My first 100k - Born To Run Ultra Marathon

Photography by Larry Gassan - Mile 50 Heading out on my last loop.
I'm surprised he caught me with half a smile on my face
The DNF Banner at the Born To Run Ultramarathon had all sorts of excuses. My favorite was "I'm just a Grade-A Pussy." And... "Puke. Puke. Puke." There were some hardcore runners out there. Some barely hanging by a thread in the middle of the night to finish 100 miles. 

My post race restless sleep was interrupted by either the throbbing in my legs or the occasional runner being assisted by friends and family on their way in from their last loop. Salsa music blared late into the night while runners were still being announced by Luis Escobar himself as they finished their loops or headed back out. It was the music and party at the finish line that lured me in from those last miles. And the way that the cheering and music glided over the hills through the dense dark was seriously seductive, pushing me on to run the last four miles to the finish without stopping. That was my most vivid memory of my first 100k ultra marathon.

I had an eery confidence about this race. I wasn't nervous. I wasn't worried. Yeah. Sixty-two miles seemed like a long way to go, but for some insane reason I wasn't really all that messed up in my head about it. Since the course consisted of two ten-mile loops I looked at it like a regular workover - in terms of sets rather than the mileage as a whole. At any ten mile point I could just bail and drink beer. I just had to complete six sets of ten. Surely, I could do three sets and then I was half-way there, right?

Me with my ultra-running buds
Patrick Sweeney &
Alex (my not-so-serial-killer new friend)
So I packed up my running and camping gear and headed out early Friday morning to head down to Los Olivos, CA. I had to make a pitstop in the Bay Area at the Walnut Creek BART station to pick up an unknown fellow runner who, for all I knew, might be using the "no transportation" excuse as a means to chop my body up into little bits. Ok. So that's a little dramatic. If there's one thing I learned about this community of ultra-runners its that we are all a big family. This kid from San Francisco had the same motivations as I did: he was looking for an adventure and to challenge himself. He just didn't have a car and was, lucky for me, sans sharp objects. It was all good.

Picking up my race packet
and welcome necklace
The drive down was relatively uneventful. Once at the ranch we handed our waivers over to the "greeter" at the front gate and drove on in. I spotted Patrick Sweeney (Bourbon Feet) setting up camp along with his buddies from the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, Caleb Wilson, Fran├žois "Flint" Bourdeau and Mike Miller. Later, some of the guys from Luna Sandals joined us along with Caity McCardell (Run Barefoot Girl), Maria Walton (Micah True's girlfriend) and the sweet Guadajuko, (Micah's loyal pooch). Eventually I spotted Shacky and Vanessa and enticed them to set up camp with our crew. We snacked and then headed over to the registration table to pick up our bib numbers.
Tarahumara ball races.

Shortly after picking up my race packet and grabbing a cold beer, race director Luis Escobar briefed us on the course loops, ribbons, and signage. He made it perfectly clear to everyone that there would be no whiners at this race. I loved his tough love attitude. "If you get hurt, lost or die its your own damn fault" our host announced over the loudspeaker. We would be repeating the Caballo Blanko oath again the next morning as part of our pre-race ritual. And I loved it when Luis said... "This is not Wildflower. We are not pretty people. We are dirty, gritty, ultra runners." (or something like that) I loved this guy. He was honest and genuine. And a hard ass. I can appreciate that.

Hanging out by the campfire.
Caleb looks happy to see fire. Ha!
(Photo credit: Anthony Sanders)
While I was eating dinner the Rarajipari (a Tarahumara ball race) began. People's names were drawn to compete against one another in a running/ball "flicking" race to cross the line. Then after a couple more beers, and a little visiting with friends... I was asleep in my van. Well, sorta. I didn't sleep all that well, but who does the night before a race?

Someone was carb loading
the night before.
It was a chilly, foggy morning come race day. Mexican music bellowed through camp at 5:15am. I made the decision to run with two handhelds (one water and the other full of Nuun) and a single flask of my homemade gel iskiate (which I planned to refill back at camp every 10 miles). I filled my hydration pack and left it back at the car just in case I decided to switch. I lubed my toes with body glide, put on my Merrells and a muffin and a banana later I was on the starting line ready to roll. I forgot to brush my teeth. Ewww.

