I spent the last five months specifically training for one goal — to run my first 100 miles! In late June of last year, I ran 50 miles for the first time – and it wasn’t even a race! I ran that distance just to prove to myself that I could go that far since I was pulled on a time-cut off at the Big Horn 50 one week before at mile 32. After finishing that uber long distance for the first time, my husband took a video of my buddy, Ryan and I and asked us this question: “You just ran 50 miles, how do you feel?” I responded: “Crappy!” Ryan (who had just finished his 3rd time of doing 50) “Like a million bucks!” My husband then asked, “Are you ever going to do it again?” I looked away and said, “No!” Ryan said, “Next week!!” and stuck his tongue out!!!!
Well, I lied! I did run 50 again in August at the Wild Idaho race! And, then I did it AGAIN for no good reason in December on a training run – just to prove I could do it without a pacer or crew – and I accomplished it and felt confident – and did it faster than I’d done the previous two. I’d set my sights on running a 100 miles and was determined to train as hard as I could to accomplish the goal!
On Friday, March 23rd, I sang “Happy birthday” to my baby girl, Savannah -the youngest of my five kids, hugged my family and then I headed to the starting line with about 50 other crazy ultra runners out to conquer the 100 miles at the Buffalo Run on Antelope Island – right smack dab in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. The location was spectacular! It was so beautiful!
I got to the back of the pack and started chatting with some of the other ladies nearby. I told them it was my first 100 and that my only goal was to finish and that if I came in at 6:29:59 pm the next day (after running for 30 hours and 29 min and 59 seconds) and made the cut off, I’d be happy! I had no idea how close to that I’d come in the end!!
After race director Jim Skaggs dragged his foot in the dirt for a start line, he yelled, “GO!” and we were off! Tears came to my eyes as I thought about how much I had admired every single one of my ultra marathon friends who’d ran a hundred. I had always called them my heroes -and here I was — trying to become one too! I blew kisses at my five kids and husband as I ran by and settled into an easy, gentle pace. I had a long road ahead and the best advice everyone had given me was to not go too fast in the first 50 miles. I found a great spot behind a man dressed in a court jester outfit! It made me happy to look at his silly costume and it put me in a great mental place to start this mighty journey. Within half a mile, the trail starts climbing upwards and most of the pack slowed to a walk. I did too. I tried to do what those just ahead of me who seemed more experienced did, so I stayed in control and easy but consistent. I relaxed and looked around at the island! The weather was windy (20-30 mph winds), sunny and beautiful out! The temperature was around 50. It was a perfect day to run a 100 miles!
I’d tapered well and my legs felt awesome for the first 45 miles! Every time I’d come across one of the race photographers, I’d leap or throw my hands out wide and grin and smile or stick my tongue out! I was having a ball!!! I had no pain, no exhaustion, no problems for the first ten hours or so. I ate often, took my S caps every hour, kept my pace reeled way in, and listened to my Ipod and felt relaxed and focused. I chit-chatted with the other runners and the wonderful aid station workers, who really went above and beyond at every stop to meet my needs, helping me fill my two hand bottles, offering me broth or orange slices or candy. I made it a point to get in and out of aid stations quickly and I did a great job of that.
My running buddy, Ryan had written me a note before I left. It started with a quote that had really spoken to me, so I’d written that part down and brought it along for the journey, thinking it would be inspirational when the going got tough. It said: “Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” – Christian D Larson. Every time I took a gel or an S cap, I’d see that note and read it to myself and it kept me positive and made me smile. Up until mile 45, though, I really had to admit that I’d encountered no “obstacle” but I knew that there was still a long ways to go and I’d certainly find some down the road to contend with. And, I was right!
My Garmin battery died somewhere around mile 46 or so. It was around 11 pm. My feet were starting to hurt with every step as I could feel blisters forming on the balls of both of my feet. The island was beautiful at night. I could see the city lights reflecting on the water. The sky was full of stars and so clear. I was starting to get fatigued and knew there would be no sleep for me that night — instead I’d run right through it and on into the next morning until about dinner time before I’d be able to stop again. The section of trail I was on is very technical and rocky with some climbing. I had to slow way down since my feet were feeling sensitive and I didn’t want to do something stupid with so many miles left to go, so I took my time going gingerly around the rocks. Normally, stuff like that is really fun to kind of run fast through, sort of tip toeing and high-kneeing your way, zig-zag style through like a kid out playing! My feet didn’t want to play that game, though, so I let them take it slow.
