Technically, I could tell you all about the twists, turns, up + downs of the Never Summer 100K race, but what fun would that be? If you want to experience the crazy gorgeous course…go sign up for next year! Plus, my selective memory has already kicked in + I only remember the stunning views from the peaks, not the brutal climbs we fought through to get to them. Ah, selective memory…the only reason we keep going back for me.
Or is it? Maybe there is more to an ultra than just the Instagram worthy courses or bragging rights that come with a long day on the trail. Maybe - just maybe - the entire ultra craze is about more than just what the non-running world sees when they watch us beat ourselves up on rugged trails. No, really, it is. My day on the NS100K course affirmed this, again + again.
Rather than brag up the course or tell you how I felt hour-by-hour I want to share another part of this race…the community + the people that made it all worth the slog it became for me. They’re still giving me warm, fuzzy feelings + have me adjusting my summer schedule so I can volunteer at more ultra races. Gawd, I love these people!
I arrived at the start line of the Never Summer 100K with a very merger training base. Nearly all of my “training runs” were really just random bouts of trail explorations. Sometimes I found runnable trail, sometimes I climbed steep mountains, sometimes I splashed through mud, sometimes I sweat buckets. I was outside on my feet but I wasn’t exactly doing what any realistic training plan would suggest. Knowing this I went into the race with what I’ll call “adjusted expectations”. I knew I could cover the distance but I wasn’t sure how my body or mind would fair. Both did well…thanks to the people around me.
The first few miles were spent just cruising along, settling into a comfortable pace + listening to the runners around me chat about the course, life choices + race goals. We ran together, we hiked uphill together, we refilled our water bottles together. I started to recognize packs, shorts + shoes as we leapfrogged each other, adjusting our paces as the course took us along steep climbs, flat roads + rocky descents. By the time we rolled into the 18 mile aid station [Diamond Lake AS] we had found our groove…the 15+ people around me would become my trail friends for the day.
We all did our own thing at the first crewed aid station + made our way back onto the trail for our second big climb of the day…up, up, up. Together. Very little of our personal lives overlapped + in the “real world” we would have done little more than smile + nod if we passed each other on the street. Here on the trail it was different.
One of my favorite parts of being in the middle of the pack at ultras is the camaraderie. We’re all there racing our own races…chasing down our personal goals, not the person in front of us. The person leading the pack on a narrow single track stretch will say “let me know when you want to get by”. More often than not those following will sit tight, happy to have someone else set the pace.
As the race continues + the terrain changes you’ll learn a bit about the runners around you. For example, Val dominates the flat stretches while I’m more nimble on the descents — we chat a bit when our paces have us together on the climbs then happily move aside to let the other person scoot along when the mountain offers up worthy terrain. This is how you make trail friends — paying attention to + chatting up those around you. I mean, there is little else to do on the side of a steep, unforgiving mountain!
Throughout the race I learned little tidbits about the people around me — Tim from Golden was hoping to see his family at the AS, Amanda was in a FB group we both frequented for trail-ventures, Kevin ran with a group of mutual friends, Megan was the RD for the race that was my first DNF, Don recently moved from Texas to Colorado, Chris got this race entry as a birthday gift from friends, Brad shared a big handful of mutual friends…I could go on + on.
These were the people who kept me going for miles + miles + miles. My unofficial pacers, if you will. I can only hope that my random chatter + loaded sarcasm was as helpful to them as theirs was to me. These trail strangers are the reason I love trail races. Yes, the solitude + scenery are a big motivator, but the time I get to spend alongside these crazies are what truly make trail ultras so incredible.
But…those aren’t the only people out on the course doing awesome things! While the other runners kept me company on the long, rugged miles between aid stations it was the aid station volunteers + crews that kept us all going to the next aid station. We’d roll into the aid stations [or trudge in, as most were on top of a brutal hill] to a bunch of cheering, smiling + overly excited faces eager to help us get food, water + gear all set up for our next stretch of running.
These people were taking time out of their weekend to watch us attempt something stupid, just because we could. Some had little invested in our success + were there purely out of the kindness of their hearts [or lack there of, considering the level of suffering they were encouraging]. Others had spent months picking up the slack around the house + encouraging us every step of the way to help us balance life + training. These people, most relative strangers to me, were there because they wanted to be.
