I arrived late afternoon, surprised by the feeling of remoteness though the drive wasn’t that long. I had time to say hello to a busy Rob and Rachael, who were trying to get the course markings back in shape after the Demon Cows had eaten many of the flags. Never trust a ruminant. I was still feeling very positive about this race. Unlike my last two ultras, I didn’t feel a sense of pressure – I was just looking forward to having a good time on the trail. And the ranch scenery was more beautiful than I expected. I had 3 level goals: (1) Complete two full loops to give me my birthday in miles (survival year 4!!!), (2) Complete red 3, which would be farther than I’d ever run before, (3) Finish the whole thing.
As I headed back to my camp with my packet, I stopped to chat for a few more minutes with Matt and Rachael about the race. I mentioned one of my other more recent struggles, the mental hardship of so many hours alone. Matt said I needed to keep practicing until I got used to it. I just nodded, which is what I do when fast people say that kind of thing to me. Because I want to point out that whatever amount of time you fast people are spending out there running alone? Double it. Then get back to me about how that is. And also be an extrovert, forced to be alone in your own head. Now that one is a good character builder for me, and sometimes allows me to unpack a problem or issue and find some clarity. But sometimes it’s just my idea of hell.
I sent Ahren, my pacer, some additional logistical instructions, then set up camp for the night. My view of the rolling hills to the east was complemented by view of a guy in his underpants to the west. There’s always one guy who’s really kind of naked around a race, and I felt a sense of completeness for finding him so early. As the sun set I tucked into my pre-race meal of a sauté of grilled sundried tomatoes with prosciutto, and Star Wars mac n cheese. (This is an awesome field meal, by the way.) I had a pang of really wishing for company – the only thing that makes an adventure better is having someone to share it with you.
I’d been sleeping fairly well the previous week, which was a good thing, seeing as how the camp baby in a neighboring tent was quite vocal. Even ear plugs didn’t muffle it. I gave up at 5:30, which turned out to be a good thing. I hauled my drop bags to the staging area, taped my feet, prepped for the race. Jupiter, Venus, and Mars have been bright in the predawn sky. I hoped I would be done before I saw them again. As I ate breakfast, Ahren texted I that I was a rock star, which inspired me to add “All Star” to my playlist, and dance around my campsite in the dark like the shameless idiot I am. I was so excited about the race!
As we lined up at the start, Rob had an aside about why there was a 24 hour cutoff, and I suddenly had a wave of nervousness. I texted Ahren about it, but then switched right back into the path of determination, ending with “fuck it, this is my day.” And that’s mostly where I stayed, the whole time. It was my day, and nothing was going to stop me.
I stayed in the back, getting the demoralizing part where everyone passes me out of the way early. It was a beautiful, cool, clear morning. I hit the first patch of sand, and settled in to cultivate a massive sand-hate that was only surpassed by Ahren later that night. At a clearly marked turn, a bunch of the 25Kers got lost, prompting one of them to say “I’d be very concerned right now if I were running the 100k” to which I replied “nope.” But then, I never worry about getting lost.
The first red loop seemed endless, and I felt slow. I was deliberately taking it easy, not pushing, which I learned from BB100, and enjoying my morning. I was surprised to be ahead of goal pace, which I didn’t really figure out until the first orange, because I was busy updating Will and Ahren with instructions. The race map showed the main aid station to be up near the start/finish, and not ~100m down the road and around the corner. I’d put all my stuff too close to the start/finish, so I had Will come move it. Fortunately I didn’t need anything in there until the afternoon, so that worked out.
Orange 1 flew by, and I slipped into the creek trying to be a goddam graceful ballerina at a stream crossing. It made me laugh, and was so refreshing, that at the next crossing, I jumped right in with both feet. AH! But the problem with orange then, was that I let myself go down that path which I don’t usually go. When I start to feel the crushing weight of it on me, the trauma, I just go and do something that is meaningful and important and awesome, and then that takes over. But I couldn’t do that in the race. It was me, alone, and my mind was getting lost in this sea of sadness. I had to do something. And that is when I came upon Melissa. She was sitting on the side of the trail, and not looking well. I was about to offer aid, when she spoke up, “can you help me?”
“I would be delighted? What can I do for you today?” (I apparently went right into manager mode! Ha!)
