Short version: I finished my first 100-miler. Relentless forward motion the whole time–ZERO breaks.
MUCH longer version:
Four years ago, after reading the book Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon (by Neal Jamison and Don Allison), I wondered if I could run a 50k. I had just run my first marathon three months prior and was training for my second one. I had a 20-mile run in my plan and didn’t want to do it alone. When I looked for a 20-mile race that same weekend (what are the chances?), I found a local trail run that offered a 10-mile and a 50k option. I thought about doing the 10-miler and then running 10 miles on my own. But then I looked at the prices: $35 for 10 miles or $50 for 50k (31 miles). The second option was a much better deal! But could I run an ultra?
I did not know any ultrarunners. However, throughout the book, a man named David Horton continuously came up. He was an ultra legend himself and inspired and motivated many other people to do them. At the end of the book, I found his email address and emailed him, almost exactly 4 years ago (4 February 2009). The email was titled “50k–Should I?” I admitted I had no business emailing him, told him my very short running history, and asked him what he thought. He responded telling me to do it, gave me some advice, and told me to email him after I completed it. Well if THE David Horton thought I could do it, then maybe I could!
A seed was planted…
I won’t rehash my whole running life to date, but I will say I completed that 50k and went on to do an additional 13 ultras over the next 4 years before my first 100-miler.
When people used to find out I ran ultras, I would always say, “Yeah, but I’m not one of those really crazy people who runs 100-milers.” (Haha.) But I couldn’t say I wasn’t intrigued by 100s. I met people who did them, and they seemed “normal.” Eventually, it seemed inevitable that I would do one. But the intrigue alone wasn’t enough to enable me to sign up. I needed to have the confidence I could finish one before I took that leap. Shorter ultras can be done without intense training–I knew because I’d done quite a few essentially on whims without proper preparation. But I knew there was no way I could fake my way through a 100-miler.
Tracking friends during the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile race last year, I made the decision that IF I ever did a 100-miler, I wanted to do this one. In the spectrum of 100-milers, it is one of the easier ones due to the terrain (still on trails with lots of roots, but not very technical), minimal elevation change, and liberal time limit. Also, the race was in Texas. I fell in love with running when I lived in Texas, and many of my running friends still lived there.
Doing my first official 50-miler last April was a confidence boost to me. Dropping my marathon PR from 5:12 to 4:17 was another confidence raiser. When I crewed for my friend Karla during Badwater and paced a total of 43 miles (broken up into segments) over a span of 40 hours, with minimal soreness and no issues staying awake and alert, that was the moment I knew I could do 100 miles.
I had hired a running coach in October of 2011 who was a miracle worker of sorts. Ian Sharman is a very accomplished ultrarunner. He coached me through a handful of races, including my first 50-miler. However, I wanted to wait a while to bring up the prospect of a 100-miler to him. I chose to test the waters by posting on the race’s Facebook page about maybe doing the race. Seeing as I had not brought it up to Ian, I swore I had checked to ensure he was not in the group. However, lo and behold, a bit of awkwardness ensued when I posted an inquisitive message on the page only to have him respond to it and say I could do it. Oh, and I might not have mentioned that Ian holds the blazing fast course record for that race of 12:44.
Needless to say, I extended my coaching contract with him for an additional period of time to cover training for Rocky Raccoon.
I put in a lot of miles in preparation for Rocky Raccoon. I ran not only marathons but a 50-miler as supported training runs. My peak mileage on a week with no racing was just over 80. While my paces had improved over the time Ian was my coach, fitting in 80 miles was still a HUGE time commitment. Thankfully, my husband, Asa, was very supportive.
Leading up to the race, I realized I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to have a pacer for the last 40 miles of the race (two loops of the five-loop course). Asa agreed to pace me the last lap, which was perfect. But I didn’t have a pacer for the fourth loop. I was also in the sort of awkward position of doing the race on a minimal budget and not having the means to pay for a flight, hotel, etc. for a pacer, so it was imperative that I find someone in Texas.
