My first taste at what a 100 mile race looks and feels like.
Why 100 miles?, I get asked that A LOT ha ha, people then usually comment: why torture yourself like that?, I don’t even like to DRIVE that far!, do you sleep?, what do you eat?, other people do this with you?
Why 100 miles?
With 100 miles NOTHING is given. I learned that last year. You aren’t “owed” a finish. You have to fight for every step. Every inch. And the distance will fight you back. There are extreme high’s. And extreme low’s. And everything in-between. But WHY 100 miles?
BECAUSE it’s a team effort, BECAUSE nothing is given, BECAUSE you have to give every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears in your body, and then a little more.
And as much as I’m leaving it all out there on the course, the crew is doing THE SAME. Pouring their hearts into helping me achieve a dream goal. I want to get to that finish for THEM. They are motivating me every step of the way to keep pushing, keep digging, for myself and FOR THEM!
Last year I completed a “self 100 miler” with the most amazing crew on the planet, literally a #dreamteam. As Jaime said it, “badass crew, beautiful friends”. That experience will forever live as one of the best moments of my life, one of the experiences that defines you as a person, and truly shows you what is possible when you dream big, and have the best family and friends a girl can ask for who support that crazy dream!
Fast forward to this year…
Race “eve”, my #dreamteam and I shared the same cabin as last year, it had all the feels, just walking in the house, it brought me back. We ate, drank, laughed, talked thru details of race day, AND painted green nails (it’s a tradition) #greennailgang
My number one goal was to have fun, and finish… smiling, with all limbs attached ;), next goal was to go sub 28 hrs, and break my time from last year, and the dream goal was sub 26 hrs.
Race morning, 4am my alarm goes off, and thank goodness I slept well the nights leading up to race eve, because I couldn’t get my brain to “quiet down” the night before. Different from last year though, it was good nervous energy. I kept “running” thru the course in my head, questioning did I have EVERYTHING I needed in my pack, decided that I needed to borrow Jaime’s race belt for my bib ;), was 4am early enough to wake up, so on and so on.
Jaime was kind to get up with me and be my coffee/breakfast buddy. We flashbacked to all the nerves we had last year at this table. It felt good to laugh with her to ease into the morning.
She asked me how I was feeling, and I said “good, I’m ready, I’m excited.”
Before I knew it, it was go time. We loaded in the cars, and drove to the Start.
Took our “pre-race” group shot, and I took one under the Start sign.
I had all those pre-race “feels”. The Start Line had that electricity in the air. We all were excited, nervous, and every other feeling in-between. But I also felt a sense of calm, knowing I wasn’t alone. I was going to experience this day with my crew, and my now 100+ other “best friends” out here on the trails tackling this same course and distance together.
The clock hit 6am and we were OFF!!!!!
The first few miles were in “my loop”, the blue loop on the Nordic Trails. I love this loop and know it like the back of my hand. Trying to reign in my excitement knowing the LONG day was just beginning, I tried to settle into my “all day pace”. Temperatures were mild, but humidity was 100% and NO wind, and you could tell as the sun rose, it was going to be a HOT day. I was diligent on my hydration AND nutrition, taking frequent sips of water and eating on my 30 minute schedule. A few minutes in, I ran into Liz, another Edge Member, we chatted and laughed and miles flew by.
I got to the Bluff Aid Station, ~7.5 miles in, my 1st crew pit stop as well. I was in a great groove, ahead of schedule, reloaded my pack, hi-5’s and hugs, and I was off.
The next stretch had 2 Aid Stations but I wouldn’t see my crew again for 12+ miles. I continued to run with Liz, and we started to pace with 3 other runners, Shelly & Lori, and Dan. Shelly & Lori were hilarious, the couple of things I remember about our conversations, was 1 – their incredible stories of the Ozark Foothills race earlier in the year in KNEE DEEP WATER, and 2 - how they “answer” each other if one asks a question, the only answer is “FUCKING AMAZING!”.
And Dan fell early on, but so freaking gracefully ha ha (side note he’s a martial arts coach), his crew had a “bet” on how many times he was going to fall during the race. We were even joking about “oh we should do a 5k time trial at like 2pm, you know right in the heat of the afternoon, in the middle of a 100, just to, you know, challenge ourselves.”
One of the things I love the most about races is chatting with other runners, learning about them and all their crazy, badass experiences, it makes the miles fly by.
I made my way thru the Horserider’s Aid Station ~12.3 miles in, and the Aid Station that passes thru Emma Carlin ~15.5 miles in. Texted the crew quickly with my updates. I felt strong, I was “cruising” but didn’t feel like I was pushing pace either. Hiking during all nutrition, and anything that looked remotely like a hill. I was being efficient thru aid stations, reloading on what I needed and then moving on, embracing forward progress.
