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Junk food, Horses, and Kleenex: 100-mile Recovery

Bighorn 100, June 2019. Finishing was hard. Recovery was harder.

After finishing nineteen 100-mile races over the last seven years, I feel like I know a few things about training, nutrition, pacing, mental games, and toughing it out. The only missing piece of the 100-mile puzzle is recovery.  I am still not sure how to bounce back, still find the process mysterious at best. My recovery tends to look more like the Leadville 100 elevation profile, instead of like a smooth, straight line leading upward. I do know how important it is to give your body time to rest. I do know what to eat  after you stagger across the finish line (lots of protein and veggies!). I do know how to ease back into training. I know what to do. I just have a hard time doing what I should. It all looks good on paper, but reality tends to diverge from the ideal, at least for me

The ups and downs of Leadville, and of recovery


Part of the reason I struggle with recovery that I train horses for a living. It’s my job to ride 8 or more of them every day, so I have to get my feet back into boots and my butt back into the saddle as soon as possible after a 100 miler. I know that active recovery is a good strategy. Riding horses all day seems like a good way to actively recover, but somehow it doesn’t seem to work as well as it should. I am not sure what I’m doing wrong. A detailed and honest breakdown of my typical 100-mile recovery might give some clues: 

Saturday, June 15th

2:41 pm: Finish Bighorn 100. Hug everyone in sight. Feel ecstatic. 

I was asleep about two minutes after this.

 2:45 pm:  Narcolepsy attack. Take post-race nap at finish line. Wake up 20 minutes later. Drag self back to airbnb with a little help from my friends. 

3:45 pm  pm Take pre-shower nap. 

4:15 pm Take shower (exhausting effort). 

4:45 pm Take post-shower nap. 

6 pm: Wake up. Realize I’ve missed the awards ceremony. Stay awake long enough to devour random food items found in kitchen (don’t remember exactly what they were, or who they belonged to). 

6:30 pm: Go back to sleep. 

Sunday, June 16th – Recovery Day 1

The aftermath


6 am: Wake up feeling like geriatric zombie. Brag on Facebook. Bask in post-100 mile glory. Feel invincible. 

6:30 am: Try to get up. Wallow in post-100-mile misery. Feel only pain. 

7 am: Actually get up (in slow motion). Swallow Advil. Drink coffee. 

7:30 am: Slap new band-aids on top of old band-aids on top of blisters. 

8 am: Moving in slow motion, gather up muddy clothes, shoes, drop bags, and gear from floor of Airbnb. Throw muddy piles of stuff into car (also in slow motion). 

The pile on my living room floor

9 am to 8 pm: Drive 10 hours, using caffeine, Twizzlers, and loud music to stay awake. Arrive home. Hug husband, dogs, and cats (in slow motion). 

8:30 pm Dump piles of drop bags and other muddy items onto living room floor. 

9 pm: Take more Advil. 

9:30 pm: Collapse. 

Perceived age: 110

Nutrition: ca. 17 cups of coffee.

      Random junk food harvested from various gas stations between Sheridan,       Wyoming and Las Vegas, New Mexico. 

 (48% refined sugar, 48% empty carbs, 1% sodium 1% artificial color 1% artificial flavor, 1% other harmful chemicals. Zero protein,  Zero vitamins. Zero nutritional value)

Miles run: Zero (duh!) 

Monday, June 17th – Recovery Day 2

Post-100 mile feet. I wish I could ride in flip-flops!


7 am: Wake up feeling still feeling like zombie, but a younger, less creaky one (progress, yay!).

7:30 am: Wrestle feet, blisters and all, into boots. Pull riding pants on over bruised, scraped knees. 

8 am: Take Advil. Drive to barn. 

Riding did not happen on day 2

9 am to 3 pm: Moving in slow motion, lunge horses. Try to climb on a couple of them.  Fail. 

3 pm to 4 pm: Drive back home. 

4 pm to 7 pm: Sit on couch. Contemplate dealing with drop bags. Contemplate using liniment on sore legs. Contemplate muddy mess on floor. Contemplate using foam roller. Do nothing.  

An underrated remedy for sore muscles.

7 pm: Eat pizza. Drink wine. 

8 pm: Contemplate laundry process. Decide to eat ice cream instead. 

8:15 pm: Contemplate unpacking at least one drop bag. Decide to eat more ice cream instead. 

9 pm: Collapse. 

Perceived age: 81


Breakfast: Bowl of oatmeal with protein powder and blueberries (to atone for yesterday’s        junk food spree). 

Lunch: Three handfuls of peppermint candies (only edible thing at the barn. They’re  meant for horse treats, but I forgot my healthy lunch on the kitchen counter this morning, so they became my treats)

Dinner: Half a large pizza (extra protein in cheese). Two glasses of wine (full of antioxidants) 

Unknown quantity of ice cream (threw away empty container to get rid of evidence, but surely it must have some nutritional value. Ditto for whipped cream and liberal dose of chocolate syrup) 

(Total: about 30%sugar, 30%fat, i.e. cheese, 30% empty carbs, 10% protein. A few vitamins from blueberries) 

Horses ridden: zero

Miles run: also zero (though I walked 15 000 steps at the barn) 

Drop bags unpacked: zero

Tuesday, June 18th  – Recovery Day 3

I know I should use my Roll Recovery, but it hurts to use it after a 100.

6:30 am: Wake up feeling more alive than dead. Progress, yay! 

8 am to 5 pm: Ride six horses, none of them very long, still moving slowly.

6 pm: Arrive home. Soak in Epsom salt. Eat semi-healthy dinner. 

7:30 pm Contemplate unpacking drop bags. Doze off in front of TV instead. 

10 pm Move from couch to bed. Go to sleep. 

Perceived age: 67

Nutrition:  getting back to normal, i.e. roughly 75% good for me veggies, grains, and proteins,  25% bad-for-me treats 

Horses ridden: Six

Miles run: Still zero (though my Garmin counts riding horses as walking, which means it showed 28 000 steps, yay!) 

Drop bags unpacked: Zero

Wednesday, June 19 – Recovery Day 4


6:30 am: Wake up feeling achey and congested.

7 am: Gargle with salt water. Take vitamin C. Take DayQuil. 

8 am: Drag self to barn. Ride three horses, sneezing and shivering. Lunge the rest.

4 pm: Drag self back home. Take shower. Eat chicken soup. Take Nyquil. 

5 pm: Curl up under pile of blankets with cup of peppermint tea and box of Kleenex. 

Perceived age: 76

Nutrition: Mostly cough drops and chicken soup (80% sugar, 10%protein, 5% menthol, 5% sodium) 

Boxes of Kleenex used: Three

Horses ridden: Three. 

Miles run: Still zero. 


On day five to ten, I gradually get over the post-100 mile cold, flu, stomach bug, or other ailment. My energy slowly returns to normal. My perceived age returns to 49, which it actually is. A week after the 100, I usually go for a six-mile shuffle and start rebuilding my mileage. I also unpack the drop bags eventually. And I sign up for another ultra, though I should know better by now. 

So, how can I improve the recovery process? Is a physical job good or bad for 100-mile recovery? How can I keep my immune system from tanking after an ultra? I am still searching for these answers. I would love to hear your recovery strategies and suggestions. And I do know one thing for certain: crossing that finish line is worth all the pain – of training, of racing, of recovering.  

Worth it.

Run happy out there, 


A Desert High in the High Desert: Deadman Peaks

The Deadman Peaks Ultra is a trail runner’s dream: 53 miles along a remote section of the Continental Divide Trail, in Northwestern new Mexico. It’s all dirt and slickrock, mostly single track – not a step of pavement. It does not even cross any paved roads. It does not go through any inhabited area. It’s desert running, pure and simple, in a small, friendly format, with a grassroots vibe, a Dia de los Muertos theme, and really good finish line food. 

This year is colder than it’s ever been – seven degrees right before the 6 am start. I hate to admit it, but I never run in this kind of chill. Usually, temperatures below 35 send me into the gym and onto a treadmill, but today, I have to brave the elements because I love this race. Huddling around the campfire at 5:45 am, I look and feel like an onion – a tough onion: I’m bundled up in two pairs of tights, two long sleeve shirts, and two down jackets over two base layers, plus a warm hat and gloves.  

The first couple of miles go down a dirt road. I shuffle off, into the darkness, cold in spite of all the layers I’m wearing. I have my head stuck between my shoulder blades, like a turtle, as I plod along, following the glow of my head lamp. Suddenly, I realize I haven’t seen a course marker in a while, or fresh running shoe tracks in the sand. Sure enough, I’ve missed the turn onto the singletrack.  Looking back, I see dots of light moving off into the distance. I turn around, feeling demoralized. The extra mileage – it’s only about half a mile, but still – drains me of all motivation to race hard. I’m beating myself up over getting lost so early on a course I know so well. It’s still bitter cold. The water in my pack has turned solid after the first two minutes, so drinking is not an option for the first nine miles. I trudge along, through the darkness, my breath an icy cloud, my leg muscles tight, my mouth dry, my spirit not crushed, but definitely bruised. 

After an hour or so, daylight lifts my mood. The horizon turns grey, then blue, promising a spectacular sunrise in the high desert. Daylight is a good thing for practical reasons, too: around mile six, the little pink course flags disappear down a bluff, and I follow them along a near vertical incline, using my hands to stay upright. The Deadman Peaks is not for those afraid of heights. How did this race get its name? From an actual dead runner?  I don’t see any human bones on the valley floor, but I’m not sure. Three miles later the first aid station. My water is still frozen, but a kind volunteer takes my pack into his camper to warm it up while I shed one pair of tights and one of my jackets. The air still feels arctic, but the sun at least looks warm. 

Wearing only one down coat instead of two I run on, as the sun inches above the eastern horizon. I begin to feel warmer, and not just because I’m running harder. The water in my pack finally melts from slushee to liquid, so I know temperatures have climbed above freezing. It’s 8 am. I think of ultra husband David, who is starting the marathon from the opposite direction right around now, and look forward to meeting him in a couple of hours or so. 

Happy and hydrated once more, I run on, under a clear blue sky, enjoying the desert scenery. The course does not have any huge elevation changes, but the climbs, though short, are steep. Plus, there are a lot of them. The trail meanders up and down the rock formations, through sand and slick rock in shades of yellow and red., following not only the course flags, but also rock cairns and stakes that mark the CDT. Deadman Peaks shows New Mexico at its finest. 

Aid station number two at mile 17 offers all sorts of treats, from chicken to nutella wraps. I grab a handful of potato chips, shed another jacket, and run on, feeling energized by warmth and morning sunshine. Marathon runners are coming toward me, then the mid-packers. 

My competitive instinct, dormant until now, begins to stir. I know I ended up in the back of the field after going off course, but I have passed a few runners since. 

A cute guy in a zombie outfit appears in the distance. It’s my ultra husband David, who stops for a kiss and a picture. He has counted the women ahead of me and says I’m in 5th place right now. My beast mode wakes up with a roar. I gallop off, past a dilapidated windmill and empty stock tank, and past another woman, which puts me in fourth place. 

