Mountain Lakes 100, 2016 (29:42:19)
I have been working to build for this race for several years. Josh Gum planted the idea of an ultra in my brain one of the very first times I met he and Wendie. The idea that I might actually want to try to run a 100 miler was born. Stumbling, cautiously, fearfully — but the idea was solidly planted years ago.
I picked Mountain Lakes 100 specifically last year. Spencer and Josh both thought it was great choice for a first attempt. Great race directors. Local race. It was at a time of year that Spencer, Josh and Wendie could help me. I had plenty of time to train. Local running friends had experience with the race/terrain. The biggest training block I would need to make happen was already built in with this summers TransRockies event. It was perfect.
I signed up. I mean, that is about all the stars you can possibly even ask to try to align.
And they all aligned.
We will ignore the taper tantrums and the pre-race, night-before terrors that fill me each time I get ready to run a race that has a tight cut-off. My confidence usually heads for the sewer and it’s an all out fight to remember my training and battle my head into a positive position. I am better at this than I have been in the past, but it was pretty intense this time around because this was totally new, unknown and SCARY AS HELL!
I had a few goals going into this race…
- Finish before the 30 hour cut off.
- As Ken Ward suggested, start slow, then don’t slow down. I wanted to finish strong.
- Intermediate goals relating to getting to my crew in certain windows of time.
- Mini goals of getting to and from aid stations efficiently and not wasting time.
- And perhaps most importantly to me… I wanted to stay happy and smiling and maintain a good attitude. I get sharp and sometimes snarky when I get scared or embarrassed. I know it. And I wanted to be the happy runner from 0-100 even though this was going to be the scariest thing I had ever done.
- NAIL fueling. Stay on Gu’s every 20 minutes. (For 30 hours… Yup. That’s 90 Gu’s.) Eat solid fuel at aid and with crew. Drink plenty of water.
- When I hiked it was to be strong, with purpose and intention.
- Run the downs.
- Enjoy the experience. This has been on hell of a journey. This is about that journey, not about a destination.
0 – 5.30
8 AM. BEAUTIFUL weather. Off we go! The first bit of the run is on a rutted forest road. I was running the same pace as a local runner from Corvallis, Roger, who is perhaps the kindest man I know. We chatted about our strategies, excitement and wisdom others had passed along to us. I focused on walking the uphills starting early in the race. We wished each other luck. I would spend the rest of the day trying to chase him down.
We got turned onto single track for a bit — winding our way up and over to another forest road that descends for several miles. Climbing over downed trees, across narrow rock ledges. I’m told it was a beautiful section. I was carefully watching my feet. 🙂
5.3 – 11.4
We hit aid station one and I checked in quickly and kept going. The next section was forest road and all down hill. SO RUNABLE! Shaded, smooth, easy. I was focused on running this with ‘no effort’. I had been told by some of the experienced runners that if at any point in the first 50 miles of a 100 miler you even begin to question whether you’re pushing too hard; you ARE working too hard. Back off. So as I ran comfortably down hill I tried to stay aware of it just being chill and easy. Chatted with some great folks around me. We’re all pretty fresh and hyped up to be doing this thing!
11.4 – 20.75
Hit aid station two and made my first mistake. Knew that the climb back out was long (9 ish miles, 2,600 feet of climb) and thought I had enough water in my hydro to make it and get out ahead of a pack of people onto the single track. I would discover about mile 18 or so that I was out of water, it was warming up and that my fuel choice doesn’t do well without water. I puked up one Gu, then skipped one — so went early in the race for over 40 minutes without fuel or water. That is just DUMB. I had pulled out my trekking poles and was using them to work the uphills. This is the first of many times I would slam my toes into a rock. I got to run a section of it with my friend Rita which was wonderful. Hiking with intention. Staying focused on getting the first 25 miles done and done well so that I set a good tone for the rest of the race… I felt like I was settling into and enjoying the task at hand.
