Eastern States 100: Done is Better than Perfect

Well, shit. That was hard. I mean, that was like... really hard. It also took forever, so settle in for a LONG race report!

I knew this race would be tough. After all, the historic finish rate was about 33%, and all the race reports talked about how brutal the hills were (very few switchbacks!) and how rocky it was (oh god. the rocks.). The course is notoriously slow across all levels, and did I mention it's 102.9 miles long? Oh yeah, and I guess on the (b)east coast, the name of this state is "Rocksylvania." (oh god. the rocks.)

If you are unfamiliar with my first 100 mile experience at Cascade Crest, suffice it to say that it did NOT go as planned. My stomach gave out at mile 25, and never really recovered. I spent the last SEVENTY-FIVE MILES of the race alternating between puking my guts out and trying not to puke my guts out, finishing as a complete shell of a human being. For weeks afterward, I didn't think I could ever attempt a hundred miler again. The race had broken me somewhere deep down, and it took some serious time to come back from that. Spoiler alert: I did come back from it, and for some reason thought Eastern States would be an awesome hundred-miler to sign up for. Why? Fuck if I know!

I had some injuries earlier this summer, but generally had a strong season of training and racing. I even threw in some heat training and did tons of research on the race to prepare myself mentally. My crew was going to be special: my parents were attending and crewing their very first ultra; my college buddy Kevin was coming to pace me about 16 miles; my darling husband had trained his buns off to pace me a total of 32 miles; and my sister, brother-in-law and nephew would meet me at the finish line.

The day before the race, we spent the day prepping: errands, crew bags, and a lunchtime crew meeting, where I went through my trusty crew manual and we talked generally about what to expect from the day. We drove to the start/finish for packet pickup, and ended the evening with a pasta dinner at a great local establishment. Back at the hotel, I pre-taped my injuries and typical blister spots on my feet.

At around 9:00, I went to bed and proceeded to... not sleep a wink. The aftermath of Cascade Crest had left me with a lot of apprehension about doing another hundred, and my fears were finally catching up with me. At 3:30 am, my alarm went off, and my stomach was a nervous wreck already. Great.

The morning was cool but not cold, and super foggy. The course starts on some roads, then bottlenecks everyone onto a narrow single-track that was 100% loose shale covered in snot - I mean wet moss. The fog reflected your headlamp beam right back to you, and made it impossible to see much beyond a few paces in front of you. Not that you could look anywhere else - the entire race, I had my head directed straight down at my feet to keep from spraining an ankle on the goddamn rocks.

The first 8 to 10 miles is a combination of loose rock, topply rock, stacked flat rocks, small pointy rocks, and several other varieties of rocks. There was tons of greenery in the understory and moss covering every surface, especially near the streams and creeks and rivers, which were ubiquitous. I chatted with a few lovely people, and the rocks kept me at a sustainable pace for most of these early miles.

As part of my race prep, I had made a temporary tattoo with aid stations and the elevation profile, in addition to my typical detailed and (in my humble opinion) highly entertaining crew manual. Throughout the race, people would occassionally see me and ask, "hey, are you the tattoo girl? Can I see where we are?" I'd pull off the trail with them, and we'd review the upcoming sections on my arm. A few times, people also asked me if I was the "crew manual girl" - guess my crew books are starting to be FAMOUS!

My insanely useful tattoo, and my crew sharing tips from my crew manual.

My insanely useful tattoo, and my crew sharing tips from my crew manual.

The Lower Pine Bottom Aid Station is after a short run on a paved road, and after all those rocks, I've never been so happy to run on pavement in my life. The first 18 miles had flown by, and I got to my crew feeling fairly good. My stellar crew took some time to ice me down, feed me, and replenish my stocks before sending me on my way again. One guy at the aid station told me he loved my unicorn hat and that his wife would go crazy for it - could he have it? I told him "I'm not sure she'll want it after this!" We both chuckled, and I headed out in great spirits.

