|"Nobody is going to finish this damn thing for me, but me"|
Lean Horse 100 Mile Ultra Marathon
August 24th, 2013
Mickelson Trail, Hot Springs, South Dakota
"Nobody is going to finish this damn thing for me, but me."
Days before stepping up to the start line of the Lean Horse 100 ultramarathon, I was nervous. Although I had run this race 3 times, I was now running it differently. For the past 3 years I had run it with my best-est running friend (David), but this year he wanted to run it alone. That was fine, I understood he wanted to see how he could push it, but it made me feel a little shaky. Could I do this alone? What if there was a mountain lion and I was by myself? Who would encourage me when I wanted to quit? Who would help me finish? The weather was another concern. Forecast for some parts on the Mickelson Trail was 36 degrees. Who runs in that kind of heat? I guess that would be me.... gulp….
|David, Melissa's best-est running friend.|
The first section of the race was beautiful. The sun had started to rise on my right making the sky turn from dark to orange and then daylight. The trail was surrounded with small yellow sunflowers and there was a breeze blowing. There were many people around and I found people to chat with as we all got into a running rhythm. I ran with Peter (a lawyer from Houston) for awhile as well as Bobby (a white haired 60-something amazing ultra runner who kicked my butt last year), Peter's wife Yen and David. Conversation was light and before we knew it we were upon the first aid station - Cottonwood - 4.2 miles. Barely stopped at this one, just to refill my ice and then kept going. We all kind of stuck in a group with SuYin leap frogging us until we approached the next aid station at 8.9 miles - Argyle.
At Argyle the group broke up as some stayed at the aid station longer, some went right on through. I stopped long enough to again fill up my ice and grab a few items to eat (chips, grapes, watermelon). This is where I ran into Dawn. Possibly the nicest lady I have ever met. Her and I easily conversed and I adapted to her running of 5 and 2s (running 5 min and walking 2) - the running was faster than I had been running, but with the walks it didn't seem strenuous. All too soon she had to leave because she was only doing the 50K and her turn around was there. She gave me a hug and wished me well. Almost right away was the next aid station - Lime kiln at 12.5 miles. I evaluated how I was feeling. It was just after 8 am - for 2 hours and change I was doing well, no stomach upset, the one water bottle was working well and the sun was just starting to get warm. I had some more watermelon and a Rice Krispie cake and filled my bottle again with ice. Off again.
At this point I was running alone. I would pass some runners, talk with them briefly and then move on. I wasn't lonely but very much enjoying the trail and the scenery. The sun kept getting hotter and I was glad that I had planned (in my drop bag at the next aid station) an extra water bottle and a towel that I was going to use to put ice in and tie it around my neck. Pringle was the next aid station at mile 16.3. I took a little bit of time to get the items from my drop bag, reapply some sunscreen, and use one of the few outhouses on the course. I drank a few small cups of ginger-ale, ate another Rice Krispie cake, ate a few chips, took 2 salt tablets, filled my 2 hand-held bottles with ice, as well as my nifty ice bandana and was off again. At this point I was averaging almost 5 miles an hour and feeling pretty good.
Still running alone, I debated listening to music. I wanted to use it only when I needed it. I decided I didn't need it yet, put my head down and continued running. This section out of Pringle was not pretty. It is right beside the highway and is quite dusty. The sun was now beating down and there was absolutely NO shade. I hit a bit of a low here. I knew there was almost 7 miles to the next aid station and then another section of 7 miles after that until I hit Harbach Park (which contained my next drop bag).
It was during this part of the race I went into reflecting mode. I decided for each 10 minutes I ran, I would think about one person who was important in my life and all of the things I loved about them and why they were important to me. Of course I started with my children and then moved on to my family and friends. I also reflected on some of my hero's, like Terry Fox. Some of the things that came to my mind were physical - how I loved the sprinkling of freckles across my son Dryden's nose, how curly my middle daughter Amerlyn's hair was when she was a toddler and how beautiful my eldest daughter Jensen is. Other things included memories of the kind things people have done for me and their thoughtfulness. I thought of those who couldn't run and how lucky I was. I passed the next aid station, Carroll Creek - 22.9 miles, quickly got in and out and continued reflecting. Although this was a low time for me physically - I felt good mentally. I was overwhelmed with some of the thoughts and feelings I had. This run had taken on a more spiritual (if you will) quality. I never really felt alone because every ten minutes I had someone new on my mind and I almost felt like they were running with me.
