Friday my friend Jamie and I made the 4 hour drive to Bishop, for what was to be her 3rd running of the Bishop 100k (she won the first year and took 2nd last year), and my first 100k ever. We went to the pre-race dinner on Friday night, where the race director at one point said, “The course is extremely well marked. In fact, I challenge any of you to get lost, it’s impossible”. Somehow, subconsciously, I guess I took her up on the challenge.
Saturday morning we arrived Millpond Park at 5:15 a.m., just as the sun was rising, and we were fairly relaxed and ready to go at the 6:00 start. There were around 300 runners, for 4 events, 20 mile, 50k, 50m, and 100k. We took off and Jamie and I put on our music and wished each other a good day. I kept her in sight for the first couple of aid stations, but as the course slowly climbed on a very sandy (think beach running but with no water in sight) road from the starting elevation of 4432′, up to 9356′ at mile 20, I had lost her.
The first 20 miles I kept an average pace of 4.7 miles per hour, then, with relief that the rest of the course would be lower, I was able to pick it up to a blistering 5 miles per hour overall pace on the way back down. Despite the heat (high of 87 degrees), winds, sandy terrain, and blazing sun (less than a 1/4 mile of the entire race had shade of any kind) I was feeling pretty decent until mile 36, when I rolled my ankle pretty badly (the ankle I keep re-spraining every month). I yelled out in pain, tried to walk it off, cried as I stumbled along, for about a mile, and then tentatively started running again. I decided it would probably be o.k.
It worked! I was beginning to get my confidence back when I got to the Tungsten City aid station, and immediately noticed a sign that said “Mile 48.6”. My watch said I had only gone 37.5 miles so far… I inquired, panicking, how I could be so far off, and the volunteers looked me up on the course log, called the other aid stations with their radios, and determined that I had missed a 2nd loop at the Edison Aid Station, and instead followed the runners who were doing the 50k course. I couldn’t believe it. After 7+ hours of running, I was going to get shut down. The aid station volunteers were awesome, they offered to drive me back to the Edison Loop so I could make up the distance, but first had to check with the race director to make sure that would be legit. She said no. She told them I was officially disqualified from both the 100k and 50 mile events, but that if I wanted to run the final 1.5 miles to the finish (for a total of 39 miles), she would give me credit for finishing the 50k race (31 miles). I couldn’t help but cry, as I started off downhill towards the finish. I had signed up for this race in October, and had it in my mind ever since, on every training run, every race since then, leading up to this day, this goal. And it was over now because I missed a stupid sign. I thought about what would happen if I went to the finish- maybe rinse off in the outdoor shower, put my sundress on, have a beer, and then, probably be really depressed about missing this run, while I waited for hours and hours for the 100k runners to finish. I made the decision that I was not going to quit, even if they told me to. I was out here to run, and I wasn’t ready to give up yet.
I pulled it together, stopped the tears, turned around, and told the guys at the aid station I wasn’t finished. I would do the additional 100k section (a 12 mile out and back in the opposite direction), and try to add on to it to make up my own course. They got really fired up about it, cheered me on and I took off. The additional 100k loop section was, in my opinion, probably the cruelest section of the entire course, and possibly the cruelest thing a race director would do to someone running the 100k. When the runners get to the Tungsten aid station, the 50 mile runners turn right, to go downhill, about 1.5 miles to the finish. The 100k runners go left to do the additional 12 mile out and back, and then turn right when they get back to the Tungsten aid station to finish 1.5 miles of the course. Only catch is, the race allows you to change your distance to the 50 mile event at this aid station. So AFTER running for 48.6 miles, you have to consciously decide to add on the grueling 12 mile section OR turn right and run the easy 1.5 miles to the finish and still get a finisher’s medal.
As I took off, the heat really started to hit me, and I regretted almost instantly that I hadn’t refilled my water bottles at the aid station. I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly… I also regretted (again) that I hadn’t studied the course, and didn’t even know if I would see another aid station on this section. I had about 1/2 bottle of water left in each hand, so I figured I would keep going. It was primarily uphill, climbing about 1,000 feet over 4 miles, which isn’t very steep, but it felt really hard with the heat, lack of cold water, loneliness of the empty course, and not knowing where the next aid station would be. I was elated when I reached the high point and saw a big aid station set up at the bottom of the hill I was on. I ran down, and one of the men ran up to meet me, calling out, “you’re in first place! you’re our first runner! What do you need??!!”
I sadly informed him that I had been disqualified and was just running for “fun” now. As we approached the aid station, and he told the other guys what was up, they seemed as excited with my story as if I had actually been in first place. They couldn’t believe that I was still out there when I wasn’t going to get credit for it. They were still happy to take care of me, fill my bottles with ice, give me fresh watermelon, and show me on a map (which I warned them was pretty useless to me; obviously), where I could go to add on to the course. Just as I was about to take off, the first place male came strolling up, took his time through the aid station, and sauntered off, walking. He was an hour and a half ahead of the next runner, and not really worried about it. Made it look totally effortless. I followed him down the steep switchbacks (at a much, much slower pace), which descended about 1,000 feet down to the valley floor. There was a bag tied to a post at the bottom with poker chips in it, I grabbed one (souvenir, as the race director didn’t care if I made it there or not) and continued on the trail, thinking I could add on about 10 miles here to get my total distance up to 62 miles.
I soon realized this was not going to happen, as the temperatures were only climbing, the nausea I had started experiencing on the way down was getting worse, and I was slowed to a walk, barely able to even run the downhill sections. And most importantly, I only had 2 bottles of water, each only 1/2 full. The ice had all melted within 5 minutes of leaving the aid station, and by now, the water was warm. I had only added on about 4 miles to the poker chip turn-around, and it had taken everything out of me.
