The race began at 3am in a dirt field on the south side of the La Sal mountains. I didn’t bother with breakfast and fueled on coffee instead. I think I was still half asleep as we began our slow jog down the gravel road. The road transitioned into a jeep trail and finally into rocky, somewhat overgrown single-track. We were climbing, the grade got steeper and the slow jog became a power-hike. I love long, sustained climbs so I settled into my rhythm and soon found that I had passed all of my nearest competitors. The narrow trail switchbacked down a slope before climbing back up through open meadows. The sun rose, and I could feel my body come alive as the mountain valley came into view.
At 14.8 miles there was a short out-and-back section along a jeep road to reach the Medicine Lakes aid station. I thought there were a few ladies ahead of me, but as I ran into the aid station the volunteers informed me that I was in first. I hate being chased so I wasn’t particularly happy to hear this. I didn’t want to be in a racing mindset this early in a 100, but I tried to convince myself to relax and just do my thing. Normally I don’t eat much from aid stations, but as I was leaving a piece of bacon called out to me. I couldn’t resist. I walked back up the road savouring the delicious saltiness and congratulating myself on such a tasty choice of snack.
I had just started to jog back up the jeep road when I projectile vomited mid-stride. I looked around to see if anyone was watching, but no one had seen me. I puke in nearly every ultra I run, so I’m not sure why I was so self-conscious about it. I puked again and decided that maybe I should walk instead of run. I’m not sure what brought on the nausea, I can’t imagine that a single piece of bacon would cause such havoc, so I think it was the altitude. I formed a strategy, I would stick to pure sugar, and eat only in very small amounts until I got back down below 9000ft. As these thoughts were forming in my head, the 2nd place lady came running down the road towards me, big smile on her face. We high-fived as I turned off the jeep trail onto some cruisey single-track.
The next section of the course should have been fast, and it took all of my self-control to dial back the effort and allow my stomach to settle down. I fully expected the 2nd place girl to pass me at any moment, I didn’t feel like I could move much slower and she hadn’t been far behind, but she never appeared. I ran past herds of cows and a cowboy with his sheep dogs. The dogs were clearly having the time of their lives and I found myself smiling as I hiked along the rocky trail. Despite the puking, I was loving the wildness of this race.
When I reached the Utah Trust aid station (26.4 miles) I was in good spirits. I may not have been able to eat much, but my legs were working fine and I was doing what I loved. I filled a soft-flask with ginger ale and began to hike up the gravel road. The next 6 miles were run entirely on gravel road, but we still had mountain views and I was grateful for the opportunity to run a bit. My stomach was settling down and I even managed to swallow a chocolate gel.
At mile 32.4 we were able to access our crew for the first time. Matt was waiting for me and I sat down and sipped on some ginger ale while doing a full shoe/sock change. I had been running in my preferred shoes (Icebug Oribis) which have great traction, but very little cushion. I needed to switch into more cushioned shoes (Salming Trail 5s) as I was about to head up the very rocky trails of 12,200ft Mann’s Peak.
The next section of course was some of the most scenic of the entire race. The alpine meadows were filled with flowers, the birds were singing and the butterflies were putting on a show. I was in my element and loving every minute of it. Even when the trail became steep and my body seemed to be moving through molasses, I was loving the adventure. Not wanting another vomit session, I was careful not to overeat or overexert myself. I crested the ridge to discover the Beastie Boys playing on a ghetto blaster and I took a moment to soak in the views. What an incredible day!
The descent off Mann’s Peak is not really a trail, it’s really just a bunch of ankle busting rubble. I took my time, feeling like I was on one of my scrambling adventures back home. The trail became more defined and the last few miles to the aid station were very runnable. As I ran into Warner Lake signs lined the trail. “We. Love. You Jimmy.” I knew I was coming up to the Jimmy Keen section of the trail and I wondered what was so special about it.
