After running my first (and only) 100K in November, I decided it was time to attempt 100 miles. I went home, did a little research and then signed up for Pine to Palm, a course that boasts about 40,000 feet of total climb and takes you on a tour of Southern Oregon’s mountains. I figured I had plenty of time to train. Pretty much all of 2012, right? Riggggghhhhhhht. As it turns out, running a business and starting yet another takes a lot of time. Pretty much consumes your entire life. I did my best to fit in workouts, runs and yoga whenever I possibly could. I tried to stay on top of my nutrition. I also really tried to keep my spirit, positive attitude and heart that I knew would really get me to the finish line. I tried.
All of a sudden it was September and I felt like I was staring down the barrel of a shotgun. What was going to happen? I had only a few weeks to go before the big day. And there I was totally undertrained, unprepared and more or less scared shitless. I had knots in my stomach leading up to it….the kind of anxiety that is typically caused by a first date or a big exam. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t sit still. But deep down, I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do about any of it. I was signed up. I was going to run. I couldn’t change the fact that I hadn’t trained. I couldn’t turn back time or erase all the nights I had too much wine or ate greasy food. All I could do was race with a good attitude and strong will. All I could do was try.
In the days leading up to it, everyone had advice. Some kind of opinion as to whether or not I would finish. People scoffed at my lack of training. Questioned my decision to run at all. Asked me about my nutrition. My plan. My strategy. Whether I’d studied the course. What I was going to wear. What I would carry with me. All of it ultimately just added to the anxiety I already had. And after awhile I just wanted to shut it all off. I didn’t want to hear another word about the race. JUST LET ME BE!! So I became like a phantom doing my best to avoid talking about the race and to ignore any looks of disbelief, scoffing, critiques, opinions, or whatever else people wanted to offer me. I shut it all out. The day before the race, I turned to a few trusted friends for some last minute tips and what they gave me stuck with me throughout the race and will stick with me for many races to come:
- Forward progress – just keep moving
- Embrace the highs, manage the lows
- Just keep swimming (and smiling!)
Alyse and I decided to begin our journey to Oregon the Wednesday night before the race. We planned to leave SF around 8:00 pm after an event and drive for three hours or until we were too tired to continue. After an unexpected (but awesome) turn of events at our event, we ended up having dinner around 8 pm and hitting the road closer to 11:45. We drove about 3 hours and called it a night in Redding. We woke up on Thursday and made the rest of the journey to Grant’s Pass. As soon as we arrived at our hotel and stepped out into the scorching heat, the jitters took hold of me once again. CRAP, it was hot. I didn’t even want to walk from the car to the hotel entrance in that heat – how the hell would I run 100 miles?
We spent the remaining part of the day walking around the little downtown area of Grant’s Pass. We hit up a wine bar so Alyse could sample some local wines while I sipped on some sparkling water. We bought ginger ale, peanut butter, and other race “necessities.” When we later retreated back to our room, we decided to make mocktails with sparkling water and lemonade so I could feel festive. We caught an early-ish night of sleep and then woke to another scorching day. We did some last minute errands, grabbed bakery fresh bagels for the next day and then made our way to packet pick-up and the race briefing which was about 35 minutes from our hotel.
We thought we had made it there in plenty of time to grab my race packet, attend the race briefing and then grab some dinner together before she’d deposit me at the hotel and go meet the boys (Casey and Hans) in Ashland. But we were totally wrong. Once inside the tent everything started to go awry. First, when I went to grab my bib and race t-shirt, the woman helping me was so totally rude … for no reason. She asked me if I wanted a medium shirt. I said, “sure, I guess.” She said, “well, what do YOU WANT?” I asked if they had any smalls. She said (rather nastily), “No. And we don’t have any mediums either.” And then threw me a large. Well, why did you even ask me then? Ugh. She then proceeded to tell me I needed to go get weighed in (yippeee) and deposit my drop bags. My whhhhattttt? I didn’t have my drop bags ready and wasn’t planning on bringing them until morning. Apparently when the website said, feel free to bring your dropbags on Friday night OR Saturday morning, that was just a lie. So after my weigh in (and my new bracelet displaying my weight was secured to my wrist), we darted back to the car and Alyse started making a drop bag list so we could organize, pack them and dash back to the race expo before closing. We would miss the race briefing and probably the chance to have dinner. Talk about anxiety. We made it just in time. Around 8 pm. Right in time for Alyse to drop me at the hotel and make her way to Ashland. So much for dinner.
Race morning went a little the same. We were all up and at ’em a little before 4 am. Everyone was in good spirits and I was so happy to see Hans and Casey. I felt ready…or as ready as I could ever be. We left the hotel in plenty of time only to discover we had no idea how to get to the start. With little to no cell reception and a few phone calls (sorry again mom for waking you up), we made it there with what we thought was three minutes to spare. I went jogging towards the start line only to discover the race had started 5 minutes early. Well, of course it did! Of course. As if I wasn’t stressed already. I caught up to some other runners and began making my way along the course.
