This was quite an experience from start to finish. Things happened that I really did not expect…..some very good and some bad. This is my race report and recap of what happened during the entire trip which resulted in winning the overall race with 104 miles in 26 hours and 19 minutes.
The race started on Saturday at 4 pm. A friend of mine (or someone I thought was a friend), who I had known for over 5 years expressed interest in driving down with me and helping me as my crew throughout the race. We talked about it for months before it was time to go. He read my race reports and understood what it entails to crew for a runner. He owns his own company and has an employee that lives in Destin, so it worked out perfectly for him to crew for me and work down there prior to the race. We left for Destin on Tuesday after I worked a 48-hour shift at Fort Mill Rescue. It was a good shift and I was so excited and anxious to go to Florida.
Unfortunately, things with my friend did not work out as planned. It was extremely awkward driving down and when we arrived in Destin. Due to this and a few things that happened, I told him that I would not need or want his help during the race. I did not feel comfortable being around him at all because of his behavior. I took him and his things to his employees’ house and dropped him off. Not another word was texted or messaged throughout the whole trip or since. So much for what I thought was a friendship. I didn’t see that coming at all! I didn’t even hear from him after the race or anything. I felt so relieved when he was gone and my race preparation was able to begin! I spent that morning thinking about it and whether I handled the situation correctly and decided that I had. It was not a good situation and I needed the time and energy to prepare for the race. I was again going to run this race alone like I did in 2016 and had to prepare for the challenges I would be facing. This is a very difficult race and to do it without a crew is even more difficult, but I found out how generous the ultra-community really is, which I will share later.
I spent the next three days relaxing, walking on the beach, watching TV and Youtube while coloring motivational pictures, and conserving my energy. I had lunch with my friend Christy and Rhea on Friday and got to hear all about their running experience at Badwater 135 last year. It was great to talk running topics with them and was a highlight of my trip. Meeting with them fueled my excitement about my race the next day.
Saturday morning I woke up at 7 am and lay in bed till 9 am before getting up. I was really hoping to sleep in much later but I was too excited about the race. Even while typing this now I feel a tickle in my spine remembering how excited I was to begin. I slowly got ready and relaxed a bit in my room before heading to the race area. I had everything packed up and ready so I loaded the car and headed out to get my race packet at about 1 pm. While I was getting my packet I ran into Christy and Rhea. We chatted for a bit about the race. Rhea gave me a good piece of advice saying that I should put enough food and water in my pack so I wouldn’t need to stop as much during the first part of the race. Stopping so often for food and water would mean a lot of time spent standing still. I was planning to travel light but what she said made sense and I changed up my strategy a bit. That saved me a lot of time and energy overall which I was grateful for. They helped my get my gear to the beach which was nice. Then they left and said they would see me later.
I had some time before the race started so I set up my little tent, small air mattress, food, and gear. Then I relaxed a bit and played on Facebook waiting for 4 pm to arrive. The weather was much warmer than expected so I changed into a tank top, black shorts, gaiters on my shoes, and my running pack. This was my outfit for the entire race (even overnight). I ate a whole meal from Chipotle which was rice, beans, corn, cheese, tomatoes, and sour cream. I was happy to have an appetite before the race started and ate it about an hour and a half before the start. That fueled me for a good portion of the race and was the last major meal I had till I drove home on Monday. I also had one sip of 5hour energy and a few sips of NOS energy drink before the race start. Finally, the race was off and I was excited! I was feeling great and loved the beautiful beach. I stayed slow and steady because I didn’t want to do what I did last year and start out too fast. That had been a huge mistake in the long run so I was much more careful to take it easy this time. I just got into a nice rhythm and enjoyed the beach and my music. All the runners were very friendly except for one guy who looked really serious and determined. His name was Stephen. All the other runners were supportive and we would wave, give thumbs up, or words of praise as we passed each other. I love that the ultra runners do that for each other and feel the positive vibes coming in and going out from these kind gestures. That is something exclusive to the ultra community for sure. For this race, we had to run a mile out and back for a minimum of 50 miles before the 5 am race start of the other race divisions. If we complete the 50 miles we can continue running if we want to. The person with the most miles at the end of the race is the winner. This overnight run is when I put in an extra 4 miles which led me to win the race at the end.