I made my way through and then passed a campground where most of the people were sound asleep around midnight. I was running well through this part, since it was a wide road and a bit easier on the feet. I saw a guy, about twenty years old, sitting in front of his tent, watching me. He yelled out, “You’re sexy and you know it! Do you WORK OUT????” and I laughed and kept running, thinking how bizarre it was for a woman to be out alone running in the night like this on an island!
I finally came into the start/finish area at mile 50 and was so excited to see my husband there and my pacer, Conner ready to go. They asked what I needed and I told them I needed to eat and to go to the bathroom. I mentioned my sore feet and the aid station workers asked if I wanted them to look at them or if I wanted to change shoes or socks. I said no. I was thinking about my friend, Dennis. He has told me that he prefers not to change shoes or socks in ultras since they’ll just get dirty again quickly anyways. I thought I was being smart by not taking time to at least check on those feet, but I was wrong. Since I haven’t had much experience with blisters or super long distance races, I really didn’t understand the consequences of not attending to a problem early on before it became a bigger problem. So, I didn’t even look at my feet, I got my warmer clothes on, ate some food and took off with my pacer into the night to run the entire loop that I’d just completed again. I’m not sure what time I left, but I think it was around 1 am. I’d taken about half an hour in that aid station, which was also too long and I was in a hurry to get back into my groove and head towards the mountain I’d need to climb for the second time.
Conner and I found a comfortable pace and he did a good job of making sure I stayed hydrated and fed as we made progress down the trail. We saw eyes in the night and realized a buffalo was just off the trail and I reminded him not to make eye contact or freak it out with our headlamps. We just kept moving forward and tried not to make a lot of noise to upset it. Conner looked for the smoother sections of the trail, which were a bit hard to come by. It was rugged and rocky, and my feet were really hurting with the uneven terrain, since the blisters were swelling and had not popped. At this point, when I’d read the quote, it meant something. I’d found my “obstacle” and I kept saying, “You can overcome this! You can do this!” I was wearing calf compression sleeves that my friend, Les had given to me. I was holding Ryan’s hand bottle and had his note in it. I was also wearing Michelle’s Garmin on my wrist. All of those things reminded me that I was not out there on this journey alone. That I had many friends who cared about me and who were with me in spirit cheering me on! I imagined my five kids saying, “GO Mom! You can do it!”, my husband, Wayne looking me in the eye and saying, “Everything’s going to be ok! You can do this!”, I thought of my parents back home wishing me well, all of my trail running friends, my Daily Mile friends, my Facebook pals – just all of them and I felt comforted, even as the night grew long, the fatigue set in and my feet started to hurt so much with every step that I wanted to cry. And, cry I did at times. The pain on the bottoms of both feet was excruciating — like knives being jabbed over and over along the balls and heels – and by that point – the toes and toenails too, as they started lifting, one by one up from their beds as blisters formed underneath them. Every time I’d bump a rock or step on uneven surface, I’d wince. I’d tell myself, “Pretend you’re on a training run. Pretend you feel fine. That you’re fresh!” and it would help. I’d force myself to put my foot down fully and let the foot roll through as normal since I knew altering my gait would probably cause other issues. I played mental games with myself over and over out there those last 50 miles. It helped. Then, the pain would be unbearable and some tears would fall, but I’d whisper, “There’s something inside you that is GREATER than ANY obstacle” and I’d keep moving forward, step by painful step.
As the sun was coming up, as I was finally coming off the 20 mile loop, I sent my pacer ahead to tell my family I was coming into the start/finish area again. This was Saturday morning and about 700 other racers were now on the course too — the 50 milers, the 50kers and the 25kers. It was surreal to see their headlamps bobbing along when we’d been alone for so long out there, quite spaced out from the other 100 milers. It was so painful when some of them went by if I tried to move off the trail to make room for the fast ones. They were coming at me fresh and full of energy. I was hurting, tired and I still had another 30 miles to go, but many of them saw my bib and realized I was a 100 mile runner and they said things like, “Way to go!” “Looking strong” “Awesome” and smiled at me. That really lifted my mood and pushed me onward.
