It was nearing 4 a.m. on June 21st and I was ready to go: shoes on, bug spray and body glide applied, watches set, pack filled. All I had to do was get out of the chair, hop in the car, drive the 10 minutes to the start line and run for the next 24-25 hours or so. That was it.
“Are you OK?” my friend, Erin, asked me.
“I should’ve dropped down to the 50,” I replied.
It was the longest day of the year and I was about to run my second 100 mile trail race at Mohican, the same location as my first 100 last year and I had every reason to have dropped down in distance. In the months leading up to the race, I broke up with my boyfriend of the majority of the last seven years, started a new career, moved to a new house and neighborhood, started dating again and just had so much life stress that I’m sure anyone would have understood if I had either not started at all or dropped to the shorter distance.
But I was running and racing well, setting new PRs in the 50K (road and trail), taking second at one race and two other top ten finishes. I nailed almost every single workout my coach gave me and my long run paces were strong. Physically, I was ready for 100 miles. Mentally, not so much.
Erin gave me some encouraging words and I was on my way. The morning was foggy, humid and a light rain was falling. I huddled under a pavilion near the starting line with the other 100 mile runners (about 200 or so started the race to my knowledge and the finisher rate is around 50 percent). I talked to a few runners I knew from Northeast Ohio, giving a little advice to an acquaintance running his first Mohican 100 and third 100 miler.
Shortly after a few more bathroom stops, talking to another friend from back home and a few prayers, we were off into the darkness. The race starts out on a road through the campground to thin out the crowd before picking up the singletrack mountain bike trail. I counted three women ahead of me including Connie Gardner and Anna Weisbrodt, who had taken first and second ahead of me last year and the third, I didn’t know. I assumed there was probably one more woman I couldn’t see and that as we got onto the trail, I was in a comfortable fifth place. With the rain and humidity, I wanted to take it slower, but still be aggressive on the first two loops, trying to get as much of the race done as I could before it got dark. My plan was to limit aid station time to under two minutes, with the goal of only stopping for about 30 seconds to check in, grab a bite and keep moving and to finish around 24 hours, knowing I’d be ecstatic with anything under 25:30.
I was pretty silent the first loop, talking only to the acquaintance mentioned above, trying to warn him again about taking it slow before he took off and ran ahead. I was making good time, well ahead of my 24 hour goal. Another woman passed me before the fourth aid station (there are five aid stations total per loop) and she looked good and was racing hard. I didn’t think much of it. It was still early and I wasn’t necessarily concerned with a podium finish after all. At that point, I felt it would’ve been a nice bonus, but all I wanted was to finish strong and fast.
I came in the first 27 mile loop at 5 hours and 30 minutes into the race, about a half hour faster than plan. I decided I would run the next 27 mile loop a bit slower to conserve some energy and have the first 54 miles done in 12 hours, as I had previously planned, leaving 12 more hours for the last 46 miles. Totally doable.
I left my dead, old Garmin in my drop bag and put my “newer” 310xt on and with a freshly filled hydration pack, ice in my bra and some motivating words from a friend volunteering at the aid station, I was off on my second loop. I started down the trail, turned my watch on, but it wouldn’t pick up a satellite. I didn’t want to have to worry about it, so I pushed the button so I’d at least know what time it was. It said 8:30 pm. It was more like 10:45 am if that. So I messed around some more with it and it asked the “are you indoors right now?” No. “Have you moved 100s of miles since your last use?” No. “is today 31-Mar-2007?” Um, no definitely not. I pushed the two buttons in an attempt to do a hard reset quickly, but then the face snapped off from the wrist strap (yes, I was still run/walking and making progress). So frustrating! I threw it into my pack and said, “screw it, I’ll just ask whoever I pass what time it is and figure out my progress at the aid stations.”
Around mile 30 is where I started the feeling the “why am I out here?” feelings and falling apart a little. I didn’t feel like running that far anymore and I just wanted to quit. No one would hate me if I did. I bargained with myself shortly before the second aid station that if I finished this race, I would never ever have to run the Mohican 100 again. Ever.
I was largely alone for the majority of the second loop. The 50 mile runners turn a different way at the second aid station to do the shorter loop and only five or six men had passed me by the time I had gotten to that point. In 2013, several 50 mile runners, men and women, had passed me on my first loop and it was super annoying. After I turned and continued on the 100 mile course after that aid station, I leap-frogged with a few guys before eventually dropping them and ran by myself until I neared the fourth aid station.
Right before that fourth aid station, I passed that woman who had passed me. She was walking and already looking pretty miserable. At that point, I was feeling good and running well, trying to get under 12 hours for the first two loops. I came into the aid station to see the guy who I’m now dating, sitting on the ground. He was running the 50 mile and until that point, I had been concerned that he hadn’t passed me with the top guys earlier on. I had assumed he was taking it slower with the humidity. Turns out he had really bad leg cramps and couldn’t take the hills anymore. At that point, I didn’t know if he was finishing or not, I just stuffed my face with watermelon and downed some ginger ale (super attractive, as this was the third time we’d ever seen each other, but he’s still around now, so that’s a good sign!). As much as I wanted to stay and hang out, I had a race to run and was feeling good, so I had to roll with it. I took off down the trail and immediately felt bad for leaving him there, but couldn’t do a thing.