For much of the next section I stayed with a local guy for a while, who told me, "west coasters are always so surprised at the trails out here because of the rocks, but I guess for me it's just normal." Oh my god. You poor creature. I'll never complain about a technical PNW course again. It was great to have company, and these sections were really very beautiful. I was taking salt caps about once an hour, drinking plenty, eating according to my plan, and everything was going SO WELL! I couldn't believe it. I had done a lot of work after Cascade Crest to make sure that I figured out my stomach issues, and here it was - working! Dare I even say... a great success?! 

By late morning, temps were in the low 80s and humidity was off the charts, but fortunately most of the course was shaded. During the heat of the day, I'd stop at water crossings to dip my hat and rinse my face with the icy cold water. Then, right around Mile 30, the skies opened up, and I ran through the pouring rain like a kid, giggling like an idiot for miles and miles. The only problem? I had worn my waterproof Altra Neoshells, which were perfect early on to keep my feet dry, but now, with this downpour, became foot-sized bathtubs. I needed to get to the next crew stop and get a change of shoes, stat.

I was making insanely good time, and got into Ritchie Road (mile 38) ahead of schedule. I walked in with my hand raised and four fingers up. At the last stop, I had forgotten a few things, so had been rehearsing the four items I absolutely needed from my crew: dry towel, fresh socks, fresh shoes, blister tape. We got my sopping wet shoes and socks off, but the water had completely dislodged all the KT tape and blister tape I had so meticulously put on the night before. I ripped it all off, decided to go without any KT tape, and slapped some fresh blister tape on a few problem spots. I grabbed some food at the table, and the guy who had asked about buying my hat was there - he asked me if I'd reconsider. I told him I'd think about it, but the price was going up: simple supply and demand, buddy.

From here, I really just had a downhill to Hyner Run, so I took off and saw my crew again in just about an hour, still feeling great and running fast. A veteran had suggested that I'd want my poles for this next section - thank GOD I listened. It would have been absolute torture without hiking poles.

This section starts with a fairly long uphill, then runs along a ridge, dipping into and back out of hollows. Some of these were so steep that the guy behind me resorted to turning around and climbing down backwards on his hands and feet, like a ladder. Luckily, with my poles, I was able to move forward to some degree, but my toes were being smashed into the fronts of my shoes and my poor toesies were trashed. Eventually, I made it through to Halfway House, mile 55, where Mark was awaiting his first pacing section. The sun was just setting, we grabbed our headlamps, and took off into the night.

And then, it happened. It. The sudden, out-of-nowhere, familiar creep of stomach trouble on the horizon. No no no no no no no no no no this can't be happening, no no no please no. I grabbed the Tums out of my vest and shoveled them into my mouth. At this point, it was a minor twinge, nothing too serious, but I couldn't eat and was not drinking as much as I should. The temps had cooled significantly, and we did our best to keep moving. But I slowed down. Way, way down. Shit. So much for all that extra time I had banked.

There were some uphills on this section that I remember feeling very epic, likely because everything feels epic when your stomach has gone to shit. We struggled to the top of a climb, where there was supposed to be a "water only" stop. The angels at this aid station not only had water - they had also made pirogi and potatoes and had a fire going with folding chairs - in short, heaven. They were absolutely amazing and got Mark all fueled up, and I even managed to eat a few potatoes. Score! Calories!

The many tortured faces of Jessie during a hundred miler.

The many tortured faces of Jessie during a hundred miler.

A few miles later, we were approaching Slate Run (mile 64). Mark and I had a plan: I would sit, get a fresh, dry shirt and my arm warmers, and in the meantime try to get some Gatorade and soup broth into my belly. I managed to do all of that, dropped off Mark, and picked up Kevin. Kevin and I left the aid station, stepped onto a trail, and 50 feet later I was puking my guts out in a bush.

God. Dammit.

After my stomach stopped heaving, I turned to Kevin. "Ugh, fuck. Ok. Let's go." This was his first ultra experience, and he was a bit taken aback. "HA! .... Wait, seriously?" "Yeah dude, let's go."  I took a Pepto chewable and with my freshly empty stomach, actually felt fine enough to do some running, so we moved quickly while I could. We spent the hours chatting, catching up, and generally just having a great time. I also fell into a great rhythm: stop at an aid station, sit and try to keep something down, start running, puke in the bushes, take another Pepto and run for a bit. Fortunately, this "only" happened three times, and during the long stretches between, I was able to keep down quite a bit of water. As long as I was staying hydrated, I knew I'd be fine.

