It’s the big one for me. It’s the toughest race I do, and I’ve been at the starting line for every event. The problem is, I’ve not always found the finish line. I’ve DNF’ed twice on the course, at the 100k (bears psyched me out) and the 100 miler (I took a beating and couldn’t find a way to recover). According to my friend Nick, it's my unicorn.
I’ve spent the last year, focused on getting this job done. I worked my butt off with relentless training. Yes, by building physical strength, but more importantly by building my mental toughness.
Mark tells me that he knew I turned a corner one day, when I told him I no longer cared if I finished or not. Oh, I WANTED a finish, but I wasn’t going to let a non-finish define me. I knew I had trained as hard as I possibly could, and if I ddin’t find the finish line, it would be because of something very far out of my control. He told me that my taper was the most serine he has seen so far. That’s saying something…
On race morning, I was ready to take on the challenge. Rog gave me that “you got this?” look. I did. He came over and I expected a bit of friendly coach advice. I got, “Forget the bears. If you don’t finish this, be afraid of me!”. I needed that.
The first loop was paradise. I was happy to be there, and once the sun came up, I was moving at a great pace. I was alone, but knew the 100k and 50k runners would be on the course soon enough. I finished in 8 hours. I found Rog at the turn around. I couldn’t believe I was that close to his pace. I made it a goal to keep him within 15 minutes of me for the entire race. I KNEW he would finish; he’s done it three times before.
I’m always amazed at how the trail makes runners disappear. It’s such a non-linear course that honestly, you just go hours without seeing another person. Even at night, there is not a headlamp to be seen. Once in a while, you’ll hear at “Woot” that lets you know you are not alone, but that’s about it. It can and does get lonely.
The second loop was also wonderful. I was still flying down the declines and really enjoying the opportunity to do what I love. I finished the loop, saw Roger and headed back to the aid station. Then the temperature dropped. I swear it dropped 20 degrees in 10 minutes. I put on all of the warm clothes that I had, but still had a bad case of the shivers. I knew I had to warm up before I headed out, or I would be in trouble. I sat for 15 minutes and probably beat myself up for two hours for doing so. Looking back, it was smart. At the time, all I saw was the clock ticking away.
The third loop was almost like I was on another planet. There was a beautiful moon, but I couldn’t often see it. There was fog and it was cold (someone told me it dropped to the 20’s). I was alone. I can only go so fast on that trail by the light of a headlamp. I was able to maintain a strong power hike, and bursts of downhill running, but I was not making the progress I hoped for. I gave myself quite a mental beating up during this time. I kept thinking how easy it was to think of my challenges. I forced myself, when a negative thought appeared, to instead count my blessings.
It was during this loop, that my training came back to me. I visited OC so many times, that I was able to memorize landmarks that I would otherwise miss in a race scenario. It was mentally settling to know that I had 2 miles after that broken tree, until I hit the access road, or if I count my paces to 50 up that hill, I can summit quickly.
Then the sun rose! OMG. It changed everything. I felt good. I changed my clothes to a very comfie t-shirt and a light jacket. Now my thoughts wandered to happier things. Specifically, I spent a significant amount of time thinking about a shower. A long, hot, steamy shower….
I came in from the third loop and I was focused on the mile math/time limit equations. My thoughts were broken when I heard “Mom” in a voice that I would recognize anywhere. NOAH! He came out to pace me the last 8 miles. I never struggled so much that I had to default to a death march, but I believe I would have had my son not been by my side. It means the world to me that he was there.
3.5 miles after Noah and I left the aid station. I TURNED LEFT!
We got to leave the trail after one more monster climb, a bouncy swing bridge and a few more miles. Once again on even footing, I looked at Noah and said, “I dd it. I finished.”. Noah deadpan responded, “I don’t see a finish line, you still have a mile to go. Get going mom”. I wasn’t done, but there was no way I wouldn’t finish. Awesome! Thanks boy!
With about a quarter mile to the finish, I saw this kid sitting on the corner. My first thought was that she was a striking child. I had to look closer (I had put in THREE contact lenses the day before---oh my) to realize it was Natalie. I was SO happy to see her. I told her to “run with me, but please don’t sprint”. She did, and I got to cross the finish line with both my son and my daughter by my side. Priceless, and a memory I will cherish forever.
I think the most memorable moment of the entire race for me, had little to do with me. When Noah and I were on the course, we saw a runner who was really struggling. He was bent at odd angles and shuffling along. My heart went out to him. We offered what support we could, and had to get on our way. After I finished, this runner could be seen making his way to the finish line. Noah immediately stood and began to applaud. Natalie ran over to the gentleman and helped pace him in. My heart swelled.
Oil Creek. I thank you. You have changed me in so many ways. I have become a stronger person. You have ingrained in me that no matter my challenges, the sun will rise, people who love me will be there for me, and I can run through it.