10:51 PM- Mile 88

“Colin, they’re right there! Let’s crush ‘em!”

I ran hard up the hill, vomiting in between strides as my heart raced out of control. Colin yelled up to me, “Sally be careful! We still have 12 miles left!” But the storm within me raged- a well-known fury who exposes herself with increasing intensity in the later stages of a race. We reached the top and careened around a corner, focusing on the tiny headlamps almost a half mile away. “I didn’t train this hard for 7th place dammit!”

Stormy. That’s what I’ll call her. I’d like to say I know her well, but after each race, I reflect on her and I shudder- Who was that? She’s relentless, punishing, and heartless toward any physical pain I’m feeling. And on this particular day; June 27, 2015, Stormy had been waiting patiently- brewing quietly for 62 miles- she was angry and I knew she wasn’t going to show any mercy once she took over.

June 26th- Pre-Race Meeting

“…and Sally McRae, mother of two from Huntington Beach…she won Cuyamaca in 2013…” 

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Pre-Race meeting in the Olympic Hall.

I giggled to myself as my little bio blared through the speakers of the tightly packed and humid Olympic Hall. With the exception of a small 50 mile strict training race in April (which I didn’t make public) and a 30 mile race in Italy, I hadn’t done anything noteworthy in the eyes of “the press” this year. I flew under the radar for 6 months; training intensely under the watchful eye of my coach Ann Trason. And I loved it. I gave no care to what my competitors were doing; I was aware of their accolades; their numerous races; and how their impressive resumes naturally cast them as favorites to win Western States, but at the end of the day, it all meant nothing to me. I hold a deep respect for my competitors and many of them my friends-greatly inspire me; but I will always believe my greatest competitor is myself- which makes sticking to my goals that much easier. Eyes forward on the prize; not to my left or right; not on people. 

I playfully curtsied and waved to the crowd before stepping back into the line of 15 women-I was enjoying myself; and so humbled to be standing among some of the best ultra runners in the world. I glanced down the line and back to the crowd- taking it all in. “I can’t believe I’m here again…it’s time.”

June 26th- 11:42pm

I should have been asleep, but instead the dulled light from my cellphone illuminated the room. Sleeplessness was normal for me the night before a race; anything more than 3 hours would be a good night’s rest. I didn’t worry, I had slept well during most of my taper and I knew my body was ready. I had been tossing and turning, so I grabbed my phone and began re-reading the notes I had accumulated over the past few months. Notes to myself:

*Remember who you are- Be who God created you to be.

*Ignore the noise.

*Run with Grit and Grace.

*Choose JOY.

*Be a champion in patience and in the pursuit.

*Focus on now.

*Give everything and then give more.

*Don’t complain.

*Be thankful…

I closed my eyes and began running the course for the 1,000th time in my mind. I had trained on the course 8 times in the previous months, falling in love with every twist and turn; and making vivid mental notes: “remember that burnt tree; the peculiar shape in that boulder; stay to the right when you hit the 2nd creek; power hike this climb, but run this one…” and then I drifted asleep.

At 1:11am I awoke in a pool of sweat; clinched fists and frantic, “I missed the race!!!” I jumped out of bed relieved to see the time, but shocked at how soaked I was. I changed and moved to the other side of the bed. I stared into the darkness and again started running the course in my mind; only a few hours until the first alarm would go off; thankfully I fell asleep for another 90 minutes.

Race Day-June 27th 4:45am 

ODESZA blared through the earbuds of my iPod. I stared at the ground, surrounded by my crew and dear friends; I could sense Billy was nervous as he stood next to me and so did Jimmy; I watched as Jimmy grabbed him and in “Jimmy Style” began encouraging him. I stared back at the ground, calm and focused. “You trained your heart out for this race; you’re strong- now go run YOUR race…” the words from a card my husband had written me were on repeat in my mind. I smiled- I was in a much better place mentally and physically than I had been exactly a year ago and I knew…I just knew it was going to be a good day. 

“5…4…3…2..1..!!!!” voices thundered throughout Squaw Village and my belly filled with butterflies- the race had finally started!

Escarpment to Lyon’s Ridge- Arrival: 6:58am-Mile 10.5

No effort, no energy, I reminded myself to take the first 4 miles extra easy; it really didn’t matter if I was 1st or 81st to the top of Escarpment as long as I was staying steady and using little effort I would set the right tone for those first 30 miles. Those first few miles clicked off easily- my training was filled with intense climbing, so the climb up Escarpment was enjoyable. I paused a couple times to take in the sunrise- it was glorious and it reminded me to be thankful for what I was doing that day, “I GET to do this!”Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 1.12.09 AM

I was unsure of what place I was in as I came into the Lyon’s Ridge Aid Station; I had been quietly following my teammate Kaci for almost ten minutes- we entered less than 60 seconds apart from each other; I wasn’t concerned with placement just yet; I had made the firm decision to not wear a Garmin watch until Foresthill, so when I checked my $1.30 neon digital watch for the time, I was quite pleased. I was hoping for a 2-hour arrival and I was a couple minutes ahead of schedule. I grabbed a piece of potato; and a piece of banana; while the enthusiastic and smiley volunteers filled my bottles; then quickly hopped back on the trail.

Lyon’s Ridge- Duncan Canyon- Arrival 9:26am- Mile 23.8

My taper was made up of short runs; little climbing, and gym sessions; so it was of no surprise that my legs felt a bit wobbly the first few hours- to me, it was a good sign; they were prepping for the brutality ahead- awakening slowly; alerting me to run patiently.