At the aid station I enjoyed a Freezie and prepared for the heat by putting on a cap with ice under it. The course had not been too hot up to this point so neither Matt nor I were too concerned about heat. We neglected to put on cooling sleeves and I didn’t bother with any ice down my bra. I’m not sure what I was thinking, I knew the forecast was for 100 degrees in the valley …
After Warner Lake the trail drops down towards Moab on the Hazzard County trail. This is where my love for the course reached an all-time high. The trail was super fun with just the right mix of technical and cruisey bits. The views of the valley were expansive, showing off the red rocks of Moab in all their glory. I was on the highest of highs, and I was about to come crashing down to the lowest of lows.
Hazzard County connected with Jimmy Keen and the trail flattened out. I began to notice the heat, but I wasn’t too worried; the water drop aid station was only a few miles ahead. By the time I reached the water drop I was feeling pretty warm. I soaked my head with sponges and enjoyed a Freezie before the 9 mile stretch to the next crewed aid station.
Jimmy Keen is the most runnable trail on the Ute 100 course. It is nearly flat, smooth, and has almost no shade of any kind. It would be a great trail to run on for a sunrise run but I do not recommend running it in the heat of a mid-summer day. As I shuffled along I recognized that I was likely running too much for the heat, so I slowed to a walk. I am not a good at walking slowly, and I think I was walking too fast because I could slowly feel my internal temperature heating up. I sipped on water, but it was hot and made me want to gag. I tried to move slower as the heat nausea gradually set in.
Baking in the hot sun, I began to vomit. I lost track of how many times I puked. Puking turned to dry heaves as my stomach completely emptied. My hot water was repulsive. I nibbled on a Cheeto, it seemed okay but I couldn’t bring myself to eat another one. I sat down under a bush in an attempt to cool off. It didn’t seem to help much so I got up and walked a bit further before sitting down again in a small patch of shade. More vomiting. I wondered if I could just stay here until sunset. Miner’s aid station was visible 3 miles away, but I wasn’t sure how I would get there. Several guys passed me, all of them suffering as well. An aid station volunteer came walking down the trail with some bottles of Gatorade. I had a few sips, it was hot but better than my disgusting water.
Somehow, I made it to Miner’s aid station where Matt was waiting anxiously for me. They had ice there and I was able to cool my body temperature down while Matt served me the most delicious ice-cold milk. I stayed for 90 minutes; drinking cold milk, ramen noodles, a little beer, anything that would stay down. The medic let me lay down in her air-conditioned car and I watched as lady after lady came and went. It was okay. This race was no longer about winning, I just needed to finish. I thought about quitting, but I was at Leo’s aid station and as such I wasn’t allowed to quit.
When I finally left Miner’s aid station I did not want to continue, but there was nothing else to be done. I was still nauseous, and I wasn’t sure if I could emotionally handle another puke session. The sun set as I slowly made my way around the 6 mile loop. With the cooler temperatures my spirits gradually lifted. I decided that even if I wasn’t going to be competitive, I could at least finish this race in style. It was time for the tequila shot-ski.
Back at Miner’s I had a cup of ramen with the most delicious bone broth I’ve ever tasted in my life. We got out the shot-ski and celebrated the ridiculousness that is ultrarunning. I chowed down a couple of Rocky Road Oreos and began the long hike back to the Hazzard County aid station.
While I was running on the sandy Jimmy Keen and Miner’s Basin trails I had switched back to my very comfortable, but minimally cushioned shoes. I was still wearing those shoes during my hike back up to Hazzard County, and this was a mistake. The trail was extremely rocky and my feet were taking a beating. There was nothing I could do about it so I told myself to suck it up, I could change shoes once I got to the aid station.
I got to the aid station but Matt was nowhere to be found. I sat down, had a cup of noodles and some hashbrowns, but still no Matt. It didn’t make sense to wait any longer, so I got back on the trail. The forest was filled with the sounds of herds of cattle, their eyes shining out at me from the abyss. It was more than a little terrifying, and I made an adrenaline-fueled push to the Trans La Sal aid station.
When I got to the aid station I was informed that I was first lady. How was this possible??? I had long ago given up on competing and I was solely focused on just making it to the finish line. I didn’t want to be 1st, I didn’t want to race at all, I wanted to just be. Matt urged me to hurry in and out of the aid station to maintain my position, but I just didn’t have any competitive spirit left. We changed my shoes; my sore feet had swollen and putting on my cushioned shoes felt very tight. I could feel every seam pressing against my feet and I had a feeling this race was going to end with a hobble.
