I came into this race determined to test my current fitness and to see if I had made any gains with my iron levels. After a disappointing DNF at Bryce from issues with anemia, I put concerted efforts into replenishing my levels with iron infusions and hoped it was enough. I knew things weren’t optimal, but I wanted to see if I could scrape whatever I could out of my training and make it into something great today. Besides, everybody has something they are dealing with, so mine wasn’t much different. My body felt good, my mental state was healthy, so I went for it!
I drove down to Beaver and picked up my packet at the Eagle Point Ski Resort. The drive up the canyon was breathtaking but also intimidating. I kept looking at the mountains and thinking, I hope I don’t have to climb that one. Then I’d drive a little further and think, oh boy, I definitely don’t want to climb that one! I really didn’t know what to expect other than what I had heard from runners in years past about how it was the toughest race they had ever run. I was glad I had signed up for the Marathon rather than the 93K, especially at that point. I spent a lot of the drive going over the race and making a race plan in my head. I spent the evening back at my motel scrutinizing the climbs and planning the areas I could move well. I wrote little notes on my hands to remember key points and felt confident I had trained sufficiently. At some point I realized I needed something to eat and settled on the only thing open for dinner, gas station/chain food.
I slept well and woke up the next morning prepared to run hard. I drove up to the ski lodge and made my way to the starting line. It was fun seeing many friends ready to begin the same journey as me. Ultra Adventures puts on a quality but gnarly marathon in the Tushar mountains. Runners embark on a rugged mountain race starting at nearly 10,500 feet elevation and hitting its highest point at Delano Peak at 12,175 feet. The climbs were steep and the drops were technical. It was unlike anything I had ever raced before and I loved it all.
The first few miles were the roughest for me from a breathing standpoint. I usually have a hard time warming up, but after the 4th mile I felt well adjusted. We ran through the woods and followed the flags on and off trials through muddy streams, swampy grasslands and rocky climbs. I met and ran with a guy from Spain named Armand who kept me company. It was clear he was stronger on the climbs and he let me lead on the descents, so we traded off accordingly. We paced each other from miles 5-11 until he fell off somewhere half way up Delano. I think he was taking pictures or adjusting something with his vest, but from there on out, I ran alone. Although I was breathing hard, I was breathing well. At one point I took out my headphones to find they weren’t working. Some distraction from my breathing was desired, but I decided it was for the best and kept my head as mentally tough as I could. I remember looking down and seeing the other women and thinking they were going to catch me on the climb– especially without my Spaniard buddy leading the way, so I dug my poles in and pushed even harder.
At times I would look up to the summit and would see what looked like people having a party. To me it looked like they were laughing, eating, taking pictures and I was envious. When I reached the summit, to say it was anti-climatic is an understatement. No one was there and I was immediately bored. I didn’t even have my phone to take a miserable selfie, so I pushed ahead. Coming off Delano I was happy to have my poles. I’ve never raced with poles before but I felt they were instrumental helping me up the climbs efficiently. So shout out to Black Diamond and my (tiny) poles! On a side note, they are too short for me and are more like canes.
I was looking forward to the Mud Lake aid station at mile 16 where I could refill my water bottles and grab some extra gels from my bag. I was greeted by Walter, Bethany and Tommy Barlow. They were quick to get me things and were so encouraging. Loved seeing friends here! I stayed about 90 seconds and walked off with a mouth full of gel.
The course continued to amaze as we ran through abandoned mining ruins from the Wild West and single track trails paved with flowers, divided by meandering creeks. Somewhere around mile 20 the course ran through Big Johns Flat area campground. The dirt roads were deceptively hard to run, even though they appeared flat. I could barely run that stretch of race and it was weird. I had to keep telling myself, I bet the winners never walk this part, then I would run for a minute and walk again. It was like interval work of self talk, running, walking, repeat. At one point Matt Gun drove by and cheered me on my way up to the last aid station. I fantasied about tying a rope to the end of his truck and being drug up to the top. Somehow that sounded so much nicer than running in that moment. Head games were all I had at that time so I hiked and continued on with my interval work.
