Way back in May Jeff asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day. I said I wanted a registration for the Pinhoti 100. I’d been wavering back and forth and I figured a gifted registration would decide it for me. I told him I’d blog through all the training and become a famous blogger in the process. An investment in our future wealth, really. You see how that turned out. Jeff really should get better investment advice.
I wish I had blogged all the prep for this race because its the most fun running I have ever had! I could go back through the races and runs and all that I learned at each. So much went wrong and so much went right. Such an awesome journey in general. For now I’ll recap the most important part of this whole shenanigan. The people. After all there are two reasons to do an ultra. The people and the food.
For the second year in a row I convinced my brother, Ryan, to add an ultra on to the beginning of our family beach trip in May. Last year we did the Long Cane50k. This year we did the Swamp Stomp 50 Mile. As we ran the 50 mile I ever so gently began throwing out the 100 idea. Right about the 40 mile mark he asked me to not mention it anymore. Then a few weeks post-50 he was game again. We kept up with each other’s training all summer via text and phone calls. I knew he’d have me beat on hill skills with his Colorado training so I loaded up on miles to try to even it out.
- In my geekiest of weirdo moves to date, I saw an opportunity disguised as an open invite to run the Art Loeb trail back in June and used it to creep my way into a great group of much more experienced runners. I showed up with the sprinter van AND Jeff and still managed to sucker them into being friends with me. These folks are entirely responsible for teaching me how to be a little less of a trail dumb ass. I can say with certainty that I would not have shown up at the start line without their tremendous help. I look back now and wonder what in the world I was thinking when I registered and planned to train alone all summer. There are so many things I would never have figured out and so many runs I would never have done on my own.
In September when I was starting to believe this race was actually going to happen (thanks again to the newly
stalked found group of training friends), I focused on finding a crew/pacers. Ryan’s girlfriend, Austyn, and Jeff were the natural crew choices. Mostly Austyn because she does the majority of the work while Jeff drinks tequila, does grunt work as assigned by Austyn and probably spends the rest of the time napping. With both of them I know I can be a cranky brat and they’ll (mostly) still love me. So then I had to think through my list of running friends and try to decide which of them might be the most agreeable to ridiculous ideas. And that’s how I came up with Kim, Karen and Monica. Kim and Monica I knew to be experienced on trail. Karen is a road runner that I occasionally trick into trails. All three are faster, stronger and smarter than me. All three are funny, resilient and strong. The training friends got me to the start line and the crew/pacers absolutely secured the finish line.
I trained from June to October, getting in at least one 50k run or race with the aforementioned magical new friends every month. I did a lot of back to back long-(ish) runs, as much trail as I could manage and aimed for 50 miles every week. I had one peak week at 75 miles (that number was padded by getting lost during a 50 miler). What it really boils down to is a) get you a pack of weirdos to train with and b) get you another pack of weirdos to drag you through the race. You need a lot of miles and a lot of weirdos. And you need to pick weirdos that are smarter than you. My training plan is finely tuned science and I just gave it to you for free.
Oh and c) you need cheeseburgers. But we’ll get to that.
Ok so we show up in Alabama on Friday afternoon. Eat some food. Grocery shop because we didn’t already have eleventy tons of crap and 7 people in the minivan. Pick up packets. Eat more food. Take the Tylenol PM and pray for sleep.
Saturday morning up at 3:45am, diet coke, get dressed, lube the entire self in A&D ointment and hit the road for the 40 minute drive to the start. I ate a cookie in the car because, of all things, I’d completely forgotten to pack a breakfast. Luckily we had an entire grocery store worth of sugary junk in the van.
Bathroom line at the start was too long to get through and I hadn’t gotten things “worked out”. DISTRESS! Tried to push down that little bit of panic and locate the training friends. Found Annie, Jason, Bo and Angela milling about and made it a point to stay clumped near them, my security blanket made of people. That sounds very Silence of the Lambs but I’m not really going to make a blanket out of you guys. Promise.