Me and Caity McCardell
(Photo credit: Patrick Sweeney)
I have never seen so many men in skirts in my life! Apparently, this is THE race to well... just let it all hang out! According to Patrick, if you're sans the underwear its technically a kilt, if you're wearing underwear its a skirt. Either way it was totally hot. I could already tell this race was going to be a good one.

The gunshot cracked the crisp air and we were off.

Heading out on the first pink loop.
(Photo credit: Anthony Sanders)

Initially my goal for this 100k was just to finish regardless of time. But, after I had completed the first lap of the yellow loop my goal had evolved. I really wanted to make it to the finish line before dark. There was a very short but pretty steep section of single-track just after the last ridgeline that was dubious in daylight with strong legs let alone the depth deprived darkness after fifty-five miles. The last thing I wanted was to end up on my head at the bottom of the hill at mile fifty-eight. Ugggh.

I was lucky enough to have somehow caught up with Anthony Sanders (one of the Luna guys and a United States Marine) who was also running the 100k. My pace locked in with his and he was my metronome for 30 miles until his knee laid down the smackdown and he was forced to DNF somewhere around the 40 mile mark. 

Its not often that I get to run with people. Running with Anthony was really nice. There's something oddly calming and meditative when your pace matches up with a fellow runner's. It was also nice having someone to chat with and keep me on trail when I missed the turn. Yeah. I did that. Glad someone was there to keep me on track.

Jacobus Degroot
wearing a
Zaps Threads Shirt!
Coming into camp (the center of both loops) after each lap was always a treat. By the time I had completed two loops Patrick (uber ultra runner/Guiness Book record holder for longest distance sand running) was already back at camp and finished with his 50k - taking first place. That wasn't a surprise. Coming in from each loop more and more people appeared back at camp, raising their beer to cheer me on. Is was a big motivation to see people as the day got longer and longer.
Stuffing my face and coming out
of the Barbie Aid Station.

Photo credit: Anthony Sanders

Funny how it took me until about mile 20 to realize that I had no knee pain, no hip pain and the tight hamstring I was worried about had loosened up and was a total non-issue. I had my fiyah! 

Admittedly though, my right foot was feeling pretty beat up by mile twenty-five. This, I kind of expected and has been pretty much par for the course for most of my races. The ground was hard-pack and gravelly with smaller sections of grassy, holey, uneven bits. My brand spankin' new, barely worn Merrell Pace Gloves worked like a champ, but the thinner sole of the minimal shoes still felt every sharp and jabby rock. My left foot was good. My right foot... not so much. The pain in my foot came and went. Apparently, that foot still pronates slightly which is probably why I ended up with an inconsequential blister on the bottom midfoot below my big toe. The small bunion on that foot gives me trouble from time to time when I run. By mile 25 the bones felt like they were separating when I landed and I would get a few sharp pains every now and then. I also had weird sensations like bleeding between my toes and tingling. As long as the pain wasn't consistent I was going to keep running. So I did.

The guys back at camp.
Flint, Alex, Caleb and Patrick
By noon the mist had burned off and the temps were heating up. I was lucky enough to get the iced-soaked denim treatment at Wild Bill's aid station close to mile 30. They sat me down and draped heavy-weight ice-soaked denim over my shoulders. Then they soaked my visor and strapped it back on my head. It felt amazing! Coming through that aid station after the next loop the volunteers told me I looked much better. I had no idea I looked so bad.   

Besides the ice cold denim drape, the shoulder and neck massage I got at the Barbie aid station was fabulous! They even made Vanessa and Caity mimosas to take with them while they literally inched their way barefoot back to the start line. It was a brutal course for 100% barefoot. I have total respect for both Caity and Vanessa. With the way my feet felt IN SHOES I can only imagine the pain that would ensue barefoot. Those girls were TOUGH!

The aid station volunteers were an amazing, caring, motivating and an observant crew. They were truly watching out for each and every runner out there. Words can't describe how thankful and grateful I was to each and every one of those people. My heart was filled with gratitude each and every time I left an aid station.