Mile 28.7 was Harbach Park. By now it was full heat of the day. I was grateful for the breeze that I was running against - otherwise this run with no shade would have felt unbearable. I stopped at the aid station to put on some body glide (I had it in my drop bag) and I was shocked when I opened it - it was liquid! It actually poured out of the container! I had never seen body glide do that before! After I left the aid station (and taking many more salt tablets) I took out my cell phone. Why did I bring a cell? I thought I might need some company. I turned it on and was absolutely dismayed that it said low battery! How could that be? It was on the charger all night! I guessed that it wasn't fully plugged in. Sadly, I concluded, I wasn't going to get support from home. I did send a text to my husband and luckily it had enough power for a little time. My reflective text, "Man, is it hot out here!" to which Leigh replied, "Isn't there some rule against running and texting?". I had a laugh and texted back that my phone was going to die but send me some encouragement before it does. He told me it was 36 degrees where I was……that's my husband….encouraging to a fault! He did make up for it though and told me that I've done this before, I'll do it again and to keep going. Then he told me Dryden (my little guy) says "Hi". That did give me a lift. The heat was getting to me, so I decided that I DID need my music. I turned it on and immediately felt a little better. The heat wasn't so distracting when my music was on.
From Harbach to Crazy Horse there is an uphill grind that is, well, for lack of a better word, HARD. It is one of the most scenic parts though. Through this section I just tried to run as much as I could and walk when I starting feeling too tired. Bobby (the white haired super ultra marathon guy who has run over 100 ultras) had told me earlier that, at least in this race, you want to be feeling good at least until mile 50. I kept that in mind on this uphill and was kind to myself when I got tired. Short bursts of walking and running got me to the next aid station - Mountain - mile 33.7. Thankfully, this part had some shade. I continued taking my salt tablets (because honestly, my skin tasted like a potato chip), drinking ginger-ale at the aid stations and eating whatever looked appetizing. Orville aid station at 39.4 was welcome, because I knew it was all downhill until Hill City at mile 44.4. This was a good spot physically during the race. I ran the downhill at a decent clip. I also got to see a few of the leaders at this time as they were on their way back. The neatest thing about ultra runners is they are so encouraging. EVERYONE who passed me on their way back told me "good job", "looking strong", etc… I only saw men coming back and was surprised to not see the lead women.
I checked in at Hill City and found out that David (my best-est running buddy) was only about 15 minutes ahead of me. That made me feel good. I knew that he was having a good race and I was having one too! At this time, SuYin's husband (who was crewing for her) asked me if I needed anything. Seeing the Coke machine in the corner (the race was sponsored by Pepsi - so no Coke on the course) I asked him if I could borrow $1.50 for a Coke. Laurie laughed and said it was on him and I got my first Coke on the course. I was so happy (it is sad how happy Coke makes me). At Hill City we had to do a little out and back to make up some mileage. On the out and back I saw David! He said he would wait for me at Hill City and we could run together for a bit. I ran the out and back and passed a few women. Back to Hill City to check in. Laurie told me that David had went on ahead and wanted me to catch up. I thanked him again for the Coke (happiness in a can) and went on my way.
I knew this section would be difficult. As much as I loved running downhill to Hill City - in the back of my mind I knew I'd have to run up it on the way back. It was a grind up to Orville mile 52.9 where I met up with David but I survived it. From there on I had company! We ran through Mountain 58.6 then to Harbach 63.6. At this point it was around 8pm and getting dark. We both sat down for awhile and had volunteers help us get what we needed out of our drop bags. We needed to pick up our headlamps and I put on a long sleeve shirt. I had a little bit of chicken broth (which tasted awesome) and a half turkey sandwich. I was done before David and asked if he wanted me to go and he could catch up. David is a faster runner than I and he agreed that was a good idea. I started off in the (now) dark with my headlamp on.
It took awhile for David to catch up to me and to my surprise, I wasn't feeling to scared running in the dark with my little light. It must have been around 15-20 min before I saw David (he said he had to change his contacts and almost fell into the creek while attempting to wash his face in it). We continued on at a steady pace until we hit Carroll Creek - mile 69.4. I started to feel not as great as I had been feeling….another rough patch. Got something to eat and drink (ginger-ale and Rice Krispie bar) and kept going. On this next section (over 6 miles) I started getting slower and taking more walk breaks. At about 4.5 miles in, I told David that he should go. I knew that if he could hold up this pace, he could get his sub 24 belt buckle. He asked if I was sure, if I needed him he would stay - but I said I'd be fine. I felt like I was slowing him down at this point and I didn't want to do that. With a fist pump he left and I continued.
A mile and a half later I entered the Pringle Aid station (mile 76). I was feeling low (physically). I looked at my watch and saw that it was just after midnight. "Not bad" I thought - this is just a little slower than I was last year….considering the heat this year compared to the milder temps last year - I think I did okay. Mentally I thought I have under six hours to do a marathon. Easy to do if you have fresh legs and the terrain is flat…..but my conditions were not that. I had just run 76 miles and the upcoming terrain was the hilliest part. Argyle Road (at mile 84 ) had 12 miles of huge and NUMEROUS hills - so much bigger than Garbage Hill. There was no way I was going to make it under 24 hours. I sat down beside a young guy who was lamenting about how he was on track for a 22 hour finish and his blisters had cost him his finish. I spoke with him awhile and had a grilled cheese sandwich. I also took 3 salt caplets - something I hadn't done since the sun went down. I thought maybe I was still losing salt and should have still been taking them all along. After 10-15 minutes, I got up, told the station "#12 out" and continued on my way. As I slowly ran and power walked I started feeling better - maybe it was the salt caplets after all. The next aid station was only 4 miles away and it didn't seem to take too much time to get there.