My first choice was SusanRachel, an army doctor I’d grown to respect after multiple years of interacting with her online. Unfortunately, this ended up not working out; the business trip that would have brought her to Texas the week prior got cancelled. I had exactly one other option: Alma is a lady I met nearly three years ago. We ran the same 50k—it was her first ultra, which was my first ultra the year prior. She actually recognized me on the course and said she’s read my race report from the race and that it had factored into her choosing that race as her first ultra (wow!). We parted ways after the race but kept in loose touch via Facebook. She was interested in pacing me.
After a few in-depth interactions with Alma, I quickly discovered she would be the ideal pacer for me. She hadn’t done a ton of running recently, but she had done a difficult 25k a few weeks prior and loved trails. She also seemed very excited, which made me really excited too. I told her I thought I was low maintenance but that I’m sure everyone thinks that of themselves. I said I really just needed someone to keep my company and to be an extra set of eyes to ensure I don’t get lost and an extra brain to ensure I’m eating and drinking. She said she was up to the task. She was originally going to camp at the race site, but then her family decided to make a trip out of it; I was humbled that they were willing to drive the several hours just so she could pace someone she hardly knew!
In the days leading up to Rocky Raccoon, it should come as no surprise that I did not sleep well. Every possible thing that could go wrong appeared in a dream. Lovely!
I decided I would put drop bags at both locations I was allowed to have them. One of the drop bags I wanted to use ended up being too small; this bothered me because it was my “lucky” ultra bag that I’d used at (almost) every single ultra I’d done; I had a baggage tag that has a bunch of layers of taped sticky notes, masking tape, and duct tape, each with one of my previous race numbers written on it. However, it worked out because I ended up using two bags at the start/finish area and a bigger one at the other point.
Since I wanted to organize things in a way that would enable me, Asa, or Alma to quickly get things, I packed everything in gallon-sized Ziplocs. This also protected everything in the event it rained. I wrote the contents of each bag on the outside of it; I had a bag for medical stuff, gels, lights/watches/batteries, energy stuff, socks, shirts, light jackets, etc. The contents of the drop bags at both locations were almost identical (obviously not the exact same brands/colors of things, but the same kinds of medical supplies, same number of extra articles of clothing, etc.); I did this because I didn’t want to have to remember what was in which one. At the start/finish, since I had two bags, I put all of the clothing in one bag and everything else in the other one. This is a pic of the drop bags:
Asa and I woke up early Friday morning, after just a few hours of sleep, to catch our flight. After a few minor issues (leaving a few minutes late, taking a wrong turn at the airport, and standing in the wrong line for 10 minutes), we missed our flight! I have NEVER missed a flight (okay, connecting flights, yes, but never one due to an oversight on my part). I couldn’t believe that of all times it was THIS time! Thankfully, United was able to book us on another direct flight leaving just an hour later. Crisis averted!
We flew into Houston, picked up our rental car, and drove to packet pickup in Hunstville, which was at the start/finish area of the race. I listened to a short brief about the race, but it pretty much just covered info that I was in the race document that I’d already read. I also dropped off my drop bag I wanted at one of the aid stations on the course (not at the start/finish). I happened to run into one of my online friends as well. Supposedly Jason and I met during Badwater, where he was crewing too, but I have no recollection of it; I felt sort of silly since I didn’t even remember I’d met him and he remembered where on the course we were when our runners crossed, haha. Jason’s girlfriend was doing her first 50-miler and he was doing it with her.
I was in awe of how beautiful the state park was! Here is a photo:
We checked into our hotel and then went to Olive Garden. It was a happening place! I saw five friends I knew there, including Jean, one of my running friends from San Antonio, and Rich, a guy I used to work with. I already felt more at home with the coming day’s events since I knew I’d be around friends, literally.
I laid out my clothes for the next morning and was pleased that I would be getting to bed with enough time to get 7 hours of sleep before my 3:50am alarm! Hahahaha.
Before I laid down, I sensed a little bit of impending doom and wondered what I was getting myself into and why I thought it was even possible. As it turns out, around this exact time, I got a message from one of my Facebook friends that made me feel a little better. It said: “Thank you for inspiring me to tackle tomorrow’s Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. You’ll never know how much your words & actions have put me in a position to attempt this race and have the confidence and determination to do this. Thank you.” This is really what I needed to see, and it inspired me. I exchanged a few messages with this person before going to bed.
