Friday, April 2, 2010
Before I begin my race report, I really have to thank 3 people who without them, it wouldn’t have happened. Steve and Lindsey, my husband and daughter, were there to crew me and cheer me on. Even before race day, they endured long hours of “loneliness” while I was out running. (At least that’s what I imagined. Steve was usually on a ministry trip and Lindsey was doing the same thing whether I was there or not. But they let me go without complaint.) At the race, they were my “servants.” When you’re focused on the race, you get pretty bossy – the p’s and q’s go out the window. “Get me this, fix me this, etc.” So for all the thank yous I didn’t say during the race, I give you my thanks and all my love. You guys are the best! I also want to thank Sondra Jarvis for pacing me. I thought she would go one loop, maybe two. After all, she had run a marathon the weekend before and had never run an ultra distance. But, because she felt I needed the moral support, she pushed aside her own fatigue and ran 3 loops with me! Amazing! A special bond is formed when one goes the distance for you. She really is my “running” sister.
Notes: I listed my loop times from the Umstead official records. This time includes all my stops, such as at my crew station to change socks, etc. The start time of each loop, is when I started running from my crew station. This could be anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes after I came in from a loop, depending on what I needed to do. That’s why you will see me coming in at 8:31am but starting loop 2 at 8:40am. Aid station is the race organized aid stations. Crew station is where Steve and Lindsey were.
The night before was the pre-race briefing. After a long drive down to NC, we pulled in just in time to go to the meeting. Meaning, we had to pull our popup camper with us into the narrow winding road to get to our parking spot. The meeting lasted an hour and gave detailed instructions, introduced prior winners, recognized folks, etc. At one point, they called up the designated first timer who represented us all. Then she led us in the Ultramarathoner’s chant: “Drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry, walk before you’re tired.” The race director then said, “Your training got you to the starting line, your will gets you to the finish line.” Well, I got teary eyed, right then and there, but I noticed I wasn’t the only one. Now off to set up the camper and get some sleep. Sondra showed up and helped. Then we talked while Steve and Lindsey went to get a few supplies: first camping trip of the season restock, and because it was going to be so cold, a car battery that would keep the fan on the heater running.
I thought I had plenty of time. After all, we were right there in the park. 4:30am. Get up, throw the clothes on and get to the race venue in time to deposit the drop bag for Aid Station #2 by 5:30am. Umstead is a loop course – 12.5 miles over wide, smooth and sandy trails/roads. There was an aid station at the beginning/end of each loop and one at about mile 7(Aid Station #2). There were also some unmanned stations along the way. 8 loops, 30 hours to finish. But, back to my story. I just couldn’t seem to move that fast, trudge down to the bathroom, decide what to wear since it was in the 30s and rearrange a few items between drop bags. Finally, I was ready to go and we had only 5 minutes to get to the race site! We followed the long line of traffic and parked in our assigned area, and ran up with the drop bag. They were already loading the truck and getting ready to pull out! Fortunately, we were able to stuff it in the back with the others. Whew! Of course, I didn’t use it at all the entire race – I think I forgot what I had put in it. Then, I realized I had no hydration system with me. Steve runs back down to the truck and comes back with the Nathan hydration pack, because he couldn’t find the fuel belt. I load it with water from one of their coolers, and then I start to get real emotional. I was scared, excited – I was about to do the impossible, it truly would have been impossible 3 years ago. Did I have what it took? Was I ready? Teary eyed, I turned to Steve and said, “Pray for me” So right there in the middle of a crowd of people, he held my hands and prayed. Now all that was left was to go out and run the course. We were standing in the headquarters building with about 50 other runners, when suddenly someone said, “I think the race has started.” Slowly, because we all had to file out through one door and down the steps, I finally made it across the starting line and onto the course. I think I was the 248th person out of 251 to cross the line.
