“I know you won’t believe me… But I’m never doing another 100-miler again!!!”
I make this declaration at exactly 1:00am on Sunday, November 5th as I sit in our car, which is parked only a few spots down from the Rattlesnake Aid Station’s main tent, trying desperately to both get warm and not fall asleep. I also need to eat something.
But instead I ramble on, “And I’m definitely never running a 200-miler! My body is just not cut out for these events – clearly I’m not gifted with the endurance required so why am I putting myself through this agony?!!”.
I literally want to cry (but that would just take too much energy). Hubby looks somewhat amused. He tells me not to jump to any conclusions right now. I’m annoyed he’s not taking me seriously. Why is he not taking me seriously?
I grab a power cookie and try to take a few bites but I can hardly get a small piece of it down. My stomach is upside down and it does NOT want any food. Of course this is a big problem because I need calories. I really, really need to get food into me.
The warm air from the car vent warms me – it feels so good. I just want to put my head back and sleep. I need a few more minutes… I’m so tired. Exhausted.
I honestly have no idea how I can possibly cover the last 16 miles to get to that finish line.
Exactly 20 hours earlier this adventure began – at 5:00am on Saturday, November 4th – and I for one couldn’t have felt more ready! Well, more or less. There were a few things that worried me but these factors were beyond my control so I simply refused to believe they could in any way get in the way of a successful race for me.
First was the weather. For a place that typically sees only sunshine, rain had been forecasted for the past week – and now it was looking like it’d be raining exactly at the time we were to run. I simply reminded myself I’m from Vancouver – it rains a lot there and so I’ve run a lot in the rain. Not a big deal. I was a bit worried about cold overnight but really, surely it doesn’t get that cold in California?
Second was a time of month issue. I considered not bothering to mention it here… But honestly it was such a large factor in this race so how could I not. I am a female and every month I must deal with that of which every other female must also deal with. However, what are the odds the first day – the most unpleasant – might fall on the exact day of my 100-miler? Yet that is exactly what has happened.
So I did what anyone would do in this situation. I packed extra dry clothes and shoes as well as feminine hygiene products in all my drop bags – and just resolved to ignore the cramps. Ultra runners basically go into races asking for pain… What’s a little extra to start one with?
It’s very dark at the start line (which is at Beal’s Point in Folsom). There are so many runners milling about – some trying to snap pre-race pictures in the bright lights that flood the start line banner. I do the same and then find the right pile to add my ALT drop bag to – the other two bags I’ve given to hubby. We did a drive by the two other aid stations where you can send drop bags and where crew is allowed to see their runner yesterday. I was going to do drop bags there, but now we’ve decided that along with meeting back here at Beals Point at the 19 mile mark, hubby will also meet me at these two additional aid stations, each of which I’ll pass through twice (the race is a 19-mile loop to begin, then out and back with a small lollipop loop at the top).
Before I know it, it’s go time. At 5am on the nose this 100-miler begins and all the runners, nearly 400 of us, switch on our headlamps and move forward.The first 19 miles is supposed to be mostly on paved bike path, so I’m wearing my Nike free fly knits – my long time favourite choice of road shoe. As we set out I realize we’re mostly going downhill and it’s really hard to resist going faster. Like, really hard. But I do – I hold back. It feels like I’m hardly moving however somehow I’m passing a lot of runners. They might be the smart ones, but I pass them because I’m watching my GPS and it’s telling me that I’m not going faster than my race plan outlined for me.
We run along the path following a main road and come up at one point to run right along the road. I hear runners call this the ‘urban loop’ and indeed I feel like I’m in the city. However less than a mile later the bike path is diverted into a quieter area – it’s quite peaceful now. I can no longer see or hear the road.
I see male runners all over the place pulling off the path by only a step or two and turning to the side. To be fair there was a serious lack of washroom facilities at the start line (or so I could see). I would like to do the same right now, as the long washroom lineup I was in didn’t move fast enough before the race began so I didn’t get to go. Shoot, I really need a washroom right now. An advantage guys have, I guess you could say?
As I run along the winding paved path I aim my headlamp off to the sides and see straw coloured bramble to the left and right. This is not a forest where you can hide in and squat behind a tree if needed – it’s very open. Plus there’s plenty of poison oak within the bramble. You don’t want to step off the trail for fear of stepping right into poison oak – this is what I’ve been told anyway. Finally, at about 4 miles in, I see a path out the corner of my eye leading up to the right and around a corner, thank goodness – so I dash off. I can see another girl has done the same on the path across from me (both are enough out of sight of the main path that the runners headlamps don’t catch us).
Feeling so much better, I get back on the main path and am now able to fully focus on the task at hand. Which is, don’t go out too fast! So I try to get into a nice n easy rhythm and listen to conversations around me. But I end up passing them – simply keeping my predetermined pace.
“What kind of headlamp is that? It’s so bright!”
A voice in the darkness next to me wants to know. I tell him it’s a Petzl something and I’m so sorry I can’t remember exactly the type. He says he’s got a Petzl on too, but clearly mine is putting his to shame.
I ask if he’s ever run Rio Del Lago before and he says no, but he has run a 50-miler that is on this exact ‘city loop’. He’d gone out too fast and it did him in so right now he’s just trying to hold back.
