Badger Mountain 50 Miler Race Report

Yesterday, my friend Ana—of Will Run for Whisky fame—pointed out that winter is a great time to catch up on the past season’s race and trip reports. My kids and work have filled all of my nonrunning time, and I’ve missed the chance to reflect on my adventures so I’m giving it a try. I actually started this race report right after the race (um … yes, that was last April) and here was my lead:

“Running is stupid! I’m never running again!”

Ha! Well, that sounds like a typical ultra, doesn’t it?

It certainly wasn’t the mantra I had intended to have looping through my mind on this race, but it’s the one that stuck. That loop occasionally was replaced with a checklist of all the things I was going to unregister for when I was done. I think I ended up doing everything I had planned, so NEVER listen to yourself seriously when you’re struggling during an ultra!

The Badger Mountain Challenge—which offers 100- and 50-mile and 50K and 15K courses—is one of those small community races that is growing but still holding on to its roots. It has a great community feel, where you can tell many of the volunteers live locally, know each other, and come back every year to support the race and the runners.

It’s in the Tri-Cities area of south-central/eastern Washington, where Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco are all closely collocated at the confluence of the Yakima, Snake, and Columbia Rivers in the Columbia Basin. I was kind of geeking out, because I’m a total fan of the Mercy Thompson stories by Patricia Briggs. A few years ago, after running Beacon Rock 50K, I went home the long way so I could visit the “Stonehenge” memorial on the Columbia River just because there was a pivotal scene set there in one of the Mercy Thompson books. In the series, Mercy and all her buddies and enemies live in the Tri-Cities. So, gah, geekdom struck! I was hoping to see a fae or two, but no such luck. Then again, since they’re usually pretty scary in the books, maybe that’s just as well.

The course starts at the base of Badger Mountain at 7 a.m. After a brief section of double track, the trail narrows to single track and heads uphill. Aside from a small section early on, this trail is PLUSH! It’s smooth and very well maintained! We climbed our way to the top of Badger, and then headed down—this section was FAST. I didn’t have to worry about where my feet were going and I could just let go. Wheeee!

A quick road section connects the Badger Mountain trail system with Candy Mountain. After a quick jaunt through the parking lot there, and then through the first aid station, we found ourselves back on more pretty and well-maintained single track. This course chooses to go up everything it can, so of course we went to the top of Candy Mountain. There are grand views of the Tri-Cities and off to the next ridge line we would climb: breathtaking on the one hand, but also a little intimidating—as in, wait, I’m going up there, all the way over there?!

The descent down the far side of Candy Mountain was a loose, rocky, rutted, steep jaunt, which is my kind of trail. I spent a lot of it thinking about how much Ana, who was running the 50K the next day on the same course, would absolutely hate it. (She did.) At the bottom, we made a quick dogleg and then entered a long culvert (long enough it gets pretty dark inside) which allowed us to cross below a highway to connect with the next section of the course. I was with several guys as we exited the culvert, and they went the wrong way, so I did too. Doh! We quickly recognized our mistake, backtracked, and got back on course.

The next section is along the road for a few miles, and it was here I started struggling a bit—and hence the “I quit running” mantra I was chanting by the end. (I later found out that my problems were partially caused by a medicine I was taking that gave me horrible heartburn; this made me feel like my lungs were closing up and my whole chest was tight.) The road section scoots along a series of vineyards with both grape vines and hops—apparently Washington is a huge producer of hops, who knew?—which made it more enjoyable than the typical road run.

A right turn took us to the next section, which was a dirt road through the vineyards. Here, we began slowly ascending a bit until we hit the beginning of the jeep trails. I had heard that the couple-mile jeep trail section is deceptively tough, and it’s true. While it cuts along the side of a ridge it follows, it manages to find every steep up and down it can.

Once we finished with that section, we hit the Field Road aid station (which was the turnaround for the next day’s 50K), and then ran along another mile-or-so road section up to the McBee aid station. Here, my incredibly supportive friend, Sarah, was waiting for me to cheer me on. She had driven out from Seattle that morning (3+ hours, mind you) and would drive home that night after the race (another 3+ hours). I cannot tell you how important my friends are to me and how much I appreciate them!