My mom was one of those people. She had never witnessed anything close to the insanity of an ultra race, let alone such a rugged mountain race. A few years back she spectated the Fargo Marathon + promptly swore she would never do anything like that again. Her RN ways kick in + make her “mom worry” go into overdrive. I can understand that…but when her week of van life matched up perfectly with the Never Summer 100K I went into bribery mode.
I don’t think she understands why I run trails, especially the ultra distances, but she now has a good handle on why I get so excited about the people. As we were leaving Sunday morning she pointed out cars + individuals who had been great to her on the course. Strangers chatter with her + offered her rides up to aid stations + made her feel like she belonged there, regardless of her personal experience in the setting. For my mom to say she “felt like she belonged there” is a massive compliment to the ultra community. As if I needed another reason to get all giddy about these people!
If you haven’t figured it out yet, courtesy of my excessive use of positive adjective, the people made this race. Sure, I swore at Nick + Pete [the RDs] a few times — crossing over runnable switchbacks just to plow straight up a mountainside jacks with your mind; they deserved those curse words! But all in all, it was an incredible day on a breathtaking course with some awesome people. Time well spent on the trails, as always!
As for any nitty gritty race day details — I survived, happily. Mostly. I was moving strong for the first 50 miles, playing with a sub-20 hour finish [a decent feat on this course]. My mind was happy + my body was feeling good. I wasn’t pushing the pace but I wasn’t exactly dilly dallying around. It became quite obvious I spend too much time in aid stations, but what’s an extra 2 minutes? Yea…this is why I’ll never be very good at actually racing ultras.
As the day got hot I started sitting in all the stream crossings just to cool off + freeze up some of the tendon pain in my feet. I was wearing three year old shoes that were known for fighting with the tendons in my feet — not the best choice, but what I had available in the #yourlead van. I’m paying the price now with some tender tendons, lesson learned.
Once I hit the Canadian AS at mile 50 I was starting to battle serious sleepy eyes. My week leading up to the race was not full of restful nights or easy days + my longest “time on my feet” training day didn’t even hit 10 hours. This is where the “adjusted expectations” came into play. My body slowed down, my brain got run drunk + my stomach started fighting to sugary caffeine I was dumping into it. I wasn’t falling apart yet but I did need to ditch any time goals I had + focus on getting my body back on board. This would be good experience for future races…
At the Bockman AS Chris, an past co-worker + adventure buddy, was there to experience the last 10 miles of crazy with me. He had no ultra experience but has been toying with the idea since I’ve known him…time to show him how great it is. Ha. I was a bit of a mess. Run drunkery kicked it up a notch at that aid station with me not even recognized volunteers I’ve known for years. Welcome to ultras, Chris.
We spent the last 10 miles fake running, trudging + stumbling our way to the finish line. It was fantastic to have Chris there as company! He didn’t push me so much as he gave me a reason to keep moving. Looking back at it…yea, I could have suffered a bit more + ran more of that stretch but I didn’t want to. I’m okay with that. I may have lost a lot of ground in a rather runnable 10 mile stretch but I did learn how to manage my own angry tummy, keep moving when every log looked like a nappy spot + force my brain back into the game when my body hadn’t checked out yet.
I ran through the finisher’s chute with a finish time of 21 hours, 30 minutes. That put me 2.5 hours ahead of cutoff [always the ultimate goal]. I was happy to be done + incredibly happy with how well my brain + body managed the course. It wasn’t a perfect day but it was a pretty awesome day. Partly because I got to spend hours upon hours on beautiful mountain trails but mostly because the people were incredible. Every single person I talked to on the trail was a help to me in one way or another…so, THANK YOU ultra peoples for being so great.
If you’re ever handed the opportunity to get up close + personal with an ultra race, do it. Truly do it. Do not stand back + simply watch the entire time. Cheer on the runners, pick up on the bits + pieces of their story, help them fill their packs, get to know fellow crew/pacers + feel the crazy excitement that comes with every finish. Even as volunteers, crew or pacers you will experience some of the crazy emotion that goes into ultra running. Who knows…maybe you’ll get trigger happy with the registration button + you’ll need those crazy runners out there helping you next time!
Ultras are definitely a physical feat but it’s the emotional side of trail running that has us coming back again + again + again. The people are why I keep going, even when drowning myself in a lake seems more appealing than trudging up another hill…thank you, people, for being so stupidly supportive + positive!