The race I swore I’d never run

In 2014 I ran the 55K and I swore I would never do TRT again, not to even think about doing the 100 miler. I even told my husband to give me a hard slap if I even tried to sign up for the 100 miler.

A lot has changed since 2014, I’ve grown incredible friendships that are practically family, I’ve run new trails, trained real hard, and shared some incredible moments with people I love…on and off the trail. For this reason I dedicated my training and dedicate this race day to the importance of friendships and family…..even if they are one in the same. We get one shot to hold onto the people that show up, build us up, support us, make us laugh, listen to rants and raves, hold our hands, and let us cry…drink coffee with, eat takeout while in leg pumps with, drink wine and wander with, and just hang out on a couch doing nothing with. These are the kind that bridge the barrier from friendship to family.

In 2015 I volunteered at Tunnel Creek through the night and saw some incredible people fight through some incredible barriers. I saw people who were seeming just fine throw it all away. I saw people who were nearly on deaths door and they continued on down the trail as if there was no other choice than to go on.

Maybe the 100 wouldn’t be so bad after all.

After a conversation (and a couple glasses of wine) Jill who says, “TRT isn’t that bad, easier than Western States, you should do it”…..wineing and Ultrasigning ensue, I guess we’ll let the lottery gods decide.

At the bell of the New Year, the lottery gods have sent down their judgement and I get my registration confirmation! “HoooRay” and “Oh Shit” all in the same moment.

The cycle of full time training begins….a whirlwind really, snippits of fun times on the trail and laughing over snacks on summits, and stretching and talking in parking lots are all that remains. Which, in retrospect really isn’t a bad way to remember the past….laughs, friendships, trails, mountains, snacks, and laundry……so much laundry. Through the training cycle it is increasingly clear to me the importance of friendships and how much they influence the paths of our lives. So much has changed in the past year, some good, some bad, all of them important. Together we’ve bought condos, we’ve lost pets, we’ve skied, we’ve cried, we’ve drank wine, we’ve laughed, we’ve ran, we’ve hiked, we’ve gone through pregnancy and welcomed an incredible new human to this world together. This past year has really made me realize that we aren’t in this life alone, we have our friendships, and they carry us through the highs and the lows.

The night before involves packet pickup, drop bag drop off, pre-race meeting, Thai food, a couple hours of packing and repacking our systems for the next day, along with our tradition of drinking a glass of wine out of terrible hotel room cups.

I love my girls.

Race day is here! I have trained harder than I ever have before and all I know is that I at least have the courage to show up to the start line and the rest is up to the day. You can train, you can visualize, you can plan, plot, and scheme…..but, ultimately you have to show up to the start line to even think about crossing the finish line.

I am literally a bundle of nerves, but game face is on, pack is filled with water, and more than enough emergency supplies of extra gel, favorite snacks, baby food and Tailwind packets are stashed in drop bags around the course to sustain an army.

3 am, goooooood morning!

5am and the gun goes off and we leave Spooner to the sounds of the Eagles – Take it Easy, which I continue to keep in my head as my theme song for the day, take it easy during the day and survive, if you’ve got it in ya when the sun goes down, drop the hammer then. Jeff and I take it easy and truck along up to Marlette Lake and down into Hobart, chit chatting, settling in, enjoying the morning, both of us I think still in awe that we are here and doing this thing.

The first many miles go by in a flash, short memories of pointing out Snow Valley peak and declaring that I’m coming back for it, looking forward to getting to Tunnel Creek, hoping that Ken is there so I can collect my hug! Mile 12, He’s not there yet, but understandable since he’ll be there all night too, I guess it was just wishful thinking. Down into the first Red House Loop and it goes by in a heart beat. Back into Tunnel Creek, still no Ken, but we’re on a roll so we water up and head out to Bull Wheel.

