Embrace the Suck

run 100

Over the last two years, twelve 100 mile races have popped up in Utah (or so close it might as well be in Utah). You can run a 100 mile race every month from February to October (with two in March, April, and September). Granted, Utah has some spectacular areas to run in from beautiful desert slot canyons to the high alpine trails.

Ultra running is an interesting sport. Even during a good race where everything goes as planned, there is usually some suffering and difficulty. Going 100 miles on foot within 24-36 hours is hard and race directors like to make it harder by throwing in mountains. But runners don’t shy away from the harder races, they just look at it as another challenge.

My most prized finishes are the ones where I suffered the most, which generally means my finish time was not the best, but I earned every step along the way. Finishing a difficult race, makes the next challenge feel more doable. When you have been out there with your quads shot and vomiting, you can draw on that experience and build yourself up to face other challenges.

Embrace the suck. Sure everyone who doesn’t run ultras thinks you’re crazy when you say, “I had an amazing weekend running 100 miles while nauseous, dizzy, disoriented, vomiting, and burned to a crisp,” but who cares?

I don’t think ultrarunners like to suffer. We are not masochists. I don’t sign up for a race wondering how much I will suffer. I sign up for the challenge, “What am I made of?” is the question in my mind. The suffering brings us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us, about others who suffer and have persevered. It’s about truly living life.

It’s just that, the sunrise never looked more beautiful than when I spent the night in the ninth circle of hell.

With the number of races popping up all over the place, I have to assume that more and more people are accepting the challenge of the 100-mile distance. I think this is a great thing because I don’t think there is a better way to teach respect and appreciation for what you have in your life.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode thirty-five


A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

“Planning to leave soon?”

Melanie looked up from the book she was reading. A cool breeze fluttered through the open window at her back. Blue birds twittered in the tree outside the window. She hadn’t wanted anyone to know that she was considering checking her mother out against medical advice, but she might have known that Alyson would find out.

“Dr. Wester told me you were asking if your mother could be moved yet.” Alyson strode into the small hospital room. Dark shadows clung to the flesh around her eyes.

“I know you are anxious to get away from this dreadful place, but at what cost? You’re mother needs at least another few days.”

“And why should I listen to your advice?” Melanie asked not breaking her eyes away from the old woman.

Alyson nodded. “Come walk with me for a moment. Let your mother sleep and heal.” Alyson turned her back to Melanie and stepped into the hallway.

Melanie stood and tucked the soft fleece blanket in around her mom. The oxygen tube adorned her face and an IV dripped medicine into her veins.

Melanie gently shut the door.

“She’s still on the antibiotic. She will finish it in another day or two. If she were to get an infection…”

“Dr. Wester explained this to me. As you know, I’m sure.” Melanie rested her shoulder against the doorway and folded her arms.


Melanie followed a few steps behind Alyson. They stopped in front of the elevator. Alyson pressed the button to go up. They road up two floors in silence. When the door opened, Alyson held the door for Melanie.

Melanie let out an irritated sigh and stepped off the elevator. She continued to follow Alyson down the hall. Alyson stopped in front of a room. Knocked lightly and then entered. Melanie followed her in.

A young woman lay in a bed with a ventilator tube taped to her mouth. Machines beeped and breathed for the woman. She had long dark hair spread around her. A romance novel sat on the table next to her. A thin white scar ran down the right side of her face from the corner of her eye to her jaw. Melanie thought she couldn’t be much older than herself.

“This is Kimber. She’s been here for a year in a coma. She knows nothing of the Justice Law. She was out partying with some friends one night. She was beaten and raped repeatedly before being left for dead.”

Melanie stared at the girl. “Does her family visit?”

“They use to, until the Justice Law was passed. Now I sit at her bedside reading to her, holding her hand, and brushing out her hair each day. I spoke to them about letting her go and taking her off the life support, but they said no. She is unlikely to wake up and if she does, she will awaken to memories of being beaten and raped, brain damage, and a totally new and deadly world.”

Alyson brushed the girl’s cheek with the back of her fingers. “Would you want to awaken to all that Ms. Craig? Would you want your mother or sister too?”

Melanie’s chest tightened. Her throat constricted and she had to focus on breathing. She shook her head unable to speak.

“I sat with the family for hours while they told stories about how Kimber loved to dance and run. She had a boyfriend who loved her dearly and they were going to marry after high school. She was a smart girl and would have graduated early. In a way, I feel like I know her.”

“Why haven’t you put an end to it?” Melanie’s voice was a whisper.

“Because they said no and she can’t decide for herself.”