Throughout the night things went pretty well. I had snacks and water consistently and ate two slices of pizza and a GU waffle. Had a lot of plain Tailwind supplement in my water for the calories and electrolytes. Also ate a few bananas. Around mile 35 I tried to listen to a movie on Netflix on my phone but it kept acting up and I became frustrated. I also was wishing I had a crew or friend out there with me. The stars were so beautiful and I wanted someone there to share it with. I tried to take a picture of the stars but it didn’t come out. I didn’t want the negative energy or emotion so I turned off all my devices and ran in silence for a few miles. This helped clear my head and refocus. I had something else on my mind which I’ll explain another time that was weighing heavily on my heart. I have a heart -shaped rock I was carrying in my purse and a few days before the race the bag I had it inside fell and my heart rock broke. I took this as a sign of my broken heart which I had been working through for three weeks prior to this race. Mark and I broke up three weeks before the race and I had been taking it very hard. I don’t want to get into all that but the sadness and disappointment over the relationship not working out were a major issue the last few days. Being down at the beach all alone with nothing but time to think and wish things had been different was difficult. I took the opportunity to take the heart rock with me on my run and when I was ready I said a prayer and threw it into the ocean. I prayed for help in getting over my heartbreak and felt a little better after I let the universe have it. As much as I love him and wanted this relationship to work, it just was not working out that way. I still care for him deeply and have struggled a lot with the breakup. The week down in Destin I focused a lot on healing and gaining my strength back from that, or trying to at least.
Back to the race. I listened to two of my audio books which were entertaining for a while. Around mile 40 I had a 2 mile lead on the 2nd female runner and realized I had a chance at winning the top female position if I could hold this pace. I was starting to get tired but felt pretty good. Around that time Debra, the female I was ahead of, was running toward me and stopped a moment to give me a quick hug and say, “Girl, you are making me run today…you are doing great”. She knew I was in the lead and she was realizing she was not going to catch up at this rate. For her to stop and do that was very very sweet. She knew I was working hard because she was too. Rather than be competitive or let egos get in the way, we both appreciated each other’s efforts and acknowledged them. I told her she was doing a great job also and to keep it up. That is why I love ultras, you can’t race with better people anywhere else! This support showed up later in the race from other people too which I’ll explain soon. After that happened I ran for a while and reflected on how thankful I was to be there, to run well, and to have these opportunities. I will admit that I did a great deal of praying during the first half of this race also. I had a lot to pray for and be grateful for and this was the opportunity to express it while the emotions were flowing.
I hit the 50-mile mark with exactly an hour and a half before the 5 am start of phase 2. I decided to take a 20-minute break, which was the first break I took. I went into my tent and set an alarm for exactly 20 minutes and then got my gear ready for the long 30-mile section I would be doing next. Then I lay down for the remaining 12 minutes. I couldn’t fall asleep but lay still with my eyes closed. At the sound of the alarm, I got up and took off to do another 2-mile loop. I passed Debra as I was running out. She was back on my tail and was catching up. I finished the 52 miles and still had enough time for one more loop. I was feeling good and said I was going for it. This would put me two miles ahead of Debra and the female winner if/when I finished the race. She did not have enough time to do another loop so this was sealing my 1st place position. As I left for the last loop, Stephen who was resting in a chair got up and bolted past me which I thought was odd. I did not realize that I had caught up to him since I was only concerned about Debra. He was in the lead position and my last loop would have tied us for the top amount of mileage. He couldn’t have that and did an extra loop to be two miles ahead of me. That was fine with me and I didn’t even realize all this till much later on in the race.