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The Crew working at lighting speed to get me fueled and out of Duncan Canyon Aid Station.

I was thrilled to see Ann, Marie, Ohnmin, and Pen waiting for me as soon as I began descending toward the Duncan Canyon Aid Station. Although I had told my crew to not tell me what place I was in, a volunteer immediately let me know that I was 12th woman. Ha. Okee-dokee. It was an exciting pit stop as the crowd roared and cheered for all the runners coming in, but Ann was firm with my 60 second “in and out” timeframe and like a whirlwind a bar was shoved in my mouth, an ice bandana was strapped on my neck, a new pack replaced the one I had started with, and ice was shoved into my sleeves…last minute instructions from Ann and ”Now go Sally, get out of here!” 60 seconds. Done.

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Crew member (former Bishop High Sierra RD & trail runner extraordinaire) Marie Boyd making a quick adjustment while urging me out of the aid station.

I giggled to myself as I caught the trail again, “Wow…did that just happen?!” They were like a well- oiled machine; clearly they’ve crewed the Indy 500! (love you gals!) 

Duncan Canyon to Robinson Flat- Arrival 10:48am- Mile 29.7

I was less than a mile from leaving Duncan Canyon when a rock jumped out of the ground; grabbed me by the foot, and slammed me to the ground, opening the skin on both knees and bruising the outside of my right knee. As soon as I hit the ground my calves seized up-( OH MY GOSH THE CALVES!) I instinctively yelped and rolled to the side of the trail gripping my legs when my stomach began to seize up (a fun little thing I deal with after having had two children…ab separation.) I had been running alone and didn’t think anyone was around when a gentleman surprised me, “You okay?” I was completely embarrassed knowing I had just screamed like a kicked puppy, “Yes, totally cool- all good!” My calves relaxed and I hopped up and started running again, but slowly making sure they weren’t going to tighten again. I looked down at the blood and dirt on my knees- the side of my right kneecap was clearly swollen but nothing serious. I started to pick up the pace a bit and hit the first climb out of Duncan Canyon- overall I felt good and I made sure to eat and drink as I climbed. I didn’t see any women except for Denise Bourassa- we had frog hopped casually a few times but after passing her before Duncan Canyon I never saw here again. I ran with a couple groups of men here and there; chatted with the cool and friendly Ian Torrence and then began distancing myself from groups (I don’t typically like running in conga lines) as I got closer to Robinson Flat. About a quarter mile from the Aid Station I came upon a line of runners led by a woman, I tried making out who it was; again, I don’t like conga lines, so I hopped to the side of the line and ran to the front, glancing to see who was leading the group…Nikki Kimball! I ran ahead for 10 yards then turned around and yelled back, “Run with me Nikki!” We let the men pass us and excitedly greeted each other. We began quickly catching up with each other. And I learned her legs were cramping up pretty bad; she had been short on nutrition, but you’d never know it; she was smiling and so happy to be running her 10th WS and with the goal of getting her 10th Top 10. We encouraged each other and hugged before breaking off to see our crews. 11119874_10204841162168255_1828975398742732390_oIt was so uplifting to spend those 2 minutes with Nikki, I was all smiles entering the insanely loud Robinson Flat Aid Station. My buddy Colin was at the start of the Aid Station and pointed out where the rest of the crew was stationed. The famous Robinson Flat Crew Lane blared with shouts of encouragement and smiles; I hugged a few dear souls along the way, then found Margie, Dave, and Colin ready and anxious to get me moving out of the aid station. Like Crew B, they were swift and organized, fresh bottles, food, ice bandana, ice in the hat, and done…”Let’s go Sally- get out of here!” I was stoked to already be at Robinson Flat- I really couldn’t believe I had already ran 30 miles- it was going by so fast and still, I felt great. 

Robinson Flat to Dusty Corners-Arrival 12:21pm- Mile 38

I kept eating, sometimes as much as 400 calories an hour; my stomach would get bloated and so I’d take a break from food and focus on fluids. Take care of yourself Sally; you’ve got a 38 mile race waiting for you. I told myself this over and over again. 

This section of the course is relatively easy, lots of downhill but also completely exposed- I stayed steady making sure to assess how every part of my body was feeling along the way. I arrived into Dusty Corners shocked that 8 miles had already gone by. IMG_7690Ann was waiting at the front of the Aid Station and quickly directed me to get sprayed down with water and then to the crew. My stellar ladies once again worked on me in a flurry and before pushing be back onto the trail, I pulled them in for a group hug- I was so moved by them, I needed them to know how grateful I was for their selflessness and care for me. I then hopped back on the trail- feeling strong and peaceful; excited to run the next 5 miles of beautiful single track.IMG_7675_2

As far as I knew, I was now in 11th place, You have a lot of ground to make up if you want to Finish in the top Sally! It was Stormy speaking…so I told her to shut up- there was still lots of race left. Patience.

