On Friday, July 26, I finished my packing. I missed a few things, like extra batteries, but mostly had everything I expected to need to run 100 miles. My amazing crew filled in the gaps. Then the unexpected happened (like usual). My husband had a doctor appointment that morning and the doctor decided he needed to be hospitalized for testing. All of this happened as I was about to leave. We talked and decided I would still go to the race but my crew would keep my phone on them so I could drop out and drive home if needed. We had lunch together before he went to the hospital and I left for the biggest adventure of my life.
I dropped my youngest daughter off at my mom's house (my older daughter is staying with my grandmother for a couple weeks on summer break) and then continued on to Ohio. I arrived at the packet pick up at 4:30pm and met my first crew member/pacer, Ed. We had met at North Coast 24 Hour back in April and Ed kindly volunteered to join me from miles 55.5 to 70.6 at Burning River. I received an awesome backpack and bib number 1526 and left my drop bags with the volunteers before I drank a Burning River beer with Ed and Jason (another runner from NC24). There were BR100 shirts for sale but I was afraid it would be like a jinx to buy one before I finished so I waited.
After the mini reunion at the packet pick up, Jason and I decided it would be cheaper to split a room. We both had reservations at the Sheraton by the finish line but he was getting a better deal so we cancelled mine. We dropped off our gear at the room and then headed out with his friend, Christen, for some pizza. By the time we got back to the room and organized all our gear for the 2am wake up call it was almost 10pm. Always a gentleman, Jason took the pull-out couch and I got a giant fluffy bed all to myself. It still wasn't enough to calm my nerves and between my anxiety and the music from the Rock on the River festival nearby I didn't get much sleep.
At 2am the alarms started beeping and we began getting ready for the adventure ahead. I wore my INKnBURN phoenix camisole and denim shorts with my Altra Torins and Dirty Girl gaiters. I filled two 20 oz handhelds and put my 'pace' tattoo on my forearm. My pace tattoo actually consisted of the mileage between each aid station and the total distance at each, not any projected time. Now it was time to go.
The bus from the Sheraton/finish line left at 3am and I took a back seat so I could stretch out and nap on the way. A poptart served as breakfast. I arrived at the Squire's Castle starting point shortly after 4am and found Ed right away. He said the rest of my crew was on their way and would see me at the first aid station. I found my Altra teammate, Zack, in the crowd and we chatted for awhile in the cool morning. I explored the castle a little bit and then finally just stood in the dark shivering until the start.
At 5am we were off. I let people go and tried to hold back on any urge to chase my friends. I saw a friend of mine named John on the first loop around the castle and we chatted for a bit. He looked really good and had a great plan. He took off after a bit and I continued my slow and steady plod. I eventually caught up to two runners I know, Kevin and Danielle, who had similar goals to my own so we stuck together for quite some time. I wasn't wearing a watch so I depended on them to set our pace.
As we returned to Squire's Castle 6.2 miles later I saw my other two crew members, Allison and Patrick. I hugged and kissed Allison, dumped my headlamp in Ed's hands, and grabbed a piece of a granola bar as I headed back out. I averaged a 12:34 pace for that first loop, reaching the castle in 1:17. The next 4.8 miles to Old Mill were uneventful. I continued to run with Kevin and Danielle and we were faster than expected but feeling comfortable so we continued on. The first 26 miles are mostly road so I figured they would be faster. We hit Old Mill in 2:26 and didn't stay long. If I remember correctly Kevin said we spent 57 seconds at the aid station. Nice!
The third aid station, Polo Fields, was a crew access point. I saw my friends again and assured them I was doing great. Patrick shoved as many calories as he could at me and Allison offered encouragement while Ed filled my handheld. I just kept thanking them over and over. It was amazing what a difference it made knowing I would see them in a certain number of miles. It also started a steady drizzle at this point that would last most of the daylight hours.
Around the next aid station, Harper Ridge, I realized Mother Nature had decided to send me a visitor. This seems to be a common occurence during big events for me so I was prepared. At mile 26.2, Shadow aid station, I saw my crew again and got some supplies and changed my shorts, mooning a couple people in the process. I also changed into my trail shoes. Now the real challenges would begin on the trail section. I knew from my training runs that it was going to be muddy and sloppy. I finished my first marathon of the day in 5:33.
I wouldn't see my crew again until mile 41.7 so I just kept plodding. I ate and drank and chatted with lots of other runners. We thanked our lucky stars for the overcast skies and light rain. I reached Oak Grove, mile 41.7, in 9:38. I was still feeling great and having a blast and I was now running with a woman, Karen, who was working her way through the midwest grand slam. It was really fun to listen to her stories and learn more about habitual hundred milers.
At Oak Grove I hung out for awhile with my crew and ate lots and lots of food. Everyone commented on how great I still looked and how well I was running. Looking back I wonder if we jinxed it here. I wouldn't see my crew again for 24 miles until mile 65.7. I was still having a blast and enjoying the company of my friends, Anne and Greg, along the trail. It was really awesome to have so many friends running about the same pace so we saw eachother often.
