Last month, my dear friend Kate ran her first 100 miler.
Yep, one hundred flipping miles! On foot. Running! One hundred miles. She ran the Beyond Limits Ultra in the San Jacinto Mountains in Southern California, near where Kate lives.
For those of us who love the ultra-running, trail-running scene, running 100 miles is a ‘thing’. People do it all the time. The Kilians and Madgas and Kacis of this world knock out hundred-milers in the same way you and I do a comfy 10k on a Saturday morning. When you watching your running heroes do this regularly, the scale and enormity of the achievement kind of gets lost.
So I asked Kate if she’d be willing to talk to me about what it was like for a normal person do a 100-miler. I say ‘normal’ with absolutely no disrespect to Kate. She’s a phenomenal person and a fabulous runner but she is also an everyday runner like you and me. Her experience would be much more like my experience, if ever I got off the sofa and did something so amazing. So, without further ado, I give you Kate.
(The photos in this post come from Kate and two of her running friends. I’m super-grateful to them for allowing me to use them).
I took this photo when Kate and I ate apple fries at Legoland
Kate, how did you get started running?
I started running with Team in Training* when I lived in the Bay Area, and I ran my first half marathon in 2009. I’ve always been very un-athletic, more inclined to stay inside and read a book then to participate in sports. But I was looking for an outlet at the time, and a friend of mine from college had recently posted about her experience with Team in Training. So I signed up, and continued running with TNT for several years, as a mentor and training captain after my first season. I loved the coaches I worked with and all of the amazing people I met through TNT.
* Cat’s note – TNT is an America fundraising program for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society which support athletes with sporting goals via coaching and training groups, as well as fundraising.
When did you start getting into ultras? What attracted you to them?
One of my TNT coaches was an incredible ultra runner named Lisa Felder (Mama Lisa, to those of us she worked with). Mama Lisa created a TNT ultra team, and in 2012, I signed up with her to run my first 50k – the Skyline 50k at Lake Chabot. I hadn’t done a lot of trail running prior to that, and for me, getting into trail running was like learning to run all over again. My stride and gait changed, my pacing changed, and my appreciation for running grew a lot. Mama Lisa introduced us to all of the incredible trails around the Bay Area, and I fell in love with all of the beautiful places we got to run.
Which ultras have you done so far?
I can be an “all or nothing” kind of person, and once I got into running and racing, it was pretty much all I wanted to do! I’ve done a lot of races, primarily in California although I’d love to be able to travel more for races. One of my favorite things about running, and trail running in particular, is being able to explore a new place by foot, exploring areas that many people won’t see because you can’t drive to them. Tahoe Rim Trail is one of my very favorite trails, and I’ve run their 55k race as well as been a pacer for their 50 miler race.
Why did you want to do a 100 miler?
For a long time, I really didn’t! There was a period of time when many of my friends were running their first 100 milers, and I crewed/paced for many of them. I really wanted to be sure that I wasn’t running 100 miles because all my friends were! I’ve run several 24 hour races (a timed race, where you run for a set length of time, and see how many miles you can get in that time frame) in the past few years, thinking that I would run 100 miles there. However, I’d mentally give up around the 75 mile mark, because I’d realize that I didn’t have enough time to get to 100 miles within that time frame. I realized that if I wanted to run 100 miles, I needed to register for an actual 100 miler, not a 24 hour race.
Last year, I signed up for a 100k race that was a Western States qualifier. It was a tough 100k, and I made a mistake in my hydration planning that resulted in me running out of water while 4 uphill miles away from an aid station, and being dehydrated and sick by the time I got there. I was able to recover and continue on, but I lost a lot of time, and ended up missing a cutoff several hours later and getting pulled from the race. I trained really hard, through a very hot SoCal summer , with 2 strong 50k training races in 95 degree weather, and felt prepared going into the race. I was very disappointed in myself that I didn’t finish. I felt like I needed to rebuild my confidence and finish a race successfully.
How come you ended up running Beyond Limits Ultra?
I had run a 50k at Beyond Limits (BLU) in 2016, and had so much fun there. I decided it would be a perfect 100 miler, since I had such positive associations with the race. BLU is on a 2-mile trail loop near Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto mountains – about an hour away from where I live. They offer several different events – a 72, 48 and 24 hour race, a 100 miler, and a 50 miler and 50k. The race takes place at a ranch, with cabins where you can stay the night before and after. I’ve run loop courses before on even shorter distances, and I actually really love them. I like seeing and chatting with other runners, having more company at night, and passing my own “camp” frequently. I know a lot of ultra runners who are “preppers” and the planning for pace charts, drop bags, etc. is part of the fun of the whole ultra experience. I am not one of those people. I no longer wear a Garmin when I run, and making pace charts really stresses me out. With a loop course, my main focus could be on the running, and I didn’t need to worry about putting together drop bags or making aid station cutoff times. BLU worked out perfectly for me, and it was close enough to home that friends and family could drive up and crew/pace me without having to stay at the ranch the entire time, which was another consideration.
