You believe. You don’t know why, but you just know.
This is something you can do.
When I left Northcoast 24 in 2015, I knew that any doubts I had were probably unfounded. I just did. And I knew I could have done so much better. I was hooked now on the 24-hour races. I couldn’t help but to think, What is my physical limit in one single day? Suddenly, my whole world of running became focused on only that.
I started fiercely training to take yet another shot at breaking the female record at Outrun 24. This was a goal I had been chasing since the first year I ran it (2014) which, crazy as it sounds, was also my first 100 attempt. Yah, I tend to develop very fervent goals in most things in life.
To say it best, I’m extravagantly obsessive over things I’m doing or into, and I tend to take things to the full extent that I am no longer able to maintain. Then I develop a new passion. I don’t know how or when this will ever play into running since it is different from all my many, many other pursuits so far, but it is a scary thought to think of what could happen if I ever felt like I hit my limit. But that day is not today. Not tomorrow, either.
My training was absolutely phenomenal. My husband made me a fancy prop so I could run declines on my treadmill. I trained 15-20 miles of downhill at -10 to -13% grades once every 1-2 weeks. I set new PR’s throughout my training on 30, 40, and 50 miles. I actually designed a 1-mile loop on my trails at home that so closely resembled the O24 course it was eerie, and right in my front yard, I did almost all my training for it, maxing out at 160 mpw (a new weekly mileage PR).
Then, whenever I could, about 2-3 times a month, I would go run on a paved 1.5-mile loop paved trail with one steep hill that I felt mimicked the race course well. I worked on pure speed for up to 40 miles at a time. I even spent time running on the high school track, doing speedwork for up to 50 miles, setting a new PR as well. I never felt so perfectly fit in my life, and I was dangerously confident.
I usually spend two weeks engaging my peak mileage. We had had the mildest winter in a long time, and it just so happened winter returned in brute force right before my peak and didn’t leave until it was over. My dirt trails turned to shoe-sucking mud, slush, snow, ice, and all combinations there in between. It sleeted, snowed, gusted, and rained the bone-chilling’est rain. At any point in all those 20+ mile runs each day of the week, I could have simply walked in the house every tenth of a mile. But I didn’t, and there was a power to that.
I met a new local friend, a lovely Filipino, Hazel, who had run her first ultra not long ago but has a burning passion for the distance. We began running and training together, and I convinced her to sign up for O24 and to go with me. I had an amazing offer from my long-distance friend, Kathleen O’Connor, to drive all the way from Michigan to come crew for us! We were set.
Hazel and I set up our tent the day before and settled down to prepare for the big day. The next morning, minutes before the start time, my nerves kicked in and I was talking to Hazel in the tent with tears. I was scared I’d disappoint, and all the struggles of this (yet again) horribly stressful year suddenly came descending down on me like crashing waves. She reassured me with a hug. It was time to race.
The miles breezed by effortlessly through mile 30. I ran the hill through the first 50 miles and then switched to walking it each lap, bombing the downhill section thereafter. I was having a great time with no cares in the world. Nothing was hurting or aching yet, and I was feeling reassured I hadn’t set goals too high. I was thrilled to see my “Outrun Family” again and had a blast talking and running with them all.
Kathleen was spot-on awesome crewing from the get-go. She was ready with whatever you needed before you needed it. Motivating before you’d lose faith. Driving and pushing. Awesome. Every time I saw Hazel, I’d check in and throw out words of encouragement. She was doing so great, and I was so proud.
Everything was very uneventful until almost 10 hours in. I suddenly had horrible nausea. What? I never had that before! I tried to keep going, but it was getting worse and worse, and I finally pulled into the pit stop. Kathleen was on top of it. She sat me down, fed me ginger cookies, and our awesome tent-neighbor donated ginger ale to our cause. Suddenly, we were green for go. A whole 45 minutes was permanently gone, but I was cruising again.
I finally started feeling the pain, but it never really escalated from there on out, amazingly. Then the rain came. The brutal 12-hour rain. (I don’t know if it lasted 12 hours, but it sure seemed like it did!) It was pouring so hard at night that I couldn’t see where the trail was and ran off into the ditch on the side of the trail numerous times. It was insane. But I had trained in conditions exactly like this on my long runs. I just kept thinking, Bring it on!
Then my dinosaur-age tent flooded. Then our umbrella that was set up to keep our table dry blew far, far away. Kat was all over the place trying to keep home-place together! It was crazy to say the least, and I felt so bad for her. She had to move out of the tent because it was so horrible and demoralizing. There were holes in the tent floor I didn’t know about and there were worms in the tent! She started crewing me from the race aid station. Hazel had hit her goal of her first 100k and crashed for a nap. She had a rough ride, but she knew what she wanted to do and went and made it happen.
Mile after mile went by, and Kat and I were watching the splits, knowing 120 is the minimum now. We were also keeping an eye on the first place spot. I was battling it out, trying to reach 1st place overall, but the leader, Troy Allen, kept up a relentless race. The pouring rain seemed endless, and then it stopped. The sun rose with a few hours still left to hang in there, and Troy was not going to let me catch up. I had broken 120 and was on my way to meet my main goal now of 125. I had already met the goal of breaking the female course record which was 111 miles.
For so many long hours, my feet had been agonizingly painful from being wet for so long. They had become horribly, horribly macerated. I really believed the skin had fallen off my feet. I didn’t even want to look because I knew it would have a psychological effect.
I was dead-set on stopping at 125. Then I came through the finish line, planning to stop, and Steven Parke (who set the CR the previous year with 127) ran alongside me for a few seconds, “Tara, just one more. Just one more!” I knew he was right. I couldn’t quit till there was no time left. I kept going for one more lap (oh, and I had to pee) with a final total of 126 miles. Damn, that hurt.
I crossed the finish line in tears. I had finally proved to myself that I could do what I have believed I could do all this time. Finally, I’m not crazy for thinking I can do these things. It helps to have such an amazing crew, family, and friends who believe in you!
I had done it.
Post-race recovery was unbelievable. I was barely sore. I was running in 2 days with no pain. Something I was doing worked. Something was right. Now, I had to dial that in and go for more!