09/30/15

Time to Man Up – The Bear 100

Bear Lake wahoo

I’ll never forget my first ultra. It was a frigid day in January of 2010 in the Boise Foothills where I live. Snow was up to my knees on some sections of the trails. There were miles of ice.  I was there with my buddy Bertha, who I’d known since I was 6. We got lost a few times. We saw some spectacular scenery – snow-capped mountains, sagebrush covered in frost, the world a winter wonderland, so quiet and still and soothing all around us. The climbs were so brutal, I remember Bertha yelling out into the frosty air, “My ass is on fire! This hurts! What were we thinking? I am never doing this again!” Around lunchtime reached a summit and ate boiled potatoes rolled in salt as we sat on a mountain top gazing down in wonder at the world below covered in snow and had our first taste of ultra running heaven – and hell that day. We’d discovered a new type of running unlike any of our treks on the Boise greenbelt or along country roads like we’d grown used to.

Bertha and I fat ass

 

It was all her fault that we were in the race at all. It wasn’t even an official race. It was a fat ass. That’s a term that can raise an eyebrow and seem impolite – but, as it turns out in the ultra running world, it’s just a funny name for an unofficial ultra marathon.  “No aid stations, no trail markings, no awards and no whining!” the flyer had said when we read it and decided to go.  That is, before Bertha decided to do it.

I told her it was a crazy idea. I’d completed my very first marathon in October of 2009 and that had taken months of careful training to build up to such a distance.  When Bertha asked me if I’d join her for the fat ass I immediately told her, “NO way! Ain’t happenin’! Nu uh!”  Then I couldn’t stop thinking about her big, sad, dark Bambi eyes and the next day I called her up and as soon as I heard her voice, I said, “FINE. I’ll do it, but I think it’s a terrible idea.” Good friends. That’s what we’re here for.  To shoot down your dreams and then grudgingly come along to support them anyways, right?

That day changed me. Changed both of us. I got diarrhea. I couldn’t fathom doing my business out in the wild with only barren,  foot-tall sagebrush to shield the world from my rear end. My road running experience had not prepared me for this! So I quit. At mile 23.77. It had taken me 7 hours. My husband picked me up and drove me home, where I thought about how I’d given up. I knew it wasn’t an official race, but I’ve always been the type of person to finish what I start and it didn’t sit well with me to have been a quitter.

Bertha went on to finish the race that day. I was so proud of her and her drive and determination.  I sat around feeling mad at myself for not completing what I’d started and wanted to make it right. So, I found another ultra. An official one happening in April called Weiser River 50k and I went on to finally finish what I started (albeit not before going through another round of ultra diarrhea which allowed me the thrill of coming in last place!) At least I was given a lollipop as a consolation prize for being last. The woman handing it to me said, “Because you’re one tough sucker!” That got a big smile out of me. And, from that day forward, I was hooked! I’d been bitten by the ultra marathon bug!

Weiser River 50k

Once I’d completed that first 50k, I started hearing about bigger races. Of unfathomable distances. 50 milers, 100ks and the granddaddy of them all – 100 milers! What?! Why oh why would anyone want to run the equivalent of four marathons back to back? In the mountains?! I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it.  And yet, it intrigued me. Just a little.

There was one gal in our running gang who was the most determined of us all.  Emily.  She’d grown up with a father who not only ran marathons, hunted with a bow and arrow and did Ironmans. He was also an ultra runner! Emily wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps and was setting her sights on doing a 100 miler.  She’d chosen The Bear in Logan, Utah in September of 2010. We watched her train. Saw her resolve grow strong. Followed her online as she battled the course and it’s 20,500+ of elevation gain – and saw her finish half an hour after the final cut off. It was both inspirational and emotionally devastating.  She’d done it! She’d ran a hundred miles. But she didn’t get the buckle or the praise or the feeling of accomplishment we all wanted her to receive.  She’d been just a little bit behind the clock.   I had never experienced anything so brutal and the idea of facing a huge challenge like that and then failing right at the end brought out my worst fears and insecurities when I even allowed myself to imagine doing a race like that.  I vowed then and there I’d never do one. I just didn’t think I could handle the disappointment if I failed.

Emily the unstoppable aid break

But, Emily didn’t quit. In June of 2011, several of the Boise Trail Runners group headed down to Wyoming for the Big Horn 100. I was signed up for the 50.  It was my first. I was pulled at the Dry Fork aid station about 20 minutes behind a cut off. I’d failed. I just wasn’t fast enough. But after I had gotten a ride back to the start/finish, I had borrowed a pair of Emily’s extra shoes from our cabin and headed back out on the course looking for her.  The final cut off was inching up and every nerve in my body was on alert, hoping she’d make it this time!

I’ll never forget the feeling of elation when I came around a corner on the long, winding dirt road and saw her there — exhausted but smiling, with her younger sister on a bike by her side and several 50 milers who’d adopted her and decided to stay with her to the end! I was so happy, I jumped up and down and clapped and cheered! I had the honor and privilege that day to run with Emily and her gang to the end. To stand there at the finish line with her parents, grandparents and friends cheering as she came running into the finish line in victory! Tears just streamed down my face as I saw her confidence restored! It was life-changing to be there at that very moment and I have since said I am so grateful that it was my own race that went south that day and not hers.  She deserved that buckle and she finally got it!

Emily at Big Horn finish

Emily went on to do the Bear later that summer and earned her buckle! She’s since completed 9 more hundred milers for a total of 11 buckles, which still blows my mind!  We are a similar pace in other races and she is often facing the cut offs in the mountainous races like Bear, Big Horn and IMTUF, so I continued to hesitantly watch her arise victorious after tough battles with many of these courses – and stood back in awe – and fear since I wasn’t sure I had that most essential of ingredients that 100 milers need to have — the firm resolve to never give up no matter the odds or the circumstances.  Emily was my hero but I wasn’t sure I had what she had.  So I shook like a chihuahua on the fourth of July every time someone would ask me, “So, are you ever going to do a hundred miler?”

