ExCouch Potato shares lessons learned running 100 miles

Never underestimate the power of the human body and mind

I’m in shock. I’m high on endorphins; my mind is swirling like a tornado and my body is numb. Holy cow, I just ran 100 miles straight and earned my first highly-coveted 100M belt buckle! WooHoo! 

Transforming from an overweight couch potato seven years ago, I have made my way walking, running, swimming, riding and often crawling across many finish lines. However, my journey to this race finish line brought my athletic skills, my inner belief system and my tolerance for suffering to a whole new level.  As we say on course in the ultra world, “Nobody said it had to be pretty; just get it done.” 

From an intellectual training perspective, I should never have entered this race.  I had just come off a focused 6-month cycle of 50-mile trail race training and had been recovering only three weeks from a not-so-great race on Oct. 12.  Due to a calf injury and work obligations, my longest prep run for that race had been only 25 miles. However, I had done many back-to-back days, averaged 50 miles running a week, and had gone back to the gym for twice-weekly Athlon Performance strength training. To stay healthy and recover faster, I invested in chiropractic, massage and acupuncture in between races. 

For the past six months, my Tricky Dick Collins 50-mile race was my laser focus with the HUGE goal of qualifying for the 2014 Western States 100 race, to be my first ever 100-miler.  Not being able to train my ideal long mileage played serious head games with me and affected my performance, but toe the line I did. From the start I never felt good nor did I find my rhythm the entire race. Climb after climb I was struggling to barely make my time/mile split goals. By mile 41, with the gun to my back, now I had to redline it to make the qualifying finish time of 11 hours. 

Choking back nausea and passing runner after runner, I was descending like a wild animal when my groin went POP! I was forced to stop to assess the issue. Within minutes my fast run had turned to a leg-dragging shuffle, no longer able to run up hills at all and moving two minutes per mile slower than the required pace. 

I was pissed at myself for being reckless and battled internally over the value of my HUGE goal vs. the price I would pay in injury to my body. I now must ignore my body and force myself to run fast as hell. For the next two miles I did just that and violated my own beliefs about honoring your health first above all. Then in the depth of my pain it struck me. It’s not worth it and my body deserves more respect than this! 

Suddenly I stopped running and stood there. A thousand pounds was lifted off my back. Then I walked. The clock ticked and I walked. My mind calmed, my heart rate dropped, my ego was put in her place. Yes, I did finish that 50-mile race, but 40 minutes slower than my goal. No Western States 100-qualifier title for me today. Now my entire 2014 race season and long term goals would need re-evaluation. Time to recover and reflect. 

Four weeks later, on a Saturday morning at 3 a.m., I got up once again to perform my race rituals of drinking coffee and getting the plumbing flushed. I actually had registered for this particular race three months prior to that last 50 with no goal or expectations. I had envisioned getting my WS100 qualifier done and planned this simply to be a stepping stone scratch race. A 75-mile supported and safe training run up on the Western States 100 trails. 

This race was called The Rio Del Lago 100. Yes that’s 100 miles, though I’m only trained to run a 50, never ran a step over 50 in my life and intellectually hoped that if I went easy and made no mistakes I could make my 75-mile goal. Once I did, I told my crew, I had planned to lie down and sleep, caring less about the fat medal or ticking race clock. 

My good friend and experienced 100-miler, David from Salem, Oregon, had flown in to run with me and an invaluable running team mate, Katherine, came to crew my special dietary and gear needs at aid stations. No stress, support team at my wing, no big expectations and totally calm. I repeatedly said “Today I will simply do my best, be consistent, stay focused and it will be what it will be.” 

Day one – 5a.m. 

Pitch dark, 100 glowing reflective bodies, headlamps and heart beats. A few last words and pats on the back from fellow runners then off into the darkness we went. Mountain mile after beautiful mile we all spread out and found our own cadence. I ran and chatted with Salem David for about the first 30 miles and occasionally we connected with others making idle talk. The energy was positive and the lake, earth and river along the way added to my cool flowing experience. Due to my food allergies I carry a full pack and am self supported for about five hours but we’d stop at some aid stations mostly to say thank you or use the restroom. 

