Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rob Lahoe HURT 13 Pacing Report

My pacers report.  Ken Michal’s 5th loop of HURT 100 2013.

Rob Lahoe
I want to preface this report by telling you how I met Ken.  A few years back, I’d injured my knee and couldn’t run the HURT 100, so I decided to become the captain of the Paradise Park aid station.  After a very long day, night, and another day, it was time to start breaking everything down.  We were coming to the cutoff time for that aid station and everyone was ready to clean up and go home.
We were packing up the generator when, from very far down the trail, we heard this very faint screaming and yelling.  At first we were alarmed and thought that maybe someone might be hurt, but quickly realized that these were screams of excitement and happiness.  On and on the yells and screams went.  As they grew closer, the atmosphere around the aid station began to get energized and excited.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  It seemed to go on for at least 10 minutes.  Finally, this colossal man came running in, screaming and blithering and crying. I’ve never seen anyone so excited to finish the HURT 100k.  
Ken at HURT 10: 100k in 31:20:00 (10 minutes to spare!) Photo: Karen Gerasimovich
As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen a more emotional and exciting finish to any race whatsoever.  From that point on, I was a fan of ‘All Day’ Ken.  Just as a side note, I think the 100k was going to be discontinued after that year, but because of Ken’s amazing finish, the RD’s decided to keep that part of the race for a few more years. Ed note: The 100k has officially been discontinued as of HURT 2013.  100k "Fun Run" finishers will no longer receive buckles or official results. 
I wrote to Ken about 6 months before HURT 2013 and told him that I was more than willing to pace him on his 4th and 5th loops if he wanted.  Although enthusiastic about seeing me, he never really gave me a solid ‘yes’.  I also had plans to camp out at the top of Pauoa flats with Cindy Goh throughout the night.  I wanted to keep her company, bring some music and disco lights, and increase the energy a bit.  
Pauoa Flats:  A runnable, flat section of the course! Photo: Rob Lahoe

