At 8:00 am on Saturday, September 26th, the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100 Mile Ultra started. The sun was bright and promised a warm day. I hadn’t slept very well the night before. Nerves had built up. I was worried about all the possible what-ifs (maybe brought on by the fact that What-If is Ben’s favorite game). But Art and Dara had made sure that I had everything I needed. My drop bags were all lined, Art and Dara had maps for the aid stations, and my shoes were tightly laced. Jim and Beverly Todd came to see me off with Wether’s candy in hand. I waved goodbye to Art, Dara, Bob and Ben, Jim and Beverly, and took off on the very first steps of what promised to be a long journey. I wouldn’t see them again for 21 miles until I reached Kelly Tank.
I slow-jogged/speed-walked up to Aspen Corner. Everyone’s mood was cheerful, and we all said hi and chatted as we passed and got passed. This part of the trail is beautiful and went by faster than the miles usually do when I run it. I got to talk to some great people on the dirt road to the Fern Hill aid station. One man was nice enough to give me some good advice: keep going…just push through the low points because it will be worth it at the end. From Fern to Kelly Tank there is a great section of trail through the woods that curves and bends…the kind of trail that makes for great daydreaming. That daydreaming caused me to follow someone (probably a fellow daydreaming) in the wrong direction, and we did about an extra mile close to Kelly…at least we got a great view of Kendrick. I like to think that I took a scenic detour.
It was terrific to see Art and Dara at Kelly. They had everything ready for me and stuffed my pack full of pretzels and Swedish Fish (my go-to fuel). I set off for the section of trail that I knew was going to be difficult for me. Between Kelly and Cedar Ranch is a long section through a cow pasture that has lots of pointy rocks that seem to exist just to catch a toe. Then there is a very long section of dirt road that starts out quite lovely with lots of nicely packed sand. This lulls you into a false sense of comfort. What comes next is what I like to call Baby-Head Hill. It’s an extended section of downhill, not very steep, but with lots of rocks…lots of rocks. These do not feel good under the feet at all. I was feeling lucky, however, because there was a thin layer of cloud. There was a fantastic lady 3.5 miles out from Cedar who was serving up ice and water (whoever you are, I love you) and she warned me that the next bit was going to be really hot. I made the mistake of saying “At least we have a little cloud cover.” This was a terrible thing to say; at that very moment, those wispy clouds disappeared from the sky and the sun decided it wanted crispy critters for dinner. By the time I reached Cedar, I was a sweat-fountain with a bum right quad.
Once again, Dara and Art rescued me with Powerade; they restocked my fuel supply, gave me my new maps, helped my untie my shoes so I could put on some less-sweaty socks, and gave me words of encouragement. Ian (most fabulous race-director ever) saw me on my way with a high-five and a reminder of where the heck I was going. I headed out toward Tub through a beautiful herd of horses who stared at me and didn’t even offer a ride. A little closer to Tub, I scared some poor cow that took off running across the road like I was carrying a cattle prod. She didn’t offer me a ride either; the nerve of some animals. The folks manning the Tub were wonderful…they restocked my water and made me smile (two things I really needed at that moment).
Between Tub and Oil Line, there was a long hill…I’m sure it’s not as long as I remember it being. I ran/walked up it. By this time my quad was in terrible shape and my IT band was punishing me for numerous past horrific events that I must have put it though. I kept stretching and trying to work the IT like Kym (best chiropractor ever) did, so I was not moving quickly at all. This may be why the large bull I saw sauntering along with his lovely lady cow didn’t stomp me into the ground with his dinner-plate hooves. He just stood there and watched me as I sidled by him like I had my back against a wall. I’m pretty sure he was just messing with me, but I was more than a little nervous.
