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Fair Warning:  Hard Things About Running 100 Mile Races You Might Not Expect

Nothing compares to the joy of crossing a 100-mile finish line. Nothing.

I love 100 mile races for a long list of reasons: Because they’re a shortcut to experiencing the full range of human emotions in 24 hours or less. Because they have made me appreciate my body with all its imperfections more in my late forties than I ever did it in my twenties. Because they have pushed me beyond my physical and mental limits, to places I had no idea existed inside me. Because they fill me with awe at the natural world, with gratitude for the messy, haphazard state of humanity. Nonetheless, they’re not a walk in the park. Running 100s will hurt, in all sorts of ways. Everyone who thinks about signing up for a 100 miler hears about blisters, muscle cramps, nausea, chafing, and hallucinations. However, in addition to those known hazards, there are other, less widely discussed sources of suffering: 

Leadville 2016, mile 92. I saw zombies lurking in the forest around Turquoise Lake.

  1. Paranoid Delusions 

Confession time: this ultra runner does not have a sense of direction whatsoever. I have no idea how to use a compass, read a map, or interpret the growth of moss on trees. While I’m aware that that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, I’m not sure how knowing where East or West is could help me get where I want to go. My only backcountry skill is following little pink flags in the hope they will lead to a finish line eventually. Once it’s dark, and once my energy reserves are depleted, I realize how vulnerable this makes me, how much trust I place in people I don’t really know. What if the person in charge of marking the course turned out to be some crazed sociopath underneath his pleasant exterior? What if he takes sadistic pleasure in directing a long line of unsuspecting, mushy-brained fools into a crocodile-filled swamp or a gravel pit where an axe murderer lies waiting? What if the flags lead us to a circle in a corn field where aliens will abduct us for purposes too harrowing to contemplate? 

Effective deterrents for zombies, vampires, axe murderers and the like.

 I have learned that paranoid delusions of this type usually come from low blood sugar. Nightmare scenarios running through my head mean nothing more than that my body needs calories sooner rather than later, but the first time it happened, I made the mistake of sharing the axe murderer fantasy with my husband who was pacing me at the time. He seemed a little freaked out at that point. Now he knows that something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich is an effective weapon against crazed serial killers, packs of bears, vampires, or any other threat I see lurking in the bushes. 

2. Not being able to squat after mile 70

Above the treeline is not a good place to answer the call of nature. Plan ahead!

This is something I didn’t realize until I found myself deep in the pain cave and deep in my first 100 mile race simultaneously. No one told me before then, so I’m telling you now: if you have to go use the port-a-shrub, don’t wait until your quads have quit working altogether. Planning ahead for potty breaks means so much more than just carrying toilet paper and trying to avoid populated areas. It’s best to hunker down in a place where you can pull yourself back into an upright position using low-hanging branches, not next to a cholla cactus or a rusty barbed-wire fence. Having to ask your pacer to help you get back up from performing bodily functions may not be the most embarrassing thing you have ever done, but it definitely ranks in the top five. I have since learned to pee standing up, a skill men take for granted since age two – lucky devils. Women have to learn it later in life. This should be part of every female ultra runner’s training regime, ideally before she starts her first 100. 

3. You probably won’t lose weight 

The guy on the right is not a common body type among ultra runners.

A friend looking to shed a few pounds recently asked me if running 100 miles is a good weight loss strategy.  My answer was an emphatic “No way!”  When training for a 100, I burn a lot of calories, but I also get so hungry that I consume them right back. Ultra training is not a license to eat all the junk I want, either. It’s true that the furnace will burn anything if it’s hot enough, but it still burns some fuels a lot cleaner than others, so I try to make healthier choices  than a bag of Twizzlers, at least most of the time. 

Finishing a 100 miler has many rewards. Just be aware that weight loss is not one of them.

Even the actual race won’t make you magically lighter. The hardest thing about running my first 100 was stepping on the scale two days after crossing the finish line and realizing I had gained six pounds instead of losing a couple. This  shocking experience sent me from a post-race state of bliss into a post-race funk. Panicked, I called my trusted mentor Allen, who explained that this is mostly water retention and the body’s way of repairing muscle damage. Fifteen 100-mile races later, I know it’s not real weight gain, and I know it will be gone again by Thursday of the post-race week, but seeing that number still seems so damn unfair after running all day and all night.

All you want to do for about a week after finishing.

4. You will feel really, really tired

It’s normal to feel run down after running an ultra, but until you’ve finished a 100 miler, you don’t know the true meaning of tired. Your body wants to rest, but your exhausted muscles keep twitching, plus you’re chafed in too many unmentionable places to find a comfortable sleeping position. Your brain feels like a bowl of overcooked spaghetti, which makes coherent thought seem like a superhuman effort, and you realize that simple things like taking a shower require a lot more planning than you ever thought they could. 

Even after the first day or two, the fatigue lingers. I expected to feel exhausted after my first 100, but I also expected to be more or less back to my normal energy level after a good night’s rest. Not so. 100s disrupt your sleep cycle worse than a bad case of jet lag. A week after finishing, I usually still feel slug-like. Because I work as a horse trainer, active recovery is a necessity rather than a choice for me. I’m usually back at the barn and on a horse or two by Tuesday, back in the saddle all day by Wednesday. But once I get off my last horse, I collapse in a heap for the rest of the day.  B-vitamins and magnesium help, only lots of extra sleep will get your energy levels back to normal. 

Still tempted to run your first 100? Go sign up. In spite of all the pain and suffering, it’s worth it! 

Run happy, contemplating your first 100 or reflecting on your 10th one, 


Western States 2018: worth every painful step

It’s Not a Dirty Job: How Working With Horses Has Made Me a Better Ultra Runner

A day at the office.

I earn a living working with horses, which makes me feel lucky. When I’m not riding, I’m running long distances, which makes me feel even luckier, but I admit there are times when my two passions are at odds with each other. 

Horse trainers work long hours and long weeks. I try to take one day a week off, but more than that is out of the question. My clients are an understanding bunch who know me well enough to realize I  need to to race some weekends, but I spend many of the other weekends at shows and clinics. This makes long runs difficult and back to back long runs almost impossible. My weekly mileage tops out in the seventies, no matter how hard I try. Compared to many ultra runners I know, I operate near the low end of 100-mile training. 

Lucky for me, the Santa Fe Rail Trail is five minutes from the barn.

I don’t get to run the miles I do manage to fit in on fresh legs, either. My husband likes to point out that both of us have sitting occupations: he sits at his desk all day, I sit on horses all day. I love him dearly, but he is not a horseman and therefore does not know what he’s talking about. Working with horses is a very physical job. For one thing, I don’t just sit in saddles, l lift these heavy contraptions on and off horses all day. I also wield brushes and curry combs, walk lots of steps between the barn, the arena, and the turnout pens, sweep aisles, scoop manure, etc etc. 

Sitting a big trot takes strong core muscles.

Even the time I actually spend on horseback is a workout. I don’t need to tell this to anyone who has ever ridden a horse, but people like my husband have the wrong impression. All of this means that when I go for a two-hour run after work, I’m already pretty tired. It can be hard to convince my body to switch into running mode. Most days, I get off my last horse, grab a protein bar to stave off hunger pangs, then change into running clothes at the barn and leave straight from there. I have learned the hard way that going home and sitting down leads to evenings spent slug-like on the sofa. 

For human use, too.

