Friday, July 1, 2011

Western States 100 2011

~And I’ll find strength in pain~

(Lyrics from The Cave)

                When I put those lyrics as my facebook status the night before Western States 100 I expected to have to fight through some pain at some parts of the race, I didn’t expect to be having to dig up every little bit of strength I’ve had only a few miles into the race, and I didn’t expect I would have to have someone else find my own strength for me when I was too exhausted to find it.

This isn’t my most glamorous race, this isn’t a race where I felt fast or even came close to winning, but it’s the race I’m most proud of. Here’s my Western States 100 story as well as some insight to my big move across the country:

                When we start getting big dreams in our heads we only focus on that dream and getting there. I highly doubt that anyone say my “My dream is…” and then thinks about how hard it is going to be even when you’re on a direct path towards that dream. Until that dream is approaching reality, we don’t realize how much we have to give up. Not that it isn’t worth it, I know I needed an adventure… I just didn’t think that it would be such a rough start.

                After being in Colorado for 4 days, having stomach issues, having blood coming out of my nose every morning,   and running between 8,000-11,000 I sat on a log after running up a mountain for an hour. I put my head down and fought back frustration tears. I missed running with a non-upset stomach, feeling somewhat fast, and I rrrreeaaaallllyyy missed all the trees back in Ohio.  Thankfully, a few days later I ran in Boulder, CO which has more trees and I had adjusted to the elevation. Stomach still wasn’t great though

                A week and a half later it was time to move on to the hot temperatures of Tempe, Arizona where I began working 14-16 hour days for Teach For America (TFA). I love the purpose of TFA but a couple days in I realized I hated being inside all day and that going for a run meant getting less sleep than I was already on schedule to get. (I am definitely not one of those people who can thrive off of a few hours of sleep). Two days in and I was fighting back tears because I was unsure of my path, not to mention my stomach was still bugging me and I was losing weight.

                After 2 weeks of working in Arizona for TFA and being exhausted it was time to fly to WS100. I was nervous about being so tired and worried the last time my stomach felt great was in Ohio, but those thoughts were pushed aside, I was going to see people I missed like crazy and love.  That’s the hardest part about my dream to explore and see new places by far is that I left everyone I loved and all my safety was gone.

                My original plan was to try and rest and eat tons of food to fuel up for the race. Unfortunately it was hard to rest with so much going on and hard to eat a lot of food when my stomach wasn’t agreeing with me. Still, I had so much support I couldn’t help but feel positive. On race morning the energy was electric. I loved it. I went and got weighed in… I had lost 6 pounds in about 3 weeks. I admit, I like the weight it put me at, but losing 6 pounds before a race because I was having trouble getting as much food down as normal is not a healthy way to lost weight, or race for that matter.

                The race started, I loved the first few miles of uphill. I hate that people think that being from Ohio means you can’t be good at mountain running. The hills in Ohio have kicked my as on training runs plenty of times.  My strength is long climbs which I proved  that a lot in Virginia. I felt like the climbs in CA were a challenge, but much easier than at Grindstone 100. After a few miles of uphill the course flattened out onto snow. That’s when I began to feel like crap. I hate being cold, but I was ready to fall asleep on it from being so exhausted. Even worse, my stomach had already begun to swell. I tried to shake it off and stay positive but by mile 15, I knew neither feeling would get better. By mile 20 I was walking on and off, trying to fight stomach pain as well as the want to sleep on the trail. I hate to admit this, but I almost dropped out at every single aid station from about mile 20 to miles 78. I was exhausted, and I was sick. Yet every time I went to tell an aid station volunteer I was done I thought of all the people who have supported me and also Rachel waiting for me at the first crew access point at mile 55. Honestly, if a person knows that they are going to feel like crap all day, I think it’s justifiable to DNF. Save your legs to run another day, another race. But this was WS100, I couldn’t have gotten there without the help of my running angels, and Rachel and Steve came out all the way from Ohio to be amazing pacers.