At some point the RD says something and then people start moving. I assume this to be the start but I still look to Jason first. He’s been our den leader for the summer of training. I move when Jason moves. He moves so we go. Its 6am so we start off in the dark. First couple of miles is very bottlenecked and walky. Bo, Ryan, Angela, Scott and I end up in a group with Annie and Jason a bit behind us. We chat easily and I’m feeling super excited and ready for this day.
We’d told the crew (just Jeff and Austyn for the first few hours) to skip AS#1 (6 miles) so flew through it. I’d been warned to mind the cut off times especially during the first 50 miles. We came into AS#1 with only 10 minutes to spare and this completely freaked me out. I flung my long sleeve top at Angela’s crew (sorry guys!), packed my headlamp back into my pack and we took off quickly. We fell in behind Bo again as we left, with Angela close behind.
I remember so much of these miles being very runnable and pleasant. Nice views, fun chats with others, etc. And then I had to use the facilities. But there are no facilities. And I needed the kind of facilities that I’ve never partaken of in the woods before, if ya know what I mean. My stomach starts feeling way off and my head hurts. We came into AS#2 (13 miles), Jeff and Austyn were there but no facilities. Jeff took my pack and went to refill it. He was doing it all wrong and I remember snapping at him pretty hard. I was so distressed over the bathroom scenario that I just randomly grabbed food from the crew bag, snatched the pack from Jeff and left. I’m a real prize of a wife.
Again runnable miles but I’m really not feeling so pleasant here. I feel clammy and dizzy and my stomach feels off. Everything is just a few degrees of wrong. This panics me, feeling so off, so early and I just go silent and broody for a while. As we approach AS#3 (18 miles) I just keep telling Ryan I feel sick and I need to use the bathroom and there won’t be one and I’m gonna have to DNF over the lack of bathroom. Zero to total terror on the Katie scale. As soon as we see the crew they are on us with offers us coke and food (that I’d asked them to have ready) and I’m just repeating “I need to poop” over and over. I can’t focus. I feel, get ready for it, like shit. So Austyn points at the woods across the road and says,”so poop”. Um, buh? I am immobilized by this entire idea. Does a bear shit in the woods? Sure. But I am not a bear! Jeff just grabs my hand and leads me into the woods until I can find a private enough spot. Again, he is a lucky lucky husband. You know you are jealous.
So then..I poop.
And the joy that follows. Oh the sweet relief. I want to sing and dance and tell everyone of this wonderful event. And I do tell a few people. More people, in retrospect, than I should I have. I can tell by some reactions that I have again gone too far with conversational comfort levels. I’m sorry guys. It was just that big a game changer.
We blast out of there (so much lighter! sorry, had to) and we are now 50 minutes ahead of cut off. My stomach takes its time fully recovering but I can feel optimism returning. We see the crew again at AS#5 (27 miles) and they have cheeseburgers for us. The pacers have been delivered (thanks Dad!) to the van now. We are well over an hour ahead of cut off, stomach is rebounding, and we have had some nice stretches of good running. We chat and eat and everybody is smiling. Life is sweet.
We’re running when we can, walking when we have to and never stopping. We hook back up with Annie and Jason in here for a while and chat some. I knock back some ginger ale (another first!) and it finally brings my stomach back to entirely good. Lot of walking up to Bald Rock but its quick, happy walking. Get into Bald Rock AS#7 (40 miles) just before 4pm to find a gorgeous view and our entire crew (now including my Dad and stepmom, bringing our crew total to 7 people). And a flush potty! Its getting cool but we opt not to bundle up yet. Put on some more A&D, grab some food and our first pacer, Kim. We hit the road and do some great running downhill, shimmy down Blue Hell and then more easy road running. Kim jumped in at just the right spot. We were happy and energetic but probably at the point where we would have started to relax too much in pace on our own. Kim is just speedy enough to encourage us without burning us out. She cranks it up and keeps us at a steady clip.
