A couple weeks ago (on November 2, 2019) I toed the start line at Rio Del Lago 100 miler; it was my first 100 miler (and second ultra distance) post baby and I was both nervous and excited. I knew I had put in the work, and had prepared myself both mentally and physically to run the distance, but I was nervous that something would go wrong, and that perhaps my post baby body just wasn’t up for the challenge anymore (which is just totally ridiculous, I know…).
I’m happy to report that I literally sprinted to the finish line to make it in just under 24 hours and got an official time of 23:58:41 and placed 14th female. For a short race recap, watch the following video. For a more “robust” version, watch and then please keep reading!
I didn’t expect a sub-24 hour finish for this one, but as it turns out, my training coupled with the fact that the weather was perfect, my stomach was compliant, and my crew (team Cold Hard Cheese!) was the most amazing crew ever was the perfect storm of awesome that I needed to finish this race strong.
Aside from the results, the important part of the race (at least for me), is that “she’s still in good spirits…” was a constant update between my crew. And they were right, I was in good spirits for the majority of the race. To be honest, it was the most positive I’ve ever been during a 100 mile race, which made for such a different (and awesome!) race experience.
Of course I had a few hiccups along the way (who doesn’t?) but I was able to avoid major problems and meltdowns by keeping my mind right (and of course by having a well prepared and thoughtful crew).
In fact, I got lost in the beginning of the race with a group of about 7 other runners (we missed a poorly marked turn) – adding about 2 miles and thirty minutes to our race (thanks to standing around and trying to reroute ourselves).
I came into the mile 18 aid station feeling a little annoyed (and quite frankly, sorry for myself), and was probably kind of a buzz kill to be around. Leaving the aid station I felt bad for not being more cheerful with my crew and realized there was no reason to keep dwelling on something as silly as 2 miles of extra credit. I told myself a) there was nothing I could do about it anyway, b) it was my own fault for missing a turn, and c) to just keep moving forward.
By the time I got into the mile 23 aid station, I was happy and excited to see my crew…and of course, even more jazzed that there were actual bathrooms.
Miles 23-44 were largely without incident. The day was heating up, but my amazing crew was way on top of it: they were prepared with sunscreen, ice buffs, snacks, and cool drinks at every aid station.
By the time I approached the big climb (Cardiac Hill) which is somewhere around mile 40, the sun was pretty direct. I watched a few runners kick it into high gear and start running up to the top, but despite my competitive spirit, I decided against joining them. Since it was hot out and the climb was mostly exposed, and of course the fact that we were still under halfway through the race, I decided to run smart and conservatively. I hiked up the hill and used the “extra” time to take in some calories, hydrate, and chat with other runners on the course.
Shortly after the climb, I picked up my first pacer, CJ, who ran with me from miles 44-48. We kept a pretty consistent pace and used the time to catch up.
The miles absolutely flew by and before I knew it, it was time to pick up Kristina and get prepared for the night miles. We packed up my headlamp, gloves, a beanie, and some extra snacks before heading out for miles 48-70.
In the 22 miles Kristina and I spent together, we had some pretty hilarious conversations about ligers, falafels, and cougars, and I even saw a turtle (well, a rock that looked like one, anyway).
We also got to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
She carried me into the night with jokes, stories, and even songs.
She also dropped some serious wisdom on me. She said, “…it’s like we’re in our own little bubble of light out here. The rest of the world is humming along, doing their busy things and we’re out here doing this…”
I thought about that little bubble of light around me for the rest of the race (and the weeks that followed). I kept thinking how amazing it is that we can create these spaces for ourselves (whether it’s through running, yoga, cooking, drawing, or whatever), and carve out experiences that challenge us, shape us, and help us grow.
Oh – and aside from spitting wisdom – we also ate a lot of quesadillas (which feels important to note).
At mile 70 I said goodbye to Kristina and picked up Nic for miles 70-74. The miles with Nic were dark, but they felt so super light and easy. She filled me in on the day, gave me updates on my little man and dog, and had me laughing at all the funny crew (and minivan) stories.
At mile 74, I got to pick up Robyn who would be running the next 9 miles with me before the final 17 with Andrew. I was really jazzed to have Robyn out there with me for some of the later miles as she’s been my consistent training buddy – braving even 20 degree mornings with me out in the dark, wee morning hours – and keeping me going through all of the early baby / breastfeeding months and everything in between.
Our first 3-ish miles took us back down Cardiac Hill, and we were flying through the descent. She kept me moving and feeling light with fun updates from the van, minivan stories about my husband, and general positivity (which is just Robyn’s way). At some point we got back onto some single-track trails and she noticed that my headlamp seemed dim (I was literally bowing forward while running to project more light). She urged me to stop and change the batteries but I’m stubborn and insisted that my headlamp was fine.