As I came into the 70 mile checkpoint, just hobbling on my raw feet, I saw my family. I wanted to hold them so bad. I was so tired. I started to cry. My husband held me and said, “It’s going to be ok! You can do this!” Just then, my Daily Mile friend, Jeremy, who I’d never even met in person, walked up to me and said, “Are you Christie?” I nodded and only just then remembered that he was going to join me for a few miles. I had looked so forward to that and somehow in my pain had forgotten I had a friend waiting for me! I apologized for the tears, gave him a hug and then we took off down the trail. It was wonderful to have a new face to see and someone with fresh energy to talk to. It was a happy distraction and very quickly I went from being sad to being hopeful again. But, I was really scared about the time cut offs at this point! I’d lost a lot of time on the 20 mile loop. The day before, taking it easy, I’d done that section in 4 hours. Through the night on blistered feet it had taken 7!!!!!! I was slowing way down and it took so much strength to just keep moving forward. My husband had said something about needing to stay at a 16 min pace to make the cut off and the more I thought about — ok – OBSESSED about that — the more frightened I became that I wouldn’t make the cut off. Tears came again the more I thought about it, since the pain was overwhelming by this point in my blistered feet. My hips were sore, my shoulders felt saggy and I felt the weight of the world on them. I no longer grinned at the racers who went past. I stared at the ground, tears sometimes just falling into the dirt as I shuffled along at the best walk pace I could muster in that state.
Jeremy and Conner tried to cheer me up. It worked at times. Other times, I just zoned out in the pain zone and just stared at the trail in front of me and kept shuffling. The sun was up. It was getting really hot and I was still wearing my long sleeved shirt and tights but I was too scared of the time cut off to take even a few minutes to remove them. At every aid station, I would check in and grab a couple things to eat, then head back out. They’d say, “Want to sit down? Would you like more to eat?” and I’d say “I can’t fail at this!!! I have to keep moving!!!” and head off again. I was so afraid I wouldn’t make the cut off. My pace was more like an 18 – 20 min pace as I moved. Finally, my husband could see that I was in a bad state mentally and he said to me at one of the aid stations, “You’re ok! I thought it would motivate you to tell you that you needed to go that fast. You really can go closer to a 20 min pace and make the cut off!” My eyes grew wide and I said, “Are you serious?!!! THAT I can do!! Why didn’t you tell me that hours ago?! I’m on pace for that and I have HOPE again!” That also relieved me just enough that I took an extra minute and removed the tights. I had on shorts and the long sleeved tech shirt and it was scorching hot!!! They asked if I wanted sunscreen. I said “NO! I have to finish!” and kept going. The sunburn on my face and neck, arms and legs later would remind me I should have taken that extra minute too.
Along the way, I’d be able to see my family from time to time. I’d hear my five kids yelling out the window of the Suburban, “GO MOM!!” and it would take my suffering away for a minute and remind me of what mattered most in my life!!! I’d wave and smile at them until they were out of sight and think, “Keep moving until that finish line and then you’ll get to hug them all again!”
I got crankier and tireder and slower, but I kept going. I remember at mile 94 finally agreeing to sit down for a minute at Jeremy’s aid station. He’d been so nice to run out and ask if I needed anything even before I got there. That was great service! The views of the Salt Lake were incredible right there and I just took in the view for a few minutes while I sipped broth and ate an orange slice and some soda. I just wanted it to be over. I heard the man there radio in that I was through and still in good spirits. That made me smile. I was still kidding around a bit with them, even though I was so tired and so sore. I no longer had working Garmin, so I could not judge distance and I was moving so slow that every mile felt like an eternity. It was really late, so there were very few other runners still on the course. Jeremy made me feel good, though when he said I was over an hour ahead of the cut off for his aid station. That made me smile and renewed my focus, so I got up and headed out, determined to go, go, go until I got that buckle and finished this thing!
There’s an uphill, rugged section right after this that hurt so very much on my blistered feet. Conner kept telling me I was doing great! He was trying hard to keep me positive. I’d grit my teeth and start swinging my arms faster and it would move my pace up and he’d say, “Wow!! Look at you GO!” and I’d almost want to laugh thinking how slow I really must be going compared to normal – but I knew every bit of energy forward would help the suffering end sooner!
