It’s been more than a year since I finished the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler and in fact another Run Rabbit Run 100 miler has transpired since then… And yet I’ve not finished this story.
There are a lot of reasons for that, some deeply personal, but mainly it’s just been busy-ness, though.
But, I’ve found a little window of time to write and it’s high time I wrap this up… So here we go!
(See the end of Part 5 here to catch up!)
Dawn had come, and it is impossible to overstate the power of dawn in an ultramarathon. Sunrise is so incredibly life-giving. Sara had helped get me back on track with my eating, so that was another way I was beginning to feel better. Melanie helped freshen up my clothes, gave me a full pack that would carry me on to the finish.
One of the quirks of this race is that Dry Lake aid station (mile 74-ish) is the last chance to get a pacer until just 3 or so miles from the finish line. So, you need to have a pacer who can go the distance, who’s ready to put in a long, slogging 50k. And there’s no one better for this job than one Joseph Bearss.
Joey is an incredibly accomplished runner in his own right. In 2014, we did several races together, including the Leadville 100 (which you could read about here if you’re completely devoid of anything else productive to do with your life…). He’s also well on his way towards doing at least a marathon in all 50 states, with many of those being ultras. In fact, in training for Leadville 2014, he ran 6 marathons, in 6 states, in 7 days. Ugh.
Furthermore, he’s an experienced pacer, having helped get several other friends over the line in 100 mile races… He’s fun, funny, talkative when he needs to be and willing to be quiet when appropriate. He understands the pain a 100 miler runner is feeling. He knows what a runner needs to keep going (food) and he’s patient, encouraging and pretty much one of the best guys ever. I was so lucky to have him for this last leg!
We started the grind up the last 7 or so miles up to Summit Lake aid station. The course follows a forest service road that winds its way up above the Yampa valley and occasionally the view opens up to reveal expansive views of mountains brushed with the brilliant colors of changing aspens. Run Rabbit Run offers views for days.
Also, since it is a forest service road, there are campers super close to the road almost the whole way to Summit Lake. And with the early hour, it was a bit like sneaking through someone’s bedroom for 7 miles.
We were pretty alone through this stretch, if I remember correctly. We were hiking strong and with purpose. I was able to muster a shuffling jog on a couple of the super slight downhills, but overall we were just hiking hard uphill. We were only passed once, I believe, by a German runner.
I had done this stretch in training, so I knew when we were getting close to Summit Lake. The 13+ miles of climbing were over. And we were still very far from the finish line, but the toughest climb of the race was now over. I was moving and eating well. Things had really turned around.
Approaching Summit Lake aid from this direction, there’s actually a privy (rustic bathroom) maybe an 1/8 of a mile out from where the aid station sits, and I had a need, a deep, deep need to make good use of that privy. I handed my hydration pack to Joey, so he could rush ahead to the aid and refill my water and get my drop bag and supplies, and I headed into the privy.
And I just say, this parts a little gross. A little TMI… but that’s the nature of ultras. Things get raw.
After my business was done, I realized first that there were no supplies in the privy. And second, I realized that my supplies, for JUST SUCH an occasion, which I had so studiously and steadfastly and carefully packed ahead of time, were in the pack that I had sent on with Joey.
I was in need and empty handed…
Except for my gloves, which I realized I no longer needed because the morning was warming rapidly.
So, I made do with what I had and cleaned up the best I could. And when I got up to the aid station, I sealed up my defiled gloves into a sturdy plastic bag, cleaned up with some wet wipes and found Joey with my pack ready to go. I took off some layers of clothing that I’d had on through the cold of the night, stuffed everything into my drop bag. I think I freshened up my feet a bit, too.
And I ate French Toast. The fine volunteers had made FRENCH TOAST and I have never been so happy to see it. Oh my gosh.
Joey crushed breakfast burritos and orange Fanta like a champ. The calories and carbs were a serious boost to energy and morale and with happy stomachs we headed out of Summit Lake back towards Long Lake, about 8 miles away.
This stretch of trail was new to me, and it’s gorgeous. Winding single track rolling through high mountain meadows. More fall colors in the leaves of the brush and bushes. Evidence of how low the temps dipped overnight was seen in the layers of ice on the occasional puddle on the trail, and in the thick frost in the low lying areas. But it was now all melting quickly in the sun, rising in a brilliant cobalt blue sky.
We came upon a runner and her pacer from Lake City where she’s a teacher. I can’t for the life of me remember their names but we they were hilarious and shared great stories of their experience of the race so far. But Joey and I were moving just a bit quicker and we soon moved on.
And so began something pretty freaking amazing… we found that we were moving a bit quicker than just about everyone. By this point in the race, runners were very spread out, but we began picking people off. Only once or twice were we passed by runners with a “Hare” bib, but it really seemed that we were flying compared to other racers. And that’s an amazing feeling 80+ miles and 24 hours into the race.
