A Race Baked With Pain

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By Emilee Walker

“People actually do that!!” I spat when I first learned that people willingly chose to go run a 100-mile race through the mountains.

“WHY? I would never do that.”

I was amazed, disgusted, bothered, intrigued and envious to name a few. Meanwhile, in the way way back of my subconscious, I was secretly nurturing and organically fertilizing a little seed of will.

Maybe I could do that? But people who do that are crazy…and dumb. Maybe I want to be crazy and dumb. But those people are strong and determined. Maybe I want to be strong and determined. No, I could never do that…seems crazy….but maybe.

Fast forward 10 years and the reality of my 5 a.m. alarm was like that feeling you get right before you jump off. This is happening, there’s no turning back now. Mostly, I’m excited. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. This is what I’ve been training and working so hard for. But this is crazy!! All those 50ks and 50-milers seem like a joke now. This is an entirely different beast. You must be this tall to go on this ride boys and girls.

My crew (more on them later) and I leave the super classy Econo Lodge in downtown Logan at 5:30 and head to the start. Everything is set. My crew, who could fairly be compared to a Nascar pit crew is amped. They’re psyched. I’m psyched. Everyone is psyched.

“Oh shit! It’s 6 a.m. GO!”

That’s how I started, mid-conversation with my crew. But now I’m off and running and I’m here and this is really happening.

The first 10 miles are uphill. Everyone I knew who had done this race had warned me not to run that hill. I heeded their advice and settled into the conga line march. It’s hard to go slow, when you’re rested and ready. I had to calm my inner cheetah to not pounce and take down everyone in front of me. The words “you have a long day ahead of you” kept looping through my head.

After holding steady for over an hour, I reached the top and the first aid station, where I grabbed a banana to go. It was all downhill to the next aid at mile 20 where my crew would be waiting. Time to fly! Cruising down it felt great to turn my legs over and finally get out of the congestion. I was happy and free.

For the next 25 miles everything went perfect. My body felt great, I was eating and drinking well. I was making the usual ultra chit-chat with the runners around me. And I was in and out of aid stations with precision. Even the rising temperature didn’t seem to bother me. People around me were really struggling with the heat and exposure. When I finally did start to feel the heat I decided a full submersion in the river would solve that problem. I plunged into the river shoes and all and lay down belly up. Immediate resurrection. I was brand new!

I rolled into mile 45 and was met with my super charged crew. I was right behind the pro, Jenn Shelton and they were proud. I mean, this girl had a camera crew following her! I fed off of their confidence in me and rallied out of there. Only six more miles until the next aid and the halfway mark.

But those six miles would take me almost two hours, where my first bonk would make its appearance. It’s a four-mile climb out and I slowed way down. Bye-bye Jenn Shelton, hello self-doubt. Mile 50 weighed in super heavy. Only half way. I was straining to wrap my head around what was to come. My preverbal glass was definitely half-empty.

Thankfully I was welcomed into mile 51 by my overjoyed parents who had driven up to cheer me on, even if only for five minutes. And I’d be picking up one of my crew to pace, but I didn’t know who was coming first yet. Then I saw Allison ready to go.

“You’re coming first? Oh hell yeah, Girl. I need You!!”

The wheels were starting to fall off and Alli was the perfect person to put them back on. She’s a smart, wiry little firecracker, and we were going to have some fun. I’d lose the comfort of the light on this section so I grabbed my headlamp and a layer. Over the next 10 miles we screwed the wheels back on and settled into a low gear. I was feeling much better and still keeping a good pace.

We came into mile 61 in the dark. I expected to feel worse. I thought I might have a dreadful feeling about going into the night. But I was excited. This is what makes 100’s different. You run through the night. This is where it gets interesting and hard and you test your limits. This is what I’d been waiting for. There was a lot going on at this aid. I was surprised by my friend Mike whom I wasn’t supposed to see until mile 75. He’d come early, of course. I received hugs and praise from a few other friends who were crewing other runners. I changed my shirt, got what I needed to head into the night, and swapped Allison for Terry. Leaving that aid I felt renewed and motivated.

Terry might be one of the most focused and disciplined people I know. He doesn’t half-ass anything, It’s either 110% or 0% all the time. He ran this race last year and I had crewed and paced him. He was stoked to be returning the favor. And his energy put a little more giddy up in my step. For the next 15 miles I moved consistently and well. But this would be the section where I’d start to get oatmeal brain. Asking things like, “Is there a moon out?” when that lunar globe was visibly glowing in the sky. Zoning out but moving forward, that’s how I came into mile 75.