When we got to the rocky, technical section that I’d ran in the dark the night before so gingerly something overcame me — some animal inside of me was unleashed!!!!! I set my jaw and swung my elbows hard and shocked myself when I started RUNNING hard and fast and lifting my knees and hopping over those crazy, irregular rocks! I was insane! I was glaring at the course, thinking, “You got me last night! I can NOT be broken that easy!!! Don’t you KNOW I’m a badass???!!!!!!” It sounds nuts, but I was able to keep that up and ran at least a mile and a half like that – at what I will only have to guess was about a 10 min pace. My pacer was gasping, “What the heck?? Where did THAT come from?” behind me!!!!! I saw the looks on the faces of a few bikers who pulled off the path and saw me coming like a maniac when Conner said, “She’s a hundred miler! I think she’s ready to be DONE!” One of the guys bowed at me. That made me feel awesome and more determined!!
Then it was over. The big moment. The push. I had no Garmin, so I had no idea how much further I had to run. Someone who passed by said, “Oh, just two more miles.” Ten minutes later another runner passed and said, “Oh, just three more miles.” My shoulders slumped. I was so tired. I hurt so much. I flopped onto a rock. Conner did the same and we let a few 50k and 50 mile runners pass us as they picked up their speed in the final climb to the finish. I just didn’t have it in me anymore. My little burst was gone. I remember staring at the dirt and thinking, “Dang, I’m tired. I’d really like to just lay down right there and take a good nap! I don’t want to play this game anymore. It’s too hard!” But, I didn’t do that. I took a breath, focused on my kids being at the finish line waiting for me and I got back up — slowly, painfully and hobbled forward.
Inch by inch I got closer. I could see the finish line tent. It seemed so very, very far away. It’s funny how a couple of miles normally seems so easy — so short! At that point, it sounded nearly impossible to cover that far of a distance on my feet. One runner who passed by joked that he’d offer me a piggyback but that he was too tired. I answered back, “I didn’t go THIS far just to get disqualified for a piggyback this close, but thanks!” hehe.
About a mile from the finish, I saw my friend Tiffany!!!! She’d come from Idaho and was there to cheer me on!!!! Man, that was an amazing feeling, seeing someone I care about right then! I needed it bad!!! She told me I was her hero and that I inspired her. I hugged her and we fell into step running – yes RUNNING, as my brain realized it was almost over for real! Her company made that last stretch a joy – a painful one still – but so much better than when I was alone. My pacer had headed on ahead to let my family know I was coming in.
As I got within a quarter of a mile of the finish line, my family came towards me with open arms, the kids cheering and saying, “You DID it, MOM!!! We’re so proud of you!!” and happy tears came to my eyes as I reached for their embraces!!! I grabbed the hands of my 5 and 7 year old daughters and the whole family held hands as we headed towards the finish together — as a team! Conner and Tiffany took pictures and we stopped and smiled, a few runners passing us by as they finished up their journeys too.
When I saw the finish line, my instincts kicked in. Savannah and Anneliese and I picked up the pace, those who had stayed to see the final runners cheered and I got the biggest smile on my face as I crossed the finish line! I DID IT!! I ran a hundred miles!!!!!!!!!!
I had ached for that belt buckle – that symbol that proves I’d done this for months and now it was my chance to hold it! I limped over to the man handing out the finisher prizes and he handed me a ceramic soup bowl. I stared at it and at him and said, “I’m a hundred miler! I earned a buckle!” He looked at my bib, took back the 50k, 50 miler prize and then reached into the box to grab MY prize — the BUCKLE – and handed it over to me!!!! I pumped it up into the air and yelped out, “YEAH BABY I DID IT!!!!!! and my husband started taking pictures!
I finished in 30:11 — about 18 minutes and some change before the cut off! I was the 34th (and last) person to finish the hundred that day. There were a lot of casualties out there. It was a tough course. The weather had been hot. I’d seen one friend vomiting on the side who had to quit. I heard about another woman who had a fracture. I was the 4th female to cross the line. I think 4 more had started. I was first – and ONLY in my age group! Wow, I did it!!! I dreamed a big dream and it came true!!
My feet are a mess! I couldn’t even walk into the house when we drove the 4 1/2 hours home after the race. My sweet husband had to carry me in. I’m sunburned, I’m sore and I’m insanely HAPPY and proud of myself! Will I do another? Oh yeah, baby!!! I can do this!!!!! But, first I need a nice long NAP!!