“Holy shit, everything hurts”, is what I was saying a week before my first 100K. I felt creaky, my ankle felt all “jammed up” into my foot, and I couldn’t really run pain-free. So I didn’t, for a full 6 days before the race. I did do everything else I could think of to heal up though. I got a massage, I went to my chiropractor/ART guy twice, I ate well, I foam rolled, I iced, I applied heat, I wore compression, hokas, toe separators…and patiently waited for my body to cooperate. It didn’t. I went to bed that night with a million concerns in my head, but was able to sleep only because at this point, there was no more I could do but trust that things were going to work out–trust in my coach, in my training, my diligence in taking care of my body, and trust that my muscles and my mind were strong enough.
The start of the race was a little blurry. I remember everyone was in WAY too good of spirits for starting an all-day/all-night event, kidding around and running pretty fast at the start down the sandy single track and I really wished I could block out their voices of optimism for a little bit of reality of what this day was going to feel like for all of us. I couldn’t, but within the first mile or so something happened. I hit a nice groove and my body’s aches and pains started going away. I suddenly felt light on my feet and easily kept up with a group of guys up the first ascent.
The first climb started off on a fire road for about half a mile before linking up to a rolling, rocky single track. It would flatten for a second before kicking upwards for a little and then rolling back down. I could tell we were still in a net ascent but it felt easy to run and I found myself purposely holding back the pace on anything that felt like caused my breathing to accelerate. The climb was beautiful and I was blinded by early morning light. There were sections that reminded me of trails back on Tam, the way the light hit the manzanita and the way the technical terrain felt below my feet. It was familiar enough to keep me comfortable but new enough to keep me interested. We started down a fire road and got to the first aid station before we knew it and continued down one of the few runnable sections of trail. About a half mile down, it linked up again to a technical single track, the Matias Trail, which we were warned about in the pre-race meeting being very rugged. It did not disappoint. Descending down that trail was a lesson in not breaking your ankles but keeping enough confidence in your foot placement to keep moving at a decent clip so your quads don’t have to do too much of the work. It was one of the first times in a race-scenario that I was tested with this level of technicality on a trail and I absolutely loved it. I passed a few of the guys on the descent and kept moving until it bottomed out and we started climbing again. It seemed that the short sections between technical trail were either road or deep sand single track. We headed down a section of road to get to the next aid and I wasn’t moving as well as I hoped on the flat stuff. I decided to conserve my energy a bit and jog into the second aid station at around mile 10.5.
This was the first time I would see Chris! He walked down from the aid station to the single track and I could see his red SFRC shirt and big smile and hear his cheers from nearly a quarter mile away. I was in and out of the aid station quickly and back out on the single track to the next climb. Sidenote: at this point, my nutrition and hydration were right on point and I was pleasantly surprised. I was taking in about 150-200 calories an hour (a combination of gels, tailwind/GuBrew, and sport beans) during the run and was trying to do at least 100 calories during the aid station stops (clif energy food packets/Peter Rabbit organics packet, and a couple shot bloks and nice ice cold coke). Ok, back to the race. This section between the Falls and Live Oak Aid stations was pretty long at about 7.5 miles and was warned that it would be some of the most technical terrain we would encounter on the course. I don’t remember any of the climbs being that bad in an of themselves, but I do remember it being pretty technical at times that it made the going very slow especially on the downhills. The trail would become un-runnable for whole miles at a time and you just lose so much momentum when that happens. I could see this section was going to be trouble now and, being an out and back course, would definitely be a very long section on the way back and was hoping I could clear it before the sun went down. So much of this section (and really the whole course) was comprised of extremely narrow single track with these branches and shrubs and cactus-like plants that grabbed at my shirt every two seconds and shredded my legs and arms. The grasses were overgrown so even though they weren’t as sharp and aggressive, I found myself just running through them like you would through the curtains of a car wash through probably 30% of the course. Eventually I stopped thinking about the cuts and poison oak and ticks and mosquitos and just focused on running. My body felt good and that was all I could ask for at this point. I reached the next aid station, where Chris met me out on the road that linked the two up. Another really quick transition, he sent me on my way. It was only 5 miles to the next aid station, then 8.5 to the turn around, where I would see him next. When I left the aid, I still felt really good.
I set out on the trail and hit a nice flat and dusty jeep fire road that winded its way up the mountainside towards the quarry. I had since dropped a few of the guys who I was running with in the beginning and found some new companions to leap frog with. I passed a couple guys on the ascent who were simply walking and you could tell that the afternoon heat was truly taking a toll on some of the runners. I did a little jog/power hike mix that seemed to move me up the hill pretty nicely and without too much effort though I was starting to have trouble running downhill. My right IT Band was acting up a little and I had to stop a couple times to do a little activation technique and stretch, which ended up working miraculously well. The aid station at the top of the quarry came quickly and those volunteers were hilarious! They told me how great I looked compared to the guys who were coming through, offered me a beer and when I declined they convinced me to down a whole 12 ounces of coke and put ice water in my hat for the long haul to the top of Cold Spring Saddle.
