The Lean Horse 100 Mile Ultra-marathon is not for the faint of heart. Part 2 of Melissa's story has us travelling over gorgeous hills and through ancient tunnels. We meet Laura and Jen, two "lovely ladies" who lightened and brightened Melissa's day. We jostle with demented cattle beast and shoo angry dogs. The rain may chill Melissa's core but it also strengthens her resolve. Don, you will learn, is one tough character, and he gives thanks for every step. We hear Melissa's lone "whoo-hoo" reverb through the dark tunnel and we can smell the musty earth as she plods forward. And David, kind soul that he is, continues to support his dear friend at every turn. Read on.
It's a good day to be alive.
It's a good day to be alive.
Soon the time I was waiting for happened. We started after a countdown and ran ¾ of the way around the track and then off to the Mickelson Trail. The rain had stopped and I settled into a pace with Brittney and a woman named Ann. They were both wonderful to talk to and I enjoyed the first part of the trail with them. As we comfortably ran along we accumulated a few more people.
Conversation flowed easily and before I knew it we were at the first aid station Mountain. Mountain was a 5 mile uphill, so that meant on the way back it would be a 5 mile downhill – great! I briefly saw David - he filled my water bottle and I grabbed some watermelon to eat (because it looked so good). In and out in 2 minutes – just like a race car at a pit stop!
The next 5 miles was downhill. I was nervously telling people around me “on the way back this is going to be the hardest part – mile 90-95 uphill”. I was thinking about it so much that I wasn’t enjoying the downhill. I did meet two lovely ladies running the 50m mile though – Laura and Jen. Both are teachers and have that sarcastic wit that I love. They made the miles fly by. We joked, laughed and shared. I wished that they lived closer because I think they would make the best running buddies! We continued another 5 miles downhill. That is when I made the realization that miles 85-95 would be a long climb and it would be necessary to dig deep. As we ran along, I also made the realization that I couldn’t worry about what would happen that far down the road. It made me think of my children (oddly enough). I thought, if I spent their whole childhood worried about how hard the teen years would be and how hard it would be when they left – I would miss out on a lot of the good things that were going on in the present. I made a decision to not think about that 10 mile uphill until I got to it. I needed to enjoy and immerse myself in the present and not worry about the future. Perhaps that last 10-15 miles would be like last year – where I made up time and ran strong. I knew it could be a possibility. After I got over my worrying – running seemed to flow.
The next aid stations quickly went by Orville, Hill City, High Country and then Horse Creek. Horse Creek was mile 24.8. It was almost a quarter of the way and I was feeling good. I was eating at most aid stations –quarter sandwiches (PB and J or Turkey) chips, fruit and Gatorade. David met me at every aid station with a cold can of Coke (what an angel!). Horse Creek was where I had to say “good bye” to Laura and Jen. I gave them a hug, took their picture and wished them well. I knew they were in a good position for their 50 mile finish. They finished 3rd and 4th overall women. At Horse Creek I picked up my second hand held water bottle because the day was getting warmer and I was draining my one water bottle well before the next aid station.
I also had the privilege of running with Don. Don was amazing in the fact that he had been through some massive heart issues and he was still running ultra-marathons. He said he was lucky his cardiologist was an ultra-marathon runner himself. Don talked about his wife finding him looking like he was dead a few times when his medication wasn’t quite right. He had to be very careful about dosage. I asked him if that scared him. He replied that it didn’t scare him. I asked Don where he got his courage from. He told me that going through experiences like these, made him value the quality of life. He may be better off doing more moderate distances – but this is what he loves to do. He also cited his faith as being a source of his courage.
After Horse Creek I was on my own. I saw David at every aid station – he was wonderful at taking care of whatever I needed. He went above and beyond. Even though he hadn’t been training, he would drive to the aid station, park, and then run out to meet me. It was nice because when I saw him, I knew that in the next 10 or so minutes I could refuel. It was also wonderful to have company (as I was now running alone).
