Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Facing "The Bear 100" ~ Guest Post by Chuck Radford

  
Being Challenged In Life Is Inevitable, Being Defeated Is Optional.    Roger Crawford

Here we go again, another year, another 100 mile race report. Ready or not …

The Bear 100 history:
  • This was the 20thrunning of the race.
  • It’s a point-to-point race starting in Utah and ending in Idaho. 
  • Mix of dirt roads and technical trail. 
  • 21,000 feet of vertical gain in 100 miles.
  • Notorious for having VERY off years in weather. 
    • 2014 saw almost 12 hours of straight rain through the night with a trail of runner carnage.
    • 2016 saw tons of snow forcing the race director to cut the course in half and turning runners back home at the half mark. 
  • It was my year to test Mother Nature and that nasty Bear.

Knowing I needed to run another 100 mile race in 2018, I teamed up with 3 friends to run something together to turn it into a fun “guys weekend”. The lunacy of another ultra adventure was afoot. A huge thanks to my amazing sponsors, Fuel 100, who have had my back through thick and thin. 

The race filled quick, but my registration was accepted just in time. As time ticked on early in the year, one of my friends, AJ, decided to float his entry to another person and would instead come out and crew/pace rather than race (I now had a pacer and crew). Things were looking up and I was excited.

In June, I decided a tune up race at the Leadville Trail Marathon in June was a good idea. I ran the race not as “trail fit” as I’ve been in the past and struggled badly in the last 2 miles, but finished. Low and behold, I found out a few days later that I encountered a BAD injury to my left hip flexor shutting me down entirely for a month. All of a sudden my training and my race looked at risk. I struggled to pick up some last minute training in August and September with low mileage and very little specificity training (i.e. hills, technical trail, endurance runs, etc…). My confidence was rocked and my only goal in the race now was to finish.

After talks with a local running buddy, Jon (also running the race), I decided the best option for me was to run with him the entire race at a slower pace, get a finish and a qualifier while taking much of the typical race stress off. While I was never “happy” with that option, I was settled and comfortable with the idea of just getting through this race.

In September, final plans were solidified and it was time to get to Utah. Jon, AJ and I met up with Steve (long time friend from Arizona), his wife Kara and friend Zach in Garden City, Utah. We all chilled for a day and a half before the race doing all the typical pre-race prep (i.e. talk of strategy, shake out run, pre-race meeting, etc.). BOOM!! Race morning and time to “get it on”.

Jon, Chuck and Steve
Start:
As a point to point race, we drove almost an hour to the start (we stayed at the finish to make it easy after the race). We landed in Logan, Utah, checked in, took care of business and lined up at the start. 

The first 10 miles are the toughest on the course, as the route takes you straight up 4500 feet to the top of Logan Peak. Jon and I fell into the conga line on the single track trail and kept the pace nice and easy as planned. At mile seven, out of my peripheral vision, I saw something jump from the ground …BAM, I was stung. Hurt like HELL and made me jump. I was dumbfounded, as it seemed too early and cold to be a wasp …or was it? I posted an inquiry on The Bear Facebook page asking others what it could have been and was greeted to 28 responses of people telling me it was a yellow jacket. Confirming that theory even more, at least half of the responses said it happened to them at the exact same spot. Odd. Too cold to fly, but not too cold to jump apparently. Anyway, it hurt a LOT for the next 7 miles throbbing in pain off and on as the stinger released more and more toxins infrequently. It never affected my race outside of the nuisance of the pain, but it was the only exciting thing that happened in the first 50 miles.

Back to the nuts and bolts of the race ...we worked hard up the first 10 miles and were looking forward to some nice downhill miles, but were met with very technical trail at the top. We rode it out all the way into the first crew station.



Leatham Hallow (19 miles):

After the technical trail at the top, it turned into beautiful trail all the way down into Leatham Hallow where we met our crew for the first time in the day. Once we arrived, we were greeted by AJ, Kara and Zach. They treated us like kings as we sat down in nice camp chairs as they refilled bottles. We loaded up and headed out relatively quickly. 

Cowley Canyon (30 miles)

We ran 3 miles of dirt road to the Richards Hallow aid station and moved through quickly and efficiently passing about 5 runners.

