These days my favorite way to sweat is by running! I may feel like Forest Gump from time to time, but my Miles For Lexi keep me running happy.
“Please don’t make me do it.”
Those were my final words as an official Superior Trail racer on September 7th 2013, 33 hours 27 minutes and 90.7 miles since I stood at the start line. With the chip still on my ankle and about a dozen sets of determined eyes staring at me, I sat in a slump of tears and I let Superior beat me.
The grim sweeper was breathing down my neck.
He was coming and I could feel it. There was no way I had time to stock up on aid and run 5.5 miles in less than 90 minutes to make it to Oberg Mountain (mile 96.2), the LAST aid station before the finish. There was a section of stairs and switch-backs that I heard was a bitch. A BIG bitch. (Ask Nick, he did them last year in the 50 miler.) The thought of making it to mile 96.2 and NOT making the cut-off was unimaginable to me at that point. I just had the most horrendous 5 miles where it took me 35-40 minutes to WALK the flattest part of the course. I was frightened to feel like that or worse if I continued on.
And I saw Stormtroopers.
This is not a joke. I did. I saw those black and white Stormtroopers from Starwars in those last few horribly sad miles, but my version of them were only 18 inches tall. I laugh thinking about them now… Damn birch trees! They, along with stumps, dirt and leaves all started to morph into something other than what I wanted it to - the Sawbill aid station (mile 90.7). Parking lots filled with cars, boats, limos, taxi’s, baby bears, purses…. You name it, I saw it. I can’t imagine what Lauren (my pacer) was thinking when I would ask about these visions. Dear lord, she must have really thought I turned into a looney bird.
And then Nick starting fibbing…
Although it was Lauren pacing me now since Sugarloaf (mile 72.3), Nick made his way back onto the course to help lead me in that last mile to Sawbill (mile 90.7). I’m pretty sure I called him a fibber at LEAST 20 times. He kept stating something about flat planks, a road and an aid station in less than a half-mile. It seemed like hours of more hiking, more uphill, more rocks and more roots and NO ROAD IN SIGHT. Stop talking about some damn ROAD screamed inside my head! “Fibber” I would whisper under my breath every few minutes; “I want the truth”, I cried! In reality, Nick WAS telling me the truth…
I was just in a state that couldn’t tell the difference.
When I finally saw the famous road, Nick said it’s “just though the woods, about a minute.” We crossed “the road” (YAH!) and then I saw more uphills. I think it was the word “NO” that escaped my mouth next in response to the uphill I saw. I honestly didn’t think I could go a step further. I saw a volunteer and I guess I asked her “how far is the aid station?”. Her response was “5 minutes”. That was WAY more than I could handle. I can’t do it. I didn’t say that, but rather turned around and started walking into the woods (off course in the wrong direction). I have absolutely no idea how that made more sense than continuing on in the right direction, but it seemed logical at that point in time.
Nick and Lauren promised it was less than a minute away and I then saw some people in the woods in the distance (or was this a hallucination again?) It was not. The cowbell rang as it always does when a runner comes through. I sat down, and turned to Nick (sobbing), “please don’t make me do it”.
I gave up.
I did. I’m not saying that I did it on purpose, and boy I wish I could go back in time, look myself straight in the eyes and say “just try”. (That’s what Annabel says to me now when I give her something like green vegetables. She holds them up to my mouth saying “try mommy”. Can’t argue with that!) If that didn’t work, I would shake me until I moved. At some point during those last 5 miles my mind and body got too focused on the finish line.
Rule # 1: Never think about the finish line until you have no more aid stations to go through.
I can now see this was a big problem for me at the end. I couldn’t imagine going another 12.5 miles before reaching that finish line regardless of the 90 miles I just conquered. I didn’t WANT to continue and that decision was made at some point before I reached Sawbill (mile 90.7). What I needed to do, was what I had been doing for the whole race. Take it ONE aid station at a time and continue to make forward movement.
What if I made the attempt to continue past mile 90.7?
