Six weeks ago I strained my soleus muscle in my calf while heading uphill on black ice on a 22 mile training run, when I slipped on the road and fell as a car was coming towards me. I was limping as soon as I picked myself up and immediately I worried all the training I’d done over the winter would slip down the drain as I recovered. The injury was just a grade 1 strain, but it was bad enough I was not supposed to run or even take leisurely walks on it for several weeks. I knew the Buffalo Run 100 miler was fast approaching and instead of joining my pals on extended long runs to peak for the race, I watched my log book go week after week without a run added. It was a little stressful!
Thankfully, with a chiropractor, who is also an athlete working diligently on the calf to break up the scar tissue and encourage healing and frequent visits to my sports massage gal, I was able to recover in time for the race — barely! The longest run I did in those 6 weeks was a 13 miler less than a week before the race – and most of it was walking! Thankfully, my training had not slacked during the winter months, though and I had been in good shape prior to the accident hitting about 70 miles per week for the two weeks before I got hurt, so I was banking on my prior mileage and experience to get me through the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100 for the second time!
To add a little more pressure to the day, the race was taking place from March 22nd – 23rd. The 23rd is my youngest daughter’s 6th birthday, so I’d decided that the coolest gift I could possibly give to her would be the belt buckle after I crossed the finish line! I decided to be as conservative as possible to nurse the injury and hold back to increase my chances of just finishing the race so I could surprise my daughter at the finish!
In the days leading up to the race, I expected to be nervous or worried. I’d certainly been terrified the year before when I’d shown up at the starting line of AI since it was my first 100. This time was pleasantly different for me. Even with the worries about the injury, I felt relaxed, slept well and felt calm as I approached the starting line. I never assumed I’d finish, as these things are insanely difficult and even the strongest of runners can encounter injury, bonking, stomach issues and mental breakdown throughout the 25-30 hours on the course, but I did come to the race ready to give my best and to walk away with no regrets no matter what happened – and that acceptance of “what will be will be” put me in a good mental place.
One of the coolest things about the race this year was the huge turnout! Jim Skaggs puts on a great event and apparently word had gotten around that this was a 100 not to be missed! Last year there were about 60 people at the starting line and 34 finishers. This year, there were closer to 100 starters! The weather this year was much colder than last year! I’d woken up to see snow falling outside my hotel window in Layton, a few miles down the road. The winds were strong, even at the noon start and the clouds were covering up the sun. I was bundled up and ready to face a much chillier race than the year before.
I moved all the way to the back of the back as the racers lined up (Karl Meltzer, dressed in his signature Hoka One One white and blue tank and shorts rightly at the front) and reminded myself to stay back there for as long as possible to be conservative. Almost immediately I caught sight of a pal of mine I’d met the year before – world-famous blogger and ultra runner Cory Reece!! He was festively decked out in a red jacket with a matching sock monkey hat that his young daughter had asked him to wear and his characteristic bright smile! I was thrilled to see him, since I knew he and I were similar paces and figured we’d get to share some fun miles together. I also said hello to my friend, Ed Eddinghausen (who as usual was dressed in his court jester outfit and also being cautious since he was coming off of a 160 mile race the previous week!)
I heard the countdown and we all took off! My five children were ringing cowbells and cheering on the sides and waved at them and blew kisses as I passed. My husband was taking photos and I smiled at him and said, “I love you!” just as I rounded the corner off the main road onto the path, passing a few buffalo standing just a few feet from the colorful congo line of runners. I relaxed, checked my HR and settled into a super easy walk pace, sticking to my plan of playing it safe and not going out too fast.
I soon found myself in some pleasant conversations with those around me and the miles just seemed to tick by rapidly. One woman recognized me from my blog (which was a nice surprise) and another gentleman shared that there were four generations of his family doing the race that day – including his 81 year old father! It was amazing to hear people share their stories and I had such a fun time getting to know some new trail friends.
When we reached the Elephant Head aid station and turned onto the path to do the out and back, the faster runners were speeding back already and it was fun to see the front of the packers duking it out! That is one of the things I love best about this race is the chance to see so many other runners out on the course and get a chance to say hi or give encouragement to those ahead of you or behind you! The vibe is always positive here!
I had the pleasure of starting this race with several other Boise Trail Runner friends which was also fun. 7 of us had shown up to do the 100, so during this section I was able to cheer for my faster friends, Ryan, Lyn, Sam, Sean, Emily and Amy and several other buddies I’ve met at previous ultras, which was fun! I was in great spirits and the calf was holding up fine as I reached the turnaround spot and leaned down to choose a sticker from the box (the way the RD knows you’ve actually gone all the way out to the turnaround.) Cory and I were together here and word on the street was that there were some sweet Justin Beiber stickers in that box. Since we’re both parents of kids who might consider that cool, we decided to choose one of those. It turned out all the front runners were suffering from Beiber fever, though and all that remained were fairy princess stickers, so we each chose the prettiest fairies we could from the selection!