My body thought it was 7pm. My mind also wouldn’t be quiet, and the more I tried to not think about details of the race, the more I thought about them. I laid there for almost 3 hours, unable to sleep. It also did not help that the hotel’s walls and ceiling appeared to be made of paper. I could hear everything (like footsteps, cabinets opening, etc.). And there were also a few sirens outside. Just before midnight, I finally fell asleep… only to be awoken less than 5 minutes later when the alarm clock across the room went off (and was set to a very staticy radio station). After I stumbled over to turn it off, I got back into bed. Nine minutes later, it went off again; this time, I unplugged it. As soon as I went back to bed, I suddenly realized 100 miles is a long distance. And I would have less than 4 hours of sleep before the race. This thought kept me up a while longer. Once I finally dozed off, I woke up a few more times, concerned I would oversleep. My total sleep time was roughly 3 hours. I normally sleep 7-8 hours a night. Oh my.
We had heard that we should get to the start line early to beat the traffic and get a good parking spot. We left the hotel by 4:30am and got to the race site just before 5am for the 6am race start. Alma had gotten into town late the night prior and said she wanted to come to the race start but likely wouldn’t, which I said was no problem and I totally understood; I made sure she and Asa had each other’s cell numbers. However, she showed up! I couldn’t believe she’d come just to see me before the start even though it’d be well over 12 hours before she’d need to be there to pace me! Here’s a pic I took of her, me, and Asa:
I ran into Mike Morton before the race start. He is quite possibly my “favorite” elite ultrarunner, not because he’s wicked fast (even though he is!), but he is very humble, encouraging, and just a very good person. To me, he epitomizes what I really love about the ultrarunning community. We chatted for a few minutes. I have a lot of respect for him. (Spoiler alert: He ran the race as a sort of training run but still won it, finishing almost an hour and a half ahead of the person in second place.)
Asa snapped a quick pic of me before the race start:
There was a countdown and over 300 runners disappeared into the woods. The first hour or so, it was still dark and the trail was really congested. I had zero control over my pace, but it felt easy and I was having fun already! The first aid station came up quickly, at 3 miles. Then another one 3 miles later, named DamNation. My drop bag from the day before was here. It was the perfect spot as there was a loop after this section that brought us back through 6 miles later (12 miles into the large loop).
Somewhere in this 6-mile stretch, I happened to run into a lady named Rachel who I’d just “met” online the night prior when we realized we’d both be doing our first 100. We ran together a little bit. I was overly amused by the fact that our Marathon Maniac numbers were just 6 numbers off from one another, even though she had way more stars; she was wearing a shirt with this info, which is how I knew. The next aid station was about 3.5 miles from the second pass through DamNation, then 4.5 miles to the end of the loop.
Toward the end of the first loop, I caught up with my friend Rich. He was doing the 50-miler, which had started an hour later than the 100-miler and followed the same course except that the DamNation loop was smaller and they did a total of three loops instead of five. He was happy to see me and said I was moving well. He had originally signed up for the 100-miler after missing cutoffs the last two years, but he downgraded to the 50-miler because he said training for the 100-miler was no longer fun. His timing out of the race previously honestly served as a big concern to me for over a year and intimidated me. I knew he was faster at shorter distances, up to 50 miles, so I couldn’t logically conclude I would somehow be able to make cutoffs if he couldn’t. It wasn’t until I ran a couple shorter races (marathon, 50k, and 50-mile) faster than him that I really felt like I had a shot.
The only time I actually fell, not tripped (that happened tons), but actually landed flat out on the ground was in the first loop at mile 18. It was a section of the course where people were running in both directions. There are lots of little foot bridges on the course, and I was coming over one when I decided to hop off the side a little early to make room for a group of people coming toward me. I must have caught my foot as I went down immediately. A lot of my left thigh and calf were covered in dirt, but I wasn’t hurt. Also, my right hand hit the ground pretty hard, but it was shielded by my handheld water bottle. But I knew I hit hard because I somehow managed to get a bunch of dirt and pine needles jammed between my screw-on cap and the bottle. This of course meant that my water got mud in it. But it didn’t taste any different—just a little “crunchy,” haha. Everyone in my vicinity stopped running to make sure I was okay. I was, and felt a little silly. But this just reminded me why I love runners.