20.75 – 26.05
Running back to the lake. Familiar roads. Water on board. Fuel going down. And I was getting super excited. It was runnable roads BUT way more important was the fact that I WAS HEADED TO MY CREW! This is the first spot I would see them. Weeks of tension about getting to the start line, starting the race, had evaporated and I was simply overjoyed at the thought of seeing Spencer, Josh and Wendie. About mile 25.5 I HEAR Wendie’s familiar WHOOP WHOOP and ‘THAT’S MY GIRL!’ She runs up to me with flatted coke in a polka dot cup. I could have kissed her. I was smiling ear to ear and she led me through the Olallie Lake aid station toward our crew car as I was handing her my pack. Spencer was running up to see what else I needed. I should have been calm and thoughtful. I was spastic and erratic and thrilled! MY FRIENDS WERE THERE. They stayed focused — THANK GOODNESS — and got me re-fueled, watered, stocked up, dealt with some potentially annoying chafe in the hind-end area 🙂 and back on the trail quickly. Of the entire race — that thrill of seeing those faces I love so dearly that first time, starting nerves gone, a smart race started… It remains one of my favorite snapshot memories.
26.05 – 29.15
There’s a thing in Ultra running called ‘Bonus Miles’. It’s when you get lost/go off course. It sucks. I got about .5 of a bonus mile. I left my crew and simply missed the turn for the next segment. A car was parked right in front of the entrance to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the perfectly marked trail. I’ll forever be grateful to the angel who got out of her nearby car and chased me down in her flip flops and got me turned around. I only lost about .5 of a mile. But I had to work to not let that little detour shake my confidence. Back on course, I started running on the exposed ridges of the PCT and realizing that I would see my crew again shortly — then not again for hours. Josh had told me to spend the run segment organizing my thoughts around what I needed for nightfall. I did just that.
29.15 – 36.65
Made sure I had pants stuffed in my hydro pack and changed my shirts . For me this was a big deal… Quickly, publicly, stripping down to a sports bra at an aid station in front of a bunch of strangers. Was going to just leave things alone, but Spencer pointed out, my entire shirt front was wet from a leaky water nib on my hydro pack and I was headed back into what was going to be a dark and cool run. Shirts changed, fuel on board, headlamp/torch in the pack — I was off again in a matter of a few minutes. These next miles were enjoyable, runnable. Great people. I wasn’t even watching my Garmin. I knew I was comfy and doing well and being smart about choosing how to tackle the terrain directly in front me. I have a feeling the scenery was beautiful. I was too scared to take my eyes off my feet. But I was feeling strong, confident and comfortable.
36.65 – 43.85
I hit the aid station. Grabbed some solid food. Filled up my hydro and scrambled out fast. Same as the previous section — I couldn’t believe how easy I was moving and I was well over the 50K mark. I was starting to feel pain and fatigue and my feet were starting to feel every rock on the path, but I felt pretty darn good all things considered. That was a strong confidence boost. I knew I was supposed to be getting miles put down while the sun was still up and I could see what I was running on. I knew things would naturally slow once I was using a torch.
43.85 – 49.35
I had to put my headlamp on, the lead runner finally came charging toward me and I had yet again kicked a rock. And this time I kicked a very sore toe and went down to my knees trying to catch my breath. Not depressing or defeating in anyway — but the growing cautiousness and pain around my feet coupled with the darkness slowed things down a bit more than I wanted. This is where I got aggressive with my trekking poles. I let them do the work. It sounds funny — but I kinda/sorta ran this section using my arms. I would bear my weight on the poles to get a little hop/pop over rough terrain. It was entertaining and distracting. Returning lead runners were starting to come towards us and in the dark — those oncoming torches were beautiful and deeply comforting. You know you’re headed in the right direction if returning runners are coming toward you. I got to the aid station and my friend Jason Leman was there! Hugs, chatter and encouragement. I told him I was fighting nausea from all the GU. He encouraged me to drink some Ginger Ale and eat some solid food before leaving the station. I did all of that and almost instantly felt better. I was out of there fast… Because the next section…
49.35 – 54.65
This next section was all about getting to Wendie, my pacer. This section was dark, descending, technical — so I moved as quickly as I could. I needed to get to the aid station as much before midnight as possible to grab Wendie and head out on a 16-mile loop. My plan was to use this section to give us as much of a time buffer as I could, without wasting so much energy that I was not able to finish the dang race. I ran this segment alone, except for a few oncoming runners. It was really dark and lonely and I started to wonder how I was doing with time; had I slowed too much in the dark? Your mind plays tricks on you in the dark. You hear things, you worry you’re lost, you lose track of time, you can’t do basic math. You wonder why you’re doing this crazy thing. No significant low at this point, just starting to wonder how the rest of this adventure would play out if I was behind the pace and with my feet getting increasingly sore. Instead of recalling the plan I created and forcing those ideas in my head — I was starting to understand and accept that the story of this adventure was actually being written as I ran and that I only had control over my own forward motion and how I reacted to whatever happened…
