About 6 months ago I began toying with the idea of running longer than a marathon. Why 100 miles immediately became my obsession I don’t know. Last year I was obsessed with running 100 miles in one week… And it was so exhilarating to accomplish this goal. I suppose 100 miles in one go was only the logical next step. But anyway, I didn’t tell anyone.
About 5 months ago I ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon, and as I did I tried to imagine what it’d be like to run past the marathon distance. I began dropping hints that I was interested in running farther than 42.2km. More people become aware of my desire to run 100 miles. Hubby wanted to know why I wanted to do something so dangerous and informed me he liked our life the way it was. Others warned me it was much too ambitious – too much too soon. My friends thought I was crazy but cheered me on.
About 4 months ago I ran my first trail race (25km Iron Knee), which was only about 2 weeks after my very first run in the trails (before this, the past 14 years, I was strictly a road runner). The very next day I went out and ran 54km. Don’t get me wrong, it was super hard – but just like that, I discovered it was totally possible for me to ran past the marathon distance.
About 3 months ago I ran my first 50 mile race (Tenderfoot Boogie) from Squamish to Whistler. Again, one of the hardest things I’ve done, but at this point I just knew intuitively I could run a full hundred – that I was capable – and so I signed up for Mountain Lakes 100.
Just under 2 months ago I ran a 24-hour endurance run (Hamster), logged 78 miles in one go, and gained valuable insight to how incredibly tough running through the night after running all day is.
About 1 month ago I ran my last long training run and got ready to taper. I fat-loaded and carb-loaded (as per my usual pre-race protocol).
And finally, last Saturday at 8am I stood on the start line of Mountain Lakes 100, about to embark on one of the most physically and mentally challenging (yet profoundly rewarding) experiences of my lifetime.
Mountain Lakes 100 is run in a very remote area of Oregon (read: NO cell service or internet or electricity or basically any modern comfort or technology). It’s advertised as ‘runnable’ and ideal for first timers (thus my initial attraction to it). It’s also very scenic – a lot of it follows the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). I found it to be incredibly well organized and the support at aid stations was beyond outstanding. Here is my story…
Hubby and I hit the road super early. Our car is so full it’s literally bursting at the seams – it always amazes me how much we can pack into this thing. Daisy and Sunshine are sharing the backseat and Sparkle is tucked in on the centre console between me and hubby.
It works – we reach the Canada/US border by 6:30am and there not a single other car in line – we pull up straight away! Last time we were at the border, we sat in a lineup for 3 hours. The border guard thinks I’m crazy when hubby informs him of our reason for entering the US. He has no words… But I’m now used to that. He waves us through, the look of disbelief lingering on his face as we pull away.
Our plan is to load up on groceries at Whole Foods in Seattle. Then I want to stop at REI and get another few pairs of black injinji socks. I love those toe socks. They are just the best (for preventing blisters) but they are also super hard to find, particularly in black.
We pull Whole Foods off without a hitch, but once we get back onto the highway we find ourselves in rush hour traffic. It’d actually not be so bad if we were just driving straight though, but here I am insisting we stop at REI. After 10 minutes of barely inching forward, I’m regretting my decision. After 20 minutes, I’m feeling pretty bad. Finally 30 minutes later we’ve made it the whole 500m or so to the exit and over to the store. I jump out and run inside.
They have black injinji’s in every size except mine. I can’t even… I buy a white pair and a purple pair and hightail it back to hubby and the car.
We’re half an hour off schedule and over the course of the next 5 hours we manage to fall another half hour off just due to stops along the way. We decide once we get to Portland that we’ll go straight to pick up our RV, and then pick up hubby’s new computer from Best Buy after (instead of before as originally planned).
Once we make it to the RV pickup place, we’re feeling good – we’re right on time. And the RV is incredible – a little mini home with all the basic amenities. We got the smallest one, a 19-foot, because the roads to Olallie Lake, Mountain Lakes 100 start/finish, are supposed to be rough but according to the Facebook page chat, a small RV can navigate the backroads just fine.
Finally we’re off to pick up hubby’s computer. I had entered the address for the Best Buy into our GPS hours earlier. I punch start, and off we go, in our rented RV. Right from the beginning something about where the GPS is taking us seems off, but we continue. About 45 minutes later we find ourselves on a small side street in a residential neighbourhood at a dead end. Needless to say, it was the wrong address – and after another 45 minutes we are finally at Best Buy. Geez. Is that a sign of things to come? I hope not!
Finally taking off from Best Buy we begin driving inland from Portland towards Olallie Lake. But we’re not going all the way there right away (thank goodness, seeing how delayed we now were!!) – we’re only going as far as Metzler campground. It was the last campground I could find before Olallie Lake with electricity and water hookup for the RV.
We reach our campsite easily (no more getting lost!!) and hook up. It’s getting later and I’m hungry – and in need of a good carb-loading dinner, so I go to make dinner right away. But I can’t find the pots. Hubby says they are in the black bag. They are definitely not in the black bag. I’m already trying to figure out how I’m going to boil my pasta tomorrow night, the night before my race, without a pot. I quickly come to terms with the fact it’s not going to happen and turn to the microwave for heating up tonights millet burgers.
I pray nothing else goes awry and decide to just go to bed soon after dinner. We’re not sure how long the auxiliary battery will last so we go to sleep without heat (turns out it’ll power the furnace for a long, long time). It gets really cold. But I still think our rented RV is the coolest thing ever.
