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My First 100 Mile Race: Mines of Spain 100 Race Report (The long version)

Photo Credit: Mile 90 Photography (official race photos)

My road to the Mines of Spain 100 started well before race day. Long before I had even completed my first 100k, two of my running friends kept talking about running 100 miles. Typically, we all sign up for the same races so that we can go together and have friends at the start and finish line. However, I convinced them that for a 100-mile, it made more sense to sign up for different races. That way, we could use each other as pacers for the races. One of the two of them sent out a list of 100-mile races that might make sense — races on the West coast that were later in the following year. I took a look at his list and then thought I would browse ultrasignup myself. After spending some time looking at the west coast races, on a whim, I decided to see what there was in the Midwest since I grew up in Iowa. As I ran a search for races within a short distance of my hometown, I quickly realized that there was a race in the time-frame we were talking about that had its start and finish line less than 2 miles from my parents’ house. It felt like fate. Race registration opened at midnight on January first and within the first day, I had signed up.

Photo taken while previewing the course the Sunday before the race.

The Mines of Spain 100 has two race options — a 100k and a 100-mile. The race is run on a looped course where each loop is a little over 20 miles, meaning that the 100-mile was actually closer to 102 miles once we completed 5 loops. The majority of the race runs through a larger park called Mines of Spain. The park sits on the land where the founder of Dubuque, Iowa, Julian Dubuque, mined lead on land that he got from Spain. Although technically a loop, there were a large number of out and back sections so that in the course of each loop, most of it is actually run in both directions. Dubuque sits in Iowa in what is known as the driftless region, meaning that it’s in an area that the glaciers didn’t go over and flatten all the hills. So, Dubuque actually has quite a few hills. These hills are a bit tame compared to many of the hills and mountains on the West coast — and many of the trails I normally run on. That said, the relentless, rolling nature of them on the course meant that there was still over 14,000 feet of elevation gain over the 100 miles, which is still no joke.

There were a lot of things about the race that seemed like a big risk and a lot of things that seemed like they actually made it less of a risk. It was the first year for the race, but the race director had run in a number of different 100-milers, so I guessed he probably had a lot of thoughts about what worked and what didn’t. Additionally, since it was a looped course, which is all probably within less than 3 miles of a paved road, it seemed like there was fairly low risk of complete disaster and any problems that did happen could be fairly quickly and easily corrected. As the race website (accurately) stated, the weather in Iowa this time of year is *usually* perfect running weather (mean, median and mode), but Iowa can really throw ANYTHING at you. In general, I was a bit apprehensive about the race, but mostly I had a pretty good feeling.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I became a nervous wreck. 100 miles was crazy! The furthest I’d ever done before was 100k (62 miles) and things had gotten kind of dicey in the middle of that one. There’s a long way between 62 and 100. Along with my other two friends, I was the third one to attempt my 100 mile race and one had succeeded and one had failed. That was just enough to know that it was possible to do it and put some pressure on, but also enough to know that it was no joke and definitely going to be a challenge. The one who had failed did so because of overexertion at the beginning and dehydration/exhaustion leading to severe nausea and vomiting. This was a condition that I was no stranger to, which made me all the more worried. I also started checking the weather basically as soon as it was posted. It was definitely a moving target, but things seemed to be mostly pointing to mild temperatures with rain.

I flew out about a week before the race both so that I could spend time with my parents, but also so that I could get a chance to run some or all of the course (over a series of shorter runs). As I was on the plane, I was reading Kopp’s Ultramarathon training book which may have been a terrible idea. As he’s describing some of the things like blisters on feet, I started to worry about all of the things that I hadn’t planned for that could go wrong (I put together blister kits for each of my drop bags after reading that section).