                After denying the urge to DNF at plenty of aid stations, I formed a goal to just get to Rachel at mile 55 so at least I could DNF where the car was close by. (Apparently Geoff Roes had the same plan). By the time I got there I was mentally fatigued just as much as I was physically. By the time I got to mile 55 I had felt like complete shit for 50 miles. I can’t even begin to explain how disheartening it was to be at WS100, a race I worked so hard to get to and perform well at, and have everything go wrong almost right away.  The part that got to me the most was that even if my stomach wasn’t a wreck, I knew that being so tired from working so hard for TFA would still have been a huge set back. That’s what almost took everything out of me mentally. For those of you who don’t know. Teach For America is an organization that aims to end the achievement gap in schools. I was selected to be a teacher in Colorado. I am extremely passionate about the cause and I am head over heels for my summer school students I have been teaching. However, TFA is extremely demanding. My passion of guiding youth on the right path and running have no longer been at a balance. I realized walking into mile 55, that I can’t work 14-16 hours a day and be the ultra runner I know I am capable of being. I am all too aware of the fact that in order for me to be happy, I need a balance between the two, and that balance is not going to happen.

(quick side note: If you run past someone who is walking during a race DO NOT say good job lol I promise you that those are not helpful words if you feel like crap)

                I walked up to Rachel with tears in my eyes and actually sat down. I was so happy to see her, but so frustrated with the day. I had people trying to be supportive, but saying “people wouldn’t do this if it was easy” was not at all helpful. I tried eating, but just like the rest of the day I could not get much food or water down. Every time I forced down something I felt like my stomach wanted to explode.  After having a doctor and Rachel do their best to lift my spirits I used my ipod for the first time ever during a race and was on my way. In 7 miles I would see Rachel again so she could start pacing me.

                I walk into mile 62 to find Star Blackford and Rachel waiting for me. I only got to see Star for second, but seeing her reminded me of all the supportive words she as well as many others have given me. That, and seeing Rachel was enough to keep me going forward. From mile 62 to 78 Rachel and I mostly walked. I attempted to run when I could but that only lasted till my stomach pains got the best of me. By mile 78 my right ankle had also began to swell and I had had enough pain for one day. The lack of eating and drinking caused my energy to be at an all time low. 78 miles was enough suffering, I had no want to go 22 more miles in pain.

                I told Rachel I wanted to drop. I knew she was disappointed. She told me to just make it to the aid station and I can make my decision there. I took a seat at the aid station and I knew I wanted to be done. However, Rachel and a few of the volunteers kept telling me that it was okay if I could no longer run, I could walk the rest of the way and make it under 30 hrs. I don’t think I could have had a more supportive group of people around me. I had almost no want to keep going, but I was given Tylenol, soup, and for the first time all day I could keep down solid food. I was still just wanted to sleep, but Rachel was doing everything a pacer and sister could to not let me stop. She looked almost as upset as I did that I was having such a hard day.

                Rachel and I made it to the mile 80 aid station and I was able to get down a little more soup and crackers. It was a good sign so I decided to keep going and attempt to run. I didn’t feel great, but the food gave me the most energy I had had all day and my stomach pain had lessoned. I told Rachel I wanted to do something a little crazy at that point… I wanted to break 24 hrs. We only had about four hours left and so we ran hard. We ran hard up every incline, we ran hard over rocks, we ran like the race has just begun. I highly doubt many other women have run that last 20 miles so fast.  We even dashed up all the hills the last part of the course. (Who the hell decided to put so many steep hills at the end of a 100 mile race? Lol)

                With 8 minutes to spare to be under 24hrs, I crossed the Western States 100 finish line and had my sister their waiting for me. I gave her the biggest hug I could… I know that if it hadn’t been for her, my day would have ended long before and I would never have crossed that line. I would like to think that I could have pushed myself to keep going, but I know I most likely would have stopped. I learned an important lesson though… when I can no longer find my strength, it’s possible for someone to give me a little of theirs till I can find mine again. I hope I’ll be able to pay this lesson forward. Thanks, twin.

                Post race update:

A positive about not being able to run hard for 100 miles is that my legs feel way better than they normally would.