I finished my last loop to have run 54 miles in the first portion of the race with exactly 8 minutes till the 5 am start. I went to my tent and got my food and water refilled in my pack. I had exactly 3 minutes to lie down which I did. Then it was back up and getting to the start line. The horn sounded and off we all went. I used the energy from all the fresh runners to pull me along for a while. Then around mile 3, I felt a wave of exhaustion. I really needed to lie down for a minute so I found a sand dune and just lay in the sand. I set my alarm for 10 minutes and laid my head on my pack and shut my eyes. I was worried that the two Sheriff vehicles following the runners would see me and come over, thinking something was wrong. I couldn’t relax enough to rest so I just turned my alarm off and got up. I wiped the sand off and kept on going. I made it to the first aid station at 4.5 miles out. They didn’t have much there but I did get some water then kept going. I made it to the 10 miles (mile 64 for me) station and they had more resources there for the runners. I put on some sun tan lotion, refilled my water, and made two bacon wraps to go. I knew I needed the calories but was not really that hungry. I carried them with me and took a bite every once in a while when I could. At the 10-mile aid station, I saw Stephen who was the runner in the lead. He was ahead of me by 2 miles. He was doing a lot of walking and I asked him how he was doing, just to be friendly and he said, “Moving forward“ and then he just walked off. He looked like he was in some pain so I didn’t take any offense to his cold behavior. When you get to a point of exhaustion and pain many times you don’t even realize how you are acting.
So I set out for the next 5 miles which would get me to the last aid station and the turnaround point. I put on an audiobook and just tried to keep moving. The sun was coming up and the heat was rising. I was really starting to get tired just before I reached the turnaround. As I approached the aid station I saw two 100 mile runners leaving, Debra and Chris. They passed me and asked where I had been. I told them I was slowing down some and starting to struggle. Debra said to catch up with them and run altogether for a while which would really help me. I thought that was super nice so I did a quick stop at the aid station and ran to catch up with them. Both of them were feeling tired but doing well. Debra was walking and jogging a little faster than Chris and I could keep up with, so she went on ahead. I ran with Chris 15 miles the rest of the way to the start/finish area at Tops’l Hotel where my tent was. Thank goodness for him because if I had not caught up to him and had his help I’m not sure what I would have done. The heat was over 80 degrees and all I had was a small 6 oz water bottle. The aid stations were way too far apart and I would have been in serious trouble if it were not for Chris’s crew. Every two miles his wife and mother-in-law came to help us with resources. They were there for Chris of course but saw I needed help and gave me everything I needed also. They gave me cold water each time, a washcloth in ice water that felt absolutely amazing wiping over me to cool off, and offered me food. I was not hungry and was still working on my beacon wrap so I didn’t take any of their food. These two women were SO kind that I cannot express how grateful I was to them. They were so sweet and supportive of what we were doing and wanted to help in any way they could. I couldn’t thank them enough. I told Chris that I didn’t want to bother him and mess up his race experience and would be happy to run ahead or fall back if he preferred to run alone. He said he didn’t mind me sticking with him and appreciated the conversation to pass the time. We talked about his wife and how they met, his job and his training for this race. He also ran the Keys 100 and finished it which was his first 100. I told him about my experiences as well. I will be running the Keys 100 this year so the info he shared was really helpful. We eventually got to a point where we were too tired to talk so we just ran and walked together. About 2 miles from the start/finish area I started to get really really tired. It started to become a little difficult to focus/see straight. I told Chris that I was going to walk into the water. He didn’t know what I meant until I just broke off and walked straight into the ocean up to my thighs. The cold water felt wonderful and kept me alert enough to get to the tent. He started to worry about me a little bit at that point but I told him I would be ok as soon as I could lay down for a few minutes.
As soon as I arrived at the start/finish area the guys who were managing the area asked if I was ok. I told them I needed to lay down for 20 minutes and then I would continue. They became worried about me because I was not looking too strong and said they would come check on me in exactly 20 minutes which they did. I ate some food and drank more water before I laid my head down. Once again I couldn’t fall asleep but shut my eyes for 15 minutes. Once the guys came to check on me I got my gear together and set off to finish the last twenty miles. I had 5 hours and 53 minutes to finish the race which was a little more time than I had last year so I knew I could do it. I had some energy beans with caffeine in them hoping to get a little boost which I badly needed. I found out around this time that Stephen had dropped out of the race and that left me with the overall mileage lead if I finish the race. I was determined to finish of course and be the overall winner. This was an honor that a slow runner like me would likely never experience ever again so I was excited for the chance to earn that position. Chris had met his pacer, Michelle, and they went on while I rested.
