Standing on the show floor of the Running Event in Austin, Texas, in early December of 2011, I learned that I was about to have an amazing summer of racing our sport’s most iconic races. My name had been pulled for both Hardrock 100 and Western States 100. And as a previous winner of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc my entry was assured. The summer of 2012 would be full of miles and travels, but not just for me.
I’d recently moved to Boulder, driving in to town on New Year’s Eve. Newly dating, I’d picked Jon Webb up in Salt Lake City where he was visiting his mom for the holidays. He helped me navigate and drive the final hours to Boulder, pulling everything I owned in my Element and five by eight foot U-Haul trailer.
By the end of that summer—nearly a year of living at altitude for the first time in my sea level existence—I had grand ideas of what to put on the racing calendar for 2012. I’d been running ultra-distance trail races for ten years and at this point I’d stood on the podium of three of the revered events: Western States, Hardrock, and UTMB. So, what would happen if I put my name in for all three… in one year? I didn’t know if anyone had tried this trifecta. If I put in my name and only got into one, that would be great. But what if I got pulled for all three?
Being at the Running Event was a sort of anniversary for Jon and I. At this trade show, the year before, we had decided to start dating, just prior to me moving to town. This year instead of wondering where I might run into him, I ran through the show aisles keeping my head down to avoid conversations and directly to his booth to tell him the news. I started with “Would you want to travel a bit next summer?” He already knew that I was awaiting the news like every other 100-mile hopeful does that first weekend in December. “Which one?” he asked. “Both?”
“All three,” I replied, more as a question than a statement.
Training for this series of races in Boulder was ideal. I had a great group of friends that logged lots of trail miles with me. The specific workouts that burned a long-standing impression on my sense of readiness were on the track, and on Flagstaff Road. About one month out, I did three repeats on it, running up the road and down the trail. I don’t remember the mileage or the splits. I do remember that Fred Marmsater came out to photograph the effort and I remember landing back home to join Jon on the front porch. Mostly I remember his comment, “You are ready. Your legs look like mahogany, tanned and solid.” I don’t think my legs have been compared to hard wood before or since, but I took it as an affirmation of the work I’d put in to be ready.
The other workout that brought huge confidence was running five-minute repeats with one minute of jogging between at the Boulder High School track on a weekly basis. About two weeks out from States, I ran eight repeats at 6:40 pace with the last repeat being the fastest, in the 6:20 to 6:30 range. Scott Jurek, Jenny Jurek, and Gavin McKenzie each ran a lap with me to keep me on pace and I tried to run away from all three. Celebrating with them on the track and the knowing look from Scott (seven-time Western States winner) grounded me in my training and belief in what was possible. I mean how many people get to have a Scott Jurek affirmation leading into States?
Western States was the first one on the calendar, June 23, 2012. As crew chief, Jon drove everyone to where they needed to be. My mom and dad drove their motorhome, Winston, down the coast to crew and support. Leaving Forrest Hill aid station, I was suffering from the heat. Roch Horton put me back together with a lot of positive talk, increased hydration prompts, ibuprofen, and promises of a river rejuvenation that would reset me for the end. It all worked. Justin Angle proved critical to the team, buzzing in my ear like a good fairy on my shoulder, talking me through all the right moves the whole way home to Auburn. This race remains my fastest 100-mile time, and I finished as the 4th place female.
Hardrock was next, three weeks later, on July 13. This time I had a team of all guys: David Horton, Jon Webb, Walter Edwards, Gavin McKenzie, and Walker Ferguson. I started my period race morning. After crawling over Handies with Jon, I slept for 45 minutes at Sherman aid station. This race remains my slowest 100-mile time to date, and I finished as the 3rd female.
And finally, at the end of August, UTMB in Chamonix. Jon traveled with me, but the race didn’t allow crew or pacers. Due to extreme weather and concern for the athletes the course was cut short to 100K and became a very wet out and back along the French side of the course. Because of the late start, most of the top men ran the entire race in the dark. I was steady at this point in the summer, able to move forward but lacking speed. I endured the worst crotch and labia chafing of my life before finishing in 14th place. This one, with the shortened course, feels like an asterisk to the summer experience, and left me thinking, Could I have finished another 100 miler?
Like the many lessons instilled through ultra training, the shared relationships that paralleled those incredible decades, also taught and continue to teach me. The greatest accomplishments I’ve had in this amazing sport have been shared with life-long friends and different romantic partners. We share in the whole journey from the long hours training, insatiable hunger, travel, and then arrive at the starting line for the relatively few hours to see how it all plays out. Jon was an incredible crew for this full summer of racing and remains the supportive boyfriend that I had to leave because I didn’t know how to stay. I thrived in the big moments and continue to learn how to be in the day-to-day. It is years in hindsight that I know and better understand that the race is simply a celebration and glimpse of the endeavor. The importance and heart of ultras (and life) lay in the journey, the experiences and training, as well as the recovery and processing after.
To know me is to know how much I love to run. That the movement confirms my sense of self. That the community that surrounds trail running remains home to me no matter where I am. And that running alongside you is one of the strongest connections I can offer.
To run these three races has marked me in the history books of our sport along with other run-related accolades. And while it is nice to be recognized for these accomplishments, I’ve always known at my core that they do not define me. I am someone that ran long distances and did well amongst the competition of that time. This was something I did. It is not who I am.