It gets dark so we get out the headlamps and but still move really well. Come in to AS#8 (mile 45) two hours ahead of cut off and I feel bullet proof. Kim stays with us and we head to AS#9 (mile 52 miles). I never want to leave that station. They had grilled cheese and coke and Christmas lights and a TV. And wifi! I was giddy.
We see the crew again at AS #10 (55 miles) and Karen jumps in. We’ve got miles of good fire road. Lots of running and quick walking. Moods are good. Karen distracts us with lots of fun chatter. AS#11 (60 miles) at just after 10pm and we are getting cold. Real cold. Hips and back are tight so we get down and do some stretching. Can’t afford to stop long because the cold starts to seep in but we grab food and drink and head out still almost two hours ahead of cut. We’re slowing but its not been to severe yet.
I’ve been well aware all day that miles 68-85 are going to be the toughest. When my stomach was hurting or when we had to walk hills my mind would always drift to those miles. I would panic and think “shit if I cannot manage this right now how will do I that in the middle of the night”. I tried to remind myself to stay in the mile I was in but it got hard.
At AS#13 (mile 68) Monica jumped in so now we had two pacers with us. This was a decision made by the pacers (they had their own little secret pacer meeting on Friday night, complete with individual copies of the chart I’d made, I almost cried when I walked in on that and realized how hard these folks were going to be working for our goal) and it was genius. Monica towed us with her insatiable pace, minding the slipping cut off cushion ever so diplomatically, while Karen babied us and catered to our mood swings. Good cop and bad cop but Monica wasn’t bad..you know what I mean. Just as Kim had used our energy level to make the most of the runnable miles she had with us, Monica and Karen really drove us through the darker moments and built us back up as best they could.
So I knew these miles would be tough and they delivered. Oh did they delivery. We were walking so much. I was pausing frequently to stretch out my screaming back and hips. Lots of silence. Poor Monica did not get the happy runners that Karen and Kim had gotten. I started getting really confused about time of day and cut off time. We were walking so much and going so much slower and yet we’d come into a station and still have an hour before cut off. It made no sense so I decided people were flat out lying to me. At AS#14 (75 miles), after a loooooooooooooong, frustrating, switchback nightmare of a climb I was feeling a touch of the trail rage. I walked into the station and asked the guy (nicest guy in the world, lordy I wanted to be as happy as he was) for a grilled cheese. I could see they didn’t have them but I, like a total shithead brat, asked for one anyway. Then I flung my pack at Monica and laid down on the ground. I had been telling them all the way up the hill that I wanted to lay or sit down for three minutes. I could tell they were hesitant to allow it so I just went ahead and did it. Angry rebel ultra girl.
So I’m laying there looking at the stars and thinking, “I freaking dare anyone to be timing this 3 minutes because I will cut you!” and suddenly happy aid station guy is leaning over me and handing me a fresh, hot quesadilla and apologizing that its not a grilled cheese. I feel very small and petty about my fit throwing so I thank him a lot. I shove the whole quesadilla in my mouth (So pretty! Good thing I’m not here looking for a date) and ask him what time it is. And he tells me. So I ask him what time cut off is. And its 1.5 hours away. A normal person would be so relieved that after that long slow never-ending climb she is still ahead. I just start angrily muttering that it doesn’t make any kind of sense at all. This poor guy is still standing over me trying to offer help and I just can’t get my shit together regarding time. I decide he is definitely lying to me but I get up, get the pack on and we head out.
Its cold and just keeps getting colder. Monica keeps trying to give me her jacket but I feel bad enough that she’s out here babysitting my sorry ass and I don’t want her to also be cold. Instead I treat her to an endless serenade of, “its so cold. my feet/back/everything hurts” waah waah waah. Karen is still there in mother role. Shushing any complaint and saying random soothing words. Ryan is feeling strong so he and Monica dash ahead and do some running while Karen lugs me through the woods. At some point I decide to try to run some. I make it 20 feet or so, trip gloriously, fling my arms behind me (what the hell!?) and dive straight into the ground.