54.65 – 60.65
I heard Spencer yelling for me as I neared the aid station. I think hearing him say my name out of that pitch darkness was one of the BEST sounds in the world. It was right around 11 PM. I’d been working the race for 15 hours. Spence asked what I needed and I said I needed him to look at my foot – just in case whatever was happening was something we could easily fix and relive some pain. I asked for ibuprofen. And solid food. I asked him if I had slowed down too much in the last segment and had ‘screwed myself’ from being able to get around the lake before the cutoff. ‘Absolutely not, you’re right on target. You are doing great!’ He sprinted ahead yelling ‘Betsy’s in…’ I got up the trail to the road and the aid station was to the right. My beloved crew was directly to my left. And friends Kristie and Tony — total happy surprise! – were at the road cheering and yelling for me. I don’t know for sure — but I think I tackled both of them and a few other people in fierce, quick hugs. I was happy to see people! Sat in the chair. They took my shoe off and said my toe looked sore, but it looked fine. (No one said it – but ‘SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP’ was thick in the air!) It looked normal. Huh. Felt horrible. We changed socks while my shoes were off. Spencer crammed food in my hands and told me to get a move on. My Wendie girl, took off in front of me leading me to the aid station and calling out my number and moving right on through. With one critical stop to grab a big hug from my friend Jami Sutter for about 20 seconds. Jami whispered fiercely in my ear ‘YOU HAVE GOT THIS!’ We were off again, we chatted and ran and moved quickly the first mile. I had to stop. Uh… I was just gonna pee. But my body had other ideas. I was only about 12 inches off the trail. It’s funny as all get out now, but at the time it was — well… Actually it was funny then too. We got back on the trail and about a mile later paired up with Roger and his pacer John for some spirited and funny conversation for several miles. We had a great time trying to stay in front of them and a few other runners – and then later trying to catch them. The time and miles FLEW by with Wendie leading the way. We got to a series of bridges. I was leading and I stepped of the edge of one and yelped. I called back to Wendie ‘STEEP DROP OFF!’. She followed me – and when we turned around the drop was about 7 inches tops. I knew then that I was fatigued and it was only going to get worse… Everything was feeling exaggerated. It was a funny moment that had us laughing at the absurdity for several miles.
60.65 – 66.25
In and out of aid in about 90 seconds. Wendie ran ahead and took charge of simply getting me what she thought I needed. Perfection. We are trying REALLY HARD to not waste time. On this section we’re on the other side of Timothy Lake on sweet, groomed, single track and headed back to the Dam. Spencer and Josh are going to be at the dam. Wen is singing, I’m chewing Big Red gum after violently gagging on an orange gel. Wendie coaxing me gently and then not so gently to keep moving at a decent clip. “The boys are waiting for us. Let’s surprise them and get there early.” If I were more experienced or perhaps in better shape or it was daylight — this section was really runnable. I was hiking as fast as I could and jogging in stretches, but I couldn’t string together any decent length runs…. My feet were sore. I started to feel like my legs needed instructions to work –and it was taking a lot of brain power to keep them moving. I start to feel like my left shoe is tied too tightly. I mention this to Wendie.
66.25 – 70.95
As we arrive to the wildly lit up Dam we are treated by a great, white, full moon… Josh was mooning us as we arrived to the station. A sight I may never be able to clear out of my brain. 🙂 Josh encouraged us to run on the flat asphalt while we could and he led us to the car where Spence had everything set. Changed out of my my dying Garmin to Spencers Garmin, as mine was dying and I wanted to track this whole monster. 🙂 Wendie had to help me put on running pants because I was finally cold and I couldn’t bend and we didn’t want to take my shoes off. *Picture this* In the dark, everyone has headlamps on. we can hear a music from the aid station behind us. Spencer was force feeding me Top Ramen out of a hydro flask. I’m emptying my pockets on my hydro pack/changing watches/eating. Wendie was trying to remedy the fact that my torch had died. Josh was taking care of getting Wen ready for the next section. *THAT PICTURE*. That is another snapshot in my head and heart of all my favorite peeps taking care of each other to get ONE of us to their goal… I know that’s odd, but this image proved to be a silent, powerful, emotional moment that I would pull up and look at in the coming hours. Spence and Josh inform me that time is ticking — and we have to keep moving. And they tell me that when we get to the next aid station — Wendie is done pacing, Josh takes over and we’re not stopping for much of anything except essentials.