At this point in the race, things were just gelling, the course was MARKED, which felt like a luxury!! (side note: last year, the stretch leading up to, thru, and right after McMiller was coined the “Bermuda triangle” by Jaime and I, as it was almost impossible to navigate thru these segments, the markings were confusing, it was VERY overgrown, and you had no sense if you were going the right way at all, and to top it off, it was VERY hilly.) This time thru McMiller I actually enjoyed myself, it was shady, very hilly, but I didn’t mind, I kinda like the power hikes uphill.
It was around 10:30am now, and I hit my next crew pit stop, wearing a big smile on my face, at the McMiller Aid Station, ~19.5 miles in, and WOW this aid station was a party. The energy was amazing. I was a 1/5th into the race, and felt in control, strong, and was pacing AHEAD of schedule (which was a huge confidence booster). It was starting to get HOT and STEAMY, so the crew set me up with my ice bandana and some salted watermelon (both were heaven). We went thru my nutrition, and loaded up my pack.
It was funny looking back at pictures post race, Gwen was my “watermelon queen”, every aid station, she was ready w/ watermelon, my spork, and my salt to dip. Everyone has a role, and this became hers ;)
I was now entering the “meadows”, notorious for being open, exposed to the elements, and HOT. All which they were, there was not a single cloud in the sky. What’s tricky through this section is it’s VERY runnable. You have to be smart not to run too hard, to negatively affect later stages in the race.
Settling into a new groove of running what I could run until my heartrate spiked too high, and then switching to a power hike, I ran into Andy! It was so wonderful to finally meet in person. We had met and “chatted” online last year, Andy also did his own “self-100” after Kettle had to cancel. We shared stories, laughed, and worked really well together through the hot section.
Time was still passing quickly, I was coming up on the Wilton Road aid station, ~23.8 miles in, grabbed some ice to put in my hat and onward I went. And then BOOM, stubbed toe, and fell, a gentle fall thankfully, but the toe – F*CK me it hurt. I had been in a good groove of running, but now I resorted to a power hike to shake off the pain. I’m not even sure what the hell I tripped on, I was just thankful the fall was light enough I didn’t bang myself up.
I was still in such a good groove, I was worried to “think” it too much and jinx myself. But I was smiling, having fun, and truly felt in my “all day pace”. Things were good!
Made my way up to the Hwy 67 aid station, ~27.1 miles in, and the next crew pit stop. Whew it was now 12pm-Noon, SUNNY, HOT, and HUMID, but I was still in great spirits, chugging along, and always got a huge boost of energy (and more ice) from my #dreamteam crew at pit stops.
It felt so good to make it to the Northern most point of the course, Scuppernog, I had a loop to do up there before heading back South. Last year I remember being annoyed in this loop, it was crowded with hikers, families camping, and essentially at that point in the race, everything was annoying me. This year though the loop felt different (so oops maybe we did the wrong loop LAST year?), it was peaceful, shady, I was by myself a lot of it, but I was calm, and just kept on my plan, hydrate, eat every 30 minutes, and forward progress.
Those 5 miles passed, and it was sorta like, pinch me, I still feel good, and in control. Met back up with my crew ~34.3 miles in, did a little wardrobe change. It was now around 2:15pm, and dear God, I didn’t know a person could sweat THIS MUCH. I had changed shirts, shorts, and continued to put ice anywhere and everywhere, and within minutes, I was doused again. Brightside, no chaffing, my crew was doing an amazing job of reapplying SPF and lube ha ha.
And with a smile and some jazz hands I was back on my way. I felt really good about how efficient the crew pit stops were. We had learned so much from last year’s experience. I felt like as a team (cuz it’s a TEAM effort to pull off a 100 miler) we were crushing it.
A short while later, I was back at the Hwy 67 aid station, ~36.8 miles in, crushed more watermelon (thanks Gwen). Triple checked nutrition, grabbing the items that were more “heat friendly” as it would be a little longer now in between crew pit stops, and I was heading back into the meadows.
Coming back through the Meadows, I was leap frogging with another runner “Jen”, who I nicknamed “Jenny from the Block” ha ha. We would chat for a bit, and then get back into our individual grooves. It was this second time through this section that the heat was starting to get to me, not my energy, but my stomach. Up until this point, I was SPOT on my hydration and nutrition.
Made it through the Wilton Road aid station, ~40.1 miles in, ANOTHER bladder re-load (dang I was drinking a lot). Nutrition was getting harder now. Nothing seemed appetizing. I scanned the aid station to see if anything they had would seem appealing and nothing looked good, so onward I went.
Things sorta started to unravel here. I noticed my stomach was getting really bloated and distended. Trying not to panic, I focused on hydrating more, and eating my more “easy to digest” food like gels/chews and waffles, but even those go-tos weren’t sitting right. I tried to hike more after eating to give my stomach time to “process” and that wasn’t working. I thankfully checked my phone and noticed my coach Sarah had texted me earlier on, so I wrote her for advice.