Loop One – 6am
A lot of people were walking, maybe they were taking the first little bit to warm up before they broke into their running/walking routine. I began running, trying to stay calm and at a casual pace. My first few miles were between 10 to 10:30 min, and I ran up all the hills until Aid Station #2. After Aid Station #2, I hit the “sawtooth” section. There were definitely some hills I would not be running up on this section. At least they were followed by some nice long downhills to make up time. My pace settled into 12min miles. Mentally, I was not feeling the “groove.” My hamstrings were tight, my form was stiff and I just didn’t feel like running a 100 miles – ha! Then I took a swig from my hydration bladder and yuck! City water. Now I knew I would be underdrinking on my first loop. Not a good way to start the race. But, I kept plugging on, hoping things would begin to work themselves out. Finished the loop at 8:31am, about what I wanted to do, since my race plan was to get to 50 miles in 12 hours and then hang on until the end. Any time I could bank without burning myself out was good.
Loop Time: 2:31
Loop Two – 8:40am
Steve and Lindsey had set up chairs and my bags full of gear and food right by the course. It worked out really well. I would go up to the end of the loop, clock in, meander by the food and drinks at the aid station and then head back down to where they sat waiting. I stopped long enough to take my outer layer off, change hats, and eat a rice cake with almond butter. I also grabbed a few gels and sport beans. Steve had found the fuel belt and got it filled with gatorade for me. I figured I needed to drink more than necessary in order to make up for the lost hydrating on the first loop. And I also needed the calories of the Gatorade. I started out, still feeling tight in my legs. My fastest miles this loop were in the 11:30min range. That’s okay, as long as I finished the loop in less than or right around 3 hours. Now I was having calf twinges, sharp pains like they wanted to cramp up. I slowed my pace and walked some where I wanted to run. I have had calf issues in a lot of my races. I knew I was drinking enough by the amount of times I was going to the bathroom. In fact, every time I passed a porta-potty I had to use it! This was annoying too, so my mental game was not there. I kept telling myself that a lot of people were praying for me, rooting for me, and thinking about me today, so I had no right to be a wimp. I thought about how Pastor Karen and the rest of Providence Chapel had prayed for me at the end of the service and presented me with a Good Luck card. I pulled up in my mind each of my facebook friends well-wishes, and thought about my running buddies on the Weight Watcher’s marathoners board, who were up, doing their morning run, racing somewhere, or checking the website to see if the tracking had started. The 100 miles still seemed way beyond my mental reach, but I would keep going as long as I could for them. Another issue I started having was my shoes seemed to be digging into my ankles. I was wearing the same shoe/sock combination I wore on my long runs, so this shouldn’t have been happening so soon. By the time I got done with the loop, at
11:21am, I was concerned. “This is going to be a long day,” I told Steve.
Loop Time: 2:49, Cummulative: 5:21
Loop Three – 11:35 am
I stopped at my crew station, sat down in the chair and pulled my shoes off. I take one of the pair of socks off, and change to my trail shoes. I decide to run with the one pair because of how tight the shoes were around my ankles. This was actually a mistake. Now, I was sliding more in the shoes and I could tell that this would be a good way to get blisters. But, I was on the road and still moving forward. I talked with several people along the way. One person I ran with for a while wanted to break 11 hours for the 50 miles to qualify for Western States. Then, if he had it in him, to go for a sub 24 hour finish. But he had an ankle injury and my guess is pushing for the Western States was his biggest goal. We were pushing up a long gradual hill. This was the third time I was running up it instead of walking it. It was fun, because you end up passing a lot of people. I think we kept each other going and ran until Aid Station #2 where he went on ahead while I went potty (again!). I had a new strategy of walking out of this aid station while eating a pack of Sport Beans. I could finish the pack in just enough time to toss it into the last available trash can. That is another rule of ultras and trail races – no littering! While my feet were not doing right, I started finally to feel my legs loosen up. It was a mystical moment. I figured now all my friends were awake, they were doing things and their collective energy was being sent my way. Suddenly, I felt stronger and more confident. The doubts went away. My focus shifted from self-pity to race strategy and banking time. I finished the loop at 2:21pm feeling better, but needed to do something about the shoe issue.
