JMT - Listening to the Universe

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JMT - Listening to the Universe

I don’t want to tell my JMT story like I’ve told all my other adventures. This one was different. It feels as if I’ve reached a beautiful alpine meadow after years of climbing the mountain of life, and I have more to say than a stripped down bear recounting of the adventure. If I go back and read through my previous few trip reports a constant theme emerges. A sense of searching and yearning. The universe has been screaming at me, and I’ve been blissfully unaware. I’m failing to hear it through the constant clouding of my life and ego. My near death experience in early May was a rude awakening. It jerked me from my sleep to leave me wondering how long I had been sleeping. But I didn’t slow down and listen to what it was telling me. Only two weeks later the universe grabbed me and stabbed me in the heart… Julias dead. My life came crashing to a halt. I watched around me as everyone’s lives continued living but mine. Mine seemed to have ended with Julia.


Let me take a few steps back and paint a clearer picture. In the fall of 2017 my on and off again boyfriend and I ended it for good. I became unintentionally homeless on Thanksgiving when a squirrel destroyed my living quarters. Julia repeatedly took me in during this difficult time in my life. She was family and that’s what family does. Ultimately I escaped my personal hell to Montana for the winter. I started reading Buddhist books and meditating at the local Buddhist temple. I thought I had finally found myself. But by finding who I thought I was I lost my old identity. The thrill and power of winter ultras had escaped my allure. And with this lacking motivation and desire I DNFed both of my races. Next came the Badwater Salton Sea which I gifted my race entry to Julia. My head was no longer in this world. I was loosing my life long identity as a runner. Still homeless when I returned to California in the spring, I took off in my van to pursue a different world of paragliding. The paragliding world took me in and embraced me. I spent close to two months on the road chasing the wind. I fell in with a community of pilots that I traveled around with, and I felt as if I had found another family. Then everything changed. I went to a paragliding clinic where they tow you thousands of feet above a lake and you simulate the possible things that could happen to your wing when you are flying. Conditions were less than ideal, and I only got a few tows. On the last day of the clinic he told me I was going to throw my reserve parachute. He told me to give bad input on a negative spin and the next thing I knew I was spiraling with my risers twisting at violent speeds. I threw reserve without hesitation. Some say it was skill, but I think it was luck that my reserve narrowly missed my violently twisting wing and opened seamlessly. What happened next was also luck… bad luck. The reserve opening tossed me from my comfy seated position in my harness. I was so unprepared that it whiplashed my head so far forward that my head got forced between my twisting risers. The risers twisted a few times above my neck before it stoped twisting. Instead of hanging from my harness I was now hanging from my neck. I couldn’t breath. This was it. I gasped for one more breath forcing my fingers between the risers to try and release pressure on my neck. I yarded and yarded on the risers trying as hard as I could to get my head out. Seconds before impacting the water I was able to pull me head out of the risers. I landed hard into the water, but I was alive. 

I had never had the pre death thoughts before. The tunnel vision in your eyes as the life is slowly forced out. Your constant fight to keep living. Your not thinking about your loved ones or what you could have done with your life but on what you can do right now to stop death from overcoming you. My last thoughts would have been me thinking about what I could do to keep breathing. I participate in dangerous sports and have felt the pains of losses all around me, but never this close. It happened so quickly and unexpectedly just as I imagine death did. It comes not when you are prepared or ready but when you least expect it. This rude awakening happened on mothers day. I imagined the calls to my mother. The sorrow that would have rippled through my family. It hurts to imagine. Julia came to Tahoe to console me in this weird time in my life. I had just driven straight from the clinic to Tahoe to settle back into apartment living. And she came up the next day. Life was so fragile. Our clocks are ticking and we don’t know when that time is up. The universe I feel knows and it keeps giving us warning signs. I was having a serious problem with mortality. Julia told me that I couldn’t live my life with the fear of death. That you wouldn’t be living. She sat on the couch and watched me untangle my wet wing and then she slept in my bed that night. In the morning we hugged goodbye. She drove back to Winters where she lived for one more week and then passed unexpectedly like death always does.

I got to experience my biggest fears. I watched her family experience grieving as I imagined my family would have. And what it did to me is unexplainable. Everyone grieves differently my therapist likes to say. And there isn’t a right way or a wrong way, and you can’t predict why or when it’s going to hit you and to what level of intensity. I guess I have to believe this. But sometimes I think she is just trying to give me excuses for my erratic and painful behaviors. My first night alone in my apartment after she passed a black faceless object visited me. I screamed bloody murder from my bed as it crept closer and closer and I pushed farther and farther back into the corner. It was the second time in my life I had experienced a fully conscious night terror. I flipped the lights on trembling in fear. No one had heard my screams from my cabin alone in the woods. And I had this overwhelming sense that it wanted me. Whatever it was wanted me next. I haven't slept with the lights off since. My friend Jenelle rescued my from my trembling state in my bed that night and my long time on and off again boyfriend came back to take care of me. Everyones lives were continuing on and I wanted so badly to keep living as well, but I couldn’t. 

Work was asking me to pick up more tasks. So I did. I picked back up my house project to fill any other waking moment of my time. I had to cram every moment of every day with something so that I never had long enough to feel. I wasn’t meditating or reading. Those tasks were too simple. I would surely break down and cry. Running became even more painful for me. It was her sport. It was our connection. Our community. Our people. My identity as a runner was being lost even further. But I also had lost my identity as a paraglider and my identity all together. Months went by of just existing. I’d cry occasionally, but I existed mostly in a brainless state of busyness. That was until I got mono. My case of mono was strange. It manifested it self in sores on only one half of my throat. I had no cold like symptoms, no cough, or mucus, or fever. I had throat pain and fatigue. It was treated for several things. First bacterial then viral till ultimately it was diagnosed as mono. It wiped me out for close to 4 weeks. I missed two races and finally had to feel. I cried like I’ve never cried before. Not the shock cries and pain cries that I did in the beginning. But the cry as if there was no hope for tomorrow. That I was trapped in a place of darkness for eternity. I finally felt a summers worth of pain in 4 weeks. Julia is dead. There is no amount of tasks in the world that will make that statement untrue. No amount of busyness that will make that less painful to say or think.

I look around me. At all the other people in this community who have suffered just as close of losses as I. Why can they find joy and celebrate their friends and loved ones lives and yet all I can do is grieve. I don’t feel happiness or joy when I think about Julia. I feel pain and sadness. Julia was a dark tortured soul. It’s what I liked about her. She’d tell me she felt as if she had died a million times and that she was just tired now. She didn’t shy away from death but embraced it. She feared nothing. She was perplexing and complex. Everything she said was a puzzle and if you didn’t know her well you wouldn’t get the key. In her wake we discovered a piece of literature she wrote. I’ll repeat it here:

I feel so done. Apathetic. Apathy doesn’t always mean abandon, though; It makes me want more —  to fill some newfound emptiness. Maybe it was always here, and I just noticed it, or just noticed what it means. Or theres the proactive approach that  this my fault, I am to answer for this; because I care I have created a vacancy that I now feel the need to fill.

Either way, I still feel like I’m in something I need to snap out of.

Either way, this entire train of thought is probably arbitrary.

And the latter insight brings me back to the former and back and forth in the back of my mind:
    ‘Hey, you — everything is meaningless’
    ‘Shut up you worthless existential piece of shit’
    ‘What would be the point?’
    ‘You’re really not accomplishing anything, you know’
    ‘I’m not trying to’
    ‘Creation drives humanity’
    ‘Why does humanity need to be driven?’
    ‘Because otherwise human life would have no purpose’
    ‘It doesn’t’
    ‘Says you’
    ‘Yes’

I think I prefer elevator music as a canvas for my consciousness.

This is probably also why my success in life is becoming progressively non existent. My mind is like one of the expensive cars with the stereo systems that adjust the volume to how fast you’re driving. The more I attempt to think the faster my synapses fire, the louder everything gets — and instead of it feeling good, or at least proportional, I can’t even see for all of the static that has no where to go. Getting anything quantifiable accomplished is an after thought that actually accounts for a good portion of the useless drivel I come up with, take in, analyze, and  finally forget.

This is a problem for everyone who associates with me.

And my detached removal from the aforementioned community always ends in someone getting hurt. And me feeling like I should feel shitty because of a million rock ballards about `I’m sorry; baby’. And me feeling fine. And me actually then feeling shitty because I feel fine. And me losing the energy with this war of social contentiousness — 

And me feeling empty.

Maybe the problem is that I don’t associate with myself. The way people without some sense of self respect cannot command the respect of others. Unless they die, which somehow adds credibility through a connotation of elegy and nostalgia and seriousness. Which means that people who are really excited about themselves or people who are dead are really cool, relevant contributors to society. Which means that I’m so gone, there’s no one to tell anyone else where to find me, because I don’t even know.
— Julia Millon

I feel as if the universe was trying to tell me this was going to happen. That it was queuing me in over and over and I was ignoring it. I’ve been stagnant these past few months really listening to the universe. It’s speaking to us. We just have to listen. It’s not coincidence that dogs can alert people to things before they happen or that goats can predict natural disasters. They are in tune with the universe. Their senses are not suppressed by ego and social noice. Our lives our loud, busy, and shrouded in social constructs that limit or connection back to earth. People are creating festivals to help people live more authentic lives and get outside but are missing the points. Strip out the social media. Strip out the ego. Touch the earth and listen to it. You don’t need to pay someone to tell you to listen to it. The universe will speak louder and teach you more than any person in a classroom ever can. They say everything happens for a reason. Or as others say we will find reason in everything that happens. I recently tend to think towards the former. The reason is set before it happens. And the universe will change it’s outcome if we listen.

So what does this have to do with the JMT? Nothing really other than every experience in our lives substantial or inconsequential is shaping our experiences and how we interact with the world. Julias death is substantial and I feel as if it plays an important part in this story.


I won permits for the JMT back in March of this year. It was an objective I had been dreaming about doing for years. I teamed up with Stacey and we loosely planned the mission. Julias death and a myriad of other things left us planning the adventure just a few weeks before. For many reasons we decided to not use my permits. It’s difficult to get permits going South to North (mine were North to South) which is the preferred direction with close to 10k less elevation gain. And the bear canister requirement is super heavy almost making it a backpackers trail not a runners trail. We decided we would be “day hikers” just doing 5 long days back to back to back. We secured Whitney permits and set on our plan. I struggled mentally with if this was the right time for this mission. I had been very emotional and sick for most of the month of August leading up to the adventure but was excited and knew I could pull through.

As to not bore you with the details everything went to plan. My friends Jenelle and Gretchen came and met us at Kearsarge where we resupplied. I can't thank them enough for their support.

Mt. Whitney - 14,505'

Forester Pass 13,200'

The next day, after a cold sleepless few hours of tossing, did not go as smooth. It was brutally hot during the day and my mental state was dwindling rapidly. Poor Stacey sat with me on the side of the trail while I cried the cry of helplessness. Not because of the mission but depression will follow you even into the deepest mountains. We got up and kept moving but the thought of bailing at Bishop Pass was discussed. I caught a second wind and we started to run. Bailing at Bishop Pass was a distant memory as I was riding another wave.

Glen Pass - 11,926'

Pinchot Pass - 12,090'

Mather Pass - 12,067'

A much warmer 2 hours of sleep were welcomed and I woke even more rejuvenated than the day before. Excitement welled inside of me of the prospect of continuing on this journey. As we arrived at Bishop Pass early in the morning we met with Coralie for our second resupply. Then the perfect storm happened. To keep the story short we didn’t have a permit nor a bear canister and though we told the rangers we were day hikers they, for many reasons, knew we were lying. We weren’t given any tickets but were asked to leave the trail in more or less terms. We mulled over the ideas of continuing on and what that would mean but ultimately didn’t feel good about it so left at Bishop Pass with Coralie. 

Bishop Pass - 11,972

Maybe I make things up in my head or maybe I’m trying to be more in tune with what the universe is speaking to us, but it felt in that moment that leaving Bishop Pass with Coralie was the right decision. My ego and everything else in my body wanted to continue. It wanted to finish the JMT. We were capable. But I have to feel that the perfect storm was so perfect for a reason and to ignore that would be crossing the universes wishes. I say this because Coralie’s service dog started to have crazy neck tremors and the thought of leaving her to hike out alone and something worse happening wasn’t even an option. I say this because Corbin had expressed disinterest in crewing us at the VVR and I later found out his truck which had lost a wheel unexpectedly in Mexico a short few weeks earlier was showing signs of the other side going to go out. I can only imagine the consequences of loosing a wheel on the narrow cliff roads out to the VVR and what that might mean. I say this because we planned to hitch hike all the way from Yosemite Valley back to Lone Pine and as safe as that sometimes feels it often times is not. I say this because we hiked out with Coralie, had a delicious dinner of donuts, all rode back to lone pine together, got breakfast in the morning, and everything was okay. I don’t know if everything would have been okay if we continued. And so this journey was beautiful. And it was successful. And I would change nothing about it.

So where does this leave me? I don’t know. I feel more lost and alone now than ever before in my life. I am not a runner, or a paraglider, nor am I a climber… I’ve accomplished nothing this year but a long list of failures. But I’m searching harder and listening as intently as I can. I’m getting older. I’m growing up. I’m learning. I’m alive. I want to be everything and nothing all at the same time. As I go back to meditating and letting the emotions of Julia run through me. I will hopefully come out the other side someone that has felt something.

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An Ode to the Matterhorn

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An Ode to the Matterhorn

Oh the Matterhorn
I don’t want to see your summit
No I just want my best friend back
And all you can give me is distant memories
But something we will always have

Oh the Matterhorn
Only you and I will ever share
That day up up in thin air
Where Julia and I did sit
Not just sit but post hole too
With sunburn skin
And snow-blind eyes
And the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen
Oh we laughed and we cried
And you heard our secrets I can't lie

Oh the Matterhorn
We drove away that day
And I can’t think of a better place to play
You know we were stupid to even try
Because you know how much Julia hated the cold
And yet you let us get so close

Oh the Matterhorn
From season to season nothing has changed
Do you even feel her missing now?
As the leaves on your trees turn from yellow to brown
And then fall to the ground
So also do my tears

Oh the Matterhorn
We all shall pass
But you will always remain
Thanks for letting me feel her once again

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Ruby Crest Double - Slow and steady hurts the most

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Ruby Crest Double - Slow and steady hurts the most

Two athletes I could never be are a backpacker and a triathlete. It really blows my mind that people can spend weeks and months away from home carrying pounds on their backs for miles and miles. It also really blows my mind that people can be super fit at swimming, biking, and running all at the same time! Maybe it’s because I’ll never be great at either of these sports that I have a lot of respect for people that do them. All that being said I’ve romanticized the fusion of running and backpacking. A term that many in the community coin “fast packing”. Libby and I did something along those lines on the GR20 last summer and honestly the Tahoe 200 and Moab 240 are a ultra light super supported fastpack in my opinion. So this winter when I won permits for the JMT I felt like I was prepared for the task. I teamed up with Stacey and started getting excited for our big audacious goal!

My general approach to adventures are little preparation with lots of stoke. But the JMT is different it has lots of rules and is remote for many miles. The gear and food required to fastpacking the JMT unsupported over 7 days would be so heavy that it might as well be called backpacking. Since Stacey and I had never done something like this before we thought it would be important to do a 2 day adventure to simulate what a bit of the JMT might be like. We had both been talking about running the Ruby Crest Trail for a few years but instead decided we’d try fast packing the double with JMT heavy packs over two days. We roped in Libby since she’d also been toying with the idea of running it as well. It was a last minute plan! A Monday and Tuesday in the beginning of July Libby, Stacey, and I would be questing off on a Ruby Crest Trail Double!

I did little to no research leading up to it but was able to download a last minute GPX file, thanks to my friend Jenelle, to my Gaia app and printed my signature map and elevation chart that I like to bring on all my adventures. We met in the town of Elko the day before the adventure. Sorted and split some shared gear, eat some delicious Mexican food, and then headed into town for a good night sleep. Corbin and Lopi had joined for the first portion since we were just returning from celebrating Mason and Allys wedding in Salt Lake City. So we got a hotel for convenience. Stacey and Libby stayed in their vans outside. An early morning wake up call had us at the North trailhead at 6:30am. The plan was to jam down to the South Trailhead, bivy, and then return to the North Trailhead the next day. The sun rose at 5:15am so the trail was already in full sun as we started out. We moved quickly up to the first pass in no time and were greated with a beautiful vista and alpine lake. 

Chatting and jogging for a bit the miles passed quickly and we were already on the Ruby Crest early in the day. The next section is all above 10k feet for about 10 miles. You stay right on the crest and the stark contrast of tall mountains falling straight down into arid desert is beautiful. It reminded me a bit of the White Mountains outside of Bishop. We would push up over the pass take a little break and then repeat. It was beautiful and we were really enjoying the landscape. It turned out that a three person team offered an odd dynamic. The person in the middle was the only one that could hear everyone talk while the front and back missed out on half of the conversation. So it often turned into two people talking or the middle person repeating for the person in the front or the back. 

We didn’t end up filling water till we got through the crest and took a little break. The next section is a traverse it gains very little elevation over a 9 mile section and weaves in and out of the canyons with many little stream crossings and a beautiful water fall. This offered a nice change of pace from the up and down and the constant creek crossings where nice for cooling off in the baking sun. This traverse dumps you out at the last beautiful alpine lake called overland lake. This huge alpine lake has a nice little wood shack for sitting out a storm. We took a quick stop here before powering out the last thousand feet of climbing to King Mt.

From here the trail becomes much less traveled. You drop close to 3k feet down into the valleys bellow and the trail is so over grown that at times we thought we might have gotten off trail. This section seemed to go forever. The views were no longer breath taking and the sting of branches and flowers slapping across your legs got old fast. It was the hottest part of the day and thinking of having to go through this again the next day really drug on my moral. We silently trudged our way through the flowers barely stopping to observe the aspen tree markings from the Peruvian who first traveled the trail. The history down there is very interesting but the heat dampened my interests. You make two river crossings and then the final climb up to Green Mountain before dropping down to the south trailhead.

The climb out to Green Mountain went on forever. The heat was suffocating and we had been under the sun for almost a full day. I was noticing more and more the weight of the backpack and was really looking forward to getting to sleep for the night. We took a little break at the top and tried to guess some numbers on how close we were to the South Trailhead. It’s not super clear since the trailhead isn’t generally where most people park since it’s a pretty burly 4x4 road to get up there. But we had a GPS track and a general idea of the elevation at the trailhead.