Dusty Corners to Michigan Bluff-Arrival 4:14pm-Mile 55.7

A few minutes after leaving Dusty Corners Aid Station, I heard the voices of two women; I glanced back to see Pam Smith and my teammate Caroline Boller- I pushed against Stormy who had the urge to take off down the trail, It’s only Mile 39! Chill!  A few minutes later Caroline greeted me and quickly said she would be passing. She passed with intention and I watched as she picked up the pace down the trail- I wanted to chase her so badly, but stayed put. Not yet, Sally. A few minutes later Pam approached and we chatted for a few minutes before I hopped off the trail to pee. At that point I didn’t feel like talking and along with Pam a man also passed and I was then alone. Three people passed in a matter of 2 minutes- I didn’t like that feeling.-I’m gonna bury them! Stormy was fuming.IMG_7694_2

The trail started to descend toward the iconic Swinging Bridge; it was this section last year where my heart broke; I stayed positive and intensely focused on every inch of the trail, reminding myself to lift my feet a little more and watch out for the rocks. I didn’t want a repeat story. When I got to the bridge I raised my hands to the sky and smiled, “Yay! We’re here and I feel great! Time to climb!” The climb up Devil’s thumb was challenging and dead quiet, until I heard, “There you are! Yay!” I quickly flipped around and saw the smiling Nikki Kimball. “Yay! I was wondering when I’d see you again!” And from that point on, Nikki and I stayed together all the way to Michigan Bluff. 1493535_10205874516015742_3107417323640225580_oWe shared stories; talked about grace and joy; and worked together to pass several people along the way, putting ourselves into the top 10 women by the time we reached Michigan Bluff. The miles we shared will go down as some of the most treasured miles I’ve ever shared with anyone. Nikki is an incredible woman with a beautiful soul and I’m humbled to call her my friend- love you Nikki!

Nikki and I ran into the Michigan Bluff Aid Station feeling strong and smiling; again a strong contrast to last year, when I arrived limping and holding back tears. At this point I was increasingly anxious to get to Foresthill, I was excited to start pushing; my plan was to race the last 38 miles hard and I knew that in order to do that, I HAD to feel good going into Michigan Bluff.IMG_7698_2

Just as I neared the runner’s chute into the aid station, I heard the sweet voices of my babes, “Yay Mommy!!! Go Mommy!!” which immediately triggered tears- it was a COMPLETE surprise to see my tiny Makenzie and Isaiah standing there; I wasn’t planning to see them until Foresthill. I grabbed them for a quick hug and looked up to see my husband and dear friends, IMG_7842_2The VandenAkkers with their kids all cheering- it was overwhelming but Ann and Colin were swift to make sure I was focused and kept me moving,  “Come on Sally MOVE! You can’t slow down- let’s go, let’s go!” I jogged down to a spot where I was greeted by Margie and Dave and they quickly went to work; removing my pack, icing me down, and making sure I ate something. At this time, I glanced up to see my teammate Alex Varner standing there and instinctively became upset- “You dropped! Are you okay?” He threw back a big smile and told me to not worry and then proceeded to cheer me out of the aid station. (Alex was my pick for the win but I’ve since learned he made a wise decision to call it a day- check out his race report!). 11709456_10206082678718711_556588837720591655_n

I spent the most time at Michigan Bluff- roughly 4 minutes; definitely too long, but I will say, I was stoked to be leaving there happy and healthy. Ann gave me last minute instructions on how to run the next section and told me that she would be seeing me at Bath Road to pace to Foresthill- something I had been anticipating all year- running with my hero! Alex shouted at me as I jogged away, “there are two women who just left…go keep them company!” And as soon as I hit the trail, Stormy nudged me, Go get them and next time don’t take so long in the aid station- Focus!!

Michigan Bluff to Foresthill- Arrival 5:34pm- Mile 62

Motivated, I picked up the pace to see who was accompanying Nikki (I was positive one of them had to be Nikki because we came in together and she was feeling strong). Less than a quarter mile in and I spotted them- Nikki and Pam! I caught up just as we hit a climb and we all power hiked together, laughing and joking. We then came upon Joelle Vaught who told us she had gotten lost earlier in the race and was feeling a bit deflated, so we urged her to run with us, “C’mon Joelle! It will get better!” And with that, the four of us ran down into the canyon, pausing to splash around in an ice cold creek before climbing back up to Bath Road. 

Nikki, Pam, and myself stepped onto Bath Road together. Ann was again focused on getting me moving- “Let’s go Sally; I’m ready to pace you in!” She threw a wet towel across my shoulders and we started jogging up the road, “How are you feeling?” Ann had been in tune with me all day and was hoping I’d feel good at Bath Road- to her; it was a good sign that I’d have a strong Finish. “I feel really good Ann, I am so excited about the last 38 miles!”  She smiled and then I blurted, “Ahhhhh we’re running together! I am so happy! Thank you Ann!!” I ran alongside her with a huge smile, trying to digest how the woman who was once an evasive athlete whom I deeply admired from afar was now running alongside, as my coach and friend. It’s a stretch of the race that I will treasure for the rest of my life. IMG_7671_2

As soon as I saw the Foresthill Aid Station, I picked up the pace; I ran through the runner’s chute without slowing down and headed straight to my crew situated 200 yards down the road. At this point my kids suddenly appeared and began running alongside me, “Go Mommy! Mamma you’re doing so good! Yay Mamma!” I again welled up with tears and reached for them when I heard my crew firmly guiding me toward them, “C’mon Sally!!” I arrived, ripped off my arm sleeves; grabbed some food, and a fresh bottle while Colin wiped me down with a wet rag. I also got to finally put on my Garmin watch! I looked at Dave- Pacer #1 and said, “Now we race!”Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 1.49.01 AM

Foresthill to Rucky Chucky River Crossing- Arrival Time 8:41- Mile 78

We took off down the road- it was loud; exciting and I felt strong. “Dave, can you believe we’re already here; we’re doing this AGAIN!” 

He smiled back and said, “Yah, and are you sure you want to stay at this pace?” 

“What? How fast we going?”

“6:10.”

