To sum it up… in a year when seemingly nothing has gone as planned, God provided a day where everything went according to plan. In a year that has felt isolating, God provided a day overflowing with the love and support of friends & family. In a year when I have felt defeated, God provided a victory. I’m humbled and grateful. Here’s what happened…
I had planned on going back to Leadville this year to finish the 100 mile race where I DNF’d (Did Not Finish) last year during my first 100 mile attempt. After the 2020 Leadville Trail 100 Run was cancelled back in May, I had a decision to make… continuing training for a 100 miler or put things on hold until 2021. I decided to continue pressing forward. I did not want to let another year go by with this DNF hanging over my head. I was determined to finish a 100 miler, even if it wasn’t Leadville.
In my determination to do all things possible to reach this goal, I had started working with ultra running coach Cindy Stonesmith in March. As part of this coaching, she created and managed my training plan in TrainingPeaks. Here’s an example of what it looks like…
Compliance colors are used to indicate how close a completed workout was to the planned workout. The color green means I completed the workout as planned, yellow means “not quite”, and red indicates a skipped workout. My runs automatically upload into TrainingPeaks from my Garmin, and for other workouts (e.g. Body Pump strength training), I go into the App on my phone to track. This tool kept me motivated, as I sought to obtain as many greens as possible. In a year when so many things have felt out of control, completing my workouts was one thing that felt in my control. And it provided a much needed sense of having a plan, working toward it, and seeing results.
Some key differences in how I trained this year vs. last year:
- I spent 2.5 hours/week on strength work (compared to 1 hr/wk last year)
- My workouts were focused on heart rate instead of pace
- My weekend long runs were focused on time on feet + elevation gain instead of mileage
I had a list of races I’d planned to run in 2020, but due to COVID, I ended up not doing any of them. My summer of races became a summer of running adventures. A few highlights…
I had a couple back up races to the Leadville 100, but those ended up getting cancelled as well. On August 10, the Run Rabbit Run 100 was cancelled (I deferred to 2021) and on August 24, the Stagecoach 100 was cancelled (my registration was pending race confirmation, so no deferral). It was now certain that I would be running my own 100 miler the weekend of September 19-20 instead of an official race. My friend Sacha said if it came to this, she would make sure I had all the support I needed to make it happen. The last Saturday in August, Sacha and I met to discuss course options. She suggested starting in Winter Park, running over Rollins Pass to Nederland and making my way to South Boulder from there. I loved the idea and Jay was on board. I now had a plan and 3 weeks to figure out all the details.
First, I mapped out the course route in MapMyRun…
Then, I created a planning spreadsheet. Sacha reached out to our friends to rally support. I was humbled by the response. My pacers would be:
- My husband Jay (on mountain bike from Winter Park up to the Continental Divide)
- Kelly Luck (from Rollinsville to Walker Ranch)
- Carrie Wallace (from Walker Ranch to Marshall Mesa)
- Kasia Lundquist (for the first Dirty Bismark loop)
- Sacha Mittelman (for the second Dirty Bismark loop and final stretch to the finish)
And my crew:
- Erika Morreales: From Rollinsville to Walker Ranch
- Lindsay Sweet: Coalton Trailhead
- Jay: The rest of the time
In my planning spreadsheet, I estimated what time I thought I would reach key points on the course. I would start at 5:00am, and projected finishing at 7:55am the next morning (27 hours).
On Sun, Sept 7, I did some course recon with Jay & Misha. I’d never been across the twin trestle bridges and wanted to know what it was like beforehand. It wasn’t as scary as I thought, so that put my mind at ease. However, the winds were intense (over 50mph). You can hear them in this video I took. It’d been a windy summer (part of what fueled a horrific wildfire season). I hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with treacherous winds during my 100 mile run.
On Fri, Sept 11, I had a long prep call with Coach Cindy to talk through every aspect of the 100 miler… mental preparedness, emotional preparedness, proper sleep and nutrition leading up to race day, what to wear, what to pack, how to fuel during the run, etc. Plus, a plan for how to address a list of specific issues that may arise over a 100 miles (e.g. feeling tired, negative thoughts, aches and pains, stomach issues, etc.). Things were getting real!
