In the winter of 2021, while there was still snow on the ground, I decided I needed a new challenge. I stumbled on the Castle Peak 100K website while looking for spring/summer ultras in California. I thought it was an auspicious sign when I saw the event was being held on my birthday and I signed up without hesitation.
Then I read the race description.
Then I panicked.
Finally, a strange mix of terror and excitement ensued that never abated. It spurred me into action. I studied the course. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and pushed my introverted self to volunteer at DPMR events and join a newbie run so I could meet other local runners. I ran the Lost and Found 35k to explore segments of the course. I tackled Castle Peak several times – not only to acclimate but because of the rewarding view. I enlisted family and friends to crew and pace. And I counted down the days to my birthday– which is something I had stopped doing somewhere after 30.
I woke up on race morning and told myself I had the ability to determine how the day was going to unfold. There would be many factors I could not control, but my frame of mind belonged to me alone. And that settled it – I decided it was going to be a great day.
We started with a nice climb out of Donner Ski Ranch. Being a novice at running with trekking poles, I had decided to pick them up from my crew at mile 10. That stroke of genius resulted in my climbing about a third of the ascent on my hands and feet in a ridiculous attempt to not slide back and take out the runners behind me (because who wants to be that runner?). I can honestly say I have never used all four extremities at once during a race. It was the first of many firsts that would unfold throughout the course of the day. At the top of the hill (and once I was back upright), day started to break and I settled in to a nice rhythm.
I was approaching the first aid station when I made a very pleasant discovery… you could hear the aid station from quite a way out. Each and every time I could hear a cheer, it would lift my spirits. And that was true for every single aid station! I cruised into Johnson Canyon to see my wonderful crew and my glorious trekking poles and was elated! A quick hello, a delicious slice of watermelon, and I was off. And so it went throughout the day, into the night, and in to the early morning.
It is hard to say what I enjoyed most about the course. The views are unparalleled. The trail is unforgiving. Frog lake was a fun out and back and felt like child’s play once Warren Lake was behind me. Warren lake was the hardest segment – but that pretty alpine lake took the sting out of it. The ascent to Castle Peak was as magnificent as ever. Hole in the Ground was just plain fun punctuated by the unofficial aid station that was as amazing as advertised. I cruised into Soda Springs with a smile on my face and gladly accepted the veggie burrito my crew had so kindly procured for me! And then it was time to get ‘er done.
The night miles were just as enjoyable due to the enveloping silence and calm. My pacer and I chatted through the miles and spent a lot of time discussing the critters of the night we were becoming acquainted with (eww).
Before I knew it, I could hear the finish. And then I could see it. And the excitement filled me from head to toe. Not only was I going to finish – but I had enjoyed every single mile. Seeing my family and friends at the finish was the icing on the cake. We all celebrated for a while at the finish and then I reluctantly got in the car to go home. Sad it was over.
I have reflected quite a bit since the finish and I realize that it was not only the race that was fulfilling, but the journey to get there even more so. I have made new friends, explored so many new trails, and it reinforced that I have an amazing group of people in my corner. So many reminders of how blessed life can be. And I am a better person for it. And as it turns out, it was an auspicious sign indeed.
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you come by achieving your goals.” Henry David Thoreau