Silver City 100k – The First Shall Be Last

Silver City 100k - photo courtesy of Julie Tinney

Silver City 100k – photo courtesy of Julie Tinney

As I laid in my camper bed, relaxing to the hum of the heater keeping me toasty, I wondered what the day ahead would bring for me as I tried to catch a few winks of sleep that just would not come. I didn’t feel afraid of the challenge, though I did worry about the weather and hoped I had chosen my morning race gear appropriately since the weather in the mountains can change with very little notice.  Only two days before the race, there had been a blizzard, then the night before it had rained on and off for hours. The weather reports were suggesting sunny and dry and possibly a little too warm for my 100k journey and I just wanted to be prepared!

I must have finally dozed off for about an hour before my alarm went off. I quietly applied copious amounts of Body Glide and put on my shorts, tank top and Brooks Nightlife LSD super thin wind and waterproof jacket, my gloves, my ever-faithful Brooks Pure Grit trail shoes and my headlamp and headed outside. I was stunned by how bright it was at 4 am! The truly blessed runners who chose the early start of the race were being graced with the presence of a spectacular and very special occurrence – a Super Moon! It was magnificent in the sky and I can honestly say, I’ve never seen it look so massive or so breathtaking before! I turned off my headlamp and was able to walk by the light of the moon to the porta potty.

I grabbed my number and timing chip and chatted in the early morning dewy pre-dawn chill with the race directors (who are good friends of mine) and the other early bird volunteers and waited for the big start!  Though 40 were registered for the event, only 35 or so actually showed up to do the race (some had dropped down in distance due to injury and others just didn’t show.) Of those, about 10 of us had chosen the 4 am early start, which eliminated the chance at any placing in the race, but gave a nice, big cushion of time to keep ahead of race cut offs on this very challenging course! I knew I was right on the line of those who could go either way. The regular start was to begin at 5:37 am and since I have had 3 dnfs to my name from cut offs in tough mountain ultras in the past (Big Horn 50 twice and Pocatello 50 once) I just didn’t want to take any chances.

Sean and I leading the early start about a mile into the race. Photo courtesy of Wayne Ebenroth

Sean and I leading the early start about a mile into the race. Photo courtesy of Wayne Ebenroth

I was really happy that so many of my friends had chosen the early start too! There was lots of well-wishing and hugging before the final countdown where we took off! Very quickly my friend Sean took the lead and he and I stayed close together until the first aid station – Slacker’s, where our good friend, Dennis (who is about the most experienced ultra runner among us) was ready to give top-notch service for what would be a very long shift (since his aid station would be our 2nd stop and our 10th and final one as well!)  Sean and I had taken about 45 minutes to run the first 3.4 with about 800 feet of gain already under our belts to warm our legs up nicely for the grueling 14,000 or so that remained.

I left the aid station first and settled into an easy, comfortable pace, running well on the early terrain, dodging the multitude of rocks and finding my rhythm. I relaxed and ran easily feeling so fresh and alive! The dawn was breaking, the scenery was postcard beautiful and there were many wildflowers, grasses wet with dew, the sweet scent of freshly rained on earth in my nose, the wide open expanses below me covered in fog as I happily ran on, all by myself for the next 9 miles.  Through this gorgeous stretch, I could run fast. I stirred up a deer from it’s bed and watched it bound up a hillside as I called out, “Good morning to you!”  A gray jack rabbit hopped across my path a little while later.  I encountered many cows near the trail and began to alert them to my presence by mooing at them as I approached! I did this the entire loop, grinning and feeling delight in the early morning light. Many of the wonderful ATV volunteers were positioned along this part of the course to keep an eye on us and help us go the right way and each one cheered and offered encouraging words as I passed, which was awesome! It was also fun hearing things like, “Your’e the first runner!”  I was only the first early runner, but it was pretty cool being in the lead (or sharing it with Sean when we were together) for this section! I was in a very happy place as the sun started to rise!

The gorgeous scenery on the Slackers 9 mile loop. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

The gorgeous scenery on the Slackers 9 mile loop. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

I completed the 9 miles in about 2 hours, checked in and out of the Slackers Aid station again and headed on my way. Sean had just caught up to me again and we enjoyed chatting and running in the early morning light. This is where we also finally saw the regular starters on the course.  I had glanced at my Garmin at 1:27 into my race and saw that I had about 7 miles down when the regular field was released. It was an exciting mental game to think of being the little turtle put ahead of the rabbits who would chase me down! I thought it would be fun to have a front row seat to all the action at the front of the pack and get to say hi to each of my fast friends as they passed me. I was happily looking forward to this part of the race and felt I had run well and was eager to see how long I could hold the lead for before I got caught by the pack!