Not noted earlier, but important, is that you descend into every aid station and ascend right out of it. Little to my knowledge, this Cowley section would begin my lowest "low" of the day. I started getting “achy” already and that was concerning. The heat of the day was kicking in (reached about 80 during the day) and the relentless nature of this ascent was killing me mentally and physically. I kept it to myself so as not to air any negativity to Jon, but I wasn’t happy or confident all of a sudden. I wished I had changed shoes earlier and maybe taken just 5 more minutes at the aid station, but I couldn’t change any of that now.

Now for off topic fun …at mile 26 EXACTLY, there was a dead cow about 15 yards away from the trail …bloated with its tongue sticking out!! I joked to Jon that they must have staged it at the marathon mark to keep everyone “grounded” and to remind you that you have 3 more marathons to go ...or you could just lay down and die. A good giggle and we moved through the stench and forward.

We trudged on through many false summits and when we finally DID summit, we didn’t immediately see the aid station where expected and we were both out of fluids (concerning to be sure). Once we finally found the aid station, we drank a LOT, filled up and headed out for the next ascent.


Right Hand Fork Aid Station


Right Hand Fork (37 miles)

This next section would bring some of the most beautiful trail I can recall. Wonderful single track, mild technicality and amazing colors the entire way. That uplifted my spirits and combined with seeing crew soon, I was in a better place.

We descended into the Right Hand Fork crew station and were once again greeted by friendly faces. This would be the last time we saw Kara and Zach, but they made the experience as good as it gets. AJ and Zach filled our bottles with ice and water and AJ soaked my buff in the ice cold stream. While Jon soaked his feet in the stream, I chatted with Kara and inquired about Steve. Things seemed well with him at the time, although he ultimately dropped. I moved on over to the aid station, ate and we moved on out.

This next section was exposed and while it helped with some amazing views of Autumn colors and livestock (droves of sheep), it didn’t help with the heat. Fortunately they had an unmanned water station so we knew we could drink unfettered with the option for water later. Nice runnable trail all the way into the next aid station.

Tony Grove Aid Station at dusk


Tony Grove (52 miles)

We made a no-nonsense stop at the Temple Fork aid station and prepped for the second biggest climb of the day. We crossed the highway and straight up Blind Hallow with 3000 feet of vertical gain in 5 miles. I was reminded again how unfit I was for big hills and struggled through this section, but was relieved to peak. To our happy surprise, AJ was waiting for us for the nice descent into Tony Grove.

On the descent into Tony Grove, I was struck with my first “tweak” of the day. Jon had been voicing his decision to drop at the mid-point, as his interest in finishing had been waning. Once that thought enters someone’s head, there’s little that can be done to reverse it. Jon called it a day and I was now committed to completing the second half of the race on my own terms. I put warmer clothes on, grabbed my headlamp and AJ and I headed out. Truth be told, I was frustrated with the recent change of plan, but I tried not to let it change my ultimate goal of finishing.

AJ and I set a new goals of trying for steady hiking on the "ups" and good running on the "downs". As day broke and gave way to stumbles and adjustments to the lack of light, we turned on our headlights and tried to change our mindset. There was lots of good conversation and laughs while we got into a fun rhythm. With heads down chasing down each runner in front of us, we settled in behind another racer at our same pace. Not long after, a different runner was stopped and asked if we were on the right trail. We didn’t see how we wouldn’t be so we continued on. After seeing no other headlamps or trail markers for a mile, I questioned our direction myself. The lead runner and AJ were sure we were on the right path so we continued on. After another half mile, I stopped and was sure we were off course …and we were. We stood there devising a plan and then headed back. The immediate problem was that the trail on the return trip fanned out into numerous other trails …I was sure we were LOST. AJ used a function on his watch to get us back on the right trail, but then he accidentally deleted his data …anxiety hit me again, as it was just the two of us stuck in Utah in the pitch black and no other headlamps in any direction to get us back on trail. We couldn’t seem to commit to a plan, as we didn’t want to make the situation any worse. Then all of a sudden we heard a voice in the distance and we followed. We crested a hill and saw a headlamp ... running like hell, we found the trail again. Damage done: 3.5 extra miles and a hour of added time. I admittedly considered dropping when I thought we wouldn’t be able to find the trail, but I got my head back in the game. I knew we couldn’t change what happened and we could only move forward. 

