(warning – some graphic content in here)
I began my 3rd attempt at 100 miles, 2nd time on this course, at 5am Saturday morning, surrounded by friends and fellow Donner Party Mountain Runners. The Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs are practically in my backyard, on the most beautiful trails imaginable, they are filled with familiar faces (we had 25 DPMR’s running the events!), and the volunteers, and especially the race director, George, are all incredible. The course covers about 101.6 miles, all on the east side of Lake Tahoe.
I went into the race with lofty dreams of finishing in the 24 hour range – in 2012, my first 100, I ran this course in 25:12, so I figured I should have improved at least 30 minutes or so in the past 3 years…?
Last summer I ran the 50 mile event, in a time of 9:41, with a faster 2nd half, so I felt pretty confident that I could run the first half in 12 hours and keep an even pace for the second half. My plan was even splits throughout, 7 hours to Diamond Peak, then 5 hours to the 50 mile, then 7 hours back to Diamond Peak, and 5 hours to the finish. No problem.
I enjoyed a few miles with DPMR’s Tom Wroblewski and then the amazing Scott Salisberry, who was running the event despite being only 4 weeks post-surgery from a bad smokejumping crash. Talk about inspiring!
I reached Diamond Peak Lodge about 30 minutes before my projected time, and met up with JP Prince and Jeff Brown. We started the climb together, then gradually spread out, settling into our own paces. Everything was sunshine, happiness, and butterflies until I finished the first Diamond Peak Climb (1700′ climb over 1.8 miles), around mile 32.
As I made my way towards the Tunnel Creek Aid Station, I started to feel depleted and weak. I began to compare my present state with how I felt during my last two 50-milers- and the outlook wasn’t good. I felt worse at 35 miles, than I did in either event, when I was running 2 minutes per mile faster. The negative self-talk began. And it was really, really ugly – I’m not proud of it, but I feel it’s important to acknowledge it, and know that no matter how low you can get – you can always turn it around. Some of the brilliant thoughts included “this is stupid”, “ultras are stupid”, “I’m a loser”, “it doesn’t matter how hard I train if I’m fat I’ll never get faster”, “I wish something bad would happen to me so I could quit”, “I’m not cut out for this”, “I know I promised my pacers I wouldn’t complain but I LIED” and so on and so forth.
It was embarrassing, to hear these thoughts, as I knew they had no place at miles 35, 37, etc, in a 100 mile race. My new goal was to turn around my attitude, and make it to mile 50 (and my first pacer) with a smile and a positive outlook. My pacers, Angela and Audrey, would both be amazing, and take care of everything, as long as I could handle the mental side of things (and the running part).
Time to address the problems that were getting me down – I was hurting – ok, start taking advil. weak- time to switch up the nutrition. depleted- time for my first caffeine. From now on, I would drink Coke at nearly every aid station. When you don’t have soda in “real life” it is highly effective during a race!
These changes and a major conscious effort to be positive worked, and by the time I reached the mile 43 aid station – the adorable boy scouts – I had tears of happiness – and I was now, seriously thinking: I Love 100 mile races!!!
Sure, I felt like an emotional train wreck, with the extreme low followed by tears of joy, but I was PMS-ing (how unfair for women by the way, to have to deal with that during a 100!), and it was mile 43 on my feet…
I met Angela at the 50 mile mark, about 10 minutes ahead of schedule (11:50 first lap), and we took off very quickly after hitting the aid station. From here forward, I would not need to worry about when and what to drink, eat, etc – Angela was in charge. All I had to do was keep moving.
Angela filled me in on who had passed through, and how they looked. She estimated that I was in the top 10 women… exciting!
The next 30 miles were pure bliss- we caught up on life, while catching up with the other runners, one at a time… and I was absolutely amazed, that my body was hanging on, running strong I dare say, and not totally falling apart, as I had feared would happen during my low point.
I tried to ignore my watch except to look once in awhile to see if we might still make the Diamond Peak (mile 80) aid station by my goal of midnight.
As we moved up into 7th, then 6th, place, despite slightly slowing down, my time goal started to seem less relevant. We were having FUN. And that was the important thing. Our headlamps went on about mile 65, and now we were running in the dark. I forgot how fun that can be!
My legs felt great, with the help of frequent applications of Arnica cream, my stomach was good as far as the top half goes, but I was starting to deal with the effects of all-day diarrhea. It was definitely a pain in the ass (ha ha ha), to have to stop to go to the bathroom every hour or so (for, oh, maybe 20 hours of the race?), but I was very grateful to have a pacer with a strong stomach (mother of 4 – she has seen worse), and I cheered myself up by thinking of the alternative- I’d much rather be dealing with this than with vomiting, which is a stark reality for many ultrarunners. She texted ahead to the crew meeting us at mile 80 to come prepared with some diaper rash ointment.
On the long stretch down to the Diamond Peak Lodge, we were able to pass 3 woman – which, by our estimate, should have brought me into 3rd place – I tried not to get too excited, as we really wouldn’t know until we hit the aid station.
After running 75 miles, all day and into the night, things start to look really interesting from the light of the headlamp. There were 3d flowers zooming up at me from the sides of the trail, sweet little beetles and spiders darting around, and really interesting shapes forming just beyond the side- who knew there were elephants on the Tyrollean Downhill?
