Where do I even begin? Let’s start with my connection to this race. Back in 2019 I decided I wanted to run my FIRST 100-mile race. I wanted to do a really hard course but also one that had that “old school ultra” vibe and the TEANAWAY Country 100 seemed to have just that. I ran the first 62 miles of the race and when I got into the aid station I could sense a weird vibe, but I sat in the chair that my crew had set up and was ready to eat some food, change, and then head back out. One of my pacers, Sabrina, slowly walked over to me and you could tell she was being cautious with her words and said, “So um, they are going to hold all the runners here for a bit. They are going to wait and see what the weather does before letting you guys go back out.” I had seen lightning far off in the distance on the last loop but it was so far away and I didn’t hear any thunder so I thought nothing of it and was still mentally preparing to go back out on the next climb. 15-20 minutes passed and then the official decision was announced, the race was canceled due to the risk of flash floods and lightning and thunder and we were to head home. I remember having no emotions about that announcement. I was sad and disappointed, but there was nothing I could do about the decision. It was the correct decision. On the drive back to our AirBnB we were in the wildest lighting/thunder/rainstorm the PNW had ever seen in my lifetime. After that, I always knew I was going to go back to TEANAWAY 100, but I had other races and goals already planned for the next couple years so it wasn’t until this year, 2022, that I was finally able to go back and finish the race. And, this is where the story of TEANAWAY 2022 begins….
Race morning started off great and I felt calm and cool. I had my normal pre-race breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese and had some tea. My fiancé, Gavin, and I hopped into my car to drive to the start and my friend and pacer, Sabrina, got into her car and we both drove the 22 minutes to the start line at Salmon La Sac. My 2 other pacers, Liz and Jake, were still sleeping. Jake ended up making it to the start line before the race started and Liz slept in a bit as she needed some extra sleep before pacing me. We got some pre-race photos and then we lined up at the start. 3…2….1…. GO! We were off. I tried to take it super easy in the beginning knowing that this course involved A LOT of uphill. My strategy was to power hike most of the ups and jog on the downhills.
From the get go we started going uphill. We had around 6 miles up to the first aid station. I jogged easy and hiked when it got too steep or if my effort was too much. This section was all forest road and probably the least technical section of the next 94 miles of the course. As I made it up Sasse Ridge I was rewarded with the most beautiful alpenglow on Rainier. The sky was on fire, filled with pinks, reds, purples.“THIS is why I do this” I told myself. Next up was some ridge running before we had our first big descent. We made a sharp left turn onto a very steep and technical downhill. From here we would go very steep down followed by a very steep up over and over and over for the rest of the race. At this point I had been leapfrogging a fellow running friend, Dan Bucci, and his friend for this section and it was fun to get to run with them a little bit. I did my best to stay consistent with running my own race and not getting caught up in trying to keep up with other people. It was way too soon to be thinking about that. I wanted to keep the effort nice and easy and just enjoy my surroundings. As we headed up to the next aid stations, I kept thinking to myself, “This seems steeper than I remember when I ran it last time. I wonder if they changed the route.” (The route had not changed and I must have just blocked out how steep it was). The next two aid stations did not allow crew and I really didn’t need much from them except a quick snack and some pets of the dogs at Van Epps Pass. I made a mental note that this aid station had 4 dogs there so when I was coming BACK to that same aid station at mile 83 tomorrow the dogs would be my motivation to get there.
As I came into the first aid station where I got to see my crew at mile 27.5 I was just over 6 hours into the race. I knew I was somewhere near the top 3 but not exactly sure what place I was in. I didn’t want to focus on that and told my crew I didn’t really want to know anything about my place until later in the race. My crew quickly grabbed my pack, took out my garbage, refilled my pack with snacks, got me some food, and Sabrina looked at my back and said, “You’re a little red, want some sunscreen?” I said “No.” She didn’t like that response, and proceeded to put sunscreen on me. That’s what a good crew/pacer does, they just do what they know you need. Tired runners don’t always make the smartest decision. Thank goodness I had a great crew to act as my brain for me. I was in and out of that aid station in just under 10 minutes. I would get to see them again in 8 miles, but it was a big uphill followed by another steep descent. I ran into the next aid station feeling REALLY good. I had passed a woman on the downhill into the aid station and had moved up at least one spot. I didn’t spend much time at that aid station. I think I ate a hot dog and was in and out in just 3 minutes. I was excited to get to the next aid station, Miller Peak (mile 45.5) because that is where I would get to pick up my first pacer, Liz Glenn, and from then on, for the rest of the race I would have a pacer with me.
