WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be a little graphic for sensitive readers. Shit happens. Deal with it. 🙂
I admit. Writing the details of my entire experience has been tough. You guys wanted the details and I plan on giving them to you along with answering the questions that you posted, but it’s taking me way longer than I expected. So, with that said, this isn’t going to be your traditional race report where I tell you mile for mile from beginning to end what happened, what I ate, and what the course was like. Instead, I’ll tell you about the moments that stood out to me the most and answer your questions in detail in my next post.
Whole World Is Watching
The whole world is watching when you rise
The whole world is beating for you right now
Your whole life is flashing before your eyes
It’s all in this moment that changes all
(Whole World is Watching by Within Temptation)
The rally of people that came to cheer me on virtually and at the race was unbelievable. I didn’t realize the world was watching, literally. My entire experience was documented on my Facebook page and hour by hour more and more people came to watch and support me virtually. I couldn’t believe it when I scrolled through all of the messages from my supporters the following day, some from as far away as South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia. I mean, WOW! Moreover, I was really taken by surprise when I came home only to hear from my friends that they were glued to my progress as they went about their day, or traveling, or attending weddings, etc. I loved being able to share my entire experience with everyone, the good, the bad, and the oh so ugly and I could feel the love. It was as if I took the entire world and put it in my pocket for the longest run of my life. I never felt alone out there and I suspect this is the reason why. I could feel the energy of all those who supported me and it carried me through. Thank you.
Up until this point, I have run seven marathons, three 50-milers, plus a 54-mile training run, two 50Ks, across the Grand Canyon, and countless shorter distance races since I started racing in 2012 and never, EVER in my life did I experience GI issues….like EVER until this 100-miler. During Lap 1 (0 – 16.66) I realized that something wasn’t right. I became really gassy and bloated (even Amy could see the swelling of my Buddha belly) and I knew that this could be trouble. I was crop dusting the runners behind me…loudly…and there was nothing I could do about that. I knew that it was the Tailwind that I was taking as part of my nutrition. It had made me feel this way during training runs, but I didn’t think that what happened next would happen. By Lap 2 (16.66 – 32.32), the gas moved its way down to my intestines and I started peculating butt coffee. Oh and by the way, lap two is when my uterus decided to chime in and for the first time during months of training, my period was right on time (Oh the joy. Sorry guys…I may have just lost some of you). Anyway, I hoped to make it to the next aid station, but I just couldn’t. All I could keep saying was this is not happening, oh God, this IS really going to happen, and it’s going to happen right now! My eyes swept left to right over and over again trying to find coverage, but there wasn’t much. I finally hopped off to the side of the trail and let epic shit happen. It was dark and I turned off my headlamp so I would be a little less exposed, but there was no doubt the runners that passed had heard, saw, and smelled the offering I was leaving to the trail gods.
After I finished, I cleaned myself up using all the wipes that I had, because I just shit my brains out and there is no way that this is happening again, pulled up my skirt which ended up full of these small spiky hitchhikers which did not feel good going into my ass and lady parts (took forever to pluck them out). Then, it started to happened again. No fucking way. HOW?! WHYYYYYYY? Again, I tried to make it to the next aid station (there was one every 4 miles) and I just couldn’t. I turned to a fellow runner, Karen, and begged her from some tissue (she was my toilet paper angel that day) and let the shit show begin once again. This continued into the beginning of Lap 4 (miles 50 – 66.6), every 30 minutes I’d eat, every 40 minutes I’d shit my brains out. I took some Pepto and by the middle of Lap 4, I was back to normal. Epic shit was over.
Going that Extra Mile
So. I actually ran 101 miles. During Lap 2 (16.66 – 33.32), I was
a little bored so I peaked at my cell phone so focused on the race that I missed a turn. I ended up at a stop sign at a paved road. Ummm…where are all the people? Was this paved road here before? I turned around and saw all these bouncing headlamps about a half mile down the path disappearing into the woods. Are those the 100-miler runners or are they the 100k’s? Should I turn around or am I really supposed to cross this road to the other side? Fuck. I turned back around only to see a thousand reflective flags pointing the way to the course. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Well, it’s been known that I don’t quite do things half-assed and I do like going the extra mile. Why not go that extra mile during a 100-miler? Idiot.
