The Issy Alps 100k was strenuous. I had the idea to attempt the 100 miler about 5 days before my 12 year wedding anniversary and had to find a way to convince Tim to do it with me. It was pure convenience that Tim and I had intentionally left our anniversary weekend free to spend every blissful moment together. Tim and I had some uninspiring discussions about how we might spend this 12 year occasion, but it was Jenn Hughes’ Issy Alps 100 miler completion a couple weeks before that had been smoldering in my mind.
So, I sought the expert advice from Alicia Woodside, my ultra-running, ultra-buddy and Craig Slagel, finisher of Tor de Geants and founder of RunGo app. Five days before our anniversary weekend, I asked Alicia and Craig what they thought about the possibility of me taking my husband of 12 years out for a surprise spin of 100 miles with greater than 30,o00 feet of elevation gain. Of course they loved it. I mean, look who I was talking to after all–they were in California promoting RunGo and this was their week’s itinerary:
“Planned Runs include:
Western States training camp (70 miles in 3 days)
Top to Top Run
Coyote Thursday morning trail run
Sports Basement Fun Run
Coyote Meadows 50k
Golden gate running club Sunday run.”
Yes, it is true, you ask advice from the people who you think will give you the answer you want to hear. Alicia gave me a really good idea too, keep it a total surprise, just packing a bag for Tim and heading out to the trailhead only to say “Surprise! We’re running the Issy Alps 100 miler!” Good in theory, but when Tim texted me to let me know he was going out for what could be a somewhat strenuous run, I quickly texted him back, “Don’t wear yourself out today. Big plans for this weekend!”
That night, Tim asked me what the ‘big plans’ were. I gave him the option of telling him or keeping it a surprise that would also be very hard. He decided he’d like to (must!) know and then I presented the Issy Alps challenge. He took 2-3 minutes to come around to the idea. He quickly got his sense about him over the next 24 hours and convinced me that the 100k should be a sufficient challenge. I immediately felt wimpy.
Not any more. I can’t actually believe I had contemplated the 1oo miler. I mean, we only had Saturday and Sunday to complete this, and I had to be back to work on Monday! The 2 other people who completed the supported 100 miler (Van and Jenn) did so in 37 hours! There’s no way I could have returned to work on Monday if I had done that. Thank goodness for Tim’s common sense and logic.
So, yeah, we did that. It was amazing. To clarify, amazing does not equal fun. This course was rigorous, strenuous, technical, tiring, humbling, and AMAZING. In usual fashion, Tim and I supported each other throughout the 26 hours of fun, misery, hallucinations, dozing off while sitting for a few minutes on a rock, getting lost, eating croissants, having stomach cramps, and feet so sore it felt like the bottoms were rubbing off. But through adversity came a strong sense of accomplishment and knowing that my partner on the trail is and has been my partner for the last 12 years for a very good reason. The fact that Tim knows the exact right sentence to say to me (“Let’s get going down hill, and we’ll have a new lease on life.” followed by a couple minutes later “See, honey, aren’t you feeling better now?!” Oh, the mind games!) to convince me to run another 50k on top of a brutal 50k that I’ve just completed, shows that he gets me (or manipulates me…not sure now that I’m writing it down). But seriously, don’t I have an awesome husband? I love that he jumped into this challenge with 2 days of planning and was able to rally the support of our friends to come out and support us along the way!
Tim’s company on the trail was central to this experience. It was our 12 year wedding anniversary celebration after all! But it was the generosity of our friends that blew my mind and was so deeply touching. These are the out-takes, the parts that make an adventure so fun but that have absolutely nothing to do with the logistics of the event itself.
To start the day, Trey, owner of cool new running shop in Issaquah, Uphill Running, shuttled us to the trailhead. He and I wore the same hat “Running is for Lovers” to capture the theme of the day.
Before taking off, Trey snapped a provocative shot of us on the boot of his car.
