I have felt burnt out mid-race before and luckily have been fortunate enough to have excellent people with me. The Skyline to Sea Ultra Marathon would be the one of those moments. So how does an avid runner reach this point? It’s not easy considering I had the proper training and was on a beautiful course and with excellent company, but it took 6 hours and around 25 miles for me to utter the words “I’m toast. I’m done.” Unfortunately this race would require 7.5 hours and 31.7 miles… both of which my mind and body were not prepared to conquer on this particular day.
The morning started off great. Although I woke up feeling full from the previous night’s delicious dinner, the weather was great and I felt relaxed. I was joking in the beginning with Lori (who I would be running with) about how we should adjust our bibs to match the unofficial “Ultra bib.” The three PCTR ultra’s we have done, we noticed most runners pin their bibs differently (see photo below) compared to other road races by folding it smaller so that only the number appears. So we decided to do what the “cool kids” do and adjusted accordingly — figuring any advantage we could get in conquering this course, would help.
The first 10 miles flew by. Completely different from Woodside where the first few miles dragged on forever. I was highly optimistic about the remaining 21 miles, but knew anything could happen. As we raced up and down hills, passing runners and being passed, we couldn’t help but enjoy the scenery. As we got lower into the valleys we could feel the cool breeze coming off the streams. Conversely, as we were at the peaks, climbing over rock cliffs that “were not in the brochure” (as Lori joked) the sun and heat were brutal. Luckily those hot spots were short lived, but did provide spectacular views. Here is a shot from said peaks (below).
As we continued to leap frog runners through 18-20 miles, the downhill segments were starting to take their toll on my legs. They were screaming from the drastic decline portions of the course and as my toes kept getting crammed into my toe box, we just kept chugging along.
As we continued to dodge poison oak, climb over (and under) fallen trees, along streams and past a waterfall, it is expected that with a tough course injury is always a possibility and unfortunately it would take claim several runners. We saw one runner sprain his ankle early on and would come across him later. Apparently, he recovered from the first mishap to only to sprain it again forcing him to stop. Another would severely sprain her ankle and be forced to hobble with a large branch as support. She would later find out she had broken it. Although, neither Lori or I fell (as we have previously on ultras), I would have several “close calls.” (future post to elaborate) Luckily, the trail gods were smiling on us on this particular day.
After the mile 20 aid station, there was a large gap between water stops and this would prove to be my downfall. At the aid station they told us the next one was 8 miles, followed by 3 miles to the finish. With my Garmin losing satellite occasionally, I was unsure of how far we had “really” gone up to that point. About an hour or so later, my mind just broke. Lori was still running strong, but I could tell my defeated attitude wasn’t helping. She walked with me when I needed to and tried to keep my spirits high. I let her know she could power through to the end and I’d meet her (eventually), but being “Super Lori” wouldn’t allow her to leave me, even after I let her know on a couple occasions. She stuck with me and carried me (figuratively — although, I wouldn’t put it past her to do it literally). She is truly an amazing person.
That stretch between water stops felt longer than the entire race. At one point I thought I saw the aid station and said “I think I see it” followed by “If that’s not it, I’m gonna cry.” Sadly, I saw the sunlight reflecting off a tree making it look like a white tent, but thankfully I didn’t cry.
After we reached the the aid station we were less than 2 miles to the finish. Apparently runners before us were also having issues with the “long stretch” and incorrect distance estimated by the previous aid station. We refueled and were able to finish strong. We agreed we would take a last walk break, then run it in and pass two runners ahead of us (small goals can be extremely motivating). We crossed the line together and although I felt like “burnt toast” from the picture below you can see, we’re all smiles at the end.
I can’t thank Lori enough for an awesome and amazing 25 miles, a rough 4 miles — where she would witness grumpy me — and a strong 2 miles to the end. (give or take all around). It’s all about finishing strong.