Saturday, April 20, 2019 6:59:50pm – 38 degrees – San Tan Regional Park, Arizona
… 10. 9. 8. 7. I turn around, peering through the crowed to see James in the arms of my husband, waving together and saying “by Mommy”. It was in that moment I fought back tears. Running, running ultras is literally the core centre of my very existence. Everything that happens in our days, weeks, months… year is based selfishly around either races I have planned or some sort of grand out door adventure, which a lot of the times, luckily is for work, regardless they are things that require a lot of juggling and support to do.
Last year was a tricky year, navigating life as a new mom, the priority of work was extremely high, therefore what suffered most was my abilities and time to take care of myself. To tend to caring for what comes after giving birth, mentally and physically. I suffered slowly because of my lack of self care. I struggled and fought my way through it, being mad and frustrated that I couldn’t find or make time or even allow myself to be a priority. It was tricky navigating with no main goal other then to survive each day.
Of course, now, looking back at last year now I am grateful for having a year of running no ultras, my body needed the rest. My longest run was the Orcas Island Trail Marathon race in May, other then that all of my running was shorter distances and other activities. As 2019 approached my goals were to tend to myself on top of everything else going on, even if the only option was to lower the priority level of sleep and by working harder then I have ever worked in my life.
My drop bag slung over my shoulder, I approach the check in tent. There is a crowded line up but I see a hand waving at me from under the tent at the table. “54k?” she shouted. “Yes,” I said as I made my way around the crowed and walked up to the table. She laughed… “I could tell by your bag.”
I was about to head out for my first ever loop style race, my first ever start at night race and my first Ultra as a mom. I wasn’t nervous and I am sure its because I just didn’t have time or room in my head to think about being nervous. My son is 1.5 years old and that takes all of my time and energy…
Pacers and crew were options for the race however I was going to be on my own; Mike and James would be heading back to the house to sleep. My drop bag was going to be everything I might need coming through the finish line 6 times. Six loops, 9kms in distance each loop for a total of 54km.
As we stood near the start line I felt an ease. James was busy playing, throwing the sand and rocks into the light breeze. Everything I had planned leading up to this race couldn’t matter and didn’t matter. The day was what it was, did I drink enough water? Did I get enough sleep…? When you are a parent you can create, set, or make as many plans as you like… chances are they will all go out the window so the plan is always to not have a plan. At least thats how I manage… I set goals and then just have to go with the flow… try to stay in one general direction. So with a full day of travel and getting organized the day before this race with James was not ideal, I know I didn’t drink enough water, eat the right foods and get in enough stretching. But none of it mattered because I would push through whatever it was that came my way.
I hand James to Mike and head over to the corral as the announcements start… And just like that… my entire life over the past 7 months came to me. All of the hard work, all of the tears, all of the nights I sleep for only 5 or 6 hours because I am a working until late hours of the night after James goes to bed… after I get in some sort of training. I am a stay at home mom who works from home – during nap time and after bed time and any other free second I can find. I think about all of the weekends and evenings I made myself run or swim or train even when I was fighting to keep my eyes open or my head was so tired and foggy. I would just close my eyes while on the elliptical machine or rowing and it counted as my nap… all of the little things, the little daily fights come down to start lines. They mean everything to me because I give everything I have everyday to reach the bigger goal.
“Follow the black and yellow flagging tape and in an hour when its dark follow the reflectors that are hanging from the bushes…”
6. 5. 4. 3. I turn back around for one last wave, 2. 1…
I am already in love… it’s hot out. So hot out that my red face looks like I have already run a race… I actually love the heat. I would prefer a humid heat to a dry heat but either way I will take it! The course starts off with a wide soft dirt path that quickly begins up the hill side on a slight incline. I am excited because my legs feel fresh and running steady up inclines has been something I have worked hard on this year. Unfortunately, for me, my brain didn’t know what else to think about in the first 10 minutes so it sung “the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round,” James’ new favourite. For the entire first loop the buses wheels went round and round.
The sun was starting to set over the mountains and I was seriously excited about the terrain, so far it was all runnable! and man thats all I wanted was to just run. I craved that feeling of running for a long time. I still wasn’t 100% sure what the loop would consist of… tall mountains surrounded us so I thought maybe the race director was being sarcastic when he said that the course had a few rolling hills just for fun… “was this a Gary Robbins style of fun or were these actually going to be fun rolling hills?!”
The plan for the first loop was to just run, run what felt good, push just a little but not to hard and to get set on electrolytes and nutrition. This is exactly what I did, until about 2.5kms in when I came to the top of a hill to see the lady running in front of me come to a quick stop. I thought maybe she needed to adjust her pack or something but as I ran up behind her she pointed out the rattle snake that was taking a presence in the middle of the trail. Coiled up, head pronounced and mouth open kind of presence. Yikes. As we backed up a little, more racers caught up to us so we spent a few minutes making sure that everyone was aware. Eventually, it must have realized we were running a race and it should move, the clocks a tickin’ here little buddy… and it headed off into the bush.