My horsey lifestyle clearly has its drawbacks for endurance training. Overall, though, I think it has made me a better ultra runner, sometimes in unexpected ways, like when I twist my ankle or bruise my knee. Because of doctoring horses with similar ailments for decades, I know exactly how to make them better. Ice-tight overnight poultice works great for reducing any kind of swelling, and there’s nothing like Absorbine liniment to bring tired muscles back to life. These proven remedies  work for runners just as well as they do for horses. Also, you can buy them by the gallon or bucket, rather than by the ounce, which males them a better deal for those of us who run a lot. Just disregard the fine print that says “veterinary use only.”

After the San Diego 100. It’s a good thing I’m used to dirt!

My disheveled post-run appearance is also not the problem it would be if I worked in an office. For someone who works n a barn, it’s perfectly fine to go for a run and then ride another horse or two without taking a shower in between. No one cares about me being sweaty and smelly. By the time I drive home, I’m covered in so many layers of dirt that flies follow me into my car, but it’s a small price to pay for not being stuck in a cubicle. 

Better than a cubicle, or a gym.

Moving all day the way I do makes me tired, but it’s still more of an advantage than a handicap for my ultra runinng. Riding a horse, if you do it right, engages the human core in a way few other activities can. I often hear well-meaning friends express concern about the state of my back after riding so many horses for so many years. I tell them that my back is in great shape, as are my abs. My work is cross training for my hobby, which is really pretty cool.

Teaching a young horse to expect the unexpected. I have learned it from them, they learn it from me.

 It’s also great mental preparation for long races to ride one horse after another, six days a week, in all sorts of weather. The twenty-plus years I’ve spent doing just that has helped me develop me the kind of resilience and grit that running 100s requires. Horses are sensitive creatures who don’t always behave in predictable ways, so the kind of problem-solving on the fly that happens over the course of a 100 mile race is intimately familiar to anyone who spends time with them.

Time to cowgirl up.

Horses have taught me to get back up right away when I land in the dirt and to deal with things I can’t control without losing my cool. I’ve learned from them that calm persistence is a better strategy than getting frustrated when things don’t go the way I want them to. The list goes on. All the things I teach my horses pale in comparison to the skills they have taught me. Maybe all ultra runners should spend time at the barn; I highly recommend it. 

Buckles and ribbons are great, but they’re not what matters most.

But most importantly, horses remind me every day how important it is to enjoy the daily training instead of focusing too much on the outcome. I want to be the best horsewoman I can be, just like I want to be the best ultra runner I can be, so it’s good to have goals, like blue ribbons or silver buckles. On the other hand, these goals mean little compared to what really matters, like trying to reach them with integrity and kindness to myself and others. Like feeling gratitude for the life I get to lead, the beautiful scenery I get to run and ride in every day, the many talented, beautiful horses and so many inspiring runners I get to connect with. I may have forgotten what it’s like to have clean fingernails or spend a weekend lounging around in my pajamas, but wouldn’t trade the horse-ultra life for anything. 


It’s Not All in Your Head: Western States 2018

At 4 am on June 23, two weeks before my 48th birthday, I feel well trained, well tapered, and well rested as I put on my running shoes and prepare for a scorching day out on the Western States trail. 30 minutes later, among all the adrenaline and rippling muscles near the starting line, I feel totally undertrained.

Lesson learned: preparation is not everything. You have to actually consume the s-caps and food you stash in your drop bags.

As usual, Western States gives me a case of impostor syndrome: what am I doing here, in this super fit crowd, where I recognize every other runner from the pages of ultra running magazine? Where the average body fat percentage hovers near zero? Where I’m old enough to be the average runner’s mother? Glancing to my left, I see a face even older than mine: Diana Fitzpatrick, looking strong and focused on her way to the women’s 60 to 69 age group record. We wish each other good luck, and I feel more confident, just in time.

Lesson learned: crew members are saints. They deserve appreciation, and cold beer.

My crew, i.e. ultrahusband David and my friend Tammy, give me hugs and positive energy before I settle into the middle of the pack for the countdown, feeling lucky to be alive on this gorgeous morning, and lucky to be here, in this magic spot where it all began in 1973. We’re off, up the first climb of the day, with a shotgun blast and the sound of cow bells.


Lesson learned: Feeling strong in the high country is o excuse for neglecting hydration, nutrition, and electrolytes.

The first few miles lead up to the escarpment, where we catch a glimpse of the surreal neon sunrise over Lake Tahoe. The morning is still cool, but by 8 am, the day is heating up already. The forecast calls for triple-digit temperatures, and we’re well on our way there at this early hour.

Around mile 20, a pony-tailed woman runs by me like I’m standing still. My competitive instinct wakes up, and as I take off in hot pursuit. Minutes later, I pay for this foolishness with the first crash of the day on a rocky, gnarly section of singletrack. A good reminder to run my own race. 

Lesson learned: friends like Tammy are worth their weight in gold. More, actually.


Robinson Flat, mile 30. David and Tammy are waiting, with my drop bag. I’ve already soaked in a stream on the way up from Duncan Canyon, so it’s time for the first sock change of the day, plus ice on every part of my body, before I head out again. Until Michigan Bluff, mile 55, I’m on my own. The next section is one of my favorites: a long, gentle downhill through the forest, the calm before the storm of the canyons, where place names tell the story of broken gold rush dreams: Millers Defeat. Dusty Corners. Last Chance. My legs run strong, my imagination runs wild. Whose soaring hopes crumbled in this dry, unforgiving country? Whose bleached bones lay buried here? 

Lesson learned: I am one lucky woman.

It’s time to stop daydreaming when the canyons begin in earnest. I’m feeling good, passing people up the climb to Devil’s thumb, where a familiar face greets me: Andrea Feucht, volunteering today, passes me the best popsicle, ever. She looks at the untouched clif bloks in my pack and asks whether I’ve been eating. I don’t remember. Have I? Some candied ginger is all I really want at this point. It’s just too hot. 

Down into the next canyon, my quads and toes start hurting on the steep switchbacks. At the bottom, the next aid station, where runners are suffering and puking. I feel decent in comparison. Upward and onward, where my wonderful crew is waiting at Michigan Bluff. 

Lesson learned: don’t underestimate the power of seeing your crew.

I’m right on track for 24 hours, even with a break to change my socks again. I head out with time to spare, but my quads start to really hurt. Also, my stomach is on the verge of upheaval. I put on some music and decide to ignore the pain. 

At Forest Hill, the big test: will I learn from past mistakes and remember my lights, which I forgot in 2015? I’ve written crew instructions in big, bold letters. I’ve stashed extra lights in the crew bag, in the Forest Hill drop bag, and at Rucky Chucky. Our combined vigilance pays off: Tammy and David hand me my head lamp, a handheld flashlight, and a spare set of batteries. That should do it! 

On a less positive note, the pain in my quads is getting severe. I feel weak and realize I stopped eating a gazillion miles ago, when I got sick of clif bloks. Probably a bad idea. I sit down for five minutes while David ices my legs. I take my emergency Tylenol, Craving salt, I drink some pickle juice, have some potato chips. It dawns on me that I should have taken salt much earlier, but I was feeling good in the heat of the day, so I didn’t. Not smart. 

In spite of the pain, I keep pushing on. Mile 78, the river crossing. I’m still on track for sub-24. David is ready to pace me to the finish. We cross the water, carefully placing our feet around the slippery rocks, guided by the amazing volunteers who stand in the cold water in their wet suits all night. The sight leaves me filled with gratitude.

Lesson learned: there’s always time for romance. Take an extra minute to kiss your ultrahusband at mile 80.