This picture was actually taken during the race, but this was one of the 4 creeks that I discovered ahead of time. Photo Credit: Mile 90 Photography

Over the next three days, I previewed the entire course in sections (12 miles the first day and 5 each of the next two — I actually doubled a small section in the middle over the second two days). In general, I was feeling good about the course. There were some muddy sections that convinced me that there was no way that road shoes were going to make sense (trail shoes it is!) There were a few creek crossings I found out about (4 that you cross twice each) — but the kind where you can jump from rock to rock and there was a very high chance you wouldn’t get wet. I also noticed that it was deer bow hunting season around sunrise and sunset in basically the entire park. During the race, I would likely be running through sunset and the following sunrise. There were a few sections with stairs that seemed a little less fun and one short single track switchback section that seemed a bit treacherous, especially in the down direction that I made a mental note to walk each time. By the end, I was mostly feeling good about the course. Then, two days before, the race director sent out an email saying that a small section of the trail around mile 16.5 was in ankle deep water so to expect to get wet. I was a bit apprehensive about that, but made sure to have my husband fly out with my second pair of trail shoes and I packed all my dry socks in the crew bag so I could change each loop if I needed to and didn’t think too much more about it.

My dropbag piles

I don’t know if other people are like this, but I have a hard time packing my drop bags. I always worry that I’ll forget something I need or choose to put something at the wrong place or put so much in that I can’t find anything. Because this was a fairly accessible looped course, they were allowing drop bags at all of the aid stations (which were all 6 miles or less apart). I knew I likely wouldn’t need a drop bag everywhere, but since we were only talking 4 dropbags total (including the large crew bag for my crew at the start and finish) it seemed silly not to just put one everywhere. In the end, I put a small blister kit (pin, gauze, mole skin, alcohol wipes), toilet paper baggie, anti-chafing cream, dry shirts (long and short sleeve), a small handheld flashlight at each aid station and a few more things at random ones including my secondary mittens, sleeves and headlamp in one for the night, an extra water bottle, extra street shoes (I knew they probably wouldn’t be a thing, but since I had brought them to Iowa, I didn’t see the harm in adding them to a bag), salt and caffeine pills and extra food items.

Thursday evening was packet pickup and I very nervously/excitedly got my bib. Things were getting real! At the packet pickup, they were selling shirts that read “Citizen of Crewville” on the front and the race logo plus Mines of Spain 100 on the back. I got one for each of my crew that flew out from California as a thank you for coming out for me (I ended up having 6 adults and one 3 year old fly from California). They were calling the area at the start and finish Crewville since that was the only spot they were allowing crew and it was a looped course. This meant that our crews each got a 12 foot by 12 food square space of grass where they could set up a tent/canopy and leave chairs and whatnot for a center of operations. My husband and three of my crew members arrived in Dubuque on Thursday. After packet pickup, I almost had a meltdown. Before a long race, I usually like to carb-load. I don’t know how much this actually helps or if it is totally a mental thing, but either way it seemed like a good idea. However, all of the Italian options just felt really heavy or boring to me (or a lot of garlic which I kind of wanted to avoid). In the end, I pushed everyone to get (not spicy) Thai food (rice noodles and rice are still carb-y!)

The Race!

Waiting out of the rain in our tent for the race to start

The race started nice and late at 8am and since my parents’ place was so close to the start/finish, we left the house around 7am. It was drizzling a little and a bit on the chilly side (low 50s if I remember correctly). The other car had left a few minutes earlier and had stopped right next to crewville so that by the time my car parked and walked over, they had the canopy set up. I waited under it out of the rain and got nervous. This was happening!

I knew from looking at the entrant list on ultrasignup that Ann Trason (amazing ultra legend) was running the 100k and I wanted to try to get a picture with her as possible. It turned out that she was with the crew that had taken over 4 tent spots (to be fair, they had 7 runners) just over from ours. I felt awkward about going over to ask her as she was getting ready. Once we were over by the start line though, I found her and super awkwardly fangirled (and she graciously let me get a picture with her). At the start line, they gave the pre-race brief, most of which I couldn’t hear due to a combination of a quiet megaphone and everyone toward the back excitedly talking to each other. Near the start, one of my local friends was also there with her three girls to see me start and several of my mom’s friends (runners) who I’d never met before, also came out to see me start. Then the race started!