Slacker's Aid Station and the Aid Station Captain Extraordinaire Dennis Ahern! - Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

Slacker’s Aid Station and the Aid Station Captain Extraordinaire Dennis Ahern! – Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

Sean and I stayed together, enjoying the chilly early morning, our feet getting wet from the dew on the grasses that lined the trail heavily at this part.  The scenery was out of this world beautiful and we oohed and ahhed at every bend in the trail at the brilliant vistas before us!  As we entered Silver City, Sean decided to take a bathroom break at one of the only vault toilets along the course and I ran on, eager to hear some cheering from the dwellers of Silver City (though I was aware that it was mostly a ghost town and was not expecting a big crowd.)  Unfortunately, I saw exactly zero people as I ran through town – right down the middle of the street. I was fascinated by the old stone buildings with huge metal doors and reminded myself that the race director had said under no circumstances should we peek into the windows of these cool buildings since apparently, the citizens don’t appreciate being ogled!  So, I ran, eager to hit the 3rd aid station – the Silver City one, but I didn’t see one.  I was more than 18 miles into the race and still waiting for the front runners to catch me and I was all alone and wondering how much longer this part would last. I think my overall pace at this point was something like a 13:30, which was pretty solid for this course. My goal pace was about a 17:00 so I was doing well. At this point we’d done about 3,215 feet of climb and already experienced some pretty knarly, technical, rock-strewn sections and a bit of shoe-sucking mud in the 9 mile Slackers Loop, though the worst was yet to come.

After I’d ran through town, I finally spotted some flagging indicating the 100k distance (the race also offers 30k and 50k options for those looking for less punishment!) I saw three flags in a row (which usually  means turn here), then looked down the road at the turn and saw confidence markings down the road.  But, I hadn’t hit the aid station yet and so I was confused. I stood there puzzling over it for a few minutes.  I looked straight ahead into town and did not see any other flagging, so after a few moments, I decided that turning right and heading up the hill was the right thing to do (cue the doomsday music!)

The old mining town of Silver City. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

The old mining town of Silver City. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

This is a really fun section since there are abandoned buildings, barns that have crashed to the ground, old schoolhouse type wooden structures – just all sorts of really, really cool things to look at! AND, a plethora of water crossings so wide and deep you HAVE to get your feet wet (which quite frankly I adore in a race where it’s warm!)  Sean caught up to me about half a mile in and we both felt relieved that we’d each made the same decision to follow the flagging.  Soon, the road became very steep and the grade made it hard to keep running, so we power hiked.  We hiked on and soon our Garmins said we’d hit mile 20 – and there was still no sign of the aid station.  We’d followed flagging along this entire stretch so felt like we were doing what we were supposed to,  but things just weren’t making sense.  We both agreed there was no way the front runners had not caught up with us yet by this point!  We had climbed 800 bonus feet in those two slow, hot miles and suddenly we were at a fork in the road — and the flagging ended.  We stared at each other and agreed to work as a team – him going one way and me going the other in search of the  way to go.  I went right, Sean went left. After about 2/10 of a mile with no visible flagging in a spot I could see way down the road another 2/10, I ran back to tell him that my direction must be wrong. He reported the same and we stood there as an uneasy feeling settled in and we realized we must be off course!

We had wasted over 45 minutes climbing and looking for the right way and knew it would only get worse, so we turned around and started running back down the hill, back through the multiple water crossings, back through the path of decrepid, cool, old buildings and all the way back down to the main road into town where we saw a Sherrif on an ATV talking to a woman with his back to us. We had to wait a minute to get his attention and then I asked if he knew the way we were supposed to go.  He said “Straight!”  Ugh!!!  🙁   We had done 4 bonus miles and totally wasted more than an hour of our early start cushion! Bummer!