26.5 miles, the turnaround point. One marathon down, another to go. Temperatures have reached the low 50s, so I shed two more layers, have a piece of pumpkin pie, and head back out, hot on the heels of the third-place woman. Yesterday, looking at the freezing weather forecast, I seriously considered dropping down to the marathon distance. Today, I’m glad I get to do this all over, in the opposite direction. 

I catch up to another woman, whose red shorts I’ve been catching glimpses of in the distance until I finally reel her in. Up close, she’s no more than a girl, maybe twenty or twenty-five, which makes her half may age and me old enough to be her mother. We exchange names, and I realize we know each other: Mikaela was in a high school running club I coached a few years ago. She tells me, beaming, that the habit has stuck. This is her first ultra race, and she is looking strong. I tell her I’m proud of her. We run together for a bit, then I pull ahead, still feeling ambitious. 

The last aid station. I get a hug and a cup of ginger ale from my friend Gail, then run on, toward home. Nine more miles, the first three of them uphill. My undertrained legs begin to complain, so I put on my head phones and hit shuffle, hoping to tap into my secret ultra weapon. The right music gives me energy to dig deep, like it always does. On the final rocky climb up a near vertical bluff, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” makes me laugh out loud. Sometimes, song lyrics fit the situation a little too well! I stop for a moment, to catch my breath, but also to savor the gorgeous view and to soak up the joy and gratitude flooding through my system. Hoping I don’t roll back down this rocky incline like a stone, I continue until I reach the top. Six more miles of sandy terrain, six victory laps. The afternoon sun bathes the desert in a golden light. A light breeze caresses my face. The scent of pine trees makes every breath I take aromatherapy. I know I will finish this race. Time to push the pace as much as I can while staying in my happy zone. My random playlist delivers enough energy to keep my feet moving, without breaking my serenity bubble. No other runners are anywhere in sight. I am alone in this beautiful desert, moving along from pink ribbon to pink ribbon, loving every second. I almost wish this race were longer than 53 miles, but at the same time, I look forward to the finish line, to seeing my husband, to food and beer and dry clothes. 

A dry riverbed, with a plastic skeleton and a (hopefully fake) graveyard. The dirt road. Almost home. One last uphill. A highway in the distance, then a parking lot, a tent, cars. A last push to the finish line. A hug from RD Eric, another from ultra husband David, who has changed out of his zombie outfit. 10:39, good for second place woman and a beautiful T-shirt. It’s time to rest, to refuel, to celebrate. I change into warm clothes. Eric’s dad is in charge of the taco bar. Old and new friends sit around the campfire, offering chairs and beers. We munch leftover Halloween candy for dessert. We wait for our drop bags. We cheer on finishing runners. We talk about running and the meaning of life, huddled around the flames as darkness falls once again. These are my two favorite parts of an ultra: the lonely hours immersed in pain and nature out on the trail, and the deep connection with others.

Thank you, Eric Bailey, for organizing such a beautiful race. Thank you, Gail Leedy and all other volunteers, for supporting us with food, drink, and hugs. Thank you, Clifford, Randy, Mikaela, and everyone else I shared miles with. And thank you, ultra husband and best-ever zombie, David Silva, for 27 years of shared adventures. Deadman Peaks is one of our favorite races. We participate every year, either running or volunteering. I can’t wait to return next November!       

Bighorn 100: A Muddy Beast


A dead horse, or one of last year’s 100-mile runners? My vision of Bighorn until this year.

I am not a coward. I’ve completed seventeen 100-mile races, including the Grand Slam of ultra running last year. But until this year, I was terrified of the Bighorn 100. 

The horror stories about this race mention heat, cold, steep climbs, mosquitoes, snow, rain, and all the other usual suspects. None of them scare me. What’s always kept me from signing up is the mud, which tends to cover much of the Bighorn course: Mud that sucks your shoes off. Mud that makes forward progress difficult. Slippery mud. Sticky mud. 

I don’t like running in mud. It’s demoralizing, It’s slow. It’s poison for my happy spirit. I have a hard time staying vertical even without it, so don’t need the added challenge of balancing in slippery conditions. But this year, I decided to face my fears and cross the Bighorn 100 off my bucket list. Besides, some friends reasoned, this race has been crazy muddy the last couple of years, so this year will surely be a dry one. I have no idea why their flawed logic convinced me to sign up, but here I am, on Friday, June 14, in Dayton, Wyoming, at 9 am, starting the Bighorn 100. Because these 100 miles with 17 000 feet of elevation gain are not enough of a challenge, I am running them solo, without crew, without pacer. My friends were, of course, wrong: rain is in the forecast, and snow covers the high country near the turnaround. Course conditions are so challenging this year that the race director allows us 35 hours to finish, instead of the usual 34. It’s too late to wimp out, so I’m starting with a simple plan: I will give this race my best shot.

And we’re off, into the Bighorn Mountains – 346 of us, plus Matt’s ashes.

We head up a long, steep climb for the first 13 miles or so, hiking into the mountains through fields of wild flowers. “We” means 346 living, breathing ultra runners, plus the ashes of another. 

I never met Matt Watts. He finished the Bighorn 100 nine times, but died just before he could finish his tenth. During the pre-race briefing, Matt’s widow and the RD draw a random name and hand a random runner Matt’s number, plus a little bit of his ashes: “We want you to hand him off to someone else at the first aid station” they explain. The plan is to repeat this process often, to let Matt finish his 10th Bighorn 100 posthumously, traveling along with a random bunch of us, like just another of the friends you meet while running an ultra. Our tough crowd of 100-mile runners tears up over this moving tribute. Matt’s ashes make me feel lucky to run this race, mud and all.

The pre-race briefing. Many of us were moved to tears when RD Michelle explained the logistics of Matt Watts’ memorial

After the Dry fork aid station, mile 15, the first rain shower of the day soon produces the infamous mud:  Orange mud, yellow mud, brown mud in all sorts of shades. 

On my way to Sally’s, mile 30 or so

I slip-slide down the steep mountain also known as The Wall and reach Sally’s Footbridge at 4 pm, still feeling good, still ahead of schedule. I change my socks, pack my night stuff, grab some potato chips and head out again in five minutes flat.  A volunteer checks I have all the mandatory clothes and gear, gloves, tights, lights, etc, before I head out into the really remote section of the course for the next 17 uphill miles. I feel smug about being so well organized. About a mile later, I realize I forgot to pack extra food. I have to survive until the Jaws aid station at mile 50 on two Stinger waffles, plus whatever calories I can get from the two remote aid stations that pack supplies in on horseback. 

Wild, beautiful Wyoming.

The climb up to Jaws is jaw-dropping. Spectacular rock formations glow pink in the evening light. logs lead us across mountain streams. A double rainbow rises over a field of flowers. There is no sign of human civilization, other than the narrow single track trail and the occasional glimpse of another runner in the distance. 

Horses and a mule named Reba have hauled supplies to the two aid aid stations between Sally’s and Jaws. Lucky for me, these supplies include pretzels and candy bars. 

The sun has come out again, drying the mud. I begin to think the reports of bad course conditions were exaggerated. As the sun sinks behind the horizon, I look forward to running down this mountain on my way back from Jaws. 

I came through here in the dark. It was even more treacherous then.

Snow starts covering the trail just as it’s time to turn on my lights. No, all the dire warnings were not exaggerated at all. My ground speed slows to a crawl. I sink into snow and the icy water below it, a few times all the way to my hips. My feet feel like mystery meat from the  freezer. About a mile from the turnaround, the trail turns into a sloshy dirt road. A familiar silhouette comes toward me – Yuichiro Hidaka, my grand slam buddy from last summer, on his way to a strong finish. We hug, then he runs back down the mountain, shoes squishing, just as I reach the top. 

Mile 50, 10:15 pm

10 pm. I walk through the flaps of the big tent at Jaws into an oasis of warmth and light. I was planning on flying solo at Bighorn, without crew or pacer, but my friend Tammy’s crew, K’Ann and Vickie, are meeting me here. I did not expect this. It feels good to see familiar faces. They help me bundle up for the night as thunder grumbles around us. I head out, straight into a mountain storm. 

Rain pours from the dark sky, turning the trail into slippery mess. Lightning flashes over my head. Thunder rolls. My shoes have no traction whatsoever. I slide, I fall. I get back up, fall again. I fall about 50 times more. I fall on sharp rocks hiding under the mud. I cling to tree branches. Finally, the rain stops, though the mud stays. Paul from Boulder catches up to me. He carried Matt’s ashes to the turnaround point. I’ve never met Paul before, but we soon find ourselves in deep conversation about the meaning of life and the best and worst choices for 100-mile nutrition. A few muddy miles fly by in this enjoyable fashion, until he pulls ahead. Just like almost everyone else on this course, he carries trekking poles. I don’t, but by now I wish I had brought some. 

My head lamp dims. Like a good girl scout, I am prepared. While pulling the extra batteries out of my pack with fingers clumsy from the cold, one AAA drops into the mud. I’ve brought my backup flashlight, but it’s not super bright, plus I keep falling and getting mud on it. Still, I cling to it, like to a life line. 

Imagine balancing across this on a slippery log, in the dark, holding on to a tiny flashlight.

A guy with a long red beard catches up to me, introducing himself as Jeremy. Seeing my predicament, he reaches into his pack and hands me his extra head lamp which I promise to leave in his drop bag at Sally’s. Unfortunately, he does not have a spare set of trekking poles, but the light makes a big difference. People like Jeremy are the backbone of ultra running, one of the reasons I love this sport. Humbled and thankful, I trudge on, through footing that continues to get worse. I slosh through water. I wade through swampy meadows. The next three miles take me over an hour. 

Back at Sally’s Footbridge. Mile 66. It’s now Saturday, June 15th, 4 am. I feel demoralized. It’s still dark. It’s still cold. It’s still wet. I am soaked, shivering, muddy, miserable, exhausted. I sink into a  chair and spend way too much time fiddling around. I change socks, slap band-aids on a few of my blisters, slather on sunscreen on top of the mud on my arms and legs. I riffle through the ziploc baggies inside my drop bag, not finding what I’m looking for, because what I’m really looking for is a reason to quit. Getting back up seems impossible. I know another steep, slippery climb looms ahead. I want to cry. I can’t imagine ever leaving that chair. I want this nightmare to be over. 

On my mind at 4 am, mile 66. I’m sure it was good, but I’m glad I finished the Bighorn 100 instead.

I could turn in my number. I could be done. I could catch a ride back to Dayton. I could get warm and clean and dry. I could take a shower, take a long nap, drive an hour to Kaycee and get there in time for the Chris LeDoux Days festivities Saturday evening. I could rest, sleep, and still listen to some really good live music. Not a bad plan. I’m almost 49 years old – too old for 100-mile mud runs. I’m a grown woman. I can make my own decisions. I don’t have to crawl through the mountains in the middle of nowhere for another 34 miles. The more I think about it, the better it sounds. Everyone I know would understand. 