On the far side, I change into dry shoes, losing precious time. We reach Green Gate five minutes behind schedule, so I keep running and pushing so hard that David has trouble keeping up with me. Auburn Lakes trails, mile 85. The silver buckle is still within my reach. Then, at mile 89, it’s over – suddenly, and for good. My quads start cramping. They seize up, like gripped by a trap, without warning. I fall to the ground, in agony, and land on some sharp rocks. Blood is running down my legs, from a couple of fairly deep gashes, but compared to the quad pain, it’s barely noticeable. David helps me up. I try to run again, but my quads don’t cooperate. At mile 90, I recognize Diana Fitzpatrick, 60 years old, tough as nails, and trying to break 24 hours, which, I learn later, she does. I try keep up with this amazing runner, but can’t. I just can’t run anymore. Not just because of the intense pain, I also can’t lift my feet. My gait looks and feels like a zombie walk – uncoordinated, unbalanced. I can barely stay upright and have to use my hands to negotiate the technical climb toward Pointed Rocks, where I say a tearful good-bye to the silver buckle.

Lesson learned: bronze is a pretty color, too.

Mile 95. Tammy is waiting at the aid station to pace me for the last five miles. I drink more pickle juice, but refuse the offer of a chair. Way too tempting. I consider asking for a shotgun instead, to put me out of my misery, but then Tammy – bless her heart – points out that I now have almost six hours to cover five miles in time for the bronze buckle. I reconsider my options. Even in my reduced condition, that sounds doable.

Mile 97. Lesson learned: when things don’t go as planned, change your mindset and appreciate that second sunrise.

We head out. We walk, we talk, I occasionally yelp and whimper. One good thing: not running has given my stomach a chance to settle, so at least I don’t feel like throwing up anymore. My appetite is coming back, and with it a more positive outlook. I munch on some pretzels, even some quesadilla wedges. Moving at a snail’s pace is a good way to appreciate the dawn in this amazing place, on this gorgeous course. No, even without reaching my A-goal of a 24-hour finish, I’d rather be here on this course, on this glorious morning, than anywhere else.

In 2015, on my way to the silver buckle, I raced through this section in the dark. Today, I can see how beautiful it is. No Hands Bridge, lit up like a Christmas tree, deserves an award for prettiest aid station in the universe.

Another 5k to go. Another climb. Horse manure on the trail might bug some people, but I breathe in the familiar aroma with gratitude. Then, the town of Auburn. At Robie Point, the welcome sight of pavement,  guiding weary runners to the finish line. One more uphill, then Placer High School. I try to muster up enough energy to run around the stadium, but have to take a walk break halfway there. I do manage to run across the finish line. It’s easy to smile, to beam, even. Yes, I made it.

Lesson learned: crossing that finish line is worth every bit of pain.

A finish at Western States is something to be proud of, no matter what. Many runners have seen their dreams evaporate in the last 20 miles. In spite of the pain and suffering of the last 30 miles, I feel good about this finish. I dared greatly, and I lost. I risked blowing up, and I did. There’s no shame in giving it all. 

Finished, in every sense of the word. I left it all out there!

To win a silver buckle, or any buckle, a runner has to take some risks. You can’t play it safe and still finish under the time limit. so, I’m not too upset about missing the silver buckle. I left everything I had out on the course. I didn’t give up. My legs gave out, and my brain couldn’t get them back into gear. 

Lesson learned: there’s no place like Placer High stadium on June 23.

This race made me think a lot about the mind-body connection. Is it really all in our heads, like some experts seem to think? After my Jemez 50, I would have said yes. Now, I’m not so sure. Like a stupid rookie, I neglected nutrition and electrolytes for most of the race. My quads started hurting at mile 60. I ignored them and kept running strong for another 30 miles. My mind wanted to run, so I ran, ignoring the pain signals my body gave me. At mile 90, my depleted body had enough and went on strike. My mind still wanted to run, but my legs would not cooperate for the last ten miles. Still, I was able to walk to the finish line and to shuffle about halfway around the stadium – my legs didn’t even want to do that. My conclusion: It’s all in our heads – to a point. Then, the body reminds us who is really in charge. I look forward to testing this hypothesis at my remaining three grand slam races. 

The most important lesson I learned: Keep your sense of humor!

Blood and Grit: Jemez 2018

A last moment of calm before the storm.

Lottery luck smiled on me this past winter, with the result that I am now entered in the Grand Slam of ultra running. Something I still can’t wrap my mind around: I will tackle four challenging 100-mile races this summer, starting June 23rd in Squaw Valley. For the last five months, I tried to extend the phase of all-out denial as long as I possibly can, but sometimes reality hits me hard, causing a freakout moment, or five, or ten: what was I thinking????

Not as tough as the original course, but no walk in the park either.

Five weeks out from Western States, it was time to look in the face of the monster I signed up for. I decided I needed one more long training run. So, at the last minute, I signed up for the Jemez 50  miler, a tough, technical course in the mountains of New Mexico, about two hours from home. The last time I ran Jemez was in 2014, when a blizzard came out of nowhere and dumped a foot of snow on the course. The race director made the right decision and pulled the plug, which I learned at the mile 35 aid station. A race cut short because of dangerous weather conditions is not strictly speaking a DNF, but it felt like one. I did not get to finish the 50, so the Jemez and I had a score to settle. The year’s course was a two-loop format because of fire restrictions, which meant it was more technical and more exposed than the original route, though the overall elevation gain was less. Still, 9000 feet over 50 miles is no walk in the park. My plan, based on the advice of my esteemed ultra friends and mentors, was to run this trace as a training effort instead of all-out racing it. But we all know that plans have a way of changing. 

Dawn from the Guaje ridge

The race starts at 5 am, which means it’s dark for the first thirty minutes or so. After a couple of miles of rolling hills, runners get to enjoy the sunrise right when climbing begins in earnest, up the Guaje ridge until mile 15, then straight up the almost vertical Pajarito ski hill. 

My race – er, my training run – starts according to plan in the back of the pack. I had been training hard for the last couple of months, had not tapered or rested for this weekend, and worked (which, for me means: rode horses) all day on Friday before driving to Los Alamos, with the predictable result that I feel tired from the start. Racing seems out of the question during the early miles. Climbing at a steady pace but not pushing hard, I keep repeating my mantra: “It’s just a training run! Just a training run!” A training run has its perks. I stop to soak up the gorgeous sunrise, even take a couple of pictures. Still, I move pretty well, and the leaden feeling lifts from my feet over the course of the first loop. 

The first bloody knee, mile 27 or so

My low point of the race – er, the training run – comes near the end of the first loop, at mile 29. The sun is high in the sky by then, and shade is in short supply on the trail. I crash on a rocky downhill. My knee bloody, my pride injured, I contemplate dropping down to the 50k and calling it a day, when I spot David, my amazing ultra husband unexpectedly a road crossing. I’m so happy to see him that I stop paying attention to the trail and trip again, this time over a rock the size of a peanut. Another bloody knee. I feel terrible, but David says I look great. As I drag myself further along the trail, I wonder: is he lying, or does he live in a parallel universe? 

Pickle time at mile 40

The familiar figure of my friend Travis came into sight just ahead. He’s shuffling, then walking. I pass him with a few encouraging words. My competitive instinct opens one sleepy eye. At the next aid station, Travis walks in as I’m about to leave. He sits down in a chair, looking defeated. I try to motivate him to finish, without success. But though I can’t motivate Travis, I motivate myself. Telling him the the signed up to run 50 miles instead of 30 reminds me that I signed up for the same distance. I’m bleeding and hurting, but still feeling strong. I can still run. I don’t have a good reason to give up, so I do the logical thing and keep running. 

Uphill in the heat of the day.