Just as we were finishing up, I heard heavy breathing (a rarity at the back of the pack this early in the race.) Cory and I looked at each other then looked up and saw Karl Meltzer himself running like it was a 5k coming straight at us! Our jaws simultaneously dropped to the dirt and star-struck, I squeaked out, “Um.. can I get you a sticker, Karl?” I don’t think he heard me since he had earphones in, but for a brief, shining, moment, I was shoulder to shoulder with Karl Meltzer (who was several miles ahead of me since he’d done the other loop section of the course first and was just finishing this bit up before heading back to the start/finish for the 20 mile check in) in a race as he hurriedly ripped a fairy right in half, slapped it on his bib and took off! As the dust whirled in his wake as he zipped off, Cory and I just stared, wide-eyed at each other and he said, “What just happened?!!” I said, “I have no idea but it was SO blogworthy, dude!” and we both started to laugh like hysterical schoolchildren!
The bulk of the climbing of this course happens in the first 20 mile loop section that we were on (which we get to repeat from miles 50-70.) We were through the majority of the worst by about mile 12, when I started to feel the urge to let myself run just a bit to test out the leg (and have a little bit of fun.) I said goodbye to some of my pals and eased into a gentle jog. I could see my friends Sean, Emily and Amy about half a mile in the distance and decided it might be time to catch up. I didn’t rush, just let the ground pull me closer bit by bit and it was a lot of fun to finally find myself side by side with them about mile 13. I thought some of them would join in, so I just kept doing what I was doing, but none of them stayed with me. I saw my friend, Sam’s bright yellow shirt up ahead another half a mile and decided I’d focus on that next. I still walked every uphill and kept the pace conservative, but I was feeling really good!
As I rounded the fence back near the start finish, my husband snapped a couple of pictures of me and told me I looked great! I told him I was sticking to my plan (as my average heart rate was still about 30 points lower this year on this section than the year before.) I had done the first loop last year in about 4:07. With holding back, surprisingly, I did the first loop in exactly 4 hours this time! That was awesome to see! I checked my number into the aid station and then kept moving down the road, feeling amazing.
Despite the strong winds, the temperature started to feel a bit better through this section as we headed to the path along the Salt Lake, which is one of the highlights of the course! It’s just breathtaking with the snow-covered Wasatch mountain range in full view on the other side! There was a lot of mud through this section and my feet got a bit wet, but I didn’t mind. It was actually all part of the craziness of ultra running and I welcomed it.
I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery along the water. I love the trails on Antelope Island and most of them are very runnable, so I just enjoyed the day, staying conservative and doing plenty of walk breaks to keep things low key. My family drove along taking pictures and cheering when they could see me which was very motivating! My 12 year old son, Wayne Jr came to run a little section with me and my youngest daughter, Savannah also got to get a nice hug here, which are probably my favorite photos of the day!
When I arrived at the Ranch at mile 33.3 or so, I was feeling like a million bucks. I saw my buddy, Vince Romney and his lovely wife Chris and we hugged and said hello! Then I headed into the (REAL) bathroom there and got myself ready for nighttime running. I put on my headlamp, pulled out my ipod (since I’d enjoyed hearing music through this section last year) and put on my gloves. I sipped some broth, said my goodbyes and headed out. The first song that came on almost made me burst out laughing. It was ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme a Man After Midnight.” My pacer (my friend Derek) was told to expect me at around midnight and it just seemed like a hilarious coincidence!
These lyrics really DO fit, if you think about it. I was by myself at this point and looking forward to some company to take me to the next day (and to the FINISH!)
There’s not a soul out there
No one to hear my prayer
Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight
Won’t somebody help me chase the shadows away
Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight
Take me through the darkness to the break of the day
It was starting to get really cold, but I had a smile on my face still. My feet (unlike the previous year) felt amazing in the Brooks Pure Grits and things were going pretty well. I did start to fall behind on fueling/hydration here though. As the wind picked up, the sun went down and I didn’t feel as thirsty or hungry, so I was just taking little sips of broth at each of the aid stations and very little else. I know better, but I was heading myself straight into bonkland.