Wen and I take off for the next rendezvous point and this section is where I finally hit a low. A quiet, mind-bending wonder at what I was doing and whether I could leg out another 30+ miles, with over 3,000 foot of climb and do it before a cutoff… It was not sadness. I know that I have run smart and hard and done everything as right as I possibly can to this point. I know that if the plug got pulled at this point on the race — I ran a great one. But there is a sense of heaviness. Daunting. Fear. I knew that what is in front of me is really what this beast is all about and I am starting to worry that maybe I am not entirely up to the task… Wendie’s doing everything she can to coax me to stay present. Reminders to breathe. Asking me what hurts. Offering me gum and food. Singing songs. Finally she just says ‘you OK being quiet with your pain B?’ I say yes. I don’t know exactly how to tell her I can keep handling the physical pain — it’s my head I’m battling. I don’t have to tell her — she knows me. I am afraid putting it into words will make it real. So I stay quiet, grappling to find a positive foothold to climb out of this particular low spot. We hit the aid station faster than we thought we would, which was so exciting! Spencer runs out to greet me as Wendie runs ahead to alert Josh to get ready to run. I quickly tell Spence I’ve hit my first low. He says it’s OK, you know these are part of what happens, keep moving forward, keep breathing through it. We don’t talk about it; but Spencer knows that some of this ‘low’ is tied to the new pressure of actually getting through the aid station before the cut off. And yes that sounds weird — but here’s the deal; if I miss the cut off THEY end my race. The decision is out of my hands if I miss their cut off. If I make the cut off — which I did! – it’s all on me to make it or break it to the finish line. I want the finish line. With all my heart I want that finish line. The low was simply a new set of emotions setting in to keep me company for the rest of the trip. I tell Spence that the ‘mantra/idea’ working for me is ‘SHUT UP BRAIN, your legs know how to do this work, get the hell out of your own way and let your legs run the way you were trained…’ I would tell myself that over and over and over for the next 10 hours.
70.95 – 76.25
We arrive to the aid station quicker than we thought. It’s 3:45 AM. I needed to be through the aid station by 4:00 AM. Wendie had helped me shave 15 minutes off the trip! I hug Wendie, grabbed some food. Josh and I waste no time and hit the trails. We would only be about a mile or two in and we start a climb. A big, long climb. I am slowing with each step. Taking smaller steps. Dragging my trekking poles instead of using them. Josh is beginning to run through numbers for me, paces and times. I suck at math, especially when I am trying to run. BUT I know that what he is telling me is I have to keep moving – and I have to keep moving faster than I’m currently moving or we can’t make the finish line. Anxiety and panic smash into my chest. In the dark. With Josh coaxing me to move faster. And I begin to cry. I’m quiet and crying for miles. Josh is reminding me to use my trekking poles to help myself on the uphills. He would have to remind me to use those damn trekking poles for the next 30 miles. He is reminding me to keep moving and eat and drink. He already has his hands full and we have 9+ hours more to go. I start to feel deeply guilty and realize that when I asked Josh to pace me on this adventure I had NO IDEA what kind of runner I would be. I did not realize AT ALL how much work I was going to be asking him to do. We are running back on the PCT toward Olallie Lake, in theory this should all be familiar. It’s dark and not feeling familiar at all. My brain is relieved to have someone else in charge and I understand that I am not able to make small, easy decisions at this point. I know it. I’ve abdicated responsibility for myself into the hands of someone I trust. And I’m using my energy to fight the mental fog and fear in my brain and just stay present. Josh has to remind me several times — all we have is right now, this minute. He would say ‘Hey, B, are you here with me?’ I would say ‘no…’ or ‘Not sure’ he would say ‘Get here.’ And I would work to breathe and stay focused on getting one foot in front of each other up that endless hill.