I was starting to feel it. Everywhere. Especially in my feet. They ached and I knew I had some blisters. We took off my shoes to assess the damage. Sure enough a lovely pink blister about the size of a quarter smiled up at me. Oh hello, so you’ll be joining me for the next 25 miles…great. While Terry patched up my new friend, I worked on getting some warm solid food down. This is where I’d be picking up Mike to take me to the finish. A seasoned Ultraman this guy eats 100’s for breakfast. I had a sense of security continuing on with him.

When I left 75 I still had a little gas in the tank. I was dangerously close to empty but kept puttering along. Then somewhere around mile 80 my English vocabulary was reduced down to only the word “OK”. I was struggling to think clearly let alone speak. Conversations went something like this:

“Em, how you feeling?”

“OK”.

“Em, Time for a gel.”

“OK”.

“How much water do you have left?”

“OK”

“The weather is awesome.”

“OK”

“What do you need at the next aid?”

“OK”

You get the idea. But, I was somehow still moving. Mike recognized that and didn’t want me to get sucked into the aid station at 85. The plan was to be in and out, no more than a few minutes. Dam whip-cracker. I just wanted to sit next to the warm fire roast a marshmallow or two, maybe have a sing along. But no, we were outta there. I barely saw my crew who were also exhausted and taking shifts napping. 15 to go.

The next 15 miles would prove to be the most difficult experience I could ever imagine. This is what you’ve been waiting for…yeah.. didn’t seem so awesome anymore. My body was beyond fatigued, my mind was fogged, and my feet….oh my feet. Basically, the power was completely off and I was running on some rusty old backup generator. I was feeling really terrible and I told Mike I needed at least 10 minutes in the next and final aid station at mile 92.

I staggered into 92 and bee-lined straight for the fire. I collapsed into a chair and closed my eyes. Everything hurt. My best friend Dagney who had been there all day sat down next to me. She approached me gently like I was a delicate sculpture that might break at the slightest wrong touch. I looked at her and allowed a single tear to escape the corner of my eye. I didn’t know how I was going to make it another eight miles. She just put her hand on my knee and calmly said,

“You got this.”

I perked up a little. I could do this. Now, apparently I became somewhat of a comedian for a brief moment here. Rattling off nonsense about how stupid but awesome this was. And how it was so dumb but I mean cool. I’m not entirely sure… but people were laughing and it made me laugh and so I got up and continued on.

One would think that only having eight miles left it would be in the bag. But no, this is the part where it got real. You leave the aid station and get slapped with the steepest climb in the race. I could barely put one foot in front of the other. At one point Mike turned to me.

“It’s about to get really steep here, you’re going to have to dig deep.”

“OK”

He found me some sticks to lean on and I inched my way closer to the top. It’s like taking that feeling you have right before you puke, and that feeling right before you pass out, mix them together, add a heaping scoop of pain and spread generously from head to toe. Mmmmmm that’s sounds nice, I think I’ll have some of that. At one point it got so bad that I had to go to my hands and knees. Mike simply walked back and scooped me up.

“Come on Em, let’s go”

As we crested the top I told him that I need to lie down or else I was going to fall down.

I crashed to the ground and lay staring at the stars. Flooded with exhaustion, I closed my eyes and fell asleep for about 45 seconds. But was awakened by Mike clapping his hands in my face.

“Party’s over Emilee, let’s finish this.”

The next five miles don’t need a lot of explaining…. It was a long painful downhill and I somehow hobbled my way though. The sun was coming up and there was that precious moment between darkness and light. I hadn’t seen another female runner since mile 50, hours ago. But suddenly two perky girls come bouncing down the trail and passed me. I didn’t care… I mean a little, but not really. I was stunned at how they were moving more than anything. Here I was barely upright and they looked like they were at mile 20, not mile 96.

Finally we got to the gravel road. From here it’s a mellow two miles to the finish. But of course everything hurts and it seems like forever. I asked Mike to tell me a story to distract me. He started on about something, I have no idea what. But it worked and there I was turning the corner to the finish. If there was some amazing insight or special realization I had as I crossed the finish line, believe me I’d share it with you. But, actually there were no thoughts. My friends and family were there and I smiled, and then it was done. I wanted my shoes off!

I finished in 26.44, 8th Female, 48th overall…..and yes, I will do another one.

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