My original title for this post was going to be "Mistakes Were Made." It's true. Mistakes were made, but after some processing, I think I did the best I could with what I was given. Truthfully, this was not my best race, but it is such a good race overall. It's gorgeous, well-organized and surrounded by a team of people with gigantic hearts who made me want to keep on in spite of everything.
IMTUF is in Idaho, just outside of McCall. Their acronym is not lost on them as it's typically pronounced "I Am Tough." They change the direction of the race every year and this year would go clockwise. With over 100 miles of trails and somewhere between 20,000 and 23,000 feet of climbing, it definitely tests out that tough part.
When I got to my pacer, Kelly Bolinger’s house the Wednesday night before the race, it turned out Kelly was fighting a cold. The hope was that it was just allergies, but it was worrisome. Our travel day the next day was pretty smooth and our flight was a little over an hour. We flew into Boise and went to REI first for a couple of supplies and then we hit Whole Foods for groceries. I’d rented us a room with a kitchenette so we wouldn’t have to scour this tiny Idaho town called McCall for Linda-friendly food before the race. It turned out the room was under renovation, so we ended up with a regular room without a stove top. I flew home with a box of gluten free pasta and a jar of pasta sauce. Oh well. We managed to find cute café that had all kinds of GF and vegan options and we were both very satisfied.
Friday we drove out to the IMTUF 100 briefing/race start area. It ended up being only 45 minutes away, not 1:15 like the maps said. Very nice. We checked out one of the cabins there at Burgdorf Hot Springs to make sure we were happy with our decision to not camp there and pay more money for a hotel. The cabin was cute, but without heat, electricity or plumbing and you needed to bring your own bedding. When we found out it had gotten to -3C that night, we were pretty proud of ourselves.
Josie and the Rhino Drop Bags
Jeremy and Brandi Humphrey are the race directors. They are young, good looking, healthy, clean cut Americans who love to run, love the mountains and love beer. I loved them. Kelly later stated she felt like Jeremy and Brandi were people Gary and I should be hanging out with. Jeremy won Bear last year and CCC the year before. He’s very tan. They began the briefing by getting a little emotional. You could tell they’d been working hard and nonstop and were exhausted and proud to see this thing come to life. It’s the 3rd year for IMTUF and this is the first year they’ve had more than about 30 people sign up. Being a Hardrock qualifier has certainly helped that.
Most of the briefing seemed typical. Everything would be marked; it would be hard; don’t worry about the sheep, but their sheep dogs might be a problem, so don’t make wolf noises at them; we might see elk or wolves; you’re not allowed to ride the goats who packed stuff into one of the aid stations; don’t worry about the hunters Lee and Larry because they’re nice and they might offer you beer. That kind of stuff. The one thing that I should have really, really listened to was it was important to keep our feet dry and that the moon dust would get into our shoes and cling to the wet and be like diamond shards. And then Jeremy told us that they'd worked so hard on this race and all he wanted was for us to work hard in return. He wanted to celebrate our finishes with us, to high five us and share beers with us. That hit me in the chest. Knowing what kind of work these races are, and watching the joy and satisfaction Gary gets at the finish lines of his races when he hugs every single runner, I felt Jeremy was a kindred spirit and he deserved that same feeling.
Kelly and I enjoyed a decent night of sleep in our warm hotel room. We drove out to the start where it was still below freezing. I quickly put on the arm sleeves they’d given us the day before along with gloves and a jacket. We huddled into the tiny lodge and waited for a bit before walking out with the crowd to the start. Then we were off.
I ran the first few miles with BJ and Joel. I met BJ in April in Kauai at a mutual friend's wedding. He’s San Diego based and a big guy with a big heart and lots of great personality. He eventually pulled ahead. Joel, who I've known from Seattle for years, stuck with me.
|Me, Kelly, Mike and BJ pre-race|
Photo by Erica Deese
The run itself was pretty uneventful for the first parts and awfully dang pretty. It's probably the prettiest race I've ever done. I said that about Bear last year, but this edged that out. The area suffered a forest fire 10 years ago. You could see dead trees and fully charred logs that were oddly shiny and striking. Intermixed with all of this was new, green growth and old trees that had survived and fall colors everywhere. I much later (around mile 95) said, "It's an amazing mix of death and life, decay and growth." Apparently fatigue brings out poetry.