76.25 – 81.75
This aid station straddles the trail and we literally ran straight through. Not stopping at all. We kept moving in the dark. I think this is about when we started to get some day light. Josh would say we had to run the flats and he would have to coax me every single time. I’m still fueling good. I had to pee again. And again… My body had other ideas. I can only laugh that I have now pooped in front of the entire Team Gum. But the best part was that I am 70ish miles in and squatted and did NOT fall over, fall asleep or need help standing back up. I had been warned by other female ultra runners that squatting might become an issue late in the race — and it never did for me. As we’re heading into the aid station a few things happened. We’re on a LONG SUSTAINED climb. I’m slowing down. A runner and pacer pass us and they make small talk. They comment about how they’re moving as fast as they can and basically indicated we should be moving that fast or anyone behind them won’t make the finish line. That comment breaks down the fragile barrier I had oh-so-carefully-constructed in my brain. For the next 20+ miles I would now obsess about times, paces, miles and time of day. I am very aware that I am racing time. I was aware of it at 8:01 the day before when I started the race. I knew it. BUT this comment throws that old-fiendish lens of fear over the top of every moment. We finally see the aid station and Josh tells me ‘run to the station and you can sit in the chair for 2 minutes.’ I am an idiot – and a sucker – and tired – so I run. 🙂 I flop in a chair after grabbing a fig newton and JASON Leman appears! He hugs me. Reminds me I can turn off my torch. Helps me figure out where to stow it in my pack. He lies to me telling me how great I look and how strong I am and how well I’m doing. I will forever love him for that much-needed, positive exchange. This becomes another one of those moments I’ll never forget. Josh tells me time is up and we leave. I want to cry. I want to stay. What happens if I just stop running and leave the race…? Will my friends still love me? I realize this is NOT HELPFUL THINKING. I know that I need to stop thinking about quitting and start thinking about how to keep the pain from commandeering my thoughts and focus entirely, solely on that finish line…
81.75 – 88.95
This is where I hit a low. And I feel like I stayed in this low to about mile 99.9999. I fought every step. I cried. I sobbed. I kept moving. Josh at one point said ‘how’s your heart? How badly do you really want this?’ He let me stew, he would change topics, he would remind me to eat, he would coax me to run and he was never more than about 5 feet away. The sun is up, it’s warming up. I’m trying to run – but I am also very aware that every step is jarring. I start this involuntary response that has to be tied to pain, I’m now involuntarily whimpering and groaning with every step. I try to stop it – and I can’t. It’s annoying me. I mention it to Josh and he says ‘JUST LET IT HAPPEN. It’s OK. This is painful and tough and there’s no judgement and if it propels you on — great!’ I’m just confused that I have no control over it. Other runners are passing us and I’m crying and whining and making these guttural groaning sounds with every step. We’re headed to an aid station. Josh reminds me that we really don’t need anything and we should really keep moving He’s not panicked about the time, but he’s watching it, adjusting for the fact that I’m slowing down in each segment. This segment was about equal parts of rolling ups and downs.
