The day I met Dustin, we accidentally ran 130 miles together in El Paso. That's a rare find. A hundred miles invariably takes you to high and low and gross and emotional places. He and I have run long lots of times together, though, and somehow it's always happy.
Don't misunderstand: on any day and any run he is much, much faster than me.
But for the really long stuff, I can hold my ground decently.
The forecast was unseasonably hot with severe wind advisories. The night before the race, with bellies bursting with Cascatelli, he said we should change the plan (which was to run separately and each run fast) and run together instead.
Secretly, I'd been hoping for this.
I was not certain I wanted another 23 hours of solitary stress so soon after Antelope 100. I just wanted to tour canyons and work hard.
We had four weeks to recover, but were we recovered?
One minute I was standing outside in the dark at 4:30am choking on sunscreen and contemplating how I normally feel pre-hundred (do I even want to go for a run today?) and the next we were part of the fluorescent herd running too fast up a gravel road.
Warning: This is a meme-heavy post because I carried a handheld for 70 miles and didn't take photos. You're welcome.
For 15 miles we ran a slickrock loop bouncing off people. I realized how annoying it is when people start with headphones. They can't understand the natural shuffle of settling into the ultra, and they bust past you panting heavily because they aren't listening to themselves and then crash a mile later in front of you. Bro. Easy. You’ve got 20 hours to go. (Since I've started coaching, I give a lot more mental advice.)
I tried to frame this as positive energy; everyone is starting this great journey collaboratively and there is a big ball of excitement to feed from. But if I'm being honest, I just felt ushered down the trail and annoyed at the bright headlamp behind me that was messing with my vision (all I could see was my own shadow because he was so close to me).
By 9:17am (9:31, according to Dustin) it was hot. Heads up: the race gets hotter and then it stays hot.
When you run the triple crown of 200s, very early in the second race you hit a wall and you hit it very hard (mainly because four weekends previously you ran another 200). I remember coming into the Loon Lake aid station hurting and seeing fellow triple crowners wrecked; one girl was sitting with her head in her hands sobbing. We were only 20 miles in. I had been warned about the Bigfoot Bonk, thankfully, and promised that it would go away. It did, and I finished Tahoe just fine. The same thing happened at this race.
At mile 15, the fronts of my knees and hips were throbbing. My legs didn't want to bend, not really, and I felt beat up. I didn't want to complain, but I told Dustin that I was feeling some things. His eyes widened and he said he was experiencing the same thing. It was validating. We each put in our music and followed each other around some lumpy dirt roads at the base of a canyon rim as the sun climbed higher. Sometimes you have to be patient and work through the pain. It was much too early to feel this way, but we were not discouraged.
I'm waiting for those midnight hours
When the mood undresses all her glory
I hear her singin':
You are my shell, my ocean as well
Put your mouth to my mouth, breathe along.
Gravity holds no presence here, nor do expectations
I suspected that.
I have gained mountains of patience
And valleys upon valleys of insight.
I am a separate individual and I'm feeling downright comfortable
With the time and space that we created ourselves.
-Medicine for the People, "Ocean as Well"
This course is unique in its exposure. It is 100% desert without a tree, or a canyon wall, or even really big rock to offer any shade. Not only was there no 'premium shade,' as our friend Edward likes to find, but there was no garbage shade either (premium shade is long-lasting actually chilly shade, maybe with water or grass or cool sand, etc.).
We slowed our pace in the heat but kept a decent beat. These are the conditions to run smart in, if you possibly can. We did have one mishap: a missing water station caused us to both run out of water and hit a very low, thirsty stretch (at peak heat, too, of course). We finally came down from the lip of the mesa and saw the little blue tent waaaaaaay far away, miles from where we were. That sucked.
I will say, though, that Vacation races sent out an email totally owning the mistake and apologized (and they fixed it in time for the main pack to come through). Pretty cool of them. And yeah, it was INTENSE at the time.
Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater their power to harm us.
It's funny to talk about the next 50 miles. A lot was hard: the course was surprisingly technical at times and discouraging in the heat, our stomachs faded in and and out of nausea, I climbed to third place and eventually fell to fifth, we saw some dumpy areas and some gorgeous ones. I crashed down a steep rocky hill and my hand swelled up and turned blue.
It'd be so easy to complain about all of this and tell you how miserable it all was, because it was, but I can't. Not because I'm whitewashing it in peppiness, but because our desire and determination was resolute. Some races have a couple of punches and some are raging a war; registering for an ultra means you sit down at the table and you get the hand you're dealt. That hand is occasionally a sufferfest.