Joel and I chatted lightly and we'd occasionally run with a third party and trade stories around. I was having a really good run. After a big climb to mile 26 or so, the trail became a gradual decline and was fairly rocky. This is my kind of terrain and I easily picked my way down to a water drop. As I was filling my pack, Joel caught up to me and mentioned I was moving well on the descent. We took off together again, but I couldn't go any slower without running an unnatural gait and I soon found myself alone. I made it into mile 33 alone and it wasn't until I was leaving that Joel cruised in. I thought he'd catch up again, but he never did.
|Such a pretty course!|
Photo by Joel Ballezza
At this time, I was with BJ again. This section was fairly flat and a bit rolly and it was easy to chip away at it. Eventually, I pulled ahead and cruised my way to mile 43's aid station. Jeremy, the RD was here and I told him how much I was loving this gorgeous course. He leaned into me, "Are you a Robbins?" Yes, yes I am. "Is Gary around at all?" He looked around him as though Gary would suddenly appear. No, he's directing his own event this weekend. "Ah, man, I wanted to meet him. I follow his funny blog and his Canadian exploding feet!" Of course, I laughed. Jeremy is obviously a fan of our sport and knowing he's a stout runner, I felt confident in offering Brandi and him entries to Squamish 50 (although I said I might get in trouble, it seems I've been given the thumbs up). I took off up the service road climb.
I knew at the end of this long road, I'd see Kelly for the first time. I was definitely looking forward to it. I felt great and kept trying to slow myself down. I walked the downhill here to save some energy for the burly second half. I caught up to another runner named Ryan who was contemplating dropping. After a very successful Western States, he just didn't have it in him any more. He bragged about his wife, who although she is a back of the packer, has a huge heart and pulled off 70 miles at a 48 hour run. He looked about to burst with pride.
Photo by Joel Ballezza
Finally, I came into the aid station and saw Kelly. We moved me in and out fairly rapidly. The one thing I made sure Kelly understood was that I'd need to change my socks when I saw her next (I had socks in that Josie and the Rhino Drop Bag). The dozen or so stream crossings had left my feet wet and that moon dust Jeremy warned us about was definitely aggravating my feet and toes. The first stream I encountered, I tried to cross without getting wet, but I hit a rock that moved and in I went. After that, I stomped through a couple on purpose because in my experience, I can usually do that and not feel any effects. I hardly ever blister. Since I've switched to DryMax socks, I average one blister per 100 miler. I didn't have a single one at Miwok 100k or at Squamish50m/50k. But this terrible, terrible dust was killing me and no sock could stop it. I would have needed full shoe gaiter coverage to prevent it from doing the damage it did. I did attempt to avoid getting wet after those first few streams, but either my legs were too short to leap or the rock I chose would shift and I just wasn't having much luck. When I left, there was a big creek crossing and Jeremy yelled to me to keep my feet dry. Like an idiot, I responded, "I think I want to try rinsing them off." He shrugged and I knew he knew better. I tried again to stay dry, but sure enough, I hit a rolling rock and went in. Fuuuuu....
The climb out of here was substantial. I tried not to push it too hard and would slow when I felt my heart pound and even stopped a few times to catch my breath. I could hear all kinds of people close by just chatting away like they were on a stroll. I wondered what that would be like. The trail briefly leveled out to reveal this lake surrounded by colorful trees and alpine rock. Seriously? I wondered, how is this even real? So pretty. I mistakenly and thankfully only momentarily thought this was the top, but then I saw two figures way up and ahead, so I knew I had more climbing to go. And so I went up. Two guys behind me were catching me and just in time for me to get confused about the primitive trail. They got me back on the course I'd missed by like 3 feet and I let them pass. I heard one say he was from the Seattle area and the other was from Wyoming. I made a mental note to chat with them once I could speak again--which came right when we crested the top and started back down.
Turns out the Seattle guy, Eric (actually from a town called Arlington) started ultra running because he heard of Cascade Crest and emailed now race director, then volunteer coordinator and one of my besties, Rich White to see if he could come spectate. Rich put him to work instead. Two days of volunteering and Eric told Rich he wouldn't be back to volunteer. He'd be back to run it. Two years later and 70 lbs lighter, he finished. It also turned out he volunteered there this year and loved seeing Gary come flying through. Eric had said casually, "I heard Gary Robbins's wife is running this" to which I responded, "That'd be me."
The Wyoming guy, James was moving really well but complaining of a knee issue and saying he wanted to drop. By the time we got to the next aid, he was feeling well enough to continue. We separated for a little while right when it got dark and creepy. I was grateful to hit mile 60 to pick up Kelly and company.