She suggested walking until my stomach calmed down. Said that the heat had gotten to my digestive system and it’s not absorbing things well, totally normal in the heat. To even try and pull off for a few minutes and go through some deep breaths to try and activate the parasympathetic system to calm the nervous system and turn digestion back on.
I texted my crew, warning them that I was trying to eat more but tummy got a little "angry" in the meadows.
Making my way through the trails, I could hear the yelling, music, and just overall excitement of aid station. I made it to a clearing and YES I was back at McMiller aid station, ~44.4 miles in, around 5pm. I was hurting, but still a big smile came over my face seeing Bill, and my crew. There is SO much comfort in seeing familiar faces, I never take that for granted. And to my surprise my friends had surprised me, driving ALL the way up to Wisconsin, to see me for a glimpse and get a peek into what Ultra races were all about.
Becca and Andrea were triaging the situation like they had all day. They are seriously masters of the art and science of crew chiefing. All day they were on top of my hydration and nutrition. Making notes of the time in and time out. Countless applications of spf, lube, bug spray. Keeping me updated on my pacing, when I would see the crew next. EVERY detail, they managed to PERFECTION!
The heat of the day had finally caught up with me, I sat down with a huge pack of ice on the back of my neck and tried to calm my mind and stomach. I was worried. My stomach is a ROCK, it’s NEVER turned on me, EVER…not during heat, not at altitude, ever. So I didn’t know what I was going to do.
As I sat there, talking with Becca, Andrea, and Jaime, tears started streaming down my face. I couldn’t control the emotion. I was scared. They all reassured me I was strong, I was going to be ok, and next time I would see them I could have a pacer for the rest of the race. BUT I had 12 miles to go, on my own. The race was really spread out at this point. I knew I needed to stay out of my head and focus on forward progress as a pace. But 12 miles to me, at that moment, felt like an eternity.
More crew assurance that I was going to be ok, and I had to get on my way, I grabbed my headlamp, because my next crew pit stop it could be dark, and onward back into the woods I went.
For most of this stretch I was alone…and mentally/physically hitting my low low of the race. I couldn’t eat, chewing made me feel nauseous and that in turn left me unable to run. I was probably forcing things too….I’d try and eat, wait what felt like 5 minutes, and then start to trot, and my body wasn’t having it, in hindsight I should have just hiked until my stomach felt slightly back to normal…but I could also feel the day slipping away, so I felt the pressure to keep pressing on. Trying to calm myself down, while also fighting back tears, seemed like an impossible task. I was moving slowly now, and there were still many miles separating me from seeing my crew.
The heat of the day felt like it was literally right overhead, the deer flys were obnoxious, and even my hip hop tunes weren’t “doing it” as far as a pick me up. It was just me and my thoughts – not a good spot to be in when your thoughts aren’t the most positive. In that moment I wanted to call Bill, I wanted to cry it out, but I couldn’t…but then I heard my phone ding that a text popped through…it was Bill “I love u so much! You are doing great! Keep digging! Love”. Even though miles and forest separated us, we were connected.
Finally I felt like I had turned a corner, and BAM…stubbed my left big toe – HARD – and it stopped me in my tracks. I seriously worried I was going to have to pull over, take off my sock and “address” whatever situation was unfolding in my shoe and sock. But I kept walking until the pain subsided, then moved into a hike, and even tried trotting a little bit. Ok at least the toe had subsided for now, and stomach was tolerable for now.
I had kept my watch on the HR setting the WHOLE day, but now switched over to miles just to check where I was in regards to hitting the next aid station. And as I turned the corner I could see the red tent for the aid station by Emma Carlin. YES, I was now ~48.4 miles in, so close to 50, just…keep…moving…forward.
I texted my crew that I was “through EC”, and Andrew wrote back, “YES, we gotchu”, Jaime, “KEEP IT UP”, and Andrea, “Reminder that you’re not alone after this, you’ll always have a runner with you. KEEP GOING!” More examples of how amazing this crew is. Just reading their texts gave me more energy to keep pushing one step closer to seeing them.
Keep ticking off miles…I kept saying to myself, one foot in front of the other. As I approached the Horserider’s aid station, ~51.6 miles in, I started to get a little emotional – remembering all the feels of last year – witnessing Jaime achieve her goal and seeing her cross her finish line, but knowing that I had another 50 still to run without her.
I texted my crew again that I was “threw insert Horse emoji” ha ha, and Becca wrote back, “You are incredible!!!! Next stop - STEPH!”, and Steph, “Night shift crew en route… time to party Katie!!!”, and Andrew, “Ready and waitin for ya! LETS GO!”
I was feeling defeated, having the stomach issues that crushed my dream goal of going sub 26, BUT I was through Horserider’s AND it was still light out – it was STILL light out. Ok my pacing wasn’t totally in the trash. And I had my fabulous crew waiting for me, keep pushing.