We started down the hill towards the trailhead. My spirits were low as I kept trying to ditch my backpack since I knew we’d be coming back this way. It felt contrived to have to hike with all this weight to the trailhead just to turn around and hike it back up this hill. Libby and Stacey kept theirs and I was out numbered so I silently and unhappily stomped behind them. I joke that I’m not good at out and backs or loops because I lack the motivation to do things I’ve already done again. This was confirmation of this. As we inched closer to the trailhead hours off my predicted time I kept running the possibilities of bailing. Is there a way we can get a ride out of here. If only Corbin had stayed in Elko I would for sure call him and get him to pick us up. 

As the sun started to set we decided we should probably boil some water and start cooking our dinners so they would be ready to eat by the time we reached the trailhead. We stopped at the very very last possible spot to get water on the trail and found ourselves pumping water out of a trickle. Stacey and I were sharing a meal while Libby had her own. I used my handy dandy MSR water pump and Libby made the hole deeper so I could get more water faster. We filled up the jetboil, boiled the water, and filled our dehydrated meals with the water. Now we just had to wait for them to hydrate so we continued on our way down to the trailhead.

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The sun was setting now and we weren’t totally sure what the south trailhead even looked like. Most people do a one way trip and go all the way to the parking area which is several more miles. I slowly walked in the back wishing I had ditched my pack hours ago and stepping carefully as to not squash any of the giant crickets that had appeared on the trail. The last 5 miles or so of the trail are on a dirt road so at times we questioned if we truly were on the trail. As the sky really started to exploded we saw the trailhead! It was a joyous site as I finally mustered the motivation to move but it only signified the half way point.

Since Stacey and I had to work the day after we finished we decided it would be nice to get to the North trailhead before it got too late the next day so we planned to knock out the first big climb at night before we went to bivy. We sat and eat our dinners first and then pushed on back to a nice bivy spot right below Green Mountain. We moved quickly because the night time brought cooler air, a full belly of food, and the promise of sleep soon really motivates. I actually really enjoy night running. Maybe more than I do during the day. Being inside your headlamp makes the miles move faster. You don’t have any references of the top or the next point on the trail all you have is a circle of light and progression forward. Also it’s really nice to be cool. Especially after the intense sweating I had done all day long. Unfortunately down on the south side it’s so over grown and humid that the bugs are really bad and the second you put a orb of light right beside your face… the bugs become REALLY bad. We hiked in silence coughing occasionally as we swallowed a bug or cursing and swatting as they flew into your ears and eyes.

We made it to our bivy spot around 11pm. Laid out the tarp, blew up our pads, changed our clothing and passed out. Or I guess I should say I passed out. I awoke once to the sound of Libby vomiting her dinner but fell back asleep quickly. Mainly I was just happy to be off my painful feet. The alarm chirped early at 4am. The sun hadn’t risen but it was light enough not to need a headlamp. I went down to the stream and filtered water before boiling some water for breakfast. We were all packed up, fed, dressed and on the trail by 5am. I felt a pressure to get through the low meandering trails before the sun got too hot again but the weight on my back was becoming more and more noticeable. Heads down we hammered it out to King Mountain catching most of the trails in the early morning shade.

At the top of King Mt Stacey had to wait about 15 minutes for me and then another 30 minutes for Libby. Our team was in a lot of pain, sleep deprivation, and desire to be finished. It was beautiful but we had already seen it all and at this point we just wanted to be done. Unfortunately or fortunately there aren’t any bail outs at all on this trail. You don’t even have the option to DNF even if you wanted to. You’ve got to get yourself out the way you came. Stacey suggested splitting up so that people could sleep at the parking lot while we waited so that everyone was a little safer getting home that night. Especially since Stacey and I had to work the next day. We all decided that was an okay option and split up for the last 20 miles of the trail.

This was really hard for me. Usually in an ultra this is when you get a pacer. The last several miles when your body and mind have broken down is when you need that distraction and company to pull you through. This is also when my neuromas start to rear there ugly heads. I’d been struggling with neuromas for a while now. Maybe it’s just a smell of ultras but it wasn’t till after the Tahoe 200 that it feels like every long distance run I do is riddled with debilitating pain. I get to a point where I can no longer walk but I have no option but to walk and the nerve pain in my feet continues to send a shockwave up through my brain and I step again and repeat. Ultra running is no longer fun for me. I don’t want to have to depend on my high pain tolerance to get me through these adventures. I don’t want to feel nerve pain. But here I was 20 miles left to go right over the crest of the Rubys in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and I had no option but to smash my nerves under the weight of my body and backpack all the way to the trailhead.

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I went heads down through the traverse and up to the crest. An impending storm off in the distance motivated me to make quick work of the crest and once I was below tree line again I felt a sense of calm. I was only 8 miles from the finish line. Alone, suffering, and out of water. I kept thinking I’d find some good mountain water somewhere along the trail but it never came. I was hobbling pretty bad walking bow legged trying to get as much pressure off my forefoot as possible. Soon I had been out of water for awhile and I still had one big climb till I was on the final descent. It was hot out by now and I knew water wasn’t negotiable. I wouldn’t be able to gut it out to the finish with out something to wet my mouth. There is one stream crossing right before the final climb. Unfortunately it comes out of a lake… a popular lake and since we had split up I didn’t have any water filtering or even tablets on me. I sat for 30 minutes hoping Libby would catch me and we could share water. Also secretly enjoying being off my feet. But I knew I needed to get out so I filled my bladder with some of the water and drank it up the final climbing knowing that dehydration was worse than the nasty gut issues I may or may not get.

As I stood at the top of Liberty Pass I could see the trailhead and the parking lot just a couple thousand feet below me and a short 3 miles. I knew it would take forever but I was so over joyed at the thought of never having to stand on my feet ever again. I hobbled painfully down the trail repeating the faster you run the faster your done. A motto I know all to well. Thinking in my head when will this ever be fun. I can’t even imagine being in this much pain and still having almost 200 miles to go on the JMT. Yet I distinctly remember this foot pain on the Tahoe 200 creeping up well before the 50 mile mark. I don’t know when I’ll learn my lesson or what it will take to cure this pain.

When I arrived at the trailhead Stacey had been there for about an hour. I quickly shed my clothing and bathed myself in the nearby river. Laying on the floor of Staceys van I put my feet up trying to get as much swelling off of the damaged nerves. Wow I can’t believe how hard that was! The pain in my feet, the blisteringly hot sun, the 67 miles drug out over two days, the lack of food, the heavy backpack… Stacey and I had a lot to think about as we started to prepare for our JMT effort were we capable of getting up and doing that again for 5 more days? I sure didn’t feel like I could. The Tahoe 200 was easy compared to that. Libby arrived about an hour later and we all drove into town. We said goodbye to Stacey as she headed home and Libby and I made the 5hr drive back to Tahoe... not without a stop at a local taco truck first.

After some rest and recovery and some much needed thought Stacey and I decided that we aren’t backpackers but runners and if we did things as fast and light as possible like runners then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad. Or maybe it would hurt just a little bit less. Stay tuned we'll need some help from our friends the first week of September. If you want to come out and party with us on the JMT and bring us food that isn't freeze dried or bar shaped. :)

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Iditasport- Ididntsport

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Iditasport- Ididntsport

I’m trying to act like this is no big deal. Because in the grand scheme of things it really is. I’ve got my fingers, my toes, my life what happened is really no big deal. But I want to scream and cry at the same time. And let me tell you I did that on the trail a lot... All of the money, time, and preparation to have goals and aspirations ripped away in the hours before the race.

I spent a few years preparing for this. Hanging out in Alaska dreaming about getting to toe the line. When the flu wrecked my body the night before the race it didn’t matter. I was going to start the race. Even if I was putting myself in a needlessly dangerous situation.

So let’s start from the beginning.

People change, things change, goals change. And it appears that people in their 20s change more often then people more established in life. For me this past year has been riddled with a lot of change. Not external to me but very internal. I’m not the wide eyed 22 year old who suffered her way through the Susitna 100. Things are different. I’m different.

Every year I came to Alaska, the Iditarod seemed more and more attainable. My gear was better. My racing was more dialed. And I felt more comfortable in the cold. But I seemed to be loosing my fire, passion, and desire. The Tahoe 200 was a giant wave of emotions. The highest of highs followed by the lowest of lows. I fell deep into the post race depression. I went searching and grasping for that next high to unsuccessfully land myself alone and homeless.

These past 6 months rid everything clouding my life. I’ve had the peace and clarity to take a deep introspection on my life. Something that I know the universe had been trying hard to make me do for years, but that I continued to fill full of adventures and work. 

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So the Iditasport. I could tell you all the things that went wrong in the months leading up to the race from frostnipped toes to sprained backs. But really non of those mattered. I was here, I was stoked, and I was prepared. In my book the recipe to success isn’t the most prepared but the most unapologetically stoked on the objective.

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Prerace, survival training, ice climbing with a friend, and then a day at my friends Tony and Shawn’s house preparing. Things were going great. Other than my abnormal need to sleep and relentless headache. The night before race day never goes as planned. It’s usually a bit restless but this was a different restless. Night sweats to chills then jolting up and vomit. The cycle repeated and I ended up sleeping mostly on the floor around the toilet. The pain in my abdomen was severe and everything I had eaten the day before was coming out at forced speeds. It was the stomach flu I’m sure. Maybe the salad or chicken or eggs. It would pass. This was the last vomit then I’d feel better I kept telling myself.

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I forced myself to get prepared. I forced myself to eat. I came all this way and I knew things could change. Take it slow keep moving and things would turn around I was certain. They always do. I was proud of all the food I had kept down that morning. In the laying and seated position I’d barely notice I was sick. That feeling of needing to vomit lingered and I knew it wouldn’t be long till it struck again. But optimistically I went outside and got ready to start the hopefully 9 day journey over the Alaska range.

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I walked with my good friend Shaun out of the start. He and I had come here together and I’d hoped we would stay fairly close and be able to spend some trail miles together. Realistically that was very possible. I don’t walk slow. But the elephant in the room was making that hard. Shaun and I talked and walked together for the first few miles the talk helped distract me from the sharp abdominal pain but soon it became overwhelming and I needed to lay down. Shaun reminded me to take care of myself and walked off. I agreed taking care was most important. So I did.

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Now the entire field was far ahead of me. I couldn’t even see their figures on the relentlessly flat and straight rivers. I’d walk till the pain became severe. Then I’d walk till I couldn’t stand straight. Then I’d push a little further till I’d collapse on my sled and close my eyes trying to hold back the vomit. The effort was exhausting. I’d roll over retching off the side of my sled tears rolling down my face as the contents of my stomach ended up on the trail again. Maybe 10 miles into the race now. I wanted to bivy in my sleeping bag. My body was screaming sleep. But my head was screaming get to scary tree tent camp before dark. I’d sit up force food into my mouth and then stand up. I could feel the food slowly moving down into my tender and swollen belly and the beast reminded me that we would tango again soon.

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The cycle repeated over and over walk, lay down, walk, lay down, vomit, cry, eat, repeat. It wasn’t cold. Maybe in the teens but every time I’d lay down my body would loose heat fast. Severely dehydrated and alone. I knew going into the night was putting myself in a dangerous situation. I had cell service so I texted my friends Lourdes and Nikki. I was scared. Hypothermia was as real as it had ever felt. I was depleted and I could barely move. 

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I kept moving thinking I could make it to scary tree on pure determination. I kept repeating get there and sleep it off it’ll get better. It always does. But never have the easiest miles of the race felt so hard. The sun had set and I frantically pulled on all of my layers -40 degree overboots, down pants, down jacket. It wasn’t cold enough to need them but I feared laying down for a few minutes, falling asleep, and then loosing toes. 

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Dressed in all my layers I continued to march. Tears streaming down my face. Screaming in pain and determination. Acid running from my mouth. These were the hardest fought miles of my life. I honestly thought I might die. That’s when I pulled my sat phone out. Texted my friend Nikki and asked her to get someone to just check on me. I just wanted the comfort of someone checking on me. An hour or so passed. The cycle repeated. Laying in the fetal position on my sled acid running from my mouth I stood up and vomited and vomited and vomited again. That’s when Andy showed up on his snowmobile. Too weak to even stand at this point. There was no questions to be asked. I was putting myself in a needlessly dangerous situation. I needed to get out.

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We were certain it was the flu and going into the tent camps to continue the vomit cycle would just put other racers in a tricky situation. I loaded onto the snowmobile. And we traveled the 15 miles back to the start. Not without a couple of stops to let me vomit stomach bile all over the trail.

It was the flu and I spent the next few days horizontal vomiting and feverish till I caught a plane back to Bozeman. Is this how I imagined my Iditarod race going? No. This is the worst case scenario unfolding before my eyes. It can’t be real. I want to cry. 

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But maybe this was exactly what I needed to happen. To remind me that we can’t control nature. And that there is no such thing as accomplishing something but instead doing something in this moment. I had read on the plane ride here “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki. I was hoping I might be able to do some meditation on the trails and maybe find some enlightenment about my ever changing goals and motivations. But I think I found something even better than that. A new path forward trying to rid my life of ego.

I don’t want to be sponsored, I don’t want to be accomplished, I don’t want to be a badass. I want to be nothing. I want to feel fullness in life without arbitrary goals. I don’t want my happiness dependent on achievements. I want to have pure intentions and be my truest self. This trip to Alaska was different. I didn’t feel the same giddy excitement and enchantment that I once felt. A dark cloud of pain and suffering surrounded me. The flu on the trail only darkened the cloud. 

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My next trip to Alaska will be different. Paraglider in tow I want to experience these mountains that I fell in love with years ago differently. Because even though I don’t love them right now it doesn’t mean I can’t come back with a different perspective and love them again. I’m learning more and more that space and perspective are healthy and important. And that things change and people change and it’s okay. It’s okay to change. It’s okay to change what you want.

So hell I’ll say it again. I don’t want to slog alone. I want to paraglide. I want to rock climb. I want to surf. I want to fastpack with friends. I want to explore Alaska. I want to explore France. I want to master Spanish. I want to build my house. I want to meditate. I want to give. I want to just be.

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Tuscobia 80 - Hard for the sake of being hard

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Tuscobia 80 - Hard for the sake of being hard

It’s taken me awhile to write about this because I wasn’t totally sure what to say. I know what I would say if I saw you in person but writing this down is harder. Tuscobia was riddled with a string of misfortunate events but I don’t believe any of those things led to my DNF. I honestly truly believe I never wanted to do it in the first place.

So Tuscobia race report. It started back in August when the 80 mile race sold out in less than a week. I figured it was no big deal since I didn’t even want to do it to begin with. But I love the winter crazies and I wanted to go back and see them. So I put my name on the waitlist. It wasn’t till November that I actually got in. This is when I had to ask myself. Do you actually want to do this race and are doing this for the right reason? In my head I said sure. I am capable of doing this and it would be good training for Alaska. Plus I wanted to see my friends again. Though in all honesty non of those are good enough reasons.

Life added some rollercoasters in the fall and my desire to go to the Tuscobia kept getting smaller and smaller. I remember messaging my friend Kummer and saying I wanted to stay in Bozeman for New Years because it would give me a greater chance to be social and possibly meet some new men. But after saying that out loud I knew how stupid that was. Tuscobia with the winter crazies was exactly where I wanted to be on New Years and I new that. So the race was a go.

I flew into Ohio a few days before hand to see my pregnant sister. Then my friend Lester who was driving up from South Carolina picked me up on the way. We would have a 10hr drive together to get to the race. I drive a lot and mostly alone so a 10hr drive didn’t sound like much to me. My sister dropped me off with Lester in the morning and we were headed towards Rice Lake, WI. That was until the truck slowed to 40 mph. It was throwing some warning codes on the dash so I quickly read through the manual. It looks like the diesel fuel might be jelling I read. He had last filled up in Kentucky which wouldn’t treat there fuel for -10F so it was a possible idea. We pulled over and added some mixture to the fuel. Back on the interstate for another few miles and it was back down to 30 mph. This game of pull over drive slow pull over drive slow went on all the way to Indianapolis were after 4hrs and only traveling 100 miles we pulled into a Ford dealership. 3 more hours later and we had a fixed truck. Apparently the fuel filters Lester got changed in SC were cranked too tight and broke the fuel pump. This was allowing air to get sucked into the pump and thus loose engine power. Whatever the issue was didn’t matter at this point. The truck was fixed and we still had over 8hrs to drive to get to the race.

Lester finally able to breath after a stressful morning stopped at a local Wendys to get a burger for the road. The lady at the counter took his 5 dollar bill held it up to the light a few times and then gave him his change. I chuckled a bit at the idea of someone questioning the realness of a 5 dollar bill. But we were finally moving so spirits were high. That was till we hit Chicago. The set back with the broken truck sent us straight through Chicago during rush hour. We sat in bumper to bumper traffic for hours, with incredibly icy and slick roads, that led us straight to toll road central. The drive through Chicago added at least another hour if not more to our already close to 18hr day now. Needless to say Lester and I were both silent and unhappy. We stopped around 10pm to grab some dinner and I would take over the final 4hr push into Rice Lake. The windshield wipers didn’t work and the windshield immediately upon driving became covered in salt and road gunk. I spent the next 4hrs into the early morning head forward trying to look through a tiny bit of windshield that was barely visible through.

The next morning we woke up and were just happy to actually be at the race. Against a lot of odds we actually made it. We headed into the nice town of Rice Lake and grabbed a quick breakfast with our good friend Scott Kummer. The usual pre race grocery store runs and then it was gear check time. Lester and I loaded up to the race head quarters with our required gear. I breezed through gear check while Lester got caught up with a sleeping bag issue. A few hours later and we were both cleared to race. We headed back to the hotel to get situated. The sleeping bag issue had put Lester in a bad mood and I was feeling anxious about the race. This is when I sliced open my knuckle. I felt so stupid the dull knife went forcibly right over my joint. I ran to the front desk and get some first aid on it quickly. After a quick call to my sister it wasn’t deep enough to warrant an emergency run. It did however feel like the final straw.

We returned to the race start for a prerace debriefing. I got to see a couple more friends from over the years of racing and the sinking feeling continued to set in. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to do this so bad that I didn’t even want to start it. I’d rather work the aid station all day and get to help my friends succeed then even set one foot on the course. Lester went into the hotel room after the prerace and I stayed in the car to make a few phone calls. I talked on the phone with a few friends repeating that I wasn’t planning to start the race. I was talked down a bit and decided I would at the very least start the race. Though I knew I wasn’t making it to the finish. The first opportunity I had to bail I was taking it.