Sarah had my drop bag ready for me, and I grabbed my jacket and gloves as it was just starting to rain. Then I looked up and realized what I was going to go up next. The “trail” was basically a deer track straight up the ridge. I was wishing for poles, and Sarah—whose van is a bit like Felix’s bag of tricks from the old cartoon—fished hers out of some cubbyhole. I was very grateful.

The climb up McBee Ridge wasn’t all the bad, but it was sustained and steep. The rain came down in earnest, so I just focused on my feet and the next bit of up till I was, well, up. At the top of the ridge climb, I took off for the out-and-back on jeep roads to Chandler Butte aid station and the turnaround. This jeep road was deceptive and frustrating, as it was coated in small rocks which gave it a cobblestone effect that made finding my stride tough. Once done with the out-and-back, I headed down from the ridge on a nice single track and switchbacked back down toward McBee aid station—a much gentler, albeit longer, trail than our route up.

Back at the aid station, Sarah joined me to keep me company for the final 18 or so miles. It was great to have company, and Sarah’s standard cheerfulness brought my mood up. Unfortunately, it did little for my stomach, which had been burning off and on for a few hours now. At Field Road aid station, I drank some ginger ale in hopes that it would settle things down, but just a mile later I barfed it all up. Oops.

I had regaled Sarah with stories about the jeep trails, and when she saw the ups and downs she started laughing. They really do find the steepest ups and steepest downs around! The way through the vineyards is a bit of a blur, but we finally made it back to the climb up Candy Mountain. The trail that was such a joy to bomb down earlier was now a bear to go back up, with my stomach unhappy and my legs a bit tireder. As I trudged up the trail, Sarah sang a song and told a joke, trying to make me laugh. I think I told her to shut up … or something a little less friendly. You’d have to ask her; she laughs whenever she tells the story.

The rain had been coming and going throughout our time together, but as we crested the trail up Candy, the sun found a hole in the clouds to shine through and we were treated to a vibrant rainbow that lasted 15? 20? minutes.

From there, we trotted down the buff single track of Candy and then headed over to Badger for our final leg. As we climbed Badger, Sarah noted that the rock types along the trail were remarkably diverse. I later learned that this is due to the Columbia Basin floods at the end of the last ice age.

As we neared the top, so did sunset. With the clouds still hanging in the sky, it was spectacular, reminding me that every run—no matter how miserable or hard, or remote or close-in to the city—always has a bit of magic. First we had the magic rainbow, and now we had a beautiful sunset.

We finished the run by headlamp, cruising down the beautiful Badger trails to the finish line. It took me a disappointing 13:30, but I finally have the 50-miler monkey off my back and some wonderful memories to carry with me.

Reflection

After what was for me a very successful 2018, this was a rough start to 2019. Why? Well, I think I was cocky—resulting in my going out too fast and not being meticulous in my planning. In retrospect, I think I find the 50 mile distance the hardest of the 50, 100K, and 100 miler ultras, simply because it seems like it should be so doable compared to the others and therefore it requires some pretty specific race planning that I didn’t attend to.

Badger was also a reminder that there’s joy in every run, even the tough, “I quit,” “Why am I here?” runs. The rainbow and sunset, Sarah’s friendship, the new scenery, even getting to geek out on the locale all made for a special experience. I’m tucking that reminder away in my bag of tricks.

The day after my race, I volunteered at the Candy Mountain aid station. I got to cheer on the 50Kers—including Ana and her husband, Adam—and many 100 milers coming back from their second jaunt through the vineyards and jeep trails and up and down McBee. The other volunteers were all from the Tri-Cities Girls on the Run, which hearkened back to my sense of this event’s connection to the community.

The Ultra Tripod: 3 things you need to finish an ultra

“I called it quits today just past the halfway mark after some 30 miles. I’ve never been more at peace with a tough decision. And I’m so proud of Marna, Heidi, and Sarah, who are out there along the coast right now, finishing the second half. I’ll welcome them back sometime tomorrow with joy!

That was my post at 9 p.m. Friday, 30+ very slow miles and 19 hours after my friends and I started out for a single-push go at the 58-mile Olympic Coast route. (My friends finished on Saturday, 38 hours—including a few hours of rest breaks while waiting for high tide to recede 2 miles before the finish—after we started.)