The guys at Oil Line were super cheerful and added the much needed levity that helped me start out into the falling night. I got to see the most beautiful sunset from a high, flat section with the moon over the mountains to my right and the setting sun to my left. There was a stillness that struck me. I was along for as far as the eye could see. I stopped and stood still for a few moments…that kind of stillness sinks into your flesh and it helped settle my pounding heart and worries in my mind. Darkness fell quickly and I hit a long dirt road and, after a while, a low point. The IT issue eased up (thanks to Kym for the technique), but the quad was shot. It felt like I was dragging a deadleg around. I kept thinking about Young Frankenstein…”walk this way.” My mind started playing tricks on my and a few times I became frantic that I was lost (even though I knew I wasn’t). By the time I reached Boundary, I was frozen, unable to run, the moon was high in the sky, and my resolve was shaken.
This is where my husband’s skill at dealing with me came into play. He didn’t baby me, just sat me down in a chair, fed me, worked on the quad (which made me squawk and tear-up). Then he and Dara, who was equally unsympathetic to my plight, got me some hot soup and hot chocolate (thank you, awesome aid station crew), and sent me off into the cold dark night. They never once let me think that I wouldn’t continue. I’m pretty sure that if I’d tried to drop right then, Dara would have planted a foot in my rear and Art would’ve given me a solid push after making some sort of challenging comment to get my blood hot.
I am going to be honest here. Boundary to Moqui was a little scary. The trail was tight, rocky and not super easy to follow. There were all kinds of noises and my headlamp kept throwing weird shadows that made my brain scream “Bear!” I almost knocked myself out on a branch and spent some valuable breath cursing the insanity that made me set out on such a crazy adventure. I was never so glad to see that lamp and the glowsticks that led me to Moqui and some truly saintly people who gave me more hot chocolate and soup. Some other runners came in and we chatted for a little bit before setting out into the night again for the push to Russell where I would pick up Dara, my pacer. The section between Moqui and Russell was filled with the calls of elk and piles of scat that I missed stepping in and one that I didn’t. I was a little uneasy and kept straining my eyes to see the next trail marker. They were always there.
The strobe light and music pumping at Russell at 1:30 in the morning made me feel like I was at a cold, sweaty rave out in the wilderness that served more hot, salty fuel instead of LSD. Art stocked me up again, woke Dara up, gave me a kiss and sent us on our way.
I will say this about the section between Russell and Hull; it was NEVERENDING!!! I was pretty sure we were just going to wander in the woods for the rest of our lives. It is strange to run through unknown woods in the wee hours of the morning. I have run quite a bit at night, but this was different. The trail just kept twisting back upon itself, switchbacking up and down. The down was extremely painful. By this point, I couldn’t run. My quad had seized up, and I’m pretty sure I may have started whining. Dara may or may not have thrown something at me in response. I’m not sure how well I would have fared through this section without Dara. Again, I panicked a couple times about the trail. It seemed like we’d been going forever, like we should have reached some point that we hadn’t reached yet. Each time she calmed me and added up the miles with math skills that I was incapable of mastering at that time. I just kept thinking about Art’s words of wisdom from the night before: “It’s easy. Left, right, repeat.” Dara and I could hear the elk and the yipping of coyotes. And traffic…I’m pretty sure we could hear traffic for miles, but the long-looked-for FR 307 took forever to reach. When we did reach it, we discovered it was a long, and for me very painful, descent to Hull Cabin.
Art met us at Hull with fresh socks for me, fresh batteries for the headlamps, food, and a much-needed hug. There was even, luxury of luxuries, a bathroom!! This was very exciting after 80 miles. When Dara and I left Hull, the sun was beginning to rise. As we got back to the top of the very long hill (whose idea was it to put a hill there?!), the sun was huge and orange. While I took another nature break, Dara climbed (quite quickly) to the top of the fire tower for a beautiful photo of the sunrise. Seeing the sun again helped our spirits and wiped the sleep from our eyes. We felt a little renewed. Dara sang some rousing renditions of Rolling Stones songs and we headed into Watson Tank. That was more than enough to spur me on.
Hitting Watson Tank was a great feeling. I knew that it was the last time that I’d see Art again before the end. That meant we were almost there. We took our time getting some food and chatting with some fellow runners. The aid station crew was super helpful and gave Art ice to put in my pack. I left the aid station feeling light-hearted and fleet-of-foot, even though I still couldn’t run.