After one of my bouts of bush-vomiting, a guy ran past, yelling, "You'll recover!" "No, I won't," I grumbled to Kevin. People kept telling me that at Cascade Crest, and I was stupid enough to believe them and get my hopes up and start to expect it. This time I knew: this was my life now. I had to accept it and move forward. One foot in front of the other. You know how this goes.

Some overnight sections out there with Kevin were ridiculous. One area seemed like there wasn't even any trail - just fields of rocks and roots along a creek with some trail markers here and there that you'd have to hunt for with your headlamp. The other funky thing about night running, especially when sleep-deprived, is the tricks your brain plays on you. Is that a fluffy cat looking at me on the trail ahead? Nope, just a rock. A box of eggs? Nope, rocks. A huge lizard? Oh no that's right, it's a fucking rock

But nighttime runs are always so magical, and my pacers kept me aware of how cool it was to be out there. Going into the night, the sounds of treefrogs slowly tapered to an eerie and complete silence. Then, shortly before the sky started to get light again, the song birds sang us and the rising sun into the next aid station: Backwell, mile 80. I took off my cold-weather layers, changed into a fresh shirt and put on my Hokas to give my poor feetsies a soft spot to land on these godforsaken rocks. I dropped off Kevin and picked up Mark for the last 22 miles, and called out to my prospective hat buyer on my way out. "Price is still going up," I told him, "multiple offers coming in!" 

Kevin and I coming into Blackwell just as the sun was rising.

Kevin and I coming into Blackwell just as the sun was rising.

The sunshine woke me up a bit, and I optimistically took a pocket full of pretzels, even though I hadn't been eating much. Mark was also doing an insanely good job of keeping me as happy as possible - he had asked friends and family for dumb (aka awesome) jokes, which he would randomly pull out and read to me at the worst parts of the trail. I may have rolled my eyes outwardly, but inwardly, they were pure gold. Thanks to everyone who contributed - they cracked me up and did a LOT to boost my mood when I was struggling.

On the next few hills, I slowly nibbled on the pretzels in my pocket, dissolving them completely in my mouth to make it easier on my stomach, and managed to eat about a dozen of them, which - PRAISE JESUS - jump-started my stomach. This was new. I have never recovered from a stomach issue before, and when my newly recharged tummy grumbled in hunger, I could have cried.

Goofing off with some fellow trail runner ladies at the most scenic view on the course.

Goofing off with some fellow trail runner ladies at the most scenic view on the course.

Pretty soon, we came upon a sign: "Smile! Last Hill before Sky Top!" at the bottom of a short, steep hill. "Wow," I thought, "according to my tattoo, if we're already at that aid station, we're making AMAZING time again!!"
Nope.
Hope shattered.
What the sign should have said is, "Fuck you! You have a massive, 800-mile-long climb before getting to the next aid station!" Ok, it wasn't actually 800 miles, but it sure as shit felt like it, and the sign felt like a sick joke. By the time we got up there, I was beat up and a bit surly, but the aid station crew was the sweetest, kindest group of people on the planet, and I couldn't stay mad at them. 

A few more brutal hills and we were close to Barrens, the final crew aid station. The crew could see us coming, and from up ahead I heard ... could it be ...? MY SISTER! Yelling, "JESSIE!! YOU BEAUTIFUL TROPICAL FISH!!!" which almost made me snort-laugh. We came into the aid station, and she had everyone in stitches with her mega-high energy and goofy jokes, which hyper-charged my mood. I sat down in a chair for a few minutes with my eyes mostly closed, and my mom asked me, "What do you need?"
"I need to be done."
At this point, someone at the aid station sang music to my ears. "After a few steps on the trail over there, you're in the single digits!" I looked at Mark. "Let's go."