Eventually, the trail evened out to a beautiful rolling single track through the dry riverbeds and it was FINALLY shady in spots which at this point, was the first time we had any kind of tree cover at all, and this barely qualified but it was all we would see all race. The trail seemed more descent than ascent at this point and I thought, “wow, this climb isn’t so bad”. I did hit a couple sections which were SUPER sketchy and would never recommend doing on a normal training run and was a little shocked at having to do it during the race. I nearly slid down the mountain during this one traverse over a very sandy steep slope where the trail was completely lost below feet of unstable silt and sand. I actually had to leap to make the connection between the upper part of the slope and the lower part and I was just thankful that my hamstrings cooperated with the extreme reach and thanked my lucky stars that I wouldn’t have to do that section in the dark.
About five and a half or six miles into this section, I was thinking, there has to be more to this climb. I looked at the elevation profile the night before and it looked like a crazy needle pointing at the sky compared to the other climbs we’ve done. I had JUST convinced myself that this course may not have been as bad as everyone was saying. My GPS wasn’t being 100% precise so for a while, I thought maybe the section was a little shorter than stated and I was getting close to the top. That’s when the real climb hit. It was a bitch of a climb. Tons of switchbacks and steep kickers that never relented. It was just as steep as anything I’ve encountered in a race and it hit right around the heat of 1pm for me. I was power hiking the best I could, but because it had been over 6 miles since the last aid station, I was completely out of water. I was really behind on nutrition and hydration for the first time all day and there wasn’t anything I could about it. I tried to swallow a salt pill with just my spit and a little bit of the super concentrated tailwind mixture I had in a simple bottle. The concentration was so high and the water had heated up so much in the 90-degree sun, it burned my throat on the way down. I felt the wheels start to come off. Every time I cleared a set of switchbacks, I convinced myself the aid station was “right there”. This is when I started to cross paths with returning 100K runners and more 100 mile runners who had started the night before. Every time I’d cross paths with someone, I asked them how long to the next aid station. All of their answered seemed impossibly wrong and incorrect. Then I saw Chris. He had run down a mile or so from aid to see if I needed anything. I took a long pull from his icy water bottle and just tried to focus on getting to aid. He ran ahead of me and got everything ready at the top. When I finally got there, I was greeted with cheers and lots of “first woman through!” encouragements. Everyone said I looked great even though I’m pretty sure this is the roughest I looked all day. Even my voice was hoarse at this point from all the dust on the course and lack of water consumption over the past hour. I got sprayed with ice water and took some time here to eat and catch up on nutrition. I decided to hold off changing my shoes even though a little hot spot was forming on my left heel. I probably spent the most time here, maybe 7 minutes or so but I really needed to eat, and knowing how long that section was, I wanted to make sure I was properly fueling for the way back.
I had just run a 50K and was only halfway done. I didn’t really think about that that much since really, I felt much better at this point than at the end of any 50K I had every run. I figured I was ahead of the game if I was still feeling ok and running decently well. I was feeling really good about my performance so far until I left the aid station and immediately crossed paths with the next female who entered the aid station right after I left. I got immediately stressed out because I didn’t care about winning but I knew I was too competitive to let this one go. I didn’t want to race her. I didn’t want to lose a lead. I didn’t want to lose. But I also didn’t want to race. I knew I shouldn’t race. This was only a training run. All of these thoughts played through my head for the first few miles in this section. I pushed some downhills and tried to move efficiently through the flats. Eventually I found my motivated pace taking a toll on me and smartly slowed my roll and told myself I was just going to do my thing and if she caught up to me, then more props to her. This was a tough race and there was also plenty of miles left for things to change for the better or the worse for any runner still out there. I did some rough calculations in my head about how much of a lead I had and figured that I could hold her off for a while and if she caught up later on, to cross that bridge then. I didn’t really look behind me until I got to the aid station at the quarry and she was nowhere to be found. I let out a sigh of relief, declined the beer that was offered to me again and headed down the long dusty fire road to where I would see my crew again.