The race started by heading down a paved trail in a downhill section that was really hard to not run fast — I think I had a really decent pace there on each loop. From the beginning, I tried to keep my coach’s advice in mind of not pushing at all for the first three loops, but it was hard not to let the race excitement get to me at least a little. It was also still sprinkling. I almost immediately regretted wearing my Houdini jacket and stripped it off and stuffed it into the back of my vest within the first 3 miles and also added some chafing cream to my neck (solving little problems early while they’re still little is important in a race this long). I started out sticking pretty well to my nutrition plan of consuming 75–100 calories every 30 minutes plus water. I came into the first aid station realizing that I had failed on my promise to my crew — not to be in first place female for at least the first aid station. I texted them and kept going. At various points in this section, I chatted with a variety of other runners. There was a guy from Omaha who I discussed how impractical it is to crew or pace Pine to Plam and several folks from the Dubuque area. One guy (not sure which distance he was running), mentioned that this was his first race (crazy!).

The folks ahead of me forging on ahead.

Somewhere after the third aid station, around mile 13 or so, I was finally passed by the next woman in the 100-mile (she ended up winning the race). She was local from Dubuque and was running with three other people that she seemed to know. I stayed fairly close to them until around where we came to the first surprise water feature. So, we had been warned about one spot of the course that was under water, but this was not it. No one had mentioned anything about this spot. This section, on the first loop had water that was probably around a foot deep (although it splashed a bit higher when trying to go through it). The trail was completely submerged as was everything on both sides (so there was no going around). We forged on ahead into the freezing water. As one of the guys approached he called out to his friend, telling him to come back so that he could carry him through. The section lasted probably around 100 meters. It was long enough that it rounded a bend so that you couldn’t see one end from the other. It was also long enough that by the time we reached the other end, it felt like I had two blocks of ice attached to the bottom of my legs. Not long after this point, we entered the EB Lyons nature center area and the fourth aid station of the loop. On all of the loops, I found myself never wanting to stay at this particular aid station very long because my legs and feet, while they had regained feeling, were still wet and cold.

Note the “Wet Floor” sign here…

Leaving this aid station, we headed back through that water and finally made it to the section that they had actually mentioned as being under water. This section, which had been described as ankle deep in the email two days ago, generally looked like we were just walking into the river. There were a couple of ropes around two trees and I had gone in this area before, so I had some idea where the trail generally should be. At this point, there was no one in sight ahead of me. I plunged in. The water slowly rose higher and higher until it was at least mid-thigh. I kept going and it started to get shallower. Then it started to get deeper again (getting slightly deeper than the first section) and although I knew I was generally going in the right direction, I started to get worried. I slowed down, looking around and a volunteer who was standing ahead of me on the bridge over the creek yelled at me to continue, motioning me forward. I got through the water and made it to the top and asked him if there was a trick to going through that section — was one part shallower? He told me that I had done basically perfectly and in fact not to go too far to the left because apparently there was a giant drop-off (yikes!).

As I left this section, I headed into a brief loop before I would head back to the start. Throughout much of this section, I found myself actually angry about the whole situation. That water sucked! The race director hadn’t said anything about the water. In retrospect, I think the water level rose more than they expected and they maybe weren’t quite aware, but at the time, I felt lied to. The first part of the loop was fairly flat and run-able and I ran so that I could try to warm up some. On the second half of the loop however, we entered the section that I started referring to in all subsequent loops as the ‘stairmaster from hell’. It was a long series of stairs up and down but they mostly weren’t spaced such that I could take them very quickly. There were a lot of steps of awkward length. By the time I made it through this section, I went back up to the Julian Dubuque Monument and then slowly down the treacherous section. From here I hit the concrete and mostly ran it back into the start/finish.

Between my first and second loops.

My crew had a folding chair waiting for me at the start and had brought up most of my stuff to next to the aid station. I sat in the chair, tried to quickly change my shirts (to get into dry ones), and apply additional chafing cream. My crew took care of refilling my bag with food and water. I didn’t spend a lot of time there between these two loops and fairly quickly headed back out for my next loop. I remember telling Cory just before I left, “If I end up DNFing, it’s going to be because of that water we have to wade through.”

Loop 2: Where it all went south

I started my second loop and my stomach, which had started feeling a little funky around the end of the first loop, got steadily worse. I got to the first aid station and things weren’t going super well. I stopped for a few minutes at that aid station where, they had set up a rainbow poop emoji pinata (they actually had two of them). I even took a couple of swings at it before I left the aid station but didn’t get anything — they said they had candy and even a few Gus in there.