At Lime Kiln (almost 80 miles) I sat down and asked them if I could have a hot chocolate. The volunteer was awesome and said sure, but he'd have to heat the water. We chit chatted (I was in no real hurry) but then he said that I was the second female. I didn't understand, the second female he saw in the last hour? What did he mean? No, he said I was the second female on the course. Then I asked how long it was between me and the first female. He said, "Oh, not long…..maybe 15 min". I said I could never make that up, it takes a lot of effort to make up 15 min in a race.
He said, " You never know - with 20 miles left in an Ultra - 15 min could be easily made up".
I got up and told him that maybe I didn't want to wait for the hot chocolate and that maybe I should start running. He thought that was a good idea - he wished me luck and off I went to the next aid station Argyle - 4 miles away.
To my surprise, when I got to Argyle, I saw a woman in a chair with her crew tending her feet. My mind started to race - that's her! The first place female…..I think? Then, to remove all doubt, she said, "Congratulations, you are the first place female now - take it home". I never got out of an aid station so fast!
The next 6 miles passed in a blur. I tried to go as fast as I could on the large and rolling hills of Argyle road. They are much bigger than Garbage Hill and very numerous. David told me he tried to count them and only got to 12 before losing track. I kept looking behind me to see if anyone was getting close. I saw a car that flashed it's lights, but it was a few miles back. I wasn't sure if the leading ladies crew was looking for me (paranoia). I arrived at Morph aid station at 90 miles. I asked how many miles till the next aid station while quickly filling my water bottles and grabbing a Rice Krispie cake. The aid guy said "six". I asked if the turn off to the campground was quite visible (I was scared I was going to miss it) - he told me that I couldn't. I got out of there and kept running. If the aid station was 6 miles away, I only had 5 more miles on Argyle and then one mile in the campground!
The next five miles went fast until I started looking at my watch. There was only 6 miles to the aid station, and I had already gone five. Paranoia was back! I started slowing down and looking to my right in the dark. I knew it was a right turn into the campground. 5.1 miles, 5.2 miles….where was it? 5.3, 5.4 I had no water left in my bottles and my mouth felt like a carpet. At 5.6 miles I started to have a little freak out. I knew once I turned into the campground, it was almost a mile to the aid station (or at least 3/4 of a mile). I slowed down to a walk thinking the further I go, the further I am going to have to come back….I've missed the turn off. Another part of my brain told me to keep going. I thought briefly about turning into someone's house and asking for directions but how could I do that at 4 in the morning? Maybe I would collapse from dehydration….I was so thirsty! I kept going - and to my relief, at the bottom of a gigantic hill - the turn off! I couldn't have been more excited! My watch was over 6 miles but I didn't care!
Unwisely (or perhaps for a sick joke) I had to lift my leg to get over the campground fence. After 95+ miles…..it is no easy feat! I felt a little upset that the race director would do that - then I thought, "are you a princess or something? Suck it up!" Going in I expected to see a light - something to guide me through the campground. Just extremely tall grass with a snake like path through it. What could I do except follow the path? I was getting close to 7 miles on my Garmin and I still couldn't see the aid station….another panic attack! I started to call out " is there any one here? Where are you guys?" I thought I heard a faint voice - so I kept calling and they called back. Not soon enough did their voices get louder. I could finally see the aid station! The volunteers were great and offered me a chair. I declined and asked just for water (I had been out of water for - it seemed like- forever). They told me that I was the first lady they had seen out of the hundred milers. I thanked them and got out of there quickly. I wanted to finish this thing!
23 hours, 37 minutes, 20 seconds
The next day, I got up at 5am and headed out for a 6 mile run (because I'm stubbornly on this 2.75 year running streak). I followed the course backwards through town finding it hard to believe that 24 hours previous I was running, I was finishing my journey here in Hot Springs. Instead of going into the campground I turned left and discovered a massive cemetery. I ran through a bit of it savouring the sunrise and the gift of life that I still have. It was a beautiful moment. Although at the beginning of the run I was trying to recapture how the previous day felt - I came away with a new feeling, a new journey, a new thankfulness. Running back to the hotel I felt more grateful than ever for the day.
Lean Horse 100 Mile Marathon, 2013
Twenty-three hours, thirty-seven minutes, twenty seconds
ed note 1: My thanks to Melissa for allowing me the privilege of posting her Lean Horse 100 report on See Mike Run.
ed note 2: I ran Queen City Marathon yesterday. Guess who was there? Yup, Melissa and David... smiling the full 26.2 and making everyone feel special.
|Melissa, Queen City Marathon, September 8, 2013|