Death Before DNF 100
I’m a mom to a 3.5 year old, a sports chiropractor, an ultra runner, and apparently I’m crazy. Or so I’m told multiple times per day. I don’t see it as being crazy, just slightly on the shallow end of the gene pool :) What people don’t understand is that everyone needs something or has something they are slightly addicted to. For me, it’s trail running and pushing myself beyond my known limits. With the community I’m in, there are many moms that constantly push their bodies to the brink of breaking, and beyond. Whoever says that being a mom makes you slow down and deviate from your dreams needs to get all my athlete mom friends and myself in a room together, and we will see who comes out on top! I think I can put money on that one! I am always amazed at how well some of my friends handle everything and just how much they are able to put up with to keep pushing, possibly to prove a point, but more just because, they don’t know how to quit. It just doesn’t happen. I’m stubborn. I don’t quit.
This weekend, I completed the Death Before DNF 100 mile trail race. I was one of 2 to finish on an extremely tough technical course that took me just over 47 hours to complete. A typical 100 shouldn’t take more than about 30 hours at the most, but this one, this one made me actually question why the hell I do the things I do. With just under 30,000 ft of elevation gain in 105 miles, this race doesn’t have the most vertical climbing compared to some others, but the technicality of the course in the Black Mountains of NC made this race one for a challenge.
The race was a wave start, with 3-5 runners in each wave. There were 27 that started the 100 miler, and about 50 total that started the race to do one or two loops of the 26-mile course. I started at 7:30 and was quickly befriended by Chelsie from Chattanooga, TN. We climbed the Mt. Mitchell trail together up to the Buncombe Horse Trail where we could actually run a little. After a few vistas and some pictures, we continued on the bushwhacking trail that clearly hadn’t been used in a few years. But as we cleared that section, there was a long 7-mile downhill jaunt to the ½ way aid station. We were able to have a fun downhill running session and frolic on the old abandoned mining road trail. I got to the aid station just after Chelsie because she had taken a wrong turn somewhere after slowing down on the downhill portion, but I was feeling good, and met my crew at the car. My husband refueled my pack for me, and my friend, Ben, documented the experience on his GoPro.
Next, we took off on the Colbert’s Creek Ridge Trail straight up to Potato Hill at 6,475 ft elevation. This was a 5-mile uphill portion with just over 3,500 ft of elevation gain. There was boulder stepping, tree hopping, rock scrambling, dirt crawling, and root dodging. I passed about 10 guys who had planned on doing more but were quitting after the first loop. One guy was supposed to do the 100 but was not prepared mentally for the difficulty of the course. I tried to motivate him but he was done. One guy had run out of water before the top of the climb so I offered some of mine but he decided to fill up in the next stream.
The views were amazing at the top of the climb with the final elevation of ascent at 6,546. It was a brutal climb! The trail came down a bit to the Big Tom Connector trail, which was more of an ancient riverbed with huge boulders and a slight portion of grassy knoll. After about ¾ mile and 700 ft descent, I hit the Bumcombe Horse trail again and headed back to the Mt. Mitchell Trail down to the Campground. The way down on that trail is not very runnable at all, so it was all I could do to keep a relatively good pace while descending. I came into the start area through a downpour with a 9-hour first lap time, which I was really proud of. My husband refueled my pack, Ben documented, and I headed out for another loop. I was feeling relatively good at this point as I was just on a jaunt through the woods.
I came into the ½ way aid station again just after dark, refueled, and headed back up the mountain. Ben wanted to go with me this time so he turned on his external speaker and we headed out. It’s actually not as bad to ascend in the dark. I prefer it since you can’t see the top and just keep going. But it took a toll on my body. I hit Big Tom and descended down in the dark, making it back to camp around 4 am. My husband had set up the back of the SUV so that I could get some sleep and put some compression boots on. I drifted off, slightly defeated, not knowing what would happen next.
As my hour passed and Rudy began getting stuff ready for me to go again, I kept saying, “I can’t do that damn loop 2 more times! I just can’t do it 2 more times!” Rudy would have nothing of it though, and literally dragged me out of the car (gently), got my shoes and my pack on, and sent me back out. I was the only girl left in the race at this point, and one of only 2 still on the course. The other two that ended up doing another lap, quit after 2 laps.