“Awesome!” I say, “I’ll just stick with you then because I’m trying to hold back too.”
Then I realize I’ve no idea if he’s the same pace as me – his holding back might not be my holding back.
“What time do you run a marathon in?” I ask.
“About 3:45”, he says.
Perfect. I continue to follow him.
As I follow him I notice he has large tattoos covering his calves – the same tattoo on each calf. I follow him up and around an overpass and down back onto another section of the paved bike path.
Then I pass him. I can hear him following for some time… Until I realize I’m alone. I’ve gone and dropped tattooed calves runner dude. Shoot. I swear it was he who slowed down though – I’ve been maintaining the same pace! I can see it’s trying to start to rain – you can see little rain drops lightly falling in the light of the headlamp.
I come upon the first aid station – and so I yank my now empty water bottle out of my clutch and a volunteer helps me fill it and adds my Skratch to it. I’m pleased with myself so far – I’ve managed to completely drink my first water with pineapple Skratch exercise hydration mix and am onto my second, according to plan. Yes, I know it’s only the beginning but hey, small wins. I stuff my water bottle back into my clutch as I run.
I’m enjoying running through the dark along the pavement, following the many runners in front of me. Although truth be told I’m very glad there are so many runners around me – the markings aren’t the best here on the city loop. We come up the bike path and over a bridge next to a busy road. Then we’re diverted down, down, down… And then all of a sudden into a single track path up a steep-ish hill? Hey – where’d my paved bike path go?
I’m about 10 miles in now – and we’re most definitely in semi-technical single track trails. I’m still following plenty of other runners and let them lead the way. We reach the top and descend – rocky and technical. My heel hits a rock and the pain the goes searing through the back of my foot is temporarily nauseating. These Nike free fly’s were not meant for rocky descents such as this.
We hit the bottom and continue along a section that’s flat gravel road for a time before being diverted into a rolling runnable smooth dirt trail. I work hard to keep up with the guy I’m following because now I’m terrified of getting lost – the course markings continue to be tough to follow and this guy mentioned he’s a local who knows the course well.
Finally at about 13 miles we come out of the trails and back onto the paved bike path. It’s light enough now I can turn my headlamp off. The rain is coming down more steadily.
The second aid station comes up and again I give myself a pat on the back for having finished my water/Skratch mix – and as a volunteer refills my bottle I suck back a mocha Huma gel – and then add Skratch to my water, and stuff it back in my clutch. Off I go. I notice a guy and girl running together – setting a good pace. They are walking the up hills though. We’re now on our way back to the start line so it’s overall a bit more up than anything – and I’m intent on running the ups (albeit slowly). So I pass them.
It’s full on raining now and I’m soaked. But it’s not cold. It’s not so bad at all really. Heat would be worse – so I tell myself this is probably a good thing. An advantage really! And I chug along, still passing a runner here and there. The urban loop has so many runners. It’s more like a road race with all the runners I’ve been running with around me.
Finally I see I’m nearly at Beals Point – there it is! The start/finish area as well as aid station #3 at 19 miles. I run the perimeter of the park and as I come around towards the aid station, I can see hubby just before it. He’s all set up on a picnic table under an awning protected from the rain. He has my change of shoes, my hydration pack, one of my honey almond energy bars and multiple other helpful items laid out for me. I kick off my Nike frees and then peel off my wet socks – it feels so good to put dry ones on. Then I pull on my brand new purple Topo trail runners – same style as the blue ones I bought 3 weeks ago in hopes of them being the fix for my Morton’s Neuroma, because they have such a wide toe box (and indeed much to my immense relief I will experience zero Morton’s Neuroma issues this entire 100-miler).I grab a few things and run off to the washroom. I’ll just say this – of all the 100-milers out there, I’m grateful there was a washroom or outhouse at every aid station, making my issue of the day far more manageable than it otherwise might have been.
Hubby’s there waiting for me as I dash out and helps me into my hydration pack. With a quick kiss he tells me he’ll see me at Rattlesnake aid station… And I’m off. I run through the actual aid station and over the timing mat. This is also probably one of the only 100-milers out there that has chip timing!!
I make my way up onto the paved escarpment, which continues for about half a mile before an orange flag directs runners left and onto the trails. Okay – bring on the trails! I run along a very uneven dirt path that drops off on one side into a trench. This continues for a mile or two before it turns into a gravel side road. And it’s here that I happen upon the guy and girl I’d passed before Beals Point again! We’re walking an incline so we get to chatting – they are a husband and wife who are running the race together. For her, it’s her second ultra – and she’s got a pacer waiting for her. They tell me her husband might share the pacer with her or he might do his own thing. You never know what to expect in a hundred miler.
We run through the 4th aid station, Granite Beach. I don’t need anything here so I just run right though. I’ve really been appreciating how runnable the terrain has been so far. The husband-wife duo catch back up to me and we continue chatting as we run. They are hoping to finish between 22 and 24 hours. Oh excellent, me too! And so I stay with them, chatting away.
