“Babe, after Saturday everyone is going to know who you are. You’re going to surprise a lot of people.” Western States 100 was only a few days away and I was half asleep laying on Avery’s chest. He was right.
Crawling into bed the night before the race at 8 PM, I was ready. Running ultras is a game. The game starts with training. Diet, race strategy, course knowledge: are all factors in the game. Mentally it is a game. Can you quiet your mind the night before a race to bank as much sleep as possible? The race doesn’t start for nine more hours, but I am trying to get every advantage I can. With my headphones in I drift off to sleep listening to Sarah McLachlan Radio on Pandora, just like I have before every race I have ever been in.
Eight hours pass, Avery and I have checked in and have grabbed our bibs. We find a quiet staircase to sit in while we attach our race bib and shoe tag for tracking. Panic hits when I realize I forgot to put on anti-chaffing cream. Using Burt’s Bees lip balm, as a substitute, Avery helps me as I franticly apply it in areas that are prone to chaffing. We make our way to the start line together. An embrace, with a kiss, and a whisper, “Kill it babe, I love you, see you at the finish”. Then he slips through the crowd to stand amongst the other elite males. I hangout five bodies back from the start line amongst the other competitors. Casually I look around, excited to get the race underway. I am ready to see how my training matches up against some of the most accomplished women in the sport.
We’re off. The Escarpment, is just another training run up Mount Warner to the gondola in Steamboat. I am in a group of elites, every female I pass or that passes me is a goddess in my world. I had watched them in YouTube videos, listened to them on podcasts, read articles about them in magazines, and stalked their Ultrasignup. Yes, these women are elites, but I know their past results, and I know I belonged in this group.
Running through the snowfields I have the desire to scream with the spirit of a cheerleader, “We’re running Western!” to anyone within hearing distance. The urge is suppressed with great effort. Snow fields give way to mud bogs, at times swallowing my legs up to my knees. I love it. “This is trail running boys!” I yell with enthusiasm as I pass by three grown men who give me zero response. I don’t care I am Cinderella at the ball. Instead of glass slippers, I am in Olympus’s and a Nathan pack.
Duncan Canyon (mile 24.4) is a rave. That is a 100% accurate review of the energy level at the aid station. My two main goals at Duncan Canyon are to change my socks and leave my watch with my crew for them to charge. I run into the aid with a pack of 7 other competitors. Tums, salt tabs, water, Oreos, bolt out of the aid. It takes me a half mile to realize I am still running in wet gritty socks, and my watch is still beeping low battery. New socks and a charged watch will have to wait until Dusty Corners (mile 38), where my crew will be anticipating my arrival next.
At a conservative pace I come into Robinson Flat (mile 30.3) out of water. Four cups of soda and two cups of water later my stomach was ready to burst, but I fell so thirsty! Two more cups of ginger ale should quench the thirst. Down they go. Waddling over to the volunteers, blessing runners with ice baths, I request two. Then they filled my pack and arm sleeves with ice, before I mosey on my way. Two ice baths, ice in the pack, and ice in my arm sleeves became my ritual at every aid station through Green Gate at mile 80.
Leaving Robinson Flat my stomach is so full of liquids it makes running extremely uncomfortable. The feeling is bound to pass so I continue to shuffle along, at a pace I probably could walk faster than. When I reach Dusty Corners I am feeling much better. The temperature gauge reads 106 F. I remember to change my socks, but for the second time forgot to leave my watch with my crew. Running out of the aid feeling refreshed with new socks and a recent ice bath, a volunteer cheers me on, “Yes!! You’re F11!” It is the first time I realize where I stand amongst the other women. I am satisfied with F11 at this point in the race. A fact of running 100’s is carnage. As long as you’re not the carnage, you’ll do great. I am biding my time, I am suppressing my giddiness. The hours will pass and I will stroll through a battlefield of carnage, for now F11 suites me just fine.
Heading down into the Canyon after Last Chance Aid Station (mile 43.3) I can physically feel the heat crawling up my legs. It is the same sensation you get when you stick your hand into an oven to grab a pan. There is a wall of heat that hits you. Masochistically I love it, it is everything I thought Western would be. I want to let it rip, to fly, to be a bird. The downhill single track is whispering sweet nothings in my ear, seducing me. It’s not smart to run with your heart this early in a race. Running with your heart comes at the end. Run with your head. Then there will come a point your head betrays you, telling you it’s too painful to continue, that’s when you switch channels and listen to your heart. My motto until Foresthill (mile 62) is “Save your quads”. There is ample opportunity for them to crush the downhill later in the race.