With about 3 miles left until I’d see my crew AND my first pacer Steph, I latched onto to another runner, who was running in SANDELS!!! (mind blown). Considering the state of my stomach, I was probably pushing too hard to stay with him, but the stories he was telling me was keeping my mind off how miserable I felt, and he was pulling me one step closer to that oasis that would be the Bluff aid station!!! I was picking off landmarks, threw Confusion Corner, down the snowmobile trail, hang a right and I was there, I could see the Bluff aid station AND hear my crew!!!
That Bluff aid station could have been my favorite. It was bubbling over with energy, the volunteers were amazing, you could feel the excitement from all the crews eagerly awaiting their runners, and it was even still light out.
I did a FULL wardrobe change – behind a towel – literally on the side of the trail. It’s funny what become acceptable after running for hours and hours vs real life. It’s amazing what dry clothes and a fresh coating of lube will do for the spirit ha ha.
Omg I can’t tell you how in this moment, I knew I was going to make it! I was back with my people, I still had a long way to go, but no longer would I be “alone”. What an emotional relief.
Steph was my 1st pacer, we had run a good chunk of miles together training last year, most memorable being, her running an oops 25 miles with me when I ran the Badger Trail Races virtual 50 Miler. We had missed her stop and she just kept going like a rockstar!! We paced so well together it was a no brainer to ask her to be my 1st pacer.
We finished the crew pit stop, it was just around sunset 8:45pm or so, lights on, we were on our way, into the Nordic Loop (anyone who knows me, knows I love my loops, so we were about to enter my happy place).
While my stomach still hated me, it was so amazing to have company. I love chatting with other runners, but at this stage in the race, it was so comforting to be with friends who really KNOW you.
I warned her that due to my stomach being “off” there was a lot of burping and farting going on, and pure joy when an aid station had a porto potty (ha ha TMI, but it was true).
It seemed like déjà vu, I was back on trails that feel like home, just like last year, yet unable to run. I was holding back tears of frustration, tears of sadness. And I finally confessed to Steph, “I’m just so upset that my legs feel good, I CAN run, but my stomach won’t let me.” At this point I was reduced to a hike, moving forward yes, but not at a pace I wanted. She told me, “you have to let it go”, and she was right, it was hard but I had to let those thoughts go.
I told my crew the night before, my goals: #1 goal finish happy, smiling, and with all limbs attached, #2 goal was to beat my time from last year, and the #dreambiggoal was finishing sub 26 hrs. The dream goal, which I had been pacing towards all day was now gone, but my #1 goal was still in reach.
Steph was doing a great job of kindly asking me every so often if I wanted to try and run or if there was anything I wanted to eat. Sadly my answer to both was NO. I felt bad, I was like an uncooperative toddler, whose mom would ask them anything and the response would always be NO. But we kept moving forward. I realized when my stomach started to turn, that ANYTHING I had to chew, wasn’t working. So that limits options quite a bit. I had all this pizza ready to go, but no way I could eat it. Even a donut I couldn't force down.
We made our way back to the Start/Finish at the Nordic Trailhead, around 11pm, and it was a party! This is the part in the race that can be mentally defeating, you are back at the Finish, 100k’rs are finishing but YOU are not done, there is still 38 miles or so to go before it’s YOUR turn to run under the Finish banner.
Chris, a friend from Edge, was there to meet us at the Start/Finish and quickly shuffled me over to my crew…you don’t want to get comfortable hanging out TOO close to the Finish.
Bill and Becca were brainstorming if there was ANYTHING I could eat. Bill went over to the smorgasbord that is an aid station, and there was pudding. He asked me, “how does pudding sound?” I gave him this look like “I’m thinking”. And haha FIRST I thought, wow when was the last time I had pudding? And then I thought, ya I think I CAN eat pudding. And before you know it, one pudding cup done. And another, and then we took one for the road too. AH ha! Ok pudding was my new best friend.
As we got ready to leave the aid station and head back to Bluff, over the load speaker you could hear, “we have a 100 miler heading out”! I had been waiting all day to hear that!! YES, ok I wasn’t feeling perfect, but now I was in the final stretch of the race…100k down, 38 some miles to go.
Forward progress, making it back to the Tamarack aid station, ~69 miles in, and it was a glowing refuge in the middle of the trail. All lit up with Christmas lights, and glow sticks lining the trail.
I scanned the table to see if anything looked appetizing and nope, still nothing. So ate ANOTHER part of a pudding, cautiously, as eating the two puddings at Nordic was the most food I had had in hours, so didn’t want It to come back up or out (sorry TMI again). Steph was a saint and carried the half eaten pudding for miles. (thank GOD for the kindness of pacers, seriously).
We were moving forward, I still had my watch on HR, to not see the mile I was in or how slow my pace had gotten. Steph was great about pointing out anything and everything to take my mind off of how I felt…”wow look at how beautiful the stars look, oh this section is so pretty at night”, and any random story she could think of.
