The three musketeers! The three amigos! The three idiots (at least that’s what I started to consider us at some point during the race)! We all met up at Kim’s place to squish an obscene amount of gear into our tiny Honda Fits and head up to Tennessee. Team #ARFTA was ready to roll!
We got to the race site in Manchester TN in plenty of time to leisurely set up our camp, visit Starbucks for a light lunch, and have time to relax before starting. A short breakdown of the way this event works: it is a timed race taking place on a one mile loop going through Fred Deadman Park, in general, you get as many hours as you are old. So, if you are 64 years old, you get 64 hours. The minimum amount of time you get is 48 hours, however, so if you are younger than 40, you really get the best deal!! Somehow, I think I was still the only runner there under the age of 30 that wasn’t related to one of the race organizers (and I was reminded of that, constantly, from my fellow racers!!). To count our laps we wore bibs with chips and also an ankle bracelet (which I kept referring to as my house arrest bracelet), and every time we passed the start/finish area, our laps were displayed on a large television screen. I tried to avert my eyes from this screen as much as possible during the race!
Our start time was at 1200 — so a few minutes prior to that we headed over. There was a small handful of 48 hour racers, and I was starting to sense that I really was in the minority here, being 26. As soon as the countdown clock reached 48:00:00, we were off! Kim and I settled in to our slow trot with 3 minute run, 3 minute walk intervals. This was the pace we had trained with throughout our very long runs in the summer, and it was perfect for conserving energy while also not getting you too off your running groove. It was not as hot as we anticipated. I mean, it was still Tennessee in late summer and insanely humid, but it wasn’t the 110 degree heat indexes that we had trained in and prepared to deal with. As we ran I told Kim that I had several “rewards” planned out for myself: checking my Facebook, calling someone on the phone, my favorite candy bar, music, etc. I originally planned to allow myself a break every 10 miles or so, but with the food schedule Kim and I worked out that it would make the most sense to break every 3 hours, with alternating short breaks and longer meal breaks.
At our first break at 3 hours, I walked a whole lap while checking my Facebook messages and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Spirits were still high! As the evening drew near, I started to feel the beginning of some hot spots. When our 6 hour break rolled around it was time for our first meal! We decided to grab our plates and eat at our tent (it was really hot and crowded in the community center). While I chowed down on my meal of a giant baked potato with butter and one single piece of steamed broccoli (I love broccoli and wanted more but knew it would upset my tummy), Scott worked on taping up my feet.
Around 9pm, during our next short break 9 hours in, I started to feel extremely nauseous. My stomach had that sickly sweet sloshy feeling, and nothing sounded good. This was also around the time Scott had taken a break to sleep for a few hours (getting rest while he could because we knew I’d need him more on the second night), so I didn’t have my second brain to make good decisions for me. Luckily Kim gently urged me to eat one of the plain white bread rolls she brought. It sounded disgusting but I accepted the roll and crushed it in to a tiny compact ball in my fist. I plugged myself in to some power music and we walked a few laps while I took infinitesimally small nibbled of my squashed bread grenade and tuned out my bad thoughts to “FIRST WE GONNA ROCK, THEN WE GONNA ROLL, THEN WE LET IT POP, GO LET IT GO, X GONNA GIVE IT TO YA!”
During this speed walking period I was reminded several times by Kim and Colleen (who had been running with us off and on but generally moving at a faster pace) that my walking pace was Olympic Race Walking Gold Medalist level and that their fevered attempts to keep up with me were mildly exhausting them. As midnight and hour 12 closed in I got sleepier and sleepier… I am *not* a night person, not even on a regular “I haven’t already been running for 12 hours” day, so needless to say, the sleepies were coming for me. I had also gotten diarrhea pretty early in the race and was worried about my fueling, I was struggling to eat much at all and was mainly consuming liquids. I was deeply worried because mine and Kim’s initial race plan involved running through the night and taking a long nap during the heat of the next day. But I was fading, fast. When we went in to the community center for the midnight meal (soup, heavenly) I meekly suggested, “Um…….. soooo…. what if…. we took our nap now?” Turns out Kim was thinking the same thing. We decided to go sleep in the tent for 4 hours and then get back at it. I didn’t actually bring any camping gear, so Colleen lent me a sleeping pad, Kim let me use her daughter’s blanket (Thanks Nyoka!), and I used a crushed up grocery bag as a pillow. It had gotten surprisingly cold in the night and even with layers of additional clothing and the blanket, my damp, sweaty body was still shivering. It took a while to get comfortable, but I got some good sleep in.