The morning was my favorite part – it wasn’t really all that dark – I ditched my light after about 10 minutes and just enjoyed the peace and the perfect morning temperature. I tried to stay out of my own head. I tried not to think about the miles that lay ahead. Or the climbs. And most of all the heat. I just ran. And it felt good.
But it didn’t last…
Shortly thereafter, the sun came out and the temps started to rise. The sweat (and salt) started oozing out of me. I was being really good about hydrating and taking an easy pace. I knew we were going to be climbing for awhile. I made it to mile 28 where I would meet my amazing crew for the first time. They were there cheering me on as I came in to the aid station- Casey, Hans, Alyse, Tasha and Ben – and I was so happy to see them.
And like a good pit crew, they came over and slathered me with more sunscreen while I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, refilled my camelback, and basically made sure I had everything I needed. I said goodbye and told them I’d see them in 11 miles.
I knew the next 11 miles involved a pretty brutal climb with an aid station somewhere in the middle.
And climb, it was. The hills were not only brutal, they were hot. There was literally no tree cover and the sun was basically at it’s fiercest. I knew I just had to make it to the top and then somewhere in the middle I’d see an aid station. I climbed on and on still with a smile on my face. I even stopped at the false summit to take a photo. I was really enjoying myself. Even then. In the heat, on the hill, it didn’t matter. I was being super careful with my hydration and made sure to drink plenty of water. I made it to the summit and then onward to the aid station. And then my spirits fell a little…
They were out of water. Seriously. I almost couldn’t believe it. I stood there dumbfounded. I still had some in reserves but not a ton and it was a good 6 miles with little to no tree cover to the next aid. One of the volunteers suggested I eat an olive “because they are juicy.” GAG. The last thing I wanted when I was thirsty is a damn olive. I headed out feeling low. I was hot, thirsty and worried about conserving the last of my water and making it to the next aid.
When I finally did roll into mile 39, I was greeted again by my super amazing crew. They were all smiles and I was just …. low… I kept repeating the mantra to myself, “embrace the highs, manage the lows…” I wanted to take a load off, drink some water, put ice on my head but there was no time. I was in a race to make my first cut-off. I had to run around Squaw Lake (about 2.5 miles) first.
At this point it wasn’t just my attitude that had turned, it was my stomach. The heat coupled with the fact that I was having a tough time eating anything was starting to take its toll on me. I was barely moving as I made the flat, easy jaunt around the lake. I remember looking on as some kids were swinging in to the lake on a rope swing and thinking, “That is fun. This is torture. That is fun. This is torture.” Not the best mantra, really. When I returned my crew was waiting for me with ice and food. I gladly took the ice but couldn’t take the food. Nothing would go down. I was officially nauseous. I tried to put a smile on my face. I’d made it to mile 42. I’d see my crew again at 65 when I’d be able to pick up a pacer – Casey (yay!) – it really wasn’t that much farther.
I set out thinking there would be an aid station in 3 miles. I had planned to try and eat something at that point. Only the more I ran, the more I realized there was no aid station in 3 miles. I tried to think of the things that would be in my drop bag at mile 52 as a reason to smile. But nothing was working to lift my spirits. Around mile 48, the nausea had taken full effect. I was feeling really sick from the lack of calories and literally spinning. It was a familiar feeling. The one you get right before BOOM, you hit the ground. Ah, yes, I’m feeling faint. At some point, I decided to just sit in the middle of the trail. Literally, just sat and stared. I have no idea how long I sat there. I just remember thinking that I was lost. I don’t know how I convinced myself that I was lost – it just seemed reasonable at that point. I kept telling myself I’d backtrack soon. I started noticing that the trees were crazy. That everything was pink. And everything was alive and talking. I talked to the trees. I told them how crazy they looked and how beautiful they were. I listened to the trees and they told me to get up. But I didn’t. I started to see little pink creatures. The leaves started to dance. It was all so very magical.
Awhile later, I saw a runner coming my way. I realized I was on a singletrack and would have to move for him to get by. Only I wasn’t even sure he was real. He said, “howdy” and I asked him if I was lost. He told me he hoped not given he was there too. I asked him if he was real and whether he thought the trees were totally crazy. He laughed and assured me he was real and said the trees were trees ( I took a picture of the trees just to prove to my friends I wasn’t crazy). He got me to get up and walked with me for a bit. He introduced himself as John and said he was a paramedic from Roseville. Ah, you live right near my parents. We went to neighboring highschools. He offered me his Cliff Bar but I couldn’t eat it. He told me I needed calories. But still, I just couldn’t eat. He said he’d stick with me until he was sure I was OK. Apparently I was stumbling and swaying back and forth. He asked me if I had thrown up a mile or so back. I told him I had. I guess he’d seen the remains of my peanut butter and jelly. Embarrassing. We ran / walked together for another mile or so. I told him to go on, assured him I was OK on my own.