Coming in to mile 50.
Photo credit: Patrick Sweeney
So the fiyah happened for me around mile 30. In fact miles 30-50 were absolutely magical. I did more running in those miles than I did in the first 20. Instead of feeling tired I felt like I was getting stronger. The hills were a bit harder (I had to use Pablo's trick of walking up some backwards on the last ten miles to alleviate the burn), but I fell into my mojo easier on the longer stretches and felt more relaxed than I did in the beginning. I was surprised that my legs never felt wobbly or weak, which I expected.

Speaking of expectations... my hope was to not only complete this 100k, but to also have some kind of transcending experience. I wanted to dig deep with this race. I wanted to suffer and push through. I wanted that experience. I've never hit a wall. I haven't even really had to struggle too much mentally with the longer distances and was, in a strange sadistic way, hoping to find my limit somewhere within 62 miles.

So did I find my limit?

Not really. 

Well... it was hard heading out on that last yellow loop and walking away from camp (the top black and white picture was taken as I was heading out on my last loop and was shot by Larry Gassan ( a professional fine art photojournalist who photographs endurance athletes) All my buddies were hanging out at the finish line getting dinner and beers and cheering people on. The salsa music had started and people were getting their party on. Not only was I hungry for a big ol' fat burger, but my eyes had started getting droopy and I was feeling a very large nap coming on. It was hard not knowing what the last 12 miles would be like especially knowing that I was on my own, in my own head and would be solo in the dark at some point (I was hoping I wouldn't need my headlamp until after I got down from that last ridgeline). But, never for a moment did I doubt that I could finish. In fact, during the last 15 miles that was all that I could think about. That I was going to do this. And I did.

Start/Finish Line and the funky manequin
And even though I didn't make it to the finish line before dark I achieved my "Plan B" goal which was to make it off that little steep bit before dark. It was twilight when I pulled into what was to be my last aid station on the yellow loop. I sat down for a few minutes and chatted with Bill, the volunteer, and another guy running the 100 miler. I grabbed a handful of red vines (I have no freakin clue why those looked so delicious to me) turned on my headlamp and trotted slowly out of the aid station and onto the dark road.

My 100k finish!
(Photo credit: Patrick Sweeney)
With only 4 miles to go my feet were on auto-pilot and I was being summoned to the finish line. It actually hurt more to walk at that point because the road was hard packed and gravelly. Running with a headlamp in pitch black darkness is like running in a box. There's not much to look at except maybe 10-15 feet in front of you and a small peripheral area. With nothing to look at I was bored and in my head a little more than I wanted to be at that point. That's when my other senses took over and I found myself being seduced by sounds and smells. It was a pretty cool experience.

Coming in to the finish line I had only a small two-mile out and back to the funky lingerie manequin to do. I was re-energized by the cheering and the music which made those last two miles tolerable. Everybody was salsa dancing and partying. It looked like a fun place to be.

My Kukini finisher's amulet
And upon final completion of 62 miles in order to receive the official kukini finisher's amulet, I had to... hula hoop. 

Wha??? You say.

Oh yes. Hula hoop. With a big, ginormous hula hoop. 

So I did. I had no idea I could hula hoop after 62 miles. Then the hot shirtless guy with the pink skirt (I think his name was Jacob) tied the amulet around my neck, picked me up and spun me around until I was sufficiently dizzy. Honestly, dude could'a just put a beer in my hand and called it good. After setting me down, he had to hold on to me for a few seconds to keep me from falling on my ass.

I wish I had party in me left to stay at the finish line and join the cheering crowd as the other 100k finishers and 100 mile runners were coming through, but honestly, there was good beer waiting in my cooler back at camp and once I sat down to enjoy my Torpedo IPA it was all over. That's OK, though, because I'll be back again next year.

Who knew I could hula hoop after 62 miles!
I did it. And not only did I run 62 miles, but I completed it in 15:38 which I honestly don't know if that's a good time or not, but it was enough to make me a top overall women's finisher in 3rd place (there were 12 women who finished the 100k). I didn't figure that out until a day later when my coach Seth facebooked me and congratulated me on my finish. That's when it all sunk in and I thought to myself "HOLY FUCK I JUST DID THAT!!" Not only that, but my longest training run to date has never been anything over 4-5 miles. And I did it all in my minimal shoes.

