Entering the land of the unknown can be scary and also exhilarating. Saturdays’ adventure was no exception. Attempting a new race distance and with the unpredictable weather we have had, everything was up in the air.
Coming off a high from February’s win, I had been feeling confident and well prepared. My training was really on point, diet was good, and I had been doing strength and structural work multiple times a week. I was getting bored of training. I was ready to race.
|6:30 am start time|
The day before the race i drove to the race start to pick up my packet. This is when the first bout of nerves decided to show up. The wind was brutal and had a bite to it. The forecast was predicting that the wind die down by the morning. Fingers crossed. I met some of my fellow racers, who had traveled from all over the country. How funny that you can be complete strangers with someone one minute and the next you are telling them your life story.
I had continued with my positive outlook for the day and by the time Friday night had come there was snow on the ground and the wind was as strong as ever. The only thing I was having a hard time with was what to wear. Race day forecast was 25 at the start, low wind, sun, and high of 43 at 4pm. How do i dress for that?!
Race day-here we go. Picked up my timing chip and got a boost of energy from a client of mine who was volunteering. Dropped off my bag of fuel for the second aid station and used the bathroom at least twice. It was cold, but no wind!! I decided to go with tights, I brought shorts in case i wanted to change. My legs just get so hot!
|Shannon Johnstone who placed
Time to line up, hugs of good luck to my new friends and its time to fly.
26 runners lined up to start their 100K journey before the sun was even up. The first lap was nice to settle into, my hands were cold and toes numb but it felt good to move. I ended up running with Anna Hailey one of the women i met at packet pickup. Chatting with her made 7:30 feel like a walk in the park. I knew that I had a big day in front of me and i would be running an extra 12 miles that I have never run before, so I better be cautious. The pace was fine, but I knew that I needed to slow it down if i wanted to finish strong and make it the whole distance. So after the first lap, I let her go while I stopped and fueled.
|Roubaix watching for me inside the car,
the weather was too cold for him.
Now the sun was up and the warmth it provided was welcome. With the course being circular you had the wind at your back and also in your face. So even though you had the warm sun, you were also freezing. Lap two was a blur, I felt good and still holding a nice pace. Coming into the start/finish aid station I hear a familiar sound, which could only be Roubaix, my dog, my biggest fan. Seeing him there along with my husband gave me a little push.
Things were becoming a blur already on lap 3, I was less than a half a mile from the beginning of the lap and I couldn’t remember if I had kissed Roger or what I said. It was blank. I also started to get a cramp in my left foot up by my toes. Salt, I need salt. I didn’t pack any of my own but I knew the half way aid station had pretty much everything. At this point I had been lapped my the leader, he was going pretty fast. I offered my “good luck” and “looking good”, and watched him fly by.
I was right about the aid station. I poured straight salt into my mixture of Generation Ucan and water, ate a Picky Bar and went on my way. Lap 4 was also a blur, this was the last lap that i would see Roger for awhile, by now it was 10ish and the kids had activities. It was fine because the relay and the 50K solo was well in progress so I had people to focus on and chat with while running by.
Coming in on lap 5 I had decided that I would lose my jacket, the sun had gotten warmer and it was now maybe 35 degrees. I see this sign near my fueling station. “Nora is a Beast”, I am confused as to who would know me here and write this sign? I look up and see my aunt Joy who lives in Minnesota who was supposed to be at her sons track meet. We embrace in a big hug and I cry a little. The meet got cancelled at midnight and she and her husband drove up last minute. That was truly amazing. Do you know how hard it is to run and cry? Near impossible. you just have to choke it down. I also checked my 50K time, and I had set a new PR by 2 minutes from the race in February and 10 min from this last race last year.
Finishing lap 6 I got words of encouragement from a woman at the gym, talk about awesome. Then shortly after I see another friend who was starting her run for the day and decided to run the arboretum with the chance at seeing me. We ran and talked for a bit. By this time my feet were starting to hurt, just the soles. Around this time I got lapped by the leader again.
I think by lap 7 Roger was back with the kids. Lap 8 was a blur. A client of mine came to cheer me on after he did a 5 hour trail run that morning. It was so awesome to have a familiar face cheer for you. By this point in the race, the leaders had finished and the relay was over. the spectators were leaving and the encouragement along the course was pretty much non-existent. At the end of Lap 8 was the 50 mile mark. I also PR’ed my 50 mile time by almost 5 minutes. But now I was in uncharted territory, I had never run past 50 miles. 2 laps to go, only 12 more miles. You got this!
|one lap to go|
My pace had slowed considerably due to the bottoms of my feet being so sore and tender, I felt great everywhere else. My mental state really couldn’t have been better, my nutrition was on point, my legs felt like they could run forever, but my feet. My poor feet, as they say my dogs were barking.
The initial goal I had set for myself was to finish, that in itself was going to be a huge. Next was to finish in 10 hours, I gave myself a buffer with the unknown. As I closed the 9th lap I knew that I would not make my 10 hour goal, I would have to do the last lap in 45 min, which I was doing at the beginning, but not with those feet. So I refocused and under 10:30 was the new goal.
This lap was bittersweet. I had gone further than I had ever gone, I was feeling so good except for the feet. I was choking back tears, It really is hard to run while crying! I was truly alone. No spectators, no encouragement, nothing. It was difficult not to be brought down by the lack of support.
One woman, a woman who I do not know, a woman on her bike. She was riding the course in the opposite direction for the last 5 laps at least. She would slow down when she got near and almost whispered words of encouragement with a genuine smile on her face. On my last lap she was there and confirmed it was the last and said how good and strong i looked and congratulated me. My only response was “Truly thank you for all your support”, all while trying not to lose my shit. I still had 2 miles to go. I am crying just writing that. This single woman who didn’t know me and spent her day cheering for strangers, now has a special place in my heart. I will remember her forever.
|4th woman finisher and 11th overall. 10:23:24|
As I come into the last stretch where you can almost see the finish line, I try to speed up. I can’t see the clock(my watch had died before I finished the 9th lap), and I couldn’t risk not making my new goal. The tears were coming and I had to push it down. Did I mention how hard it is to cry and run? I pride myself in being a strong finisher, I always reserve a teeny bit for that finish. It was there, but this was no sprint. My feet were not along for the ride.
I did it though. I finished. 100K done. I set 3 PR’s and won some hardware. The best feeling was if my feet hadn’t been as tired, I know I could have went faster. I wasn’t spent, I had gas left. That only means one thing, I can beat that time and Leadville is more doable than I thought.
I would only change one thing. My family and friends who came to watch, I would ask them to go onto the course somewhere other than the aid stations. It became a ghost town, and seeing anyone, especially a familiar face truly can make a difference. That being said, it was an amazing race and I will do it again.
Now my focus turns to the trails and to coaching. Building my business and training for Leadville will be no small feat, but hey “why not”.