11 December 2011

Cajun Coyote 100 Miler: A Race Report of a Very Unusual 100 Miler

So the good news on the Cajun Coyote 100 Miler first, I suppose:
  • I was second woman!
  • It reinstilled my love in the love run - oh, trails, how alive you make me feel.
  • I ran through some beautiful places.
  • While my time was far from my PR, I still had a smashing good time.
  • It was like Burning Man - we all had "race names" and I used my playa one, Cherry Bomb, as my name.
  • One of the most fun races I ran.

I arrived at the start and knew I was in the right place - the RD was wearing a stuffed alligator hat and the volunteers were wearing Mardi Gras beads. In my race bag (one of those little sneaker bags) were lots and lots of beads, a nice tech shirt that actually looks good, a Lip Smacker (Yes! I loved them when I was 9 years old and they're still great!), a mask, homemade soaps, bug wipes, Hammer samples, and other fun. Everyone was excited, chattering under the Christmas lights about the day to come. Numbers were written on a select body part - you'd run into an aid station, shouting your number and your nickname. My nickname was, of course, Cherry Bomb.
At the start...

#111, Cherry Bomb!
The course was five 20 mile loops. Louisiana's a flat state, and this was in the bayou, so it was flat, right?


Me at the start

Yes! Get me outta here!!!

Loop One: Miles 1-20
The race started with the RD saying offhandedly, "Bye!" And we took off!

I started out at a good pace, chatting with a guy doing his first ultra (who later went on to win the 100k) and a guy from Maine. We talked about dysfunctional relationships, work, running. The first 4.3 miles - up to the first aid station - were the hardest. Up, down, steep, short, up, down, repeat. And a rock to trip on, a root, focus, focus. Through some miracle I did not trip at all on this single track rocky-and-rooty course.

The next 4-ish miles were the easiest. Lots of ups and downs, but not as hard as the first section. Right before the aid station you run down into this ditch and then up. Oh, fun. And then up a little hill and to Jeff's aid station - Jeff who didn't sleep the entire race. I love ultra volunteers.

Then there were eight miles to the unmanned aid station. Mentally, it was a challenge. I also had to be careful and conserve my water each time. At this aid station, there was water, a container of Heed, and a jar of pickled pig's lips. No one dared open it - yuck!

Ew! Pigs' lips as ultrarunning snack
And then a mere four miles or so to the main aid station. This wasn't so terrible, some hills, but it was only four miles. 

And then you were back.

Overall, the course was up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down on single track. Enough rocks and roots and twists and turns and bridges to keep your eyes on the ground at all times - but wait, look up, don't miss those orange blazes. (The RD put heaps of ribbons up which were helpful...until the trail maintenance volunteers decided to help out and remove all the ribbons. ARGH!)

Loop Two, Miles 20-40
I repeated everything.

On the move!

Fueling up
I ran a bunch w a guy from Maine who I got into an extensive discussion with about dysfunctional relationships. We'd lose each other on and off - he'd spend extra time in an aid station, and I'd leave him, or he'd get a speed burst. It was a nice way to pass the time.

 And then I was alone, but it was okay. I felt free, alive, in love with the run. I was here to run 100 miles, yes, but the real reason? I needed vengeance on the 100 mile distance. My last 100 was so wretched that I needed to prove to myself and the world that I loved this. And I did. I did. I felt alive as I ran across a wooden walkway (which were SO pretty and I loved them during the day but at night were positively frightening) across the bayou. I thought, "Yes, yes, this is why I'm here! This is what it means to be alive."

Loop Three, Miles 40-60
It got harder. That goes without saying.
Crossing the bridge

I had my light but I wouldn't need it until the end of this loop. Things got rough and I pushed and I felt the pain but I pushed and I pushed and I pushed. I thought of coconut water and Odwalla bars and of my cat back home, sleeping for sure, and of The Godfather, which I was re-reading for the third time, and created sentences in my head in Spanish and about what to get V for Xmas and everything, everything, everything. I thought and then I blanked and I pushed and I pushed harder and hardest of all, I pushed the tears from my eyes and wouldn't let them escape. I was tougher than this.