“Ha-ha, no let’s slow a bit; think the excitement of Foresthill got to me!”IMG_7663_2

We turned onto the iconic Cal street and hopped on the trail, I was giddy. But it wasn’t long before Stormy reared her head, Race mode now; let’s push- let’s hunt!!

A few days before the race I had written Dave a note and put it in the Foresthill Crew Bag; I explained my goals; the pace I wanted to keep and the importance of not letting me whine or slow down, along with other key instructions on how to keep me moving. Dave wasted no time in keeping me focused and as soon as we hit the first small climb comforted me with, “I know you want to powerhike some of these climbs, but you’re gonna have to earn that- run hard on the flats and you can powerhike the climbs, deal?” 

“Okay, deal. Let’s do it!”

And for the next few hours we pushed as hard as my legs could go; and if I ever slowed, Dave let me know, “Stop looking at your watch; I’ll lock you in….pick it up Sally…c’mon I know you have more to give than that….”

My stomach had felt good all day, but since leaving Michigan Bluff, solid food wasn’t particularly attractive, so I resorted to drinking as many calories as possible; and thankfully, on this day it worked. I was still holding a steady 300-400 calories an hour and my energy stayed level. Each time we stopped at an aid station I attempted to eat a piece of banana and a piece of potato or watermelon. We moved through the aid stations quickly and each time asked what place I was in and how far ahead the next woman was. I started to become obsessed with catching the women ahead of me. 

“Where is everyone? I feel like we’re running hard and there’s no one in sight!” Stormy was fully present; impatient, and intense.

Dave reminded me that I was in a different place compared to last year; and then encouraged me to pick up the pace. Within minutes we spotted Joe Grant; his stomach had been revolting and he was feeling uneasy so we encouraged him to run with us, “It’ll get better Joe- cmon!” Joe kept pace with us and we enjoyed good conversation until we got to the 7-minute hill where he pulled away. Don’t let him pull away!! Go get him! I smirked back at Stormy- I’m not chasing him uphill! 

At this time, I started to get quiet; I started to wrestle with myself. I knew this section was going to hurt; everything hurt. But it wasn’t “injury” pain, nor was it an upset stomach pain- my body just hurt. 75 miles of pounding- I was tired; and mentally I wanted a break. Dave’s voice broke my train of thought, “Sally, let’s hit that pace; you gotta move, I know you don’t want anyone catching you and don’t forget who’s behind you!”

I started listing the names of the women behind me, “Yah, Nikki Kimball, Pam Smith, Michelle Yates, Joelle Vaught, Shaheen Sattar, Denise Bourassa, etc…” 

And then I told Dave, “Let me run ahead of you for 1 minute; I need quiet.”

I surged about 10 feet in front of Dave and started talking to myself, “Don’t think, just go. Don’t think, just go.- YOU are your greatest competitor…now dammit move!! 

Brain reset.

“Okay, Dave- sorry, run next to me; let’s do this!”

“No, I totally get it- you’re doing great Sally- let’s keep moving; you’re gonna hit your goal time to the river!”

We hit the last aid station before Rucky Chucky and I anxiously asked what place I was in, “You’re 7th woman!”

“Are you sure? Last aid station also said I was 7th, but I thought I left Foresthill in 8th?”

“Nope, you’re 7th and the woman before you left about 7 minutes ago!”

“That’s it? Dave we made 13 minutes on her- whoever she is; let’s go get her!!”

Stormy started to boil within me, “Top 5! Top 5! I Want Top 5!!”

We coasted into the Rucky Chucky Aid Station in the time I had hoped for; and it was still light out. And like every other aid station before, the volunteers were quick, friendly and helpful- filling my bottles and keeping me moving. My friend Kelsie was standing in the aid station waiting for her runner when she nudged me, “Your team mate is in the water.” My eyes lit up, “Dave! Caroline is in the water, let’s go get her!!”

I grabbed my bottles and sprinted down the steps, completely unaware of the life vest a volunteer was holding up- “Hey! It’s the law! You need to put this on!” Embarrassed and frazzled I slipped into the vest, keeping my eyes on Caroline who was barely halfway across the river.

Stormy shouted at Dave, “She’s right there!! We’re passing her hard Dave! Cmon!!!”

With our vests on, we jumped into the water while volunteers pointed out the deep spots and big rocks. We moved quickly down the line; I kept my eyes on Caroline, ignoring Joe Grant directly in front of me and Caroline’s pacer who was in front of him. I looked back at Dave, “Can we pass in the water, I want to pass now!”  

Joe let go of the line and floated away on his back. I (Stormy) was now breathing down the neck of Caroline’s pacer. 

“Dave, as soon as they step on land, we’re passing! You ready!?”

“Let’s do it!”

All four of us stepped on land at the same time; we ripped off our vests and I leaped in front of Caroline before she could hit the trail, “Hey Caroline, we’re gonna pass real quick.”

As soon as we passed, we picked up the pace and sprinted hard for the next 100 yards, hitting the 2 mile climb up to the Green Gate Aid Station.

“Yes, Sally!”

“I want top 5 Dave! I’m in 6th now, let’s go get more!”

We ran most of the climb, slowing for a few seconds here and there when Dave could hear I was breathing too hard. 

Stormy had completely taken over.

Green Gate to Highway 49-Arrival 12:03am- Mile 93.5

Janet Freeman (Don Freeman’s wife, TRN) grabbed my bottles as we flew into the Green Gate aid station; Colin and Margie were nearby urging us to keep moving, but I was hard pressed on finding out how far ahead the next female was,

“When did the last female leave?!!”