I hate wasting time at aid stations. On the course, I would refill my water bottle whenever necessary and grab a handful of something while that was being done. I didn’t really browse; I was in and out. At the end of each loop, it was a little bit different as more stuff was done. Thankfully, Asa was there at the end of each loop and I’d give him instructions (like putting more gels in my spibelt, locating a particular item, or swapping batteries in a light); while he did this, I would use the porta potty. This worked out really well and I was able to be in and out of the start/finish area in 3-5 minutes. One of the great things about this course was the closeness of the aid stations to one another. However, I think there is the tendency of some people to feel the need to stop at every single one. I don’t do that, or, I know exactly what I want and swipe it as I go by. I can’t afford to spend minutes at each one because that can really add up!
I made it through the first loop in 4:10.
The second loop started out quicker than the first one because the crowd was way spread out by then. I happened to run into two of my friends who are married to one another: Cheri and Jeff. They were doing the 50-miler, and while Cheri was ahead of Jeff, they’d crossed each other on the course so they’d stopped to chat a little bit. I stopped too just to exchange a few words. I hadn’t seen them in nearly two years since I attended their Race to the Altar trail race prior to their wedding. They’d been generous enough to lend me two documentaries on Badwater and a crewing guide when I expressed curiosity in crewing last year. They’re so kind.
These two photos were taken by the official photographer along the course, somewhere during the second loop (between miles 22 and 27 if I had to guess). Yes, I do plan on buying one of the pics, but I haven’t ordered it yet, which is why I have this ghetto version:
Around mile 23, I happened to run into one of my friends from San Antonio, Renee. She said hi, we hugged, and she snapped a pic which she immediately posted to Facebook. Of course I had a mouth full of food.
I was feeling great at the beginning of this lap, but somewhere in the 30-something mile range, I hit a mental low. It was so random, but I stayed there for nearly 15 miles. It wasn’t like bonking; I still had energy to run, but I just felt depressed. However, it disappeared as quickly as it appeared with just a few words from a single person. Mike Morton told me I was doing a good job. I don’t know why this made such a huge difference, but it did. I will also note that this wasn’t the last time he encouraged me on the course, and I heard other talk of him taking the time to exchange a few words with other people too. This is one of the things I love about ultrarunning. People are down-to-earth and even the people at the very front will take the time to support people way behind them when they have the opportunity.
The second loop took me 4:34, for an elapsed time of 8:45.
I grabbed my headlamp and a knuckle light prior to my third loop as I knew it would get dark during that loop; I’d ditched them prior to the second loop. The headlamp gave off decent light, while the knuckle light didn’t start off great and only got dimmer. However, I liked the ease in which I could hold it. On the advice of people who had done this race before, I used a headlamp and a handheld light as they served two different purposes. The headlamp was good for looking ahead and also catching the reflective trail markings, while the handheld was good for pointing at the ground, especially with all of the roots out there.
I think it was also on this loop that I first crossed paths with my friend Tammy. I first met Tammy at North Coast 24 in 2011. On the way to that race, I had been reading Ultrarunning magazine and had come across a photo of a very colorful looking lady with “Tammy” on her shirt. During NC24, I passed a colorful looking lady only to look back and see the same name on her shirt. Our exchange went something like this: “I think I saw a photo of you in UR magazine!”… “Oh… Yeah, that was at Western States.” Throughout the rest of the race, whenever we saw each other, Tammy had nothing but encouraging things to say. She also gave me advice as I trained for my 100-miler. When I saw her during Rocky Raccoon, she was super encouraging. She was going the 50-miler and kept telling me how well I was doing.
