Thursday, May 29, 2014

Born To Run 100K--My adventure on a California Ranch

Born To Run

Warning! I know my blogs are long ( Emir always tells me so) but this one is probably longer than usual but I hope you enjoy anyway!

Even though it has only been a little over a week since we ran the Born To Run 100K, it feels like it was ages ago.  A lot has happened since the race.  You know just a little 1700 mile road trip through 3 states in a campervan but you can read about that adventure here.  There is so much to talk about with Born To Run that the rest of our anniversary trip needs a separate post.

Our first time on Virgin Airlines
So our adventure to get to the race began early Friday morning at the Philly airport.  Normally I wouldn't include silly details about our flight however this is very running relevant.  There are constant jokes among us endurance athletes that use Tailwind about traveling across stateliness and borders with a powdery substance.  I even responded to a tweet from our friends at Tailwind wishing us luck the day prior saying "hopefully we don't get detained for having a suspicious substance in our bag!"  I'm sure by now you have guessed what happened.  First after going through the body scanner (which btw I thought they weren't using anymore), I got completely patted down and then pulled aside with my bag.  The friendly TSA man rifled through my bag and pulled out my Tailwind.  Now let me tell you that Emir being the super cautious, nervous nelly that he is, packed what we needed in the actual packaging instead of baggies like we normally would so it wouldn't appear "too suspicious."  The man just stood there holding the bag up and staring at it for what felt like forever.  He wasn't asking any questions but to move this along I tried to explain "Um yeah, we are endurance runners and are running a 100K race tomorrow and that is our fuel..."  Man just looked at me with a completely blank stare like I was speaking some crazy alien language with like ten heads and responded "yeaaaaahhh I'm going to have to go ahead and test this."  Being that it was just Tailwind, it passed inspection but the man I could tell had no idea what to think of me.  I know national security is serious however I found the whole thing extremely amusing and proceeded to immediately share it with my fellow Tailwind friends online and Emir and I laughed about it for a good while.  It was easier transporting Tailwind to Bosnia and Croatia than to California!  But then again it was in our checked baggage on that trip.

The rest of our trip to the ranch was uneventful.  Oh well except for the nonstop screaming baby the row across from us( I know I'm a mom! But this was REAL bad), an adult vomiting a couple rows from us (we did receive a free beer for our suffering ;-) ), picked up "wiser" ( our totally awesome campervan) and stuffed our faces with what I thought was delicious In and Out Burger (our first time!).
Our van "wiser"

As promised, we knew which gate to enter the Ranch through by the giant "Welcome Veternarians" sign.
"welcome Veterinarians"
On our drive to the camping/main area, we stopped to pick up our numbers and our shirts.  Then as we drove on we started to descend down a big hill and what we saw made both of us say "wow! This is so awesome!" in complete unison.  Down below were tons of tents, cars, RVs, vans and people.  It was a huge village of ultrarunners.  As we drove into the camp, we saw evidence of people that had been there at least since the day before.  
The Ranch
just a small section of the runner village
All the sudden there was a gunshot and a herd of half naked people began running straight for us!  Emir quickly pulled to the side.  We watched as the people ran for a bit then started spinning in circles and then sprinted up this super steep, big hills and disappeared.  Eventually they all came back.  It was very entertaining and then I didn't feel bad anymore about having missed the beer mile that took place earlier, at least I still got to see one crazy, weird race.  
Crazy people running some crazy race
Picking a place to setup camp was difficult since we had never done this sort of thing before and didn't know the exact logistics of the race plus there wasn't tons of choices since we were on the later side of arrival.  The spot we settled on was a little bit of a walk to the start however as it turned out, we would pass it every time we came back from a loop on our way to the timing area so in the end it was a great spot.  
"wiser" setup and ready to go
We setup "wiser", grabbed a couple beers and headed to the start area.  There was a wooden stage next to the start line, multiple vendors selling Born to Run items, some homemade items, a tattoo truck (yes real tattoos!) and a large Mexican food truck (best tacos and burritos!).  We had brought our chairs that came with "wiser" and settled in with the crowd in front of the stage to watch Metalachi play.  I wasn't sure what I was going to think of a heavy metal, mariachi cover band but these guys were awesome!  The music was great and they were hysterical on top of it.  It was also a crazy scene of people in any kind of costume you can imagine and all the other ultra runners drinking and dancing.  It made me smile to think how much fun we all were having and we didn't even get to our favorite part, the running, yet.  And of course gorging on In and Out Burgers a couple hours before wasn't enough we had to sample the tacos while enjoying the show as well ;-).  