When Kim woke me up around 4, I felt like a brand new human. Yay! We geared up and got back out on the track. As the sun came up Kim and I got giddily excited and knew the light would give us new energy. There’s something magic in daybreak. We ran for a while and then walked 5 or 6 miles waiting on breakfast to arrive. A hearty meal of pancakes was served at 6am, and after eating that and having Scott doctor up my formed blisters, we were off with a purpose on our second day. We said our goal for the day was to reach 81 miles, the last 19 miles could worry about themselves.
This is where my memory begins to run together, so some of the details might be slightly off. It was also the beginning of my great struggle; if I thought my short dealing with nausea the night before was bad, I was in for a whole new world of suffering.
We were not allowed to have non-registered runners/walkers join us on the course, but mom and Scott kept meeting me at the half mile mark and the lap point. At times the only thing keeping my feet moving was telling myself just to make it back to them. As the day warmed up my mental health started to feel fried and raw. I was plodding along listening to my music and trying to keep it together. After noon I started breaking down into spontaneous tears — every time I tried to speak more than 5 or 6 words I would dissolve in to a blubbering mess. Logically I knew I was fine and that I was being ridiculous, but even knowing that I could. not. pull. it. TOGETHER. It was just so *hot* and I had so far to go!! I was also struggling with some pretty significant blisters and questioning if I was going to make it at all. We enlisted the help of a kind lady, Ava (I think) who was there crewing someone else. She had a lot more experience at these things than Scott and I did and so she helped him do some major blister surgery on my poor feet. I kept my head down and tried to hide my weeping, hoping that if anyone noticed I was at least giving off a “I’M FINE, REALLY, I CRY FOR FUN SOMETIMES, IT’S COOL…” type of vibe. After a few laps of this ridiculousness Scott met me at the lap area and made the mistake of mentioning home and our bunnies (he really was trying to be encouraging, but it was too much for me at that moment); I immediately started to cry
and he recognized the exhaustion showing and forced me to stop, take a break, and regroup. He put me in our reclining camp chair, removed my shoes so my hot feet could cool off, laid a cooling towel over my legs, and helped me to chill TF out. There were a few things we needed – more water, ice, a blanket, and other stuff I can’t remember. So when we he sent me on my way back on the course, he headed to run errands. I struggled through a few more miles while he was gone and when he came back he had SONIC SLUSHIES!!! YAAAAAAAAA!!!!! He also bought me a Moana blanket which I failed to appreciate in my state but in hindsight, SWEETEST THING EVER. By this time I was fluctuating on begrudging acceptance and weeping. I had lost Kim and was staring to feel lonely. Her feet were brutally blistered and she could no longer keep pace with what she referred to as “the fastest ultra-shuffle ever.” I tried to keep steady as I drank my slushie.
The sun was starting to set and my mood was more fragile than ever, prompting strangers to ask if I was okay and then freaking them out when I was unable to answer with anything other than a sniffle or a sob. I was starting to feel significant pain in, well, basically every part of my body. Scott met me at the lap point and said, “Your mom is almost here” with a smile. Cue more crying (I was annoying MYSELF at this point with the crying, god dammit woman, PULL IT TOGETHER). We didn’t think my mom would be able to come to this race, but when she heard that I was struggling so badly I don’t think she could resist the call of the mama bear. When she finally arrived I was awash with relief. I was in such a bad place that I didn’t even mildly celebrate passing milestones like my farthest race ever (over 40 miles), 50 miles, and even 100k. But having my mom there was a bright spot in my darkness; if you know my mom you know this about her, she radiates pure good energy and strength more than any other person I know. She gave me the strength to carry on.