I do not have the answer to this question now, nor will I ever. I saw, and personally experienced, the wonders of the human body and spirit on those 33+ hours. Just when every bone and muscle in your body aches to the point of it being unbearable, and you’re ready to throw in the towel, you get this burst and starting moving along again. Any forward movement on the course is good. It was really amazing to see this “burst” thing happen to myself, as well as to my superior family runners at times during the race. And maybe it would have happened again for me if I decided to take that chance and move onto Oberg Mountain (mile 96.2). Or maybe not?
I will say that although I used the words “I gave up”, I fought really really hard. You’ve heard the saying “you have to dig deep”, well I was digging. With a really big shovel. I remember saying something along the lines, “I dug so deep I almost pulled my intestines out”. Gross thought, sorry…
I will not let those last 5 miles from Sawbill to Oberg, or those unfinished 12.5 miles define my race.
So lets go back to the beginning. The morning of the race. I was SO organized (or I thought). There I was taking my morning, pre-race picture before I headed on the bus for a 1 hour ride to the start. Lauren and Nick were going to head back to the condo and get ready for the day. I said my good-byes and headed up the steps to find a seat on the bus. Crap! As I walked to an empty seat, I saw a race number. A race number! My race number! I didn’t have mine…
Although I pinned my race number to a race belt the night before, I placed it under something on the table because it had a “wrinkle” in it and it might not look good for a picture. For my blog…. I’m not lying, that is the brutal truth. I didn’t have my race number on that morning because I was worried that it might not look perfect in a blog post picture that I hadn't written yet and may never write.
So as I sat on a curb in front of the 2 buses waiting for Nick and Lauren to come back with my race number (we were staying on the property but was still a 30 second drive). I was cursing myself. The buses were 3 minutes away from leaving. I know this because John, the assistant race director, made it very clear. My race number arrived and I repeated my hugs and kisses again and headed the bus. I found a seat and was chatting with another first timer. We were laughing about my race number incident and I felt much more calm. John came back on the bus for a last announcement and we were heading off.
That’s all I heard. I have no idea what else he was referring to, or why he was saying it, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t have mine. I didn’t have my chip. No race chip = no race. Seriously Jaime? I ran off the bus and I franticly ran around looking for someone with a cell phone. Nothing. And noone at the front desk either. This can’t be happening! The condo isn’t far and I wasn’t giving up yet. Then I saw lights on a car. Nick and Lauren! They NEVER left me. They were waiting in the parking lot for the buses to leave, so when I told them about the chip, they scrambled back to the condo and I waited on the curb. Sad. I wanted to be on the bus, but the buses left me. They had to. They needed to get all the runners to start. John, the assistant race director, came over and hugged me. He offered to drive me to the start, but Nick and Lauren wanted to despite the fact they were still in PJs, had not eaten anything, had not even brushed their teeth! They drove me 1 hour to the start, waited there for 30 minutes, drove back to condo (hello, Nick had to carb load!) and made it to every single aid station regardless of this 3-hour detour.
That’s how I started the race. I started because of my rock star crew.
Up until mile 34.9, things were going pretty well…considering I just ran longer than I have in my entire life on the 14th toughest course in the WORLD. I was running on a terrain that I cannot find the words to describe, so I am not going to try. But I will tell you that I was tested physically and mentally with every step I took.
Coming into my first station that crew and support could come to (~mile 20)
My nutrition was solid besides the fact that I was always riding a fine line with dehydration due to the logistics of the aid stations. More often than not, they were 9-10 miles from each other. Doesn’t seem like much, but when you are running 2.5 - 3.75 miles per hour, its extremely far! It was also really HOT and everywhere I turned there were rocks and more rocks just sucking in the heat like it was water in the desert and creating what felt like a steam room. I can’t imagine what all the racers were feeling. I’m certainly acclimated to heat/humidity down here in south Florida and I was feeling it.
My first bite of real food - boiled potatoes!