Can you describe the course?
The course was a 2 mile trail loop that wound around a working ranch. It went past the cabins, onto a sandy stretch, through a foresty part with evergreens, wound around through the farm animals in their housing, around a meadow and then past a small lake. There was lots of variety to look at, and the loop had a fair amount of turns, it wasn’t an oval or circular shaped loop. It’s a beautiful course, with some shade, views of the mountains, chickens walking around! 2 miles is long enough for me that the course never felt repetitive or boring.
Can you describe your training? Did you have a coach or follow a training plan?
I did work with a coach – Alison Sunshine Chavez and Andy Noise, with Sunshine Endurance Coaching. I followed the training plan they set out, which was a lot of easy mileage with some speed-work. I think that during this training cycle, I ran more cumulative mileage than ever before. And I struggled with colds/flu this winter, so it was actually less mileage than I planned for.
What did you do differently training for this than for other ultras?
I ran more and I focused on making sure my easy mileage was really easy – several minutes slower than I could actually be running and still feel like it was easy. I also focused on running slowly rather than walking.
How on earth did you fit training into your real life?
In all honesty, it kind of took over my life for a few months! I ran either before or after work, and did my long runs on the weekends. I did most of my long runs alone, since I was focused on getting in certain mileage, and I did grow tired of that after a while. Also, I slacked a lot on the house cleaning/organizing front!
How did you feel going into the race?
I was so nervous in the few days before the race. I did sleep well, but was really jumpy and distracted during the day. I just wanted to start running because I knew I’d stop being nervous then. The night before, I stayed in the cabin at the race site, which was really nice. I didn’t have to get up early or drive anywhere before the race, which helped me be more relaxed.
Did you have a crew? What did you ask them specifically to do?
The race started at 8am Saturday morning. My friend Melissa came up on Saturday and stayed for the entire day (after working her 12 hour nursing shift Friday and before her 12 hour shift Sunday!) She helped me refill my handheld when I came around the loop, made avocado tortillas for me, took lots of pictures, reminded me to put sunscreen on, and was super encouraging. She also was able to go out and walk a few loops with Ann Trason, one of her ultra-running heroes who was doing the 72 hour race. Melissa left around 5pm, and then I had a few hours until my friends Beauty and Jersey arrived. They walked loops with me through the night , massaged my legs, made sure I kept eating, drinking and didn’t fall over!
Okay, so let’s talk about the race itself. We’ll break it down into sections.
Honestly this is probably the least memorable part. I ran, focused on not running too fast, took short walk breaks starting around mile 10. I got to see Melissa after every loop which made me smile, and lots of friends out on the course to say hi to. I think the first 25 miles took me around 6 hours but I’m not totally sure.
My plan for the first half was to not go too fast, and so I wanted to finish the first 50 miles in about 12.5-13 hours. I think I was at mile 44 when Melissa left, and I felt really sad for a bit because I missed her. So I put some music on, and tried to focus on getting to 50 before Beauty & Jersey showed up. I made it to about mile 52, and then they arrived.
The lady on the left is Ann Trason. She won Western States 14 times and she ran with Kate Panepinto once
During the night, I pretty much walked with Beauty & Jersey. They kept me entertained. I wasn’t talking a lot, but I liked being able to listen to them. There were a lot of frogs out around the lake, singing loudly. The aid station was all set up with a fire pit, and movie screen – I really wanted to stop and watch. At one point, I sat down and a friend Dee brought over her massager for my legs – it was amazing. Around 3 am I started to get really cold, which always happens when I run overnight. I had on a tech, a pullover, a down jacket, hat, gloves, and tights and was still shivering. I was also having some stomach trouble. I decided to go in the cabin to use the real bathrooms and to rest for a bit. I tried to eat some cake, but really couldn’t eat very much. I remember reading all your comments on the What’sApp while using the bathroom and it made me laugh! I changed my clothes again and then decided to lay down for a bit as I was still cold. I set the alarm on my phone in case I fell asleep, which I did. woke up around 5 so I think I slept for an hour, maybe a little more. I thought for a minute about not going back out, but told myself I needed to do it. I actually felt pretty decent after walking a loop. The sun was coming up, and so I took off my jacket and ran a few loops – I think maybe from 70-74? Then Beauty was up and did a few more loops with me before having to head home.
