Wow, what a day! I am humbled and honored. I gave this race all of me, everything I had at every moment, and these Colorado mountains gave me so much more, including granting me the reward of finishing this race. Over 800 people picked up their race packets the day before the race. There were only 361 finishers. I heard the finisher rate was 45% this year. I am thrilled to have made it in that minority.
So...now for the lowdown on my race showdown! A peace finally settled in the week of the race. I was no longer afraid. I had a sense of calm, I believed I could finish this. I of course had giant butterflies and they multiplied exponentially the day before the race! I still managed to get a few hours sleep before we had to leave our hotel in Vail at 2 am race day. Before I knew it the gun was off. I stayed within myself those first 13.5 miles to the first aid station--May Queen. Started out for about a mile on pavement then dirt road which turned to beautiful single track trail that stuck close to the shoreline of Turquoise Lake. A little dicy at times at night with lots of runners, difficult to pass or be passed without tripping or expending a great deal of precious energy. I made sure I kept my heart rate low and stuck with that strategy until I no longer had to worry about “going out too fast”. You have to be careful early...adrenaline, combined with the cold air, anxiety, and the fact that you feel good can lead to running too hard early on and burning yourself up. For me, the best way to counter that is to run based on my heart rate...the heart doesn’t lie. Beating too fast and you are burning yourself up. I can’t go by feel early on because fast feels good...for a little while. Enough on that. My goal was sub 25 hour finish. I came into MayQueen right on time. Good to see Todd and Erika-my crew. Quick in and out and pee break and on to the next aid station-Fish Hatchery would be 10 miles away. The first 15 miles was relatively flat to small rolling hills. Leaving MayQueen was climbing up Sugar Loaf pass. Elevation over 11,000 feet. Again, followed heart rate. Hiked when needed to keep heart rate down. Came off single track to Hagerman road. To my right were beutiful vistas of turquoise lake, winding streams and mountains in the distance, we definitely were getting higher. Then you hear that sound....sounds initially like bugs buzzing....nope, it’s “Power Line” The infamous downhill section of the course. It is literally the power line straight down the mountain. No trail. A sandy, rutted out compact dirt slide that takes you to the bottom of the sugarloaf pass...what you just got done climbing. I think it’s about 2.5 miles down. This takes you almost right into the Fish Hatchery aid station sitting at mile 23.5 . Arrived here still feeling good and on track time-wise. Next aid station = Half Pipe which sits at 29.5 miles on the course. This would be one of two subsequent aid station Todd and Erika would not be at. This section was a little tougher for me. Sun was up, bright and getting warm. Probably 4-5 miles of this section was exposed black top or dirt road...long, flat section. I took in quite a bit of water and gels for calories....and if I fail to mention, If I never have to eat another gu/gel I will not regret it. Those became sooooo difficult to choke down! Unfortunately, my tummy would not tolerate ANY solid food for 28 straight hours. This is where the nausea started to settle in. Mild, but I no longer needed my heart rate monitor to tell me if I was pushing it at all...it was my tummy...and my breathing. I started getting winded a little easier than I thought I should, but attributed it to altitude and fatigue. I came into the next little mini-station at 36.5 mi. Agian, no crew. They were not allowed at this aid station as it sits in the mountains and there is just no room off the trail there. I noticed my hands were swelling. Fluids/lytes are where I struggle the most. I screw it up almost every ultra. I can’t seem to rely on my own thirst/hunger to tell me what I need, either that or I don’t do a very good job of listening. Most likely the latter. I also don’t carry handhelds--I use a hydration pack which makes it harder for me to gauge how much water I am taking in as I can’t just watch the ounces go down. Someone else is always filling my pack and I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to calculate how much I have gone through. The gels I use have quite a bit of sodium/lytes so I didn’t need any extra salt caps or endurolytes which are hard for me to choke down anyway. I try to let thirst dictate how much I drink...the gels make me feel thirstier and make my mouth sticky which led to me drinking more..and more water. Of course I am only realizing this in hindsight. So started having some nausea and a headache...fun, but oh well, to be expected altitude. On to Twin lakes. The 3 miles from the mini aid station to twin lakes is only 3 mi of all mountain single track trail. Lots of pine trees, soft dirt, a few technical areas and climbs, but overall easy trail. Twin Lakes aid station sits at mi 40 and is the last aid station before the infamous climb over Hope Pass. I came in here feeling great and even a few minutes ahead of schedule. First aid station since Fish Hatch that I saw my crew which also boosted my mood. This is one of the busiest aid stations with TONS of people cheering. Filled my pack, added some gels,,,which were becoming less and less appealing! Out of Twin Lakes is 2 miles across flat land brushy single track trail with a river crossing. Wow that river was cold! It felt great on tired, hot feet..just a little shocking. Water level was low, just shy of knee deep on me with a rope across to help keep you from falling. 