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Palisades Ultra 2022: 100 Mile Race Report - Andrew LeBlanc

Let me set the scene for you, so you can experience this with me as you read.

05:40 the crisp air enters and leaves your breathe with a form of solidity in the air in front of you as you walk up to the start of a race you’ve been prepping for, for 5 months. You put a smile on your face even though you’re ready to go to war in your head and your body is a well-trained machine waiting to showcase its power and training that you’ve worked so hard for.

The feeling of lining up on this start line with the veterans that accompanied me on this feat was not only nerve racking, humbling, scary and amazing, but a word that came to mind was "comfortable". "Comfortable" not because of the challenge that lies ahead but because of the solidarity amongst these truly amazing people, the feeling that I’ve found my home away from home in this community. I’ve never felt more ready and comfortable in my entire life than I did in that moment, I looked around and saw the group of highly motivated, like minded people that I had been looking for, for so long.

5,4,3,2,1 *bells clang*

Cheers line the trail out, my crew, my mom and Liz cheer me and the others on as we start this amazing experience. Naturally, I start the conversation and joke cracking early with the other runners. Perhaps the nerves led to me to use this defense mechanism as a fix to the feelings I was waiting to experience.

But as soon as we hit the trail head, all heads went down and the race had begun. Now that you’re here with us, running this race, let’s talk about the race itself.

First of all, the race directors and volunteers:

Hats off to these people who work so hard to put on this amazing old school remote ultra race. The community in Irwin, Idaho although small, was electric. The goosebumps I had every time I watched a race director talk about the race or when a volunteer dropped whatever they were doing for my well being was incredible. I feel compelled to say that this is how all humans should be… kind, infectious, caring, thoughtful, helpful but most of all selfless. These people go above and beyond to make sure that we, as athletes have the best experience we could possibly have. I am forever grateful for the experience they helped me to have at this race. Jeremy, thank you for letting me run this race, Jeff thank you for giving a phenomenal pre-race brief on the elevation. Spencer thank you for laughing at my jokes and taking a picture of me absolutely knocked out after the race. Thank you to all the volunteers that took time out of their life to be apart of this, you’re truly amazing people and I hope to see you again soon.

Secondly the course itself.

The start was rough as I had rolled my ankle (the same one that I had rolled 3 weeks prior) only a half mile in to this race. I hadn’t known what I got myself into until after the first aid station which I had moved through quickly because that’s what my coach and I had talked about. Refilled what I needed and got back out on trail, straight into a giant climb that took me a while to go up. Luckily I had company, two guys, Grant and Jack. Grant went on to win second in this race. Jack and I had synergy and had kept each other going young in the race and even later in the race as I sang to him somewhere between 40 and 50.

After the climb, came a really technical downhill filled with loose rocks and steep grades. The beauty of this course was unmatched and I had felt bad because I was to busy trying not to fall off the trail to look up at it. Some of the course feels like a blur and some of it haunts me at night when I think about it. The course brutal and definitely by no means a beginner course. Which had me so fired up, crushing it one aid station at a time. I had stopped caring about my pace and just making it to the next aid station. Paradise loop or as I like to call it the “killer of man” really gave me a run for my money with a huge ascent over time which physically beat me down slowly and surely. As always, I tried to stay mentally positive and bubbly. When I rolled into the 40 aid station, I felt nauseous, but mentally hardened ready to replenish and continue the journey I had started just over 13 hours earlier. Once Liz had set me up with Eric’s trekking poles and everything else had been set, we were ready for a huge 10 mile out over 3000 ft of vert and a huge technical section. Eric, by the way a very kind human who had finished the race the year prior and had a pair of extra poles to lend me and he kept his word and they were waiting for me at 40, Eric if your reading this thank you and congratulations. The climb was monstrous and my body did not agree. The nausea and depletion set in hard early in this climb and made it hard for me to stay positive, motivated and present. Kate however, another runner, asked if I’d like a salt tab and some tums, to which I obliged and eventually felt brand new. The second part of this 10 mile out, was a loose rocky minefield with not solid footing and rocks waiting to lay you out if you weren’t careful. Coming over the back end of that into yet another climb although this time, in the dark. Once I had created the hill and started my final descent into mile 50 aid station, I had gotten my second wind. It’s like we had gone back in time to 17 hours before when I had the spry young energy I did so early on in this race. Cruising in, hooting and hollering asking how everyone’s doing, mentally and physically fired up again. Aid station went fast because we knew we were falling behind. I started back out to head for 60 and that’s when the course and my body had different plans for me. This course specifically this section was technical, steep, scary, fun at times but also just straight up tough. It was the crux of the race and it was kicking my ass.

Coming back down but on the other side, I had found a well-versed ultra runner, Deedee, she had told me her plans to drop and with the chafing, sore legs, heavy eyes and infiltrated mental state, I have to admit that sounded great (at that time), barely able to walk, knowing that I was going to have a hard time making the cut offs, my mind weak, all factors in mile 60’s aid station. Mile 60 was where I had learned the most. It where my race ended and fire began to come back and finish a 100 mile race. It’s where I learned that failure is ok, and that sometimes your big goal isn’t always the reason you were sent out there. I learned it’s ok to be proud because I had a distance personal record now, and everyone was so extremely supportive of my decision to stop racing. Palisades back country is no joke my friends.

Last but not least, my crew.

Lisa, my mom was extremely nervous for this experience. This is completely out of her comfort zone but she wanted to learn, to support and do the best she could. Believe me when I tell you, her being there was enough. Cruising through aid stations seeing a woman that has persevered so much in life, being a single mother, sending herself to nursing school to provide a better life for her son, supporting a house and family on her own. Every time I saw her I was reminded of all the hardships and struggles that she had overcome with a head held high. She gave me the motivation to carry on even when my legs were tired and I was beat down. There’s something that goes unsaid about these strong women, but they are truly a backbone to society. Thank you to my mother for always supporting my crazy dreams and being one of the best crew members I could ask for. Now if you ask Lisa she won’t tell you any of this and she’ll give all the credit to Liz.

Liz, deserves an insane amount of credit. Liz came to Idaho not knowing what to expect meeting me the day before the race in person and ready to be a part of my race family, my crew. I would love to blame that on the ultra community and I’m sure it has a little something to do with it, but Liz has this selfless and daring personality that allows her to be the most driven, caring, bubbly person in the room. Which was new to me, because usually I’m the most bubbly in the room. Liz a seasoned runner had taken not only Lisa under her wing but me as well, tending to me at aid stations and talking me through the next parts of the race. Liz is a badass, self sustaining human with and infectious personality and enough to go around. Whiskey, Liz’s dog had also come to crew so thank you whiskey for being a good boy for the whole race and lending your mom to me while I was undertaking this challenge of a lifetime. Thank you both for being the best crew someone could ask for. Liz I’m sorry that you never got to pace me, although I’m sure this was not the last time I’ll have you in my crew.

Thank you again to all.

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