We sleep in – there’s no need to rush. It’s now the day before race day, and all we have to do is get to Olallie Lake and find a place near the start line to park our RV – plus rest and eat all the carbs. As we’re leaving, the camp host comes by to chat. He sees we’re coming back on Sunday – we tell him why, what I’m going off to do. He thinks I’m nuts. But then, so do most people these days. He asks us if we need anything – and wouldn’t you know it, he lends us a pot. For whatever reason, he also gives us a map.
Before we head out to Olallie Lake we fill up on gas in Estacada, punch in Olallie Lake Resort into the GPS, and off we go. I also look up the directions to Olallie Lake before losing cell service for good (for the next 2 days, there will be literally no internet and no cell service at all). I’m watching the written directions and as the GPS turns us left I call out for hubby to stop! It seems wrong. So I take out the map – a good old fashioned map ha – and sure enough, the GPS has routed us on crazy backroads of gravel and dirt, whereas the directions on the website keep us on pavement as long as possible. Later I learn another couple relied on their GPS without questioning it, and ended up so stuck on a backroad they had to get a tow truck to rescue them. Crazy.
It’s only the last 9 miles or so that are on bumpy gravel roads. But after only a few miles, Sparkle, Daisy and Sunshine are stressed and freaking out – and even hubby is not enjoying the ride AT ALL. He asks how he could possibly navigate these backroads up to the aid station he was going to see me at (the Clackamas aid station which runners come through at mile 55 as well as 71). I know what he’s saying – I’m holding Sparkle in my arms and she’s shaking. She’s older now and she just had another seizure only last week.
As the realization dawns on me that I will run my 100 miler nearly crew-less, a lump comes to my throat. But I immediately push it down – I’ve read stories of runners who’ve run 100 milers self supported, and so that’s what I’ll do too. I’ll just send a drop bag there, no biggie. Besides, hubby and the girls will still be able to be at the fourth aid station to see me (which utilizes the start/finish area, at 26 miles into the race).
We finally reach the end of that ridiculously bumpy gravel road filled with all the pot-holes – and see the start/finish area!! We pull just past it and into the parking lot adjacent to the little campground store, where I suppose one would check-in to a cabin if they’d been so lucky as to secure one. The cabins were long booked when I checked (thus our RV). The lady in the store says no, we definitely cannot park in the store parking lot (we’re not surprised), and points us up to park beside the barn, just over the hill.
We navigate our way up a steep hill and as we hit the top, there she is with her husband and they direct us to back in – he grabs a couple pieces of plywood to place under our back tire to help ensure the RV is level. They are so nice – I can clearly see that, along with about a half dozen other campers, we’re parked in front of their personal house and barn. Later I realize we got one of the best parking spots possible – I’m a mere 300 metres from the start line (and we have a great view).
It’s a huge relief to be here at the start line and it’s only 3pm. We settle in – and decide to just go ahead and make dinner right away. I boil quinoa pasta and carrot slices (together in the same pot – you do what you can with one pot!! at least I have a pot), and add a very simple marinara sauce. I always eat a simple (gluten-free) pasta or white rice with tomato sauce the night before my races. It’s just what works for me. I find it to be absolutely delicious and polish off nearly half the pot. Hubby eats the rest.
At 5pm we go down to the start line and I collect my bib. They are giving all the racers very nice Patagonia fleece jackets too, with Mountain Lakes 100 written down the arm. I love it. I also buy a shirt, and an $8 flexible reusable cup. It’s a cupless course – so if I want any coke or gingerale I need it. Which normally in day to day life, soda pop is out of the question haha, but I’ve learned in ultras it’s amazing stuff…
Back to the RV and after a few banana muffins and tart cherry juice, I decide to just go to bed. Why not get a good 10 hours of sleep?!! But before I do hubby surprises me with a gift of a brand new pair of trail shoes. They are beautiful. They are also a model I’ve never worn before. As much as I want to wear them, I know wearing a brand new pair of shoes, an unknown model, for the first time on race day is not a risk I can take. His gesture is the sweetest though. He wanted me to have the option to change into cushy shoes when my feet got tired, and particularly if it rained to have a change of shoes available. This once again shows me how far he’s come in not only accepting my pursuit of becoming a 100-miler, but full on supporting me in it also.
Race morning. After my solid 10 hours of sleep, I’m awake at 5:30am. I go through my race morning breakfast routine… I get ready – everything was laid out the night before. And before I know it, it’s go time.
We make our way down to the start line at about 7:30am. It’s chilly out – I wrap Sparkle up in her pink blanket and hold her close to me. I’m now a bundle of nerves gone haywire with excitement. I place my dropbag in the big pile destined for Clackamas. And then it’s time for the pre-race briefing. The 3 race directors stand at the front and say a few words, and let us know how the course is marked. Orange flags and disks, and the ones that runners will hit in the dark have reflectors on them. And then it’s time to get behind that start line. I hand my sweater and little Sparkle over to hubby, kiss him bye and follow the other runners to behind the start/finish line.
And we’re off. This is really happening! This is really actually truly happening.
Within minutes I’m chatting with a girl, Becky, whose running about my pace. Wouldn’t you know it, she follows me on my Eat2Run blog – she already knows who I am, ha. I don’t know it at the time but she will become, as hubby will later dub her, my trail angel.