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right
Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
By far my favorite lap was Lap 4 (50 – 66.66). The sun started to come up, the shit show was over and I felt like a new person. My pace had picked back up and I had this wonderful delusion that I could blow through the rest of the race keeping a 9 minute mile. Seriously, I believed it. The sun came up, the rain that came through during the night settled off and I was felling GREAT! Not a bone or muscle in my body hurt, my mind was clear and I was going to finish this race within the next hour because I felt like Super Girl! I relished in this moment for as long as it would allow me to. I felt strong. I was flying. And it was beautiful.
Come with me, I will take you down to the very depths of your soul
And I’ll make you burn
See you, see you in Hell
(See You in Hell by Grim Reaper)
Do you remember in the movie Spinal Tap where they wanted an amplifier to go up to 11? If you haven’t seen the movie, then this analogy will be lost on you, so go watch the movie. The pain crept in during Lap 5 (66.66 – 83.32) and it was
an 11 a freaking 101! I already knew my toes were done for earlier on, but my left knee started to ache and then it hurt like hell. Then my right knee decided to join the party. Funny thing, I said after having a tough 54-mile training run that if I could get to at least 75 miles feeling great, I can run 25 in a lot of pain. But I didn’t know that this kind of pain existed. When my knees started to hurt, the pain made it difficult to run in good form. I ended up doing more of resorting to my hunched-back-T-rex-jog-shuffle, which caused me to whack my big toes (especially my right one) on every fucking rock and goddamned root that was on the trail. By Lap 6 (83.32 – 100) I felt like the pain in my toes was sending me into another dimension. Have you ever whacked your toe so hard that you felt physically nauseous and your eyes start to black out? Imagine that every 20 – 30 feet. It was pure hell. My pacer Amy joined me for the last lap (she had also paced me at Lap 3) and when it got dark, she tried to show me where all the rocks and roots where with her flashlight, but it didn’t matter. I still whacked my toes on them. She might as well have said “Oh…hey…this one looks like it’ll hurt…hit this one!” and I would’ve responded, “Oh yay! I’m going to swing my toe REALLY hard into that one! This is FUN!” And when I wasn’t feeling the pain in my toes, I was feeling the pain in my knees. Glad they decided to take turns screaming bloody murder. Fucking hell.
The struggles I’m facing
The chances I’m taking
Sometimes might knock me down, but
No I’m not breaking
(The Climb by Miley Cyrus)
The mind is a beautiful thing. I knew going into the race that pain is something that I was going to have to deal with and I knew that it was going to be my mind to get me through. I did some research on meditation over the summer and decided to try it for myself. I bought some mala beads, decided what my mantra was going to be for this race, and started practicing my meditation. The day before the race, I went out to the course, sat under a tree and began to visualize the race and meditate. I felt that I needed to be where this was going to go down and get all zen and shit with the course. While I was physically struggling to finish the race during the last 8 miles, my mind was working to keep the focus on putting one busted up foot in front of the other. I began to repeat my race mantra “Strong body, strong heart, strong spirit, patient mind” over and over again. The cadence of the words helped me with shuffling my feet forward and the sound of my voice in my head help dull some of the pain. Going into this mantra was almost reflex. My mind just started repeating my mantra and every time I whacked my toe, I cringed in pain, said a few expletives…quite a few actually, and then fell right back into my mantra. “Strong body, fuck this shit, strong heart, jeezus Christ, strong spirit, holy fucking shit, patient mind, never again! I never experienced pain like this in my life and to be able to push through it and not vomit or quit amazes me. The ability to go to hell with each step and come back from it was something I didn’t know I had in me. My mind was strong when my body was weak. And I did not quit.