I pee’d for the first time 11 hours into the race, and never went again. I had to go the second day, but I was afraid to squat in fear I couldn’t get up J
Just before the “first meltdown” incident (Mile 34.9 – 43.5)
I am pretty sure it’s common for most first timers. Not all first timers DNF their first 100-mile ultra, but many do (from what I have read), and most I’m sure have some sort of moment of “I can’t go on”. I had just made it through Tettegouche aid station (mile 34.9) and I didn’t exactly start off on the right foot when I left there. I had just spent the majority of the last 10 miles from Silver Bay to Tettegouche sandwiched between Steve and Allen. (Get your mind out of the gutter!) They were not first timers, and I really felt like I got into a groove with them. Steve was leading, I followed him and Allen was behind me. This wasn’t planned, it just happened. When Steve ran, I ran. When I ran, Allen ran. It was that feeling of “we are in this together”. We had moments of chatter, some Q and A and lots of silence. It was also a tough part of the race because you are past the marathon mark, but still so far away from the halfway point and you couldn’t even think about the finish line. You know what happens when this becomes your main focus…
So I left Tettegouche aid station (mile 34.9) - alone. For some reason, my pacers and I were not as speedy as usual. I looked around and Steve and Allen were gone and I didn’t see any of my other runners I had spent time with. And I also couldn’t wait for any. Why is this so bad? I was entering the place where I had to run 9 more miles solo before Nick jumped in and it was going to be dark. You need to bring the big mental guns for the darkness and I was questioning my ability to survive it.
My awesome crew I couldn't wait to be reunited with soon...
With my head lamp on, I entered into the woods alone, taking one more look back at my crew and volunteers. My awesome crew. The awesome volunteers. I remember being so thankful I had them and could not wait to see them again in 9 miles. I continued on in the dim light, dreading the moment I actually had to turn my lights on. At this point in the race, the 100 milers are really spread out on the course and the 50 milers don’t start until the next day so I knew I wouldn’t see many people out there. The rumors were also spreading about the number of racers who had already dropped out. I tried not to focus on that, but it was hard not to…
The sun went down.
And it was not just dark. It was black. Pitch black like you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. I know this because I tried. Just one time I turned my lamp off to see how dark it really was. Yup. Pitch black. There was another female runner behind me who I saw earlier in the race, and we were together for about a mile until I had to stop and fix my camelback. I thought I was only stopped for a moment, but…
I was suddenly alone.
I continued on with my power walk hike pace. I didn’t have my trekking poles yet, but I wish I did. The course was marked as it was earlier in the race. Enough so you don’t get completely lost, but not too much it takes the adventure out of it. The markings glowed when your light shined on them and when you saw a sign that had 3 “XXX”, it meant there was a big clif or something dangerous. Basically, don’t go in that direction! There were about 3 or 4 times I wasn’t sure if I was even on the trail anymore, but just before panic set in, I would see a marking and exhale.
I started thinking about the finish line.
I couldn’t help it. It was so freakin’ FAR away and I had already been on my feet running, climbing, hiking, crawling for over 14 hours. How the hell was I going to repeat what I just did TWO more times?? The darkness and the pain in my feet were starting to get to me, and I knew I was entering a very bad place. The next aid station was County Road 6 (mile 43.5) and that was where Nick was going to jump in to be my first pacer. I was more than halfway to that point, and that was when I met Josh.
I came up behind Josh and followed him for a bit until we swapped places and I led. Regardless of my pace, he stayed right behind me. We chatted a lot. Josh was suppose to run the 50 miler. But one week before the race his close friend Flynn (who was registered for the 100) died. Tragically. Here was Josh, trained for the 50 and was racing the 100. He was running for and in honor of Flynn. He was determined to get that buckle no matter what. And he was cheering for me to get it too.
The superior family.
(Side note) This is what is so amazing about this race. The people. I would like to believe that I am in the Superior family now despite my lack of a belt buckle. You do not race this course alone. You may attempt it without a pacer and without a crew (and many do) but you will have help. Even if you don’t ask for it. (End side note).
I was having a REALLY hard time and we were only about 1 mile from County Road 6 (mile 43.5). My pace had slowed to a slow walk and Josh got one of those “bursts”.
Rule # 2: You must take every opportunity and take full advantage of those “bursts” when then occur. Even if it means going ahead of someone you were just running with for miles. It’s part of the journey.