The video above is Caity McCardell's video of the weekend shenanigans. She also captured me finishing my 100k and hula hooping. (Fast forward to 3:30) She also got video of Maria's tattoo, ball racing, and the salsa dancing party at the finish line.

I can wholeheartedly say now that my training is working for me. I'm staying uninjured. I'm strong. I'm well prepared and in shape for these long miles (though, I have some strengthening in my right foot to do) and I've got serious fiyah. I'm able to achieve distances I never thought were even possible. It amazes me just how far I've come (literally) just within the last six months. Words can't even describe how thankful I am to my coach, Seth, for putting up with me and all my doubts. Lets just see where this takes me from here.
My ultra running family. (Anthony, Me, Vanessa, Shacky, Alex, Flint, Patrick, Maria, Caleb, Mike, Caity and her children, with sweet pooches Guadajuko and Nigel). Someone I really wanted to meet was not in this picture. Funny how we left a spot for Micah. I'm sure he was there in spirit running the trails with Maria, Guadajuko and the rest of us.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Check out more of Larry Gassan's photography from the Born To Run Ultra Marathons.


  1. Maybe it's just because we share the same name, but there was a huge part of me that was mentally cheering you on the entire time. I remember when you finished and I was pretty impressed that you could hula-hoop! Congrats on your amazing race...I do believe there was magic in the air! I feared my own ability to finish my race (ten miler...*cough cough*) and ended up doing a whole second lap. Makes you realize how mental it is! ...that being said, I'm entirely curious now what your running program is :)

    1. Crista - Thanks so much! Wow! That's awesome that you ended up running 20 miles! That's impressive. You're right, there's a lot of mental strength involved. I've sort of documented my training on this blog ( see Dec 2011 post on Strong is the New Skinny ) But, in a nutshell I do a lot of strength training, lifting and heavy work and my running is mostly sprints and interval training. Its meant to keep me uninjured and efficient. So far so good. And its fun!

    2. I read your entry-- Strong is the New Skinny, and all I can say is I'm totally regretting cancelling my gym membership! I was spending so much time outside and on the trails that I figured what's the point? I have a membership to the climbing gym-- I wonder if that counts as strength training? I also need to start adding sprints into my workout. Thanks for all the tips and for being so inspirational! I'm definitely going to take a lot of your advice, crossing my fingers for solid marathons and ultras in my future!

    3. WOW! Awesome! I think climbing is huge... it could be a really good balance since you would be working all sorts of different muscle groups. Glad you were able to glean some good info from that. You go girl! I look forward to seeing you at BTR again next year! Maybe the 100k? You never know...

  2. What an inspiring read. Thank you for the report!

  3. Great race report - amazing race!
    Your last photograph and comment on Micah gave me goosebumps.

  4. You view your loops the same way I view mine - in sets.

    Things that only happen at ultras
    - getting into a car with a strange man in the middle of the night to take you to an aid station
    - someone giving you their sweatshirt on the honor system that youll leave it at the finish line
    - a man giving you a genuine silver dollar
    - being given a man's pants

    Love the amulet! Much better than a belt buckle ;-)

  5. Very impressed with your 100K… but from halfway through reading your post, I couldn't stop wondering: what's with the kilts? Wouldn't they need - you know - a little support? I'm intrigued now. Have any of the male readership tried it? Presumably, our ancestors ran before they invented loin cloths, so I guess it works… or is that WHY they invented loin cloths? ;)

    1. " or is that WHY they invented loin cloths? ;)" ... Haha! I do think the guys were more "skirt-like" for their races, but in camp... it was no holds barred or maybe no balls held... haha!

  6. I guess it wouln't be a problem for someone who was running easy, light & smooooth. Same goes for women and - you know - supportive attire.

  7. You are beyond awesome. are just no words...

    1. Thank you Vaudiophile. You're very kind. The further I go in distance the more I look around me and find other women who are incredibly strong and amazing athletes. There's some tough women out there. I'm inspired by all of them.

    2. Now that was a "Race Report"! Great job on it and your first 100k. I can't imagine doing anything that long though. I must admit that it looks like a lot of fun and I especially like the atmosphere and the Hula Hoops. Maybe, one of these days I'll try something like this in spite of my left knee issues. You truly inspire!


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