This past weekend, I ran my first 100-mile race (and NOT my last : ) I apologize for the lengthy post, but 100 miles is a really long way! 😉
My chosen word of 2017 was Conquer, and my intentions in choosing that word were to conquer myself, not so much other things. I wanted to conquer self-doubt, fear of failure, lack of confidence in myself, etc. I knew that in order to do this, I had to be OK with failure and I had to put myself into situations where success wasn’t guaranteed. I needed to embrace the possibility of failure and be able to accept it and move on if it happened. This was a SLOW process. All the races I did through mid-year – my first 50k at Cowtown, my first Ironman 70.3 at Galveston, my first 50k trail race at Wildflower (Trail Racing Over Texas race) and Afton Trail Run 50k; I fretted over how I would perform. Every time, I did just fine, but still, I doubted myself.
Sometime in early Fall, I came across a Gordy Ainsleigh quote one day that completely changed my way of thinking; “When you’re afraid of failure, you’re more likely to do it.” My fear of failure was actually making failure more likely. I had to work on that.
Before my first 50 miler in October, I fretted and fretted over how I would perform. I nearly made myself sick. I had a feeling that I could come in under 12 hours, but the cutoff was tight so I also had a good chance at a DNF. Except I didn’t DNF. I actually ran a really good race and came in just under 12 hours, PLUS I ran this race without really tapering and I felt that my legs had another 10-15 miles in them when I finished. This, combined with the mental work I had been doing was a turning point for me.
But training nearly killed me
The mileage in training really started picking up in August. By mid-October, I was counting the weeks to taper. I wasn’t sure that I could meet all the demands of my training schedule, a full-time job, mom/chauffeur AND wash all the clothes (I had to let getting the clothes folded go).
Some weeks I didn’t get all my miles in, but I rarely just skipped runs. My training was consistent and I was dedicated. I spent a good amount of time working on my mental strength because I knew that the mental test in those late miles would be harder than the physical one.
My last big weekend came and I had 70 miles on the schedule. I was to run 15 on Friday, 25 on Saturday and 30 on Sunday. I was so tired at work that Friday that I was on the verge of tears all day long. I’ve never felt so exhausted in my life. I ended up not running the 15 at all and instead I decompressed at home. I ran the majority of the other miles that weekend, and I forced myself to not feel guilty about it. I had given everything I had to training and that handful of miles wasn’t going to make or break anything. Guilt couldn’t change the fact that I hadn’t run every single mile on the schedule.
I was off the next week (which was the week of Thanksgiving) and I did NOTHING. I was so exhausted that I wondered if I would ever have any energy again, much less by race day. I had a million things to do that had fallen by the wayside during training, but I still did nothing. I needed the rest. And slowly, day-by-day, I started feeling that spunk again.
No taper crazies?
Generally speaking, I either lose my mind during taper or I do something really, really stupid. I did none of that this time.
I didn’t fret. I didn’t go crazy on Ultrasignup. I didn’t break any toes. I DID NOT FRET!! I was so calm the entire time. (That is, until I suddenly got nauseous about an hour before the race!)
I was in a really good place, mentally. I felt confident, but not cocky. I trusted in my training. I trusted myself. Something really amazing happened, though. I was willing to take a big risk and face a DNF in order to see where my breaking point was. I wanted to take a risk and abandon the safe route. It was freeing.
My race plan was aggressive. Too aggressive. I knew this going in. People say “start really slow”, but slow is relative to each individual runner. I didn’t know what my “slow” for a 100 mile race was. I didn’t know how long my legs would hold out, regardless of the pace. The farthest they had ever gone was 50 miles…..once. This entire year had been about doing the not-sure thing and I was finally in a mindset that embraced it.