Leading up to my 100 miler, I’d been working long hours and dealing with a lot of work stress. With one week to go before the 100, I felt like I might be reaching a breaking point. I questioned if I should scrap the 100 mile attempt. On Tues, Sept 15 (just four days before my 100 miler), I had a particularly rough day. After work that day, my good friend and Revolution Running Coach Heather North came by my house to wish me luck. Her visit was really encouraging and helped turn things around. Thank God for friends.
I took that Thursday & Friday off work. I spent most of the day Thursday packing and organizing.
That Thursday afternoon, my shirt & buckle from completing the Leadville 100,000 FT Challenge arrived in the mail. I completed the challenge as a team with Sacha. Over 10 weeks, we collectively climbed 146,121 feet. We had a lot of fun with this challenge and pushed to make it into the Top 10 of all teams (which we did)! Our team name “If You’re Scary” made us giggle because it originates from a trail running trip in 2019 where we ran from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea. As we were about to descend Mount Conigo, our French guide (with large repelling rope in hand) said in English “If you’re scary, stay close to me”. What he meant to say was “If you’re scared, stay close to me.” We still laugh about it to this day.
On Friday afternoon, Jay & I left for Winter Park. On the way, we hid a gallon of water at two of my planned aid stations (just in case something happened and my crew didn’t make it). Upon arriving in Winter Park, I could finally relax. All the planning & preparing was done. Nothing left to do except make it happen!
After an early dinner, I was asleep by 8pm. My alarm was set for 3:30am. My Aunt Becky had prayed I would get the best night’s sleep on planet earth, and I did. I woke up only once during the night and went right back to sleep when it happened (unheard of the night before a race!). In fact, I had slept so deeply that my alarm startled me when it went off. I woke up feeling well-rested and 100% healthy. I had an unshakable feeling that it was going to be good day. I said my morning prayers and started getting ready.
At 4:30, Jay & I drove the starting point. As I waited for him to prep his mountain bike, I wrote this post…
It was almost hard to believe the time had finally come. I turned my Garmin on and my heart rate was already at 110. Wowza. My coach calls this “anticipatory heart rate”. My goal was to keep my heart rate in Zone 2 throughout the day. Given how high my heart rate was without even moving yet, I’d need to keep a close eye on it in the initial hours.
I’d planned on starting at 5:00, but Jay & I were ready to go before then, so we started a few minutes early (a perk of running your own course!). I pushed the start button on my Garmin. Hearing that start beep felt like the starting gun at an official race and I got all those same race start vibes.
It was pitch dark as Jay & I made our way out of Winter Park. It was a cold, quiet morning. Just the sounds of my footsteps and the sound of Jay’s bike wheels turning in the gravel as we started the climb up Rollins Pass. A couple miles in, I could hear a herd of deer running in the trees right alongside me. It was a special moment. I looked up at all the stars and thought about how the sun would soon rise and I would be running until the sun set and then rose again.
I got into a rhythm of alternating between running and walking to keep my heart rate down during the long climb. Jay was carrying almost all my stuff, so I only had to carry a handheld water bottle and whatever nutrition I was currently consuming.
It was coldest right before dawn, about 32 degrees. Just as my fingers and toes were on the edge of going numb, the sun rose and warmed me up.
At 11 miles in, Jay took the following picture, which my sister then posted on Facebook. My sister has been a constant source of encouragement for me, particularly since our Dad died. I’ve called her in tears more times than I can count, and she always knows just what to say. Just like Dad always did.
I was 11 miles in and feeling great. Around this time, a bow hunter came up on his mountain bike. He said he’d passed us in his truck back in Winter Park a few hours prior. He couldn’t believe we’d come this whole way up. He asked how far we were going. His mind was blown when he heard 100 miles. He was from Louisville, not far from where I’d be ending the 100 miles. He said it was incredible that I’d be getting there by foot.