We cruised into the Diamond Peak Lodge, mile 80, around 12:30am, and were greeted by a party of dear friends, and my amazing crew, JP Prince (who had ran the 50 mile race himself earlier in the day! no sleep for him). JP quickly checked me in, informed me I was in 3rd place, and the 2nd place woman had just left after sitting down for a bit!), and I needed to get myself together and get out! Audrey (my second superstar pacer of the day) and JP had me refueled and heading out the door with my poles very quickly. I don’t know how long I was there, but I would dare say it was no more than 10 minutes, and possibly my longest stop of the run?
We hit the Diamond Peak Climb, and discussed a strategy – take our time here, as there was still a good bit of climbing to do, and try to catch her on the downhill section instead. The last thing i wanted was to get passed on a downhill after chasing her up the climb! On the way up, I couldn’t help but think of my friend Gretchen’s reference to the “Cliffs of Insanity” here – it was so true – especially with watching the lights moving up the hill in front of us, and the ones creeping up below – it was hard not to go crazy worrying about being caught.
Despite our strategic “slowing down”, with the help of my poles, my time the 2nd time up the DP climb at mile 80 was 1 minute faster than the first time at mile 30 – that was unexpected.
About two miles after completing the climb, we caught the 2nd woman. Audrey and I exchanged a quiet “yay”, but I could feel she was working hard to keep me focused. “It’s a race all the way to the finish, Jenelle”.
It became a bit of a slog (still moving strong, but difficult to run anything but the downhills- and there isn’t much of that) heading towards the Hobart Aid Station (mile 90). We left the station walking, when I asked Audrey what time it was “3:57”. I was deflated – I had really thought that I would be able to finish under 25 hours (which would mean before 6:00am). Audrey did some calculations, and we decided that it was possible to at least better my time from 2012 (25:12) if I could push the last 10-11 miles- and heck, even if we didn’t make it, it would feel good to finish this thing giving it everything. you’ve. got.
The running began again, and charging up Snow Valley Peak climb, we passed 3 runners who had left the last aid station ahead of us. Audrey’s regular, quiet reassurance and encouragement was just what I needed – she didn’t make me feel like I was slow (when I slowed down) and at the same time, made me want to go faster to get the quiet and reassuring “nice” or “well done”.
With about 4 miles to go, I asked Audrey to call my kids, who were boarding a plane in Milwaukee, for their first solo flight, to meet their dad in Boston. I had really wanted to finish before they left (6:10am my time), but it wasn’t looking good, so I at least wanted to wish them well. My amazing pacer was able to dial the number, call them, and hold the phone on speaker for me, all while we were running, trying to beat the clock, so we could chat. The kids were super excited about the race, and hearing their voices made me want to go faster and make them proud.
With about 3 miles to go, I saw the last aid station – woo hoo!! There was a blue and white tent with a few people milling around. I pointed it out to Audrey – success – and – poof – it was gone. Just an illusion.
With 2 miles to go, we were running as fast as I could – and then the aid station really was there, as well as a runner that I had leap-frogged with the entire race. I finally passed him for good – yay.
With 1.5 miles to go, Audrey told me I was going to have to run as hard as I ever have in my life, but she knew I could do it. It wasn’t going to be easy, but it would be worth it. I told her “ok, but I have to go to the bathroom”. She said,
“Jenelle, pee your pants, poop your pants like Helen, I don’t care, we are getting you to the finish on time”.
I really didn’t want to, but apparently I took her up on her challenge, because with about 1/2 mile to go, “shit happened” and both backs of my legs were now completely covered in brown goo (or poo, rather). She continued to push me, running with the most uncomfortable feeling imaginable- I considered going to the car first to change – “you can still do this Jenelle, keep at it, you are strong. You are still your beautiful and glamorous self – no one will know – they will think you ran through a mud puddle” (there was no mud on the trail). I knew how silly it was to think I was anywhere near “glamorous” at the moment, but Audrey had a way with her words, and I smiled through the mess, and powered through.
We rounded Spooner Lake and she got me to the finish line (with a big crowd cheering and apparently not noticing my “situation”), in 25 hours, 10 minutes. 2nd female, (18th overall) and a two minute PR. 🙂
JP was there to see me finish, help me hobble to a bathroom with a ton of wet wipes and sanitizer, and then get me the heck out of there.
After a long shower, a nap, a whole lot of whining (everything hurt!!), JP took me back (against my will) to the buckle ceremony.
It was so worth it – I love hearing every person’s name and time called off, and seeing them hobble up to collect their buckle. Every single one of them must have had a life-changing adventure out there- whether it was their first or 20th – How lucky we all are to have these experiences!
I will definitely be back.
I can’t thank Audrey and Angela enough – you ladies were un-f-ing-believable pacers. I can’t believe the crap you put up with – literally. I’m so fortunate to have you as friends.
I am also forever grateful to JP for the support before, during, and after the race.
And my kids, for supporting me throughout and cheering me on! Love you two!
Last but not least, thank you to my coach, Meghan, for the guidance and support throughout training.