We met Adam and Broeck at the Mailbox Peak trailhead where they pulled out a long rope. It looked scary as Adam swung it by his side. For some reason the masochistic part of my brain automatically assumed they were going to be trying to hit me with it. Nope, Alicia had coordinated with them to bring a jump rope and have us jump it 12 times to symbolize our 12 years of marriage (jumping over obstacles? Not sure, but it doesn’t matter. If you click on the link, you’ll hear the giggles.) The tone was set for the day. It would be masochistic and fun!
We hit our first peak, Mailbox, with these fine folks laughing and chatting the entire way.
Then we immediately set to work using that jump rope to tie the knot. Apparently Alicia’s idea for the rest of the day was that we would tether ourselves together but that wasn’t happening for us, no matter how much we professed to love each other.
Julie greeted us at the base of Teneriffe, the most brutal climb of this course. She surprised us with a fully stocked aid station complete with cold water, watermelon, and a half-eaten toasted sandwich with bite marks. I guess she got hungry while waiting for us to arrive. It didn’t phase me; I stuffed my belly with all! She attached streamers to us which we wore to the end and brought along a shiny balloon that said “happy anniversary.” As we moved along the trail many strangers stopped us on the trail to wish us a Happy Anniversary.
I was starting to complain of fatigue a bit at the top of Teneriffe and was feeling discouraged that the course was so slow going. I can’t remember exactly what Julie said to me , but her words were so perfect and encouraging that I remember feeling completely validated in my fatigue but also like I would be able to push through any amount of fatigue to achieve this goal.
Adam and Julie left us at the end of Teneriffe as we approached Mount Si. Tim and I thought we were going to be alone for a short bit, but to my wonderful surprise Van Phan, the first ever woman to complete the Issy Alps 100 miler, greeted us on the trail with a mobile aid station stocked with burritos, cold water, and watermelon. It was exhilarating to see this strong woman and PNW ultra-running legend in front of me, and I was more than honored to know that she waited more than 2 hours for us to arrive! We ate a bunch of the food she packed for us and carried on strongly up Mount Si. I remember feeling so incredibly energized after her visit that I actually started to suspect that she might have “Van spice” which was a colorless, odorless, tasteless spice that she sprinkled on all of her food to maintain her physical stamina. I asked her about this possibility after we finished and challenged her “admit it, it’s meth isn’t it?” She responded “Yes, that spice was meth ;)”. I’m not sure how to interpret that little winky emoticon, maybe it was?!
Looking back, I understand at this point my thoughts were becoming bizarre, but I didn’t expect my brain to react to the fatigue the way it did. Near the end I was having a lot of hallucinations. I was seeing non-existent people in the forest (creepy!), houses tucked off the trail, trucks waiting for us on the side of forest service roads, and critters scurrying across the forest floor. The best was repeatedly hearing a party-loud talking, laughing, possibly cheering- off in the distance. None of these existed, and I knew it. But I couldn’t convince my brain to stop hallucinating these things. Maybe, that little winky face emoticon Van gave me meant that “Van spice” is meant to be kept as our secret. If thas the case, maybe the hallucinations I was experiencing could actually have been meth withdrawal, but I’m pretty sure it was sheer exhaustion. (Van, would you like to comment?)
But I’ve jumped ahead in this story. At this point we haven’t even reached the half way point, but we are getting closer. We got to the top of Mount Si and we were feeling tired enough that we didn’t even want to go to see the sweeping views (lame…). We began to ascend on the Old Si trail and we managed to get off trail. It was mildly irritating to have to climb back up the mountain to get back on trail as nighttime was approaching. We crossed paths with a couple on their descent. After they wished us a happy anniversary, we asked them if they had seen a connector trail to Little Si. They told us no, and asked if we were parked at the Little Si trailhead. We knew this was approximately 50k or half way into our route and, no, we did not have a car there. We explained that Little Si trailhead was where we were going but diverted the question about the car. They kindly offered for us to join them on the walk down the mountain, and then they would give us a lift to the Little Si trailhead. We felt rude declining, but we also didn’t want to explain our, um, situation. What would we say? “Yeah, it’s our wedding anniversary, we’re planning to run on the trails through the night and end up approximately 40 miles from here.”