2 miles in you hit the base of Hope. 3.5 miles up, straight up rocky, rooty singletrack trail with God only knows how many switchbacks. You climb 3,000 feet in 3.5 miles. I had a really tough time here. Just kept 1 foot in front of the other and climbed, slow but sure. Started feeling a little wimpy/whiny just before hitting the top of the tree line. FINALLY to the top where there was a nice little aid station and several llamas that carried all their supplies and gear up. Cold and windy up here at 12,600 ft. Temps were probably low to mid 40s. May have been higher, but with the wind it sure seemed colder. I did NOT linger here. Hypothermia bound to kick in quick if you don’t keep moving. Now doooown the other side. Sandy, steeeeeep dirt switchbacks down the mountain for the first mile or so. Cross several boulder fields, fun. No running here, just picking your way across rocks. Then more single track, which is veeery steep and techinical. Much slower going than I would have liked. It was just so technical and steep, the trail dictated a slow pace. Also a bit of a congo line here. Many runners all bottlenecked here on the trail. Finally...fiiiinaaalllyyy make it into Winfield at 50 miles. This is an old Ghost town. Chaotic aid station here. Tons of people, nobody sure of what was going on and tons of cars. This was the first of two “medical check ins” We had to weigh in. They will allow you to lose up to 4% of your body wieght. More than that and you have to stay and hydrate/eat until your weight comes up. Since I was swelling, I was interested in my weight. My concern was that the opposite was happening. That I was retaining water. I had lost 1 lb, so I thought, I’m good, swelling must just be altitude-which does cause your hands to swell. I was good to go. Started to notice a little knee pain on the left, just a little tendinitis settling in, again to be expected to start having aches and pains and I felt considering all of the climbing/descending I had done I had earned a little achiness. This is where I was allowed to have my first “pacer”-someone who can run with you, carry things for you and provide most importantly-moral support. Missy is one of the 4am running club members...there are 4 of us, which reminds me, there was another chic out there from Texas that gets up at 4 to run, I ran with her for a bit and wished her the best. This was her first time at Leadville and I’m pretty sure she finished-possibly ahead of me. Women who get up at 4 to run every day are tough. We get up at 4 not because that is the best time to run, but because there is NO other time to run. Our families and professions take priority from sunup to sundown and we get up at 4 so we don’t take away from our kids/spouses. She looked great the whole run and we played leapfrog much of the race. That happens during ultras, we all have good times and bad, areas of strength and weaknesses and they are so individual. Another cool thing about ultras-unless you are fighting for top seed, you are always happy to see other runners doing well, passing you, and they are always happy to see you pass them. We give each other genuine words of encouragement as we pass....you really do “feel the love”. Ok, so I pick up Missy. I broke down just a little at the sight of her face. My running buddy was there. One of the girls I can always count on. She is always there at 4 am and she was there right when I needed her. I had her run just in front of me, mentally pulling me up that mountain...for the second time. Coming up the backside of Hope Pass is even steeper climbing. The race founder’s son’s words came to mind, “You are gonna run 50 miles some of the highest, most beautiful, rugged mountains Colorado has to offer. And you know what you’re gonna do? You are going to turn around and do it again.” Breathing was tough for me. I had to stop about every 5 minutes or less...all the way up to catch my breath for the next 5 minute push. Hope pass is where I lost significant time. I was an hour behind schedule when I arrived at Winfield. I made that gap about 2 hours coming back over hope. We finally got to the top and to Hope Pass mini aid station and everything started going black. I was getting cold and I couldn’t breathe. The aid station worker sat me down by the fire, made me a cup of “magic soup”...a concoction of chicken flavor ramen noodles and potato slurry/soup. It was the BOMB! As soon as I sat down, a shepherd dog zipped right up to me, nuzzled his head under my arm and landed it right in my lap and cuddled me as I warmed up. I drew strength from that warm, lovable dog and the aid station worker who wanted me to continue my journey and was doing everything she could to make that happen. I will never forget her face...mainly because that was the last thing I saw before I started seeing stars!....not good to see stars during the day! Ok, game on. Back down