Just after this photo was taken, in the final stretch before reaching the Continental Divide, we saw an eagle soaring in the sky above us. It was just Jay & me and an eagle in that final stretch to the top of the divide.
We made it to the top of the Continental Divide (the highest point on my route – 11,700′) at about 9:00am. Jay texted my pacers & crew to let them know I was running ahead of schedule. At the same time, I got my pack loaded up, knowing Jay would be leaving me shortly.
The trestle bridges were built in 1905 and sit at an elevation of 11,600. They were part of a harrowing and dangerous railroad that climbed up and over Rollins Pass to connect Denver to Winter Park.
After I saying goodbye to Jay around 16 miles in, I would be running solo until 29.5 miles. This was the only stretch of the course I ran by myself. I put my headphones in and started the descent down into Rollinsville. The first song that came on was “Something Just Like This” by The Chainsmokers & Coldplay. “Where’d you wanna go? How much you wanna risk?…. I want something just like this.” As the music played on, I reminisced about the first time I was on this stretch of Rollins Pass. It was a beautiful September day, like today, back in 2009 (the year Jay & I got married). My parents came out to Colorado for a visit and we went four-wheeling up Rollins Pass. Memories flooded my mind as I passed the exact spot where we took the following photo.
At the time this photo was taken, I was just shy of 32 years old. Little did I know my dad would be gone before I would turn 38. A quote my Aunt Marty (my dad’s sister) sent me as part of an encouraging email for my 100 miler rings true. “Sometimes you will never know the VALUE of a moment, until it becomes a MEMORY.” – Dr. Seuss
Time went by fast as I made my way down Rollins Pass. I had to continually force myself to slow down to keep my heart rate in check. I was now starting to periodically see people coming up the pass from Rollinsville. There was even one guy who yelled “You Got This!” as he went by. I must have had a look of determination on my face. I decided I would stop and take a selfie once I reached 25 miles. When I hit the 25 mile mark, there was a beautiful patch of aspen trees for my backdrop. I even had cell service to post to Facebook…
With about a quarter mile left on this section, I saw someone up ahead jumping up and down. As I got closer, I realized it was Sacha. She was there, crewing with Erika. I didn’t expect to see Sacha until she paced me overnight, so that was a fun surprise.
There was full sun now and it was starting to get hot. At Erika’s car, I grabbed a handful of ice and put it in the back of my sports bra. Up next was a fully exposed 6 mile section along Portal Road. In full sun, in the middle of the day, it would have been pretty hot. However, just as I started this section, clouds rolled in and I had this incredible cloud cover. It was almost too good to be true. It seemed everything was going my way today.
The 6 miles along Portal Road were my fastest miles of the day (~10 min/mile pace). Erika ran with me for the last couple miles of this stretch until we made it to her car that was parked at mile 36. Next up, Kelly would pace me from mile 36 to 53.7.
Kelly and I would have 5.5 miles through the woods before reconnecting with crew at West Magnolia. In the final approach to West Magnolia, I saw people in costumes and heard yelling through a megaphone. I thought it was some crazy NedHeads, since we were now in Nederland. But, as we got closer, I realized that those were MY FRIENDS in costume and it was SACHA yelling through the microphone.
Next up was a stretch along Magnolia Road, one of my favorite places to run and not far from our house. Along this section, Scott & Jamie showed up, which was another fun surprise. They cheered at a couple different spots, and even recruited random cyclists they encountered to cheer for me as well. I was getting more support today than I ever imagined.
The next aid station was at the Forsythe Canyon Trailhead. More fun and more costumes.
From here, Kelly and I would run to the Walker Ranch Trailhead. Along the way, we reached the halfway point – 50 miles!
It took me just under 12 hours to run the first half. I was feeling strong and the miles were flying by as Kelly and I made our way to Walker Ranch. This would be my last aid station during daylight hours.
