Before I divulge my 50-103 mile experience with you, I have a funny story that I want to share. On Thursday and Friday of this week I was attending a large conference in Desert Hot Springs, CA. Of course, my only thought was finding a victim, I mean a partner, to run with me early Friday morning. Being almost two hours from home, I could not depend on my usual running buddies to support me here. I had asked a few of my teaching friends in attendance at the conference and either they were driving home and then back up in the morning or they wanted to sleep in. Imagine that? In desperation, after attending the conference all day Thursday, I accosted some man in the elevator who looked like he was going for an evening run. I asked him if he would be running the following morning in case he might want to join me, and he shared that he was too old to be running on consecutive days. Being well trained by Coach Ed I countered with my experience training for the EC 100 without consistent rest days. He was impressed by my accomplishment but not enough to join me early Friday morning.
At the conference the next day we had been tasked with creating a table group poster that illustrated our philosophy on formative assessments, and as I was walking to the back of the room to find some tape to display our poster, the presenter called me forward and asked if he could use our poster to share with the entire audience of 500+ teachers. The problem was that we had created our masterpiece upside down on the piece of poster paper and the sticky part was on the bottom of the poster and not the top. When he tried to display it, it flopped over. I ran up to fix the problem with the painter's tape I had discovered, and in thanking me for the help the presenter said to the audience, "Thanks for the help! And not only is she an amazing helper but this woman is amazing because she just recently completed running a 100-mile race." After two hours of trying to figure out how this man could possibly know what I had accomplished, the presenter summed up his presentation by sharing that running was his happy place and that he had run in the foothills outside the hotel the previous night. In my zealousness to recruit a running partner, I had not recognized that the man I had accosted in the elevator was none other than our presenter in street clothes.
I share this example because I think that I have already forgotten how truly amazing it is that through the Zero to 100-Mile Hero program, Coach Ed took some inexperienced ultra marathoners and helped us run over 100 miles. Especially for those of us that had never even run more than 26.2 miles at one time. I guess I am reminded of the enormity of what I accomplished when I see the reaction others have to my story. As I reminisce about the more difficult legs of the race, I am reminded about what it truly took to cross that finish line at the Santa Monica Pier.
In my last blog I shared about my experience from the start line at Norco to our 50-mile check point in Long Beach. One of the things that Coach Ed shared with us on race day was that psychologically the 50-mile mark is not really the half-way point in a 100-mile race. I was thankful that he had not shared this piece of information with us before this time, but on race day it helped me push through the toughest nighttime miles. I knew that once I reached mile 75 I would have less than a marathon left, but first I had to get to mile 75.
Once we left the checkpoint in Long Beach at mile 50, we headed out toward some of the more difficult miles to maneuver. We had donned our night gear including lighted vest, warmer clothing, and we all carried flashlights. Despite all my best efforts, I had already started getting some pretty gnarly blisters (remember my previous blog entitled Blisters the Size of Texas)? In addition, I knew that the route was very complicated, there were some pretty steep hills to overcome, and the dark would present its own challenges psychologically. Another difficulty I had not counted on was my steady and very dependable running partner who was slated to pace me during the toughest leg through Long Beach and San Pedro had woken up that very morning with a debilitating flu that left him bed-ridden. During our training run we had encountered hoards of cockroaches running along the streets on this stretch of the run, and I made the mistake of letting my other night pacer, Leslie D, know about this. She is a very brave runner, but cockroaches are not her thing, to say it mildly. But with my first pacer flat on his back, and my other pacers not arriving until after midnight, Leslie decided to step up and run what we called "the cockroach leg" with me. It took so much for her to do this for me, and I can never thank her enough for doing this.
When Leslie D joined me I told her that I needed her to just talk to me. As I had run the practice leg of these miles, I had hit my first wall and I knew that distraction was the key to me successfully moving beyond this mental roadblock. We talked about Leslie's trip to Europe, about taking her daughter to Disneyland for Mickey's Halloween Party, and it is truly amazing how much this strategy worked for me. Leslie was too funny. As she was telling me her stories, her keen eyes were scanning the ground for any cockroaches. At several points during our run she would scream, jump in the air, and then continue on with her story. At one point a huge cockroach seemed to be aiming right for our feet, and poor Leslie must have jumped a couple feet in the air to avoid it touching her. Once we ran past San Pedro, the cockroaches disappeared and Leslie could relax a little and enjoy the beauty of running this race. At this point, my friend Jeremiah joined us and Leslie decided to keep running with us until the 75-mile mark. Jeremiah and his husband James took off the entire weekend just in case I needed them, and when my pacer fell ill, Jeremiah was called in to do some of the final night miles with me.
