’s surpassed the 26.2 mile mark.  A few miles down the line I pass the 62 mile mark, my furthest point of running distance.  We see our crew.  I do the one and only equipment change of all my gear.  I ask for a new visor.  I packed everything but the kitchen sink.  Two huge bins full of gear and all I take is a visor.  Guess I was a little over prepared.  It is about 9:10AM.  We are both in uncharted territory and loving it.  Each step is new.  We keep moving forward.  The sun has been up for some time.  I still haven’t eaten much.  Mostly broth, vanilla GU, and watermelon.  I try to take an S-Cap every hour.  I usually take two but one seems to be all my stomach will allow.  A few of them opened up in my pack.  A white powder coats the bag and each pill tastes super salty as I try to swallow it. 

We are in the last four mile section. We were right.  The daylight dried up the course and all was good in the world.  Dave is on his way to finishing his first ultra marathon.  I am as excited for him as he is.  I’m so glad I could be there to see this.  I know his friends and family will think he is a rock star for this, but he keeps telling me that I am the rock star.  I am humbled by this.  I don’t know how I got so lucky to have him as a pacer.  He’s my trail brother.  We round the bend and head into the campground.  He starts yelling that there is a 100 miler coming through.  He’s still thinking about me, when it is his moment.  As we come to the aid station I see a few friends from my running group, Your Pace or Mine.  I get some high fives.  I suck the energy up and take it with me when I head back out.  Dave crosses the line and is now an ultra marathoner.  He’s just finished his first 50K.  I’m so proud of him.  I give him a hug and thank him.  I need to keep moving.  I know I will need every minute as the night comes.  I think, I should change my shoes and socks.  They are both wet.  I think about sitting in a chair to do it.  Sitting, that sounds good.  Wait, NO IT DOESN’T! There is a saying in ultra marathoning, “Beware of the chair!”  If you sit down, you won’t get back up.  I decide to continue on in my wet shoes and socks.  

I pick up Mike to pace me.  It is about 10:30AM.  While Dave talked my ear off, Mike is more reserved. Not quiet by any means, just not the same as Dave.  I tell Erick I want broth.  He says to keep moving and Mike will bring it to me.  Erick hands it to Mike and warns him there might be a carrot in the broth and to get it out for fear I might gag like I did on the pea last year.  I don’t know who did what, but there was no carrot when I got the broth.  Probably a good idea, crisis averted.  I describe the trial to Mike, we cross to the rail trail and I feel myself lagging behind him.  He’s fresh.  He’s got long legs and a huge stride.  I struggle to keep up.  He’s fast walking and I’m doing a shuffle run.  He uses a new tactic.  He puts music on his phone and tells me to stay close enough to hear it.  If I get more than a dozen steps behind I can’t hear the lyrics.  I keep up.  He’s still just walking.  I warned him before he said he would pace me that it would be late in the game and I would be struggling to keep up with him.  He still agreed.  He’s good at fast walking.  Every time I ask him if we are on pace he says, “Yes.”  He lies to me.  Just like I asked him to.  I know I have the one and a half hour buffer from the first two loops.  I will use most of it later in the race.  I force myself to run the nice flat sections.  I need more and more walk breaks.  He says nothing about this.  He’s just what I need at this moment.  I don’t feel like chit-chatting.  I seem to only have one word answers for him the entire time he is with me.  I feel like he might think I am ungrateful as I am not even hardly talking to him.  I just don’t have the energy to talk.  Mike looks back to see if I am still with him.  He checks to see if I am drinking and eating.  I am, still water, watermelon and an occasional S-Cap.   Better than nothing.  I take broth when it’s available.  At mile 80, I took my trekking poles.  I though it might help me in the climbs.  Turns out there are so many rocks and roots that I couldn’t get the poles to get any purchase and I turned them back over to the crew shortly after.  It was worth a try.  The climbs and descents become increasingly hard on my legs.  
3:33PM.  We cross the start/finish line for the 5th time.  One loop to go! My crew posts a photo on Facebook saying I’m looking good and have an excellent attitude.  Hopefully this is true.  I lose a lot of time, I can’t seem to keep my feet at more than a shuffle.  My left shin is starting to bother me.  Mike says it is probably a bit of tendonitis.  I feel the huge blister that was under my left arch pop.  I’m kind of glad if finally did, relieving the pressure.  My feet feel so swelled up.  I know I really should loosen up my shoe laces.  I don’t want to waste a minute.  I touch the orange “Remarkable” bracelet on my arm and draw energy from it.  Someone thought I was remarkable.  I want to finish this race.  My back and neck are getting sore.  I lean on a tree from time to time trying to stretch it out.  Your neck gets very sore in ultras.  They say if you don’t look down, you will go down.  You need to be constantly aware of the path ahead of you. I am constantly scanning for rocks and roots.  I had a few near misses but have not fallen.  I am thanking my trail angel, Joyce for that.  
The temps are mid 60’s, just perfect.  My clothes have dried from the overnight rains.  I never bother to change into anything fresh.  I keep losing time.  I probably know this, but Mike keeps telling me I am on pace.  He knows that I don’t care if I come in last place at the last second, I just want to finish.  I find out later that he’s never kept such a close eye on his watch in his life.  At Grace, Erick asks how I am doing.  I say my shin hurts.  He says, “No, it doesn’t.” He tells me to keep moving. I do just that.  A mile down the road I feel a sharp pain in my shin.  I think for a second that this might be the end of my race.  I yell an expletive.  Mike looks back and asks what’s up.  I tell him and he just says, to keep moving forward.  I give him a puzzled look but do as he said.  My brain is not registering things right at this point.  I walk a bit and eventually start to shuffle step again.  A few miles later Juli blows past us.  She’s got a new pacer and a whole lot of energy.  I never see her again at the race.  
Looking great on the trail!

