The desire to run a 100 miler has been an itch in the back of my mind for the last few years. In 2008 I met the legendary Marshall Ulrich and Charlie Engle as they took their trek across America. Little did I know I would soon be calling them and many other ultra legends my friends. During the 13 miles I spent participating in the documentary Running America, I was introduced to the exciting world of ultrarunning. Races like Badwater, the Amazon Jungle Marathon (which I participated in 2011), or any race that involved running 100 miles in one shot sounded nearly impossible and something that an average runner, like myself, would only view from a far.
Fast forward to September 2012, the Hallucination 100 in aptly called Hell Michigan would be my first attempt to run 100 miles. Five months of training following the America River 50 miler was about to be tested; and to say I was terrified was a serious understatement. My amazing crew and I arrived in Detroit on Thursday evening for the pre- race preparations. The best part which included a trip to Whole Foods for the prerace meal and a large Michigan based Walmart-like store to get last minute provisions for camping for the crew and food for me. We also picked up a few extras and very important items, such as glow sticks, peace sign magnets for the car, and of course Haribo gummy bears, Tootsie Rolls, Ramen and my secret weapon Coke. I think I was a bit slap happy from the nerves because at that point everything was hysterical!
The race started at 4: 00 pm the next day so there was a lot to do before hand, including sleep, set up camp at the Hell Creek Ranch, and sort out my pack and drop bags. My crew consisted of Pacer Pete, who is a seasoned ultrarunner and all around awesome guy, my pageant sister, BFF, and awesome runner Brandi who in addition to running her first 50 at this race, decided she was going to do it all while pacing me, my personal doctor turned pacer turned medic (story to come) Laura who I met running at Disney last year and we have become fast friends ever since, and my BFF, emotional support rock and crew support/ photographer Steve. They all came together to put my kit together, drop bags, set up camp and made sure everything was in place so that I could sleep and mentally prepare for the next 20- something hours of running to my first 100.
After a failed attempt to nap, I woke up and got ready in my Wag Strong race duds and headed to the pre- race meeting. We were informed of the cutoffs and I quickly worked with my crew to figure out what the time goals would have to be for me to make it. I needed to finish 100Km by noon the next day and complete the race by 10:00 pm the following evening. Although it sounded doable; I was entering into unknown territory and knew that regardless of time this would be the toughest physical challenge I have ever taken on. My goal was simple…. to finish in the allotted time and capture the coveted belt buckle and peace sign metal.
As I lined up to the start, I took a deep breath and said a prayer that DNF would not be in my future that day. I asked my late dog Stryder to guide me and off I went into the unknown of the trails on Hell Creek Ranch. One year of training and three weeks of taper were about to be tested, and I was ready.
The course consisted of six 16.5 miles loops. The first two laps we were not permitted to have pacers or support, so I knew in just 50Km I would have company. I decided to approach the race from one aid station to the next. It was awesome to have a station every 4 miles and made these small goals very doable (at least in the beginning). I also chose to go without turning on my Garmin so that I would listen to my body more than becoming a slave to pace and risk burning out or bonking too early. The first lap was fairly uneventful. The field seemed to go out fast and surprisingly I got caught up in this as well. I felt strong and realized that I was going a little too fast. I had to remind myself that I would need every ounce of energy in the later laps and to make sure I ran my own race. I completed the first lap in 4 hour hours and change. The trails were extremely well marked and terrain was minimally technical. It was hot at that time of day still, so as I came into camp my crew cooled me down, refilled my pack, gave me some positive energy to take back on the trail as I headed back to lap two.
It was beginning to get dark just past the first station (named Grace) and I pulled out the head lamp after refueling. At this point in the race, I still had multiple other runners around me and felt comfortable with my pace and surroundings. As it became pitch black on the trail, I realized I could not see very well with my headlamp and discovered the batteries were almost dead. Herein was lesson #1 of the race – ALWAYS have spare batteries on you and a spare light. I saw the light of a runner ahead and picked up speed to try and catch them in hope of following the light and the runner. The women I reached was a seasoned ultrarunner, and I expressed my stress over not being able to see. I noticed she not only had a head lamp but also a hand held flashlight. To my surprise she said she would guide me to the next station (Richey’s Haven) and just upon arrival to the landmark Yurt, she gave me her hand held flashlight and said she had plenty more. She pressed on and I wouldn’t see her again during the race. I was so grateful and reminded again why I love this sport… the kindness of strangers and the willingness to help your fellow competitors. However, for the next 100 miles we were all on the same team and that became more and more obvious as the race went on.
As I continued on the next 4 miles back to Grace, I started to get in my head a bit and became suddenly nervous about falling on the trail and being alone in the woods. During the 2011 race in the Amazon, I got incredibly lost and almost succumbed to dehydration. ( See video link here : http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/extreme-marathon-amazon-jungle-15805620) My mind started to go that dark place and just in time I came upon a group of two gentlemen with very bright lights and even brighter personalities. We started chatting and they also noted that my head lamp was less than ideal. We chatted about while we were there and that one of them had DNF’s the year before on this course due to severe rain. In the midst of conversation, he pulled out two spare batteries from his pocket, stopped his run and asked for my head lamp. I was so shocked that they would stop their race to help me! He said he had another light at camp and that it was fine. Twice in a period of few hours I was gifted with the kindness and generosity of strangers. I thanked them a thousand times over and headed on my way. We would see each other several times during the course, although at one point I was so delirious I had no idea who they were when I saw them. They were then forever known as the “battery guy”. I finally made it back to the Grace aide and was grateful for the upbeat aid volunteers dancing in the dark and feeding us. Four more miles to the 50K mark back to base camp where I would pick up Pacer Pete and no longer be alone.
The next 4 miles would prove to be much more of a mental struggle than I had ever anticipated having this early in the race. Simply put, it was dark and I was alone. I began to have flashbacks of being alone in the jungle and having no clue where to go or when someone would come to help. I held on to the life line of the flashlight, focused my head lamp on the trail, and pressed on with the gifts and energy I received from the other runners including my friend Sandy who I saw along the course. Knowing I had less than four miles to my crew kept my constant forward motion going. I finally heard the music of base camp and knew I was close to safety. The moment I saw my crew I burst into tears. Steve knew before I even said anything that I was experiencing the same fear I had in the jungle (which he experienced firs hand). Brandi embraced me with a big hug, Laura grabbed my pack to refill, and Pete arrived with a smile, glow sticks and a glow in the dark pitch fork and magic wand, two things no ultrarunnner should leave home without! I dried my tears, felt revived and Pete and I headed into the night. The next 50 Km would prove to be the toughest of my running career
To Be continued…..
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