"If you're going through hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill
Ever so slowly, we marched out of Chantry Flats. My mom has told me that looking back on this moment, she couldn't believe I still had to run 26 more miles. If I were looking at it from an outsiders perspective, I would probably have said the same thing. I was FUCKED UP. Kev and I made our way up the road out of the parking lot and he kept handing me pieces of Banana to eat. I ate everything he handed me, and we marched up the road as quickly as I could muster. Before the race I had told Kev that I wanted to run the entire Lower Winter Creek trail section (about 2.5 miles) until we got to the death march up Upper Winter Creek. I knew at this moment that this wasn't going to be possible for me. I was almost redlining just from hiking at this point, and was still a little bit dizzy. We let out a HOWL as we marched along the trail to let my crew know I was OK, and I followed Kev through the dark with my flashlight and headlamp on the backs of his feet. It was tough, and in the technical sections I'd effortlessly ran through before, I was very cautiously avoiding every rock. When I was ready to run, I got in front, and was able to run some of the downhill/flat sections, but couldn't string together a run longer than a minute or two.
|Tending to my cuts.|
Now, for those of you who haven't ever run this section of trail, Upper Winter Creek is FUCKING STEEP. Doing this climb with fresh legs is a BITCH. Doing this climb after running 79 Miles is outright DISGUSTING. I knew it was coming. This is either the hardest, or the second hardest climb of the entire race. I hit it at night, in the middle an energy lull. I knew what was coming, and I had done this section with Kev before during the day and with Jimmy Dean and Tom Nielsen at night. I couldn't have imagined how fucking hard this climb was on race day. Mentally, I wanted to just lay down. I wanted to stop moving. Every step was so hard, so exhausting, and I was sleepy. I didn't want to eat, but like a Swiss watch Kevin had me eating solid food every 30 minutes on the dot. I begged for a gel with caffeine, and he finally caved and gave me an Espresso flavored Hammer gel. It tasted like SHIT.
One of the things that I discovered during this race: climbing was really hard on me mentally later in the race. Once I got tired, every climb made me feel less like a BAD ASS and more like a huge PUSSY. I couldn't help but think I should be climbing faster, and that I just wasn't tough enough. These were the hardest times mentally. When I felt like I was going so slowly, and at this rate I'd be climbing FOREVER. Downhill's weren't bad because my legs/feet hurt so bad I could just focus on moving forward and felt like I should just be happy I was still able to run. The steep climbs were brutal after the first 50 miles or so. Looking back, I think I should've brought my music with me for the last marathon. It could've helped me stay a little more energized on the climbs. Moving on:
KEV WAS SO FUCKING AWESOME. He didn't baby me, but was so attuned to my needs. He was so NICE. "Hey George, can you please eat these peanut butter pretzels for me?"; "How about you take a couple of sips of water, George"; "George, please eat this salt pill in the next couple of minutes." This guy is such a great dude. I wish I could be more like Kev.
I mean, what a nice guy. I feel like we talked a little bit more than I initially remembered on the climb. It wasn't totally silent. I remember being focused on Kev's feet and listening to the leaves and the dirt move as we crunched up the trail. He kept checking in with me and telling me I was doing great. We talked about how we had done the same climb 6 months prior together in the snow. I'm pretty sure I bitched about how hard it was. The climb seemed to go on forever, but much of it was familiar. As we neared the intersection with the Manzanita ridge trail, I started to rebound mentally. The reason why is one of the reasons that I love ultra-running: We came upon someone else who was hurting, and I felt compassion for him instead of being in my head.
Don Freeman was laying face down on the trail about 20 steps ahead of us, his headlamp pointing towards the mountain, motionless. My heart immediately sank. "Oh No" I said. I feel like Kev must have said the same thing at the same time. Don heard us and immediately said he was OK and he wasn't as bad as it looked. The moment immediately became about this stranger. This man on the trail who was hurting much worse than I, in need of fluids. I'm not sure if he was able to get any water out of my pack, it was running really low, but we convinced him to get moving again and make it to the bench. We told him it was just a tenth of a mile or so more. We all started walking together up the trail and Don said he was going to just rest a second longer. I kept moving and told Kev to stay with him and move him along and that I'd meet them at the bench. The bench I speak of is a bench at the top of the steepest portion of the climb up to Mt. Wilson toll road, and is only about a quarter or half mile from the top of the climb. It sits on a ridge overlooking the city of LA, and is the second time you see the city after Newcomb's Saddle.