Enjoying a relaxing moment on the Olympic Coast route

Of the three events I’ve gone for this year—Badger Mountain 50 miler, Twilight Overnight, and this route—I’ve only completed Badger.

Sunset from Candy Mountain on the Badger Mountain Challenge 50 miler

It’s not clear to me what’s up, but it certainly isn’t the events or the routes or the weather conditions. At Twilight, I was too cold. But everyone was out there in the same conditions. On the Olympic Coast, I was hurting. But so were my friends, and they finished.

On the Olympic Coast, somewhere between Shi Shi and Rialto beaches

This got me thinking about what makes finishing an ultra possible. It seems like there’s an “ultra tripod” and if one of the legs is just a little shorter than the others, the damn thing just topples over.

  1. Physical Fitness. This one seems obvious: You do have to have a certain level of physical fitness and a generally injury-free body to complete an ultra. But, when it comes to fitness, I wonder how much the actual physical aspect of training my body helps compared with the mental training of my mind to stick to a plan, to push through fatigue and soreness, to keep going.

    Very few people can hop up from a couch and run/hike/walk for 12 hours or for 50 miles. However, it’s surprising what you can do without the optimal level of fitness. It will probably take longer than it would if you are fitter and it really depends on how deep you’re willing to go into the pain cave to get it done—and you can do that when you have mental fitness.

  2. Mental Fitness. When I’ve been successful, it’s been because I’ve had a game plan and an end goal that I could visualize following and getting to. I knew my route, I had an eating plan, I knew what clothes to wear and carry. But, more than anything, I knew where I was going.

    When you can stay focused on your plan, the fatigue and/or pain and/or tummy issues and/or external conditions like rain/heat/sand/rocks exist … but they’re not at the forefront of your mind. Relentless forward progress is. it’s taking you to the next milestone and the next, each one taking you to the end—to whatever finish line you’re looking for.

  3. Desire. Many pursuits that take you to the edge of your endurance are referred to jokingly as Type 2 fun. The kind of fun that’s only fun after the pain has worn off and you’re warm and comfortable again, and you forget all the bad parts and all you remember is the adventure, the accomplishment, the journey. What gets you through Type 2 fun is desire: you gotta want to be doing what you’re doing, you gotta want that belt buckle or medal or patch or personal satisfaction.

    Ultimately, if you don’t really want it, you don’t have that desire burning inside you, no level of physical and mental fitness will get you through it.

My tripod’s been tipping over too often lately.

Some of it is physical fitness. I haven’t been training as much because I’ve been focusing more and more on my girls as their activities are picking up. My favorite battle ropes class has been cancelled, so I’m not getting to the gym as much as I used to. And there’s kind of a snowball effect … I work out a little less, I eat a little bit more, and, well, you can guess where that’s headed.

Some of it is mental fitness. I’ve been stressed trying to do everything at home and still work and still parent and still train. So things have been feeling thrown together when I get out there. I don’t have plan, I haven’t mentally prepared for what I’ll be doing. So when things get tough, my mind spins. And instead of being able to see each milestone ahead of me, I get mired in the immediate: I feel the pain, I feel the fatigue, and they take over.

And some of it is desire. I’m not sure what I want or why I’m doing it. What are my priorities? Should I spend my weekends training, or should I spend them with my daughters? They’re turning 10 in a couple of months, and I feel like pretty soon they’re not going to want to spend time with me the way they do now. Should I spend more time with Mike, who’s so wonderfully supportive of my running? I miss our adventures scrambling and climbing throughout the Cascades together.

Spent a weekend in Leavenworth with my family—had only a little time for training but dang it was so fun to take the girls out on “real rock” for the first time

Here are some things I do have figured out:

  • I love the mountains. There are very few places I’d rather be than in the mountains with trees and towering peaks and the sense of power that lives there. In whatever form I’m there—as a runner, hiker, backpacker, mountain biker, climber—the mountains are my happy place.
  • Hard adventures need to be my dreams, not the dreams of others. They’re certainly better when they’re shared, but whether I do a challenging outing on my own or with a group, I have to want it for myself for it to be fun and rewarding and something where the three legs of the tripod are in balance.
  • I love pushing my body and mind to their limits. The feelings of personal empowerment, of strength, of confidence in myself. I like to do hard things. I like to sweat and get dirty. I don’t mind short, dirty fingernails, or getting smelly, or having funny tan lines. I don’t mind getting scrapes and bruises, as long as I earn them.
  • I am a person who needs some downtime. I don’t talk about it a lot but I do struggle with depression and anxiety attacks. I take medicine for it. Exercise is immensely helpful too. But when I push continuously on all fronts, the tripod falls over.
  • I love adventures with Mike. I love adventures with my cherished friends. I want to do it all! I can’t do it all if I don’t create time to do it right, which seems like a paradox. But I’ve figured it out before and “just” need to do that again.