I won’t lie, I don’t think I said it out loud, but I was WORRIED, I knew I was in a calorie deficit. I was getting SOME calories from the Skratch in my water, but not a ton. I worried at what point does not being able to eat take me out. Do I just pass out like I ran out of batteries? I tried to quiet these thoughts but they kept popping back up. I had tried it all, ginger ale, ginger chews, gas ex pills, antacids, and an essential oil rollerball formulated to “soothe” stomachs.
As we were hiking, I heard a ding from a text coming through on my phone, and while most of the day I was trying not to look at my phone much, I checked, it was Sarah checking in on me.
Sarah: “How you going? Having fun?😜 100 miles is so long isn’t it? And miles yet to go. But that’s okay. You’ve got them in you. Lean into the discomfort. And keep moving forward. Go Katie go!” I was so excited to hear from her! I let her know my stomach still wasn’t cooperating.
She responded: “Pure water might just help move things along. I know you must be behind in calories but I’m actually not worried about that because when we’re hiking we’re actually not burning through carbs the same as when we’re running - you’re probably very below aerobic heart rate right now so burning most fatty acids for fuel. Don’t worry about being behind.”
Ok – this was a huge relief, not only to me but my crew too.
Sarah: “Just keep your mind in the game. You have still got this. Keep moving forward 👊🏼❤️🙌🏼”
Steph and I made it back to the Bluff aid station, ~71.3 miles in, and I let my crew know what Sarah had suggested, ok from here on out, I was doing straight water. Steph had gotten me through my low’s, she was patient and a constant force of reassurance. I must have asked her several times as I saw her texting with the crew, “you’d let me know if I am in trouble right, like not going to make cutoffs, trouble…right?!” I think at this point I sorta was, but no one was going to let that fear creep in to my head. Thankfully all day I was tracking ahead of my planned pacing, but I knew this stretch I had given all that time back, maybe more.
But hearing from Sarah that she wasn’t worried, helped me not worry. (side note: my coach is a true badass, SEVERAL 100 milers under belt, and 200 milers, so when she’s not worried, it means something!)
Pacers have a unique “job”- they need to keep you moving, keep you positive, keep you drinking and eating even when you don’t want to, they are messaging back and forth with the crew updates/suggestions/questions, and trying to keep you on a pace to either make cut-offs or reach goals. They are with you usually during the hardest points in a race and are seeing you at your lows. They need to be smart to be motivating, without letting you know TOO much. They are literally managing so many things ALL while running themselves! In other words, they are incredible super hero humans :).
Andrew, known as the happiest and most positive person on earth ;), was my 2nd pacer, and had the “nightshift”. His magnetic energy from pacing me last year made him a no brainer for this dark of night shift. Lighting battery swap, grabbed my poles, hugs, and we were off into the darkness.
We made our way through Confusion Corner and started heading South on the single track Ice Age Trail. We immediately started chatting, I got him caught up on how I was feeling and how the last stretch had gone. And I couldn’t wait to hear more on how all of his training was going (he was set to race his first Ironman last year, but had to postpone to this year due to the pandemic). In between stories we were jamming to tunes, he introduced me to Fruit Bats, and I introduced him to Brothers Osbourne. Ha ha even other runners that approached were like, shit, we thought you all were an aid station we heard so much chatting and music ha ha.
He was in the middle of telling me all about his long ride that he had to do before coming up on Friday. It was another hot, humid day, and he mentioned he was struggling, so stopped in a gas station to reload on nutrition. He spotted a banana and was like, hey I’ll try this…and boom it was his secret weapon – after the banana, his ride got better, he felt stronger and finished the training ride WAY stronger than expected. I thought I can try to eat bananas too!
Then this moment is too epic not to mention, we were on a downhill, and boom, Andrew clipped his foot on a rock or root and went down, but it was so ninja like, that before I knew it he was up and hiking again! WHAT JUST HAPPENED!! My heart stopped for a second, we were JUST talking about IM Lake Placid, and then boom, I thought I would never forgive myself if he hurt himself helping ME and that jeopardized HIS race. Thank God he’s a ninja, and literally this fall rolled right off of him!
We got to the Duffin Road aid station, ~73.8 miles in, and there they were, bananas!! I mushed one up and swallowed it down and it was ok! Alright bananas work, YES! Andrew grabbed a bunch more banana chunks for me and we were on our way.
One more thing that was sorta a bummer, but I guess now I have to do this again to experience it all over, was not being able to eat the “fun” overnight food at these aid stations. This station was making fresh pancakes – that I couldn’t eat :(
As we got deeper and deeper into the night and into the trails, it was so cool, you could see other runners lights coming in the distance, like trail fireflies. Some were 38 mile “fun runners”, others were 100 milers who were heading back North. As we crossed paths, we would exchange “good jobs” and “looking strongs”.
I was feeling better. Any time Andrew suggested trying to run, as long as the terrain would allow it, I tried…even if for a few seconds. And those seconds felt like immense progress.