Lester and I drove to the race start with our friend Scott. By the time the race started I was already unable to feel my toes. I was layered very lightly even though it was currently -12F. I had to run at the beginning because I was afraid I was going to loose my toes. I kept running and running checking in periodically to see if I had regained blood flow. It maybe took me 5 miles before I was able to breath comfortably again. The toes had finally regained feeling. All the running however had caused me to sweat and I could feel a layer of ice had built on the inside of my jacket. I had made a plan to keep moving until an hour before sunset. Then to find a sunny place to layer up and put hand warmers in my gloves. I made it to the first town 20 miles in faster than expected. I must have been in 3rd or 4th place at that point since I had run so much in the beginning.

A few other men were doing things in there sled so I decided it was fine for me to as well. I took off my jacket and watched the ice fall on to the ground. I hadn’t realized how bad that had become. I then tried to add my fleece layer. It must have only been about 30 seconds with my warm mittens off that my fingers started to loose dexterity. I reached in a panic for my hand warmers as the pain started to become extreme. Unable to open the hand warms with the current functionality of my fingers. I shoved my hands in my mittens anyways. Next came the extreme audible moaning the pain was so intense I was going to loose my fingers I couldn’t feel them. I couldn’t just stand there freezing jacket less in -20F in the setting sun. I yelled at a person in a car is the bar open is THE BAR OPEN!!??? It was only about 2:30pm but the bar had opened when a few bikers came barging in looking for warmth. I was the first runner they had seen and I ran as fast as I could sled open because I couldn’t zip it shut with my brick hands. I blasted into the bar crying in pain. A few bikers were sitting at the bar and I went straight to the bathroom to run some room temperature water over my fingers. My fingers were already discolored and I was still unable to feel them. The water didn’t help and I frantically came back into the bar repeating I can’t feel my hands I can’t feel my hands. I sat over a heat vent for a few minutes massaging them but the feeling refused to come back. I sat down at the bar and a biker bought me a drink. My fingers had entered a tingling phase so I was thankful they would still have some sort of feeling.

The bikers at the bar were DNFing and though the plan was to DNF at the half way point I didn’t see any reason why DNFing now versus then made any difference. I hung out for a while with them at the bar before Lester came in. Lester proclaimed girl I’ve been trying to catch you for hours! I laughed and said well here I am. He wanted me to walk with him to the half way point but I was done. I didn’t want to do hard things for the sake of them being hard. I didn’t want to suffer for the sake of suffering. I gave it a 20 mile go but I was over it. I loaded up with the bikers as Lester headed on. They took me to the aid station were I got to help other runners continue on or DNF. I had so much fun talk to people, hanging out, and drying clothing. Not for a second did I wish I had continued to march in the ridiculous cold. Plus how often do you get to take a ride in Randys mini van!?

Next came the call from Lester. He was at a bar in Winter about 10 miles from where I had last seen him at the other bar. He wanted me to come and get him he was done. I hoped in the truck and drove over to the bar. It was packed full of snowmobilers who thought we were the craziest specimens alive. Thus they bought me a few shots and then Lester and I insisted we had to go. So we drove back to the aid station to find our friend Scott arriving. Scott had contracted some sort of cold but was in great shape. He made a deal with us that he would DNF only if we all went to a bar together. Thus the three of us loaded up and I hit my 3rd bar the night. I couldn’t think of a more fun way to spend my time at the Tuscobia than bar hoping my way across Northern Wisconsin.

Lester and I said our goodbyes to Scott in the morning and we started our long 10hr drive back to Ohio. It went faster this time with no car troubles and taking an alternate route to avoid Chicago. My pregnant sister was super sick but she was happy to get to see me for a few extra days. We took a short ice skating trip in downtown and then I returned back to Bozeman.

So what have I concluded from another midwestern DNF? Success rate in the midwest is 0 for 2. I guess in math terms I'd put it this way. X is a very hard thing. Y is just hard. X appeals to me so I go and do it. By doing X this means I can do Y because X is harder than Y. Y does not appeal to me but via this algorithm I am capable of doing it so I go and do it. I fail at Y. By failing at Y does this mean I cannot do X because X is harder than Y but I couldn’t do Y? That can't be true because I already did X. So it must mean that Y is harder for me personally because I didn't have the desire to do it though people may perceive X as harder.

So to bring this back to Tuscobia. I am very physically capable of running the Tuscobia. I am however not at all mentally capable of doing it. It is brutally cold and boring. And most of all I don’t want to do it. I think running in -20F in the flat boring nothingness of Northern Wisconsin is the most miserable thing in the world, and when I was out there I had the ability to change that misery so I did. And I’ve come to realize that being miserable is the worst thing ever and we should try and limit the misery as much as possible so that when we have misery that we can’t control, like unexpected health complications, we can handle them and say THANK GOD I DIDN’T SUFFER MORE THAN I NEEDED TO WHEN I WAS HEALTHY!

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Maraton Habana - Family and Fun

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Maraton Habana - Family and Fun

I want to write about this so I don't forget. Cuba was as beautiful as I could have ever imagined. But honestly the photos speak louder than words so here is a quick synopsis of the trip and race.

It was a long stint of travel for me to get to Cuba. It all started a few days before as I drove from Idaho back to Truckee, spent a total of 4 hours packing and napping, and then caught my first flight to Denver. A day in the Denver airport, followed by a night in the Atlanta airport, and we were finally touching down in Cuba.

We stayed in a super lovely airbnb in Downtown Havana. A short walk to the Capitolia and the ever lovely old Havana. My sister and I didn’t waste anytime getting to know the city we spent the first day exploring Havana and old Havana. Talking with the locals, eating good food, and just seeing all of the little artist shops and old cars along the way.

The next day we took a bus to Vinales. I wanted to see where the climbing was and what else Cuba had to offer. We took a tour of a rum factor, explored a cave via boat, and took a tour of a tobacco farm. It was nice to see a different part of Cuba for a day.

The next day we spent searching for good art. We went to the San Jose Market and as many little shops as we could along the way. That evening we walked out to the ocean and watched the sunset.

Our final day was the Marathon. This turned out to be a real cluster. They didn’t have same day registration like we had assumed so for a few hours in the morning we spent chasing people around trying to get our bibs. A few minutes before the race we got checked in and started the two loop marathon. It was a strange experience because it was mostly Cuban teenagers. Many if not all dressed in converses, flip flops, and jeans. Even though this was my first Marathon it felt strange. The announcer announced that the race had about 5000 runners and 400 doing the marathon. It felt like they tried to up the marathon numbers by just loading it full of children in the 10k race. But I digress.

Ruthie and I had decided to stay together so we started out at a mellow pace. We ran along the water watching the sunrise. This is when we hit the first water drop. Water is not good in Cuba so they only use bottled water. I couldn’t believe the insanity that ensued. Water bottles thrown into the ocean, tossed all over the streets, thrown at buildings, and passing cars. I internalized this feeling of this will be my first and last marathon. Ruthie and I barley talked and soon I found myself a bit ahead of her but always checking behind to make sure I didn’t get too far.

A nice Cuban man in university to become a lawyer latched onto her and they ran most of the race together as I jogged just a bit ahead. The race didn’t run through the pretty part of old Havana but it was nice to see the other parts as well. In the last 1K I waited for Ruthie and we ran it in to the finish of the half in about 2hrs. We decided it wasn’t worth doing a second lap and called it there. It was crazy at the finish as tourists protested for a finishers medal and all the Cuban high schoolers paraded around with 3 or 4 around there necks. Ruthie and I didn’t even want a finishers medal so we quickly snuck out and back to our room to shower and catch our flight back home.

My travel stint back to Truckee was one of my roughest yet. Almost missing the flight out of Cuba, to a long delayed flight in Atlanta, to a super cold shivering night in the Denver airport. All to come to a head when I returned home to find I no longer had a home. It was time though to leave Truckee for awhile. This winter is a Bozeman winter.

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Moab 240 Pacing - A long walk in the desert

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Moab 240 Pacing - A long walk in the desert

It’s taken me forever to write about this because Moab and everything that came with it was super hard for me. It fell conveniently a few days before my 24th birthday. For me birthdays are the only holiday I celebrate. I hate Christmas the most and the rest are just another day off work. But I digress. My favorite holiday was fast and approaching and I wanted to start my 24th year out right. And most of all I wanted to spend it with the people that I cared the most about! I made a fabulous plan to get a few days with my running family, a few days with my climbing friends, and a few days flying my paraglider. All I needed was my partner to icing the cake. But that was the heart breaking part. He didn’t want to go. He thought the drive was too long. He didn't understand why it even mattered to me. Ironically just weeks later he drove all the way to Moab for another woman. This is why I can finally write about this because I am no longer sad. So lets begin, I was on the road alone to enjoy my birthday the best I could. 

My first night on the road in the van didn’t go as planned. I got woken in the middle of the night by the cops and ended up just driving all 12 hrs pretty much straight to Moab. When I arrived in the morning the race had already started and I missed Karen by a few hours. That was okay though because I planned to pace her for half of the race which would turn out to be 120 miles worth of pacing. Her husband Phil was excited to adopt Lopi as his new buddy and I settled in the truck for the next 5 days of pacing. I was looking forward to being out of cell service.

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Phil and I spent most of the day hanging out at Hamburger Rock in Indian Creek waiting for Karen to show up. She showed up a little after sunset looking great and we made a plan, ate some food at the aid station, and kept on moving. The plan was that Phil would be able to make it to the next aid station and she would be able to sleep and get her stuff together there. As things would go… nothing ever went as planned at the Moab 240. We spent the next 12 miles catching up after a year or so of not seeing each other. I think the last time we ran together was when I paced her at the Western States. Spirits were still high as we came into the next aid station. But that is when everything changed. “Where’s Phil!?” I remember Karen asking. I ran up and down the campground looking and looking but I couldn’t seem to find him. I was certain the truck would be able to make the drive but I also had never driven a enormous camper. He’s not here I repeated. He must be at the road.

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That’s when her friend Derek showed up and informed us that the truck wasn’t able to make the drive. A few swear words from Karen but there was nothing we could do. The truck was at least a 5mile detour off of the course. I reassured Karen that everything would be okay and we would just eat the aid station food and sleep in the sleeping tent and it would be fine. She sent Derek back to the truck to get a change of clothes and few other things and then she headed off for the sleeping tent. I stayed by the campfire tired, but not destroyed, I tried to catch a few moments of sleep sitting up right in a chair by the fire wrapped in a barely warm wool blanket. Needless to say it was a rough night for all of us. We had about 40 more miles till we would see the truck again which would mean another full day of walking. Karen said the sleeping tent was cold and was lacking blankets not to mention loud. She didn’t sleep. The icing on the cake for that aid station was they had minimal volunteers and seemed to be out of all of there food already. Derek saved the day with a few things to make the next 40 miles a little more comfy and Karen and I hit the trail just before sunrise.

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The next section went on forever. We were both in a bad mood from the night before, and I wasn’t feeling talkative from a heavy heart and the overwhelming loneliness that a cold night in a chair shivering will do. We turned on a few podcasts for this section just to pass the time without feeling obligated to talk. And finally the aid station showed up. This aid station lifted our spirits like none other. The volunteers were loud and hilarious. I fed off of there energy and they even gave Karen a shoulder massage and made me a heart shaped pancake with peanut butter. I didn’t want to leave! As we jogged out of the aid station we knew this next section was going to be a death march. We finally had a bit of uphill but it was over 20 miles long. I knew we would see the sunset before we got to the next check point. But spirits were finally high and I was able to chat a bit here and there. Spirits didn’t stay high for long though. The course crossed the river maybe 10 times. It would go over it and then back over it two steps later. It wasn’t fun. And finally about half way we had to call it. Karen laid down on a rock in the shade and I laid down in the middle of the warm trail. Thinking I’d just lay down while she napped I lost consciousness immediately. 15 minutes later I woke in a panic. Woah how long was I out what’s going on I felt confused. Karen was still on the rock so I felt a sense of relief as I took some drugs, ate some food, and sat up off the trail. A few seconds later a runner came up the trail. Karen got up and we chatted. Then it seemed everyone showed up. My friend Scott was there with the camera and maybe another group of 4 runners passed us. It was the first time we had seen people all day. That motivated Karen to get moving and we started off again.

The nap revitalized us. We were finally moving good again. Karen powered up the uphill with the sun quickly vanishing. It was maybe another 3 miles to the aid station and I was hopeful we wouldn’t be in the dark for super long. As we walked up the last little climb to the aid station the sun finally fully disappeared and we pulled our headlamps out. Mine was quickly loosing strength so I was prepared to march it out in the dark if need be. But next thing we knew the aid station appeared. The plan was that Karen would do the next two sections alone and then I would pick her up for the next night time. Karen fell asleep in the camper and I curled up with Lopi in the back of the truck cab. It was one of the coldest nights of my life. Dipping down to 12 degrees. Training for winter ultras I kept telling myself.

I was relieved to have the next few sections off. I was exhausted and just needed some time to get feeling good again. At this point we had been out of cell service for a few days and I felt the much needed time away was helping me heal. Karen styled through the next sections but her feet were already absolutely destroyed. Finally through the 100 mile mark she was nearly half way done. I picked her up in the middle of the night as we started the last big climb up and over the La Sal mountains. It was cold but not nearly as cold as the night before and I was finally feeling normal again. I told story after story after story. The miles went by quickly as we laughed and talked about everything and anything. I got cell service here and there and we chatted with her friends back in Calgary as we marched on. This was the best section of the entire course. Beautiful single track twisting through the mountains overlooking the desert far below. As the sunset once again we rolled into the last aid station to another epic. The truck wasn’t there. Phil wasn’t there. Karen sat beside the heating lamp repeating. No you don’t understand this isn’t like Phil. Phil should be here. My friends Willy and Kate were cooking food and I got one of my best meals of the race. I went back to Karen to make a plan. It’s okay I repeated I’ll just do the next section with you. Don’t worry it’ll be okay. Then came a big black lab tackling me to the ground. Lopi I screamed. Phil was there but had parked a bit away. Not realizing we would come in so soon. Karen got the sleep she needed and her friend Derek decided to take her the next section. 

When she finally arrived at the 200 mile mark she was looking and feeling great… other than her feet of course. She only had two sections left and all the time in the world to do them. She didn’t mind walking alone during the day time so she headed off on the next section alone with the plan for me to take her the final section into the finish. I was excited. It was finally coming together. All the time on the trail everything was finally happening. She arrived at the last aid station in good spirits. Our friends from the Bridgerjacks aid station were there and we had a big party of good food and massage trains. My heart was so full and happy I couldn’t wait to get moving. Karen and I started the final section and I may have had a few tears in my eyes. The last section flew by. We went from beautiful single track trails up and over to wild jeep trails to finally a road that never ended to the finish. But just after sunset we blasted through the finish. Karen having traversed 240 miles of sandy roads in the past 4 and a half days. It was a strange feeling for me. 120 miles on my legs. I was dirty and tired. Karen went back to the camper to get clean and ready for bed while I chatted a bit with friends at the finish. My friend Amanda showed up that night and we made plans to climb the next day. Karen headed back to Canada and I said my good byes to my Canadian family. 

The next portion of my trip was good times with good friends. Climbing and flying my paraglider avoiding at all the cost the inevitable feelings of having to go back to California and face the overwhelming loneliness and sadness that had clouded my life. And that is why this report has come 2 months late. It’s because I have been feverishly running away from Truckee trying at all costs to avoid the inevitable feelings that needed to be felt. But I think I've felt them now and I know I will continue to feel them. But hopefully now with a layer of positivity for the future.

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Tahoe 200 - Wow That was Fun!

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Tahoe 200 - Wow That was Fun!

I wasn’t totally positive I could do it. But the Iditarod loomed on the horizon and I knew I needed to at the very least try the distance. I had gone through a range of emotions surrounding the race mostly thinking I should drop out before the race had even begun. Was it really going to help me for the Iditarod? I like winter racing and I haven’t raced any 100 mile+ distances that didn’t involve snow and sled dragging. Winter races have barely any elevation gain, are at sea level, and have maybe a check point every 20 to 100 miles. The races have roughly 10 runners, and I’m pretty positive the race director doesn’t even follow the runners progress because they very aptly refer to us as the “walkers”. For me the Tahoe 200 didn’t really fit into my goals very well. But I had registered and with no option for a refund I was committed and getting excited for the new and different challenge it would present.

In the months leading up to the Tahoe 200, I got the flu, had eye surgery, got a deep laceration with 12 stitches in my knee, and did one training run (The GR20) across Corisca. Needless to say I was very very well rested. About two weeks before the race I tried to formulate a plan for crew, drop bags, and pacing but winter races don’t allow crew or pacing or even drop bags so I felt very out of place. My last minute, roped together, still barely committed crew would be a group of 4 people that had never met before. I was finally getting excited.

The day before the race I packed some random, barely thought out drop bags in the parking lot of pre race and then the nerves started to set in. My best friend Julia was also doing the race and we vented about the craziness of such an endeavor. I had been feeling ill for a few days. I’ve never been the best at eating so it was no surprise that for the few days leading up to the race my stomach was an absolute mess. That night Stacey, Corbin, and I formulated a plan for crewing and we all said good night. In the morning I would head to the start line to run 205 miles. A feeling that is hard to describe toeing the line for such an absurd distance.

The gun went off and we all quickly made our way up the first climb. I was still feeling sick to my stomach and was assuming it was just the nervous and would wear off once I settled into the race. But the first hill came and went, then the first aid station, and then a long runnable section of the TRT that dumped us onto the Rubicon trail. I was slowing drastically on terrain I should have been able to run. I kept up for a bit with a nice lady named Kate from Texas. She had just gotten down with the Bigfoot and was shooting for the triple crown. I was super impressed and we chatted for a bit till I fell off the back of her pace. I kept reminding myself to run your own race but I do enjoy trail company. The next aid station came and went and I was still struggling bad with my stomach. I decided to cut my water bottle with ginger ale hoping to gain some relief. As I headed out of that aid station the skies opened up. I quickly threw on my jacket and poncho and put my head down as the rain poured over my body. The trail was barely a trail at this point. Densely over grown, steeping over logs, and getting my rain poncho stuck in bushes. It was a short 6 miles with barely any elevation gain that went by slower than molasses. I was convinced that trail was only ever used for this race.

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As I arrived at the next aid station a seat and some relief from the rain was welcomed. I ate a bunch of food, changed my socks, and got ready to go back into the rain. It was raining harder now and my poncho had seen better days after all the bushwhacking. The trail also had retained almost all the water leaving it a huge river of a mess. I was still moving slow but had settled into a group of people that I saw occasionally back and forth between pee breaks and eating. The rain had subsided enough to ditch the poncho. It was a long up hill followed by a downhill to the last aid station before I’d see Stacey and get some trail company. 20+ miles though would mean I’d have at least one very long cold lonely night out.