I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink
I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink
(I’m So Tired by The Beatles)
From the time that I got up to the time that I went to bed, I was awake for about 40 hours. There were moments during the night run where I would feel so tired and drift off and find myself heading towards a tree or off the side of the trails. And then all of the sudden, I’d get this second wind, then I’d crash, and I’d pick back up. I’d drink the Mountain Dew at the aid stations and switch between caffeinated and non-caffeinated gels and chews during the race, and half way through I did chew on PlowOn gum to give me an extra boost. But still, when you’re so damed tired, there isn’t enough caffiene to keep you awake the entire time. The worst of it was during those last 8 miles. My body was not only tired from running, but the constant pain drained me. But no matter how tired I was, there was never a moment where I felt like giving up or felt that I could not finish the race. My exhausted brain used whatever brain cells that were wake to keep pushing my body forward. Sandy – 1, Sleep Monster – 0.
During lap six I hallucinated. As Amy brushed past a bush, the branch came towards me in the form of a black and white clown arm reaching out to grab me. I blame Michele for planing this image in my brain earlier by showing me a creepy clown picture the previous day. I also had a hummingbird-bee-like creature that hovered in my peripheral vision at the bottom corner of my right eye. I tried to focus on it, but it kept drifting a way like one of those eye-floaties that you get from time to time. I had wondered if I would get to the point where I felt that I was chased by the clown or if I’d run off after the hummingbird thing, but I didn’t. I just smiled to myself and kept on going.
This body. This body holding me.
Be my reminder here that I am not alone in
This body, this body holding me, feeling eternal
All this pain is an illusion.
(Parabola by Tool)
Strange thing happens when you push your body to its limits. Instead of becoming numb, you become aware of everything. At least that’s what happened to me. During the last lap, I could feel every pebble under my feet, each raindrop that touched my skin, and the slightest change in the wind direction. I could hear each leaf rustle, every creature out in the wood, and the sound of my foot shuffles and breath were blasting in my ears. I could smell everything, including the garlic on Amy’s breath even though she was 10-20 feet in front of me. Every muscle let me know that they were still alive and moving, and the pain that pierced my knees and toes became a life-form of its own. I was dead tired, but I was alive. I was a living breathing busted up machine and I was alive. And I was living.
They say sorry that’s a word
They only use too late
Sorry is a word that only ever means
Forgive my yesterdays
(Sorry by The Moody Blues)
I have only one regret from this experience. There were a few runners that I passed towards the end that decided to call it a day. I typically hang back with runners that I see struggling during a race and try to encourage them to keep going. My mind was so focused on finishing this race that I couldn’t think of anything to say but “I’m sorry” or “Hang in there.” But what I should’ve said was, “you’ve come this far, are you sure you want to quit now?” or “just keep going, dig deep and just keep going.” Just anything other than what I said in hopes to give someone enough umph to light that fire back up and keep them going. I feel that I failed those runners and I will never let this happen again. I let you down. I’m sorry.
What happened to you
I never got to tell you you let me down
(You Let Me Down by Black Flag)
I have to admit, not everyone was supportive of my race. I had one special friend, who is also a runner, just kinda flaked out on me. They didn’t support me during training and barely acknowledged that I was attempting this race. And when I finished, I didn’t even so much as get a “congratulations,” or “are you okay,” or “how are you feeling.” And when I reached out to them, I was met with a snippy response. It was heartbreaking really, and while I’m still feeling the sting of it, I will learn to let it go, and it will be okay. I can’t allow one person to take an accomplishment so special to me and sour it. Time will heal this wound. I will forgive. I will move on.
I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. Michele, who is not a runner, was going to be there for emotional support, and Amy – my pacer, was going to be the one to push me in the end when I need it to most to finish the race. They were the perfect team at my beck and call, with smiles on their faces, and words of encouragement. Each one had a different job to do, and they executed it with perfection. They say when you run a 100-miler, you run as a team (unless of course you decide to go unsupported). This is so true. My crew made this race easier for me to handle and while I could have done it without them, I wouldn’t have had such a great experience without them. They took the stress of making sure I had my shit together off of me and they recharged my energy each time I saw their faces. This race is as much theirs as it was mine.