Or would they? And even if they did, would I enjoy that concert, knowing deep down that I failed to give this race everything I had in me? I think of Matt’s ashes, traveling along the course with one of us. Matt’s ashes, Matt’s spirit, but not his living, breathing body. I am here, hurting and miserable, but alive. I can’t let Matt down. 

Sally’s Footbridge. It really looked and felt like a homeless shelter. A very welcoming one.

One of the volunteers is a young girl, about thirteen or so. Her eyes wide, her tired face serious, she asks if she can get me anything to eat, an EggMcMuffin, maybe? So the rumor that Bighorn serves McDonald’s at aid stations is true. I can’t remember the last time I ate anything from McDonald’s, but, just to procrastinate, I say yes, please. The McMuffin arrives, oozing artificial colors and pure comfort. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I ask the smiling, Mc-Muffin-bearing teenager why she’s choosing to spend her weekend at this aid station, helping people her parents’ age reach the pointless goal of running through 100 miles of slop. She says she wants to be just like us  when she grows up. I still want to cry, but decide I can’t. I can’t let this kid down. Three bites of McMuffin are all I can swallow, but they bring me back to life.

Daylight, beautiful daylight.

I strap on my pack, preparing for the now inevitable process of getting up and leaving that aid station. Music might be a good idea. I put on my head phones for the first time in this race and hit shuffle. Motivation from my favorite cowboy troubadour hits me spot-on: “I’d gladly take ten seconds in the saddle for a lifetime of watching from the stands . . . “ A good reminder of why I’m out here instead of in a warm bed. I could make it to Kaycee in time to watch a concert from the stands, but it would be wrong. It would be like bailing off the bucking horse after six and a half  seconds instead of going for eight. I will make my own Chris LeDoux days happen right here. My place today is out on this trail, hanging on for as long as I can. My place is with Matt’s ashes, with Paul, with Jeremy, with my friend Tammy who just started the 50-mile race, with her friends who so graciously double as my crew, with all the other runners, with the bright-eyed kid and all the other volunteers, on that brutal course, doing what I came here to do until I’ve used up every last shred of grit and try. 

I hike out, across the footbridge and back into the darkness, up the next climb aka The Wall, leaving the temptation to quit behind me

Worth it all. Definitely.

The Wyoming sunrise, just a short while later, is worth it all – all the pain, all the bruises, all the blisters. I hit my stride again. It’s still muddy, but I start passing people. One of them is Paul, who looks almost as green as the shirt he’s wearing, dealing with stomach issues. My stomach behaves like a trooper in comparison. I even take a piece of bacon from the famous bacon aid station. The sun dries out my clothes. I feel pretty human, except for my shredded feet. They hurt, but I can still run, so I do. 

On my way back to Dry fork, fortified by bacon.

Back at Dry Fork, K’Ann and Vickie are excited to see me. Only 17 miles to go. Jeremy is sitting in a chair, looking spent, but not giving up. I am motivated enough to push for a sub-30 hour finish. Do I have time to put on the dry shoes waiting in my drop bag? I’ve been looking forward to them all day, so yes. The girls help me as precious minutes tick by. 

13 miles of steep downhill make my toes and feet hurt even more than they already do. I wonder whether I can still finish in under 30 hours. It will depend on the pain level I’m able to tolerate. I walk for a bit, catching up to a guy from Texas and his pacer. The 18-mile and 50k runners are blazing by us stumbling 100-mile zombies.  

Shared misery is half the misery. Mile 97.

I force my aching feet back into a shuffle. It doesn’t hurt much worse than walking. I pass a few people who move even slower than I do. Finally, the bottom of the mountain. Finally, the bridge where we started yesterday morning, a lifetime ago. One more aid station. It’s 5.5. miles to the finish from here. 5.5 miles on a flat dirt road. No more mud, no more steep downhill, no more single track acrobatics trying to get out of the way of the 50k sprinters. It’s getting hot, but I’m almost home.

Jeremy, my headlamp hero, on the home stretch.

Out of nowhere, Paul passes me, back from the dead, looking strong again. I can’t keep up. My watch says sub-30 is still possible, but I will have to skedaddle. Doing math in my head is really hard at mile 96. My mushy ultra brain figures out I have an hour and 20 minutes to get it done. Shuffle, walk, shuffle. I catch up to Erik, another 100-mile runner stumbling along the road, and motivate him to start running again. Three more miles, and an hour to finish in sub-30. I could just walk the rest, but don’t want to cut it too close. Walk, shuffle, walk. The sun is high in the sky. My feet feel like raw hamburger meat. Every step is agony, but every step brings the finish line closer. Erik rallies. I can’t keep up with him anymore, but I’m still shuffling along. I catch up to a girl running the 18-miler. She looks like she’s about to cry, like I was at mile 66. We talk. We walk. We shuffle – to the next fence post, to the next tree, to the next big rock. Walk, shuffle, walk. I eventually pull ahead. The first houses. Two more miles. Families stand in their driveways, cheering, high-fiving. Children offer us popsicles, which taste like heaven. 

One last surge of adrenaline pushes me across the finish line. Nothing feels better than this. Nothing.

A paved road. A bridge. A sidewalk. I start running. I want to  laugh. I want to cry. I want to hug everyone I see. Scott park. More people. They see my light brown (formerly white) number and recognize what that means. “A 100-miler!” Cheers. Music. I run what feels like (but probably wasn’t) an all-out sprint for abut ten strides, across the finish line. The clock says 29:41, good enough for 5th woman. K’ann and Vickie are waiting for me, hopping up and down, like cheerleaders. Paul and Erik are here, Jeremy arrives soon after, and the runner from Texas. We hug, we shake hands, we smile. We look like hell, but from underneath all the dirt and sweat, we radiate joy. 

Paul from Boulder, happy to be done.

The adrenaline that pushed me across the finish line wears off about five minutes later. I sink down into the soft grass and close my eyes. Happy noise washes over me – announcements, music, laughter, dogs barking, a crescendo of cheers whenever a runner crosses the line. Right here, right now, is my favorite place in the world, ever. 

I know I have to get up eventually. I know I will have to move again at some point. To drain my blisters, to eat something, to rinse a few pounds of mud off my body. But all that can wait. I made it. I did not quit. I rode this beast of a course until the buzzer sounded. 

I am almost 49 years old. In the not too distant future, there will be a time when 100-mile races become something I used to do. Today is not that day.  

A hard earned buckle.

A huge thank you to the Bighorn race director and her team for organizing a first rate event. You did impressive work. Another huge thank you to my friend Tammy, for sharing her crew, and and  to K’ann and Vickie, for doing double crew duty for someone they didn’t even know. Thank you, Paul, Erik, and everyone else I shared miles and conversations with. Thank you, Jeremy, for sharing your headlamp. Thank you, all the volunteers who sacrificed your weekend for us. Thank you, horses and mules, for carrying tons of aid station supplies into the remote parts of this course. And the biggest thank you goes posthumously to Matt Watts, for getting me out of that chair at mile 66. Matt, I never met you, but without you, I would not have finished. 

Eight Seconds or 24 Hours: Rodeo Songs for 100-mile Runs


A six-pack of Coors Light, and this: Empty cans of addictive substances, seen on a snowy run along Highway 104 , New Mexico, last winter.

Some time ago, a post on a Facebook group for ultra runners asked to share our guilty pleasures in running music. The list of responses was long and hilarious. People confessed to everything, from Disney movie theme songs to the Bee Gees. I, of course, had to mention a silly tune about the most disgusting substance on the planet – Copenhagen, by Chris LeDoux. I listen to a lot of his songs while I run, and other than the Copenhagen one, they’re not guilty pleasures at all. They’re my go-to music, especially when the going gets tough in 100-mile races,  when the climbs are steep, when my feet are hurting, when motivation runs low.

Speed, power, and buckles – for eight seconds, or 24-plus hours.

My running friends commented on my guilty pleasure with lots of smiley faces, plus the abhorrent suggestion of offering chewing tobacco at aid stations. I also learned that my favorite running music is a little unusual, to say the least. What, you listen to country? No, I don’t. Most of it, including most of the alt-country I listen to when I’m not running, just doesn’t have enough of a beat, not even for the shuffling jog I settle into during a 100-miler. Chris LeDoux, on the other hand, sings about bucking horses, with all their speed and power. Country music makes me yawn. These songs keep me moving. 

What’s more, country music – no, most other music, period – does not have lyrics that relate to ultra running, at least not as literally as these songs do. As far as I know, Chris LeDoux was not a trail runner, but he did ride broncs and bulls, which pushes the limits of the human body and spirit in ways that sound similar to 100-mile races. Both rodeo and ultras  are considered fringe sports by the general population, and both involve earning  belt buckles the hard way.   

Earning one of these takes much longer than eight seconds, but the principle is the same. You don’t buy a belt buckle. You work for it.

Still not convinced? I’m about to run the Bighorn 100 in Wyoming, which is where Chris lived and died. I know what will be on my playlist while I’m out in those mountains, when I feel like quitting, when everything hurts, when the mud sucks my shoes off. Here are, in no particular order, 11 songs guaranteed to put a smile back on my face when I’m cold and tired and miserable, but still have 50-plus miles to go. Give them a listen – you might decide they work for you, too:

Sometimes You’ve Just Gotta Ride


According to my super-rational husband, this song’s logic is seriously flawed. Why do something risky and almost certainly painful, like ride a dangerous horse or run the Leadville 100, when you could just walk away? I love my husband, but think he’s wrong about this. To me, these lyrics makes perfect sense. I bet most ultra runners would agree.

The starting line at Leadville, 3:59 a.m., right before the countdown. You can’t always sit on the fence and watch the world pass you by. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta run 100 miles.




This race is harder than it looks. Way harder. Trust me.








A song about rookies who underestimate tough horses, or tough courses. I think of it as a song about my first Western States 100 in 2013, when I toed the line with just one 100-miler under my belt and just one ticket in the lottery. At the starting line I thought, “It’s all downhill – how hard can it be?”  By the time I made it to Auburn, over 25 hours later, Western States had chewed me up and spit me back out, my quads destroyed, my knees bloody, my feet covered in blisters. I felt much more humble, though. My Western States re-run two years later worked out better.

Cadillac Cowboy

Zen cowboy Chuck Pyle wrote this one. I love his music, but Chris Ledoux’ high-energy cover of Cadillac Cowboy beats the original, hands down. It’s kept me awake and putting one foot in front of the other while climbing up steep mountain passes.  Who isn’t a lover of the other side of the hill during those times?

Hope Pass. I love the other side of that hill!

Life is a Highway for the night.

Ready for long hours of darkness.

What I like to play after the sun has set, right when it’s time to turn on my head lamp. Though life is not exactly a highway at that point, more like ten feet of single track disappearing into the shadows, this song gets me excited about running through the night.

Riding for a Fall

A song for the dark hours before dawn, when I’m stumbling over roots, wondering whether I’m lost, imagining bears lurking in the forest, borderline hypothermic and wishing I had never heard of this silly sport. It’s slow, which matches my pace, and introspective, which matches my mood. But it’s not depressing, just real. “On a cold, lonesome evening, what the hell good’s your freedom? ”  This is a valid question I’ve pondered for miles.