“Ugh, now I do have to look at the ground and watch for snakes,” I thought to myself. But we were back to running in a crowed again now so the thought quickly left and then I found myself contemplating… would I rather venomous snakes or cougars and bears?… conclusion… total toss up. Moved on and went back to the bus. I ran, ran through the aid station without stopping. More rolling hills… lots of really cool cactus and then it was time for our headlamps.
I knew that for 95% of this race I would be running in the dark alone, which at home in the trails I would never do, but this race was a loop course with a 54k, 27k, 18k, 9k and 5k so I wouldn’t really be that alone. There was lots of company during the first loop as the front packers from the other distances started to pass. I finished the first loop in 1:07h and I was really pumped about that because I didn’t push really hard I just ran and in my mind I was hoping for a 7:30h – 8:00h finish time. Just for fun why not make a time goal. If I could keep a similar pace for the rest of the loops then I was golden for my goal.
Of course as soon as I started singing the bus song I made a mental note that with my first bag drop access I needed to grab my IPod. After some not so flat coke, watermelon and a salt pill and off I rolled for loop 2.
Loop 2. Headache. Damnit. I have somehow screwed up on my hydration. I was still able to run fine with the same pace however the heat was just bananas… we were in an oven. Despite the sun being down, the breeze was hot, the air was hot and it was all just radiating off of the hot dirt/rock we were running on. It was coming from all angles. I was taking more salt pills drinking more water, then took some Advil. I kept running but walked some of the hills and decided to see what a take it easy loop time would look like. Just don’t stop moving in a forward motion and everything will be all good. I walked when I felt like it and ran when I felt like it. My headache subsided shortly after passing through the on course aid station and loop 2 turned into some fun. Lots of runners now out on their first of one or three loops. Lots of sharing encouragement as I passed or was passed. Now knowing the course, rounding the last hill before the few kilometer decent into the finish line crossing, I felt a huge wave of gratitude and excitement to be doing this race and to be where I was. I did loop 2 in 1:13h. I grabbed some more non flat coke (bad idea) and headed out for loop 3.
Loop 3. Why do I even run?! I’m good I think I will stop running Ultras! I had realized that I hadn’t eaten any “real” food since I started the race. So I took out my peanut butter and Nutella sandwich. My stomach was starting to feel a bit upset and I also realized that I had only peed once at the end of loop 1, which is very usual for me (I have a small bladder lol) so here we go, I am dehydrated, feeling nauseous, eating is not looking good and now I have to play catch up. But okay don’t panic think and make a plan… your crazy child isn’t here to make your plan be not a plan anymore haha. More salt pills, more sips of water more often, eat this sandwich and get down a gel. And just walk if you need to, there’s still lots of time left and lots of race left. I fought down half the sandwich, managed some pickles at the aid station out on course, which I stopped at for the first time quickly. I have thankfully only twice before this, in my running history, had to push through an upset stomach scenario. I know why I have it and I know what I have to do to fix it but when its happening the whole world crumbles around me. I, for a split second, thought about stopping, I was angry because I wanted to run this race fast and strong as I knew I could, I was mad about how I had to deal with my child all day who is in a whinny “I need my mom to be in arms reach from me all day phase” and didn’t spend the time focusing on my hydration and nutrition. My legs started to feel heavy and I spent the entirety of loop 3 forcing down gels, salt pills and water. I walked a lot, all of the hills. Loop 3 was about 1:20h.
Okay if I have to walk a lot of the loop and feel almost the worst I have ever felt in a race and my time is 1:20h then I am okay with that. There was something about the long gradual decent into the finish line at the end of each loop that just seemed to make things get sorted out.
Loop 4. What a lovely night. I am halfway done. Lets get this shit done. Skipping the non flat coke this time around, I refilled my pack with gels, soaked my buff in cold water, wrapped it around my neck, adjusted my head lamp to be not as tight (hoping this was one of the headache causes) and I started to run. Heading back up the first incline space was becoming quite far between runners. It’s odd running in the dark, at home in thick tall tree forests you wouldn’t really see other runners lights very well and I find it scary, but in the open desert only scattered with cacti you are offered a great view of all the little bobbing lights in front and behind you. I never once felt scared, alone or creeped out in anyway during the race, which I was surprised about because even though the loop was only 9k you did get a sense that you were far out in the dessert. Im running along when to my left a guy runs up beside me to pass and as he does he smiles and says “don’t forget to look up!” I looked up to see the biggest sky filled with millions of stars that go into millions of different depths. And of course the full big moon was hanging out up there to. I hadn’t thought of looking up, usually we can’t see many stars due to the thick forests and or the city lights are bright. I was also pretty focused on the ground following the light of my headlamp. I am so glad that he said that to me, its exactly what I needed in that moment. I carried on loop 4 running everything but the hills now. All I could think about was how excited I was to call my husband in the middle of the night to wake him up to come back to the finish line! I also had my mind on peeing so sipping water, sipping water, sipping water. Oh and also watch out for the centipedes… and the spiders. ‘SHUDDER’ 1:15h – 1:20h ish
I had decided to start the race in my Brooks Caledra 2’s, I started running in them last year for my shorter non technical training runs and really like them. I thought they would be perfect for these buffed out non technical trails. My plan was to change them after loop 3 or 4 into my Altra Olympus shoes which offer a lot more cushion and what I always wear for any long runs. I am now ending loop 4. I am pretty tired and made the decision to not take the time to change my shoes as I crossed that finish line. I think subconsciously I was feeling a little disappointed with the time I was at because I could see the 7h range slipping away and didn’t want to waste any minutes sitting in a chair at the aid station. I later regret this decision.