There's always that tiny moment when fatigue tells you not to bother doing something you know you need to do to take care of yourself. I had a momentary argument about changing my socks, but I won out. We pulled them off and they did not look good. Trench foot had already settled in and all the toes on my right foot and a couple on my left were completely raw. Mother effer. This place was super helpful and I had Brandi and Jim Skaggs of Utah (another RD) and I think a guy named Cody and Joel (dropped because of similar foot issues and gotten a ride to this aid station) and Kelly all bringing me whatever I needed. Cody fixed up my feet after we cleaned them by putting moleskin on the toes and Brandi helped me slather cream between the toes. I knew it would be a temporary fix, but what else could I do?
Kelly and I finally left and we caught right up to Eric and James and instantly Kelly began entertaining the fellas. They fell in love with her and laughed at everything she said. She had aid station workers ask her to stay with them because she was so much fun. She's beyond the best.
In my pack was the avocado mashed with salt in a ziploc Kelly'd made up for me. I took it out and took one slurp and it was like heaven! Kelly had accidentally gotten pickle juice into the bag and the mixture was one of the best things I've ever consumed. I have no idea if I would like this in real life, but apparently it's gourmet after 60 miles.
This 6 mile stretch to mile 66 took over 3 hours and zapped my energy and began killing my mood. Once we got there, we were told it would be 8 miles to light aid and then another 3 miles to better aid. I patted my pockets and became concerned I wouldn't have enough to eat. Someone gave me a honey gel and Kelly wrangled up a granola bar.
I ended up being fine, but the next 8 miles were long, very long and then it wasn't clear if it was actually 8 miles. Had it been so, the aid station would've been at mile 74, but their sign said 71. And to make matters worse, it wasn't 3 miles to the next aid, but 6. Sheezus, what?! This crushed me. I was so tired and my feet hurt so badly, that I'd lost all capability to hold it together. I cried and got snappy. Thankfully, Kelly stopped me and I turned to leave the aid station so I could be grumpy by myself. I felt badly that I'd been snippy to the nice aid station people. I tried to say thank you to one, but she was so busy, I don't know if she noticed. This group in particular were so sweet and trying so hard. They'd packed all the supplies in on the backs of goats. My biggest regret is that I didn't take the time to meet the goats. I can almost guarantee that would've made me happier. I love goats.
We forged on and climbed some more. Poor Kelly was suffering as her cold was developing in her chest and was burning. The amount of dust in the air did not help. It was like running through fog, it was so thick. I dimmed my headlamp because it helped having less light on all the particles, but it was still hard to see and frustrating. I stopped once or twice to shake stuff out of my shoes and do a cursory wipe of my feet. Every now and then I'd kick the ground and a tiny tsunami of dust would cascade onto the back of my leg and into my shoe. So terrible and Kelly was just hacking away. We decided she'd get me through the night and then I'd figure out how to finish on my own. I told her I would make her proud.
|BJ and his goat. No goats were harmed or made out with.|
Photo provided by BJ Haeck
The sun came up and I found a bit of energy. A bit. I had another sock change at what was supposed to be mile 76, but they said it was actually mile 80. That would seem nice if I knew I'd only have 20 miles left, but Kelly read somewhere it was 103 miles. This was messing with my head way too much. It was a rotten seed that festered for the rest of the race in my brain. I took the time to really clean my feet and even wet wiped the inside of my shoes to hopefully clean them out. This aid station was delightful, their dog Dylan was awesome and billows of dust puffed out of his fur every time I patted him. We ended up with BJ again for a little while. We were told not to run the downhill because it had too many rocks, but I needed to kill some time and we managed to trot a fair amount of it. In a moment of a better mood, I told Kelly I really hoped Brandi and Jeremy would come run Squamish 50 because I wanted it to destroy them (not really, they're lovely people).
Then we hit a flat, un-runnable section known as "Terrible Terrance." Story goes it's named after an uncle Jeremy doesn't like. I don't like him either.
A service road brought us into mile 84. Or was it 88? Who knows?! I was a mess. Tired, cranky, needing something to bring up my spirits but unsure what that could be. Turns out it's rehydrated potato flakes. Mmmm, mashed potatoes. I ate a plate of them, saving them from the adorable dogs whose eyes told me they'd finish whatever I couldn't. (This race had race dogs at more stations than not. I pet and kissed every single one of them. It made me miss Roxy so much.) Veggie bullion cubes were brought out just for me and Jim Skaggs was there again to give me lots of encouragement. Wyoming James was here and had finally decided to follow through on that drop he wanted. I was bummed for him, but it seemed Eric was still out there and having a good day.