Antelope Island 100 first time

Finally, in March of 2012, I did it. I did the Antelope Island Buffalo Run. I came in last. Again. But, overjoyed and elated that I’d done it! I’d earned my first buckle! My friends would ask, “So, are you going to do Big Horn, Bear or IMTUF?” I’d break out into a cold sweat and grow wide-eyed and feel my heart pounding like a teenage girl trapped in an elevator with Harry Styles and squeak out, “I’m not ready yet!”

Years went by. I did Antelope Island two more times. Buckling once and DNFing once when I got too cold and couldn’t regulate my body temperatures at mile 75. I did Javelina Jundred on my birthday in 2014 and got not only a pretty cool buckle but also the entire finish line crowd singing happy birthday to me. It was glorious! And I wasn’t coming in last anymore. I beat the cut offs in the second and third 100 milers by over an hour and a half. I ran the Pickled Feet 100 in March one week after pacing a friend at Antelope for 50 miles and finally it occurred to me — I was stalling. Four buckles. Several ultra finishes. Even a marathon fast enough to qualify for Boston on my resume. It was time to pull up my big-girl panties, steel my resolve and face my fears with the Bear! So, I signed up. In January of 2015.

Emileon's Fat Ass 2015. I'm int he pink hat and Derek is in the blue coat. The day he offered to pace at the Bear! :)

Emileon’s Fat Ass 2015. I’m in the pink hat and Derek is in the blue coat. The day he offered to pace at the Bear! 🙂

I was running the fat ass a couple weeks later, when my pal, Derek came pounding up beside me at the race.  Derek’s a good friend. He paced me at my second hundred miler and kept me smiling by doing heel clicks and Jim Carey impersonations.  He also has 6 buckles, so he’s much more experienced than I am. I paced him at IMTUF a couple years back and got the pleasure of seeing what it felt like to run with the ‘fast boys’ and cross a finish line in time for a late breakfast (and a fourth place spot!)

Derek at IMTUF the year I got to pace him, doing one of his famous heel clicks!

Derek at IMTUF the year I got to pace him, doing one of his famous heel clicks!

Derek’s a strong runner, so when I told him I’d finally jumped off the diving board and into the lake of FEAR by signing up for Bear, it made my day when his immediate response was, “So, you want me to pace you?” I’m not sure if the squeeze-the-life-right-out-of-you hug I gave him made him immediately regret the decision or not, but I knew from that moment on, that I was in good hands!

That is, until four weeks before the race, when he texted me to tell me he’d broken his ribs in a water skiing accident! Poor Derek! And suddenly, I was in a panic! I watched, with shallow breaths, Derek’s progress at Wasatch two weeks before my race. He’d insisted on toeing the line, even with broken ribs. He’s kind of a bad-ass that way. Or mental. Or both! But, I was willing his ribs to knit and to give him a good race.  But, it was not to be. He had to drop at about mile 37 when every breath hurt and he was nearly in tears. I felt terrible for him. I knew it broke his heart to receive his first DNF.

My buddy, Ryan had mentioned that if Derek wasn’t healed up in time, he’d pace me at the Bear.  Ryan’s ran more miles with me than anyone and has finished Bear twice, so I knew I’d be in wonderful hands with him too.  Then he had a bad day at Wasatch. And DNF’d too.  And wanted to do the Bear to earn his ticket into the Hard Rock lottery for the year.  Suddenly, I was concerned that I was two weeks from the most difficult race of my life and didn’t have a pacer.

The only DNF I have had in a hundred was when I tried to go without a pacer or crew overnight at Buffalo Run.  My fears really started to overtake me and I struggled with panicky thoughts.  Right in the middle of this, my own race directing life was going through chaos too. My husband and I directed our biggest event yet- The Idaho Wine Run with 2,000 racers, then two weeks later, just days before our Freakin Fast Marathon, we found out the asphalt on the road construction project on Bogus Basin Rd. wasn’t going to be laid in time for my 4,000 foot drop, certified marathon! Six miles of my course was rugged and unpaved! I had 400 racers coming from all over to do my race – and I had the horrible job of telling them all we would have to delay the event.  It was crushing, stressful and emotional.

After a whirlwind of new permits, traffic control and police conversations we finally were able to get a new date — 6 weeks out — but the whole thing and the angry e-mails and frustrated customers left me in tears and frazzled many a nights as we did the best we could to make it right.  And, I still couldn’t find a replacement pacer. I’d asked several friends and couldn’t find anyone available that close to the race. I was really scared I was going to show up to the race and not be able to accomplish the goal if I had to do it on my own.

I was happy to have my wonderful husband, Wayne on board as crew chief and my sweet friend, Jenny there to help Wayne crew and to join me for a short leg or two and I tried to focus on that.  Derek also really amazed me when he told me that he thought he’d be able to handle pacing the race after all.  He said he was feeling much better and was feeling confident it would all turn out. After a couple conversations with him, I felt relieved and hopeful again (and still in awe that he even wanted to come after going through such a painful injury!) Derek is also really funny, so when he started saying silly things like he was going to read Where’s Waldo to me in the night while we ran, I relaxed and started to get excited about my journey!

Boise Trail Runners out to represent! Me, Ryan and Jayk.

Boise Trail Runners out to represent! Me, Ryan and Jayk.

Wayne, Jenny and I showed up at the pre-race meeting/packet pick up in Logan on Thursday evening around 5 pm. I was so happy to see so many familiar faces! Ryan and Jayk were both there from Boise.  My buddy, Mike Place from Utah was there to give me a big hug, which made my day since I hadn’t seen him in over a year. I got to meet two friends from Daily Mile, Brie and her boyfriend, Kevin, which was also really fun.  I also had heard that Jenn Shelton (who I’d first read about in Born to Run and who I’d watched in Unbreakable pacing Anton) would be there! I am in awe of her running ability and really admire her, so when my pals spotted her and encouraged me to go over and take a picture with her, I panicked! I was excited to see her, but honestly, really shy to say hello! My husband dragged me over, with Ryan tagging along, snickering at me freaking out and being all star-struck.  Jenny pushed me over to Jenn and I just stood there wide-eyed and awkwardly muttered, “I’m a big fan!” DOH! Who says that to an ultra runner?! Oh. My. Word. I wanted to turn around and run away, but instead my husband said, “Let’s get a picture!” Ryan chimed in, “I’m going to photobomb! (which I think takes away from the whole point of photobombing), but which actually made me finally laugh a little since he’s always doing that to my pictures.  So, it happened.  I got to meet Jenn. She was really cool. Ryan photobombed us.  The photo is a nice memento now. 🙂

Meeting Jenn Shelton (with the Ryan photobombing tongue of course!)

