The morning dawned… no, no that’s not right. It would’ve been way nicer if the morning had dawned. No, instead, my alarm went off at 4:05 am. This is not dawn. This is dumb. Anyway…
In anticipation of a stupid wake-up time, I slept in my race clothes, hair already braided. I rolled out of bed, totally grouchy, threw on my hat, watch, and some sunscreen, grabbed my breakfast, and met my friends Jesse, Kathi, and her husband Chris, in the lobby of the hotel at 4:25. We had a lively ride to Pine Trailhead. Poop was probably discussed. I’m not positive on that, but I was involved in the conversation, so it’s likely. Poop: it brings people together.
We arrived at the race start about 15 minutes before the race would begin. I realized I’d forgotten my flashlight. As in, I hadn’t even thought to pack one to bring to Payson with me. Lovely. Well, I run in the black regularly, I could make that work, but I figured I’d ask at the registration table if they happened to have any extra lights. The look on Joe’s face was priceless. I’m sure you can picture the look: “You are at the start of one of the hardest ultra’s in the country…. And you didn’t think to bring a flashlight. We will find your body on the trail.” It was a great moment. My friend Laurie was there crewing her husband, and she thankfully had a light she let me borrow- problem solved!
Race start time- ish. We all corralled. Joe said some stuff about markings and things. Then we started running.
Let me back up just a skosh. Last year I started Zane Grey 50 mile with an injury. This injury flared horribly within the first mile. The rest of my race, until my DNF 7 miles from the finish (over cutoff), was a practice in walking as fast as I could. This has haunted me. I needed to finish this race. This year I did my best not be injured, forgoing all races, and even doing almost no running the last three weeks before the race. My plan for the day was to maintain a comfortable, gentle, (read slow) pace for the first 50k (it’s a freaking long 50k) and then pick it up if possible. Remember child, Highline eats her babies. Don’t go too fast. I’ve run here a lot. I know this. The pace I was wanting would allow me to stay comfortably ahead of cutoffs at the aid stations. All I wanted was to finish Zane. My first mile went really well this year. Then my hands got fat.
No, really, like FAT. I thought they were just cold at first, but no, they looked like Fat Bastard’s hands in Austin Powers, only with fewer dimples and no wrinkles. Weird. I don’t usually have any issues with swelling fingers, at least not very much, and certainly not within the first few miles of a run. Whatever, I could still run just fine.
Kathi and I hung together, chatting and really enjoying our time. We rolled into Geronimo aid, mile 8-ish, just a few minutes ahead of our goal time. We were doing great. We watered the bushes and moved on out.
The next miles into Washington Park aid rolled by. We were both really looking forward to that aid station because our husbands and families would be there. Turns out they only beat us there by about 5 minutes! We were making good time- not too fast, just steady and comfortable. We both felt good. We ate some food, watered the bushes again, and were off again.
I knew from my training runs that the course out of WA Park was much longer than before, but much more runnable, due to trail work and clean switchbacks. Kathi and I trucked along, sometimes I pulled her, sometimes she pulled me. Sometimes we lost each other for a bit. I think it was somewhere in here that I tripped, and when I caught myself my calf cramped. Weird. So I walked that off. Then as I started to run up a hill, my hamstrings cramped. Even weirder. The calf cramp made sense, sort of, but I’ve never had my hamstrings cramp before, and I don’t cramp in general. So I walked for a bit- cramped up hamstrings could completely finish me off. When I got into Hell’s Gate aid station, Kathi was just a little behind me and gave me some Endurolytes. My hands were still all super fat, and that coupled with the start of cramps, I thought maybe I needed something. Still weird, though, because I never use any kind of salt- I just rely on my food for all nutrition.
I moved out of Hell’s Gate and felt pretty good. Just rolled. No more cramping. I ate my food, I drank my water, and then, then I started to not feel so great. I couldn’t name it exactly, just something was up. I kind of felt nauseous. I wasn’t hot, I’d been drinking normally. I’d peed a few times. Not great colored pee, but I was peeing, and I don’t normally pee more than once on a run of that length (you totally wanted to know that, right?). Kathi caught me and pulled me, and shoved me towards Fish Hatchery. We rounded a bend and there was my husband, Andy, standing just at the bend of the trail looking for me. I just lost it and started crying. I had a very emotional spot. I knew something was going on with me, but for the life of me, I had no idea what. He gave me a huge bear hug that I really needed.
