The Journey of 100 Mile Ultra-Marathon

No one who ends up at the start of an Ultra 100-mile marathon gets there without an amazing story to share about how running has changed their life. Maybe it’s this that draws us ultra runners so close, as we know that the training to make this happen is beyond normal, and there is an amazing story behind everyone one at that start line. Getting to the start line the night before was so fun; hearing the stories of how many had gotten there.

This is my write up from that start line of 100 miles. I share to inspire and to remind myself of a day where a dream came true. To help those who can learn both from my mistakes and what I did right.

To think it was just a few years ago that I walked with a cane, 85 pounds heavier and recovering from 2 back and 4 knee surgeries, is hard to believe. Based on that, I should not be running.

926798_656332154450464_1404998400_n

I began with weight loss and then with a few walks, 4 years ago. The walks then lead to running a few blocks, and soon miles. Before long, came the first marathon, which was a dream in itself. Even my wife would laugh to think that I could run a marathon.
Yet after the marathon, I knew I could go further and for the next 3 years my mind was focused on the 100 miles. The movie “Running the Sahara” that chronicles Ray Zehab’s attempt to run across the entire Sahara desert, planted the vision of “Impossible to Possible” in my heart.
I never really believed I could do this. It seemed way too out there, but the dream and passion to run 100 miles just would not go away. Many times I felt silly talking to other runners about even the thought of running 100 miles. I didn’t want them to think I was prideful, but the fire and passion in my soul kept me moving toward that start line on Sept 27, 2014.
Getting ready to start that day I could not believe it. Here I am in line with some of the greatest runners who all have incredible stories. I could not focus on the fact that it was 100 miles. The focus was, let’s go have a fun run, one aid station at a time. A race, with many races within it.

“3…2…1. GO!” And we were off.

Somehow, I lost the group of my friends at the beginning as it was so dark that all I could see was headlamps. But
thankfully, after a few miles we all came together again, Kandice, Sofia and Sebastian. We helped pace each other to stay slow and easy. We ran the first 20 miles together. We started slow and walked every hill. We had so much fun just chatting the whole time. It was hard to think we were in a race. It felt like a training run.
It makes it so much easier to run one section at a time. The first 26 miles from the start line we had a loop to do that brought us back to the start line. So thinking, “ok, I have a marathon to do”, made it seem easy. (It just had a 3,000 feet gain in elevation!). I thought to myself, “After the marathon, I have to my drop bag and can change my shoes”. That was the first major goal. I was taking in sports gels at every aid station and eating gummy bears to keep up my calories.

10684363_1565521440334578_1496395331_n

As I got to mile 17, I began to get very hungry and I was out of water. Even though I thought I was eating enough at every aid station, my body was not getting enough. I began to slow down and lost my friends. That fun run feeling was gone and now the reality of 100 miles began.
I changed my focus to filming the race with my action camera to get my mind off of how I was feeling and made it finally to the third aid station at mile 21 and refueled. It was so good to get real food in. Then it was on to the next ‘race’, to Aid station 4, the start/finish line again, and mile 26.
I pushed through, enjoying the downhill run towards Ollie Lake but as soon as I hit the flats I had to walk. I wondered what was going wrong. I hated that I was having to walk on this easy part of the course. It was way too soon in the race to feel like this. The stomach issues had begun. As I reached Mile 26, it was nice to change shoes and see a few other friends, but it was time to press on.

From mile 26 the trail was mostly downhill, which is usually my strength, but I just found it so hard to run. I felt like throwing up. At the Mile 29 Aid Station they told me it was 9 miles to the next station. I felt depressed. Alone now, I was speed waking and getting over-taken by other runners. Paul Nelson, the camera guy, takes my picture and I feel like crap. I had him redo the shot and I jumped into the air. He advised me to “EAT! EAT! EAT!
and take s Caps”, but it was 9 miles of hell to the next aid station.
I began wondering if I wasn’t going to make it, crying for fear that I would be a “DNF” (Did Not Finish). It was that fear that kept me going. Hearing how so many others DNF on their first try had me very worried. It seemed to take forever to get to the aid station at Pinhead Butte. I just had to put it in my mind that it’s only a 9 mile race, and forget the rest. Telling myself “You’re running your own race, not someone else’s. Take your time, forget the sub-24 (my goal to finish in under 24 hours), just finish 9 miles”.
Pressing on and taking in the views of the mountains, I began praying and asking God to help me pick up the strength to continue without the feeling of nausea and dead legs. Blisters on the back of my heals and under my feet were breaking open, making my feet hurt with every step. Other runners began passing me and as each one did it took me to a very sad place. I honestly look back and see those 9 miles from Olallie Meadow to Pinhead Butte, as the ‘stretch of Hell’.