I will admit, I was sad and nervous about Josh going ahead without me. One, I was going to be alone in the dark, and two, I was going to be alone in the dark with my own thoughts… I had already mentioned to him that I wasn’t sure if I could go on after the next aid station and he must have sensed I was really considering it. It went something like this:
“Jaime, promise me you will not give up at this next aid station. You will continue on to the next aid station at the very least. Then you will have completed a 50. Promise me you will not drop out. Let them drag you off the course and keep fighting until they do.”
And off Josh ran never looking back. And just like many other racers I ran with, I never saw his face until the next day.
The official first meltdown (mile 43.5)
If you followed my race via Facebook, you may have heard about my “struggle” at mile 44 via Lauren. This was “that” struggle. This was the only (I think) aid station that was not in the middle of the woods. It was on a road and you could see your support from the distance. I heard Nick and Lauren yelling first and then I saw Nick standing there and cheering me in. He was all dressed in his long running pants, hat and head lamp on (yeah it was suppose to be cold!) He looked so cute J The only thing I was thinking was, “too bad you won’t be running tonight Nick. I know you were really looking forward to running in the night, but it’s not going to happen. Sorry, but you’ll get over it.”
I sat on a rock and cried like a baby.
But no one would let me quit!! It was kind of annoying at that moment in time, but I am SO incredibly grateful now. A really nice man (volunteer) stayed at my side along with Nick and Lauren as the stream of tears and all the reasons why I couldn’t go on came flowing out of me. I was waiting for someone to say, “Jaime you have done amazing and should be very proud of making it to mile 43.5, many people could never do that. It’s OK if you need to stop now”. But no one told me it was ok to stop. No matter what reason I gave, or doubt I had, they were going to push to keep me moving. Again, I am so thankful for that.
Rule # 3: The job of your crew and volunteers is to keep you moving forward no matter what. They will not let you give up or give you permission to do so.
So with Nicks full confidence in me, I decided to hold my promise to Josh and continued to the Finland aid station (mile 51.2). I made the cut-off at County Road 6 by about 9:30pm (cut off was 10:30pm) and I needed to be at Finland (mile 51.2) by 2am. It was less than 8 miles there, but it was dark and I still had doubts about continuing on after that. Nick and I headed into the darkness with my trekking poles in tow. I had absolutely no idea how to use them since I bought them the day before we left Florida but they certainly helped in most sections! As we ventured onto Finland, we also had to strip layers because it was still so warm! This was really crazy because I was prepared for very cold weather. And I wanted some cold weather, I had enough of the heat. Dripping with sweat in the middle of the night was not what I expected.
Entering the darkness with Nick
Was I really running through the night?
This was posted everywhere when I got up to the race
I was prepared to have a difficult time. I was told that you are really tested (mentally) through the night. The darkness, the sleep deprivation and physical toll really start eating at you. However…
I LOVED IT ALL.
Finland Aid Station
Once I got into my groove and came into Finland (mile 51.2) at 1am (2 am cutoff), I was ready to rock and roll. There wasn’t going to be another cutoff until about mile 80, so I just focused on one aid station at a time and it really worked. I wish I knew before hand, but this section was an opportunity to gain some ground. (However, it was dark and footing on this course is very difficult.). Nick hadn’t run this first section either, so we were both in the “dark”. I was never tired, which is crazy, and I was managing my pain very well with the exception of my feet.
Blisters. Blisters. Blisters.
I had them on both feet including one bigger than a quarter on the left ball of my foot. Every step I took, I was waiting for it to explode. My plan was to wait until mile 72.3 to take a look at them. That was when Lauren was going to take over for Nick. I had my pink compression socks on and other than the dampness from sweat, I was able to avoid any of the water and mud piles that I encountered. This would not have been possible if we had last years conditions, and I’m certain it helped many of us out. Which was nice of Mother Nature since she forgot to turn the AC on J
Last aid station in the darkness
The events of the night (miles 42.8 – 62.2)
Some of the highlights and favorite parts of the night:
- ~ Having Nick with me and the memories we created. What an adventure we had! I am so thankful for his supportive and loving partnership.
- ~ 2 falls. One involved my foot getting stuck between logs and then other was a slippery rock. No injuries though! Just a little shaken…
- ~ 1 bee sting on my right ankle. It really hurt but took away the pain in my feet for a few minutes. I am apologizing again to Mother Nature for the curse words that came out of my mouth.