Loop 5. The finish is near. No one is near me. Oreo cookies please. Carrying on. Keeping a pace. Still walking the hills because now I have some tight muscle areas that are nagging a bit. (I should have changed my shoes) But I am feeling slightly better… and I finally peed! Seriously so proud of myself and jacked up at the same time about this. Also as someone who loves everything about bathroom breaks in the forest… running at night means you don’t have to go a find a tree or cactus to hide behind! Right on the trail is the most convenient for me! Now I am passing a few people who seem to be struggling on the downhills… yikes! Arriving at the on course aid station I see the volunteers putting on sweat pants and hoodies… I say to them “is it actually cold out?!” I mean I feel a breeze and for sure the the temp has come down a tinch since the start but really? Apparently yes, it was cold out. I grab some Oreo cookies and carry on. 1:20h – 1:25h ish
Loop 6. Just keep talking to yourself… or singing. ITS THE FINAL LAP!!! I knew to predict 1:30h for this lap… my pace was slowing even though my efforts felt the same. I kept on with my gels, salt pills and Oreo cookies. Wiping my face with the cold wet buff, the warm breeze would blow here and there and dry it before it had the chance to feel refreshing. The breeze though warm, was awesome because it just blew dirt around and made my pale sweaty skin a nice dark brown colour. And I love being covered in trail. I called Mike once I reached the on course aid station. He had a 25 minute drive from the house to the finish line. It was 2:22am when I called him. I told him I would be at the finish line between 3:00am and 3:15am. My goal was for 3:00am that was the 8:00h mark. I went off and just did what I could do. I could have pushed harder looking back at it now, but of course in the state I was in, in the moment I was in, I was doing the best I could. I was just excited knowing that I wasn’t going to be last in the race, I was well ahead of any cut off times and that I had just passed two more guys. Landmarks were coming and going. Oh theres bag of dog poop on the side of the trail number 2. Oh heres the log in the middle of the trail that looks like a snake but isn’t. Finally, I rounded the last acent to see the finish line lights off in the distance. A couple kms to go. I noted on my watch at km 50 I was at 7:15h. (this was a win for me, my fastest 50km run by 15 minutes) The finish line was supposed to be at km 54 however my watch showed 56kms. As I ran past the giant piles of horse poop for the last time that night all I wanted to do was go to sleep… But then all of a sudden all I was focused on was not barfing. I envisioned an epic home stretch for the last lap but instead I ran and walked fighting the urge to barf and talking to myself. Of course as soon as the finish line crowed was just about to be in my sights I sucked it up and ran it all the way in. I was watching my watch, as I had walked, seeing it say 3:07am, thinking I can make 8:15h then thinking its okay ill make 8:20h finish time don’t worry. 8:30h worst case scenario.
Mike was there clapping for me and so were the few left at the finish line party. 3:15am finish time, 8:15:45h total duration.
When I crossed the line. All I was now focused on was taking my shoes off, getting my pack off, getting my drop bag and going to bed. I wish I had been in the mind set to take the finish in a bit more but I was handed my finishers cup and one of the other ladies who finished the race said to me “Hey well done I think you came in 6th place!” and I am so sorry to the nice lady for my lame reaction “oh really? cool.” I think I thought she was kidding… Mike even said “want a finish photo?!” and I said “please no the guy at the finish line already has 6 photos of me crossing the stupid thing.” like get me away from that line. So that was that. Bags in hand and to the car we went.
After a nice sleep in and a few big meals to follow, I am good as new.
I am in love with this race. I want to do it again. I love the loop style, I love the math, I love the breakdown, I love the terrain. I want to do others like it.
I encourage anyone out there to give it a go! or to give any event a go that is far from your normal. It is the most rewarding thing you can do and no matter the outcome you always learn something new about yourself. Plan or no plan.
Race Website: https://www.aravaiparunning.com/insomniac/sinister/