10665805_10202693310594317_6100627495116188893_n

Finally, I arrived at Pinheads and mile 38. I was so looking forward to just sit down and reset, and that is what happened. Ginger Ale and some coke seemed to really help. I know I needed sugar, and the caffeine didn’t hurt either. I got back up fine and continued on with my walk. A few minutes later I was running again, and soon I felt like a wild bear awoken from its sleep. Let’s take on this BEAST!! I went from 0 to 100 it seemed, in just a few minutes. Charging down the hill towards warm springs. I felt so good. I was amazed how my body bounded back. Maybe God did hear my prayer. I soon started over-taking all the people that had over-taken me earlier.
Arriving at Warming springs and Mile 44 happened so fast. It was so cool to see Jason, a fellow runner, there helping. He really recharged my head mentally. I was now at the place where I had run the ‘Mt Hood 50’, back in July, and knew the course ahead of me. It was 2.5 miles down and 2.5 miles up. Before long I was back with some of my friends I had lost at mile 17. Hope was restored. I knew then that, “I’ve got this,” even though it was still early in the race, knowing I had gone through a big low and bounced back so strong. This gave me so much hope for the rest of the race.
The next aid station was Red Wolf, Mile 49. I was now feeling even better, saying to myself, “Let’s rock this thing”. Seeing Kandice was so cool, and having her support to just keep going was a great help. She was really happy to see me as she had seen me earlier when I was not looking very good and thought I wouldn’t make it. We talked a little but we were both so mentally focused we pressed on. I felt so strong and moved ahead. Even the uphill was ok.

I reached Red Wolf Aid station at mile 49. This aid station cracked me up. Some people were dressed as Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood. It was prefect to get my mind off the race. I was feeling drained and really was tired of drinking sport gels and was so happy to get soup. REAL food! I walked out of there and Kandice took the lead. At this point, I really did not want to run, but seeing her run made me want to keep up. I didn’t want to been alone. I learned here a very important lesson. Sometimes you just need to force yourself to run and not to walk too long or the legs tighten up.
Within just a few minutes, BOOM, a 3rd wave of power came on. Charging down the hills to reach the Clackamas Ranger station, I felt so good. I knew it was only 5 miles until I would meet up with my pacers. My pacers are running companions who had agreed to join me for part of the race to keep me on pace and focused. In my mind it was like I was running to see my long lost family. Again, I had the mentality of seeing one part of the course at a time.

10665246_10202694688588766_5920011538695837931_n

I arrived at Mile 54.7, just after 6pm. I was 12 hours into the race now. At this stage I was at the longest I had ever ran at one time, and seeing Art and Maria, my pacers, I knew I was set to finish this. I did not have to fear of boredom of being alone. Not that I don’t mind running alone, its just more fun with others. We support each other.
The next section in my head was the flat section around Timothy Lake, a 17 mile run. The sun went down and it was time to turn on the headlamps. It got dark fast in the forest, and the trail became very dark. Having Maria, my pacer, was great. We just plodded along. It was so neat just to chat and enjoy the nature around us. The views of the stars at night were so bright.
It was like feeling God telling me “You’ve got this, let me be your light.”

