Long story short, Lucca started running ultras at least two years before I ever dipped my toe in the water. Last Saturday she ran her first 100-mile trail race, the Lean Horse 100. Bravo Lucca!
Her husband, Bil Vandergraff, was there to support her the whole time. He was nice enough to share some pictures, video and commentary; here is how it went.
[Bil 4:30 AM] Good morning. Stephanie & Lucca post coffee & ready to run 100 miles.
[Bil 4:58 AM] Pre-race pose.
[Bil 5:01 AM] Very windy start.
[Bil 11:42 AM] Plan to tie in with them at mile 50 @ 1600 local time - give or take. The wind has let up a bit.
[Bil 3:02 PM] A couple bars at the turnaround, but nonexistent or marginal for the next thirty miles. They should be pulling in shortly...
[Bil 12:05 AM] Back in cell service. They departed mile 75 at 0030. More cold than tired. Layered up. Waiting @ mile 80.
[Lucca 2:44 AM] Mile 85 Lucca is a hurting unit.
[Bil 4:58 AM] 24 hours into it. Just departed 90 mile. The last 10%. Motivated by a hot shower.
[Bil 7:31 AM] They're moving slow but are smiling.
[Bil 7:32 AM] About 3 miles to go...
[Bil 8:31] Walking in the last half mile.
[Bil 8:46 AM] A crisp fall like morning in Custer.
[Bil 8:51 AM] Crossing the finish line.
[Lucca] I am wrecked :) time for shower and feet up!
[Bil 9:06 AM]
[Bil 9:06 AM] Stephanie was 2nd woman in her age group.
Here is Lucca's race report.
Here’s my story of the Lean Horse 100……..it’s a long story, but it was a long run.
First of all, I blame my Mom and my running group for getting me into this. My mother was an ultra runner before that was a “thing”, and I always looked up to her and her amazing accomplishments. I ran my first marathon in 2006 and took up with an awesome group of women meeting most mornings of the week at 0530 for runs. When I heard of some of the exploits of Stephanie (multiple 100 mile races etc.) I thought that was crazy stuff…..but eventually I was lulled into participating in a 50 km race, then a 50 mile race, then a 100 km race. Each progressive step felt good and left me wanting more. So I guess it was inevitable that I got to the point of contemplating a 100 mile run. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years but I didn’t think I could do it alone. So I cajoled Stephanie to run with me, and Bil to provide emotional and physical support along the way. Once I got them on board, we researched which 100 to take part in (there are surprisingly many to choose from). We wanted a run at the end of summer, one without too many repeat sections in the route, and one that wasn’t too “difficult”. I put that in quotes, because by its’ very nature, 100 miles is difficult, but there are some that are off the chart in difficulty. Lean Horse fit the bill; the route was out and back, only 10,000 ft total elevation change, and the timing was good. The fact that it was all on a rails to trails system was also a plus, because it was accessible to support, and quite runnable (I discovered during the run that this may have actually made it conversely more difficult, but more on that later).
So there we were in Custer, SD two days pre-Lean Horse. We toured around a little bit and I have to say the area was lovely. Everyone was super welcoming (we even got $10 in “Custer cash” to be spent anywhere in town in our race packet!). It was lush and green and unseasonable cool. Last year the race was run in temperatures up to 102 degrees, but our race day forecast was for a high of 60 and a low of 32, with sustained winds of 15-20. Now I’ll take cool over hot any day for running, but this played into the events later as well……
The night before we prepped and planned and everything was ready (drop bags, meet points, extra clothing and headlamps for the night portion). Start was 6 AM on Saturday. As is usual for me, I slept terrible the night before the race. I tend to worry about every possible scenario and sure enough, I couldn’t turn my brain off to rest and sleep much. Oh well, the alarm went off at 0430 and we had our pre-race breakfast and Bil drove us to the start in half-daylight. It was exciting to be there and realize we were actually going to do this. Lots of hard training and prep and I felt really ready. I don’t like to predict too much, but I was thinking that a finish in somewhere around 25 hours was possible.