I’m going to add another running miracle here. And guys – you can skip over this paragraph. I was supposed to start my period on Dec 9. DECEMBER 9. RACE DAY. I was fully prepared to deal with it. I mean – like Scott Jurek said, “Sometimes you just do things!” But it’s OBVIOUSLY an inconvenience and one doesn’t always feel their best during that time. In any case, I started NINE days early. I felt like the gods of running were smiling down upon me. One less thing to worry about on race day.
I was literally foaming at the mouth the week before Brazos. I was ready to get out there and tear up the course, or let the course tear me up.
The start temps were in the low 30s, but the sky was clear and the weather during the day was to be clear and warming to around 60.
The plan was to run 20-hour pace (I know, I know!!) for the first 50 then just see how long my legs could keep up. Brent and Tim were coming along for the ride as long as it worked for all of us. We started off and tried to settle into pace. The miles went by quickly as we talked and laughed and cut up. One little hiccup in the first loop was that we followed the lead pack. There were signs where the course usually had a turn-around, but sometimes runners can’t follow directions well and we all turned and went down another path. I found out later that we had made a wrong turn! This trek was in a SWAMP and I was already entertaining thoughts of dread for the coming loops. Thankfully, the next time I came around, it was clear that I should turn around (happy dance!) and I didn’t have to navigate the swamp again.
I came in just a bit ahead of Brent & Tim at the end of loop 1, took care of business quickly and decided to head out again on my own. Loop 1 was right at 3 1/2 hours, which was a little behind where I wanted to be, but the extra mile put us a little over. Sherpa Carmen and her sidekick, Brad, were right there, waiting to get me whatever I needed. I went with PB&J on this loop but told her next time I wanted oatmeal. I’m not sure what it is about oatmeal, but I LOVE it on long runs! I was saving the Coke/caffeine until after mile 70, so I didn’t have any of that.
Loop 2 was uneventful except that I KNOW I ran it too fast. I wanted to make up some of that time (stupid…ego) and ended up with 3:21 on that lap and that was including the 5 min or so that I spent in camp before heading out! Carmen had the oatmeal waiting, but boy, was it hot!! I tried to shove it in as quickly as I could, but it took a few minutes. I think I ended up spending around 10 minutes in camp that time. Time really bleeds away from you in these events, if you aren’t careful.
Loop 3 was more of the same. I was in a rhythm but toward the end started feeling a little tightness in my right IT. WEIRD. That never happens. I started trouble shooting and wondered if it was the Hokas. Plus, I started to feel a hot spot on the inside of my ankle, which is a place that I’ve never gotten a blister. I knew I was developing one blister in a spot that I sometimes get them, so I decided to stop and change socks and shoes at the end of the loop. Loop 3 took me around 3:50, which was a little slower but I was pretty happy with it. This put me at 50 miles at 10:50 total time.
When I came in off Loop 3, Kolbe was there!!! Kolbe came down just to pace me on my last loop. I was so glad to see her! She jumped right in to help Carmen and Brad. Kolbe started taking my shoes and socks off (GOD BLESS HER) while Carmen got my kit for me. I drained those blisters, grossed Kolbe out but she still tried to put my socks on for me. I wear Injinji’s though and she would have had to been a Houdini to get them on! After trying to shovel more hot oatmeal in my mouth, I put on a long sleeve shirt, my beanie and my headlamp and left after about 20 min in camp. It was longer than I wanted to spend, but the blisters needed to be drained.