Our moods both saddened.  We were now over 22 miles into the race and in search of the 18 mile aid station and it looked like most of the fast runners had already flown by (including most of my closest running partners who I had really hoped to see in this section.)  I was disappointed. It was my own fault for not verifying the turn or checking my map (which I did consult after the two miles uphill), but I could not get that time (or the energy my legs had expended) back.  So we started running through town together. I glanced back over my shoulder and saw a red jacket and a turquoise Pearl Izumi tank top peeking out on the runner just behind us!  Several of my friends are part of the Pearl Izumi team and I was trying to figure out which one this was. I kept running figuring they’d catch up in a couple of minutes and when they did I realized it was my neighbor, Tony Huff! It was nice to see him and he, Sean and I started running together in search of the elusive aid station.  We got a little confused in here and weren’t sure if we should cross Jordon Creek or go straight. Tony and Sean went one way and I went the other and when I saw flagging on the road another quarter of a mile away I yelled back at them until they joined me again — back on course!

Crossing the water to the Silver City Aid Station behind Sean. Photo courtesy of Antonio Salazar

Crossing Jordon Creek to the Silver City Aid Station behind Sean. Photo courtesy of Antonio Salazar

Finally, we reached the Jordon Creek aid station headed up by Tony Salazar and his exceptionally happy, hero-costumed family members and friends! I went plowing through the 6 inches or so of water to the other side, grinning and enjoying the delightful rush of cold mountain water on tired feet! They had music playing, the mood was light and they had a gourmet feast of delicious treats to offer us! I took some of the tasty watermelon and two of the most delicious pancakes I have ever eaten — the salty butter just dripping off of them as I scooped them up and started munching them as I left their aid station with Sean and Tony headed up to Hayden Peak Saddle another 5 miles away (and most of it uphill!)  It was a fun moment and I said thank you to each volunteer (as I try to do along the course in every race I do!)  I glanced at my watch and realized that I was now over 5 hours into my race which was a bit disappointing since I  would have been there closer to 3 hours 45 min into it had I not gone off course. Bummer.

Silvery City Aid Station - the most festive on the course (sorry honey!) Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

Silvery City Aid Station – the most festive on the course (sorry honey!) Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

Sean and I relaxed into a strong hiking pace and enjoyed some nice conversation as we aimed for the highest peak in the Owyhee Mountains – Hayden Peak at 8.403 feet. But, first  we’d need to reach the Hayden Saddle aid station about 5 miles away (at an elevation of 5,270 feet!)  Since Sean is a friend of mine from Boise and we’ve done a few long training runs together, this section felt very comfortable.  The scenery was extraordinary!! So much lushness! So many trees! Fields of wild flowers, long sections of tall sage brush. And, the sage brush especially caught my eye because it occurred to me how nicely it would shield the human eyes of other runners, so I excused myself and headed for a nice hidden one to take care of business before I headed for the rest of the climb to Hayden Peak.

Heading up Hayden Peak. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

Heading up Hayden Peak. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

It was at this point 3 runners passed me by.  Someone in a yellow shirt, a young gal in a white hat and a runner in a pink skirt.  I was peeking out from the bushes, trying to be discreet, so I didn’t even realize the third one was my friend, Lynette!  Several minutes later, I cleaned up and came out from my hiding spot and got back into power hike mode. The 50k runners were also climbing and descending Hayden, so I was starting to see some of the people I know!

Dondi Black kindly took this photo as I climbed up Hayden Peak.  Thank you, Dondi!

Dondi Black kindly took this photo as I climbed up Hayden Peak. Thank you, Dondi!

This section was covered in red shale and was difficult to navigate.  It was a long stretch of ankle rollers that made footing a challenge – especially when trying to speed up! I finally rolled into the Hayden Saddle aid station at 6:48 into the race (mile 23 for most 100kers and mile 27 for those on the scenic, self-guided tour!)  We were greeted by cheers and energy and smiles from more of my friends from Boise, which was awesome! I swear every aid station went above and beyond in service and smiles and for that I am truly grateful!  We were told to head to the summit grab a toy solider from a bag (to prove we’d been there) and bring it back – a 7 mile journey that would have us climb another 1,200 very rocky, very steep miles! It was slow going for sure!  This also was the one section of the race where I actually got to see several friends all at once! I saw Ryan, Marci, Michelle, Andrea, Dondi (who took my favorite pictures of the day – thanks Dondi), Derek, Frank and many others and it was a joy to see how their days were going and catch them up on mine. The most common question, “What happened to you?We thought you’d be way ahead of here by now.”

Socializing on the climb (my Garmin tells me I spent over 3 hours of non-moving time. I think I talk too much!) ha! Photo courtesy of Dondi Black.

