Goal number 1 -have fun. For me, in a race, fun means working hard, managing hydration and nutrition, managing a sustainable effort, enjoying the scenery and all the runners out on the course.
The first half of the first loop, dark morning turned to dawn, and over the gravelly path I wound my through runners, gradually, relaxed. I passed Sally McRae, who spoke positive words “Go Meghan! You know what you’re doing!” Oh, maybe.
At the first aid station I topped off my water, and headed out. I was in close proximity with Amy Rafelski, and was soon passed by local runner Colleen Langley, with a male runner carrying a microphone on the end of long mount. They chatted so easily it almost seemed they weren’t actually in the race. However, in another mile or so, i had closed the gap back up, and upon approaching, they parted left and right, and I commented “I guess I’m threading the needle!” And so it continued over the next few miles, back and forth, with Amy as well.
This section was rocky, and all of it a gradual uphill. Runnable, with visible runners ahead, making me peer further ahead and not seeing the next aid station, and waiting to “have fun”. Finally into the Jackass Junction aid station, the apex of the loop, I topped off my bottles, and headed back out.
As I left, Jamil “Jam Jam” Coury yelled words of encouragement. I thanked him, and reminisced my time with him in the Hong Kong 100k. Now the surface smoothed out like butter. It was a gradual downhill, and I was finally feeling a nice groove come over me. I found solace in being alone, more able to focus on my effort. I asked myself over and over “if I were in Western States, in the first 20 miles, is this the effort I would be running?” And my answer was yes, I was staying in control.
I reached the last aid station of the loop, Rattlesnake, resupplied, and hit the last section of this longest loop – one that we would not be repeating. It was quite rocky again, but I kept relaxed, mindful of staying in control. At last at the end of the loop, I trotted through the pop-up tent and fan/crew lined “J” shaped out and back section to the start/finish line, and upon seeing my crew, dropped my bottles, ran across the finish line, and looped back to the Squirrel’s Nut Butter tent, where Steph, Heidi, Matt, and Craig were all ready to get me resupplied and on my way. “What place am I in?” I was a bit stunned to hear I was in 3rd. My overall pace was good, around 9 minutes, I felt good, in control, and ready to keep the race going.
With fresh bottles and ample gu, I headed out on lap two in the opposite direction of lap one, minus the rocky section (we only ran in the first loop for distance) I was unable to see the leaders and get a sense for where I was relative to those ahead. It was heating up a bit, but my hat with the neck shade was offering good protection. The grade was subtle and runnable. I caught up to a male runner who told me he had managed to make unfortunate contact with the cholla cactus. That was one goal I really hoped to achieve, as in NOT making contact. I reached Rattle snake aid station, topped off my bottles, and was out quickly. Now I was being greeted by runners still finishing their first loop, as well as the 100k runners who had started an hour after the 100 mile. It was distracting at times, wishing runners good luck, thanking them in return for their good wishes and on occasion seeing someone I knew.
I was about 5 or so hours into the race now, and realized I was struggling to put gu in my mouth. I sipped at my energy drink, drank more water, doused my arms and face. I was feeling nauseous, so I took a salt tab. When I reached Jackass Junction (about 33 miles) I didn’t take the time I could have to slow down and get some food down. I did use the sponges of ice cold water to get myself very wet, and trotted out, again going against a lot of traffic.
This section had kept me quite alert on the first time around as a climb, but now going on it in a slightly downhill grade really had my attention. Rocks were loose and copious, so I fairly danced through the next 6ish miles. Even though the general lay of the land is flat, the trail dipped and rose enough that the aid station seemingly popped up from nowhere. I was happy to see it, and managed to drink a few cups of soda to get some calories and some pep back. I sponged again, and then happily headed back the last 4 miles to the start/finish. I soon saw race leader and friend Patrick Reagen running efficiently and lightly, and with about a mile to go, Kaci, followed shortly by Camelia Mayfield came running towards me. We all gave support to one another, and finally I was back to the start/finish.
Telling Steph I was having trouble eating and that I was nauseous, she gave me sound advice on keeping up on the salt and that nausea can be the result of an empty stomach, so keep trying to get something in. Heidi handed me a chocolate milk and some orange soda, and changed my vest while Craig and Matt filled the back with ice. The second loop took about as long as the first, even though it was 3 miles shorter.