I told AJ that I would need a few extra minutes at the Franklin aid station to regroup and I did just that.

Franklin (65 miles)

After snagging some chicken broth and a bacon quesadilla, I grabbed my drop bag and sat down. AJ he reminded me to not let the diversion from earlier derail my race. I took his words to heart. I enjoyed the food, but was quickly getting VERY cold. The nature of the course caused runners to get warm while pushing up the ascents and cold descending down into the valleys and aid stations. Eating also has a way of causing your body to work towards digestion and away from heating your core. So it was best to get moving.

As we worked hard to get back in the race, our conversation started to taper off. About 5 miles after leaving the aid station, AJ asked how I was doing and I responded that I was feeling good. As the conversation waned a bit, I thought it seemed the right time to ask him the same question. When I did so, I was met with a rugged “not good”. When AJ and I saw the last of the light and full dark, we found the trails very hard to see and with AJ trailing me, he had the added challenge of dirt flying in his face. This caused a lot of tripping and kicking rocks. He started feeling pain in his Achilles and it was only getting worse the harder we worked. He made the unselfish call to cease pacing at the Logan River aid station believing I would be better off alone. I was now faced with my second unplanned decision of the race …to finish the race solo. But since this wasn’t my first 100 mile race, I knew what had to be done and being a veteran, I knew I could do it solo (I’d done it twice before already in races). 

Beaver Mountain Lodge (78 miles)

I moved through the next 13 miles hiking hard up the ascents and passing people with encouragement and polite words of support. I would then run/trudge down as much as possible continuing to struggle with the lack of vision and technical trail. I blazed through the Logan River aid station and worked my way over to the Beaver Mountain Lodge. This aid station is known for being a nice warm haven that sucks you in and holds you there longer than intended (or never leaving the station at all as some runners do). My plan was to get in and out quickly after refueling and grabbing warmer clothes out of my drop bag (the temperature continued to cool).

Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to see AJ there waiting for me. Seeing him was uplifting and his added help allowed me to get out of the warm paradise that was quickly drawing me to stay. AJ’s parting words to me were a very compelling “FINISH THIS!!”. I departed knowing I would be going the next 26 miles and six and a half hours without a familiar face.

Ranger Dip (96 miles)

The next 12 miles were kind of a blur as I moved through the Gibson Basin and Beaver Creek aid stations with little excitement. I was fatigued and done with the dusty, dark and clumsy running I couldn’t avoid. The two things I remembered were 1) Welcoming my second sunrise; and 2) Taking my first fall at mile 88. I was able to save myself from the rocks with only a bump on the knee. Major damage avoided.

Ranger Dip is known for having some amazing food and friendly volunteers …they did NOT disappoint. Upon arriving, I put in an order for a bacon breakfast burrito, refilled my water bottles and headed out with my special order burrito in hand. I’m not joking people …A BACON BREAKFAST BURRITO!!!

The ascent out of the final aid station was also known for being tough. I was met with a 600 foot “sucker punch” climb (in one mile) to the highest mark on the course (9000+ feet) before finishing down in Fish Haven. This was a grind and required a couple 5 second breaks to catch my breath. Once I peaked and knew the climbing was done, I was ready for some down hill. Much to my surprise, I was able to move well! I started trotting, which turned into a coordinated jog, which then lead to a full run. I looked at my watch and started to realize a sub-27 hour finish was possible. My run quickly became a kamikaze bombing down the trails to the road visualizing what a fall would do. I somehow not only stayed on my feet, but logged two sub-6:45 minute miles at mile 103 and 104.

Trail view of Bear Lake in the final stretch


Finish (104 miles)

Rounding the final corner, I looked down at my watch and realized I would miss the sub-27 hour finish by seconds, but threw down a respectable 104 mile race in 27:00:40. I worked hard the second half cutting my placement from 107th down to 53rd Overall.  Taking into account the unseen snags, the lost hour and last minute changes in plan, I was proud to cross that finish line for my 6th100 mile race and another Western States and Hard Rock qualifier. I consider this race one of my best even though it's my worst "on paper". Sure, there were no fireworks like races in the past, but that simply means I proved my experience and growing skill at this crazy extreme sport by mitigating problems and constantly moving forward. This doesn't get any easier as you age (trust me), but the added benefit is that each adventure helps you grow in more ways than you can imagine. 


