Why in the hell would you do that? Did you run the whole way? How long did it take you to recover? How long did you train? How long did you sleep during your race? I bet you’ll never do that again! That’s great to get that off your bucket list and be done with it, isn’t it? How did your legs not fall off? You think that’s fun?!
I am not sure what possesses ultra runners to do what we do. I have heard numerous theories: to outrun your demons, to reduce stress, to fight negative addictions with positive ones, to be involved in a sport where everyone is your cheerleader, to push your body beyond what you ever thought possible, to enjoy nature at its finest, to set an example for friends and family, to be closer to God…the list could go on all day. Each time I lace up my shoes, I run for a different reason. Some days it’s because I ate too many cookies the day before (well…that’s every day). Some days it because a friend is going through a hard time and needs an ear to listen, uninterrupted before the sun comes up. Some days I need friends to counsel me through hard times, and running is like a truth serum that let’s honesty flow through the miles. Some days it’s because I want to be so exhausted at the end of the day that I don’t have to worry about anything and can just drop into bed and sleep. I think all trail runners run for the beauty of watching the sun rise or set. The trail brings such peace, but also causes you to be aware of everything around you, and each sense is used to its fullest capacity: everything sounds better, looks better, feels better, smells better, and (usually) tastes better when out on the trail!
No, I was NEVER an athlete. This is something I get asked a lot. “Were you on the track team in high school and college?” Ummmm….NO! I was the girl that was picked last for every sport. I had zero coordination (still don’t), and HATED running!! I could never even make it around the track at school. I would just give up and walk the loop with my friends, and my P.E. grades show this lack of motivation. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to run…hard, boring, painful!
Fast forward to my oldest child being in kindergarten years ago…I would help out in his class at school, and his teacher would come in and tell me about how she ran a ten-miler before work. She was training for a “marathon”. A what???? I had no idea what that was, but she had captivated me when she talked about ten miles. I couldn’t even fathom that!! I followed her St. George Marathon over the radio – 26.2 miles!!! Was that possible for a human to do? I was listening to it happening, and I knew I had to do that, too!
A friend told me to start by running one mile. A whole mile!? Without stopping!? I tried. I couldn’t. I made it about halfway down my block. But…the idea of a marathon was in my head, and when an idea gets in there, it won’t go away; it’s like an itch that has to be scratched. I started signing up for 5K races and ran/walked them. Within a year, I ran my first marathon! It was possible, and I was hooked! I ran with my “Sole Sisters” in St. George, and we stuck to a training plan. That was the last time I have stuck to a plan!
A few years later, I signed up for my first 50K because I wanted to see what would happen to me. My training was horrible, but I finished! A few years went by, and I needed more. I had run trail once and hated it! I couldn’t find any 50-mile road races, so I “had” to sign up for a trail 50. I had no idea what I was doing. I bought my shoes the day before the race, signed up about ten minutes before the cut-off time, and decided I better start carbo-loading and electrolyte loading the day before. That race was the best day ever, and I was hooked!! That is when I became an ultrarunner! I have done another 50-miler since then, in the pouring rain on Catalina Island.
I knew I wanted more miles, so I signed up for my first 100-miler! I wanted that belt buckle. I started the race on May 2nd and finished on my birthday on May 3rd. The race was in Red Rock Canyon on the hottest weekend so far that year!
Planning for a 100-miler:
There are all sorts of ways to plan and train. I’m by no means an expert, but I can explain how this “normal” mom pulled it off, and hopefully convince others to try something “crazy” as well!
I am not good with following plans. I have too many areas in my life where I have to follow schedules and rules. I want my running to be an area that is not encumbered by charts, lists, and numbers. I ran and trained how my body felt like running and training. Luckily, one of my best friends has run a 100-miler, so I could pick her brain. If I was “somewhere” around what she did during her training, I was good! My goal was to stay injury free and still have fun!
My nutrition – this is a sore subject because I love to eat! I admire all those people that are so good at tracking their calories during the day and on their runs; I’m just not one of those people. Someday…maybe! It takes the joy out of my running adventures and life when I have to track everything I put into my mouth. When I’m hungry, I eat. Unfortunately, bad food makes me really happy. I find any excuse I can to bake cookies, and I often ate a cheeseburger or chips before and after training runs. Sometimes I just had to grab fast food because I was running late to coach soccer or to get home to put kids to bed before I ran. I know that there are other options and that this horrifies some people, but it’s what I did, and yes, I would like to get much better with my nutrition, but it wasn’t an area that I wanted to mess with during my training. The only thing I added the last three weeks was a green smoothie once a day.