Eventually we hit trails that are single track so we jostle a bit for position and eventually I find myself out front. I’m the worst for pacing and I go off too fast and before I know it I’m alone. I don’t mind – these are lovely runnable rolling trails. Quite fun actually! As I come around a corner I see a photographer and am obviously a little over-elated as I decide to show off my finishing line pose of hands overhead (lol). Clearly at mile 26ish I’m enjoying myself… Little do I know I’m just about to enter the section that’s earned itself the nickname of ‘meat-grinder’ – ha.I continue on and notice the terrain gets more technical and very much either up or down. I don’t like it so much! And I no longer find it runnable. Clearly it’s just me though, as all of a sudden I hear runners coming up behind me and as I step out of the way, the husband-wife duo as well as two other runners run by me. That’s the last I see of those two (they remain ahead of me and thanks to Facebook I’ll later learn they end up finishing sub 24 hours, hand-in-hand).
I can’t keep up with that little train so am soon on my own again. So I just get into my own little rhythm and continue moving forward steadily. Up and down up and down up down. I try to eat some candied ginger and chocolate covered almonds.
Finally I come upon the 5th aid station, at 32.5 miles. I’m a bit disappointed because I though it was the Rattlesnake aid station where I’d see hubby, but nope, not yet. I’m feeling a bit nauseous but I grab a few chips because I’m craving a salty something. I also grab a salt tab – which the nice volunteers tell me contains 350mg sodium.
I think I’ve been getting enough sodium per litre consumed, but maybe not. As an actual practicing sports nutritionist using the latest ultra running nutritional science coupled with my personal previous ultra running experience, I’d carefully mapped out my fueling strategy in advance to ensure I will get enough fluid as well as enough sodium per litre of fluid consumed – and enough calories per hour. Theoretically I am totally set up for success. But as I grab one tiny piece of potato that I don’t really want (but eat anyway) I can’t help but think somehow I’m already falling off track nutritionally. Seriously, is my stomach this sensitive? The truth is that yes it is, and I’ve more lessons yet to be learned.
I hold the salt capsule for the next mile before finally deciding to take it. I wash it down with water and continue forward. The trails have gotten more runnable and enjoyable again. In fact this 3 mile stretch between aid stations Horseshoe Bar and the upcoming Rattlesnake seem to go by really quickly! As I jog down into Rattlesnake, I see hubby right there and run over to him. I don’t really need anything except a refill on water and Skratch. I do yank out my baggie of ginger and chocolate covered almonds and ask him to remove all the chocolate covered almonds out of all my baggies in my bags. It’s so sad – I was really looking forward to eating these chocolate covered almonds (which I’d eaten without issue in training) but right now my stomach says NO to chocolate (usually my most favourite food ever). Well okay then.
I’m in and out of this aid station – still feeling like every minute counts at this point. So I get back out there and hit the trails again. More relatively runnable single track trails – I’m quite liking them! I walk the steeper inclines and run the rest. There are not so many runners around me any longer. The field has thinned out a bit. However there are still enough that one passes me or I pass one every 10 minutes or so. I also find the markings in the trails much better than the urban loop – I’m not worried about getting lost.
This stretch of 7 miles or so is pleasant… Which is great considering I’m about 60km (37 miles) into this race so far. It’s raining off and on – these purple trail shoes I’d changed into at Beal’s Point are wet through. But I’m still moving at a good enough pace that I suppose I’m making enough body heat that it keeps me warm enough. I’m not uncomfortable.
I take a gel. I’m finding this course to be one that doesn’t have sustained climbs, so no real chance to actually chew food – therefore I’m taking more gels than I’d planned on. Glad I threw them all into my drop bags for the just in case – I’ll end up consuming every single one I brought (which was only five). I do manage to chew on some candied ginger – more because I want the ginger than I actually want to chew (I don’t).
And then here is Last Gasp aid station! I swear the signs call it Cardiac aid station. Either way, it doesn’t sound good – I know a big climb is up next so guessing the name has something to do with what I’m about to encounter. I’m asked what do I need? But I don’t know. I need food but I don’t want any.
And then I know – I want broth. They have some! I’m poured a Styrofoam cup full of chicken broth. I sip on it – it’s hot. I don’t want to stand around waiting for it to cool so I figure I’ll just start walking up and drinking it at the same time. I take off, walking briskly up a gravel service road.
It goes up and up and up. I walk up and up and up. I finish my broth, crush the cup and shove it an empty plastic bag in my pack. Then I pick up my pace to a jog. It’s still up but I can shuffle it up.
The gravel road turns into a paved road. And so I continue my shuffle. There’s no way I’m walking pavement, even if it is up! I pass a runner. Shuffle, shuffle. More up. OMG this up just doesn’t stop!! I pass another runner.
The paved road ends and turns into another gravel service road. Still up. I stop to walk for a minute and then start shuffling up again. A solid 2 miles of straight up. What I wasn’t expecting was that this up would be on roads – I’d pictured a more technical climb. For this reason I’m now ahead of schedule.