I told Ken that although I couldn’t start pacing him from that point, (HURT rules say you must pick up your pacer at an aid station) he just had to say the word and I’d pack up and meet him at the next aid station.  He came around in the dead of night and we greeted each other with fist bumps, but nothing was said about needing a pacer.  As always, Ken was smiling and cheerful, so it was hard for me to determine what kind of state he was in.  My biggest worry was that he’d get to the 100k and drop, so when he was on his way down to that aid station I asked him if I’d see him again.  He said something like “there’s no way I’m dropping” and “you’ll have to drag me off this course.”  I took that as a very good sign.
The next time I saw him was at the top of the hill after he passed 100k.  It was about 6:30 in the morning, the sun was coming up, and Cindy and I were about ready to pack up and head down.  I asked Ken as he made the turn towards Nu’uanu “what’s the verdict?  You want me to meet you at Nature Center and head out with you on the last loop?”  He said something humble like, ‘yeah, if you’re not too busy it would be nice.”
So I headed down to Nature Center, got ready, and waited.  A lot of people were talking about Ken at that point because he was starting to get pretty close to the cutoff times.  Looking at his check-in time from Nu’uanu, we predicted Ken would arrive between 10 and 10:15 (cutoff is 11) which would allow for a 7:45 last loop (very doable).  So 10 AM rolls around and I’m double checking my pack and shoes and going over last minute instructions from Ms. CK.  10:05 and everyone at the aid station is craning their necks waiting for Ken.  10:10, 10:15, and every tourist coming off the trail is closely scrutinized (“I think I see him!  Oh wait, never mind, it’s a 4 year old girl” as the entire aid station lets out a small groan)
Mrs. CK Waits Patiently at the Nature Center!  Photo: Sharon Smith
So now its 10:20, then 10:25 and we’re really starting to get worried.  Doing a 7 ½ hour final loop for someone this close to the cutoff times is doable, but I knew we’d feel time pressure.  His 2nd loop was done in around 7 hours, and his 3rd loop was done in about 8 hours.
Finally, at 10:30 Ken comes running into the aid station.  He gets everything he needs from his ‘pit crew’ and we’re off.
When we started out going up Hogsback I was trying to judge where he was physically.  I’ve done Hogsback hundreds if not thousands of times and I know that on that last loop you’re gonna have to stop at some point to catch your breath.  There’s a point about half way up we call ‘roots and rocks’ where it gets even steeper than usual.  I normally have to stop 3-4 time here to catch my breath on the last loop.  I wanted to see how Ken would handle this area.  When we got there, Ken stopped once for maybe 10 seconds to catch his breath and cough, and then took off again.  I couldn’t believe it.  He was flying up this monster of a hill.  It takes me 20 minutes to climb that hill on fresh legs.  We did it in 25:30.  At that point I was thinking to myself—“he doesn’t even need me!  This’ll be a cake walk at this pace!”  I asked Ken for his wife’s phone number and sent her a text:  “Top of Hogsback in 25:30.  Very determined & running about a 6.5 hour pace.  Ken looks really good!”
We continued on towards the next landmark.  There’s a small stretch of paved road the runners have to cross.  On a 6 hour loop it takes me 1 hour to get to this point.  My next text to Karen:  “Made it to the concrete road in 1:05.  About a 6:15-6:30 pace.”  At this point I was very confident we were going to make it with lots of time—maybe an hour or so—to spare.  I just shut up and tagged along with him because really, he was doing everything on his own.  My next text to Karen was at the pig gate:  “1:43 to make it to the pig gate.  It’s all downhill from here to Paradise!”
We rushed down and through Pauoa Flats, still on my predicted 6:30 hour loop time.  We then started on the dreaded switchbacks down to paradise, and I sent Karen another text:  “Be there in about 30 minutes.”
I’m now kind of dazed out and not really paying attention because I know we’re doing really well and there’s really no need to push Ken.  He seems happy (as usual) and very motivated.  Although Hogsback was tough and there were some other steep areas, I haven’t really noticed any signs of severe pain or fatigue beyond what I’d expect at this point; and he’s keeping his food down.  Really, the only thing that concerns me is that I haven’t seen him pee yet.  I ask him about it and he says he’s been doing well in that department, so I let it go.
Up to this point I’ve been following Ken at his request.  However, the area below the switchbacks is filled with tourists; young, old, and VERY slow.  I tell Ken I’ll take the lead once we get to Manoa Falls and block the tourists for him.  When we get to the falls I want to send another text to let Karen know we’ll be there shortly.  I look at my watch and notice it’s already been 30 minutes since my last text telling her we’d be there in 30 minutes.  We’re now about 10 minutes away, and I can’t figure out where we lost that time.  My best guess is that I was wrong about which switchback we were on when I sent the text.  We must have been much higher on the mountain than I thought.  I’m a little embarrassed about my mistake and feel bad that Karen is probably expecting us right now.  I send her a very short text: “@ Falls.”
Photo: Ken Michal