“38 minutes ago!”

I shoved a banana in my mouth and grabbed my bottles from Janet (you rock Janet!!).

It was time to run the final 20 miles with Colin-Pacer #2.

I grabbed my headlamp from Margie and thanked Dave for his solid pacing; then took off toward the trail with Colin.

“You ready to do this Colin? Don’t let me whine.”

“Yep, there’s a little drop here and then I want you moving; this is a very runnable section.”

Colin filled me in on what was going on ahead, “By the way, you’re not 6th- you’re in 7th.”

“What?!! No I’m not! The last few aid stations BEFORE I passed Caroline said I was in 7th, and so passing her would put me in 6th!” 

“Magda, Stephanie, Kaci, Aliza, Emma, Nicole, and then you….that’s 7th place.”

“SERIOUSLY?! I need to stop asking- this is driving me crazy!”

“Don’t worry about it, you need to get obsessed with that Finish line- Focus!”

Colin kept me on pace as we glided along the single-track, slowing only to powerhike the climbs. At this point in the race I was thankful to be moving so well, but became increasingly aware of my belly- I wasn’t nauseas but I also didn’t feel like eating anything. Colin kept reminding me to take in calories and I started to become irritated.

“I am taking in calories!!”

“When, what did you eat?”

“I didn’t eat, I’m drinking them.”

“You need to keep getting calories in if you want to last all 20 miles!”

“I KNOW!!” 

Stormy wasn’t very patient- she just wanted to run.

We hit the ALT Aid Station(85.9) and they confirmed that I was indeed in 7th place; we also learned that the two women in front of me were “Not looking too good”. 

“Sally, you’re moving well- keep that up and we’ll get them.”

“Let’s do it!”

We were in and out of the aid station in less than 2 minutes. We kept a steady pace; but I again became frustrated at how slow the pace was, despite my efforts, “Why does it feel like I’m pushing a 6:40 pace and I’m barely keeping a 10:30 pace!!”

“You just ran 85 miles, now just focus on moving forward.”

It was pitch black and the trees hovered over us like a cave. Stormy growled, Pick it up Sally, you don’t have much time left! 

I started to pick up the pace, pushing so hard I began dry heaving every couple minutes. I doused my head and neck with water hoping to cool down my increasing body temperature, I was on the verge of blowing up, but Stormy was cruel and then suddenly, a flash in the distance caught my eye. “Colin! They’re right there! Let’s crush ‘em!”

I ran hard up the hill, vomiting in between strides as my heart raced out of control. Colin yelled up to me, “Sally be careful! We still have 12 miles left!” But the storm within me raged. We reached the top and careened around a corner, focusing on the tiny headlamps almost a half mile away. “I didn’t train this hard for 7th place dammit!”

We entered the Brown’s Bar Aid Station (Mile 89.9) and I immediately asked about the women ahead of me, “When did they leave?”

“About 20 minutes ago.”

“Colin we’re gaining on them- we’ve got 10 miles to catch them-but whose headlamps did we see? Are there men in front of us?”

“Yes, there’s a couple guys right in front.”

Not what I wanted to hear.

“We’ve got 10 miles to get them, Colin- let’s go!”

We raced out of the aid station and I had learned that it was Nicole and Emma ahead. I became obsessed with catching them. 

“You’re moving so well Sally, you’re gonna catch them!”

Colin believed in me- I believed in me.

“I will get in Top 5!”

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Flashing a smile at family and friends while running out of Hwy 49.

We arrived at Highway 49, just 7 miles from the Finish line; and to my surprise my family, friends and crew were all there to cheer us on and tell us that the two women were now only 15 minutes ahead and barely staying upright.

We were in and out within 60 seconds pausing only to fill our bottles.

Highway 49 to Robie Point Arrival Time: 1:10am- Mile 98.9

“Colin, there’s a nice climb right here, we’re gonna powerhike it and then let’s rip down to No Hands!”

As we climbed, I suddenly went weak, a flashback from last year’s race filled my mind but I didn’t want to speak it audibly, so I kept it to myself. We were just a quarter mile away from where Shaheen had first crept upon me last year. I became frantic,

“Colin, who’s behind us?!!”

“What? No one. No one has been behind you for a long time; there’s no way anyone is running as fast as you.”

“Just find out, I need to know at the next aid station, who is coming? There are so many women behind me and they all want top 10. I can’t get passed!”

“Sally! Just keep moving forward, don’t worry about what’s behind you.”

We hit the meadow and I shuddered, when Colin spoke my fear,

“Hey remember this section last year…”

I interrupted him and bit back, “I don’t want to talk about it- Don’t say it!”

“Say what? This is such a beautiful section; you can see so many stars.”

“I thought you were going to bring up Shaheen and how I had to race her right here!”

I started to pick up the pace, “No one is going to pass me!”

Stormy grunted, Faster Sally, Faster!

We were a mile from No Hands Bridge and still no runners in sight. If Nicole and Emma were barely upright, why on earth have I not caught them yet? We continued moving well and came into No Hands Bridge (96.8) in good time. Colin encouraged me to at least get some water into my bottle despite my curt protests. We were in and out of the aid station within 20 seconds.

“Colin can you believe we’re running across No Hands right now? How is this almost over? And where the hell are those girls!”

I continued dousing my heated body with water and dry heaved as we hit the dirt. 

“This is it Sally, you can do it; keep up this pace.”

Colin continued to encourage me as we peered through the darkness.

“I think those are headlamps in the distance!”

We couldn’t make out how far away they were but we knew we didn’t have much time and so we continued to push.