Everyone enjoying the show
At  about 4:40 AM a gunshot went off and mariachi music began blaring over the speakers near the starting area.  It was time to get ready to run.  We got ready and made our way to the start area a little before 6.  The crazy party people from the night before had all transformed into crazy ultrarunners, ready to tackle whatever this race had in store for them.  

Ready to go! representing Cocogo, Altra and Teamwickedbonkproof
Born To Run offers multiple options: 10 miler, 50k, 100k and 100 miler.  The course consists of two approximately ten mile loops: Pink loop and Yellow loop.  Everyone except the ten mile runners started together with the pink loop first, 10 milers were only going to be running the yellow loop.  So as you probably have already assumed we would alternate pink then yellow until you reach whatever distance you signed up for.  Then 50k and 100k people had to run to a flag to make up the 1.1 and 2.2 miles respectively. The temperature was great probably mid 50s.  Luis gave us instructions and we all took our oath that "if we get lost, hurt or die, it's our own damn fault!" 

 I would think back to this many times throughout the race.  Next thing I knew, a gunshot rang out (This man loves to shoot a gun!) and we were off!

Emir and I were happily running, chatting and taking in the beautiful scenery.  It's crazy to me how this whole race takes place on one person's ranch!

I was feeling great!  After about 3 miles, I did sense that Emir was lagging behind me a bit but I thought he was still right with me.  I just let my legs go and take me how they wanted to.  I'm not sure when it was exactly that I realized Emir was NOT right with me.  It was at a switchback somewhere in the last few miles of the first pink loop.  I waved and called to him but he didn't hear me.  I was surprised that he was so far behind me as usually he would have said something to me if I was pulling away whether to tell me to slow down or just that he was going to stay behind.  I knew he wouldn't be upset that I didn't stay with him and actually took his "silence" when I pulled away as him saying "just go with how you feel, I'll be fine".  I had assumed since the day we signed up for this race that we would stay together as it is our first 100k and I was feeling scared about going that distance alone as was Emir.  However, doing the double Blue Ridge Marathon only 3 short weeks prior to this, really changed a lot for both of us.  We felt what it was like to go past the 50k, 40 mile and 50mile marks.  We worked through some really tough moments together and realized "hey this is really hard stuff we are doing but we can make it if we just keep going."  I stayed with Emir through the whole Blue Ridge because it was our very first experience like that and I was worried about Emir giving up if I left due to his stomach/fueling issues.  There also was really nothing to be gained by leaving him.  The double is an unofficial event so even though we received a double medal there are no awards for us even if you are able to run it in a good time ( not that I am speedy enough for that anyway).  So anyway my point is, unlike Blue Ridge, this time I was confident that even if we did not stay together, we would both make it.  I just knew how different Emir's confidence level was now and I knew he didn't need me.  We might be running partners and partners in life but we are still individuals and sometimes it's just as important to recognize that fact and each run our own race.
Emir had a great race without me :-)

