Just getting into this post I feel like I am all over the place with emotions and what I want to communicate. All over the place in a good way. So many emotions stemming from a long weekend after nearly completing my first 100-mile foot race in Arizona surrounded by motivating, inspiring and tough-as-nails competitors.
I was nervous going into this race — 100 miles is no joke (actually is it 101.4 miles); it’s far, it would be my first time and I had just realized after getting to my hotel that I lost a strap to my Camelbak which meant I would be stuck carrying one handheld for the entire race. I also knew that running a repeating looped course instead of a destination course would make for a long day. Almost the entire race took place on Pemberton Trail, one 15.4 mile loop in McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Arizona that we would run washer machine style for a total of six times before completing a final 9-mile loop into the finish. The elevation gain was minimal, about 5,200 ft and the terrain was a mixture of packed dirt, gravel-like sand (washout) and some technical rocky portions — all typical of trails that I have encountered so far. On paper this course seems very easy, maybe that is why there was a large field of nearly 400 participants, hoping to finish their first 100 or set a new PR(?). Who knows but I had been warned by a few people that this course had a high DNF rate simply because it was underrated by participants to who thought it would be an easy finish (This year’s DNF rate was 56%!) .
The night before the race, Ashley and I prepared our drop bags and our race costumes that would be worn for the first two laps of the race in order to be considered for the Halloween costume contest. We were going to be very feminine NFL replacement refs that would pass a pink football to each other as we passed. We don’t watch football or anything but we couldn’t help notice the NFL drama that filled our FB and Twitter news feeds recently. We figured if they could be refs, so could we! We prepared all of our stuff and we made it to bed by 6pm for a 3am wake-up call.
Without having set any real racing goals about time and place, I did want to be a top women finisher, but most importantly I just wanted to finish and decided to go with the flow. At the start of the race, I found myself weaving around lots of runners to get somewhat in the front so I could keep an eye out on who was out there (female) and not be trapped by behind packs of runners. Only a few miles into the race I ran upon a girl who kindly introduced herself to me as Jenn. We chatted a bit and she sped up ahead. I didn’t recognize her name from an earlier conversation with a friend about the potential lead women and didn’t think much about her anymore until I spotted her stopped on the side and peeing while standing up! What? I was confused and as she and another guy from Colorado neared me, I asked, “You have to tell me how you do that!” I always crack jokes about peeing and standing but I am talking about behind closed stalls. She managed to do it by apparently just pulling her shorts over to one side, leaving nothing on display and this course didn’t give us much opportunity to hide out of sight to take care of business. Anyway, we chatted just for a brief few minutes more, she told me she had taught her whole girls XC team last season to pee standing up and before I knew it, she had disappeared up ahead of me. I would find out later that she was Jenn Shelton, quite an accomplished runner and the character Brujita from Born to Run. Did I really just ask her how she pees while standing up? Idiot. Anyway, I ended my first lap back at the start of the race (Javelina Jeadquarters) at 2:19:17, about a 9:02 pace. Obviously I felt great at this point, it was soooo early in the race and I knew I should be about a minute slower per mile to be safe. The night before I had thought about running every loop in about 2:30 hours, just around 10:00, it was the easiest way to calculate my pace without having my Garmin with me (it had broke the week before the race). Coming into the finish I found Andy Noise, my crew and told him I was great, just really bored out there (already). I shoved some food in my mouth, ditched the football and headed back out the opposite way.
Heading into lap two, I realized that the annoying ankle pain was completely gone but my blisters were starting to act up on both feet. Blisters have been my only real ache and pain since switching from pavements to trails and I had thought I was able to manage them quite well. I had spent time in the morning capping several toes with KT Tape to keep them at bay but I could feel them and I knew they were there. Less than a mile into this loop, I saw Jenn on the side, apparently dropping (she would later tell me she just didn’t feel like suffering all day and apparently she was originally there to pace someone else. Crap, I don’t want to be in the lead, I don’t even know what I am doing! I just want to run, have fun and get in this run for extra comfort going into Chimera next month. I soon ran into Ash, I could spot her right away with her ref costume and we quickly exchanged excited hellos and then went on our way in opposite directions. I had come into the station around 4:41:55, apparently not slowing down as much as I had wanted to but still feeling great.
By the third lap I had caught up with a guy named Mark (Tanaka) and we pretty much chatted and ran together the entire lap. He was very positive and encouraging, and said I was doing awesome and looked great compared to other virgins he usually encounters around this mileage and had high hopes that I would finish strong. Physically I did feel great, well, besides my feet, they were hurting even more now after putting in a few more miles. Mentally I was getting worried, wondering how the heck I would be able to run 60+ miles with this nagging pain. I tried to just focus on following his footsteps and learning the stats and history of several other accomplished runners we would encounter on the course including Eric Clifton who quickly said after we were introduced, that we were Facebook friends. Oops. I guess I can’t think at that moment. Heck, I don’t really know much about ultras or the great running legends. Well, actually I love Unbreakable!!! ;). I laughed to myself as I listened to Mark and Eric talk about this particular race course and the complexity of getting into Western States. Pretty funny stuff that I will not elaborate on. As we got back to headquarters finishing this loop, I told Andy that I needed to pop my blisters because my feet were really giving me a hard time. Jimmy Dean overheard me say this and strongly suggested that I head over to the med tent for foot aid instead of just popping them myself. I hesitated with this idea because I didn’t really want to waste a lot of time at the aid station and I just wanted to be back out there but I opted to go with his suggestion and had my feet cleaned and re-taped before I headed back out. Mark had mentioned that he wanted to take it down a notch and I thought it was a good idea and I would catch up to him if I could after leaving the aid station. We came into this station around 7:17:48 (average getting slower, 9:29 per mile but still not slow enough).