The 2nd placed lady, Amber, arrived while I was sitting at the aid station and we left the aid station together. I decided I wanted company, and Amber and her pacer were gracious enough to let me tag along for the next hour or so. They were super cool ladies and I hoped we could maybe push each other to faster times. Sadly, Amber was feeling super nauseous so I went ahead as her pace slowed.
I arrived at La Sal Pass in 1st place and feeling like a complete imposter. I had spent so much of the day puking and sitting on my ass. I did not deserve to be here in this position. I decided to practice some self-sabotage and hung out at the aid station to allow the trailing ladies to catch up. I don’t really understand what was going on in my head at this time. I had 16 miles left, I should have been pushing to the finish!
Amber arrived, and then the 3rd place lady, Lee. Lee left the aid station first so I figured I should probably get my butt moving as well. My feet were very sore and I could barely manage a shuffle, but I was moving forward. 10 minutes later Amber passed me with her pacer. She had managed a rally puke and was moving super well! I cheered her down the trail.
I hobbled along as the sun rose, stopping once to try to tape my feet but it did not seem to help.
I puked again.
I had no explanation or solution for the puking so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. The last climb of the race was super steep, but my feet didn’t hurt on the uphill so I actually kind of enjoyed it. The final descent can only be described as slow. I was so sore, I could not run a step. The sun rose higher and it got hotter. I did not want to suffer through another scorcher, I needed to get to the finish line. I knew there was one last water drop before the end, but it was nowhere to be seen. In my sleep-deprived state I thought the last water drop was 14 miles from the finish. As time went by and the drop failed to appear I became panicked. My feet were so sore! How could I still have more than 14 miles to go?!
When I saw the white tent of the water drop I breathed a deep sigh of relief, and then when I saw the sign that said 3.25 miles to the finish my eyes swelled with tears. 3 miles. I could do that! I had my music playing so I told myself I just needed to walk for 15 more songs, 5 songs per mile.
Worried about how long I was taking, Matt had driven up the road to see where I was. I told him I was fine and he went back to the finish line to let them know I was on my way in. My friend Leo ran up the road and paced me for the last mile. It was nice to see a friendly face, but then he mentioned that there was a runner coming up behind me and that I had to run. This was the last think I wanted to hear and my feet screamed at me with every step, but his scare tactic worked. I managed to shuffle the final 100 metres to the finish line.
Final stats – 159kms, 6100m, 31 hours, 3rd female. Tired and sore, but thankful for the opportunity to experience this beautiful part of the world.
What did I learn?
- Altitude messes with race nutrition. If I make it into Hardrock I need to hire a sports dietician.
- I suck at heat. I’m at the point now, where I think I will actively avoid races with a reputation for being hot.
- My feet seem to be growing. A couple of years ago I was wearing size 8 shoes, now I ‘m moving up to 9.5.
- I don’t know how to move slowly. In the first half of the course, I tried to move slowly to allow for digestion but I don’t think I ever really slowed down enough. I got a little food down, but I always felt nauseous. Later, when I was on the hottest part of the course, I tried to move slowly so that I wouldn’t overheat. I definitely didn’t slow down enough, as I was a total disaster by the time I got to the aid station.
- To all of the race course volunteers, you put a smile on my face even when I wasn’t feeling it. The hashbrowns, bone broth, grilled cheese sandwiches, ramen noodles and everything else I ate was delicious!
- To Sean, The Ute was a true adventure and I loved (nearly) every step of the course. I am truly looking forward to watching this race evolve, and I may even come back one day when the pain isn’t so fresh.
- To Leo, thanks for the endless supply of Oreos and liquor. And thank you for being a friendly face to drag me out of my self-pity.
- To Matt, for being the ultimate crew. I’m not sure I could have reached that finish line without you.
- To Spry, thank you for all of your support. I will be back to get more shoes, as it appears my feet have grown 🙂