For the time being we chat race strategies, coaches (she’s got one, I don’t), GPSs and pacing. I’m using Strava to track me – I didn’t even bother with my GPS as I knew it’d just die after 9 hours. My phone will die, but I have an Anker battery to keep it going for the entire time I’m out there. Hopefully that will do the trick.
We make our way up a gravel road – pretty much climbing from the start. And before we know it, we’re directed into the trails. The first loop is 26 miles – a marathon. We run through meadows and forests and up along ridges with amazing views. I’m with a pretty large group – we’re not thinning out right away like I though might happen. But it happens soon enough. Before I know it we pop out of the trails and into our first aid station. I’ve hardly drank anything and definitely not eaten anything – I’m surprised to see this aid station already!
From there I end up with 3 other girls, one of them is Becky. We laugh and chat – this entire stretch between aid station 1 and 2 is entirely downhill on a gravel road, by far the easiest section of the entire race – and definitely my fastest. We worry we might be going too fast, but it’s too easy – such a nice gradual downhill. I take a Huma gel on the way down and some water… And literally again, before I know it, there is the second aid station. I don’t need to stop, so pretty much just fill up my water and continue on with one of the four girls, leaving Becky behind as she had a crew there at that aid station to see and attend to her.
The gravel road continues on for a bit, but before long we are swung up to the right into the forest and a steep climb. The girl I was with takes off – pretty much everyone is a stronger climber than me. Becky eventually passes me. More people pass me. Gah climbing. This stretch definitely feels longer. I know I need to eat more… So have a power cookie. Then I pull out a millet burger. Drinking lots of Skratch. Washing down the food with water.
I find myself in a train of about 5 people. One of the guys is wearing sandals – I can’t help but wonder how he doesn’t stub his toes. I’ve stubbed my toes a million times already on the very rocky rather technical surfaces we’re running. I like being in the train, and I follow along all the way to the 3rd aid station (which is the same one as the first). Becky pops out shortly after me, so we continue on together from the aid station. Running back to the start/finish, we run the ridge again – and I stop for a picture, Becky is kind enough to take one of me in it 🙂
Somehow, we lose each other again and I make my way back through the forest and fields mostly alone. There’s people in front of me and behind me – I can hear and see them… But I’m running on my own. At one point I see the guy ahead of me jump around and yell. I get nervous. I know there’s bees (or hornets or yellow jackets, not sure exactly) out on the course – and I’m terrified of getting stung. Literally terrified. So I pick up the pace, thinking I’ll just run by that area as quick as possible. It doesn’t exactly work – I get stung in my left calf. But just one. It freaking hurts – but not enough to make me stop running or anything. Behind me I hear yelling and swearing, a lot. The guy behind me got stung in his ear – the guy in front of me, his shoulder. Ugh. Sounds like I got off easy.
I continue along, it’s a bit of a downhill now so I start passing people. I pass Becky. She didn’t get stung, lucky girl. I make my way through the rest of the trail portion alone…
Eventually I pop out onto the gravel road and I figure it can’t be more than a few minutes before I see the start/finish, and aid station number 4 – where hubby and the girls will be at!!! But the gravel road goes on forever, and winds on and on much, much, much longer than I’d thought! I’m getting tired and contemplate walking, but it’s slightly downhill and on a relatively smooth surface… So no way, no walking. But man is it ever disheartening to think the aid station is RIGHT THERE, only to discover it’s not – over and over again.
Finally I can hear cheers. I’ve made it and am so excited to be at the quarter way point. I high five strangers as I come through and stop at the aid station table, looking around.
Hubby finds me and brings me over to our lawn chair he’d set up where he’d been waiting with the girls. He hands me my bag of food I’d asked him to bring, and I refill and switch out items in my bag. I check my phone just to see if Strava really is working – but apparently I’ve already lost ability to figure out if the km’s tracked so far seem correct… So I stuff it away. I won’t end up looking at it again – I basically run the entire race not really knowing how far along I am, other than the signs at the aid stations.
It’s so nice to sit in a chair – and so lovely to see hubby and the girls. But I’m feeling good and it’s time to get going. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s Becky just come into the aid station – so we decide to leave together, along with another girl. Before I know it, I’m kissing hubby bye again and saying see you tomorrow. I know he feels badly he won’t be at Clackamas, but I assure him I’m going to be totally fine – it’s all good. And I can’t wait to run into his arms tomorrow. Unfortunately I really can’t tell him exactly what time I’ll cross in. Right now, I’m track for 24 hour pace… It’s nearly 2pm. But I know in the night I’ll slow down.
I take off with Becky and a few others, down the gravel road another 100 metres and then we are diverted into a trail. The next 3 miles are mostly downhill (but decidedly rolling) with just the right amount of rocks and roots that I can comfortably run through them, and before I know it I’ve left everyone behind and am on my own again. Aid station 5 comes up quick – I’m in and out. And back onto the trail, where it starts going up. A guy recognizes me as the girl from Vancouver and we start chatting. Unfortunately I’m a terrible chatter when climbing, as climbing tends to suck the air right out of me. My pace slows, he pulls ahead, and I’m on my own again. For the rest of that section I climb and shuffle though beautiful forests and trails, past lakes and and through meadows.
But I’m getting tired. It’s probably about 7.5 hours in now and guys with poles are passing me, pretty consistently. I’m used to getting passed on climbs… But man, is this one ever going to end?!! Finally it does and I’m able to start running again.