Time and miles passed and I felt really good. I developed a nasty blister, got it wrapped then decided to change shoes at mile 39. Mile 40 thru 50 was the only time in the race I listened to my iPod and I was emotionally charged hearing those tunes good friends had dedicated to me for inspiration. When I had no music I sang to myself over and over again, the soothing forward momentum of “They Call Me The Breeze” dedicated to me by Ultra Bob. 

I made it out of the medical check but had lost no weight so I was slightly over-hydrated. By mile 50 the sun was going down and it got cold fast so I changed my shirt and grabbed a flashlight. By mile 61, my stomach was boycotting, I was freezing cold and I had to puke. I was advised by Salem David to lie down at the next aid station for 20 minutes but feared I’d never get up again and my run would be over 14 miles short of my 75 mile goal. At mile 67, I gave in and my crew laid me down in a mummy bag on the ground and zipped it closed. Like a dead animal, I laid stiff with my feet elevated for 15 minutes. Then like magic, I got up, changed all my clothes, drank hot broth and ate crackers and proceeded to run out of there like a woman reborn. 

Once I left born again, I ran dressed like an Eskimo warrior for the next 11 miles, never stopping or looking back. I had dropped Salem David and ran in the dark solo through the woods in silence. The only sounds in the silver moonlight I heard were animals wrestling in the leaves. It was amazing. I saw a buck and several deer along the way and they encouraged me to be strong with their gaze. 

I knew that at mile 78, I would make it to the finish line area and see my crew Katherine once again. That is where runners check in, get aid and then go back onto the course for the last 22 mile out-and-back section that completes the 100-mile course. I did some soul searching and decided the Universe and all of my Badass team mates would want me to go on. At mile 78, at 3:40 a.m., I came into the finish area, ran to use a real bathroom and change clothes then grabbed my crew-now pacer-Katherine and out we went. Together we would get this done no matter what the time was. I now held the conviction that, no matter what the cut offs and clock said, today I would run 100 miles. We ran on. 

By now I was exhausted, my butt was raw, my feet covered in blisters and I had a sprained swollen right ankle. But the two things that counted the most, my heart and my mind, were stronger and healthier than ever in my life. Salem David caught up to us and together we three walked, ran, hiked and climbed those trails with a shared purpose. 

Day two begins 

As the sun rose on day two, the 12-mile technical section from 5 to 9 a.m. was brutal. Fellow runners were in bad shape but we all banded together with words of encouragement and respect for one another. Now past 27 hours of running, I knew the 30-hour course limit cut off was chasing us. I thought about my beloved friend Mo, battling for her life against cancer, who had told me to “kick ass” today. I told my pacers that no matter what happened I was going to run these damn 100 miles and if I did not make the time limit I did not care. Past the 30 hours, if there were no more official finishes recorded and no finisher’s medal for me, we would all still know what we had accomplished together. Tears were shared and simple but deep words of life-changing emotions expressed.  We ran on. The clock ticked and in silence we ran, walked, ran, walked, ran. 

As we emerged out of the trail woods and around the bend onto the dam levy we could see the far side of the lake, barely spotting the finish area. The music was pumping and like moths to a flame, we ran on. We were cutting it close on time and had no real idea how far it was around the lake so in laser-focused silence we put our heads down and we ran on. The announcer called out to us and, with just about a mile to go, I took off and let my mind leave my body. Once I hit the chute, I was overwhelmed by screaming people, loud music and the reality of what I had just done. The staff covered me with my race medal, race jacket and helped me into the medic tent. My weight was only 4 pounds down and blood pressure beautiful. I felt amazing. I had earned my first 100 Mile belt buckle in 29hours and 43 minutes with 17 minutes to spare.

Samantha Pruitt - Follow Samantha at shareslo.com or livingtherun.com