“You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.” Eleanor Roosevelt.
Breathing heavily, I was just lifting one foot then the other. It has been miles since I have broke into a run and there are still four to five miles before I reach the finish. My legs are spent but I keep walking fast and that’s about all I can do. As I try to keep moving quickly, I suddenly stub my toe hard and am forced forward. Falling, I catch myself on my handhelds, then quickly push up and take a step forward. The pain is intense for a minute but I continue to limp down the trail with some grunts as I go. “Finishing” that’s what I am thinking; just finishing.
After the Redding Marathon, my focus shifted to the Gorge Waterfalls 100k. During the first month, I ran a series of short races (setting a few PR’s along the way.) It was great to feel the speed of the roads and push myself. But, for someone who the previous year went from training on trails almost all of the time and racing on the roads occasionally to barely being on the trail, I was beginning to feel the effect. So after the race series, I switched training directly towards Gorge. On one hill repeat session about four weeks out, I started to feel my knee wasn’t perfect. Then, in the long run, that weekend, my knee started aching mid-run and slowed me to a walk.
Over the next month, my training was cut back and my knee issue would disappear and then reappear continuously. So I stretched, iced, rolled and massaged diligently to try to heal it. Three days out, I did a final tuneup workout and my knee flared up again, so I iced it, got some Kinesiology tape and gave it time to rest. I decided to race and hope for the best.
The evening before the race, I joined in the official Inov-8 demo run to shake out the legs. We climbed up to Angel’s Rest with a good group including Yassine Diboun. My legs felt like sandbags on the way up, but they quickly got better. I met a few people in person that I had heard about through my running buddies and through Instagram. On the way down, I learned how to move quickly without putting stress on that knee and did well on the downhill. My knee felt perfect and I left there with a good feeling. Headed out to get some pie and a good night’s sleep.
Race morning began with waking up minutes before my alarm. Which is handy to not wake up my family/crew as I am up early enough to get something in me, 3 hours pre-race. I took a good long warm shower to try to relax. Did some self-talk to strengthen my resolve but deep down I knew at some point it was going to be tough. I wasn’t as rested as I should have been. We all got up and drove out to the race start. After I got my bib and last minute crew directions took care of, I lined up. In the crowd, I ran into Kaytlyn Gerbin and we talked till the race started.
The race took off fast and I found myself a ways back in the group. I chased, passing a lot in the wide sections and slowly climbed the switchbacks; keeping up good momentum. I found myself at the back of the women’s leaders. I watched them as we climbed and I could see they were racing very competitively with Kaytlyn leading the group. I passed them before we got to the top and continued my pace just fast enough to catch a few more before we got to the aid stations. I saw Colton Gale, a fellow Trails and Tarmac athlete out there, which is always good. (At least to me, we are teammates out here.) In this early part of the race, my stomach had not got going yet so I wasn’t taking in as much as I hoped I could. Out of Yeon Aid station, I kept my pace good and was running in the top 20, slowly passing a few runners but my body still wasn’t clicking as I went. So, I tried to be prepared for a chance that my race could go wrong and kept my pace controlled but also fast enough for the chance it could go better than I ever hoped.
When I got to Cascade locks Aid station (which is about a third through the race), I sat down and regrouped; changed out my nutrition and made a call. Given that I had been unable to drink much, I decided to leave the aid station with 18oz of OJ. Which was a good call because right after I left the aid station, I started drinking it and my body woke up. My stomach finally began working but right then my lack of calories caught up to me and I was walking. Thankfully my OJ, as it always has, brought me back in another 5 minutes but that left me with the problem of being out of fluid and at least 7.5 miles to go. After a minute, I had the solution: Run as hard as I could to shorten the time it will take to get there and eat only my GU chew till I get there.
All of a sudden, I was a man on a mission. I ran up and passed the three runners who passed me while I was walking and started to reel in another runner. I wasn’t running crazy but I was running every step of the uphills. In another mile I finally passed that runner in the Speedo. At least, I could stop looking at that as he had been just within sight for the last 10 miles. I was running strong, summiting the last hill and started to descend. I was just a few miles from the turn around when I saw him coming up the trail. Yup! Jim came tearing up the uphill and it was a few minutes till I saw the next runner. When I saw the 4th place runner, I found out later it was indeed Ben Koss. Seeing the way he was running and the look he had in his eyes, I could tell that he wanted that Ticket. I knew right then he would get it; No doubt! A mile out from Wyeth Aid station, I ran out of gas again walking some on the final downhill till I got to the Wyeth Aid station in 12th place. It was getting cold there and started to sprinkle. The goal became simple: get warm and refuel. I put my windbreaker on and a temporary coat while I was at the aid station. Then I told my crew what I wanted for hydration and fuel. We had a plan but it is always adaptable for this very situation. I start eating anything I could, starting with strawberries, then gummies, coke, chips, and then I was out of there. This time I left with the right amount of drink and nutrition to make it to the next aid station. But had I fallen too far behind?