“I can’t get up. When I put my hand down, it’s on stickers”
“No problem!” I offered her my hand, and hauled her up. We both had this moment, and I looked at her butt. Coating of stickers!
“Here, let me get that for you.”
“I’m so sorry!!!” She was so embarrassed, but hell, this was an easy problem to fix, and helping people is the best medicine for anything, and I’m a geologist, and I’ve had and seen much worse than this. I used some sticks to pull them off.
“Bend over a little more. You’re not going to like this, but I need to get up in there for that last one.” Heh. “I’m Lisa, by the way.”
“I’m Melissa. I’m so sorry. Thank you.”
“You’re so welcome! You have a great day, and keep off the grass!” Heh.
I rolled into the main aid station, happy to see people, and hug Racheal. I was having the best day, and every stop felt like a 60 second party with the volunteers. They were such fun. Rachael cheered me as I talked about coming out of a deep low, and I was ready to rock on again.
Somewhere in there, I tried to make some trail friends, which I usually do, but no one was that into it. There were some women close to my pace, but there was some negativity going on I didn’t want a piece of. And the timing beeps. I get that some people need a run/walk timer as part of their process, but criminy that drives me up the freaking wall! Dear everyone, I do not want to hear your crappy music, nor your beeping wrist device. So on purple, I declared enough was enough, got out my headphones, and started my playlist, singing my heart out to “I Will Survive” because fuck your watch. This was the race of terrible music earworms, and I could not get “Two Tickets to Paradise” out of my head, so I sang that all day and night. Please send help.
Loop one I was at least 35 minutes ahead of goal pace, which was fine as I knew in the heat of the afternoon, I’d slow down. Don’t get overheated, like at RR50, I kept repeating. I was hot, but feeling good still, and having a great time, when Will showed up and really saved my bacon. He brought my chair and stuff down, and charged my phone for me after magically appearing just after the red aid station. It was awesome! He was happy, I was happy, good times!
Purple was a strange place. It’s meadow, and grass that fucks with your depth perception, and has the illusion of being all uphill. This was the only time I fell, hooking my foot under a root and rolling in the dirt. That was the end of that toenail for sure.
The sun was setting as I ran through purple 2, my anticipation growing because I knew Ahren would be at the aid station waiting for me. I’d made the devil’s bargain. If he finished the orange and purple loops with me, I’d go skydiving with him. I hate planes. Jumping out of one is full of ass clenching terror! But this is how we do adventure. Ahren had never run farther than about 3 miles, and I was asking him to go for 14. In the middle of the night. I promised him I’d look out for him, and that he would be able to do more than he thought he could. Because I absolutely knew he could – he’s strong and determined, and he knows how to push. I ran, feeling good, signing along to my playlist, excitement building, and suddenly, I was cresting the last hill, and I saw someone in terrible neon socks sitting in my chair, and I thought it must be him. I spazzed out all over him. I talked at him nonstop and he said quietly “this is the most ADD I’ve ever seen you.” I laughed so hard I couldn’t cry. I’d just run my birthday in miles.
He took off on red with me, which later I pointed out wasn’t part of the agreement (“Fuck” I believe was the response) but turned out to be the most fun for us. We ran through the fields and he beat me to the hay joke with “hay, hay, hay,” which still cracks me up. I made him promise to tell me if he had problems, before they got out of hand, which earned me an “aw, you’re giving me the trainer speech!” Ahren had some problems, but never anything that needed serious intervention. He was an animal out there! He set the tone for us, “hey, how many layers of spandex are you wearing?” “Mmmm, just the one.” “BECAUSE I’VE GOT ON THREE!”
I checked my pockets for snacks and trash periodically, and found a bean quesadilla I’d stuffed in there. I think I squealed with glee as I ate it, causing Ahren to shake his head at me. He still gives me shit over my pocket quesadilla. Whatever. It was delicious!
We made jokes about cows, especially Ted, who would not shut up. Ahren tried to convince me that there were some horror movies I should watch, that might actually be scary. Heh. We played sporadic rounds of FMK, I told Ahren my stories from the previous 12 hours of running (I was only about 10 minutes over goal pace finishing my 44 miles). I learned all kinds of things from him, like animal eye shine, and other things I’m forgetting. The red loop seemed a blur of laughter and wonder. Running with friends does that for me.