Melanie looked at Alyson, but Alyson continued to watch the girl. “Sometimes I imagine her dancing at prom cradled in the arms of her beau.”

She looked up at Melanie then. “You may disagree with what I have done Melanie, but you have made the same decision after only moments of having considered the two options. You are not so different from me.”

*             *             *


Melanie heard voices in her mother’s room. She didn’t remember getting on the elevator or walking down the hall, but she must have done so since she was here. She peered through the slats of blinds hanging in the hallway window to her mother’s room. Sam sat next to Jennifer coloring in a book laid out on the table. Jennifer reached up to stop the crayons from rolling over the edge. Sam’s sweet voice reached Melanie through the glass. “See mom, I’m much better about staying in the lines.”

“Yes, I see that.” Her mother brushed stray strands of light brown hair laced with the light of the sun from Sam’s face. “Your hair is getting so long.”

“Mitchel helps me brush it and braid it every day before bed. He said his mother did her’s that way and his sister. Did you know Mitchel had a sister who is an angel now?”

He was there too, Mitchel, sitting in the recliner in the corner. His head was laid back and his eyes were closed. She knew he wasn’t sleeping well with her here at the hospital all the time and all her responsibilities, caring for Sam, had fallen to him.

Melanie stepped into the room.

“Melanie!” her sister called out.

Melanie put her finger to her lips. “Shhh.” But it was too late. Mitchel was awake. He got to his feet and before he could say hello she was in his arms. Safe. Whole.

When it all goes wrong… it’s still a beautiful thing

The Buffalo 100 Endurance Race was a struggle. Running 100 miles is challenging, but some really ask are you a sissy pants or can you roll with the big dogs? Salt Flat’s 100, dished up 16 hours of rain and 40 mile an hour wind with a side of stomach issues making me consider quitting once at 50 miles. Pony Express was near perfect conditions, never once did I think of quitting. Things got hard and I had to slow down, but I was going to finish. Buffalo Run took the liberty of reminding me I have a lot to learn.

I was so excited that the weather was going to be beautiful for the Buffalo Run. Beautiful things can often blind us to problems. I wanted that sub 24-hour finish time. I was so close at Pony Express (24 hours 15 minutes), Buffalo Run was going to be my race.

I put in all the training, tapered, and felt good on race day and then the dominos started to fall.

My hydration pack was leaking. The temperatures climbed into the low to mid-seventies. The heat was getting to me. At one point, I was dizzy and light headed and had to slow down. I made my goal time for the first 20 miles, but came into the aid station soaking wet from shoulders to knees and had blisters on my feet. We changed my shoes and shorts. I took my handheld water bottle and continued down the trail. I was the sixth woman at that point.

There is no shade on the course, none. The sun continued to scorch my skin. Because it is early in the season, I had done zero heat training. I run in the early morning hours when temperatures are between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. I came into the aid station at 27.5 miles overheating, sun burned, and fighting nausea. Gear Gnome told me everyone was feeling the heat. Some runners were laying in the shade tent after vomiting repeatedly. “Everyone is feeling the heat and slowing down. But you’ve moved up three places because of it and your only ten minutes behind where you thought you would be.”

I told them I would be slower on this next section, 12 miles, until the sun went down. Sure enough as soon as the sun went down and a slight breeze cooled my skin, I was able to get in some good miles. My quads were starting to ache, which was abnormal because I do hill training, have run races with a lot more climbing, and had never had that happen. I knew the second loop through the mountains would be challenging on the descents.

I met back up with my crew at 38 miles and was in and out pretty quick. It was five more miles to the next aid station, which went by fast as did the next six miles into the fifty-mile aid station. I picked up my pacer, Sponge Bunny. I drank some coffee. I couldn’t decide if I was warm or cold. I pulled on a long sleeve shirt. We pulled off my shoes and drained the sizable blisters on my feet and off I went into the dark. Within three minutes of leaving, I decided I would be cold walking up the mountains so I sent Sponge Bunny back for my pants.

From miles 50-70 crews cannot get to their runner unless they hike about five miles, but there is an aid station, which runners pass through three times. Sponge Bunny and I took it easy not wanting to burn out the energy I had and could use better on the flat sections of the race. After a short time, the coffee was not sitting well in my stomach and I had to force myself to vomit to be able to drink water to stay hydrated. I continued to overheat on climbs and had to take my long sleeve shirt off. I didn’t think this was a good sign since Sponge Bunny was wearing full tights, shorts, and two layers on top. Around sixty-seven miles I started falling asleep while we walked. Sponge Bunny continued to tell me stories and made sure I was on the inside of the trail. As we came down out of the mountains, it got very cold.