So now I’m up front dealing with the non-racing public as nicely as possible.  I’m yelling to them when they are 50 meters in front of us “Good Afternoon!  Thank You (for moving out of our way)!  This does the trick most of the time and people get the hint.  Now that I’m in front I can’t see Ken, but I hear a steady chorus of “good luck” and “way to go” from the tourists.  The thing I hear most often though is “I can’t believe you’re still smiling!”  So I take that as a sign that Ken is still doing very well.
When we’re about ¼ mile from Paradise Park I ask Ken what he needs and then sprint ahead to let everyone at the aid station know and prepare.  When he arrives, it seems 15 people are on him--changing his tires, filling his gas tank, and checking his oil.  It was an amazing sight to see.  I can’t believe the amazing job done by the volunteers there.
As I’m putting the cap back on my water pack, Cheryl Loomis comes up to me and gives me a serious look.  She says “you need to get him out of here by 1:30.”  This statement really surprises me, because we’ve just finished this leg in – wait.  I look at my watch and cycle from “timer” to “clock” and realize that it’s already 1:15 PM.  What the hell just happened?  With the speed we’ve been traveling, I thought we’d be out of there by 1 PM!
We’re in and out of the aid station in something like 32.5 seconds and everyone is clapping while I’m desperately trying to figure out what happened to all that time we just had.  We were on a 6:30 hour loop and should be increasing our cushion times between cutoffs.  We just went from a 30 minute cushion at the Nature Centre to a 15 minute cushion at Paradise.  While I was thinking we’d gained 15 minutes, we’d actually LOST 15 minutes.  Yes, I have to admit.  I was really freaking out at this point.
I told Ken to leave nothing left on our climb out of Paradise.  I told him that this was the last climb that needed his full effort.  After this, there was only the final climb—and I knew a combination of adrenaline and a sense of finishing would get him quickly over the last climb.  If he could put all his effort into this climb, the rest should take care of itself.
From this point to Nu’uanu I don’t send Karen any more texts.  To tell you the truth, I’m a little scared to do so.  I really can’t figure out what went wrong on that last leg.  
Almost to the top from Paradise!  Photo: Ken Michal
We kick ass going up Paradise, and again I’m looking at my watch and thinking “this is an amazing pace, we’re making up so much time!”  However, I’m still a bit nervous about the timing, so when we’re going through the switchbacks I started using those little ‘fibs’ I think most pacers use they’re trying to motivate their runner.  I told Ken things like “this is where the locals speed up if they want to drop/intimidate a runner who isn’t familiar with the course because there are only 3 switchbacks left, and the new-to-the-course runner doesn’t know that, so they keep a conservative pace.”  I don’t know if I was very convincing because Ken knows this course pretty well, but it did get him to speed up a little.  When that 3rd switchback came and we still had 3 more to go I acted as surprised as I could and hoped he wasn’t too mad at me.
So we get to the top, rub Biens Bench, and start to make our way down to the last aid station.  From here to the bottom, I’m expecting about a 40 minute run. With the amazing climb we just had, we should get there about 30 minutes before the cutoff.  We head down 5-minute hill (which is 5 minutes of agonizing pain—no matter if you’re going down it or up it), and I remember telling Ken that the rest of it is runnable.  I’ve been a little pushier with him this time because I’m really feeling the cutoff pressure.
We get going down the switchbacks.  At this point I start to worry about Ken a little bit.  He’s not doing well when he has to take a large step down.  The grunts and exclamations of pain are getting louder, more dramatic, and nearer to each other.  Although he’s been in pain the entire time I’ve been with him, I can tell this downhill is really hurting him.  We eventually make it to the halfway point.  I look down at my watch and notice that over 30 minutes have gone by since we passed Biens Bench.
 An “Ah Ha” moment rocks me.  
It’s at this time I realize that Ken is kicking ass climbing these hills.  He’s making up time and cruising through it.  However, it’s his downhill speed that’s slowing us down.  We should be at the bottom of this hill in 10 minutes.  But at this pace, we’ll be there in 30 minutes, getting into the aid station exactly at the 3:30 PM cutoff!
I quickly take my right foot and bury into Kens’ ass.   I tell him the trail math which gets him moving.  I didn’t realize how slow we were going down these hills!  So now we’re pretty much at an all-out sprint heading into Nu’uanu.  
I had originally expected the last half of this hill to take Ken 20 minutes.  That time shot up to 30 minutes based on how long it took us to do the first half.
Once I realized what was happening and told Ken, he did it in 15 minutes.  
Again, the aid station was a blur of activity as 15 people surrounded Ken, gave him a manicure, cut his hair, and served him a prime rib dinner with all the fixings.  I yelled to the volunteers that we needed to leave in exactly 2 1/2 minutes.  I think we left in less than 2.  
"Oh my, look at the time!  As much as I hate to eat and run, Freddy..."  Photo: Sharon and Robert Smith
Our final climb!  