Socializing with my childhood friend, Marci as Ryan zooms on down on his way to a serious PR.  Photo courtesy of Dondi Black.

My Garmin tells me I spent nearly 3 hours of “non moving” time in the first 18 hours and 16 seconds of this race (when my Garmin battery died at mile 61 and some change.) I can guarantee you I spent at least 45 minutes or more of that in this section talking people’s ears off as we’d pass on the trails!! I gave one runner friend some ibuprofen for her IT band problems, got a few hugs and pictures and then met up with a runner who wasn’t feeling well.  Once we started talking I realized she and I had done a couple of races together already this year (and she was 1st place in both!!) She was a rock star! 🙂 But, this was her first 100k and being a tough little gal, she was pushing through the difficulties to make it happen despite struggling with a lot of nausea.  After chatting a bit, I told her that sometimes throwing up might be the only way to relieve the nausea and she gave it a try. To my happy delight, a few minutes later she was running by my side and said she felt much better! It was nice to see her handle that stretch and feel good for a bit!

We headed to the summit, where it was getting a bit chilly and we were the only two up there. I’d seen other pals from last year take photos here and I really regretted not having a camera to take a few shots of my own (next year!)  My new pal, Serrah and I grabbed our Army guys (mine was dong the Army crawl with a gun) and we headed downhill.  I was eager to go faster than our uphill pace, but unfortunately with the loose, shale rocks covering the trail, it was almost as slow going down as it was up in many spots! My knees both started to really hurt here (which isn’t something I have had happen before.) I think the loose rocks made the IT bands work harder than usual. Serrah was struggling with nausea, so I talked her into trying to throw up to ease the feeling and she headed off into the bushes to give it a try.  A few minutes later, she was back by my side smiling and feeling much better.  We stayed together until we were back at the Hayden Saddle aid station again, where her dad and sister helped her get some ginger ale and she sat down for a minute to rest. I was now 9 hours and 17 minutes into my race and had ran over 34 miles counting my bonus 4. I had been carrying a laminated projected aid station chart with me and gave it a glance to see how far off I was of my hoped-for arrival time.  I had written 12:30 on the chart and I was 47 minutes behind due to my earlier mistake. I had already climbed over 8,500 feet in the race as well and I knew I was about half way done with another 6,000+ of gain awaiting me on the rest of the course and 33.5 more miles to go.  I hoped I would be able to pick up my pace a bit now that Hayden Peak was bagged and return to my predicted time goal if possible.

I ate some strawberries, a piece of white bread and sipped some Mountain Dew, then asked for a baggie of M and Ms from my friend Nellie who was heading up the aid station (thanks, Nellie!) and then I headed on my way.  Though I had been wearing my jacket on the trip up and down Hayden Peak, I was warming up in the afternoon sunshine at the lower elevation and I decided to take that off and stow it in my Nathan for the next stretch back to Silver City aid station – another 8 miles away.

Serrah quickly joined up with me again and we started to run really well together. We got to know each other a little bit better and it was a nice stretch.  The ATV roads through here were especially nice and we found a faster pace than we’d managed on the more rocky sections, running through the wide mountain vistas of green gorgeousness that surrounded us.  I realized about an hour later that I should fuel again, so I let Serrah go and  slowed down to take out my snacks and nibble a bit and drink up.  Not long after this, I came to a fork in the road without any ribbons or markings. I wasn’t sure which way to go, so I made a mental note of the exact mileage on my Garmin and then started heading down the path straight ahead hoping to find another trail marker within a tenth of a mile or so.  I didn’t find one after 2/10ths so I headed back to the junction and found Serrah there, equally confused having gone down the other path, also without finding a marker.  Finally, we decided to go with the one I’d tried and go further to see if it was correct or not.  We found another runner not far away after running for a bit and he assured us this was the correct path. He said a couple other runners near him had also been confused, but it was nice to be back in a groove and making progress again.

We had some nice conversation with our new trail mate – who it turned out had ran some of my Final Kick event races, which was pretty cool! We started discussing climbing vs. descending and which was our strength.  He said he was a better climber. I told him I was a better downhiller and just about this time, we hit a stretch with some nice, gentle downhill and I took off, feeling really strong and enjoying the feeling of a second wind!