When the wheels really fell off the wagon and I completely lost my ability to think clearly or keep track of myself, Scott swooped in and was my calming force. He continued to encourage me to move when I needed to move and rest when I needed to rest. Even when I hysterically convinced myself I had no time and wouldn’t make it, he constantly and patiently reminded me that everything was going to be ok if I just kept on task. At dinner time mom and Scott corralled me in to the community center to eat some real food and get some air conditioning. As I cried in to my macaroni, Laz himself noticed my pathetic form and offered me some encouragement. I think he felt sorry for me because he continued to offer uplifting words (in his own way) every time he saw me from then on out.
All throughout the race my personal trainer / coach Christy had been running with ease. Every time we went by each other she had a smile on her face. Now, I know she is a 6 time 100 mile finisher and all around incredible athlete, but still, I was impressed and a little intimidated. After darkness fell on the second night Christy ran Colleen through to her 100 mile, and once she reached that Christy joined me. HALLELUJAH. I WAS SO PROFOUNDLY LONELY. I was the literal walking dead at that point, unable to eat, speak, or do anything other than move forward… slowly. I was terrible company but Christy’s calm, collected presence was a more than welcome relief.
I am not sure around what time or mile mark, likely around midnight or 1 am, but I eventually needed a nap in a bad way; everything hurt, I was miserable, and it was the middle of the freaking night. I longed for the restorative power of a nap. I’m guessing it was somewhere around 80 miles, but it’s all very fuzzy now. I went down for a nap while Christy called her daughter. I wrapped up in my Moana blankie, drug Colleen’s cot in to Kim’s tent (they had both gone to a hotel for the night), collapsed face down, and was out like a light. An hour later Scotty gently woke me by tapping on the tent flap, and immediately upon opening my eyes I launched myself out of the tent on to my hands (knees still up on the cot) and exorcist style projectile vomited all over the ground and Scott’s shoes. Ugh. But, I did feel a lot better.
Christy met back up with me and I was in a much better mood. But, it was still the middle of the freaking NIGHT. As we slowly shuffled I was desperate for distraction, and I asked Christy to tell me stories and had short conversations with our fellow racers going around and around and around… It only took a few more miles until my will to live started to wane again. During a quiet moment I looked over to Christy and confided, “Even when everything in me wants to quit, even when I want to give up… I still want this, really, really bad.” She smiled at me and said, “That’s mental toughness.”
Around 3am I had about 14 miles to go. Now, I know in the scheme of things this seems like nothing, what’s 14 miles during 100? But believe me when I say that those 14 miles felt like 200 additional miles. I asked Christy for one more nap, and she agreed that I had time. I plopped down on the cot knowing that I’d be just a little closer to sunrise when I woke up. I slept, HARD. Dead to the world doesn’t even describe it. When Christy woke me up after 1 hour, I felt hungover. Not quite as restorative as my other naps… but at leas the dawn was in sight. Mom, who had been snoozing in her car met us along the course and asked if we wanted anything from Starbucks. My stomach was still sick and I’m pretty sure I just made a face. Thankfully her and Scott knew better and they got me a banana smoothie and a hot chocolate for Christy. By this time the sun had risen and a magical, mystical thing occurred… as I was shuffling along, the rays from the first light of the sun touched my skin and suddenly and without any explanation, I was transformed and RUNNING! I took off at a surprising speed and started to laugh hysterically while I ran. I WAS REALLY ABOUT TO DO THIS THING. As I rounded the corner to where our tent was and where Christy was waiting for me (she took a short break to drink her hot chocolate), she saw me coming and said, “Oh no, she’s going to make me go fast!” I was filled with manic joy and inexplicable energy, completely and totally delirious. We ran the next several miles and I was singing to myself, “I’M A SURVIVOR, I’M NOT GON’ GIVE UP, I’M NOT GON’ STOP, I’M GON’ WORK HARDER!” I had under 10 miles to go and the end was in sight. Freakin’ finally.