And soon enough, we rolled into Long Lake aid station, which for me was the third time coming through. We refilled packs, had another brief, but hilarious, conversation with Jenn Shelton (who was slightly more sober than when Luke and I had seen her 12 hours previous), grabbed a bunch of watermelon and kept rolling. We were hauling ass and the finish line was a half-marathon away.
Out of Long Lake, there’s really the last climb of the race, but it’s not even that much of a climb… we made short work of it and kept rolling… picking off other runners as we went.
We came upon Matt Scrudato again, who I’d run with earlier in the race, and who was really hurting with some bad blisters, but he was determinedly moving along.
We came upon the loogie hocking guy, who talked way too much, and found that he’d latched onto a couple of other runners and was yak, yak, yakking away, still.
We came upon some guys partaking of some recreational marijuana… Hey, you know… whatever. It’s legal here.
We passed them all. Hiking hard, shuffling into a jog now and again, running downhills. My stomach was rock solid and I was eating well every time Joey asked me to.
Mostly through this section we were silent though. Just working hard, moving well… rolling.
Turns out, Joey was doing the math on how far we had to go and trying to figure out if we could get to the finish line in under 32 hours. Now… there’s nothing magical about that time, per se… the “big buckle” cutoff for RRR is 30 hours, and the final cutoff is 36 hours, but Joey has a magical way of helping you set a goal and figuring out how to help you get there. Picking a goal like that is incredibly motivating.
Joey also texted Melanie and Sara, letting them know we were drawing close. They were planning on taking the gondola up the mountain to cheer us on where we would have just about 3 or so miles to go. After they had seen Joey and I out of Dry Lake, they’d all headed back to the condo to get some sleep, knowing that there were hours and hours to go. And when we left Dry Lake, I was more than 2 hours behind my predicted pace and not moving very quickly.
So, when Joey texted, informing them that I was less than 10 miles out, they were absolutely shocked and had to spring into action, because I’d made up all of that time, and was now back on my original scheduled plan…
The stretch from Long Lake back to Mt. Werner, which sits at the top of the Steamboat ski area, is another gorgeous stretch of rolling single track, with the occasional little grunt of a climb. We continued to fly, me clicking away with my poles, Joey behind me encouraging and guiding.
We came into Mt. Werner, excited to see Becki, who was working the race for the timing company. We gobbled up some watermelon and busted out of there quickly. I could smell the barn.
We knew that the last 6-ish miles were straight downhill. Joey asked if I could run, because if we were going to make it under 32 hours, we’d have to move… and he knows that I love running downhill. And sure enough, I found that I COULD run! We started flying downhill. I’ve never, ever felt so good at the end of an ultramarathon of any distance. We were hammering downhill. Other 100 milers were so shocked to see us pushing so hard. The 50-mile race was also finishing at the same time, so there were a couple of 50 milers who ran past us, but other than that, no one was moving half as fast as we were.
Initially, for some weird reason, I had it in my mind that I would change shoes when I saw Melanie with 3 miles to go, and so I’d told Joey to text Melanie to bring my shoes. But, now that we were moving soooo fast, he texted again that we’d only have time to “Kiss and Go!”
And so, as we wound down the gravel road toward the finish, we came around the corner to see Melanie and Sara and they were cheering hard. And there was a quick kiss and then off we went, running, running, running with occasional walk breaks rest the legs.
About a mile and a half from the finish, the course drops off the gravel road onto some single track and Joey kept encouraging me onward. We weren’t exactly sure how far we had to go, but we knew we were getting close. It was looking like we were going to make it under 32 hours, but we kept the hammer down.
Joey took off ahead, to let everyone know we were coming, and so I had the last half mile or so alone. It felt soooooo GOOD to be running so hard after 100+ miles. I mean, EVERYTHING hurt, but not bad enough to NOT run. About a quarter mile out, I passed one last runner and came around the corner and could see the finish line area.
And then I could hear Joey, and Sara. Then there’s just a few yards to go.
And then it was done. 107 miles.* 31 hours. 54 minutes. 7 seconds. 50th out of 108 finishers in the Tortoise race.
(*The race officials say it’s 103. Some GPS tracks say it’s up to 110. I took an average of several Strava records of the race and came up with 107…)
At the end of the Leadville 100 a year before, we basically walked it in, which was appropriate for those moments, but this feeling… of being able to push so hard at the end… it was something else altogether. Running through to the end like this made Run Rabbit an incredibly deep and satisfying experience.
Melanie was there for me at the finish line and I hugged her and released much emotion. Hugs from my mother in law. Hugs with Sara and Joey. Luke and Anne had to head back to Denver after their pacing duties… or else I’d have hugged them, too!
I am so grateful that such tremendous people would so selflessly give so very much to me. It’s a bit overwhelming to be the recipient of such grace and blessing.
Finally, to have worked so hard, for so long… to have those extreme lows and then to feel so good at the end… I simply cannot imagine more deeply fulfilling finish.
But I can’t wait to try again! 🙂
Mom’s finish line video:
Sara’s emotional finish video can be found here: