This same conversation has played out countless times.
Someone gushes, “Congratulations on finishing Moab 240! What a huge accomplishment”
“Thank you. It was incredible”
But my answer falls flat, like I’m doing a disservice to my experience by struggling to find an adjective big enough to encompass what happened out there.
Even a long post, telling my story in sequence, doesn’t begin to capture the intensity that comes with 240 miles. But that’s ok, it’s mine to wrap up and keep for myself. No one else needs to understand it.
However, I find the curiosity from others still engaging and even I am still trying to find answers to the questions others have. So here is my best shot at sorting through those questions.
Yes, I slept. About seven hours total. Three hours at once at the half-way point, and the rest broken into tidbits in the back of the truck or trail naps on the cold desert rocks.
Yes, I hallucinated. Nothing too severe since I slept frequently enough, but my mind played games with me, for hours at a time. Making me question each rock and the shifting shape I was sure I saw on the edges of my peripheral vision. A chicken. A teapot. Dogs and people. Illuminated ghosts, skeletons and purple sparkly spiders, but those were real. I think.
Yes, I ate everything. For the first time ever, I was able to maintain my caloric consumption strong until the finish. At least 8 burgers, two breakfast sandwiches, three stuffed quesadillas, two bags of baby potatoes, two bags of mashed potatoes, four servings of ramen, two bowls of oatmeal, a whole box of Seven Summit Snacks of bars, sugar coated gummy candies, sugar-coated cashews, dozens of applesauce packets, fruit I wished had 500 calories in it, a whole box of Science in Sport isometric gels and nearly three bags of F2C liquid nutrition (maltodextrin for the win!) and half a bag of F2C Recovery shake mix.
When I finished, I crushed a beer 🍺
I didn’t throw up and only felt a bit nauseated once. I stayed annoyingly hydrated and I apologize to everyone that saw me pee on the side of the trail.
The temperature swung from -2’C at Shay Mountain to at least 28’C on the first day in the Canyonlands. I wore the same incredible, custom-made shorts and arm sleeves from Earthgroove Activewear the entire time, adding layers once the sun set. I often had a toque and sunglasses and a headlamp on at the same time because that was the only way to stay prepared for everything when you are out there so long. Twice, I went 20 hours without seeing my crew and I’m sure my pacers got real sick of me.
The altitude of the course went from 1200m to 3100m, taking me higher than I have ever been in our Rockies back home, and giving a total elevation gain of 8800m, or the equivalent of Mount Everest. Much of that was done in two major climbs, first up Shay Mountain and then ascending into the La Sal mountain range to Geyser Pass where we were treated to completely new terrain and sweeping views of the entire course, Shay a tiny speck on the horizon, making me question if I was ever actually there.
The climbs were hard, but I had trained for that. It was the descents that were brutal and had me moving at a frustratingly slow pace. Particularly on the plummet down the famous Porcupine Rim mountain bike trail at the end where I was wincing with each step on raw and swollen feet.
Many people have told me they followed my tracker, checking in over Thanksgiving dinner and from hot tub parties, toasting my progress with five consecutive morning coffees and four evening wines. My pacers read me messages, showed me videos of well wishes and even called up friends for encouragement when we got into cell service. My favourite was the steady stream of jokes sent in and relayed to me as I pushed through the dark points with laughter as best I could. Humour is an incredibly powerful antidote to pain.
“What do you get when you run in front of a car?”
I kept my mind busy by counting to 100, playing games, telling stories, focusing on only the Km I was in, remembering loved ones and remembering my ‘why’. I rejected the analogy of a ‘pain cave’ and instead embraced it as a ‘pain wave’; knowing that the pain would rise, crest and fall and I would be ok. At times it would feel unbearable, or return at an alarming rate, but I always knew I could ride it out. This is the price of admission. You can’t have the fullness of the ultrarunning experience without accepting these lows, waiting for them to pass.
Although I hit some pretty emotional lows, I also hit a lot of highs, and I never once considered quitting. I wished that sections of trail would end or that aid stations would materialize quicker. I swore a lot and cried a few times and at times could no longer muster conversation. The lowest points were remedied with a cry, a snack and a nap, as though I was a toddler, but without fail I pulled myself back up to keep going.
My two favourite parts of this race were the views and the people. Believe me when I say the pictures don’t do it justice. Moab is incredible for the variety and novelty of its landscape. Every turn seemed to bring something new, whether it was a gravity-defying rock formation or the biggest vibrant yellow Aspens I’ve ever seen, I never got bored of the views and they kept me motivated to keep moving. Even though half of the race was spent in the dark, it was still spectacular thanks to a full moon and bright stars illuminating ever-changing rock formations on the horizon.
And of course, the people were amazing. I’m a true extrovert and being mid-pack meant I was in the party the whole time. The crowd that is drawn to 200 milers are a bit different than those I meet at most ultras. I was surprised how many people are addicted to the 200 distance and have formed their own supportive community that races together multiple times per year, many of them doing it without outside crew or pacers. The support and comradery out there is exactly what I adore about this sport and I was thankful Nolan and I could contribute to helping another runner while he had a breathing emergency from a pre-existing condition at mile 210. It meant some terrifying moments that ended with him being air-lifted to a nearby hospital to spend a few days on a ventilator, but I am grateful we were able to offer some comfort at such a crucial moment.
My favourite people out there though? Were my people. My pacers Nolan, Tania and Denise kept me safe, moving, laughing, entertained and engaged for nearly 150 miles, and even though they each only got a sampling of the whole experience, my race became their own, with their own unique challenges and experiences.
And of course the ultimate support was my husband Kirk, out there for the entire time, with minimal sleep and juggling the logistics of keeping me sorted, meeting me on time, delivering pacers, hot-tubbing, getting our kids and my parents to an aid station and even volunteering for several hours at the last aid station so he could complete the final 18-mile section with me. It occurred to me that this was his longest ‘run’ ever too, made all the more impressive that he did it on minimal sleep, with a 4 am start, on technical trail, with a heavy pack, and finished it off with what probably felt like a grueling 5k when he hit the paved bike trail and I was able to actually run at a normal pace to the finish line.
At the risk of sounding like I’m accepting a Grammy; ‘Thanks hun, I couldn’t have done it without you.’ But seriously, these things require a lot of support.
My quickened pace at the end had him frantically calling friends and family to make sure they were waiting at the finish line on time. My kids threw together a gorgeous poster and my pacers were running in sandals from the parking lot as I rounded the corner to the finish line where I was feeling all the love and intensity of the last 101 hours, 22 mins and 57 seconds.
A race like this is doable thanks to a generous cut off that allows you to move slowly or take breaks as your energy levels change. Sleeping, even for short stints, makes this a very different experience then 100k or 100miler races and I truly believe that a distance of this magnitude is within reach of many people. And it’s definitely an experience I highly recommend.
This sort of summary barely scratches the surface of my time out there. The full story, in sequence can be found here and here, although even that cannot capture the depth of the experience that can only be found when you push those limits for so long. In the meantime, I suppose this will have to do. I mean, the belt buckle helps too.