Loop Time: 2:58, Cummulative: 8:21
Loop Four – 2:30 pm
I changed socks, putting on my compression socks, adding a thinner second layer of socks and switched back to my other shoes. It felt pretty good. Sondra had called and wanted to know if there was anything I needed. A Dr. Pepper! Because I’m a pepper, he’s a pepper….. The day was still cool so no wardrobe changes. I had 3 ½ hrs to get back by my 12 hour goal. As I started on the loop, I talked with a man who said I looked like I was getting blisters. I told him they were just hot spots. He said to be careful because he ran Badwater (135 miles across the desert) and got blisters so bad that he couldn’t run for 4 months. Of course, it was 137 degrees when he ran it, so it explains a lot. They probably weren’t blisters but 2nd and 3rd degree burns on his feet. Interestingly, most people I would run with for a while had done more than one 100 miler. I also was leap-frogging a lot of people. I would pass them on the ups and they would pass me back on the downs. I was surprised because I thought my down hill running was better than my uphill. When I walked, I tried to push it as hard as I could and maintain as close to a 15min mile. The shoes were still a little uncomfortable but I was starting to feel good. I ran a strong second half of the loop and came in at 5:28pm! I had beat my goal by 32 minutes. It was also a new PR for 50 miles for me (11:28) by 7 minutes. As I got my bottles refilled, one of the aid station attendants told me that I needed to change everything down to my running bra, because when the sun went down it was going to get cold. “Are you wet?” she asked, then touched my arm. “Yes, you need to change to avoid hypothermia. Well, I couldn’t argue with her, even though I thought I was just going to get warm once I started running again.
Loop Time: 3:07, Cummulative: 11:28
Loop 5 – 6pm
Sondra had arrived and since I was feeling good, she decided to nap in the car while I did the next loop; then she would start the 6th loop with me, which we estimated it to happen right around 9pm. I did as instructed, went into the bathroom and changed everything. I left the same socks on because I thought they were working pretty well, and the compression on my calves seemed to ease the cramping. I also put on compression tights for my legs. Instead of a jacket, I put on a vest and a long sleeve shirt. I figured if the temperature started dropping I could get the jacket out of the drop bag at aid station #2. I also decided to switch back to the trail shoes, and would leave them on for the rest of the race. This was the longest stop of the day, but I figured I could take up to 6pm and still be on schedule. Off I went again. One thing I didn’t like about the course is that it was open to everyone while we were racing. Groups of runners would come sprinting by, making me feel really slow until I realized they weren’t part of the race. The bikers were the worst. They would not slow down, but rather weave in and out of us at top speed. I was really surprised there weren’t any collisions. So as the sun started to set I was happy, no more bikers! I also noticed that the runners around me were starting to get smaller in number. After the aid station #2 stop, the sun started to set. I was running along trying to avoid using my headlamp until I absolutely needed it. I noticed this light shining behind me. It seemed too bright to be someone’s headlamp. Was it a vehicle? Maybe a 4 wheeler coming to restock the unmanned station? But there was no noise, just this light following me and lighting the path. Then I realized it was the moon rising! I told some runners that as I passed by and they laughed. “Hallucinations. Isn’t that what we do this for?” I said, “Yea, the acid trip without the acid.” The more I ran, the stronger I felt. My mental mind had shifted. I felt I was going to finish, but I still wanted to bank time. My goal was to finish as many loops in the second half of the race in less than 4 hours. As I reported in it was 8:57pm. Right on time!