On the second climb up the Guaje ridge, runners in the 15-mile race come down the hill as we 50-milers struggle up a second time in the mid-day heat. High-fives and encouraging comments flow in both directions, boosting everyone’s morale, including mine. A couple of the 15-milers have kept track of the women ahead of me. I realize I’m in 4th place. I also realize I’m still feeling pretty good when passing a couple of other runners on the long, hot uphill. 

At the mile 36 aid station, my race mantra suddenly switches from “Just a training run” to  an all-out “Go for it!” As I refill my pack, the 5th place woman comes running in, looking fresh and fast. I realize three things: one, I still have energy. Two, most of the last 15 miles are downhill, and three, I am in 4th place, and know I want to stay there.  Ready to give the last 14 miles everything I’ve got left, I bolt out, power hike the last significant uphill part of the course, then run downhill as fast as I can. 

At the mile 40 aid station, I know I need an extra boost of energy to finish strong, so I do something I hardly ever do in a race: I put in earphones and start blasting my fastest playlist at full volume. My favorite speedy songs help me barrel down the rocky, technical sections of the last ten miles on tired legs. I crash hard about six times, but keep going, wasting minimal time curled up on the ground and minimal breath on swear words. My legs keep working, fueled by adrenaline and rhythm. 

My knees at mile 45

At mile 43, I spot the third place woman just a couple of minutes ahead. My competitive instinct kicks into full gear while blood drips from my knees and elbows. One more crash, but like a cartoon, I tuck, roll, and spring back onto my feet, moving into third place at mile 45, which gives me a burst of extra motivation  for the final kick. My competition breathing down my neck, I run right though the last aid station, then run hard all the way to the finish, which – welcome surprise – comes at mile 49.5 this year, instead of mile 52. The Jemez’ final insult – a last steep, rocky uphill – has demoralized me in the past, but this year I navigate it like a mountain goat and cross the finish line in 10:48, bleeding, battered, bruised, and bone tired, but third woman, by a scant few minutes. 

Mile 49: the infamous Final Insult of this course

Jemez is a race where everyone knows everyone else, so we hang out at the finish line, cheering on runners, sharing race recaps with old and new friends, and enjoying the best finish-line food anywhere – a full buffet including enchiladas, burgers, and pretty much anything a hungry trail runner might want.

Worth it!

Once I sit down, the adrenaline rush of the last ten miles wears off, which makes me feel the pain I’m in, but it doesn’t matter because it was worth it. There is no better way to spend a day. I feel ready for the grand slam, or will feel ready, once my raw knees scab over.

Pain is temporary.

This race taught me a valuable lesson for my summer challenge: music is a powerful tool, a performance-enhancing drug without side effects (other than bloody knees). I usually prefer to race without it, but my playlist made me fly today. So, I will carry my favorite tunes at Western States and use them in strategic places. I hope they will work their magic in the canyons between Dusty Corners and Foresthill like they did in the Jemez mountains. 

The two fast girls and I: Alyssa Jojola (second place) and Katie Arnold (first place). I’m proud to place third behind these two amazing speed queens.

Thank you, Katie, Alyssa, Ken, Jean, Tammy, Tania, David, Susie, Tony,and everyone else who made this training run that turned into a race so enjoyable. It was good to see all of you! And, as always, a gigantic thank you to my ultra husband David Silva, aka my deluxe crew/cheerleader/photographer/life coach combo model. I could not do this without you!

Run happy, with music or without, 


My Ultra Car


An oil change service at the local Quick Lube usually includes vacuuming the car’s inside, plus a choice of air freshener – that is, it does for everyone’s car but mine. I tell the mechanic not to bother, for the same reason I don’t get pedicures: it’s as pointless as it is embarrassing. My toes are way too crooked, the toenails I have left way too gnarly – I’m sure a coat of polish won’t fool anyone. A little whiff of imitation vanilla in my car would feel just as insincere because it’s obvious this vehicle has not been washed in years, inside or out. I want to spare innocent cosmetologists the sight of my toenails, just like want to spare the guy in blue overalls the overwhelming task of excavating my car’s floor from layers and layers of sand, dirt, manure, alfalfa hay, Honey Stinger crumbs, and other debris of my messy lifestyle.

I tried a coat of polish for the San Diego 100. What was the point? 

I am a horse trainer and ultra runner who commutes two hours a day. I am not a total slob. My house, while not spotless, is an inviting place to come home to. My horses look presentable. After working them, I brush the sweat from their coats and pick the dirt out of their feet every day. My car, on the other hand. looks like it’s been rode hard and put up wet. I call it Blue, because, under all the dust, it’s blue (take my word for it).  I don’t bother to fix any of its many scrapes and dents – not because I’m lazy (or, at least, not only because I’m lazy), but because I kind of like looking at them. Like the scars on my knees, which I wear with pride, each mark on my car’s body tells a story: 

“Way too tired after Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim to notice wooden post at campground entrance.”

“Underestimated width and condition of rutted dirt track leading to a remote aid station. Should have taken heads-up that said it was “four wheel drive only” literally, instead of assuming this meant “four wheel drive recommended, but hardy little cars can do it, too!”

“Ran over deer (which was, thank goodness, already dead) on my way back from Bryce Canyon.”


So, my car won’t win any beauty contests anytime soon, but it’s uniquely mine. It may be small, but it’s pretty roomy. The trunk holds my saddle, several bridles, grooming supplies (for horses, not for me), a bag with extra running clothes, an extra pair of running shoes, jumper cables, 23 reusable grocery bags, the saddle pads I keep meaning to throw in the washer, plus the sack of aluminum cans I need to recycle but keep forgetting. 

If you dare to open the driver’s side door (which is the only one that works), a collection of water bottles, buffs, and spurs come tumbling out They seem to multiply when I’m not there, like an infestation of rodents.The seats are covered in horse hair. The aroma of unwashed running shoes and sweat-soaked layers of clothing that end up in a pile on the back seat fills the air. All summer long, dead flies gather on the dashboard, while live ones buzz around the rearview mirror. 


I bought this car in 2011. Since then, I have not done any of the scheduled maintenance. I have replaced bald tires and squeaky brakes, plus changed the oil every 5000 miles or so. Nothing else. It’s indestructible. 

It might not be obvious, but I really appreciate my little car. How could I not? Every time I turn the key in the ignition, the engine  comes alive, ready for new adventures in spite of all the abuse I subject it to. This means that, sadly, our time together is ending. At 157 000 miles, my is not ready to go out to pasture, but it does deserve a less demanding lifestyle. I am planning to give it to my stepson, whose commute is much shorter than mine, and who might even clean it up. In the meantime, I am shopping for a new little workhorse, this time in a more practical hatchback version.

Oh, the places we’ve gone to!

I imagine my new car waiting for its new owner on the dealership lot, oblivious to the hardships ahead. I already feel a little sorry for it. Its lot mates who can look forward to washings and waxings. At least the unlucky vehicle I pick will have an adventurous life with me. 

So, I’d like to know: do you ever wash or vacuum your car? If so, why? I am trying to change my messy ways, but need a valid reason – please help me out! 

Happy running, 


Gold Buckle Songs

I enjoy running with music – not all the time, not often while racing. But on long training runs, music reminds me of why I’m out there, of why it’s worth the effort. My playlist is eclectic, ranging from the Doors to the Avett Brothers, from the Dire Straits to Conor Oberst. You won’t find much country music on it, but you will find  57 songs by a cowboy singer named Chris LeDoux.

Most of my trail running, kale-eating, Subaru-driving friends have never heard of him. He was a bronc rider. He was also a singer-songwriter who lived the life he sang about. Chris LeDoux spent many years traveling from rodeo to rodeo, getting on bucking horses, getting bucked off bucking horses, sometimes winning, more often losing. He did win the world championship in bareback bronc riding in 1976. And he wrote songs about all of it.

