Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chapter 9 - Final Chapter. The Race

My wake up call was not from my obnoxious phone beeping but a sweet melody coming from Jimmy's phone somewhere in the living room announcing it would be a lovely day. And what a lovely day it would be!
Not being a morning person, I still did manage to rise with a smile and get ready somewhat in time. The lovely day song wasn't on my computer but I "absolutely needed" to have it on my ipod for the day. Since the apartment didn't have internet access, I did what every normal person would do - go to the start of a 100 mile race with a laptop in my arm.

Sparkly 'princess' sticker from my fairies

Download, transfer to ipod and pick-up of my race number all within the last 12 minutes before the start didn't give me time to be nervous again until I got my last hugs from my fairies and then the clock hit 5a.m.

With Jimmy (coach) and my fairies Kate (sun), Katie (water) and Bev (tree)

The first 20 seconds, I ran - just so I could say 'I started running a 100mile race' and then I switched to hiking. About 450 runners made their way up to the highest point of the race at 8713ft (2656m). A little climb for breakfast never tasted better! I did feel like the complete tourist, stopping several times to take pictures but it was worth it to stop and 'smell those roses'! 

On the other side of the mountain, the fun continued in snow. The trail was pretty slippery at times and several runners fell. Including me. Once I did a beautiful ass-plant all on my own and the other time I fell because I was laughing so hard at the rowing-in-the-air and pirouettes of another runner just in front of me that I lost balance myself. As I said, tons of fun. Luckily, I did all of my falling on snow and kept the skirt clean.

Looking west

Creek crossings, beautiful scenery and solitude on the next miles had me going at a good rythm for about 25 miles. I did eat, drink and take my electrolytes on time and was a very happy burper and farter. All systems on track.

At Robinson Flat, I got to see my crew for the first time and I was definitely ready for some uplifting words. Before I was allowed to see my fairies, I had a little discussion with the lady reading my weight on the scales as she was trying to stabilize the scales but actually added a couple of extra pounds by doing so. I found out later it didn't really matter since I was within the marge at all times.
My crew filled up my little chia bottles and my hydration pack and supplied me with little sticker of a castle on it since I owned the house at that moment. 30 miles done, 70 to go and off I went.

Tiara still in place. Now on top of a hat

I felt like I could unroot the trees around me for the next 8 miles. Life was wonderful!  Sometimes I wondered where the names to the different aid stations came from. Dusty Corners was understandable as it really was a dusty corner of the earth and the afternoon sun added its part to change my mood a little bit. The following 5 miles were probably my worst of the whole race. My stomach was trying to tell me it didn't want all the food I kept forcing down my throat but I eventually won that argument. Besides that, I experienced my first stretch of mental challenge. It all came down to tears and me telling all my fears of my current life to a runner who was incredibly understanding. She even suggested several solutions and kept making my half empty glass half full again when we reached the aid station fittingly called Last Chance. I reset my mind and fueled up on calories to make up the little deficit accumulated in the last 45min. Refreshed and ready to face the challenge again, I took that "last chance" to heart, stepped out through the swinging saloon doors and banned destructive thoughts about my life from my mind. I was sent off with a hug from an aid station volunteer who did a good job replacing my crew I didn't get to see for another 12 miles.

Remembering the training run weekend, I knew better not to race down the following canyon. Too vivid and present was the image of my stomach disagreeing with me on the uphill on the other side of the bridge at the bottom. That ascent to Devils Thumb was still an unsettled affair between me and the hill. And this time, the hill came in second. From the bridge to the aid station, I powerhiked with an amount of energy I didn't quite understood where it came from and celebrated my 35min climb with a watermelon Popsicle that turned my tongue the same shade of green as my ipod. Still the all-matching princess with a smile. 
I really liked that aid station and only realized I probably had spent too much time socializing when a volunteer told me it was about time I got back to running. 