We were in a stretch that is one of my favorites. The trail is lined with pines and pine needles line the trail floor, it is as close to heaven to be in and run on as humanly possible. We had to enjoy and take advantage of these stretches. Also the stars were magical, you couldn’t help but notice how clear they were in the darkness of the sky.
The miles around the Hwy 12 aid station were rocky and technical, even in broad daylight, not to mention on tired legs and exhausted eyes, it wasn’t safe to run, so our pace had to slow down. I must have stubbed my already stubbed toes SEVERAL more times. I knew now that I was getting information that I NEEDED to have, nothing more. Your pacers are in control of so much at this point, it’s literally mindblowing how they manage it all. I would see Andrew texting and just ask, “all ok? Please be careful .”(not wanting him to fall while trying to run and text.)
We had been playing leap frog with another runner and his pacer. I assumed these two were long time friends.
It’s always so fascinating to see the relationship between runner and pacer. We witnessed husband/wife teams, girlfriends pacing girlfriends, guy friends pacing guy friends. And every other combination. The guys pacing guy friends were the best. The runner would undoubtedly yell out, “bro, you are SOO far ahead, what the hell?” And I totally got it – like why WHY are you running so far ahead…but the pacer/friend was trying to get the runner to keep up with them (ie doing their pacer job). It was just a fascinating dynamic to witness.
We made it to the Hwy 12 aid station, ~77.9 miles in, and a crew pit stop, around 3:30am. By now my fuel was bananas, bananas, and more freaking bananas. I was seriously laughing by how many damn bananas I was eating, I could have made like 50 loaves of banana bread. BUT I was eating, which made me so so happy.
Hwy 12 to Rice Lake is gorgeous stretch, even at night. I was feeling better, my spirits were higher, and I was able to run for longer stretches. Andrew’s energy is truly contagious – so spend enough time with him and you can’t help but be upbeat and happy! – even if your stomach is rocky and you’ve stubbed your toes too many times to count ha ha.
It was 4am something now and you could already see the sun lighting up the total blackness of overnight. By 5am Andrew and I had made it to the Rice Lake aid station, the Southern most point of the course, 80 some miles in, ok 20 to go, I can do this. The crew expressed how important it was to keep moving, we knew we had to go back through the rocky segments, which meant we were going to have to slow down, but any other section that was runnable, we needed to try and run it.
I mentioned in passing to Andrew on the way to Rice Lake that I was debating a sock/shoe change once we got there, the turnaround point, he relayed it onto the crew, and for some reason once we got to Rice Lake, either we all forgot, in an effort to keep me moving, OR it was on purpose, either way thank God, because my two big toes and a pinky toe were NOT in great shape (I learned AFTER finishing), if the socks and shoes had come off, I don’t know if they were going on again.
As Andrew and I took off down the trail, I looked back, then sun over Rice Lake looked beautiful, I wanted to stop for a picture, but would have to settle for the image in my brain, there was no time. And with yells from the crew, “get after it,” back into the woods we went.
Also I started to realize the sun coming up meant it was going to get hot again. OMG how did I not think about that…?!? Such a difference from last year. The sun rising last year gave me new energy, this year, I worried with the sun coming up, heat rising, would my stomach hang on?
We were in a really good rhythm now, our power hiking pace had picked up, and we were running more sections. And of course, Andrew was great about reminding me to EAT MY BANANAS.
We could sense we were close to the next aid station, and crew pit stop, which was the last pacer exchange. We crossed the road and were greeted by our #dreamteam crew.
I made it to the last time through the Hwy 12 aid station, ~86.5 miles in, around 6:45am. I gave Andrew a giant “thank you” hug, took a giant swig of Mountain Dew (caffeine was NEEDED), and probably ate a banana, cuz…why not.
Jaime, my run BFF, run or die, soul sister :), was my 3rd pacer, her nickname would become #closer, you’ll learn why below ;). We’ve run millions of miles together, chatting, singing, laughing, crying, and everything in between. If you really want to get to know someone, run a shit ton of miles with them. We both had big dreams that could have been lost last year by the pandemic, but we chose to rise up and tackle these dreams together, along the way a deep bond grew along with achieving those dreams, made more special but achieving them together.
The first few miles were all about catching up, I wanted to know how her day was, did she sleep, how was the crew, and I filled her in on all my juicy details of the previous few hours leading up to now. I shared how frustrated I was that I was ON pace, if not AHEAD of my goal pace all day, through heat, humidity, and technical terrain, feeling SOOO strong, but once my stomach turned, that was it, survival became the goal.
What’s crazy to think about is that I had lived a whole day running, in the same time SHE had lived a day busy tirelessly behind the scenes keeping things running smooth, organized, and ready to go with the crew.
I knew I had 15 or so miles to go, on trails I had been up and down several times, but I didn’t know really how I was doing with cutoffs, and making it in the 30 hr finish window. I tried to not be tied to my watch all race, keeping it on HR, except for quick mileage checks here and there. I just had to keep chipping away at the miles.
