For those who don’t know, I’m a runner. I mostly run marathons but here’s the story to how I recently completed my first 100 mile race.
It all started last year after pacing my friend Chris for his first 100miler (Pine to Palm) and witnessing that it was possible. Prior to that, I had no desire to do a 100miler. It wasn’t even in on my radar even though I was surrounded by ultra-runners. But somehow being involved with the process and seeing someone go through it first-hand inspired me to want to personally experience what is possible.
Among 100milers, Mountain Lakes looked relatively easy with a benign elevation profile and non-technical course, mostly on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). It was also local (at least for me) and easy to get into (no lottery or pre-requisites). Since we had crewed Chris together, it was easy to get Sam and Gaby on board though I’m not sure whose idea it was first. Convincing Lori to sign up wasn’t as hard as I thought (thanks to peer pressure!) and soon we had a team of four who would be coming from different places to do this race together. (Sam from NC; Gaby from Vancouver, BC; Lori from the Bay Area)
You can’t talk about a race without the training that went into it. The race is, in fact, just the punctuation mark at the end of a hopefully perfectly structured sentence. I knew Mountain Lakes would be my “A” race of the year and every race or run I did before then was merely training and prep for that. I started signing up for a bunch of trail races to keep me motivated on the weekends, especially when I knew the runs would be getting longer but it wasn’t until May when I actually wrote out my weekly race and training schedule to keep me organized. I didn’t use a formal training plan (I’m never good at following those anyway), but I did ask seasoned ultra-runners and looked at some templates to give me a general sense of what my training plan should look like and used races as anchors.
My weekday runs didn’t change much. They ranged between 4-6 easy miles on the road. I saved the long trail runs for the weekends, ramping up the miles each week with some relative-rest weeks in between (emphasis on the word “relative”). I was even able to work in some vacation weeks with family and travel, trying not to be too hard on myself knowing that they wouldn’t be high-mileage weeks. I also scheduled in a couple night runs. Something I learned from pacing Chris at night was that I needed to be more comfortable running when everyone else was sleeping. I’m thankful that I have other crazy runner friends who were willing to run with me under the stars, many of whom were recruited to crew/pace.
The running/racing didn’t start picking up until about a month before Race Day. That’s when it really started to feel like a lot of running (especially for someone who likes to cross-train)! The biggest training weekend was Squamish 50/50 (50 miles on Saturday followed by 50K on Sunday). I was the most nervous about this race because I’d never run that much before and 2 weeks prior, I had just run WhiteRiver50 not feeling like I could run 10 miles the next day, let alone a 50K! However, completing Squamish 50/50 with Gaby gave me confidence that I could finish the 100 miler. This was followed by Transelkirks, a 100 mile stage race over 5 days, which was the peak week of my training. The taper that came after included an epic Grand Canyon trip with a dozen friends during which we ran Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim over 2 days. It actually ended up being hotel-to-hotel-to-hotel (30 miles each day). It even sounds crazy as I write this!
And finally, 2 weeks of true taper. As you can imagine, I had the normal taper twitchiness. I wanted to run. I was ready.
Aside from the running, we needed to recruit crew and pacers. Since I live the closest to the race, it would be easiest for me to recruit my local running friends but I wanted to make sure we had enough support for everyone. There was some shuffling around with pacers and runners but it all worked out. In the end, we had 10 people crew for us 4, coming from the Seattle area and flying in from the Bay Area:
- Chris: Gaby’s BF was in by default. Having his own 100miler the weekend before, it was up in the air as to whether or not he’d be able to pace Gaby. But being such a strong runner, he was looking fresh and ready by Race Day!
- Emily: our designated crew captain. Already initially knowing 3 of the 4 runners (and later meeting Gaby at Transelkirks) and with experience crewing and ultra-running, she was all aboard.
- Karissa: knowing this would be an epic birthday weekend for me, she was in from the start
- Kris: enthusiastic from the get-go to come down for the experience and support
- Jon/Sherry: knowing all the runners, they were enthusiastic to help crew/pace. It was just a matter of fitting it into their work schedule. It was tight but they made it work!
- Shelaine: able and willing to pace me from the beginning.