Leaving Oak Grove our little band ran together and chatted happily as we headed for Ottawa Point, mile 46.4. When we reached my drop bag there I thought about changing my socks but the workers told me the next section was muddy so I figured I would just wait. I'm glad I didn't waste the time because it would have been absolutely pointless. The next 9 miles were relentless ankle deep mud and standing water with no breaks. I lost Greg, Anne, and Karen on this section. I discovered once again that I suck at running in mud and I lost a ton of time.
It was all I could do to stay upright. I clung to trees and bushes on the downhills, tearing up my hands and arms. I did the bear crawl, hands and feet on the ground with my butt in the air, on the uphills just trying to avoid sliding back down. It took me 1 hour and 38 minutes to cover the 4 miles from Ottawa to Snowville and I was just about mentally broken. I was screaming obscenities at the mud and barely moving by the time I hit mile 50.4 and I still had a muddy 5.1 miles to the Boston Store where I would pick up Ed as my first pacer.
I hit the Boston Store, mile 55.5, in 14:36. I had estimated 13 hours so I was really starting to worry. Not to mention my average pace for that section was about 2 miles per hour. Visions of those three dreaded letters, DNF, started to race through my head and I tried my hardest to pull myself together at the Boston Store aid station. I crammed candy, broth, noodles, and every high calorie item I could gather into my face and drank a few cups of ginger ale to help it settle before Ed and I headed out.
As we searched for the trail for the next aid station we came across a group of other runners that were also confused. There was a three way split in the trail and no markers on any of them. Ed ran up and down several but couldn't find any markers. I could see the aid station glistening in the dark on the other side of a meadow but I knew we were supposed to loop around about 4 miles before we got there. I decided to run over and ask a volunteer to get me back on track but a volunteer spotted us first and ran across the meadow to meet me halfway. He ran with us back to where we had gone off track at a poorly marked turn onto a side trail hidden by tall grasses and we set off in the right direction but had added about a mile to an already long run.
We made it to the Pine Lane aid station at mile 59.4 in 15:56. It was just getting to be full dark and my spirits were reviving knowing that I would see Patrick and Allison again at the next stop and we could take care of my sore feet. The next 6.3 miles to Ledges Shelter were mostly road and a paved bike path. Ed and I ran as much as we could until disaster struck. Around 100k I was running pretty well up the bike path when something in the back of my right knee got really tight and then just popped. I went from running to clutching my knee and sobbing in the span of two strides. Ed kept me moving forward though and dealt with my on and off crying jags when I would stumble over a rock or root and send shooting pain through my knee. We finally made the 65.7 aid station and Allison and Patrick were waiting.
They helped me up onto a table and Allison got me new socks and shoes while Patrick did some kind of ART/massage work on my knee. Ed refilled my bottles and kept me calm throughout the process. All around the aid station there were runners wrapped in blankets on the tables and floor. It looked like a war zone hospital. I ate everything my crew told me to and took two Tylenol and then rushed out of there. I knew it was too tempting to stay somewhere warm with so many people who had seen the end of their race. Thankfully whatever Patrick had done to my knee fixed the problem and I was running again. The crying jags were over and I could refocus on the task at hand. I also found out that Shane had texted and he was home from the hospital. It seemed like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I'm not sure what time we made it to Pine Hollow, mile 70.6. There are no splits listed for me here. But Allison took over pacing and I was really excited to spend more time with her. She has become an awesome friend since we decided to undertake my journey at BR together. It was only 3 miles to the next aid station and it passed in a blur. She fed me something every half hour on the dot. Gu, gel, ShotBloks, etc all went in at prescribed intervals but my stomach was starting to rebel.
Frequent bathroom breaks at convenient trees were eating into my overall pace and I began to worry about cutoffs once again. At the Covered Bridge aid station, 79.6 miles, I knew I was facing the last really tough section called Perkins Loop. I was just over 23 hours into my adventure and I was about to face my biggest fear. Allison shoved some sandwich squares and other items at me and I did my best to choke them down. I was forced to take Endurolytes and some salt. I knew Allison and the aid station crew were doing their best for me but my upset stomach was convincing me that it might just be sabotage.
As we headed out on the Perkins Loop the mud returned and so did my demons. I choked back tears and more obscenities. I swore on every holy thing I could think of that I would never do another mud run, obstacle race, or muddy trail run ever again. I became convinced that mud was the most evil thing on earth. And the bathroom breaks continued to eat away at my shrinking cushion of time.
When we popped out of the loop at mile 84.3, the Oak Hill aid station, I told Allsion
my stomach needed a break from food. She agreed it was worth a try and we covered the 2.4 miles to Howe Meadow at the fastest run I had managed in quite some time. I ended up regaining 25 minutes of cushion between myself and the cutoffs. Patrick and Ed were concerned that I had stopped eating but Allison assured them it was the right decision as I had made the whole 2.4 miles without a stop. I took advantage of the rest room at the aid station and drank a little bit of calories and then headed out again.
