At the end of the first day of driving we stopped in Mitchell, South Dakota for the night. It left a few hours left of driving for the next day, with the obligation to pick Sarah up from Rapid City airport in the early afternoon. As I sat down on the hotel bed and opened my computer to start the first chunk of a new blog, the unthinkable happened. The color drained from my face as the black screen failed to light up. I incessantly pounded the keyboard with my fingertips praying the little letters would start glowing, but all to no avail. My heart pounded as I was suddenly infuriated with Apple. I had this computer six fucking months and it was pulling this shit now? After fuming for a few hours I decided to put it behind me. My computer was broken and there was not a damn thing I could do about it. Hindsight being 20/20, perhaps this was a bad omen. ;)
The Black Hills 100 course is beautiful. If you haven't been to that part of the country, I highly suggest it. It was never on my list of places to visit until I found this race, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to see South Dakota (and, consequently, Minnesota). I felt like I was well prepared for the elevation and the terrain. The one weird thing about this race was that it was the quietest race start ever. I found myself in a comfortable mid-pack group and no one said a word for at least the first 20 minutes. After a few steep climbs we came out on a nice ridge and I finally broke the ice with "This is the quietest ultra ever." Everyone laughed and agreed, and introductions with typical race conversation followed. My heart rate for the first hour was a bit higher than normal, but I easily attributed this to race adrenaline and nerves. At the first aid station I ate some fruit, took some salt and was on my merry way. The rest is a bit of a blur, but I'll do my best to recollect as much as I can. I caught back up with a guy named Jeremiah that I had started with, and we kind of hung around these other two guys who I can't remember, but one of them had poles. On the steeper climbs I was like damn, I wish I had some poles. That bastard. But seriously, I can't help but hate on the poles. COME. ON. You're not actually hiking up the side of a mountain here, dude. You're running an ultra. You're running. You're not in Europe. What is this, Transvulcania? No. You're probably thinking "Kelsey, you DNF'd and this guy probably finished and you're having the audacity to rip on his poles". Yeah. That's probably true. With my luck he probably has tons of respectable finishes under his belt with his poles. That still doesn't change my opinion about running with poles. Especially at this race. ANYWAY, I remembered being so annoyed by this and also kind of laughing because he was all tricked out in Salomon gear as well. Jeremiah took an opportunity to pass these guys and I got stuck behind for a bit. When pole guy almost snagged my ankle while we took a downhill, I decided I had had enough. I wanted to go catch Jeremiah. I caught him just a few minutes later and he was running with a guy that soon introduced himself as Kendrick. I noticed that Kendrick was probably the only other person besides me reppin' the New Balance in a world of Hokas. Side note: Hokas will always make me laugh. Always. Every time. Every god damn time. I just can't get used to it. I can't. They're both from Colorado, so I hung back and listened to their stories and similar experiences. I mentally added Quad Rock to my list of races to cross off. I started to feel kind of shitty at this point, so having them there to listen to was nice. I chimed in here and there, but I certainly wasn't the usual chatterbox. There was an aid station somewhere along the way where the volunteer kept boasting about the "Scott Jurek recipe snacks" that they had. For those that don't know me terribly well, I one time "on your left"ed Scott Jurek on a group run, and I had no idea it was him. Of course the whole point of the run was to "Run with the greatest ultrarunner ever! Scott Jurek!". Anyway, I hate to delve into details of last summer while trying to recap last weekend, but it was hilarious and I have never lived it down. Ever since then my life is filled with Scott Jurek jokes, especially his recipes ("jerker balls"). I made a mental note to tell Joe about this. Perhaps if I would have ate some of the leaves and nuts that are the Jerker recipes, I wouldn't have DNF'd. ;) There was eventually a longer, flat section with a couple of creek crossings. It felt nice to get the feet wet, and my legs were feeling great so I let them go a bit and picked up some speed. I did a great amount of passing through here, and then Kendrick was gone for a moment and then eventually Jeremiah as well. Starting to go back up after this little quick valley was when I noticed myself feeling unusually shitty. I was hit with a wave of nausea, which is never something I've had to battle with in my running. I slowed down and drank more, and assessed. I thought of everything I had eaten and how often I was drinking, and everything was normal. Not one thing was different. I tried to shrug it off. I came up to the aid station at 22.5 (I think) and I wasn't in the best of shape. I drank a lot here, which was surprising me because I was drinking to