In my (nearly) ten years of running and racing, I’ve learned that every time you race, and particularly, every time you step up to a new distance, you have something new to learn about running and racing. And here’s what reaching for the 100K distance taught me:
Running 62 miles is really fucking hard.
Not exactly earth-shattering information, is it? And yet, it took me completely by surprise. Yes, you read that right. In spite of struggling through training, never having run that far before, and my last ultra being well over a year ago, I somehow thought that 100K was going to be…well, not a cake walk, but not not a cake walk, either.
You guys, it was not a cake walk.
Here’s how I envisioned this going down at the beginning of the year, when a 100K made its way onto my 2016 race schedule:
Train hard, run a lot of miles, feel good but tired, arrive at race day ready and confident, then run a kick-ass race.
Here’s how I thought things might roll once training started and I changed my mind (more than once!) about exactly which 100K I was going to run and how best to train for the distance:
Train hard? Run a lot of miles? Feel good but tired? Arrive at race day more or less ready? Run a kick ass race.
Here’s what I thought the week before the race:
Train a lot less than I wanted, but more than I had the actual time and energy for, sometimes run a lot of miles, sometimes let shit go because I couldn’t get the miles done, survive the week before the race (which included getting Little Boy’s driver’s license and watching him drive off to school by himself, a Spaghetti Feed dinner/going away party for about 40 teenagers on my kids’ Cross Country team, the emotional Armageddon of dropping Big Boy off at college, over 500 miles of driving, three nights of very little sleep, and the nervousness that accompanies the start of CC racing season for Little Boy), arrive at race day feeling exhausted and overwrought, and yet miraculously run a kick ass race.
And, finally, here’s what actually went down:
My training was haphazard at best. I did not feel entirely confident in my ability to complete this distance, but felt like I had done what I could and really, at some point it’s all about willpower anyway, so I arrived at the race venue dark and early feeling like I was going to give it my best shot.
In my deluded, rookie mind, I had decided to use my GymBoss to keep me on track for running and walking intervals (that’s not the deluded part, that was actually pretty good thinking). To help pass the many, many (31) loops of this 2-mile race course, I thought that I should start conservatively and then get easier as the day went on (again, this is not unreasonable thinking). So I set the intervals for 6 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking, with the plan to change it to 5:1 after ten miles, then 4:1 after twenty miles, 3:1 after thirty, etc. This, my friends, is where I was delusional. Six minutes of running is not conservative when your day is going to be over 12 hours long!
I went out way, way, WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too fast. Way. Too. Fast.
But the sad thing about it is that I felt great! For the first twenty-two miles, I was large and in charge and thought that I was going to win the day (not literally, just figuratively).
And then it all fell to crap.
Now, to be fair, I totally knew that at some point in the day, I was going to feel awful. I mean, I’m delusional, but I’m not stupid. In my fantasy race, though, I ran pretty well until about the 40-mile mark, then struggled valiantly for a few miles, rallied, and finished strong.
So imagine my surprise when, at Mile-freaking-22, I had to come to a complete halt to puke on the side of the road. Classic dehydration problem (which I know because it used to happen to me all. the. time.) What the actual fuck was that all about?
That’s a serious question, because I still don’t entirely know how I got dehydrated. I drank almost 70 ounces of Tailwind (which is super salty sugar water; a/k/a electrolyte replacement) in the first 18 miles. Usually that amount of liquid will last me all or most of a marathon, so that means I was allegedly ahead of the hydration game. Plus I had been eating salty foods, which should have helped me retain my water.
And, yet, there I was, with my stomach turning inside out, barely a third of the way into my day.
I was pissed! I texted UltraIronHubs and let him know I was walking this loop, and when I came back around to our tent, I sat my ass down in a chair and felt sorry for myself for a ridiculous amount of time. I drank a bunch of water and UIH rubbed my legs and reminded me that I could handle this.
It was true. I could.
So I did.
My stomach started to calm down, so I got on with the business of getting this 100K done, walking and running at a much, much more conservative pace and ratio. I turned off my GymBoss and tried to stay calm. I reminded myself that I didn’t come here to quit. Being angry wasn’t going to help me, but being smart would, so I took UIH’s very sage advice and walked a LOT. Then I walked some more. And when I ran, I kept it short and slow.
On my next loop, I got a wonderful gift in the form of my in-laws and Little Boy! Just about six hours into my day, I was so very happy to see them and get a little energy boost!
I could feel my mood and my guts coming back around, which was nice. I cruised through some of these middle miles feeling better, and some of them feeling worse. Every loop, every mile, every turn on the course, had its own mood and physical sensation. I was super happy to hit the halfway point! And then fell into a pit of despair just one loop later as it was getting hotter and hotter. A good song would come on my iPod and I felt like I could run all day, but then I would just as suddenly run out of gas and wonder how I would make another mile, much less another 20+. I got a total second (third? fourth?) wind at Mile 36, when I realized I only had a marathon left to go (“A marathon is nothing! I run marathons!”). But at 40 miles in wanted to burst into tears that there were still twenty-two long, long, looooooooooong miles ahead of me.
