I love Fort Clinch. There is a strange attraction to that course that will keep me coming back. I ran my first 50 miler on this course last year and for several reasons I couldn't wait to return to it for my first 100 miler. The race director is top notch, knows how to put on a race, takes care of all runners, and all the volunteers are over the top! It is an absolutely gorgeous course and has everything a course can offer, "it is a mix between continually undulating (virtually no flat), mostly shaded, oak hammock single track trail, paved road, board walk and a concrete fishing pier" [[FEAR the PIER]]. It was also this 50 mile race last year that led me to go back to my doctor which led to further tests and my Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma diagnosis. I felt I had something to prove to this course and so my journey to my first 100 began.
I was hesitant to let people know that I was going to even attempt a 100 miler, I mean come on, 100 miles is freaking far and only crazy people do that! A few close to me knew and of course, those who were crewing and pacing me knew, but I kept it pretty low key. My husband and daughter have always been supportive and I actually asked them to not go to FC. They are attached so strongly to my heart and soul that if I saw any concern in their eyes, or they voiced any concern, I would have thought about stopping so they wouldn't have to worry. Instead, they received continual text messages from my awesome pacer/crew so they knew that all was good.
Speaking of crew and pacers, I am convinced 100% that a runner is only as successful as their team. Yes, team. I quickly learned, even before the race, that my 100 would be their 100 and my race is their race and my success or failure is their success or failure. I had the best team in the entire world. I had my friends Nancy, Justin and Larry to crew and/or pace me for this race. The planning started in 2014 when Nancy stated she wanted to crew me and it really picked up in January when Justin wanted to crew....eeks, I was getting a little scared and had other races to run as prep for this, it was getting real. I started writing down my needs on a yellow legal pad and then entered them into Excel.
My husband and I created a few pace charts (see below) for me so I could gauge how much time I need per lap (10 mile loops). I also had an alternative plan to run 50 miles from sun up to sun down, 30 miles from sun down to sun up and then 20 miles to finish (50/30/20). My goal was only to finish and finish standing. We met with Justin at the Skydive Ultra and the planning started. He asked me questions that I hadn't thought of yet and and gave me advice that was so very much appreciated. I knew after the Skydive Ultra that I was going to have the best team. A bit short sighted of me, but I just didn't realize at the time how important my team was. It was going to be my first 100. I learned so much! A few days prior to the race, I group messaged my team and told them my song mantra was "I Lived" by One Republic.
More running, planning, food purchasing, list preparing and messaging ensues over the next few months. Weeks before the race the skepticism crept in, did I put in enough miles? do I really know what I'm getting myself into? could I really complete a 100 mile run? Will my NHL get worse? My oncologist knew from day one that I was planning to run 100 miles, he had absolutely no hesitation and tells me to just keep going. So, I go back to that conversation and know that I am doing the right thing. In January a friend of mine passed away from NHL, he was a runner, an athlete and provided me with both his wisdom and much inspiration when I was first diagnosed and didn't know much. It made this run that much more meaningful and in the dark hours of the night, he provided me with much inspiration [thank you Jim, forever grateful].
The ultra running community is a family made of like-minded individuals, those who love trails, exude positive energy, and want to give back in their own way. I am always honored to have the ability to watch my friends attempt their goals and eventually succeed at them. I met my friend Patrick at the Skydive Ultra. Patrick was running the 50 miler and Nancy and I met him around mile 30. It was during this little meet up that we realized we both were running the FC 100. We vowed to speak again and see one another at the race. I met Patrick at the starting line of the 100 and we ran every single mile together. Patrick and I shared every joy, every pain, every failure, every success of the 100 miles. He was there to pick me up when I fell and I was their to pick him up when he questioned why he was doing this. I still can't explain it, but the bond we formed over the 28 hours is one that will never be broken. We laughed, we cried, we talked, we shared, we succeeded. He inspires me. It was beautiful, it was magical. It cannot be explained. I was also fortunate enough to run several of the first few laps with Justin and Andy. Talk about enjoying our run, we laughed and joked and laughed some more. What a spectacular group of people to surround yourself with. The ultra running family has so much respect for the run, for the trails, for life, for the laughter and pure joy.
Back to running....
We were so fortunate to have the best running weather, it dropped into the 40's at night and the high 60's during the day. It was cool, dry and beautiful. It was absolutely beautiful. We could not have asked for a more perfect day. Even though we were running the same 10 miles loop 10 times, each loop appeared a bit different. The sun and moon cast different shadows, so there was much splendor and beauty to see every time we passed the same tree, ran up and down the same hill, etc. So much beauty. At night, running on the beach, without a headlamp was pretty spectacular. The moonlight reflecting off the ocean and the sand is a memory that I will never forget. Watching the sun rise over the Fort was just another memory burned into my brain.