I run downhills – my plan coming into this was to always run the downhills. I know eventually that will become painful, but it’ll always be doable for me – I might be a very poor climber, but I’m a very strong downhill runner.
Before I know it I come out into a clearing, and there is aid station number 7. I’m in and out of there quickly – another refill on water and Skratch. I’ve not been eating much lately – my appetite diminished to pretty much zero over the last few hours and I feel vaguely nauseous. I look at the food at the aid station – but it either doesn’t appeal to me or I know I can’t eat it (gluten and dairy would send me jumping into the woods).
I’m climbing again after the aid station. Or maybe I’m walking and calling it climbing when I should be running. It’s kind of flatish. But I call it a climb and keep walking. Eventually it’s definitely got a downward slope so I begin running again. At this point however, I’m not sure any running I’m doing qualifies as more than a shuffle.
I encounter another bit of a climb and walk. Just as I’m reaching the top I’m giving myself every excuse to just keep walking when a guy passes me and recognizes me from the RV rental place. He and his friend had rented one too. We start chatting, and I follow him, shuffling along. Eventually he pulls ahead on another climb. But I bump into him again when I stop to take a picture on the same ridge he’s stopped on. We snap pics of each other with the vast expanse of trees in our background. The sun is going down. I’m so tired already. But it’s downhill now, so I follow him, shuffling along behind him.
We chat about some crazy ultra running adventures he’s been on – where he endured terrible cold and very risky conditions to make it through. Mountain Lakes is incredibly tame in comparison. He’s wearing Hoka One Ones. I’ve always thought they look so funny (I’m such a minimalist shoe type of gal), but now they look like glorious pillows. My feet ache and I can feel every stone I run over. We chat about why I’m gluten-free… And at that point we get passed by another guy who is a chiropractor and and a nutrition expert of some sort (I can’t remember his title), who proceeds to hijack our conversation (in the nicest way) – and because guy I was running behind is also a chiropractor, they hit it off great and both disappear off ahead of me chatting. I cannot keep up to them. I’m alone now.
Eventually I pop out of the trail onto a gravel road – and there is aid station number 6. The volunteers there are lovely (as they have been and I’ll soon experience will be at every single aid station) and they help fill me up with water and Skratch. My pack carries 2 x 500ml soft water bottles – the left one is water and the right one is Skratch. I go back and forth between matcha Skratch and pineapple Skratch – my two favourite flavours. It is the only thing I don’t tire of over the entire course of this race.
Still not eating much. Another gel, but after that one, I’m so done with gels. The thought of them now makes me want to throw up. But other than tired and a bit nauseas I’m feeling pretty good, so off I go, back into the trails and this one is a lovely winding downhill through the forest.
As I turn another corner I remember my phone might be nearly dead, I should check. It would be terrible if Strava didn’t track my whole run – cause if it’s not tracked by Strava or a GPS… Did it really happen?? Haha. I pull my phone out. Gahhhhhh noooo. Dead. I don’t know how long it’s been dead for, but I plug it into my Anker battery and see it come back to life. I shove the phone and battery into my front pack pocket and keep running. Nothing else I can do about that. Later I’ll learn Strava picked up where it left off, drew a straight line down the 2km or so I missed, and somehow didn’t skip a beat on the timing either. Brilliant.
I continue making my way down this lovely winding path and all of sudden ZAP owwwwweeeee in my right calf. Omg I got stung again! Gah. It hurts initially, for about an hour, but then dulls. Both calves hit. Lol. I cross another dirt road, and back into the path. Shortly after that, the glorious downhill ends, and hoist myself over a large fallen tree. And then back over it again a few metres down – somehow it’d managed to cross the same path twice.
A girl has caught up to me and we hike/run together for a while. She’s happy for the company and so am I. She is newly married, her husband is not a runner, they live in different cities, she loves Vancouver and would love to move there (with her husband!) one day… She has a pacer waiting for her at Clakamas, to take her from mile 71 to the finish… I never do learn her name. Or the name of the guy I was running with. I end up running with so many different racers at various points, but soon their stories start running together in my brain and I forget details, asking them the same questions twice.
We start climbing. Oh climbing! And no surprise, the girl takes off on me. I’m once again on my own, but it’s not so bad at all. Once the climb is over, the terrain feels manageable and I get into a rhythm.
My stomach is blah. I pop into the woods behind a fallen tree, but there is to be no relief. I just don’t feel well. As I get back onto the trail I realize it’s really quite dark, so I pull my headlamp out of my pack. I’m still about 6 or 7 miles away from Clackamas – the point I guess I’d kinda hoped I’d reach before it got dark. No matter. I have my headlamp. I also throw on my long sleeve shirt. With the sun gone down, a chill is setting in. A guy comes up behind me. His headlamp is waiting for him at Clackamas, so we start running together – him following me and my light. He has a penlight, but it doesn’t do much so I think running in my light helps him move along faster.
We get chatting – his wife doesn’t run, she and the kids are home, they’re going to the pumpkin patch tomorrow. He runs marathons – he’d run a 50-miler 2 years ago, and then decided to run Mountain Lakes 100 because his marathon mileage had gotten so high. Mileage had really helped him preform in the marathon – which I can personally attest to having experienced exactly the same myself and we get all excited about marathon training. He’s going to run CIM this December and hopefully get his BQ. His last attempt in June yielded him a 3:13, only 3 minutes off. I’m excited for him.