Hope Pass. The little sit-down gave my hips and knees a chance to stiffen up quite a bit and my L knee was talking a little louder as I descended. We moved fast down those 3.5 miles of switchbacks in the forest. I could hear the rushing stream to my left the whole way down which was awesome to hear and helped me “flow” down. Hit the bottom, which meant 2 miles of flat land and that river crossing. Again.....ahhhhhh, ice cold water felt great! I walked most of this section which killed my time. I should have been running. By the time I came off the mountain my L knee was starting to yell instead of just talk. I started thinking this may be it. That is a really bad place to go mentally at “only” 60 miles into a 100 mi race. I fostered and nursed that thought those last 2 miles. When I hit Twin lakes aid station at mile 60 I told Todd, Missy, Erika and my next pacer Dave that I didn’t know if I could continue on that knee. Get this...they COMPLETELY ignored me. Well &$%!. Dave even had the nerve to tell me that those aches and pains often go away during the night with the cool air. Obviously no one was in the mood to entertain my legitimate whining. Shit, that meant I had to continue. Ok, on to the next mini aid station, Mt Elbert at 63.5 miles. Dave was just what I needed, right when I needed him. I would not have finished this race if it weren't for him. I was struggling with sig nausea and shortness of breath with any exertion. He gave me ginger root chews and calmed me down and taught me how to breathe and relax with calm encouragement. “push the air out through your mouth”, “blow out hard”, “now get in a rhythm with that, in and push hard out”. My nausea started to lift. I could feel my lungs clearing the carbon dioxide that was building with my shallow breathing. “get your arms at 90 degrees and short/quick steps, light, happy feet”, “that’s it....that’s it....” My knee pain did disappear, wow! My nausea settled down, double wow wow! Now we were moving again! Dave never mentioned that he was struggling with nausea and abdominal cramps that he developed the day before from something he ate. I noticed he was getting the hiccups and talking less. I was in a rythm now and oblivious to my pacer’s plight. I made a huge mistake by not layering up more at the next aid station, half-pipe at 70.9 miles. I had on a t-shirt, under armour long sleeve top, shorts, and my windbreaker. I started getting cold and Dave started puking. The little respite from my knee pain was over. It started talking to me again, then yelling. I started shivering. Next aid station a seemingly looong 6.5 miles away. We were completely exposed, night, out of the woods and on dirt/paved road. The temps dropped fast. Dave would catch up to me between bouts of vomiting. My run turned into a pitiful trot. As hypothermia set in, every joint started stiffening up. I broke down and cried several times. I got panicky and hyperventilated and puked. I pulled it back together as Dave caught back up with me. I didn’t want him to see me panicking. I came into Fish Hatchery aid station at mile 76.5 in bad shape. My crew added layers stuffed me in a sleeping bag by the heater and pushed potato soup in me. Dave’s pacing me was over. He was supposed to take me another 10 miles, but he was now dehydrated and depleted of precious nutrients he would need to continue. Todd stepped up to the plate 10 miles early. He ended up running 24 miles with me. On the fly. No training. No hill repeats or altitude running. What a stud. I couldn’t stop shivering. I now had tights, under armour pants, and sweatpants on (with duct tape around my ankles to keep me from stepping on the pants which were way too long for this barely 5’3 girl.). I also had my T shirt, 2 long sleeve under armour shirts, a fleece pullover and my windjacket on. I looked like the little kid from A Christmas Story. I was bundled, in a down comforter by the fire....still shivering. Every time I tried to get up I felt intensely cold. I was done...so I thought. Todd determined if I started running I would warm up. Asshole. The aid station medical person agreed. Both...assholes. I had killed at least 30 minutes in that tent and I was starting to worry that I may not cross the finish line before 30 hours. I made Todd promise I would not get hypothermia again. I was terrified I would get 5 miles down the road and freeze to death. I mean I was SCARED. I’ve never been that cold in my life and at that moment I truely believed I would die if that happened again, I would not make it to the next aid station as I had before. So with those lovely thoughts, off we went. It was good to be running with Todd. My husband, best friend. No one knows me better. No one believes in me more and no one is more brutally honest. I knew if he told me he thought I could continue he was not feeding me a line of BS. I also knew if he knew I could finish this, then I could. That is what got me out of that aid station. So next up? Remember Powerline? Yup. 2 ish miles up that sandy, hard packed, rutted out slide. Breathing was tough. I had to stop about every 2 minutes this time to catch my breath. Nausea was in high gear. I belched so loud all the way up that mountain. I was MISERABLE. I was getting passed and passed and passed. I was getting pissed off. The other lovely