I continued up the trail and yelled back a few times to Don some words of encouragement. He questioned whether it was really only a tenth of a mile... haha. It was probably a half mile from where we found him, but hey, my senses were a little off. Eventually I made it to the bench and took a seat. I turned off my headlamp for a moment and looked out over the city. I was still thinking of Don and wondering if he'd make it, but my thoughts drifted away for the moment. I remembered sitting on this bench during training runs. During the crazy snow run in January with all of the Coyotes when Dom nailed Jimmy in the face with a huge snowball. I knew there was still a lot of running to do, but I soaked in the moment as much as I could. I heard Kev call out that he was almost there, and I stood up again. My body hurt, and I was tired again. Kev came up and we started climbing again up to the toll road. I was completely out of water at this point, and we still had a few miles to run to get to Idlehour. I was a little concerned, but there was nothing we could do about it, so we pressed onward up the trail. Kev later told me that right after we left Chantry he'd discovered that whoever had filled his hydration pack hadn't closed it properly, and that he hadn't had water until we got to the Idlehour checkpoint 9 miles later. He didn't tell me because he didn't want me to worry about him.
We made it to the Wilson Toll road intersection and there was a runner there puking next to his pacer. Again, I was reminded that I wasn't in as bad shape as I could have been. We started running down the toll road and my right shin began screaming at me. At this stage the blisters in the balls of my feet hurt so bad that I couldn't run downhill without heavily heel-striking, but I'd been indulgent as I had to finish some way, and if I could do it faster and better running with bad form then FUCK IT. Nonetheless every foot of descent from this moment onward was absolute TORTURE. My stomach was still rumbling, and I stopped to take a piss and it was GOLD. I told Kev, then said at least I was pissing. As we ran down the hill, I told Kev that now we were done with the UWC climb, I could rename it "Fucker Winter Creek". It was a dumb joke, but it was still a joke, which was a good sign this deep into the race.
This was a good moment for me. I was HURTING, but I was moving more quickly. The air wasn't as hot as we ran down the hill, the lights of the city were beautiful. My headlamp/handheld light combo were working out well. My vision was a little weird, but whatever. We made our way down the road and talked a bit. Kev encouraged me to try to relax my body a little bit. It's hard when you hurt all over, but when he did we moved more quickly and it was probably less damaging in the long run. We passed more and more people as we ran (more like shuffled) down the fire road. People who had gone through Chantry as I struggled with my nausea and dizziness. Kev told me that it reminded him of Western States. I thanked him again for pacing me and for letting me pace him. I told him he was an inspiration for me to not give up. When I paced Kev at Western States he demonstrated True Grit as he pushed through pain, passing 40 or more other runners in the last 38 miles.
We talked a lot during this stretch. When we rolled into the Idlehour aid station I was doing ok. I sat down for a bit and drank a coke and had some broth and water. I asked them to fill my camelback and we told them about the runner we had seen face down on the trail. They ended up sending Jeff Biddle, a fellow Coyote, up to get him (Don Freeman) with some more water.
I had the other volunteer there fill up my bladder and downed some more water as I sat. I was there for a good 8 or 10 minutes, at which point the volunteer told us we better get moving and go get my buckle. Jeff said there were at least 2 or 3 other runners within reach, and to go make them cry. Although I'm sure he didn't have any mean sentiment, and neither did I, that was sorta the plan. We moved on through the night, leaving another runner and his pacer there at the station. As we continued running up and over the small hill before we dove into the canyon, my stomach was shitty again, but I was able to run the slight uphills and string together some solid runs. Suddenly, my focus drifted away from the pain and back into the present moment, and I realized what time it was. I was able to put things into perspective a little bit as to what exactly I was doing in relation to the rest of the world at this moment. It was roughly 1 or 2 in the morning, and I was in the middle of nowhere having run 85 miles.
It was dark, and I was with a friend. We were on our way into a canyon, and had one more big climb to finish before the last 11 miles of agonizing descent. My headlamp was bright, and my handheld flashlight was bright, and they were creating a small little window of life in the pitch black night. The trail wove in and out of the hillside, my feet sinking into the dead leaves and loose dirt of this relatively pure mountain ground. The burning from the lower half of my body was intense, the blisters on my feet, my shin screaming back at me. My stomach turned and gurgled as we descended. I knew I'd have to stop again, but for now I had to keep moving. I wanted to run until we hit the bottom of the canyon and crossed the creek. We hit a steep portion of descent with large wooden beams across the trail (my guess is to prevent the trail from washing out) and moved down it quickly.