- ~ Christmas lights, music, and support at the aid stations. It was so fun when you could spot an aid station through the woods. You could see the Christmas lights through the trees and hear the music blasting like it was a rock concert. The volunteers and crews were amazing (as always) and they made us feel like superheros.
- ~ A friend named Jess. This was her 5th ultra (first superior). She DNF’d her very first, but finished every one since. We chatted for about an hour during the night and mostly about her 12-year daughters feet. She is a ballerina J
- ~ The thrill of us being alone in the woods, in the darkness with wild life around us. And I was never scared! It was like I became one with my surroundings…
- ~ Dawn, just before sunrise. It was so beautiful because we had climbed down near Caribou River where there was a waterfall. But it didn’t last long because we were soon brought back to reality and what the superior trail is all about…
The climbing became relentless.
That’s the only word I could think of during these next sections (mile 62.2 – mile 77.2). Actually, it really is one of the few words that can describe this entire experience. But this section in particular – it. never. let. up. I am not sure if I could have done it without poles. Many people do, but I was really digging those suckers into the ground with each step up that mountain. It really never ended.
It took hours and my legs were getting beat up pretty badly. In addition to my feet feeling like a hammer had been taken to them, my legs felt like a truck drove right over them. It was much easier for me to turn this off during the night, but once we got into the heat again and I reached the 24-hour mark since I had started, I was hurting pretty bad.
Nick continued to stay behind me as he had ever since he joined me around 10pm. This was always our plan. I decided on the pace, and he pushed me when he thought I could handle it, and backed off when I couldn’t. He was also my reminder. He reminded me to eat on my intervals and drink. A lot. Now that he was with me, I didn’t have to worry as much about conserving sports drink because he was carrying a pack as well.
My camelback was really packed, too packed, we realized after the race was over. My neck and upper back were completely numb and any movement sent a sharp electric pain. (Still dealing with that now!) I was so happy when I was finally coming up on Cramer Road (mile 77.2) around 9:30am on Saturday, but also so sad because Nicks journey as my pacer was ending with me…
The second meltdown at Cramer Road (mile 77.2).
The shoes had to come off right then and there. I had waited long enough and my blisters needed some attention. But a big surprise came when those pink compression socks came off. It was if those socks were holding all of my emotions that seemed to have disappeared through the night. They came flooding out faster than what was inside those blisters. (Sorry gross again).
Rather than sitting on top of a very uncomfortable rock as I did 30 miles earlier, this time I was slumped in a chair, weeping. I now look back as myself at that moment, and I wish I could go back in time and slap myself in the face. “Wake up you fool! Big deal you have blisters the size of quarters! You’ve had those before, and you’ll have them again! Look at what you are doing and think about how many people in the world would love to have the opportunity to do this but can’t? Get yo butt movin’!”
I needed the pity party.
At that moment in time, I needed that moment. I needed to let go of everything that was being caged in my feet. I remember looking around at this aid station and seeing family and friends of other racers waiting for their loved ones to arrive. I could read their mind clearly just by the look in their eyes: “Is this what my son/daughter/wife/husband/friend is going through? Please say its not…” They looked like they wanted to come over and hug me. And they cheered for me as if I were their own.
THAT is what is so special about this race.
With Doctor Nick at my feet doing things he never could have imagined, blisters were popped, toes taped, moleskin adhered, new socks were on and shoes back in place. I went to stand up and there was a problem - I could barely move. To take a step was agony at best, even with the poles.
Rule #4: Don’t sit down during an ultra.
Yup. Broke that rule! I had many discussions about this. And more people than not, said don’t sit. Most, if not all, said don’t lay down. However, this race is very different than a 100-mile road ultra. I sat for the first time at mile 34.5 and it felt good. Really really good. The first few steps were tight, but those moments of rest seemed to helped rejuvenate me mentally and physically from head to toe. So that was my new plan. However, it really hindered me at this particular aid station. Most likely because I was sitting longer than I usually do because of my blisters.