“The night’s getting colder, and man, you’re getting older . . .”

Get Back on that Pony and Ride

Cowboy Up

Jemez, 2018, mile 45, after crash # 7. Time to cowgirl up!

Two songs for when you’re face down in the dirt, with both knees impaled on pointy rocks and cactus spines digging into your palms. Two songs for the times when blood runs down your shins and tears roll down your eyes, when you seriously consider limping to the next aid station and calling it quits, right before you remember that pain is just weakness leaving the body.  And right before you remember just how badly you want that shiny new buckle.

Going and Blowing

San Diego 100, 2016, flying high, not on caffeine and Copenhagen but on lots of sugar and beautiful scenery.

A song for the effortless miles that can fall into your lap after the halfway point of a 100-mile race, sometimes long after you thought there was no way you could finish. A song for the times when I turn off my lights, look up at the stars, take a deep breath, and feel intensely grateful for being out there in the middle of nowhere, chasing a silver buckle and pushing my body to the edge of what it can do. No, really – I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Photo Finish

A perfect tale of giving a race everything you’ve got, only to find it wasn’t enough because of circumstances you can’t control, plus a few lapses of judgment that will inevitably come back to bite you. Also a good reminder of my number one race goal: to know I’ve left every bit of energy and try I had in me out on the course. This song made me smile again at mile 92 of last year’s Western States, when I limped toward Auburn at sunrise, after muscle cramps, nausea, and several hard falls got in the way of a sub-24 finish. Yes, I should have managed my nutrition and electrolytes a little better, but mainly, if I could do it again, I wouldn’t have run so slow:

Western States, 2018. I narrowly missed the silver sub-24 hour buckle, but not for lack of trying. 


Cowboy Life (it’s by Ned LeDoux, but that’s almost the same thing)

I downloaded Ned’s first album last summer, right before the Leadville 100, but had not listened to it yet. I heard this one for the first time while dragging myself up the Powerlines at mile 80, in a freezing,foggy drizzle around 2 am, when my spirits needed a lift. The timing could not have been more perfect. Ned probably does not know it, but this song is about Leadville, about 100-mile runs, about ultra life, which has a lot in common with cowboy life. I finished happy, in spite of the lousy weather and in spite of the pain I was in:

Javelina, 2017. “Lonely is the highway, morning sun and bloodshot eyes . . .”


Maybe it’s because I’m lucky enough to ride horses for a living, maybe it’s because the lyrics resonate with both my passions, i.e. horses and running, maybe it’s just that good. This is one of my my all-time favorite running songs, right up there with Springsteen’s Born to Run.  Horsepower got stuck in my head for about 70 miles of the Vermont 100 last July. In spite of that, I still love it, which says a lot. 


What is your go-to music when the going gets tough, and why? I’d love to know.

Just Ledoux it,

with or without a soundtrack that keeps you smiling, 


Fly like an Eagle: Lessons Learned From the Grand Slam 

Last summer, I earned an eagle trophy for finishing the four oldest US-based 100-mile races in the same season, which took me 101 hours and change. This adventure, also known as the Grand Slam of ultra running, had been on my bucket list for years. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but it was worth every bit of sweat, dirt and pain. I will never forget these 400 miles, with all their highs, lows, and belt buckles. 

Seventeen of us finished last year. Wow, what a ride!

It’s June 1st, which means a new crop of Grand Slam hopefuls is about to start going after that eagle. Part of me feels relieved I’m not doing it again, but another part feels a twinge  of envy. I’m signed up for Bighorn and Leadville, but I won’t run 400 miles in 56 days like last year. I do have a few bits of wisdom to share with those of you who will, though: 

  1. Start the summer really, really rested

My legs at the finish of the Jemez 50-miler. Don’t beat yourself up like this four weeks before the Grand Slam. Please be smarter than I was!

I decided to run the Jemez 50-miler four weeks before Western States as a training effort, then ended up racing as hard as I could. After Jemez, I kept training until about ten days before Western States, which, in retrospect, was my worst Grand Slam performance. Be smarter than that. Run tune-up races as long training runs instead of going all out. Taper longer than you normally would for a 100-miler. Get more sleep. Use your foam roller. Take your vitamins. Do everything you can to give your body every possible advantage before your first of the four 100s. 

2. Slamming takes more time than you think

My day job. Putting those boots back on after every 100 was the hardest part of the Grand Slam.

This is true for training, race planning, traveling, and recovery. Your body will feel tired like never before. So will your brain. The Grand Slam will take over your life. It’s best to accept this instead of trying to keep up a normal schedule. I am lucky because I work as a self-employed horse trainer, with loyal and supportive clients who did not begrudge me the extra days off I needed to run all these 100s. Even so, the hardest part of each race was putting my boots back on my blistered feet a day or two after each race and getting my aching body back in the saddle. Be ready to work as much as you have to, run a lot, drive a lot, rest a lot, eat a lot, and do little else. Be ready to keep your drop bags and piles of ultra supplies on your living room floor all summer, because you barely have enough time to re-label and re-pack them between races. Be ready to cut almost everyone and everything other than the Grand Slam out of your life, e.g. netflix, dinners out, domestic chores, and friends and family members who are not part of your crew. 

2. It takes a village – but a small one. 

Ultra husband David Silva, here at Leadville, ready to pace me over Hope Pass. The Grand Slam is a bonding experience.

Sharing the Grand Slam journey with my husband David and my friend Tammy was one of the highlights of last summer. You, too, will need a crew, but don’t get carried away. Too many crew members can make race organization more complicated than it has to be. Two people are an ideal number, especially in point to point races like Wasatch and Western States, because one will need to drive the car while the other paces you. You and your crew will spend lots of time in cramped quarters, like hotel rooms and rental cars. Because of this, choose people who get along with you, and with each other – everything else is secondary. Once you’ve picked your crew, treat them like the saints they truly are. Thank them every chance you get. Without a support system, your Grand Slam goal becomes much harder to reach. With the right people around you, it still won’t be easy, but you’ll enjoy the experience a lot more.

3. It’s a 400-mile race, not four 100-mile races

Almost there! Mile 95 at Wasatch, or mile 395 of the Grand Slam.

Normally, i.e. when not grand slamming, the difference between racing and training runs is to leave everything out on the course vs. being able to run the next day. The Grand Slam means you have to tweak this way of thinking. It’s still a race, but it happens in four stages. Run hard, but not so hard you can’t recover in time for the next part. Think of the final goal, which is the eagle and all four buckles, not just one buckle. While you’re running the first three races, think of the finish line at Wasatch as the one you want to reach. Pace yourself accordingly. 

4. Be ready to roll with the unexpected

A wasp sting at mile 5 of the Wasatch 100 slowed me down, but did not stop me. Just remember to loosen your gps watch if this happens to you.

If you DNF once, you will DNF the Grand Slam, which means no eagle trophy. You want to finish each race, in spite of the inevitable mishaps that will happen and the mistakes you will make. At Wasatch, I put my tights into the wrong drop bag, so I borrowed a pair from an aid station volunteer and continued. Be prepared to have a plan B for everything. Be prepared to eat what appeals to you instead of what you had planned, be prepared for missed pacer connections, be prepared for retracing your steps if you get off course. Have a plan, but also have a plan B. You will need it.  

7. Air travel adds a new level of challenge 

Vermont. I did ok, without lugging a hatchback full of supplies.

The Grand Slam is spread out all over the country, so be prepared to fly to at least one 100-mile race. This takes additional planning and will force you to make some hard choices. I’ve always run ultras within driving distance, because I enjoy road trips, and also because my little hatchback easily holds the astonishing amount of stuff I need, or think I need, to run 100 miles. Air travel will force you to rethink your drop bag strategy. You will find that you need less stuff than you usually take along, but even so, it’s a good idea to pay the exorbitant fee for an extra suitcase. 

The second sunrise. Savor theoe moments.

But when I finally crossed the finish line at Wasatch, when I finally got to hold that eagle trophy, when I finally could rest, I found I didn’t really want to. The most important lesson I learned was this: the human body  is way more resilient than we think. As the summer went on, recovery became easier instead of harder. I felt progressively stronger, instead of more and more run down. This came as a complete surprise. Wasatch, 19 days after a respectable Leadville finish, was my last and best race. I realized that one 100-mile race is good training for another. So, feel confident. The Grand Slam will push you to your limits, but you will find that those limits are much more elastic than you might believe. Use the Grand Slam as an opportunity to explore  what your body, mind, and spirit can do. Ken Chlouber, in his famous pre-Leadville speech, is spot on: You can do more than you think you can, and you are tougher than you think you are.


Above everything else, run happy.

Run smart, run strong, and enjoy the journey! 

Why Race?

I ran 400 miles for that eagle.

Last summer, I completed the grand slam of ultra running, aka four tough 100 mile races in 75 days. I won four shiny belt buckles and an eagle trophy, which made me proud. At the same time, I felt burned out after crossing the last finish line in the Wasatch mountains. I was tired of training, tired of tapering, tired of planning race weekends, tired of studying course maps and elevation profiles, tired of spending so much money on entry fees and hotel rooms, tired of  alarms ringing at 3 am, tired of driving for endless hours, racing for a day, then driving home so sore and banged up that I fantasized about getting a temporary handicapped sticker for my car. After an epic summer of racing, I was tired of racing.

The last leg of the grand slam: Wasatch, mile 91


Besides, I am 48 years old. Birthday  # 50 is looming large in the not-so-distant future. My hard-fought trophies for wins and placings are collecting dust. Now, my formerly decent pace is becoming snail-like. I have nothing to look forward to but a steady decline, an inevitable spiral down into an yawning abyss of ever-slowing personal worsts. My racing future looks bleak. Why not walk away from it all with some semblance of dignity while I still can? Why keep torturing myself for no good reason? Why not just run when I feel like it, without the added pressure and expense of racing?   

Post-Grand slam feet.

These dark thoughts swirled around my head after Wasatch, in mid-September, when, after a  summer of joy and magic, real life came rushing back with a vengeance. I took a break from running, the longest one since I started my ultra journey ten years ago. I didn’t run a step for three weeks, then shuffled along for a few miles at a time for another month or so. But by December, my mileage started inching back up, little by little. Now it’s the end of January. I am excited to race again this spring and summer, in spite of everything. Why? 

Finding joy in a training run is easy – after the first mile or two.

For one, because it’s good to have a goal. “Just running” is not the same as training. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy running for its own sake, but joy is sometimes not enough to get me going, especially not after riding horses all day. The physical nature of my job means the reasons most people run matter less to met than to many others. I get to play in the great outdoors regardless of whether I run or not. Working with horses means I get plenty of exercise, even without running a single mile. I run because running makes me happy, above all else, but it’s sometimes hard to remember this best and simplest of reasons until I’ve been out there for a couple of miles. Seeing a race in my not too distant future adds the extra incentive I often need to nudge me out the door and over that first-mile hump. 

First Masters Female at the San Diego 100. I’m a cougar now!

