American Lakes – between the first and second aid stations. Photo courtesy of Eric Lee.
Last weekend was the Never Summer 100k in Gould, Colorado (population 11). It was 65 miles, 13,000′ of vertical gain, and a whole lot of “oooh” and “aaah”. Josh wasn’t there for this race, as he was off on his own crazy bike adventure. Several URT friends were racing, and a few more were there volunteering and supporting us on the trail. Thanks Julie, Cindy, and Meredith for all your help out there! The Never Summer 100K course is absolutely spectacular, and for my ultrarunner friends that haven’t done this one, get it on your list for next year! The climbs are brutal, and the downhills aren’t much easier. Sometimes the trail isn’t much more than matted vegetation where the runners in front have tracked. There are not a lot of times to stop focusing on the trail and just run with a quiet mind. But I don’t know any of us that are out there because it is easy.
Somewhere around mile 15 as we descended from Lake Agnes down through the rocks, a woman behind me yelled out, “Anyone done Sheep Mountain?” She was referring to Sheep Mountain 50 miler out of Fairplay, Colorado. I had done that race almost exactly a year before and was pulled from the course at mile 48 after not making the time cutoff. It is a rocky course with a ton of water crossings and I really struggled. I remember walking across talus fields, and down rocky hills, not being able to run much of anything that day. This weekend, as the woman yelled out to us and I thought about that race, I realized that I was actually running down through the rocks. In fact, I had just passed a few people. I’m pretty sure I was smiling the rest of the way down to the next aid station, impressed with what a difference a year makes.
These thoughts of progress continued through the day as I leaped from rock to rock, or balanced across logs at water crossings. Back at Sheep Mountain I stopped before every single water crossing to take a few breaths, trying to control and fear and panic, telling myself that I could do it. Then after making it across I would have to stop for a couple of minutes to wait for the dizziness to pass before I could continue running. This year, I hardly broke stride…unless it was to try to find a better place to cross that might keep my feet dry (or at least less wet).
Never Summer 100k is a hard course. I mean really, really hard. It was by far the most technical race I’ve ever done. While I was happy to be able to navigate the technical footing, I did have moments that were pretty tough. Some of the early course traverses narrowly along a side hill with a decent drop off. I did get a little vertigo through this section and had to slow down for a bit.
As I discussed in my previous post, after a pretty symptomatic test run the weekend before, I was concerned about the night running. My hope was that after 14 hours my brain would be in a happy enough place that it would handle it, and this is exactly what happened. Coach Cindy managed to find a random pacer to stay with me in the dark. Poor Scott, at 20 years old, was no match for Cindy and Julie’s lies. Apparently they were filling him in on all sorts of inaccurate details about me, including that it was my birthday (nope, it’s in October), and when they finally got around to telling him I had a brain injury, he thought that was a lie as well. I’m pretty sure Scott was a little bummed when the girls came along rocking music on a speaker and I told him we couldn’t run with them because I couldn’t handle the noise. We didn’t get to chat too much; with the technical footing my brain was focusing too much to carry on a conversation. But Scott was good company for those last 15 miles, and I’m thankful he agreed to get me to the finish. He helped me on some water crossings, he turned off his light to stare up at the stars with me, and he didn’t let me sit down when I really wanted to sit down. Thanks Scott!
A year ago I wouldn’t have finished this race. I wouldn’t have even made it halfway. But a year makes a difference, and I finished in 19:50, as the 24th female. If you want to see more of the Never Summer 100K course, Eric Lee put together a great little video you can watch here. And yes, those Otter Pops at Ruby Jewel were gold!
Monday morning was a bit rough, with some disorientation and double vision. After a long nap, and a magical Coke (which a friend recently told me he calls “The Red Ambulance”), I was doing a bit better by the afternoon. I suppose just one day of being symptomatic is pretty amazing, after not really sleeping Friday and Saturday nights, running 65 very technical miles, and handling three hours of a winding car ride there and back again! Four days later, I’ve been out for a couple runs. Although my body isn’t completely recovered, it isn’t too far from it. I’m feeling good enough to look into logistics to do IMTUF 100 miler in September. Yes, I just publicly admitted that. And yes, clearly I do have a brain injury, and a short memory. Sadly, I don’t think the logistics of getting there, getting back, and finding crew/pacers is going to work out, but I haven’t given up on the idea just yet. If it doesn’t work out, I might try to go to the Bear 100 to help friends racing at the end of September.
One of the best parts of running for me is getting to see the progress of my recovery. Sometimes little improvements in daily life are hard to see. In running, the improvements are highly visible. Success in this race was HUGE!
If you are reading this and would love a mid-September road trip to McCall, Idaho, let me know. TBI to the next 100 miler!