Date: July 25
Horizontal: 64.6 miles
Vertical: 13,000 feet of gain and 13,000 feet of loss
Goal: To finish within the 24 hour cut-off
Spoiler Alert: The Never Summer 100K was beyond a doubt the hardest day I’ve had in the mountains, and I’m so freaking proud of myself I can’t even hold out until the end of this post to tell you I finished. I FINISHED!
Until this race, the furthest I had ever “run” (or run-hiked, to be more accurate) was 53 miles. To put it in context, that race was so much easier it only took me 12 hours and 41 minutes. But this course had far more elevation gain, and at an average altitude of 10,000 feet, oxygen-deprivation was a factor. The terrain was even more of an issue. The trails were so technical with many, many downed trees and alpine ridge-lines that even much of the flatter and downhill stretches were next to impossible to run. Plus the mud! Miles of mud.
How did I finish? Things done right:
1) I ran a smart race starting with adequate (and time consuming!) race prep:
2) I made friends
In the first few miles, I happened to run alongside a friend who just completed the Hardrock 100 ultra-marathon in the San Juan Mountains. (Colorado’s hardest ultra, and yes, he was running this 100K only two weeks later.) He was nice enough to entertain me in those early miles by telling me all of his stories from that race (Thanks, Alan!) As we hit the first big climb, I let him scoot ahead of me but it didn’t take long to make more friends. It’s amazing how there is so much comradery up there no one feels like a stranger. Swapping stories about our favorite races and mountain runs kept my mind off of the mileage.
Fatigue and afternoon heat started to affect me in the 20’s, but I partnered with a woman who kept me moving at a decent pace. (Thanks, Alexis!)
Besides Alexis, whose background was fairly similar to mine, every other person I spoke with on the trail was a far more experienced ultra runner and had already completed several 100 mile races. When I asked one woman if she had ever run a 100, she said, “Oh, only six!” Another man who was 60 averaged four to six 100-mile ultras a year. Phenomenal athletes, every single one of them.
3) I looked up from my feet.
The first thirty miles in particular were spectacularly beautiful. Many times I stopped running not because the trail was too steep or technical but because I wanted to see the mountains. I loved every summit, ridge, and valley.
4) I bribed friends to pace for me. (What do I owe you by the way??)
The 30’s were the roughest part of the race. Fatigue hit me hard, and the afternoon sun was scorching. My only real mistake was carrying one liter of water through that 10-mile section when I should have had much more. I was getting dehydrated and dizzy, and tired enough that I stopped and sat a few times. Plus, my headache had been as good as it gets the first half of the race, but at mile 28 or so, I ran straight into a tree trunk that had fallen across the trail. My head smacked so hard against it I had to sit. I had been watching my feet too intently as I ran. Dumb, I know!My head started pounding after that, and it didn’t recover until much later. The only thing that kept me motivated those tough miles was that I knew I had a friend waiting for me at mile 39. From there Renee followed behind me on the trail and we had so much to discuss (as friends do!) the miles once again went by quickly. (Thank you, Renee!)
5) I packed pants.
At first the setting sun meant relief from the heat. But it didn’t take long for that relief to turn to more discomfort. The temperature plummeted and creek crossings and mud kept my feet wet. Fortunately, unlike many runners, I packed pants, a jacket, and gloves in my mile 50 drop bag. Otherwise I would have been forced to drop.
6) I got mad.
At mile 50, my husband Nick took over pacing for Renee. Up until that aid station, I had stayed just ahead of my goal time that would bring me to the finish within the cut-off. But when Nick and I set off together, I was 10 minutes behind. There was no way I wasn’t going to finish the race, and I was determined to make up those lost minutes.
At that point it was midnight. Even with a nearly full moon and our headlamps, following the pink flagging staked in the ground and tied to tree branches took both of us. By mile 56, I realized I likely wouldn’t have even an extra minute to spare. Adrenaline pushed me up that last big climb, but the terrain at the top was so tough on the other side, we weren’t moving faster even with the benefit of the downhill. The mud was deep and we were often sinking to our shins. One mile took us a full 30 minutes. That’s when I got mad. There’s no way in hell I was going to let stupid mud keep me from finishing in time.
Just as the sun began to lighten the sky on that second morning, I crossed the finish line in a time of 23 hours and 49 minutes. Out of the 200 runners who began the race, 25% had dropped out. I was the final finisher.
In the ultra-world, a community filled with respect and comradery, final finishers are often the most celebrated. (They are also called, jokingly, DFL or “dead fucking last.”) As I crossed the finish line, a crowd of other runners cheered me on. At the award ceremony later that morning, the race director presented me with a plaque carved from a cross section of a tree trunk. It’s so beautiful I may have nudged over my wedding picture a few inches on the fireplace mantle to make room for it. (Sorry, honey!)
And check it out: I made the official race recap!
How do I feel about finishing this race last? Proud. So, so proud.