After mile 80, I was really struggling. All of the other races (72 hr, 48 hr, 24 hr) ended at 8am on Sunday. My race, the 100 miler, was the only one still going, and there were only a few of us who were left out on the course. It was so hard to go through the aid station, where all the finishers of other races were hanging out, using the portable hot tub and celebrating. I’m pretty sure I cried a few times here! My friend Reiko then came out and walked a few loops with me (please note – she had just finished her own race of 154 miles in 48 hours!) Having her next to me helped, as I was so inspired by what she was doing!
AJ (my wife) arrived about 12:30 and did a loop with me to check in on how I was feeling. After that loop, which took nearly an hour as I was having to make bathroom stops every loop, I thought I had reached mile 90. The thought of being out there for 5 more hours was overwhelming. But the guy running the timing tent came running over telling me I had counted wrong, and I had completed 94 mile. I had only 6 more to go. 3 hours still seemed really, really tough, but Ken, one of the RDs told me I was not allowed to drop with only a 10k left! By this time, I was the only runner left. The RDs were trying to pack up everything because they had to leave by the end of the day, and I felt really guilty. They were so incredibly supportive though, and really wanted me to finish.
What was the end like?
Honestly I didn’t really realise I was going to finish until I was maybe 5 feet away from the finish line. I tried to break into a run but my body wasn’t having it. I was basically shuffling. I wanted to lift my arms above my head, but could only get them halfway. I also expected that I would burst out crying, but I think I used up all my tears by that point. I felt really happy and also really relieved that it was over!
I got my medal and buckle, and my DFL* award – a ceramic frog in a bathtub . I got hugs from the amazing RDs and the few runners still at the finish.
* DFL – in case you don’t know – is a slightly more fruity version of Dead ‘Flipping’ Last!
Kate, you little rockstar!! So proud of you. Can you talk briefly about nutrition and hydration?
For nutrition and hydration, I primarily took 200 calories of Tailwind in my handheld about every 2-3 loops. Yes, I carried this for 100 miles with no issues! I supplemented this with avocado rolled in tortillas, aid station potatoes, a quesadilla at one point. I must have eaten more, but this is all I remember!]
A few weeks on, how have you recovered?
I feel good physically and emotionally. I took a week completely off of all exercise, and then a second week that was primarily cross training and yoga. The past few weeks I’ve been running a little, but only about 15 miles each week. I’m slowly building my mileage back up so I can start training again in June. Mentally, the idea of running for more than an hour or two right now is really unappealing to me. I’m trying to focus on running for fun and running with my friends right now!
Would you do anything differently?
No, because then I wouldn’t have had the experience that I had. My only goal was to finish a 100 miler, which I did, and I got to experience an incredible event, with some of my closest friends and my wife supporting m
Would you do a 100-miler again?
Ask me again in a few months! I am definitely planning to be at BLU next year, but I haven’t picked a distance yet.
BLU wasn’t a Western States qualifier. How do you feel about that?
After my DNFs at two 100k races, both of which WERE qualifiers, I was actually relieved to run without worrying about cutoffs or finishing times. Because WS is a lottery and such a popular race, I’d have to run many qualifiers in order to actually be selected, so running a non-qualifying 100 miler didn’t matter to me.
Do you have anything else on the cards at the moment? Are you even remotely interesting in racing ever again?
I am running the San Diego Rock n Roll HM in June and the Brazen Dirty Half-Dozen in July, both purely as fun runs with friends. Hopefully by July I will be mentally ready to run 6 hours! This summer I am going to train for the Revel Big Bear Marathon in October. I haven’t run a road marathon in 5 years, so I am hoping for a PR!
Have your views about hundred-milers changed as a result of doing one yourself?
Cat, this question really made me think. There’s really a huge variety within the sport of ultra running and within 100 milers. There are 100 milers run through high mountain ranges and around suburban tracks. And I think that as much as I love running and hiking in the mountains, I don’t know that I actually want to race there. I feel like my love for running is still really strong, but that my love for racing is decreasing a bit. Part of me would rather just go for a run with a group of friends, and not worry about speed or time at all. Or maybe my niche within racing is going to be just within shorter distances, or at timed races. I’m still figuring that part out I think!
What did you learn about yourself during this race? How do you think you’ve changed as a result?
You know how sometimes we say “Oh, I can’t do that” when it’s something we just don’t want to do? Even as an internal message to oneself. I am trying to be more aware of changing that internal message, and being clear that it’s something I’m choosing not to do because I don’t want to, not that I can’t. Because I figure that if I can run 100 miles, I can do most things.
Kate, thanks for all your hard work answering my questions. I am so impressed and inspired by all you achieved that day and I flipping miss running with you.