As I began my journey to Miller Peak, I remembered this section from 3 years ago. I struggled HARD on this section in 2019. I had to stop multiple times during the relentless uphill climbing. However, this time I felt GOOD on the climb up. It was hard, but I didn’t have to stop to take a break, I was able to keep power hiking up and once I got to the top was rewarded with an amazing view. I took a photo of the runner in front of me on our way down to the next aid station. This was a fun downhill. I made it into the Miller Peak aid station (Mile 45.5) in good time and good spirits and changed into a long sleeve and my crew got my pack ready with my nighttime gear, headlamp, extra batteries, and a jacket since on this section we would be running through sunset and finish the 13 mile section in the dark. I felt extremely lucky to have Liz as my pacer, she knew this section of trail and helped me get through this section. This is when things started getting harder. Not terribly hard, just when the fatigue is starting to set in. I had been running for over 12 hours at this point and was feeling the effects of it. I started to get a little nauseous during this section and Liz, who is a neuroscientist, used her neuroscientist brain to explain to me how eating just a little something would actually help get rid of the nausea. I was skeptical, my stomach didn’t feel good, but I ate some of my gel and just a little bit later I remember telling her, “HEY, that worked!” A little later, I was tripping over things a bit and she said something along the lines of, “If you eat just a little sugar it will stimulate your prefrontal cortex so you don’t trip as much.” Moral of the story, if you aren’t feeling great during an ultra, you should probably eat, even if you don’t want to. We got to do some beautiful ridge running and were rewarded with the most amazing sunset, it was pretty romantic! A pacer and a runner develop a special bond, I knew Liz before the race, but a pacer gets to see someone during their most vulnerable moments. As we were running down a ridge I realized I had to go to the bathroom but the only place to go to the bathroom off trail was off a steep edge so Liz volunteered to hold my hands as I squatted over the edge so I could go to the bathroom without falling over the edge and rolling down the mountain.
I knew we were close to the aid station when I saw Christmas lights through the trees and I KNEW this was where my crew was set up. Sabrina ALWAYS brings the party lights. Sure enough, I saw a chair with lights all around it and that was my spot. I changed into my long pants and my thermal and ate some top ramen that my crew had made for me while I made Sabrina pin my race bib onto my pants. I also got to see my puppy, Lola, all snuggled up in the car. She looked very cozy and I was immediately jealous of her! I was tired but also still feeling ready for the next climbs. This is where I dropped off Liz and picked up my next pacer, Jake Donath. With Liz relieved of pacer duties she was off to sleep in my car and snuggle with Lola.
Jake had run Teanaway 100 last year so he knew what the course was like and what I was getting myself into. He has also ran all of the 200 Mile races so we got to talk a lot about running 200’s, what life was like for each of us growing up, funny stories, etc. You really get to know a lot about someone when you are running/hiking up a mountain with them for over 6 hours during the middle of the night.There is something about being in the dark with someone and being way out in the remote wilderness that really allows you to get really personal with them. As we were chatting we were climbing up to the top of one mountain and during this time Jake was also doing a great job of making sure I was eating which I was! My trail snacks were Bobo Bars, Gummy Bears, Swedish Fish, and Jelly Beans! I aimed to get around 200-250 calories every hour. As we ran into the next aid station at Beverly Turnpike (Mile 68.8) we got to run through a trail of lights over a bridge to the aid! Here I had some warm broth and soup and sat for a second. But, I didn’t need too much of a rest and next thing you know I was ready to get up and go and Jake, still enjoying the aid station food and company, had to get moving pretty quickly to head out with me. This next section is when things started getting a little harder, I was feeling good on the climb up but the way down was tough and I couldn’t really run too much on the down, I tried doing the ultra shuffle the best I could. Jake kept me entertained with more stories. As we were getting close to the next aid station, Iron Peak (mile 76.2), Jake decided it would be a good time to take a video of me running into the aid station, but while he was recording me all I could think about was the fact that I had to poop and I had not pooped all day. I asked him if there was a bathroom at this aid station and he didn’t think there was. I decided that I was going to go dig a hole and poop in the hole because “I did bring my own wipes with me.” He laughed and said “I’m so glad I got you talking about pooping on camera.” I bring this up because people always ask that question. Here is the answer to all you people wondering about that. This is how it goes. I practice Leave No Trace principles that say to dig a hole 6 inches deep and then you do your business, wipe (keep your dirty wipes in a baggie and pack it out, DO NOT leave them out there), and then get up and keep going on your merry way. I felt SO much better once I got into the aid station after that.