I ran alone for a mile or so and then my steam faded away again.  The man caught up to me first and I encouraged him as he passed by looking strong and then Serrah caught me next and I wished her well as she went on ahead.  I had pulled out my little prediction sheet and saw I was getting further behind and I started to really get discouraged. My stomach was starting to feel nauseated, my knees were hurting when I’d try to pick up the pace and my mood slid downhill as fast as my legs normally like to carry me.  What had occurred to me just before this was that I was about to hit the stretch of the course where I’d have to REDO the section I had already done earlier when I’d taken a wrong turn.  Including the 800+ of climb.  That kind of bummed me out.

I reached the Silver City aid station at 3:34 pm – exactly 11 hours and 34 minutes into the race and I had traveled more than 43 miles by this point (instead of the 38 I should have been at.) I had hoped to arrive at this aid station at 2:46 pm, so I was now 48 minutes behind schedule (which I suppose also means I was fairly consistent in the last 8 + miles.) Antonio Salazar and his wonderful family and their other aid station workers were smiling and willing to jump in and help in any way we needed which was wonderful and a bright spot in the race for me.  I especially enjoyed the hug from his sweet mama, dressed in her Super Man t shirt and red tutu!  They topped off my water pack and I took another pancake and some watermelon. I did pull Tony aside and ask if they could radio ahead to the RD and see if there was any way I could skip the next section (since I’d already done it.) I don’t know what I was thinking – that maybe one of the ATV guys could bring me back up the hill to the spot 2 miles up I had turned around and leave me there to continue, but it was a silly thing to ask and I know that.  The radio user was busy reporting some runner data so the request never went forward and I just headed out onto repeat the section I’d done. I didn’t want to risk a dnf no matter what so I was honestly expecting to hear I’d have to redo it no matter what, but figured it didn’t hurt to ask.

There is a vault toilet about a quarter mile down the road in Silver City and I took the opportunity to stop and use it.  As I entered I spotted a brand new, unopened snack pack of Lays chips balancing precariously on the back of the potty. The aid station had ran out of salty chips by the time I reached them and it was like a ray of sunlight shone on the Tasty Treasure Treat! I believe I heard angels burst into choruses of Hallelujahs as I reached for the Gift Chips and inspected the bag to make sure it had not been opened. It had not, so I ripped it open and stuffed a few into my mouth (after wiping my hands with one of the baby wipes I carry in my pack!) It was a small ray of joy in my day and I needed it.

It felt nice to sit on an actual toilet seat after peeing in the bushes for hours! So nice, in fact, that when nothing exciting happened on the potty after a few minutes I found myself not wanting to get up. It was comfy there in the vault toilet and I hadn’t sat down all day. It was a monumental effort to get my butt off that seat and back into the groove of being in a race again! I opened the door and headed back to the road and started running again.  Serrah caught up to me somewhere in here and she wasn’t feeling too hot again, struggling with nausea and exhaustion a bit.

We fed off each other’s misery as we climbed up towards Long Gulch, which is only 3.5 miles from the Silver City aid station but has 1311 feet of climb and feels like a slow, long haul.  About a mile up the hill, I saw an ATV rider. I had pulled out my map concerned about the junction I’d encountered earlier in the day on this stretch when Sean and I could not find any flagging 2 miles up.  The rider asked if he could help me and I explained my concern about getting up the hill again and not being able to tell which way to go. I asked if he knew which direction was right or if he’d spotted an aid station at the top.  I showed him my map and let him look at it and he told me that he had seen the aid station but could not remember which direction to take, but that it was a long, long ways up to the top.  🙁 I thanked him for his help (and realized somewhere in here that he was the husband of one of my childhood friends) and then Serrah caught up to me and we continued on.

There are many water crossings through this section and in the warmth of the afternoon sun, they were a welcome relief.  Serrah pulled off to puke again and I kept heading slowly up the road, trying to stay out of the path of the stream of ATV riders and pick up trucks coming and going up and down the hill. I finally reached the spot Sean and I had gotten to and noticed someone had placed a ribbon to the right.  I was so happy about that! So, I headed right at the junction and encountered several men and a woman and an angry, barking dog right at the next big water crossing.  The dog barked and barked at me as I got closer and I kept my eye on him as I got around the people and crossed the water.   I was glad to be on the other side and on my way.

It was several minutes later that I heard the dog again and knew Serrah was safely behind me. I’d been worrying about her and didn’t want her to get too far behind while she was feeling bad. This eased my mind and I kept moving forward at a slow, trudging pace, just following the plethora of footprints in the dirt that had traveled up before me.  Serrah and another man caught up to me about a mile before the aid station and we heard hoots and cheering as we approached the Long Gulch aid station, where they aid, “C’mon! Let’s see some RUNNING!”  That lit my fire and Serrah and I started sprinting towards them at a breakneck speed (likely a 10 min mile at this point, which honestly felt like a 5 min mile!)