Although we’re almost done, I’m really worried that the last section from Nu’uanu to the Nature Center will be the hardest part for Ken.  If this was a climbing leg I’d be secure in the notion we’d make it on time.  However, this section has the longest downhill of the loop, and Ken isn’t doing well on the downhills.  Almost every step he takes is accompanied by a grunt or a cry of pain.
At the top of Nuuanu!  Photo: Rob Lahoe
But we leave the aid station like mad men.  Ken blows out of the starting gate with the realization that he just finished his last aid station before the finish.   He climbs fast enough to make me huff and puff.  About 10 minutes into the climb I notice we’re catching up to the runner in front of us.  I point this out to Ken (whom I suspect doesn’t care if he passes anyone or not) in the hopes it will get some primal competitive spirit going in his brain, and we slowly but surely reel in the runner.  By the time we get to 5-minute hill, we’re about 10 seconds behind them.
For those not familiar with 5 minute hill, all I can say is that it’s a monster.  You’ve finally finished the switchbacks coming out of Nu’uanu, and you find yourself coming out of a dense forest canopy to a ridge where you can see for miles.  It’s like moving from night to day in 5 seconds.  You make a hard left turn onto a hill that rivals the hardest climb you’ve ever done.  As an initiation to new HURT runners, we make them do this hill in 5 minutes the first time they run a full 20 mile loop from the Nature Center.  It’s basically the last hard climb of the loop, and it’s a doozy.   Many don’t make the 5 minute cutoff their first try.  Ken did it in 7 minutes with 96 or 97 miles under his legs.  I was very impressed.
We made our way through the pig gate, and like magic, all the cries of pain I’d been hearing for the entire loop turned into laughing from this point on.  We were done with the final climb, and it was smooth sailing from here on out.
The only problem was that, while Ken seemed confident about his time, I was not.  I knew how much time we’d lost on the last two down hills, and while those two took us a total of about an hour and a half to finish, we still had another hour and a half of downhill in front of us.  We could not lose more than 15 minutes here.  All I could think about was how we’d taken 30 minutes on a 20 minute downhill from Biens Bench to the midpoint to Nu’uanu.  If we could lose 10 minutes there and 15 minutes on the downhill to Paradise, Ken was definitely not out of the woods yet.  The longest downhill of them all was staring at me, and all I could think about was the cutting knives back at Nature Center aid station that Karen, RD Big John, and Gary Robbins would use on me if I didn’t get Ken back in time.
We had 90 minutes until the 6 PM race closure.  From the top of Hogsback to the finish it takes about 40 minutes, so I told Ken we needed to get to Hogsback in ½ hour to give us a good cushion.  At this point my biggest fear was the final bone jarring descent down Center Trail (aka Pipes).  It would be extraordinarily easy to lose 15-20 minutes there.
Off we went, Ken laughing like a little school girl at each passing landmark, and me sweating bullets.  I did not want to be forever known to the running community as the guy who got ‘All Day’ Ken to the finish line 2 minutes after the cutoff.
It was at this point I kind of felt like one of those old dirty men that you read about.  The only words coming out of my mouth were, ‘yeah!’ and ‘just like that!’ and ‘faster!’  
Although we were moving down the hill, we weren’t going at the speeds I was hoping for.  I checked my watch every 10 seconds.  We made our way down to the final little cardio-pumping hill that takes about 30-45 seconds to climb but gets your heart beating to about 200 beats per minute.  We started down the other side and the runner in front of us came into view once again.  Like I said before—I don’t think Ken is the type of person to actually speed up in order to pass someone, but I nudged him on anyway.  I really hoped his brain was so scattered that he’d think he was back in 4th grade where passing someone in a race actually mattered in some strange way.  About half way down that slope, we passed them with excited cheers between all of us.  We were so close!
Final Stretch!  Look out, Cub Scouts!  Photo: Sharon and Robert Smith
The next landmark we hit was the final road crossing.  From this point on, you can almost smell the Nature Center.  We started across the road, I looked both ways and told Ken it was clear, then looked up to make sure he was on the right path when I noticed he’d increased the distance between us by about 25 meters.  I sprinted to catch up, but Ken was impassioned.  We ran the next part of the course like it was his first.  We didn’t stop for anything including hills, cliffs, ledges, little 6 year old cub scouts, NOTHING.
When we made it to the top of Hogsback, Ken asked me the time.  I had wanted to get there by 5:15 to give us a cushion to finish.  When I looked down at my watch, I read aloud: “5:05.”  We had 55 minutes to do what typically takes about 40 minutes on tired legs.  I quickly sent out my last two texts to Karen:  “Top of Hogsback about 40 minutes out” and then a minute later “Running like it’s his first loop.”
We did very well at the crossover, but I did notice a lessening of the urgency we both had over the last few hours.  
We made the final left turn which leads down to the Nature Center.  This is also the point where you can turn right and climb up to the first road crossing of the loop.  
Couldn't have done it without Rob!!  Photo: Sharon and Robert Smith
Hugs at the finish!  Photo: Sharon and Robert Smith