In no time, I had hit my stride again. The sun had set and the air was growing cooler with each passing moment. I knew that I was slowing a little but I still felt really, really good. I know a lot of people get mental in the dark alone, but I actually enjoyed it. I don’t have any problem at all being by myself and that was definitely a strength of mine. I spent a lot of time on this loop just cruising. I felt so good but I knew that the time was coming that I wouldn’t feel good Maybe I should have slowed down? Not slowing down was probably stupid, but still part of the learning process and in my mind this race was one long experiment. I made it through the mind f*** part of the course – have I mentioned that part of the course?? Arggggggggggg it got me mentally every time. Toward the end of each loop, there was an aid station, a one mile stretch of road. The road FINALLY turned left, except you were left with another TWO MILE stretch of road until the next aid station, But that aid station was a dead-end. So you had to turn around, run TWO miles back to the turn then ANOTHER mile back to the other aid station. Mental suicide. But the wonderful thing is that once you got back to that aid station, it was a 2 mile cruise to the start/finish. I was starting to get tired by the time that I got to this part of the course. The temps were also dropping, making my quads stiffen up (I was still wearing only shorts). I debated on stopping to put on my gear, but decided it would be faster at camp where I had people who could actually move their limbs well to help me out. LOL That loop came in at 4:07, but that included the 20 minutes spent on my feet in between loops. All in all, very encouraging, considering I was at mile 67 and my legs had never gone past 50 miles.
Carmen and Kolbe helped me get my cool weather gear on while Brad got me some food. Or maybe this is the loop Kolbe got me ramen noodles and mashed potatoes? I can’t remember. I DO remember sitting there, ready to go back out and saying, “I want a nap.” Carmen, without hesitation, told me to get my ass up out of that chair and get back out there. So I stood up and got my ass back out there. I’m a rule follower and I take directions very well.
Loop 5 was tough. TOUGH. I was starting to hurt. I was very tired. I didn’t want to run. It hurt to run. This is the loop that the battle started. NEVER did I think about quitting. I had decided before the race that quitting wasn’t an option. If you convince yourself of things before the race, you will stick to them during the race. I had joked, but not really, that Rob would have to drag my cold, dead carcass off the trail before I would DNF. I seriously had no intentions of dropping. I am thankful that I didn’t encounter any situations that were serious enough to cause me to consider that option, because I fully realize that things happen out there that are completely out of our control.
Loop 5 was basically a back and forth between my mind and my will. My mind wanted the pain to stop and running was causing pain. My will wanted me to finish. I had a constant dialog – the longer you walk, the colder you will get and the longer you are going to be out here. The more you run, the warmer you will be and the sooner you will get there. RUN, DAMNIT!! Then I would run and it would hurt and my mind would convince me to walk. I also knew that Carmen and Kolbe would be worried and I hated that it was taking me so long. This is when I thought about all the people who were supporting me and started naming each person that I could remember. That distracted me from the pain of running long enough to get a little bit of running done. OH!!! I haven’t mentioned that I had to stop to pee basically every 20-30 minutes on this loop. I have never had to pee so often and so much in my entire life!! There’s no telling how much time I spent squatting in the woods. I finally rolled into camp with a whopping 5:10.
I don’t think we took much time between loop 5 and 6. Pretty sure I ate oatmeal, or maybe not?? Heck if I know. I am 99.9% sure that I did drink Coke. My body ached all over and the LAST thing I wanted to do was go back out on that loop. But THANK GOD I had Kolbe coming with me. I was so glad to have her, but….have I said that I didn’t want to run?? We started out walking and probably walked a mile. I knew we were wasting time. It bothered me that we were wasting time. I may have said – we need to start running in a bit. Kolbe was talking and telling me about her day. Listening to her definitely took my mind off all the troubles at hand. After we tried running and I would wimp out and want to walk, Kolbe knew it was time to take charge. She told me that we were going to start running . We would run 1/2 mile then walk a couple of minutes. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that. It was such a simple solution to this problem. We did this for a while and I finally got into a rhythm and actually didn’t feel half bad. We came across the first aid station and I drank some coffee. After the coffee kicked in, I was starting to feel REALLY good (relatively speaking). Kolbe told me that since I was handling this run/walk so well, we would increase our run distance. I was in a groove and ready so I told her to run a mile. We did, and we finished the rest of the loop in this way.