A fire was LIT under my butt. I fucking RAN. I ran and I ran. I ran downhills and flats and some uphills. I ran until my stomach hurt again, but at this point I didn't give two shits about my stomach. I WAS IN THE SINGLE DIGITS! I would stop to bend over for a second on my poles, almost ready to puke, then snap back up and run again. We came to the final aid station at mile 99.1 and I ran through it, yelling "192, IN AND OUT!!" Maybe because I hadn't used my legs at full-tilt during my stomach issues, I had plenty of gas left in the tank, and I kicked it up about three notches.

As a final middle finger, the course "ends on a downhill," which, like much of the rest of the course, is deceiving. These downhills were more like cliffs that you fling your body off of and try to stay vaguely upright, while skirting across loose rocks - or worse, not a rock in sight and you have to half slide your way down, hoping not to wipe out completely. Oh yeah, and halfway down we were warned to keep an eye out for the RATTLESNAKE DEN. I was expecting some little snakes off in the woods somewhere. NOPE. There it was - a rock immediately next to the trail with at least three snakes underneath. Each one was probably as thick as my wrist. Christ.

Safely past the snakes, we started seeing people who had hiked up to cheer on the runners, which meant we were close. They each gave us an account of what was left: "a quick climb to some rocks--" rocks? shocking. "--then a half-mile downhill, then through the parking lot to the finish line!" And so we kept bombing our way down this steep hill until suddenly... there was no more hill. There was a road. We crossed into a parking lot and onto the grass. The finish line was up ahead, my family was screaming their heads off to my right, and I ran my little tush as fast as I could through the finish line. I got my buckle, and had a chat with the RD that went something like "that was fucked up, dude!" The guy who finished just ahead of me buckled to the ground and wept openly. A few minutes later, some people helped him over to a chair next to mine, and he told me that he had cried for the final 3 miles of the race. I don't blame him.

collage10.jpg

I took my shoes off and walked down to the lake with my crew to soak our legs and feet. The sun was shining, kids were playing, and my crew got me food and beer, which I DEVOURED. After the final finisher crossed the line, it was time to leave this blissful finish line. I plopped down in the car and grabbed a pillow, but it never made it to my head - I passed out with it in my lap, holding onto it for dear life lest they make me go back out to those rocky trails. At the hotel, they left me in the car like a sleeping child who missed her afternoon nap, then finally got me inside and into a tub full of Epsom salts.

Mark told me they were ordering pizza. "What kind do you want? Hawaiian?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I want."
"That was a joke. Hawaiian pizza is disgusting."
"No, Hawaiian. I need Hawaiian pizza."

And so I managed to pull myself together and make it out to the pool deck, where we soon had pizzas and a big crew party with my wonderful, supportive, loving, special crew who got me to the finish line. I ate half of a pizza and drank a few glasses of wine, then we all said good-bye and headed home or to bed, with me feeling on top of the world.

 

STATS

Finish time: 34:26:23
Distance: 102.9 miles
Elevation gain: 20,000' +
11th female finisher (out of 16)
100th overall finisher - LUCKY #100! (out of 121)
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Neoshells, Altra Lone Peak 3.5, Hoka Stinson ATR 4
Pack: Nathan VaporHowe 12L Race Vest

SPECIAL THANKS

I could not have done this without my stellar crew. Mark, as always, was Crew Captain extraordinaire. He anticipated what I needed, and then made an EXCELLENT pacer, cheering me up in just the ways he knew I needed. Kevin conquered his fears of snakes, vomit, and probably a few other things to spend a night in the woods with me, and it was a goddamn blast to spend that time with him. My mom and dad were totally on top of their crewing and documentation duties, taking photos at every chance, making notes on my progress, and being enormous cheerleaders to me and the other runners. My sister brought her signature high energy and some truly incredible signs to cheer me on, giving me a spark of energy for the last 10 miles that helped me make up some lost time. My brother-in-law and nephew were so fun to see at the finish line, and I believe they were also responsible for the chocolate babka, which will be a vital part of my recovery process.

Thanks to the volunteers - every single one of you made me feel better about being out there, and I can only hope you know how infectious your positive attitude can be. And thanks finally to the race director David, who not only put on this incredibly impressive event, but also helped me recover a lost bag of items (though he hilariously kept all my Snickers as payment). I don't think I ever want to run in Rockslyvania again, but I am so glad to have been a part of this wonderful local running community for a weekend.