Ken looked up at the mountain ahead and to the right, smiled, gave his signature laugh, and ran down the hill to his left for an emotional and well deserved HURT 100 mile finish.

Monday, December 3, 2012

TNFEC 50 Mile by Nate Dunn

I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious. - Vince Lombardi

Today wasn't supposed to happen. When I first attempted to register for the 2012 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championship race back in June it had just sold out. The race was to be my final tune up before the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February. Resigned to running the 50K instead, I integrated what I believed was going to be a 30 mile race into my training schedule and that was that.

Then a “Pineapple Express” happened.  No, not the movie, an unusual weather pattern that dumped a foot of rain on the course the week of the race. As the rain fell harder and harder this past week I quickly reassessed my inability to get in to the 50 mile race, now considering it as a blessing in disguise.

While sitting at my desk at work the day before the race I randomly checked my junk mail folder. When I looked down and saw an email from The North Face with the subject line “Congratulations!” I knew it could only mean one thing. That I’d been moved off of the waitlist and bumped up to the 50 Mile Division. Less than 24 hours before the race, I’d learned that the race was going to be 20 miles longer than I’d previously thought. Works for me.

Later in the day I learned that the traditional route for the race had been changed, and we would now be running two 23 mile loops around different course. I’ll get to the course itself later.

I arrived at the race site 30 minutes before the start time. It took me 15 minutes to finally get out of the car because the rain was already falling at a pretty steady clip… wonderful. I eventually made it out to the starting line just in time to begin the race and we were off. 5:00 a.m. in the morning, driving rain, headlamps, mud, and hills. It sounds more like more fun than it actually was.

I learned fairly quickly that the jacket that I had brought wasn’t water proof. It wasn’t even water resistant. It just turned into one giant sponge, taking on what felt like 5 pounds of water. I was cold, wet, and not feeling the whole rain thing at all. I quickly let negative thoughts take over. I thought about my car key and how if it continued to get wet that it would stop working and I’d get locked out of my car. I thought about my feet and how they were already sopping wet and we had just gotten started (wet feet = blisters). Quite frankly, I was ready to say screw it and go home.

But I kept going. We made the first loop up Bobcat trail to Alta, then back down to aid station numero uno (5.9 Miles). I refilled my bottle and kept going. We then proceeded up Miwok to Old Springs, and then down into the Tennessee Valley Aid station (3 miles). This stretch was tough for me. For one, the incline of Miwok slowed me to a walk, while the rain picked up. It was during this time that I first thought seriously of walking off the course after the first loop.

It would be so easy, the car would be right there, and this isn’t fun. This isn’t my goal race. Who cares? Then I decided that I cared. Not finishing a race, or at least giving everything I had before being pulled off the course for a medical emergency would have been as personally offensive to me as not tipping a waiter, or worse yet, a dine and dash. It wasn’t going to happen. I decided to just suck it up and keep going.

When we got to Tennessee Valley I lingered for a while. I wasn’t in any particular hurry to get back out there in the rain, and I needed to decide to do with all this crap that was weighing me down. I emptied my pockets, smirking first at what an idiot I was for bringing sunglasses. Then getting rid of other crap that I didn’t need like my mp3 player. I then left Tennessee Valley and jogged down the road towards Pirate Cove via the Coastal Trail, headed to the next aid station at Muir Beach (4 Miles). This is when things started to change for me.

I ran into a guy named John from Arizona. This guy was one of the most positive, upbeat guys I could have hoped to meet and we started up a conversation. Almost instantly I stopped dwelling on the negative and started to focus on more upbeat things, like the fact that we were actually moving pretty fast and we had a chance to come out of this race with a halfway decent time. I continued to chat with John for a while and then, as usually happens, we left each other with a “I’ll catch you down the trail.”

(There were a handful of other random strangers that I ran with throughout the day that helped me get through the race, but I don’t remember all of their names and since we aren’t FB friends they won’t be offended if I just leave it at that)

I was back to my normal, positive self, and I was starting to have fun again. Until I got to the top of the hill leading down to Muir Beach. A foot of rain had turned this hill into a waterslide. About 20 yards in to my decent of the hill I slipped, and when I tried to catch myself I landed sideways face first in the mud. The photographer who was right there heard me fall and quickly turned and snapped a picture. I am sure it is hilarious. I spent the entire day with a face covered in mud. From that point forward everyone who I passed smirked at me. I laughed it off of course, and had other important things to worry about.