The late afternoon sun and early evening breeze were perfect companions on my way to Michigan Bluff at about 55 miles where I met my crew again. At 7:30pm I sat down for the first time and it felt awesome. They always say "beware of the chair" and I believe to some people the chair might be a trap but I was eager to continue and run though the full moon night and got up after only a few minutes. My fairies gave me a chariot sticker - one of those cinderella ones to stick to my hydration pack since I had already run enough and was entitled to ride it. 
It was really nice of my fairies to tell me that the next aid station - Bath Road - was only 3 miles away and they would see me in just a few minutes. In reality, it was 2 miles more and I got delayed a little because the local TV reporters asked me for a quick interview by the check-out station. Couldn't refuse that, could I?
I kept telling myself that it would be one of the last ascents of the day. Of course, I wasn't thinking about all the uphills of the night. If you think too much ahead, 100 miles are really 100 miles. And that's really far. So concentrating on how far it is to the next aid station makes the 100 miles seem a touch shorter. Foresthill was about 10km away and I had at that time run further than ever before.

Foresthill was the place where the picture was taken a few years ago that got me hooked on the race in the first place. I remembered the ugly feet from the picture in the illustrated book I looked at a year ago. My feet were still pretty but I had a tiny blister under my pinky toe that I needed to take care of. While my fairies took care of my culinary needs, I changed clothes and again, spent way too much time at the aid station. 

Kate, the cook of my choice at Foresthill

My water fairy Katie was ready to run and pace me for the next 16 miles. She did an excellent job telling me I was running at a good pace. Positive thoughts and comments do wonders.
Just before midnight, my stomach was getting back to me about the argument we had earlier and didn't let me burp up for quite a while. I felt pretty sick and refused to eat solid food. It resulted in fatigue as well as a sudden shivering attack. Katie told me we wouldn't leave the aid station before I hadn't eaten everything she held in her hand. 1- I was glad I didn't see what and how much food was in her hand and 2 - I was grateful to close my eyes, open my mouth and have her drop bits of solid food into it. I wore my thermo shirt for all of 10minutes. That's how much it took to make me snap out of the caloric deficit.

Following my little dip in form we spent 2 hours of pure fun singing all sorts of songs from 'I got a feeling' to 'Build me up buttercup' and entertaining the other runners while running in the full moon light. I was so happy and excited that I wasn't the only one knowing the lyrics to so many songs.

Western States....you're so silly

By 2:30 in the morning, we finally reached the famous Rucky Chuck river crossing. Due to the late snow melt and the high water level, we didn't get to cross the river in the water but were brought across by rafts. A limo ride to the other side. Or something like that. My friend Craig was helping the runners get out of the raft at the far side of the river and it made me smile to see him in a full body wetsuit and a t-shirt. It's a priceless sight for a happy but very tired princess. 

Full of smiles at mile 78

A little more of my Swiss broth and some more solid bits later, my lovely sun fairy Kate tried to gently tell me that she wouldn't be running with me for the next 15 miles as we had planned. Right then I didn't quite understand what had happened and only found out later that she had injured herself sprinting across a parking lot and tripping over a side walk, falling hard on both of her knees. She could barely make it up the hill without pain to Green Gate, the next aid station. She was with me at all times through the race though and we both were glad that Katie, my water and singing fairy could add some more miles to her pacing duties. 
The hill to Green Gate. Well, that's when I was really feeling the fatigue and started talking to the hill. I wanted it to be done, to become flat again. I despised it for being so steep exactly at one of my physically low-energy moments. Kate suggested I spit on it but I refused as a) I didn't hold mother earth entirely responsible for the steepness of the hill and b) the hill didn't deserve my royal spit. I actually said b) out loud. I know. I also asked where the star for the top of my pink glow-in-the-dark wand was. Kate later jokingly commented that most people ask for a new pair of new legs or morphine at 80 miles of such a race.

Green Gate to Auburn Lake trail aid station. 5.4 miles and possibly the longest 5.4 miles of my life. I have partied all night before but without any alcohol that makes you lose track of time and with some miles in my legs, it was a whole different story. The dark of the night and the lack of coffeine made me ask Katie for permission to lean against every other tree we passed (and we were running/shuffling through a forest), very well knowing that I couldn't do that. So Katie was busy telling me 'no you can't, princess Gabi' and still cheering me on despite my slow pace. After 2h10min we finally reached the next aid station and the horizon announced a new day - another lovely one!

I'm soooo tired, but it's soooo beautiful!