On closer examination, not racing anymore because I’m too old to compete with the thirty-somethings also seems like a silly reason to quit. My PR days may be behind me, but my dreams are not. The goals I set now may be different from what they were a few years ago, but I still have some. Age groups are a wonderful invention. Competing against 40-year old whippersnappers at 49 this year will be tough, but starting over on the young end among the 50 to 59 year olds in 2020 is something I Iook forward to. So is the ten-year buckle at Leadville. So is a 200-mile race, maybe. So is another Boston-qualifying road marathon, for which I’m allowed to take an extra five minutes next year. Being a runner really sweetens the aging process. 

Making new friends is easy while running 100 miles: Andres and I at the Vermont 100

Even if I didn’t have those goals, I’d still want to be a part of the ultra crowd. A weekend at a race is a celebration, a time spent doing something I love with people I care about. As a horse crazy hardcore introvert, I’ve spent most of my life not fitting in – in school, in grad school, in the horse show world, in the couple of “real” jobs I tried to hold down without much success. All of this changed when I discovered ultra running. I found not only a sport, but a tribe. I found a place to call home. I found acceptance and support. Suddenly, without trying to be someone I was not, I had friends who found nothing strange about spending  most of one’s spare time alone in the middle of nowhere, in hot pursuit of a silver belt buckle. Not everyone who runs ultras operates on a similar wave length, but enough of us do to create a real sense of community. I look forward to being a part of this culture and give back to it in any way I can until I die. 

No, I’m not nearly as fast as Katie or Alyssa, but fought hard and fair to finish in third place at the Jemez 50 last year.

Ultra races are also a healthy way to indulge my competitive side. There’s an aura of authenticity that makes racing fun. Unlike in judged equestrian sports like dressage, where lots of money can buy you shortcuts to the podium in the form of talented, well-trained horses, it’s impossible to pretend you’re better than you really are in ultra running. It’s a pretty level playing field. You can buy the best shoes, the fanciest GPS  watch, and the most high-tech hydration pack. You can hire the best coach, but she can’t run the race for you. At the end to the day, you still have to gut it out until you reach the finish line on your own two feet, hurting or not, blisters or not. It’s  a competitive sport, but it’s a clean, fair, friendly  kind of competition – something I look forward to, not the snarky, petty kind of competitive environment so common in the horse world. 

I missed the silver buckle, but I left it all out there! 

At the end of the day, racing helps me discover my limits. When I just run, I’m never pushing very hard. I’m always leaving some energy and strength for the next day. Races are different. They make me leave it all out there. As I get older, this is my main goal: to leave it all out there, to give the course all I had in me on that particular day. Where I place is unimportant in comparison. This is why getting older and slower does not scare me. I still feel amazed at what my body can do. I’m in awe at the beautiful places we get to explore, the camaraderie, the kindness of volunteers, the deep conversations with strangers who become friends over the course of a day out on the trail. This is why I won’t quit racing. 

Pushing limits, finding joy: racing is a celebration.


Do you race? If you do, why? If you choose not to, why not? I’d love to know.

Run happy, whether you’re racing or not,


Ultras We Need but Don’t Have Yet

My grand slam trophy. With so many ultra to choose from nowadays, running the four oldest 100s in one summer felt really special.

In recent years, ultra running has exploded in popularity. Most non-runners still consider us a little bit insane, but Runner’s World magazine now includes articles about training for a 50-miler instead of dismissing us as some kind of lunatic fringe. With all this popularity come a lot more race opportunities that allow us to indulge in our addiction more consistently. It’s easy to find ultras in any part of the world, any time of the year, on any type of terrain, with distances from 50k to 200-plus miles. But even though we’ve got so much to choose from today, I feel that some races we need don’t exist yet:

The Earn Your Urn 100

I came close to earning my urn, but survived!

A race for the responsible ultra runners who think ahead! Awards are meant to hold what’s left of you once you expire. Each urn is lovingly hand crafted and 100 percent sustainable, for you to take home until you need it. In the event that you die on the course of the Earn Your Urn, cremation following the event is complimentary. Your ashes will then be scattered on the trail, which will improve the footing for next year. The empty urn will be recycled for the next runner who draws his last breath during this race. Run on, knowing that your long-suffering loved ones at least won’t have to worry about how to dispose of your remains!

(If you are opposed to cremation for religious or other reasons, you may elect to be measured for a rustic custom-made pine coffin at the pre-race check-in)

The “I Am Now an Ultra Runner!” 26.3

If this sort of terrain is not your thing, don’t worry! You can still be an ultra runner.

Are you no longer satisfied with running marathons? Are you longing to call yourself an ultra runner, yet terrified of signing up for one of those races that sound like they will result in your almost certain demise (see above)? Are you secretly a lot more normal than those crazed, obsessed100-mile runners you’ve met? This race is for you! A flat, smooth, suburban marathon with an extra city block added at the end. Guaranteed to not require more effort or training than a regular 26.2. Bask in your ultra running glory while preserving your sanity, your quads, and your work-life balance. Cross  “Run an ultra marathon” off your bucket list with a clear conscience, but without unnecessary suffering. 

The Head Trip 100

Not a hallucination: this guy really ran the Javelina 100 in a Fred Flintstone costume. Wow!

Are all the things you see that aren’t really there your favorite part of running ultras? This race will deliver more intense hallucinations than any other, guaranteed or your entry fee back. Aid stations will not only stock expected items like gummy worms and ramen noodles, but also an assortment of THC, LSD, magic mushrooms, and assorted bottles of Tequila. Pain is totally optional in this race! 

(Disclaimer: race management is not responsible for any bad trips runners might experience, nor for runners getting too confused to find the course flags. We can help you find yourself, but we can’t help you find the trail if you’re too stoned to pay attention). 

The Hunting Season 50

Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin at the finish line of the Leadville 100. Ken’s shotgun does not kill runners, it just destroys their hopes and dreams of finishing if they’re still slogging up the Boulevard when they hear the blast.

Because running an ultra is not exciting enough on its own, we throw in extra thrills. Sign up for this race if you want to dodge arrows and bullets over the course of 50 miles. Any plain old ultra  makes you feel glad to be alive – this one will make you positively ecstatic, if you survive it.  Held every October on multi-use public lands in the middle of nowhere, the Hunting Season 50 promises a fun day for participants and spectators alike. Though a herd of 250 ultra runners will be moving through the forest on race day, no permits for hunting them will officially be given out. This doesn’t mean no one will try. Wear bright orange. If you don’t (and even if you do) you might leave the course strapped to the hood of someone’s Dodge Ram. The “Best Carnage” award is given to the runner finishing with the most shotgun pellets embedded under the skin.   

The Back to Basics Ultra

Ultras are not for sissies.

Are you one of those ultra curmudgeons who think modern races have become way too easy, and modern runners way too self-indulgent? This one’s for you! Course markings are few and far between, so pay attention and carry emergency supplies that allow you to bivouac in the woods if you have to. Aid stations will be spaced 20-plus miles apart. They will stock water until they run out, plus a box of saltine crackers if you’re lucky. Be prepared to carry your own food, hydration, and anything else you might need. Better yet, be prepared to catch wild squirrels and eat them on the run. Awards are made from sticks and mud found on the course. The timing system is a sun dial, so if you’re out on the course after dark, your finish time will be very approximate. Enjoy! 

The Safe Bet 100

Yes, I got into Western States last year – worth all the pain and suffering, and then some. Definitely.

Finally, a 100 with lottery odds so low that you can throw your name into the hat with confidence, secure in the knowledge that you will not actually have to run this race anytime soon. Of the 150 available spots, most are reserved for qualified elite runners, close friends and family members of the race committee, or race veterans who run have run it every year since 1987. You can’t, of course, be 100 percent sure you won’t get in, but 99.9 percent is almost as good. If you feel the pressure to sign up for a 100, but know that you won’t have enough time or motivation to train for one, this lottery offers an easy way out. All you have to do is fake disappointment. Hey, at least you tried!

(Any similarities to actual races are purely coincidental)

Which other races do we need? Please feel free to add to the list! 

May everyone run happy in 2019!

Don’t Stop Me Now: My Grand Slam Finish at Wasatch 

“Hug me. Time to get comfortable getting uncomfortable.” My favorite aid station sign, and sound advice for finishing Wasatch

The Wasatch 100 is the last race of the Grand Slam of ultra running, and the toughest by far. Back in January, running four 100-milers between June 23 and September 8 had seemed like a brilliant idea, but by the time I line up in darkness on a dirt road in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains  near Salt Lake City, I am plagued by serious doubts about the wisdom of my decision, and about my sanity in general. With Leadville just 19 days behind me, I feel lingering fatigue in my bones and lingering soreness in my hamstrings. The Wasatch elevation profile looks daunting: it starts with a steep, long climb, then continues going up and down, but more up than down  – 25 000 feet of up. Leadville and Western States rack up about 18 000 feet of elevation gain, Vermont only 17000.  Wasatch is definitely the hardest course of the four. Its only saving grace is the generous 36-hour final cutoff. I hope I won’t need all of those 36 hours, but it’s reassuring to know I could if I had to. The other thing I’m happy about is the weather forecast: after running a cold, rainy Leadville, and after reading piles of Wasatch race reports full of  dire warnings about freezing conditions, I look forward to a hot day.

4:45 am

On Friday morning, I know won’t see my crew, i.e. ultra husband David and ultra BFF Tammy, for several hours because the first crew-accessible station is over 30 miles away. We huddle in a group hug just before I find my place in the middle of the pack. At 5 am, we take off, leaving the lights of Salt Lake City behind us, and below us, on our way to the finish line near the Deer Creek Reservoir, 100 steep, rocky miles south of here. Wasatch is affectionately nicknamed “100 Miles of Heaven and Hell.” We look forward to the joy and the pain of the next 30-plus hours, to the highs and lows we will experience while putting one foot in front of the other. It sounds like a reasonable plan to this crowd of 300 hardy ultra runners and their crews. It may sound like insanity to our non-running friends, but we know they’re just jealous.

I settle into the conga line on the steep, narrow single track up Bair Canyon, climbing at a steady pace. It’s still pitch dark. I feel relaxed, mentally preparing for all the tough miles ahead, when a disembodied voice somewhere ahead of me starts screaming “Run!” Wasp attack! The only problem is, there’s nowhere to go. I’m trapped, sandwiched between runners in front and behind me, a steep drop to my right, a nearly vertical uphill on my left, running through a swarm of angry insects.

A sharp pain on my left wrist makes me yelp, even before I remember I’m allergic. Last time I got stung by a wasp,  my face looked like a cauliflower. I can feel my hand swell up already. Others around me suffer, too. We compare, we curse, but we keep moving because there’s nothing else we can do. I take off my wedding ring and loosen my Garmin, but I don’t stop. Up, and up some more, we climb into the first hint of daylight, which allows me to see that my hand has ballooned to about three times its normal size. It’s a good thing I don’t need it for running


A study in contrast


Finally, I reach the top and see Salt Lake City from far above in the pink glow of early morning, a view worth the climb, even worth the pain from the wasp sting. At the first aid sttion, mile 11, the volunteers take a look at my grotesquely swollen hand. They  sound concerned, but agree that, since I got stung two hours ago have not died yet, I likely won’t. Thankfully, ultra runners treat medical issues with a lot of common sense. I run on, happy that the evil wasp who tried to sabotage my grand slam finish failed. Mission not accomplished, you stupid insect!