“Sally you’re breathing so hard, slow for a few seconds, you gotta get up Robie Point strong.”

I slowed my pace for a minute and then settled back into pace, dry heaving and now wavering from side to side on the trail.

“Colin, I’m so tired; and everything hurts.”

He didn’t give in to my whining, “It’s supposed to hurt.”

We made the final drop into the canyon before climbing up Robie; the only headlamps I could see now were just 100 yards away and they belonged to a male runner. We hit the Robie Point Aid Station and I glanced back into the darkness, assuring myself that no one was going to spring upon me.

We stepped onto the road and my eyes filled with tears. I had missed my A & B goals. 

Stormy sunk away- disappointed.

Colin looked back with a smile,

“Yes Sally! Everyone is at the bridge waiting to run you in! 

He was upbeat, proud, and excited about another top 10 Finish.

I slogged up the road, fighting tears.

The pavement hurt; my brain hurt; I was dizzy and breathing uncontrollably. We made our way across the iconic white bridge and was surprised to see that my in-laws and my baby sister had made the trip to the high school. I was so happy that I reasoned it would be okay to let a tear or two fall. 11403404_10205666260993806_8705114265635623861_n

I hit the track and beckoned for all who wanted to run with me, to cross the Finish with me. My daughter settled into pace alongside me; I glanced at her smile- overcome by her joy, “Good job Mommy!” My heart warmed…the race was just 50 meters from Finishing.

We picked up the pace, and with JOY, we all leaped across the Finish line.11379975_887098281356330_1068121432_n

20 hours. 27 minutes. 33 seconds.

7th Female.

Heartrate: Broken but Thankful.

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With the Amazing Pixie Ninja, Kaci; I am so proud of you and so grateful to have you as my teammate and friend. Congratulations on an amazing 2nd place finish! We get to do it again!

The jump across the Finish line had shocked my body for a few minutes and I had to be helped to the Medical Tent as every muscle in my lower body began to seize up. We made our way to a cot where I bundled up in a blanket. Stephanie was bundled in a blanked next to me and we began exchanging our “war stories,” and then Kaci wandered over for a big hug. It was a tough day for everyone…as is expected for 100 mile races, right? Well done ladies- love to both of you and to all my fellow competitors, may we continue to race strong and gritty and may we continue to uplift and support each other along the way. 

June 29th, Monday- 10:15 A.M.- Phone Check-in with Coach Ann

“Hi Ann.”

“Sally! How are you?! I am so, so proud of you.”

“Thank you! And thank you so much for being there all weekend; I can’t thank you enough.”

“Oh, I had so much fun. How does your body feel?”

“Pretty good. Just tired- I slept for almost 10 hours last night!”

“That’s great! That’s exactly what you need- I want you to take it easy this whole week.”

“Ha. No problem doing that; I intend to just sleep a lot and hang out with my kiddos.”

“You know you had a great race on Saturday…are you happy about it?”

“It was a deeply competitive field, so yah, it makes me happy to finish where I did I guess.”

“Are you happy Sally? I just want you to be happy- you know you ran a great race.”

“I didn’t train to be 7th place…I really should have ran faster in those first 62 miles.”

“Well, did you learn anything?”

“Oh my gosh, YES! I learned so much; thanks to you! I also know I still have a lot of work to do!

I’ve already been thinking about training and racing strategy for 2016, can we chat a little about that?”

“Yes, of course….”

#SeeYouInSquaw2016

The Most Important Part of Any Race Report- #BeThankfulAlways

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Isaiah 7, Eddie, Makenzie 9 (Isaiah fell asleep on the track and despite our efforts, could not be shaken awake; next year we’re giving him a Red Bull so he can show everyone his jumping skills crossing the Finish line.)

*My Husband and children– thank you for your enduring love and support while I trained for this race. I know it wasn’t always easy if ever I was away, and your longing for me only showed me how much you love me. I love our tight circle of 4 and couldn’t have trained and raced this well without you. You are my treasure and I love you to the moon and back.

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Joel Silva Photography

*Ann Trason– My coach, my friend. Thank you for teaching me how to take care of myself; it has been a life long journey of learning how to do just that; and I can’t thank you enough for showing me that I truly am worth it. Thank you for your consistent care and support both on and off the training course. You changed me as an athlete both physically and mentally. I am so grateful for all I have learned from you and look forward to continuing to learn from you. Thank you for being a crew chief rockstar- I can’t wait for Western States 2016!

*Colin Cooley, Dave Daley, Margie Daley- For your undying support, encouragement, selflessness, humor, and love; I love you guys so much and am so incredibly grateful for the sacrifices you made to see me through to another top ten finish. Group hug! #seeYouinSquaw2016

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Dave, Jimmy, Josh, Billy, Colin, Joel, and Margie thank you for your friendship- the laughter and memories we shared over race weekend will never be forgotten- I cherish each of you! Big Hug!

*Marie Boyd, Pen Perez, and Onhmin- Thank you for jumping in on a whim to crew me; seriously you ladies worked incredibly well together and were so focused on my success; I simply can’t thank you enough. Thank you thank you!IMG_7719

*Nike Trail Running & Team- Thank you for your continued support of me as an athlete; for believing in my abilities, for putting together the RADDEST team around, and for providing legit gear to go the distance. There’s at least 50 names I need to thank…so big group hug to all of you; you know who you are!IMG_7614_2

Nature’s Food Nutrition- Thank you for your continued support and for providing rockstar protein powder that kept me fit and strong while I trained. I am so thankful to all of you!