I was shivering when we reached my crew at 70 miles. They wrapped me in Gear Gnome’s coat for thirty minutes. The sun was starting to come up and the tiredness lifted. Sponge Bunny and I went back out. I continued to have stomach issues and was doing a mix of running and walking.

At mile 77, J$ took over pacing. I had been going for 21 hours. My legs ached like the day after my first marathon. I didn’t think I could do another day in the heat. Twenty-three miles seemed incredibly far. But I went out. We shuffled along. J$ talked and I grunted. The sun was up and the temperature was climbing again. When we reached the aid station at mile 79, Cousin Jon tracked down some sunscreen and covered me with it. I ate some real food and sat in the shade for twenty minutes. J$ rubbed my sore aching legs and another runner gave us Icy Hot. Then I went back out. My stomach started to feel better for a few miles but then got a lot worse.

At mile 88, I was ready to be done. I climbed into the back of the van almost in tears. I didn’t think I could make the cut off times. Every inch of my body hurt. I was exhausted. I was sick. But I went back out.

Six miles of more heat. Shuffling along at a turtle’s pace. We reached the mountain view aid station. I plopped down into a chair. J$ rubbed my legs again. I shoved some more potato chips into my mouth and off we went once again. We trudged up and over the last hill and then down into the final aid station.

I crossed the finish line after 30 hours and 22 minutes. Totally exhausted and utterly thrilled to be standing on a desert island in the middle of a salt filled lake.


Share the Joy of Running

A 100-mile run is not a one-person enterprise, at least not for me. I know there are some runners out there who run the full one hundred without the assistance of pacers or a crew, but I am not one of those runners.

Maybe one day I will have enough experience to go without, but even then, I would still choose to take them along for the adventure because my crew and pacers add so much to the race regardless of if my race is going well or is difficult.

The Buffalo Run had medallions available for pacers this year, which I thought was awesome. I would love to see other races pick up that trend and expand it for crews.

My poor crew really was tested this race. I was demanding, grouchy, exhausted, sun burned, nauseous, blistered, and aching early on in the race. Temperatures were high (75 degrees Fahrenheit), for the time of year, and then dropped low at night (34 degrees Fahrenheit) yet my crew stood waiting for hours for me to come into the aid station.

Regardless of how I was feeling at the time, they were smiling and laughing which always made things a little easier for me. They had everything I needed ready before I came in and tried to anticipate any extras based on conditions.

At mile 82, I was near ready to drop from the race. My pacer, J$, seeing I was having a difficult time suggested I get out of the sun for a while and eat some real food. We reached the aid station and my crew was unexpectedly there waiting for me. I hadn’t arranged for them to be there because I didn’t expect to come through that aid station so late in the race, but there they were smiling and joking around. I sat in the shade and ate some real food for twenty minutes and then set back out for six miles until the next aid station.

When I rolled into the aid station at mile 88, I was ready to call it quits. I laid in the van and whined about how crappy I felt and how much longer it was going to take at my current pace. I didn’t think I would make it before the finish line cut off. Swiss Miss, after running her own race of 17 miles, listened to me whine and convinced me to go back out with her and J$ pacing. It was slow going, but we made it another six miles. I was six miles from the finish line. I still wasn’t sure that I could make the finish line cut off, but I was going to try.

The next aid station was two miles away with a small climb and descent. I was hurting on the descents. We made okay time over the next two miles and met my crew at the final aid station, four miles from the finish line. I sat in the shade, ate some potato chips, and then had to get moving again. Swiss Miss stayed with the crew. J$ and I headed out.

We had 70 minutes to get to the finish line. I was doing an 18-minute mile due to the blisters on my feet, nausea, and aching quads. The last section is rocky with some bigger rolling hills. It would take 72 minutes to get there at my current pace. We had to pick up the pace.

My Garmin beeped. One mile down, three to go. J$ asked what our pace was. My Garmin read 19 minute pace. He cranked up the power walk to 14:30 and I had no choice but to keep up. He was about ten steps ahead of me. “Focus on the arm swing and use your butt.”

I put my head down and kept going.

“There is no way you’re not finishing this. It’s knocked you down about eight times. It’s hit you with every possibility and you keep getting back up. You’re the comeback queen!” J$ called.

All I could hear in my head was, “Comeback queen.”

J$ raised his hand and pointed. “There’s the white tent. The finish line. One more mile.”

And there was my crew ringing cow bells and hollering, “Go DVP! You’ve got this.”

We crossed the finish line with eight minutes to spare.