Final Push

Caked in Dirt

After thoughts

For most, the general assumption is that running 100 miles is only a physical challenge, but I firmly believe the harder challenge is mental.  Having the mental fortitude to push on when you're continuously reminded of pain.  Having the ability to adapt to changing conditions, most of which are unplanned or unforeseen.  Having the patience to know that your in for a LONG day and dark night with the reminder that "this too shall end".  Having the ability to problem solve a blister or deviating off course or a sour stomach.  The physical pain is known ...it hurts.  It's pulling all the mental pieces of it together that helps you overcome the obstacles and gets you to the finish.  The even BIGGER challenge ...how to apply all of those qualities to my every day life!!!  If I can do that, then I can be an authentic role model to my kids and a better person overall ...that's when I've truly won.

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it. –Moliere


Left to Right:Leadville 100 (’14), Run Rabbit Run 100 (’16), Javelina Jundred (’15), 
Run Rabbit Run 100 (’17), The Bear 100 (’18), Leadville 100 (’15)


A great video taken and posted by Brian Steinberg on Facebook during the race (I've always admired runners who take the time to capture the essence of these races).  YouTube "Bear 100 - 2018".

A special thanks to all runners on the "Bear 100 Mile Endurance Run" Facebook Page for offering access to all of their pictures (some of which are posted in this blog).

A big thanks to AJ Wellman for allowing me to post my Blog on his Blog site.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Rudderless

“I think people don’t realize how bad these races are for your body. They do extensive damage; you are running hard for such a long time. Your brain chemicals get really out of whack after doing something that hard.” - David Laney, from Trail Runner Magazine

Wow, has it been 7 months since I blogged? I guess it has. I've become inspired to re-engage a bit lately. In three weeks time, I watched my running posse complete hundred mile races. I crewed and paced them both with enthusiasm.  I love this sport, it is worth doing, as long as you don't overdo it. It has been a year since I ran a race of my own and that means I will almost certainly go all of 2017 without a formal race. My only explanation is that I was worn out, emotionally, mentally,  and physically. I guess you always find it recognize that when it happens to someone else.

My good buddy Chuck ran the most incredible race I have personally witnessed at Leadville in 2015. Now, don't get me wrong, he is an incredible runner, but I think even he ran out of his shoes that day. He's a masters runner and working husband/dad. Training and running has been a struggle for him since. I frequently remind him that he "left a part of himself out there" that day and that he may never experience another day as magical as that one. It is a fact of life that time catches up and this sport takes a toll. That is part of the beauty of it, the unknown. And, the years of sacrifice and discipline for the chance to run one race. Not many can understand the satisfaction that comes from that kind of discipline, but it drives me.

As you have probably guessed by now, I think 2016 was that moment when I left a bit of myself out there, only across several races. I ran a perfectly executed and PR marathon, followed by 4th place finish at a small 50k a few weeks later, and capped by a strong 100 mile finish at Wasatch. I feel like I am defending it, but I believe down to my core that Wasatch was my best 100. It doesn't have the same splash as a big buckle at Leadville or a sub-24 at Western States, but consider that Real Endurance suggests it is as much as 20% harder than those two races. That means a 26:48 finish at Wasatch is equivalent to something like a 22 hour finish at one of those races! Now, the math may not be exact, but it illustrates my point. And, I finished roughly 5 hours behind the lead runner at Wasatch, a feat I barely accomplished in my first 50 miler!  The point being that I left it out there that day. And I think my body has continually reminded me of that for most of 2017.

I am starting to feel like myself again, one day at a time. The physical toll continues to be real and I work everyday on fixing that. Everyday I get to the gym and I spend time working on mobility and imbalances. These are not items most enjoy doing, but I am grinding, something years of ultra running taught me to appreciate. I am learning about my body, alternative ways to train, strength training and mobility. I actually enjoy the work and having a "purpose" each day. My hope is to have a target to aim at in 2018, maybe a 100 miler (lottery Gods willing). Perhaps I will try to quality for UTMB and use 2018 as a chance to collect points. We'll see.  In the meantime, I am trying to enjoy each day and the mundane tasks associated with healing and recovery.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Run Rabbit Run 100 ...Tale of a Tortoise Win

~  Guest Post by Chuck Radford 
“Tortoises are not very fast, as everyone knows, but they make up for their slow speed by being very determined. And if you turn your back on a tortoise, thinking they will just hang around like a lazy cat, you are in for a surprise.” ~William Herring 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” ...that can sum up the past year for me regarding my running career and my Run Rabbit Run 100 (RRR) race in a nutshell (or is it turtle shell? Hmmmm).