thirst and holy fuck I was thirsty. I got down some HEED, half a banana and some other aid station food. I hung out here for a few minutes. As I was leaving the aid station Jeremiah was coming in. He shouted "I'm going to come catch you!" and with half of a smile and full sincerity I replied with "I have no doubt about that." I jogged out and about 2 minutes later I leaned against a tree and puked my brains out. It wasn't one of those 'oh, I think I'm going to be sick but I'll hold it in and hope it goes away oh it's not going to go away I better just throw up' vomits, it was a no-time-to-think-projectile-vomit. I barely made it off the trail. I debated going back to the aid station and trying to get more food and water, but there was no way I was going to backtrack. Forward motion always. So I walked. Jeremiah soon was right behind me. I told him I wasn't doing well, that I felt like I couldn't keep anything down. He suggested we just walk it out for awhile. I told him to go ahead, but he insisted on staying. I could have hugged him, but I'm not much of a toucher. At all. Ever. We talked about beer a lot, and about Michigan and Colorado and Virginia and his job. We talked about races we've done and races we want to do and races we might never do. I tried to get down a gel and it didn't happen. He gave me a ginger chew and it helped. I drank without feeling sick. This section, I think, was my favorite. The views were amazing and I was in splendid company. We mentioned that it was weird Kendrick hadn't caught us yet, but he probably would soon. I ran when I could, and Jeremiah walked with me when I had to. We were both out of water and praying for the aid station when we were graced with a long, winding downhill, and heard a road. We came up to the next aid station (Dalton lake or something?). I switched shoes here. This is something I've never done but I remembered Jesse saying that sometimes it just feels good to switch shoes after awhile, and it did. But I switched into the Pearls and goddammit I hate those shoes, but at the time I appreciated them. I ate some pineapple here and part of a sandwich, and told my mom, aunt and sister I was having a hard time keeping anything down. The pineapple tasted amazing, and at the time it was exactly what I wanted. It was cold, small chunks, and sweet. I hung out in the shade for a few minutes here. I vocalized how terrible I was feeling, but that I knew I could make it halfway. I can run 50 miles, I've run 50 plenty of times to know that I can do it. If I could just get to 50, I'd assess from thereon. The climb was pretty steep after leaving this aid station, and it was oddly straight up. I was all "what the fuck, can a girl get a switchback or what?". I threw up violently in the middle of it, and again at the top of it. There was a total douche-grade two track at the top of this climb, and I knew it was a good opportunity to get the legs moving again and into a groove. My body wasn't having it, and I was throwing up anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes. I cannot stress how violent it was. It wasn't just a gag it was a downright heave, and my abs were aching from it. My throat was on fire. I thought about how odd it was that I hadn't peed yet. Thinking about this made me kind of have to pee, so I found a spot and went. I looked down and my pee was the color of blood. This has never happened to me before. I think I actually stopped peeing because I was so freaked out. I continued on and just wanted to get to the next aid station. I was not a huge fan of this part of the trail. I know it's all mental, and for whatever reason I loathe two tracks. I hate wide trails in general, and I don't know why. For some stupid reason they are mentally hard for me. Stick me on a single track and I'm good to go, but a wide trail? Ehhh... not my style. It eventually came out to a road. A road. Pavement. Awesome. Because this is that I really wanted to do at that moment. Slam some concrete. I crossed my fingers and hoped this road section would be ridiculously short. It felt ridiculously long. The next aid station sucked. I was in such rough shape and no one knew what I needed. I tried to get some food/gatorade down, and it came up minutes later down the trail. This next part of the trail SUCKED. I HATED it. It was a wide two track ATV trail that was dusty and also went through some weird campground or something. This part was really beating me up mentally. I just like to be deep in the woods all of the time, and this wide-trail-dusty-road-thing wasn't cutting it. Or, rather, I wasn't cutting it. This section took me so long. I ran when I could, and it just resulted in more vomit. More convulsions. More acid coming up my throat. I stopped to pee again and it was blood. I drank and not even 30 seconds later it would come back up. I couldn't even keep water down. I tried to get a gel down, it was all I had on me. I got a tiny swallow and again I was bent over on a tree heaving it up. I stuffed the rest of it in the pocket on my handheld and, now that I think about it, it's still in there. I was so thirsty and I had one drink of water left. I drank it, and moments later I was leaning on yet another tree. As I felt my abs ripping apart and the acid coming up my throat and what seemed to be my