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It’s safe to say that no race in the world has as many rockstar volunteers as Western States- You guys are all badass- thanks for the miles of smiles!

Craig Thornley & All WS Volunteers– Absolutely superb event! Thank you Craig for your tireless care and concern for each and every runner’s safety and experience. I know you don’t hear it firsthand enough, but the “unseen work” that you do is overwhelmingly visible in so many ways. Thank you. And to all the volunteers, your graciousness, quickness, excitement, and selflessness will never go unnoticed; I know you hear it all the time, but truly, this race cannot happen without you. I take my ice hat off to you and give a big sweaty Sally hug and Clif gel kiss to each of you! he he! xoxoxo

Sally’s WS100 2015 Race Results & Fun Stats

*7th Woman

*35th Overall

*Finishing Time: 20:27

*2nd Fastest Woman among the top 10 for the last 38 miles.

*25- Number of Clif gels consumed between El Dorado Creek and Brown’s Bar

1- Number of falls.

1- Number of shoes used for the entire race.

3- Number of race vests used from start to finish.

Sally’s Training Stats Leading to WS100 2015

Biggest Week- 125 miles, 30,000 feet of climbing

Longest Training Run- 50 miles

Number of times training on the Western States Race course- 8

Number of sauna sessions- 10

Number of gym sessions- 70

Average days running per week- 6

Number of injuries- 0

Sally’s Racing Gear and Nutrition

*Shoes- Nike Wildhorse 3

*Socks- Drymax

*Shorts- Epic Lux Black 3-inch shorts

*Singlet- Nike Elite Team/Specially made for WS

*Hat- Green trucker hat from the dollar store.

*Arm Sleeves- White EnduraCool arm sleeves

*Bandanas- $1 cotton bandanas for the neck

*CarboPro, Tailwind, and Cliff products

*Bananas, Potatos, and Watermelon.

*Whenever Bars- Blueberry Lemon

*Ginger Ale & Coke

If you’ve made it to the bottom of this post, you deserve a Reading Award! Ha! Thanks so much for taking the time to read my race report, please feel free to share with family and friends and post your questions and comments below! I appreciate YOU! Until next time, Run Strong in ALL you do!

xoxo

Sally McRae

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Author Sally McRae

More posts by Sally McRae
  • Sydney C. Johnston

    ❤️ This. Thank you for sharing your experience from this years WS. You made me cry and it’s not even 8am! 🙂 You’re truly an inspiration, Sally! Congrats on another great race!

    • yellowrunner

      Thank you for reading Sydney! Appreciate you taking the time to leave feedback too! Blessings to you!

  • Arron Garrod

    Baller, Badass, Epic, Hero, Boss, The Deal, I could go on an on….you are truly an inspiration to anyone/everyone wanting to reach their goals. I admire your determination, patience, and drive. You embody what it is to truly love what you do, and I wish more people were like you. Maybe one day, hopefully WS2017, I will get the chance to run with you, even if its only for a few minutes. Keep up the great work and stay who you are…that is what is most important.

    • yellowrunner

      ha ha ha! Yes! Thanks for all the kudos Arron and really appreciate you taking the time to read and leave a comment!

  • Beka Swisher

    So fun to read about your race, training, and support! Thanks for taking the time to type it up – cool to see all the pics too – I so admire your perspective of being a competitor with grace – Blessings on your next year of training! #chooseJOY

    • yellowrunner

      Thank you Beka!! I started writing it the day after the race- truly a labor of love! ha! Appreciate you reading and commenting! Keep “choosing Joy!”

  • Sam Giroux

    So proud of both Sally and Stormy! Think of how far you have come since last year and the world is wide open for the future. For what a fierce competitor you are, you are a bigger inspiration and a beacon of light in the running community. Stay strong and see you in Squaw 2016.

    • yellowrunner

      Thank you Sam!! Really appreciate the time you took to read and leave a comment! Blessings to you!

  • Amanda Anderson Roe

    Congratulations, Sally, on a race run well! I just started reading your blog a few months ago and it’s been so fun (and informative) to watch the whole thing unfold. Can’t wait I to see you and Stormy kick ass next year! Big thanks for sharing your experience—-From one Mama runner to another.

    • yellowrunner

      A fellow mama runner!! Heck yeah! thanks for taking the time to read and comment! Cheers!

  • Angela

    Great report, Sally! You kept it real. That inner storm in us all can be our warrior or it can it can blow us away. You were smart to use the storm to your advantage. So much hardwork and dedication; you’re children will never forget the time and effort you put into this race. Congrats for your race success and your LIFE success 🙂

    • yellowrunner

      Thanks so much for that feedback Angela; and you’re right…we all have a little “Stormy” in us! =)

  • Great job Sally!

    • yellowrunner

      thank you!

  • David Easa

    I love how Isaiah slept through the finish photo. That’s pretty good incentive to finish earlier next year 🙂

    • yellowrunner

      Oh man, I was so sad; I actually debated stepping off the track to try and shake him awake as others had tried to no avail; I was sad for him, but thankfully he was okay when he woke up…next year he’s drinking coffee!! haha!

  • Awesome Finish, Inspiration for Sure!!! Love, Love your honesty!!! Thank you for sharing your inner thoughts about your training & racing! Rest up, you deserve it!

    • yellowrunner

      thank you for the feedback Sandra! Blessings to you!

  • Liz Tily

    Thanks for sharing!!!!! That’s so awesome, you are my favorite athlete ever!