As the sun started to set it started to become real. I was sick to my stomach, alone, in a dark and densely forested woods. 30 miles from a road and who knows how far from help. My brain started to race. I am deathly afraid of the woods at night and I am not often faced with this fear. Snow is bright and reflective at night and the forests aren’t as dense as the barely traveled woods behind desolation. Everyone in the world knew exactly where I was in that moment. My backpack was publishing this information to the web. I started to panic. My breathing became shallow. Tears welled in my eyes. I contemplating ditching my spot tracker and just running for it. In that moment a runner came up from behind and asked how I was doing. In a belabored shallow breath I exclaimed something inaudible. The man behind me followed in silence as I tried to repeat. I’m afraid of the dark and I’m having a panic attack. He finally understood what was going on and said don’t worry about it. I’ll stay with you for a bit and get you through the dark. I felt an inexplainable sense of relief. I took a few deep breaths and got my breathing under control. It was going to be okay. I was going to be okay.

The mans name was Davy he was a local as well and we chatted through to the next aid station. I had picked up my pace enough to keep up but knew I was holding him back. I didn’t feel well. I had no appetite and I was clearly missing some key nutrition. Davy made me take some salt tablets and suck on some chips. We tried a bunch of things hoping my stomach would make a come back but half way to Sierra at Tahoe it was clear I wasn’t speeding up but actually slowing down. Davy got me out to the open road and took off. The last thing I said to him was see you at the finish. Even though in that moment I think we both knew I probably wouldn’t make it. I had been trying at every aid station to get a hold of Corbin to tell him I needed him at the Sierra at Tahoe aid station my Altra Lone peak shoes were soaked and having close to 900 miles on them were as good as being barefoot at this point. Plus I really wanted to sleep in my van and at that point maybe even just go home. The next 3 miles of downhill on pavement were the hardest. My feet were bruised on the bottom, my calves felt like giant knots, and I was so cold I kept dreaming of curling up on the warm black top and taking a nap. Unfortunately the black top wasn’t warm but cold and wet from hours of rain. I finally called Corbin and he said he would meet me at Sierra at Tahoe. I felt a sort of relief knowing I had a out if things never got better. However I had gotten into a zone finally. The night time didn’t scare me anymore. I was just moving forward at the pace I needed to move. I walked for a bit with Bobby and Gene the 68 and 69 year old men. In that moment heading to lovers leap we were the youngest and oldest racers on the course. It was fun to enjoy there company. As we approached the last horrible climb up and over Lovers Leap I caught back up to Kate. A badass horse vet from Arizona that I had leap frogged with most of the evening. She was zombie walking and we made a packed to get each other to the next aid station awake and alert. I was still in extreme abdominal pain and I felt bad for holding Kate back but we chatted here and there and just before sunrise stumbled into the Sierra at Tahoe aid station.

Stacey greeted me and I couldn’t have been more excited to see her. She got all of my stuff together and help me get prepared for the next section. I got caught up with Spike who gave me the best advice of the race. I was trying to eat every hour but Spike told me I needed to be eating a little something something every 15 to 20 minutes just to keep my stomach active otherwise it will send all of the blood to my legs and then my digestion shuts down and you feel nauseous… a feeling I was all too familiar with. Then Todd came over looked me dead in the face and said wow you look like shit. I chuckled a little at his brutal honesty and he later gave me a oral IV which may or may not have helped turn my race around. I still wasn’t eating but hoped a little nap would fix things up. I got in the back of the van with Lopi and curled into the fetal position. I was lights out for 2 hrs while Lopi slept squarely on my head. When I woke up I still felt sick but I threw on some compression socks to help with the knotted calves and got prepared to take a nice long walk with my good friend Stacey. My motto this race was I either have to time out or be pulled for medical. Otherwise I’m walking. I was super bummed on how hard it was to time out at this race.

The new shoes, the welcomed company, the compression socks, and a new way of thinking about eating made the miles pass quickly. Stacey entertained me with stories and I just spewed hate for no real good reason. We sat every once and awhile to get the pressure off of my feet but ultimately I felt like we were moving well. A quick little teaser storm made us dawn the ponchos again over Armstrong pass but the weather cleared quickly and set us up for a beautiful night. When we got into the next aid station my stomach was still upside down but improving slightly. I sat in the back of the van for a bit chatting with Creedance and his kick ass in-laws that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing several times out on the course. Creedance had come all the way from Santa Cruz to pace me so I at least need to walk with him. Plus I was hours off of the cut off. Corbin and Lopi had been eating fried chicken so I ate some of that before getting ready for another long cold night as we went up and over Freel peak and down to Heavenly.

Creedance and I had never met before so it only seemed fitting to get to know each other at night when I’m a bit tired, sick, and grumpy. We got off to a rough start as the sunset and we made our way up and over the highest point of the course, Freel peak. I was in a lot of pain and wasn’t feeling super talkative. I apologized a few times to Creedance letting him know I wasn’t always such a crabby patty. He didn’t seem to mind and entertained me with small talk here and there with my ya, cool, huh, sweet generic responses. Maybe about half way through to Heavenly I finally broke through. My spirits lifted and we chatted back and forth about this and that. We took a few sits the most notable being when we came to this beautiful over look of Lake Tahoe at night. I sat in the bushes the big moon and stars and lights below. We had a moment of aw as we shoveled some food in our mouths until Creedance said… actually you know that’s actually Carson City. We laughed about that afterwards the several minutes of complete disorientation. Creedance really cracked the wipe on the way to Heavenly it might have been the several heart attacks he gave me ever time he went pee and then charged down the trail after me at 6 min mile pace. Or maybe it was because we thought it was 20 miles and it only ended up being 15. Needless to say we got into Heavenly mile 100 at 1am which was 10 hours off the cut off.

Creedance headed home to Santa Cruz and Stacey said she would pace me again the next section to spooner summit. I was only planning to sleep 2hrs and then get back on the road. But 2hrs turned into 6hrs and I wasn’t at all upset with the goodnight sleep I got. I had gotten a strange sense of peace about the race. I was like I just ran 100 miles high five me that is badass! I don’t really need to go anymore but I either have to be pulled for medical or time out so I better keep sleeping till the cut off. Spike came up in my van and taped up my feet really well. A little extra cushion on the forefoot and some blister relief on my pinky toes. My appetite had come back now too and I ate some eggs and pancakes before Stacey and I hit the road 2 hrs off of the cutoff. I planned to just walk really slow in hopes of missing the cut off at spooner summit but I felt so incredibly good that I couldn’t slow down. Stacey and I blazed up and over Spooner summit giving ourselves way more cushion than I wanted. Steve wasn’t planning to meet me at Spooner but I wasn’t sure if I’d make it past Tunnel Creek so he hurried up to the summit to take me what I thought would be my final leg of the race.

Something changed for me on my way to Tunnel Creek my stomach and legs finally hit sync and I was feeling like a million bucks. Not to mention Steve has one of the coolest and most interesting lives to listen too. It was like an audio book on tape. Part 1 Part 2 Part 8… I was holding on by the edge of me seat the whole way to Tunnel Creek. Not to mention a most excellent sunset and we even got to see Marlette Lake in the day light! As we rolled into Tunnel Creek we got fed and dozed off for a hard hour and half nap. I insisted that they needed to be aggressive with me otherwise I’d sleep for another 6hrs. The alarm went off and I wanted to sleep for another hour. Stacey very politely said “You told me to be aggressive”. I came back with well Corbin and I talked and I get another half hour. As I tried to fall back asleep Stacey passively aggressively continued to talk till I caved and got up. I guess aggressive takes different forms but I’m glad I got up. Steve and I headed out for another section to Brockway summit. This starts with a bit of road walking to a straight up over grown scree slope called the power lines.

I actually rather enjoyed the power lines it was a new use of different muscles like stepping up stairs. And sometimes you could even use your hands. Steve and I made good time on this section and completely obliviously gleefully walked by a bear and apparently also a mountain lion. I seemed to making better time on the uphills than downhills since my badly bruised feet wanted nothing to do with pounding downhill. As we neared the top of Martis Peak I ran into my good friend Julia. She wasn’t doing well and could barely make it up the hill without horrible back spasms. I offered some helped but there wasn’t much I could do so we kept moving. Julia stayed with us for a bit and we laughed and chatted about this and that and she got to fully enjoy the farty mess I had been for 2 days now. I knew she was tough as nails and would get the help and rest she needed at Brockway. Steve and I rolled into Brockway right before sunrise. I took a quick 45 minute nap in the back of Stacey’s van, ate some food, and got to hangout with my running club before Steve and I headed for our last section together. I had done this section before so I wasn’t at all worried. I believed it would go fast.

Boy was I wrong. Something had shifted in my brain. I had gone from I wish I would time out, I really enjoyed this, no matter what happens this was an amazing experience to I WANT TO FINISH. I had made it 155 miles and only had 50 miles left to go. I was almost back on the west shore. I was going to the finish if it killed me. I started getting in my head mulling over and over again the thought of only two sections left. Only two sections left. Get to Tahoe City get to the finish. Steve and I barely talked at all. He was tired and had bad blisters I can only imagine suffering in his head wondering why he was doing this. All the pains of an ultra without any of the glory of a finish. Pacing is such a selfless beautiful thing and I owe Steve, Stacey, and Creedance so much pacing time it’s not even funny! But here Steve and I were. Silently suffering in our own heads. The miles going by slower and slower and slower. Steve would ask me every once and awhile if I wanted to sit down and a part of me thinks it’s because he wanted to sit down too. We ran a down hill out of frustration and I felt muscles in my legs come alive it was the first time since the beginning of the race that I ran. That I actually ran. Not an ultra shuffle but a run. It felt amazing! But my feet hurt so bad. Every running step would send a shock wave up through my leg and the pain was slowly eating at my brain. We were in the final downhill to Tahoe City. I had done this section before. All down hill not a single up hill and it just went on forever. In my head I kept feeling defeated. It was never going to come. That’s when Steve asked me how I was doing and I snapped. I yelled in pain and frustration and fatigue MY FEET FUCKING HURT OKAY! In that moment I realized what had happened. And I quickly in an effort to mask the monster I had become turned it into a song. Screaming at the top of my lungs WE’RE WALKING DOWN THE HILL TO TAHOE CITY. WALKING DOWN THE HILL TO TAHOE CITY. WALKING DOWN THE HILL TO TAHOE CITY. WALKING ALL DAY AND WALKING ALL NIGHT! My speed picked up and started to run to the beat of my awful singing. A little nervous for the fact I was loosing my marbles a bit. Steve chimed in with verse two. And by verse 6 we were running down the hill to Tahoe City passing people left and right sharing our joyful awful singing voices. I remember feeling the pain disappear in my feet as I got lost in song and before we knew it we were in Tahoe City.

I felt rejuvenated in Tahoe City with only 30 miles left to go and I could sit down forever and never have to ever get back up. Stacey was pacing me again up and over this last section and I was looking forward to some fresh company. My friend Jesse spotted me walking through downtown Tahoe City and got me all ready to go. Filling my water bottles and making me sandwiches. He was a real sub in crew life saver! It was also nice to see Howie again. But mostly Howie’s dogs. As we left Tahoe City I gave Joey (he’s my favorite) a big old pettings and a kiss. And maybe a little wanted to steal him for the next 20 mile section or for forever… I walked slow out of there trying to eat as much food as I could before we powered up the long last uphill. I felt pretty good in this section running as much as I could. I think Stacey was excited to finally get to run a bit of the trails. I just couldn’t believe how much better and better I kept feeling as the race progressed.

As we neared the top of the big climb the sky started to get dark. It was also getting sunset dark but this was a different dark. A big storm dark. I remembered back to Nolans 14 being up miles above tree line and having the pre shocks hit our hats and poles. This is when you have the decision point. Push hard and fast over the summit and run down below tree line or sit and wait it out before the summit. I felt confident from my time above treeline in storms that we could push it out and over this and make it to safety before things got too dangerous. So the adrenaline sit in and we motored up over the summit and started to run down the other side. WABAM my first fall of the race. I went face down the trail and got right back up and kept running. No time for stumbles when your above treeline in a lightning storm. Then the sky opened up lightening and thunder and sideways rain. We pulled over under a tree and frantically pulled our ponchos over. I knew this was bad. The sun was setting and we were soaked. Jackets and ponchos on with frozen hands we bolted down the trail. I wanted to run as fast and as much as I could before the light completely disappeared and our moving became slow again. I’m not sure how fast we ran that downhill but it felt fast. Tripping over rocks, rolling ankles, and lightly bouncing from foot to foot. My feet seemed to hurt less the faster we ran. Finally we got our headlamps out and I still felt confident enough to run. I knew we had about 3 miles of road which I very strongly opposed to running. It’s just a huge pain on your feet and legs with no real benefit. As we dumped out onto the road my time with Stacey on the trail was finally nearing an end. I felt sad. We had spent over 60 miles together in the past 3 days and it was soon going to be over. We sat down in the road for a bit. My feet were soaked, I could feel the tape on my feet just swimming around in my shoes. Then we got up and powered to the last aid station.

When we got to the final aid station I couldn’t believe I only had 10 miles left to go. I took off my shoes and put them under the heat vents in Stacey’s van and dried my badly trenched feet as well. Stacey got my backpack all ready to go and made sure Corbin was prepared enough for the final miles. I sat comfortably in Stacey’s passenger seat going in and out of consciousness. I asked a few times if I could take a nap to which they both strictly said no. As I prepared to leave the aid station I went over to check out and low and behold Davy was there! I was so happy to see him. He said he had had some knee complications early on and had to drop. And that he was so excited to see me on the tracker. I think we were both surprised to see me at mile 195 feeling so good about to get that finish after the mess I was at mile 50. Crazy how a race can turn around in 200 miles. Corbin and I left the aid station in a light drizzle which quickly turned to a rain and the poncho got pulled out one last time. We powered up the final climb together chatting a bit here and there and enjoying the beautiful silent lightning storm. It was unreal the power of lightening being out there in the elements for 3 days. I wasn’t even afraid but in aw of the beauty. I let Corbin know that if the lightning was too bad when we got up and over Ellis Peak that we might have to cuddle under a tree for a bit and wait it out. But when we got up above tree line the wind and rain were wiping hard and all you could hear is the sound of my poncho flapping beside me.

As we stood on the top of the final downhill. The long long final downhill to the finish. The emotions started to well inside me. I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to do it. Up until that point I still wasn’t sure. But here I was with Corbin by my side. I could roll down that hill and still make it with in the time cut off. But I felt like a million bucks. So I ran. I ran that entire downhill as fast I could. Corbin even said his knees started to hurt but I didn’t feel it. I was bouncing off of rocks. Slightly rolling my ankles from side to side. But I was doing it. I was finishing the Tahoe 200. As I ran into the finish line holding Corbin’s hand Stacey has a video of me screaming. Why do I feel so fresh!? I honestly felt like I could keep going. If that was an aid station and someone said you still got another 200 miles left to go I would have taken a 6hr nap and got up and kept going. But that was the finish. And as I crossed the finish line in a haze. Julia embraced me in one of the biggest longest bear hugs I won’t ever forget. I was so confused. I couldn’t understand what she was doing there. I kept repeating what are you doing here? I think she respond with something like you fucking did it dude. I came to watch you finish. I can’t believe you fucking did it. I felt this overwhelming sadness that we didn’t do it together but also a sense of accomplishment. She ran 178 fucking miles. That is huge. Who cares if she didn’t do the last 30. We all have our journey and that was hers. And I would have been happy if my journey was only 50 miles.

We than sat outside and shot the shit for an hour or so. I got my belt buckle and a burrito that was a little too spicy for my sunburnt tongue. Then Corbin and I went home and I slept like a dead person. We said goodbye to Stacey in the morning as she traveled back to Salt Lake City and then we all went back to the award ceremony were I got my first place finishers award for the 20 to 29 age group. Which is surprisingly not a hard age group to win at these races. And that was it. We all returned back to our full time jobs, sleep schedules normalized again, and my stomach after a few days finally came back around to accepting food.

I have to wonder though if my success was just beginners dumb luck. Did I just get lucky that I slept for 6hrs at Heavenly which just happened to do a full body reset and get me at a cruising altitude to finish? Did I just get lucky that I didn’t run anything until Tahoe City and so my legs were never destroyed? Did I just get lucky that the GR20 was the absolute perfect training for this race? People keep saying I raced a really smart race but honestly I didn’t race anything. And to say I did anything intentionally would be a lie. I sat when my body told me it was time to sit. I slept when my body wanted to sleep. And I force fed myself for 4 days straight. All of that to be said. Would I have been as strong mentally without all of the support form Davy, Kate, Stacey, Creedence, Corbin, and Steve? I guess I don’t know. And I don’t want to find out because I find that these experiences are so much more rich because they were shared. So ya I’m scared shitless about the Iditarod and the potential to be completely alone out there for 7 days but I’m ready to embrace any situation that gets thrown my way and just hope another winter crazy wants to walk with me.

So in conclusion I ran 205.5 miles with 35,117 feet of ascent and 35,117 feet of descent. I finished in 89hrs 24minutes. I was 61st overall, the 10th female finisher, and 1st 20 to 29 year old. I slept 11hrs 6 of which were at the 100 mile mark. I wore 12 pairs of Swiftwick socks, ate 15 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, enough gummies and gummy bears to kill a horse, and drank 3 gallons of Skratch Labs. Did I have fun? Too much fun!

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GR20 France - Learning is hard

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GR20 France - Learning is hard

If you came to this post to read about the logistics of running the GR20 from gear to mileages to everything in between you should go read my blog post about the logistics instead. If you've arrived here to read my personal trip report then enjoy!

"It is not possible" a man repeated to us on the trail. "You cannot do it." Another man said. It was a common theme for Libby and I on our 5 day traverse on the GR20 but let's start from the beginning instead.

It was March I think fresh off a failure in Minnesota and preparing to battle the Alaska mountains once again when Libby cold called me. The conversation was something along the lines of you want to run the GR20? Sure! It was a week before our planned adventure when I finally sat down with the book and looked into what it would take to really run the GR20 in 5 days. What I found didn't make me scared but I knew we would be pushing. The book predicted 20 hr days every day. I assumed we would do half the time of their hiking predication if we had perfect days. I printed a couple of copies of a map and the plan and called it good for planning. I wasn't worried of 180km in 5 days with 44,000 feet of gain and 45,000 feet of loss. I'd run 100 miles in 1/5th of the time this to me seemed very doable. As long as I could recover daily and keep my eating right.