Meeting Jenn Shelton (with the Ryan photobombing tongue of course!)

During the pre-race meeting, my eyes grew wide when the race director, Leland Barker mentioned spots along the course that people tend to get lost.  I have gotten lost on a few ultras, so it was one of my biggest fears.  Ryan stood behind me and said, “I just want you to cover your ears and sing “La la la la la” and not listen to any of this. It will only freak you out.  You’ll be fine.”  So, I listened to him and tried not to let my imagination get the best of me (though I did start imagining a helicopter circling the forest looking for the lost runner who’d taken a wrong turn and only had a granola bar, a buff and a pack of wet wipes to fight off starvation, hypothermia and wild animals with.)

After the meeting, Ryan gave me the address of a little restaurant about twenty minutes away that served pasta since that’s my go-to pre-race meal.  Ryan’s family, Wayne, Jenny and I all headed out there and had one of the most delicious pre-race meals I’ve ever eaten! The atmosphere was so mellow, the lighting was soft, the food was outstanding and the bread sticks were the biggest, yummiest I’d ever tasted! Perfection! Chatting with Ryan, Wayne, Michelle and Jenny also relaxed me and helped me to unwind.

When we got back to the hotel, I laid everything out for the following day. I went over my pace chart and the maps with my crew and then took a bath and tried to get some rest.  I felt calm. I felt hopeful. But I couldn’t shut off my brain. This is a common problem for me before any race. I rarely sleep more than an hour or two when I’m nervous. And, that’s what happened. I slept for about an hour before the alarm went off at 3:15 am.  My period had shown up the night before the race, so I made sure to pack extra supplies for my drop bag and for my crew to have along the way (and prayed the delays wouldn’t cost me a finish.)  I dressed, got my hydration pack filled and ready with snacks for the first 20 miles before I’d see my crew and I ate a bowl of microwave oatmeal and a banana and sipped a cup of bitter, hotel-room coffee.  I felt good. I had butterflies, but I had hope, too.

We left the hotel around 4:40 am.  We were only about 10 minutes from the start and I wanted to arrive an hour early so I could use the bathroom and get hugs from my other friends who were racing before they took off at their own pace.  Everything went smoothly. We got to the park and were one of the first cars there. I used the bathroom several times, got checked in and chatted with the other runners and kept hugging Wayne to stay warm in the early morning chill. I finally spotted Brie, Kevin and Quintin and wished them well, but couldn’t find Mike or Ryan. It was just so crowded and dark and I’m such a shorty, so it was hard to find them.

With my husband, Wayne before the Bear start

With my husband, Wayne before the Bear start

Finally, they were counting down and I had my finger hovered over my Suunto start button. 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – GO! I hit the button and we were off!! People were cheering and I had a smile as wide as Texas thinking that here I was, after all these years – finally doing the Bear! It was a very similar feeling to the day I finally ran the Boston Marathon after trying to qualify for many years — almost like I was in a dream come true!  I felt honored and excited and a teeny bit scared.  I pulled way back and tried to be at the tail end of the conga line of runners as we approached the first huge climb that comes after the initial flat start on the asphalt.  Nearly everyone around me was walking the uphill asphalt section through suburbia towards the trails and the looming, steep mountains that awaited. I leaped off into the bushes to do my business and afterwords found myself so far back I couldn’t see anyone near me. I prefered it that way. Less pressure on the climbs (which are my nemesis.)  I relaxed and enjoyed the cool, fall, early-morning temperatures and eagerly waited for the dawn so I could start seeing the fall beauty all around me with more than my headlamp light.

And bit-by-bit the day did dawn and I was taken aback by the beauty all around me! The aspen, the pines, the red, gold and brown leaves, the majestic vistas from up high, the sprawling valleys below! It was absolutely everything I’d heard about and more! I commented to someone, “It’s like running in a watercolor painting!” It was that gorgeous!

The conga line up the first long climb. Photo credit to Jon Aardal

The conga line up the first long climb. Photo credit to Jon Aardal

Once we’d reached the flatter sections up high, I found my legs again and started to fly! I passed several people and just enjoyed the feeling of lightness and happiness that faster running brings me! I was in heaven! My strategy is always to slowly hike the uphills to keep my heart rate in check (and to make me hate life less), then run the flats and downs exactly the way I feel them out (which is usually fast when I’ve been taking care of myself and still have some legs to give.) It seems to work for me and keeps me mentally in a good place. It also helps me with my nutrition since I eat and drink on the uphills and don’t really on the downs since I’m running faster. It seems to balance things out for me.

I did feel a little frustrated by having to stop so often to deal with my period.  I had to deal with it about 15 times during the race. Each time, I’d have to hike off trail to find somewhere private or hit a porta potty at the aid stations and I’d lose 5 minutes or more, but it was something that I just had to deal with.  The same thing had happened to me at Big Horn and Mt Hood, so I just tried to do what I needed to quickly and then jump back into the race (often having to work to regain my position with the other runners who would pass me as I was in the woods.)

Overall I felt really good. I was happy with my pace and I was close to my pace chart for more than twenty miles.  I remember running along well and finally seeing Brie and Kevin up ahead and I pushed it a bit to catch up so we could chat! I remember some sweet, technical, fun downhill miles with the two of them as we headed into Leatham Hollow AS talking, running fast and enjoying the day! We were having a ball!

Just before the aid station, My pal, Jenny, in her cute, long, dark, braids and pink trucker hat had ran out onto the trail to greet us and that just lit a fire under me and I started running really fast to get to the aid station! I remember her yelling, “If you expect me to pace you later, you need to slow down!” That made me laugh and was a nice confidence boost that I still had some legs at mile 29.98 (but a long, long ways to go!)  Wayne and Jenny took great care of me there and I was grateful to feel like a car at Nascar getting tended to so well and having all my needs met simultaneously!