I basically walked most of the rest of the second loop following that first aid station. I also threw up twice on this loop between the first and second aid stations. I had a couple people tell me that they wished they had something for me. I had another guy offer me a Gu, which, while I really appreciated the thought and gesture, was really the last thing I wanted right then. I was generally feeling pretty terrible throughout all of this and texted my crew a couple of times to let them know what was happening. They sent encouraging words and I was incredibly grateful that I had cell reception so that I didn’t feel quite so alone out there.

Probably my favorite sign. Picture taken just as I was leaving the second aid station on my second loop.

I must have looked terrible, because after the second time I vomited, I met a woman who asked how I was doing and I told her my stomach was a mess and she offered me ginger pills. I took one and eventually made it to the second aid station. I sat down there and tried some broth and hoped that my stomach would settle a little. At this point, I was pretty worried about dehydration. In the past, my nausea often seems to be linked to dehydration and throwing up also tends to exacerbate that problem. At some point, one of the aid station workers asked how I was doing and I told him that I felt a little better but I couldn’t tell if it was just because I was sitting there. He encouraged me to keep going. I was a bit skeptical at first, but he pointed out that the next aid station was only 1.9 miles away and if it turned out to be the wrong choice, I could always stop there. So, I took off and was soon trudging to the next aid station. I repeated this with the next two aid stations. At the third aid station, when I asked for broth, they didn’t have any ready, so I waited for them to heat some up. While I was waiting, I chatted with the race director who happened to have stopped there. One of the aid station volunteers also helpfully told me that while it sucks, you can get through stomach problems (this comment continued to help me throughout the race). I meant to pick up my night gear from the third aid station, but I forgot because I was distracted with other things and started to worry a bit that I now had to remember to pick up a flashlight at the fourth aid station or I would likely hit sunset without anything.

The first magical Oreo

At some point in here I got this weird wave of super exhaustion. Like I couldn’t keep my eyes open and found myself nodding off while walking (my vision going out of focus, having trouble keeping my eyes open, etc). So I stopped and sat on a bench along the trail and ate an Oreo hoping that the sugar would help. It did, almost immediately. Throughout the other loops, I had this happen two more times and each time, I found that eating something pretty much immediately fixed the problem.

I hit the water section again and somehow, despite being an inch deeper or so than on the previous loop, it was less bad. I had started dreading it so much, that while it wasn’t really better than I remembered, it also wasn’t worse. I remembered to pick up the flashlight at the fourth aid station, and while I probably could have made it back without it (I didn’t turn it on until the paved trail up the hill where it was less needed than most other points on the course), it was helpful.

Finishing out the second loop. I was pretty sure I was going to quit at this point. (Picture by Mile 90 Photography)

Once I got through the water, I was still feeling pretty terrible and I found myself starting to calculate what the odds were that I would be able to finish under the cutoff time. I started thinking that I sure didn’t want to wade through that water again if I wasn’t going to be able to finish anyway and I should maybe just quit at the end of this loop. The other thing I started thinking about was the fact that I could get a pacer starting on the fourth loop or at 7pm, whichever came first. As the time started nearing 7, I started thinking that there was no way I was going back out onto the course without a pacer and I started wondering if my crew would try to stop me if I insisted on waiting there until I could take one. As it turned out, I actually didn’t arrive at the aid station until around 7, so the whole thing was a moot point. As it also turned out, they were also thinking about what they’d have to say to keep me at the aid station until 7 so that I could pick up a pacer. It’s good that everyone was on the same page.

Instant ramen has never tasted better!

When I got to the start/finish, I was pretty sure I was done. I told them that I wasn’t sure I could do it, but my crew helpfully told me that they’d been doing the math and they thought I could. They also told me that I could rest there for plenty of time and then see. Kyle was also ready go out with me and start pacing. Anyway, they let me sit for a while and changed out my wet socks and shoes and shirts for clean, dry ones and gave me cooked instant ramen (that I had requested from the trail — thanks text messages!). I ate quite a bit of that and worried that I was eating too much and that was only going to make things worse — I hadn’t eaten much on the previous loop because it seemed like every time I tried to eat much, my stomach got worse. Eventually they convinced me to start the third loop. I was still a little apprehensive, but Kyle told me that we could always quit before the water — there were still plenty of opportunities. As we were heading out, Elena (who would now be pacing me because she had been added to the rotation when I got three pacers rather than two), told me that I had better make it to the fifth loop because she really wanted to see what all this water everyone was talking about was. She’s a good liar — I almost believed her.

