100k Debut Uncovered

October 27, 2021

Chaski Athlete Polly Sumner shares her experience on her recent 100k debut on Wy'East Howl 100k in Mt. Hood, Oregon. On this blog, Polly never left a stone unturned when it comes to natural inconveniences along her trail and how she handled and learned from it.  Nevertheless, awesome Polly carried herself well and ready for her next race.I rested a great deal the few days leading up, eating and hydrating with zeal. I also came up with the idea to label all of my gels through hour 16 so I wouldn't have to think about what to take when as the day progressed and I became increasingly idiotic.

I went to bed the night prior with a massive feeling of dread. It was that sudden realization that oh shit, I actually have to do the work and face the possibility of failure tomorrow.

Having never faced a challenge of this magnitude, it was unfamiliar territory. Fortunately having my best friend there had worn me out and I actually slept for about 4 hours, which is a full night's sleep for me.

I rose easily at 3:15 and did all my preparations. I was able to get one bm out which was a relief. I would have preferred my usual two. More on that later.

Got to the start line easily, but not pleased that at 4:45am it was already 84 degrees. Much warmer than the original weather forecast. Met a clearly seasoned little ultra dude, who upon hearing this was my first 100k, said "my only advice is: aid station to aid station." And we were off.

The first two miles sucked ass. It was hot and the most aggressive climb of the race (although nothing out of the ordinary compared to our front country climbs). I kept thinking, I should be using my poles. I was pouring sweat and feeling discouraged that it would only get hotter, and my nerves hadn't yet eased. I watched every single person pass me. Yup. Dead last.

But, I kept thinking about your advice to be as conservative as possible at the start. Passed several streams in the first 6-7 miles and dunked my buff and hat at every one of them at your suggestion. By the time I hit the first aid station at mile 8, I found my groove. I passed a few runners here as well. I had also pulled my poles out around mile 1.5 and was using them generously as needed.

Then the honeymoon began. Miles 9-21 were awesome. I continued to pass others, felt on point with my energy, was doing my hydration and nutrition on schedule. and then it rained, which was glorious. The temperature never really increased after that. Super humid but that didn't really bug me like it did so many others.

Around mile 25 my bowels became seriously discontent. Like, needed to do a bm in the worst way. I've never had to on the trail! Ugh. I forgot to pack wipes in a ziploc, of course. I looked for gentle leaves and grudgingly wandered off trail to try to work things out. I wasted about 10 minutes for a very small return. Jesus. I decided to keep moving. Then my left knee IT band flared up out of nowhere. I expect I was overcompensating for fear my usual right knee failure would occur. I had to hobble into the 30 mile aid station which was not awesome.

After meeting my bff there and refueling (although not enough real food, I now realize) I stated that my new plan was to hike the second half. My left knee was seriously jacked. I set off and began the worst stretch of the race. My bm situation was still unresolved, I was starting to feel so bloated I looked pregnant. I had to walk backwards on the steep downhills due to my knee.

Fortunately I'd packed a flexible brace which helped curb the pain, but I was a pretty pathetic sight. The others around me were all starting to fall apart. Miles 32-42 were very slow. I also discovered in this period that my phone had broken (probably sitting damp in my hydration pack for an extended period killed it), and began to stress about the fact I wouldn't be able to communicate with anyone either during the race or in my travel details the coming days.

Then the bm sitch became dire, during a long stretch where there was zero privacy and only pine needles for tp. I finally eventually went off course and, again wasting too much time, was at least able to have a productive release. Let's not talk about me having to bury my back-up buff. Back-end buff? ha ha.

So around mile 42 I was feeling pretty broken and mentally low. It was at that point I realized I was in danger of making the next aid station cut off at mile 45. I didn't care. I was on the verge of tears.

Then a runner passed me and commented it was going to be a close one. I responded that I was mentally preparing myself for the outcome. As he kept moving, I was suddenly struck by a mental lightening bolt. I was like, what the fuck girlfriend? You told yourself giving up due to a mental low was not acceptable.

I thought about all the training, all of you people who seemed so sure I'd finish, and was like, wait, I WANT THIS! I ran for the next two miles with my heart racing and got to the cut-off with 3-4 minutes to spare. Whew. The next 10 miles were not too bad. From around miles 52 on were pretty tough though. All six of us that made it through that aid station cut off were the last ones on the course and everyone was falling apart. This is so fun!

It was pretty spooky being alone out there in the transition from twilight to pitch black. I have to say, I'm really not a fan of running on a trail in the dark, especially when I've already been out there for 15 hours and maybe a bit sloppy.  

Got to the final aid station and the hot young volunteers were literally putting orange wedges in my mouth and pouring coke down my throat. That was a highlight. ;-)  The last two miles I tag teamed with a young dude who was also attempting his first 100k. I had to hustle him along like a mom but it was good to have the company.  

When we hit around a half mile from the finish they saw us before we saw them, and they started going crazy with the cowbell and screaming. That's when I realized we were actually fucking finishing this beast and I started howling back. It was freaking awesome. I didn't even feel my body as we came in the last quarter mile sprinting. It was just the best. The best. The best.

In the two weeks since the race, the memories of the scenery, the highs and the achievement of it have completely superceded the pain and tedium. I am glad my phone broke. It forced me to discard the thought of doing any of this for Strava boasting, for any social media anything, for texting and connecting with others during the race, and for being completely in the moment and in it for the love of the challenge and the connection of my body directly with the trail.

The poles were one guaranteed reason I finished. I know enough about my body and the impact it DIDN'T feel both during and after. And now I'm a real pro with the sticks! Hydration went really well. My pee never turned dark nor did it not come out. I think I was super bloated from doing only tailwind and gels though. Next time I need to eat more food.

All I had was a few baby potatoes and half of a small turkey sandwich. Need to work on that. I also felt like I spent way too long squatting in the bushes trying to poop. The knee issue doesn't seem like something I really could have changed. But I proved to myself that when I needed to I could push through the pain to get past a cut-off.

Overall I feel like I was physically trained well and prepared. My body really hasn't reacted as I thought it would. I thought I would be decimated. I've been doing the normatec regularly and did immediately after the race as well. I thought I would get at least a cold or something after, but I didn't. I take turmeric/ginger and immunity herbs regularly so maybe that helped.

I didn't take any advil or other meds during the race. I did right before bed after the race, after doing an electrolyte drink. I woke up around 4:30am and made a huge turkey sandwich and drank a coke. I'll never forget the divine strawberry margarita and burrito I had the next day.

That's pretty much everything! I feel like I can now say I'm an ultra runner and mean it! That was a legit ultra experience. I look forward to doing another one in the 50m+ realm up in the PNW. It's sooooo beautiful up there and definitely spoke to my spirit. I can't wait to go back.

— Polly Sumner

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