My schedule was tight. Libby was uncertain of her ability to get out of Libya on time so we only gave our selves 5 full days in Corisca with a travel day on the front and end. That means I flew from San Francisco to Paris to Nice to Corisca and then started running about 10hrs after landing. As a new world traveler I didn't realize the implications that a trans Atlantic flight would have on my stomach and sleep schedule. But we only had 5 days... so jetlagged or not we were moving. Libby and I met in the airport with our lovely couch surfing host Philipp. He was a huge part in our success. He gave us tons of useful information, took us to swim in the Mediterranean, helped us buy groceries, made us dinner, and even drove us to the trailhead at 6am the next morning.

The alarm chirped at 5am. I had barely slept that night from jet lag and the air conditioning being too cold. We rolled out of bed got our things together and ate a quick breakfast. I had some yogurt thinking it would be fine. Unfortunately it wasn't sugar yogurt but very raw sour yogurt. My stomach was already unhappy with this choice. We got to the trailhead by 6:30am and were optimistically charging up the long up hill to our first hut. We had barely stept onto the trail when two men came storming past us in little packs. Libby and I tried to pack light but we were definitely not running more fastpacking with the size of our packs. Those men were running.

We moved very quickly on the uphill passing lots of people and making good time to the first hut. We filled water here and kept on moving. The day seemed to fly by, the uphills seemed easy, and the terrain rocky and interesting to keep the mind occupied even with a very sour stomach. As we descended into our second hut of the day we picked up the pace. This is when I lost focus for just a second crossing a dry creek bed and twisted my ankle. Screaming in pain and crumpling to the ground I had felt everything in my ankle crunch. I thought it was over. After all the travel and planning to have everything be over in a split second. I was devastated. Libby quickly turned around and I regained some composure to assess the situation. The ankle was intact. The pain was extreme but I only had one option to get out of these mountains and that was to walk. I got up now heavily relying on my poles and hobbled to the next hut. We sat here and I removed my shoe to look at the damage. A bit of bruising a lot of swelling but it appeared to be a sprain so not a show stopper. Libby recommended I take some ibuprofen. I was hesitant. I had never taken any medicine during any runs I had ever done. This didn't seem like the place to start but she was a nurse and I needed to not roll it again because the next roll could be game ending.

My stomach was still very upset and now the heat of the day was setting in. We death marched up the final climbing sweating profusely. Head down trying to ignore the pain in my ankle and the nausea in my stomach we kept moving. As we started our descent into the final hut of the day Libby was out of water and the drugs had finally kicked in so I was moving fine. Time wise we looked good. 12.5 hrs for the first day was close enough to my 10hr perfect day predication. At the hut we paid to sleep outside and went to a nearby restaurant to get a big dinner. Eggs and fries were exactly what I wanted and a nice comfy sleeping pad in a tent was the best sleep I had in a while. I was limping badly now that we had stopped moving and even worse when we woke up in the morning.

We decided to buy breakfast at the hut the next morning which put us on a late 6:30am start. This day was a question mark for us since the information I had written down was for the recently closed cirque de la solitude. But we knew it was going to be one of the bigger days ending up closer to 30 miles. We always made good progress in the mornings and uphills were turning out to be our biggest strength. We passed parties that were gripped clinging to the side of the mountain as we mountain goated by hands free. We'd talk to a few english speakers as we passed by and they all seemed surprised as we told them our destination was "Manganu!!?? noooo" People seemed to be surprised but nobody seemed to express doubt in our abilities to do it just yet. This stage was beautiful and my stomach seem to be doing fine. It was the heat and the distance that seemed to wear on us and a few bone issues with Libby and her bad leg. Hikers liked to tell us of how flat sections of the trail were and how after the 4th stage the trail flattened out and was easy. As time would progress we would realize more and more that there was no such thing as flat on the GR20. And that the steep rocky bits continue on to the very end. Contrary to what people who are currently hiking it and who have previously hiked it may say.

Our late 6:30am start ended up really screwing us over on our way to Manganu. The hut seemed to never come and when we arrived at 8:30pm dinner was already done being served. We were screwed if we couldn't get a good dinner and a good night sleep. This turned out to be our free night. The host had already left so we had no one to pay for sleeping and a lovely Swedish couple saved us with some pasta, cheese, bread, and even a peach. We owe a lot to that couple and Libby and I made sure we would never have another late start again. Dinner was crucial to our success. We opened bivied that night and I in a thin bivy sack essentially slept in a warm sometimes chilly swamp of my own sweat. Needless to say it was a bad sleep.

We got up early the next morning and were hiking by 5:15 am. When we would start on a uphill we always seemed to make progress quickly. This was a nice technical traverse and we passed lots of parties. On the back side we boulder hopped quickly when Libby made a bad pole placement and went down face first into the boulders. The way she fell I was sure she had broken her leg. It was over. I slowly approached her growning. She hadn't yelled like a break so I was optimistic. A puddle of blood was pooling beside her face and I asked if she was okay. She responded yes but let me take stock first. She had punched herself in the face with her pole as she fell a few scraps on her knees and fat lip was all she sustained. I was hoping this would be our last accident.

We filled water at the next hut and decided to take the high route variation for the next section. A nice technical traverse of a ridge line to keep us occupied instead of traversing low in the trees. We moved faster on the technical terrain anyways. We passed a couple who we chatted with for a bit. The man very kindly wanted to remind us that we needed to stow our poles to get through the technical section. I ignored his comment and we kept moving. After a bit Libby and I talked about the encounter. It was the first time I had really started to notice how much unsolicited advice we had been getting on the trail. Was it because we were two females? Was it because we were Americans? Why did everyone want to tell us what we needed to do or that it was impossible to do the GR20 in 5 days? The pole comment stuck with me since we had never stowed the poles even once and honestly the entire route could be done without even using your hands. The real question was did they also say this to the two men who had flown past us at the beginning? Just as we were having this thought picking our way slowly down a step descent a man came flying past us in a tiny backpack effortlessly bounding down hill. His feet never touching the ground for more than a second. We must have passed those man in a hut at an early day I was convinced it was the same men.

Some storm clouds started to build and Libby set a grueling pace on the next uphill. Now it was just 5,000 feet of descending and we would be at the half way point of the GR20. This is when it hit me. I could eat like a 100 miler for 2 days worth of time but by the 3rd day my body was starting to lose hold of the sugar diet. Sugar might buy me 15 minutes instead of an hour now and the lack of calories and water sent my into a downward spiral. The downhills started to hurt more and my knees start to lock up. Next thing I know I'm bending over to stretch my legs standing up and falling face first into the boulders from a strong orthostatic hypotensive moment. I thought my sugar had dropped and I needed sugar. Libby was saying things to me but I couldn't hear her. Apparently I was moaning some inaudible sounds. I shoved a fruit leather in my mouth but couldn't chew it. Libby describes the moment as a partially unconscious person chocking on a fruit leather. She got me to move into the shade drink some water and eat some real food. She shared with me some of her extra food a cheese stick which I promptly spilled cheese liquids all over my shirt. It was my badge of dishonor to remember how I screwed up nutrition once again. This is when we realized that I had never done a multiday push. I've run 100 milers in a day before and I've climbed big walls in a day before. It turns out pushing is a lot different than pacing. I couldn't use my motivation of "the faster you run the faster you're done" no I had to keep sustaining for 5 days. You can't push into the pain cave and create a deficit. It was a new world of eating and moving that I was learning. And unfortunately this is what learning feels like as Libby liked to remind me. 

When we arrived at the half way point we got to see the the little town of Vizzavona. It wasn't much but it had showers, electricity, and the comfiest air mattress and best sleep I had on the entire trip. We ate downtown at a restaurant were no english was spoken. A few mystery dishes with one mild vomit and it was off to bed to start the second half. We chatted with an English speaker in the camp who was doing the route in 14days. When he discovered we were doing it in 5 he promptly responded with "You can not do it. It is impossible" We quickly ended the conversation and it left a bad taste in our mouths. On the way back to my tent I looked at Libby and said fuck that guy just because it's hard doesn't mean its impossible. 

The next morning we rose early and made our way to our last sleep on the course. The day started well and we made progress quickly. The terrain for this day was boring. Mostly wooded and good trail with little exciting to look at. I was running low on food and we were actually running on the trail. Libby close to falling asleep behind me we decided to slow down a bit and talk to make the time and distance pass quicker. When we finally reached Verde we decided to take a longer break drink some cokes and eat some food at the restaurant. We were on the final 10 mile stage of the day and making good time. The coke and the new drugs finally kicked in and we rocketed up what we thought was the final climb. But then things started to go south for me. I had eaten a bit of the cheese sandwich Libby had bought and the stinky cheese immediately did not sit well with me but riding the coke high at first it didn't seem to matter. Now about 3 miles out from our destination I was dry heaving on the side of the trail seconds from vomiting. I wanted to vomit. Vomit would make me feel better. Libby was talking about nasty things in an effort to make me vomit and I was retching on the side of the trail. An hour of slow walking and laying down and dry heaving and burping went by before I started to get angry. I felt like shit and I wanted to get to the next hut. At the pace I had slowed to we would miss dinner again. I started too shout and ride the anger wave now averaging a fast pace on the trail. I shouted angrily about french food and about animal cruelty and ran in anger. This wave of anger lasted until the hut was in sight and then I ran in desperation to be done. When we arrived I sat head between my legs with extreme pain in my abdomen. We had gotten the very last two dinners which I counted as a success. A nice comfy warm tent and I bought some more food to get me through the last day.

As we sat down to eat the food two very fit looking men in running shoes and clothing came up to us. You are the runner girls they proclaimed how many days are you doing it in. We responded with 5. They seemed impressed. They were the men that had passed us at the beginning and again on day 3! They were also doing the trail in 5 days. We had such a pleasant evening talking about the trail and running and getting to know each other. They both lived here on Corsica and the one man had run the trail in a just 2 days! We enjoyed their company and it was such a pleasant relief to have people who didn't use the word impossible. They gave us some good beta on some alternate routes that would make the final day more enjoyable. 

That night was rough. I tossed and turned all not from the pain in my stomach. I got up a few times to use the bathroom but nothing seemed to help the pain. Usually in the mornings I would feel great and we could make good progress for the fast half of the day. This morning was different. The abdominal pain had not left. We got on the trail by 5am and the boys passed us for one final time on the initial climb. Unlike the other days I wasn't able to muster the energy this morning. I was ill but moving. A cute little brown dog was following the boys out of the camp but when the boys moved to fast he latched unto Libby and I. He had a collar with no name and we assumed he belonged to someone at the hut. Libby kept shouting at him to go back but the fit little dog seemed determined to go with us. After a while we just accepted that he was with us now but the anxiety of having the dog around couldn't be ignored.

I ate 4 times with in the first hour of the morning. Hoping my stomach would turn around. The first hut took forever and the second took just as long and the sun was the hottest it had been the entire trip giving me heat rash on both my arms. When we arrived in Bavella we could finally eat some real food. We ordered 3 cokes, 2 chocolate crepes, and a large order of fries. Our puppy friend took a nap and the restaurant seem to recognize him and gave him a big plate of food. I was happy he was being fed but start to cry thinking about how independent he was and how much I missed Lopi. I poured a coke into my bottle and chugged the other. It was the final 12 miles to the finish and there was nothing that could stop us now.

Freshly drugged and full of food Libby and I took a more casual start to the final leg. We talked a lot and kept the miles and time passing. The end went quickly in my head. The mountains started to disappear and the ocean was the only thing on the horizon. My stomach and feet were hurting but a good conversation can distract anything. I had been in a strange habit of pooping about 3 times a day and the final day was no exception. This time however I realized something was different. I pooped the blackest poop of my life. A sign of bleeding. It was of no surprise having not taken ibuprofen for years of my life to now taking a healthy dosing for 5 days in a row that maybe the abdominal pain was something deeper than just upset stomach. But we were hours from the finish and it would heal in time anyways. 

The final day took us longer than expected and we arrived at the finish well past the bus schedule. It was entirely my fault but I had done the best I could. A lovely French family celebrating Bastille day invited us in for some delicious homemade pizza and wine and we talked all things Trump and GR20. In Conca even though the trail was done we were 3hrs from being back in Calvi and on a holiday in France the town was dead. Again for the last time of the trip we were told "It is IMPOSSIBLE to get to Calvi tonight" with early flights in the morning we reassured them that nothing is impossible it just may be expensive or hard. A few hours of attempted hitching and then a quick call to a taxi we were back in Calvi with our lovely couch surfing host Phillip at 2am. A glorious shower and blister relief allowed us to finally sleep well for me the first time 8 days. The next day would hold a 40hr travel block with a 18hr layover in Paris to a 5hr bus ride from SF to Truckee. Boy it felt good to be home and what a beautiful adventure. My ankle is healing well and I already feel like I can run again!

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GR20 Logistics - Corsica, France

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GR20 Logistics - Corsica, France

Route Plan

I had a double sided paper with this information printed on one side and then the map printed on the other side. I printed 3 copies one for each of us and a spare if we lost one.

Day destinations miles miles total hours hours total feet up feet up total feet down feet down total
1 Calenzana -> d’Ortu 7.5 7 5085 770
1 d’Ortu -> Carozzu 5 16.25 6.5 19 2460 9825 3445 6545
1 Carozzu -> Haut Asco 3.75 5.5 2280 2330
- - - - - - - - - -
2 Asco -> Tighjettu 5.5 6.5 3280 3280
2 Tighjettu -> Vergio 9.5 25.5 6 18.25 2790 8270 2855 7695
2 Vergio -> Manganu 10.5 5.75 2200 1560
- - - - - - - - - -
3 Manganu -> Petra 6 7 3220 2430
3 Petra -> l’Onda 6.75 19.5 5 19.5 1640 8110 2985 10335
3 l’Onda -> Vizzavona 6.75 7.5 3250 4920
- - - - - - - - - -
4 Vizzavona -> Capannelle 10 5.5 3280 1100
4 Capannelle -> Verdi 8.75 28.75 4.5 17.25 1050 8560 2035 5860
4 Verdi -> d'Usciolu 10 7.25 4230 2725
- - - - - - - - - -
5 d'Usciolu -> d'Asinau 10.5 7.25 3315 4020
5 d'Asinau -> Bavella 6.75 29.25 4.75 19 1250 6860 2280 11780
5 Bavella -> Conca 12 7 2295 5480
- - - - - - - - - -
119.25 93 41625 42215


Gear

Libby and I took similar but different gear. I am just going to write about the gear I brought including the pad which Libby carried since I didn't have room in pack.

Quantity Item Brand Notes
1 15L Running Backpack Osprey Super adjustable with no chaffing and extra storage space. Perfect for walking quickly or running. Also includes a 2.5L bladder for long hot efforts.
1 Bivy Sack Black Diamond Too warm for a bivy sack just makes you sweat and be uncomfortable at night. Instead bring the Patagonia ultra light sleeping bag. Would not bring this again.
1 Sleeping Pad I'm not sure I'd bring this again just because if you get in early enough and don't mind spending the money you can get a tent or a bed that already has a pad or mattress.
500 Euros You probably only need about 250 Euros unless you plan to Taxi from Conca to the start and then you'll need atleast 500 Euros
1 Wind breaker Black Diamond Only used this one day for about 10 minutes but would be nice if the weather wasn't so good.
1 Wind pants Patagonia The only pants I brought were definitily nice to have something to change into at the end of the day.
1 Underwear Patagonia I turned them inside out every other day and cleaned them at the half way point.
1 Puffy Jacket Patagonia It got chilly at camp at night it was nice to be able to put a warm jacket on also for sleeping
1 Fleece Patagonia I would take my sports bra and shirt off at the end of the day and it was nice to have a warm soft light layer to sleep in every night.
1 Bra adidas Outdoor Only need one. Cleaned it half way though and did not sleep in it.
1 Shirt Smartwool The thin wool shirt was clutch. It didn't even smell bad by the end of the trip.
1 Skirt Ryp wear The Ryp wear skirts have nice inner pockets to store food and also long enough to prevent lower back and thigh chaffing.
5 Socks Swiftwicks I brought a new pair of socks for everyday. This is important since your socks get really dirty every day and proper foot care is key to success.
1 Buff Buff I used the buff at night to cover my eyes and keep the ear plugs in.
1 Sunscreen Jtree Skin Products The Mediteranian sun is relentless. I wish we would have brought more sunscreen than we did.
1 Water bottle Hydrapak This was key for getting enough electrolyte drink. Every day I would drink several these with electrolyte, recovery, or even coke in it.
1 Chapstick Burtsbee The sun is unforgiving apply often.
1 Earplugs The only way to guarantee a good night sleep every night is to keep the sound out.
1 FirstAid and Drugs We kept an assortment of bandaids and pills. We never used any of the bandaids but the ibuprofen came in handy.
10 Babywipes We used baby wipes every day for just bathroom and foot cleaning. We should have brought about 10 more than we did.
1 Bugspray We encountered very little bug activity would not have brought this again.
1 Running Poles Black Diamond So key to being able to do the distances day in and day out. Save your legs.
1 External Battery Goal Zero This was perfect for charging the phone every day. Also important to bring a European charging converter. Most huts have electricity to charge from.
1 Cell Phone Iphone You want to be able to remember it if you're going to go this fast. :)
1 Child flip flops These are light wieght and key for foot relief at the end of the day. Defo bring a pair of these.
1 Sunglasses Peppers It is a bright!
1 Tiny Towel Nice for bathing in rivers and at the huts. Could go without but was nice to have when we showered.

Food

There are tons of places to buy food along the trail. You can probably go a lot lighter if you would like. Every hut has wide selection of food as well as all of the Bergeries along the trail. What I learned from what I brought is that in these kind of events you want to bring a wide variety of textures and flavors of food. And way more real food than packaged food.