Setup:

Since my race last year at RRR, it’s been a frustrating year full of injuries, uncertainty and what felt like many failed attempts at a healthy return. I’ve known for some time of a desperate need to “fix” issues that I put off for way too long (i.e. knee tendonosis, hamstring tendonosis, Achilles, general imbalances and weakness in strength, etc...). That has only been exacerbated by getting older which in return delays the healing process. In many attempts to “right the ship”, I took months of full rest from running, headed to the gym for strength training, did aggressive physical therapy and sports massage, did mobility and yoga and even some prolotherapy. As the months progressed and I thought I was ready to rebound, I would incur further injuries as I started running (i.e. a tibial stress fracture in March and some kind of ligament tear/strain in my back in June both causing further shut down). Enough of the sob-story ...the most unfortunate and/or challenging issue facing me was how to stay Western States (the "Boston Marathon" of the ultra scene) qualified at this point? With almost ¾ of a year gone, I still needed to run another 100 mile race in order to keep my bid in the Western States lottery leaving me hallow on time left to train. I decided early that I would run an “easy” 100 mile race (as “easy” as a 100 mile race can go) and was planning to head to Arizona for the Javelina Jundred in late October. That would give me a good 3 to 4 months to train adequately. Fine and dandy right? Wrong. I found out I had a work commitment that landed on the weekend of the Javelina race. What now?

The Decision:

As I mulled over my quandary with my good friend AJ Wellman, I noticed that there were 4 spots left open for this years RRR race. I threw that out there and he immediately challenged me with “Go for it”. I thought he was joking, but as we ran through it in more detail, it had some merit: 1) Local; 2) Fun; 3) More time to recover after the race (end my season 2 months earlier). To a greater extent, it was full of lunacy: 1) I was no where NEAR prepared to run 100 miles; 2) I was not fully healed from all my issues; 3) I’d have to scramble to throw it all together in 3 weeks. In the end, AJ didn’t pressure me, but simply said “What will make you happy”. As I struggled over that statement, I finally decided staying local, punching my ticket for Western States and being done with the season early was going to make me happy. Decision made ...now what? Freak out, lament, stress, doubt.

Signing up as a tortoise was a no-brainer as I was not in league with the Hares like I was last year. I won’t go into the nuances of the Tortoise/Hare divisions and their particular rules and restrictions, as you can find that on their website RRR100.


Preparation:

Where do you start when you feel like you are at ground zero? A race strategy and plan. I grabbed my statistics from last year (if you don’t know already, it was an interesting year last year as I dealt with blind running for about 30 miles ~ RRR 2016) and I started trying to determine what I was capable of. I made it easy and took RRR’s already formulated 24 hour plan, which seemed ludicrous considering I had no business running in 24 hours untrained. Ehhhh, good enough. I backwards planned for food, hydration, gear and pacing. AJ and I have been through every 100 mile race together and have been through some amazing battles and adventures, so he was on board for a long section of  pacing. Much to my surprise and pleasure, my good buddy Jon Ahern (I paced Jon at the Leadville 100 this summer) offered to make the trek up to Steamboat Springs to also pace me a big section of the race. Everything was coming together …except the cold I came down with 10 days before the race. I have a history of not recovering from colds for up to 4 weeks …and this would be the case again heading into the race unfortunately.  Update ~Diagnosed a week later with a sinus infection and mild upper respiratory infection ...wonder what from?  😏

Pre-race

AJ and I headed up to Steamboat to get settled the night before the race and Jon joined us just before bed. I hit the race meeting with my other good friends John (also racing) and Nicole Witcher. I picked up my bib, took my obligatory picture, went home and chilled with AJ and Jon. We talked race specifics and they tried to lift me up with confidence of which I had little. I had no idea what to expect and felt like 30 hours was a stretch let alone 24 hours. We’d find out soon enough. Bed time.


