100 Miles to Redemption - Page 2
Now to set the picture for the race: For anyone not familiar with the Run Woodstock Hallucination 100 Mile, it is in Pinckney State Park, not far from Ann Arbor, Michigan. The six-loop course, described as “dry and runnable,” consists of 16.7-mile dirt-road, horse trail and rail trail loops with an elevation gain of 1301 feet per loop. I knew my pacers would be crucial to my success. I asked my friend Dave if he would pace me again this year. He came out for one loop in the rain and mud last year. I thought for sure he wouldn’t sign on again after my “fail” last year. But he graciously accepted and said he would do the third and fourth loop with me.
For my second pacer, I leaned on a man who was partly responsible for my desire to do a 100 miler, Mike, a podcaster, whose show I listed to for years. I remember when he did his first 100-miler and I thought, “Wow, that is amazing that I know someone who has run that far.” Mike became a great resource, willing to help me with ultrarunning when I needed it.
I gave my pacers only one demand: I wanted them to lie to me, to tell me I look great when I look like crap, to promise me to do anything to keep me moving forward. I enlisted my husband, Eric, and my best friend, Rhonda, as my crew. Crews are so overlooked and under appreciated. They wait for you for an hour, just to see you for one minute.
Run Woodstock is three days of peace, love and running. They have races of every distance. You can run a 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon, 50K, 50 mile, 100K and 100 mile. They even have a “natural mile” and of course I saw them on the trail well before I began hallucinating. The race takes place at Hell Creek Ranch, near Hell, Michigan. Yes, you can say you “ran through Hell.” It is a weekend of music, bonfires, friends and running, an atmosphere that makes you feel welcome.
A close friend of mine had recently passed away after a battle with cancer. I decided I would dedicate my race to her. Her spirit was with me the entire way. I felt she was an angel on my shoulder; if I almost tripped but recovered, I would say, “Thanks, Joyce.” There are different kinds of suffering, her suffering was not chosen, she did not choose to have cancer and, yet, she fought a good fight. And so, I chose to suffer some by the pain inflicted in running 100 miles, in her memory.
The night prior to the race I worked my shift at Hanson’s Running Shop. Customers and coworkers wished me luck. At home, I checked Facebook messages, which were lots of well-wishes from friends and family that would keep me going during the race. I updated my cover photo on Facebook to a photo my husband took of me from behind, decked out in my running gear and pack.
Race morning I woke up and checked my Facebook. My pacer Dave had posted a video on my wall of the Black Eyed Peas singing,“I gotta feeling, that tonight’s gonna be a good night ...” A huge smile appeared on my face and I started dancing around the living room. This song became my race theme and popped in my head countless times later that day.
My husband and I arrived at the ranch at about 1 p.m. and found our assigned parking space for our RV, a recent purchase that my husband convinced me would be great for my races, which proved to be accurate. I picked up my race packet and bib, then settle back into the RV to watch TV and relax until the start. Just before leaving the RV, I slipped on an orange rubber bracelet a friend gave me last year after my first 100-mile attempt. It simply says the word “remarkable” on it. He felt that even though I had not met my goal, it was still "remarkable" that I would continue on this journey.
Photo by Greg Sadler
The start was 4 p.m. Five minutes before gun time, I headed into the start corral. I wasn't even nervous. I knew there was no alternative but to finish. I had made my “Quit List.” I knew the only reasons would be acceptable for me do drop from this race.
1- a broken bone that was protruding from the skin
2- loss of consciousness for longer than a few minutes
3- not making a cut off (If this happened, I vowed I would give up my bib and finish the race on my own.)
I thought a few of my friends and family might want to track my progress, so I turned my cellphone over to my husband and he updated my Facebook status every four or so miles. What I later found out was that people were checking their computers every hour of the entire race, watching it unfold. I was humbled by the outpouring of comments and concerns as this adventure took place.
The humidity skyrocketed in the first lap and I settled into the camaraderie with the other runners. I had only one goal for the first loop: to finish while the sun was still out. The trail was sandy. The only hazard in the trail was the horse poop. Luckily, I dodged it all. I flew down the hills, which is unusual for me as I am kind of a slow poke on the descents. I reached the stretch flat rail trail with no trip hazards. I put time in the bank here and slowed down when I got back on the trail. After a while we popped back into the woods and then down the path that led to the aid station where Eric and Ronda were waiting. I waved a quick hello and continued on my way. I remembered the trail from two years ago.
By mile 12, I'd made good time. I passed my crew and headed back to the trail and up one of the course's hardest hills that seemed to go on forever. Everything was going well ... until it wasn't. At Mile 15, I stepped off the trail and started vomiting. It came out of nowhere. I didn't even feel sick. As I stood there a few of my friends passed. Thinking my race is over, they asked if I was OK. I said I will be in a minute. They seemed satisfied with my answer and kept running. I might have been stopped for two minutes at most and I knew it would pass. I threw up last year too, but that was mile 46. That was a different story. Last year I took a cup of vegetable soup and swallowed a pea. I hate peas. I think the thought of it alone made me vomit. I have no idea what happened this year. I hadn’t tried anything new. No matter, I just wiped my face off with a bandana and headed back to the trail and into the mile 16.6 aid station in the start/finish area during the day's last light. The first lap took me about four hours.
Erik handed me my headlamp and a flashlight and I headed back out, easily following the course markers. I tried to eat again but gag. Luckily there was nothing else in my stomach to vomit. At the next aid station, my crew handed me some Tums. I could only nibble on them. Ronda handed me a ziplock bag with three slices of watermelon, the first thing I was able to keep down (so I ate it at every aid station from then on). I passed some people on the road and trail, some also passed me. No one passed without saying something encouraging. “How’s your race going?”, “You’re doing great”, “Keep it up!” We were not competing;we were on the same team. No one made me feel inferior because I was slower than them.
At about 10 p.m. the rain started, just as I expected, and I embraced it. It looked like shards of light in my headlamp. It played tricks on my eyes. I passed a lot of people that hadn't prepared for the conditions. As planned, I embraced the suck. I took hot soup broth at the aid stations. I tell them only broth, no veggies ... they graciously honored my request. I don’t want a pea incident like last year.
The second loop was tough as I was alone in the dark. When I arrived at the start/finish to meet my pacer, I was happy. In the dark with my headlamp on, I started singing as loud as I could, hoping to get Dave's attention: “I gotta feeling, that tonight’s going to be a good night ...” Halfway through the line, I saw him. He heard me and joined in with a huge smile on his face, ready to tackle his very first ultramarathon. Dave kept me on track and we started passing people, saying encouraging things . We passed 17 people in two laps. I felt strong as he encouraged me.