Quantity Item Brand Notes
5 Electrolyte Powder Skratch Labs I brought one for each day and wish that I had brought at least two for each day. The weather was so hot that you sweat a ton and need a lot of sweat replacement.
5 Recovery Powder Skratch Labs I brought one for each night and end up drinking them every night. This was key to getting enough calories and being able to recover for the next day.
4 Cookies Skratch Labs I made 4 homemade blueberry almond butter cookies. This was a nice change to what I was eating out of packets and wish that I would have made and brought more things.
10 Gels Assortment I had given myself about 2 gels a day and ended up maybe eating about 6 of them. Gels are hard to stomach when you feel sick already and aren't as good for sustainable energy in a long multiday adventure
10 Gummys Assortment I eat all of my gummies by day 4. They are easy and tasty. Bring things that you like to eat it'll make it easy to eat them when you are forcing yourself to.
8 Nut butter Justins These I found hard to eat as well with how hot it was. But sucking back a nut butter packet always gave me some sort of sustainable energy for a good amount of time.
3 Bars Pro Bar These were perfect for a large mid day protein bust. I only wish I would have brought 5 so I could have had one every day instead of just the first 3.
10 Oatmeal Quakers We each had two packets of oatmeal every morning for breakfast. In the beginning this was enough but as the trip progressed I needed more and more food in the morning. A packet of peanut butter had to be added to get enough calories to start moving by day 4.
15 Fruit Leather Stretch Island These saved me in Alaska but weren't dense enough calories to get me through. I finished all 15 of these by day 3.
3 Apples Real fruit was an awesome way to mix things up
1 Dried Appricots I bought these at the half way point and really enjoyed mixing it up with some dried fruit with the usual food.
10 Apple sauce I bought 5 at the half way point and 5 at the last hut. These were nice and easy to go down but burned through quickly.


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White Mountain 100 - Cold Really Cold

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White Mountain 100 - Cold Really Cold

The White Mountain 100 is a race through the White Mountains of Alaska just north of Fairbanks. It's hosted at the end of March which allows for more daylight and less harsh conditions. I was excited for this race, really excited. But after my sole crushing DNF at the Arrowhead 135 just a few weeks earlier. I wasn't even sure if I'd make it to the start line. It wasn't till all the aches and pains had passed and I wrote about my Arrowhead experience that I realized my failure at the Arrowhead was actually exactly what I needed to get me to the start of the White Mountain.

The weeks leading up to the race were uneventful. I was relaxed and not even slightly nervous of what was in store. I paraglided a bunch and surfed and skied a bit too. The most important thing to me after the Arrowhead was that I was happy. I was happy when I trained. I was happy when I raced. And I was happy when I finished. I just wanted to be happy and if running didn't make me happy I would do something that did. The other two important take aways from the Arrowhead was consistent and appropriate fueling and staying positive even with a bored and ideal mind. The inevitable boredom and loneliness scared me the most. Still not totally sure how to train that other than extreme solitude... and with my dog Lopi I'm rarely alone alone.

The other elephant in the room was my rotated hips. I'm stuck in a forward rotation and have been my entire life. I had hip issues in high school track and field and pretty much my entire running career. However as an adult I barely notice the hip issues until I get 60+ miles into a run. It must be the constant bad form for hours on end that finally add up and explode. I've been in physical therapy now for 6 months and was finally seeing results after the Arrowhead. I however was scared of the idea that I needed to rebuild new running muscles in just 6 weeks so I stopped PT and decided to resume when I got back from Alaska. Better to run on my trained and tested muscles even though a body break down was inevitable. 

I flew up to Alaska the Friday before the race. It was cold when I got off the plane about 12F. Not unreasonable though and I was optimistic that the conditions would be actually warm. My friend Lourdes joined me that night and we got a hotel in Fairbanks. It's so cold there over night that you had to plug the car batteries in when ever you parked them. It's crazy to me that people live here all year round. I made sure to do a really good job this time of eating and drinking before the race. So much so that I kept make myself sick from forcing food down my throat. Though I knew I'd be in a caloric deficit after the race so I needed as much as I could now.

We breezed through the prerace checkin, got our bib numbers, said hi to some old friends, and started the long wait for the race to start. The night before the anxiety started to set in. I asked Lourdes how she survives the boredom. What she thinks about while she's out there. She said she thinks about nothing. Sometimes she counts or just repeats the same word over and over. I wasn't convinced I'd be able to do the same so I download a few more podcasts on my phone just in case.

We woke up early and made it to the start line thanks to the badass crusher Teri Buck who let us follow her. (She'd already be home in Anchorage by the time I finished) It's definitely a bikers race with less than 15 runners out of the entire 90 starters. You also get a feeling that they don't really like the runners that much since the very appropriately refer to us as walkers. I guess if it was just a biking race they could probably make the cutoffs shorter and the volunteers wouldn't have to spend as much time out there but I digress.

The race started quickly my plan was to run for as long as I could so that I could get as far on the course as possible before my legs started to break down. I had a strong start and was moving well. The air was so cold that I physically felt my nose holes freeze shut. A lot colder than I was expecting... this would be a theme. About 45 minutes in I ate some food and then reached for my bladder hose to take a drink. Nothing. I thought maybe the change in altitude from Fairbanks to the start had caused the hose to become pressurized so I waited for an uphill to check the situation. I took the pack off and got the bladder out. It was frozen. I was screwed I thought. I can't believe I didn't bring any other way to carry water. I'd surely not be able to continue if I couldn't drink in between aid stations. Then Lourdes came down the hill. I asked her if I could just have a little bit of her water to get me to the first aid station so I could fix the situation there. Instead she gave me one of her little bottles and we went on our way. Lourdes literally saved my race with that bottle.

The first aid station was just a table on the side of the trail. I drank a bunch of water and filled my bottle again. I needed to make it 21 more miles before I could sit down inside a warm cabin and really fix the situation. At this point Beat, Lourdes, Eric, Tony, Virginia and I were all very close. But I was starting to fall back from lack of hydration and fueling. This section also was when the trail turned from punchy runnable to soft sand snow. I could see Lourdes in front of me and I thought we might go back and forth between peeing and layering but it wasn't long till Lourdes started riding the downhills and gained miles on me. I was alone now and actually enjoying the scenery. It was beautiful and warm enough that I didn't need my face covered. My only wish was that my bladder wasn't frozen.

When I made it to the second aid station Lourdes was just leaving and we waved at each other. Inside the cabin Tony was trying to get some food down and warm up. I changed my socks and tried to dry out my shoes. I wanted to drink as much as I could before heading back out for a very long cold night. I ate a pound of bacon and my first PB and J of the race. I also drank a Skratch Labs Recovery shake and made another one in my bottle for the road. A skier who DNFed at the cabin gave me a second bottle for water and I was so thankful for his generosity. The sweep came to the cabin and said the next runners behind me were very far behind and I never saw them even once during the race. 

I headed back out on the trail about an hour before sunset. I was really hoping to make it as far over the pass as possible before it got really dark. I had put some music in my headphones at the last aid station and was hoping it would help distract my mind. Instead I just got to think about things with some background music. A few miles down the trail I came up on Tony. Tony had just changed into some serious winter over boots. They looked like they might have been rated for -40F. My shoes and socks were wet and as I passed him I started to think. Was it really going to get that cold tonight? Was I going to get frostbite? Should I put on all my layers before it gets really cold? The thoughts swirled through my head. I stopped waited for Tony to catch up and confessed. Tony I'm really scared. If something happens out here in this 23 mile section the people behind us are hours away and the people in front are hours away. I'd be screwed. You want to walk with me through the night over this pass for safety reasons? Tony was kind of enough to oblige and we chatted for a bit as the sunset. 

Tony shouted look up and the northern lights were dancing above us. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Vibrant greens and purples and pinks dancing across the sky. We stopped and tried to take a couple pictures. Then we kept moving to stay warm. I'd look up every once and awhile to watch them but Tony and I no longer talked. It was way to cold to pull the buff down from your face and the higher we rose the less tree coverage we had and the wind chilled us to the bone.

This is when things went really down hill. The temps read -28F and with the wind chill it could have easily been -30F. Even with 4 jackets on my arms started to go numb. The artificial hand warms were key and I kept moving my toes hoping they wouldn't get frost bite. But the worst of all was that everything was frozen and I couldn't pull my buff down long enough to put any food or water in. Tony's head lamp was comforting. Just knowing he was there made it feel less scary. But I started to think that if a snowmobile came by I might take the easy way out. But they never came and by 4am Tony and I had successfully made it to the 3rd aid station.

This was my favorite aid station. The volunteers were great, the warmth was amazing, and I ate literally 5 PB and Js. Lourdes and Eric were still there when we arrived but on their way out. Tony wanted to sleep so he passed out and Fred woke up and we chatted for a bit. Fred was fast really fast but was widely under dressed for the conditions. He had spent a good amount of time in the aid station warming up before going back out to brave the conditions. I left a few minutes before him and he quickly caught me. We chatted and walked together for a bit but my pace was too slow for him to stay warm so he took off. My headlamp was dead so I walked alone in the dark really appreciating the northern lights. I tried the counting thing but mostly found my self repeating over and over "The faster you run the faster you're done". This motivated me to the next medic tent and then finally to the last aid station. But my hip issues had caught up to me and around mile 70 I was unable to bend my left knee.

Walking became a chore and the only way I could even move fast enough was to shuffle at other peoples walking pace. I looked more like I was cross country skiing than running since I would swing my left leg out around by the hip instead of bending it. At the last aid station I sat down for a bit and eat one last PB & J. I was in the final 19 miles to the finish and it was now going to be a death march. It sucked that I felt so good and did everything right just to have my body go out first. But I knew it was going to happen so I pushed through the pain. Screaming in pain every time I had to run. Repeating over and over The faster you run the faster your done. I needed to make it to the finish before sunset. I didn't have a headlamp and I wasn't about to freeze out there another night.

I was in the final 7 miles to the finish when Tony finally caught me. I was so happy to see him. We were climbing up the wall right before the final horrible 6 miles of uphill to the finish. We chatted for a bit but he was walking and I couldn't keep up even at my shuffle. He kindly gave me his headlamp just incase and took off for the finish. I kept him in my sights for awhile but I started to hallucinate as the light started to get dimmer. I kept seeing Tony hiding in the woods. So vividly that I would shout Tony what are you doing. I kept trying to talk to him before he disappear into a tree. Then the pain in my knee became unbearable I would just start shouting like a crazy person every time I had to run. The faster you run the faster you're done! It felt like the finish took forever. Probably because it did but it was still daylight so I met my goal. 

I grabbed a bunch of food to eat and then jumped in the car and Lourdes and I headed back for the hotel. Now it was time to take stock. Only one blister on my big toe which I counted as a success. Lower back and shoulder chaffing from the backpack. Butt crack and inner thigh chaffing from well you know... Feet swollen from 37hrs of being on them and well hmmm that left knee ya that didn't bend for a solid 3 days.

I was actually in super great shape for running almost the entire race granted a shuffle run but still a run. Made me wish I didn't have messed up hips or might have been able to finish hours faster. But in conclusion I've canceled all my upcoming races to focus on my hips. I don't want to feel like mile 60 is the guaranteed death of my knee at every race because of my hips. And I'd also like to not have to use my high pain tolerance all the time. Stay tuned for full body reset. I know it'll take months and lots of work but it will be worth it in the end. 

 

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Sketch Event - Atelier - Truckee

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Sketch Event - Atelier - Truckee

I completed 21 days of sketching with Atelier in Truckee. Everyday they had a different prompt for what we were to sketch. It was fun to push myself outside of my comfort zone. Enjoy all of mine below. 

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Arrowhead 135 - So much to learn

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Arrowhead 135 - So much to learn

After finishing the Susitna 100 in Alaska last February I swore I'd never drag a sled again. But weeks turn to months and you quickly forget the pain and misery. I was itching to do another winter ultra as the summer season came to a close. So I found this amazing looking race in Finland. A little less than 100 miles at 160K in Finland! I was excited. It seemed unique and inspiring. But as the winter drew near my friends from the Susitna all got the itch as well. And we planned collectively to have a reunion at the Arrowhead 135. I knew it was too close to the Finland race to be able to do both and I knew I would never go to the Arrowhead by myself so I felt like this was my only chance to go out and do it. I put my Finland plans on hold for another year and entered the lottery for the Arrowhead 135.

When we all got picked for the Arrowhead I felt a little bit of disappointment. I couldn't find anything super inspiring about the race. 135 miles in Northern Minnesota!? But all my friends were doing it and I knew it would be a challenge so I began training and started to get excited. An adventure in any form is an adventure!

As race day got closer the anxiety started to set in. Winter ultras are logistical nightmares. From the gear, to the food, to the training, to the weather... You can never feel prepared no matter how many times you've done it. My first day was a complete travel day. We started flying at 6am and didn't arrive at International Falls till 6pm. Lourdes, Lester, and I were reunited and I was so excited to see them face to face again. My friend Scott (who took all these amazing photos) had also come along to enjoy the experience and take some photos.

After packing, unpacking, repacking, obsessing over gear it was finally race day. The race started on a Monday and was a balmy 15 degrees and snowing. This would be the theme for the entire race. Only dropping down well below 0 on the last day. There was lots of chatter about strategy. Lots of people don't run a single step of the entire race. People were warning about going fast. Others were pressing to get to the first aid station in 10hrs. Honestly I didn't have a strategy. I usually run fast out the gate and slow down later on. Lots of people pass me. But I like to get as far on the course as fast as I can before I start to break down.

Instead of running my own race I ran with Lester and Lourdes out the start. We walked mostly. Jogging a bit here and there. This race doesn't really work well for running with other people. We are required to stay single file on the right side of the trail at all times and there is only one track that is beaten enough to give okay footing. It was snowing a lot but warm enough that the snow was punchy. Every step felt like you were running in sand.

Lourdes, Lester, and I stayed together for about the first 24 miles. But my body was deteriorating fast and it didn't help that my brain was heavy with negative thoughts. My feet started to hurt at about mile 9 and I was convinced it was because they were already starting to trench. Unfortunately I think it was more because they were bruised from my rock solid already frozen shoes. The race was not off to a good start. Lester was already out of water and I had barely drank half a liter. I've never been the best at fueling and hydrating and this is not the race to test those limits. When extreme distances mixed with extreme cold. The body shuts down faster than you would expect.

I spent the next 13 miles alone walking slower than normal and playing the scenarios of my stressed relationship back home through my head over and over and over. The snow was falling faster and harder and my feet were throbbing with pain. But all I could think about was my failing relationships and how I was standing still in time. It was torture. It was mental torture. 

When I finally got to the first aid station which was a gas station off the interstate Lourdes and Lester were about 15 minutes ahead of me. Lourdes left quickly and I filled water, ate some food, popped some blisters and followed suit behind Lester. I assumed I wouldn't see them again till I reached Mel Georges the second aid station in about 36 more miles. I left feeling strong and rejuvenated. I was making good time out the aid station head down and marching quickly. I wished I had gotten my head phones out so I had some music to distract my wandering mind but instead I pushed to catch up to the blinking light ahead of me. 

It was Lisa a friend I had walked with earlier in the day. I welcomed the company and we chatted and walked for about 3 or 4 hours. She slowed me down at times and I was lacking in my fueling from a bit of an upset stomach. She pulled ahead for a bit and I couldn't keep up. I then realized how badly I was limping and how slow I was moving. The reality started to set in as I was now alone. In complete darkness, under caloried and dehydrated. I kept kicking myself for my ignorance. I sat on the trail. Legs crumpled in pain and ate some food. I was destroyed. I was completely destroyed. I had been running everyone else's race all day not listening to my body and being tortured by my own brain. The food didn't stay down for long. That and everything I had eaten at the last aid station came up all over the side of the trail.

I picked up the phone to track my own tracker. How close was I to the next aid station. To my surprise I had great cell service and I loaded my tracker. That was a mistake. Looking at the dots I realized I had been averaging 1 mile per hour for the past few miles. It felt like 1 mile per hour and I still had about 24 more to go to the next aid station. Next I called Corbin. I sobbed about not being able to bend my knees and the horrible loneliness that is eating away at my brain. His only response was you're tougher than this get up and keep moving. I put the phone away. Stood up and kept walking. It felt more like cross country skiing because I could barely lift my legs by this point. I just shuffled them over the top layer of soft snow. The 40lb sled pulling on my tender stomach didn't help the incessant need to vomit every few feet.

When I finally made it to a road crossing I was hoping I'd see Scott and he'd put me in the van and I would just go home. But he wasn't there when I got there and I sat on my sled with my head between my legs and screamed. I called Scott and asked for a pep talk. He didn't have much to say. I stood up and kept walking. I passed a few people here and there bivied on the side of the trail and the thought of a few minutes of sleep was inviting. I had about 20hrs to go till the next aid station if I kept walking at this pace. Then Julia called me. I bitched to her for an hour while I walked one mile and then I sat down. I needed to rest. My feet were fucked. My knee was so swollen on the back side that I couldn't bend it. I hadn't kept any food down for about 6 hrs. I was destroyed. I got the jet boil out and the sleeping bag and I got inside. Immediately I feel asleep.

When I woke up about an hour later I boiled some water and made some oatmeal which I was able to keep down. I drank some water and was determined to keep going. To my mistake I had left my shoes outside the sleeping bag and the sweat from the inside had frozen solid. Not to mention my feet had now swollen 8 sizes larger as well. I could barely squeeze my feet into the frozen shoes. Once I got the shoes on I stood up and packed the sled. Clicked the sled back around my waste and took my first step. Nothing. My legs were solid bricks. There was no bend in my left knee and my stomach was so sensitive I couldn't stand straight with the weight around my waste.

I had to make the decision of missing a cut off or quitting early. There was no way at mile 55 in the state I was in that I would be able to turn my nutrition and hydration around as well as turning my brick legs back into limber. If I quit now I'll recover faster and be back training and doing the things I love sooner. If the finish is not an option. The decision isn't hard. There was no physical way I could have finished. I am sure of that. That being said I know I can finish the race but I need to race smarter.

I walked the mile back to the road crossing and Scott picked me up and took me back to the hotel. The sun was almost rising and I spent the next three days limping around cheering my friends on. Lourdes and Scotty took a finish and Lester came 30 miles before his body said no. My left knee wasn't able to bend for 2 days and I took that as a good sign that I made the right decision. Asking the veterans that have done the race 4, 6, 10 times why they keep coming back every year to do it. They all say the same thing. The race is a different race every year. You can finish it 10 times and DNF on your 11th because you never know what the conditions are going to be like.