FINAL THOUGHTS & LESSONS LEARNED

You know, it's always easy to fall into the trap of thinking you could/should have trained harder, done better, prepped more. I'll always do that - I think we all do. But this race showed me that actually, I have put in the time, and my legs are fucking STRONG. The fact that I ran so much in the last 10 miles tells me that, and the fact that I'm recovering so well is a solid indicator that I'm on the right track.

The thing I'll never be able to shake is the "what if" moments. What if my stomach hadn't given out? A woman I was running with for a while finished an hour and a half faster than me. Could that have been me? Could I have been top 10? Top 5? What if I hadn't eaten that one thing? What if I hadn't drank that last bit of tailwind? What if....

When I start thinking that way, I need to teach myself to reframe, and instead ask: What if I just take it one step at a time, and roll with the punches, and get shit done regardless? 

The day after the race, my body felt surprisingly good. Muscle soreness of course, and a few lingering blisters, and of course the foot pain (from the FUCKING ROCKS). But my summer of nagging injuries that had scared me so badly seemed to have passed. No blown out quads, miraculous for this course. No weird injuries to speak of, including ones from earlier this summer. And generally, I felt..... good? Unlike my last hundred, I didn't fall into a deep pit of despair and loathing and pain and sadness and hurt and betrayal from the sport that I loved so much. I feel a bit beat up, and a lot exhausted, but can I see myself doing another hundred?

You bet your ass I can.

BQ at Cascade Super Series Marathon

"If I don't BQ here, I am done running marathons." - me, right before this race.

I went into this marathon knowing that if I couldn't qualify here, I probably couldn't do it anywhere. The course is mostly downhill, and is on a rails-to-trails crushed limestone trail. Basically, the easy footing of running on a road without the suckiest parts of running on a road. The scenery is gorgeous: old railroad bridges, mossy forests, and a 3-mile-long tunnel. The weather was ideal: 50s with a light rain, perfect for running fast and staying cool.

That said, the course was also... kind of boring. I'm SUPER biased and spoiled and sound like a brat (I KNOW, OK?!); but I have had the great privilege of running on some of the most beautiful trails in the PNW, with sweeping vistas, soul-defining hills, waterfalls, and fucking volcanoes. So yes, I know I sound like a snob when i say that this (very beautiful) course was boring. But I'm very glad I decided to bring along my headphones and iPod shuffle to keep me entertained. 

Start line: low clouds and anxious runners, ready to roll.

Start line: low clouds and anxious runners, ready to roll.

The day started off chilly and cloudy, and after a quick briefing from the RD, we took off. I started off with the 3:30 pace group thinking that I would see how that felt and try to decide if I could hang on at that pace. The first section of the race was a 2 mile out-and-back on a very flat portion of the course, where we were able to lock into our pace. I felt really comfortable hanging with the pace group, and our pacer had a funny little song he would sing at every mile marker that ended with:

"WHERE'S THE LAST MILE?"
(we would yell) "BACK THERE!"
"WHERE'S THE NEXT MILE?"
"UP THERE!"
"WHERE'S THE BEST PACE GROUP?"
"RIGHT HERE!!!"

It was super fun. I shouted the refrain as loud as I could and was generally having tons of fun, which was my number one goal for the day. At one of my last road marathons (Victoria, 2015), I had gone out too hard, ended up totally bonking, and got really pissed off about the whole thing. Mark was shocked to see me along the course; I was absolutely seething. He told me later how awful it was to see me like that, and I told him how awful it was to feel like that, so I determined that I never again wanted to get to that point. If I'm not having fun, what's the point?

Where's the best pace group? RIGHT HERE!!!

Where's the best pace group? RIGHT HERE!!!