It was decided BJ would "run" the last stretch with me. He wasn't keeping food down and it seemed silly that either one of us would pull ahead when we kept catching up to each other again. His wife, Erica was a dream and took such good care of him. He loves her so much and it's obvious why.
BJ and I left yelling encouragements at each other and making ourselves laugh. He was convinced we only had 12 or 13 miles. I no longer believed anything. We had a good flat section and then a bitch of a climb to get to the final aid station. There was a lot of stopping and breathing. BJ kept saying, "1 mile and then Cloochman."
"Get Clooched!" read the sign as we got close to the aid station. Someone ran down towards us and as we got closer they asked who needed a hug. I burst into some serious ugly crying and said, "I do!" Mariah wrapped her arm around me and I sobbed into her neck. God, I loved her. I asked how much further and said to please not be double digits. She said 10 miles which started the hiccup part of my crying. "They...keep...making...it...longer!" She told me she was telling me the truth and that she knew I could do it. They sat me down and rubbed ice all over me. Ryan, who I walked with earlier was there, having happily dropped. He gave me a neck massage and I jokingly asked if he wanted to come with me and keep doing that. He tried to say yes, but his wife wisely stepped in. But another young guy drinking a Stella said, "I'll go." Are you sure? I'm so slow? "No, I'll go." He was very eager. He'd been there to pace Ryan, but since that didn't work out, he was just willing to go with anyone. BJ and I got up and started moving up our 2 more miles of climbing while this guy put on socks and shoes and then caught up to us.
Brady stayed with us until the finish. It felt never-ending and my feet felt like they were exploding with every step. And then one did. Jeremy should be following my pseudo-Canadian exploding feet. A blister blew when I hit a rock and it took everything I had not to crumble to the ground. BJ soon started distracting me by asking me about my pets. Why I don't just talk about Roxy and Shazzar for 100 miles, I don't know. They are pretty much the only topic that puts me and keeps me in a good mood.
I wanted to run in with BJ, but he requested that I pull ahead so he could have some time to reflect. Brady and I shuffled off together talking about pets and giant tents and finally, finally I finished. 34:18 of dust and beauty and pain and fatigue. Kelly hugged me and it seemed like forever before I got to sit. I'd threatened to curl up and cry in a corner, but I think I was so happy to be finished that I couldn't stop smiling. I caught up with a few friends, high-fived Eric who finished about 40 minutes ahead of me. Hugged BJ who finished 30 seconds behind me. Chatted with a guy named Walter and his crew Jill. Our friend Mike had come in 5th for men. Our friend Wendy won and set the course record. Kelly had to pretty much drag me away.
I hated so much of this--being in pain and being helpless to do anything about it. My recovery has been very slow. Working all week is not helping. I almost cried twice at work on Tuesday, but thankfully my coworkers are wonderful and they've been very understanding and helpful. Yesterday my feet looked like feet again and today all the skin is starting to peel off. My feet look dirty, but it's all dried up blood. I have scrapes that go completely around my ankles from the dust that settled into the tops of my shoes. So gross. My legs feel incredible save for one spot on my shin that barks if I'm on my feet for too long. I'm not running again for a long time. I'm still not sure about doing another 100. I've said that before, but usually that feeling passes within 24 hours and now it's been almost a week. I emphatically told my running partner, Linda Wong not to do one because I never want her to hurt that much. We'll see what I do. I have a long time to think about it. Gary insists that I'm good at these things, mostly because I can power through whatever and still finish. I'm not sure if that makes me "good" or stupid or if that means I should do another one. Anyway, they give out belts to first year runners and buckles to second year. Not sure I'll ever get that buckle, but I've been wearing my belt.
Thank you, Jeremy and Brandi, for putting on a gorgeous, incredible event. It's apparent every step of the way how much work you've put into it. Thanks to West Vancouver Salomon for keeping me geared up right. Everything worked perfectly. Thank you to all the volunteers out there and to all the runners I came by who were so positive, even when they were suffering. Brady, thanks for inching along those last miles with me. Jim Skaggs and Erica Deese, thank you for the spontaneous crewing. BJ, I will learn to be as positive as you someday. Thanks for being with me and showing me the way. Kelly, I can't believe you went as long as you did with feeling the way you did. Thank you for making me feel loved and cared for. I can never repay you, but I sure will try. And of course, to Gary for loving me and believing in me.
|Race Nails: IMTUF in silver sparkles|
|Blister on my heels and forefoot and sides of both feet|
|Still puffy. What looks like dirt is dried blood.|
|My f'n awesome belt that I even wore to sleep post-race.|