I was so relieved to finally be at the top.  I realized that I knew a few of the volunteers and we said hello.   They offered me bacon and I accepted (because WHO refuses bacon?!) but when I tried to take a bite, my stomach went very sour and I had to set it down.  I was now about 46 miles into the race and at the point I often start to struggle with getting food into my system.  I had been eating steady most of the day and my gut just felt full and sloshy and gross. I didn’t want to eat and yet I knew I should. It was 5:04 pm and I’d been running for more than 13 hours and I was starting to really feel it. It occurred to me that the winners were likely already done and I still had over 22 miles left to go. Ugh! I checked my cheat sheet to see how far off I was and saw that I had hoped to arrive here at 3:45 pm, so I was now an hour and 19 minutes behind my goal.  Dang! And, I knew Tennessee Hill (the steepest climb of the race) was still awaiting me.

After a few minutes of light snacking, a nice man packed up some Cheese It crackers and sent me on my way.  Sadly, those crackers would ride in my pack the next 8 hours and I would not eat one of them as my stomach would go from bad to worse.  Serrah, our new friend Steve and I left the aid station running fairly well together, but quickly my stomach made me feel awful running, so I slowed to a walk and let them take off.  We were one our way to Jordan Creek aid station (the final cut off place in the race with a cut off time of 7:30 pm) and I knew Tennessee Hill was right after that. I spent the next 4 mile walking alone. I tried to keep the pace at about a 14-16 min pace and would just add bursts of running for as long as my sore knees and sour stomach could take it.  I finally decided to take a moment of this solitude and head for a bush break again, hoping I could ease some of the stomach problems with some emptying.  I spent several minutes taking care of business and then got back on the trail, but found I wasn’t moving much better. I was starting to really fatigue and it was getting late.

Jordan Creek  Aid Station for the second time. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

Jordan Creek Aid Station for the second time. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

When I could hear the sound of rushing water, I perked up.  I knew that Jordan Creek must be getting closer and that gave me hope!  I made it through a water crossing and then hit a dirt road and followed the markings and just kept running. I was suddenly running a little better and was eager to get to the aid station.  I finally pulled into the aid station at 6:26 pm about an hour before the cut off.  My friend Tina Upton was there and she offered me a banana Popsicle, which I happily accepted.  I refused water, since I hadn’t drank any since the last aid station and didn’t need any.  My race director friends were there too and they looked concerned.  They wanted to know how I’d gotten the 4 miles off course earlier in the day and I spent several minutes explaining what had happened.  As I spoke I started to get more down about it. In retrospect, I should have just asked if we could talk about it later, since this was taking time and reminding me of my mistake.  I showed my friend Davina my Garmin and said, “I’m now over 52 miles into the race and I was supposed to arrive at my husband’s aid station at mile 51, so that’s kind of depressing.”  That’s when she also told me that the next runner behind me on the course was over 4 hours back and would be pulled.  I had just become the last place runner.

With that bad news I headed through Jordan Creek water crossing and straight up the worst climb of the day — Tennessee Hill.  I had hoped to arrive at Jordan Creek AS at 4:58 pm. I was more than an hour and a half behind and I’d spent about 20 minutes at the aid station, so I was getting further and further behind my goal.

Tennesee Mountain. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

Tennesee Mountain. Photo courtesy of Jeff Black

The climb up Tennessee is no joke! I’d take several steps up, moving steady but slowly and then have to stop and catch my breath.  I had to keep my shoes at an angle as I trudged uphill, leaning forward on my knees as the grade increased and I got further up.  Tennessee hill ascends something like 1,200 in less than a mile, so it’s a real kick in the gut at such a late point in the race. I’d heard people who had done the race the year before giving some pretty colorful names to this section and I started to understand why!