thing about powerline and sugarloaf mountain is that there are a million false summits. You think you’re at the top, only to find another steep uphill section. After what seemed like forever, a girl came flying past saying, “this is the last false summit”. She categorically lied. There were at least 3 more. Its a good thing I didn’t catch what she looked like, I would like to track her down and kill her. We made it to the top and what should have been a sweet easy run down ended up being mostly a fast walk into May Queen aid station at 86.5 miles. This was the most painful section of the course. My L knee was killing me and I could no longer run downhill...at all. I was reduced to speed walking. Thank goodness I was warm though. We hit single track trail and I whimpered and cried out with every step over the rocks. The pain was intense. Add to that my toes. They were now warm and feeling. It felt like all 10 of my toenails were being ripped out with every step. That pain was starting to rival the knee pain. I just barely limped into May Queen aid station and begged an EMT to pull my socks off and assess the damage and see what kind of magic he could do. My thinking was, if I could get my toes to settle down I might be able to tolerate the knee pain better. Fortunately, all 10 nails were intact. Just lots of blisters. I learned a huge lesson from this....I like my shoelaces tied loose enough that I can slip my runners on and go. Loose laces when running long distance, especially downhill causes your feet to slide forward and cram your toes into the ends of your shoes with every step. No big deal in Oklahoma where the hills are short, few, far between. The cumulitive effect of this was huge. I was proud to say I kept all 10 toenails over the past year. All 10 toenails are now black and I will lose every last one. Todd had an extra pair of socks which provided cushion for my bruised and battered twinkies...I called them “magic socks”. With that pain quieted down I was ready to work. We left that aid station and I pushed hard. I ran every section I could. My knee pain had let up a bit and allowed me to do more. My breathing was still hard and I had to continue, even when I walked, with blowing hard out my mouth with every exhale. I still had about 9 miles of rocky rooty trail left which was hard on the that knee, but we just pushed through. I cursed Todds long legs, good mood, and any hint from him that I might could move faster. We hit the last 5 mile stretch of dirt then paved road and the sun was up. Time to start shedding those aforementioned layers! It felt like we were 5 feet from the sun. I could tell I was sunburned from the day before and that intensified the sense that we were near the sun. There was very litttle shade at this point, but it was good ‘cause I was almost done. I started realizing....finally that I was actually going to make it. There were people all along those last several miles providing encouragement and cheers. Someone had drawn a line in the sandy road marking the 98 mile point. Only 2 miles left. Life never felt so good! As we came down the home stretch, the last 2 blocks, someone to my right started yelling at me. I mean yelling! “pick your head up girl, smile, you are almost done!...hold that head high girl! … look what you’ve done!” Oh the tears came! We stomped on that finish line pad, I broke the tape that they held across the finish line and the race director personally gave me my medal and a huge hug. I was done. I weighed in. I had gained a pound and was significantly swollen. We finally got back to the room and I laid down for a few minutes, I sat up because I couldn’t breathe. Then the wet cough started. Ooops. As a nurse practitioner I knew what was going on. My lungs were filling with more fluid. Pulmonary edema. Overhydrated and over salted. Duh. I should’ve recognized it at mile 50 and taken measures to correct what I was doing wrong. During the race, I had chalked the more severe shortness of breath up to altitude and fatigue. It never occurred to me that I was developing pulmonary edema. The swollen, fluid filled hands turned into swollen, fluid filled lungs. I was hoping this would clear quickly after the race with correcting my fluid/lytes status with real food and tea. I felt better as we walked around town. We checked into a hotel in Leadville and I took a nap. I woke up a couple of hours later more short of breath. The best cure is getting down to a lower elevation. Damn. Checked out of hotel and headed to Pueblo. Swelling and cough now just a trace. Well, and the shortness of breath...much better. I learned an important lesson. When you think you’re done...you’re not. I was done several times in my mind. Really. Done. Race over done. Erika, Dave, and Todd did not accept that. At no time was there ever a hint in their eyes of worry, doubt, or fear that I would not finish....believe me I looked for it. I looked for it in the aid station workers eyes too. I just needed one person to look at me like, “you poor thing, you are right, you should stop now”. No one would give me that. I thought I could at least get it from Erika. This was her first ever ultra to be at. I just knew I could get that empathetic “It’s ok to quit” look from her. I've learned so many things and hope to elaborate more soon.