I don’t know when or where I decided I had any business running 100 miles, but Yetis and unicorns were definitely involved. When I ran my first 50k in August of 2014, it happened to be the Yeti Snakebite. I’ve counted myself a Yeti since then even though I’m not sure I’m quite cool enough. Yeti races are incredibly inclusive, fun, laid back (but still very well organized), and empowering; the community of people that show up for races make it seem like you can accomplish anything. When race director and lead Yeti, Jason Green, started the Yeti 100 a couple years ago, I knew that would be my first buckle one day. On Thanksgiving 2016 I registered and the training began.
There seems to be at least 100 ways to train for 100 miles so at the beginning of the year I knew I’d have to set achievable goals to keep me moving, prevent burnout and injury, and provide mental training. Running at least a marathon a month felt like a good plan and a fun challenge (obviously my idea of fun is different from most but I tend to keep like-minded company). In that vain, since January I completed: 1 100k, 3 50ks, 3 marathons, a 50k training run on the course, and a marathon distance training run on the course. I was hoping to fit a 50 miler in there so that I would finish the Yeti Challenge (50k, 50 mile, 100k, 100 mile in one calendar year) at the finish of Yeti 100 but it just never happened (I will be running a timed race at the end of October to knock that one out). Other than that, I kept to the training distances as a Run Lead with the Atlanta Track Club marathon training program. I showed up at the start of Yeti feeling like I had enough training on my feet. Some people will put in 100+ mile weeks but I knew I’d get hurt/burnt out. I stuck with more cross training and I think it paid off for me. There’s a different plan for everyone out there, but stick with quality miles and what keeps you happy and healthy, and I truly believe it will get you to the buckle.
Myself, Adam (husband and crew chief), and Miranda (crew and pacer) drove up to Damascus, VA area early Thursday morning. We arrived at our AirBnB 1/2 mile from the Abingdon terminus of the trail after lunch. Fellow badass running chic Bethany arrived from her new home in Nashville a couple hours later (she finished the 50 miler – her first!) and we all drove to Damascus for early dinner and race check-in that evening. I was reminded at check-in why I chose the Yeti 100 as my “buckle up” event; the people. There were so many friendly faces as participants, crew, and volunteers that I knew I’d be surrounded by amazing people for the entire race. After getting excited with a few people, and listening to Jason’s very short and sweet race meeting, we headed home. Before heading to bed I spent some time going over my race “plan” spreadsheet (more like guidelines) and my crew box. My crew box contained: towel, fleece lined poncho, camp chairs, snack baggies, extra Infinit nutrition, extra Base Amino, snacks (single serve cups of pringles, fig bars, almond butter packets, etc), and a tackle box with a hodgepodge of first aid, salts, anti-chafing remedies, extra lights, duct tape, KT tape, etc. I filled all my bottles (2 for the first 17, 2 Adam would pass to me in Damascus), and a hydration bladder would Infinit to switch after mile 50.
“Yetis don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep”
Woke up at 4:30am after a full night sleep (woot!). Ate breakfast (instant oatmeal) and coffee, did some business, got dressed, did some more business for good measure, gave Adam some more last minute instructions about what was in my crew box, and then we were off towards White Top at 5:30. We arrived at 6:15 and I used the time to eat some more calories and use the bathroom one more time. A 7am we were off for a hell of a long day!
White Top to Damascus – 18 miles downhill
I started with a small group who also planned to use the same intervals, 3 minutes running: 2 minutes walk. The downhill segment to Damascus is easy and very runnable. It’s easy to blow yourself out in the early miles of the race if you’re not careful. The interval strategy is a great way to maintain an easy pace and keep your legs fresh. The 2 minutes walk also allows for plenty of time to fuel and hydrate. It got quite hot later in the day with the sun beating down; the intervals allowed me to maintain great hydration and fueling. This is really key in a long race since once you get depleted it’s very difficult to impossible to recover. My faster run cadence took me away from our little group pretty early on. I wanted to hang with all the awesome ladies but I also knew I just had to run my own race, so off I went. I made it to Damascus around 10:45, approximately 15 minutes ahead of schedule. I grabbed a few snacks from my drop bag and shed my jacket, then met Adam at the car where he had a turkey wrap and new water bottles with Base Amino waiting for me.
Arriving in Damascus for the first time
Damascus to Alvaredo – 18 to 25
This segment went a little slower. The sun was starting to heat up and my stomach was already giving me some issues that forced me to stop once. Luckily I was still maintaining the 3:2 intervals and on pace. I arrived in Alvaredo on schedule, feeling pretty good, chugged a mini can of ginger ale, ate snacks, and was on my way.