We made our way to the base of Si and dropped our packs on the out and back to the connector trail to Little Si in order to give our backs and shoulders a break. We were nearly 30 miles in at this point. Tim told me the trail on Little Si was nice and flat and the mile marker said 1.7 miles each way for a 3.4 mile round trip. Easy, right? Tim was surprised to see that I wouldn’t be taking any water or food. He asked me a couple times if I was sure about this decision. Turns out the trail to Little Si is not all that flat and it felt like it took us a long time to cover those 1.7 miles, an eternity actually. I was feeling uneasy because I was thirsty and my mood was taking a turn for the worse. I rarely allow myself to wonder how much further but I began asking “Is that it up ahead?”
It was around this time that we ran into ultrarunner extraordinaire, Will Thomas. He was with his family and he asked us, “Out for an evening run?” It was really nice to just simply say “We’re in the middle of the Issy Alps 100k.” and know that no other explanation was needed and no judgement would be passed. It seemed symbolic to me that earlier that morning when we were riding in the car with Trey making our way to the trailhead we were talking about Will Thomas. I don’t really know him outside of recognizing him, but Trey and Tim seemed to know quite a lot about him. Will is apparently a running machine and scouts out and completes routes around the area that many people haven’t heard of. Running into him on the trail came as a big boost (and now I’ve made it because we’re Facebook friends)!
We (finally) made it to the Little Si summit minutes later and Tim shared his shot blocks with me which really picked up my mood. That and running mostly on a gradual downhill. We made our way to the Little Si trailhead where I toyed with the idea of calling it quits, but not too seriously. Tim reminded me, ‘Think of the company we’ll join having finished this’- Ras, Jess, Van, Jenn. Wow! He was right.
We met up with Andy, Reyna, Callista, and Pat at the trailhead. We sat in his and hers parking spaces in the Little Si Trailhead parking lot restocking our packs and eating the homemade pizza Callista brought us. I ate as much as I could and packed the rest for the trail. I was welcoming the opportunity to eat other foods from what I had brought-gummies, croissant sandwiches, chocolate croissants, orange juice, coconut water-all things that I love, but I get tired of eating pretty much everything when running for 26 hours straight. I asked Reyna, Callista’s daughter, “Do you want to know a secret?” and told her to look behind a couple of rocks in the parking lot where we had hidden our cache before getting started. I thought it would be cool for her to find those things there, but I guess I told her the wrong spot because she couldn’t find it, and Tim had to fetch it!
We left the Little Si trailhead about 13.5 hours after we started at Mailbox with full bellies and hugs all around. I think everyone could sense our low energy and Reyna even looped around for second hugs for encouragement while wishing us luck. I was very touched to have these guys out to tell us some stories and give us food as nighttime touched down.
We took off down the road for a quarter mile section to get to the Snoqualmie Valley trail. A white SUV started stalking us-driving past us slowly, turning across our path and u-turning back to us. It was a little creepy, and I wondered if someone was going to be all “get off my land! chuh chuh” but then out popped Susie! I was hoping it was her and not the former. She said she was at the overflow Si parking lot and had nearly missed us. She showed us an entire spread of food, but we were stuffed having just left Pat, Callista, Reyna, and Andy. Instead she entertained us a bit by putting on her pink construction hat and getting out her big stick. She said she was having a full-on photo shoot while waiting for us at the trailhead and was getting some pretty interesting looks from hikers. Of course, we loved it.
From here we carried on for a FLAT 6 miles. Ah flat! Runnable! It went SO fast! Then we carried on, up, and over Rattlesnake. We were surprised to see some night hikers, probably around midnight. One of them said to us, “I’ve hiked this at night many, many times and I’ve never seen anyone else out here!” I didn’t begin to tell them about what we were doing or the other people who had done way more than what we were. I just thought to myself, well, it happens…
Fatigue was setting in. I wanted to nap. Tim wanted to nap. Jenn Hughes, my hero and a badass mama who only chooses to do things the hard way, was going to be joining us in a few miles and in the middle of the night so we didn’t feel like napping was an option. We told each other, after Jenn leaves us we’ll lay down. We sat on a rock at the top of the climb up Rattlesnake and I nodded off, just like that, while sitting up! Tim jumped up and said, ‘OK, let’s get moving, ‘ and I followed. We made our way down Rattlesnake on smooth downhill, luxurious running! It went fast. Then we met Jenn. “What took you so long?” she asked!