Views lie this one make Wasatch heaven. The climbs make it hell.

On the downhill section that follows, I catch up to Sean Bearden, host of The Science of Ultra, which happens to be one of my favorite podcasts. He and his buddy Isaac let me join their animated conversation. I enjoy their company, but these two run 8 minute miles, which is way too fast for me, so I eventually let them go ahead

I could have taken hundreds of glorious view pictures, but they don’t dod this course justice. You just have to run it!

By mile 30, I fall in step with my old friend David Hayes, who is back to running 100s after heart surgery and looking strong. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, so time flies in deep conversation as we run along a beautiful ridge trail and into Big Mountain. My hand looks like one of the pink balloon sculptures that point the way to the aid station. David and Tammy are as happy to see me as I am to see them. They look at my sausage-like fingers with alarm, but try to sound like everything is normal, which is exactly what I need. Best crew ever!


Balloon sculptures that look like my hand

The sun is high in the sky by then. It’s getting warm, though not nearly as hot as it did at Western States. I know what to do: time for ice on my hand, under my hat and in my bra, time for cold ginger ale, and watermelon dipped in salt. After so many 100 mile races, the three of us are a dependable team. David and Tammy cool me down, then send me on my way.

Ultra BFF Tammy. Words can’t express how grateful I feel to know her.

I reach Lambs Canyon, mile 46, in the late afternoon. I pick up my lights, but it’s still early, still sunny, still too warm for long pants. I figure I have an extra pair at Big Water, so I stuff a half zip into my pack and go on The trail leads up another long climb. My legs feel heavy. Time to pull out my head phones for the first time. Slow, acoustic tunes for a slow pace keep me company as I make my way up the mountain in lengthening shadows under the canopy of an old forest. I feel serenity wash over me, from that deep well 100 mile races uncover inside many of us. Left foot, right foot, breathe in, breathe out, to the soundtrack of Mark Knopfler’s guitar, Ryan Bingham’s haunting lyrics, and rustling leaves. Here and now is just where I want to be until my bubble of quiet joy bursts when I catch up to a pig-tailed figure in a blue skirt. It’s fellow grand slammer Bibo Gao, who is usually hours faster than me. My competitive instinct opens one sleepy eye, then wakes up with a jolt. Here and now is no longer good enough – I want to pass Bibo, so I switch my playlist to faster rhythms, kick my feet into a quicker gear, and pull ahead.

At Big Water, mile 54, it’s getting dark and chilly. Time for warmer layers. Digging through my drop bag, I realize it contains no long pants. I must have taken them out during one of my last minute reshuffle sessions. Before I can panic, a volunteer named Kathy finds an extra pair in her car, which she graciously lends me. This type of kindness is common in the ultra crowd and one the biggest reasons I love running these races. On I go, thankful beyond words, through the dark mountains, toward Brighton, where my crew is waiting. 

By mile 67, my legs feel like bricks and my eyelids are drooping. I have a hard time finding the Brighton aid station, hidden in a small town. I stumble around paved streets and dimly lit parking lots until I finally see someone with a head lamp move into a building. I follow. A good decision! Once inside, it’s a warm piece of heaven, with my smiling, saintly crew, real bathrooms and volunteers handing out disposable toothbrushes. I remember hearing that it’s easy to spend way too much time here, and can see why. It’s a good thing I can depend on David and Tammy, who  know they have to kick me out of my chair in five minutes max. I change into a slightly warmer pair of tights, eat a quesadilla, and it’s time to go. Tammy will pace me from here to mile 90, a welcome change from the many solitary miles behind me. We take off in a happy mood

Dressing a little too warm through the night is better than hypothermia

Soon, I regret the warmer tights. The night is not as cold as I thought it would be. I feel overdressed, but otherwise pretty good as we hike through an old forest, darkness wrapped around us like a velvet blanket. Next to a huge old pine tree, we stop and turn off our lights.  I hug the tree. I hug Tammy. We look up at the stars, filled with wonder and gratitude. 

(No picture can capture that sort of moment. You just have to imagine it.)

After that little break, more climbing lies ahead – steep, rocky climbing, for several miles. I remember this part form the elevation chart, which doesn’t make it any easier. My glutes tell me they’re done for the day. My hamstrings threaten to cramp. The urge to whimper and complain becomes almost overwhelming, but I keep it in check while I keep putting one foot in front of the other. “This is the last climb” becomes my anti-whining mantra. 

At the top, near mile 70, we reach the highest point of the course and finally begin descending. Soon after that, the smell of bacon greets us. Am I hallucinating? No, it’s the Pole Line Pass aid station, where all sorts of goodies sizzle on a grill. What a welcome sight! Munching on a rolled up pancake, I believe that the worst is over. Tammy and the saintly aid station volunteers reassure me that it’s all downhill from here

How I imagined the rest of the course. Wishful thinking!

I take off,  expecting an easy cruise to the finish. Instead, I see another steep, technical climb rise before me. My hopes are crushed. The aid station volunteers are not saints, but cruel, vindictive sadists! Tammy is not really my friend – she lied to me! I start crying. I yell at the mountain. It does not care. Tammy tries to push me up the rocky incline, nicknamed “The Grunt” as I find out later. I tell her that I won’t go up there, that she can’t make me.  Oh, what pacers have to put up with. “Come on, small steps . . . We’re almost there!” she coaxes, like I’m a skittish horse. “You don’t know that. You’re lying to me!” I mutter, but I do start climbing, in spite of my loudly protesting leg muscles. We pass another runner who sits on a rock next to the trail, head in her hands, sobbing. Shared misery makes this tough stretch a little easier. At least I’m not the only this course has reduced to tears! Tammy tries to get both of us to move, but succeeds only with me. After just a few more agonizing steps, we reach the top of The Grunt. I breathe sigh of relief as I apologize to Tammy for my meltdown, thankful that everything that goes down on the trail between a runner and her pacer stays on the trail.


Downhill, at last.

Finally, the last major climb is over, this time for real. Finally, this beast of a course goes downhill, but it’s not the kind of downhill I had envisioned during the endless uphills of the last 80 miles or so. No, It’s a steep, quad-busting downhill, decorated with loose rocks the size of watermelons. I have twenty more miles to go until I’m an official grand slammer. I don’t want to miss the goal I’ve worked so hard for because of a busted knee or twisted ankle. On the other hand, super pacer and Wasatch veteran Tammy now mentions casually that sub-30 hour finishers earn a blue buckle, shinier and prettier than the standard sub-36 one. The sudden, irrational desire to win that particular piece of belt jewelry now burns in my gut with an intensity only ultra runners and rodeo cowboys can understand. My hamstrings are too sore to move uphill at anything faster than a turtle-like pace, but I still can run downhill, so I do, trying hard to stay vertical

New day, new energy from morning light and good music

Tammy soon falls behind my suddenly energized pace. She encourages me to go on ahead, which I eventually do, in hot pursuit of that shiny buckle. At the Pot Hollow aid station, Mile 85, it’s getting light already. I look at my Garmin. It’s dead. I look at my phone. It’s 6:30 am. I freak out for a moment, calculating that I have not that much time to spare for a sub-30 hour finish. My brain is too mushy for exact calculations, but I know it’s time to dig deep! For the second time in this race, I put on my headphones, this time blasting my power playlist. I’m glad I saved my performance-enhancing music for mile 85. With help from Freddie Mercury, Chris Ledoux, and the first hint of a glorious sunrise, I scrape up  enough energy to powerhike the uphills, then run the a non-technical, dirt road downhill all the way to mile 90.

Home stretch, mile 90: new socks, sunlight, and smiley faces on my leg. David has a sense of ultra humor.

David meets me at the aid station, full of energy and ready to pace me to the finish line. What a welcome sight! It’s getting warm. I change back into the running skirt from my drop bag, drop off my lights, put on a hat and sunglasses, and off we go, ready to dig deep for the last ten miles.

Almost there!

Ten more miles, mostly smooth and downhill, between me and the eagle trophy. We run a couple of sub-10 minute miles. One last aid station, one last slice of watermelon. Some white-faced Herefords stare at us through a barbed wire fence. We cross railroad tracks, then the trail tuns left, along a lake, which seems to go on forever. I fantasize about what I want most right now: a comfortable bed, a shower, a belt buckle, an eagle trophy. How much do I want these things? Enough to keep moving. Not enough to keep running.

The reward for 400 tough miles

Another 5k or so. I’m convinced this race will never end. My legs feel wobbly, my brain like a bowl of mashed potatoes. I put my headphones back on for the last time, blasting Don’t Stop Me Now on autorepeat, three times, five times. Thank you, Freddie Mercury! A last loop through a park, then half a mile up a paved road, then, finally, the finish line! I did it! The clock says 28:34, good enough for 5th woman.

Done! Nothing feels more amazing than finishing a 100 miler, except, maybe, finishing the Grand Slam.

17 of us, from many different walks of life, united for an epic summer

We go back to the hotel for a brief nap, but then decide to return to the finish line for the last hour, the golden hour. It’s the best place in the world to hang out. Our friends, Our people. My -our – eagle trophy, finally, after 101 hours and 48 minutes of running. Only 187 of the 300 Wasatch starters persevere to the end, but all 17 of the grand slammers who started reach the finish, a remarkable feat. We are exhausted and dirty, but beaming.  Seven of us are women, which must be a record. In 2017, not a single woman finished the slam.

My Grand Slam feet.

The Wasatch 100 is a tough beast. A curmudgeonly old 100, with a down to earth vibe. It made me cry, but it also made me tougher. Thank you, RD John Grobben and all of the amazing organizers and volunteers who spent so much of their time keeping us safe, motivated, and hydrated. Thank you, Tammy, for your wisdom, your support, your friendship, and most of all for putting up with my whining on that evil last climb. Thank you, most of all, to ultra husband David Silva, without whom I would not be an ultra runner, much less a grand slam finisher. You mean the world to me!

Worth all the blood, sweat, tears, and entry fees.

My once in a lifetime adventure is over. I already look forward to new challenges in 2019. Suggestions are welcome!


There’s a reason this race report is almost three months late. A week after the Wasatch 100, ultra husband David Silva had brain surgery for a subdural hematoma. He was extremely lucky. Now he is back to running and to planning the next season of ultras, but it took me a while to get my PTSD under control and my groove back.

Lessons learned:

David, best ultra husband ever.

  1. Please take head injuries seriously, even if they don’t seem like a big deal at the time they actually happen. 
  2. Live well. Love well. Life is fragile, and shorter than we like to think. It’s definitely too short for regrets. 

