By Christine Casady
I’d never run more than 50 miles. Ten days before race day, I switched from the 100k to 100 mile at the Tesla Hertz Run. Saturday, October 8, we arrived at the start at 5:20 a.m. It was an intimate race in an unpretentious location in Rocky Point, NY. The course is 10.4-mile trail loops, fairly flat, with a few roots but no rocks, making it not very technical. There were two aid stations: one at the start/finish and one at the turnaround point. Returning to the start/finish line every loop added the challenge of being able to easily quit any time the going got tough. The loops are a setup for racing without a crew with being able to access your drop bag every loop. After a brief motivational speech by Vinny, we started running right at 6 a.m. The air was crisp and headlamps were on.
The first loop was done at an easy pace as we learned the course. It was dark for the first hour, which was a good sneak preview of what to expect in 12+ hours. Completed effortlessly in 02:06:44.
Loop two was beautiful as the sunrise shined light on the beautiful trails. It’s in the basic rules of running to never try anything new during a race but I did. Following some recent advice I started taking in real food about every 20 minutes since race start. I never eat that early but I also tend to feel sluggish too early into a race so I was hoping to make a change. Doing so had me making a mad dash for the woods early in the game. Rookie mistake but resolved and without setting me back. Loop two completed comfortably in 02:02:43.
This pattern, pace and feel continued through laps three, four and five. During my fourth loop I noticed some slight pain on the top of my right foot. I assumed it was because I was compensating for an old reoccurring injury on the outside of my foot that I was trying to avoid flaring up. I walked for a second to realize that it felt much better to run than walk on it. That works! Sometime during lap five it started to drizzle and then an hour later it started to rain steadily. This never stopped. I knew I was going to slow down a little at some point and I did by just a touch during lap six (02:37:26).
A couple miles before the end of my seventh loop, I heard a loud male scream. Kinda scary when you are tired, slightly delirious and alone in the woods in the middle of the night. I knew there was a school close by and so assumed it was some kids messing around. Shortly after, I lifted my head up and my headlamp shined on a guy yelling and flailing off-trail out of the bushes. Of course my heart was racing but then I noticed his racer bib, which calmed me. He was very upset and yelling, asking me where the trail is, saying that he has no light. The runner was without a headlamp and had lost the trail. I grabbed his shoulder to put him back on the trail, told him that he was only about half a mile away from the finish and then went about my way. When I got to the aid station I told a couple others who went back out for him.
While I did slow down, I was still pacing well on my seventh loop (02:25:30). I predicted that as long as nothing went wrong I’d be able to meet my 24 hour goal, possibly 21 or 22 hours. I totally jinxed myself as everything took a turn for the worse.
As I started my eighth loop I realized that my right foot pain was worse and now I also felt a knot in the arch of my left foot! So now it was pouring rain, dark at 9:45 p.m. (which is close to my usual bedtime), cooler temps and both my feet hurt. So, for the first time during the race, I walked. I asked a guy in front of me if I could just walk with him for a bit. Little did I know following him would lead us off the main trail. Fortunately we saw others across the way and got back on the right trail. With that I realized I needed to trust myself to move forward so I continued solo.
A couple miles farther I was still walking and found that my mind was now dragging. I was exhausted, sleepy, and glossed-over. I found myself barely able to walk straight and my brain was “seeing things” in the woods. I realized I just needed to rest my brain, so despite the continued rain, I looked for a spot where I could lay my head down for 30 minutes. Just as I thought I’d found a spot, a light-colored mouse ran by my feet. EEK! Heck no, that mouse is not going to snuggle up to me! That gave me a tiny burst of energy to make my way to the mid-way aid station. There, the volunteer let me get warm and dry in his truck. 30 minutes later he checked on me to see if I wanted to get back out. I just growled and rolled over. I wasn’t able to sleep but I was warm and resting, which was difficult to leave.
Another 15 minutes later he let me know that there was a runner and his pacer who were heading back out if I wanted to go with them. I let them know that I couldn’t do more than speed walk and so we all started back together. The moment we started, they were running. I tried to keep up but at this point both my feet were so sore and now my right ankle was swelling and in pain with every bend. The runner’s pacer kept coming back for me encouraging me to try to keep up. I tried, but walking was my best bet at that point. Eventually I told him to go ahead and stay with his runner since he was his pacer. The kind pacer gave me a hug, apologized and left to catch up with his runner. A couple miles later a nice woman I had spoken to earlier stopped to check on me. I guess I wasn’t looking so good. As she was about to walk with me, behind her I saw a familiar face.