Kathi and I then ran into Fish Hatchery aid station. Everyone was cheering so loudly, I was crying all over the place. There were so many friends there! I got a really great hug from Todd. I probably hugged some other people too. I was in a blur. We had a significant time buffer by this point, so I sat down in the road and tried to figure out what I needed. My ginormous hands were struggling to get things out of my pack pockets, so I readjusted those. I ate what I could, but food wasn’t sounding great. I drank some water, and some sugar and all. My pacer Amy was there and was so helpful, and Andy brought me delicious coke. Kathi got going with her pacer- she had been struggling with an injury for over a year, and needed to keep moving to keep it at bay. The medic came over to check on me- I must have already been looking like a hot mess at that point. I certainly felt like one. I don’t usually have medics check on me.
I finished up and Amy and I walked out of Fish Hatchery. Zane is difficult for many reasons, one of which, in my opinion, is that while the first 30+ miles are difficult, the last 20 miles are brutal. I knew I would be walking a lot. So that’s what Amy and I did. And it was okay. I had enough of a buffer, I knew all I needed to do in order to finish was to leave See Canyon aid station by 7:15 pm. As long as I did that, I was golden to finish. We hiked up the big hill out of Fish, ran the downs. But something was wrong. I just didn’t feel right. I turned to the side of the trail and forcibly launched all my food and water I’d taken in at Fish Hatchery into the grass (That means I puked. A lot.) Now, RARELY puke. Two pregnancies and no puking. Sick with the flu? Maybe I’ll puke, maybe. Sick with food poisoning? Naw, no need to puke. Needless to say, I’d never puked during a run before. Never really even felt particularly nauseous. Add it to the weirdness of the day.
After puking I felt much better. I was concerned about my hydration, so I started taking little sips of water periodically just so my body would have something. We moved pretty well until we hit some uphill (this is Zane, it’s a lot of uphill) and then I threw up again. I would drink a little bit of water, we’d hit a hill, I’d puke. I lost track of how many times this happened. Amy was there the whole time. She moved my hair out of the way (I’d puked on it the first time, and then she handed me a wet wipe and helped me clean up my pukey self), she rubbed my back. She didn’t even gag, at least not that I noticed. I thought, “Well, maybe I just need to go up the hill REALLY slowly, and then I won’t puke.” Or, “Maybe if I sit down on the uphills periodically, I won’t puke.” It didn’t matter. I puked and puked and puked every time. I puked until there was nothing left to puke, and then I puked some more. I always felt better after puking, but then we’d climb and I’d puke again. My body and head felt solid, completely fine, but my stomach just wouldn’t quit. Finally, after yet another puke, I just gave up on drinking. There was no point. Funny thing, that, I stopped puking and I was finally able to haul ass. It was a hiking ass-hauling, but it was strong and felt great. I even peed again, and there was a significant amount and it was good color… What?!?!?! This whole day makes none sense.
We got into See Canyon aid station about 20 minutes before cutoff. I learned that Kathi had come in and decided to finish!!! I was so glad! As I mentioned, she’d been struggling with injuries for a long time and really was unsure about even making it to Fish Hatchery, let alone finishing. She was out and gonna do it!!!! Strong woman right there. Me meanwhile… I sat down and drank the ginger ale Andy brought me. I nibbled an M & M, a potato chip, I sucked the sugar off a gummy thing. Kathi’s husband was there and gave me a Perpetuem tablet. I managed two bites of that. I was seriously thinking I was going to have to drop here. Again. 7 miles left and another DNF. I’d even joked to Amy on the way into See, “I’ll make further in Zane this year, but not make it any further.” (Last year it was 46 miles at See Canyon, this year it was like 48). I knew the trail out of See Canyon, it sucks even on a good day. On a day where every uphill makes you puke? Inconceivable. I was cold and shaking under a down puffy coat and fleece blanket. My lips were purple. I looked like a salty zombie. It seemed unwise to continue. I’d essentially had nothing to eat or drink since Fish, apparently preferring to leave it all on the trail. But I had a thought. I still had time to leave the aid station, and as long as you leave See Canyon by cutoff, you can take as long as you need to finish. What if I just walked out, and Andy stayed at See Canyon for a little while. I would know pretty quickly if I was going to continue with the puking. If the puking continued, Amy could run back and tell Andy and I would come back to See. If the puking stopped? I could finish. I broached the idea and my crew agreed. I got up and walked out.