Hearing about kidney and other problems of other runners, I could barely keep my eyes open at Auburn Lake Trails aid station. Again, the fairy power saved me. Knowing that I don't like coffee but like that sweet wanna-be instant coffee that we didn't have on us, Katie mixed me a super sugary aid station-mocha. What the sun did for my spirits, the mocha did for my eyes. Both were wide awake again and I was ready to attack the last 15miles. Unfortunately, all my other systems woke up as well. Let me tell you, finding a place to leave some extra weight behind on a single trail lined on either side with poison oak, a steep gradient, one up, one down, is not so easy and asks for quite some creativity in the early hours of a day like this. Thanks to the trees and close to impeccable aiming capabilities, poison oak had nothing on me. The following 4.7 miles just floated by in 1h10 and I could hear the party at Brown's Bar aid station from far away.

Brown's Bar is a fun aid station where all men wear red dresses and wigs and serve home made potato soup. It was devine and the vibe from the volunteers felt so good. I was back to the unrooting trees emotions. Only 3.6 miles to the next aid station. Yay!

Coming into Brown's Bar aid station - I did refuse the beer

Getting my soup

Tiara in place, fairy at my side. Can it get any better?

I had been concentrating so much on staying awake for the last 3-4 hours that I did not feel any physical pain. That one, and I can say, my only real physical pain throughout the whole race materialized itself now. A nasty heal contusion and inflammation at the insertion of my Achilles' tendon. Hurts. But nowhere near enough to stop me. The beautiful scenery was perfect for a Sunday morning run and last bit with my water fairy Katie.

Easy like Sunday morning

We reached Highway 49 aid station at 8 in the morning with about 10km to go. Endorphins had kicked in full blast somewhere in the last 3 miles before and I was convinced with my whole body and soul that I would see the finish line from the far side today. I do remember that despite the somewhat early hours of the day it was already very hot. Maybe my systems were just not well calibrated but standing in the shade while my injured sun fairy Kate got my hydration pack ready to finish the quest and tree fairy Bev applied more sun screen (it was hot after all...) under the supervision of Katie, felt good.

more sunscreen

Just one happy princess

no words needed

Let's do this!

Bev, my tree fairy, was my last pacer for the remaining miles to the finish line and was expecting to be busy repeating the RFM mantra. RFM = relentless forward motion. Basically, whatever you do, don't stop. Run, walk, shuffle, crawl, just don't stop. Makes sense. The finish line doesn't get closer when you're not moving. I did not fulfill her expectations as she was giving me the second to last wind I needed to run my heart out to No Hands Bridge. Just like a Sunday morning run. Because I had been running again, my stomach was ready to argue again and Bev allowed me to switch to liquid food to trick my opponent. The 7-up not only provided me with the calories I needed for the final climb but got me to be very unprincess-like again. Burpfest reloaded and all systems working.
By now, even if I was biased a bit, it was really hot and the sun was beating down on us. A thought crossed my mind. If I had been one of those fast runners, finishing in time to get some sleep in a hotel bed before picking up my buckle, I wouldn't have to run in this heat. But why would I want to miss all the fun I had up until now? Exactly!
Another déjà-vu from the first training run in February had me concentrate once more. In winter, I didn't expect the last climb be so steep and again, I attacked it way too aggressive. The amount of winter aggressiveness was replaced by a conservative summer approach. I was still powerhiking but I was surprised that so many people walked so far down to cheer us on until I realized that I had already reached the last aid station and the town of Auburn. I was unprepared for it that my only reaction was to cry happy tears. 
1.3 miles to go, a last paved road climb that didn't seem to bother me at all and a look at my watch that I hadn't really consulted all day and night planted the first competitive seed in my head. It was still possible to finish in less than 29 hours.

Running the last mile with my fairies and coach

My last mile took me 9min. and I couldn't even slow down on my victory lap. I know, that's when you get to indulge a bath in the cheering crowd of the high school stadium and hear the speaker tell the spectators a little more about you. I did not see the crowd in the stadium running on that track, I just saw the finish line. And I did hear another comment about my skirt that miraculously did stay white and how he doesn't know how I did it. Probably the same way I finished my first 100 miles. I don't know how. I just did it.

Last 100m

Flying across the finish line. It's done!


  1. Oh Princess! What a great fairy tale. I was honored to be there with you - you are one tough woman. I continue to tell people about your determined power hiking skills that had me running to keep up:) Miss you much!!!!!

  2. This is magnificent and a huge 'mile'stone. Awesome write up Gabi!