At the start it was windy and cool, we did one lap around the local high school track and then it’s out northbound on the George Mickelson Trail. The trail is a 109 miles with 15 trailheads. It has numerous tunnels and lots of cool wood plank bridges. I was really impressed with how well maintained and scenic it was. Out 50 mile journey outbound went pretty well. There was a remarkable 15-20 mile headwind the whole way. This did not add to our enjoyment, but I tried to keep a good attitude and we were making good time. There is more uphill than downhill on the outbound journey, and I have to admit this was trying. We were reduced to alternating jogging and walking (“Ok, we’ll run from this trail marker to that next pine tree”). Along the outbound journey Stephanie at one point said “well if I don’t finish I’ll still get back in the end and pace you home”. I tried to subtly have her keep the faith, “well if this is your swan song then you might as well finish…..remember we get a tail wind on the way back”. We got to mile 50 at 11 hours, which was about what I was thinking. Two things I noted at the turn around: it was colder than I thought with the wind (I only barely managed to take off my long sleeve shirt for a few minutes on the whole way out), and that the very “runnable” surface was tiring. By this I mean that since the surface is crushed gravel and the grade is never more than 4% incline, the whole thing is runnable. However, when the terrain is smooth and not steep, you never change your gait, and as a result the knees and hips get pretty stiff.
Still, we saw Bil at 50 miles and that was a good boost, plus now we’re turning around, so it’s downhill and tail wind! But as we proceeded, the tailwind was cooling me down, and somehow the downhill didn’t seem as steep and effortless as it should have been. We were still moving well, but not quite the cruising that I had anticipated. We took a 2 min walk break about every 20 minutes to change up the gait. We were both getting cool, but warm clothes, food, and a change of shoes awaited us at mile 62 (100 Km, my previous long distance). Sure enough, there was Bil as we came in to mile 62 in 14 hours. We grabbed drop bags, got in the rental car and put on new shoes, change of clothes (for me this was 2 layers of capilene, windbreaker, capris, hat and gloves), and ate some ramen and warm broth. I had one blister on the ball of the right foot and covered it with a padded dressing. Other than that all systems were go, until I got out of the car to start up again, that is. When I got up to go my left knee was in a state of lock down. Up until then I had had a few twinges, but nothing much. Now it was pretty much seized up, with a range of motion from 150-170 degrees and sharp pain every time I put the left foot down. Oh oh. I went back to Bil and said “I don’t know what’s going to happen here but this might not hold out for too long.”
We headed out and immediately the pace slowed, way down. The knee warmed up a bit and wasn’t too painful. But the range of motion was locked down to a minimum. The other thing that both Steph and I noticed within a couple miles was how cold we were. The warmth of fresh dry clothes lasted only a couple miles. I started to have fantasies of a hot shower and warm blankets and sleep. About this time Steph starts saying things like “we can walk it in if we have to” and “I’m all in!” We kept trudging. I was pretty much perseverating on my coldness and my stiff painful knees and hips at this point. I suggested we go to iPods for a while. I really needed a distraction from the mile markers on the trail and how slowly they seemed to be approaching. An aside on this: I bought a Garmin Fenix 3 about a month ago to track progress during this and other long runs. To have enough battery life for 100 miles, I had to put it in “ultra trac” mode. This means that the device is only checking in with satellites every minute instead of every 10 seconds. The result is that is draws a straight line between the way points every minute, and foreshortens the route. When we got to the 50 mile mark on the trail, my device said 40 miles, and although I was happy to know we had actually done 50, I felt cheated that we weren’t getting due credit on my Garmin. Oh well, we trudged on. The iPods worked well as a distraction, too well for Steph, because pretty soon she’s outpacing me and rocking down the trail. “Um Steph, could you slow down…..?”