Is that skiing Cowboy taking a dump on my head???
~John Witcher
Race

Start ~ Long Lake (mile 12)

The Witchers and my crew all walked to the start together and talked about the prior nights sleep and our nerves. I was just ready to get this crap-show started (the sooner we started, the sooner it’d be over). I didn’t have the best attitude, but I was tired of lamenting over it. We lined up and were off.

This course has three major climbs and the first one is a 3500 foot climb right out of the gate straight up the ski mountain in the first 5 miles. This is a brutal way to start the race pushing you straight into zone 5 heart rate. I immediately tried to get to the front and when the others started walking, I kept running up, up, up. After feeling like I was going to bust a lung, I finally made it to the top of Mt. Werner (in the lead) where I could open it up and start running, which felt great.

It was an easy cruise down into the Long Lake aid station where I immediately saw a beautiful moose standing in the lake. We exchanged glances as I entered the aid station where I made it a quick stop to drop some gear off, apply sunscreen and grab a hat. Down to Fish Creek Falls (in 1st place).

~Paul Nelson Photography
~Paul Nelson Photography
Uhhhhh, no tiny task ahead!!!


Long Lake ~ Olympian (mile 22)

Fish Creek Falls is a beautiful single-track trail from top to bottom with some serious technical trail in the middle. Flying down the trail only made me think about having to come back up that trail later (which you’ll learn later was almost the end of my race). After running into many casual hikers out to see the falls and many greetings, it was right through the official aid station and then down the asphalt road/concrete all the way into the Olympian aid station (one of my least favorite sections of the race). As I came in, I looked at my watch and noticed I was an hour ahead of my plan and worried not only that my crew wouldn’t be there, but even if they were, they’d be mad about my lack of discipline the first 20 miles into the race to stick to the plan. As I came in, both AJ and Jon were there and I said “why do I make a plan? I NEVER stick to it!”. They both smiled, helped me get new drinks, food, sunscreen and change of shoes and I was out of there. Getting through aid stations fast all day was part of a winning strategy, I am sure!

Olympian ~ Olympian (mile 43)

The next 20 miles take you around the beautiful, but under-ratedly hard Emerald Mountain. Right out of the gate, it’s back up a 1500 foot climb in 2 ½ miles. This is where my race started to take a turn. I started losing steam and energy on these two miles and became frustrated with the 5 false summits. When I finally reached the top, I regained my focus to get into the Cow Creek aid station. When I got there, I regrouped with the guys, said “Hi” to my friends Nicole Witcher and Mike and Heidi Mizones who were waiting for John. Jon and AJ got me two fresh bottles, some food and I headed out a little worried about the next 12 miles with only 40 ounces of water, as this is the hottest section and the longest.

As I headed up the road and onto the Beall trail, I noticed my “Fight” was waning a bit and my ability to run longer got more and more labored. I put it into power hiking mode when I couldn’t run and ran when I could. On one of the short downhill sections, I tripped and popped the top off my water bottle expelling everything inside and thus guaranteeing dehydration the rest of the section. I fought the rest of the way, but finally lost my 1st place position to a STRONG runner who ran by me like I was standing still. I tried not to let it bother me too much, but knew he would likely not be the only runner to pass me as I continued to struggle. I ran back into Olympian and immediately asked for water. I changed shoes, complained of dizziness and nausea while Jon geared up to start his next 30+ mile pacing section.

Olympian ~ Long Lake (mile 53)

Jon, geared up, excited and ready to rock was unfortunately subjected to a sluggish, out of breath and declining racer (me). Jon was one of my key pacers in my 4th place Leadville 100 finish and I believe was hoping for a repeat performance today. Sadly, this was the start of perhaps my biggest blow up in ANY of my 100 mile races and Jon would have to endure it and pull me out of the depths of hell. My stomach was a total mess, I was dehydrated, suffering from my cold, overheated and my breathing was worsening and worsening. With every push up to Fish Creek Falls, I would have to stop with a heaving chest and was faced with what felt like asthma and anxiety with not being able to breath. This turned out to be the case for the next 3300 foot climb back to the top of Long Lake. As I took 50 steps (if I was lucky), I would tell Jon I needed to stop to catch my breath, as I sat on a rock or was bent over with hands on knees. I got darker and darker with my thoughts and let the dreaded thoughts of “not finishing” enter heavily. I kept telling Jon I wasn’t sure how I was going to run the next 60 miles in this condition. In a proper and concerned response, Jon asked if I felt my breathing was a potential health risk. I told him I didn’t think so. I’m not sure why I knew that, but I truly thought it wasn’t life threatening, which in the end may have given me the answer to whether I should continue or not. Jon texted AJ with the hard situation we were faced with and then we just continued with the death march up, up, up. Two more runners passed me, putting me in 4th, but at the time, I was in survival mode and didn’t care if I was in LAST place. After hours of struggle, we made it to Long Lake, I sat down, ate some broth, drank ginger ale, put a jacket on and tried to put that hardship behind me as I knew I needed to keep going.