There was a simple water-only pile of jugs for the 'aid station' known as Botsum and it indicated I had passed the 90 mile point. This section was mostly towpath and I had pretty much stopped taking in anything by mouth. Allison would open a gel, eat half herself, and then force me to nurse the rest during a walk break. We continued to run as much as I could but I don't think my run was much faster than my power walk by that point. All that mattered was staying ahead of the cutoffs.
At the Merriman aid station Allsion told Patrick her back was becoming sore so Patrick threw on some running shoes and joined me for the last push to the finish despite the fact he was never intended to pace me. I can't thank him enough for all he did on those last sections. Just knowing that I was running next to a Western States finisher forced me to suck it up and push harder.
The last aid station, Memorial at 96.2, had a bathroom so I took advantage one last time so I could push hard to the finish. Patrick picked out some saltines and a cup of Coke and forced me to eat them on the fly. He also noted that the volunteers hadn't even had to top off my water bottle and I must not be drinking so he began reminding me to take a sip every 10 or so minutes.
The last section had a good bit of hiking trail that also held multiple sets of stairs. I had been throwing fits about how Ohio can't just leave good enough alone and has to carve stairs into every hillside for the last 12+ hours already and these were tough to stomach. The last half of this race has probably 20 or more sets of stairs, most consisting of 20-65+ stairs and almost all of them were slippery with mud by this point. Each time I crested a set of stairs I kept hoping to see the road to the finish emerge. I could hear intermittant cheers but we were headed away from them and one last low spot set in.
I power hiked along a power line trail while Patrick forced me to eat a gel. He kept telling me about how I would forget how much it hurt and I would be able to run hard as soon as I could see the finish. I tried to focus on what he was telling me and keep my walk as fast as possible while promising to run as soon as we found pavement.
I had forgotten that the final road section starts out with an uphill. Patrick allowed me to hike it really hard instead of run but pulled me into a run as we headed towards the last uphill. As we crested it I could see the Sheraton where I had been sleeping only 32 hours before and the finish line beyond it. I could also see another woman walking with her crew just a hundred feet ahead or so ahead of me. Patrick told me we were going to catch her and pass her and so we did.
As we neared the last intersection I began to speed up. I finally felt like I was really running again. The volunteers stopped traffic so I could cross to the finish line without breaking stride and Allison and Ed were standing at the finish line waiting. The screams and applause were overwhelming and I began to choke up. I forced back my tears as I crossed to the timing clock but as soon as I saw the volunteer with my buckle on a ribbon I lost it. My official time was 29:30:42.
I sobbed and hugged my crew and my friends. We took a picture with all of us at the clock and then I hugged everyone some more while I cried. My friend, Anne, had gotten off track around 71 miles and ended up missing a cutoff but she went to the finish and waited for me anyway. My heart was so full at seeing her there that it almost burst. My friend Greg had finished 45 minutes ahead of me and he hobbled over to give me a hug and congratulations. Total strangers were hugging me and shaking my hand and giving me high fives. I have never felt as loved and supported as I did at that moment.
As soon as I calmed down my crew walked me to the tent to get a coffee and a breakfast burrito and then we sat on the edge of a fountain and talked while I ate. Allison presented me with a card that made me cry all over again and I tried to process that I really had just covered 101 miles (plus a bonus mile) on foot. It was completely surreal.
Ed gathered my drop bags from the trailer, while Patrick gave me a pep talk on recovery, and Allison just kept telling me how awesome I am. I just kept thanking them over and over. I could never have done it without them and I owe them more than I could ever explain. I don't know if I can ever repay them but I do know that we now share an unbreakable bond forged over almost 30 hours of sleep deprivation, blood, sweat, and tears.
As I drove home (yes, I drove 2.5 hours home after I finished) I was barraged by texts, Facebook comments, tweets, and messages. When I got home I read everything and did my best to respond to everyone. I also found out there was a four page thread on Running Ahead following my progress and cheering me on. My coach sent me a tear jerking string of texts telling me how proud she was of me. As I laid in my bed waiting for the cramps and muscle spasms to ease enough to let me nap I choked back more tears realizing just how many people actually cared whether or not I succeeded in my journey.
Now, almost 24 hours later, the pain and the details are already fading. It feels like an amazing dream but the buckle hanging on my wall tells me differently. At this point I'm unsure as to whether or not I will do this again. I'm registered for the Oil Creek 100 in October but both Patrick and Allison are running as well. I'm tempted to just crew and maybe pace for them instead of running. And Ed may go back to North Coast 24 Hour in September which would be a great opportunity for me to volunteer and pay back the running community for some of the support they've given me. So now I recover and set my sights on my third Baker 50 mile finish so I can complete my medal. It's almost unbelievable that a year of training, planning, and dreaming is over in the blink of an eye (or several thousand blinks more likely)!
3/17 Shamrock Marathon
4/20 North Coast 24 Hour
7/27 Burning RIver 100M
8/24 Baker 50M
10/5 Oil Creek (distance to be determined)
Brands I Heart:
Altra Zero Drop
Congratulations on your first buckle!
The mud was tough. You were tougher.
pace sera, sera