Well, it was tougher at first for sure. It took one and a half miles till I was warm again. During that time, the field was going past and I saw a lot of friends and familiar faces. Began cheering as I went which helped me a lot. I was still running off the high I got from the aid station. Eventually the uphill was starting to be unrunnable as I became tired. I could still run the downhills and I did while trying to fuel as I went. The miles clicked away as I tried to keep consistent pace however I was slowing and got passed by a few runners. I was still in the top 20 when I rolled in to Cascade Locks. I spent a while getting myself fueled and rested up. Took time to make sure I had water and some fuel drink as well as extra GU and chews. I sat there a minute just talking about how I was feeling. I commented to them “You know I am surprised Kaytlyn hasn’t caught me yet.” Then as if that was a queue, the whole aid station started to cheer and here she came leading the women’s race.
It was time for me to get up at that point anyway so I got my handhelds, grabbed some gummies from the aid station, and followed her out on to the trail. I just wanted to see how she was doing so I chatted for a minute and we kept running. I would lose some ground on the hills at first but after a while my legs recovered and I was able to keep up with her. I knew I didn’t have a faster pace in me so I stayed behind Kaytlyn and we started working together. The miles went by; we climbed and descended, hopped over and ducked under the many trees in our way. We both looked back occasionally for another female runner. I didn’t care about my race but I wanted Kaytlyn to get that Ticket. As we came up to the last waterfall and crossed the bridge over the creek, she started to go slightly in the wrong direction so I said “the trail is over here” and went ahead as she followed. Now, it happened that a photographer was just up the trail, so I got there just ahead of her. Not far ahead was the spot where the trail was washed out. There was a sign in the middle of the trail that said “X” and “Wrong way”. I began pointing at it. My hand and eyes followed the ribbons that I began seeing on the hillside till I was pointing straight up at where we were supposed to go. We had to climb up a hillside by means of a knotted rope tied to a bush. I realized it the same time that Kaytlyn did. She said “OH SHIT” … which was pretty much how we both felt about it. I went right ahead and climbed it quick then stopped to make sure she was good and kept going.
We rolled into the final aid station together. My crew was a finely tuned machine at this point so we made quick work out of that aid station and we were off. Kaytlyn was leading and I followed as we ran on the pavement. My crew drove past, making sure we were good and cheering us for a second before they disappeared. Literally, two minutes later I informed Kaytlyn my legs were getting tighter and I might have to slow. Not long after that, my legs gave out and I was feeling all those rocks I stepped on as I walked down the pavement watching Kaytlyn disappear ahead of me. My energy was still good and despite my previous assessment, my legs were not stiff and my electrolytes were actually on point today. But, my hamstrings and any other muscles that made it possible to break into a run were unbelievably fatigued. Any attempt to run made me stop suddenly. So I walked along as fast I could hoping it was something that would change because twelve miles is a long way to walk.
So, I trekked up and off the road and up the trail watching the race pass me slowly as I did what I could. I observed the women’s race for the third time as they passed me. I was slowly making my way up the trails through the fallen trees, trying to run occasionally. Funny thing, the weather was working out perfectly for me that day. When I wanted to cool off, it sprinkled some and when it got cold, I was coming into an aid station and could grab a jacket. And now, coming into the final aid station, it started to hail as I got under the tent to have my bottles refilled and stopped not much longer after I got out of the station. Thank you! (By the way, the water they had here tasted very chlorinated and I could not bring myself to drink it.) I did fill up on 18oz of Ginger Ale which got me home.
Around four to five miles left in the race, I stubbed my left big toe full speed in to a rock. This caused me to be thrown forward thus landing on my handhelds. I did not fall but instead I was on all fours; my knees did not even touch the ground. The pain hit me quick as I pushed off with my hands to get upright. I started limping on down the trail which was down a hill next and that made the pain worse. Thankfully, a mile later, the pain was going away and I was walking normally again. Somewhere there, Andy (another Trails and Tarmac athlete) passed me on the pavement. Go Team! Still nothing to do but walk over the hill and hope my family is not to worried I am way off pace. Eventually I make it up and over the mountain and touch the pavement again; runners still passing me because I can’t even run downhills. Sad! I step off in the corner of a switch back to let one by but he rounds the corner and steps right on the toe I stubbed. The pain that I forgot about suddenly returns and once again it’s making the journey painful but not for too long
The finish line seems so close but was still two miles away. As I took one step at a time, I begin to wonder why I do this then I remember everything that I have experienced through the last year through Ultra Running. The rough patches and moments where I wanted to give up to the times where I believed anything was possible. The places I’ve been and people I have run with. Those I have helped and the many who have helped me. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at this moment. And just to prove my point in the last quarter mile, a fellow runner who has clearly seen me walking, asks to run to the finish with me. I said “I’ll try” and I ran with him as fast I could to that finish line.
In a those few short hours, I once again found myself in an experience of a lifetime. Ran with fire and never stopped moving even when the wheels fell off. I got to be there to support my trail family and am so thankful for all the support they gave me. I will have to come back someday. Right now, however, it’s time for a good long break.
Come back Stronger.
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