Long Lake ~ Dry Lake (mile 67)

Feeling mildly better now with the sun setting, a brief rain shower, the heat subsiding and some very needed downhill (or flat) road ahead, Jon and I set out to the Summit aid station at dusk. We immediately started running as I promised Jon I would be able to do on the down-hills as the cardiovascular effect would be drastically different than going up hill. I didn’t remember much about this section from last years race, so we just alternated between running and “hiking with a purpose” (our theme for much of the remainder of the race). As we got closer and closer to Summit, I was incrementally feeling better, chatting more and becoming more and more positive.

As we entered Summit, it was more broth, ginger ale and a short in and out of the aid station. The next 7+ miles were almost all downhill road, which I knew was a great opportunity to continue running, recovering and turning the corner back to a “good” race. Jon also knew this was a good opportunity to make up for time lost at Fish Creek and we both ran strong 7-9 minute miles all the way down to Dry Lake and eventually caught back up with the 3rd place runner. With each step, I felt better and better, stronger and stronger and the problems of the past where just that …the past.

Dry Lake ~ Dry Lake (mile 77)

As I entered the Dry Lake aid station, we were happy to see AJ there (we didn’t expect to see him until the return trip up). Another quick in and out of the aid station and it was a beautiful night run down the Spring Creek trail section. As I ran, I let gravity take its course and I just ran without brakes all the way to the bottom. I eventually caught the 2nd place runner and we ran into the Spring Creek aid station together chatting and telling our stories. The aid station had no prepared food and thus there was no reason to stay long. I topped off my water, grabbed a pickle and headed back out now in 2nd place.

I somehow gathered the strength and energy to run UP hill now and pushed this section back to Dry Lake as much as I could. I wish I could have run more, but I eventually heard that I gained 40 minutes on the lead runner and in AJ’s words “won the race on this section”. This was finally "Rally time" and I literally came back from from the depth of an all time low!!

Dry Lake ~ Summit (mile 84)

As I got back to Dry Lake, I was again greeted by AJ and Jon and found out that the lead runner was still there and sitting in a chair. AJ geared up for his pacing section (Dry Lake to the finish). I found myself getting very warm, which was contradictory to the cold that everyone said we would face. I still loaded my vest with warm clothes, gave Jon a “thank you” hug for his efforts and then AJ and I headed back up the 7+ mile, 2500 foot climb to Summit.

AJ and I ran very little of this climb, but we “hiked with a purpose” from the bottom to the top with ZERO stops. We knew that if we couldn’t run, it was unlikely others would be able to either and the difference we were making was a consistent and steady, hard effort. Having a new pacer and friend at my side lead to much conversation, laughs and talk of strategy now that we were in the lead. Even though we ALL said we were only focused on finishing, we KNEW we were all on board with trying to finish in first place.

Summit ~ Long Lake (mile 92)

Once again back at Summit, I ate a little, filled water bottles and departed with the goal of maintaining a lead (not knowing how big the gap was). We headed out on the Wyoming trail for the next 8 miles and I immediately began losing energy (I had not been eating for hours and miles due to continued stomach issues) and the desire to push the uphills after that last long road. AJ tried to contact Jon to find out the gap of our lead, but we ran into service issues on the trail. In the meantime, AJ took the lead and tried to set a good pace for me to keep, which I did pretty well until I tripped twice, both times avoiding any damage, even though I was on my backside or back. AJ helped me up in all cases as I tried to put the fatigue out of mind.  I began letting negative remarks escape on this section (one thing AJ, Jon and I talk about a lot is pushing negative thoughts out and staying positive, but 80 miles into a race makes that a real challenge).