nose as well, my eyes burned with hot tears. I couldn't keep going like this. Why was I not even getting down water? I swallowed the rising lump in my throat. Fucking get it together goddammit. But I couldn't. It wasn't happening. The next aid station was mile 42, and I called it there. I sat down on the sheet that my lovely crew had laid in the shade and stared at my feet. Maybe it just wasn't my day. Maybe I should keep going. I put my forehead on my knees and internally "You're not even at 50 yet! Why is this happening?! Why can't you just WORK? You've done this before goddammit 6 weeks ago you ran a 50 like a fucking BREEZE talking and laughing the entire way! Why are you breaking NOW? What is even BROKEN? This doesn't make sense. WHY doesn't this make sense? How can you be having the worst run of your life on the one fucking day it matters?". I walked up to the volunteers. They greeted me with smiles and were holding out food for me. I declined with a small smile, told them how amazing they were for donating their time for the race, and asked who I needed to speak to to drop. They directed me to my left, and I watched a man cross out "GRAY KELSEY 24F 100M" and write "DROP" on the line next to it. My eyes swelled with tears and I choked out "thank you". I went back to my sheet and my aunt and mom had tears as well. Someone made a comment about how that took a lot of guts to do. I mentally retorted with "not as much guts as it takes to keep going". I quieted my mind and watched runners come in. I gazed up the switchback and saw Kendrick jogging down. I couldn't believe he was still behind me. Last time I had seen him he looked so great. He went up to his crew and I hobbled over to say hi. Someone asked him how long it usually takes for him to finish, and he said he didn't know, because he's never finished one. I wished him luck (or something of the like) and returned to the sheet. I was able to get down some water and Oreos. Oreos, right! Of course. It's always the Oreos. Every time.
We packed up my stuff and drove through the Hills back to the hotel. When we got to the hotel, I called Joe. I sat in this little gazebo on the edge of the parking lot overlooking the highway and the hills. He didn't answer, and I didn't leave a message. I hung my head and let the tears flow. I was literally hanging my head, and my tears were filling up my sunglasses and flooding over. My heart was broken. I had broken my own heart. My stupid body had broken my own heart. Joe called right back, and I took a deep breath before answering. I don't know why I even bothered, because as soon as I did my shoulders just started shaking and I broke down again. I could barely get anything out, I just sat there and sobbed on one end while Joe talked on the other end. When I say sobbed, I mean sobbed. He continued telling me how proud he was of me to have the guts to sign up for the race, train for it, and toe the line. He reminded me that sometimes you wake up and it's just not your day. It happens. It fucking happens and it sucks so much. After we hung up I felt a little better for a moment. I thought about Tony Krupicka's latest failure. Then I thought about my latest failure. Then I thought about the common denominator: the 110s. DAMMIT ANTON. You designed the shoe for failures. I laughed at my own joke and walked up to the hotel room. I ate some food at dinner that night, and my pee was normal about 24 hours later.
I've had adequate time to reflect on what happened that day, and I've come to the conclusion that I still have no fucking idea. And I don't think anyone knows. And that's fine. Let's face it, I was due for a bad race anyway. I had a shitty day, but I still got to run a very pretty course, in a part of the country I've never been to before. I got to experience the Black Hills a way that not many people choose to (which still boggles my mind). I met some pretty awesome people, and when it comes down to it, any day that I get to spend 10 hours in a forest is a really good day. The funny thing about DNF'ing is that you kind of realize how many people don't give a shit if you finish or not. It's humbling. I couldn't sleep that night, and I got up at 5:15 to go down to the start/finish to watch finishers come in. It was a little hard to do, and I had to really try not to mentally beat myself up with the "this should be you finishing" mantras, because they were definitely rolling through my head, but I wanted to be there for the people that I could be there for, you know? I wanted to clap for the people jogging those painful steps down that track to the finish. I wanted to smile big for them because maybe they wouldn't be able to do it for themselves as they collapsed on the field in exhaustion. I wanted to see their moment. I didn't have mine, and that's fine, but there were many left that deserved to be experienced. I could count the number of people at the finish line on one hand, including me and the timing lady. I watched a few people come in over the course of a few hours, and it's so funny to me how anticlimactic ultra finishes are. You run 100 miles and at the finish line you get a handful of people clapping for you, and someone forgetting to hand you your belt buckle and a bottle of water. There is something terribly beautiful about it.