Loop Time: 3:28, Cummulative: 14:57
Loop 6 – 9:15pm
I noticed feeling cooler when I stopped, so I added a light weight jacket to my ensemble. Sondra was ready to go, and off we went. She was very good about keeping a nice fast walking pace when we walked and that really helped to keep our pace up. I told her I hadn’t really practiced walking like I was supposed to, and she laughed. We alternating running and walking. The pace was slow enough that you can have a good conversation without getting winded. This wasn’t about speed, but endurance. So we talked and talked. This was the first extended face to face time I had with Sondra, but it felt like we were old friends. Since we had met through the Weight Watcher’s marathoner’s forum, I also felt like she was representing the whole board. She was the ambassador for the group and when she was running with me, the whole Weight Watcher’s group was running with me. Time passed quickly and before I knew it we were back at the start. It was 12:29am
Loop Time: 3:31, Cummulative: 18:29
Loop 7 – 12:45am
Sondra said she felt pretty good, and was up to continuing for a second loop. I was glad for the company, and she seemed pretty enthusiastic about continuing on, so I readily agreed. After all, it was the wee hours of the morning and things can get really weird that time of night. Another change of jackets, and I was ready to go. Our walking gigs were getting much longer than our running gigs. And boy, on those downhills were my quads starting to feel it. “Ow! Ow!” sometimes I would cry out, just for the heck of it. Okay, so by now we were probably getting a little loopy and silly. Whenever a tall fellow with long legs would stroll by (it really wasn’t fair, these guys’ legs were almost as tall as we were – of course they could walk faster), we would say “there goes one of those long legged tall guys.” On one occasion, the guy retorted “I weigh more than both of you, and am a lot older too!” Another problem I was having, was that when we passed the porta-potties, I didn’t have to go (plus by this time of night they smelled really bad!), but the urge would hit me out of no where and it didn’t matter where we were, I would need to rush into the woods to relieve myself. Fortunately, it was dark and there were not that many people still on the trail. I figured they were way ahead of us, or way behind us. I was trying to tell Sondra the saying – “Drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry, umm, ummm….” For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the third point. Sondra did offer helpful suggestions, “pee before you have to go?” The longest miles were from mile 6 to the aid station, and from mile 11 back to the start of the loop. Mentally, you know you’re going to get a short break soon, but that makes it all the longer to get there! At Aid Station #2, I sat down just for a few minutes, but not before I learned “walked before you’re tired!” The man and lady next to me were pretty discouraged. They were doing the math in their head. They still had 2 laps to go after this one while we only had one. They would have to get back by 4am, to even have a chance of finishing, and be able to make the last two loops in 4hrs or less each. They had pretty much given up. There wasn’t much I could say to lift their spirits. The warmth was lulling, but I knew we needed to keep moving. I kept seeing road block signs ahead. It was the way the moon filtered through the trees. Did we take a wrong turn? But as we moved towards it, the mirage went away. Once I thought I saw a cute animal sitting by the trail, but it was just a stump. Physically, I was tired and starting to really hurt, but mentally I was on a high. We passed a couple of guys and they called out, “Susan?” Sondra said, “I don’t think we’re who you’re looking for.” And I said, “I am Susan, though.” So then he started singing “Wake up little Suzie” (or some other song with Suzie in it). I think we heard him for the next ½ mile. We finished the loop at 4:16am (never did see the couple arrive, sad for their sakes), and prepared for the final loop.
Loop Time:3:46, Cummulative 22:16
Loop 8 – 4:30 am (The final loop)
Sondra had been reasoning with me (and maybe with herself) about doing the last loop. While Steve said he thought he could do it, he really hadn’t been on any long hikes in a while and his knee was bothering him some. I was thinking I could start the loop and he could walk it in reverse and meet me for the last few miles. Sondra said that because we would probably walk most of the loop, she shouldn’t have any problem doing it. “You sure?” I kept asking (and I was thinking, oh we have to run some of it!). On one hand, I really wanted her to come with me (and she deserved to be there at the end), on the other hand I was concerned for her well-being because she would now be entering the ultra distance (I was going to make sure I saw her drinking and eating). I’m sure she was concerned for me too. In the