I think failing at this race was the best thing that could have happened. I learned more from this failure than from anything else. Here are my main take aways. First and foremost run your own race. Tim pulled me through the Susitna and it was the best thing I could have ever hoped for but it is not guaranteed. Everyone is different from the length of there walking stride, to when they need to pee, to how much they need to fuel and hydrate and stop. I shouldn't be looking for my next Tim every time I catch someone on the trail. I should be listening to my body and go the pace that my body needs to go and not worrying about the rest. Similarly I need to have a more ridged fueling system. When I ran the Grand Canyon with Libby I had a watch and every 45 minutes we ate a GU. I felt great that entire objective until I ran out of water and missed my hourly GU. I remember bonking so hard it was a labor to just walk. I need to be strict like this again. It's important to have a constant stream of calories and I know what works well for me so I should stick to it. Also more walking. Walking is hard to do in training because it takes lots of time and is super boring. But if you don't train your brain to be okay with walking it makes it even harder. For this race in particular utilize the cell service. Don't wait till your brain is tortured to break out the headphones. And even though this race doesn't allow pacers. It's pretty much like having a pacer if you call up your friend and chat for a few hours. But the most important thing of all is you have to want it! You have to really really want it. Because when it gets tough if you don't want it bad. It's easier to go home.

Though I started this objective by saying there was nothing inspiring about this race. It's more than just a race. It's an experience, a hard ass challenge, and I can't wait to go back wiser and stronger and give it hell!

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Tuolumne, Ravens, and Everything Else

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Tuolumne, Ravens, and Everything Else

It's been awhile since I've updated my blog with my recent art pieces. So here is what the past 6 months have looked like in my right brain.

Donner Lake, Truckee CA. This was the first place I felt like I could live forever. The people, the community, the mountains... home.

Cathedral Peak, Tuolumne CA. One of my first climbs in Tuolumne. I've climbed it a hand full of times since and it will never get old. A true classic.

Eichorn Pinnacle, Tuolumne CA. Connected and easily linkable with cathedral peak. This formation has got to be one of the most photogenic climbs!

Half dome, Yosemite, CA. This rock is probably one of my favorite things to draw. I always try to capture it in a new medium every time I do. 

Taft point, Yosemite CA. Ravens and Yosemite. My first venture out to this point was with Corbin at sunset. The valley was filled with smoke from a nearby fire and the last light had already disappeared from the horizon. As we peered into the void I could feel the draw to fly. It must be the most free feeling to be able to sore from these cliffs. It consumes my thoughts often. But with passion comes pain and Corbin was silent. Torn between the worlds of the walkers and the flyers. I'll never forget that day.

Candy Skull. Sometimes you just gotta let your weird out.

Susitna 100, Big Lake AK. To be truly alone in the words is something I dream of often. Where you go from civilized to wild and you learn how to live, to sustain, to do with and without. My spirit animal, the wolf, is with me in these spaces, vicious and powerful.

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How to Build a Running Sled 2.0

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How to Build a Running Sled 2.0

As you may remember I wrote a blog about a year ago about how to build a running sled on a budget. I then ran 100 miles in Alaska with that sled, and am here to say that maybe the budget sled isn't the best option for serious endurance events. It probably is killer for dicking around town or whatever but I probably wouldn't take it out on my longest runs. So here I am coming back for round two because I just can't seem to get enough of those winter ultras!

I spent a lot of time this year researching gear and trying to go as light as possible. I really want to minimize weight and force on my hips. This is what I came up with.

Gear List:

Now that you have the meat lets get started!

Step 1: Cut the handles off the adidas bad. They're just going to get in the way anyways.

Step 2: Take bag outside and apply the first layer of water proofing. Let dry for 30 minutes while you do the rest of the steps. (pretty much just follow the instructions on the box) 

Step 3: Apply wax to the bottom of the sled and buff until shiny!

Step 4: Cut the rope from the sled in half and burn the ends.

Step 5: Tie a over hand knot on a bite and then mark the PVC pipe where you are going to cut.

Step 6: Cut the PVC pipe and then measure against the other pipe so they are the same length. Feed the rope through and tie the knot again.

Step 7: Add the next layer of water proofing.

Step 8: Attach the PVC pipes opposite each other to the connection points on the back of the harness. OPTIONAL: you can then connect the harness to a running backpack to take more weight of your hips (pretty cool right!?)

Step 9: Add bungee cords to hold bag and other gear in the sled while running. Maybe even a mesh bungee might work well!

That's it! Now to test the ultra light sled in some harsher conditions. Stay tuned....

DECEMBER 29TH UPDATE

I've put about 150+ miles on my sled now and I've decided to make a few modifications.

First I bought a new 120L duffle bag from REI

This duffle bag fits perfectly in the sled and doesn't slide around from front to back. I also was able to connect it into the sled using carabiners and maybe in the future for a more snug fit quick ties.

I was having problems with the poles smacking my butt while I ran so I opted for a more snug clove hitch to a carabiner to prevent rope stretch. I also decided to connect the poles farther apart in the back of the harness so that the sled does not tip over as easily.

 

 

 

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Wasatch 100 Pacing

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Wasatch 100 Pacing

Someone once said to me “Your family are the only people crazy enough to spend days on end with no sleep supporting you on some crazy run.” I told him he needed better friends. I’d support a stranger like I would support my family. when it comes to ultra running. We are all just vulnerable humans chasing the limits of our physical body.

It was a random May day in Yosemite Valley. My friend Blake and I had climbed a few things here in there. One day on a hike into the rocks she lamented, you should meet my friend Stacey she’s a badass ultra runner training for her first 100. I think you guys would be friends. Blake put us in contact and we phone tagged here and there as I travel in and out of Utah. It wasn’t till I failed miserably on my Nolan’s attempt till I inquired if she needed any help for the Wasatch 100. That’s how it all began.

Stacey asked how many miles I wanted to do. With my recent hip injury and oral surgeries I knew I was only good for a hand full of miles. So she gave me the shortest distance. Big Mountain to Lambs Canyon roughly 14 miles. I booked my plane ticket the next day. I started to feel nervous as the day got closer. I wasn’t in very good shape and all the physical therapy I was doing for my hip was just making me super fatigued. All I knew was Stacey was fasted and my worst nightmare was getting dropped. I can red line for 14 miles right??

Stacey picked me up from the airport on Thursday and I hoped in her little car with her and her friend Sal. I love supporting big races the energy and people in this sport make me unbelievably happy. We grabbed a bite to eat and headed to the pre race meeting. We got there a little early so we walked around Salt Lake for a little bit and drank some boba tea. It has been since I moved from San Francisco since I drank that and it did not sit right in my stomach. We went back and they explained the race course and sent everyone on there way.

That night we strategized or maybe just hung out. We got Stacey all packed up and ready to go. She went to bed early so that she could make it to the bus leaving at 4am and the race starting at 5am! The alarm rang and I sprung from bed. Stacey was up eating breakfast and getting ready to go. She asked again if she need a jacket and I assured her that she would warm up quickly. Sal drove her to the bus and I tried to catch another wink of sleep before I was to start running with her at mile 30.

Sal and I got up ate some food and headed to the staging area for the race. We sat around for a few hours refreshing her tracker till we got the text from Stacey saying she was headed our way. In a flash we drove up the hill and were waiting at the aid station. Stacey was crushing and I was getting more nervous that I would get dropped. The aid station was full of energy. I was screaming and shouting and cheering the runners on and maybe ringing the cowbell a little too much. Quicker than we had thought Stacey was charging down the hill and it was time for pacing to presume.

Sal and I checked how she was doing and how the tendinitis in her foot was. She was in good spirits... her foot not so much. The sun was just peaking and I know we were in for a scorcher of a run. Stacey unlike me enjoys running in the heat. I on the other hand I run 100s of miles in Alaska for a reason. We got everything together and got her to eat some food and we were off on our way to lambs canyon.

As we started on our way I asked again how she was doing. As I jogged along behind her, her limp was super noticeable. I knew she was in a lot of pain but I also knew she was tough as nails. A few men passed us and one guy stuck around for a while as we chatted about ultras and what not. He jetted off and we were alone for a bit. Stacey would curse every time she stepped wrong on a rock and I'd try to distract her with another Lopi story. 

She was low less than halfway through a 100 mile run and having to walk from the pain. I reassured her that this was normal. Everyone walks and that no matter what she was getting to the finish line before the cut off. We ran for a little and then walked for a little and another man passed us. She turned to me and said this sucks. I knew she'd pull it together as we chatted about Salt Lake. She was like you said your race in Alaska was a death march I don't want to death march for 60 miles.

The next aid station came faster than expected. Stacey got some much needed salt and we filled up some ice cold water to put on her neck. Only 6 more miles till I handed her off to Amy at lambs. This stretch was hard. It was 1 million degrees outside and I was definitely not hydrated or salted. Stacey needed to walk more to keep her bad foot from giving out to quickly. And then we passed a runner with an epic bloody nose. I gave him all my toilet paper and then ran to catch up with Stacey. He later charged pass us with the toilet paper jammed up his nose. Lambs was just a dot on the horizon as we could see it for almost the entire 6 miles. It never got closer.

But then there we were finally. We got Stacey all situated I gave her a hug and said see you at Brighton. I knew Amy was going to keep her on track even though she was in a really low spot. Sal and I hung out at the aid station with my Canadian friends for a bit before we went back so Sal could get some sleep before he started pacing.

After Sal realized sleep wasn't in his future we headed to the seedy part of Salt Lake to buy some fries and then up to Brighton to wait for Stacey and Amy to arrive. Around midnight she showed up still smiling. She looked amazing for having almost 70 miles and raging tendinitis in her foot. We let her sit down and she looked at us and dead serious said I want to quite. I'm giving up. We said okay thats fine as we forced her to eat more InandOut fries and a sandwich. It wasn't long after that she was wearing my jacket, holding my poles, and I was putting her backpack on her and saying see you at the finish. 

Then I epiced. I drove away from the aid station with no charge in my cell phone and a city I knew nothing about. O boy I thought I hope my memory doesn't fail me now. I got my way back to down town Salt Lake and at about 3 am I knew I was doomed unless I got some charge. I rooted through a bag Sal left in Stacey's car and found a charge. I sat there on the side of the road exhausted trying to get just 1% so that it would turn on. Once it turned on I realized I didn't know her address so I scrolled google maps till I found were I thought it was. I was close only about a mile away. By the time I tucked into bed it was lights out but I needed to get up at 8am sharp to drive the 1hr to the finish and also get everyone food. 

By the time I reached the finish it was only a few minutes before I spotted Stacey and Sal walking up the road! I was so excited she did it with all the pain and death march it was. She finished the Wasatch 100 and with about 150 people who dropped that's a damn good accomplishment. She took a shot of whiskey and we sat around for a bit before heading back to Salt Lake. After a nap, some indian food and a full night of sleep I was back on a flight to Reno happy as could be. Man I love this sport and all these amazing people!

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Nolan's 14 - Unfinished Business

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Nolan's 14 - Unfinished Business

Here I was again. Alone in the woods. Spooned tight against Lopi with the rain tinging loudly off the roof of the van. It was a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Days didn’t matter out here. What mattered most was the weather. Another flash of lighting blinded me for a few seconds and the thunder rumbled through the van. It fit my mood. I was feeling the apprehension of years of time spent here. Months of being alone running, hiking, and exploring these mountains. But the mountains don’t care about that. A fall could be deadly and the weather. The weather turns from blue bird to snow in seconds and when the hair stands up on your arms you fear you will die. But even if the weather held. Would I finish? Would I finally be able to bury this obsession? What if my body gave way before my heart and mind? What if an injury? What if a sickness? What if… 

This was my second summer in Colorado scouting the beautiful line called Nolan’s 14. It traverses 14 14ers gaining and losing 44,000 feet respectively. And it is the most beautiful line I’ve ever seen. It has consumed my time and thoughts for years. After a horrible failure last year this was my redemption. I wouldn’t make the same mistakes, and I would have the company and strength of my partner Julia Millon to pull me through.

Let’s start from the beginning. It was a average cold Monday in May. I had just driven back from a week in Yosemite and wanted to see some familiar running faces so I showed up for the Donner Party Mountain Runners Monday group run. It was a large group and I recognized a few faces. We started with a big up hill. I struggled to keep on the heels of Gretchen and was looking forward to the downhill. At the top we waited for the group to all finish and then it was the fun part. I took off in my typical brakeless descent. It is rare someone can keep up with me, but I kept hearing a person a few steps behind. When we reached the parking lot within seconds Julia and I became instant friends. The most mentally tough person I had ever met and balls out crazy on technical descents… It was only days before I reached out to see if she would want to be my partner for Nolan’s. Her response was something like “Fuck Yes!!” and that’s how it all began.

I left for a two month training and scouting mission in Colorado around the beginning of July. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse once I arrived. A horrible gum infections and two surgeries put me out for 3 weeks on my training and scouting. When I was finally able to run again I came back fast and hard. Spending long days in the mountains and as much time as I could. Nolan’s was coming together and as the date came closer and closer I was becoming less and less excited. I started to feel burned out on the mission. Nothing was new and exciting anymore. I had seen almost every part of the course and I couldn’t pull on any stoke. I had spent most the summer alone and work had been very stressful. My energy levels were tanking, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be my normal stoked self.

But here we were getting ready for go day. I picked Corbin and Julia up from the airport on Thursday morning and we all made our way out to the mountains in the van. First stop was the Leadville beer mile. A tradition at most races were your crew and pacers get out and run a beer mile. Corbin participated and actually did really well. It was a fun way to start the trip and see some other ultra friends. 

Next was Friday. The plan, pack, and get super fucking nervous day. We spent the day in Buena Vista making sure everything was set and ready for our mission. Corbin was debriefed and our bags were packed. Now it was just time to sit and wait for 5am to come. It was crazy that last day. I had waited almost 360 days for this very moment. BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), as my friend Stacey calls them, have a tendency to pull you in and then spitting you out making you wanting more. I knew we could do it. The real question was would the weather allow us?

The alarm chirped at 5am and we all piled into the van to prepare and make breakfast. Corbin cooked me up some eggs and made Julia some coffee. This time I double checked to make sure tracking was turned on and at 6:08 sharp Julia and I were charging up the trail.

Most of the Shavano trail was in a thick cloud and when we finally got above treeline we got above cloud line too. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day and we made quick work of Mt. Shavano. Once we got to the saddle and started our final ascent a crazy wind picked up. It was blowing straight into our faces and my hands quickly lost feeling. We finally layered up, crested over the summit, and started our way to Tabeguache. The ridge between Shavano and Tab goes quickly and once on the summit of Tab we headed for what they call the Hamilton traverse. Continuing on the Tab ridge we got our first taste ofexposure and steep scree. It landed us in a beautiful saddle and we finally got to run a grassy roller descent.

Julia looked back at me as we opened up our stride and said this is some sound of music shit right here. To which I shouted “The hills are alive with the sound of music…” for the entirety of the descent. There was no trail and when we got to the bottom it placed us in a marshy bog with dense bushes. At first we tried to pick good footing and avoid getting are feet wet but after a few minutes we were just charging straight through feet and ankles in deep water and mud. The marsh dumped us out on a fire road which we would take almost to the top of Antero. 

This is when I started to tank. My stomach had been sour all morning and I was struggling to keep any calories down. The fire road was a gradual grade and we never stopped moving but I was starting to feel the fatigue and my energy levels were tanking. My sister Ruthie and her fiancé Stephen were planning on meeting us on the top of Antero so I kept pushing through to see them. Off in the distances I caught a glimpse of Stephens backpack. Julia was waiting for me at the top of the hill and when I got there I told her I think thats my family and even though I want to take a little break lets keep going. Julia was getting her self situated as I continued walking. Out of nowhere a helicopter started to land. I turned around to find Julia getting dirt blasted. She took off in a sprint and we laughed at the close call. She was like I kept telling myself that helicopter won’t land till I get out of the way… apparently not.

We kept going until we caught up to Ruthie and Stephen and we shared stories about the helicopter and found out that a jeweler had a rock stuck on top of him and was needing a rescue. The four of us continued the last little section to the summit of Antero. I made slow progress of the final section to the summit. It seemed that every time we’d get close to 14,000 feet my body would slow to a survival pace and I just slowly keep moving upward. We said goodbye to Ruthie and Stephen and started our run down the steep face of Antero. As we lost elevation and scree skied down the mountain I started to catch another wind. Julia and I talked the entire fire road out to the van running the entire time.

At the van I finally got some calories down. We were making great time and right on the schedule we had predicted. 10 hours from Blank Cabin to Alpine was the most ideal situation. Giving us a good amount of daylight to get up the back side of Princeton. We refilled, changed socks, and got on our way quickly. It was hard leaving the van but the next section up grouse creek flew by. Julia was setting the pace and I was just keeping on her heels. When the trail finally disappeared we started straight up the side of the mountain towards the Princeton summit. On a map it doesn’t look so far but the terrain isn’t quick moving. Up through the woods we moved. The hill was steep and we followed aimlessly through the trees. This is when we encountered fresh mountain lion tracks. I had been intently looking at the ground trying to see any other signs of humans and unfortunately found signs of one of my biggest fears. Being alone in the woods at night in mountain lion territory. Our goal was to get to treeline as fast as possible now. A small kick of adrenaline got me moving and we crested above treeline right at sunset. We scared a heard of about 15 mountain goats and we watched them scurry up the steep talus.

We could see our ascent gully now and Julia looked at me and said that looks way too steep. Headlamps on and a little pump up music playing we started our way up the gully. At this point it was our only option we needed to get up and over. The gully which I coined “Death Gully” was incredibly steep and very loose. Every step up was a few steps down and a rockslide of dirt and boulders. It was important we picked a clean line and the leader didn’t send rocks speeding down at the second. Julia took the lead at first but after a mild panic attack I took over. The moving was slow and the top of the gully never seemed to get closer. At one point in the pitch dark I tried to convince Julia for a nap. We moved even slower the higher we got. The late night and lack of oxygen was getting to me. When we finally reached the top of the gully we could see Princeton silhouetted by the moon in the distance. We were still so far from where we needed to be. A quick scan of the terrain with the headlamp showed jagged steep cliffs in almost every direction. Unfortunately for this time in the night our best option was to traverse the ridge even though this meant submitting a 13,971 foot peak as well as Princeton. 

The ridge to Princeton went slow. We had been above 13,000 feet for hours now and both of us were struggling with food and fatigue. When we finally made it to the summit hours later than we hoped we needed to make a crucial decision. Run down the shortest route and bushwhack below treeline in the dark or take the actual trail and potentially add several more miles but be on trails the entire time. I was nervous about the mountain lions below treeline and Julia was nervous about the terrain. So we made the decision to rough out the extra mileage in an effort to be on more runnable and safer terrain. 