As the trees wrapped over the trail and my headlamp illuminated branches and leaves moments before my head passed under or through them, I maintained my focus on the trail about 10 feet ahead of me as we ran. All of a sudden a MOUSE fell out of a tree 2 feet in front of my face. WHOA! "Kev, did you see that MOUSE?" He had, in fact, it wasn't just my imagination. I narrowly avoided stepping on it, and we continued through the darkness. At the bottom of the canyon we crossed over the creek a few times, as we gradually climbed up along the banks. This seemed to go on forever, as it is a little bit technical and I was so tired at this point. I thought back to when I'd done this section in training and how I'd felt. This is about the point where I'd run out of water when I was with Jimmy and Crispin and Tom Nielsen on our night training run. I was just as fucked up now as I was then. I was really struggling again mentally at this point, and I could see lights coming up the canyon behind us and I could hear people talking. Kev and I stopped to get some food out of my bag and see if my camelback had any water in it. It should have had plenty (it's a 70 Oz pouch) but it was drained. FUCK.
Right around the time we made this realization, the runner behind me and his pacer passed us again. They were MOVING. They were going back and forth between a quick hike and a run (UPHILL) and this hurt my worn out ego. I was out of water, and getting passed, and feeling shitty going up a steep hill. Apparently, the aid station volunteer at Idlehour who filled my pack didn't fill it up all the way. What a shitty situation. We continued moving up the hill at a snails pace, and the climb felt like an eternity. Again I focused on Kev's feet as we moved along through the dark. I was longing to reach the point of the climb where the trees were burned out, as I knew that would mean it was almost over, but dreading the descent down the Sam Merrill trail. My shin was now hurting with every step, and I feared the shooting pain I would have running downhill again, but nonetheless was excited to possibly make up some time.
As we continued up the hill, I carried Kev's pack and he carried mine as there was still a lot of water in his pack. Although this is technically against the rules, my pack wasn't filled at the aid station, if it was I'd have carried it. Kev's was full, so if anything I was muling for Kev at this point. Anyway, we trudged on up the hill for what seemed like forever until we got to the little bit of downhill at the halfway point. The downhill upset my stomach so I stopped again to poop, and then we continued on up the second half of the hill. I have fewer memories from this little section than from any of the whole race, possibly because it was so monotonous and awful. When we finally got to the burned out section, my spirits lifted again.
I could see the flashing lights of the aid station. I knew we were getting close. I could see the runner ahead of me, and he wasn't that far off. It was time to turn this around. We picked up the pace of the hike a little bit until we got close to the aid station, and I'm not sure if we ran it in or not, but when we got there we found out that we were now in 17th place. The guys who got there before us were in 16th. I was SHOCKED. I was feeling so shitty, and was disappointed that there was no chance of sub 24 or Second Sunrise at this point. I felt like I was doing so poorly, but to have only 16 people ahead of me, one of whom was in the same aid station as me, felt pretty good. We hurriedly filled our packs with water and got moving before the other runner and his pacer and got going as quickly as possible. My energy level was up again, but I hurt so badly.
I may have already said this about 15 miles earlier, but EVERY STEP was AGONIZING. My shin hurt SO BAD just running the slight downhill section that begins Sam Merrill trail. A couple of times I was dangerously close to losing my balance and falling down the mountain, but we kept running. I wanted to build as big of a lead on the guy I'd left at the aid station as I could. I knew this section of trail well, and as we ran along I couldn't wait to get around to the front side of the mountain and see the lights of LA. When we rounded the corner, and I saw the lights, I knew that I was SO CLOSE. It was here that Kev told me that Annie and the Crew would be waiting for me at the end of the trail section, a mile from the finish. I probably told Kev a bunch of times how badly my shin hurt. It was SO painful. Even though I knew he'd run 100 miles and felt the pain, I had to tell somebody about it. I mean FUCK. It HURT so BAD. I knew we were close but I still HATED running. Walking HURT, running was self-imposed TORTURE. But now only 8.5 miles away was the finish line, and 7.5 miles away was Annie and my crew.