At this point Debbie, Pam, Gabby, Coach Ed and I were still running together along with my pacers Jeremiah and Leslie D. Because of some last minute construction, we had to take a detour through San Pedro that actually cut off some of the more boring parts of this leg. I have a terrible sense of direction, so I was very thankful we had Coach with us to guide us through the new miles. I was also trying not to focus on my blisters, because by this time both feet had huge blisters on the balls near my toes and my pinky toe was bruised and covered in a huge blister. It hurt to run, but it hurt even more to walk. At every major rest stop, my friend Stephanie had to re-dress my blisters. I changed shoes, I changed socks, and nothing seemed to help them feel better. Jeremiah and Leslie helped me by telling me stories and making me laugh to keep my mind off the pain.
At the mile 75 check point, Leslie D finally finished her pacing duties, and Jeremiah continued on with me. Another issue I was facing from about mile 50 on was my nutrition. While I was not having intestinal issues, nothing I had brought to eat sounded good to me. I had been eating fruit puree mixes, Stinger pomegranate chews, and Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but I was having difficulty swallowing anything that wasn't liquid. At one point I asked my husband to get me some non-greasy protein, but could not verbalize what that might be. He bought me a chicken breast sandwich, and I spent most of the night taking a few bites of chicken and then attempting to swallow that before my next pit stop where I knew that my friend Stephanie was going to try to feed me again. Before the race I has tasked her with making sure I ate and drank enough, and she was taking her job very seriously. At every stop, she made me eat and drink a little before she would let me back on the road again. I credit Stephanie with making sure I had enough energy to finish my 100 miles.
At this point we were running along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Palos Verdes. My friends Leslie W and Ramona were now pacing us along with Jeremiah who decided to stick with us for some more miles. From about midnight on, it becomes harder to find restrooms along the route. Before this there were gas stations, fast food restaurants, and I even used a bar restroom at one point. However, during late night hours everything closes down. Even the beach bathrooms are locked tight. And of course when there is no bathroom access, that is when I need to go most. I learned that during an ultra marathon, I need to let go of embarrassment and find a nice bush if I get too desperate. And find a nice bush is exactly what I did. By this time I was covered in stink and this was just another one of those odors. At one point my poor friend Jeremiah who had been running with me for several hours at this point just looked at me and stated, "Dang Michelle! You really stink!" It really made me laugh when I needed it. As the sun came up and we were running up the PCH in Palos Verdes, we saw what looked like a port-o-potty on the front lawn of one of these beautiful PV houses. We thought it must be a mirage, because who would have such a thing on their lawn? As we approached we realized it was there for some construction workers doing work on the house, and the owners of the house were kind enough to leave it unlocked so I could use an actual toilet for the first time since the 75 mile point. It is funny how even a portable toilet seems so luxurious after squatting behind a bush.
As we finally finished the PCH portion of the race, we turned back to the beach boardwalk for the rest of our miles. At this point my blisters were so painful that they made my eyes water. As I sat down to have my blisters fixed once again, I finally broke down in tears. I was so frustrated that my blisters were affecting my race and I resolved not to let those blisters keep me from finishing. I was running for my student Diego, and I had to push on no matter how much pain I had in my feet. I discovered that while it hurt to run, there was no way I could walk at all. The walking made my feet slide back and forth which irritated my blisters even more, so there was no way I could conserve energy with my walk. So from mile 75 on all I could do was run. I must admit, I was a bit whiny at this point, but Gabby and my pacers would not let me stay this way for long. They distracted me, they kept me positive, and they made me put one foot in front of the other by running with me all the way. Our initial plan was to have Leslie and Ramona split the last 30 miles by switching off at every pit stop, but neither girl wanted to leave me alone. They both ended up doing more than 30 miles when neither had ever run more than 15 miles at one time. I am so grateful to those two girls for pushing themselves to the limit to help me!
