(warning, this is a long one!)
When the emotional and physical fatigue won and I dropped out of Queeny at the end of loop 10, falling 4 loops short of my goal of 100k (62ish miles), I was really bummed out. After sleeping on it (for a couple of nights.. not as many as I probably should have) and chatting with my coach, I decided to give the 100k distance a go one more time before I fully switched over to triathlon training for Kona. There was a 100k at the end of March, The Prairie Spirit 100k in Ottawa, Kansas, just 4 hours away on the same course that I had run the 50 mile race in 2020. With it being three weeks after Queeny, we were going to treat Queeny as a ‘long run’ day, have a recovery week the next week, and then get in one more big weekend before the race. Let’s do it!
After the recovery week my legs were feeling pretty good, I was able to get in my speed work and tempo runs at the regular speedy-for-me paces, so I was pretty happy. However that weekend the weather was extra cold and windy (feels like 7 degrees, 16mph wind) so I decided to (ugh) do my 16 mile run on the treadmill. Halfway through my right pinky toe was starting to hurt, so I hopped off thinking I needed to trim it. I trimmed the nail even though it wasn’t very long, but hoped that would help. I was sad to discover once I hopped on the treadmill that it helped a little, but the discomfort was still there. Between the pinky toe and my mind just not being able to settle into the ‘long-ness’ of the run (I kept wanting to throw on more clothes and just go outside, thinking it would be less terrible), it was not a great run. But I got it done. That night when trying to sleep my pinky toe felt weird so I went to the bathroom to investigate where I discovered a huge blister..ugggggh. Since the fluid looked clear, I decided to drain it knowing running the 10 miles tomorrow would make it worse if I didn’t.
The next morning my toe looked ok, no signs that a blister had even been there, but I taped up the toe just to be safe. The weather was a bit warmer and hardly any wind so I was excited to get back outside. The run went great, legs felt great and toe felt fine. Hooray! Now let’s taper!
Usually during the taper week I’m antsy, excited, a little fearful (of the pain/suffering I’ll hit at some point), but overall excited. This week, I had doubt, doubt and doubt. Was this a rash decision? Well, yes, kind of. How would my toes hold up? My pinky toe got a blister 7 miles into the run on Saturday…ugh. How would my legs do? My quads were sore 4 miles into my 5 mile run that Tuesday of taper week…ugh. So, not feeling confident would be putting how I felt mildly, lol. I think the stars aligned during Queeny last year when I was able to run the 50ish miles on not many training miles. I was hoping the stars would align again at Prairie Spirit, but I knew I was going to have to dig deep and it probably wasn’t going to feel as ‘good’ as the 50 mile race did.
Friday a little before noon I headed to Ottawa, KS. Once I got to the hotel I unpacked, chilled for an hour and then went to packet pickup. I was nervous! Then that night I spent 45 minutes taping my pinky toes according to the information I had read in the book I had been studying – Fixing Your Feet, on blister prevention (it covers way more than just blisters, but that was the focus for this race due to my angry pinky toes). I had only practiced taping my toe once, which was on Sunday, and it did seem to help, but I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if my toes were still angry from Queeny or maybe my feet have changed and I needed to look into shoes with a wider toe-box to give my toes more room. Regardless, I wasn’t going to try new shoes on race day, so I figured I would try to follow the taping process to a T, be prepared with more supplies in my pack in case I need to re-tape during the race, and hope for the best.
3:55a my alarm went off and I was up. Ugh, I had the ‘pre-race dread’ feeling in my stomach, not as much as I usually do before an Ironman since this race was just less stress in general, but it was still there a little. I ate my pre-race breakfast, did some stretches, packed everything up and headed to the start at 5ish. Once parked I headed inside to use the bathroom – it was SO nice experiencing this race outside of COVID conditions. We were able to use the bathrooms inside the barn/warehouse, and everyone was hanging out inside also. During the race in 2020 there were porta-potties outside and we all waited in our cars right until we were to line up single file-ish at the start.
I knew it was a small group running the 100k, so I wasn’t surprised when there was just a little group of us headed with the volunteer to walk us to where we would start (about 500y from the warehouse/barn). I was very glad I wore my mittens because it was freezing! We chatted for the few minutes before they blew the horn and then we were off! I stayed with a small group of three others for most of the first hour as I wore a small cheap headlamp that clipped on my hat since I didn’t want to lug my big headlamp around for the whole race when I’d wear it for 45 minutes at most. It worked ok, but I figured I might as well stick with the others for better visibility and they were running around my planned pace.
Once the sun came up I picked up the pace a little as I was feeling good and because I also needed to the hit the bathroom. I was determined to not wait in line again like last year (I swear it was close to 15 minutes) and knew at this early stage in the game, the women were all behind me, lol. I reached the first aid station at mile 6.5 and hit the bathroom, and then was quickly back on the trail.