Me: “Peter? What are you doing here?”
Peter: “Hey! I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d come pace you to your finish!”
I was shocked and stoked that Peter had driven in the middle of the night from Philly to basically rescue me. As you can imagine, I was cold, drenched, exhausted and feeling discouraged so I’d never been so happy to see a friendly face, especially someone with a fresh brain. Important to also note that I knew that he had an injury he was nursing so I was not expecting him of all people to be there for me. When I asked him about it, he said “I’ve got 30 miles in me. Let’s go.” And so a new chapter of this journey began at mile 77 for me.
While we finished the eighth loop, I caught him up on everything and we learned what major mistake I had made which had my brain crashing so hard. I had been taking caffeine in every form non-stop since 6 a.m. I had been using a Clean Energy (caffeine) patch, Green Tea Buzz Tailwind and even my Honey Stingers had caffeine. So I was wired all day until about my eighth loop. At least now I understood why I was not just tired, but my brain had hit a massive wall. Duly noted for my next race: all caffeine consumption must wait until the dark hours. Between the hour I spent at the mid-way aid station and slow walking, my eighth loop was dreadfully long at 5:29:37.
After putting dry gear on, popping blisters (thanks Vinny!), changing shoes and fueling up we started on the ninth loop. A couple miles in I got the familiar feeling of my brain fading out again. That long rest I took was already wearing off. I warned Peter that I was going to need to rest again once we go to the aid station. Another 45 minutes was lost there but this time I think I actually got a little shuteye, which was what I needed. I was rested, dry and warm. Ready to undue all of that. On our way back we saw Cass, who was on her last loop, still looking strong and positive. I heard her encourage Peter to make sure to help me finish because she knew if I didn’t, I would really beat myself up. Of course that long rest killed my time for another loop putting us at 4:48:29. These last two loops took as much time as it did for me to run my first five loops. I started to question if it was even possible for me to make the cutoff.
Loop ten was filled with me complaining a lot, and Peter doing everything he could to entertain me and keep me moving forward. At best I would run a few minutes, then have to walk. Every time I’d stop walking, Peter would look at his watch then look back at me, saying things like “pain is temporary” which didn’t help with the mood I was in. He was always running ahead and I was always trying to catch up. He kept me moving forward despite both my feet being injured, and my right ankle continuing to swell up and turning red before my eyes.
Because I wasn’t being tested enough, the trails were flooded from the endless rain making it difficult to find places to run. Peter said as long as we made it to the mid-way aid station by 10 a.m., we’d be ok. So I pushed the best I could and we didn’t spend much time there. On the way back I was really struggling. Well, I’d been struggling for the past ten hours, but this was worse. My head was fine and I had the heart for it, but my feet were so beat up. I was walking on pain step after step. I felt the tears behind my eyes; Peter told me to save them for the finish. He got our good friend Beth on Facetime with me. It was a welcome distraction and a pick-me-up that lifted my spirits. At this point we were just a couple miles from the finish and I knew we were going to make the cut-off. This was the first time I’ve ever felt ok about “just finishing” since at one point I wasn’t sure if that was even possible. When we saw the finish and I heard the clapping and cheering, I mustered up everything I had to run the last 400 meters in. The moment my foot crossed the finish, my legs returned to walking and those tears that were waiting behind my eyes flushed out.
I wasn’t crying out of happiness. It was out of relief that not only did I finish, but that I could finally stop pounding on my painful feet. I hugged Vinny, Peter and then Cass. Except with Cass, I didn’t let go. It was a long, tearful hug. Like all trail races, we start together, I get ahead for a majority of the race and then she always finishes before me. This time she finished three hours before me. The fact that she got cleaned up, picked up breakfast and came back for me was the ending that I needed.
So that’s that. We did it! I didn’t finish pretty or strong, which still occasionally nags at me. But anytime I start to beat myself up for being in the back of the pack, I follow that up with the gratitude I have for having a friend like Peter to be there to help me reach my goal. I would have never given up, but I’m not sure I would have made the cutoff without him. I had almost DNF’d a couple times, but 29:23:02 hours, 104 miles, 19 hours of rain and two naps later I finally got my buckle! For my first time, just finishing was enough.
29 registered, 4 DNS, 14 DNFs and 11 Bad-Ass buckle wearers. I was #10.