She got me at a glorious time. NOT! Nick handed her the reigns and we were off. I would LOVE to know what he gave her as “advice”. I continued to weep as we left the aid station and headed back on the trail. But although I wanted to drop out (again), it didn’t last long. This time was different from the last time at mile 43.5. It was my FEET. My damn feet! The only thing I could think about was sitting on a couch, drinking a glass of red wine with my feet up. I was really really slow that first half-mile to 1 mile. It was as if I gave up already and was just moving so I could end it.
Then I thought of Lexi.
Lexi! I just thought of everything she has been through and I got a “second wind”. I picked up the pace significantly and I felt like I was flying. (Flying being a 20-minute per mile pace to put that in perspective.) I remember chanting under my breath about “not giving up”; “I got this”; “that buckle is mine”; “I will not give up”. This energy got me to the next aid station Temperance River (mile 85).
During the majority of the race there was a group of us (5-8 runners) that were always close to each other. Sometimes they were ahead of me, sometimes I was ahead of them. And sometimes we were together. We all helped each other when needed because we never felt great or felt crappy all at the same time. During this particular stretch I was just slightly in front of them. I was having a good moment. You have to take that opportunity when it presents itself because there are cut-off times!
Rule #5: Take it aid station by station, but never cut-off by cut-off.
They do not go hand in hand. You can be 1 hour early for a cut-off, keep the same pace or even faster and NOT make the next one. I knew this. But many near me did not. Many of my friends around me didn’t realize this. They were focused on the 5:30pm cut-off. Anyone that knows me well, knows I love numbers, percentages and math. I knew what needed to be done to finish and although I felt good during this stretch, it was not looking good for the rest of the race.
We were ALL walking a very fine line between a buckle and a DNF.
Lauren, Nick and I really wanted to make sure any of the runners around us knew what they needed to do for the next two cut-offs. We yelled times and paces needed to each of them when we passed eachother. It wasn’t the 5:30pm cut-off at Sawbill (mile 90.7) that was the problem, it was the 7pm cut-off (mile 96.2) that was the really big problem.
I made it to Temperance (mile 85)!
Although I had a good burst of energy during this section, the closer I got to Temperance, the more it faded. I am not sure if my “burst” was too much or if this was just a typical low. Long story short, I made it to and left Temperance in so-so spirits. A few minutes into this section, Nick came running to inform us of the pace I needed to average for the 90.7 and 96.2 mile cut-offs. I wanted him to throw me on his back and take me back with him.
This was the beginning to the end.
If you started off reading this by wondering how I got to that point of no return, well it was here when I started on THAT journey. These were those “last 5 miles” I refer to endlessly, but will not define my race by. I am not sure of the moment that I decided I was done, and I don’t remember making that decision. It was just there. In my head, in my bones, in my heart and in my feet.
“The climb” from Temperance to Carlton Peak.
This may have broken me. Not completely physically though. According to Lauren, I was climbing very well, it was the flats and downhills that pissed me off. (Check out the elevation chart.) I barely studied this before the race and I’m happy that was the case. Nick KNEW what I was about to embark on, but was smart enough not to tell me before I did. Straight up for miles and so much rock.
This is dangerous.
Of course I would say that, I’m a mom now! I am not sure how many times I said that during this climb, but according to Lauren (and my not-so-there-memory), I was surprised no one ever got very injury on this section. I also stated something about a “license” that was needed to be out there on this course. LOL.
Keep in mind this was moments prior to seeing Stormtroopers.
Fast forward and there I am again, sitting in chair saying my final words as an official racer on the 2013 Superior Trail Races: “Please don’t make me do it.”
And that is the end of my story.
No matter what happens in my life from here on out;
No matter what endurance feats I conquer;
No matter what buckle I collect or what ultras I complete, this will be always be my first ultra regardless of the ending;
This will forever be my first DNF but probably not my last;
This will always be a treasured experience as it’s important to fail in order to truly succeed;
This will continue to be a challenge, and I will continue with it until I have a superior buckle;
I will remind myself always that it is just a small part of a bigger journey and not the ultimate ending;
And I will always remember that my happy place is the place to be and that is what truly matters;
It’s where my heart spent most of the 33 hours, 27 minutes and 90.7 miles;
And I will always return there. Every day. No matter what.
Where is your happy place?
Eat well. Train smart. Live life