This section of trail was as AWFUL as I had expected. The pain of dropping down off of rocks and wooden beams sent shock waves of pain through my legs. My blisters rubbed on my insoles as I clumsily ran down the hill, pounding away with my body tense to brace itself for every step. When would this END? I knew that we had to be close, but I remembered this trail being SHORTER. Kev and I talked more about running and about pain. We talked about a lot of things that I can't remember right now. Everything that we talked about is clouded with a haze of pain. All of a sudden, I heard voices, and saw LIGHTS. Flashlights and headlamps, and we passed another runner. Maggie Beach, 2nd woman, was right before the junction of Sam Merril and Echo Mountain. Kev said hello and we said good job as we passed by, and this made me feel better again. I was doing alright! We made the turn on to Echo Mountain trail and there were TWO MORE sets of lights at the intersection of the E.M trail and the Mt. Lowe railway trail. This filled me with energy. Prideful energy, but energy nonetheless.
I immediately began running harder as we blew past the lights. Someone asked me which way were supposed to go and I told them to follow us, as I knew the course. Maybe they had made a wrong turn? Or were confused. Either way, we just jumped from 16th place to 13th place in a matter of one or two minutes, and I wasn't about to let go of that. We ran most of the gentle climb up the railway trail, and I looked behind us countless times to see if they were gaining. They weren't too close, but I felt the level of competition. We got to the Mt. Lowe road section down to the Sunset trail, and we blasted down it onto the single track. We were MOVING at this point. The trail was very overgrown and technical at this point, and the overgrown portions were terrifying to run through as we couldn't really see the ground or any rocks that may have been hiding. Kev was looking back but couldn't see any headlamps, and I'd guessed that I probably had made a solid lead on them. I stopped to walk a few times in this section, thinking I had some space. The pain was so great that I'm pretty sure I even told Kev that I didn't care if they caught us.
We made it out of the really technical section and on to a rolling patch. Kev encouraged me to keep running the ups. Twilight had begun, and I turned off my headlamp. In some ways it was nice because I could see the trail better, in others just a reminder that I didn't beat the sun to Loma Alta Park. Nonetheless, onwards we went. Kev encouraged me to run more, noting that it would help the pain be over sooner. Every second of running was just stringing together sections of walking with only slightly less pain. It was ridiculous. We finally made it to a short road section that I knew was close to the Millard aid station. All of a sudden, I heard steps behind me, and I turned to see Jaime Gilford (one of the guys I'd passed) running down the road about 100 yards back. "You tough son of a bitch!" I exclaimed as he ran up on us and passed us as I walked down the road. "I'm just trying to get done with it, you have to try to run these sections even though it hurts." He answered. His pacer was a little ways behind him, but he slowly jogged by. After his pacer came by, I began running again and caught up to them. We chatted with them, which was cool, because it was twilight and felt like a different day. I felt alive again, and felt good. I knew that as long as we stuck close by I might have a chance to pass them again, and I figured I could learn a thing or two. This was Jaime's 30th hundred mile race. His pacer had run 48 miles with him from Chilao, and was still feeling great. We talked about Hoka Ones (his pacer was wearing them, and said his feet didn't hurt one bit) and I asked Jaime if every hundred hurt this bad. He said they all did. They asked how much farther to Millard, and I said it should be pretty soon. We ran a good amount of this section, and only towards the end did my stomach churn and I hiked a bit.
We were right around the corner from the aid station, and I was about 20 seconds behind Jaime when we got there. Kev knew one of the volunteers, and I had the energy to keep moving. I ate some fruit and had a sip of coke. Jaime sat down in one of the chairs. I couldn't believe it! I asked him how long he was going to sit for, and he said just a little bit to gather himself. One of the other runners we had passed had caught up to us and was running into the aid station as we were talking. I told Jaime I just wanted to get it over with and rushed out of the aid station.
I was filled with nervous excitement as we crossed the creek and jogged out of the campground. There was another climb right after this (not too bad) but I was exhausted and hiked some of it. I kept looking back to see if anyone was behind me, and sure enough I saw the other runner who was behind us coming up the hill. I ran as much as I could without redlining, but soon Jaime and this other runner were right on our tail. Kev kept reminding me that Annie was only a few miles away, and that the more I ran the sooner I would get there. It still seemed so far though! We descended into the creek bed section of El Prieto trail with Jaime right behind us. I told them a little about the trail that Tom Nielsen had told me, and wondered if Dom felt as bad as I did when he ran through earlier. As we went on, I kept stringing together runs as much as I could, and would get a lead on Jaime but he'd catch us. Finally, about 3 miles from the finish, I heard him catch us one last time. I told him he was doing great, and he told me the same. We crossed the creek bed and there was a short and steep climb up the other side that I ran, and then all of a sudden I just took off.