We get to aid station number 8 -it’s pitch black now. Again, I don’t need to spend much time in the aid station. So I ask my headlampless guy if he’s ready to go, assuming he wants to follow my light to Clackamas, and off we go. But about 2 miles in, I’m really really not feeling good. I tell him to go on ahead and I dash into the bushes. Oh you can’t have any shame in trail races like this. You make use of what’s available. Always bring TP with you.
Feeling MUCH better, I make my way back onto the path and continue shuffling forward. A mile or so later I catch up to guy with his penlight slowly moving forward. I get back in front of him and lead the way again, lighting the path for us both. As we get close to Clackamas I take off (guy tells me to go ahead, he’s good) and finally pull into this aid station number 9. It’s like a party here – super high energy and tons of people yelling and cheering runners in.
Immediately I go to look for my drop bag. And as I do I see Becky! She’d gotten ahead of me – she’s with her crew and about ready to go back out. But she stops and asks me if I’d like to run with her, in the dark together. This next part is a loop around Timothy Lake and it really is pitch black out – and so yes I immediately agree I’d be thrilled to have company. She says she’ll wait for me then.
All the drop bags are under a tent to my right. I fish my bag out from the sea of bags and pull it to the outer edge of the tarp they are sitting on, and clumsily drop my butt down onto the ground. A man is waiting for his son – he has laid out a warm flannel blanket right beside where I’m sitting. He motions me over and in broken English invites me to sit on the warm blanket. I’m so grateful for it. I change my socks and put my shoes back on. I grab new batteries and shove them in my hydration pack. And fill up my pack with some food – but most of it I leave behind. I’m really probably not eating enough. But no appetite. I have no appetite.
I also want to change so I grab my stuff and duck over to the side of the portapotties and behind a truck. I lay my sweaty wet clothes over the back of the truck as I strip down in the cold dark night air and put on a fresh dry sports bra and tank top. Then I put my long sleeve shirt back on.
When I find Becky, she’s all done up in a hat and jacket and gloves – so I throw on my pink windbreaker as well, and fish out my gloves. Her crew helps make sure I’m topped up with water and Skratch… And off we go. She leads and we make our way along the dark, dark path. A mile in or so we get popped out onto a roadside and see a million stars. So we stop and turn off our headlamps, staring up into the sky. The stars blanketing the sky are unbelievably beautifully breathtaking. A guy comes up beside us and stares in awe too.
Then we are back at it.
A few minutes later I feel a splash of water come out of my water bottle on the left side – I let out a yelp. Actually I might have sworn. Loudly. The nipple of the bottle has clean popped off and my water is spilling out. I grab the bottle out of its pocket so as to save as much of the water as possible, and Becky and the guy help me search for the top of the bottle that popped off. The guy finally finds it for me (it really catapulted off the bottle lol) and we’re good to go again. We get dropped by the guy quickly after that… We make our way slowly through the forest, shuffling forward.
We come out into a bit of a clearing. I can tell the lake is RIGHT beside us, to our right. I can see the ominous black water. There is not a clear indication of where to go next. We think we must be tired and not seeing straight. We veer off to the left a bit and follow a path… But after a few hundred metres it feels wrong. It feels like it’s not really a path. Plus come to think of it there’s been no orange ribbons or discs for some time now. So we turn around and find our way back to the clearing… Beginning to freak out a bit now. I point my headlamp around, and see a distinct trail right in front of us – we’d missed it before. So we run along it… Until we come to a dead end.
Omg. We are totally lost. Doubling back we end up in the clearing again, ominous black water beside us, we decide to back track until we see an orange flag and so we run back the way we’d come. Finally we see an orange flag! It’s the best thing ever. Frustrated but immensely relieved we begin following the flags, closely. We climb… And shuffle down… And shuffle along the path… Until… We see a headlamp coming directly towards us.
It turns out we are headed back to Clackamas. Somehow instead of getting back onto the trail going the right way, we’d gotten back on the trail going back to the aid station we’d just come from. I think the guy we bumped into felt badly for us, and as we followed him going the correct way on the right path (finally!!) he’d call out – did you make this turn? Did you come this way? Finally we got to a point where we made a hard right and went over a bridge. Nope, we hadn’t done this before. This is where we’d gone wrong.
I don’t know how much extra we added on there. When I looked at Strava afterwards it tells this exact story – and looks to be at least 1, if not 2 miles extra. Suffice to say, we were extra careful from there on out – and I’m happy to report that was our one and only getting lost experience!
We are mostly walking by this point. As we both battle fatigue, sore legs and a night that is growing increasing more chilly, I try to eat my chocolate covered coffee beans. I chew a few… But my stomach doesn’t care for them, so I stop. I’d so been looking forward to these, but they aren’t appetizing in the least right now. When Becky says she can’t run right now I’m relieved – but a few minutes later she says lets try shuffling and I know we must, so I do and it works. We keep moving forward.
After what really feels like forever (getting lost sure didn’t help), we reach aid station number 10. They are such a fun bunch, all dressed up in togas (with lots of sweaters and jackets underneath and overtop of course) and enjoying the night. One guy changes my batteries for me in my headlamp. Another offers me hot broth. This my stomach says okay to. It is delicious – amazingly delicious. I drink down every drop.
And all too soon, we are off into the night again. It’s nearly midnight and the temperature is continuing to drop. I pull out my headband and pull it on over my headlamp, protecting my ears from the cold. I’m bundled up as much as possible, but already I’m looking forward to getting back to Clackamas and pulling out my grey fleece sweater from my drop bag. Becky on the other hand is getting desperately cold. We know that shuffling is better than walking for increasing body heat, but it’s really hard.
