Stumbling and staggering up and over Snow Valley Peak, pain radiating down my legs with every step, blisters exploding underfoot like deep shards of glass, I fantasized about “getting” to drop at the next aid station – mile 93 – surely they won’t let me go on when they see my feet. Nearly 24 hours into the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 – my fifth one – all I could think about was dropping.
My pacer, Javier, practically ran circles around me snapping photos of the sunrise. I knew I wasn’t appreciating the beauty – I didn’t deserve to be out there. Just like I wasn’t thrilled when I saw the sunset so many hours earlier. The timing of each were brilliant reminders that I was slower than expected. My negativity was embarrassing and all-consuming.
After more than two years of freedom from NSAIDs while running, I was back at it – rotating ibuprofen and Tylenol, trying to numb the debilitating pain in my knee, legs, and feet. I really believed I’d mastered how to accept the pain and run through it. When others told me about resorting to pain pills during their races or long runs I thought yep, that used to be me. Not anymore.
What happened to me? The first 50 miles went off quite beautifully, despite my water bladder malfunctioning – getting soaked with a sticky liquid 2 miles into a 100 miler was inconvenient, but not unmanageable.
I had a blast running my favorite sections of the course, cheering on other runners, I loved seeing my friends at Tunnel Creek Aid and Diamond Peak, but somehow in that last stretch down to the halfway point my legs really began to lock up, and the tighter they got, the angrier my left knee became.
When I picked up my first pacer, my good friend Jeff Gould, at mile 50, I briefly saw my coach, Meghan Laws, at the aid station. It hurts! I said. Is it going to get better?
Well. You’ll get to a point where it doesn’t hurt any worse. So that’ll make it better.
I wasn’t patient enough to wait for that to happen. Instead, I popped two ibuprofen and within 15 minutes, I could run again.
The results were incredible – my pace picked up and we cruised easily for a couple hours.
The rest of the night was a mixed bag – joy at being able to run (in the 20 minutes to 3 hours after a pill) to a sickening sense of dread when it would wear off. As the pain enveloped me I repeatedly told myself how lovely I’d felt until mile 50 – and how great the 50-mile distance is. Why would anyone want to go further? What was the point?
I really do love the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 – it’s my favorite race, over my favorite distance, with some of my favorite people in the world working at the various aid stations. But I was not having a good time for most of those last 50 miles. I didn’t like what I’d become – I’d lost my mental game and felt like an addict relapsing after 2 years.
Javier had promised me I’d feel better when the sun came up, and that, along with 2 more ibuprofens at mile 94, allowed us to run the final stretch to the finish. Javier entertained me with stories about neural implants by Elon Musk’s new company, the latest technology being used in Teslas, the new tracking system for the Castle Peak 100k, his daughter Clara’s science camp at Stanford, and so forth. I fantasized about a neural implant in my brain that would block the pain.
Gretchen (who’d volunteered at Diamond Peak all day and into the night) and Steve (who’d driven me to my start, then run the 50 miler, and still met me at Diamond Peak in the middle of the night) met us near the finish, along with my pacer from earlier, Jeff. Once the finish line was in sight I began to forget my commitment to never run a 100 miler again.
I crossed the line at 7:26 am, quite pleased with my time considering the many hours of negativity I’d experienced – it felt like I’d been on course much longer than that. I’m very grateful to both Jeff and Javier for giving up their weekends to pace me, and I’m sorry I wasn’t my usual chipper self out there. I’m thankful for my friends at the Donner Party Mountain Runners for all their help at the Diamond Peak Aid Station, and my Silver State Strider friends for their incredible support at the Tunnel Creek Aid Station. I’m grateful to my kids and Steve for putting up with me during the months of training leading up to the race – their support and love is invaluable. Finally, thanks to my coach Meghan for the years of guidance.
It’s taken me several months to write this recap because my feelings from miles 50-100 were so embarrassing. Now that some time has passed, I’m trying to focus on what I can do to go into my next race better prepared, physically and mentally.