Where to begin to write about this race?
I want to first thank Ian Golden for all his support, encouragement and time. He is the only reason I made it to this race and am so fortunate to have him and the Red Newt Racing team behind me. Thank you also to Strong Hearts Vegan Power for even putting these crazy ultra endurance events on my mind. I would not be here without you.
It was both the most beautiful and most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about myself and can honestly say that I am forever changed.
After getting in to San Francisco Thursday afternoon, Laura and I spent Friday relaxing and got up around 3AM on Saturday to get to the start line of the race. It began at 5AM, so we made it with plenty of time to check out drop bags and stay by the fires to keep warm. The race was very well organized. To get from our hotel to the start, all we had was a short walk to the local middle school, a hop on the shuttle and we were there in 25 minutes. You cross the San Francisco bridge on the way, which was really neat for us East Coasters.
At the race start there were plenty of bathrooms, food and fires which we all huddled around to keep warm. I was living it up. Listening to all the real trail runners talk about the other races they’ve done was so neat. I was really excited to start!
The race began at 5AM and required us to wear headlamps until the sun came up. Immediately, the men shot out like a rocket, which I was expecting, but so did the women! There were some pretty fast ladies up there including Megan Kimmel, Ida Nilsson, Stephanie Howe, Sandi Nypaver, Magda Boulet and of course my friend Laura Kline. These were just the women I had heard of (I’m a newbie so sorry if I forgot you!).
I set off at a comfortable pace near many people, but because it was dark, I have no idea who they were. For someone who gets worried about getting lost, I enjoyed following the headlamps of people up the mountains. It was neat to watch Zachary Miller, Sage Cannaday and others leading the charge up the accents.
The first few miles flew and I made it to the aid station. I was carrying a bottle of tailwind with a pouch holding a Clifbar and RunGum. I felt good, so I didn’t stop (it was about mile 6) but reminded myself to start to eat and drink. I started sipping my tailwind, but before I knew it we were at mile 10 and I hadn’t eaten anything yet. At the aid station around there, I went to the bathroom, refilled my bottle with Tailwind and got my bar open. This aid station was a point at which I could get access to my drop bag, but I didn’t need anything.
The next few miles were a series of easy climbs and descents. At each climb I felt good and just repeated “I know how to climb,” over in my head. Two weeks ago, Ian had planned me a route to practice steady climbs like these, so I visualized those training runs, just moving along steady.
At mile 15, a steady 5 mile climb began through switchbacks up the mountain. This was kind of fun as I had never really done them before. It was single track, and I kind of got stuck behind a woman for a while, but who knows, maybe going her pace for a few miles saved me later. After I passed her, I was in a line of guys for a mile or so until a loose rock caught me and I took a fall. I messed my knee up nicely, but they helped me up and I kept going.
At the next aid station around mile 19, I knew it was going to be important for me to stay on top of eating. Ian told me that whatever looked good at the aid stations should be put into my mouth. The Clif chomp gummies were it at that point, so I grabbed a handful and carried on.
The next section of the course till mile 25 were a bit rough. I’m not going to harp on this, just mention it. This section was the out and back part, which I did not know was coming. We were running on the side of a steep mountain and I was really focusing on not falling off the side. I did not see the runner coming toward me until he was pretty close and although I tried to get out of the way, it was not fast enough for him. He pushed me off the trail and almost down the side of the cliff. No, he did not stop. I am lucky the grip on my shoes worked and I grabbed onto a root. I kept going. I refused to get upset about this.
At the next aid station, we were almost at the halfway point, so I popped in my first piece of RunGum along with refilling my bottle with Tailwind. It gave me a bit of pop and I started back down the trail determined to let people know I was coming and not have another accident.
The next aid station was around mile 30 and here was when I grabbed potatoes (which I thought were bananas but it was a nice surprise) and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I felt great leaving that aid station…until I made it to the stairs. Oh my God the stairs. There were so many! Climbing up and up and up for what felt like forever and not being able to run sent me into my first dark place. I have never walked that much in a race, but I remembered what Ian said about doing what the other fast women were doing, which was fast hiking them.
I felt like crap at this point, because I had to have a huge piece of humble pie and just slowly plod along. Once we got to the top, it wasn’t even downhill yet, still more gradual uphill. This meant it was runable, but still a pain in the butt. Finally I reached a downhill, but it was so steep it hurt more to go down. This part taught me a lot!
I made it to the next aid station and was told that the next one was only 3 miles away. Only three miles!!! I essentially sprinted to the next one, which in hindsight was foolish because it was only mile 40 and there was another steep climb. This was the part of the race where I went into the dark part of myself. I hurt, I was going slow, no food sounded good, I was worried about my knee and all I could see was uphills. There was seriously no peak. I cried a lot.
I thought about my sister and the note she wrote me before the race. It was the only thing I had to pull me out of this. I remembered that she was cheering for me and regardless of how I did or if I finished, I had the courage to start. I thought about my running group of girls who are always there for me. I put one foot in front of the other, allowed myself to cry and made it up that mother fucking hill.
At the top, I was so relieved until I saw the bone crunching downhill on the other side. Going down that was one of those “be careful what you wish for” moments, because they hurt my knee a lot more than uphills. At the bottom of the hill was an aid station and there were only like 7 miles lift. I could walk 7 miles if I had to, I was finishing.
After than aid station there was one more climb that most people walked, but I just wanted to get done, so I jogged as best as I could. I hit the 46.5 mile aid station and told myself that only a 5K separated me from talking to my sister. Seriously Laurel if you’re reading this, I repeated “just keep swimming” for 3 miles while thinking about the stories I was going to tell you.
Finally, I heard someone say “just around the corner.” I saw the finish and the tears started again.
At the finish I was crying and just repeating “I’m ok, where’s Laura?”
Of course, no one knew who she was and my knee looked really bad so they thought I was injured. Someone put a medal on my neck and tried to give me a water bottle, which I promptly knocked out of their hand.
I found Laura at the bag tent and kept crying for no reason. I mean, when in doubt, cry and my white female privilege will probably get me something. Laura walked me over to the med tent where they attempted to pick out the gravel and green shit from my knee before just covering it and asking if I had recently got a tetanus shot.
I put that on hold, cleaned myself up and tried to find famous runners.Priorities people. Zach Miller won the men’s race.
Ida Nilsson won the women’s race.
Laura Kline finished 11th female.
I finished 15th female.
Thank you to everyone who cheered and to the North Face for a great race.
Thanks for reading!