At some point, we were passing another runner on the single-track who had stopped on the side of the trail to let us through, and I was looking down at his feet with my dim light and said, “oh hey, by the way, I think your left shoelace is untied…” As he’s about to bend over to tie his shoe (which is really hard at mile 70 or 80 something), Robyn looked down and assured him that his shoe was actually totally fine.
Of course we saw him again on the course – only this time he was passing us while I was stopped on the side of the trail trying to change my dim headlamp and put my watch on a charger. And he asked if his shoelaces were OK.
Our miles together flew by and then finally, it was time to pick up Andrew for the final 17 to the finish (83-100).
During the first half of the 17 miles I ran with Andrew, I was feeling pretty confident and alert, despite my heavy, tired legs. Andrew was checking on my eating every half hour or so (I may have snapped at him for that once or twice), and was keeping me alert and awake with funny stories, inspiring words, and lots and lots of fun facts.
I ran into an old SFRC friend (Bryan) volunteering at one of the aid stations who warned me that the last two sections were a bit of a “slog.” He recommended that we get really fueled up and pack extra snacks – which we did. I ate two cups of broth filled with rice, sweet potatoes, and avocados, and took quesadillas and candy for the road.
Somewhere along the way, I saw another turtle, insisted I saw a runner go through a “tunnel,” and was 100% certain there was a cougar sitting in the bushes – but he insisted that I ignore those things (especially the cougars which I did a full stop for) and just keep moving forward – so we did.
And as the miles past, I realized that my friend who had warned us about the “slog” was not lying. By the time we got into the mile 95 aid station I was feeling pretty spent (physically and mentally), and also really tired of eating (especially since Andrew and I had just shared a sandy Larabar on the trail….ahem).
But I saw the time clock and knew that a sub 24 hour finish was within reach if I really wanted it. The aid station volunteers knew it too and said, “we’re kicking you guys out of here…” and I turned to Andrew and said, “let’s do this.”
The last 5 miles of my race were perhaps the hardest, most focused, and maybe even some of the fastest of the whole day. I was running most of the uphills, and staying as focused on moving forward as I possibly could, listening to Andrew’s stories and jokes to keep my spirits high.
In my heart, I knew the only way I would make it sub-24 hours was if I didn’t give into negative thinking; I knew that it was purely mind over matter at this point in the race, and that I was going to have to focus on moving forward – one foot in front of the other – and nothing else.
Of course, I had a few low points – like when I insisted (ahem, snapped at Andrew) that we were just going in “f*ing circles” – but with Andrew’s help, I kept pulling myself back out of the darkness.
And just as the course started to seem endless and I felt like I couldn’t quite possibly keep pushing my legs or my body, like the very moment, I thought to myself, I’ll just walk it in from here…we saw lights in the distance and I knew it had to be the finish line.
We were up on a ridge and could see what looked like a runway to the finish line about a half mile in front of us and we heard the announcer say, “hey runners, if you can hear us, you have 3 minutes to make it under 24 hours…” I looked at the distance between us and the lights, and honestly wasn’t sure I could do it. Andrew asked me what I wanted to do. And almost reluctantly, I told him I wanted to do it. I said, “let’s do it. I want to do it.”
And that was that. We picked up the pace and never let off the gas.
As we got closer and closer to the runway, we could hear everyone at the finish line cheering for us, encouraging us to make it happen. The announcer continued the countdown and I knew there was only one thing left to do…sprint it in.
I let Andrew pick up the pace and I drafted off of him, in a full on sprint until we were across the finish line with just a minute and change to spare. And it felt glorious. Amazing. And oh so worth it.
Want to hear more about my journey? Listen to Strong Runner Chicks podcast (episode 84) where I talk about mamahood, ultra-running, Rio del Lago 100 miler, and all the weird things I eat! And also, just subscribe and listen to all of their inspiring guests (and amazing hosts!).
Thank you to my entire Cold Hard Cheese crew and pacers for an amazing race out there!
I am so grateful for all of you. Thank you to my husband (Casey) for being my biggest supporter, the designated minivan driver, and the guy with all the spreadsheets.
Thank you to my best friend (Alyse) for being at nearly EVERY. SINGLE. 100 miler I’ve run and for bringing one of the cutest little fans ever. GOBBLE GOBBLE WOOT!
Thank you to Tasha, Ben, and Arthur for spending your weekend crewing me (and staying up all night like you had a newborn again!).
And of course to my parents and my brother – for sharing your home, your support, and your love with me always.
Team Cold Hard Cheese FTW.
So that was long….what’s next?
What are your race plans (or fitness goals) for 2020?
Stay sweaty ya’ll!