As much as I didn’t want to get out of the car to continue, something made me get out, other than my husband. I had to prove that I could do it and prove that my training was legitimate. Instead of traditional long distance training, I had used Crossfit Endurance exclusively, and it was working! My legs weren’t tired, my core was strong, and my shoulders weren’t fatigued, the whole time! The only thing that hurt was my feet from all the rocks and roots. Since this course was so technical, there was a lot of what amounted to single leg squatting and scrambling. I also didn’t want to tell everyone that I had failed and I didn’t want my son to know I didn’t finish. He would love me either way, but it wouldn’t be the same for me if he asked me if I won or not. I couldn’t let that be the case. So we left out for another loop.
Lap 3 sucked. That’s all I’m going to say about that one. It was slow, long, boring, and we just trudged through. But as we were getting stuff together to leave on the 4th lap, my spirits lifted since we only had one more to go! Everyone at the camp was so excited that it was just me and one other guy out there and that we were actually going to finish! When we got just about to the top of the first climb, we saw Drew, the other racer on his way to finish and took a picture together. His feet were obliterated by blisters and mine were hurting pretty badly too. I wanted to get it done so we were booking it to the next aid station. Darkness fell as we crested the climb so we dawned our headlamps, turned up the music, and kept trucking. Running downhill in black bear country is quite an experience because you can’t see what’s out there but you hear a lot of noises. We were making loud sounds to alert them of our presence the whole time, hoping not to meet one in person. I think I would poo my pants if I actually saw one.
The last aid station was a quick one with sock changes, new food, full water, and a renewed spirit. We quickly made our way up the first part of the less technical aspect but once it got to be more technical, I had to start taking breaks. I couldn’t quite catch my breath as easily, I was getting dizzy, and seeing stars. It was all I could do to get over some of those boulders. There were even some where I literally leaned backwards into Ben’s arms and if he hadn’t been there to brace me, I surely would have fallen, so I was very grateful that he was there. I popped a blister at the top of the climb and we headed down. But still, on the way down, I had to take breaks because I couldn’t catch my breath, and even one time, I thought I was having an anxiety attack. But I got my breathing back on track and we made our way slowly down the trail, even thinking we were on the wrong trail for miles. Neither of us wanted to say anything though because that would mean we would have to go back uphill, so we kept going and eventually found ourselves at the correct intersection at Big Tom.
It was downhill from there! But this 7 mile section would take us over 5 hours to complete. The pain in our feet, the chaffing from the humidity, and the utter exhaustion all made for a long slow descent. There was even one portion where I hallucinated and thought there was a very large mountain man sitting on the side of the trail sleeping! Ben took a dip in one of the cold streams to alleviate the burning of the chaffing and we both had a good laugh. As the sun began to crest above the mountains, the sky turned a fiery red beautiful color and I realized that we are just small creatures in this awesome world. The whole race, I kept thinking how horrible this trail was and that whoever made it was one sick individual. But at that moment, I realized that nature is so beautiful and something so powerful and bigger than man certainly created it for us to enjoy.
Then, I snapped back to reality and realized how much everything hurt! We still had 2 more miles to go and every single step hurt. My knee was swollen and my feet were not happy with me. I began to break down and tried to tell Ben to go ahead. He wouldn’t though. He said, “I’m your pacer and you’re my friend. I’m not leaving you!” I gave him a huge hug with a good little cry and we continued on. Nearing the bottom of the climb, we heard the river at the campground and both let out a huge sigh of relief. We crossed the wooden bridge and stepped onto the gravel road to make our way back to camp 200 ft away. I stopped in the stream that crossed over the road to let my feet cool off, which felt so good!! I sauntered into camp, dropped my pack and poles, sat on a tarp, requested a beer, and began to eat real food. Real food!!
With all 105 miles done, I cussed, tripped, scrambled, climbed, hopped, cried, hallucinated, talked to God, and appreciated the awesome feat of nature we live in and take fore granted every single day. This race was awfully awesome. There are no words to express it other than that. I am extremely proud that I accomplished something so difficult and have my crew to thank for that. I wouldn’t have gotten out of the car at mile 50 if Rudy hadn’t been there. I would have probably fallen down the mountain had Ben not been there to catch me. I probably would have quit if someone hadn’t said so much that they didn’t think anyone could do it. But we did. 2 of us finished, and my pacer did the 2nd longest distance out there! No one else did over 50 miles. He is a true friend and I am grateful for his companionship. Really good friends that will drop anything and suffer with you as you complete a 2-day challenge are one in a billion. As for my husband… he’s the absolute best on the planet! Post race meal, Waffle House, of course! What’s next? Who knows. I’m always up for a challenge.