Hard as it is, we manage to keep shuffling forward. We climb any inclines and ‘run’ any downhills. We play leapfrog with two other runners, a guy and girl, over and over again. Eventually we come to a sign that says ‘bathrooms’ and points to the left. We are quite giddy to have found this pit toilet in the middle of the woods – how nice – ahhh the luxury haha. It even seems to be lit, like, with real electricity! My turn over, I sit on the ground while waiting for Becky – and runners run by on the trail. I’m sure they wonder why I am just sitting on the ground like this. Truthfully it feels lovely – if not a bit cold.
And then we are off again, back into the trails, working our way to the next aid station. Becky says her crew will be there, and hopes for more warm clothes. I just want more broth. Not much later we see lights – strings of lights across a bridge and there on the other side of the bridge is aid station 11. They give me broth with rice in it. Ahhhh it is THE BEST. I drop my glove and a volunteer finds it. I sit down, and Becky’s cousin pulls me up. It’s time to go again.
We get quiet for this next stretch. It’s after 1am, and we’re both fighting the strong desire to sleep. Becky trips a few times. We take it really slow, shuffling where we can. Always shuffling where we can. I’m getting colder and colder. Now I’m actually pretty uncomfortable. All we can do is keep moving forward though. So together we push forward.
This stretch is a long one. In reality its no longer than the previous 2 stretches, but it feels like forever. We have long thrown out any hopes of a 24 hour finish, something we’d both thrown around as a possibility hours upon hours ago. Now we fight the urge to pull out at the next aid station. We finally decide we’ll be happy to finish, regardless of time. We try to do math – but my brain isn’t up for math at the best of times, so we simply conclude that we’ll likely not be getting a belt buckle, as it’s apparent we’ll miss the 30 hour cut-off. We’ve more or less resigned ourselves to the fact we can do no more than walk it in. So we walk, and sometimes shuffle forward, trying to remember why we signed up for this in the first place.
This stretch takes so long we begin to worry we’re lost again. But no, there’s another orange flag. We’re okay. Cold, tired and hurting. But okay. Minutes (that felt like hours) later we realize we’re finally completing the Timothy Lake loop and coming upon Clackamas aid station again. But it’s so quiet. None of the party atmosphere we saw so many hours ago. There aren’t many people there now. I run over to my drop bag (did I say run? it was definitely a walk) and pull out my grey fleece hoodie, and shove it on over my pink windbreaker. As I thunk to the ground I realize how uncomfortable and cold it is, and how stiff and sore I am. I don’t know what to do. I’m so cold and so tired and so all over hurting. But at that moment Becky’s cousin finds me (thank goodness) and brings me to the warming tent.
The warming tent is magic. I sit in a lawn chair and a sleeping bag is tucked around me. Someone points one of the two electric heaters, being run by a generator, right at me. My chattering teeth calm themselves. I look over at Becky, sitting across from me. She’s still really cold. Later she’ll tell me she was ready to quit, had I not been there. I joke that if she had I wouldn’t have hesitated to jump in her cousins car with them all for a ride back to the finish. I hope I’m joking… It was so very tempting to just stay in the warmth of that tent…
Becky’s crew is good. Her cousin gets me to put my long tights on over my shorts. I’m now wearing every single article of clothing I packed in my dropbag. She gets me a cup of hot broth too (or was it Becky’s sister that did that? I’m all out of it). They make sure we’re warmed up, ensure we’re not hypothermic – and then kick us out. A half hour (or was it more? less?) is all we get in the warming tent. It’s still cold and dark and desolate out there – it’s maybe 2:30am. But we are moving again – and it turns out there’s a lot of climbing ahead. So we climb. I follow Becky. There’s really no running to be had – it’s too much up. No real down.
We bump into a girl we had been running with earlier. She’s with another lady. The four of us wind our way up, up, up. I’m at the back and I’ve let myself fall a bit behind. I don’t want to lose them… But I just can’t… I can hear them talking. At this rate we’ll be lucky to make the cutoff. We might not make the cutoff. I don’t care. I just want to cross the finish line whatever the time. I’m determined to keep moving forward but I don’t care when. I’m so tired.
After what feels like literally an eternity (a painful one), we come upon aid station 13. We’re moving at the rate of about 2 to 2.5 miles an hour. I see a chair and make a beeline for it. Crazy but it’s already started to get a bit warmer and I need to shed a layer. I stuff my grey hoodie into my pack. My gloves and headband get shoved away too. Becky hands me a piece of bacon – it’s delicious. The last time I had bacon was my last ultra… The time before that, probably 15 years ago. When I run ultras I drink coke and eat bacon, apparently. I’m quite okay with it.
It’s a super quick stop, we’re off again in a hurry. Fueled by fear of missing the cutoff I suppose. Although I’ve not got any motivation to beat the cutoff back yet, apparently Becky has, as she begins to shuffle forward breaking into a bit of a run. She asks me if I’m coming and I say yes. So I pass by the other two, and we break our train as Becky and I pull ahead. A mile or so in, I’m getting too warm and Becky needs to stop – so I sit and pull off my long pants, unhooking my race bib and tucking it in the pocket of my shorts. I stuff them in my pack with my grey fleece.