Mile 92: The Hallucinations.  We see Erick and Ronda before Richie’s Haven.  Erick will later tell me that when he looked at my face, there was nothing but a blank expression.  I had a glazed over and dazed look.  The race started to race live up to it’s name right here.  Just before the Yurt I look to my right.  I say to Mike, “Do you see that RV?”  He tells me to keep moving.  After the aid station I see cars everywhere in the woods.  I think my brain just wanted me to get to the next aid station to see Ronda’s vehicle or our RV at the campground.  Either way, it messed with my head.  I would look off to the side of the trail and think I saw a cat.  Mike held steady with his response telling me to keep moving forward.  When darkness came on I saw dirty socks all over the trail.  Another hallucination best I can tell. I think they were really rocks.  I have my headlamp on for the last road section before Grace.  A car pulls up and it is Dave.  He starts yelling for me to move faster.  That this is my pay-dirt, the flat straight sections.  I shuffle faster, which still isn’t fast.  I know I have lost a lot of time even though Mike continues to tell me we are doing fine.  I am elated that Dave came back out.  I know he will be at the finish line to celebrate.  As we pass Grace for the last time, Erick tells me that I am a machine.  I know I am in the home stretch.   I do the best I can to shuffle run the rest of the way in, except for that last hill that never seemed to end.  I keep asking Mike if he can see the road.  We have to cross one road and then it is a one mile section to the campground.  We’ve agreed he will turn on his recorder at the 99 mile mark and do a short recording for the podcast.  I am following his headlamp in the darkness forever.  It seems to be never ending.  He finally says he sees the road.  I scream in joy.  We cross the road and he turns on the recorder.  He asks me questions and I give one word answers.  It is all I can muster.  I know I will sound like an idiot in this recording, more than the pre-interview.  But at least I have an excuse for sounding off at this point.  I’m grinding away at the last mile.  Mike asks me if I am excited.  I say I will not be excited until I see the campground.  He says, “There it is!”  I see the campfire at the tent closest to the woods.  I scream out in joy.  As I come out of the woods and into the campground I am thrilled, awake and alive with victory in my veins.  I am yelling so my husband knows it is me.  I hear him yell back.  I cross that finish line and he hugs me and he is in tears.  I have no juice left.  Not an ounce of water left in my body to produce a tear.  I am very dehydrated.   I’m given a peace sign finisher medal, an awesome belt buckle and a hat.  A bottle of champagne is produced.  Hugs and toasts with several of my ultra runner fiends, crew and pacers.  We take photos to preserve this moment  I tell my husband I will NEVER run another 100 miler.  He is smart, he knows me.  He says, “We will talk about it tomorrow.”  
A matter of a few steps to the RV and a few more photos.  I announce that I need to sit down.  This comes as no surprise but I am told to hang on for a few more photos.  I feel my ears ringing and I say, “I’m about to pass out.”  One second later I am being carried into the RV.  I don’t remember anyone picking me up, just being carried in.  I’m laying down and feel cold and sleepy.  My husband is a trained first responder.  My pupils are fixed and dilated.  I have no capillary refill and my lips went grey.  He has someone get the medics.  They come and give me oxygen, take my blood pressure.  They say if I will drink they won’t hook up an IV.  I agree to drink anything.  They get another call of a woman passed out in the campground shower.  I find out later it is Juli, she wound up in the Emergency Room that night.  I am lucky.  
FINISHED!!! 

I fall asleep in the RV. I wake up later and need help walking 2 feet to the bathroom.  My husband helps.  I also realize I never brushed my teeth. My teeth feel like they have fur coats.  He hands me my toothbrush and a cup of water.  I tell him the toothpaste tastes terrible and ask where he got it.  He said from my kit.  I know there is no toothpaste in there.  We both realize it is hydrocortisone and I can’t spit it out fast enough.  Guess you shouldn’t ask someone as tired as you to do something like that.  Tomorrow I will spend almost two hours pouring over the kind words of encouragement and congratulations from friend and family.  These are people that I was sure were so tired of hearing about my running that they wouldn’t even pay attention.  I’ve exhausted them all year with races and long training runs.  I honestly felt maybe just my family and a few friends would follow the posts.  I found out later that people were glued to their computers for 30 hours.  Hoping, waiting for word of my success.  I am so fortunate.  I thank all of them for caring.  I am beyond words for this public outpouring they have given me.  
There goes another toenail...

I wake up after 9 hours of sleep and still can’t comprehend what I did.  I hold the buckle. It seems surreal.  Who am I?  I am just a normal person.  I love running.  I had a goal.  I ran 100 miles.  I finished in 29 hours, 28 minutes and 26 seconds.  I was close to last, and that was fine with me.  149 people registered for the 100 miler the race.  Only 69 finished.  I was number 63.  They say in ultras that there are three kinds of people at the finish line.  The competitors, the runners, and the survivors.  I’m not sure if I am a runner or a survivor, I’m just glad I finished.

Erick wakes up and asks me what is on my mind.  I simply say the name of the next race on my radar, “Burning River.” 

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading your blog, Sandy! Well, you've successfully inspired me to take on this challenge :) My husband and I are planning to do the Woodstock 50K this year ... we've done several marathons, but this will be our first ultra. Your blog was honest, funny, and so real ... I just loved reading it! Thanks for taking the time to note the details. I really appreciate it! And ... CONGRATULATIONS!

    ReplyDelete