I turned back and began making my way back to the poker chip stand, and climbed up the steep switchbacks to the aid station. When I was almost to the top, Jamie came running down past me. She still looked really strong, and was a little confused as to what I was doing. I told her I was DQ’d, but I didn’t know if she really heard me. She was still listening to her music; I had to shut mine off when I was on the valley floor, I couldn’t concentrate on staying upright with the distraction from the music any longer. When I got to the aid station at the top, they greeted me like an old friend- “Jenelle! Where have you been! We went looking for you, we were worried!” Apparently, they had taken their jeep but turned right at an intersection where I had turned left.
I hung out with them for probably 20 minutes this time, had ginger ale with ice, a bottle of Ensure over ice (maybe this was where I went wrong??), ice in my water bottles, and they sent me off with a cheese quesadilla. The cold beverages and calories seemed to revive me, as I cruised down the hills towards the Tungsten Aid station quite comfortably. Runners were starting to stream up the course again and it didn’t feel so lonely to be out there. When my watch read around 49 miles, I came upon a woman I had greeted earlier in the day on the course. She asked what had happened to me, and I turned around and started walking back up the course with her, telling her my story. She too was having a rough day, due to a pain in her hip that made her all but decide to downgrade to the 50 mile distance but something made her keep pressing on.
I decided right then to accompany her back to the poker chip turnaround, so I could get more miles in, as she seemed to be going about my pace and was very friendly. Jamie passed us on her way down to the finish, I tried to tell her I was now pacing Diana to the finish, and Jamie just said, kind of miserably “I am SO over this”. She was still in 2nd place, and looked strong, but the heat and conditions had definitely taken a toll on her as well. Diana and I had a great time struggling up the hills together, pushing each other on, sharing stories, running when we could, and the guys at the aid station were bewildered when I showed up yet again. We quickly filled our waters and took off down the steep incline to the poker chip, then made our way back up.
At the aid station (for the 4th and final time for me) we re-filled bottles and headed back towards the Tungsten aid station. The nausea had returned for me again on the way up the steep incline from the poker chip turnaround, and it only got worse as we went along. My new dear friend, Diana, told me a rather graphic story of her experience following the Angeles Crest 100 the previous year, that put me over the edge. I couldn’t believe how horrible I felt, that I couldn’t pull out of it, and I couldn’t do better than WALK down hill. I encouraged Diana to go faster, as she seemed to have gotten a 2nd (or 10th) wind, and she still had a shot of beating her time from the previous year if she ran it in to the finish. And, she was in 5th place! She didn’t want to leave me, but I told her that was ridiculous, and she had to go. Thankfully, she obliged, and it wasn’t long before I completely lost sight of her.
The rest of the 3 miles down to the Tungsten Aid Station were likely the toughest I have ever experienced. The sun was going down, so it was not as hot, there was even a light breeze, but I could not shake the nausea for anything. I couldn’t even sip my water for the final hour, the feeling had gotten so bad. My mind was telling me just to pull it together and run, downhill, for God’s sake, to the stupid finish line. It was only about 5 miles to the finish from where I was, but all I felt like doing was lying down on the side of the road and begging the next runner I saw to send for help. I really didn’t think I would make it. Each time I rounded a corner I thought, oh SURELY, this must be the last stretch before the aid station. I just know it is coming up. But no, it never came. Until it finally did, and I almost fell over with relief. When I finally stumbled up to it, all I could say was “I need a ride. I’m sick”. They were really excited to see me, remembered my name, told me that they had made me an “award” couldn’t believe I was still flipping out there, 7 hours after they had disqualified me, and most importantly, they were anxious to help.
One guy set me up in a chair, another got an army blanket, and they basically hand-fed me pieces of saltine cracker and gingerale, until I could talk. They tried calling down to page my friend Jamie, who had now finished hours before, but couldn’t locate her, so they arranged for someone else to come retrieve me. When the guys from the aid station put me in the car, one of them told me, “that was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, what you did out there today. You should be really proud.” I told him I felt like a total loser, but thanks…
I got a ride to the finish, where the race director instructed me to go to the first aid tent and wait for them to assess me. Jamie came running up then, she had gotten the message to pick me up, but missed me on the way. She told me about the “award” the aid station guys had made, it was a piece of cardboard with a bunch of peanuts glued to it, for having the “biggest nuts out there today”. They had been scrambling around trying to find it, but Jamie didn’t have time to wait, as she didn’t want someone to drive away from the finish area thinking she had left.
Jamie brought me back to the hotel room, where Betsy and Paul met us, and Betsy proceeded to take care of me, forcing me to shower (thank God), rubbing Traumeel on my legs, getting bags of ice, propping me up on pillows, and forcing the fluids. I couldn’t eat anything until the next morning when Jamie brought me some bland food, of which i had a few bites, and then couldn’t eat anything until 8 p.m. Sunday night. I slept almost the entire 4 hour drive home (thanks for driving, Jamie), then crawled into bed and slept for 5 more hours, got up around 7:30 pm (totally missed the eclipse and didn’t even care), ate 1/2 a sandwich and went back to bed to sleep a full night.
While I was death marching the last 3 miles to that final aid station, I told myself I was DONE with this crap. Just not cut out for it. Why not stick to 1/2 marathons? And maybe a marathon now and then? This was absolute torture, and there was no good reason for it. And if I couldn’t even make it 60 miles, there was no way I could make it 100.