The blister on my heel was starting to really burn and I figured it was time for a sock/show change. I went from Peregrine/Swiftwick to Altra/Balega wool. Swiftwicks always give me blisters on really long runs (and I knew this) but I had to wear a thin sock with the Peregrine to avoid “pinky pinch” so it was my only option as a combo. I changed right at the perfect moment and those cozy wool socks and roomy Altra Lone Peaks felt like heaven. As I was leaving the aid station, I asked Chris if he would still love me if I didn’t win. He just laughed. I did too. Of course he would, I mean, I never win anything and he hasn’t left me yet. I hoarsely said “192 out” to the aid station volunteers and as if on cue, I see a blonde girl out of the corner of my eye speed through and say “180 in 180 out”. She didn’t even stop! We ran side by side down the road together awkwardly for maybe a minute or so before I could feel her picking up the pace. I could feel that she was working hard to pass me at this point so I made a decision. I’m going to let her go, for now. I slowed my pace to something more comfortable and she pulled away, maybe 100 meters in front of me down the road. I felt a little defeated but more than that, I was starting to feel the miles and the effects of the heat and was starting to feel a little tired. I was still moving well on the road and I could see her, my little blonde rabbit ahead of me the whole time. I closed my eyes and looked at the ground a few times so I wouldn’t focus on her. I looked up and she was gone around the corner. I knew there was plenty of race left so I just focused on the road. Man, that road section seemed to last forever. And that’s because it would have. Chris, in his car, pulled up along side me and asked me what I was doing way out here, the turn for the trail was at least a half mile back, maybe more. I panicked for a section, cursed a little. I had just added bonus miles on and lost a lot of time (and daylight). Getting concerned now that I would hit darkness before the next aid station and all I had was my tiny emergency light at the time, I asked Chris how long till next aid. He looked it up and said 4.9. I asked if he was sure it wasn’t more like 7.5 and he said no. I thought I could make it so I turned around on the road and booked it to the trail link up.
The trail was actually very clearly marked, if you were looking for it. Unfortunately, if you weren’t, it was sort of hidden and the chalk markings almost looked like the “do not enter” lines and not like directional errors. Either way, I’m putting this one on me and not on the race. My mistake, my miles. I started up the steep, rocky climb. The mosquitos, the tarantulas, the snakes and scorpions were all out in full effect and the sun seemed to sink faster than I was comfortable with along the grassy ridge line. Something didn’t feel right about the distance Chris told me and I stopped to quickly check my own reference guide I had saved in my phone. It wasn’t 4.9, it was 7.5, he had been reading it backwards. Shit shit shit. I knew at this point it was a race against daylight and I started to panic for the first time all day. I almost broke into tears thinking about being stranded out there in those big remote mountains without a proper light. I tried to get cell reception and my phone basically just laughed at me. “You’re in the middle of nowhere, idiot, of course you can’t call for help”. But I kept moving, hoping I would come across another runner to at least have someone to follow in case it got dark. Going in and out of some (dry) riverbeds, I hit some pretty terrible mosquito patches. I stopped a few times just to furiously waive my hat around my face just so I could breathe without inhaling them for 5 seconds. It was hard to think about anything going right at this point in the race because it truly felt like everything was working against me. I had this negative thought go in and out of my head and it brought me to probably my lowest mental point in the race. I finally thought to myself, “You think you’re tough shit don’t you? You think the toughest racers and adventurers out there are crying over running in the dark with a couple of mosquitos? You’ve gotta be kidding me. You want other people to think you’re as tough as you know you are? Then you better prove it and get over yourself and get moving”. Thinking about all the guys and gals out there in the ultra and adventure world that I respect kept me sane and motivated and fighting against the imagined darkness within and racing against the real darkness filling the sky.
About 5 miles in, I saw Chris on the trail above me. He had also realized his mistake and ran out to make sure I knew and that I was safe if the sun went down. I asked him if he saw the other girl and he said he hadn’t. It made me think maybe she missed the turn too and was chasing me. I didn’t care. At this point, I was getting tired of running and just wanted to reach the next aid station. Chris and I chatted about the course and it made me feel good to know that he thought it was tough too. He was super supportive and reassured me I was moving well and doing really great. Seeing Chris there truly turned things around for me. I went from the lowest point in the race to the highest. I think I even had a smile on my face at this point. I was in good spirits despite all the chaos and we reached the aid station right at dusk.
I refueled, put on my “real” headlamp (Petzl Tikka RXP), and grabbed arm warmers and a houdini windbreaker in case the temperatures dropped. The second I left the aid station, the mountains got DARK and really steep again. It was about five and a half miles to the next aid station and it was a full climb, the whole way. I just committed to hiking the whole thing, put my head down and put one foot in front of the other. At this point, running uphill didn’t feel efficient and I was really nervous about missing a reflector trail marker and getting lost again out in the middle of nowhere. I figured, I wouldn’t move much faster if I was jogging and the risk was too great that I’d trip or get off course. I reached the aid station at Buckhorn and they confirmed that the second place woman went completely off course, and ended up accidentally linking up with a different part of the course, cutting that 7 mile loop of technical trail completely out. I felt terrible for her, but just like they said, sometimes winning comes down to making the least mistakes. Or as Rob Krar had said, it’s the smartest of the fastest that wins. I was in great spirits after that and knew that a half a mile of jeep fire road more and my climbing for the day would be over. With over 13,000 feet of climbing under my belt already, you’d think I would have looked forward to the downhill more. But I remembered coming up that first climb and how technical it was, knowing that I’d be descending it in the dark. I remember that in the morning, it felt like going UP Tam’s widowmaker route (I say route because it is not a real trail, only a steep, rocky, rutted drainage ditch that leads straight up the north side of the mountain) and wondered whether I’d be scooting down sections on my butt at this point in the race.