Alvaredo to Abingdon – 25 to 33 ish
Unfortunately, about 5 minutes after leaving Alvaredo aid station stomach issues hit me full force and I had to make use of the woods in a bad way. This section of trail was also the hottest, most exposed section. Between stopping several times for bathroom issues and getting sun baked, this section slowed me down a lot. I stumbled into Watauga trestle area feeling particularly miserable. Adam and Miranda happened to be stopped there with several other crews and I detailed my current woes. Miranda found some Imodium from another crew, I chugged another ginger ale, used the bathroom (hopefully for the last time), and was on my way for the last 4 miles of the first trail segment. The Imodium worked wonders and I felt better pretty quickly. All said and done, I arrived at the turn around 30 minutes after my planned time, but race director Jason was there to assure me I was right on schedule. Have I mentioned that people really make a huge difference at these things?
One of 47 trestle bridges on the 33 mile Creeper Trail, shortly after Alvaredo Station
Abingdon to Alvaredo – 33ish to 42
After a fruit popsicle from Adam and Miranda, I grabbed another one to-go and was on my way. Feeling much better now I made much better time back to Alvaredo, getting there within 20 minutes of my goal time. By this point we had made it through most of the heat of the day and I was actually looking forward to some pleasant nighttime temps. Even though I was still feeling strong it was already getting pretty hard to eat a lot of solid food. I ate pringles at the stop since they were the easiest thing to get down (they melt in your mouth and are nice and salty) and kept moving, excited to make it back to Damascus and have Miranda join me back up the mountain.
Alvaredo to Damascus – 42 to 50
Somewhere in this section the wheels came off pretty bad. My stomach was starting to bother my again, and I could hardly swallow food. At one point I took a small bite of fig bar, choked on it, and proceeded to throw up. I tried walking it off and felt really on edge, very close to tears. A spectator dressed as a t-rex, giving hugs, made me smile for the first time in a while and I instantly felt better. However, due to lack of nutrition, I was feeling wuzzy and not very strong to run. I power walked the last 5k to Damascus aid station while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. My goal had been to arrive at mile 50 in under 12 hours. Unfortunately, my temporary crisis had me arriving at the aid station around 12 hours and 30 minutes. Luckily this was still very much on track for a finish.
I arrived at Damascus to find Adam and Miranda waiting for me and promptly sat down and cried (the first time of the day but certainly not the last). I explained my current woes. One of the many amazing aid station volunteers and the volunteer coordinator, Samantha was already grabbing me whatever I needed from the aid station. I had some hot broth, started on some pringles, and then Miranda escorted me, once again, to the bathroom. I took a 3rd Imodium (you’re allowed 4 in 24hrs), switched to my hydration pack (from the bottle vest), grabbed a jacket and poles from my drop bag, and finally regrouped enough to join Miranda for a lovely hike back up the mountain to White Top. This stop may have been 20-30 minutes, I don’t know. It was definitely my longest for the whole race but very necessary. I never thought about stopping but was momentarily concerned that my nutritional woes would prevent me from finishing. Once my body regrouped my heart and brain felt much better and I knew a speed hike up the mountain would be do-able, especially now that I had support. Around 8pm we were off into the night.
Damascus to White Top – 50 to 68
Miranda and I were chatty most of the way to the aid station at Taylors Valley (mile 57). She was a great pacer (as expected), reminding me to drink and handing me a pringle every few minutes. I managed to nibble my way through a individual pack of pringles, some jerkey, and a rice krispy treat for the full 18 mile stretch. In addition, I had switched to Infinit Nutrition in my hydration bladder and consumed the 2 liters by time we reached White Top (approximately 600 calories). Switching to drinkable nutrition in the second half of the race was a key strategy. It still tasted good and forced at least some calories into my system when eating solid foods was very slow going. After a quick stop at the Taylors Valley aid station, we had an 11 mile stretch to the top. Miranda still poked at me regularly to eat and drink but our conversation and pace dropped off. We actually switched to 2:2 intervals for about 3 miles to make up some time. I told Miranda I wanted to give myself buffer for the final miles and she expressed concern over our current pace. With this bug in my ear I decided on some intervals to at least mentally push myself along. However, when my stomach started bothering me again, Miranda decided we should go back to hiking to finish off the section so that I would arrive at the top with some mental fuel still in my tank, and we’d have time to regroup once we arrived. This was a good plan; White Top felt like it would never arrive, even as more and more runners passed us on their way down. I was definitely cursing the deities I don’t believe in and more tears arrived. Miranda was a great soldier and pushed me on in a firm but kind way, and eventually we made it to the top. I was grumpy with Adam (as one does after 68 miles), walked right past him and the car and headed for the aid station where I promptly sat down and pouted about their lack of soup. Once again, there were several friendly and familiar faces who helped get me whatever they did have that was appetizing to me at the time (a LaCroix left behind by another crew).