We take a pass on the terrible tasting water at Bull Wheel, and run into Sara. Stoked to spend some time on the trail with a tutu/sparkle skirt sister! Chit chatting about our day and what lies ahead picks up my spirits for the upcoming Tyrolean downhill.

I keep thinking, I know that Lacey hasn’t passed me yet, so I know there’s a good chance that I’ll see Lauren and Jimmy at Diamond Peak.

Success!! I collect a hug and a smile and keep on, keeping on! Through Diamond Peak where I get to meet Jeff’s amazing mom and uncle who came out to crew and spectate! We run into Scott on the trail, and he joins us and we haul up Diamond Peak the first time. About halfway up, we lose Katie, she said her stomach wasn’t happy and plopped down on a rock to enjoy a ginger chew.
Jeff and I make it back to Tunnel Creek for the 3rd time and last time in the daylight, and I’m feeling good, like really good, on top of the world good! Grab some snacks, drink an Ensure and we head out towards Spooner to pick up Kaycee.

Literally 3/4 of a mile out of Tunnel Creek my stomach turns, projectile vomiting turns. 😦 Very strange as I NEVER have stomach issues during running….yeah, yeah, you can hate me now, but for some reason I have a stomach of steel when it comes to puking, things might be uneasy sometimes, but NEVER puking. So I pick myself up off the trail, wipe the slobber from my face and head up and over to Hobart, still very confused about what just happened. I drink Ensure regularly while running, that shouldn’t have turned things. I ate potatoes and salt in TC, and that isn’t a new thing. I’ve been drinking the same Tailwind all day, that shouldn’t have gone wrong. I ate some pretzels, that shouldn’t have turned things.

Very Strange.

Eitherway, I kept moving forward, just needed to get to Hobart, then to Snow Valley, then Kaycee. HooRay!!! Jeff thankfully waits at Hobart for me, and I take a second in a chair to regroup and try to recoup some calories. Sheryl comes through looking great and we talk for a couple minutes before she bounds down the trail still looking fresh. One of the great things about TRT is that you always run into someone you know and a small conversation can bring ya back to life again. That and some calorie replenishment.

Up and over Snow Valley, say “hi” to the Boy Scouts and down and around to Stonehenge (mile 50) where things get instantly better. Seeing Kathie and the Trents on the way in, there’s a burger waiting for me,  some fresh socks, the tutu, most of all, Kaycee is there with her boundless energy, life is good! Jeff took care of some blisters, I changed my bra, I think we were in and out in about 15-20 minutes which was good. Headed down the trail with my best friend in tow, life can not get any better. We make it to Hobart, head up and over to Tunnel Creek, maybe now I’ll collect my hug from Ken!

Yes!!!!!!!! He is there!

(Photo Credit Ken)

Jeff needs his feet taped, so we leave down to Red House loop (number 2) without him. I feel terrible leaving him, we’ve been together for 62 miles so far, but when you feel good, you have to go. And when your feet need care, you have to stop. I know he’ll catch up to us. Down and around Red House, still trying to keep up on the eating, the drinking, the managing of things. Through Red House aid station, stoked to see my friend Jenna and get some coffee, tastes terrible but it’s the jet fuel I need to get back up to Tunnel Creek. Along the way, we meet a wonderful lady from Canada running this and we share some conversation and some trail on the slog back up the hill.

At this point, things are starting to not look the greatest from my perspective, I’m tired, my feet hurt, we’re getting to that 3-5am stretch that’s real tough for me. But Kaycee takes my pack and runs ahead to fill and grab food so that our transition in and out is quick.

She is amazing!