Finally I’m diverted back into the trails. And within minutes after this I can hear cheering – oh yay, this must be Overlook aid station! I’ll get to see hubby again here. I climb up, up, up a single track dirt path and yes, there it is – the aid station. I come up and people are cheering – and yes there is hubby! He’s actually just arrived – hasn’t even had a chance to set up our camping chair. I’m a solid 20 minutes faster than anticipated so seeing me surprises him.I run over and ask him to meet me on the other side of the aid station – I’m just going to go through and grab more water to refill my Skratch. I do this quickly and run over to where he’s set up near the washrooms. I’m at about 71.5km now (44.5 miles) and it’s early afternoon. I know I won’t see hubby and all my warm dry clothes and shoes again until maybe 9pm at earliest… So I decide to change into my last pair of dry socks and my blue Topo trail shoes. I also change my sports bra and tank top. Then I yank off my wet arm sleeves and pull on my pink windbreaker instead. It feels so nice to be in dry things again. It’s not raining right now and hubby and I agree the rain must be done for the day – all good from here. It’d better be – I’ve got no more dry clothes or shoes!
I grab some more gels and ginger – and my headlamp which hubby hands to me with fresh batteries, and everything gets stuffed into my pack. I’m ready to go again. And so with a kiss I’m off again.As I start moving again, I realize I’m tired. I’d been so excited to get to Overlook to see hubby – and so happy my crazy climb had actually been somewhat runnable – that it’d taken my mind off the fatigue that had been accumulating and is now definitely showing itself. But these trails are fairly runnable so I run. Hubby informed me I’m about 15th female at the moment, so I’m rather excited to see if I can keep my placing, or even better it…
I know I’m not making as good time anymore but I’m in a good groove so I just go with it, making my way through these trails. It starts to sprinkle a bit. Ah no way. Darn. But it tapers off. I come out to a clearing and see a bridge with a timing mat on it – No Hands Bridge! And aid station. I wonder if the timing mat is set up to capture the halfway point exactly (I don’t think so – it was at about mile 48.5).
As I come into the aid station the only thing I want is broth. So that’s all I grab – and am quickly on my way again. I climb out and within a mile encounter the point where the backend loop begins. So off to my left I go, looking forward to when I’ll be coming back round this point – in maybe 6 hours.
There’s a highway crossing where a crossing guard cheerfully ensures I make it to the other side safely. And then a nice gravel road that’s slightly downhill so I run. I don’t actually feel like running, but the guy ahead of me is running, so I will run too. I follow him. Eventually there’s a bit of an incline – he walks it but it’s a very runnable service road so I shuffle up and pass him. I catch another runner and shuffle past him. And continue shuffling.
The road becomes uneven. One of the runners I just passed comes up and pulls alongside me. I’m trying to choke down some candied ginger. I’m actually hungry but my stomach doesn’t want anything.
“How’re you doing?” he asks. I guess I’m surviving so that’s what I tell him. I ask him how his stomach is. “Totally fine!” he replies, “My trainer told me to use protein shakes, so I bought these protein shakes from Safeway and put them in my drop bags”.
He’s been drinking grocery store protein shakes and his stomach is doing great… I seriously don’t even feel like a nutrition expert at the moment (in hindsight they were probably all-in-one meal replacement shakes, which actually does make sense). Everything I know to be true doesn’t feel true right now. I suck back a gel. At least those appear to be working. But that was my last one.
It’s started raining again. Really raining. Soon my pink coat is suctioned onto my arms it’s so wet. Worse, I can’t help but step in puddles and my shoes are soaked. I’m dismayed to think I’ll now have to run through the night in wet shoes.
The road has turned into single track trails and protein shake guy is long gone ahead of me. I come upon an older guy leaning against a rock, taking a break from climbing. He’s clearly struggling, and says as much as I pass him.
A girl and guy pass me – I think only the girl is a racer and the guy is her pacer. But it’s hard to tell now. Runners could begin picking up pacers as early as back at Overlook, and again at No Hands – so there are a good number of pacers out on the trails now with various racers. I back and forth a few times with a girl who seems to be wearing a garbage bag to protect her from the rain.
I’m struggling along – shuffling, when a pacer passes me and behind him is the older guy who looked done for leaning against the rock! He’s definitely gotten a second wind because here he is running along and chatting up a storm with the pacer. Behind him is another runner who’s not saying much – it’s his pacer the older guy is chatting to. I decide to try to latch onto them and stick with them. The older guy is entertaining to listen to. It appears he had 3 gels and that was what gave him his second wind. I think wow do I ever need 3 gels right now! But I have zero.
To my relief I’m able to stick with them and we continue along – a nice little train of 4 runners – for the remainder of this stretch. We all pass that girl I’d been back and forthing with. I listen to them count down the distance to our next aid station, and it motivates me. We pass protein shake guy. I do my best to hang onto my train.
Finally there it is! ALT (Auburn Lake Trails) aid station. As we come down the path into it a volunteer yells up are there any drop bags he can grab for anyone? I yell my number down to him, 70, and he hands me my bag as I reach the bottom.
I grab a cup of broth and fill my water bladder to add more Skratch to as I come to the food table and then look for a chair. Finding one I gratefully sit my butt down and dig into my drop bag. There is my black long-sleeved half zip in it, safely tucked away in a plastic bag. Ahhh, a dry shirt. I rip off my soaked pink coat and pull my black shirt on instead. I also grab a new baggie of candied ginger and fruit chews out. A sweet volunteer, who is very pregnant – takes my garbage and my drop bag, telling me to go – she’ll ensure my drop bag gets back to where it belongs. Gratefully, I take off – just after grabbing my headlamp out from my pack and wrapping it around my wrist. I know it’ll be getting dark in the next half hour or so.