I started the last twenty miles and was feeling so very tired and weak that I was not sure how I was going to get this done. I passed a woman named Mary who was in the 24-hour division and stopped her for a second. I told her I was not sure how I was going to do this and she said to keep moving forward and don’t stop. I kept going but became more and more upset. I was hitting the wall and was starting to lose it. I called my very good friend Matt, we call him “Tri Matt” since Matt is my husbands’ name and we want to differentiate them. He is an ultra-runner as well and was on standby to call if I needed help. Well, I needed help really badly. He called me back and I just let all my emotions out. There were a few tears as I told him what was going on. I expressed how awful I was feeling, how bad my legs and feet hurt, how I had to finish no matter what and especially to win so I could have this experience because this was most likely my only chance to have it. I was really upset that I was all alone in this race and was upset at myself for thinking I could do this solo again, even though my support person was set up to help but he turned out to be a jerk and no help at all. I was even upset that there were hundreds and hundreds of people on the beach enjoying a beautiful day lounging around and drinking their alcohol while I was suffering and in so much pain. I wanted to be lazy and just sit down in a beach chair and sip a drink too but couldn’t. It seems irrational but these were my thoughts in that moment. I also told him that it was too difficult to be first place in races and that I will be happy to be a proud loser in all future races. Tri Matt was very good as he listened and then did the only thing he could have done….he changed my focus. He asked where I was and I didn’t know because I was not wearing a watch, which was another thing I was mad at myself for not doing. (I want to get the new Garmin watch when it comes out but it wasn’t released for sale in time.) Ti-Matt and I were eventually able to figure out my location and calculate the minutes per mile I needed in order to finish the race in time. I needed to run 18-minute miles or less to make the cut off time. This really helped pull me out of my wall of devastation and get my head back into the race. Keep in mind that it was around 2 pm and I had been wide awake since 7 am the previous day and most of that time was spent running so delirium was starting to take a toll on my body and very much so my mind. This was a bad wall I hit and I couldn’t have been more grateful that tri-Matt was there to get me through it.
After I was pulled out of this “wall” I was ready to get this race finished. I mostly ran all the way to the next aid station. At this station, I ran into Debra while she was getting treated for some pretty bad blisters. I told her she was doing a great job and to keep it up. I took a banana and kept on going. I was almost at the turnaround point when I saw Chris and his pacer Michelle. I was so happy to see them and they were looking strong and making good time. They couldn’t believe I caught up with them since I was looking so rough when we parted ways at mile 80. I kept up my pace and caught up to them with 7 miles to the end. I asked if I could run with them and they gladly accepted. They were a huge help in getting me to the finish line and I was again so grateful. Those last 7 miles were tough but much more manageable with Chris and Michelle. Michelle kept us moving but did allow us to walk when we needed to. Pacers are great because it allows the exhausted runner to pretty much stop thinking. A pacer makes sure you are moving fast enough to get the race done in time and to move when needed as well as walk when necessary. At this point, Michelle was a huge help to us. The sun was setting and so beautiful that we took a second to get a picture of us while it was going down. It was fun talking to Michelle about her past races and future plans. This helped keep my mind distracted from the fatigue and pain. At the finish line, Chris grabbed my hand and we crossed the finish line together. I was so very happy. It was a really tough race and it was finally done. I won the overall race in the 27 hours plus division and was the runner with the most miles in the whole race. I had run 104 miles in a time of 26 hours and 19 minutes. I was thrilled! Everyone was so happy for me. The guys that were worried about me as I left mile 80 kept saying I made such a great comeback. They were worried that I wouldn’t finish but were very proud of me when I finished strong. It was an awesome feeling.
Then we started getting pictures. Everyone wanted pictures of those of us who finished and I did also. Debra finished about 20 minutes after Chris and I did and we were all so proud of each other. I loved the pictures with me and the girls that helped crew for Chris and I, with Michelle who helped so much, with Zane the race director, and of me with my medal and buckle. I was so proud of all of us and myself. We had some time before the award ceremony started so I packed up my tent and supplies. I carried some of it to the pool area where they were going to have the awards. Since I was alone I asked one of the ladies there if she would take a video of me getting my trophy. She did and took my picture also. I won an engraved bombshell casing and was presented it by Zane. I kind of wished I had someone there to enjoy the moment with me but all my friends I made along the race were there and very happy for me. After the ceremony, I was ready to go back to the room and shower. I still had a lot of stuff on the beach so I asked for some help to get it to my car. George, one of the race supporters was happy to help. He and another nice man who ran the 50K helped me get my stuff to the car area. Then the nice runner guy went and got my car which was parked really far away. I was feeling fine to drive and thanked the two men very much for their help with my things and car.
