A mere week post Gorge Waterfalls 100k, I found myself typing; “Sign me up!” to Ethan, the athlete coordinator for the Broken Arrow Sky-race. Mind you, this was after a gut-wrenching, sleepless, 2 days of misery after the 100k where I thought I was dying and swore to start putting a reasonable limit to the craziness I put my body through.
I swear runner-amnesia is a thing.
53km, 12,000’ of elevation gain, with all of the race being about 6200’. Since I sleep at a whopping 200 feet, and am still learning how to hike, I figured this race would be a great idea and highlight all of my strengths. Clearly I not only neglect my own advice, but I am also delusional.
I traveled to the race with 2 of my best friends whom I convinced to endure the suffering with me, convincing them by saying that it would be “great training for our trip to France.” Which it was.
First thing to notice about the Reno Airport is their lack of space, due to an over-abundance of slot machines. Of course I played one. As I walked away a whole $6 richer, I figured that the weekend was starting out on the right foot, if you will.
The next day we scooted out of bed "early" to grab breakfast before watching Miss. Kelsie Clausen and others power through the Vertical Kilometer. That thing was steep, l walked away glad that it wasn’t in the 53k, or I would have to try the "crawl like a baby" tactic. It's a thing.
We got away from Squaw to check out the Flume trail around Lake Tahoe. 1500’ of climbing and 3.5 miles later we found it. I am not sure that 7 miles with a big climb was what David (my coach and teammate) had in mind when he told me to do 4 miles easy, but I counted it. No time to dwell. It was beautiful and that’s all that matters.
Afterwards we grabbed a beer. I was drunk from one. Oh, altitude, you do me dirty. Whoops. Then we hot-tubbed, it was a great day.
After downing a couple mugs of shitty coffee, Kelsie insisted on making some French press. So I ended my coffee splurge on a high note.
Big Goal of the Race: DO NOT FALL.
The race started up a gradual climb that aside from being a tad overgrown was pretty runnable. A little after a mile, we started hitting the snow patches. And a little after this my goal was already over as I skidded/fell down a snow bank burning off half of my calf and saving myself from the rocks below with my hands.
New Big Goal of the Race: Finish in one piece.
This was going to be a very long day.
Luckily, I was running with Larisa and Emily (two awesome ladies also coached by David) and we strategized the course navigation together.
“Is this right?”
“Uh… I think so”
“Oh shit, how do I get down this?”
And on and on.
Still early in the race we came to yet another snow crossing in a valley. All of a sudden there was a large "crack!" and rocks started rolling down the peak to our right. Since we were in fact running through that very peak's valley, we were in the firing zone. We all ran a bit quicker, and luckily the rocks didn't gain enough momentum to make it very far down the mountain. But I would be lying if I said that didn't get the ole ticker moving.
After my semi-heart attack, I found myself running with Meredith Edwards, a bad ass Ski Mountaineer and runner who was crushing the downhills like no other. We struggled up the highest climb of the race together, smiled for the wonderful Myke Hermsmeyer's camera, and after climbing the infamous ladder, relished in the fact that we only had 3 climbs left!
The downhills were fun, we took a lot of “Blue Squares” and "easier way downs" on the ski slope, which I found quite comical. Easier if I had a snowboard! Sheesh.
Meredith gave me some downhill running advice and at first I was chasing her with a whole lot “whooping” and occasional butt-sliding, until I landed on my ankle pretty bad and had to walk off the sprain. But that’s the beauty of this sport, nothing ever goes as planned. So you make due and move on.
Finally, we were back down on an old road, checking in with a lovely volunteer and climbing back up some steady single track. This single track was what normally is my favorite kind of climbing grade, but I was starting to bonk pretty badly on account of my stomach not being friends with altitude, and took it pretty slow.
About half way up this climb (~mile 23) I saw Larisa and Emily running down the trail towards me, lost. The flags on the course were a little tough to see, and I automatically knew where they had missed the turn down, because I too had initially missed it and had to bush whack/hop around in order to get back on to the trail. I wished them luck and moved on up the climb. Near the final push I ran into a couple of dudes acting a bit flustered, I guess someone had moved some of the flags and he had spent a good portion of the race telling people where to go. What a guy.
As if almost on cue, to add to the confusion, a gal (whom I later discovered was HIlaree O'Neil, crazy bad-ass lady who has summited Everest countless times!!) and two guys popped out of the woods on a different trail, and started to follow us up the climb.
At this point, none of us really knew what the other had ran, but we were all suffering together and that’s all that mattered. This race was a bit of a shit show, but it was one hell of an adventure.
Once we finally had made it to the top, I was struggling with the altitude and had to keep my effort really low. The next aid station I finally ate something, stuffing my face with 2 corners of PB&J and 2 cups of Coke, and hoped that it would kick in soon.
The final descent was not one for shaky, altitude-sleepy, bonking legs. But somehow I only fell once.
Running through the final section of the race through the little Squaw resort town, I was so ecstatic to be done and actually running. Rounding the corner to the Salomon Finish Shoot, I grinned as I saw my best friends (monkeys) waiting for me at the finish.
"Don't fall, don't fall, don't you dare fall in front of everyone on this non-technical road." Raced through my mind as it always does at the end of a race.
I was so stoked to ring that dang giant bell. But as I got closer, I realized that the rope was gone!
Time to show of my basketball skills from my previous life. As I leaped and rang the bell, I had never felt more alive. To endure something that absolutely knocks you off your rocker is so satisfying. I can whole-heartedly say that The Broken Arrow Skyrace was the hardest race I have ever completed.
As for place- I think the paper results had me at 8th or 9th woman. I know a couple ladies who were ahead of me who never actually passed me, but at that point, no one cared or knew what exactly everyone ran. We all were in an adventure of a lifetime, and we survived. That was enough for me. Although, I definitely won the nastiest wound, having burned the skin on the side of my calf completely off. So I’ll take that.
All in all- the race definitely won.
Broken Arrow Skyrace: 1 (deserves at least 4 points, but that’s not how these things work)
Keely: 0 (sun-fried, skin-less calf, sprained cankle, bonky mess)
Thank you so much to Nike Trail Running for supporting me in all of my crazy adventures. Ethan and Brendan, thanks for having me at the first year of an absolutely epic sky-race. A special thanks to Dave Roche for keeping me a little sane in my training. And one final shout-out to Kelsie, Ed, and Kyle for making this weekend a great one filled with a lot of silliness and laughter.