It got dark. It was okay. I was tough. But my headlamp battery wasn't. It was impossible to see. I got freaked. I began singing loudly, scaring the armadillos, comforting myself. I wonder if KRS-ONE ever thought when he was writing "How Bad Do You Want It" that some ultrarunner would use it to push herself during a 100miler.

I could barely see. I slowed down, squinting with my pathetic light to see the markers. I had to walk, to avoid tripping on things I couldn't see. Finally I arrived at an aid station and they gave me batteries. It was a relief to get back to the main aid station and get my kickass headlamp and pacer.

Loop Four, Miles 60-80
My pacer was new to ultras, and we barely knew each other, but that wasn't a problem. We quickly began talking, laughing, getting to know each other.

About seven and a half miles in, we got to an intersection and couldn't find the next blaze. No worries, there it is. Oops. Rather, that is the orange blaze we just passed. We ended up running three extra miles. Argh. When I figured it out, I began running super hard. I was so upset that I just pushed, pushed, pushed and tried not to think about it. When we got to the next aid station, I inquired if I'd have to pay extra because, after all, everyone else paid for 100 miles and here I was, running 103 and paying the same price!

Things felt rough but I felt mostly good. I was eating throughout the race - grilled cheese and rice at the main aid station, quesadillas at Jeff's aid station, and vanilla gus and honey stingers in between.

Loop Five, Miles 80-100
It hurt.

I was psyched to be on my last loop but my shins were killing. And I was SO tired. I felt wretched. Of course, if I didn't, something would be seriously wrong with me.

A light was behind me. Push. Push. I can't let it pass me. My pacer and I would talk, or we would say nothing but breathe and think and push. Then there would be times where it would get to me, and I would say to Jessica, "Talk. Say something. Anything," and she'd amazingly well respond, "Well, at work..." or "My kids..." or whatever. She could have been reading the ingredients on a cereal box to me and I would have found it soothing.

It got later. It got worse. Each aid station was a beacon of hope, the volunteers so cheerful, so wonderful, so nice and helpful. I inhaled grilled cheeses. I drank ginger ale. They were so helpful and nice.

I started to cry. Jessica told me not to cry. I was unable to listen to her. I cried harder. This hurt so much. I worked so hard, why was I running so poorly? How have I been getting slower, getting further from my goals? Why did it hurt so bad?

We started talking, laughing. I pushed. "Mile 97!" "Mile 98!" And harder.

And then we were on the road. I couldn't believe I was almost done. As I came in, everyone cheered. And the RD was there and everyone was awake. It was over. Somehow.

Food was prepared and shared. I sat there, stunned and exhausted. I called New York, was told I sounded totally out of it. I was told not to drive.

The RD gave out finishers' hats, and I was second woman. I won a free pair of sneakers. We joked around, and I was stunned at how I was able to run into the finishing area not that long, and now, now that the clock had stopped for me, walking was near impossible.

In the middle of the night, I thought about how hard it was. It's so hard. 100 milers are a million times harder than a marathon, a lot harder than a 50. But it's SO hard. Mentally. Physically. Everything hurts and it's hard to remember why you should push. And it's hard to break through. Those people that are WINNING - they impress me. Because when I run, I'm in my own race. I'm competing against myself. I'm running for the love of it, for the struggle of the day, for discovering within.

And really, it takes 100 miles to find a lot of that out. Because if it didn't, why would we be doing it in the first place?


Terri said...

Wow - this is awesome and I am, well, in awe!!! :) Great race report - I can't imagine ever doing 100 but you never know! Congrats on a great finish!

Just a runner said...

Outstanding accomplishment, huge congrats! For what it's worth, you looked great out there during the 2nd loop, LOL!

KatieWisdm said...

congrats on placing, Cherry Bomb! :)

Kim said...

Great race report, thanks for sharing!

David H. said...

Congratulations! And thanks for giving a look into what an ultra runner is thinking through all those miles.