The trails here have great views. The light is fading – I won’t be able to see them much longer – but for now I enjoy them. I even pull my phone out for a picture. The only 2 pictures I end up taking on the run!
As I shuffle along the light does indeed quickly fade and I pull my headlamp on. My pace slows as I become more cautious of the uneven ground in the dark and a runner passes me. I play back and forth again with the same girl from hours ago. “You’re so strong on the climbs!” I admire her ability as she passes me on yet another incline.
“I guess I’m trained for them”, she replies, “I trained to run Pine to Palm 100”. Which is a 100-miler with lots of elevation that had been cancelled back in September thanks to forest fires. Yup, makes sense.
Anther guy passes me. I know I’m slowing down but now I’m also starting to get disheartened.
I see I have cell service, so I call hubby to ask him to please bring me a dry pair of socks if possible. My feet are so wet. It’s nice to hear his voice. I just have to make it to Overlook, and I’ll see him again. I will myself to keep moving forward.
It’s pitch black now, and raining a bit again. This section is feeling long. Very long (it is long – 14km / 9 miles long to be exact). I shuffle where it’s flat or downhill and walk any inclines. All of a sudden I come to a very steep path that is ridiculously muddy. I check to ensure we really are supposed to up this ‘path’? Yes, indeed, there are orange flags with reflective tags going up the steep incline. I take a few steps up. It’s hard to near impossible to not slide with each step. I slide and my hand catches me. As I pull my hand up off the ground I see the mud on it – it’s the colour of, well, poo – it’s like poopy mud. It is the grossest colour ever.
I gingerly continue my climb up this mountain of mud. Slipping and sliding, somehow I manage not to fall and actually do make enough ground that I reach the top of poo hill. Thank goodness!! As I continue the climb (on normal trails again), I hear yelps behind me. And more yelps. I know the yelping runners are sliding about in the mud.
The climbing goes on for what feels like a very long time. But I know sometimes just being in the dark makes me feel slower, or like time goes by slower. I’m also tired. I’ve been running/hiking/shuffling/climbing/walking for over 14 hours now. I really want to just get to that next aid station – No Hands Bridge – and then it’s just a few more miles past that to see hubby.
There still feels like there’s a good amount of runners around me. I’m at a section where it’s flatter now and there’s a lot of ‘back and forthing’ with runners I can’t really see because of the dark. But it makes me feel not so alone out here so I don’t mind.
Finally I hear cheers – yessss, the aid station! But as I run down towards it, everything is wrong. This isn’t No Hands aid station. It’s Highway 49 aid station. I’d completely forgotten this one was here and stood in between ALT and No Hands. I’m at 108km / 67.5 miles now – and completely deflated. I just can’t believe this isn’t No Hands. I grab some coke. And continue onwards. Because what else is there to do?
I walk back into the trails and begin shuffling forward again. I was told at the aid station it’s only 3.5 miles until the next aid station but right now that feels like an eternity. I’m also very behind schedule so I text hubby to tell him so, and not to go to Overlook yet. He texts me to say he’s already there. Oh shoot. I’m going to be a while.
I shuffle forward. I pass a runner. A few runners pass me.
I’m gaining on a couple of younger runners ahead – I’m guessing younger (maybe mid to late 20’s). I see a runner pass them and as he does one of the guys says, “Ah darn I thought you were that cute blonde I saw a while back!”
Lol – I wonder… I shuffle forward a few more steps and come upon him. As I do he turns and says, “Oh haha oops – there you are, did you hear that?” and then “How’re you doing?!!”
I laugh and then lament on about how I thought the last aid station was No Hands and am now struggling to keep going. He is full of positive energy even though he’s also struggling. So we get to chatting – him, me and his pacer – and as he keeps throwing pick up lines out at me, I keep responding with mild shut downs as well as questions.
“How many hundred milers have you done?” I ask.
“Forty!” he responds quickly. And then laughs, “No I’m just kidding – this is my first one ever.”
He asks me how I like California to which I respond I love it… To which he asks me if I’d like any help becoming a permanent resident… To which I reply thanks but I’ve already got a US passport… And so the bantering continues.
Needless to say, now bolstered by the attempt of a runner over a decade younger trying to pick me up (hubby said good on him for trying haha) as well as his positive energy, I’m feeling a bit better and take to running faster than he is. I leave them behind, grateful they were able to share some positive energy with me.
I catch another guy running along, and pass him. I feel like we must be getting close to that point where I’ll close the loop I began hours ago, back just before I met protein shake guy. I’m feeling like this trail is runnable, at this point anyway, and am moving along well as I pass another runner.
Finally there it is – No Hands Bridge aid station. I’m so relieved to finally be here. I grab a cup of broth. Then ask a volunteer where the port-a-potty is. I know this sounds gross but it’s nice and warm sitting in the port-a-potty out of the wind and I’m not sure I want to come out. Of course I do though. It’s time to knock off these last 6km before I finally see hubby again.