I kept a good pace around 10/10:30 and was feeling good, except for all of the little rocks in my shoes. At the next aid station at mile 13 I refilled my water and also dumped the rocks out of my shoes. This is where I need to say the volunteers were AMAZING. At this point, even with mittens my fingers weren’t working well and the volunteers put my skratch in my bottle and one even tied my shoe for me! I was so grateful for them! Once I was back on the trail I knew it was going to be a little tougher mentally as the next two aid stations were 9 miles apart, there were water jugs available about halfway through, but not having that little mental break of an aid station was going to make it harder. I tried to settle in knowing it was going to be a long day and to just enjoy being out on the trail, and especially in pretty darn nice conditions (Queeny 2023, I’m staring at you). My frozen fingers were even starting to thaw and become functional again.
As I got closer to the next aid station, I recognized the area from the 50 mile race, passing a lake and then coming into the little town/train station at Garnett. For some reason that got me excited, even though I knew I still had another 9 miles after this aid station before I turned around. With the aid station in view, I heard the loud rumble of a train and realized I was going to have to wait as the train crossed before continuing. In a triathlon that would have made me really upset, but not so much in a race where I had zero time goals and just wanted to finish. I appreciated that I was forced to stop, so I would take the time to dump more rocks out of my shoes. Once I tied my shoes the train had passed and I continued to the aid station which was located inside the train station had it ALL. OMG. All kinds of food in mini baggies: peanut m&ms, cookies, rice krispie treats, chips, popcorn… also they were cooking bacon.. just woah. Too bad my stomach wasn’t up for it though, so after refilling my handheld, I was on my way to the turn around.
After a couple of miles the sun was really starting to come out, which I was happy and thrilled about, but was also starting to get extra thirsty. Also my body and legs was starting to get tired. ‘Oh no’, I thought to myself ‘I’m not even halfway, this is going to be rough.. should I just drop at the turnaround?’. The negative thoughts were starting. I tried to keep thinking positive thoughts to keep the negative ones away. However around mile 26 I started to see runners coming back from the 100k turn around and also some 100 mile runners were passing me, so I started to just feel really slow. I felt like I was never going to get to the turn around, let alone finish. At mile 27 I decided that it was time for some music on my trusty iPod to quiet my thoughts. I also decided at the aid station I was going to take a little breather to try and help reset my head, as there was no need to rush since finishing was just the goal (but I didn’t want to finish in 30 hours so walking the rest of the way was also NOT an option for me).
I was so happy to see the aid station, the first matter of business was to hit the bathroom as my stomach was a little angry. I wasn’t sure if it was the picky bars, but I decided maybe I would hold off on those during the second half and see if that kept my stomach happy after this pit stop. After hitting the bathroom I got my drop bag and refilled my pack and my handheld. I also decided to take off my long-sleeve shirt and arm sleeves as it had gotten warm enough to run in just a t-shirt. Then after lingering for a couple of minutes too long, I finally headed back on the trail to begin the second half of the race. It wasn’t until a couple miles later that I realized I hadn’t even asked about dropping, and was glad my brain hadn’t entertained the idea I had thought about earlier.
It was definitely getting warm, I knew it wasn’t supposed to get higher than 60 but it felt like it! I was still extra thirsty so I stopped at the un-manned aid station to refill my water. My legs were feeling tired and I was trying to play math games to occupy my mind, like thinking that once I got to mile 36 it would be less than a marathon left. But then I thought ‘Who the heck thinks that though?! A marathon is FAR’. So that didn’t really help as I was talking myself out of my own mind games. Finally I reached the amazing aid station again at the train station in Garnett, which was mile 39. I asked a volunteer which foods were popular and also helpful for an unhappy stomach, and she said the cheesy quesadillas and mini potatoes. Cheesy quesadillas?! Mini potatoes?! I did not see either of those the first time! I thanked her and happily took both. Sadly though, after taking a bite of the quesadilla I could hardly force myself to swallow the bite, my body said NO to the flavorful quesadilla. So I had to toss it (I’m still sad about this, it was even cooked in bacon grease, I wish I had one now) but I was able to slowly munch on the potatoes as they were a little more bland.
After a mile of shuffling I tried to pick up the pace, and it looked like 11ish pace was the best I could do. I knew this was going to be another long stretch with 9 miles between aid stations, so I was looking forward to refilling my water at the non-manned water station as a mini break. Shuffle, shuffle, doing stupid math, wondering if maybe I should drop at the next aid station at mile 48ish. 48 miles sounded admirable. A good enough distance, worth the hotel and drive, right? I refilled at the un-manned water-station and decided to just walk for a bit as my stomach seemed to be on the verge of angry, and took some tums hoping that would help too. Finally after a mile of walking, I decided to pick it up as my bad-math told me it would take me next year to finish if I walked the rest of the way.