    • yellowrunner

      appreciate you reading Liz! =)

  • A SUPER CONGRATULATIONS TO YOU..You are such an inspiration to us girls. I wish you nothing but the best for next year. You did awesome . Thank you for taking a picture with me in auburn its on my fridge.. Your awesome Sally.

    • yellowrunner

      thank you so much Gloria!!

  • Cassandra Valenzuela

    Love you Sally. You’re my hero. Wish to meet you some day. Doing my second 50k – Ray Miller. I hope to grow to be as strong as you.

    • yellowrunner

      Thank you Cassandra! And hope you have a strong race at Ray Miller; that’s a gorgeous course! Blessings! =)

  • Quinn Ross

    What an amazing report. Exhilarated, moved, inspired. Thank you for sharing that.

  • Bart Smith

    Sort of an understatement to say this is an inspiring read. But then Sally is an inspiring person. Congratulations with a great WS100. It was sooo exciting following your progress through out the day. Thanks for a wonderful race report!

  • Brent Miller

    “Run with grit and grace.” Great report and great race Sally!

  • Stair ClimbLunatic

    Excellent blog with great photos – documenting another stellar performance! Congratulations Stormy & Sally! 🙂

  • RandomCommenter7

    Great race report! Thanks for sharing! I’m sure next year you will get Top5! Congrats on a great achievement!

  • Madi

    I hope to race my 50k this month with as much fight as you had during that race. So inspiring! Thank you for sharing. I was out on the course that day crewing for David Laney, it really is like an Indy500 pit stop! It’s really interesting reading how differently people think and race these long races. Maybe that’ll be me some day but for now I’ll stick to my “short” 50ks! Haha thanks again for reminding me to run happy and fight hard

  • Raul Engle

    Great read Sally! I always enjoy your grateful attitude. It wasn’t top 5, but more to fight for. And as usual, everytime you mention your kids, I tear up like a Dad. Haha! Happy recovery!!!

  • Tara

    Wow! I’m so inspired. Such a great recap…felt like I was there. 😉 Congratulations! You just get better and better.

  • Dana Crawford

    AMAZING! You are such an inspiration, Sally! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Caitlin Vultaggio

    Sally!!! You are so amazing and always an inspiration. So proud of your amazing finish! Congratulations!

  • Mark Pesce

    That was a perfect story with a perfect ending. Best part about it; it’s your story and God wrote it out for you long ago. Can’t wait for the next chapter!

  • Charity Thurman

    Thank you for this race report. It brought me to tears. I was following you all day through various social media outlets and I was so happy to see the results of your race when I woke up Sunday morning. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon you but I’m so glad I did. You inspire me to be a better trail runner and I love your positive attitude. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for Squaw next year!!!

  • Isaac R. Medrano

    Sally you are a rockstar writer! Captivating! Amazing! Being thankful and grateful always is a way of life I am holding close to my heart and practicing relentlessly. From meeting you at the finish area of TNFEC 50, running a couple miles with you & Billy at WS Camp, and cheering out of Last Chance AS I always learn something from those moments. Keep inspiring! Keep loving! Many blessing Sally. Thank you for sharing.

  • Nada

    Amazing! You’re such an inspiration for me and for many people, you’re one of the reasons I’m thinking about going for ultras, thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Amanda Worstell

    Awesome race report! I was following you all day and so excited for your finish! You are truly an inspiration- thanks for sharing!

  • Jason Breinin

    Awesome report! congratulations on a wonderfrul race and the shared experience with so many loved ones. Truly inspiring!

  • designfly

    You are an amazing runner and writer…we’ll be watching and cheering you on at ws100 in 2016!!! “Go Sally”

  • Emilie T Evol’Vedstrength

    Thank you for such an inspiring race report! This got me so pumped!!!
    Love the part about your kids, it must have been so special to have your girl run alongside you for the finish 🙂

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  • Gabriel C.

    Amazing performance and awesome race report! Really inspiring! Keep it up! (Cheers from Brazil)

  • Kelly Petinak

    Hey Sally, this is Kelly (Stark) Petinak, Chris Petinak’s wife. Not sure if you remember us, but we went to Biola with you. 🙂 Anyway, I just wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed reading the article/blog post about your recent 100 mile race. We were on a road trip and I read the whole thing to Chris as he drove. It was fascinating and awe-inducing!! Congrats!!

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  • Sherry Osborne

    This was so exciting to read! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  • Mark Crichton

    Hello Sally. I have enjoyed reading your blog about Western and your recount of the conversations that you had with yourself and others. I cannot imagine the mental toughness that it takes to get to the level of running that you are at. I have done a few marathons but have never pushed myself beyond that distance. Just lately I am finding my thoughts are challenging me to push the boundaries. I have been doing a lot of reading about ultras as well as watching you tube channels. Thank you for sharing your journey and experiences. It is inspirational as well as it helps to know that it is obtainable. The amount of training that you put in for this race was amazing but also having the support network demonstrates that it takes a village to raise a ultra runner. The people whom you surround yourself with are incredible. You are blessed. I wish you continued success and look forward to reading about your top 5 finish at Western in 2016.

  • Lee Stebbins

    Great comments – BTW , if your business require to merge are interested in merging of , my friend merged a tool here “http://goo.gl/f1489u“.

  • MEK

    Running my first ultra in a few hours. Just a 60k in NYC but reading this has calmed me and made me feel ready. Ready for my stormy to come out and kick ass. Thank you!!

  • hlrchs1976

    Just began reading and watching yesterday. Positive attitude is everything. Love, Love , Love your spirit!!