The next big adventure is planned for the end of July. I still don’t know how to resolve the conflict of family vs. adventure. But, this is one I’ve wanted to do for a while. The desire is already there! This time of reflection is helping me to create the focus I need. I’ll be working on the physical and mental fitness so when I get out there, I’ll be back to embracing the “fun” in type 2 fun!

Javelina Jundred Race Report

It was a successful weekend in Phoenix for our group of friends: Elly ran her first 100K in fine fashion, and Heidi and I ran our first hundreds and are coming home with buckles!

It’s so hard to put together the words to describe Javelina. The course itself features desert beauty—highlighted with green grass and lots of flowers this year due to a downpour earlier in the week—and a fantastic party atmosphere. Sarah, one of Heidi’s pacers, described trying to nap at Jeadquarters as “trying to sleep on a techno dance floor but on sand.” It’s just a wild, raucous, and hot run with hundreds of like-minded and incredibly supportive people!

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In the foreground: fairy duster, a flower I’d never seen before. So pretty! Photo by Ana Hinz (@willrunforwhisky).

In the end what Javelina was to me was an internal journey—where, through the support of my husband and my friends, I found a focus and strength that I don’t know I really knew was there. You see, for the past month, my commitment to the race had wavered and waned and I wasn’t really sure why I was there. I was tired.

Balancing the demands of training, working, and parenthood (with its emotional highs and lows and with its physical demands of time, interrupted sleep, and driving—I must track my route some day and see how many circles around town I complete!) … it had all worn me down. I didn’t even have a race plan. Friday afternoon I was packing food and gear bags with no lists, just a swag at what I might want or need. I didn’t have a pace chart. I didn’t know the distances between aid stations.

Friday was full of a sense of surrealism. I was actually there, I was actually getting my race bib, and OHMYGAWD it’s hot! One of the best parts of Friday was stumbling on the Taco Shop on the way out to packet pickup. It’s hard to get real Mexican food in Seattle, and those were pretty awesome street tacos!

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Things start getting real when you show up at packet pickup.

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Heidi and I check out where it will all begin (and end).

Saturday morning, after a 40-minute drive to Jeadquarters, we arrived about 45 minutes before race start. Mike and Heidi’s husband, Bill, were checking things out and Heidi and I decided to lie down in the tent we’d rented for a bit. At about 15 minutes before race start, we both bolted upright realizing that we were “this close” to falling asleep. Yikes!

We’d decided to start with the second wave—the noncompetitive runners—at 6:10. I don’t know that it really made a difference either way, but it was so exciting to watch all the runners run by in that first wave. We headed over to the start, and it was just the most amazing atmosphere. Techno music was blasting, tons of people were milling around, and Jubilee was up on her camper with a bubble machine going and had a virtually nonstop commentary to get the party started.

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The sun came up early on loop 1.

If you’re not familiar with the race, here’s how it works: you do five loops alternating clockwise and counterclockwise (washing machine style). The first loop has a little extra tacked on to make up for the remainder of the loops, which are slightly under 20 miles. There isn’t that much climbing on each loop, but it does end up to be essentially uphill to Jackass Junction and downhill back to Jeadquarters, with either Rattlesnake Ranch or Coyote Camp in the middle.

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Let’s get loopy!

Probably because of my lack of a race plan and not having my head in a good place, I was destroyed by the time I’d made it about two-thirds of the way through loop 1. It warmed up quickly once the sun was up, and I don’t know why, but my legs felt like my muscles were in a vise. I came in to Jeadquarters—where your team can meet you as you come in and then you run a horseshoe to the start/finish, and then come back around through the horseshoe to get back out on the course—and I was … well, I’m ashamed but I was a really horrible person.  I was mad at Mike because he didn’t have my gear and food ready the way I wanted (maybe if I had had a race plan for him to follow, he wouldn’t have needed to try to read my mind?) and I was convinced the whole thing was a bust and I should just quit.

