IMTUF 100

Mile 0 to 15

I lay in bed, awake. My alarm starts to go off. I hit snooze for the third or fourth time. I’ve been awake most of the night. I finally get up. As I get ready I feel the usual pre-race anxiety and self-doubt, magnified by getting no sleep. The only cure for this self-doubt is to start running.

At 6:00 am an elk call signals the start of the race.

Finally, it’s time to run. The cheers fade and all that’s left is the sound of everyone’s footsteps on the gravel road.

The road turns to single track and we start our climb up Bear Creek Mountain in the dark. My headlamp reveals clouds of moondust lingering in the air.

As I climb higher the sun starts to reveal everything covered in a heavy frost.

I’m surrounded by beautiful views of low-lying clouds hovering around the tops of mountains as the sun’s glow reveals the beauty around me. I am enamored at where I am. I stop and take pictures.

Despite the great scenery, I can’t help but fixate on how terrible my stomach feels. As other runners let loose down the first descent I ride my brakes, trying to reduce bouncing and hoping for a bathroom. Finally, at about mile 14 I find one. What a relief.

I arrive at Upper Payette aid station (mile 15) feeling mediocre. I’m loving the course, but I still don’t feel well. It’s good to see Alex, Tim and Bunda. I want to show them pictures and tell them about my morning, but they try to keep me focused and encourage me to not waste time.

As I leave I start to reflect on how I’m feeling. My energy is low and I haven’t found an ease in running. I try to focus on where I am so I don’t get caught up on how I feel.

The course is great so far! The mountain ambiance is strong. The weather is perfect; cool and crisp. Everything about this place is ideal. All I have to do is move along a well-marked trail, up and down these magnificent mountains. It’s early in the race. My stomach will get better. I’ll feel better soon. Just keep moving.

Mile 15 to 37

As I leave Upper Payette aid station I start running alongside Cary. We introduce ourselves and start talking. He tells me stories of pacing Andrew Miller to a Western States victory in 2016, and of finishing IMTUF in under 27 hours last year; he’s hoping for an even faster finish this year. I realize our race goals are a little different, so I let myself fall back.

I make my way through “Terrible Terrence.” I expected it to be terrible, but it really isn’t. The trail is a little overgrown and not very runnable, but it’s well marked and doesn’t last long.

Terrible Terrence pops me out onto a rough jeep road, which is a long, gradual ascent to North Crestline. This 5-mile stretch of jeep road is pretty terrible. I try to alternate hiking with occasional running, but the miles pass slowly. The rough, rocky road beats up my feet. The never-ending climb wears on my mind.

I stop to take a pee for the 7th or 8th time and think to myself, this is getting excessive. I’m peeing every 20-30 minutes. I notice my hands are puffy and my fingers difficult to bend. Something is not right. My tailwind and water consumption is right on schedule. It’s a cool morning, though. Maybe I’m overhydrated?

I pull out my phone and see that I have service. I send a text to Alex regarding my hydration issues. She tells me to slow down on Tailwind. For the next couple hours, I stop drinking Tailwind and only drink a few sips of water. Eating real food at aid stations also seems to help. It takes a few hours to get things back to normal, but eventually, I seem back on track.

The rough, never-ending jeep road finally turns to single track and I start to make my way across Crestline Ridge, a huge, beautiful amphitheater of granite rock and burnt trees. I’m completely captivated by this place.

Some rolling climbs across the ridge eventually turn to steep switchbacks leading me to the top of Crestline Pass. The trail meanders across more beautiful landscapes. White granite, burnt trees, and little red plants fill the landscape with vibrant colors. There are also occasional pine groves and open meadows.

Eventually, I reach Fall Creek Summit and South Crestline Aid Station (mile 37) on a dusty ATV trail. The moondust is especially thick here. In places, it’s several inches deep. Each step kicks up a cloud. There’s no keeping it out of my shoes or lungs.