Having my feet mended before going into the fourth lap was a great idea, my feet felt much better and found myself running with Mark again and we kept up short conversations, still pushing forward a bit. We did try to slow down a bit but again, I had no idea what our pace was, I was just running with him and sucking in any kind of racing advice I could get. Mark was an accomplished ultra runner with several 100’s completed and I knew he knew what he was talking about. With each step I was also finding myself cringing inside. The pain was killing me! This pain was being counteracted with all of the support I was receiving throughout the course, especially from the other female competitors. Talk about girl power! I really wasn’t comfortable with all the, “You are the first female!” comments because I didn’t want the added pressure, but it was refreshing to feel the camaraderie out there and it did help distract me during some pretty tough moments. Mark told me to go on ahead of him and although I really didn’t want to, I did. I found myself finishing the fourth loop, 100k total in about 10:10:36 (9:50 average) and in fourth place. What?! Trace, what are you doing? You should not be up here! Hahah, oh well. I was happy to finish this loop because I would be able to pick up a pacer for the next loop. I went again to the med tent for feet repair before Norm, my first pacer, and I were off.
This fifth loop was very interesting, not the worst of the day but pretty bad. We mistakenly started our loop in the wrong direction. It was only about 3 minutes into the loop when I realized it! I had wished that we had to go the wrong way because the trail was pretty smooth in that first portion going that direction. Going the right way on the 5th lap meant a lot of loose sand and rocky terrain which would intensify my foot pain with each step. Norm was fresh and cheery and so positive and I was so grateful to have him with me. I kept complaining about my feet and I finally stopped and removed a pin from my bib and began poking it through my Injinjis to alleviate the pressure from these blisters. I felt like I was being shocked every time I stepped on an uneven surface. Apparently I didn’t do a good job so I decided to walk. It was much easier to deal with because I could keep my toes lifted inside my Hokas without putting any real pressure on them. I would walk and run for the rest of the loop. I was complaining a lot and I realized all the walking was causing me other issues: stiffening muscles! We managed to get through this loop simply because I told him my life story, both good and bad. As we got to Rattlesnake aid station, three miles away from headquarters to start my last 15.4 mile loop, I changed pacers to Jeff who would accompany me for the rest of the race. Jeff got me to headquarters and again I want to the aid station med tent. I was at 14:02. Finally, they lanced my blisters, they wouldn’t do it before and we headed out. I was now second Female as the first had come in while I was in the med tent. No one wanted to tell me apparently but I would have been happy knowing that!
Unfortunately for Jeff, I was all talked out. I no longer wanted to discuss anything about me. I had succumbed to mostly walking, running on occasion from cactus to cactus or blue blinking light to blue blinking light. I told him to just tell me about himself since I only knew him since becoming friends on Facebook. He asked what I wanted to know and I said, “EVERYTHING.” Ha. So we plugged along, I learned a lot about him and I learned a little bit about pistons, his line of work. I didn’t really acknowledge anything he was saying, and I am sure he felt weird just talking about himself with absolutely no response from me but I didn’t care at that moment. The stiffness I mentioned earlier from walking was setting in and my hip flexors were so tight that I kept kicking rocks and hurting my toes even more. I had started to make these crying sounds and would stop, bend over, put my hands on my knees and fake cry. Fake because tears wouldn’t come out. That was actually funny even though I did want to cry, nothing would come out. It seemed like walking was taking forever to reach each aid station and I was getting very impatient. I’d say this was the worst lap, all remnants of couth completely out the window (hopefully Jeff doesn’t remember those moments). I stopped going to the aid stations because I didn’t want any more delays. As we finally got to headquarters, I had to sneak my way into a tent that Andy and the group he was crewing had because I knew I was dropping and they didn’t want me to drop. I just forced my way into the tent and asked a friend to spoon me while I rested. It was freezing cold in the tent and Ashley had the only blanket. After a few hours (maybe less) of rest, I found out I could drop to the 100k (really?!) and still get a buckle for all that hard work and effort I had just put in. I limped to the station and let them know I would be dnf’ing at mile 92 and wanted my buckle. Weirdly enough I was so happy. I didn’t feel like I failed at all. I was amazed at what I had accomplished that day. I just wanted to be warm. Ash and I got our buckles (she also had dropped after 77 miles) and we headed back to our hotel for some real rest.
Two days later, I am feeling refreshed and ready to figure out my game plan for my next race(s). This race was not going to deter me from getting out there again. I mean, who in their right mind would think that a 100-miler would be a walk in the park? I am extremely happy for the experience and what my future will hold. The race was more than organized, with plenty of stations along the course, wonderful and creative finishing medals and plaques and tons of very wonderful competitors. Ash and I are seriously considering running their next race Across the Years just because of our wonderful experience. We didn’t leave with 100 under our belt, but we left with a buckle and a desire to get back out there and get the next one and I now had two 100k’s under my belt, this one for running 10:10:36. Pretty cool!
100k finishing restults here
100 Mile finishing results here.