I was crying, again. I had cried several times in this race. The first tears fell when I descended the "Wall of Death" where Beat made a picnic for me during last year's race; returning to that spot made me think about how much he meant to me. The second tears came as I climbed over an ice shelf on the Susitna River and glimpsed the pink light of the setting sun splashed across the mountains of the Alaska Range. Now I was crying over the Northern Lights. Three times during the Sustina 100 I had reduced myself to a blubbering mess, and the race was only half over. And yet, I was halfway into this incredibly difficult hundred-mile foot expedition, and the only emotion that had gotten the better of me was extreme happiness. Instead of suffering and pain, beauty had become the one thing I could scarcely endure.
Ever since I signed up for the 2012 Sustina 100, I had been grappling for a tangible reason for exactly why I wanted to go back and race this particular course on foot. I had taken on this challenge last year with Beat, and we finished together in 41:16. A part of me feels like I should try different things, visit different places. A larger part of me knows what a slog this race really is — that traveling on snow is similar to running a hundred miles up a moderately steep incline in terms of effort, and dragging a 25-pound sled nearly equals the difficulty of something entirely self-supported. When I picked the steepest 50K courses I could find in the Bay Area to train for the Susitna 100, I coud only lament that these training races weren't hard enough. Completing the Susitna 100 on foot is really hard. I had this opinion at least partly validated when elite ultrarunner Joe Grant approached me after the race and admitted he had no idea what a slog the Sustina 100 would turn out to be. Joe finished in a smoking-fast 26 hours and 14 minutes. I can only imagine how fast runners might view this 100-mile time as disappointing.