As for my stomach, I learned I am allergic to gluten. (Not officially diagnosed by a Dr., but 97% positive.) Before I left Ohio my diet was all whole grains (never any grains with wheat), fruits, veggies, and a lot of things were organic. It was the healthiest I ever ate and I had never felt better. As soon as I started my road trip I had to eat whatever was available. That meant eating a lot of things I normally wouldn’t eat and tons of wheat bread, white pasta, and a lot of unnatural snacks. I always knew my stomach was sensitive, but I never knew to exactly what. After talking to a well informed friend, it was suggested I might be allergic. So this week I experimented. One day I avoided everything containing gluten and the next day I wouldn’t. I did it every other day this week. Sure enough, my stomach felt fine they days I avoided all gluten, and felt awful every day I didn’t avoid it. The bowl of pasta and bagel I had the day b4 WS were most likely not good pre race food for me.

This has been a really hard week. I lost two loved ones. For one person it was just her time to go to Heaven, the other, it was time to find happiness that I couldn’t give. I’ve also had a huge struggle of whether or not to continue with TFA. I love my kids so much. I know I was meant to work with kids. All my observation feedback notes say there couldn’t be a more caring teacher, and my students all keep telling me I’m there favorite teacher and hug me when they can. Yet, I am really unhappy not having time to run or be outside. I hate lesson planning, grading papers, etc. I really just want to spend time with all of the kids and guide them on the right path. As I said, I am well aware that in order for me to be happy I have to be able to run to my potential, and work with kids. I won’t be able to do both through TFA. Thus, I am at a loss off what to do right now.  I just turned 23, I don’t want to be so unhappy, I want to finda way to combine my passions. I would love to open an outdoors program for low income youth and/or youth who need some empowerment, I just don’t know where to start. Idk… I could use some advice (hint hint lol). I feel like my legs are ready to take a huge leap, but my hands are holding on with a tight grip.


Shout out to my east coast friends: I miss you all!

Special thanks to the wonderful women who helped get me to WS and Rachel for helping me get to the finish line. You’re my heroes. =)


  1. There's always at least three points in the last half of a hundred where you're sure you have to drop, but experience tells you that physically you can do it, it's just a mental problem. You stuck it out... and broke 24 at WS! Congrats!

    And: sorry for your personal losses.

  2. Thanks for your honesty, Sandi. I'm proud of you for pushing through but also having the awareness of the big picture and your body when making decisions about whether to keep going. You are at such an exciting yet challenging juncture in your life. You have so much potential to be great and help others be great. I struggle a lot with what you struggle with. I am passionate about helping kids and I am fortunate to do that in my field. However, the long days are brutal and I spend WAY too much time in front of a computer. I've found that I can be an athlete and help people, but that my priorities need to wax and wane. Maybe during a busy point for work I'll focus on marathons and when work dies down I can get back to ultra distance. No matter what, I make sure that every day I'm doing something good for myself and doing something good for others. Not every day is rewarding (and some nearly break me), but usually the equation balances out pretty well. You've got a great support system and a sharp head- you've already shown that you can have great success sticking to something when you want to quit (hint). I'm always here if you need/want advice or just a sounding board. If you want, let's set up a time to talk and maybe the two of us can brainstorm some ideas to get you back on the track you want to be. No matter what happens, know that you have what it takes, not just to be fine, but to be amazing. Hugs.

  3. Simply Amazing Sandi! How do you go from not knowing if you are going to finish to finish it under 24hrs is incredible! I am looking forward to reading more about your experiences.

  4. Sandi,

    Sorta found your blog by accident. Great WS report! Not that you'd remember, but I was the guy who yelled "You kicked ass at Grindstone" just before Rucky Chucky. I too tried to avoid the "looking good" cliche because as a front runner, I knew you must have been having a rough day if I was anywhere near you. I was also having a crappy day, and lamented quite a bit that it was happening at WS of all races. Glad you bounced back a bit and at least got the sub 24. You're a beast!

    Rock on,
    Mike Bailey


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