This aid station was where I was going to get my last and final pacer, Sabrina Houck, to pace me from mile 76.2 to the finish! I sat down and had a cold hot dog at 2:30 AM and it was delicious. I wasn’t feeling much like eating food at this point but I knew I had to and the hot dog had a good amount of calories and protein in it and was easy to eat so I munched on some of those. Jake got some solid shots of me enjoying my hot dog with ketchup.
Before the race, I told all my pacers I like lights so they all put lights on the back of their packs and that way I could follow their lights through the dark hours and make it fun! Jake got a shot of Sabrina with her party lights and I as we headed out for the last section and he shouted to us, “See you at the finish line!” I wouldn’t be able to see the rest of my crew until I made it to the finish line!
As I hobbled out of this aid station with Sabrina I was feeling in good spirits but, as soon as we started up the climb is when things went from hard to REALLY hard. I just kept thinking that this climb was NEVER going to end. I had run down this way earlier since the course was an out and back and it didn’t seem like it was that long. While we were halfway up the climb a woman passed me. She looked strong. I did not feel strong. I knew at that point that I was now in 4th place and not 3rd and didn’t feel like I was going to be able to push to catch her. At that point, I didn’t even care about the podium or not. I was frustrated thinking the hill was NEVER going to end. These low moments are what make these ultras so special. You learn so much about yourself and learn how to push yourself through some pretty low moments. Just focused on putting one foot in front of the other and eventually we made it to the top. It was getting chilly up at the top and there was a little rain. I could see some lights far off in the distance on top of another hill and I knew that was the next aid station. It looked so far away. I was pretty quiet during this section just following Sabrina as she led me on to the next aid station. One of the things that I was looking forward to was that the next aid station, Van Epps Pass (Mile 83.1) was the one that had all the dogs! Sabrina loves dogs too but I didn’t tell her about the dogs because I wanted her to be surprised and happy when she saw them.
We sat at that aid station and warmed up our hands for a bit and I drank some broth and tried to eat some food but I couldn’t finish it. Sabrina happily ate my leftovers. The next section was a VERY steep downhill. I remembered how steep it was coming up earlier. I was feeling really down and Sabrina suggested listening to my Spotify playlist she had downloaded that I had sent her prior to the race. It was my “recovery” playlist. It’s a playlist I made of all songs about recovering from addiction and I listened to it so much during my early years of sobriety and now 6 years sober I still listen to it often. Sia’s song, Alive, came on during that section and it made me tear up, made me look back on how far I’ve come in my sobriety. 6 years ago I would have never fathomed I would be running a 100 mile race in the woods. I didn’t know I was strong enough to do something like this.
“I had a one-way ticket to a place where all the demons go
Where the wind don’t change
And nothing in the ground can ever grow
No hope, just lies
And you’re taught to cry into your pillow
But I survived
I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing
Listening to that song gave me some extra strength that I needed. It reminded me, I am strong, and that “I’m still breathing” and that “I’m alive” and I can do this. After that steep downhill we had to hike 3 miles up a “road” if you could even call it a road. It was mostly big rocks with holes and puddles. The only cars that could drive up were large lifted jeeps and even they had a hard time getting up that road. We got to the top of that hill and the aid station was at Gallagher Head Lake (Mile 88.2). I sat down and they gave me a quesadilla. I didn’t want to eat it but knew I had to. Sabrina took a photo of me sitting holding my plate of quesadilla with a far off stare. I’m pretty sure I was doing the math in my head that even though I only had 12 miles left, that at the rate I was moving, it was going to take me 4.5-5 hours to make it to the finish. I thought about dropping but realized I had no good reason to drop. There was no easy way to leave that aid station and the only way out was through, so I had to keep going.
Sabrina was VERY happy at this aid station because they let her take the whole bag of chips. As I was trying to force feed myself my quesadilla she sat cheerfully munching on her chips and staring at my quesadilla, knowing that I wouldn’t finish it all and that she would get more leftovers. She quickly scarfed down the quesadilla and we got up and were on our way to the finish. No more aid stations. Just the finish line.