She snapped this photo of me, somewhere between miles 40 and 60:
I continued to interact with people on the trail. It’s funny because I really don’t consider myself a social runner, but I love the camaraderie of ultras. And there is something incredible about the unspoken bond between people pursuing the same goal. There was one guy I met who seemed like a jerk (which honestly caught me off guard), but after a few exchanges, he admitted he was really tired and apologized. From then on, our conversation completely changed because I could understand he was tired and his very dry sense of humor actually became really of funny. We had random exchanges like, “Hey, watch out for that root!” which might sound helpful, but seeing as the trail is covered with them, it was pretty ludicrous. We also ran a few sections together because he really wanted to get to the 52 mile aid station by 12 hours. We also made random noises when we came over the top of hills. It was totally random but fun. We did make it to the aid station by 12 hours, and we spent some time with one of his friends we met along the way. I recall one of them telling me my Cheeto-covered hands were sexy, just before I came up with the brilliant idea to wipe them on my orange shirt (which blended in perfectly, haha). It’s funny how quickly people connect during a race like this.
Honestly, I am very introverted, socially awkward, and I do not make friends easily. In areas of my life besides ultras, I would rather do almost everything by myself. But for some reason, ultras are very familiar and comfortable to me socially.
I think it was during this loop that I also ran into a guy named Trent for the first time. He was really nice and we kept seeing each other. Of course I didn’t find out until after the race when he looked me up on Facebook that he celebrated his 40th birthday in the wee hours of the second morning of the race. What a way to celebrate!
I came across a man doing the 50-miler who was walking within walking sticks. Besides saying “good job,” I hadn’t actually talked to him until late in my third loop. It seemed that most of the 50-milers were on their last loop, so I said to him, “Almost there,” to which he said, “No… I still have another loop.” I told him that if it was any consolation, I still had two laps, they were bigger, and I wasn’t moving much faster than he was. In a very genuine tone, he said, “Thanks. It’s nice to know I won’t be out here all alone.” That really touched me.
The course was a lot more runnable than I thought it would be. I knew before the race it was an “easy” course (in trail terms), but I still didn’t know what it would be like. Being almost exclusively a road runner, I’ve had some extremely challenging times on trails, so the fact the trail was “easy” by trail standards did not provide much consolation to me. There were a LOT of roots, which altered my stride and caused me to pick up my feet more, but it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. Also, while the course isn’t pancake flat, there are no uphill or downhill sections that are very steep or last very long.
In the third loop, I noticed I had some blisters on my feet. I never noticed hotspots, only blisters that were already formed. I thought this was weird as I rarely get any blisters. However, I suspect it had to do with the way my feet were moving around in my shoes on the trails, which is different from how they move around on roads. I was torn about what to do about the blisters. The logic in me said I needed to deal with them somehow. But the more practical side of me didn’t know how to do that. I was concerned that messing with them would make them hurt more, or even worse, that I would not be able to get my shoes back on if I took them off. So I opted to just keep moving forward since the pain was bearable.
About a mile from the end of my third loop, I was walking right behind a lady and we were chatting with each other. She was doing the 50-miler and said she’d tried it last year but got a DNF; it’s worth mentioning there was rain and tons of mud last year. She said it was her first 50-miler she would complete. She asked me what my name was so she could look me up in the results later. As we got closer to the finish line, I didn’t want to be rude and ask her if she was going to run, since I wasn’t sure if she was walking the whole thing or running or what her strategy was. But I commented when we were about a half mile away and she got really excited and took off running. That was really exciting to witness.
I also ran into my friend Jason and his girlfriend on multiple occasions throughout the race. He always had something sarcastic to say that cracked me up.
By the end of my third loop, my blisters seemed to have gotten a bit worse and I was mostly walking, but I chose not do anything about them. I finished my third loop in 5:39, for an elapsed time of 14:24. This meant I had about 15.5 hours for the remaining two loops.
Alma was anxiously waiting for me at the end of my third loop. I was shocked that my Garmin Forerunner 305 had lasted through the first three loops. I traded that out for a Garmin Forerunner 405 that belonged to Alma’s husband. She also had a Garmin. While I totally admit that so much emphasis on GPS devices gets away from the “purity” of ultras, numbers keep me occupied and I just… really like numbers, haha. I also had an iPod during the race, with one earbud. I listened to music off and on for the first three loops, but I didn’t even turn it on during the last two.
Alma and I took off and I was really excited to have some constant company. I find that when I run at night, particularly when I’ve been running a long time, if I’m by myself, I tend to move at a slower pace and sort of weave instead of moving in a straight line. But having someone to talk to keeps me mentally engaged, which has an effect on how I move forward as well. While Alma and I had never spent more than a few minutes together in person, we’d be together the whole loop, however long it took.