At the trailhead to the single track descent, the first one of the day that had blinded me with light and felt so easy, Chris was there waiting for me to run me in. Four miles. We ran easily, being careful down some of the steeper technical sections, even using my hands to climb down the ones that were too steep to step down. He let me take the lead and I would alternate running and walking until we hit the final few miles. I knew I was at about 16 and a half hours and wanted to run in under 17. So I pushed it a little and ended up running a large chunk of the last couple miles in to sprint in to finish in 16:58. The crowd goes wild, yada yada yada.
I was overwhelmed with happiness to be done. I truly felt ok. I didn’t die. I won! I actually didn’t care about the win as much as I cared about feeling great at the end of my first 100K. I had just conquered a super tough course, ran bonus miles and faced a bunch of physical and mental roadblocks before the race and during the many miles out there. How could you not feel great about yourself after that, regardless of your placement. The next day, Chris and I packed up the cabin rental, had amazing ribs and chili at a local historical BBQ joint (Cold Spring Tavern) and made our way to Pinnacles NP for a bit of camping and hiking. It was one of the best weekends of my life and I got to share it with Chris and virtually, with everyone I know in the running community. I would not have changed one thing and enjoyed every hot, dusty, dreadful minute out there and would do it all over again (and maybe I will, next year).
A big thank you to the race organizers. You guys put on a great local event. I wish more people would come down and race this beast of a course (even if it means I don’t win in the future), because it is so beautiful and a true test of grit out there in some rugged mountains. Thanks to my friends and SFRC family. I felt the support and love from the many miles away. Thanks to Stephen and Erica, two friends who have run the course in the past and gave me some much appreciated beta. Thank you to my bodywork/health “team” who always seem to put me back together again Humpty Dumpty style: Dr. Rudy Gutierrez, Dr. Hal Rosenberg and Megan Brooks CMT. Thanks to my coach Krissy Moehl who kept me on track over the last few months. And most of all, endless thank you to Chris. Love you from first place to last place and everything in between. Thank you all the support you gave me on race day and every day.
Happy trails and congrats to everyone that conquered that course! I don’t know many of your names (though I gave you nicknames out on the course), but I hope I see you at a race again soon. 99% of you were some of the friendliest, most interesting people I could have ever asked to run with.
Apparel: BayBirds singlet (Oiselle), Oiselle mac roga shorts, SweatPink arm sleeves, Patagonia Houdini, SFRC Patch trucker/Good People Run buff
Shoe/sock combo: Saucony Peregrine 5/Swiftwick Aspire Four socks (in radar orange) for miles 1-45, Altra Lone Peak 2.0/Balega endure wool ankle sock for miles 45-64 (yes, two extra miles).
Watch: Suunto Ambit 3 (Sapphire and Run)
Lights: Petzl Tikka RXP, Black Diamond Ion (small, emergency light that I never used but was great to keep in my pocket during that section that I wasn’t sure I was going to make the daylight cut in).
Hydration: 20 oz neoprene cover (thermal) Amphipod handheld for water. 12 oz Simple bottle in the back of my shorts with a mix of 170 calories of Naked Tailwind (1 scoop) and one single serve of Gu Brew Lemon Tea
Nutrition: Sport Beans, Hammer Gel (Apple Cinnamon), Huma Gel (Strawberry), Gu (Root Beer), Clif shot bloks/Gu Chews, Clif Energy Food (Beet Banana Ginger), Peter Rabbit Organics Food (my favorite was the Apple Grape), watermelon, Chicken Broth and Coke, SaltStick salt tabs, Oloves (olives, not sure if I actually ate any of these, but I intended to)
Other: Body Glide (in tube), lots of sunscreen and bug spray, Glacier Gel (for blister post-race), Amphipod belt to carry phone and nutrition.
Stuff I’m glad I did right: Took it conservatively in the beginning and kept moving at the end, spray sunscreen as opposed to a lotion, taking time at aid stations to properly fuel up, wardrobe changes were all necessary and on-point (even the hat to buff change I did when it got dark to better hold the headlamp on my head)
Stuff I could have done better: take advantage of some of the more runnable sections (now knowing that there weren’t many), kept more ice in my water and potentially taken two 20 oz bottles on the longer sections I ran in midday heat, sunglasses at the start, taken more gels (though I think I compensated with enough real food calories)