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Thirty-Four


A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

Recap: Sixteen-year-old Melanie Craig and her family live in the small Colorado mountain town of Blue River. Since the end of World War Three, the economy in the United States has dropped out making funding law enforcement impossible and increasing crime rates in all, but the smallest towns. The government passes a Law allowing anyone over 16 to kill three other people during their life. Vigilante justice doesn’t seem like the right solution to Melanie, but she has no choice other than to learn how to protect herself and her family.

Melanie awoke with a start. She glanced around the dark room. The hospital. Her mother soft breathing made he relax. She looked around the room again. Moon light cut through the space between the blinds covering the windows. She rubbed the back of her neck and grimaced as her fingers probed a tender spot.

She slid her phone out of her pocket and touched the screen. It was one in the morning. Melanie rolled her head around stretching. Her stomach growled. She stood and stepped out of the room. She squinted in the bright light and gently closed the door.

“Who is the doctor on the floor tonight?” Melanie asked the nurse at the nursing station.

The old man looked at her above the rims of his glasses. “Dr. Wester.”

“Good,” Melanie said.

The old man arched a white eyebrow causing wrinkles to ripple across his forehead.

Her sneakers squeaked on the linoleum as she wound her way toward the cafeteria. The halls were empty. The television was on in each waiting area she passed. She caught fragments of advertisements for bodyguard services, home security systems, and grief counseling as she made her way. Her stomach growled again. When had she last eaten? She shook her head, it had been yesterday morning.

There were a few people in blue and orange scrubs sitting in the far corner. Melanie picked up a tray and set it on counter. She grabbed plastic wear, a napkin, and a carton of milk. She slid the tray along its path.

“What you want sweetie?” called a woman peering at her through the window to the kitchen. A hairnet was pulled over the woman’s black hair twisted into a bun.

“A grilled cheese sandwich with fries, please.”

“Coming right up.”

Melanie held her arm over the scanner, and tapped on the touch screen when it pulled up her SAFE chip bank account information.

The woman wobbled out of the kitchen and set the plate on Melanie’s tray.

“There you are, my dear.”

“Thanks,” Melanie said smiling. She walked over to a table and sat down. She took a double bite of the sandwich, the kind her mother scolds her for. She forgot the ketchup. While chewing, she stood back up and lifted her gaze and found Alyson Brinkard walking toward her.

Alyson set down a bottle of ketchup and two stoneware mugs. “Shouldn’t drink coffee this late, so I brought you hot chocolate.”

Melanie sank back into the chair. “Thank you.” She squeezed some ketchup onto her plate. Melanie didn’t look up from her food as she ate. She wanted Alyson to say something or go way, mostly she wanted her to go away.

“I stopped and checked on your mom.”

Melanie’s head popped up at that, and a fry caught in the back of her throat. She coughed.

Alyson slid the milk toward her. She took a sip and tried to clear her throat.

“Melanie, I know what you think I’m doing is awful and wrong.”

Melanie coughed again. Had she seen Melanie at the doorway? She must have there was no other way for her to know that Melanie knew she had killed that man.

Melanie held up her hand. “Stop. I don’t want your explanations. My family and I are leaving as soon as my mom is well enough to make the trip.”

Melanie looked down at her plate and carefully selected another fry. She dipped it into the ketchup. She didn’t want to hear it anymore, peoples reasons for hurting one another, for killing each other. Dead was dead, and it was murder if you were the cause. Melanie put the fry into her mouth and picked up another one.

“My husband was the first. I just couldn’t watch him suffer anymore. I told him I could make it all stop if he wanted. He was in so much pain that his mind had left him.” Alyson’s voice was a whisper.

Melanie flicked her eyes up for a fraction of a second. Alyson was looking down at her open hands lying in her lap.

Alyson continued. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this, he was supposed to be the only one. But something broke inside of me after he was gone. I couldn’t watch them suffer any more.”

Alyson’s voiced dropped to a lower whisper. “So many.”

Melanie looked up at her then and let the fry slip from her fingers. It plopped into the thick ketchup smeared on the plate.

Melanie pressed her teeth together. “How many? Do you even remember? Do you see each of their faces when you close your eyes? If they are in such pain, how can they answer truly and freely? They just want the pain to stop, and that’s what you do. You make the pain stop. Not theirs, but yours.”

Alyson looked up at her, her eyes full of tears.

Melanie didn’t care.

She picked up her tray. “Thank you for the hot chocolate.”

Melanie strode down the white and grey hallway. She pushed open the door to her mother’s room and set her food down on a small table in the corner. She plopped into the chair. She took a deep breath. They had to leave Denver. She would talk with her mother’s doctors in the morning. She looked at the half eaten sandwich, and picked up the hot chocolate.

