“Whoa, look, you don’t want to end up like that guy!”
“wait, is it a guy or a girl?”
“I can’t tell…”
How had I become “that guy“, an example of “what not to do” in this race? Lying in an indiscernible pile on the ground, mile 65, 10:00 pm or so, at the psychedelic Alice and Wonderland -themed Red House Aid Station, I listened as an intermittent stream of runners entered, refueled, and then continued on their way. The sting of being passed had faded over the past 6 hours, after being reduced to a jog-walk-stop-poop rotation for the past 20 miles, until I could go no more. I had fallen down the rabbit hole.
No stranger to GI issues during 100 milers, this time was different: sharp, stabbing stomach cramps left me frozen in place, doubled-over with pain. I’d entered mile 50 in tears, not wanting to continue, pleading, “I can’t finish this if I can’t take any calories in!” to which Chaz replied, “use some from here!” as he pinched my waist, “or here!” – my arm. My friends kicked me out and sent me off with Lucas, my boyfriend and pacer who’d been sentenced to pace me the last 50 miles.
My legs felt strong, but running didn’t last more than 5-10 minutes before I had to stop and hold my stomach, or hide behind a bush. I wanted to stop at Hobart, mile 56, but my friends just laughed and pushed me on. We came across Jim Buckley about halfway to Tunnel Creek, and I laid down in the snow as we discussed our various ailments – I enjoyed hearing his story; misery loves company. Jim shared a few ginger chews, which would become my primary fuel source for the next several hours.
I was negative. It was ugly. Lucas never told me, “you can’t stop”, but he made suggestions like, “think about why you wanted to do this” and “think about why you love it out here”. I couldn’t come up with any reasons. I was a disaster.
I’d been dreading the Tunnel Creek Aid Station (which we loop past 6 times total during the race), as I knew that Jill Anderson, Kaycee Green, John Trent, JoAnn Ellero, Michelle Edmonson and countless other happy, encouraging volunteers would be there, with their relentlessly cheerful “never give up” attitude. They would be a tough crowd to convince that I was dropping. Sure enough, they smiled and joked and pushed me on towards the dreaded Red House Loop.
We watched the last, glorious light of day fade as we descended into the Red House Loop, which is the “Taste of Hell” referenced in the TRT race slogan. We trudged down 1,000 feet to the bottom of the 6.2 mile loop and began to climb back up towards the aid station, as I convinced myself “enough is enough”. I was certain that if I kept going, I’d end up with serious stomach problems that would land me in the ER, and being sick for days was not an option. This was DUMB. I run 100s because they are fun and I love the experience – this was not fun and I was a mess. I wanted out.
I thought about Lucas, and how miserable he must be, plodding along with me, at a pace of 1-2 miles per hour (and slowing), listening to me whine and complain nearly the entire time. Comforting me when I’d sit on the side of the trail, holding me as I cried. I’d completely failed – I went into the race feeling so good, so confident… and now it was over. I told Lucas I needed to lay down, so we did, right on the trail. Headlamps would approach, runners would ask if they could help, (they couldn’t) and move on. Laying down was less difficult then walking, but I was still gripped with pain each time my stomach seized up. There was no relief, so I got up and trudged along.
The Red House Aid Station would not be an easy place to drop – we couldn’t get out until the aid station closed, many hours later, so one of the volunteers brought me a sleeping pad from their own tent, and covered me in a quilt. I pulled it up over my head and laid there, bracing myself as the waves of stomach cramps continued. I thought about friends who’d had miserable stomach ailments but didn’t give up – Carrie did it twice here and survived. Chris just gutted out major issues at Western States and finished. I thought about Michelle who had given EVERYTHING she had, to be timed out by the clock at mile 85. My friend Sharon, who had pushed herself to mile 92 last year, with a completely messed up back. None of them gave up. I wanted to call each of them. HOW did you keep going? WHY did you keep going??
Perhaps an hour passed (time was no longer of consequence), when I decided to attempt the 3 mile climb back up to the Tunnel Creek Aid Station to officially drop. I just couldn’t do this anymore. Based on how long it took us to get down here, I thought it might take 3 hours to get out. Lucas and I headed into the darkness. By some small miracle, I started jogging. The stomach cramps came less often. I thought about the friends who were injured and would have given anything to be in my place, diarrhea fest and all, for the opportunity to run. I thought about my kids, who would be so disappointed if I quit. I thought about my friends Sharon and Sean who were still out on course. I thought about Lindsay, who I ran the first hour with, who didn’t give up despite major foot and stomach issues.
Maybe I could do it. We got back to the Tunnel Creek Aid Station (in way less than 3 hours), with my favorite volunteers cheering us in, and I told Lucas, “I’d like to try and make it to Diamond Peak”. But first, I needed to rest. JoAnn and Mike helped me to a cot.
Shortly after laying down, I felt a baby kicking around in my stomach. I pulled back my shirt and watched as something protruded out and around – I asked Mike Holmes, aid station captain, if this was normal. “Am I pregnant?”
“No, that is just an alien”, he reassured me.
Mike gave me a little cup of noodles with broth- the most calories I’d had in over 8 hours. It was delicious. Coming back to life, Lucas and I headed out towards Diamond Peak, and I concentrated on the good things, like: my legs still felt great, the bathroom breaks were less frequent, and we’d see Spike soon to care for my feet. This was now my longest run without ibuprofen.
Coming into mile 80, I felt like I was almost home. One aid station at a time. If I wanted to survive, I’d need to fuel up and rest a little before the climb- even though my legs felt good, I was weakened from so many hours without food. More broth and noodles, foot care by Spike, and it was time for a nap.
30-40 minutes of rest and it was time to get moving. I’d been on course for nearly 25 hours- last year I was already finished by now, packing up to head home. Let that thought come and go…
This was my 4th Tahoe Rim Trail 100. I’d gone into the race with high hopes. I trained harder than ever, with the guidance of my coach, Meghan Arbogast. Physically, I was ready to run a PR. As it turned out, this race was all about the mental game, and I wasn’t ready for that.
Work and family obligations had ruled the week leading up to the race, and I didn’t allow myself to even think about the race until the night before- at which point I ended up completely panicked, hyperventilating and crying on the floor in the shower. I could already taste my fate.
During the race, when things turned sour, and the cramping became intense, I’d let myself think, “there’s no way I’m going to finish this”. And once I told myself “there is no way”, it took about 8 hours to overcome that nonsense, and pull myself together. I couldn’t have done that alone. There are too many people to thank, but you know who you are (some of you weren’t even there, so maybe you don’t know who you are. But I know, and I’m forever indebted to you).
Miles 80-95 were the some of the most glorious and triumphant of my life. I cried tears of joy when I reached the Tunnel Creek Aid Station for the 6th and final time, and my Silver State Strider friends gave me the loudest standing ovation I’ve ever had. JoAnn and everyone hugged me, Mike yelled “Still got the squirts?!” and Lucas and I pushed onward- I was definitely going to finish this thing.
Miles 95-100 were the hardest of my life. Everything hurt. But I was doing it. I was finishing what I started. Before the race, Lucas had sent me some advice, including, “a laugh or a cry is 100x more potent than ibuprofen”. These words carried me through the pain. And I finally allowed myself to truly feel a hundred miler – nothing to numb it. I was alive, my senses were heightened.
My friend Betsy met us about 2.5 miles from the finish – Betsy had coached and crewed me through my first TRT100 in 2011, and now she was back, yelling and screaming and cheering us in. She pushed us to the finish line, where I was greeted by my beautiful friends, who had all played a part in getting me through this day. More happy tears. It was over.
I quickly surrendered to the best nap of my life.