This was the hardest 12 miles of my entire life. We were in the woods. There were really no more great views and the climbs were steep. Straight up, followed by straight down on rocky and technical terrain. I was so tired of rocks. I was moving so slow. So. Slow. I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the finish. I asked Sabrina if she thought I was the last person out here because we hadn’t seen anyone else in forever. I was moving so slow I had to be the last person. I wasn’t hungry. Sabrina told me I needed to eat. I said I didn’t want to. She said I had to. I opened a wrapper and took two bites of a Bobo bar and grumbled, “ I had two bites. Is that good enough?” Sabrina replied with, “Two bites is better than no bites” and happily kept moving forward. She had so much spring in her step and I wanted her energy.
Usually she would be in front of me but I decided to go in front to set the pace because I wanted to try to run a little. I tried jogging and it was taking up so much of my energy. I looked at my watch and I was jogging an 18 min mile pace and it was using too much of my energy. I slowed to my hiking pace and cried quietly. I didn’t want Sabrina to hear me crying (She later told me she could hear me, I mean, of course she could. We were in the woods with no one else around). I cried because I was frustrated that I couldn’t run. I cried because I was tired. I cried because I felt like I was never ever going to finish this dumb race. I thought about calling search and rescue and then I would be able to stop. But, I had the realization search and rescue would come and see nothing wrong with me and make me hike out anyways. So, I kept moving. We would get to a big hill and I would tell Sabrina, “I think this is the last one!” She would pull out the map, look at it, and go, “I don’t think so. We still have a couple more.”
During one of the climbs she took some photos of me going up it right when we got to the ridge. You can see my look of pure exhaustion when I got to the top. Getting to the top felt great, but it also meant we had to go down a really steep trail on the other side that wasn’t any easier than going up. Everything hurt at this point. We kept moving. Slowly. But we were moving.
Finally we made it to the last trail that would lead us to the finish. It was a 3 mile trail that was named the “Jolly” trail. It was FAR from jolly. It was NOT jolly. It was rocky and steep and I kept sliding down it. I had 97 miles on my legs and I had to finish the race going down this?! This called for some Lizzo. I had a playlist of just Lizzo saved on my phone and we bumped that as we went down the trail. Lizzo always makes me feel in a better mood. 3 miles isn’t that far but it felt like a lifetime away. I was moving at a 25 min mile going downhill. That meant I still had an hour and a half. Normally 3 miles would take me 24-30 minutes on a trail like this. It was also getting hot. I was finishing later than I had expected and didn’t bring a change of clothes. I was still in my long pants and thermal that I wore during the nighttime. I got a little worried about heat exhaustion and decided that it was better to continue to move slowly since I was so hot.
Eventually we got off the NOT “Jolly” trail. Then I was on the road. My feet hadn’t felt a smooth surface since the race had started 33 hours earlier. I could see the finish. I started to cry and then forced the tears back. I wanted to cry but I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want people to see me cry. I looked around for Gavin and my pitbull Lola. I couldn’t see them. “He better not miss me at the finish.” I heard my pacer Jake and Liz cheering for me and then I saw Gavin holding Lola in his arms running toward the finish. I didn’t have much gas left in me but I managed to somehow “run” across that finish line. I collapsed onto my poles, “Oh my god. I didn’t think I was going to make it here. It was so hard.” Harder than Moab 240, harder than Bigfoot 200. The hardest race I’ve ever run. It took me 33 hours and 8 minutes to finish this race. My watch read 40,000 feet of elevation gain and loss but I think it was more around 34,000 feet. Either way, that elevation gain is higher than Mount Everest which is 29,032 feet.
I ended up finishing in 4th place female and am so proud of this hard fought finish. I couldn’t have done it without my amazing crew and pacers. Jake Donath, Liz Glenn, Sabrina Houck. Special shout out to my fiance, Gavin Browder and our dog Lola for always supporting me in my crazy adventures.
Thank you to Pacific Multisports and Rabbit Running for believing in me and supporting me in these adventures. I’ve got some big plans and races for next year (hint – one is a 250 mile race in May) but for now I look forward to a little bit of an off season before training for the next big thing.
Story by Bellingham Athlete Ambassador, Alicia Jenkins – learn more about Alicia on our Team Bellingham page!