Alma and I chatted about tons of stuff: running, racing, running coaches, families, work, lots and lots of random stuff. At aid stations, I would tell her what I wanted, if anything, and she’d get it for me and bring it so I could just keep walking. I will say I LOVE ultra volunteers, and this race was no exception. However, I’m pretty self-sufficient. At aid stations, I’d let them refill my water bottle, and while they were doing that, I’d grab a handful of whatever looked good, but any interactions were very quick.
I realize this is going to sound really gross, but my primary nutrition during the race was gels. I consumed 30 of them. I also grabbed handfuls of other (real) food from aid stations. I also started drinking Heed instead of water to get in some more calories. Thankfully, I have a strong stomach and can eat whatever looks good. I didn’t end up with any nutrition issues and never bonked.
I was walking the majority of the fourth loop as my feet in particular were really hurting with blisters. My quads were also pretty trashed, which was weird to me since I’ve done downhill marathons and much hillier races with no quad issues, but in this race, they’d been really sore after about two loops. However, my blisters were definitely my major limiting factor. I was annoyed by this because blisters seemed like such a silly reason to slow down. But they were very painful.
I relayed a story to Alma that I’d heard regarding Gordy Ainsleigh, who is one of the 100-mile pioneers. A few decades ago, his horse was lame and he therefore couldn’t do the Western States 100-mile race with the horse, so he did it on foot. In an interview, he mentioned that he got to a point when the distance he had left seemed impossible; even shorter benchmark points seemed too far. He chose to commit himself to taking just “one more step.” I picked up this strategy and it worked incredibly. I knew I had no option than to complete the race, but I needed a way to achieve this. So I chose to focus on not getting to the finish but instead just taking “one more step.” I told myself I would do that until I couldn’t take another one, then come up with another action plan. Whenever the thought crossed my mind of how much mileage I had left, I reminded myself all I had to do was take another step. The rest would take care of itself, assuming I could stay ahead of the cutoffs.
During this loop, we spent some time walking with a man who did Western States 10 years ago and had not done a trail run in about 6 years. I never got his name, but the guy and I had a lengthy discussion about how important it is for people to not stay in their comfort zones and how glorious it is to work so hard for something so challenging. We talked a lot about buckles.
I finished the loop in 6:31. Time seemed to have flown by, though. Alma was so kind and I loved spending time with her. By the end of the loop, I felt like I had gained a sister. Before we got back to the start/finish area, I made sure to tell her how appreciative I was of her willingness to help and her family’s support in spending their weekend in the area so she could pace me. I still couldn’t believe they had chosen to do this for me. She said she might come back for the finish, but she wasn’t sure. After showing up early the previous morning to see me at the start and then pacing me, I was already overwhelmed with what she had done.
Asa and I set out on the last loop at 21:05 elapsed time. This meant I had just shy of 9 hours to complete the last loop and make the cutoff. This seemed like it would be a piece of cake, but my blisters had gotten worse. I felt like I was walking on broken glass with every single step. I should point out here that Asa had never been on his feet continuously for more than 13.1 miles (and that took 2.5 hours), and he had never paced before. I had a freshly charged Garmin Forerunner 305 for this loop.
The last loop was so slow. But there were plenty of other runners still out there and I knew they were all in pain. It was sort of eerie with the way things echo in the woods, and you could hear the pain out there. The cries, screams, and gasps as people tripped, fell, and twisted limbs echoed. I don’t know how I should have felt in this situation, but the message I received was that I was not alone in what I was going through.
I am not an overly emotional person in my day-to-day life, but there were multiple times in the last loop that I burst out sobbing for no apparent reason. The most obvious reason was because I was in pain, and that’s how I expressed it at the time because it seemed like the most logical reason. But it was so much more than that and fatigue, as well as concern over making the cutoffs. It was also overwhelming gratitude for having the opportunity to do the race, to have made it that far, to have my husband pacing me. To share it with so many strangers I felt so bonded with. To see people moving slower than me who would realistically not make the cutoff but nevertheless kept moving forward. To realize that moments in life so raw and pure are so rare in the superficial world in which we live and to savor every moment of it. I was also sad for the people who never venture outside of their comfort zone to try something in which there is a very real chance of failing.