I had a really hard time figuring out what to eat on my long runs. The gels make me dry heave and caused my friends to run away from me, too much liquid made me heavy, so I explored everything. I tried salt pills, wafers, candy, applesauce packs, energy bites, granola bars, you name it! I have a hard time eating when I go long. I’m just not hungry AT ALL! I know I need the calories, and I can feel myself start to fade at certain points, but it is so difficult for me to keep food down during long runs. This proved to be the case during my race as well.
Sleep – I don’t know too many moms that get a full night’s sleep. I average between 4-6 hours a night. I just don’t have time for it. Something has to give when you train, and it won’t be my kids! I have a little boy with asthma, so there were many nights during my training that I was up with him all during the night giving him breathing treatments and rubbing his back to relax him. I know my sleeping patterns were not ideal, but it worked for me. I really think this actually was advantageous to me during my race. I was used to sleep deprivation, so running tired was not as hard on me as it may have been on others that were used to getting more sleep.
Miles - I have no problem training long. I enjoy being outdoors, and had the opportunity to run with an amazing group of girls, and also to do many solo runs. It was fun to mix that up a bit. I decided I needed to do some night runs, so I would get my kids to sleep at night and head out for about 6-10 miles once or twice a week. I would then stack my runs by waking up in the morning and running again, and then sometimes adding that night run again to give me three runs in 24 hours. The three runs in 24 hours probably happened three times during my training. The more tired I was, the more excited I was to run because I knew this was preparing my body and mind to push through and be strong!
I tried to build for two weeks and then cut back the third week, build for two weeks and cut back. I already had a good base with my mileage, so this wasn’t too hard. The longest week I had was running seventy miles in seven days! What a feeling of accomplishment that was! Most of my other weeks were between forty-five to sixty miles. These hard core miles only lasted about two and a half months leading up to the race. Many of my runs were canceled due to kids and life; this is why I can’t follow a plan – my kids have other plans for me. Tapering was very hard for me. I was used to the high of running all those miles, and then I had to cut back.
Gear/Crew/Pacer: Triple Dare, and our charity, Welcome Home Troops, was on the course at mile five for each of the four loops, so I knew I would be passing there four times during the race. I made some bins to stick at our aid station with my supplies. I packed lots of applesauce bags, EFS, Gatorades, gels, candies, salty snacks, trail mix, extra clothes and shoes, lubricant, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, head lamps, flashlights, an extra Garmin, extra music, sunglasses, etc. These guys were my “crew” and took care of me, and all the runners, as we came by each loop. My friend, Marie, paced me from mile 65 to the finish.
Night Before The Race: Whatever well-laid out plans I had the night before the race go right out the door as the night drags on….the plan was that my husband would keep the kids quiet so that I could try to get 6-7 hours of sleep. Just as I was getting ready to shut my eyes, he had to leave for a work emergency. My four-year-old and eleven-year-old tried watching a movie in another room so I could sleep, but after about fifteen minutes of hearing them screaming and fighting with each other, I jumped out of bed, threatened them with their lives, and threw them in bed with me for the night! I have definitely had better sleep!
Race Day! Exciting!!! The day was here!! I always try to look at my races as a party for myself to celebrate all my hard work. I never understand why people sign up for things and then complain and hate them the whole time. I loaded up my car, headed to Red Rock Canyon, and met up with only one familiar face! Twenty-two of us started the 100-miler. The heat was already pretty bad when we started.
The course consisted of a 25 mile loop that we ran four times. This had its perks and disadvantages. It was great seeing the “easier” sections multiple times, but it was so hard knowing what was coming again and again with the uphills and washes. There were five stations on the course (including the start/finish line).
I felt really good the first two laps (50 miles), and I was keeping a good pace. After the first 50 miles, runners were starting to drop from the heat of the day. I was able to eat and drink just fine. I felt something a little funny under my shoe during the second lap and realized that a chunk of my shoe had fallen off! I ate a little after the first 50, had my sisters meet with new clothes, shoes, socks, deodorant, and my toothbrush and toothpaste. I wanted to get all cleaned up for when my pacer met me!
Literally one minute after I left the aid station feeling good, I bent over and started puking my guts out in a bush. I couldn’t keep anything down. It was crazy. I could still see the aid station where I had left feeling amazing, and here I was crouched over losing every calorie and electrolyte I had just put into my body! So much for brushing my teeth!