end, Sondra came with me, and Steve began packing up my gear. The first few miles were very quiet. We were both tired and focused on keeping moving. I was already getting emotional, but I told myself I wasn’t going to lose it until mile 12. After all, things could still go wrong. Yet in my heart, I knew that no matter what, we were going to make it. I thought about the journey to this point, a journey that started in May 2007 when I first walked in to the Weight Watcher’s meeting weighing over 270 pounds. I thought of all the miles I had walked, the weights I had lifted, and the points I had tracked in order to lose the weight. The transformation was more than outward, my inner thought life changed. My life verse became “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I can do anything with God behind me and the power of belief fueling my desire. I quoted it as I hiked the mountains, as I lifted the weights, and as I refrained from food I really wanted to eat. And then came the running - a few steps at first, a slow jog around the park, and then finding the freedom to run without stopping. Losing the weight was like being set free from heavy chains draped around my neck. Running was like being given wings to fly. And the farther I could run, the freer I felt. My runs became longer and longer, fueling the desire to fly to the limits of my ability. In my first year after losing the 135 pounds, I ran 7 ultras including two 50 milers and a marathon in the span of 6 weeks. My body recovered amazingly well, and now I was ready to challenge myself even more. Why a 100 miles? In one way, it was the ultimate step from impossible to all things possible. To prove to myself that I had the courage, the perseverance and the determination to keep pushing myself, to keep believing that there was no such thing as impossible, and finally, because I felt like Eric Liddell when in the movie Chariots of Fire he said, “God made me for a purpose…but he also made me fast (well not that part – for me it is that he gave me this gift of running), and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” To run was to commune with God and I believe that God will use my running for his purpose. “Okay, let’s run now.” I said, breaking the silence. We run about 10 feet and I say, “Okay, that’s good.” We did manage to muster up a decent shuffle down one of the steeper inclines, passing an older gentleman that kept switching his light off and on. We climbed that long hill one final time and started into the endless mile to Aid Station #2. That’s when the blisters on my left foot popped. There was a lot of pain under my toes and it hurt to walk. We slowed to a shuffle. Eventually, if I curled my toes in my shoes just right it didn’t hurt so much. Finally, we slouched into Aid Station #2. I sat down and tried to decide whether to have them look at my feet. Despite the slowing down, we were still making pretty good time, but I knew with my feet we probably would not get back by 8am and a chance to beat 26 hours. The older gentleman entered the aid station. When we told him I had blister issues, he said in his German accent “You can crawl, you can swim (moving his arms like he was swimming).” Then he left. Okay. I just wanted to be done. I could deal with the feet when we crossed the finish line. 5 ½ miles to go. The moon was setting and the woods began to be filled with the songs of birds. At one point a deer crossed our paths (I think it was earlier in the loop). We started seeing runners with headlamps. “Someone doing night time running,” I commented. Then Sondra reminded me that it was almost day. “Someone getting their run in before church.” Oh yea, it was Sunday morning! The hills seemed really steep this time around. Finally, on another long down hill I mustered up enough power to jog for a while. We passed a couple of other racers. I tried to get Steve on the cell phone to tell him we were getting close but couldn’t get a signal. Finally we were climbing the last few hills. “Is that them up there?” I asked. Sondra said, “I don’t think so, one of them is black.” Did I mention that my eyesight isn’t exactly 20/20? Where was that gate that signaled the final turn? I really think they moved it! Then as we popped over the hill, I saw Steve and Lindsey. We waved and began the final ½ mile to the finish line. I looked at Sondra as the tears started to flow and said “I’m going to do it, Sondra.” She squeezed my hand and gave me a hug. My family jogged ahead and turned around to take pictures. All I had to do was walk down the lumpy trail and up the hill to the finish. Physically, I was wiped. I couldn’t run up that last hill, but I did shuffle a few steps across the finish line at 8:31am. A cheer of triumph, then I collapsed into my husband’s arms and began sobbing, “I did it, I did it” I kept saying over and over. On of the race director interrupted me to give me the finisher’s pendant. And there was Sondra. A hug for my pacer, my friend.