The end of red 3 was farther than I’d ever run before. But then I started to have problems. I changed shoes, socks, and gaiters, retaped my feet again, but the damp grass was going to bring the hurt no matter what. Orange and then purple were a downward spiral. Ahren learned to hate sand “FUCK SAAAND!!!” I peed so much on orange that I felt like I owned that trail. Ahren commented that as the night progressed we grew closer in pee distance because it was too much work to be polite about it. I’d also warned him about the trail farts. I think I now currently hold the record for fartiest human he’s ever encountered. I did warn him before I outright crop dusted him, and let him go ahead of me for stretches.
Early in orange I realized the lube wasn’t doing it for me, and I almost cried involuntarily. I remembered Ahren had a knife in his bag, and I asked him for it. It was time for drastic measures with respect to my shorts. I cut a triangle out of the panel, and my excruciating leg chafing subsided. Ahren really saved my ass there. (Or leg.) This is one of my challenges – I don’t always know when I have a problem until it’s almost too late because of the nerve damage. It’s been a long road to learn to keep visually checking my body. I think we named my leg chafing “Cleopatra” because we were getting to some full on delirium.
Finally, only purple was left. This was about the time I was starting to have trouble eating, and thank the gods for ramen mixed with mashed potatoes. I’d done a great job the rest of the day – I’d had two enormous sandwiches made out of Epic bacon bar, Jenny’s 10 Mile Cookies, and a Nutella sandwich (nested sandwich, FTW!!!). Ahren had discovered the joy of orange soda, using the silicone collapsible cup I’d given him for “chugging things that begin with a ‘c’.” I knew it was going to be tough, but we just had to get through it. I showed Ahren the trailer and shack in which he might be murdered, but he thought they must be creepier during the day, which is how I knew he was really suffering.
Before orange we encountered Chris, who was getting rollered so hard we thought he was having a personal moment which required a room. He and his pacer would leap frog us many times over orange and purple loops. This was a source of much entertainment for us, and in purple, Chris was making such a pain ruckus up ahead of us, that we joked they were having field orgasms. It coincided with coyotes having a party in the distance. “Coyotes will hear them and eat them first!” I said. “Sex meat is the most delicious meat of all!” Ahren said. And that is how they became “sex meat” in our lexicon. Ahren reminded me of something later, that at the purple aid station, “he called you sweetheart, and I thought you were going to stab him.” The hate was visceral, but I was too tired to really give him a hard time.
Everything after the purple aid station was a world of hurt. We were tired, blistered and done, communicating only in grunts and farts. We got confused about the trail for a few minutes but then it was all sorted. Ahren asked me about the bright things to the east, “that’s Jupiter and Venus.” Shit. I’d wanted to be done before then. I was trying valiantly to make it back to the finish before another “brown squirrel incident.” Nope. I had to stop for a few minutes. After that Ahren would quietly sing “trail dump” behind me every few minutes as we hobbled along. We kept pausing to bend over from pain and exhaustion, regrouping and staggering forward. I delivered the most hateful coup de gras of FMK with Danny Devito, the guy from the Dunkin donuts commercial, and Quato from Total Recall (MFK, respectively, but Ahren didn’t feel good about any of it).
The last 3 miles were the worst. I confessed to Ahren I thought about quitting for the first time in the day. He reminded me I’d still have to walk back to the finish, so there was no point. Once we got through Keyhole, I knew we were almost there, and I had some hope. Ahren told me I could go on ahead to the finish while he picked up some things form the main aid station, but there was no way in hell I was going to finish that race any other way than hand in hand with him. He’d done an amazing job out there. I was incredibly proud of him – we had almost 22 miles of trail behind us, and he never wavered.
We stepped across the finish gate, hands held high. I finally cried. It was an incredible 21+ hours. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
We staggered back to my camp, wrapped in towels and blankets, drank whiskey out of the bottle, and laughed about our adventure. Ahren took a picture of me with my buckle, the flash so bright I couldn’t open my eyes. I laughed randomly and uncontrollably the rest of the day, even when trying to nap in the afternoon.
I’ve got all the pieces in place now for the 100 miler. I can see it, I can do it. I just have to find the right race.