At mile 44, I was back in the Mountain View aid station, huddled out of the wind and cold with two other male runners. We chitchatted for a couple of minutes while I sipped yet another serving of beef broth (my stomach was starting to really hate the sight of beef broth by this point but I thought the warm liquid and the sodium would help.) As the nausea started to bother me from that point on, I slowed down. The winds picked up, the temperature dropped further (down to a real feel of 8 degrees by the middle of the night), snow had fallen twice already and I was starting to feel kind of miserable. There was a lot of shuffling from miles 44-50.
When I arrived at the start/finish area and the huge tent with heaters inside, it was like seeing heaven! I was so relieved to step inside out of the weather. My watch said I’d been running for 11:18 min (which meant I was about 45 min faster on the first loop than the previous year, which was exciting!) My pacer was there and two other friends who were there waiting to pace other runners. I was so happy to see them all! I was shivering so badly and low on calories. Derek, my rock star pacer, quickly jumped into action setting up his little heater to warm me up. My friend Christine put a sleeping bag around my shoulders to help me feel warmer and my friend Jon started asking about other clothing I had to change into to warm myself up. That’s when I realized that most of my running gear, fuel, etc was not in the tent. My husband and five children had left the island to head back to the hotel for a night of sleep and the majority of my things (including the extra batteries for my headlamp) were with them. It was my own fault! I had not really gone over what I might need throughout the night and my husband had left me a small bag with the exact items I had mentioned earlier in the day I’d want – including one more light jacket and a pair of shoes and socks. Amazingly, my friends quickly went into action, one handing me her extra thin jacket to put on, another (Derek) offering me his ginormous, thick ski coat he’d been wearing while he waited for me! This coat would take on the nickname of “The Man Coat” for the rest of the night. It made me look like I was still that 200 lb lady from 6 years ago and it made me feel like I was basking in the Florida sun instead of freezing my buns off on a stormy Utah night! It was exactly what I needed!
Derek told me to rest my eyes while I sat in the camp chair and he went to work making me a grilled cheese sandwich! I was so touched by the outstanding help of my friends and knew that they would help get me through the rough patch. Unfortunately, I was so nauseated, that when he offered me the sandwich I picked at it and ate about two bites before I told him I was sorry but that was the best I could do at the moment. He had me sip some Gatorade and we headed back out into the night. We’d taken probably 40 minutes getting my needs met so it was around midnight.
I was so slow through this section and not a lot of fun to hang out with I’m sure for Derek. I just slogged along in my man coat, putting one foot in front of the other, sucking on a peppermint trying to get the nausea to ease. It didn’t. It got worse. I didn’t want to drink or eat so I think I had maybe 3 sips of broth and a couple sips of water for the next 20 miles as I walked over the mountains following Derek.
By the time, Derek and I were in sight of the 70 mile spot, it was 6 am (I’d been running for 18 hours) and the 50 mile racers were just starting. They came up the trail at us as a swarm of bright headlamps and thundering feet. I heard lots of encouragement as they passed us and it was a little mental boost. My Garmin battery died just as I got into the tent and so did I. My husband was there, looking concerned (since I looked like a total wreck and was behind schedule.) All I wanted to do was lay down. This was my dark place for the race — the point where I just wasn’t sure I could find the will or strength to go on. I was so cold, just shivering – even in the man coat and multiple layers. I felt like throwing up, though my stomach was totally empty. I had no energy and I was tired and sore.
I wandered around looking for a place to lay down and couldn’t find anywhere. Finally I settled on the drop bag tarp. I just flopped to the ground, curled up in fetal position and lay there shivering. My husband leaned over me and said, “Not there! It’s covered in water from a hydration vest leak or something.” I didn’t care. I looked up at him and for the first time, let myself shed a few tears as I told him how awful I felt and how worried I was that I could not finish in this condition.
Derek was already on top of things, having set up the camp stove again and was working hard at making me a grilled cheese sandwich. Wayne went to find me some hot cocoa and within a few minutes, they started to bring me back to life – bite by bite and sip by sip. That’s the thing about these races — many times nutrition is the greatest obstacle for the racer. When you don’t get enough water, carbs and electrolytes into your system, it’s like having a car without any gas. No matter how fast the car can go when it’s got some fuel, it’s a useless pile of metal sitting alongside the road when it runs out. That’s what happened to me — I was out of gas and they were doing everything in their power to change that!
Though I love running in the dark and actually do the majority of my training by headlamp, it had also gotten to me. So, I asked Derek if we could stay in the tent until the sun was out. I’m glad I did, too, because when the sun came up, Cory was just arriving back at the tent from his 70 mile stretch and I was eager for some company! It was exactly what I needed! We’d taken more than an hour in the aid station, but by the time I left (still donning the sexy man coat) I was a totally different runner again! I felt energetic, happy, revived and EXCITED to run again!!