I had some low points on this loop when I was concerned about the paces I saw on the Garmin. There were instances when I realized I somehow needed to speed up to make the cutoffs. In retrospect, I think I should have let Asa have the Garmin. He could have kept our pace where it needed to be and sped up just slightly when the pace dipped too low without needing to alert me of the potential problem. As it was, it sort of freaked me out. But I kept moving forward, and as time passed by, I realized I would make the cutoff.
I was able to slowly run, dare I say jog(?), a few little segments of the loop. When the sun came up, it didn’t help my blisters, but I felt refreshed. Asa took this photo around mile 91:
When I passed through the DamNation aid station for the final time, Asa told me he’d grab me something to eat and that I could keep moving forward. He was excited when he saw grilled cheeses since he knows that was one of my favorite foods during NC24. I think I literally squealed when he presented it to me; I was still within earshot of the aid station and they laughed when they heard my response. This was one of my low times, and I think it’s easy to see on my face. I considered not even posting this photo, but it does capture the fact that the event was NOT easy. But I think the grilled cheese rejuvenated me!
Tammy, after finishing her 50-miler, paced a runner in the final 20 miles of her first 100-miler, and I saw her around mile 93. Again, she was very encouraging. And she snapped this photo of Asa and me:
In the last few miles of the race, I was moving incredibly slow and a lot of people passed me. I thought I would have been frustrated with being passed by so many people so close to the finish, but this wasn’t the case at all. I was so elated to know that every single person who passed me would finish the race under the cutoff since I was just ahead of it myself. In the moment, I knew it didn’t matter that they would get a quicker time than me; it only mattered that we were all finishing what we set out to do. I also realized the race was never really against the other runners–it was against ourselves.
With about four miles left, Asa texted Alma and he said she responded and said she’d be there. This really lifted my spirits. Asa took this pic around that time:
My blisters were still not letting up, and I had a new pain in my left pinky toe. I knew it was already blistered, and the way it was positioned, the toe next to it was constantly stepping on it. I developed a new twinge of pain that I felt with every step. It’s hard for me to describe, but it’s similar to how it feels if a piece of tin foil touches a cavity. Ouchie.
One of the things I really appreciated about Asa was that whenever I said anything negative, like how much my blisters hurt, he never bought into it and instead told me how well I was doing and talked about positive things. I was also proud of him for encouraging all of the other runners we crossed paths with.
On the advice of my friend Tammy, I asked for people to consider sending positive messages to Asa before the race for him to read during the final loop. Twelve people sent him messages, and he read them two different times during the last loop. I really appreciated those messages! Additionally, a few times during the third and fourth loops, Alma and Asa read me some of the other things people had posted on my Facebook page.
I was surprised how many people there were around me in the last couple miles of the race. Then, Tammy magically appeared near me in the final mile. She was again very encouraging. I told Asa I wanted to run the last little bit once we crossed the last road. It didn’t matter how much it hurt; I NEEDED to run across the finish line.
When we crossed the road, I grabbed Asa by the hand and we ran. It hurt so bad, but I was so utterly overwhelmed with joy. A photographer from EnduranceBuzz.com captured some photos of us crossing the line:
One of my favorite photographs was taken by David Hanenburg from EB.com. It’s right after Asa and I crossed the finish line and we’re leaning in for a kiss; in the background, Alma is right there smiling. I am so grateful this moment was captured.
Also, I was shocked when I discovered that Alma also took video of us approaching and crossing the finish line:
My final finishing time was 29:17:41.
I had less than 43 minutes to spare. It might sound like a lot of time, but it equates to 25 seconds per mile (not even counting time I spent at aid stations)!
Here are a few pics that I took with Asa and Alma just after my finish:
I feel the race changed me as a person. I made some important realizations in conjunction with the race:
One of them is that rewards are greater for tasks that have a legitimate risk of failure and I think we owe it to ourselves to take these calculated leaps of faith in all areas if our lives.