Loop 3: Somehow you don’t take pictures in the dark

Anyway, Kyle and I headed out and I actually felt a lot better on this loop. It was also a huge emotional boost to have someone with me. It helped to offset the fact that it was after dark. As we got to the various aid stations, many of them recognized me and they were excited that I was still in the race. I guess I must have looked a lot better on this loop too because several people at different aid stations commented.

At some point on this loop, I tripped and fell for the first time for the race. I had previously sent my crew a picture of my bleeding hand so they all assumed that I had fallen previously, but I’m not actually sure how I got that cut. If I had to guess, I’d say a thorny bush along the trail — I just happened to glance down after an aid station and noticed the blood. This fall wasn’t really too bad. I tripped on a root with one foot and almost caught it with the other foot except that that foot also hit a root, so I went down. Since I was already half down, it was a slow fall, so nothing too much happened.

Kyle and I joked that the animals were like the angles in Dr Who — they advanced every time a runner wasn’t watching them.

On my first loop, the second aid station had a big deer in their tent. On the second loop, I noticed they also had a large (plastic?) bear standing maybe 50 meters from the aid station. On the third loop, we exited the final (non wet) creek crossing before the second aid station and I hear Kyle behind me yelp fairly loudly. I looked around surprised. Apparently, they had put out two more animals — a fox and a skunk and Kyle had just seen the skunk and didn’t immediately realize it was fake. Skunks are serious business. The only real animal that we saw was a deer we startled and ran across the path.

I’m not sure any of my crew quite believed how bad the creek fording was until Kyle went through it. In a weird way, it was kind of fun to tell my pacers that yes, the water was as bad as all that and then watch their reactions as they fully comprehended what was happening. I still won’t pretend that any of this was fun, but there’s something to be said for shared misery that somehow makes it a little less bad.

When we got to the fourth aid station, after the first water wading section but before the other two, Ann Trason was there chatting with the aid station people. She was 10 minutes from the cutoff for when she’d need to start the third loop, so she wasn’t going to make it. As a result, she was sitting at the aid station chatting with the folks working there. She even took them up on their offer of a fireball shot. That aid station mentioned at some point that they had several runners take them up on fireball while one of the other aid stations lamented that no one wanted their alcohol. Maybe being in the middle of a bunch of water makes a difference.

We then headed back to the start/finish. When we finally reached the really deep section, Kyle decided to video tape me going through it. I’m not sure how well it turned out given that it was dark, but he wanted to be able to show what it was like. Right about when we got to that section of water, we caught up to a couple of guys who were on their final lap of the 100k. At the deep water section, there was a kayak-er who was ushering runners along the section to make sure that no one ran into any trouble in the dark (no, he wasn’t giving us rides). I’m not sure how long he was there, but this was the only loop I saw him at. The four of us crossed the water basically together. We also then passed each other back and forth a bunch of times between there and the start/finish line. When we were going down the steep hill from the Julien Dubuque monument, I heard one of them ask the other if he fell off course and rolled down the hill if the other guy would make him go back up to the point he exited the course and come back down and the other guy was like ‘no, I’d call 911.’ As we neared the finish, since they were on their final loop, their crew was allowed to meet them at the bottom of the hill and one of the guys’ wife and kids met him. Because it was dark and everyone looks the same when wearing headlamps, you could hear them screaming for every runner that came by. Kyle said it sounded like kids excited to be up way past their bedtime. The other guy offered to wait for him so that the two of them could finish together. I thought this exemplified some of what I love about the running community — those two runners had met each other on the course and the guy was willing to wait so that they could finish together.

I somehow got into ketchup and pickle sandwiches. Surprisingly tasty when you’re low on salt.

Between loops 3 and 4 I decided to change my pants in addition to my socks and shoes and shirts. There was a bathroom not too far from the crewville area that, while not heated exactly, was still warmer than outside. After the first loop, my crew got into the habit of bringing me over to our crewville tent and wrapping me in a thick blanket every time I was taking a break between loops. Even with that, it was still cold, but that definitely helped. Pretty soon it was time to head back out again. This time, I had Cory pacing me.