Somewhere around mile 70 we meet a gal named Laura on the trail. It’s her first 100 miler and we quickly realize she’s on the same game plan as us: in pain and walking it in. We traveled the rest of the way with her and it was great company. She had done the 50 miler the last 2 years and regaled us with stories of the brutality of 102 degrees. Even though I was frozen, I still think I preferred that to 102! So we walked on. Initially we were making good time, if you can walk fast (I call it walking with purpose) you can often go faster than a slow hobbling run, and that’s were we were for quite some time. I would try and throw in a little running once in a while, and it was ridiculous. Stiff hips, knees, no arm swing, I would last about 5 steps before reverting to the walk with purpose. And it seemed to be getting colder. I really felt frozen solid. It was a beautiful clear night, the stars were out and the wind was a mild breeze at this point. But I was having trouble appreciating it.
We got to mile 75 and I think this was the first time I voiced out loud that I wasn’t sure if I could make it in. Now I had told Bil ahead of time that he was encourage me to finish unless I had a legitimate injury that prevented me from doing so (like open fracture of a lower extremity). I told him that tired and whiney wasn’t reason enough to let me quit. But hot shower and warm bed sounded so very nice…….Bil was diplomatic, “I’m not letting you quit unless it’s unanimous”. Steph: “well it’s your decision, but here we are at mile 75…you only have 25 to go and if we don’t do it now we’ll have to find another one of these darn things to do”. I knew they were right, and in fact I knew I was the instigator of this event. So I put on more layers. Now I had on capris and wind pants, two capilene shirts, my puffball jacket, windbreaker, headband plus hat and gloves. We left mile 75 and I was shivering. By now none of the food at the aid stations looked appetizing anymore, so my calorie intake was decreasing. That, along with fatigue and slower movement kept me cold. At this point aid stations were about every 5 miles and they offered the comfort of food, seeing Bil, and an actual toilet. That was so helpful as the thought of squatting to pee was a logistical impossibility at this point (well I might have been able to squat down, but I don’t think I would have gotten up).
Mile 80 and there’s Bil again, “what do you need?” Me: “new knees? A warm bed?” Bil and Steph remained quietly persuasive. OK, I need more layers. Now I put Bil’s puffball over all the other layers I have on. Steph adds a raincoat over her layers. I maybe choke down a half cup of ramen and broth. It all tastes bad at this point. On we go, slowly, but yes, steadily. I’m trying to change my attitude. It is a beautiful night out. And I’m starting to see all of these cool sculptures along the side of the trail. I think they are wrought iron sculptures of animals. I see a turtle, dog, cat, and lizard. Isn’t that cool that they have public art along the route? Oh wait a minute……..those weren’t there in the daylight, I think I am hallucinating! I mention this to Steph and she laughs, yup you are, but funny thing is, she saw them too! I think it was actually just grasses and shrubs trailside with interesting moon light shadows.
Mile 85…more layers. Now I add Bil’s cagoule over everything else. If you’re counting, that’s now 7 layers of clothing, including 2 puffball jackets. But, I’m still cold. I wish I had taken photos in the dark. But my motivation had turned elsewhere. Steph said the sight of the Michelin woman hobbling down the trail was amusing.
Mile 90 and it’s starting to get light. I dig through the rental car and find a snack I can stomach: gummy penguins from Trader Joe’s. I eat most of the Ziploc bag. We all had a three minute nap in the car and headed out. I felt actually a little bit revived. Maybe it was the penguins, maybe it was the dawn, and maybe it was knowing that we were down to single digits in miles to go, but I could move a little bit better. We had uphill until about 5 miles to go and we moved steadily. As we came to 5 miles left and the last aid station, the sun was about to hit us, and I was sure we would get the warmed soon. But right before the sun, it seemed to get colder yet. Even in the sun at the last aid station, I only gave the very outer layer to Bil. I think this was the first point at which I was reasonable confident we were going to make it in.
Last 4 miles, we’re watching the agonizingly slow passage of the mile markers on the trail. We get passed by a few folks and I have so much admiration for those that are still running, and with what looks like a smooth gait. The sun does slowly, incrementally warm the air. It’s a clear blue sky morning, minimal wind. 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile to go. I look down the trail and here comes Bil walking toward us! Yay, “can you carry me?” Nope you gotta do it. I manage to strip another layer, my external puffball, so it’s back to 5 layers now. We turn off the trail and back to the track. We still have half a lap around the track to do, and don’t you know it, here comes another runner catching up to us. Now the three of us had said we weren’t even trying for a sprint finish, but the thought of someone nipping us at the line after 100 miles was a little much. We managed a hobbling, jogging finish and totally crushed that gal by 4 seconds!