We head out on the trail and I’m still doing work (I think) and we work to get to Bull Wheel. After passing Bull Wheel, the wheels start to fall off, I admit for the first time that this sucks, this really, really sucks. We shuffle along, my feet are on fire, and I haven’t eaten anything as my stomach is kind of iffy. We make it to Chickadee ridge and I break down, full on crying, dry heaving from crying, asthma attack from crying and I say that I can’t make it and that I’m going to drop at Diamond Peak. Kaycee gets some more food in me and we start our work down to Diamond Peak. I’m moving relatively well, but the motivator is that I can drop at Diamond Peak. 4 miles of downhill and I can go home. I don’t even care about the buckle anymore. It seems to take forever and we start to get passed by some people, which is frustrating. We also start to see some of the trail carnage, I’m pretty sure I’m one of them. Even though in my mind it takes days, Kaycee says it only takes around an hour so I guess we were moving with purpose….yeah, the purpose to drop, I’m over it.

We get to Diamond Peak around 7:15 am and I find medical to help with some blisters. Getting the shoes off was a gift from the heavens and it is sealed that I am going to drop. There’s nothing in heaven or hell that will get my socks and shoes back on. Medical pops the blisters and I try to get some breakfast down..

(Photo Credit Peter)

Next thing I know somehow my socks are back on my feet…wait, this isn’t supposed to happen. I tell Kaycee, “I’m done, I can’t, I don’t want to”.

She doesn’t listen.

Next, my shoes are back on my feet….WTF I thought I was going home. Now I’m standing, no, this isn’t the plan, I want to go home. I’m even shaking my head saying, “no” all the while Kaycee is putting my pack back, filled with fresh water and Tailwind on my back. Now we’re out the door and Jeff is there on the deck, he made it!! Now there is a bright spot, I get a hug from him and tell him that I don’t want to continue. He says that he feels the same but we have to…..we have to finish this. Now we are out on the trail, wait this is the wrong direction, I want the car……

All the while up Diamond Peak I come up with every excuse that I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough, this race is over my head, I can’t finish this, my feet hurt, I’m tired, I want to snuggle my cat and go to sleep.

I want to go home.

Kaycee says to remove the word “can’t” but somehow I can’t, my brain is stuck in a loop of “I can’t.”

By some grace of God we make it to the top and Kaycee pushes me down the trail to Tunnel Creek, 3 miles and I’m going to drop. Just make it to Tunnel Creek and I’m done. My plan is set, I’m going to walk right into the Med tent, pull my wrist band off myself, tear up my number and go to sleep.

I’m done.

About 1/2 mile from TC I look up and Ken and Lon are walking down the trail to meet me.

(Photo Credit Stacie)

Uh oh…..I’m hosed, the cavalry is here.

Lon does his best to cheer me up trying to get me to run/shuffle.

I’m not buying it.

I tell them that I’m done and I can’t go on.

They’re not buying it.

We make it to TC and my entire Strider family is there waiting, cheering, loving, helping. Lon tells me that I can do this, I still don’t believe him. Suzy says that I can, but I’m  just stuck in this loop of negativity. My feet hurt, I’m tired and cranky. Jenny grabs me and says, “Sometimes the finish isn’t about you, it’s about all the people that helped you get there”. Ok, maybe I can, I don’t want to let anyone down. Ken grabs me, he says, “Do you trust me?” I hesitate only for a second and say, “Yes”.

“You can do this”

(Photo Credit Jessica)

Sherri is there with some Sprite, I drink 2 cups. I can survive on gel for 15 miles, right? So, God bless her, Suzy packs Kaycee’s pack with probably 20 gels and next thing I know I am walking down the trail.

Damn it.

Ok, so we’ve left TC, Ken has asked me to trust him. Jenny has given great advice, and Lon said he’d never buy me anything pink again. I have to give it a go. My brain still won’t let go of my negativity bit I need to compartmentalize that somewhere if we’re going to make it. Maybe in my shoes, God knows there’s enough suffering going on in there already, maybe they’ll be friends and entertain eachother. We keep hiking and Kaycee says “hike with a purpose” and this becomes my mantra. Hike with a purpose, hike with a purpose, hike with a purpose. If we can make it to Hobart before 12:30 there might be a shot in hell.