The Art of Taping Feet


Blisters, not all runners get them, but those who do know that prevention is key. One of the best ways I’ve found to prevent blisters on my long runs and during ultra events is by taping my feet the night before the race/run.

If you can prevent problems, you should make every effort to do so when running ultras (good advice in general, but especially here). There are many types of tape you can use on feet. I use different tapes on different areas and various circumstances. Before I put any tape on, I use tincture of benzoin. This makes the tape adhere to my skin and not move around even if I cross a river or two.

Hepafix is a thin fuzzy tape without stretch that can be used on toes without the need to tape all other toes to prevent rubbing skin off. I have also used Hepafix to prevent chafing on my back from hydration packs or shorts.

Kensio tape, like Rock Tape or KT tape, is very flexible and stretchy and a little thicker than Hepafix. It is rough on the outside, so if you use it on toes you will need to tape all of them. I use Kensio tape on my forefoot for “shorter” long runs. It easily bends and stretches to the shape of my foot.

Elastiskin is a thick tape. It is not stretchy and restricts foot movement a bit. It is very rough on the outside. Tape all skin touching the outside of the elastiskin. I use elastiskin on longer races.

When taping your feet, you need to make sure that there are no spaces between pieces of tape or you will get blisters between the pieces. You also need to make sure that the tape is smooth on your skin so that you do not get blisters under the tape. Some people tape from toe to heel other’s tape across. Cover any exposed tincture of benzoin with a powder so that your sock doesn’t stick to it and create a blister. Some runners will put a lubricant over the tape and then put their sock.

Since we are talking feet here, I will also mention toenails and callouses. Short toenails cause less problems. I round mine out, so they are less likely to stab into the toe next to them. Other runners, square them off. I’ve never tried toe caps to prevent toes rubbing together, but they are out there as an option. Toe socks can help reduce problems, but keep in mind it makes your toes wider and may cause rubbing issues with your shoes and the outside most toes.

Callouses, some runners love their callouses and claim they prevent blisters. In my experience, the bigger the callous the more likely it is that I will get a blister under the callous. A blister under a callous is a major issue because it is difficult to drain the blister. A large callous makes your shoe fit differently as well, which is why you are more likely to get a blister underneath it. If you cannot bear the thought of parting with your callous, at least keep them to a minimum.


Multi-level Goal

goal setting

What time are you going to finish? Or How long is that going to take you?

This is what all your friends and family want to know when you tell them that you are signed up for a race. It’s a question all of us, as runners, ask ourselves as we put together our training program.

Everyone should have multi-level goals.

Level one: Finish the race.

Your first goal should always be to finish the race. Each day when you set out for your training run, your goal should be to finish the run. When you start with finish, things only get better from there. When your goal is to finish the distance, you have two competitors, the course and yourself.

It’s important to start with the goal of finishing because it helps us remember why we are out there in the first place, getting across the finish line in one piece, with luck, smiling. Whenever we start getting time goals stuck in our heads, it’s hard to let go of them even when we really need to in order to prevent injury or to get the most out of our training.

If finishing is your first goal, then you can ease up when you don’t feel good. You can take an extra rest day when you feel the heaviness and grouchiness settling into your bones, which signal over training. You can cross train when you twist an ankle. You can do what your body needs without freaking out about missing your time goal.

Level two: Personal Best Time goal

The “personal best time goal,” is your goal finish time if the gods are on your smiling on you that particular day. It the goal when the weather, your body, and the course cooperate with you.

Level Three: What I can live with and not feel bad about time goal.

The “what I can live with goal,” is the time you can live with and not beat yourself up about if you don’t hit your personal best. It’s respectable and says you trained hard, but today just was not your magic day.

Level four: I am not feeling it today time goal.

The “I’m not feeling it today goal,” is the time you know you can hit even on a bad day.

By having multi-level goals, we give ourselves a huge gift when race day arrives. If you slept like crap because your two year old was vomiting all night or the neighbors decided to have a drunken brawl with police at 2:00 a.m., instead of saying screw it I’m not running because I’ll never hit my personal best goal, you go out there and run your “What I can live with,” or even your, “I’m not feeling it today,” goals instead of not going and  throwing all your training out the window or letting down everyone who was planning to run with you.

The multi-level goals, gives you permission to let go of your Personal Best Goal and be satisfied with another level depending on race conditions, which may be out of your control.

Many things can go wrong in a race, setting multi-level goals allows you to be prepared to face them all.