Back to the race.  I finished the first pink loop feeling awesome!  I think I came in around 1:26, feeling strong and mentally wonderful.  I only walked one short hill that was a bit steep and ran the rest.  I came out of that loop thinking "wow this is not too bad.  Maybe I can do something in this race!"  As far as do something, I was thinking a decent time or maybe, just maybe a top ten in my age group but I wasn't too confident in that but I just wanted to have something in my head to keep motivating me.
As I mentioned, both loops finish in the camping area and runners are required to run through the timing area(which was where the start line was) before setting off on the next loop, otherwise they have no record of you completing the loop and it didn't happen.  Lucky for us, our campsite was on the way to the timing area after we would come in from each loop.  After my first loop, I stopped at "wiser" to grab my second handheld.  I had run the first loop with only one filled with Tailwind since it was only ten miles and not very warm yet.  Luckily we had left our extra handhelds, some water and Tailwind on a table next to the van because I realized that the van was locked and Emir had the key and he was not back yet.  There was a large group that had setup next to us.  One of the girls asked me if I needed anything and put some ice in my bottles since I didn't have access to the cold water in the fridge.  I was very thankful!  On my way to yellow loop, I saw Emir coming in.  We did a quick check on each other and I said "is it ok if I go without you?"  I knew what he would say but I still had to ask and of course he said "go, get out of here!"
I happily proceeded to my first yellow loop.  After about 1/4-1/2 mile, things started going up (as in long hills) and continued that way for a long time.  I started needing to walk more due to the nature of the inclines and knowing I still needed my legs to go a long way.  The pinnacle of yellow loop occurs over this ridge that is way high in the sky.  Tons of steep climbing to get there.  Then there were two sections of EXTREMELY steep descent, I'm talking the scary kind where you actually go slower than if you were climbing up because it's so steep.  There was a photographer at the bottom who just was making a continuous mockery of us runners especially those like me who are major wusses on steep descents.  He was yelling "don't give in to fear, ondelay!! Let's go!"  All I could picture was tumbling down and cracking my head open on a rock.  So this section definitely slowed me down however was worth it as it was an incredibly beautiful section of the course.  
top of the ridge
After my first yellow loop, I wasn't feeling as confident as after first pink loop because I knew I was a lot slower and it was a lot harder.  It was hard not to dwell on the fact that if yellow loop felt so hard the first time, what was it going to be like the second and third times?!?!

When I returned to "wiser,". Emir had setup a mini aide station however the sun had begun blazing and the temps were really rising so our water was getting warm and the van was still locked.  Trish as I eventually learned was her name saw me come in and ran over to ask what I needed.  She filled up my bottles with ice and someone else sprayed me down with water, felt amazing!  And off I went to pink loop #2.  

Pink loop #2 was definitely the hardest for me, physically but mostly mentally.  Pink loop seemed so easy the first time around but now I found myself walking a bunch of hills that I swear were not there before.  It was feeling so hard and I was feeling so slow.  I was mad that I was having such a hard time on what I thought was an easy loop.  Of course this led to evil thoughts of just wanting to quit at 50k which would be at the end of this loop and that I was sad and lonely and that I was stupid for thinking I was good enough to do something in this race and that it wasn't worth leaving Emir.  I was grasping for anything to get me out of the funk. 
Was hoping not to end up like this guy!
 I looked at my watch and I was closing in on the marathon mark.  Once I reached it, I realized that I ran a 4:36 marathon on trail that had at least one really hard 10 mile loop during my first 100k.  Ok that's not so bad, nothing to be sad about.  By the end of the pink loop I was starting to come out of it.  My friend was waiting for me by "wiser". She loaded my hat and bottles with ice and I got sprayed down again, it was like I was one of the cattle on the ranch!  While I was getting worked on by my impromptu support crew, I noticed tons of 50k runners just coming in from their second pink loop and heading out for their last 1.1mile. That was a real turning point for me.  I realized that I wasn't doing so bad, I kept pace with a lot of 50k runners and "hello! Just because it's hard for me doesn't mean it's not hard for other people too!!"
Not that the rest of the race wasn't hard, because Um yeah it was SO hard but it wasn't nearly as bad as that second pink loop.  Mentally I was so much better and I realized that some of my mental problems probably had to do with 90degree heat that had set in. I was surprised to see as much shade as there was on parts of the course since it is a ranch in Southern California but there were stretches that seemed like forever where there was nothing between me and the scorching sun.  The filling my hat with ice and chugging down cold water made me feel so much better heading into that second yellow loop that I knew in order to stay sane, I had to be better at keeping myself cool.

