Saturday, April 6, 2013

100 Miles - Do or Die!

Jannine Myers

Who on earth runs 100 miles, all at once, and voluntarily? WOOT member Paula Carrigan, is who!

Paula has never actually run with WOOT, but her love of trail running, as well as a family background with ties to Okinawa, compelled her to become a WOOT sister in "spirit." I don't recall exactly how Paula found us, but I do remember feeling an instant sense of connection with her once she explained who she was and why she wanted to "virtually" follow our group.

Paula at the Hashawha 50k, just a couple of weeks before the Graveyard 100

As the months have gone by since our first internet meeting, I've learned a lot about Paula, and yet I also suspect that I've barely scraped the surface of who she really is and what she's capable of. What I do know though, is that she is a talented ultrarunner, and gifted in so many other areas that she's basically one of those all-rounders who intrigue people and cause them to say, "Is there anything you can't do?" And after reading her account of the Graveyard 100 (a brutal 100 mile ultramarathon along the outer banks of North Carolina), I'd venture to say there really is very little that Paula can't do.

Paula - at the HAT 50k in Maryland, a couple of years ago

Graveyard 100 - March 9th 2013

Part of the Graveyard 100 course 

Definition of "do or die" - exert supreme effort because failure is close at hand.

Ultrarunners are a unique group of runners; they differ from the "rest of us." For starters, they are a relatively small community, at least when compared to marathoners. Their motivation to run exceptionally long distances, often over rugged and difficult terrain, is probably less inspired by the potential to earn awards, money, and accolades, and more likely due to a deep-rooted need to be one with nature, followed by a desire to test the limits of their strength and endurance.

Utrarunners are also, some might say, fearless. They expose themselves to conditions which sometimes threaten grave injury, or severe illness, and in some cases, even death. There are no, or very few limitations that ultrarunners will set for themselves when it comes to running, and that's how it was for Paula when she ran the Graveyard 100 several weeks ago.

"I always start these events with very lofty goals,
 like I'm going to do something special. And after a point 
of body deterioration, the goals get evaluated down to 
basically where I am now - where the best I can hope for is
 to avoid throwing up on my shoes."

- Ultrarunner Ephraim Romesberg, 65 miles into the Badwater Ultramarathon

Staged along the outer banks of North Carolina, the Graveyard 100 is a point-to-point race from north to south, and is deliberately set in March when the weather is at its worst and runners can expect to face strong headwinds for the entire 100 miles. This year's race had all the weather elements of what the race organizers were hoping for, and more. Compared to a severe migraine and nausea however, this was the least of Paula's concerns, and as she nudged up to the starting line on race morning, her only thoughts were to try and make it to the first aid station without losing her previous night's meal.

Alas, no such luck! At miles nine and eighteen, Paula gave in to the growing nausea and threw up on the side of the road. Still feeling terribly ill, and no longer confident in her ability to run the full 100 miles, Paula decided she should pull out of the race once she reached Aid Station 1 (AS1). That is, at least, until her good friend (and captain of AS1), persuaded her to "hang in there" and try to make it to AS2.

Moving on, Paula began running along Highway 158, a long stretch of flooded and obstacle-ridden road which forced her to carefully watch her footsteps and also stop four times to rinse and remove sand from her shoes. Seeing other runners stop to meet their "crew cars" on the side of the road and change into warm, dry clothes, was difficult to bear, but since Paula had registered to run the Graveyard 100 without a crew team to support her, she had no choice but to continue running in wet clothes and focus instead on reaching the second aid station, where her first drop bag was waiting for her.

Along the roadway, Paula weaved her way around kids toys and other carnage, as well as old boards with nails sticking up out of them.

Besides the challenges Paula had encountered up until this point, she was also becoming more and more aware of pain developing in her right IT band. During the weeks leading up to the race, Paula was hit with a bout of pneumonia and had to halt her training for a period of time. In an effort to make up for lost miles, Paula ran the Hashawha Hills 50k trail race just two weeks before the Graveyard 100, and aggravated her right IT band in the process.

At AS2, Paula's headache and nausea had tempered and despite the increasing discomfort of her IT band, she felt more confident about staying in the race. She changed into some dry shoes and socks, removed a layer of clothing, and grabbed a veggie burger and boiled bag of potatoes before making her way towards main Highway 12. By this stage of the race, the runners were so vastly spread out that they were now mostly running alone. Paula's only companion between miles 40 and 54 was a four foot black and slimy snake.

The third aid station was a welcome reprieve, like seeing an oasis in a desert. Awaiting the runners was warm food, heated sitting spots, and in Paula's case, an 18-gauge beveled syringe. Blisters had formed on three of her toes, and she was desperate to treat them. The corpsman on duty seemed hesitant to do the job, so Paula did it for him. Having served in the Navy as a corpsman some years ago, she knew exactly what to do.The release of fluids as she thrust the needle into each blister provided instant relief, and by the time Paula left AS3, at mile 54, she was feeling much better.

The next twenty five miles to aid station four (and mile 79), took Paula through the darkness of night, closed roads due to flooding, a climb up some sand dunes to avoid freezing cold water, a narrow escape from a sudden rush of strong surf, and a lucky encounter with some kind folks who informed her that the other runners had been diverted to the safety of the main highway. It was in a shivering, and slightly anxious but joyful state, that Paula reached the final aid station.

The remaining twenty one miles took runners into the small township of Corolla, and it was here that another female runner caught up with Paula and asked if they could tackle the darkness together (it was well into the night by this time). It was also not long past this point that Paula had her first hallucination; a building with smoke coming out of the top of it. If not for Paula's new running partner, she would never have known she was hallucinating.

The second hallucination occurred during the final two miles, as Paula tried desperately to stay focused on reaching the finish line. Paula was just minutes away from earning the prestigious silver belt buckle (awarded to runners who finish the race in 24 hours or less), when she began to see dark colored blocks popping up from the ground on the left side of the road. She was coherent enough to know however, that the blocks were a figment of her imagination, and she managed to steer her thoughts back to the goal at hand.

With fifteen minutes to spare, and after a long and hard "do or die" fight, Paula finished the race in a time of 23:44:14. Yes, she received a well-deserved silver belt buckle, but the real prize I'm sure, was in the challenge itself, and the greater sense of self-discovery made as each and every obstacle forced her to tap into a deeper part of herself.

Graveyard 100 Silver Belt Buckle

Well done Paula! Few women could run 100 miles in less than twenty four hours, and even fewer would ever try.

[If you would like to read a full account of Paula's race experience, including her tips on how best to prepare for a 100-miler, please email me for a copy -]


  1. Your post was great and definitely captures her focused spirit and love of the challenge! As you alluded to, there is so much more to Paula especially helping her fellow runner to get the joy from running that she does. She came out to a local 10 mile race that we have here in Maryland yesterday and kept me company for 2 and a half hours while I pushed through what was a long distance for me. While I certainly would have made it to the finish line alone, I would not have been nearly as enjoyable without her there beside me!

  2. Paula, is a member of our local running community and she is a bright spot in our lives. She has the most amazing attitude and kind heart of anybody I know. We are so proud of her and so honored to have her as a part of our lives. Thanks so much for sharing this.

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  4. Katie and Ann,
    Thanks for your comments. I certainly don't know Paula as well as you ladies, but even via internet communications, I can tell that she is a remarkable person who pours out so much positive energy that people just love to be around her! We hope she will visit us soon in Okinawa.