The worst part was when I thought I’d reached the summit (and had traveled more than a mile from the aid station and could see just a small white dot where the white canopy was marking the spot back), I headed forward and realized that the climb had just BEGAN!  There before my bewildered eyeballs was the steepest section of all! Oy vey! I groaned and struggled on, noticing that the light was fading around me and the sun was setting.  When I finally reached the summit, I wanted to mark the occasion.  I couldn’t think of a better way than peeing right on the top to mark that I’d been there and conquered it! Take THAT, Tennessee Hill!!   I walked a bit more to the other side, where it started to descend and just took a moment to enjoy the view. It really was spectacular.  I could see deer bounding in the distance and the purple and white wildflowers were a beautiful sight in the fading light of the sunset.  I decided to just sit down right on the path for a moment and take in the scenery from way up high.

Once I got moving again, it was slow going. I think I’d just lost my drive and was just putting one foot in front of the other. Thankfully, this next section is much easier and I started jogging again, though most of it was power walking.  I knew that the next aid station I would reach would be the one I’d looked most forward to all day — Delamar  – the aid station my five kids, husband and I had headed up last year!  My husband and some friends would be there waiting for me this time and I was so eager to get there! I knew he had coconut Popsicle and I tried to use my desire for one as motivation to get there!

About a mile from the aid station, I was surprised to hear a runner coming up from behind me. It was my buddy, Paul! He told me he was the race sweeper and was here to hang with me! Woo hoo! It was so very nice to have some company after so many hours alone!  My pace picked up considerably for a little bit, but soon, I had to let him know my fatigue and lack of nutrition were catching up with me and I’d need to power walk instead.  Paul is a very happy-go-lucky type of person and I appreciated his taking the lead in conversation since I was pretty brain-dead by this point.

Coming into Delamar looking like I'd had just about enough. Photo courtesy of Wayne Ebenroth

Coming into Delamar looking like I’d had just about enough. Photo courtesy of Wayne Ebenroth

We finally pulled into the Delamar aid station at 8:30 pm (about 2 hours behind my goal time.)  My husband took photos as we came down the hill and I had the look of “You would NOT believe the bad day I’ve had” face in them.  Normally, I’m a goofball and ham it up for the camera so I was not in a good mental place at this point.  I was tired. I was nauseous and I was eager to be done. I had been running for 16 and a half hours buy this point and I still had about a half marathon in distance before me (and over 2,000 more of climbing to boot!)  I quickly perked up with the fun mood of the aid station, though.  Everyone was smiling and offering me help.  I accepted a cold mocha Frappuccino and drank half of it while I filled them in on the events of the day.  I think I sat in that chair chatting for about 20 minutes and honestly hated to leave I was having so much fun.  But, there was work to be done and I headed out.  I made one very crucial mistake here. I had only one drop back for the entire race and it was here.  I was still wearing my thin Brooks windbreaker, a tank top and my shorts and gloves and had my headlamp, but could have used some wind pants and a warmer shirt or jacket (all of which were in the bag that I never even asked for!) Doh! This would be a huge mistake and I’d pay for it!

Paul and I had heard that another runner was only 15 minutes ahead of us and we decided to see if we could catch them.  Unfortunately, my stomach and sore knees said, “Um NO!”  when I tried to convince them to run.  So, we took short run breaks and power walked on. We had to turn on our headlamps not far down the road and after several miles we finally did catch up with our friend, Day (who was doing his first 100k and doing a great job!) That gave me some renewed strength and I ran on ahead letting Day get some conversation time in with Paul and I ran along, riding another short wave of energy under the full moon, through the forest in silence.

My Garmin had died, so I had no idea how far I’d gone but it seemed I’d been running alone for at least half an hour when I got to a marking on a fence that made me wonder if I was supposed to go through the wide crack in the fence or run along the fence line.  I was freezing, shivering in the night chill and I didn’t want to stand still and wait for Paul and Day to catch up.  Luckily, I saw a blip of light to my left and headed in that direction, with renewed hope.   My teeth were chattering, I could hardly feel my fingers and I was struggling in the temperatures that felt about 32 degrees or so.  When the person with the headlamp reached me I recognized the orange Brooks jacket right away! It was my friend, Mark! I said, “Mark! I’m so happy to see you! I’m so cold, just so cold and tired.”  He was a gentleman and offered me his jacket, which I was thankful for.  It’s the same jacket I was wearing, so it helped a bit but did not really warm me up much.  I continued to stumble forward, feeling very bonky and very, very tired.  I knew my wonderful friend and mentor, Dennis Ahern would be at the next aid station (Slackers – the one we’d also hit at aid #1 and aid #2) and I could not wait to see him!! Mark told me that Dennis had a heater and that made me long for getting there even more.   I’m not sure how far we walked, but it like an eternity and I remember asking, “Are we ever going to get there?”  Poor Mark assured me that we would and that it wasn’t far.