Leadville 2018: The Rush is Still the Same


“Remember how it felt

Throwing caution to the wind

Hanging on the ragged edge

Now it’s coming back again

Feel the cold sweat trickle down

Hot blood in your veins

A little past your prime

The rush is still the same”

(Ned Ledoux, singing about “Cowboy Life,” though it might as well be called “Ultra Life.”  This song pushed me up the Powerline climb in the freezing rain at 2 am. Ned probably does not realize he wrote a song about the Leadville 100, but I’m glad he did!)

Around 2:30 am on the third Saturday of every August, there’s a moment when I feel tempted to crawl back into bed instead of lacing up my shoes to run another Leadville 100. A little voice in my head whispers that I’m getting too old for this kind of silly adventure, that choosing to endure so much pain defies logic and reason, that there are more sensible and less self-destructive ways to add another piece of belt jewelry to my collection.

A girl can never have too many buckles.

The Leadville 100 is  an intimidating race. I’ve started six times and finished five, but every year, I wonder what kind of unpredictable trick the altitude will play on my body. Every year, the thought of climbing back over Hope Pass on the steep side after the half way point makes me break out in cold sweat

Those pointy batman ears go up to 12 600 feet.

The finishing rate at Leadville is between 35 and 50 percent. Every time I start, I wonder: will I finish this race, or will it finish me? But every year, these worries melt into a surge of pure excitement during the final countdown, when 700 GPS watches beep as one, 700 head lamps beam into the darkness, and the shotgun blast at 4 am sharp sends all of us silver buckle dreamers down 6th street at a pace way too fast for what we’re trying to accomplish. With enough luck and grit, we hope to make it back here sometime Sunday morning. 

And we’re off to chase a silver buckle.

This year, Leadville feels even more daunting than usual because I am doing the Grand Slam of ultra running, meaning I tackle the four original 100-mile races in one summer. Leadville is my third 100-mile run in 56 days, with Wasatch following just 19 days after. I can still feel the lingering effects of Western States and Vermont in my quads. For the first time, the big sub-25 hour buckle is not my goal, but a sub-27 should be doable. 

He finished in under 25 hours. And he completed the Leadman series. Dave Mackey is as tough as they come.

The wave of excitement fades into quiet determination as I settle into a steady rhythm down the long dirt road affectionately known as the Boulevard and then the rolling single track around Turquoise Lake as daylight inches up on the horizon. I keep my easy but consistent pace on the climb up Hagerman road and down the power lines. Dave Mackey runs right in front of me, looking strong, which makes all of us with two legs feel like slackers. This image stays with me the rest of the race, a powerful motivation.

Outward Bound, mile 25. The rain hasn’t started yet, but it soon will.

My crew, i.e my amazing ultra husband David, plus Tammy, Bobby, and Chris wait for me at Outward Bound with sunscreen and cold ginger ale. I’m well behind the overly optimistic sub-26 hour splits David has written into my pace chart, but unlike last year I continue at my sustainable pace instead of trying to make up lost time. My goal is to not just finish Leadville, but to finish Wasatch. “19 days!” becomes my mantra, a useful reminder to run smart. 

The predicted rain starts right after Outward Bound and continues on the rolling descent toward Twin Lakes. My favorite section of this course feels different this year, but no less beautiful: glistening aspen leaves, the smell of wet earth. My rain shell does not hold up to the promise on its label; I’m soon soaked to the skin, but it’s ok as long as I keep moving.

Lots of positive energy at Twin Lakes.

The rain stops right before Twin Lakes, where my enthusiastic crew makes sure I’m ready for the first climb up Hope Pass. Because of the cooler weather, I actually feel hungry, my shivering body crying for calories. I have learned from my epic Western States bonk that I should listen to it, so I munch on potato chips and tortilla pieces with a little cheese. I will need the energy for the mountain just ahead. 

Twin Lakes is the calm before the storm. From here, the trail leads through the Arkansas river and then straight up Hope Pass, the crucible of this race.  Because I have not done any altitude training, I feel apprehensive about the steep climb ahead. One foot in front of the other, keep breathing. Near the treeline, lead runner Rob Krar comes flying down, a blur of beard and speed on his way to almost breaking the course record.

Llamas and watermelon at Hopeless. What more does a runner need to be happy?

As it does every year, the Hopeless aid station puts a smile on my face: grazing llamas, watermelon slices, and a group of volunteers so cheerful that even those of us who have suffered mightily on the way up can’t leave grumpy. One more push to the top of the pass, where I pause and look behind me, feeling grateful. The view is dramatic – dark clouds over Twin Lakes, specks of blue sky, shadows and light. But it’s cold and windy, so I start heading down the steep, rocky Winfield side. My mantra changes form “19 days!” to “Don’t crash!” 

Near the bottom, the lead woman passes me on her way back up. Two minutes behind her, a familiar face: fellow New Mexican Katie Arnold, in hot pursuit and, as I find out later, on her way to a spectacular sub-20 hour first place. Go Katie! 

David, getting ready to pace me over Hope Pass: one of our most romantic dates in 25 years of marriage. Thank you, sweetie!

My only real low point comes right before Winfield, on the pretty stretch of rolling single track that adds almost two miles to the course, which feels unnecessary and mean. I reach Winfield in a crabby mood, cursing the race director and any of the other sadists responsible for the bonus mileage. But once I cross the bridge into Winfield, I shake off the irritation and feel lucky to be here, to see my crew, to have made it to the half way point. As a bonus surprise, David is ready to pace me back over Hope pass. We joke that this is the most romantic date we’ve had in months as we head on out and up. 

It’s a grueling climb, but we get there eventually.


“No it ain’t for the money

Though money has its place

Yes it’s just a feeling

Of being in the race

Out beyond the limit

Where you’ve never been before

And when it all comes together

That’s what you’re riding for”

(Except for the line about money, which makes no sense to us at all, this song is as true for ultra runners as it must for rodeo cowboys)

David, on fresh legs, keeps dashing ahead to take pictures, which makes me feel like a superstar.  A parade of familiar faces comes toward us on their way into Winfield: Jared, John, Shana, Eric, Zach, Laura, Francisco, Toby. Words of support and encouragement pass back and forth. I realize how at home I’ve come to feel in this crowd since 2012, when I toed the line for the first time. I remember sitting at the the pre-race briefing that year, listening to Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin calling the entire audience their Leadville family. I remember rolling my eyes and, thinking, cynic that I am, “yeah right!”   In 2018, on my way to earn buckle #6, that pre-race speech sounds like an honest truth. Coming to Leadville feels like a family reunion, one I look forward to every summer. 

Back on top!

David and I hike up the grueling, impossibly steep backside of Hope Pass, across the rock slides (how on earth did Dave Mackey negotiate those?), until we gasp for air above the tree line. Unlike last year, I don’t have to puke, cry, or stop. Maybe no altitude training is what works for me

Mile 60, almost back at Twin Lakes.

We reach Twin Lakes at sunset. Ultrahusband David, who has been injured and not running much for the last few months, looks exhausted, so I reassure him and the rest of the gang that I don’t need a pacer for the last 40 miles while they help me change into warm layers, doctor my blisters, and hand me my lights.   

It takes a village: I could not have done it without my super crew.

Daylight and warmth: two distant memories by the time I reach mile 80

Darkness falls on my favorite section through the aspens. Last year, I ran a bunch of sub-10 minute miles form Twin Lakes to Outward Bound, then blew up at mile 80 and lost my vision at mile 90. I staggered across the finish line wrecked and nearly blind, which was not fun. This year, I run smarter. The night air is cold enough to see my breath. I add another jacket to my bag lady outfit at Outward bound, but don’t spend much time at the aid station. It’s way too tempting to sit down near the heater, which is not what I need to do if I want to finish.

More rain starts falling on my Powerlines climb at mile 80 – a cold, driving rain in near freezing temperatures. It’s after midnight. I know there are five false summits before the real one, so I do what any sensible ultra runner would do: I put on some music, put my head down, and keep climbing, cold and soaked to the skin, but strangely happy, with rodeo songs in my ears and the image of Dave Mackey etched into my brain. Other than that, I am alone. The runners chasing the big sub-25 hour buckle are past May Queen by now, those who just want to finish still on their way to Outward Bound. In between, it’s down to the mountain, the rain, and me, with the power lines humming above. In the damp, dark middle of the night, I realize with a jolt of gratitude how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing. I turn off my lights and stop for a few seconds, looking up at the jagged clouds and soaking up the magic of this moment, until the cold gets me moving again. 

At the summit – the real one, finally – friendly ghosts of Space Camp offer standard and not-so-standard aid station fare, including “pretzels, potato chips, ginger ale, CBD, THC.”I’m tempted to experiment with Colorado-style pain relief, but the rational part of my brain still functions enough to stop me in time.  


“Lonely is the highway

Morning sun and bloodshot eyes

Through all the aches and pain

The hunger’s still alive”


“Lonely is the highway, morning sun and bloodshot eyes”

May Queen. My Garmin has died. My quads hurt. I have no idea what time it is, and I don’t care. It’s dark. It’s cold. I have 12.5 miles to go. The hard climbs are over. The rain has stopped. This is the last time I see Tammy and David before the finish line. One last group hug. One last change of batteries. One last cup of Ramen noodles, one last handful of potato chips. I’m scraping up my last reserves of energy, determined to finish.

Nothing feels as good as crossing the finish line of a 100 mile race. Nothing.

The single track around the lake has become longer since yesterday morning, I swear it. The last steep, short downhill, the railroad tracks, then finally the Boulevard, which seems to go on forever. I keep moving at a powerhike, try to break into a shuffle here and there, but can’t keep it up for long. The sky lightens to grey, then pink. I feel pain all over – in my hamstrings, my quads, my calf muscles, my feet. Even my arms and shoulders hurt from wearing my pack for so long. Even my throat hurts, from breathing so hard in thin, cold air for so long. I know I have chafe marks in unmentionable places, plus blisters between a few toes. But underneath all the agony, joy has settled even deeper into my bones. I will  get there. I will finish Leadville for the 6th time. I am alive. I am upright. I am still moving. I have made it through the rainy, chilly night. I have made it across the mountain and back. The promise of a sunrise peeks over the horizon. I know, in my heart and every cell of my depleted body, that all will be well with life, with the future, with the world. In a nutshell, this feeling is why I love running 100s. 

Ken and Merilee, doing what they do best. Thank you!

Finally, pavement, which means the finish line is less than a mile away.  A volunteer directs runners to the left. I turn right. He yells “No, THIS left!” My brain seems to have turned into mush, but I’m almost home. I run (well, ok, I shuffle) from the top of 6th street all the way to the red carpet, into the waiting arms of race co-founder Merilee Maupin. “Welcome home!” are the two sweetest words I’ve ever heard.  More hugs – David. Tammy. Chris. Bobby. Ken Chlouber. My family. My people. I’m home. I feel so happy I start crying. 

Husband, pacer, crew chief, cheerleader, photographer – David Silva, just an all around good kind of a guy.

2018 was not my fastest, Leadville 100 by a long shot, but I feel human at the finish line, which I have crossed as 10th place female, in a respectable time of 26:24. The next day, I am able to climb up the podium  to accept my second in age group award, behind race winner Katie (over 6 hours ahead of me!). Now, it’s time to get ready for Wasatch. I have no idea how I will run another tough 100 19 days after finishing Leadville, but there’s only one way to find out. 