“When you’re down and troubled
and you need a helping hand,
and nothing, whoa nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon i will be there
to brighten up even your darkest nights.”
Michele – While I had SO MUCH support from so many people, there was one person whose excitement was probably greater than mine, my friend Michele. She jumped at the chance and rearranged her schedule so that she could help be a part of my crew even though she hates running. Her infectious energy was so contagious that you couldn’t help but feel excited. She posted updates to Facebook and rallied the troops. In everyone’s life there should be that one person that makes you smile even in your darkest hour. Michele has always been that person. I could have the shittiest day and just call or text her and in an instant, the weight of the world is lifted off of my shoulders. She’s one of my angels on earth. She is my rock.
“Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on”
(Lean on Me by Bill Withers)
Amy – There is something to be said about having a great pacer and Amy is the best. She had paced me during JFK50, so she was pretty familiar with my needs. She stayed positive, kept her eye on the pace, never letting me get too far behind my goal, showed me which rocks to whack my toe on, and knew exactly when to talk to me and when to leave me alone. But what she did for me at about mile 96 was beyond the call of duty. My epic shit had returned. I tried to squat and do my duty, but my quads were not having it. There was no way I could do this unassisted. I asked her if I could hold on to her while I shit once again and without hesitation, she said, “Sure, just don’t poop on my shoe.” And there we were, two runners in the night, one holding the other up, while one delicately placed another offering to the trail gods. No only did Amy held me up while I wiped my ass, she knew exactly what to say at the right moment to get me moving again. “You have 11 minutes to make to to the finish in 29 hours.” That was all I needed. Somehow, I started running again. Not full speed, but I went from a painful stagger to a painful shuffle-jog. And with that fire reignited from within, I finished in 28 hrs, 59 minutes, and 12 seconds.
The sacrifices that they made by taking off of work and flying out to support me can never be repaid. I hope they know how grateful I am to have shared this experience with them and how they will forever be a part of my life’s journey.
Still Searching for Something
All my life I’ve been searching for something
Something never comes never leads to nothing
Nothing satisfies but I’m getting close
Closer to the prize at the end of the rope
(All My Life by Foo Fighters)
Ever since I finished my first marathon, I’ve been chasing that euphoric runner’s high that I felt at the end of the race. There is nothing better in the world than the feeling you get when you cross that finish line, feeling fantastic, and realizing, shit – I. CAN. DO. ANYTHING! I rode that high for days, weeks even. And just like that, I was a running junkie. I signed up for race after race trying to get that euphoric feeling again, but it just didn’t happen. Then I turned to ultras. Perhaps 26.2 just wasn’t going to be enough to get me there, so I signed up for a 50k. Nope, nothing. Then I thought it would happen with my first 50-miler, but it didn’t. Then the next 50-miler…nope. Don’t get me wrong – each race was an achievement and I am very proud of all of them. Some of them took every ounce of me to finish, but none was like the high of the first marathon. So, I had to go for the 100. I was sure that I would find that feeling again after running 100-miles. But I didn’t.
What I learned is that first marathon gave me the power to believe in myself. And the 100-miler just proved to me that by believing in myself I really can do just about anything I wanted to. And weeks after the race, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really no longer about chasing that high. My search has changed from seeking that euphoric feeling to searching for something bigger than myself. It’s about living life to the fullest and having the courage to chase big dreams and experiencing the world around you. It’s about growth, spiritual and mental, and it’s about seeing the world and people with a clarity which you don’t have when you live in a small comfortable box. Going to hell and back has taught me to better appreciate the life that I have – appreciate my physical strength, my mental capacity, my unbreakable spirit, and the love I receive from those who surround me. And while my life is not grandiose, I consider it to be pretty epic.