Bil took some finish line photos and all of a sudden I am seeing flashing lights and feeling a warm flush. Down to the track I go before I fall down there. A little time on my back in the sun is what I needed! Plus help getting up and to the car. We got medals, belt buckles, and Steph took home the hardware for 2nd in her age group! Finish time around 27 hours and 45 minutes. To put things in perspective, the last 25 miles took us longer than the first 50, ouch!
We made it back to our rental house and the long awaited shower was mine! But I had to make it up the stairs first, which was no small feat for my knees and hips, which were now in complete and utter lockdown! I used the railing and did the single step up with each foot to the next step (no reciprocal stair walking possible). Off with the toxic waste clothes and into the shower to assess the damage, and it wasn’t pretty. The feet had some pretty impressive blisters (which oddly didn’t bother me much during the run). The count is four floating toenails (blister that includes the entire front of the toe and toenail), and two large blisters on the balls of the feet. But still, none of them ruptured and no bleeding. Of course, there’s also the swelling. Both feet looked like little pudgy hobbit feet, and another band of swelling just below the capris hem. But you know what was the most swollen? My hands! I had anticipated some swelling and had removed the rings prior to the start. But holy cow, I have never seen anything like this. There was pitting edema to both hands right up through the wrists. My fingers were such swollen sausages that I couldn’t bend the knuckles or digits. During the run I had loosened my watch band four notches, but it was still a tourniquet on my left arm. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Sharon said she had an article for me to read about “what a 100 mile race does to your body”, umm never mind Sharon, I’ve got it all figured out! The only thing I was missing was any chaffing at all (thanks to Steph’s magic talcum powder called “monkey butt powder”, seriously).
So after the shower (which I took while sitting on the floor of the tub, to prevent the possibility of having another light headed event) it was off to bed. I slept for 3 hours, tried to get up, decided that was silly because I was still feeling very chilled, and slept for another 2. Bil delivered pizza for dinner and Steph and I managed to slide down the stairs to eat. Then, back to bed! The art of turning over in bed pretty much required a grappling hook, and getting up required a hydraulic forklift.
So there it is, we made it! Steph’s 7th successful 100 and my first. I definitely would not have made the last 25 miles without Steph and Bil. What a treat to have their companionship and support. I’m pretty sure Steph could have brought it home faster, but when I suggested she go ahead, she would hear none of it. I felt selfish, but I have to admit the company made all the difference. And knowing Bil would be there at all the aid stations to cajole, help and keep us going was magic. I feel pretty darn lucky that they were out there with me.
Three days later and I’m still not able to run, but slowly the knees are loosening up. I have managed to make use of the rowing machine and that feels good because I can take my knees through a full range of motion without bearing weight on them. Tomorrow I think I’ll try swimming. And my morning walk was 25 minutes today, progress! Would I do it again? Hmmm……..can’t answer right now. I have a couple of other (shorter) events planned for later in the fall and if I feel like I have fully recovered I’d think about it, for next year. Eight years ago I wouldn’t have thought I could run a marathon, yet alone a 50 km, 50 mile or 100 mile. It fills me with joy just to know that I can, and I did! And that I have so many powerful role models in my life (Mom, Dad, Martin, Steph, Sarah, Teresa, Becky, Kelly, Barb, and Luke) to push me to do more. And there’s always room for improvement…..the overall winner of Lean Horse this year was a 48 year old woman who finished in 18 hours and change! So we’ll see, but for now it’s rest and recuperate. My Garmin says I burned over 8,000 calories during the run so I’ve got some catching up to do! Cheers,
Congratulations Lucca and Stephanie! You guys inspire.
Here are all the pictures and video.