Back around the “J” and onto the loop in the 1st direction, I saw Sally and Colleen both coming in. We cheered each other on, and in moments I saw Amy and Denise Bourassa. Suddenly I felt my feet start to go numb, and my calves began to seize up. Oh great. I am not known for cramping, but every now and then, I let something slip in my race day, and pay for it. Then my right quad cramped. I looked at it, and saw something resembling a snake under my skin. Forced to walk (probably lucky to do that even) I kept moving forward, and grabbed another salt tablet. Behind me a gentle voice said “Hello Meghan Laws! How are you doing?” I asked who it was, and the answer was Mallory Richards – someone I hadn’t yet met, but had heard of. “Well, I’m cramping at the moment, but otherwise okay! Let me know when you want around!” She declined at first, but as the trail widened she scooted by effortlessly suggesting that I would no doubt catch her again. I was thinking “doubt”.
I finally fought off the cramps, and grinded my way along back to Coyote Junction, walking some of the sandier sections. I really knew I had to focus on getting in at least 300 calories at each aid station, so when I arrived I took the time to have some soup with potatoes in it, and more soda, some watermelon and some banana. I sponged down again, and headed out to the long rocky section. Runners were coming and going in both directions, a few in Halloween costumes. Greetings were constantly being exchanged. It was hot, but not unbearable by any stretch. I kept thinking how great it would be to finish the 3rd loop and then be able to have Heidi pace me for the last 2.
Jackass Junction, take 3, was roughly halfway through the race. My watch showed well over 8 hours, so my goals for a 16 hour finish were definitely gone. But hey, maybe if I start feeling better, get more calories in, and reverse the slow down I was currently in, maybe 17 hours was still on the table. I sponged until I was soaked, feeling pretty blissed on the cold water. I had a cup of ramen, some watermelon, some soda, and left with Colleen on my heels. I let her go around and she declared this 3rd loop the “survival loop”. She was surviving better than I and it wasn’t long before I lost sight of her. Soon after that Patrick ran towards me with his pacer Zach Bitter, just cruising.
As much as I love the ultra running community and camaraderie, I was getting exhausted by the greetings and good luck exchanges, as I can imagine most of the runners were. With a good mile to Rattlesnake aid station, Kaci came running towards me, on her 4th loop, looking simply amazing, running strong and full of joy. When I arrived at the aid station, Camelia had also just arrived on her way back out, with her pace Sarah Bard. I asked her how she was feeling, and she said “Like I’ve run 65 miles of a 100 mile race”. Those numbers sounded a bit daunting and I wasn’t even that far yet. We wished each other good luck and headed in opposite directions. This time when I returned to the start finish, I sat down in a chair and stated “I am failing at nutrition!” Heidi handed me a chocolate milk. Steph handed me a bowl of hummus and spoon. The chocolate milk was so delicious, I drank another. I ate bite after bite of hummus before I realized it was spicy hot, and thought it prudent to stop, but I was pleased with how much I had gotten down. And now having Heidi along for the ride, the journey would become a better experience.
When we hit the trail I made a confession. “Heidi, I’m not having fun. And it bums me out because my number one goal is to have fun!” Some may argue that nothing about running 100 miles sounds fun, but fun for me means running strong, running with confidence, taking care of my nutrition and hydration, and most of all enjoying the movement of running. Reap the benefits of the training. But sometimes we fall short when we don’t stay on top of problems, or acknowledge them too late. And not every race is golden. I asked Heidi to be sure at each aid station to help me count out the calories and be sure I ate them. And finally I confessed my lack of enthusiasm for the ongoing cheerleading and asked her if she would please take over for me. And like a champ, she did it all. Cheering on the runners, while I managed two thumbs up.
Back at Rattlesnake, I drank soda, and grabbed pieces of banana, and had my bottles filled. And I practiced walking out while eating instead of trying to cram food down while running. Dusk fell, with beautiful silhouettes of saguaro cacti looming all around. The air began to cool, and I began to get very hungry, which made me very excited. I told Heidi I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich at Jackass Junction if they had them. Dusk turned to dark and we were alerted by some runners ahead that there was a tarantula on the trail ahead. I was quite excited by this prospect and was not disappointed in seeing the large, hairy, arachnid.