It’s hard to explain how hard it was to run on loop 5 yet I found the strength to run on loop 6. I think the fact that Kolbe was telling me what to do was the key. My mind had no control over Kolbe, so my mind couldn’t tell her to stop. I had no choice but to run because the choice of whether or not to run had been taken away from me. All I did was watch her feet and run. Yes, it still hurt, but my mind processed all this in a different way. It’s very difficult to put into words. Of course, I still had to pee every 5 steps on this loop as well. At one point, Kolbe actually told me that I needed to pee in my pants next time…..and my bladder may have gotten the message because I think that was the last time that I had to go!
I made it through Mind F***, I mean Sawmill, one more time (with Kolbe’s help) and I knew I was home free. I could TASTE the finish line. I was so ready to be DONE. Kolbe knows me so well. We would come upon some runners and she would whisper to me, “you’re about to take these people down!” It was just enough to keep me going and I was surprised and happy that I still had that competitive spirit that wanted to overtake them. When there were no people to pass, she told me that even though loop 5 may have won – I was CONQUERing loop 6 and finishing strong. I can’t even remember everything she said, but every word struck a chord with me and gave me the strength to take another step.
Kolbe radioed Carmen to tell her we were about a mile out from the finish and I got tears in my eyes. I knew I would finish. Such a surreal feeling. I had dreamed of this and worked for this for so long that it seemed it might never come to fruition. But here I was, about to become a 100-mile finisher! It’s a strange paradox – feeling so amazing that about what you’re about to accomplish while trying to hold back tears because everything hurts so badly. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!
I wanted Kolbe to lead me right up to the finish. She had quite literally drug me through this last loop. I wasn’t sure that I could run that finish line chute alone. I didn’t want her to be out of my sight for a second. She told me that this was my moment and that she would see me after I crossed….and she was right there. I started crying – crying by my standards, at least. I was handed my buckle and received hugs from Carmen, Kolbe, Ashley and Brad. Others may have been there, but everything was such a blur that I can’t even remember. Kolbe drug me through that loop in 4:54, which was 15 minutes faster than the previous loop. At the end of a 100 miler, I’ll gladly take a negative split loop! My total time was 24:51. Not the time I wanted, but my intentions were to see what I could do and I definitely didn’t play it safe in those early miles. A nice bonus was an 8th overall female finish – I was hoping to finish in top 10, so I was able to check that off my list 🙂
My good friend, Tim Radkey described it best when he said that the feeling you have at the finish is like you are completely and totally emptied, yet completely and totally full at the same time. There was definitely a feeling of having been cleansed by this experience.
I gave Kolbe a goodbye hug – she had to travel back to her parent’s house to grab her pets – then Carmen got me set up in a chair with a sleeping bag and a nice warm heater beside me. She and Brad started breaking down camp and I quickly fell asleep for a much-needed nap.
- Nutrition and hydration were on point. I had no stomach issues whatsoever. I know the cool weather helped with this, but I’m really proud of how I managed my nutrition.
- Yes, my starting pace was too fast but I don’t think I was THAT far off.
- My legs held up much better and much longer than I expected.
- Having a good crew makes ALL the difference. Carmen anticipated what I would need and had things ready for me before I ever asked.
- The right pacer can save your race. Kolbe was PERFECT.
- I need to make better friends with pain. Now that I know the pain doesn’t get any worse, I will be more prepared to push through it next time.
- I need to become more efficient during my stops between loops.
- I really wanted that sub-22 buckle, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to maintain that pace. Seeing the sun rise, then set, then rise again is an experience that I’ll cherish and I am really thankful that this race gave that to me.
All in all, I’m VERY happy with this race. I did what I set out to do. I found my limits, I conquered the course and, most importantly, I conquered many of my inner demons.
Kolbe wrote about her experience as a pacer. If you want to read about it, click here!
One more thing…..I HIGHLY recommend Brazos Bend to any runner! The race distances range from 13.1-100 miles, so there is something for nearly everyone. This race is the Trail Party of the year and doesn’t disappoint!
This journey to be continued in 2018…..