I continued to push myself and AJ continued to praise me for giving everything I could. But the inescapable thoughts of being caught by another runner started to hit hard. AJ finally got confirmation that we had about a 30 minute lead on the 2nd place runner. I don’t know if this was good or bad news because I seemed to “settle” and hiked a lot leaving me to wonder in hindsight if I could have given more. We pushed all the way into the Long Lake aid station and were just passed by the 1st and 2nd place "Hare" runners (not in my division, so no loss of placement).

Long Lake ~ Finish (mile 106)

We took a little more time at the Long Lake station to regroup for the final push to the finish. Unbeknownst to AJ, I informed him the next station back to Mt. Werner was more uphill than it looked on the profile. That was unfortunately VERY obvious as we started back up on this endless section. AJ continued to try to keep track on the lead gap as we pushed on. Somewhere in this section, I am convinced that I was running and sleeping at the same time (about 22 hours of straight racing). I would come back from some unknown place regaining consciousness and then fade back into sleep again (unlikely what truly happened, but it sure seemed like it did). The fatigue was hitting HARD and I was hurting. Out of nowhere, I caught a toe on something and found myself face down on the trail (my hands were nowhere to be found to help break the fall). My headlamp pushed hard into my glasses, breaking the nose piece off and pushing the glass down and cutting my nose. AJ asked if I was ok and I told him “MY FACE HURTS”, which makes me giggle now in a school-boy, immature way. He knew I had very little left to give, so we “hiked with a purpose” all the way back to Mt. Werner.

We had just finished running 100 miles and only had 6 miles to go down the road to the finish so we went straight through the Werner aid station. I didn’t have the same energy on this road section as I had earlier descending from Summit, but I knew I had to try to run as much as possible. AJ and I worked in a run for ¾ of a mile and would walk ¼ mile from the top to the final mile. We ran past all the 50 mile starters on their way up and we received lots of claps and praise which was uplifting. As we got down to the cutoff to the final mile trail to the finish I started to find energy for a final push hitting a sub-8 mile. I rounded the corner and ran right through the finishing arches for a WIN and into a big hug from Brady (the official “designated hugger”). I was welcomed by Jon and gave Jon and AJ hugs in appreciation for their ability to push me through to a 1st place finish and for dealing with my “diva-ness”.

 Finish line hug
 Happy to be DONE!!
 Podium Picture
Buckle, awards, bib and shirt

Thoughts

Many asked the question “why weren’t you running as a hare?”. The simple answer is that I had no business running as a Hare let alone running a 100 mile race on no official training or preparation. This performance really comes down to not quitting, giving what I could WHEN I could, keeping my head up and moving forward at all costs. You have that overwhelming thought that “this will NEVER end” numerous times in a 100 mile race, but it does end and the glory is always worth it whether it’s a win or a finish. You must dig deep inside yourself and find strength that isn’t always readily available. You have to find a spark to relight your fire when it’s burning out and you have to negotiate with yourself and convince yourself that you just can’t stop when stopping is all you want. The pain, negativity, fatigue and constant struggle are all part of the adventure/story and you have to decide if that’s a fight you want to pick. I don’t have answers for every scenario someone could face in a 100 mile race. I just know what I need to do when I hit those adverse conditions (i.e. blindness, lung depletion, etc…) and that’s to mitigate it and press forward until I simply can’t press forward any longer. Running 100 miles is not always fun, but it sure is “living”.

I can't thank AJ and Jon enough for being in my corner all day (and all season as we train together) and for being such great friends and supporters in my race efforts. A special thank you to John and Nicole Witcher for spending time with me and lifting me up before and after the race. More thanks to Mike and Heidi Mizones for their continued friendship and support and a special thanks to Jenn Coker for taking pictures and a celebratory hug at the finish (she's a great ambassador for our sport). And in no way would I ever skip the biggest thanks to my family for their love, support and for putting up with this crazy "thing" that I do in an attempt to be a better person for them and a role model for my kids.

A special shout out to my sponsors Fuel 100 for their continued support in so many ways especially this year as I struggled. You guys rock Andrea and Michelle!

* More photos slowly trickling in from the race photographer, which will be posted as they come in.

* Strava Data (106 miles, not 103 as stated on the website): RRR 100 2017

* Athlete Results: Chuck Radford

*And finally just for fun: Looney Tunes