The first tenth of a mile I felt horrible. It was slow. I was zipped up in the down coat and the fleece was around my shoulders and I was shaking, teeth chattering. But as we got moving a little, I started to warm up. We hit the first uphill and I didn’t need to puke. I took off the fleece, eventually, unzipped the coat, and booked it up the hill. Still just hiking, but it was a very fast hike. I decided not to drink anything. I was afraid of pissing off my stomach again. I’d had an entire cup of ginger ale at See, and I’d peed just before that, plus it was cold now, I should be good enough.
It got dark, and there was the flashlight making me think of Laurie. I shined my light on the trail and Amy’s feet ahead of me and I just followed her feet. We chatted. I was so incredibly thankful for everything she’d done for me that day. I knew that I would not have made it that far without her. This entire day was a group effort, all to get me across the finish line. From Laurie giving me a light at the start, to Kathi and I pushing and pulling each other for the first part of the race, to the NUMEROUS friends I’d seen along the journey, leapfrogging with them, laughing, (some finishing, some not), to good ultra friends at the aid stations, to Andy being there and encouraging me and helping me, to Amy helping me puke and pulling me along the hardest part of the trail: I’d needed and was so thankful for every single person there that day. So, she and I hoofed it. At the top of the See climb, the landscape opens up. Looking west, towards where I’d started out the day, I could see a promontory of the Rim. There was a low lying cloud stringing out just below its peak in silhouette, otherwise the sky was clear and the moon was gorgeous. It was beautiful and peaceful. I was grateful I’d made it to this familiar spot on this very hard day.
The next handful of miles to the finish are a blur. I was so very tired. Amy set a strong pace and I just kept up. The dark closed in around me, but Amy was there. Eventually there was a sign saying we had 1 mile left. I was so exhausted, I wasn’t even excited about this, I just wanted to be done. Then Amy said we only had a quarter of a mile left. I just agreed. I had no idea about anything by then. Suddenly Amy stepped aside and said, “You’re there! There’s the finish! Go get it!” So I did.
I crossed that line, my watch reading 55.8 miles (50 miles my ass) and then just sat down in the grass. I didn’t want to move anymore. Andy was there and gave me a space blanket. Somehow I was covered in my fleece blanket again. I was shaking and cold, and tired, but I’d made it. I’d gone 20 miles with essentially no food or fluids except for a cup of ginger ale, but I’d made it. Somehow I was up off the ground and in a chair. My friend Miguel came and congratulated me. He’d paced his girlfriend the last 20 miles and declared Zane, “Efn hard.” I think I agree. Kathi’s husband was there and gave me a gift from Kathi (she’d finished, OF COURSE, but she’d needed to go). Andy put my finisher’s medal, picture, and jacket in my lap. (Just to let you know how fuzzy my head was, after Andy read this blog post, he informed me that Kathi’s husband was not there. Do not trust the ultra brain.)
The medic came to check on me again. He asked me where I was. This confused me. Where the fuck do you think I am? I just finished Zane. I’m at 260 Trailhead. Is this a trick question? He laughed. He asked me how I was feeling: cold, tired, sad, happy. How much detail do you need? He seemed pretty happy with my responses, but asked if I wanted them to take my vitals just to be sure. That seemed like a good idea, and I told him so. He agreed. I showed him my Fat Bastard hands, and told him when that had started. My blood pressure was 113/82, I think my pulse was 88 and blood O2 was 97 (apparently I still had the faculties to remember numbers). He was satisfied with these, and with the fact that I was interacting with and joking with him. He warned me not to blast the heat, or get in too hot of a shower, or I might pass out. Otherwise, I was good to go.
So, that was my Zane. My hands are returning to normal, slowly, my left one more than my right. But they at least have some contours again, so that’s positive.
I’d never heard of, let alone contemplated ultras before hearing about Zane. Once I learned they were a thing, I really wanted to run one, so I did. Then I ran another, and another. Zane was always my bucket list race since it was the first I’d heard of. DNF’ing it last year was so hard, but I learned so much from that experience, and I knew I had to come back and try again. As I think about how I feel, I’m excited. I remember my first ultra, a 50k, and how horrible my body felt afterwards. I feel better than that. I’m stronger, both physically and mentally, than I was then. But being stronger would not have mattered a bit in my goal of finishing this race were it not for every single person I’ve mentioned in this post, and the numerous others I know my blurred ultra-head missed. Thank you, my ultra family.
Featured Image stolen from my husband. Check out his work here: https://afifield59.wixsite.com/dedtekdesigns