I walked and I ran and I walked and I ran. Little Boy and my in-laws went out to eat lunch and do some shopping. UltraIronHubs cheered for every person who ran, walked or hobbled by our tent. I tried to keep moving forward and gave myself the goal of keeping each loop under 30 minutes (there was a really awesome big screen display at the start/finish line that showed your split as you came over the timing mat).
At some point – I really don’t remember when – I sat down again. It was so damn hot. My brain felt like it was cooking, my stomach was not happy. I wanted to quit. I very seriously considered not ever getting up off that chair ever again.
But I did.
I got back on my feet and kept moving forward. A few loops later, Little Boy and my in-laws were there again. Oh, was I happy to see them! Little Boy came with me again on what ended up being the worst two miles of the day. It had gotten so fucking hot (not really, not objectively, but the sun on this course is just unrelenting – there are no trees and no shade to be had at all – so 84 degrees felt like the surface of the sun). In spite of my best efforts at staying on top of eating and drinking, I was completely tapped out on fuel. I was barely walking and still it felt too fast. My stomach wanted nothing to do with me. I felt nauseated, but not like I was going to throw up, more like I had accidentally ingested concrete – my whole abdomen just felt like a giant ball of knots, hard and painful. I had to stop walking several times and cried more than once on that loop.
We made it back to the tent and I sat down for the third time. This was definitely it. I didn’t have anything left to give.
I drank a lot of water. I stared off into space and contemplated my lot in life. I understood, somewhere deep in my brain, that I needed to eat something, but couldn’t imagine a single food in the world that wouldn’t make me puke. I sat there for what felt like a hundred years, but was probably closer to 15 minutes.
Honestly, I have no idea what got me up out of that chair the third time. Sheer force of will? The foolhardiness of an ultra runner?
I don’t know. But I got up anyway and got back to it.
UltraIronHubs walked me over to the Aid Station and forced me to eat. I chose something sweet and something salty. Ginger snap cookies tasted surprisingly good, potato chips not so much.
I started walking again and it wasn’t awful.
I passed the 50 mile mark and every single step I took from there on was a distance PR. I was pretty excited about that. UltraIronHubs walked with me for a loop and his company made everything feel better. My stomach came back around again and I managed to run a few steps on a few different loops. The “miles to go” number dipped into single digits, and I started to feel like maybe, just maybe, this was actually going to be over at some point.
With just two loops left, I got giddy. I could actually do this! UIH came with me on the penultimate lap and Little Boy on the final. The sun had set, the temperature had cooled, and in spite of significantly more struggling than I had hoped for, this race was about to be complete.
Little Boy and I spent a good portion of the final lap deciding where we should start our finishing run. I definitely wanted to run it in, but OMG everything hurt at this point. I mean. EVERYTHING. We settled on starting our run at the very last curve right before the timing mats. It might have been 50 yards, but it took everything I had left to work it up to a hustle and raise my arms in mediocre triumph.
This would be a great place to insert a photo or video of me crossing the finish line, but it was pitch black out, so this pic of me stuffing my face with post-race pizza at the better lit aid station will just have to do:
The aftermath, conclusions, and other general observations:
- I wish I would have used more sunblock and more body glide. The pain from my sunburn is almost as bad as the chafing between my butt cheeks. Yes, I know that second part is TMI, but if you haven’t run an ultra yet and you are considering one, let this be the most important piece of advice you heed: body glide your butt cheeks. You’re welcome.
- I announced several times before, during and immediately after the race that I would never – NEVER! – run another 100K. But, honestly, this one feels like unfinished business. I did not do my best here, and I would really prefer to do my best. But I will confirm that I will never – NEVER! – run another one of these things in August. The heat is not my friend.
- The race director of the Run de Vous is hands down the nicest RD I have ever met. He was on course all day (and I have to imagine all night for the 100-milers and nighttime racers), cheering and handing out popsicles and making sure every single runner had what they needed for a successful day. The shirts were awesome and the buckle will make me wear a belt just so I can show it off. He gave me a giant hug at the finish line and made every runner and their crew feel welcomed and taken care of. I highly recommend this race because of him!
- I am just as sore as you might imagine after 14 hours and 40 minutes of racing. There is almost nothing on my body that doesn’t ache, except my feet! Can you believe it? Not a blister, not a hot spot, not a black toenail to be had.
- Music makes everything better. I can’t tell you how much my music helped me get through a tough day. The day before the race, I spent a ridiculous amount of time loading my iPod with songs that I thought I might enjoy during the race (including, but not limited to, a heaping dose of angry rap music, lots of EDM and your standard catchy pop songs, a handful of Christmas songs, two country tunes, more than one song in a language I don’t speak or understand, the theme songs from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Pokemon and Camp Rock, and some classic rock from the likes of ELO, REO Speedwagon and Motley Crue) and they did not disappoint. I laughed, I sang along (yes, out loud!), and somewhere around Mile 48 I was even doing the full-on YMCA dance.
- I know y’all thought I was crazy for choosing a 2-mile looped course, but I tell ya what: it was awesome. I LOVED seeing my husband every two miles, I LOVED knowing exactly where I was the entire day, I LOVED knowing that there was a bathroom at the beginning of every loop, and I never once got tired of seeing the same things over and over. The course actually looked different every time I ran it, with the changing sunlight and the grazing cows. I would do this course again in a heartbeat.
But probably not real soon.