Leading up to race weekend, I wasn’t sure how this race report would turn out. I had gotten myself finally ready to tackle the 100 miler again and my mind was in a positive place. I had trained my butt off, thanks to Michele Yates’ training plan. I got in lots of long speed work sessions and plenty of cross training via November Project, weekly gym sessions with friends, and some yoga here and there. I felt ready, but having DNFed before, I knew anything could happen.
4:30 AM, my alarm went off, I quickly got into my gear, then drove with my crew to the race start. I left a drop bag in the car to bring it to aid station 2 (which we would visit 4 times each 20 mile loop) and got my timing chip and my green band (more on that later). Lining up at the start, I saw some friends, took some photos, said goodbye to my family. At 7 AM, just as the sun was just rising, we were off!
I feel like I went into this race well trained, but not with a 100% game plan. I didn’t have a run/walk strategy, nor did I have a plan for my exact pace. I charted out what time I’d have to hit up aid stations each lap to stay under my ‘A’ goal of 24 hours – but that’s about it. Thankfully, around mile 2, another runner named Arielle and I started chatting. We would go on to run about 54 miles together and I’m so lucky we did.
The course is five 20 mile trail ‘loops’ (with about 3ish miles of pavement in each lap), but each loop was a lot of little loops repeated. I am a fan of small looped courses, so I loved it. This allowed my amazing crew of my mom, brother, and John to hang out at aid station 2 for the day, so I could see them frequently. Mentally, I could break up the course into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Arielle and I got into a great groove that first lap, especially when we realized we were both gunning for a sub-24 pace. The course flat and so beautiful – I felt like I was running through some really cool jungles at certain points. We eventually got into a run/walk cycle (thanks to Arielle) after we realized we – 1) were going too fast and 2) it was going to be getting quite hot mid-day. I had seen 2 pm was the peak heat, so we just kept counting down the hours until we knew it would start getting cooler. We made sure to not push too hard in the heat because it would bite us in the ass later and we succeeded in that.
The first lap went by nicely, allowing us to really get the course down. There were some great landmarks along each little section, so we were able to say, “Oh, we’re at this point, so it’s just these 3 things until this section is over.” Our favorite views were on the long middle section, where we got to see giant Pine trees (dubbed the “Hall of Pines” from a course sign). I loved being able to run trails, but not be really worried about the elevation or tough terrain; it was a truly perfect balance.
We chatted about everything! Running, life, music, about it all. I love the ultra community because 9.5/10 times, the other runners there are amazing people. It’s so much fun to run with someone fun because the hours just tick along as you are getting to know each other.
We finished our first lap in 4:01, which kept our goal of 50 miles in 11 hours intact. Each lap, we given a different colored wrist band to show which lap we were on. After 20, we traded in our green for red and were off.
People started to see the two of us as the running buddies and even our families were cheering us on together (Arielle’s mom kept hugging me and wishing me luck each time we passed her – how do you not smile after that?!). This lap was okay, but I started to hit a negative spot and dealt with some stomach nausea around mile 34. I also felt really tired (which hello, 36 miles into a 100 mile race is kind of scary). I got to the 36 mile aid station, changed my socks, had half of a Street King energy shot (thank you, 50 Cent, for your chemical energy wonder), then we went off to finish the second lap. Oh and I danced before we left because how can you be that upset after dancing?
I always tell people that running an ultra can be like a roller coaster, where you have low spots, but they can quickly be followed up with highs. I never experienced such a quick turnaround as I did after I left that aid station. I needed that energy, the sock change, and the food I ate clearly because my attitude and body turned around so quickly. We hit the 40 mile mark, again within our goal time, and felt great! We traded in our red band for orange. Woohoo! We knew we were half a lap from being 50 miles in and that felt awesome.
We got to mile 50 at 10:57, 3 minutes faster than our 11 hour goal. Success! I had told Arielle that as a treat for the halfway point, I was going to listen to music. She suggested I just play it out loud, so we got to sing and dance along the miles until we picked up her pacer at mile 54. We picked up her pacer and I was so happy that it meant we were in the second half of the race. I was surprised with how well I felt, even though I was trying to be smart and not push too early.
At mile 58, Jesse, the pacer Lauren had connected me with, told me he was joining me a few miles early and was ready to push me. I said goodbye to Arielle, but was so happy to keep seeing her along the course with her pacers and I knew I wouldn’t have run the first half as smart if I hadn’t been with her.
I told Jesse that I had been doing a run/walk with Arielle and wanted to keep it up. He got me going on a 9 minute run – 1 minute walk cycle and was firm in my walking being fast (which I stink at) and that my run be smart. I felt insanely strong for that time of the race and just kept pushing because I wanted to ride the high moments.
Jesse was exactly the pacer I needed. He was firm and strict (“No casual chatting at the aid station. Your family will want to tell you that you look good, but you know you do, so keep going.”), but he was able to keep me motivated because he wasn’t harsh or mean. He also didn’t mind me still playing my music out loud and even filmed my burpee and squat when “Roxanne” came on (shout out to my November Project folks).
