Badger Mountain Challenge: My One-Hundred-Mile Journey
“What’s your name?” asked the volunteer as he wrapped another blanket around me. “My name is Desiree,” I uttered through my chattering teeth and tears, “and my number is 29.” I was freezing. I could barely speak much less hold the cell phone I was trying to retrieve from the left-hand pocket of my hydration pack. How was I going to tell everyone? How would I tell all of the people who said I couldn’t do it? Worse. How would I tell all the people who said I could? How would I tell my friends, who had spent so much time and energy crewing for me? Text message. It was all I had the strength to do. “72 miles. Hypothermia. DNF.” D.N.F. Those three letters that we all know and swear that we will never utter. D. N. F.
My one-hundred-mile journey began 3.5 months ago when I signed up for Badger Mountain Challenge. I say “one-hundred-mile journey,” but my journey was so much longer: December – 473 miles. January – 488 miles. February – 463 miles. March – 441 miles. For 4-5 hours a day on the weekdays and 5-8 hours a day on the weekends I trained. Every stair I climbed, every rep, every hill, every workout, every chiropractor appointment, and every meal had a purpose: to prepare me to run 100 miles of arid, steep terrain in the Eastern Washington desert.
When race day finally
arrived, I was oddly at peace. I began the morning the way I normally begin
race mornings: eating my oatmeal and drinking coffee. My friend, Sarah, then
taped my calf, which had been bothering me since I tore it several weeks
earlier, and I was off.
It was a rainy morning with high winds (gusts of up to 70 mph). It was cold. The weather was, however, supposed to die down by afternoon, so I wasn’t too concerned. I climbed Badger Mountain and Candy Mountain with no issues. It was cold, but I was fine. When I reached Red Mountain, the wind gusts were so strong that I could barely stand much less run. It was miserable. I had never experienced wind like that. Finally, I made it across the mountain and ran down to the Foxhill aid station, where I met my amazing crew and changed out of my cold, wet clothes. I was off again.
The next several hours
passed without incident. The weather calmed a bit, though there never was much
reprieve from the rain or the wind. I climbed mountain after mountain, fueled
as necessary, and pushed forward with no significant pain. I reached the
47-mile turnaround point just as it was getting dark. I refueled and I headed
back out into the cold night. I felt good, really good. I successfully tackled
the two major climbs that took me back up the mountain with little issue other
than an emerging cough and a little shortness of breath.
By the time I reached the
next major crew-accessible aid station at around mile 56-60, however, I was
freezing. Several hours of running along a highway in the cold wind had reduced
my core temperature significantly. When I reached the aid station, I told Sarah
that I was not doing well. I was freezing. I needed to get warm. The volunteers
quickly handed me the last of the vegetable broth that they had, but it was
cold. I gave it back to them to reheat and ate other ultra fare as I waited.
Another volunteer wrapped a small blanket around me, but that was all they had.
I added hand warmers to my gloves. Still, I could not get warm. Sarah helped me
put two additional layers on over my existing clothes. Still, I could not get
warm. Several minutes elapsed and it was time to resume running. I was still
freezing, but assumed that the climb back up to the ridge would increase my
body temperature quickly. It was, then, about 12:30 a.m.
I headed back out into the
night with one crew member’s arms wrapped around me as she tried to share her
body heat. My running partners, Jeff and Jeremy, ran on either side of me
trying to block the wind. I was crying. I was crying because I was colder than
I had ever been in my life, despite having grown up in Montana. I was crying
because the cold was making my body ache like I had the flu. I was crying
because, no matter how strong my muscles felt and no matter how hard I tried, I
could not walk or run without falling. My body was giving out and I didn’t
understand why. Hadn’t I trained enough? Hadn’t I eaten well enough? Hadn’t I
been pumping myself full of fuel and electrolytes? What was going on? I kept
saying: “I’m stronger than this.” I then remembered Sarah telling me that, no
matter how bad it gets, it’s not over; things can always turn around. I kept
repeating under my breath “It’s not over. It’s not over.”
Eventually, the space
between my running partners and me grew to a demoralizing distance as they
pushed forward. I was trying so hard to keep pace with them, but my body
couldn’t move. I started crying again. I was afraid of getting lost in the dark
on a poorly marked course without them and I was afraid that if I asked them to
hold back with me it would be to the detriment of their races. I finally caught
back up with Jeff and Jeremy at the next aid station at around mile 65. By that
point, I had all but stopped drinking fluid because it made me colder, so I
drank and ate as much as I could stomach at that aid station before we headed
back out into the night. I was able to keep pace with them for a while, but it
was difficult. My body was giving out and I kept stumbling. I could not
traverse the rocky terrain without falling. My cough was getting worse and my
breathing was getting very shallow. It hurt to move and to breathe. Finally, I
stopped in the middle of the ridge and said: “Call the RD. I’m finished.”
Jeremy pointed out how stupid that was. This RD had proven himself to be
incompetent in so many ways over the last several weeks; there was no reason to
think that he would successfully find me on the ridge and bring me back down.
Jeremy stayed with me. He locked my arm in his and guided my way over the rocks
as I stumbled and cried. This time, I was crying because I knew it was over.
Jeff ran ahead with his pacer. I told Jeremy to run ahead too; I didn’t want to ruin his race. He insisted on staying back with me. With his arm locked in mine, he tried to distract me with conversation. I tried to respond, but I couldn’t concentrate. I was getting lightheaded. We finally reached the next aid station. Jeremy yelled for help: “I think she has hypothermia and I don’t know what to do.” The volunteers quickly put me in their car and piled blanket after blanket on top of me. They turned the heater on in the car and handed me hand warmers. Jeremy began a rapid sprint to catch up with Jeff and his pacer. I continued to shiver and I continued to cry. It was over. How could it be over? I was not a quitter. I asked one of the volunteers where we were on the course and she said it was mile 72. Through my tear-filled eyes, I saw the sun rising in the valley below. I had made it through the night and I only had 28 miles left. 28 miles, that was a weekend run. I asked to go back out on the course to try to finish, but the volunteers would not let me. My 100-mile-journey had ended at mile 72.
I could blame my race experience on so many factors, but, when all is said and done, I have no one to blame but myself. There are so many things that I should have done differently, both big and small. Likewise, there are many things that I executed very well. None of those things matter now, however. I learned a lot about myself and about endurance racing in the elements from this race experience and I feel confident that I will be better prepared to tackle my next 100-mile journey this September. Pine to Palm: here goes nothing!