Loop 4: The Drill Sargent is in the house!

Not too far in, I started to yet again feel sick and this got worse after the first aid station. Cory did his best to force me to run through my nausea. He got a lot of whining and complaints from my end and there was at least once when he said something like ‘okay, we’re going to start running’ only to turn around after running a half dozen steps to realize that I hadn’t changed my pace at all. Somewhere between the first and second aid station, I puked yet again. I actually found it a bit amusing because I’ve puked at other races and Cory has always talked afterword about how he really wanted to see that and how he was going to try to make that happen on a training run sometime. During the race I told him that he had finally gotten his wish. After the second time I asked if he had gotten a picture that time (he’s also always talked about taking pictures of this) and he said he was too stunned by the vomit coming out of my nose in addition to my mouth to do anything. I actually felt a lot better after throwing up, so we ran a bit more and actually passed a few folks back who had passed me while I was puking (I wonder how many people total saw me having issues).

It was a good thing I had run the course a couple of times before I had Cory pacing me because he tried to take me in the wrong direction more than once. At some point too, we were out in one of the prairie sections and we could just start to see the outline of distant hills and Cory asked where they were. I mentioned that was probably Illinois which totally blew his mind. Apparently, he didn’t realize how close Dubuque is to Illinois.

During this loop I got to find out about the joys of a middle of the prairie bathroom break (good thing it was at night) and Cory probably ended up with way TMI but I’ll spare the details here. The wind picked up a little bit and at some point in a forest section, the wind started blowing down leaves and Cory ran after them trying to catch them.

At a couple of points, Cory started ranting about how Kyle had lied to him and how he didn’t understand what Kyle was on. So my pacers took each other aside away from me between loops to give each other the lowdown on the course and on me. I guess Kyle had told Cory that he should wear shorts (Cory wore pants) and that he wouldn’t need his Houdini jacket (Cory wore it the entire time) and that Cory didn’t need trekking poles (Cory really wished he had his trekking poles for some of the steps). To be fair, I think the fourth loop was quite a bit colder than the third loop and I was also moving a bit more slowly.

Wading for the 4th time just after sunrise.

It started to get light somewhere between the third and fourth aid stations on this loop. For some reason, Cory was talking about the sunrise and it made me think of that kids song, “Oh Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr Golden Sun. Please shine down on me.” So I sang it to him. I think I picked the right person, because Cory has a three year old and actually knew the song and when I brought it up with my other pacers later, they had no idea what I was talking about. When we got to the first stretch of water, it was already light, which somehow made it a little bit easier mentally. It was funny to watch all of my pacers go into the water trying to be positive and change their mind. ‘This isn’t so bad!’ ‘Oh wow, that’s COLD!’ ‘I can’t feel my feet.’

This picture took longer than I really wanted given the temperature of that water. Also, that rope you can see behind me saved me from falling in a couple of times.

At the fourth aid station, Cory suggested I try a pancake (I had had some success with a small piece of one earlier). I took one bite and was done. From there, Cory somehow decided that it would make a really great picture to have me with that pancake in the middle of the deep section of water, so he proceeded to carry the pancake for the next mile and a half and then made me pose with it in the deep water. I guess there wasn’t really anywhere good to get rid of it at that point, but he then decided that he had carried that thing so far and he wanted to take the pancake to the finish, so the proceeded to continue to carry it for the next almost four miles (It was in an open bowl that he had to hold in his hand). At some point in here, Cory also told me that this race was a ‘true ultra.’ I guess he had sort of thought of my race as a weenie race since it had less elevation than the others we had attempted and whatnot. Apparently wading through water and cold temperatures brings up the grit factor.

Kind of hard to see, but I’m climbing the stairmaster from hell here.

Kyle tended to run slightly behind me, Cory tended to run well in front of me. At a couple of points, Cory would tell me to pass me so that I could run in front but it never lasted. In that stairmaster from hell section, Cory did this yet again and I pointed out to him that he was incapable of letting me stay in front but passed him anyway. Sure enough, within about ten seconds, he was back in front. I made sure to give him a hard time for that. As we were going through this section, Cory mentioned that he finally understood why this section always took me longer than it looked like it should on the map (I guess it had thrown my crew a couple of times).