I liked knowing the course like the back of my hand by the time I got Jesse, so I was able to pretty much give him a tour of the course (he lives right by it, so I now am realizing he likely knew it already, but still…). We did get lost, though, just past mile 70. There was this one section that was a bit harder to navigate in the dark. It was during a loop section and the loop ended only about .25 miles after that section. We kept running and I just felt like we must have messed it up. Lo and behold, we got to the Banjo sign (a sign that said, “Keep Moving! I think I hear banjos!”), which we had already passed. Crap! We turned around and hauled ass to get back to the aid station, having added likely around .5-.75 of a mile. All in all, that’s not bad, but it threw me a bit mentally.
The storming was clearly brewing and Jesse kept telling me to not let it get to me. Having run and raced in the rain before, I promised him that I was fine and it was just going to make the story even better. He actually had John join me an aid station early, meaning John ran 23 miles with me instead of the planned 20. Jesse prepped John with what to do and soon we were off!
I will admit that I got into a mental funk when I picked John up as a pacer. I had gotten into such a good groove with Jesse, so having to explain things to John was frustrating. I could sense myself speaking with a harsher tone than I meant to and I kept apologizing. John was insanely wonderful and before the rain hit, he played music for me so we could try to distract my angry brain.
When the rain hit, boy, did it hit. Torrential rains, heat lightening, some rumbling thunders, and whipping winds. John told me that there were some pending tornados that were showing in the forecast, so I should push hard and finish with a badass story. We hit the 80 mile mark and I got my last colored band, the pink one I’d wanted from the start. I actually teared up for a second with one of the race organizers because I knew the last 20 were going to be a struggle and it felt so hard. She told me to keep it up and I was going to be fine. So we trudged along.
I kept getting frustrated because my watch had died and I had no idea what my pace was. I kept asking John if I was doing okay and while he said I was good, I didn’t know if I could believe him or if he really knew. I trusted Jesse more since he had done ultras like this, even though John only wanted the best for me and wouldn’t lie to me (Unless he wanted to protect me, of course, from mentally freaking out, but I couldn’t tell). Each mile felt like such a struggle, but John was wonderful at staying positive and pushing me.
I used the last lap as a goodbye lap, saying goodbye to things and thanking them for being with me the whole time. I would say goodbye to the checkpoints, like the Banjo sign and the Hall of Pines. I remember the rain and puddles being bad, but it helped knowing it was my last lap of it. I saw a bunch of runners on their second to last lap and I felt so bad knowing they had so much more left. John also pointed out that most everyone else was reduced to a walk, but I was jogging along at a decent pace for that time. I even told John about how we got lost the last lap and I still nearly got us lost again (thanks to John, we didn’t!).
When I got to the farthest aid station the last time, I knew I had just 8 miles left and I broke down. The 100 mile finish that I wanted so badly was within my reach and a sub-24 hour finish was still a possibility. I had to tell myself to calm down, save my tears for the finish line, and keep trudging along.
We got to the 95 mile mark aid station and Jesse told John he could hop in and take me for the last southern loop before John could bring me to the finish. John was like, “Hell no, I’m running with her through this entire last loop and we’re going right now.” It was pretty cute to see him so passionate about helping me finish the entire thing. I was fired up to have 5 miles left, but that 3.3ish southern loop was rough for me. I started it wanting to push, but my pace stunk and I couldn’t get faster. The rain had stopped, so John put on some music (Tenacious D, per my request) and I just kept moving forward. I kept asking if the sub-24 was possible because I felt like it was slipping away. I just kept singing the Tenacious D lyrics and forcing myself to grit my teeth to push further.
We got to the last aid station, with about 2.5 miles left to finish. I threw off my rain jacket to Jesse and he just looked at me and said, “You have to haul ass this last bit.” The way he said it, it sounded important and like it meant something, so I took off. The puddles were insane in this section and I kept slipping into them, with my shoes nearly coming off so many times.
We hit the bridge over the one water crossing the last time and I knew I just had to get to the road, then it was less than a mile to the finish line. John played one of my favorite running songs, “Go The Distance” from Disney’s Hercules and I kept singing the lines out loud to push myself. We hit the road and John hinted that he may have good news, but he couldn’t tell me yet. Jesse was waiting along the road and then said, “Do you know what’s cool? Finishing a 100 miler. Even cooler? Doing it sub-24? And even cooler? Being the first placed female.” I HAD NO IDEA. Seriously, you could have told me I had grown a third eye and I may have believed that more.
That news pushed me to sprint to the finish line, which I crossed in 23:00:57 (so close to sub-23!). I immediately started crying because it felt so surreal. I had stayed strong, pushed hard, and surpassed any of my wildest dreams with the race. I thanked the race folks, Jesse, and my family because I couldn’t have done it without them all. I quickly changed into dry clothes, ate a grilled cheese, then headed back to my mom’s hotel for a shower and to nap.
Overall, this race was magical and amazing. I was able to race smart, actually be thoughtful about nutrition (thanks to my coach’s recommendation, I ate a little bit pretty much every 15-20 minutes and my stomach was happy), and I made sure to keep a smile on my face (most of the time). I’m so thankful to everyone who wished me luck and sent motivational messages throughout. I recognize that I have an insane support system around me and I don’t take that for granted. I’m also hella proud of my friends – Wesley for finishing his first 100 attempt and while Lauren didn’t finish due to an ankle sprain she got at mile 7, she pushed through 75 miles total like a badass. Arielle also finished and with a grand spankin’ new PR! So happy for her.
Now to heal up and think about what to add next to my race calendar.