The Last Aid Station: Mountain Lakes 100

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by Randy Zuniga

Mile 96.6 of the Mountain Lakes 100. As I came up onto the last aid station – my hiking sticks clinking against rocks – I had one thing on my mind… Is my crew here with ibuprofen?

Whenever I thought about finishing my first hundred, I often wondered how I was going to feel. How would I feel going into that last aid station, knowing it was all but done and my belt buckle was only a matter of time? Would I be emotional with joy, or would I just be so over the race and be happy to be done? I did think the last aid station would be a place where runners prepared themselves for the finish. They had been on trail overnight so naturally they’d want to prepare themselves for the grand finish line photo op. Washing faces, brushing teeth, applying makeup, etc…

Ready at the startline. Photo: Teri Smith

Ready at the startline. Photo: Teri Smith

The start. Photo: Teri Smith

The start. Photo: Teri Smith

Mountain Lakes 100 is an amazingly beautiful course that starts and ends at Olallie Lake, Oregon. It runs through lush green forest, around pristine lakes, and on 60 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. The race is made up of two loops. The first loop, 26 miles, has good rocky technical sections while the second 75 mile lollipop has some good climbing late in the race.

The course has some roots hidden by the shin-level ferns that buzz with bees during the daylight hours. I know several people who got stung (which I managed to avoid), but I wasn’t so lucky with one of the roots. About mile 50 I hooked my ankle and twisted it pretty good.

Loop 1 of Mountain Lakes 100. Photo: Paul Nelson

Loop 1 of Mountain Lakes 100. Photo: Paul Nelson

Luckily I was only about a mile from Aid Station 9, Clackamas Ranger Station. Clackamas is like the Woodstock of aid stations: a spread of food that seems to go for thirty yards, tons of volunteers, bon fires, and what looked like a refugee camp made up of crew members.

My awesome crew of highly trained nurses and overall amazing women whisked me away to one of the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever sat in, or at least it felt like it. Warm layers were added, my ankle was wrapped, and chicken broth was poured into the fuel tank, followed by a healthy dose of ibuprofen. I was off again, 15 miles around the lake back to Clackamas for the last-chance meeting with the crew before the last 50K.

I was headed home on the stick of the lollipop. A small sliver of orange appeared on the horizon. The night went by with a blink of an eye and the rising sun didn’t seem to slow. The clock was ticking and my ankle was throbbing more with every step.

Little Crater Lake aid station at mile 61. Photo: Teri Smith

Little Crater Lake aid station at mile 61. Photo: Teri Smith

More climbing and more descending… I wasn’t just using the hiking sticks anymore; I was relying on them. The sun was up high and I was looking for that last aid station. Finally I got through a clearing in the brush and there it was…

The last aid station. The moment I had been thinking about for a long time. I didn’t feel anything emotional here, even though at this point I knew I had the race in the bag. My ankle was on fire and I was hoping to get more ibuprofen from my crew, but they had already moved on to the finish line. I looked around for some quick calories and a sip of electrolyte – it was time to go. I was there two minutes max. Most people flew through there quickly. With 3.6 miles left, people just wanted to get done. Nobody cared how they looked. Nobody brushed their teeth or washed their faces. At that point a belt buckle makes everyone’s photo op look great.

When I crossed the finish line, Race Director Todd Janssen handed me a Mountain Lakes 100 beer glass. He hesitated for a moment, then smiled. He knew what I was there for. He then handed me my belt buckle. It finally sunk in – I just finished my first 100 miler. A flood of emotions came over me. I did it! I got it! It’s done! I was on cloud nine.

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