So I kept chugging along as best I could, drinking tons of water, tailwind, eating occasionally and pouring tons of water on myself in between the spray downs at aide stations.  I walked when I needed to which was really only long, steep hills.  Anytime I started to get doubts, I thought back mostly to the waiver I signed and the oath at the beginning of the race.  There were two aides stations that we had access to on both pink and yellow loops plus a large aide station and our own mini aide station back at camp so we had aide every few miles the whole race.  However, the sections in between were remote, not accessible by vehicle not to mention once the 50k ended I only occasionally encountered a fellow runner,and I did not see Emir again the entire rest of the race.  These instances brought me right back to the "it's your own damn fault."  And I instantly knew what Luis meant.  If I sat down and quit, nobody was going to come get me.  Hell no one would even know I was out there for hours so I would need to make it back to an aide station or camp anyway.  I didn't really want to stop but this was definitely good motivation to keep pushing myself along. 

Eventually I made it to my last lap. Trish asked me what time I thought I would finish.  Given I still had 12 miles and 10 of which were yellow loop hell, I said 3 hours, maybe a bit more. I was at exactly 10 hours so 3 hours would put me at 13 hours.  I was thinking I would love to break 13 hours, just seemed like a good sounding time to me, but I wasn't feeling too confident about it.  Halfway through the last yellow lap, I was doing well and maintaining pace to come in at 13 hours. I felt good.  Then came the ridge.  Ugh the 3rd and last time really killed me.  The two miles in that section really set me back as far as time and just physically overall.  
happy that I made it to the top of the ridge for the third and final time

I was down and it was SO HARD to start running again each time I had to stop to walk a hill or at the last aide station.  Feeling a bit sorry for myself I eventually made it to "the crossroads" as I referred to it.  On yellow loop you go through this intersection of trail twice and once on pink.  After being here so many times that day, I knew it signified camp was maybe a bit more than a mile ahead.  All the sudden I just started flying (relatively speaking when you are on mile 59!).  I felt great and continued to fly right through camp, through the timing area right on out to finish the most annoying 2 mile out and back ever! ;-).  My pace on mile 59 by the way was 10:30.  It made me so happy that I continued busting it those last two miles, not as fast due to hills but no walking at all.  As I came through the finish I looked down and 12:57!!  I couldn't believe that I made it under 13 hours after how slow I was on that last tour of the ridge!  Even more amazing to me was that Trish was there cheering for me and gave me a huge hug!  She knew that I didn't have anyone else there aside from Emir who was still running.  I know I will never see her again but I will definitely never forget what she did for me that day.  Not only the constant supplies but the mental support including always letting me know how Emir was doing and about how far behind he was.  I told her over and over but I still don't think she understood just how much that truly meant to me.
After getting to choose my finishers necklace and the men in the timing tent kept reiterating how well I did (I was grateful but kept thinking ok thanks, I know I didn't do that great but it was my first and I finished), I hobbled over to "wiser" who of course was still locked!  My support crew invited me over and handed me Mac and cheese and beer (seriously I love these people!). They were asking me all kinds of questions as most of them ran the 10 miler and the couple of them that ran the 50k, it was their first.  They just couldn't wrap their minds around running as far as I did which surprised me since we were at an ultra event.

After a bit I saw emir coming into camp, I jumped (well ok struggled up) out of my chair and started yelling. He said he was good and threw me the keys.  I knew he would be a bit longer to do his out and back so I took care of some business and waited for him at the finish.  While waiting a bunch of people talked to me. Whenever I said I was waiting for my husband to finish the 100k, every single person assumed that I had run the 50k and were shocked when I said that I ran the 100k.  I kept wondering why that was.  Was it because I didn't run with my husband or because I was a girl and he is a boy and I was faster?  Whatever the reason everyone told me what an amazing job I did which again I felt grateful but not like I did something so amazing.