My friend, Wendy, was there and she walked the horseshoe with me. Over the past several months we had talked a few times about how, if I lost my cool, the thing I really needed to do was refocus. She was amazing and made me think clearly and make sure I was taking care of myself. So as we walked around the horseshoe, she talked me through the math (you can walk this whole loop and still be fine … just start walking and keep going), didn’t flinch at my f-bombs, and I so appreciate her!

So I headed out on loop 2, with Heidi a bit ahead of me and with me figuring I’d never see her again except at places where our loops overlapped in opposite directions. I thought about my friend Vivian’s advice—if you don’t feel good, eat and then eat some more—and I walked, and I stocked up on ice at the aid stations, and I ate a smooshed crunchy-almond-butter-on-white-bread-with-the-crusts-cut-off sandwich. It probably took an hour to eat that damn sandwich, but to my surprise, once I had it down, I was feeling a lot better. Thanks Vivian!

When I came back into Jeadquarters, Mike was more prepared with what I wanted, and the team stuffed my arm sleeves with ice, Wendy wiped my legs down with an ice sponge, my pack was refilled, and I was in good spirits. I think I kind of freaked them all out because I was on such a tear earlier. Marna may have even said, “Are you the same person?” By the way, having a crew is amazing. It’s that one time where I feel totally babied: Everyone’s there to take care of me, help me, get me things. Quite the opposite of my life as a mom to twin 9-year-olds! Thank you guys!

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Feelin’ the love … I cannot thank everyone enough! Photo by Wendy Abbey.

I think Heidi was just heading out as I came in, but I’m not sure. It’s kind of a blur, now that I look back on it. I remember that the music was blasting, and I remember being glad that my pacers had heeded my request that they stay back at the house and relax during the heat of the day. I also remember bumping into Elly, who was heading out for her loop 3 on the 100K course with her pacer, Adam, and I was just feeling happy that so many of us were there to share the experience together.

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Elly finished her 100K more than an hour ahead of her goal time. What a rockstar!

Loop 3 was probably the loneliest, just because there’s still so far to go, and the sun set during that loop. But I listened to the coyotes howl, and then I watched a huge shooting star streak across the sky from about two-thirds up to nearly down to the horizon, and I felt like the gods had smiled on my race. An hour or so later I watched a huge orange moon rise and thought, wow, this is amazing! My legs felt good and my stomach was happy, I was eating every 30 minutes or so, and life was good. As the race wore on, the “good jobs” just increased from runner to runner, as we all knew we’d been out there a long time and were stoked for each other.

There were quite a few runners in costumes, which I frankly couldn’t imagine doing in the heat and for the length of time we were out there. Some were just out for the Jackass Night Run, but some were in costume for whole thing. A couple of my favorites were Fred Flinstone, who was also at Black Canyon, and a butterfly who was able to ripple her wings through the air in the day and then dazzle us with lights outlining those wings at night.

To my surprise, I bumped into Heidi at Rattlesnake Ranch (about 3.7 miles from Jeadquarters) toward the end of loop 3. While I grabbed a piece of Costco pizza (seriously, I can’t eat this stuff in real life, but Costco pizza at that moment was delish!), Heidi shared that she was struggling with her stomach and had ditched her gaiters because they were irritating her ankle. I could relate to the stomach issues from where I had been early in the race, and encouraged her to eat. I remember being so happy to see her out there and to be out on the course at that point with such a wonderful friend!

As I came in from loop 3, Nina was there, ready to pace me, and I was so excited! From my earlier moments of thinking “I’m only here out of obligation” and “I should just bail” to now going out on loop 4, feeling confident in my finish, and getting to hang out with this fantastic friend for the next 19.5 miles … it was all just so freakin’ awesome! (Seriously, I was that cheerful, which is so out of character for me.)