I push up off the ground, flip over and instantly begin sobbing uncontrollably. The force of the fall drove my headlamp straight into my skull and my chin is throbbing from hitting the ground. Karen is there immediately brushing me off and trying to look calm. I’m dizzy and angry and so over it. I ask her if I am bleeding and she assures me I am just fine. No bleeding. We get up and start walking. I keep crying and tell her that it oddly feels good to cry hard. Its a release of all the tension. Also, my back had been giving me really persistent, annoying fits of pain most of the day and the face plant seemed to have corrected that. I go to adjust my headlamp and my hand brushes an enormous bump on my head.
“KAREN!! I’ve got a huge bump on my head!!”
“Yeah I know. You’re ok though.”
Karen has a game face that cannot be beat, people. I kept asking her if there was blood or if it was bad looking and she kept promising it was not. Said I looked totally fine. Game face, Karen.
We come into AS#15 (mile 79) and catch up with Ryan and Monica. I’ve been crying for the half mile or so since I fell, not like crazy loud but if I tried to talk or think of anything then I would just randomly start to cry. It was as if the impact had knocked loose what little composure I had left. Ryan and Monica give me funny looks but I assumed this has to do with the crying face and my slack ass pace. Somebody tried to put an ice pack on me and hand me food. Ryan hands me half a potato that only serves to confuse the life out of me. A potato!? WTF with this potato!!! I won’t tolerate any of it because I just kinda want to take my toys and go home. I’m sniffling and swatting at everyone. Monica, in part concerned that the AS guys might try to detain me over this injury, tells us we are tight on time and have to go now. So I go. But I’m a mess.
I spend miles 80-85 mentally rehearsing my DNF. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t think we’re going to make the cut off at 85 and I just cannot take the sweeper chasing me down. I cry off and on and speak only to Ryan occasionally. At one point he and I are beside each other with Karen and Monica about 15 feet ahead of us. I go into full on conspiracy theory. I tell him they are whispering about us. That there is something we don’t know. There are secrets amongst us. He, being of similar sound mind and body, completely agreed. Its good we didn’t have the strength or we might have staged a fist fight right then. The angers. They were thick.
We suddenly hear the sounds of AS#16 (85 miles) and the guy behind me says we are an hour ahead of cutoff. I briefly perk up at the potential. And then we start the NEVER ENDING descent to the station. On and on and on and on we stumble down. We can hear it but still NO AID STATION. The guy behind me keeps calling out how much time we have til cut off. Its closing in on us and I don’t have the wherewithal to run. People start flying past us to get there. I’m just randomly spouting cuss words and crying. This is not happening.
Karen runs ahead of us into the station and warns them we are a nightmare. I come down and approach the crew and everyone is staring at me. Again, I assume its the crying, puffy eyes and general bitch-itude that is radiating off me. I have forgotten about the head wound because I still don’t actually know you can see anything wrong with me, KAREN. I’d stopped eating or drinking with any regularity back around 75 miles. I am shot out.
I’d just spent so much time dwelling on the plan to DNF. Now we’re in the AS and we have 23 minutes ahead of cut off. You’d think this would spur me into either calling the DNF or hustling to get out of there. Instead I just stand there dumfounded. The crew is suggesting food, offering warmer clothes (WE WERE SO FREEZING) and buzzing around like the most helpful of bees. I just stared blankly not sure what was supposed to happen now. Not sure that I cared either way. My Dad handed me his vest and I tried to put it on over my pack. Kim starts to gently tow me out of the AS. I turn and I see Ryan squatting down shaking his head “no” at me. He is done. He has been done. The fight is gone. He spent the same miles I did reconciling himself to the DNF. He is ready to be done.