I kept trying every few minutes to eat a bite of something from my backpack, but nothing would stay down. I was running in the pitch darkness in the desert, alone, and with nothing to give me energy! It was crazy. I walked most of the next ten miles because my legs just wouldn’t move. This was the first time I started getting a little worried. I knew I would absolutely NOT drop from the race unless I broke something or could feel a vital organ quit working! I kept going, seeing trees that looked like people, hearing lizards moving that sounded like people talking to me, and seeing all sorts of interesting insects and animals that I had never seen before. My thoughts were running wild at this point. What would happen if I just collapsed? No one would even know. Lucky for me, I had a whole team texting me and making me laugh at my lowest points. When the clock struck midnight, they texted me a video with them singing “Happy Birthday” and they began handing out mini cupcakes to celebrate my birthday to all the runners!
My mind is a little blurred, but I believe my pacer met me at mile 65. I was so happy to see her, but I was also so upset that my pace had slowed down so much. I kept dropping hints, “I wonder what would happen if I just climbed under a bush and closed my eyes for twenty minutes?” She looked ahead, stoic, ignoring me. She knew that if I slept, I would not want to start running again.
My Garmin quit working, my music quit working, my legs weren’t working, my stomach wasn’t working, and I was starting to hallucinate! When we got to the Triple Dare aid station at mile 80, it was breakfast time. I think it took us almost four hours to cover ten miles!! Part of the reason was because I felt like I had to pee every few minutes. I was losing liquid fast! Luckily, I was able to keep down a little water and some Gatorade. My friend had some coffee (never drink it) and a little fruit for me. I was able to hold onto this for a little bit before I started throwing up again.
Miles 80-100 were full of highs and lows. We passed through the start/finish line aid station (positioned so that you hit it twice during each loop) and I was feeling pretty decent. I actually ran through and was screaming, “Let’s do this!!” I felt like a million bucks…until the lows hit again literally about three minutes later!
I was throwing up and dry heaving, not able to keep anything down except water. I had to stop at one point to check the bush I had puked in to see if there was blood because I was starting to taste blood in my mouth. There wasn’t, so we kept going. I was pretty dang sick of the same bushes and landmarks for the fourth time, so we started yelling at all of them telling them we would never have to see them again! At mile 90, we drenched ourselves with water, filled our clothes with ice, and tried to eat…fail! We were bone dry within five minutes. We sat on a big rock and just laughed like lunatics and made videos for few minutes. Our brains were fried! It was so hot with no way to stay cool. We were hot, drinking hot water…no shade anywhere!
Each mile was taking forever! I felt so guilty that my friend was hanging with me, encouraging me, bragging about me to bikers that came by, and making me laugh. Oh, the things you talk about when you haven’t slept for over 30 hours and your brain is fried! At one point, I called my cousin and told her to tell me some inappropriate jokes to keep me going. She alwayscomes through in a jam!!
At mile 95, I just fell on the ground. I was so frustrated!! I just wanted to be able to eat! I kept wondering how much better this whole adventure would be going if I could keep some salt, calories, or Ibuprofen in my body. Everything was hurting! I was tired, weak, and thirsty! BUT…I was still LOVING this adventure!! Strangely, I was interested in what was happening to my body and my head. How was I able to still keep moving? Maybe our bodies are much stronger and more capable than we give them credit for being?
The most interesting thing to me was the highs and lows. I could be feeling like a Spartan one minute, and then like a walking corpse the next. I loved this! I loved problem solving and seeing if the solutions worked or not. It was like a science project, and I was the specimen. I learned that to run a 100-miler, it’s not necessarily about being a strong runner; it’s about being able to suffer well and finding a way to enjoy the pain.
Well, seeing me on the ground caused my friend to scramble around for anything she could give me. She handed me a handful of gel, salt pills, and Ibuprofen. I told her that if just one thing worked that she gave me, it would be a miracle. I kept it all down! I couldn’t believe it. I am a believer in Root Beer Gu now! I took off running. It took about ten minutes, and then I felt amazing. We were flying! We even started sprinting sections of the course. We ran through the finish line, holding hands, huge smiles on our faces! Most of my family and closest friends were there with balloons, flowers, treats, and love! It was so emotional to see all the people that cared about my adventure and me.
So…YES, I am going to do many more 100-mile races because these races teach me more lessons about myself and others over a weekend than anything could. I love that my kids are proud of me and know that they are capable of hard things, too! If doing these crazy things can inspire a few people to try some life-changing, crazy adventures then it’s worth it. I am happy and proud to be one of the six finishers that day. This is the girl that couldn’t even run a mile before. So…my advice to all the adventurers out there that want to try something big - just do it! Sign up for that race before you even have a plan in hand. Do it today! Do it now! Any runner will be thrilled to help you get a plan together; that can come AFTER you commit! I don’t know about anyone else, but I have never regretted one adventure I have taken, no matter how hard it has been! You don’t need to train perfectly, or even be an athlete, all you need is the determination (and a little bit of crazy)…DO IT NOW!