She came to lead us through a section with a network of trails and bushwhacking. We still ended up getting lost and it took us 3 hours to cover 3 miles, but at one point I stood thinking, ‘This is awesome. This is now a TRUE adventure.’ Morning came and we reached Greg after Raging River who was waiting for us in his car with hot coffee, muffins, and apples. Jenn had stayed up all night to make this dream a reality for us! Greg had slept about an hour in his car waiting for us. I was and am deeply honored that they chose to help us achieve this goal when they could have been sleeping at home in their comfy bed.
Jenn showed us the way over the last section, which from here was only about 13 miles and that seemed so short. We left her and Greg feeling energized now that dawn had broken and having drank some coffee. The thought of napping didn’t seriously cross our minds again. We climbed the last climb and attempted to phone a friend but I dialed the wrong number without realizing it. I sent a snapchat to friends of Tim complaining about how tired he was. We climbed. We were dragging but we were content. And I was having a lot of hallucinations.
It was about this time when we were reaching the final summit to East Tiger Peak about 100k, or 60 miles, in that we ran in to friends Kevin, Ben, Lars, and Simon. ‘They’re they are!” they shouted when we saw them as if they’d been out looking for us! We were exhausted as we stood to chat with them but we were so happy to see their smiling faces, have their encouragement and just feel their fresh energy. We left them to hit our final summit which was just a couple hundred yards away. We naively thought we had 5 miles to go, which was all downhill, and would be done in about an hour.
We started down on this final stretch 23.5 hours after we started. We ran into 2 mountain bikers. They asked us what time we got started. Tim and I looked sheepishly at each other knowing that telling the truth would not only make us look like liars, but sheer freaks. Not having a filter at this point, I blurted out, “8:30 yesterday morning.” We watched the wheels turn as one of them said “Shit,” then asked incredulously “So you were out here all night?”
“Yes. We’ve covered Mailbox, Teneriffe, Si, Little Si, Rattlesnake, and now here. We’re really tired.”
“You were running?”
“Kinda. We’re really tired.”
“We do adventure racing.”
Mmmmhmmm…’Can I have your bike?’ I thought to myself…
Down we went. There was new trail and that added on extra distance. It took us 2.5 hours to cover that last section. We were happy to come upon Lars sitting on a log at the stream. We knew about where we were, but not exactly and using our tired brains to navigate was adding to the challenge. Lars said, ‘I’ll lead you’ and he did. We just hung onto his heels and willed it to be OVER! He was our pacer to the end and he told us stories about Ellie Greenwood and how she had just won Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa. This came as a welcome distraction but I’m not sure Tim could hear the stories because had a huge frown on his face. I was forcing myself to smile and it’s funny that it actually works to make me happy! I was getting excited, even emotional thinking that I was going to finish this thing that turned out to be more difficult than I had expected. I thanked myself for having a husband who talked me down from the 100 miler and I thought with admiration about those who had completed the 100 miler. It was a special occasion, our 12 year wedding anniversary and we had shared it with so many people but we had accomplished it together. I was singing OUR theme song after Cascade Crest that Tim sent to me in his blog by Dave Mathew’s Band “You and Me.”
Well, here’s a new theme song. And I mean it.
Thank you to everyone who was a part of our day, and to our biggest fans, Adam and Broeck who came to celebrate with us at the finish, drive us to get breakfast, and asked us to jump rope 12 more times. Also, thanks to Trey at Uphill Running for staying up all night at the shop waiting for us to get back. And to Julie Cassatta who left a heartfelt message on our car “T&A- Tomorrow yo gunna be wrecked. Congrats. You guys so crazy.” And most of all, to my husband of 12 years. I love you. I have a feeling this will be a memorable anniversary. What’s next? http://bonegamespnw.wordpress.com/issy-alps-100k100m-results/