Derek is a pretty funny guy and does great Jim Carrey impersonations – my favorite being his Vera De Milo one from In Living Color. He started doing his silly impersonations and had Cory and I and Cory’s pacer totally cracking up! He also started to signal to me every time we passed another mile by doing a heel click, which was freaking awesome! The mood became light, the conversation picked up and all of us felt alive again!
In fact, I warmed up from the beautiful sunshine (oh glorious sunshine how I missed thee in my darkest hours!!), that I had to remove the man coat a few miles later and get a pair of sunglasses instead! I was in great spirits after this. Derek took total control of my fueling and started feeding me Cheese It crackers – just one at a time – and waiting for me to ASK for water. This was a good sign since before I could not tolerate anything. I’d sip Gatorade, we’d run a mile and we’d do it all again. Over and over. It worked perfectly!
In fact, I couldn’t believe how AWESOME I was feeling. I was definitely tired and my right big toe was sore from smacking it hard into a rock in the night on the second 20 mile loop (Derek’s famous words when I yelped, “Hey, it’s just a TOE. You don’t need that for running” which had me laughing. I smiled at all the runners, hugged my friends along the way and snuggled my kids at the aid stations. I was on fire again!
In fact, it was a complete contrast to this same section one year before where my blistered feet had me hobbling the last 50 miles. I did have a few blisters, but nothing like the year before and that just made me count my blessings. By mile 94, I felt like I was going to PR. It seemed crazy, but true!
I actually tried to pick up the pace from that point, but just as I got to mile 97 a huge blister on my left foot burst and I gasped with the sudden excruciating pain! I tried to walk on it and couldn’t believe how painful it was. That’s when I stopped, turned to Derek and said, “How in the WORLD did I run 50 miles with both feet covered in these last year?”! Sub freezing, windy weather, snow and bonking are NOTHING compared to this! I am insanely lucky that things have gone so very WELL this time!” And that was my attitude the rest of the race. I had to slow down the pace because of the blister, but I had a smile on my face.
Derek and I got closer to the finish line and I was passed by my friend Graham who was doing the 50 miler. Here is a quote of what went down at this point, that I had to share in his own words because he said it all so well:
Craziest most enjoyable finish for me yesterday…with 1/2 mile left I decided to push HARD and finish strong. I look up and see Christie Combs Ebenroth and we are like “hey there:)!”. Then Derek Call says “Go! Race him to the finish, Christie!” Sweet cheery Christie flips a switch and her normal friendly smile is gone, replaced by this…this look like I’ve just become a threat to her kids and all she loves and takes off! I thought what the?!? and kicked it up a notch…running mostly out of fear. It’s a good thing I did because a guy i had just passed decided he was going to run me down. I never expected to need a big kick at the end of 50 miles, but me and this other guy were in a 50 yard dash neck and neck like the gold medal was on the line, heads back full speed hoping our legs would hold out(well I was hoping mine would. and it was probably nothing like that, but it felt like it. Emily or Sam may have a much different take.) we crossed the finish line with nothing left.(I almost ran over Sam Collier andEmily Schuh Berriochoa watching the finish…I remember thinking, well if I black out at least I’m amongst friends)
So, it was definitely action-packed! As soon as Derek had told me to race, I went into final kick mode, loving the feel of pushing after slogging for so many miles — but I quickly remembered the plan — the fact that it was my daughter Savannah’s 6th birthday and saw the faces of my 4 other kids running towards me wanting to run across the finish line together the way we had the year before and I pulled back to let them catch up.
Derek’s two sons joined in, his youngest, little Cody, age 6 wrapped up in a blanket and we all held hands and ran towards the finish line together, grinning from ear-to-ear! Just as we hit the second timing mat, we raised our hands up in unison and went down into a bow! It was totally awesome!
Jim Skaggs handed me my coveted finisher prize — the black and silver belt buckle that says Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100 Mile Finisher – and I said to him, “Today is my daughter’s 6th birthday and this is her present from me.” And I turned and handed it to her. She looked up at me with her big blue eyes, her blond curls framing her tiny face and I saw the surprise in her face! Then she broke out into a huge grin, grabbed the buckle and threw her arms around me and said, “Thank you, Mommy!!!”
It was the perfect race! I’m so thankful the calf injury held up, that I stuck to my plan and that things went so well! I PR’d by almost two hours too!!!! Now, that’s a bonus!!!!!! Finish time last year was 30:11. This year was 28:24. Not bad!