That feeling lasted for a couple of miles. I tried jogging a couple of times but it was awful to try to pull my right leg forward. So we walked, and walked, and walked and…well, you get the idea. I began to feel really guilty that it was taking us so long to finish. I felt like Dara was surely disappointed and frustrated with me for going so slowly. She wasn’t really; she was having fun taking photos of spiders and crazy trees. At one point I got a little dizzy in the heat and almost fell over. She made me stand in the shade for a minute, then pretty much said, “Move your ass, Mama. You’ve got this.” She put on some music for us. We sang quite loudly and with great talent to “Raspberry Beret”; I’m sure Prince would have been very proud of us. Dara pulled some incredible dance moves and managed to pop her blister in the process. I won’t lie; those last twelve miles were the longest miles I’ve done in my entire life. But with Dara’s antics and cheer and the thought of Art at the finish line, we kept on.
The young man at the last aid station at Reed Tank should count himself lucky that he didn’t receive very stinky, sweaty hugs from us when he gave us each a whole bag of M&Ms!! Delicious. Those M&Ms tasted better than anything EVER!! At this point, even Dara was started to get a little miffed at the circuitous trail. Just when we thought it was going to head under the road, it would take another turn…Oh the frustration! I’m pretty sure I was whining here and Dara was restraining herself from strangling me with my snot-crusted bandana.
Then there it was: the finish line!!! Dara urged me into the nearest thing I could get to a run, which was really a leg-dragging shuffle. There was this little ditch that I had to step over…I swear it was the Grand Canyon itself!! But there was Art and Ben and Bob and the glorious black mat over which I had to step to seal the deal. So with Dara behind me saying “You got this” I crossed over…and yes, I’m tearing up a little as I write this. What a baby. Ian handed me the belt buckle. What a feeling. I couldn’t have felt any higher if someone had handed me millions of dollars.
Art hugged me and kept me on my feet. I got my huge blisters cared for by a saint of a man. Ben gave Dara and me roses. Bob gave me an iced coffee. I gave Ian a sweaty, stinky hug. Life was good; it was even better when I collapsed in the back of the truck; Art had to boost me up in there.
So after all these pages of writing, what I want to say is thank you. Thank you to my husband and coach, Art. You have seen me through the two years of training that this has taken and the events in our life that have brought me here. You never once doubted that I could complete this race. You never let me feel sorry for myself. You drove from aid station to aid station and knew what I needed before I did. Knowing that I was going to see you at the aid stations helped me get there. Seeing you at the end was greatest gift in the world. I love you, Mister. You always push me to be more than I am.
Thank you to my sister, Dara, the best pacer in the world. This was your longest distance ever. When I asked you to do this with me, you said yes in a split second. You kept me strong when I felt myself weakening. You made me laugh. We sang together, hurt together, were tired together and finished together. That dark forest trail was no match for us. I love you, big-me.
Thank you to Ben and Bob. Ben, you’re the most delightful little guy ever and your huge smile and the rose at the end filled my heart. I love you, Bennie-Boo-Doo. Bob, you’re a trooper for taking Ben around all day. You brought me the most delicious ice-coffee ever. And you love my sister and Ben and make Dara happier than I’ve ever seen her for which I love you.
Thank you to my family, Mom, Dad, Dawson and Tara, Dee, Peter and Siena. I carried all of you with me in my heart. You were light as feathers and lifted me up. Thank you to all my friends for supporting me in all the crazy things I do. Thank you for writing those notes of encouragement. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for making me who I am.
Thank you to Jim and Beverly Todd for being at the finish line to see me off. It did my heart good to see you there!
Thank you to Kym Wilkens at Wilkens Sports Chiropractic for helping keep me in good repair for this race. You are amazing!
Thank you to all the volunteers who made this race so wonderful. You are fabulous people. Thank you for giving up your time to man stations in the blazing sun and the cold of night so that we could all run this race. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Last but definitely not least, thank you, Ian Torrence, for putting on the best race ever!! You are awesome. It was so great to see you out there along the course and those high-fives were greatly appreciated.