We reached Jackass Junction and the party was happening. Disco lights were going, dancing was happening, but I was intent on finding grilled cheese, while Heidi got my bottles filled. Luckily I scored, grabbed the sandwich and walked out, washing it down with gatorade, something that would normally not be appealing but apparently it was what I needed.
I warned Heidi about the upcoming rocky section, and we fairly picked our way through it. Ahead we could see a massive number of headlamps coming towards us and realized it was the final race of the weekend that had started at 6:00 pm, for one loop. The good news was we didn’t need as much of our own light, but the congestion was a bit overwhelming at times. I kept thinking we would surely be seeing Kaci any moment, and thought it would be challenging for her to be suddenly running in a new mass of racers. We finally saw her before we reached Coyote aid station, still looking very good. As far as the eye could see, more headlamps dipping in and out of view with the terrain, and even though it was well lit, the aid station suddenly popped into view. Camelia was just leaving, and I ate more ramen and soda, and we were on our way back to home base again. About 2 miles to go, and I hear my name again, and this time it was Sally passing smooth and strong with her pacer. I cheered her on, and also commented she was sure I would be coming back to her. I sure didn’t think so, unless she fell apart, which did not seem likely. My 17 hour dream became an 18 hour dream.
Now at the turn around for the last time, I was resupplied, had more chocolate milk and soda. Steph walked with us on the long “J”, and as we reached the trail, Sally came up behind us, having taken a longer break, but was quickly ahead of us and soon her lights blended in with all the others. I kept the honest effort going, albeit slow. When we reached Coyote, I got more ramen, and actually sat down in a chair next to one of my locals, Chad Long, who was running the 100k, and his pacer Farmer Tom. We commiserated for a bit, then went in opposite directions. Another woman passed me as we left, and I said to Heidi “You know Heidi? Whatever! I want to enjoy this, so lets walk for awhile and enjoy the stars!” We hiked along, enjoying the immense sky dotted with sparkling luminaries. I pulled out a gu, got it down with no problems, and felt myself wanting to run. And then I said “You know what I hate Heidi? I hate that gu works. Because now I want to run.” And so we ran much of the way to our last time at Jackass.
Upon arriving there, our good friend Scott “Monkey Boy” Wolfe was there, attending to another good friend whom he was pacing, Laura Matz. She was struggling and overcome with the cold temperatures, was recovering in some warm clothes. Monkey Boy gave us encouraging words, and even suggested we might want to try some disco dancing after I bemoaned that I wasn’t really having fun. Laura in the meanwhile had gotten up to greet us and get ready to go. She indeed looked very cold and said “It is going to be a very long night!” I gave her encouragement and knew full well she would get it done.
My watch showed 17:40.. We had 9 miles to go. “Okay Heidi, we have 1:20 to break 19. Let’s see what we can do!” And off we went, running better than I had for hours. It was the most enjoyable section of the trail to be sure, and while it felt like we were flying, in actuality I wasn’t breaking 10 minute miles. We arrived at Rattlesnake for the final time, didn’t stick around for long given the close proximity to the finish, and pretty much jogged out. I was tired, and in “just finish” mode. My watch had died, so had no idea anymore of my time. When at last we reached the lights of the finish, I kicked it in for a time of 19:07.
I gratefully sat with my crew, while Heidi went to get my finish line clothes. Steph had gotten me some pizza, which I wasn’t really able to consume just yet. I looked at Craig and said “One and done!” He laughed, a little surprised. I told him I realized that if I am going to run 100 miles on the trails, I want to go somewhere. Either a giant loop or a point to point or one big out and back. And while the desert does have its beauty, I didn’t find it inspiring, and that is just a personal preference. The race organization is spot on, the volunteers were fabulous, the aid stations were stocked with everything, but the course just didn’t speak to me. I do think it would be a fun one to crew and pace. And yes, I’m disappointed in my performance. I paid for my lack of a timely reaction to trouble eating. But there is always something that doesn’t go quite right, and thankfully I came away healthy!
Many thanks to Aravaipa Running for putting on such an amazing and well organized event! I was in need of nothing more from the volunteers than they provided so amply. Thanks to my sponsors The North Face, Injinji Socks, Squirrel’s Nut Butter, Nathan Sports, and Now Foods. Thanks to Heidi McKeen, Stephanie Howe, Craig Thornley, and Matt Keyes for crewing and pacing. And finally thanks to My King, Mark, for holding down the fort and keeping the farm alive whilst I cavorted around the desert!