Then around mile 46, my right pinky toe started to really hurt and then it felt like my nail came off… or like something was in my sock no longer attached to me. Oh boy, since it hurt to run, I decided I would stop, take off my shoe/sock, get the nail, use my kit to clean/re-tape and carry on. Easy enough. Except to my surprise when I took the tape off, the nail was still attached, what the heck? Then I saw liquid coming from somewhere around the base of the nail and realized a blister must have burst. I cleaned it with my alcohol wipe, re-taped and carried on. My spirits were low, and despite verifying my toenail was still on my toe and it was just a blister that burst, my pinky toe still really hurt. I took off my vest, pulled out my phone from the back zip compartment and texted JMR that I was at mile 46 and was thinking of dropping at 48.
Not even a couple of minutes after I sent the text, I had the same feeling on my left pinky toe, but was more confused because there was no nail there (I lost it shortly after Queeny), so what was this pain?! And then I felt a pinch and saw liquid coming through my shoe where the toe was. Oh good grief, there was a blister on that toe that just now burst. Ouch! Gross! Gross! Ouch! I frantically texted JMR what just happened, while hobbling because now both toes hurt so much when walking. I saw my coach had recently texted me so I gave him the run down, expecting him to agree with my decision to drop. He replied suggesting seeing if the next aid station can check/help with blisters to continue on, only 13 more miles. ONLY 13 MORE MILES PLUS THE 2 TO GET TO THE AID STATION my brain screamed. That was far when each step hurt. I replied that I had a kit on me and had already taped one, but wasn’t sure what to do about the other, and decided I was going to put the phone away and see if shuffling/running felt any better. I knew I needed to move forward and staring at my phone wasn’t going to help.
As I started to run, my toes felt a little better, and I was able to get back to an 11ish pace. At this point, since the both toe incidents happened while I was walking, I was scared to power-walk again case it would cause blister-drama on other toes. That kept me driven and focused until I made it to the next aid station. Once I made it to mile 48ish aid station, I refilled my water and headed back on the trail, running and feeling good. Once again it was a mile after the aid station that I realized I hadn’t asked about dropping, and once again I was glad. 12 miles to go, I could do this I told myself. I also decided to pull out all of the stops and listen to my spotify playlist on my iPhone, which I was saving for desperate times/the final push. As soon as I put the music on, my spirits were lifted and I felt ready to go, less than 12 miles, I CAN DO THIS. Just don’t walk, no more blisters. That was my mantra. I just kept running, finding new energy in my legs once I realized how painful things could get when comparing to the blister incident pain. This leg fatigue pain was nothing.
I made it to the next aid station at mile 54ish, refilled my handheld and then had several mini cups of coke, which in hindsight was probably a bad idea but I was hoping for an extra boost from the caffeine and sugar. I was back on the trail, 6.5 miles to go! Just a little over an hour, I can do this, I kept repeating. Then my stomach decided it was angry about that large amount of sugar I just drank, and I needed to find a spot now. Unlike during the 50 mile race where I barely had time to get off the trail, I was able to climb through some bushes/branches and get at least six feet back behind even more bushes and was able to take care of things hidden. Phew. I jumped back out on the trail right as a guy was walking by and gave him a good laugh, he said ‘When you gotta go, you gotta go’ and I laughed too and said ‘You got that right!’.
As the miles counted down, 5 miles… 4 miles left, I was still running around an 11ish pace, legs feeling good considering how many miles I had run and toes doing alright too. With 2 miles to go, I texted JMR as I never told him I didn’t drop and was still going. I got a little teary-eyed in disbelief that I was going to finish this race. I had really started to doubt that I could finish this before I even got to the turn around, I had so much fear my legs weren’t prepared to run this far, yet here they were at mile 60, feeling ‘good’.
I could hear the roar of traffic as I ran towards the path along the highway which lead to the finish. I picked up the pace and knew it would all be over soon in a mile or so, which made me happy and a tiny bit sad that my big adventure was coming to a close. I could see the big barn/warehouse and then made the left turn to run up the little sidewalk that led to the finish arches. I heard the announcer shout my name and say congratulations as I crossed the line, I could not believe it! I had done it! A volunteer handed me a railroad spike with the words ‘3rd female’ on it saying I was 3rd female for the 100k, now that was a surprise! I think there weren’t many females racing the 100k anyways, but I thought for sure I was one of the last.
After taking a breather I texted JMR, my parents and coach the news that I had finished the race with a time of 12 hours and 11 minutes. Phew! I got my drop bag, changed clothes and debated eating the post-race food, but my stomach shouted NO like it did to the poor quesadilla. So I got in my car for the 4 hour drive home, with plenty of snacks and a diet coke. 🙂 What a day, what a race! I knew it was going to be tough but didn’t expect it to be tough starting at mile 27… but I finished and realized I was mentally and physically tougher than I had realized going into this race. I was also still shocked that my legs carried me the whole way, pretty much running the entire last 15 miles. I reminded myself that they were getting a big break if I wanted to keep running until I was very old 🙂
Now I have a nice long week of recovery and then eventually slowly building up for Des Moines 70.3 in June!