Mile 37 to 55

Shortly after South Crestline, a steep, technical descent begins. RD Jeremy warned us about this one. It’s steep and filled with loose rock. I replay what Jeremy said at the pre-race briefing, “Kilian skills or hospital bills.” I take it slow.

Photo Credit: Howie Stern

Rocky terrain gives way to a lush forest and soon I’m on a 2.9-mile gravel road stretch to the next aid station. Bruce from Salt Lake City catches me and we run together to Lake Fork Aid Station (mile 44). I’m feeling how I’d expect to be feeling at this point; a little tired, but mostly good.

Alex has everything ready for me as I arrive. I change my socks, eat pizza, and tell Alex about the course. After about 15 minutes I’m heading down the trail feeling excited about how the race is going.

I recount the course profile in my mind. Only a couple big climbs left, Snowslide and Diamond Peak, until I can coast in the last 23 miles (supposedly).

As I head towards Snowslide, the terrain is easy and flat at first. It slowly turns into a grindy climb, gradually getting steeper. Eventually, I find myself on a steep slope stopping to rest every few steps. Slow progress is still progress, I tell myself. One step at a time.

It feels good to reach the top of Snowslide ridge where I’m met with beautiful views. The sun is getting low in the sky.

The descending trail is steep and technical. As I start to head down I hear Nate behind me. He’s cruising so I decided to follow his lead and let loose a little, testing my Kilian skills. I slip and slide,  nearly falling a couple times, but somehow we both make it down in one piece.

We reach Snowslide aid station (mile 56) right as darkness sets in. I take a few minutes with Alex, getting restocked and ready for the night. She sends me off with words of encouragement. I feel like I’ve bounced back from the lows I felt earlier.

Mile 55 to 70

The next 5-mile section is all gravel road and it goes quickly. I hang with Nate and Tim for the first couple miles. The company is nice.

I arrive at Duck Lake Aid Station (mile 60), quickly top off my water and head down some single track into the night. Most of the section from Duck Lake to Upper Payette feels relatively flat and easy. I’m feeling awake and like I’m moving well.

I make it back to the Upper Payette Aid station at about 1:00 am, about an hour ahead of when I expected to arrive. It’s getting cold and I can’t seem to put enough clothes on. I’m not sure the actual temp, but it feels like it must be in the 30s. Alex helps me stuff my pack with all the warm clothes I brought, just in case. I head out hoping that movement will warm me up.

Mile 70 to 84

Diamond Peak is the last of the big climbs, and it isn’t an easy one. It’s steep and it feels like it never ends. As I warm up from the climb, I realize I now have too many layers on. I stop and take a layer off.

I hear voices. Maybe it’s the aid station?

It turns out it’s not voices, it’s just the howling wind.

It feels eerie being up here in the middle of the night. My legs are shot. I’m struggling both physically and mentally to keep myself moving. Just take another step, and repeat. Keep moving.

I see headlamps high above me, revealing all the climbing I still have left. Ugh. This is hard.

I finally reach the aid station sitting atop Diamond Peak. A few hearty volunteers and their donkeys/mules hauled everything up there to make us hot soup and quesadillas all through the night. It’s a great to have this reprieve. I notice Anna Frost and her husband as they walk into the aid station right after me. I sleepily introduce myself.

Before I head out I get a quick picture with the Diamond Peak Goats.

As I leave the aid station I’m relieved to have another aid station done, but my legs are shot. I move slowly down the other side of Diamond Peak. It’s cold and dark. The trail is technical and stream crossings became more frequent. My feet get wet, making things feel even colder.

I see lights in the distance but I can’t tell if it’s an aid station or just a headlamp. I hope it’s an aid station. It turns out it’s neither. It’s just a course marker reflector hanging from a tree. Damn. At least I’m still on course.

I’m in a sleepy stupor and this section never seems to end. I feel cold, tired and run down, hardly able to maintain a god-awful slow pace. I want to sleep. I want to be warm. I want to be at the next aid station.

I see some more lights in the distance. This time it’s the aid station.