Carrie was my pacer for the next section, from mile 53.7 to 66.3. She had the extra duty of running with a portable charger to recharge my Garmin watch (I wanted to make sure it didn’t die before I finished) as well as my phone (which served as my tracking device).
It was Carrie who paced me last year at the Leadville 100, from mile 50 until my race ended at mile 62. I was in rough shape when Carrie was pacing me at Leadville last year, and couldn’t even hold a conversation with her. What a difference this year. I was feeling great and we spent the next several hours chatting nonstop.
The sun started to set as we ran and it was dark by the time we descended the steps into Eldorado Canyon. We took it slow. I did not want to risk falling down those steps! Jay was waiting for us down below. We reached Jay at the exact time I had predicted. Right on schedule.
The next stretch was pitch dark. I’m so glad I had decided to put on a headlamp in addition to my waist light. As my coach would say, “the brighter your light, the faster you will run.” This section felt like a scene out of the Blair Witch Project. We were in the middle of the woods and I could only see what was illuminated by our lights. Everything else was pitch black. I thought we might encounter some wildlife. I told Carrie I wanted to be sure we kept on talking, so we wouldn’t startle any creatures.
Carrie and I made our way along Goshaw Ridge, then connected to Dowdy Draw, and finally the Community Ditch trail. Now, we were only about a mile to Marshall Mesa, where Jay and my next Pacer (Kasia) would be waiting. To my surprise, there was a whole group of folks waiting there when we arrived. I should have turned my headlamp off for the group photo. 🙂
At this aid station, I changed into a new shirt and sports bra and wiped myself down with some baby wipes. I felt refreshed. I downed a Coke and some food, a little too fast. When Kasia and I set off, I let her know I needed to walk for a while to let things settle.
Not long into my time with Kasia, I heard some coyotes howling. To which Kasia responded, “those are just birds.” Ha, ha… yeah right. I was on high alert along this section as it’s where I had encountered a mountain lion back in May. I heard the coyotes howling some more and Kasia said, “it’s just birds” and then quickly changed the subject. She had a couple stories lined up to tell me, and promptly started the story telling.
Before I knew it, we were approaching the Coalton Trailhead where Lindsay and TC were waiting for us. Lindsay had the back of her trunk open and the aid station supplies all neatly lined up for me to choose from. We were in and out of there quickly and right on schedule, it was now midnight.
Leaving the Coalton Trailhead (going clockwise) is a long uphill slog that seems to last forever (even when you haven’t already run over 75 miles). I was looking forward to getting to the next part, where we would have some nice downhill switchbacks. Unfortunately, by the time we reached that point, the winds had picked up and we were headed straight into some intense headwinds. Kasia told me to put on my jacket & hood. She was concerned I might get cold. I wasn’t cold, but did as Kasia said. The jacket & hood made me feel more protected from the winds. The worst part was that the wind rocking my body was making me feel sleepy. This was compounded by the fact that the wind was so loud, Kasia & I couldn’t hear each other talking. We pushed on into the headwind in silence for what felt like at least an hour. Kasia later told me it was about 30 minutes. Reflecting back, this was the toughest stretch of the 100 miles for me, and honestly, it wasn’t too bad. I’ve endured tougher moments during road marathons.
All day, I was aiming to consume 150-200 calories per hour. By the middle of the night, my mouth seemed to be more tired of eating than my legs were of running. Much to my surprise, I never lost my appetite. With just a couple miles to go before making it back to Marshall Mesa, I thought about what I would want to eat once we arrived. A bowl of chicken noodle soup was sounding delicious. I asked Kasia to let Jay know I would want that as well as a change of socks & shoes. He was on it. When we arrived, I sat down in a camping chair to change my shoes. Next thing I knew, Kasia was at my left foot and Sacha at my right foot. They took off my socks & shoes and cleaned my disgusting feet. The ultimate demonstration of just how committed my friends were to me. Reminded me of when Jesus cleaned his disciples feet. It was humbling.