I walk out of No Hands aid station and as I’m walking over the bridge I realize I’m immediately behind a runner who just picked up a pacer. However it wasn’t ‘his’ pacer he picked up – a guy had been standing at No Hands asking solo runners if they’d like a pacer – and this runner had been the first to say yes. I’m wishing I hadn’t sat so long in the port-a-potty – if I had just gotten there 30 seconds sooner maybe it would have been me that he’d asked, “Would you like a pacer?” And I’m quite certain I would have said yes.
But I’m still solo. So I walk behind them for a half mile, listening to their conversation. When they start running again, so do I. But the trails wind along and I lose them. I’m totally alone now. I shuffle along. And walk. There seems to be a fair amount of up. I remember loving this section going the other direction. Which makes sense. If it was mostly down on the way out I’d have loved it – and now it’d be mostly up. Walk shuffle, walk shuffle.
I glance down at my GPS watch… And NOOOOOOOO!!! It’s dead. I’m so mad at myself for not checking it earlier. I specifically bought this watch because I can charge it on the go and therefore capture an entire 100-miler on it. But here it is totally dead. I stop, pulling over the side of the path and grab my charger. As I plug it in I see it’s saved the first 118km of my run thus far and now I must begin a new run. So I press start, strap the watch onto the back of my pack – and will myself to get going again.
After an eternity, I realize I’m really close to Overlook. I pull my phone out and see I have cell service so I text hubby to tell him I’m about a kilometer out. In reality I’m only a few hundred metres out and so in the next few minutes I’m climbing the hill and see him, set up beside the washrooms again. I jog over and crash-land into the chair he has set up for me. I tell him how tired I am.
He pulls out socks he’d washed and dried for me and – you won’t believe this – he also pulls out my purple trail shoes I’d changed out of 8 hours earlier which he’d dried out for me. I know, best husband ever. Seriously though, his support over the course of this race was invaluable – and I’m so grateful.
I decide to change my tank top and pull on a new black long-sleeved top. I also change out of my shorts and into my ‘emergency’ black capris (I totally thought I’d remain in shorts the entire race). I pull on my ‘magic raincoat’ (named as such because it’s kept me warm even on Vancouver’s rainiest of days) and grab my gloves as well. Then I even grab my headband just in case. I’m tired of being cold so I’ll just take it all!
Hubby changes the batteries in my headlamp for me – and with that it’s time to get back out there. I tell him I’ll see him soon at Rattlesnake… And off I go. I run over to the actual aid station part of Overlook and as I fill my water and Skratch I see rice krispie squares sitting there. So far no food has been appealing but all of a sudden I really want a rice krispie square. I stuff it in my mouth. It’s delicious so I have another.
My water bottles are handed back to me and as I’m shoving then into my pack I make a last-minute decision to grab one last rice krispie square as well. And finally back into the very dark trails I go. I don’t make it very far before I’m completely confused on which way to go. I’ve just come out of the trails onto a gravel road and can’t figure out if I should go straight back into more trails or turn left and go down the gravel road.
As I stand there trying to decide (I totally can’t see any markers), an older runner pops out of the trail behind me. He tells me it’s definitely to the left and asks if I’m running with anyone. “No, I’m solo”, I tell him. He then proceeds to let me know he’s pacing his friend. “Well, he used to be my friend before tonight”, he laughs and then adds, “Would you like to tag along with us?”
“Yes, I’d like that very much”, I gratefully accept. So off I go with them down the road. It’s an odd pacing arrangement they seem to have – with the pacer a good 100 metres ahead of the racer. I chat intermittently with them both, running kind of in the middle with the racer sometimes catching up with me and the pacer sometimes dropping back to me. They’ve just returned from a grand vacation overseas with their wives where they ran a couple of marathons (which he wonders aloud maybe may not have been such a good idea a few weeks before a 100-miler) and missed their flight home – which cost them $7,000 to straighten out and finally get themselves stateside again.
As we’re chatting here and again, I know what point of the race I’m in. We are descending the same gravel and paved roads that I’d climbed earlier that day – the ones I’d thought would be technical but were actually pretty runnable roads up the whole way. So here I am and I should just be FLYING down this hill. It’s the most runnable section of the entire race really, particularly for me and my love of downhill running. But despite my love of downhill running and my love for night running – nothings working right. I can’t run.
My left knee hurts. My quads burn. My legs feel as though they might fall off. I am shuffling at best down this hill. And at points I must stop to walk a bit. I’m crushed – I want to run so bad. But I just can’t.
And then the rice krispie squares catch up with me – and send me searching for a side path to run off on as my stomach turns upside down. I hear one of the guys say, “Where’s she going?” and I can only yell out, “I just, I um… Yah, bathroom break”. They disappear ahead of me and I never see them again.
I’m feeling a bit better as I get back onto the gravel road and continue my painful descent. But I still can’t gain any speed. I saw a few runners pass me as I was off in the bushes, and now another guy passes me. This is hugely frustrating. Why can’t I just run down this darn hill?!!!