She says, “I know you’re hurting, and you’re not going to like this, but we have to move faster, faster than you’re going to want to go.” Dang it, those are my words spoken to her last year at the 72. She listened to me then, I can listen to her now.

12:15 we make it to Hobart. Ok, I have to start to admit to myself that there may be a shot at finishing. We might have enough time. I make a deal with my negativity. If we can make it to Snow Valley before 1:30, it’ll take a hike and I’m going to finish this shit. Off we go, hike/running. We are now gaining on people, we must have passed 5 or more runners on the 3 mile climb up Snow Valley.

There is carnage on the trail….and this time, I’m not one of them.

Low and behold, we roll into Snow Valley at 1:21. Damn it, now I have to try. 2.5 hours, 7 miles downhill, I think I can do this.

Suddenly there is a lightness, my feet still hurt, but someone has pressed the mute button on their complaining. Everything is tired and frustrated, but the caffeine gels are doing their job.

Something clicks.

I can do this.

And we run.

And we run, and run, and run, Kaycee tells me we clock some 15 minute miles down that hill, and I ran almost every step of that 5 miles to the Spooner Trailhead Aid, somehow kowing that we can make this, we can do this, holy moley, we are doing this! For the first time in 33 hours, I let myself envision that finish line.

Past the Trailhead Aid Station, 1.7 miles to go. Thankful for the Aspens and the shade. And for Scott and Jake who’ve come up the trail to “run” me in, even if it is at their walking pace.

We are about 3/4 of a mile out and I hear the old Holmes Honk from across the meadow. We’ve made it! We pop out on the road and Ken and Lon are waiting for me. I get a teary hug from both and give my poles and pack to Scott, I’m so over carrying them. Lon, Ken, Kaycee, Scott, and Jake and I hike/run the last bit. I hear Michael’s voice at the finish line! Take a small right turn down a single track, one more corner, OH MY GOD we made it.

34:28:07 into my race I cross that finish line.

(Photo Credit Taylor)

Tears, laughs, hugs, pictures, Med tent, buckle ceremony and I FINALLY get to go home.

Ultra running is all about family. Family by blood, and family by sweat. I can honestly say that I would not have made it to that finish line without my Strider family. They hold me up, they support me, they keep me going, they give me hope, and they give me strength.

Trail credit:

Most of all, thank you to my patient and caring husband, who puts up with smelly socks, dirty shoes, a gym bag that never seems to find its place, and for sacrificing our evenings and weekends that could have been spent together so that I can follow my dreams. (And for not actually slapping me for doing this.)

Thank you to Jill for encouraging this kind of behavior…..

Thank you EJ for your unrelenting optimism and willing to jump into things head and heart! #trailbrother

Thank you to Jeff for all the time spent these past many months. You’ve been a great companion and partner through this training cycle. You’re going to do great at Wasatch!

Thank you John, Jill, Annie, and Katie Trent. Without your family, this running community would not be the amazing place and thing it is today.

Thank you Lauren for the time on the trail, I cherish our friendship and time together.

Thank you Jenny for your timely words of experience and motivation.

Thank you Lon for being the hard ass you are, and I love you for it.

Thank you Ken, for believing in me and asking me to believe in myself.

Thank you George for putting on an amazing race event. There is a reason people flock from around the world to your events, world class George, I can’t say enough great things about how well this race is done. From the food spread to the course marking, from the volunteers to the hand crafted belt buckles. World Class.

All the Striders who I spend more time with than my husband sometimes, Lauren, Lacey, Shannon, Dan, Jason, Suzy, Vicky, Andy, Robert, Eric, and many more that I’m sure I’m leaving out.

And last but surely not least…Kaycee. You are my rock, my friend, my confidant, my partner, and my inspiration. You live your life to the absolute fullest, your happiness is contagious to the max, and your patience with me is unmatched. Thank you. I could not have done it without you.

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