Our friend Marissa was waiting for us at mile 80, and we were so excited to get to her and bring this thing home together. We were spending the weekend in Utah. Our minds were steely. The race was harder and more punishing than it looked on paper, but all I can think of is how happy it was. Stuff went wrong, but it was ok.
At mile 70 we needed a shoe change after tromping through a very stupid cow swamp (very stupid; there was a road within eyesight, the swamp was full of spiders, and it lead to a 20 mile loop you then had to run with wet shoes). Right beside me in the aid station, I found my friend John. At that moment in time he had completed 100+ miles (including many 200+ milers) 118 times. We sat and caught up I while he ate and I cleaned up my feet. If there is someone to tell you something true about the ultra distance, I've found it. I'd like to share part of his recap and blow your mind in his last sentence:
I thought it was hilarious.
John is the most humble and kind person you could meet. His attitude and resilience are baffling. His key drop bag was skipped? Things that are 'key' in ultras are key for very, very good reasons.
And maybe that's the secret to the hundred miler: life is absurd, so how will you respond?
There is an entire school of Absurdist philosophy that specifically argues how irreverent the universe is to our existence and how by acknowledging the absurdity in looking for inherent meaning where there is none, you can ironically develop meaning from the search alone.
Aid stations blow down, you're dying at mile 72 and have so much further to go, things you thought would work are not working; you're going the wrong way (we found two people going backward). It's easy to get mad. It's easy to blame. It's easiest to quit. It's not your fault. I don't mean to call out anyone in particular or get judgy, I just mean that one of the secrets to doing these things (118 of these things, nonetheless) might be to belly laugh at the absurdity. Preferably with a friend.
Speaking of friends, meet pacer Marissa! This photo sums her up perfectly:
She's a tiny, extremely prepared, energetic Mexican mama that has the logistics down to a science and is always smiling. If you are lucky enough to have Marissa in your corner, you're going to be alright. She is capable and intuitive. Mile 79 was this atrocious 1,000' climb (up the same hill I fell down and hurt my hand) and we found her at mile 80-ish. The timing could not have been better.
She met us on the road and we headed into the final 20, which sounds like less than what it really is, both in regards to the time it takes and the feelings it gives you. I can very confidently say it was not my finest 20.
This photo sums it up best:
Or perhaps this one, which effectively captures both dry heaving behind a rock and the sleepiness:
One more contender: that time both of our blisters started to bust and bulge at the same time and we had trouble walking. Now that is actually hilarious and ironic: struggling to walk during a footrace.
The thing about blisters: they scream, but they stop eventually.
Each player must accept all the cards life deals him or her:
but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide
how to play the cards in order to win the game.
At mile 92, the ground was swimming and I was having trouble running. I never get delirious at hundreds, not anymore, but my brain would not stay focused. I was too tired. Dustin was munching sweet tarts trying to perk up. We took a five minute nap at the aid station. I crawled in the sleeping bag, wrapped the blanket around my head, and fell asleep in a second. When we awoke, it was 39 degrees and freezing.
I am from northern Minnesota, and I have never uncontrollably shivered that hard. I put on all the clothes in my drop bag (two t-shirts, a long sleeve baselayer, gloves, and a jacket) and started running fast. They'll catch me. I had to warm up. I felt like a sieve for the cold night air.
We had one final slickrock loop to run and then two miles up the road. The end was close, but not thaaaat close. We did not hesitate to keep going, however fast or slow it may be. Marissa did not baby us or try to fix and comfort everything. Dustin did not ask if I was ok to keep going. Instead, we all just kept chatting and listening to her Spicy playlist. There's a lot of strength in going alone, and ultrarunning is typically a solitary sport, but there is a lot of strength in hanging around giants. We made laughter.
We stared at the milky way and we listened to the little invisible birds announce morning. Dustin's blister exploded in a big wet mess in his shoe. Ultrarunning is the best.
Finally twilight broke.
Finally the loop ended.
Finally the last aid.
Finally the last hill!
Mile 99ish (and my favorite photo):
Mile 100 (7:30am):
Final wise words to apply to the hundred mile race from someone smarter than me:
And a note of thanks: it sucked being in the heat and the wind and the dust (one aid station was a real red Pompeii) and the volunteers were generally amazing. The course was marked well and the end was extremely supported and organized as always. We are grateful!
Seven weeks to the next absurdity!
P.S. Dustin made my toe into a goomba, and I have lost one more toenail so far. Down to seven!