Drove back to the hotel room and called Matt and Mark on the way and while there to tell them a bit about the race and how happy I was that it was over. They seemed happy for me and excited to hear about the experience. Then I took a nice hot shower that felt amazing and had a few snacks before going to bed. My legs and feet were hurting so bad that I had to take an Ibuprofen to be able to get to sleep. Unfortunately, I woke up throughout the night due to the pain but slept well enough to be able to function the next day. I had been awake for 37 hours by the time I crawled into bed for some badly needed rest. I was still so excited, happy and in disbelief that I had such an amazing race and experience.
I woke up Monday morning and just smiled thinking about the race. I have never won an overall race before and highly doubt I ever will again. I appreciated the experience and have a huge appreciation for the athletes that are at the top of their sport. This win for me was a matter of circumstances falling into place that worked in my favor on this particular day and race. I am in no way an elite athlete or runner. I did push it hard during this race and gave it all I had without a doubt which was extremely difficult. Again, I appreciate the experience and opportunity to have this position but will be a very proud loser (within the time limit and earning my belt buckle of course) in all my future races. I could not have made it through the race without the help of those two selfless and giving ladies that helped Chris and I, without Michelle guiding us in, without Tri Matt being there to break down to and help me refocus, the kind guys that helped me with my stuff and checked on me, and without the help of the angels I prayed to throughout the race that helped me keep going. The rewards are greater the harder you have to work for them and this race was a lot of hard work for me and help from the people around me.
I woke up around 7 am and started packing up my things after another hot shower. My quads were so sore that it took a little time to bear weight and get moving. I also had some pretty good blisters on my feet as usual. Other than my legs and feet aching I felt pretty good and ready to get home. I drove all the way back to Charlotte beaming ear to ear thinking about everything that had happened. There were some very hard moments throughout that week and race but it all made me stronger and more focused. I had nice weather on the drive home and made it back to Charlotte safely around 8 pm. Matt and Mark were there and we talked more about the race. Then Matt and I went to bed and snuggled each other. It was so nice to be back in his arms and feel him. I missed him and felt the love that night as we went to sleep. I am so blessed in so many ways. These races and experiences are a reminder to me of how fortunate I am.
This was 100-mile race #1 of 7 for me in 2017 and it started my year off great! I hope it continues throughout the Midwest Super Slam challenge. Thanks for reading my experience.
After the race, I received some wonderful messages from the people that were involved in the race. They meant a lot to me and I wanted to add them to this race report. Here are the kind words we shared. Again, the people I meet in these experiences are priceless:
Hi, Stephanie, I know it’s weird that I so quickly found you on fb… but my husband, Christopher wanted me to check on you. I took care of him and got him situated and then he wanted me to go downstairs and check to see if you were at the rewards thing and see if you needed a ride to your hotel.. anyway, let me know!
Awe, Thank You. You all were so kind to me and I can’t thank you enough. Not sure what I would have done out there without you refueling my water. So thanks so very much! I hope Christopher is ok and recovers well. His legs were hurting really bad at the end. It was a pleasure running with him. He speaks highly of you and how you met and the marriage abroad. I haven’t heard of such a sweet love story in a long time and it was fun to hear today. The guys that put on the race were very kind and helped me get my car and all my stuff in it. I left right after the awards. I drove back to my room safe and in bed starting the recovery process. Thank you for checking on me. You all really made a big impact on my race experience. Btw, Chris got an award so be sure you get it tomorrow from Zane. He got 2nd place male in our decision. Congratulations to him. He really has drive and talent. I’ll send you a few pictures I have from the race…
“W”: Aw, well I’m so glad you two teamed up and we could help you out a bit too! I just wanted you guys to be okay! Glad you got to your room safely. CONGRATS on your finish and win!!! You came back so strong! If you need anything while you’re here, let us know! We live in Fort Walton Beach, right by Destin!