The climb up to Devil’s Thumb Aid Station (mile 47.8) is performed at a comfortable pace. Once at the top I cash in two more ice baths. I leave Devil’s Thumb Aid in F10. The first sweet taste of recent carnage on my lips. A huntress on the prowl.
Descending into Eldorado Canyon, I again, have to force myself to run smart and under control. F9. F8. Climbing up out of the canyon I am on a high. My endorphins are kicking in, and I am ready to shift up a gear. At Michigan Bluff Aid Station (mile 55.7) my crew is waiting. Reece Stanley has been my crew chief at every ultra I’ve ever ran. He knows me at my most competitive. He understands all I want to do at an aid station is get back out on the course, to hunt down more women. Luckily for me, he takes nothing personal when I’m racing. When I came into Michigan Bluff Aid, I bark out orders for things I need. Reece helps me take off my soaking wet socks, and then takes the shirt right off of his back to dry my feet, before slipping the new, dry, socks back on. There isn’t time for him to grab a towel from the crew bag across the street. This Sport takes a team. My appreciation for the time, money and effort my crew puts in for me, will never be adequately expressed. Okay, enough sappiness. Back to the race.
Another descent, nice and easy. Another climb. Save your energy girl, the race hasn’t started yet. In Foresthill my first pacer Dean Eastham is amped up, ready to run to the river with me. I want my crew to know how great I’m feeling, I have a surge of energy to get to them as fast as possible. It is easy to crew a runner that is always ecstatic to be out there racing. It’s draining to crew for a runner that is constantly hitting walls. I want my crew to enjoy crewing me as much as I love having them around. That’s why I do everything in my power to make sure, they only see me hurdling the walls I encounter.
Right before coming in to Foresthill I pass a female runner. F7.
An ice bath, another ice bath, fresh socks, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, alright let’s do this. Dean and I start knocking out the miles, we’re moving. All day I felt like a Thoroughbred prancing sideways, trying my best to keep my composure until I can let loose. Now the gate has sprung open and I am out for blood, raging like a Thoroughbred down the race track. Dean is playing the part of a jockey pulling at my bit, by reminding me of my mile pace he is keeping me in check. Finally I am warmed up and ready to race. F6. F5.
I fly to the river, trying to make it to Green Gate Aid Station for my headlamp, before it becomes dark. At the aid we wring out my socks as best we can, then proceed to do our best at owning the last 20 miles. Tristan Eastham is my pacer now. It is nighttime, time for the headhunting to begin. Our first victim? A male. Damn. We need females. Eighteen miles left. Tristan and I run on alone in the dark, pushing the pace, scanning the darkness for any sign of light in the distance. We are stalking our prey, hungry, wanting to pounce. “Headlamp! See it?” Tristan asks. “Yes, let’s make our move.” Running like we are trying to set PR’s at the neighborhood 5k, we stealthily advance on our target. Is it a woman? Quietly I give Tristan the thumbs up, while sprinting down the trail single file. “Excuse us”, we glide by our feet barely making contact with the trail. I hold four fingers up for Tristan to see. F4.
Car headlights? Headlamp? Yes! There is another headlamp way up there. We move in for the kill. It’s a guy. Next. Where is she? There is a light. Be a woman. Be a woman. Be a woman. A silent thumbs up to Tristan. We pounce, another victim. F3. Nobody is going to take podium from us. Keep flying for ten more miles. Too fast. I miss a corner and go careening into a sticker bush, my feet sliding in my shoes. Blisters are popping underfoot, as if I were walking across bubble wrap. Searing pain. Your feet will go numb in 2 miles, you’re fine just keep running.
“Tristan we’re not stopping at this aid. I have enough food and water to make it to the next aid”. Two more casualties succumb to our headlamp hunting, both men. Mile 94.3, I down a ginger ale like a shot of whiskey, and leave my pack with my crew. Five miles left. Four miles left. Keep moving, almost there. Three miles. Two. One. Track.
Curious about my nutrition? Here is everything I consumed during the race.
GU Roctane Gels
Hammer Energy Bars
Tailwind Electrolyte Drink Mix
Skratch Electrolyte Drink Mix
Sword Electrolyte Drink Mix
Cliff Electrolyte Drink Mix
Peanut butter and Jelly Sandwiches
Turkey Deli Meat
Sword Energy Chews