I was so happy when I saw Emir coming through the finish.  He finished at 13:44.  The day was not a success until we both crossed the finish. I just felt very proud of us.  This was a major goal for us and we normal, average people did it.  It was time to celebrate!
Morning after,  Totally slept in my race kit and proud of it ;-)
There was already the second live band playing on stage so we grabbed our chairs, beers and of course tacos and burritos and set up shop.  The band was great, the crowd was pumped.  Those that could stand (I suspect 10milers and 50k'ers) were dancing like crazy.  Despite my fatigue and not going to lie, leg pain, it was a great time.  Periodically until we went to bed, we would see 100 milers coming through from finishing a loop and heading out onto the next.  Everyone would stop dead in their tracks to scream for them.  With how I felt after 6 loops on that course, I just couldn't fathom 4 more especially in the dark.  Then in the morning when we got up, we witnessed multiple 100 milers finishing.  It's so crazy to think about how they ran all day like we did, through the night and into the morning.  As daunting as that seemed at the same time it was an invaluable experience for us to run with 100milers.  Aside from the lead few, most were very similar pace as Emir and I.  They ended up running 100 miles in the 24-27 hour range.  While I don't think I could do that right now, with some additional training it definitely feels like a much more realistic goal now.
my finishers necklace.  the second one was given to me by the man who makes them for finishing my first 100K
After housing 3lb breakfast burritos, it was time to go.  I definitely would have been more sad if we weren't leaving to embark on a crazy 3 state road trip, I just wasn't ready for things to be over.  Born To Run is definitely a one of a kind event. I loved the atmosphere and camaraderie it created amongst the runners.  It definitely highlights the things us crazy ultra runners have in common.  We love to run hard but we love to have fun and party hard too all while demonstrating the utmost support and respect for each other no matter what.  My only regret is that we didn't plan to arrive at the event sooner.  I didn't realize how many people would be there since late Wednesday/early Thursday.  I also thought we would have plenty of hanging out party time after our race which thinking about it now, I don't know why I thought that.  By the time Emir finished it was closing in on 8pm so while we had a couple hours of fun, we just felt like we didn't get enough of the whole experience.  

Luis has already announced that next year they will start the 100miler at 6pm Friday night which I think is way better so that way they can finish with a big crowd hanging around and have a chance to enjoy music, food and drinks.  He has also announced a 200 miler that will start on Thursday, that will be alot of loops!!!

The course was difficult, I think I accumulated somewhere between 7500-8000 feet of ascent but it's beautiful.  The terrain is extremely runnable and despite the claims of some that got lost, I thought the course was very well marked.  If I didn't get lost running alone then no one should ;-).  Despite Luis's "bare bones" claims the aide stations were certainly frequent enough and more than well stocked.  Aside from the typical liquids and foods (pb&j, potatoes, cheese quesadillas), there were smoothies of all kinds of crazy fruits let alone chunks of any fruit you might desire.  All aide stations were well stocked with ice, cold water and sprayers. With such great aide, I was also able to dump water on myself periodically knowing I would be able to refill soon.  It's definitely a race I would love to do again, if it weren't across the country!!! Maybe Emir and I should create our own PA version ;-)

Ahhh so what now?  Well as soon as I finished, despite constantly wishing the race was over while running it, I just knew I will definitely be doing 100Ks again in my future.  Then when I found out Monday when the results were published that I actually was the 3rd female finisher overall (what?!?) I was like "OMG I totally have to do more races like this!"  Yes sometimes I turn into a valley girl when I'm excited.  I literally could not believe it when I saw it.  Then things became more clear why people were making a big deal that I had done the 100k and was waiting for Emir.  It was because most of the runners were still out there, wow!  Ultra running is a crazy world.  Just when you are feeling pretty crappy and think you are doing crappy, it's like hey "remember you aren't the only one feeling crappy out there!  It's hard stuff!"  It also has been an interesting transition from 50k runner to now 50+ miles runners.  Yes 50k is an ultra and more than a marathon and in the grand scheme of things not a ton of people run them.  However, now once again I feel as though I've gone through some transformation and now that I've run these distances I actually feel like a true ultra runner. I haven't set anything in stone yet as far as upcoming races (except Philly Marathon in November) but I do know that ultra running is something I not only want to keep doing but I need to keep doing.
enough said!


  1. Thank you for the detailed report! I so enjoyed reading it and will likely be back again to read it again! I was cheering for you and Emir the whole way and - even though I knew the ending - I found myself getting excited and emotional. Nice job running and writing!

    1. Thank you Paula! I truly appreciate your comments! 😃