I walk up to the campfire. The aid station (Willow Basket Junction #1 at mile 84) is a simple campsite in the woods. A nice couple has kept a fire going all night, providing warm food and encouragement to runners as we trickle in. They assure me it’s only a few miles to the next aid station, Chinook Campground. I’m especially looking forward to Chinook because Alex will be there.

Mile 84 to 93

As I head towards Chinook Campground, the dark, star-filled sky turns to dark blue along the horizon as the sun gets closer to peeking its head out.

I arrive at Chinook (mile 87) to the cheering, smiling faces of Alex and Bunda. I lean on a rock and eat breakfast, bacon wrapped in a pancake. Alex tells me there are only 16 miles left, which is a pleasant surprise to hear. For some reason, I thought I still had 20 to go.

A sub 30-hour finish still seems within reach, but just barely.

I feel determined and focused as I leave the aid station. I usually don’t run this late in a hundred, but today I find the will to do it. I run the flats and descents and hike the climbs. I’m feeling good. Only 6.4 miles to the next aid station.

It feels much longer than 6.4 miles. All the aches and pains from running over 90 miles start to surface. My left calf feels strained. My knee is locking up on climbs. I’m fucking tired. I’m losing it. I’m doubting myself. I’m giving up on a sub-30 hour finish.

I finally wander into Willow Basket #2 (mile 93). Getting here immediately perks me up. Only ten miles to the finish. The morning sun is starting to warm things up so I change out of my warm clothes and dig deep for some more determination to get me to the finish.

Mile 93 to 106-ish (Finish)

I’ve been told this last section is easy. I expect nice, flat buffed out trails. It’s not exactly that. It’s rolling hills. In some contexts, this might’ve felt easy, but not for me, not now.

A few miles of single track turns to a dusty ATV road. Even these short little hills feel like a grind. My knees are still locking up. I feel like I have nothing left to give.

I look at my watch and convince myself there’s no way I can finish in under 30 hours anymore. In the back of my mind, I hang onto a slight glimmer of hope. I don’t let myself slow down too much.

I finally reach Ruby Meadows Trailhead, the last place to see crew before the finish. It’s only 2.8 miles to the finish from here.

I walk down the road with Alex telling her how I screwed up my sub-30 hour finish. She tells me not to worry and reassures me I’m doing great.

I start shuffling along real slow. I think I’m giving all I have. Then a car passes, and someone yells out the window,

“Only a little over a mile!”

I looked at my watch, it’s 11:50 am. I have 10 minutes.

I run faster, giving it everything I have. My legs suddenly feel fine.

A few minutes later another car passes, and someone yells out the window,

“Only a little over a half mile to go!”

I feel like I’m sprinting now.

I make my way to the final turn and catch a glimpse of the race clock in the distance. All I can make out is 29 hours, 59 minutes, and some odd seconds. There’s still a chance. I run harder. My legs are working fine. Apparently, I had a lot more left than I thought.

As I cross the finish line the race clock reads 29:59:46.

I put my hands on my knees trying to catch my breath as I relish in this moment of satisfaction.

All the feelings I experienced leading up to this moment manifest. Exhausted and energized. Sad and happy. Overwhelmed and present. Victorious and defeated. Alive and grateful. Nothing left to give. Nothing more needed to give. Just my reflections, emotions, and a pure, exhausted satisfaction.

Photo Credit: Howie Stern

P.S. Thank you, A

Crewing isn’t easy, especially when it’s only five days after finishing Tahoe 200. Staying up for (another) 30 hours, trying to find aid stations in the middle of nowhere, Idaho with no cell service. Waiting around trying to anticipate how I might feel and what I might need; wondering how I’m doing and hoping I’m not lost. Not knowing when I’ll arrive and hoping not to somehow miss me. Crewing is stressful as shit, but you did it with grace. I looked forward to seeing you at aid stations, more than you can imagine. Trying to run 100+ miles in an unfamiliar place could have easily felt overwhelming, but knowing you were out there supporting me gave me the mental comfort that I needed to focus on running my race. Having you there was everything I needed.

Photo Credit: Howie Stern
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