We get going again and into a good groove, but it doesn’t last. We’re still tired. As we cross a bridge, I feel a sharp pain on the top of my ankle, just under the tongue of my shoe. I cry out – it feels like I’ve been stung again. It aches. Later I’ll see the mark and the crazy swelling around it. I can’t believe it and don’t know why a stupid hornet was awake in the middle of the night (to be fair, lil hornet dude was probably wondering what in the world I was doing awake in the middle of the night stomping through his territory), but I do my best to ignore the pain in my ankle. It sucks that with every step the tongue of my shoe rubs it, over and over and over. I hate hornets.
There’s nothing that can be done and so I just keep moving forward, following Becky, pushing forward. We shuffle. Climb, walk, shuffle. We toss ourselves over the large fallen tree I remember from hours and hours ago, when we were moving in the opposite direction. And then we cross the gravel road. I remember this. I remember how much I enjoyed running down the winding path. Now we have to climb it. And I remember it being a long descent. Which now means a very long ascent.
Becky pulls ahead of me, she is definitely a stronger climber than me, but I continue to see her light bobbing ahead in the distance. For a long time I can see her moving forward in front of me. At one point I stop on the side of the path, turn sideways, crouch… Nature calls… And Becky yells at me. I think she might have noticed my light change direction and got worried I wandered off the trail. I yell back to assure her I’m on the right path. I think. We must be nearly at the top.
But around every bend is more climbing. I hate climbing. I hate it. Why am I here? I know I’m a terrible climber. I feel like I’m hardly moving but I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’m here because I want to be. I’m here because I want to prove something to myself. That I’m strong. That I’m tough. That I can brave the cold and the dark and sleep deprivation and sore muscles. That hornet stings won’t bring me down. That I won’t quit when the going gets tough. I’m not good at climbing but dammit that doesn’t mean I won’t give it my best go.
I’m here because I wanted to be subjected to immense discomfort and prove to myself that I can work my through it. And so it has come to pass. I am immensely uncomfortable.
I often go out in races with the thought of making sure I enjoy the experience… That I have fun out there. I knew going into Mountain Lakes 100 that ‘having fun’ the whole time wasn’t plausible. I don’t think that’s why people run 100-milers, to have fun the whole way. I think it’s more for the thrill of surviving such an extreme experience. I suppose you could say it’s like fun wrapped up in different packaging. Although most people cannot recognize it as ‘fun’ or for that matter, desirable in the least.
I continue climbing. And climbing. Ahhhhhhhhh. Omg. Will this hill ever end. I see more lights ahead and think it’s the aid station, but it’s just other runners. And then, blessedly, there it is – aid station 14. And I sit in the nearest chair I see. I want my bib back on my shorts, so I pull it out of my side pocket and secure it to my leg again. Becky is there but I urge her to go on ahead, she’s way stronger in climbing then me. But she waits.
We dive back into the forest. Right away it’s a climb. Argh. We climb, and of course Becky pulls ahead. I completely lose her. And for the first time in a long while I feel completely alone out here. No one behind or in front of me that I’m aware of… It’s so quiet. Except for buzzing. I hear a lot of buzzing. Better not be any angry hornets out here.
It gets lighter and I’m actually getting warm enough that I’m thinking of ditching my long sleeve, when all of a sudden I hear loud buzzing right beside my right ear. NO!! I panic and wildly slap around at the space near my ear. I run faster. But POW, ow ow ow. And I get stung again. It hurts and I’ve got little strength for this now. Tears spring to my eyes but it’s too much effort to cry – and pointless I reason – so I pull myself together and simply keep moving forward. To reach the finish I must just keep moving forward. And so I do.
Ahead of me I see the climb up to the gorgeous lookout where guy took my picture at so many hours upon hours ago. I hike up up up and see 2 guys up there who’ve stopped to take in the view. They move on before I approach. I stop and sit down, and admire the amazing sunrise. It’s gorgeous. It’s so beautiful out here. I strip my long sleeve off and tie it around my waist. There is no room left in my pack – it’s stuffed full of pants, fleece, windbreaker, gloves/headband and headlamp. I force myself to get up, and continue climbing up and around the corner.
As I continue the climb I realize I actually do want to finish under the cutoff, and I really do want that belt buckle. If I don’t get that buckle, I’ll feel like I have unfinished business and will have to run another 100 miler. If I can just get that buckle, I tell myself I’ll never have to do this again. But I need that buckle. I didn’t put hubby though all this stress of my ultra training and then drag him down here to the middle of nowhere to come up short of my goal. I AM going to get that buckle!!
Amazingly I reach what seems to be a bit of a summit – and there is downhill. I love downhill! I’m supposed to run the downhill. I know it’ll hurt but in order to get that buckle I must. Each step feels like my quads are exploding, but I’m able to gain some good speed and I pass the two guys. I’m flying down the hill twisting and turning with the path… When I come upon Becky!
She is so happy to see me, and says I’ve picked her up from a low. I’m now on a roll – and I tell her we are going to get those buckles. We are going to do this! And she runs with me. We run for a good stretch – we’re doing well. But we’ve been at this for about 24 hours now and we are tired. We walk a bit when the path slopes up, pushing on and finally reach more of a flatish rolling section – running where we can.
Eventually we come out at aid station 15. I eat a gummy bear. Just one. My tummy is not great and I’m a bit nauseous again. We see a couple other girls there who say they are on track for well under 30 hours, even if they walk the rest of the way. I’m skeptical – and urge us to continue our run/shuffle. My desire for that belt buckle is driving me with newfound energy – I’ve no idea where I’ve pulled this energy from, but I’ve 100% determined there is NO WAY I’m going home without my buckle.