As I was on the road at the end of the loop, I saw my pacer, Brandon, with Erin’s husband. He was driving Brandon to the mile 62 aid station after they saw how I was doing. I felt good, told Brandon I was doing well and to make sure he had a working watch. I finished the second loop at 5:02 pm, just two minutes slower than the 12 hours I wanted.
Somewhere between the start/finish aid station and the fire tower aid station where Brandon was waiting, I decided I was quitting the race. I just mentally couldn’t hack it and started thinking about how rough everything had been. My stomach wasn’t feeling the best and I didn’t want to drink the Tailwind that I had in my hydration pack anymore. Soon, I could hear the techno music bumping at the fire tower. I got there and one of the volunteers said my pacer was waiting for me at the actual fire tower, a little bit past where the aid station was set up. I took that as my opportunity to sit down for the first time all day. Someone gave me a cup of boiled potatoes covered in salt and another cup of ginger ale. It was exactly what I needed. I inhaled it and took off to go meet up with Brandon. I wasn’t quitting, I wanted to finish this thing.
At that point, all we knew was that I probably was in a pretty solid fourth place and a 24 hour finish was still in sight. It was the longest day of the year, so I wouldn’t need my headlamp until we reached the fourth aid station and we were set. I’d have about 71 miles done in the light, a much better place than I was last year. At the third aid station, I picked up my handheld from that drop bag and filled it with the other flavor of Tailwind I had there, which also had caffeine in it. I knew that I had to down it before we got to the start finish.
As it got dark, I held out until just before the fourth aid station before putting my headlamp on. I don’t remember how I was doing on time, but things started to hurt during that section between the fourth aid station and the start/finish. I had been dealing with a little pain in my left hip on and off before the race and after using the bathroom at the aid station, it flared up again. I’m pretty sure this section is the point where I broke down and started crying and Brandon asked if I’d be OK with finishing under 25 hours. I said yes and he let me walk it off.
Even with that meltdown, I felt better once the loop was done. The caffeinated Tailwind really helped give me a boost and the fact that I only had 23 miles left helped. I gave Brandon my pack and handheld with instructions to fill the other handheld that was in my drop bag while I went to the bathroom and we made it through the aid station pretty quickly. With the weight of the pack off my shoulders, I felt great and ready to finish the damn race.
I had passed some guys on the third loop and passed maybe one or two more on the fourth by the time we got to the third aid station. I was still convinced I’d never be running 100 miles at Mohican again, announcing to Brandon and the aid station volunteers that I’d never be at that particular place again and saying, “see ya never!” as I left the aid stations. My hip still hurt a lot and I was popping Aleve every few hours to make it go away. I was also force feeding myself grilled cheese, potatoes and quesadillas. We were still asking what place I was in at the breaks, but no one knew, just that Connie “probably has won by now,” (based on her finish time, she hadn’t). We still assumed fourth place. The 24 hour finish had slipped away, but finishing under 25 was still possible. It would still be mostly dark at that point, so I was OK with it. At the fourth and final aid station, we sat down for a minute. The volunteers were able to confirm that Connie had won, but had no idea about any other women in front of me. I ate a gel (probably only the third one I had the entire time) and forced myself out of the chair after maybe two-three minutes. I only had 6 miles of 100 left, it was time to get it done.
A little bit after leaving the aid station, I asked Brandon if he thought anyone would be there to see me finish. “Of course,” he replied, “everyone’s there waiting for you now.” I knew Erin and her husband would be there and for sure my friends Bill and Tara, maybe even a few other friends who had ran the 50 the day before. It would be even better than the finish line last year, I hoped.
With about two miles left to go, we were nearing the end of the trail portion of the loop and on the campground. At some point right before that, I had told Brandon that I was going to run and not walk at all once I hit the campground and roads. When we got to that point, I could see a woman slightly ahead of me. I turned to Brandon and said, “I need to catch that woman up there,” and no joke, took off. It felt like I was running a 7-minute mile (it was probably closer to 9:00, who knows). I caught her and then realized she was pacing the guy right in front of her. Figures. But I decided to keep going with this sudden burst of energy until I crossed the finish line. The sun was just rising and the sky was a really beautiful pink.
Brandon ended up cutting the course and since I had to go past and around to the finish line, he said he was going to cross the street and watch me finish. As I passed by the finish line to make the turn, some guy yelled, “where’d you get that energy from?” I yelled back that I didn’t know and kept running hard. I saw that there were a few people at the finish, but couldn’t see who they were.
I made the turn and booked it to the finish line, crossing in 24 hours, 50 minutes and 30 seconds, an improvement of 2 hours and 48 minutes from last year. And Brandon was the only person I knew there. After I stopped, he said, “there’s a surprise for you,” and I was told that I was third place female! Shortly after, my friends joined me and I headed back to the hotel for a shower, nap and some well-earned donuts before waiting around for the award ceremony.
Looking back on it now, I still am in awe of the whole day. It feels kind of like a dream and I’m still amazed at the outcome of the race despite everything that happened beforehand and struggling the entire time. I’ve been told by so many different people that I just had a big smile on my face the whole time and other than my time and place, I’m really proud of that. I got to spend another day on my favorite trails, with a really good friend and had an awesome race, what could be better than that?
And also, it only took a few days after the race to decide this, but I can’t wait to go back and tackle it again next year!