100 miles. The first time I attempted the distance, I left the course with kidney stones after 55 miles. The first time I wanted to quit running all together was on the Dirty Girl course last year. I completed an ultra there, but got lost and defeated. “This is stupid.” I told my friends. I was going to put away my running shoes and move on to other things. Three wonderful people gently coaxed me back. (Thank you Roger, Kris and Denise) I decided to take my two biggest running defeats and make the Dirty Girl my first 100-mile race.
The race got in my head. I trained rigorously. I was consumed by it during the weeks leading up to it. I’d gone 75 on a nice flat course, but this would be different. Roger describes it perfectly “I hate the Dirty Girl course. It just goes up, down, left, right constant switchbacks and single track. It's was tough for me to get in the groove last year. No long stretches to put it in cruise.”
Before the race began, I felt calm. There is a well-known pervert at most Canadian ultras. He likes to “mark his ladies” with a colored bendy-plastic straw that the lady wears in her ponytail. I walked into the pre-race meeting and was greeted with “A green-eyed ultra runner?! Someone keep me from falling in love”. He gave me a straw and a graphic description of his intentions if he found me on the trail at night. He kept me “light” until it was time to start.
We had been in a drought for most of the summer, so I was actually looking forward to some light rain. I spent the night before the race sleeping in my car in hard rain (I decided to forego the tent). I missed my greyhound. The only time that dog pays any attention to me is during rainstorms, when she won’t leave me, and shakes like a 1970’s hotel bed.
I must say the first 55 miles were the most arduous I had ever encountered. They were harder than the first BOB with -20 degree wind chills and 2 feet of snow; that half ironman bike, in the sideways rain; that 5k in the wind storm that only 10 people showed up for. The rain was relentless. The trail was sand based so it would puddle and filter fairly quickly. However, there were at least five deluges that made the trail impassable. It was blinding rain that stung when it hit you. I had to be so present during those miles. No music, no talking, no dedicating miles, just “relentless forward progress” (Thanks Rog---it was my mantra during those miles).
At mile 45, I took a small break, changed into my nighttime running gear, not giving a care in the world about public nudity, and headed out. With no ambient light and a cloud filled sky, the forest was black. I miscued once on each of the next two loops. I knew my judgment was getting muddled. I questioned if I should take a longer break. In answer, I got a tree limb fall directly in front of me. That, coupled with the lightening right on top of the thunder, I finished 55 and went to my car. Another deluge hit as soon as I got there. I got my first look at my corpse feet that had basically been underwater for 15 hours. I crawled in my sleeping bag to wait out this part of the storm and slept for about 3 1/2 hours. Much longer than I planned, but oh so needed.
I woke as a new woman. I changed clothes and set out again. My all-time favorite aid station volunteer, Kinga, took me under her wing from that point on. She is an accomplished ultra-runner and she became my defacto coach.
The next 45 miles were relatively “easy”. The rain let up…did it ever stop? There was fog, but it was manageable. My legs felt great. I wasn’t as fast as I would have liked, but I was steady. I turned my iPod on for the first time. The first song I heard was my favorite hymn…”Be Not Afraid”. It was just what I needed. Each successive song would remind me of old friends, new friends, and old friends that are new again. I was thinking of the people in my life that care about me and were rooting for me in this race. However, I did refuse to listen to any song that had "rain" in the lyrics.
At the end of lap 13, I was greeted with the biggest rainbow I have ever seen. It was breathtaking, and renewed my strength as I hoped it meant that the hard rain was done.
At the end of mile 70, I got another surprise…Mark showed up to help me. I was so over-come with emotion. I cried, ran into his arms and said the only endearing thing I could think of: “you smell so clean”. With our over-scheduled lives, I didn’t want to assume he would be there, but there he was. My best friend, my partner, my love.
I had six laps to go, and I decided to let Mark help me with three of them. It would be further than he had gone before and I didn’t want to wear him out. We would alternate supported and unsupported loops. The first lap, I taught Mark Ultra-trail Running 101. He was a quick learner, 75 miles done. Then I did a loop, 80 miles done. Mark was there for me for the next loop. We had a fantastic discussion about the days our kids came home, how they have grown and where they are headed. He knows nothing motivates me like Noah and Natalie. 85 miles done. Then I headed out. 90 miles done. Next, Mark joined me for the last time. Unfortunately, another bout of rain interrupted an awesome discussion on the difference between caramel and butterscotch. We kept our heads down and got to work. 95 miles done.
I wanted that last loop. Mark wanted to go with me, but it was absolutely out of the question. That loop was mine. I was going to ‘honey badger’ my way through it. (Thank you to Chad for the Honey Badger intro and to Chris for blogging about how to use him during running). When I got halfway, I stopped at a place on the trail that looked out onto a valley. I thanked God for making this possible, and for the first time, I let the reality of finishing sink in. Then I promptly tripped over a root. Okay, 2.5 miles is 2.5 miles, and I had to refocus---I wasn't done yet.
I crossed the line utterly spent. I hugged the race director, Kinga and Mark. I got a pretty little belt buckle and Mark got a shoulder full of tears. I also found out I took 3rd place for the women. Things get kind of fuzzy from there.
I still haven’t sorted out what this all means to me, but I have had this quote in my head since I crossed the line:
“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall. ”