88.95 – 96.45
It’s warm. I’m thirsty and running out of water because all of the sudden I can’t get enough to drink. Fueling is still on target because Josh is simply handing me fuel at this point and I’m not arguing. Every once in a while one of the chews/blocks falls out of my mouth as I’m trying to breathe or chew — I get accused of spitting them out. 🙂 I was NOT. I thought about it – BIG TIME. And we laugh about that when I admit that I was considering it, but not doing it on purpose. Gu and blocks were gagging me at this point. But I knew the only person I would hurt by cutting calories was me – and I was already hurting about all I could stand. Bonking — which is largely preventable — would be downright stupid and irresponsible at this point in the game. We pass a volunteer. She says 4.4 miles to the next aid station. WHAT SHE FAILED TO SAY is that it was about a 4 mile climb. It.would.not.end. I am whiny and know it. I’m totally annoyed with myself. I am hot. Out of water. Josh is sharing his with me. I am mentally checking out of the race at this point. I’m seriously thinking when we get to the next aid station maybe I’ll just stop. If I throw myself in the bushes or better yet on the ground — I’m 180ish pounds of dead weight; what the hell is Josh gonna do? I’d show him… 🙂 A few times I was trying – earnestly – to run and I would get 3 or 4 steps in and that’s all I could manage. Josh would say great job, then quietly a few beats later; let’s try that again. We hit the 90 mile mark and Josh says ‘You’re 10 miles out, you’re doing this — can you believe it?!?’ And the hardcore sobbing begins. I am literally shaking so hard that Josh has to grab my pack to keep me from tipping over off the trail. I want to tell him ‘YES! YES! I know!!!’ And all I can think is ‘TEN MILES?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? IT MAY AS WELL BE ANOTHER 100…’ So I just sob and say nothing. We settle into a patter of me groaning or asking time/pace, distance and whether we can make the finish line in time. And Josh asking me to eat or run. It’s companionable. I haven’t dropped any F bombs in his direction — which is a major victory. 🙂 I am trying to remember one of my goals was to keep a good attitude… The climb won’t end. And when it finally does — we travel for what seems like another 4 miles to the turn off to the last aid station before the finish. We run in, I grab some coke. Josh is filling my pack. I am hiking back out of that aid station, sucking down soda, moving toward the finish line, for all I am worth.
96.45 – 100.95
I wish I could say I was smiling and happy and calm and jogged the last little 5 K to the finish. That would be a great ending to this adventure. That’s not what happened. It was a lot of the same from the last segment. I believe that this segment took us 90+ minutes. Hot/exposed climbs, self-doubt, fear, pain and walking forward anyway. Running as best I could on terrain that made sense given the hours and wear on my legs and my obnoxiously sore feet. Out of no where Spencer shows up to run in with us. I was so, so happy to see him, but I don’t know that I conveyed any of that. I had a singular focus and it was on ignoring the pain and moving forward no matter what. Time seemed to stretch out. I moved slower and couldn’t seem to move faster even with intense coaxing. People passed us. All of them were cheering us on. The trail would NOT END… Josh finally said at one point ‘You can hike this in and we’re still going to make it. Do you believe you’re going to finish?’ Again… The stupid, uncontrollable sobbing. No… I didn’t believe it. Not at all actually. I think this might have been the point when I stopped, hunched over and was just stopped on the trial. Josh grabbed my pack and gently pushed me forward and said something along the line of ‘oh no you’re not…’ Spencer said pretty sharply ‘ C’mon Bets. Keep moving. You’ve got this.’ Spencer and Josh were both coaxing me and praising me for my ridiculous stutter step running that was all I could manage. I had a team of incredible power at my back. A team like none other. A team that loved me even though I was at the lowest possible point. And they wanted me to get the finish line. I wanted the finish line. And I would do anything to keep from disappointing either of them… But my mind was DONE and I having to use all my energy to remind my legs to lift and move. Lift and move. Breathe. Repeat. We had some confusion as to when the trial ended. Spencer ran ahead to do some recon. We finally rounded a bend (after about 1.25 miles further than we thought it should be…) and hear Wendie screaming for us! I’m literally about a 1/4 of a mile from the finish and have about 20ish minutes to spare at this point and I have no response to seeing this amazing woman and friend other than to utter a quiet, somber ‘thank you’… I can not wrap my head around the fact that I might actually see the finish line before the cutoff after two days of running. We break out onto the short section of road and my whole crew runs with me. Spence says “c’mon, let’s run this in.” We can hear the finish line, see it at this point. At this point I tell Josh I do believe I am going to finish. We all gave a small, relieved laugh. And my friends, my support, the people who carried me to this finish line run with me into a human-made finisher’s chute.
I crossed the line at 29:40:19.
I had 19 minutes and 41 seconds to spare.
I had just attempted and completed my very first 100 miler.
A week later and I remain overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, encouragement.
I still can’t find the right words to thank Spencer, Wendie and Josh for what they did to get me to that finish line. Not just race weekend, but over the past 3+ years. Thank you just doesn’t seem to convey what is in my heart… And then there are so many other people who helped me along on this journey that I’m afraid by naming one, I’ll forget the others.
This type of endeavor takes a VILLAGE. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My heart is so, so full.
My feet are sore.
And this feels like the exact, right, perfect spot to be.