- Justin: Shelaine’s husband was coming along by default but ended up being recruited to pace.
- Josh/Tara: they didn’t decide until last minute but ended up being key in transportation thanks to the Subi!
- Gabe/Miranda: Gabe was initially recruited to help pace our team but ended up being snagged by another friend/runner Jesse who didn’t have a pacer. It was still awesome to see him and Miranda there for support.
I knew how important the crew would be to help with the execution and flow of the race and transitions. These were the “lucky” chosen to help us keep it together on Race Day and get it done! Having crewed and paced last year, I was aware of the lack of sleep, driving on sketchy roads, and waiting in the cold that the crew would be experiencing. Whether or not they knew what they were in for, the sacrifice didn’t go unnoticed. I’m eternally grateful for I surely wouldn’t have had the race that I did without them.
Chris and Gaby drove down from Vancouver and we carpooled together on the way down, arriving at Olallie Lake on Friday evening, in time for packet pickup and the pasta dinner. Kris and Karissa joined us there that evening and we had a quick huddle to discuss their roles on Race Day.
Lori and Sam had arrived on Thursday evening and were staying at a hotel in Government Camp, about 1.5hours away. We had originally booked a place at Detroit Lake where we would all stay together but because of the recent fires and road closures, we had to change our accommodation plans. As it happened, we wouldn’t see each other until Race Day morning.
Since Chris, Gaby, Kris, Karissa, and I were staying in a cabin at Olallie Lake with no running water or electricity, we turned in pretty early. The race had a late start at 8am on Saturday which gave us plenty of time to get ready. That was a good thing because there were still some decisions to be made like what to wear (which I thought I had figured out the night before) and where to pin my race bib (shorts vs shirt). The temperature was forecasted to be between mid 30s to mid 50s with partly cloudy skies on Saturday and sun on Sunday. I know what to wear when it’s above 50 (shorts and a T) and below 40 (tights and long sleeve) but when it’s in the 40s, it can go either way. How cold would I really get at night and how warm would I be during the day? I had planned on starting off in shorts and a T-shirt, figuring I’d warm up quickly and would change halfway through. However, if I pinned my number on my shirt and needed to change shirts mid-race, I’d have to re-pin which would take up too much time and effort. If I pinned it on my shorts and later decided to change into tights, I could always wear my shorts over my tights to avoid re-pinning. The only thing was that I wasn’t used to wearing my bib on my shorts and wasn’t sure if it’d bother me. Hence, the dilemma. I ended up deciding to wear shorts and a long sleeve shirt and pinning my bib on my shorts.
Despite all this, I felt calm. In fact, I’m not sure I felt much at all. Not that I was numb but more that there was a sense of peace knowing that it’d get done. It didn’t bother me that I didn’t know HOW it was going to happen. All I knew was that it was going to happen. I think it was this profound innate sense of already “knowing” and trusting it that got me through the day. If this is what enlightenment is like, then I’m all for it!
At the race briefing at 7:45am, they mentioned snow on the course for about 20miles in the first part (the south end) of the race. It would be just above ankle deep. This didn’t bother me. As long as I wasn’t a front runner, I knew the trail would be trod enough by the time I went through. Plus, having done winter runs in the snow, I wasn’t too worried. I started in the middle of the pack, just to be sure.
At 8:01am (we started late), we were off! The first 3 miles was on easy gravel road. I don’t think anyone really noticed the gentle incline. From there, we hit single track in the snow. I really enjoyed this part of the race and I think it was my favorite section. We ran past about a dozen lakes and they all looked so serene with pristine reflections surrounded by untouched snow (until we came by and turned the snow into a sloshy mess). The only thing was that it was hard to pass if you got stuck behind slower people and it created a bottle neck when letting people pass on the short 1 mile out-and-back. Luckily, I was in the first quarter and there wasn’t too much of a parade ahead of me. I still got a bit impatient at times but had to remind myself that I still had 90+ miles to go and I could afford to save my legs.