I made it to mile 52 almost bursting with joy. I was ready to sit down, calm my stomach and EAT. I knew I needed to eat. But little did I know, they had different plans for me. Apparently, we were about to embark on our first game of capture the flag. Instead of getting a little time at the aid station, I had to go up yet another super steep hill to find a flag and then return it to the aid station. Night had fallen so I would need my headlamp. I was totally demoralized. My spirit was crushed, my stomach empty and my head throbbing. I made my way up the hill practically in tears. The nausea was becoming too much. And the climb for the stupid flag seemed to be one big mind fuck – a sick joke – hahahah, you thought you would get some rest, but really you have another super steep climb. Go find a flag, you fool! The hill was endless and I could no longer tell if I was even on a trail. There were crazy overgrown weeds like literally over my head and I started to wonder again if I was lost. Or if perhaps I was imagining them. Crap, I must’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
I was blinded by my own tears when I finally saw the sign, “not even locals come all the way up here” and the stupid fucking green flags waving in the wind (sorry mom). I grabbed my flag and started to make my way back down to the aid station. At this point, it was total blackness. Once back at the aid station, I practically thrust my flag at some volunteer and then a nice runner with an equally queasy tummy invited me to share a spot on the cooler he was sitting on.
While sitting there, I had to ask multiple times for one of the volunteers to help me with my water. To help me with my drop bag. To basically do something. A friend of mine, Atillio, who I had met earlier in the course had separated from his lovely fiance Karalyn and we decided to take the next 11 miles together. We were literally racing the clock to make the next cut-off at mile 65 where we’d meet up again with my crew and his fiance.
Luckily we are both a bit chatty and were able to keep each other occupied during another seemingly endless climb. We climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed. Towards the end and after learning a lot about each other, I couldn’t talk anymore. The nausea was just too much. I could barely breathe. It was like a lump just sitting and burning in my esophagus. We could hear music as we approached mile 65. We were so close we could taste it. Only we still couldn’t see it. And hill after hill, we kept climbing. I began to think I was imagining the music. I thought we might not make the cut-off and that it would all be for nought. My spirit was totally crushed. But we kept on keeping on.
Finally, I saw them. Casey and Ben were standing on a hill and cheering me in to the aid station. It was probably the first time I had really smiled in hours. I knew I had to capture yet another flag at the top of yet another hill so I decided to just get on with it. I figured I’d chill at the aid station after it was all said and done. Casey hiked up to the top of the hill with me. I was so happy to see him and tell him everything. I was also venting about how much I hated flags. THOSE DAMN FLAGS. We got the flag and made our way down. Mile 67. Finally.
The rest of my crew came over with noodle soup. I knew I needed to eat. I force fed myself noodles while taking a few minutes to sit down. The volunteers told me I’d have to move soon or they’d take me off the course. The cut-off was again approaching. Great. With barely any time to actually eat, change my clothes and just take a minute to find my sanity we were off again on the Pacific Coast Trail…a relatively rolling and runnable singletrack trail over steep cliffsides.
For the first couple miles I was doing fine. I was running. I was chatting with Casey. I was in relatively decent spirits. And then like a ton of bricks, it hit me. The nausea was back and it was relentless. I’m not sure if it was the noodle soup fighting back, the bouncing light from my headlamp or the lack of sleep, but I couldn’t see straight. I literally couldn’t see the trail and was just hitting the lowest low point of the race. I tried to sit down in the middle of the trail several times. I tried to take a nap on Casey’s sweatshirt. I even tried to throw up a couple times. But nothing seemed to help. I was stumbling, falling down, and basically dangerously moving around on a narrow trail over a steep cliffside. I started seeing monsters in the trees. Wild animals. And devilish faces leering at me. It was like the whole trail came alive with evil creatures all taunting me, baring their teeth, warning me not to come any closer.
I was at my wit’s end. I was whiny, crying, and unsteady. But the trail was unforgivable and just kept winding and winding and winding. There is no way it was only 7 miles. There is just no way. When we finally made it to mile 74ish (I think it was more like 76), I was broken. My mind was in a bad place. And I was sick. So sick. I just couldn’t move. I sat down on a chair and hunched over with a sleeping bag around my shoulders. It was about 5 am. I had been on the course for approximately 23 hours.
I wanted to finish. I really, really wanted to finish the race. And I could have. But my crew felt like I shouldn’t. They were worried about me and ultimately convinced me to get in the van. And the race was officially over for me. I hadn’t made it to the finish line. It was almost surreal when I woke up and they were carrying me to the hotel. I threw up outside our hotel door and then passed out.
Morning came and I could feel the pain everywhere. My blistered feet. My stomach. My legs. Everywhere. I also had a lot of pain in my mind. I was beating myself up. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should’ve finished. I was mad at my mind for playing tricks and my stomach for turning on me. I was mad at my blistered feet. I was mad at my body. I was mad at myself.
But ultimately I realized that all I could do was put it behind me and MOVE ON.
“They” say that 100 miles will change your life. Maybe. I haven’t been there yet. I’ll let you know when I get there.