Sometimes I swear at water features. They are found in abundance along the North Umpqua Trail and at some point during my race, they started to be recipients of my wrath. It wasn’t their fault, really. Magnificent waterfalls, trickling streams, bubbling springs, sparkling walls of dripping moss…I didn’t discriminate. At least, not between miles 55 and 64.75 of my first ever 100k race.
The NUT started in the early, dark hours from Swiftwater Park, having taken a shuttle from the finish area at Lemolo Lake even earlier that morning. (While riding a school bus at 4 am for over an hour to the start is not my idea of a good time, it was a welcome sight to have my car ready to carry my haggard body home at the finish of this point to point.) The dark didn’t last and it wasn’t long before the sun came up and I was able to ditch my headlamp at AS #1 in a bucket for optional pick up later in the race (please note this important foreshadowing). The first 20 miles or so consisted of not-too-technical, single-track with lovely, undulating trails that allowed me to enjoy the forest and the Umpqua River in almost constant view to my left. I was also able to concentrate on keeping a steady pace, avoiding the ever-present poison oak, and staying fueled, thanks to my indispensable pacer and husband, JP.
After JP had to drop due to back pain at mile 15.8 (AS #2), I sallied forth on my own. Miles 20 to 30 felt good and the scenery continued to amaze. Giant old-growth trees, emerald green moss, and views through the crystal clear river of the rocks at the bottom. I spent a few miles chatting with a friendly runner from South Carolina to and from the Calf Creek AS #4 (mile 30) but for most of the race, I was alone, only to spend time with other racers at the aid stations. I passed a few racers during those middle miles, some of them mumbling about wheels falling off and suffer fests and I worried about when my own wheels would start wobbling.
The climbs so far had been manageable with hiking but around mile 40 the rises intensified. I knew they were coming so I tried to embrace them and just push up the rocky ascents the best I could. I was still feeling good, fueled, hydrated and ahead of my projected time when I rolled into Toketee Lake Campground AS around 4:20 pm (about the 47-mile mark). JP was there to get me refueled and restocked and sent me off feeling strong and confident…maybe a little too confident, as it turns out. I left the AS with approximately 17 miles to go and less than 4 hours until it got dark and…no headlamp (cue the groans and facepalms). I made the rookie mistake of deciding I could make it in before sunset. Seriously, I should absolutely know better. Ugh.
From this point on, the trail got consistently more technical (minus a long stretch of gravel road that goes past the very tempting Umpqua Hot Springs): more rocks, more water crossings, more mud, and yes, more ups. Now the anxiety about making it back before sunset started to eat at me as I struggled my way onward through the “Dread & Terror” section of the trail (named by two forest rangers in the early 1900s referencing the difficult terrain to fight forest fires in). This was a painfully slow section for me. I was mentally and physically drained, and my poor decision about not grabbing my headlamp was shrinking my already dwindling confidence.
When I made it to the Dread & Terror AS, at about mile 55, I was not in great spirits. I knew that the good time I had been making was now waning. Fortunately, the AS volunteers were amazing. In fact, the volunteers all along this entire race were phenomenal. Many of them were part of the Glide HS cross country team, the race beneficiaries, or their family members. They were efficient, attentive and best of all, they just kept asking what they could do to get me on my way. They wanted me to keep moving and their smiles said they believed in me, so I downed a cup of hot broth, refilled my bottles and trudged on.
This was the final push of just under 10 miles left to go, and about where I lost it. The sun was getting lower, the water crossings more frequent, the climbs steeper, and I could barely see, let alone care anymore, where the poison oak on the sides of the trail was lurking. Enter the lady spewing profanity at the water features, rocks and roots, and a few blameless birds. Luckily, I had brought along my phone so that by the time the sun had set, I wasn’t totally in the dark. Of course, a phone flashlight is no replacement for a good headlamp so my already slow, tired pace, went from syrup to molasses as I picked my way through the dark, still throwing out slurries of four-letter words to what was now only the sounds of water, and halfheartedly praying that some hungry wild animal would pounce to put me out of my misery. Nonetheless, I pushed on.
I approached the final AS knowing that I had less than 2 miles to go from there. The super attentive volunteer there made sure I had enough battery life left on my phone to get me to the finish and she sent me on my way with such positivity that I felt it could carry me the rest of the way. I picked up speed (at least it felt that way, my watch says otherwise) and made my way across the Lemolo Lake Dam and the last few winding, lakeside trails, carefully following the reflective course markers, to the sounds of cheering, directly to a high-five from Todd, a hug from Renee (the race RDs), and the beaming smile and relieved embrace of my slightly concerned husband. From there, it was straight to the Technu wash to see if I could avoid a poison oak rash, a cup of chocolate milk in my 1st place age division cup, a burger and cookie, and warming up by the giant bonfire with fellow racers, volunteers and crew members. Go Beyond Racing dubs the NUT 100k as a “brutiful” race and I truly can’t think of a better description of the challenging, yet stunning course that doesn’t include some sort of obscenity, but that’s just me.