I learned to appreciate Chris LeDoux when first started to make a living as a colt starter and horse trainer in the early 1990s. My life back then felt a lot like the rodeo circuit: hard work, tired muscles, bruises. A few blue ribbons sprinkled in between endless days of riding one horse after another until it was dark. Sometimes, riding more horses long after it was dark. Sleep deprivation. Grease-stained paper bags of fast food. Gas station coffee in giant styrofoam cups. Big dreams. Running into the same bunch of people over and over at different fairgrounds. Long roads, long hours spent on freeways, in a crew cab truck with a six-horse trailer in tow. And Chris LeDoux on the stereo, singing about horses and and gold belt buckles, about his life, which sounded like ours:

“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 horsepower
For eight seconds or miles an hour . .. “

Wear your buckle to work day is every day

Twenty-five years later, I still ride horses for a living. I tried to quit a time or two, tried to settle into more conventional jobs. It never lasted because I ended up missing the horses too much.

Many things have changed. I have gotten older and keep trying to be smarter. I spend more time in saddles that don’t have horns. Shows and ribbons matter a lot less than they used to. I ride eight horses a day instead of fifteen.  My food choices are, for the most part, healthier than burned coffee and a bag of Doritos. The change I’m happiest about is that I discovered ultra running, which now takes up all the time I don’t spend on horseback.

Other things have not changed at all. I still work long hours, still get weird tan lines, and I still listen to Chris LeDoux. His songs, written for the world of rodeo, make a lot of sense for ultra runners, especially those competing in 100-mile races:

“And if you’re mighty lucky, and you got a lot of try, there’s a big gold buckle waiting at the end of the line.”

I hope my Western States buckle this June will be silver, not gold, but any buckle is better than none.

This overlap is no random coincidence. 100-mile races evolved from a 100-mile endurance ride named the Tevis Cup, which has been around since 1955. Gordon Ainsleigh made history in 1973, when his horse went lame and he decided to cover the distance on foot, checking in at the vet checks, drinking from streams and eating canned peaches along the way. A couple of friends joined him the next year, a few more the year after that, and the Western States endurance run was born. This is why silver buckles still are the reward for finishing 100 miles. Ultra runners covet belt jewelry every bit as much as cowboys do, and work just as hard to win them

Cowboy or ultra runner? Does it matter?

Running 100s is much more like rodeo than most people think, even beyond the buckles. Like cowboys driving from rodeo to rodeo, we’re out there all night, fighting exhaustion, running on adrenaline fumes and chasing cutoffs. And like them, we do it because we love it:

“I’ve been a driving all night ‘neath the pale moonlight
Waiting for the sun to start showing
There’s too many miles and not enough time
But I’m gonna make it just the same
Well, it’s a mighty tough life but I like it alright
You know I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

too many miles and not enough time . . .

Getting older as an ultra runner has its challenges, too. The good thing is, ultra runners don’t have to quit doing what they love. Unlike bronc riders, we can keep putting one foot in front of the other into our golden years. I’m grateful for this, but at 47, I have to face the reality of bright-eyed people in their twenties zooming past me. Some of them look surprised, like they can’t believe someone their mother’s age is competing with them out on the trail. Again, Chris LeDoux has put into words what I feel:

“As I climbed up the gate I heard that young cowboy say
Well, that old man ain’t gonna ride and I had to smile
I said son it ain’t age that makes me look this way
It ain’t the years, boy, it’s the miles.”

Ian Maddieson, age 75, still running 100s.

Like riding horses, trail running involves a lot of involuntary contact with the ground, at least for me. Biting the dust is a risk we take, though the consequences tend to be less serious for runners than for bronc riders.

Still, when I’m curled up on the dirt, taking stock of my body parts and cursing in every language I know, sage advice from my favorite cowboy poet helps me get back out there:

“Stand up again, shake it off if you can,
Get back on that pony and ride.”

Chris LeDoux died in 2005, way too early. His music lives on, though. Sometimes, in the late, dark miles of a 100, when desert shadows come alive, when my mind plays tricks, I see a cowboy-hatted skeleton riding next to me on a black horse. He tips his hat. I wave. We talk about how short life is, about how beautiful the sunrise will be, about belt buckles we’ve won, or haven’t won but dream about winning someday. And I still think there’s a lot of wisdom in his songs:

“Yes, I’ll gladly take ten seconds in the saddle
For a lifetime of watching from the stands.”

The last album. Good ride, cowboy.

All lyrics by Chris LeDoux except where otherwise noted :

“Going and Blowing”, from Songbook of the American West, 1976

“Ten Seconds in the Saddle” from Western Tunesmith, 1979

It Ain’t the Years, it’s the Miles” from Gold Buckle Dreams, 1987 1994

“Get Back on the Pony and Ride” (Cori Conors) from Under This Old Hat, 1993

“Horsepower” from Horsepower, 2003

Love and Lots of Miles: Made For Each Other

I’ve heard a lot about how one partner’s ultra habit will wreck any romantic relationship. Ultra running, people say, can have a similar effect to crack cocaine or a gambling addiction. The drug of choice soon becomes more important than anything else, including love.
Yet I know from personal experience that such dire predictions are much too pessimistic. Ultras can also make relationships better. My husband David and I have learned to live with my addiction, no, more than live with it – we thrive on it. It helps that we’re both runners, though his weekly mileage and motivation tends to be a lot lower than mine. To be sure, at times my running habit gets in the way of our marital harmony. Communication breaks down when I say I will be out running for an hour or so and get back four hours later, or when I’m so tired that even watching an episode of Game of Thrones feels like a chore. But overall, I have to say ultra running has made us stronger. We still do romantic things, just in a slightly modified way.

Best dressed male zombie at the Deadman Peaks ultra. I was so proud of him!

Romantic Getaways

We celebrated our 25th anniversary this past October. David wanted to do something special.
“Would you like a diamond ring, or would you prefer a long weekend somewhere?”
He inquired.
“Do you even have to ask?” I answered. Of course I preferred a romantic getaway. As is our habit, we found the destination on ultrasignup, this time in Arizona, in the form of the Javelina Jundred. It was a perfect anniversary, from the lovely high-end resort we stayed in (aka our car) to the hike under the stars (i.e. David pacing me on the last loop). We even had a romantic dance in the disco-themed aid station at mile 90.

My disco moves were a little clumsy after 90 miles, but we had fun

We have spent many other anniversaries and birthdays racing or training or volunteering. For us, camping near a trail head or staying in a dingy motel in a small town before a race beats a fancy resort any time. Taking care of exhausted runners at an aid station or running up and down mountains all day beats other romantic activities. There is nothing we’d rather do. Really.

It hurts, but it also helps. Really, it does.


Romantic Gifts

Red roses? Diamonds? Overrated. Our presents to each other tend toward the practical, like new running socks or hand-held bottles or a box of protein bars. For my birthday last year, David gave me a torture device. No, not that kind – please get your mind out of the gutter, people. The Roll Recovery is a foam roller on steroids, designed to cause maximum pain, which helps muscle fibers back into alignment after a hard workout. I was ecstatic.

I’m running the grand slam this year, which means serious training. David gave me my Valentine’s day present a few days early, so I could take it out on a long run on Saturday: a brand new GPS watch to replace my ancient Garmin. He got me the mens’ version, because its battery life is longer. Though it looks a bit clunky, I appreciate my new watch more than any piece of useless decorative jewelry. My husband really knows what I like.