Thank You. I am on my way back home to Charlotte but appreciate the offer. Good luck to Chris on his recovery. I can hardly walk around without looking like a penguin and I know he was hurting too. Thanks again to you all!!
No problem at all! He’s doing well. Walking a bit like a penguin too if you don’t mind, let us know when you make it home safe! My husband so enjoyed meeting you and getting to run with you. He said you were a genuine and kind person right from the beginning. Thanks for running with him and keeping each other going!
I just made it home safe. It was awesome running with him also. We were. It’s fortunate to be able to help each other when it got tough. That’s why I love ultras…people I meet are amazing.
Well, I’m glad your experience here in Destin was a good one! If you’re ever out this way again, let us know!! Have a good night and do some relaxing, you deserve it!! Congrats again!
Will do, Thank You!
“R” – (Runner friend I met at lunch Friday before the race):
FEB 19TH, 1:07PM
It was great meeting you. You’re solid out there. I wish I could have stuck around and paced you, but I have to be back this evening for some work stuff. You’re a solid runner and I know you’ll finish today. So I’m telling you congrats in advance.
Holy shit you won overall!! I’m so proud of you! Dammnnnnn straight putting in the work and hanging on! Super congrats to you!
Awe! Thank You!! I am so thrilled Thanks for the advice to keep my food and water on me so I would stop less. I even got rid of my drop bags and loved not having to deal with them. Saved me so much time and energy, so Thank You. It was great meeting you too. I appreciate the compliments very much about my running ability. I truly love being out there and learn so much from each race. Good luck on your races this year. I’ll follow them.
You are so welcome! Safe travels back. Any idea where Stephen, the guy who was number one, dropped? So he was asleep when you went out for your last loop before the 2nd half and he woke up and looked at leaderboard and saw where you were and I said, guess Y’all will have to duel out for first place on 2nd half of course and he asked if he had enough time for a loop and I said yes. And he rolled to make sure he had 2 miles on you.
Last I saw him was at the mile 65 turnaround. I was starting to struggle so I caught up with Chris and ran with him all way back to the start/finish. Chris was the second place hundred miler male. I needed to pace with him so I ran to catch up with him at the turnaround and did not see Steven since. It sure was a tough race and I still can’t believe I won it. It honestly took all I had to finish but I was bound and determined to do it. I didn’t think about quitting for a second.
That was that guy Stephen’s first ultra!!!! He looked good leaving but I was like – he doesn’t know what’s ahead, Stephanie and Ian do. Debra knows because of her time in 24 hours. Glad you ran with Chris. I’m sure that helped. You did really well. You should be proud. Women rocked the races this year!!
Hey D_ _ _ ! Just wanted to tell you that you did an amazing job out there this weekend. Those conditions were tough and that blister looked pretty bad. Congratulations:-)!!
Hey, there overall winner!! I had them all across the balls of both feet too. It’s an oddity, I run that beach a lot with Michelle and Christy. It’s just one of those things. I thought we had the perfect weather !! But, that course isn’t easy by any means. You know that you did the 27 hr last year!! I did the 24 hr run in 2015 & 2016,/” and knew my only chance to earn that SOWF BUCKLE was to attempt the 27hr. You ran your heart out, I tried to keep up, you even napped and I still couldn’t make up those 2 miles!! Lol, Great job. Really great job!!! You were in good hands with Michelle and Chris!!!
Awe, Thank You! It took all I had to do that. An experience I will never forget. I am so thankful for all the people I met and who helped me. I just love that race and all the people involved. That blister looked pretty bad on your one foot. For you to have them on both is rough! Good job for powering through all that. We did luck out with the weather thank goodness. It was a pleasure to meet you and run with you. Hope your recovery is going well.
You gave me the best advice to catch up with you and Chris. I’m so thankful to have ran with him and Michelle at the end. I needed them so badly and they helped tremendously. Thanks for pushing me to get to them.
Pure Ultra Running Love. enjoy your recovery doll!!! Relish in your accomplishment.