My other lifesaver was Coach Ed's wife Martha. She is a licensed massage therapist, and while Stephanie fixed my blisters, Martha would be massaging my legs to make sure that they stayed loose enough to continue on. I do not joke when I share that my rest stops were a little like a race car coming in for some much needed work. I was directed to my chair where Steph focused on my feet, Martha on my legs, Sean on filling my water bottle, and even Debbie Jett's crew would spray my legs with something like Icy Hot to cool them down and relieve some of the muscle soreness. It took a village to get me to the finish line in more than one way.
The most difficult miles were honestly the last 10-12. My feet were on fire, the temperature was getting pretty hot, and we had now been running for well more than 27 hours now. We had passed the most boring beach miles and were now headed toward Marina Del Rey and Venice. This was a very complicated route, and I was thankful that Gabby and I had run this section two weeks before this day on the practice run. At this point it was just me, Gabby, and our two pacers. We no longer had Coach Ed to navigate, so it was up to us to make sure we didn't get lost. We couldn't afford to even add one extra mile at this point. As we twisted and turned through the boat docks of the Marina, we finally reached our final stretch in Venice before turning onto the Venice Boardwalk. Gabby and I caught up to Coach Andy who was also running the race. It was after noon and the temperatures were rising. I had run out of water and was starting to feel the affects of some dehydration. Leslie stopped to get me an icy Coke as Ramona, Gabby, and I continued on. Just as I reached the boardwalk, I started to get dizzy and Gabby ran into the adjacent restaurant to get me some ice water to cool me down. She placed some directly on my neck and we poured the rest into my bone-dry water bottle. I instantly felt better, and when Leslie arrived with my Coke, the cold sugary drink was the last piece of the puzzle I needed to keep me going those last few miles.
Have you ever had one of those dreams where as you run down a hallway and no matter how far you run you never seem to make any progress? That is what the Venice Boardwalk was like for me. I knew that as soon as I saw the ferris wheel in the distance, I had one more mile to the finish. But no matter how far I ran, dodging the crowds of tourists, that ferris wheel just would not come any closer. Finally, finally, that ferris wheel was in sight. At this point I knew that no matter what, I was going to finish. I had about two hours until the 32 hour cut-off, and I could crawl a mile in that time if I needed to. Instead my legs took off like a racehorse headed into the barn. As I came closer I saw my friend Steph and Coach Ed ready to run me in. Coach Ed ran me to my first full marathon finish at Carlsbad, and it was fitting that he would do the same at the EC100. As I came closer to the finish, I could see my husband Sean on the left and my eight year-old son on the right. I grabbed my son's hand and made sure we crossed that finish line together.
The rest of the experience was just so surreal. Coach Ed presented me with my finisher's medal and my hard-earned 100-mile belt buckle. I took my picture with Coach, with the Race Director, Alfa, and then I sat down for a minute to wait for Gabby to come in. A few moments later I could see her coming in flanked by Coach Ed, Stephanie, Gabby's daughter Britney, and our pacers Leslie, and Ramona. Watching Gabby finish was almost as sweet as my own finish. Finishing an ultra was on her bucket list and she could now check this one off.
As we all waited for the final finishers I was so humbled by the race staff and volunteer's kindness. Alfa actually got on her hands and knees and took off my shoes so my feet could breathe. Volunteer Ellen made sure I was all taken care of as well. I am so thankful for this entire experience and the kindness of all involved. The final amazing experience was watching the last racers come in. I kept asking about my friend Ray who had still not come in. I was worried that he wouldn't make it, but with two minutes to spare, he finally sprinted in for his first 100-mile finish.
I know that this blog is a little long, but I hope you stuck with me to the end. This was such an amazing experience and I wanted to be sure to convey the ups and downs as clearly as I could. After this experience I agree with Coach Ed that ANYONE could do an ultra marathon if they put in the training both physically and mentally. I am proof of this. If this former 230 pound sedentary mother of three can complete a more than 100-mile race, ANYONE can! Thanks to everyone that supported Gabby and I in any way as we prepared to run this race, and a special thanks to our crews, pacers, and all the EC100 race staff and volunteers! This was a once in a lifetime experience, and I am so grateful to all that made me a much stronger runner in the process!