Pain… I know you are there. Not yet, not yet.
This was my second attempt to hit 100 at Outrun 24, but of course, I had bigger things in mind! With the splits of last year’s race in mind, it seemed absolutely feasible to not only go after the women’s course record (111 mi), but to attempt 120 miles. Last year’s race at O24 (my first 100 and 24-hour attempt) was simply an all-out, balls-to-the-wall, see-what-happens kind of thing. It ended prematurely in what turned out to be a mild ankle injury, but it was good that I didn’t push it any further than I had, because the healing time wasn’t that bad post race.
After running Burning River 100 in 23:20 and finally having that first buckle in-hand, I had the most important tool I needed. I had confidence in my ability to cover the distance and now believed 100 miles was not that far. Not only that, but I finished BR100 knowing not only that I could run faster, but could have run farther. Finally the pieces to this 100-mile mystery were starting to come together!
I trained for 6 months, beginning in November. My training started off with a good base, and I was running consistent 100-mile weeks by January. Long runs of 20+ miles were done at least once a week, and occasionally I would run doubles and triples during weekdays. Throughout March I continually ticked the mileage up further until peaking 4 weeks before the race with a 150-mile week. I started a long taper dropping only a certain percentage of mileage each day until I was at zero the day before the race.
Winter was fearsome and staggered my planned mileage all over the place since I was adamant about keeping most of my runs on the trails. Banking the mileage I did through deep, snow-covered trails and negative temperatures was undeniably beneficial and was very mentally hardening. If the snow was too deep to run, I would either hand shovel a quarter-mile out-and-back of my trail or get my husband to drive the truck back and forth over it. I was determined, to say the least.
Spring rolled around and inevitably graced me with plenty of mud, further slowing things down. By the time I was peaking, everything was starting to dry up, and I was finally able to dig into serious speedwork on a regular basis.
Though most of my training was centered around the long-slow run, I dabbled with more speedwork than I had previously in training, particularly on long runs. During the taper, I upped the frequency of speedwork and added more tempo-type running and even some sprinting. I felt very good about my training this time. It was much more structured and purposeful than had been in the past.
I had prepared a “tentative” pacing plan that would gradually slow down every 4 hours. The goal was to hit around 65 miles at the 12-hour mark. I knew I’d probably fall off schedule somewhere during the last half of the race, but I felt like I had given myself a wide enough margin that I would be able to significantly slow down at night if needed and still make it to 120.
The morning started off great and the first 20 miles went by really fast. My husband was crewing while my friend Amy was back at the hotel babysitting. I was fueling off Ensure Plus and all kinds of cool treats my husband kept bringing me.
I stayed perfectly on target all day long, and things remained pretty uneventful. The afternoon was a little warmer than I had hoped for, but I had done enough heat training to be able to maintain my goal pace. My husband was concerned that I was not sticking strictly to Ensure at this point and eating too many solid foods. This led to food just sloshing around in my stomach which was annoying, but there was never any nausea. There were quite a few runners having problems with the heat.
Around 50 miles, I was feeling slight pain in my right hip and was a little concerned this early in the race, but luckily it never escalated from there. Amy came out to run 10 or so miles with me around 4-5 pm and then returned to the hotel for a nap. I reached 65 miles almost perfectly on time and took a break, switched shoes from my Speedcross to Skechers Ultra, and ate a little bit of Subway. At this point, I stopped running the hill, and in retrospect, the decision to run it for the first 65 miles, may have been what ultimately led to injury.
Things continued to go well but I began to have this nagging cramping and aching sensation in my left calf muscle. Amy returned to pace me around mile 70-75. I was increasingly worried about the intensifying pain developing in my calf muscle. The pain became so bad, I had to have Amy dump rocks out of my shoes. She brushed her arm against my calf muscle and it sent a shockwave of pain up my leg. Something was really wrong, and it was probably insanity to continue to run on it, but I was getting too close to 100 to stop now.
I stopped at the aid station around mile 90ish, completely mentally drained from fighting off the pain in my calf. The aid station volunteers (always amazing people and friends) offered me up some bacon, pancakes, and syrup. That motivated me to keep going for a few more laps. I simply could not come out from underneath this low point with the level of pain I was in, and I was extremely worried about what the hell was going on. I even refused to look at my calf for fear I would have to quit. Amy was relentlessly trying to pick up my spirits and keep us on target.
I lingered at the aid station yet again, expressing my deterioration, and the previous year’s course record setter (120 miles), Jim Van Orman, was working at the aid station and offered to run a lap with me. This gave me a boost of confidence and brought me out of my low long enough to push hard again to 100. I told Amy and my husband that I’d have to evaluate things at 100, look at the calf, and make a real decision whether it was safe to continue or not. I was a little off and tried to convince Amy the sun would come up soon even though it was only 4am.
I came through the timing area and hit 100 in 20:08, on target, and in a great position to bank a lot more miles and with a nice new 100-mile PR. This washed over me in a wave of relief and accomplishment and I found myself in tears. I returned to the aid station to figure out the next step. I spent a large amount of time there and eventually decided to head back out into the night to see what would happen.
I was down to a mix of walking and running, and I was in extreme pain. I was getting nervous but worried I was not in the right state of mind to make any decisions. I talked things over with Amy and then with Glenn, and by the time we got back around the loop I was freezing from walking and changed into warmer clothes. I sat down by the fire pit and looked at my calf muscle. There was a huge red lump protruding from the length of the side of my calf that was encircled by rings of black and blue, and it was painful to touch the skin.
That was it, 101 miles, and I called it off. There was nothing left I could do. I was freezing and some girls helped me to the bathroom to get warm and chatted for a while. I still didn’t turn my timing chip in and returned to the fire pit to wait things out. I just kept thinking with all the time I had left, if I just sat and rested the leg, maybe I’d be able to at least walk again, but I was fooling myself. Amy left and Glenn said he would be on his way. I sat and talked with friends and watched and cheered the runners that were still out there.
Eventually the sun started to rise and my husband showed up. He helped me get to the car for a short nap while he took down our aid site. We made our way back to catch the end of the race, breakfast, and awards. I ended up 10th overall, 3rd female with 101 miles in 20:52:55 and nearly chafe-free!
Though I had accomplished so much, I still didn’t go home with the feeling that I had. There was so much more left to give, and yet again, I left this race injured. I was now on a mission to figure out what I was doing wrong, and intensely determined to find out what potential was still not tapped into.
Healing was fairly fast over the span of almost 2 weeks. I never really knew what it was or what caused it, but further research lead me to surmise that it could have been massive muscle trauma from running the hill or even a blood clot. It was definitely probably something I should not have been running on for 11 miles!
Back at home and back to the drawing board, I decided to sign up for Northcoast 24. Paved, technically flat, fast… now I would find out. This time things had to be different…