Finally I reach the bottom and with it, the Last Gasp aid station – 124km / 77 miles into this race. I gladly accept of cup of hot broth. Definitely no food though. Stomach has just had it. I fuss with my bib and one of my blue bib tabs holding it on pops off. I pop it back on but it pops off again. I ask one of the volunteers if he has a pin. He runs off to his car to check but comes back empty-handed. I forget why I wanted a pin – I’ve got the tab back on and as long as I don’t touch it, it’ll be fine. Having now wasted enough time at this aid station, I must go again.
Back into the trails – this time the next stop is Rattlesnake, where I’ll see hubby a final time before the finish line. I’m cold so I tuck my shirt into my capris and then do up my coat all the way and pull on my headband, adjusting my headlamp overtop of it. I also yank my gloves on. There. Better. I shuffle forward, making my way up and down this rolling single track trail. I walk. I shuffle. An eternity goes by and I’m feeling so bad that hubby is waiting for me in the cold. I wish I could make it to him faster so then he can go sleep. But I can’t so I’ll just keep doing the best I can.
I come upon a group of runners – it’s the guy who’d tried picking me up earlier! And with him a new pacer. We get to chatting again – we are all just walking now. Maybe shuffling here and there… Mostly walking. An older guy joins us – same guy who’d gotten his second wind with 3 gels! Now struggling again and just wanting to finish. We are all in the same boat. Any time goals are long gone out the window – now all we want to do is just get to the finish line. We resolve to walk it in together. So we walk and chat. A girl passes us – and as she does she tells us how the waffle she ate gave here all the energy she has right now. “One of those packaged waffle thingy’s by Gu, you know, not like an actual waffle”, she tries to explain.
What I would do for a waffle thingy right now. Except I know my stomach would say nope – so it’s useless. I know part of the reason I’ve been reduced to mostly walking is lack of fuel. Lack of calories. But there is literally nothing I can do about it. Not right here in this moment anyways.
We all make our way forward together and I’m grateful for their company. Finally we reach a landmark which tells me we’re getting close to Rattlesnake – and I’m so relieved. I’ll see hubby really soon. And then here it is… We’re climbing down to get into the aid station. I leave my group and run over to hubby – and as I reach him I beg him to let me sit in the car for just a bit. I just need to warm up. I’m so cold and so exhausted and I really just need to sit in the warm for a bit. He spends all of 10 seconds trying to convince me to just get back out there asap, concedes, and takes me over to the car, blasting the heat on full.
I sit in the warmth of the car and lay my head back. It’s 1:00am. I’ve been out there for about 20 hours now. I’ve covered about 135km / 84 miles. All I want to do is fall asleep.
And here is where I make my declaration that I’ll never run another 100-miler again. And definitely NEVER a 200-miler!!
As much as hubby may wish I am speaking the truth, he knows me better than that and knows that my overwhelming fatigue and discomfort is doing the talking. As much as he wants to let me fall asleep in the car, he knows how important it is to me that I finish.
And so he helps me get warm, tries to get food into me (doesn’t work) and gently encourages me to get going again. At 1:20am, I’m kissing him bye, having resolved to walk it into the finish line. He did the math for me and said I’ll cross the finish line at about 8:00am, making for a 27 hour 100-miler. Three hours slower than I’d hoped for but still faster than my first 100-miler.
Leaving the warm car I walk back to the aid station tent, refill my water and am handed a couple of Tums by a volunteer after telling him my nausea wouldn’t allow me to eat anything. I stand in the warming tent for a brief minute, then visit the port-a-potty. And finally, having exhausted every available option for not getting back out there, I get my butt back onto the trails. And walk.
A lot of runners must have passed me while I was getting warm in the car because at this point I’m feeling like I’m pretty alone out here. Not totally alone, mind you – if I stop for a few minutes someone will catch up and pass me. I know this because it’s what I’ve been doing the past few kilometres. I’m powerwalking at best, but even that is strenuous – and I’m so tired my eyes are drooping closed. So once every 15 minutes or so I find a rock and sit down for a minute, until I see a light coming at me. Then I get up and start walking again (I don’t really want other racers to see me sitting down).
After maybe just over an hour I come upon Horseshoe Bar aid station – km 139 / mile 86.5 and I see they have bacon – finally something that appeals to my stomach! I eat 2 pieces of bacon and they easily go down. A volunteer offers me a wrap with eggs and bacon in it, and because my stomach says yes, I take it and it easily goes down. Too bad it was the last one – I want more. And more bacon. I grab a hot chocolate instead, and it also easily goes down. Another volunteer helps me change my headlamp batteries. Finally after a trip to the port-a-potty, it’s time to leave this nice aid station. One of the volunteers reminds all the runners there to stock up as we’ve got the ‘meat grinder’ ahead of us!! Oh boy. My legs are already ground up thank you very much. But here goes nothing.
I set out again – this will be a long section. And walk. And walk. And sit. And walk. I see another perfect rock to sit on. No, scratch that. To lie down on. With the poison oak on either side of the trails of course you cannot sit or lie down just anywhere. So when I see a rock not covered in moss, it’s like a sign – here, have a seat Sarah! So I gladly do. But this rock is bigger with a nice large flat top so I sit and then swing my legs up onto it. I lay down on my side, resting my head on my hands. It’s so comfortable. Ahhh this rock is amazing. I drift off… And hear runners coming up on me. I force my eyes open just as they come upon me, and make a joke about how the perfect bed was just sitting right there, trailside, waiting for me. They don’t find my joke funny.