They said it was 20 miles of snow but it was actually less. Maybe closer to about 15miles but coming back, the conditions were worse. By then, there were some big puddles of cold snow melt and it was hard to avoid getting my feet wet. I did the best I could to maneuver around the larger wet areas quickly and did a pretty good job about not getting entirely soaked. Good thing I was wearing the free wool socks we got with our swag!
Back on the fire road with 3 miles to go until Olallie Lake where my crew was waiting for me at mile 26, I felt good cardio and mental-wise but I could feel my legs were tired. Not to mention my obliques and abs were sore, probably from all the balancing with running and sliding in the snow. I kept a slow steady jog for those 3 miles, reminding myself that it was still early and resisting the urge to try to run fast.
Hearing the cheers and seeing all the people at Olallie Lake put a huge smile on my face and lifted me up. It felt like the finish line! I had just completed a marathon in 6.5hours! Wasn’t that enough? Even though my legs would’ve been happy with that, my heart knew I still had 74 miles to go. I made it a quick transition at the aid station. I handed my gloves and buff to Karissa to put in my 55mile drop bag and while she filled my bottle up with “sugar water” (or whatever it was they had there), I took a quick pee break. Coming out of the loo, I grabbed a couple PBJ quarters and was off. I wish I could’ve stayed longer to say hi to everyone (Jon, Sherry, Shelaine, and Justin had just arrived that morning) but I was on a mission. I just had to make it to mile 55 where I’d see my crew again.
As I left that aid station, I started wondering when that would be. I had to go about another 30 miles. That would take about 6 hours? It seemed so far away so I dropped that thought and broke it down by aid station instead. For the most part, my mind was pretty empty during those next 30 miles. I just let my legs do what they know to do best. I do remember thinking that it felt long between Olallie Meadows and Pinheads aid stations (7.7 miles) and that it was a super quick downhill between Pinheads and the next one (Warm Springs). I was able to open up my stride and stretch out a bit. I even passed a few people. I made it to Warm Springs in just over an hour and didn’t quite believe it was the 7.2 miles they posted but who cares? I was on a roll! (I later found out that it was closer to 6 miles which makes more sense.)
It started getting dim at around 7:30pm-ish and I tried to hold off on using my headlamp for as long as possible but ended up getting it out a couple miles before the 50-mile aid station. That couple miles felt lonely in the dark and I couldn’t wait to get to mile 55 so that I could pick up a pacer. I caught up to Jesse at the mile 50 aid station (Red Wolf) around 7:45pm. He had passed me way early on some time in the snow so I was surprised to see him there. We ran a bit together but he’s generally a faster runner so I let him go. Only 5 more miles before I’d get to see crew again and that thought pulled me along.
I knew Karissa’s hip was bothering her and I’d told her not to worry if she wasn’t able to pace me but at that point, I really hoped she’d be okay to run with me because I wanted/needed company in the dark. I rolled into Clackamas Ranger Station at mile 55 at 9pm. Karissa wasn’t able to run so I picked up Justin instead to accompany me on the 16 miles around Timothy Lake. So glad he came! It was nice to have someone to run with, especially in the dark. It was a beautiful clear crisp night which everyone said got close to or below freezing but I didn’t feel the cold and Justin warmed up quickly. I asked about the others, how they were doing, and how the crew spent the day, but for the most part, we ran in silence. For a bit, I was taking longer blinks than normal but perked myself up by eating something and looking forward to the next aid station, evading the sleepiness.
It was nice to have warm broth/soup at the aid stations. And warm food, too! Those aid stations at night can be dangerous and suck you in longer than planned. There was one with Christmas lights lined all the way across the bridge and with beer shots! (I didn’t take one.) Even though it would’ve been nice to chit chat with the volunteers there, I knew I couldn’t stay long. That was my strategy: I gained time at the aid stations where others would take too long. In fact, we leap-frogged with Josh and Jesse around the lake but passed them every time at the aid stations.
Coming back into Clackamas at mile 71, I sent Justin ahead to alert the others and get some broth, soup, and waffles (yes, waffles!!!) ready while I changed into my compression tights. Even though I wasn’t cold, I knew it’d only get colder and there wouldn’t be another opportunity later to change. I saw Karissa there under the bright lights with my gear laid out and I changed out of my shorts right then and there out in the open in front of everyone even though there was a warming tent. Thank God for Karissa to help get those compression tights on me! I pulled my shorts over the tights (so I wouldn’t have to re-pin. Remember the dilemma I had in the morning?) and was out of that aid station off running with Shelaine at around MN:30.