The terrain from Horse Creek to Mystic was phenomenal. There was a large mountain stream that winded along the trail. I passed ponds, fields and even an old time gold panner. At one point I watched as two horses powerfully galloped in unison on a field beside me. I was taken by their beauty and strength. They were truly the epitome of Lean Horse 100. And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I got to run through two old railway tunnels. I don’t know what the past railroad/wild west would have smelled like – but I smelled it. I don’t think I could explain it to you if I tried. Coal, iron, mist, granite, earth – it was an incredible smell. Running through the tunnels I gave a little “whoo hoo” just because I love to hear an echo. The towering granite that the workers would have had to blast through when building this railway came to mind as I ran through. I was also treated to lovely waterfalls and their sounds. I was happy that I chose not to listen to my music. I was fully immersed in the environment I was in and was loving every minute. It certainly helped that I felt so strong. I can honestly say that I was no more fatigued that I would have been had I done a 6 mile run. The scenery was THAT intoxicating.
After running through the beauty of Mystic, I got to Mystic Aid station (close to 30 miles). I was feeling good and was leap-frogging several other runners (so I didn’t feel totally alone). David told me I was doing well and was probably third or fourth woman. Placement didn’t really matter to me at that point because I still needed to run most of the race and I was truly just enjoying my only responsibility that day of putting one foot in front of the other.
David saved my butt again as I came into Gimlet Aid station. He ran out for ½ mile and as I saw him I was close to a house along the trail with 2 large dogs. When they heard me, they started running at me growling and barking. Like I said, I’m not great with non-human animals (unless they are small and friendly). David projected his voice and told them to “go away”. They did – and I was happy. We ran into the next aid station. My shirt was entirely wet as the temperature had gotten a little warmer. I was also a little salty. I took this opportunity to put on a clean DRY shirt (which made me feel so much better). My legs were feeling great. Not a lot of fatigue and my mood was excellent.
The only issue was that my left trapezoid muscle (in my back) was feeling tight and my chest muscles were feeling tender. Why? Apparently training without hand-held bottles was not a smart move for me. Even though they only weigh a little – the repetitive motion of carrying them in your hands works those muscles that I hadn’t trained. Oh well, not much I could do now. David thought to ask the aid station workers if they had any muscle pain relief (A5-35) – surprisingly they did. David rubbed some on the tight spot on my back. I could feel the heat penetrate my muscle. While it didn’t take away the pain, the muscle felt a little less tight. Off to Rochford!
Running to Rochford, the weather took a turn and it started to rain a bit. The scenery was still incredible. However I didn’t have a raincoat with me – I knew there was one in the car. I would get one from David in Rochford. Mile 37.4 aid station… but where was David? I really needed that rain jacket!! I wasn’t sure where he was, but I knew I couldn’t wait around. I grabbed some food and mashed it into my mouth. Not sure why, but I took a PB and J, put some chips in the middle of it and it tasted good. The volunteers filled my water bottles and I was ready to go. But I really was cold at that point. I wondered what to do. Then I had an idea, I asked if they had a garbage bag (which they did) and I tore a hole for my head and two for my arms. Voila! My rain jacket! I asked the aid station volunteers that if they saw a bald guy in an orange car – tell him I already left. They said “Will do! “ and I was off to Nahant – 6 miles away.
The garbage bag worked well. It trapped heat as I ran along and I was soon almost a little too warm. No problem – it was easy to tear some vents. Except for my shoulder – I was doing incredibly well. This was the most pain free ultramarathon I had ever run! The 6 miles from Rochford to Nahant was still pretty but uphill, I passed through the 4th (and last) railway tunnel. The trail opened up to a valley before Nahant. Thankfully David was at Nahant when I got there. Apparently he had gotten lost and I beat him to Rochford. I was grateful to get my rain poncho out of the car and for some more A5-35 for my shoulder. It would be another 6 miles until DMTM (Deadwood Mickleson Trail Marathon Aid station) and another uphill climb.
Stay tuned for part 3.
It's a good day to be alive,