Better than a diamond-studded piece of useless wrist decoration

Romantic meals:
Our dinners tend to be late, which means we rarely eat out because we live in a small town where everything closes by 8 pm. I work long hours as a professional equestrian. By the time I get off my last horse, change into running shoes, run for a couple of hours, and drive home, all local restaurants have locked their doors. By the time I’ve showered and we’ve thrown together a quick meal, it’s 8:30 or 9 pm . We are starving and tired, but we still light a candle and enjoy conversation and a glass of wine before we fall asleep at the table.

David bravely downing the tequila at mile 26 of Cedro Peaks. His secret ultra weapon is an iron stomach.

Ultra running opens up opportunities for other types of romantic meals: we’ve
shared energy bars under the stars while camping before climbing a mountain. We’ve nibbled all day on a delicious combination of swedish fish, fig newtons, gummy worms, doritos, and pickles while volunteering at a race. When David paces me during 100s, we share styrofoam cups of ramen noodles at aid stations, which really is romantic. In between aid stations, he force-feeds me bites of tortilla wraps, which is less romantic, but needs to be done.

Seriously, running ultras has made our marriage better in many ways. David admires my ability to hang tough for 100 miles. In return, I appreciate so many things about him on a whole new level. When we run a race together, knowing he is out on the course makes me proud. So does watching him cross the finish line. But it’s his support for my races that really blows me away. He is my number one fan, my motivator, crew captain, and favorite pacer. He has spent many hours driving down bumpy dirt roads and waiting for me with fresh socks, hugs, and cans of soda. He has doctored my disgusting blisters. He has watched me puke and cry and bite the dust. When my ultra brain was too fuzzy to remember my head lamp at mile 62 of the 2015 Western States, he gave me his pacer lamp at mile 70 and did not complain about being left alone on the cougar-infested trail with just his iPhone to light the way to the next aid station while I charged ahead in hot pursuit of the silver buckle. More impressive than anything, he still finds me beautiful at mile 90, or at least he says he does.

I hope we will still hang around ultras when we’re in our eighties and our running days are fading. I hope we grow old still shuffling, still volunteering, still being out there together. There’s no place I’d rather be, and no one I’d rather be with. The two of us and trail ultras – it sounds like a kinky threesome, but it works.

So, don’t listen to the naysayers. They’re wrong. Ultras don’t ruin every relationship they touch. Sometimes, they have a positive effect. Yes, you can have it all – love and high mileage, 100 mile finish lines and romance, sometimes both on the same weekend.

Happy Valentine’s day everyone!







Until Death Do Us Part? Singletrack Relationships


I spend a lot of time on trails. It’s safe to say that I spend more time on trails than with my friends. My husband says I spend more time on the trails than with him. He may be wrong, but I do understand that we’re in a kind of open relationship: I get to have weekend flings on the side, with a number of intriguing, rugged characters. Does it really matter that they’re trails instead of people? My relationships with them are complex, just like with humans. Some of them remain casual, while others deepen over time.

The Old Flame

Sunset dates with my favorite arroyo still happen, just not as often as they used to.


For example, the Arroyo Chamiso is my old flame. When I used to live in Santa Fe, this gem of a  trail waited for me right outside my door. It was love at first sight. We were inseparable until I moved away. Now, we spend a passionate couple of hours together whenever I’m in town. There are times when I drive through Santa Fe without any intention of going for a run, but can’t resist the urge to exit the freeway for a quick few miles down memory lane. Everything feels so familiar: the underpass at mile 2, the gnarled oak tree a little further up, the rusty old Ford truck sinking into the sand. I know every rock, every cactus, the view from around every bend. I know where I need to be at sunset to make it back without a light. In spite of knowing all that, I never get bored running this trail. Though our paths in life have diverged, the arroyo will always have a special place in my trail runner heart. I would like to imagine the feeling is mutual.

The Hot New Crush

New Mexico at its finest: the Galisteo Basin

The Galisteo Basin trails, newly created just a few years ago, started out as my hot new crush. For a while, I ran them every chance I got. These trails are gorgeous, but the thrill of the unfamiliar added to the attraction. Everything seemed so perfect. I soaked up the views, explored the many possible loops. I marveled at he variety of the terrain. I did not mind driving an extra few miles to the trail head. When I got lost for an hour because some of the new loops were not on the map yet, I just smiled. It was all part of the adventure until the novelty wore off. I still enjoy the Galisteo Basin, but now make more rational decisions: do I have the extra time? Could I run another trail closer to work or home and be just as happy? Sometimes, the answer is yes. Also, I’ve become more critical of the Basin’s shortcomings. I now notice when some of the signs at trail intersections are either missing altogether or more confusing than helpful. I love the Galisteo Basin, but I’m no longer blind to its inevitable warts and wrinkles.

The Celebrity Crush

One of my favorite sections of Western States, around mile 68

II’ve been lucky enough to run Western States twice and will run it again this June. Long before I ever set foot on this famous route in 2013, I obsessed over it from far away. I drooled over pictures, spent way too much time scrolling through race reports and race statistics, listened to more podcasts I can count, and watched Unbreakable over and over. Like my intense crush on Viggo Mortensen, which lasted until long after the Lord of the Rings Trilogy had left theaters, my Western States obsession went on for years. Unlike my crush on Viggo Mortensen, this obsession deepened into something more than a crush after we met in person: the actual Viggo Mortensen looked much older and had much shorter hair than Aragorn by the time I met him, which, for me, transformed him from the mythical ruler of Middle Earth into just another human. The actual Western States 100, on the other hand, lives up to the hype that surrounds the race. I am as excited about my third Western States as about my first, though I have experienced every mile of what lies between the Escarpment and the Placer High School stadium in Auburn twice already.

One lap around the Placer High School stadium, then the finish. Epic the first time . . . and the second, and (I hope) the third.


The Dud

Too short, too technical – this one was a dud.

I know a few of these trails. They can be in the flatlands or the mountains, single track or double, but they all sound more impressive than they are. I heard about a trail in the Villanueva State Park for years. When I finally drove out there and ran it, it turned out to be all of three miles long. I once spent several hours looking for a trail head near Mora, only to find an overgrown path with downed trees across it every ten feet. Trails that go uphill for ever and ever, promising views without delivering on the promise, are in the same category. Duds are a risk of exploring new running routes. I look at them philosophically: every trail I don’t know yet might be a dud, but I won’t know for sure until I try. But I don’t keep running the same dud every weekend because I hope it’s changed for the better.


The Bad Boy

It’s not a smooth climb to the top . . .

Hermit’s Peak is a rugged beast that has left me physically beaten up and emotionally frustrated me more than once, yet I keep coming back for more punishment on a regular basis. This trail has made me appreciate the idea of switchbacks because it heads straight up a mountain where an actual hermit used to live in a cave just below the summit 150 years ago. You can’t beat the views he got to enjoy, but you have to work for them. Some trails are rocky, which makes them technical. The Hermit’s Peak trail is beyond technical. It consists of sharp, jagged rocks, with no space between them to plant a running shoe. It’s only four miles long, but those miles are punishing. Even the way back down is too steep and perilous to be runnable.
So, why do I keep running this Bad Boy? Unlike any of the Duds, the Hermits Peak trail does not make empty promises. The views really are worth the effort, every time.

. . . but worth it!



Close to home, yet far away



Sebastian Canyon is not the most beautiful of trails. It leads to a few minor hilltops with views of Storrie Lake, but nothing spectacular. Sebastian Canyon is a network of logging roads that locals use to haul wood off the mountain. They’re not designed to be recreational trails. I meet few hikers and even fewer other runners there. Sometimes, kids on four-wheelers pass me. Sometimes, I find beer cans. There are supposed to be bears around, though I’ve never seen one. I have seen rattlesnakes and squirrels and wild turkeys and once, a few years ago in early March, a dead cow right next to the trail. Over the course of that spring, I witnessed the cow’s slow decomposition from carcass to scavenger food to a pile of bleached bones.