I knew we were close. I knew that Annie was there. I knew that the pain was going to be over. I wanted to see Annie and my crew so badly. I RAN. My feet felt lighter with every step. Emotion filled my brain and my body and endorphins pumped through my veins as I picked up the pace with ever quarter mile. I jumped over gaps in the trail and the creek and ran every section, uphill or not. I COULDN'T WAIT. I felt so GOOD. My feet hurt, my legs hurt, but I felt SO GOOD. We got to the section of road that leads back to the last little climb before Altadena drive and I stayed focused on my form as we floated along. Kevin told me he was so proud of me. He told me we were almost there. I looked at him and said "I know where we're going, Kev, and I'm not gonna stop running until we get there." I had a huge smile on my face, and he smiled back at me and said "I know". As we continued running along together, the weight of my accomplishment set in. I was overwhelmed with emotion, and I began to tear up a little bit, and I looked at Kev and said "I did it. I can't believe I did it." He knew. I thanked him for being with me, and he thanked me for letting him be there. Every time I remember this moment, I go back to that place emotionally. I knew that Annie would be there, and I knew that I was steps away from achieving my dream. I really couldn't believe it.
We passed a couple of people walking down the road as we ran. I was so excited, I told these total strangers that I'd just run 100 miles. Haha. The first guy was like "Holy crap". The second was two women walking their dogs and one of them said "and none the worse for wear! you look great!". I almost cried again. I let out a loud howl, and I knew that my crew would hear it. They couldn't see me yet but we were about to turn onto the very short trail section leading up to Altadena Dr. I heard them howling back and it sent a powerful wave of emotion through my muscles. I ran harder up the hill and when I saw Annie and the rest of my crew standing there I felt relief, excitement, love, and pride as I kept pushing my body through the pain. Kev said "go get it man, it's yours" and tears welled up in my eyes as Annie jumped up and down clapping for me with the rest of my crew clapping and howling and yelling for me to keep it up. I was almost there. I pushed my body up the hill and ran to the top and my crew ran along on both sides of me like fighter jets escorting a wounded bomber back to safety.
|Being Escorted to the Finish line.|
As I ran down Altadena Dr. I asked my crew if they'd had fun, and how I looked. I was running strong and was so relieved to be so close to the finish. I looked at Annie as I ran, and I looked around at my surroundings. To end up in this neighborhood in Altadena after spending over 24 hours running through the mountains was so surreal. I almost didn't want it to be over in some ways. I did my best to open myself up to the moment and to take note of how I felt and what I saw. My crew kept telling me how proud of me they were, and I kept holding back my tears of joy. I felt SO INCREDIBLY GOOD. SO SO GOOD. I had made it. We turned onto Lincoln ave and were one turn away from the finish line. I struggled to keep my pace running up even this gradual grade, and asked Annie how my form looked. It seems so stupid now to think that I asked such a silly question. She told me my sisters had made it to Chantry right after I'd left and that they would probably be at the finish line, and that Kodi was there with beer and donuts. Annie said I didn't even look like I was in pain. I assured her that that WAS NOT THE CASE. She said she couldn't believe how good I looked.
We turned onto Palm ( I think) and were less than a quarter of a mile away. I saw Kate Freeman getting out of her car, and she said Jimmy was waiting at the finish line and came running along with us. I was running faster and faster as I realized this was it. THIS WAS IT. Nothing to hold back, no energy needed after this last stretch. I picked up my pace to what felt like a sprint, and I heard someone on my crew say "There's that kick!" as I turned into the grass and made my way up the grass hill towards the Finish Line. Adrenaline and endorphins flooded my body again and I sprinted up the hill. I felt strong. I felt happy. I felt relieved. I saw Jimmy standing on the other side of the finish line and as I ran under the tarp strung between two trees I slapped it as hard as I could. The BEAST was dead.
|So happy to be in this moment.|
|Attempting to sleep.|
|Kev, Bev, Crispin and Kate - Chicken Dance|
|A hug from the winner, Dom.|
I still get teary eyed 2 months later as I write about this. As I think about all of the LOVE and SELFLESSNESS that people are filled with when they come out and dedicate a few DAYS of their lives to helping you live your dream. As I sit here in my office typing this, I can't but hope that the next time I run 100 miles I have an experience as EXTRAORDINARY as this one. THANK YOU CREW AND FRIENDS AND FAMILY!. THANK YOU for helping me live this dream. You have helped me to make a memory that has lasted longer and stronger than any memories to date. You have been a part of a magical piece of my life, and I am indebted to all of you.