I had decided to try a few new things for this race that I hadn’t done in other hundreds. I often struggle with keeping my calories up and get nausea at some point for hours in every hundred, so I was trying to bring foods that I normally eat when I’m not racing and see how they went. I figure I didn’t have anything to lose since I have had things go south nutritionally in all my other 100s at some point.   Jenny was bubbly and focused and handed me an ice cold chocolate milk, which totally hit the spot! (Yay! One food that was a success!) I also had asked her to get an avocado ready for me and she had. I enjoyed the creamy texture and knew I was getting in a lot of protein, fat and calories quickly by eating it. I asked for a cold root beer next and chugged as much of it as I could. Finally, Jenny and Wayne sent me out of there with a stick of celery and peanut butter and a half peanut butter sandwich in my pack. They also had my bandanna ready to wrap around my neck for the upcoming exposed, hot sections.  We knew the high was predicted to be around 96, so it would be important to keep my body temperature down during the worst of it if I was to survive to the end without wilting and dying along the way. Manage the small things so they don’t become big things was my mantra and it seemed to be working.

The walk out of Leatham Hollow was anticlimactic. Suddenly I was noticing the heat. And realized I’d spent way too much time in the aid station – about 20 minutes. I knew I’d have to be faster in the aid stations since there are 13 and every minute would likely count by the finish. I walked along the dusty, dirt road, feeling the sun beating down on me as I munched my peanut butter celery.  Jenny and Wayne had done a wonderful job of filling my hydration pack with ice so that it would melt as I went and my one 22 oz bottle with 3/4 Gatorade and more ice so that I had a nice balance of electrolytes and water until the next aid station.

I chose to go back and forth between Tailwind and Gatorade throughout the race (with a variety of flavors)  for my electrolyte drink and that seemed to keep things interesting and more enjoyable for my taste buds along the way. They were refreshing and kept me hydrated and satisfied the entire race since my crew worked hard to replace my ice and liquids all 9 times they saw me along the course! I really appreciated the boost that a chilly drink could give me even in the worst of the  heat and climbing!

I just walked the three miles from Leatham Hollow to Richards Hollow.  I just kept thinking, “Eat, drink, keep the core temperature happy.” It worked.  The temperature kept creeping up, but I was feeling just fine. I had caught up to a nice couple just a bit before Richards Hollow and we entered the aid station at the same time. I checked in and checked right out and headed up the climb.  Ryan had also given me a tip to watch out for the stream that ran alongside the steep climbs from Richards Hollow to Cowley. It was very good advice.

The climbing was brutal and much of it was exposed. I kept stepping off the path and walking over to the bubbling, cool stream and dipping my hat and my bandanna into the water. Ryan had suggested even sitting in the water to cool down if I needed to, which sounded wonderful, but wouldn’t have felt very practical since I was having to wear a pad for my period and that would have caused other problems, so I just splashed my face, neck, arms and legs and kept moving along.  I had maybe 6 people pass me on the climb.  When my heart rate would start to get too rapid, I’d find a nice rock or a log and just sit down in one of the rare shady spots and just take some breaths before proceeding up the mountain at a snail’s pace (aka – my usual climbing pace.)  I remember Quintin passing me here and giving me some encouraging words.

The cows.  I’d heard there were a lot of cattle on the Bear course, but I was actually surprised at how many I saw! And sheep, too!  I remember at one point, my new friend Chihping catching up to me as I stood off the trail waiting for two cowboys to drive a herd of cattle through the path. I found it fascinating and fun and didn’t mind at all as we watched them go by.  Chihping had his Go-Pro going capturing the whole thing! We may have lost 5 min in there, but I didn’t mind.  It was a chance to catch my breath and be in the moment and I enjoyed chatting with my new friend. We ran well on the flatter sections through there to the next aid station.

I found myself chatting with a new friend about a mile before I hit Cowley. The man had on an outfit that reminded me of a rainbow and I struck up a conversation with him as we ran the downhill, faster section. As we rounded a corner, getting closer to our next destination, I spotted a man on the side of the road who looked an awful lot like my friend Seth! That’s when the man burst into a big grin and said, “I knew that was your voice chatting away up the canyon and that I’d find you!” I couldn’t believe it! My friend had made the trip just to come see me on the course and I was overwhelmed with happiness to have his company for a bit! He was wearing flip flips and telling me about the marathon he was planning on running the next morning.  We enjoyed a fun chat running down the last mile into Cowley where we saw my crew again (who were pretty surprised and excited to see Seth, too!)  I had a chance to get tended to in the aid station and get a nice hug from him before I headed off, which was awesome and a real boost to my soul.

I was so happy to see Seth!

I was so happy to see Seth!

I remember grabbing my friend, Bertha’s poles (that I’d never even practiced with) for the climb out of Cowley. I saw another runner leaving who was using a pair and figured I’d just watch her and try to copy her movements and see if they helped me with the climbs.   That runner and her companion ended up really  making the section from Cowley to Right Hand a lot of fun! I found out the girl’s name was Tina and that she had a hip injury which made the uphills really painful.  Her friend was Jack and he was such a lot of fun to chat with too! I’d heard him earlier in the race at an aid station say he’d done the race 5 times before, so I was really excited to talk with him about the course that was upcoming. Tina was really accomplished too and had done Western States and shared wonderful stories about being a nurse. I really enjoyed their company and they helped that section just go by so fast!

Trying out Bertha's poles!

Trying out Bertha’s poles!

Once we hit the downhill, I pulled off to pee and had some quite time to myself after I jumped back on the trail. It wasn’t long after that I bumped into Chihping sitting on a rock looking exhausted. We were about 35 miles into the race and it had been a long day.  Chihping had also done the super challenging IMTUF 100 the week before! I asked how he was doing and he told me he was fatigued.  I sat down next to him and offered him a caffeinated gel and a hug. Almost as soon as I did, he grabbed my arm and said, “No! I don’t want to hold you back. GO! Go!” and so I took off running. I was happy and surprised to hear his feet pounding right behind mine and we kept up a pretty brisk pace all the way to the aid station, where he told me ‘thank you’ for motivating him through that patch! That was fun!

Feelin groovy!

Feelin groovy!