Bursts of color in Sebastian Canyon


I started running Sebastian Canyon because it’s close to home, not because it excited me. And yet, I’ve come to appreciate its unique charms more and more: the mature trees, the seasonal creeks lined by red rock walls, the wild flowers in summer, the absolute quiet, the feeling of being alone in the world, far from human civilization, yet right outside my door. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we understand each other. I know Seb Canyon is not perfect, but it’s a keeper.

Seasons change in the Arroyo Chamiso

This list is, of course, incomplete. I’ve been so lucky. I’ve run so many trails, in so many places, each with its own personality. Which trails rock your life? Please let me know!

Run Happy, anywhere –





Taming the Beast: Javelina 100, 2017


I registered for the 2017 Javelina 100 in late September, after two difficult 100-mile finishes earlier in the summer. Bryce and Leadville had gone well until I fell apart around mile 80 and shuffled, walked, or staggered on until crossing the finish line. I began to think that, at 47, old age had finally caught up with me. I worried that my finishing kick in 100s was gone for good.

So, I signed up for the Javelina. It’s an easier course than what I normally choose – no altitude, no mountain passes, not too technical, not too much vert. I wanted my mojo back. I also wanted a 100-mile PR. I wanted to run faster than my 23:16 in Leadville four years earlier. Never mind that the Javelina takes place in the desert heat of central Arizona, never mind that I had not done any heat training since August – I wanted redemption.

I also wanted the race to double as a romantic getaway. My husband David and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in mid-October. When I suggested a weekend road trip to the Javelina 100, David immediately agreed (one of the many reasons why i love him). We drove from New Mexico to Fountain Hills on Friday. While going through Santa Fe, an hour away from home, I shift into panic mode: have I packed my good Hokas? We pull over. I dig through my bag. I have not.

Time to problem-solve. Turning back would turn an eight-hour drive into ten hours, and make us miss packet pickup. Lucky for me, we are not too far from the Running Hub, our Santa Fe running store, where I purchase a pair of Speedgoats and put them on my feet for the rest of the day so I don’t run 100 miles in brand-new shoes. Nothing new on race day, right?

The Javelina is a five-loop course. I’ve always preferred out and backs or point to points, for the simple reason that I don’t want to pass the finish line until the finish. Passing it four times, at mile 20, 40, 60, and 80 seems like a recipe for a DNF. I imagined the temptation to drop would be overwhelming – an irresistible siren call, a surefire way to break my willpower. So, in spite of hearing great things about the Javelina for years, I had never wanted to take this chance until now.

The race starts at 6 am, with a counterclockwise loop that is slightly longer than the other four. We gallop off into the desert, riding high on a wave of pure energy. It’s still cool and crisp. After twenty minutes or so, I turn off my light. The sun inches up on the horizon, splashing the desert with purple, red, and shades of orange. I get stuck in the back of the pack, then break free on a section of double track and speed up – probably too much, but I can’t help it. A familiar shirtless silhouette in front of me tuns out to be Adrian – my pacer and friend without whom I would not have finished Leadville two months ago. He has a plane to catch the next morning, meaning that he has to finish the Javelina in under 21 hours. I wish him luck as he scampers ahead, on his way to a spectacular 18-hour finish..

The Javelina 100 is a social race because the loops are washing-machine style, meaning we reverse direction each time we finish one. Everyone sees everyone else several times – lots of opportunities to catch up with old friends, and meet new ones. I say hello to Ian Maddieson, 75 years young, and to a 14-year old kid whose friends think he’s gone crazy. I meet runners from Ireland, Mexico, Canada, and all over the US.


I also meet strange creatures not normally found in ultra races because lots of people run the Javelina in costumes.

I wear a colorful top, skirt, and cowgirl hat, plus some pink hair, and some body glitter. Others dressed up in much more elaborate fashion: clowns, skeletons, bandits, Jackie O, Fred Flintstone, several Wonder Women, a guy in a thong, men (and a few women) in tutus.

By the time I start my second loop, clockwise, the desert is warming up. By the time I start my third, it’s hot. Really hot. I’m still running strong, but have slowed down a little, even take a few short walk breaks on the uphills. At every aid station, I stuff handfuls of ice into my hat and down my bra. All aid stations at Javelina are top notch – a cross between tapa restaurant, night club with full bar, support group meeting, field hospital, and motivational event. Coyote Crossing offers Bloody Marys and forms of pain relief. Jackass Junction transforms the desert into a dance club, complete with strobe lights and a disco ball. I leave every aid station nourished, cool, and cheerful. The furthest distance between aid stations is 6.5 miles, so it’s impossible to stay grumpy for long at Javelina.


The afternoon sun feels merciless. I pass a couple of runners who crouch doubled over trail side, retching. I offer ginger and encouraging words, but can’t do much else. My own stomach is on the edge of rebelling after a steady all-day diet of Stinger Waffles and ginger ale. I try to reason with it. I implore it to behave better than it did in Leadville.It grumbles, the settles down again, still threatening with mutiny.

The loop course does require more mind games than usual. While I finish loop three, I think “only a 50k to go.” Wait, a 50k? It seems like a lot. I also realize that, had I signed up for the 100k instead of the 100-miler, I would be done already. Ruminating along such unhelpful lines, I reach the Jeadquarters for the third time right before sunset.

I dig out my good headlamp and change socks. David reminds me to eat, so I choke down some pretzels and a protein bar. Time to refocus the mind to something more positive than the remaining 50k, like cooler evening temperatures. Like the undeniable fact that I’m more than halfway done. Loop four will my last counterclockwise round. Each loop features a gentle, rolling climb to Jackass Junction, then a gentle, rolling descent back to the Jeadquarters. The climb is rockier and steeper in the clockwise direction, but the descent is smoother and more inviting, basically an easy cruise to the finish. Now, I run back up the cruising section, finding I have plenty of energy left. The uphill is so gradual that walk breaks don’t cross my mind. I have taken a couple of very short walk breaks in the heat of the afternoon, on some of the steeper clockwise climbs, but in the cooler air, I feel able to run at a decent pace.

My stomach still threatens to quit, but doesn’t actually turn inside out. I talk to it in a stern voice: “Just a few more hours, please, you finicky organ. Quit sounding like a whiny child. Don’t sabotage my race, like you did at Leadville.” And so on. My stomach has a capricious disposition. It’s easily offended and not always a good team player with my other body parts. Halfway into loop four, I switch to an all-ginger diet for the rest of the race, hoping for a puke-free 100 miles. John passes me at the Coyote aid station, looking string and steady. I try to keep up, but think better of it – I still have 24 miles to go, and I’ve learned the hard way to run my own race until mile 95 or so.

Back at the Jeadquarters after loop four, my fuzzy brain calculates that I will have no trouble finishing in sub-22, which was my A-goal. David, my ultrahusband, is dressed to pace in his shorts and knee brace, and we head out into the night. The sound of crickets fills the night. A half moon shines above us. This is happiness, pure and simple – running through a beautiful desert, surrounded by people I care about.

