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.
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!