1208395_301274583410571_771889776_n

From this point on it was hard to take in any more sport gels. I had taken over 30 so far for the day. I had to change to real food. Soups, mashed potatoes and fruit, provided at the aid stations, were the key that kept me going.
We were headed back to the Clackamas Ranger station at Mile 70. Now it was 10pm at night. I thought for sure I would to be able to get to the finish in 8 hours. It was only 30 miles to the finish. I was excited. Changing pacers to have Art step in; I told him it’s a ton of uphill to the finish, almost 4,000 feet of elevation and all at night.
Mile 70-75 was the second hardest point. Sophia one of the people from the beginning part of the day over took me as I began to feel so sick again. It seemed any thing that was up hill made me feel so ill. I went from speed walking to a crawl. At times I had to take small stops to keep my head from spinning. More runners over took me. Feeling depressed again, I reminded myself again, “This is YOUR race, not theirs, forget them”.

The night started to get cold so Art and I thought I should get my warm gear on. I was only wearing a T-shirt. Sadly, by mistake, my warmer gear was not there. To lighten my load, some things were taken out at mile 70. My socks had been packed instead of my gloves. I began to wonder what I going to do. It was only going to get much colder. Art was so kind to pass me his hat and gloves and he would go without. It helped a lot. What a great pacer! He also carried my hydration pack which had begun to hurt my shoulder from the hours of running with it. Thankfully at the Red Wolf station at Mile 76, they had a spare jacket for me to use.
Pressing on to Warm Springs at mile 81, the hope of knowing we were getting close began. I was getting excited and then, POP!! My head lamp broke; the batteries flew onto the dark ground. Our hand held flashlight was beginning to flicker and Art’s headlamp was only just barely working.

Even though the stars were barely visible through the darkness of the forest, I was reminded of looking at the stars and thinking “let God be my light”. We pressed on. Nothing was going to stop us.
We made it to Pinheads Butte, Mile 88, and thankfully they were able to fix my head lamp and get it going again. That person saved my race. Whoever you are, thank You!
It was now time for that same 9 miles of hell I had run earlier, and now I had to do it all over again to get to mile 97. This time it was in total darkness. Art kept mentioning how bright the stars were. I really could not look as I had to be so careful not to trip and fall. I had to be totally focused. The lesson here is to get the brightest headlamp you can get. It’s not just so you can see, but all the small little trips over time really hurt the feet and slow you down. Also, the dimmer the light, the slower you can run. Don’t be cheap on this. Get the best head lamp you can to avoid injury.

Somewhere around mile 89, I was half awake and just kept looking at the trail. It was so dark and then some how I saw “Impossible to Possible” in the trail. Was I seeing things, was I in that bad a state that I see words on the trail!? I reached down and grabbed it. It was my headband. I did not even realize I had lost it earlier in the run. But at 2am, in the pitch black dark, I found it. Some runner must have picked it up as I know I had it on 20 miles back. Maybe it was God’s way of giving me hope when He knew I would need to see those words: ‘Impossible to Possible’. Even without a good head lamp we were going to make it.

As Art and I continued, we often found ourselves so exhausted we began falling asleep. Yes, while we were walking. It’s a strange feeling as the trail goes ablur and begins to move all around. Just as you begin to tip over, you wake up! I could not even power walk at this point. I just focused on placing one foot in front of the other. Looking back, music could have made a huge difference. Though runners who run in groups choose not to listen to music so they can be fully present with each other, it was probably exactly what we needed at that point. We needed some motivational music, something to wake us up from the quietness of the night. It seemed like for ever to get to mile 97. The sun started to come up and I begin to realize my hope of a sub-24 was gone, “but who cares”, I thought, “it’s my race, not anyone else’s”.

From the last aid station at mile 97, emotions of KNOWING it was DONE took over, crying most of the way. I’m not a person that cries, but this was so deep, all that training and everything that others had done to help me get here, all came down to this moment.

Coming in for that final 300 yards, I hear the cheers and try to suck in my emotions. I could not feel any pain any more.

I could run strong like I had just started a race. Within seeing that finish line I could not hold it anymore. I just broke down and wept like a baby. I don’t care what people thought. I don’t that care pictures were being taken. It was a moment that makes me want to run 100 miles just to get that cry again. A cry of total victory! Looking up and seeing my friends there, made me so happy. We all made it! We ran 100 miles! I knew God had given me the strength to make a dream become real.

Impossible to Possible!
Steve Ross
Meet Steve on Instagram @no_limits_running