We got to the tunnel just after mile 5 and the pace group had pulled up ahead of me slightly. I grabbed one of the mini flashlights from the volunteers and headed into the pitch-black tunnel and realized: holy shit, it is dark in here. The last time I ran through this tunnel, I had a headlamp, which did an awesome job of lighting it up - this dinky flashlight was barely enough to see where my foot was about to fall. I saw the pace group up ahead and realized my best chance would be to sprint up to them in order to take advantage of the group light. So I started flinging my flashlight around wildly in order to give my brain a better sense of what the inside of the tunnel looked like. I sprinted, praying I didn't eat it, and caught up. Our combined light was enough to run comfortably, and it also meant I got to keep yelling that we were the best pace group (BONUS!).

Cruisin' along behind the pace group before the tunnel.

Cruisin' along behind the pace group before the tunnel.

THUMBS UP! HAVING FUN!

THUMBS UP! HAVING FUN!

After the tunnel, the course starts to pitch downhill ever so slightly. If you're on the course, you can't even see the slope of the trail, but the elevation profile on Strava afterwards says that it was CLEARLY downhill. And while I couldn't see it, I sure as hell could feel it. My legs were like, "you got to GO, girl." 

I took off at a slightly faster pace than the group and started to gain on a woman in a Oiselle jersey up ahead of me. I think she noticed. She took OFF and I... let her go; I wasn't sure how long I could keep this pace going, and honestly, I was running my own race. I wanted to BQ, and was on track to do that, and didn't want to risk it by trying to race someone else and then bonking.

One of the railroad bridges, and also a good idea of just how alone I was for most of the time.

One of the railroad bridges, and also a good idea of just how alone I was for most of the time.

Miles 12 through 20 took forever, as usual. I was alone the entire time, so I was jamming. out. to my iPod shuffle music mix. I'm talkin' full-on lip syncing with hand gestures. I had forgotten how many fun songs I had on there... I should pull that thing out more often.

My hydration was good, I had a Gu at one point that went down easily, and I passed a few people here and there. Oiselle was way up ahead, but still within sight.

Somewhere around mile 23, I realized I was massively gaining on Oiselle all of a sudden. I checked my watch - I was still maintaining my same pace, so she must have been slowing down significantly. Earlier in the race, I had mentally channeled to her, "get it girl, don't worry, I'm not gonna try to catch you;" but now, all bets were off. I kept up my pace, caught up with her, and we gave each other shout-outs as I passed. Not 5 minutes later, another woman came flying past me. I thought for a moment that I should catch her, but she seemed so intent on beating me that if I had pushed it, she would have pushed harder, and probably would have beat me anyway. So, power to her for passing me in that final stretch.

The very last .2 miles of the race, the course leaves the main trail and takes a few short switchbacks down an actual hill and into the finish chute. At this point, I heard some heavy breathing behind me. I didn't know who it was, but thought it might Oiselle trying to regain her lead on me. Downhills are my jam, so with this actual downhill to my advantage, I pulled out all the stops. My last .1 mile was an all-out sprint to beat whoever was trying to pass me at the last second (one of my pet peeves, BTW. Like, really??). Turns out it was some dude, and he cracked up when I beat him to the finish line, clapped me on the back, and thanked me for the fun final sprint. He was such a sport about it that I couldn't help but laugh along and enjoy the moment.

WOO HOO! Excited to be done. Also, OOF, a clear decline in running form by the end. 

WOO HOO! Excited to be done. Also, OOF, a clear decline in running form by the end. 

My competition-rapidly-turned-new-friend.

My competition-rapidly-turned-new-friend.

I stuck around for a while to see all the people finish that I had run with earlier. They had grilled cheese at the finish line, which was *heaven*, and they were taking some pictures with "PR" and "BQ" signs. I grabbed both, because I crushed both. Boom. I think my general giddiness in this picture about sums it up.

Buzzing

Buzzing

STATS

Needed 3:50:24 to PR; 3:35:00 to qualify for Boston

Finish time: 3:25:47
25/118 overall
6/65 female (must be my lucky number this year!)
2/13 age group (F 30-34)
7:51/mile

Shoes: Brooks PureConnect 4

LESSONS LEARNED

I learned that I can run fast, but I have to pay for it for days after. I had wanted to do another running event (for funsies) on Sunday, but was pretty wrecked. I pushed it harder than I should have, and possibly made things much worse, and now need to take some time off to recover. This race also confirmed my love for trail running, and now I feel like I can leave this road-related goal of mine behind and focus on my trail skillz.