I waved to Heidi, who was with her team, and to Sarah, who would be her loop 4 pacer. And then I took off, ready to go. I’m not sure what Nina was doing, but she wasn’t quite ready, and I could hear some laughter as she was like, “Oh, she’s going. Wait, she’s going without me!” But I was ready and I had a job to do, so I was off to get it done!

My cockiness quickly fell apart, though, as about 2 miles into loop 4 out of the blue my stomach started feeling off. Thinking of Vivian’s “eat if you don’t feel good” advice, I tried a Gu—which was like a big blob in my mouth. And then I was suddenly and rather violently sick a couple of feet off the trail! I was shocked and worried. But once I was done, I was surprised to find that I felt so much better. So off we went to Rattlesnake Junction, where the first of my rest-of-the-race quesadilla noshing began.

We did some chatting while I did a bit of walking on the way back up to Jackass Junction. We exclaimed over the beauty of the desert at night, and a couple of times turned off our headlamps so we could gaze up at the stars. We cheered the butterfly, and shared “good jobs” with so many runners. I’m sure I told her about my day on the trail, but I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I think the biggest surprise is that I often don’t like a lot of chatter, but I kept asking her questions to keep her talking and just enjoyed the camaraderie we shared.

When we arrived at Jackass Junction, the party was definitely in full swing. Pirates and disco divas (I was so confused!) were everywhere, the music had definitely been cranked up, the disco ball was spinning, and the drinks (of all kinds) were flowing. Oh my gawd, what an absolute blast! Nina took a few minutes to say hi to some friends while I dug through my drop bag for some treats.

We were then on our way back downhill, toward Coyote Junction. The rocky places were just where I told her, as were the cholla that had attacked one woman at mile 4. I asked after Heidi, as Nina’s phone was dinging with updates, but she had little to share. I eventually became convinced that there was a pact not to share updates with me so that I could focus on my own run. However, I thought about Heidi throughout the rest of the race.

As Nina and I started down the wash between Coyote and Jeadquarters, Nina snagged her foot on a root or stick of some kind. It was one of those slow motion, I think she’s gonna save herself oh gawd maybe not, damn she’s down kind of falls. I was so worried she’d slam into rocks or a cholla, but—after a moment to catch her breath—she took stock and counted just a few scratches. Phew!

Back at Jeadquarters, I went for a more minimal approach to the food I was carrying since I seemed only interested in my smashed sandwiches, Gu, and the aid stations’ quesadillas. For loop 5, I now had my friend Ana by my side. Ana did Javelina last year, and I think she was excited to get out on the trails again and enjoy the party without the pressure of the race. We’ve had some great adventures together, and I was happy that she was going to accompany me to the finish.

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Heading out for the last loop and definitely feeling a little loopy! Photo by Ana Hinz.

Ana was (obnoxiously) cheerful, and I got a kick out of how many runners responded to her “How are you doing? Great job!” with grunts. I reminded her that we were all starting to run on empty, but she kept up the great cheer and I think it was quite the boon to many of the runners whose paths we passed as night passed back to day and everyone’s races were coming to a close. I very clearly remember Ana asking one guy how he was doing, his response of “my feet hurt,” and her reply, “That’s because you’ve been kickin’ ass for so long.” He laughed so hard, and I’m sure that laugh gave him a boost for miles.

It was now about 4 a.m. and I was feeling sleepy. Ana kept me moving, although I did give her grief whenever she forgot to shuffle instead of jog as we made our way back up to Jackass. As we chugged along, the sky began to lighten and gradually a new day began. The birds were going wild, singing and chirping and claiming their territory, and flowers that had been closed up yesterday in the heat of the sun were now wide open and sharing their glory with the dawn. Yes, a little poetic and mushy, but I remember this one ravine just steeped in the flowers’ perfume in a way I’ve only before experienced in Summerland on Mt. Rainier when I hit the peak of the bloom one summer.

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Photo by Ana Hinz.

By now Jackass looked a little bit more like Hangover Headquarters, but they still had pancakes and quesadillas so I was happy, and I hoped the party was as fun as it had looked in the middle of the night. This race is staff with amazing, dedicated volunteers! I think at Jackass there were at least two shifts as I remember bumblebees during the day and then the pirates and disco divas at night, but I’m not sure.

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Running toward dawn, surrounded by yellow flowers. Photo by Ana Hinz.