One of Nikki’s (amazing) pictures. (Thanks Nikki!)

As we were passing back over the Julian Dubuque monument, I saw a couple of people near the top, one of whom had a very serious camera. My initial thought was that it was the race photography people again and I didn’t think much more of it. As I got closer, the other one used my name. At first, I was like ‘that’s weird, why do the photographers know my name?’ And then I realized that the two people were my friend Nikki (who had driven in from Chicago to see me) and her husband Dan. Once I realized that, I stopped and gave Nikki a hug and then kept going with Cory. When we got back down from the monument and were about to go under the railroad bridge, we almost got hit by a car. Okay, not at all close, but it did surprise us quite a bit (the bridge basically only fits a car). It was Nikki and Dan again and then Cory and I started joking about how being hit by a friend would be a good excuse to not finish.

How many people does it take to dry my feet and change my shoes?

Back at the start/finish, this time I changed everything except my sports bra. (Note each time around I changed a bit more). I think I ate part of a sticky bun (that they were sort of trying to hide from me) and most of the pancake that Cory carried, so I guess it wasn’t for nothing. This time around, several of my crew were physically holding up parts of our tent. The wind had started to pick up in the morning and I guess it had blown through crewville a couple of times and really decimated a bunch of the tents and in fact it had basically blown ours down about 10 minutes before I came back, so they didn’t really have time to set it back up.

Loop 5: These numbers on my watch no longer make sense

Heading out for my final loop.

After spending a bit of time, I headed back out but this time with Elena, my anchor pacer. Where Kyle ran next to me to half a step behind, Elena ran next to me to half a step ahead. Elena was the only one of my pacers who actually got to see all of the great scenery that we were running through so it was fun to get to share it with someone. With Kyle I saw a deer, with Cory, we saw a possum and with Elena I was a toad. Nothing too scary but definitely some animals I hadn’t seen on runs before (yes, I’ve seen lots of deer).

At first, Elena half-heartedly tried to get me to eat but she mostly gave up by part way through the loop. We realized afterword that I ran the entire loop and ate two oreos and three grapes. I got those three grapes at three different aid stations where each time I asked for one grape. They all gave me slightly strange looks but happily complied. My stomach on this loop was somewhere in the middle. Not as good as the first or third loops, but better than the second and fourth. As we were going, Elena was texting back to the rest of the crew (which I was pretty well aware was happening). At first I mostly ignored it but eventually I started asking her. I guess they had modified my spreadsheet and had created a bunch of rather in-depth columns to try to calculate how much time I had to finish and what sort of per mile pace I needed to maintain. Elena was also very on top of when the cutoff times were for each aid station and was trying to keep me enough ahead of them to not be in any danger at all.

At some point (as I recall, it was around mile 87), I looked down at my watch and told Elena that the numbers on there no longer made sense. When I had done shorter distances, I was able to comprehend that I had gone as far as my watch read, but somehow I couldn’t even quite believe either the distance or the time that I had been going so far. (I’m still not even quite sure I can fully comprehend it). I was totally lucid but it still felt totally unreal. As the loop continued, the temperature started dropping and in the prairie areas (which were always colder than the forest on every loop), there were gusts of really strong, very cold wind. I found it was actually good incentive to run more than I really wanted to. It turns out when your options are freeze to death or run, you pick run more than you might want to otherwise. At some point, we started feeling a little bit of precipitation and I could have sworn I saw snowflakes. I wasn’t quite sure though, and it was only for a moment.

The volunteers at aid station 2 — you all really helped me out and the race wouldn’t have been the same without you! Photo Credit: Mile 90 Photography

The aid stations on this loop had clearly started to pack up. When I got to the second aid station, they were really excited to see me. Two of them in particular were super excited that I was going to finish. The woman asked if she could give me a hug and I think Elena also got a hug from someone for being my pacer. I realized that this was the great part about a looped course — the aid station people got to know me and started to become a bit invested in my finish (I’m guessing they didn’t really think I would after loop two).