White Top back to Damascus – 68 to 86
Adam found a cup of ramen in my crew box and had a volunteer boil some water while Miranda massaged out my legs a bit (painful but necessary…honestly, I think I was a bit numb to it anyway). They refilled my hydration vest with Inifinit and set me off with warm ramen. Miranda pointed out that I had 7 hours to make the cutoff in Damascus 18 miles downhill (plenty of time) but tasked me with making it in 6. I set off a few feet down the trail, realized my hands were cold and put on some gloves, sucked the broth from my ramen and then ditched the rest. After that, poles in hand, I set off alone and powered through 2:2 intervals. I had been nervous about this part of the race; middle of the night, dark woods, alone, tired, etc. I’m not a huge fan of being alone in the dark and I usually don’t do well on little sleep. However, I never really felt sleepy (maybe due to the constant intake of caffeine in the Infinit mix), and the tunnel vision created by my headlamp (which lasted the entire night with no battery change necessary – great job Petzl!) kept me focused on just the few feet of trail directly in front of my face. I never fell the whole race, although I busted both my big toes badly, and I was able to keep up the intervals the whole way down. Miranda had tasked me to make it to Damascus in 6 hours; I did it by myself in 5. Anything is possible.
Damascus to Alvaredo – 86 to 92 ish
I was surprised to find Adam and Bethany (who finished her first 50 on Friday night!) at Damascus. I had given Adam permission to go sleep and didn’t expect to see him until I picked up my final pacer in Alvaredo. It was great to see him and I was already feeling uplifted and ready for the sunrise with his presence. He filled my bladder again while Samantha (who had only slept 2 hours herself while rangling volunteers for the whole race) found me another runner in the aid station who was about to head out. She sent me out with Eric and a couple other runner (zombie shufflers at this point) towards Alvaredo. It was great that late in the race to have comrades around. Eric and I maintained a 2:2 shuffle/walk for a while until I had to stop to pee; after that I never caught him but I could always see him in the distance, a nice marker to keep myself moving forward. As I got closer to Alvaredo, where I knew I would find my crew and final pacer, Tina, I realized that my shuffle/run was hardly worth it anymore. I kept pushing towards the aid station but already knew I’d be walking the last 8 since my walk pace was just as fast, if not faster, than my current ability to run.
Alvaredo to the FINISH!
My Fun Size, Hamilton-singing sherpa.
The sun rose, a new day and energy was upon us, and I soon arrived at Alvaredo to an excited crew: Adam, Bethany, and now Tina and David. Tina, of course, was wrapped in her ceremonial NYC Marathon fleece-lined poncho. As my fun size wonder twin, I couldn’t be happier to have her join me for the final miles of my first 100 miler. At this point, even though I was walking, I knew I’d be able to make the 30 hour cutoff (I only need to move 2 miles per hour to make it). Tina’s job was to keep my upright with a steady stream of snacks, hydration reminders, and Hamilton singing. She performed her duties with gusto. At my current turtle pace, the last 8 miles took us through the entire 2hr45 minutes Hamilton soundtrack (although Tina was kind enough to switch to the mixtape when we got to the sad bits…spoiler alert: he gets shot). I had my last meltdown of the race as we crossed the 5k to go mark; realizing that at my current pace it would take us an hour to go 3 miles, I bent over on my hiking poles and cried about how I just wanted to be done. The end was so physically close in the grand scheme of things but still felt impossibly far. Tina kept her great positive attitude and we laughed a bit about how ridiculous the whole endeavor had been. As it was already late morning, many trail users started passing us. Tina made the point to tell every person that I had already gone 97, 98, 99 miles…I’m pretty sure we scared some children. Finally, just before noon (the 29 hr mark), I rounded the corner and could finally see the finish. At this point I let myself cry happy tears as an amazing crowd of people cheered me in. After several years waiting for this moment, race director Jason Green handed me my buckle in the midst of an awesome bear hug. I said “thank you” and “I hate you” in the same sentence. That pretty much sums up what it’s like to run 100 miles anyway.
Take home points:
- Several people wondered whether this or Ironman is more difficult. No contest, 100 miles on foot and being awake for 36 hours is much more mentally and physically challenging.
- Would I do it again? At the time when someone asked me the answer was “fuck no”. Naturally, these are famous last words. About 36 hours after the finish when my body started feeling normal again it was pretty clear to me that I would definitely do it again. I’d love to get healthier and stronger and try for a sub-24 hr finish at some point. However, with school and work I’m gonna focus on volunteering and crewing for others in the short term, while working on my overall fitness. Much like Ironman, I’ll be back at it in a couple years.
- I signed up because of the people; I finished for myself. You have to really want it. It’s essentially a completely selfish endeavor. You have to want it so much that your heart can takeover your brain and force you to keep moving forward.
- The people who surround yourself with really fucking matter. I would not have had the mental capacity to push forward had it not been for my amazing husband (my best friend in all things), some amazingly patient crew members (Miranda, Tina, David, Bethany), and the constant stream of friendly and familiar faces on the whole trail and at all the aid stations.