I didn’t want to get out of the warm sleeping bag. The rain was sleeting on the windshield and the muted sounds of Roch and JB discussing my fate were only vaguely registering as the morning light filtered into the car. I had been there, at mile 75, for a long, long time. I looked at my watch, trying to do the math. It took around 17 hours to run those 75 miles, but my Garmin was showing around 19.5 hours at this point. The waves of nausea were seemingly less severe and the soreness from my destroyed quads were all I could feel anymore. ”Jen, suffering this much sucks, but not finishing is going to hurt more.” Roch said. I could only nod, but I was certain a DNF in this case would be more than okay. I hadn’t had many calories since mile 50, puking the rest of my stomach’s contents right then and there, when I came in to get aid at 75. I felt a bit out of it no doubt. So, I put my head down to give in, to find a way out. But something felt wrong about doing that. Roch’s wisdom worked it’s way into me and I too, knew the sting of a DNF and the mental destruction it would create. I sat back up. Certainly, I had lost the race, but I hadn’t lost the finish. Slowly I started to get my head around the idea of walking. Walking all day long. “Okay,” I said, ” I don’t know how I’m going to do this,but I will.” After doing some math, Roch figured I had nearly 10 hours to get the 29 miles done. He told me it was only 25 miles at the time, as we all knew the course was long and I didn’t figure out that sneaky trick till much later. I couldn’t run anymore- but I could shuffle and I could crawl and I could get there somehow. After a few bites of bacon and some broth that stayed down finally, I began to get my head right. I wiped my face off, put on my shoes again and JB and Roch pulled me out of the car into the rain. Hello Jen, meet your soul. You two will get real close today.
The next 7.5 miles were all uphill. JB and Roch walked me up for a bit and got me smiling again, giving me those parting words I would chew on for the next 9.5 hours. “What else am I going to do today anyway,” I shouted out as I began to walk ahead. Roch found a piece of course tape and put it in my pack and told me I owed him that at the finish. I laughed and then cried a bit and then I was by myself again for another day in the Colorado mountains.
Time to reflect on what had happened today. A lot of time. It was as simple as a stream of ups and downs but with no calories to make it all work. I raced hard and was having a great time in the rain, the lightening storms, the falling over 3 ski jumps as I got lost at mile 41, the moving up to striking position when I was 7th, to cruising down glorious ridgeline singletrack, to singing “This heart of mine,” by the Wailin Jenny’s as loud as I could at night to scare off bears…. All of these, were piercing memories of a glorious day in the mountains. Some of it running fast, some of it at a miserably slow pace. But none of that really mattered. I was here and had a long way to go. I was able to chat with the others left on the course, everyone able to smile and laugh and push through the pain. I got to see panoramic views where it seemed heaven was crashing into the mountains with bursts of cloud and rain and peaks of sun. I saw two elk running right towards me, just to head across the trail and out of sight at the last second. I thought about my hip hurting, wanting to lay down and sleep, my daughter, my mother, and just about everyone else in my family. I thought about my friends whose unborn child was about to be born. I walked slow, but I walked lightly, enjoying the miles for what they were. As I got to the last aid station with all of it being downhill and 6 miles to go, I watched others find their downhill legs and begin to run. I tried to run, but realized I had just encountered the worst of the course as my quads couldn’t take the steep grade. I wasn’t sure if I would make the cut off so I found this little shuffle that seemed to get me to a speedy 17 minute mile and worked hard to keep that going. The very last steep downhill, which was on a grassy slope of the ski hill, I actually had to slide down on my behind to get down as I kept stumbling from my legs giving out. It was time to be done.
And as I crested the last hill,almost 29:30 hours after I began, and limped it in to the finish (my right hip and SI joint couldn’t point forward any more), I felt tons of love from my fellow racers (many whom had slept and ate several meals by the time I came rolling in), my crew, my teammates, and my hubby. No, I didn’t have the race I am capable of, but I had the race I was supposed to that day. Getting hugs, a buckle and a mug full of beer, I felt as good as my 100 mile win this year, no kidding. Truly euphoric, completely destroyed, but my soul content with the honest effort. I got to see and feel another dimension of this sport. And though I have yet to nail that big stage 100 mile race, I added a much needed wheel in the cog. Frankly, I am excited by the idea that my grit meter is working so well. The speed is in there somewhere, but I need to be more patient. Not so much racing, seasonal breaks, and putting some hay back in the barn. I’ve been a bit threadbare for a while.
I am super impressed by my teammates! Congrats Jason Schlarb for a stellar time and win, and Karl Meltzer, who truly is a champion of this sport.
Thank you crew, Roch Horton and JB Benna. Love you both.
Thank you Hoka One One, GU energy, Drymax socks, Vespa and PT lights. A huge thank you to Coach Ian Torrence who is helping me go back to the drawing board.
Now its time for a break. Not from running, from racing:)