This year I had the pleasure of coaching someone to her first 100 mile race. Her family lives in the southeast and October was good timing for work, so the Grindstone 100 it was. She did everything right in training, and found herself down south with her race plan and tapered legs, when the race was cancelled due to weather. We all know that can happen, but it's never easy when you've trained for months and are ready to go. Because of the time of year, there weren't many back up options. There was, however, the Bigfoot 120 scheduled for the next week. What's another twenty miles between friends? Well, Ashley graciously shares her experience in what follows. SPOILER ALERT: she doesn't mention that she came in first woman and second overall!! For more pictures, or to follow more of her adventures, check out her blog, Muffin Tapas. Huge congrats, Ashley, and thanks for sharing your story.
“Are you done now, can you learn to knit or do something less destructive to your body?” -mom
What I learned from running my first 120m race- It is a really, really, really, long way!
A light mist in the air, a nip of cold, our hearts racing with anticipation, this was it, the beginning of what was about to be a very long weekend. A slow but steady cadence took us into the first evening as an eerie fog settled among the trees. I could feel the rush of water tickle down my legs as I pushed through the watery tree limes or the long grasses covering the trail.
I felt good, great actually, with only a few missteps that added an extra mile or two of back tracking, the Bigfoot 120 was looking to be the perfect mixture of fall weather.
And then it got worse…a lot worse.
1. FIND THE SUN…
Make it through the first night, don’t give up on yourself. Find the sun, and you will find the finish line.
I spent months training and gave up all of my other activities for this one goal. I ran my back to back days, trained with a headlamp at night; but after hours of sensory deprived running towards a 2x2 light beam for hours on end, your mind begins to wander. Quitting seeps into reality in the wondering of why pushing the limits seemed like such a good idea 6 months ago.
And then I ran into a tree. There were no walls in this race, just a jagged tree limb jammed into my upper thigh with uninhibited momentum. An instant throbbing pain turned that 3am bruise into a motivational time bomb of SUCK. There it was a flicker on the trail, shining back at me, teasing, taunting and tempting me further, it was my confidence dangling from an evergreen. That reflective cloths pin with pink ribbon pulled me from my bruised ego and drove me forward.
I emerged into the first morning with a light wind and the temperature dropping ever so slightly as I arrived at the aid station.
2. Don’t be picky, just stuff your facehole.
If something looks good at an aid station, eat it!
I would consider myself a “clean” eater, the less processed the better, no caffeine, bring on the fruits, veggies… just say no to HFCS! In an event like this, anything you can keep down is a winner.
As the cold wet began to saturate past all the layers it slowly ate away at the warmth stored under my skin, I made my way around Coldwater Lake to the aid station. It was like Christmas…no really there were children with bells, twinkle lights and garlands donning the Aid tent, a joyous atmosphere of decorated sweaters and Santa hats.
They filled me with soup and salty crackers. I was hoping to grab a peanut butter sandwich for the road, they improvised. Two sugar cookies with peanut butter frosting then an added smear of classic crunchy PB and sandwiched it all together. OK, that may be been too much, but the PB sammy with an oreo shoved in the middle I had earlier that day was phenomenal.
Coke= bubbles + sugar + sodium + caffeine = why yes, thankyou.
Post Race Detox Juice Cleanse for 1, please.
3. Stubborn Determination VS. Mother Nature
She is brutal and will take you to your limit and maybe beyond. Be prepared for the unexpected.
That nice mist from the first night that I was so thankful for turned quickly to a roaring lion of wind, stinging spray, and biting cold. We were venturing into the exposure of the unprotected ridgelines. Forward progress of any kind was the only protection. Someone bigger might have had a chance against the 50+mph winds. I was a leaf blown ferociously off the trail. I ducked behind a rock wall momentarily to reclaim some inner heat for the last push to the next aid station.
The conditions deteriorated; but the ignorance of being a rookie, and stubborn determination to finish my first race of this distance forced me out of the aid station and back onto the ridge for the next bought with Bigfoot.
I saw a quote handwritten on the inside of a hat that nailed it “Stubbornness trumps skill and training.” Ignorance and stupidity keep you going. There were many who started the race, and only 7 masochistic enough to finish. Most battled their way out of aid stations only to be shut down by brute force invading the ridge. To retreat was the smart decision; their effort was an achievement and does not go unrecognized.
4. The Highly Technical Hefty Special
If there is a remote chance you will need something, PACK IT. You can always make room in your car for one more piece of gear, it is better to have it and not need it, than wishing you had it when you need it most, and fail without it. You bought that oversized SUV for a reason, which didn’t include getting groceries or commuting around the city.
I packed a lot, but it wasn’t enough. Water found its way into any opening of my rain shell, soaking through every layer from the inside out. It was coming from all directions; I trudged onward, making my way down off the ridge to the tree-less expanse towards the aptly named Windy Pass aid station. I was cold. The dry shoes and tights I had traded out at the last stop were soaked in less than 5 minutes. The wind blasts were screaming through by body, I was once again searching desperately for any sign of “confidence.”
The wind ripped through the aid tent where I sat shivering, sipping a cup o’ noodles, as the volunteers stood as anchors to the tent poles. I couldn’t get warm, I knew if I sat to long that would be the end.
I fashioned a technical wind skirt from a hefty bag and head back into the raging wind climbing my way back up the ridge. It was a very, very, very…very long 18 of the most technical miles to the final checkpoint.
1 chossy traverse, two rope assisted scrambles, 4 flooded river crossings, my legs were toast; and it wasn’t over. I stumbled into the aid station in search of anything warm or dry my crew had on hand.
5. Everyone deserves and Entourage
They will bring you humor with you need it, food even when you’re not feeling it, but remember that they are suffering right along with you.
They were there with cow bells and tutu’s. They had to have been tired, wandering around in the middle of the night on old forest roads in search of the next aid station. I could hear their cheers as I arrived at each station. It kept me moving forward, knowing they were awaiting my arrival.
They made me eat even when I didn’t feel like it, and they keep me in dry cloths and a warm van if only for a brief interlude.
I am certain they think I am pretty crazy for putting my body through this torture, but they were there to hold me up when I hobbled across the finish line. When I was feeling my worst, they made me feel my best.
Thanks again, Ashley, and rest up!