 

Jenny getting ready to pace

Jenny getting ready to pace

At Right Hand Fork, I picked up Jenny for the last leg before nightfall.  That section from Right Hand to Temple Fork is probably the prettiest 9 miles of the whole course in my opinion! There were green, mossy rocks, gorgeous clear ponds and waterfalls and trees covered in their fall finery! Jenny kept saying, “I expect to see fairies here” and I couldn’t agree more!  We had such a fun time chatting and running through that section! I found it easy to keep a good pace and enjoyed the company.

 

Just as it started to get darker, Quintin and his buddy Jeff passed us and started running a nice, brisk pace. Instantly my ears perked up and my feet started to follow! I loved the pace, was happy to have the legs for it at nearly 45 miles into the course and I was smiling and enjoying the chatter between the friends. Suddenly, I heard what I thought was a duck splashing into a pond. I didn’t spot or turn. I just kept running. A few minutes later I looked back and didn’t see Jenny! She had taken a bad fall and like a tough trooper didn’t say a word! I felt terrible for not noticing! She said she was skinned up and had a headache but was ok.   Once we hit the dirt road and darkness was closing in, we started to run fast! We passed the fellas and after another mile or so, I started to worry we’d gotten off course. I had’t seen a flag in awhile (probably because we weren’t wearing headlamps yet.) At every corner, I’d expect the aid station but wouldn’t see one.  Finally, we stopped and grabbed our headlamps from our packs and could see again, which was nice!  Just a moment later a car drove by and Jenny flagged them down and asked if the aid station was near. They said it was only 1/2 a mile away! We started running fast, eager to get there!

I was feeling great and eager to switch into night gear and grab Derek and go.  I saw my buddy, Jeremy was also there to say hi which was awesome, so I gave him a huge hug!  My crew took care of me and I spent about 15 minutes getting situated for night running and adding on my arm sleeves and a light jacket. I also changed out my light shoes for the Pure Grit 3 which are a little more rugged, just as a precaution since my feet actually felt pretty good. I changed socks too.  Then my crew encouraged me to eat something so I sat down and ate a cup of chicken noodle soup (which would soon turn out to be my first nutritional mistake of the day.)

I was so happy to see Derek! He was all smiles and full of energy and I looked forward to chatting with him on the climb up to Tony Grove.  We took off together and settled into a strong uphill hike and walked the flats and took it easy on the rocky downhills.  My stomach started to go sour from the exertion on the climbs and I started to struggle mentally on the climbs as well since I was suddenly pushing on them instead of taking it quite as easy as I had on my own.  When I would start to run on the flats, Derek reminded me that it was good to save something for the later miles and told me he’d walked those sections in the two times he’d done the race and recommended I do the same. Mentally that was harder to do since I like running the flatter stuff, but I knew he was more experienced so I tried to stick with it.  It started to get colder, but I’d find myself taking off my jacket in the canyons and putting it back on on the mountains.  I felt like I had menopause since I kept feeling too cold then too warm, which was kind of funny.  The stars and the moon were out and they were spectacular! It was a truly beautiful night! But my stomach had gone from bad to worse and I couldn’t take in any more calories or liquids and I started to slow way down and feel mentally in a bad place.  I started to worry about the reality of making the cut offs if I was going this slow only halfway through. Derek mentioned that some of my uphill miles were 27 minutes. I knew that wasn’t going to cut it and I started to really doubt myself for the first time in the race.  By the time we came into Tony Grove after I’d been running for 17 hour sand 4 minutes, I was ready to quit.  I felt nauseated, miserable and slow and really didn’t think I had what it would take to get to the finish in time.  My husband told me to have a seat in the Yukon while he went to get me some broth or coffee at the aid station.  As soon as he got back into the car with me, I started to sob.  I told him how awful I was feeling, how fatigue was starting to get to me and how I didn’t know how I was going to make it if the nausea kept me from eating.

Thankfully, my husband has had a good deal of experience crewing me for these things and has watched other runners go through the same low patches.  He very wisely told me that he wanted me to take a little nap. I couldn’t believe it! I loved that idea but didn’t think I had the extra time to do so.  He said, “You either nap right now and save this race or you head out there feeling miserable and have a lower chance of finishing it!”  So he turned on the heater, set up my sleeping bag and feather pillow from home in the back and let me sip the coffee he’d brought me. It burned my tongue but it felt so good to smell and taste coffee again! I laid down and just closed my eyes and fell asleep.  Thirty minutes later, my husband was shaking my shoulder and telling me it was time to wake up.  Derek and Jenny were in the car, waiting to see my reaction. I sat straight up, told them my stomach felt perfect and that I was starving! That made Derek let out a whoop of excitement since a hungry runner can take in calories and get moving again! I asked for a grilled cheese sandwich and gobbled up the two triangles they brought me.  Then I looked at everyone and told them I was ready to go back to work and get this done — but that I needed to do the next leg on my own to clear my head again.   They understood and helped me get ready to head back out.  I’d spent an hour and 14 minutes in the aid station, but it was probably the best use of my time for the whole race.

I’d gotten chilly standing outside the car at the aid station after my nap so I bundled up with arm sleeves, a jacket, my beanie and some gloves and my wind pants and headed out. It was after midnight when I left. I was 52 miles into the race and still had a long way’s to go and I had less than 18 hours to get there. As I did the math, I started to worry. In all my other hundreds I usually fade quite a lot in the second half.  My closest splits are about 5 hours apart. I realized I’d need a miracle to actually pull off a finish and it started to weigh on me again.  Could I do it? Did I have what it takes to make this finish? I wasn’t sure.

It was lonely on that stretch for several miles. I was the only runner as far as the eye could see. I appreciated that for the first couple miles and enjoyed the beautiful stars and the black as velvet night sky.  I could see my breath it was so cold. But I was comfortable and enjoying the night chill and I was moving pretty well, though I was walking a lot more than I should have been.  There were a couple of stream/small river crossings through this section and I kept thinking how I was by myself so I should move carefully since I didn’t know how long another runner would be back behind me if I did anything stupid like fall hard or get mauled by a bear.  Finally, after a couple of hours, I saw two headlamps ahead of me and my pace picked up! I was so happy to see signs of life again and I was craving conversation!