I started to feel quite wobbly and at Christy’s urging I slowed to drink the smoothie from Starbucks. The adrenaline of single digits remaining started to rise and at the same time the few remaining miles felt insurmountable. Christy held fast by my side, holding my water bottle, reminding me to drink, keep my form good, and even stopping to help me stretch on the bleachers (“because I don’t think you’ll be able to get up from the ground,” she laughed), holding my disgusting sweaty legs above my head without blinking an eye. She even let me wear her sandals when my feet swelled past the point of being able to fit inside my running shoes! Scott and mom continued to cheer me on from the sidelines, mom giving me a half hug every time I passed and Scott radiating with so much pure pride you could almost see it coming off him in waves, celebrating each step for me when I couldn’t be happy for myself. Kim and Colleen had both come back and although I was too exhausted to show it, I was thrilled to have my training partners back on the course. I weepily asked them if theywould do my final laps with me and Kim joked, “Yes! Because you are slow enough to keep up with now!” My feet felt like two giant blisters, my back ached, my hips felt locked, but we were going to MAKE IT.
On the final lap I had Colleen and Christy with me. I was about as run down as I could be – covered in a thick layer of sunscreen, body glide, diaper cream, sweat, and salt, shirtless and bearing my pale chubbiness to the world, wearing Christy’s flip flops, walking funny from the chafing between my thunder thighs and armpits, covered in random patches of sun burn and heat rash… as we climbed the little incline before the start/finish one last time (Mount Everest by then), every emotion over the past 100 miles, every pain, every frustration, every bad thought, every “I want to quit” moment, it all welled up inside me and came pouring out in incoherent sobs. I stumbled toward the finish toward cheers and heard over the loud speaker from Mike the timing guy (who had been up for days, timing the race and getting to know us runners as we passed), “Now making the final turn… a ROCK STAR in her own right… CHELSEA!!!” I crossed over the finish line and in to the arms of Scott, more relieved than I had ever been.
Allow me to pontificate for just a little while longer, I know it’s been a long one, but this is the most important part:
I had a lot to conquer this year. 2017 has been the year of mental demons and self defeat. Going in to this race, I had much to prove; maybe even more than I was aware of on the surface. Being able to finish this event, and having had so many people help me along the way, it is deeply significant to me. Despite how hard this year has been for me, despite my physical and mental struggles, despite chronic illness and depression, despite all the secret bad feelings I kept inside and nights spent crying – I made the very terrifying decision to take on this challenge. Because I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to know if I had it in me. And yeah, it might have been the world’s slowest, most pathetic 100 miler, but it was a 100 MILER!!!!!
Had I not been surrounded with such an amazing, deep, wide, ever lasting support system, I never would have been able to succeed. I feel indescribable amounts of gratitude for my community. Scotty, for being my rock, my quiet supporter, my foot surgeon. Who else could I find to accompany me on this 48 hours of madness? Kim and Colleen, my best friends, my training partners, the women who inspire me every day, the people who make me better and keep me moving even when I’m sure that I can’t. Kim, who continued to eagerly cheer me on and be there for me even when she was facing not meeting her goal; Colleen, who came back to be with me and join my final lap even when her race was done! My mom, my loudest cheerleader, the person who never once questions my abilities, the one whose face can motivate me like no other. Christy, who else has a coach who would LITERALLY give you their shoes when you are in need? Who would stay beside you for hours even when you’re the worst, most terrible, no good company ever? She is more than a trainer, she is a friend, I want to be just like her when I grow up, she displays tenacity like no one I’ve ever met. All my friends and family who ask about my races, send me funny and encouraging text messages, the incredibly large circle of people I have that love and support me. Doing this race has taught me many things, one of the biggest being that I am deeply loved.
During the award ceremony at the conclusion of the race, Laz individually introduces each person, giving small anecdotes and stories about the long time ultra running legends. While receiving my buckle, he said something to the effect of, “I know this one, because she’s less than half the age of almost everyone here!” The unique privilege of being able to share the track with folks who have been running for longer than I have been alive was something I will not soon forget, and speaking with them and hearing their stories had a profound impact on me, an ultra running baby by comparison. I’m not sure 100 miles is something I’ll ever want to do again, but I can’t promise I’ll be able to stay away from ARFTA in the future…