So we run, climb, shuffle, run. We are onto the longest stretch between aid stations – about 8 miles, and it feels daunting. We talk about how nice it would be to swim instead of run. I wonder if I’ll ever want to run again after this. We talk about how much our feet and legs hurt. I urge Becky to keep moving, running where we can. I tell her it’s supposed to hurt – that’s what we signed up for. My ankle where I got stung is killing me – every step results in shooting pain, made worse by ridiculously fatigued legs and feet that are beyond sore. I feel like I might as well be wearing only socks – my shoes are currently offering little protection from the rocks. But then, it’s been that way for a while now.
We come to a section that is mostly climbing. I stop and take 2 Advil. Maybe they’ll help dull my ankle pain, maybe not. I eat some chocolate covered almonds, and share some with Becky. We push forward. We’re both hurting, but Becky seems like maybe she’s hurting more. When we reach the top and the downhill begins, it’s a super tough go… We get passed by two runners – I think it’s a racer and her pacer. Becky urges me to go with them. So I do. I begin running all the downs and I pass them. I pass a few others. And before I know it I’m at the aid station number 16 – the very last one before the finish line. And better yet, the finish line is only 3.6 miles away! I grab a cup of gingerale, fill my water and I’m ready to go.
As I leave, I see Becky coming in. I turn around, noting how close she was behind me – and ask if she wants to run it in together. She says she’ll try, and so I wait for her to see her crew, who snaps a picture of us. Later, at the finish line, the official photographer will capture us post-race… But right now, we must get there!
We take off, and my excitement to be so close to the finish is through the roof. Becky calls out to me and asks if we are running the inclines now? Oops, I kind of was. I slow to a walk. But once a flat section comes I pick it up and Becky tells me to go ahead. I hesitate… But she urges me forward. I owe her so much – she got me through the night. I want to run it in together. But we are both here for our own reasons and at the end of the day we have our own races to run, so I leave my trail angel, and run. I pass a lady. I pass 2 guys. I run everything I possibly can, only walking the distinct climbs.
I keep waiting for there to be more downhill, but it’s mostly rolling – and feels like a slight gain overall. I have no idea what time it is but I do know I’m going to make the cutoff now. With each step that brings me closer to the finish my excitement increases and this fuels me forward. But this trail goes on forever. I hallucinate the road I know I’ll pop out on soon a good half dozen times. I strain my ears listening for cheering. Nothing.
I pass 2 people standing up on a large rock, cheering the runners on. The girl tells me I’m a 15 minute walk from the road. But I’m walk/running, so I’m sure it’s closer. Up and down, twisting and turning following the path. WHERE IS THE ROAD???
And then, I hear a dog barking. I can feel tears springing to my eyes – this time tears of utter joy. I really truly am almost there. I see the road, I hear people. I pop out of the trail onto the road and there are people lining the gravel road cheering me in. I pick up my pace and turn the corner to my left – I see the finish line. I’m completely choked up as I dash for the finish, and I fling my arms over my head in celebration as I cross the finish line.
I’m overwhelmed with emotion. The race director is standing there, on the other side of the finish line welcoming in each runner. He high fives me and then hugs me. And then… He hands me my buckle. My very own, very hard earned Mountain Lakes 100 belt buckle. After 27 hours, 34 minutes and 55 seconds my 100 mile journey comes to a close.
I turn around and walk back through the finish line, looking for hubby. He is right there and he gathers me into his arms. He’s been waiting at the finish line for me since 5:30am. For 6 hours. He thought I might be ahead of schedule and end up coming in well under 24 hours. And once he was there, he didn’t move – as he was terrified of not being there when I crossed. I seriously love this man so much.
I eat the pancakes they are serving up at the finish line right away – big white fluffy pancakes with syrup that is decidedly not 100% maple. Oh my. Yup.
I wait for Becky, she comes in 20 minutes after me. And then hubby and I make our way back to our RV – where hubby warms the water in the reservoir and sends me into the shower. My appetite, which returned pretty much immediately upon crossing the finish line (and with a vengeance), means I’ll spend the rest of the day eating. I grab an hour nap, but I’m too excited to sleep – adrenaline from what I just accomplished is rushing through me.
We end up back at Metlzer campground, where we share a bottle of celebratory wine by the campfire. And then I sleep. A rather fitful restless sleep – and the next few nights will prove similar, my sore legs and feet or extreme random hunger waking me up intermittently. We hit the road the next day, making our way back home.
So I sit here at home, 4 days later, still processing the whole experience. I’m not sure what’s next. I don’t know if I want to do another one. I kind of promised hubby this would be it. But I’m not sure I can stop with just one. Undoubtedly there’s a part of me that thinks I can do better – I can be tougher, stronger, faster.
For now I’ll wait for my legs and feet to go back to normal. My 100-mile goal consumed my last 6 months and I feel a bit lost without it now. I have other goals – for example, I still want to run a faster marathon… But it might be a few weeks until I define exactly where I want to go from here.
For right now I know this: Go after your dreams with passion and vengeance. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you can or cannot do. When you set your mind to something and literally get out of your own way, it’s truly amazing what you’re capable of.
Find that which makes you feel truly alive – and live it.
Run… Be it faster or farther, for freedom or fun… Just run,