They say in ultra marathons, sometimes you encounter trail angels along the way when you need them most. That is precisely what happened to me as I reached the man and woman walking on the path. The man had some bad blisters so he was using poles and moving at a brisk walk pace, while the woman spoke kindly and encouragingly to him from behind.  I could feel my shoulders just soften and become relaxed as I came closer to them and could hear their happy chatter.  The sweet woman greeted me and said, “Oh my! Are you out here all by yourself without a pacer?” I told her that I had a pacer but that he was with my crew and that I’d have him join me again after this section.  The two of them just started talking to me and asking me questions about my life and about my running and my family. Before I knew it, I was telling them my entire life story and they were so positive and encouraging and sweet to me with every comment they made.  I felt like I’d approached them as a wilted flower and that with every word they spoke I started to rise up a little taller and more full of life again.  Word by word, they brought me back to life again in that last stretch and I couldn’t be more grateful! I was honestly ready to tell my crew I was done when I was out there alone and suddenly here I was ready to right for my finish as hard as I could right to the end! I was reborn!

When I popped out at the Franklin Trail head at 61 miles, I was full of life! I was running and smiling and the second Derek saw me he came over and gave me a huge hug and a smile! They told me to come in by the fire and to sit down and have something to eat! Derek started telling me about how he’d been sneaking several pieces of the tasty chocolate chip pumpkin bread while he was waiting and how when he’d gone back for his 4th or 5th piece, a burly man at the aid station said to him, “I hope you get diarrhea!” hahahaha!!  Then, that same man had just handed him an entire loaf of the tasty bread! That story had me laughing so hard!

I drank some chocolate milk and my wonderful crew brought me some grilled cheese (which totally hit the spot!) A man sitting in the tent, who seemed very wise told me that if I even walked the rest of the way of the race, I’d make the final cut off! I dared not take that to heart, but it really did made me feel so much hope to hear that! I left the Franklin Aid station at 4 am with Derek, knowing I had 14 hours left and 38 1/2 miles to go which is roughly a 21:49 pace. But, I knew I still had lots of climbing to contend with and a few more hours of fatigue and darkness waiting before me, so I didn’t start to count my belt buckle just yet. So much could still go wrong! But, I was in a better position than I’d expected to be when my crew had seen me last and Derek could tell that I was ready to give it my all!

Derek and I started chatting a lot through this section, which was fun. We’ve been friends for many years and I don’t think we’ve ever had an unkind word between us and thankfully, this pacing gig didn’t change that. 🙂 He kept me entertained, had me stop and turn off my headlamp so I could really enjoy the stars and moon and we talked about everything from marriage to midgets and it was a nice time.  Then I started to get sleepy. Really sleepy. So sleepy  that I found myself running without my eyes being opened. It was rocky. It wasn’t safe to continue like that. I finally said to Derek, “I only wish I could lay down for a few minutes and just rest.” I didn’t expect that he’d grant me that request, but it felt good to just say it out loud.  Then, we rounded a curve in the trail and lo and behold, there were two runners laying on the ground napping on the side of the trail.  Derek asked if they were ok and one said, “Yeah. Just taking a little rest.”  I groaned as I walked by, feeling jealous of their luxurious nap!  We got an other 1/2 a mile and I spotted a rock about two feet long and made a beeline for it! I sat down and said to Derek, “Just 10 seconds please. I just want to sit for 10 seconds.”  He said, “I’ll give you 5 minutes!’ I couldn’t believe my ears!! Hooray!! My pacer was the kindest man on earth and was granting me a gift!!!!  I took off my pack and flopped back on the rock. My upper body fit just fine but my butt hung off the end. I didn’t care one iota! It was heaven! Pop, pop, pop. I felt my spine relax and go back into place after all those hours on my feet! Ahhhhhhhhhhh.  Heaven. I stared up at the heavens.  They were absolutely glorious! I asked Derek if he remembered looking up at the stars and sitting on a rock together when I paced him at IMTUF.  He said he did.  I smiled and closed my eyes.  I could only hear my own breathing and the wind in the trees above.  Heaven.

I opened my eyes and felt like a new woman! I told Derek, “That was amazing! Thanks for the nap!” and started to put my pack back on!  Derek started laughing.  He said, “That was like a 14 second nap!!” I said, “It felt like an hour!” And off we took! I never felt like sleeping again the rest of the race! I felt rejuvenated and ready to run!

The second sunrise of the Bear - life-giving! Photo by Derek Call

The second sunrise of the Bear – life-giving! Photo by Derek Call

Shortly after my magical nap, the sky started to lighten.  It almost brought tears to my eyes. Surviving the night in a hundred miler is something that only other belt buckle owners understand.  It’s brutal. You face your worst demons. Your weaknesses are exposed in the dark, you become raw and bare and vulnerable and start to listen to the siren call of your warm car or a toasty fire or the comfort of giving up and getting to just lay down and go to sleep for good. And then morning comes. And you see your second sunrise of the race and realize there is hope and warmth and happiness again. You’ve survived. You fought yourself and you won the battle in the dark. I got tears in my eyes when I realized I’d done it! I quit at Antelope Island when it was still dark. That is, I’d decided to quit. Made the mental decision to give up.  A friend had later dragged me out for another 5 miles before it was official — but mentally it was all over at mile 70 when I faced the darkness and let it gobble up my very soul and leave me despondent with no hope.  I’d worried about how I’d handle the overnight at the Bear. I feared I’d lose the battle again of the mind. But, I’d made it!  Derek paused to take a photo as the morning sky became splendid before us and offered me her life-affirming hope. I’m so glad he did. That picture is precious to me now.

We started to run and run well! I felt great! It started warming up and we were eager to ditch our overnight clothes. I had a drop bag at Logan River at mile 68 and we couldn’t wait to get there to cast off our things! I thought it was funny that in the end, I wouldn’t need a single thing from the drop back but would be using it to dump stuff off into since crew isn’t allowed at that aid station! Derek kept saying to me “You’re doing so awesome! I’m so proud of you!” Every positive word he spoke just gave wings to my heart and my feet!  I’d run even harder as my confidence grew with every mile finished! I felt like a little balloon filling up with more and more helium with every nice thing he said. I was floating high as a kite when we finally found the aid station at 7:41 am.