A pretty addition to my buckle collection

Thank you, Ken and Merilee and everyone involved in race organization for putting on such an epic event (in spite of the two extra miles). Thank you, everyone who volunteered, cheered, and high fived along the way – you made a difference! Thank you, Tammy, Bobby, and Chris for giving up your weekend to lose sleep, hang out in the rain and cold for hours and hours, change dirty socks, and perform the other glamorous duties of a good crew member. I will owe you three for the rest of my life. And, as always, thank you, David, for being the amazing crew captain/photographer/pacer/cheerleader/husband combo model that you are. I am the luckiest woman alive. 

. . . and last but not least a special shoutout to Ned LeDoux for the song that sums up what the Leadville 100 is all about. I remember him playing the drums at his dad’s concerts many years ago, but had no idea he could sing. Looking forward to the next album already!



A Matter of Horsepower: Vermont 100


“I was born in a hurry but there wasn’t any place to go

Nowhere fast seemed better than nowhere slow

I never really got the hang of hanging around

When you get down to it

I guess I always knew it

What it is that makes my world go round

It’s a matter of


For 8 seconds or miles per hour” 

(Chris Ledoux)

(This song got me out of bed at the unlikely hour of 2 am on July 21, then stayed stuck in my head for approximately 75 miles of the Vermont 100. I couldn’t get rid of it, and didn’t want to, though, by mile 20, I had changed the lyrics to “for 8 seconds or 24 hours.”)


Just another day at the office.

One of the many reasons I love 100 mile races is their connection to my other life as a horse trainer. Western States and a few other 100s began as endurance rides. Now, the Tevis Cup and Western States are two separate events, held on separate weekends. Other than the silver belt buckles runners earn for finishing,100 mile foot races show little evidence of their equestrian roots. The Vermont 100 is, as far as I know, the only event that still allows horses and runners to tackle 100 miles together, with equine and human endurance athletes sharing a trail. I’m excited to run this race, though not nearly recovered from my rough time at Western States four weeks earlier. 

I’m home.

On Friday, the start/finish area at Silver hill meadow is teeming with horses and trailers. People are wearing running shorts or riding tights, Hokas or half chaps. My kind of crowd – I don’t have to decide which of my two favorite universes I want to belong to for the weekend.

Chilling and soaking up the horsepower on Friday.

While David lines up at the starting line of the 5k offered for crew and family members, I enjoy the peaceful scene, breathing in the familiar horse aroma and feeling grateful for the company of these beautiful animals I get to work with every day, but usually miss like crazy on running weekends. I’m at peace. I’m home. I know, deep down, that this race will be a good one.  


The Taftsville covered bridge, mile 15. A sight to remember. .

We wake up in our Airbnb on a local alpaca farm at the unlikely hour of 2 am and make it back to Silver Hill in good time for the 4 am start.

I ran on horsepower . . . maybe with a little bit of alpaca power mixed in.

David and I review the plan for the day one last time. He will meet me at the crew-accessible aid stations, then pace from mile 88 to the end. My A-goal is a sub-24hr finish, my B goal any finish, my dream goal a sub-23. A last cup of coffee, a last kiss and hug from my ultrahusband, and we 100-mile hopefuls take off into the pre-dawn darkness, knowing that most of us will see the sun rise, set, and rise again before we stop. We run through leafy forest as the sky lightens to grey, then blue.

The course meanders along dirt roads, up and down rolling hills, through a park-like landscape. We cross a couple of old covered bridges which make me feel like I’m running through  fairy tale.


Endurance athletes, all of us.

  Manicured farms peek out behind wooden fences, cows graze in lush pastures. A few hours into the run, the first horses pass us at a brisk pace, looking focused and businesslike, just like their riders. I never see this lead pack again, but do end up running with the same group of mid-pack horses and riders the rest of the way. We fall into a rhythm: they pass me on the uphills, then I pass them on the downhills, or at their vet check points. The youngest rider of this group is just nine years old. She and her grey Arabian always look happy and energetic, which makes me just as happy and energetic – the ripple effect of horsepower.

The Vermont 100 has a strict no-headphones rule, understandable because of horses, runners, and sometimes cars sharing the course. I never listen to music for long stretches of an ultra, but I do like using it strategically, during tough spots. Twenty minutes’ worth of high-energy songs  can pull me out of a funk when nothing else works. I use my playlist like a performance-enhancing drug, so before the race I worried about having to do without it. It turns out everything was fine, because of hoofbeats on the dirt roads and Horsepower playing over and over in my head – the only drugs I really needed. As an added bonus, the no-music rule makes conversations with other runners even easier than they normally are. I end up next to a guy in a blue shirt starting around mile 20. We start talking. As it turns out, Andres and I have similar paces and goals, so without trying, we run together for much of the race, pulling each other out of dark stretches and enjoying the high points.  

Horsepower at mile 27. We soak it up.

Mile 27 finds us on top of a green hill, with views of more hills in the misty light. The clop-clop of hoofbeats crescendoes behind us, then our four-legged ultra friends thunder across the meadow, leaving us in the wake of their power and joy.  We soak it up. As two seasoned 100-mile veterans, we know that we will have to remember this moments and others like it once the pain sets in during the later miles. . 

Pure joy at mile 27

After that, I don’t have to wait long for a low point. Around mile 40 I feel sore spots in my quads, still lingering from my rough finish at Western States four weeks earlier. While Andres saunters on ahead, I struggle through the next seven miles. I imagine dropping out – of this race and of the Grand Slam. I imagine the pain getting worse from here on until I’m reduced to a crawl by mile 70 and miss the 30-hour cutoff. The song in my head goes silent. I stop feeling the Horsepower. 

Every 100 has a tough stretch . . . or several. This one was pretty short.

By mile 47, I jog into Camp Ten Bear, feeling terrible. David has set up a chair into which I collapse, almost sobbing. He says I still look good, convincing liar that he is. I look at the unopened clif bloks in my pack, and do something sensible for once: realizing I need calories plus electrolytes, I start munching potato chips and pretzels, washing everything down with iced ginger ale. Soon, the magic combo of sugar, salt, and bubbles restores my energy levels. I leave in much better spirits. 

Parrotheads should run aid stations at every 100. It was impossible to leave grouchy from here.

After mile 50, I share miles with Charlotte, who is running her second 100 at age 27, and Diego from Arizona, who reads my blog. I start to feel stronger, absorbing horsepower from the group of Arabians who trots past us on the uphill miles. Our little group reaches the Margaritaville aid station in good time, and in good spirits. The exuberant local parrotheads spread such good cheer and mix such excellent frozen concoctions that even those runners who shuffle in looking like death warmed over leave happy. I grab more potato chips and a piece of grilled cheese sandwich, which I dip in salt. Yum! 

Another themed aid station. Thank you, cowboys and cowgirls!

My stomach, which can be so finicky, so uncooperative, during 100 mile races, responds with enthusiasm to gooey Vermont cheddar oozing out between toasted bread. I’ve learned to go with what I crave during ultras, even when it seems counterintuitive, so I continue on a steady diet of salt-dipped grilled cheese squares from every aid station. An unlikely source of energy, but it works.  

We’re reunited!

By mile 65, I catch Andres again. We run into the Spirit of 76 aid station together, where David crews for both of us. I want to run this race by feel, without getting obsessed with a time goal, but by now I’m curious: is it still realistic to aim for sub-24? It is, as it turns out. I glance at my pace chart, realizing with a happy jolt that I am well ahead of my splits. 

Darkness falls. We turn on our lights. The rain in the weather forecast is nowhere in sight. We run under a canopy of stars, next to horses decked out in reflective gear.  I feel so good that I pull ahead of Andres and begin to pass other runners. Horsepower is still playing in my head, still fits my race: 

“Well the view looks better from ahead than it looks behind

I got a need for speed and I don’t mean the drugstore kind

Some people like a life that barely moves at all

I say more power to ‘em

Then I fly right through ‘em . . . ”

Ok, time to be honest here: I’m probably shuffling more than flying by then, but I’m still shuffling past runners who are moving at an even slower pace than mine. 

The horses had their own aid stations. I don’t think they served margaritas.

At Bill’s, mile 88, there’s no sign of David, which is not really surprising. He has said all day that the aid stations are difficult to find, and I imagine it’s even more difficult in the dark. Besides, I am now so far ahead of even my 23-hour splits, that I don’t really expect him.

My ultra husband, ready to pace. His intentions were good, then he got lost in the maze of unnamed, unmarked dirt roads.

Plan B means running to the finish without a pacer to motivate me. I don’t mind. I don’t need motivation because I’m still flying high on horsepower and grilled cheese.  Polly’s diner at mile 95, the last aid station. I have no idea what time it is, and I don’t care. I can still run (or, more likely, shuffle), so I shuffle on, ridiculously happy under the canopy of trees and silvery moonlight, with hoofbeats echoing in the distance. 

Andres and I, still smiling after 100 miles

Mile 97, one last climb to the finish. I hear footsteps behind me. It’s Andres, catching up once again, which makes me even happier. We share the last couple of miles, thank each other, promise to keep in touch. Gentleman that he is, he lets me cross the finish line ahead of him. We hug the extraordinary RD Amy, we hug each other. The clock says 21:38. Are my eyes not working right, like at Leadville last year? I blink. The clock still says 21:38, which means I’ve gone faster than my wildest expectations. David walks up just then, hears that two runners have just finished, and doesn’t realize one of them is me until he sees me sitting there, beaming. Of course, he did not expect me this soon. More hugs, more congratulations. A beautiful day is ending. 

Sunday morning. Good-bye, Silver Hill meadow!


What went right at Vermont? Why did I finish upright and strong, not a barely crawling, blood-covered wreck like at Western States? “Easy 100” is an oxymoron, I know, but this one comes close: no super steep climbs, no technical singletrack, no river crossings, no scorching heat, no altitude. Just rolling hills, beautiful green meadows, aid stations every few miles, a well-marked course. But more important than all those things was the energy from the hoofbeats thundering around me all day. I ran the Vermont 100 on horsepower and grilled cheese – a combination that worked for me. 

Post-race, pre-shower legs.

Thank you, Amy, for organizing such a first-class event. Thank you, amazing volunteers at the many aid stations – you rocked! Thank you, Diego, Charlotte, and Andres, for shared miles, shared  joy, and shared misery, for the laughs and the deep conversations. And, as always, thank you, David, for driving around unnamed, unmarked dirt roads all day and most of the night, for changing my filthy socks, for drawing smiley faces into the dirt on my legs, for encouraging me when I wanted to quit, for making me laugh when I wanted to cry.  You’re the best ultrahusband any woman  could wish for. 

And no, I’m still not sick of that song, though I slightly adapted the lyrics: 

“I’ve been thinking about


For 8 seconds or 24 hours 

It’s the way I am and it’s a fact I can’t ignore

Yea, big four-legged, fuel injected

Running wild, radar detected

This woman can always stand a little bit more


Run happy, on horsepower or anything else that works for you,