Thanks to Mark for meeting me at the finish line with some Snickers, and for always believing I can do better than I think I can. Thanks to all the friends and training buddies for a solid season so far. I'm super excited (and also partly terrified) to see how the rest of the season will go!

2017 Sun Mountain 100k

Well, that was unexpected.

I went into this race feeling very under-prepared. And actually, after the race I still feel like I was under-prepared. But what I lacked in preparation, I made up for in determination. So at least there's that.

For about three weeks in April, I was battling a host of injuries during my training plan's highest mileage weeks. This stressed me out so much that I thought about not even starting the race - luckily, some friends convinced me that was dumb (thanks, Dana and Ian!), so I showed up to the incredibly beautiful Methow Valley with a stretch goal in mind of 13 and a half hours for my finish. In the back of my mind, I knew that was a bit cocky at my training level, so my backup goal was to PR at the 100k distance (my current being 14:17 at Gorge Waterfalls last year).

The night before the race, I'm not gonna lie: I slept like a baby. I guess my subconscious was just like, "fuck it. It is what it is. Nothing you can do about it now." The weather at the 5:30 am start was cool, but promised to heat up quickly, so I stuck with my decision to wear shorts and a tank top, the first time wearing such attire in months, and coincidentally NOT the same attire I wore with my new running pack this winter (doofus!).

The course is a 50k loop, the 100k runners completing it twice. James Varner, Race Director, gave us a hurried intro to the course before counting down and sending us on our way. The first half of the loop is deceivingly easy to run, and a group of us settled into a quick and steady pace, chatting and generally enjoying ourselves. In this race more than any other I've done, I would end up running with the same people over and over, leapfrogging our way to the finish.

Running along the lake (I'm actually in this photo!). [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Running along the lake (I'm actually in this photo!). [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Around mile 20, there is a long, exposed out-and-back with some brutal hills. It was here that I started seeing some of the women ahead of me making their way back along the trail. I counted four ahead of me, but did some math in my head and figured there were probably a few more that had already completed the out-and-back that I hadn't seen. Still, maybe I could be top 10 if I held on? A girl can dream.

I finished the first loop hella strong, a few seconds under the 6 hour mark. At that point I took stock: my muscles felt amazing, but the heat was getting to me. I needed sunscreen. But worst of all was my pack, which was chafing the bajeezus out of my clavicle and neck. Mark sprayed me down with some sunscreen and I involuntarily gasped/screamed when it hit my raw skin. I didn't have another good option for hydration. Shit. I had to keep it on. I took some food and filled up my water bottles to full capacity and headed out on the second loop. I needed the full bottles due to the heat, but now, the pack was really bouncing around, continuing to rub my skin raw, and also now bruising my rib cage with the bottles at every bouncing step.

I took off with a few guys who were about my pace, and we settled into a nice easy slog and chatted away the first stretch. It took two hours to get to the first aid station, where my first loop it had taken 1.5. I panicked a bit - I didn't want to be out there for an 8-hour loop, so I kicked it up a notch to get to the next aid station. Mark met me there and kept trying to convince me my math was wrong, that I was doing great, AHEAD OF SCHEDULE! But I knew I was only slowing down as the day went on, and his logic wasn't making sense to me at the time. The temperature soared into the 80s and I stopped at every glacial stream crossing for a blast of shockingly cold water to my face, neck, and hands.

Spent many hours wishing I could roll around in that snow. [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Spent many hours wishing I could roll around in that snow. [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

The second time on the out-and-back section... sucked. It sucked so hard. But it was also fun to see friends go flying past and to get some blasts of energy at seeing them completely crushing it. At the beginning of the second loop, another woman had run with me a bit and then passed me, so now I was counting five ahead of me, still assuming there were others running faster than all of us. After the turnaround, I kept an eye out for the next woman runner and estimated she was about 15-20 minutes behind me. Too close for comfort at mile 52. Time to pick up the pace! I ran the downhill as hard as I could, knowing that my uphill skills leave a bit to be desired, but my downhills could usually make up some time. There was another massive climb on the way, and I wanted to bank some time in case she started to gain on me.

