A little over six months ago, I responded to a contest of sorts to win training from a very experienced ultra marathoner, Ed Ettinghausen (The Jester). As luck would have it, I had been trying to train for the Nanny Goat 100-miler on my own, injured my knee pretty severely, and had been praying for a way to get the training I needed to actually finish a race of this length. It felt as if the ultra gods had dropped Ed into my path to make sure I could finally make it across that finish line.
So bright and early Saturday morning we drove the already packed van up to the start line at the 100-Mile Club. The van was filled with all the supplies needed for us to eat, drink, stay warm, and be safe for all 100+ miles. It was also filled with our crew, Emily and Britney, and the very eager 100-mile runners Pam Marino, Gabby Luebeck, and me. It was still pitch black as we headed into the 100-Mile Club Headquarters to pick up our bib, race bag, and get our pre-race photos taken.
The nerves were in check and I honestly couldn't wait to get on the road--but first, the opening ceremonies. Ed and Alfa had prepared a time of thankfulness and encouragement before heading us out. All the important people who had made the race possible were acknowledged and thanked for their hard work and dedication to making the race happen. When it came to the National Anthem, the 100-Mile Club student who had been set to sing for us got sick. The amazing thing is that when the request came for someone to step up, a member of one of the crews stepped up and blew us all away with his singing talent--funny how those things take care of themselves. The 50-mile and 100-mile racers were introduced, and then it was time to head out on our 100-mile journey.
The beginning of the race was kind of a blur for me. As I passed the one mile mark, all the training and the significance of the race hit me. I was overwhelmed by the sadness of losing my precious student Diego to suicide, and overwhelmed by the fact that at this point I had exactly 99 miles to go to reach 100 miles--Diego's football number was #99. I just starting ugly crying and spent the next four miles trying to put some space between me and the other racers so I could grieve in peace and prepare myself to join back with my group once I could pull myself together.
I slowed down a bit once we hit the more industrial part of this leg so I could join back up with my team: Coach Ed, Gabby, Pam, Debbie, and Ray. After the six months of training with Coach I was amazed that on the trek I learned three more things: 1) Never run backwards on the route--it adds miles and you need to conserve energy for the end of the race; 2) Don't keep your feet moving at the red light--a bad habit of mine which once again wastes much needed energy; 3) Power walk up the steeper hills to save your body for later.
As we continued to move along the Santa Ana River Trail, we hit rest stops about every 6-10 miles. At this point I didn't need pacers because it was still light and my entire team continued to run together with Coach Ed at the center. However, our crew was essential to our success at this point. Emily and Britney, our Super Crew for the first fifty miles, would call us to check on our progress and inquire about the supplies they needed to have ready for us. As we arrived at each stop, Britney and Emily would be right there with our food and drinks, they would cheer us on, and then run back to the van to meet us at the next stop. They also kept everyone at home posted as to our progress by taking photos and videos and posting them on Facebook for others to follow along.
After the Santa Ana River Trail, we turned off and headed toward the Huntington Beach Boardwalk. At our 38 mile stop, Debbie Jett hit a huge wall and almost dropped out. She had been sick the week before, and it took everything she could to just put one foot in front of the other. As we prepared to leave our stop, Coach and her crew had to remind her that she made them promise that they would NOT let her quit. She was running this race for a Stage IV cancer patient's children. She had to cross that finish line for them. They were all able to convince her to move on. She left still not quite her normal self, but she was moving forward which was the important part. Coach had prepared us for these walls--and most of us hit at least one on our way to the finish line. The important thing to remember is that you can't give in because it is all in your head. No joke, even if you are completely prepared physically, the race is 90% mental so you need to tell your mind to step out of the way and let your body take over. Body over mind is the key.
Once we hit the ocean part of the run, there were so many beautiful things to look at that the miles just flew by. We have few pictures of this section of the race, but know that it was ocean, sand, and lots of people--over and over. We ran, we stopped for food, water, and bathrooms until we finally hit that 50 mile mark in Long Beach. It was time for Emily to head back home after crewing us for fifty miles, and time for my husband Sean and my friend Stephanie to take over and help Britney with crewing duty for the rest of the race. It was also time for my pacers to arrive. One of my night time pacers got the flu and had to drop out that very morning, but Leslie D. took me through some of the worst night miles. As luck would have it, my amazing friends Jeremiah and James decided to spend the whole weekend helping me just in case I needed it--so Jeremiah was put to work as well. I will share more in my next blog about exactly how difficult those night miles can be in so many ways--including the fact that at this point I was already starting to form blisters. More to come...