This is the fourth and final account of Melissa's Lean Horse adventure. With nightfall comes inky darkness and chilly air. Exhaustion creeps into Melissa's tired bones. Hyperthermia becomes a growing concern. A ten mile final climb to the finish line is a "death slog". The wind picks up and drains the last few drops of Melissa's confidence. Hallucinations creep into her mind, winged animals buzz her face, furry creatures run between her feet and nip at her ankles. David, where is David? Finally, a cheery light bobs in the distance, but is it David? She can taste the sweetness of the magic finish line.
Thank you Melissa for allowing SMR the privilege of posting this amazing adventure. You make us stand tall in pride and solidarity.
It's a good day to be alive,
Getting to High Country wasn’t bad, but David told me that I was getting slower. I started to get concerned that the next woman might be on my tail. At this aid station I asked David if he could hang out until he saw the next women. That way I could gauge how fast I would have to go to maintain my position. I was feeling a little anxious at this point and wished I knew how much of a lead I had. There was 5 miles between High Country and Hill City. I told David to wait there until he saw the next woman or for 40-50 minutes. At this point I was running slower than 5 miles an hour. If he got to Hill City in an hour, he would be able to catch me before I left. The trail to Hill City was all downhill. With my anxiety a little higher than it was before, I pushed the pace a bit. Coming into Hill City I was surprised to not see a head light bobbing along. Where was David?
As I entered the town (we had to go through town to get to the aid station) I reasoned to myself that this was good. The longer it took David to get to the aid station, the longer he had to wait to see the next woman. Just as I made the final turn to get into the aid station I saw David. He looked astonished. It gave me a boost of confidence when he said, “How did you get here so quick? I know it was downhill, but you didn’t have to sprint it!” Another good thing he told me was that he waited for 40 minutes and didn’t see anyone. This meant that the next woman had to be at least 4-5 miles behind me, maybe even more. The man at the aid station said, “if you keep this up, you could have a 21-22 hour finish. All of these things made me quite happy. I had 15.1 miles to go, I was still in first women’s position and I was feeling good. The only thing that was darkening my mood was the 10 mile uphill I faced. I had put it out of my thoughts till now. Here is where it may get ugly I thought as I left mile 84.9.
Right away, I could feel the effects of my fast descent from High Country to Hill City. I instantly regretted my foolishness to run that fast. Even though I was concerned about my placement, I should have never let myself expend that much energy on the downhill. I was going to pay for it now. The climb from Hill City to Orville (mile 89.9) was becoming a death slog. All of my confidence had gone out the window. To make matters worse, the wind picked up and I was freezing. Dropping temperatures and decreasing speed can lead to hypothermia quickly. I had to keep moving. The uphill grade was not horrendous, but the continual uphill with no downhill to break it up was. The only thing that made it better was that I passed three or four men as I labored up the hill. “Where was David? “I kept thinking. Seeing his headlamp would mean that I was close to the aid station. Being close to the aid station meant that I was getting close to being done. All I had to do was keep going to Orville, then Mountain, and then a 4.6 mile downhill to Custer and the finish. After (it seemed like ) forever, I saw a headlamp coming towards me.
Thank god it was David. He asked if I was okay, because this section of 5 miles took me a considerable amount of time more than the last one. I told him I wasn’t doing well and that I was extremely cold. He got a jacket for me and told me to keep going. I got a few bites of something at Orville, but could hardly choke it down. David looked at my water bottle and said, “you haven’t drank any water!” I hadn’t! I drank a little Coke and Ginger-ale at the aid station. I was now only 10 miles out of Custer, but it might as well of been 100. How could I go from feeling on top of the world 2 hours ago, to this? I know I needed to keep moving. I knew if I kept moving, no matter what, I’d still get that sub 24 buckle. It was just going to be so hard. The wind was whipping around and I really did not want to face those 10 miles. I knew I had to, I did not have even the slightest thought of quitting, I was just dreading the pain I was going to go through to get to what I wanted. Off I started to Mountain Aid station 5.7 miles away.
Looking back, I was having trouble because I stopped drinking, I stopped eating and I should have been taking salt tablets. In the moment, I couldn’t see that. What I did see was hallucinations of animals and other things on the trail. I was sure I would see something and then it would be gone. Raccoons, rabbits, shadowy large animals with wings and beaks. I wasn’t sure if I could keep it together. The trail, at this part, had very steep drop offs on either side. I remember thinking, “it’s okay if I fall off, then this agony will stop…I’ll be done”. Luckily I had some sense and maintained that if I did fall, it might be worse because then I would be injured, and with my luck, conscious, and it would hurt worse and I wouldn’t be able to finish. This was so different than last year. Last year I had come across the leading lady at mile 84 and then had such a strong finish. This year I had the lead for the last 50 odd miles and I was shattered! Where is that light? Where is that light? I kept thinking. Why did I tell David to not run too far in? I really needed the company right now! Finally I saw the light. I was too tired and dehydrated to get mad at him for not running out to meet me at this particular aid station. I asked, at this point (mile 95.6) if he would run with me to the finish. Leave the car and come get it later. Without hesitation he said, “Absolutely”. He really wasn’t dressed for it and it was so cold. He asked one of the other crew people (who were standing around) if he could borrow a jacket and they could get it back at the finish. He got a jacket from someone and we left. 4.4 miles to go and it seemed like it was not going to happen.
To make matters worse, I started to throw up as we ran. I guess I didn’t miss a step as I threw up. David asked if I was okay and I replied, “yeah, it’s all good, I missed your shoe”. At one point David started to walk, but it gave me a little boost when he said, “you are running faster than I can walk” and he started to run again. I don’t know how, but we made it through the downhill. All I could think was “WTF – Where’s the Finish?”. After (it seemed) a long time, it felt as though we were getting close. The trail flattened out and it looked like we were hitting some civilization. No one had passed us. I felt like I was moving so slowly but no one had passed. We saw the trail signs and knew that soon we would be done. As we came to the track, David told me to finish. I got up on the track and tried not to look pained as I straightened up my stride and looked at the time as I came through the finish. Hard to believe, but the time was 22:51. Almost an hour faster than my time last year! No one had passed me for the last 50 miles. I felt so sick and beaten up yet so happy. I was cold, dehydrated and depleted.
After I finished, the paramedics took a look at me and decided that a doctor should check me out. No rest for the wicked….off to Custer Hospital. They got an IV established and gave me some medication for the nausea. The staff at the hospital were wonderful. They did a few more tests on me. Everything was good, I was just dehydrated and low on electrolytes (which would explain those weird hallucinations). One interesting thing the doctor said was that my creatinine levels were high. Apparently, creatinine levels under 300 would be normal. Mine registered 7000. She said that was not unusual considering what I had just done. She had never seen levels like mine in her years of medicine!
After the hospital, I went back to the hotel and into the bath. The water turned dark from the dirt I had accumulated over the day. I drained it and refilled it. If felt so good to lie there in the water, weightless. I actually fell asleep for a bit. Around 8:30am, I got dressed and David and I went back to the track to see the last people finish (you have 30 hours to complete the 100 miles) and then stay for the awards ceremony. I got to see Ann and Brittney finish (it was their first 100). I was so happy for them.
Lean Horse 100 2014 was done. First women and 6th overall. What a ride those last 15 miles were. Huge thanks to David, AKA my crew, for all of his help. I don’t know that I could have shaved off an hour if he hadn’t been there for me!