I pop up quickly and tag along behind them. I shuffle like how they are in order to try to keep up with them. But I can’t keep up with them and they disappear ahead of me. I’m not sure they even realized I was trying to keep up with them.
I’m alone again. Powerwalking. Just walking. Sitting. Shuffling. Sleepwalking even maybe? I’m so tired. I hate that I’m walking. I trained to RUN this 100-miler. And here I am walking. And sitting on every moss-free flat-topped stone that shows up. In my head I’ve failed what I set out to do. But I’ll be damned if I don’t get that belt buckle. I may not finish the way I wanted to, running a sub 24 hour 100-miler, but I swear I will finish this race.
Another runner passes me. He has tattoos covering each calf. No way. Tattooed calves runner dude from the city loop. He caught me. Passed me. I try to stick with him… But I cannot.
I stumble along for what feels like hours. It pretty much is nearly that – I’m averaging about 12 to 14 minutes per kilometre (about 3 miles per hour). Every so often a runner, or a runner with their pacer, passes me.
I hear two runners coming up on me, a pacer and her racer – they are shuffling forward. I am walking. But they aren’t moving too much faster than me, so as they pass, they call out to me. “Would you like to join us?” they ask. And gratefully I accept. I’d love company.
These two girls share the same name so that’s easy to remember. They are talking about the exact lady issue that has had me in its grips all day so it’s an easy intro and the conversation flows. All of a sudden I’m no longer as tired as I was moments ago. Oh don’t get me wrong – I’m still exhausted and everything hurts and my legs are still going to fall off at any moment – but I’m now able to keep my eyes open and my last sitting on a rock break was half an hour ago (and no more will be taken for the remainder of the race). Amazing what just having the right company can do for you…
The racer girl just had a baby not long ago and has been stopping to pump milk along the way today. Her pacer girl is drinking whiskey and coke out of her hydration bottles – she figures a good pacer should be entertaining. I think they are both amazing and am just so grateful they found me.
Together we all shuffle and powerwalk and chat – probably for the better part of 3 to 4 miles. At one point I find myself in the front and inadvertently end up pulling ahead of them. When I realize I’m a good distance ahead of them I turn and call back, “Thank you so much for getting me going again!”
I run into the last aid station before the finish line – Granite Beach aid station. I’ve now completed about 153km / 95 miles. I grab some hot chocolate and that’s all I need. I’m off again in a hurry. All of a sudden I just really want to reach that finish line and I’m feeling like I’m actually going to make it!
I take off, running up and around into the dark – and hit a point where I’m not sure I’m going the right way. I check the maps I downloaded onto my watch – and it shows me going wildly off course. So I panic and turn around. I’m shuffling back the way I came when I see two headlamps coming at me. It’s the same name runners – who tell me I was actually going the right way, all good.
So I turn around and run with them again. We’ve reach a point where it seems we’re running along a service road of sorts – it’s rolling. So we walk the up and run the down. This time I stick with them and on the road we all run side by side. Finally we hit the last bit of trail. The dark is slowly lifting and in the eerie dawn light, it’s easy to hallucinate objects. My eyes are playing tricks on me and I see monkeys on the side of the path where only a tarp lies on the ground. We are running now more than walking – desperately anxious for this to be over. I text hubby that I’m close – maybe a km away now.
And finally I see the end of the trail and we exit it, onto the paved escarpment that leads to the finish line. We run down it – it’s maybe 1km long – and finally turn to our left and onto the grass, down a little hill and there’s the finish line. We run to the finish – pacer girl has pulled off to the side and I’m careful to let her racer girl finish before me as I feel it’s only fair because she found me and got me going again (and we discovered we’re in the same age group… Final results have her officially finishing 2 seconds ahead of me!).
So I cross the finish line and a medal is put around my neck and a finisher jacket is handed to me. And my belt buckle is handed to me. The clock reads 26 hours, 36 minutes and 25 seconds. Nearly an hour faster than my Mountain Lakes 100 first 100-miler finish!! And I’m truly happy with my 100-miler PB, even while the nagging disappointment of having to walk it in stays with me.
It took me all of less than an hour after finishing Rio Del Lago to decide that of course I want to do another 100-miler. And hubby was not in the least bit surprised to hear it. However, I definitely think it’s worth noting – I never want to do another 100-miler the way I just did Rio. To bonk so hard, to have to walk it in like that and to not be able to take in calories – these are all factors that I’ve resolved to work on and do my best to fix before tackling my next 100-miler.
It took me 9 attempts before I was able to finally break 4 hours in the marathon. I’m not sure how many tries it’ll take to break 24-hours in the 100-miler (hopefully less than nine!!), but I swear I’ll keep at it until I do. Sure I need to land on ideal training and nutrition for my body personally, as well as dial in on some finer details… But I know I will get there. If nothing else I’m strong-willed, committed and recklessly persistent.
And I’ll never say never. Because I’ve learned time and again that once we set our minds to something, we can do so much more than what in this present moment feels humanly possible.
Run… Be it faster or farther, for freedom or fun… Just run…