Back to the mud-covered waterslide down into Muir Beach. It sucked. It’s not the organizer’s fault, North Face did a great job putting on the race in these conditions, but that part of the route sucked. Anyone who ran the race will agree. We were literally grabbing on to shrubs on the side of the train to keep ourselves from falling. I fell at least 6 times, we all got covered in mud.

The Muir Beach aid station folks were great, all of the volunteers at the race were great. But right when we were done we had to loop around and then head back UP the waterslide. This wasn’t fun. It was almost as bad as going down. When we got to the top of the hill we swung a left up Coyote Ridge and then over to Miwok before heading back down to the Tennessee Valley Aid Station (4.8 Miles).  The climb up Coyote Ridge was almost as bad as up out of Muir Beach. Not as steep, but the trail was the consistency of one of those slime pits that kids would dig through on the TV show Double Dare.

Despite all of this, we successfully navigated back down to Tennessee Valley, up Marincello, and then joined back into Alta trail(2.9 Miles), and then back down towards the start line (2.8 Miles), which marked the halfway point. During this last stretch something really cool happened, I got lapped by Hal Koerner, one of the living legends of ultra running. This is one of the most special things about this sport. Regular, everyday people get to race elite, world class athletes. It’s literally like walking down to your local pick-up game and playing against Kobe Bryant. Hal whizzed by me from behind (And finished more than 5 hours faster than I did), but I caught enough of a glimpse to instantly recognize him and blurt out a “Oh Hey Hal!” Too late, he was already gone. In fairness though, he was less than a mile from the finish line, so he was probably focused on that.

I made the turn around and looked down at my watch 5:10. I smoked that first lap. I was on pace to break 11 hours. Last year I ran this same race, albeit a course 5 miles longer, in 13 hours. I was feeling pretty good about things, and went out for lap two.

What a difference a few hours makes. It had stopped raining, and we caught fleeting glimpses of sunlight. Armed with the motivation that I could run a great time, my sole focus the second lap was running the best race I could. I felt great during that second lap, and even though it went slower, my energy level never dropped and my legs didn’t quit on me. I ran with Ken Michal for a while, but then he dropped me just before the last stop at Tennessee Valley before Marincello. Ken ran a heck of a race (And will win H.U.R.T. this year!)
Nate and Ken at the finish!  Sub 11:00:00!! WSER qualifier?

I finished in 10:53, and I couldn’t be happier with my time. It was a brutal race, but I feel like I won today, and as sore as I’ll feel tomorrow I know that it was all worth it. I believe I am well on my way to achieving my ultimate goal, which is to finish a 100 mile race.

I would like to acknowledge some of the keys to why today went so well:

1. The Endurables – I’ve trained with Jim Vernon’s group the past two years and those long runs could not have prepared me any better for both of The North Face 50 races I’ve done. The Endurables is a great group of folks, and if you live in the Bay Area and are interested in trail running (Not just ultras) I highly recommend one of their training programs or memberships.

 2. Hammer Nutrition – I fueled during this race primarily with Perpetuem. It’s a product that provides exactly the nutrition you need during endurance events, and I never experienced a drop in energy during the entire race. Other Hammer products I used: Race Caps Supreme, Race Day Boost, Endurolytes, Anti-Fatigue Caps. These products work.

3. Lots of 20+ mile long runs - I ran my first marathon in 2002, and I’ve run nearly 20 races of that length or greater since then. Most marathon trailing programs have you work up to 20 miles, then taper, then race. Since I’m currently training for a 100 mile race, I’m running 20 miles or more almost every weekend these days. The biggest change that I’ve seen is that my legs no longer quit on me during races. The take away is that long runs are the most important part of any training program and the more that you can include in your schedule without overtraining, the better your result will be. If you are going to run a marathon: do gradually increase your milage, but once you get to 20 keep up those long runs on a consistent basis over a series of months and you won’t just finish your race, you’ll feel better throughout it.

4. Podcasts –  Ultra Runner Podcast, Talk Ultra, and Running Stupid
 are great podcasts to listen to during long runs. Adam Carolla and Joe Rogan are also in heavy rotation. 

- Nate

Photos from the Event:


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.  

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.”