We didn’t stay long on the summit because we both felt very ill and started to run down the trail. The trail was steep and loose and both of us took a few tumbles. It wasn’t going as fast as we had hoped and I was looking at my GPS for navigation. I didn’t want to loose the trail on accident. At one point an hour or so after leaving the summit we looked at the GPS only to discover we were still above 13,000 feet. At 2 in the morning we took breaks often and barely talked. The trail turned into a road and we shuffled our way as quickly as possible. By the time we reached the Colorado trail at 3am we were still 12 miles from the van. I looked at Julia and said we’re going to watch the sunrise before getting to the van. And then silently we pushed our way towards Yale. Julia led setting a good pace on the uphills. We filtered water once and Julia took a few second nap on the trail. The sun was rising slowly and the darkness became a bit less dark. Our hallucinations started to hit strong. Is that a house I’d ask and Julia would respond I thought that was a bus and as we got closer it would just be trees.

By the time the sun finally rose we were on the road headed towards Yale. I was a little nervous that Corbin would head into town to check our tracker or something and miss us since we were now about 3 hours off of schedule. But being able to turn my headlamp off made me catch a second wind and we laughed our way the final two miles to the van. Our plan was to take a quick 30 minute nap and then be on our way up Yale.

When we got to the van at 7am we found my friend Brandon, Ruthie, and Stephen all surprised to see us. Our best case scenario arrival would have been 3am so showing up at 7am was a surprise to everyone. Julia and I passed out immediately in the van having been on the move for 25 hrs. Our half an hour nap turned into an hour and a friendly stranger named Sue offered to do some body work for us. She was a extreme sports massage therapist from Aspen out riding horses for the day. She gave Julia a leg massage and then came for me. I was struggling already with the nagging pain my hip gives. I was unable to sleep in certain positions in the bed because of it and Corbin commented that it felt like my femur was protruding from my hip. Sure enough it actually was.

Sue laid me down and rotated and popped my femur back into the socket. For a few seconds I felt better and then as I sat down I heard it pop back out. At this point there was nothing I could do about it. My muscles wanted to femur there and it was going to need to be dealt with later. Around 10 am after mentally and physically struggling to get started again Brandon, Julia, and I started to make our way up Yale. At this point time didn’t matter 60hrs was looking far out of the picture and I was now nervous we would be getting stuck in the dark on some unideal peaks. The steep climb up the Colorado trail to the Yale turn off went forever. Corbin and Lopi caught up with us for the summit and I really enjoyed all of the company. I had felt like shit for almost the entirety of the run and I was doubting my ability to continue. The middle 7 peaks are a serious commitment and after our night on Princeton I was questioning it.

As we reached the turn off for Yale I confessed to the group my lack of stoke. I was having the ultra downs and joked with Julia. “You didn’t come all the way to Colorado not to get stuck in a lightning storm above 14,000 feet.” I had been watching clouds build on Harvard as we hiked up the hill but wasn’t worried. A lot of the storms that happen don’t amount to much and the forecast was calling for a near perfect day. Julia and Brandon went ahead and Corbin stuck with me as I struggled to eat and keep moving. Yale was a death march but I was determined to summit. 

We summited the false summit and then met back up with Brandon and Julia for the final push to the summit. The clouds were starting to look ominous and at this point it was safer for us to summit and descend quickly the trail on the other side than it would be to traverse back the way we came via the entirety of the ridge. Right as we approach 14,000 feet it started to snow graupel on us. Brandon in good spirits stated that this was his favorite type of precipitation because they were like little snowballs! Now above 14,000 feet and on the final 70 feet to the summit it hit us. Corbin threw Lopis leash to the ground shouting did you feel that!? As the carabiners on his leash started to sizzle. Immediately next my poles in my hands started to buzz and the hair close to my face stuck straight out. I threw my poles to the ground and Brandon said ow! My poles just shocked me. Someone in the group asked if we should turn around and before an answer could be made I was full speed down the hill. We needed to make it treeline asap. 

We tried to keep 100 feet between us and stay off the ridge as much as possible. I made it down to the meadow at 13,000 feet and could still feel my poles buzzing. Next was the metal button on the top of my hat. The adrenaline was pumping hard and I was moving faster than I ever had with 50+ miles on my legs. The thoughts flashed through my heads what if something happened? This was my fault all these people were out here on this mountain because of me. Not only that I was the one moving slow if only I had moved faster we would have summited before the storm hit and hopefully had been in safer terrain. But it just came so quickly with no warning. CRACK! Lightning shot across the ground and struck in the valley close by. Don’t stop I kept repeating. 

We all made it to treeline in record time and as we sat eating and dumping the scree out of our shoes it was over. Nolan’s was over. I wasn’t sad actually but happy. All the people I cared about were safe and alive. No serious injuries and nobody got zapped by lightning. Some things you can’t control. With Nolan’s the weather and the mountains determine your success. And there will always be another year.

We made it back to the van ate some food, took a nap, and started the return back to normal life. I keep telling myself I won’t be back. That I’ve seen all of the course and that I’m ready to spend my summer doing something else. But deep down inside I know I will be back. Me and those mountains have some unfinished business.

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Hardrock 100 Pacing

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Hardrock 100 Pacing

It all started when I moved full time to Tahoe and got involved with the Donner Party Mountain Runners. I was meeting a lot of rad people and would hear the mention of people I should meet. Betsy Nye was one of them. My introduction to Betsy was based on a mutual love for the hard tall Colorado mountains. I was looking for a partner for Nolan’s 14 and she was a crusher 14 time Hardrock 100 finisher. We chatted about the prospects of teaming up together on Nolan’s, and I offered to pace her in exchange on her 15th Hardrock 100. As the summer approached and Betsy’s injuries lingered we both agreed Nolan’s wasn’t in the cards for her this year and she had already got all her pacing shifts covered. I drove out to Colorado at the end of June to start my training for the summer. I already found a new Nolan’s partner and promised Betsy I’d cheer her on at the Hardrock.

On Tuesday three days before the start of the Hardrock 100 I got a call from Betsy. One of her pacers was injured and she was looking for a sub in. Conveniently I was super available and excited to help out. I had been battling a pain in my gums for three days, but I didn’t think anything of it. That night after agreeing to pace Betsy it hit me. I was up all night moaning and crying in pain. I tossed and turned crying and screaming for help. As the sun rose restless and in excruciating pain I walked three miles to the dentist tears streaming down my face unable to control the internal moaning of pain. I begged the dentist to see me immediately. They quickly got me in and sent me immediately to an oral surgeon. I had let a gum infection spread to my jaw. The oral surgeon who was booked till September, fit me in as an emergency and pulled a tooth to release some pain. I was also put on an antibiotic to hopefully kill the raging infection. This was Wednesday and the Hardrock was on Friday… I couldn’t let Betsy down. I was pacing her those 17 miles infection or not. 

The narcotics actually helped me sleep at night but the infection didn’t seem to subside even after a few days. Laying in my van the day before the hard rock I felt nervous about pacing Betsy. It was about her and if I struggled that wasn’t okay. I kept telling myself that it was suffer training. That if I could run 17 miles with a fresh hole in my mouth and an infected gum I could run any distance. I had been on a liquid diet for about 4 days and was living off of baby food. I could feel the hollow in my stomach. I was finding it impossible to get enough calories.

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Betsy started that morning at 6am and at 7pm I was sitting in downtown Ouray watching her tracker and anticipating her arrival. She’d be about 43 miles into the 100 and I would be taking her to mile 60. When she arrived we tried to get her in and out of the aid station as fast as possible. With only a few hiccups Betsy and I were walking our way to Box Canyon. This was my first time ever in Ouray not in the winter and I couldn’t help but remember all of the fantastic ice climbing trips I had taken to this canyon. As we moved along she asked about my mouth and I responded that it was best if we didn’t talk about it. The taste of blood was already strong in my mouth and I was fearful about the night ahead. Betsy was moving at a really good pace and I kept up right behind her talking about this and that and everything in between.

As the sun set we became silent and tried to focus on the trail ahead of us. Though it was dark you could feel the great exposure opening up beside us. Betsy, behind me at this point, commented on the fact that if you trip and fall you die. I didn’t feel afraid. Heights and exposure don’t scare me… maybe it’s from my years of rock climbing. As we got higher, the night got darker, and the air got colder. We had run through several creeks at this point and I could feel the deep sinking feeling of coldness soaking in. Betsy didn’t want to stop till we got to the aid station so I rotated which hand was holding the flash light and which was in my pants. When we finally reached engineering pass I was ready for a few extra layers. We sat by the fire for a bit trying to dry out our feet and get moving.

The next section was very steep up hill. We kept moving because after cresting over the summit it would be all down hill to the aid station where Angela would take over pacing. Once we started to go downhill Betsy just took off. For over 50 miles on her legs she was moving quick and efficiently. I jogged along beside her feeling the swollen right side of my face jolt up and down with every step. I had come to the conclusion that I wasn’t feeling any pain because my brain was trained to block out pain when I was running… unlike when I sleep and the pain can only be subsided with narcotics. We made fast work of the downhill and showed up at the aid station greeted by her friends and family at 2am. We got Betsy all fixed up and headed towards Handsies. I was feeling happy to be done and head to bed with my dog.

I caught a ride with Betsy’s dad and was asleep in my van by 3:30am. We woke early the next morning and I joined in on the crew for Betsy. We met her at the last aid station and got her ready for the finally push to the finish. As the sun just barely began to set Betsy came running into downtown Silverton and kissed the rock for her 15th Hardrock 100 finish! It was such an amazing experience to get to witness and be a part of! The next day we got to join in on congratulating all of the finishers and all of the people who didn’t finish in a family style ceremony. It made me really appreciate races that aren’t over run by sponsors and money. It reminded me of all the great people I met in Alaska and the way it felt like a family. As I finally said my goodbyes my heart felt warm and heavy and my face still very infected. 

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I spent the next week going into my second mouth surgery and planning my next snow 100 miler. So thankful for all the people I met and all the time spent in the mountains! 

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Western States 100 Pacing

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Western States 100 Pacing

It was February 2016 I stumbled out of our red Prius rental car and shuffled my legs across the icy ground. Everyone looked in much better shape than me. But less than 24 hours earlier I was deep in the woods of the Alaska wilderness running. The Susitna 100 was an epic 100 miler race across frozen Alaska. This year it only saw 28 runners actually finish. Of those finishers only 9 were females. Karen Johansen was one of those 9 females and so was I. At the award ceremony the next day she looked almost completely recovered while I stayed firmly in my seat trying to hide my obvious limp. I didn’t know much about Karen at the time other than that around mile 40 her and her friend Lourdes effortlessly floated by me at my lowest of lows. We all chatted about the race, our up coming races, and where we were from. This is how Karen and I connected on the Western States 100. Excitedly she asked if I would pace her and even more excited I obliged.

It is now June 2016 and the hype for the Western States 100 was growing in Tahoe. Karen had a super limited schedule so we barely got to sync up before race day. It was Friday afternoon when we finally saw each other 5 months since our last chat in person in Alaska. Karen was super sick. She could barely sit with us for more than a few minutes before getting nauseous. We made a plan to have me pace her the whole way from Forresthill to the finish and then she went to bed. I started to feel nervous about her health and the heat of the coming day but if I knew anything about Karen it was that she was one tough cookie. I decided to pass the time by going paragliding which proved to be a mildly bad idea. I stalled my paraglider close to the ground and fell right on my ankle. A sprained ankle the day before an ultra. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

By the time I woke the next morning Karen was already at mile 10. I continued to watch her tracker like a hawk. She was averaging a good pace and I started to estimate when I would need to be in Forresthill. By the time she reached mile 30 I had a good estimate of when she would be at mile 60. It started to dawn on me that I would be running for some very strange hours. Entirely all at night. I quick grabbed another nap and headed down the hill. I kept massaging my ankle just hoping it wouldn’t cause me any problems. I put on my running clothes, packed up my backpack, and put on my compression socks in an effort to combat the swelling in my ankle. The sun was setting already and I was feeling super mentally unprepared for what the night was about to hold. I kept reminding myself that Karen had 60 miles on her legs and I had 0. This isn’t about me. This is about her. 40 miles on fresh legs is nothing. 

By 9pm all of the spectators started to go to bed and clear the streets. It was dark now so I put on a jacket because I was cold. I said goodbye to some people and then it was just me standing waiting. Karen rolled through the aid station around 9:45pm and we were off running together at 10pm. I had already shed my jacket as we ran down the street together chatting. I couldn’t believe how fresh Karen looked! Distracted we missed the turn straight out the gate and some people behind us yelled for us to turn. Wow that could have been bad I thought as I cleared my head and focused. The course wasn’t as well marked as I thought it would be so I made extra sure to always be looking… I mean we all had heard what happened to the number one guy getting lost before HWY 49. 

Before even getting a mile into the run we both had to use the bathroom. We cleaned up and continued downhill. It was a lot of downhill. I thought we were making really good time. We were talking about running, our personal lives, and everything in between. The first aid station came and went and I was back on familiar trails. I had worked the Cal 2 aid station for the Canyons 100k so I felt a little less lost in the woods. I couldn’t believe how dusty and hot it was for how late at night. We made it to the Cal 2 aid station were everything was buzzing. We saw a few people who had dropped and ate a little food. By this point we had finally settled into together. We had tried Karen running in front and me following and vice versa but settled in with me leading and setting the pace. We reached the next aid station quickly and everyone couldn’t believe how great Karen looked. I really lucked out. She was so strong and good at running ultras. She knew exactly what she needed when she needed it.

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As we left that aid station we started to go uphill again. Karen is a really strong ascender even with 70 miles on her legs. We set a really solid pace on the uphill and passed several parties that looked like they were hurting. The next stop was the river crossing and I was getting nervous about the prospect of the fridge water at 3 in the morning. The river came faster than expected and Karen flew through the aid station before the water. A spectator grabbed me by the arm and said Jen!! what are you doing here?? Immediately confused she realized I was not Jen Shelton. This wasn’t my first time being mistaken for Jen. We both laughed as she continued to rant about how I could be her sister. Karen was already at the river as I sprinted down the stairs to catch up. They put a life jacket on both of us and it was time to go. We waded waste deep across the river making sure not to twist an ankle on the slippery big rocks below. This was a first for both of us. The water was cool, welcoming, and refreshing! I was feeling revitalized and ready to take on the rest of the course. Karen took her shoes off to realize what she thought was a rock was actually bad trench foot. She changed her socks, but the damage was already done. She knew she just needed to grit it out. 

We went up hill for the next mile or so and the heat had already dried most of me out. We were at mile 80 now and we had a small 20 miles left to go. The trail goes down hill for a bit and then turns into a very runnable angle. We capitalized on this and set a slow but steady pace. We passed a young man who was really hurting. His cough echoed through the canyon. I kept thinking how lucky I was that Karen was in such good shape! I turned around and asked her how she was doing again. She responded with the usual good! Though I knew she had terrible trench feet, 80 miles on her legs, and horrible chaffing. The strength of an ultra runner is insane. We ran with in close distance of this young man and his pacer for awhile and had to listen to the awfulness of his pacer. Sometimes its better to let the struggler struggle and encourage them instead of being so hard. Karen and I shot each other a glance and pulled away from hearing distance.

I refilled my water and fueled up at the next aid station. My hand flashlight battery was dead so I pulled my spare headlamp from my pack. The sun was just barely rising. But it was dark enough to need a light. We were roughly a half marathon from the finish. We wanted to cover as much distance as possible before the sun hit us and slowed us down. Then it hit me… the gut rot. It was only 3 miles to the next aid station I could make it. I trotted along the trail in fear of shitting my pants. All of my energy and thoughts were consumed by keeping it together. Out of no where my friend Chaz chipper as ever came flying by. When did we pass Chaz I thought? He had come through Forresthill in the day light!! I was super happy to see he was still going and hadn’t lost his sense of humor. The aid station came faster than expected and I disappeared into the portapotty. I made it quick and found Karen on her way out of the aid station. It was a quick section to HWY 49 and then we would be in the home stretch. The sun had risen and it was already smolderingly hot.

This was my lowest point. I was sick. My hips were hurting still from the Broken Arrow Skyrace the previous weekend. I was over 30 miles in. Karen was going to finish whether I was there or not. She was doing so good. I contemplated stopping at HWY 49 and getting Corbin to pick me up. It wasn’t like I was racing. Crippled over on the uphill Karen still looking strong she knew I was hurting. I joked doesn’t it feel good to see someone with less miles on there legs hurting worse than you? She laughed and said kind of. We both laughed and I started moving a little better. This is when I realized what made pacing hard. It’s the motivation. When you’re racing you get your motivation from the belt buckle, from the finish line, from the idea of crossing something off your list. I didn’t have these motivations. What was it that I could draw on to keep moving? It was Karen. It was getting to see her succeed. It was getting to share in her accomplishment. It was getting to make sure she finished. I told her I’d run with her to the finish. I was running to the finish. 

We could feel the energy of the finish line when we reached HWY 49. Everyone was screaming and cheering. We were a short 6 miles from being able to close our eyes and sleep forever. I knew all of these trails I had run them before. Karen wanted to run so we ran. Even on the uphill. By the time we reached the no hands bridge which was the second to the last aid station a sense of relief came over us. Karen was finishing this race. There were no cutoffs left to miss and just a short 3 miles and a big up hill between us and the finish line. I runner came up behind and me and said hey Jen it’s Blah Blah from race Blah Blah remember me? At this point I just said it’s so good see you again! And Karen and I left the aid station. Karen laughed and looked at me and said wow I bet everyone is wondering why a professional runner is pacing me. 

 

Karen started to become teary eyed as the prospect of finishing this race became more and more a reality. I quick grabbed the phone and turned it to full speaker on some jams. We were walking up this hill and we were going to do it in musical style. We passed a few people and got passed by a few people and after the final aid station we started to run again. Less than a mile from the finish I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was screaming and clapping and cheering and maybe dropping the F-bomb more than I should have. As we hit the pavement and ran through the neighborhoods of Auburn, Karen and I started to belt the lyrics to the song playing. Right now the name of the song escapes me but this moment was really special to me. Karen had been awake for 28 hours, had 100 miles on her legs, and was so happy and alive! The track came into view and I handed my phone off to my friend Lucas to take photos of us finishing. I looked at Karen and she said run the track with me. We ran the entirety of the track and as the finish line got closer and closer I didn’t want it to end. And just like that it was over. She had did it. And no one can ever take that away from her. She will always be a Western States 100 finisher!

We laid on the track drank some water and parted ways. To me pacing the Western States felt more rich and more meaningful than any race I’ve ever done. There’s no doping, no cutting course, no glory, no finish line, the selfishness that has made me hate running sometimes was stripped away. It truly made me appreciate what Tim had done for me in Alaska. He could have finished 5 hours faster but he stuck with me. He stuck with me and made sure I finished too. The selflessness in these serious endurance events makes me really love the people I choose to call friends.

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