While sitting there, I calculated my projected finish time. This required doing math with multiple numbers involved (current time of day, number of miles left, projected time it would take to complete those miles, projected time of day at finish). Math is something I typically can’t manage to do in the final miles of a marathon. And yet, I was able to do this math after running 83.5 miles. Amazing! I couldn’t believe I was still this with it after all these miles and no sleep. It was 2:40am and I had 16.5 miles to go. I projected I would finish between 7:30-8:00am.
It was the first time I’d sat down all day. My legs felt super stiff when I stood back up. Sacha assured me that they would loosen back up once we got going.
I was now in the final stretch! What a feeling! Sacha was an instrumental part of making this day happen. I had run so many trail miles with Sacha, preparing for this moment. And now, it was all coming together.
It was Rosh Hashanah, and Sacha was so excited (not kidding) to spend the Jewish new year running through the night with me. She’d even planned on bringing challah as part of the celebration. She had made a special trip to the Jewish bakery that afternoon, but her pup Emma got to it and ate the whole thing. Sacha is a such great story teller, and this story of the challah (filled with all the hilarious details) was the first one she told me this night. It gave us a good laugh.
The miles with Sacha flew by. I knew it was within reach to finish under 27 hours and I wanted to make that happen. I was moving with relentless intention.
Next thing I knew, the sun was starting to rise. Seeing the sun peek up over the horizon flooded my heart with emotions. I had made it through the dark night and the sun was starting to shine. I now had only about 3 miles left. In less than hour, I would reach the finish line. My heart was overwhelmed and I started to cry. It was happening. It was REALLY HAPPENING. I was about to finish 100 miles.
Sacha was updating my crew as I made my way closer to the finish. She posted the following picture when I had about 1 mile left to go, and said, “running strong into the sunrise, managing to laugh even in mile 99 of 100.” I was laughing and crying at the same time.
Jay and friends were waiting for me at the finish. The following picture captures just how stunning the sunrise was that morning.
Sacha and I were so close now! Here we are, coming into Marshall Mesa with friends cheering us in…
My watch said 99.2 when I reached the finish line area. There was no way I was stopping short of the full 100 miles. I turned back around. Sacha, Kasia, Kristy, and Erika accompanied me for the final 0.8 mile.
And now, here I am, finishing 100 miles!
My friend Erika HANDMADE the finish line. I’d never run through finish line tape before… it was really fun!
After I crossed the finish line, in true Type A fashion, I made sure my Garmin had captured it all.
Then, Sacha presented me with a custom belt buckle she had made to commemorate my 100 miler. A very special gift.
Finishing the 100 miles felt like a dream. In the sky, I saw rays of sunshine peaking through the clouds. It felt like both my dad and my Heavenly Father were shining down on me in that moment.
It had all culminated into one of the best days of my life.
So that is how it all came to pass. In a year when seemingly nothing has gone as planned, God provided a day where everything went according to plan. In a year that has felt isolating, God provided a day overflowing with the love and support of friends & family. In a year when I have felt defeated, God provided a victory. I’m humbled and grateful.
Great write-up of a great accomplishment! What a super team of supporters too! All to the glory of God.
Amazing! I so enjoyed reading and seeing all the pictures! Truly an incredible accomplishment! Cheri NUGENT
Sent from my iPad
Dear Joann: Thanks for the new post on your journey. So much fun to read and join you on your run. By the way – Happy Thanksgiving. Marty brought my dinner to my patio – she had made a fantastic meat. I’m stuffed and feeling great. Hate that I couldn’t go to her house for the day, but have to play it as safe as possible. Will be great when we get a vaccine. Love You and Jay, Grandma Audrey
Intellectually we all know the enormous amount of training and planning a feat like this takes until we read the SUMMARY and realize, no we don’t really. I am humbled by your determination and fortitude to achieve this goal. It was exactly the right year it turns out. May you continue to be blessed by so many caring supporters in whatever you next dream to achieve. Pretty sure it will amaze us yet again. Love you kiddo.