We chugged downhill, and I started to marvel that I was going to get my buckle. I talked to Ana some about my horrible first loop, nasty temper, and lack of conviction in and after loop 1 that I’d finish. I talked to her about my progression through the race and what I’d learned and what I remembered to do. And I talked about my joy in knowing that I’d complete the journey.

Well, I think I did. I also remember being quiet and wishing wholeheartedly that the thing was just plain over so I could get off my feet. And I remember between Jackass and Rattlesnake Ana telling me just about every story she could think of about her early dates with her husband, about a wedding she and Adam had just attended, the speech Adam had prepared and how he’d prepared and how he didn’t get to tell it after all, about all sorts of random things that kept my mind just busy enough that I was able to keep chugging along.

We passed one last time through Rattlesnake, and we took a few minutes to stock up on ice. The volunteers seemed surprised we’d take the time, but the day was already warming and it felt like I didn’t have much left in me to deal with the heat and sun at this point. (The ice we took had all melted by the time we finished, so maybe it wasn’t so silly after all.) We both soon realized how close we were to the end … and then we rounded the corner and could see Jeadquarters again, could hear the music, and knew that I was finishing!

I choked on a huge sob that seemed to just burst out of me. Ana I think sobbed just for a moment too. We chugged up the little hill to the entrance to the horseshoe, and I asked my pacers to join me but they told me to keep going on my own, that it was my glory lap.

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Sobbing as I enter Jeadquarters with Ana next to me and my crew and friends ahead of me. Photo by Wendy Abbey.

I handed off my vest and I don’t know what else to Mike and Ana, and I took off for that final time through the horseshoe. While many tents were now empty, just as many were still occupied, and in every one that was occupied, I was greeted with cheers and “way to go runner!” and cowbells and applause. I half cried my way through those last steps, and then Elly and Nina tried to do a tunnel for me to run through and I hugged them instead (awkward!), and then I was across the finish line!

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Crossing the finish line. Photo by Wendy Abbey.

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A huge hug from my best friend and biggest supporter. So. Many. Tears. Love ya Mike! Photo by (I think) Wendy Abbey.

It wasn’t that much later that I struggled out of a chair and made my way back to that blue arch to cry all over again as we all cheered Heidi in for her glory lap to the finish line. I was so happy to see her get her buckle and to know that she too had vanquished her demons over the course of the race. Her huge smile said it all!

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Heidi (on the left) with her pacer, Marna. What amazing smiles!

As I look back at this experience, I wonder at the why. Is there a purpose or a meaning behind running an ultra-distance race? Is there some epiphany that comes from this experience? Are people who do this different because of it? Am I a better parent for it? Or worse for being away to do these things?

What I know is that I feel intense gratitude for all the support people gave me to follow and attain a dream. This year I did my first 100K, I ran around Mt. Rainier, I did a couple of unsupported long days on the trail solo, I ran around Mt. St. Helens (again), I went fastpacking with friends, and I ran my first 100 mile race. I am different because of the relationships I have with the people who join me in these endeavors and adventures, with my daughters who I hope see me as a role model, with my husband and his steadfast belief in what I can do, and in the relationship I have with myself. I know myself better now … I know what I am capable of, I believe I can do things I never before thought possible, and I think I am a better person for it all.

And I have laughed. and cried. and loved all along the way.

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Ana (left), me (center), and Nina after the race.

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Most of our motley crew (left to right): Wendy, Bill, Sarah, Marna, Ana, Heidi, me, Mike, Elly, and Nina. Missing are Sean and Adam.

Hats off to Aravaipa Running for a fantastic party in the desert; to all the runners I met, chatted with, or exchanged “good jobs” with along the trail; and to all the amazing volunteers who staffed aid stations, road crossings, timing tents, packet pickup, first aid stations, etc., etc. You have all touched my life.

A deep, heartfelt thank you to my direct crew and pacers—Mike, Ana, and Nina—and to my extended trail family that included Bill, Sarah, Wendy, Marna, Sean, and Adam.  More hugs and tears to my fellow runners, Elly and Heidi: I am so honored and happy to have shared this journey with you.

And, finally, babe, I love you.

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Photo by Ana Hinz.

 

As always, all words are mine. Photos are mine unless otherwise attributed.