And then I just snap.
“We are going. We have 20 minutes on the cut off. This is supposed to be super easy fire road. We’ll run it and build back more cushion. We are going.”
And then, I want to cry when I think of it now, he gets up and gets his pack and we go. I’ve never been so proud of my brother. And I’m relieved because the sum total of my motivational speech at this point is a screechy, high pitched, “We’re going!” that I just kept repeating.
I run ahead some to find a place for a potty break while Kim stays to make sure Ryan gets out of the AS in one piece. Kim catches back up and says Ryan is coming but told her to go ahead. I may forever wonder if I did the right thing at this moment but we just started trotting down the hills and walking up. I’d look back and see Ryan but he gradually got a little further back. I sent Kim back to him to make sure this was ok. He said it was. I still don’t feel 100% right about it. My brain just couldn’t think everything through right then. So we moved on.
The fire road had a lot of rolls and wasn’t near as easy as I had promised Ryan to get him out of the AS. Every time it would roll up I’d wince and pray he didn’t hate my guts for this. At some point I turned around and who do I see but Jason! We hadn’t see him since we all came into the 4o Mile aid station together. I had heard Annie had gotten really sick and it broke me down to see him without her.
Jason joined Kim and I for a couple miles. My whole body just hurt so bad. I told him I was pretty sure I am a 50 mile girl from here on out. He assured me I’d change my tune in a few days. Then I told them both that I was pretty sure I was going to quit at mile 90 AS. Said I just knew I wasn’t going to make cut offs anymore. I couldn’t do the math anymore but I just knew my pace wasn’t adding up.
And then Jason and Kim saved the race. He looked at his watch and started spouting out the cut off times for the 90 and 95 mile stations and calculated the time I had to get to those spots. He kept saying all I had to do was get to 95 in time and I’d be fine. He said I could walk the whole thing and get it done. And Kim just flat out denied that a DNF would be tolerated on her end. I settled down and decided that this was gonna suck but it was going to happen.
We flew through the mile 90 AS and kept marching up the fire road. Jason finally took off because running felt better than walking for him. Then it was mile 95. The crew let me know that Ryan had decided to drop at 90 and Austyn was on the way to get him. That just broke me but nobody would let me dwell for long. Monica swept me up and out we went. She ran through the calculations again because math was suddenly very soothing to me. I began to have serious pain with one foot so we pulled over. I discovered a horrendous blister. Monica suggested I pop it. I had to confess that, while running 100 miles doesn’t scare me, the idea of popping a blister makes me nearly soil my pants. Without blinking she starts to remove her earring and says she’ll pop it. Pacers, they make the world go round.
We finally get to the asphalt road that I know makes up the last few miles of the course. I can no longer remember how long its supposed to be on asphalt and neither of us has a Garmin anymore. Monica suggests we try little running intervals. So we run to a trash can and walk. Run to a street lamp and walk. Each run gets a little longer as I just stare at her feet in front of me and space out of the pain.
A guy walking past tells us it is less than a mile. We both tear up instantly. I look at Monica and mention that we’ve been lied to on this course before (“This next stretch is all easy” “Its only x miles to the aid station” “You look great!”). Monica, the most well behaved of all my pacers, says to me, “If he is lying I will come back and kill him as my final act as pacer. I’ll just kill him.”
Well, I guess sometimes ya gotta break a few eggs…
But he’s not lying (which is good because I don’t think Monica could kill a guy with her earring) and soon we are on the high school track crossing the finish line. 28 hours and 48 minutes of joy, pain, frustration, triumph, defeat, doubt, laughter and tears.
Like I said, I signed up (well Jeff did), and I trained but it took a village of the most priceless friends and family to get me to that finish line. I cannot tell you how much they will forever mean to me for their part in this.
Oh and about 24 hours later I let Jason know that I might be a 100 mile girl after all.