Eight miles in, David’s injured knee begins to bother him. He lags behind me more and more. I wait for him, but he urges me to go on alone. We reach Jackass Junction, where we snap a couple of pictures in the desert disco, then we kiss and I head out for the last ten miles to the finish. I can still run. My legs are tired, but there’s only a single digit number of miles left to go. My stomach is still on the edge of mutiny, but still holding its ginger. The night is cool but not cold, and I feel warm enough in my skirt and thin long-sleeve. I run, at a slow but steady pace, feeling peaceful in the quiet, dark desert. No need for music, no need for more motivation. I am here, the time is now, and nothing else matters. Every so often, other runners come toward me. We mutter words of encouragement, pointing our lights politely sideways and down. It’s a beautiful night, and I know I won’t see that second sunrise. My Garmin has died many miles ago, but I know that a sub -22 is possible.

The last aid station. A last handful of ginger, fresh batteries in my dimming lights, and I’m ready for the home stretch. Less than four miles to go. I pass a couple of runners who ask me whether I’ on my last lap. They cheer me on when I say yes. I cross the now familiar washes one last time. I take a right turn off the Pemberton trail one last time. I’m hurting, but I know I’m getting close.

The tent city comes into view one last time. One last pass under the arch, one last triumphant lap around the headquarters loop lined by pop-up tents filled with cheering crew members. one last little uphill toward the finish line. I see the clock. It says 20:00. I blink. I look again. It says 20:01 by the time I get there. Out of the shadows jumps my dear husband, who has caught a ride from Jackass Junction and arrived at the finish just before me. He snaps a quick picture with his phone. We hug. We feel ecstatic. I never dreamed I could run 100 miles in just over 20 hours. As we sink into camp chairs and pop open a couple of beers, I wonder: could I shave one more minute off my time? I might just have to come back next year and find out.

Javelina is a beautiful race in every sense: the scenery, the organization, the cheerful vibes. Thank you, Jamil Coury and Aravaipa Running, for putting on a top-notch event. Thank you, John and Senovia, for graciously sharing your tent. Thank you, all my old and new friends, for making Javelina a 100 miles to remember. I love you all, and I will be back.


Mental Hazards of the Trail: Psychiatric Disorders of Ultra Runners


A picture of sanity, right before I fell apart at Leadville

Ultra runners are generally sane, reasonable, well-adjusted people. In spite of what our non-running friends believe, most of us lead functional, productive lives. We go to work, though our colleagues might consider us a little odd when we go for a run instead of joining them for happy hour. We maintain loving, long-term relationships, as long as our significant other understands our need to spend many hours alone on mountain trails every weekend. And when we do feel a bout of depression or anxiety come on, we at least know what to do about it. A good run will cure most of what ails us, most of the time.That said, we also suffer from a few mental and emotional disorders that don’t exist among the general population. Over the years, I’ve experienced painful episodes of these serious illnesses in their acute or chronic form:

Trigger terrain for TAPTSD

Twisted-ankle PTSD
The intense, gripping fear that any root and rock is trying to trip and injure you. I twisted my ankle on a steep, root, rocky downhill at mile 27 of the Bryce 100 a couple of years ago. There were 73 miles left to go, so I continued with the help of KT tape, a few Tylenols, and lots of endorphins released by liberal use of language too foul to repeat in a blog post.

Running 70-plus miles on a twisted ankle is really not such a good idea.

By the time I crossed the finish line, my ankle looked like an overripe grapefruit. It eventually healed, but the mental aftereffects still haunt me. Every time I run down a technical stretch of trail, I break out in cold sweat and fight the irrational urge to put on the brakes. In races, everyone passes me on the rocky downhills. The only people who don’t are the ones with a more severe, or more recent, case of TAPTSD than mine. TAPTSD gets better over time, but, judging from my limited anecdotal evidence, it never totally goes away.

Last-minute reshuffling: Western States 2015

Drop Bag OCD
The compulsive urge to check and re-check and reshuffle and rearrange all the stuff in your drop bags a gazillion times, including in the middle of the night, right until it’s almost too late to drop them off. Often accompanied by nightmares of worst-case scenarios, like mid-race blizzards or killer bee attacks. DBOCD can lead to back injuries because it involves carrying a maximum number of bags overstuffed with things you’re unlikely to need. I’ve obsessed over my drop bags so much that I packed all my good socks/headlamps/warm layers, only to realize on race morning that I have nothing left to wear. The cure: buy a big, sturdy set of drop bags, label them clearly, and embrace your compulsive tendencies. You never know – you might need 23 spare batteries, a family size tube of athlete’s foot ointment, or an extra sports bra at mile 60.

A little niggle – or worse?

Pre-100 mile Munchhausen syndrome
The worrying conviction that any little pre-race niggle means you won’t get to run your goal race. A person with Munchhausen syndrome imagines herself suffering from various illnesses without actually being sick. Under normal circumstances, e. g. during flu season, ultra runners trend in the opposite direction: they imagine they’re healthy enough to run, even at times when, by most standards, they clearly aren’t. Three weeks before a tough 50 or 100, this changes. Every footache becomes a potential stress fracture, every sneeze and sniffle a symptom of incipient pneumonia. This is a self-limiting condition. After finally running the race, an ultra runner’s body suffers from too many real pains to make up imagined ones.

I suffered buckle envy for years until earning this beauty in 2015

Buckle Envy
An intense, irresistible urge to stare at other people’s crotch areas for long enough to read the fine print etched into their belt jewelry. Common during pre-race expos, dinners and briefings, or at any other place where a) ultra runners gather in large numbers, and b) do so dressed in street clothes instead of running shorts. If the buckle in question is something the patient would like to wear on her own belt, heart palpitations and shortness of breath can develop, along with intense feelings of not being fast enough, or tough enough. Sadly, there is no cure until the patient has earned the coveted bling.

El Plato Grande, from last year. I do get to wear my buckles to work.

Weekend FOMO
This widespread, often chronic ailment is triggered by an overdose of certain types of visual stimuli in the patient’s social media feed, mostly on Mondays. Here are some common culprits:
a) selfies of smiling people on mountain trails and snow-capped summits
b) finish-line shots of runners, arms raised, faces showing equal amounts of pain and happiness
c) screenshots of race registration confirmations

Symptoms consist of nagging anxiety and panic attacks. More severe cases (sometimes severe enough to miss work) cause impulse registrations on ultra signup or impromptu road trips to the mountains. There is no antidote. If you’re prone to this type of condition, it’s best to avoid all triggers. Unfriending all ultra runners is the only sure way to avoid a flare-up.

My DNF demon, from Leadville 2014. He called me “Quitter!” until I finished Leadville again in 2015

DNF Depression
A severe form of self-flagellation following an ultra run that ends anywhere but at the finish line. Characterized by repetitive, painful feelings of shame and regret, along the lines of “I should have dragged myself along the ground on my knuckles and knees for the last 25 miles, in spite of that torn achilles tendon!” Or simply “I am a quitter!” Well-meaning friends often try to soothe the symptoms of DNFD by pointing out that choosing to live another day was the sensible, rational thing to do, or that running for 80-plus miles before missing a cutoff is different from quitting. Their efforts are in vain. The only way to cure DNFD is to finish a race of the same distance and degree of difficulty.

Leadville, 2017. I finished half-blind and barely upright, but already hope to run it again next year.

Serial Race Dementia
The strong and irrational urge to sign up for a race after you swore that you’d never run it again because it chewed you up and spit you back out as a shapeless clump of pain and self-pity the last time you ran it. SRD is common and generally harmless, but can be alarming for concerned family members unfamiliar with the condition who will think their loved one has serious memory issues.

My friend Rachael, questioning her sanity at the Lavaredo ultra.

Which of these are you suffering from? Are there others I forgot to mention? Please let me know!

It’s a good time to be alive and running, for sanity maintenance and so many other reasons.

The next level of sanity maintenance: burro racing.