I feel lucky to love this sport as much as I do. I went out and ran the first few miles of the course the morning that we left, and I am just purely glad that I like to do that. It makes me feel alive, and not in the pain-makes-you-feel-alive weird kind of way (which, granted, is also true), but it makes me appreciate being able to move. My happiness doesn't come from buying pretty things or doing shots all night at a bar, it comes from running through nature, climbing on my hands and knees, playing around in a creek on a long run, or sitting on a boulder and watching the sun come up.
I have no doubt in my mind that I'm capable of running 100 miles. I don't think I was capable of running 100 miles that day. Maybe I was. Maybe I just needed to take a break for a half hour and then go back at it. I'll never know, and that's fine with me. ...Kind of. I'll attack it again soon enough and hopefully things will go differently. In the very least I'll know that if I start throwing up or pissing blood, I'm not going to die. I figured I got a nice long run in that day, so this coming weekend I'm going to go over to Wisconsin and do the Devil's Lake 50M and see how that goes. I was, of course, incredibly upset after my DNF, but I don't care so much about it now. It still sucks, but it doesn't suck that bad. There will be another 100 start that ends with a finishing time, I'm sure.
So, race was less than stellar, but the trip overall was amazing. It was pretty awesome to drive all the way out there. I'm a fan of road trips, and it was cool to see the land change. I feel like people always say it's so flat out there, but I didn't think it was flat. Minnesota and South Dakota have hills. It's not mountainous but I wouldn't say it's flat. And the sky! Oh, my. You can see forever and it is most wonderful. One of the best things about the Earth is that when you are taken out of your element, it can make you feel small and insignificant, because you are. My mom, aunt and I were talking for a few minutes about how humans, in the vast majority of things, are really such a small part of time. We're really nothing, even though we think we're everything. We prefer to think of ourselves as being terribly significant.
We visited Custer State Park on Sunday of our trip, and it was pretty awesome. However, when we were sitting in the car looking at the buffalo, I suddenly became overwhelmed with sadness. This sounds a bit melodramatic and a part of me wishes I could say I am joking but I'm not one bit. Here was this beautiful animal that once had complete free range of the land until we came along and destroyed it. Then of course we thought they're kinda cool, and we might want to keep them around, but let's just section off a chunk of land and put them there for our own entertainment. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad we have all of these wonderful areas protected, but it's disgusting that it needs to be protected in the first place. We, as the human race, took (take) whatever the fuck we want(ed) without regards to anything. "This part of the country is pretty. Let's slap some pavement all over it so people can drive around in their cars and marvel at 'what-used-to-be' without thinking 'what could be'. A bit of a tangent, yes, and I'm sure there will be an elaborate blog post delving into that subject in the near future. In the meantime, here's some pictures from the trip.
Also, Jeremiah and Kendrick both finished. My heart swelled with happiness for them when I checked the results on Sunday evening.
Minnesota wind farms
Corn Palace. (Yes.)
This needs to be shared, just because we are hilarious.
1880 Town. Yes it's a real place, yes that is me in a pink dress.
South Dakota has some really great tourism.
...This is the aid station i dropped at. ...Dammit.
Replicating Mount Rushmore via iPhone Panorama. (almost perfect, but I have no left arm.)
Custer State Park
Custer State Park (I think?)
Custer State Park
This was too funny not to be shared. Courtesy of Tom via Sarah.
Another Mount Rushmore replica with all 4 of us.
The next few were all taken from part of the course I ran the morning we left.
I pet one of those cows.
THIS GUY. Ugh. Love.
Yes, that is a horse with a cross on its head and Mount Rushmore on its side. Just another South Dakota gem we had to document. We soon after found out you are not allowed to sit on the horse.
Things I learned in South Dakota:
1. It's possible to wake up and have a shitty race, no matter how much you train.
2. Dakota Jones has a girlfriend
3. I have the coolest family ever.
4. The further west I go, the happier I get.