I followed the dirt switch backs up to the last aid station at mile 22 where I saw the same friends who again helped me on my way. There I was told I had only 4 miles left in the race and that I was at least 20+ mins ahead of second place female. I was in 10th or 11th overall at that point felt confident I could come in just under 6 hours. I was still feeling strong, and it was time to put everything I had left into those last miles. I left that last aid station determined to murder it:)
For the next three miles, I watched my step over the technical terrain but tried to push as hard as I could. I had thoughts of gratitude flood my mind to my Doctor, training partners, family and just feeling healthy! Today was great, no matter what.
With just over a mile left, the course split in two directions with signs and flags leading runners where to go. I came to an abrupt stop and read both signs. Then I read them again. In my head I read “Half marathon finish” and ” 93K and marathon start.” Since I knew the start and the finish were the same, I went the way of the marathon start. The course began to climb and I thought it was odd, but I just went with it. After about 15 minutes, I knew I should have been done and started to have doubts, but I kept going thinking the trail would drop to the finish any minute. Just in case, I cupped my hands together and began yelling “hello?” over and over along the way, wondering if anyone was nearby. At that point I had hoped some of the other women would catch me so we could run in together. I just wanted to know that someone else was out there. I knew the race was supposed to end around 25 miles, so when I hit over 26 miles, I knew I had gone the wrong way. I had lost my spot and I knew it. I was out of fuel and water as well as that determination I once had. I was ready to be done. I stopped my watch and began exploring “shortcuts” down the mountain to see if I could get back on track faster than retracing my steps. The terrain was denser, making it difficult to see beyond the trees of where I was. So I would either run down or climb up to see if I could get any sense of where the finish line was. Eventually I found myself off the trail with no sense of direction at all. I call this the runners brain– when you make stupid decisions you wouldn’t otherwise make and you can’t think clearly. In reality, I was just off the path maybe a 1/4 mile but in my current mental state I was alone in the WILDERNESS and even thought that the only way back would be to finish the 93K. BIG LOL! I was basically Tom Hanks in Cast Away.
I said a prayer and then remembered my new Suunto watch had a “trace back” function, but something I had not used before. After a few minutes, I got it to work and it immediately began leading me to retrace my steps. I walked most of the way back because I was just tired and deflated. When I got back to the junction, I had gone about 5 extra miles out of the way. I came back to the signs and saw a sign that pointed to the finish, that I had missed before, so I ran in that direction. As I began to approach the finish I could hear people cheering and calling out my name. It made me happy. I wanted to finish strong and to be a good sport. I smiled my way to the finish and counted down the seconds until I could duck away and bawl in my car. As soon as I crossed I was greeted by my good friend, Craig who gave me a hug. The smile faded and I came undone in front of everyone. Ugh. There went my date with my car and my ugly cry. It just came out. Friends began surrounding and offering words of encouragement along with all three podium winners, Jackie, Chelsea and Kenzie. I recounted what happened in between breaths and sobs as friends empathetically surrounded me with love, concern and food. You know who you are, there were many, and I felt so loved. I finished 4th overall in 7:17:31. Results here.
Thank you for the kind messages from many of which I’ve greatly appreciated. It has helped me to process the results of something I wanted so badly to be different, but just didn’t come together for me that day. It just comes down to this, it doesn’t matter how strong of a runner you are if you can’t navigate the course. Both have to come together in racing and it just was not my day. I’ve gained a lot from this experience that will help me become a better trail runner in races to come. Mostly, my confidence going into my first Wasatch 100 next month is much stronger than it was before. If it’s not a wrong turn, it’s an upset stomach or prolonged bonk. It’s the nature of the sport that keeps it interesting and gets us up all those early mornings, day after day. Learning from mistakes, finding what works and just running is all part of the experience. So grateful I get to do what I love everyday. Onward.
Special thanks to Sponsors: Pearl Izumi for dependable gear, Hammer Nutrition for dialed in fueling, Suunto for getting me back on track (quiet literally), Terramar Sports for the layers on Delano Peak, Headsweats for keeping my head cool and face protected and Rudy Project for shading my eyes. You guys rule.
Lastly, I love my faith, friends and especially my family. Stephen is my rock and support who makes this possible for me each day.