As we made our way from the third aid station to the fourth, we were passed by some hikers (to be fair, it was a steep stairs section that I walked). I started wondering what they would do when they got to the section of trail that was under water. Luckily for us, we got to find out. The point where that trail meets the other trail is right where the really deep section of water was (although the course had us do an out and back in the other direction before we went through it). The water had risen even further since the previous loop, which was obvious this time because the point where the two trails met was now slightly underwater unlike previous loops. Anyway, the hikers (wearing jeans) and their smallish dog were standing at the intersection contemplating the trail. We told them that they didn’t want to go right and that they should probably turn around. They seemed skeptical and asked if we had gone through it. I told them I had, but that they really didn’t want to do it. They still seemed unsure, so I pointed to the spot on my body where the water had come up to on the previous loop and told them that’s how deep it was. I’m not sure they quite believed me. Anyway, we continued on with them still standing there (I really hope they turned back).

There was something super exciting about knowing that this was your last time through the water.

As Elena and I got to the shallower wading section, we found that more of the trail was now under water. What had, on previous loops been a couple of puddles that you could mostly get around without getting wet leading up to the main section were now one continuous puddle that we had no choice but to go through as well. Just after we got through the water, but before we reached the fourth aid station, there were flurries in honest. I wouldn’t quite say it was snowing, but it was definitely enough snowflakes that we both saw them and had zero doubt about what was happening. The aid station was pretty uneventful and we really didn’t stop long — especially since it was the last loop.

The amazing picture Nikki got from the bridge: you can really tell just how deep that water got.

Just like the other water sections, the deepest section had also gotten deeper. As we were wading through it, we could see around 5 people standing on the bridge watching us. At some point I commented to Elena that I wondered if it was anyone I knew. As we got out of the water and started toward there, I realized that it was Nikki, yet again (along with her parents, husband and son). She ran away and generally pretended not to know me. She later said that she was super paranoid that the race people would realize she was on the course for me and disqualify me or something (they were pretty clear that they didn’t want crew anywhere on the course except the start/finish).

My crew running me in!

I had Elena text everyone when we got to the top of the Julian Dubuque monument area and to tell them where we were. Humberto texted back that it put me at a 3:45 expected finish and Elena assured me that he had padded it slightly. We started running back and I commented about how our crew could meet us and run me in on this loop and I wondered if anyone would meet me. No one was at the spot where they could first meet us. I was a little bit disappointed but figured they hadn’t done it on purpose or anything. As we were running up that last hill, I wondered aloud to Elena if they hadn’t realized they could or if they just hadn’t gotten there yet or what. Eventually, when we were probably at least a third of the way up, we met Yonas and Kyle — my advance group. Further up the hill, we met Natasha, Humberto and Cory. As I found out later, I guess they hadn’t judged the time very well and then they wanted to check in at the start/finish to make sure they were actually allowed to do that, so they didn’t quite make it to the bottom. I had to tell Natasha to slow down because she was a little too excited for me to be able to keep up with her. On the way up, Kyle also showed off his “Joy” face painting — I guess they had stopped at a coffee shop that was offering free face painting for kids although the kids part was implied, not stated, so Kyle got his face painted.

Finishing! The race director (top right) knew my name after the second loop. Photo Credit for all three pictures: Mile 90 Photography

I ran it in and I FINISHED! I also finished ahead of their padded 3:45 by finishing at 3:43. I felt surprisingly okay after the race and wasn’t actually even tired. I actually felt like I could have run a few more miles. I guess this is what happens when something like a stomach slows you down rather than other issues.

People have asked what’s next. Am I doing another 100 mile race? Am I doing a 200 mile race (my husband says not to give me ideas)? I really want to complete a 100 mile race (or even a 50 mile or 100k) without having stomach issues. I think I could actually finish in a pretty good time if I can get through the hydration/nutrition/stomach problems, which is both frustrating but also hopeful. So now I’m looking for what my next 100 mile will be. While I could have done without the water and some of the weather, I really loved the course and the people at the Mines of Spain 100 and I’m ever thankful that it wasn’t hot. I’m not sure I’d run it again, but only because there are so many other amazing races out there to explore. I’m glad this was my first 100 mile and it will hold a special place in my heart.

All things Running, Trail Running and Ultrarunning in the Bay Area and Beyond

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Joy Ebertz

Joy Ebertz

Principal Software Engineer & ultra runner @SplitSoftware

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