I felt good, I still felt strong, sure my legs were throbbing, my feet/toes were in bad shape (some toes in worse shape then others I’d learn later), but that’s what I signed up for, you just need to keep pushing that discomfort down.
Jaime even mentioned, “You look good, I mean better than last year”, which I knew was a compliment, because last year in the final chunk of miles, I was tired, looked tired, and just felt like shit, I was dragging my body to the finish.
I had told her that we should go off of her watch for nutrition, to remind me every 30 mins or so to eat, which was funny, because for once, SHE got harass me to eat, vs the usual me telling her, “guess what, it’s time to eat again…”, usually followed by a “no, it can’t be”, and I’m sure a good eye roll ;) It was totally fair payback.
At some point an applesauce cup comes out, as since I couldn’t stomach anything I had to chew, this was one of the “acceptable” pieces of nutrition I could handle. I knock back the applesauce like it’s a shot, but couldn’t get it all out of the cup. I made a motion to hand it back to her, and she’s like, “can’t you finish it?, use your finger?” Ha ha I said, “no, then I’ll be all sticky.” With a surprised and maybe “what the hell” grin, she grabbed it and shoved it in her pack, dripping applesauce and all. That is true friendship haha.
Once we made it through the technical stretches of past Hwy 12, and through the Duffin Road aid station, ~90.6 miles in, I felt like we were running more, maybe not fast, but more.
I knew she had a job to do – keep “motivating/pushing” me forward. She’d ask, “wanna try and trot this next section to that tree?”, and I think I’d almost always answer, “sure”.
She was keeping JUST enough distance between us to keep me pushing. But also making me nervous with every run while looking back to check on me, or running while texting the crew an update I wasn’t privy too (always for good reason, always trust what your crew IS and IS NOT telling you. Ha ha, even if some of it is a lie to make you feel better.) I just kept thinking please don’t fall, and she’d tell me if something was bad, right?
And we kept pressing on. We hit the Bluff Road aid station ONE LAST TIME, it was emotional, it was the last time I would be seeing the crew before the finish, and this aid station was with me the whole day, passing through it more times than any other aid station. It felt like such a milestone to hit ~93.1 miles in, and back on the loop that was MY LOOP, to bring this race home.
Hugs and well wishes from the crew, and we were off…the LAST 7 miles were ahead of us.
By this time, the sun was out and it was getting HOT again.
Jaime was doing a great job of making me laugh, playing some of our “run hit jams” and just acting like this was any old long run we’d do on a Friday. Not making anything too serious.
I think what I realized this year that I didn’t last, being in the thick of it, and running 100 miles for the first time…I had this constant fear in the back of my head last year, a sort of quiet panic that lurked in the background. This year I was able to go into the race excited, anxious, but excited for the challenge ahead, not as paralyzed by it.
We were making progress, I asked Jaime how many more miles she thought we had, it was apparent at this point that the course was long, as my watch said 98 miles, and I knew from the spot we were in the loop, we had more than 2 miles to go. She paused, looked at her watch, thought about it, and said, “I think 4 or so more miles.” “Ugh, FOUR MORE MILES,” I said with disgust…for some reason in my head, 3 miles just sounded better…ha ha not sure why, it’s only a mile difference. That was just how my brain was working.
I forgot that my pacer’s watches show the mileage THEY have run, not the overall mileage, so it always requires some math and careful thinking ha ha. And no trail race is exact, it’s impossible.
She mentioned I should probably eat again, yup, another banana chunk, I asked, “do I REALLY need to eat”, we’ve got to be getting *close*, right?”
We kept moving on, through runnable flats, through sunny patches where you could already feel the heat of the day, and up and down through some gentle rollers. She kept having me run in any shady patch we came across.
I had been laughing with her for miles now, that once my watch hit 100.0 miles, I wanted to sit down, RIGHT then and there, and have them bring the finish line to me…if only it worked like that.
As I was fighting to stay close to Jaime, I could tell she was messaging back and forth with the crew. Then she turned back, and asked me, “How bad do you want it?”, I didn’t even think, but responded, “I want it.” “YES!!!”, she exclaimed back to me. I wasn’t even sure if she could hear me, because all my energy was focused on breathing and moving forward.
I assumed she just meant, how bad do I want to get to the finish.
We had already been running ANY and ALL spots possible, and now we were pushing more. My breathing was heavy, it took all my will to keep moving at this pace.
Jaime just kept saying, “stay with me, right on my hip…” The distance between us would grow a bit, and I would push to get back right back with her.
We kept fighting, clawing closer to the finish.
She’d repeat, “stay with me, you gotta give me whatever is left in the tank, ok? You can do this, you’ve GOT this.”
It was hard, but it also felt good, I was so grateful to be able to run at this point, that I pushed the pain down.
In this moment, NOTHING else ran through my brain but FINISH, you are SOOO close, every step, give it more, give it EVERYTHING.