Loop Time: 4:13 Cummulative: 26:31:24
We went inside the building and found the Red Cross people who could look at my feet. The problem was I was wearing both compression tights, and compression socks. They pulled the compression tights up over my calves to get to the socks. Okay, now the circulation in my legs was being cutoff. Then I felt like I was going to have diarrhea. So they quickly bandaged the feet and tried to get the compression tights back down over my calves. No going and all I was thinking is I have to go to the bathroom. Because I had slipped some capris over the tights on the last loop, I told them I would go into the bathroom and pull the tights off backwards, then slip the capris back on. Poor Lindsey, they made her go into the toilet with me in case something happened (they didn’t want to have to break the door down if I keeled over). After finding relief, I worked and strained and finally got those dumb tights off. We left the bathroom and then everything started spinning. Yowza! I leaned over with my head down and told Lindsey to go tell someone that I was about to pass out. She calmly walked back out to the main room and got someone(she just told me she was only calm on the outside, inside she was near hysterics but was able to calm down by doing things). Next thing I know, they’re carrying me out and lying me on a bench with a pillow under my head and a blanket on top of me. One of the ladies tried to take my pulse. She couldn’t find it. “Are you still there?” she asked. “Yea, I’m still here,” I mumbled. Steve told her that my pulse was normally in the low 50s and not to be too alarmed. Eventually, they turned me on my back and she was able to get the pulse. They said the effort of taking the tights off, probably triggered the blood pressure drop. Then I started feeling cold, but well enough to move up by the fire where they had mattresses, pillows and blankets. I wasn’t the only one lying down. It looked a little bit like a war zone. I needed to get out of the wet clothes, so they surrounded me with blankets and I changed. It was hard to get warm. I also had Lindsey grab one of the “barf” buckets off the table because I felt nauseous. That eventually subsided. Sondra left to take a shower, but graciously offered to let me come and shower at her house since the campground had no hot water. I probably lay there for a couple of hours. To be honest, I felt good the entire race. I hurt and was tired but I never felt sick. I did take some pain relief during the race. I could hear the other runners trickling in one at a time. I knew that soon the last one would cross the finish line. Finally, I got up and we got ready to leave. The German gentleman who passed us at Aid Station #2 was packing up too. “You finished.” He said. “Yes,” I replied, then for good measure “See you next year?” His response was “I’m never running again.” I smiled. “Okay, I’ll ask you next week.” Turns out our splits throughout the entire day were almost identical. I ran with him the whole time and didn’t even know it. He was either 1-10 minutes ahead or behind me at the end of each loop. He finished 15 minutes ahead of me. The other interesting fact is that he was listed in Ultra Running Magazine as the oldest 100 mile finisher last year at age 69 in the Cascade Crest and Wasatch Front 100 mile races. We headed to Sondra’s and while I showered, my family visited with Sondra’s family. I did have another bout of lightheadedness in the shower when I leaned my head back to wash the shampoo out of my hair. I got out of the shower and sat down on the toilet, grabbed a running magazine that lay conveniently nearby and put it on the floor to read it with my head down. Now, I knew this time it was because I needed to eat. Steve came looking for me, and brought me a banana. Much better. After popping and redressing the blisters, having fun watching the pug chase the red light around the floor and the cat chase the dog (it reminded us all so much of our own home), we bid the Jarvis’ goodbye and headed out for a bite of food and a nap. I groaned a lot while trying to sleep, rubbed biofreeze liberally on my legs and generally felt miserable for several hours. Then somewhere in the middle of the nights, I felt my legs relax. It was the weirdest sensation. While next day, I was stiff and sore – we made lots of stops on the way back – my legs didn’t feel any worse than after any race I had done. The soreness by Wednesday was negligible and in fact, the main thing stopping me from exercising was the one blister on my left foot.
251 starters, 133 actually finished the 100 miles, the rest did anywhere from 25 miles to 87.5 miles. Many stopped at the 50 mile mark (some intentionally). My place was 102 overall. At the 50 mile mark I was 163 overall. Then, either by attrition (people dropping) or slowing down, I passed 61 people in the last 50 miles. That made me feel good about my race strategy. For once, I didn’t go out too fast. Will I do it again? Well, I was making notes on the best campsites as we were leaving. Honestly, I don’t know. Could I finish in under 24 hours? Could I get faster, stronger? For now, I go back to “when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” I want to give back, to run with a purpose and a cause. That’s why I’m going to run for Teens Opposing Poverty. In September, I will be running 15 marathons in 15 days as I travel to all of TOP’s ministry sites, to spread the word of the good that is being done and to help raise funds to support the cause. And so, I strap on my shoes, head out the door, and with wings on my feet, I’m ready to soar.