April 3, 2010

White Mountains 100

Over 7,000 ft of elevation gain.
100 miles through the Alaskan wilderness.
50 participants - skis, bikes, feet.
40 final miles of "can only get down gu" with an appetite non-existent.
29 hrs of nearly continuous motion.
1 amazing accomplishment, for after a winter of suffering from lasting effects of a head-injury and a nasty sprained ankle completing this race meant more to me than this blog can express.
Even my employer got in on the action - made a generous donation and wrote a wonderful pre-race piece on me: March Madness

Start line: 8am Sunday - bikers line up in the lead, ready to take off. The trail was definitely best suited for biking this year. But next year, who knows what will lie in store. I thought my days of competing were over, but the competitor in me was definitely awakened along the race course. I look forward to challenging my body in a whole new way next year.

Me approaching checkpoint #1. My strategy was to attempt a single push - no sleeping. I started slow, running in 47th place for the first 40 miles, but then I remained steady throughout the rest of the race and improved my rankings with each 20 mile section. My longest period spent off the skis was at the 80 mile checkpoint - 1 hr 10 min. Somehow I was encouraged to keep pushing on, despite watching many other races pull out the sleeping bags and sleep. I felt capable - enough - the whole time - despite many aches/pains/worries - would the single push prove to be a fatal rookie mistake? Somehow, my plan worked and I finished in 33rd place in a surprising 29 hrs and 10 min - a time I never dreamed of accomplishing.

Negotiating the ice lakes. I did this section by headlamp with my friend Ann. The 1.5 mile stretch of overflow proved not to be as difficult as feared. A light coating of snow on much of the ice certainly helped stabilize skis and allowed us to just double-pole along nicely.

A biker rolls on to Windy Gap - mile 60 checkpoint. It was so wonderful to see so many people along the race course all working towards the same goal. The mile 40 and 60 checkpoints went fairly quickly. Mile 40, I was feeling great, scarfed down a baked potato with all the fixings and headed off. By mile 60, I began to tire. I rolled into the checkpoint with friends Ann and Tohru. My appetite apparently stopped somewhere before this checkpoint and it was all I could do to force down the meatball soup. "Meatball Nazi" Dea, despite all her best attempts, couldn't raise my spirits much. I was focused on the decision of whether to push on through the night alone, or sleep a bit. An internal battle raged - should I go or should I stay? Stubbornly, I popped a couple Excedrin, down 2 liters of water, put on the pack and headed out. Hoping the night wouldn't be my downfall.

Darkness descends as I ski through the night. I skied the 20 mile section from mile 60 to 80 alone in the dark. I was unable to eat solid foods, and barely swallowed 3 gu packets in the course of 6 hours. It was a real test of keeping a positive attitude, listening to my body well enough to stay warm, but ignoring all the aches and pains that began to scream with intensity as the darkness waged on. I fell hard on some overflow ice and broke the tip of my ski pole, challenging me that much more for the final 35 miles. My right shoulder cried in pain with each pole stroke, but was temporarily subdued with my new friend Excedrin! I began to hallucinate throughout this section. At one point I saw a tent in the middle of the trail, convinced a racer had set it up and was preparing to spend the night, only to look again, and realize nothing was there. Funny what the mind can do to you. All in all I was really proud of my performance through this stretch. Despite the difficulties I kept it together and never suffered from a major bonk.

6:30am - Monday morning - mile 80. I am frosty from skiing 20 miles through the night. Temps dropped to -20 F, but I survived with no frostbite or cold issues. The volunteers at this checkpoint were as weary as the racers. I managed to down a bowl of ramen, which lifted my spirits to get back out there with the rising sun and push on for the final 20 miles. A section of trail I knew fairly well and hoped would feel fast and be done before I knew it.

Leaving mile 80 at 7:30am - final push. The final 20 miles proved to be the most mentally challenging. I thought the dark would be my hardest leg, but the final push left me anxious for the finish line. Maintaining a frame of mind focused on the present, rather than on the finish proved to be challenging as my body tired with each passing kick. I was tired of the broken ski tip, my legs screamed at me. Only a short stint of skiing alongside Matias, who quickly caught me, brought small reprieve to my misery. A hot water stop at 10 miles to go raised spirits again. Amazing what getting to see friends along the way can do lift any doubts.

Barely a smile left to show relief at seeing 1 mile to go sign. The final 4 miles were by far the hardest for me. Every small incline in relief nearly brought me to tears. I was hallucinating people everywhere, convinced people in front of me were waiting up ahead, ready to ski the final miles together, but as I approached each "friend" they quickly morphed back into a small tree or sign post. My MP3 player quit, so not even Lady Gaga could get me over this hump, it was all up to me. Tired of skiing I would take my skis off and walk uphill. But that proved too slow, the snow conditions were fast and walking seemed to take forever. I begrudgingly put my skis back on and fought for each kick, each bit of glide, ignoring my screaming muscles, my exhausted mind, and my now very very empty stomach. That final mile was such a joy. I glided down the mostly downhill section and smiled a moment to take it all in as I realized my accomplishment!

Finally a chance to lie flat - SO HAPPY! No one expected me to finish so quickly. The friends who were much faster than me had left. The amazing race headquarters gals were all the remained in the parking lot that doubled as the start/finish line. It was an odd feeling. I somehow expected a party, but quickly rechecked my ego and realized that just as the race had been a solo effort, something I did for myself, so the finish was truly something to be enjoyed alone.

The amount of preparation and effort to put on the race was enormous. The volunteers deserve a great round appreciation for all they offered. Many of them stayed awake for more than 40 hrs straight, kept track of us, fed us, cheered us up, let us rest and in the end were the little bit of extra energy that we needed to push through that final mile.

Cheerleading race headquarters - amazing energy.

All the goodies laid out at mile 40. Each checkpoint was well stocked with snacks and some substantial meal item.

The tire-less volunteers of mile 80 checkpoint - people were in rough shape these volunteers really did amazing job to life spirits throughout the night and second morning. These guys along with all the other volunteers were just so incredible. A HUGE THANK YOU!!

And of course the most recognition should go to the two people who turned a simple idea into an amazingly successful reality. Ed and Ann for all their hard work to make the first year of the White Mountains 100 a smashing success. It was an honor to watch them craft the race from scratch, to rally so many wonderful volunteers: people willing to donate time, gear, and effort, and those even willing to take days off of work. What a humbling experience to be a part of. The race itself was amazing, but the pre-race coordination taught me a whole other lesson about the generosity of people.

Oh and the super-sized vanilla milkshake hand delivered by friends Amy and Cody was by far the greatest recovery drink a girl could receive. Thanks for taking care of me!