Finally, I saw the glow of the propane heaters and I started stumbling towards the aid station in the night, muttering, “Dennis. Dennis. Dennis!!!”  I staggered into his camp and opened my arms and said, “Ohhhhh, Dennnnissss… I looovveee you sooo much. I was trying so hard to get to youuuuu.”  I know I must have seemed like a total drunk in my horribly exhausted, bonky state, but Dennis has ran more ultras than anyone I know and he embraced me, kissed me on the forehead and said, “I’m happy to see you too, kid!”  Then, he had me sit down by the heater and he offered me a blanket and someone offered me a cup of broth with noodles.  I just wanted to sleep. It was now 19 hours and 52 minutes into my race and it had taken me almost 3 1/2 hours to go the 9 miles from Delamar. I was raw and emotional and totally drained.  My basic human needs were all that mattered:  Sleep, food, warmth.   But, sleep would have to wait.  I still had 3.5 miles to the finish line to go.

Dennis kindly let me borrow his Big Horn 100 miler blanket (which had special meaning to me since Dennis and I had traveled there together two years in a row.) I wrapped it as best  as I could around my frozen body and I stumbled forward into the dark, cold forest on a mission to the finish line.  I had traveled over 64 miles (the amount most 100kers would do that day), but I was not finished yet.  My drunk stumble got wobblier and wobblier as I deliriously tried to follow Mark and Paul as they happily chatted and SANG in the dark.  Paul would belt out, “Call Me Maybe” and wait to see if I’d identify the tune through a raspy, low energy whisper.  I did. And identified,  “Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night by the Black Eyed Peas and “Lucky” before I could no longer even muster the strength to respond at all.   Mark joined in and my brain tried to figure out what exactly crazy dream state this was where two men kept happily singing while I stumbled, wrapped like a human burrito in the dark behind them.   Each time we’d approach a hill, Paul would say, :”Christie! Isn’t this WONDERFUL?! A hill will help warm you up!!” and I’d groan……   Then slowly trudge up.

After what seemed like a million, bajillion years, we finally reached the dirt road. I was very familiar with the road because I’d gone back on it last year several times to run in my friends Michelle, then Tony, then Ryan and Derek (just before they did the sweetest double heel click finish line photo ever known to man!) I did not feel like a heel click, but it did make me emotional thinking of my friends and I missed them all and was eager to get done with the race and be with everyone again.  I knew the road was about 3/4 of a mile (and this of course was the same road we’d started the race on a million hours ago) and when we got close enough to hear the buzz of the generators, I started to stumble faster, tugging my blanket closer to keep out the freezing cold as I started to run again.  And, then we rounded the corner and the people who were amazingly still up at 1:15 am clapped and cheered for me.  Day had caught up and passed me in the final section, so they were welcoming in the last runner — who had been among the first to jump on the course at 4 am the day before.  The first shall be last was my story.  And as I approached the finish line, tears just came spilling down my tired, frozen cheeks. All I wanted to do was stop. To lay down. To be done! And, then I was.

My husband wrapped his strong arms around me and told me he was so proud of me and I just sobbed.  Davina’s cute little son, Tanner handed me my amazing double horseshoe finisher prize (the absolute COOLEST finisher award I have ever owned!)

It had taken me 21 hours and 15 minutes to run the 100k about 3 hours later than I’d hoped to do.  I had traveled over 68.5 miles. I was exhausted. I had done it! I asked my husband to help me get to the camper so I could get warm.  As soon as I stumbled into the blazing heat, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that he’d gotten it toasty for me.  And, there I was again, just as before, in the warm camper, but this time caked in mud and sweat and tears.  I laid down on the bed and closed my eyes and forgot about the pain and the miles and slept the sleep of the righteous (as Dennis always says to us after a race we’ve finished!)

 

The morning after the race, holding my totally cool Silver City 100k finisher horseshoe award! Photo courtesy of Alan Sandquist

The morning after the race, holding my totally cool Silver City 100k finisher horseshoe award! Photo courtesy of Alan Sandquist

 

 

4 thoughts on “Silver City 100k – The First Shall Be Last

  1. Thank you, Ryan! Looking forward to reading yours which will probably sound something like this, “I ran! I didn’t do anything stupid! I PR’d cuz I’m awesome!” or something like that! 🙂

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