That left 7.5hrs for just under 30 miles if I wanted to make it under 24 hours. That seemed possible, albeit tight. I tried to keep up a trot or at least a fast hike but I could feel my legs getting slower and my headlamp getting dimmer. There were some fast downhills where I didn’t have great visibility of the trail but just trusted my legs to stretch out and go. I was also partly relying on Shelaine’s light behind me (another perk for having a pacer). Then Shelaine’s light started to get twitchy as well and we were really hoping for the sun to come up ASAP. We both had spare batteries but didn’t want to stop to switch them out, given that we were moving quickly at that time and it was so close to sunrise.
I left Pinheads aid station at around 5:30am. Two and a half hours with 11 miles to go still seemed doable though when I mentioned it to Shelaine, she said, “Okay but you’re gonna have to run.” “Okay, okay. I’ll try.” And so I did. For as much as I could. There was also another girl behind me trying to get under 24hrs. I somehow managed to lose her on one of my fast downhills but she caught me about an hour later when I was walking. It was also at a time when I had to take a poop. (What can I say? I’ve always been pretty regular.) I thought I could hold off until the finish but it was weighing me down. So there I did it. I left a perfect emoji-shaped poop off the side of the trail. Boy, did I feel better after that!
Still, the miles didn’t seem to be ticking off as quickly as the minutes were. We had about an hour and 20minutes with still about 5-7 miles (we were having trouble calculating…) left to go. Then a couple of guys who’d been leap frogging us since mile 77 zoomed past. Shelaine called out to them, “We’ll pass you at the next (and last) aid station!” but they wouldn’t be stopping there. They were on a sub-24 mission as well and were booking it. So Shelaine said, “Well then, we’ll just have to keep up!” And keep up we did, going about 10min/mile. For about a mile. Until there was uphill again. And then they were gone. And I was left to walking/running again. Sigh.
I got to the last aid station about 3.6 miles from the finish at around 7:20am. Even though it still might have been possible to come in under 24hrs (on fresh legs for sure!), in my heart I knew it wasn’t going to happen. And if it wasn’t going to happen, I sure didn’t want to finish in 24:01 or anywhere between 24:00-24:10 for that matter! So I thought to myself, “You know, if I walk from here to the end, I’ll finish in about an hour and come in around 24:20-24:30. I’m okay with that.” But I didn’t walk the whole way to the end. I still ran what I could, making up some minutes as 8 o’clock came and went. At that time, Shelaine said to me, “We still have about 15minutes left. Let’s make it 14.” And sure enough, I finished in 24:14 with a smile on my face and feeling good!
All in all, I had a perfectly executed race. The icing on top was a 3rd place overall female finish. The cherry would’ve been coming in under 24hours but the desire to finish sub-24 didn’t overcome my original goal to finish feeling good. Plus, I never liked those cherries on top anyway.
Everything hurt. My hands and feet were swollen and my face was puffy. For a couple days, I was hungry but didn’t feel like eating anything. Monday was spent in a daze, feeling like I just pulled an all-nighter (which I did). My recovery included sleep, a massage, an Epsom salt bath, hot yoga, biofreeze, magnesium, and glutamine. Now, three days later, I’m feeling pretty good though I think I’m going to take a break from running for a while. (If you know me, what that really means is take a break from running fast and long for about a week.)
I surprised myself by still being able to run at all during those last 30 miles. I suppose that’s what all those months of training was all about. I also know that I wouldn’t have run as fast or as hard without my pacers running with me. I’m thankful that I never entered into the “deep dark space” that ultra-runners get in the middle of the night though I did catch a couple glimpses of it. Knowing that my crew was waiting for me motivated me to keep moving forward, no matter how slowly. I couldn’t have done what I did without putting in the training, the mental preparedness, and the massive amount of enthusiasm and support from friends and family. It just goes to show that you don’t need to become a monk to feel enlightened. You just need to run more!