Up to this point, my stomach, nutrition, salt, and fluids had been ON POINT. I was thrilled at how well I was feeling, especially considering my nutrition PTSD from Cascade Crest 100 last year. It wasn't until after the last aid station that I started feeling slightly iffy, but by then I knew I only had about an hour and a half left. I had taken some bacon from the last aid station and stuffed it in my pocket, but only made it through one bite before thinking "hm... my eating might be done for the day."

On that long, long, brutal, exposed, final uphill, there were only the briefest moments of shade. I would usually take a moment to pause, cool down, and catch my breath, one time pulling out some Tums to coax my stomach into holding on for just a bit longer. Come on, buddy! You can do it! The second loop had been slower and hotter than the first, and I had been draining my water bottles well before each aid station. I knew I was probably slowly getting dehydrated, and my stomach finally had enough. Sorry, tummy!

Feeling good! [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Feeling good! [credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

The home stretch. I had been calculating and recalculating my finish time all day. Sweet baby Jesus, I could actually make it in my stretch goal time! I bucked up and slogged to the top of the last peak, tagged the turn around point, then ran like a she-devil down down down down down the last, never-ending hill. My running buddy from the beginning of the loop came out of nowhere and blasted past me, yelling something over his shoulder about being in his "pain cave" - well done, dude. Damn. I was smelling the barn, and did the last five miles in almost the same split time as my first loop.

The very last 1.5 miles of the race is along a rolling, wooded uphill. Damn you, James Varner. I knew it was coming, but had forgotten just how soul-crushing it was. One of my water bottles was tucked into the back of my pack and kept sloshing around, and every time I heard it, I thought it was footsteps behind me. I'd freak out: Oh no!! That next woman is catching up!  RUN, BITCH!! I'd run a bit, look back, realize there was no one in sight, and fall back into a slog. Finally - FINALLY - the last fork in the trail, which I vividly remember from the first loop. Only about 50 yards from the finish. I ran my little heart out, got my Varner high-five, and my Sun Mountain 100k finisher pint glass to go fill with beer. I finished in 13:23, beat my original goal of 13:30, and was thrilled to be done, and to have done well.

Then, the kicker: Mark came over and told me I had finished in 6th place! ... whaaaaat? Turns out, there were no phantom women that I had never seen on the out-and-backs. Everyone within my reach at the finish line, friends and strangers alike, got a high-five to celebrate this unexpected turn of events. And the woman behind me? She finished strong, looking awesome, 20 minutes behind me, just the same as she had been 10 miles back. Whew.

This is only the second year that Rainshadow has done the 100k. I don't know if the course changed, or if it was just the weather, or both, but finish times for the male and female winners were 1.5 - 2 hours slower than last year. So in a way, that makes me feel even better about my time - I had estimated my goal based off of last year's stats, so maybe in reality I did better than I realized? Sure. I'll keep telling myself that. 

[credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

[credit: Glenn Tachiyama]

Thanks to all the runner buddies and team7hills gang that helped me through the day and weekend, and congrats to all of them who did so freaking well out there, at all three distances (25k, 50k, and 100k). A million thanks to the volunteers, who kept me as hydrated as possible and fed me bacon, and thanks to Rainshadow for yet another stellar event (James, just joking about all those complaints, it really was an incredible course). Thanks to Mark for taking care of me, even after he decided to do his own long run that day, and for the friends who cheered me on at the finish line and were a great support all weekend. Y'all are the best.

Stats, if that's your thing:

Finish time: 13:23:00
Distance: 62 miles
Elevation gain: 10,800'
6th female finisher (21 female finishers, 30 starters)
28th overall finisher (71 finishers, 114 starters)
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 3.0s
Pack: Salomon S Lab Sense, soon to be ritualistically burned for its betrayal

Ouchie mama! Chafing from my pack. Not the right one for me, obviously.

Ouchie mama! Chafing from my pack. Not the right one for me, obviously.