On Saturday June 10th I ran my 4th 100 miler in Michigan, the Inaugural Lighthouse 100 Ultra marathon.
This was a point to point road course which began in Petoskey and ran south to Traverse City, running through some of the most scenic country in the northern part of lower Michigan.
The day started out calm and mild but the temperatures were forecast to climb into the upper 80’s by afternoon with strong winds from the south. Going in I had a lofty goal of breaking 20 hours at this event. My previous best 100 mile finish time was a little over 22 hours but that was on a trail course and I run faster on roads than trails. My coach (and love of my life), DJ, had our crew vehicle outfitted with everything I could possibly need along the way and we had a very detailed race plan. We made a few modifications based on the extreme weather conditions but with any Ultra marathon you have to expect to roll with the punches Mother Nature throws at you.
For the first half of the race I rolled through each aid station without stopping, right on my target time. DJ would give me a new handheld bottle, gel, banana, or whatever I needed and I’d just keep running. Aid Stations were spaced about 10 miles apart and I knew that when I rolled through the 5th aid station at around mile 52 I was going to have to stop to eat and change shoes. Some people like to use Aid Stations as a chance to rest during Ultras. Not me. I HATE stopping to rest. Not only do I see seconds and minutes slipping away, I don’t like my muscles tightening up. When I run Fall 50 Solo I literally do NOT stop running the entire time. A 100 miler is a whole different ballgame though. Coach had to remind me a few times throughout the day that I needed to stop and eat and cool off.
There were times in the afternoon when the headwinds got so fierce that the other runners and I had to throw up our hands to protect our eyes as we got pelted with sand. It was like being sandblasted! I could barely see so I kept having to use water from my handheld to wash out my stinging eyeballs and after a while I started to develop a smoker-like cough from breathing it all in for so long.
The afternoon hours were long and hot. Temps soared to the upper 80’s by mid afternoon and that, coupled with the 40-50 mph headwinds, forced me to adjust my cruising speed. I dropped from a 9 minute average pace down to around 11 minute miles for those afternoon hours. I just kept waiting for the sun to set, foolishly believing that the air would cool when it got dark. Oh how wrong I was! Not only did the temp barely dip but at dusk I had a whole new problem to deal with- GNATS! There’s no way I can accurately describe how miserable these hoards of gnats were. I had a small towel that I had to keep fanning in front of my face as I ran so that I wouldn’t inhale them. They were so thick that I couldn’t see in some spots. Gnat Fest lasted around an hour and by the time I noticed the air was clearing again I was completely drained from running so many miles while trying to swat them away.
It was finally dark and even though it was still unbearably warm, I got to see the most gorgeous moon rise of my entire life. It was a gigantic, bright, full moon rising up over the lake to my right and it’s reflection on the water was magical! At this point I had less than 20 miles to go and I finally started to relax mentally because I was in the home stretch and still feeling pretty fantastic considering the brutal conditions of the day. Most anyone who has run 100 miles will tell you that the final miles are when your mental toughness comes in to play. The first 80 miles you’re going off of your physical strength but in those last 20 miles it’s all just a big mental challenge. You’ve gotta be ready for it. You have to embrace it. One minute you want to cry, the next you’re hysterically laughing or imagining the road sign in front of you is a dead cow. It’s indescribable. I’ve never experienced an acid trip but I guess that’s probably how you could describe it.
Anyway, by the last aid station at mile 91 I was pretty damn sleepy. I asked Coach if I could lay down on the tailgate of the truck. I just needed a quick rest. He gave me more fluids, I think I tried to choke down a bite of food while he messaged my weary legs and then I was back at it. Those last 9 miles seemed to take a lifetime. At around mile 98 a female runner passed me. She tried to encourage me to run the final 2 miles in with her but at that point I was on a death march. I told her to go get it and I’d be right behind her. Shortly after that, Coach pulled up beside me and informed me that sweet gal who just passed me was 6th overall and I was now 7th AND, most incredible of all, there were only 2 male runners who had finished ahead of us. The overall winner of the Lighthouse 100 was a FEMALE!!! I can’t tell you how pumped I was hearing this news. It was exactly what I needed at that moment. My heart started to race and I think I actually yelled out loud “F*#^ Yeah”!!! I gave my love a kiss and said “I’ll see ya at the finish”. He drove off to get parked and wait with the camera to capture the triumphant moment. I remember turning the corner to go through the finishing chute and seeing the glow of the clock: 21 hours 40 minutes 25 seconds. Just like that- Done.
Jessica works full time at St. Vincent Hospital Pharmacy and part time at Run Away Shoes in Green Bay. She has 2 daughters aged 19 and 16 and 2 step-daughters aged 16 and 13. In her free time she loves to read and, of course, RUN.