We quickly stripped off our clothes and it felt amazing to be back down to shorts again. I kept my light Brooks jacket though since we were in the canyon and it was a little bit chilly still. It felt nice to ditch my headlamp, gloves and arm sleeves and pants. I headed to the porta potty while Derek made a beeline for the pumpkin chocolate chip bread (of course -and no – it didn’t give him diarrhea, thank heavens!) We sat down by the fire and I ate some grilled cheese and we bantered back and forth entertaining the people in the aid station who seemed genuinely surprised at how perky we both were.  That only made us perkier and sillier.  At 8:01 we headed out, happy as clams. 68.6 miles down. About a 50k left to go. And 10 hours to do it in! I needed a 19:06 pace to get there! It was time to go to work!

Logan River water crossing

Logan River water crossing

But, first I had to cross the twenty foot river out of the aid station! On slippery logs and rocks! The water was rushing below and Derek stood on the other side with a camera to capture a great YouTube moment if I fell in! I kept my arms out and held my breath and amazingly made it across with only one shoe getting a bit wet! Woo hoo!

Derek suggested we put in our earphones for the next section. I thought that was a wonderful idea! He got in front of me and started running and I just jammed out to my Pink, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and danced my way up and down the mountains chasing him! I was feeling pretty wonderful! I’d taken care of myself enough in the previous 70 miles to have a lot of energy and drive in the final 30! Things were going according to plan!

Uphill, uphill. So much uphill in the Bear!

Uphill, uphill. So much uphill in the Bear!

Every once in awhile Derek would turn around and come back to me and he’d grab my IPod and plug in his and then grin like a schoolboy and run away.  The first time, he had it set to a funny stand up comedian. It was a great distraction and I found myself cackling away in the fresh mountain air as I enjoyed a stand-up comedy routine in my mind!  Somehow I ended up bumping the IPod halfway through the routine and all of a sudden Queen was singing Bicycle Race and rocking out in my earbuds! That brought the hugest smile to my face!  My friend Dennis is one of my favorite people in the world. He’s one of the coolest ultra runners I know and he was one of the original heroes who took me under his wing and believed in me when I stared all this ultra running nonsense.  He’s currently riding his bicycle across the US and one of his update clips on Facebook just a couple days before the race was of his shadow on the highway as he sang Bicycle Race loud and proud!! I just burst out laughing thinking of that video and thinking about Dennis and all the miles we’ve ran together over the years and in that moment it was like getting a nice big boost of energy thinking of him out there riding his bicycle somewhere in Wisconsin or wherever he was at that moment.  It also meant I started playing some pretty sweet air guitar and drums!

It was almost impossible for Derek to get his IPod back for awhile there after that! I was enjoying his 80’s hair bands! Derek was also entertaining me here by jumping in front of me and doing wild dance moves to my girly pop music which totally had me laughing hard! I don’t know if he was doing the funky chicken or the hokey pokey but it sure was funny!

We came into Beaver Lodge at mile 75.82 at 10 am on the nose. I spent exactly zero seconds in the aid station and Derek took my pack and bottle and I just kept on running. I felt like a million bucks! We’d done a 16:40 pace since the last aid station. I had about 24 miles to go, was feeling on fire and had 8 hours to do it in!  I just needed a 20 min pace to get to the finish in time! Could I do it? I really started to think I could!

We ran the road a bit and then ended up on a wide dirt road climbing up, up, up. It was starting to get hot again. My feet were getting a bit sore.  Derek could tell I needed some motivation so he took away my IPod again and as soon as the first notes of the song came on, I started to grin.  Eye of the Tiger! PERFECT!!!  That song especially made me laugh since I had been in a little dance troupe when I was in 6th grade that did a dance routine to that song! I started busting out my dance moves as we climbed up, up, up and I tried to let it keep me from wanting to die!

At Gibson Basin, I ran right through again, checking in and checking out with Derek getting all my needs met while I kept running.  My pacer really did go above and beyond and for that I am truly grateful! I heard the people at the aid station say, “What in the world got into her?! She ran right through here fast!”  Derek said, “She wants that buckle BAD!” And he was right! I looked back and saw I’d gotten a ways away from Derek and he was jogging with a cup of grapes in one hand and an open cup of soda in the other! I slowed down to walk so he could catch up before he spilled it all! hahahahaha!  It was funny!  I enjoyed the fruit and the 7 Up and then we got back to work again! I’d hit Gibson Basin at 11:46 am.  6 hours and 14 min left in the race and 18:82 miles to go! I’d need a 19:52 pace to make it and I still had some bad climbs waiting for me!  I believe it was in this stretch we took a tiny break to take a picture at the sign that marks the state line between Utah and Idaho which is a huge highlight of this race! My pacer rocked to have made sure I got that photo (which I love looking at now!)

Utah, Idaho state line around mile 80. Thanks for taking this, Derek!

Utah, Idaho state line around mile 80. Thanks for taking this, Derek!

We ran as well as I could until we saw our crew again at Beaver Creek Campground at mile 85.25. It was 12:50 pm. I stayed for 2 min to use the porta potty and get some ice in my hand bottle. I dropped my pack here knowing the extra weight would slow me down. We also tossed our IPods to the crew and went on without them ready to give it our all to the finish!  I felt good! I had 14.75 miles to go and 5 hours and 10 min to get there. I’d need a 21:01 pace to get there. Derek was gushing, giving me lots of praise for doing so well on the last stretch and told me to keep it up! I promised him to keep the hammer down right until the end!  Hammer down seems a funny phrase normally when you think of that slow of a pace, but it was steep and rocky and rutted and warm out.  It really did make sense at the time and fit the description of what I needed to go to get a finish!

I was so excited to have only one more aid station left on the course! That was a huge milestone! We reached Ranger Dip (aid station #13) at 3:25 pm and I ran right past it and my crew. They were cheering and telling me I could do it! Derek was amazing at being such a cheerleader getting me to keep up the pace and I kept feeling pretty good and giving it all I had! I had reached mile 92.2. I had 7.5 to go and 2 hour sand 35 min.  That meant I needed a 20:40 pace to get there – and most of it was downhill which is my specialty! I was feeling great!