Patrick and I hit 50 miles in 12 hours and 47 minutes, a 16 minute 50 mile PR for me. It was about to get dark so we were able to have pacers from now until the finish. Nancy saddled up and Patrick had his pacer, but we vowed to continue to run together. We started this together and we were going to finish together. The volunteers at the aid stations were so very attentive to each and every runner, all the time. I am a true believer that an AS volunteer is a true gift and one that every runner should treasure.
From mile 50 - 70 my knee was not cooperating. If I slowed or stopped at an aid station, to start again was extremely painful, so I didn't stop. I told my pacer what I wanted and kept moving. She, the angel she is, would get what I needed and run it up to me. Patrick of course, was a wonderful help as well. There was nothing that was going to stop me from finishing this race. I was in a lot of pain, as a matter of fact, it was excruciating at times (sorry to my fellow runners who heard me yelp in pain), but over time, I had the ability to "file it away" and mentally shut it down so it wouldn't bother me any longer. After that, I started getting blisters on the soles of my feet, I could feel them as I ran and they were getting worse. I was changing my socks every 20 miles and in some instances every 10, rubbing ointment on my toes, feet, etc., but to no avail. So much to learn... Justin, bless his heart, deserves a medal for helping me change my socks and put stuff on my feet, several times. I have to say, he was the calm in the chaos and I am forever grateful. At one point in the night, he led me to a chair in front of the fire to change my socks and lube my feet. That few minutes in front of the fire, was such a boost and off we went. The blisters got worse as time progressed, by mile 90 I questioned if I could make it 10 more miles. It was a pain, unlike the knee pain, that I could only file away for a bit, but it came back in a rage. I continued to fight and found that if I just kept "running" and moving quicker than a walk, it was something I could tolerate. Walking made the blisters worse, running or the Yeti Shuffle was tolerable.
Nancy is a true angel. She paced me and was so attentive, we have run hundreds of miles together so she knew when to make me laugh, when to let me stay in my zone and when to offer me Swedish Fish :). I am so blessed to not only have her pace me for my first 100, but to also have her as a friend. I can't wait to pay it forward to her. Patrick and I changed lead multiple times. We would often fist bump or high five, or look at one another without saying a word, we didn't have to. We knew we were going to finish, we knew it, we felt it, and we just kept moving forward. There was a lot of time during our 28 hours adventure where we didn't have to say anything, just knowing we were both there and would both finish was comforting. Typical conversation during the late miles, "You Good?", "Yep, You?", "Yep". "Patrick, we're going to finish", "smile".
Patrick changed his pacers throughout the last 50 miles In hindsight, I should have demanded (yes, because that is what it would have taken) that Nancy pace every other loop, instead of what she did. Nancy wanted to pace that far, I just should have asked her to rest in between. I feel terrible about it but will know better for next time. Patrick's wonderful wife Tiffany ran the last loop with him. It was then that I felt a little tug at my heart and regretted not having my family with me, but so very thankful that I had Nancy, Justin, Larry, team Schmidt and all the other wonderful members of the running family out there. It was the last loop that I knew I would accomplish something for Jim and others I've come to know, running for those who cannot.
Prior to running the Pier for one last time, at mile 99, my crew was there waiting so we could all run the Pier together, one last time. Justin KNEW, and I didn't even have to tell him, that I wanted to change into my Livestrong shirt for the last mile. He also put on his Livestrong shirt and while I didn't shed one single tear the entire 99 miles, when I saw this, this stance of solidarity, it almost made me cry. I was so proud of my team, proud of everyone who finished before me and proud of everyone who would finish after me. We ran the Pier one last time, as a team. As I was nearing the finish line, I noticed Justin was videotaping, in a faint whisper I looked into the camera and said "I did it". But really, I should have said, "We did it", because we did.
I am forever thankful to Caleb, the DRT team and all the volunteers for making my dream a reality. Also, forever thankful to Nancy, Justin,and Larry for crewing, pacing me and driving me home. And, to Patrick who will forever be "my brother from another" and his wife Tiffany, for her support and the support of their crew. Finally, to my husband and daughter, who clearly understand my need to do what I need to do and who always support me no matter the circumstances and how crazy they may seem. I am also thankful for everything my diagnosis has taught me, live your dreams, always, live your dreams.
Although I tried to capture it, no words can be written to describe what happened on the course that day, it was magical. It was for Jim ~ #NEGU
Getting it done because we were Down To Run!
Me and the best crew ever, one last run down the Pier!
Me and Patrick, day 2, almost done. Running on the beach right before sunrise.
One of my favorite photos! My running angel and pacer, Nancy!
Justin! He was the calm in the chaos and seemed to know what I needed before I knew.
Day 1, feeling grateful and blessed beyond measure. Never ever give up, ever!
My blisters that had a life of their own!
The buckle never left my side for 36 hours after the race! Thank you Caleb and volunteers for putting on another spectacular race!