She could hear I was breathing heavy, working for every step, she reminded me to try and keep my breath calm, slow in, slow out. I was trying…I just couldn’t help it.
Jaime turned back to me again and said, “Katie this is gonna hurt whether we go slow or whether we go fast. Keep it together now and fall apart at the finish line. Empty your tank. You gotta leave it all out here. This is your ONE SHOT. Here we go, we’re gonna go a little harder. Stay with me.”
I could tell she could tell I was holding back tears. Tears of joy, tears of all the emotion of the day, tears that I was so close to finishing.
Every step I wasn’t sure my body would carry me at that pace any longer, but somehow she kept pulling me to go just a little faster.
It felt like we were steps away from the finish FOR HOURS…
We finally hit the last little “down and up”, a bit of a straight away, and you could hear the Finish, but I needed to SEE the Finish.
I was giving it everything I had, plus more I didn’t think I had. We were “cooking, pushing” a term Jaime had coined in a text back to the crew I’d learn later ;)
And there it was, the FINISH LINE. 28 hours, 49 minutes, 32 seconds (official time).
Thank you Jaime for pushing me, motivating me, and PACING me – making my LAST mile my FASTEST mile, and getting me under that 29 hour mark.
To be honest, I didn’t know what I was pushing toward, squeaking by the course cut off?, being under a certain hour?, just finishing?, but I trusted my team, so when asked, there was NO other way to answer, but “I want it”. I probably should’ve said “I f*cking amazingly want it.” ;)
Hugs from the crew, cheersing a cold beer, and getting to hear some of the many back stories that took place along the day, night, day, it felt like a dream. We are all still “newbies” at this 100 thing. But what we have is passion, love, and a desire to give it our best for each other.
Everyone knew I NEEDED that strong finish, and as a team they got me there. I couldn’t have pushed those paces without Jaime by my side. Nor made it through the dark dark hours without Andrew, or the hours and hours hiking without Steph, nor kept all things in order/organized/and efficient without Becca & Andrea. And of course my fam, Bill and Gwen, they support me day in day out while on this crazy journey.
Takeaways, you are ALWAYS stronger than you think you are, toenails are overrated (esp. 3 of them), and who needs a stomach for part of a day of a race, and well into the next week.
Do I want to do this again? Hells yes I do, Kettle 2022, I’m coming for ya.
My crew, the #dreamteam, made me feel like a super star coming into ALL the aid station crew pit stops. As I approached, I could hear them cheering from what felt like a mile away. A huge smile would take over my face, and I couldn’t help but pick up my pace. I felt so loved, so cared for, so supported. And then once I was AT the pit stop, it was the efficiency of a Nascar Pit Crew, hydration vest would come off and the team got to work: re-filling bladders, carefully accounting for all nutrition and reloading til the next stop, SPF/lube/bug spray, ICE, SOO MUCH ICE. And sweaty hugs. And words of encouragement. And overall LOVE. Thank you will never be enough for this crew, because I feel so much more than thankful, and grateful, and appreciative for each and every one of them for pouring their heart and soul into helping me achieve a goal.
To everyone at Ornery Mule Racing for putting this race on and to all the volunteers, ESP at the overnight aid stations, wow, you were glowing positivity in the pitch black night. Your energy was contagious. Your kindness unmatched. THANK YOU
To my #edgefamily back at home, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the well wishes, race day tracking, and post race texts I received, you all mean the world to me, and I appreciate your support. You all inspire me!
To the team at @op_movement: Dr. Ryan, you are a dear friend, a master at your craft, an inspiration, you keep me moving and keep me sane; Dr. Caitlin, you helped me to be the strongest version of me I could be, I started off this season injured and worried, but you continued to reassure me all would be good come race day (and it was). And Jude and Sharon, thank you for giving my muscles the love they needed.
To Justyna at @mobilehealthandwellness, for all the talks and body love, thank you my friend.
To Kim at @burdock&clove, for making sure I was centered, balanced, and calm.
And of course to my coach, Sarah, your guidance is unparalleled. I can’t thank you enough for the pep talks, amazing support, and reassurance I was right where I needed to be. Also for your incredible support on race day, reminding me to be in the moment, and that I CAN do this. Your knowledge and expertise is unmatched.
**Some fun facts….**
- 34% finisher rate
- someone clocked the “real feel” in the middle of the day at 107
- Robyn overhead a couple crews, saying their runners were running Kettle to train for Badwater 135 (a 135-mile course starting at 282 feet below sea level in the Badwater Basin, in California's Death Valley, and ending at an elevation of 8360 feet at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney.)
- And Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, who has won at the 100 mile-distance 36 times, the all-time record, DNF’d – DID NOT FINISH (this is for me special, because I DNF’d HIS race in Utah a few years back, missing a cutoff by 3 minutes, so to have Karl not finish a race in MY backyard, felt like redemption!