But there was one more huge climb to go.  It reached the highest point on the course and it comes right after the last aid station. It’s just about the cruelest joke you could play on someone — but I knew it was coming since Derek had warned me and Ryan had talked about it during our training.  And it was every bit as steep and crazy as I’d heard it would be! Almost laughably so! Suddenly, after being alone for most of the race since Derek had joined me, we saw several back-of-the-packers and their pacers trying to make it up this horrible climb so late in the race.   One guy had a cool, unruly ultra beard and the most glazed expression as his pacer tried to push him from the back to get him moving uphill.  It was almost comical!  Then I looked at Derek and he looked at me and he said, “Want me to do that?”  I didn’t argue.   All of a sudden I felt like I could fly almost! Well, at an 11% incline, at like a 30 min pace that is.  But I was moving and we started passing people.   Derek got out of breath and we both just started marching the rest of the way up.  I was almost giggling from the way the whole thing must have looked and then – we hit the summit! Wahooo!!!!!! VICTORY!

A man with a 4 wheeler came driving by to check on us and asked if we needed water.  I said no but enjoyed petting this tiny little York Terrier in his front basket!  That moment also felt surreal. Like I was just out for a normal little stroll and petting some neighbor’s little dog! It was a nice moment!

Derek and I with Bear Lake in the background! I think we can make it!

Derek and I with Bear Lake in the background! I think we can make it!

Derek ran up ahead and started smiling and pointing! I had told him that I’d never seen Bear Lake before and had heard that it was the bluest lake anywhere.  I’d never seen any water so blue in my life and when I crested the climb and finally got to see that massive, gorgeous, sky-blue water it brought happy tears to my eyes!!  Derek told me I had exactly 4 seconds to get some pictures! He let me pose in front of the water and then I begged him to please take one of he and I together since he was such a huge part of my journey and I wanted a picture there to remember it! That photo shows us both happy and smiling and I think we both really started to believe we were going to make it in time! But, as he said as we started running again, “The fat lady hasn’t sang YET!” He was right! We still had some distance and some crazy, steep, rocky terrain to get through before we’d see that finish line!

The craziest thing happened once we hit the next stretch! We started seeing lots and lots of racers and their pacers. And we started passing many of them.  I could’t believe it!

The first pair we met up with was a lady pacing a man.  At first I thought the lady was in the race, too.  Derek had asked me how hard this race had been and I told him that it was harder than giving birth without pain medication to my five children (and that it was taking me longer to run this 100 than it had to give birth five times -which is actually TRUE!)  Derek yelled out, “This little lady just said this race is harder than giving birth five times!” The lady smiled and said, “I gave birth five times without pain meds too!” I said, “No way! I think we just became best friends!” She laughed and it felt nice to chat with her so late in a race and feel good.   Then I remembered something. I told her that my friend, Dave had teased me that if I completed the Bear I’d win the first place prize for Mom from Idaho of five kids.  Dave has five kids and joked that he’d won that “prize” in the dad’s division the year before.  I had to ask the woman, “Are you from Idaho?” Luckily she wasn’t or we’d have had to really race to the finish for it! Amazingly, the man she was pacing piped up and said, “I am though!” What were the chances?!

Derek and I felt good and we took off.  The downhill was nothing like I’d expected.  It was so much steeper than I’d imagined. The kind of steep you have to lean back or you’ll fall on your face and go tumbling down the mountain. And it wasn’t smooth. It was crazy rocky! Some of the rocks were as big as bowling balls! It was the kind of section that you had to fight gravity and not ride it out like I normally like to do on the downhills. To bad, too, because I had the legs for some fast downhill action ready to unleash on that stretch.  But, I just did the best I could scooting my steps as fast as they could go down the hill following Derek. He told me my goal was to run every single step. And I DID!

Derek and I down to the final couple of miles!

Derek and I down to the final couple of miles!

When we finally got to the bottom, I told him I needed to hit a bush and deal with my period one last time or I might end up crossing the finish line looking like a cougar had mauled me from behind! That would be awkward. So he let me do what I needed to do and then we were off!  We caught up to Quintin just before the asphalt road and I was so happy to see him! Derek warned me that the worst section was the flat asphalt road since it feels like the finish line and park are never going to come. I think he may have been right. I found myself starting to walk.  Derek was really dehydrated since he’d been doing so much work for me and hardly got to take care of himself so he asked a passing motorist if they had some water and they filled up his bottle, which was really nice!

Then about half a mile from the finish line, I saw my husband and Jenny coming towards us! That just made my day! I felt so much elation, so much gratitude to see them both and so much excitement that I was almost there! I started to run to get closer to them sooner.  As soon as we were together I threw myself into the arms of my husband and got tears in my eyes! He told me he was proud of me. As we walked together, hand-in-hand, a woman I had passed passed me back.  My eyes grew wide and I thought of dropping my husband’s hand and taking off after her.  But, then I thought better of it and decided to just enjoy the ending.  Luckily for me, the woman stopped and looked back, waiting for someone else so I regained my spot anyway.

Then Derek and Jenny ran on ahead.  My husband told me how proud of me he was. Jenny would later tell me that Derek was up ahead tears streaming down his face, so relieved and happy to see me making it to the finish. It’s a really difficult job pacing a back-of-the packer and emotionally it can take everything out of you.  Bless his heart for giving so much of himself, for throwing arms around me for hugs when I felt discouraged and for being one of the most encouraging, selfless, happy, wonderful people I have ever met – and for getting me to the finish line!

We finally hit a cross walk and waited for a couple cars and then crossed over to the park! I couldn’t believe it!!!!! I started crying as soon as I saw the finish line and the people cheering and heard the cowbells ringing! My  husband tried to run ahead to film my finish and I just started running towards the finish line, then found myself picking up the pace and getting faster and faster, tears streaming down my face as I said, “I did it! I can’t believe I did it” over and over with a smile as big as Texas across my face!!!!!!! The crowd went wild and it was so much fun!

I did it! 35:35:55.  I really did it!!!!!! It was the hardest race of my life and I lived to tell the tale and it had a happy ending!

Now I believe in miracles! Do you?! 😀

My beautiful, hard-earned buckle!

My beautiful, hard-earned buckle!