Also, mental determination is powerful, but you must truly believe with every fiber of your being that you can achieve something; simply saying or thinking it isn’t enough. I realized there were multiple times I could have quit and circumstances would have made it justifiable to 99.9% of people I would have told. But I knew I could do it and chose to keep moving forward, at whatever pace I could, until I got removed from the course or made it to the finish line.
Additionally, never underestimate the impact of a small gesture or a few words to another person. Particularly, if you appreciate people or things they do, TELL THEM. I am normally just as guilty as the next person with regard to this. But I have gotten it really hammered into me the importance of this, having been on both sides of this. Before the race, I randomly touched based with a lady named Melanie whose blog I used to follow; she gave me advice before my first ultra 4 years ago. I told her how the little bit of time she took motivated me to pursue ultras and where that has led. She was touched by this, and it turns out she was actually one of the aid station volunteers at the race. (She actually holds the female 50-mile record on the course, but she likes giving back and helping others.)
I also emailed David Horton, who originally encouraged me to try my first ultra. He said he was proud of me and that he appreciated me following up with him.
My Facebook friend I mentioned before sent me a message saying I helped to inspire him, and he in turn inspired me. And for the record, he finished his 50-miler (not that I had any doubt he would)!
Alma posted a message on Facebook after the race that is one of the kindest notes I have ever received in my life. It reminded me that the kindness I try to extend to others does not go completely unnoticed, and it CAN make a difference.
It has been reaffirmed to me that telling someone how much they’re appreciated actually improves the mood of the person getting the feedback and the person giving it.
I also sent a message to Mike Morton after the race thanking him for being so kind and encouraging, not just to me but to other people on the course.
This has become so important to me. I’d like to say I’ve always cared for people, and I do think that’s true, but on so many occasions, I’ve neglected to let them know. I can’t explain why exactly the race impressed this importance on me, but I think it has something to do with seeing and interacting with people at some of their most vulnerable moments, with no defenses in the way. I’m also reminded of a quotation that has been one of my favorites for years: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
There is a song I heard on the radio recently called “Words” by Hawk Nelson. Because they reflect my sentiments so well, I wanted to share a few of the lyrics: “They’ve made me feel like a prisoner / They’ve made me feel set free / They’ve made me feel like a criminal / Made me feel like a king /// They’ve lifted my heart / To places I’d never been / And they’ve dragged me down / Back to where I began /// Words can build you up / Words can break you down / Start a fire in your heart or / Put it out /// Let my words be life / Let my words be truth / I don’t wanna say a word / Unless it points the world back to You” And here’s the music video if anyone’s interested:
I truly believe the world would be a better place if people were kinder to one another and used their words for good.
Another change since the completion of this race is that I no longer have a running coach. After just over 15 months of coaching and extending my original contract twice, my contract finally expired. Ian Sharman helped me SO much, including setting PRs at every distance from 1 mile to 50 miles. I could not have asked for a better coach for my needs. It was very difficult to let the contract run out, but from the very beginning, I knew that the coaching was temporary. Ian has motivated and encouraged me to new levels. I will be forever grateful for the time I spent working with me; of course I paid him, but he went above and beyond what I ever expected. I highly recommend his services.
In case anymore is wondering if I will do another 100-miler, the answer is a resounding YES! I will be doing the Beyond Limits Ultra 100-miler in about 5 weeks in southern California. It takes place on a 2-mile loop of flat groomed trail. I signed up for this race many months ago and just kept it a secret. (It seems I can’t pass up a good deal on a race, haha.) I hope to apply lessons I learned during Rocky Raccoon to this race. I really wanted to keep Ian as a coach for this additional period of time, but since the majority of the time will be recovering and tapering, I sadly could not justify the finances of it. However, Ian does know my intent to do this other race and was kind enough to give me some advice for it. Honestly, I’m already feeling out of my element after having a coach for so long, but I know this is for the best (even if I don’t like it right now). I hope I cross paths with Ian again sometime down the road (or trail). But alas, I’m on my own.
On that note, I’ll close this report with a close-up photo of the finisher buckle. As a testament to the fact that buckles are earned, not given, I will note that of the 340 people who started the 100-miler, 111 of them did not finish it. Only 67% of people who toed the line earned a buckle. All of the pain was worth it.
Thank you for reading.